Thursday, July 27, 2006

The post below is the first chapter of my novel, "The Vice of Courage". I hope you enjoy it, and want to see more.

Summer 1967

The interior of the’68 Lincoln Continental smelled of leather and dashboard plastic. Its seats were so plush that they exhaled when sat upon, air came up through the little buttons sewn into the center of the upholstered seams. Zoot Prestige and the other two musicians of his trio had settled into the back seat of this elegant machine when they heard a loud bang. The car lurched, and a dimly lit man sprawled across the hood, his arms stretched in front of him, his legs pressed against the windshield glass.
The drummer, Aaron Kantro, was nineteen, and had never before heard a gun shot. In spite of this fact, he recognized the sound; it was bigger, rounder than a firecracker. The man on the car's hood waved a pistol around frantically, then sprang up and disappeared among the other cars in the parking lot.
"Jesus fucking Christ!” The exclamation erupted from Aaron's body, without thought.
Zoot Prestige held a finger to his mouth and scrunched further down into the plush of the seat. Because he was the smallest, Aaron was in the middle, over the hump of the drive shaft. The organist, Tyrone Terry, hoping to be invisible, was pulling his little pork-pie hat over his eyes.
A voice shouted, "I'LL KILL YOU, MOTHERFUCKER!", and there
were two more shots, two ovoid muzzle flashes lit up the windshields of Cadillacs and
Thunderbirds. A face appeared , pressed to the window of Zoot’s car, cheek distorted against the glass, one eye like that of a panicked horse. The man was using the Continental for cover. Though his breath steamed the glass only inches from Zoot's face, he was not aware that three musicians were trying to hide in the back seat.
The man raised a snubby revolver over the roof of the car, fired once, then ran, crouching, to take cover behind a black Eldorado.
"Shit," Zoot grumbled, "I hope nobody bleeds on my ride. That custom paint job
cost me an extra three hundred." The brand new cream-colored car was long and sleek as a submarine.
"HEY! HE'S OVER THERE!" A voice shouted. Bang bang bang!
Flashes lit up the musician's faces. Aaron looked at Tyrone, who had twitched violently and spilled ashes from a tiny corncob pipe full of marijuana. His eyes were huge. Just at that moment, Tyrone realized that he had forgotten to exhale. When Aaron saw that his friend was trying not to cough, trying not to draw attention to their presence in the car, he began to giggle.
They had sunk all the way to the maroon upholstery on the floor of the car.. Aaron's legs were in his chest. Tyrone passed the pipe back to Zoot. As bandleader and mentor, it was Zoot's custom to dole out two pipes full of marijuana to each of his musicians, before every set. He wanted them at a carefully controlled level of intoxication. This was Zoot’s “groove”, no booze, no hard drugs, moderately stoned, mellow and benevolent, smooth. This was the psychic space in which he liked to play music. Two pipes: not three, not one. Two pipes. Of course, it depended on the quality of the weed. Panama Red. Two pipes. Acapulco Gold. Two pipes. Oaxaca shake. Four pipes. That was on rare occasions. Zoot had a talent,
now being passed on to his acolytes, for scoring quality smoke.
The car rocked on its exquisite suspension as a pair of grappling men, fingers snarled in
one another’s sport coats, rolled the other way across the hood. They vanished somewhere in the gravel of the parking lot, grunting and cursing. A short-brimmed hat lay on the hood for a moment, before a stiff breeze took it and lofted it across the parking lot with an autumnal premonition of winter wind. Zoot narrowed his eyes and tried to inspect his hood for damage through the crevice between the front seats.
"Damn!" Tyrone tried to pull further into his hat. Zoot, relaxing, loaded the pipe, handed it to Aaron, and lit it carefully, using the concealed nub of his cheroot.
Observing Zoot's utter poise, Aaron and Tyrone hissed through their lips with suppressed giggles. It was impossible to tell which part of the moment was funny and which part was terrifying. The giggles and spluttering had equal components of panic and the hysterical disbelief of pot-head hipsters in a bizarre situation.
Several car engines roared to life and raced from the lot in clouds of gravel and fumes. Sirens approached and receeded, revolving red lights whizzed past the intersection, making crimson reflections in the Continental’s glass.
Then there was silence. In the back of Zoot's car, the musicians straightened their bodies with the slowness of clock hands moving. After an interval, they were sitting normally on the seats. Zoot loaded the pipe, lit, inhaled. Carefully, he replaced it in a leather pouch, concealed the stash under the seat, and twisted his head from left to right and back again, loosening his neck muscles. He was sixty two, and a tenor saxophone had hung from his shoulder blades for more than fifty years.
"Should we go back in and play?" There was a squeak in Aaron's voice. Tentatively, he made a few mock rolls with invisible drum sticks.
Zoot looked at Aaron with a barely perceptible lift of an eyebrow.
"Why would we NOT go back in and play?" The marquee lights of Mickey Tucker's Diamond Club, blue and orange , glowed on half of Zoot's face, shadowing the other half, giving his eye a demonic glitter. He wet his thumb and forefinger with his tongue and smoothed the hairs of his pencil moustache.
"We're professional jazz musicians, babe. We play." Opening the car's door, Zoot brushed a tiny flake of ash from his tuxedo pants with a dapper gesture, and corkscrewed his six foot three inch frame upright.
Tyrone and Aaron followed. The world flickered. Smoke and adrenaline mixed in their bloodstreams. They were young, life was dangerous and exciting, and it was a fine night in the neon-lit urban world of jazz.
"Is this like in the western movies," Aaron asked, "where all hell breaks loose, bodies are flying, furniture's getting smashed, and the piano player keeps going as if nothing's happening?"
Zoot Prestige straightened his lapels, and moved his shoulders inside his jacket so that the garment settled more squarely on his body.
"That's right. We're hipsters, babe, we’re cool." Zoot's voice was velvet and gravel, Scotch whisky and smoke.. “Now, if the drummer gets killed, that’s another matter. No rhythm section, no gig. Gotta draw the line somewhere.” He brushed a bit of ash from Aaron’s tuxedo jacket. It was a tender, paternal gesture. “Ain’t nothin’ unusual happening here, it’s just another gig, somebody’s old lady got too friendly with somebody else’s old man and things got complicated.” Zoot shepherded his two young friends toward the door of the nightclub. “It’s human nature. Let's go inside and play some music to soothe the savage breast, shall we? Let’s lay down some Recalcitrant Funk-itis."
Zoot had just coined another of his classic nonsense phrases: Recalcitrant Funk-itis
now joined the lexicon along with Groove-matic Ubiquity, Heliocentric Hot Sauce and other such crazed locutions.
Aaron and Tyrone grinned at one another, nodded, and followed the urbane figure of their mentor back into the humid noise of Mickey Tucker's Diamond Club.

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Thursday, July 20, 2006

I talk to the world

by Art Rosch

Copyright July 14, 2002

I know, I know,

you’re wondering what

it all is,

why it’s so damned


and why you can’t just

settle down

and make it good

why it’s so freaking hard

to work out

so impossible

to solve

why there’s no answer: no,

not even an answer,

just a way

to be

that isn’t painful




poorly conceived


half hearted

out of tune….

I know, I know…

What the hell is it?

what started it to go this way

and not some other


some way deeper,

more satisfying

more noble

than the squalid human consequences

of being here

with all this motherstuff


bad uncle

mean neighbor

bullying enemy

conniving stranger

evil intentions

ugly ideas.

What is it that made life

so crazy

that to get a drink of water

means murder

to own a house

to dig a well

to marry a total stranger

means ten generations

of violent feud

what happened

to human beings

how did we miss everything

so completely

why aren’t we quiet enough

thoughtul enough

to see a hundred fifty shades

of color

in a sunset cloud

why are we so noisy

so sloppy and clumsy

why do we breathe all wrong,


what does it take

to be right with life?

Look in the eyes of your baby.

Remember what you see.

Try very hard to remember

look in the eyes

of your lover

remember what you see

remember love

and its intricate rich depth,



It’s so easy to forget

it takes but a heart beat

were we talking about love?

I don’t remember.

There was something that confused me

I forgot

and now, see,

what happens?

Now, see?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006


Feb 13 2002

I envy normal people.

I am aware, rationally,

that these so-called normal people

look to me with envy.

I am aware, that, in fact,

there is no such thing as normal people.

I’ll put it this way:

I envy anyone without a major vice,

addiction, character flaw or personality disorder.

I have all of these things.

I feel as though some invisible

but highly palpable psychic booger

is hanging from a prominent place

on my visage.

Any idiot should be able to perceive

this booger, this gap, this wound,

this unwholesomeness

at the center of my soul.

And I wonder, “if I am this good a con man,

what is everyone else hiding?”

But my envy is emotional, is not amenable

to my carefully reasoned and observed

perception that there are no normal people

in the world,

that to be alive in these times

is to be disordered

and full of concealed untidy fragments.

I envy normal people with normal lives;

with homes, families, jobs.

These are the good people engaged so fulsomely

in the pursuit of happiness.

Far from pursuing happiness, I have long since abandoned myself

to the avoidance of misery

by any reasonable means.

After fifteen years of therapy,

I’ve given up on health, happiness, thriving,

any of those curiously modern concepts

with which we aggravate ourselves.

I still envy normal people.

But I have decided to engage myself

in a ferocious loyalty to my abnormality.

It has, like an old friend, sustained me

these many years.

I’m afraid of what I might lose,

if I became, suddenly, in spite of my envy,