Ten Rules of Writing – Elmore Leonard

Elmore

Elmore Leonard: Using adverbs is a mortal sin

1 Never open a book with weather. If it’s only to create atmosphere, and not a charac¬ter’s reaction to the weather, you don’t want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead look¬ing for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways than an Eskimo to describe ice and snow in his book Arctic Dreams, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2 Avoid prologues: they can be ¬annoying, especially a prologue ¬following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in non-fiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want. There is a prologue in John Steinbeck’s Sweet Thursday, but it’s OK because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: “I like a lot of talk in a book and I don’t like to have nobody tell me what the guy that’s talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks.”

3 Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue. The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But “said” is far less intrusive than “grumbled”, “gasped”, “cautioned”, “lied”. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with “she asseverated” and had to stop reading and go to the dictionary.

4 Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” . . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances “full of rape and adverbs”.

5 Keep your exclamation points ¬under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6 Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose”. This rule doesn’t require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use “suddenly” tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7 Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apos¬trophes, you won’t be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavour of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories Close Range.

8 Avoid detailed descriptions of characters, which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants”, what do the “Ameri¬can and the girl with him” look like? “She had taken off her hat and put it on the table.” That’s the only reference to a physical description in the story.

9 Don’t go into great detail describing places and things, unless you’re ¬Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language. You don’t want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

10 Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them.

A Taste of “Deadly Soup”

 

Deadly Soup

by

Dane Zeller

Healthy Soup

 

Camouflage Man watched traffic rush under the Sixth Street bridge north of downtown Kansas City. Cars, trucks and city debris were visible to him through his sunglasses. His post under the bridge was dark, hidden by the shadows that interspersed with the street light.

At highway level, a small import auto had collided with a larger, American-made car. “What the hell were you thinking?” said a young man, a light mist falling and insufficient to cool him off.

“I was trying to avoid the trash bag, punk,” an older man replied. “What were you doing riding my tail?”

“You were going forty-fucking-five.”

“That’s the speed limit, moron.”

Flashing lights reflected off the two cars, the speed limit sign, the North Oak exit sign and the sixth street bridge. The lenses in Camouflage Man’s sunglasses turned red, then blue, then red, then blue.

The two motorists moved closer to each other.

“Gentlemen, take a break,” a  highway patrolman said. “What happened here?”

“I braked and swerved to avoid that trash bag back there, and this a-hole runs into the back of my…”

“…he was slower than shit, and he was holding up traffic.”

Two other patrol cars arrived. One patrolman directed traffic around the cars parked on the shoulder of the interstate.

“Joe, get rid of that trash bag before we have some more trouble.” The officer nodded and  went back about two hundred feet to take care of the obstacle.

“Young man, I’m going to have to give you a ticket for not controlling your car.”

“What? It’s my fault?”

“Frank.” the officer yelled from the vicinity of the trash bag.

“Yeah.” Frank interrupted his writing of the ticket.

“It’s not a trash bag.”

“What the hell is it?”

“Looks like one of the homeless guys. He’s dead.”

“Well, shit,” Frank said. “Hold on. I gotta finish this ticket.”

“I get a ticket, and he doesn’t?”

“That’s right, the damage is head on to the front of your car. If he had swerved into you, he would have damaged your front fender or the side of your car.”

“How’s that fair, I get a ticket and most of the damage is to my car?”

The older motorist smiled. “You should have bought an American car, dip shit. Something with a little weight on it.”

“Frank, should I call KCMO about this bum?”

“Yeah. Probably got drunk and wandered out into the street.”

The officer finished the ticket and then wrote  his accident report. In the box that asked for witnesses’ names, he put “none.”

 

 

Chapter 2

Don Milkey looked inside the refrigerator in his studio apartment. A carton of takeout Chinese food hugged  the back wall. The box commemorated the dinner three weeks ago that celebrated his sixth anniversary with his girlfriend, Helen.

A six-pack of bottled water stood as a remembrance of his gallon-a-day water diet. A diet Shasta cola, way past its expiration date, sat on the second shelf . Bottom shelf: a pound can of decaffeinated coffee and a package of celery, each stalk browning at the end. At the far back of refrigerator he saw a circle of grime that he remembered to have been laid down by a can of Schlitz, now long gone from the shelf. He reached in and removed the carton of Chinese to the trash can. He did not look inside the little white box.

The phone rang. Don tossed the greenish-brown celery into the trash can beneath the sink. He walked over to the end table next to the couch to listen to the message.

“Don. Don. Pick up the phone. I know you’re there. Just pick up now and you won’t have to dial my number later on. Hey, Milkey, it’s me. Remember? Your girlfriend, Helen. Okay, then I’ll just talk until your tape reaches the end. You know that time you went to AA and you traded numbers with your sponsor? Yeah, that’s right. You gave him mine. He’s called me ten times now. ”

Don went to the bathroom and washed his hands. He could hear Helen in the background using up his voice tape. He wiped his hand on the towel Helen had offered to wash two weeks ago, and returned to the recorded message.

“And, hey, I got other things to talk about, too. Whadya think?  Call me,” Helen said. “Miss you.”

Don rewound to the start of the message. “Helen.”

“I knew you were there, you son of a bitch. Are you trying to avoid me?”

“No, I was just fixing dinner, and it took me a while to get to the phone.”

“Dinner? It takes you time to fix dinner? I’m surprised. It only takes me thirty seconds to open a can.”

“I like to do it right.”

“Listen, would you call this Frank and get him off my back. I’ve been ‘god-blessed’ so many times I’ll be going to heaven on the bullet train.”

“I’d do it, but he’s going to talk me into coming to a meeting,  and those meetings are so long, and I’d have to talk about myself.”

“Geez, I see your point. Especially that one about talking. Hey, I heard from my school secretary that there was something happening early this morning down by the Broadway overpass. Some kinda  road-rage thing.”

“Oh?”

“Some guy swerved to avoid something in the road and got hit by a car from the rear. Policeman had to separate the two drivers.”

“How’d she hear about it?”

“We’ve got our grapevines.”

“Oh, yeah. Those.”

“She said the older guy called the younger guy a punk and an a-hole and a moron.”

“Oh, I see. You thought I might have been involved. Did she hear my favorite phrase, ‘shit-for-brains’?”

“No.”

“Then you had no worry.”

“Don’t try to destroy my hobby, Don.”

“What hobby is that?”

“Fear. Fear that you’re going to piss off the wrong guy, and I’m going to be a widow before I’m even married.”

Taxpayer Asks: What’s The Rush?

It’s too late for my insidious practice alert (ipAlert). Your CPA, protective of his time, scheduled your meeting on February 1st. You went. You’re done. No fuss, no worry, no tension caused by an impending tax filing deadline.

Forget this insidious practice of early tax filing.

My Annual Friends

The problems with early filing:
1. You give up the thrill of the risk of being in violation of federal law.
2. You give up the camaraderie of last minute filers who show up at the post office in the waning minutes before midnight.
3. You wouldn’t get to meet Pyrus McVee, a professional gambler, on break from the poker table.
4. You’ll lose the excitement of showing up ten minutes before midnight with your wild guesses and your rubber checks.

Or,
You can live your life in boring peace, a world populated by dreary well-prepared people, nodding off to Steven Colbert when you could be constantly checking your watch and your speedometer and your GPS locked into the main post office. You will never meet Sally Bare, taking off a few minutes of her job at Mickey’s Legs and Grill.

It’s too late now for 2017, but you can start postponing 2018 immediately.

You can do it!

#ipAlert taxdeadline

The Art of the Knuckleball

The Art of the Knuckleball

by

Dane Zeller

 

At 33,000 feet, two hours west of Denver, flight attendant Joan Silvers stopped pouring coffee into paper cups. She sniffed the air.

“Rhonda.”

“Yeah, Joan.”

“I smell smoke.”

“Electrical?”

Joan explored the galley at the front of the plane. The plane shook once and dipped in altitude. The coffee slopped over the sides of the cups. Joan expanded her search to the door of the rest room. She put her nose next to the edge of the door.

She banged her fists on the door. “Sir, are you smoking in there?” Joan pounded the door again. “You can’t smoke in there.”

Inside the small bathroom, John Gilmore waved his hand through a smoke cloud in an effort to disperse it. He stood up, opened the lid to the toilet and tossed the cigarette in. Then he shut the lid. “I’m just about done,” he said.

Gilmore waited a few minutes before opening the door.

Joan Silvers stood in front of him. “You’ve been smoking in here.  Did you disable the smoke alarm?”

“Ma’am, I can explain,” said John.

“There’s a federal law involved in this. You are in some trouble.”

John moved closer to Joan and looked at her nametag. He lowered his voice. “Ms. Silvers, I’m a sky marshal. One of my duties is to check out your no-smoking procedures on this aircraft. I’m happy to say you’ve passed my safety check.”

“I need to see your identification.”

“Ma’am, sky marshal policy prevents me from revealing my identity. According to FAA procedures, you need to provide me a codeword, proving you have the authority to question a marshal.”

“What codeword?”

“The codeword you get in your pre-flight briefing.”

“I’ve never heard of such a thing.”

“Perhaps you should check with your pilot.”

“I will, mister. In the meantime, return to your seat. I don’t believe your story.”

John walked back to his seat about mid-plane. The aircraft was full. The flight had left behind the front range wind currents over Denver. At John’s row of seats, a man was nodding off in the window seat. The middle seat contained a woman in her mid-fifties. Her head was bowed and her eyes were closed. When John had gone to the restroom, she had her hands clasped together in a death grip. They were still a bright shade of white when he returned.

“I can’t stand these flights out of Denver,” she said.

“I can tell,” said John. “Your hands show your tenseness.”

The woman looked at her clasped hands, and her grip loosened. “I guess so. I wasn’t aware I was doing that. But, the turbulence is awful. I truly think we’re going to crash.”

“I think I can help you,” said John. “Unclasp your hands and place them on your knees.”

The woman looked at him, then at her hands. She released her grip and cupped her hands on her knees.

“Now just relax your hands and spread your fingers out.”

“Okay.”

“From left to right, slightly move your digits and count as you do.”

“One…two…” She slowly got to her little finger on her right hand.

“Good. How do you feel?”

“Its…its…gone. The stress is gone.”

“Great. Every time you feel that stress, do that little exercise.”

“I can’t believe it. Are you a doctor?”

“I am.”

“I’m impressed. Where do you practice?”

“I’m on the staff of UC Davis Medical Center.”

“Well you certainly don’t look like a doctor, with that Angels baseball cap and your blue jeans.”

“We’re humans,” said Gilmore. He tipped his cap to her. “We like to relax, too.”

Joan walked down the aisle toward Gilmore. “I’ll have to ask you to take a seat in the front row. Ground authorities want to talk with you. You’ll be the first one off.”

“Did you get the codeword?”

Joan didn’t answer.

John followed her to a seat on the front row. He left behind the snoring seat-mate and the woman who re-clasped her hands.

A man who Joan had moved from the front row to the second row protested. “Oh, yeah. The smoker gets a front row seat; I get to sit here with the offensive tackle from the New York Titans.”

“Thank you for moving, sir,” said Joan to the displeased passenger.

“Hey bud, you don’t know why I weigh 300. Shut your offensive mouth.”

“It ain’t right.”

A young boy wearing a Yankee’s baseball cap sat in the middle seat of the first row. A man, apparently his father, sat next to the window.  The kid looked straight ahead, staring at the wall in front of him.

“Yankee fan?” asked Gilmore.

The kid didn’t answer. The father replied. “Yup, we went to a coupla games at Yankee Stadium this weekend. Hey, Donnie, slide over some. Give the man some room.”

Joan posted a smile.

“Did you have fun?” John asked the kid.

“Yeah.” He resumed his stare.

“Donnie wanted an autograph from Jeter. He waited in line to get one, but Jeter signed only five and walked away.”

“Bummer,” said John. “I can get you an autograph, kid. It won’t be Jeter’s, though.”

The kid looked at John. “Whose?”

“Well, kid, I’m an American League pitcher heading to California to join my team, the Angels. See my cap? I’ll sign your ball.”

“You look a little old to be in the big leagues,” the father said.

“I’m forty-four. But I’ve got something that allows me to pitch another few years.”

“What’s that?” the kid asked.

“I’ve got a knuckleball.”

“You do?”

“Yep, you got a baseball?”

The boy reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a baseball. John grasped it and showed Donnie the claw-like grip of a knuckleball pitcher.

“Wow,” the kid said.

“You hold it like this, and then when you throw it, you kind of push it out front of you. It goes about 70 miles per hour. It bobs and weaves so much the batter doesn’t know where its going. Heck, the catcher doesn’t either. There’s no stress on the arm – I can pitch for years like that.”

“What’s your name, mister?”

“My name’s Hoyt Wilhelm.”

From the man squeezed into the second row: “Oh yeah? You’re Hoyt Wilhelm and I’m Satchel Paige.”

“I’ve heard of that name, but wasn’t he pitching in the ’60′s?” asked the father.

“That was my dad.”

“But I’ve followed the Angels pretty well. I don’t remember your name.”

“I’ve been up and down a lot. Like, right now I’m heading back to the bigs after a few months rehabbing at Schenectady.”

“Can you sign my ball?”

“Sure thing.”

Joan turned away from the passengers and rolled her eyes.

The kid handed his baseball to John. The big leaguer pulled a magic marker out of his shirt pocket and signed it.

Mr. Wilhelm, did your dad play for the Angels?

No, kid, he pitched for the Indians.

Have you ever struck out Jeter?

Yup, I have. A couple of times, maybe three.

Wow.

The door to the flight deck opened, and Rhonda leaned out to speak to Joan. They both used their hands to shield their mouths like a coach and pitcher do on a trip to the mound. The conference ended with Rhonda returning to the cabin and Joan picking up a microphone. She took a deeper breath than usual and pasted her comforting smile on.

Your attention please. Could I ask if there is a doctor on the plane? We need some medical advice in the cockpit.

There was no immediate response until John’s former seatmate raised a hand from her knee and pointed to John at the front of the plane.  ”He’s a doctor. The guy in the Angels cap. He’s a doctor.”

John looked at the flight attendant.

“Don’t even.”

A well-dressed man near the front of the plane raised his hand, and the attendant guided him into to the pilot’s cabin. Passengers looked and pointed and ripples of concern flowed to the back of the plane.

“Is someone sick? the kid asked.

His father replied, “somebody in the flight cabin, I would suspect.

“Are we going to crash?”

“No, there’s a pilot and copilot in there. Either one of them can fly the plane.”

The din of passenger conversation lowered but the woman with her hands gripping her knees shouted:  ”We’re going to crash. We’re going to crash.” John moved quickly to the empty seat beside her. “Remember, hands on your knees, fingers spread.”

“I know, I know. But I feel the plane turning and losing altitude. We shouldn’t be doing that. The pilot’s dead. We’re going to crash.”

“Take a small breath, ma’am. Then let it out.”

“Okay, okay. Small breath. Let it out.”

Then, Joan fixed her smile to her face and said into the microphone: “Ladies and gentleman. We are sorry for the inconvenience, but we will be landing at McCarran airport in Las Vegas, due to a medical emergency. When we land, we will provide you with information as to how to continue to your destination. Again, we apologize to you for any inconvenience this may cause you.”

Joan pointed at John and motioned him back to his seat in the front row. John pointed to the woman next to him. The attendant waved him back again. When Gilmore reached his front row seat, Joan went into the cabin and shut the door.

The kid turned the autographed ball over and over in his hands. His father recommended he put it away to avoid smudging the signature.

“What’s wrong with the pilot? the kid asked.

“Oh, he probably eats in a lot of different restaurants. His stomach is probably upset, ” said John. He felt the plane nose down and  lean right ever so slightly. Joyce emerged from the cabin and reached for the microphone. She lowered her head and John saw her take a deep breath and come up with her best smile.

“Ladies and gentlemen, there is absolutely no reason to be alarmed, but is there someone on board who has knowledge of the Boeing 737 aircraft. Perhaps someone who has flown before?”

Gasps came from the passengers. Joan’s eyes searched the seats for a hand raised, but none did. Eventually her scan reached the front row where John sat. Their eyes met. John stood up.

She said, “please, tell me you can do this, for real.”

“Joan, to be honest, I don’t know if I can fly this. You’ve got a better choice?”

Silvers led Gilmore into the cabin, side-stepping the doctor performing CPR on the pilot. The co-pilot was sitting with his hands on his knees and his gaze straight ahead.

John sat in the pilot’s seat and put the headset on. He looked at the co-pilot. “Hey, bud. How’re things going?”

The co-pilot made no response.

Gilmore reached over to shake his hand. “My name’s Gilmore. What’s yours?”

No response.

John read co-pilot’s nametag. “Hill. I’m gonna need a little help here. How about it.”

“He’s frozen, Gilmore. He’s not going to help.”

John spoke into the microphone on his headset. “McClarren Tower, this is Southwest 1302 from Denver.”

Hill remained still. John searched the myriad of switches in front of him. He found a cluster of buttons with five channels listed. Channel 1 was lit. He lifted his hand and pointed at the buttons.

“Channel five,” said Joan.

He punched five.

“McClarren Tower, this is Southwest 1302.”

“Go ahead 1302.”

“Request emergency landing at your field.”

“What is the nature of your emergency?”

“Our pilot has had a heart attack.”

“You’re the co-pilot?”

“No sir. I’m a passenger.”

“Something wrong with the co-pilot?”

“Yeah. He’s freaked out.”

“Freaked out?”

“Stiff as a board.”

“You have flying experience?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Stand by, 1302.”

John looked over at Hill and tapped his shoulder. The co-pilot didn’t move.

“What’s that pin on your lapel, Hill? What’s ‘TWU 1966′?”

Hill’s eyes blinked.

“That isn’t a Texas Western pin, is it?”

“Flight 1302, you are cleared for an emergency landing on runway two-one. Change to heading two-three-zero.”

“Roger that, McClarren.”

John turned to Hill. “You’re related to Bobby Joe Hill?”

Hill’s head turned slightly towards Gilmore and then back. Again, to John, and back. His lips moved, but no words came out.

“1966 national champions. Their guard was Bobby Joe Hill.”

Hill looked at his lapel pin, then to John. His lips moved. “My dad.”

“No shit. Your dad beat Kentucky.”

Hills lips turned to a smile. “Damn right.”

“Holy shit. You must be proud of him.”

Hill nodded his head.

“Hey, that McClarren guy wants me to go to heading two-three-zero. What’s our heading now?”

Hill pointed to the instrument panel at the readout that said two-two-five.

“How do I get that to 230?” asked John.

Hill placed his hand on the controls.

 

Firetrucks and ambulances gathered near the end of runway twenty-one. They saw the airplane on final approach. It was bobbing and weaving as was customary at McClarren International Airport.

“Southwest 1302, you’re a little high. Drop to 2000 immediately.”

The plane dipped, and the passengers gasped.

“Southwest 1302, you need to lower your gear right now.”

The sound from beneath the airplane worried the riders. At 300 feet, the flight was still rocking back and forth. At the beginning of the runway, the plane was still at 300 feet.

“Southwest 1302, you can let the plane down now.”

It bounced once, and then hit the ground hard. Immediately the flaps tilted up and the brakes were applied hard. The plane rolled to the end of the runway and stopped. An ambulance quickly approached. Emergency technicians entered the cabin and removed the captain.

“Okay, I’m ready for those ground authorities,” John said to Joan.

“Uh…their waiting for you at LAX.”

“Oops. That means I can get to a poker tournament at Binions tonight.”

“You’re a poker player, too?” asked Joan.

“World Series of Poker Champion, 2007.”

“Really?”

John lifted his bag out of the overhead.

“No.”

Joan’s lips slowly changed to a smile. One she didn’t learn in training.

 

Pearl of Wisdom

Maury and Happy

Written by Dane Zeller, performed by Maury and Happy, guardian angels.

 

Maury lifted his cup to his lips. Coffee waves slapped against the sides of the cup made thick and more suitable for professional drivers at the truck stop, than old men at the Pizza Shoppe. He took a sip. “Michael?”

Michael set his menu down. He refocused his eyes from the spot six inches in front of his face, the distance the menu required to be legible for even a young man in the dimly lit pizza restaurant. “Yes?”

“One of my jobs is to give you advice. Little kernels of truth. Life-long lessons. Words of…”

“…Maury.”

“What?”

“Could you just give me the advice, sans preface?”

Maury reached for a half-and-half creamer and removed the lid on his fourth attempt.  “Michael, I’ve got to give you the full context. Pearls of wisdom don’t live by themselves.”

“I’ve gotta pee, Maury. Was that your pearl of wisdom, the one about pearls of wisdom?”

“Nope. Think about this as you sit on the crapper: Ready?

“Yup.”

“Don’t buy your coffee at a pizza restaurant.”

Michael stood up. “That’s it?”

“Yes. No one buys it. They’re not good at it. They make pizza.”

“Okay. I won’t. But I don’t drink coffee anyway. Gotta go.”

“And, don’t get your personal advice from your bartender…”

“And don’t have a noon meal in a pizza restaurant that is so dark you can’t read the menu,” said Michael over his shoulder and searching for the men’s room.

Maury opened his menu and brought it up close to his face.

Michael went straight to the sink and turned on the water. He looked in the mirror and examined his face.

Do I look like her? She has brown eyes, like mine. Will she know what I look like? What will her reaction be? Will she have her mother’s facial features, or mine? Black hair like mine? Dyed, no doubt, like a young woman of twenty usually does. Should I call her, or just walk up to her?

Michael withdrew his hands from the water. As he started the hand blow dryer, he glanced at the mirror in hopes of glimpsing his profile. He opened the restroom door and was blinded by the light.

Michael pulled the chair out at the table and sat down.  “So, Maury, you didn’t like the restaurant.”

“Nope. It was too dark in there. I couldn’t read the menu.”

“And the coffee, too.”

“Right.”

“How is Happy going to find us?”

“I left word with the waitress. Hope you like Chinese. Want some tea?”

Michael looked around the Chinese restaurant. The tables were like kitchen tables, all with four chairs. The front of the place was all windows, looking out into the parking  lot of a strip mall.

“Did you move the cars, too?”

“Oh no, Happy can give us a ride back.”

“If he finds us.”

A 1989 white Lincoln Town Car swerved into a parking spot in front of Mama Ling’s restaurant. The left front corner of the car passed the car next to it by two inches. The right front fender had already unsuccessfully missed another car a few months back. A wash of the car might reveal other mishaps.

The driver’s door was thrown open, denting the door of the car parked on its left. The door bounced back toward the driver as he was getting out. He pushed it out again, making a second ding in the door of the unfortunate neighbor. A cane held the door open while Happy emerged. The old man reached back into the car and brought out a leather briefcase as old and damaged as his car. Shuffling his grip among the car door, cane and briefcase, he marked the other car a third time, and finally approached Mama Ling’s front door.

Michael and Maury watched as Happy approached the waitress. He stuck his cane under his right arm, already burdened by the briefcase, in preparation of laying his hand on the shoulder of the good-looking young woman. He smiled and spoke to her. They both looked at Michael and Maury, and he nodded. She assisted the needy old man over to the table, at one time on the trip, he wobbled and dropped his hand to steady himself by grabbing her rear end. He apologized and quickly removed his hand and grabbed the back of the chair for balance. He thanked her for her help and sat down.

“I told you he’d make it,” said Maury to Michael.

“I have a message for you from the Pizza Shoppe waitress.”

“Do tell.”

“She said…I hope I get this right…’tell the old bastard he owes me 2.25 for the coffee’.”

“She didn’t use the word ‘bastard’.”

“Yeah she did, only it was worse than that.”

Michael rapped his fingers on the table. “Can we get down to the reason we’re having this meeting?”

“Hey, I didn’t change the meeting place. Maury did.”

“If you don’t like Chinese, just say so.”

“No. I’m good with it. I adapt.”

“You adapt because if you don’t like the restaurant, you’ve brought an alternative lunch in your briefcase.”

“If you’re going to talk like that, I’m not sharing.”

“Gentleman, I’ve got a problem. You’re supposed to help, not rip and tear at each other.”

“Sure, sure, we’re all right.” Happy moved a water glass away from Maury and placed it in front of himself. “What’s up? How can we help?”

Michael looked around the restaurant to see who might hear him talking. He lowered his voice. “I’ve never mention this to you guys, but I have a daughter…”

“… wait a minute, Michael. Happy raised his hand and waved to the waitress. “Could I get some coffee?”

“Happy. How many times have I told you not to get your coffee at a Chinese restaurant? Order some tea.”

“Excuse me, miss, make that tea. House tea with room for cream and sugar.” Happy put his thermos back into his briefcase. “What were you saying, Michael?”

“I have a daughter…”

“Do you suppose I can get some artificial sweetener in my tea? Oh, Miss.”

“Happy. Happy. Michael wants to say something important to us, and you keep interrupting him. He probably wants some advice on contacting his twenty-two year old daughter he hasn’t see since she was two.”

“How do you know that?”

“We know your background. She said she didn’t want to see you ever again. Her mother convinced her you were an asshole. They both hate you. I say move on.” Happy looked at Maury. “That’s what I’d do. What do you think, partner?”

“Ex-wives are trouble. I say you find a new woman. Start another family. You don’t have a family any more.”

“Save yourself some grief. Turn the page,” said Maury.

Michael placed a hand in front of Maury, and one in front of Happy. “Gentlemen, gentlemen, aren’t you supposed to be a positive influence on me? That’s what Gordo told me.”

Happy opened a flask he had in his coat pocket and poured about an ounce of its contents into his tea. “Gordo thinks he’s in charge.”

“What an asshole,” Maury added.

“How’d you guys meet Gordo?”

Maury gathered himself. “After my accident, I met Gordo at the Gateway.”

“Gateway?”

“Pearly Gates.”

“No shit.”

“We had a choice. Happy arrived just after me…just after the shooting.”

“You were shot?”

“Yes. In a hunting accident.”

“Bullshit. He was shot in a poker game.”

“And you had an auto accident. Sure. You scammed the retirement fund and jumped out the window just before you were arrested. He can call it an auto accident because a car broke his fall twenty stories below.”

“So how did Gordo choose you guys to help me? Why didn’t you go straight to hell, both of you.”

“We made a deal with him. He offered both of us the choice of door number 1, which was titled “Heaven or Hell” and the second door was “Guardian Angel.” We both chose door number 2, but he looked over our record and said that one was locked. We argued that the two of us would always work together, making up for each of our deficiencies. So, here we are.”

“You good with this? Both of you.”

Maury wriggled in his seat. “Yeah, I can tolerate this old fart.”

“Maybe you both should have taken a chance with the heaven or hell door.”

“That’s for sure. It’s been hell working with this asshole.”

“I’m going out to make a phone call. Can you guys get along for five minutes?”

“yeah.”

“I’ll try.”

Michael went out the front door to use his phone and smoke a cigarette.  He went back in to see both old men gone. He looked back at the parking lot. Happy’s car was still there.

“Your friends had to step out,” said the waitress. “Would you like some tea?” She had a pot and two cups in her hand. She went over to his table and poured two cups. She sat down.

“It looks like Happy left his cane,” said Michael.

“And his car.”

“Where’d they go?”

“They said something about a pizza restaurant.”

“We just came from a pizza restaurant. I wouldn’t think they would want to go back, especially Maury.”

“They didn’t.”

“They didn’t go back?”

“No, they didn’t want to.”

“Who are you?”

“Pearl.”

Michael ………. “You did this.”

“I have some advice for you.”

“From Gordo?”

“From me.” She poured the tea.  “Call her.”

“That’s it? I’m used to something more longwinded than that. What if she rejects me?”

“That’s not the worst thing to happen to you.”

“There’s something worse that not being accepted by your daughter?”

“Yes. Worse would be that she wanted to see you but never did.”

Michael looked at the young woman sitting across the table from him. Black hair, pretty face, simply dressed. Sipping on her tea. The cane and briefcase were still at the Chinese restaurant. The Lincoln Town Car was still  out in the parking lot, rusting.

“You work for Gordo?”

“No.”

“But you were assigned to me.”

“No. I work as a free agent.”

“What if she doesn’t’ answer?” Michael said to the empty room.

 

 

The Power of One by Gary Smith

Bonnie Richardson

A teenage girl climbs into her coach’s white Chevy Malibu. The heat lies on the land like the heel of a fat man’s hand. The cicadas scream. The cattle chew the spear grass. The turkey buzzards wheel.  The car crunches the gravel leading away from the high school. The coach turns ontoasphalt. They ride that black ribbon in silence.  Nothing stops the eye. Nothing bends the road. It’s a blank slate, this land. Anything might be scrawled on it. Metropolises might emerge, as Dallas did 208 miles to the northeast and Houston 292 miles to the southeast. Armadillos or astronauts might arise, oil or bluebonnets, Janis Lyn Joplin or Dwight David Eisenhower.  It’s as blank as the page upon which the teenage girl began a poem.

THEY’RE DRIVING to the Texas state track meet in Austin. It’s May 2008. She’s the only athlete in her school who qualified. But only two other girls are on her track team. Only 58 other students attend her high school. Only 162 other people live in her town. A school. A Baptist church. A post office. A volunteer fire department. Linda’s Hair Hut. Two water tanks. No stoplight. An hour-and-a-half drive to shop for clothes. How’re your parents doin’? Didn’t see you in church last week. That’s her town.  Two hallways. Eight classrooms that double as junior high classrooms, some with old, defunct coal heaters and pipe vents. On the front steps, a pair of muddy boots belonging to Ty Shackelford, an eighth-grader who has killed nearly 400 feral hogs at night by leaping on their backs with his flashlight and knife. That’s her high school.

SHE STEPS onto the University of Texas’s Rekortan “energy return” polyurethane-system track. Her track, 111 miles back at Rochelle High, is made of dirt, grass, weeds, rocks, red-ant mounds and ruts from Friday nights when the pickups pull up and fans watch from lawn chairs in the truck beds with their headlights crisscrossing the field as the Hornets play six-man football. Her track has no lanes or borders, blurs into the football field and has puddles at one end that force her to cut into the end zone, a trench from an old water line that she must hurdle, goats and a llama grazing beside it, armadillos and deer pattering across it.

SHE’S THE water boy on the football team. She’s president of the National Honor Society, a year from graduating as valedictorian. She can bench-press 180. She hunts deer with a bow and arrow. Anything might arise from this land. Something that never has in the history of U.S. sports is about to.

A freckle-faced ranch girl from the very heart of Texas is going to win the state track team championship.

All by herself.

The Sixteen Absolute Principles of Personal Finance

Dr. One BananaTwo

1. If you don’t want to mow a lawn, don’t buy a house. (There are other costs of home ownership.)
2. If you buy a house for investment purposes, consider all of the costs beyond the cost of mowing your yard. Property taxes, insurance, the new roof, the furnace and air conditioner, rotor-rooter man, plumber, interest on the mortgage, and closing costs when you bought the house. Oh yes, if it is an investment, you will need to reduce your return by the amount of the realtor’s commission and closing costs when you sell the house to realize the gain. Don’t forget the realtor’s list of things you have to do to make the house presentable, like paint, wallpaper and the cement needed for the broken sidewalk. And finally, the most overlooked cost in housing investment: the money you would have made, but didn’t, when you made the down payment in the beginning.
3. Don’t have your barber do your brain surgery, and don’t have your insurance agent invest your money for you. If the agent mentions the words “variable annuity,” visualize a large scalpel designed to carve out his retirement, not yours. (Buy term life when you need it.)
4. Never lease a car. (It’s just like a bad loan, only worse.)
5. Never borrow money to buy things that depreciate. That eliminates all items that can be purchased at Quik-Trip. It also excludes everything else that you buy, except for a house, maybe. (See number two above.)
6. If you think that everyone has a car payment, and you will always have a car payment, so what if you buy a new car every three or four years? Just do this calculation: what is $350 per month from the time you were 25 until you are 60? In the first case, you will have a 2018 Chevrolet Malibu and a car payment; in the second case you would have 1,200,000. Hope you enjoyed the new Chevys!
7. Don’t work for someone who didn’t take much time to hire you. (It’s their most important job. You really don’t want to work for someone who’s is incompetent, even though that quality got you the job.)
8. Always have health insurance. (Always have health insurance.)
9. Always buy an extended warranty on cars and appliances. (Our world has too many un-filled rat holes.)
10. Budgets are for rich people, too.
11. Write down what you own and what you owe. Subtract them. That’s what you’re worth. Try it, you may be surprised.
12. Write down what you make and what you spend. Subtract them. The result is what you make. It’s what makes number eleven above go up or down.
13. Don’t buy a used car that has McDonald’s wrappers in the back seat. “Dust on the hood, dirt in the engine.” – Thoreau
14. A killer stock tip is great whenever you want to buy a stock that has already soared through the roof.
15. Keep it simple. (Don’t buy a life insurance policy from a car dealer in order to insure that your loan gets paid off if you die.)
16. There are more than sixteen principles. Look for them.

Dane Zeller? Oh, yeah.

To all my readers. You may use the following script whenever you think it would help.

Your friend, the author.

Scene: (A Starbucks Coffee Shop, A very crowded Panera Bread restaurant, In the audience of a poetry reading, or sitting in a baseball stadium watching a baseball game drone by.)

Characters; You, played by “you”.

Characters: Him, played by “him”. (could be a complete stranger, better if he was someone of importance.)

Characters: Public address announcer, or narrator, or coffee bar clerk.

P.A.: Now batting for the Royals: …

(Stranger, or acquaintance, or a friend takes the seat next to you.)

Him: Hey, how you doing?

You: Better than ever.

(at this point the conversation continues about sports, cooking, politics, and finally about books)

Him: I just finished a great book I’d recommend to you.

You: Oh?

Him: Yeah, it’s Deadly Soup by Dane Zeller.

You: You don’t say.

Him: Great dialogue.

You: He is good with dialogue, I must say.

Him: You…you…you’ve read it?

You: (Gathering up all the nonchalance you can) Oh, he mentioned he got it published when we had coffee a month ago.

Him: You…you…know Dane Zeller?

You: (pause and add a little cream to your coffee.). Oh…yeah. (said in your most off-handed tone).

 

I’m honored to be able to provide you a brush with greatness moment. – Dane

Financial Expert Reveals His Top Pick

One BananaTwo, One Monkey Typing’s resident financial guru, reluctantly gives investment advice. Managing editor, Dane Zeller, interviews One.

Dr. One BananaTwo

Dane: Dr. BananaTwo, our readers are anxiously awaiting your advice for 2019.
One: uh…so?
Dane: So…what’s your best stock tip for 2019?
One: How should I know?
Dane: You’re the EXPERT!
One: And Donald Trump is the PRESIDENT!
Dane: Dr. BananaTwo, surely your powers for prediction are not blunted by whoever finds himself in the white house.
One: You’re kidding. You call Trump “whoever finds himself in the white house”?
Dane: It’s a manner of speaking.
One: It’s a stretch of your imagination.
Dane: One, we pay you to give predictions. Our readers are looking forward to your advice. (mhemhj;kjhjh)
One: What did you mumble?
Dane: I said MAKE IT UP!
One: Oh, okay. Oil.
Dane: Oil?
One: Yes. Oil.
Dane: Could you be a little more specific?
One: Not sure what you mean.
Dane: Saudi Crude? Oil futures? Oil derivatives? Gulf Premium?
One: No. Just oil.
Dane: Just oil.
One: You know, quarts.
Dane: Where do you invest in “quarts”?
One: Walmart’s a good place to start.
Dane: Walmart carries an investment vehicle?
One: Yes. It’s usually in the back of the store where they sell tires and shop towels.
Dane: We pay you to suggest we buy at Walmart?
One: You asked.
Dane: I’d need a pickup.
One: I suggest a bigger truck than that.
Dane: Maybe they’d deliver.
One: There you go! For a managing editor, you’ve got some financial savvy.
Dane: For a monkey, you’ve got some balls.
One: No. Oil, for the first quarter. Balls will be the second quarter tip.
Dane: This interview is over.
One: 10W-40
Dane: Over.

Dane’s 2019 Progress Report

It's a simple matter of copy and paste.

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