Sunday, September 11, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 8

Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

“Maybe the darkness will cue them to sleep?”

“I was hoping it would, but it doesn't seem to be working so far. They must have been sedated but woke up sooner than expected. I could slip them some Tylenol PM in a White Castle burger, but I don't like the idea of drugging them.” I had no idea how much sedative it would take for them to sleep or how much would be unsafe for them, and I didn't want to be responsible.

“Neither do I,” said Jack. “Maybe you should sing to them.”

“I've been singing to them. I don't think they're impressed.”

“Or maybe they'll be like human babies. The motion of the car will put them to sleep. Maybe you should sing them to sleep while you're driving.”

“I'm not sure I can sing and drive at the same time,” I said. Maybe that was just an excuse. I'd already serenaded the tigers … twice. Now I was racking my brain, trying to think up soothing-tiger-cubs-to-sleep songs, and was coming up with zilch. Maybe I was also getting nervous about my wild predicament. What was I going to do if I showed up at the theater with two wakened, active, noisy little tigers … act like Zarelda's willing accomplice?

“I have an idea,” said Jack. “I'll serenade the tigers while you drive.”

“You'll serenade them while I drive? How are you going to do that?”

“We'll use the FaceTime app. You can stick your phone in the box with the tigers. It will serve a dual purpose. It will act as a night light. Maybe, they'll be more content.”

It was a weird plan, one in a string of weird plans that Jack came up with and I went along with, but there was a little bit of sense to it. “Put the phone in the box with the tigers, huh? On one condition ...”

“On one condition? What's that?”

“That you'll replace my phone if the tigers decide to use it as a chew toy.”

There was a pause. “I guess that's a risk I'm willing to take. For the sake of the business, you need a phone upgrade anyway. Andy, somewhere in the back of a vehicle, is a box of our Buddy Bears. Take one out and toss one in with the tigers. I also have a polar fleece jacket in the back. Toss that in with the tigers to get them ready for nap time.”

I went hunting in the back of the vehicle and found the box of bears. Using a Swiss Army knife in my pocket to cut through the packing tape, I opened it up and pulled out a bear. These weren't just ordinary stuffed bears. They said friendly phrases like “Let's be friends,” “Do you need a hug?” and thirteen other sayings when squeezed in the middle. I was really hoping the tigers wouldn't be rough with it and pounce on its tummy. That really wouldn't help our case. I tossed the bear into the box, feeling just a little bit like I was tossing a gladiator to the lions.

I found a navy blue polar fleece jacket folded up in the back. “I found a polar fleece,” I said to Jack on the phone. “It's hard to believe it's yours. It looks so ordinary. Where are the cartoon ...” I unfolded it. “Oh, there they are.” The whole troop of seven dwarfs sprawled out over the back. “Are you sure you want to toss this in with the cubs? What if they go number two on it? Or number one, for that matter. Either way, they'll do a number on it.”

“It's old,” said Jack. “I guess that's also a risk I'm willing to take.”

I tossed in the polar fleece. Suddenly, I remembered a roll of duct tape we kept in the rear of the vehicle. Jack wasn't the only one with a little bit of brain. I pulled off a piece of tape, rolled it, and stuck it to the back of the phone. I then taped the phone high up on the wall of the box interior. It didn't precisely tiger-proof the phone, but maybe it, at least, made it slightly less vulnerable.

As I drove off en route to Zarelda's theater, I could hear Jack's glee club voice singing “Danny Boy.” “Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling, from glen to glen and down the mountainside...” I suppose as a freckled reddish-head with Irish heritage, I should have as much Irish pride as anyone, but leave it to Jack to know old Irish folk songs from memory. I had to admit it was slow and soothing and, after a while, I felt like I needed an espresso to keep myself awake. Somewhere between White Castle and Zarelda's theater, I heard silence in the back, hearing neither tigers or Jack's voice. Singing lullabies to tiger cubs via the FaceTime app might be one of the zanier things Jack had done in his life, but it seemed to be successful.

When I delivered the box to Zarelda, she acted very grateful. “Thank you very much, darling.” She tucked a couple of folded bills into my hand. I didn't even unfold them in her presence to see which president was on them. Now that I knew the secret of the box, I didn't really want to accept them either, except that I was playing Colonel Klink – “I know nothing!” – so I tucked them away, acting like it was a generous tip for going the extra mile. As I expected, Zarelda didn't fuss with the box or open its compartments while I was in the room with her.

I headed then to my dressing room to transform myself into Andy the magician's assistant or Andy the glitterized '70s variety show wannabe, however you wanted to look at it. As I was fastening on my cummerbund, a sickening realization came to me. My iPhone was still in the box. If Zarelda found it, she'd realize I was in the know, and she might be able to access some other information as well. The bear and the coat were in the box still too, and any of those things could be traced to me, but I was especially worried by the phone.

We had a half hour still to show time, so I headed down to the prop room. Maybe I could retrieve it before the show without disturbing the tigers and without Zarelda knowing anything of it. When I came across the box, Zarelda was right there by it and so, interestingly enough, was Kumar from the Houdini's Magic Shop.


“Hi, yeah, I sometimes come and help out with the lighting and special effects during the shows. She didn't tell you?”

We had special lighting and effects? We hadn't rehearsed any while I was involved. I shook my head and then just stood there stupidly, not knowing what my next step should be.

“What are you doing down here, darling?”

“Oh,” I said, “Just some pre-show nerves. I just thought I'd walk around and, you know, get into character.”

Kumar's eyebrows raised up. “You have to get into character?”

I looked down at my pearlized and glitterized costume. I certainly didn't feel like myself. “I have a character. Yeah, I have a character.” Unsure what more to say, I just walked away and began pacing, wandering around the room, not sure how it helped me “get into character.” Zarelda and Kumar remained at their station and yet didn't seem to be doing anything more productive than I was doing. I had a feeling we were all three watching one another on the sly.

To be continued ... 

© Susan Joy Clark 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

"Action Men with Silly Putty": The Soundtrack, Part 1

For some reason, this book ended up having a kind of soundtrack. In most of the fiction I have done, music has served some sort of inspirational purpose, but it was sometimes "behind the scenes," not something that came out in the actual writing. There might be songs that I would play over and over again during some stage of the creative process, because it inspired me to write about a particular character or scene, but the song itself was not part of the story. With "Action Men with Silly Putty," I found that quite a few song titles actually got mentioned within the context of the story and that this trend continued throughout. Thus, my book ended up with a soundtrack.

I want to share that with you. In some places, I can share some lines of context and some places not in case it should prove to be a spoiler.

It's also a fairly eclectic soundtrack with songs from jazz, rock, country, Broadway, even opera and classical.

Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

In the beginning, we meet a suspect with two differently colored eyes, heterochromia iridum.

"I started to whistle 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.' It wasn’t my favorite song in the world as I’m not too fond of getting looped up and seeing pink elephants or walruses with egg men or whatever it is you’re supposed to see while under the influence, but it was that line 'the girl with the kaleidoscope eyes.' It seemed fitting." From this point on, this suspect comes to be known as Kaleidoscope Eyes.

"Rubber Ball"

Jack Donegal is a toy inventer and the owner of his own toy business, Out of the Box Toys. His buddy Andy Westin is his marketing manager. The "Rubber Ball" song comes out in the context of a musical ball in their toy line.

"Are You Going To San Francisco?"

Although my sleuths, Jack Donegal and Andy Westin, are New Jersey natives, the opening scenes take place in California and San Francisco.

At some point, Jack persuades Andy to don a disguise in the chapter "We Become Spies At the Expense of My Dignity." Jack picks out a loud rainbow tie-dye T-shirt -- a beaded one -- for Andy at a Salvation Army thrift store.

"'Are you sure this is men’s wear?' I asked. 

I actually took the hanger from him and sniffed at the shirt cautiously, expecting to detect traces of a five-leafed plant. I inspected the tag, but there was nothing to indicate how gender neutral it was … or not. “Don’t worry,” said Jack. “You’ll fit right in with the culture.” I’d fit right in with the culture, all right, providing it was a subculture of hippie Indian chiefs. I remembered that ‘60s song about the gentle people you’d meet in San Francisco, you know, the ones with flowers in their hair. I would have to draw a line at flowers in the hair. I eyed Jack with caution, almost as if he could read my mind. I ran a hand through my summer crew cut, relieved that my hair would not hold a flower even if I tried it."  

"Mission Impossible Theme"

The next few songs are mentioned in the context of a chapter titled "Music as Psychological Warfare and the Most Esoteric Security Code Imaginable"

"Soul Bossa Nova"

"I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major General"

"Bad Boys"

These two songs "Hit Me with Your Best Shot" and "One Way or Another" were actually listed separately but close together in this chapter. While I was writing though, I did a lot of listening to this Glee medley of both songs.

"Hit Me with Your Best Shot/One Way or Another"

There's actually quite a few more, and it makes a long list, so I think I will leave some for a new installment. 

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 7

Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 ...

A short while later, I saw a White Castle to my left, and I swung into the parking lot. White Castle. At least, we're in the right territory for carnivores, but how many White Castle burgers can a tiger cub eat?

I walked into the restaurant and pulled out my phone while I got into line. “Jack?”


“I've got a situation.”

“What sort of situation?”

I looked at the heads and backs of the people in front of me in line. Nobody seemed interested in me or what I was saying, but I was still concerned about someone overhearing about my unique predicament. "Well, the … the order I picked up had a surprise in it.”


“Well, the box I picked up is huge. It's the size of a person. I thought it was empty at first, but it isn't.”

“And so?”

“You remember watching 'Rocky III' and seeing Rocky run the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art?” I started singing. “Bum BumBum Bum … Bum Bum Buuuuum,” making a lame attempt at singing the opening notes of “Eye of the Tiger.” For someone who didn't like to sing or dance publicly, I was doing a lot of it lately.

“Sylvester Stallone was in the box?”

“Nooooo. Think, man.”

“You did say the box was the size of a person.”

I thought about the old Password game show and the Taboo board game and tried to put my gaming skills to use. What does tiger rhyme with? It rhymes with nothing, except for liger, which wasn't entirely helpful. “Tony, Daniel … Eye … What do these things have in common?” I had somehow switched the game from Taboo to Tribond, dreaming up fictional tigers.

“What do you have in common with Tony and Daniel?”

“Not you … eye,” I said. I looked ahead and saw there were still a couple of customers ahead of me.

“That's what I said, isn't it? I'm talking about you, not myself.”

This clearly wasn't working. In frustration, I said,“Who's on first? What's on second? I don't know's on third.” I paused. “Okay. Let's try this.” I tried to think of another fictional tiger that had nothing to do with either breakfast cereal or Mister Roger's Neighborhood. “Tony, Daniel, Richard Parker ...” I added the last one, remembering the odd name of the tiger in The Life of Pi. “What do these things have in common?”

“Are they college friends of yours?”


“I'm at a loss.”

“I know. I'm in line at the White Castle, because I have a couple of kids with me that I need to feed -- cubs, minus the scouts, if you get my drift.”

“Eureka!” said Jack. “Cubs. Tony the Tiger, Daniel Tiger … Who's Richard Parker?”

Eureka? What modern guy says “Eureka?” I wanted to say “You-geek-a” back to him, but I do have some restraint. “Never mind. Now the light dawns. Excuse me a moment ...” I had moved to the front of the line now. To the cashier, I said, “I'd like the Crave Case of 30. Thanks.” Would that be enough? I might want to eat too. “Make that two Crave Cases.”

The teen male cashier smiled at me. “Having a party, huh?”

“You have no idea. They're animals, these guys.”

The teen nodded at me, still smiling. “I got ya. I got ya. I have friends like that too.”

I nodded back at him, but I seriously doubted it.

After I headed back to the SUV with two bags o' burgers, I continued my conversation with Jack. “What do you think I should do? Should we involve the police? Animal Control?” Whose department was this anyway? “We look a little guilty at this point, right? And we haven't firmly pegged any sort of crime on Zarelda, although I should have a bunch of surveillance footage from the store. I scanned a bunch of spread sheets on a desk at the back, but I don't really know what I've got there.”

“We could contact our old friends Lt. Kelly and Officer Quinn? Then again, they might be a little annoyed with us. By now, it looks like we're making a habit of solving crimes, or trying to, without police involvement.” After a pause, Jack said, “I think you should just play it cool with Zarelda, act like you know nothing, bring her the package with the tigers, go through your act tonight and wait for her to incriminate herself further.”

“I'll be Colonel Klink. Got it.”

I got off the phone with Jack and turned my attention to the hungry babes. I lifted the doors over the tigers' compartment, hoping the smell of meat wouldn't drive them too wild.

Before doing anything further, I snapped a photo of the tigers and sent this photo evidence to Jack, with whom I'd just gotten off the phone, via text. I texted him. “Zarelda's illegal cargo. Cute, aren't they? You'll appreciate the placement of the mirror that tricked me into thinking the box was empty.”

I put the phone aside and held up one of the burgers in its little white box. “Okay, Eb, Ive … let me tell you something. This here is food.” I drew a line in the air around the burger. I then wiggled the fingers of my empty right hand. “This is not. Okay. I'm glad I had this little talk with you.”

I didn't really expect them to eat the buns or the pickles or the onions. I lifted off the top bun and used it to scrape off everything that wasn't meat into the white carton then took both bun halves and tucked them away into the carton like the neatnik that I am. The little burger I pinched in my fingers and flung like it was a miniature Frisbee into the compartment. It was gone in an instant. This really was a magic box where things magically disappeared. I repeated the process and flung more meat Frisbees to the tigers. I sang, this time with only Eb and Ive as my audience, “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us,” remembering the retro Burger King jingle. I kept the burger saucers flying. “I know. Wrong fast food chain … not that you guys would know the difference.” Technically, there was no lettuce, but I couldn't make onion rhyme with “upset us.” I went through one bag's supply of burgers but decided to keep the second bag in reserve. Then, though I hated to do it, I shut them up in darkness again, and, again, they cried. “Give me a break, guys,” I told them. “What options do I have?”

Situating myself so I could drive again, a new question came to mind. How would I get Eb and Ive over to the theater and play innocent like Colonel Klink when the tigers were awake and active and crying? I called Jack again. “We've got to get these tigers to sleep again. I can't act like I'm innocent and don't know what's going on when the tigers are obviously awake and crying!”

To be continued ...

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Monday, August 29, 2016

Liebster Award

The lovely Diane Lynn of The Gratitude Letters nominated me for the Liebster Award.

In keeping with the Liebster Award tradition, I’ve been asked to follow the rules and keep the award going.

The rules are as follows:

1. Acknowledge the person who has nominated you for this award.
2. Answer the 11 questions that the blogger gives you.
3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
4. Nominate other deserving bloggers.
5. Let them know you’ve nominated them.
6. Give 11 questions for the nominees to answer.

1. Coffee or tea?

Coffee. I drink coffee on most days, usually Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and have been drinking iced coffees in the summer weather. I also like tea and drink more of it when I'm sick or have a throat issue, but not exclusively only during those times. My favorite tea is Earl Grey. I like the romantic Victorian idea of a tea party and have visited several tea houses.

2. What was the last book you read?

Dream More by Dolly Parton. I don't often read celebrity-written books, but after a visit to Dollywood this summer, I was intrigued. It's an expansion of her commencement address at the University of Tennessee. I'm currently reading The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, part of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers, and Crossing Boarders by Debra Sue Brice.

3. If you could only take one cd with you on a deserted island, what would it be? (Assume there is a cd player there.)

This is a tough one, because I'm eclectic and like music in different categories. It's hard to compare favorites in different categories because it's like comparing apples to oranges. I sometimes say that my favorite piece is Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. Although I have other favorites in other categories, this one rates way up there, so I will say my desert island CD would be a Gershwin collection of his top hits that had both Rhapsody in Blue and selections from An American in Paris. Because the music is somewhat complex, I think I wouldn't tire of it as easily.

4. What is the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

The first thing I do when I get up in the morning is go to the bathroom, which, I suppose, is not very interesting. Before this happens, I may pray a little bit and think of the day ahead. 

5. If you could be anything in the world when you grow up, what would it be?

This one is easy, an author who could actually live off her book sales. 

6. If you won a million dollars, what is the first thing you would buy?

I would buy a home, a house or condo. This would make sense since I don't have my own home right now. For some of the homes, even in my hometown, even a million dollars would  not be enough for their purchase, but a million dollars ought to be sufficient to buy some decent home with money left to spare.

7. Would you rather fight one horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses?

How did dear Diane come up with this one, I wonder. A Canadian goose, when it's being aggressive, can chase me away easily. A horse-sized duck, I imagine, would have a beak large enough to swallow my head. On the other hand, I'm attracted to what we call miniature horses that are still much bigger than duck-sized. Really miniature horses would be quite adorable, I think, even if they were fierce. I think I would scoop them up one by one and try to win them over with my cuddles and extremely amateurish horse-whispering skills ... whether they liked it or not. "Let me love you!" I imagine kicks from even miniscule horses could be painful. Keep in mind that I don't live in horse country. My mother, who is originally a Nebraska girl, had a different perspective. "Have you ever seen wild horses? Do you realize that they bite?" I hadn't considered the little horses biting before this, but I'm imagining Barbie doll horses come to life, and I think I could just close their snouts with a little pressure from my fingers, well, not all 100 of them at once. I still think I'd prefer to deal with tiny horses than a giant maddened duck. This is beginning to sound like a somewhat ridiculous fantasy story, "Susan the Giant Horse Whisperer Vs. An Attacking Army of Lilliputian Horses."

8. What is the last board game you played?

I last played You've Been Sentenced, a great game for writers, where you have to construct sensible sentences with the cards you've been dealt, each card containing a sentence segment, perhaps with several options, such as different verb conjugations.

9. What is the last movie you saw?

The last movie I saw in the theater was "Race" on Jesse Owens and the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

10. How would you describe yourself in three words?

introspective, creative, flexible

11. What is your favorite quote?

"Creativity is intelligence having fun." -- Albert Einstein

 Eleven Random Facts 

1. I'm the lastborn and have three older brothers who are 12, 10 and eight years older.
2. Over two summers, I taught English as a foreign language in Hungary and Latvia.
3. I've been in some sort of choir or singing group perpetually for 30 years.
4. In the past few years, I've ventured into singing solos. I am thinking to add some singing videos to my Youtube channel but would like a collaborator who could play a musical accompaniment.
5. I never learned true ventriloquism, but I've done puppet skits where I've unwittingly given viewers the illusion that I have.
6. I like spices and spicy cuisine like Mexican and Cajun, but I'm refraining from spices on my doctor's recommendation because I have gastritis.
7. I've studied French and Russian in school and have Rosetta Stone software for German.
8. I'm a big fan of Charles Dickens.
9. I find the Victorian period very interesting and like many of the designs inspired by this period.
10. I like browsing in antique stores but don't own any antiques.
11. I love old classic movies and especially enjoy Audrey Hepburn and Carey Grant.

My Nominees

My nominees are all bloggers whom I find interesting for different reasons. They are informative and inspirational.

11 Questions for My Nominees 

1. Morning bird or night owl?
2. If money were no object, where would you most like to travel and why?
3. If your life were made into a movie, what actor or actress do you think should portray you?
4. How do you like your eggs?
5. Dog person or cat person?
6. What was your favorite thing to do/play as a child?
7. What is your best Christmas memory?
8. What movie can you watch over and over again?
9. What skill do you have that might surprise some people?
10. Winter or summer?
11. What are five of your favorite books? (Because I know I struggle to name just one.)

I like this idea of questionnaires. I think we should do this again, with or without an award.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 6

Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 ...

The two guys wheeled the box out on a dolly through the back door while I, unable to squeeze through the “pasta press,” went out the front door and met them in the parking lot in the rear. Together we put the box into the SUV, an Out of the Box Toys company vehicle.

“Do I need to sign anything?” I asked. “Do I get a receipt?”

“We've emailed the receipt to Zarelda,” said John.

With the box secured in the back, I got in the driver's seat and started to drive towards Zarelda's theater. I began flipping through the Sirius radio stations: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s … What decade did I want to listen to? Or did I want to listen to all Neil Diamond all the time or all Elvis all the time? Well, Elvis couldn't be so bad. He was the King after all.

It was one of his gospel songs that came on, a strange pick for me as an agnostic. “I don't know just where I'd be if the Lord wasn't walking by my side ...” It had a fun rhythm, and I didn't change the channel. Was the Lord walking by my side? Jack would say, not so much that He was, in my case, but that He would be if I let Him. “When I was drifting (I was drifting on a sea of despair,) and I was wondering (I was wondering if Jehovah's up there ...)” Well, that was true enough. Maybe it wasn't such a strange song pick for an agnostic.

I drove down Newark's Broadway, past a lot of small storefronts, some with security steel curtains rolled down, their business names spelled out on awnings.

“When Jesus found me …” Scratch. “(When Jesus found me in my sinful life...)” Scratch Scratch.

What was with the scratches? What sort of old recording was used for this song? An old vinyl record full of crackles and pops? Weren't there ways of reducing these kinds of noises on old recordings?

I turned the radio off. Scratch. Scratch.

“Oh great,” I said aloud. The noise was coming from the car. What was it? My brakes? One of the tires?

I pulled the car over to the curb and parked and turned the car off.

Scratch Scratch. I was still hearing these noises with the car parked and no longer running. And then there were more noises, bigger noises, like thumping. It was all very unnerving.

I got out of the car and walked over to the sidewalk side, a little nervous to be walking about in this neighborhood which was much more crime prone than my hometown.

Parrots! It's got to be parrots! But that box was empty! I resisted the urge to talk to myself aloud and give passers-by the vibe that I belonged in Bellevue.

I opened the back of the SUV and looked at the magic prop box. There were two swinging doors on the top side of the box over the chamber that John and Kumar had shown me was empty. I swung these open.

“Woah!” I said as I bent over and looked inside. “You guys are not parrots.”

I was looking down at two tiger cubs, neither of which was your typical black and orange tiger. One was albino, and the other was nearly all black. They were cubs, cute little guys really, but already bigger than any house cat. They were attached to oxygen – how thoughtful! – but the white cub seemed to find this plastic attachment to his nose annoying and was swiping his paw at the tubing and crying, sounding very much like a human baby.

“Somehow,” I told the tigers, “when I imagined becoming a father, it played out differently in my mind.”

I wanted to help the little guy, but I was afraid he'd mistake my hand for a steak. I could see now how this compartment had appeared empty to me just a little bit earlier. The tigers were behind an angled mirror. The mirror was positioned in such a way to make the compartment from my earlier perspective look empty.

“I think I'll name you Ebony and Ivory.” I had gotten carried away with myself. I had no right to these tigers, never mind naming them. I thought of the '80s song by Stevie Wonder and Sir Paul McCartney and started to sing, “Ebonyand ivory, live together in perfect harmony, side by side on my piano keyboard. Oh Lord, why can't we?” But since every song I sing comes out like a monotone
“one note samba,” I wasn't sure this was the best strategy for persuading them not to eat me.

I was admiring this symbolic microcosm of racial harmony when a man of the ebony sort, with bundled dreadlocks hanging down his back, walked past me on the sidewalk. I looked up, and he looked back over his shoulder at me, and we made eye contact. “Hey brother, you can't sing,” he said.

“I know.”

He smiled. “But I like your spirit. That really touched me … right here.” He tapped the center of his chest. He started to walk towards me, and I began to get nervous. Oh boy. Here it comes. He is going to hug me. He was a hugger, not a mugger. It was I who was the criminal, at least by appearances, with a car full of hot tigers, for Pete's sake. I backed away from him slightly, trying to position myself so that I shielded my illegal cargo from his view. As smooth as I tried to be, I stumbled a bit over the uneven sidewalk.

“Hey, relax man. I'm going to hug you, not mug you.”

Almost my own exact words! I quickly shot an arm behind me and closed the top swinging doors of the box. When Mr. Random Hugger approached, I was ready with open arms. It was a beautiful moment, and I could enjoy it much better now that I knew the box was closed.

“All right, brother. Peace out.” He thumped himself in the chest twice more, gave the peace sign with his fingers, and then Mr. Random Hugger walked off into the sunset.

I got back in the driver's seat. I had hated to shut the tigers once more in darkness, but it seemed it couldn't be helped. I couldn't very well let them wander freely around the vehicle. Maybe they would take the cue and take a nap … or maybe not. Soon, I could hear them both crying from the back. Perhaps, they were hungry.

To be continued ...

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda, Part 5

Continued from Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4

As I entered the shop, I wore the spy glasses, carried the spy camera pen in my front shirt pocket and carried the spy coffee cup, which was, of course, empty of any actual coffee.

The young Asian man behind the counter eyed me curiously when I told him I had come to pick up an order for Zarelda. The first words he said to me were, “You're not Rodrigo.”

I wanted to ask him, “What gave it away?” “I don't look like much of a Rodrigo,” I told him. “A Quinn maybe, possibly an Erik or a Vincent.” I was thinking of the redheaded Van Gogh with the last name listed.

“So, which are you, Quinn, Erik or Vincent?”

“None of the above. I'm just Andy … Andy Westin.”

His companion behind the counter with a name tag announcing himself as Kumar, said to him, “Don't you know? He's the new Rodrigo.”

I had heard about pink or orange being the new black, but, apparently, I wasn't entitled to my own identity. I was simply “the new Rodrigo.” I didn't know if Jack's or my suspicions were founded or not, but I wanted the camera, one of them, to capture their names and faces, and although I think Jack's a genius, wasn't really sure of the quality of the images any of these cameras could capture or from what distance. I thought I could stretch out one arm with the coffee cup and the other arm with the pen, but wasn't sure how I could do that without looking like I was signaling in semaphore … with stranger objects. I pulled the pen from my pocket with my left hand, although it seemed I had no immediate use for a pen.

“Rodrigo. Yes ...” With the “yes,” I pointed the pen towards Kumar. “I've heard so much about him.” I hadn't, of course, but I was hoping these guys had and would open up.

“He was good,” said Kumar. “He'd swing his whip and hit, say, that box over there … “ He pointed to a box left of the counter. “And things would appear.”

I nodded. “And yet, as the new Rodrigo, I have no talents whatsoever.”

Kumar's partner, whose tag, I saw, identified him as John, was eying me strangely again, and I thought I should tone down the smart alec a bit … if I could help it. “Except picking up packages. I'm excellent at picking up packages.” Again, I used the pen in a pointing gesture for what might be an overly dramatic way of emphasizing the word “excellent,” this time pointing it towards John. At this rate, I would never work my way free of the strange looks he gave me.

“Come with me to the back,” he said. He led me past bookshelves full of instructional DVDs and displays with hanging trick card decks, magic wands and hats. Kumar accompanied us.

The “back” was separated from the front area with a red velvet-like curtain hung over a doorway. The song that came over the sound system just then was America's “You Can Do Magic” which seemed appropriate. The “back” seemed to be a sort of jumbled stock room filled with large boxes, cardboard shipment boxes as well as the multi-colored magic prop sort and a desk with a computer which was piled high with crooked stacks of spread sheets, paper corners pointing in all directions. It also looked like it belonged on the TV show Hoarders and was a neat freak's or a claustrophobic's nightmare. I was getting palpitations.

John and Kumar seemed to me to be at least ten to fifteen years younger than I am and were as thin as fettuccine and, apparently, just as pliable. I watched as John and then Kumar slithered their way sideways through a narrow space between the corner of the desk and a giant box the height of Jack and the width of a wardrobe. Maybe this was how they managed to be thin. They passed themselves through this pasta press every day. They really were magicians or contortionists or both.

“I can't do what you just did,” I said. “I am not liquid. I have these things called bones.” I shifted myself to the side so that I could better see over the stacks of papers into the space where they now were. I thought this might put me in a good position after all since I was so close to the desk overflowing with their business transaction records. If I could scan it with one of the three secret cameras, I could have evidence of their business, the legitimate one or, perhaps, anything a little less legitimate.

“Uh … I guess you can stay where you are for now,” said John.

I switched the coffee cup to my left hand and the pen to my right hand. “It's quite some place you've got here.” I said, moving both hands in wide circles to either side, with the pen camera sweeping over the top of the desk. I decided not to move the coffee cup in this manner over the desk, lest I should make them nervous I would spill coffee over their important papers.

The two rolled out a dolly from a space just slightly aside from my line of vision. Propped on the dolly was a large box the length of a man but a little too high and much too colorful to be quite coffin-like. I found a little stool poking out from below the desk and stood on it. It seemed a better option than standing on one of the boxes of questionable strength and vanishing into the surrounding debris. The box was painted with a galaxy design with a black background splashed with swirling clouds of purple, blue and pink and dotted with tiny points of light.

I wondered if my hand gestures were too fast for the pen camera to catch a clear image. “Walk Like an Egyptian” came on over the sound system, and an idea struck me. I turned profile, put out my hands Egyptian-style, my hands flat and pointing forward and back. “The '80s, you know … I can't resist the beat,” I said. I pulled my pen hand, the right one, forward and back in the Egyptian dance move, and afraid to go too fast, I did my own artistic slo-mo version of the '80s trend dance, which probably seemed to demonstrate I had no concept of the beat I supposedly could not resist.

I could see from the look in John's eyes I had graduated in his opinion from merely odd to borderline lunatic. “You're very right when you say you don't have that sort of talent,” he said.

“Thanks, Simon Cowell.”

Kumar turned his attention from the galaxy box to me. He folded his arms and tilted his head to one side as if thoughtfully assessing my dance skills. “I don't know. I could see him as a clown … a kind of clown dance.”

“Well, that's what I was going for, a clown dance,” I said, turning profile the other direction.

“Funny dude … in a sort of deadpan way,” said Kumar.

When “Wake Me Up Before You Go Go” came on next, I switched to a different '80s dance fad, the sprinkler, putting my right fist, clutching the pen, forward, swinging it to the right and pausing in jerky motions until I reached the side, then pulling it swiftly back to the center. John and Kumar watched my madness for a second or two more before turning their attention back to the box.

When I saw the two turn their attention once more to the box, I turned forward. I watched as they opened up two swinging doors on the top of the box over the half closest to me and opened another hatch on the side facing me. There were two compartments in the box, and, through the open hatch, I could now see the dividing panel at the halfway point. John flipped this panel like a revolving door, and when it rotated so that it was parallel to the two sides, I could clearly see there was nothing but an empty chamber behind it. So, maybe this was it. There were no magically manifesting macaws. There was just a magical illusion box with escape hatches similar to the one used in the final vanishing act, just the sort of equipment you'd expect this shop to sell to someone like Zarelda.

To be Continued ...

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Action Men and the Great Zarelda: Part 4

Continued from Parts 1, 2 and 3 ...

“You look like a guy in show biz,” said Jack. “You look like someone who belongs in a magic show, which is what people expect.”

“I look like I belong in a '70s variety show … and I don't even know how to get down and get funky.”

“I'm sure it will be very simple, Andy,” said Jack, suddenly tightening my tie. “All you have to do is be a prop for the illusions to be done around.”

“Do I have to burn everyone's eyes out as I do so?”

Jack lined up several items on the console table in front of me. “I've been working in the lab,” said Jack. “You have your choice of hidden camera devices, depending on the situation.”

I suddenly felt like Bond with his Q … a more flamboyant parody on Bond, either that or Batman, not the Dark Knight, but the Knight in White Satin, with his Alfred.

The first item was a paper coffee cup with a lid and cardboard cuff, the kind that we would pick up at the Salvador Deli. Jack showed me where the miniscule hole was for the camera and how to further conceal it by the placement of my hand on the cup, as well as turning the camera on and off. “You can spy on Zarelda or anyone else while seeming to take part in an all-American past-time.”

Jack then demonstrated a secret camera in a classy pen. “You can use this while writing, pointing and gesturing, or it can just film the goings-on from your shirt pocket.”

I didn't exactly have a shirt pocket available in my current couture, but the upcoming rehearsal would not be a dress one.

The final item was a pair of glasses with dark plastic earpieces and a thin dark plastic frame on the top side of the lenses.

“I wear contacts,” I said. “She's never seen me wear glasses.”

“You can claim to have lost one,” said Jack. “This here is a screw.” Jack pointed to a small screw on the thick plastic end of the right earpiece that was facing front. “But this … “ He pointed out the parallel position on the opposite side, “is a hidden camera, which can be switched on and off here.” He indicated a small button on the inside of the earpiece.

“Okay then.” I said, sighing. “Here goes.”

That night I went, costume-less, to the rehearsal with Zarelda, with a lightweight drawstring backpack that held my spygear. Jack was partly right. My role as a magician's assistant wasn't utterly brainless. I didn't feel like the male counterpart of Vanna White. I did have to think about where to stand and position myself and find hidden compartments, but I was more comfortable with the idea of concealing or partially concealing myself than breaking out into a song and dance routine on center stage.

The vanishing trick for the show's finale involved me escaping through a secret hatch in the back of the box and merely hiding behind the contraption. Zarelda assured me the audience would be awed when I disappeared and she magically appeared in my place.

After rehearsal, Zarelda accompanied me as we both moved some things to a basement prop storage room. The mysterious area seemed part fun house and part medieval torture chamber, with mirrors and brightly-colored sorts of boxes crafted and painted like gypsy wagons on the one hand and swords, knives and assorted weaponry – whether genuine or faux I couldn't be sure – on the other.

Standing by the steps we had just descended, I noticed a couple of braided leather bullwhips which were coiled and hanging on the wall and thought briefly of my mission. “Why do you have whips? Do you ever use those on … on animals?” I had conjured up an image of an old-fashioned circus lion tamer. I put on my spyglasses. It seemed like a natural moment to do so, as if I needed them for distance vision.

“On animals, darling?” Zarelda stood along the wall below the items of my interest.

I wasn't sure if I alone had earned the title of “darling” or if that was how she addressed all men. Even thinking it was more likely the latter, I rather liked it. She pulled one of the whips from the wall, and I felt a cold tingle down my spine. She suddenly seemed unpredictable.

“These belong to Rodrigo, darling.”

“Rodrigo?” The creepy feeling hadn't quite left me, and I almost wanted to brace myself against a ninja-like attack from the mysterious Rodrigo who might manifest himself from one of the surrounding props.

“Rodrigo, my former assistant.”

“The one you fired.”

“Yes, darling.” Suddenly, she put the whip through a lot of energetic gyrations, making rhythmic sounds as the whip hit the floor. “Rodrigo incorporated a bit of malambo into the act, an Argentinian gaucho dance, and he used the whip like so. I don't know how to do it like he did. It's not a dance for ladies. It's a gaucho dance.”

Rodrigo, apparently, had some performance art skills, and yet I was hired to replace him almost on an impulse, and I had no talents at all … at least none that translated to the stage. More questions raised themselves in my mind, but I did not know how to ask them without raising her suspicions, so I didn't pursue anything further.

Several days later, on the day of my showtime debut as her assistant, I got a call from Zarelda while I was out with Jack for lunch.

“Darling, I have a favor to ask of you.”


“I need you to pick up an order for me at Houdini's Magic Shop. Please, I need this order. Please pick it up and bring it to the theater before the show tonight..” She gave me the Newark address for the shop.

I was beginning to feel more like a gopher than a magician's assistant. Was this part of the normal job description? Would I be compensated for this task? “Excuse me for asking, but is this merely a favor or will this be included in my time working for you?”

“Oh, you will be paid very well, darling.” She said it in such a way as to make me think I'd be paid overtime or enormous tips or something similar.

Alone, driving the SUV to Houdini's Magic Shop, I contemplated Zarelda and the elusive Rodrigo. Why was the talented Rodrigo fired and why was I hired? Why had Zarelda hired me after such a brief conversation, hardly what could be called a proper job interview? Were my looks irresistible? As much as I might like to think so, it seemed unlikely. Was it – I hated to consider it – my submissiveness that was appealing? What had she asked Rodrigo to do that he had refused? Was he an egotist showman or did she ask something that was unreasonable or morally wrong? Was she convinced I was so smitten with her that I would blindly do whatever she asked? And finally, just exactly what was I sent to pick up? At the end, I was so nervous I had all three spy devices on my person when I arrived at the Houdini's Magic Shop.

To be continued ... 

© 2016 Susan Joy Clark