Elster's World

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The Road Less Travlled Part III

NOTE: PARTS I AND II CAN BE FOUND BELOW:

State trooper Ted Frick approached the wreckage like a hunter advances on a trapped, wounded puma. It wasn't like he was worried about Keller's ghost climbing out of the crushed front seat. Rather, years of experience with highway wrecks had given him a healthy fear of leaking gas tanks and sudden explosions. He would never forget seeing the burned out body of Big Mike Banner, who had lost control of his roadster on a rainy June night and crashed into a retaining wall on the side of the Alexander Freeway. The fuel tank had exploded and lit the night up like an endless streak of lightning against a pitch black sky. Banner had burned alive in the front seat of his car. The officers and paramedics who tried to pull him out said to the man they had never seen anything like it. "He looked like overdone toast," was how fellow officer Cory Patterson had described it. Frick had nodded at the time. There had been nothing else to say.

Frick had no intention of joining the burn unit for piece of garbage like Keller. He walked a slow circle around the car until he was sure that there were no fires or visible gas leaks and then approaced the car. The driver side door was slightly ajar, probably opened by the van driver. Frick came close to the window and tried to peer in but the combination of the dusky light and gore on the window made it impossible. So he took a deep breath and flung open the door.

After the wave of stench rolled past him, he leaned in. The driver was right. The medical examiner would be taking Keller out of the car with a pair of pliers. Keller wouldn't be getting an open casket funeral. Not that there would be too many people mourning the loss of a dirtbag like Horatio. Except the dealers who sold him heroin of course.

Frick heard sounds of sirens in the distance. Ambulance and other units. Nothing got the local cops to a scene faster than the promise of fresh blood. They would have some great stories to tell their poker buddies tonight.

He looked at the blown apart body again. A wave of nausea rolled over Frick. He walked five steps from the car and let go of the pastrami and rye he's had for lunch. Jesus, he thought to himself. The local guys are gonna love that. But screw them. Keller looked like he'd taken a run through a meat grinder.

Frick got himself together as the first cops were getting out of their units, ambulance right behind. He wiped persperation from his forehead. Well, there was going to be a mountain of paper for this one. But as the vice cops would say, there was one less junkie on the streets tonight. Of course, there would be ten more ready to jump into the breach. He shrugged. That wasn't his problem. Maybe the van driver had it right. Kill all the druggies and let the Man sort it out. In the meantime, Frick was looking forward to a hot shower and a good baseball game. he'd seen enough death, at least for one night.

The End.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Road Less Travelled Part II

YOU MIGHT WANT TO READ THE PART I OF THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED (BELOW) FIRST. THEN AGAIN, YOU MIGHT NOT.

Patrolman Ted Frick reached the scene about five minutes after the first of four 911 calls to the station house. He pulled his unit up on the grass and flicked on his brights. In the current gloom of evening the high intensity beams had no effect but after the last rays of sunlight fell below the horizon, he would need them.

He stepped out from the car and surveyed the damage. He could see the skid marks where the car had lost its battle with the road. Pieces of Mustang littered the embankment like the discarded clothes of passionate lovers making their way to the bedroom. Frick shook his head and returned to the car. He radioed in a request for an ambulance, but he knew it was a waste of time. Nothing human could have survided in the twisted metal that now looked more like some abstract sculpture than a muscle car.

A white van with the words Alderson's Retirement Village was parked on the side of the road. A man, presumably the driver, stood on the grass smoking an unfiltered cigarette. He wore three quarter length jean shorts low on his waist and a white t-shirt with a skull and the words Kill 'Em All and Let The Man Sort It Out on it. Fricke walked over. "You call it in?" he asked the smoker.

He nodded. "Yeah. What a mess. I checked it out. You're gonna have to ID this dude with dental records. You could clean up his remains with a mellon baller."

"His name was Horatio. His 'Stang gives him away. He was a drug dealer's wet dream. Always looking to score and always flush with cash."

The driver took a deep drag on the cig. "You better what where you fling that, partner," Frick said. "Crashed cars have a nasty tendency to spill gasoline all over the place." The driver took the unfinished butt to the road and carefully crushed it out on the pavement. He looked uncomfortable.

"Well, if it's all the same to you officer, I gotta fly. If I don't get the coffin walkers back to base soon, they're gonna be a lotta wet seats in that van."

Frick nodded. As the car pulled away, Frick took one last look at the dying light. He pulled a flashlight out of the patrol car and flicked it on. The strong bean cut through the gloom like a beacon out on a fog banked ocean. It was time to take a look at the wreckage.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Road Less Travelled

At some point in the evening, the sun dropped down on the horizon and blazed orange, purple and gold across the violet blue sky.

But Horatio Keller was barely able to process the road in front of him, let alone the gift of twilight set forth like an Impressionist painting. He swerved and veered on the rain slicked surface of Highway 54 with the zeal of a man on the run from demons you can never escape. In reality, he was just another lost junkie, hopped up on cheap brown skag and crystal meth. The beggar's combo was shooting through his system, feeding him with the sense of omnipotence and disregard for mortality that can only be felt by those with great power or those fueled by the Devil's Brew.

His re-tooled 1987 Ford Mustang roared around a sightless bend on the wrong side of the two-lane road, narrowly missing an eighteen wheeler making the long southern run from Bangor, Maine to Atlanta. Blood was singing in Keller's ears like a siren's song, blocking out the deep shout of the truck's horn and, more importantly to Keller, rational thought. The roar of the overworked engine cut the stillness of the sunset.

But it's always the most foolish of people who end up making their own beds. Usually they shoot themselves in the foot and occasionally, they even burn out in a fantastic blaze of light, like a shooting star across a cloudless, clean night sky. People with humanity and goodness only hope that the innocent don't get folded in together with the guilty.

The low slung monster had been running forty-two miles over the speed limit when Keller tried to pass a souped-up Jeep Grand Cherokee when a van full of elderly people returning from a day outing popped into the edge of Keller's consciousness he slammed on the brakes and tried to jam his way back into the right lane. The Mustang fishtailed so violently that Keller lost control of the wheel and the car raced off the road and into a tree filled embankment at over ninety-five miles an hour. The car travelled with the force of a .45 shell ripping through hollowed-out rotten wood.

When the local medical examiner completed peeling what was left of Horatio Keller from the inside of the twisted remains of his car, there was barely enough left to fill a brown lunch sack.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Forget and Forgive - Even After the World Came Crashing Down

When Charles Barkley was still a member of the Philadelphia 76ers, he was once being heckled by a fan during a game. After enough verbal torment, Sir Charles hocked up something nasty from deep within his game-worn lungs and spit at the heckler.

Unfortunately for the Round Mound of Rebound, he missed his target and hit an (I think) 8 year old girl instead. Of course, Barkley was villified in the press. He followed up this wonderful act of human behavior later in his career by throwing a guy who was bothering him through a plate glass window outside a restaurant.

But Sir Charles is a funny guy. He makes people laugh. By many accounts he is a pretty good guy, too. In fact, I doubt many people even remember the spitting incident or the throwing incident. When they think of Barkley, they think of the funny dude who co-hosts the NBA on TNT with Chuck and Ernie.

Why do I mention this? Because for the last two nights, the wife and I have been watching an absolutely fascinating show on the Discovery Channel (History Channel??) about the events leading up to September 11, 2001, the event itself, and the post-September 11 fallout.

And I'll be honest with you. As I sat there reliving the horror of that day - the planes hitting, seeing the towers go down in a hail of crumpled metal and smoke, the confusion on the streets, the confusion on the news - I thought to myself: You forgot.

People are all about moving on. Forgive and Forget. An Italian buddy of mine at work once told me that it was time to let my anti-Germany feelings go. I responded to him - Wait 'till someone kills over 6,000,000 of your people and see how easily you let it go. I will never forget.

Sometimes you need to forget about what is politically correct and focus on what's right. Why do we hate radical Islam? Why did the United States bring war to the borders of Afghanastan? Because of Sepetember 11 - Because Osama Bin Laden and theTaliban killed almost 3,000 people in the fiery crashes of four planes, 2 tall towers, and the E-ring of the Pentagon.

And no, I'm not going to debate with you whether or not the United States "deserved" it. Can 3,000 innocent lives lost ever be deserved? This wasn't "collateral damage", the sad consequences of a planned out military strike, this was pre-meditated murder.

So the next time you settle into you comfy leather recliner, flick on TNT and watch Sir Charles mugging for the camera remember this: It might be ok to forgive a fool for spitting on a girl but it is never ok to forget and forgive evil.

Evil lurks around us waiting for us to forget. Waiting for us to let our guard down again. Evil waits until we have "moved on". Then evil strikes again. And again.

And then, fools that we are, we ask ourselves why....

Writer's Block

What is it that scares you? I have a healthy fear of lots of different things. I fear snakes, posionous spiders, random acts of violence, drunk drivers, flamed out meth heads and, of course, vampires.

When it comes to writing, I don't fear failure, though I do worry about it. If I don't succeed at getting a book sold or something else published, it will upset me greatly. Maybe beyond full recovery. But still, I don't fear this.

What I do fear, though, is losing "the spark". What makes someone creative? What allows James Lee Burke to write book after book using prose that I cannot even imagine being able to write? What allows someone to put his thoughts on the paper in a way that grabs the reader like a sudden hand from out of the dark? It's "the spark". Some people have it and some don't.

Now, I don't claim to be anything more than a hack (though secretly i have great aspirations for myself). But I have some spark in me. I can feel it inside me, like the smallest of fluttering flame caught in a storm's strong wind. I want to protect that spark more than anything; to nurture it and feed it until it becomes a full-bore fire. I want to produce great things. I want people to read my works and think, "hey, that was really good".

But deep down in places I try not to think about, I fear that - one day - what little spark I do have inside me......................will go out.

Monday, August 22, 2005

The Journey, Part I

Many a past Elster blog has centered on my complaining about the lack of progress in getting my recently completed manuscript seen by the Right People (i.e. agents, publishers, people who can actually gt it in book stores). Accordingly, many a past comment on Elster's World has centered on people's helpfull suggestions/sympathy/shared war stories on the same topic.

Over the last few weeks a couple of things have happened. First, I read a book on how to get published. Second, a period of bad luck on the ol' Jewish calendar has passed.

So I've decided. No more bitching and moaning. Now it's time for action. The only person who can get my book to these mysterious and hard to get to Right People is, well, me. And for all of you out there who have shown an interest in a comatriot, this is for you. Every time I take positive steps towards my goal, I am going to record them on this blog in entries called The Journey; hopefully the journey of a manuscript from being written, to getting an agent, to getting a publisher, to becoming a bestseller and, finally, for me to sell the movie rights to Miramax for a cool three million dollars.

So here was tonight's progress: I re-drafted my cover/query agent letter, stuck in some sample chapeters and the SASE, and sent out the new and improved package to three agents. Tomorrow night, the plan is out sent three more. And so on.

Cross your fingers everyone...

Friday, August 19, 2005

Your Time Is Gonna Come

A word of warning to the wondeful souls who form my "fan base". If sports, especialy football, is not your thing, then for you I quote the great wizard Gandalf the Grey as he hung from the Bridge of Khazad Dum: "Fly you fools!"

Ok, for those of you still with me (and I mean you, Joe), I present for you Elster's 2005 Guide to the New York Jets!

Yes, that's two exclamation points in one post. And I hate exclamation points. But damn, I love football. So for all of you who don't care, that's ok, I care for all of you. Feel free, for your own sanity's sake, to stop reading now. For everyone else, on to the show.

The 2005 season has a little bit of a different feel to it than previous seasons. Bill Parcells began a process of re-establishing the Jets from lovable laughingstocks into a Real Football Team. (Though he took them to within a half of the Super Bowl, I always thought Parcells' best coaching job for the Green Machine was the following year, when they went 7-9 after losing Their starting quarterback and backup running back in the very first game. n Yom Kippur no less. But I digress).

However, the real changes have come under the Herm Edwards/Terry Bradway (and Mike Tannenbaum, not only mentioned because he is a member of the tribe, but because he is a "cap guru") era. Thanks also to the Deity Known as Donnie Henderson (or DKADH for short), the Jets finally have the feeling of a real contender. Coupled with some major body blows to the Patriots defense, there is a feeling around camp that making the playoffs this year will not be enough. That the goal of this squad is 2006 Super Bowl or Bust. Well hell, count me in boys.

The Defense:

The Jets defensive line took a major blow when Jason Fergeson defected for bigger bucks in Big D. The initial reaction of Those Who Know was that the Jets would have a weaker defense with the subtractionn of the run-stuffing, space eating man-child from Georgia. But recent whisperings say that DKADH likes his three headed, no name monster filling that spot. And if it's good enough for Donnie my friends (that means you, Joe), it's good enough for me.

The rest of the line will stack up the same. Dewayne Robertson and his bad knee, Shaun Ellis and John Abraham. (For the time being, let's assume Abraham will be back in camp and I will not be taking him out with a high powered rifle. - More on this later.) Even without Fergie, this has to be one of the better lines in football right to left. And I haven't even counted James "Tank" Reed.

The outside linebackers are solid, if unspectacular. The Victor Hobson/Mark Brown combo is acceptable. Eric Barton plays with an edge. I like that (though don't get me started on his roughing the passer penalty from last year - just don't get me started). But what makes the unit above average is middle LB Jon Vilma - He is a man. A playmaking machine. Perhaps, dare I say, the next Ray Lewis? Enough said.

The secondary is much better than it was last year. Davis Barrett was one of the most underrated corners in football last year. No, I'm serious. Stop laughing, he really was. Ask reknowned football pundit Paul Zimmerman, who was thisclose to voting him into the Pro Bowl. On the other side is The Law. We hope and pray that Ty resumes to "shut down corner" status. If he does, he's probably the missing piece.

Erik Coleman and some three headed combination wil man the saftey positions. Shrug. it's all about Ty back there.

The Prediction: Year 2 of DKADH's defense should be slightly better than last years despoite the loss of Jason Fergeson. So far, so good.

The Offense:

The line: The left side is a year older. Kevin Mawae is a year older. I don't think the Jets have lost as much as people think with Brandon Moore and Adrian Jones, who's replacing the guy who went to the Giants. See, I forgot his name already. The key, as usual, is Mawae. Is this the year that the unquestioned leader of the line finally breaks down? If not, the line rocks.

Running Backs: It all starts and ends now with 32 year old Curtis Martin. The ageless one led the league in rushing last year. Will this be the year he finally breaks down? Probably not, he really is a marvel That being said, look for him to slip from last year. Derrik Blaylock was a nice pick-up, though he's no Lamont Jrodan. Overall, with an older line and the loss of Anthony Becht, the rushing game will probably be weaker than last year.

Wide receivers/Tight ends: Laverneous Coles is back (beter in every way than Santana) and Juatin Mccareins is cemented on the other side. Wayne Chrebet (and his extra padded helmet) shouild slot in nicely with those two guys, Jerricho Crotchery will be a great fourth wheel. I'm pulling for Chas Gessner to win the 5th job, mostly because his name is Chas but also because that would mean we have a guy from Brown AND Dartmouth on the team. So even if we suck, we'll be smarter than the other team.

Doug Jolley was a great pickup. The one thing lacking in the Jets offense last year (besides a strong shouldered QB) was a vertical tight end to stretch the middle of the field. I used to bitch and moan about this every week. Ask anyone. Well someone listened. Now they have one. Now al they need is someone to get him the ball. Which leads us to.....

The Quarterbacks: Yes, I have been dreading this with each passing sentence. Chad, what do we have with you? Are you the hotshot who had one of the greatest seasons in recent history or are you the innusry prone, weak armed QB who managed to dupe everyone into giving you a huge contract? Well, everyone's betting on the former.

If Pennington is right, the tools are all in place. He has more targets than ever, including his favorite in Coles. He has a vertical tight end and a number of really solid pass catchers out of the backfield (BJ Askew and Jerald Sowell). The running game will still be solid. All we can do now is hold our breath and see what happens.

Oh and massive kudos to Terry Bradway for bringing in Fiedler. If history has shown us anything, it's that Pennington won't play 16 games this year. Fiedler is the perfect stopgap. And besides, how many teams have won Super Bowls without a Jewish player on the team? How many? Er, forget that last one.

Special Teams: Nugent is an upgrade, Westhof is another genius, yada yada yada.

Coaching. You have Diety Donnie. You have Hermdinger (who, if nothing else, is an addition by the subtraction of Paul Hackett). You have Westhof. All great coaches. Herm is one of the classier people in football and an amazing motivator. unfortunately, he can't coach actual games. let's hope that doesn't play a factor. Um...

So wow, this post really was long. It's even boring me. I don't think I'm even going to proof this thing. Is the Super Bowl a possibility? Absolutely. I see the Pats being weaker and I see Ben Roethlisburger being worse in year two than year one. Am I predicting a Super Bowl? No. The Jets have to prove that this won't be another season of "same old Jets". Talking is done. You have to show us.

Now, onnce more and with feeling: J-E-T-S, Jets Jets Jets!!!!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

At the beginning of my frightfully long commute home from work this evening, I frantically pulled the ipod from out of my bag and mainlined it in my ears like heroin through the veins of a junkie. Tonight's selection, classic stuff. The Beatles. I mean, who doesn't like The Beatles, right?

But it got me thinking. Why do I listen to music? Why does anyone listen to music? What is it about the sounds, the harmonies and the lyrics that grabs us and keeps us coming back? Why do some people take the soothing sounds of Miles Davis while other prefer the harsh crunch of Metallica?

I started listening to music in earnest in high school. Started with bands like The Beatles and moved into Zeppelin, Floyd and a host of others pretty soon thereafter. For me, music is about how it makes me feel. How it makes me fly, makes me soar, makes me sad. How it lets me be someone else even for just a few moments. It might be a John Lennon lyric which takes me away, it might be Jimmy Page's guitar solo on Achille's Last Stand. It could be the words to Fat Old Sun, which to me sums up all that is great about summer.

It's also why I could never get into other types of music. It never made me feel the same way. Classical, jazz, Jewish music, to me simply don't stack up.

People's musical tastes are generally a reflection of who they are. When I was younger, if you were a disaffected youth worth your salt, you listened to Nirvana, Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. I don't know the modern day equivlant because I'm stuck in a 70's time warp. To each their own I say.

But music is a gift. For me anyway. In it I can lose myself from the loan documents I was reviewing and from my a-hole bosses. I can listen to the sounds and let them transport me somewhere far away.

That's what music does for me.

Oh, The Places You SHOULD Go

Tonight's quick thoughts:

The more I blog, the more I read other people's blogs. Blogging can be very reciprocal in nature; show me yours and I'll show you mine, if you will. I have stumbled across many a blog on my travels. Some are very good and very well read (with dozens of comments to prove it) and some are crappy and very well read (which leaves me scratching my head but heck, you simply cannot account for taste). Then there are those which are excellent reads, yet they remain about as barren and unspoiled as the Sahara in high summer season.

So, it falls upon ol' Elster to help put y'all on the right track. "Whoa", you say. "Who cares which blogs you like Elster? We all want to read what we want to read," you say. Well, you are all certainly right. Confusing, dear reader, but correct nontheless. But hey this is my blog and I can say anything I want, right?

Still, without further ado, Elsters top 2 Blogs That No One Is Reading But Should Be:

http://awhisperingsoul.blogspot.com/ - McAryeh's blog is funny, clever, insightful and, most importantly, well written. He is offbeat, intelligent and he has a lot to say about a wide variety of different topics. Go through his archives and I can almost guaranty you'll find something you will like.

http://tamponella.blogspot.com/: The ladies (girls? Women? I dunno) of Traditional Tomfoolery kick some serious blog arse. You have read all the blah blah blah seminary accounts, now read the one that rocks. Even more amazing, three girls in their (I think) low twenties who can flat out tell a story. That is MUCH rare-er than you think. Kudos. Not to mention the deliciously clever out-of-sequence method. And so you know, I'm not just a satisfied reader, I'm the un-official president of the TT fanclub. Ok, I made that last part up but still.

(Oh and one more thing: read TT in reverse order or you will be confused as hell. Actually, you might be confused as hell either way.)

So get on those links (I hope they work) and hit some awsome blogs. You will all thank me later. And if not, it can't be worse than the crud you just read, right?

Monday, August 15, 2005

Tragedy Follows a Day of Mourning

Yesterday I struggled to internalize the suffering of my people, thousands of years ago, on the saddest day of the Jewish calendar. Despite all of the thoughts I had read on how to make the old pain fresh again, as we neared the Ninth of Av, I was having trouble yesterday really feeling it.

So as it got on towards the afternoon, I decided that, instead of focusing on the past, I would focus on the present. The destruction of the first and second Batei Hamikdash (Temples) have touched each and every jew today in ways they (read: we) don't even realize. How many people have lost the path who would not have done so it the Temple still stood in Jerusalem? How many intermarraiges would never have come to pass? How would our daily observance be affected? Would we waste so much time following sports, watching TV or doing Lord knows what else with our time if we knew that the spirit of G-d was resting on the Temple Mount, seeing right through us? I asked many similar questions, but you all get the idea. None of us (or at least very few) are anywhere near where we might otherwise be in a "perfect world".

Still, I struggled to feel. Thank g-d I have not left the derech (path), nor has my family and my friends. Again, the loss seemed a little too far away. So, at last, I turned my attention to the following day, August 15, the day the expulsion of the settlers of Gaza was to begin.

Now I fully admit to falling outside of the "Orange" camp. I believe, right or wrong, in supporting the Israeli government (or any democratic government for that matter). I believe that, once the government decided that this course of action was the best course, then we must follow that decision despite the fact that we do not necessarily agree with it. (Personally, I believe this to be the correct course of action - however as I don't really feel like getting into it right now, that is all I will say on the matter.)

However, this does not make what has been going on today in Gaza any less of a Jewish tragedy. Yes, "Tragedy" is the correct word. Jews forcing other Jews from their homes. Protestors forcing soldiers from carrying out orders they have no choice but to follow. The very fabric of Israeli society being torn asunder in a cloud of bitter smoke from burning tires. All while the hordes of the bloodthirsty wait to celebrate on the still-meaty carcass of the abandoned settlements. These events are tragedies ladies and gentlemen, whichever side of "Orange" you fall out on.

And whether you are unable to internalize the suffering of thousands of years past - check the internet, find video of people being forced to leave their homes; homes that they have sacrificed for with blood of their relatives - and tell me then that you cannot feel it. Another churban is taking place right before our very eyes.

The American Civil War was once described as a "people's war, brother against brother". How much more so in the case of Our Homeland. Civil war in hebrew is "Milchemes Achim" - a war of brothers. We are of one faith, of one common thread. Religious, not religious, too religious - it all doesn't matter. We are brothers and sisters and children of the same parents. And this, my friends, is the saddest thing of all.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Stillwell House

The car came to a stop at the intersection of Route 63 and River Road, red brakelights lighting up the springtime dusk. From this spot, where the bottom dropped out of the hills, he could get a view of the entire town of Oak Valley.

The rented Taurus idled at the stop sign. He wasn't worried. In this part of the country you could wait an hour before another car came by and you'd hear it well before you saw it anyway. He put it in park and got out of the car

For the first time in over ten years, Chris Carpenter stared down at the place where he had spent the first nineteen years of his life. He took it in like a deep drag on the Chesterfields his old man used rip through, two packs on a slow day. Back before the big LC had put an end to that nonsense anyway. Not that the old bastard didn't keep smoking them, even as the Reaper's hands had finally squeezed his ash-dry lungs closed for the very last time when Chris was sixteen.

There beyond the trees, almost untouched by modernity, lay Oak Valley. He saw the skeletal remains of the mill, now years closed, where more than half of the town's male population had worked at one time. He saw Oak Valley High, almost five miles away, a one story brick structure that seemed lost in a time warp where all the old values still held true.

He let his gaze run down to The Fishkill river, following its curvacious path to the dreaded Deadman's Fork. Bear right on the Fishkill ye wily traveller's. If you took the left fork, you would hit The Falls, where Tommy Mularkey's brother had drunkenly tumbled over the side, crushed to death on the rock's sharp teeth below. "Horsepucky," Less Walter's dad would cackle whenever the story was told. "Tommy Mularkey didn't have no brother. He just had a whore sister who slept with every fella in Oak Valley high 'till the day she got pregnant with Bill Kinder's baby. After that their parent's made 'em get married and they moved away. To San Jose I think. Who really gives a shit anyway?" Then he'd take a swig of Miller High Life and that would be the end of that.

Chris smiled at the memory. It has been a long time since he'd thought about his old buddy Less. He wondered what had happened to him. Chris had gone off to college in New York City after high school, but Less was never much of a student. He had a beer gut and a full time job at the paper mill when Chris had loaded his two suitcases and worn backpack onto the Shortline Express; up north to A Better Place. Chris and all of his buddies had hugged at the bus depot, swearing oaths to keep in touch. That was the last time he had ever spoken to most of them. Chris felt a pang of regret for those things lost and got back in the car.

A wave of apprehension washed over him. He fought the urge to turn around; to go back to the place where he had made a life for himself. A great life. To go back and put this madness behind him. Chris closed his eyes and took five deep breaths. Then he counted to ten, put the transmission in drive, and started forward. He hadn't returned for a trip down memory lane. He had come here, no been drawn here, for a reason. He had come to find out was had happened in Stillwell House.

Stillwell House. Just the words put fear into every Oak Valley-er. Jason Stillwell was the wealthiest man in Oak Valley. He owned the mill, the outlying farms, and the mortgages on just about every house and business in the town. And he was about as unpleasant a sonofabitch as there could be. His nickname was the Mean Ol' Bastard. If you were talkin' 'bout a mean old bastard in Oak Valley, you were referring to the infamous Jason Stillwell.

When I was eight years old, Whitey Trellis, who had just lost his house to Stillwell's bank, filled his belly up with county moonshine and took a ride out to where Jason Stillwell and his family lived. Well on this particular summer evening, Stillwell's family was vacationing in their summer home. As the story goes (and no one was around to verufy it except for Whitey Trellis, who was at this point loonier than a drunken monkey) Trellis begged Stillwell, alone at the house, for an extension of time to make good on his loan before foreclosure. Stillwell told him to remove himself from the grounds before he called the sheriff to do it for him. According to Trellis' own account, he told The Mean Ol' Bastard that he'd give the sheriff a reason to come out there, pulled a snub nosed .38 Police Special from his waistband, and pulled the trigger six times. Stillwell was dead before he hit the ground.

While you'd have thought no jury would convict him, Whitey Trellis died of lethal injection three years later. Justice was slow but sure in this state.

As for the Stillwells. Grace Stilwell, Jason's wife, took his horrible death as a sign. After an appropriate mourning period (three weeks) she liquidated every asset Jason Stillwell had and made a break for Los Angeles with her two kids and over seven million dollars in cash. As for the house, it lay bare. She couldn't find a buyer so she had the furniture covered with sheets, boarded up the windows and that was that. The house lay empty, every year, the elements beating it down a little. Stillwell's house became Stillwell House. Then came the rumors. Of course they did. What kind of town didn't have its very own haunted house? But then weird things started happening there.

TO BE CONTINUED (Maybe).....

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Story Time, Part II (A Summer Storm)

The storm came at us with no finesse or grace, more like like an untrained boxer than a ballet dancer. All raw power and wild punches. The clouds blackened the daytime sky. Wind whipped though the trees, shaking branches and dropping leaves, as though Fall had suddenly sprung from the midst of summer.

The first few precursor drops of rain fell, fat and wet, striking the ground in an oddly abstract pattern. We ran for cover, some to the gazeebo in the middle of the park's green field, others under trees; until the lightning cut the sky with its violent electric pulse and drove them to more secure shelter. Thunder hammered and the skies grew angry and violet/black as night.

With a sudden gush, the heavens opened up and clounds emptied their built-up deposits upon the Earth in a violent frenzy of pouring water. It came in unrelenting sheets, as though there was a never ending supply to rain dowm upon the town.

But then, almost as quickly as it came, it was over. The torrential downpour became a light mist, as the final traces of wind blew the storm clouds out. The sky returned, an inspiring rain-washed blue. It's beauty hurt the eyes.

We came out of the Gazeebo, past the dripping overhand and onto the green grass. It was soaked in summer wetness. But we didn't care. The rain had come but it was gone. The day was ours once again.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Well Timed Rant

By trade, I am an attorney (insert your own lawyer joke here). As it happens, I hate being a lawyer. Not because all lawyers are scumbags (a very gross over-generalization), but rather because I hate the nature of the work, the hours, my bosses and many of the clients.

For the last six plus years I have toiled at this career, always assuming that something better was right around the corner and I would simply ram right into it like a deer in the middle of a country road.

So I waited. Patiently. Five years went by. And like an anvil, it hit me. There wasn't going to be a magic moment where my phone would ring and a dream job would be offered. Talk about going into a funk. Those were some dark times for Elster, let me tell you.

Talk to the average person who hates their job and ask them what they would do if they could do anything. Once you get past the professional baseball player, actor, model, general manager of the Yankees mode, they usually have no idea. "Um, I don't really know." Gee, no wonder so many people stick with their unhappy careers for so long.

Well, that was me. Except one day, I realized I did know what I wanted to do it I could do anything. I wanted to write books. I wanted to be an author. Well, that's kinda easier said than done, you know? But there's ony one way to set forth on the path to realizing your dreams; you have to set forth. And so I did. I took an old story that I had begun earlier and started running with it. Everyday on the train to and from work, writing on legal pads and then coming home and night and putting on the computer. Time passed. A year passed. And then...It was done. I had completed a draft of my dream. Almost 450 pages of dream to be precise (double spaced, fear not). Over 121,000 words. A true novel.

I re-read it, had my wife read it and finally a friend from work. I polished and cleaned it up like a '67 Corvette restoration project. Finally, it was done.

So then question became, now what? I had to get it published. No problem, I thought. It's good. Why be modest? It's damn good. Hell, I even have a friend who works for a publisher. So I sent it to her. That was four months ago. She speaks to me now and again but never even mentions the thing, except to say that she's really busy and will get to it when she gets to it. I'm afraid to push too hard because (a) she's my friend and I don't want it to be uncomfortable and (b) because she is my sole contact in the frosty world of publishing.

So now I have been trying to find an agent. I have submitted a query letter to eight agents. I've been rejected by seven so far. I have been told that it's common to get rejected as many as 30 or 40 times before anyone even wants to read your manuscript. So I plug on. I have no other choice.

Well, that's not the rant. This is: I always assumed the hardest part for me would be to figure out what to do with my life. But I did. Then I assumed that the hardest part would be to write the book. But I did (and it was easier than I thought it would be). But the truth is, that was all cake compared to getting anyone to even read the freaking thing. It pisses me off to no end. The book is good. I know it is. Yet it sits in one publisher's slush pile and no one else even wants to see it.

I'm frustrated beyond belief. I come to a job every day that I cannot stand and I plug away, doing things that I hate doing. Why? Because I have a family to support. Yet every day, my dream seems like it's slipping farther and farther out of my reach.

Which begs the question: Is it better to never discover your passion, or to discover it but fail?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Hope Springs Eternal

I love sports. Anyone who reads my blog can see healthy doses of sports (and popular culture) sprinkled in here.

And of all sports, football will always hold a special place in my heart. It is my favorite sport to watch, to follow and to play. I still play every Sunday from Fall through Spring (for the observant out there, from the week after Succos until the week before Pesach). Professional football is the best of all sports to watch because each game is so important. There are, after all, only 16 games on the regular season schedule. Not 80+ and not 162. Every game is life and death so the intensity level is through the roof.

Why do I mention this now? Because training camps are open, that's why! In Hempstead, New York, my squad, the New York Jets, are practicing twice a day in 90 plus degree heat. They are sweating and training and being yelled at (and perhaps suffering from severe dehydration too) so that when the real action begins in early September, they will be ready to play at the highest level on Sundays.

The Jets made the playoffs last year and were a missed Doug Brien field goal (2 actually, the bastard) away from playing the Patriots in the AFC Championship game. Would they have won? Of course not. They would have had it handed to them. But still...

Anyway, we (read I) have high expecations for the team this year. The players have high expectations for themselves. They say nothing short of a Super Bowl is acceptable. I'm just looking forward to a good season, when the last 6 games mean as much as the first 10.

Go Jets.

PS: I have resisted the urge to do position by position player analysis because I'm afraid I might put someone nto a coma. So you're welcome.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Randon Thoughts For a Monday Morning

- I saw Sideways last night. Pretty good movie. A little overrated, though. What is with everyone's obsession with annointing "The Next Great Movie"? Take Lost in Translation. It made Sofia Coppola a media darling. But is sucked. Go figure. Sideways wasn't like that. It was actually pretty good, a nice enjoyable movie. But still, not exactly Top 100 material here.

On a side-note, Sideways was a little depressing for me personally because the Paul Giamato (Sp? - I'm too lazy to look it up) character was a first time novelist trying (and failing) to get his work published. Unfortunately, ths is hitting a little too close to home for me. Which reminds me, if anyone has experience with publishers or agents in the world of fiction, please let me know.

- Words that I NEVER thought I would say but did yesterday: "Honey, we can't put the new bedding on until we get a matching bedskirt." (Yes, I'm still shaken up about this) This after I spent the day painting my bedroom Fog blue. Looks pretty awsome by the way. (Maybe I should become a housepainter.)

- So Rafael Palmero is a juicer. Who would have thought? This one caught me off guard. He seemed like a model of consistency. Alas. Well, maybe it was justt the Viagra.

- I was going to post (after I write it) a short story about a possessed ice cream truck. But I'm saving it as the centerpiece of my collected short stories work (to be published in the Fall of 2011 or so, I hope). So sorry about that.

That's it for now. (And yes, when I say random thoughts, I am being very serious.)