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.

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 14 "Flaming Arrows" by Wallace Baine

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

Wallace Baine is a man who's worn many hats in Santa Cruz. A longtime cultural reporter for the Santa Cruz Sentinel, he's gone on to branch out into many other roles in the community, and is the author of several books as well. So it's a bit of a surprise to find that this cosmopolitan man about town has chosen to write a story  about a guy slowly being driven mad by his neighbors' dog. But then again...

Santa Cruz's energy is often warm and friendly.Even Lonely Planet's website still describes Santa Cruz as "touchy-feely." But there's also a vibe here that's its polar opposite. (The fact that this anthology is called "Santa Cruz Noir" is a testament to that.) I found this passage from "Flaming Arrows" striking on this less examined aspect of the area, especially when you get out of the city proper and up into some of those mountain communities.

Nobody knows their neighbors around here. It's not done that way. You might pick up fragments about their habits, their aggressions, their neglects. You make judgments, usually negative ones. You'll see faces occasionally, through a windshield. Give a wave maybe. We get to know each other in personal shorthand. There's leaf-blower guy. There's Giants-fan lady. Maybe I'm wife-died guy. I don't know. 

But at the post office, or the Safeway in town, you don't look up. Being neighborly means one thing back in Illinois where I grew up. Here, it means the opposite. You respect your neighbors by not acknowledging them. People want space, physically, psychically. You should give it to them. 

The dog ruins all that. 

Audible sample of Wallace Baine's "Flaming Arrows" HERE. Performed by P. J. Ochlan.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 13, "Treasure Island," by Micah Perks

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

Noir is not always bleak. Some fine writers of noir use dark comedy to great effect. Author and UCSC professor Micah Perks uses such humor in "Treasure Island," a tale told in posts to a website called Good Neighbors. If you have the mixed fortune of belonging to one of these networks, I suspect you've come across someone like the narrator. If you're anything like me, you'll probably find the tale cathartic. If you're more like the narrator, you might take it as a cautionary tale...

Me: (Holding out trash bag) Three juvenile delinquents stuffed this trash in your 'Little Library' again."
"Writer": (apparently Asian male, apparently in his thirties, in pajamas, per usual): "Okay."
Me: I've warned you before that your so-called 'Little Library' attracts vagrants."
"Writer": "Books attract vagrants?"
Me: "Have you been to the downtown library? It's basically a homeless shelter."
"Writer": (taking bag) "Thanks, Mr. Nowicki, I'll take care of it."
(NOTE: "Writer" is not on Good Neighbor! even though I have invited him by email multiple times.)

Audible sample of "Treasure Island" by Micah Perks HERE. Read by Richard Ferrone.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 12, "To Live and Die in Santa Cruz" by Calvin McMillin

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

Just as no anthology of Santa Cruz stories would be complete without a surfing story, it would lack a certain authenticity without reference to the "City on the Hill", our local campus of the University of California. Perched in the redwoods above the city proper, with a view of the Monterey Bay, it is a place of great natural beauty, which at times can be its own kind of distraction.

But it's also like any other college campus in being a portal to adulthood, and people don't just leave their problems at home when they go off to college. So this story features the death of a graduate student who has apparently leapt from one of the campus's many bridges, and a narrator who isn't so happy with this verdict.

As a sample from the story however, I'm taking a piece from down by the water, a famous landmark which many have tried to make into something beautiful again, but which, at the time of this writing remains very much as Calvin McMillin describes. Although McMillin refers to it as the Beach Street Villas in the story, the description owes a lot to a well-known apartment building here called La Bahia.

Chet's apartment wasn't difficult to find. Boasting Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and an iconic bell tower, the Beach Street Villa must have been breathtaking during its 1930s heyday. Eighty-five years later, the place was considerably less impressive. I suppose "crack house" might be a more apt description. Still, the appeal lay mainly in its location: to visit the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, all you had to do was walk across the street.

Audible sample of Calvin McMillin's "To Live and Die in Santa Cruz" is HERE.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 11, "Miscalculation", by Vinnie Hansen

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

Santa Cruz has had a fair number of bank robberies in the years I've lived here, and sometimes the robbers even try disguises, as in the case of the "Mrs. Doubtfire" robber a few years ago.And there is a real ukulele jam session called Sons of the Beach that meets regularly down by the water. But it takes a mystery writer like Vinnie Hansen to take these two facts and meld them into crime fiction. Oh, and don't worry--it's also got a touch of noir.

"Aim those baby-blues somewhere else, dollface." The man snapped his case shut. 
A taletell mark on the case clasp caught her eye. She'd seen this ukulele case plenty of times. Her knees quivered like a jellyfish.She stared into the robber's eyes. Dollface. She blushed.
He snapped his fingers like a six-shooter, "Here's looking at you, kid," and strode out of the credit union.
Molly's life of serving John Q. Public for fourteen dollars an hour walked right out the door with him.

Audible sample of Vinnie Hansen's "Miscalculation" can be found HERE. Narrated by Therese Plummer.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book. Day 10 "Safe Harbor" by Seana Graham

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

My own story comes next in this anthology. It actually never occurred to me that it would come across in quite different ways, depending on whether you lived in Santa Cruz or not. Those who identify the real life story that it's loosely based on already know the ending and it's more the "why" of the tale that might intrigue them, as it intrigued me. But for unsuspecting others, there may be genuine suspense, so I won't wreck that for them here.

Although Santa Cruz does have its share of crime, it's not so often of a type that elicits lurid, tabloid style headlines, as this one did. I have to admit that when I first saw the real story in the newspaper it struck me as dark comedy more than tragedy. But when I came to write my story, my thoughts about it turned in a more somber direction.

Ray was still trying to be a good family man. But he felt that there had been a divine dispensation that had allowed him to reach California, that somehow he’d been absolved of everything in advance. All the strict rules of childhood, the black-and-white way of seeing things that had followed him into adulthood, had simply dropped along the roadside on the way west.
Audible sample of  Seana Graham's "Safe Harbor" can be found HERE. Narrated by Nick Sullivan.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Santa Cruz Noir--blogging the book, Day 9. "First Peak" by Peggy Townsend

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

Readers may be surprised that there is quite a bit about Hawaii in Peggy Townsend's story, although the center of action is Santa Cruz. But there has long been a sense of connection between Santa Cruz and these Pacific islands. It's now known, for instance, that three princes of Hawaii visited the city in the summer of 1885 and demonstrated surfing in the mouth of the San Lorenzo river while they were in the U.S. at military school. Both surf culture and musical culture keeps them firmly entwined.

The real theme of the story is the more current tension about Silicon Valley new money coming into town and driving the older community out. As Susie Bright has said in her introduction, she received so many submissions about the gentrification of Santa Cruz that she could edit a whole volume entitled "Gentrification Noir." Peggy' story, Townsend's story offers up its own unique form of revenge.

Boone watched the kooks climb the wide set of steps the county had set into a faux rock wall to foster access for the tourists or something. He remembered when Pleasure Point felt like a community instead of a destination resort, when a carpenter or a teacher could afford to rent or even buy a house because there weren't vacation rentals on every corner--or giant paychecks that allowed people from over the hill to build giant houses that only they could afford. He remembered when you had to walk a narrow path and hang on to a knotted rope to get down the cliff to the water, which kept out the people who did not deserve the waves. 

Audible sample of Peggy Townsend's "First Peak" can be found HERE. Performed by James Patrick Cronin and Derrick Steven Prince.