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In the Black: 1967 – Marty Keegan

September 5, 2013 Leave a comment

ITB130725a - In the Black 1967 Cover - 180w

The cream-colored Cadillac De Ville convertible with Illinois license plates cruised south down Interstate 95 with the top down, long strands of hair dancing like crazed Salvador Dali puppets in the slip stream above the heads of the occupants. Marty Keegan rode the hump in the back seat, flanked by two pretty, yet clueless coeds along for the adventure that a weekend in Washington D.C. promised. Mark drove the borrowed luxury sedan, courtesy of Bill’s father, courtesy of the handsome salary paid him by Commonwealth Edison. Mark and Bill were having a loud and animated debate, followed like a tennis match by Diana, who sat between them in the front seat, but which Marty Keegan could not hear in back over Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton blasting I Feel Free out of the rear stereo speakers.

“Cadillac!” Marty Keegan yelled at passing vehicles, pointing to the occupants in his own car. “CAD-DIL-LAC!”

The coeds blew kisses to passing motorists, flashed the peace sign and smothered Marty Keegan in hugs and kisses. He fondled their breasts openly and winked teasingly at commuters imprisoned in their daily routines. The coeds were from his Poli-Sci class. Being a revolutionary had its upside — and Marty Keegan was looking forward to the prospect of getting laid in the nation’s capitol.

Marty Keegan’s freshman year at Columbia University had been a text book case study in the carnage that results when youthful dreams crash head-on into institutional granite and cultural concrete. His naive vision of emerging from the Ivy League’s only journalism school a crusading reporter, then following in his grandfather’s footsteps, battling to change the world for the better of all mankind, was threshed and winnowed by the undergraduate Core Curriculum and course pre-requisites, until the grains of his aspirations were laid bare for the millstone of the American education system to grind them into flour ready for proper societal leavening. But the same hormonally supercharged hubris, the universally youthful aura of immortality, and an embedded sense of familial destiny that propelled his recklessness on the Fighting Eagles gridiron and sustained his rebellion in the halls of Harry S. Truman High School could not be contained by the Morningside campus and it wasn’t long before his restlessness spilled over the dikes of academia.

After a thoroughly unsatisfying Lion’s football season that involved far more running, bench pressing and bench sitting than gridiron playing, Marty Keegan sought quiet refuge at what he called “Butler Beach” — the library stacks where he spent free afternoons and evenings on the fourth floor paging through the bound copies of TIME, Life, Newsweek and The New York Times, digging back through the decades to wander through the great watershed events of the Twentieth Century captured first hand by the idols of his craft — absorbing the heat of amazing photo journalism and heroic reporting of the ferocious battles of World War II exploding off glossy magazine pages; then back to feel the despair and desperation of that economic dust bowl known as the Great Depression rising from musty newsprint like an Oklahoma dirt devil; and then back again further into the “Roaring” decade that led to that very Black Tuesday in October, 1929, when Y.T., Jr.’s grandfather plummeted to his death at the other end of Manhattan Island. The “Crazy Years” of Jazz, Flappers, Art Deco, Prohibition, amazing technological advances and seemingly plentiful material excesses gave Marty Keegan a creepy, yet uncomprehended feeling of deja ju as he sat there forty years downstream in American history.

Seeking inspiration and, perhaps, redemption and validation from the acolytes of Walter Lippman and John Dewey, it seemed the more free time Marty Keegan spent at “The Beach” the more doubt gnawed at his faith in journalism like termites feasting on the foundations of a home. How could those reporters and editors of those times have missed a monster like the 1938 TIME Magazine “Man of the Year,” Adolf Hitler, and the horrors he unleashed on the world? How could they have not seen and understood what would happen? It was all right there in Mein Kampf, in Hitler’s own words, for crying out loud. How could they have not stopped him? Instead of wasting ink and paper on the “outpouring of birthday greetings” and praise for Benito Mussolini and all he had accomplished “for the good of Italy and humanity” why did they not stop these madmen, stop the suffering, stop the violence and stop the death they reeked on humanity? Who really cares if he and Hitler made the trains run on time, if those trains ended up running to Auschwitz and Treblinka? As Marty Keegan jogged through Morningside park or around the Central Park Reservoir, he tried, but could not fathom how the supposed watchdogs of the Fourth Estate had so badly missed the realities staring them straight in the face that would later spawn some of the darkest years of modern history. And so he reached back further, back into his own family’s past.

Marty Keegan’s grandfather spent his entire bright, but short newspaper career at the Kansas City Star. A.B. Keegan was a fourteen year old paperboy who, family legend had it, followed cub reporter Ernest Hemingway around the office during the six months of his tenure there before he left to drive ambulances in Italy during World War I. Twelve years later, the elder Keegan, by then a reporter for the Star, went to Amarillo, Texas, to look into the suspicious death of a lawyer’s wife, who was blown to smithereens in the family car six blocks from home. After just two days of investigation, he somehow learned what authorities could not or would not: that the husband was having an affair with his secretary. His intrepid investigative reporting resulted in a fifty-four page confession and a newspaper story that won a Pulitzer Prize. Unfortunately, the stellar journalistic career launched by that prize was aborted only a few short years later when he was fatally injured covering the 1935 Metal Workers strike violently raging through Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri. His own father not having the grit or stomach for the kind of danger men like Ernest Hemingway and A.B. Keegan faced in their work became a school teacher, and so it was on an annuity funded by his grandfather’s prize money and death benefits that Marty Keegan attended Columbia University. Marty Keegan searched for and found A.B. Keegan’s story on microfiche. He read and reread his ancestor’s prize winning prose. Somewhere in the intervening years, journalism seemed to have lost the fire that burned in the bellies of Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, Ernest Hemingway and A.B. Keegan. The Columbia freshman felt a heavy ancestral obligation in living up to his grandfather’s prize winning legacy, but, here, at the journalistic mecca founded and funded by Joseph Pulitzer, himself, which had recognized and honored a bud in Keegan family tree, he had become uncharacteristically unmoored and adrift from his own ancestry and ambitions.

Strangely, the thirty year old story of murder in a high plains cattle town by his grandfather resonated in Marty Keegan, softly at first, then louder and louder still. For a long while he was not sure why, until one day jogging up East Park Drive, out of the blue he recalled a series in The New Yorker about murder in Kansas by Truman Capote. Returning to Butler Beach he found the first article in the September, 1965 issue, and then the three following installments. It was a different kind of reporting, a different kind of story telling: a style that seemed to break away from the rigid Who-What-Where-When-How of the journalism of the past that had so obviously failed mankind by missing Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and their terrible meanings for civilization, even as those monsters worked their wills right before the supposedly unblinking and objective eyes of the Fourth Estate. He reread the Capote magazine series. He sought out a copy of In Cold Blood and wolfed down the novelization of true crime and yet hungered for more of this so-called “New Journalism.”

Somehow, moving back and away from a strict factual, photographic rendition of space and time, with a feel more of fiction than current events, these New Journalists had, like verbal Dalis, Piccasos or Pollocks, captured the essential truths and a more primal reality of the crimes, sports, politics, cars, celebrities and music they wrote about. The chasm between facts and reality, between objective observation and subjectively divining truth, between passive recording of sensory input and journalism as a verb — as a call to action and change — opened before him. In his mind, Marty Keegan had always equated a reporter’s job with just seeking the truth and faithfully documenting it. He had always understood that was enough. But this new and improved novelized presentation of reality demonstrated that his role was to be more than a simple gatherer and sower of grains of truth. From his own winter of independent research at Butler Beach, Marty Keegan saw that the “Johnny Appleseed” model of journalism, spreading seeds called facts, had obviously failed in the past to move and protect society. The more that establishment publications, editors and reporters attacked what they called “parajournalists” the more Marty Keegan sought them out and embraced them. Weren’t the very giants of Journalism, like Hearst and Pulitzer — the very founder of the Columbia School of Journalism, no less — derided as purveyors of so-called “yellow journalism” by the same kind of establishment types of their era? Didn’t his own grandfather do more than just report? Didn’t he solve a crime? Didn’t he bring a murderer to justice? Didn’t he change things for the better? He believed if his grandfather had been alive, he would have changed the arc of history far beyond the city limits of Amarillo in the decades that followed. Marty Keegan, too, heard the siren calling to change the world through his words.

And so, Marty Keegan turned away from news locked in history and neatly stacked up in Butler Beach. He turned away from the staid and stale academic hot house vision of journalism and began seeking new news and new news telling and new news to be made. He lost interest in the Lions and their endless workouts. He would not return to the team in his sophomore year. Eventually, he went AWOL from The Columbia Spectator as well. His jogging ventured further north from Central Park to the upper reaches of West Riverside Park and St. Nicholas Park. The time he spent on the fourth floor at Butler Beach dwindled and he drifted further and further afield from Morningside Heights, mainly northerly towards 125th Street and easterly towards Lenox Avenue, seeking out and exploring new and sometimes unconventional reading rooms — bars, coffee shops, diners, parks — to escape the soft oppression of the Columbia Cabal of students, faculty and administrators, and their worship of establishment values.

By energy or inertia he eventually gravitated to Stella’s Diner, a quiet family establishment on the outer fringes of Harlem, where he devoured home-style southern cooking, gallons of coffee, The Village Voice articles and anything he could find authored by Truman Capote, Gay Talese, George Plimpton, Norman Mailer, Terry Southern, Thomas Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. Shunned at first by the regulars, his persistent, yet quiet presence eroded away the novelty and resentment of having an obvious college student intruder in their midst and in time, he became an accepted fixture to be mostly ignored, except by Stella’s daughter, Yolanda, who closed the restaurant with her sister, serving customers while Bernice cooked. Polite, functional exchanges between Yolanda and Marty Keegan rooted and grew, until late at night, after all the other patrons had gone, she would sit with him to share a cup of coffee and conversation, usually under the heat lamp glare of Bernice through the server’s window to the kitchen. Woven into talk of themselves, their families, their homes, their futures, and their friends, Marty Keegan first learned how the hunger of Columbia University for real estate to expand hurt people and families Yolanda knew in Harlem and Washington Heights, forcing them out of their homes like refugees by swallowing up block after block of rental properties in their quest for campus lebensraum. Yolanda doubted the diner could long survive Columbia’s academic imperialism as the college was actually Stella’s landlord, owning the building where Yolanda’s mother founded her business shortly after World War II — any more than Austria and Czechoslovakia had survived Hitler’s ambitions, Marty Keegan thought to himself. He perceived a malevolence in the University’s actions that he laid at the feet of its “Fearless Leader”, President Grayson Kirk, and he felt an obligation to do what the journalists of the Twenties and Thirties had not done: stop the evil there before his own eyes.

Marty Keegan asked if Yolanda would help him to help the friends, family and neighbors wronged by Grayson Kirk. She agreed, so they began to meet sometimes before her shift, sometimes after closing, when she would lead him deeper and deeper into Harlem to tenement buildings, to small family businesses, to minister’s offices, to Well’s Restaurant to meet with the economic exiles created by Columbia University, seeing and hearing first hand their plight, their frustrations and their pains. Affecting his best Capote-Wolf-Thompson voice, Marty Keegan strove to capture the cultural clash between the Haves and the Have-Nots in New Journalism-style stories, profiles and vignettes that he sent to the editors of every alternative press publication he could find. With Yolanda’s by-line, some of the stories were published in neighborhood newsletters, church bulletins and civil rights organization pamphlets. When their narrative turned its focus from past individual injustices to the future impact of the new gymnasium to be built in Morningside Park on the whole city, an issue that was merely simmering began to boil and others began to join Yolanda and Marty Keegan’s chorus of protest.

Marty Keegan also brought those stories back to the activists that gathered at the West End Bar on campus, which stoked the fires of their outrage at “The System” and its obviously inherent injustices, helping them to feel a little less self-centered in their resistance to the War in Vietnam which had a rather self-serving purpose in advancing an avoidance of undesirable encounters with the local Selective Service Board. There he was embraced by a group of middle-management radicals who yearned for action and were growing increasingly bored and impatient with the slow and plodding “praxis-axis” leadership of the Columbia chapter of the Students for a Democratic Society, which saw educating and organizing as their role in fundamentally transforming society. Marty Keegan had broken the gravitational pull of academia and smashed the paradigm they strained against in their endless hops-sodden debates by crossing campus boundaries and dealing with real people with real problems. He did not talk. He did not debate. He had gone off on his own to figuratively set a bomb and light the fuse that blew the Columbia gymnasium project off its racist rails.

As the radicals rallied to the cause of an oppressed minority in America, Marty Keegan found himself awash with timid whispers and prodded with inconspicuous nudges from less intrepid and more fearful peers that sent him into the stacks of Columbia’s International Law Library on the trail of Grayson Kirk evils that were not merely local to the Eden of academia there on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, but were playing out on the world stage. As war raged in Southeast Asia, Grayson Kirk and his minions were collecting millions upon millions of dollars from the Institute for Defense Analysis to research and develop new and improved weapons to more efficiently and effectively kill foreign citizens and subjugate their sovereign nations for exploitation by the corrupt and immoral American capitalist system. Marty Keegan painted Grayson Kirk’s hands red with blood in a series of exposes detailing Columbia University’s complicity with the Military-Industrial Complex in a conspiracy of international death and destruction. Marty Keegan felt his dogged reporting would have made his grandfather proud. The administration of the University which had once honored A.B. Keegan took a much less favorable view of his role as one of the “IDA Six” radicals and called upon the Pentagon to call upon the Federal Bureau of Investigation to quell what was quickly becoming a public relations nightmare. Instead of a Pulitzer Prize, he was rewarded with an official government investigative file of his very own.

And so, Marty Keegan found himself sandwiched between two coeds in the back seat of the cream-colored Cadillac De Ville convertible with Illinois license plates — an automobile that reeked of the very essence of free market economics and American industrial muscle — which was transporting the vanguard of American student radicalism southbound to the nation’s capitol to participate in a national Moratorium against the War in Vietnam. With thoughts of getting laid — and maybe ending a war, too — dancing in his head, Marty Keegan had no idea that a Craftsman tool box in the trunk held dynamite, blasting caps and timers.

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Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1967

July 31, 2013 Leave a comment

ITB130725a - In the Black 1967 Cover - 180w

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The Sixties — The decade you love to hate or hate to love. Hippies & War; Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll; Free love and a man on the moon. Yada-yada-yada.

In In the Black:  1967 (Episode 4), the avalanche of history bears down as war rages in Vietnam, protests rock the home front, and personal agendas, inside of government and out, threaten the lives of Y.T., Jr., his friends, his lovers and his family.

As you read, please be advised that the lawyers for Comedy Central and Owl Works neither condone nor encourage this behavior. Enjoy.

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1966 – Penelope Xing

May 29, 2013 Leave a comment

ITB130429a - In the Black 1966 Cover - w180

“I am the wind!” Penelope Xing would shriek as she and Y.T., Jr. raced down the Pacific Coast Highway every Sunday morning at dawn after he had returned from his nomadic Saturday night wanderings in the Haight and Filmore Districts to make love to her, then take her away from Fu Loin’s.

Penelope Xing had never ridden on a motorcycle and had no desire nor intention whatsoever to do so. In her mind, motorcycles were barbaric metal steeds of death for brutal gangs like the Hell’s Angels, those modern day furies of anarchy who pursued their own unique brand of apparently nihilistic revenge on the highways and byways of California. So, when Y.T., Jr. brought his Harley-Davidson back to Berkeley on the Erp Industries, Inc., Learjet for the new school year, Penelope Xing confronted a direct threat to her primordial, a priori sense of order and to civilization as she knew it. She wanted nothing to do with Y.T., Jr.’s vehicular demon and she told him so.

“What if it rains?” she asked, trying to be polite at first, but Y.T., Jr. just stared at the ground and shook his head.

“But my hair will get mussed and my clothes will get all wind blown,” she whined. Y.T., Jr. rolled his eyes back and lit another Marlboro.

“I am not going to sit on top of a raw, unhoused engine with thousands and thousands of angry little gasoline explosions going off between my thighs,” she insisted. This excuse was Y.T., Jr.’s favorite. It was original. He laughed out loud.

“Look, you don’t even have any helmets. If we fell off, we would be hurt. We could get killed,” she explained rationally, prophetically.

Y.T., Jr. listened patiently, then called her bluff with his morphinically persuasive smile. Penelope Xing folded like a bad poker hand and reluctantly got on the Harley behind Y.T., Jr.

At first, it was worse than she or even Alfred Hitchcock could have ever imagined. Penelope Xing was terrified to near excretion by Y.T., Jr.’s bizarre and perverted twist on running the bulls at Pamplona through downtown San Francisco rush hour traffic. Whenever her right leg twitched with the life-preserving urge to save herself by slamming on the brakes, Y.T., Jr. inevitably twisted the throttle up a notch or two until the city was a blur of concrete, metal, brick and asphalt reaching out to grab her and flay her skin off as they banked to pass each car or truck and to whip around each corner. The forces of acceleration, deceleration and the centrifugal force of each turn groped and clawed at her body like the bad lovers who came to Fu Loin’s every weekend with crumpled twenty dollar bills in their fists and anger in their eyes. The queasy feeling of motion haunted her intestines even while stopped at traffic lights. She did not know if her tears were more from fear or from the wind relentlessly whipping her face.

Then, a funny thing happened. Traffic thinned out. The tunnel-like streets of downtown San Francisco emerged on bright, sunny, open road, and instead of enduring the blender-like blur of the city, with a little squinting, Penelope Xing’s eyes were able to focus again–on far away hilltops, on freely floating puffs of cumulus, on ocean white caps driving relentlessly towards the shore. Carbon monoxide no longer burned her throat. The salted ocean air cleared her mind like breathing pure oxygen. The speed didn’t seem to bother her any more, except when she looked over Y.T., Jr.’s shoulder at the speedometer or when a pickup truck towing a fish-tailing Airstream trailer suddenly blossomed out from around the next corner. But after a moment or two, the fear rippling her bodily fluids calmed again and the balance of the Harley no longer felt so precarious, so that her mind passed on to thoughts other than her imminent and medievally painful death.

Penelope Xing first imagined, then began to see the sharply drawn line on each curve of the Pacific Coast Highway, beyond which lay uncontrolled flight over a cliff into the ocean or a point blank kiss with the face of a rock wall at eighty miles per hour. At first, she thought Y.T., Jr. to be flirting with that line, but soon realized it was more than just a playful teasing. Y.T., Jr. chased that line and Penelope Xing began to feel its nearness like wind blowing across a high Sierra lake, imagining how the plunge beyond it might be like the bracing chill of a dive into mountain waters. There was no retreat, only victory, then the next battle, the next chance to lay your life on the line or beyond it. She held tight to Y.T., Jr.’s rib cage as he hunted that line, chewing on the Pacific Coast Highway like she had learned from assigned history texts how Patton and Rommel had chewed on Africa and Europe with their armies–only to Penelope Xing, this was not academic history, this was real.

Penelope Xing closed her eyes. She listened to the Harley’s deep throated engine respond to every twist of the throttle and shift of the gears. She felt the pistons beating through her flesh, her blood, her soul. The slip stream no longer raped her, but caressed and embraced every inch of her body all at once. It was like being on the peak of the highest mountain on earth, with no place to run, no where to hide, breathless from the climb and exposed to the splendorous wrath of some Zeus blowing against her soul. Suddenly, the walls of her claustrophobic, four-cornered life–the peeling plaster of her tiny apartment in the Haight, the dusty chalkboards of San Francisco State classrooms, the cramped study desk buried in the musty stacks of the library, and dingy, depressing room number five-sixteen at Fu Loin’s establishment–crumbled and fell away from about her.

“I am the wind!” Penelope Xing would shriek, suddenly feeling completely untethered.

“So blow me,” Y.T., Jr. would reply back over his shoulder. And when they stopped at Monterey or Carmel or Big Sur or just some secluded spot along the coast for their Sunday afternoon picnic, she did so with a smile on her face and joy in her heart. Penelope Xing was falling in love.

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Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1966

May 15, 2013 Leave a comment

ITB130429a - In the Black 1966 Cover - w180

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The Sixties — The decade you love to hate or hate to love. Hippies & War; Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll; Free love and a man on the moon. Yada-yada-yada.

In In the Black:  1966 (Episode 3), As Erp Industries becomes involved in helping America land a man on the moon, a scandal involving the head of manufacturing threatens the company’s future, but is overshadowed when Y.T., Jr. “eats a peach” and the accident threatens the Cassidy Beef Packing dynasty’s future, causing Wilson Cassidy to take rash actions which ultimately backfire.

As you read, please be advised that the lawyers for Comedy Central and Owl Works neither condone nor encourage this behavior. Enjoy.

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1965 (Part 2)

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment

ITB130218 - In the Black - 1965 Part 2 Cover 180w

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The Sixties — The decade you love to hate or hate to love. Hippies & War; Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll; Free love and a man on the moon. Yada-yada-yada.

This novel has been fermenting for way too many years and strangely enough the times seem ripe for a story about that infamous decade.  After all, the radicals are the establishment now — just check the White House Visitor Log. For me the decade was a flesh wound. I made it out relatively in tact having spent most of my time with a Gibson SG Special and a series of tube amps of ever increasing size and wattage. History pretty much kept in my peripheral vision as I was focused on Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, et al.

Later in life, I became a splotch of grease (not even a cog, a nut or a screw) in the Military-Industrial Complex as I haunted the Special Project Offices at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the Army’s Aviation Command in St. Louis, not to mention the Engineering Departments at Boeing, Beech Aircraft and McDonnell-Douglas on behalf of Litton Industries, then the fifth largest defense contractor in America, which no longer exists today having been swallowed up by Northrup-Grumman in 2001. I survived those experiences, too — though not without some (hopefully) cosmetic scarring of the soul.

That being said, In the Black is a work of fiction that attempts to compete with reality for entertainment value. Just remember what Tom Clancy had to say on the subject: “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

In the great tradition of Dickens, James, Melville, Wolfe & episodic TV, In the Black is being serialized and released in six installments during 2013 beginning in January, with follow up parts to be published in March, May, July, September and November. Dickens liked hearing what readers thought about his characters and what they thought was going to happen while he was weaving his tale. Sometimes it changed what he wrote. If you are so moved, let me know what you think on Facebook.  I can’t promise any re-writes.  This thing has a life of its own.

In 1965 Part 2 (Episode 2), Y.T., Jr. watches one high school buddy go off to Columbia University and another join the Marines, knowing that Erp Industries Inc. is ramping up production to supply the ravenous Vietnam War machine. As his father accepts the biggest challenge his company has ever tackled, worker unrest and an unexpected threat from his mother’s brother, signal turbulent times ahead.

As you read, please be advised that the lawyers for Comedy Central and Owl Works neither condone nor encourage this behavior. Enjoy.

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1965 (Part 1) — Wanda W. Willet Excerpt

February 1, 2013 Leave a comment

In the Black 1965 - Pt 1

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Wanda W. Willet was a bony, emaciated woman of forty-five who prided herself on her trim figure, yet had, before she left, stirred scarecrows to unionize for job protection in the small farming community from which she hailed. Her entire face came to a point at the end of her nose, giving her a rodent-esque countenance. Her skin was pulled back painfully taut over her cheek bones and her lips were so pursed and puckered that her mouth resembled another, less pleasant bodily orifice. She had a habit of sticking pencils into the nest of hair on top of her head and forgetting about them that added to the illusion that her hairdo had actually been assembled by a pair of mating magpies.

Wanda W. Willet was born and raised in a town called Digby in Finikie County, Kansas, which was so far off of U.S. 283 that the only road through town was a hardened artery of dirt that to this day is unnamed and unnumbered. She was the only child of a farm implement sales and service man, who was quite popular in Finikie County, and his weary, wind-blown wife. Wanda W. Willet’s upbringing was an intensely uneventful one, reaching its zenith when she graduated with a degree in Education from the Kansas State University Extension Center in the relative metropolis of Hays, Kansas. Much to her parents dismay, she scurried right on back to Digby and moved right back into the same upstairs bedroom that had always been hers the day after she received her diploma. She eventually took over Miss Pyles’ position as school teacher after Miss Pyles had been discovered dead in her home three weeks after she had died. It seemed that none of her students were motivated enough to report her as missing and she was discovered fallen over a stack of class essays, stiff as a board, by the Finikie County Fuller Brush Sales Man.

Wanda W. Willet taught kindergarten, elementary grades, junior high school and senior high school, all in a one-room, red-brick school house just west of Digby proper. Her students were the nepotistic farm hands of the rugged individuals who tilled the high plains of southern Finikie County. Wanda W. Willet found complete fulfillment teaching in a school that had no principals, no other teachers, no Parent Teachers Association and especially no football and basketball coaches who ineptly tried to teach driver’s education and typing classes — that had no marching band, no drama club, no chess club, no biology club — that had no proms, no homecomings, no sock hops and no cheerleaders to counsel about teenage pregnancies Teaching school in Digby was a pure, unadulterated experience of education, unfettered by an extra-curricular nonsense that would require Wanda W. Willet to interact with another human being on a purely social level. There was only the school board made up of three farmers named Joe who met once a year at Joe Number Three’s farm house during the winter when farm duties were at a lull. Sometime during their judicious consumption of alcoholic beverages and the endless hands of five card draw poker, nothing wild, Wanda W. Willet was given a four and one-half percent pay increase if the past year’s crop yields had been good or a two and one-half percent increase if the moisture content was high or the test weights had been low.

All went well for a dozen years or so until that fateful October in 1957 when the Russians played with the thermostat connected to the Cold War by launching Sputnik I into orbit. The farmers all knew, of course, that this was a malicious communist plot aimed specifically at them to ruin their crops of newly planted winter wheat by some kind of insidious manipulation of the weather from outer space. Co-incidently, it was also in that very same October of 1957 that the son of Joe Number Two on the school board, Joe Number Two, Junior, came home with a reading assignment of War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, who was widely mistaken not only in Digby, but all of Finikie County, for Leon Trotsky, and suddenly the collusionary threat of the Red Menace was right there in their own north forties, just like good old Senator Joe “Tail Gunner” McCarthey had tried to warn them. With her own father voicing the loudest denunciations — sales of plows and discs had fallen off dramatically in 1957 — “Red Army Colonel” Wanda W. Willetski was forced to leave Digby. She went to Kansas City, Missouri, and there, Y.T., Sr. recognized the vast, untapped potential of her fascist, dictatorial talents acquired over the twelve years spent in the one-room, red-brick school house.

“My door is always open for you to come to me with your problems and suggestions,” Y.T., Sr. would tell his workers during impromptu speeches made on the Machine Shop floor or in the course of informal discussions held with the key punch operators in the Accounting Department. Of course, it was Wanda W. Willet’s task to see that not one of them ever passed over the threshold to Y.T., Sr.’s office, and in this task, her well-honed perversion of the Socratic method served her well.

“Ex-excuse m-me, Miss W-Willet,” murmured Horace Cooley, supervisor of the Drafting Department, where Y.T., Sr. had most recently been giving impromptu speeches. Horace Cooley was a tall, frail man whose posture had been irrevocably curved by twenty years bent over a drafting board. He wore thick, frameless glasses. His hands shook visibly as if he were afflicted with palsy. He was so soft-spoken that he had not once called attention to any of the occasional shortages in his paycheck that had occurred over the past twenty years. For Horace Cooley to have left the Drafting Department and to have presented himself before Mr. Erp’s secretary required that he draw upon reservoirs of courage that were unimaginable even to himself in his wildest dreams. “Ex-excuse me, b-but I would like to s-speak to M-Mr. Erp, please.”

Slowly and deliberately, Wanda W. Willet looked up from her desk. Years of inhaling chalk dust had made her voice hoarse and scratchy like the old seventy-eight RPM victrola records she sang along with in her apartment, making a sustained conversation with her impossible for anyone with normal hearing. “Of course. And you would have an appointment, would you not?” she asked, as always with full knowledge that the petitioner did not.

“A-A-Appointment?” Horace Cooley stuttered, unnerved at first by Wanda W. Willet’s appearance and then even more so by the tone of her voice.

“Yes, of course, Mr. Cooley, an appointment. You did make one, did you not?”

“B-But Mr. Er-Er-Er-Erp said . . . ” Horace Cooley trailed off, noticing for the first time that directly behind Wanda W. Willet, Y.T., Sr.’s office door was closed as it always was during the hours of eight to five.

At this point, with an exaggerated sigh of exasperation, Wanda W. Willet would always take off her white rhinestone glasses with the sharply pointed wings and let them dangle from a chain around her neck. She did just that and squinted her brown, rat-like eyes at Horace Cooley.

“Bu-But it–but, this Me-memo,” Horace Cooley stammered on bravely. “Th-This is going to s-seriously e-effect the e-efficiency of the D-D-D-Drafting D-Department. I ju-just don’t see how we w-will be able to g-get all of our wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-wa-work done. We are behind as it is n-now.”

“And you wish to speak directly to Mr. Erp concerning this matter?”

“He s-said we could c-come to him with p-p-problems and s-s-suggestions. He said his d-door is–”

“But you have no appointment?” Wanda W. Willet turned her head and looked sideways at the trembling twig of a man before her.

“W-well n-no. But he s-said his door w-would always–”

“Mr. Cooley.” Wanda W. Willet shook her head. “Mr. Cooley, would you not suppose Mr. Erp to be quite a busy man?”

“Well, y-yes, I would suppose–”

“And just how many people would you suppose Mr. Erp has working for him here at Erp Industries, Incorporated?”

“Oh, g-gosh, I don’t know. M-Maybe three hun-or n-no, four — or –”

“Six hundred, sixty-two in this facility, which does not include the warehouse personnel in Lee’s Summit. And now, what if each and every employee here wanted to see Mr. Erp today? Hmm? How much time would you suppose he would have to speak with each and every one of them?”

Horace Cooley rolled his eyes skyward as he went through the calculations in his head to cipher the answer for Wanda W. Willet. “I-I don’t know off the t-top of my head M-Maybe, oh, a minute or–”

“If Mr. Erp worked one hour overtime in the morning and one hour overtime at night and worked straight through his lunch hour as well, he would be able to spend exactly one minute with each employee, less an average of ten seconds for each person to enter into and egress from Mr. Erp’s office, leaving a scant fifty seconds to actually conduct their meeting Now, Mr. Cooley, as Mr. Erp’s secretary, I am required to take down the minutes of all of Mr. Erp’s meetings. You have heard of taking the minutes of a meeting, have you not, Mr. Cooley?”

“Ye-yes.”

“Well, certainly in all my years, I have never taken the seconds of any meeting. Have you ever heard of such a thing Mr. Cooley?”

“Er, no, I–”

“Now, If I let you into Mr. Erp’s office for only fifty seconds, you and he could not very well have a meeting if there are no minutes for me to take, now could you Mr. Cooley?”

“I-I su-suppose not.”

“And if you do not have a meeting with Mr. Erp, then how do you suppose that you and he could have any meaningful discussion about your concerns over this particular memo and its impact on your Drafting Department?”

“If I-I d-d-didn’t–”

“And if you do not discuss this situation with Mr. Erp, then you will not have accomplished the task you set out to accomplish when you came here, which would mean that you would have to come here tomorrow and again the next day and the next and the next. Now, Mr. Cooley, if you were Mr. Erp, could you afford to spend all your days having six hundred sixty-two non-meetings which did not allow you to discuss or resolve any of the issues and challenges facing you and your loyal and trusted employees?”

“Bu-but–”

“You see, then, that if Mr. Erp spends all of his time not solving problems, Erp Industries, Incorporated, would more than likely not be the successful and profitable enterprise that it is, would it not?”

“No–I mean yes–I, er, ah,” Horace Cooley thought about all of this for a moment, rubbing his chin with his visibly shaking hand. “Very w-well, th-then, c-could I m-make an appointment to s-see–”

“Now really, Mr. Cooley.” Wanda W. Willet sighed a very loud sigh that evidenced the great magnitude of her patience. “Mr. Cooley, if Mr. Erp wanted to see you, would you not come to his office immediately?”

“Y-Yes. Of c-course I w-would.”

“So you understand, then, that Mr. Erp can see anyone of the people who work for him whenever he so desires?”

“Y-Yes, I s-suppose that–”

“Then why would Mr. Erp ever make an appointment to see any one of his employees? Would that not be redundant with the authority that is clearly within his rights to exercise?”

Horace Cooley shook his head as if to clear his thoughts.

“Thank you ever so much for coming by the office today, Mr. Cooley. It was so nice to see you again. And rest assured that we will be sure to call upon you when the need arises to discuss Mr. Erp’s Memo with you. Good day.”

Wanda W. Willet put her glasses back on and turned her attention to the work on her desk once again. It was as if Mr. Cooley had simply evaporated into thin air and no longer existed.

“Bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-bu-” Horace Cooley stammered on in a state of highly agitated despair. He searched about the reception area for some just umpire or referee to cry foul and to penalize Wanda W. Willet for her infractions upon his sensibilities. Instead, he saw the two gentlemen sitting on either side of the door to Y.T., Sr.’s office like a matched set of bookends, identically dressed in light blue shirts, red ties, dark blue blazers and grey polyester slacks. Then he saw That Smile! It cut through him to the very core of his trembling being like the cold January wind howling outside, and just as if he were naught but a frail, brittle leaf, blew him out of the door through which he had come, right past Y.T., Jr. and all the way back to the Drafting Department where he spent the balance of the day aimlessly tracing french curves from a template, tip-toeing at the very boundary of a nervous breakdown.

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1965 (Part 1) — Dirk Rangley Excerpt

January 16, 2013 Leave a comment

In the Black 1965 - Pt 1

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Like those born into the species Homo Politicus, Dirk Rangely, Vice-President/Marketing, had come into this world with the innate understanding that the “Common Folk” — no matter how repulsive or disgusting they were — needed constant attention and frequent hand-holding for they formed the true basis for power with a capital ‘P’. On their broad and often sweaty shoulders were laid party platforms, legislative initiatives, foreign policies and economic reforms. At Erp Industries, Inc., the “Little Guys” ultimately did the real work that got product built and shipped, triggering the invoices that generated the company’s income out of which Dirk Rangely drew his handsome salary and against which he filed his excessive expense reports. This concept of practical/materialistic/exploitive reverence for the “Little Guys” was by now so ingrained into Dirk Rangely that it had become encoded in his DNA molecules to curse future generations of Rangely’s like other families were cursed with Huntington’s Chorea or Dwarfism.

Dirk Rangely’s peculiar genetic trait manifested itself as his tall, trim figure glided effortlessly — Dirk Rangely rarely engaged in any activity actually requiring effort — through the plant on his self-appointed mission to greet every person he saw in his quick, New England accent with the phrase: ‘Hi-there-how-are-you-today, (insert name here if known)’. He even encouraged the workers to call him by his first name, though many were reluctant to do so, more out of respect for his position than out of respect for Dirk Rangely himself. This canned phrase had evolved during only his lifetime into a completely reflex response to external stimuli, over which he could exercise no control and into which he could inject no feeling. It, too, was undoubtedly DNA encoded, and Dirk brimmed with pride each time he had heard the first words out of his children’s mouths: “Hi-there-how-are-you-today?”

Categories: In the Black

In the Black: 1965 (Part 1)

January 2, 2013 Leave a comment

In the Black 1965 - Pt 1

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In the iBookstore

At Amazon.com

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In the Sony Reader Store

In the Diesel eBook Store

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The Sixties — The decade you love to hate or hate to love. Hippies & War; Sex, Drugs, & Rock ‘n Roll; Free love and a man on the moon. Yada-yada-yada.

This novel has been fermenting for way too many years and strangely enough the times seem ripe for a story about that infamous decade.  After all, the radicals are the establishment now — just check the White House Visitor Log. For me the decade was a flesh wound. I made it out relatively in tact having spent most of my time with a Gibson SG Special and a series of tube amps of ever increasing size and wattage. History pretty much kept in my peripheral vision as I was focused on Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, et al.

Later in life, I became a splotch of grease (not even a cog, a nut or a screw) in the Military-Industrial Complex as I haunted the Special Project Offices at Wright Patterson Air Force Base and the Army’s Aviation Command in St. Louis, not to mention the Engineering Departments at Boeing, Beech Aircraft and McDonnell-Douglas on behalf of Litton Industries, then the fifth largest defense contractor in America, which no longer exists today having been swallowed up by Northrup-Grumman in 2001. I survived those experiences, too — though not without some (hopefully) cosmetic scarring of the soul.

That being said, In the Black is a work of fiction that attempts to compete with reality for entertainment value. Just remember what Tom Clancy had to say on the subject: “The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense.”

In the great tradition of Dickens, James, Melville, Wolfe & episodic TV, In the Black is being serialized and released in six installments during 2013 beginning in January, with follow up parts to be published in March, May, July, September and November. Dickens liked hearing what readers thought about his characters and what they thought was going to happen while he was weaving his tale. Sometimes it changed what he wrote. If you are so moved, let me know what you think on Facebook.  I can’t promise any re-writes.  This thing has a life of its own.

In 1965 Part 1, as Erp Industries Inc. gets more and more involved with supplying the Vietnam War machine through military contracts and assisting in NASA’s quest to put a man on the moon, young Y.T., Erp, Jr. flees his Midwest hometown by enrolling in the University of California at Berkeley to quell a minor high school scandal and to escape being groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps — not to mention simply getting away from all of the phlegm brains “working” at his father’s company.

As you read, please be advised that the lawyers for Comedy Central and Owl Works neither condone nor encourage this behavior. Enjoy.

Categories: In the Black
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