A 1934 rerun, in a way, kinda like a print version of Turner Classic Movies. “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”. See it here, along with an entertaining recommendation from author Leila Allison, a frequent contributor to Literally Stories and many other lit mags:
That’s right, I had a surprise heart attack, suddenly lying out on the wet gravel of a deserted road and all I got out of it (besides a couple of stents) was…
Well, we’ll see about that. Here’s the poem:
Woman with the Dog’s Eyes
By Mitchell Toews
Uppermost boughs sough with impatience as I stare
Grey fingers stretch up to the arc, branches of a birch gone bare
And these I frame in the quiet now, the tide wheel all but silent
Apocryphal offspring close by me, how? And dear, so dear
Brushwork details unfinished yet, I fear, I fear
Eyes wide I rise with canvas ready, my pigment not yet spent
Here’s a fun game to play each day when the latest appalling thing shows up to spoil your perfect 7-minute eggs:
#Episode45 is my hashtag game for an imaginary TV series. It’s kinda like “As the World Turns” and “Breaking Bad” combined into a weekly show, featuring some of the daily participants in the CNN – Fox News buffoon-a-paloosa that airs each day on our real TVs.
I have been writing captions for select new atrocities, under the #Episode45 banner. It’s fun and easy. Each day, there’s a new DEPLORABOMBSHELL and you just take it and, wearing your best Dr. Suess/Charlie Chaplin/Seth Meyers absurdist’s garb, turn it into a TV Guide-style episode summary.
I’ve selected a gangland, ship-of-fools trope for the #Episode45 mob, led by their intrepid kingpin, “Fat Donnie”. New characters come and go every day, just like the real White House. I’ve substituted bocci for golf – a move designed to protect the innocent (don’t want to put anyone off their game) and I also try to not let it get too far beyond the pale.
Awww, shit — who am I kidding!? It’s WAY BEYOND the pale! But, in fairness, it’s not as crazy as the stuff that is going on in the real world.
That’s the beauty, you can’t overdo it.
Anyway, here are the summaries I’ve churned out so far. Feel free to join in and create your own #Episode45isms! In fact, you might want to branch out:
- Slam the DEMS! #WhataboutthoseE-MAILS?
- A UK-Vonnnegut-version? #BrexitofChampions?
- Some Canadian content? #SayItAin’tTRUDEAU?
I’ll leave it with you. Here are my attempts, from oldest to newest:
#Episode45 Fat Donnie and his consig. Pauli the Perm wrap up a summit on neutral turf with rival gang boss, Bareback Vlad. Sean the Lip voices his loyalty to the merger along with ruthless fixer, Mikey “Pastor” Pence. (Repeat) #Episode45 “The Enemy of My Friend” Fat Donnie considers turning over old adversaries to Bareback Vlad, the handoff to take place on Fifth Avenue. #Episode45 Mikey Plaid Jacket is chafed over Fat Donnie’s apparent disinterest. Meanwhile, Donnie and Bareback Vlad plan a second meet, this one at an old girlfriend’s crib: The Playboy Mansion. #Episode45 “That’s Gonna be Special” Fat Donnie is secretly recorded Vogueing in a spandex catsuit. Cross-town rivals, The Persian Posse, assume Donnie is mocking them and threaten war. Confused, Donnie’s former coffee-boy, “Book’em” Page disavows his bucking video on YouTube. (I know, this one’s pretty weird.)
#Episode45 “I know you are but what am I?” Mikey Plaid Jacket gets peeved at Fat Donnie and his new BFF, BugEye Rudi. Meanwhile, Silent Bob of Five-Oh is putting bigly heat on the gang and Donnie’s putter has turned stone cold.
#Episode45 “That’s a gimme!” This weekend, Fat Donnie & “Pastor” Mikey Pence enjoy a little bocci. Pastor Mikey’s job is to keep Donnie’s equipment squeaky clean—and his bocci balls too—and also to nod & gaze adoringly at the back of FD’s head as he plays.
#Episode45 Fat Donnie’s wife, Carmen, reveals her preferences in today’s romp, “I Like Big Butts”. Her favs? CNN, but, “recorded so I zap all dose old people ads.” She’s reading Tapper, listening to Maddow and is a big fan of Mexican soap operas, saying, “so much like REAL LIFE!”
#Episode45 “One Word: Plastics” In this tense episode Fat Donnie moves his investments. “Look, whose gonna fly without that they’re strapped wit a ghost gun? Nobody, dat’s who. Opportunity? Yuge.” Cameo by John Wick. #Episode45 “The Fall of Vane DeSeet” Sensing a legal dragnet closing fast around him and the gang, Fat Donnie sets up his son, Vane, to take the fall. “I love ya, Vane, boy, but sometimes it takes tough love.” Guest: Hope It Sticks Hicks
Tune into #Episode45 for more hi-jinx, tomf*ckery, and the endless blame, shame, and hard rain that’s a-gonna fall.
“THIS is CNN,” booms the rich, familiar voice on the TV.
“LUKE! I am your faaaatha,” Janice replies, a mockingjay from the other room.
I must admit that since I began watching CNN with my morning coffee, there’s one trend that I find disturbing and uncomfortable.
No, it’s not journalists being called “enemies of the people”, it’s not “grab’em by the you-know-what,” and it’s not the protection of the environment being pulled away like Lucy does with Charlie Brown’s football. To be sure, those things and many more, with their inexorable spill into the Canadian lives of my kids and grandkids, bug me plenty.
But what makes me feel small and alone and a little bit vulnerable out here in the rock and lakes and boreal bush is the advertising on CNN.
“Huh?” you say.
It’s this way: as a former long-time advertiser, I can’t help but observe the demographic targeting on CNN.
And there’s the rub. I now find myself listening (covertly) to all the ads for pills and treatments, hair-teeth-heart-cancer, all the stuff from stair-climbers to (ahem) blue pills.
And by blue pills, I of course mean daily low-dose aspirin, in case there’s any confusion.
The darn thing is, I am now apparently the target market for this senior basket of goods. My turn to say, “Huh?” How-the-Metamucil did THAT happen?
Oh, well. As one of my favourite characters in my upcoming WIP novel would say, “It ain’t what it ain’t…”
So, next time you hear those dulcet James Earl Jones tones, think of me sprinkling Plavix on top of my tumeric flavoured Boost.
P.S. – if you have any design ideas for securing my walker on a windsurf board, send me a shop-drawing!
I received a forward from a friend who I enjoy a lot and also respect, not a little. He’s a person almost anybody could model their life after and enjoy many improvements in the process. That goes for me, that’s for certain!
Anyway, he’s of a more conservative bent than me, for the most part. Not altogether and not in the context of the current binary way of things. I believe we can disagree civilly.
The forward was about the dangers of large-scale immigration and why we should object to it in Canada. The message closed by encouraging recipients to: “Forward to everyone on your contact list!”
But… “everybody on my contact list” contains mostly people like me: those whose antecedents arrived here with no money, little or no English, next to no desire to learn English, demanding their own schools, refusing to join the army, getting free land for nothing while people who lived here for generations were forced to give up land for these newcomers.
The ladies wore weird headgear, the men’s closets were imbued in octopus ink, women were treated like indentured cooks-maids-baby incubators and every third adult male started his own church when he wasn’t debating buttons versus hooks and other matters of eternal salvation.
I come from a long line of ‘undesirable aliens’ — similar to the ones we Canadians are now supposed to “watch out for!”
I and my kind are lucky our predecessors were given a free, tax-payer-sponsored, gov-enforced sanctuary on the East Reserve, or all the gun-toting Canadian citizens back then might have chased the invading hordes of Mennos the heck back to Mother Russia to get ground up like foarmaworscht in history’s most violent wars.
The wide-eyed Molotschnian folk who arrived here were dependent in many ways on the kindness of strangers. They received that from Canadians — and Germans and Brits along the way, too! Now it’s our turn, even if we don’t like the looks of this incoming bunch. Some of them are religious fanatics. Oba!
By 2050, Canada will be 50%+ Asian and the U.S. will be a Hispanic majority, so really, squabbling now is just a waste of our znackzote-scented breath anyway.
My grandkids are French-Menno-Ukrainian-Metis and I’m proud of it and I suspect old Delegate Toews might be too if he was still around. He is one of those responsible for some of the details of the Mennonite diaspora, back in 1873.
I respect opposing opinions because the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms grants us the ability to be 100% full of horse dung, a by-product that — when frozen — is good for road hockey but wears out its welcome in a warm room full of loud-talking Mennonite settlers’ offspring.
“Disagreement makes the world go ’round.”
— Chuck Toews (to me, my sisters, my daughters, and quite a few others)
Mulholland and Hardbar
My WIP novel work continues and I have reached 64K words. That’s 64,000 first draft words. That number will likely turn into quite a few less after some slasher action by the grim reaper, formerly of Cambridge… now a regular at the White Hart, near Gunthorpe Street of Whitechapel. (My freelance editor James, who believes the only good adverb is a dead adverb. He likes his verbs naked.)
It is a pivotal chapter – where the book’s title characters meet! Here’s a chapter blurb:
Chapter 26 – Mulholland has a guest. Hardbar has injected himself into the world of Penrose Pond. They start out with an apropos sea-faring adventure, on April One. It’s Grandfa’s birthday, and also a wee tip-o-the-cap to the author’s real-life father-in-law – a dark-skinned gent named Henry (Heinrich) Kasper, born on April 1 and said to be descended from one of the three wise men.
The introduction of Mul and HB, featuring: Krüt, a parka Jesus, and a “beastly waat schneemachine!”
And a first-draft snippet:
With a glower, Hardbar dove headlong off the foot ramp of the snowmobile where he stood. He was powerful, and he cleared the water easily, his padded chest landing with a muffled, “whump!” on the ladder. A crescent of ice near his knees broke away and floated creekward. His lower legs were immersed, and he scrambled, cursing — his eyes wild — towards Mulholland.
“Back! Pull backwards!” he yelled as he scampered forward, banging his knees on the ladder rungs and scuttling forward, all ahead full.
Mulholland, kneeling behind the ladder, jerked hard to pull it towards him. It did not budge with the 150-pounds of Hardbar weighing it down. It was too heavy for Mulholland and his awkward position. He jerked again and again, but his knees and toes just slipped on the ice. As he tugged, the grey, deeply fissured wood dowel that was the bottom rung made a cracking noise. He stopped for fear of snapping it.
Hardbar was now more than halfway towards him. Another large half-moon had broken away behind him and a grinning semi-circle of dark swirling water reached as far as Hardbar’s feet. The snowmobile end of the ladder was submerged.
“STOP!” Mulholland commanded. Hardbar looked up at him, his face wet and granules of ice stuck in his beard. “We gotta slide the ladder along with us. It won’t move with you on it – I got no grip!”
“Okay, yeah!” Hardbar said, understanding the predicament immediately. He flopped off the ladder, lying alongside and hugging it one-armed and one-legged in a post-coital embrace. He untied the knotted arms of the parka. “Here,” he said, flipping the coat at Mulholland who was shimmying down along the other side of the ladder, bringing himself abreast of Hardbar. They each grasped a sleeve and the hooded parka lay atop the ladder spread-eagled.
“Like Jesus on da cross,” Hardbar commented, looking at the parka figure. Then, his accent faint, he said, “serious, can you swim? I really can’t.”
Tray bong, tray bong…
This started out as a FaceBook reply but then outgrew its welcome.
In the “Fat Chance, Toews” department, I have hired a London editor; a young freelancer named James McKnight. He has a book out, a historical novel called “Letters from Erzurum”, and a degree from Cambridge. That’s likely good enough for this son of the prairie sod. I am not sure, but a sharp Seattle editor referred me to James and he and I have hit it off! So away we go.
James is helping me to edit all of my short stories, old & new, and pull them into a collection to pitch to publishers. Also, based on my editor’s encouragement, I am 29K- words into a short novel. Irrevocably bound. This new story has some Menno bones but is not solely of that ilk. I toil on my novella almost every day and having a pro editor makes it much easier to keep track of a longer piece like this – most of my short stories are around 3.5K.
Why a UK editor? Of my 40 published works in lit mags, the biggest or best editor/reader response so far continues to come from the UK & Ireland and California, where perhaps 1973 rural Manitoba has a certain ALIEN appeal.
I yearn for Canadian uptake, but I still need to work for that. I remain optimistic, especially with James screening the goalie.
Characters based on the unforgettable Chuck Toews, my grandparents, Pete Vogt, Breezy, and petty crooks in the North End intermingle with various passing Schnooda-Rotz-näs folks. These fictional cast members are fresh and compelling, so I am told. I should have known – having grown up with them, and all.
James also puts me through prose-writing exercises and is a strict, relentless editor. (I am earning my “McFA”.) That’s valuable to me – a would-be author who spent most high school English classes building up an inventory of life experiences in the LaBroquerie bar and other institutions of ‘higher’ learning. NOT – I now sadly realize – availing myself of the teachings of Voth, BoPeep, Gunner and others fonts of literary know-how in the SCI/SRSS. The last 20-years writing ad copy for fenestration companies (bor-ringggg) further skewed and flattened the earth for me, literature-wise. Still, I was, “part of the creative economy,” I would remind myself.
Life is good. I am too young to retire (actuarially and optimistically) so it makes sense to have something hard to chip away at. Am I right? Damn rights I am!
I exercise, build stuff, fix the stuff I have built along with other broken, aged bits & pieces of the 1950 cottage we heat through the winter. I write several hours a day. For a break, I feed the birds and shout at the TV. I shout at Trump, who is like an uncharacteristically vile Pine Grosbeak who has somehow tricked the forest creatures into naming him king. I try to read a bit, too. Oh yeah, and Canucks games, when the lords of SportsNet deem it worthy to broadcast out to the wilds of Manitoba.
Writing gives each day added shape and substance. If James can mould me into a better writer, I will benefit from the effort. If he pulls off a long shot and I am published, then I will greatly benefit. Either way, I’ve made a new friend and one with a younger, non-Canadian, non-Mennonitisch outlook and that’s a win even the King of the Pine Grosbeaks would envy.
A new story. Two men in fictitious territory on Fictive Dream.
by Mitchell Toews
On our first morning I got up with the dawn. I sat on a stone bench, still cool from the night air, and peeled the store labels off my new boardshorts. The local avifauna kept me company. They chittered and squawked, upset at my intrusion.
An emissary male blackbird – curious, or angry, or mocking; maybe all three – landed close by. Fixing me with an unblinking white sequin of an eye, the bird gave me the full range of its vocal repertoire. Piercing passerine whistles, abrupt diphthongal clicks, feather-puffing, squeaky-door creaks and various complicated combo arrangements; it really “gave me the heck” – or that’s what our daughter would have said. I’d heard of the breed’s bravado, and here was persuasive evidence that all I’d heard was true.
We had similar birds back home. Red Wing Blackbirds – so common in Manitoba that when I pictured…
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My new editor is putting me to work. “Drop and give me twenty, maggot!”
Writing Exercise: Dialogue
“Hey, take a picture, it lasts longer!”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to stare. That’s a lot of aluminium you have there.”
“I am the best can collector on all of Portage Avenue, Mister Skinny-ass Bus Rider.”
“I’ve seen you out here a few times. I remember you.”
“Are ya sure now, pards? There’s a lot what looks like me, ya know. I mean, don’t we all kinda look the same – all the bums, that is?”
“Well, I never said you were a bum.”
“You mighta well as, Bus Rider. Bus riii-iii-iiider, ”
“Pretty good singing. Call me Matt.”
“I’ll call you shit on a stick if I wanna call you shit on a stick. What would you do about it? But never mind that, answer my question if you can. And speaking of can, boot that one over there to me… he shoots, he scores! Thanks, shit stick – I think I’ll call you shit stick. You can call me Cock Blessed, because I was blessed in the rooster department, swear to God-cuss at Moses, pards. Seriously; blue steel. Cat can’t scratch it.”
“Hey, this is my bus. See you tomorrow, Rooster.”
“Ha! Not if I see ya first, SOS!”
“Hey. See that guy there – the one picking the pop cans out of the basket on the street?”
“Yeah, the guy with the grey scarf and the mismatched boots? So? Was he givin’ you a rough time or what?”
“Nah, he’s harmless. He’s noisy and comical, but my guess is he has issues – that’s for sure. Whoa! Hang on! The driver is in a hurry today! Anyway – about that homeless guy, keep watching along this side. Look for one with a red jacket.”
“One what? Like a beggar or what have you? Alright – whatever. But I doubt that I’m gonna see, hey! Son of a gun. Okay, there’s a guy with a red jacket up ahead.”
“Yeah, yeah! That’s him. Now, think of that guy back where I got on. Remember what he looked like.”
“Yeah, right. Long hair, big beard. Short. Looked a little like Charles Manson? Hard to forget that mug.”
“Ha! Exactly! Manson – yeah, that’s perfect. Now take a close look at this guy with the red jacket when the bus pulls over. Look at his face, man.”
“I know! Can you frickin’ believe it?”
“That’s crazy. Are they…?”
“As far as I can tell. I mean, I don’t know them or nothing. I kept seeing the guy on my way to work and then again at five. I saw him a lot, if you know what I mean. It got me thinking.”
“No doubt. Holy crap! I’m gonna check it out on the way home tonight. See ya!”
“Excuse me, young man? That fellow who just got off the bus. Yes, the one you were talking to. May I ask, is he your twin?”
My story, “Nothing to Lose”, has been chosen for a print anthology in England. American writer-editor Charlie Fish–an expat living in London–has published the online literary zine, Fiction on the Web, since 1996. In that time he has published more than one thousand short stories by writers from around the world. Charlie is publishing a print collection of his favourite stories from FotW‘s 21-year history. Book sale proceeds will go to a London hospital charity: Guy’s & St Thomas’ Foundation Trust. The anthology will be available for purchase in the new year (2018).