Yes, I have been away from WordPress for too long, but I was productive. In 2016, I read 218 books totally 73000 pages – spanning the work of Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon among many, many others. All this reading inspired me – as Faulker suggested to students once – to write for myself. I have dreamed of writing a book and always got stuck on the first page or so. Well, I finally got over the blank page syndrome and got a first volume written and self-published on Amazon. It is a fictional novel with a narrative style inspired by my favorite post-modern writers, with some autobiographical elements, lots of Miami and Paris, some Tokyo, and lots of humour. I have been publicising a bit on Amazon, LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Goodreads.com and getting some good feedback. Overall, the experience was very therapeutic. I felt great finally being able to thread the needle of my thoughts and memories with a plot line – which some have found a bit irritatingly immersed in my character-driven style of writing, but I assure you it is there. You can get a copy off of Amazon.com here. I’ll give you a teaser here from the first chapter. Enjoy. Meanwhile, I am working busily on the sequel, Samuel’s Playlist!
The Gramble Chronicles I: Sophie’s Playlist
By Michael FINOCCHIARO
“The past is not dead; it isn’t even past.”
William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun (1951)
“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board.”
— Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937)
“Birdie in the hand for life’s rich demand
The insurgency began and you missed it
I looked for it and I found it
Miles Standish proud, congratulate me
A philanderer’s tie, a murderer’s shoe
Let’s begin again begin the begin
Let’s begin again”
“Begin the Begin” R.E.M. (1986)
Gramble Thyssen was looking at the clock wondering when it would strike 5 PM so that he could leave. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was, as always, devoid of any “customers” and the silence preoccupied him: the hum of the air-conditioning, the occasional cough several aisles away, the shuffling of papers, or creak of a chair. He was alone today in his cubicle – again – as Edith was out pregnant, George started showing premature signs of Alzheimer’s, and no one had been assigned yet to the other corner, so Gramble was rummaging in the tomb of his memories. Funny how these partitions create a fake sense of isolation and look so desolate with their laminate surfaces, the carbon copy telephones, old monitors, and power strips. The Wi-Fi was relatively unstable (despite being spitting distance between the Lincoln Memorial and the White House in central Washington, DC) and the network cables were all missing that little plastic tab designed to hold the cable in the laptop port. If all four occupants of the cubicle pushed back on their chairs, they would collide without even stretching out their legs. And should two of them need to make a phone call at the same time, well, it was hard to hear oneself think sometimes. The Standing Rock conflict in North Dakota was still a few years away, so things were very quiet. Too quiet. He opened the file before him once again. It had a few receipts stapled inside the cover smudged with a dirty thumbprint and slightly crumbled from being in his pocket. They were from his investigative trip down to Florida. What a change from DC. He decided to stretch his legs and walked over to the window from which he could see a corner of the Washington Monument. In his reflection in the window, he was a bit pale and haggard with salt and peppered brownish hair with high cheekbones and penetrating blue eyes. At 43, and a few inches shy of six foot, he had already started developing a bit of a beer gut. His thoughts drifted to that trip down to Miami. First off, after kissing the kids and his wife goodbye (“Daddy will be back in just a day or two”) that airplane ride on an aging 737 with staff that looked as if they were recruited in a nursing home – probably easier to keep these ageing employees on minimum wage and increase the airline’s profit margins rather than paying younger people that would ask for higher salaries. It did tug at his heart when their tottering hands were handing scalding hot coffee across the two seats to him at the window (out of pity or out of fear of spilt coffee, he couldn’t say). Then, the mess of Miami International Airport (MIA) which, still, after decades, was under constant construction. This time around his luggage was not lost (no, he was an old-fashioned traveler that didn’t mind checking bags even if it meant losing them occasionally). He was in no hurry; he was not really expected at the casino – a sort of surprise inspection or rather inconspicuous observation, nonetheless a regular monthly one. He had suspicions of collusion of the corrupt members of the tribes running the casino with organized crime, and thus being too obvious and cocksure with a formal visit would, of course, cause the mafia-connected individuals to flee like shadows when a light is turned on in a dark basement. He had a sense of rage against injustice; for a long time, he was able to feel he was making a difference at the BIA, but he saw the greater evil of the cancerous presence of organized crime in the casino business as disrobing the tribes of their dignity and – despite all statements to the contrary – as a way of enriching the owners of the casino while leaving the rest of their tribes in a morass of poverty and addiction. The connection to gaming reminded him of the propaganda exercises that were employed by the Florida Lottery to get it passed via a referendum under the false pretenses of improving education across the state. And yet, decades later, Florida ranked 22nd in education quality despite the billions of dollars that the lottery was supposed to infuse into the schools, but which subsequent scandals had demonstrated were just lining pockets in Tallahassee, the state capital.
Gramble had grabbed his bag and took a series of moving sidewalks to the tram that then took him to the rental car lot. These lots were all so damn identical. Damn government would not flip the fees for Hertz Gold membership, so he always lost about 45 minutes behind the hapless families from the Midwest who were complaining about charges on their bill or the barely-English speaking South American trying to get his reservation confirmed. Looking around the rental car center, he noticed the cracks in the marble floors – a bit shocking since the terminal was only a few years old. More mob labor with half-ass materials? The semi-circular hall was mobbed with people crowding the various counters trying to get their cars. In a hurry for the beach? For some arroz blanco con frijoles negros (white rice with black beans, a Cuban food stable)? Or just impatience in general? Hard to tell. In his work, Gramble had learned to overcome his natural restlessness and had been obliged to become very patient. He had carved caves inside his consciousness where he could sit cross-legged and stare at the fire while the world pushed and shoved around him. His thoughts would drift back to his childhood actually not far from here in Miami back before the boatlift, before cocaine built downtown, before the Marlins brought baseball to Miami, even before the Miami Heat and basketball. Back where there was only the Miami Dolphins playing in the Orange Bowl – now dismantled and replaced by Marlins Park. Back when Miami was still a relative backwater teaming with mosquitos and primarily inhabited by WASPs. There was of course racial tension as the Haitians came fleeing from the horrors of Duvalier, the Dominicans came fleeing the horrors of Trujillo on the heels of the Chileans fleeing Pinochet and the Cubans fleeing Castro. Miami was long a refuge for all of South America and the Caribbean which seemed to breed dictatorships like banana plantations (with similar amounts of support from the CIA and DelMonte Inc, respectively). Back when he was a kid, the population was more tipped towards the white descendants of settlers that had taken Flagler’s railroad to the end of the line – some continuing on the decrepit bridges further south to the keys – and building working class neighborhoods like Hialeah with its greyhound racing, Mediterranean inspired communities like Coral Gables, or tropical paradises like Coconut Grove. The sprawling mess of Kendall slowly creeping up on the eastern edge of the Everglades was still just a few years away. He grew up in a neighborhood that was lower middle class, but bordering rich Coral Gables which was literally a stone’s throw away across Red Road. His small house with a front yard was dominated by a huge 50-foot-tall pine tree which he would climb as a kid perching precariously from the thin top holding the tiny branches to get a glimpse of the Biltmore hotel off in the promised land of the Gables. The backyard contained both an incredibly fertile key-lime tree from which his mother made her legendary key-lime pie (mile-high meringue and yellow filling in the real version, never green!) and the avocado tree on which the aggressive squirrels would devour the best avocados on the tree before they could fall to the ground. They were huge dark green avocados with a core the size of a cricket ball (smaller than a baseball but bigger than a golf ball) with the most delicious yellow flesh. Just a little salt and key lime juice, and one of them was a meal in and of itself. Across the street, the neighbors had both a mango tree and a guava tree in their front yard from which he would regularly pick fruit not knowing if they knew and ignored him or if it was OK. A few blocks down, there was the local strip mall slash shopping center with the grocery store where he had his first job: Piggly Wiggly (who the fuck came up with that name for a grocery store anyway?) and where he accidently sliced open the meat of this thumb when opening an orange juice carton, needing eight stitches to close and leaving a 2-inch long scar. There was also the time he was driving the floor-washing machine during the night shift and knocked over one of those 6-story wine racks, what a mess that was, a lake of cheap wine dripping out towards the frozen food section. It was the street behind the strip mall – and leading to the promised land of the Gables – that had a house with a deranged kid that would scream inanities anytime he passed in front. It was with a sense of both pity and terror that he would trepidatiously walk in front of this house. Sometimes, to avoid the howling, he would walk down the alley behind the shopping center. One time, he found a box of abandoned plans for an entire gated community called CocoPlum dumped there by an architecture firm (strange as there were no such firms in this residential neighborhood), but he imagined them being the secret plans for invading the shopping center so as to rob them in the middle of the night using tunnels and unguarded entrances. But that was long ago, before university, before marriage and kids, before work. All these responsibilities and constraints which made him feel caged. Being transplanted to DC some years ago and raising a family there was OK, but occasionally these trips to Florida would tug at his soul. The sunshine, the blue skies, the incredible sunsets, the nice weather…So much more positive influence on the mind compared to the long, cold grey winters of the mid-Atlantic and the terrible traffic day in and day out in DC. Well, traffic in Miami is not exactly fluid, what with all the roadwork and the astronomic population burst over the last few decades, but despite his dark childhood memories which continued to haunt him in his 40s, he still ached for someplace called home and DC was not really that for him. Oh, how he missed the beaches sometimes…
“OK, OK, hold your horses,” he said as someone tried to butt in front of him because in his musings, the line had advanced and he just stood there in his self-absorbed daze blocking the impatient tourists from their cars.