The Barn Painters

Rainy Saturday, new paint job, right price. Feels good.

Rainy Saturday, new paint job, right price. Feels good.

Out of state truck, Bailey straw cowboy hat, pulled into the driveway. He said, “I came to paint your barn.” How much, I ask. I was just beginning a walk and wanted to get to it. He states a price that isn’t too bad. I say let me think about it. Don’t think too long he says, I’m settin’ on forty gallons of red paint, Sherwin Williams. I’ll come back. Off he goes.

He comes back in two weeks. Then he states a lower, better price. Best price I ever heard for painting the barn. His card has a Tennessee phone number. I say do it. He brings another truck with a sprayer and a bunch of equipment, sends two guys with it and they go to scraping the barn, then spraying it. I pay the guy. I mention the garage needs paint, but will do it next year. He says he has enough paint left over to do it, same two guys scrape and spray it in a couple of hours. For another great price. Then they all go. Leaving me with two freshly painted red buildings and a good feeling about itinerant barn painters.

I’m only relating this because it was a helluva deal and a good job at a good price. I will gladly share this man’s phone number for next season. He does ranches in the Flint Hills, water towers, grain bins, barns. While his guys work, he drives other places, says, “I came to paint your barn.” A go-getter. One of his guys said he’d been with him for seventeen years. Small business at its hard-working best.

The Milk Carton Kids. Pretty good listening.

The Milk Carton Kids. Pretty good listening.

If that’s not very exciting (TLDR?) take a look to your lower left at the links (under the ITW logo). I add ‘em as I discover more. It started as a convenience for me, a gathering place for links in one chunk so I could leap to other favorites. I think you’ll dig some of them. Just hit one or two, see what comes up. I just went to No Depression and listened to a Milk Carton Kids song I probably wouldn’t have heard otherwise. Sort of quiet C&W song with real spare instrumentation. Nice.

Red. I like red.

Red. I like red.

As soon as I tighten up the SSL certificate and some other orphans on the site like SEO descriptions and the like that never got done, I’ll add in some fun things like interviews with poets, bikers, crazies, and book reviews you won’t get anywhere else. (Coming: “Blue Ruin Motherf***r by Fin Sorrel—I did one on his “Caramel Flood” book a couple of years ago.) There will be guest blogs, short films, writer tips, whatever comes up.

Ride along with me for awhile. You can have shotgun. We’ll get a couple sixpacks and drive around the town square with the radio up loud. (my sixpack will be RC) Thanks for reading. It’s so nice to have you to talk to.



Truthiness, Outright Lies and UPS.

(Postcard announcement of show)

(Postcard announcement of show)

(Trigger warning: home truths be here) Well, the show’s name is “Truthiness.” It’s at the Lois Lambert Gallery in Santa Monica, in L.A. My name is on the marquee, so to speak, along with twenty or more artists, and the thing will run until sometime in November. Truthiness is a word that’s been around since the nineteenth century, but a west coast hate night, I mean late night, talk show host claims he made it up. “I pulled it out of my keister,” he said. A lot of his material seems to emanate from that source, but I digress.

I was asked to have my piece at the gallery by September 4th and shipped it on August 29th. After crating it in half-inch plywood, with two-by-four cleats to hold it firmly in place, the Hilliard Gallery in KC shipped it. To damage the piece you’d have to work at it. Maybe toss it off a tall building. Or a moving UPS truck. The piece was bubble-wrapped inside all the armour, and we felt good about its chances. We underestimated United Parcel Service’s evil genius.

We knew it might be late, even though they told us it would arrive on the 4th. But we were way off on our lowered expectations. How’s never? It’s like the fine print said, “Is never good for you?” Because that’s when it got there.

“Uh oh, did that crate fall outa my truck?”

“Uh oh, did that crate fall outa my truck?”

I had requested step-of-the-way tracking, and began to get odd messages well after the 4th had come and gone. The first one said the trailer had been rerouted and/or late in leaving the warehouse. That came up a couple of times. Then the message began to deteriorate into language like “Exception on your delivery.”  There was no explanation so I called and that was said to mean anything from “misplaced” to “don’t know.” Or truthiness from the UPS playbook which probably says “Money coming in, okay, money going out, bad. Admit nothing.”

Then the messages changed to “Refused at delivery point.” A baldfaced (boldfaced?) lie. They had lapsed into political-speak. I’m not sure but I think Congress has a lower trust level than UPS in the last poll. It was not refused at the Lambert Gallery.

After days of this kind of slippery stuff, they seemed to admit they had lost it. But they also held on to “refused” as a safer place for them to report from.

Then, believe it or not they used “Exception” again as a fallback and stuck to that awhile. Then two sources said it was shipped back to KC because it was (A) refused and/or (B) damaged.

So, John, can you interpret how I feel about this?

So, John, can you interpret how I feel about this?

This was the first we’d heard that it was damaged. It arrived back in KC where they tried to charge shipping (again) but Bob from the Hilliard Gallery went to their KCK shipping point and removed the screws from the top. The crate had been shrink wrapped by them and that was a bit suspicious, even though they tried to explain it had gone out that way. Truthiness. Inside, it was loose. There was the sound of tinkling glass, The cleats were torqued and moved. Perhaps a D9 Caterpillar had run over it—or maybe the 85 lb. crate had been dropped on concrete from a trailer or forklift.

The same delivery person who’d written “refused” owned up to dropping off (poor choice of words?) several packages to the gallery on the day of...refusal. No signature from the refusee. Because, well, there was no opportunity to refuse it.

I still don’t have the package because it’s tied up in “paperwork” and claims. If I can repair it it will go back out to Los Angeles on a slow freight shipper I’ve used before. successfully blanket-wrapped and palletized a dozen larger pieces for me for a solo show out there. And never once resorted to Truthiness. Maybe it will get there before the two-month show is over. Maybe not. By the way, click here for a look at the piece in question. The box to the right is a Seth Thomas clock on the other side, with a glass door. Uh, used to have a glass door.



Town for sale. Cal-Nev-Ari, Nevada.

The cropduster I wrote into the book

The cropduster I wrote into the book

I've never been there but I wrote about it in Ruined Days, a thriller that got good reviews and few sales. I was there in my mind. Felt the dust and grit whipped up by the wind, saw the lone biplane, a yellow cropduster, rocking on its wheels until the desert wind subsided. Tri-cornered colored flags fluttered and snapped at an abandoned fireworks stand, and a lone telephone booth stood in the cheatgrass fifty feet from the flagged lot in its own version of abandonment.

The doors squealed on rusty hinges when Travis, my protagonist, entered the booth, and wouldn't quite close but who could hear him anyway? He made a call in that wood and glass booth, read off some coordinates from the cell phone he took in with him. The glass on the phone booth windows was somewhat frosted from the constant barrage of wind-borne grit. A half hour later a Cessna landed on the makeshift runway, but that's another part of the story.

I noired the community down some--it's bustling compared to what I wrote about it, but I needed it to be a bit more desolate.

Town comes with casino, volunteer fire department

Town comes with casino, volunteer fire department

The town is real. In the book it was for sale for fifteen million dollars. It went to seventeen mil a few months after Ruined Days was published, and now it can be had for eight million. Its name (pronounced CalNevAir) derives from its location in Nevada close to the California and Arizona borders. A couple named Slim and Nancy Kidwell pioneered the place about fifty years ago, Slim passed on, and now Nancy is ready to sell. As a successful prospect you'd buy the town, airstrip, casino with slots, a diner and a bar. Listed is a motel and various other businesses including a convenience store.

Of the 350 residents, some are pilots who keep their planes in their driveways and taxi to the nearby airstrip.

When the Kidwells came not much existed but a dusty military airstrip. They had to haul water from the Colorado River. They planted barley, dug a well, got a land patent from the BLM and the town was born. None of that was easy. They were true pioneers, the last of the breed some say. If she sells Cal-Nev-Ari, she plans to stay. She's been there over fifty years, and likes the view, the vibe. And the town likes Nancy, from what I've read.

If you're interested, there are reasons to buy. It's a casino town with its own airstrip. There's a motel. The highway, US Route 95, connects to Las Vegas less than 70 miles away. It's on the market and the listing is here. If you buy it, tell 'em I get six percent for pointing you there. Nevada is the only state where prostitution is legal, but don't think Cal-Nev-Ari is ripe for a bunny ranch, as it's in Clark County where they're strictly prohibited. As of 2018, there's no income tax collected in Nevada. No corporate tax, no franchise tax, and no inventory tax. If I had eight mil, I'd be there. Writing and sculpting. I bet Freddie would even consider it. Great place for her jewelry and perhaps she'd learn to do a little cropdusting.

And it's sixty-eight degrees on this March third, compared to 20 in southeast Kansas. Maybe some of you well-heeled readers would like to go in with me. If you have a plane we could buzz over there.

This is as good a place as any to pitch Ruined Days, a pretty decent thriller. It can be accessed here.



A book for 2019, and maybe two

This may be the cover…

This may be the cover…

A book of essays, Chickens One Day, Feathers The Next, has muscled its way into line ahead of the thriller L.A. Hardscape, and some of the pieces are pretty sober. Some aren't. "Publishers Never Call," for instance, is downright silly. The title piece is about death, though the quote itself comes from the subject, USMC Captain A. Rudolph Green, who was a close friend and one of those crazy buddies for whom no escalation of whimsy was ever too much.

I recall the time he stood on the mat outside a grocery store which kept the glass door from opening outward until a gaggle of angry customers and the store manager were all shouting at him. He handed me the keys to his Jaguar and said, "We may need a fast getaway from this one," studying the effect of his experiment on the faces pressed against the glass. As I drove up, he stepped aside, and the crowd at the door fell outside upon one another. He leaped into the Jag roadster with the steaks he'd bought, and it was off to another adventure. I loved him for these outrageous moments and for the whiskey-fueled talks that lasted into the morning hours and may have involved philosophy of a very high level.

He once visited me at the University of Arkansas and, at a Razorback football game, was beside himself, helpless with tear-causing laughter, when the fans erupted with the victory cry, "Whooooo PIG, Soooooeyyyyy," "Did they really yell that," he'd say every time. "And you chose this school."

There are essays, memoirs, about horses, Louisiana, motorcycles,Tulsa, KC, Van Gogh, Cormac McCarthy, rejections, rodeoing, birds, advertising, boxing. Oh, it's varied and faceted, as we say when neglecting themes altogether.

Ben Carmean is working on a cover, which means the book will look professional, inviting, of interest. I hope you'll find it all of those and more. All my books have marvelous covers because they're all done by Ben. I don't know what I'll do when he finally says, "I'm not doing any more covers for you. You never paid me for the first one."

It's good enough to have merited a contract from the publisher who did Ruined Days and Resume Speed, and it will join those books on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other sites.

John Paul Drum, thinking about this…

John Paul Drum, thinking about this…

So, if all goes right, 2019 will feature two more G-books. I just need to finish the other one. And, first friday in May, The Hilliard Gallery opening is a G-solo show, with a title from the Chickens book, "A Love Letter To Tensas Parish." Some of the sculpture is inspired by some boyhood time spent in St. Joe, Louisiana, and there will be deep south blues harp and guitar and drum music by John Paul Drum and The Big Three. Louisiana finger food and Mudbug Beer, too.

Some men and women from the parish will be presented in pictures and short bios; the mayor, a poet, a young distiller, a lady entrepreneur. I'm working on sculpture now and it's more fun than it probably should be. I saw things down there, or believe I did, that direct me in the welding of these pieces, some of which are effigial, some metaphorical.  Bayou freedom informs them. I can't explain it. Perhaps the pieces will speak for themselves. John Paul Drum's music will surely help. It should be quite fun and I hope you can make it. Six to nine, and later, May 3rd, Hilliard Gallery, 1820 McGee, Crossroads. Just follow the strains of southern blues in off the sidewalk. (Click this for a youtube of him and Nine Below Zero)









The compensatory richness of writing.

Nominations don’t mean you’re in, just closer…

Nominations don’t mean you’re in, just closer…

Sculpture paid little better than a hobby this last year, and the writing bought me a lunch or two. Fifty bucks here, five bucks there. Not enough to keep it up if I didn't love it. The poetry paid off in other ways though. This year brought three nominations for the Pushcart Prize, and the year before paid off in one nomination.

I'll try to put that in perspective; once a poem or piece is accepted in a journal or review, that's a bit of an award all its own. It means I got through the slush piles to acceptance, which means I became one of the few to be published in that issue. Maybe I was in the one percent to three percent. Then, out of the hundreds of poems published in that journal during the year, that poem was chosen to represent the review as a nomination for the Pushcart Prize. Each publication sends six nominees. Six.

The nominations are their own reward; to actually be included in the prize book is further winnowing of many entries. Sort of a pipe dream, but it could happen.

This poem was one of the six that the editor of Shot Glass Journal/Muse Pie Press sent this year. It's an introspective little poem that just popped out the day after my sister's funeral, when I was winterizing, titled Time to Think


Turn the pots over so they don't freeze and break.
Cold season again, each year the big flower pots of
concrete and glazed clay get heavier. The season got
heavier yesterday when my sister was buried, frigid
day, it snowed a bit just a shot across the bow, a
warning from the slate gray frigate bearing down.
Time to put the stock tank heaters out. Time to
think about time. Not so much of it left I think.

The following day an email informed me that No Tokens had submitted "Grapette" as one of their six nominations. It, too, deals with age, and my sister, though from a lighter angle.

The best for a hot kid on a hot Louisiana day. RC is a close second. Then Nehi.

The best for a hot kid on a hot Louisiana day. RC is a close second. Then Nehi.


I pour grape juice into an old bottle

one I've cleaned and judged suitable

for pretending the contents are Grapette

and I'm a small boy in Louisiana

 I drink and see pecan trees and the

edge of the bayou where I ventured to

find a dead cow, legs up, vultures

busying about looking like old men in

 feathery overcoats the smell overpowering

and I ran home chased by swamp things

like The Heap, a comic book I allowed

into my fears and troubled dreams

 then, the sunshine again. Some safety by

the front stoop, a dog that would guard me,

my annoying sister who told me I was

in trouble, but she always told me that.

 The only thing missing is the fizz that

made me belch when I drank too fast and

and then I see the satellite dish in the

farmyard on a post and I'm old again.


The poem that Ramingo's Porch sent is dystopian, much longer, practically an epic poem titled The Undefeatist, and rather than reproduce it here, I'll just provide this link. You can access it if you wish. (It first appeared in Longshot Island as a set of poems titled Thunderbolt Poems—it’s the second poem down.)

  Other things happened on the writing front. I submitted some guest blogs that were accepted, and some articles. I made a foray into film with an article that Stage 32 liked enough to publish. Click here for that one.

  I'm happy to say I made it into Rattle twice in one year, no small accomplishment for me as I've been trying to crack that ceiling for a couple of years. The latest attempt won Editor's Choice in their monthly Ekphrastic Challenge where you pair up a poem with a supplied piece of art. Its title is Locked Brakes on Blacktop, and both the poem and the artwork can be found here.

  The downside? 314 rejections. That can get old, especially in an unbroken string week after week. But it's like mining, I guess. You just keep chipping away--the vein might be a few feet ahead in the dark tunnel. You can't stop now. And with each written word, hopefully, you're getting better at the game. Who knows, that next novel might be what I need to strike it middle class.







A Room with a Vision

The Sears Vallonia could be configured for five or eight rooms, one bath. The line forms here.

The Sears Vallonia could be configured for five or eight rooms, one bath. The line forms here.

When my folks moved to Tulsa in 1949, was our first house there a Sears kit home? Could be. It sure looked like this one described as "Offered for a mere $1,465 in 1921, the Sears Vallonia could be configured to include five or eight rooms, depending on whether the owner wanted a second floor. The exterior is characterized by its large porch and a broad dormer with a three-paned window." (Compliments of Bob Vila, in an article on vintage catalog kit houses.)

Vallonia or not, wherever we moved, I always got the topmost floor with leaning ceilings that would bump my head if I wasn't careful.

The folks went to the trouble of selling me on this particular upstairs attic-like room. (“Hell, boy, I wish I’d had a room like this when I was your age.” I’m betting he had a better one. This was my stepfather who called me “boy” because it was kind of John Wayne-ish back then. Or was he calling me Hellboy, which would have been way cooler.)

I was born too late. I could’ve had a Caddy with paper route savings .

I was born too late. I could’ve had a Caddy with paper route savings.

The Sell. That’s how I knew it was a raw deal. Hot as hell in summer, stuffy in winter. But there was no wiggle room, I knew I was stuck. My sister got a room with the adults downstairs. The Sell. They used it for broccoli, for “applying yourself” at school. For acting more like polite kids who are probably doing time in Leavenworth if they’re still alive.

But I learned to deep-read in this room thanks to stuff the previous owner left as not worth carting away. In this Vallonia-like house on Wheeling Ave. in Tulsa, a huge stack of old Saturday Evening Posts and Fortunes was my inheritance. Fascinating stuff. They'd been there since the 20's, and bore the owner's name on mailing labels on the covers.

The gateway drug to motorcycles…

The gateway drug to motorcycles…

I looked at every page of every magazine, marveling at the low costs of automobiles in the 1930s (Cadillacs for $800 up) and reading wonderful fiction stories about Alexander Botts and the Earthworm Tractor Company. I probably read my first F. Scott Fitzgerald story in one of them. There were also some Ladies’ Home Journals in there, but the Fortunes and Posts captured my interest. The covers were thrilling and the stories and ads whirled me back in time. They were musty smelling but the inks were bright due to their time-capsule-like storage.

I read that "the war to end all wars" was WWI, and it puzzled me greatly because the year was 1949 and WWII had ended four years before. Why hadn't the first big war prevented the second? But I didn’t dwell on existential questions for long. By the dormer windows in a cabinet I found a neat pile of vintage Popular Mechanics with ads for Velocette motorcycles, Whizzers and King Midget automobiles. How to make your own Jet Pack. I could fly out that dormer window and buzz the neighbors, zoom over to Utica Square, strafe the mean dog on Peoria with my Red Ryder BB gun.

I was introduced to flying automobiles and a car that would become a boat as you drove into a lake or the ocean. Cooking with radar and microwaves—like that would ever happen.

1949 was the year, Truman was president, and a wildly inventive car had just come on the scene, one with an enveloped silhouette without bulbous fenders, the 1949 Ford. The Sears Roebuck catalogs listed televisions and it looked like we might get one. Tulsa was a boomtown, Oil Capital of the World, and I was infected for life with the optimism of the era.


To this very day, I think “It’s a Tulsa kind of Day,” when things are going right and I’m relatively free of aches and pains, and the dogs are playing as we walk. The 1949 Ford in the driveway somehow reifies and bridges the feeling first encountered in the maybe-Vallonia on Wheeling Avenue. A room with jetpacks, cheap Cadillacs and F. Scott Fitzgerald—and outside that room, an infectious boom town attitude and blue skies and the world on a string.

As Kurt Vonnegut said, “Enjoy the little things in life, because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”