June 24, 1968

Speedy reminisces about the coal barges on the Delaware canal.

We were finishing dinner on the picnic table behind our house. Our lawn dissolved into the woods, which held in its bosom a minor Pennsylvania creek that grew from gully washes and insignificant streams and eventually made a small dent in the Delaware River not too far from the spot where, on average, the big river began to back up twice a day from the heaving oceans. My father was reminiscing about going to the canal when he was just small and watching barges loaded down with coal creep along at mule speed from the mines on their way to Bristol.

Unburdened, the barges floated lighter and higher on the way home. “I was happy for the mules heading upstream,” he said. The business of carrying light and heat captured in rocks of carbon down the canal was over by the time he started going to school. The extraction of ancient carbon wasn’t over—not by a long shot—but industry had found that it was more efficient to use combustion engines to bring the coal to market, instead of mules, men and gravity pulling barges over sleepy water.

Later, Izzy commits a hippie faux pas while riding with Juliana in a 1957 Dodge Regent to see the Fifth Dimension at the music circus outside of Lambertville.

June 22, 1968

This date was a double-header in the AutoFlick chronology. Upon arriving in Washington, DC, to go to the Poor People’s Campaign, Izzy and Speedy see a man throw a cigarette from his 1960 Fiat 1100.

“The 1100 was the upscale Fiat, not the cheapo shoebox on wheels, and yet clowns could have come pouring out of it at any minute. It was boxy, but smoothed on all its edges, with a brown panel running from the leading edge of the front door back to a modest fin. It had a dowdy shape saved by a streak of chrome along the flank that gave the car a forward lean, like it was going somewhere even when it was standing still.”

Later, Izzy and some new friends are picked up by the D.C. metro police and taken in their squad car, a 1965 Plymouth Fury, to the station house. Their crime? Wading in the Potomac.

I took off my sneakers and socks and arranged them with a Boy Scout’s sensibility, but I hesitated long enough over the waist button of my khakis that my momentum stalled. I leaned over and rolled my pant legs up above my calves and then yanked them as far as they would go toward my knees. She was bent over, rinsing her arms in the river and paying no obvious attention to me. In case you haven’t noticed, there is something about teenage girls in their underwear bent over.

The water was good. There was a gravel bar underfoot and the barely perceptible current gently washed between our legs. The kids dunked their heads in the water and started to splash one another. Suddenly the sky turned a shade or two clearer, and a lightness drifted from across the river like the first taste of something unbearably good that you knew would only come in small doses. Charlotte faced the direction from which the levitation came and arched her back, stretching her face into the fresher air, and raised her arms out straight from her shoulders, spreading sail to catch every square inch.

She was a skinny, sunburnt hillbilly with home-cut hair and tomboy muscles in well-worn, feed-store clothes, but there was a place in the pantheon of goddesses for her as well. I took off my shirt and tossed it onto the bank. I bent over and washed my arms and neck, and another freshet rolled across the river and upon us. She turned to face me as I waded to her and she reached toward me.

Clasping our hands, we slowly circled each other. The sky continued to lift, seeming to pull lightness up from the edges of the horizon. There were cars bustling across the bridge above us, but the sparrows in the trees were oblivious, pursuing their own agenda. I was looking into her face, but she was looking up into the sky.

 

June 19, 1968

Hitch-hiking home from work, Izzy gets a ride with girl from his high school who is driving her family’s 1959 Ford Fairlane Ranch Wagon. She throws her cigarette out the window as she rushes to make room for him in the front seat. It turns out better than he might have expected.

 

The Ohio Express was coming on the radio, ready to launch into its tribute to yummy. I was aware, even as a Boy Scout, that this was bubblegum. Yet Juliana was drumming her fingers and began to sing along. I did not understand the lyrics or what it means to have love in the tummy, and I began to fear that the moment we were having was fluttering away, like something written on a tiny slip of paper sucked out the window and blown down the highway behind us.

Juliana glanced at me, grinning and singing, completely at ease in herself. I wished I had paid more attention to this sugary concoction the first 600 times I heard it on the radio. I think I summoned up a grimace that looked only slightly constipated. Her eyes lingered on my face, road kill in the merciless rat race of courtship, and then she turned back to the road.

A form lumped up in my throat. I was suddenly aware of the scent of golf-course fertilizer and dried sweat. And pretty sure it wasn’t coming from her.

No more cavalier banter. I was almost thankful that we were coming up to the turn-off to my house. At this point in a hitched ride, I would get out and walk the rest of the way unless I happened to get picked up by another inmate from our particular suburban cellblock. Where we lived, there were only two auto-accessible outlets to the rest of the world, and the other one was a less-traveled country road that connected only to more of its kind. I didn’t know where Juliana lived, but I knew it wasn’t back up in my neck of the woods.

“This is my street up here,” I said.

“Your goddamn street.”

Here is the wonderful, beautiful thing about being just one person and not everyone in the universe. You can lead yourself down a dismal, self-loathing path to utter desperation and the person you’re sitting next to is still back there where you left her, sweeter than sugar, her tummy overflowed with yummy, and never having let you go.

AutoFlick for Father’s Day

AutoFlick is shamelessly promoting itself as a worthy Father’s Day gift.

Just because the story focuses on a father and son foolishly chasing after people who throw cigarettes from their cars, the novel thinks fathers might enjoy getting it as a gift, and sons — or even daughters or complete strangers — might feel good about giving it to a father.

Compounding this arrogance, the author-publisher suggests that fathers of a certain age might be amused by a story taking place in 1968 that features many classic cars. And the odd lyric from the same era.

Further, reminding people that it won the 2017 Ben Franklin Silver Award for Best First Book (Fiction), along with glowing reviews, seems excessively pretentious.

We here at the johnrbancroft.com blog cannot condone such mercenary behavior. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to point out that more information about AutoFlick is available at www.autoflickthenovel.com.

As of press-blog time, we can neither confirm nor deny rumors that Ecphora Press may be putting the book on sale.

A new cover for AutoFlick

The design team at Ecphora Press has been hard at work on a new cover for AutoFlick. The impetus came from a discussion I had with someone who has a lot more experience in the book business than I do. Our conversation took place at the IBPA publishing conference back in April.

Her point was that the classic cars make up a lot of the “scenery” in AutoFlick, and that ought to be the theme of the cover. Back when I was designing the original cover, I thought first of doing something with cars. But I’m no artist, or designer. All of my ideas were way beyond my skill set.

Then I stumbled on the idea of the Boy Scout shirt and the ocean, which reflect important aspects of the story of the novel. I bought a vintage adult BS shirt from the 60s on e-bay, and left it outside on the patio for the summer to “season” it. I shopped on e-bay for BS merit badges and learned that this is a whole market unto itself and the badges were often redesigned over the decades even if the skill (canoeing, etc.) was the same. I shopped e-bay for other badges, buttons and so forth. One of my favorites is a button that was given out at the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, an event that’s featured in the novel.

Then I sewed them all on the shirt and photographed it at various watery places: a lake a few miles away, the scrawny river in the woods behind our house, my vacation to the Pacific Northwest. Finally, I was in San Diego on business and went out to a beach and took the shot that ended up being the first cover.

So the new cover is coming and will be better. A real artist/designer is doing it. The Boy Scout shirt can go back to being a Halloween costume or cocktail-party conversation piece.

The funny thing, though, is that most of the critics who reviewed AutoFlick for the Ben Franklin Awards this year said they liked the old cover — average score was 8 of 10. One person, who didn’t like anything about AutoFlick, said the shirt didn’t have anything to do with the book. I’m assuming he/she actually read the book, but I’m less sure she/he sure looked closely at the cover.

Hey, Mom

I was cleaning out my cell phone because Apple had so helpfully notified me that I was running out of storage.

I deleted a lot of pictures, including a goofy shot of me wearing bizarro sunglasses and my Elmer Fudd red-plaid hat standing in the street in front of our house after shoveling the walk a couple of winters ago.

After I posted it on my Facebook page, I realized that I got my stupid smile from my mother.

Thanks, Mom. Wish you were still around.

Update from the writers’ group

We had another good meeting of the group this week, and it was my turn to collect feedback on my novel-in-progress. The group read Chapter 7, in which one of the principal characters expands at some length about one of her passions. I think it’s an effective scene, and several of the other writers said it brought this character into focus for them.

The biggest challenge in this project is breathing life into a relatively large number of characters. There are a dozen of them, and the narrative jumps around from one group to another. So it’s a win when readers get to know them as individuals.

What was interesting is that the readers had different impressions of who she is, what she’s about. I guess that’s one of the rewards of trying to let the character define herself by what she says and does, rather than having the narrator do it.

Plus, none of the readers seem to see her the way I do!

Update from the writers’ group

One of the authors in our local writing group, whose identity will not be revealed, recently chopped off the tip of his protagonist’s index finger.

At a key juncture in the story-to-come, I strongly believe the protagonist should hold the severed tip of his index finger in his good hand, point it at someone while also gesturing with the damaged finger, and say, “J’accuse.”

Agree or no?

Visas for sale

There’s an interesting story in today’s Washington Post (May 7) about the EB-5 visa program. According to the report, the program is being used to attract foreign investors into high-end U.S. real estate projects.

Think Kushner. Think Trump.

The sister of the First Son-in-Law apparently this weekend was in Beijing pitching a new Kushner luxury project to wealthy Chinese investors with this statement: “Invest $500,00 and immigrate to the United States.”

Raise your hand if you think real estate developers should be peddling legal residence in the U.S. as a perk, if not the thing actually being sold, to foreigners who may or may not have accumulated their wealth in legitimate, much less ethical, ways.

Mr. Kushner, a government employee, has reportedly separated himself from the real estate project being pitched.

A better approach might be to allow individual U.S. citizens to sell their own legal right to be here to whomever they choose, rather than allow speculators to sell what they don’t actually own.

Attentive readers, writers and editors will also note the classic misuse of “immigrate” in the pitch. A wealthy foreigner would be purchasing the right to emigrate to the U.S. and once here would be considered an immigrant.

 

Saturdays

Is there such a thing as a bad Saturday? After a bunch of years testing this hypothesis, I am nearing the conclusion that there is not. And that’s taking into account the six or seven years I spent working in a casino, which meant Saturday was always a work day.

How did this Saturday stack up? I was a little groggy in the morning but got in some quality time with the new fiction project. Our town had its annual parade, which once again made me ask why I am still here. Then some errands, coping with weekend traffic, and more wondering about whether my dues are, in fact, fully paid in this burg-o-village.

Then, some yard work. Which always takes me back to who I used to be, a teenager with visions of sugarplums in his head, pushing lawnmowers for one Man or another, usually fantasizing about girls. The wife made a fine goulash of leftovers, which we ate on the front porch, saying howdy to neighbors and gradually I figured out that the other scent I was picking up on the wind was the weed killer I’d spread on our fragile lawn just an hour or so ago. Which took me back again.

So all in, a decent Saturday, which is to say a better day than any spent at work — even if you happen to work on Saturdays.

I don’t understand what all the fuss about Sundays is about.