Hotel Diaries: Friday Afternoon

On Fridays, the small British hotel managerimages (32)

rides the elevator constantly holding a coffee

with creamer and two sugars,

and she says, “You know what tonight is?”

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

equally aware that Friday has arrived,

but might be less excited because she

must work on Saturday.

 

“It’s date night,” said the British manager,

biting her lip and raising her eyebrow to

infer something almost certainly sexual.

“I’m going to get it on.”

This latest statement confirmed

she did indeed, mean to suggest sex.

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

and we all enter the elevator together,

and ride in silence down to the lobby.

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This One Time in Cienfuegos

800px-Street_in_Cienfuegos_(4482)Well, I remember this one time, I ate ants. They had been crawling in the bread, every day that we sat for breakfast on the back porch that overlooked a sad garden and a cracked paved street that followed the ocean. We could watch the sunset in the evening atop the house in ancient metal rocking chairs, and we could drink rum every night if we wanted.

During the first night in the new town, I did not touch the bread. I spat the bread onto my plate and wrapped the chewed bread in a napkin; ants crawled through the dry porous innards of the slices. By day four, I ate the ants—I could not be bothered by the extra protein, so small, squirmy black specks. I pressed the bread against the ceramic plates to suck up warm egg and then munch on the bread.

We could see the horizon from there, the sea crashing against the rocks, and lovers striding up and down the lines that divided the domestic from the wild.

 

A Conversation in the Cougar Mall: A Vignette

[Based on true events that happened today. A conversation.]

                He nodded at me. “Sure, used to be a cop. Dad was a cop. All my friends were too.” His legs were skinny, the muscles shrunk from disuse. He wore a beard hastily shaved, and I couldn’t guess his age, though he was older than most professors. For the past hour, we had been talking about his involvement in the War on Drugs as a police officer.

                “What was that like? I mean, what did you feel about what you did?”

interstate_95_map

                “It was great, don’t get me wrong. Worked Interstate 95 right out of Camden, Georgia. What you have to understand is, the drug trade runs through there. My daddy—he was a sheriff. One time he stopped a car and got three million dollars for the department.”

                “Wait, why?”

                “Because it was drug money. Bought cars, uniforms, everything. For Camden officers, the War on Drugs is the best thing that ever happened. It gave us purpose, not to mention funding we’d never had before. Don’t look at me this way. It’s cocaine—we dealt mostly with cocaine.”

                I never caught his name, but we had been speaking for an hour about his life; he sat in a motorized wheelchair eating just the chicken from a Chick-fil-a sandwich. “Cocaine?” I asked, shifting my books from my lap. “I didn’t realize rural Georgia had a coke problem.”

                “Sure, they don’t. The local cops—they just bust people for marijuana, but me—cocaine.” I wanted to ask him if he had been injured in the line of duty, but that would be rude. “See, you understand, cocaine comes out of Miami. You can get Coke there with 90% purity, maybe a kilo for $25,000. So you drive up through Georgia on the way to New York, where coke is maybe 30% pure. So you cut that coke into three piles, mix it with meth, Adderall, sugar, what have you—you can imagine these drug runners made a shit ton of money.”

                “Sure, sure. And you think that’s okay? I mean, I don’t condone anyone taking cocaine, but what about the War on Drugs. Don’t you think the money is misspent?”

                “Federally? Sure. But in my department, it was the one thing still funding us. Pull over three cars a year—they may have a couple million each in them. Used to work with my father, and with one bust, he could afford patrol cars for the entire force. I’d say it’s worth it. I mean, I agree with you about marijauna. That should be legal, even though I’d never try it.”

                “Even in your condition.”

                “Well, you could get addicted.”

                “Addicted to marijuana?”

                “Sure. You see, now that’s it’s legal in some states, the THC levels are higher. So kids start smoking sooner, they develop physical addictions. You’ve heard about this?”

                “Yeah, actually. They keep making more and more potent weed, until it has become dangerous.” I nodded, then looked at his legs. “So, what happened?” I gestured broadly at the chair.

                He shrugged. “Car accident. Gotta tell you, only about three weeks after the accident, the seat belt was recalled. What do you expect? Korean company.”

                “Uh-huh. Well, that’s shitty. I’m sorry.”

                “Well, we went to court, reached a settlement. They gave me millions of dollars but—I mean, what the hell is that? Just throw money at me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paralyzed from the waist down. Doesn’t change the fact I’m in a chair. Mind getting my smokes?”

                Rifling through the bag on the side, I found a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I handed him the cigarettes and helped him light it, then sat back down. “That’s rough. Corporations—well, you know.”

                “I mean, the same thing is with marijuana. Even when I was a cop, I didn’t think having it illegal was wrong, but hell—now? Now that it’s becoming legal, it’s becoming dangerous. Not that I care that people smoke it—long as they don’t drive.”

                “Of course. Just like drinking.”

                He nodded, and before rolling away to class, he added, “You want to get them going south.”

                “The cocaine dealers?”

                “Sure. You get ’em going south, you get millions of dollars, but going north, who cares? You bust them and all you can confiscate is piles of cocaine. What’s the use in that?”

Genre Crisis: “New Adult” Label

a_4x-horizontalNobody likes to be put into categories, most of all writers. But categories—or in the world of books, genres—are very helpful for marketing and selling a book. When querying publishing firms and literary agents, one must identify their genre, which helps the editors and agents decide whether the project will fall into their areas of interest. But recently, I’ve had an extremely difficult time placing my novel in a genre, which should be a good thing because agents seek works that cross several genres, except it seriously curtails one’s ability to market himself.

I could easily make up my own genre: Southern comedy transgressive? Meta-cultural southern teen exploration? Young adult, but not that young, but maybe still in their twenties who like funny but also serious writing?

The problem is, if the agent doesn’t recognize the genre, then she or he cannot place it right? I tried literary, but that

dasfasf

can’t just say that: you need a better phrase.

brand is too broad. While my project has literary elements, it certainly could be explained more descriptively. I tried young adult, but this generally means the books is marketed for teens ages 12-15. My novel is marketed toward older teens and 20-somethings. It, like many New Adult novels, tracks the growth and development of young adults whose identities are forming, who are seriously changing.

So maybe your book is a noir space opera western with thriller-paced plotting, literary aesthetic, and occult elements? Well, you need a better way to say that, a shorter way.

As I’ve been e-mailing literary agents, literary magazines, and publishers, this question has plagued me constantly. Finally I found an age-group description “New Adult” with which to market the novel THE HEATHENS AND LIARS OF LICKSKILLET COUNTY. “New Adult” bridges the gap between the safe and young group of Young Adult (YA) readers and Adult fiction. But because my books deals with characters in between, I think this genre (a relatively new invention of words) is fitting.

Querying agents has so far not worked out, but I am still sending many, many emails all over the country (and the world!) to publish this novel, as well as poems and short stories.

Have you had trouble labeling a piece of work? What genre did you settle on?

Warning: May Contain Metaphors

I write a sonnet: iambic Tupac.

A rocket rented: let’s skip the sweet talk.

In the space the clouds are not even there,

Nothing can echo: not even prayer.

 

Calculate life spans: TI-83.

Death could come for you: I just hope not me.

Got a collection of glass bottles here—

Stocking up all week; stocking up all year.

 

Graveyard shift Arby’s: Roast Beef Sandwich please?

Hide my soul in grease: hide my heart in cheese.

Equilibrium of a black-singed penny

Insignificant if I owned any.

 

Feral ain’t the truth; I don’t have no proof.

Structure breeds the breath of Creation’s death.

Summer Publishing Haze

While summer serves as my one chance to sit down, breathe, and send out short stories to literary magazines, it also usually serves as a time for literary editors to take a break. I have been sending out short stories to various magazines that are still open, and 24 rejection letters later, I came to a realization I can’t actually publish short stories I’ve previously published on the blog. For that reason, I’ll be deleting the short stories I intend to send out.

Otherwise, I won’t be able to publish these stories. By the end of the day, I will have taken them down—sorry if you never got a chance to read them. Submerged and Memoir will continue to be on the blog, but Chicken Deluxe, Monster Theory, and Gartenswerg will be gone.

I have been working on various other short fiction pieces, which also face publication possibilities. Whenever I sniff the first inkling of success, I’ll be talking about it here on Word Salad. Until then, I will be working. I will be busy writing, editing, and submitting.

Poem: “Revolutionary”

images (18)

[A poem about a specific event in Cuba, though severely exaggerated. It had an interesting impact and summed up much of what I learned while I was in the country. I’ll post a live reading of it when I debut it at an open mic, which should be some time next week.]

On my final night in Cuba, while strolling home

from the Malecon, drunker than Hemingway

and more nostalgic than Buzz Aldrin during a full moon,

a boy spat on my shoes and screamed,

“Screw you, dirty American. You ruin everything!”

That is the edited version of his comment,

bleary-eyed and angry as he was.

My entire life I had grown up being called names:

Spazz, geek, twitch, space cadet, nerd, stupid face,

weirdo, pothead, loser, Southern boy, and usless.

But nothing hurt my pride more than

being called, a “dirty American.”

Which in Latin America is a strange insult:

they too are America, not just the United States,

which the US citizens tend to forget.

Without breaking a sweat, I turned about face

and stood in the place before him and said,

“Look, don’t you realize—don’t you see?

I love you!”

We stared each of us for a moment, tense,

and I said, “Look, man, we’ve got a war going on,

and we’re losing. Love is losing.

We’re being drowned in a sea of apathy

while our violence is anything but holy.

But we need to return to the sacred, to the human,

to the soul and to our passions.

We’re facing giants of oppression

and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll be done for.

So you and me, we gotta stick together.

We have to rally on the side same,

and what’s the point of shouting at each other on the street

when you’re little brother doesn’t have anything to eat?

Why would you want to fight like this

when you don’t own a toilet where you can take a piss?

So, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you,

so don’t you dare talk to me that way.

I know, I know, you can only get drunk and forget your life

only because today was a good day.

But what about tomorrow?

When will we fight for tomorrow?

When will we wield our imaginations like swords?

I’ll charge into the battlefield mounted on a unicorn

There’s no time to squabble and there’s no time to mourn.

Because it’s bigger than us.”

I realized as he nodded his head

He didn’t understand a damned word I said

But he understood my voice and with what passion I spoke

and I guess he figured I was an alright bloke

He shook my hand and I went on my way

and we got drunker, because today had been a good day.

Sometimes, words won’t do, and sometimes

we fail ourselves—that’s evolutionary

But if we live and we love,

that act is revolutionary.

“Not a Romance Novel”

You say, you want nothing more than to kiss me,

and I say, please turn off your damned phone.

Don’t you realize you’re missing the stars?

They’re trying to make a conversation with us

with winks and twinkles and hazy introductions.

This isn’t a romance novel

and it’s not a rodeo either.

It’s just another night of breathing and

of panoramic speculations of the galaxy

and of summer.

A Brief Jaunt in the Woods: Appalachian Journal

Last night, I returned with four other guys from a three-day trek along the Appalachian Trail through the Great Smokey Mountains. We imagined a fine stroll in the woods, a few days breathing good air and overlooking mountain vistas, but we ended up with cramped calves, blistered feet, and weathered shoulders. While it did not bring the calm or enlightenment that some people claimed, the mountain trip taught me a lot about expectations, companionship, and the nature of nature.

                Below is a direct transcription of the little journal I kept throughout our hikes, including crazed ideas, admissions, and swear words. The entire journey proved harder than any of us thought, but we made it out alive and mostly intact.

June 9, 2013

12:31pm

Spirit Quest. Walkabout. Seeking.

Whatever cultural term might be used to describe a spiritual journey in the wilderness, this is not it. Rather, this will be a walk to death, the ascension to the hangman’s noose. Like many other confused, existential, directionless Caucasian males in their teenage prime, we chose to amble up into the Smokey Mountain National Park, hike a few miles of the Appalachian Trail.

The sky has decided to piss all over us, and I admit I’m not ecstatic to begin walking through muck and cold rain and liquefied misery.

1:20pm

After a wrong turn, we found ourselves lost along the highway. Using our smart phone devices, we found a new way to the entrance to the park. After picking up a map and looking through the visitors center, we are preparing for the hike.

6:40pm

Having entered the trailhead at 2 pm, we have not yet reached our destination. I sit along, awaiting the slower leg of our group to catch up. I need their water. I am unsure how much further it could be, but I hope I am close. The hike has been far more strenuous than I believed, heaving a fifty pound pack uphill. The incline never ceases, and even when I think I have reached the summit, the trail continues up. The last 1/3 has been tame, but exhausting. The first three miles went up a creek, the water rushing past our soaked shoes as we scraped our legs on rocks and climbed hand and foot. We did not prepare for, certainly did not anticipate, the sheer pain of going on and on, trapped in a steaming hallucination of green.

We spotted a single snake, but our worst enemy is the streams. Some have simple brides or even fallen trees to cross, but many we fall into, slipping on the rocks or moss. At the beginning of our journey, just past the first friendly mile, I took off my shoes to clear the stream, clinging to branches as I skirted along the clumsy rocks. My sleeping bag splashed into the stream, soaked through, and for a mile, I carried the bag draped over my shoulders.

I hear my comrades approaching and admit the time to sit has been restful. Like with every new horizon, I pray the campsite lies just beyond.

7:30pm

Steeper. The camp is nowhere in sight, and I feel my body and mind slipping away. My shoulders bulbous and raw and red.

8:10pm

This trail mocks me. Every tree masquerades as a peaceful meadow, but is only another sharp turn up this damned mountain. The Devil hovers behind every boulder, beckoning with bread, with rest, but there is nothing.

It is dark and grow darker. A storm brews in the distance, and not for the first time today am I considering whether I will die here.

8:30pm

I am taking more frequent breaks as I begin to lose hope. I sit on a log observing the first sign I’ve encountered in hours. Ricky encountered me on the trail, on his way to locate Stephen who had disappeared long ago. The sign says there is only a half mile left to the campsite, and I remember believing we had only 1.5 miles left after the 3 mile marker, but we crossed that at 5pm.

My feet are blistered, numb. Even to curl a toe takes great exertion. But Ricky’s presence made me feel better.

It just started raining.

9:00pm

Inane thoughts, rambling.

As I neared the site, I stepped wrong, rolling my angle. I could feel my muscles stretch unnaturally, snapping loudly. “Arrrgh. Fuck.” I collapsed, thinking the worst: that my ankle was broken, that I was trapped.

Three weeks before in La Habana, Cuba I had sprained my ankle and been unable to walk properly for a day– it still affects me now. If I suffered the same fate on the trail, we would be stranded. Alone, I called out the names of my friends. No one could hear me.

Clutching my foot, I assessed the damage. This did not feel as before, and I suspected I could walk given time. Putting weight on the foot, I hobbled across the trail until I felt comfortable walking upright. Then I hefted my pack onto my shoulders and plod on. Each step sent a jolt through my leg, but by now, that sort of pain felt irrelevant.

Funny to think, but while making the final stretch, I thought of how I could transform this experience into a lesson, the sort of clear, cut-and-dry morality  imposed in a standard college essay or fable. Nothing came to mind except that I had overestimated myself– we all had.

We were weak, broken by strain, and lost. Five inept white bys, wondering the dark, dangerous forest.

I reached the camp where Tim and Ricky were, and I set up a tent with ease. While waiting on food, I spilled a bag of granola in my tent, and I cursed myself for bringing rats and other vermin to me.

Ricky showed up with Stephen, both exhausted, and we ate soup. Stephen, like all of us, had at once lost hope on the trail, sitting down on the side, refusing to move. In that way, we are relying on each other to keep going, and I hope we can continue to do this tomorrow.

We learned that the estimation of the trail (4.5 miles) had been wrong and instead we had hiked 6.7 miles. That was why my mind suffered delusions after mile 3, because I thought I was nearly finished. But the I had not even been half-way. Not even half-way up what we learned was the second-highest mountain in the entire park.

10:30pm

We talked for a long time, eating a type of soup that warmed itself when you shook the can. It began to rain in earnest, and we retreated to our tents.

 

June 10, 2013

8:15am

Woke up to my tent filled with water, my shoes and much of my clothes soaked. I could not sleep in my wet sleeping bag and so made do with two towels covering me.

8:49am

The others still sleep.

Not all is misery here. I trekked up a hill to the mountain’s peak, though a good view is impossible through the thick of green leaves. But finally I am feeling a bit of accomplishment at climbing this damned mount.

10:30am

Waiting for clothes to dry. Packing up.

11:45am

Our first leg of our journey proved easier than yesterday, a few brief inclines but mostly flat trail. The descents are no easier, and we move slowly to avoid tumbling down. I packed my bag better with the mostly dry sleeping bag packed inside. We rest now on a bunch of logs. We overlook the mountains draped in white gauzy mist.

12:45pm

We have stopped to cook lunch. My shoulder burn again under the strain of a heavier pack. The trail has been tame, and most of yesterday’s rain has evaporated. No more sliding, spilling, and falling.

The mountain we climbed yesterday was one of the highest in the range, more than 5,000 feet. Hopefully, we will not continue to underestimate this wicked place.

For lunch, we’re eating from a  giant canister of beans and rice. I admit I’m quite hungry, and we will not eat again until nearing nightfall. The sun is very warm in this spot, the wind refreshing.

4:12pm

We arrived in the campsite an hour ago. I have set up my tent. Others are currently setting p theirs. Very hot at the moment, but the bulk of the day’s strain is behind us. The final miles was perilous and muddy, and we hiked through more creeks.

7:00pm

Woke up from a nap. Cooking chicken, rice, and beans with pita chips.

The others have decided against spending a day to explore the area. There is not much to explore we have not already, and we will want to come home soon. The adventure might end prematurely, but it has been an adventure.

9:00pm

We started a fire and sat around it, some of us smoking cheap cigars we bought at the Cherokee Indian Reservation. We’re going to sleep now, as tomorrow might be the longest leg of our journey yet.

 

June 11, 2013

1:12pm

Woke up late at 10am with a stiff back and throbbing head. We encountered an old man hiking who simply grunted in our direction. Now we have learned that he hiked a mere 0.3 miles from a highway to our campsite; we had the opportunity to simply hike out, then hitch-hike, but instead we are already headed in the opposite direction. I do not particularly like this loyalty to the direction we’re headed because we’re unsure how far we must travel.

We left at 12pm and made decent time to the sign we’d encountered before. 1 mile uphill was more difficult than yesterday’s 4 miles down. We have stopped for lunch now– rice and beans again.

1:50pm

Making lunch now that Kevin and Stephen have caught up. Cooper Creek Trail is at 1.5, then there will be more space before we reach Mingus Creek Trail. Hopefully not too far. Though we feel nearly finished, we have a long way to go.

We have decided to eat at Waffle House once back in civilizations, and the thought of a sizzling burger will hopefully keep me moving forward.

5:23pm

Walked another 3.6 miles since lunch. The first 1.5 to Cooper Creek felt easy, so when we reached the crossroads, we kept hiking without stopping. The next 2.1 miles almost killed me.

Half a mile in, we started uphill, back up that damned mountain we climbed the first day. This was a place called Deep Low Gap, a huge elevation change between two high mountains. We spent the morning going down one, and I just spent three and a half hours hiking up the other.

I slowed, dehydrated, exhausted, and eventually I fell behind Tim and Ricky who took the lead. Our pack spread thin, stretched across miles of mountainous terrain. I took many breaks, fearing I could not make it.

700 feet before this intersection, I stopped, plopping down. I saw nothing, my mind turning to mush, but I came to two realizations in that moment of desperation:

1.) I could not go on.

2.) It didn’t matter.

Even though I thought there was no way I could go on, it didn’t matter. I had to go on. I needed to stop, but I could not. This mountain cared nothing for what I thought I could or could not do– it never considered my limitations. The thought of it growing dark again, being trapped here, haunted me. I stood up and kept on, not because of any resolve or new-found strength, but because there were no other choices. Soon, I spotted Ricky and Tim at the intersection, and I collapsed next to them.

Here, there was nothing to learn, but what pain could teach me, and somehow, despite the fact I knew deeply I could not make it, I had made it. And there were still 3 more miles to walk, heaving that pack.

5:55pm

We worry about Kevin and Stephen who have not reached our stopping point yet. They have fallen behind. Ricky and Tim have walked back down the path, sans their packs, to locate them.

8:21pm

We reached the end, after plodding through creeks, and I rolled my ankle again. We waited for ten minutes and continued. Seeing the parking lot brought great relief. Everything did– sinks and toilet seats and the promise of air conditioning. I dresses in fresh clothes I had kept in the van. We washed our muddy legs in the restroom.

We took the Blue Ridge Parkway, which gave us views of those mountains of wicked beauty, all the view we never got climbing them.

8:29pm

Strange to think we camped at the second-highest campsite, seeing these mountains tower over us now. In a way, we feel like conquerors. Weakened by war, but victorious.

8:44pm

Saw an elk on the side of the road. A much more interesting animal than ever we saw trudging through the trail. Up there, there were deer, snakes, and bugs– mostly bugs.

9:30pm

We’re sitting now at a Waffle House, that wonderful bastion of civilization, that beacon in the distance we each crawled towards. We may not return home until very early tomorrow morning, but that seems a little irrelevant now, as the smell of hash browns floats under our nostrils. Mostly, we’re broken, though mostly, we’re exhausted, though mostly we’re satisfied. Never mind– mostly, we’re just hungry.