At the Frankenmuth Wickson District Library

FRANKENMUTH, MICH. — Just finished my newspaper work for the day. Tomorrow evening I will call some coaches about their teams and see if I can track down two kids who placed very high in the Genesee County spelling bee.

If you’re a writer, you probably are like me and love to write at libraries. Even in the absence of stern, Nun-style librarians who demand a library be as quiet as the vacuum of outer space, it is still a very tranquil place to be. Much easier to concentrate. You can type at a computer (such as what I am doing) or sit at a table with pen and paper.

Even now, a man is speaking on his cell phone in a slavic language. It’s not Russian, but sounds very similar. Bulgarian? Croatian? Possibly Polish? Russians are like Americans: they come in all different types of physical appearances (short, tall, skinny, heavy, dark hair, blonde, brown eyes, blue eyes, fair skin, dark skin). I don’t mind his banter at all.

Ahhhhhh.

I do hope I can get my laptop fixed so I can return to more writing freedom at home.

This library has one of two writers magazines that I love to read regularly. This leads me to a question: is it really worth it to buy that magazine or should I just spend an hour a month at the library reading it and taking notes? I will have to keep an even closer eye on my finances and eliminate wasteful spending…perhaps I should do this until I can assure myself I have the budget to afford the magazine.

Richard Zowie is a writer. Post comments here or e-mail them to richardzowie@gmail.com.

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Richard’s poetry for March 9, 2011

2-22-2011 — The World Bores Me

The world bores me.

People bore me.

Why do they expect me

To do

Think

Dress

Act

As they do?

Sorry, but I hate most country music.

Sports Illustrated’s swimsuit issue?

I prefer an in-the-flesh woman

Who prefers to show me

Her beauty

In private.

Redneck humor?

I’d rather tolerate

A gargantuan migraine.

Fashion?

<Sigh>

Who made these rules?

Designers who think

Starvation

Is sexy

Especially bore me.

If the world and its people

Don’t understand me,

Maybe with enough

Education

Tolerance and

Sophistication

They will.

2-24-2011 — The Black Bird

The black bird

On the black light pole

Makes me think

Spring will soon dawn

And

Winter will exit, stage left.

2-24-2011 — The Russian Rust Haiku

Я, в Техасе,

Мне очень жарко, но

Я рад быть дома.

Translation:

(When) I’m in Texas,

I am very hot, but

I am glad to be home.

2-24-2011 — Ode of Odor

“Ode to the toilet bowl…

“Stinks real bad!”

Once said the unlearned

But

Comical poet.

Even now,

Nineteen years later,

I find this “ode”

Absolutely hilarious!!!

3-8-11 — Seeing the Sun

The sun

On earth

Is an angry,

Yellowish-white ball

Pink at sunrise

Orange at sunset.

On Mercury,

It is a giant beach ball

Angrier, much brighter, whiter.

Can it be seen

On Jupiter

Underneath

The thick clouds?

Or are the Jovian oceans

Guarded by a

Perpetual black sky that

Crackles with

Endless lightning?

I imagine that

On Pluto,

The sun is a much calmer,

Paler,

Twinkling

White star.

As bright in the Plutonian sky

As the evening star, Venus,

Is in our sky.

With Jupiter, perhaps our

Distant descendants will know.

With Pluto, we’ll know

In July 2015.

I can’t wait.

A day in the life of Richard Zowie, writer or: One Day in the Life of Richard Richardovich

I couldn’t resist paying homage to the late Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn by naming this blog posting the way he did his book One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (Russian: Odin Dyen’ Ivana Denisovicha). No, I’m not in a Russian gulag, although in the winter here in Michigan it might seem that way.

My middle name is actually Paul, but in Russian the middle name is actually the patronymic, meaning a name that identifies your lineage. Richardovich simply means “Son of Richard” since my Dad’s name is Richard. Dad, whose own father went by Paul, would be Richard Pavlovich (the Russians transliterate Paul as Pavel).

The one or two readers of this blog might wonder a writer like me does on a daily basis. Since Monday’s the day I complete my assignments for the week, I thought I’d take you through a typical Monday:

7:30 a.m. — I wake up and thank the person who designed cell phones to have alarm clocks in them. I try to avoid hitting the snooze button. Shower, something to eat, quick check of e-mail and reminding myself of what I have to do this day.

8:15 a.m. — I drive to work and try to keep observant of what’s said on the radio and what I see as I drive into the coverage area of the paper where I work, the Mt. Morris/Clio Birch Run/Bridgeport Herald.

9 a.m. — I arrive at work, pick up any messages left for me, drop off my time card and my mileage sheet to my publisher’s wife (Lisa) and, again, check my e-mail.

9:15 a.m. — Time to get together with my editor (Craig) and co-worker (Mandi) for a meeting to discuss what we have for the paper that week. This includes what is finished and what we’re still working on.

9:25 a.m. – 5 p.m. — My tasks include but are not limited to: finishing writing stories, proofreading them, making changes as necessary and then e-mailing them to my editor; taking photos and editing out the bad ones. I gather up my photos for the week onto a jump drive and deliver them to my editor. I write cutlines for all the photos. If I submit a set of photos from an event, I make sure it’s accompanied by a short story. Sometimes I may have to go out and take more pictures or gather information for another story. I try to make sure the photos I submit are whittled down to the absolute best of the best. If I take 50 pictures of an event, my job is to submit no more than 10 photos (preferably five) to my editor since it takes time to sift through the photos.

The stories and cutlines and word documents are e-mailed to my editor while, again, the photos go on the jump drive.

Any further unfinished stories, cutlines or other items go home as “homework.” During the busy traffic of the high school sports season (especially during basketball/baseball/track in the spring), I usually don’t get to bed until past midnight.

6 p.m. — I get home, eat dinner, find out how everyone’s day went and–yep, you guessed it–check e-mail.

7 p.m. — I start brainstorming for next week’s issue and then update my blogs. I also piddle around on Facebook (a great way to promote my blogs). Other writing projects (journals, fiction, essays) also get done, along with answering e-mails and looking for off-duty freelance work (writing work I do at home on my own time).

9 p.m. — I watch something on television or watch a movie I rented from Netflix. Favorite shows currently are Hell’s Kitchen, Kitchen Nightmares, The Middle.

11 p.m. — Bed. (Earlier, if possible, if I have to go to work at the gas station the next morning and have a 5 a.m. wake up).

Richard Zowie tries to stay busy in his writing life and believes it’s far better to be busy than unemployed. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardzowie@gmail.com.

Longer version of my Writer’s Digest My Story #23 First Date Bizarreness submission

This is a longer version of the story I sent to Writer’s Digest for its Your Story #23 contest. As you can see below, I had to say goodbye to some background on the story. The trick to the 750-word contest is to keep the action to a few snapshots of storyline and then give your reader a vivid image of what’s happening. My creative writing teacher at Pensacola Christian College, Ms. Raymond, used to preach “Show, Don’t Tell.” Hopefully, I’ve picked up on that.

As is the case with the shorter version, Janet is based on a girl I knew at PCC.

The Russian Miracle

By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously taking sips of water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Across from me sat Janet. She wore a blue dress. I never pictured her as the makeup type, but now she wore bright red lipstick. She smiled, but seemed nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. Her long, curly, dark-blond hair, normally pulled up, cascaded down well past her shoulders. Every so often, Janet would absently brush away the locks when they’d get too close to her face.

My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers:

“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.

“He’s a pastor.” Hearing her say this made me cringe. My Dad’s a mechanic whose last visit into a church was when my older sister, Kimberly, got married back in 1984. No pastor would ever consider me fit to marry his daughter.

Janet didn’t ask me what my Dad did.

“Where did you grow up?”

“Pennsylvania,” she replied, her bright sapphire blue eyes darting briefly at mine and then away, as though she’d rather be back in the Keystone State.

“I grew up in Los Patos,” I said. Los Patos, where South Texas University is located, was built around a large lake. They say the settlers who first came there called their new town “Los Patos” because of all the ducks swimming in the lake. Duck, in Spanish, is pato.

Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I could see this was going to be a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll get the hint and not ask again. Most of the time it works but some friends of mine are as oblivious as they are intelligent, so it takes a friendly-but-terse “I just want to be friends” for the guy to get the message. And then the guy spends a month or so acting depressed unless one his friends talks him into guzzling a few Tequila Sunrises at a local bar.

As I asked her a few more casual questions, I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. The problem was, I really thought Janet was The One. Janet was beautiful. Very beautiful. Janet also wasn’t too heavy or too thin. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ with those blue eyes that were so easy to get hypnotized by. I had to work hard not to stare into those caring eyes too long or I’d get real nervous and start acting goofy–something I often do when I’m around a pretty girl.

I first met Janet three years ago at the Baptist Student Union. She was a Christian and a Baptist, like me, which wasn’t very easy to find at STU. I’d often see her in the student union reading her Bible, praying and talking with others as she shared her faith. With her smile and with her godly ways it was easy to fall in love with her even without getting to know her very well.

A few months after meeting Janet, I asked her out. “I like somebody else,” she replied, putting me into a depression that lasted the rest of that month. I tried to avoid going to the BSU during that time. I let things go for a while, only to see her a year later wearing a large gold class ring on her right index finger. Its ruby stone seemed to mock me, as if saying, “HA ha! This girl’s mine! Get someone else.”

Finally, a few months ago, I noticed the ring gone from Janet’s finger. A quick glance on her left hand showed no engagement ring. A friend of mine, Monica, happened to be Janet’s acquaintance. Good news, Kevin! Monica told me. Janet broke up with her boyfriend from back home and isn’t dating anyone!

I waited those two months to ask Janet out, worried she’d realize I’d had Monica act as my private detective and be turned off. Janet accepted my invitation for a date, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, a restaurant on the north side of town where the rich families lived. It has an upscale feel but serves many types of cuisine. You don’t have to wear a tie to get in, but other patrons there look down on you if you don’t. So, to be on the safe side, I wore one despite the hot, dry South Texas climate.

As I sipped more water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and holding her stomach. She started to cry and grabbed onto the table cloth, yanking at it as some painful spasm shot through her body. Her father’s glass of red wine tipped over, spilling onto his steak and forming a scarlet island around it. It also sprayed onto the white table cloth. Everyone in the restaurant gasped and turned towards them. After all, public commotions couldn’t possibly happen at such a nice restaurant.

The girl, who blond hair and blue eyes, was around 12 while her parents looked to be in their forties. She spoke to them, and I recognized the language as Russian (having remembered Mikhail Baryshnikov in the movie White Nights) but didn’t understand anything. The girl kept crying, this time louder, as if someone had turned up the volume on the pain.

I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she gasped, turning towards me.

“I don’t know, but it sounds like they’re speaking Russian,” I replied.

The father, mother and daughter all continued speaking frantic Russian. The daughter’s cries turned into thin, squeaky shrieks as she writhed in her chair and clutched her abdomen. The father looked around the restaurant and screamed something like, “Pa mosh nam! My-ya doch bolna!” over and over again.

Everybody stared, but nobody moved. Everyone looked concerned, but there was the language barrier. Even in the college town of Los Patos, you don’t find a lot of Russian speakers in South Texas. I wondered if these were tourists or visiting relatives of one of the Russian professors at STU.

Janet was about to get up, but before she could I was already over at the table, wondering if I could be of any help. “Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.

He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile of gratitude spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she have pain near her stomach but just to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”

“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.

I pulled out my cell phone and dialled 911. “Would you like to call for an ambulance?”

“No, my friend,” he said. “Nobody else seem to understand me tonight.”

So I called and explained where I was and that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived, emergency medical technicians took the little girl (whom I learned was named Svetlana) to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Zhanna, thanked me continuously, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and briefly cut off my air supply. As they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”

Which, I guessed meant “goodbye.”

I went back to the dinner table where Janet was, sat in the chair and exhaled a deep sigh of relief. “That was a close one!” I said, shuddering and trying to make a joke out of it.

Janet stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide, shiny red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, a smile growing on her face. Her eyes were locked on mine. The minute she spent staring and smiling at me equaled the amount of attention she’d given me in the past few years, it seemed.

“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they got her to a hospital. What amazes me is that nobody else in the restaurant seemed to understand–”

“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”

“Learn it? What are you talking about?”

“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”

“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian. I grew up in Los Patos, and about the only foreign language you hear here–outside the college’s foreign language departments– is Spanish.”

“You’ve never been to Russia?”

“Never.” The only time I’d ever been outside America was to Matamoros, Mexico, to the markets. And there, it’s easy to find people who speak English.

“But I just heard you speaking Russian to that couple,” she said, smiling and pulling out a handkerchief from her purse to wipe away a few tears that had formed.

I started at her as she finished with her her handkerchief, looking for signs that maybe she was teasing me. “You said you heard me speak Russian?”

“Yes,” Janet said.

“Janet, the only foreign language I’ve ever studied in my life is Spanish. I don’t speak Russian. In fact, I couldn’t understand why everybody else in the restaurant seemed to be ignoring the father as he kept saying ‘Help us! My daughter is sick!’ over and over again.”

She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear is you speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘doch’ and ‘bolna’.”

I later learned those words meant help, daughter and sick.

I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”

She stared me for a long time, a smile on her face. Monica told me once that Janet had this uncanny ability to read people and tell when they’re lying. But instead of getting nervous from her smile, I just stared back at her.

Finally, Janet said, “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”

“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”

“Yes,” she laughed. “I can’t wait to tell my atheist roommate about this. She probably won’t believe me, but this could help to plant a seed.”

It turned into a nice date that night. I’m thinking of asking her out again.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.

Your Story #23: First Date Bizarreness

This is my submission to Writer’s Digest‘s Your Story #23. I completed it in about an hour or so. Normally I like to take my time but the past few weeks have left me with little time for fiction writing.

The prompt is: a couple’s on their first date when something very unusual happens at a table near them.

“Janet” is based on a girl I knew at college.

The Russian Miracle
 
By Richard Zowie

I sat at the dinner table, nervously sipping water, oblivious of how horrible the tap water tasted. Janet wore a blue dress, her long, curly dark-blond hair cascading down past her shoulders. She smiled, nervous, as if late for an urgent appointment. My attempts at conversation resulted in short answers.
 
“What does your Dad do for a living?” I asked.
 
“He’s a pastor.”
 
“Where did you grow up?”
 
“Pennsylvania.”
 
Even long before our food arrived (she ordered a Cobb salad while I ordered spaghetti and meatballs), I recognized this as a “mercy date.” A beautiful girl goes out with a geeky guy out of pity, hoping he’ll ask her out only once, get the hint during the date and not ask again.
 
I sighed and tried to hide my disappointment. Janet was very beautiful. When she smiled, dimples appeared on her cheeks. She was about 5’3″ and had bright sapphire-blue eyes. She wasn’t too heavy or too thin.
 
I first met Janet three years ago at South Texas University’s Baptist Student Union. I’d often see her in the BSU reading her Bible and praying. Finally, I managed the nerve to ask her out. Janet accepted, and we went to the Los Patos Diner, an upscale restaurant in Los Patos, Texas.
 
As I swallowed yet another glass of water and tried to think of another question to ask, a young girl at the table next to us started groaning and clutching her stomach. She cried and spoke to her father and mother in some foreign language that sounded like Russian. The girl’s cries turned into piercing screams.
 
I looked at Janet, bewildered. That distant, vacant look was gone and was replaced by deep concern. “Do you know what’s going on?” she asked me.
 
“I don’t know, but it sounds a little like Russian,” I replied, getting up and going over to their table.
 
“Can I help you, sir?” I asked, speaking slowly.
 
He looked at me, his eyes a pale blue, a smile spreading across his round face. His sweaty bald head shined in the overhead lights. “Yes, yes, you can!” he said, speaking English in a Russian accent. “My daughter very sick. She said she has pain near her stomach but to the right of it. She also say it hurt very badly.”
 
“It sounds like her appendix might be infected,” I said, remembering my nephew, when he was nine, had those exact same symptoms and needed an emergency appendectomy.
 
I pulled out my cell phone, dialed 911 and called for an ambulance, explaining that a little girl needed to be rushed to the hospital. In five minutes an ambulance arrived and emergency medical technicians took the little girl to the hospital. The father and mother, named Vladimir and Svetlana, thanked me for helping out their daughter Zhanna, their Russian accents growing thicker. The mother hugged me and as they left, she said to me, “Doe svee don ya!”
 
Presumably, “goodbye.”
 
I returned to the dinner table where Janet was. She stared at me, her mouth locked into a wide red O of surprise. “That was amazing, Kevin!” she said, smiling.
 
“I know,” I replied. “The little girl apparently has appendicitis, and they’re taking her to a hospital. Everybody in the restaurant just stood there while the father asked for help–”
 
“I didn’t know you spoke Russian!” Janet interrupted. “Where did you learn it?”
 
“Learn it? What are you talking about?”
 
“You spoke a few minutes with that couple and it sounded to me like you were speaking Russian.”
 
“You’re joking, right?” I asked. “I don’t speak Russian.”
 
She shook her head. “Kevin, all I could hear was you and the dad speaking Russian. When you first spoke, I heard you say something like ‘Pa-moch’ and ‘goss-puh-deen’.”
 
I later learned those words meant help and sir.
 
I shook my head. “Janet, I spoke English to them. As God as my witness, I don’t speak Russian.”
 
She stared me for a long time. Finally, another smile. “Well, it sounds like I just witnessed something out of the second chapter of Acts.”
 
“When Peter speaks in one language and people from many other countries hear him in their own language?”
 
“Yes,” she laughed.
 
It turned into a nice date that night. I’d needed a miracle to make the date succeed, and that’s just what I’d received.

© Copyright 2010 by Richard Zowie. All rights reserved. May not be republished without permission.