All posts by annbaron

Florida Man, Chapter 1, Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN “Nothing in the Fridge”

Gary Duba and his best friend Floyd Belmont sat on the deck of Gary’s deluxe double-wide, raised four feet above Florida on cinder blocks in case of flooding. Two hundred foot tractor chains stretched over the house like massive belts, anchored in concrete plugs in front and back, in case of hurricane. The night was hot and humid, with squadrons of mosquitoes dive bombing the deck, oblivious to the citronella candles, tiki torches, yellow wrist bands, and ample applications of Deet on both men’s fully tatted arms. Home-made mosquito traps hung like obscene fruit from Gary’s hand-made awning, stitched together from Harbor Freight tarps.

It was just past eleven, Little Big Town playing on WBCW, Florida Country Radio through the tinny speakers of an old Sony boom box Gary picked up at a garage sale. The boys had been drinking shine, smoking reefer, and snorting a little crushed oxy since nine, when Floyd had arrived in his eight-year-old Chevy van with Belmont Pest Control emblazoned on the side, along with its logo, a dead cockroach in a mint green oval.

A sign in front said, THIS PROPERTY PROTECTED BY SMITH AND WESSON.

Another sign said, TRESPASSERS WILL BE VIOLATED.

Floyd hawked and spat a loogie over the rail. “That fuckin’ bitch still owes me three thou for her boob job. Only reason she dated me, so I’d pay for her fuckin’ boob job.”

Floyd was five feet six, built like a fire hydrant, sideburns like a Civil War general, chest, shoulders and back covered with black fur like a bear. He wore bib overalls and no shirt.

“You gotta admit,” Gary said. “She’s got a nice rack.”

Gary sipped shine, causing his Adam’s apple to bob up and down like a bouncing ball. Tall, bony, with thick, knobby wrists, a brush mustache, and a full head of hair concealed beneath a Confederate cap, Gary was the picture of Southern manhood. He wore a sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt showing off his tatted arms which included a skull with a dagger through it, a skull with a snake through it, a heart with the legend “Mom,” Johnny Cash, and barbed wire bracelets.

“My advice to you,” Gary said, “is not to worry about that skank. She gone. Be grateful she’s out of your life and didn’t give you the clap or something.”

Floyd lit a Camel. “I just wish I had that three thou. I could really use it.”

“Look at it this way. It’s worth three thou just to have her out of your life.”

“Now she’s dating some Cuban slickee boy from Coral Gables who says he can get her modeling work. My ass. Only modeling she does is on a pole with a G-string.”

“That’s what you get for dating a stripper.”

Floyd sucked a Dixie dry. “She told me she loved me!”

Gary barked. “You told her you wouldn’t come in her mouth!”

Floyd belched luxuriously and reached inside his coveralls to scratch his balls. “Got anything to eat?”

“Dubious.”

“If I order a pizza, will they deliver out here?”

“Depends on the driver. Good ol’ boys will. Them Indians and Iranians and all won’t come out here. Not even with the fuckin’ GPS guiding them. Say it’s not worth the trouble.”

Floyd blew a ring. “What trouble?”

“Fuck if I know. Lemme go look in the freezer. I might have some frozen catfish.”

Floyd bent forward, put a finger down his mouth and made a vomiting sound.

“Well I’ll look. I might have some tater tots or something.”

They sat there.

“Well?” Floyd said. “You goin’? I mean, I could do it, but you got shit in that fridge that looks like sea foam. Looks like something from Alien, y’know what I mean? I mean, you oughtta clear some of that shit outta there before it breaks free and kills you in your sleep.”

“Yeah, okay.”

They sat there.”

“Well?” Floyd said. “Are you goin’ or not? ‘Cause I go in there, omma just start throwin’ shit out the window. We’ll let the raccoons eat it and see if it kills ‘em.”

Gary gripped both armrests of his home-made Adirondack and heaved himself to his feet, holding on to the banister while his head swam, waiting for things to focus. He shuffled through the tinny aluminum screen door, letting it bang shut behind him, and paused in his living room as if seeing it for the first time. A yellow and brown plaid sofa, listing at one end faced his flat screen television, resting on a worn wood kitchen table. He’d snagged both the sofa and the table from Goodwill for eight-five bucks. One wall was decorated with a Dolphins pennant, the Gators, a framed poster of Dale Earnhardt Jr. A shelf made from cinder blocks and wood planks held his bowling trophies, DVDs and CDs and a stack of American Angler, Sport Fishing, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, Big Black Ass, Monster Titty, and Monster Truck.

He hovered for a moment wondering why he was there. His gaze fell on the yellow refrigerator.

Right.

He went to the fridge, opened the main compartment and bathed in the cool air and light. Plastic containers of noodles, green chicken salad, and one lone yellow bacon strip. He shut the main and opened the freezer, trying to find meaning in the monolithic chunk filling most of the space like an iceberg. He jammed it with his hand, busting loose a package of Jimmy Dean’s Pork Sausage and Muffin Breakfasts which had lain there since Clinton was president.

He went through his mostly bare cupboards finding only a can of chicken broth and a box of croutons. Well fuck. Gary was hungry too. He wondered if he offered a big tip, if the Caesar’s in Turpentine, twenty miles away, would deliver.

He pulled out his wallet and filed through. He had seventeen dollars, barely enough to pay for a pizza and a tip. And then he was broke.

Gary worked as an off the books roofer for Big John Schermerhorn, but he hadn’t worked in two weeks and soon he’d have to pay mortgage, four hundred and twelve dollars, and utilities. Gary did not plan to remain a roofer forever. No sir. He had a dream. His dream was anchored in reality.

His dream was anchored in four concrete plugs sunk into the earth, in the front and back. Gary had invented a system to prevent houses from being blown away in harsh weather. House suspenders. Massive cables running over the roof, keeping the house pinned down, like a seatbelt.

He was just waiting for a big blow so he could take his results to the authorities and get the ball rolling. Gary figured he needed a hundred thou to get started. All he needed was an opportunity.

Uncertain how to break the news to Floyd, for whom he sometimes worked ridding the earth of vermin, Gary realized he had to piss. Steadying himself against the wall, he went down the short corridor to his bathroom and switched on the light.

A snake stared at him from the toilet, head upright and tracking like a periscope.

Gary blinked. It might be a bull snake. It might be a rat snake. Or it might be a poisonous water moccasin. He couldn’t tell in the dim light. In any case, he had no intention of wrangling the snake just so he could take a piss in his own house, so he turned off the light, shut the door, and went back outside.

“I got nothin’. Why don’t you pay for the fuckin’ pizza?”

Floyd pissed and moaned and dug out his fat Harley wallet, connected to his bib overall by a chain and clamp. “Awright. I got enough. You call ‘em. I left my phone in the truck.”

Gary dug in his pocket. “Fuck,” he said. “I musta dropped it. Hang on.”

“Where you goin’?” Floyd said.

“Take a piss off the back deck.”

“Whyn’tcha piss in the toilet?”

“There’s a snake in the toilet.”

“You want me to get my magnum and shoot it?”

Gary turned the corner and stood at the end of his wrap-around deck, which he’d built with Floyd’s help. The rail covered three sides. Here, on the fourth side, an end piece facing the swamp, he was free to piss as the good Lord intended.

Gary hung ten at the edge, unzipped his fly and sent a golden arc into the sand, seeing phosphorescence coalescing along his dock, stars intermittently reflected in the open water of Fortier’s Landing, heard the chorus of frogs, the heron calls, and as he adjusted to zip, slipped. His feet shot out from under him and his head hit the edge of the deck like a melon on concrete.

What your story’s about by Mike Baron

LESSON ONE

When people ask what your story’s about, you have to be ready. You can’t hem and haw about orcs and trolls. You’ve got to hit them between the eyes with a concise and enticing description.

FLORIDA MAN: Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Crystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.

THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY: Around four in the morning, Travis McGee is jarred awake by a breathless ghost from his past: an old flame who needs a place to stash a package full of cash. What’s in it for McGee? Ten grand and no questions asked. Two weeks later, she’s dead.

HELMET HEAD: Nazi biker zombies.

MOBY DICK: Captain Ahab pursues a monomaniacal quest for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale which severed his leg.

Those Ads by Mike Baron

THOSE ADS

You click on an article. As you begin to read, an ad slithers in like the red tide, slowly, inexorably blocking the content. There is no way to delete the ad for about ten seconds, as the advertiser has paid big bucks to hold you hostage. You delete that ad. Another appears, creeping down from the top like some lethal fog. You wait patiently for the little ‘X’ to appear to get rid of that one. You delete it. As you read the article, another ad pops up, this one all singing! All dancing! You forgot to turn off the sound. And so on.

I understand that web content providers need to monetize their investment, but thus far, these ads have had the opposite effect. If I note the advertiser, it’s only to shun them. This is one reason I miss print media and the demise of the magazine. Magazine ads are not intrusive. They don’t block content. You can take them or leave them. Moreover, there is great satisfaction in holding the magazine in your hands and looking at the pictures. It’s not the same on the internet.

Then, when you close out the ad, a fucking survey appears wanting to know why. My only avenue of protest is to note that business and shun them.

Changing technology and culture has resulted in the demise of the monthly all-purpose motorcycle magazine. Cycle World and Motorcyclist have gone quarterly with predictable results. Where once they featured road tests and new models, they now feature artsy-fartsy photo spreads. Close-ups of concrete. Race paddocks. Articles on the Miracle of Titanium. When new bikes appear, they are often electric. Whoever invents a device to replicate the sound of gasoline engines will make a fortune.

Only part of the blame goes to shifting tech. We now have a risk-adverse generation that views motorcycles—and even cars!–as potentially lethal objects to be avoided at all costs.

Mike Baron, Lesson One in Writing

LESSON ONE

When people ask what you’re story’s about, you have to be ready. You can’t hem and haw about orcs and trolls. You’ve got to hit them between the eyes with a concise and enticing description.

FLORIDA MAN: Gary Duba’s having a bad day. There’s a snake in his toilet, a rabid raccoon in the yard, and his girl Crystal’s in jail for getting naked at a Waffle House and licking the manager. With his best friend, Floyd, Gary sets out to sell his prized Barry Bonds rookie card to raise the five hundred needed for bail. But things get out of hand.

THE DREADFUL LEMON SKY: Around four in the morning, Travis McGee is jarred awake by a breathless ghost from his past: an old flame who needs a place to stash a package full of cash. What’s in it for McGee? Ten grand and no questions asked. Two weeks later, she’s dead.

HELMET HEAD: Nazi biker zombies.

MOBY DICK: Captain Ahab pursues a monomaniacal quest for revenge on Moby Dick, the white whale which severed his leg.

Jazz by Mike Baron

JAZZ

I was Music Editor of the Boston Phoenix back in the day. It was my job to go out night after night, talk to musicians, and listen to their bands. One night Les McCann was playing. Most people know his brilliant breakout hit, “Compared To What,” with saxophonist Eddie Harris. Eddie wasn’t with Les that night. At the end of the first set, he introduced his side players. “On drums, Wilson Smith! On bass, Todd Jones! And on guitar, #!@$Q@##$ Q#%#ESFAD.” The guitarist was Polish.

During the break, I talked to Les. “How do you spell your guitarist’s name?” I asked.

“Well isn’t that interesting,” Les said. “I have three side players and you only want to know the white guy’s name.”

I looked at my notes. “On drums, Wilson Smith. On bass, Todd Jones.”

Les blanched a little bit. After that, he could not have been kinder. https://www.google.com/search?q=les+mccann+compared+to+what&rlz=1C1GGRV_enUS751US751&oq=les+mccann+com&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4284j0j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

Sopranos by Mike Baron

SOPRANOS

Watching the Sopranos is like watching a train wreck. Horrible but mesmerizing. At the end of the series, only a handful of characters are likeable. Tony Soprano is one of them because he’s charming, magnetic, and empathic. When he says he loves Big Pussy or nephew Christopher, you believe him, because he believes himself when he says it. That doesn’t prevent him from killing them when it suits his interest. Big Pussy bites in the second season because he was squealing for the Feds. The same thing happens to Christopher’s fiance Adriana. Her death was particularly horrible.

Most of the characters have the impulse control of infants or mad dogs. Most of them have scenes when they take something the wrong way, or the right way, and explode in violence often with horrendous results. You marvel. All these adults, most of them doing very well for themselves, who can’t control themselves. But it is a criminal enterprise. Violence is the glue that holds them together. Paulie, Christoper, Bobby, Silvio, Vito, Janice, they all go off like hand grenades spraying blood all over itself. I lost track of Tony’s murders. The federal fink in the first season, the dumb shmuck who did a drive-by on Christopher, Ralphie, and most deliciously, Richie, who slugs Janice because he’s a thug and she’s a bitch. You hate Richie from his first appearance. “Don’t give me those Manson eyes!” He looks mean, like someone who has never enjoyed anything but other people’s pain. So when Janice gets Richie’s gun and shoots him twice, you cheer. He had it coming. Then Tony comes over and cleans up after his sister. Early in the series, they dismembered the bodies at the sausage factory and then… Shudder to think.

Tony shags one gorgeous broad after another, despite his resemblance to Little Huey. It’s his animal magnetism. He exudes power. Gandolfini’s portrait is one of the great acting jobs. Every word and gesture was natural. The other actors were great too, but it’s Tony you remember.

Florida Man by Mike Baron

FLORIDA MAN

Gary Duba and his best friend Floyd Belmont sat on the deck of Gary’s deluxe double-wide, raised four feet above Florida on cinder blocks in case of flooding. Two hundred foot tractor chains stretched over the house like massive belts, anchored in concrete plugs on either side, in case of hurricane. The night was hot and humid, alive with squadrons of mosquitoes dive bombing the deck, oblivious to the citronella candles, tiki torches, yellow wrist bands, and ample applications of Deet on both men’s fully tatted arms. Home-made mosquito traps hung like obscene fruit from Gary’s hand-made awning, stitched together from Harbor Freight tarps.

It was just past eleven, Little Big Town playing on WBCW, Florida Country Radio through the tinny speakers of an old Sony boom box Gary picked up at a garage sale. The boys had been drinking shine, smoking reefer, and snorting a little crushed oxy since nine, when Floyd had arrived in his eight-year-old Chevy van with Belmont Pest Control emblazoned on the side, along with his logo, a dead cockroach in a mint green oval.

Floyd hawked and spat a loogie over the rail. “That fuckin’ bitch still owes me three thou for her boob job. Only reason she dated me, so I’d pay for her fuckin’ boob job.”

Floyd was five feet six, built like a fire hydrant, sideburns like a Civil War general, chest, shoulders and back covered with black fur like a bear.

“You gotta admit,” Gary said. “She’s got a nice rack.”

Gary sipped shine, causing his Adam’s apple to bob up and down like a bouncing basketball. Tall, bony, with thick, knobby wrists, a brush mustache, and a full head of hair concealed beneath a cap, Gary was the picture of Southern manhood. He wore a sleeveless Lynyrd Skynyrd T-shirt showing off his tatted arms which included a skull with a dagger through it, a skull with a snake through it, a heart with the legend “Mom,” Johnny Cash, and barbed wire bracelets.

“My advice to you,” Gary said, “is not to worry about that skank. She gone. Be grateful she’s out of your life and didn’t give you the clap or something.”

Floyd lit a Camel. “I just wish I had that three thou. I could really use it.”

“Look at it this way. It’s worth three thou just to have her out of your life.”

“Now she’s dating some Cuban slickee boy from Coral Gables who says he can get her modeling work. My ass. Only modeling she does is on a pole with a G-string.”

“That’s what you get for dating a stripper.”

Floyd sucked a Dixie dry. “She told me she loved me!”

Gary barked. “You told her you wouldn’t come in her mouth!”

Floyd belched luxuriously and reached inside his torn denims to scratch his balls. “Got anything to eat?”

Neil Hansen

NEIL HANSEN

I became aware of Neil Hansen, aka “Spyder,” aka “Bannen,” when he began drawing Whisper for First Comics. Neil had a unique, dynamic style and I wanted to work with him. When he became available for Badger, I was thrilled. His Badgers, including “Kruisin’ With the King,” are among my favorites. When I wrote Punisher for Marvel, Neil did several issues and yearbooks. His work is instantly identifiable, like that of Steranko or Norm Breyfogle.

Neil visited me at my home in Madison and sat house while I was at a con. “As long as you’re here,” I said, “please draw a story.” The resulting eight-pager, “Hair of the Dog,” will finally see print in Ozzy Longoria’s horror anthology Gods and Monsters. You can find Ozzy on Facebook. Neil penciled, inked, and lettered. He created his own Epic series, Untamed. It is worth checking out for the jaw-dropping art.

I have hounded Neil over the years about drawing more comics, but as time passed, he drew less and less and the last time I asked him he said, “I’m sorry, Mike. I sat down to draw and it just wouldn’t come.” His last work was a series of Badger covers that appeared from IDW about ten years ago.

In the meantime, he worked as a caretaker for an old motel in Canada.

These days, Neil makes his living trading in domain names. He makes a good living.

Logistics by Mike Baron

LOGISTICS

We’re baby sitting two dogs, a rottweiler and a husky. We have two dogs, Bob and Mack. Bob is accident prone. Twice, he’s hurled himself on to a metal flange and ripped himself open. The last time was on a Sunday and the only place open was the Fort Collins Veterinary Emergency and Rehabilitation Hospital. They stitched him up. Five hundred and eighty-three dollars. I told Bob that if he was going to injure himself, please do it on a weekday. Bob was limping so I took him in. Torn ACL. They gave me two meds that have to be administered twice daily.

Jess, the rottweiler, has five meds that must be administered daily. The dogs eat when I get up, around six. Four dogs, four bowls. All the dogs are interested in the other dogs’ bowls. I prepare the bowls, carefully secrete her pills in moist dog food. Bob gets two meds. I carefully secrete his pills in moist dog food. I call each dog by name and lay down the bowls in this order: Bob, Mack, Jess, and Olivia. Then I stand guard to see nobody eats anybody else’s meal. After they’re done, I pick up the pills they refused to eat, drill a hold in string cheese, and hand them out.

This is how we roll.

Disco Chapter One, by Mike Baron

DISCO CHAPTER ONE

Donnie Waits crouched by the rear bumper of Ralph Speece’s pickup, cradling a baggie of pot to his chest and listening to his mother and Ralph go at it through the open windows of their second-floor apartment. The four-unit apartment building sat on the outskirts of Gunderson, Wisconsin, a nowhere burg to which they’d moved three weeks ago when Kate got a job as executive secretary to Frank Werner, CEO of Werner’s Meats. The redbrick building was plunked down at the edge of a cornfield across the street from a farm. Its nearest neighbor was a tire wholesaler a quarter mile toward town. Donnie wondered why a developer would build in such a spot.

“You don’t tell me what to do!” Ralph was raging inside. He was a cut telephone lineman Kate had met at the gym, the latest in a long line of losers.

Donnie heard Kate talking low and intensely, the word “marijuana” rising in volume. Ralph had promised not to bring marijuana into the house or smoke anywhere around them lest Donnie find out. Too late for that. Ralph had offered Donnie a toke the first time they were alone.

Donnie felt bad about swiping the baggie from Ralph’s truck, but Ralph should have listened to Kate. The argument escalated. A door slammed. Kate was giving Ralph the heave-ho, as she had so many others. Kate was destined to go through life being disappointed by men, and that included Donnie.

Donnie ran for the cornfield and had reached the back of the apartment building before Ralph emerged. He heard Ralph start the truck and peel out, with a rooster tail of gravel striking the dumpster. He’d be pissed when he found his reefer gone.

Donnie was seventeen, facing down the gun barrel of senior year at Gunderson High, the third high school he’d attended in as many years. Maybe this time Kate would like the job. Maybe this time they could settle down. Donnie whizzed through the corn stalks feeling the swish of silk and leaf on his cheeks and bare arms, smelling the rich, almost overpowering scent of ripe corn. It was a flawless hot blue day near the end of August. Next week he would undergo his annual ordeal, registering at a new school.

But today was his to get high and dream about becoming a millionaire rap star. Or maybe a country singer. He didn’t really like rap, but it seemed like a pretty surefire way to fame and fortune. Just spittin’ rhymes, and he’d always been good with words.

Or maybe he would draw comics.

Donnie burst through the far end of the field, where a sagging barbed wire fence separated the cornfield from Johnson’s Creek, which meandered east-west through town. Donnie loved the creek. It was peaceful there, cool in the shade of ancient oak and cottonwood. He sat on a flat rock by the sandy bank, pulled out the baggie and some Zig-Zag rolling papers. Someone told him Jesus had smoked pot and if he doubted it, all he had to do was look at the image on a package of Zig-Zags.

With nothing to roll on, he took off his Grendel T-shirt, stretched it flat across his knees and rolled on that to produce a fat doobie. He put his shirt back on and felt his pockets. Oh no. No lighter, no matches. How could he have been so stupid! He thought of sneaking back to the apartment, but Kate would be there seething and loaded for Cape buffalo.

The closest source of fire was Nate’s Bait and Tackle, a ramshackle general store at Bateman’s Landing where County Road HR ended. Nate was an amiable drunk who’d taken a liking to the young man, and taught him how to tie a fishing fly. Donnie had last encountered Nate passed out behind his own counter, TV blaring. It would have been the perfect opportunity to clean out the cash register and make off with several bottles of gin. Instead, Donnie had somehow manhandled Nate into his bed in the back room, closed the store and sat with him until he came around.

There was a black-and-white photo on Nate’s wall of him and some Army buddies in Nam. Some of those kids looked as young as Donnie.

Nate’s was on the other side of the creek through a pasture. Donnie found a spot where steppingstones allowed him to cross without getting wet. He gingerly climbed over the barbed wire separating the pasture from the creek and headed diagonally toward the bait shop. Maybe Nate would lend him his little aluminum skiff.

Donnie looked around. The pasture was empty, but he stepped carefully to avoid the cow pies. He caught a hint of wood smoke, loving the day.

“Hey!” someone shouted. “Hey, kid!”

Donnie froze. Busted? By whom? For what? He turned and saw a man in a ball cap, overalls and a beard gesturing from fifty yards away at the fence.

The man pumped his arm. “Get the hell out of there!”

An explosive snort sounded from alder and gorse down by the creek. Donnie turned.

A black bull pawed the ground, staring at him with the gravity of a small planet.

Oh shit!

Donnie took off. He was quick enough to make the track team and poured every ounce of energy into the rush, feeling the squish of fresh cow pies beneath his feet as he pounded for the fence, the bull’s hoofbeats sending shock waves through the ground. Donnie ran, limbs pumping, lungs wheezing as the beats got louder.

Donnie had no idea how he got over the fence. He had no memory of leaping, only landing and rolling, twigs digging into his flesh until he came up against a tree and looked back to where the bull had pulled up and was now peacefully cropping grass.

Groaning, he examined himself: ripped jeans, scraped elbows, a little blood. He swatted his pockets. Still had the baggie and the doobie. Donnie got to his feet and confronted the now sedate bull.

“You’re a real asshole, you know that?”

The bull fixed him with one brown eye and slowly chewed. Donnie turned and made his way through the forest to Nate’s Bait.