Thursday, April 26, 2007

It's a Library Kinda Thing

A couple months ago, I happened across a cool new site. It's called LibraryThing. Basically, it's a way to catalog all your books online as well as see other people's libraries. One of the neat features is after you put a couple books in, it starts showing you other people's libraries and the number of books you have in common. There are some groups and a bit of a social networking aspect of the site that I haven't fully explored yet.

There's also a unique feature called "UnSuggester". Unsuggester takes "people who like this also like that" and turns it on its head. It analyzes the books members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest. Some of the results are pretty accurate, but some are a little funny. For example, I entered the name of Ronald Reagan's autobiography. It returned Stupid White Men by, Michael Moore. Makes sense. But some of the other results are books from the Harry Potter series, Necromancer, Bridget Jones, and Memoirs of a Geisha.

Check it out.

Monday, April 23, 2007

VT Shooting and Hope

It's been about a week since the shootings at Virginia Tech. I normally don't think much about news events such as this, but I came across something rather interesting. During times such as these, a lot of people turn to their churches for guidance and consolation. What I'm going to give you is a pair of prayers released from different Christian denominations. First is the prayer from the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod:

Gracious Father in heaven, You know the shock and sorrow that have resulted following the deaths of 33 students and faculty at Virginia Tech. We are helpless before the evil that afflicts us and therefore cry out to You for comfort, shelter, and protection. Mercifully embrace the frightened in Your love, empower the weak with Your strength, restrain the wicked by Your might, and preserve and comfort the righteous in Your grace, giving us Your peace and turning tragedy to triumph. Lord, in Your mercy, hear our prayer.

And the second from the United Methodist Church:

The bullets ripped their flesh, and tear our souls, Lord God. Flashing from nowhere, unseen, unforeseen, perhaps unforeseeable, lives of promise ended, others mangled by hot steel and the shrapnel lodged in hearts too stunned to cry. How long, O Lord? How long? And for the shooter, Lord, Forgive. What break in heart, or mind, or flesh moved, possessed, demanded him to stalk these down like prey? We cringe, paralyzed before the mystery of evil. We open our mouths, and join the silence of the disbelieving. Hear us, Lord. Heal us, Lord. Grant them, and us, your peace. Amen.

Blogger Seth Zirkle examined both these prayers with the theology of the cross in mind. "A theology of the cross seeks the beauty of God's grace in the bloody agony of Christ's suffering. At the very least it recognizes that man ... is stained with his fallen nature and Christ's blood; it realizes that even in the face of suffering there is good. And not just any good, but Christ, the ultimate Good. Truly a development of Luther's Deus absconditus, his hidden God, a theology of the cross stands in stark contrast to a theology of glory which goes to the cross once and walks away on the road of the good life in Christ."

I would never have been as eloquent as that. Even as a Missouri Lutheran myself, I probably wouldn't have thought of looking at it through a theology of the cross if not for Seth's comments. What was most striking to me was the hope expressed by the Lutheran prayer contrasted with the near despair of the Methodist prayer.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Behind The Auction

Here's the story behind the story of The Auction. The story was written in response to the second White/Quertermous blog project. The objective was to write a story up to 3,000 words involving an object that is either sold at or taken to a police auction. This one clocks in at a mean 2,733 words. It was one of my first attempts at getting back into the writing game. The story came to me exactly as written; a swirling, back-and-forth piece that shows what happens at the auction and how all the players got there.

In the process, I started to have feelings toward two of the characters: Handsome Rob and Nice Guy Eddie. There was an idea floating around in my head of two prequels. One that explains how Nice Guy Eddie got his name. One that shows Handsome Rob and Brenda before Rob got sent to prison. So, the weekend after I wrote The Auction, I wrote the Handsome Rob prequel (which should be posted in this space in the next week or two). The structure of the first piece felt a lot like a Quentin Tarantino movie, but the prequel was more of a standard story. Though I did add a character who is a motormouth and spoke his dialog in my head with QT's voice.

Re-reading these stories gave me another idea for Handsome Rob. After I put the finishing touches on my current WIP, at least 1000 more words to go, I may swing back to the further adventures of Handsome Rob.

I never did write the Nice Guy Eddie story, and probably never will.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Auction

“Everybody be cool. You! Be cool!” Handsome Rob felt far from cool. He was at a police auction with his silver .50 cal Desert Eagle pointed at some serious looking guys. One of them, the Italian one, had his gold and nickel plated .45 pointed at a black man dressed all in black, but his eyes were on Rob. The black guy had a black Glock pointed right at Rob’s head. This sort of thing wasn’t supposed to happen at a police auction. Where the hell were the cops?

**********

Brenda moaned and rolled over. Her tanned skin covered with a fine sheen of sweat. “It hasn’t been that good in a while, baby,” she said.

Handsome Rob smiled and blew a stream of satisfied air out of his nostrils. “I’ve missed you,” he said and kissed her forehead.

“What do you want to do this weekend?” she asked him. Rob just smiled and put his hand on her naked hip, pulling him closer to him. “I mean besides that. I got a flyer in the mail today about a police auction tomorrow morning. You know, where they sell of all kinds of stuff that they confiscate. Boats. Cars. China. Luggage. All that stuff.”

Rob got out of bed, put on his boxers, and lit a cigarette. “Oh, come on. I just got out of prison a month ago. Spending a Saturday morning with a bunch of cops is not my idea of a nice weekend. Seeing that prick parole officer of mine twice a week is bad enough.”

“Oh, come on, baby. It’ll be fun,” Brenda said.

“We’ve got different ideas of fun.” Rob took a deep drag on his cigarette. “All a man needs is a good beer, a good steak, and a good screw. Why should I go?”

“If you do this for me, I’ll do something nice for you.” She gave him a very seductive smile.

“Oh, yeah?” Rob stubbed out his cigarette and climbed back into bed.

The next morning Rob and Brenda went to the auction. She had made him wear a button down shirt and a pair of Dockers. He felt like such a squarejohn, but she said it made him look respectable. She said it would show those cops that he was a good guy and they should back off.

Being fresh off a stretch, Rob scanned the other people in the crowd when they walked in. Probably out of reflex, looking for someone who might want to stick a shiv in him. He and Brenda got a seat to the left of the center isle, a couple rows back from the front. Most of the people there were standard law-abiding citizen types. There were two Hispanics sitting in the front row, a Mafia-looking Italian guy, and a black guy dressed all in black leather. He noticed Handsome Rob looking at him and slightly nodded his head while not taking his eyes of Rob. Rob nodded back, the universal prison greeting. That guy must have put in a nickel or at least has hung out with lots of criminals, Rob thought to himself. In the back corner, there was a guy in a suit and a Yankee baseball cap. “Some people have no fashion sense,” Brenda said.

Rob smiled and kissed her on the forehead. So he sat there bored for an hour or so while they auctioned off a bunch of junk. Neither he nor Brenda bid on anything.

“Why are we here if you’re not buying anything?” Rob whispered into her ear.

“Because it’s fun.” Brenda wasn’t going to have an argument about it. “Oh, that looks nice. Why don’t you bid on it?”

Rob looked at the next item up for bid. It was an average sized silver Samsonite briefcase. “Why would I need that?”

“Because when you go on job interviews, you’ll look professional,” Brenda said.

“Why would anyone hire me? I’m just an ex-con with no skills,” said Rob.

“Just buy the damn thing, baby.”

“Fifty bucks!” Rob looked at who placed the bid. Over to his right, about a row or two in front of him was the Italian looking guy.

“Seventy-five,” said Rob. Brenda just smiled at him.

“One hundred,” said the Italian guy.

“You could buy a new one for that much,” Rob said to Brenda. She gave him a look that said go for it. “One twenty-five,” he said.

“One fifty!” It was the black guy this time. What did he want the case for?

“Two hundred!” said the Italian guy. This was moving very fast.

“Too rich for my blood,” said Rob. Before he knew it the black guy and the Italian guy were shouting out numbers right after the other had just closed his mouth. The price jumped up to over one thousand dollars.

“What kind of person would pay over one thousand dollars for a crummy briefcase?” Rob quietly asked Brenda. She had a look on her face that showed she didn’t know what was going on either.

“Yo! Don’t make me bust a cap in your ass, boy!” The black guy had just stood up and was staring down the Italian guy.

“Settle down, homey! That’s my fucking case!” The Italian guy now stood up and turned toward the black man.

“I ain’t your homey, honky. Now sit yourself down!” He pulled a black gun out from under his black leather jacket and pointed it at the Italian guy. The people around him scattered and the Italian guy pulled out a gold and sliver gun from his jacket. They pointed their guns at each other, neither one saying anything or even blinking.

Where the hell are the cops? Rob thought. He moved to put himself between Brenda and the two guys with guns. The auction room had emptied out except for him and Brenda, the Italian guy, the black guy, and the auctioneer cowering behind the podium in front. “All right, why don’t we all just calm down. It’s just a stupid briefcase,” Rob said.

The Italian guy turned his head toward Handsome Rob, but kept his gun trained on the black man. The black guy swung around staring right at Rob with his gun pointed right at Rob’s head. “Who are you? You think you’re some kind of hero, bitch? How ‘bout I kill you, kill this other motherfucker, and take that briefcase myself?”

Rob pulled out his Desert Eagle from the small of his back and said, “Everybody be cool. You! Be cool!”

Brenda was now standing behind him and he heard an angry whisper in his ear, “You brought a gun to a police auction?”

**********

The black guy’s name was Tawruss. The night before, he was hanging out in his apartment watching some TV. Today was a good day, he thought. Sold some weed to some cracker high school kids. Got a beep from Kim, and she can fuck all night. Nothing left to do but sit back, smoke some weed, and watch a movie.

He was just rolling a joint when this cell phone rang, “’Sup?”

“Yo, T-Dawg! What’s happening, brother?” It was Smokey. Smokey was his supplier. Anything he needed (weed, crank, heroin) he could get from Smokey. There was no drug he couldn’t get his hands on.

“Nothing, Smokey. Just about to get high and watch a flick.”

“Cool. Which one?”

“I dunno. Maybe Foxy Brown. I love that flick.”

“I know, man. Pam Grier is fine,” Smokey said. “Listen, you wanna do a job for me tomorrow?”

“What is it?”

“Well, there’s this police auction…”

“Aw, hell, Smokey! You want me to hang out with a bunch of cops?”

“Chill, man. The cops don’t know half the shit you’ve done and the other half they can’t pin on you. You’re golden, man. You see, I got this hot tip. There’s this case they’ve got that I hear has the finest horse in North America inside it. Cops don’t know what they’ve got! I figure you buy it, bring it to me, we do a little, then sell it.”

“Buy heroin from cops? That’s some funny shit,” Tawruss said.

“Oh, and get this,” said Smokey. “It’s lot 420!”

“Priceless! Alright, man, I’ll do it.”

The next morning Tawruss got up and got dressed. He thought he’d have fun and play the stereotypical black man and try to screw with the white folks at the auction. He wore black shoes, black socks, black pants, black turtleneck, black leather jacket, even black underwear. At the auction, he sat in the back row all the way to the right. After a while, there was some guy that came in wearing a blue button down shirt and tan pants. He looked like every other person here, but his eyes where hard. He gave the white guy a nod, and he nodded back. Must be some ex-con, Tawruss thought.

He waited through all the crap at the auction, vases, paintings, other junk that nobody would ever have use for. Then the auctioneer said, “Up next, lot 420! A sliver briefcase found during a raid two months ago. Contents: unknown. We’ll start the bidding at $50. Do I have fifty?”

“Fifty,” shouted some guy a couple rows in front of Tawruss.

“Seventy-five,” said con-man.

“One hundred,” said the first guy.

Con-man said something to the girl next to him. “One twenty-five.”

I gotta get into this. “One fifty!” Tawruss said.

“Two hundred.” “Two fifty.” “Three hundred.” This is getting out of control, thought Tawruss. The bidding kept climbing higher and higher until Tawruss decided to take matters into his own hands, “Yo! Don’t make me bust a cap in your ass, boy!”

**********
Nice-Guy Eddie loved to walk down Spring Street this time of year. The weather was warm, but not too hot. All the young girls where wearing revealing clothes. Restaurant owners where standing outside their shops yelling, “Fresh home-made pastas! We got fresh home-made pastas!”

I love Little Italy, Eddie thought to himself. He decided to eat at Da Nico’s tonight. He decided on the Chicken Toscana with a bottle of Tuscan Codirosso. He was just settling in when his phone rang. “Yeah?”

“Nice-Guy Eddie. I’ve got a job for you.” It was a voice he didn’t recognize.

“Who is this?”

“I’m an acquaintance of Mikey Ferrucci,” said the voice.

“Yeah? What do you want?”

“We need you to get a package. Tomorrow morning they’ll be an auction down by the East River. There’s a silver briefcase we need you to buy. Lot 420.”

“Yeah? What’s so special about this particular case? Why don’t you go buy a new one?”

“It’s not the case. There’s a lot of money inside. It belongs to Mikey Ferrucci and he wants it back. Price is no object.”

“Yeah, you got it.” Eddie hung up and dug into his dinner. He’s not the kind of guy to ask questions when it comes to Mikey Ferrucci. Nice-Guy Eddie also wasn’t the type of guy to get nervous around cops. All orders from above him in the family came indirectly and all the orders he gave were indirect. He also knew how to bribe cops so they stayed bribed.

Eddie showed up at the auction after it had started. There was no reason for him to hang around while the cops auctioned off vases and paintings. He knew his item wouldn’t be among the first. The crowd seemed like your typical crowd for one of these things. The only people that stood out where two Latinos, a black guy in the back, and a bigger guy in the corner wearing a suit and a Yankees cap. He looked like he might be one of Mikey’s guys, but there was no reason for him to be checking up on Eddie.

They were on lot 400, so it would be only a little while longer until the briefcase was up. Out of the corner of his eye, Eddie noticed a good looking young woman. She had a nice tan, probably had some Sicilian blood in her, silky black hair, and her tan dress of thin woolen stuff clung to her with an effect of dampness. Decent rack too. I wouldn’t mind getting a piece of that, Eddie thought.

The girl turned to talk to the man next to her. He looked like her boyfriend or something. At that moment, the auctioneer said, “Lot 420.”

Eddie didn’t pay attention to the rest of what he said, and as soon as the auctioneer closed his mouth Eddie said, “Fifty!”

“Seventy-five,” said the boyfriend. He’ll drop out if the price gets too high.

“One hundred,” said Eddie.

“One twenty-five,” said the boyfriend.

“One fifty,” said the black guy. Eddie had forgotten about him. Another one I have to deal with. But, the man said money is no object.

**********

Handsome Rob was standing right in front of Brenda, shielding her from the view of Tawruss and Nice-Guy Eddie. Rob said, “Everybody be cool. You! Be cool!”

She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. These two guys were bidding up a stupid silver briefcase to a ridiculous amount, and then they pulled guns on each other. To make matters worse, Rob had to step in. “You brought a gun to a police auction?” she said. “How stupid are you? Carrying a concealed weapon? They could put you back in for that.”

“Calm down,” Rob said. “Listen, if shit starts going down I want you to stay low and find something big and heavy to hide behind. Got it?”

Brenda just nodded her head. Before she knew what had happened, all three guys started firing their guns. Brenda ran and hid behind the platform where the items up for auction were being kept. She peaked out from behind the corner to see what was happening to Rob. Bullets where flying everywhere. All three of them were diving behind chairs and tables and running around just like in a John Woo flick.

You and your bright ideas, she thought. Come on. What can be more fun than a police auction? Shit. Shit. Shit. Where are the cops?

**********

In the alley behind the auction hall, the guy in the suit and Yankee cap waited behind a dumpster. When he saw Tawruss challenge Nice-Guy Eddie, he knew everything had gone according to his plan. It was so simple. Just 48 hours before, he found out that his briefcase was going up for auction. There was no way he could go to the cops and claim it, or even bid on it at the auction itself. The cops were looking for him for something he had done a while back. He devised a plan to get his case back and get rid of some thorns in his side at the same time.

Tawruss and Nice-Guy Eddie were the easiest. All he had to do was convince Smokey that the case was full of heroin. When that guy was high, you could show him a picture of Pauly Shore and convince him that it was Martin Luther King, Jr. Then he just had to remember which family Eddie did most of his work for. He took a guess at Mikey Ferrucci and hit the jackpot.

Handsome Rob was the icing on the cake. He didn’t have any direct connection with Rob, and had heard that he was trying to go straight after getting out of prison. He checked around and found out that Rob was living with some girl named Brenda. All he had to do was create a fake flyer advertising the auction and put it in the mailbox. That stupid broad did the hard part.

The guy in the Yankee cap allowed himself a brief chuckle over how well things worked out. A door to the hall opened about ten feet away from him. Out stepped a skinny kid carrying the briefcase. “Here you go, Mr. Grey.”

“So what happened with the stand-off?” Grey asked.

“Um. I didn’t stick around. I think someone got shot. The cops showed up and I just booked.”

Grey took the case and handed the kid a wad of bills. He then turned to leave. The kid said, “What’s inside? Aren’t you going to open it?”

Grey turned his head and said, “Kid, one rule if you want to stay alive in this business: never look inside.”

Here We Go

I've decided to go ahead and not worry about venue. Later today, or tonight, I'll post a short story that I was hoping to find an outlet for. Read it. Comment on it. Tell your friends about it. Later this week, I plan to post a sort of "story behind the story".

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Genius of Film Noir

I came across an interesting article by critic Stanley Crouch the other day. It's all about the popularity of film noir in American culture. I'm happy to say I've seen most of the films he mentions. Here's a quick excerpt:

The huge screens in movie theaters provided lurid masks for the resentments that pulse within Americana. Our hatred of the upper class and of goody-two-shoes morality got plenty of play. So did our repulsive puritanical troubles with sexual attraction, our reluctant but ultimate belief in the righteousness of force, and our tendency to answer life's pervasive horrors with conspiracy theories.

Noir's popularity was inevitable. How could American audiences resist the combative stance of an unimpressed hero whose ethos could be reduced to: "Is that so?" How could they fail to be lured by all of the actresses cast as Venus' flytraps? Everything in film noir takes place at the bottom, in the sewers of sensibility. It holds that the force of the world is not only indifferent to, but obviously bigger than, the individual, which is why personal satisfaction, whether illegal or immoral, is the solution to the obligatory ride through an unavoidably brittle universe.
(Full article available on slate.com).

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Other Side of the Wind

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the exciting news regarding my namesake, Orson Welles, earlier this week. Along with the many fantastic motion pictures Welles left with us, there are equally as fascinating unfinished pictures. The two people most frequently talk about are: The Deep and The Other Side of the Wind. The Deep went unfinished for various reasons, including the death of star Lawrence Hervey. More info can be found at Wellesnet.

The other picture, The Other Side of the Wind, represents a holy grail of sorts for Welles's fans. According to sources involved in the making of the film, all principal photography was finished and roughly 80% of the editing before Welles passed away in 1985. It was shot, much like his MacBeth, over a period of several years as Welles acted in other films to finance this one. Wellesnet's page is here.

Now comes the announcement from actor/director Peter Bogdanovich, who appears in the film, that a deal with Showtime has been finalized to complete work on TOSOTW. I am among the many fans who would love to see this with a limited theatrical release, but even if the premiere is on Showtime, I'll be happy enough. For more information, Wellesnet has posted a full writeup including comments from Bogdanovich.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Raines: Stone Dead

Since I was away this weekend, I didn't get a chance to see Raines until tonight. Another strong ep, in my opinion. We really got to see a bit more inside Raines instead of just his wisecracking exterior. The scenes with his murdered partner's son were especially touching. As for the mystery? I liked it. The whole "Jimmy's dead?" conversation cracked me up along with the pot smoking granny.

I may have to rewatch this episode to see if there are any, but there seem to be some subtle nods to the inspirations for this show in each episode. Just a couple I've noticed:

  • Double Indemnity poster in a victim's house
  • "Rick's Cafe American" neon sign
  • A Maltese Falcon sitting on the desk at the escort service of the first (?) episode.
  • A private detective named MacSweeny (from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest)
Anyone else see any?

Supervillians A-Plenty

I can't believe I beat Gerald to this one. There's a rumor that a movie is under development starring a number of DC Comics supervillians. Wizard has an interview with David Goyer where he talks about the script he's working on:

"He’s Green Arrow for the first 10 minutes of the movie, and then he’s arrested and his secret identity is revealed,” says Goyer, who also has plans to do a graphic novel or miniseries that would tie in to the possible film. “They shave his goatee and they take his costume and send him to prison for life, and he has to escape. It’s like ‘Alcatraz,’ and he has to team up with, in some cases, some of the very same villains he is responsible for incarcerating in order to get out and clear his name."