Saturday, September 26, 2009

Saturday Night Blues

Silent Nights
By Susan Cross

It's Saturday morning. I'm sitting here thinking about what has changed in the past year. A year ago on a Saturday morning, I would have been planning my day and then looking forward to going to see Leroy Cooper play with the Smokin' Torpedoes. By then, Leroy had become the main attraction of the band and played solos on almost every song. When Coop stood up from his chair and started blowing the bari, people would stand up and applaud when he was done and sat back down.

It really wasn't fair to the other members of the band who were also accomplished musicians. Before Coop joined them, everyone applauded after each musician's solo but eventually Leroy seemed to fill the stage and the anticipation of his performance became the highlight of each number. Jeff Willey was blowing his lungs out on the harp. Rob Mola was tearing up his git-ar. Tom Bastedo was blasting out the rhythm on his drums. And Mo Baker was thumping out the bass.

Looking back, it's hard to imagine the band before Leroy joined. There were several other sax players before him but nobody compared to him once he was established.

Once Leroy moved on to join the Josh Miller Blues Revue, the other members of the Smokin' Torps left, one by one, and the whole band took on a new flavor. It was like going from strawberry to pistachio; both were delicious but strawberry was always my favorite.

Tonight, there is no music up at Harry's. I'll go to my meeting of the National League of American Pen Women this afternoon and come home. Maybe my hubby and I will go to dinner and a movie. It's about nine months since he stopped performing on January 10 and passed away on January 15 but not a single Saturday night goes by that I don't miss the sound of his horn.

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Friday, September 25, 2009

Obsession and random acts of kindness #Fridayflash

Browsing the Internet for reports of the accident became an obsession for Catherine. Since her granddaughter’s death, she was looking for someone to blame. The driver of the van that hit her son’s SUV had sped off, weaving through cars on the Interstate and successfully avoided detection.

A driver who had seen the accident had pursued the reckless vehicle in an attempt to get the tag number but her efforts were fruitless. This stranger had eventually given up and appeared at the trauma center of the emergency room of the hospital. There was comfort in knowing that someone had tried to catch the child’s killer and that this woman could not just go home without coming to share with the family. Witnessing the accident must have been a terrible experience that she needed to share.

Catherine saw multiple references to newspaper websites in the state and many of them had forums linked to each article. She was looking for anything that might yield some clue. None was to be found. It was surprising to see that so many comments followed each article. Many were simply expressing sympathy. Some were sharing stories of similar accidents that had taken place in the same area on the same Interstate. Others were describing the flowers they had placed at the scene after seeing the report on the news. These were all touching. Catherine knew she would never have gone on the Internet and posted a comment under an article describing a horrendous, fatal accident.

As she read each note, one stood out from all the rest.

“I was in the emergency room when the family of the child arrived. My heart was broken by their grief. I sat and cried while each person handled the news differently and one person tended to the father of the child who had been driving. His injuries were relatively minor but his horror and tears touched my soul as he called out his daughter’s name. And I watched a boy about 2 years old, with superficial cuts on his face and head. He laughed and played with the toys in the corner. I mourned for the dead child and for the one who had survived, equally, knowing that his life had been changed forever.”

Catherine stopped reading after that. The driver was never found, as Catherine knew he wouldn't be.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What happens when a writer finishes writing?

When To Type 'The End'
By Susan Cross

At what point would a writer be considered no longer writing? My book is gaining momentum and going into final edits. That feels good.

Suddenly I am faced with the question: What will I do when the book is completed?

When I started working on Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax, I was already a contributing writer to several magazines. I did interviews with local and national celebrities and then wrote articles about them. Often, it was my good fortune to attend a concert or a show as part of my job. Afterwards, I sat tapping away at the keys happily.

Each month, magazines would be delivered and I would look for my articles and their placement. I also checked to see if there were editorial changes. I was pleased to see that most of them passed my editor's tests. I have built a nice, thick portfolio in which I take pride, but things have changed. The magazine business has been transitioning from print to web. I have watched Rolling Stone, a music bible, go from a volume to something resembling the size of a Bed Bath & Beyond Catalog.

In mourning Mary Travers, I found myself singing, "Where have all the magazines gone?" I don't mean to make light of Mary's passing. I learned to play guitar while listening to Peter, Paul and Mary records. Looking out my window, however, I see flowers blooming in the garden (here in Florida) and magazines disappearing from book store shelves.

So, back to my original question: What will I do after the book is published? Market the book I suppose. At that point, will I stop being a writer and become a marketeer? (No, silly, not a Muskateer; no Disney ears here, although I'm close by).

When I'm reading I always hate turning that last page and finishing a book when it's really good. I want to drag it out and make it last. I don't feel that way about writing this book. I just wonder, what next?

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Is anybody interested?

I blog about my personal musings and flash fiction (sometimes it's hard to tell them apart).

Initially I started this blog to generate interest about a great musician named Leroy 'Hog' Cooper, a dear friend. We spent so many hours together and I listened to stories as if he were my grandfather telling of his experiences from childhood right until his death in January 2009.

These recordings are priceless to me. His personal accounts of life in America as a black man (he never referred to himself as African American or Negro) were as interesting to me as his stories about B.B. King, Count Basie, and of course Ray Charles, his close friend with whom he spent the largest chunck of his musical career.

The book that I am writing, as I promised him I would, recounts his experiences along with the interviews I did with his old friends and other musicians. Again, to me they are priceless recordings.

I know that people read my flash fiction which is broadcast through the #Fridayflash hashtag on Twitter. Is anybody interested in the excerpts from the book? Does anyone read the stories about Leroy Cooper and his life?

Perhaps I should be including those on a separate blog. Any comments?

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fantasy jobs

When I was an older-young woman, less than middle-aged, I had decided upon my fantasy job. Everybody must have an idea of what kind of work they would love to do if they had the resources to choose and could totally disregard thoughts of responsibility.

Back then, I was single and had no children or step-children. I was working in a large corporation doing a 60 hour a week job in 40 hours. Well, not exactly, I was doing it in 50 hours but only being paid for 40. The other 10 hours work was just not getting done and kept on piling up in a stack on the corner of my desk.

One Saturday morning, I woke up early and decided to go for a long ride. I drove east until I got to Route 1 and then I turned right and headed south. At some point I made a left and another right and was driving down A1A along an island separated from the mainland by the Intracoastal Waterway. I drove for hours until I was beyond any towns and to my left there was a long, wide empty beach. There were no hotels or motels built up on either side of A1A. No gas stations. No convenience stores. The empty, undeveloped space was pleasant. Then, up ahead on the left a structure was coming into focus. It was a motel.

I had been driving for hours so I really needed to make a pit stop, as they say, so I pulled into the parking lot. I walked around to the office and asked to use the rest room. The proprietess courteously showed me the way. When I emerged, her husband had come inside. He looked like a jolly old sailor. I noticed the decor on the walls of the office included an old anchor and some coiled rope.

"Where are you from?" he asked.

"Orlando," I replied. "I got up early and thought I'd take a ride and I just kept driving until I ended up here. Do you own this place?" I asked.

"Yes. We've bought it about two years ago. We lived on a sailboat for a year and came upon this beach. It just felt like the right place to be," he said. "My wife and I stayed in this motel for a few days. The owner came to check on things and we got talking. He was contemplating selling the motel and going back west. We made him an offer and within a month we were living here."

"I'm very happy being in one place for awhile," his wife said. "But he gets restless and sometimes regrets making the decision. Who knows? Maybe we'll turn around and sell it and get back out on the water."

We talked for a long time. The motel had 14 rooms. They were more than happy to show me one which had a small kitchenette, double bed, sofa and TV. There were no walls or dividers except the door going into the small bathroom. I remember thinking, I could live in a room this size.

I drove back home before the sky turned dark and thought about the encounter. For months I thought about how welcoming the couple was to a stranger. It was years later when it occurred to me what my fantasy job would be.

Walking down the hall from my desk at work, I ran into a friend and said, "You know what I really want to do, I mean, if I could do whatever I wanted?"

"I have no idea," she said.

"I'd like to make beds at the beach."

She looked at me like I was missing a chip. I smiled and then explained.

"There's this little motel way down south of here, right on the beach. It has 14 rooms. In exchange for rental of one of those rooms I would like to get a job vacuuming, cleaning the bathrooms and kitchens and making the beds every morning," I said. "That would leave me all afternoon to lay on the beach and read, take long walks or sit at a desk in my room and write."

My friend looked at me and said, "You know what I always wanted to do?"

"No. What?" I asked.

"I've always wanted to work in a nursery, tending to plants. Watering them. weeding them. Planting new ones from seeds and cuttings," she said. "That is my dream job."

We smiled and went back to our respective desks. After that, any time I was frustrated with life I simply said, "I want to go make beds at the beach." She said, "I want to go water some flowers."

Have you ever been in a situation of responsibility when you've pondered a simpler life? Tell me, what would your fantasy job be?

Friday, September 18, 2009

Squirrels and Lizards #Fridayflash

Fall is here. The oak trees are silent except for the swaying of their branches caused by an occasional breeze or gust of wind. Something was missing. I sat outside looking at the garden as knowing that soon the plants and flowers would die out from the cold leaving bare, brown sticks. It was comforting to know that in early spring the azaleas would bloom as soon as the first warm days tricked them into thinking that spring had arrived.

As I looked around, something was missing. I took my dog out in the yard and saw her chewing on acorns. Then it occurred to me – there were no squirrels to bury them in secret places. What could account for the disappearance of squirrels?

The toy poodle who lived in a house down the street used to bark every time a squirrel ran across the screen of the pool enclosure. I never had to set my alarm clock. The barking woke me around 8:30. It occurred to me that I was sleeping later, sometimes not awakening until after 10:00. At first I attributed this to the fact that I was working late into night and not hearing the dog. Now I realize that the barking had stopped.

Glancing from tree to tree I saw mockingbirds and cardinals. No bristling of branches.

I wondered if the neighbors had gotten rid of their dog. It was only three years old so I couldn’t imagine it being put down. I knew they hadn’t moved. Someone would have told me.

My six pound Maltese came back in from the yard through the doggie door and nuzzled up against me on the glider. There were lizards on the cement floor and she liked to watch them and chase them. One clung to the screen about midway between the floor and the gutters, unmoving.

A sudden movement caught my attention and I looked up from my book. Out of the sky in a silent motion a red-shouldered hawk and appeared. It swooped in, picked a lizard off the screen and flew away. It all happened so fast that I put my arm around my little dog in a protective motion.

I had seen the hawk before, sitting on a lamp post in front of my house, staring at my little dog. My next door neighbor told me he had seen it flying with a black snake in its mouth. That black snake had lived in my boxwoods for months and I missed seeing its little head poke up as I walked out the door.

An eerie feeling descended upon me. Hawks were predators, I remembered, and only ate live prey. They did not travel in groups like vultures that only ate dead animals. The squirrels were gone. The barking of the toy poodle had been silenced. A lizard had been snatched in front of my eyes with my tiny Maltese sitting next to me. Could a hawk fly through a screen and snatch my little puppy, I wondered.

I picked her up in my hand and went inside thinking about all of the acorns that would never be eaten.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

B.B. King, Ray Charles and Leroy Cooper

Teasing You
By Susan Cross

Excerpt for Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax

"B.B. King is better than you’ll ever know. He can play jazz.

Those young boys used to come into the band and say “I’m tired of playing this old stuff. Don’t you ever play jazz, man?”

He would say, “Alright young man? You want to play so-and-so?”

I was shocked when they had B.B. and Ray on the show together, and Oscar Peterson. That was some music. We’d just be sitting there watching when the band would be going on. Where else can I get a job where I’m getting paid to listen to Ray Charles sing with all these guys, and sitting here being paid? What kind of job is that?

B.B. King and Ray were very close and any time he and Ray would have a chance he would come in to talk with Ray. I was the bandleader so Ray would have me in there discussing the show. I would be in on their intimate conversations. B’s a Virgo like myself. He’s very friendly."

For the rest of the story you'll have to buy the book when it comes out! Hah!

Copyright © 2009 Susan Cross – All rights reserved

Monday, September 14, 2009

Full Steam Ahead - Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax

Although I had run into some difficulties and planned to revise my publication goal to 2010, as plans often do, mine have changed once again. With the assistance of some valuable sources I am moving forward and am hoping to publish by mid-November of this year.

This on-again, off-again working process has caused a lot of stress for me and countless conversations with a number of people. I'm putting that all behind me now and securing the necessary photos from my secret (for now) national and international sources. After receiving my draft from the editors, I am in the process of making corrections and adding new content that I obtained.

Unfortunately, the Tribute to Leroy Cooper at B.B. King's Blues Club in Orlando has been cancelled, or at least postponed for now. I will consider rescheduling in January or February closer to the anniversary of Leroy's passing in order to honor his memory.

Now, I must get back to work. Hopefully, from here forward things will go smoothly. If they do, it will be a new experience for me!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Leroy 'Hog' Cooper Tribute has been postponed

Originally scheduled for November 1, 2009, to coincide with the release of my book, Leroy 'Hog' Cooper on Sax, I have run into some minor problems. As a result, I expect o celebrate Leroy's life and career in early 2010.

I have been fortunate enough to locate a photo-journalist that knew Leroy in the '70s in Europe. Leroy was touring with Ray Charles at the time and the band returned to Europe annually. Val Wilmer and Leroy become strong acquaintances during those visits. In fact, I remember Leroy telling me that Val was one of the writers and photographers that took a particular interest in him, as opposed to other members of Ray Charles' band, and wrote articles about him. He specifically remembered her writing one for a publication named Melody Maker.

Val has chosen to be the last person to use a computer as her primary means of communicating. In fact, she does not have an email address or website, so finding her was a challenge. With the help of a researcher and musical archivist, Joel Dufour, I finally reached Val by way of cables under the 'pond' or through some complicated satellite device orbiting the earth. Val has provided me with some new (old, really, but new to me) photos and articles about Leroy. I feel that her contributions add enough value to the book to continue our mutual pursuit in preserving Leroy Cooper's memory.

Additionally, I have had the opportunity to speak to one of Leroy Cooper's high school teachers, Myrtle Sloane. We spoke once and she remembers Leroy. I am hoping to interview her in upcoming weeks.

As more information has become available, my decision was to postpone publication until all avenues and resources had been exhausted. It is important to me that this book provide a complete chronicle, or as close as possible, of Leroy's life story. There is so much I will never know that I can't share with the world, but every little piece of the puzzle adds more depth to his character and I don't want any of it to be lost.

Joel Dufour has sent me some detailed information about some of the musicians Leroy played with during his career. The humility that Leroy displayed prevented him from describing himself in terms of some of the great blues musicians that others in his field would want to learn about.

Deadlines can be moved. Tributes can be delayed. For the sake of my subject, it seems important to do both.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Sneeze

At around 9:00 o’clock in the morning I was sitting in my car, on Park Avenue across from the Amtrak parking lot listening to B.B. King sing a duet with Roger Daltrey, the vocalist of The Who.

Between the prestigious college campus and the Morse Museum, Park Avenue was lined with shops and cafes on one side of the street. Across from the upscale boutiques and eateries was the park itself. Large oak trees shaded several blocks of open space. There were benches under some of the trees. The grass of the park was freshly mowed and the bushes of bright red pentas were in full bloom.

I watched as people made use of the parallel parking skills they learned in high school. They maneuvered their cars between the evenly spaced white lines, which became more difficult as the parking spots filled up. In this situation, the compulsion to arrive early paid off. Hungry parking meters lined the sidewalk waiting to eat coins. Those feeding them were literally buying time.

“One hour parking between 9 AM and 6 PM.” Red words painted on white signs.

I heard the clicking of heels and looked in my rearview mirror. The woman carried a large, scarlet leather satchel which matched her pumps. Her heart shaped face was framed with black hair that curved in toward her chin, accentuating perfectly painted red lips. Shoulders back, head erect, she was rushing down the sidewalk as if it were a fashion runway.

Instinct told me that she was late to work. Distracted, she didn’t notice my car or hear the music emanating from it.

She was almost even with my window when she stopped suddenly and sneezed. Then again. And again. She had tried to stifle the first sneeze but the second and third one could not be held back.

“God bless you,” I said, through the open window of my car.

She turned and stared at me silently for a moment. The impression was that of a manikin that had become human against her will.

“Thank you,” she said. In one fluid motion she leaned her head down pushing her hand into her red bag and pulling out a tissue just before another sneeze contorted her face. I watched to see how such a carefully put-together woman could blow her nose without messing her makeup. She dabbed at her nose with the tissue trying not to smudge the outline of lipstick. I looked away.

When I looked back, she had turned and was crossing the railroad tracks. She approached the Amtrak station’s ticket window and, once again, reached into her satchel retrieving a wallet. A transaction took place.

Within minutes I heard the horn and then the clacking of the train as it slowed to a full stop in front of the small station. The woman turned away from the building. She walked stiffly to the second car of the train and boarded.

A man had stepped off the train carrying a guitar case. Moments later, he saw my car, crossed the tracks, leaned into the window and kissed me.

“I’ve missed you,” he said. We kissed again.

“Get in,” I said. “Let’s go home.”

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Quotes you found notable - challenge

I've shared some quotes taken from novels that are sentences or passages that can stand alone, out of context and still have some profound (maybe that's too strong a word) meaning.

I'd love to see some of yours.

When you're reading a book:

  • Do you read simply for content?

  • For the author's style?

  • For character development?

  • For plot development?

  • Or do you just read to escape and enjoy a solitary, sometimes guilty pleasure. I call reading a guilty pleasure when my sink is full of dishes, the hamper is full of dirty clothes, the floor needs to be scrubbed or my desk needs to be cleaned. Sometimes, all of the above!

Please share some quotes, including authors and book titles. Also, let me know what specifics you enjoy most from the list above, or add your own, when you're reading a book.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Adventures at the YMCA - Excerpt

"There was always some professor at the YMCA on weekends. Langston Hughes used to have these poetic sayings and we’d learn about them. They would always make us aware of the black heroes. They didn’t say what they were doing but they wanted us to be aware. Joe Louis used to come out and visit during his heyday.

"We weren’t allowed to go downtown because it was segregated back then. But we had a beautiful Y on the north side. We had a tumbling teacher named Charles Parker. We had whites come over to teach us but we couldn’t go to their Y. But we had everything we needed. On Saturdays they had basketball games all day. I used to take a bologna sandwich and watch games all day. During the summers I went to YMCA camp.

"At the Y we played every kind of music. Red Garland, the famous piano player that played with Miles Davis, was going to the Y at the same time. And Red had a little boys’ band at the Y, so I played clarinet in Red’s band. When I was a junior or senior in high school, Red used to hang around the school. He was older than us. And always playing piano. I knew Red very well.

"I wanted to play sports. That was the fashionable thing to do. At the YMCA my daddy took me away to play the horn. Guys would say, 'Man I thought you was going to be an athlete. Why are you messing with the horn?'"

Copyright Susan Cross, August 2009

It sounds to me like Leroy's dad knew what was best for him.

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Summer Job - Flash Fiction #Fridayflash

Lifeguarding fit neatly between spring and fall semesters at the university. Captain of the swim team, Arnie was a natural. It was a typical day at the beach. He was watching children build sandcastles while enjoying conversation with cute bikini-clad babes.

Arnie looked up when he heard people shouting. In the water he saw a man’s arms disappear as a wave came crashing down over him. He disappeared. Arnie swam toward him. With his arm around the man's chest he pulled him ashore. A circle of horrified people surrounded them. CPR was unsuccessful. It was too late. In those few minutes the word responsibility had taken on new meaning. One man was dead and another's life had changed forever.

Twenty years later, Arnie was sitting in his study grading essays. He was writing comments and critiques on each page when his son walked in.

"Dad, I'm thinking about what I should do this summer to earn some money. Any suggestions?" Joseph asked.

Arnie's reply was simple. "Mow lawns, son. Mow lawns."