Monday, November 16, 2009

Part 32 - the last entry?

I didn't realize that I was lucky enough to get three-extra pages in my last section - I guess we thought of them as a bonus for not getting to be first when we were dividing things up next to the dumpster at Manhattan Mini Storage.

I just finished reading the last line a few minutes ago and am still in mild shock. It ended in such an anticlimactic whimper that I turned the page looking for more text. I thought I had mixed up the pages for at least five minutes. My section was extra dog-eared and in the process having to restack them I dropped the eight pages on the floor, so after reading page 169, the final page, I really thought I had accidentally dropped a 170 under my chair, or misfiled it between 165 and 166. But no. It ended with Matt and Rowan going to breakfast. Just like that, it was over. I became unexpectedly choked up when I realized that I'd actually finished. I didn't anticipate any sentiment whatsoever but now I am significantly teary. The last time I cried over a non-family death was during “The English Patient” years ago...and even then I was sufficiently whiskeyed-up to attribute the crying to my altered state. Now, with the clarity of ten minutes of hindsight, I'm realizing “The Greenhouse” unfolded over a very transitional time in my life. Since it started, I've been married and laid off. You've gone from New York to Hong Kong to New York...and soon to Hong Kong again. And it began on a hot, early summer day and it ends in the cold November rain, much like Axel Rose's break-up with Stephanie Seymour. I know the project isn't over, but the center of it is, the bridge to that slice of time is. I almost don't have the energy to tell you what happens at the end… it's so much more flaccid than I imagined. I wanted the conclusion to match its personal significance, I guess. It reminds me, though it's far less grave, of the night my grandfather died. My mother collapsed to her knees when she got the news on the phone. It was a Thursday night and we were watching Family Ties on television. The show kept going as we grieved and I became more angry that the laugh track kept playing than sad that my grandfather had died. It seemed so disrespectful and the jokes became unbearably formulaic. For the first time I realized that the world would beat on implacably in spite of anyone's need for a moment of stillness.

So, anyway, Reshevsky lived long enough with a gunshot wound to call in the Feds. Rowan finds him bleeding from the abdomen. There are some good dragged-streaks-of-coagulated-blood descriptions in the section. It actually gets a bit gory. Reshevsky admits his jealousy in dying breaths and then begs Rowan to put him out of his misery by handing him the cyanide tablet. He takes it. He dies. I was quite moved at this point, too.

So the gig was that Kee got Lucy hooked on heroin on purpose to make her more manipulable. I guess Lucy and her greenhouse were perfectly legit at one point, and she went derelict only after the junk took hold. Cater did some work for the "organization" in Guatemala...we never learn for sure but are to expect that it's the CIA. He recommended Chao for a job infiltrating the greenhouse crime ring, and, when he was killed, Cater felt a special responsibility to reenlist and avenge the death. Our two lovers wake in bed, schmaltz-talking (this part was nearly unbearable), calling each other "honey" and caressing and caressing and caressing. No sex though. It made me remember an article I read by this conservative journalist named Shelby Steele in the WSJ a few years ago in which he brought up a point about how if a president was overheard using the word "nigger" on a golf course in 1960 it would've been considered a gaffe, but not an unforgivable or career threatening one. By the same token if Eisenhower were caught with a woman other than his wife on that same golf course, it would've been seen as an inexcusable demonstration of moral bankruptcy, and most likely career ending. Now it's reversed; pres can get blowjobs under his desk from interns, but wouldn't dare disparage a minority. This novel is very telling in those terms. There's no sex (this was written a few years before the summer of love) but there's plenty of off-color remarks about Chinese. If it were written today there'd be semen flying around the room but our gang would no doubt be a multi-cultural non-denominational crime syndicate.

Anyway, Cater and Rowan get hungry and go get breakfast. The end. (I end abruptly for you, too, can get the effect of page 169.) I will forever use page 169 as a metaphor for being underwhelmed by way of high expectations.

I'm sad. We must redeem this story. I won't let it be over.

I'm going to go sulk somewhere now. You know, on top of it all, I put my underwear on backwards this morning and it's all bunched up. I need to press reset.



Part 31 - the beginning of the end

I can't believe this is my last section - it seems like yesterday that I was sitting at home in Hong Kong in the middle of summer, opening up the first fresh pages of the manuscript... all bright eyed and bushy tailed in anticipation of the adventures Rowan would be taking us on. Who knew it would end here; stuck in a dank greenhouse, with a physically inept 24 year old heroine (oh, and heroin too).

No mice here - but I do have a nasty cold, and spent all of yesterday at home sleeping. At least Tony was around to entertain me in his union suit. We're both sick, and decided we would use our time to make homemade ginger beer. This is going to be my new enterprise - artisanal ginger beer. Definitely a luxury item, and thus if I can make my own, think of all the pennies I'll save!

Back to Rowan and her adventures. I was trying to think of a reason why you would want to get rid of your gardener by depositing his body in a mushroom patch - I wonder if anyone has done any research into the benefits of decaying human carcass as fertilizer, or if this was a common method of body disposal by any organized crime syndicate. Anyhow, as we begin my section, Lucy is requesting that she take a leave of absence to shoot up ('just a little lift'), which clearly irritates Kee. This leaves Kee, one of his Korean henchmen, with Rowan and Matt. Matt attempts to get Kee to turn himself in, apparently Matt has filed a report with his 'people' (who are these people? the government??) and they are onto Kee and Lucy's evil plot. This fails to scare Kee who is looking forward to killing Rowan and Matt and making them into fertilizer.

Just as the conversation between these two becomes almost too stifling and cliched to bear, a shot rings out! Who could it be? It's Reshevsky! He's alive! The clever bastard was only playing dead and of course wanted to come back to save his darling Rowan. Kee has two shots left, and Reshevsky has five... ah, mathematics comes to the rescue once again. Rowan is released and promptly flies to Matt's side to release the cords at his feet. A gun fight then breaks out between Kee and Reshevsky - Reshevsky fires the first two shots, the first of which kills the Korean guard, and the second of which misses Kee. Kee returns fire, and it seems as though this really is the end of dear old Reshevsky. More physical shenanigans ensue - Matt and Kee begin grappling (although Matt is still bound at the wrists, making him seem more of a lumbering rock). Keep in mind Rowan is not bound nor particularly physically injured, yet I think the extent of her participation is that of the helpless onlooker. You'd think she would have been able to find a rock or a garden rake to hurl at Kee. I'd like to think if I was ever in such a situation, I would have the presence of mind to do more than gape.

And her helplessness pays off. Matt is defeated by Kee (again mathematics must be used here - remember Kee has two free hands, and Matt has zero). Kee is now free to grab Rowan and aim his gun at her while Matt lies unconscious on the ground.... Is this to be Rowan's last few minutes? What will her last thoughts be? But no! Matt has only been playing dead and has managed to leap up and attempt to choke Kee. This dance of death continues until a great blaze of light illuminates everything. The cavalry has arrived, and somewhere a shot rings out resulting in a well timed gunshot to Kee's neck. I'm assuming these are the 'people' who Matt mentioned earlier. Whoever they are (the anti-commie brigade? a rival gardening party?), they've come to save the day, and have an ambulance with them.

So, I'm handing the last section over to you. Make it a good one.

Part 30 - the end of a marathon and a decaying foot


It was strange digging into my box of manuscripts and taking the second-to-the-last one out to read. It finally feels like we're going to make it. This rivals my first marathon in terms of the sense of accomplishment. Holy shit, I just saw a mouse and almost had a heart attack. That's the first mouse I've ever seen in my studio. I think he or she came out when I turned the radio off to write, thinking it was safe to come nibble on some tubes of Prussian blue paint. Because both my parents leaped onto furniture whenever they saw a mouse, I'm forever scarred...and scared. I've never been able to shake my fear. Seeing your brawny father nearly wet his pants at the sight of a helpless golf ball-size rodent will change a man, you know?

So Rowan is cowering in the putrid mushroom bed when her foot slips out from under her. Trying to free herself she digs into the muck and finds a badly decayed human foot. So that's macabre. This causes Rowan to scream, which gives her location away. Within seconds she's surrounded by flashlights. The thugs drag her, still retching, into a room where Cater is being held captive. He has welts on his head and cigarette burns up his arm. For such a stylized and generally inert buildup, the details of torture and death have been quite convincing. Maybe Ms. Lamb has a sadistic side that she needed to let loose.

Apparently the jellied body parts are Ah Sing's, the "laid-off" greenhouse employee. I'll say. I wonder if he qualifies for unemployment. They are Communists after all. He should at least get a state funeral. The group then conducts what played out in my head as a clich├ęd prisoner/captor exchange, where a pointed gun and an inexcusably long explanation of the crook's motive lasts just long enough for the captors to escape...Cater suddenly looked like harmonica-era Bruce Willis to me. Only, our captors haven't escaped...yet. Wow, though, the blood thirst of Lucy. She seems REALLY anti-social now. All the words wasted by Lamb on her inner-psyche are now out the window; she's turned from disturbed, complex, reluctant crime syndicate leader to Jeff Daumer. I think she might make a pate out of Sing's foot. I'm surprised she doesn't have cats; people that crazy HAVE to have cats. Anyway, as she's waxing sadistic with Rowan and Matt, she admits to shooting and killing that's official. Our first real loss so far. I kinda liked that guy.

In an attempt to extract information from Matt, Lucy approaches Rowan to start the torture session. It seems they don't actually believe Rowan knows anything, but are using the couple's mutual love as leverage. This actually redeems the story a bit, because there was really no good reason for the network to be hatin' on Rowan.

Just as Lucy is about to tee off on Rowan, my section ends. I don't know if it was seeing the mouse or reading the story, but my blood's flowing.

Tell me more, Cee.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

part 29 - another field trip, the Immaculate Virgin and an axe

I can't believe this will be the second to last section I will have to convey to you - it's become quite a pleasant part of my week. Everything from re-reading your emails to me and trying to decipher your baseball analogies, to thumbing through the typewritten manuscript with the oddly frenetic red pen editing, has been very comforting. But I admit, these last few pages have been much more fun to read compared to the doldrums of the middle 80 pages where much of the joy I derived was from Rowan's eating habits (see entry re. grapefruit).

Yesterday's semi-surreal field trip has only cemented my feeling that I have absolutely no idea what is going on in this project. One minute we're trying to figure out how to make this into a book project; the next we're at the Mission of the Immaculate Virgin on Staten Island, where happy orphans used to plant beans and cabbage on the farm in order to earn their keep. Every single person we met yesterday was like a character study from a Coen Brother's movie - from the pensioners at the diner counter to the blue haired secretary, and of course Bill D'Ambrosio. And you know what else I learned? Staten Island has some very well kept turf fields - nothing like the dust bowl where kids play football in my neighborhood park.

But back to Rowan. What on earth is the point of capturing her? Why would Aunt Lucy even invite her to Pleasant Plains in the first place? What information could she possibly have that would be worth disposing of a body for? Smart villains and heroin addictions clearly do not mix. How's that for a Public Service Announcement? 'She used to be a really good villain... really knew her stuff, could torture the hell out of anyone!... but now... all she wants to do is sit there and inject smack...'
We begin my section with her about to lunge for the axe. I am clueless as to why Reshevsky has suddenly decided to release her - are her feminine wiles that great? Regardless, Reshevsky has taken on the mannerisms of the most cliched Bond criminal (or is he now a hero?) by declaring his intentions to plunge the entire greenhouse into darkness 'with one movement!'. And with that, he throws the master switch, which is Rowan's cue to grab the axe and decapitate Kee. However, Kee has already pounced at Reshevsky and chaos ensues. Rowan is ineffective (what else is new) and only manages to slam the axe into a wall, so she flees through the dark greenhouse instead, hearing gunshots on her way out... It seems as though her count is a goner.

This section does finally let the author write some flowery (hah) prose comparing the texture of Kee's skin to the waxy feel of the unseen orchid petals that brush up against her.

Rowan is trapped in the greenhouse - unable to find a way out, with a variety of Asian henchmen (yes we make awesome henchmen - in fact I'm going to start up a business 'henchmen for rent') all out to get her while Kee and Aunty Lucy yell out orders. Unfortunately in the melee, she manages to crawl towards the poisonous plant wing, the wing with no door (cue more ominous scary music)! Oleanders make another appearance, as do some stinky fungi. Just as Rowan thinks she's safe though the stench of some noxious plant threatens to overcome her...

no rest for the weary.

part 28 - cold weekend, and a potassium cyanide tablet


No fair, you got the juciest five-page section yet. But I'll take it if it means we've finally turned the corner and the last thirty pages will be an unending string of car chases, knife fights, tipped fruit stands and boiling rabbits.

By the way, you know I feel your pain about the cold; I barely left the house this weekend. I felt crummy and still don't know if it was temperature provoked malaise or an actual bug, but whatever it was it led to an incredibly unproductive two days. And sorry for missing your open studio - that was one of my planned events. In spite of any amount of unbearably cold weather, I have to say that one should only wear UA gear if you can answer "yes" to two of the following, you: own a snowmobile and can do tricks on it, are a professional defensive back, have three boys under ten years old who need a masculine real-life role model to get them to stop watching wrestling on tv, watch Rock of Love with Brett Michaels, listen to Creed, have hit someone in the head with a beer bottle or given fist bumps in job interviews. I'm guessing "no," so I'd encourage you to go shopping for some gore-tex.

As you'd expect, the adventure continues in my section. Reshevsky proves a reluctant captor, dividing his time between guarding Rowan and professing his affection for her. I have to say, I agree with you about the strangeness of the unfolding action, but I do think it makes literal sense. The problem is not literally deciphering what's happening, but reconciling the innocuousness of Rowan's actions with the comparative severity of the consequences. I guess you could make the case that Rowan was paranoid and delusional but just happened to have her paranoid fears confirmed and then almost willed a reaction by telling Reshevsky and Cater. But I mean, c'mon, didn't one of them have to be involved? She's confessing to one-fourth of the staff. Imagine if you're a paranoid shut-in constantly thinking someone is going to break into your apartment and murder you and your family; you may sleep with an eye open for fifty years straight, confirming how nuts you are to everyone who knows you. But, out of the millions of those paranoids in the world, somewhere someone's delusional premonitions will eventually be confirmed when an axe-murderer breaks into their house, chopping them into stew meat. For 999,999 people, they'll have to end their lives thinking they might have been just a bunch of basket cases, but for that one, as the axe is coming down on his head, he's saying, "goddamit, I TOLD you so. Why wouldn't you listen to me!"

Maybe that one is Rowan. Yeah, I can hear you in my ear saying she has more reasons than my uncle Doug to be paranoid, but still, you get the idea.

Reshevsky presents something of a monologue as he's standing over a bound Rowan. He rambles about having learned to be callous as a defense mechanism, and how Rowan's sweetness penetrated his armored exterior. And, alas, he cannot allow them to torture her for the little information she has. So he unties her and supplies her with an escape route. He mentions also that he will not do anything about Cater, who means "less than nothing" to him. Aware of what will happen to him when the brass finds out he let a captive escape, Reshevsky reveals a potassium cyanide tablet that he'll take if Kee tries to get all Michael Madsen on him. But before they can hatch the plan to free Rowan, Kee steps in and questions why Rowan's mouth is not gagged. Reshevsky stands up to Kee and they go back and forth throwing insults at each other, James Bond style. During the volley, Kee alludes to Lucy torturing Cater to get information out of him, and that they are ready to waterboard Rowan into spilling what she knows.

This is the problem: the lead up to this point has been so breezy that it is shocking to find that the gang is actually proceeding with plans to torture and murder the two agitators. It is also curious that Rowan was invited to the Greenhouse for a vacation, while a top, and not well kept, secret plan was going on in the backyard. It's not like Rowan was pulling any CSI maneuvers on the farm. She cried when her beans were limp and had 37 dollars in her pocket and she STILL uncovered their criminal network. John Wayne Gacy never hosted Tupperware parties. Maybe that's a problem stemming from trying to run a criminal empire while hooked on smack.

I found myself envisioning most of the events in this section as if they were from a scene in an early 90's Tom Berringer-style action movie. I think it was Shoot to Kill with Sidney Poitier, but am not totally sure. This was no-doubt cultivated by the conventional crime-movie plot details: bound prisoners, garrulous, philosophical captors, mid-escape surprises, etc.. And that had me recall the scene in Don DeLillo's White Noise where Jack and Murray go to visit the MOST PHOTOGRAPHED BARN in America and end up taking pictures of people taking pictures; agreeing as it were to be part of a "collective perception." How can you read something afresh when you already KNOW IT as a stereotype?

Anyway...the final scene involves Reshevsky trying to give hand signals to Rowan behind his back as he's negotiating with Kee. Something about the power switch and pointing to the nearby axe.....maybe Rowan will try to steal third base and end up getting offed by her Aunt in a rundown.

Only you can tell me if she does, Cee. (I'm watching the Yankees game while writing this, clearly)

Batter up.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Part 27 - a smackdown in Under Armour.

Oh Shane, my section is precious. I read it greedily over my bowl of morning oatmeal (oatmeal - not a luxury, but unfortunately I still don't find it particularly tasty), and would have laughed several times out loud, was it not for my mouthful of breakfast. And what a miserable morning it is; I had been looking forward to our field trip to Staten Island but standing around in a suburban wasteland in rainy 45 degree weather sounds terrible.

Which reminds me I need to buy some Under Armour leggings for my trek this upcoming January. I think we've bonded before over our hatred of cold weather and every additional year I spend away from subtropical climate, I am reminded that I am a creature of warmth.

None of what happens in my five pages makes sense, but I was so desperate for a change of pace - something other than the lovesick pining of a 24 year old girl - that every single delicious detail was savored, licked and swallowed whole.

Our Rowan awakes, groggy and in pain, finding herself gagged and tied at the wrists and ankles, in the shack where the generator is in the back of the Greenhouse. She finds a Korean gardener guarding her ... um, weren't they all supposed to Chinese gardeners? are we all interchangeable in 1960's America? And who else! It's Reshevsky! Dum dum dum de dum... ominous 'I knew it!' music plays... He barks at the gardener, telling him that the orders have changed, and he, Reshevsky is supposed to be in charge of the girl now. While this exchange takes place Rowan kicks herself for betraying herself to Reshevsky while simultaneously worrying about Matt. Was he being tortured? is he bound and gagged? is this supposed to turn into a weird erotic novel as I had proposed it would in the beginning?
Just as Rowan begins to worry about Matt she overhears Reshevsky imperiously tell the Korean to go tend to the other man with the questioning (and the Korean obeys, just as 'his peasant ancestors no doubt obeyed their Emperor').

Its interesting to note that Rowan never doubted that Matt was also in custody. If I suddenly found myself poisoned, gagged and held prisoner in a shack I have a feeling I would think everyone was in on the plot - but then again maybe I've never been in love with Matt Cater.

Reshevsky then proceeds to remove her gag and in the manner of the James Bond villain proceeds to tell her everything about the evil plot. What a wonderfully convenient plot device, especially as we only have 30 pages left in the novel. One tasty little morsel we discover is that Reshevsky wishes Kee would use scopolamine (a truth serum!) on Cater, rather than traditional pain.

Reshevsky, like all gentleman villains, of course confesses he thoroughly enjoyed Rowan's company, and considered her a real friend. And like all gentleman villains, he has a dark past which has forced him into his current role - apparently he dabbled in espionage (much like someone would perhaps dabble in recreational drugs?) when younger... he flippantly references some sort of 'treaty'. It was Rowan's aunt who found him, and manipulated him, which would be a fairly standard plot turn, if it not for the fact that Reshevsky reveals that her aunt is a heroin addict! A junkie! This was the cause of one of my near-breakfast accidents with the oatmeal.

Ah ha! it all comes together ... the found needle... her aunt's odd emotional turns... Could it be? Have her aunt and Kee been shipping heroin, or perhaps poppies, out of the greenhouse? Are they the modern Taliban?

It was that needle that Rowan found that made her aunt want to kill her (although exactly why Rowan needs to be tied up, and Matt tortured and interrogated is still beyond me - its not like Rowan had figured anything out). It seems like Kee and the aunt have a habit of eliminating characters though - Ah Sing's disappearance was credited to Kee, and in a crossed out section I'm able to make out that Milly's predecessor (who is that by the way?) also had a habit of 'listening at keyholes', thus necessitating an elimination.

Anyway, this is fun stuff. I'm looking forward to your next section. I have no clue how on earth Rowan's aunt, who is apparently a junkie gardener trying to smuggle things clandestinely from her greenhouse, would even bother with the trouble of killing Rowan.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Part 26 - Monopoly with Timothy Leary and Danielle Steele

Cee ditty,

So, just like that, after most of 24 chapters with barely a gasp's worth of real drama, the ice is broken...

I had little hope for my section when it picked up with the Count and Rowan playing an uncompetitive game of Monopoly. The second half of your final sentence "I would have..." by the way, is, "been even more amazed at the nonchalant ease of Reshevsky at the game." So that didn't bode well for a nail-bitey five pages. It looked to be going in the same direction as the last few sections: dialing up the dramatic tension and releasing the pressure uneventfully in a rambling interior monologue by our helpless protagonist. But not this time.

The Monopoly game is interrupted by an icy dinner in which Aunt Lucy urges Rowan to be prepared for her morning flight. "We wouldn't want to miss it, now, would we, dear?" Lucy warns. Rowan responds like an impudent teenager, "I imagine not." When I read this, I envisioned Rowan as Akayla Herzberg. Rowan bolts from dinner abruptly and goes upstairs to pack her belongings "with no pretense at efficiency." She packs like I do when returning from a beery trip to Barcelona; by hurriedly throwing everything in a single bag to sort it out at a later date. In the packing frenzy, Rowan's mind drifts, as it often does, toward thoughts of Cater's arms. She wonders if it would be better to cancel the 10 PM meeting with, the phones can't be trusted...and how sweet it'd be to be in his grasp one last time. Ahhhh, like a warm bath.

The passage that follows rivals Danielle Steele in its schmalziness. Rowan describes in maudlin detail her feelings of infatuation. She talks of "quickened heartbeats" and "shivering inside (changed by the editor to 'up and down') my spine" and "strange bonds of mutual acceptance..." Yuck! The whole monologue went down like a Richard Marx song. I hadn't squirmed in my seat so much since I went to see Beaches with Tracy Tapp in 10th grade. Without going to much sappy detail, we'll suffice it to say that Rowan harbors thoughts of a productive future with Matt 'the doctor' Cater.

After packing her things, Rowan heads downstairs to resume the Monopoly game in anticipation of her tryst with Matt. Rowan goes quiet and Reshevsky nervously chain smokes as the clock closes in on 10. Interestingly, Lamb initially writes, "[Reshevsky] smoked cigarette after cigarette only to impatiently stub each one out before ten puffs were taken." The editor takes the liberty of changing "five" to "ten," apparently realizing that ten puffs would come pretty close to getting through a cigarette and would therefor be unremarkable as a sign of nervousness.

Rowan finally decides to make her escape into the damp evening. Reshevsky covers her. She arrives to the copse of trees on the other side of the flagstone walk a little early and congratulates herself on her puncuality. Just then the bushes rustle. Rowan, as would be expected, assumes it's Cater. Just like that, a whistle goes off, dark figures surround her and a pair of rough hands grab her by the hair and yank her backward. She gasps in pain, kicks violently only to be subdued as a cold needle enters her bicep. She hears Cater calling for her, but not before consciousness yields to a field of rainbows and pinwheels...maybe Timothy Leary is the culprit.

Then all goes black...Maybe Rob Halford is the culprit.

We got a game. Don't go to bed yet, Cee.

Have at it..