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Delta Queen

Fiction By September 17, 2017 Tags:

I started working at the Delta Queen with the idea of one day buying it from Mr. Oates. I thought I could make some kind of life out of that. Not exactly a dream come true, but not exactly bad for an ex-con, either. And then she came along and made me feel like my dreams were very, very small.

Charlene was the most beautiful girl in the world. She was also one of the richest girls in Campbell, CA. The beautiful part I could tell at first sight, but I didn’t find out about the rich part until a few weeks later. Her parents wanted her to try out some “real work,” I guess, in the summer between high school and college.

I didn’t speak a word to her for the first week, so she had to take the lead.

“Hey, Gil! You like to swim?”

After I got over the shock of being addressed by a genuine angel, I responded that I liked swimming okay. She threw a bucket of soapy water right in my face.

“Swim in this!”

If she had been a man, I would have punched her square in the jaw. But the sudsy t-shirt clinging to her made it very obvious that she was no man. Instead, I just stood there like a man in a trance. That was Charlene all over. Mischievous and going right over the line. No one dared call her on it because of who she was–or who her parents were, rather. A few minutes later I asked her to go aloft and find the turn signal fluid. By the time she figured out she was on a snipe hunt, she was in love with me.

Her folks may have wanted her to spend some time doing “real work,” but they weren’t too keen on their little girl slumming it up with an ex-con who worked at a carwash. They probably expected her to grow out of it when she went to college. Maybe she tried. I’m sure she dated a few boys at school, but I made damn sure she found a man when she came home for breaks. I also made sure I was more successful each time she saw me.

Mr. Oates sold me the Delta Queen, and I opened another location within a year. By the time Charlene graduated, I owned five carwashes outright and was working with her father’s lawyer to franchise the whole concept up-and-down the West Coast.

She said she was happy for me, but I could tell something was wrong. There was some part of her she was holding back. Going into business with her old man changed me forever in her eyes. I wasn’t the man she thought I was. I guess she was right. She kept finding reasons to get out of town, until one day, she slipped away for good.

I keep busy these days. Busy is good. Keeps me from thinking too much. I keep feeling like she’s going to sneak up behind me one of these days with a bucket of suds.

But that’s never going to happen. She’s up San Francisco these days, still looking for the turn signal fluid.

Genre: romance
Random Nouns: failure, swim

This is the fourth story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.


Life Guard Station

Fiction By September 1, 2017 Tags:

In her two and a half years at Florida State, she had changed majors five times and boyfriends six times. Then she dropped out, just as her mother predicted on the day she got her acceptance letter. She was young enough and beautiful enough that her flakiness still charmed most people, but she had too many female professors for that to work long-term.

When she moved back home to Ft. Lauderdale, her mother insisted she find work. “If you’re going to live in my hive, you’re going out to gather nectar.”

She put in two weeks cleaning offices. Another week and some change as a babysitter. An ex-boyfriend from high school talked her into trying to sell cars with him at Fletcher Ford, but she quit on her first day after Mr. Fletcher pawed her in the salesman’s lounge.

And now, here she was. Back on the beach. Back under the red umbrella. She had always been a strong swimmer, despite dropping out of swim team after a few months. Being a lifeguard suited her just fine. Better than fine, really. She had no trouble watching the ocean. She loved the ocean. It was always moving, always changing.

She and the ocean had an understanding. It knew how to keep secrets. It didn’t judge. Yes, this would be just fine for now.

Genre: literary fiction
Random Nouns: hive, umbrella

This is the third story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.


Trout Haven

Fiction By August 31, 2017 Tags:

You a fisherman? Thought so. Got that look about ya.

There’s a crick near here I wanna tell ya ’bout. Look on the map and it’ll say Big Pine Creek, but the locals call it Trout Haven. Trout Haven is a better name ’cause no one ever caught a pine in that crick, but, boy oh boy, have they caught trout! They’re so thick in there you could scoop ’em out with a spoon! Good eatin’ ones, too.

Don’t sound like much of a challenge, does it? Well, it ain’t for the most part. It’s like going to the fish market. Just drop a line and make your selection.

But there is one bugger in there that’ll test ya. Some call ‘im Iron Jack. Others call him Two Ton Tommy. Ain’t no one ever called him dinner, though. Not yet.

I ain’t braggin’, but I had ‘im on the line once myself. The first thing I know, I feel this tug–felt like ten lumberjacks pullin’ on the other end of the line. Now most fishermen lose their head and let go of the rod. I held on, though, and Tommy pulled my arm right out of the socket. Oh, don’t worry, it popped back in after a few days. Right down to this day, though, I can feel rain comin’ in that arm. I can feel the Jehovah’s Witnesses comin’ to my door, too.

I switched the pole over to my lef’ arm right away and ol’ Tommy pulled even harder. I held on, but he pulled me right off the bank into the crick. For about two mile, Tommy pulled me so hard I skidded right across the top of the water like I was on waterskis.

At some point, I hit my head on branch that was hangin’ over the water and got knocked clean out. I still held onto that pole, though. When I woke up, I looked around and realized I was in some kind of lodge with spiky walls. Tommy had built himself a little hut, right there in the water, made up entirely of fishing poles he’d yanked out of fishermens’ hands.

Well, I swam outta there as fast as I could and never went back to Trout Haven.

Good luck to you, though, sir. If you catch Tommy, let me know. I got three cord a’ firewood at my place and we could build us a bonfire and grill ‘im up nice.

Genre: tall tale
Random Nouns: selection, spoon

This is the second story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.


The Barrel

Fiction By August 25, 2017 Tags:


The problem with The Barrel was, the menu was too damn complex. Burgers and fries and ice cream, just like you’d expect, right? But also pizza, fried chicken, and six kinds of popcorn! The greasy kids working there could barely operate the cash register, so you could just about bet that your order was getting screwed up. I went there one night and ordered a slice of pepperoni and a Coke. What I got was a half-cooked corndog and a soggy hamburger bun. They might have just been messing with me because I was drunk at the time. They probably were, too.


Nick Overton owned the place, but he didn’t like to show up unless it was absolutely necessary. He’d stop by now and then to make sure the place wasn’t on fire, but that’s about it. The upright citizens of the community were upset about the lack of supervision, but they still let their kids work there every summer. They shouldn’t have.


The customers were mostly locals, but every so often a passer-through would grab some food for the road. The Slow Man was a passer-through.


I call him the Slow Man because that’s what the kids called him afterwards. They said he talked like a record on the wrong speed. Slow and deep and distorted. He tried to order something, but they couldn’t make out what he was saying. They started laughing at him. They shouldn’t have.


They said he went back to his car and came back with something that looked like a skeleton’s hand holding a candle. As soon as they saw it, they fell asleep, right on the spot. When they woke up, they noticed that Bill McAllister was missing. Whoosh. Gone.


They looked all over for him. No luck. They went outside and looked around. Still nothing. Then Jenny Wyler noticed that something was coming out of the downspout, which was all wrong because there was a drought. She got closer and saw that it was red.


Joey Smith boosted Deputy Mark Green up to the roof of the place and when he saw Bill up there, gutted like a deer, his blood draining into the gutters, he threw up all over himself, which is saying something considering how many car wrecks that guy has seen.


No one ever found the Slow Man. I don’t know who he is, but I know what he’s got in that car. And if I ever run into him, I intend to take it for myself.

Genre: horror
Random Nouns: community, complex

This is the first story in my Random Roadside series. In this series, I pick a random image from John Margolies’ Roadside America photography collection at the Library of Congress and use it as the setting for a story. I allow a computer program to randomly select the genre I will write in and two nouns, which I must work into the story.


The Silvermoon Drive-In, Part 2

Fiction By July 13, 2017 Tags:

The Silvermoon Drive-In: An Oral History

An email from William (“Bill”) Barry, friend of Robert (“Bobby”) Nowicki, co-owner of the Silvermoon Drive-In from 1993 until it’s closure in 2006.


Your mom tells me you’re working on some kind of history report on the Silvermoon for a class you’re taking at PSU. [Material removed]. You want to know what I remember Bobby saying about the drive-in, right? I don’t remember much, but okay.

Bobby had some kind of unusual financial arrangement with Dan Novak, that much I do remember. I think Dan saw the writing on the wall and was happy to unload the place. Anyway, Bobby was still teaching when he first took over operations.

Interviewer’s Note: Bobby Novak worked at Amhurst Junior High School as a social studies teacher for 23 years. He served as general manager of the Silvermoon for two summers as a part-owner during his last two years of employment as a teacher before taking full ownership of the theater.

He took an early retirement from the school as soon as they put one on the table. He used the lump sum he got to finish paying off Dan. Doreen didn’t like that, but she went along. That drive-in was Bobby’s dream and he was happy for a few years. They made some improvements to the place. It did okay for what it was, but nobody was getting rich off a drive-in theater by then, if they ever did.

You asked about Connie, too, and I have even less to say about him. He was a weird old guy and he never fit in and he never tried. Something about him bothered me from the get-go, but he always did right by Bobby and Doreen, as far as I know.



The Silvermoon Drive-In, Part 1

Fiction By July 13, 2017 Tags:

The Silvermoon Drive-In: An Oral History

Partial transcript of an interview with Doreen Nowicki, co-owner of the Silvermoon Drive-In from 1993 until it’s closure in 2006.

So, let me see here. What can I say about Con?

Other than the black suit?


Yeah, yeah, the suit. [Pause]. It was blue, actually. Not that it matters at all. But everyone thought it was black because they only saw it at night. But it was a real dark blue.

And I remember because he wore it when he come in for the interview. And I remember thinking, that’s a little, uh, overdone for an interview for a projectionist, you know.

Um. So, I was surprised when he wore it to work.

And then he wore it every night?

Oh yeah, every night.

Do you know why?

Um. Well, I never asked him, but. [Pause]. He was just so serious all the time, you know? About everything.

So, he didn’t laugh or joke around?

No, no, no. I don’t mean like that. He had a good sense of humor once you got to know him . Real dry. [Pause].

But, I guess I just mean, he took what he was doing seriously. He treated it like it was real important, even if it was, like, the dumbest movie you ever saw.

Did he have a day job somewhere?

Not that I know of, nope.

Then how did he make ends meet? I mean, I assume he wasn’t making enough at the drive-in…

Nah, what we paid him couldn’ta been enough. Must’ve had some other money. He did live pretty cheap, though. Lived above the B&T the whole time I knew him.

Interviewer’s Note: The “B&T” was the Black and Tan Club, now called the Market Street Pub, located at 430 Market St., Amhurst, PA.


I’m not so nebby that I woulda asked him about that. He musta had money from somewhere. Saved up maybe, or a settlement from something. Who knows?

He’s still wearing that suit, you know.


They buried him in that suit, I mean.

Weren’t only a few of us at the funeral. Me, Robbie, some kids who were working for us then, and some guy named Howard. Don’t remember that guy’s last name, but I remember he was a Howard because who the hell is named Howard and doesn’t go by Howie or something, right?

How did Howard know Connie?

Said he used to work with Connie on some projects. Well, he called Connie “Conrad,” cause acourse a “Howard” would have to call Connie “Conrad,” right?



That’s all he said and I didn’t ask nothing else, not being a nebshit.

So you closed right after?

No, we finished the summer out. Mr. McKay of all people came in and ran the projector for those last two weekends.

Mr. McKay? The funeral director? That Mr. McKay?

Yup. Got to talkin’ to him at the viewing and turns out he worked at the Silver when he was a kid, when Novak had the place. Asked if it was the same projector, and I said I thought it was, and so he said he’d help us out and that it might be fun.

He didn’t wear no suit, though. [Laughter]. Guess he figured he had to wear a suit enough as it was.

So that was it? Did you know that was going to be the last summer?

We weren’t a hundred percent certain, but it seemed likely.

Can I ask why?

Lotsa reasons. It was hard to keep it going, moneywise. Me and Robbie was fighting a lot about money by then. Fighting about lotsa things, really, but I guess that’s not what you’re after here, with this interview. [Pause]. But that’s how it was.

We couldn’t keep ourselves together so, we sure as hell–can I swear on this thing?


So we couldn’t keep our marriage together so we sure as hell couldn’t keep the business going together. And then along comes Rite-Drug with a big fat check right after and that was that.

Interviewer’s Note: Rite-Drug bought the property of the Silvermoon Drive-in in November of 2006. The theater was torn down and a Rite-Drug retail location was built on the property. The Silvermoon’s original neon sign was bought and preserved by the Amhurst Historical Society. It can be seen at 1235, Route 56, Amhurst, PA. 


Of Course They Kept it for You All These Years

Fiction By July 1, 2017 Tags:

The July sun has burned away all traces of the early-morning thunderstorm. And here you are, back again, with that dreamish feeling you always get–with everything the same but different. Should you knock on the old blue door–still blue, but a different shade–or just walk in like you used to? There’s a brand new air conditioner churning away downstairs, but there’s no hiding from the summer heat in this attic. It was in a cardboard box, of course, but everything here is in a cardboard box so the hunt is afoot.

And, oh. This one looks familiar.



Say it in the Story

Fiction By September 19, 2016


…all that I could say of the Story, to any purpose, I have endeavored to say in it.

-Charles Dickens, From the Preface to David Copperfield


It is hard enough to write books and stories without being asked to explain them as well. Also it deprives the explainers of work. If five or six or more good explainers can keep going why should I interfere with them? Read anything I write for the pleasure of reading it. Whatever else you find will be the measure of what you brought to the reading…it is very bad for a writer to talk about how he writes. He writes to be read by the eye and no explanations or dissertations should be necessary. You can be sure that there is much more there than will be read at any first reading and having made this it is not the writer’s province to explain it or to run guided tours through the more difficult country of his work.

-Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review




Suite: Frank’s Diner Supreme

Fiction By May 26, 2016 Tags: ,

The Waitress

I’m not much to look at now, but when I was 19, I could make anything look good, even that green polyester uniform. I liked the attention, and I learned to like the cops, the strippers, the drunks, and the grab bag of other weirdos that flocked to the neon light of Frank’s Diner Supreme that summer.

The one guy I couldn’t stand was Frank himself. He owned the place and acted like it. He’d come in, order black coffee, and smoke like a goddamn house on fire.

I was relieved when he croaked. Sounds mean, but there it is.

The Cook

Frank was good by me. He liked his coffee and his smokes and keeping himself to himself.

I’m lucky to know Frank cause I wouldn’t have no job otherwise. You do 15 years for manslaughter and tell me how easy it is to find work after. I learned how to cook when I was inside, though, and that helped.

I was a good enough cook alright, but I think Frank liked having me around on the hoot owl shift because then nobody would fuck with the place.

I’m Bill and they call me Don’t Fuck With Bill. And they’re right.

The Cop

Marky boy would come swerving into the parking lot at 2 after the Slovak Club closed. I would just look away when he’d stumble into the place. Same for the kids who would come in there stinking of pot. If I had run into them in town it would be different, okay, but at Frank’s? Frank’s was a neutral zone.

I looked at that place like a kind of sanctuary. People could come there and be safe and not be bothered. So could I. It probably helped to have them at Frank’s. Better there than running around town anyway, right?

The Insomniac

The food at that place wasn’t great, but the jukebox was perfect. I mean that the volume was just right–soft enough that you could have a conversation if you wanted, but loud enough to cover the silence if you didn’t feel like talking. Ain’t it funny how that works? If there’s no music in a place, it feels odd sitting there not talking to anyone. But if there’s music playing, it feels just fine.

I needed a place like that then. A place to get my thoughts together and talk, or not talk if I didn’t feel like it.

The Stoner

Me and my buddies used to go there when we were stoned. We’d get waffles and cheesesticks and all that shitty food you feel like eating when you’re high. We tried smoking out back once, but Bill saw us and told us that if we ever did it again he’d fuck us up. I think he would have, too.

Oh yeah, there was this cop who would be there sometimes, too. Man, he must have been dumb as fuck. We were completely out of our heads half the time and this dumb bastard had no idea. Not a fucking clue.


They Were Inside Praying When They Heard a Thump

Fiction By May 26, 2016 Tags:

He was a good sheriff for three seasons of the year, but in the winter he would lock his guns in a cedar chest and sit in his office and drink whiskey. Nothing much happened in the winter, and maybe it was the boredom that made him drink so much.

One February, though, someone stole a horse from Fat Ned Chamberlain. I saw the sheriff ride off that afternoon slumped in the saddle like a sack of feed. At sundown, he came back with Ned’s horse and a body, which he dumped on the steps of the First Methodist Church.