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The Shortest Best Story Ever

This post originally appeared in Old Road Apples’ very first week of existence. No one noticed it. No one even read it. So, I’m giving it a chance at new life, as I will be doing with other, carefully selected posts in the coming weeks.

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Among the students voted “best…” and “most likely to…” for the Senior Class Personalities in my kids’ yearbooks, I noted what has to be the most flattering and impressive designation, “Talks the least. Says the Most.”  I can’t think of a higher salute from one’s peers.

Now I’m thinking about the writer Ernest Hemingway.

Hemingway was one of those “gateway writers” who collectively inspired me to study literature and read obsessively.  An early selection of my adolescence-generated prose stinks of derivation, but as I stumbled into my pretentious twenties I mocked him along with other, equally unsubtle critics.  He ate a sandwich.  It was a good, moist sandwich with meat and cheese. The cheese was yellow and good. He had eaten kind of sandwich Nick ate in Italy.  I fell in love with bombast, magical realism, what I jokingly called “maximumism.”  That passed, too, and I’ve come full circle to recognize the subtle  genius behind the man who writes the least  and says, or at least edits, the most.

My favorite story about Hemingway involves him sitting around a table, possibly at The Algonquin, with his friends, a few of whom were towering talents in their own right, and betting the house that he could write an entire story with just a few words.  His eager companions bade him put his money where he mouth (and pen) was.  Hemingway replied with a 6-word novel, hastily scribbled onto a napkin  It read:

“For sale: baby shoes.  Never worn.”

His companions read the words, probably grumbled a little, and paid the man.

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Olympics Volume 2–Meryl Takes Down Downton

It was Sunday night, the sofa was soft, the down comforter warm, and the sun was shining on Downton Abbey–it’s always shining on the glacially slow BBC soap opera, you might have noticed, despite what I’ve heard about England, yet it was brighter still inside the ice arena in Sochi, Russia where the world’s finest ice dancers were doing their thing in the short program–see how I’m talking in cool skater jargon?–and lighting things up.  We tuned out of England and headed for the East.

I don’t know what the hell I’m looking at, of course–I know basketball and football (American Football, the best kind 😉 )–but all I know about skating is that skaters have to fit “swizzles” into their programs.  Otherwise, I’m judging what looks good, what looks fluid and graceful and, well, (sorry, gentlemen) what looks pretty.  Last night, they all looked pretty, and it doesn’t help that I’m a guy who, despite feminist leanings, can’t help noticing how beautiful some of these women are–muscles, smiles, short skirts–it’s better than art on a wall.  I’m generally too beguiled by the beauty and the unfamiliar sport to be any kind of judge, unless one of them teeters visibly or falls down.

moir, virtueThe top couples last night all stayed upright.  We caught Canadians Scott Moir and  Tessa Virtue early on and decided they were unbeatable, even if the young lady didn’t have the most perfect figure skater name ever.  Tessa Virtue.  A name like that doesn’t even need a publicist–at least not in theory.

Elena Ilinykh, Nikita KatsalapovA short while later, we enjoyed watching a young Russian pair, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, and you know what? Yep, they looked unbeatable, though I thought–or, more appropriately, felt something that made me wonder if the Canadians were not just a little bit better.  At it turned out, it was close, but I was right.

Fabian Bourzat Nathalie PechalatThe next skaters were noticed were a French pair, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who I think I liked best of all, up to that point, and guess what: I thought they looked unbeatable. It doesn’t hurt that Ms. Pechalat wore the most beautiful, most exuberant smile on her already beautiful face throughout their program–I wanted them to do well on spirit alone, and they did, landing briefly in third place behind Ilinykh/Katsalapov and Virtue/Moir.

Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew PojeThey had to know it would be short-lived.  Even though another young Canadian pair–Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje--came out and gave a great showing–not quite unbeatable, but fluid and spirited, and Ms. Weaver’s brilliant blue dress was the hands-down scene stealer of the evening, the night belonged to the last couple to skate.

It seemed like NBC packed an especically dense set of commercials into the space before Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the ice, and why shouldn’t they?  This all-American couple of student-athletes has been anointed as the face of the American Olympic team this year, and for all intents and purposes they were a very good choice: smart, upbeat, and wholesome–some of my favorite images of this Olympics have been of White and Davis off the ice, cheering for their team-mates and consoling them when things haven’t turned for the best.  You have to like that.

c55885bce17cdc211e64e00fb26901b6dc406cd5Of course, they’re also the best skaters in the world right now, and while I can’t quantify why, it was clear the moment they hit the ice–even to a neophyte like myself.  I could not see, so much as I felt the difference–the skill and the surety of their performance, the confidence in every movement.  It is their moment, they knew it, and their world record finish pretty much cemented the fact–while simultaneously burying all but the most emphatic–and nationalistic–rumors of score fixing that had been swirling around. Meanwhile, back and Downton Abbey, absolutely nothing had happened.

More Olympics:

https://oldroadapples.wordpress.com/2014/02/07/the-olympics-volume-1/

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A Great Film Short…”Validation”

Hugh Newman

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Fiction Excerpt Short/Micro/Flash Fiction

Fiction Excerpt (Rough Draft in Progress: Olya’s Warhol Night

SilverCloudsDC2

Try to ignore the issues with verb tense–these reflect unresolved narrative decisons in the longer form version and are not meant to imply that Olya exists on three different but simultaneous temporal planes, although now that I think on it….

Wake up at noon, legs trembling, back muscles slip-knotted, drawing tighter with every slight movement, something like arthritis in my elbows, arms weak. Cotton mouth—carefully, artfully extract my limbs from Olya’s—she’s sprawled like a squid across the mattress, a long-legged, mad, booth-tanned bleach blonde Czechoslovakian squid with maroon nail polish. But by the gods, if squids had legs like that the sea would be clogged with fishermen.

I should write that down, but I’m parched and bloated at the once, bloated and parched–parched to the point I’m not tempted to bury my face in her thigh and bite her awake—nearly tempted, I say. To the bathroom—mold and cobwebs, no heat, a garden hose duct-taped to the faucet, the shower curtain stapled to the ceiling in a gross approximation of those classy suspension showers that hang inside a vintage clawfoot tub.

Artists.

I piss a gallon, bend down to suck cold, crisp water right from the tap. There’s no cup, but no problem: this is it, the ticket, the cure; it tastes like rust and chlorine, as good city water is supposed to taste. I pull back the window shade, let a shaft of daylight blaze into shadows, burn through my retina, skewer my brain. I see gray spires, yellow bridges, green heights.

That’s right: Pittsburgh.

Is that the dim future, waking each morning to hose down the fuselage and change fluids, hazily wondering where the hell yesterday left off?

Not yet.

Last night was the opening of the Andy Warhol Museum. We’d come out of the woods, drove three hours, gorged on goi cuon and mind-bending pho served up by a brusque, one-armed guy in a dismal Vietnamese joint across town, half expecting him to run us out of there two steps ahead of a waving cleaver, then drank ourselves silly at the Rosa Villa, last bulwark of the Genovese family, where the bartender kept passing out free rounds while shady guys filed in and out of a back room.  Olya slides around on her bar stool like she’s Rita Hayward, crossing and recrossing those legs, blouse dropped down to there.
Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin on the juke box.

Exclusively.

It’s almost too much.  I feel like I ought to be in a suit, wingtips, a brazen necktie.

Each time Olya proclaims she was done drinking, the tender lays down another Rolling Rock, looks down her shirt, and she’d sigh, Just when I think I’m out, they pull me back in! And take a long pull off the cold, green bottle.

At some point, we wandered outside and took our place near the front of a thousands-faced throng that backed at least two blocks down the street, possibly all the way to the horizon, where we lingered until the doors opened. Brand Knight found us shortly after, trolling the line like a Rocky Horror cast0ff, vintage black mod suit—narrow lapels, tapered pant legs, and a bright red bow tie.

He’s got wingtips, I notice, black and white patent leather tuxedo shoes polished to mirror-like reflectivity, mutton-chop sideburns neatly trimmed, long autumn straw hair pulled into a pony tail.

“Hello, loves!” He grabbed us by the elbows and pulled us out of line. “You hardly look like farmers at all.”

“Thanks, I suppose.” What to do but laugh?  Olya in the black dress. Yep, that black dress, 4” heels, the stockings with seams down the back. I’ve gone with the blue-black sharkskin jacket and skinny black tie, both circa 1967, inherited from Uncle George but, luckily enough, presently on a fashion rebound.

Brand led us in through the back door, armed us with pilfered press passes, and pointed us to the freight elevator.

We were there until five in the morning, most of it a haze of soap boxes and mad Marilyn canvases, Giant Mao leering from the wall—communist maximus, the last grand Caesar–

Mao Series Andy Warhol

In the room of Silver Clouds, white walls with a sky of bobbing chrome-like mylar balloons, Brand was telling us how the same artist made these balloons who had made the original peices for Warhol.  I didn’t listen much, intent on trying to feel something from the images of the floating silver pillows.  Max wandered by, muttering “art ou fromage” and Olya was carefully pushing on of a handful of the balloons which hovered below the ceiling, some chest high, some near the floor.  Brand explained that they were still working on the best mixture of helium to oxygen, that all the balloons should be hovering around the ceiling.

A pack of feral adolescents giggled through, kicking and punching the clouds with fierce determination.  Olya kicked the loudest of the bunch in the shin, hard, and hissed a stage whisper that drew every eye within earshot.

Uciekaj! Pieprzony sączące infekcje psów świnia!

The whole bunch of them skittered away.

“One of the balloons,” Brand continued, “floated out of the room, down the hall, and somehow ended up in one of the elevators.  When the elevator was called down to the lobby, it’s doors opened and out floated the balloon.”

“The sky is falling, the sky is falling,” Max chanted, but quiet so that only I could hear him within the din of the opening night crowd.

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Short/Micro/Flash Fiction

An Hour From Boise (another excerpt from an abandoned story)

Motorcycle_CopThere’s this pit of the stomach feeling, I know you know it, when you blaze over the crest of a slope on the highway with the Pogues blaring Streams of Whiskey from a dozen speakers and that big block Chevy 454 thundering backup, and the unmistakable profile of a Ford Police Interceptor crouches on the median like a sullen lion. There’s no time to brake, no place to go, the speedo jiggling somewhere north of ninety.  You reel it in causally, will he buy it that the beast got away from you—and your normally grandmother-like driving—and what about those hippie-dippy girls in the backseat, stinking of patchouli and peanut butter.  The pretty one, the one with the freckles in her cleavage and the ice blue eyes, is snoring like a drunk.  It’s likely she is, in fact, still drunk—and god knows what else.  You don’t even want to know what she’s got in her purse, or if she’s got a prescription for that, and if so, what for?  Maybe it won’t even matter.