Saturday, August 23, 2014

Book Excerpt (2/2): A Bird and a Lizard Go To a Hockey Game

Hey peeps. As promised and better late than never, here is the second part of "Jerry The Bird and Carter J. Lizardman Go To a Minor League Hockey Game." (Read the first part here). This is an excerpt from the best novel ever written about an alcoholic bird who writes detective novels (how's that for a qualifier?), my very own "Among the Humans."

You can read the whole thing here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.

Check it yo:

* * *

Tank let three get by him in the second period. I don't know if the goals were his fault or not, because I still couldn't really follow what was happening. It seemed like every time the visiting team brought the puck around his net, he was flopping this way and that, desperately trying to get hit with the puck. It wasn't a job I would choose.

At the same time, I sympathized with him. I felt like I understood what he was going through. It was like me, writing detective novels to try and pay the rent. I didn't love detective novels, but I'd figured them out. I could put a story together that could entertain a reader for a few hours. It was the same for Tank. He probably didn't like getting shot in the ribs with a puck, but he did it, because it was something he'd figured out how to do, and someone would pay him to do it. But between the two jobs, I preferred mine. Less dangerous.

I watched Mike Dempsey skate around out there. The crowd cheered when he got the puck, and he was clearly the most talented player on the Sparrows team. From listening to his talk at the party, he was supposed to be playing on the big league team, but had been sent down to play for the Sparrows. He was too good for the Sparrows, but something was keeping him out of the big league. I think I could tell what it was. He looked like he didn't give a shit out there, and I think he was probably a little bit like me. He'd figured out he had a talent for something, so he did it for money. But he didn't really love it. Even when the other team scored, he didn't look like he cared. He might as well have been driving a truck for a living.

We sat through another intermission, and when the visiting team scored only a minute into the third period, the crowd started getting restless. It was five to one for the visitors now, and instead of cheering, the crowd was now jeering. They'd seen bad Sparrows teams for years and could already tell what this year's team would be like.

"What the fuck?" Carter said.


He looked around under his feet, reached down and picked up a piece of popcorn. "This just bounced off my hat."

"Someone spilled their popcorn?"

"I don’t know," he said. He looked pissed off, or at least agitated. We sat for another minute, watching the Sparrows getting chased around their end of the ice, until I felt something bop off the top of my head. A piece of popcorn landed in my lap.

"We have popcorn," I said.

"Bastards," Carter growled, and he shot a furious look over his shoulder into the stands behind us. I looked as well, but what was there to see? A lot of people, all looking our way. A lot of them looked at us when we turned around to look at them.

We couldn't tell who was throwing the popcorn, so we eventually turned back around to watch the game. I couldn't care less about what was happening on the ice, and Carter seemed too wound up to pay proper attention. I knew he had a temper, and I knew this probably wasn't going to end well, especially when I felt more popcorn bounce off my head.

"Goddamnit!" Carter shouted. He turned around again, and this time he spotted the culprits: a couple young men, probably college age, although I doubt this pair of beer-swilling hicks went to college.

They were about five rows back from us, red-faced and sweaty, and trying not to smile. Carter stood and pointed a claw-tipped finger at them. "Knock it off!" he yelled, and the two guys looked at each other and all around, both acting surprised, but also glad to be the center of attention.

"What? We're not doing anything!" one of them laughed.

"Yeah? You're throwing popcorn, you punk! Knock it off!"

They laughed, and Carter sat back down. "We're just trying to feed the animals, man!" one of them cackled.

"Do not feed the animals," I replied over my shoulder.

We had peace and quiet for about thirty seconds before the next bunch of popcorn hit us. This time we heard protests from the people in the row directly behind us, who had apparently been hit by some stray kernels. One fellow turned around and told the guys to stop, and they immediately apologized.

Next came the animal calls. Hooting, mooing, baa-ing, and all sorts of stupid stuff were coming from the same two guys. Some people joined in the laughter now. It seemed like the drunks, tired of watching the home team getting their asses kicked all over the ice, were now willing to turn their attention to something new: animal mockery.

Carter was steaming. He'd been in a terrible mood because of the crap at work, but that had all gone away with the excitement of seeing his hockey team play. Now all of the aggravation was back, with this new crap added on top. He was gritting his teeth and digging his claws into the plastic armrests on the chairs. I could tell he was near some kind of breaking point, but I wasn't sure what would happen when he reached it.

A fight broke out between the players on the ice. There were two main antagonists, who dropped their sticks and gloves, grabbed hold of each other's sweaters, and started punching away at each other. The other players on the ice dropped their gloves and paired off with each other, but they just skated around watching the main imbroglio. The crowd went bananas, with everyone on their feet, shaking their arms and screaming. The ones nearest the boards beat their fists against the glass. It was one of the many, many times that I've been acutely aware of the illusion of separation between man and beast. The only difference between this group and a band of gorillas was the substitution of body hair for team jackets.

The fight, and the crowd going crazy, were apparently enough for the guys to start throwing popcorn again, and this time Carter and I were getting fistfuls tossed at us. I don't know why the guys in the row behind us didn't pipe up again, but this time Carter had enough. He turned around, and looking like an absolute nightmare of scales, teeth and claws, he started screaming obscenities and trying to get through the crowd at these two pricks.

The problem was that most of the people were on their feet because of the fight, and Carter wasn't able to push his way through quickly. By the time he got to the steps at the end of our own aisle, two fat guys in security jackets were there. They hooked Carter under each arm and marched him double-time up the steps, taking him straight past the two guys he wanted to kill, and into the concourse on the way to the nearest exit.

I followed behind. I suppose I wasn't being thrown out, but there was no way I was going to stay. The only part I didn't like about leaving was having to walk past the two popcorn throwers, who pointed and howled with laughter as I passed them by.


I caught up with Carter at one of the fire exits. The two fat guards were blocking the door, trying to prevent Carter from getting back in. I could hear the Lizardman screaming in a scratchy voice.

"You goddamn fuckers, I have a ticket to be here, and I didn't do anything wrong! Those assholes were throwing fucking popcorn at us! Why don't you throw them out?"

One of the fat guys argued back that Carter was swearing and fighting, and that was that. He couldn't come back in. I tapped one of the guys on the shoulder, and he stepped aside to let me out. They slammed the door shut behind me, and just like that, our hockey game was over.

Carter had his ticket stub, and he made me walk with him back to the arena's main entrance, but word about him must have gotten there first, because they wouldn't let him back inside. He made a fuss, but he wasn't getting in. That was that.

"Goddamn fucking humans," he muttered as we walked across the street to the bar. "Of course they'd stick up for each other."

"You've got to expect it from them," I said. "Sometimes it's better to avoid conflict."

He was raging. "How the fuck am I supposed to avoid conflict when they're throwing fucking popcorn at us?"

I went silent. It was my opinion that you avoid conflict by not surrounding yourself with two thousand beer-drinking humans in the first place, especially at an event where everyone wants to see action and blood. But I figured anything I said would just make him more upset.

We had a drink in the bar, but after the game finished everyone poured out of the arena and the bar filled up. It became uncomfortably crowded, and I knew Carter was keeping an eye out for those two guys, so I hustled him out the door. We decided to call it a night. He would go back to his beloved strip club and drink staff-priced beers. Maybe he would watch the girls dance, loving them for their beauty and kindness, but hating them for being human. Maybe he would take a beer back to his shack and sit alone, listening to the post-game show on the radio. Either way, it would be a lonely, bitter night for Carter J. Lizardman.
* * *
 You can read the whole thing here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Book Excerpt: A Bird and A Lizard Go To a Hockey Game

Hello everyone! Summer is almost over, which means that hockey will be back soon. I've been quiet here since the playoffs, despite the excitement surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning. Like a lot of Bolts fans I was pretty happy with the additions and subtractions they made this year, and I'll be doing some preview type stuff in September. During the season I'll be serving the usual: occasional commentary and game recaps in copy-and-paste poetic form (so popular!)

For now though, I want to share a little clip of a novel I published earlier in the year. Just a little taste to remind of the in-game experience I guess, although it's hardly a typical experience for Jerry the Bird and Carter J. Lizardman, who are the stars of "Among the Humans." Jerry's next door neighbor is the new goalie for the local minor league team, and the two animals decide to take in the team's home opener.

The chapter that this is taken from is pretty long, so I'm going to cut it into two chunks. I'll post one today and the next on Friday. But if you want to just go ahead and read the whole damn novel immediately, you can find it here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.

Meanwhile, observe and share the angst:

* * *

We had about ten minutes until the game was supposed to start. I finished up my drink and we went across the road. We waited in line to get inside, then walked down the tunnels surrounded by people in cold-weather clothes and team hats. Carter stared at our tickets to figure out where in the building we were supposed to be sitting. I mutely followed as he muttered numbers, looking for signs that showed we were going the right way. We might as well have been exploring an Egyptian pyramid, except that people were selling things in the tunnel: hot dogs, popcorn, draft beer in plastic cups, t-shirts and hats. People were looking at us from the corners of their eyes.

Carter led the way and we went through a narrow corridor and out into the big open space of the arena. It was a giant room shaped like a concrete bathtub with chairs all around, sloping downward to the center of the room, all facing the big skating rink in the middle. The rink was separated from the chairs by wooden boards, topped by glass.

Carter paused in the aisle. "This is fantastic," he said. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply through his nostrils, taking in the stink of cigarette smoke, beer, mustard, popcorn, what I could only presume was the ice, and the stench of probably two thousand humans.

A voice from behind called out for us to move it, and we shuffled along down the concrete steps. Carter had the tickets out again, checking what row and seat numbers were ours. The players were out on the ice, with each team skating in circles at opposite ends of the rink. It seemed that most people were looking down toward the players, but a buzz went through the crowd when we passed.

"Wow, look at that."

"Jeez, you don't see that every day."

"Kids, look! Look, animals!"

I tried to ignore the voices, but I felt a little nervous. This was far and away the biggest number of people I'd ever had around me all at once. Carter seemed oblivious, because he was so focused on finding our spots. He finally stopped at an aisle, and we found our seats. We were in the middle of the row, and we had to squeeze past half a dozen people to get to our spots.

"Here they come, hold your breath," one guy said under his breath to the woman he was with. They were both chubby, and they leaned way back as we passed by. I acknowledge that Carter has a slightly musky odor, but he's not terrible smelling by any stretch. I bathe every day. Frankly, this fat, hairy human smelled worse than either of us. I kept my opinion of his aroma to myself, though. If there was a fight, he would have numbers on his side.

We sat down. They were pretty good seats, I guess. We were about seven rows up, near one of the blue lines painted across the rink. We had a good view of the team skating in circles at our end of the ice. It was the Sparrows. They wore white sweaters with the words "Sparrows" written across the chest in yellow letters. I guess it didn't matter that sparrows are usually brown. Also, sparrows usually don't give a shit about ice hockey.

I tried to pick out the players that I'd met at Tank's house party. They all had mustaches and sideburns and hair flowing around their shoulders. Then I saw Tank in the net. His gear was bigger than the other players, with wide brown leather pads on his lower legs, and big, mismatched gloves. He had a mask on his face, a yellowish thing that looked vaguely skeletal. Despite the extra gear, or maybe even because of it, he looked very skinny out there.

"So this is it, huh?" I asked, looking around.

"This is so great," Carter replied in an awed voice. "What? No, this isn't it. The game hasn't started yet. Are you bored already?"

"I guess not." I shifted around in my seat. The seats didn't allow Carter and I anywhere to put our tails. He had his kind of swung around, so it projected forward next to his right leg. I had my tail plumage tucked under my butt, so a bunch of dark gray feathers jabbed out forward between my legs. The chairs were designed by apes, for apes.

A loud buzzer sounded and most of the players skated to the benches that lined one side of the rink, leaving five on each side, plus the goalies. The players who remained on the ice lined up along the blue lines on ice.

"Please rise and remove your hats for the singing of the Star Spangled Banner." The voice boomed out from overhead speakers, and everyone did as they were told. Sheep, not apes.

"Do we have to do this?" I asked. "I mean, technically, we're not even citizens."

"Just go along with it," Carter said, standing up and pulling off his old fedora. "It's all part of the experience."

"Right," I said, getting up. "Probably best not to offend the herd anyway."

I could hear more exclamations of surprise from behind us when we stood up. This is why Carter and I both dislike crowds.

A silver-haired man in a military uniform stood on the ice near the benches and sang the anthem, and the people around us stood with their hands on their chests, some looking around, some mumbling along with the old man, with a few maniacs singing along at the top of their lungs.

After an eternity the song finally ended, and we got to sit down again. "I'll never understand the anthem," I said as I tucked my tail feathers under my ass. "It just seems stupid to me."

"What, the words?" Carter was intently focused on the players below.

"No, not the words. Just the whole thing of it. Singing about the place you live. I was born here. That's random. But I'm supposed to sing a song to show I belong, whether I like it or not. It's just goofy."

"That's funny," he said. "It makes sense to me. The humans all want to feel like they're part of a team. I'm a reptile. We're independent creatures. You birds hang out in flocks. How come I get it and you don't?"

"I get the part of seeking togetherness with your own kind," I said. "Birds sing to communicate with their own kind, or to attract mates, or just because they're happy. That's how most human music is, but the anthem doesn't fit in with that.  It means you love the country and its flag and its government. But the government oppresses people and uses them and sends them to war. And they have to sing about how they love it. Plus, the song is all about bombs and stuff anyway. It's like the people are singing, begging to be blown up so they can show how much they love America. And for some reason you have to sing the song before watching ice hockey."

The fat-faced guy in the seat in front of me turned around and glared. "If you hate America so much, why don't you get the fuck out, you goddamn bird-brain!"

I shrugged. "I was born here," I replied. "Where am I gonna go?"

"Go to fucking Russia if you hate the anthem so much!"

"They have an anthem too," I said. "I saw it on TV once."

He scowled at me and turned back around.

The players had gathered at center ice. The referee blew his whistle, dropped the puck between two players, and everybody started scrambling around after it.

"Okay, they've started," Carter said. "No more politics. I don't want to get murdered without seeing at least some of the game."

I sat back in the chair and watched. The players chased the puck around, batted it back and forth with their sticks, and occasionally shot it at one of the goalies. I tried to follow the action, but it bored me. It somehow reminded me of pigeons fighting over French fries, except once these guys got the French fry, instead of eating it, they wanted to stick it in a trash can that the other pigeons wanted to keep it out of, or something like that. It seemed silly, anyway.

It wasn't silly to Carter.  He was watching intently, his body tense in his seat. When something exciting happened he would flinch, and when the Sparrows would almost do something he would gasp and moan. He had a huge emotional investment in the whole affair. He loved the Sparrows in some abstract manner than made no sense to me at all.

On the ice, Mike Dempsey scored a goal for the Sparrows, and everyone in the stands stood up and cheered. Carter jumped out of his seat and pumped his fists, crying out with an unsettling “Waaaaahhhh!” sound. Everyone was so happy. It was great, actually. It still made no sense, but the absolute pleasure the goal gave everyone was very nice to experience.

Carter sat down. "This is so great," he said. "Thanks, Jerry, really. Thanks for coming."

"Sure, pal."

The play continued, and a few minutes later the other team scored. I couldn't follow the play exactly, but the opposing players swatted the puck back and forth around Tank, and eventually one of them swatted it right behind him. The crowd let out a loud "Awwwww" sound, and Carter cursed.

I watched Tank. He skated out of his net and went in a little circle, hanging his head. How did he feel? I had no idea. I'd never played games like this. I grew up in a forest, and then in back alleys and vacant lots. Sports were not part of the street education curriculum.

After a few more minutes of skating and puck-swatting, a loud horn sounded and the players skated off the ice. People started standing up. "It's over?" I asked.

"End of the first period," Carter said. "There are two more. There's a twenty minute intermission in between each one."

"Oh, hell," I said.

"Come on, I'll buy you a beer."

We made our way to the concession stand and back. The plastic cups of beer were cheaper than the stuff at the strip club, but still more than a regular bar. Carter paid, so I didn't complain.

"Are you enjoying it?" he asked when we were back in our seats.

"It's all right," I said. "I understand the attraction I guess, from an abstract point of view. It's entertainment. The players play to entertain the people, and the people watch because you have to do something, right? You can't just sit around and masturbate all day and all night."

The fat-faced guy turned around and gave me a dirty look. I ignored him.

"What I don't really understand," I went on, "is the emotion involved. Everybody gets all worked up. They're on a roller coaster. Happy when this team scores, sad when that team scores."

"That's the fun," Carter said. "It's boring if you don't care who wins."

I set my beer in the cup holder and took out a cigarette. "So what if your team never wins?"

He snorted. "Welcome to my life. This team has been brutal for years."

"So why keep cheering? Why not cheer for a different team instead? Why not cheer for the team that always wins?"

"I dunno," he said. "That seems like cheating."

"It sounds like dating the ugly girl and hoping she'll get better looking."

Carter gulped his beer. "Well, if your buddy Tank is any good, maybe they'll be better this year. They've had some pretty shitty goalies these past few years."

* * *

The rest of the chapter will be posted here on Friday, but you can always read the whole thing RIGHT NOW: here on Smashwords, or here on Amazon.