Sunday, March 23, 2014

My Old Friend Bob

After graduating from CU in 1978 I went up to Glacier Park and Many Glacier Hotel where I had a summer job on the bar crew along with 6 other kids, all of whom had some kind of musical or theatrical talent. My dorm neighbor and 2nd-year bar crew buddy, Bob Pazera, played the baritone horn. This morning, after having recently been contacted by one of our crew members, I discovered that Bob has been blowin’ that bad boy with the celestial philharmonic since 2003. The news that Bob had departed the planet at age 48, while profoundly saddening - we lived together the winter of 1979 at the Missoula Snow Bowl after our summer of bears, babes and booze - came as no shock. Bob was one wild motherfucker, especially for a tuba player.

He was a casebook Jekyll and Hyde alcoholic: shy, soft-spoken, quiet, bookish and unassuming
Bob Pazera
when sober; destructive, violent, grabass horny, and fearless when drinking. And he was a big guy: 6’3” 220 - an imposing bruiser with a Bigfoot gait and long meaty arms that hung apelike down his thigh, invincible in one-on-one with deceptive quickness and agility. The oaf of the Bolshoi, I used to say. His face, framed by the shag style of the day, was so clear complected and whisker-free that he could have passed for a six-year old, and the way his mouth naturally turned up at the corners made him look to be in a constant state of mild amusement at the goings on around him. A friend likened him to The Big Lebowski, which would have been a perfect fit if Bob wasn’t so schizo.

Author, whacked
The stories from that summer and the following fall and winter are the stuff of legend, especially now that the principal protagonist is reportedly dead and has been for the past 11 years. As the inventor of the FUBAR Malt (FUBAR = Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition, common in the military) Mister Bob, as he was called by the British hotel manager, Ian Tippet, would often pour drinks so strong that the guests sent them back. So he would down the reject and pour another - it didn’t matter if one reject was a Vodka Collins followed by a Manhattan followed by a Grasshopper: when he was drinking he was on a mission to see just how fucked up he could get. If pot or blow was available there was no stopping him, but we didn’t have much of a stash up there.

The employee dorm at Glacier
He also liked to get other folks drunk, so one night he challenged me and another bartender to sample every variety of booze in the bar after work. We didn’t get very far. Another night we served up free drinks to any employee who wanted them - I don’t know how we managed it, but some of the employees got so drunk that they accused us of trying to poison them and wouldn’t speak to us after that.

He also loved to throw customers off when they came up to the bar or the window to order a drink, or even waiting on tables, he would say “what can ya get me?” (instead of “what can I get you?”). A stupid little thing but it stuck with me.

There was a couple, Larry and Sylvia, that spent the summer in their RV in the Swiftcurrent campground on the other side of the lake and fly fished evenings until 10PM when it finally got dark. After fishing Larry and Sylvia, who knew Bob from the previous summer, would show up around closing and hang around drinking free beer that Bob would supply, and cognac or tequila or whatever else they fancied, playing cards and smoking cigars with us in the Swiftcurrent Lounge until 2-3AM, when we would stumble back to the dorm under the swirling, pulsating psychedelic light show known as the Aurora Borealis. It was important not to let Bob pass out in the bushes because that area was crawling with grizzly bears.

At the end of the summer season at Many Glacier Bob decided we needed some decor for our
apartment in Missoula. So after we shut down the bar at 11 or 12 - whenever it was - we stealthily removed all of the various deer and elk antler trophies from the Interlaken Lounge and spirited them to a hiding place off the shoulder of the road down to Babb, where we later collected them. The following summer Bob went to work at Many Glacier again and, in his oddly loyal and responsible way, returned the antlers to their rightful displays on the walls of the Interlaken lounge.

Once we got free of the booze-addled summer camp at Many Glacier (which will become a novel some day, in which an evil hotel manager sexually “takes advantage” of young men until one disappears, along with other adventures) and moved into our spot at the Snow Bowl, we would often go for several nights at a stretch dry, then go at it with a vengeance. Bob bartended at a disco joint in south Missoula and I played solo guitar at the bar of the Red Lion Inn.

Larry and Sylvia were living in Missoula that winter, vs. wintering in the desert, and they came over with my girlfriend for Thanksgiving. The night before when Bob and I got the turkey Bob also bought a case of Heilemann’s Special Export, my favorite beer from that period, and instructed that we were to drink the whole thing: 12 beers each. In the process of drinking and decorating the apartment for Thanksgiving and Christmas, I heard Bob shout “catch!” and there over my shoulder was a 16 lb. frozen turkey coming right for my head. The turkey crashed into the wall, where I retrieved it, dropped back into the pocket and fired a perfect spiral to Bob cutting across the kitchen. But it was one slippery turkey and Bob couldn’t hold onto it, letting it smash a hole in the hollow core bedroom door. We played turkey toss for another half hour or so, completely trashing the apartment and tenderizing that bird to perfection. The next day I cooked it in a paper bag and it was unbelievable!

One Monday morning in the wee wee hours I got a call from a neighbor about halfway down the 10-mile snow packed ski area access road: Bob had slid his sedan over the edge of the road, crashed through the cedars, larches and pines and somehow survived. Drunk as he was he did not want to involve the authorities, but the neighbor insisted I come get him and take him to the emergency room. When I got there I found out why: a stick about an ⅛” in diameter had pierced his neck, entering on the left side and protruding about 2 inches on the right. It was like the old bone through the nose trick except this was a stick through the neck, and Bob couldn’t feel a thing. It seemed a miracle that there was no blood, and an even greater miracle that the stick didn’t poke a hole in his esophagus or damage his spinal cord.  

I took Bob to the emergency room and waited while they removed the stick and set him up with a pus drainage apparatus affixed to the exit hole on the right side of his neck. I took him home and we both slept most of the day (the ski area was closed Mondays and Tuesdays). When he got up he couldn’t move, his body had been so traumatized. After several days he could move again; by n’ by he went back to work, but for weeks he always had a gross little napkin in his pocket he would use to dab at the pus leaking down his neck. He stayed for another three weeks without a single drink, then,  since his car was totalled and he couldn’t work a second job he went back home to Mom and Dad in Albuquerque.  

Bob was a nicknamer. The owner of the ski area was named Melasky, which Bob thought sounded
like Polanski so he called him him Roman. Roman was also a fierce drunk and would sometimes announce closing time by hurling a couple of full pitchers of beer across the room, but never far enough to where I sat on a little stage leading the skiers in song (who were the same hardcore ski racer gang day in day out.) Roman’s daughter was named Bodagget, which is the larger, harder form of a dingleberry. Roman’s wife was Mrs. Roman, and aside from Melasky I can’t remember anyone’s real name. They were red-headed New York Polack Jews and what they were doing running a ski area in Montana is anybody’s guess. We often had contests to see who could throw Bodagget’s cat, Bodagget Junior, furthest into into the snowy woods.

I saw Bob twice after he left Missoula, both times when Holly and I lived in Scottsdale where she designed interiors for model homes with the infamous Charles Keating (another novel in diapers) and I worked at an ad agency. Bob and his wife lived in Chandler where Bob had landed a gig as a city planner. The first time Bob came to our house in Scottsdale, solo. Bob and I proceeded to get drunk and then wrestle our way through the house, smashing furniture and awakening the next day to nasty bruises, rug burns and other injuries.

Holly and I visited Bob one more time at his place in Chandler. We saw his wife Sarah briefly, then went for a hike in the Superstitions. Bob was on the wagon and it was a very pleasant afternoon.

I spoke to Bob once more around 1990, when we were amazingly both on the wagon. I had been investigating “the program”, and Bob said that he found it too depressing; the folks there were such hard cases, serious alcoholics, and he couldn’t relate. He told me that it was under control, he had learned how to have a drink now and then without having a schizoid meltdown, but he figured it out too late. His wife had already bailed.

And then this morning I learn that this incredibly funny soft-hearted guy had exited, and as much as I would like to believe that it was cancer or a cerebral hemorrhage or something not related to drinking, the odds that he stacked his car or even took his own life in a drunken state of hopelessness are far greater. I’ve reached out to his ex and will continue to sleuth until I find out what took him down. It really does break my heart, poor bastard. He was a fun, smart, sensitive guy up until about the 5th beer. Who knows maybe he was a great city planner for the city of Chandler too?

Rest in Peace, my friend.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Self-Serve Query Letter & Chap 1 Contemporary Fiction


Learning to Limbo (100K words), is a playful, big hearted tragicomedy in the Russo/Irving mold that chronicles the misadventures of middle-aged Jack Irwin and his family as they bounce across the country in search of gainful employment, domestic tranquility, and a few people they can trust. It is a story that working parents past, present and future will see as part of their own: the triumphs, the tragedies, the innocent mistakes and the not-so-innocent mistakes, and above all the forgiveness that keeps families together to face another challenge. If you know how to limbo, you can get through anything.  

According to the history books, The Limbo Dance originally developed on slave ships as men tried to squeeze under the low beam that separated them from their women below decks. Like those men, Jack Irwin, a middle-aged, 12-month-unemployed family man, finds himself in a 21st century version of that same tight spot.

When Jack’s parental gravy train derails, he is forced to take a low
paying marketing gig in the low cost Midwest, leaving native Norcal behind. A month after settling in Indianapolis, they're moved to New England, the nerve center of BFC (Big Fat Corporation) where Jack is lured into a French-style "stress-relief" relationship with sex-crazed poodle-haired exec. Meanwhile wife Carrie has gotten embroiled in a nasty email scam. Eventually incriminating photos wind up in her husband’s hands.  

The tightest of the tight spots? Not by a mile. Jack gets implicated in a revenue reporting scandal and is terminated. The affairs come to light. Jack gets crabs, Carrie gets paralyzed. Son Robbie flunks out. Only 11-yr old Lulu knows how to save the family with her ownversion of the limbo: the happy hop.

I've been in the business of writing my entire career, both agency and client-side.  My debut novel, Hack, was represented by John Galvis Literary Agency and published by HD Media Press in August 2012. My business and corporate satire is gaining steam on The Huffington Post and other sites, along with a steady stream of quirky humor. I'm looking for a long-term partner that is interested in creating great, timeless fiction in the tradition of the classic storytellers. More on

Sample below. I think you'll want to read the manuscript - I have a feeling  Learning to Limbo is right up your alley. I look forward to hearing from you.

Jeb Harrison

Learning to Limbo

Part 1 – San Anselmo
Jack be nimble, Jack be quick
Jack go unda limbo stick
All around the limbo clock
Hey, let's do the limbo rock

Limbo lower now
Limbo lower now
How low can you go?
Chubby Checker – The Limbo Rock

Chapter 1 – In a Tight Spot

[Which describes the condition and profession of our infamous and odoriferous hero John Henry Irwin the III.]

Jack Irwin parked his rustbucket diesel Rabbit as far away from the lobby of Luna Microsystems as he could, hoping the long walk across the parking lot would allow his odor to dissipate. He had driven all the way from San Anselmo north of the Golden Gate through a bone-chilling January mist with all the windows and the sunroof open, down 19th Avenue past San Francisco State University and onto 280, where he floored his rusty bunny in hopes of generating a purifying hurricane that would leave him springtime fresh by the time he checked in for his interview. At age 43, a year on unemployment, with wife, requisite two kids, dog, mortgage, car payments, computer payments, insurance premiums, orthodontist bills, cable bills, bills of every shape and size, and a blossoming addiction to prescription painkillers, Jack was in a very tight spot. The last thing he needed was to asphyxiate his would-be employers.

Just three hours ago body odor worries were far from Jack Irwin’s mind.

His sleep was restless, as it had been since the layoff from the start-up that didn’t start-up a year ago,
and, as usual, wife Carrie had kicked him out of bed for his nocturnal spasms. So he had spread his long, banana-slug frame across the stained, child and dog-worn living room sofa, praying that the monkish one-note hum of the SubZero would quiet the bellicose cacophony of thousands of fast-talking recruiters half his age telling him what to say at tomorrow’s job interview and pulled a misty blue cashmere throw under his chin. The full-body sweats had finally passed, and he had poured nearly a quart of cold vanilla almond milk down his parched, smoke-ravaged throat by the soothing refrigerator light, letting the cool air blow softly over his drenched pajama top. Finally he stretched out on the sofa in the dark living room.

He was just drifting off when the alarm went off upstairs. He threw off the cashmere blanket and jumped up. “Shit,” he growled, rushing for the stairs, then stumbling over their slobbering, spastic yellow Labrador retriever, Barney, named by his 7-year old daughter Lulu after the famous purple dinosaur.
"Jesus...fuckin' dog!" growled Irwin, shoving Barney out of the way. He heard Carrie groan in the bed upstairs as the alarm continued to beep, and pictured her pulling the down pillow over her head as she had with reliable consistency all fifteen years of their marriage. Irwin dare not disturb Carrie before her designated wake up time lest she unleash a lethal swarm of killer bees or some other pestilence upon the household.

Alarm squelched, Irwin rushed downstairs and stood aside as the dog raced for the door, then dove into the cold January darkness to terrify whatever remaining nocturnal woodland creatures might be about. He grimaced as the dog squatted over what remained of the lawn, a hopeless patch of anemic fescue that perhaps Robbie, his nine year-old beamish boy, would someday learn to mow. Maybe Carrie would attend to Barney’s morning contribution before he came home and stepped in it.

            Sure enough, Carrie Irwin had her pillow in a death grip over her sleepy, frizzy-haired head. "God, Jack," came her muffled voice from underneath the pillow. "What time is it?"

 "Six AM, Thursday, January 12,” he announced as if to remind himself that it was big interview day.
“I gotta be outta here in 20 minutes." He rushed into the bathroom, quickly ran the electric razor over the graying stubble on his dimpled chin and wide, square jaw, then contemplated trimming his thick, wiry gray-flecked eyebrows, decided against it and jumped into the shower. He vigorously shampooed what was left of his rapidly receding sand-colored hair and whitewalls, resisting the usual urge to linger under the warm stream and soap his itching hemorrhoids. Instead, with a silly little TV jingle phrase gotta go, gotta go racing around in his head, he pulled on the corporate uniform: Nordstrom boxers, Ralph Lauren socks, Polo khaki slacks and Polo oxford blue shirt. He was working on his standard-issue red power tie when he heard the dog gouging another deep groove into the front door; grabbing his penny loafers, he bounded down the stairs and flung it open.

It wasn't until Barney had rushed in, skidded across the hardwood floor, and stood wagging in front of the cabinet that held the dog treats that Irwin smelled it: unmistakable, powerful skunk, so strong it made his eyes water. "Fuckin' A!" he muttered in a hoarse whisper, shutting the door, figuring Barney had chanced upon Mr. and Mrs. Skunk doing the wild thing in the bushes and had received a double shot of skunk lovin’.  He turned, woozy, and stumbled across the living room to the kitchen, expecting the smell from outside to dissipate. Instead, the smell was equally strong if not stronger in the kitchen.

Irwin took one look at the dog and groaned—he could practically see the odor wafting off his golden fur, like the hind end of Pepe Le Pew in a Warner Brothers cartoon.

Irwin grabbed the stinking pooch by the collar, dragged him across the floor and shoved him back into the dark, nearly chopping off the tip of his golden tail as he slammed the door behind him. The dog turned and began gouging the door with renewed vigor, peeping like a maligned bird.

"What's that smell?" Carrie Irwin stood at the top of the stairs in her nightie, disheveled but still a distractingly ravishing sight to Irwin, even with his brain burning at five alarms. A few extra pounds had made her curves more pronounced, her luscious lips and cheeks a touch fuller; her almond-shaped hazel eyes more inviting.

"Barney got skunked," he said, marching up the stairs.

"Ugh!" grunted Carrie Irwin, squeezing her nostrils shut, crawling back
in bed and cocooning under the covers. "Disgusting," Irwin could hear her mutter as he walked past to retrieve his standard navy blazer.

Outside Irwin noticed that the skunk smell, though still strong, was not as strong in the chilly morning
air as it seemed to be in the house. He was closing the front gate when Barney came racing up, smashed open the gate and made a run for it. Irwin tackled, wrestled, grabbed the collar. Just when Irwin thought he had the dog, he slipped his head out of the collar and tore down the street. Standing there with the empty collar in his hand, Irwin didn’t even try calling after him.

Now, in the parking lot of Luna Microsystems where he was interviewing for a mid-level managerial position in the academic sector, Irwin checked himself in the rear view mirror, ran his fingers through his silver sidewalls and sighed. There was a new crack in the dashboard - a result of Magic Fingers relentless rattling - and he made a mental note: that was at least 67 cracks that he could count, which he did frequently.

 He heaved his aching 220 lb. six foot frame out of the tiny vehicle and shook himself all over like a wet, freshly skunked dog, his arms shimmying like spaghetti noodles by his side, tongue wagging, gut jiggling like the proverbial bowl-of-jelly in the weak winter sun. After a short time he noticed that a couple of workers had paused to observe his little St. Vitus' dance, so as he walked through the parking lot he threw in a couple of "happy hops", a sort-of Teaberry Shuffle that he and the kids broke into when feeling particularly silly, or in the current context, particularly fed up with the absurdity of being 43 years-old and interviewing for positions that required half his experience.

But the happy hop, for Irwin, wasn’t always mere silliness, rather, just like his St. Vitus warmups, had lately become disguised expressions of existential desperation – a physical manifestation of a psychological Houdini act where he figuratively shed his shackles and wriggled out of, squeezed under or hopped over, a sticky situation; often times to land smack dab in the middle of another, even stickier quagmire. So, just as he was about to enter the lobby of Luna Microsystems he threw in a subtle hop, like an extra sprinkling of Pixie Dust, partly for good luck and partly to ensure he was limber enough to run if things got ugly. Then he straightened his power tie and opened the big glass doors.

Irwin’s purity of purpose was blown to bits when he saw the receptionist falling out of her blouse. He imagined working around women like…like that. Who was harassing whom when the receptionist’s breasts practically jumped out and shook your hand? he thought.

He had just finished signing in when the receptionist gave him a queer look, wrinkling up her nose as if
Irwin had just passed some particularly noxious gas. Irwin attempted a smile and it struck him that perhaps the everlasting odor of Pepe Le Pew still clung to him like a cloud.
"Hi," he said. "I'm here to see Dinesh Singh."

The girl winced, and Irwin hoped that it was because she might have a little gas herself. "Please have a seat. I'll ring him for you."
Then it was: "Hello," said a chocolate-colored Indian fellow with gleaming teeth. If he smelled anything unusual he was gracious enough not to let it show.

Irwin followed the young man through an incomprehensible maze of cubicles, extending almost as far into the distance as his increasingly blurry vision could discern. He was making yet another mental note to make an appointment with an eye doctor when he noticed that most of the cubes were empty. Irwin wondered what had happened to all of the former inhabitants.  Why couldn’t they have filled this job with one of those folks?

“All right then, my friend,” said Singh, clapping his brown hands down on the desk. “Do you have any questions?”

And so Irwin interviewed.

At first with a tall, middle-aged thin turkey buzzard of a man with yellowing skin who thought something was rotting in his trash can.

Then with a compact, broad-shouldered, thick-mustachioed Super Mario Brother who apologized for having too much garlic in his eggs that morning.

And with a very young, pudgy, rosy-cheeked girl with a garter belt collection of all sorts and sized adorning the rim of her cube and photographs of newly married couples on every available inch of desk space. She wondered if one of the garter belts was getting a little ripe.

Then Irwin met Abdul Abaya who had a big round table in the middle of his spacious office at the end of the hall, with a large window overlooking the bay to the north.
"Ah, welcome Mr. Irwin. Please have a seat. I have been so looking forward to meeting you!" Irwin felt flush, surprised by the sudden curiosity in his capabilities.

“Well, it’s another dry day out there, isn’t it?” he said, swiveling around to the wide window overlooking the serene silver water. The winter thermal inversion had turned the air around the Bay Area into thin layers of taupe haze. The “no burn” policy had been in effect all through the Christmas holidays, angering many Bay Area residents who insisted that you couldn’t have Christmas without a fire in the fireplace. “And no rain in the forecast, is that right?” Abaya added.

“Yes,” Irwin said.

Abaya swiveled back around. “I just hope there’s enough water left in July for my tomatoes.” Irwin nodded and was gearing up to talk about gardening when Abaya stood and gestured to the various pieces of marketing literature he had laid out on the table.

“Well,” he pronounced, “As you can see our problem is not tomatoes.” He waved his hand across the
piles of literature that looked as if they might have come from several different companies. “We need someone to get a handle on this mess.”

Then he stopped and sniffed the air like a dog, nose twitching uncontrollably. "Do you smell skunk? I smell skunk. Don't you?"

Before Irwin had a chance to answer he was on the phone to building services complaining that a skunk must have gotten into the ventilation system somehow. Then he dialed each of his direct reports and they all admitted that they smelled something odd and noxious, so he dismissed the team for the day, ended the interview, and started packing up his things.

And thus it was over. 

Irwin took a couple of deep breaths to loosen the growing constriction in his chest, then looked around and realized he had no idea how to find his way back to Dinesh Singh's office, much less find his way out of the building. After several panicky minutes walking up and down the corridors between the cubicles he found an exit sign, made his way to the lobby, took a final look at the receptionist's heroic cleavage, walked across the parking lot without a single happy hop, got in his rusty long-eared bunny buggy, engaged the diesel reverberation engine, and headed home through the hazy city.  


Friday, March 21, 2014

Querying: Bassackwards & Cattywumpus

If you've never had the pleasure of "querying" literary agents in hopes of finding one that wants to represent your work and has the editorial contacts in the publishing industry that will want to pick it up, well, you're missing one of the great joys of life. 

First, there's the research. Almost every literary agent out there claims to represent "general fiction", which is Publisher's Marketplace only label for everything that isn't genre fiction or non-fiction. There are other sites like Query Tracker that allows the writer of "general fiction" to further categorize their work, but the agents in general don't distinguish between literary fiction and contemporary fiction, so all an author would be doing is limiting their choices. 

So the list of agent possibilities is quite long. In order to find agents that might be interested in your particular brand of non-genre fiction, you have to go to the agency's website and find them. However their description of what they like is mostly intended to be inclusive - they don't want to miss out on a blockbuster just because they intimated that they weren't down with religious mysteries, for instance. (ie: The Da Vinci Code). 

Once you find someone who has either represented a book that's something like yours, or they claim to like "riveting stories told with a compelling voice" or something you think might be relevant to your novel, you structure your query so they feel like y'all are a match made in heaven. And every agent wants a different type of submission: query letter, synopsis, first chapter, or first two chapters, or first 10 pages - every agent has different requirements. 

If you're a LImbolander you know I like to go for the funny bone. I have yet to find a single literary agent that has admitted to even a remote appreciation of humor, much less someone that likes funny stories. This, we're supposed to assume, is because the general reading public does not like funny stories. Or anything remotely light-hearted, fanciful, bawdy, or inappropriate, regardless of how meaningful it might ultimately be. If an unknown John Irving were to try and shop The World According to Garp, or an unknown Richard Russo was to shop Straight Man, these days it's unlikely an agent would even take a second look. When was the last time a tragicomedy like The Hotel New Hampshire or That Old Cape Magic was a bestseller? 

So here I am doing what I do, trying so hard to be serious for a change, trying to build some
pathos into the relatively insensitive hilarity and dark irony, feeling like I just arrived in a "no-laugh" zone. I'm certain it's just me looking out from what's a sorta dark unemployed place lately, and I'm probably only a third of the way through the query process. It's the same process I used to snare my first two agents, and Learning to Limbo isn't a far cry from Hack, so something is likely to break loose. 

But wouldn't it be great if the authors, the ones that are working for nothing, completely betting on the come, could publish the availability of their book and then let the agents do the research? Given that more and more great books are going to market without an agent or a publisher, but by the pure blood, sweat and tears of the author, wouldn't ya think that the shoe or at least the shoelace might be headed over to the other foot?