In a former life, I worked as a manager for a shoe store chain called Shoe Carnival.  Many of you in my half of the United States have probably heard of it, perhaps even shopped there.  They are built on the concept, as the name implies, of selling product in a "carnival-like" atmosphere.  This includes a barker-esque person who stands on a platform above the sales floor–the mic person–whose job it is to make announcements highlighting specific sales, run contests to give customers some kind of discount, and annoy any and all who try to leave empty-handed.

I, during my stay there, was among the most annoying.  Still, I could sell high heels to a lumberjack.  And during those times when there were no lumberjacks in the store, I had plenty of time to think of ways to parody the work I was doing and, before my bitter parting with the company, I began work on a musical tribute to the company.  I never completed it–having lost interest in it once I was working elsewhere–but I did complete the opening and lyrics to one song.  Based on Phantom of the Opera, it’s a funny look at what I did while I was there and, in way, how I did it.  I thought it was lost with my late CPU, but I found a copy the other day on a disk inside my briefcase.

And so, for your guffawing pleasure and with mild embarrassment, I give you the incomplete Phantom of the Carnival:

Phantom of the Carnival

A Musical

 

(The play opens at the front of a Shoe Carnival. The mic stand sits in center stage with a couple aisles of ladies shoes to stage right and a couple aisles of kids to stage left. Ben, a new associate, is waiting in front of the mic stand for Rick, the General Manager.)

 

Rick: (walking to Ben and shaking hands) Hi, Ben, I’m Rick, the General Manager here at store 500.

Ben: Nice to meet you.

Rick: Yeah, great to have you aboard. Now, I know you’ve done your orientation and all that, correct?

Ben: Yes.

Rick: Great, so today we’re gonna really kick off your experience here at Shoe Carnival. You’ve already toured the store, so you’re pretty comfortable with where everything is?

Ben: (pointing) Yeah, that’s kids, followed by mens, mens athletics, ladies athletics, and ladies dress and casual.

Rick: Good. Today, what I want you to do is stay right up front here and help our mic person. Here at Shoe Carnival, our mic person is the element that separates us from our competition and creates our fun atmosphere by promoting special deals, providing informational announcements, and just plain having fun with the customer.

Ben: Sounds great. What do I do?

Rick: Well, we’re going to be pretty busy today, so I want you to help greet customers, try to encourage anyone leaving without new shoes to go back to look again, and answer any questions that the customers may have about where things are in the store.

Ben: No problem.

Rick: You’ll also help Eric–he’s our mic person–with anything he might need.

Ben: Okay.

Rick: If you have any questions, I’ll be up in a little while to check on you.

(Rick turns to walk away, but stops and turns back to Ben.)

Rick: Oh, one more thing. Eric might seem a little bit eccentric. Maybe a little weird. But he’s a very effective mic person, so we just let him do his thing. In fact, were about to open, so he ought to be out any time now.

(Overture begins. Fog begins to roll out of the mic stand.)

Rick: There he is. Let me know if you need anything.

(Rick walks off stage.)

Ben: (calling after Rick) Hey . . . wait . . .I . . .

(Ben turns toward the mic stand. Overture still playing. Fog continues to roll.)

Ben: (looking off stage) Uh . . . Rick?

(Ben turns back to the mic stand and stares motionlessly as Eric rises slowly in the center of the mic stand.    Eric is wearing a mic person shirt, a cape, and a Phantom of the Opera mask.)

(Overture fades.)

Eric: (booming down at Ben) Who are you?

Ben: (voice shaking) I . . . I’m . . . Ben.

Eric: (booming) Are you with the Opera?

Ben: The . . . Opera? No, I . . .

Eric: (loudly) Then be gone! Join the audience like everyone else.

Ben: But Rick told me . . .

Eric: Ahhh, Rick . . . the theatre manager. Very well, if Rick deems you worthy, you may stay. But you must not interfere with my work, or a disaster beyond imagination willl occur!

Ben: O-okay.

(A lady customer walks by the mic stand.)

Ben: Hi, ma’am, how are . . .

Eric: (interrupting loudly) Good morning, fairest maiden.

(The customer jumps at Eric’s greeting and watches him warily as she goes down a ladies aisle.)

Rick: (peering out from just offstage by the ladies department) Hey, Eric, we have some ladies over here that want a special.

Ben: (to Eric, who is bending over out of sight) Now, let me see if I have this right: Attention, Location, Product, Price, Time, and repeat. Right? . . . Eric?

("Music of the Night" music begins.)

Eric: (singing) Listen, ladies,

Can you here me calling

In aisle X now

Prices will be falling

I have the magic pen

So now let the deals begin

And get ladies clearance shoes for just half price

For I control the music of the mic

 

Dress shoes, sandals

All will be included

That aisle looks like it has just been looted

I’ll only mark ten pair

So get on over there

And ladies please don’t push and please don’t fight

Just listen to the music of the mic

 

Aisle X is the place

To pick up half-price shoes

Bring them here

And I’ll gladly mark them down

Pick them out

and you’ll save some extra cash

On clearance shoes,

The price we will now slash.

 

Slip-ons, lace ups

We have a wide selection

These great deals are

Sure to pass inspection

But we only have 10 pair

To mark down from over there

So pick them out, as many as you like

And save now with the music of the mic.

 

Lady Customer: (running to the mic stand with 10 pair in her hands) Me-me-me-me-me!

 

(Eric marks the shoes as Ben looks on.)

 

Ben: Wow! That was amazing! She got 10 pair–

Eric: Insolent boy! Do not speak to me!

Ben: (throwing hands up) Okay . . . sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

First of all, I know I keep saying that I’m going to do better on this whole blog thing and write more frequently.  Part of the problem is that I haven’t had a whole lot to write about lately, at least not much that I would consider blog-worthy.  Another part of the problem is my definition of blog-worthy.  I’m thinking about a more structured set up to what I write, with different themes on different days of the week.  It could happen.

Now with that disclaimer out of the way, I can move on to the following bits of good news:

–My short story, “The Hunt”, was published at Flashes in the Dark, a site dedicated to flash horror fiction, on August 5th.  I received two very nice comments—one from a friend of mine and one from my daughter—and I would encourage anyone with a few minutes to spare (the story is less than 1000 words long) to hop on over, give it a quick read, and tell me how great I am.  Yes, even if it means lying.  We writers have fragile egos and every positive remark, regardless of it sincerity, helps.  This story does have the distinction of being my first published piece, which leads me to . . . .

–My short story, “Salvation”, is now live at The Fear of Monkeys, a site featuring writing of a social or political nature.  I’m not sure when the story will go live, but when it does I’ll be sure to post it everywhere I can think of.  In the meantime, I recommend you check out the other stories they have already published.  The ones I have read are quite good and I am thrilled by the knowledge that I’ll soon be in the company.  “Salvation” is rather long (about 6000 words) but I think it is one of the best short pieces I have done and I hope other people think as highly of it as I do.

–My short story, “Santa’s Worse Stop”, will be in the fall issue of Ghostlight Magazine, an issue dedicated to dark humor.  I wrote that story mostly for fun, but when I found this issue of Ghostlight, I felt compelled to send it out.  I thought it was a riot and had a great time writing it and, except for my darling wife, everyone else that read it (yes, both of them) also thought it was very good.  In a related note, I’m currently working on the first of this year’s Christmas stories and maybe someday I’ll have enough to do an anthology of Christmas short stories, both fantastic and realistic, that will appear in bookstores everywhere.

Now, the question is this:  what now?  And the answer:  keep writing.  This seems like it might be easier now that I’ve had a few victories, but that is far from the case.  All three of these stories have been sitting for a while, lurking on my hard drive, waiting for just the right venue.  For the past year, though, I’ve been struggling to be productive, a result of numerous factors that I will explore in a future post.  I have a few more short stories in various stages of production, but finishing them seems more like an act of will now than an act of creation.  The work has become work, for various reasons, and I am trying to dig myself out of the creative rut I have found myself in.

I do have a few other stories out on submission.  My short, “A Coup in Chuckistan”, failed to gain notice at Glimmer Train (no surprise—they accept about .17% of all submissions), but I think the story deserves a good home somewhere.  “The Interview of Harper Milton Todd” is currently out on submission following positive remarks from anthology king, John Joseph Adams.  Never before have I been so happy about a rejection.  And there are a few other stories, biding their time.  I can’t say if my writing has improved, thus leading to these acceptances, although I think it has, but I have become a lot more adept at targeting my markets based on the writing I have rather than shooting stories out blindly into the ether and hoping for the best.

Hopefully, I can build on this with the other finished stories I have and the ones that are currently in production.  In time, I hope to have enough publishing credits that I feel confident about going after an agent to represent one of my novels, either one I’ve already finished or one of the serious works in progress I am constantly tinkering with.  Having a few requests for my full manuscript of Dead and Dying without any published shorts, I have high hopes for what I can do with a few credits to add to my resume.

Kiss my ass, Sisyphus.

I had planned to write something today about my mother, who passed away a year ago today, but instead of repeating what I have already written I will instead post what my wife said here:

One year ago today, the world lost a remarkable woman. Anna Lois Smiley was my mother-in-law by title. Yet, she was so much more than that. Lois was the person whom you knew would ALWAYS be there, no matter what…and then she was gone.  For the last year, I have wrestled with the guilt of not being there the moment she died. I had to work the next day and decided to stay home while Lee and the kids went to visit Nana. She was sick, but she had been before…and she always got better. She was a fighter, and she hated being in the hospital. So I was certain I’d see her in a couple of weeks when she came down to see us. 

When I got the call that she was "really bad," I went for a walk. It was a beautiful but still day with not even the hint of a breeze. As I walked, I talked to God…out loud. I asked him if I needed to get in the van and drive to KY. As soon as I asked the question, the wind began to blow. It stopped me in my tracks. I thought surely that couldn’t be God answering me. The wind stopped, and I continued walking. Again, I asked God, "Should I go?" Again the wind began to blow. At that point, I did not walk, but rather ran, back to the house.  I packed some clothes and hastily grabbed a suit for Lee, knowing he wouldn’t need it. I got in the van and began to drive. Twenty minutes later, I received a message on my phone: She’s gone.  

Two words that changed my life. Two words that said so much more. Two words that translated to a million different things. "She’s gone" meant no more encouragement from the woman who took me as her own daughter. It meant no more days of "Let me take the kids so you and Lee can have a night together." It meant no more giddy excitement from a grown woman at the thought of putting up a Christmas tree. Those two words also translated, in my mind, to "Why didn’t I go with them?" "Why wasn’t I there for her and Lee and the kids?" "Why was I so selfish?"  

A few days ago, my feelings of guilt were eased a bit when a friend pointed out that if I had gone, Lee may not have been there in time. You see, he arrived at the hospital just a few short minutes before Lois left us. I think she waited for him. Had I gone when he did, I may have used up those minutes getting ready for the trip. I may have asked to stop on the way. I may have never been able to talk to God like I did during my walk. 

There were so many gifts given to the family by those who loved Lois so dearly, but the one Lee and I both treasure the most is a set of wind chimes that now hang on our front porch. You see, I don’t think it was a coincidence that those were given to us. Just as I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that as I sit here writing these words, the wind has begun to blow. Those chimes are a constant reminder to us that Lois is still here with us. That she is still in our corner, cheering us on through the good times and comforting our hearts through the bad. 

To say that I miss her would never be enough. To say that I love her more than I ever thought possible would be an understatement. And yet, here I go: Lois, I miss you like crazy and love you so very much!! Thank you for touching my life for the first time over seventeen years ago and for continuing to remind me of your love for us every time the wind blows…