Listening to Sinatra

Listening to Sinatra, Blue Eyes
sipping his blues on the rocks, cigarette smoke
curling up into another September song,
three a. m. in his soul in some half forgotten
side street bar, alone and far from eternity
on the nightside of town. Just listen:

to the Sultan of Swoon with the Dorsey swing,
to the Hollywood songs by The Voice,
to the loss and heart aches remembered
as the music ripened, a fine wine aged.
Frank, like DiMaggio, perfect grace and style,
this Hoboken kid sure made Little Italy proud.

All “high hopes,” “young at heart” and counting
his “pennies from heaven” those very good years
“the summer wind blew” as he flew us to the moon
“nice ‘n’ easy” on The “Guys and Dolls” Express.
Sang those “old black magic,” street-of-dreams tunes
his way, Pal Joey in Vegastown.

Luck was his lady a second time around
during the Rat Pack days of Frank, Sammy
and Dean, his “Oceans Eleven” gang playing
“Robin and the Seven Hoods” just for laughs.
With his gambler’s heart he threw the dice
and scored a great American songbook.

“There used to be a ballpark” where he sang
of Emily and Nancy with the laughing face.
Then the autumn days, the summer years gone
and his once upon a time, ‘til suddenly
he was eighty with only duets left. Just listen
to this Chairman of the Board, Zen-maestro of Song.

The Writer’s Life

The novelist sat down at his computer desk and sipped his coffee. It was November 1. Time for his annual exercise with the National Novel Writing Month, better known  as nanowrimo. His past three excursions into nanowrimo-land had turned out successful. After much needed editing, each novel was published, sold well, and received quite a lot of positive criticism.

Usually he prepared for the exercise with several months of planning. Not this year. This year he had nary a clue of what story would go onto the blank page, staring back at him. This year he was going to wing it.

His cell rang. Instead of letting the caller leave a message, he answered. Twenty minutes later he hung up, then stared at the blank document before him. It stared back. What to write, what to write?

He reached over for his cup. It was empty. This was no way to start a novel. He needed more coffee. Off to the kitchen, he went and brewed himself a second cup. Looking over at the sink filled with dishes, he realized that he couldn’t write with dirty dishes in the sink.

Twenty minutes later, the dishes were washed and dried, and he was back at his desk with a fresh cup of coffee. Then it came to him. He did not have clothes for the meeting he was supposed to have with his publisher two days away. Can’t have that.

As he pushed a load of laundry into the washer, he realized he was not getting any writing done. The machine began its washing. He looked at his watch. Three hours had passed and he didn’t have a word on paper yet.

No wonder I can’t get anything started. I’m hungry.

Sitting at the kitchen table, he bit into the first of three toasted cheese sandwiches. He searched the newspaper before him for ideas. Nothing in here but murder, murder, murder. He took a sip from his soda. Gee, I’ve got to give up sugar. But it won’t be this month. That would be a distraction from the novel I have to write.

An hour later the laundry was finished and the sandwiches eaten and the dishes washed. Still no idea what his nanowrimo would be. He had heard of writer’s block before but this was ridiculous. He turned on the TV. There was a Tarzan movie on. It hit him. Finally an idea. Off went the TV.

He stared at the blank page on his computer. “The man,” he typed. No, that’s not right. Got to give him a name. What name? Oh, I’ve got it.

On the screen appeared the words, “Jack Peters raised his rifle and aimed at the charging rhino.

“Click. The gun misfired.

“The rhino closed in on him.”

“Hold on there,” Jack said to the writer. “What makes you think I am agreeing to this? Ain’t no way I want to be gored by a rhino.”

This had never happened before. A character talking to him. His characters always did what they were told.

“Shut up and do as you’re told,” the novelist said to his character.

“I am not going to be gored by a rhino. Just so you can get in some imaginary word count so’s you can brag to your girlfriend that you’re a big stud of a writer. Who do you think I am?”

“You’re a big game hunter. American, if I remember correctly. Yes, definitely American. Now get to work.”

“No. No. No. That is not how it works around here. You know, if that beast gores me in the right place, I could be dead. Or even worse, impotent. That may have been good enough for that Jake Barnes fellow but not for me. I’m having none of that.”

“You don’t have any choice.”

“And you want to know something else? If you don’t make your move with that woman of yours, I’ll take care of her for you. All she needs is a man. You ain’t him.”

“Leave her out of it.”

“Okay,” the character said. “But only if you do the right thing and let me take that rhino down. Otherwise she’s all mine.”

“Geez, I never had this kind of trouble with a character before.”

“That’s ’cause all your characters have sucked big time. I’m the first real character to appear in any of your novels. Since it’s my story, I get some input. And my input is that I am not gored by a rhino. You hear me?”

“Okay,” the novelist begrudgingly agreed.

“Well, let’s get to it.” The character returned to his place on the page.

The novelist typed. “Jack dropped to his knees. He threw his rifle aside. Grabbed the gun lying in the grass next to him. The rhino was three feet away and charging. Jack aimed and fired. The rhino dropped at his feet.”

The character stepped off the page again. “That’s better. Now keep it up.”

Sammy

Oh, to be nineteen again and work in the A & P and ring up a queen of a girl in her bathing suit for a can of I-can’t-remember-what and quit my job and leave my co-worker, Stokesie, and the manager of the store, Lengel, behind and walk out into a whole new life. Sometimes you get a chance and you take that one chance and everything changes. It was such a good spring day to be alive and the air was sweeter than any I have breathed before or since. It was a good day to go out and see the world.

The girl and her two friends were gone when I got outside, but that didn’t matter. I was a man now because I had made a man’s decision. I had said goodbye to all the things I hated when I walked out of that store, and there was no going back. I walked over to the blue ’54 Chevy my dad gave me for my eighteenth birthday, got into it, checked my gas gauge and decided I had enough fuel to get me to the beach five miles away and back. I knew I had see that girl again, and there was no better time than then to see her.

I drove to the beach and parked my car, then ambled over to the food stand. “Where does a guy go around here if he needs a job?” I asked the man inside the stand, improvising my way through this part of the day.

“What kind of job you looking for?” he wanted to know.

“Lifeguard,” I said, continuing to make things up. Surprised that things were going in the direction they were going in.

“You a good swimmer?”

“The best.”

“Better’n me?” He pulled off his apron.

I gave him a good up-and-down and decided just maybe. “I didn’t bring a set of trunks.”

He reached down and pulled a pair out from under the counter and threw them at me.

“You can change over yonder.” He pointed toward a men’s room several yards away.

I took the swim trunks and ran to change. Several minutes later I walked back to the stand. I handed him my jeans and shirt and shoes. He put them under the counter. “They’ll be safe here,” he said and locked the stand up.

We raced down to the water and I was first in. The water, cold but not too cold, came up to my waist. I dived in and headed for the platform floating in the ocean. About halfway there, the guy pulled ahead of me. I was a good swimmer but this guy was a fish. He got to the platform and crawled out of the water and stood watching me. Grabbing the edge of the wood, I pulled myself up onto it. I steadied myself. He hauled off and hit me hard with his fist. I hit the water. What the–?

I swam under the wooden floor, came up on the other side, crawled up on the platform and rammed into him. He fell back into the ocean. I watched him go under the water and then his head appeared again and now he was trying to get his breath. I jumped in and grabbed him. He fought me hard, real hard. But soon I had him up on the platform and I was breathing mouth-to-mouth, scared as all get-out. He was not moving. Then water shot out of his mouth.

Slowly he sat up. Then he looked at me with that look that made me think I was lucky knowing him. “You got the job,” he said.

On the beach, the queen waved to me.