“By Six O’clock: A Collection” preview #4: “Velvet Dress”

The following is a preview of one of the stories that can be found in my upcoming short story collection, “By Six O’clock.” This is from the novella “Velvet Dress,” in which Ethan Hudson (from Take the Long Way) takes his Acme coworker Renu Mahajani to see U2’s PopMart show at Franklin Field in 1997. This becomes an intimately special night for both, and the question of what will come of their relationship lingers, since Renu is due to leave for a long pilgrimage to meet distant family in India the next day. This excerpt picks up midway through the first section of the novella.

Only one register was open, and I smiled when I saw who was at its helm: Renu Mahajani. She flipped through a magazine while using a plastic fork to eat part of a piece of cake on a white paper plate. She had luscious shoulder-length dark hair with butterfly clips in it. Her skin had a wheatish tone and her lips had clear gloss on them. She also had a bright laugh and a cheery disposition, both of which I found enticing. I always looked forward to working with her, usually serving as her bagger when she rang customers up. We had a good rapport with each other, joking and telling stories from our lives during lulls in consumer traffic. I enjoyed my time with her so much that I considered asking her out on a date last summer, since I knew she didn’t have a boyfriend and she was the same age as me and I definitely felt the possibility of a romantic connection between us, but she was headed to West Chester University as a biology major in the fall and I wasn’t sure if she’d want to be tied up in a relationship so soon before school started.

I was very happy to see her back at the store again, though she wouldn’t be staying the whole summer. She was leaving on Monday to go to India and spend time with family that she’d never met before. She’d be there for four weeks, after which she’d return and have a few days off before going back to West Chester to start her sophomore year early.

A customer walked up to the register with a few items and Renu rang them up quickly and sent them on their way. After that, I approached her register and she smiled when she saw me. She wore a red polo shirt with the Acme company logo in the upper left of the shirt along with khaki pants and sneakers, similar to my outfit.

“Hey,” she said, her voice only carrying a hint of an Indian accent, “have you had any of the cake that Samantha made? It’s really good.”

“Yeah, I had some on my break,” I said.

Renu looked at her watch. “Less than a half hour till I clock out for the final time.”

“Sucks that you’re leaving so soon. I was really looking forward to another summer working with you.”

“I know, me too, but if I don’t take this trip now, I don’t know when I’ll ever have time to take it again, and it’s a trip I’ve been wanting to go on for years.”

“How long is going to take to get there?”

“Over twenty hours, at least.”

“Wow.”

“I know. There are two stops on the way, so I’m making sure I’ve got plenty of books and music packed in my carry-on, along with a comfy pillow. I’ve also been to my doctor and gotten updates on some of my vaccinations and she even gave me some pills to take with me in case of any sickness or discomfort I may get over there. I’ve also got light clothing packed as well, since I know it’ll be blazing hot when I get there.”

“Good idea. So, you’re seeing family?”

“Yeah, my mother’s side.”

 Through talking with her, I learned that her family—her father, who ran a drug store on Castor Avenue; her mother, a stay-at-home seamstress; and her younger-by-five-years brother Sanjay—lived within walking distance of the store. One night, when Renu was fourteen, her mother left their house to pick up a few things for dinner at Acme, but while walking there, she was struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist who was never apprehended. Renu didn’t talk much about it, but I gathered that it left a lasting impact on her and that this trip might have something to do with it.

“All of my father’s family are here in America, but much of my mother’s family are still in Mumbai, so I’ve never met them,” she continued. “They promised to show me as much of the country as they can, although I already know that my first day or two there, I’ll be recovering from jet lag. Once I’m up and about, we’ll be doing a lot of sightseeing, and I know some of the places they want to take me are remote or will take a while to get there, so that’s why I booked so much time there. Also, my cousin Shaheen, who’s the same age as me, promised to show me some of the places where people our age like to hang out, just so I’m not around old people all the time.”

“Sounds like you’ll have a good time.”

“I hope so. I’m a little nervous about it because, you know, you just never know how these types of things can go, and I’ll be there for four weeks, so if anything goes wrong…”

“I’m sure you’ll have the time of your life.”

She smiled at me. “Are you working here tomorrow?”

“No, I have off tomorrow and Monday.”

“Oh, cool.”

“Got anything planned for your last night before your trip?

“Nothing major,” she said. “I might stop in tomorrow just to say goodbye to anyone who wasn’t in during my last few shifts. Other than that, I’ll just finish packing, go to mass with my father and brother, maybe get my nails done, and call a few friends.”

“Well, if you have a twenty-plus-hour flight ahead of you, it’s probably a good idea to take it easy the day before.”

“Very true. What about you, any big plans for your days off?”

“I’ve got floor tickets for the U2 concert tomorrow night.”

“Really? Awesome! I love U2. ‘Mysterious Ways’ is my favorite. Oh, I’d love to go to that show.”

“I think they just released a new block of tickets, so you could probably still get a good seat.”

“No,” she said, deflated. “I need to save my money for the trip. Besides, I’d have no one to go with. None of my friends like U2 enough to go to the show, and the only non-Indian music my dad listens to is Elvis. I could take Sanjay, but I don’t know, I’d rather not go to something like that with my little brother. And I can only imagine what the traffic will be like getting down there tomorrow night, so…”

That’s when an idea popped into my head that I was surprised hadn’t occurred to me until now: “Well, I have an extra ticket, so if you wanna go with me, you’re more than welcome.”

She blushed slightly and shook her head in weak denial. “No, no, I couldn’t. I wouldn’t be able to pay you back for the ticket.”

“Don’t worry about it. I originally bought it as a gift for Jocelyn, so I never expected to be paid back for it. If you want it, it’s yours. I’ll drive.”

She remained silent for a few moments before nodding and smiling. “Okay, but you have to let me give you gas money or, I don’t know, buy you pizza or something afterwards.”

“Sounds good to me.”

“Oh, and when you pick me up, you may be subjected to my father’s tale about when he saw Elvis in concert at the Spectrum. All my friends and all the boys I’ve dated have heard it. It’s one of his favorite stories to tell.”

“No problem.”

Renu picked up a pen on the side of her register and wrote her address on a piece of blank receipt paper. She handed it to me and asked, “Do you know where that is?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Okay, so what time do you think we should leave tomorrow?”

“I’d say no later than six-thirty.”

“Then let’s leave at six, just in case of traffic.”

“Great.”

We finished our shift and clocked out. Coincidentally, we’d parked next to each other in the parking lot, so we exchanged good night smiles and waves before getting into our cars. I let her pull out of her spot first and go on her way. As I started my car up, I felt positive energy surging through me. I couldn’t wait for tomorrow night to come.

Find out what happens with Ethan and Renu on their night out and the morning after in “By Six O’clock: A Collection.”

“By Six O’clock: A Collection” preview #3: “Bitter Pill”

The following is a preview of one of the stories that can be found in my upcoming short story collection, “By Six O’clock.” This is from a story called “Bitter Pill,” in which Megan Stoddard, a woman who once had it all but then lost everything, receives some much needed assistance from a complete stranger. However, Megan soon learns that this stranger is connected to her past and that the stranger’s altruism may hide a more sinister purpose. This excerpt begins in the middle of the story.

Megan remained on the sidewalk, putting her elbows on her knees and resting her face in her hands. She reviewed in her mind once again all the events that had led to her wandering the streets barefoot without any money or shelter and possibly needing to spend the night curled up in an alleyway or doorway or on a park bench. She grew queasy thinking about all the possible outcomes of a night on the streets for someone like her and almost burst into tears, but she wouldn’t allow herself to fall into the throes of despair in public. Instead, she became angry, even cynical, thinking about her current situation and those mainly responsible for her being in it.

Then someone walked past her, a woman, maybe around her age, with light brunette hair, conservative apparel, and running sneakers. She looked at Megan through prescription glasses and continued staring at her as she passed. Megan wanted to yell something sly and sarcastic at her, but she knew she needed to conserve her energy, so she only sneered at this stranger before returning inward to stew within her rage-filled mind.

However, the woman turned back and approached Megan gently, casting a compassionate shadow over her.

“Excuse me, are you okay?” she asked.

“Yeah, just fine, thanks,” Megan responded bitterly without glancing at her.

“Well, pardon my saying, but you don’t look fine.”

Megan sighed (Leave me alone, lady!) and finally looked up at her. “Whatever would give you that idea?”

“Well, you just look very down and out, and you’re not even wearing shoes.”

“How very observant of you.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you. I just saw you and thought that maybe you needed help.”

Megan shook her head and stood up, not in the mood to listen to this anymore. “Look, not to be rude, but I don’t need any help!” she exclaimed as she walked away.

She didn’t get very far, though, before the woman suddenly jumped in front of her and blocked her escape.

“Everyone needs help sometimes,” the woman said, “and it’s usually the people who deny it who need it the most.”

“No one can help me with the problems I have!”

“Maybe I can. Let me try.”

“Look, I really need to get going and I’d appreciate it if you’d just…”

Megan tried walking away again, but the woman continued blocking her escape.

“Where are you gonna go in such a state?” the woman asked. “You’re completely frazzled, your clothes look ragged, and your feet are dirty and bare. How do you expect to survive a night on the streets like this?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll figure it out somehow!”

“Look, let me try to help you, please.”

“I don’t even know you, lady!”

“My name’s Beth Coolidge. I live not too far from here. You’re more than welcome to come into my house, get something to eat and drink, wash up, rest. What’s your shoe size?”

“Seven-and-a-half.”

“Unfortunately, I can’t help you there right now.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“Let’s just say that, at one time in my life, I was down and out just like you, and I only wish I had someone show up and offer me help.”

Beth started walking up the street and motioned for Megan to follow her. Megan was reluctant at first. This seemed too good to be true. After all the increasingly bad luck she’d had over the past few months, she found it difficult to think that someone wanted to help her. However, she also knew that offers of assistance were severely lacking lately, and she didn’t want to let this opportunity slip by, so she started following Beth, who turned her head and smiled when she heard Megan’s footsteps.

Megan followed closely behind as Beth led her up the block, then two streets over, and finally one more block down to the front steps of a nice-looking row home with a well-kept lawn and clean patio. Beth opened the door and allowed Megan to enter. As soon as her tired, aching feet stepped onto the comfortably carpeted floor, Megan knew she’d made the right decision to come here. The living room smelled of lilac and the furnishings were spare but nice.

“Feel free to use the bathroom upstairs to wash up,” Beth said. “I’m not sure how long it’s been since you’ve had a proper shower, but there are extra toiletries in the drawers up there that you can use, and I can get you fresh towels as well. Even if you just want to wash your feet.”

“Thanks, maybe later,” Megan responded, her defenses finally dropping as she felt safe for the first time in weeks. “Right now, I just want to sit down and rest.”

“Okay. Do you want something to eat or drink?”

“Maybe some water.”

“Great, I’ll get you some. Why don’t you sit down at my dining room table and we’ll talk a little bit, okay?”

“Sure.”

Beth quickly walked to the kitchen while Megan slowly ambled toward the dining room table. A basket with fake flowers, a floral runner, and a box of tissues sat on top of its dark wood-stained finish. A tired sigh escaped her lips as she sat down. She noticed the curio cabinet to her right, featuring carefully curated figurines of little children and farm animals. A framed picture of a bucolic landscape hung on the wall next to the curio cabinet. Megan felt like this house belonged to a senior citizen instead of someone who looked close to her age.

When Beth returned, she placed a tall glass of water in front of Megan and said, “That’s not tap water either. That’s straight from my filtered pitcher,” as she sat down next to her.

Megan picked up the glass and took a long sip, the water tasting cool and soothing. Then she looked at Beth and said graciously, “Thank you.”

“No problem. So, tell me, how did you get to this point?”

Find out how Megan and Beth are connected and what happens when that connection is uncovered in “By Six O’clock: A Collection.”

“By Six O’clock: A Collection” preview #2: “24-Hours With Rosemary”

The following is a preview of one of the stories that can be found in my upcoming short story collection, “By Six O’clock.” This is from a story called “24-Hours With Rosemary,” which follows 23-year-old Jake Altimari as he takes an unexpected tour through downtown Philadelphia with Rosemary Clarke, a 22-year-old Canadian who’s on the last day of a lengthy vacation before going home to Toronto to start a new job.

As Jake Altimari rode the train home on a Thursday morning in late April 2002, he thought about the 24-hours he’d just spent with Rosemary Clarke, and how that incredible day actually started on an inauspicious note.

On the day they met, Jake was twenty-three years old and in need of a job after being laid off from his first post-college full-time position as an Editorial Assistant in the Publications Department of Casablancas Communications. He enjoyed working there and hoped to move up in the company, but with business drying up due to the sudden economic downturn following 9/11, some immediate and drastic cuts were made, and Jake received his severance package a week before Christmas 2001. This put a major hitch in his plans for 2002, which included moving out of his parents’ house in Northeast Philly and into a loft in Northern Liberties with his best friend Julian Hammond, along with paying off some lingering debts and hopefully hitting the dating scene once again (he hadn’t been in a serious relationship since his junior year of college).

After Christmas and New Year’s passed, he sent his resume out to many different companies for a variety of job openings, hoping that he could obtain a position quickly so that he wouldn’t have to delay his plans for long. The initial response from prospective employers was encouraging, and he spent most of January going from interview to interview—one place even interviewed him for three different positions—and he thought for sure he’d secure something quickly.

However, none of the interviews led to a job offer, and he never received any explanations regarding why they’d rejected him. He diligently continued sending out his resume, but the interview requests he’d received in February and March weren’t as plentiful or promising as before. In addition to responding to job postings, he also attended job fairs, enrolled in job bank newsletters, and even met with his former college advisor, all in hopes of finding some way to break out of his jobless rut.

Unfortunately, April saw no change to his fortunes. Two weeks passed without any interview requests, and the money he received from unemployment amounted to a pittance once he took care of his bills for that month. He grew bored and restless while sitting around waiting for potential employers to call, so he kept himself occupied in a number of different ways: cleaning the house, washing his car, watching TV, loitering in malls, going to the occasional movie (matinees only, since evening prices were too much), joining a gym (at the lowest price), and writing stories, among other things. He and Julian hung out from time to time. Julian, a sales associate for a local tech company, usually picked up the tab for their nights out, which consisted of visiting pool halls, local bars, and all-night diners. Julian didn’t mind; in fact, it was his idea to do so, but Jake’s pride still sustained a hit on those nights, since he felt inferior to his gainfully employed mate. Jake sincerely hoped that his job-seeking efforts would pay off soon because he saw the end of his patience with unemployed life fast approaching.

Then a representative from an Internet publishing firm located in Center City called him only a day after receiving his resume. The rep told him that he had the exact skills they’d been looking for and wanted to bring him in for an interview ASAP. Jake accepted the offer and they agreed on an 8 a.m. interview time for that Wednesday. He got out a nice shirt and tie, dark khakis, and a sport coat, and made sure everything looked nice and clean for the interview.

The office resided in a building at 16th and Market, convenient to the Suburban Station stop for the Market-Frankford train line. On the ride in, he listened to Is This It by the Strokes on his Discman, hoping the music would boost his spirit and his energy. He slipped his Discman into his leather satchel as he stepped off of the train, walked out of the station, and immersed himself in the early morning hustle-bustle of Center City.

He arrived at the building fifteen minutes early, so before going into the office, he stopped in the main bathroom and made sure he hadn’t messed up his look too much on the ride in. His clothes still looked fresh, his dark hair remained brushed back, and his face was stubble-free. His dark Oxfords had some minor scuffs on them, but he didn’t think anyone would bother looking at his feet. With confidence in his step, he left the bathroom and entered the office at exactly eight o’clock.

After waiting in the reception area for almost twenty minutes, a middle-aged female recruiter named Alexis approached him. He stood up, expecting her to ask him to follow her back to her office, as most interviews usually began. Instead, she informed him that, unbeknownst to her, the position he’d applied for had actually been filled a few days before, and they had no more openings for someone with his skill set. Alexis offered an embarrassed and apologetic smile as she promised to keep his resume on file in case anything else came up. Jake smiled but knew he’d never hear from her again.

At eight-thirty, Jake trudged into JFK Plaza, taking off his tie and shoving it into his satchel as he walked. He unbuttoned the top button of his shirt as he sat down on one of the benches near the “LOVE” statue and let out a long sigh. The clear, cool weather provided a comfortable start to the day, but Jake couldn’t enjoy it. Anger, frustration, and depression all coalesced inside of him and left him feeling worn out and tired. He didn’t know what recourse he had now. He’d tried everything he could think of but still couldn’t obtain employment. He looked around and saw people passing by engaged in all manner of business activities: talking with coworkers as they walked to their offices, making important calls on their cell phones as they strolled, and checking out the day’s business news in the paper. Jake felt alone.

“Excuse me?”

Jake turned his head and saw a young woman (around his age, he guessed) with short dark hair, sunglasses, a leather jacket over a black shirt, jeans, and boots, standing in front of him. She brandished an expensive-looking camera along with a wide smile.

“Would you mind taking my picture in front of the Love statue over there?” she asked with an accent that Jake couldn’t quite place at first.

He didn’t respond right away, still taken aback by this out-of-the-blue request. The woman had an inviting smile on her face, and he didn’t see any harm in helping her out so he agreed. They walked over to the statue, the woman standing next to it and Jake keeping enough distance to get both her and the statue in the frame.

“How’s this pose?” she asked, leaning casually next to the statue.

“Good,” he said. “Hold it just like that.”

“Take a few shots, eh?”

Jake did as instructed, snapping four pictures of her with the statue. Once the photo session was finished, she walked up to him and he returned the camera to her hands. She held the camera to her ear and listened as the film automatically rewound.

“Mm, I love the sound of a well-spent roll of film rewinding,” she said. “So much expectation for when it’s developed. I’ll have to reload before I do more sightseeing.”

“How long are you here?” Jake asked.

“I got in late Monday night, but I spent most of yesterday relaxing in my hotel room. Late flights tend to wipe me out the next day, so I got up early today and I plan on doing some serious sightseeing before I have to go home tomorrow.”

 “You’re only sightseeing today? If you don’t mind me saying, that’s not nearly enough time to see everything in the city, and I’m not just talking about here in town. There’re also the surrounding neighborhoods and counties…”

 She laughed. “I know, it was a bit of poor planning on my part, but I have a few things on my list that are absolute must-sees, so I’ll cross those off first and then I’ll just wander around from there.”

 “I see. Well, at least you have a nice day for checking out the sights.”

 “I know, it’s lovely out here.” She pronounced “out” as “oot,” and Jake asked if she was from Canada. In answering, she comically thickened her accent: “What’re ya talkin’ aboot, eh? Don’tcha know I’m from Toronto, ya hoser!”

 Both of them laughed, and she asked him where he was from. “Right here in Philly,” Jake answered, “born and raised.”

 “Well, I don’t wanna keep you any longer. You look like you’re off to work, so…”

 “Oh, no, I’m actually coming from a job interview.”

 “Really? How’d that go?”

 “Well, it, um…it sucked.”

 She laughed, then quickly apologized. “I shouldn’t laugh at that, I’m sorry, it’s just, the way you said it…”

 “It’s okay, I understand.”

 “Oh, I’m so rude, I haven’t even introduced myself.” She put out her hand: “Rosemary Clarke.”

 Jake shook her hand and formally introduced himself.

 “So, what’re you gonna do now?” Rosemary asked.

 “Probably just go back home, figure out some way to waste the day.”

 “Well, before you go, how ‘bout I buy you a cup of coffee, as a thank you for taking my picture?”

 Jake agreed and followed her to a nearby Starbucks.

Find out how Jake and Rosemary spend the rest of their day together in my upcoming collection, “By Six O’clock.”

“By Six O’clock: A Collection” preview #1: “By Six O’clock”

The following is a preview of one of the stories that can be found in my upcoming short story collection, “By Six O’clock.” This is from the title story, about the afternoon that 12-year-olds Fred Cooper and Fiona MacGregor spend together on New Years Day 1991.

BY SIX O’CLOCK

“Yo, let’s just see Home Alone again,” Mitch said to me and Jamie as we looked at the marquee on the side of the main building of the AMC Orleans 8 on that frigid New Year’s Day in 1991.

The three of us stood a few feet away from the box office, all bundled up in winter coats: Mitch in his green bomber jacket, Jamie in his orange-and-black Philadelphia Flyers Starter jacket, and me in my dark blue parka with the faux fur lined hood. Unlike other multiplexes, the AMC Orleans 8 was split across two separate buildings. We gazed at the titles listed for theaters 1 thru 4: Home Alone, The Godfather Part III, Dances with Wolves, and Edward Scissorhands. We’d already been over to the other building with theaters 5 thru 8 and the titles on that marquee were Look Who’s Talking Too, The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Russia House, and Three Men & A Little Lady. None of those titles interested us so we came back to the main building to settle on one of the movies there.

Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for seeing a movie. I’d have rather stayed at home, heated up the last of the Christmas leftovers, watched the Mummer’s Parade, played a video game or two, and relaxed on my final day off before going back to school. I was actually glad for Christmas vacation to end. My parents had another one of their fights late on Christmas night and spent the whole week after that not talking to each other. The tense silence between them was suffocating, and I got out of the house any chance I could, usually to hang out with Mitch and Jamie, friends of mine since nursery school. We’d pass the time by roaming around the neighborhood, with some of our favorite spots being Russo Park, Forrest Elementary’s schoolyard, Frankford Avenue, Shef’s Pizza, and the Roosevelt Mall. During our week-long Christmas break, we’d been to the movies three times, seeing Home Alone for the second time at the Orleans (we’d gone opening weekend), Rocky V at the Devon (a ratty, single-screen second-run theater with dirt-cheap ticket prices that was a half hour’s walk from our houses), and Kindergarten Cop at the GCC Northeast 4(we journeyed there by bus, since it was well out of our neighborhood).

At that point on New Year’s Day, I was burnt out on movies, and my parents were both working so I had my house all to myself, so I had no problem staying in for the day, but Mitch insisted that we brave the arctic winds to trek up to the Orleans and check out one more movie on our last day off.

“I don’t feel like seeing Home Alone again,” I said through the chattering of my teeth. “We’ve already seen it twice.”

“I know, and it’s the greatest movie ever made, so it’s worth seeing a third time,” Mitch said.

The three of us were twelve years old at the time, and Home Alone seemed custom-made for our age group, especially Mitch. He had three younger siblings and parents who worked opposite shifts (his dad an overnight manager at a manufacturing facility, his mom a receptionist at a doctor’s office), so he never had his house all to himself, making Home Alone a wish fulfillment fantasy for him.

“I don’t know, I’d rather see something different,” I said.

Mitch turned to Jamie and asked, “What do you think, man? Home Alone or one of those other stupid movies?”

“I’m cool with Home Alone,” Jamie said, obviously not wanting to agitate Mitch anymore than he already seemed to be.

I just couldn’t imagine sitting through Macauley Culkin’s antics one more time, so I said, “What about Edward Scissorhands? That looks pretty good.”

Mitch sneered at me. “No way. That movie looks gay.”

“It’s by Tim Burton.”

“Who the hell’s that?”

“He directed Batman and Beetlejuice.”

“And Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure,” Jamie chimed in. “Don’t forget that one.”

“Okay, all of those movies were cool, but Edward Scissorhands looks dumb,” Mitch said. “I don’t feel like seeing it.”

“What about Dances with Wolves?” Jamie suggested. “My dad saw it and he said it was pretty good.”

“I’m not in the mood for a three-hour western that’ll probably suck.”

“Okay. What about The Godfather?”

It was well-known to all who frequented the AMC Orleans 8 that they often allowed patrons under 17 in to see R-rated flicks. We’d actually gotten in to see Darkman over Labor Day weekend without any problem.

“No way,” Mitch said. “My dad always watches that first Godfather movie when it’s on TV, and it’s boring as hell, just a bunch of old people sitting around talking, and this one will probably suck too. I’m sticking with Home Alone. That movie will never get old.”

“I’d still rather see Edward Scissorhands,” I said. “I think it looks great.”

“You know what, you can see that on your own whenever you want, but right now, I’m freezing my ass off, I want to get inside the theater, and I want to see Home Alone again, so that’s what we’re doing!”

Mitch marched off to the box office and stood behind the four other people waiting in line. Jamie gave me a resigned shrug before joining Mitch. I shook my head and sighed. That was something about Mitch that I sometimes didn’t like: he’d act like the leader of our group and make snap decisions about what we were going to do that day, and you either went along with him or risked arousing his ire.

I moved up and stood in line with them, all the while trying to convince myself that I really wanted to watch Home Alone again. I looked at the signs hanging up in the box office window and checked out the showtimes: both Home Alone and Edward Scissorhands started at 11:45 a.m. I looked at my watch and saw that it was just after eleven-thirty, so we still had plenty of time to get our tickets, get refreshments, find good seats, and settle in before the previews started.

Mitch finally made it up to the box office window and asked for one ticket to Home Alone. He handed over his money and the cashier gave him his ticket. Then Jamie did the same. When I walked up to the box office window, I stared up at the signs bearing the showtimes again. Quickly, an idea formed in my mind.

“Hey, what time does Home Alone let out?” I asked.

The cashier, a tall African American man, checked his computer and said, “At one thirty-eight.”

“And what about Edward Scissorhands?

He checked his computer again. “One forty-one.”

Only three minutes difference. I decided to go for it.

“One for Edward Scissorhands.

I handed over my money and the cashier gave me my ticket.

I walked over to Mitch and Jamie, who were standing by the main door waiting for me. Mitch wore a scowl on his face as he watched me approach.

“What the hell, man?” he asked.

“Look, I don’t feel like watching Home Alone again,” I said. “My movie lets out three minutes after yours. You can wait for me for three minutes, can’t you?”

“Yeah, it’s not a big deal,” Jamie said.

“It is a big deal,” Mitch said, annoyed. “Do you really expect us to just wait around out here in the freezing cold for you?”

“You can stand in the lobby,” I said. “Or even come into my theater after Home Alone ends and watch the end of the movie with me. I’ll sit near the back, so you won’t be noticed when you sit down.”

Mitch shook his head, keeping his rage on low boil. I hoped that Home Alone would calm him down and he’d return to an even temper when we met up again.

We opened the doors and stepped into the theater’s lobby, where the smell of popcorn butter from the concession stand was inescapable. We walked up to the hobbit-like ticket taker, who ripped our tickets in half, dropped the bottom portions into a plastic bucket, gave us back the top portions, and directed us in a monotone voice to our theaters. Home Alone showed in Theater 1, in the corner ahead, while Edward Scissorhands played in Theater 4, far down on the left.

Mitch and Jamie immediately got into the concession line. I thought about joining them, but it just felt too early for popcorn and soda, so I hung a left and walked down to Theater 4.

I stepped into the theater and walked down the middle aisle with rows of cushioned seats on either side, speakers hanging high on the side walls, and the large screen up front. The room had a damp feel to it, though I’m not sure why. I looked around and saw that the theater was only sparsely populated, with a father with his daughter, two teenaged boy-girl couples, and an older married couple scattered throughout. I thought about moving into the center of the theater and picking a seat, since that’s where I normally liked to sit in any theater, especially if I was on my own, but I remembered what I’d told Mitch and Jamie, so I moved to the back and sat in the third seat of the fourth row from the entrance on the left. I kept my coat on, since it didn’t feel like the heating had fully kicked on just yet. It was still a few minutes before showtime, so advertising stills for area and national businesses flashed on the screen at varying intervals.

Not long after I sat down, the entrance door opened and someone new entered the theater: a girl who looked around my age, clad in a long dark coat which hid almost her entire body except for her casual black boots. She wore a black beret on her head, with brunette hair coming out of it and cutting off just above her shoulders. An embroidered multi-colored purse hung from her left shoulder. She walked down the middle aisle and stopped halfway to the screen, taking off her black gloves and putting them in her coat pockets.

Then she looked back, and her eyes settled upon me, giving me a look like she’d just seen an old friend for the first time in years.

She had a fair complexion and a pretty face that was accentuated by her light red lipstick. I didn’t recognize her at all. She didn’t go to my school and I’d never seen her around my neighborhood, so I had no idea who she was or why she stared at me with such familiarity.

She walked back up the aisle to my row, leaned in toward me, and motioned to the two empty seats next to me. “Excuse me, are these seats taken?” she asked, her voice sounding soft and pleasant, her breath carrying the faint scent of a Certs peppermint.

“No, they’re free,” I said, slightly nervous.

Find out how Fred and Fiona spend the rest of their day together in my upcoming collection, “By Six O’clock.”

The Oscars

Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I sat down and watched the Oscars all the way through. I’ll check in on it periodically throughout the night, but I no longer have the patience to sit there for 3+ hours, especially when I haven’t been a fan of many of the movies that have been nominated in recent years. Last year’s Best Picture winner, Parasite, was a surprising choice and a deserving one at that. Before last year, though, I’d probably have to go back to Argo in 2012 to find a Best Picture winner that I actually enjoyed and that didn’t feel like a slog to get through or that I was watching it for homework rather than enjoyment.

I always remember a friend of mine way back in 2000 once said, “I enjoyed Deuce Bigelow more than any of those Oscar movies,” and while I wouldn’t go that far, I’ve grown to understand his point more and more in recent years.

So, since the Oscars are being given out tomorrow, rather than go through the nominees and pick who I think will/should win, I’ll just do a quick run through of some of the films that racked up nominations and give a few brief thoughts.

Sound of Metal – full disclosure: I used to be a drummer, so I’m generally biased to any movie that has a drummer as the main character (I still say Whiplash was the best movie of 2014; prove me wrong–oh, no, you can’t!), so it should come as no surprise when I list this as my favorite movie of this whole bunch. Riz Ahmed is excellent as is Paul Raci as his counselor. The sound design was incredible as well. I wish I could’ve heard it through theater sound, but it still had its intended effect on my home TV speakers.

Mank – it’s one of those movies that has a lot going for it but never quite gels into something great. Fincher is on his game as always, and Gary Oldman is quite good as the co-screenwriter of Citizen Kane. Amanda Seyfried gives a performance that proves she has more range than some of her previous roles would suggest. The story itself is interesting, but I felt like it never fully grabbed me. It could’ve been more engrossing.

Judas and the Black Messiah – Daniel Kaluuya and LaKeith Stanfield are excellent in this. Unfortunately, the movie around them is rather pedestrian and unexciting. I kept thinking of Donnie Brasco while watching it and thinking that Brasco had a bit more heart than this movie does. Good, but could’ve been so much better.

The Trial of the Chicago 7 – Once again, good but not great. It has a crackerjack cast and solid script and direction from Aaron Sorkin, but I never felt fully engrossed by it. Sacha Baron Cohen definitely earned his Oscar nomination (more on him later) but the whole cast did very well in this. Despite the breakneck editing, this still felt overlong and could’ve been more judicially edited.

One Night In Miami… – Another one for the “Good, not great” category. Strong performances by the leads and an interesting story, but I felt my attention wandering during some of the more dialogue-heavy scenes. Good first directing effort by Regina King. I’m definitely interested to see what she directs next.

Nomadland – Okay, I’ll be as fair as I can here. It has some beautiful cinematography and a few nice moments. But overall, it is boring. BORING. Almost nothing happens in this movie. And, Frances McDormand, I love her, I always will, but she was not very good in this movie. Her performance is very one-note, just a lot of moping around. For my money, this is the weakest of the bunch and, go figure, is heavily favored to take the top awards.

Borat Subsequent Movie Film – Let’s end on an up note. I actively avoided the first Borat for many years. I saw two episode of Da Ali G Show and thought they were horrendous. Not funny in the slightest. And, to me, Sacha Baron Cohen was the weakest link in just about everything he did, save for Talladega Nights, where I actually enjoyed his performance. Right before Subsequent Movie Film came out, I decided to finally give Borat a shot and, lo and behold, I thought it was really funny. A bit mean-spirited at times, but still enjoyable, and it won me over to Cohen finally. Subsequent Movie Film is along the same lines, but it has Maria Bakalova stealing the film from Cohen. She’s a gem. I do hope she wins for Best Supporting Actress, because she gave one of the funniest and most heartfelt performances in any movie this year.

Now that I have both of my Pfizer vaccine shots in me, I’m hoping it won’t be much longer until it becomes safe to go to the movie theaters again. It probably is now, but I’m not ready yet. Maybe by the end of this year, I hope. Don’t get me wrong, the ease of streaming makes movie watching very convenient, but I miss the thrill of sitting in a darkened movie theater and having a big action movie or uproarious comedy playing in front of me.

I’m sure I’ll get back there. Just need to be patient a little longer.

2020: The Wrap-Up

I’ve been meaning to write some sort of wrap-up for 2020, but how do you tackle such a task when 2020 packed several years’ worth of events all into one span of 365 days? Well, I’ll do the best that I can, and if I forget anything, so be it.

The big event for 2020 for me was publishing my latest novel, Take the Long Way. I started writing it in 2018 but it didn’t really catch fire until midway through 2019, wrapping up the first draft around Thanksgiving. Editing it went quicker than expected, and I had it out in July 2020. So far, the response has been very positive, so I’m glad people have enjoyed it. Some day soon, I’ll settle down and produce a digital version of it (I keep meaning to do it but then I get sidetracked and oh here comes one of my dogs and I could really go for some Doritos and…)

Speaking of dogs, my wife and I adopted a new greyhound boy named Truman. He’s a tall brindle who’s as sweet as can be and has a fun and lovable personality. He’s still getting acclimated to living in a house, but Izzy and Hazel are showing him the ropes. I think he’ll eventually settle in and become a very much loved member of the family.

I did a lot of TV watching this year. Like everyone else, I binged Schitt’s Creek, which was a wonderful show for many reasons (unlike everyone else, I steered far away from Tiger King). I also ran through all 205 episodes of How I Met Your Mother. I really enjoyed that show. It could be riotously funny and incredibly touching all in the same episode. The Kominsky Method was also an enjoyable show. Michael Douglas and Alan Arkin made a great, comedically acerbic team. I just started on the British comedy The IT Crowd, which is hilarious. I’m also midway through season 4 of Parks and Recreation, which is funny but not quite as amazing as people made it out to be. And, of course, it should go without saying that The Mandalorian was spectacular.

I also watched a lot of movies this year. I won’t even try to tally up all the movie watching I did (since it included a lot of films that came out before 2020), so I’ll do a quick recap: Palm Springs was insanely entertaining, and that’s saying something since I’ve never been a fan of Andy Samberg, but he’s great in this along with Cristin Milioti; Bill and Ted Face the Music isn’t perfect, but I still enjoyed it and loved seeing those characters again; Da 5 Bloods features a great performance by Delroy Lindo and, despite its length, doesn’t get bogged down in some of the excesses that sometimes mars Spike Lee’s work (he directed this with a steady hand, and it turned out to be pretty satisfying); The Vast of Night was a spooky, well-done micro-indie; The Happiest Season was fairly enjoyable, not something that will blow you away but a pleasant way to spend 105 minutes; Yes God Yes was “eh,” an okay lead performance by whatsername from Stranger Things but otherwise, was an instantly forgettable attempt at satire; The Invisible Man was a well-done reinvention of the classic tale.

Music was definitely key to getting through this year, and thankfully there was a lot of good tunes out there. Fiona Apple’s Fetch the Bolt Cutters was stunning album, though one that I’ve found it difficult to give repeat listens to following playing it on a near-daily basis back when it came out. Hayley Williams’s Petals For Armor was a solid and confident first solo foray for the Paramore lead singer, with danceable tunes along with lyrics that cut deep. The Strokes’ The New Abnormal brought some much needed New York style rock to the world, and it was nice to see them return to form after being gone so long. Bruce Springsteen’s Letter To You was also a welcome return from a rock pioneer, showing he’s still got a lot of life in his weathered voice. I didn’t really care for Pearl Jam’s Gigaton, which had a few notable songs but was largely forgettable, like most of their recent output. Hush by Maya Hawke was an interesting first effort from her but a little too dreamily paced for my liking.

I read a lot this year as well, but most were older novels. The only book released in 2020 that I read was Alex Trebek’s autobiography. There’s nothing controversial or headline-grabbing in it, but that’s okay. That’s not what I was looking for in this book. It felt like a long, warm conversation with an old friend, and since Trebek has been a daily part of my life since at least 1987, that was just fine by me.

As I write this, it’s now a little over 3 hours until 2020 ends. Only time will tell what some of the enduring memories and images from this year will be. Hopefully, 2021, as it goes on, will find us all a little better and a little wiser for having lived through it.

Happy New Year!

I Think We’re Alone Now

Despite having an account and going to the site at least once a day, I hate Twitter. It’s full of people who think they’re comedians but are massively unfunny, as well as people who can’t tolerate or even understand people who have different opinions than them. Bizarre things will start trending on there, and while I used to try and look up why they were trending, I’ve given up because it’s usually pretty brain dead (“Demon sperm” was trending this week, and frankly, I don’t care to know why).

However, a Twitter user posed a question that got me thinking: “What was the least attended movie you’ve ever been to?”

That’s an easy answer for me: Day before Thanksgiving, 2006, AMC Woodhaven 10, 12:30pm showing of The Departed. I was the only one in the theater.

Since reading that original post, I’ve been thinking about the times where I found myself in very sparsely attended showings. The farthest back I can go is seeing Turner & Hooch with my aunt in 1989. There were only 2 other people in the theater for a Sunday matinee.

Back when AMC Theaters still did the Twi-Lite Show bargains (shows between 4 and 6pm were discounted), a friend of mine and I went to see a 5:15 showing of Cool World in the summer of 1992. There was another couple of guys in the theater but they left midway through. I still say that was one of the strangest movies to ever get a wide summer release.

Another friend of mine and I saw a late-in-its-original-run showing of The Lion King in 1994. There was an elderly woman and middle-aged guy in the theater with us, but that’s it.

For some reason, I went to see the Chris O’Donnell-Drew Barrymore film Mad Love in 1995, and it was only me and another guy in the theater.

In 1997, I saw a weekday matinee of Chasing Amy. The only other people in the theater were an elderly woman, a guy who looked like a construction worker, and a middle-aged woman with a crew cut. I’m guessing I was the only one in the theater that day who’d seen Clerks and Mallrats because I was the only one who’d laughed at the jokes and previous-film references.

In 1999, my wife (then girlfriend) planned on seeing Mickey Blue Eyes, but we showed up too late for the showing, and when we considered what else to see, we ended up settling on a movie called Dog Park. There was another young couple in the theater but they bailed 20 minutes in. I didn’t think the movie was bad; the leads were extremely bland but the supporting cast was good. And the dogs in it were cute.

In 2002, while unemployed and in desperate need of entertainment, I saw Nicole Kidman in Birthday Girl. I was the first one in the theater. Then three other people came in, and they all sat either next to or around me. Midway through, I moved myself to another part of the theater.

In 2008, my wife and I went to a Sunday night 8pm showing of Frost/Nixon, and there were only 4 other people in the theater, and 2 left midway through. Honestly, I’ve never understood the practice of walking out of movies. Yes, I’ve seen plenty of stinkers in the theater, but I’ve never felt the desire to bolt before the end credits.

In 2019, I saw Once Upon A Time In Hollywood on a Wednesday afternoon in late August, and there were three other people in the theater. At the end, a guy sitting at the far end of the theater stood up, clapped, and yelled “Tarantino!”

So, dear reader, any experiences at sparsely attended movie screenings?

An Excerpt from “Take the Long Way”

Wednesday, August 21, 1996: On the day before Ethan Hudson is set to leave his Northeast Philly home for college in another state, he takes his father’s 1967 Ford Mustang convertible out for a joyride. He drives down to Center City and rides through the streets, and then goes back up to the Northeast to offer his ex-girlfriend a ride in the classic car. Unfortunately, she’s not at home, so Ethan ponders on where else to go to in the Mustang, and then it hits him: Atlantic City.

A guy who sat next to me during homeroom all four years of high school told me and everyone around us about how, right after getting his license, he drove to Atlantic City, used a fake I.D. to get into a casino, sat down at a poker table, and won over a thousand dollars. His story was incredibly detailed, and he even showed us a $100 bill that he had in his wallet from his winnings. Many including myself called B.S. on the story, so he invited us all along for his next trip, which he planned on taking that weekend. I didn’t go and I don’t know if anyone else did, but to me, that’s the type of trip that just reeks of certain doom, and I didn’t feel like going all that way out to AC just to get busted by casino security guards or pit bosses not ten seconds after setting foot inside the building, assuming we’d even make it that far and assuming that his story wasn’t complete crap.

            However, the main thing I filed away in my brain about that story was the route he took to get to Atlantic City: over the Tacony Palmyra Bridge, down Route 73, connect to Route 30 at some point, and ride it out till you hit AC. It seemed easy enough. I’d driven over the Tacony and onto 73 several times, mostly to take Jocelyn to the Cherry Hill Mall since it had some clothing outlets that she preferred over the ones located in the malls in Philly. I had confidence that I could make the journey, especially since I had a stylish and well-tuned machine to take me there.

            I made it over the Tacony without a problem. Traffic was light during that time of day, and there were no bridge openings, so I made it into New Jersey with ease. I drove along 73, passing by the various roadside car dealerships, restaurants, and liquor stores that lined the sides of the roadway. I noticed some cars on both sides of the road slowing down just to get a glimpse of my vehicle in motion and I relished the attention, but I didn’t get cocky. I kept moving at the speed limit. The last thing I needed was to get pulled over by a New Jersey State Trooper and receive a ticket or—worst case scenario—the car gets impounded and the authorities call my father. Not the way I wanted to spend my last day of freedom.

I moved along 73 at an even clip and thought I’d have smooth sailing until I had to catch Route 30. However, just after I passed over the New Jersey Turnpike, I found my lanes of 73 blocked off by police activity. A bad accident had occurred, and cop cars sat on the roadway preventing any vehicles from going any farther. I turned onto Church Road East and thought I’d eventually find my way back onto 73, past the traffic stoppage.

At first, I stuck to main roads, or at least what I thought were main roads, but after about a half-hour or so of driving, I realized that I probably wasn’t going to make it back to 73 any time soon. However, I didn’t let it dampen my spirits. I figured, if nothing else, I could eventually stop in a gas station or some roadside greasy spoon establishment and get directions back to Philly, so I kept Appetite For Destruction blasting from the stereo as I weaved my way through numerous back roads with small houses, well-tended lawns, and fields of crops.

I started getting hungry. It was well past noon and my stomach was growling. I wanted pizza. I passed a sign that said, “Welcome to Corkesville, NJ, Est. 1837,” and figured I’d drive around this town and look for a pizza place. Corkesville looked like your typical rural small town, with a Main Street and a General Store. I saw both as I entered the town and I drove slowly along the road, looking for anyone who might help me in my quest for tomato-and-cheese sustenance. A few people passed by, but none of them paid me any mind, and I didn’t want to disturb them. Frankly, I found it odd that no one stopped to admire the Mustang. This was the first time all day that it hadn’t gotten any attention from passersby. I came to a red light and thought about what my next move should be, if I should keep on driving around this little town or get out and try the next town over.

That’s when I looked over and saw a girl riding a skate-board on the sidewalk, stopping at the corner right next to me. She looked around my age, maybe younger, with reddish brunette hair with streaks of purple in it. She wore a light blue tank top with black bra straps sticking out from underneath. She also wore ripped denim shorts that stopped just above her knees. She wore a black helmet and blue elbow pads and knee pads, along with a well-worn dark blue Jansport backpack strapped around her shoulders. She was also barefoot, a beaded anklet around her left ankle and a shiny toe ring on the second toe of her right foot. Her toenails had fading patches of the red polish she’d put on at some point but hadn’t retouched. She rested one foot on her board and another on the sidewalk. She pulled a water bottle out of her backpack and took a long swig from it.

Then she turned and looked at me. I turned away quickly, hoping she hadn’t noticed me staring, and at first, I thought I’d gotten away with it, but then she jumped down onto the street and approached my passenger side door.

“Hey man,” she said, her voice deeper than your average teenage girl’s but not husky. “Cool car. Is it yours?”

I thought about telling her that it was a graduation present from my parents, but I had a feeling she’d see right through it, so I said, “Nah, it’s my father’s. I’m borrowing it for the day.”

“Oh yeah? Does he know?”

“No.”

She smiled and bopped her head. “Springin’ the Mustang loose without the parental units knowing. Cool. This is a ’67, right?”

I smiled back at her and removed my sunglasses. “Yes, exactly. Are you a car fan?”

“A bit. I remember this was my dad’s dream car. He always wanted one. Never could afford one, though. And then he died of a heart attack two years ago so that dream will never be fulfilled.”

“Sorry to hear that.”

She showed no signs of sadness. “It’s cool. So, what are you doing here? I doubt you came here on purpose. No one does. I bet you’re on your way to a shore town or something.”

“Atlantic City, actually, but 73 was closed off because of an accident so I got detoured. Honestly, at this point, any shore town will do.”

“Well, if you keep driving down this road, you’ll eventually see signs directing you to the Garden State Parkway. You’ll still need to drive down, like, two more roads before you get to the Parkway, but once you’re on it, all you have to do is pick a direction and you’ll eventually find a shore town.”

“Cool, thanks.”

She moved back to the sidewalk and mounted her board again.

“Well, it was nice talking to you,” she said, ready to take off. “Enjoy your ride. Looks like it handles awesomely.”

“It does.”

“Cool. Well, see ya.”

I didn’t want her to go, so I quickly yelled out, “Hey!” She looked at me. “I’m gettin’ kinda hungry. Are there any good pizza places around here?”

She smiled at me, stepped off her board, and bounded to the passenger side door again. “Oh yeah, there’re a few good ones.”
“Which one’s your favorite?”

She thought, making a cute contemplative face. “Eugenio’s, on Cedarwood Street. They have indoor eating as well as an outdoor deck”

“Can you tell me how to get there? Or, maybe, I could follow you there.”

“Tell you what: let me ride shotgun and I’ll direct you to wherever you want to go.”

“Deal.”

To learn more about the day that Ethan and Sally spent together, pick up Take the Long Way on Amazon.com today!

“Dat Corona Jawn”

That’s how you know you live in Philly: someone refers to it as “dat Corona jawn.”

This has definitely been an interesting few weeks.  I’ve been working from home for the past 2 weeks, and that’s been a bit of an adjustment.  I definitely like not being distracted by all the usual goings-on in an office, and it’s nice to have my dogs come visit me during the middle of the day.  There’s also a downside: I do miss the in-person interaction with my coworkers, and my connection to my office VPN tends to get rather slow in the middle of the day, meaning that tasks may take longer for me to complete while I wait for programs to load or files to save.  It’s all an adjustment, but I’ve been working with it, and it’s going down easier than I thought.

I went food shopping for the first time in three weeks.  We were starting to run dangerously low on certain items, so I had to venture out into the wilds of the supermarket.  Thankfully, my mother-in-law made masks for me and my wife to wear, so I went into battle armed with that plus rubber gloves.  I don’t fall into any of the high-risk categories, but I also want to act like I have the virus and don’t want to spread it.  For me, that’s the scariest aspect of this whole ting: the asymptomatic part of it.  It’d be one thing if you could look at someone who’s coughing or sneezing or just generally looks ill and say, “Damn, I’m cutting a wide swath around them,” but then there are people out there who apparently have it and don’t know it and may never know they had it.  That’s the truly scary part about this.

Everyone in my immediate family appears safe from this so far.  I did recently learn of two people I went to high school with who contracted it and are on the mend.  There was also word last night that a family member of one of my longtime friends may have it, so we’ll see how that turns out.

I do wonder if this will provide fodder for future novels or movies.  I can just see the makings of a story in which a character is living with the guilt of not having taken the warnings seriously and got infected but recovered only for a loved one or even their child to get sick and die from it because of them.  Another character idea would be a healthcare worker dealing with the fallout from all of this once it passes, kinda like dealing with PTSD for soldiers.  It’ll be interesting to see the effect all of this has on art in the coming decade.

Speaking of which, I’ve had a little bit more time to do some catching up on movies and TV shows that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet.  Here’s a quick rundown of some movies that I watched: Megan Leavey (unexpectedly affecting story about a woman’s journey through the military and her bond with her bomb-sniffing dog partner); A Most Wanted Man (stilted but effective thriller, with a very good performance by Phillip Seymour Hoffman); Lars and the Real Girl (not sure why I sat on this for so long, but it was bizarrely enjoyable and a nice performance by Ryan Gosling); Hearts Beat Loud (not a groundbreaking movie, but I really loved this–Nick Offerman was very good in this, and I may need to pick up the soundtrack, since the songs from it are still stuck in my head); and The Family (fun smut, with Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer looking like they had a blast making this over-the-top mobster picture with a French sensibility).

I also saw Clue for the first time.  I have a vague remembrance of my parents renting it back when it came out on VHS and not liking it.  Over the years, I’d always heard that it was a classic example of why board games shouldn’t be movies and it was often mocked.  Then I started coming across a sub-section of movie fans who adored it and watched it regularly.  It came up on Amazon Prime for free, so I gave it a watch, and I’ll be damned: I enjoyed the hell out of that movie.  Tim Curry’s scenery-chewing performance alone is enough, but Michael McKean and Madeline Kahn (among others) were great as well.

As for TV shows, I’m very close to finishing The Office.  I’m not sure why I didn’t watch it when it first on, but back in 2016, I was at a flea market and found someone selling Season 1 for $3, so I picked it up.  I didn’t watch it until early 2017, but when, in the first episode, Dwight finds his stapler and other items encased in Jell-O, I knew I was hooked.  I’m not good at binge-watching, so it took me until now to get through all 9 seasons, but I’m now down to the final two episodes, and I’m actually sad for it to end.  I really enjoyed all the time I got to spend with these characters.  There were very few duds amongst the 100+ episodes of the show, which is a credit to the writing staff and the cast.  A revisit of this series may happen sooner rather than later.

As for books, I recently finished rereading Neuromancer by William Gibson.  I read it in high school, inspired by movies like Johnny Mnemonic and Hackers to delve more into cyberspace, but I don’t think I quite got it.  Much of it went over my head.  Upon rereading it, I think it’s an interesting curio of where the whole cyberspace/cyberpunk thing began, and it delves into ideas that have been well trod within sci-fi since then.  Gibson kept the story moving along briskly, and I liked it more this time than I did previously.  Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive continue the story of Neuromancer, and I have them downloaded and ready for reading, but I have other books to get to at the moment, so I’ll return to those two at a later time.

I’ve also been able to get a lot of work done on my new novel, Take the Long Way.  I’d say it’s about 60% complete now, and I’m still on track for releasing it by late summer (still hoping so, at least).  I really like how it’s shaping up and it feels deeper and more personal than anything else I’ve written thus far.  I may make the first chapter available on here for everyone to read, as a way to whet people’s appetites for something new.  I’m really proud of what I’ve written in this novel, and I think people will really enjoy it.

Stay safe, everyone.  I’m sure better days are ahead.  We just have to get through all of this first, and I’m sure we will.