Monday, April 30, 2018

Conclusion of Christmas Tradition

Below is the conclusion of the short story A Christmas Tradition.  Hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane.

As part of a project I was working on regarding some marketing efforts, I was required to look at the main protagonist in each of my books.  All of these books have supporting characters who are a vital part of the story and in some cases readers have pointed out that they actually were more interesting than the main person.  But just looking at the main character was an interesting exercise.

The Bootlegger's Legacy.  Joe Meadows.  Married CPA with two kids, age 44.  Unhappy marriage.  Drinks too much.  Always fighting money problems.  Generally not very happy with life but destined to plod along and not to do anything about it.  Of course all of that changes in the book.

Dog Gone Lies and Sky High Stakes.  Ray Pacheco.  Widowed, in his sixties, one grown son he never sees.  Now many people might say that the most interesting characters are Tyee Chino and Big Jack--and no doubt they are the most interesting; but it is Ray who makes the books believable and endearing.  A good person meeting new challenges late in life.

Murder So Wrong and Murder So StrangeTommy Jacks.  Young, early twenties, idealistic reporter with huge family baggage.  Insecure and uncertain about new relationships.  We explore the murder mysteries with Tommy but also witness his growth into a more complete human being.

Santa Fe Mojo and Blue Flower Red ThornsVincent Malone.  Mid-sixties, broken man with long history of cynical attitude about life and people.  Drinks too much.  Poor health.  Sense of humor that he most often hides.  Smart, tough and alone--by choice.  Finds new beginnings in Santa Fe but only by accident.

Some observations.  They are all men.  Diverse ages and occupations.  All in the middle of major life changes.  Couple of drinkers.  This is a little subjective but they are all good people who are flawed, some more than others.  Have any thoughts on these characters let me know.

A Christmas Tradition

Part Four of Four

Donny’s house was next.  Donny was a year or maybe a year and half older than the rest of us.  He was tougher, meaner and usually very sad.  Donny’s dad seemed mostly to drink and yell.  Donny had told his pals that his dad drank gin.  Nobody knew what gin was but it didn’t sound good and on occasion when his dad tried to talk to someone, it was obvious it didn’t smell good either.   His dad didn’t seem to have a regular job but would be gone for long periods of time doing something.  When his dad was gone his house was much happier; but then his dad would return.  His dad told everyone who would listen how horrible it was the bootlegger was arrested, by his own account one of the best people in the whole damn state.  We all knew he wasn’t supposed to say damn but didn’t have the courage to tell him.

Donny had a sister, Betty.  Betty was in high school and was a cheerleader.  Betty was the most beautiful person who lived on our street, she also had no modesty.  All of the houses in the neighborhood had one bathroom, this was a major problem for Betty.  Betty needed her own bathroom or maybe two.  She was always dressing and “getting herself ready,” whatever that really meant. This mysterious process seemed to involve her running around the house looking for some key aspect of being “ready” while dressed in her bra and slip.  It didn’t seem to matter who was in the house her needs were paramount over any other considerations.  Donny’s little boy friends sat around the tiny living room with their mouths agape and their eyes wide open.

Donny’s family seemed to have lots of money based mostly on the abundance of food.  We didn’t know but also suspected gin wasn’t cheap.  Christmas was a confusing place at Donny’s house.  They didn’t have a tree but they did have presents.  They weren’t church going people but they wished everyone a Merry Christmas.  Donny had participated in past gift ratings but each year he became meaner.  Bill had even told me that he was afraid of Donny and didn’t want to be around him anymore.  Donny’s anger at everyone seemed to come and go with the departure and return of his dad.  Even though Betty was an attraction for his buddies, Donny preferred to stay outside.  He would play basketball from morning to late night on most summer days.
As I approached Donny I could see he was in a bad mood.  “Nothin’ this year you little creep.”  It looked like Donny had been crying.  I asked him if he wanted to play a game of horse, he told me to get lost.  I left.

Now it was my turn.  I knew I had gotten some great gifts but nothing was going to beat Ernie.  The look on his face when he showed me that slide-rule said it all—he was the winner in more ways than just the kid’s gift rating game.  I gave myself a twenty-five and conceded defeat to the smiling Ernie.
As I walked into my warm, cozy home I knew the gift game was history.  Something had changed; maybe it was just everybody getting older or maybe it was everybody getting wiser.  In years past each one would have joined me to go to the next.  By the time we reached my house the whole group would be together and we would be laughing.  Today nobody was really that interested, except, I guess, me.  

Bill had to stay home and watch Timmy play with his Christmas stash, Ernie couldn’t take the slide-rule outside and he didn’t want to leave it, just yet.  Bobby said his mother told him he couldn’t cross Key any more without an adult, there had been a scare a couple of days ago with a kid almost hit on his bike.  Johnny was grounded for two weeks because he had fixed himself French toast while his mom was out shopping and almost burned the house down.  Donny was angry at everyone and seemed dangerous and no longer wanted any of the creeps around his house.

Kid’s games by their nature stop at some point. You stop being a kid.  I never won the kid’s Christmas gift rating game.  It had usually been Bill, no doubt because we trusted him to allocate his huge load of gifts between the two celebration days.  Donny had won once, back when he was friendlier, when he got a complete football uniform, with shoulder pads and a helmet.  He was happy that day.  Ernie of course got the prize with his beloved slide-rule, even though none of us really knew what it did.  Bobby didn’t win but often came in second.  Johnny had been close one year with a pogo-stick but lost to Bill and his new bike.  

Now I can see it wasn’t the winning, it was that we all got together and laughed.  It was fun to be together and talk about the gifts and argue about the scores.  It was a tradition.  A Christmas tradition.  I will miss that.

The End

Friday, April 13, 2018

Good Idea or Bad?

In The Bootlegger's Legacy there was a prologue that detailed what happened to the main characters after the book concluded.  I always liked this in movies and thought it was especially appropriate for the TBL.  Many reviewers have commented on this addition as a aspect of the book they also liked.  I'm going to include a similar wrap-up in the first Vincent Malone book Santa Fe Mojo which should be available for preorder on Amazon in the first part of May.

 Buy on Amazon

(Little side-note TBL has just reached 156 reviews on Amazon with an average of 4.2 stars out of 5.  Thank you readers and reviewers.)

SFM is one book in a series unlike TBL.  But it still made sense to me to include information about what happened to the principle characters--not so much the on-going ones but this particular book specific ones.  Some of the people who's advice I respect said I shouldn't do that, matter of fact they said the prologue in TBL was not needed.  As you can see on some occasions, okay quite a few, I ignore advice.  I know some books should not continue on past the end.  But I can't help it, I like knowing what happened to the people in the book I have just gotten to know.  What do you think?

A Christmas Tradition

Part Three of Four

What was I going to say to Bobby?  Don’t even show me your gifts-- you’ve lost.  Wow, life was tough.  Bobby lived on Northrup but he lived across Key Boulevard, a major two lane street than ran right through the heart of the little city.  My parents had never forbid me going across Key, but many kids on my street couldn’t.  “Too much traffic”, was the most often mentioned parent reason.  As far as I knew the people weren’t different on that side, although it was a possibility.  

Bobby was all about sports.  He had no interest in anything else.  So naturally his also ‘only interested in sports’ parents bought him sports gifts.  These, of course, had great value in kids scoring.  But Bobby was hard to deal with, he was ultra-competitive.  If I assigned an eight to a new football, Bobby would insist it was an eleven.  If I said eleven he would demand a fifteen.  Unless he won he wouldn’t agree on any number.  Since I have dealt with Bobby before, I knew what to do.  

This year he received a new basketball.  I told him it was an eight, he insisted it was a ten.  I really thought it could be a fifteen but he won at ten.  We bargained away for some time with him winning every battle.  He was all smiles; he was the victor.  His grand total was thirty-two; but he was ecstatic that he had bested me in every negotiation.  None of us played sports games with Bobby, one reason was that he was much better than we were; but mostly it was just not much fun.

Once I was back across Key Boulevard I felt more relaxed.  It was only thirty feet of pavement but it was a real barrier, at least in my head.  Johnny’s house was next.  His mom was a school teacher and she yelled a lot.  Most of her yelling was directed at her husband who always seemed to be leaving.  Sometime later, when we were in Junior High, he left one morning and never returned. 

Johnny was the class clown.  He lived for only one thing –to make you laugh.  His biggest problem was that he wasn’t very funny.  We used to walk down Key to a small shopping center and buy things at the drug store or just gawk at things in the hobby store.  There were times in the summer we would make that journey every day.  On each trip we would pass a dry cleaner shop that had a woman sitting at a desk facing out to the sidewalk.  She apparently was the bookkeeper.  Each time we passed Johnny would put his face on the glass and blow.  This made an ugly face and it seemed to upset the woman.  It also left an unsightly mess on the window.  She didn’t think it was funny, I didn’t think it was funny; but Johnny thought it was hilarious.  

After a while when the woman saw us she would get up and go to the back of the shop, no doubt hiding from the hideous creature who made faces and smeared her window.  Even if she had left, Johnny did his face thing and laughed.  One day a man came out, he might have been the owner, he didn’t say, he told Johnny he would have to clean up that mess or he was calling the cops—he also let Johnny know that he knew his mother.  With no reason that anyone could have figured out, Johnny jumped around and made monkey noises at the man and then ran off.  It was obvious to me that Johnny had just insulted the man, but the man seemed unsure what to do.  He looked at me as if I might have an answer, I had none.  He went inside and I went home.  From that day forward we begin to walk on the other side of the street and only cross over once we reached the hobby store.  All Johnny ever said about that day was that the man had called his mother and threaten to have him arrested for damaging his window—he said “defacing”, but must have meant something else.  In a very strange way Johnny seemed to think all of that was funny.

Christmas had never been a big event at Johnny’s house. They had a tree but it was only slightly decorated and they had very few gifts.  Johnny had never won the Christmas gift rating game.  He didn’t seem to care but it was hard to tell for sure.  His biggest gift this year was cowboy boots.  That could rank pretty high on the kid’s scale, but he said they were hand-me-downs from a cousin who lived in the country.  Better luck next year Johnny.

Next: A Christmas Tradition Final