The Perils of Being Neighborly

Today, as I was attempting to write, I heard from outside my window the cries of an elderly neighbor who had fallen hard on the pavement. I ran outside, got down on the ground next to her, and realized that she had severely deteriorated in between the moments I saw her. Had she weighed more than one hundred pounds, I’d be surprised. She wore very dirty clothes, her nails and hair were wild, and her smell was of old booze, new booze, old pain, and new hurt. I helped her to her feet, expecting the young neighbor, who had come outside before me and took her by her opposite side, to guide her back to her apartment.

That was my first mistake, as once I reached my door, I heard her cry out and turned around to watch her stumble backward, down the driveway, and flat on her back into the street. Her head hit the concrete with the sound of a hollowed coconut. She was advanced enough in age where I had to fear the worst—that wasn’t lost on me—and yet, old sadnesses rose up in my heart. The driveway felt like a long hallway in a home long abandoned, where a child walked down in the dark, not knowing what he’d find at the other end, where those cries began.

In a haze of my own regret, I picked her up and held her as the kid ran for a lawn chair. He returned, and I then sat her down and ran for the first aid kit in my closet. I could feel it, like a rock in my shoe, hurting more with each step. Reconnection to the pain I learned, in time, to ignore. I then noticed my young neighbor on his phone, and when I gathered he wasn’t speaking with emergency services, I realized I was the responsible one.

Same as years ago.

I washed off her blood and applied antiseptic to her cuts and scratches, then suppressed the shaking of my hands enough to put small bandages on them. Then I asked her to follow my finger with her eyes to see how badly she could be concussed. I thought of the trials and tribulations she experienced for her to drink and chain smoke herself to death in a dirty hovel with no one but strangers to notice her. I asked her if anyone else was home with her, but my neighbor shook his head. Once she could stand, I realized it was up to me to guide her back to her apartment, and as I carried her to her door, I realized I was afraid of what I’d find when we opened her door. Especially, if what I saw would extend my responsibility beyond the moment.

It looked and smelled like my uncle’s room, where I was left far more than I should have been. Where my attempts to get him to sober up for my visit were always failed. The air tasted of my mother’s boyfriend’s breath, that came at me in toxic blasts of rage when I had to fight a drunken adult to defend what she made indefensible. The dirt on her reminded me of the bums from around the way we used to fuck with when we were young and angry at being left out of the good in the world just for having the wrong skin color.

I got her inside and got the fuck out of there before Mephisto’s little mind game resulted in me being trapped in my past. When the sun hit my face on my side-street in Los Angeles, I actually was relieved I didn’t walk out to the south side of Chicago, circa 1988. She thanked me for helping her, as did my young neighbor, who returned to his smartphone, and he sounded like one of my brothers, who found something better to do when we’d find my mother, laid on the floor.

As I compose this, I can’t get her smell out of my nose, or off my hands. Then I realize, and accept, it isn’t the smell I can’t get off me. It isn’t the smell at all.

The Tales of Elliot Caprice: Labor Day

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ADVISORY: Following the link will take you to a page that contains profanity and sexual language. If you still want to read Labor Day, you may find it here.

THE TALES OF ELLIOT CAPRICE: LABOR DAY

Published in November 2015, at BEAT TO A PULP, Labor Day is a story set during the events of A NEGRO AND AN OFAY. Southville County Sheriff George Stingley and Deputy Ned Reilly investigate the murder of the son of the county’s founder as they come to terms with Elliot Caprice’s return and the trouble it brings to Southville. It was an honor to bring that story to BEAT TO A PULP, one of the finest publishers of crime fiction. Please consider nominating it for the Anthony Award for Best Short Story.

 

Beat to a Pulp

New Short Story at Beat to a Pulp

My novel, A Negro and an Ofay, is now available at Amazon (paperback:http://amzn.to/1kQDqbx, Kindle: http://amzn.to/1MakttG).

In the meantime, Beat to a Pulp has published a short story set in the world of Elliot Caprice. A little small town Midwestern noir that fits somewhere between chapters 3 and 8. Give it a whirl!

Labor Day, from The Tales of Elliot Caprice

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“All Masterpiece Theater ‘n Shit”

As the regular host of Noir at the Bar LA, Eric Beetner is frickin’ funny. He has the delivery and timing of a stand-up comedian, and it really brings the room to life. At last Sunday’s event, I read from my novel, A Negro and an Ofay. I decided that, as I was in the room with well-liked and respected authors, I’d try to appear as one myself. Then Beetner’s introduction landed, and it was hilarious, and for a comedian who’s trying not to be funny, that’s like cocaine in a dressing room. “Who left this here? For me? Ah well.”

Host Eric Beetner

Photo by Travis Richardson

When I was first learning how things work in published fiction, I made note of behavior. I’m a multi-talent with a delivery that can easily fill the room; however, the readings I attended seemed like sober affairs and no place for a ham. An author is introduced and then reads from his or her own work, which is normally followed by a polite Q&A session. Books are signed and attendees disperse. To this old performer, it’s rather straightforward and appropriate, as it’s a lot to ask someone to take a chance on a book. A bad movie only lasts 2 hours. A bad TV show can be deleted from the DVR. A bad book just sits there, where it ruins the decorum and provokes buyer’s remorse. Perhaps it would be better for me to keep it simple. I’d let folks get on with reading my novel in their own space. If my work wound up atop the toilet tank instead of the nightstand, at least it wouldn’t happen out of annoyance.

Danny Gardner, reading at Noir at the Bar

Photo by Travis Richardson

Before my turn at the mic, my thought was to go about it all regular. I would just be a good author and respect the craft of writing. I played Eric’s hilarious and warm introduction off with a quip, then lead with, as Travis Richardson says, my “Chicago credentials.” I pulled out my glasses, which I’m still not used to wearing, and I thought I may have come off as pretentious. It felt awkward enough that it provoked a visit from him.

The Comedian.

“Now I have to put on my old man glasses…so I can be all Masterpiece Theater ‘n shit…”

The crowd laughed, loudly. Dammit. No! Not now!

You see, the thinking me, while always willing to take the credit, doesn’t make all the decisions. The feeling me generally wins all arguments. Earlier that day, I spent a few hours timing out passages I thought would work within 5-6 minutes. Just before the get-down however, I spontaneously chose a few pages from Chapter 5, where my protagonist, Elliot Caprice, finds stable professional work for the first time since leaving the Chicago Police Department in a hail of bullets and blood. It is a very dynamic and unintentionally funny piece. What’s more, it’s FILLED with characters.

I’ve trained and worked well as an actor. It’s not easy to be dedicated to it, and I’m proud of it. I just had this idea that it wasn’t appropriate to be a thespian in this context. But that passage, man! It was as tempting to me as Frito’s are to a fat kid. I couldn’t resist, same as I couldn’t resist another comparison/contrast metaphor in this story.

Comedian Gardner played keep-away with the mic so Author Gardner couldn’t get it back, and he handed it to Actor Gardner, who brought two different accents, two different genders, action, drama and comedy to the packed house of genre enthusiasts, friends and supporters. Author Gardner was horrified but was shouted down by the rest of us, because together, we were all having way too much fun. My time was done, and Eric came back on with more jokes, citing my ‘ballzy author choice’ of being my own cover model (Stop snitchin’ Beetner!). He was a riot. The applause was big. Folks enjoyed it. They dug me and my work. It felt good not holding back.

After I perform, it usually takes a few days for my bones to settle and my self-accusing spirit to stop talking. By the way, my self-accusing spirit sounds like a crotchety old fart who eats polish sausage and happily watches the Chicago Bears lose every Sunday. Normally, I’d feel like a low-rent James Lipton who interviews himself, or Felix Unger, who consistently belts out prose in the middle of card games. It’s the last vestiges of my Midwestern blue collar conditioning, telling me how performing is for attention seeking bozos. This time, though, that voice inside didn’t tell me to quit bein’ mannish, or stop being so out there.

It said, “You keep doin’ that, you just may sell some books.”

Well alright then. I guess we’ll all do it together. All Masterpiece Theater ‘n shit.

 

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Danny Gardner at Noir Slam

On Noir Slam, and Once Again Bein’ a Snot Nose

I’ve been a rogue, in the classic sense, my entire life. I’ll risk pedantry (and just basically lookin’ like that d00d) and offer the definition I’m inferring: a person whose behavior one disapproves of but who is nonetheless likable or attractive (often used as a playful term of reproof). Doesn’t mean I’m a jerk who flouts the order of things. I just walk in the door lacking understanding how the rules should apply to me. I ain’t proud of it. I ain’t ashamed.

As I mentioned in my interview with my man S.W. Lauden, over at Bad Citizen Corporation, “My parents were out of the picture. I had no adult supervision that gave a shit. I could go where I wanted, read what I wanted, and develop my own ideas about life.” I was a wanderer, always searching for what I was made of. Generally, my founding thought was, “I can do that,” usually followed by “AW, hell naw! I really can do that!” I always leapt without looking, be it finding classic Apple II units somewhere on the South Side of Chicago and programming them at the age of 11, DJing with an old Gemini mixer with a short in the fader at 14, or performing stand-up at 17, trying hard as hell not to sound just like Eddie Murphy. And I really – REALLY – loved Eddie Murphy.

Along my meanderings, I acquired legitimate skills – at least legitimate enough to get my foot in the door. Intellectually, I was nimble enough to learn how to stay before someone would figure out I was green as monkey shit. On stage, in front of a paying crowd. On screen, with a bunch of lines. Even at a partner’s desk with none of the professional veneer required, shootin’ the shit with someone who breathes rarefied air. I had no college, no training but on the job. I never knew anyone and rarely had the hook-up, but there my young dumb ass was, always right up in the mix.

I was annoying as shit.

When you’re new, folks who have been waiting their turn check you for your dues. And, if you haven’t quite paid up to the degree acknowledged by experienced consensus, you get the treatment. You’re known as Fish. Young Buck. Junior. Snot nose. The FNG. One mistake and you’re done. Young dumb ass gonna get everyone killed/fired/kicked out of Zanies in Old Town. And then I’d make it a little bit and prove to everyone they can get off my neck and wind up doing well. And then the winds would blow, and castles made of sand fall into the sea, and fate would assign me a new challenge.

Then I’m the FNG all over again. Man, I got decades of bein’ the snot nose.

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Some time ago my publisher, Craig McNeely of Double Life Press, connected me with the prolifically gifted Eric Beetner. We hit it off and he was kind enough to invite me to perform at Noir Slam, at The Last Bookstore in Los Angeles. I offered a brief reading from my debut novel, A Negro and an Ofay. Once again I’m the new kid, with an uncorrected advance reader copy, standing with all these brilliant authors with deep histories in the genre. Beetner. Anonymous-9. Christa Faust. Craig Faustus Buck. Shit! I got noooooo fausts in my name. Not one!

I’m all grown up now, and I understand both sides of this rogue business. In acting and stand-up, I encounter young bucks not unlike my younger self and my response to their eager ignorance is pretty much the same as the old school cats back then: “Slow down, junior.”

Except Noir Slam ain’t some open mic night. These are professionals, with years of work and millions of words to their credit. This is a packed house, full of book lovers and genre loyalists. Everyone in there was for real. I hadn’t been nervous about anything in a long time, yet there I was surrounded by folks who stand in good stead. And me, with my little ol’ novel with the edgy title. F*ck was I thinkin’?

In that moment, I realized that I finally developed some damned compunction. A pricking of the conscience. Maturity. Everyone was lovely. Not an author in the room passed me without being warm and welcoming – and these are people who write about folk who rig cars to kill other folks. It was all death and dismemberment and crime and rock ‘n roll, and love. Last time I had to catch my breath after a performance was when I was 18 and I just got off the stage at The Funny Firm, my first time playing a real comedy club. Got through it by the skin of my teeth. This time, I basked, even within quiet embarrassment. Unlike that night on the mic long ago, I encountered only smiles and nods of approval. Good people. Good words. Good work.

 

I’m still processing the experience, but this time, I’m not using my intellect. I’m not trying to be crafty enough to fake it until I make it. Folks who been doin’ it, and stay doin’ it, welcomed me into doing it. I remember what it’s like to be brand new, except in this era of my life I’m not pretending I know. Not in front of these sweet souls. I’m finally enjoying being the young buck. Green as monkey shit.

Pardon me as I wipe snot from my nose.

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Interview with S.W. Lauden at Bad Citizen Corporation.

Hello, dear reader.

You have likely arrived here based upon my current work in detective/crime fiction, namely my debut novel A Negro and an Ofay. You’ll likely notice there ain’t much else here. Rest assured, I’ll remedy this. In the meantime, the incomparable S.W. Lauden and I chopped it up over at Bad Citizen Corporation. We broke on everything from that risky title, to life in Chicago back in the day and how I landed in crime fiction after all this time. Give that a read while I figure out a way to make this joint interesting, and thanks for visiting.

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http://badcitizencorporation.com/2015/09/14/interrogation-danny-gardner/