“Deadbeat” in Down & Out Magazine, hate everywhere.

The crew at Down & Out Books keeps on bringing great crime fiction. Their latest is Down & Out Magazine, and Rick Ollerman edited issue number one. I’m proud that my story “Deadbeat” is among the stories chosen for the inaugural issue, along with tales by Eric Beetner, Reed Farrel Coleman, and Jen Conley among others. My story is a short about ironworkers high in the sky and how the past shapes you.

Links to all retailers carrying the print and ebook versions are available at Down & Out Magazine page.

This week at Do Some Damage, I talk about writing the nature of hate and evil, the dangers of too much sympathy, and when some mystery is better.

And in light of recent events, I’d like to share this photo I took during my visit to Germany. This is the site of Hitler’s bunker. It’s not a memorial, it’s a parking lot. That’s me giving the finger to him. Not quite as dramatic as Groucho Marx dancing on his grave, but let me make my feelings clear, if you haven’t figured it out from Jay Desmarteaux calling the white supremacists in prison “Hitler Bitches” … if the “14 words” have meaning to you, if you believe the U.S. is undergoing “white genocide” … head over to Life After Hate and begin your journey from embracing evil to joining humanity. And if you’re on the fence, or think “both sides” are guilty… watch this Vice ridealong with the hate groups. Watch with care, you can see when terrorist James Alex Fields Jr murdered activist Heather Heyer with his car.

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My work in progress explores hatred in the New Jersey suburbs. We have a history of Klan and Nazi activity, and were the HQ of the German-American Bund prior to the war. Those people all just disappeared after the joint FBI-KKK raid on the Bund camp, I am sure.

Veteran’s Day

homeless man in flag

Seen last night in the Haight district of San Francisco.

Let us never create more veterans than absolutely necessary.

Let us take the best care of every veteran we create.

Sending Off a Soldier

My great-uncle Dominic, one of the inspirations for “Grandpa Butch” in Blade of Dishonor, and one of the men to whom I dedicated the book, passed away this month in his sleep. His son Richie, a Vietnam veteran, held a memorial to his departed father this Sunday. Family and friends filled the VFW hall in Nutley, where Uncle Butch sang karaoke, just a few weeks prior.

Uncle Butchie, as we called him, was an unforgettable character. Six feet tall, sporting a Stetson and a handlebar mustache that would make him the envy of every hipster this side of Portlandia, he also possessed a booming voice and a bottomless collection of jokes and yarns, usually just slightly off color. His favorite involved adultery, a refrigerator, and a Volkswagen.

He was a man of great heart. I still remember his New Year’s Eve parties. Dancing with Aunt Josie to Hank Williams. At his memorial this Sunday, two mellifluously voiced bikers sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart” in his honor. And shortly after, “Taps” was played, to send off the old soldier. Dominic served in World War II. Some of his training was done in the South. Maybe that’s where he picked up the hat he wore for years, and his manner of speech. He didn’t have a New Jersey accent. He was full-blood Italian, but always looked and sounded like he walked out of a John Wayne picture. Though he did roofing and plumbing, and drove a white Town Car a mile long, you wouldn’t have doubted it, if someone said he had a cattle ranch and had just roped a steer.

Much of the family gathered for the memorial, including his brother Jimmy. The last of his brother and sisters. As they say, these events are for the living. To set in our minds the man who left us, and remind us of those we still have. I was honored when my cousin Corey, Uncle Dominic’s granddaughter, asked to use my dedication for part of the photo memorial, including the photos of uncles Dominic and Jimmy at the book premiere. Here it is. You can read the full dedication here.

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He will not be forgotten. He touched so many lives, helped so many around him. He danced and sang until the week he died, well into his nineties. He was steadfast and loyal but always had time for a good laugh. A good example for all of us.

And here’s that joke. I wish I could tell it like he could.

Three men are in line at the Pearly Gates before St. Peter.
“Okay, I need to know how you died, to see if you can get into heaven.”
The first man says, “I was just taking my Volkswagen convertible out for a drive. I pull up to a stop sign, and boom! I woke up here. I don’t know what happened.”
The second man snaps, “He don’t belong here. Let me tell you how I died. I’m a hard working man. I work so hard, I forgot to bring my lunch bag today. So I go back home, and when I get to the door, I can hear my wife is in there with another man! By the time I get the door open, she’s pulling her clothes on, but I see his socks, by the open window! He’s out there in his convertible! I’m so enraged, I pick up the refrigerator, and throw it out the window on top of him!”
St. Peter goes “Hmm, well, stand over there, I need to think about you two.” He turns to the last guy. “What’s your story?”
The man shrugs. “Well, I was hiding in the refrigerator.”

Like I said… if Uncle Butchie told it, you’d be laughing.

I’ll miss you, Uncle Butchie. Thank you for being the man you were.

Here’s some of my family and me, at the memorial. Great Uncle Jimmy in front, my Uncle Paul to the right (he’s getting the next book dedicated to him!) and my cousins lined up behind. Richie, Butch’s son, is to the right of me.

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Touring a Restored B17 Bomber

My stepfather loves aircraft, so when I learned that a fully restored B17 would be landing at Essex airport, we spent the afternoon visiting and touring this living relic.

b17 wingspan

The Aluminum Overcast is one of a dozen remaining B17 bombers. It never flew in World War 2, it was built in 1945 and scrapped for $750 after the war. It was restored later, and is now toured by the Expeditionary Aircraft Association. A tour is ten bucks. A flight… well, that’s $475. A little steep for the both of us, especially since they want a full plane before taking off. They regaled us with a story of a rich woman who paid for a full flight for strangers just so she could go up, but none of us had five grand to spare.

b17 nose art

The B17 isn’t as enormous as you might think; it’s very tight in there, especially getting through the bomb bays. I made it through twice, to the plane crew’s amusement! I’ve got the beer belly but I am a grappler. I’m used to tight squeezes and flexing into contorted shapes, like crabwalking beneath the fuselage to get photos of the ball turret.

B17 squeeze

My friend Peter joined us later, that’s him in the bomb bay. He’s a 30 waist or something. A human javelin. I was more at home manning the sidemounted M2 .50 caliber machine guns. They only had a minute’s worth of ammo, to reduce weight. I easily weigh twice as much as two of the crew members would. These were small, young guys.

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Here’s the rest of the photos, including the dual .50’s on the tail gun pod, and some closeups of the propellers, and the infamous ball turret where if the hydraulic systems were down, the unlucky gunner was unlikely to be able to get out, and became the landing gear.

b17 ball turret

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In Memoriam

WTC 1995

I was working in Manhattan that day. Well, I would have been, if I hadn’t been late. I worked near 53rd & 3rd, immortalized in the Ramones song about a male hustler, from their debut album. So far away from the horror. I grew up with the Towers in my skyline; we lived on a hill where they poked through the trees, across the river. My heart still clenches thinking about that day.

I memorialized it in my work in progress:

I joined up on my eighteenth birthday, after the planes hit and Manhattan smoldered like a blindfolded man’s cigarette at an execution.

That’s what the city looked like for a month or two after the attack. Riding the DeCamp bus in on the Lincoln tunnel loop, I saw it, breathed it, every day. We all did. They replayed the strikes on TV so often I can see them between blinks, even now. I think many of us suffered trauma that day. Some more than others of course, but enough that the country as a whole is very different than it was the day before. What I like to remember is how we came together afterward, before the fear settled in. Everyone gave blood, everyone chipped in. I lost my job shortly after, right before the holidays, because my employer was headquartered in Israel and their stock plummeted. Now they’re doing great, they got into surveillance. I’m glad I moved on. My grandmother broke her arm that year, the first stumble down the spiral before she passed on a few years later. I’d just returned from living in the Midwest, and everything felt like an omen. It was a rough couple of years for us all. My friend Johnny, who joined the Marines as a reservist the day he turned eighteen—inspiring Scotty, the character in my WiP, above—was eager to go to Afghanistan and fight the Taliban, but Iraq? Not so much. We’re still recovering from that misadventure. Many fought bravely there, but for what? It looks like we’re returning a third time. Then again, if you follow history, we’ve been mucking with the Middle East for a lot longer than that. What’s the answer? I’m not sure. But I think our move toward US oil and renewable energy is good first step to staying out of the nation-building (and destroying) business.

We’ve neglected the homefront for a decade, our roads and bridges are collapsing, our people overworked and underpaid (wages stagnant, profits soaring). We’ve barely rebuilt what the terrorists destroyed. I hope in the next decade we’ll focus more on that.

I like this old photo, I’m chubby and innocent and hopeful, having just graduated from Rutgers. My friend Tim is in the background, my friend Jim took the photo. It’s 1995, the Internet boom (and bust) was just up the road. And so was 9/11.

 

 

 

RIP, Louis Zamperini. Beyond Unbroken.

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Today I pay respects to Louis Zamperini. Olympian. Member of a WWII bomber crew. A hero who survived a brutal Japanese POW camp, and went back to FORGIVE “the Bird,” the man who beat and starved him for years in an attempt to break his spirit.

I pay him homage in Blade of Dishonor for his unwavering perseverance. Rather than let his hate consume him, he pursued what to many of us would be the unthinkable, and lived a long and prosperous life because of it.
Read the book UNBROKEN before the movie comes out. Who knows what they’ll change. The book was written by Laura Hillenbrand with his assistance.

The full obit on NPR.