Steve Meador is the author of Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, a poetry book that was an entrant for a National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. He is widely published in online and print journals. He has been a real estate broker since the early 1980s and currently lives and practices in the Tampa, FL, area.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

I have been in the real estate business for 26 years, and it never surprises me how many people don't like Realtors, for one reason or another. That is okay, because I know where I stand on the ladder of life, just below car salesmen and just above attorneys. It seems that in those 26 years that I have seen 52 years worth of life. I have seen the naked and the dead, poverty and filth almost unbelievable, opulence that is sickening, male and female clients making a move on me (and I don't mean out of their home!). It has been hilarious, like the time one of my sellers in California told me her whole neighborhood spent a week constantly walking past a newly sold luxury home, trying to get glimpse of the new owner. One of the neighborhood kids, 7 years old, met the same age son of the new residents and then went home to tell his parents that the new owner was in comedies. The big let down came when the new owner introduced himself to a neighbor and said he was vice president of a large brokerage firm that specialized in commodities. Even the wealthy are awestruck and struck down!

There has been plenty of tragedy. I don't bring this up because I want folks to change how they feel, but because I want them to know there is more to getting up everyday and driving to the bank in a luxury car to deposit those huge commission checks. Sometimes that is true, for most agents it is not. Most live near the poverty level themselves. The only thing I would change about all those years is the amount of hours I worked, the number of 12-14/7 weeks I put in, while my family was growing up. But, I was addicted to the business, and probably not due to the money. It was the excitement of the unknown adventure that was just beyond every turn of the car or house key. It was a lifelong variety show and everyday I had to smile through it and come home like it was just another ordinary afternoon. Here is one, although not verbatim, that is as close as it can get to the real event. Hope you enjoy!

It was appalling, really, the number of phone calls and knocks at the door that Cletus received in the hour I sat at his kitchen table. Ever since his wife’s obituary hit the paper, ten days earlier, he was under siege. One sales person after another—windows, vinyl siding, roof, air conditioning system, fencing and more. “Ten hours a day they’re at me. Won’t take a no. I’ll slam the door and the same son of a bitch will knock again, I’ll say no again, then he’ll go stand on the sidewalk across the street and another snot nose bastard will knock. For Christ’s sake, they think I’m blind! I know what it is, they think there’s life insurance. There ain’t. The only money I had was hidden under the bed, nearly three thousand for a casket and plot payment.. Somebody broke in and stole it the afternoon of her damn funeral. I don’t know where I’ll get the money to pay it all, unless you can sell this old house. That would give me what I need to cover it all. Leave me a little  to rent a place, somewhere.” He lit another Camel, inhaled deep, for what seemed ten seconds. Then, he held it in his lungs, like he was toking weed, before letting it out the other side of his mouth. His cigarettes were never pulled from between the lips until they were finished. The ashes simply plopped off once the strand grew heavy enough. Deeply in. Glow like red neon. Slow stream of gray out.

I went over the comparable sales with Cletus, showed him what homes in the neighborhood were selling for. He lived in a rundown, low-lying area just west of downtown Columbus known as The Bottoms. It may have been named because of its geographical low spot, but now it was the bottom in nearly everything: income, property conditions, desirability, crime (not bottom, but top of the list). The house was alright, a 1920’s bungalow, clean, well maintained, a little smoky smelling, new appliances, remodeled bath and kitchen and a beautiful enclosed porch on the back. That was a problem. Cletus and his wife, Dorothy, had the porch added two years previous and financed it with a $30,000 second mortgage, at some ridiculous interest rate. Coupled with the first mortgage of approximately the same amount meant he would not be able to sell the home and pay off both loans. The house was only worth about $45,000, at best.

He just stared at the numbers I had written, took out another cigarette, tapped the end of it on the table, lipped and lit. “Well, that don’t look like the way to go, does it?” The phone rang as he was about to continue.
No, she ain’t here.
I don’t believe she’ll be back.
Who’s this?
Yeah. Visa Card? And what bank?
I offered him a piece of paper and pen. He shook his head and flashed his hand at me, in refusal.
No, I don’t know anything about her cards. She got them and never said a thing to me.
No sir, I don’t believe your business with her has anything to do with me.
No sir.
Well, is my name on the account?
There you go, then.
No, I don’t think you’ll get shit from me.
I told you she won’t be back, so, I’m gonna hang up now.
Is that so?
Yeah, I know where she is.
No, I won’t give her a message.
I see. Tell you what, damn if you ain’t in luck, I see her now, so you hang on just a second and you can tell her all that stuff yourself.
Cletus limped over to the lamp table in the living room and picked up a 5x7 picture frame containing a photo of Dorothy, returned, placed it in the middle of the table and sat down again. He lifted the handset,

You still there?
I’m going to put the phone by her right now and you talk to her all you want. Okay?
Don’t matter. You can call her Dorothy, or Dot. That’s what most people call her. Okie dokie, here you go.

He placed the receiver beside the picture frame and nodded for me to go into the living room with him, where we looked through the curtains and saw three guys, mid-twenties standing across the street.

“Son of a bitches. Look at’em. I better go see how that conversation is going.”

He went back to the kitchen and picked up the phone.

You find out what you needed to?
Well, did you explain it all?. Like you did with me?
She didn’t say anything? Nothing at all?
There’s a good reason for that. She died a week and a half ago.
I appreciate that.
Yeah. You too, now.
Good bye.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Ghost of Little Richard

I thought I saw the ghost of Little Richard. It was at a bus stop on South Dale Mabry, mingling with about a dozen people. Its face was a shiny cappuccino, stretched tight as a trampoline over bulbous cheekbones. Eyebrows cranked up nearly to the hairline and magic-markered to perfection. What a head of hair! A curly/frizzy/semi-mullet affair, it glistened like crystals in the yellowy late afternoon light. Lanky rheumatoid fingers. Gnashing and clacking skeleton teeth, looked like they were trying to bust a song. But it was the weaving through the people, completely unnoticed, that made me think ethereal being. Even the big lady plopped on the steel bench didn’t sing, when it stood behind her, stretched out those bony fingers and punched out lines of Good Golly, Miss Molly on the invisible ebony and ivory keys along the back of the bench. Plus, nobody looks like that while living. Then, I get home and find out the guy ain’t dead.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Visitors from treeblog, I will be posting several tree related photos and pieces in Feb, beginning with the Feb. 1 post.  Please take a look and leave a comment so that I can visit your place! Thanks.

Fall At Highbanks

Warmth has tilted south
Riverbank shale shares blackness
With a new moon’s face

Saw-edged elm leaves shake
Sprinkle streams with harmless shards
Yellow boats drift free

The odor of oak
Rough bark and rings around heart
Smoke from a chimney

Frost sows new clothing
Vines don a velvet jacket
Sun unzips it all

Cedar waxwings sing
From bare sycamore branches
Echoes stuff the gorge

Ice flavors the air
Soil will harden like amber
Clouds split like white quartz

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Sometimes things have to take a silly turn.

Scene: any home in the world where there are sensible, caring parents and a fourteen year old child.

Mother:  I want you to stop writing that silly twaddle, that poetry.

Daughter:  No, mother, I will not.  It frees me. It delights my soul and sets angels flying and flitting about me in a frenzy of happiness. (She slaps the back of her hand against her forehead and pretends as if she is going to faint. The motion makes a sound akin to a quarter of beef being dropped on a concrete floor.)

Mother:  I shant allow it! It is of no value. There is no future in it, where income and status are concerned. It will lead you to being a motley beggar on the steet. (She turns her back to her daughter and faces a fake fireplace, staring at the photo of her own father, a former trapeze artist.)

Daughter:  I don’t care about money, mother. I do it because I MUST! If I cannot write I shall explode. My head will fill with angst and depression and blow like Vesuvius. Is that what you want mother? Do you want to come into my room and see my brains flowing over the Persian rug like river of lava? (She rushes at her mother, fingers wiggling around her head.)

Mother:  Your father and I have made a final decision and there is to be no more of the silly verse. Besides, if you fear for your sanity we can have you visit Drs. Rolls and Royce.  If that fails, then you shall see Drs. Smith and Wesson. Now go to your room. (Mother turns and faces daughter, hands on hips, face taut.)

Daughter:   Fine. I hate you! I hate both of you! I will do as you say and go to my room, but first I must go to the garden shed and get a pansy for my window sill. (She runs toward the door, a devious scowl across her face.)

Mother:  (She follows daughter to door and calls for the maid.) Alice!

Alice:  Yes madame. (Enters, holding a feather duster.)

Mother:  Would you ring Mr. Borden at the office? Tell him I am having trouble with Lizzie again.

Alice:  Will there be anything else madame?

Mother:  Please tell Henry that I will have the peanut butter and tuna sandwich for lunch. For beverage I will have my special tonic, on the rocks.

Alice:  Yes, madame. Would you like him to serve it in the parlor? (Bowing slightly and backing out of the doorway.)

Mother:  No, I shall take it in my bedroom. And Alice, make sure Lizzie goes directly to her room, once she returns from the garden shed. And please make sure there is no loose dirt on that dreaded pansy.  (Leaves the room and starts up the staircase.)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Fire tower

At 9 and 10 yrs old, while voraciously reading The Hardy Boys books, I thought the greatest job in the world must be the park ranger who manned the fire lookout tower. From there I could spot criminals, solve mysteries, locate lost hikers and campers in peril. Not to mention the animals I would be able to save. My imagination was never away again, after those days of crawling inside books, coming out to a world of magical daydreaming. I felt the same way about that job through high school, when it became flip of the coin close with becoming a biology teacher. Ultimately, I found that neither would lead me to the money I hoped to earn at some point. So, instead, I got that degree in journalism. I love nature and all things connected, but the right choice was made. Still, every now and then I daydream about sitting in that tower, my keen eyes scouring the world through powerful binoculars.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cairo, Ohio

Impression While Passing Through

Cairo, Ohio, is corn and beans,
a stone's throw from Columbus Grove
and just up the road from Delphos.
It is ivy, trains and weather-worn bricks.
When fields are pocks of stubble and ice,
a man has time to dream
of a fertile delta--a place to warm his face
and busy his idle hands. A woman
imagines ironweed swelling with color
so dense that petals fall
onto her palm as bits of amethyst.


Friday, November 19, 2010

A column that was printed in Boomer's Today Magazine.

I am beginning to wonder if this whole writing thing is taking me in the direction I really want to travel. It has been brought up a couple times recently that my work has taken, or needs to take, a different tone and feel. My wife and a female friend have both played the female-factor card.

The friend was the first to make an observation. “Your writing is much softer lately. It is an indication that you are getting in touch with your feminine side.”  SAY WHAT!!?? We had a healthy discussion during which she explained that my whole life has been a manly experience, me being the explorer, hunter, provider, father, etc, etc. Excuse me if I’ m wrong, but that is what a man does and continues to do until he reaches the end, and then he goes out fighting the big reaper. She told me that the soul has to balance everything out before the end comes, that compassion, caring and nurturing are coming to play. I have been all those things my whole life, why would she think they are rearing their ugly heads now?

My wife took a more tactful approach. She nuzzled up to me and said she just knows that I can write something equal to The Notebook or The Bridges of Madison County. According to her, authors Nicholas Sparks and Robert James Waller have the ability to think like women and that allows them to produce the tearjerkers that the (I want to say weaker here, but dare not) lovelier and more gentle of the sexes enjoy reading. That translates into big sales, movie deals, and lots and lots of money.

She is not sure if those two are in the female-thinking mode all the time, just during their writing moods, and, here is the kick in the rump to me, she knows I can jump into that persona in order to write something just as good.

Could it be that the more intuitive sex has latched onto something about me? Or, more scary, actually see something latent in me that I have been suppressing my whole life. The answer is a big John Wayne, Richard Widmark, Steve McQueen NO! Heck, I can write like a woman anytime I want. I can be touchy-feely. I just have a hard time letting go of the old days, when a cowboy would go on a cattle drive and return more of a cowboy than when he left. I want athletes who play like Y.A. Tittle in a 1964 game, after which one of the most incredible sports photos ever taken was snapped—a beaten and bloodied man kneeling in the end zone (go google, you’ll see!). I want to catch a catfish, gut it, run a stick through it and roast it over an open flame and call it fishkabob. Well, I can still do that, but I am afraid of the pollution in the river.

After all my daydreaming and reminiscing, if I have the time and inclination, then I will get in touch with whatever feminine parts I have and write that bestselling, blockbusting American novel, and lots of female readers will bawl their eyes out.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

I hope if nothing else comes of this blog that it will at least prompt those of you who do not have a system of regular writing, whether prose or poetry, to take a little extra time to notice what is happening around you. I mentioned before that you should carry something so you can jot a quick note, or get that handy voice recorder. I am, perhaps, too aware of what is going on in areas around me, so much so that my wife is getting scared to ride in the car with me. She says I pay too much attention to every bird within a quarter mile, or every little movement in the weeds. It is her way of saying that I should pay more attention to my driving.

Maybe I never outgrew the curious stages of my younger life. I do think that is something adults lose. It is natural to do so, as life becomes preoccupied with a different agenda, like making a living, raising a family and placing more intense concentration on a fewer number of things that we are really interested in. Then, when vacation time comes along, that special time for unwinding turns into a fury of hurry, hurry, hurry! I just try to do it a little along the way every day.

The last two posts are examples of a couple times where I took a minute to enjoy the smallness and ordinary that was in front of me. I always have a camera with me because I need it for my work, but my attention would have been scooped up without the camera being available. So, slow down, just a little bit, and be aware, take a mental note of something that you catch at the corner of your vision. Be curious. Then, write something brief about it.

Here is another example. A simple lunch with my wife at a Mexican restaurant in the small village of San Antonio, FL, produced all kinds of colors, sounds, aromas. I was still calm and sane enough after her telling me to pay attention to my driving, to and fro, to come up with this:

During the Drought
San Antonio, FL

San Antonio is sandy roads
lined by wiregrass and lantana
growing wild. Corona washes
down flautas floating in a habanero
sauce that melts the Florida sun.

A woman there wears a red top,
enters the world every day
through a painted gate to water
the beds. Her scooped neckline dips
as she talks to panting marigolds,
and I dream of finding doubloons
along a beach on the Spanish Main.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Brown Anole Anolis sagrei

The Brown Anole

For several months
he has guarded our postal
bastion. At first, either darting
through a slot, to be buried
by the bills and take a happy
crap on the junk mail,
or, courage dismantled,
jumping to the nearby tree.
The gargoyle now remains on top,
even when I open and close the lid.
Tan to dark brown to a blotchy
in-between, depending on his views,
the quirky anole tests me
by doing his jerky pushups
and tilting his head slightly
to read my mood. I move, his eyes move,
I blink, he blinks - a macho Morse code.
Defiantly he hangs and flashes
his bright red dewlap. If I could only
trust him,
train him,
I would never have to raise the flag. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Middle of nowhere

I have been to the Middle of Nowhere. There is a leaning street sign and crumbling asphalt that has faded from macho darkness to milky gray. From above, the asphalt would look like a jigsaw puzzle, pieces defined by cracks overstuffed with the hardiest of  weeds  A few feet from the street’s edge a ditch coddles water the color of Mail Pouch spittle. Beyond that, seeds of nothingness have sprouted and matured into dunes of boredom, which in turn will pitch fluff into the first decent breeze in hopes of spreading to adjacent land. The place is oak trees, acorns, thistle, sedge and poison ivy. At first it is silent, except for the call of a single scrub jay. The song is weak and absorbed by nearby leaves. Then comes a hum from the wings of a fly and murmurs from crickets and frogs. The whole of their sounds is audible, if I point my ear in the right direction, like a timid imitation of the blues. Perhaps this is the type of place where Agee found his “voices gentle and meaningless like the voices of sleeping birds.” There is one yellow flower, maybe the size of a half dollar, atop a low scrabble of weeds. It does not belong here, in the Middle of Nowhere. We have found each other, and the decision to be made is whether I leave alone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Sometimes the task at hand requires blending the current with the past. Sometimes it requires having a blend of levity and somber, without a maudlin aura. My wife asked me to come up with something to say at her class reunion, during the remembrance of lost classmates. I had no clue how to go about it. I had some appointments in Tampa, about 25 minutes away, that I was getting ready drive to. Backing down the driveway I turned on the radio and John Mellencamp's Small Town began to play. For whatever reason, it was all I needed and before I got the first appointment the piece was complete. Sometimes we get lucky and it happens that quick. Sometimes it never comes to us at all. The hardest part was coming up with a title!

Something For My Wife’s Class Reunion

“Well I was born in a small town
And I can breathe in a small town
Gonna die in this small town
And that's prob'ly where they'll bury me”

lyrics from Small Town
by John Mellencamp

That was the ideal idea of life when we were young,
to spend our whole lives among family and friends.
But somewhere along the way the ideal lost its appeal
and we scattered to places well beyond Cleveland,
Dayton or Ft. Wayne. Whether it was careers or loves
or the feeling that a small town could not contain
all we had to offer the world, many of our classmates
brushed off their small town dust and moved on.

Some have moved on the greatest distance of all.
It may not always be easy to remember the names,
or whether they were jocks or nerds or bandies or hoods,
or any of the other labels so abundant in those days.
But we will remember their smiles and faces,
from playgrounds, bowling alleys, ball fields and hallways.
That is how the mind works, it recalls the innocence,
the fragile times, the good times,
the times when we all planned to never leave. But we do leave

and we hope these are the words from those still around,
“Oh, I remember him, or her, we were both from the same small town.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

Verteran's Day

Another Veteran's Day now gone. I am thankful for those who served, and serve, in the military. My father did. My grandfather did. My uncle, on my mother's side, died in Vietnam. I lived with my grandparents for my last three years of high school. It was the end of my being shuffled around to different relatives. During my senior year I had contacted the Navy about joining the ROTC program and was sent a letter with a date for an interview and physical exam, to be held in Cleveland. I was not sure where I was going to college at that point.

To backtrack a little, my high school English Dept. had selected me to be and entrant in a national contest sponsored by NCTE, the National Council of Teachers of English. I wrote an essay and submitted it, along with a couple other pieces of work, and was one of the national winners. I forget how many were entrants, tens of thousands or something like that, but I was a winner. Within a few weeks I started receiving hundreds of letters from colleges from across the country, many written personally by someone representing the school. The phone rang like wild. I was a good student, so, in a way, I was going to have my choice of where to go. But to be in the ROTC program I would have to attend a certain college or university. That was to be determined.

The ROTC program was attractive because it was the promise of a job after graduation, and payment for college. My grandfather never said anything to me until the day before he was supposed to take me on the 3 hour Turnpike ride from Defiance to Cleveland. He was a big, crusty, overpowering man, a WWII  Army Sergeant, who was once the driver of the lead jeep for General Bradley, in Europe. His description of the duty was to be the first in the convoy to be shot or blown up! Perhaps the most important thing ever determined for me was his decision to not take me to Cleveland. I remember the words. "You are not the military type. You are not good at taking orders. You have the gift of gab and that is not what they want in the military. I am not taking you there."  He was right. Grants and scholarships paid for my education. Maybe he also knew that would happen. I don't know.

Anyway, back to the Veteran's Day beginning of this post. I have received numerous notes, messages and chats about how other people had the same kind of hardship and abuse growing up that I experienced. Many, or most, of those folks are a little older than me. They were almost exclusively the children of soldiers returning from WWII, and most had a much rougher childhood than I faced.  It will seem blasphemous, but I need to say it. Perhaps the Greatest Generation was not so great, on the home front. Yes, they defeated the evil on the battlefield, but maybe, just maybe, it created an evil in them. I cannot imagine having to experience the horrors and loss of that war. Maybe they returned as victors, but what so many of them saw and heard and felt took something out of them. We ended up with decades of walls, iron curtains and cold wars, overseas and at home. And in the end, I place no blame. I have only my opinion. We are not animals that can kill, without remorse, for dominance of the pack or pride, nor can we see death and move on to the next meal or watering hole without emotion. We are humans. We are intelligent. We analyze. We are emotional. Regardless, Veterans deserve every ounce of respect we can give.

What does this have to do with writing? Again, an opinion that maybe is off base, but it seems to me that people who had difficult lives as children generally have more to write about. Whether they spent time hiding physically or emotionally, when the light finally shines on them there is a need to let all that past out. Sometimes it is easy, most often it is not.  I suppose that is why I so often get the question about my writing being cathartic.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

I don't think I have been involved in a discussion about my book, Throwing Percy from the Cherry Tree, where this question was not asked, "Did you find it cathartic while you were writing the the poems?"  First of all, I hate the word cathartic. Not its definition, just the sound and look of it. It is hard on the human ears! Secondly, I always give the same answer, the honest answer, "No, not at all."  Without fail there is look of puzzlement on the face of the inquirer. The pieces were written over a period of years, from jottings or notes as I remembered events, or fell into the mood to write. I suppose if I had experienced a sudden urge to crawl into the miserable past and bring it all out at one time, then it may have impacted me differently. The other thing I discuss is that the traumatic events were not generally allowed to remain as such. I like to throw a positive kicker at the end of a piece, a "yes, this is the bad thing that happened, but here is the good that came of it" ending. It usually makes the poem more narrative, at times like a short, short piece of fiction. That is the wonderful thing about time, we get to analyze what was!

I will say, however, the one poem that had the most impact on me emotionally (no, I did not breakdown and bawl or go into a mini-depression, etc, etc) is a very short, simple, plainspeak piece. I kept returning to read it many times while putting the book together, because the spotlight settled on it. For me, it brought out some guilt, for lots of things, and illuminated the root of the problems, not only in other families, but in my own. I was simply too young to know it at the time. Here is the poem:

Whipping Butter

I knew a good whipping
with belts, switches, backhands, shoes, flyswatters
or the nearest corrective device of choice,
but Perry was catching a doozie
as we went up to the screen door.
We dared not knock,
for the flavor of the day might spill in our direction.
Neighbors in Savannah were friendly that way.
We hid under the window and giggled,
figuring he committed some heinous,
third grade crime.
Third graders could be that way.
He didn’t come out to play.
He didn’t come out the next day.
His brother did,
and he told us Perry got a whipping
for leaving breadcrumbs on the butter stick.
Drunken dads can be that way.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Monday, November 8, 2010

I drive in my car nearly everyday, in my job as a real estate broker. I don't mind it. It gives me time to think, but more important it is a time when my mind pulls the trigger on mundane to crazy ideas, which I scribble down or record in my voice recorder. I never know, at the time, whether I will get a phrase, a paragraph or even a single word out of it. Often the scribblings, notes or recordings will be dormant for weeks or months, until I find a use. During a trip to West Virginia, I drove by an old barn and about a mile past I started having an idea. Corn was near harvest, the stalks high. It was WV, so moonshine came to mind. So, I turned around and drove back for some photos. Later that night, I came up with a few lines. I never know what will come out, humor, serious or a mixture. Mostly the pieces are not anything that will be accepted for publication, but it keeps my mind keen and alert.  Here is the pic and the scribbled words:

Through an elderberry thicket I watched several men carry load after load of corn and chopped wood into the old barn. I crept over a peeked between the slats; the inside was empty. A trap door flew open in the far corner and Calvin Birch crawled out with a small wooden crate.  He lugged it outside, set it near the path, then went back in and disappeared beneath the floor again. I hurried over and lifted the crate's lid, found 18 quarts of hooch and grabbed a couple for myself. This would create a headache for Calvin. There would be accusations, and maybe even violence against him. That was his problem.  I would have my own headache late Saturday morning when I woke up, taking on a bleaching by the sun, in the middle of Orry's corn field.