THE ODDS

Only one person in a thousand aspires to become a Subway Hitchhiker. Nobody knows why, either. Of those aspirants, only one in a thousand is chosen. That aspect’s equally mysterious.

Question: With 2,371 cars operating in Tokyo, how many Hitchhikers?

DL pondered Soviet subway systems in Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Tbilisi, Baku, Kharkov, Tashkent, Minsk, Yerevan, Gorky, Novosibirsk, Kuybishev, Sverdlovsk, Riga, and Dnepropetrovsk. To say nothing of related Warsaw Pact, Eastern Bloc operations.

At least they didn’t suffer graffiti. Not with spellings like theirs. No, both Hitchhikers and vandals in those realms have different problems to confront.

Not a single ballot had been cast, either.

~*~

For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.

THE PERILS OF GETTING TRAPPED IN SUCCESS

Ever wonder where your life would have headed if you’d had the big breakthrough back then? Landed the job at the top? Been accepted at that Ivy League college or tony prep school? Married the seemingly perfectly glamorous spouse? (The one who got away, of course – or the one you only gaped at across the classroom with never more than a sentence at a time ever being exchanged?) Started your own business and thrived? Had the weed-free garden or the problem-free children?

I can look back on a life with a lot of near misses that way, or so I’d hope, but the reality is that is one advance that way would have precluded many, many down-to-earth life lessons.

Once past the early dreams of literary success, I’ve wondered what would have happened had one work or another taken off as a bestseller. More along that vein would have been expected, even demanded. And then? Where would the growth have occurred?

In my experience, the practice has been to keep exploring. Often it felt like looking for a crack in the wall, whatever the resistance was, but I kept probing.

Instead of continuing along that opening, had it happened, I’ve kept investigating a wider range and recording that. I could say it’s been exhausting as well as prolific.

Revisiting the notes and drafts and thoughts that underpin my newest release, Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, resurrects so much of that turmoil and openness.

For me, this volume is a celebration of the creative process, more than any “finished” product.

It’s an honest acknowledgement of so much that got away or might have been. Wish you’d had a chance to meet me back then.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

RUNNING FOR OFFICE OR FOR DINNER

Two early novels that were left unfinished are now resurrected and joined in this fertile volume. One, a venture into “political science fiction,” seems prescient in the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign. The other, in a mystery genre, enters its own time warp with an invitation to dine out.

Take a trip Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

IN THE RECIPE FOR A MYSTERY NOVEL

Does a mystery novel have to revolve around a detective? Even a charming amateur? Or can it focus instead on the leading suspect?

In proposing a book with the working title, Dinner to Die For, I envisioned an anonymous restaurant critic who works for an independent television station. How to handle the visuals for each review would have posed an interesting challenge, something quite unlike the so-called Phantom Gourmet who has since become a popular staple on a New England cable news channel. He’s widely recognized on the street, for one thing.

Well, the novel never moved forward. This project was predicated on two collaborators, who eventually declined, however discretely.

Still, enough remained to slip into my newest book, Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang.

As a further twist, my biggest novel on the way is also about food and restaurants. This time, from the inside. And I promise, it won’t be a mystery.

~*~

Parallel Tracks
Parallel Tracks

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

RUNNING INTO YOUR YOUNGER SELF AS A STRANGER

As I revisit the abandoned plans for two early novels, what I encounter feels strange and wondrous – and sometimes sophomoric. Yes, I wrote what appears here, but these days the words could be by a stranger – a youngster I wouldn’t mind meeting. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign, what had seemed outrageous in my “political science fiction” draft four decades earlier now has an air of prophecy. The other work, a detective novel, revives memories of a potential collaborator no longer among the living. Put together with a little bit more, they create a new book of fiction, one that runs Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang. As we might say in Zen, these works are what they are. Or what you, too, bring to the story. Enjoy the ride.

~*~

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

WHERE’S THE POWER IN POLITICAL FICTION?

The limited success of politically-based fiction continues to surprise me. Shakespeare, opera, and Greek tragedy all have their fill of court intrigue and power pl0ys, but modern democracies just don’t seem to stir the same passions. The success of the West Wing television series and a few movies stands as an anomaly. And then there are the lawyers who have built on their own experiences. Still!

Years ago, as science fiction was gaining respectability, I thought I might fuse the two by creating political science fiction, which led to a draft of my Cowboy from Mars. In the aftermath of the 2016 presidential campaign, it’s not as far out as I’d thought. Take a look for yourself. It’s included in Along the Parallel Tracks of Yin and Yang, my new collection of fiction.

~*~

Parallel Tracks
Parallel Tracks

For these stories and more, visit Thistle/Flinch editions.

TUNNEL VISITATION

In the IRT Subway Speakeasy, a young poet played a Japanese bamboo flute. While DL admired black nylons straying from a neighboring table, the poet’s candy-apple choppers whispered lascivious instructions. The evening’s crystal stemware of chilled notes lobbed the Dionysian-on-the-lam into the legendary Minoan labyrinth at Knossos. He yielded to temptation, whipped out his camera, and began photographing that Earth-Mother-of-all-later-human-channels-unto-rock. Each flashbulb carried him closer to the sewage tunnels of the Indus Valley. He was soon thirty-five thousand years from the music. His must be the oldest photographs on record. DL’s Nikon began impressing lost snippets from the Hebrew Bible. Fortunately, his lenses read in both directions. From what DL could determine, Joseph of the Technicolor Rainbow Dream Coat hadn’t been thrown into a cistern after all, but had been held captive at the Dothan Station instead. This journey started to sound like modern-day hostage-taking in the Middle East. So that’s what it was like to have an ayatollah for a brother! As for everybody involved, that Joseph incident would become a pretty expensive ride on Pharaoh’s Subway. DL wasn’t so sure he wanted to know any of this.

Just as he turned about, he bumped into Dante Alighieri. At least this wasn’t Dante’s Station, the Black Hole! DL counted his blessings. No, this station was Virgil’s, that satanic sorcerer who’s capable of burrowing through entire mountains in a single night. As usual, Virgil was the tour guide. This evening was getting too thick with poets for the photographer’s blood. If DL had been thinking clearly, he’d be snapping portraits of both Italians and would thus possess history’s only known photographs of them. Instead, he was interrupted by a friendly hiss – Zimm, the lovable newspaper editor and poet from Upstate. The night was definitely dripping with poets.

“Hey! This way!” he whispered, motioning to a side corridor. The impoverished journalist had been sent to rescue the lost protagonist. “This 1810 French canal tunnel was never used,” he said, leading DL along a narrow towpath. “The boatmen united in their fear of its endless darkness. You might be interested in knowing,” he continued, “of a similar situation that arose on the Sandy & Beaver Canal in southeastern Ohio. After hearing splashing in the permanent night, no one dared enter that tunnel. Not even an offer of eternally toll-free travel could induce a barge to pass through.” In the echoes, DL heard English clergymen prophesying the fruits of damnation to anyone who dared venture into the London Underground, circa 1863.

DL could tell they were coming back toward the surface. In a four-hundred-yard tunnel beneath the Thames River, they passed Marc Isambard Brunel’s historic digging machine. “He spent eighteen years here, launching the modern subway movement,” the editor explained.

“Let me get a shot of it,” DL said.

“We don’t have time,” Zimm retorted. “I’ve got to be at the office in another two hours.” He set a wicked pace, and DL had trouble keeping up.

In this stretch of history, they feared the newly constructed tubes would cause buildings to collapse. A few more steps put even that behind them.

A few more steps, indeed, brought them up to 1912. A clutch of astonished engineers was too engrossed to notice the time-travelers. The excavators had just broken into a totally unknown subway all of three hundred and twelve feet long. In 1870, it seems, Scientific American editor Alfred Beach had built his private line under lower Broadway. Its fountain, wind machine, and voiture were still in place.

“Let’s go back and check that out,” DL suggested.

“DL! Come on! The world already has photos of that discovery.”

Their spiral to the surface continued.

While feathering his own nest on the elevated, Boss Tweed opposed the underground efforts.

As a burly foreman constructing the Moscow system in the 1930s, Nikita Khrushchev grasped the full power of moving ahead by snuffing entire shifts of workers in cave-ins and underground drownings.

In Tokyo, muscular young oshiya have been hired to cram more riders into each car during rush hour.

“It’s a good thing Khrushchev didn’t know about Tokyo!” DL mused.

“Hurry up, will you?”

“Ok! I’m coming!”

They circled again, betwixt Stockholm’s masterpiece and New York’s disgrace, superstitions and dreadful truths.

DL wondered how good Minoans were at Subway Hitchhiking. Why couldn’t Brunel dig at Virgil’s speed? What connection did the Catacombs of Rome have with subway construction? DL’s world had quickly shrunk in time and space. Simultaneously, expanding like a Milky Way.

~*~

For more from my THIRD RAIL collection, click here.