Friday, July 20, 2007

Happy birthday, Paula!!

Today is my bestest best friend's birthday. My BFF, as my teenaged daughters might say. But she really is. Paula is one of those friends you can go three months without talking to, and when you do reconnect, you just pick up where you left off as if not a day had passed.

Paula and I met in sixth grade. We went to different schools, but our two elementary bands came together for concerts twice a year and Paula and I were the tall, skinny blonde flutes (with a crush on the drummer) who wore big plastic glasses and had long straight hair. Somehow we sensed an affinity even then.

When we got to be eighth graders, we started playing in the Junior Band in the high school and sat beside each other every day. Together we thought up Fantasia-like images to go with the music we played and occasionally I would draw them to make them real. She gave me a nickname--I'd always wanted a nickname--Mur. I was her first friend ever to have a step-parent. I was probably also her first friend ever to live in such modest, modest means.

When I turned 15, my stepfather took a job as groundskeeper at the local country club and we moved into an empty hundred-year-old farmhouse on the ninth fairway (after moving out all the bales of hay and bags of fertilizer) that was only about 100 yards from the green. Golfers frequently "played through" my flower beds and occasionally my parents' bedroom. Paula's mom worked at the clubhouse (was it Wednesdays?) and she came with her most days. Summers found us crashed poolside. Summer evenings we would prowl the empty course and clubhouse and see what telling abandoned objects we could discover, what vending machines we could get to dispense, and then tell our secrets sitting on the diving board, swinging our legs and staring into the deep end. Two large trees on the practice range became our respective "houses" and we would call each other on our twig phones and talk about our fabulous husbands and children (twins, of course, a girl and a boy). Did we have jobs in our imaginary futures? I can't remember.

As we got older, we went on double dates, performed in school plays, agonized over boys, shared hotel beds on school trips...and shared secrets. Always. We had slumber parties--oh, how I loved her happy, raucous family--and "shopped" our way through every Sears catalogue that came in the mail, drooling over what we wanted, decrying the "geeky" stuff (gag a maggot!). We both watched helplessly as someone we loved gave in to the lure of alcoholism.

Today, we share parenting joys and trials, a love of good, wholesome food, strong and meaningful (but hard-won) relationships with our respective spouses, and absolute devotion to family and friends. Paula is my bosom buddy, my bestest, best, and if I could say one thing to Paula today (actually, I've already called her and talked for an hour and a half, but you know) I would say this: "Honey, you...are my shining star--don't you go away." ;)

I love you, PaJane!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


In June of this year, Press 53 released Curtis Smith's most recent short story collection titled The Species Crown. Smith is also the author of the novel An Unadorned Life and two previous short story collections, Placing Ourselves Among the Living and In the Jukebox Light. This was my first chance to read a book of his, but it will not be the last one I read. I so enjoyed this collection.

Some of the stories in The Species Crown are lighthearted, always a nice touch in short story collections, which can tend to be a bit on the dark side. One of my favorite stories was "My Totally Awesome Funeral" first published in Hobart. Although written in the first person, there's a wonderful twist of an implied directive, the storyteller directing the reader to celebrate his passing--when the time comes. Here's a sample: "Drink another just because you can. After my wife and son have gone to bed, let the hardcore partiers hijack me for one last ride--shotgun!--and no matter the season, roll down the window and let the wind lash my hair." It manages to be a raucous celebration of death that makes the reader smile. How often can you say that about a short story?

Another story I especially liked was "The Real, True-Life Story of Godzilla!." It's a third-person tale of Billy Glenn, a washed up semi-pro basketball player who gets conscripted to join a Team America style group that will play throughout Japan. When that ship runs aground, Billy--because of his height--finds work playing Godzilla in grade B films. He finds love, then loses it unexpectedly and ends up spending his days searching through the eyeholes of his Godzilla costume, looking for lost love.

My very favorite story--I'm certain of it--was "Vacation in Ten Parts." The descriptions put me right smack in the middle of a floundering marriage desperately attempting to find its footing in the shifting sands of the Caribbean. The supporting cast of characters all ring true as fellow desperados on a flight to or from somewhere--no one is quite certain. The second-person lyricism throws it all in high relief: "Study your wife through the fine scrim of mosquito netting. Peaceful, her slumber, her legs tangled in crisp, white sheets, the cotton ripe with the ocean's briny scent."

This collection is so rich and varied, so skilled in the many different voices, locales, and points-of-view, that I was sad when I reached the end--always the sign of a great read.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ron Currie Jr.

If you read one review for my friend Ron Currie's just released book God is Dead, read this one. It's an excellent, insightful review and the reviewer clearly "got" the book. Go Ron!

No Reason Not To

I have a newly published story up at the lovely e-zine Southern Hum!