Jetstream

Good Friday!

Yesterday was not one of my more pleasant days–although it wasn’t nearly anything as horrible as Wednesday was. Paul and I took Scooter to the vet for his bloodwork (he’s a senior kitty) and to check on how his diabetes is going, and then headed out to Costco to look at washing machines. We found one we liked, I took a picture of it (you can only buy them by ordering on line), and after we got back home we ordered it. We will have a brand spanking new washing machine delivered here next Friday, and I’ll have to deal with not doing any laundry between now and then–although I can use the one in the carriage house if need be in the meantime. (It’s very weird; not being able to do the laundry until next week makes me itch a little bit–not that it matters in the least. We have plenty of clothes, we bought some really nice new towels at Costco so that situation is under control for now, so I am not really sure why precisely it’s making me itchy that I can’t do a load of laundry…go figure.)

I was also tired all day yesterday; despite the good night’s sleep; I think all the stress and mood swinging of Wednesday night just completely drained me. I had little to no energy; after we picked up Scooter from the vet and I had my board meeting, I literally collapsed into my easy chair and dozed off for a bit, which never happens. I am not now, nor have I ever been, someone who either could nap; whenever I was able to take one, it kind of defeated the purpose of the nap because I would inevitably wake up from the nap feeling more tired and wrung out than I did before taking the nap. But I dozed off yesterday afternoon, woke up and did some things around the Lost Apartment, and then dozed off again during the early evening–definitely not like me. (A purring, sleeping kitty in my lap didn’t help me stay awake. Paul and I have long since recognized Scooter’s super-power is the ability to put us both to sleep; or in my case, most of the time, paralysis; I lose the desire to do anything but flip through channels or watch videos or find a documentary to watch.)

I did discover, by scrolling through the documentary listings on Netflix last night, a 2019 documentary about Dolly Parton, and let’s face it, I’ll watch anything with or about Dolly Parton because, well, I will always love her. I think the most interesting part of the entire thing was watching Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda trying to describe who Dolly is; whether it’s a persona or if what we see of her is really who she is. I also find it interesting to see the the similarities in the rags-to-riches tales of our biggest stars–like it’s almost a prerequisite for them to achieve massive stardom is to come from practically nothing; as seen in Tina earlier this week as well. (I also love how the story of how Dolly turned down Elvis’ offer to cover “I Will Always Love You” because he always required fifty percent of the publishing rights to everything he sang; the wisdom of that refusal seen when Whitney Houston turned it into one of the most popular single recordings of all time in the early 1990’s–and how incredibly gracious Dolly always is about that very thing; “She made me rich!”)

And when that was finished–all too soon, I could watch anything about Dolly for hours–we found a documentary series about John Wayne Gacy (Paul is fascinated by serial killers, and Gacy in particular) that uses actual footage from an interview Gacy gave several years after his conviction in an attempt to convince the press of his innocence; footage that was never seen until now…and Christ, how creepy was the guy? We watched the first episode, with me sort of awake–I kept dozing off and waking up again–and once it was finished we both retired to bed. I slept deeply and well last night, and feel rested today; my brain feels like it’s functional again and my muscles and body feel rested; which is good because now I have to really do a deep dive into finishing the book.

That’s really all I have to do this weekend–I am not even planning on going to the gym again until the book is done because I know it’ll wear me out and I won’t want to work afterwards. Much as I hate putting off the gym like this, I also know myself a little too well to pull of the self-deception of oh of course I’ll work on my book after I work out…when inevitably I am always exhausted afterwards. I feel good and better after a workout of course, but eventually the muscle fatigue sets in and then I am done done done.

And on that note, the book ain’t going to write itself, is it? See you tomorrow morning, Constant Reader! Be well an stay safe!

The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

jonicover.final

The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)

SATURDAY!

I slept in this morning gloriously, and it is apparently already above seventy degrees outside; I see nothing but blue sky when I look up, and the sun is shining through my filthy windows. I will undoubtedly have to get out the ladder and do the windows today. My plan was for today to be my day off; cleaning, of course, doesn’t count because as weird as it sounds, I actually like to do it.

I might start some preliminary editing on the secret project as well. But don’t hold me to that, okay?

Yesterday, a conversation with friends somehow ended up on the subject of the movie The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, which I saw in the theater when it was first released but haven’t really seen much since then, other than the clip of “Little Bitty Piss Ant Country Place,” which was de rigeur at Lafitte’s on Sundays for tea dance. I liked the movie when I first saw it, and some of the music was quite catchy. But there was always something a bit off about it. Last night I decided to stream it, watch it from a modern-day perspective, and yes, the movie is quite disturbing on many levels.

It seems funny now, but back when the film was released many television stations couldn’t say the word “whorehouse” on air; many newspapers wouldn’t print the word, either. (I don’t know how they reported on actual whorehouses; I guess they called them ‘houses of prostitution’ or something like that) And the tone of the movie…well, I guess it could be best described as “Hee Haw, only with whores.”

And that was really what the problem was for me, on this rewatch. Prostitution is prostitution; whether you think it should be a crime or not (for the record, I think it should be legalized and taxed) turning it–and sex–into this ‘wink-wink-nudge-nudge’ cutesy musical just doesn’t work. And there’s also an underlying cynicism to the movie that clashes with the cutesy-ness: the governor is a politician who doesn’t really care one way or the other whether the Chicken Ranch is breaking the law or is a boon to the economy of the town but only about popular opinion–making his decision only when the polls come in; Melvin P. Thorpe, the Houston news sideshow who breaks the story and gets the Chicken Ranch shut down is a snake-oil salesman of the worst kind–a phony and a liar and an anything-for-ratings shyster; likewise, the political structure of the town is perfectly fine with the existence of the Chicken Ranch and taking Miss Mona’s money until things go south and they all abandon her when the spotlight is shone upon the town; and so on and so forth. All along the whorehouse, Miss Mona and the sheriff trying to protect her as shown as the heroes/victims of the story while law-and-order/politicians/the news are shown to be slick hucksters and really of lower character than the whores–begging the question, ‘who are the real whores here? The girls are selling their bodies but the others are selling their souls.’

There’s also the political subtext of city vs. country; a very popular political subtext in our so-called liberal popular culture, in which city people are seen as buffoons and the country people are the voices of reason and common sense–this thread has frequently run through film and television and even in literature to the point where politicians will feed on it: Sarah Palin’s “real America”, etc., ignoring the fact that the urban centers are the engines that drive the economy and where most of the population live. In this story, the ‘city folk’ from Houston are seen as the villains, not understanding something that the ‘country people’ see as not a big deal, making a big fuss over something that doesn’t bother the country people, and ultimately, telling the country people how to live their lives.

The fact that this movie is based on a true story makes the fluffy film even more unfortunate. Looking into the original non-fiction piece “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas” that ran in Playboy, the film pretty much actually follows the trajectory of the movie’s story. They did take poultry in exchange for services during the Depression; the business did exist as long as it did in the movie; the sheriff did refuse to close it down despite being ordered to by the Attorney General of Texas; the house operated pretty much the way shown in the movie.

As I watched the movie again, I couldn’t help but wonder not only what happened to the girls after the Chicken Ranch was closed, but where they came from to begin with. I almost wish the movie had been made based more closely on the original article rather than turned into a musical–although the musical was a Tony-winning hit on Broadway. Also, casting Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in the leads was also a mistake. Dolly was coming off her debut in 9 to 5, which had made her a bona fide movie star, and Burt Reynolds was one of the biggest male stars in the world at the time, which resulted in a lot of sanitization, which kind of hurt the movie. Burt and Dolly have chemistry together, and charisma to spare…but you never forget it’s Burt and Dolly, rather than Sheriff Ed Earl and Miss Mona. Burt and Dolly being cast also resulted in an adaptation to the original story which turned them into romantic interests, and a schmaltzy scene where they go on a picnic and stare up at the stairs and Miss Mona talks about her religious faith–having to explain Jesus to the sheriff in such a basic way that makes it clear that Ed Earl has somehow, as a small town Texas sheriff, never set foot in a church or watched a religious epic movie. I find that rather hard to believe.

There’s also a delicious irony in the fact that in a movie about a whorehouse, there is only one brief flash of bare breasts. The majority of the nudity in the movie is male–and it’s all in the post-game locker room scene, where the Texas A&M football team, having won their annual rivalry game with Texas, is excited about going to the Chicken Ranch (the winning team’s seniors are rewarded with a trip there). There are lots of great bare dancer bodies, even bare butts as they perform “Aggie Stomp.” (When I first saw the movie, I greatly enjoyed this scene as there were very few places to see the bare male form in popular culture at the time, or that many bare male forms at the same time. But even then I thought the guys weren’t bulky enough to be football players, and there certainly were no men big enough to play on the line.) The song itself again is one of those ‘wink-wink’ things, because we are supposed, as an audience, to believe that for college football players, being taken to a whorehouse was a treat–because football players never had access to women’s bodies for sex otherwise.

Riiiiiiiiight.

Of course, the Chicken Ranch is supposed to be closed until things settle down, but Miss Mona risks opening for the football party–which is, of course, when Melvin P. Thorpe and his camera crew break in and film. There’s also, if you pay attention in this scene, some subversive sexuality going on during the Aggie party–we see two players in bed with one woman; two guys and two women together; etc.

The movie now seems much sillier than it did at the time; terribly dated, more than a little misogynist, and like I said earlier, that ‘wink-wink, nudge-nudge’ approach to sex and sexuality now reads as annoyingly and insultingly coy.

I would actually love to read a non-fiction history of the Chicken Ranch, to be honest.

And now, back to the spice mines.