Saturday, July 23, 2016

Alcoholic Hazes in New Orleans

Many great writers including William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and John Kennedy Toole lived in New Orleans. One thing that made each of them great was their ability to create amid the cacophony and ado of the Big Easy.
I remember reading a humorous essay by a journalist that had lived there for several years. He’d moved to the city looking for inspiration, fully expecting to pen the next great American novel. Something quite different happened instead.
The semi-tropical city steams in the summer with hundred-degree temperatures and humidity through the roof. Like many cities in southern climes, life’s pace is slow, skidding almost to a halt during summer months. Lunches tend to drag on until two, and workdays often end by three or four, usually with a trip to some dark watering hole.
The journalist finally moved away from New Orleans without completing a single chapter of his proposed novel. He lamented that he’d never sufficiently sobered up, but that he did meet many interesting people and had enjoyed himself immensely. I had a similar experience during a post-Katrina trip to New Orleans.
There are so many things to see and do, and so many wonderful places to eat and drink, it is difficult finding time to write. Still, artists, writers and poets continue to fill the City. On my way to the Sheraton where I was staying, I stopped at a little bar on Decatur Street called Kerry Irish Tavern, and ordered a pint of Guinness. The bartender was a friendly young woman with a Scottish accent, her big dog snoring as he napped behind the hardwood bar.
Late afternoon, the dim tavern was almost empty except for a young man talking to the pretty bartender. His name was also Eric and we struck up a conversation. An aspiring writer, he had a manuscript in progress. Gill, a graphic artist, and his friend Tim, a poet with a distinct stutter, soon joined us. Our new group quickly became locked in conversation.
I stayed for another round, and then another, discussing Eric’s book and viewing some of Gill’s art. Realizing that I liked poetry, Tim recited several of his poems to us, never once tripping over his words because of his speech disorder.
The three men finally left, on their way to another bar. “We’ll be back at midnight for the band. Will you join us?”
“Maybe,” I said.
After paying my tab, I returned to the hotel to sober up, and never made it back to the Kerry Irish Bar.
I’ve thought about Eric, Gill and Tim many times. Did they finally finish their masterpieces? I’m betting no, and that you’ll find them in some French Quarter bar, locked in alcoholic hazes, and still contemplating the art they love to talk about but are never destined to complete.

###


Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Alcoholic Hazes in New Orleans, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts - a short story

While attending college in Monroe, my friend Larry and I decided to hitchhike to the small Webster Parish town of Cotton Valley, Louisiana. Larry’s grandparents lived in the former oil and gas boom town and had invited us down for the weekend.
The trip there was non-eventful, the trip home a story in itself. I’ll save that account for another time and tell you instead about our encounter with a ghost in the Cotton Valley cemetery.
Larry had a twin sister named Leeann that was also visiting her grandparents for the weekend. Her girlfriend Cindy had a car and don’t ask me why we hitchhiked to Cotton Valley instead of riding with them but it had something to do with sibling rivalry.
Larry’s grandparents, I’ll call them the Bloomers, had a large wood-framed house with many rooms that they had once rented to itinerant oil field workers. By the sixties Cotton Valley had a population less than two thousand. Still an oil town it was no longer a boom town. All of the Bloomer’s extra rooms were empty and Larry and I had our pick of the lot.
Like her brother Larry, Leeann was tall and dark. That’s where their appearances diverged. Leeann had the looks of a young starlet along with a Jayne Mansfield body. Tiny Cindy was as pretty as Leeann but was blonde, svelte and had a deep and lusty voice that belied her size.
In my teens, the girls could have both been homely as sin and I would still have had visions of a potential weekend liaison. Leeann and Larry, as I mentioned, had unresolved family differences and my daydreams squelched shortly after the girls arrived. I got my first clue when she and Cindy took rooms as far away as they could get from us on the other side of the large house.
Friday night and most of Saturday passed without seeing much of Cindy and Leeann as they were off in the car and we were on foot. Cotton Valley had neither a movie house nor any other form of recreation at the time and Larry and I soon grew bored. I managed to stem my own boredom somewhat by keeping a running journal written in ink on a sheet of paper that I kept in my shirt pocket
The seclusion Larry and I felt had apparently also worked on Leeann and Cindy because shortly after a sit-down dinner with the grandparents they asked us to go for a spin with them in the car. We quickly agreed.
We drove away from the grandparent’s house after dinner, Larry and I in the back seat of Cindy’s Fairlane. As I glanced over the bench at the half-hidden riches beneath Leeann’s plunging blouse and Cindy’s short skirt hiked high on her tanned thighs my daydreams quickly reemerged. They needn’t have.
We soon stopped at a house on the far edge of town and picked up Jim. Cindy and Jim, it seemed, had met the prior semester at Northeast Louisiana. After flunking out, he had moved back to Cotton Valley to work in the oil patch.
Cindy’s beau was a tall handsome fellow with a Cancun lifeguard’s tan. When Leeann climbed into the backseat with Larry and me and told me to push over to the middle of the bench seat, all my sexual fantasies flew out the car’s open window and I could tell by her frown that I should keep my hands to myself. I thought so when she crossed her legs and pointed them away from me toward the door and knew for sure when she wrapped her arms tightly around her ample bosom
It was just beginning to grow dark as we drove away from Jim’s house—a good thing as I had trouble keeping my gaze away from Leeann’s ample body. Miniskirts were the vogue at the time and the short garment barely qualified her as fully clothed. Feeling Larry’s cold stare over my shoulder I somehow wrested my gaze from her gorgeous legs and luscious breasts—except for an occasional stolen glance.
There isn’t much to do in Cotton Valley and we were soon headed out of town on a stretch of lonely blacktop. By now it was pitch dark, except for the stars and light of a full yellow moon. Jim and Cindy apparently had a bit of a tiff earlier in the day. We didn’t know it at the time but their relationship was near an end. Luckily for the rest of us, they remained cordial the remainder of the evening and Jim covered up their quarrel skillfully by becoming our local tour guide.
“Slow down and I’ll show you the hanging tree.” Cindy touched the brakes and pulled over as Jim pointed at a large oak tree on the side of the blacktop. A single large branch stretched across the road. Jim told us the tragic story of the rape of a white girl by a local black boy and the resultant retribution performed by an element of the town’s white population. ‘They buried his body in the cemetery up the road and he supposedly still haunts it, especially on a full moon like tonight.”
“Have you ever seen the ghost?” Leeann asked.
There was swagger in Jim’s voice when he said, “Lots of times. Once it waved a knife at a friend and me.”
“Did it scare you?” Larry asked.
“No way,” Jim said
As we sat on the side of the road, listening to Jim’s story, a gentle summer breeze wafted the large tree’s leaves and branches causing shadows to dance across warm blacktop. None of us commented as Cindy applied the gas and started away toward the cemetery.
As I recall the short ride to the suspected rapist’s place of internment, I realize that Jim probably had visions of mending fences with Cindy, and perhaps a romantic connection induced by her anxiety at possibly seeing a ghost. When we reached the cemetery, I’m sure the visualization we soon saw caused his thoughts of romance to disappear out the open window, along with his phony boldness.
The little cemetery lay just off the blacktop and had a small dirt parking lot. Cindy pulled into the lot and turned off the car’s lights. The night was moon bright and it took only a few moments for our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness. A fence of wrought iron surrounded the cemetery stretching before us like a silent metropolis of the lifeless.
“Hear it?” Jim asked. “The dead boy’s soul is calling out to us.”
I couldn’t hear anything except semis passing on a distant highway along with a chorus of crickets and tree frogs. Still, Jim’s words evoked a certain anxiety. Cindy also felt it as she slid toward the center of the car and closer to Jim. Leeann uncrossed her legs and grabbed my hand in a firm clasp. I couldn’t see Larry’s eyes but I knew he must be frowning. We had all just noticed something that none of us could explain.
Leeann clutched my hand even tighter when Cindy said, “Oh my God! What is that?”
Before us, an eerie blue light rose straight up from the center of the little cemetery, stretching like the creepy luminescent beam of an ethereal spotlight pointing high into the sky. A slight breeze caused the beam to vacillate like the luminous arms of a ghostly hula dancer.
We all sat in silence, waiting for the image to disappear so our minds could promptly deny what we all had seen. It didn’t happen that way.
Talk of the ghost had elicited Jim’s desired effect on Cindy. By now she was practically sitting in his lap, her arms clutched desperately around his neck. Jim didn’t seem to notice as his eyes in the reflected moonlight were big as proverbial saucers, his own arms gripping Cindy as tightly as she held him.
They weren’t the only ones caught up in the spooky moment. Leeann clamped my right hand with both of her own. She couldn’t have drawn any closer without occupying the space where I sat. What Larry was thinking about the situation briefly crossed my mind.
“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Leeann finally said.
Larry was having none of it. “No way, we need to find out what’s causing that light. I don’t believe for one minute it’s a ghost.”
When no one responded to his statement, Larry opened the back door and started for the cemetery gate. I was more interested in Leeann’s pressing warmth and tender softness than the ghost was but it quickly returned to my attention when the door slammed behind him. Concerned for her brother, Leeann released her grip and pushed me toward the door.
“You’re his friend. You go with him.”
When I glanced at Big Jim, his wide-open stare quickly told me he would be of no help. Leeann’s frown and folded arms had returned so I opened the back door and followed my friend into the night.
“Larry, where are you?” I called.
“In front of you,” he said in a whisper. “The light is coming from over that rise.”
The little country cemetery was well kept, grass trimmed around the tombs. Some of the headstones were large and ornate but most were old and crumbling, many no more than wooden crosses and rectangles of worn concrete. We had no flashlight but didn’t need one as there were few trees to block star light and bright glow of the full moon. A graveled path led up the hill toward the gleaming blue light.
Larry and I were in ROTC and both already experienced in night maneuvers. The ghostly light that continued to beam from the center of the cemetery apparently didn’t frighten my large companion and I was feeling more elated anticipation than fear. As we crested the slight rise we both saw the origin of the eerie light.
Larry halted in his tracks and held up his hand for me to stop. Moonlight was shining directly on a large piece of blue foil once used to wrap a flower pot. The light was reflecting off the foil and onto the polished marble surface of a headstone. The resultant glow shone like the beam of a spotlight, straight up into the sky.
The light wasn’t all we saw. In the darkness, just beyond the spot where the little hill began to drop in elevation, an almost indistinguishable shadowy figure came into view. It remained a moment in one spot before continuing slowly toward us, its amorphous shape wafting in the gentle summer breeze. Larry took a step forward to investigate but a shout from behind caused us to turn and look.
“Larry, where are you?” It was Leeann. Worried about her brother, she had followed us. We watched as she picked her way up the little hill. Just as she reached us she froze in place, put her hand to her mouth and said, “Oh my God!”
A vivid flash of summer lightning accompanied Leeann’s exclamation followed quickly by a clap of thunder that seemed as if it were right on top of us. Leeann didn’t appear to notice. She was staring at a spot behind us, still grasping her open mouth with her left hand as she pointed straight ahead with her right. Need I add how wide her eyes had grown?
Another flash of lightning lit the sky as Larry and I turned to see at what she was pointing. A sudden summer rainstorm had moved quickly overhead, already covering the stars and moon with dark puffy clouds. As lightning dissipated, only gloom remained, but not until Larry and I saw a shadowy nimbus floating up the hill toward us.
Before either of us could react, Leeann grabbed me from behind and screamed, trying, it seemed to squeeze the breath out of me. As she did clouds began unloading with large heavy drops of warm precipitation that lasted for no more than a minute. Dark clouds passed with the rain, again revealing clear sky complete with stars and full moonlight. Whatever we thought we had witnessed had disappeared along with the momentary storm.
“Did you see it?” Leeann asked, her long arms still wrapped tightly around my chest.
“I saw something but don’t know what it was,” I answered.
Leeann gave me an incredulous look when Larry said, “It was just a low-lying cloud.”
“My ass!” Leeann said. “It was shaped like a man and it was coming up the hill after us. You saw it didn’t you Eric?”
“I saw something but I didn’t get a good look. We turned away just as you called to us.”
“Trust me, it was nothing but a cloud,” Larry said as he led us back to the Fairlane.
Leeann had already begun to disbelieve her eyes as she followed her brother down the hill. I didn’t know what to believe but I was already missing the warmth of her breasts against my back. We had to bang on the car door for Jim and Cindy to open it.
“Did you see it?” Cindy asked.
“Yes, just before the rain started.” Leeann said.
“What rain?” Jim asked. “It’s been clear as a bell ever since you left the car.”
“Well it sure as hell rained on us, didn’t it Larry?”
“For a minute or so,” he said.
Cindy and Jim stared at him, and then at me. “You don’t look wet. Are you guys pulling our legs?”
My shirt and pants were almost dry and I could do little more than shrug my shoulders. By the time we dropped Jim off at his house, talk of the ghost had ended.
Cindy and Leeann were already gone next morning before Larry and I ate breakfast. Larry didn’t want to talk about the ghost except to say it was “bullshit” and I never spoke to either Leeann or Cindy again.
The mind plays tricks and sometimes what you think you see is nothing more than an invention of your imagination. Still, as Larry and I waited on the edge of I-20, trying to thumb a ride, I reached in my shirt pocket and pulled out the remains of my scribbled journal. My shirt. We were out of clean clothes and I was wearing the same shirt and blue jeans as the previous night was damp from sweat, crumpled paper equally moist. Something prompted me to unfold the soggy journal and look at it and I got quite a shock when I did.

Either rain or sweat had caused the blue ink to bleed on the paper and render my scribbling indecipherable—except for one word. In large blurry letters, it spelled out WRAITH.

####


Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Teenage Fantasies and Small Town Ghosts, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Thursday, July 07, 2016

DANCING AT THE SCORPIO

While rummaging through my closet, I found a tee shirt that evoked a treasure of old memories. The tee sported a poorly drawn picture of a scorpion and bore the name of the establishment from where I purchased it: Scorpio. Under the name were the words: dancers, pool and cold beer, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The original Scorpio was an old two-storied building located at Villa and N.W. 23rd, across the street from the Shepherd Mall. The bottom floor had a bar, several pool tables and a dance floor—a wooden structure raised about three feet off the floor. Music played while the mostly male customers shot pool, drank beer and watched the dancers perform on the raised structure.
The female dancers all wore the equivalent of a bikini with no exposed nipples, buttocks or pubic hair. That was downstairs, the action upstairs quite different—at least I had heard. Not everyone was allowed to go there. Nudity in Oklahoma City, at the time, was banned and rule breakers treated harshly by the authorities.
Most of the young men frequenting the bar were baby-boomers. Many, myself included, had survived the dirty war in Southeast Asia, partaken of the many illegal drugs so readily available there, and had visited the nightlife of Saigon and the brothels of Bangkok. Oil exploration was turning the City into a boom town, the young men of Oklahoma, and those pouring into the State because of the boom town prosperity, an adventurous bunch and ready for a change from the ways their fathers did things. The Scorpio was there to provide that change.
I remember the first time the stairway guard allowed me and my friend Mick to go upstairs. I tingled with excitement and to say that electricity filled the darkened room would be stating a stale cliche that didn’t come close to expressing the pure sexual exhilaration constricting my chest and shortening my breath. A Bob Seger ballad wailed through the darkness as a pretty blonde girl gyrated, totally naked on the stage, both exposed and swathed by the reds, blues and greens of a dancing strobe.
Upstairs was a clone to the downstairs with one essential difference—the dancers performed totally nude. Each young woman danced to the music of three songs. They performed their first song, like the downstairs dancers, in bikini-like costume. They would remove their top toward the beginning of the second song, and their bottoms during the beginning of the third song to the captivated attention of every young man in the place.
About this time, the Supreme Court ruled that nude dancing is not pornographic. After having their hands rapped by several adverse court decisions, the City removed its ban on nudity. Nude dancing soon became common in clubs around Oklahoma City, the Scorpio moving to a new location on north May.
Totally nude dancing continued in Oklahoma City until the Supreme Court ruled that cities could regulate activities that the majority of the people did not approve of. I don’t think a vote to regulate nudity ever occurred but the local police began operating as if it had. Oil prices had begun to collapse, ending the oil boom and Oklahoma City’s boom town mentality. Baby boomers were older and most, by this time had their own children. No one much protested the end of an era.
The Scorpio no longer exists, but the building that housed it remains. Ironically, it's now the home of a Vietnamese pool hall and domino parlor. I smiled as I pulled on the old tee shirt, a little too small for me now, but still in good shape. Yes, an era has ended but I still have my memory of the first time I climbed the stairs at the old Scorpio, not knowing what to expect, but spellbound with youthful anticipation.

####


Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Dancing at the Scorpio, please check out his Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

NAME OF THE GAME - a short story

Rita used to wait for me at the door of the building where she worked. I would park close to the curb and linger until she came outside. Until that day, our routine was always the same. When I drove up, I noticed a powder-blue Mercedes had taken my usual parking spot. The car's nervous driver, a prepped-out, lawyer type with gelled hair, turned halfway around in his bucket seat to watch Rita leave the office complex.
“Who was that?” I asked.
Rita leaned across the seat and planted a sultry kiss full on my lips. “I didn't see anyone.”
The man in the Mercedes watched us with interest and continued staring at us as we pulled away from the curb.
“Today I want it hot and fast,” she said, turning the rear-view mirror and using it to touch up her lipstick.
“Whatever. How you been?”
Rita crossed her legs, revealing more than a momentary glance of her shapely thighs.
“Beyond irritation,” she said. “Russell came home late after leaving me alone with Jessica. Ever try communicating with a good looking, teenage cheerleader with tits bigger than her mom's?”
My smile was all the answer she needed. “What happened when Russell got home?”
“Absolutely nothing. I even paraded around in my stretch-lace teddy to show him what he was missing.”
Talk of Rita's husband always made me uncomfortable. Sensing my discomfort, she leaned across the console and squeezed my leg. It was late autumn, a beautiful clear-blue day, and Rita’s grin was wicked when I braked hard to avoid a squirrel scurrying across the road.
We barely spoke during the short distance to my apartment. The parking lot was empty, everyone at work, and we soon found a spot near the stairs. Fast and discrete. Just the way Rita liked it. She had her arms around me almost before I could lock the apartment door behind us.
“Miss me?” she asked.
“You know I did.”
“And these?”
She unbuttoned her flocked blouse to the waist and cupped her breasts. I traced a narrow path up her flat stomach with my fingers, but Rita was having none of it. Grabbing my wrist, she pulled me down the narrow hallway to the bedroom in back
Recently divorced, my apartment was small; one bedroom. The apartment was dark, only hazy sunlight shining through an open window. Rita liked the dark, and I didn’t bother turning on the lights
“Let's not waste it.” Releasing my hand beside the bed, she dropped her dress, slip, and bra in one practiced motion, and then fell onto the covers. “Now, I want it hard and fast.”
I’d left the air conditioner on high before leaving for work that morning and the room was cold as it was dark. Rita was neither, her eyes flashing. Already hot after having all the foreplay she’d needed during our lustful stroll from the front door. For the next five minutes, she clawed painful Xs in my back, yanked handfuls of hair from my head, moaned loudly, and squirmed like a woman possessed. When we finished she rolled off the bed, went into the bathroom, and closed the door behind her. She returned shortly, still totally naked, and carried a can of hair spray.
“Hurry,” she said. I have a prospective employee to interview at one. Can’t be late.”
“But we just got here.”
“And did what we came for. Now be a sweetie. You know my job is vital to me.”
As I got out of bed and pulled on my pants, Rita returned to the bathroom to brush her hair. This time she emerged looking ready for an urgent business meeting. Seeing I wasn’t quite ready, she tapped her shoe, waiting as I knotted my tie. Grasping my hand when I finished, she squeezed it and hurried me to the car.
Because of lunch hour traffic, we found the return trip to her job much slower. Rita remained silent most of the way, although I could see she was miffed. She didn’t talk until we were almost there.
“I have a question, and I need an answer.”
“What’s wrong?”
“Does there have to be?”
“It's your voice. You sound. . .”
Rita ignored my psychoanalysis, folded her arms, and turned her knees toward the door.
“Tell me. What's the name of the game?”
“Game? I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”
“The one we're playing.”
I didn’t understand the issue and paused before answering.
“Infidelity, maybe?”
Rita closed her eyes. “This isn't a joke. I need a serious answer.”
A blaring horn distracted me from the unexpected course our conversation had taken. “Have I done something wrong?”
“You've done everything just right, and I've enjoyed every minute of it. Cool drinks in smoky bars, peanut butter picnics in vacant lots and steamy sex in all the ways I love. That’s what our relationship has meant to me. I just want to know what it means to you. Anything?”
“Something exciting and truly memorable. I can't remember having so much fun since I went skinny dipping with the homecoming queen in the principal's pool on graduation night.”
Rita's strained smile flickered briefly. “Now what? It's almost winter. The pool is empty.”
“You're shooting over my head. Is this about Russell? Are you thinking of divorce?”
“Russell's not the problem.”
“But isn't Russell part of the equation? And Jessica?”
“That's not what we're discussing here,” Rita said, her voice rising.
“Then please tell me what we are discussing.”
By now, her demeanor had diminished from silent composure to barely suppressed rage, and I still was not sure why.
“Just let me off in front of the building,” she said.
I coasted into the slow lane and allowed some angry motorists to surge past on the left. “First explain why you're angry with me.”
She had neither a frown nor smile on her face, only the empty expression of quiet frustration as she pointed at the curb in front of her building.
“Pull in and let me out. I never play the game with someone who doesn't follow the rules. You don't even know we're playing.”
She hurried across the busy street without a backwards glance. When I phoned to apologize, she didn’t take my call.
Three days passed, and then a week, without a word from Rita. Finally, no longer able to control my curiosity and hurt feelings, I drove to our old meeting place by her office and parked at the curb. From there, I watched, aware of a sudden rush of déjà vu as she walked out the door at exactly our usual time. I quickly realized why.
Even though she recognized my car as she hurried across the sidewalk, she didn’t look my way or acknowledge my presence. Instead, she focused her smiling attention on a young man in a black BMW as he opened the passenger door to let her in. Once inside, she wrapped herself around him and gave him a sultry kiss. She knew I was looking, and I wondered if her lustful actions had been for my benefit. I never found out.
As they disappeared down the street, I watched the young man cast a curious glance in his rear-view mirror.
END

Born a mile or so from Black Bayou in the little Louisiana town of Vivian, Eric Wilder grew up listening to his grandmother’s tales of politics, corruption and ghosts that haunt the night. He now lives in Oklahoma with wife Marilyn, and continues to pen mysteries and short stories with a southern accent. If you liked Name of the Game, please check out his AmazonBarnes & Noble, and iBook author pages.