Mr. Robert’s Bones FREE till Dec 1.For young adult and adult readers. (Click image below to go to Amazon page with download option.)
Set in New Orleans, kids poking for hidden silver in an abandoned house awaken long-forgotten memories of racism and betrayal. The quest for the silver is especially nerve-racking for Annie, the one who actually sees the ghosts, both of her deceased mother and of the bygone denizens of the house. Her friends want to believe her but can’t, and she herself is torn between running away from it all and following the ghosts into the house’s dark history. An ensemble of mysterious old characters join forces with the young transgressors as they come to terms with the neighborhood’s past. In the process, they discover what makes a neighborhood: the ability to work together while accepting some differences as absolute, maintaining an organic connection to the communal past, and having some unity of purpose to bind the kids and the old people of the neighborhood.
Time for a ritual re-blog:
You can find this line in Hunter S. Thompson’s Screwjack: “We live in a jungle of pending disasters.” There you have it. Hunter S. Thompson in one sentence — the journalistic earnestness encroached upon by a drug-induced paranoia so fraught with anxiety that it turns inside out and becomes hilarious. “Will my plane crash tomorrow? What if I miss it? Will the next one crash?” And on and on. The master of the “hysterical” voice, because his prose is fully hysterical in both senses — expressing an unhinged reaction to the circumstantial detail around him, and eliciting robust laughter from the reader. He reconciles the irreconcilable, those two zones of hysteria’s meaning, the serious psychoanalytic condition and the comical delight. I’m just never quite sure if I’m laughing with or at the deranged voice coming off the page.
Another early scene from Hippies, my novel-in-progress, setting the stage:
The Magic Mushroom Head Shop and Dry Cleaners sprouted up like a beautiful extempore fungus in the Faubourg Marigny one day in early 1967 after a heavy New Orleans rain. Things happened fast in those days, especially for a generation of rootless and unrestrained youth, so three years and some months back from this sunny morning in April 1970 – before Woodstock and the Summer of Love, before Martin Luther King or Bobby Kennedy had been shot, before Sgt. Pepper’s – was a long way back, and no one really knew from whence the head shop had sprung. The dry cleaners counter seemed to pre-date the shop, as the hippies swarming into the Marigny at that time had never seen anyone use those beneficial services and indeed were under the impression that the only people who used dry cleaners were over fifty, square, and enormously wealthy. In any event, the head shop that featured pipes, rolling papers, lighters, and other such bric-a-brac was certainly a product of recent cultural trends, and the folk wisdom of the neighborhood had settled on “one day in early 1967” as the definite nativity of the place in its current form.
The shop was on Frenchmen Street, down where the two-stories with wrought iron balconies yielded to one-story creole cottages. This particular cottage was brightly painted, with a banner on top of the door depicting an idyllic horizontal landscape and what appeared to be brown-robed monk at one end happily smoking a long-stem pipe under the canopy of a fleshy mushroom. The smoke from his pipe curled up into the gills of the mushroom and around the cap and out across the horizontal blue space of blissful painted sky.
The owners were pair of drifting lovers, Claire and Cool Breeze, who had found their spot. They were no longer teenagers but had matured into their late twenties bodies as picture-perfect hippies from the heartland of Minnesota, the kind that editors of Life and New York Magazine loved to put on glossy covers to show the paradox of innocent beauty and hippie menace. Claire had long blonde hair and a model’s body; Cool Breeze was medium-tall and well-made, with prominent features and a countenance both sweet and grizzly, like a Duane Allman lookalike, but with his own blonde hair knotted into a thick braid that hung to his waist. The pair had gone to the Upper Haight in the early days to escape the oppression of the Midwest. The Grateful Dead was already on the scene, and Janis Joplin, but it was all new. You could still see Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti day tripping from North Beach to the Haight to see what was happening, and Richard Brautigan would show up looking half pioneer and half proto-hippie. Claire and Cool Breeze opined that the Scene in the Haight was already dead before that June of 1967, when Sgt. Pepper’s was released and disaffected teens from everywhere would flow in a tidal wave to Haight-Ashbury for the “Summer of Love.”
“You could tell by the tagline, man – ‘The Summer of Love’ – the Scene had already been co-opted by the Man and his mass media,” Cool Breeze would opine. “Corporate branding and magazine stories for old ladies back east. That’s what the ‘Summer of Love’ was.”
Of course there was no consensus on Cool Breeze’s historical analysis. Indeed, the history of the Scene was – and still is – taking shape. Lots of people thought the Summer of Love was – and still is – an awakening moment for the counterculture. But Cool Breeze and Claire were real purists, happy to have found their niche in the old part of New Orleans after bailing from the Haight, but happy to reminisce about the authenticity of the early days. And they had the ears of their impressionable young hippie customers, who were, truth be told, often entirely innocent of history ancient, recent, or present.
When Claire and Cool Breeze first wandered into the Faubourg Marigny of New Orleans, it was a working class neighborhood, just downriver from the French Quarter, rough and tumble. A few gay couples had come in, trailblazers as it were, restoring historical homes in a neighborhood they could call their own, but otherwise tourists and outside traffic barely made it as far as the creole cottages. So Claire and Cool Breeze got a place on the cheap and started sanding and scraping and hammering to make this one creole cottage into their head shop dream. They intended to top the building with a gigantic, brightly painted, sheet-metal psilocybin mushroom cap, modeled on the rotating root beer mugs that famously adorned Frostop restaurants. Perhaps thinking of the longboats of their Viking forebears, which were protected from ill favor by conspicuously sculpted figureheads, they may have thought that their gigantic mushroom would protect their place of business from the Man. But, alas, it was not to be, for the Faubourg Marigny Historic Preservation Society still had enough squares on the council to torpedo the idea.
My blog-mate, Assia, makes me want to go to back to Barcelona with all her lovely pictures of the place.
Here’s a draft of the first scene from my novel-in-progress, “Hippies” (Log line: Struggling with the contradictions of the 1960s counterculture, a group of hippies discovers an LSD-spinoff drug that triggers past life regressions and leads to a dramatic climax.)
Jazmine lay flat on the massage table, tucked in from the New Orleans night by panes of dimly lit glass. The powder blue sheet felt crisp and cool against the ivory skin of her back. It wasn’t really a massage table. It was a solid table, though. Russian birch, the vendor had said when she and Ziggy bought it at a dusty flea market on the outskirts of town. Solid brown, now covered with a soft mat and the cool blue sheet. She felt her fingertips tingle. Then the skin on her lower back. The cells of her skin floating, blending into the liquid surface of the cool blue sheet. A flash of color darted inward from the periphery of her visual field. Bright, bold color, but she couldn’t say if it were blue or red or any other specific color. The elixir was taking hold.
Sure, they had all dropped acid before. But this was different. The idealist, genius, pointy-bearded kid they all called Ragman had his fingers in this one.
Now the room was undulating with digestive rhythm. The disembodied candle flames hovering around the massage table, the dark reddish brown mahogany walls of this parlor relic of an 1830s house. Rippling and heaving in a visual ebb and flow. No, a tactile ebb and flow. Visual and tactile were only surface distinctions anyway, ludicrous human categories thrown over the primordial swell. She felt like a live animal swallowed by a snake. Bulging and undulating her way through the snake’s body. Then she was the snake’s body. Someone took her hand.
She had first met Ragman before Ziggy. She and two friends had gone to the nude swimming hole, a quiet cove in the lake where you could always find a few teenagers and twenty-somethings enjoying the full-body sun at the grassy edge of the cool water. But it was a little crazy that day. Something going on. Maybe twenty or thirty people. Balloons everywhere, and people in fantastic garb like Dr. Seuss figures mingling with the nudes. Jazmine stripped off her clothes and waded into the cool water, then plunged. When she came up, Ragman was next to her, smiling that child-rascal smile of his. He was a little shorter than average, with untamed brown hair, wide-set hazel eyes, that funny little pointy beard, and something irresistible. The folk menagerie was a bunch of kids he had met on the road, billing themselves as “The Red Queen’s Naked Circus” as they passed through town. Next thing you know, Jazmine and her friends were hanging out with the Circus in Ragman’s back yard. That’s how Ragman was. He didn’t seem particularly spontaneous – actually he seemed rather methodical personally – but spontaneous things were always happening around him. And he made friends easily.
With her free hand, Jazmine moved her fingers around the edge of the sheet to feel the Russian birch. The painting on the wall, framed by a burgundy ceiling-to-floor curtain leading nowhere, a Madonna and child, was looking at her, talking. Not the Madonna but the painting itself was talking, the royal blue and shimmering gold, a visual language that she thought must be older and deeper than our normal language. An olfactory language, the cedar robe in its own obscure corner of the room. Then everything was shimmering. The candles, the creamy brown icing walls crystallizing, the window panes of deep black quartz, all a vibrating mosaic. She saw for the first time that all of this reality was just millions of tiny atomic bits of colored glass. How could she not have seen this before? Someone took her other hand. Yes, they were here with her. Ziggy and Ragman and Pepper. What love!
Then she went through the walls. Why not? Her body was 99% empty space. The walls were 99% empty space. She filtered through and was outside but in a wooded area, not a city. A village. Everyone in peasant garb. Like tunics, forest green and tawny brown, flowing in space. Goats and chickens on the dirt road. Earthy smells. Peat and straw and manure. She saw her own hand reach out into the space of the village.
“Rebecca,” called a voice. She was facing a man with short-cropped curly black hair, beady eyes, and a prominent – almost a hook – nose. He was in the prime of life – thirtyish maybe – but had a stern ruggedness that made him seem older. “Rebecca, where were you at the matins? The Lord Bishop has come and gone. And you and me and Jeremiah with work to do.”
At the mention of work, she felt a rush of anxiety. What work? Where was she? She saw the edge of her own face. Breathing heavily, undulating. Her stomach moving up and down.
“Jazmine, wake up,” came a clear voice. She felt Pepper’s voice wash over her and smooth her out on the cool crisp blue of the sheets. And she felt Pepper’s hand squeeze hers firmly. She could always count on firmness from Pepper. Always ready to hug you or snap at you, never knew when to shut up, especially around the cops, but you could count on her as a friend. Ziggy held Jazmine’s other hand, waiting for her to reach her own element.
She stirred and then rested again. Ziggy watched Jazmine’s body relax into the mat. Raven black hair, straight but thick like woven black silk. Ivory skin with a slight undertone of pink, giving the impression of a radiant glow from some internal light source. Dark eyes with a hint of violet. Like a mesmerizing blend of Egyptian and Frankish. Her body shapely but soft, not taut. But it was not her beauty that defined Ziggy’s connection so much as her purity. Even her sensuality had not initially triggered a sensual response in him.
Now, as she lay there, utterly relaxed and opening dreamy eyes as if for the first time, Ziggy’s thoughts carried him back to the night he had met her at Polo’s Pizza…