HAN Arts & Leisure: Author Tom Starita talks ‘Growth and Change are Highly Overrated,’ a break down of HBO’s The Young Pope, more

Last week I did a 15 minute segment on the HAN Network to promote my book and wave my hands around. The show begins at the 2:35 mark.

 

 

Tom Starita: Creating a life as a writer, one book at a time

Check out this article by Keith Loria, which ran all over the great state of Connecticut!

http://www.milfordmirror.com/70458/tom-starita-creating-a-life-as-a-writer-one-book-at-a-time/

My Interview with the Stratford College Gazette

Two days ago I did a feature interview for the Stratford College Gazette. With my scanner on the fritz the reporter, Dana Bell’Amore graciously sent me a copy and said I could copy/paste to my heart’s content. Thanks Dana, I had a blast. And now here is the interview, edited for length and clarity.

Tom Starita has dreams. Big dreams. Dreams involving late night television and podcasting in virtual reality. He’s done a lot so far in his thirty-eight years, a blog, a cartoon, a podcast, a commercial and some books, the second of which, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated” arrived two weeks ago. He took some time out of his busy vacation to chat on the phone and answer some questions.

Dana: First I just want to say thank you for doing this interview.

Tom: It’s not every day you can be guaranteed page 5 in the Stratford College Gazette newspaper.

Dana: So we’ll start with a softball, you grew up in Staten Island, NY, what brings you to Connecticut?

Tom: I was working with the reptiles at the Staten Island Zoo for the last two years and as we all know, Stratford is home to the region’s largest Meerkat exhibit. They were looking for a wrangler and I was looking to be wrangled.

Dana: So writing isn’t your primary source of income?

Tom: No, well not yet anyway. Right now my 9-5 is spent with the Meerkats, training them, socializing them, lots of wrangling. You know, the usual Meerkat stuff. It’s a trip.

Dana: What got you interested in Meerkats? Was it that show?

Tom: I mean yeah. Like everyone else I was a huge fan of the ABC show, “Step by Step” and loved Squiggly, their pet Meerkat.

Dana: Talk about your creative process. Do the Meerkats help?

Tom: Honestly no. All their ideas are hacky like, “you should write a story where a vampire becomes a zombie.” And then I have to explain how a vampire is already dead and you try explaining the mysterious vagaries of life and death to a Meerkat troop and see where that gets you.

Dana: So then where do your ideas come from? Where did Lucas James, the main character in your new book, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated” come from?

Tom: A couple of years ago I was in Jamaica on a solo vacation. A way to cleanse the pallet of life if you will. Halfway through my trip I met this group of South Africans who basically adopted me into their tribe. They were great but honestly I had no idea what they were talking about. Like literally, between my mediocre hearing and their accents the entire time we were together I had no clue what they were saying. But what I did get from them was this really cool intense vibe. Not like I don’t care, more like I don’t even care that I don’t care. And the entire group – four girls, two guys were like that. Our last night together we stayed up on the beach to watch the sun rise and one of the guys pulled me aside and started pouring his heart out. Like heart wrenching emotional stuff, the stuff you wouldn’t tell your best friend but again, I had no clue what he was saying. I could only infer this on body language, tears and a little vomit. And when he was done drying his eyes and wiping his mouth I felt two things. The first was emotionally I knew this guy. And second I wanted nothing to do with the conversation.

Dana: So he inspired you?

Tom: He inspired Ralph, the wannabe best friend of Lucas James.

Dana: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Tom: Well I’ll be 43, which is as scary an age there is out there, unless that number happens to be 44, which is at least a double number.

Dana: Double number?

Tom: Yeah, this is going to sound nuts but while writing the book, I devoted a whole chapter to luck and superstition and Lucas James taught me about double numbers and how they’re good.

Dana: I’m not following.

Tom: Well you know when writers talk about going where the characters lead them? I found out in the course of writing the book that Lucas James, while he says he isn’t superstitious has a major thing with numbers, and I learned his view on things.

Dana: Which carries over into the rest of the book.

Tom: Oh yeah, this isn’t some straightforward A-Z story. This book goes all over the place and there are plenty of times where chapters will be devoted to whatever is on the mind of Lucas James. He has ideas on everything and it was stuff that wouldn’t have made sense if I just shoehorned them into the plot. Like if suddenly he’s talking with, “His Apple Jack” and mentioned his thoughts on dieting or your girlfriend’s best guy friend or back in third grade his attempt to honor Rosa Parks or anything else for that matter.

Dana: Sounds like you had a lot of fun writing that. Before I go to the next question I want to follow up on something you just said. You mentioned “My Apple Jack” the nickname Lucas James has for his ex-fiancée. Talk about that.

Tom: That’s one of those things where I knew people were going to notice it, then get annoyed by it, then get tired of it before coming all the way around to accepting it. The one thing you have to be when you’re writing a ridiculous book like this one is you have to be true to the main character, or you’re going to lose the entire story. Lucas James is secretly sentimental, well not so secret if you read the book but he doesn’t like to show he’s sentimental. Except when it comes to Jackie.

Dana: I’m running out of quarters for this pay phone so unfortunately we’re going to have to skip some questions. Tell me about your turn as Monsieur Thenadier in “Les Miserables.”

Tom: Well that was one of those random things I couldn’t pass on. Last summer I was getting coffee at the Grey Pigeon and in walks Guy LaFierre.

Dana: I heard he frequents the café a lot.

Tom: Well me being new to the area I had no idea. All I knew was the famous Director Guy LaFierre was three feet away from me and asked if I could pass him a Splenda.

Dana: So what happened next?

Tom: I did and casually said how much I loved his version of the play he directed in Haiti eight years ago. One thing led to another and I got the part.

Dana: Will there be more collaborating in the future?

Tom: I hope so. I would love to see what Guy could do with Lucas James.

Dana: Is your goal to bring this book to Broadway?

Tom: That would be awesome.

Dana: Who would you cast as Lucas James?

Tom: That’s the easiest question you’ve asked all day – Matthew McConaughey.

Dana: I can see that.

Tom: Yeah I think he would do him justice. So Matthew, if you’re reading this feel free to reach out.

Dana: Well that wraps things up. Anything you want to add?

Tom: I wish I could get laser hair surgery on my neck. I hate shaving my neck. And go buy my book, “Growth and Change Are Highly Overrated.”

BUY MY BOOK

It’s only 99 cents so seriously, you’re not risking much with the purchase.

Dana: I see it’s already gotten a couple of five star reviews on Amazon.

Tom: I don’t care about that, I just feel like a proud dad bringing Lucas James into the world. I want everyone to meet him.

Who doesn’t like a good commercial???

I have a firm rule in life. Any time I am featured in a commercial I must post it on the Gots.

Here is the critically acclaimed and New England renowned 30 second spot for Michaels Jewelers. For anyone seeking future bookings leave your contact information below.

My Brand New Cartoon: Tom’s Apartment

Finally! After years of waiting the first two episodes of my brand new cartoon have arrived!

Episode 1: Let’s Vote On It!

Episode 2: Abbasolutely Nothing To Do With ABBA

And just in case you wanted to play the theme song over and over and over some more!

The Devil is in the Details

Mortimer P. Worthy stepped out of his modest size home, straightened his checkered tie and proceeded down the cement path towards his car. Eileen kept the new car, her Mazda, in the garage while Mortimer parked his five-year-old gray Corolla out front underneath a tall spruce tree. It was an unusually warm Wednesday in March, making his five-minute drive to work quite enjoyable. He lowered all four windows, turned on the classic rock station and drove down the block.

His job was going to be especially satisfying today. All five of his English classes had been reading Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and today was the day they would be held accountable. Mortimer preferred essay tests, something his students detested. Of course grading all one hundred and twenty five tests would be a pain, but it’s not like he was obligated to get them back to the students tomorrow.

Mortimer thought of Johnny Caralta, who was constantly breaking his chops, as he cruised down the street. In all his years teaching, Johnny was by far the worst kid of them all. He doubted Johnny ever picked up the book; all he ever did was flirt with Samantha O’Reilly or interrupt his discussions with some inane comment or noise. Well, today would be Johnny’s day of reckoning. If he didn’t pull an eighty five on this test he was off the baseball team.

One stop sign, one red light and then the usual parking spot in the back of the building, a routine Mortimer could do with his eyes closed. His thoughts continued to wander as he approached the red light. Softball season was almost here, he had to remember to put a try out notice in the morning announcements. The light turned green and Mortimer automatically began rolling out, failing to see Edward Dwayne Nassour and his red Pathfinder come flying down the road. Edward had once again overslept and was once again in a mad dash, hoping he could make it to work before Mr. Dishman realized he wasn’t at his desk.

Mortimer lazily turned to his left, his foot gently pressing down on the gas when he saw Edward coming right at him. There was nothing either man could do; the moment of impact was less than a second away. English tests and angry bosses were no longer a pressing concern as the cars collided at the intersection of Cortelyou and Lamoka. Witnesses later told police on the scene it was the loudest crash they had ever heard. Edward had been doing at least seventy and his truck had nearly sliced Mortimer’s car in half, before flipping over eight times and coming to a stop almost one hundred feet away.

There were no survivors, only remains.

Mortimer was pissed.

He was forty-four years old and was still in what he considered the prime of his life. He had been teaching English for eighteen years at two different schools and life had become quite monotonous. At his sister’s request, he started to write down the stories he told his nieces and nephews. She believed there was potential and was going to show her friend who had an in at a publishing company. Perhaps if things broke right he wouldn’t be dealing with the Johnny Caralta’s of the classroom when he was sixty. Maybe he could spend his years sitting on the back patio jotting down amusing stories and making a comfortable living.

Of course, none of the above mattered. Mortimer was dead and presently watching police keep the gawkers at bay while his mortal remains lay scattered on the pavement. He paced up and down the street when he had the sudden urge to find the person who did this and kill them…again. Mortimer stormed up the street and saw firefighters on the scene hosing down the fire which had erupted from the truck. He stood in front of the smashed windshield, looked in and screamed,

“Hey! Hey you! Come out here!”

He heard movement coming from inside the vehicle and a badly charred man crawled out from the wreckage. He looked like he had been left on the barbeque an hour too long.

“What do you want?” he replied somewhat hostile.

“What do I want? Are you kidding me? You killed us!”

“So? We’re both dead now, ain’t nothing we can do.”

“I at least want an explanation, maybe an apology.”

“Maybe if you were paying attention we wouldn’t be dead!”

“Me? Are you trying to blame this on…hey, where are you going?”

Edward Dwayne Nassour had started walking down the street, leaving a trail of charred remains, obviously not interested in furthering the conversation.

“Get back here! You owe me my life! I want my life back!” Edward didn’t care enough to turn around and said with a mix of sarcasm and indifference,

“Why don’t you make a deal with the Devil? Isn’t that what people do in situations like this?”

Mortimer began to say something, but stammered and nothing coherent came out of his mouth. Instead, he shot both middle fingers in the air and began gesturing wildly at the departing murderer.

“The Devil. Ha, very funny.” He said to himself. What am I supposed to do, call out for him and he’ll appear out of some ominous smoke?”

Quite the opposite, actually.

Mortimer shrieked and turned around to see the prince of darkness standing behind him. He was over eight feet tall, blood red, with the horns and tail and looking a little like Pierce Brosnan. The stereotypical appearance, save for the Armani suit he was wearing.

“Are you…are you the….”

Satan himself. Charmed to make your acquaintance. The Devil deeply bowed.

“You’re wearing a suit?”

I take on the appearance of whatever is in your mind’s eye and this is a much better looks than what I’m accustomed to. Thank you.

“You’re welcome?” His response was half questioning the reality of the situation and half embarrassed.

Now, I take it you didn’t call on me to have a polite conversation regarding my appearance, correct?

“That would be correct, yes. The reason why I called is because I was killed this morning by some asshole who didn’t even accept responsibility!”

There is nothing more offensive than rudeness, the Devil said with a tsk.

“Yes! Thank you. Anyway, the one thing he did do for me was suggest I contact you…“

In order to resume your life?

The two beings shared a laugh. “Wow, the Devil really is a decent guy,” Mortimer thought to himself.

I can’t exactly do that. There are rules, you know.

“Not to be rude, but if you can’t do that for me, what can you do?”

An ominous smile formed across the Devil’s genial face. With a flourish he exclaimed,

I can allow you to go back and make your life better than what it was.

“Better?”

Yes. You can go back and influence things so that way you’ll be infinitely more satisfied with the duration of your life.

“Hmmm,” Mortimer tapped the area on his face where a chin should be and pondered. “Influence how?”

I’ll explain everything in tedious detail if you’d like. I like to give my perspective clients all the necessary information.

“Okay but before you do tell me the catch. I’ve read enough books and seen enough movies to know there’s always a catch with you.” The Devil laughed like a British man watching Monty Python.

I love how paranoid humanity has become. Always thinking someone is out to get them. The notion of tricking unsuspecting men and women into giving me their soul is a propaganda trick started by the opposite side. Here is the catch, as you say. In exchange for my gift, you agree that at the end of your life you’ll spend the remaining eternity with me.

The suggestion of eternity with Satan caused Mortimer to pause. Enough had been said and written of the devil being a purely evil creature. Did he want to be condemned to a lifetime with him?

“I don’t know. Eternity is a long time.”

Before you decide please allow me to finish. I will bring you back to any day you like. You will be a spirit, unseen by anyone, including your younger self. You will have one day, from the moment your younger self wakes up to the moment your younger self falls asleep to change your life.

Mortimer clapped his hands in excitement. “You’re saying I could go back a couple of hours and make myself late for work and miss the accident? That’s great!”

No, I’m not saying that at all. The Devil said with some irritation. Remember when I said I don’t have that kind of power? You’re dead; there is no coming back from death. I’m allowing you the opportunity to improve your life up to the moment of your untimely demise. To go back and offer a suggestion that will allow you a more prosperous life, with the perspective of the knowledge you have right now.

“So I could tell my younger self to buy stock in Google and Apple?” His voice rose like a little boy telling Santa Clause what he wanted for Christmas.

Now you’re getting it. Although I’m not sure if simply an influx in money would bring you happiness. You seem like a deeper man than that. Mortimer thought about it and slowly nodded.

“I guess you’re right.”

Don’t give up now dear friend. You were a teacher for almost twenty years. In a perfect world what would you rather have done?

“I like to tell stories.” Mortimer said, sounding more like George Costanza telling Jerry Seinfeld what kind of job he wanted.

Good, good! Now we’re getting somewhere.

“My sister was just saying how I should write them down and she would try to get me published!” His enthusiasm rose on every word.

What if you didn’t need your sister’s help? What if you went back twenty years and told yourself a guaranteed best selling story?

“I couldn’t think of a guaranteed best seller when I was alive. How would I think of one now that I’m dead?”

You’re not thinking big enough. You could tell yourself The Da Vinci Code and write it! You could take one of the thousands of James Patterson best sellers and slap your name on it. Do you see what I’m saying?

“You’re saying I could steal The Hunger Games?!”

Yes exactly! So, I suggest you go back to your mid to late twenties. You would still be young enough to use that imagination of yours while at the same time have enough life experience to write some quality material. Since you were a teacher all these years I’m assuming you took the summers off?

“That would be correct.”

Good. Then I say you go back to the summer of your twenty-seventh birthday. This also allows you to keep one year of teaching under your belt. We wouldn’t want to drastically change that.

“Yeah, despite the headaches I loved to teach.”

We’ll pick a rainy day so there are no distractions and you can significantly change your life for the better.

Mortimer paused. Something still wasn’t right. “I don’t know. This is too easy. I mean, you’re the Devil it’s your job to lie.” The Devil smiled and took a dramatic bow.

How can I be a liar if I’m telling you upfront I will own your soul? I’ll spell it out again for your benefit. Your life on Earth will be infinitely better. You will die in a car accident on this day regardless of what you change and when you die your soul will belong to me.

Mortimer felt uneasy and looked around. “Wait, shouldn’t God or an angel or something show up and give me another option?”

You called for me and God gave humans free will. It’s up to you to decide. Mortimer paced back and forth debating. Finally, he reached a decision,

“And this isn’t some kind of trick?” The Devil smiled the smile of a patient man.

Human beings are remarkable at deceiving themselves. They don’t need help from me. I spelled out the situation and at the end you will end up with me. I don’t know how I can be any more plain.

“Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do it.” He stuck out his hand and shook the Devil’s red claw.

You’ll see, it won’t be too bad. Besides, you’ll have an eternity to bask in your remarkable achievements.

#

For a second he lost his breath, which was strange considering he was dead. Mortimer instinctively closed his eyes, and when he opened them the world was pitch black. Panic set in as the idea that maybe the Devil isn’t the most truthful of characters popped into his brain. Relief washed over him as his eyes began growing accustomed to the dark and he realized where he was—the bedroom of the first house he bought with Eileen. His wife was a fussy sleeper, thus the dark curtains and the absence of any light whatsoever in the room.

Mortimer looked over at his alarm clock and saw that it was 6:20am. Eileen’s alarm wouldn’t be going off for another half hour, giving him plenty of time to formulate a plan. He came to an immediate conclusion; why waste any time? Be there the moment his younger self woke up and immediately give him the idea.

Dead Mortimer crept over to the left side of the bed and stared at his back for the first time in his life. The reality of the situation presented itself and Dead Mortimer laughed. His younger version wasn’t aware of him; he could jump on top of himself if he wanted to. He pulled the five-hundred count cream sheets back, climbed into bed and waited for his younger eyes to open. The excitement of the moment was building and he started jabbering out loud,

“You are going to be so happy when you wake up. The only thing you’ll have to do is grab a pen and start writing everything down. Hell, if you’re really lazy you can even tell Eileen. You’re going to write about a post apocalyptic world where kids…”

“BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP”

The sound startled Dead Mortimer so much he jumped backwards and fell out of bed. Fortunately, being dead precludes you from getting any bruises, broken bones or even being heard.

“What the hell was that?” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He raced over to the window and saw the garbage truck outside, with a rather large man haphazardly depositing trash into the back of the vehicle. Behind him he heard another noise and turned to see his old self now awake.

“Good morning hun.”

“Hmmmmm.”

“You want coffee babe?”

“Hmmmm,” his wife mumbled in reply.

“No problem.” He, rather the living version of He, kissed his wife on her forehead and rose out of bed.

“Game on,” he thought to himself.

His younger self made his way down the hallway and to the kitchen to put on the coffee. Scratching his stomach, Alive Mortimer stretched and yawned. Dead Mortimer knew he couldn’t absorb a thought without coffee and decided to get the most out of the experience. He could walk down memory lane and come back in ten minutes when his young brain was eager for information.

The first place he went to was the downstairs rec room. The old gray La-Z-Boy! Eileen hated that chair and when they eventually moved would force him to put his precious chair to the curb, an act that nearly broke his heart. The chair was his dad’s, and his mother spent years trying to get rid of it as well. Finally, his dad gave in but instead of throwing it out, his dad gave it to him as a house-warming present. Neither of the Worthy women was pleased. But the year wasn’t 2014, it was 1997 and his chair was still his.

Dead Mortimer sat down, cranked the lever back and let out a gratified sigh. He ran his hands over the upholstery and stared at the various little stains that had come from spilling a drink or a little ice cream. Various thoughts of childhood came to him and would have still come to him if he hadn’t looked up at the clock.

1:00PM

ONE O’CLOCK?!!

How was that possible? It was 6:20am a minute ago! Apparently time didn’t behave the same for the dead as it did for the living. With a rush Mortimer bolted out of the chair and upstairs. How fortunate he was for looking up when he did, he thought with a shiver.

Dead Mortimer wandered around the house, looking for his living self. Where the hell did he go? He checked the calendar and saw an empty box where, Tuesday August 12 resided. Pressing his thumbs to his temples, Mortimer concentrated on what had happened that day. Where could he have gone? The minutes passed and the answer continued to elude him. How the hell was he supposed to remember a random Tuesday?

Mortimer checked the clock and saw it had jumped to 3:39. Time was slipping away and there was nothing he could do and he gave his soul away for nothing and…

There was a vibration underneath his feet.

The garage door was opening! In two minutes, (or a couple of seconds to Dead Mortimer) Alive Mortimer would be walking up the stairs. He ran to the door to greet himself like a puppy awaiting his master. The moment that door opened he would start talking and wouldn’t stop until the idea stuck.

His younger entered and in a Herculean effort was carrying twenty-eight bags of groceries to avoid a second trip. Typical Mortimer, he thought to himself. He followed his younger self, struggling to make his way to the kitchen while talking the entire time.

“Mortimer, listen to me right now. Imagine a post apocalyptic world where kids were forced to fight kids due to a corrupt government. There’s a main character named Katniss, okay I really don’t like that name we can change it to something better but that’s not the point. The point is she’s the hero and we follow her and a boy who’s in love with her who was a baker. No, his father was a baker, he just enjoys eating bread named Peeta.” Mortimer laughed. “That’s the first time I got the joke. Pita bread. That’s actually kind of funny. He’s with her and there’s a romance and she shoots an arrow into a force field and you’re going to make millions!”

Dead Mortimer watched as Alive Mortimer paused in front of the cabinet while holding a box of Frosted Flakes. A smile came over his living self. The seed was planted, now all he had to do was write it. Alive Mortimer put the box down and ran to the office next to their bedroom, with Dead Mortimer firmly on his heels. He turned the computer on and stood there antsy, his left foot tapping the ground. Their computer wasn’t the newest brand, or the fastest. Booting up would take a couple of minutes.

Just enough to go grab a snack from the fridge.

Dead Mortimer watched his other him leave the room. He rationalized the move by saying, “Okay, no big deal. Just going to grab a drink, maybe a bite to eat. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes, the computer will be ready and we can do this.” Mortimer stared at his crappy computer as it ran through the various processes and programs needed to start. For a second, Mortimer wondered if his living self was going to get distracted, but that fear was alleviated upon seeing himself walk in with a glass of iced tea in his hand. He watched himself climb into the computer chair, set his glass down and open up Microsoft WORD. Dead Mortimer could hear the chimes of the cash register ringing over and over inside his head. He was going to be rich, successful and best of all, never deal with annoying kids who wouldn’t do their homework! His younger self put his fingers to the keyboard and was ready to start typing away when he suddenly stopped. Dead Mortimer barely heard what his younger self said,

“Mets game.”

Shit.

The New York Mets were playing a day game today in St. Louis. This was the first year they were good since 1989 and his younger self was not going to miss any game for any reason. That meant there would be no writing for the next couple of hours. His younger him made his way downstairs, sat down on his favorite chair and turned the television on. It was only the top of the fourth, meaning at least another two hours. Resigned to the situation, Dead Mortimer sat down on the couch and watched along.

An hour later the game was over and both Mortimers were in a bad mood. Alive Mortimer was pissed because they lost 5-2 and played like garbage. Dead Mortimer was pissed because time was ticking away. Mortimer remembered how he was after a loss; writing would be the last thing he wanted to do. How the hell was he going to get himself over to the computer? He needed another idea, and fast. He needed magic. He needed….

Dead Mortimer raced over to himself, sitting there angry on the La Z Boy.

“What if you had the ability to change the results of the game? What if you could do magic? What if you were the chosen one, sent to defend everyone from the most evil wizard on the planet? What if your name was Harry Potter?”

The familiar smile washed over his face and this time, instead of casually walking to the office room, Alive Mortimer jogged upstairs. This was money. The killing kids idea would be nothing but headaches, but this one was money. Plus, it could be for kids. Merchandising, movie rights, this was it. Alive Mortimer sat down on the computer chair leaned back and cracked his knuckles. Dead Mortimer walked into the room to watch his life change forever when the phone rang.

Thankfully he was never a phone person, so the conversation would only last a couple of minutes—tops. In fact, the only person who could keep him on the phone was his friend Mike because they would talk nothing but Mets.

“Oh no,” he thought to himself. “The Mets just lost, that means….”

“Hey Mike, yeah I watched. We gave that game away.”

“No no no! This conversation could last an hour!” Dead Mortimer thought to himself. He sat back, resigned to the fact that there was nothing he could do but wait.

Ninety minutes later, Mortimer hung up the phone. It was now 5:45pm. Eileen would be home in forty-five minutes. The good news was he had remained in the chair in front of his computer. All he had to do was get himself to write the idea down and frame out the general outline. Once he did that, he could always come back to the story tomorrow or the next day. Just start typing!

Alive Mortimer pulled himself in towards the desk and paused. Dead Mortimer took that as his cue to once again give the idea.

“Wizards, magic, Harry Potter. Annoying relatives. Boarding school for magical people. Lord Voldemort.”

The smile returned to his younger self and he typed out, “The” when the phone rang again. Dead Mortimer slammed his fist down on the desk and swore repeatedly. Who could this be? Dead Mortimer listened to half the conversation.

“Hey, honey what’s up?…No I don’t mind…I don’t want you going alone…Not a problem I’ll pick you up at the bus stop and we’ll go together…Love you too.”

Immediately Mortimer remembered, his wife’s co-worker’s mother had died and the funeral services were that night. Out of all the nights! Mortimer watched as his younger self walked out of the room and into the shower. Not to downplay a tragedy but this could be good; the best ideas came in the shower. His younger self turned on the hot water and just as he was going into the shower stopped to turn on WFAN.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

How the hell was he going to get through to his thick skull if he was going to listen to sports talk radio? He could feel his own thoughts, they were a mixture of trivial sports and the nature of death. No matter how many times he tried to talk, there would be no getting through and he resigned to waiting until the wake was over.

#

After the wake they went out for drinks with some of his wife’s other co-workers. Time was slipping through his hands and there was nothing he could do to keep a thought implanted inside his head. Finally, they said their goodbyes and were in the car.

It was go time.

He let his wife talk about the night and the wake. After all, he had to be a good husband. Mortimer patiently waited until there was a proper lull and when his wife seemed to be all talked out said,

“Listen to me very carefully. A young wizard named Harry Potter. His parents are killed by an evil wizard. He has friends who have red hair and weird sexual chemistry. His uncle is a werewolf. I want you to speak this out loud and tell Eileen so you won’t forget.” Mortimer watched as a glimmer appeared in his younger version’s eye.

“I know this is going to be random but can I tell you something?”

“Sure what’s up?”

“A weird idea just came to me about a boy who is a wizard and there’s a bad guy who murders his parents and I think this could be something big.” His wife stared at him without saying a word. “Well, what do you think?”

“This is weird but I think it’s been done already.”

“What?” both Mortimers replied in synch.

“Yeah I was talking with Maggie the other day and she’s reading a book that you just described. I think it’s called Henry Cotter or something like that.”

“Damn it!” Dead Mortimer exclaimed, and then said again when he realized they were home. The three of them made their way upstairs while Dead Mortimer decided to go back to The Hunger Games.

“Okay this isn’t a big deal. Let’s focus on Katniss, or maybe we’ll call her Janice. She’s a tough teenage girl and…”

“I’m going to take a shower. You want to join me?”

“Yeah? You sure?

“Do I have to ask you twice?”

Dead Mortimer hadn’t counted on that.

No matter, there would still be time. He would just now have to wait for the shower to be over. Dead Mortimer listened for the shower to shut off and watched as his satisfied self and blushing bride walked down the hallway and into the bedroom. The happily married couple settled into bed and Eileen put her head down on his chest.

This was it, Dead Mortimer’s last chance. He could whisper the plot and have Mortimer tell his wife. That way the idea would be in both their heads and guaranteed to be written down at some point.

“Tell me something,” his wonderful wife exclaimed. Oh, he could kiss her right now. This was the perfect moment. He would his younger self the story of The Hunger Games, who would repeat verbatim to his wife. She would love it and he would be so excited by her enthusiasm he would start writing tomorrow. Mortimer leaned in and spoke while his younger self repeated.

“Well I had an idea for a children’s story, but it wouldn’t just be for kids. It’s set in the future.”

“Okay.”

“It’s about this girl who is forced to fight other kids to the death and—“

Eileen jumped off his chest and looked down at her husband.

“Are you kidding me? Kids fighting to the death? What kind of story is this?”

Dead Mortimer was pale in the face. Or as pale as a dead face could be. His wife was ruining everything.

“Well that’s not the whole story, it’s got a lot of political elements too.”

“Let me get this straight. You want to write a children’s story about kids murdering kids AND there’s politics involved too?”

Dead Mortimer knew he was losing the fight and decided to change gears. But to what? What else was there? Potter was out, Katniss was out. What was left? Dead Mortimer snapped his fingers, The Da Vinci Code.

“Maybe you’re right about this kids but how about this. What if Jesus wasn’t really God? What if He was married to Mary Magdalene and…”

You would have thought Mortimer stabbed his wife in the chest with a dull blade from the ferocity of her reaction.

“Stop! Stop right now! You’re going to write something that tears down your religion? You would prostitute your faith for a book? And what if you did get that published and people took it as fact? You could affect the faith of thousands, or millions!”

Young Mortimer looked horrified and agreed with his wife.

“I don’t know why I said that. I guess the wake kind of shook me up. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I know you’re looking for that million dollar idea. Don’t worry babe I believe in you. One day you’re going to write a great book!” Young Mortimer leaned in and kissed his wife while Dead Mortimer stood up on the bed and shouted,

“No! No I won’t if you keep rejecting my ideas! Why did I marry you? Oh my God I’m dead and I’m going to lose my soul!”

“What do you say, Mort? We’ve both had a long day. You want to turn over and pass out?”

“Sounds good. Give me one more kiss first.”

Mortimer and Eileen kissed and turned over while Dead Mortimer remained standing in shock. He couldn’t think of anything else and the clock was running out. If he didn’t plant an idea before Alive Mortimer fell asleep, he was literally doomed. Panic flooded his systems like ice water in the Titanic and he began shouting out premises,

“A REIMAGINED BATMAN BUT GRITTIER!”

“TEENAGE GIRL FALLS IN LOVE WITH VAMPIRES AND NOTHING HAPPENS!”

“ZOMBIES!”

He heard himself snoring and knew it was over.

#

Here’s where you’ll be staying for the rest of eternity. As you can see there are no amenities, no comforts to be found. You’ll be sleeping on this jagged rock while bugs of various kinds crawl over you and eat you alive. The Devil stood over him, pointing at the bugs crawling on the ground.

“And this will go on for…” The words barely escaped the grimace on his face.

Eternity. After ten thousand years we’ll switch it up a bit. Wouldn’t want you to get bored of the same horrible punishment over and over, if you get my drift.

Mortimer P. Worthy stood there and gazed around. In frustration he shouted out,

“Why are there two rocks?”

Well we like to maximize space here in hell so you have a roommate. Say hello to, umm what’s your name again?

Another soul walked in, leaving a trail of cockroaches and spiders in his wake. He said with tremendous indifference,

“Edward Dwayne Nassour.”

Mortimer P. Worthy’s jaw dropped and he stared at his new roommate.

“You! Not only did you kill me, but you convinced me to sell my soul! And now I have to live with you forever?”

The Devil laughed and said,

Oh that’s right, I forgot. You guys know each other. How funny is that? Morty, you didn’t even hear the best part. Hey Eddie, what’s the name of your son?

“Johnny.”

“And what’s his last name?”

“Well, his horrible mother changed it when she got remarried.”

“To what?”

“Caralta.”

Mortimer’s face flushed with anger.

“So what I’m hearing is that the father of the worst kid I ever taught is responsible for my death, eternal damnation and my roommate forever.” He ran over and punched Edward right in the face. Edward spat out a tooth and responded with a left cross of his own. The two men stood there screaming, beating the hell out of each other. The demon looked on in amusement, smiled and shrugged his shoulders.

Come now, Mortimer, what are you mad about? All great authors know the devil is in the details.

 

The Dunk Tank

The gleaming, converted red fire truck made the left onto Jefferson Place and slowly crept its way down the sleepy residential street. The driver remembered the block from a previous encounter. “If this particular street was a painting,” she thought to herself, “it would be titled The suburban cliché. From the cookie-cutter houses laid out perfectly on either side of the street to the rows of Norway maple trees putting the punctuation mark on every home, down to the perfectly manicured lawns. All that was missing were fireworks and the American flag.

The hot late afternoon sun reflected off the truck’s worn paint and illuminated every dent and scratch in all their glory. It seemed as if the entire truck was covered with evidence of a long life except for two panels, one on each side. The “3 Strikes” logo, written in a striking burnt orange script was perfectly centered in the middle of a black tank. Drops of ocean blue water hung over the tank as if they were suspended in time. Encapsulating the design was a clean white circle. Her partner Ronnie was quite proud of his artwork, which he was fond of pointing out whenever he could. As the truck came to a stop in the middle of the road, the breaks gave off a slight whine. “Well if they didn’t hear us coming, they will now,” Randi thought to herself.

Giving herself a quick glance in the rearview mirror, Randi brushed her dirty blonde hair away from her green eyes. “Don’t worry, you’re beautiful,” Ronnie said with the slight hint of sarcasm. Ignoring his quip, she applied a thin coat of lip gloss and smacked her lips in delight. At the same moment Ronnie slid out of the passenger seat, in a worn white t-shirt and orange bathing suit, opened the door and made his way up the outside ladder. Climbing the seven rung ladder was a breeze by now and within seconds he grabbed the top rung. His slightly pudgy frame made it over the railing and just like that he was sitting down, awaiting his public. Randi could hear him up top and with a deft touch, she ran her once manicured fingers over the radio dial and turned up the volume. Seconds later, the entire block was flooded with the melodic voices of ABBA and like gophers on the plain; the tiny faces of children began popping up from all corners. Children who had no idea what an ABBA was nevertheless knew the familiar strains of “Take a Chance on Me” and what that meant.

The Dunk Tank was here!

Randi could hear the shrieks of glee come pouring forth and could already count the green in her hands. She picked up the colorful wooden cartoon character pelican, who told potential customers they had to remain behind his purple bill and placed him on the street, ten feet away from the truck. She turned her head towards the back and shouted, “You ready Ronnie?”

Take a chance, take a chance…

“Are you kidding me? This is like Christmas for me! Especially after the last time.” His booming voice had no problem being heard over the melodic chanting of ABBA.

Randi giggled and remembered the last time Ronnie “entertained” the inhabitants of Jefferson Place. At the onset, the arrival of this curious looking fire truck, combined with the music radiating forth from its speakers had drawn the folks in for a look. On further review, the inhabitants saw an Italian man with a paunch in his mid-twenties sitting above a pool of what might be water. In those first few moments, smiles and joy were abundant as children and elderly folk alike all gathered around to see what was what. Cheer and joy were the currency of the day and the only thing that could spoil the moment was Ronnie himself, or more specifically, his mouth. A mouth that had flipped the day on its ear and infuriated the inhabitants of Jefferson Place to the point they almost overturned the truck. If the police hadn’t arrived God only knows what would have happened to them.

“Okay, I see a door opening to my left. It’s go time.”

Ronnie looked down at his two-foot perch. It had been awhile since he swept the floor clean of the dirt his flip flops had collected and deposited. His Hamilton MM3 megaphone (complete with lime green lampshade) sat silently next to his left foot. He loved his Hamilton as much as Randi, or more – depending on the day.

Like a maestro preparing to conduct his latest symphony, Ronnie cracked his knuckles, cleared his throat and clicked on his megaphone.

“I’m sorry, sir. I thought after the last time we talked you would be wearing a dress.”

The man in question, a Chinese gentleman in his late forties, narrowed his eyes in anger. He would not be surprised this time, nor would he be rattled by that obnoxious prick sitting on his perch. The father of one muttered an obscenity to himself and made a beeline for the truck.

“To be honest I have to admit, I respect you. Any man willing to embarrass himself in front of his friends and family deserves some admiration.” Ronnie was now standing up, his bright orange bathing suit fluttering in the breeze. His belly peaked out from his slightly stained white t-shirt. “I’ll tell you what I’ll do. Hey, Randi, do me a favor. Give this guy over here, the one mincing towards your door, three free throws. Don’t charge this man one dollar. It’s the least we could do for taking his pride.”

Other doors had opened and a crowd would soon be forming.

“Hey, Jim. If you don’t shut him up I will. Knock this guy on his ass!” shouted his next door neighbor.

“Yeah, Jimmy, drown that creep!” said the same neighbor’s wife.

Randi put the truck in park and grabbed the bucket of lime green softballs on the passenger seat.

“Well, sir what will it be? Would you like three freebies?”

“You’re damn right I want those balls. I’m going to drop him in that filthy water and then I’m going to peg him between the eyes with my other two throws.”

“Yeah, Jimmy!” said Mr. Morrison, the block’s resident historian.

“Get that jerk!” eight-year-old Billy Morgan shouted with more anger than an eight year old should have, before being admonished for his language by his embarrassed mother.

Randi laughed, climbed out of the truck and took the bucket of softballs with her. Walking towards the back of the dunk truck she said, “Now sir, remember this is all fun and games. Remain behind the pelican at all times. You can dunk my partner all you want, but you can’t maim him.”

“Don’t worry about a thing, Randi. We could give this guy fifty balls and the results will be the same. I’ll sit here on my throne nice and dry, and baldy will depart just as he arrived—a loser.” Ronnie was almost cackling in delight.

The man in question—Jimmy, had had enough. “Give me those balls! You’re going down, asshole.”

“Remember folks, if you want your chance to shut my partner up its ten dollars for three balls,” Randi reminded the crowd as she handed Jimmy the three balls.

“How about this, Randi – if anyone else wants to try and knock me down, and by a miracle they happen to do it, we’ll refund their money!”

A loud murmur went up from the block and Randi looked at Ronnie quizzically. “You’re that confident nobody here can shut you up?”

“Damn right I am, starting with this virgin doing what he does best—juggling balls in his hands.”

The crowd, growing feverish with excitement, was now cheering on their fellow neighbor to hurry up so they could get a chance. Jimmy stood there, drilling a hole into this stranger who had decided to come into his life and torment him as if he was in high school again.

Ronnie Telemundo sat on his perch, what he referred to as his “throne” and laughed some more. He was already imagining what he would say to the man after he missed on his third try. In a high pitched voice Ronnie pretended to beg.

“Please, sir, please! I was only saying those horrible words in jest. Please don’t send me to the dirty depths below. I might catch cold or worse! Hey, Randi, when was the last time we cleaned out the tank?”

Randi stood leaning against the side of the truck. Despite the time of day the sun was still bearing down and she tried to hide in narrow field of shade. She wiped her forehead with the back of her right hand and without looking up at him casually asked,

“What month is it?”

“August.”

“Then I’d say October of 92.”

The crowd laughed and had gathered even closer around the truck. They wanted to see the dirty, grimy pond water this loud mouthed fool would be swimming in. The old fire truck, now dunk truck was outfitted with clear glass to allow the very privilege. For those who were close enough, they could see what looked to be green water swishing back and forth. No doubt some form of malaria had made its home down there. The sides of the pool were lined with old water marks and dead bugs. A squeal came out of little Suzy Yacacono when she saw the water beetle climbing up the inside of the pool wall.

Ronnie could look into each and every one of their wide eyes. If this played the way he thought it would, he and Randi would be laughing straight to the next block. He climbed around to the edge of the truck and found little Suzy.

“Do you really want to see me swimming with those slimy, yucky bugs?” he asked with his face crinkled up in disgust.

“Yes!” came her immediate reply and the good folks of Jefferson Place all laughed. A couple even gave her a high five and smiled in agreement.

With an exaggerated pantomime, Ronnie stood up and signaled time out.

“Fine. If you guys really want to see me in there, in that filth you have to let me mentally prepare. I mean, if by the divine hand of God himself, this guy, or probably somebody else, knocks me down I want to be prepared.”

Ronnie stood up and began to stretch his arms. He shook his head back and forth, ran his fingers through his hair and sat back down. Putting his hands out in front of them, so that everyone could see, he opened and closed his fists twice. Then, quite slowly, he reached behind his back, waited a moment or two to heighten the drama and produced a copy of War and Peace he had hidden under his shirt. With the flourish of an old stagehand, he found his bookmark and opened the book.

“Okay, now I’m ready. I figure I can finish twenty pages in the time it takes good Mr. Personality over here to make a fool out of him-“

His last word was interrupted by the clank of a softball hitting the back wall, a good six inches to the left of the slightly rusted bulls-eye. A disappointed OHHH came out of his neighbor’s mouths.

Ronnie choked on his spit and the laughter that managed to come out was both loud and cruel. ”Are you kidding me? You thought you’d sur-“

Once again Ronnie’s sentiments were cut off by the smack of a softball, this time a mere two inches south of the target. The ball was thrown with such furious anger it almost ricocheted into the crowd. A louder AWWWWW rose up from the mob.

“One more, buddy. One more, pal.” His over-enunciated speech made the perfect partner along with his Cheshire grin. “One more reminder of how instead of playing baseball as a kid you took up ballet.” Ronnie stood up and did his best impression of a pirouette. Despite their best efforts, some of those gathered in the crowd chuckled.

Jimmy closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He opened them and narrowed his gaze on the red dot directly in the middle of the bulls-eye. There would be no more jokes, no more comments from the asshole sitting on his dumb chair ten feet away. This time he would drop him. He might not even say anything afterwards. Just turn and walk back in his house so that if he managed to come out of the water in time he could see the back of his Levi 501s. Let the cheers erupting from the crowd do the talking for him. His lips pursed into a tight smile. This was it. He could hear his neighbors cheering him on with encouragement. It was hero time.

“Hey, friend, stop thinking about your next door neighbor so we can let somebody else try and fail.” Ronnie looked for Randi’s face and gave her a knowing wink. She merely rolled her eyes and waited like everyone else to see what would happen.

Jimmy rolled the ball in his right hand and slowly brought it back behind him. With a mighty step he cocked his arm back and upon releasing exclaimed with the frustration of years of embarrassment pouring forth, “I’m not your friend!”

From the moment the lime green ball left his hand it looked to be a picture perfect throw. It felt right, sounded right, it was right!

Until it was wrong.

Jimmy’s lime green softball traveled the necessary ten feet needed, with enough velocity to cause the bull-eye to go off, sending Ronnie Telemundo to a date with whatever floated below. Yet somehow, the ball barely skimmed over the top edge of the painted metal tin. He might have missed the bulls-eye by the width of an eyelash!

Perhaps Jimmy didn’t account for the slight change in wind speed, or the drop in the barometric pressure. Maybe a drop of sweat fell into his left eye, obscuring his vision for a crucial millisecond. Or could it have to do with the sun peeking out from the clouds at the exact moment Jimmy released his throw. All these are valid reasons, perfectly reasonable hypothesizes as to why Ronnie Telemundo somehow, someway stayed in a seated position.

Of course if Jimmy, and the rest of his neighbors on Jefferson Place, were made aware of the small detail of Ronnie’s left heel tapping a button before Jimmy made his first throw, thereby shutting off the switch that would cause Ronnie to fall into the water, maybe then they would understand. Whatever the reason, Jimmy had thrown his last ball and Ronnie remained high and dry.

Ronnie stretched War and Peace high above his head and read out loud, “Vera, she said to her eldest daughter who was evidently not a favorite, how is it you have so little tact? Don’t you see you are not wanted here? Go to the other girls,” With an ounce of delirium he began laughing and then placed the book behind his back before jumping up in ecstasy. “Oh no oh no oh no oh no! You failed again! Unbelievable! Buddy you failed again! I’m going to start calling you Vera! Vera, how is that possible? Go away Vera! You are not wanted here!”

Without saying a word, Jimmy walked away from the truck.

“Would somebody please shut this guy up!” the anger in the voice of Mr. Morrison was plain as day.

“Yeah, where’s Ben? He’s got a good arm,” said Mrs. Claiborne.

“Yeah, Dad can do it!” shouted Ben’s overly excited twelve-year-old son.

Ronnie had sat back down and was once again reading. “People please! Could you keep it down? I’m trying to enjoy the intricacies of War and Peace and your shouting is not helping matters.” Ronnie paused, looked at the crowd and nonchalantly exclaimed, “Besides, isn’t your friend Ben just another version of our last contestant Vera? You know, overweight, not that bright with a cheesy thin mustache hiding your green teeth?”

Those assembled went to answer back before Ronnie interjected with one more sentence, “Or am I thinking of his wife?”

Shouts of rage arose from the din. If Ronnie didn’t piss them off previously, now they had hit their collective breaking point. The crowd rapidly began to produce ten dollar bills and shake their fists high to the heavens. Every man, woman and child each demanded to go first. Randi tried to keep some semblance of order, while making change for the widow Mrs. Foley. It would be a long night for the residents of Jefferson Place.