Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Convenience Store Imp An H C Andersen tale newly told by Troy Howell

     ----------------------------   -                                N the top floor of a convenience store, 
right under the roof, lived a college student who loved literature. He tended to read more than eat. On the bottom floor lived the grocer, who tended his store. Somewhere in between lived an imp, who tended to eat more than anything, and loved sweets in particular. Candy, cakes, cookies—it didn’t matter, as long as it was sweet. He would steal into the store at night and snack himself silly. So the imp approved of the grocer. One evening, the student came down the stairs to buy light bulbs and cheese, and the imp was watching. The student greeted the grocer’s wife, who switched from gabbing to gawking, for she had the gifts of both gab and gawk. As the grocer was wrapping the cheese, the student noticed the wrapper was not a wrapper at all, but a page from a poetry book. “What a shame!” he said. “This page should not have been torn!” “Here’s more,” said the grocer, producing a battered book. “It’s perfect for wrapping cheese.” “Sir!” said the student. “You’re a good grocer, but you know less about poetry than that recycle bin!” The grocer laughed it off. “You can have the book for a price.” “Give me the book for the cheese, then. I’d rather feed the soul than the stomach.” The exchange was made, the student returned to his loft, and under the stairs the imp stamped. Who does the student think he is? To insult the grocer and snub the recycle bin! That night when the household slept, the imp crept out. He borrowed the tongue of the grocer’s wife, who snored with her mouth open wide and had no need of it then. The imp placed the tongue on the recycle bin, asking, “Do you know poetry?” “Know poetry!” cried the tongue. “Huh! It’s the blurb they stick at the end of a page to fill in the blanks! Blah, blah, blah! That’s what it is! I’ve got more in me than that arrogant kid!” “Just as I thought,” said the imp. He put the tongue on the coffee grinder and it chattered nonstop. He put it on the cash register and the dairy case, and each one repeated what the recycle bin had said. The word was unanimous: Poetry filled in the blanks. “Ha!” muttered the imp. “I’ll show that sorry student!” And he rushed up the stairs. Light was shining from under the student’s door. The imp peered through the keyhole and— Glory! The room was luminous! There sat the student, bent over the book, and from its pages grew a wonderful tree, full of sunrays and spirits who sang enchanting songs. The imp could hardly believe his eyes, could hardly believe his ears. Never had he seen such a sight, never had he heard such singing! He stood on tiptoe until his limbs went numb, far into the night, until the student closed the book and climbed into bed. The light was out, but the vision glowed in the imp’s mind. He approved of the student now. “I never would have imagined!” he whispered. “This is the place for me! I must move into the loft!” He crept back down the stairs, wondering how to do it. But then his stomach growled, and his sweet tooth ached, and he knew it couldn’t be. The student had little food, and nothing sweet at all. He returned just in time to save the tongue from wagging itself limp, for it was back on the recycle bin, babbling the news backward. And from that time on, all the merchandise had the same opinions as the bin. But from that time on, the imp got no pleasure from gossip. Whenever the light shone from under the student’s door, he’d peer into the keyhole, amazed. At times he would cry and would not know why. He would smile, he would sigh. He felt as if a mighty sea rolled before him, basking in sunlight, shifting under clouds. It warmed him and comforted him; it made him feel both strong and small. Winter came, and still he would peer, though the wind in the stairs shook his bones. When he could stand the cold no longer, back down he would go, shivering but happy. Christmas came and there were plenty of sweet things to eat, so the imp liked the grocer again. But on New Year’s Eve he woke in a heat. What commotion there was outside! Shouts and sirens and smoke! Fire! A building was burning! Whose was it? Theirs? He couldn’t tell for sure. But one thing was sure: Each person would save what each treasured the most. The grocer leaped out of bed and grabbed his accounts. The grocer’s wife took off her earrings and plunged them into her gown. The imp darted upstairs and into the loft, where the student stood calmly at the window, gazing at the fire next door. The imp found the book of poems, snatched it away, and climbed onto the roof. There he sat, sheltering this marvelous work. Now he knew what he treasured the most. The firemen came, the flames were put out, and still he gripped the book. But then his stomach began to churn, and his sweet tooth began to yearn. Sugar! Sugar! He hung his head, got down from his perch, returned the book, and slumped down the stairs. He favored the grocer after all.
art & text © 2012 by Troy Howell

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Starving Artist

Just the right lunch for fall weather.
I use a cast iron skillet over medium heat with a tab of butter (olive oil should work as well), lightly buttered multi-grain bread, white cheese—usually jack, though Gouda is good, and when in the mood I’ve used sharp cheddar—with thinly sliced onions browning alongside the sandwich. Once the cheese has melted and the bread has grilled, I add the onions and—here’s the expressive part—slices of avocado and a coil of mustard.
Ah, avocados. I grew up in a home with an avocado tree outside my second-story window, which provided an instant exit when I didn’t care to use the stairs. One summer I left the window open for the tree to branch out inside. It played with the idea, but must have felt claustrophobic, and declined. We had avocados throughout the year. If you're unfamiliar with choosing and using them, keep in mind that ridges running beneath the skin are signs there are undesirable strings in the flesh. The fruit should give slightly under pressure when ripe—anything softer, or hollow places, and it's probably overripe. An avocado will ripen sooner if the stem remainder is removed. Always store at room temperature; don't refrigerate before it is ripe. Use a butter knife to cut the avocado lengthwise in half, then stab the seed to remove it.

To complete the meal, I serve tomato soup (Trader Joe’s Organic Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper, to be specific) with a slice or two of avocado afloat, and a liberal sprinkling of freshly ground pepper. The buttery avocado complements the tangy tomato, and the color combination is pleasing. 
artwork is acrylic on rag board

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hey, kids!

TRY THIS AT HOME! It really works! Fool your friends! Send secret messages! Got something to say, but want to keep it private? Forget texting, and go invisible ink! That’s right—or should we say, that’s write—you know, the stuff that flows out of a pen? Only you can’t see it: it vanishes before your eyes! Shhhh don’t tell anyone, but once you know the trick, you can see it! (We’ll get to that part in a minute.) First, you make the ink yourself, by following an ancient, home recipe, passed down from kid to kid to kid, from goodness knows how long ago. You can do this in your own kitchen, using a few common ingredients—just don’t get caught! Ready? Here’s what you do. T-ke ae on a-d - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

pu-n,c!tu?a—t“i”on ... [p;an/d(e)mon'i:um].

What a morning!

Exclamation Mark barges into my office, red-faced and hyper, and starts stomping everything in sight! I tell it to go back where it came from, that I have little use for hysterics, and to not return, either alone or accompanied (particularly accompanied!!) unless summoned. Know what it does? Crashes my computer and jumps from the window! Just as Question Mark peers inside, puzzled. “What the—!?” asks Q. “This isn’t the chiropractor?” “That would be two doors down,” I say. “And if I were you, I’d keep away from Ex.” “Ex?” “Yeah, a minute ago—”

Em Dash dashes in (naturally), interrupting, and declares it’s through with people mistaking it for its un-better half—Hyphen. Speaking of which, in pops Hyphen (followed quietly by En Dash), self-important, saying that this nine-to-five thing is not sufficient for all the work it must do, and that, according to its owner’s manual, specifically pages 34–36 (“Hey,” says En, in a credit-where-credit’s-due sort of way, “that’s me.”) it has the widest range of usage in the entire grammar group, hence, has value, compounds things, connects well, maintains relationships ...

Ah, here we have Ellipsis, pogo-sticking in and leaving a dot-to-dot on the floor ... pogo-sticking out again ... and until I connect the dots, I won’t know quite what's going on.

And heeeere’s Apostrophe, drifting in to settle between an empty bottle from last night’s party and a lone gold cuff link. Right on its tail come two weeks’ worth of Apostrophes, murmuring, “Don’t mind us—‘twas neither a sin of omission nor commission on your part. We’re just doin’ our duty, tidyin' things up.”

“Take care of the broken glass,” I say.

“Will do.”

I’m hearing voices, and Quotation Marks flutter into the place, humming, buzzing, droning; one pair is singing The Coasters’ hit, “Yakety Yak.” I identify two types: couples and singles. Now and then they rake the air with their “fingers.” One pair joins up with a single, and together they announce, “Comma’s coming! ‘In the room the Comma comes and goes, talking of—‘”

Comma indeed trips in, singing—not the “Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”—but Bob Marley. Comma pauses, then with a nod of its head, leaves a breakfast croissant on my desk, smiles, exits, comes back, frowns, removes the croissant, pauses once more, says, “Shucks, I’ve got plenty,” puts it back, and exits. (It will return. Again, and again, and again.)

Parentheses slides through the door (both of them, and I do a double-take: They’re identical twins) and assumes a position on either side of the room, saying in stereo, “Don’t mind us—we’re grammatical sociopaths. And one of us,” they continue, “(though we won’t say who), is half a smiley face.”

I smile. But my amusement is short-lived: Colon has arrived, slogging stiffly by, going straight for my file cabinet, rummaging around. I pull a bottle from the bottom drawer of my desk, and say, “Is this what you’re after?” Colon stares: It’s my emergency milk of magnesia. “Give me till 12:30,” Colon declares, “and I’ll be good to go.” I knew it: That explains all things Colon; it even explains Semicolon, now limping across my carpet, listing to one side like some worried serial comma, which it can be at times; it could be Comma’s cousin. ("[I'm] not so sure about that," says Semicolon.")

Brackets—two of them—marching in with postures so straight I could balance Merriam-Websters on their flattops. “You’re so square,” I say, but I don’t think they get it. Or maybe they do, but they're not laughing. I think I’ll put them right there [emphasis mine], where I had set aside my old office chair/bookshelf/catch-all.

The Slash. It strikes suddenly. Everything is B/W with The Slash, either/or, no gray areas. But not to give it short shrift, The Slash’s use is not so terse / when parting running lines of verse. The Slash leaves as abruptly as it came.

And last but not least, Period struts in, puffing a Punch Double Corona and speaking one-liners, like, “So,” “Now,” “Enough.” Taking a hard look at the sentence I’m writing (with pen and paper, since Ex Mark crashed my computer), it asks me if there’s anything more, do I think it’s run its course, and whether it should be brought to a final point, so I say, “I’m done,” and Period snuffs out its cigar on the end of it.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Pooh, Revisited


In Which Pooh Finds Out About Facebook, with Misgivings 

When Pooh (Winnie-Ther, otherwise known as Edward Bear ... THAT Pooh)—when he and I were talking the other day, I said casually, "People on Facebook like you." Pooh looked at me as if I'd said, "I enjoy eating onions." (Which I don't. Unless they're surrounded by something—like lettuce, tomato, hamburger, mayonnaise, and a sesame bun. Or soup. Or ... "Breath mints," whispers Pooh. "Exactly," I say.)
"What?" said Pooh.
"What, what?" I said. "The onions?"
"What onions?" said Pooh, looking around. "Are there onions?"
"No," I said. "There aren't. Unless you want some, of course."
"But if there aren't any onions, how could I want some?"
"Dear Pooh, how do you want honey when there isn't any?"
"That's quite a different sort of want."
"So it is," I said. "Now where were we?"
(Pooh whispers, "We were where you said something about people Liking me." He says it with a Most Humble Expression, which is easy for a Bear of Little Brain. "But difficult for People," whispers Bear, "with Big Brains. Write that down too, please, or people will think I'm Rabbit, or Owl, or somebody Important. Which I'm not." So I write that down. "Otherwise," he goes on, "they might NOT like me." Then he fidgets, and says, "But don't write that down, bother." So I don't. "But you have," he whispers hoarsely. "It's right there." "So it is," I say. "People will just have to ignore that part. That's why I've put parentheses around it. See?" He nods and says, "Ah.")
“About people Liking me ..." said Pooh.
"Yes, " I said. " They do. Very much."
Pooh looked very much pleased. Then he said, "How can you tell?”
“See what it says, right here?” So he saw what it said right here, and it said, “Like.” “When people click that,” I explained, “it means they like you.”
Bear scratched his ear, and said somberly, “I thought when somebody liked you they shook your paw or smiled or gave you something ... something sweet, perhaps ... sweet and—”
“But they can smile at you, Pooh. A smile on Facebook looks like this : )”
“Hm,” he said. “Two of those dot things.” 
“Those are eyes,” I said.
“And half a paren-thing, what you called it just now,” he said.
“Parenthesis. That’s the smile.”
 “Hm,” he said. “Two buttons you push.”
“Well, yes," I said. "Three, actually.”
He had Misgivings. It was easy to tell.
(Pooh is nudging me. “What’s Misgivings?” “Misgivings,” I explain, “is when you’re not sure about something.”)
“You push three buttons,” he said.
“That’s right.”
“To smile,” he said.
Then I was having Misgivings.



(Pooh is nudging me again. “Mr. Howell, it’s all right. I quite understand. Misgivings is like onions, only it doesn’t sound the same.” “Pooh!” I say, admiringly. “And as long as we’re surrounded by smiles” he says, “—these paren-things you call them—I don’t mind.” I give him the best smile I can. The real kind.)
“I’d still rather have honey,” he said.

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Dime a Dozen

I’m occasionally asked where my ideas come from, and I usually give a vague answer. Most writers do. After all, we don’t want to make it too easy. And if everyone took up writing, who'd be left to feed us? But I also believe in sharing. It’s just smart business. And today, I’m in a sharing mode. So, here goes.

I get my ideas from a discreet mail order company. Yeah, nothing spectacular. Maybe that’s why so few people know about it. You’d expect ideas to come from some cosmic, parallel-world place. But, nope.

You can’t find the company on the Web, so don’t bother. They’ve been around for a long, long time, and prefer anonymity. They use the old hand-delivery method, and you place your order by mail. I usually order a great amount, because the ideas are about a dime a dozen—literally—and most of them are small. There are four basic packages:

GrandCentral—1000 ideas for $99.95
Centumplex—100 for $9.99
60-Watt—60 for $6
Starter-Pak—20 for $2
(Shipping and handling determined by your location.)

I usually order a few of the Centumplexes, or a GrandCentral, because the bigger the order, the higher your chances of getting a big idea. The company knows this and that’s how they make a profit. They maintain that the selection process is random. They use a hand scoop, a snow shovel, or a bucket loader, depending on the size of your order. Once you place your order, a plainly wrapped box with a modest label is delivered to your door. It takes two to seven days, depending on where you live. You’re required to sign for the package.

It’s always a thrill for me to open the box. I immediately look for a big idea. Most of the ideas are like pebbles, or Jelly Bellies. I use a magnifying glass to read the small print. Some of the ideas are crazy, and act like Mexican jumping beans. Remove any ideas that seem rotten, or you run the risk of others rotting, too. The bad ones are usually rip-offs of something profound. Once I found a cheap imitation of Milton Glaser’s INY and complained to customer service it had little connection with writing, and they explained that now and then ideas from another division (in this case Marketing) get misplaced. Many of the ideas are dull, but you will see a few bright ones, and that’s always a treat. And if you’re lucky, there’ll be a big one, even two or three. The big ones have a more interesting shape and a deep patina, and can be read with your unaided eye.

The company also offers inklings and notions, which are dirt cheap and recyclable. If you don’t see any you can develop further, just return the lot within the 10-day period and get your money back, minus the S&H. It sounds like a bargain, but I’ve never seen anything I could really use. I think it’s basically stuff they sweep off the floor.

There you have it. The secret is out. (Not entirely, of course: Notice I haven’t given any contact information. I believe every writer must discover that for himself.)

By the way, the idea for this article came from an order I received last week. It was one of the smaller ideas, but it was bright, and it works.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Whether we believe in the significance of fiction or not, we experience it every night within the drama of our dreams.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

literary legends & other luminaries : the lightbulb jokes

( probably a bad idea )

How many Winnie-the-Poohs does it take to change a lightbulb?
We can’t change it, bother, because Christopher Robin says, “Never mind that, let’s go exploring.” So we do.

How many Jimi Hendrixes does it take to change a light bulb?
A thousand: one to finger the socket, nine hundred ninety-nine to trip the light fantastic.

How many Dr. Seusses does it take to change a lightbulb?
There’s one who is perched on the middle-most spot on the back of the sniveling snitch, who sits with his head slumped over the bed, that fills the bright-as-night niche. So that’s one, only one—now wasn’t that fun?

How many Yoko Onos does it take to change a lightbulb?
Five: one to publicize the event, one to paint the bulb black, one to climb the ladder and install it, one to sit and scream, and one to capture it all on camera.

How many James Joyces does it take to change a lightbulb?
Several, and it takes us 24 hours, rambling and wondering as we do the whole time yes we do yes yes yes.

How many Edgar Allan Poes does it take to change a light bulb?
None—he prefers the dark.

How many Mark Twains does it take to change a lightbulb?
A lightbulb is one of those useful inventions that requires little maintenance, a lot of appreciation, and one individual to replace when necessary. I am that individual, when it comes to the appreciation.

How many Charles Dickenses does it take to change a lightbulb? 
It was time to remove the old bulb, it was time to install the new. It was the age of the incandescent phase-out, it was the age of the CFL. There was one Dickens who protested, there was one Dickens who approved. It was the latter who changed the bulb, the latter who looked to the light, the latter who was going direct to Heaven. The former was going direct the other way.

How many Pablo Picassos does it take to change a lightbulb?
One. Or is it two? It’s hard to tell by the face… But however many there are, the bulb is crooked.

How many William Shakespeares does it take to change a lightbulb?
Three—let us count them: one to set the stage, one to proclaim the plight, the same to tell its history, and one to restore the light.

How many Michaelangelos does it take to change a lightbulb?
A crew of them to construct the scaffolding, one to change the bulb, and one to paint the origin of light across the ceiling.

© 2012 Troy Howell

Thursday, April 5, 2012

An idea is part logic, part thunder, part butterfly wing.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

As I stepped out this morning ...

I saw small dewy ships ...

that sailed through forest seas

photos © 2012 by troy howell / click on image to enlarge

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

writing, writing, writing ...

writing a novel. it’s like putting a 5000-piece puzzle together. you assemble areas; they begin to take shape, looking good, making sense. but there are pieces you cannot find. that particular piece. no matter how much you look you can’t find it, and until you do, you keep building, fitting them together.

then, at last, there it is: the one you’ve been looking for.

art by troy howell / graphite on gessoed page from old scribner’s magazine

Thursday, January 26, 2012

to do today

empty pencil sharpener

scrape palette

stretch canvas

adjust skylight-

unlock trunk

catch dreams—

feed dragon

Sunday, January 15, 2012

: (

Call it a lost art, though I know there are people in the world who refuse to abandon all to technology, who still have a hand for elegant penmanship.

Perhaps not lost but anemic is the art of courtship with a personal, passionate, aesthetic touch. A dove, in the upper left corner, carries this letter from one man who was heart-over-head in love. Notice the date, 1919. DeAlva Allman would have been 19 years old, born in 1900. She was my maternal grandmother, he, my grandfather, Duncan Robert (D.R.) Jackson. He played the violin, painted desert scenes, and worked in the Texas oil fields, and later, after moving to California, the oil fields in Long Beach. He died there at the young age of 61.

We now send light-fast notes, stripped of all but prefab emoticons, disposable. Give me a sad face, somebody.

image is actual size / click to enlarge

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

"portrait of snowy evening as seen from compact computer held by human"