Monday, April 7, 2014

Rejection? I'll Pass

I was warned that breaking into the writing business would be tough. I'm fully prepared for that. While clacking away on the ol' Dell, sometimes I can't help feeling guilty. Imagine getting paid for sitting in climate-controlled comfort and discussing anything which comes to mind. Heck, I know some folks who pay a lot of money for the same experience, only they're free associating, and some bearded analyst is calculating, hourly, how much closer he is to pumping up that French Riviera vacation fund.

Writing is a hobby for me. It doesn't involve paint, glue, or a sports jersey with a number of my favorite athlete (Troy Polamalu, because you wondered.) I can write about anything and everything, and I do exactly that.

That, of course, leads to more rejections than Fred Phelps at a K.D. Lang concert. This morning, I was expecting a "let's soften the blow" kind of turn down. I guess that's why I was in a bit of a funk when my best song-and-dance attempt at marketing myself was met with "I'll pass" by a paper famous within a hundred miles of a neighboring state.

I'm pouting. I'll admit it. I really had my heart set on a letter in my mailbox informing me that my masterpiece -the one over which I had labored dearly for almost forty-five minutes- would be returned to me with "doesn't suit our present needs". Then, of course, I'd have had something to hang on my wall in complete tongue-in-cheek tradition. I had envisioned hanging it directly under my bachelor's degree, which has enough stories of its own, including glottal stops, Freudian emotional defense mechanisms, statistical analyses, and handcuffs, the latter being used in response to an epic manic outburst one evening. The rejection, complete with the editor's signature, would have intoned a "welcome to the big leagues, kid. Sometimes ya strike out".

What does one do with an emailed "I'll pass"?

A great many things have passed through my mind regarding such a rejection. The first was to issue a how-dare-you, which seemed silly and pointless. I'm not saying I didn't express such feedback to the editor, but now it seems so trite as to make me wonder why I wasted my time providing such feedback to someone whom I'll never meet in the first place.

I then considered downloading the rejection and thumb tacking it to my wall, but that seemed kind of ridiculous. Among my degree and two beautifully displayed Steelers plaques, I didn't want to affix a paper rejection to the drywall.

Then I hit on an idea: I'd visit a frame shop, design an appropriate-sized frame, and have it cut down (an appropriate choice of words, considering) to the proper size. The frame will approximate perhaps an inch and a quarter by a half of an inch. (That might be the right size, considering the total number of frames I'll likely need in order to display the number of rejections I may be getting.) In the spirit of deadpan humor, "I'll pass" will be framed, lovingly, by mahogany and covered in the finest glazed sheet of glass -a tribute to the "I'll passes" which will no doubt come my way almost every time I submit something for publication.

I'm not giving up. There are over nine thousand papers across the U.S. I like the odds. Eventually landing a writing gig will be well worth the large number of editors passing on my column submissions. I can't help feeling optimistic. Worries about rejection?

I'll pass.
 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

On Writer's Block And The Blob: An Urge To Ramble

I think I've discovered the secret to overcoming writer's block.

That isn't something to be taken lightly. Since the initial sense of self awareness among our species, someone has always had the urge to record or to express any given portion of the human experience. Through the millennia, any number of historians, poets, and guys named Jerry have sought to share with readers, present and future, accounts of epic battles, elections, economic trends, or simply to share the mood which plays among the romantic who suffer from insomnia during full moons in the springtime. Among the latter, in fact, such deeply moving words as "the beauty of maidens' flaxen hair/Is lovelier than Tupperware" have led to untold numbers of eye rolls among sixth grade boys called upon to read aloud in English class while their friends were scolded by exasperated by teachers for making flatulence sounds by hands tucked in armpits.

Occasionally, however, even the best writers in history have experienced writer's block.

It's usually at this point that I resort to the Blob.

I saw this movie on YouTube several weeks ago. Filmed in 1958 when milk was real and kids named Biff drank it under the watchful eye of their mothers, this movie has special effects which are so laughable, by today's standards, that one wonders why it hasn't been reassigned to the humor genre.

Imagine being in a movie theatre late on a Friday night. There's a monster movie marathon, ironically enough. The aforementioned Biffs and their dates are having a keen time, golly-gee'ing their way though "Attack of The Thirty-Seven Foot Tall Garden Gnome II" when an odd concoction from outer space first devours the projectionist and then seeps its way down the projection room wall and into the audience. Willing suspension of disbelief, which is the goal of any movie whose budget exceeds a hundred bucks, comes into play until Smucker's finest grape jelly begins glomming onto those unfortunate enough to be lunch. "It was awful!", says Steve McQueen's character about the experience. We hold back a snicker because we can hardly expect something as lame as a chief component of a PB&J to induce Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In the end, they discover that the Blob cannot withstand cold even though it traveled untold millions of miles though a temperature of absolute zero, which promotes outright guffaws and a knee slap or two.

For my money, it doesn't get any better than this movie. I first watched it in 1968 after school on the Early Show. While I get a solid laugh about it now, when I was seven this same movie induced a bit of PTSD in me. This was observed by my mom, who came into my room to wake me up for school and scolded me for having covered the floor vent with a small area rug, most of my favorite toys, and all of my textbooks in a vain attempt to forestall the amorphous mass from dissolving me during my sleep. (I had a field trip the next day, and didn't want to miss it.)

I have peace of mind now. For the past several days I've come up empty regarding a topic. Still, I'm hardly the first person ever to experience writer's block. It's nice to know that there's always something to write about, even if it's a fifty-six year old, low budget thriller. That the film allows me to ramble as freely as the Blob flows is a pretty sweet thing. Even though that last sentence sounded hideous, it fits. My words are flowing again.

And the Blob is...











 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Gave It Up For Lint

Everyone has a fear of something. For some people it's a fear of heights. For others, anxieties caused by being cramped in tight places induces panic. For yet other folks, lakes and oceans send them screaming for the hills.

No fear is greater to me than the fear of spiders.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not talking about Daddy Long Legs -those little marathon runner-looking guys of the arachnid family. Heck,  for that matter wood spiders, for all of their ferocious demeanor, are very docile, preferring to mosey across your shoe, give you a look of greeting, and continue on their way in search of whatever insect they can call lunch.

No sir, Jerry. I'm talking about the very icon of eight-legged terror. I'm talking about the Black Widow.

This is the species of whom a representative decided to attack me one evening last summer, probably showing off his machismo for his friends. Sometime during the night I was roused from a perfectly good dream about taking a pizza break while starring in a truly awful movie. (I think my line was, "get me a taxi, baby" or something equally ridiculous.) The rhythmic, tickling sensation on the calf of my leg -a sense of something under the covers- was moving upward, taking its time and inducing a huge amount of stress for me. When I worked up the nerve, I flung the sheet and blanket while launching out of bed for the lamp. Sifting thought the bedding, I found nothing, but then I saw something moving rapidly towards the floor under the bed. It didn't make it. I think the last thing the spider heard, assuming they can hear anything, was a size twelve Rockport ushering it to a web in the afterlife.

The spider was smooth, shiny, and black. It had red markings on its underside. I had been bitten.

Despite the rumors that Black Widows kill people, the fact is that they usually cause pain more than anything else. In my case, that meant severe abdominal pain.

Following that incident, I carefully went through my entire home. I cleaned and organized everything, taking precaution as I went. All was well; door and window areas were sprayed with anti-spider insecticide, and the window next to my bed was sealed with duct tape. I had peace of mind for the next nine months.

(Hackneyed phrase alert) And then it happened.

While sitting down on the commode to take off my socks, I saw something on the floor. Something black.

Something moving.

It was moving quickly toward a stack of car magazines I read whenever I run out of ways to mentally solve the world's problems.

"Oh my G-" was all I could utter while jumping into the hallway, taking my socks with me as I went. Fifteen minutes passed while I looked high and low for the spider spray before remembering that I used it up in the great Raid carpet bombing of 2013. "Desperate times", I muttered to myself, reaching instead for some Right Guard. In no time, page 46 of Hot Rod Magazine, September 1982 issue, was protected from any and all body odor, and, hopefully, from any Black Widow visits. I don't quite know how to articulate the experience of sifting through all of those periodicals amidst a search-and-destroy mission. I can tell you that the process reminded me of a lesson I had in a statistics course which explained how, through systematic elimination of objects in a set of objects, one continuously increases the odds that one of the remaining objects will be the one chosen. Slowly removing each magazine from the stack increased my sweat flow.

There were two magazines remaining when I suddenly felt riveted to the bathroom floor. The black object was in view again, heading away from me in apparent search of cover. "NOT THIS TIME!" I yelled in my finest warrior's cry. I grabbed every magazine I could from the doorway where I had placed them, one by one, a moment earlier. Motion from the moving offender elicited the best kiap I could remember from the semester of Wing Chun I took at Radford years ago. "HOOA!" combined with the quick, downward motion of engine building articles, photos of show cars, and several advertisements for chrome valve covers.

It took a moment to scan the room before realizing that it didn't get away. The sense of accomplishment -of surviving- an ordeal in a hostile environment left me with a euphoric feeling as I turned over the bottom magazine to examine my prey.

There, spread out in all of its finest glory, was the most intimidating piece of sock lint ever poached by a mere mortal. My heart rate, my blood pressure, and my adrenaline were stabilizing themselves back to Andy Griffith Show levels, replaced by feelings of mild embarrassment. This former piece of fabric, which had once lovingly kept part of one of my toes warm, had gone rogue. Inflicting brutal psychological warfare on its former owner had temporarily given it the upper hand, so to speak. In the end, the lint was treated like any other would-be aggressor in my home, receiving the customary flush and dirty glare.

In the end, I had won a victory, hard fought and almost Pyrrhic. I had stood my ground. I had met the enemy head on and conquered it. The cotton remnant was no more.

I gave it up for lint.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

So This Is My Rant

The other day I was grousing (that means complaining about petty things, to those of you who live in Winona, Mn.) about inappropriate word usage. Specifically, I was whining about words which, when inserted in the wrong locales of sentences, make the speaker or writer sound as obnoxious as Gilbert Gottfried on fifty milligrams of Dexedrine.

Take the word "so". Not to advance the cause for prescriptive grammar, but I cannot, in mere words, express how utterly grating it is to me when someone begins a story -or even a paragraph- with the seemingly innocuous little word. The effects of  a displaced "so" are like a black widow's venom to my psyche. Even in the business world it has become common to hear the word being used in the same vein as a teeny bopper's slang. "So the first thing we want to do is maximize our floor space for customer service personnel" would induce me to setting myself on fire and throwing myself out of a fiftieth story window, were I to have to sit in on a meeting being addressed by Sally Sibilant.

Now, I can handle a sentence beginning with "So far..." without much problem, though by now I'd already be hitting the dirt when I heard "so" being issued. But the trauma which I've endured, ever vigilant for that word-turned-weapon, has taken its toll on me. "Come on, Adcox", some would admonish me. "Why are you obsessing over one little word? So what if -"

And there I'd be, coated in a cold sweat and gritting my teeth (and partial plate), having flashbacks to the days when valley girls popped bubble gum and "for sure'd' themselves into an inescapable linguistic nightmare. It's more than I can bear, thinking of such dark times.

I'm only human, after all.

Speaking of the whole, aberrant valley girl movement, these former adolescents never fully gave up their jargon. I have a theory that there was some covert plan to overthrow our way of life, and valley girls comprised the first line of a psychological attack. Manchurian candidates who were issued horrifying phrases in lieu of weaponry. That must be the case, since no one has actually seen someone being gagged with a spoon. Mercifully, that phrase was laid to rest decades ago. In its place, however, is the misuse of the word "like" which has been passed on to future generations from the hippie days. This word doesn't rattle me as much as "so", although its potential for obnoxiousness can only be measured by a staff of professional linguists, using highly sensitive equipment, at Brown University. There is no written record of its misuse in the eighties, but veterans of the decade recount stories of fraternity brothers bandying about such phraseology as "Dude! That geology lab quiz was, like, tough!" during a Friday night kegger.

Despite my beefing, I'm all for free speech. It isn't up to me to police someone else's words. Even so, I feel compelled to modify one of Tip O'Neill's quotes: your right to butcher the language ends where my ears begin.  Feel free to speak your mind about anything you want to, but don't be surprised if you see me throw myself on the floor and cover myself with an area rug where the aforementioned words are concerned. Language is a wonderful thing. I pray we keep it beautiful.

 I can handle Spanish slang better. Maybe that's because I have no vested interest in a second language. So with that in mind, I think I'll head over to Taco Bell.

They have, like, the best steak chalupas.


 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Valiant Saga: A Slanted View

Recently I experienced a maddening bout of bidding on a well known auction site. Up for grabs was a plastic model kit of a car I've been searching for for decades. The model is of a 1961 Valiant. Not styled with the elegance of a Mercedes, the car nonetheless holds a great deal of sentiment to me; my dad had a '62 model, which is almost identical.

Now, I always pictured myself behind the wheel of the car which dad affectionately referred to as the "Red Baron" for its color and its never-say-die attitude. In fact, it was that very attitude which indulged my cravings for the old Plymouth.

Take the engine; the Slant Six, so-called due to its number of cylinders and its right-leaning design, is known in the auto industry for its uncanny durability. Nonetheless, ours discovered a way to "window" the engine block. That's as bad as it sounds. When a connecting rod suddenly becomes free from the engine while the car is running, it has to go somewhere. In this case it went right through the block. I remember staring, with morbid curiosity, as the tow truck operator dropped it off in the driveway in front of my very stoic and patient dad. "It's just one of those things", mused my father the next day. Without hesitation, he rented an engine lift, went to a junkyard across town, and bought another engine. Ten hours later he had reliable transportation once again.

That lasted about four months. It was mid spring when the second reliable slanted motor began issuing rather overt cries for help. Dad first noticed it when he started the car one morning and made the west end of our house disappear in exhaust smoke.

Ever patient, my dad climbed into our other car and made a trip to the local car parts store for an overhaul kit, followed by a tool rental store for equipment he'd need for the job. Another long weekend was spent watching my dad and brother strip and rebuild the reincarnation of the original slanted wonder. "Why don't we paint the engine Fluorescent Racing Orange?", I queried, only to be met with "Hush, run downstairs to the tool room, and get me a 9/16" socket. It should be behind the tool caddy". These trips up and down the stairs led, prematurely, to the strongest knees you'll ever find on anyone not trying out for the Steelers. It was during this weekend that I discovered my name isn't Rob. It's Get Me. "Get me..." was issued ninety-seven times over that dreadful weekend. I couldn't understand why dad thought I was being sarcastic when I finally loaded up the wheelbarrow with all of his tools and brought them up to the driveway. "NO, knucklehead", said a man who was finally beginning to show his human frailty. "I don't need the drill. Or the ball peen hammer. Or whatever this thing is" (referring to something which appeared to be a double-handled bottle opener with a forward sight from an M16 welded to it). "Get me the wrenches."

Two long days of being in awe of seeing the inside of a car engine for the first time, dad turned the key and fired up the Red Baron again. I'll hand it to him; being a former Chrysler systems engineer he really knew his way around cars. I fully appreciated the beatific smile spreading across his face at that moment. For a precious few seconds, we recognized having overcome a very difficult challenge. We had grown. And we were victorious.

That victory was sweet for the next few months. One evening, an elderly man decided that his Oldsmobile would look better with the Valiant's grille planted directly in the side of it. Having pulled out in front of my brother, he realized, too quickly, his error.

That realization was followed by another trip across town for some replacement fenders, hood, and grille. I think dad was actually relieved this time. Body panels don't need to be rebuilt. They simply need to be bolted on. The forward frame rails, which secure the front bumper, needed to be straightened out. To this day I'll never know how he did it, but dad not only straightened them but even aligned them -with a sledgehammer. Dad, by now, was beginning to run low on his "let's-rebuild-the-car-again-this-weekend" budget, so he chose to modify the front bumper rather than replace it. In an effort befitting his natural determination to keep things operating, he hacksawed the center section of the bent bumper off, grinded the edges of the right and left sides of the part, and made bumperettes which almost gave the Valiant a custom car look.

We had been down this road, so to speak, so many times that no one in his car pool was surprised when he showed up in a red, white, and black Valiant with the center section missing from the bumper. His work mates were all engineers. I don't think any of them was very interested in aesthetics, in contrast to our neighbors next door. Mrs. Griffin, in particular, was having her prize roses judged while the wine-filled ambience was aided by occasionally issued vulgarities, the cadence of the sledge hammer, and beer cans tossed behind the car. In the end, the car was made roadworthy, and there was peace.

In the real end, the axle developed expensive damage. I did get to drive the car once, however. In fact, I was the one who drove it to a local gas station where it would be met by another tow truck for its final destination with the salvage yard. I like to think that someone rescued the poor thing, repaired it one more time, and painted it to its former glory.

In reality, it's likely refrigerator in Akron by now. That's sad. That car had undeniable character.

I hope refrigerators don't throw connecting rods.




 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Road Rant

Boy have I got a beef.

Okay, not a filet mignon kind of a rave, but even as a metaphorical seventy-three percent lean hamburger kind of complaint it's legitimate enough to write home about.

Look, folks. I know we got clobbered with a foot and a half of snow. I get that the roads, though plowed, still have very little room on the shoulders due to the plows displacing the heavy precipitate  there. What I don't comprehend is the need to hold up traffic, by means of driving at twenty miles per hour in a thirty-five mile per hour zone, because Marge just knows that the first ice cube-sized piece of ice her 1978 Subaru's tires contact will cause her to careen out of control, thereby striking two other cars, barrel rolling down a long hill, and bursting into flames Ala Rockford Files reruns.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for traffic safety, especially when icy conditions prevail. In this case, the ice had turned into water no later than nine A.M.  That's why Larry, who was positioned two vehicles behind me in his ominous black Dodge Ram four wheel drive, decided to echo our sentiments by honking his one-hundred forty decibel horn. Who knew that would motivate you to accelerate at a rate replicating top fuel dragsters at the Winternationals? Don't worry, though, Marge: those of us whom you were delaying decided to turn the other cheek. In fact, Larry and I decided to take up a collection to pay for the speeding ticket you got when you decided to average out your elapsed time on Penn Forest Boulevard by attaining fifty-five miles per hour.

Being of Irish descent, I'm familiar with flashes of temper. In no time I was over the little bit of frustration the poor woman left me with by the time I got to the traffic light at the intersection of 419 and McVitty Road.

That peace of mind lasted for two and a half minutes. It was at that moment when the fifteen or so drivers behind Ralph slowly became aware of something which the Kia driver didn't: the traffic light was locked green for drivers on 419. We poor McVittyites were stuck with an apparent eternally red light.

Ralph, of course, wanted to turn left.

While the rest of us did a slow boil reminiscent of CIA psychological endurance training, the poor man at the front of the pack endured approximately five car horns, several irate motorists voicing their opinion of his decision to turn McVitty into a single file parking lot, and a chiding from someone's Weimaraner. What I originally thought was the sun bursting through the clouds turned out to be the light bulb flashing over the man's head as he eventually realized that April will be here before that light changes. In a spectacular display of self-sacrifice and bravado, the intrepid Ralph thrust his sedan into the middle of the intersection and went for broke. Cars approaching from both directions swerved, with professional deftness, to avoid our leader. It turns out that the other fifteen of us had business which required a right turn. While no one was shouting praises to Ralph at that moment, yelling of a certain kind was still being issued by at least three of us.

I'm thankful that I was able to navigate my way through that whole affair, not that I had anything more important to do than head to the drive thru at Burger King. The King has re released the Rodeo Burger. Good stuff. It was worth the aggravation to get there.

I could have taken Brambleton Avenue, but decided not to.

Too many drivers were in bad moods.





 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Litigation of Lawsuits, Lawyers, And Lingerie

I'm sick of lawyers.

Allow me to qualify that statement. I've had my fill of attorneys who prey on businesses which haven't demonstrably violated anyone's rights. This morning, while watching the news, I was assaulted by "if you've taken anti-psychotic medication and you're a man who has grown breasts, you may be entitled to cash compensation".

I have problems with that statement. First of all, a man who's both obese and who has used the drug in question can claim that the pharmaceutical manufacturer both carelessly and neglectfully forced him, indirectly, to make an extra stop at Penney's for Maidenform's finest on shopping day. Who's to say his lifestyle doesn't include regular consumption of a dozen glazed doughnuts while taking his meds? Maybe he would have been a perfect 38 DD even if he weren't psychotic.

Then there's the issue regarding the suit itself: the law office in question has, in all likelihood, determined the approximate maximum amount of money to sue the manufacturer without making it cost-effective for that manufacturer to dispute it in court. The drug company knows that Beatrice Blabbermouth -the bleach blonde on CNN- simply craves "news" like this. Free publicity isn't always the best. The drug maker, wisely, chooses simply to pay the greedy law firm.

That's right about the point at which I reach for my phone, overgrown child that I sometimes am, and revel in knowing that prank calls still live in 2014.

"Thank you for calling the law group of We're On The Next Flight To Costa Rica. Are you calling about breast issues associated with Nameless Anti-Psychotic medicine?" My initial instinct, of course, is to tell the answering service that I quite like my breasts, and can they suggest a high quality bra manufacturer? I don't, of course, though in that brief moment I almost feel like I'm a brat again. "Hi, my concern is what type of testing was conducted to establish the claim you've filed with the court against the drug company." Noting the confused reaction she replies with with compels me to explore this a little further: " In order to establish that a cause-and-effect relationship exists between consumption of the drug and breast growth, potentially confounding variables must -must- be identified and removed from the laboratory. Without doing so, your law firm's case could be swiftly dismantled. Has your case been forwarded to the Food And Drug Administration, or at least the Federal Trade Commission?"

This question has Molly hemming and hawing as she scrambles to find the direct number for Harvey M. Gusenfutz, Esquire. "I'm sure he can address any questions you have, sir" is swiftly met with a promise to call Molly back in the event that the respected pillar of the community can't be reached for comment. "I thank you for informing me that this call has been monitored and recorded", I say to a woman who's already sweating profusely over not being able to process the average minimum number of calls, per hour, in order to achieve the nine dollar monthly bonus offered by Gusenfutz And Friends. Sure enough, Harvey is out of the office, according to his "I'm out of the office" greeting on his voicemail, which makes me wonder if he's simply some pasty-faced sociopath with a law degree from Knoxville Night School And Tractor Repair. "Harvey! Long time, buddy!", I begin. Let's talk science, my man. Now, about this little suit thingy you've got going. When you collected the data between enlarged boobs and psychotropic meds, did you go to a statistician for correlational data? Was a two by three factorial experimental design employed by a real scientist? Or did ya just drylab the numbers? Haha, just kidding there, Harv. Nice touch using those telemarketers. What kind of package deal did Manpower give you, by the way?"

Mr. Gusenfutz, believe it or not, still hasn't returned my phone call. That's okay, though; it feels good knowing that I addressed one of these slimy slip-and-fall specialists with enough light of truth to make him scurry like Peyton Manning in the Super Bowl. I'm satisfied for the moment. As I surf though the channels in a valiant attempt to find a "That 70s Show" rerun, I don't see any more of those horrible commercials. There is a lull in the battle. I'm intact.

Good thing, too. If I weren't, I might have to call Harvey back and ask how much that medication costs. And, if I had to guess, I'd say I'd be ugly in a bra.