First, an introduction. No! Please, I always skip those parts!
The logo that tops this article is one I created a long time ago, as in back before my hair turned gray and my gait began to falter. I still own the domain name it displays.
Last year a stranger wrote and offered to buy this piece of Internet real estate from me. I think he was in the business of selling coffee. Our conversation was polite, maybe even warm. I told him that what few readers I have associate me with the SpilledBeans.com moniker.
What I chose not to say, but what is even more centered on the truth, is that I want to hold close this frivolous bit of my history on the Web. Call me nostalgic. Go ahead. I won’t mind. I’m old enough to admit that looking backward has become a habit that feels comfortable, painful and wise, all at the same time. It’s a habit I don’t want to break.
These days I use my full name as my geek-bound domain address. Somewhere along that line we imagine as “somewhere along the line,” I followed a tech guru’s advice to tie my online presence together with a digital ribbon named Anthony V. Toscano (and please don’t forget the “V.”). It’s likely a good idea to do so, maybe even a necessary one. If I want to be found, that is. And I want to be found, because I want to be read.
Need I say that times have changed since I began to spill the beans online? Of course not. SpilledBeans.com was a place to keep my online journal. Some of you Social Media friends, neighbors, relatives and strangers who post photos of your recent travels, your class schedules and five-megapixel-pictures of the kitties who sit on your keyboards might know that online journals were the precursors to BLOGS. And no matter what Wikipedia tells you, the word BLOG did not originally stand for Web Log; it stood for Biographical Log, as in online journal.
Today I find myself mired inside a different kind of geek advice, a set of well-intended, born-of-experience RULES for blogging.
I’m old, but I’m technologically proficient. I know a lot about designing websites, coding and the like. The most important thing I know about today’s technologies, however, is that there’s always someone “out there” who knows more than I know.
I’m old, but I like to stay current.
So I’m taking a course about How To Blog (the right way, I suppose). About discovering and marketing one’s writer’s brand. It’s so far been a good course. My classmates are eager, friendly and supportive. The instructor is an expert with a solid national reputation.
Still, I resist. I don’t want to be a brand. I’ll never sell a book, because although I am a talented writer, what I write is not publishable in today’s market. That’s not self-pity talking; it’s rather self-analysis.
I’ve long believed that the day soon will come when readers will refuse to pay for what other people write. Fact is, yon teens, Social Media, and the Internet before it, has granted anyone and everyone who owns a keyboard — or a touch screen, or a smart phone, or a . . . — and the desire to do so, the right to claim the title Writer.
That’s the reason that most times — although not always — I post stories, scenes and poems to this website, rather than BLOG POSTS.
I’m a writer, not a brand.
I began this bloggy article by mentioning SpilledBeans.com. Eleven years ago, I posted the following story to that website. Call me nostalgic for digging it out of a file drawer and re-posting it here today. Go ahead. I won’t mind. This is a habit I don’t want to break.
“My god is wonder,” said my friend to me. “What’s not to worship in that?”
“You’re right,” I thought. “Thank you, friend. You’re right.”
Late this afternoon, I visited an antique shop. The trash-turned-treasure kind of shop that I prefer. The arrangement of trinkets haphazard, the dominant aroma that of old books and cozy attics, the lighting dim and the window panes dusty.
Whenever I enter such a place, I feel somehow replenished, as if somewhere I just might own a soul.
As I move myself from sunlight to shadow, I realize that once again I’m looking backward, and that looking backward can quick become a dangerous habit.
The psycho-therapeutic gurus warn a man that he can go blind if he looks too far back or crawls too deep inside.
But, still, in the end and nonetheless, looking toward the past while standing inside a present moment is a paradox that I enjoy.
I insist that the psycho-therapeutic gurus, on this point at least, are just plain wrong. Nostalgia isn’t bad for you. Nostalgia just is. When I was a kid, a loaf of bread cost twenty-three cents at Gill’s Delicatessen, and that’s a sweet thought, and I was a sweet kid.
I strolled past the trays of costume jewelry, fiddled with a few science fiction paperbacks from the Golden Age, and then knelt before several cardboard boxes filled with tattered magazines. I was searching for an image that might suit my frame of mind, a picture or a photograph that I could scan, crop and slip between the threads of my next story.
Inside the third box I found her. Down deep and toward the back, under a tall stack of comic books that once cost twelve cents and today cost just as many dollars.
She’s a sexy young girl, dressed up to look like Santa’s urge to procreate. Long legs curved and curled, one knee touched delicate against the other, two thighs soft and warm enough to tempt a man to kiss the lock on heaven’s gate. A calendar girl whose flirtatious smile reveals even more than her outfit leaves to a hungry man’s imagination.
I suppose that I fell in love with her. If I am to be honest, then I can’t deny that I went looking for love, and so of course I found her. I think it’s true that a man finds love whenever and wherever he looks for it.
Please spare me your speeches about potbellied men who smoke rank cigars and sell baby-doll images for the sake of a sweaty buck. Because my Santa girl whispered in my ear. And who am I not to listen to a pretty girl’s whisper?
She told me that she’d been sitting there inside her dusty bin for quite a few years, yawning and stretching and smiling and waiting for me to pull her out, just so she could teach me a lesson about the playful side of humanity, a side and a shade that I so rudely overlook whenever I dive down deep into envy and resentment.
“Have fun once in a while, you old curmudgeon,” she whispered. “Next time you step into your pulpit, wear your Santa suit and wink at your parishioners. One of them just might wink back.”
But I could hardly hear my calendar girl’s voice, because behind me the shop’s one employee — a middle-aged woman with bottle-dyed hair, meow-meow eyeglasses and a name tag that read Hilda — began talking to me. Incessantly. No matter that I looked the other way. No matter that I found myself busy with love. No matter that I leaned toward the lock on heaven’s gate. This loquacious lady told me all about her past adventures as a school bus driver. She began with Chapter Two, wherein Hilda wounds herself in the line of duty.
I don’t think it was my manly presence that inspired Hilda’s soliloquy. After all, I’m just not that manly since my hair turned gray and my vision turned inward. No, I don’t think it was me. Not at all. I’m sure that the nostalgic customer before me heard Chapter One, wherein Hilda passes her driver’s test and dons her seductive uniform.
“I held on tight to the lever and I tried with all my might to yank the doors closed,” she said, “but the wind that day yanked back so hard that my spine has never been the same.”
“Yes,” I said. “The wind in these parts can be fierce at times.” Not my best line, I admit, but I was trying to concentrate on Santa’s urge to procreate, and I wanted Hilda to be quiet.
“But do you think the bastards I worked for understood the pain I suffered?” she said.
“No, the bastards never understand,” I said.
“They never thought I’d amount to much, because I was the only woman in the bus barn back then,” she said. Her voice began to curl and match the snarled curve of her eyeglasses.
“But I surprised them,” she said. “I won a trophy at the school bus rodeo.”
To this I said nothing, although inside I felt myself falling fast and hard toward unconditional surrender. I decided to carry my calendar girl to the register, to purchase her and later in the evening to wink and whisper with her, in the privacy of my den. I moved up close to the glass-topped counter. Hilda sat on an antique chair behind the cash drawer. She finished Chapter Two and immediately began to sing me Chapter Three, wherein Hilda seeks revenge and discovers justice.
I looked into the blue eyes behind her meow-meow lenses, and at that moment I decided to listen. Somehow I understood, perhaps by the lines in her face, that Hilda was just as much a character, with just as fine a story to whisper in my ear, as was my calendar girl. If I tilted my head at just the right angle, and adjusted my vision a few degrees forward in time, then I’d be bound to find the god that I was after.
I laid nostalgia on the counter top. Hilda rang her up and slipped her into a paper bag.
“The trophy was shaped like a steering wheel with wings,” she said. “You know, the wings pointed out and up.” Hilda’s fingers traced the shape of wings before my eyes.
“Those wings gave me a perfect idea,” she said.
“You must have worked hard to earn that trophy,” I said.
“Yes, I did.”
I watched the sadness inside Hilda’s eyes. Perhaps she saw the same in mine.
“I worked hard, but the bastards never appreciated me,” she said. “So you know what I did? I handed that trophy to my boss. I aimed its wings at his face. And I told him to sit on it.”
“Ouch,” I said.