The best dream of my dreams of heaven

UpToHeavenI often dream of heaven. Not of heaven so much as me going to heaven. It’s always a sunny day when I start. I can fly, of course, and so I do I fly up through a beautiful bank of cumulus clouds, piles upon piles of them. I’m very optimistic and excited. But then I enter the bank and claustrophobia sets in. I wonder if there’s no turning back even if God doesn’t like me.

There’s no one around in that bank, just more and fluffier white. I can feel the presence, though, of beings. Angels,  no doubt. They are not all benevolent as you know. Some of them are welcoming. They seem to be in my corner and shore me up. Others, though, put thoughts in my head about what do I think I’m doing here. I rarely make it past this stage, but once in a while…

One time I found myself in an abandoned two-story house. One of those places that you see from the road and wonder what tragedy happened here. What person died here in childhood, what kind of incest was perpetrated here? The house was weathered gray and rickety. A hole in the roof let the foyer fill with leaves. Cracked window panes, stained walls, sinking floor. No one was about, but I could hear voices. Again some were encouraging, but others implied rape or impalement on a spike if I didn’t leave.

I left.

Another dream was fantastic. Bright as day. It was a science fiction dream. I was in an open-air jet, flying through a narrow trough on either side of which were stone and cement apartment buildings, one on top of the other. No greenery anywhere, just architecture. Someone was in my jet egging me on. The apartments had balconies and people were out partying, waving to me, cheering me on. I just knew that if I hopped off the jet at any of these balconies, I would be welcomed inside to share lemons, salt and top-shelf tequila.

SteepleInFogI didn’t stay there either.

In my favorite dream of heaven I was myself an angel. A guardian angel. I lived in a lovely cottage on a cliff. My charges, the humanity living down in my neighborhood, would often visit me and ask me for advice. That was my job: to help people with problems. Sometimes I had sex in my cottage. It was very warm and bright with orange wall-paper.

One day I told God I was bored and, as you may have guessed, he became very angry. He told me if  my job was too easy, he would show me what it was like to be a human. The next thing I knew I was in the screened-in porch of a messy house on the edge of desperate town. Overturned tables, stacks of pornography, machine parts were everywhere. I had been kidnapped by an unshaven red neck and his half-wit son. They’d sewn me into a burlap sack with plans to have their way with me, which is to say, cook me for dinner.

Oddly enough I was not scared, but I knew the situation was not going to end well. I fought my way out of the bag and then away from the man and his son despite the fact that they had guns (they were not very bright) and flew quickly back to my perch on the cliff hundreds of miles away, apologizing to God the entire time, and promising to never be bored again.

When I woke up, I wrote a song about my world on the cliff.


You can hear it here:

Short Review: Helicopter


I’m not usually a fan of deeply personal anythings. Especially when it seems to come from people who have some sort of access because they are on the fringe of the rich and famous. I’m always sure that it’s going to be even more dreadful than deeply personal material from People Who Don’t Matter.

But this little film is excellent. Ari Gold did a fantastic job of telling a story of his mother’s death. How it affected him and his siblings. I correct that, he didn’t really tell us, he showed us. Perfect! Creative use of stills, drawings, miniatures, and live action.

Good job. I hope this young man has made more films.


Rootin’ for the Home Team


The Reading Fightin’ Phils’ tooth fairy

It’s the top of the seventh—time for the stretch. Everybody stand and sing along.

Take me out to the ball game.
Take me out to the park.
Buy me peanuts and popcorn and cracker jacks.
I don’t care if I ever come back.
So it’s root, root, root for the …


“Fightin’ Phils?”


Who thought up that name? Who vetted this? Did they not notice it doesn’t fit in The Song? And by the by, what happened to “Phillies?”

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Gettin’ Your Hard Game On

IFI’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but even I know that putting sex and violence into your content is the sure way to become popular. But because I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer I don’t do that. Not usually. Sometimes people think I do, but I don’t. That doesn’t even make sense, does it? Either it’s there or it’s not there. Either there’s liftoff or Houston we got a problem. It’s been scientifically proven: you cannot be just a little bit pregnant. But I beg to differ.

I’ll show you what I mean. This past weekend I hosted a playwrighting workshop in my hometown. I write fiction, my fourth novel is coming out in August, blah, blah. You’ve heard all that before. But I’m taking a break to write strictly dialogue—my favorite part of any story. Let’s not go into the arrogance of thinking I can simply dash off a few he saids/she saids and call it a play. The point is, I had one of my first attempts at this artform critiqued this past weekend.

The result? I was duly  reminded of the arrogance of passing off a few pages of conversation as a play. I was rebuffed, rebuked, chided, scoffed at, humiliated, crucified, immolated, flayed alive, and drawn and quartered. Finally I was requested to leave the theater. Fortunately I’m a masochist and enjoy that sort of thing. There’s nothing quite like having your intestines boiled before your own eyes first thing in the morning.

I limped home, enjoying my pain. Then the night closed in. The curtains on the outside world were drawn, leaving me to my own sordid thoughts. Before I knew it, it was two a.m., the thinking hour. I tossed and turned, haunted by one particularly acidic comment. It kept replaying in my head, even as I couldn’t get my head around it: it did not compute.

The comment came from an angry man who stood up and stated, “there’s one thing in your play that had no business being there. This thing did not further the action. It did not contribute a thing. I’m talking about the hard-on. It had no business being there.”

I nodded my head and muttered something about it probably had been put there by somebody to say something about the character’s character. Or maybe the dynamics of the marriage. In my own head I was writing off the old sourpuss as a prude, a Podunk morality pusher that didn’t like anything racier than Disney.

But that didn’t make sense and that’s why I couldn’t get to sleep. There was a cognitive dissonance rolling around in my brain. See, the play opens with the married couple completely in the nude, and that hadn’t bothered the guy. It wasn’t the sex at all. He just felt the hard-on was misplaced.  He felt it didn’t need to be in a play about environmental disasters. In his mind, I was just trying to shove in a little sex or violence to get the numbers up.

As if!

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It’s the Little Things: A Trip to the Dump

dumpsI had an old couch and a futon that had been in storage in the barn for a couple of years. These things had been with me for years but not really part of my life. A barn allows for the storage of too many things that are hard to throw out even if they feature unfortunate polyester upholstery in a mustard plaid pattern not even my mother would love. Out in the barn these pieces had accumulated an impressive coating of swallow droppings. The stuffing had rotted to a wonderful mushiness, perfect for the local population of mice. I had to face the fact that these items no longer deserved a place in my heart, let alone my home.

It is not easy to dispose of unwieldy garbage where I live. I don’t have trash pickup because out here we simply burn everything. Unfortunately mattresses don’t ignite easily. They usually just smolder like a peat bog for thousands of years and that sort of thing plays hell with property values.

The suburban method of furniture disposal, i.e. depositing on a curb with a “free to good home” sign, doesn’t work here either. We’re in the Twilight Zone and by that I mean the cornfield episode. Most people driving around the countryside here have no idea how they got here or how to get home. They’re frustrated, angry, and in no mood for charming castaways tossed to the front lawn. They don’t don’t understand how good that piece would look between the corner curio cabinet and the punched-tin pie safe.  My discarded furniture would sit around for months getting soggier and soggier. It would end up creating discord between me and the local farmers. And oh how I hate pissing off anybody handy with a pitchfork.
So, to the dump.

My, how that experience has changed! When I was a kid, going to the dump was a Saturday afternoon outing for the whole family. It was our version of a trip to the IMAX. Only it was cheaper and there was something for everyone.

My scat-loving younger brother found the stench an endless source of entertainment. He pulled out every second grade fart joke in his arsenal as soon as we rounded the last corner before the gate. He’d keep it up over the course of the two-hour visit. When he finished the repertoire he’d start over again with What-did-one-burp-say-to-the-other-burp? If he got bored he’d practice his armpit flapping noises.

My mom’s a bird watcher, so she’d bring along her binocks and while away the time identifying the various species of buzzard and gull.

My dad, on the other hand is a talker, the type of person always on the lookout for fresh meat he can regale with war stories. He never saw any action; wasn’t even in any branch of the armed forces. However he was a high school teacher. ‘nuff said, right? Back then the dump always had a couple of bums living in tarpaper shacks with tin can chimneys. They’d have all-day rubber tire fires going outside for cooking and entertainment. If they were facing the wrong way when Dad’s Buick drove up they were out of luck. No chance to make a break before the old man sidled up with the latest hot gossip from the faculty room or anecdote about the school board members’ shenanigans with this year’s contract.

My older brother and I scouted for two-cent deposit bottles. We were quite the entrepreneurs and could support our hefty comic book addiction with what we found at the dump. This was before the bag ladies  cornered the market on bottle returns. I can’t imagine what modern pre-teens with monkeys on their back do for cash flow now.

Dumps are no longer the IMAX of the 50s and 60s. It’s big business now: industrialized, corporate even. And that reassuring smell of gagging putrefaction is gone. It’s just not the same. If you go for old-time’s sake anyway, you’ll pay a hefty fee for your reminiscence: $68/ton. $68 being the minimum. You might only have a bag of old pampers and a used Kleenex or two, but you are still paying $68.

My old couches were not close to a ton, so I filled my truck with as much stuff as I could stuff: old cracked windows (which are by far the hardest thing to recycle–there are only so many people building coldframes), rubber tires (the classic dump item), crates of broken glass, ripped up tarps, moldy carpeting (again mustard plaid), and an empty 55-gallon drum (don’t ask).

The guy at the guard shack looked at the contents of my little truck (Chevy 1500, 4×4) and shook his head. He saw before him a scrawny little girl who would never get those couches and that damn barrel up and over the side of the dumpsters reserved for lay people on this side of the gate. He searched his conscience, thought about the easy $68 he was about to acquire, and took a chance: he granted me dispensation to enter the dump proper and use the special roll-off on the other side of the hill. “It’s by a ledge you can drive up to so you won’t have to lift anything. Just push your load off your, what is that little thing? One of those Jap makes? Where’d you get that? I didn’t know they imported those things.” I drove off while he was still laughing.

I didn’t think anything of it until I’d actually breached the gate beyond the guard shack. There I entered a netherworld, a secret place no one knows exists. It’s filled with gargantuan monsters doing magical, dark things. There wasn’t a sign there that said “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” but there was this: “No one permitted beyond this point without a hard hat.” You see what I’m getting at. Gaining permission to use the roll-off in the back was a statement. I was a special person, privileged as only those with a keen mind and stringy upper body are. I was honored. I was humbled. I was entering the dump without a hard hat.

I almost got lost before I found the roll-off next to the cliff. There were many side lanes that led into deep valleys between huge treacherous mounds of earth that no doubt hosted hidden crevasses that would eat you alive if you ventured off the path. The man had said I just needed to follow the Jersey barriers around to the right and over the rutted, gravel road (“but your little…whatever… will be okay as long as you don’t hit any of the half-buried rebar encased in concrete, heh heh”), back onto the macadam, and then around to the cliff. On the other side of that is the roll-off. “Just back your little import up to the ledge and you can push your stuff over the precipice and you’ll be fine.” Because the instructions were so lengthy by the time he got to the end I forgot to ask him what a Jersey barrier was. About five seconds beyond the entrance I remembered that little point. Too late then. You know the rules about going to places you don’t belong: Don’t Turn Back; You Don’t Get a Second Chance.

Did I mention the modern dump is industrialized now? It’s no longer Alice’s Restaurant Massacree in four-part harmony. The place is crawling with Cats— huge tank sized front end loaders, back shovelers, bulldozers, cherry pickers, and fork lifts, all painted in Caterpillar yellow. They ran around and over the mounds like ants working  a hill. They pushed massive amounts of dirt over ecologically perfect layers of composting trash, ensuring the neighbors’ ground waters remained safe and EPA-passable. No idea why that was important; there were no neighbors for miles around.

Except for that one cranky old guy that is. When they upgraded this dump years ago, the first thing they did was kick the tramps out. One irascible man wasn’t having it. He had no teeth but kept threatening them with a rusty Smith & Wesson that probably didn’t work but would have created havoc with the dump’s image. A dump in the neighborhood is already a hard sell; no sense making it worse. No sense in attracting attention. So they eminently domained the one house on the perimeter and gave it to the old guy. He lives there now with hubcaps on his walls and a killer collection of discarded cabbage patch kids.

I eventually found the roll-off in the back, made my dump, and wended back around to the guard shack by following what I assumed to be the fabled Jersey barriers. The man weighed the truck, gave me a bill for $68, and took my credit card. I asked him why the dump didn’t stink anymore. He had a complicated answer about their high-tech ambient analyzing system. At intervals during the day, it took air samples at various spots and analyzed the chemical content. It then compared the results to wind speed and direction, humidity, and barometric pressure. If the numbers were right (and Mars was retrograding, I suppose) the system would emit a fair amount of nasal soothant into the area. It negates any dump stench present and keeps the non-existent neighbors (except for that one old guy who has no sense capability left anyway) from calling in the media or initiating a law suit.

In the end the dump visit was satisfying. It’s exhilarating climbing up a good size dump mound. You get a nice chunk of altitude up there. It’s windy and the view is fantastic. I found myself really enjoying the day. The thin air might have had something to do with that. Whatever, it got me in a nostalgic mood. It may not have been as good as Saturdays back in the 60s, but there’s a lot to be said for a good dose of nasal soothant when the atmosphere is rare.

Sue Lange

This essay was first posted at the Book View Cafe blog on May 8, 2013.

Where are the women of SF?

OHOTSCoverWhy are people focusing on this question so much lately? Is it some weak tie-in to women’s history month (March)? Does this happen every time spring rolls around? Or has something reached epidemic proportion and now it’s time to Do Something?

I don’t know but there does seem to be a rash of blog posts on the subject. There’s this. And then there’s this. And finally there’s this. Regardless, as Kathi Kimbriel pointed out on Facebook (I would include the link but I’ll be damend if I can figure out how to find anything at Facebook) the answer is: we’re here at Book View Cafe; can’t help it if no one is bothering to look. (For those who don’t know I’m a member of Book View Cafe although I don’t spend as much time over there as I should.)

Perhaps the larger question and the one the Strange Horizons post seemed to be asking is why aren’t the women being reviewed? Which actually translates to: why isn’t women’s writing being taken seriously? I’ll let the academics, the people that study science fiction, answer that. They’re the ones falling down on the job.
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Me and Kurt

Sue and somsbodyThe folks at Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing (Max Booth III and Lori Michelle) have decided they love Kurt Vonnegut. In fact they love him so much they’re publishing a Kurt Vonnegut tribute anthology. And being in possession of fine taste and exquisite judgment, they’re including my story, Megastar Hopper.

That is cool on so many levels. First off, I love Kurt. But then, everyone does, so nothing unusual there. Further than that, though: me and Kurt, we go way back. All the way to the 90s when I had a part time job with a publisher on East 47th Street, over by Second Avenue in Manhattan.

You know where this is going because you know Kurt lived on 48th by Second Ave for a good portion of his life. It was inevitable that I would develop a relationship with Kurt being in such close proximity to him for a goodly portion of every business day.

Interestingly this Second-Avenue-47th-48th –ish neighborhood has many claims to fame besides Kurt. Sparks Steakhouse, where Gotti had Paul Castellano plugged, is on 46th between 2nd and 3rd.  And   the corner of 47th and First Avenue is where Donald plopped the Trump World Tower. You remember the controversy there. The neighborhood folks, headed up by Walter Cronkite, got pissed at the egomaniacal height of the building and started an anti-Donald’s-new-big-building campaign. Unfortunately for Walt et al., Trump had bought up the neighborhood’s aerial rights and easily won the suit. He’d also been in the business long enough to know who to pay off to get things done. So today 47th Street is blessed with what amounts to another of Trump’s big phal…nevermind. Just take a look at the shot on the right there  and come to your own conclusion.

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Postcards from Italy: Campana

bells When I was little I lived in a small town in the middle of the Michigan mitt. Back then the church comprised a center point for my family’s life, literally and figuratively. We lived so close to church we walked to it for services. The bell called us half an hour before, ten minutes before, and then finally right at the start of worship.

The church bell was real back then and had to be rung manually. A long rope lead from the bell up in the tower down to the ground where a guy by the name of Harold pulled it. Harold had had polio as a child and one side of his body didn’t work. He walked crooked and could barely stand but the half of his body that did work was strong enough to ring the bell. He did it promptly and proudly.

Harold’s face never showed expression, his features were frozen. As a result he rarely talked and was basically a quiet guy. Nevertheless, he was a presence in our town. He lived with his two sisters and mowed the lawn with a manual mower. A difficult feat even for someone with full use of his limbs.

He made his way to work on foot, moving slowly but determinedly. I was frightened of him because of his infirmity, but was also secretly fond of him because as far as I was concerned he was the most important man in town. Harold, you see, owned the candy store. Who else could be more deserving of a little girl’s undying devotion than the candy man? To this day the sound of bells moves me to pick up a pack of Twizzlers.

When my family moved from the small town in the middle of Michigan’s mitt to a more substantial city complete with suburbs and super highways, the church bells of my youth fell silent. There is no center to a suburb, and people do not live within walking distance of church. There’s no need for bells and no Harold to pull them.

Many years later I moved to New York City and out to Brooklyn. I found a room in Carroll Gardens a block from St. Agnus’s cathedral. Once again I heard the bells of a church calling its worshippers. But these bells were tinny and clunky. They were accompanied by organ music. It was always the same organ music: a hymn, like Rock of Ages maybe. Of course it was a tape playing. Across the nation, the Harolds of little girls’ childhoods disappeared. No one took their place. Handicapped people took to wheelchairs and had nothing to prove anymore. They’d been mainstreamed into society. Now they have everyone’s respect as well as the best parking spots.

After the move to Carroll Gardens, I began to hate the sound of church bells. They were usually out of tune because the device playing the cassette wobbled or the speakers couldn’t handle the input the way a two-inch piece of iron forged into a bodacious acoustic shape can.

Today I’m in Frascati a couple of blocks from Cathedral di San Pietro. There is no cassette player here. There’s probably a mechanical ringer, but the bells themselves, the campane, are real. Most bells that I have heard here in Italy are real. I take comfort in that. A piece of my childhood returned to me.

A few years ago I went back and visited my little town in Michigan’s mitt. The candy store was boarded up, the shelves bare. Even though they’d taken down the sign, I could read the word “Harold’s” stenciled in the front section where the sun had bleached the backing material around the letters of his name.

I peeked through the windows and watched the ghost of my little girl self agonizing over the liquorice whips, edible necklaces, wax lips, candy cigarettes, Squirrel Nut Zippers, Sugar Babies, and three types of Wrigley’s. Everything was laid out on the horseshoe shaped counter just like before. Harold was leaning on his crutches in the center space. He didn’t say a word. Too hard for him to talk and the little girl never understood him anyway. But he was patient and the little girl finally made her selection, paid her dime, and ran out of the store away from the deformed man.

I tapped on the window then and caught the ghost of Harold’s eye. I mouthed “I love you.” He could not smile as his face was frozen and so remained expressionless. His eyes, though, dropped a little as he nodded. He’d known all along.

Sue Lange

Postcards from Italy: Doppie Lettere

ItalianBooksI don’t know how to pluralize, conjugate, or spell in Italian, so mi dispiace for the title if I got it wrong. Someone please correct me.

The thing about double letters is that you have to pronounce them. Doppia. Say both those p’s. No space between them. Do not stutter the double letter. Say it out loud and you will instantly recognize the Italian lilt beloved of American audiences when watching movies about the mafia. It’s not a Brooklyn thing. It’s because double letters are pronounced in the homeland. And the only way to do that is to exaggerate vowels and rest on the double consonants. Try it. See what I mean?

Thing is, Italian may be extremely hard to understand, but it’s extremely easy to pronounce. There’s only one rule: pronounce every letter. You don’t have to guess what to take out and what to leave in. Its all in. And most letters only get one pronunciation. Yay!

With English every vowel has two possible pronunciations and some have three. Many consonants also have two pronunciations. Some letters are both consonants and vowels (y and u when it’s part of qu). We have diphthongs (ai) and digraphs (th). Some digraphs get two pronunciations (th as in three or they). And don’t  get me started on silent letters. We have letters that don’t even have much of a purpose at all like q and x. Do we really need a k? We have a hard c. Not only do we have c and k, but we also have ck and they’re all pronounced the same.

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Postcards from Italy: I Cugini

In Italy, everyone needs cugini—cousins. And not just because they’re sweet, cook well and often, or invite you over at the drop of a dime. That’s all great, no question, but there’s an even better reason: the bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy is Italy’s middle name. They seem to love it here, but Americans navigating the Italian bureaucratic waters become confused and frightened. Not only do we speak a language that won’t map well onto one that has 14 different tenses per verb, but we live in a culture that uses rules to establish proper behavior. We can’t figure out what the rules here are. They seem to change for no reason, or the penalties for flouting them change. Or something. No one follows rules. Not all of them. Not all the time. How are we, trained as we are in the English system of crowd control, supposed to know when to follow them and when not to follow them?

The only way to do anything official here is to have cugini. Un cugino can translate for you, but more importantly they’ll know somebody on the other side of the counter. Don’t bother going to any official office unless your cugini knows somebody there. Continue reading