Family and/or Autobiography

Crime Doesn’t Take a Holiday

Even this guy has his limits.
Even this guy has his limits.

The people at the end of our street still have their Christmas decorations up and even the decorations are resentful. The centerpiece of the display, a large, light-up Cookie Monster dressed as Santa, fell over last week, passed out face first in the mud.

“See what Cookie Monster is doing?” I told my son. “They did that a lot in the 1960s. It’s called passive resistance.”

“I thought it was called ‘drunk,’” the boy replied.

How can you not love this kid?

And he was right! The furry blue fellow did look like he was on the tail end of a bender. You couldn’t blame Cookie Monster for his transgression, either; his holiday ended three months ago.

There is little that offends me more than the sight of Christmas decorations up past the third week of January. I just can’t comprehend how something so obvious — so on display — could be ignored for so long.

I love Christmas, but once it’s over, it’s over. I make sure of it. When New Year’s Day rolls around, the Allegra house is abuzz with Christmas purging. Boxes are pulled out of the attic, promptly filled, and shoved back in. The tree is denuded and dragged to the curb. Within hours, my house returns to its simpler, un-tinseled self.

I don’t expect this level of discipline from everyone – sadly, we all can’t be persnickety, anal-retentive neatnicks – but I do expect everybody to pack up their outdoor mangers before Easter arrives. Whenever they don’t, it takes all of my willpower to not roll down the car window and bellow, “Jesus isn’t a baby anymore, doofus! He’s in his thirties and about to be murdered!”

My wife, Ellen, agrees with me in principle. She does not, however, share my passion. When I discuss our neighbors’ crimes against the neighborhood, she tries not to roll her eyes too often.

Alex, on the other hand, has reached an age where he likes to stir me up. He takes pleasure in parroting my outrage. When I drive him to school in the morning and we pass The Christmas House, he is the one to get the ball rolling.

“They have their candy cane lights out!” he shouted, aghast, as if seeing this eyesore for the first time. “When are they going to put them away? It’s March!”

“I know!” I shouted back as if this conversation hasn’t happened at least 30 times before. “Those people should be arrested!”

“They should!” Alex shouted again.

He then grew thoughtful. At that moment, I spotted a glimmer in the boy’s eye.

A few weeks before before this particular conversation, I borrowed a set of DVDs from my parents. It was the first season of an old TV show I was certain my son would love — and I was right. Hardly a night went by when Alex and I didn’t watch an episode.

I soon heard the show’s iconic opening line.

“This is the city,” Alex said in a gruff monotone. For what it’s worth, no eight year old on earth does a better Jack Webb impression. “Los Angeles, California.”

“Or New Jersey.” I interjected in my own Jack Webb voice.

“Or New Jersey,” he said. “People live here. They go to work. They go to school.”

“They put up Christmas decorations,” I added. “When they stay up too long, that’s when I come in. I carry a badge.”

“Dum Da Dum Dum!” we boomed in unison. “Dum Da Dum Dum DUMMM!”

My outrage was replaced with unbridled joy. I couldn’t help but weave a wonderful fantasy in my mind: My son and I were partners — Dragnet Holiday Decoration Detectives — running people downtown to answer for their long ignored twinkling lights and loitering Santas.

How awesome would that be? And what a great father/son bonding thing!

“We could maybe even send them to Guantanamo,” I heard myself say aloud.

“What?” Alex asked.

“Oh, nothing,” I replied absently. Then a smile crept across my face as the bombast of our theme song echoed in my brain.

About Sarah, Book News, On Writing

Happy Thanksgiving! Buy My Book!

It’s Thanksgiving week, and I think I’ve been pretty good about keeping my shameless promotional urges in check.

But, hey, I would be remiss if I didn’t recommend a lovely gift for all of your friends and extended family.

You're not just bringing corn casserole, are you?
You’re not just bringing corn casserole, are you?

Not only is the book a fine gift, it also keeps an aging writer off the streets.

It also has gotten some great reviews. (In fact, I will probably blather on about that Kirkus star until my dying day. Allow me to apologize in advance for this.)

Wanna buy it? Good for you! Click here.

Have a joyous Thanksgiving, my friends! 

On Blogging, On Writing

Career Highlights

Our hero.
Our hero.

I love to take part in flash fiction contests because they force me to push my mind in new and unexpected directions. So last year, when Susanna Leonard Hill announced a “Fourth of July Mystery” writing competition, I was eager to give it a go.

The timing of the contest also turned out to be excellent. I was in-between projects and was stumbling around trying to figure what to work on next. So, a Fourth of July Mystery it was! Even though I was less than eager to tackle another holiday story, I figured that, at the very least, it would be a fun writing exercise.

My first instinct for a Fourth of July Mystery was, The Mystery of The Missing Fingers (Spoiler Alert: The Cherry Bomb did it!), but I came to my senses. Instead, I submitted a story titled Harold’s Hat. Want an elevator pitch? Here ya go:

“Mwah-ha-ha!” This year the ever-inventive Harold is definitely going to beat Betsy Lominzer in the Fourth of July Patriotic Hat Contest. His creation has it all: flashing lights, a siren, megaphone, music, battery-powered flag waving action and shooting sparks. How could Harold possibly lose with something that awesome? Here’s one way: He could lose his hat! With only minutes before the competition begins, can Harold find his creation and get to the town square in time to square off against his hat-making nemesis?

I was pretty happy with the result, so I decided to revise the story and attempt to sell it somewhere.

About three seconds after finishing said rewrite, I stumbled upon the theme of the 2014 Highlights Fiction Contest: “Holiday Stories.” This, I figured, was too big a coincidence to ignore. So I didn’t.

And I won!

When the Highlights editor wrote to tell me, she said that she was “eager to announce my win to the world.” She followed up this statement with a “Mwah-ha-ha,” which I found pretty hilarious.

Needless to say, I am so very grateful to Susanna — who is the very definition of wonderful. Just one look Susanna’s blog proves it; every post – every single freakin’ post – is designed to help her fellow writers succeed. That was certainly true in my case. If it wasn’t for her contest, I never would have come up with this story.

When I rewrote Harold, I asked several talented bloggers for feedback. Cathy Ballou Mealey, however, deserves to be singled out for special praise. Her thoughtful critiques inspired me to push Harold in new and considerably more exciting directions. I believe that if it wasn’t for Cathy’s comments, Harold’s Hat wouldn’t have won a darn thing.

What I’m trying to say is that my writing is so much richer now that I am a part of a blogging community. This win proves it. Thanks, everybody. I am so very grateful.