Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Harmony Joy Ride

Here's the first chapter of a pulpy sci-fi/apocalyptic story I've been working on. I might write a series of these stories. We'll see.



One
I take a drink from a moonshine glass, and soon everything is right as rain.
            We are sitting in plastic yard chairs, Bill, Theodore, and I, resting beneath the boys' canopy as the rain falls, heavy and hot like it always does this time of year. The boys have a statue on their lawn that has been there for at least fifty years or so, and you can always tell when the rain is bad because that hunk of copper will start to run its colors; it bleeds pale, rusty blue. It's some lady holding a torch with her right hand and clutching a book in her left. Her crown chipped off long ago—Bill and Theodore always have to keep a watch on the lady, since copper is precious, and some of their errant shots have done more harm than good—and yet she still has a regal air, like she'd be a queen, crown or no. The boys call her their good wife, the one who stuck around. Betty ran off with a mutant salesman about year or two ago, having tired of serving two ornery alcoholic husbands, and she must have really desired an escape, because her salesman certainly wasn't a looker with his forked tail and clubbed feet. Not that Bob and Theodore are lookers—Bob's got a nasty scar that splits his bottom lip in the left corner, and Theo's got a goiter the size of a golf ball—but they are not bad for our part of the Greater Kentucky Wasteland. Hell, Cletus, our mayor, is a hermaphrodite. I think that's the reason most of us voted for him. We all figured he'd get the job done without getting distracted by the temptations of his position, though we were all wrong on that, I must admit. Still, Cletus protects our precious drinking water. He makes sure the militia is well-armed. So I find no fault with him.
            The boys have let me taste their new batch, clear and sharp as a mountain stream, and I find that the shine helps put my problems in a lesser light. Rita, my red-haired wife, fades into the warm murky drowsiness of the afternoon drink, and her screams, once as sharp and cutting as the steel blade on my hip, grow quieter and quieter as I relax and listen to the chirp of the pterosaurs. One of brutes stretches its twenty-foot wings and yawns lazily, the rain sloughing off its long, jagged beak. Bill used to shoot at them because they shit all over his yard, but that got expensive, and now he just lets them perch in the maple trees, only firing off a shot when they get too numerous. They tend to roost in the ruins of the old theme park that lies to the west of our town, and it’s been hypothesized that they originated there. Ralph Jefferson took a posse through the ruins and came back telling tales of an aviary and gigantic enclosures that house the bones of monsters; Ralph’s a bit of a loon, though, so I don’t know how much to believe, especially considering that not one of his posse returned. “Monsters got ‘em,” he says, and he shows everybody a booklet he pocketed from the theme park, and that’s how we knew what to call these giant flying lizards. They are not violent as far as I can tell, although I’ve seen them carry off small dogs and cats. I’m more scared of Ralph, since he’s suspected of associating with bandits and worse.
            “Well I’m about done here,” I say to the boys, stretching my legs and grabbing my rain jacket from a hook hanging on their trailer. “You know I owe you a bushel of greenies. You all collect whenever you feel like it.”
            “Greenies? I kinda want some sweeter apples, not them shriveled little ones,” says Bill.
            “They all shriveled and little, but I like them yella ones. Those are sweet,” proclaims Theo.
            “They’re later in the season,” I say, wanting to hold on to my best-tasting fruit. “You gentlemen can make a good shine out of the greenies. I have plenty of them, and the price is certainly right.”
            “We wouldn’t rob a man of his livelihood,” says Theo. “Bring us a bushel of greenies next time.”
            “I’d like some meat if you have any. You can get a lot of shine for a couple pounds of meat,” says Bill.
            “All the meat is spoken for,” I say, thinking of my poor, feeble cattle. “I’ll sell you some of Brea’s meat, but you know, half of her insides are her outsides, and some people refuse to eat unnatural beef.”
            “It don’t matter,” responds Bill. “Nothin’ around here’s natural.”
            I leave the boys and take the road back to my place. There are red ferns everywhere drinking in the acid rain, wriggling their tentacles over the moistened earth, and I think about how Theo claims they weren’t always like that according to his grandfather, who passed away about sixty years ago, and who always harbored an intense nostalgia for the postwar world. Everyone has their family stories; many have documents, pictures, ancient computers. These artifacts are ghosts, seen occasionally but not necessarily believed-in, since they contrast with what one experiences constantly on a daily basis. My wife refuses to believe that cats ever had fewer than five legs, and I can’t really blame her, since I’ve never seen a four-legged cat. I can, however, entertain the possibility of a four-legged feline, and I think this difference illustrates the main problem of our marriage.
            When I reach our house, I'm surprised to see Cletus standing on my front porch, a grim look on his narrow visage. Cletus has a long, leonine face with a prominent cleft chin, the latter being the source of an unfortunate nickname ("Mayor Butt-face") often repeated among his detractors, of which there are many. It is not easy being a hermaphrodite with a butt-chin, even in a mutant-friendly community, and such difficulties have given our mayor a hang-dog disposition. I walk up to Mr. Morose (my own nickname for Cletus) and place my hand on his shoulder. He's wearing a wide-brimmed hat that he bartered off some Western trader for way too much (there are no secrets in Halley's Well), though it does look good on him, and I tell him so.
            "Thanks," he says. "Ellis, I hate to be the bearer of bad news..."
            "Shine?" I offer, pushing the jar toward him.
            "Ellis, I'm just gonna say it..."
            "Well come inside first," I tell him, opening the screen door. "I won't have bad news delivered on my front porch."
            Cletus shuffles in, taking off his hat. My home is more than a little cluttered, for Rita is a pack rat, always having me haul junk from some old barn or cellar to store in our house so that we have to bend and crawl through the halls of our home like gophers. She says the stuff comforts her, though I don't know how a red-rusted plow sitting in what should be our dining room gives her any reassurance. She'd like to be an artifact hunter, I know, but I won't have her out in the wastes with its many dangers, and besides, we haven't any money for a decent HAZMAT suit.
            I motion for Cletus to sit down in a rocking chair that Rita recently restored. I plop my ass down on a baby-blue colored stool and take a long sip of shine. Cletus and I are friends, but I'm not a confidant of his, and I can only assume that the bad news is of a personal nature.
            "Well, what is it?" I ask.
            "It's Rita. She's gone."
            I stare down at the wood floor, noticing the various scuff marks and scars. "Who'd she leave with?"
            "No one. She was taken by bandits. A couple of 'em posed as traders and left early this morning. Ralph Jefferson is missing, along with three women, one being your wife. I don't know how they got the women out without anyone knowing. I'm assuming Ralph was an associate of theirs, which really hurts me, Ellis, you gotta know. Everyone was suspect of Ralph. I should've kicked him out a year ago. You have my deepest condolences. I know words can't make a right. But all the same, I'm sorry."
            I look at Cletus and try not to put it all on him. I have to ask the obvious.
            "Why would they want her?"
            "She's pretty, Ellis. She ain't got any visible mutation. I hate to say it, but they either want her for themselves, or they're selling her to someone in the West."
            "You didn't send anyone after them?"
            "We don't have the resources, you know that. You know how many towns have been pillaged? This could be a feint. It probably ain't, but it could be, and I have to consider the town above all. I'm sorry. All we can do is pray."
              "Goddamn politicians," I say. "All you can give me is impotence. 'All we can do is pray.' Is that really true? What you mean is that that's all you will do."
            Cletus is admiring the condition of my hardwood floor, it would seem. He sighs and looks up at me with sad, baggy eyes.
            "You're the first husband I've told. I have two fathers to speak to, and I don't suspect it will be any easier. I'm gonna leave. I tell you again, I'm sorry."
            "Who are these bandits, and where were they heading?"
            "I can't in good conscience tell you. They're a big group with automatic weapons, and they have a reputation for being cruel. That should be enough. There's no sense wasting another life."
            I jump up and grab him by the lapels and throw him against the wall. "We're talking about my wife, you goddamn hermaphrodite!" I yell, lifting him up off the floor. I'm a big man, and the mayor is not. "Tell me what you know!"
            "They call themselves the Harmony Joy Ride," sputters Cletus, his eyes darting and wild. "They're based out by Happy Fun Land somewhere. Now put me down, goddamnit! I didn't take your wife."
            I drop Cletus and back up, fuming. A red tinge has covered everything in sight, which means a storm is coming. Outside great crimson colored cloud formations boom and thunder, promising wrath and radiation. I tell Cletus to get out of here before the winds start.
            "Don't go after her," he says, putting his hat on and stepping out on the front porch. "I don't have an orchardist to replace you."
            "Get the hell outta here," I yell, slamming my fists into the wall. "Don't tell me what to do."
            Cletus leaves, and I'm left staring out at the storm on my doorstep.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why I Lift Weights

Weightlifting has gotten a bad rap, really. When people want to get into shape, they pick a fad program like P90X or some other cardio-based activity that promises results in little time. Running is very popular now, as well as Crossfit, which preaches functional training and all around fitness. All of these activities take effort and commitment, don't get me wrong. You can't get the same results running or doing Crossfit as you can with weight training, however. Endurance-based exercise burns a lot of fat, but it isn't particularly anabolic; I don't need to cite the various scientific data out there confirming my statement because all it takes is a pair of eyeballs. How many runners have you seen with a strong, muscular body? How many Crossfitters have done well in anything other than Crossfit?

The thing with weightlifting is that it's hard. It requires years of devotion and mental fortitude. It requires intelligent programming. If you succeed in getting stronger, it is because you pushed yourself. You have to add weight to the bar. Nothing else really matters. You have to see that progression; you get a dopamine fix every time you witness your squat weights go up five pounds. You can't lift four-hundred pounds in two weeks. You can get in decent running shape in as little as a month. Hell, two years ago, my father enlisted me in Cincinnati's Thanksgiving run, which is about seven miles. I hadn't ran in years, and my only exercise came from my job at the orchard. I ran about six times before the race, and I managed to finish without stopping. Cardiovascular endurance comes quickly. Strength does not.

I've been lifting seriously for almost a year and a half now, and what I mean by seriously is that I've been focusing on the four major strength lifts (the squat, the press, the bench press, and the deadlift) during that time. I remember being sore from deadlifting 135 lbs; my last deadlift workout, I did a triple with 385 lbs. My press has went from 95 lbs to 170; my bench from 190 to 270; my squat from nothing (I didn't do squats) to 305 for 3 reps. My body weight has increased from 175 to 200. The little aches and pains that I used to have (such as a sore lower back) have vanished completely. I'm stronger, fitter, more confident than I ever have been, and that's because weightlifting changes not just your body, but also your mind. I've never missed a workout in a year and a half. Honestly, my progress is not particularly great--I struggled with my squat form for almost a year, and suffered from hip tendonosis and knee pain, but I never quit.

What I really want to convey is that weightlifting is not some meathead, narcissistic activity. It might not be as hip as the latest infomercial or Crossfit. But it is honest. As Henry Rollins said, "the iron doesn't lie." I'm a better person for lifting weights, and it's my belief that there is no better way to stay fit. Strength takes years to develop, and it is the end of all things. So throw away those fancy running shoes and pick up something heavy. Our ancestors didn't prance around the woods, effeminately darting after deer. They sprang up from cover, stabbed Bambi with a spear, and lugged his heavy ass home to eat. So eat meat, lift weights, and be merry. That's my new year's advice. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

Whatever Happened to Black Box?

Hey you know that Black Box novel? That thin concept that morphed into a 133,000 word novel? Well, I couldn't interest an agent in it, for better or worse. I've sat on the text for almost half a year, and I've decided that I want to get it out there rather than have it sit unread on my hard drive. I'm currently rereading and editing it, try to find all the little grammatical errors and typos, so that the final version is as professional and easy to read as possible. It's a good work; I'm pretty proud of it. The plot is a little messy, and it's a pretty big read, but I put a lot of myself and my life into it, and I considered it to be my greatest artistic achievement. I hope to have it ready for publication on Kindle in about a week or two. This blog is going to see regular activity, mark my words. I want to do a post on weightlifting, since it has become my biggest hobby. So stay tuned, all you loyal Pointless Venture readers. You may exist in my imagination, but that's a form of existence, or so I'm told. Stay warm during this icy winter, and may the fruit harvest be good, though I think these subzero temperatures have wiped out our peach crop. So it goes.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

One-Hundred Obituaries



Two
Angela Lansberry passed away at two o’clock in the morning on a Thursday. Her husband did not permit her to smoke in the house; her desire to light up within the confines of the dwelling that she helped pay for was a constant source of contention between them. Angela was young, only twenty-eight, and had been married for about two years, yet she was already looking for a way to escape her marriage. She did love her husband somewhat, although not particularly strongly, for Luke (that was his name) was a peculiar man prone to silence and stoicism, which suited her just fine most of the time, since she herself was quiet and withdrawn. They both wore a lot of dark clothing and drank a lot of coffee. Luke was a professor of philosophy at the University of Cincinnati while Angela drifted in-between jobs. She had been a secretary at a law firm, a waitress, a telephone operator. Before her untimely demise, she had made a habit of attending a writing workshop on Ludlow Street, for Angela had decided to put her BA in English to use and become a writer. The hardest part, she felt, was finding something to write about. It was hard to have a voice. It was hard to have an opinion.
            Minutes before her death, Angela exited her house, pack of cigarettes in hand, and stood for a moment on her front porch. The neighborhood was quiet, a nice mixed income suburb, although one did hear gunshots every so often from the nearby low rent homes. The houses across the street were nearly identical, varying only in color. A light was on in the house directly across from hers, and she could see a man in front of a computer screen. She had never talked to this man; he was quiet, reserved, slightly unfriendly. She liked to think that he was writing a novel, doing important work, and that one day perhaps they would be contemporaries. Luke was gone, kept away by his hours. She was lonely, feeding off of fumes and wayward ambitions, but that was okay. The concrete steps leading up to the porch glistened in the moonlight, slick and wet in the humid air. She felt cold and drew her sweater around her.
            As she sat and smoked, a big white car rolled slowly down the road, a mammoth Cadillac, its subwoofers booming like the heartbeat of a monster. Angela had never seen such a car, shining and magnificent in the paleness of the night, rims spinning like a hypnotist’s tool, silver, reflecting light. Its windows rolled down revealing darkness billowing smoke. It called out to Angela, this darkness, called her names in some foreign tongue, and though she recognized the harshness of the voice, she was lulled by it, sitting calmly on her steps, smoking her forbidden cigarette. The light in the house across from her flickered out; the novel was complete, the great work finished. Angela thought of her own white pages waiting inside. The car was still paused before her home. She could go back inside or she could enter the vehicle. I want something to write about, whispered Angela, looking at the white car and hearing the voice grow thick and smooth as apple butter. What have I ever done with my life? she asked, the glistening concrete steps beckoning. Something spat out of the darkness of Cadillac; Angela stood and was caught by it, reeled in as though pulled by a string, her black boots clacking on the street. The house behind her was dark, empty, silent, and stoic. It was full of white pages.