Motherless Brooklyn, 1999

The narrator of this Jonathan Lethem novel, an orphan afflicted with Tourette’s, is handpicked along with a few school comrades for exploitation as black market stooges. The opportunity frees them to work on street education degrees where coursework involves the detective mystery that is coming of age. I had briefly confused Jonathan Lethem with Jonathan Franzen, both peers of David Foster Wallace, Franzen a close friend and Lethem Wallace’s successor teaching creative writing at Pomona College. A used copy of “Motherless Brooklyn” had been gifted to me a few years back but it found a place on a shelf unread, and when I recently pulled it out to take a look, I wondered where I’d picked it up, thinking it was probably from the free library book box down on the corner, but opening it read the thank you gift note handwritten to me. Sometimes writers or books find their way to readers unready or caught off guard. We often think we know what we want to read, what will be good, what will be good for us; we just as often don’t. “Motherless Brooklyn” is about words put into action, plot as call and response, setting as streets and commerce, alive with verisimilitude easily mistaken for fantasy given its enjoyment.

Inventories

Part human, part deity, these working gods are restless. What happens when one wants out? Episodes of a god on the run, “Inventories” is now available in paperback book format. “Inventories” first appeared here, at The Coming of the Toads, near daily installments over several months in 2020, a quarantine exercise. The text was revised for this book publication first edition.

ASIN : B08VM82YRK
Publisher : Independently published (February 2, 2021)
Language : English
Paperback : 190 pages
ISBN-13 : 979-8702891125
Item Weight : 9.4 ounces
Dimensions : 5 x 0.48 x 8 inches

Lightning Balls over Puget Sound

Skid out. Conversation with a cop. At home with Sylvie. Lightning balls over the Sound.

A hard rain falling, still blocks from Val’s Club, through the red light at the Seneca exit coming off the freeway, spin out of control and slide into a flooded work zone, taking out an orange CAUTION sign, and the engine dead, and I push to the nearest curb out of the water, not quite clearing the lane, hog’s tail sticking out. I try to kick the engine over a couple of times before surrendering to the waterlogged fact. I reach into the saddle bag for my briefcase, thinking I can run the rest of the way to Val’s Club, and wake up to a blue and red light show and a uniform walking toward me. License and registration, please. The young fuzz looked to be under twenty-one. More fate. A ’56 Buick 6 full of sailors speeds past. Fuzzball gives them a glance but doesn’t seem interested, repeats, license and registration, please. Very polite, very determined. The fuzz is super starched, but getting wet. And there’s now a backup examining my bent license plate. What seems to be the problem, officer? I mean, I’m sort of in a hurry here. Very late for a very important meeting with some very influential people, if you know what I mean. License and registration, please. But what’s happened is, the city needs to clean the crap out of its storm drains. What’s happened is, I’ve asked you for your license and registration. Yes, sir, I say, deciding a little compliance might soften the starch. You Charles Murphy? Yes, sir, though as unsure as ever, but decide not to get into that with him at this point, my collection of identifications. Tie Your Own Trailer Park, Mt. Si Road. Is that your current address? Yes, I say, thinking, one of too many. You know, Mr. Murphy, here in Seattle, we like to think of stopping at red lights as the law, and not merely a suggestion. Ray is a veteran Seattle PD detective. We were in the Army together, buddies in Vietnam. Sounds cliché, but true story, so I’m using it to get out of a jam. I was a clerk typist. Ray was a grunt promoted to sergeant, result of his optimistic volunteerism, otherwise known as MF crazy. But he credits me with saving his life out on a walk for a late evening smoke one night. I suspected Ray of being a god even then, before I knew much about the gods, just the stories Mom raised me on. Ray saved my life one too many times. He kept throwing me in and pulling me back out. Slowly over the ensuing years I began to realize that the gods make mistakes. A clerk typist just doesn’t see that much action, get into that many fire fights. Anyway, Ray’s out in the rain tailing the fuzz newbie in a training exercise, and while he doesn’t save my life this time, I am let go, as the saying goes, with a warning. Back home on the upper balcony with Sylvie and a bottle of Pinot Noir chasing one of Pinot Grigio and we’re playing a game of whiffle ball with lightning balls made on Sylvie’s magic cop spindle trying to hit the islands in the Sound. The rain falls and falls as thick as the Anything Goes chowder Sylvie whipped up for a simple evening of sitting out and bouncing lightning balls skipping like rocks across the Sound.

“Lightning Balls over Puget Sound”
is episode 7 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads

Hacked and Gobsmacked

Late for a meeting. "extreme and unusual risk." "hacked and...gobsmacked"

I was late for my meeting with Walter. I had some explaining to do, but I wasn’t in the mood for working together as a team in the spirit of cooperation toward common goals for the mutual benefit of all. Nor did I feel like throwing any bums a dime. I was their in house Risk Manager. Walter was itself a Risk Management Brokerage, specializing in extreme and unusual risk. Sometimes avoidance was the best answer. I rode down Pine to First and over to Pike to the Market and looked for a place to pull the Harley over and park. Cleo nodded I could squeeze into the space in front of his international news stall. The rain had stopped, the clouds still low and grey and blue and hanging bushed like wads of cotton candy over the diamond. Out on the water a ferry would be approaching, carrying Walter from his The Breakers West on Bainbridge Island. I was late with my quarterly report. We’d been hacked and I was still too gobsmacked to explain it. Walter would want to know who, when, what, where, why, and how. “Damned if I know,” was not the answer he’d want to hear from his six digit plus bonus contracted Risk Manager.

“Hacked and Gobsmacked”
is episode 2 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at 
The Coming of the Toads

The gods Get Bored

 Riding Harley in the rain in Seattle. Ball lightning. The gods.

I throttled my green gnarly Harley across I-90 from Bellevue, wind chopped waves blowing over the wall on the south side of the bridge, the water as smooth as a coffin lid on the north side. I raddled through the last tunnel and merged onto I-5 north to downtown Seattle. A glob of ball lightning looped out of a smoke ring cloud hanging over the ballpark. The ball lightning bounced across the closed roof. The baseball stadium looked funereal. No game tonight. The winter circus was in town. On nights like this the gods might get bored and when the gods get bored no amount of prayer satisfies these clouds of gluttony, the local paradise filling like a wet basement. Why so many gods, I don’t know. Even the Catholics (and I am one, though maybe not a good one, whatever good means, but as Reverend Mother Mary Annette never tired of telling us, once a Catholic, always a Catholic), who profess belief in but one God, pray to the Saints and Mary and the rest, who seem to function much like the old Greek and Roman gods, one for every need or desire, one for every occasion, one for every problem, one for every predicament. A god for this, a god for that. A god for the nice, a god for the mean. Finely balanced too, the old gods, but like an unequal arm balance, some more powerful than others, leaving it to the mortals to try to balance things out. Still, evens up: one for light, one for dark; one for water, one for air; one for love, one for hate. Always meddling in human affairs, though, these immortals. Sure seem to get in the way all too often. Always wanting something, too, a piece of the human pie chart, insatiable. Why do we keep calling out to them? Was there a Saint of scooters? Could use a prayer to him now.  Dear Saint Scooter, please get me and my Vespa downtown safely, as an 18 wheeler passes at twice my speed, his mud flap cowgirls waving and laughing. God of lead, god of gold. God of the meek, and god of the bold. God of yes, and god of no. God of hot, god of cold. God of bought, and god of sold. God of gods, who never grows old, oldest of all.

“The gods Get Bored”
is episode 1 of
Ball Lightning
a Novel in Progress
in Serial Format at The Coming of the Toads