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Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Real Short Story: All Hallows Eve Style!!!

Bad Medicine Down Mexico Way

"Where... are.... my meds??!!!" said the old female babyboomer as she walked toward the pharmacy located at Destiny Boulevard and Progress Street. Somehow, the daily cocktail of Prosaic, Thorazine, and Percocet had not quite kicked in yet. But hope lied on the shelves of this shady drug store, nonetheless.

The night steamed up a surprisingly cold mist, as the darkness clouded above the Mexican sky as the celebration of Los Dias de los Muertos, carried on in eagerness. "Just another excuse to get drunk," the traveling companion, her daughter-in-law, spoke to her drug-addled mother-in-law.

She enjoyed that fact. It gave her great satisfaction to know what little hope there was for hubby's mom was nil. At some point, maybe she could pry away some damn money, and damn her lousy kids to a reform school after setting the little brats up. Such was her nature - the sane one on this trip - to think about ways to rid herself of the old baggage of life.

"I'm tired, I need to rest." The old woman almost staggering now, after her recent pill-popping session.

"You know, a little liquor would top you off nicely," the bitch-in-law schemed.

"Oh, you know I can't mix meds with that tequila stuff. Damn Mexicans can't make water." The old lady slightly slurring her speech.

"But, Hellen, you gotta enjoy the trip!" Down went two shots. Then two more. By midnight, a drag race of sorts had taken place.

The race was not won by the younger set, as shortly after midnight, the grandma lugged her greedy daughter down the hill near a canteen that she knew of from a long ago trip. She had pocketed the pills earlier, had been for weeks, and surprised her daughter-in-law.

Now, she could live alone in Mexico with her inheritance safe from the clutches of her family. No one really gave a fuck about the bitchy daughter in law, and even if they did, her body would be a mess soon enough.

And such was the happy ending to be had for the drugged, old, and supposedly, damned...

Happy Halloween!!!

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Elven Magic: My Early Lessons in Writing Truth

Chapter 4 of Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue University

(left: Terry Brooks,
Alessio Sbarbaro)

This is a excerpt from a working draft of: You Got a Life...But Do You Have a Plan?

The golden path to career success is not some extraordinary leap from typical day plodder to the corporate CEO of a Fortune-rated company. Everyone knows this, or at least, should. Whatever you are working on, and toward, is going to require time to gain the mastery necessary to be called boss or become the boss of the new venture. As master martial artist Bruce Lee eloquently surmised: “I am not afraid of a man that has practiced 10,000 kicks once; but one that has practiced 10,000 times one kick.” Meaning there is going to be a right amount of practice, and time invested, in order to become respected for knowledge and know-how.

At some juncture, a choice to retire one jersey will have to be made, in order to put on another, better suited to the skills you have honed.

My Free Agency for Life Plan (Defunct)

I have held 21 various positions for corporate America, university-related, or odd job(s) combined together. All total: 20 1/3 years of punch-the-clock work force time with about 4 more years of weekly occurring or daily odd jobs for ordinary citizens for straight cash. No writing positions were pursued from 1988 through 2009.

A few to be listed were very, very short-term. So yes, I was a well-traveled soul. In a book read about destructive narcissists, I suppose this pattern would be ample grounds for supporting their thesis. In some ways, I agree that was the case. Yet, another alternative theory is: I never was too keen on the jobs I took to begin with. I took them out of need of money, not a desire to be a cook, server, cashier, inventory analyst, or, even an industrial engineer, as a Navistar position was a good step up in pay from Lear Corporation but with almost zero responsibility or necessity to act. No, I was a square peg for all sorts of reasons, many discussed, and so this aspect of my life is still a quandary and ripe for interpretation.

Trading in his Uniform: Lessons from a Writing Life

My favorite author growing up was Terry Brooks. His books would be a fallback position at points in my life when I did not know where I was going, or even lacked any foreseeable way to get there even if I did know.

As it turns out, I started out hating to read anything, sticking to sports pictorials or Jane’s Fighting series on ships and aircraft. But in 7th grade, I had an old bitty of an English teacher that required us to read 6 books for the year, and do ½ to 1-page chapter write-ups of each book we read, plus a final paper on a book. And she based 35% of our grade on this torturous task of reading. So, not wanting to be stuck in the 7th grade forever, I went through the stacks of books and found The Sword of Shannara. I did not know much about the book only that the cover (paperback) looked cool. So I read this 600 plus page fantasy epic (as it counted as 3 books which appealed). Little did I know it was the first of its kind to reach the New York Times bestseller list. Or that its author had an interesting story to tell around the time I first got a hold of his masterpiece (1984-1985).

Brooks was an avid reader and writer. He enjoyed his play, pre-D&D style, back when Howdy, Uncle Miltie, and Texaco Star Theatre were big on TV, then considered a luxury good. He formulated stories, as kids do to have a hobby, but Brooks took his driving passion to write and shelved it (partly) as he reached early adulthood. Practically, he went to law school and did what the American Dream entailed, work and put away childish endeavors. However, he had a story to write – and did so, on and off, in the mid-1970s – and met up with Del Rey Books, and Lester del Rey, who polished Mr. Brooks into a better writer and author, from the first epic I read to Brooks’ turning point after publication of The Wishsong of Shannara.

Terry Brooks was caught between his legal career and his writing career in late 1984. He was hedging his bets, afraid, after all the success, he could not make it solely as a novelist. He visited his editor (del Rey) in New York, and, upon discussion, borrowed an idea for a book involving buying a magic kingdom at a crossroads in one’s life. The story in many ways was a depiction of himself.

Brooks finally made his decision to quit playing for the legal team and moved on to the writing team completely. Since then, he has written over twenty other books in various formats.

Crossroads #1 & Cooking Without a Purpose

In early 1992, after my grandmother lost her battle with cancer, I came to crossroads #1. I was never going to be a great engineer. I knew that then, but kidded myself for years, thereafter. Meanwhile, I started to write bad poetry. Journaled – a nice way for a guy to say he does not have a diary – to express my inner thoughts. After I was dismissed from Purdue for my horrible grades in the fall of that year, I went back to Lowell and an apartment that was too small for even myself, and yet, my mom was going to be there too. We argued some – not to the point of utter disdain – but I knew I had royally screwed up, and that got her ire up. I got a job at Burger King (job #9), then at Bob Evan’s as a grill cook, #10 on my list, roughly.

I was 21, and lost.

I went to the library to find Mr. Brooks. I figured a guy like him had written a truth or two since we last met in middle school. Sure enough, I found 3 or 4 books I had not read of his yet. So I read them. I plowed through about dozen books over the next four months. John Grisham was my next fiction target, since Mr. Brooks was only about ¾ the way through The Heritage of Shannara Series. (And I only could afford to buy a couple of titles on Brooks’ other journeys – the Magic Kingdom For Sale –SOLD!!! world, his crossroad title.)

I started reading more and more from then on, moving over to non-fiction, some poetry, and of course, the baseball stuff. Alas, while I did not do it as consistently as others, I can say, that – in a time crisis – Brooks has helped this wannabe move over to a different team. Later on, during my prison stay, I found his The Word and The Void series and The Voyage of The Jerle Shannara series in the dusty bins of a correctional library.

Such is the nature of truth.

(Terry Brooks’ information: Sometimes the Magic Works: Lessons from a Writing Life, 2003, Del Rey (Ballantine Books), New York.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Baby Steps: The Maneuvers of The Day

Chapter 3 of Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue UniversityLink

How does one define whether they are making progress? I suppose it starts with actually doing something to improve the direction you are going towards. Like, today, I bought business cards for DCF Press. 20 bones for 500 cards and a t-shirt with my logo on it. Seems pretty mundane to the average big shot that reads my blog ("Hello, I need some VC, or better yet, angel investment, got money?") Yet, for someone like myself, whose last decade was a lost decade - a tired metaphor for describing Japan, and now, maybe the United States - doing anything like this is a start of motion out of crib, or
the Chrysalis stage of a butterfly, the time when we know going forward is an action.

This stage is necessary to get the ball rolling - to make investments though, as is stands, I have no income right now. (I suspect I'll be funding this venture though with money acquired through the dead-end jobs I want to escape and some student loans I plan to sign the dotted line to get.) But be that as it may, one thing I have avoided: editing. For some reason, though I know I've gone through countless revisions of one title - and put out a few other ideas - this fetters on.

Reading a book on screenplay writing -Syd Field's Foundations - this paraphrased tidbit helped:
"the last bit of work in a screenplay may not go smooth. You may write and rewrite and procrastinate. It is your love of the work, like reading the final chapters of a book, where you have grown to love the characters, the dilemmas, the heartbreaks, the story...too much to let it go, so you save the last few pages. And that is ok. So, don't worry."

I did that lately with my baseball title. I am afraid to revisit it. Because, I know it will be done. (That and a pesky desire to prove some things can have a better end...)

So, it is baby steps. And the 1000 words, and focus. The planning out of a different course. Ending something I started way back when no one but me gave a damn. Oh, that hasn't changed...yet.

Time to walk taller, and with a greater purpose...maybe to the moon!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Power of Tests: What We Don't Learn Won't Hurt Us

Chapter 2 of Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue University
Sitting today in the milieu of a studious crowd of students, pressing eagerly ahead on Anatomy, Pharmacy, or Physics test preparations, one realizes that for all those tests, most of the knowledge learnt will come from the actuality of doing it, later. Sure, I like my pharmacological people to know what they are giving me, but just one test - as a particular group stressed out about it - is not going to make or break one's career at handing out drugs.

A test is snapshot - like those Polaroids we used to love - of what we know until now about our treasured subject. To put it all in perspective, I took a final exam, Engineering in Training (EIT) , which was to cover a whole cornucopia of topics that - in hindsight - I knew shit-all about going into my last month in 1996. Yet, I passed with a 78 score. (The test is, of course, scaled. 70 is a passing grade.)
The fun topics I slogged through on this test:
  • Mathematics
  • Engineering Probability and Statistics
  • Chemistry
  • Computers
  • Ethics and Business Practices
  • Engineering Economics
  • Engineering Mechanics (Statics and Dynamics)
  • Strength of Materials
  • Material Properties
  • Fluid Mechanics
  • Electricity and Magnetism
  • Thermodynamics

The recent rates of passing the exam run across the gambit, but it looks like about 7 in 10 made it in 2010, across several disciplines of Engineering. Assuming the test has not become signficantly more difficult, I'd surmise I was able to do what 35% of my brethren in the field could not on the first attempt. (And I had a 2.07 GPA.)

Tests mean nothing. I proved it too in my work as an Industrial Engineer. Basically using common sense (the little God gave me) and tools I found to do whatever the task entailed. I never proceeded to the Professional Engineer (P.E.) level because:

  1. Never had a P.E. to learn from
  2. It rarely matters in Industrial (Civil, Structural, Material, Mechanical, yes indeed)
  3. You get a bit more pay, a whole bunch more liability, just like a Doctor or lawyer

So, sweating your ass over a single test is pointless. You can learn a test - this one, in particular - and what is the use of that in life. It did not matter much in mine...

The power of tests is you must pass only a few in life to become memorable. The ones I suppose we all know about:

  • Personal Relationships that matter
  • Financial Competency so we can survive any setbacks, which will come
  • Spiritual Awareness so we can get through the worst days (and periods) of our lives
  • Healthy Living so the future is less painful and filled with enjoyment pass 65 or 70
  • A Legacy (children, life's work, a business, etc) that people know you existed on this Earth

Those are the tests subjects you need to pass and engrain on the brain. I've failed all of them so far at 39. So to the four ladies who stressed out over an Anatomy exam: you'll pass more interesting tests soon enough. And do it with a better grade than I got in the 'real' test subjects of life.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Back to My Future: The Life and Times at Purdue University

Chapter 1: The Song and the Women Remain the Same
I might be the first guy ever to attend Purdue as a student in four different decades. I took a course at sixteen in Basic programming in 1988. Then, the campus held about 25,000 students, mostly dudes here for engineering a better mouse trap or the optimal keg flow mechanism for Fridays, Saturdays, and for final exams. I can remember my first roommate, Alfredo Portales, a pre-engineering student from Texas. We became fast friends, hung out a lot, played euchre, and tentatively hit on the 17 year-old girls that were nerdy enough (then) to attend a Purdue summer camp not specifically designed for cheerleaders as that was what we (or I) noticed everyday going by the Co-Rec to our 'basic' class.

Decade Two. After high school mercifully came to a close, I came back to the only place I felt at home in Indiana. I traveled back to Purdue painfully virginal, and with a crush still on a high school cheerleader, who I do not blame for not giving me the time of day, or millennium. She, even then, deserved a better engineering egghead. As rejection brought out the worst in me, college women (loosely 18 -22 years of age) did not bring about better at-bats. A tired baseball analogy: if you can’t hit the slider in the minors, then major league pitchers will throw you a steady diet of the same. Can you say, “caught looking,” yep, I thought you could, as my ass caught more splinters than Pinhead has acupuncture marks. I was ‘riding pine’ all right.

You probably get the feeling this is all there is to talk about: women. There were things called lectures I failed to attend on a better than 50% rate. I found drinking was right up the alley of a Scots-Irish-Cherokee family tree of lushes led by lead lush Sam Houston of Texas fame. The Co-Rec was a place to take on the best b-ballers, even a few name Robinson, Miller, Martin, Waddell, Painter, or Ms. Basketball Jennifer Jacoby, or ‘JJ’, when I played her frequently in the summer, or took her buzzed, two-in-the-morn order at Taco Bell for a spell. The ‘Brick Dick’ fell while I attended in the 1990s, as the ‘Clock Tower’ came to be an alternative way to find your way home while drunk – and suddenly too dumb to walk back to some shitty apartment, or jail cell-sized dorm room with a homemade loft made in a weekend move-in on a sticky August night. And a roommate with a nagging, big-boobed existentialist girlfriend, or just a bad case of beating himself blind. Yep, those are good times.

Decade Three. I took a class in 2000 in Indianapolis on Constitutional Law at IUPUI. “Ooh-wee-Poo-wee,” sounds like a babies’ sound upon letting you know they made caca or pooed themselves. This time I didn’t crap the course, getting the highest grade in the class, and a recommendation to attend law school. (From a lawyer!!! So you know that counts – ha!) I sat for the LSAT – got a 157 which sounds good until it is known it is out of 180, and you get 120 for signing your name. A woman would again trip me up (Bill Clinton syndrome, without any of the successful West Wing wet cigars) – same name as the cheerleader a decade before! – but then again, an entirely different scenario of life and loveless loquaciousness. I was still a rebel without a Rough Rider…and a head seriously clouded with alcohol, daddy issues, and all the crap I didn’t ooze out accordingly while still closer to diapers than adulthood.

Decade four. By now, you’d think going back to school was beyond the scope of this life’s course. Prerequisites and post-grads taken, interviews and epic fails done, and launchings and leavings a worn out path. In point of fact, this is the only time I am in it for the education. I actually read more economics now than industrial engineering ever. Now, I left once again for college with an unrequited love in the rear view. Different name (well…their middle names all happen to be Marie) and a penchant for ie(s) at the end of their first, like Industrial Engineering, IE. This time I make no declaration of love, or interest – she too happened to be a college cheerleader, is an elementary education teacher, and now, has had two DUIs, and is not even 25, yet. You might say why are you even interested? Or what did you do really different? What are you looking at, or for?

I am interested because when she isn’t trading in guys like a day trader on the NASDAQ, or doing three jobs (bar wench, teacher, cheer coaching) and drinking to boot, she is actually a really sharp egg. She is ‘damaged’ (flawed as we all are) – her brother told me she got pregnant a few years back, aborted the fetus (argue to yourself), and got a tattoo on her spine ‘TRUST’ – but all in a really psychologically, understandable way. (Ok...)

I can relate – but she puts up a WWI Western front I have yet to maneuver around. Plus, I am closer to 40 than she is 30, and financial security and coolness is likely her sort criterion for all men. Spend money on her, impress her flaky, fake-in-more-ways-than-one gal pals, and things happen, I suppose. But nothing that lasts. Thus, this soon-to-be college-poor guy that isn’t pulling down six figures will not get into that ballpark. I just get a ticket to watch BP, and see some flaws in the swings. (All those minor league cuts…now help.)

While I can write about my reality, talking is not so easy – when you actually are unable to cut through your crap and her crap, in unison. And “people always assume,” or presume you have no understanding of how you got from “there to here.” Even I presume with her...and for that, a hypocrite.

Doing different was easy: I just did not tell her I cared directly, nor did I make any overt play. She knows full well - but I stopped short. With the line of metro-sexual, quasi-biker troubadours playing a (VD) beat to her bedroom or bar door, I’d never get in that line anyways. I felt like the only thing I could do was give her a drinking lecture (yes, I do see the inside of bars – self-control and self-knowledge corrects that Kryptonic issue), but how would that help? She ain’t gonna listen – can’t name an alcoholic, or a woman, that has listen to any advice given by me in all of my years, sober or not. And goes backward to, “people always assume…”

So while I do actually have consideration (and attraction) for her, once again, I am not the man she desires presently, nor am I in the position to become that while she either: wrecks forward; or straightens out for someone much better than I. (The latter I hope does happen.) Instead, I just wished her good luck. She is indeed out of my league....

Decade Four and Beyond. The answer is two. Move on to my objective – create a ‘good bank’ of grades for admission to further education – and – creatively express myself in the mode you see here. There is no real point in pursuit of the ‘P word.’ Success has never followed; and I just get older, barely wiser, and generally poorer, due to inflation.

I have a ton of goals down to get at – and the female companionship was listed on that bucket list. But like all lists, you work on that which provides a window of opportunity quickest first. Short to long-term in sorting out a life – the day by day work put in. A 1,000 words a day, if possible. A friend a day, if God willing.

Looking at the future, I am trying for the idea of knowledge of a lot of things so I can always write about something. Maybe, make a lasting legacy. At least attempt that course. Like a hero, Ben Franklin, he did not get stuck on what he was doing for too long. He had probably 30 different titles and jobs in his life. And did about five or six, really, really well.

So while the song of women remained the same, this juke box hero needs a new joint to pump out to the clubs. 

Stephen Speaks: Out of My League.

Or: Jump Jump Dance Dance – 2.0.