Sunday, August 26, 2007

Happy 125th Birthday, Sorento!

"Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
And they're always glad you came;
You want to be where you can see,
Our troubles are all the same;
You want to be where everybody knows your name."--from Cheers theme

I grew up in a place where everybody not only knew your name, but everything else about you as well. It'll always be my hometown, no matter where I go and this weekend the village of Sorento, IL is celebrating 125 years of being around. Happy 125th Birthday, dear old hometown.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Here's the Deal.

The journey of my life has taken some really strange turns the past several years, but the path I’m on now is the strangest of all so far. I’m in Wonderland and that crazy Cheshire Cat keeps creeping me out. He’s got some great advice, but he’s also really dangerous because he plays for both sides. I’m feeling really confused. I’m living in two different worlds at the moment and I feel ready to rip apart at the seams.

“Long ago
In someone else's lifetime
Someone with my name
Who looked a lot like me
Came to know
A man and made a promise
He only had to say
And that's where he would be
Lately
Although the feelings run just as deep
The promise he made has grown impossible to keep
And yet I wish it wasn't so.”

The things I thought I was supposed to be doing, or rather the things I WAS supposed to be doing are no longer the things that I’m supposed to be doing now. A dream delayed might not be denied any more; I can see it waving at me in the door beyond. And that man from long ago has told me the vow is complete. With a wink and a nod, he said I’m free to go.

The journey has brought me through many Bang-Ups and Hang-Ups and even a Slump or two. I’ve heard voices all around me, mainly children’s voices. They’re good, strong, and solid voices. They are voices from The Waiting Place and they are voices that any dullard with any amount of common sense would listen to. But I’m no dullard; my head is full of brains, my shoes are full of feet, and I’m much too smart to go down any not-so-good street.

I’ve gotten mixed up of course and despite knowing better I’ve even mixed up my left foot with my right sometimes. But I’m on my way out to find the bright places; places where some Boom Bands are playing. I’m ready for anything under the sky, ready because I’m that kind of guy.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself. The Waiting Place isn’t the best place in the world, but it is a definite place. It’s also really comfortable, too. And all those voices. None of those voices sounds at all unreasonable. I’m the one who sounds unreasonable. In fact, I act like I’m insane. Me, the guy who has tried to live life according to logic and temperance is probably the craziest person of all.

I don’t know what’s going to happen. I really don’t. I’m trying my hardest to hang on and enjoy the ride, but I’m about ready to crap my pants.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The Dog in the Sidecar

Below is a short story I finished this past spring. It's already been rejected from one journal and is probably in the process of being rejected from some more. However, it's a decent story. I like it and want to share it with people. So, enjoy. Feel free to leave comments about it.
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“The Dog in the Sidecar”

Tom Varner
The smell of dog urine drafted across the bedroom and awoke the old gent from his peaceful slumber. “Barney. Not again,” he spoke aloud as he maneuvered his legs out of the bed onto the carpeted floor. It irritated him that he would be spending his waking moments soaking, shampooing, and vacuuming the bedroom floor even though it was a ritual that he had become accustomed to doing.

Barney was a small black and white rat terrier. The old man had picked Barney up from the dog pound about ten years ago. It had been several months after his wife, Nelda, had died. A person could go to a pet store or the Humane Society to pick up a pet, but the old man went to the pound because he knew many of those critters were dead dogs walking. He picked Barney from all the other dogs because he was the most ordinary and average-looking dog in the pen. Until a year ago, Barney was well-trained and never went to the bathroom inside the house. He was a playful dog and gave the old man hours of enjoyment as they wrestled over one of Nelda’s old nylon stockings on the hardwood living room floor. Most folks who took time to visit the old man could only find one fault with Barney: he madly barked anytime a stranger arrived at the door. Visitors found the bombardment of barking a nuisance, but the old man took comfort in Barney’s exclamations because he knew it was Barney doing what he could to assist his master. They were a perfect match.

This still was true in spite of Barney’s recent kidney problems. The first time it happened the old man was shocked. He had owned Barney for nearly ten years and the dog had never had an accident in the house once. This was even more surprising considering that Barney was at least fifteen years old. The old man took him to a vet right after picking him up from the pound and after the animal doctor gave Barney a thorough examination, the old man was told the dog was between five and seven years old. The old man occasionally lied about his own age, so he didn’t see any harm in lying about Barney’s age, too.

After the shock faded that first morning, the old man was filled with even more compassion for the creature, “Penis problems, huh? Well, that’s to be expected. I have penis problems sometimes, too. It happens when you’re our age. It’s not like you’re pushing a hundred or something.” That was the first time Barney peed on the carpet. The dog didn’t have another accident for two months. A month later it happened again. That went on for several months. Recently it was happening about once a week.

With the grogginess still seeping from his eyes and a bit of morning gas passing through his bowels, the old man walked into the bedroom bathroom to get some paper towels to soak up the urine on the floor. Barney hid beneath the bed, afraid that his master would smack him or say a harsh word, but the old man had never done either of those things to Barney and as long as he had control of his mental faculties he never would. He loved Barney too much.

The old man soaked the urine up with a wad of paper towels. He threw the paper towels away in the bathroom trashcan. Then he lurched to the hallway closet to get the carpet shampoo and vacuum. At the accident site he poured the cleaner on and proceeded to use the toilet in the bathroom as the shampoo soaked in. With his business finished, he washed his hands, brushed his teeth, and washed his face. Then he returned to the accident site and sat on the bed to give the cleaner more time to do its magic. While sitting there on the edge of the bed, the elder fellow thought about Nelda.

He and Nelda had been married for nearly fifty years. He had been married longer than he had lived as a single and widowed man combined. Nelda was a beautiful and vivacious woman when they first met. She had red hair, bright blue eyes, and creamy-white skin. She had a great sense of humor and was always smiling. She had her moods, usually when dealing with the curse, but more often than not she was a very happy and joyful person. He felt more alive when he was around her than when he was by himself. It might be cliché, but she made him want to be a better man.

After they were married he discovered something else about Nelda: she was a hellion in bed. They were religious people and had resisted the temptation to have sex before marriage. Before their marriage, he had worried that Nelda would grow weary from his sexual appetite and desires. He learned otherwise during their honeymoon. Their lovemaking sessions lasted five or six hours and he would often find himself completely drained, lying on the bed naked, trying to find enough strength to continue as Nelda panted for more. That was in the early days of their marriage.

When the children arrived, things began to change. Their lovemaking was still fierce and passionate, but it didn’t occur as frequently. They decided before they were married that if they ever had children, Nelda would quit her job and be a stay-at-home-mom. After the first child arrived, Nelda retired from her seamstress job at the factory and he began working longer hours to make up some of the lost income. Eventually he picked up a second part-time job working in the shoe section of a local department store. He tried very hard to make Nelda happy and for awhile they were happy and at peace.

They had three children all total, two sons separated by one girl. They were a close-knit family. They went to the movies every other Friday. They played games together during the weekend. At night, they would shut the tv off and he would tell the children grand and marvelous stories before they went to bed. Every summer they took a family vacation and every month the kids would spend at least one night away from the house so Nelda and he could be alone. Those were golden years.

Their relationship changed drastically as the children grew up. Their youngest son joined the Marines and was killed during a secret mission in North Korea. They gave him the Medal of Honor posthumously and buried him in Arlington. Nelda’s mother and father died soon after that. Six months later her only brother died from lung cancer. It was a strange and freaky way for him to die: Nelda’s brother never touched a tobacco product in his life, he was a leader of an organization that lobbied and protested against tobacco companies, and no one on either side of Nelda’s family ever had lung cancer. Her brother’s death affected Nelda greatly.

Two years later more tragedy struck when an FBI officer arrived at their front door to inform them of their daughter’s rape and murder. Their daughter was a business executive in Chicago. She was on a road trip out west with some friends to celebrate her recent job promotion. While sleeping in their hotel, an escaped convict broke into their room. He tied all three women up and raped them. The death had been accidental—as he raped their daughter the convict grabbed her neck in ecstasy and unintentionally broke it during his spasms of pleasure. The convict was eventually captured and sentenced to death. He never made it down the green mile; other prisoners made sure of that.

The convict’s trial and eventual death didn’t really matter to the family, because by that point Nelda was pretty much insane. The vitality and joy that had filled her in her youth evaporated. She never would admit it, but she gave up on living and just starting existing. She gained over one-hundred-fifty pounds in a year. By the time of her death she weighed over four-hundred-fifty pounds. She stopped going places and just sat at home watching tv and dwelling upon the misery befallen her life in recent years. She would waddle out of her chair three or four times a day, but only to eat and use the bathroom. The beautiful nymph became a weebling hippopotamus burdened by both blubber and sorrow.

Their eldest son and only remaining child moved closer to home to try to help out, but after two years he couldn’t take it—the negativity and pessimism constantly spewing forth from his mother’s mouth was too much for him. He took a job as an English professor at a college in Arizona and broke off communication with his mother. The last time the old man had spoken with his son was a week after Nelda’s funeral. They had remained on good terms during his son’s self-produced exile, but two weeks after the funeral his son took a missionary job overseas teaching English to Chinese children. He had recently become engaged to a young Russian woman teaching at the same school. They were to be married this spring back in the states. His son couldn’t call, but wrote frequently.

After his son left for China, the old man realized something. He was alone. He hadn’t lived alone in nearly half a century and he was surprised at how difficult it took him to adjust. That’s why he adopted a dog. He was nearing the end of his life and felt lonely. So he adopted a dog. Now, Barney was approaching the end of his life, too.

These were some of the things the old man thought about each morning as he waited for the carpet shampoo to set in. Then he would get up and vacuum the floor. Once finished, he would return the supplies to the hallway closet and get dressed. That’s when the real fun of the day began.

“Barney!” he would call. “It’s time to go.”

Barney would come bounding from beneath the bed and run around his master’s legs with his tongue sticking out.

“Are you ready to go outside, Boy?” and the dog would bark and bark and bark.The old man would walk out of the bedroom, down the hall, and down the stairs with Barney following close at his heals.

At the bottom of the stairs the old man would slip his feet into his shoes, put his coat on, and attach the extendable leash to Barney’s collar. After unlocking the door, he and Barney would go on their morning walk. They would walk for nearly a mile in one direction before turning back towards the house. Usually, the sun was just rising as they started back to the house. Seeing the sun rise above the Earth each morning encouraged the man. Barney seemed to like it, too, and would patter more fiercely as the orange orb flooded the horizon with light.

Barney usually went to the bathroom during their morning walk and even though the city had laws about cleaning up animal messes, the old man had stopped using a pooper scooper years ago. He first stopped about two years after Nelda’s death. He was walking Barney and had forgotten the blasted contraption behind. Barney had to go and the old man let him. He decided then and there that he wasn’t going to use the damn thing anymore and went home and burned the pooper scooper in the fireplace.

Three years ago, after watching Barney do his business behind a tree, a neighbor approached the old man to remind him about the town ordinance. The old man told his young neighbor, “Screw the city council! Most of them are worthless bums without an ounce of fire in their balls. I don’t give a flying fiddler’s fart anymore about stupid, silly laws. I’m too old and life’s too short.” The neighbor liked the old man and never said anything again, but his wife wrote a complaint to the city council. Like a great many other things he said and wrote that no one paid any attention to, the old man had been right about the city council. No action was ever taken against him for not using a pooper scooper.

As much as the old man and Barney enjoyed their morning walks, the real highlight of the day came when the duo returned home. Instead of going back into the house, the old man and Barney would enter the garage. One of the old man’s most prized possessions was a genuine World War II U.S. Army motorcycle complete with sidecar. He had bought the vehicle with the royalties received from a novel he had written that had spent over a year on the New York Times bestseller list.

Every morning, upon entering the garage after their morning walk, the old man would unhook Barney’s leash and lift the canine up into the sidecar. Then the old man would take four items down from the garage wall: two helmets and two pairs of coke-bottle goggles. The smallest pair of goggles he placed on Barney. Then he would strap the miniature helmet to Barney’s head. Next he would place Barney’s leash at the bottom of the sidecar. Then he would place his own goggles and helmet on before proceeding to sit down and turn the motorcycle’s ignition. He kept the garage locked tight and never bothered to take the keys out of the ignition.

Then the old man would turn around, look at Barney, and say, “Ready, Barney?”

Barney always barked back in the affirmative.

“Well, then. Let’s go.”

Without another word the man would push the garage door opener and as the door began to rise, the old man riding a motorcycle with a dog in the sidecar would pull out into the street, facing the coming twilight together. Never was there a happier pair than they.

Monday, August 13, 2007

July 2007

Books Read
Prairie Dogs By: Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows By: J.K. Rowling
The Mote in God's Eye By: Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle
*Love, Sex, and the I.R.S By: William Van Zandt & Jane Milmore

*Denotes a play.

Movies Viewed for the First Time
Ratatouille
Transformers
Orange County
Little Miss Sunshine
Pan's Labyrinth
Shooter
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Wet Hot American Summer
Rescue Dawn
The Simpsons Movie


For the past several years, I have been waiting until the paperback version of the Harry Potter books came out before reading them. Since Deathly Hallows is supposed to be the last in the series, I decided to read the book as soon as I could. I work with a lot of youngsters and I felt it best to know how it ended myself rather than having someone spoil it for me. I have to say, it is the best book in the series. I really didn't think Rowling was going to tie all the loose ends together but she did.

As for the other books, Prairie Dogs is a great introduction to those adorable little creatures, The Mote in God's Eye is considered a masterpiece of science fiction and deservedly so, and Love, Sex, and the I.R.S. is a hilarious farce.

As for films, I was pleasantly surprised by Transformers. Ratatouille is another great addition to the Pixar collection and is worth seeing for the water sequences alone--truly amazing. I was blown away by Pan's Labyrinth. Order of the Phoenix is the second-best Harry Potter movie. Finally, Rescue Dawn is a brilliant piece of filmmaking--it has Christian Bale and Steve Zahn in the role that might just re-define his career. Zahn is one of the most underrated actors in the business.

Something From the Summer

In the spirit of reflection, here are some things that I learned and experienced this summer.
· I gained a greater appreciation for many different styles of music and I was introduced to some great music that I never knew existed before.
·
My taste buds overflowed with the sensation from new foods and beverages.
·
I really like making movies, even ones that are made on a budget around $300.
·
I now know why sometimes people in countries that seem to be doing really well take up arms and revolt against the oppression, corruption, and hypocrisy of their governments. The Truth of what is going on can rarely be found on the surface.
·
I find prairie dogs to be adorable.
·
The imagination is a wonderful gift and tool from God.
·
It’s great to have friends that you can actually hang out with.
·
I smoked a hookah.
·
The Office is one of the best shows currently on television.
·
It’s both disheartening and infuriating to watch a baseball field being destroyed.
·
I was reminded of just how beautiful life truly is.
·
I’m a great storyteller.
·
You can make a difference in a person’s life even just working behind a store counter.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Recession

A recession is coming. Perhaps it'll be the start of something grand.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

'Tis finished.