Random musings on a writer's life & times, with occasional input from acquaintances


Saturday, April 24, 2004

Well, so much for a daily diary.

The idea was to warm up for each day’s writing by tapping out some stuff on Writeright, but I didn’t do that for the last couple of days, probably because I didn’t WRITE anything, except for a checks to pay bills. I shouldn’t be too hard on myself, I guess, because I did spend time on a writing project -- reading a couple of classic stories for background and researching sports cars and such on the internet -- but I didn’t actually apply word to sentence. Ah, well.

One thing I did do, repeatedly, was ride shotgun while my 16-year-old son, Andy, worked at learning to drive.

This led me to compile a list of driving tips for The Droidman, which I share with Writeright readers as a public service.



1) If you see vehicles already halted at a stoplight ahead of you, ease off the accelerator a block or so away and slow gradually before applying the brakes. This saves wear on brake pads and allows for last-moment mishaps, such as encountering an icy or wet spot that might lessen the brakes’ effectiveness.

2) The speed limit is an upper LIMIT, not a target. If you aren’t impeding traffic, it’s okay to drive five or ten miles per hour below the limit.

3) When turning a corner, enter the lane nearest you -- don’t wander off into the next one, even if it’s a four-lane highway.

4) Release the emergency brake BEFORE putting the car in gear.

5) If another driver cuts you off in traffic, give him the finger with your right hand -- since you are left-handed -- in order to maximize your grip on the steering wheel.

6) When having sex in the car, always use a condom, especially if it’s a first date.

7) Remember this: drink only diet soda in the car. Automobile drink holders never work, so if you attempt to consume a Pepsi while driving, it will wind up coating the seat and/or floor. A diet Pepsi, lacking sugar, won’t leave everything sticky.

8) When sorting through your CD stash, make sure you are stopped at a traffic light. Better to have the guy behind you honking than to poke around the jockey box for your Limp Bizkit CD while traveling 55 MPH and wind up listening to your own private rendition of “Teen Angel.”

9) Keep in mind that every retard in the world over the age of 16 has a driver’s license. Guys who couldn’t spell “kat” in tenth grade are now tearing around at the wheel of Godzilla-sized pickup trucks, so be prepared to respond to every kind of stupidity on the road. Expect the worst. Drive like a linebacker. (Defensively, I mean, not violently.)

10) All hamburger and french fry wrappers should be abandoned in the BACK seat. This promotes tidiness.

11) If you don’t want Mom and Dad to know you smoke in the car, buy one of those tacky cardboard air fresheners shaped like a fir tree to hang from the rear view mirror (like your older brother did).

12) Don't forget that Oregon law says you cannot transport other teenagers in the car unless accompanied by an adult for one year after you receive your license. This means your friends must lie down in the seats, or at least slump substantially, when you drive them to the mall.

13) Never try to steal gasoline from another car with a siphon hose and a can, because gasoline tastes really bad if you screw up.

14) Always carry an empty Coke bottle in the car so if the radiator overheats you can steer to a nearby creek or lake and refill it with cool water, one bottle at a time.

15) It’s a good idea to leave the car unlocked, so when people steal your stereo they won’t break a window.

16) If a cop stops you for doing 90 in a 25-MPH zone, slip him a $20 bill with your license. Cops love this.

17) If #16 doesn’t work and you land in jail, use your one phone call to call your mother, not your dad.

18) If you accidentally set the car alarm honking and flashing in a parking lot, walk quickly away. After thirty yards or so, stop, point and laugh. This will make others think you are not the dumbass who did it.

19) Remember that automobile windshield washers never work. If a vulture craps on your windshield, you must clean the mess by hand or drive with impaired vision. This is known as the (clean) Shit or Go Blind Rule.

20) Attempting to cool the car by driving with the windows down while running the air conditioner is ridiculous.

21) If you must talk to someone in the back seat, do so while looking straight ahead at the road. Let your mother be in charge of establishing eye contact while driving.

23) If you encounter a woman who is driving while talking on a cell phone, the proper shouted remark is: “Get off the phone, bitch!” If the driver is a man, shout: “Get off the phone, asshole!” Although I suppose you could use a unisex “bitch.”

24) If you intend to lay rubber, peel out or otherwise start quickly, scope the area for police cars first.

25) Remember that driving is both a privilege and a right. It’s your privilege, and I am right.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Ah, today’s diary entry.

Where did I leave off in yesterday’s account of life’s hilarity? Oh, yes. Well, we ate dinner at home (frozen Mexican food for Andy and me, something skinnifying for Cookie Jean) and went over to the Ds’ for dessert because Mrs. D was celebrating her 35th birthday. The young punk. Or punkette, as the case may be.

Then home with the Droidman piloting our Volvo, with a slight pause for me to step in a giant pile of dogshit with my right sneaker so I could track it into the car and wear it for the remainder the journey. Cookie Jean complained vociferously of the smell throughout the six-block trip. I left the offensive shoe on our back porch.

Andy meandered off to his bedroom and Cookie Jean commenced watching “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” in the den, so I ascended to my attic office, turned on the TV for white noise, picked up a Paul Auster novel, stretched out on the couch and fell asleep. When I woke up, it was 4 a.m. I turned off the TV and trundled off to bed, only to awaken again at 5:30. Two mornings in a row! Damn!

This time, however, I awoke with a story idea running through my head, spinning off a line from a Cesar Vallejo poem: “I will die in Paris on a rainy day, on some day I can already remember.”

I jumped up and dashed to my office computer, where I wrote a quick 559 words. Two and a half double-spaced pages. I have no idea where this beginning will lead. Maybe it will result in my “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Maybe it will join the dozens of two-and-a-half-page starts to unfinished stories that already clutter my files. Oh, well. As a pig-tailed 10-year-old softball player once said when I called her out at third after she injudiciously tried to stretch a double: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

So then it was 7:05 and I went down to the kitchen. I ate breakfast (peanut butter toast, banana, coffee) and dissected the previous night’s social event. Mr. D is 20 years older than Mrs. D. Hmmm. Their neighbors from around the block have two grade-school-age daughters who are tough to take. Hmmm.

Andy had a late opening at Central Catholic High, so we let him sleep until 7:40 before I blasted him out of bed and into the shower. Forty-five minutes later, I blasted him out of the shower and back to his room to dress. He ate breakfast and we left for school, Droid once again piloting the Volvo with me in the No. 2 seat.

The trip was incident-free, pretty much, except for a few abrupt stops and/or shifts of direction, until we reached the intersection just east of school. Then a Central senior, the boy who is co-directing a one-act play in which Andy is preparing to act, jaywalked in front of the Volvo and almost got himself nailed. The Droidman was shaken. It could have been the end to his driving and acting careers both, in one swell foop. We made it on to the front entrance, though, and Andy escaped into the building. I drove home accompanied by John Cougar Mellencamp on the CD player: “Little Pink Houses.”

Back at the ranch, I invested twenty minutes in removing dogshit from the shoe I’d left on the porch last night. This involved scraping with a twig, dunking in two rain puddles, hosing, more scraping, a workout with 409 cleanser and a rag, then spraying with the nozzle of the laundry room sink. That must have been one big damn dog. About the size of an elk, I’d say. Or a grizzly bear. I am not a dog person by inclination, and each episode like this turns me into less of one. I’d be preparing a strychnineburger, if I knew where to deliver it.

So then load a load of laundry (jump down, spin around), hang up a bunch of Andy’s abandoned clothes (jump down, spin around) and head upstairs to return to Serious Work. Writing Work.

But first -- a half-hour phone call from my mother. Then a phone call from my eldest son. And then my mother again. Arrgh! It’s a good thing, as Martha would say, I got some writing done at 5:30 a.m., or I would be SERIOUSLY FRUSTRATED. Which reminds me -- I need to fill out that financial statement for the bank.

Is it lunch time yet?

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Ol’ Writeright has been dark for so many days now, I sort of wonder if anyone will ever see these words as I crank up again, but -- maybe that’s not the point.

I’ve decided to change the focus of Writeright, at least for the moment. I read a screed somewhere the other day about the difference between a journal and a diary. As I recall, the author was maintaining that a journal is a series of essays on topics that occur to the writer as life unfolds, while a diary is merely a record of daily events. From its inception in October 2002, if have tried to -- by these definitions -- operate Writeright as a journal, and I have found the challenge of coming up with something intelligent or amusing to say on a daily basis (or anything like it) draining in the extreme. That’s why the weblog has repeatedly gone dark during the last year or so.

Therefore . . . I am going to use Writeright as more of a diary in the immediate future. I intend to record, for my own benefit, primarily, the ins and outs of my days. If something I jot down sparks an urge to explore it at essay length, so be it. If not, not.

I hope to use the website like John Steinbeck used facing pages of his notebooks while writing his novel "East of Eden." Each day, Steinbeck would sit down with his notebook and on the lefthand pages he would write down what he had been up to during the previous 24 hours or so, what his family and friends were doing, how he felt about the progress of his evolving novel, any trepidation he was experiencing about the passage he was about to attempt that day, etc. Once he felt warmed up, he flipped to the right-hand page where he had quit working on the novel the day before and resumed his labors.

My hope is that Writeright will serve as my warm-up page(s), instead of being burdensome. So . . .

I woke up at 5:15 this morning and couldn’t get back to sleep, so at 5:30 I got up and spent half an hour in the den reading a two-week-old Sports Illustrated story about Josh Beckett and Josh Hamilton, two pro baseball players with similar names and skills who were drafted 1-2 in 1999 and how Beckett has turned into a World Series MVP while Hamilton crashed and burned due to drug abuse.

Then I got Andy, my 16-year-old, out of bed so he could shower for school. I ate breakfast (bagel & banana, coffee) while reading another two-week-old SI story about the U of Connecticut winning the national college basketball championship. Cookie Jean descended form our bedroom and joined me at the breakfast table.

At 6:45, I did my daily chore of going downstairs to Andy’s basement bathroom and pounding on the door until he grunted that he was awake and not intending to spend the whole morning snoozing in the shower. I went back to the breakfast table, grabbed the daily newspaper and read 1) the sports page, 2) the celebrity gossip column and 3) the funnies. Andy materialized in the kitchen at 7:05. While his mother fed him, I retreated to my office in the attic, laid down on the couch and slept for 25 minutes. (I don’t like waking up at 5:15.)

At 7:30 I went back downstairs for Andy’s trip to Central Catholic High School. He is learning to drive, so I ride shotgun while he pilots our Volvo stationwagon for the 20-minute journey. He is at the stage where he more or less knows how to drive, but he has limited feel for the car -- exactly how far it will veer if he turns the steering wheel, exactly how fast it will accelerate when he steps on the gas pedal, exactly how quickly it will stop when he hits the brake. This makes riding shotgun an exercise in self-control. I figure he will tense up and drive worse if someone shouts at him, so I try to give as few directions as possible and deliver those in a conversational tone. This results in a lot of flinching, dodging and jaw-clenching on my part as we start and stop through rush-hour traffic. I work at not spooking the kid, but it’s impossible to just sit still as giant city buses, smelly garbage trucks, thundering hotrods and hulking soccer-mom vans dart and jump outside the car windows. At least I can give myself credit for doing it, though. Andy’s mom abdicated all shotgun-rider duties with this, our third son/driver-trainee, because she can’t take it any more.

I sympathize with Andy and his slow mastering of the driver’s touch. I went the same route as a kid. Long after I had mastered the fundamentals of driving, I was still surprised on a somewhat regular basis by the way cars responded to my hands and feet at the controls. My driver’s ed teacher in high school, Mr. King, said I was the first student he’d ever had who tended to drive TOWARD large objects that appeared in his field of vision -- oncoming cars, embankments, telephone poles, whatever. I had Mr. King doing the flinching and dodging. He proved to be a bit of a prophet, too. I obtained my license the summer after I turned 16, and my parents gave me their old car, a beater Mercury. I drove it for a week and a half before wrapping it around a telephone pole. Ah, well.

Let’s see . . . after ditching the Droidman at Central, I drove home to the tune of John Cougar Mellencamp singing “Jack and Diane.” When I arrived back at my brick abode in southeast Portland, Cookie Jean was hopping up and down to go exercise. I traveled with her to 24-Hour Fitness for a 45-minute session of spinning (riding a stationary bicycle to music while an instructor does mean things like order you to pedal faster), which was okay except the woman on the bike next to Cookie Jean kept “yipping.” I hate exercise yippers. They should all be taken out and shot. If I want to know how your exercise is going, I’ll damn well ask you. Otherwise, shut the hell up. There was another woman who rode the whole time with her eyes closed and an ecstatic expression on her face, waist-length black hair flowing in the breeze generated by her flying legs. I wanted to smack her.

And then home again, home again, jiggedy jig. Cookie Jean showered and dashed off to lead her Weightwatchers group. I wasted time surfing the internet (one of my poems went up today on a Massachusetts-based electronic magazine called The Fossil Record, but it took me a LONG time to find it because I forgot the website address -- thefossil.com) and then ate lunch. Turkey lunchmeat sandwich, apple, Fresca, chips, cheesestick, two-week-old SI article about pitcher Pedro Martinez.

I showered after lunch, then put in a batch of laundry to wash. (Cold whites, half a load.) The phone had commenced to ring during lunch and continued for-f’ing-ever, all calls for my wife or from people who wanted me to give them something or buy something from them. This distracted and pissed me off, as always.

And then . . . and then . . . I finally made it to my office, opened and filed some mail and started to write this. Of course, the writing was interrupted by more phone calls, including a major one from a bank that wants to see copies of my last two tax returns, a financial statement and the third nipple I hide under my shirt (actually, I don’t have a financial statement).

Which brings me to here. Now. It’s too late in the day to get much work done before I go to a neighbor’s birthday party tonight, but I will try. Good-bye.

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