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Friday, January 30, 2009

Short Story - Sign of Life (Part 2/3)

(Reader discretion advised - some coarse language / violence.)

Part 2.

They were nowhere.

Good guys, that was, or so she thought. She was a register jockey at the local gas ‘n go on the edge of town and spent her nights watching the few late customers come in for expensive gas and cheap coffee. In between counting change and swiping charge cards, she’d read a book or make notes in her journal. Tonight though, she was content to stare out the window and listen to the late night radio. Through several hours of interrupted contemplation, she had come to the conclusion that guys were jerks. That morning a friend had sent a picture to her cellphone. A picture of her boyfriend getting way too comfortable with someone who wasn’t her. Despite the picture, he even tried to deny it, then excuse it, then apologize for it with an ill placed and insincere “I love you”. That made for a short conversation. It may have gone on longer, but after a baseball found it’s way from his shelf to her hand to his TV, nothing more needed to be said.

Now she was putting in time on her all night Short Stop shift and stewing about the state of her world. She was now pretty much homeless as she had been living with the jerk. Smashing his TV probably put an end to their more than roommates status. And this job of human interaction misery wouldn’t pay the freight either. She wanted to go back to school, and had put her hopes on a man, but he had come up short as usual. Now she needed a place to stay, a better job, and if she was honest with herself, a fix it up glue for another broken heart.

As a customer bought a coke and she handed him some change, she thought to herself that was the worst of it. She had really thought this guy was different. Honest, true, and honorable. It turned out he just put on a good show. It wasn’t the first time, and she was beginning to wonder if there was anything good left in the human race? Was there anyone who wasn’t just looking out for themselves and determined to be an asshole 24/7? She was so tired of being lied to and used and was getting angrier by the day; but the more she thought about it, the more she didn’t want to become jaded and hard. But it was pressing the point of half past too late, and she just hoped for a sign that all was not lost on this dying planet.

A truck pulled into the gas pumps and she watched as a tall guy got out and started up the fueling. The truck had seen better days, but it was an old school warrior and as she watched him wait on the pump and stare into the darkness of the night she idly thought he might be too. She was about to jot something down in her journal when the door chime rang again and two guys and a girl walked in, talking a little too loud while heading to the coolers at the back.

Then one of the guys turned back around and yelled to his friends “Get whatever you want.” He approached the counter and she bent down to put her journal on the lower shelf. She stood up to see what he wanted and her heart flatlined. He had a gun in his hand and he brought his arm straight up and pointed it at her. “Give me the money and the smokes, bitch! Now!” Instinctively she jumped back but hit the cigarette shelves of the wall behind her. She couldn’t think for a second as her mind and body refused to co-operate. The guy with the gun said something else she missed entirely as her now alive heartbeat in her ears drowned it out. She tried to reach to open the register, hoping the little cash in there would be enough to make him leave.

Then she looked up and she saw his eyes and she knew this was happening and it was no joke. Where there should have been something - hate, anger, or even evil - there was nothing. He didn’t care about her or even pulling the trigger, and she knew it. All hope left out of her in a hurry, and she closed her eyes. The word help went through her mind, out to someone - anyone - on this plane of existence or the next, but her hopeless broken heart didn’t expect to hear anything back. She figured this was it. A bad end to a worse day.

Then the door chime rang again...

To Be Continued...

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Short Story - Sign of Life (Part 1/3)

Just a little three part story coming here. Enjoy if you can, comments welcome...

(Reader discretion advised - some coarse language / violence.)

Part 1

They were everywhere.

It was getting really, really tiring too.  It didn’t matter where he went, he’d bump into one.  Assholes at work, idiots in the checkout line, arrogant brain-deads on the other end of the phone line, and plain old stupid-meets-dangerous in the car next to him on the freeway.  The list could go on forever and he wouldn’t run out of examples for a millennia or two.

So, what happened?  Where did it all go wrong?  When did humanity decide that brains and civility were no longer requirements of a proper existence?  Did the sea of unwashed two legged pollutants not realize that this mess wasn’t necessary?  That a little honor and common sense could make life a lot better for more than a few?  These were the questions that wouldn’t quit going round his head every day, and with each passing cycle of the sun he got a little further removed from finding any answers.  His faith in humanity was long since gone, and his faith in something better was on a slippery foothold.

It was in this mental fog that he rolled into the Short Stop on the edge of town to get some fuel for both himself and his truck.  He got out and started pumping gas into the four wheel wallet drainer.  One more thing to swear at as he watched the tally roll higher on the pump.  Somebody somewhere was getting rich off him at this very moment, and if there was any justice in the world the bastard wouldn’t get a chance to spend it.  But there was none of that left in the world either.

Some other voices broke into his thoughts and out of habit he registered other people walking into the store.  Years ago a bad luck streak had taught him the knack of keeping track of his surroundings mentally; a habit that was hard to break even now.  Sometimes he wondered if it was a blessing or a curse.

He finished filling up and was putting the gas cap back on when, out of habit, he glanced into the store to see where the clerk was.  He stopped short at what he saw - the clerk was behind the register, backed up to the cigarette wall and was staring at the business end of a pistol in the hand of yet another asshole.  Just what I need, he thought, taking a step back behind the cab of his truck.  He pulled out his cellphone and quickly dialed 911, switching to speaker mode so he could keep the phone out of any possible line of sight.  The operator answered and he spoke tersely, “Listen close - the Short Stop gas station at the Lincoln street highway ramp, send cops fast.  The store is being held up.  One assailant, gun sighted.  At least four people in the store by my count.  Got that?” He got a yes response, then hung up as the operator continued talking and glanced back into the store.  The robber appeared animated and agitated.  The clerk was trying to melt into the wall while reaching to open the register.  She was clearly scared.  And he could see the tops of two heads back by the coolers as well.  Eyes back to the gunman, and something in his gut told him this wasn’t going to last long enough for the cops to get there.  He had to make a decision.

Honor was telling him to do something.  Common sense was telling him he already had and to drive away before a bullet wound up with his name on it.  But then if he did that, he’d be just another one of the assholes he’d grown to hate so much, and he’d be damned if he’d allow that to happen.  So be it, he thought, damned it is.  He pulled his ball cap a little lower as he walked towards the store pretending he was oblivious to what was going on inside.  He took a deep breath and reached for the door handle, wondering if his number had finally come up and might he be headed for that last ride...

To be continued...

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

It's A Rant

Ok, what the hell, time for a rant.

Here’s a comment from the last post: dont talk trash about carrie said...
Carrie always does an amazing job no matter what she is singing and she sings I told you so just as good as Randy Travis or better. Find someone else to talk bad about.

For the record, I wasn’t talking trash about Carrie, I was making an observation about feeling old when stuff I grew up on is now a classic to be covered by the current radio darling. Still, let’s explore this a little for kicks and giggles anyway. Carrie covering a Randy Travis classic is ok, but to release it as a single is a little odd. It’d be like Keith Urban trying for a number one hit by doing a cover of He Stopped Loving Her Today. I like Urban, but that’d be weird. I have no problem with covers, but sometimes a cover of a classic should just be an album track, not a radio single. A nod to a favorite without trying to score popularity points.

Now I have no idea whether Carrie is a die hard Randy Travis fan or not, but from this cynics viewpoint, it just seems like savvy marketing, much like most of country music today (not just Carrie). An American Idol pop music winner, shrewdly moves into the much less fickle country market with a studio pushed custom made Faith Hill in waiting look and sound, wins big at awards shows on only one album’s strength to keep the Idol fandom/market happy and buying, and then after a couple radio friendly pop-ish hits releases a radio single of a classic “doesn’t get more country than that” song to bridge the gap to true country fans and works in an Opry appearance with the original singer himself. Either this is the luckiest girl on the face of the earth living a dream, or there’s a brilliantly savvy marketing team behind the curtain. I’m a cynic to the bone, so guess what I think?

I realize I’m no longer in anyone's sales demographic, but it just seems country music today is marketed straight to the 13 year old girl with expendable cash market. Carrie Underwood, Kellie Pickler, Taylor Swift (which one’s which?), Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, and too many other newbies to count have made my ears bleed with uninspired, tepid lyrics and pop blended beats. Can I not flip on my radio and find someone singing something that doesn’t sound like it just made it through a five step focus group and marketing session and blandified (Trademark!) for your protection? Sure, there’s still good singers and songwriters making their mark with solid art from the heart, but I have to go to the internet to find it. Forget CMT or KIX FM.

Or maybe, in the end, this is the way it is with every generation. What appeals to the age appropriate masses is turned away from by those who have lived a little longer and seen something with more quality than quantity. I’m sure when I was listening to Garth Brooks, my parents wondered what happened to their country. Now I have to hear Sugarland and wonder what the hell happened to mine.

Perhaps Vince Gill said it best...

You wake up one morning and it's passed you by.
Don't know when and you don't know why.
You feel like an old memory hangin' round.
And man, you've got to face it, it's a young man's town.
You knew this day was comin' all along.
So why bitch n' moan and say they done you wrong.
Just teach 'em what you know and pass it on down,
'Cause man you gotta face it, it's a young man's town.

It's a young man's town,
Full of young man's dreams.
And all God's children gotta learn to spread their wings.
Sometimes you gotta stand back,
And watch 'em burn it to the ground,
Even though you built it, it's a young man's town.

You always seem to be the last to know.
Man, that's just the way that the story goes.
There's nothing you can do when the fields have turned brown.
And man, you gotta face it, it's a young man's town.

It's a young man's town,
Full of young man's dreams.
And all God's children gotta learn to spread their wings.
Sometimes you gotta stand back,
And watch 'em burn it to the ground.
Even though you built it, it's a young man's town.
-Young Man's Town, by Vince Gill

Monday, January 19, 2009

Quick Picks

I think if I'm going to continue blogging, it'll need to be short and sweet with the posting. At least till my life eases up on the pressure a bit later this year. Till then, here's a few things grazing the surface...

- Not many TV shows can grab my interest anymore, as the major networks don't usually offer much and anything interesting gets canceled too soon to bother with (I'm looking at you FOX). However, when HBO or A&E launches a series, I take note. This time it's A&E, and the show is The Beast (A&E synopsis: The Beast, starring Patrick Swayze and Travis Fimmel, centers on an unorthodox but effective FBI veteran, Charles Barker (Swayze), who takes on a rookie partner, Ellis Dove (Fimmel). Barker trains Dove in a hard-edged, psychologically driven approach towards undercover work, where a moment's hesitation can lead to death). I just caught the pilot, and its a show that delivers. Here's hoping Swayze's health allows him to keep doing the show.

- With iTunes now going DRM free, I'll actually buy some music there now. I recently bought albums by Bryan Adams, Kanye West, and Miranda Lambert (how's that for eclectic tast?) I normally hate rap, but Kanye West's 808 & Heartbreaks album isn't all bad, with a couple good tracks. However, the surprise was country singer Miranda Lambert who delivers a really good album and writes her own songs. She's more Gretchen Wilson than Taylor Swift, so that's a plus right there, and she can rock or do a EmmyLou Harris cover with equal talent. One of the very few country singers today worth a listen.

- Speaking of country, I recently heard on the radio a classic song - "I Told You So", only thing was it certainly wasn't Randy Travis singing it. It was Carrie Underwood doing a cover of it. Suddenly I felt old. What I grew up listening to was now being remade for the bubblegum country/pop generation. At least she picked a good song for a change, but I'd have rather heard Randy back on the radio singing it.

- If you're a Firefox 3 user, available plug-ins can really add to it. The #1 essential is AdBlock Plus. With that enabled, you never have to see an advertisement on a webpage again. I don't like surfing without it anymore.  And if you're a blogger, ScribeFire is a must that makes for easy blogging right while you surf.  How'd I not know about this sooner? I just found it, and it works great. It's in your browser so you don't have to launch another program, and better yet, it's free.

- I've been impressed with the online video service It's a step up from YouTube, as they will give you 720P HD video. It's pretty strict in that they only want originally created content, so you won't see music videos or news clips there, but some of it's quite interesting. Here's a well put together vid of snow in Seattle shot with a Canon 5D MK II (sweet camera if you got an extra 3 grand)...[click through to Vimeo's site for the HD]

A Walk Around Seattle in the Snow from Luke Humphrey on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Checkin' In...

I'm still around, just a little swamped.  So here's a pic of me in Sin City style, just for fun.  Marv Rules!

(Speaking of which, if you get a chance to see Mickey Rourke's The Wrestler, do so. It's as good as they say, and he just won a Golden Globe for it and so did Springsteen for the amazing song.  I'll try to put up a short review for it soon...)

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Drive For Five!

Oh Canada! The young guns won the 5th straight World Junior Hockey Championship for Canada with a win over Sweden in the gold medal game. 

They got there with a heart stopping shootout win over Russia in the semi-final.  Canada was trailing 5-4, but scored with the goalie pulled and 5 seconds left to tie it and then won in a shootout to go to the gold medal game.

And then they clinched it tonight.  Way to go boys!

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Top 8 of ‘08

Ok, so I didn’t see enough ‘08 movies to do a list, didn’t buy enough CD’s to do a list, or books, or go places or whatever. Basically, the year pretty much passed me by. However, there were a few things off the top of my head that captured my interest, and so I thought I’d just lump it all together and do a best “stuff” of 2008 instead. Hey, that’s what people do on blogs at the end of the year, right?

8. Unibody Macbook with touchpad

I’ve only been able to play around on one for a bit, but that was a cool bit. This is a sweet device, and that touch pad is the way I think computers should have been 10 years ago. How did something so simple take so long? I want one, but they are priced out of my league...

7. Big & Rich - Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace music video

Big & Rich made an excellent song with “Between Raising Hell and Amazing Grace”, but the music video was even better. An entire western movie done in about 4 minutes. In the “country” music age of Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift, this was refreshing.

6. Wolverine movie trailer

This comes out May 1st, 2009, but the trailer came out in December and rocked. There’s lots to be worried about with this movie after X-Men 3 and the fact it’s being made by Fox (which ruins everything), but Hugh Jackman IS Wolverine and the trailer brought it with great lead-in music, action, claws, cameos, and classic Wolverine attitude. Can’t wait to see this next year.

5. Allison Moorer - Mockingbird album

Moorer is by far my favorite female country singer, and the irony is I can’t remember the last time I heard her on the radio. That’s a shame, but in ‘08 she released the album Mockingbird - a tribute to other female singers and writers that inspired her. Her voice is second to none and the material is first rate as she cuts through country, blues, & a little jazz putting her stamp on these classic songs.

4. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long-Blog

Joss Whedon came up with this during the writer’s strike and on a low budget with help from friends and family, put together a 3 part movie / story that took the internet by storm. Released for free for a week back in the summer, this told a tale from a would be super villain’s view through his blog - oh, and it’s a musical. Neil Patrick Harris, Nathan Fillion, & Felicia Day were uniformly awesome in their roles that brought hilarity, sarcasm, and emotion right to the final Whedon trademark ending. If you haven’t seen it, go find it on the internet or get the DVD from Amazon. It’s that good.

3. Criminal by Ed Brubaker & Sean Phillips

Anyone who loves noir or crime genre or plain good storytelling should be reading this. A mature comic that shows just how good a grasp Ed Brubaker has on this genre. 2008 brought the 3 individual stories collected in “The Dead and the Dying” and the just completed arc “Bad Night.” Once you start a story arc, you don’t want to quit until you’ve read to the end and you find yourself pulling for the low life characters that populate Ed’s Criminal world. Then add the stunning art by Sean Phillips that can convey so much from a character or even the surroundings and you have one of the best written books out there today.

2. Punisher Max - Garth Ennis finale - “Valley Forge, Valley Forge”

It was a sad day in August I read the last Garth Ennis written issue of Punisher Max, but what a way to finish it. I think I literally sat back and said “wow” when I was done. Ennis managed to pull together and wrap up his entire run on the series (over five years work) in one astounding finale, all while setting it up for another writer to take over. Ennis’ run was a like a clinic on storytelling and character development. Everyone seems to point to the over the top violence in these stories (and this is where the movies get it wrong), and yes there is that. But what drove the stories, and what enabled the emotional wallop some of them could bring was Ennis’ ability to stay focused on the characters in spite of the mayhem. Then in “Valley Forge, Valley Forge” he brought it to a riveting close by using the device of writing a novel within a comic book and raising it to something more. What was a gritty crime comic with moments of violence, utter crudeness, insane humor, heart, & emotion finished with a poignant statement on a soldier’s life that cemented Ennis’ run as truly epic.

1. And the best thing of 2008? IT’S OVER!

With a lot of bad news going around all over, and a very long year for me, 2008 was less than stellar. So let’s move on and see what 2009 has got. I’m sure it’ll be interesting.