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Monday, October 31, 2005

My November

Official NaNoWriMo 2005 Participant
I am doing this.

Why? I've asked myself the same question for the past two weeks as I weighed whether to do it. I've threatened to do it for the past couple of years and always found an excuse. In the past, I always said, "I'm too busy. I have a kid. I have work. I have drinking."

I've come to realize recently that I'm always going to have those excuses. I've come to realize that I actually have a reason to participate in what will surely be one of the most frustrating and ultimately ego-shattering experiences of my writing career.

Why am I doing this: Because if I don't, I won't.

In the past, I've always worried about starting any long-form writing project for fear of failing. Not failing to finish, mind you, just failing to create something worthwhile. I've learned a lot about myself in the past year, and I think I can accept that on the morning of December 1, regardless of what I've created, it likely won't be worth binding and putting on a shelf. And I'm okay with that.

The next 30 days will simply be an exercise in discipline. It will be an exercise in creating for creation's sake. At this time, I don't even have a working title. I only have the seed of an idea.

Wish me luck. I promise to report if I give up and/or fail miserably. I also promise to report if I succeed, even if success means writing something really, really awful.

Why? Because if I don't, I won't.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

L'il Moment--October

It seems L'il Otis has figured out what his guitar is all about. This morning, after wearing his Halloween cowboy hat around for a while, he sat down and started strumming. Then he started singing. Them he looked up me and did the "Hah! Hah! Hah!" part of a funk song I wrote and sing for him while he's eating dinner (titled "Puddin'").

Not a bad morning all in all. He has a fat upper lip after taking a bad spill last night. Other than that, he's just as cute as I could ever want.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Tuesdays with Pauly

Pauly takes notes. His life is a yet-unproduced or written off-Broadway play about drug-addled strippers and strung-out stockbrokers. At first glance someone might think his notepad is some affectation to make him look serious about his craft. It's not that. It's that too much happens in his presence to remember it fully. What's more, life around Pauly is awash in carefully controlled but occasionally wild abandon intoxication. Failure to properly document the activities risks losing them completely.

Pauly takes notes. He takes pictures. He takes video. And I've appeared in a few too many recently.

It's good that Pauly keeps track of things. Much of last night is firmly etched in my memory. I had a night to kill in New York and Pauly was there for me. We talked on all subjects from family to future to fucking. Not necessarily in that order. I won't forget the conversations. I might have forgotten where I was, but as I said, Pauly takes notes.


1-Ray's Pizza: Not the orignal Ray's as I understand it. What I don't understand is how everybody came to think that ripping off a name was going to make them more successful in the pizza business. I had a Guinness and a slice of mushroom and black olive. Pauly had two slices and a water. I was concerned that he wasn't up for drinking booze. I was quite wrong.

2--McSorely's (7th and 3rd Ave.): A decades old Irish pub with bathroom urinals to prove the bar's age. Pauly bought me two mugs of McSorley's Dark which spent precious little time on the old slab-wood bar. Pauly had the Light and told me the bar was used in the film "Rounders" and that made me happy.

3--Blue and Gold (7th and 2nd): I had the Boddingtons and Pauly switched over to his now standard Soco on the rocks. Pauly told me how on most weekend nights the bar would be overrun with hipsters. This night, the bar was nearly empty. That was fine with me. It's been a long time since I had long conversations in empty bars with a good buddy. This also began the long run of "Dial-A-Shots" that would take place throughout the evening.

4--Big Bar (7th and 3rd): Calling this place "Big" is like calling a fat guy "Slim." The bar is about as big as my living room. A Russian girl served me a beer and Pauly a Soco. I started to wonder if we had passed what Pauly initially described as "a couple of cocktails."

5--Telephone (2nd and 8th): The front of this bar looks like a telephone booth. Inside, it is much bigger. Pauly made me choose if I wanted to go in this bar or the one beside it. When I picked "Telephone," Pauly looked at me and said, "Fuck it, we'll go to both." And so we did.

6--Ryan's Pub (2nd and 8th): Next door to Telephone and the beginning of my quick descent into forgetting which bar was which. As such, the remaining stops are sadly void of details, but still etched in my memory.

7--Detour (13th and 1st): It took us a little longer to walk to this one. The rain started to pick up and Pauly told me stories about listening to jazz in the bar. This night, if I have the bar right, the band had just broken for the night.

8--Kingshead (14th and 3rd): It was late.

9--Shades of Green: Named after my face.

Yes, Pauly takes notes. And I'm glad he does. If I ever get wealthy, I may hire Pauly to follow me whenever I go barhopping.

Thanks for a great night, buddy.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Diary of a rubber-less traveler

Diary of a rubber-less traveler

It should be understood from the very beginning that anyone with any sense for knowing these kinds of things knows that Chicago did not get its nickname because of its stiff breezes. In fact, it's not been too many months since I've encountered windier cities on the American landscape. San Francisco was dutifully windy. Florence, Oregon, too, was windy and its breeze carried the curious odor of a million dead creatures that came to shore purple and turned white upon their death. A hotel clerk told me later in Cannon Beach that the creatures were of some jellyfish descent. Their wing-like structure tended to a sort of left or right-handedness. If the tide washed a certain way, the left or rightness of the potentially doomed creatures would determine whether they were whisked further out to sea or to their demise on the west coast beaches. On this recent trip it seemed nothing could save these creatures and they washed up by the thousands onto the beach, died, and sent their stench into the breeze. I called the smell "crab ass" because it stunk as I figured it might if I shoved my nose directly and unforgivingly up the bum of a wayward and dying crab. I used the phrase too much during my week on that shore.

But Chicago, they call it Windy for other reasons. If memory serves, it had something to do with the tall tales the city folk could spin. My grandpa, a man once jolly with life and drink, used the word a lot. "He's windy, ain't he?" he'd say if I got to telling stories. Grandpa is still alive, but when he laid down the Busch beer for a healthier life, his jolliness seemed to go with it. Still, the smile is there, even if the beer gut isn't.

When I landed in Chicago's O'Hare airport for my connecting British Airways flight to jolly old England, I didn't expect to experience wind, natural or unnatural. I expected to whisk myself through the terminal, maybe use one of those neat motorized walkways, and just catch my seven-hour trans-Atlantic flight. Leaving South Carolina, I fell victim to airline trickery. As is their wont, in an effort to keep their on-time departure rating, the people at American Airlines pushed back from the gate knowing full well that O'Hare had no interest in us flying there. The remnants of one of America's 2005 hurricanes were settled over the upper Midwest and the flights were having a hard time finding the ground in a timely fashion.

And so we weary travelers who had not yet traveled a mile from our destination sat on the tarmac and listened to a redneck father mutter "Jesus" every time his toddler daughter cried out in frustration at, too, being the victim of American Airlines' trickery. Those cries came regularly each time the second hand of my watch crossed the 12. When an hour passed and the snarky flight attendant told me I couldn't listen to my iPod (electronic devices must be turned off until the flight has reached cruising altitude, dontcha know), I nearly snapped, punched the Jesus-muttering redneck, corked the toddler with a pacifier I keep with me for just such occasions, and wrapped my iPod earphones around the neck of the steward until his face turned purple.

Of course, I didn't. I read airport trash fiction with terrible adjectives and adverbs and too many uses of the phrase "shot back" to refer to a character's inevitable snappy response his foil's insults. And then I went to Chicago.

I judged my chances of making my gate in time for the flight at a healthy 75%, barring any unforeseen difficulties, such as not knowing where Terminal 5 is, not knowing one must take a train to get to it, and not knowing that going to said terminal would require leaving the secure area and as such being forced to go back through the metal detectors. Further, I did not account for the Mexican man in front of me with the lizard skin boots, giant belt buckle, and the unbuttoned Virgin Mary shirt who had a hard time speaking English and a harder time getting his boots off. There was a time, I remember, when a man could wear his boots as he walked through the security checkpoint. Those were the days when you could carry a flamethrower through, just so long as you promised not to use it to light a cigarette in the lavatory during the flight.

But these are different days, and on this one, I was nearly sprinting to reach my gate on time. I say nearly only because I had no sense of direction and looked more like a dog chasing a butterfly than an experienced traveler trying to make his flight. I ended up outside, and that's when I discovered, Chicago was, indeed, windy. My hair, already mussed from three hours of pulling on it on the American Airlines flight, became a rats nest. I thought it might make me look more European, which would only serve me well if I actually made it to the gate in time to actually fly to Europe.

Breathless, confused, and sick to my stomach, I arrived at the British Airways gate and looked at the departure board.

The flight was delayed for an hour.

This is how I travel. I run to nowhere to fly to somewhere where I see little, do much, and find myself asking questions like, "Why do they sell condoms in airport bathrooms?"

I might probe that question later. For now, British Airways requires my ass in a seat.


The flight was unremarkable, and any regular traveler knows that means the flight was damned near perfect. British Airways provides its trans-Atlantic passengers with eye masks, socks, a toothbrush and toothpaste, and earphones to listen to one of eight movies that will air on the seatback screen in front of each traveler. The head-wings on each side of the passenger's ears don't only fold out, but down, so you can adjust them perfectly for sleeping while sitting up. My movie choice was "The Interpreter," which I enjoyed more than I thought I would. I had red wine and chicken for dinner. It wasn't as good as it sounds, but, being airplane food, I didn't have to tell you that.

My experience was only marred by the guy sitting in the seat next to me. He was quiet for six hours before discovering the girl in the seat next to him was on her way to his destination: Spain. He went on to regale her with stories of his pre-retirement and how, after ten years in the corporate world, he was, indeed, taking off as many months as he needed to study...wait for it...flamenco guitar.

The girl was wearing workout pants that sagged enough to show her Victoria's Secret panties (red, like my wine). Before we'd landed at Heathrow, the guy had talked her into spending her layover with him in some museum. It occurred to me at that moment that I'd discovered the real reason they sell condoms at airport bathrooms.

I'd pondered the question before, wondering why a "Gentleman's Kit" (complete with Sheik condoms and whatever lube you might need) was on sale in the men's room. I think the simple availability of such items has made me randy in the past. For years I thought I was afflicted with a Mile High Club fantasy. Then, upon my discovery that it's difficult to even withdraw my none-too-impressive man-part in the lavatory, I decided it would be impossible to have any success in bending over the college girl in the tight blue jeans.

It's that, I think, that probably gets me going in airports. These days, all the girls wear velour track suits or just their underwear for their flights. Especially international flights. They want to be comfortable, after all. All those lonely women in loose-fitting clothing just begged for a virile man to take them into the first class lounge and show them what first class really means.

But, even that is just a married man's rambling fantasy. That is not why they sell condoms in airport bathrooms. The rubbers are for the flamenco guitar students who have layovers with nubile co-eds on their way to partake in a Spanish masters program in classic languages. Given they can talk their way into the girl's pants by wheels down, they might have a chance at spending some of their pre-retirement money on a room at the airport Marriott. I suppose the gift shop at the Marriott sells Trojans, but in case it doesn't, the men's room supply will work just fine.

I disembarked and skipped the bathroom in lieu of a quicker cab ride to a hotel where it's so nice the bellmen steadfastly refuse to let you carry your bags any further than the entry way, The London Times is hung on the door knob every morning, and the room service girl looks just like she stepped straight out of Vogue. When she shows up with my club sandwich, she always asks, "May I come in, please?" Every night, no matter how many times I've welcomed her in, she always asks.

Once, when she again politely asked me to sign the receipt, I almost asked her if she knew anything about flamenco guitar.

And then I didn't.


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Rapid Eye Reality is the personal blog of writer Brad Willis, aka Otis.
All poker stories, travelogues, food writing, parenting and marriage advice, crime stories, and other writing should be taken with a grain of salt. It is also all protected under a Creative Commons license