What is Your Story About, Mike Baron

WHAT IS YOUR STORY ABOUT?

Met a novelist named Ray Harvey. His novel Gap-Toothed Girl, about an Apache runaway who wants to be a dancer, is excellent. Ray and I are going to develop a webinar on how to write fiction. We put together a list of topics such as, what is story? How to craft a perfect scene. The simple secret to writing unforgettable content. How to write openings that will grip your readers like a vise. Oh, we have a million of them.

Ray did some research. There are already five billion Youtube series on how to write better, but that won’t stop us! No sir! Every writer is unique, and has stories clawing to get out. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Every would-be writer has a million words of bullshit clogging up his/her/its system, and you have to get it out before you get to the stood stuff. Kind of like running the hot water tap until it turns hot. I’m a slow learner, and have committed more than two million words of bullshit to paper, which I then committed to a landfill.

For ten years I didn’t even try, due to personal problems, that took me from my home in Wisconsin to Colorado.

I have my own system on how to write a novel and it begins with, “What is your story about?” When someone asks you this, you must be prepared to answer in an entertaining and informative manner. If you want to know what to say, go to any used book store and look at the back of paperbacks, especially those published in the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. As John D. MacDonald is my spirit god, I always look at the back of his novels. His Travis McGee series begins with The Deep Blue Goodbye:

Travis McGee is a self-described beach bum who won his houseboat in a card game. He’s also a knight-errant who’s wary of credit cards, retirement benefits, political parties, mortgages, and television. He only works when his cash runs out, and his rule is simple: He’ll help you find whatever was taken from you, as long as he can keep half.McGee isn’t particularly strapped for cash, but how can anyone say no to Cathy, a sweet backwoods girl who’s been tortured repeatedly by her manipulative ex-boyfriend Junior Allen? What Travis isn’t anticipating is just how many women Junior has torn apart and left in his wake. Enter Junior’s latest victim, Lois Atkinson.  Frail and broken, Lois can barely get out of bed when Travis finds her, let alone keep herself alive. But Travis turns into Mother McGee, giving Lois new life as he looks for the ruthless man who steals women’s spirits and livelihoods. But he can’t guess how violent his quest is soon to become. He’ll learn the hard way that there must be casualties in this game of cat and mouse.

How I Ended Up in Colorado by Mike Baron

HOW I ENDED UP IN COLORADO 

I started in karate at the Ja Shin Do Academy in Brighton, Massachusetts, in 1975. Andy Baumann, Joe Demusz, and Jane West were the instructors. I’d always been curious about karate. I had no natural athletic ability. Zero, zilch, zippo. Nada. Every physical contest was a chore to me, from tossing a ball to running. I was as coordinated as a tornado. I could barely lift my leg above my knee in front of me.

I could only get better and so I did, but every stage was a struggle. I had little confidence in my self-defense abilities. After a year training, I was in excellent shape. I can’t believe what we did in that class, in terms of sheer physical effort. For example, “Thousand Kick Night” was a regular feature. There’s no way I could keep up with that regimen today. If anything, Andy has become even more fanatical about rigorous physical training—you can check him out atbaumansextremetraining.com.

In ’77 I moved back to Madison, Wisconsin and began writing for Isthmus, the alternative weekly. I introduced myself to publisher and editor Vince O’Hern, who had been training with Jim Henry at Choi’s Karate on West Washington in the Fess Hotel, which also housed Rod’s Place, Madison’s premier gay club. I got as far as high red when Choi’s closed its doors and Jim left for sunnier climes.

I worked out sporadically with Vince, Bob Dodd, and Al Reichenberger at the University Natatorium. Then I broke my hip. I’d designed and built my own house, and one of my clever innovations was to put a trap door in the floor of the bedroom closet. One opened the door and there was a little ladder going into the basement. One night under the influence of alcohol and cocaine, I stepped into the closet intending to grab a jacket, forgetting that I had left it open to impress my date. I fell through the opening and broke my hip. My date was duly impressed.

My comics were selling and everybody wanted me. I was hot for fifteen minutes, but I didn’t know what I had, or how to keep it. My writing lacked discipline. I would snort coke to write. I tricked myself into thinking this made writing easier, but it didn’t. It just robbed me of judgment.

The hip injury put me on my back for six weeks. When I once again began to walk I realized I was seriously out of shape, so I turned again to martial arts, although I had very little ability and was now hampered by a gimp leg. I have a titanium brace screwed into my right femur, and a metal ball in the hip socket. My calves have always resembled boneless chicken wings. I wouldn’t be caught dead in shorts. My stretching had improved, however. I began training with John Fehling and his kali/escrima boys in the basement of the Vilas Neighborhood Community Center. John is extremely knowledgeable about Filipino martial arts. We trained with sticks and lock-flow. Unfortunately, after a year, John decided Thai boxing was the way to go and he stopped teaching everything but how to hit and kick.

I had married. As my career nosedived, Madeline’s health began to deteriorate. Nasal infections lasted for months. One snowy winter night she had an accident on the Beltline and damaged her neck. She suffered from fibromyalgia, a form of arthritis. One day she said, “I can’t take another winter here. I’ll die.” Okay, I said. We took a massive road trip throughout the southwest, and settled on Fort Collins as the most suitable. My sister Jill and brother-in-law Dennis live here. Dennis and Lee Casuto urged me to spend more time at Karate West.

Things were bad at home. Madeline was in constant pain, which sent her to every pain specialist on the front range. There were other problems. She was fired from her job for failing to show up and lost her health insurance. She suffered from depression. I suffered from depression. Once, back in Madison, I came very close to killing myself. And again, after we moved to Fort Collins, I fell into the Marianas Trench. (William Styron’s Darkness Visible was a hopeful guide map to these dark times.)

Karate was the only regular feature in my life. I looked forward to it every day because when I was on the floor, I was not aware of my home situation. I’ve discussed this with other students and we agree that one of karate’s benefits is that it requires such attention as to preclude dwelling on your troubles. Although I’d been granted a black belt by Joe Demusz, one of my original instructors, the performance gap between me and the standard Karate West black belt was instantly apparent.

I just put my head down and kept coming. While the rest of my world was in free fall, there was karate, noon every day, Monday through Thursday. Then a funny thing happened. I began to improve under the eagle-eyed tutelage of those sadistic bastards Lee Casuto and Brad Suinn. In fact, every higher belt with whom I’ve come in contact has gone out of their way to help me, particularly Mike Martin and Wayne from Budweiser.

One day I went to karate and when I came home Madeline was dead. I tried mouth to mouth. I heard the air rattle through her bronchial tubes but there was no response. I called 911. I was numb. My friend Pete accompanied me to the police station for the interview. Another friend spent the night at my house to keep an eye on me. The next day I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t write. So I went to karate. It helped me deal with overwhelming grief. My psychiatrist urged me to keep going. “Tell the truth, Mike,” he said. “Aren’t you a little bit relieved?”

Gradually, my grief began to subside. It was as if I were coming to the end of a long tunnel. I believe I’m a basically optimistic person, and my natural optimism, so long buried beneath an age of crisis and despair, surfaced.

The Karate West mottoes are keys to successful living. Attitude determines whether you see the glass as half full or half empty. Those who see the glass as half empty are in danger of slipping down the drain. Without something outside themselves to pull them forward they fill their time with the pursuit of pleasure or wallowing in self-pity. They have stopped growing. Why bother? Those who see the glass as half full see possibilities, a reason for living. They have enthusiasm, which is the keystone of a good attitude. Karate is a bridge toward something bigger than the self.

These days I look forward to karate with the enthusiasm I used to reserve for New Comics Day. Achieving second degree seems premature to me. I’ve only been at it thirty years.

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Walkin’ in Milwaukee, Mike Baron

WALKIN’ IN MILWAUKEE 

Capital City Comics, an outgrowth of Capital City Distribution, was our first publisher. I used to go out to their warehouse on the beltline the nights the comics came in and watch the employees pack the boxes like Santa’s helpers to loud rock and roll. Sometimes the employees took something to help them stay alert through the long night. A ferocious rivalry developed between Capital City and Diamond Distribution to see who could get their comics to markets first. It was louder than a Limp Bizkit concert. There were enough old blues musicians working there to fill a festival. James Eisele. John Davis himself, a mean blues guitarist. Drummer Billy McDuffy, guitarist Tom Flinn, bass player Tom McCarty, and sax player Bob Corbit.

One day I was out there and Milton was showing around a half dozen Chinese businessmen in dark suits, with an interpreter. I asked John what was going on.

“It’s a group of Chinese businessmen and publishers. They wanted to visit Dark Horse, but they accidentally booked tickets to Milwaukee, Wisconsin instead of Milwaukie, Oregon.”

Mike Baron, Nexus Novel

ONE THOUSAND ONE HUNDRED AND TWELVE WORDS FROM NEXUS NOVEL IN PROGRESS  

CHAPTER FORTY “Beast”

Horatio dined at Impresario every night. He was mistaken for Hugh Sayso three times, once by a woman who fainted. He dined alone in an alcove beneath a glittering dome that reflected the sky, surrounded by caricatures of famous customers. There were two caricatures of Clonezone the Hilariator, one by Pete Emslie and the other by Steve Rude. He worked his way through the menu from Ahi tuna to zebra cutlets, with stops along the way for kale souffle and quinoa a la mode. He was a generous tipper, and competition for his table was fierce among the waiters.

The waiters always said the same thing.“Excellent.” “Perfect.” Like ordering was a difficult acrobatic routine he’d managed to stick. The waiters kept changing. He was a good tipper.

On his fourth visit, the manager, Liz Horton, a long drink of water with Morticia Addams looks, told him that from then on he would eat for free in recognition of his selfless act.

“No more bills for you, Mr. Bartol. Maya opened up an account in your name.”

“That’s very kind.”

“You’re good for business.”

People stopped by his table, introduced themselves, and posed for pictures. Each time Horatio chortled, complied, and complained. “I’m no celebrity.”

He posed with a Cub Scout Troop from Milwaukee. He posed with the Girl Greek Grenadiers from Venus. He posed with a man running for the City Council and instantly regretted it.

People sent him bottles of wine, which he donated to the soup kitchen on Forty Second Street. He visited the soup kitchen every night after dinner and helped serve. All the food came from surrounding restaurants, most of them five star. The indigent dined on patois de faux gras, kippered herring, buffalo steaks, barimundi, and fostedor leaves. The staff split the wine.

One night Horatio found himself working next to a jumbo black man named Dr. Dirt, who was a stockbroker for Diggs Brown during the day.

Dr. Dirt laid a grilled pheasant breast on the plate of an old woman whose filthy gray hair hung in her face like Cousin It.

“You would think,” Dr. Dirt said, “that after nine thousand years of civilization we would have no more homeless. You would think so, but you would be wrong.”

Horatio re-upped a supplicant’s mussels. “There’s no cure for the human condition.”

“Splain.”

“Human nature is immutable. There will always be the weak. There will always be the strong. No amount of social engineering is going to create a class of people who are all equal in all things. You’re always going to have more losers than winners. There are no easy answers. Life is messy and complex. That’s why so many people go into mathematics and psychiatry.”

Dr. Dirt grunted. “I’ll have to think on that.”

They worked in a companionable silence. The soup kitchen was on the ground floor with a misted glass wall looking out on the theater district. Sometimes, drunk swells leaving the theater would press their faces and hands up against the window. Sometimes drunk theater goers would stand in line along with the indigent. Horatio always asked for a donation.

A dozen people lined up at the counter clutching their biodegradable hemp plates. The big room was humid, filled with tantalizing and appalling smells. The food. The people. Wizzard’s “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day” played through the speakers. It was October 15.

“So you’re saying,” Dr. Dirt said, “that paradise is unobtainable?”

“Well no. Attitude is everything. You can have a miserable life but if you have a good attitude, life can be beautiful. Not everybody is capable of a good attitude. I’d go so far as to say most people aren’t capable. Life is tragic. Most people are going to be unhappy.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto,” Horatio said.

“Huh?”

“We must immanentize the eschaton ex post haste de facto.”

“What does it mean?”

“Prosperity is just around the corner.”

They worked in a companionable silence.

“So what you’re saying is, misery is the lot of man.”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Yet, some people are capable of happiness.”

Horatio looked into the limpid brown eyes of a hungry girl. “One lump or two?”

“Two, please.”

He gave her two lumps. “A great many people are capable of happiness, but a lot of them are evil. You know what makes them happy? Power over other people. Most people are motivated by envy and resentment.”

“That’s grim, Jim.”

“What it is.”

The following night he was at his table in Impresario sipping a Stoly martini, when a new waitress approached, a young woman, her hair finished in seven brightly colored Cadillac fins extending from hairline to the back. Left to right, the fins were magenta, turquoise, ecru, jet black, lavender, fuchsia, and candy apple red. She looked like a George Barris creation.

“Good evening, Mr. Bartol. I’m Kim. I’ll be your server tonight. May I tell you about our specials?”

“By all means.”

“Arugula, goat cheese and cranberries appetizer, broast beast brain, ancient grains with future grains…”

“What is the beast?”

“I’d rather not say.”

“Is it warm blooded?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Be it fish or fowl?”

“It’s a surprise.”

“Please continue.”

“Chopped spinach from frozen Bluebell containers recently discovered in a survivalist stronghold in Alaska, oscillating ocelot eggs, newburg of chewburg, and deep-fried Hostess Twinkie reenactments. Flute flies sauteed in granola oil.”

“That sounds so enticing. What else?”

“Last but not least, drizzled drongo chops with kiwi bird mayonnaise and grunt cakes made from our own special antediluvian recipe.”

“It all sounds so good. I’ll need a minute.”

“Of course.”

The waiter gestured and a transparent sphere of water hovered over Horatio’s glass.

“What happened to the man you replaced, Gustav?”

“Gustav was taking liberties with the lasagna. He had to be let go.”

“What kind of liberties?”

“You don’t want to know. Can I refill your drink while you’re waiting, Mr. Bartol?”

“Sure.”

She took his glass. He insisted on a tumbler. There was something about this girl that was oddly familiar, as if he’d met her before but couldn’t quite remember where or when. She returned, placing is drink in front of him on the round polished oak table. The martini came halfway up the glass, two olives speared on a toothpick.

“Have you made a decision?” Kim said.

“I’m feeling lucky. I’ll try the beast.”

“Excellent.”

“You’re not going to tell me.”

“You must wait and see.”

Horatio accidentally elbowed his white linen tablecloth to the floor. He and Kim both reached for it at once, their forearms touching.

And then they both knew.

Existential Thrillers, by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

An existential thriller is a movie where the protagonist is doomed, and you know it. Outstanding existential thrillers include The Wages of Fear and its American remake, SorcererThe Naked PreyThelma and LouiseEasy RiderThe Wild Bunch, and The Grey, which stars Liam Neeson as an oil company hunter in Alaska whose plane crashes in a howling wilderness. Soon, a pack of wolves are picking off the survivors one by one. Neeson tries to lead is little band to safety but he is no match for the environment and the movie ends with a terrifying confrontation between him and the head wolf.

Tony Scott’s Man On Fire is his masterpiece. Denzel Washington plays a burnt-out, depressed former CIA operative who hires on as a bodyguard to a rich Mexican family. At first, he’s barely hanging on. He tries to commit suicide. But his growing attachment to the little girl he’s guarding brings him out of his slump and gives him a reason to live. When kidnappers snatch her, “Creasy does what he does best,” in his pal Christopher Walken’s words. He goes on the warpath. This is a deeply satisfying thriller that hits all the right notes. It’s a tragedy that Tony Scott took his own life.

Pacing in Comics by Mike Baron

PACING IN COMICS

Many modern comics consist of single images occupying the entire page, or two or three panels switching from one flabbergasted expression to the next, with accompanying internal dialogue or explanations. Jim Shooter recently decried the decompression of the modern comic, by which he meant taking twenty-five pages of story and stretching it out over five issues. I concur with Big Jim. You can tell a lot of story on a page, if there is a lot of story to tell.

If you look at sixties Marvel comics, you will often find six or eight panel pages that advance the story. It’s not all Shakespeare, but there’s an effort to make the story fit the medium. Of course comics are a visual medium, which means they have to serve up exciting art. And who doesn’t love a full-page reveal of something shocking? But too often, that full page image is squandered on a talking head. Unless the talking head is spouting prose akin to Dostoevsky or Mark Twain, it is most often a waste of space. You advance the story in a series of panels that impart the illusion of motion.

This is particularly important in fight scenes, where the reader wants to see the action unfold in a clear and dynamic manner from panel to panel. I’ve enclosed a Steranko Nick Fury page that shows the action unfolding. The page is dynamic. It’s not static. When you come to a full page devoted to Hulk swinging his fist in an arc, with eight sets of feet flying off panel, you have come to a dead end. The page is infinitely malleable. You can offer a single panel, or you can offer a dozen.

Tastes have changed and today’s comic readers have been trained to accept less story in the sake of glorious art. If that’s what you want, God bless! But for anyone familiar with underground comics, and the work of R. Crumb or Gilbert Shelton, you know that you can tell a lot of story on a page. A comic story has a pulse and a beat like a good pop song. Sometimes you have to go for those big images, but if the whole comic consists of nothing but big images, you’re doing something wrong. By pulse and flow, I mean the story should speed up for the big images, but slow down for more intimate scenes that call for dialogue. It should contain a mix of multi-panel pages and few panel pages. The full page image is justified when you first glimpse a world of wonder, or you finally reveal the werewolf. But the rest of the time, you must engage the reader and trick him, her, or it into spending more time on each page. That calls for interesting captions or dialogue which advance the story or reveal character.

You know what I mean.

Mike Baron, Chapter Twelve, “Osceola Has Fallen”

CHAPTER TWELVE “Osceola Has Fallen”

As the artificial lights dimmed and the fairy bats emerged from their dens filling the night air with squeaks, Nexus entered a bubble of elucidation. He tried to keep up on current events but with over three hundred inhabited worlds representing dozens of different species, some of whom communicated via telepathy, high-pitched hums, beams of light, and spectrum far outside human experience, with thousands of competing news platforms, gossip sites, floggers, bloggers, and cloggers broadcasting in eighteen-thousand different languages and systems, it was difficult.

Nexus sat in a free-floating chair that looked like a giant tractor saddle, propped his chin up on his right hand and opened the news flow valves. Tyrone and Fuerzo had built a brain that scanned all channels, collecting stories most relevant, and sequencing them. The process never stopped. The news never stopped. And as always, if it bleeds, it leads. Thus they inserted something optimistic for every tenth story.

Nexus insisted on hearing bad news first. The program top-loaded news about humanity, with an algorithm that selected the others based on familiarity and relevance.

Space engulfed him as he looked down at a scene of unimaginable devastation, a land torn asunder so that it looked like crenelated charcoal, with shreds of trees and buildings scattered to the horizon, smoke rising everywhere, the pathetic screams of the injured issuing up, emergency vehicles flitting across the landscape like carrion flies.

“The scene is grim on Portlandia, which was impacted seventeen hours ago by a rogue meteorite,” a woman said. “The death count is in the thousands and is expected to rise through the night as rescuers work frantically to free those trapped in fallen housing. The meteor came out of nowhere. People had less than an hour to prepare. There are theories circulating that this is the work of terrorists using telekinetic powers. This is Nipsy Conniption for Galactic Tactic. We’ll be right back, but first a word from our sponsors.”

A grotesque clown spazzed across the stage to the dulcet lyrics of “Home Again, Naturally.”

“DO YOU SUFFER FROM DIARRHEA?”

Nexus switched to the next story.

LOST DOG RETURNS HOME 212 YEARS LATER.

He switched to the next story.

PARADIGM PROCLAIMS FOR PROGRESS.

He switched to the next story.

THRILL KILLERS STRIKE AGAIN.

The view showed a New York walk-up as it followed the stairs, first at a forty-five degree angle, then in spiral patterns, through the labyrinthine maze of a Manhattan apartment complex. The view zeroed in on an open apartment door, lit with red light from within, with a uniformed NYCPD standing at the entrance as two techs emerged carrying a body bag on a stretcher.

“The so-called Thrill Killers have struck, claiming the lives of a family of five here in the Soho Neighborhood.”

The view changed to two murky characters, obviously wearing body distortion hardware, as they entered the building. Nexus froze the image, lowered his visor but could derive no characteristics. They appeared as gray noise on a broken vid, emitting an irritating high-frequency hum.

“Police believe the Thrill Killers may be involved in up to nineteen homicides here in New York. They have nothing to do on except that there are two, and they appear to be the same size and share similar characteristics. If you have any information…”

Nineteen homicides? Chump change. He switched to another story.

THREE HEADED ALIEN ABDUCTS FIVE HEADED ALIEN.

The bubble evaporated, leaving him sitting in his office with Sundra standing in front of him.

“Din-din, Chico. She said. “Din-din.”

Inspiration by Mike Baron

INSPIRATION

I was inspired to write by John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. You could call it pulp, or detective fiction. Like jazz and comics, it is a uniquely American invention. Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective story with his character C. Auguste Dupin in The Murders In the Rue Morgue. Poe wrote the rules. (1) The detective story must play fair. (2) The detective story must be readable.

There are several types of detective stories including the cozy and the locked room. The cozy usually involves an eccentric British woman sitting in her drawing room drawing conclusions. Frequently, her cat solves the crime. Sometimes it involves a fat armchair detective, such as Nero Wolfe. Every Nero Wolfe story contains at least one good recipe.

The locked room mystery is self-explanatory. How did the killer get into and out of the locked room to commit the murder?

That’s not the type of fiction I write. I try to write in MacDonald’s shadow, a rueful, realistic, sometimes brutal account that stares evil in the face. No one was able to touch the pulse of evil like MacDonald. His bad guys are stunningly realistic. My goal is to grab the reader by the throat and drag him, her, or it into the narrative so forcefully they forget they are reading a book.

I do this with a combination of characterization and action. Readers want someone with whom they can identify, or as Raymond Chandler put it, “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.”

He’s not always a nice guy. He can be a real wise ass, like Philip Marlowe or Spenser. Or he can be tightly self-contained, like Dan Simmons’ Joe Kurtz. My character, reformed motorcycle hoodlum Josh Pratt, is of the latter. When he was young, he spouted off a lot. But after a stint in prison, he’s learned humility and the value of holding his tongue.

While some of the stories involve motorcycle clubs, others delve into rock and roll. The list of rockers who ride bikes include Neal Pert, Billy Idol, Billy Duffy, Bruce Springsteen and many others. A lot of bikers work as roadies. Few other jobs allow them the freedom of their lifestyle. Thus it’s only natural that in Not Fade Away, the third Bad Road Rising novel, Josh Pratt takes a journey into the past, to discover the truth about legendary rocker Wes Magnum whose song “Marissa” has been co-opted by an insurance company. The real Marissa, the mother of his child, claims Wes gave the song to her. Josh’s journey takes him from the mansions of Bel Air to a marijuana grow op in the mountains of Colorado, and finally a confrontation with an insane, almost supernaturally deadly serial killer.

In Buffalo Hump, Josh hires on as security for a charismatic Sioux blues musician whose decision to play the opening of a new casino splits the tribe in two. Half the tribe welcomes the jobs and opportunity, while the other half decries the incursion of vice and increasing dependency. Both sides ride motorcycles.

Not Fade Away: http://a.co/d/fUx0pXm

Buffalo Hump will be released in February.

Bat Fan vs Fat Ban by Mike Baron

BAT FAN V. FAT BAN

By Mike Baron

This was it. Ragnarok, Armageddon, and Doomsday rolled into one. This was the premier of Batman: The Killer Croc’s Revenge, the latest installment in the greatest movie franchise of all time. Christian Bale as Batman. Gary Oldman as Chief Gordon. Lindsay Lohan as Rachel Dawes. And Sean Penn as Killer Croc.

Wayne Callard stood in line with 1500 other Bat Fans waiting for the Cinegrande Cineplex to open its doors. Wayne had been waiting in line for nineteen hours. He’d camped out on the sidewalk the previous night, swathing his bulk in two double-sized down-filled sleeping bags on a foam mattress. Wayne was five feet seven and weighed 350 lbs. He’d been born Cicero Wayne Callard.

“Man,” said Manny Ramirez standing next to Wayne and blowing on his hands, “I hope they open the doors soon! I could use a tube steak!” Manny wore Bat sneakers and a Batpack.

“Haven’t you heard?” Wayne said. “They pulled all the hot dogs. The fat content was too high.”

Manny regarded Wayne dubiously. “You’re shittin’ me.”

“No sir. The mayor signed the executive order yesterday. He doubled the food tax on all fast food items and mandated the removal of such items as hot dogs, French fries, jalapeno poppers, and deep fried cheese curds.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me!” Manny wailed. “What kind of dumb fuck would do that?”

“An overreaching municipal, state, and federal government that seeks to control all aspects of our lives and treat us like children.”

“I been thinkin’ about that hot dog all night! It’s the only thing that kept me going!”

“Hang, bro,” Wayne said. “I got you covered.”

A shout. A huzzah rose up the line. They had opened the doors. It was ten-thirty in the morning. Excitement was palpable among the faithful, overwhelmingly comprised of adolescent boys with a few sullen adults shepherding their cubs and hapless girlfriends in tow.

Two security guards met them at the door. “Please deposit all liquids, foods, and recording devices here. Sir, would you mind opening your coat?”

Wayne dutifully spread wide his bulky pea coat revealing a round mound covered with a nicely pilled argyle sweater that had belonged to his grandfather. The guard looked away and waved him through.

“Sir, would you mind opening your backpack?” the guard said to Manny.

Manny slipped it off and flipped open the lid. “It’s a Batpack.”

Tickets were nine dollars for the eleven o’clock matinee, twelve dollars for shows after noon. Wayne got his ticket and waited for Manny in the lobby where the snack counter was doing a brisk business in popcorn made with sunflower oil and available with virgin olive oil, tofu on a stick, and fruit smoothies.

Manny entered the lobby. “Ahmina get a Coke and some buttered popcorn, okay?”

“There is no buttered popcorn. It’s available with sunflower oil and olive oil.”

Manny’s jaw crushed a toe. He looked toward the refreshment counters which resembled festival seating at a Who concert. He resigned himself to water. Wayne took off at flank speed. It was imperative to GET YOUR SEATS FIRST and fish for food second. By the time Wayne and Manny gained the theater, the plum rows eight through twelve were taken with sniveling, squirming, texting, snarfing boys and men in a state of perpetual shiftiness emitting a low rumble of conversation punctuated by invective.

Wayne took the third seat in the 13th row except it was labeled the 14th to avoid the onus of superstition. Manny sat on the aisle. The big screen showed a ruddy, cheerful Santa Claus in coitus with a reindeer, guzzling Coke and shouting, “Shake, it Prancer, you hot bitch!” It was a Very Special Christmas.

During the trailer for Punisher IV, Marvel 0, a flat top and his date, who look4ed like Betty from Betty & Veronica, entered the aisle causing Manny to swing his legs to the side. Wayne had to stand and even then it was like squeezing by a mattress stuck in the doorway.

“Do you smell McDonald’s” Betty whispered to her date.

“Shhh!” Wayne shushed. Dude gave him the stink eye but Wayne ignored him. The troublesome couple sat three seats away. They watched a trailer for Zits, the new Will Ferrell comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family summer camp. They watched a trailer for Grits, the new Adam Sandler comedy in which he plays a child/man forced to grow up when he takes over the family plantation. They watched a trailer for Pits, the new Ben Stiller comedy about black holes.

Finally, after ads for plastic surgery and whole grain crust chicken and sun-dried tomato pizza, the lights lowered and the feature began. Manny stared at the screen in fascination until the smell of a Big Mac got his attention. Wayne nudged him and passed over a Big Mac.

“What? How?” Manny said, pleased and delighted.

Wayne reached down and pulled a portion of his belly away from himself like a lid. “Prosthetic belly,” he whispered. “Costume store. Got the Big Macs last night in Jersey. Kept ‘em warm with body heat.”

“Shhhh!” Betty shushed harshly.

I know what you’re thinkin’, Wayne thought to himself. In all the confusion, did he pull out two burgers, or three? The question you’ve got to ask yourself, lady, is do you feel lucky?

Batman had a utility belt. Wayne had a prosthetic belly.

Wayne and Manny ate their burgers. Dude immediately in front of Wayne turned in his seat. He had a buzz cut and a ring in one ear and through his nose. “Dude, like that burger you’re eating is totally horrendous. Take it outside, why don’tcha?”

Other young men swiveled to see the object of wrath. Wayne deftly tucked the rest of the Big Mac into his cavernous maw, chewed and swallowed. Reaching into an inside pocket of his pea coat he withdrew a canned Coke, popped the lid and drank copiously. He belched like the Mother of All Bullfrogs. He rolled it out like a black furry carpet. It just kept on rolling. The belch caromed off the ceiling frieze and tumbled ‘round the room.

Onscreen, Batman foiled an attempt by the Punisher to crash his movie.

Buzz Cut jabbed a finger at Wayne. “Why don’t you get up off your fat ass and go sit somewhere else?”

“Yeah!” said his sidekick, Li’l BC.

With a sigh Wayne heaved himself to his feet and motioned for Manny to do likewise. He had not come to rumble with Nazis. He had come to see the movie. He and Manny moved further upslope until they found two seats in the narrow aisle next to the wall.

Onscreen, terrorists had taken over Gotham Tower and were jamming all radio, internet, and short wave transmissions. In the theater, a gang of twenty-something boys sitting behind Wayne and Manny had seized control of the 18th row and jammed transmissions from the screen by hooting, making noises, and throwing Junior Mints.

A Junior Mint bounced off the back of Wayne’s basketball-sized head. Wayne slowly swiveled with a steely glare. The obstreperous ones studiously watched the screen on which Bruce Wayne was fending off Poison Ivy’s attentions.

Another Junior Mint sailed past. Giggles emanated from the 18th row. Wayne didn’t bother to turn and look. With a sigh of resignation, he gripped his arm rests and heaved himself from his seat. My city bleeds, he thought. He ponderously made his way up the aisle toward the 18th row.

“Oh oh,” they joked. “Look out now, here he comes!”

“Beware the Fat Fury!”

Wayne wondered if the benighted ones were even familiar with Herbie Popnecker. Without looking at them Wayne reached the 19th row and turned in. He sat behind what he took to be the ringleader, a dude in an Oakland hoodie, pants down his ass and BKs on the back of the seats in front of him as if he weren’t the issue of wealthy white mandarins on the Upper West Side.

“You smell something?” the White Negro said.

“Yeah,” said one of his minions. “Something stinks.”

The White Negro turned to confront Wayne, whose knees were up against the back of the seat. “Whassup, you fat faggot? Why don’tcha move your bulk somewhere else, know what I’m sayin’?”

Wayne reached into his belly prosthetic and brought forth a halogen flashlight and a water pistol filled with dog urine. “Please turn around and enjoy the movie for which you paid nine dollars.”

Onscreen, Batman confronted a crazed Killer Croc in the act of planting a bomb.

Offscreen, the White Negro said, “Or what? You gonna make me?”

Wayne turned the flashlight on the White Negro’s face. He squirted dog urine on the White Negro’s shirt.

“There,” Wayne said. “Now you have a smell to complain about.”

The White Negro heaved himself over the back of his seat and attacked Wayne with both hands, delivering blow after blow to Wayne’s prosthetic belly. The White Negro’s fist penetrated several of the twelve thumbtacks Wayne and pushed through the front of his sweater. Stinking of dog urine, the White Negro stared in horror at his bleeding fists.

The manager, a pale young man with a ponytail, came up the stairs with his own flashlight which he shined on the whole sorry scene. He sniffed. “Okay, I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you all to leave. Your ticket money will be refunded out front in the lobby. Let’s go.”

The White Negro turned on him in wounded innocence. “But we didn’t do anything! This fat fuck started messing with us!”

Wayne remained seated. “They threw Junior Mints at the back of my head. I’m sure a police search will reveal the Mints.”

“What’s that smell?” the manager said.

“Smells like dog piss,” one of the minions said. He had the makings of a fine detective.

“All right, that’s it,” said the manager with newly found authority. “Out of here right now or I’ll stop the film, turn up the lights and call the cops.”

There was some grumbling but when two more ushers appeared with flashlights on the landing below the White Negro resignedly got to his feet and led his minions out the door. “It sucks anyway.”

The manager turned his flashlight on Wayne. Wayne turned his flashlight on the manager. “You too,” the manager said.

“Moi?” Wayne said. “I have troubled no one. I have thrown Junior Mints at no one. I merely seek to watch the movie which is ruined for me now, ruined I say because of incessant interruptions and the obstreperous and contumacious nature of your clientele.”

“Let’s go,” the manager said. “You can get a refund in the lobby.”

Wayne rose with dignity. “Fine,” he said and waddled down the stairs, pausing only to glance at Manny, who dutifully joined him. The two lads soon found themselves nine dollars richer individually and out on the street.

“Now what do we do?” Manny said.

Gazing at a poster for The Bourne Natural Killers, Wayne deduced their next move. “Come on. We’ll make our own movie. We’ll shoot it on my phone.”

Disco by Mike Baron

DISCO

I write grim stuff. No getting around it. My Bad Road Rising series, featuring reformed motorcycle hoodlum Josh Pratt, is rife with beat-downs, murders, and foul language. My wife Ann doesn’t read novels. She’s only seen three movies in her whole life, and two of them were The Sound Of Music, which she saw twice.

One day she said, “Why don’t you write something I can read?”

We love our dogs. Many dog lovers love their dogs so much they want to do books about them. Some do. My local Barnes & Noble features hundreds of titles devoted to individual dogs.

I started tossing discs to my dog Lucy in Wisconsin. Lucy was a big mutt of unknown provenance, but she grabbed big air when she snatched the disc. We call them discs because Frisbee is a copyrighted name of the Wham-O Corporation, and we don’t always use Frisbees. Because of Lucy, I became interested in the Skyhoundz World Championship and the Frisbee Dog World Championship, also known as the Ashley Whippet Invitational.

Both competitions feature the “freestyle,” in which human and dog do a routine set to music involving somersaults, aerial jumps and fancy throws. The other major event is the distance throw, which currently stands at 402 feet.

The story grew in my mind of a boy from a broken family, whose mother moves from town to town looking for a stable situation, and how he adopts a mongrel pup and learns, by accident, that the pup has an affinity for snatching discs out of the air. It took me twenty years to get around to writing it. Ann’s suggestion that I write something she could read did the trick.

Liberty Island will release Disco at the end of November.

Mike Baron’s DISCO is such an unexpected delight – it’s a story with both heart and warmth that also pulls no punches, and is, simply, a pleasure to read.” – James A. Owen, author Of HERE, THERE BE DRAGONS