Monday, October 31, 2011

Why QA Matters

These things happen

ahem ... price check please?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Pay With a Tweet / Amazon France

This appeals to my sensibilities. Thanks to the always interesting Todd Keisling for this tip. My books are always free, but I certainly don't mind a tweet or two about them every now and then :}

Note to self. more than 6000 downloads via Amazon this month. Nice. Glad to see they still have more than a dozen still going for free. But 1 download above all was fun to see - a single copy of Squatter With a Lexus at Amazon France.

This one download seems to have made it #6 in the Books in English list there - makes you think only six titles have ever been downloaded so far on that site. (even better - it's FREE in France too!!)

The World Ends Tomorrow

It's getting harder and harder to keep up with all the Chicken Little scenarios swarming around us these days. Every week it seems someone is announcing the impending Death Of Blank! Self-publishing is destroying literature, free ebooks are destroying the "craft" of writing, Amazon is destroying the publishing industry, Liberals are destroying 'the family', the list goes on and on.

What keeps amazing me is how people assume that the way things have been for a generation or two is the way things have always been and will always remain. Haven't we experienced enough tremendously rapid change in the recent past to be able to understand that things change tremendously and rapidly? It seems not. We still tend to think in the same old way.

I just wonder what it's going to take for us to get with the program. I remember a popular newspaper cartoon meme (remember newspapers? Heck, remember memes? And that was only last week!) about crazy guys walking around with signs proclaiming 'The World Will End Tomorrow' - well, the world as we know it DOES end tomorrow, and every day. There are always reasons to be pessimistic, and reasons to be optimistic as well. I feel sorry for people whose jobs are in jeopardy because of change (sorry, small press people) but also feel hopeful for the new jobs that are coming.

I live and work in Silicon Valley, USA and see the buds of new potentials forming constantly. Many if not most don't make it, but with so many people in the world and so much change going on all the time, it seems so likely to me that the world I will not live to see (I'm getting on, by the way) will be similar but very very different. No small presses? Come on! Focus! People are communicating in different ways all the time, and what's really important? People communicating, not the mechanics of how, not who makes how much money for what. Isn't this what 'publishing' was supposed to be all about? Publishing itself is an industry not even two centuries old - hardly eternal or fixed for all time.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ratings Wars: iTunes versus Goodreads and Barnes&Noble

It's curious that across the board, the star ratings for my free ebooks are fully one star higher on both iTunes/iBookstore and Amazon than they are on Goodreads and Barnes and Noble

For example, Snapdragon Alley:
on iTunes  (4 stars, 38 ratings)
on Barnes and Noble (3 stars, 215 ratings)
on Goodreads (3 stars, 53 ratings)

or Tiddlywink the Mouse:
on iTunes  (4 stars, 146 ratings)
on Barnes and Noble (3.5 stars, 75 ratings)
on Goodreads (1.67 stars, 3 ratings)

It's pretty much the same for all the titles - iTunes aggregate is around 3.7 for all of them, while it's around 2.7 for Goodreads. Different audiences, I suppose.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

For and Against

I've been politically 'aware' for most of my life - one of my earliest memories is of holding my grandfather's hand as we marched in Manhattan in the early 60s for civil rights. My parents and grandparents on my mother's side were rather radical, and even today, my parents (in their 80s) are still quite attuned to political events. Unfortunately they are also somewhat demoralized. Not wanting to share that particular fate, I've sort of partially reconciled myself to a future of humanity that takes a balanced approach. I have reasons for both optimism and pessimism.

On the one hand, it seems more and more true to me that inequality is the natural tendency of human groups of every scale, from family to friends to peers to cultures and nations. It's like a law, like gravity or entropy - a permanently weighted tendency. On the other hand, the struggle against inequality is just as natural, brought on when things go overboard. We may be starting to see some of that in the US with the Occupy Wall Street happenings (though I have my doubts. We have not reached extremes here such as in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya earlier this year).

On the one hand, population growth continues to be maddening and frightening, but on the other hand, technology is enabling the floor of poverty to be raised quite generally, and the most destitute in the next century will be living healthier, more educated, more liberated (women in particular) and less child-bearing than currently or before, and that has to be considered a positive. War and cruelty ought to diminish as standards of living rise, but never vanish due to rule number one - the tendency toward inequality.

There is no reason to be overly optimistic about the future of humanity, but no reason to be overly pessimistic either. That's my balanced approach!

Monday, October 24, 2011

New Project

Book covers for books that don't exist

Sunday, October 23, 2011

CFS and Relapses

Since my 12 year bout with CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) began to subside some 15 years ago, I have had long stretches without relapses, but relapses do occur from time to time, and always bring about a great anxiety that the beast is back and back for good. I can't quite convey how terrifying this notion is. This disease stole the prime of my life - literally, like a thief. From the age of 27 to nearly 40 I endured each day more like a zombie than as a living creature. With no financial means and no medical care, I had to drag myself though each waking moment like an ox pulling a plow. No strength, no energy, no clarity of mind or heart, just sheer dogged persistence. I would somehow make it through and then drop as soon as I got home. Weekends were mostly on the couch or sometimes lying in the sun on the front steps if it was warm enough outside. Aching all over, feeling only the urge to sleep but knowing that sleep would not relieve that urge. Cringing at every loud noise, at light, at the presence of other people talking.

Well, these relapses do continue to occur (I'm in day three of one right now) and finding an absolute isolation in it (my family did not know me during the heyday and attribute my relapses to 'being in a bad mood')

I found a decent website for those who are afflicted, but each CFS patient lives with his or her own version of the thing. I seem to be among the 5% who 'recover' to some extent, though it took so many years and I am still not finally free of the thing and doubt I ever will be.

It pulls a shade over your window to the world, a curtain within and without, blocking all light and all the world's beauty with it.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Problem of the Ego in Art

Caveh Zahedi makes some sense on his website when he talks about the problem of the ego for the artist, and the strategies some artists undertake to get past it, because if they want their art to stand for itself, they have to extract themselves from it somehow. How is this to be done? It's difficult precisely because the ego strives to dominate in every situation, inserting itself not only into the art itself, but also in the production, distribution, in fact every aspect of the life of the artist.

He talks about how Kafka tried to deal with it by a) not completing his novels and b) not publishing them, but he did complete and publish some stories, so he was not altogether successful in this attempt at overcoming, or transcending the problem.

Zahedi says his attempt in his films is to submit his ego to the will of God - to restore God to His central location as it was during the art of the Middle Ages (in Zahedi's conception of it). It's curious how this submission leads to all his films being all about himself. God is supposed to be revealed in this? By the effacing of his ego, by his self-inflicted public humiliation, by his direct confessionals? Well, I guess that's how he sees it. You can convince yourself of pretty much anything, as his film 'I Am a Sex Addict' demonstrates repeatedly.

Ego wants status and status involves money and acceptance and recognition nowadays. It's all of a piece and impossible to untangle. The artist in our time has to be a complete product, from the look to the content and performance, style and substance both.

Read an interesting article about E. O. Wilson's theory that our species involves two distinct and concurrent struggles: groups against each other, and individuals against each other. Groups with great cooperation tend to do best (in team sports they call it 'chemistry', Wilson talks about altruism and division of labor) while in the individual battle it is the most selfish and most self-confident who wins. These are opposite strategies for success and the idea explains a lot of the contradictions and complexities of humanity. The individual competitions produce leaders who are the absolute wrong type to lead the group competitions! Again it's the dominant ego, but now in a situation that calls for its effacement. It's a curious dilemma

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Nickelheads 2011

Cheese is better than snails

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Entropic Quest

New Blurb:

In this dystopian fantasy, certain people are stuck at binary ages (8, 16, 32 ...) due to an unknown cause. They cannot age, or change, or become sick or even injured. By turns experimented on, abused, tortured and scorned, they are eventually exiled into a strange prison, an infinite forest world from which there is no escape. There they seek a cure, an antidote, a solution to their problem.

Four people are selected, seemingly at random, by an invisible being who communicates to them through wild animals. They are told they must go somewhere, find something, take it somewhere and do something with it. This is all they know. The thing, whatever it is, could be anything, and it could be anywhere. As for the chosen ones, they have other problems. Two are bitter rivals in an endless and seemingly pointless game, another is a novice, newly torn from her everyday life, while the fourth has been an old man for much too long, for all of them are immortal, exiled with nothing into an infinite forest by a world that cannot tolerate their existence.  As they struggle to work together to achieve a goal that none can even imagine, failure might just be their only option.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Consumers want their Culture for Free

Interesting interview with a Scottish author (I'd never heard of, but what do I know) about how cheap self-publishing is killing the publishing world and destroying the profession of authorship. It's nonsense, really, as many people are making money by self-publishing - a lot of people making some money is better than a handful making it all - and to hell with the publishing world anyway. For every good book they produced, they dumped a thousand crappy ones upon us. Still, what interested me in this interview was his discussion about protectionism in Germany and France and how they "value culture more than they value commerce", so they put tariffs in place to protect their native language productions. A losing battle, most likely.

It seems to me more and more that oligarchy is the natural tendency of the human species, and much of recent history has been the struggle against that, wherever it rears its ugly head, from the popular revolutions of the 18th century to the communist revolutions of the early to mid-20th century to the rise of New Deal and European socialism in the late 20th century. Once again we are slipping into it in America, where the top 1% own 50% of the wealth, and now it's even more insidious than ever, as it has gone global with multinational corporations hoarding the profits of the world - fewer and fewer energy companies and banks swallow up more and more of the smaller ones. The fiscal crisis of the past few years in the US resulted in a handful of banks becoming even more too big to fail than before.

From medieval kings and popes to the Wall Street money launderers of today, the rich get richer and the rest of us really need to fight to wrest it back from them. It's an ongoing tug of war against this seeming law of human nature.

Prisoners and Mortals

Having some ideas for Epic Fail Book Two, which I need to discuss with my son and co-author. As we left it, the frozen-age immortals were stuck in an infinite forest maze with no possible way out and yet no dangers - they could not age, get sick or even injured, they faced no predators, had no needs which could not be met. They wiled away their hours playing an endless stupid game or otherwise dawdling, exiled from the mortal world and held prisoners in a perfect jail.

In Book One, four of them were chosen by 'The Hidden One' to perform a seemingly pointless and vague task - to find something, take it somewhere and do something with it. That is all the instructions they had, and yet, in the end, their failure at this quest led to a sort of success - the restoration of mortality to the ancient Hidden One, who then immediately died.

Book Two was originally intended to continue this story, but I did not feel any desire to return to that same setup. I felt we had said what we wanted to say about being unchanging and outcast. One character (and one only) was consumed by a desire to escape - the rest had no intention of returning to a world where they were scorned and reviled at best, mistreated and tortured at worst. But Bumbarta (formerly a writer known as Gaudy) wanted to return and seek revenge somehow. In Book Two, the idea was that he would make attempts to break out, only to be thwarted at every turn, and thus, once again, fail. He would try, for instance, to set fire to the forest only to see some kind of automatic rainstorms appear and put it out. There was going to be a hero/fool who inadvertently did good, and a bad-tempered dwarf (isn't there always a bad-tempered dwarf?)

Lately, though, I've started to have other ideas, such as ... the ending of Book One created a virus-type organism to spread and cause a contagion of re-mortality. The inmates, previously stuck at the binary ages of 8, 16, 32 and 64, would begin to age, and not normally, but rapidly. The 8 years olds would be thrown headlong into puberty. The 16 year olds into adulthood, the 32 year olds into sudden middle age and the 64 year olds into old age and death. At the same time, whatever had triggered their previously frozen state had also kept their bodies whole and healthy, and this too disintegrates. They get sick, they get hurt., and there is no medicine, no doctors, no help of any kind. The outside world has completely forsaken them, even ignored them. There are no new ones coming in - perhaps they've all been eradicated out there, or perhaps that world itself has been destroyed by some apocalypse. Those inside the forest cannot know about the outside, and the outside seems to be paying no attention to those within.

There is a new sense of urgency, then, to try and get out of there. In fact, the entire forest world itself is beginning to decay and fall apart. The infinite maze is wearing out and showing its tricks - it has been a virtual world simulation, a sort of physical trick, a fake world that has deceived them all this time. Edges, and hints of boundaries begin to appear. Cracks in the walls, in the very ground and sky, give hope to Bumbarta and his band of Seekers as they pursue the goal of escape.

I would like to write this story, but it is still missing critical elements that would keep me engaged - humor, for one thing, and new and fun characters, for another. I can't write something just because I have some ideas. I need a motivation as well, and so far I am not feeling it for this one.

However, this could merge into the concept of the feminist cyberpunk. My son and I discussed the above ideas, and had some others - the virus is a sort of computer virus, and the prisoners, unknowingly, were creations of a cyber-experiment gone wrong. They are in part computerized and it was a software bug that froze them at different ages. The new virus has unfrozen the physical instruction pointer (so to speak) and is now causing them to age (at different rates. Some age quite rapidly to their actual chronological age, some age rapidly but not as fast, and some age more normally). That's the cyber stuff - the feminist angle comes in because 3 of our 6 main characters are female: Ember, Edeline and Soka. Ember is the main protagonist, in fact. Their prison is likewise an artifact - and in truth they might not even be on the planet Earth, as they assume. They might escape only to find themselves outcast in some unfamiliar solar system on an otherwise desolate planet ... The escape success is the epic fail of the title.

My son and I also designed a nice new cover for it:

in other news, I've redacted from Smashwords, Feedbooks and Amazon, several books (Glorious, Survivor, Phantom of the Mall and Futile Epikles). Instead, I am going to edit, revise, and include them in the collection of stories called 'The Mortal Hole', the cover of which I envisioned in a dream the other day and attempted to realize:

There was still something missing from that cover - above and below the mortal hole itself there needed to be a band of black Mayan symbols. I just hadn't't found the right pattern yet, but now there it is, very much like it was in the dream. The hole itself comes from this photo I found online.

This "mortal hole" is an ancient Native American relic, a hole in rock for use as a mortar (with pestle) for grinding (corn, wheat, etc ...). The other definition of mortal hole is a death wound (a bullet-hole, for instance). I have no idea why this term showed up in my dream as the title of a book I had written (or was to write) but there you go. Dreams are weird, right? So you go with it.

That collection will also include the three Sexy Teenage Vampire Stories, The Man Who Was Also A Dragon, A Bicycle Story, and The Hook.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

A Feminist Cyberpunk

A possible 'feminist cyberpunk' story based on Silas Marner, where a true outsider has something Society wants but can't have. Power is useless.

The question is what form such a story would take, what details, what plot, what centrality, whether it is set in the context of a business and an employee, a community and a member, a city and a citizen.

Some people argue over details of feminist controversies such as 'porn is bad' or 'all sex is rape', but it seems to me that the essential core of feminism is the struggle for fundamental human right for women, a fight that continues to this day in many parts of the world, including many states in the USA, over a woman's ownership of her own body, of her own destiny at that. It was not that long ago when women were property in the West and are still bought and sold throughout the world (if not always by men). This is what matters most in feminism.

In a more general context, the influences of the feminist movement have been far and wide, and in the world of literatures such as science fiction, it is not just whether it's boys or girls who are kicking ass and taking names - when genders are treated equally this is all fine and dandy, but it's not much deeper than that. What goes further is the role of power, especially physical power versus the autonomy and dignity of a person. In such varied circumstances as the workplace and little league baseball teams, individuals are not as permitted to bully or be bullied as they were in the past, and the most aggressive is not always the most rewarded. Some see this trend as diminishing manhood or masculinity, as weakening or feminizing the species, whereas others see this as as expansion of rights, opening the world for more participation by more people rather than stifling and limiting it to merely the beastliest among us.

It's not a world of brute physical survival as much as it used to be. We have fewer threats from predators, from the elements, from most dangers (other than each other). The skills required to make it in an urbanized and over-populated world include abilities to negotiate, to adjust, to adapt, to get along, to communicate, traits which are more historically associated with women than men. Men need to acquire these skills but these are not sexy, when it comes to entertainment. We still want lots of gunfire and explosions. We want action and more action. If we have to let women participate in our genres, then let them be hot and just as violent as men. But blowing shit up is not going to solve any actual problems in this world. It's such a cop out in books and movies. Heroes walk away from the flames, sooty but triumphant, and the audience is satisfied. The evil corporation is minus one edifice and somehow that is good enough.

Hard power does not work. Rebellion exhausts itself and collapses over time. We see this over and over again in reality. What endures is resistance - steady, consistent, resilient and patient, all we can genuinely accomplish is fine our own way and hold to our values as truly as we can, carve out a space and refuse to give in, to reject their values without trying to impose our own, without playing their game, without giving them what they most want - our submission. A punk worthy of the moniker does not sabotage the system, but circumvents it entirely. There is no genuine outsider - we are all stuck in it together - and there is no heroic overcoming. There are only, at best, those who make their own way.

On Fiction and Power

Considering the field of cyberpunk I was struck by the centrality of power in its themes, and not only power but great power, society-wide. In stories a la The Matrix, not only does the enemy wield tremendous power (enslaving entire planetary populations) but also the good guys, the loner/outsider/hacker types, end up somehow wielding great power as well, with the ability to save entire planetary populations. Is this just an inherently macho aspect of the genre? There was something in the ideas of feminism where the 'personal is political' and one could talk about power in terms of relationships and smaller-scale human events - which corresponded to classic literature far more closely.

We know just how often the little guy happens to wield great power in the real world and to what extent. A hacker-type might bring down a banking website for a day or two, with the total effect on the world being close to zero. Cyberpunk can fantasize and romanticize all it wants, but it's a little boy game, and really not that different from the Cowboy-and-Indian style of Star Wars when you come down to it. Special people with special training take on the forces of Evil and prevail.

It seems to me that cyberpunk could use a reduction in scale, but this is probably not popular. What would it look like to have a more limited struggle, and one that's not about power? Is it even possible? I'm somehow reminded of Silas Marner, the story of an outsider who finds his place in a world in which he does not belong. This is the scale I am thinking of. That book is not lacking in a social order where wealth and power rank and rankle people, but there is no overthrow of the world, no explosions or gunfire. The drama at the core is a matter of identity, and I think this could be a model for an interesting personalized counter to cyberpunk if it could be translated properly, from then to now, from lowtech to hightech, from rural to urban.

Someone possesses something which cannot be converted to money, which cannot be bought, yet which is of the greatest value to those in power.

(In the case of Silas Marner, it is a girl who was abandoned by a rich man and adopted by a poor man, who raises her up as his own. When the rich man repents later in life and wants to take her back, she refuses that life and that identity to remain true to the only self she has ever known).

You're not an outsider if your values are the same as the society-at-large. If your values are not the same, then there is no meeting ground. You are not going to change the world, you are only going to survive it - this is where a more genuine punk would be (it seems to me), more about personal change than political change, more about the small story than the big one.


Herman Cain has a simple tax plan called 9-9-9 that should come under greater scrutiny and will if he continues to advance in the Republican primaries. The numbers stand for a 9 percent across the board national income tax, a 9 percent across the board corporate tax, and a 9 percent across the board national sales tax. This last is the most intriguing. It would immediately raise the price of everything 9 percent, with all of the proceeds going to the federal government. Let's see how the average American likes it. Most Americans would not see their income taxes lowered (half pay no income tax) because their incomes are too low. All of a sudden, with no increase in their incomes, everything costs 9 percent more. That $4 gallon of gas is now $4.36. Same for a gallon of milk. Their entire cost of living jumps more than inflation has over the past decade. Meanwhile, rich people, already enjoying the greatest wealth disparity in more than 100 years, do see their incomes go up, and greatly, for those tax reductions benefit them far more than they do anyone else.

The Tea Party people seem to like Herman Cain. Let's see what they think when the riots begin.


Those who claim atheism is also faith i say, if a man tells you his fingernail is 37 chocolate-covered infinite rainbows and you say you don't believe him, your disbelief is not equally irrational as his belief. Good luck with that.

Friday, October 07, 2011

One thing leads to another

Although she would hate it. 'Glorious' got its start when I read this truly horryfing ghost/rape story by Quiet Riot Girl. That's how it happens - ideas are viruses that mutate from one brain to the next.

It will be interesting to see (if there are ever any reviews or comments) what someone might say about 'Glorious', because I'm not sure what to say about it. I read a tweeted quote from someone famous recently (I think it was the guy who does Dilbert) which went 'creativity is about making mistakes, art is about knowing which ones to save' (or something like that), which made me think that, taken in those terms, "creativity" is more important than "art" because living is more important than commerce, that doing something is more important than selling something - in other words, 'creating' is a verb and 'art' is a noun and in my mind translate to life versus product.

'Glorious' was doing - I had a few ideas and mushed them together. It's probably not coherent enough, meaningful enough or well-done-enough to be a product in any sense. As drama, it is not dramatic. As story, it is not appropriately structured. It is a ghost story but ghosts are absurd. It is a story in which a ghost is cured of its need to haunt by a feminist consciousness-raising session conducted by a sort of a witch, which makes it a sort of "haunt and flaunt" joke. There are shades (pun intended) of satire on the kind of voyeur-culture we're soaked in these days. Surrounded as we are all the time by nearly naked voluptuous women (in advertisements/billboards) why would a ghost with really big tits even draw any attention? I think more likely it wouldn't. And then in the story it becomes a sort of normal thing, a regularly scheduled trip to Starbucks (though in this case a sort of spectral strip club). Then there's the idea of the diner owner who hates having customers and resorts to black magic to get rid of them. That's kind of funny too. To me, the whole thing is a theater of the absurd and I just wonder if it will strike any readers that way as well, or is the fact of absurdity, when presented without announcement, too subtle in this case, or just too botched, too diluted with too many disparate strands: the girl who can't get enough attention, even after death. the witch who cures instead of curses. the businessman who hates business. the men who gather to gawk on cue and then head back to work. the talent agent whose client list includes a witch.

Watching Luis Bunuel's "Simon of the Desert" I'm reminded that absurdism is where I found my original inspiration as a young person. It remains my core.

Spring Lake is my Walden

Love it here. Today up close with night and green herons.

Jobs in other words

Of all the Steve Jobs eulogies I like this the best:

'You show them you have in you something that is really profitable, and then there will be no limits to the recognition of your ability,’ he would say. 'Of course you must take care of the motives—right motives—always.’

From Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Glorious (The Script based on The Ghost With The You Know What)



          A script based on the short story








          ASSORTED MEN


          Sam's Coffee Shop is a storefront on a small-townish Main
          Street, brown around a large dirty plate-glass window and a
          narrow door on the right-hand side. The door has a cheap
          'Open' sign hanging on it. The words "Sam's Coffee Shop" are
          painted in chipping old yellow above the big picture window.
          Behind the grime can be seen a few square brown cloth-less
          tables inside the diner with cheap metal chairs around them.
          The place has an aura of nausea about it. You wouldn't want
          to eat there unless it was the end of the world and the only
          place left open.

          WILLIS P. ARMSTRONG, an unusually well-dressed young man,
          quite urban-looking in a light lime-colored suit, maroon tie
          and shiny brown shoes, looking out of place in this small
          town setting, is walking by when he comes to a sudden halt,
          apparently attracted by the coffee shop. He turns to face it
          directly, tilts his head first one way, then the other, then
          cautiously approaches, still staring. We can see nothing in
          the window besides the crappy interior of the diner. WILLIS
          rubs his chin, walks right up to the window, stretches out
          his hand but pulls it back as if he was about to do
          something rude. Abruptly, he turns away from the window and
          strides to the restaurant door. He goes in.

          The coffee shop is as dirty and nasty inside as expected. It
          is also fairly dark and quiet. It boasts a long counter with
          occasional sugar and salt shakers distributed before
          red-plastic covered bar stools, with the open dining area
          and its four or five tables on the left. SAM, a short, fat
          middle-aged man, is standing behind the yellow formica
          counter top, rubbing the greasy stove top with a filthy rag.
          JOSEPHINE, his wife, is in the back of the diner, holding a
          broom, but not doing anything with it. She is the same
          general shape as SAM, but displays a luxurious head of fake
          black curls (a wig) in contrast to her husband's utter
          baldness. At the counter, one lone customer sits, BARNEY, an
          old drunk hunched over with his head on the table and a half
          a cup of something in front of him.

          WILLIS enters, and immediately turns around to inspect the
          front window from the other side. He throws up his hands and
          speaks in a loud voice, pointing at the window.

                    Who is that? What is that?


                         (walking over to the counter
                         but still glancing backward)
                    That girl. Is it some kind of
                    trick? You have a projection
                    machine or something? It's good,
                    whatever it is.

                         (turning to face him)
                    Son, I have no idea what you are
                    talking about.

                    No idea? That girl! In the window!
                    The blond? Why, she's beautiful.
                    That must drive 'em in like crazy.
                    Wonder why nobody else ever thought
                    of it first.

                    What girl? What window?
                    Why, she's right there! Right there
                    in your own front window. Are you
                    telling me you're not putting it

                         (pointing at the front)
                    That window? My window?

                    Of course! She's facing the street.
                    From here you can see her from
                    behind, which is a helluva view
                    too, by the way. It works for me, I
                    can tell you.

                         (calling to his wife)
                    Jo? Come up here for a second, will

          Josephine reluctantly picks up her broom and shuffles to the
          front of the restaurant, still carrying it. She has yet to
          display any expression at all on her face except extreme

                         (to WILLIS)
                    Tell her what you told me

                         (looking around the whole
                         diner as if searching for
                    You people! It's got to be some
                    kind of trick, it has to be. You're
                    beaming that image from somewhere,
                    I know it.

                         (in a monotone and some sort
                         of accent. German?)
                    What image?

                    The girl. The young lady. That
                    glorious vision right there in your
                    Describe, please.

                    Why, she's perfect. Young, blond,
                    blue eyes. So shapely!


                         (modestly gesturing an
                         hourglass figure with his
                    Up here, and down here. She's
                    wearing a light blue sun dress, and
                    white shoes.

          At the mention of the dress, JOSEPHINE's expression
          radically changes to one of alarm, even fear. She drops her
          broom and it clatters on the floor.

                         (turning to her husband)
                    Barney said so too!

                         (gesturing at the drunk at the
                    Yeah, right, says he.

                    It's that girl!

                    What girl?

                         (to her husband still, not
                         looking at Willis)
                    That poor dead girl!

                    The last thing that girl looks is
                         (turning on him and hissing)
                    She died right there, not two
                    months ago now. Poor thing. Walking
                    along minding her own business and
                    then this truck ...

                    Yes? A truck?

                         (after a moment of silence,
                         spits out bitterly)
                    Some drunk drove his pickup up on
                    the sidewalk, smashed my fucking
                    window too! And the girl, she never
                    had a chance. Died on the spot, the
                    ambulance driver said. Didn't feel
                    a thing. Fucking drunks! Uninsured
                    of course. I'm out two grand nearly
                    for that glass. You think I'll ever
                    collect? Not a chance. Not me. No
                    luck at all. No fucking luck at

                         (shrugging and gesturing at
                         her husband, says to WILLIS)
                    He thinks HE has no luck, but what
                    about that girl. Seventeen she was.
                    A beauty queen too. Homecoming girl
                    what they call it.

                         (whistling and ogling the
                         window again)
                    I believe it! From what I can see.
                    She sure is something. You sure
                    you're not pulling a fast one on
                    me? There's a machine somewhere in
                    the back.

                    It's no machine. It's that girl.
                    It's her ghost. Barney saw it too.

                    And you?
                         (shaking her head)
                    Not a thing. I don't see nothing.
                    Him neither.

                    Tell you what the trick is! It's
                    Barney, isn't it? How much did he
                    pay you? I know what he's like. Go
                    on, fun's over. Get out of here.

                    I swear I'm not up to anything. I'm
                    just here for the day on business.
                    Tell you what, though. If that
                    really is a ghost, if that's
                    something other people can see then
                    believe me, you're going to have
                    your hands full. A girl like that.

          WILLIS starts to leave but stops at the door, turns around
          and comes back and hands SAM a business card.

                    If that's what she says it is, you
                    might need some help. I know a
                    person. Take this, just in case.
                    Call me if you need to.

          SAM takes the card and tosses it into the empty tip jar on
          the counter. He snorts loudly as WILLIS exits the


          The place is packed, with men. They are everywhere -
          occupying all the tables and all the seats at the counter,
          with several left standing as if on a crowded bus. Most are
          facing the front window, while chatting with each other from
          time to time. Loud conversational sounds fill the room, with
          occasional snatches audible, mostly lewd observations and
          suggestions concerning the ghost, her body and her age.
          JOSEPHINE is by at the cash register in the front corner of
          the counter, next to Barney, who has raised his bleary-eyed
                    Disgusting beasts.

                    What you'd expect.

                    Me? What I'd expect is a little
                    respect, not to mention it's a

                    That ... is not a child. And she
                    seems to like the attention. You
                    see? She's smiling.

                    I don't see, and by law she was. A minor! And these,
                    these filthy ...

                    Gloria Gattuso

                    What's that?

                    Her name. You remember her father,
                    Gary. Used to come in here.

                    Another old drunk, like you.

                    Not old, not like me. He only
                    looked it. Man was young once too,
                    like that, like her. Good-looking
                    he was but never a chance. No way.

                    Why'd you say that?

                    Born that way. Dead loser from the
                    moment his lips touched beer.

                    You men always have an excuse.
                    We always need one.

          SAM appears at the cash register corner, out of breath and
          huffing. He is wiping his sweaty brow and growling.

                    How'm I supposed to do it, huh?
                    Tell me that! All this rabble. And
                    of course they want service.
                    They're wanting food and drinks,
                    like rats they are.

                    It's a damn diner after all.

                    I want it back the way it was. I
                    can't take it like this.

                    Maybe we should sell. Be a good
                    time for that.

                    Sell? Sell MY business? Never!

                    Then I guess you got to make it

                    What I got to do is get rid of that

                    So you believe me now?

                    Must be something there, the hell!
                    I can't see nothing, but some of
                    you can.

                    Just the men, did you notice? Not a
                    girl or woman can ever see the

                    Hey, that's true.
                    Damn thing's a curse. What'd I do?
                    Did I drive the damn truck? No! Did
                    I deserve all this?

                    So hire some help. Most people
                    wouldn't complain about money
                    pouring in.

                    I don't want any help. I don't want
                    any of their damn money, pouring,
                    dripping, drizzling or otherwise.
                    Look at 'em all! Even out there on
                    the sidewalk still.

                    It's the cops who make 'em come
                    inside. Most would rather be out
                    front, where the view is, how to
                    put it?

                    Where you can see the damn thing's

                    You put it!

          All at one the crowd disperses rapidly, all pushing past
          JOSEPHINE and out the door.

                    Right on time, there they go.

                    Morning viewing time is over.

                    Why? I'd like to know. Every day at
                    10 and 4, half an hour each time.
                    Who can explain it to me?

                    Who can explain any part of it?
                    It's a mystery.
                    It's a goddamn pain in the ass. Now
                    look at this. I got to clean up all
                    these cups and plates.

                         (walking away)
                    So? I get to do the tables and
                    floor. It's our coffee shop,
                    remember? It's what we do, what
                    we've done for god how many years?

                    Twenty-seven years.

                         (shouting back)
                    You hear that? Twenty-seven years.

                    Don't I know it. I just want it
                    back the way it was, the way it's
                    supposed to be.


                    Damn straight.

                    What about that fellow the other

                    What fellow? One of that crowd?

                    No, the first one. First one after
                    me I mean. Came in here all suit
                    and tied.

                    You were passed out if I remember

                         (pointing at his skull)
                    Barney sees and knows.
                         (rummaging in the still nearly
                         empty tip jar)
                    Left his card here, didn't he? Said
                    he knew someone. Ah, here it is.
                    Willis P. Armstrong. Los Angeles.
                    Shit! That's long distance!

                         (searching his pockets)
                    Think I got a dime in here

                    Keep your dime. I'll make the call.


          It is early morning and the coffee shop is not yet open. The
          sidewalk is deserted except for two people: WILLIS P.
          ARMSTRONG and ARLENE LIGHTNING BUG. WILLIS is extremely well
          dressed, in a light blue pastel suit, purple tie and shiny
          brown shoes. ARLENE is a contrast, a short, dumpy
          black-haired woman of indeterminate age (forties through
          sixties), covered in layers and layers of black lace
          wrappings and wearing heavy black combat boots. Her
          wide-brim black cowboy hat is also draped in lace. This
          color scheme is only broken up by a string of large turquoise
          beads around her neck. They are looking straight forward -
          the glass-plated front of the coffee shop would be where the
          audience is. Arlene is pointing directly a little to the

                         (in a crackly voice)
                    So that's where she is?

                    No Arlene, there.

          WILLIS guides her arm to point straight ahead, and we notice
          that ARLENE is, if not completely blind, at least mostly so.

                    Ah! Yes. I can feel something, yes.

                         (takes a step back)
                    Just tell me what I can do
                         (waving him off)
                    It's all right now. I've got a fix.
                    Now, where did I put my tinctures?

          ARLENE feels through her robes and after a search brings
          forth a clutch of small vials. She rubs them together
          between her hands and then, one by one, she shifts a bottle
          to one hand while still holding the others in the other
          hand, and brings it to her nose and sniffs briefly, until
          she has identified all of them by their smell. Then she
          slowly kneels down on the sidewalk and carefully places them
          in a half-circle pattern in front of her. Alternately
          muttering and chanting, she begins to open the bottles and
          splash some of each onto a different spot on the sidewalk in
          front of her. Each bottle contains a different colored

                         (speaking out loud now)
                    You see, Willis, life is sticky.
                    Whatever comes to you, stays with
                    you, until you shake it off. Shake
                    it off!

          ARLENE throws her arms around wildly as she says the second
          "shake it off" and then begins to laugh in a crazy-sounding
          cackle, very witch-like.

                    Sometimes it sticks so hard it
                    nails you down, right to the spot!
                    You can't get away no matter how
                    hard you try. You are this, and
                    this you are.

                    She was such a pretty girl.

                    Everybody says so. I asked around.
                    Even as a very little girl, it was
                    always "oh how pretty she is".
                    "Isn't she precious?" A baby beauty
                    queen! They dressed her up in those
                    pageants, you know. Later on, the
                    whole thing, cheerleader, of
                    course. Prom Queen.
                    And now this.

                    Practically a tourist attraction.

                    So, we set her free then.

                    You think you can?

                    Someone's coming.

                    Yes, it's almost time.

          A businessman arrives and inspects the two newcomers with a

                         (pointing at ARLENE)
                    Excuse me, but that's my spot.

                    Not today, pal.

                    I don't know who YOU are, but that
                    IS my spot.

                    Ladies first.

                         (sniffing the air)
                    And what's that awful smell?

                    Tools, my friend.

                    I'm not your friend, and that's my

                    I'll give it back. I promise.
          The BUSINESSMAN sighs and takes up a position just behind
          and to the left of ARLENE. Other men begin to arrive, greet
          each other familiarly, and take up their own positions in
          what has clearly become a morning ritual. Many of them have
          coffee cups and breakfast rolls in their hands. There is a
          lot of chatter and banter as the day brightens, time passes
          as the sidewalk fills, and then the scene quiets down as the
          men begin to shush each other and a sort of awe comes over
          their transfixed faces. Gloria has appeared in the window.
          ARLENE reaches into her folds and brings out a box of wooden
          kitchen matches. She begins to light them, one by one,
          tossing each onto one of the little stains she had created
          on the sidewalk. As they land, the matches flare up in
          bright colors like little fireworks, followed by vivid curls
          or smoke in the color of the various liquids rising from
          those spots. The expression on the men's faces change as
          some form oohs and aahs and there are mutterings about how
          "she's never done that before," and "what's going on?".
          Their eyes lift (apparently moving from Gloria's chest to
          her face). WILLIS smiles with satisfaction and looks at
          ARLENE, who puts away the matchbook and brings out a mirror
          which she holds up facing directly ahead. She speaks in a
          steady, quiet voice now.

                    This is what they see.

          ARLENE pauses. We see, in the mirror only, the image of the
          beautiful young woman as described earlier, but only
          faintly. The image vanishes as ARLENE adjusts the mirror
          slightly. This is the only glimpse of GLORIA throughout.

                         (slowly, and pausing several
                         seconds between each sentence)
                    This is what they see, and this is
                    what they think they see. This is
                    what they know, and this is what
                    they think they know. This is who
                    you are, and this is who you think
                    you are. This is what you were, and
                    this is what they thought you were.
                    This is what's within you, and this
                    is what they think you are.

          WILLIS starts to move forward but ARLENE holds out one arm
          to keep him back. The other still holds the mirror forward.
          There is utter silence.
                         (as before, incanting and
                         pausing between phrases)
                    This is what I was, and this is
                    what they thought I was. This is
                    what I am, and this is what they
                    think I am. This is how I looked,
                    and this is how they saw me. This
                    is how I look now, and this is how
                    they see me now. This is what's
                    within me, and this is what they
                    think I am. This is what's within
                    them and this is what they know
                    they are.

          The men around ARLENE become uncomfortable and start to
          shift in their places. One by one they show embarrassment and
          turn their faces away. Like 'the wave' at a ballpark, it is
          as if they are each in the spotlight in turn, as if GLORIA
          is looking at each of them now and not in a good way.

                         (her voice still calm and
                    You are not your body. You never
                    were. No one is. You are not your
                    hair. Your are not your face. You
                    are not your legs. You are not your
                    breasts. You are not the surface of
                    your skin.

          As she lists the various body parts, some of the men begin
          to back away, to turn away. Unexpectedly, the BUSINESSMAN
          opens his mouth and speaks, but not in his voice. He speaks
          in GLORIA's voice.

                    What am I, then?

                         (as ever, pausing between
                    You, like each of us, are one
                    expression of an infinite. One
                    shade. One light. One moment. One
                    truth. You are your self.
          A murmur ripples through the crowd as various voices are
          heard saying things like "Where'd she go?" "What happened?"
          "What did the old woman do?" "Where is she?". "I guess she's
          gone". "It's over". "Do you think she'll be back"? As the
          men are saying these things, WILLIS comes forward and takes
          ARLENE's arm (she has put the mirror away), and they walk
          off to the side. One by one, the men disperse until the
          sidewalk is back to normal again, just people passing by
          like usual.

          (If a film, the scene could circle around to show SAM'S
          COFFEE SHOP, its picture window vacant, and no one inside
          except a smiling SAM, a slumped over BARNEY, and a grumpy
          JOSEPHINE, as in the beginning).

                              THE END