A Short Story from a Few Years Ago

This is a short story I wrote in 2016, put in a box, and finally returned to complete.


Puffs of Smoke on the Porch


         We drive over to Grandpa’s house in the morning to be with Grandma. Ma makes me wear the collared blue shirt and a belt. We come in the red-pickup that Pa says is useful for the work that he only gets every now and then. His black hair is stringy from sweat — summer is hot in our town. I look out the window the whole ride over, wondering if Jimmy’ll be there too — my cousin. Ma just looks at her lap, crossing and uncrossing her legs under the red skirt. I wonder if she’s sad.

         Jimmy’s my best buddy in Lawrenceville. He doesn’t have a left eye. Lost it to a wild dog when he was five. The dog wasn’t so lucky — Pa shot the bastard dead the next day. Pa took his shotgun and a few shells, went out into the fields that the dog was roaming, and blew the damn thing’s head clean off. I was six then, so when I saw Jimmy’s black eyepatch, I knew he had to be my best buddy, because I wanted to be best buddies with a pirate. Last year for my eighth birthday, we had a pirate party, and Jimmy played Blackbeard.

         When we get to the house, Grandma’s standing on the porch with her hand on Grandpa’s rocking-chair. She’s mean these days, because Grandpa’s sick and because Ma says that Grandma has dementia, like the bad guys from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is the only Harry Potter we have on VHS. Jimmy and I like to watch it and get scared. We don’t like to get scared by Grandma though.

         I try to avoid Grandma’s eyes. Every time I come here, she yells at me. Grandma doesn’t change the usual. “You! There. Yes, you. You were supposed to clean the garden yesterday. Don’t make me find Old Man Wallace. He’ll whup you up and down the street.”

         Grandma calls Grandpa Old Man Wallace now. That started about a year ago, and Ma says to pretend she means Grandpa.

         I try to walk past her. She’s still too fast for me and grabs me by my ear. I look at Ma for help. Grandma notices and snorts. “No, I don’t care what your mother says. She’s my daughter, and that makes you my grandchild.”

         I’m upset, and I sound angrier than Pa says is okay. “You’re a mean grandma.” Then I twist away and run to Pa.

         “Grandmas ain’t all kindly, young man. Some of us have dignity. Your friends’ grandparents are soft. Very soft. They just want a kid to adore them in their old age.” Grandma calls into the house. “Don’t you agree, Wally?” He’s not there, because he’s in the hospital, but Grandma forgot. She’s confused when no one calls back. Ma goes over and hugs Grandma, but the old woman just shrugs her away.

         Pa pats me on the shoulder. “Run along now, Tom.”

         I run along into the house as fast as I can, because I hear Grandma getting angry and Ma trying to calm her down. That makes me feel bad.

         The house is full of knick-knacks. Knitted stockings on the fireplace in June. Grandpa’s cuckoo-clock that Grandma hates but keeps because she wants Grandpa to come home. There are three very old armchairs that Grandma keeps clear plastic on but never lets anyone sit in. It’s all the same as last time, so I run upstairs to Jimmy’s room. He doesn’t have a Ma or Pa, because they died in a car crash right after Jimmy lost his eye, so he lives with Grandma and Grandpa. At the top of the stairs, I hang a left. Then I look at my hands, make an L, and realize that I went right. So I turn around and walk down the scrunchy lime-green carpeting to Jimmy’s door. I knock. He doesn’t answer, so I open the door.

         Jimmy’s room is small, a closet really, with Ironman posters that have a previous owner; rickety, half-nailed furniture; and stuffed animals with stitches. Only one of them gets to sit on his bed: a dirty yellow knock-off Winnie-the-Pooh. It’s missing an eye, not from wear and tear, but from a scissor-cut. On the bedside table, there’s an eyepatch the same size as Jimmy’s — I think it’s for the bear.

         I reach out to touch the eye socket of the bear. It’s soft and fuzzy, and I wonder if Jimmy’s eye socket feels the same.

         “Tom.” My cousin’s deep belly growl frightens me because it sounds like one a real bear would rumble in the forest that Lawrenceville doesn’t have. “Don’t touch Teddy.”

         I turn to face Jimmy. He’s standing in the doorway. I say, “I wasn’t.”

         “You were.” Jimmy touches his eyepatch. “You touched him here. That hurts.”

         I look at my shoes. “I’m sorry, Jimmy. I was just curious.”

         Jimmy’s face is serious. “Being curious is why I don’t have one eye.”

         “Boys are supposed to be curious.”

         “Not too curious.” Jimmy notices that I’m feeling bad, so he grabs two beat-up action figures from his shelf. “Let’s go play.”

         We play Dynamic Duo outside for an hour before Pa calls me inside and asks if I want to see Grandpa. He keeps his voice down so that Grandma doesn’t get excited. I say yes. We get back in the pick-up and we go to the hospital. Ma comes too. When we get there, we go down a long white hallway and up white stairs. I ask Pa if this is what the Stairway to Heaven looks like. He laughs and says no, before he goes to the smoking-area. Then Ma opens the door to Grandpa’s room.

         The clock on the wall tick-tocks along with the steady rhythm of Grandpa’s breathing mask. Ma holds me back from the bed — she says the nurses will come take me away if I touch any of the machine buttons, even if they are shining in bright reds, blues, and greens. Instead, she says to hold Grandpa’s hand. I reach out for Grandpa’s thin, wrinkly hand and I squeeze. Grandpa doesn’t squeeze back like he used to.

         A knock on the door makes me jump. I whip my head around like a cowboy in a shootout, but it’s just Pa. He smells like cigarettes. Ma doesn’t want him smoking, but since Grandpa came to the hospital, she stopped yelling at Pa about it. I crinkle my nose at the sharp tar-and-tobacco-and-plastic stink. I prefer the smell of Grandpa in his house — soft, hazy clouds of sweet pipe tobacco. Grandpa hates cigarettes, calls them death-sticks, and can yammer on about the tar in them for hours while puffing on a pipe — kids at school call that old-school.

         Pa places his hand on Ma’s back and strokes it. “He’s costing us a fortune.”

         Ma pushes Pa’s arm away. “He’s my pa. I love him.”

         Pa throws up his hands. “He’s gonna die. Face it, Leah, he’s almost dead already. The longer this goes on, the less we’ll have for the funeral and so on.” I don’t like it when Pa called her Leah. It means serious talk and a fight. “Leah, he’s in a damn bad place. This can’t go on, for any of our sakes — including his.”

         One of the lights starts blinking. I reach over, press the bright red, and suddenly the machine stops breathing. I want them to stop and I want to talk to Grandpa — he can’t talk back with the mask over his face.

         A dozen noisy bells ring, lights flash, and the doors opens for a nurse, who looks like Ma but has dyed blonde hair. Pa doesn’t do anything, he just stands there, twiddling his thumbs. I get scared and run to Ma. She looks at the nurse. “I’m so sorry, Tom, he didn’t know, he…”

         The nurse ignores Ma and presses a button on the machine. The breathing mask turns back on. Then she talks to Ma and Pa. “It’s alright. I have a boy myself. The doctor needs to speak with you two.” The nurse looks at me. “Come along young man, your parents need to talk with the doctor.”

         I don’t want to go with her. “I’m sorry ma’m, please don’t take me away.”

         Ma nods at me. “Go on. We’ll be right out.”

         Pa pats me on the head. “It’ll be alright, son. Only a couple minutes.”

         After I look at Ma and Pa for their It’s Okay look, I go with the nurse. I wait outside for ten minutes, which I know because I’m counting. They come out and Pa says he’ll take me for ice-cream. Ma looks at him with that Lovey-Dovey look. Usually, I would want to have the chocolate fudge-top brownie Oreo swirl, but I don’t feel well. So we go back to our house.

         That night, I lie in bed, looking at the ceiling and imagining sheep until I decide that’s a stupid trick Grandma uses. As I try to come up with another way to fall asleep, I smell Grandpa’s sweet pipe tobacco coming in from outside the window which opens to the dark porch.

         I sit up straight and tiptoe to the window, looking over the edge. There’s Pa, puffing on Grandpa’s tobacco in Grandpa’s rocking chair. I feel an icky-lump in my throat that sinks to my belly, churns and churns, before coming back up as a bitter taste in my mouth. I clamber over the window sill.

         Pa snaps his head to me standing on the prickly, unfinished wooden boards. “Tom, go back to bed.”

         I point at the pipe. “That’s not yours. Put it back.”

         Pa raises his voice. “Don’t be rude, boy.”

         “That’s grandpa’s. You’re stealing.”

         Pa presses his eyebrows together and then he relaxes. “Come over here, Tom.” Pa pats his lap. I careful-walk over to Pa. “That’s my boy. Up we go.” Pa lifts me onto his legs. I feel bigger than I used to.

         Pa uses his serious voice. “I reckon I know why your upset. You miss your grandpa, and I’m using his things.”

         I nod up and down. “Yes.”

         Pa puts his hand on my shoulder. “Grandpa’s going to die in the next few weeks.”

         I feel bad, and a tear starts to fill up my eye, but I don’t check my hands to see if it is my left or right. Then I say, “I know.”

         Pa blinks and nods. “He has cancer.”

         “Like Davey at school’s Pa had.”

         Pa nods. “That’s right.” He puffs on the pipe. “This pipe is a way we can remember Grandpa. Every time we take a puff, we’ll think of him.” That makes sense to me, so I look at the pipe with respect. Pa passes it to me. “Take a puff, son.”

            I take a puff. The smoke tastes bad, and I cough, but then I smile because it’s Grandpa’s and I want to show Pa that I’m a big kid. I wish Grandpa was here to see me. I count the smoke puffs until I fall asleep in Pa’s arms.

A Workshop Short Story

I've been attending a writers' group held at the Hatchery Press in Larchmont (my neighborhood in Los Angeles). They've got a cool way to workshop: each person picks a random literary book, flips to a random page, and the first sentence their eyes hit is the first sentence of a short story. Below is one of those. I bolded the random sentence.

I would wear an extra-visibility onesie. A one-piece-rocketship-pajama get-up that would shock everyone in that Indiana parking lot except for the toddler who’d just say wow. But then his mom and dad would pull him off the summer asphalt and pop him into the high chair. I’d love to be a toddler. Your whole world’s censored from the big bad kid stuff, so all you can encounter is the cool stuff down where you’re at. You know, like the taste of playdough. Or a puddle jump. Or a cool 40 year old man wearing rocketship pajamas on Lafayette boulevard. Because that’s how it should be. I should be cool, walking up to the supermarket wearing my rocketship onesie.

Why am I in a onesie? Because I’m one of a kind, my guy, and I live life on the edge between being a child and being a manchild. Because I think Elon Musk’s rockets are the bees knees and I eat different flavored pringles in layers to create new flavors. Ever had the cheeseburger flavor? You take a pickle pringle and a bacon pringle and a sour cream pringle and WHAM you’ve got a cheeseburger pringle. I’m on a roll, my man. Prince Pringle, they call me on Reddit. Got a vlog and everything, got my little dslr on a tripod in my mancave making videos of pringle combos.

I’m guessing I’ve got about fifteen minutes before a cop grabs me and takes me away for being a grown man in pajamas in a parking lot. Then that toddler’s gonna think I’m a bad guy. His world’s gonna shatter and instead of all the little kid cool stuff he’s gonna see nothing but big bad kid muck. Muck muck muck. Should be a pringle flavor. But I’d rather have one that tastes like playdough. God that stuff’s good. Playdough pringles. I’m gonna be famous, I just know it. I gotta know it, otherwise I’m just some weirdo in flyover country brushing pringle dust off his t-shirt.

What I've Done So Far In A Year

Since October 2016, my life's changed a lot. I went from not knowing where I want to work, to knowing that where I work is less important than whether I'm making something worthwhile.

On the family front, both of my adult (crazy to think of them as adults) brothers are artsy like me, and unlike our parents. Matt Hosking is making strides in his theater program at Northeastern University, and Chris Overholser's band Night Tree is on the radio. Matt's also a great stage director, and I hope he gives film a go.

On the personal front, I've been in a relationship for over a year now. This is my first, so it's bewildering and wondrous at the same time. Viola's a wonderful person who is my opposite in many ways, but so very, very complimentary.

On the professional front, oh boy. Since I last posted a blog post in 2015, I've gone through a lot of iterations, from aspiring Unitarian minister to aspiring novelist and screenwriter. Now I'm actually living a few blocks from Hollywood proper. Paramount Pictures' studio lot is around the corner. I can see the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory from my and my significant other's balcony. I intern for a veteran producer - who has been a great resource and advisor. But I still feel pretty far from what I want to be doing full-time: making movies as a writer, director, or editor. Shoutout to anyone who needs any of those skillsets - hit me up!

I've now made four films in an "Above the Line" capacity. ATL can mean Atlanta or the group of people involved in a film from very early on as producers, directors, writers, or actors. Three of these films were made in close collaboration with my friend Ben Haven Taylor (yeah sets get a bit confusing having the same name). Plug for his superior blog: https://www.benhaventaylor.com. I produced on his Tufts Senior Project, "In the Off-Season." In return, he shot two of my films as cinematographer: "Dancing on the Yellow Edges" and "Better Off" (in post production). The fourth, made in March with my friend Ray Bernoff, was a documentary rather than a scripted narrative, and it won an award from the Association on Higher Education and Disability.

Better Off and Dancing on the Yellow Edges both starred my friend Joshua Gray, who is an amazing actor. We're working on a feature length version of Better Off these days.

Dancing on the Yellow Edges didn't do as well on the festival circuit as I had hoped. It was my first film as a director, so I try to not be too hard on myself, but it's still rough to see the rejections pile up. It will go online soon, and I'll get my Kickstarter backers their rewards thereafter.

I hope that Better Off does a bit better and gets in more places. Working with a great composer, Etienne Monsaigneon to create a beautiful soundtrack for a film that is ultimately about abandonment. It's dark, and it's also based on a true story.

It's tough here in LA, because I don't really know many independent filmmakers who need help on their projects - even as a production assistant or craft services (the guy who gets the food set up). If you're reading this and need someone to help in any way, including for free on really cool projects, let me know!

I doubt I'll be able to make these posts a regular thing, but do check in every now and again.

Hey all

This is my first blog post in a long time. The old blog whose URL shall not be written is dead - long live the new! Also, welcome to this forever-under-construction website, which will function as a professional portal to my media work. I hope that more than five people see it, and I'll try to get a post out each week. Sometimes it might be a short story, but other times it'll be a video or album, or atheist-Jesus forbid, a political invective. I've also (finally) started using Instagram. Have to admit, emailing non-mobile photos to your phone is really annoying. But all the hip, cool creative people use it. Like these two below.

These goofs had to listen to me talk for eight hours in August. From left to right: @bobbygaglini, @joshuagray_official, and @benjaminhosking.

These goofs had to listen to me talk for eight hours in August. From left to right: @bobbygaglini, @joshuagray_official, and @benjaminhosking.

Check back here later this week for a more comprehensive post on what I'm up to.