Sunday, July 15, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 21, "It Follows Until it Leads" by Dillon Kaiser

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

The gun on the kitchen table is not mine. Yet there it lies, insisting upon its own fealdad, its ugliness. Infecting my home. Sunlight streams through the window above the sink where Martha has set a vase of flowers and glints upon the gun. It breeds disease. And there, on the table beside my daughter Lupe's Doll, the disease spreads. 

The gun is not mine. Worse, it is my son's. 

Dillon Kaiser's story ends this anthology on a powerful note.People have their own definitions of what noir is, but "It Follows Until it Leads" is the kind of story I think of when I think of noir. There is an inevitability to the sequence of events, but  the outcome does have something to do with the protagonist's choices. It's just that the errors don't start with him and don't end with him and it would be hard to pinpoint exactly where he made the truly crucial choice.

Audible sample of "It Follows Until it Leads" by Dillon Kaiser HERE. Performed by Thom Rivera.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir-- blogging the book. Day 20, " The Shooter" by Lee Quarnstrom

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Lee Quarnstrom's tight little tale talks of a Watsonville before our era, some of it familiar, some not. Fort Ord is still open, it's after the war, which usually means WWII, and people still drive Studebakers, though perhaps not fresh off the assembly line. This story, written by a longtime journalist in this region, was the one that most felt like the kind of tale you might find in some classic film noir to me.

I'd picked out the shooter's car by the time I hopped out of my Plymouth and crossed the dusty parking lot toward the front of the two-story building. It was the rust-specked Studebaker, backed in against the head lettuce field dotted with thousands, maybe millions, of tiny, shiny green shoots sprouting from the chunky black soil of the fertile fields just outside Watsonville.

Audible sample of Lee Quarnstrom's "The Shooter" HERE. Performed by Richard Ferrone.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 19, "Pinballs" by Beth Liseck

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

You get off the freeway on Riverside Drive, right where you see that abandoned Queen Anne. Go past the strawberry fields, the artichokes and brussel sprouts, and that's where my spot was. You're not going the wrong way, even when you start seeing signs for the condo development. Keep curving around. You can practically smell your way there, there's so much eucalyptus. Chances are, the lot will be empty. It's in between two private beaches, so it seems like you don't belong there, but there's no trick. Pull up, hike over the little path, and thar she blows: a mile of beach almost all to yourself.

Almost all to yourself, except that's where our protagonist meets Marta and a station wagon so packed with kids that the narrators thinks of them as pinballs. 

Although Liseck's story is sat back in the time before seatbelts were the law, I saw this chilling tale as bearing similarities to our own present moment, or maybe it's just showing us how we got here.

Audible sample of Beth Liseck's "Pinballs" HERE. Performed by Beth Liseck.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 18, "Crab Dinners" by Lou Mathews

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

Lou Mathew's story of a detective hired to find out what happened to a daughter's father mentions many aspects of Santa Cruz County that residents, past or present may be familiar with. There's Chef Wong, a fictionalized version of the first chef to bring Szechuan style cooking to the Santa Cruz area. And Manuel's, the beloved Mexican restaurant in Aptos. The university gets a glance. Cockfighting in South County, which was news to me. And then there's the cement ship...

The SS Palo Alto was one of two cement ships built in 1919 at the US Navy shipyards in Oakland. The war ended before the ship went into service, so they mothballed her for a decade until the Seacliff Amusement Corporation bought her and towed her to Seacliff Beach, where they tethered her to a pier, built a dance hall, a swimming pool, and a cafe on board--and sank her. Probably a great entertainment idea, but not in 1929. They closed in '31, stripped her, and left her as  a fishing pier, the focal point of the new state park. 

I spent a lot of time there fishing and watching the bay. The boat had split apart in '58 and become a paradise for fishermen, an ideal reef, full of fish, mussels, crabs, and the birds that fed on them.  

(Note to potential tourists. The cement ship was real, but did not survive the massive waves of 2017.)

Audible sample of Lou Mathews' "Crab Dinners" HERE. Performed by Susie Bright.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 17, "The Strawberry Tattoo" by Maceo Montoya

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

As we get into the final quarter of the book, stories focus more on South County, which is more agricultural and more Hispanic than the northern area, though of course there's no clear dividing line. Much of Maceo Montoya's story takes place outside of Santa Cruz county, but that doesn't mean it doesn't have deep roots here. 

Marcela's new boyfriend Vicente seems to be perfection itself. At a gathering she mentions a tattoo of a strawberry that he has at the base of his neck, which she loves for its delicacy. But one of her friends has a different take on it.

"Isn't he from Watsonville?"

"Yeah, why?"

"I mean, I think that's a gang thing. In Watsonville its the strawberry, in Salinas it's a freaking lettuce head. Somewhere else it's an artichoke. My students, I swear, they teach me the randomest shit."
Audible sample of Maceo Montoya's "The Strawberry Tattoo" HERE. Performed by Almarie Guerra.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 16, "Death and Taxes" by Jill Wolfson

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

One of the characters in this story is a sign dancer, meaning a person hired to stand on the street for hours holding a sign, hoping to get passing cars to notice a business they might have otherwise missed. Not too long ago, I would have had to say that I couldn't remember noticing any sign dancers in Santa Cruz. But just a couple of days before I read this story, I happened to see one. This one was a girl wearing headphones. It was very hot, but she seemed to be in another zone, possibly chemically induced. She didn't seem unhappy, though I would have been. However, I don't think anyone could top Jill Wolfson's Cody for enthusiasm on his first day of the job.


Spin that tax sign clockwise like its a Boardwalk ride. Toss it in the air, hurl your body around in a one-footed, tiptoed 360, and catch the sign behind your back. Ta-da.

Holy crap on a strap! He actually caught it! Thumbs up from a Prius driver. 

Another Prius, another Prius. Is there a fuckin' sale on Priuses or what?

Yesterday, this corner was just another place. Cody must've eaten a million slices of pepperoni at Upper Crust.  Carved his initial into the oak by the U-Wash-it place. Felt up that hippie chick Sequoia by the dumpster behind the Chinese place.

But now? Cody owns this corner.

Audible sample of Jill Wolfson's "Death and Taxes" HERE

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 15, "The Big Creep" by Elizabeth McKenzie

(To learn more about my "blogging the book" challenge to myself, go HERE.)

"The Big Creep" starts in classic noir style--someone has a problem so they visit a detective they think might be able to help them solve it. The non-classic part is that the detective is a fifteen year old girl and the meet-up takes place in a yogurt shop, where she's hoping the client will pick up the tab. Things do not go as planned.

Wilkins was new to the area, he'd lived in Tahoe before.Here's the good and bad thing about Santa Cruz: it's not a place where everybody's lived here forever and a newcomer gets the once-over. No, it's a city where anybody can come fit in for a while, and move away before you've even had a chance to say hello. It's a city full of transients, and I don't mean the ones on the streets. I mean, you don't always know your neighbors and you don't ask questions. Kyle Wilkins shows up, moves in, replaces Ronald Hill, the neighbors nod or don't nod. For that matter a chubby truck driver and his alcoholic daughter move into a garage, no one notices that either. 

Audible sample of Elizabeth McKenzie's "The Big Creep" HERE. Performed by Bailey Carr.