Ch 4 – In My Room

Pictured above: My bedroom wall of books. I have slept with books my whole life.

Precocious. Rambunctious. Obnoxious. Curious. Chatterbox. These are the words that best described me as a child. When I was old enough to care about what others thought of me, I was able to mollify my overly expressive nature. That’s one way to put it. Another way is to say I became more introspective because I was aware for the first time that I was driving everyone around me fucking crazy.

When that happens, people react to you in not-so-pleasant ways. My punishment was sending me to my room. That’s when I discovered the wonderful world of books.

The family bookshelf was in my bedroom. Fuck yeah!

My parents foolishly assumed that being confined to my room (“Go to your room and close the door!”) would be like doing hard time for a kid who couldn’t sit still, admittedly, I was an incorrigible repeat offender. They soon became worried though when I refused to leave my room. They yelled down the hall, “Time is up!” then swing open the door, “You can come out now.” Only to find my eyes glued to the pages unaware of their presence.

The door was open. I had permission again to roam the house, outdoors, and have conversations with humans. I had one problem with that: my new world was so much more exciting, and it was no further away than my face attached to my hands, propped up by bent elbows. I had become a book sandwich.

I liked big books not fat dudes with big beards and gloved hands.

I was alone but liberated. An entire world within my room cradled in a maze of Southern California tract homes equipped with a standard issue 1960s working-class family: father (breadwinner), mother (housewife), two kids (boy and girl), pet salamander named Sally, and a guinea pig named Ginny. Imaginative pet names, right? Well, my sister fried Ginny leaving her cage out in the sun, which finally took the heat off me.

I found nirvana before members of the legendary grunge band were even born. When my mother read to me at bedtime, the words became a symphony. A musical. Porn (before I knew what that was). There’s no better way to put it; stories turned me on.

Learning something new by flipping through pages of the World Book Encyclopedia was no small miracle. Words and pictures on every page rocked my world. I could stay awake all night long and never sleep. So I thought.

When I began to write stories at age seven, no surprise, I did not rest.



GOT TO: Chapter 5 - Big Bang Theory

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Ch 5 – Big Bang Theory

Ihave a theory about sleep that is supported by anecdotal evidence, mostly by people like me. Humans, their bodies, are “master adapters” to anything it experiences on a regular basis. Even abuse.

I borrow from sleep frequently and rarely pay it back.

It’s the only way I know to find more hours in the day to write while maintaining a full-time corporate job and a three-hour daily commute. I stay up late getting about 2 or 3 hours sleep on weekdays, and a whopping 4 hours on Saturday and Sunday.

Surprisingly, the human body will adapt to this sleeping pattern. Still, I’m not proud of it and don’t recommend it.

My advice: Don’t do what I do or you will undergo a surgeon’s knife. And I’ll only have myself to blame for my early departure from this planet. Oh well, I mean, what the hell. Who am I kidding? I don’t sleep.

I write.

Free Fall
My Keyboard Pillow

Similar to public drunkenness, severe prolonged lack of sleep can be embarrassing. I fall asleep while getting my teeth cleaned and during haircuts. Both involve sharp instruments.

At home, I fall asleep sitting upright in my Aeron writer’s chair. When I wake up I see an oil smudge from my forehead on the laptop screen, and little squares from the keyboard pressed into my cheek.

Big Bang

Sometimes I’m passed out asleep when my head teeters then topples over picking up speed on the way down.

Imagine the forest scene of a logger hollering “TIMBER!!!” as my upper body gives way,  free falling forward making contact with my MacBook Air. BANG! My head slams the laptop hard. I wake up with a bloody face.

Head Whip

Head whipping is no joke either. They range from a series of little dips to near free fall whips. The “whips” occur when I still have the energy to catch myself while dozing off.

While falling asleep, my head begins its descent, and I catch myself before it strikes the keyboard. The pull-back motion makes a loud crack sound in my neck.

The worst injury though may occur the instant my head makes contact with the laptop, and I quickly awaken with an upward motion similar to a lion tamer’s whip. This instinctual overreaction causes my head to lift up with such force it creates a whiplash. It was this neck trauma that caused severely herniated discs in my spine.

Repair & Replace

Of course, the remedy is to get more sleep, but I have sacrificed my health for words on the page for so long it has become a regular way of life. Risking my health night after night with Big Bangs and Head Whips makes me a dip shit. No doubt.

Unfortunately, on occasion, the injury is too severe and requires a surgeons knife to repair.

I woke up one Saturday morning unable to raise my upper body or scoot off the mattress without experiencing an intense shot of pain in my upper back and left arm. That level of agony felt like being run-through by a dull-bladed cavalry sword. Not many people get hacked by an experienced swordsman on horseback these days. At least, not to my knowledge.

 

The surgeon opened the front of my neck to insert two cadaver bones and a metal cage into my spine. The process is called spinal fusion. Following the surgery I wore a molded plastic neck brace for six weeks and a soft neck brace for another four weeks.


After suffering facial wounds, keyboard imprints, and spinal surgery my absurd sleeping habits have continued as before, even after leaving a corporate career to write full time.

The Joker’s pencil trick in the movie The Dark Knight comes to mind. I’ll probably pass out asleep while editing my manuscript by hand someday. As my head free falls downward, the pencil pushes through my eye socket where it skewers my brain. Lights out.

I die with an eye toward a killer ending.


GOT TO: Chapter 6 - Ask a Mexican

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Ch 6 – ¡Ask a Mexican!

My publisher arranged for me to appear at the Duarte Festival of Authors on October 4, 2008  to promote my regional history books.
My book signing table was sandwiched between two nationally known authors, the legendary Ray Bradbury and Gustavo Arellano who pens the popular syndicated weekly column ¡Ask a Mexican!
*     *     *

I brought  a glass framed poster of my new book, The Arroyo Seco. It mounted nicely on the partition that ran the full length of authors booths.

Gustavo is a take-charge guy. He grabbed onto the partition and began pushing it back to make more room for us. When he gave the room divider an extra hard shove, it teetered on its floor mounts. My poster broke free. I heard Gustavo say “timber” under his breath before it made contact with the back edge of my chair.

A shattered glass sound rang out over the festival.

The room fell silent (more like deathly quiet). Ray Bradbury was stunned. His hand remained pressed down on the inside cover of the book he was signing, his pen clenched in his fist.

My chair was covered in glass shards resembling a variety of undesirable shapes: razor-sharp daggers, Ninja Star triangles, and icicle thorns of death. I had been sitting in that chair less than a minute before.

Everyone on the festival floor froze with laser-targeted eyes staring in my direction. A few seconds passed. Then, suddenly, the festival of authors turned back on as if Ray flipped the switch himself.

Gustavo couldn’t be more apologetic while he helped me pick up the glass fragments.

I cheated death. Escaping what could have been a rather-bloody gringo book signing. Imagine the headline: Day of the Dead for Deadhead Author: Local Writer is this Year’s Celebrated Sacrifice.

Perhaps, our professional “writer’s garden” could stand a little more pruning and weed pulling; eliminate most of the self-published books that flood the internet and wanna-be authors who fancy a seat at the book signing table alongside the likes of Ray Bradbury. Much like the practice of horticulturists who remove dead flower heads from a plant to encourage further blooming. I suppose.

*     *     *

Dear Gabacho,

Sorry Gringo for the broken glass.

Hope you didn’t get any on your ass.

Tu amigo para seimpre,

Gustavo


GOT TO: Chapter 7 - Brother of the Craft | 1 |

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