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Reminder: Read My Book

3 Apr

My book, Foleytown: Comic Tales of Growing Up in Various Unfashionable Parts of California, contains nineteen humorous (at least I hope people find them humorous) tales about growing up in inland California–the part that most people outside of the state have never heard of (or even many people inside the state).

foleytown

Foleytown is available in print and e-book formats. I painted the cover illustration, of course. 

If you liked the movie Lady Bird, concerning a girl who grew up in a scrubby working-class part of Sacramento, you may very well like my book also. The most recent review notes:

“These stories are charming, well-paced, and exhibit the author’s craft very nicely. The universal appeal of the folks-ey tales appealed to me, struck a familiar chord, and caused me to yearn for simpler times. I hope that S.K. Cole plans another publication soon.”

First Reviews of My Book Posted

9 Sep

Two reviews have so far been posted at Amazon for my recently published book, Foleytown. I’m pleased to say they are both five-star reviews!

A couple of quotes:

 

“I found this book, as the author hoped it would be, entertaining, humorous and with warmth embedded in its pages.”

“A wistful, nostalgic delight.”

 

I hope to get many more reviews, although I’m sure they won’t all be five stars!

Thanks to the reviewers for their input.

E-Book is Out

1 Jul

The issues surrounding the publication of my book, Foleytown, have been resolved, and both the e-book and the print versions are available at Authorhouse, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble. The e-book is only $3.99, so I expect all five of my regular readers to buy one (just kidding!)foleytown

From the book’s blurb:

Foleytown is a special place…a place where there is always a shortage of money but never a shortage of laughs. Follow the children of the large, financially struggling Foley clan as they navigate through “bloody” pomegranate fights, epic games of Christmas Card War, homemade bridesmaid dresses, fears of itinerant serial killers, and the cherished summer tradition they called “Prune-Why-Oh” – all while learning how to grow up in a very unfashionable part of California.

As Jack Lord would have said in 1969, “Be there — Aloha!”

One of My Books is Live!

14 Jun

My book Foleytown  is finally on sale online, although the ebook hasn’t shown up at Amazon yet and I’m trying to iron that out with the publisher. But you can order the physical book for $13.99 and the ebook for $3.99 at Authorhouse; the dead-tree version is also $13.99 Amazon. Note: If you buy it from Authorhouse I get a few more shekels than if you buy it from Amazon.

Here’s a description of the book:

Foleytown is a special place…a place where there is always a shortage of money but never a shortage of laughs. Follow the children of the large, financially struggling Foley clan as they navigate through “bloody” pomegranate fights, epic games of Christmas Card War, homemade bridesmaid dresses, fears of itinerant serial killers, and the cherished summer tradition they called “Prune-Why-Oh” – all while learning how to grow up in a very unfashionable part of California.

If you order it, please leave me a review at either Authorhouse or Amazon. Thanks!

Sutton County Line

9 Mar

From my latest collection of short stories, Sutton County Line, here’s an excerpt from a story called Stagecoach Plaza.

     Stagecoach Plaza was two years younger than I was, built in Nineteen Sixty-Two, when John Wayne Westerns ruled the nation’s big screens, and Gunsmoke, The Rifleman and Bonanza ruled the small ones. That was probably why the whole place was deliberately designed to look like a Wild West ghost town, complete with fake dilapidated storefronts, a creaky wooden boardwalk, and weathered wagon wheels leaning against cracked wooden posts at strategic locations.

The storefronts were arranged in a square, overlooking a small grassy central park, in which was set a pretty fair replica of a Nineteenth Century Wells Fargo stagecoach and a bronze statue of Alphonse Seuton, the founder of our small rural California town, Sutton.

Across the square, beyond the park, was a building that looked like an Old West saloon, complete with swinging double-doors and gold-leaf lettering on the front window; it was actually an office for an insurance company. The swinging double-doors opened to another, regular door, that led to a conventional business office full of laminated-wooden desks, clattering typewriters, and black rotary telephones.

The best feature of Stagecoach Plaza by far—and the one that made the place most memorable—was a collection of life-sized wooden figures that were propped up against outer walls of the storefronts at regular intervals along the boardwalk. These were crudely carved and garishly painted representations of Western heroes of yesteryear: lawmen, Indian chiefs, and desperados alike.

Sitting Bull, for instance, sternly guarded the 88 Cents Store, where everything on offer was priced at eighty-eight cents or less. Annie Oakley and Wild Bill Hickock stood on either side of the swinging double-doors of the fake saloon, while General Custer watched over the day-old Kilpatrick bread outlet. The great Apache chief, Geronimo, glowered incongruously in front of the Pink Poodle Beauty College, where my mother got her hair done by the students at a steep discount; Billy the Kid served a similar duty near the Brite-Glo Laundromat.

All in all, there were about two dozen of these enigmatic wooden figures situated on the boardwalk at Stagecoach Plaza. I had adored them as a small child, and even now, in my first whole month of being a teen-ager, they still brought about a slight feeling of awe. They were not realistic at all, rather cartoonish in representation, but they represented a link to the old Gold Rush past of Sutton—a past that was, sadly, disappearing quickly beneath a modern landslide of plastic gewgaws, hippie pants, and labor-saving electric devices.

Here’s the sign for the original model for Stagecoach Plaza. Sadly, I’m not sure if it’s even still in existence, or if the statues of Sitting Bull, etc. are still around.

Snow Time

14 Dec

Not exactly Christmassy, but relevant for those who live in four-season climates. Here is an excerpt from a story in my book Foleytown, which is about the first time I encountered snow. It’s called The Religion of California: 

“I’ve decided that we’re going to the mountains,” my father grumbled, one early Saturday morning in late winter. “So, today, we’re all taking a car trip to see the snow.”

“Finally I will get to see and feel what snow is really like,” I told myself, gleeful beyond description. “Finally!”

We all packed into the car, my four sisters and my brother Bobby and I and my mother, and then my father drove us northward, up into the Sierra Nevada foothills, until we saw pine and fir forests and then, later, little patches of white on the ground. As we drove into higher elevations, we saw it frosting the tops of various large rocks and pine branches, and then, eventually we saw it everywhere.

The whiteness was almost blinding.

“Snow,” my father grumped. “Kids, kids—here it is, look out the window. We’ve come to the snow!”

“Oh, it’s so beautiful,” I said, excitedly pressing my face against the cold glass of the car window. “Just so, so beautiful.”

My father turned off the main highway into some small hamlet or other, and we found a little clearing with a small parking lot; it was a public park, completely buried in snow. A forlorn-looking merry-go-round and a steel jungle-gym jutted starkly out of the white snow blanket on the ground, some yards in the distance.

My mother had made us all dress in numerous layers of uncomfortable clothing and heavy rubber galoshes. She was sure that someone would come down with pneumonia, or at least a very bad cold, and she had not really approved of our trip to the snow. But she went along, resignedly.

“At least we have penicillin now,” she lectured. “When I was your age, Liz, if you got pneumonia from being out in the snow, you could die, like my poor Cousin Loppy, who passed on when he was only fourteen,” she added gloomily.

My mother was like that; she loved to look on the dark side of nearly everything. And she also had an inexhaustible supply of stories about relatives and in-laws and neighbors who had experienced dire misfortunes back there in Kentucky, usually because they did something or other that she disapproved of.

That would be things like staying out too long in the rain or snow, touching something that was infested with Germs and Disease, or playing with sharp sticks.

“Why did they call him Loppy?” I wondered aloud; I could never get my mother’s Kentucky relatives straight. It didn’t help that many of them seemed to have peculiar, scarcely human nicknames like Loppy, Bippy, Aunt Mag, and Meedge.

“Well, we called him that because he had long ears that drooped down, like a lop-eared rabbit,” my mother said. “I think that’s why he got pneumonia—his ear muffs didn’t cover them, and he got frostbite. Your Great Aunt Mag never recovered from it, poor thing—she later died from choking on a fishbone. That’s why I never let you kids eat any kind of fish, except fish sticks.”

That was another thing my mother disapproved of: eating fish. I started thinking about how often she said the bones were just too dangerous to justify eating it, as Great Aunt Mag could have clearly testified. That is, if the poor woman had lived to tell about it.

Now, for folks who didn’t approve of eating fish, it was rather hard to be a Catholic, because we were supposed to eat it every Friday. Fortunately, by the Sixties, there were frozen fish sticks easily available from the grocery store, even in a small, backwater town like Ulloa City.

Frozen fish sticks had made it possible for Mary Foley to fulfill her Friday religious obligations with an untroubled mind.

“The fish stick factory has machines that sift out all of the bones,” she’d once said, duly impressed. She had actually written a letter to the company to make sure, and they had written back to explain patiently how they de-boned all of their fish before squishing it into fish sticks.

“Thank God for Gorton’s of Gloucester, is all I can say,” my mother added.

Christmas Story Time

13 Dec

In honor of the advancing season, here is an excerpt from my upcoming book of short stories, Foleytown, which I hope to publish in its entirety sometime after the New Year. This excerpt is from a story called “Christmas in Foleytown.”

I usually got the honor of arranging the nativity set on the mantelpiece of our tiny living room. Our plaster dime store figures were cheap, common and, in retrospect, rather ugly, but I cherished them all—the Three Kings, the camel, the Holy Family, the cow and the sheep, the wandering shepherd, the donkey, and the two blonde-haired angels with Shirley Temple curls crowned by gilt-painted halos.

There was, however, one glaringly obvious flaw in our nativity set-up.

“There are not enough camels here,” I noted to my mother one year, while arranging our nativity set in what I hoped was an artful and clever way. “Three Kings and only one camel. How did they make it all the way to Bethlehem with just one camel?”

“Well, camels are big, Lizzie; they can carry a lot of things and people,” my mother answered absently.

I tried to position the figurines of all three kings on top of the camel to verify her claim, but it didn’t really work.  None of our Three Kings could fit astride the beast of burden, because each of them had plaster legs that were molded together into a solid block.

“We need two more camels,” I said, decisively. “Even if the Three Kings’ legs weren’t stuck together like that, I don’t think they could all fit on the back of just one camel.”

“I’ll look into getting two more camels at the dime store next time I go shopping on Plumas Street,” my mother replied, soothingly. But she never did actually get around to it—that year or any other.

Still trying to reason the Three Kings dilemma through, I concluded that one King rode the camel while the other two walked beside it.

“Maybe they took turns riding the camel, to be fair,” I told myself.  “That would be the Christian thing to do.”

I worried about things like that when I was small. I tucked my toys and dolls under scraps of old blankets so they would stay warm at night; I wore clothes I didn’t like because I didn’t want them to feel unwanted; I worried that coffee cups with broken handles would be abandoned to the trash heap. It was a rather unique world view, I realize now.”

Prune–Why–Oh

27 Mar

This are the beginning paragraphs of a short story called Prune–Why–Oh from my second book, Foleytown. It’s about picking prunes in the Sacramento Valley around 1970ish. This excerpt also explains somewhat why I call my childhood landscape of memories “Foleytown.”

Prune–Why–Oh

Foleytown was, of course, not really a place, but a state of mind; my childhood landscape of memories, encompassing the domains both spiritual and temporal of the whole Foley clan, of which I was the youngest, the “baby” of the family. Like any family, we had our little rituals and traditions, including a rather important one we called, simply, Prune-Why-Ohing

Prune-Why-Oh was the title of one of my mother’s homemade songs; she had a lot of them, most of which were either eccentric or often, just very dopey parodies of real songs. But the term was also a kind of shorthand: it stood for the many childhood summers we of the Foley clan spent picking prunes for pocket money in the fruit orchards ringing UlloaCity.

My mother, Mary Foley, created the Prune-Why-Oh song and many others to keep us busy while we scooped up the prunes and plopped them into metal buckets on long summer days. The melody was the same as the standard church hymn, Kumbaya— the beloved tune strummed by countless guitar-playing nuns at the “guitar Masses” in the Sixties and early Seventies.

The lyrics to Prune-Why-Oh were simple enough, a simple parody of the original ones, and the chorus went like this:

“Prune-Why-Oh, My Lord

Prune-Why-Oh!”

Oh, Lord, Prune-Why Oh”

Days in the fields usually started with me my mother singing the Prune-Why-Oh song very early in the morning, at 4:30 a.m. or so, while packing a picnic lunch to take with us to the orchards.

Now, we always called `the process prune picking—not plum picking—because the ripe raw, plums were all headed eventually for the SunSweet Prune Drying Plant near Sacramento. There, the plump purplish-reddish globes we picked were sorted, treated and dried into prunes.

Picking prunes was not really that hard; that’s why even a six-year-old could do it. A machine we called The Shaker detached the future prunes from their trees, and pickers like our family were employed to scoop them up, put them in buckets, and ultimately deposit the contents of the buckets into large, square wood-slatted containers called “bins.” We mostly got paid by the bin, although at least one establishment that employed us paid by the bucket—25 cents for a small one and 50 cents for a large one.

These were plum wages for the time.

“The Noble Order of the Pomegranate”

12 Oct

Pomegranates have always been special to me. They were rare and coveted when I was a child. A mysterious old man called The Pomegranate Man gave them out in my neighborhood for trick-or-treating–he was very popular on Halloween.

Today, I have all I need, with two big and fruitful pomegranate trees in my back yard. October’s the month they get ripe in California–right around Halloween (my favorite holiday of the year.)

In fact, a short story devoted to pomegranate farming in William Soroyan’s famous book, My Name is Aram, inspired me to write my second book, Foleytown. The story in Soroyan’s book is about a crazy old uncle of his who tried to grow pomegranates in the SoCal desert, and of course, the farm failed. I read it and thought, “wow, that sounds like something a member of my own family would do!” And the idea for Foleytown–a collection of comic short stories inspired by my family–was born.

Here’s an excerpt from a story in Foleytown called “The Noble Order of the Pomegranate.” The pomegranate still life at the bottom of the page is mine too, painted from the pomegranates grown in my backyard, which is for sale at my Etsy store.

Now, it’s a point of fact that secretaries at the Air Base [where my father worked] were always giving my dad bags of things to take home with him; they felt sorry for him because they knew he had so many children to support. This particular secretary lived on a small farm outside of a town called Yorba Linda, and she had a few large trees that produced pomegranates that were almost—but not quite—as good as The Pomegranate Man’s.

My brother Bobby, my three sisters and I sorted through the gunny sack of pomegranates from the Air Base secretary eagerly. We ate pomegranates every day for more than a week, and yet there was still a big pile of them left in the sack.

“Pomegranates just aren’t fun anymore,” I complained, sitting on the top step of our front porch with Elaine, dejectedly picking out seeds from a pomegranate shell in a dish, and popping them slowing into my mouth. “They’re not special anymore when you have so many of them.”

“I don’t even like them so much now either,” Elaine replied. “They’re kind of like eating cake frosting straight from the bowl.”

“And we always thought The Pomegranate Man was being so generous in giving away all his pomegranates on Halloween,” I added. “Now we know the real truth; he was just sick of them all along, and Halloween’s just an excuse to get rid of them.”

“There’s nothing you can really do with them but eat the seeds,” Elaine pointed out, grabbing a large, juicy-looking seed from my dish. “If they were apples or something, we could get Mama to make a pie out of them, but who has ever heard of a pie made from pomegranates?”

I gagged at the thought of it; pomegranate pie. Yuck.

But then Elaine made an important discovery about pomegranate seeds.

“Look Lizzie, you can squirt them!” She squeezed her seed between her right thumb and forefinger, and a large jet of crimson juice sprayed out of it. “You can do something else with them.”

I tried it myself; it worked. Soon Elaine and I were practicing with the seeds, trying to figure out the best way to squeeze them in order to produce the longest and most voluminous squirts.

At that point, our big brother Bobby came home from shooting basketballs at the local schoolyard, and we showed him how to make the pomegranate seeds squirt, too.

He was greatly impressed.

“This is almost better than a squirt gun,” he said. “Hey, I know—what do you usually do when you have a bunch of kids and squirt guns?”

Elaine and I looked at each other, and we reached the identical conclusion at the same exact time.

“WAR!” we shouted in delighted, near-unison. “You have a WAR!”

# # #

Original Watercolor Pomegranate, Still Life, Red and Tasty Art, Kitchen Art, Kitchen Decor, Pomegranates

Foleytown, “The Noble Order of the Pomegranate”, Copyright 2012, by S. K. Cole. All rights reserved.

“Still Life With Pomegranates, 2012,” Copyright, 2012, by S. K Cole. All rights reserved.

Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax

11 Oct

Another excerpt from my comic (and wildly exaggerated) novel about my years as a journalist in the shipping industry:

[The New York head office] decided that we all needed to work harder, so [they] created a couple of other incidental publications, in addition to [our]quarterly high-tech supplement and the regular weekly magazine.  One of the new publications focused on updating information about the smokestacks on freight ships, called Ship Stacks of the West Coast, which Derek immediately christened Shit Stacks of the West Coast.

“Who reads this crap?” I moaned to Derek. “Who really cares what ship stacks look like?”

“Well, it’s important to people who need to identify ships at sea—the Coast Guard, for example, and the vessel charter market.”

Oh, Christ, the vessel charter market.

That was a whole ‘nother aspect of the industry, a dark, mysterious, and inscrutable corner of it. The only person we knew who seemed to understand it was an elderly, stooped-over, barely sentient gentleman named Hal Aikens, who lived in a senior group home somewhere out in the Avenues.

Hal delivered an exhaustive vessel chartering report, called Freights and Charters, to Derek on a weekly basis. It was virtually incomprehensible, written in an obscure jargon that neither Derek nor I nor anyone else we knew could really decipher.

However, we never got any complaints from readers about Freights and Charters, so Derek assumed that Hal knew what he was writing about, and kept running the report, week after week, year after year. All Derek did was correct any obvious spelling errors and format it for publication. It used up space in the magazine, if nothing else.

Also, Derek was fond of parodying Hal’s bizarre reporting style mercilessly when the spirit moved him. He called the parody report Farts and Chowders, and it usually went something like this:

“Yo’mama Is A-Ho Consolidators took the 70,000-tonner M. V. Pastafazoo with delivery at Oakland for a time-charter trip across the Bay, at a daily rate of $50,000, plus a ballast bonus of $1 million. The charterers listed their cargo as empty inflated burlap sacks.

 “Meanwhile, Bastinado Corp. paid the 27,135-deadweight tonnage M. V. Brokedick $4,500 per day for a trip from Japan via Australia to somewhere unspecified, any continent, with option return to Earth.”

I pointed out once, with some justification, that Derek’s tongue-in-cheek chartering reports actually made more sense than Hal’s real ones.

This was borne out by actual events, as we discovered when an issue of the West Coast Weekly Shipper was mistakenly published with Farts and Chowders instead of the real thing.  This happened when Derek’s private Veri-Typer files mysteriously got mixed-up with his regular magazine files, an incident which he suspected was a lovely parting gift from [a disgruntled employee].

No one in our readership even noticed the parody version of Freights and Charters when it ran.

In fact, a couple of people called Derek wanting to know how they could locate the chartering company that handled the M. V. Brokedick, and Derek was forced to tell the callers that the ship had just been unfortunately sent out for scrapping.

“There are people out there in our reading audience who believe that a ship called the Brokedick actually exists,” Derek mused. “I find that terrifying on so many different levels.”

# # #