Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Slouching Toward Lake George 

Today's a kind of muggy summer day, but is a break in the brutal summer weather we've been having since, well, it seems like shortly after Christmas.

The SluggoBabes have been in the city all week so I've been having the usual endless round of throwing up on the kitchen floor, outcall services and searching under the couch for a tip for the Chinese food delivery guy. Eminent Lo Mein.

Between the weather and a lack of civilizing factors I'm feeling like I'm winding down, like an entropic beast, stumbling senselessly forward until crossing paths with a physical obstacle. It's not that I haven't had anything to write about the past few days, only that I seem to lack the means to do it.

On the upside, the girlz come home this evening and tomorrow we leave for our hidey-hole in the Adirondacks. We'll be there until next Wednesday and, as cell phones don't even work there, you won't be hearing from me until then.

So happy Independence Day and don't forget to check out the Carnival of New Jersey Bloggers on Sunday, which this week scurries back under the skirts of Enlighten-New Jersey.

I expect I'll have my kishkies back together on my return.

Asbury Park 

So that there's something to read here for the next week and for those who haven't taken a look, I'm posting the first chapter of Asbury Park, a PI novel.

I've been working on it the last few months, mostly from the back end, and this part hasn't been revised since I sent it out a few years ago. Anachronisms lurk.

The rest of it is here. Advice is solicited.

Asbury Park


Loomis pulled the Chevy into a diagonal slot behind the ancient merry-go-round. By the time he finished braking it to a stop the engine had died. He thumped the dash affectionately and the glove compartment fell open. He sat listening to the frantic drumming of the rain and thinking about the $1500 Jackie said it would take to make the Chevy road-worthy again. For some reason the merry-go-round was spinning, even though the Jersey Shore was pretty much shut down for the winter.

Loomis was a sandy colored man with an open, goofy face. His hair was blond and tended to fashion itself into ringlets. He was a tall man, who when he reached six foot two, decided that was the height he liked and stayed there despite several more inches of growth. He managed this without slouching by folding himself slightly in the middle and pushing the bottom of his spine further and further forward. Depending on the clothes he was wearing this made him look like a lounge lizard, a math nerd or a complete simpleton. This was not a disadvantage in his work.

He was always just slightly overweight and had that wanton cherub look that stayed the same from the age of nineteen to around forty. He was thirty-two. His eyes were blue and intelligent, but not always focused on the matter at hand. At the moment they were focused on himself, sometime next summer on a brilliant warm day, blasting down Route 35 with the top down and Martha under his right arm. He set it in his mind in perfect detail and then withdrew himself from the daydream and looked around.

Through the window to his left he had an uninterrupted view of Lucky Longo's Putt-em-up Miniature Golf. Lucky had taken a summer-long bath and wasn't going to be opening back up in the spring.

Through the passenger window the merry-go-round and its green glass shed faded in and out of the thickening curtains of rain. The honking, static gaiety of the calliope was similarly overmatched.

Straight ahead was the old girl herself. They kept the boards replaced and the pilings in good repair. Every few years they threw some paint at the Pavilion and Convention Hall and they would dance like a dog for you if that's what it took to get you to open up a business, any business. But they couldn't stop the beach from sliding south and no bond issue in the world could make it 1925 again. Asbury Park wasn't coming back this year.

Loomis wasn't seeing who he wanted to see on the first bench out of the Pavilion, but then, it only made sense that the guy was waiting out the rain inside. Loomis was late, but only a minute or two. He inserted a Merle Haggard into the player, lit a Lucky, shifted the seat back, stretched and smiled.

Jackie obviously thought he was nuts to even consider throwing money into the Chevy, but in another hour he was going to pull into Jackie's garage, hand him $1500 in cash and turn him loose. Then he would give him another $450 in cash and tell him to go ahead with the paint job. Chinese red. That ought to make him really crazy. Loomis stopped the music and skipped past I Wish I Was Thirty Again as usual and noticed the rain had slacked off. There was also someone sauntering casually up to the bench on the boardwalk so he pulled the envelope from under the seat, tucked it into his jacket and pulled his Pittsburgh Pirate cap down till the bill almost touched his nose.

He stood on the third step up to the boardwalk, his eyes about level with the deck to check the guy out. Even though there was still rain coming off the water into his face and even though the guy was standing by the bench with his back to Loomis he started getting that bad feeling. He climbed the steps and crossed the deck feeling worse every second. He walked up and stood next to the guy. He spent a few moments trying to spot where the iron-grey sky met the horizon, gave up and turned to him.

"You're fired," he said.

The guy shrugged and started to move off.

"Wait a minute, asshole. Where is he? Did you see him?"

The guy looked at Loomis and shrugged again. "I don't work for you."

"You had one instruction. Only one. 'Don't let the guy see you.' Where was I meeting him?"

"Loomis . . ."

"At the bench, right? This bench. The one I got my hand on, am I right? Now, if I'm meeting him here, and you're standing there, what do you think the chances are that he's eventually going to spot you?"

"Loomis . . ."

"I don't think you're cut out for this work, Marty. I really don't. You know why? Because you're a moron, that's why. 'Don't let the guy see you.' That's all I said."

"He didn't see me."

"Oh? Is that right? And how do we know that?"

Marty turned away from the ocean and lifted his chin. Loomis followed it over to Lucky's and the windmill hazard on seven. There was the guy, the real guy. The guy that was supposed to pay him $2,550. His head was poking out from one end of the windmill and his feet from the other. Loomis wanted him to be taking a nap. Marty shrugged again.

"No hole-in-one on seven today."

Loomis nodded. No paint job for the Chevy, either.

* * * * *

Cap'n Fishbein had called a week earlier. He explained that he was the owner of a party boat operating out of Point Pleasant. Loomis had been on one of these once. For forty dollars a head it took a dozen or so guys out a mile or two into the ocean, following the blues or stripers or whatever was running. You catch a few fish, you drink all day, you lie and bullshit and act like an idiot and you come back sunburned, drunk and exhausted.

The outing, which had actually been his girlfriend Martha's idea, had not been a success and had not been repeated. He wasn't going to hold this against Cap'n Fishbein, however, so he asked what was on his mind. It turns out he needed some help with his divorce and wanted to know if Loomis was available. Loomis was available, but Fishbein didn't want to talk about what kind of help he needed on the phone so they arranged to meet at the OB Diner in Point Pleasant. They met. They shook hands and ordered coffee.

"My wife's divorcing me," said Fishbein.

"I'm sorry."

Cap'n Larry Fishbein was probably in his mid-fifties and his years on the ocean had left him with a coloring that had less of the hearty bloom of the salt and more of the sordid stain of the machinist. He dyed his hair an improbable black. Directly below the hairline were massive black hornrims and hung from these was a long, furrowed, dyspeptic face. His ears were like large, fuzzy mushrooms. The only features to give away his calling were his thick hands and beefy forearms. Otherwise you would take him for a weatherbeaten chemistry teacher.

"It's not entirely unexpected. We both have . . . outside interests."

"Mr. Fishbein . . . Cap'n Fishbein, let me tell you how this works best. Anything you tell me I can be made to testify about in court, if it comes to that. We do not have a privileged relationship if you hire me. By outside interests I assume you mean you have a girlfriend and she has a boyfriend. How much more complicated this gets, I don't know, but it may be necessary for me to know a good deal about your private affairs in order for me to help you. My advice is to get your lawyer to hire me. That gives us privilege."

His eyes had drifted from Loomis during this speech and his face had deepened into an expression of gloom and distaste. He shook his head impatiently.

"It's not like that, Mr. Loomis. I don't dislike my wife at all. She's a good woman. We built this business together over the past twenty-five years. I expect this to be settled equitably."

Loomis spread his hands.

"Then what are we doing here?"

"We have the boat, the house and two cars. We have a little money put away. She can have the house, whichever car she wants and most of the money."

"She wants the boat."

Fishbein nodded. "I want her to get what's fair. I want her to be happy. I want this to be settled amicably. But most of all I want the boat."

"How am I going to help you get it?"

Fishbein studied his blunt, grimy paws and began speaking out of the center of his mouth. He wasn't enjoying this at all.

"As I mentioned, each of us has a partner. It's not something we discuss, but it's understood. I really don't think it would be possible for her to prove my relationship in court. I want to be able to prove hers."

"I see. Is this your lawyer's advice?"

He hesitated a moment, not evasively, but as if clearing an unexpected thought from his mind, and then answered simply, "Yes."

"You want pictures?"

"Yes," he said, barely moving his lips.

Loomis began tracing a coffee stain on the countertop with the retracted tip of his pen. He spoke gently and soothingly, as if to a dog he wasn't quite sure of.

"Cap'n Fishbein, there are two kinds of pictures we could be talking about."

"They needn't be explicit. Merely compromising." His expression was now flat-out revulsion. Loomis became all business, snapping open his notebook and punching out the tip of his pen.

"Good. I get $150 a day and expenses, which shouldn't amount to much for this. I need three days up front."

Fishbein was writing the check before Loomis was finished talking.

"Thank you. Now. Who's your lawyer?"

"It won't be necessary for you to be in contact." He pulled a card and a photo from his breast pocket. The card pictured a half-tone cartoon angler holding up a striper a little larger than himself. The copy read "!!!Sportsmen!!! 'The Carousel' out of Point Pleasant. Cap'n Larry Fishbein. Parties, Charters. Hostess on-board. Monday-Saturday at 7:30 am." And the address and phone number. The picture was a snapshot of a large, friendly-looking woman with her arm draped over Cap'n Fishbein's shoulders like a rugby player. It was taken on a dock with the Carousel in the background.

"As you can see, I've crossed out the phone number so you won't be tempted to call me there. You may leave a message at the number I've written on the back. Don't call unless absolutely necessary."

He stood and threw some money on the counter. He looked like the air was getting very bad very fast. Loomis held up his hand.

"Cap'n Fishbein. Give me some help here. Do you know where they meet?"


"Ah. Do you know how often?"

"No. Look, this is very simple. Follow her. Find them together. Take a picture. I'll call you within a week."

"I see. Cap'n Fishbein, you do know who the party is, don't you?"

Cap'n Fishbein was staring past Loomis, out the window, past the parking lot, way, way off in the direction of the bay. He was looking more like Ahab every second.

"It's my mate. Elroy Keever."

"Your mate? You mean your assistant . . . guy on the boat?"

Cap'n Fishbein nodded, rolled his eyes and was gone.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Having A Bad Day? 

It could be worse.

Via Radley Balko

Not That There's Anything Wrong With That 

My favorite penguin joke's punchline is "We had such a good time, we're going to the beach." I won't tell the story, because every time I do someone winds up hating me.

But my new favorite penguin story is over at The Idiom told by Kid Various. The title is "We're Here, We're Queer, Give Us A Fish".

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Democracy Inaction 

The indefatigable Mark Feffer reports at PropertyTaxNJ that a Washington Township resident, Kevin Nedd, wanted a non-binding referendum question added to the November ballot asking if the township's tax rate should be cut by five percent and future tax increases tied to Social Security cost-of-living allowances.

The notion was swatted away by Councilman Walter Cullen who said the referendum was "a waste of time" because "everybody would vote for it."

I've got to think Mr. Cullen is not on the ballet this year.

Mr. Nedd is collecting petitions.

Under The Boardwalk, Down By The Sea-ee-eee . . . 

I didn't realize there was a NJ.com blog dedicated to the Shore, until Rich Weissman linked to my post about Arnold Hall in Point Pleasant yesterday. He and his partner, Bette Blum, are all Shore, all the time at Down the Shore.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Down The Shore 

When I was in high school I lived just a mile or two from downtown Point Pleasant and I was always interested in the building at the corner of River and Arnold Avenue, though I didn't know why.

Perhaps I sensed it had a past.
Near the turn of the century, Arnold Hall served as
a political and social center. The mayor's office, the
jail and fire engines occupied the ground floor. One
flight up, vaudeville actors performed on stage, silent
movies played on screen and fraternal organizations,
including the Ku Klux Klan, held clandestine
ceremonies behind doors with shielded peep holes.
According to a story in the Asbury Park Press linked to above, the owner allowed the local historical society to sponsor two open houses at the building. He's probably going to redevelop the site as condos.

Paul Winchell, R.I.P. 

He died on Friday at aged 82.

It's probably just me, but I think anyone who is a ventriloquist is, by definition, interesting. Like accordionists and civil war recreationeers. Butterfly collectors. Or the guy you meet in the park who knows everything there is to know about the Yonkers sewer system. And he's lived his whole life in South Carolina.

Cranks. People who started off in life a little askew and, as they went through life, looked back at the widening gap between themselves and normal, and shrugged. They're okay with that.

You don't necessarily want to spend a lot of time with them, mind you. Monomaniacs can cover you like a viscous film once they sense your interest. It's the fact of them that's interesting, no so much their dinner conversation.

Of course, Paul Winchell was anything but a monomaniac. He was, in fact, the exact opposite; a guy whose interests were pretty much a salad of items taken from the far corners of life. But he was a crank so he wasn't concerned with connecting the dots in his life. If you're interested in getting ahead, you're going to follow A with B and then spend your time looking for C. You may never find out you're a world class Scrabble player or that the key to happiness in your life is glass blowing.

I'm not advocating this, mind you. You've got to be born that way or your life will be a constant yard sale. I'm just saying it's interesting and most of us could probably use a little more of the crank in our lives.

Winchell, besides being a great ventriloquist and voice over guy (the voice of Tigger of Winnie-the-Pooh), was an inventor. He invented and patented an artificial heart that was used by Dr. Robert Jarvik to develop the first viable model. He also held patents for an invisible garter belt and a flameless cigarette lighter.

UPDATE: I just noticed that John Fiedler, the voice of Winnie-the-Pooh's Piglet died on Saturday. It was a bad weekend for Christopher Robin.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Stately, Plump Tillie, Came From the Stairhead . . . 

Look for the Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers #6 today at Riehl World View as Tillie, the undead logo, makes his way down the shore.
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