Friday Story

Leading up to this Friday (today!) I thought I would share a section of the first novel I wrote. Yesterday was part three (pan down). Today is part four, the final installment.

The “dads,” as the girls referred to us, were required to stay on the sidewalk and not interfere in any way with the comings and goings of our three rodents. The dads were happy to comply. As we slowly traipsed his neighborhood, Wally and I had a chance to talk about the mundane things guys discuss. Football, refinancing and family topped the list but other subjects crept in and out of the conversation as well. It was nice for me because I had been conducting my life at such a dead run the last few weeks I had forgotten how pleasant it was to merely stroll and chat, even if I was talking to a large block of cheddar. The girls started to lose their steam after an hour so we manipulated their path to head them back toward home. As we walked the final block, Wally inquired if he could ask me something personal. The last time he made that request was in his car during my interview and it was followed with a question about church. I gave him permission but I also activated my defense shields.

“I don’t know if you remember this, but back when you were interviewing with us I asked if you attended church anywhere and you answered ‘not any more.’ Since you seem to get all jumpy when there is any reference to religion or faith during conversations, I was wondering if there’s a story behind that answer. Is there?”

I didn’t want to get into a long drawn out explanation at that moment, especially since we were almost back to his house. If our friendship progressed it would be unavoidable but that would come in time. I took a deep breath and offered up the abridged version, hoping it would suffice. “Yes, there is a story but it’s not that interesting. Let’s just say I tried it but it wasn’t for me.”

“And that answer did nothing but make me even more curious, but I won’t pry. I can tell it’s not something you want to talk about. Let’s get the girls home and I’ll grill us some real food. You hungry?”

“For some reason I am craving queso…”

“Don’t look at me like that. I’m a married man.”


Thursday Story

Leading up to this Friday I thought I would share a section of the first novel I wrote. Yesterday was part two (pan down). Today is part three.

Wally and his family lived in a fairly new housing development complete with sidewalks, generous street lighting and nearly identical looking houses. It appeared the variety of design ended with the architect flipping the house plans and alternating between four color choices. Every house had two-stories, lap siding, a two-car garage and well-groomed yards. No cars were parked on the road and there were no visible boats or sheds to disrupt the clean lines of the neighborhood. Based on those observations, I assumed they lived under the totalitarian rule of a strong homeowners association. Wally’s house had the minor distinguishing characteristics of a basketball goal right off the driveway and a flag jutting from the front door frame. I was pleased to see the flag proudly displayed a cartoon, appliqué vampire. Dad would have been proud.

Rochelle greeted me warmly as we entered the house and was kind enough to anticipate my need for a glass of wine after my first foray into Atlanta traffic. As we talked in the family room while Wally changed clothes, I was introduced to the Barnes offspring, all decked out in homemade costumes, ready to hit the road. Vanessa, Patty and Sondra were dressed as three blind mice, complete with big mouse ears and long tails. At eight, five and three they were each suffering from a different aspect of their getup. Vanessa, the oldest, hated how the hood with ears attached interfered with her curly hair. She was not happy that her locks were covered and kept trying to pull the headpiece further back on her head to allow everyone to at least see her bangs. Patty was fascinated with her tail and kept bending over and looking through her legs to see what it was doing behind her. Sondra was just not happy. Rochelle explained she wanted to be Cinderella and could not understand why she had to dress like a “wat.” I tried to console her by explaining she was a “cute little wodent” but she just wrinkled her nose and continued to whine. Just as we approached a mutinous level of despair, Wally emerged from his bedroom and rescued us all from near anarchy. I’m not sure who talked him into it but Wally had agreed to dress up like a big block of cheese. At least I thought that’s what it was. He was wearing a matching yellow sweatshirt and pants, standing in a cardboard “wedge”—painted to match his clothes—which was hanging around his waist, held up by suspenders. Upon his grand entrance, his daughters squealed and jumped up and down with delight. Costume issues were quickly forgotten.

“Who’s ready to go trick or treatin’?” Wally yelled above the din. The girls screamed, “We are!” and put on their sunglasses and grabbed their canes. We headed out into the cool, Atlanta night, joining a surprising number of kids and chaperones already criss-crossing the well-lit neighborhood. Rochelle stayed behind to man the door and dispense treats.

(Part Four will be posted on Friday)


Wednesday Story

Leading up to this Friday I thought I would share a section of the first novel I wrote. Yesterday was part one (pan down). Today is part two.

I spent my lunch hour on the phone, talking to the hotel about continuing my stay with them and calling the realtor to find out if she could help me find a temporary dwelling. I wanted to find an apartment over the weekend and keep my stay in the hotel to only one more week. Yvonne was happy to help and we made plans to meet in the office parking lot on Saturday morning.

At 3:30, Wally called and asked what my plans were for the weekend. When I told him I was staying in town he insisted I join him and his family that night as they walked the neighborhood with their children. He promised if I survived that portion of the evening he would reward me with a quality meal afterwards. I was hesitant and told him I would let him know by five whether I could go or not. The idea of helping supervise strange children as they walked through unfamiliar territory was not all that appealing. I held out hope that a better offer would pop up in the next hour and a half.

By 4:45 the depressing thought of spending another night in the hotel room eating takeout overcame my reservations about spending an evening in suburbia so I let Wally know I was up for the challenge. He met me in the lobby at five and gave me a brief overview of where we were heading. He lived in Kennesaw, which was straight up I-75 but at that time of day, on a Friday no less, it would be slow going. Before we left the parking lot we exchanged cell phone numbers in case we got separated. I didn’t realize how slim the chances were for that since the majority of our trip to his house was spent traveling 20 miles per hour. By the time we pulled into Wally’s driveway it was 6:30 and I was a wreck. Ninety minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic had inched its way through every nerve and hair follicle in my body and I was reduced to a sensitive and sore mess. As I sat in my car trying to compose myself, he bounded up to my door sporting a huge smile, rejoicing in how fast we made it to his house.

(Part Three will be posted on Thursday)


Tuesday Story

Leading up to this Friday I thought I would share a section of the first novel I wrote. (No, it hasn't been published but I still wrote it which doesn’t change the fact that it is still a novel. Or does it?) The excerpt takes place on a Friday night that just happens to be Halloween. What a coincidence. A little back story is in order: The story is about a “Christian from birth” who, at middle age, decides to turn his back on his faith. He assumes everything else in his life will stay the same—the loving wife, the wonderful kids—but then he lands a “dream job” in Atlanta and things at home do not go as planned. The story picks up soon after starting his new job, waiting for his old house to sell and for his family to join him. Wally is a new friend he has made since arriving in the big city.

When I walked into the offices Friday morning I was stunned to see the receptionist dressed like Cruella DeVille from the 101 Dalmatians movies. When I asked what was the point of the outfit she politely reminded me that it was Halloween. I couldn’t believe a major holiday had snuck up on me but my current situation away from family and living in a hotel didn’t offer a lot of reminders. Halloween was one of the holidays the church had decided to ruin, trying to pay back the world for screwing up Christmas and Easter. It used to be about candy and costumes. Now the preachers have turned it into Satan worship and the fear of baby sacrifices. When I was a kid, Halloween may have been the most fun holiday in my house. My dad would channel his inner thespian and create elaborate costumes and devise various ways to scare all of the little trick-or-treaters who knocked on our door. My favorite memory was the year dad dressed up as Dracula. Our house had a set of stairs that began their climb up as you entered the front door, offering the perfect angle to rest a cardboard coffin. When kids would ring the doorbell and scream “trick or treat,” mom would stay hidden behind the door and open it very slow. As the kids stood there facing a dark entryway, unsure of what to do, my dad would dramatically rise out of the coffin to a sitting position, shining a flashlight up from under his chin. He would then say “ Goot Eve-ah-ning” with all the clichéd inflections of a vampire, or at least what the movies had taught us. If the kids hung around through that mini-drama, mom would load them up with candy and tell them to warn their friends. Inevitably we would get a call from a concerned parent and I would have to pull sentry duty, signaling to mom and dad if the kids were old enough to get the full treatment or just receive their candy from a kindler, gentler vampire. In the climate of today, when Halloween has been replaced with Fall Festivals and parades through the mall, my pastor/father would get called up before the Southern Baptist Convention on heresy charges if he pulled any of those stunts now. Too bad. He was a great vampire AND a great pastor.

(Part Two will be posted on Wednesday)


Say Hello to My Little Friends

Several years ago I created a couple of characters called Christian Man and Dogma. Initially, they were strictly to star in some tracts I had envisioned (and eventually wrote and drew). Once again, I was digging through some old notebooks and came across my original drawing of Christian Man and Dogma. I thought it was an interesting contrast from the early drawing to what they morphed into in their debut in My Life as a Sailor, the first tract in which they were the “stars.” File this under FWIW. It’s definitely not as inspiring as the early Simpsons characters on the Tracey Ullman show, but, then again, Christian Man is no Homer...

Christian Man and Dogma, the early years.

Christian Man and Dogma, posing for their first tract, My Life as a Sailor.


Book Club

I read a lot. I don’t read very fast and am constantly amazed when I see people blow through a book (or more) per week. Maybe it has more to do with the type of books I read which lean toward “literary” rather than “contemporary” fiction. I tend to read and savor instead of plow through stories. Besides, I’m in no hurry; there is no competition. I think my reading taste also has to do with the type of fiction I like to write (or maybe it is the other way around). Writing literary fiction is not the fast track to publication but I won’t let that deter me from either reading or writing it. Besides, it is a built-in excuse and I like to think it might be genetic and I can’t fight DNA. (Don't tell me different. Keep hope—and justification— alive!)

One of my favorite writers (and someone whose style, approach and technique I wish I could emulate in even a small way) is Flannery O’Connor. She died young but left an impressive body of work that was very spiritual but, thankfully, not always in an obvious way. If you have not read anything by her I would suggest one of her short stories and my favorite (by far) is a story titled Revelation. It is included in Everything That Rises Must Converge, one of her impressive story collections. And once you have read it you can spend hours on the internet reading the hundreds of term papers and analysis that are posted by every doctoral student that dipped a toe into “southern literature.” (Just kidding. Not about the information on the internet, it is there, but about reading all of that stuff. Don’t over analyze; just read it and enjoy.) It ain’t Grisham but, then again, it’s not 250 pages long.


My Daughter's Journey

Laura just returned from a week in Norway. She and a few folks from the Bible College in Italy spent time hanging out at a Christian boarding school, ministering, praying with and getting to know 150 Norwegian high school kids. She has posted some pictures here and will probably update her blog this week (so check on it periodically).

BTW: My oldest son has started a blog as well. I will shill for him with pride as well. He is trying to update on Mondays and he shares his heart on worship and whatever else is occupying his mind. Check him out as well.

I Rant Because I Can’t

(Yet one more entry in the never ending chronicle of middle age and embracing my inner crankiness.)

This morning I rode to work and I ate my concoction of strawberry flavored carb control yogurt mixed with Kashi granola, washing it all down with a Fresca. Sitting at a red light I came to the realization that I was a prisoner to my body and its needs. Or maybe I am a prisoner to the fear of what my body will become if I do not feed it fake food (and, yes, that is what it is. Compare real sour cream and fat free sour cream—one is obviously fake!). I often threaten to give up the battle and just let it go, to test the unproven theory that I will balloon to an unwieldy girth if I eat what I want without any mental and emotional filters. To explore the world of sweat pants and XXL shirts. But I won’t; I am way too narcissistic to go down without a fight. Some call it discipline. I call it fear. Oh sure, I balance it all with a stated desire to be healthy and “take care of myself,” but it has more to do with vanity; health is a convenient cover.

One of my fantasies is I will be afforded a two or three month warning of my impending death and I will then eat any and everything I want with zero reservations. That only comes into play if heaven is not equipped with an incredible all-you-can-eat buffet with no need for digestive enzymes when you are done. What’s that? Why, yes, that is a shallow interpretation of heaven but, since I cannot seem to wrap my small, human brain around the few descriptions in the Bible, I have to use what I know and I know that I want to eat a hamburger, not a Bocca Burger. I want to eat real ice cream, not Healthy Choice white something shaped into blocks to resemble an ice cream sandwich. I want a calzone, not a chef salad with a meatball on the side. I want blue cheese dressing, not balsamic vinaigrette. I want a baked potato with butter and (real) sour cream as well as cheese, not a sweet potato with Butter Buds and Splenda. And I want it all without guilt or indigestion. And that, to me, would be, well... heaven.


Post-Grease Report

I have just returned from the fish fry and I wanted to share with all three of my readers how it went. Basically, it was all I expected it to be. There were three kinds of fish provided—catfish, brim and mullet—as well as baked beans and hush puppies (also referred to as "dough boys"). I believe the cheese grits were made by melting several pounds of cheese, waving a bag of grits over the pot and calling it even. There was also cole slaw and a random Greek salad that looked sad and lonely and was hardly touched. We washed it all down with either sweet tea or lemonade (or a mixture of both) and then had a choice of so many desserts that they required their own table. The result? I ate enough fish and dough boys to have adequately lubricated my internal organs and enough cheese "grits" to keep me constipated until next weekend. All in all a successful fish fry.

The bubbling nector of the Fry Gods preparing for its sacrifice.

I was fascinated by this "dough boy" tool but the old-timers mocked my fascination.


Friday Foolishness

I am going to a fish fry tomorrow afternoon. This is my idea of a mid-life crisis since my aversion to grease has been consuming for many years. I am not sure how my body will react to the product that will be served. But I will partake and I will be fierce. And I will eat an extra hush puppy dipped in cheese grits for everyone that promises to pray for me. It is that sort of twisted logic that has me mentally repeating "Get Big or Stay Home" every time I think about what I am about to do to myself. But if you are going to shave some years off your life with food I'd much rather do it with fried grouper than a Snickers. Now, if they are going to fry the Snickers, that is a whole 'nother situation...


Themeless Thursday

Posted without comment.



I have started three blog posts over the last few days but they were lame so I didn’t finish them. For that, you should thank me. I always start writing with the best of intentions, thinking I actually have something to say, but it doesn't take long to figure out that the idea was not as strong as I had hoped and the moment passes. Like gas, only I don’t feel better after it’s gone. So, yeah, this is a blog post to let you know I have nothing to say. Is that more ironic or sad?


Casual Friday Sketchiness

Note to Sean D: Just trying to get some closure...


A Waddling We Will Go

I don’t know if it can be strictly attributed to age or if it is a genetic propensity for extra skin, but I have developed a waddle. I am not referring to walking like a duck but to the expansion of flesh that balloons beneath your chin and covers the front of your neck. (I think it was the show “Ally McBeal” that made the term synonymous with skin and not transportation.) Even though it is somewhat subtle, I am disturbed by this recent development.

Most of my life I have not been very concerned with getting my picture taken. Posing or only wanting my “good side” captured has never been an issue. I will admit that the last few years have seen me sucking in my stomach when I knew there was a camera around but there have been enough “candid” shots taken that even that became a waste of time (or is that “waist”?).

But this year, the waddle has brought a whole new issue to deal with in regards to photographs. I have actually had pictures retaken (and the insulting ones deleted) because my neck looks inflated. (PTL for digital cameras.) Yes, it is vain--so what?--but I’d like to think I can still rail against the visual signs I am getting older. The problem is there is no good way to hide a waddle. If I tuck in my chin even slightly it bloats out and I look like one of those lizards looking for a mate. I have tried to extend my neck right before the picture is snapped but that has proved to be a bad enough idea that no one will pose with me because I am being “weird” and I always look like I am straining for a high note. At this point I can only allow my picture to be taken if I am standing up and using perfect posture (with my chin tilted up ever so slightly). Are there exercises to reduce waddles? Not that I would do them; I’m just curious. It could be one of those “toothpaste is already out of the tube” issues that is impossible to reverse. One day I’ll relax and cease the fight, but it won’t be today. And I pray that ascots make a comeback.


Entry One Hundred Seven: Adam Mahoney, You Just Won!

[This entry is the current story I am working on. This is thirty-seven of who knows how many will be posted. Enjoy it while it lasts...]

One evening, a few weeks into his new hobby, he came up with a solution, more out of necessity than anything noble. He had just returned from the gym, walked through the front door and stopped. He had to; there was nowhere to place his foot for another step. His living room looked like a floor exercise for a major war game, only in The Battle of Adam’s House, tanks and planes were accompanied by Mustangs and monster trucks. Instead of pushing anything aside to make a path to his bedroom, he went back out the front door and walked to the garage, found a large cardboard box and entered the house through the kitchen door. He started at the edge of the plastic mélange, then began carefully lifting models off the floor and placing them on the bottom of the box. When he had safely secured all the container could handle, he left through the kitchen door and walked across the street to the Broughton’s house and strolled through their front door. He headed straight to the credenza in their living room, a large, cherry sideboard, its flat surface covered with framed photographs of the nuclear and extended family of the home’s former occupants. He set the box of models aside, began removing all of the pictures and stacking them on the floor. After the top of the furniture was cleared he began arranging his models in their place.

The placement started randomly but soon Adam began assembling the miniature replicas in more aesthetic groupings. World War II planes formed one group, desert tanks another. He completed the credenza display and had used all of the models he had carried in the box so he packed the box with the framed photographs, returned to his house, dumped the contents in the trash and filled the box again with his creations. He returned to the Broughton’s, seeking out any nook or flat surface that held a photograph and replaced them with the models. Bookshelves, dressers and china cabinets soon displayed Adam’s work, cars and tanks replacing the reminders of the past. In place of photos on walls he dangled model planes, using fishing line tied to an eyehook he screwed into the ceiling. After four trips there were no visual reminders of the Broughton’s anywhere in the house. As he perused his work, Adam felt some better, the chasm feeling less empty, yet sad that his outlook improved only by diminishing something—someone—else. “But if that’s what it takes. For the first time ever, it really is all about me.”

Adam continued with his replacement plan, eventually reworking all of the houses surrounding his own, the houses whose lawns he had mowed and whose earlier visits had disturbed him so. With each completed redesign, his soul grew a little stronger, for what reasons he couldn’t say. Maybe it was the symbolism of throwing away the memories of his neighbors or maybe it was the small rush of executing another project, creating mini-museums of his handiwork, on display for no one. It didn’t matter; at minimum he could move in and out of the houses without having to deal with the creeping feeling of abandonment he had experienced when he first entered the abodes. It expanded his world, his kingdom, and with it his comfort zone which was no small matter for the last man standing on the face of the earth.

All words and images ©2007/J. Colle


Moleskins out of Mountains

One of the adjustments that my wife had to make when we got married was my proclivity to never throw anything away. Over the years I have gotten a lot better dealing with this sad fixation which is a positive aspect of marrying an opposite who has the added benefit of being kind and flexible and believes in taking her time in bending me to her will instead of the instant slap down. If I had married someone like me we would have ended up on one of those horrifying shows on HGTV where they come in and force couples to clean out a room (or maybe the whole house) piled high with stuff.

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome was writing things on little scraps of paper and then building little hills of scrap paper on my dresser. In way of explanation, my mind is annoying in that it rarely sits still. I am constantly churning on several things, most random, some with a chance to evolve into a more concrete idea. I will admit that 99.5% of the things I mentally chew on are worthless but I can’t risk losing that rare .5% so I write a lot of thoughts and ideas down. Back in the early days of our marriage, I would tear a corner off a piece of paper, jot down the words or sketch out something and then cram the scrap into my pocket. At the end of the day, I might have assembled several of these and I would deposit them on top of my dresser. I always went back through them and, if remotely valid, would record it in a sketchbook or notebook but that was rarely in a timely fashion. I swear I tried to get to them within a week. Or two. Hope threw out more than one of those little piles before she fully grasped the concept that she was tossing out parts of my brain in the process and compromises were worked out.

Time and technology have helped me in this area. Sketchbooks got smaller and more portable, Moleskin came out with a tiny notebook that I can keep in my back pocket and the little scraps of paper disappeared. Well, not entirely. They have now morphed into blank books of all sizes, some filled with my ramblings, most only partially complete. They chronicle a lot of really bad ideas and doodles and it is an historical record of little consequence to anyone but me. At least they can fit on a bookshelf (or a box in the attic). I’m not saying that’s where they are, I’m just saying they could be. I said I was better, not good.