Living in the Past

This is the sort of thing I more usually do in my other, non-fiction, existence, and indeed did do not too long ago when I commented about how much we can infer about the inward state of people from their outward appearance… if they’re dressed like freaks who can’t get hep to the times.

If I were a very superstitious person, I’m make a connection between that post and a recent terrifying manifestation in my driveway.  It is “terrifying manifestation” which makes this post grist for the mill of this particular blog, of course, since that’s what I’m all about over here.  Anyway, imagine my alarm at suddenly discovering this:

Uh-oh.
Uh-oh.

You will have to continue imagining my alarm, though, as I’m the one who put it there.  Another stage of the downsizing of my parents is the banishing of this beauty from the garage in which it has been avoiding the notice of the Norns since about 1994.  It was bought about seven years before that, from the original owner, who did very little driving with it herself.  Actually… I should have said “the original owner’s widow”.  It’s one of those deals.

I didn't put the hub caps and wheel trim on for the photos, as they were under the mysterious large packages in the trunk. You'll have to imagine them as well.
I didn’t put the hub caps and wheel trim on for the photos, as they were under the mysterious large packages in the trunk. You’ll have to imagine them as well.

It is, undeniably, an elegant object from what some would call a more civilized age.  I got to drive it from the shop where it was rendered capable of locomotion after its decades on blocks (the original (!) tires were replaced last spring) to my house, where it was slightly better off on my driveway than parked on a curb while my brother made room in his garage.  I had driven it a few times before its long dormancy, so this was a return to my salad days.

As the plate indicates, it’s a 1961 model, making it a half-decade older than me, and almost a half-century older than the vehicle I currently get about in.  This little plate inside the engine compartment gives an excellent feeling for the state of the world at the time of its creation:

Not "Federal Republic of...", but just, "that bit, nearer France."
Not “Federal Republic of…”, but just, “that bit, nearer France.”

The interior is as plush as you could like too. It still smells of leather conditioners that haven’t been used on the upholstery since it came into the family. It is comfy, and the ride is smooth.

There's a lot of wood in there. Actual, tree-made wood.
There’s a lot of wood in there. Actual, tree-made wood.

It scares the living crap out of me.  It disillusions me, in fact, on the subject of vintage cars and their purported charms.  It’s not just the entire lack of seatbelts, although the sensation of drifting along the seat when passing through a mild curve is disconcerting enough.  I am, after my years of writing with vintage pens and cooking in vintage pots and wearing clothes that are at least reminiscent of vintage fashions, used to the idea of stewardship.  The stuff I have is mine for but the current moment, to be handed on to future generations in as functional a state as I can manage (socks excluded– there’s some ephemera in every life).

Driving this car, with its manual choke and its stupid/clever transmission, with a cutting-edge-in-1961 vacuum-operated clutch that engages when you take hold of the gear selector, requires all four limbs and both tails.  The steering is not powered, of course, and neither are the brakes.  The former is only an issue at low speeds, but the latter is a big one.  We are used to linear rewards for braking effort in our modern cars, with the amount of deceleration linked to the amount of pressure on the pedal.  In this car, most of the brake’s travel is merely to get the tail-lights to warn people that you’re about to do something.  Actual braking only begins as your foot nearly gets to the floor, and then there’s about five millimeters of travel between sort of slowing and just about locked.  While working the transmission and keeping the choke happy so you don’t stall.

Stewardship.  I don’t want to get into an accident in a new car.  In one this old, with 18,850 miles on the odometer, it would feel like a war crime.  Every moment of driving is like carrying a baby while walking on stilts through the wreckage of a roller-skate factory.  I can’t imagine having it as a constant companion.  I’m very glad that it’s in its new enclosure, and I’m sort of delighted that my father is entertaining a couple of offers he’s had on it.  We’re not the right care-takers for it.  That return to the salad days I mentioned came with a realization; I wasn’t scared driving this thing in the late 1980s because I was a kid out in daddy’s car, or at least not entirely.  I was appropriately terrified by a terrifying activity.

I’m frankly amazed at how many people encumber themselves with old cars like this.  I’m even more amazed that humanity as a whole got through to the point where cars were so accommodating that people could entertain the notion of texting behind the wheel– deeply stupid, selfish people, of course, but there’s no way you could do anything but drive a car like this and there’s still a huge window of disastrous possibility available.  An end to civilization through pile-up seems as narrowly avoided as the nuclear exchange that didn’t quite top off the Cuban Missile Crisis when this car was only a year old.  I may choose to adopt some aspects of the past into my life, but in automotives I’ll stick to the now.

I love you, old car, but I can’t stand to be with you.

"I love you, too. Now drive through a school zone, I'm hungry."
“I love you, too. Now drive through a school zone, I’m hungry.”
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The Power of Positive Thinking

I don’t really have a good genesis to share in the introductory blurb for the new Current Story.  As is so often the case, “where do your ideas come from?” is no more than a koan to induce despair in the writer’s heart, and this is particularly the case for “Wish Away” because I really have no idea where it sprang from.  I suppose if I wanted a clearer notion, I’d contact a psychologist.

The Master of Disguise

This is not a story.

Well, it is a story, because I’m laying it out in a narrative structure, with intent to entertain (or, as the courts say, malice aforethought).  But it’s not going into The Back File conveniently located on the sidebar, because it’s a true thing that happened rather than some stuff I made up.  It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t dare to put into a work of fiction, because it’s so unlikely.

A great deal of time that I would prefer to have devoted otherwise over the past few months has been given to clearing out my parents’ house, and my childhood home.  They have downsized, in the benign meaning of the word, moved into what you might call a deluxe apartment in the sky, or as skyward as the fifteenth floor of a rather decent condo tower allows.  Nearly five decades of continuous inhabitation and repetition of the phrase, “Say, that might be useful later,” makes for some very compressed storage of junk.  The decompression process recently ran a rather disheartening sub-routine: the garage sale.

As the day of the sale wore on, we found that there were unaccountable surges in traffic.  The place would empty out, then swarms of unrelated people would toddle in to marvel at our pricing policy and buy books by the kilo.  During one of the later surges, a lone person entered, which was in itself noteworthy; pairs were the norm.  He was an older fellow, with an ill-kept white beard concealing everything between nose and collar.  His hair was hidden by a cap which was adorned with the logo of a local energy exploration company.  His eyes were indistinct behind thick, square-framed glasses.  He wore jeans mounted so low that one might almost think he was trying to emulate the goonish youth fashion of displaying the top several inches of underwear, although happily the untucked ends of his shirt concealed whatever might have been peeking over the waistband.  The shirt was a wonder– on a tan background, strips of rainbow fabric ran from shoulder to wrist on each arm, and down the full length of the front on either side of the buttons .  From my seat at the cash table by the door, I also noticed some sort of red paper sticking up out of one of the jeans pockets.

He greeted me and my brother when he passed, asked a few questions about our astonishing pricing policy (“It’s all twenty-five cents?”), and circulated about the place amiably before stopping at the desk to give me a dollar and get his quarter in change.  He also, as he was getting the dollar out, made a bit of a production of dropping his keys, inviting me to join in his merry self-directed chastisement at nearly losing this important clump of metal.  He then bade us a good day and departed, smiling.

About five minutes passed, and that surge of customers was ebbing, when a lone person entered.  An older fellow, wearing a cap emblazoned with the device of a local energy exploration company.  He wore thick, square-framed glasses, and a remarkably untidy beard.  From where I sat at the cash desk, I saw piece of red paper peeping out of the pocket of his alarmingly low-slung jeans.  Happily, the waistband of the jeans was concealed under the untucked tails of his entirely plain tan shirt… which he was closing the buttons of as he entered.

He paused at the door, scowling about.  My brother was distracted explaining a chafing dish to one of the other shoppers, so I was alone in greeting the old chap.  He grunted, as one who is not quite moved to anger by an impertinence.  He then stomped through our wares, hands clenched by his sides, peering about in what I can only say was a deeply mistrustful way, before departing without a word.

This is not a story, because it does not conclude properly.  There’s no explanation, nor any sort of sting.  It simply ends with the odd little man’s departure.  Was he a frustrated criminal mastermind, practicing for a major score by trying his clever disguise and watching for signs that he was detected as that guy who looked almost exactly the same and just left at a succession of garage sales?  Was his anger in the second run a result of me somehow giving the away my realization that it was, in fact, the same chap?  Perhaps he is burdened with multiple personalities, Mr. Friendly with the colourful shirt out for a day of attending sales with Mr. Cranky in the plain shirt.

My brother provides the only closure we might usefully apply to this tale.  Reflecting on the man’s purchases, he said, “Whatever his story is, with a ruler, an old cowboy hat, and a sheet of unfinished chain-mail, he’s all set for a party!”

The Case For Decapitation

I know most people get headaches now and again, but I’m one of those lucky folks who enjoy the migraine.  The fact that mine are brief and not too severe, as these things go, is balanced out by the fact that once it’s running there’s no medication that helps.  I have a friend who says of these events, “Oh, yeah, all I can do is go to bed and sleep through it,” to which I boggle– you can sleep through these things?

That’s the inspiration for the new Current Story, “Migraine“.  Write what you know, yes?

Quivering, he steps into the light.

This exercise should not be as intimidating as I’m letting it be.  I have, after all, been keeping a blog long enough to run out of original thoughts.

Wait.  That may not be the right tone.  Pressing onward!

This is a somewhat different prospect than my long-standing effort to increase the amount of stream-of-consciousness nonsense cluttering up the servers of the world.  This is an effort to present myself as an author, someone who doesn’t just tip words out of his head, but who puts some time and effort into lining up what pitches out of that hole in his head, arranging it into pleasing, amusing, and even possibly-effective shapes.

Since the aforementioned running-out, I’ve been keeping the followers of my thoughts on the strange and arresting world of fountain pens and other outdated concepts up to date on my efforts to create short stories.  I have also, a couple of times, mentioned submitting these stories to publishers.  Thus far, no success, and I am informed that a part of my failure to impress is that I don’t already have a presence as an author in the world.  There is that blog, which is as fine an un-revised heap of mis-spelled words and poorly-braced sentences as one could hope to find.  It’s not, for want of a better word, polished.  There’s also the informational website I keep and intermittently add to, but that’s non-fiction (mostly).

A very little of my writing, the fun, carefully-handled fictional stuff I actually dignify with that term, has shown up on that earlier blog, placed as an penance offering to the followers there (I am mindful of your patience, folks).  That same material is, initially, what will show up here.  This is by way of priming the pump– once I have this thing’s engine running smoothly, the original material will start to flow.  Expect fresh things to appear by the end of this week, in fact.

Before presenting any of that writing, I’ll add an admission familiar to followers of my other blog: I am terrible at self-promotion.  The quivering mentioned above is not just from the prospect of dragging my tender tales out into the searing light of public scrutiny, but at the audacity of hoping people might actually pay to look at them.  Not just “some people”, the nebulous personification of editors and a greater reading public, but actual, discrete people– I’ve gone and set myself up on Patreon, hoping that some small bonuses for becoming a patron will move folks who enjoy the kind of writing I do to encourage me to keep at it.  If you’re that kind of people, pop on down that link.  The very least you will get out of it is an expression of gratitude.

Enough of that, though.  You’re not here for this, you’re here for stories.  The current story is “The Notes of Erich Zann,” which I chose as the inaugural entry here for a couple of reasons.  First, it is very nearly a fan-fiction, to the point that I wouldn’t think of submitting it to any publisher who wasn’t specifically calling for works picking up where something H.P. Lovecraft had done left off.  Second, it’s relatively big, and if I’m not putting something brand new out to test this new forum of mine, I should at least offer something meaty.

You will also find a few things in The Back Files, a few previously submitted or presented objects to keep it from being a yawning void while this enterprise if getting up to steam.  Because I do want to get off to a bang, “The Notes of Erich Zann” will be rotating into The Back Files in about a week, and a story never publicly presented before will take over the place of prominence.

I hope you’re as excited as I am, if not quite as nervous.