Just submitted my first round entry to the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge. The assignment was to write a fantasy involving vandalism which includes an interpreter as a main character. Whew! Totally out of my wheelhouse. #ShortStoryChallenge2022
It’s Día de Muertos, and I’ve been thinking about ways to honor my ancestors. For my grandfather Gaston Means, I offer this calavera literaria which, unfortunately, in not in verse.
As I am sure you are aware, greatness of mind comes from a knowledge of the facts, and that knowledge can only be gained through correct thought processes. That old faggot will never get what he wants because his thoughts are always mingled with his emotions. He’s a bureaucrat by nature and has to live his life in a filing cabinet because he fears a man who can transcend the rules with his knowledge.
The thing that gets under my skin, that really bothers me, is the small-mindedness of Mr. J. Edgar Fucking Hoover. Here I sit in a ten-foot-by-ten-foot cell in Leavenworth, Kansas, and I can’t even have a fountain pen. Or paper. Fortunately, I have an exceptional memory. I will list for you a few of the anecdotes I plan to publish as installments under the headline, “Man of Mystery Tells His Secrets.”
- How the Germans Almost Took Texas, because the US government wouldn’t listen to my warnings about General Huerta.
- C.B. Ambrose, Consummate Liar, about how he single-handedly created a case for murder against me, and how I triumphed.
- The Real Story of Harding’s White House – but maybe not; I’ve already published a book about this.
- Hunting Communists in the Rockies, and how I managed to stay one step behind them on another man’s nickel.
- How to Smuggle Gold from Mexico, and the story of it weighing down my pants in the Carlsbad Caverns. That time made my boy laugh!
- How J. Edgar Hoover took the world’s greatest detective agency and turned it into a damned bunch of rat catchers and filing clerks.
He’s coming here tomorrow. He won’t be happy after that letter I wrote to the wife about the place in Maryland where we used to picnic. I know he reads all my mail. I made it sound like that old farm was some kind of secret, and since he has no imagination, he thought I was telling her where the money is. His divers spent a week pawing through the mud at the bottom of the Potomac
But I want to discuss my boy. I told Mr. God-damned J. Edgar that I wanted to see a Catholic priest, and he sent in a special agent in a dog collar, but it didn’t fool me. If I ask to see Billy, he’s sure to bring him out here. He’ll think I’ll tell my son where the money is. You can see who really is in control here.
What I want you to know is that when a man has a superior education and a superior mind, his task is to gather all the facts and to arrange them properly to reveal the truth. There are two great advantages to a term in prison. First, only in a penitentiary can one come into intimate contact with men of all kinds and degrees – day laborers, steel workers, farmers, bridge builders, gamblers, gunmen, soldiers and sailors, tradesmen, bell hops, doctors, lawyers, preachers, politicians, and sexual perverts – with the leisure to learn their true philosophy of life. Secondly, the quiet of a penitentiary cell enables one to escape the distraction of petty conversations and pursue the truth. So, you see, I really have nothing to complain about. Except the God-damned fountain pen. And paper.
Today’s Cautionary Tale addresses a problem that affects adults as well as children. Hoffman writes of it in the mid-nineteenth century, and anyone who has recently tried to navigate a city sidewalk will relate.
Here’s to everyone of us whose mother ever said, “Watch where you’re going!”
After my grandfather Gaston died in December of 1938, his wife and my father, then just 21 years old, were left penniless and sharing a rented room in Washington, DC. That was when she decided to tell the story of her life with America’s favorite scalawag.
The result was a five-part saga published in newspapers throughout America on consecutive Sundays from September 10 to October 8, 1939. From these episodes come some of the tall tales still in circulation about the adventures of this consummate teller of tales.
I’ve transcribed the original articles, keeping the spelling and punctuation of the day, I’ve added footnotes where needed to provide historical context, and I’ve inserted my own commentary based of family knowledge and recent research.
You can order a copy here at Amazon. I hope you enjoy the roller coaster ride!
Fascinating bit of history from the Historians of Hillsdale, NY, the town in which I live. Thanks, Lauren and Chris.
Just found this little video about my grandfather Gaston. It tells the standard version of his story, including a few errors that crept in along the way. Enjoy! America’s Greatest … Continue reading No Redeeming Quality?
It’s a strange time we find ourselves in – but you knew that. All the talk of respirators has me thinking about an earlier time when my heart took on the rhythm of my grandson’s breath and my life seemed to hang from the lines that followed one another across a screen.
I’m definitely not a poet, but here’s my response to a writing assignment that seems apropos today.
Write a poem, you say.
Start with an emotion and the person,
place or thing that evokes the emotion,
you say. It will be fun, you say.
There ought to be a word for grief and joy combined.
I had a grandson, and that says
all and nothing at all.
The first time I met him, he was
all surprised eyes and fingers
fit for chasing chords across the keys.
Hello, I said,
and then I saw his long limp little self.
A flurry of activity marked him a problem
to be solved, and I held my breath
while he struggled to find his.
And later when he lay,
swaddled like a little lima bean,
respirator rudely interrupting,
he fixed his milky gaze on me and there it was,
the hinge my life would swing around.
Would I love this wise-eyed child,
destined to leave before his time?
Yes, oh yes, and in a moment – I was lost,
and being lost, was found.
I loved my children, of course I did,
with a warm and homely sort of love.
They were my darlings and my dears, beautiful brilliant girls.
But I was unprepared
for this soaring swooping stomach in the mouth sensation
that opened me
every time he smiled.
I would do anything to see him smile.
For nine years, I was advocate,
nurse, field marshal, singer of off-key songs,
fetcher of forgotten toys.
I was incandescent.
Gabriel, my grandson,
my beloved boy,
was handsome and smart, funny and wise.
He charmed everyone he met. But he couldn’t stay.
When he told me, “I’m afraid I’m dying,”
we talked about a place where bodies work and time is different.
I’ll see you soon, I told him.
Today he runs on bright green grass, while I wait here for soon.
There should be a word for grief and joy combined.
“Find your voice” is right up there with “Show, don’t tell” and “Write what you know” as advice for new writers. Sound easy, doesn’t it?
“Ha!” she laughed.
I’ll be reading a short piece about Gaston’s first documented adventure. I’d love to see you there.
Is it a bad thing to take encouragement from the struggles of others?
This morning, I seem – just for a moment – to be bathing in the sun of future success rather than slogging through an endless swamp of detail. I’ve just stumbled across an excerpt describing Adam Sisman’s attempt to sort fact from fiction in his new book The Professor and the Parson, just out from Counterpoint Press.
Wondering about Psyche’s first task? Read about it here.