Monday, May 31, 2010

Happy Memorial Day

Thirty-nine years ago this weekend, the United States celebrated its first Memorial Day as an official federal holiday. Hard to believe that it took so long for such a holiday commemorating the U.S. men and women who died while in military service to become official, but it did. The holiday original began in the 1860s to honor the Union soldiers of the American Civil War and was then known as Decoration Day. Many states of the U.S. South refused to celebrate Decoration Day. The alternative name of Memorial Day was first used in 1882 and did not become more common until after World War II. It became the official name by Federal law in 1967 and by the Uniform Monday Holiday Act of 1968, Memorial Day became an official federal holiday. The act took effect in 1971.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day!!!

To my mother, wife, aunts, sisters-in-law, friends who are mothers, and all mothers going strong or dearly departed, Happy Mother's Day!!!!

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Heralds of Spring

As I’ve mentioned previously, my favorite sport is baseball. The new season is about a month old. My favorite team, the 27 time World Champion New York Yankees (don’t hate the player, hate the game) is off to a fast start, but still trail the first place Tampa Bay Rays who have had an even faster start. The Yanks play a big series this weekend against their hated rivals, the Boston Red Sox.

NFL hall of famer, Howie Long, contrasted baseball and football the best. In his hall of fame induction speech he said that while baseball was America’s pastime, football was America’s passion. I agree with that. I’m passionate about football, but love baseball. Someone else described the distinction as football being the way life is while baseball is the way life should be. No matter how much the owners and players try to screw it up, and the media criticizes it, baseball is still a great game. A game to enjoy for the whole family, and my family surely does. My four-year-old son is into the game, my oldest nephew is on his high school varsity team, my other nephew is in little league, and I have two teenage nieces who are on softball teams.

Baseball players are famously known as “the boys of summer,” but for me they’re the heralds of spring. They start their season at the best time of the year. Spring always has so much promise, so much hope. The days get longer and the weather starts to get warmer (unless you’re in NYC now with it either is unseasonable cold most of March and this first half of April or de facto monsoon season). Life just feels better at the start of spring. The baseball season is also full of promise and hope.

The thing I cherish about baseball the most is the nostalgia, in the game and in your own experience. The game is a time machine where you can envision the players of the past playing the same game as today, and the players from today playing in the past, even with the whole steroid issue. The personal nostalgia is the memories I have, of my parents being big baseball fans (they still are), but my father being mainly a Met fan, and my mother being a die-hard Yankee fan. I was born in 1972, so I never got to see the original Yankee Stadium, but my mother did. She also got to see Mickey Mantle play. Her memories are my memories now. That’s the beauty of baseball.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Teaser Tuesday is Back!!!

After a longer than expected hiatus from writing, here’s the first excerpt from my work-in-progress (WIP) titled I, Nemesis. Unlike my previous work the novel is set wholly in present time. It’s an urban fantasy/paranormal thriller where orphaned Honduran brother and sister are possessed by a Mayan demon, with the girl using her power for good and her older brother using his power for evil. The more comments the merrier!

This is the opening of the first chapter:

My earliest memory is the day the Earth swallowed my parents. It was a Saturday evening, two days before El Dia de los Muertos, which was only fitting. The holiday in Honduras is not celebrated with parades and parties as it is in Mexico. No, it’s a solemn day to honor your beloved and not-so-beloved dead by cleaning and decorating their graves. The authorities never found my parents’ bodies, so I vowed to find them myself. When I grew older I journeyed deep underground for them, but my effort was in vain. Instead, I found something incomprehensible, powerful, and perhaps even evil.

I was four at the time, nothing but boney limbs and pigtails. Our shanty house was in the hillside slum overlooking La Capital. Rows of houses clotted the sun baked clay and sand slopes sprinkled with tree shrubs and electrical poles. Like the others, my home was a sparsely furnished tin-and-wooden shack sectioned off by hanging blankets. The most expensive thing we had was probably my father’s bottle of Jack Daniels. My mother made sure the house was always clean, though, despite the constant dust and lack of running water.

Rain battered the plywood roof like a Garifuna musician pounding his drum, rattling the bare light bulb and wires overhead and making our house tremble. Water spat down on us through the fog of smoke hovering about the ceiling from my mother cooking my favorite meal: yuca con chicharrón, which is cassava and raw cabbage with fried pork rinds. We kept the door ajar to let some of the smoke out, but it kept on getting blown back in with the gusting wind. The wind also kept in the delicious aromas that masked the damp, musky odor of four people—my parents, my brother, and me—cooped up here for the last couple of days.

I sat cross-legged on the rock-hard floor, wiggling my dirty toes and fiddling with the bowl of food set on my lime green shorts. With my pink Hello Kitty t-shirt I wasn’t so much a fan of loud colors as these were the only kind of used clothes my mother could afford.

Fear had tightened my stomach and I couldn’t eat. All I could think about was the rain and El Mitch, the nastiest hurricane I would ever see. It hit the coast off of La Ceiba that Thursday and rather than go on its destructive way to the Gulf of Mexico it brooded over Honduras, roiling the landscape with wind and rain. It did the one thing no one else could: it cleared the streets of sewage, stray dogs, and mareros—gangbangers.

“What’s a matter, cariño?” my father drawled, looking down at me with a shaky smile and glossy, bloodshot eyes. He was a squat man with a bushy mustache and hair to match, and was dressed in a dingy white t-shirt and jeans. His proper name was Cristobal Antonio Sanchez Garcia, which sounds important but he wasn’t. If his own father hadn’t been murdered by the government years before I was born he might have amounted to something.

He was sprawled on a plastic chair with one arm over the back. The other hand clutched his bottle of Jack on his lap, which he was lucky to buy before the suspension of alcohol sales due to the President declaring a state of emergency. He was an unemployed miner and he stood home with me while my brother went to school and my mother worked long hours at the maquiladora, the garment factory.

“She’s fucking scared shitless, pop,” my brother Junito said with a mouthful of chicharrónes. Cristobal Antonio Jr.—Junito for short—was thirteen and already taller than his namesake with sinewy limbs jutting out of his navy blue tank top and shorts, but the same mop of jet-black hair.

“Watch your mouth, güirro!” my father scolded and flung a pebble at Junito. While my father saved terms of endearment for me, he used the opposite for my brother.

Junito snatched the pebble from the air and tossed it aside. “It’s the truth.”

“Are you scared, my Sofí?” my father asked. My name was Sofia, but everyone called me Sofí. My father put his bottle of Jack down on the wooden folding table and held out his arms for me. I climbed up onto his lap. “Are you scared?” he asked again.

“Yes, papí” I replied sheepishly. “I don’t want us to get washed away.”

The other night before the storm hit, my mother’s Bible study group talked about God’s judgment and the great flood. How the Lord had punished mankind for its wickedness. I didn’t know what we had done that was so bad now, but God was angry at us as I was told. Now, all I could think about were humongous tidal waves crashing down upon us because we didn’t have an ark to escape in.

“There’s nothing to be scared about,” he said. “El Mitch is nothing. Just some rain and wind. And Mitch is a nickname like Carlito and Lulú.”

“And Sofí?” I said, my spirits lifting.

“Exactly. Nothing bad could come from that, could it?”

I shook my head. It wasn’t so bad, now was it? We wouldn’t need an ark after all. I hopped down from my father’s lap and sat at the doorway. I peered out to the sloping road. The streaming rain bounced off of the mud in thousands of tiny discharges. The once hard hillside earth seemed like clumpy soup to me now. Soup? My hunger returned and I began to eat.

“Your father’s right,” my mother said near the stove and covered her mouth as she let out a wheezing cough. It wasn’t from the smoke, but the lint in her lungs from the maquiladora. Her name was Consuelo and she was a stout woman with a pretty face, but she seemed old to me, worn down. She always wore long skirts and long sleeved blouses like the other women in her Bible study group. She had a short temper and was quick to yell at me, but she never hit me though. I was probably the only person she could yell at so I acted as her release. I might have ended up like her if life had been different. In hindsight, I don’t know if that would have been so bad.

“You shouldn’t be scared,” my mother told me, then looked over to my father. “But maybe we should think about going somewhere else.”

“There’s the curfew,” he reminded her.

“No, not tonight, but in the morning.”

My father threw up his hands. “Where would we go? No one will take us in. There’s enough homeless out there suffering, living in garbage dumps, and eating anything the dogs won’t touch. At least we have a home. Plus, the Choluteca River has flooded parts of the city. We’re better up here away from that.”

“I don’t think so, pop,” Junito said, shaking his head.

¡Volteando Jesucristo dulce!” My father slammed his Jack on the table. My mother would normally say something for him taking the Lord’s name in vain, but seeing how moody he was she only reacted with a disappointed scowl. “No one asked you, güirro,” he added. “The government told us to stay in our homes, and I’m not going against the government.”

“The government can go to hell,” Junito scoffed and stood up. “What do they know?”

“They know more than you, güirro. And we know what happens when you go against the government; you disappear like your grandparents.”

Ignoring him, Junito handed our mother his empty bowl and went to the doorway. He was a quick eater and already had finished his meal. Custom had it that whenever a visitor showed up during dinner time the woman of the house insisted on feeding him or her. In our house that meant taking Junito’s food away from him and giving it to the visitor. He stood behind me and stared out to the storm. He was a contemplative boy, always lost in thought. Whenever he was like that I would sit next to him and stare at his face. I never had much on my mind except for wondering what he was thinking. When he would finally realize I was there I’d ask him what he was thinking and the answer was always the same: “Things, just thinking about things.”

“You’ve told us the stories a hundred times, pop” he said faintly, as if his voice came from yards away.

“ ‘You’ve told us the stories a hundred times, pop,’ ” my father mocked, mimicking Junito’s voice. “Well, you better have paid attention, güirro. You think you’re a badass, but El Carro Asesino can get you just the same if you don’t watch out.”

El Carro Asesino—the death car—roamed the streets of La Capital, driven by masked men who gun down gang members, bums, street kids, and anyone else they please. Nobody was certain who drove these cars and no one was ever brought to justice, but everyone believed the military and police were behind them.

“Yeah, I know,” Junito said. “But that still doesn’t mean they know what to do about El Mitch. Ma is right, we should go, but not wait for the morning.”

“You don’t see anyone else out there leaving, do you?”

“No,” conceded Junito.

“Alright then. It’s crazy talk talking about leaving. The—”

A thunderous rumble stifled his sentence. The ground shuddered. A clamor of explosions boomed from beyond the house, mixed with the faint sound of crying and shouting. The ruckus grew louder and everyone froze in the house except my brother. He snatched me from the floor and hoisted me into his arms. The bowl flew out my hands. I didn’t know what upset me more, the terrible noises outside or losing the rest of my supper.