Blog

Yes, I’m still alive … for now!

I haven’t updated this blog in a while and for the three of you who’ve asked, no, I’m not dead.

Not that I haven’t thought about, you know, death.

I’m not talking swimming with hungry alligators death, but pretend death. Hiding out. Going missing for a year or so.

Think about it. There’s all kinds of stories about artists whose work became much more valuable after their demise.

Take Van Gogh. The guy didn’t sell a single painting in his lifetime. Well, not to anyone other than his younger brother, Theo. Not even cutting his ear off helped sales. But once he died? Boom!

Nowadays, only Jeff Bezos, the richest man alive, can afford a Van Gogh. (Can’t you hear Alexa now? “For Jeff, a shipment will arrive today, including The Starry Night, Sunflowers, Forest Interio and Wheatfield with Crows.”)

I can see the headlines now. Little Known Author, E. E. Williams Dies at 70. Latest Novel Skyrockets to No. 1

The book – “My Grave Is Deep” – will get turned into a movie, which will be followed by another movie about my life, and then a sequel to the first movie using my previous two novels – “Tears in the Rain” and “Tears of God” (hey, get your plugs in wherever you can, I say) – as source material, and by the time I miraculously return from the dead, I’ll be sleeping on a mattress stuffed with cash, in a castle high in the Alps, and humming Edelweiss.

The other question – besides “Have you died?” and “Who did you say you were?” – most frequently asked is “What does the E. E. stand for?”

I have the same initials as my late father, Edwin Earl Williams. I am named after my maternal grandfather Eugene and my dad, Earl.

Thus, I am Eugene Earl, although only my mother calls me Eugene and only when she’s angry with me, which is most of the time.

Though I am proud of the name, I wish my parents would have thought a little more about it and realized that my initials would be EEW.  Look up “eew” in the dictionary and this is what you get: “1. To excite nausea or loathing in; sicken. 2. To offend the taste or moral sense of; repel. n. Profound dislike or annoyance caused by something sickening or offensive.”

OK, so maybe they got it right, but still.

When I decided to write novels, I considered using a pen name. In any bookstore, Williams is going to be found on the bottom right shelf that can only be reached with scuba gear. I thought maybe I could change the last name to Able, but then I’d actually have to be “able” to get my books into an actually bookstore.

Besides, it was my dad who first gave me a book and told me to stop watching TV and read. How could I change my name?

The answer was I couldn’t. So E. E. Williams it is.

Look for it soon at the top of those bestsellers list.

Just don’t look for me.

The horror. The horror.

I have decided to die.

Not right away. Maybe in another 40 years, which would make me 110.

But when I do die, it will be right here in Bluffton, SC.

It’s easier than having to move again.

In fact, I’m not even going to leave our condo. Whoever finds my body, can just cremate me on the spot, scatter my ashes on the carpet and let the next owners whoosh me up in the vacuum.

In the course of my life, I have moved 3,228 times and this one, by far, was/is/will be the worst.

We thought the move to Bluffton would be hard given our ages and my decrepitude, the boxing and unboxing, the never ending attempt to find a place for things in the new home that always knew their place in the old home, but we had no idea of what disgust and dismay, what absolute terror lay before us.

The South Carolina DMV.

All DMVs are vampiric, sucking your life’s blood straight from your aorta. But South Carolina has enough bureaucracy to choke a herd of elephants and enough red tape to encircle the globe. Twice.

To get a SC driver’s license and plates for a vehicle you need to fill out 1,923 forms, pay $10,643.19 in fees, make 327 trips to various state agencies and petition for a change to the U.S. Constitution.

The first stop on my long and winding road to be able to legally drive in South Carolina was, of course, the DMV office. This particular one was about the size of the third bedroom in your daughter’s dollhouse. The queue as I arrived wended through the tiny room, out the door, into and out of the restrooms, out the door, down the sidewalk, onto the street, over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house, and back again.

Estimated wait time, 16 days.

This is South Carolina, remember, where the sun feels as if it’s about two inches from your forehead. Waiting outside in that kind of heat will melt your brain cells and drive you mad. When I finally made my way inside the room, there were maybe 6 chairs and about 400 people brawling for a place to sit. It was so bad I had to hip check a 6-year-old boy into a counter to grab a seat. He was crying, but then, by this time, so was I.

Periodically, a disembodied voice would announce which number was being served next.

“Now serving B-1976 at station number 7.” “Now serving A-1430 at station 11. “Now serving V-516 at station 1.”

I was in the T group and within seconds of my sitting down, the voice said, “Now serving T-13 at station 3.”

Yeeesssss, I thought. I might make it out of here today.

Then I examined more closely then number I’d been given as elbowed my way into the room.

T-19,232.

I think I fell asleep. I’m not sure for how long. Months maybe.

Finally, though, I heard “Now serving T-19,232 at station 3,” and I staggered up to station 3 where a clerk rasped wearily, “Got all your paperwork?”

I hefted the 10-pound documentation binder onto her desk where it landed with a thud that shook the room.

“Yes,” I said. “Everything but a Social Security card.”

With an eyebrow raised, she gave me the once over and said, “I didn’t know they were handing out Social Security cards back in 1901.”

“Hey, I’m only 70,” I protested.

“Really? Huh. Well, you need a Social Security card to get a license. That or 21 other means of ID.”

“I haven’t had that card since I was 16,” I said. “I think it was in the back pocket of the jeans my mom washed. But look, look, look. My Social Security number is right here … right on my spiffy red, white and blue Medicare card.”

“No can do,” she said. She pressed a button and the announcement came, “Now serving T-19,233 at desk 3.”

Sobbing, I left and went back home where I spent 2 days scrounging the 21 other “means of ID.” I returned to the DMV, waited in line, played musical chairs again and finally made my way back to desk 3.

“Got it all this time,” I said triumphantly.

“We’ll see about that,” said the clerk.

It took her three hours to check all the documents. I paid my fee and was told “Your number will be called in the next hour to six days to get your photo taken.”

I waited. And waited. And waited. My beard grew three inches. I started to smell. By the time I got my picture taken, several people thought they recognized me from the WANTED posters at the police station.

I wasn’t through, however. Now I needed plates.

In South Carolina, vehicles are considered property, so I had to go to a separate office to pay the tax on my car. T the door, I was issued another ticket to see the auditor. Entered another room the size of a postage stamp. Played another game of chair, chair, who’s got the chair. Waited, waited, waited. Had my number called and got up to the auditor’s desk. Handed over my paperwork. The clerk did some typing and then told me I’d have to wait for the treasurer to call my number. More chair games. More waiting, waiting, waiting. My foot went to sleep. My hair fell out. My butt went numb. Finally, the treasurer called my number. I lurched up to the desk and paid my fee.

“Can I get my plates now?” I pleaded, blood running from my eyes.

“Not here,” the treasurer said brightly.

“Where?” I croaked.

“The DMV.”

They had to call an ambulance to take me away.

John Scalzi, Jeff Klinkenberg, Sherryl Woods, Mary Buser, D.W. Vogel, Robert Strauss … and me

I’m always writing about my own books in this blog.

Which makes sense since, you know, I want to sell books.

And man, they are selling at an alarming clip. My latest royalty check was for $2.27. Pretty soon, I’m going to have enough money to buy a movie ticket. Matinee, of course. No candy, though.

Anyway, for those who forgot, my books, featuring amateur detective Noah Greene are:

TITR is first in the series, TOC is the second, and MGID the most recent, and all are available in paperback and eBook formats at Amazon.com.

But, today’s blog isn’t about me, though I have to admit I am my most favorite subject.

It’s the other writers in my circle of family, friends and acquaintances that have done, and are doing, wonderful things, and who continue to motivate me.

To wit:

Mary Buser: Mary is my loved one’s cousin and she has written an excellent book about the terrible abuses at New York’s Rikers Island. The book is called “Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail.” Mary was once a social work intern at Rikers and saw the awful conditions up close and personal. It took her years to write the book, time well spent because this is a riveting read. It has put Mary to the forefront of the prison reform discussion and rightly so. Read this book.

John Scalzi: Maybe the best Sci-Fi writer working today. John and I worked briefly together at the Fresno Bee. He was an excellent writer then, but I had no idea he had this kind of talent in him. His “Old Man’s War” just knocked my socks off and returned me to my love of science fiction. I’d lost it over the years, but “Old Man’s War” rekindled my interest. I could write reems about John but suffice to say he’s reached the top of Everest, planted his flag and is doing a happy dance. He’s written a dozen best-sellers (check out his author page) and is on a par with the greats of the genre such as Arthur C. Clark, Ray Bradbury, Issac Asimov and Robert Heinlein.

Sherryl Woods: Another former colleague, Sherry and I worked together at the now defunct Miami News (I have killed many newspapers, but that’s another story for later). She was the TV writer at the time and I worked in the sports department. Somehow, I talked her into writing a screenplay together. It bore a remarkable resemblance to today’s “Ballers” series on HBO starring Dwayne Johnson, but our effort was, shall we say, a bit before it’s time and was roundly rejected by anybody who bothered to read it. Sherry managed to survive that disaster by going on to become an esteemed romance novelist with dozens of titles too numerous to list here. (Do check out her author page, however.) Not long ago, her Chesapeake Shores series was picked up by Hallmark for a series that’s now in its fourth season.

Robert Strauss: Geez, what a good writer he is. And a hustler. He worked for a time at the Asbury Park Press, the Philadelphia Daily News and Sports Illustrated, but at some point decided to strike out as a freelancer. Trying to find paying freelance gigs is like trying to find ice water in the Mohave. But his work has appeared extensively in the New York Times and other such notable publications. Several years back, he wrote a wonderful book called “Daddy’s Little Goalie: A Father, His Daughters and Sports,” which prompted me to do a piece on him while I worked at the Cherry Hill Courier Post. He followed that up with “Worst. President. Ever,” and, no, it’s not about who you might think. The subtitle is “James Buchanan, the POTUS Rating Game, and the Legacy of the Least of the Lesser Presidents.” Whew. It will take you longer to say the name than to read the book. That’s how good a writer is Strauss (everybody calls him by his last name). You will fly through the pages.

Jeff Klinkenberg: Jeff and I met as young sportswriters at the Miami News. You may not know this, but sportswriters are a competitive lot. Jeff, myself, Jonathan Rand and others would vie for space on the front page of the sports section. We all thought we were the better reporters and, more importantly, the better writers. Because the News staff was small, we all also doubled on the sports desk, reading and editing each other’s copy. At first, I thought I’d make some … improvements in Jeff’s stories about the outdoors, which was his specialty. A week, maybe two later I discovered that Jeff Klinkenberg was – and is – one of the finest writers I’ve ever met. Not just about outdoor sports, but about anything. I couldn’t find a darn thing in his stories I could change or improve on, try as I might. It depressed me. Still does. Jeff went on from the Miami News to dominate outdoors coverage in Florida and has written a slew of non-fiction books about everything from sharks (“The Shark Attack Files: Investigating the World’s Most Feared Predator” to tomatoes (“Building a Better Tomato: The Quest to Perfect ‘The Scandalous Fruit.’” Try having that kind of range as an author. His latest great read is “Son of Real Florida: Stories from My Life.”

D.W. Vogel: I met Wendy in a writer’s group I’d joined and was immediately struck by her presence, her willingness to help others and, of course, her ability. She has written a series of sci-fi novels called “Horizon Alpha” and they are a pure joy to read. Alien planets. Dinosaurs. Teens in peril. What’s not to love? Wendy is a veterinarian, scuba diver and … a cancer survivor. As someone who lost a breast to a tumor when I was 18, I have a particular affinity for anyone battling this insidious disease. Unfortunately, Wendy’s still experiencing some issues, but nevertheless finds time and determination to write. She is freakin’ awe inspiring.

These are the folks that continue to show me that I have the potential to someday afford a late movie and a candy bar.

Socks? Check. Underwear? Uh …

I have this little job. Four hours a day, Monday through Friday.

I thought that when I retired I wouldn’t be working anymore, but that was before the gaffer – an English term for “the boss” – laid down the law.

Work or die.

I’m afraid of the gaffer, so I went back to work.

The job really isn’t so little. The company for which I work, is a regional healthcare conglomerate with bunch of offices and hospitals and about 13,000 employees. I work the Help Desk, which is laughable because I can barely help myself.

We get dozens and dozens and dozens of calls a day about broken computers, broken printers, broken phones. No broken bones, but lots of other broken stuff. I handle voicemails and emails in the mornings because I’m not good on the phones. Apparently, “What the hell do you want you dithering idiot,” isn’t considered good customer service. Go figure.

Many days, I have to be a detective, along the lines of Noah Greene, the protagonist of my three mystery novels, “Tears in the Rain,” “Tears of God,” and “My Grave Is Deep.” The voicemail prompt asks the caller to leave their name, their employee ID, their location, their computer number, a working callback number, and what they ate for breakfast.

Often, the caller rattles off, “Hi, this is Rita, my computer’s broken, call me back, bye, waffles,” and then forget to hang up the phone, so that the vm, which stands for voicemail for those of you who don’t know healthcare lingo, is a daunting 200 minutes long.

Other times, the caller leaves a message that Einstein couldn’t decipher.

Yeah, I’m calling about the paresthesia isn’t showing up on the obdormition and the sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is causing an issue with the fasciculation of the heloma durum. Can you tell me how to fix it?”

Uh …

Anyway, every Friday I need to do a timecard for my little job. I put a recurring reminder in my phone because as I’ve grown older, I forget things, like remembering to put on socks and underwear in the morning.

The other day, I finished my shift and my phone dinged with the reminder. I got up and went to get my personal computer to fill out my timecard. Got sidetracked because I had to pee. Came out to the kitchen and thought, “I’m thirsty,” and got myself a Diet Coke. Took two sips and went back to pee. Came back to the kitchen, saw that the floor needed sweeping and went to the garage to get a broom and dustbin. Saw the front lawn sprinkler start running and stood for 15 minutes watching it. Went back into the house to pee. Tried to recall what it was I was supposed to be doing. It’s in your phone, I told myself. Went looking for my phone. Passed some cookies on the counter and ate one. Then two. Then three. Washed them down with my Diet Coke and then had to … you know. Came back out, thought, “What?” Oh, the phone. Where is it? I know, I’ll call the gaffer and have her call my phone. Yes, I actually thought that. Followed by, “How are you going to call the gaffer if you don’t know where your phone is?” Passed the cookies again. Ate one. Then two. Then three. Went to find a broom to sweep up the crumbs that had fallen from the cookies. Decided I should go see a movie.

On Monday, I got a call from my other gaffer, the one I’m not afraid of.

He didn’t sound happy.

“Where’s your timecard?”

… and a cat named Pepper!

Went to the South Carolina DMV this afternoon to get a new driver’s license and plates for the BMW.

Left without the driver’s license.

Left without the plates.

Turns out, I was missing one of the 323 items I needed to prove my identity.

The state wanted the following:

A valid out-of-state driver’s license

  • An up-to-date passport
  • A birth certificate
  • Your first born child
  • A cat named Pepper
  • An elephant tusk
  • The molar from a Great White shark
  • Three robin’s eggs
  • A 10-speed Schwinn
  • 14 gold bricks
  • The Crown Jewels
  • The last 10 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues
  • A self-published novel (hey, I got one of those)
  • 2 dozen chicken feathers
  • A lock of hair from Kim Kardashian
  • Four pounds of toenail clippings
  • One pound of bellybutton fuzz
  • A … we’ll be here all day.

And I was. Four hours after arriving, a disembodied voice announced  “Now serving D 4,000 at counter three.” I staggered up from my chair and shuffled to counter three where a woman with a beehive hairdo that went out of style in 1952 put out her hand and said with a smoker’s rasp, “License.”

She took it, looked at my photo.

“This doesn’t look like you,” she said. “You used to be fat. Don’t get me wrong, you’re still fat, only not as fat as when you were really fat. Come back when you look like the fat guy on the license.”

I rushed out and downed a couple hundred chocolate covered Twinkies. I came back. Waited another four hours. Got up to the same counter, same clerk.

“This doesn’t look like you,” she said. “You used to be skinnier.”

I broke down, falling to the floor and curling into a fetal position.

“Gimme your required items,” the clerk said, as I sobbed uncontrollably.

“My cat’s name is Benny, not Pepper,” I said, holding up my spitting tabby, who was none too happy being on a leash. “That’s OK, isn’t it?”

“Gotta have a cat named Pepper,” she said.

“But it’s a cat,” I implored. “I don’t even like cats.”

She pressed a button under her desk and the disembodied voice said, “Now serving D 4,562 at counter three,” and a disheveled man lurched up and, wiping chocolate from his face, elbowed me aside.

Fine, I thought. I’ll just go get the plates.

“You can’t get plates here,” said another clerk. “You have to go to the treasurer’s office first, and pay property taxes on the vehicle.”

“Where’s the treasurer’s office?” I asked.

“‘Bout 100 miles north,” she said.

“Property taxes?”

“You’re car’s property, isn’t it?”

“Well, it’s my property, but I don’t live in it? I have a house for that.”

“That’s great. You can pay your property taxes on your house while you’re there.”

Signing, I asked, “Then what?”

“Then you come back here.”

“For what?”

“To get your license. Can’t get plates without a license. Just remember to bring all 323 items to prove your identity.”

Sorry my love, I need a new model

This is going to come as a shock to the woman who shares my life. No doubt it will hurt her. Maybe she’ll even cry.

But this has been a long time coming. It’s been building inside me, like a mushroom growing in a deep, dark place.

I’m not even sure how I can put it into words. Truth is, I can’t tell her face-to-face, so I’m going to do it right here. Right now.

I need a new model. Something newer with more … um, more  … oh, let’s just come out and say it, accessories.

I’m talking about a new car, of course.

What did you think I was talking about?

Anyway, it’s a sad fact that I suffer from car envy. Six months after buying a new car, I get the itch. Sometimes it’s less.

And not just any kind of car. A sports car.

I’ve owned sports cars all my life. Mustang. MGB. Camero. Z3. Z4. 350Z. 370Z. I like any car with numbers and letters in its name, especially the letter Z.

I adored my Z cars. They were sleek. They were fast. They were … me.

I was doing just fine until the day came when I realized that I needed a forklift to get out of the car.

They’re low slung, and the older I got so was I. Sometimes, it could take me half a day to get into the thing and another day or two to get out. There were times I was tempted to just sleep in the car because it would be less trouble than exiting the vehicle.

So, a few years back, I did the grown up thing and put away my sports car dreams and bought a Nissan Juke.

Perhaps you’ve never heard of it. That’s because Nissan only sold two of them. One to an Uber driver in Zimbabwe, the other to me.

The Juke is, let’s be honest, bug ugly. If you saw something that looked like it crawling across your living room floor you’d step on it.

But I manned up and bought it anyway. By the time I drove the 15 minutes from the dealership to my house, I was ready to trade it in.

I suffered for a year. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep. Well, that’s a lie. There’s nothing that keeps me from eating. But I couldn’t sleep. That part’s true. I’d lie awake, dreaming of Porsche Boxters, and Chevy Corvettes and Dodge Vipers.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I begged the woman who loves me to set me free. She relented, but said enough with the cars I couldn’t get into or out of.

“You’re not 18 anymore,” she said, and let me tell you that came as a surprise.

Still, I took her advice and I bought a used – USED!!!!!!!!! – BMW 128I convertible. It’s a nice car, but … it’s 7 years old!!! Seven!!!!! Usually, I’d have owned 3 maybe 4 cars in a seven-year span.

I so much want to ask, beg, plead, beseech, entreat her to let me fly again in a brand new, oh, say, Mazda Miata.

Unfortunately, she has stopped working full-time and has announced that from now to the end of my days we are on a budget.

“No more eating out, no more movies,” she has decreed.

“Uh, what are we going to do then?”

“We’ll sit at home, on the couch together and watch episodes of Call the Midwife.”

“And my car?”

“It’s a perfectly fine car. And it has the added bonus that you can actually get out of it.”

I suppose she’s right. It’s a fin … excelle … okay car.

It just isn’t a Boxster, or Corvette, or Viper.

Faster than a speeding bullet … mostly

I started the day with this thought: Get out of my way, Usain Bolt.

Yes, I often think about Mr. Bolt, the “supposed” fastest man in the world. I say “supposed” because Mr. Bolt has never seen me run. I am, to borrow a phrase from my favorite TV show as a kid, faster than a speeding bullet.

No, I’ve never competed in the Olympics. Because I have nothing to prove. I know how fast I am and that’s all that’s important.

I could, if I cared to, smoke Mr. Bolt. And if he were perchance to dream of challenging me, this would be my reply. “Usain? Ucrazy!”

Now, I admit in my youth, I was somewhat of a slowpoke. I think I was timed in the 100-yard dash in two and a half minutes. Maybe it was three.

But I worked hard on my quickness and speed and there came a time nobody, and I mean nobody, could beat me from the car to the front door of McDonald’s. I left skid marks on the pavement I was so fast.

Anyway, I woke up today as I do most mornings thinking Usain ain’t got nothing on me.

Then I went to the gym.

I recently joined a rec center owned by Beaufort County here in beautiful South Carolina. It has an indoor walking track that I normally own. Normally as in I’m normally the only person on the track. But still.

Today started like most days, with me motoring around the track so fast that the breeze I created was pushing the hat off my head.

Then something remarkable happened. A young woman sauntered past me. When I say sauntered I mean she was, um, sauntering. Ambling. Moseying. Meandering.

She wasn’t walking fast. More like, slow. Very, very slow. Kind of, uh, sluggish like.

I picked up my pace. She wasn’t going to pass me, no sir. About five seconds later she was out of sight.

OK, maybe I’ve slowed some. I just turned 70 after all.

But, I told myself, you’re still a speed demon.

And then an old woman sped past me.

Pushing her walker.

She has an advantage, I thought. She’s so bent over her nose is touching the ground, helping her inch along.

Unfair, I shouted. Cheater.

Everybody looked at me. Looked at her. Looked at me. And burst out laughing.

I was never so humiliated.

Ever heard of Usain Bolt? I asked the guffawers. He’s scared of me.

I picked up my pace. I was going to catch that old woman, obviously a relative of Usain’s, if it was the last thing I did. I became a blur. She became a small dot on the horizon.

By the time I finished, I was sweating and winded. Back to my car, I slunk. Took me 10 minutes to get into it, but once there, you can’t believe how fast I was in getting to the nearest McDonald’s.

Take that Usain.