Sunday, July 22, 2018

At #NECON38, a master class in the art of writing a ghost story

PORTSMOUTH, R.I. — A panel of distinguished horror writers on Saturday presented a master class on the art of penning the modern ghost story, whose roots lie in antiquity and, more recently in America, in the works of Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe and Rhode Island’s own H.P. Lovecraft.

Photo by Sandor Bodo.
And what better venue for such a class than Camp NECON, formally the Northeastern Writer’s Conference? The annual gathering was founded in 1980 by the late Bob Booth of Pawtucket and is run still by his wife, Mary, and their two children, Dan and Sara.

Unlike the time-honored but relatively straightforward zombie and vampire, said novelist John Foster, one of seven on the NECON “BOO!” panel, “the ghost presents more of a mystery.” More left to the imagination, according to Foster — more “the rustling of the leaves, or the wind, or ‘why is the door open?’ ”

Never reveal too much, advised Tom Deady, a Bram Stoker Award winner from Massachusetts. “The biggest fear is going to be created in your own head,” Deady said.

Something that Stephen King, the most successful horror writer of all time and a NECON attendee in the early days, back when he was no household name, would surely also advise.

Another good rule of thumb? “Give them something different,” said Tony Tremblay, editor and novelist. Avoid the clichéd, the hackneyed and the tired old formula. “Change it up,” Tremblay said. “That’s the easiest way to not make it stupid.”

Personal grief can encourage the muse, said Dan Waters, screenwriter and director.

So can a writer’s own bloodlines, as it were, opined Michael Rowe, the Canadian novelist, journalist and longtime critic for Fangoria, the horror-film magazine. “We carry ghosts with us because we carry our past with us,” said Rowe. “We carry our family with us.”

Sheri Sebastian-Gabriel, a feminist horror writer from New Jersey, brought the audience into the psychology behind the allure of the ghost story: the ancient human desire to learn what lies beyond physical death.

Photo by Sandor Bodo.
“I think human beings are innately curious about what happens after,” Sebastian-Gabriel said. “Even if you believe we are worm food, there’s still a spark of curioisty about ‘what if not’ ” – what then?

And maybe it all boils down to the child inside the adult — the kid afraid of the dark who, paradoxically, craves knowing what really is out there.

“Part of us wants to be that little kid,” said panel moderator P.D. Cacek, another Bram Stoker-winner and Pennsylvania resident. “We want to believe. We want to be scared.”

Bob Booth, who died in 2013, founded NECON after chairing the 1979 World Fantasy Convention, held at Providence’s Biltmore Hotel and featuring a writer from Maine who was still then largely unknown, Mr. King. This weekend’s NECON, at the Roger Williams University Baypoint Inn and Conference Center, was another sellout, with 225 attendees. Panels, receptions, art and book displays, and a lot of socializing characterize the NECON experience.

Booth’s wife and children took a moment Saturday to remember the founder.

“He’d be delighted,” son Dan told The Journal. “He had two biological children and this was his baby, too. He loved it.”

Said daughter Sara: “We’ve continued on a tradition that he was quite proud of. It’s still alive and well with the people he brought into the fold when it first began and newer members that just get it and have become part of our family.”

Said Bob’s wife, Mary, welling up: “I think he’d be very proud to see that his children have carried on his wishes. Everything is going the way he envisioned.”

Staff writer Miller, author of four horror novels and three collections of horror short stories, attended NECON in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He wrote Bob Booth’s obituary for The Journal.

Originally published in The Providence Journal on July 21 online, July 22 print edition.

With David Wilson and David Dodd, Crossroad Press.

With old friend and great writer Tom Monteleone.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

#33 Stories: Day 33, "Memory," an unfinished novel

No. 33: "Memory," an unfinished novel set in Boston and Maine
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. Thus ends #33 Stories.

I have been working on this novel off and on (recently, mostly off) for many years. I may never finish it. I hope I do, for it represents a significant thematic and stylistic departure with roots in my early writing days when, like so many other dreamers with a pen, I had pretensions of The Great American Novel. "Memory," I like to believe, would have been -- will be? -- at least passably good.

The real-life St. Mary Star  of the Sea church, Deer Isle, Maine.

The opening of "Memory":

Chapter 1
Friday, June 8

A passerby traveling the road that descends into the village of Stonington on Deer Isle, Maine, at eleven o’clock on that cloudless morning of Friday, June 8, would have observed a scene that could properly have been described as peaceful and pretty.

Framed by a white steepled chapel to the left and the harbor and the emerald stepping-stone islands of Merchants Row beyond to the right, the cemetery with its carefully trimmed grass and abundance of weathered tombstones presented itself as picturesque in that old-fashioned New England way. The oaks and maples shimmered with fresh young leaves in a spring that last week had turned unseasonably warm, a delightful development, all agreed, after a winter that had continued stubbornly past Easter, when four inches of snow fell, ruining the egg hunt and sunrise services. Only the irregular mound of back-hoed earth beneath an old green tarp might have brought unpleasantness into the passerby’s mind.

A new grave had been dug. And there, next to it, was its designated occupant, about to be lowered in.
Measured by the numbers, the living who had joined the deceased in her final moments above ground were an unimpressive assembly. This was the assemblage: Fr. Bertrand Lombardi, the septuagenarian pastor of St. Mary Star of the Sea, the island’s only Roman Catholic church; three part-time employees, the full staff, of Bragdon-Kelley Funeral Home; and 16 mourners, all but one of whom, a tall and handsome dark-haired man in his mid 20s, were middle-aged or elderly. The oldest was a wheelchair-bound man who was in the care of an aide and encased in an Afghan, despite the smothering humidity and the heat, 82 degrees and rising.

And thus a passerby might have assumed that the recently departed had been a person of no particular import, in the larger sense: a local who had passed a quiet existence, troubling no one outwardly and likely having made a meritorious contribution to the gene pool; or a native-born returned after decades from a more tax- and climate-friendly place (Florida, if one had to guess). The sort of ordinary person who had been the subject of an ordinary obituary with an ordinary outdated black-and-white head shot in the local weekly, The Ellsworth American. An obituary rich with “dearly” and “beloved” and other such flowery but superficial adjectives composed by a funeral-home director with tearful input from a family member with no desire for candor, let alone full disclosure, at this Most Difficult Time of Greatest Need.

And that assumption would have been correct: The deceased’s obituary had indeed appeared in The Ellsworth American, in yesterday’s edition. It offered little more than an age, a birthplace, names of relatives and a request that in lieu of flowers, donations in her name be made to Haven Home Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Burnt Cove, Deer Isle, ME, 04627.

In her 89 years, the existence of Rose O’Reilly Grey had been confirmed in published form only three times before. The first marked her wedding to Bill, the man in the Afghan and wheelchair, on August 23, 1947, in a Charlestown, Massachusetts, church: a two-paragraph story without photo that ran in the Boston Sunday Advertiser together with a dozen similar accounts of the latest post-war couples who had committed to their role in bringing forth the Baby Boom. The second was a story in the Bangor Daily News in July 1963 commemorating the tenth anniversary of Joyland, a small theme park noted for its mini-golf, batting cage, petting zoo, Tilt-A-Whirl and 25-cent lobster rolls that Rose and Bill had opened and owned: Ten Happy Years at Deer Isle’s ‘Family Destination,’ the headline read. At the time this cheery representation of Joyland had been published, Rose was five months pregnant with Jack, her only son, the middle-age man who stood today with the 24-year-old Dylan, Jack’s only child and her only grandchild. Her third previous appearance in the paper concerned something terrible: her inclusion in the obituary of her daughter, who occupied the grave next to that into which she herself was about to be lowered. BRENDA O’REILLY GREY, February 1, 1948 - June 29, 1970, With the Angels Now, the small granite stone read.

Sweaty in his unaccustomed suit, the middle-age Jack Grey was endeavoring for a better take of the priest’s incantation over his mother’s coffin: a costly zinc-lined, hermetically-sealed container that state law had required the undertaker to use, given the condition of the corpse.

Jack always sought perfection in his work, but the location of the grave and his proximity to it were conspiring to foil him. His ideal shot would have been the coffin framed by the grieving assemblage, with the harbor, islands and open Atlantic in the distance. Though a critic might legitimately have dismissed it as cheesy (the final journey, bread upon the waters, yadi-yadi-ya), it still would have carried some metaphorical heft, in Jack’s estimation. But the sun reflecting off the water created an overwhelming backlight that washed out the coffin, the heart of the shot –– and his video camera, a Panasonic HDC-SDX1 Ultra-Compact Full HD, was powerless to correct it. And while he could have finagled a decent representation with the magic of Final Cut, in principle he was opposed to such manipulations, holding them to be a form of unacceptable fakery, which had no place in his personal work (his professional work was another matter). Or so he had deceived himself into believing.
An additional complication was the fact that maneuvering for a superior angle would have caused further unmissable disturbance: through his holy farewell words for the mother, poor old Fr. Lombardi was belatedly processing what was unfolding with the son and he was rather concerned by the behavior. In the priest’s view, this was no Kodak moment. It was a view evidently shared by Jack’s son, Dylan, who seemed poised to angrily snatch the camera from his father, if not smack him. “Dad, what the fuck,” Dylan whispered.

Jack rolled a few seconds more, slid the camera back into his jacket pocket, and bowed his head. He’d deal with the shortcomings of the footage somehow, later.

This simple philosophy -- somehow, later -- had frequently characterized decisions in his life, with frequently poor results.


So far, the entire day had conspired to foil Jack.

Dylan’s flight the evening before from Los Angeles to Bangor, by way of Detroit, had arrived three hours late, and so it was after 2 a.m. when father and son had reached Boyce’s Motel -- and nearing 3 a.m. when Jack finally nodded off, which meant he had barely slept four hours when things got underway, at 7 that morning. Breakfast of English muffins, yogurt and tasteless coffee had sucked, to put it bluntly. His suit emerged lint-covered and wrinkled from his garment bag, not that he was standing on fashion today (or ever). The battery on his Panasonic was low and he’d lost the recharger inside one of the six pieces of luggage, four still in the trunk of his car, that he’d brought with him from his home in Boston. The memory card on his Nikon D3x, which he used for stills, was full, requiring an emptying transfer to a backup drive. Dylan, who was even less of a morning person than he, was moving in excruciating slow-motion, spending nearly half an hour in the tiny bathroom doing God-knows-what. The day continued its downward trajectory at the funeral home, where the director took offense when Jack repositioned the lilies surrounding the coffin and clicked away with his Nikon, using fill-in flash.

“This is highly unconventional, Mr. Grey,” the director said. “I’m not comfortable with you taking pictures.”

“Yeah, Dad, put it away,” Dylan said.

“Trust me,” Jack said, “she wouldn’t have minded.” In truth, as Jack knew, Rose unquestionably would have minded.

“Mr. Grey, please,” the funeral director said. “Surely you don’t want to remember her like this.”

“You’d be surprised,” Jack said.

“We provided you with prayer cards, remember? Lovely remembrances with the 23rd Psalm and that lovely photograph of her. You told me you yourself took it.”

“This is more, how shall I put it, conclusive.”

“Are you high or something?” said Dylan. The caffeine was starting to perk him up.

“I’m serious.”

“Wow. And you think this is the time and place for this.”

“As your grandmother used to say: no better time than the present.”

“Jesus, Dad. Really?”

“It’s for The Project.”

“I figured. Please stop. I’m begging you.”

Jack did stop shooting and he left his Nikon and Panasonic in the Bragdon-Kelley limo, a 1990 Cadillac Fleetwood with very low mileage, when they arrived at St. Mary Star of the Sea; much as he wanted to film the service, he maintained a modicum of respect for the inside of a church, especially this small, simple one where he had spent many hours as a child. Though the close-up would have been stunning, the logistics of shooting from his seat, inches from the coffin, would have been too conspicuously inappropriate, anyway -- even for Jack, whose career had put him and his cameras in countless places they were unwelcome.

Once Fr. Lombardi began his eulogy, Jack immediately regretted his decision: there would be no second takes, of course, and what he heard would have been impossible to script. He thought of dashing back to the limo, but there was every chance that by the time he returned, it would be over. He would have to rely on memory, though, if the pun can be pardoned, his was not of the photographic sort.

Interior of the real-life St. Mary Star of the Sea, Deer Isle, Maine.
Technically, Catholic law forbid a true eulogy: the priest was permitted a homily interpreting the choice of Gospel and incorporating the essential themes of mercy, salvation, grace and eternal life, and a few general words about the life, death and presumably heaven-bound soul of the deceased were permitted, though not encouraged. But Fr. Lombardi, originally a Jesuit, considered that edict, issued by the Vatican in its 1989 Order of Christian Funerals, to be –– in a word –– baloney. During the dark pre-Vatican II days of the 1950s and early 1960s, in the small parishes beyond the immediate finger-wagging glare of the diocese, he had listened to sorrow-filled spouses and children and siblings who wanted acknowledgment from the pulpit that their recently deceased were not merely yet another of the baptized and confirmed faithful -- though they were that, too, one had to believe -- but also individuals who had uniquely walked the earth leaving a unique life story, worthy of telling, if only in summary. And so, early in his priesthood, he had begun to personalize his remarks, to the immense gratitude of those left behind. It made funerals a little less depressing, in his view (since he was a kid, dead bodies had always sort of creeped him out, he couldn’t help it, never could move past it), and also minimized the griping that could follow burial, sometimes continuing for months or years. Such dissatisfaction surely negatively impacted collections, though a direct link could not be proved.

To Fr. Lombardi’s knowledge, Rose Grey had never missed Mass on a Sunday, Holy Day of Obligation, or her and her husband’s wedding anniversary and birthdays. He had twice been assigned to St. Mary Star of the Sea, in the 1970s and again since 2001, and this whole time, she had kept the same pew: front row, left, facing the pulpit, an increasingly fortuitous choice of seating as her hearing had declined in her later years and she had refused to surrender to a hearing aid. She had been head of the Ladies’ Sodality in the 1970s and early ‘80s, when the sodality still existed, and she had run each year’s Advent bake sale back then. She had visited his confessional box weekly during his first tour but less regularly during his second, when confessions in general had seen their popularity plummet, despite its more inviting renaming, Reconciliation. Which was fine by Father Lombardi, who had learned in his beginning priestly years that true misdeeds of the sort that might have interested him -- bank robberies and embezzlement, for example -- never surfaced in the confessional. Petty lying and stealing, cheating, swearing, underpaying taxes -- all sins, to be sure, and in need of absolution but hardly seat-grippers -- constituted the great majority of what was disclosed to him in the shadows on Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m. The good stuff, it seemed to him, had all migrated to TV.

The priest began his eulogy, as he typically did, with a humorous personal anecdote.

“We all know how Rose loved her yard sales,” he said. “Up until very recently, you would see her around town every Saturday, driving her beloved Subaru as she scouted for rare treasure.” Not-so-rare castoffs, and her house is filled with them, my problem now, Jack thought. “And we all know how generously Rose donated many of these treasures to the annual Christmas Bazaar. Well, this one year…” The rest of the anecdote detailed how Fr. Lombardi had spied a certain Velvet Elvis at that bazaar and how another parishioner out for a bargain recognized it as her own from years before and how this parishioner had sold it at her yard sale, and then that buyer a year later had offered it at his sale, and so forth and so on, said Velvet Elvis imprisoned in the loop until it reached Rose, who was frequently the final destination in the cycle. The anecdote drew laughter from Dylan, who on his childhood visits with Grammy had been her partner on her yard-sale adventures. The two of them often found cool toys and even once a Nintendo Gameboy still in the box, at a cost of pennies.

The remainder of the eulogy was a tribute to Rose’s character. She was, Fr. Lombardi said, “the very definition of an exemplary wife, mother and grandmother,” a woman who had “experienced great sorrow in her life,” an allusion to her long-dead daughter, but also “great joys and blessings” including “a son and grandson of whom she was justifiably proud” and a “dear little feline named Baby who was her constant loving companion.” And who nibbled on her dead ear before her body was found, Jack thought, though he doubted Fr. Lombardi had learned that disturbing detail. Mrs. Grey had dutifully kept her wedding vows, the priest said, the “in sickness and in health” vow most notably when her husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease and she uncomplainingly shouldered his increasingly engulfing care until it overwhelmed her and Medicare approved his one-way admission to Haven Home nursing and rehabilitation center. She had been “an upstanding citizen,” “a good neighbor,” and “a loyal Red Sox fan virtually from birth.” This latter statement was true.

In closing, Fr. Lombardi spoke of Rose’s reputation in town as someone with never a bad word for anyone. “In short,” the priest concluded, “she was God’s faithful and humble servant, an inspiration to us all, who has earned her eternal salvation at the side of Our Lord.”

This was rich! How ironic! And how wonderfully it would have translated to the screen. Jack, who had been an altar boy during Father Lombardi’s first assignment but had not seen him again until this morning, assumed that the priest’s exposure to Rose had been entirely peripheral; surely, he knew her only as the faithful congregant and, most recently, the old lady he occasionally bumped into at Burnt Cove Market or a yard sale. Unless she had revealed more in the confessional than Jack suspected, the priest, like so many others, had been misled (deceived would be too strong a word). For this was not the entirety of the mother Jack remembered.

 This eulogized character was not the person who requested and received literature from the Federation for American Immigration Reform, though the postman, along with Jack, would have recognized her. This was not the woman who had contributed ten dollars from her zero-cost-of-living-adjusted Social Security check to the successful Tea Party-backed gubernatorial candidacy of Paul LePage, though the donation was duly recorded by the Maine Ethics Commission and remembered by Jack, who chastised her for it. This was not “Rose from Downeast” who regularly called the Howie Carr Show, home of New England’s angry and spiteful, a program that originated in Boston and was broadcast on her favorite station, WVOM in Bangor, which also carried Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity -- though Jack could attest to that. This was not the woman who owned every one of Elvis Presley’s albums, along with the complete collections of Chuck Berry, Little Richard and the early Rolling Stones  -- though Jack could have pointed them out, there on the living-room shelves they shared with the Sinatra, Lawrence Welk, Lennon Sisters, Mitch Mitchum and Herb Alpert records. This was not the woman whose most prized treasure was nothing scrounged at a yard sale but the 1952 Kennedy-for-Senate flyer personally autographed with her name by the future president himself  -- though Jack was aware of that, too.

Nor was this the woman who died questioning God. Jack himself did not know that woman -- though Liz Orcutt, someone Jack’s age who had befriended Rose in her dotage (a friendship both had successfully kept from Jack, who had once been romantically involved with Liz) could have attested to that. And to much more, as Jack would discover...

Thursday, May 31, 2018

#33Stories: Day 32, “The Daily Times,” a satirical screen treatment

No. 32: “The Daily Times,” a satirical screen treatment
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you June 12 for No. 33, last in the #33Stories retrospective!
Writers Guild of American registration no. 1946961

Meme created by Mark Wuerker, Politico.

Without further ado, the opening pages of “The Daily Times” screen treatment: 

The logline

Welcome to 2018. The Age of Anything has arrived.

In this age, the line between fact and fiction is irretrievably blurred. Your reality is what you believe, however elitist, uninformed or self-serving -- and by now, that pretty much covers everyone. The door has shut on listening and learning and, God forbid, informed debate that might move the species toward its once-imagined noble destiny… or at least save the planet before it extinguishes its highest life form, leaving the spoils to the cockroaches.

Now, no one can control or direct what human existence has become.

Now, no one seems able to sort it out except, perhaps, demagogues with their falsehoods.

Founded on noble principle, America (and the interconnected world) has become a churning swamp of trivia, nonsense, insult, arrogance, ignorance, obsession, emptiness, bombast, bigotry, homophobia, misogyny, xenophobia, lies, memes, conspiracies, fakery and paranoia.

And Putin.

It all flashes by, leaving barely a trace, through minds whose attention spans have been compressed to those of a gnat. Tweet, Tweet; Like/Share; Instagram that. Next?

Anything. Everything. Nothing.

Reality has become an Unreality Show, to quote The New York Times.

Amazingly, a few big papers like the NYT keep trying to make sense of it all – keep aspiring to tell truths -- even as they see their power and print revenues slip away, and the citizens who once relied on the press despise them and the “Establishment tools” they employ: the professional journalists who once were revered as stewards of the First Amendment. Now, the citizenry believes, the only “trusted” sources are sites that narcissistically reinforce and amplify you own beliefs, whether you are a dumb-fuck, conservative, progressive or anyone else.

I’m right, you’re wrong, I can prove it, I hate you, take this: unfriended!

Numbers and algorithms are the foundation of life today, and like humanity, it seems, newspapers (indeed, all media outlets) today live or die by digitalia. Die the death of a thousand cuts, mostly. Classifieds once generated cash, but Craig’s List and Monster and Zillow killed that. Now, page views = advertising rates, the bread and butter.

Today, your daily rag (which you don’t read if you’re under, say, 80) is just more noise in the cultural cacophony, the soundtrack to a civilization in death spiral.

So today, many desperate publishers crave click bait.

Today, many editors’ grand ambition is to go viral.

Today, you pray for Facebook Live fatal car crashes. Or a Kardashian jewelry heist. Or a flamboyant nut running for office. Or a No Pants or Go Topless Day. Admit it: you read those.

Today, with their moral compasses having been ground away or abandoned, some journalists take chances with dubious experts, anonymous characters, and unnamed sources they never would have before.

Today, journalists in general can get away with a whole lot more. So long as the metrics soar and the suits don’t lay your sorry ass off, what else really matters?

Today, journalists are not someone anointed by the Founders, but just another bunch of schmucks, "enemies of the people."

Wal-Mart, Family Dollar, McDonald’s, reporter? Whatever. Fries with that?

And yet, still fighting the good fight against crushing odds is a mighty metropolitan newspaper that strives to intelligently inform -- and, when democracy demands, give voice to the voiceless, embodying the old commitment to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

It is called The Daily Times, and not too many years ago, it was a highly profitable Pulitzer Prize-winning institution with an enormous staff that overshadowed TV and radio and a sterling reputation. It ranked with The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and a handful of papers abroad as one of the planet’s towering media outlets.

Published in Philadelphia, where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the new republic with its press freedoms was born, it was long a shining beacon -- dedicated to exposing corruption, righting wrongs and debunking falsehoods since its founding in 1858, when it became one of the first general-readership newspapers to take an abolitionist stand. Its integrity and independence were unquestioned. The public, not just in Philly and Pennsylvania but all America, held it in the highest regard. A must-read, 365 days a year.

The Times is still owned by the Sanders family, which founded it almost 160 years ago. George Sanders III is the current publisher, but he’s 77 years old and has just named his only child, Stephanie G. Sanders, deputy publisher. But he has no intention of retiring, even though he is exhibiting early signs of dementia; after all, his father ran the ship until he was 87.

That, of course, was in a different time, when newspaper families could build their fortunes just by keeping the presses running.

Enter the internet, which wrecked the ad base and brought software by which the “value” of a story was measured by page views and engaged minutes. First Amendment, meet Nielsens.

The veteran journalists who weren’t laid off dissolved into fading irrelevance that left them the butt of jokes, if not outright scorn. What should have been the next generation went into advertising or public-relations... or lived in Mommy’s basement with crushing debts from college. To the masses, journalism seemed less vital to the republic than Starbucks. And only Congress rated lower than journalists in the respect polls. Now, even lawyers ranked better.

And in the real world this is the story of many once-mighty metropolitan newspapers across the U.S. -- those that survive or haven’t been gutted by profit-hungry big chains, that is.

Sad. Tragic, too, if you care about the democracy, which citizens now at each other’s throats no longer do.

Not exactly what The Founders had in mind when they penned the First Amendment.
Or was it?

Wonder what Benjamin Franklin would have to say about that.

Or Putin.

The series

The longtime Publisher of The Daily Times, George Sanders III, 77, is the scion of the Philadelphia Main Line family that’s owned the paper and held a majority of its stock since its 1858 founding. He has just named his only child, Stephanie G. Sanders, 36, to be Deputy Publisher – not out of goodwill for his daughter, who was born contrarian and free-spirited, but because without a son, she is the only way to keep the paper (hurting as it is) in the family.

Someday, she may run it… but not, he thinks, for a long time, if ever, even though he himself senses the progressive cognitive decline accompanying the onset of his dementia. To counter it, he has turned to cocaine, after reading a (real, credible University of California San Francisco) study that the drug can increase learning function. And for him it does, albeit in fits and starts. Important to note: the President of the United States is a friend.

Stephanie came into the world with a super-brain – and athletic abilities. And perhaps she needed both to survive in a world of stodgy male ancestors and living uncles and cousins and a father who will never let her forget that he wanted a son (which explains his three marriages, only one of which resulted in a child, Stephanie).

At her prep school, Stephanie lettered in soccer, ice hockey and rugby and would have been a high honors student if not for her weakness in math; at Harvard, where she majored in anthropology, she captained the NCAA-championship women’s hockey team and took up amateur women’s boxing on the side. Wanted nothing to do with The Times during her childhood or after graduation, when, in her own version of Eat, Love, Pray, she spent years travelling the world, blogging and Facebooking her way along as she cycled through adventures and short-lived romances... with men and women.

Eventually she wearied of the nomadic life, and in her early 30s, she returned to Philadelphia and decided stable employment was better than wandering, at least for now. When her dinosaur father gave her what he considered the trivial job of Social Media Manager, she saw it as an opportunity to finally prove him wrong… on many levels.

She soon turned grandiose, believing she could not only save The Daily Times but restore it to greatness. Using her restless energy to curate the paper’s Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and other accounts, ad revenues bump up, albeit not to levels that (yet) will rescue the bottom line.
Stephanie has found true power, superior to winning any hockey title, and it feeds her neurons, intoxicating her.

Meet Matt Rivera, who has a magic digital touch Stephanie could only dream of. Not to mention a dark side that unchecked could threaten her soul, the paper and, perhaps, America.

Twenty-six years old, Matt has a genius-level IQ and lives with his mother, who is dying of cancer. He experiences what appears to be Asperger’s syndrome and when he is not caring for Mom, he is in the basement, where he spends all his time online: a true digital native, his passion since childhood has been computers and software. Here, he is safe, and Master of his Universe.

Matt has developed a sophistication in hacking that would be the envy of the NSA’s finest cyber-spy -- and in bitcoin extortion, income extracted from hapless CEOs that helps with the crushing debt of his mother’s medical bills, which mounted into the hundreds of thousands of dollars when her heartless insurer dropped her. Lately, he has also developed an interest in creating and disseminating fake news -- for the fun of it. Matt loves yanking chains. The lad has a bit of existentialist humor in him.

Matt of course is into Reddit, Anonymous, 4chan and other dark web, where he is well known by his nom de plume: “God of #s.” Self-taught, Matt is fluent in Russian and is learning Mandarin Chinese. He also is deeply gifted mathematically. Being a genius comes in handy.

His best “friend” is the fellow dark-webber “Duchess de Jour,” a young Russian woman who, among other things, works for Vladimir Putin, even though (initially) she denies it (The Duchess is based on the real-life Alisa Shevchenko, @badd1e, who describes herself this way: “My name is Alisa. I am a human being. Part misfit, part mishacker. A business woman in the past as well as in a possible future. Currently I am mostly working on vulnerabilities and exploits, while striving to minimize entropy in the process [no luck so far].”)

Alisa’s favorite band? Pussy Riot. Favorite historical figure? Benjamin Franklin: Admiring the many things he was (scientist, inventor, diplomat, author, rebel, journalist, postmaster, Founder and more), she has this crush on him. Kinda weird. Cute, though.

Why Matt for a best friend? Because they both like to think -- and they may be right -- that they are the world’s greatest cyber-masters.

They also share something they consider noble: the conviction that the bloated, greedy, scumbag One-Percenters of the world must finally be brought down, so that the rest of humanity can live in peace and comfort. Old-fashioned war used to be the way to reset civilization, but Matt and Alisa know what the new way is -- and they are getting down to it, starting in their own countries, which happen to be the two most powerful on earth. What fun subterfuge can be.


-- Stephanie G. Sanders, 36, George’s free-spirited only child, gifted with a magnificent mind. Recently promoted by her father from Social Media Manager to Deputy Publisher, she is excited by power and knows that inevitably, she must push doddering dad out. And won’t that be sweet. Deeply conflicted: torn between her belief in her paper’s time-honored commitment to righting wrongs, which sucks precious resources with minimal page-view payback, and click-bait Go Topless Days, which rock it with minimal investment. Bisexual. Lives alone, save for Fuzzy, her adorable rabbit.

-- Matt Rivera, 26, driven by a unique blend of intellect, curiosity, occasional wry humor, Asperger’s and a burning desire to avenge those who have harmed his beloved mother. Lately, he also increasingly believes he also has been called to avenge the One Percent, those who have enslaved and punished the Ninety-nine and are killing the planet; maybe he’ll play Robin Hood, too. His father was an award-winning police reporter for The Times (first Latino ever hired) who mysteriously died (or did he?) when he was a baby, leaving him and his mother alone.

-- Jim Barry, 60s, veteran reporter rooted in the Woodward/Bernstein era, son of Mary Barry, the first woman reporter at The Times (hired in 1969, think: Good Girls Revolt). Two years after she was hired, she committed suicide, the stress of the job and the bullying of the misogynists triggering a violent episode of her underlying schizophrenia, which had been controlled until then. Mary was a single mom, and the teenage Jim was left to his own (he never met his father, though his elderly father IS still alive, somewhere).

Young Jim was a founding member of The Daily Times’ current investigative team, Target Times, and he shared the paper’s first Pulitzer Prize for investigative journalism and the three more since. He has headed the team for 20 years. Ben Franklin, the greatest journalist of the early era, not to mention esteemed Founder, has been Jim’s idol since childhood.

And while he has never revealed this to ANYONE or sought to confirm the diagnosis, he, like his mother, may be mildly schizophrenic. Since his early 20s, he has experienced recurring audio (never visual) hallucinations – what he describes to himself as THE RADIO, a sound track (sometimes uplifting, sometimes scary) running in his mind. THE GOOD RADIO brings nice music, which soothes; THE BAD RADIO can be chased away only with Vicodin or booze.

-- Andrea Cooper, 33, second Target Times team member, based in the paper’s (downsized) Washington bureau but frequently in Philadelphia. An African-American lesbian, she compliments her journalistic brilliance with charm and beauty to carefully cultivate deep sources of both sexes. Two-time Pulitzer winner, with Jim. Granddaughter of a Civil Rights leader who was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr., Andrea traces her passion for righting wrongs to her Baltimore childhood, when she and her family experienced racism first-hand. Childhood is also when she experienced her first migraine headache. They still plague her.

-- Raven King, 29, third Target Times team member, already a Pulitzer winner. Since her college internship, Jim has mentored Raven, and she would do anything for him, seeing in him the father she wants, not the alcoholic she has (Jim sees in her the daughter he could have had, not the one from whom he is estranged). Physically and mentally tough, a three-letter athlete in college like Stephanie, Raven also has taken up boxing. A Lakota, she grew up on Standing Rock Reservation, so she knows about social injustice and resilience. Against Jim’s advice and unknown to Stephanie, she carries a Glock 19 as needed. Don’t fuck with Raven.

-- George Sanders III, 77, President and Publisher of The Daily Times, CEO and Chairman of The Daily Times Corp., the publicly traded company that owns the paper and other properties (he and family are majority stockholders). Like Viacom’s Sumner Redstone, Sanders is out of touch with today’s environment and thinks he may be experiencing dementia, albeit not (yet) as profound as Redstone. He believes cocaine can stop, even reverse it, so he draws his lines. Friend of rich and powerful, his support for investigative journalism is dwindling in his dotage. As stubborn as ever, and now a dinosaur: a wounded Tyrannosaurus Rex.

-- Benjamin Franklin, yup, him (maybe): the foremost editor, publisher and journalist of the early era, not to mention Founder and one of the most highly revered Americans in history, in the rarefied class of Washington, Lincoln and King. Ben has come back, with an interest in contemporary journalism. Why not? Philadelphia is where he published his famous Pennsylvania Gazette, and Independence Hall is where the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were debated and adopted. Also, where he flew kites. But his real motive? Settling an old score with his arch-nemesis John Adams. In real 18th-century America, the two hated and blasphemed each other.

[As the series opens, the Target Times team is conducting a blockbuster investigation of the federal Food and Drug Administration, arguably the last institution in which Americans, battered by religious and government scandal, still have a measure of faith. After almost a year’s work, Jim, Andre and Raven have conclusive proof that high-level DFA officials accepted large bribes in return for approving Big Pharma drugs declared “safe” after deliberately falsified clinical trials – and worse, have not taken other hugely-profitable drugs off the market despite mounting deaths and injuries. The corporation in the team’s cross-hairs is Miller & Merkel, the world’s second-largest drug company, headquartered in Philadelphia. Unbeknownst to the team, George Sanders is a major stockholder through a blind trust.

[NOTE: Despite the decline of newspapers, no other type of media outlet can still touch the best papers for landmark exposés. Think: The Boston Globe’s Spotlight and Remember: Woodward and Bernstein’s Watergate investigation, which remains the gold standard.]


-- Duchess de Jour, 28, a true shadow figure, she exists only as a brilliant and beautiful Princess of the Dark Web -- except in Moscow, where by day she unobtrusively hangs out in Starbucks Red Square, her iPad always in motion. At night, you can sometimes find her at Roof of the World, one of the Russian capital city’s trendy night clubs. Lives alone in a small apartment with her growing menagerie of pet rabbits. Has no visible means of support and no close friends, except online.

-- The President of the United States, 68, paranoid (with reason). Friend of Wall Street. Took office with multiple corporate conflicts of interest (notably with Big Pharma) that he disregarded, but which are now starting to bite him on the ass as Congress has opened hearings. Up for re-election with major competition just as his favorability numbers are falling. Hair-trigger temper. HATES the press (with reason) except for his old friend George Sanders whose paper has never gunned for him... until now.

-- Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, 66, president of the Russian Federation. Former counter-intelligence operative with the First Chief Directorate of the Soviet KGB.

The Pilot


A SERIES OF SHOTS establishing the location. NOTE Independence Hall, trendy Old City on the Delaware River, 30th Street Station, The Franklin Hotel at Independence Park, etc.


The CEO of A GIANT INSURANCE COMPANY based in Manhattan has been arrested in a texting scandal involving a prostitute who may also be underage (think: Anthony Weiner). After receiving a “highly credible” tip, the authorities have seized his cell phone and found naked photos of him and her sent back and forth. The CEO denies involvement with any prostitute and insists the photos were planted. Sounds like bullshit, but his board is meeting today and his career and marriage are over.


About 9 a.m., and employees are arriving for work. JIM walks with RAVEN and ANDREA, who’s taken the Acela in from Washington for a meeting of the Target Times team. We SEE the executive garage opening: GEORGE arrives, in his chauffeur-driven Mercedes, and STEPHANIE follows, driving her Prius. Her father hates that “hippie” car. She knew he would.


Jim, Raven and Andrea huddle at Jim’s desk in their private corner of a once-proud space, now a partly deserted dump, a visual metaphor for the industry. Center in the mess that is Jim’s desk is a FRAMED PRINT of Benjamin Franklin, with the First Amendment across the bottom. It is a sort of shrine to Franklin, who has been a favorite of Jim’s since childhood and Santa brought him a “Ben Franklin kite” and Van de Graaff electricity generator. Franklin subsequently inspired Jim in his journalism career and remains a hero.
The three reporters are discussing their latest blockbuster investigation: the FDA/Big Pharma exposé. Still a few critical pieces missing, including some damning internal FDA documents that sources claim exist but so far haven’t been able to deliver. In the middle of the meeting, Jim’s eyes grow wide and he drifts off, as if his mind has left the room. Raven and Andrea are used to this, and believe it to be his amazing powers of concentration – but in fact, THE SCARY RADIO has come on in his head. Jim excuses himself.


Jim pops a Vicodin, which throttles back the SCARY RADIO.


Jim, Raven and Andrea resume discussion of the investigation as if nothing happened.

An actual old newsroom today. What a dump.


A paper carrier tosses today’s Daily Times from his car onto the front stairs of a run-down apartment building in the Philadelphia neighborhood of Fairhill, an Hispanic enclave.


MATT brings a cup of tea and the paper to mother ISABELLA RIVERA, a Mexican native who is bedbound in the first-floor apartment’s small living room, which has been transformed into a hospital suite, with IV pole, oxygen, meds, etc. Despite her terminal cancer, she is always happy to start the day with her son – and her beloved newspaper, for which her late husband worked after coming to America from El Universal, Mexico’s largest newspaper. Following his death in a mysterious car crash following his exposé of a Mexico-to-New York drug ring, his widow survived for many years on the newspaper’s generosity, for which she is forever grateful. But eventually, that ran out and Isabella struggled to support herself and her son, who with his Asperger’s has his own struggles at school and elsewhere.

Isabella starts reading today’s lead story, about the CEO of American National Health. After finishing, she calls Matt in, asking him: Isn’t this the company that dropped me when the bills mounted? Matt confirms that it is, and notes the huge debt that left them. He clearly loathes insurance companies.

Must be karma, Matt says. Payback can be a bitch.

Don’t talk like that, son, Isabella says. It poisons the soul. She is spiritual, unlike him.

Maybe, maybe not, Matt says. Sometimes, payback is all the 99 percent have. Besides, the guy was a CREEP. Got what he deserved.


George is complaining to Stephanie about the plummeting print circulation numbers for the millionth time. Stephanie explains – without patience – that this is an irreversible trend industry-wide, and the future is digital. Digital, schmidital, he protests. At times during this heated argument, it seems George is losing the thread… perhaps even momentarily forgetting who he is talking with. Jittery, as if… high? Argument ends when he gets a call from an old Goldman Sachs buddy, in from Manhattan for lunch at The Club. George shoos his daughter out.

#33Stories, Day 31: "Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age"

No. 31: “Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age”
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!
Chapter One below this context.

The little-told tale of the skullduggery, possessed personalities, speed obsessions, and the courtroom and business dramas that opened the nascent auto industry to the genius of Henry Ford, he of the iconic Model T, came to the page with “Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and the Dawn of the Automobile Age,” published in 2015.

The book also featured a race from Manhattan to Portland, Oregon – in 1905, between two cars that were steered with a tiller. There were few roads then, let alone coast-to-coast highways. It was quite the battle, "Old Scout" against "Old Steady," played out over several weeks.

The start of the coast-to-coast race in Manhattan.

Another battle was between the new machine and the old-fashioned horse, portrayed by some of the early carmakers as temperamental, unreliable, a thing of the past – and defended by many as noble, necessary and god-given.

“Car Crazy” was my third book from PublicAffairs, which brought out my other car book, “Men and Speed,” and “The Xeno Chronicles.” Thanks again to publisher Clive Priddle, editor Lisa Kaufman, publicity VP Jaime Leifer, marketing director Lindsay Fradkoff and many others.

One of Lisa’s brilliant touches was suggesting I create a Cast of Characters. If we ever bring this book to the screen, it will be a good starting point for the writers!

Cast of Characters

The Carmakers
Karl Benz, German engineer, inventor and manufacturer.
Roy Chapin, Oldsmobile sales chief and test driver; founder of Hudson Motor Car.
James Couzens, Ford Motor Company secretary.
Billy Durant, creator of General Motors.
Charles and Frank Duryea, builders of  the first U.S. production car.
Henry Ford, founder of Ford Motor Company.
Edward “Spider” Huff, Ford’s brilliant but bedeviled leading engineer.
Émile Levassor, founder of French pioneer Panhard et Levassor.
Alexander Malcomson, early partner of Henry Ford.
Ransom Olds, founder of Oldsmobile.
Frederic Smith, secretary-treasurer of Oldsmobile.

The Drivers
Tom Cooper, a winner on the track who dies in a midnight race through Central Park.
Dwight Huss, one of two men who compete in history’s first race across the continent.
Webb Jay, whose racing career ends when his crashes his steam car, “Whistling Billy.”
Ernest Keeler, a young racing star who dies in a crash three days after Cooper.
Percy Megargel, a writer and romantic who races Huss from Manhattan to Oregon, then drives back to the West Coast for history’s first winter continental crossing, back to New York.
Barney Oldfield, greatest racecar driver of the early era… and maybe ever.

The Mechanics
David Fassett, rode with Megargel on the winter crossing.
Barton Stanchfield, rode with Megargel during the cross-continent race.
Milford Wigle, rode with Huss during the cross-continent race.

The Patent players
Frederick P. Fish, president of AT&T and lawyer for the anti-Ford side.
Charles M. Hough, judge who decided the Selden Suit.
Walter C. Noyes, judge who decided the Selden suit on appeal.
George Selden, who claimed in a U.S. patent to have invented the automobile.
Ralzemond Parker, battled-hardened lawyer hired to defend Ford in the Selden suit.

The Good Roads evangelists
James Abbott, official with the Federal Highway Administration’s precursor agency.
Albert Pope, bicycle- and car-making magnate.
Isaac Potter, editor, engineer and lawyer.
Roy Stone, first head of the U.S. Office of Road Inquiry.

The Scoundrels
Lone John, a lunatic Wyoming shepherd.
Big Nose George Parrott, an outlaw who meets a most bizarre fate.
The Road Hog, any of various anti-car farmers.
The ruffians, lads and men in New York who stoned ‘evil’ motorists.
Edward R. Thomas, wealthy Manhattan heir and murderous driver.

 Chapter One: Fastest Man on Earth

It was a time when sane people did crazy things.

Henry Ford was one of those people.

On January 9, 1904, on the shore of frozen Anchor Bay, Lake St. Clair, some 30 miles northeast of Detroit, he vowed to be the first person to drive 100 miles per hour. The possibility that he might spin out of control and be killed as he roared across the ice did not deter him.

Henry Ford with his 100-mph car, legendary Barney Oldfield at the wheel.

It did, however, attract a crowd.

Ford had deliberately scheduled his attempt for a Saturday, when kindly employers gave their workers the afternoon off. Then he’d created publicity that had filled the Detroit papers all week, mesmerizing a city that had already begun to thrum with the business of motors.

A brilliant inventor and engineer, Ford also was a skilled marketer. He knew that machine-powered speed excited many people unlike anything before — and that word of the latest spectacle sent consumers to dealers, where they could buy an automobile of their own. He knew also that cars angered and alienated other people — the horse-bound traditionalists — but with time, he believed, almost everyone would come around.

“Henry Ford of the Ford Motor Works of Detroit will attempt to lower the Worlds Record,” read the handbills Ford had arranged to be posted. “The race will be over a four-mile straight track on the ice opposite The Hotel Chesterfield. The snow will be cleared from the ice and the track will be sanded. The races will start at 2 o’clock and continue until Mr. Ford lowers the world’s record. He proposes to make a mile in 36 seconds.”

That would greatly eclipse the existing auto record of 84.732 miles per hour, set in 1903. It conceivably would be faster than anyone had ever moved on land.

The claimed land speed record was 112.5 miles per hour by the crew of a locomotive on May 10, 1893, on a stretch of Cornelius Vanderbilt’s mighty New York Central Railroad, but in this era so rife with tall tales, doubt existed that the train, the 999, had really travelled faster than about 90 miles per hour. Nonetheless, the train had generated international headlines — and Ford, hoping to capitalize on its fame, named one of the two identical racecars that he built after it. Like that 62-ton locomotive, Ford’s 999 racer and its twin, Arrow — the machine that Ford had brought to frozen Lake St. Clair — were essentially monster motors on wheels, producing as much as 80 horsepower, ten or more times the power of many stock models — “built to speed, and speed alone,” wrote The Automobile and Motor Review.

Many in the crowd knew about Ford, this slightly built 40-year-old man with the piercing gray eyes, prominent nose and long, thin hands who seemed always to have a sly grin on his lips.  He had been building and driving horseless carriages around Detroit since 1896, when American-built cars were little more than a dream, and had founded and then left two other companies before incorporating a third, the Ford Motor Company, on June 16, 1903.

Son of a farmer, raised on a farm outside Detroit, Ford should have been destined to till the land, like so many of his 19th-century peers. But even as a young child his father’s tools fascinated him more than horses or fields, and by the time he turned teenager, machines had become his obsession.  At first it was unpowered machines, the watches and clocks he taught himself to take apart and repair. And then, not long after, he saw his first steam engine. The operator took the time to explain its mechanizations to the boy. And thus was Ford’s true destiny revealed to him.

Many in the shivering crowd also already knew about Ford’s racecars from the man who had steered several of them to national headlines: Barney Oldfield, the greatest American racecar driver of the early era, a man even more daring than Ford.  A champion bicyclist at age 16, Oldfield had never driven a motor vehicle of any kind until Ford, seeking publicity for his second attempt at an auto company, asked him to race the 999 in a competition. At the time, Ford himself was leery of driving it, except on the test track. Saying he would try anything once, Oldfield, 24, agreed. Ford entered the 999 into the October 1902 Manufacturer’s Challenge Cup at Detroit’s Grosse Pointe Blue Ribbon Track, venerable home of harness racing, and set about acquainting Oldfield with the car’s quirky features.

Barney Oldfield

“It took us only a week to teach him to drive,” Ford later recalled. “The man did not know what fear was. All that he had to learn was how to control the monster.”  Meaning specifically, how to steer it through corners without rolling over.

“The steering wheel had not yet been thought of,” Ford recalled. “On this one, I put a two-handed tiller, for holding the car in line required all the strength of a strong man.”

While Ford was cranking the 999 to life, Oldfield said: “Well, this chariot may kill me, but they will say afterward that I was going like hell when she took me over the bank.”

He did go like hell, winning that October 1902 race against the already legendary automaker and racer Alexander Winton, who until then was thought to be invincible.

In the summer of 1903, Oldfield drove Ford’s Arrow to world records at Midwest fairgrounds and then on July 25, at a track in Yonkers, New York. A few weeks later, he raced again at Grosse Pointe.  He had just passed the leader when a tire exploded and Arrow plowed into a fence, killing a spectator from Ohio. Oldfield, a newspaper reported, and “escaped by a miracle, as his machine was reduced to a mass of tangled iron and wood. That more people were not killed or maimed is a cause for wonder.” Cocky and gifted, a man who loved women as much as machines, Oldfield would maim and kill many more before the end of his career.

As Oldfield recovered from his injuries, the repaired Arrow took the starting flag in Milwaukee a week after the luckless Ohio man’s death. Promising young racer Frank Day was at the wheel. But the Arrow proved too much to manage, and he spun out of control. Ford’s racer rolled end over end, landing “on the unfortunate chauffeur, grinding him into the ground, an unrecognizable mess,” a paper reported.

For those who did not share autoists’ enthusiasm — and there were many who did not, influential politicians, judges, and editorialists among them — Day’s death was new cause for condemnation.
“We saw the young man who rode to his death on the day preceding the fatality,” the Wisconsin State Journal opined.  “A cleaner, fresher youth never delighted his parents’ eyes. The wind tousled his abundant hair on his clear forehead as he whirled about the track; determination and enthusiasm were in his eyes; the cheers of the impassioned mob impelled him as soldiers go to certain death under martial music.”

And then, an unrecognizable mess.

“We are not wholesome enough to enjoy the triumphs of the soil and noble horses and royal-blooded cattle,” the State Journal proclaimed. “The incident is a disgrace.”
For Ford, it was a disquieting but momentary setback. Back in Michigan, he rebuilt Arrow once again. He had further use for its awesome power.

Pure speed was not the only lure for the spectators in their gloves and fur-trimmed coats at Lake St. Clair on that January day in 1904. In the first half-decade of what would be called the American Century, railroads, ships, bicycles, horses and horse-pulled vehicles still transported most people and goods, but the country was witnessing an astonishing proliferation of horseless carriage manufacturers and models. Every new entry seemed to generate buzz. Whether you liked cars or hated them, lived in a city where they swarmed the streets or in the country where they were rarely, if ever, seen, you could hardly get through a day without talking about them.

Car-making had started in earnest in America just a decade before, with bicycle maker Charles Duryea, 31, in partnership with his 24-year-old mechanic brother, Frank—the first Americans to publicly declare their intention of creating a commercial enterprise from building and selling cars, contraptions most folks at the time thought were cobbled together by men possessing more free time than common sense. In September 1893 in Springfield, Massachusetts, Frank completed construction of a vehicle that married a custom-built single-cylinder gasoline motor to a horse-drawn phaeton buggy purchased second-hand for $70.

Shortly before he road-tested the car, Frank granted an interview to the Springfield Evening Union, which published a story on September 16, 1893, under the headline:

“A new motor carriage when, if the preliminary tests prove successful as expected, will revolutionize the mode of travel on highways, and do away with the horse as a means of transportation, is being made in this city,” the reporter wrote. “It is quite probable that within a short period of time one may be able to see an ordinary carriage in almost every respect running along the streets or climbing country hills without visible means of propulsion.”

Frank was more than a good pitchman. The car he had built with his brother’s support and the backing of lone financial backer Erwin F. Markham, a nurse who had invested $1,000 in the Duryeas, did indeed succeed its first time on the road. On the afternoon of September 20, the vehicle was hauled by horse from Frank’s machine shop to a friend’s yard on the outskirts of the city. The next morning, Frank took a streetcar out to the neighborhood. As he rode, he fantasized that “once well started on the open road, the machine would roll along sweetly for at least a mile or two… With this pleasant thought in mind, I enthusiastically pushed the car from under the apple tree.”

Frank started the engine and his car chugged onto Spruce Street. “America’s first gasoline automobile had now appeared,” he would recall. “It had done what it was designed and built to do, in that it carried the driver on the road and had been steered in the direction the driver wished to go.”
The car only travelled about 100 feet before stalling — but it restarted quickly, and each time again after successive stallings, providing sufficient encouragement for the Duryeas to continue. By March 1895, they had a smoother-operating machine that successfully completed an 18-mile round trip to Westfield, Massachusetts, along rough, steep, horse-ravaged roads — a feat that suggested the brothers really were onto something. On September 21, 1895, they incorporated the Duryea Motor Wagon Company.

“Those who have taken the pains to search below the surface for the great tendencies of the age know that a giant industry is struggling into being,” wrote the editor of The Horseless Age, America’s second automobile journal, in its inaugural issue, published in November 1895. “It is often said that a civilization may be measured by its facilities of Locomotion. If this is true, as seems abundantly proved by present facts and the testimony of History, the New Civilization that is rolling in with the Horseless Carriage will be Higher Civilization than the one that you enjoy.”

Like The Horseless Age’s editor, the growing ranks of motorists saw the car as the future; along with the locomotive, the telegram, photography, and electricity, it was a technology that would move mankind valiantly forward. They envisioned a time when a motorist could comfortably drive from East Coast to West and all points between –– when everyone could, and would, own a car.

This vision of the future seemed fairly delusional to the naysayers, whose numbers grew as the 19th century gave way to the 20th. They viewed the gas- and steam-powered car, by whatever name, as a loud, dangerous and polluting fiend that threatened the social fabric — an enemy of God-fearing people and noble horses. They dismissed the car, however propelled, as a fad soon to fade. Common sense alone told you it couldn’t last.

In those early days, most cars were so finicky that repair kits were included as standard features and wealthy owners hired mechanics to ride with them. Many cars had no cabins, roofs, headlamps, or doors. They could explode or burst into flame for no apparent reason.  “As gasoline tanks and leads sometimes leak and the fluid more rarely becomes ignited,” The Automobile, a leading weekly wrote, “it is a wise precaution on the part of the automobilist to carry a fire extinguisher in the car for such emergencies. Even though it may never be required, it will add something to the driver’s feeling of security; and should it ever be wanted, it will, like a revolver in the West, be wanted badly.”

And if the machine itself was at a primitive stage of development, the experience of motoring was cruder still. No training, registration or licenses to drive were required in most jurisdictions. There were few stop signs and no traffic lights. Accidents that injured or killed motorists and pedestrians abounded. Only a tiny percentage of U.S. roads were hard-surfaced. Service stations were scarce, gasoline rare in the outskirts and smaller cities, maps unreliable or non-existent. Motorists venturing off the beaten path were advised to carry guns, for protection against wildlife, irate horse-loving citizens, and ornery constables determined to avenge the evil of the new machine.

Regardless, the car was a siren’s call to inventors, entrepreneurs and all manner of tinkerers. In America, as in Europe, a new sort of gold rush was underway.

Like the Duryeas, some of the new manufacturers had been building bicycles before falling under the spell of the self-propelled machine. Horse-drawn carriage builders also sensed opportunity, as did blacksmiths, ship builders, sewing-machine makers, and many others. Unlike the railroad, petroleum, coal, and steel industries, the cost of entry was minimal. Not even a technical background was required, at least to stake a claim: In March 1901, an industry publication reported that The Reverend H.A. Frantz of Cherryville, Pennsylvania, “believes he has received a call to the motor trade, and will henceforth make petrol cars in place of sermons.”

This was an era when many car companies managed to build just a single vehicle or two a year and annual production of a few dozen was cause for Hallelujah. The Duryea brothers’ Duryea Motor Wagon Company, the first U.S. firm to serially produce a car, built and sold just 13 vehicles during its first full year of operation, 1896; sales were sporadic after that and in 1898, with Frank and Charles feuding, the company went out of business.

This was by far the most common story of the early era.  According to calculations Charles Duryea made in 1909, in the years 1900 to 1908, 502 U.S. car makers went into business, an average of 55 a year, or more than one a week. Of that total, 273 failed, and another 29 went into some other field, a failure rate of greater than 60 percent. 

Given his obsession with machines and his gift for building and improving them, Henry Ford seemed to have decent odds at enduring success. His business record, however, suggested he had much to learn. Two previous companies he’d started had failed, and rival firms—particularly industry leader Olds Motor Works, whose founder Ransom Eli Olds also was greatly gifted with machines —were already building devoted followings.  Ford needed more than just a good car if he were to succeed. In this frenzied period, so filled with competition, he needed attention. Speed records and racing got attention.

Henry Ford and his iconic Model T.

The winter sun shone weakly, bringing no warmth to the people lining the shore near the front porch of the Hotel Chesterfield. Among them were Ford’s wife, Clara, and the couple’s only child, their 10-year-old son, Edsel.

The Chesterfield, since it first opened in 1900, was one of the finest establishments in the resort community of New Baltimore, known for its mineral baths, opera house, saloons, and bathing, fishing, and sailing on Anchor Bay, just an hour by rail from Detroit. It offered the best food and amenities, including electric lights and steam heat throughout.  Here was a clientele that might buy a Ford car; possibly, a potential investor or two was lurking in the crowd that second Saturday of January 1904. A much larger audience would read about Ford’s attempt in the newspapers, thanks to the reporters on hand.

The ice-boat races Ford had arranged as a sort of opening act ended and the Arrow racecar was brought onto the ice. It was ugly and weird. It looked like it had been concocted by someone who had failed his mechanics apprenticeship and taken to whisky, not by an engineering genius. How else to explain its steel-reinforced wood frame, spoked wheels, single seat, and bewildering arrangement of exposed wires, gears, levers and controls – all in the service of an open motor that occupied nearly half the length of the vehicle and drenched the driver in oil and grease when it fired, for it had no oil pan or engine compartment.

Men hired by Ford had cleared a 15-foot-wide strip of ice four miles long on Anchor Bay, then coated it with cinders from the coal-fired power plant north of The Hotel Chesterfield. The first two miles would allow Arrow to come up to speed, the third mile would be timed, and the last was for deceleration. The event would have been easier (not to mention warmer) on the long, flat sands of Ormond Beach, Florida, just north of Daytona, future birthplace of NASCAR, where racing already was enormously popular. But the auto show at New York's Madison Square Garden, America’s largest, began the next weekend, before the start of the Daytona season. Ford hoped to arrive in Manhattan with a headline-making story of the incredible cars he could build.

Assuming no tragic accident occurred, that is. A thought that, when Ford walked onto the ice, left him uncharacteristically unnerved.

But it was too late to stop.

 “If I had called off the trial,” he later said, “we would have secured an immense amount of the wrong kind of advertising.”

Starting any car in 1904 was never easy — but firing in sub-freezing temperatures one of the largest automobile engines ever built was akin to raising the dead. Ford called on Edward S. “Spider” Huff, one of a small group of employees whose mechanical skills and ingenuity rivaled the boss’s. So valuable was Huff to Ford that the boss not only forgave him his habit of chewing tobacco, which Ford loathed, but allowed him to install a spittoon in his car. He also overlooked Spider’s disappearances for days inside houses of ill repute, where he sought relief from his recurring depression.

Spider warmed parts of Arrow with a blow torch and poured hot water into the cooling system to help coax the beast to life. A spectator volunteered to hand-crank the open engine, whose cast-iron heart was four massive seven-by-seven-inch cylinders.

The motor caught with a thunder that rattled the windows of the Hotel Chesterfield. Flame shot from Arrow’s exhausts and oil sprayed everywhere.

“The roar of those cylinders alone was enough to half kill a man,” Ford said of the first time they had been fired. More shock had awaited when he took Arrow and 999 onto the test track on its maiden run. “We let them out at full speed,” he said. “I cannot quite describe the sensation. Going over Niagara Falls would have been but a pastime after a ride in one of them.”

Ford took his seat. A warm-up run revealed something no test course or track had predicted: when the car hit fissures in the ice, the impact rattled the vehicle so violently that the driver could not keep a steady hand on the gas. Ford would never be able to bring Arrow full-throttle alone. Spider would have to ride with him, one hand controlling the gas and the other holding on, while hunkered down on the floorboards. There was no other place on the racecar.  “There was only one seat,” Ford said.
The afternoon was advancing, the January sun weakening. The American Automobile Association, the AAA, had agreed to officially certify the race –– but the organization’s three timers were tardy and Ford decided to make a run without them. His speed would not be official, but at least he’d have a number. As the iceboats circled, Spider and Ford drove to the start of the four-mile course. Men with stopwatches stood ready.

Spider leaned on the gas and Arrow rocketed down the ice. This time, the fissures did more than rattle and shake — they launched the car repeatedly into the air. The laws of physics were being tested, but Ford and Spider miraculously maintained control.

Some four minutes later, they coasted to a stop.

A speed of 100 miles an hour had been clocked.

That indeed buried the existing mark of 84.732 miles per hour, set on solid ground two months before by Arthur Duray, a 21-year-old who drove a French-built stock car that, its manufacturer claimed, could run not just on gasoline but also gin or brandy, presumably an enticement to the upper-class buyer in those twilight days of the Gilded Age. Duray’s record was the latest in a series of officially sanctioned advances that dated back to 1898, when a wedge-shaped, battery-powered vehicle had reached 39.2 mph, about as fast as a thoroughbred could gallop.

But Ford’s mark was not official: the AAA timekeepers had not arrived.

When they finally did, Ford brought Arrow back to the start of the course. But the car’s 225-pound flywheel whirred loose, nearly hitting him and Spider. “Ford narrowly escaped with his life,” wrote the Detroit Journal, which called Ford “a mechanic who began to design automobiles several years ago, when the craze for them began.”

Repairs could not be accomplished in the waning light, and the contest was postponed until Tuesday afternoon, January 12. With luck, Ford might still make it to New York a hero.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

#33Stories: Day 30, "The Feeling," a short story from the collection “The Beach That Summer: The Essential G. Wayne Miller Fiction, Vol. 3”

No. 30: “The Feeling," a short story
Context and full story below
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!

Every now and again, I dip back into horror. Thus it was with “The Feeling,” which I wrote a few years ago, between completing “Top Brain, Bottom Brain” and heading into the home stretch on “Car Crazy: The Battle for Supremacy Between Ford and Olds and The Dawn of the Automobile Age” (more on “Car Crazy” tomorrow).

“The Feeling,” as the title suggests, is more atmospheric than graphic, a story about a shy young man living in Boulder, Colorado, who sells the best weed in town and is gifted with the power of premonition. Which comes to him when touching others – a handshake, for example. Which also endows him with the power of life or death.

"The Feeling" was published four years ago in “The Beach That Summer: The Essential G. Wayne Miller Fiction, Vol. 3,” another collection of shorts, some dating back decades, others more recent, from my good friends David Wilson and David Dodd at Crossroad Press. Other titles stories in the collection include the title piece, “The Beach That Summer,” and “Christmas in the Year of Our Lord Ten,” “Brief Encounters with Baby,” “A Proper Burial,” “Elevators,” “Every Step of the Way,” “Time on Charity,” “First Love,” “Labor of Love,” “Trees,” “Momma,” “Something for Heidi,” “The Overseer” and “The Place He Was In.”

I dedicated “The Beach That Summer” to my son, Calvin.

READ “The Beach That Summer”


Adam left his apartment now only after night had fallen. He was no zombie or vampire, just a man in his 20s who had been treated strangely by life and wanted only solitude, which offered him solace, as much as he would ever have, he supposed. He did not view this as sad, only realistic. The word “different” only applied to those who lacked insight.

Of course, he had to eat: food is fuel, as he sometimes put it. They sold food at the 24-hour convenience store four blocks from his apartment, and the clerks always greeted him nicely and never asked probing questions; they were gentle creatures, too, people like him just getting by, living for the moment, knowing, as he did, that the future was always unpredictable and sometimes scary, and in any event, beyond your control. Whatever gets you through the night is all right, as John Lennon sang. Adam liked that old music, the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles especially, with their mix of psychedelia and free love and revolution. Tear down the walls, motherfucker, and all that. Those must have been good times. A young man like him would have belonged. Woodstock would have been his kind of thing, for sure.

So there he was, moving toward the checkout counter at 1:33 a.m., his basket filled with cookies, candy bars, beef jerky, chips, Red Bull, Coke and a day-old submarine sandwich that still looked OK. Quite an invention, the convenience store, Adam thought. They certainly are convenient! He laughed silently at his little joke. He could be much funnier. Ironic, too, in an intellectual way. Someday, he’d have to write a clever book or a TV pilot.

As the clerk rang him up, the door opened and a couple about his age burst in, giggling crazily.
Needless to say, they were as high as the snow-capped Rocky Mountains that nestled them here in Boulder: the smell of weed and the dilated pupils confirmed that. And they were very, very hungry, like that caterpillar in the children’s story that Adam’s mother read to him when he was a little kid, before her addictions took over completely, which was the last time he could remember feeling truly contented.

“I want Ben & Jerry’s,” the woman said.

“Who’s Ben? And what’s the deal with Jerry?” said the man, clearly a sarcastic sort. “I mean, those dudes are like 100 years old or something. Probably the only thing they can eat now is ice-cream, the toothless old fucks!”

The couple convulsed in laughter.

“Cherry Garcia, babe,” the woman said.

“Be grateful you’re not dead,” the man said. “Get it?”

The couple laughed again.

The boyfriend headed toward the freezers, in a back corner of the store.

Adam completed his purchase with cash, per usual. He had no credit cards, no bank account; when you sold weed in large volume, dollar bills and bartering were your only currencies. Nothing traceable, so long as you stayed away from the cameras, which were pretty much everywhere these days. Being aware of that, you could take evasive procedures. The only piece he’d yet to figure out were the convenience-store monitors, but he had to eat, didn’t he. He hoped never to reach the point where he needed to wear a disguise. Fake beards looked, well, fake, and ski masks were dead giveaways. Sunglasses didn’t do the job, not with the facial recognition software they now had. Look how quickly they’d found the Boston Marathon bombers.

Nor did Adam have a phone. When he went online, which he did obsessively, he used encryption and other protective technologies that he’d learned from Anonymous and other digital anarchists. He had hacked into Xbox Live and Netflix and Apple and the other places where he hung out, leaving no trace of who and where and what he was. Yes, he was cool with Assange and that Snowden dude, new best buddy of Putin. They were not going to find him: no CIA or FBI or NSA geeks, working in some windowless, softly-lit room in a reinforced-concrete building in remote freaking Utah.
No reporters, either. He hated reporters worst of all. They had the real power to ruin a person, and they used it gleefully. Adam knew this first-hand.

“Hey, there, good lookin’, whatcha got cookin’?”

The woman was talking to him.

Adam was immediately, instinctively paranoid. Not that he wasn’t good-looking -- truth was, he was better-looking than most, a tall, fit man with thick dark hair, reminiscent of a young Bradley Cooper. And while the woman was too young to remember Roy Orbison when he was alive, Adam suspected she would agree that his music was timeless. He had plenty of Orbison on his iPod, along with The Beatles and Stones, and Jefferson Airplane, and Hendrix, and Ten Years After... the list went on. It could have been his father’s playlist, if his father were alive.

But even the clerk could see that the woman was only happy and high. She had no agenda. No come-on or weird shit, just a high chick in the full bloom of life, in a place where weed greased the wheels of life. Someone’s great mother someday, smoking joints with her kids, but only after they’d reached legal age.

Adam froze.

The woman didn’t pick up on his body language.

She took Adam’s right hand and turned it over, revealing his palm. She was silent a moment, her face locked in concentration.

“You have a long life line,” she said. “So you’re going to be with us a while. Decades and decades, maybe you’ll even make one hundred. But I don’t see any happiness here. The joy line ends suddenly. How long have you been, you know, down on things? And what’s your name?”

“Michael,” Adam said.

She was still holding his hand.

They were connected.

And in that instant, he felt and saw it, unmistakably: her future. Her future, which would end in four minutes and 23 seconds.

He began to tremor.

She let go of his hand, the vibes suddenly emanating from him all bad. They cut through the marijuana haze, giving her goose bumps. He didn’t frighten her exactly, but some primal circuit had been activated. Flight, not fight.

“Hey, man, I didn’t mean to freak you out,” she said, slowly backing away. “Like, I don’t even believe in palm-reading, you know? It’s just a silly game. Like Ouija boards and shit like that.”

Two pints of Cherry Garcia in hand, her boyfriend returned.

“What’s going on?” he said. His laughter had turned to stone.

 “Nothing,” Adam said. The boyfriend was tattooed, broad-shouldered,  no stranger to a gym.
“Don’t look like nothing to me,” he said. “Looks like a shitload of something, you creepy fuck.”
Purchase in hand, Adam walked to the door.

“No worries,” the clerk whispered to the couple. “That’s just Adam. Creature of the night. But he wouldn’t hurt a fly. And FYI, he sells the best weed in Boulder. Don’t smoke it himself, go figure, but trust me: it’s the best.”

Adam paused just outside the door, peeking in.

He looked at the woman more studiously, now that he was unobserved. She had dark hair and chocolate-colored skin, the story of America today. She was wearing black boots, black pants and black top. A petite, dark, and beautiful woman. Only her striking pink lipstick would stand out from the inky night. A speeding drunk driver would not see her until it was too late.

In many of its essential elements, Adam’s story was one of America today, too.

He was the only son of a young waitress and her boyfriend, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and jumped to his death off the Mystic River Bridge, near their home in Charlestown, the summer Adam turned ten. He left only a note that said: “I can’t take the feeling anymore.”

As the years passed, about all Adam would remember was his father’s love of ‘60s music and the story that his much-older brother, the uncle Adam rarely saw, told about how he had been conceived in a muddy tent at Woodstock and correctly predicted a terrible blizzard would strike New England on his ninth birthday, in 1978. That was all Adam could remember -- that and how secure he felt when Daddy hugged him, which was, best he knew, exactly twice.

Mom made ends meet, but at a low-rent level. Literally, low-rent. Before Adam was 18, they had cycled through seven apartments in working-class Boston neighborhoods. That many jobs or more, too. Boyfriends came and went, aunts and uncles drifted in and out, but on one thing, his mother never wavered: She loved her son, and would do anything for him. As much, that is, as a woman who met the federal criteria for poverty and was bent on slowly obliterating herself with drugs and booze could.

Adam first experienced The Feeling six days after his father’s body was fished from Boston Harbor, where it had flushed after his leap, which had been witnessed by hundreds of morning commuters and made the papers and websites and TV news, with a photo of him in freefall, about to hit the water, where his poor tortured head was pulverized on impact.

It was the afternoon of the funeral, when relatives filled the apartment, crying and reminiscing a bit but mostly just getting bad-ass drunk.

Between refills of her Bud Light, Aunt Lilly gave her nephew a hug and spoke comforting words into his ear.

Adam felt it, at that precise moment, a moment he’d never forget: something like low voltage flooding his body. A tingling that, surprisingly in light of what lay ahead, was pleasant.

 “You’re going to be very lucky,” he said to his Aunt Lilly.

She looked at him, perplexed.

“Well, I am lucky,” she said. “I have you as my nephew.”

“I don’t mean that.”

“Then what do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” he said.

From the kitchen, someone hollered that the beer was running out.

Lilly volunteered to get more.

And when she returned, she held a case of Sam Adams and a fistful of $20 bills.

“Scratch ticket!” she announced. “Beer’s on me!”

The next instance was three years later, the winter of sixth grade.

He was in the basement of middle school with an eighth-grade girl who’d discounted the age difference on account of his looks. The boy was cute. Also, awkward and shy. Had never kissed a girl before, he confided. So she took care of that, there in the basement that January afternoon following last bell.

Adam’s body went electric. He’d never imagined a kiss would be like this, delicious and forbidden and manic, a jumble of sensation. She drew him closer, her lips locked to his, their bodies tight, her arms wrapped around him.

He experienced a sudden surge. Something like pins-and-needles, or banging your funny bone, was the best he could describe it. Low voltage, but intensifying.

This time, it hurt.

He pulled away.

“What, now you don’t like me?” the girl said.

“It’s not that,” Adam said. “I just have a bad feeling.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“You need to stay home this weekend. Don’t go near ice.”

“Man, they were right. You are weird.”

“Don’t go near ice,” he repeated. A buzzing that a doctor might have described as concussive tinnitus filled his head. The Full Feeling.

An image of a frozen pond materialized in Adam’s mind. He heard ice cracking, then sirens.

“The ice is not safe,” he said.

The girl stormed off.

She did not fall through ice that weekend. On Saturday afternoon, while skating at the municipal rink, she fell and broke her left leg. The pain was intense. She lay sobbing on the ice as the guard called for an ambulance.

After that, The Feeling intensified, when it came. The accuracy seemingly improved, as well, or perhaps Adam was better able to interpret it; unsafe ice, for example, did not necessarily imply a pond. Whatever, it seemed to correlate with the strength of the physical touch. A brush of the hand or tap on the shoulder brought vague images and barely a trace of voltage. A firm handshake or full-body contact -- on a crowded subway, for example -- brought clarity and power.

But not always. The Feeling was fickle.

As the years passed and he began to realize that it must be some part of him -- or was something that followed him, like karma he couldn’t shake -- he would never fully comprehend what it was, exactly, or where it had come from, or why only he seemed to possess it -- he became acutely aware of every physical encounter with another human being. More often than not, nothing resulted: weeks could pass without The Feeling, and then it might come three times in one day, try as he might to avoid contact with another person. That was impossible for someone who lived in a city, of course. A bubble boy or a hermit in a cave, maybe, but that was not him.

So the feeling was fickle. That’s what ultimately would drive Adam close to madness before he gained control -- that and the belief that somehow he was responsible, that if only he tried to keep it away (and he did try), or reached understanding, The Feeling would pass and never revisit. He researched hours online and in libraries, but all he found was psychic babble and psychobabble and extraterrestrial nonsense and voodoo and the like, of no use to anyone but a lunatic, and he was confident he was not that. He observed his own behavior, obsessively, looking for clues that would presage The Feeling, omens warning of its imminence, changes in mood and temperament that might raise the alarm. But nothing. There were no correlations or indicators or signs; none, at least, that he could discern.
And, yes, more
 than once he had the thought: I should run with it, harness it, make a living off it -- potentially, a very big living, as snake charmer or shaman or soothsayer for modern times. Heal the sick. Resurrect the dying. Save the children. Found a religion. Fill a church and the airwaves with supplications of the faithful and money pouring in on a 1-800 line.

But The Feeling was fickle.

And sometimes, of course, it was dramatic.

Thus it was inevitable that Adam eventually would make the news.

And he did, in blockbuster fashion, one summer morning the year he turned 20.

By then, tired of a borderline drunk of a mother who was on her tenth boyfriend or whatever, he had left home. He was renting a furnished room in a triple-decker in Dorchester and taking computer courses at community college, which he afforded with a job at Dunkin’ Donuts. He opened for the store: the early-early shift, on at 3 a.m., off at 11. Made the sandwiches and poured the coffee, but rarely worked the counter or window, where there was high risk of direct physical contact with strangers.

He was finishing his shift that summer morning when a man he hadn’t seen since elementary school walked in. Clete Bernier was athletic and good-natured, if not necessarily the brightest bulb on the tree. Star of their Little League team those years ago, he had earned a reputation as a slugger. Adam vividly recalled the game, last of the season, two men out, bottom of the ninth, bases loaded and their team behind by three runs, and Clete coming to bat.

Adam high-fived him before he stepped to the plate.

The Feeling came.

Clete sent the first pitch over the left-field fence. A photo of their championship team made the papers.

“Well if it isn’t Adam Murkowski!” Clete said, that morning at Dunkin’ Donuts. “My good luck charm from way back when!”

They talked and exchanged phone numbers and the conversation wound down. After the memories, there really wasn’t much to say.

Clete embraced his old teammate with a bear hug.

“Man, it’s been great!” he said. “See you on Facebook.”

Clete held the hug a bit longer. He was that kind of guy: affable and outgoing, a touchy-feely dude, in the best sense of the word.

He did not understand why Adam’s body went rigid, if he even noticed.

Adam was experiencing The Feeling -- but it was no blessed jolt of game-winning good fortune this time. Adam saw the future, 14 hours distant. He heard breaking metal, saw violent motion, smelled gasoline and fire.

“Do you have a car?” he said.

“You bet!” Clete said. “A 2007 Chevy Camaro.”

“Don’t drive tonight,” Adam said.

Clete looked at him quizzically. He remembered now how the kid had always been a beat or two off the score, probably because his father swan-dove off the Mystic River Bridge, when the boy was at an impressionable age. He remembered the story that went around in sixth grade that he had predicted some girl -- he couldn’t recall her name just now -- would break her arm skating. And she did.
The notion occurred to Clete that maybe this was another prediction, but that notion passed. The kid was just weird. Harmless, but not wrapped too tight.

“Well, good to see you,” he said.

“I mean it,” Adam said. “Don’t drive tonight.”

He saw the doubt in Clete’s eyes.

“I know it sounds crazy,” he said. “I wouldn’t tell you if you hadn’t  always been nice to me,” Adam said.

Not everyone back then was.

The police would use the word “miracle” in describing how Clete Bernier survived the wreck of his car with only minor injuries. It was a word Clete himself used, in every one of his many interviews.

Crossing the Mystic River Bridge after a night at a bar, Clete had lost control and flipped over twice. His Camaro was totaled. Clete crawled to safety, seconds before it exploded.

The accident might have been just another item on the police log, if Clete hadn’t left the hospital and immediately called The Boston Globe’s sports desk. The reporter who answered knew Clete well: Captain of his high school varsity baseball team who had been scouted by the majors, he had made All-City and All-State and been featured in the paper numerous times. His family, which owned a chain of popular restaurants, was civic-minded and well-respected in the city. Clete was no wack job or bull-shitter.

As he began to lose control of his car, Clete told the reporter, Adam’s words rang in his head. In the micro-moment before he would have slammed  into an abutment, Clete cut the wheel. The car rolled. The seatbelt contained him.

“Adam saved my life,” Clete said, in a quote that opened the story. Putting two and two together, he went on to relate the Little League incident, and the girl in sixth grade, and the time , which he remembered only now, when Adam “predicted” -- that was the word Clete used -- where an eighth-grade kid would find his cat, which had run away. That last story was a figment of Clete’s imagination, though he believed it to be true. Memory can be funny sometimes.

In his awkward way, Adam himself confirmed the essentials of the crash story when the reporter and a staff photographer knocked on his door, catching him off guard. Adam’s mother blabbered on some, too, when the reporter called on her. The reporter was good. He tracked down the girl from sixth grade, and the aunt, and the Little League coach and some others who had been changed for better or worse by The Feeling. Once he started, it was easy to connect the dots.

In another era, before TMZ and Perez Hilton and Extra! and all the rest, The Globe probably would not have printed the story. The reporter might have been reprimanded for wasting time on something that could never be proved.

But newspapers were fighting for their lives, the free web sites eating their lunch. The story ran on the front page of teh Sunday edition, highest-circulation paper of the week, with photos of Adam and Clete, and a sprinkling of “allegedly” and “claims” and “could not be independently confirmed” and other such old-fashioned disqualifiers that no one paid much attention to. AP picked up the story and from there, it went international.

Adam’s life descended into hell after that. Answering that knock on his door had been the single biggest mistake he’d ever made.

He answered only the first three of the many knocks that followed, beginning the day the Globe story ran. The first was a woman in a wheelchair begging to be healed. The second was the girl from sixth-grade, who apologized profusely and asked him on a date, which he declined. The third was an agitated and intoxicated man who threatened to kill Adam after blaming him for losing his wife. “You touched me at Dunkin Donuts,” he said. “Making change.” Indeed, there had been a few shifts when Adam had been ordered to work the counter. “I got home and she told me was seeing another guy,” the man went on. “She moved out the next day. You son of a bitch.”

Adam called the police, and never answered his door again.

But the knockings continued. Letters came, too, some with offers of films and books and bookings at Foxwoods and Vegas. A month after the story broke, Adam moved, into the apartment of a shy woman his age who worked the same shift at Dunkin’ Donuts. Shyness was cover for her love of weed. She was into it big-time. Was a major dealer with many tricks of the trade to teach him, as it turned out. The shyness hid her abiding lust for sex, too. They made love the first night, and almost every night through Christmas Eve, almost half a year later. Often, she woke him, ready to go. Not once did he experience The Feeling with her, nor did she ever say much of anything about it, even though she had clipped the Globe story for her scrapbook. Weed can dull certain people like that. And Adam, to his surprise, had become a good lover. He knew the tricks of pleasing a woman.
On Christmas morning, she told him it was over. She’d found another guy. Bu New Year’s Eve, she’d taken her stuff and gone.

The mob had found him again by then. New stories appeared. New strangers and old acquaintances knocked again on his door. Somehow, his cell phone and email address made it onto the Internet. He changed both, and the replacements were published, too. The Snowden revelations made headlines, and Adam began to suspect the NSA and FBI were shadowing him. Maybe they feared him, or perhaps they wanted his secret power, which might be harnessed for the public good. Properly channeled, The Feeling could be a valuable national asset. Adam could not argue with that.
But The Feeling seemed to have left, and Adam was starting to believe  life might become manageable again, after all. Nonetheless, he would have to leave Boston, where the masses now considered him a favorite son -- a sort of psychic Tom Brady or David Ortiz. He would have to discard his phone and never go online without serious encryption. Weed would be his income.
Yes, things could work out.

Shortly before leaving for Colorado, he visited his mother to say goodbye. He did not intend to say anything about where he was going or what he would do, only that he’d be OK and be in touch now and then, holidays and her birthday for sure. On hearing that, she broke down and cried, a blubbering inebriated mess. Adam was resolute, but his soul was kind. He hugged her.
The current jolted him nearly off his feet.

“Where are the pills?” he said.

“None of your business,” his mother said, her mood flashing to anger.

They were in the kitchen. A half-empty bottle of cheap vodka sat by the sink.

“I’m pouring this out,” he said. “The pills, too.”

His mother lunged at him.

“Give me them,” she shouted, beating her fists against his chest. “And get the fuck out of my life. Like your father did, you fucking assholes.”

Adam left, and called 911 from the street. He would later learn that by pumping her stomach at the hospital, his mother had lived.

He stood now in the shadows around the convenience store.

A buzzing that a doctor might have called tinnitus on overdrive filled his head. This was The Full Feeling, the worst it could get. The Full Feeling brought startlingly clear images that seemed to burn through his eyes, ears and nose into the frontal lobes of his brain. He saw headlights, lipstick, a tattoo, lips frozen in pain. He heard tires, screams, and something resembling a massive, moist slap. He smelled engine grease. He tasted death. That was the worst sensation of all.

The couple exited the store.

Adam confronted the moral dilemma once again. Wasn’t everyone master of her and his own ship? Where did the line between free will and fate fall? Hadn’t The Feeling proven time and again to be confoundingly fickle?

Hadn’t he learned to keep his mouth shut?

“Don’t cross that street,” Adam said to the woman.

The Feeling had reached critical mass. The taste was burning his tongue.

“Stay here,” Adam said. “For the next minute, that’s all.”

The woman’s tattooed boyfriend snarled in anger.

“How about I cut off your balls, you fucking creep,” he said.

The man took a step toward him. His adrenalin was spiking. All that time in the gym.

The woman restrained him.

“It’s OK,” she said. “The dude’s just weird, that’s all.”

“Please,” Adam said. “You did nothing. You don’t deserve to die.”

The woman pulled her boyfriend and they started across the street, into the path of a Mercedes driven by a woman who, the toxicology reports would later reveal, had a blood-alcohol level of .22, more than twice the legal limit.

Adam’s head cleared. “Whatever gets You Through the Night,” the John Lennon tune, played in his head. He thought of his dad. The things he took with him to the grave. The things Adam would have asked him.

He started home, before the cops and EMTs arrived.

He felt bad, but not guilty.

He’d faced his moral dilemma, done his best.

He was hungry for his submarine sandwich.

Author photo from "The Beach That Summer"