Monthly Archives: January 2018

Subway to the Strand – Chance Encounter…

I originally posted this without a preface but a few of my beta readers were flummoxed by what exactly I was talking about. So just a little backstory, I suppose, is necessary.

Have you ever met one of the crazies, you know, a lunatic from the fringe, the homeless, muttering type who ramble on in their own bizarre world?

Well, this is a chance meeting I had with one of them in New York. Prior to that, when I lived in Boston, I had met plenty of these folk, on the T or on the sidewalks, spouting nonsensical verbiage into the wind. (I am not knocking these people at all; sometimes what they have to say can be quite profound, and little tidbits can posssibly be used in a future story.)

Anyway, when I was in New York this past August with my wife, we took the subway from Central Park to the Strand bookstore. This, then, was my experience with one of those unique characters.

“Is…is that seat is that seat taken sir?”

“Uh, no. Go ahead.”

“Th…thank you sir. My name’s Eddie. I live in a brick house with a cat I found in back yard. The hole in tree I saw something like a bird fly out of it once you know.”

“That’s…great.”

“Have to be careful balancing a canoe on your head like time I went fishing with my brother Danny and he caught splinter on deck of house in New Jersey. It was funny that movie all alone in woods with nothing but shadows following me eating Debbie cakes on sidewalk in New York time I went there to store and just couldn’t figure what to steal.”

“Really? That sounds fascinating.”

“Do you like me? My name’s Eddie. I live over there in a brick house. Sometimes I scoop water from puddles in backyard and then my goldfish died. I found a cat there. Where are you going?”

“I…I’m going downtown, to The Strand.”

“Oh? You…you like to stand? Me too. Sometimes you can’t help it on train when you’re rowing on that narrow stream in woods by dirt road. That white house. I don’t know who lives there. So what’s your name? Do you mind if I sit here?”

“Paul. And no, I don’t mind if you sit there.”

“Oh thank you sir. I been waiting to sit on train a long time ever since I was left on that trail with nothing. Oh I had my backpack but someone took it. I think the Yankees stole it. Do you like the Red Sox?”

“I guess. I never really think about sports.”

“Well you should think about newspaper I found on sidewalk. I think Patriots are gonna  win. Food I found in pantry didn’t taste good. Don’t think peanut butter should look green do you?”

“No, that doesn’t sound—”

“I’M TELLING YOU DON’T EVEN TRY TO TO BALANCE THAT CANOE ON YOUR HEAD! It’s hard! My uncle Kenny he looked at me too long. I don’t like men when they touch me. So where you going?”

“To the bookstore.”

“The last time I flew was when I jumped off that cliff in the water.”

“Oh. Well, you have to be careful.”

“And then I found a quarter in the grass. I bought two candy bars with it! Peanut butter didn’t taste good green and all. That canoe. Be careful!”

“I certainly will.”

“I live in a brick house. Windows broken at night get cold. Animals in there sometimes keep me warm. I think they’re rats. Not sure what I’m gonna have for dinner tonight. Do you live here?”

“Well, no. I actually live uptown.”

“Maybe I come over we could look at your boat in the river. Ropes in shed look strong. I think canoe can handle wind. I hate when bats get in my window. What’s your name?”

“It’s…uh, it’s Paul. I believe the next stop is mine.”

“I don’t have a stopwatch. I used to have a watch it fell off the wall. Now it’s always 10. Can’t tell if its am or pm. Do you like pistachio ice cream? I don’t like nuts. I need to go to the bathroom.”

“Well, I suggest you wait until you get off the train.”

“Oh I hate trains! You’ll never catch me on one. I like canoes. Did I tell you had soup for breakfast last week?”

“Why, no, you didn’t. Well, Eddie, here’s my stop.”

“Oh okay sir. Can I have your seat when you leave? I don’t like trains. I have to go home. I live in a brick house. My cat is probably hungry. I had soup.”

“Okay, then. Take care and good luck.”

“You be careful! Gotta watch out for those stars you know. Can’t be too careful. Sometimes…sometimes they fall. I know. I seen them. Right out of the sky!”

“Nice to meet you, Eddie.”

“Yeah. Yeah it was nice wasn’t it going up those stairs in park. Trees they looked special didn’t they? Dark. Dark trees. Yeah my cat’s hungry.”

“Goodbye, Eddie.”

“I live in a brick house. Bye. Bye sir!”

Obviously, this was not verbatim but you get the gist. Have you ever had such an experience?

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 –  All Rights Reserved.

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Morning Moments, Part Two: The Perch…

 

perch

Pallet Perch

 

Sitting in my blue chair, watching a lone hawk glide effortlessly over the fields, Sasha rooting around behind me in the snowy woods, the winter sun bathing my face. Across the meadow, a phalanx of birch hold sentry at wood’s edge. Close to me, skullcaps of snow cover stones on a low wall.

It was calm save for a soft wind rustling pine needles, showering me with a fine mist of snow dust. The oaks and pines creaked and groaned, swaying high above from lofty winter gusts. Only a gentle frigid breeze eddied about me as I sat contemplating such tranquility.

As in yesterday morning, I concentrated on the moment at hand. After all, what else was there? Present, but lost from worry, from stress—lost from monkey mind.

It was pure. I stayed one, surrounded by nature, by the world, by the universe, alone yet part and parcel of eternity. Such moments keep a soul attuned to the tension, the rhythm, the sway of nature.

Does a squirrel high in a sycamore wonder what time it is, slavishly glancing at a wristwatch (okay, iPhone) distressing that he’ll be late for his AA meeting? (Acorns Anonymous.)

Or the crow flying overhead. Does he flagellate himself for being late at the gathering on Elm Street for the latest roadkill? No. No such codswallop. The squirrel and crow exist. For the moment. That is all they have. There is no scheming, no nights of lying in nests, stressing about missed carrion weeks ago or formulating plans to screw over a crow-worker.

A hammering in the distance startled my reverie. A pileated woodpecker, banging its head against a tree. At least it has a purpose. Humans doing that serves to illustrate the sheer, absurd drivel we engage in. Does lying in bed, stressing over Monday’s workload have anything to do with Friday night, free from work, the whole weekend ahead? No. Yet only humans perform such self-inflicted misery. Time to reclaim mind. Time to reclaim what is the moment.

Sasha still roots about, as though searching for delicate truffles. Crows fly over the fields, winging their way to a kind of kaffeeklatsch, a murder of friends out for…well, maybe not coffee.

I sit and absorb all this without judgment, without comment, without question. I am simply here. The lesson learned, to allow my soul such moments, such time, such experiences, to exist and lessen the chaos I create.

Later on, between twilight and dusk, when all is silhouette and night beckons, I went on the deck to retrieve the birdfeeders. A jet passed on by. It left a slight pink contrail, like a flame without a candle. The jet slowly faded, a mere glimmer in the distance. But the flame remained, floating, slowly diminishing in size, a last gasp of light upon darkening skies.

It simply was.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 – All Rights Reserved.

Morning Moments…

Minute observations are rare. They are fleeting things. They flutter into existence and then disappear, like a butterfly alighting on a rose, soon flitting away, out of sight.

This morning, instead of my usual routine, I decided to follow some of the wonderful advice found in Natalie Goldberg’s book, ‘The True Secret of Writing’. It’s a Zen thing, about awareness, about really paying attention to the moment at hand.

To most western minds, being present is a foreign concept. We tend to never be present; the past speaks to us as well as the future. But truly, what are you doing right now, this very moment? That is key.

So I did. I sat alone in the living room, before anyone or any animal stirred and, sitting still, concentrated on the five senses.

I listened and absorbed everything about me; the scent of the woodstove, the chirping of chickadees at the birdfeeders, the feel of the ceramic coffee mug in my hand, the softness of the couch where I sat. Everything, in the moment.

The dishwasher had ended, and I went to unload it, not a particularly enjoyable task. In fact, it is an irritant. But cutlery and crockery must be put away.

I brought that same awareness, though, into the kitchen, opened the dishwasher, pulled out the top drawer and listened to the sounds of glasses placed in the cupboard, trying not to touch them together.

The bottom drawer was more of a challenge to be silent. It is impossible not to make a sound when putting plates away. They must nestle, and no matter how carefully one does it the plates always clink, the ringing of china against china resounding in the quiet morning air.

(I have a brother-in-law who cannot stand to be in the kitchen when dishes or bowls or saucers are put away. It grates his nerves, as though someone found a few old rusty, dull roofing nails and dragged them across a chalkboard. Or, in the case of my wife, anything to do with Styrofoam. She cannot be near the stuff.)

I put the items away and listened to that gentle clinking, absorbed in the task at hand, not thinking about the Patriots win a handful of days ago nor wondering about the snowfall later this week.

I was there, hearing the music of cutlery placed in their respective niche. There was no irritation, no stress–just being present.

Sasha, our German shepherd awoke and had to go out. Boo, our twenty-pound black cat, lapped at the water dish. The Keurig sputtered and released brown liquid, my third cup of coffee.

I sat back down, with mug in hand, and thought about my time alone, how nice it is to rise before any occupant, to be in the calm of the house, to feel its rhythm and become one with the quiet and solitude.

To be mindful of morning moments.

Let me see if I can access this awareness tomorrow. And the day after.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018 – All Rights Reserved.

Toolbox…

Today I had simple task to do. Something that should have taken, oh, about 10 minutes tops. But because I remain the ‘Unhandy-Man’ (motto: measure once, cut twice) it lasted for well over 30 minutes.

The sliding door to our laundry closet was off track. Seemed simple enough. Just pop it back in and be done with it. Back to the writing job at hand.

Not quite. I ended up with a smattering of tools, some questionable for the job. In my possession—eventually—were the following: a hammer, vice grips, flat-edged screwdriver, a hacksaw, pliers, wire cutters, and metal snippers. What I did not mention was I did not have all these at the same time. But then, that would have made sense, wouldn’t it?

I ended up making several trips up and down the stairs to the garage, searching for one of the tools. All the ensuing expletives terrified my dogs. I now have a crick in my neck from shaking it from side to side, cursing myself for being such an idiot.

I managed to get the ‘springy-thing’ (whatever the hell that is called) back in the track but it seemed I managed to destroy part of the track during the repair. My remedy? Put several pieces of duct tape over the mangled part so the spring doohickey will not come off.

Now we can close the doors and yes, there is that unsightly slight piece of tape showing, but at least we can close them. Although you cannot open the doors fully because of the tape. But still, we can do the wash with that slight obstacle.

The reason I am mentioning such trivial things and why I titled this post ‘Toolbox’? It’s because I recall the title of a chapter of the same name in Stephen King’s excellent book, ‘On Writing’. If you haven’t read it yet, I suggest you purchase it, read it, put it on your bookshelf, and then pull it out frequently. It is an indispensable guide to the craft of writing.

Anyway, this chapter (page 111) talks about when Stephen was a kid, and he was visiting his Uncle Oren. The old man would teach him how to fix things around the house, lugging this immense toolbox around with him when he only needed one screwdriver to do the job.

Steve thought about it and then asked Uncle Oren why, if he only needed a screwdriver, he carried that heavy box around with him. Uncle Oren said, “Well, Stevie, you never what else needs fixing around the house.” (paraphrasing)

Evidently, I’m still learning that lesson. And it’s not only for around the house, with actual tools, but with my own writing, to stock my writing toolbox with the correct tools for whatever task is at hand. (Just read the chapter; Mr. King does a better job explaining the entire process.)

My wife hasn’t come home yet from work. I can’t wait to show her my handiwork, despite the glaring strip of duct tape staring back at you.

Good thing the laundry is tucked away in a dark hallway.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

 

UPSsence of Insanity…

This post clocks in at around 1,600 words so perhaps you’d like to take a break and come back later to finish. And thank you, as always, for stopping by.

Barely secured, jostled about on a slim stiff seat, a bumpy cold ride as brumal winds whistled through an open door, I was on my way to deliver packages to folk who cared not a whit to our plight. Yes, such as it was, my brief stint as a UPS driver helper during these past holidays.

Luckily my driver Mike was a good-natured sort and during those long hellacious days, he provided much needed laughter. You had to have a sense of humor for this job. That, and be a masochist.

Mike’s route consisted of locations around the Sturfield environs, encompassing a few  expensive enclaves as well as hovels and a smattering of businesses along the way.

As we got to know each over the course of three weeks, I told him not to expect any holiday tips from the townsfolk, the wanna-be rich who reside in preposterously over-priced, maxed-out mortgage McMansions, cookie-cutter structures flimsily constructed, replete with immaculate tiny verdant lawns carefully groomed with unnecessary, expensive sit-down mowers. Folk who wish to appear wealthy, who want to believe their town was special, like a Newton, Brookline, or Holden. But it was all an illusion.

The rarefied air was unfounded, the stink of elitism was unwarranted, the kind of town where brown people are hard to come by.

“You don’t think so?” Mike asked, peering at me as we drove at ferocious speeds to our next icy destination.

“I’ll bet you get absolutely nothing. Maybe, just maybe, if you’re lucky, a $10 gift card to Dunkin Donuts. But I doubt it.”

“C’mon, it can’t be that bad.”

“Mike, you will learn that Sturfieldians are, in two words, fake and cheap.”

We bounced along rutted roads, in back the overstuffed van tossing packages indiscriminately. There was no discernable rhyme or reason to the load, packed to the ceiling.

Mike only had this route since September, so he had no idea of the type of people who lived there. He was in for a rude awakening.

There were some townsfolk , I told him, who thought it beneath their status to shop at Walmart, preferring to purchase their skillets and Skittles at Target or, for less bang for your buck, at Crate & Barrel.

I told Mike a story of some people (we used to call them friends) who complained how they had the smallest house in the neighborhood, a desirable enclave of eclectic structures that spoke of old money.

“We walked with them one Halloween,” I began, “and whenever we met their friends or neighbors, they never introduced us. It was evident we were beneath their social status. At the time, we were renting a house, as if the word ‘renter’ was taboo, to be whispered only, hushed like the word ‘cancer’.

Mike looked at me, wondering if I was pulling his leg. But something in his eyes told me he knew I spoke the truth.

“No, Mike. Sorry. No tips for you!” I said in my best Soup Nazi voice.

Fighting bitter winds and miserable snapping curs, my job was to jump out the open door, take packages and sprint up ice encrusted driveways or cut through lawns and deposit parcels on icy stoops. This was the routine—sometimes for nine or ten hours straight.

I had to chortle over this temporary job. It was surreal, a job suited for unstable folk, people who were a bit touched, those who must enjoy the pain and misery of relentless cold. Did I fit the bill? I must, as I was paid a paltry sum to brave these brutish conditions: $11 an hour. Christ, at some of my past modeling gigs I made three times that amount, just for baring all in unbearable frigid rooms, standing in the all together whilst students sat and drew me, a circle of strangers bedecked in fur-lined frocks and woolly scarves. I endured that—for three hour stretches—because I did not mind making $30+ an hour.

Here though, donning an over-sized UPS coat over several layers and wearing flimsy orange work gloves, I dodged frozen dog turds and toys submerged in snow, leaping over guy wires holding up enormous kitschy Christmas balloons, all to deposit packages on doorsteps.

We averaged over 200 stops each day. Since it was December, sunlight was fleeting, disappearing before three in the afternoon. Flashlights were paramount, as who knew what mongrel dog or forest creature lurked on the fringe, awaiting a surprise attack to sample the tenderness of my thigh.

It was godawful. I had to laugh to myself, though, at the sheer absurdity of it all. (Camus was correct.) But during these darkled forays onto strangers’ lands, balancing ponderous parcels on my shoulders, Mike managed to keep me in stitches, allowing my cold tired soul to realize the rather risible nature of such employ. I marveled at how he was still doing this after 17 years. Yes, my driver, like me, was a true masochist.

December 22nd arrived, and I yearned for days end. I called Mike “Eeyore” as every day, especially this last day, he assured me that we ‘were screwed!’, that we wouldn’t finish until 10:30, maybe 11pm. I assured him, like every day before, we’d be done by 7:30, eight at the latest. And we did. We cranked it out, mainly because I wanted to be at home with my lovely wife and two boys, sitting before the woodstove and indulging in a questionable libation. It was certainly better than caromed about in a frigid van, with winter winds seeking passage between collar and sleeve alike.

The day merciful ended, and I bid Mike a splendid holiday. My stint as a driver helper was complete. I could now return to my frozen RAV4, stuck amongst the snow in the far reaches of a strip mall.

Sitting in my vehicle, waiting for a hint of heat to thaw my pre-hypothermia state, I was quite sure I’d be stopping at the local Packie, to purchase with my meager earnings a soporific that would both relax and induce a semblance of sleep.

*************************

Forward a week later (still having not received my last check) I found myself traveling eastward to—you guessed it—the UPS hub, where I was to be interviewed for a package handler position. Did I mention to you that perhaps I might be a masochist?

But let’s face it. I needed a job. Working briefly as a driver helper did not constitute a real job. Especially at an embarrassing eleven dollars per hour.

So there I was sitting in a room, with others who dreamed of becoming package handlers. (Could that really be possible?)

I sat and perused the papers before me, information about the job, what to expect and the hourly rate. And there it was, in black and white: $11 an hour. Fancy that. ‘You must be joshing me,’ I muttered, oblivious to the banter and joking of others who seemed eager—eager!—to readily submit their bodies and minds to such meager and menial labor.

The perky young assistant, Melissa, guided us through the paperwork and then took us in a rag-tag fashion to “The Hub”, where all the action took place.

I was horrified. It reminded me of a mechanical nightmare, as though immersed in a ghastly scene straight out of a Bosch canvas.

The interior was dim, with whirring conveyor belts slowly moving packages along, some parcels dropping to the floor with a bang.

Melissa showed us several stations: loading or unloading trucks, sorting a mountain of goods, all at an astounding rate best suited for a cyborg.

Sheer and utter madness. Insanity within dim, cavernous walls. I saw workers in semis, unloading parcels with light dimmer than candles, the constant whining and clattering echoing along endless corridors as though we somehow entered a three-dimensional Rube Goldberg device.

Did I mention I was shocked? But the kicker though, despite the minuscule money offered, was that you were only guaranteed 3.5 hours a day. And maybe, if you were very lucky, five hours a day.

We fled the clanking, darkened interior and wended our way across the bitter cold tarmac. My subsequent interview was brief: “Not for me,” I said to a still smiling, still perky Melissa. “The hours and pay and working conditions are atrocious.”

Still, she tried to reassure me that after twelve months of slave labor for pittance pay, I was ‘guaranteed’ a fifty-cent raise. I suppose she was less than ecstatic by my gaze. Deep down, she must have realized how incredibly absurd and laughable it all was. I bid her goodbye.

Buffeted by arctic blasts, I crossed the immense parking lot to my car and cranked the heat. No, the job was not for me. And this certainly is not a knock against UPS, not at all. I know, first-hand, how hard the drivers work, through all kinds of hellish weather and conditions. My brief stint with Mike was enough to make me realize I was not destined to drive one of those rollicking ‘Brownies”, as the vans are called.

Mike, here’s to you and all your fellow drivers. I salute you in your tenacity, your perseverance and, most of all, your camaraderie during our month of hell.

A few days after it was all over, after the holidays, I gave Mike a call, inquiring about all the tips he made.

“Yeah, Paul, you were right,” he said with a sigh. And then added, “Although I did get a $5 gift card to Dunkin Donuts!”

‘Ah, Sturfieldians at their finest,’ I thought.

 

Copyright, Paul Grignon, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

 

Season’s Greetings, et al…

Yes, ‘tis yet another brand-new year, one filled with possibilities, dreams yet realized, days spent sitting in a chair–writing. That is the goal.

I must maintain the energy and vibrancy of August 2017, when I partook in the WDC in New York. It was a wonderful experience, eye-opening and packed with reams of information, a lot to digest since.

But I am writing today to put myself out there once again, to let sundry folk know that I am committed to getting published, that I will find myself in that chair despite the urge, at times, to lay a little longer under comforters, just a little more shuteye before rising, before that first hot cup of healing joe.

I would also like to give a shout out to some fine blogs out there, sites that can only help you maintain your own writing path. These are places I return to often, to get a dose of their respective takes and I believe you, too, will gain wisdom and calm, knowing that you are truly a part of this long and arduous process, that you are not alone.

ericalagan.net : a true gentleman, one who always replies to your comment in a generous and gracious way. His site brims with poems, stories, haikus, and other relevant writing material. Do stop by and give Eric a hearty hello. His words will propel you along.

terribleminds.com: Mr. Chuck Wendig will give you the lowdown in an unfiltered delivery, one laced with humor and in’cite’ful observations into the craft of writing, and he also has some great contests! A little rough around the edges, but his bawdiness only enhances his posts.

janefriedman.com: a welter of info about writing and getting published, she is a go-to for up-to-date news into the world of literature.

Luckily, in this new year, I located a timely post from another writer who speaks of that desire to plunge into the writing world and not letting the hounds of hesitancy drown you in indecision. You will find his post here at Michael Moreci

I wish all you fellow travelers on this never-ending road of writing to have a wonderful year, one of productivity and publishing!

Take care,

Paul

Copyright, 2018, Paul Grignon, All Rights Reserved.