All posts by dafiv

End of Truth (Excerpt #4)


The Capital Steps

It didn’t take long, about as far as the front edge of the Reflecting Pool, before his upper lip started to drip, causing him to dab at it with his already damp handkerchief. He intended to walk down the Washington Mall from the Capital, but he could see trucks parked along the pedestrian walkway, then half-remembered hearing or seeing something about ongoing repairs. Instead, he cut north and headed toward Constitution, intending to walk the entire way to his car, which was, hopefully, still in the deck on 17th and Pennsylvania. After a few more steps, he felt the trickle start down his sides, under his underwear and along his spine. A bright, though hazy, sun hung in the sky, baking everything it saw and making him realize that he would be drenched in his own fluids in half the time it would take to reach his car.

Anger, frustration, as well as the humiliation he was expected to take in stride had built up, as it did on most days, until his only option was to walk it off, sweating and cooking under the sun, his excess energy spent reaching his car, the fight dissipated… at least until the following day. He should be used to it by now. His prior service in the Air Force and two terms as a U.S. Representative had taught him, if nothing else, to agree when you don’t agree and to shut up when you want to talk or fight back.

Michael took a deep breath and squinted against the light. Ahead and slightly south was the spire of the Washington Monument, jabbing into the blue cloudless sky, at what, he had been never sure. Some expert in the cluster of museums and exhibits along the Mall would know the meaning of the original Egyptian obelisks, but did the designer and builder of the Washington Monument feel that same way or did he just use a familiar shape, an expected design, to add a monumental element to the Washington sky, one copied by example from the ancient Romans, the French, the English who all had stolen obelisks from Egypt at one time or another. The grandeur of Washington, its stately buildings constructed of white stone, rising larger than humans as individuals can hope to achieve, simply was another idea stolen from the Romans and before them, the Greeks. The colonial fathers are given credit, but ancient ideas were there to copy long before their birth.

Michael walked with determination, covering the two miles easily as he usually did but giving him time to think and analyze his day and speculate about the days ahead. Glancing behind him as the Capital receded and ahead as the grounds of the White House loomed, he felt the essence of the city, its buildings, its history, its illusions and its pretense. All necessary for the heart, the core, of a great collection of people who have had a long history of self-determination and survival.

As he thought about it, the newer buildings, the ones from the twentieth century, were not as grand or stately as the Roman copies scattered about. The Romans got it right, and capital buildings of most of the western world have copied their essence throughout history. Until now… when the accountants, the lawyers, the supervisors and the people’s representatives have their say, and their say is to build conventionally, cheaply, rectangularly and without distinction. The resulting trade-off is obvious.

The very idea of representative government was copied as well and from the same ancient sources. Even many of the same words had been kept…council, senate, podium, rostrum and so on. Michael was part of the system and had actually felt part of it, for awhile. It was sinking in that his voice didn’t matter, never did. Other issues, other causes, other parties were important. Not ideas, nor ideals. It was all an illusion for the voting public who only saw and heard what they were told. The cattle who lined up on election day to vote into power those whose name they recognized or whom their party put forward.

A man with a chisel may chip away at a mountain his whole life without removing a significant part of it, but he will leave a mark, his life and work will be noticed. Chip away at politics though, and you will never leave a scratch. It will go on the way it has always gone, toward a hidden destiny, one not obvious before it arrives, then without stopping will change direction and move again. A wild train crossing and recrossing time, with no stops, no hesitation, no waiting for instructions, no sense of wrong or right. And one, in Michael’s opinion, that was headed in the wrong direction.


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #3)


Jennifer Whispered

Jennifer whispered in his ear, her lips caressing his face as she spoke. It was like being kissed by a shy little girl, one too young to know what effect she had. Michael turned, looked into her face and pulled her to his lips. It was one of those encounters so engaging that their teeth touched, their tongues intertwined by wishes of their own, a moment when he realized that kissing like this should also be considered sexual contact.
“I can’t wait for the wedding, Michael,” she beamed. “But you never told me about our honeymoon. I have to prepare clothes, you know. And there is the thing about a current passport.” She was trying once again to pull it out of him, and he felt himself weakening. After all, she had a right to know, and she was correct about the clothes. He had decided that Japan would be an exotic, romantic location for a honeymoon, partially because he had been stationed there in the Air Force for over a year and knew all the places she would like.

“You should allow me to surprise you, Jennifer. I won’t have anything left if you keep digging into my brain like that. Anyway, it isn’t fair to French kiss me and then pull away. It’s pure torture, and you know it.”

Jennifer laughed and stood up, turning to face him, her face all smiles but her eyes darting those looks of passion at him. She put her arms over her head and stretched, twisting at the waist as she did so, giving him a long look at her female curves, the ones he, as yet, had only imagined. Her head turned toward him as she relaxed, a teasing look coming over her while she puckered and mock kissed him.

“You little devil,” Michael hissed. “You set me on fire on purpose so many times that I can’t even remember how many. I’m already so hard from your kiss that I can’t stand without embarrassment, and now you show me the rest of you, and you know exactly what I want. Have you no pity?”

Jennifer giggled and pulled a strand of her shiny hair over her lips imitating a mustache. Her eyes danced with fire, then she dove into him, pushing between his legs with her body and sliding provocatively into his arms. “Tortured? Had enough?” she asked. Before he could say anything, she continued, “Now tell me what I asked about. Where?”

He gently put his hand on her buttock, ready to pull it away if she had any sign of refusal. She didn’t, but it was just another tease, because they both knew that going farther was off limits. Especially on the sofa of her parent’s screen porch, and most certainly not with them within shouting distance. “I give. The Orient…but that is as far as I go. You can torture me all you want, and that’s all I’ll say.”

“Wait, my precious intended, that’s not sufficient. Part of the Orient is tropical, part is cold. I have to know which.” She put her lips to his, but didn’t kiss him, just looked into his eyes, waiting on what she knew he would disclose.

Michael slapped her on the butt and pushed her away, something he really didn’t want to do, but the tumescence he was experiencing had to be eased, because any moment her mother might wander onto the porch wondering what they were up to. “Not a chance. You’d better prepare for both, just in case.”

Standing again, Jennifer pointed to his trouser front and said, “Omygod, you weren’t kidding!” She started to howl with laugher at his predicament.

“Something wrong, Jennifer?” came from the house. Her mother was listening, as usual. They could hear her footsteps coming closer. Michael looked around for some cover, some excuse, some method of disguise, even a pillow would do. Just as the screen door opened, Jennifer flung herself on his lap and put her arms around his neck, kissing him quickly on the forehead.

“My, my, children. I’m glad I came in when I did and not later. You know that it’s only three weeks until your wedding and then…well, just don’t let me see it,” Thelma said and placed a large plate of chocolate chip cookies on the table. Michael was used to the very strict principles of this house, and even though he felt otherwise, he strictly observed the rules, spoken and implied. The girl in his lap was worth any wait, any torment or turmoil. Jennifer was as pure as rainwater, a wholesome young woman whose deep passions were obviously present even though she mostly managed to control them, unlike himself. Michael kissed her on her forehead while her mother watched, then gave her a wink that her mother couldn’t see. Jennifer winked back.

With a frown, Thelma looked over her glasses at Jennifer, a bad sign. “Your father and I were wondering…” she paused, summoning up some unpleasant thought. Jennifer turned toward her, listening intently and letting go Michael’s neck. “Your degree. What are your plans? I mean, it’s such a waste. We had high…” She let the words she meant to say form in their brains, the intent clear.

“Nothing to worry about, Mother,” Jennifer said and stood up, her hand on Michael’s shoulder, as if to enlist his support, his voice, knowing that he felt the same. “I am finishing school, getting my degree, just as we planned. Michael and I decided on this long ago.”

“But, child, you are moving away. You can’t go to college like that.”

“Sure, Mother, sure I can. I’ll just change schools, that’s all.”
Thelma nodded unconvincingly, dropping the subject which concerned her most. Her daughter would be the first in the family with a law degree. The idea was so appealing that she had bragged to her friends and extended family. Jennifer’s marriage wasn’t as important in her eyes as a career. She could always get another man and with her looks, a more important man.

“I have to tell you something, Mother,” Michael said. “Hope you don’t mind me calling you mother…I think of you in that way, you should know. My point is to tell you that when we get back to my…our…hometown, the first thing I am going to do is to run for public office. I intend to run for Congress eventually, and we’ll live in Georgetown. That’s closer, don’t you see. And a woman with a law degree in Washington can always find work. We won’t let you down.”

Thelma paused to reflect before agreeing that such news was most persuasive. Yes, that is what she wanted to hear. Her daughter would be protected in that way, no matter what happened to their marriage. She gave them a big smile and, without another word, left the room, closing the door behind her as if an invitation to their privacy.


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #2)





Across the room, Michael spotted him. It was easy enough because Tony in profile presented a unique silhouette, his pregnant abdomen preventing any close contact with someone standing in front trying to have a private word, as Michael was about to do. Anthony Ricardiscio was a heavyweight, the local imprimatur stamp, at least in politics. The Party was his, through years of hard work and arm twisting. His brother’s Union status didn’t hurt either. Getting ahead politically in this city was only possible with Tony’s blessing…and that was hard to obtain. Michael had no contacts, no important family, not to mention, no money. But he had plans, ideas and determination, plus a military background as a glamorous fighter pilot, and on top of that, his dark good looks. The Party had been fading recently, the leaders aging. It was time for new blood.

Tony shot Michael a quick glance as he approached but otherwise ignored him, tossing the last of his cocktail, then twisting the empty glass by its neck, continuing to concentrate on the man standing in front of him. He was big in his own eyes, important, the center of things. His physical appearance was exactly right for the image he wanted to present: massive, overbearing, irresistible in an unmistakable manner of personality, but most of all, dominant. As he nodded in seeming agreement, his jowls shook slightly, the flesh between his eyes contracted, furrowing further his furrowed brow, an act of intense focus, because he wasn’t even listening but instead thinking about the young, attractive Michael just now pausing at his left elbow and waiting like a docile pet for his master to notice.

“Want another?” Michael suggested, breaking in, using a transparent excuse, still playing the required submissive role but nevertheless pushy enough to intrude. Without looking at him, Tony extended the hand with the glass, but without seeming to break his concentration, continuing to dispense valuable insight to the obviously more important fellow in front of him. In a short moment, Michael reappeared, armed with a full, long stem glass of potent alcohol and wearing an obligatory smile.

This time, Tony turned as he accepted the cocktail, his former conversation ended for now. “Thanks. You’re name is Michael as I remember. We met some years ago, I do believe.”

“Yes, I remember that also. It was in our home. You came to talk to Dad.” Michael smiled, waiting for an invitation to speak more. The reason for his intrusion.

“That’s a winning smile, Michael. Learn that in the Air Force?”

“You learn not to smile there. Makes you seem insincere, lightweight.”

“Yes. That’s an interesting viewpoint. …I hear that you are working…and married. Congratulations on that. You’re happy then?”


Tony smiled, his eyes narrowed, and he nodded slightly. “I can see that you have youth, vigor and poise already. What, then, can an old fat man do for you?”

“I want to be a congressman. They say you are the one who can help.”

“Such a compliment. Who exactly are the ‘they’?”

“It’s true, isn’t it?”

“A congressman! Why don’t you just run for President? Why go half way?” Tony laughed, nearly spilling his drink.

“Because I will be happy with just that. I don’t need more.”

Tony handed his drink to the man still loitering nearby, ready to resume their former discussions. “Come with me, Michael,” he said. With Tony’s impossibly large arm draped over his shoulder, they parted the crowd and went by nodding and murmuring political hacks of all kinds, each ready to greet Tony or do anything he asked. Michael could feel the eyes on him, on his back, his face, all wondering.

Tony closed the door to the small conference room and waved to a chair with his thick hand. He picked one across the table from Michael and turned it around before sitting with his arms across the back. The smile was gone but the ever-present beads of sweat were still there, as were the narrowed dark eyes which seemed to see through a person, measuring their merits or at least their willingness to cooperate.

“Now then, Michael,” he said. “Just how serious are you about this?”

Michael cleared his throat and unbuttoned his suit jacket, then leaned back, one arm across the back of his chair, a thin smile on his face. “You know that I don’t have any experience in politics, not even a college course in it. I’m green. A fresh face. But there is no hidden past, no transgressions, no demerits. I am what I appear to be. Determined.”

“And you think that’s enough?” Tony asked.

“Backing. That and money. I have the rest.”

Tony sighed. “Fine. You have desire. We all have desires, don’t you know. It’s not enough to have desires. There is one thing you haven’t mentioned. A cause. What’s yours?”

“A cause,” Michael repeated aloud while churning the concept over. He wasn’t expecting this one. A cause. The term sounded so simple, so…pertinent. Yes, he needed a cause. There was a long moment of silence before he responded. “The VA system. I have friends who were treated badly.”

“The VA?” Tony sneered. “There isn’t one in this area and besides, veterans account for a very small part of the voting public. And, don’t mention the homeless, the unemployed, the hungry, the racially or sexually disadvantaged. The other Party already has ownership of those issues. We generally go for topics about taxes or spending. Local stuff. Boring stuff. You sure you want to be in this Party?”

“What about corruption? Isn’t that an issue? I want to get rid of corruption,” Michael stated, like he had discovered the tomb of Jesus.

“Hell, boy. According to some, I’m corruption. And that is why you are sitting there, isn’t that right? You expect me to make you the next coming thing, but you are devoid of ideas and have no history. You are not political material, Michael. Not yet.” His last words were telling. Not yet did not mean never. There was, at least, a shred of hope.

“I understand, Mr. Ricardiscio. You are right. I’m not ready.”

“Hold on, boy, and don’t ever call me mister. My name is Tony to you. How about being alderman? Is that something you can see yourself doing?”

Michael brightened up and sat up straight, looking at Tony for signs of insincerity. “You mean it, Tony?”

“Sure I do. It’s going to mean a lot of footwork on your part, the house to house stuff, the pressing of flesh, the kissing of babies, the press interviews. If you want it, though, I’ll back you. What do you say?”

“I’ll do it.”

“Great. Now go home and start coming up with a cause or two. Call me back when you are ready.”


Alexander Francis

End of Truth (Excerpt #1)




He looked up as the boy approached, an eyebrow raised in anticipation of a troublesome problem of youth, one that only an elder could answer in his detached, worldly view, a straight answer shorn of moralizing. Peter Robsin took his pipe from his mouth and turned his head stiffly to face Michael. One glance and he could tell that he had anticipated correctly. This was going to be a consultation, one requiring both knowledge and diplomatic skill.

“Grandpa,” he began, smiling in that disarming, charming manner of timeless youth, his curly hair spilling over his ears, reminding Peter of some magnificent work by a nameless Ancient Greek sculptor. The boy had his father’s good looks, his smooth, unwrinkled yet untested skin and level blue eyes, which could captivate in a glance. “I have some questions.”

Given Michael’s recent transformation into an adolescent from a child, the result of profound hormonal changes beyond anyone’s control, Peter assumed that his question would involve rapidly changing relationships with the universe of women. And this presumption would shortly prove correct.

“Yes, Michael. Any question you have, you know, is between you and me, man to man, and any answer I give will be treated with the same respect. What is bothering you on such a fine day?”

“It’s about girls. You seem to know everything, at least you always have before. But do you know bout girls?”

Peter put his arm around Michael’s waist and drew him closer to the chair, an act in preparation for the shared intimacy of a timeless question, and an equally timeless answer. “I know that girls and women are of the opposite sex. You, of course, know that also, but I suspect that we might dispense with the fundamentals and go straight to relationships between men and women. Would that be the direction to start, Michael?”

“They confuse me. They seem to dislike being around me even though I try to be pleasant, to be interested in their conversations. Each time I try, I feel belittled, as if I am some kind of inferior. Why do they do that?”

Peter Robsin put his tobaccoless pipe back in his mouth and looked away, trying to organize his thoughts about women and put his answer on an appropriate plane. He softly cleared his throat before answering, then let Michael go and nodded to the chair beside him. Michael seated himself and put an elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin supported by his hand, waiting patiently for a succinct answer to an issue which has perplexed the male sex since time began.

“We are men, and as such, are not allowed to fully understand women or girls. We are separated by only a small fragment of a gene, but it is enough to make our bodies and thoughts different from each other. It’s not a bad thing, these differences, but a very, very profoundly good thing. We are complementary in that way. Divergent enough to make us interested, our strengths and dispositions meshing in ways that make a whole, a human race. We are attracted to females and they to us. But we necessarily develop into adults along slightly different paths, our hormones and DNA directing us into maturity along lines which will insure propagation of our species. Girls are a marvelous and wonderful creation, are they not? I feel that, in some special way, a man can appreciate women even more than they can themselves. We notice how they are different from us, how they stand and move, how their laughter is compelling to our ears, how they can hold us in their eyes in that mysterious way and how they appear delicate but are really so strong of body and of mind. You will become larger and stronger than most girls, yet never start to think that you are tougher, more resourceful, or smarter. You are not and neither am I, nor is any man. They engage in social activity more easily than do males, the interactions, the teasing, the alliances of their youth becoming the traits which create a family and hold it together, even an entire society.” Peter paused, his thoughts continuing without words, his memories flashing in his mind’s eye before continuing.

“I just want to talk to one, just talk and be around her. Is that a lot to ask?” Michael persisted.

“The way will be found with patience, Michael. You must be willing to listen to her, to be there when she feels like teasing, and to leave when she grows impatient. Be respectful always, because you are, not because you are pretending just to be near her. When she breathes, listen, when she moves, watch, when she asks, respond. Never degrade yourself, never grovel, because she won’t respect you for it, but be willing to give her your time, your effort, your loyalty. Some things she will say or do may seem trivial to you, but resist that notion, instead seeing the beauty in her, the innocence of her, the very wonder of her in everything.”

“So, Grandpa, your advice is to just stand around and be insulted?”

“Not really, but at times, you have to avoid having a thin skin if you are sincere. You should also understand that your interest may not be shared; she may not be ready for you. In time, she and you will mature and comprehend each other by differing measures. It may be that you no longer will see her in the same way nor she you. Time will tell.”

“How do I talk to her…what should I say, Grandpa?”

“Understand that you can’t force anyone to like you, especially the opposite sex. Talk about yourself very little, and concern yourself with what interests her. Listen and keep your eyes on her, be complementary but avoid excessive praise. There will always be unknowns in an adolescent relationship because so much wisdom has yet to be acquired. At your age, you should look for friendship, nothing more. Part of your delight will be finding, discovering, the other half of humanity, the part of us which has been refined for millions of years, attaining not just nearly, but absolute perfection. Imagine…we are the only species which can appreciate beauty, and the most beautiful thing of all is ours to behold.”

Michael nodded and stood, fixing his grandfather with love in his eyes. “I’ll remember your words, Grandfather. Perhaps they will return to me when I can better understand their meaning.” He gave his grandfather an affectionate kiss on the cheek, then disappeared back into the house, leaving Peter Robsin to wonder if his little sermon had helped, even a little.


Alexander Francis

Memory Gap Audiobook


It’s my great pleasure to announce the release of the audio version of Memory Gap on as of today.  It will shortly be available also on iTunes and Amazon. The narrator, Janel Ridenhour, brings out the characters in the book so well that when I listen I scarcely believe that I am the author!

This version also has a number of sound effects and musical additions which markedly enhance the story and narration.  We were careful not to overdo it, but as you will hear, a bit of additional sound in the right places makes a more impactful presentation.

At one time, I had an idea of going much farther with sound effects but discovered that a talented narrator such as Janel can create the illusion of being there  for the listener, and too much additional sound is unnecessary, even distracting.  We believe that we have found the right mixture, but you are the final judge, and we would be interested in hearing your response.

A heartfelt thanks to Janel Ridenhour for the hard work and talent she invested in making Memory Gap come to life as she has done.  I look forward to several more projects with her in the near future.

Alexander Francis


P.S.  Listen to  this sample of Memory Gap.

      sample Memory Gap

Read O. Henry Lately?


Using myself as an example, all writers are influenced by previous, or even current writers. You don’t write without at least a silent comparison to what you have read and admired. And your tastes change over time, like moving from a preference for reds to magenta. Like everything else, increased knowledge leads to sophistication, even snobbery, a haughty disdain, if you let it.

But if you are experiencing that attitude, I strongly suggest a dose of O. Henry. Read several of his magnificent short stories and that will set you straight. Not only are they funny, timely, surprising and on occasion bound to provoke tears, they are literate and give a glimpse of the times in which they were written. Succinct, in a word, yet all of them manage to paint a mental portrait of memorable people, even places, created in O. Henry’s different worlds.

O. Henry is humbling to read, if you are writing and feeling cocky about your ability. Remember that he was able to turn out a polished, perfect little short story in a week…every week. It was a job at the time, and I’m sure that O. Henry did not envision being eventually elevated to the lofty position of one of the best writers of any era.

If you haven’t read O. Henry, or if you have only read the more popular selections, such as Gift of the Magi, then do yourself a favor and read some more. To convince you of what you are missing, let me provide a paragraph which describes a young woman:

“You shall have no description of Alice v. d. R. Just call up in your mind the picture of your own Maggie or Vera or Beatrice, straighten her nose, soften her voice, tone her down and then tone her up, make her beautiful and unattainable—and you have a faint dry-point etching of Alice.”

Excerpt From: O. Henry. Roads of Destiny.
Alexander Francis

Fowl Language


Fowl Language

A glow of the early morning sun coming through the closed screen door of Budgie’s room alerted him to the beginning of a new day. He fluffed his feathers, then cocked his head in various positions, looking over his surroundings rapidly, as birds often do. Sidestepping to the small mirror adjacent to his perch and breaking into conversation with himself, he gradually increased the rapidity and volume of his chatter, peeps and vocalizations. Patient coaching by his owner, currently attempting sleep in the adjacent room, had taught him numerous words which would emerge randomly and repetitively, often at unexpected moments. Budgie wasn’t able to understand that most of his vocabulary consisted of words generally forbidden to humans, at least in polite society, and, like most parakeets, was easily excited by noise and commotion. He liked it, reveled in it, and his sharp little voice could frequently be heard above nearly any din of noise. During the day, he enjoyed the run of the little house, flying from room to room and from window sill to the top of the drapes. True, he could sometimes be coaxed, by tender words and an offered finger perch, to return to the confines of his little room, but just as frequently, he demanded his freedom and would skillfully avoid capture. Only at dusk, as the daylight faded into darkness, would he willingly return to the confines of his converted closet.

John pulled the pillow tighter around his head, trying unsuccessfully to shut out the chatter from the awake Budgie. It was always a matter of time until he gave up, stumbled across to Budgie’s room and, without comment, opened the screen door on the small prison. Before his hand came fully away, Budgie erupted from his confines in a flurry of wings, chattering and drifting feathers of down. On the way past, Budgie skillfully shot a large wet glob of poop between John’s fingers, then flew off, letting go a couple of choice curse words as he gathered speed.

John glared at the bird as it circled the room, stretching out its wings after confinement and exercising its unalienable right to vocalize as much as possible along the way. Budgie was a good companion, smart and willing to learn, but above all, always interesting. John held his hand up to keep the bird-dropping off of the floor and hurried to the sink as it made its way onto his wrist.

“Damn, Budgie. Do you have to always poop when I let you out? Can’t you do it in your own room?” he yelled at the passing bird.

“Damn..damn, squawk,” Budgie answered clearly. He had assumed the highest, safest location in the house…atop the living room drapes. From his favorite perch, he could view the room as its lord and master, and any remote possibility of recapture was lost for the moment. John sighed and started pulling on his clothes. The day ahead was another long day of piano lessons for his students, usually accompanied by their demanding mothers. He sighed again and looked over the interior of the studio which was common to the rear of the house. It was always surprising how cluttered it could become during a busy day.

John set about picking up, dusting and re-ordering the room before any lessons began. He reminded himself to close the door to the rest of the house before any students arrived. Once he had forgotten, and during a lesson, Debra’s mother got up and wandered into the hall adjoining Budgie’s room. John was occupied and didn’t remember that Budgie would have been in full view in his little room. Suddenly Mrs. Creyton hurried back and sat down. John remembered glancing at her face and realizing that she heard more than she was expecting from Budgie. Her face was pink with flush, and from then on, John had kept that particular door closed.

After he was nearly done, he wiped the big black grand piano down, restoring its glossy black shimmer. It was positioned in the center of the room, mostly for show and effect, though leaving little room for anything else. Then he remembered the small restroom. Rushing about, gathering the cleaning agents and disinfectants, he failed to notice Budgie, who had silently flown in and taken up his second favorite perch, the window sill in the studio. When the cleaning was completed, John straightened his tie and adjusted his shirt, glancing around once more, still overlooking the blue and white bird who was attempting to make himself small and quiet…for the moment.

There was a knock on the rear door, and John glanced at his watch before opening it. The first student was right on time, and he opened the door with a smile. Mrs. Potworth was on the other side of the screen, looking her usual impatient best. Jennifer was just behind her mother and was dressed crisply and fashionably as well. It was not whom he had expected, and for a long moment, they eyed each other through the screen.

“Are you going to let us in or not?” she asked.

“Of course,” he stammered, opening the door. “Sorry, I wasn’t expecting you today.”

“We switched with Lucy and her mother. That’s hopefully acceptable, or should we leave?” Mrs. Potworth stood her ground and wasn’t smiling.

John’s previous experiences with Mrs. Potworth were often strained. She was a woman who dressed fastidiously as well as expensively and the same for her daughter, Jennifer. A child raised and groomed to believe that she was something out of the ordinary was not an ideal student for music. In spite of that, Jennifer was intelligent and quick to learn and could easily master her sessions when she chose to make an effort. Jennifer was not John’s most difficult student, but her mother surely was his most difficult parent.

“Please come in, and we can get started,” he said and moved back. They streamed past, leaving a strong hint of French perfume. Within a few seconds, Jennifer was seated at the piano as her mother positioned herself on the edge of the couch, holding herself away from touching it as much as possible. John glanced at the door separating his home from the studio and satisfied himself that it was closed, and Budgie, wherever he was, would cause no disruption.

John rustled through his notebook, looking for notes as to his student’s progress. “I see you have two pieces assigned,” he noted without looking up. “Jenny, which one would you like to start with?”

“Jennifer,” she corrected using a slightly haughty tone. Her mother silently nodded her agreement.

“Sorry, Jennifer it is,” John submitted. “The waltz?”

“No,” Jennifer stated. “The Brahms.”

“Fine. Play then,” John said and put the music on the stand. He reached for the metronome but was caught by Mrs. Potworth’s comment.

“Jennifer prefers not to use the metronome,” she said from the couch.

The last comment had been one too many humiliations for John, and in spite of himself, he felt his anger start to swell. He restrained himself and simply said, “If you can play it in time, then you may show me.” He knew that she couldn’t and was looking forward to regaining his authority. Jennifer started playing, and John stopped her after the second measure.

“Not exactly correct. Let me show you,” he said and leaned forward to demonstrate the correct timing. As his hand just touched the keyboard, he heard the first clear squawk from the corner of the room, and the realization hit him that Budgie was loose and had occupied the studio as if it were a prize seized by a hoard of Vikings. John had the sinking feeling that this morning was not going to be a happy one. He stretched his neck and peered in the direction of the window. Budgie was looking back, his black unblinking eye focused on John as he squatted, prepared for rapid take off and evasion. Short of a death ray, there was no getting rid of Budgie and once the piano started playing again and Budgie relaxed, a chorus of cursing was sure to follow. And, John’s reputation, as well as his livelihood, was about to be determined by his wayward bird’s vocabulary, all explicitly pronounced as he circled above the fray, dropping four letter bombs as well as poop. It was John’s fault, after all, and he had no other to blame for what was about to happen. A slip of an angry tongue had been picked up by the sharp little recorder of Budgie’s brain. Somehow, the bird could divine really bad words from the ordinary, separating those key moments to memorize and repeat endlessly without regard to whose ears were listening. At first it was funny and unexpected to hear a vulgarism or profanity come out of a little bird, but Budgie didn’t just repeat the word, he spat it out with volume and venom, just as he had heard it the first time. Once the memory is in place, a bird never forgets. They love new words and, obviously, love the attention they command when repeating them. A string of remarkable words is even better than a single word and those extended phrases are saved for unique opportunities…such as this one. It was the perfect alignment of the heavens…an audience, heightened tension in the room, the electricity of piano chords, and from someplace foul, a command from the devil himself. Budgie was on the way to make history.

John’s mind raced while his student and her mother studied his face. They, of course, didn’t know the issue at hand, but they could perceive that something was amiss. A solution dawned on John, in fact the only solution possible.

“Jennifer, please get up; I want to play a piece for you,” he said while standing and leaning forward, obviously obsessed with some urgency. Jennifer obliged and moved to sit with her mother. Just as John’s hands touched the keyboard, Budgie took flight. John’s idea was to play so loudly, produce so much volume of sound, that the bird’s foul language could not be clearly perceived. The plan was well conceived and well executed but ran afoul of Budgie’s ability to fly close and squawk with even more volume than before. Budgie was excited, liberated, even encouraged. The louder he cursed, the more volume came from the piano and the faster and lower he flew. To Budgie, it was all connected, intermeshed, as it should be. John tossed a glance at the two perched on the couch and noted their startled expression and that their hands were pressed against their ears. It was working, the bird was being overwhelmed. Still…how could he stop playing? It was the one part of his plan that had no clear resolution.

The little drama continued, seemingly without end, Mrs. Potworth and Jennifer dodging the swooping bird while holding their ears and the demonic pianist pounding away with increasing ferocity. At last, a knock, or rather a hammering, on the back door could be heard above all. Immediately, Jennifer and her mother rushed toward it, thankful and grateful that rescue had come at last and just in the nick of time. Mrs. Potworth snatched the door open,  her daughter in tow and still holding one ear, rushed past the next student, beating a hasty retreat toward their waiting Cadillac.

Young, stocky, and perpetually sweating Luthor entered and slammed the door behind him.

Alexander Francis

The Fraidy Cat


The Fraidy Cat

It’s funny how comfortable an automobile’s back seat feels until you have to sit on it for hours. And, of course, there isn’t much to do back there but look around at the passing trees, wishing that, somehow, you could have just stayed home instead of traveling through the night until dawn while trying to be quiet so as to not distract or anger your father. It was not infrequent that too much activity or noise from my younger brother or me would impel his big arm to appear over the back of his seat, swinging around in an attempt to inflict some sort of punishing equilibrium. Any near miss, or worse, a direct hit on a leg or hand, would cause us to reconsider whatever activity had triggered the attack. The ensuing peace and quiet would last for a few miles before needing reinforcement. Mother would glare or threaten, Father would actually hit, and when he did, it was most effective.

For some reason, our family always left on a trip long before dawn, and we are talking two or three in the morning. It really didn’t matter that it made no difference what time we arrived, because my mother’s kinfolk graciously welcomed any visit at any hour. Nope. We were tradition bound, and tradition dictates that a trip should start in darkness…no matter what.

My father was obsessed with last minute repairs to the car before a trip. He was no master mechanic but usually and dependably would elect to perform at least a tune-up the day before. And he was picky about how the engine sounded with its new points, plugs and fresh oil. He would take it for a quick drive, intermittently punching his foot to the floor, the accelerator pedal trapped between, while listening carefully to how the motor revved and whether there was any of the dreaded “pinging” in play. Frankly, I could never hear what he heard, and after several stops to adjust the distributor, he would either assume that the car simply could not be fixed or accept its failings as the best he could manage given the limited time available. On occasion, the repair process would go on well after dark and long after I was ready to abandon all hope that the car would run correctly the next day. Lying on the dirt, bugs swarming the single light bulb mounted on a long extension cord, does not improve a mood, and it did little to bring good cheer to my father late in the night before an early family departure the next day.

Our car tires were another worrisome item of infamy. Something was always wrong with the tires. There was either too much wear, uneven wear, or, the worst possible thing other than a blowout…cupping. Cupping cannot be detected by a child of my age at the time nor can the particularly offensive thumping or droning noise be detected by any young ears. But my father could always see and hear cupping of his tires, and it nearly drove him crazy. Resorting to his bag of tricks to control the lethal cupping conundrum, he would drive various speeds, trying to find the perfect one that would minimize the thump that only he could hear. My mother was never convinced that it was an important issue, and most of the time, she would silently ride along nodding as he pointed out the vibrating effect a bad tire made on the steering wheel. On occasion, she would have enough and observe that the sound was not loud enough for her excellent ears to discern. After that comment, my father would keep his distress over cupping to himself, driving in sullen silence while the family car’s tires slowly wore themselves into little shreds left behind on the sunlit Georgia blacktop, at least in my father’s imagination.

Back in the days of my youth, children were not treated as equals to adults, not by a long shot. We were expected to do as told and do it quietly and to keep our invalid opinions to ourselves. Questioning the declarations or actions of a parent was not well tolerated in my family and, at the time, treating children in this manner was a nationally accepted method of parenting. Mind you, I’m not complaining, just observing and remembering how it was. Personally, I had little reason to complain, because they were happy when I wasn’t home and rarely asked where I had been or where I was going. It was personal freedom at its best as long as I didn’t generate complaints from neighbors or visits by officers of the law.

My father’s sense of humor was generally confined to certain television shows, and beyond that, his life was one of of hard labor and little comfort. One time though, I saw a different side of him, a playful, devious and inventive side, a face that I had never seen before then and seldom afterward. I had heard the stories of his youth many times, and cats and dogs were frequently mentioned. He was a cat fancier in some ways and had a profound understanding of their unique character. Such knowledge could only have come from close observation, prolonged study and frequent experimentation. My father knew cats inside and out.

One fine morning, about three and long before dawn, my brother and I were aroused and compelled to mount up. We all were going to Georgia for a visit and would stop at a diner for breakfast on the way. It was one of those rare dining out occasions, visiting a real restaurant that served food right to the table, even to my mother. There wasn’t anything unusual about the food, pancakes for the boys, ham and eggs for their parents, but it was one of those unique times that we actually dined out together, the trip nearly completed, the car repaired and functional, a day of visiting ahead. By the time we finished eating, we were all in a good mood, stuffed with food, our stiff legs stretched, relaxed and ready for the last half hour of driving to Aunt Thelma’s house. Of course, her husband Clarence lived there also, but since Thelma was the blood relation, it was always her house in our minds.

My mother’s aunt and uncle were older and country but welcoming in a way that was real with no artificiality. People of that type are incapable of putting on a face for visitors. They are what they are, and they like you for what you are, and there was no getting around it. When Thelma hugged you, you knew she did it out of love and nothing else, and whatever you were, she was proud of you for it. The couple had seen a lot of life, learned to cope with very little and yearned for nothing. My father was a competent tradesman but even he would listen to Clarence discuss how to do things and make things in his country way of practicality. Clarence had been raised on a farm and knew a world about animals and how to make do without the services of a veterinarian. From somewhere, Clarence had been given a black kitten, not an ordinary kitten but a dominant, mean, ferocious little beast that, after maturation, terrorized the neighborhood dogs and cats. Even Clarence gave him a wide berth, wisely considering the right time to attempt to pet or touch him. Thelma ignored the creature, and in return, Blackie ignored her. He had run of the house, run of the yard and ruled the neighborhood. Something had to be done about Blackie and his innate hostility. The obvious solution was castration. The process was well-known to Clarence who had performed the deed on various large animals. He favored the rather simple ligature and snip procedure, and the addition of anesthesia apparently had never occurred to him as necessary. Completing this task on a tolerant herbivore confined in a tight stall was one thing, but surgery on a violent-natured cat was….one would assume, impossible. Not for Clarence. Using a combination of trickery and brute force, Clarence managed to stuff Blackie head first into an old leather boot, leaving the rear end exposed and vulnerable. After the job was completed, Blackie wasn’t seen for days, leaving Thelma and Clarence to speculate about his surviving castration.

Unfortunately, Blackie did return. His mood had not improved a bit. In fact, he was far worse and now given to random attacks consisting of biting and clawing anyone at anytime as a matter of right. Any caressing or petting by Clarence was a thing of the past. Blackie was free to come and go as he pleased. I often wondered why Clarence didn’t attempt to do away with Blackie, but as the years came and went, I realized that Clarence was a good and kind man who probably felt a great deal of responsibility of how Blackie turned out. He had enough on his conscience without adding caticide to his regrets.

And so, we arrived in Georgia at the home of Thelma and Clarence one fine summer day, tired from traveling most of the night but at least well-fed. Thelma took her hostess responsibility seriously and, as should have been expected, insisted on feeding us again, no matter how resolutely we rejected the idea. As we were sitting, talking and listlessly eating our mandatory cupcakes with tea, Blackie strolled through the living room. Our conversation suspended in mid-sentence as the shadowy black cat strode defiantly in, his long tail swinging from side to side in an aggressive display. Blackie didn’t look directly at any of us, as far as we could tell, but just stood there for a moment, obviously itching to start a fight before he sauntered off without looking back.

“New cat?” my father inquired. He, above all the others, would have had a sixth sense about Blackie and his potential.

“His name is Blackie,” Clarence spoke the obvious. “Don’t try to pet him,” he added, also the obvious, even to me.

It was a bit unsettling, the appearance of this wild creature who invited confrontation. I filed the information away for later use as conversation came back as before. Mostly, they talked about relatives, where they were, what they were doing and, at times, when they had died and what they had left behind. My brother and I were sitting there in silence, trying to escape notice as much as possible. Clarence, when he was motivated by fresh ears such as my father’s, could manage to talk non-stop. It didn’t matter in the least that my mother and Thelma were engaged in a conversation only two feet away. There were stories to be told, lessons to be learned, and Clarence went at it with his back into it. My father usually just sat there nodding, occasionally rubbing his chin with his hand and casting his eyes about the room, probably thinking about something else entirely.

In a moment of absolute boredom, I pulled out my pocket knife and entertained myself with the opening and closing of the blade. It was a discard from my father’s pocket and sported a broken plate on the left side. Nevertheless, it was a knife and with a bit of oil and persistence, it would open and close like new. The blade was another matter. My mother despised sharp blades in the hands of young boys and took it as her sacred duty to correct my father’s judgement in passing this weapon into my hands. She took it from me and in a few vigorous minutes of work, managed to not only dull the cutting edge but to remove the tip as well by drawing it over concrete found on the front stoop. It was, more or less, rendered into a butter knife which opened and closed. To injure someone, it would have to be fired from a cannon toward them. She watched for any attempt at sharpening by me, and if it would even scratch her finger, she resolutely repeated her dulling routine. Clarence finally spotted the knife in my hand and stopped his conversation abruptly.

“Say, Junior, looks like your knife needs some attention,” he correctly observed. “Remind me later, and I’ll show you how to sharpen it.” With that, he went back to his conversation about the German POW camp that had not been far out of town. I knew that Clarence would remember and that my knife would be restored to a precision tool, capable of both shaving and sticking. Then I noticed my mother’s eyes looking my way. Clarence would be wasting his time and effort. I sighed and folded the blade, putting it back in my pocket, while hoping that everyone would just forget that it was there. That was when Blackie made another appearance, this time from another direction.

He moved silently to the middle of the room and looked at each of us in turn. It was a dare that none of us chose to accept, and we looked back hoping for his voluntary retreat. That is, all of us except my father. He had fought in the World War and was tough and street-smart himself. That, and he could read cats in a way that even the cat didn’t understand. I guess, during a momentary return to his youth, he decided to take Blackie’s measure and do it while appearing innocent to the rest of us. My attention was drawn to my father’s face when the idea struck him. I knew him well enough to realize that Blackie was going to be sorry that he was itching for a fight on this particular day. The first stroke came just as Blackie was nearly out of the room, having decided that he was still master of the house and all its contents.

From somewhere low in the bowels of the earth, and too low to be noticed by most humans, a groan appeared. Blackie stopped and the hair on his back elevated slightly. His head turned to look for a threat, but the humans were engaged in boring conversation and otherwise were ignoring him. Still, the threat had arisen in this room, and Blackie was compelled by his nature not to ignore it. He turned around and stared, safely in the doorway and yet close enough to either fight or flee. I learned something about cat nature that day. They are cursed with a nervous energy that can take charge at any time, making the creature a victim of his own reflexes. Blackie stood there waiting but nothing happened. My father was innocently listening to Clarence drone on and not even looking Blackie’s way. I knew that whatever was going to happen was still on the way, and I considered that Blackie understood where the sound had arisen but not why. When Blackie was still under full alert, he turned to leave, and at the perfect moment, my father’s foot jerked just enough to make a sound, accompanied by a nearly inaudible menacing gurgle. Clarence didn’t notice, Mother didn’t notice, but Blackie did and the sound effects were enough to cause him to clear the ground by a couple of inches. This time his back hair came up all the way to his tail and stayed up.

“Clarence!” Thelma called out. “What in the heaven is wrong with that cat?” Dutifully, Clarence turned his attention to Blackie who stood there with his back arched, displaying dilation of his pupils. He studied the cat for a moment, shrugged, and continued his explanation of fishing in the Okefenokee to my father who sat there in complete innocence, giving Clarence his full concentration. The cat knew exactly who had made the noise and was looking right at him, still attempting to determine the actual threat level. As I watched, my father’s head robotically turned toward Blackie, and his eyes rolled around while wide open, giving even me a start. Blackie couldn’t take it. His entire life had revolved around conventional confrontations…not this surreal kind. He didn’t have a defense strategy for insanity, and his only options were to become stiff legged and hiss loudly at the threat.

“Clarence!” Thelma repeated, this time louder, while pointing at the cat with her arm and hand. Blackie had morphed into some sort of creature with advanced rigor mortis, even though he still stood his ground in a way, but teetering on his claws instead of the pads of his feet.
Clarence tossed a pillow at the pitiful creature, commanding “Git!” Blackie, with a flip of whatever buried reflex was still functioning, disappeared in a blur of motion.

I studied the doorway expecting the return of Clarence’s creature at any moment, but to my disappointment, he had evidently deduced that the room was too upsetting for him. Clarence droned on, and I started listening to Thelma and my mother discuss the hard times of the Depression. I felt myself being transported back in time to rural Georgia, hard red clay, acre miles of cotton shimmering in the hot sun, the local Coca Cola plant and the numberless unfortunate blacks who did backbreaking labor for nearly nothing. And the most special were the little snippets about my mother’s grandparents who took her and her three siblings in and did the best they could for them. Once I remembered the little fragments of history I had previously heard, and inserted them as filler for the memories they were recalling, I felt as though I had lived there with them, experienced the same bruising reality, and had cried the same wrenching tears when my great-grandfather died, leaving them to fend for themselves in a hard world. A glance at my younger brother told me that he had been able to completely tune out the conversations, instead focusing on the stack of funny books he had wisely managed to bring along. In a way, I envied him and his ability to shut off the world, retreating into his own imagination, allowing in only what he wanted, rejecting the rest.

Blackie’s head appeared at the lower corner of the doorway. He was cautious this time and not so ready to take on the newcomers. I couldn’t decide if some cat necessity had driven him to take a stroll through the room again or if he had to prove himself to himself. Either way, I had to admire his willingness to overcome his fright and try again. My father’s eye flicked toward Blackie. He had been waiting, expecting Blackie to return. How he knew, I’ll never understand, but Blackie would have been wiser to visit the neighborhood instead of this den of self-inflicted horror.

What you have to understand is that Blackie knew, absolutely was positive, that my father was going to give another unexpected jerk or roll of his eyes. Blackie was ready this time, and that was his problem. He was hyper-alert, his nervous system in high tune, his muscles already tensed…he expected to be surprised and that was the masterstroke in my father’s method. The cat was trapped, the inevitable was about to be evitable.

After a long moment of contemplation, Blackie made his appearance. Acting casual and relaxed, he boldly walked in, sauntering a line that would lead him to the other doorway on the other wall. His stiff and swinging tail was a dead giveaway, though, and even I could tell that Blackie was on maximum alert. About midway, and while Blackie was obviously thinking that he was going to make it out unscathed this time, my father started emitting a subsonic growl, one just loud enough for the cat to hear but not loud enough to stop Clarence from describing how he made the infamous mahogany teller’s window at the bank. Blackie’s head pivoted toward my father, like the snap of a whip, his eyes fixated on my father’s face which slowly displayed teeth and narrowed eyes. Some part of Blackie had to know it was coming and that he had asked for it and had no one else to blame but himself. Reasoning wasn’t enough to overcome reflexes, however, and Blackie went up on his toes with all four feet, legs stiff, tail bristling with hair, as he danced in crazy circles intermittently spitting a hiss between his frozen jaws. During full dance, the second stroke came when my father expertly jerked both feet at the same time. Blackie went straight up in the air, but how, I can’t imagine. It was as if an unseen force of levitation had arrived from the heavens and lifted him instantly into the thin air. After landing stiffly, and showing twenty or so teeth, he danced on toes and claws slowly out of sight, back where he had come from.

Thelma stood up, looking at the vacant doorway. “I wish you’d listen!” she said, her favorite remark when something was truly remarkable. “Clarence, did you see what Blackie just did?” Without waiting for her husband’s view of the matter, she added, “Get up and go shoo him outside.” It was not a request that Clarence could ignore, and he rose to the occasion and headed toward where Blackie had been last seen.

Blackie had other ideas, however, and after Clarence had been gone for a few moments, a black streak crossed the room, disappearing into another area of the house. The motion was too quick to actually observe and left me with the impression of a shadow flicking past, an apparition of sorts. Blackie wasn’t ready to be dismissed from this confrontation just yet. He, as the dominate cat of cats, had something left to prove. A motion caught my eye from the dark corner where the shadow had vanished. Inspection showed it to be the right ear and eye of a black cat attempting to inspect the room from a safe distance using a method of subterfuge well-known to members of the feline family. I glanced at my father and could see his eyes sparkling with delight and mirth. The cat just couldn’t take a hint. He had chosen a master of the dark arts to tangle with, an individual who had understood cat physiology by intense observation for years before Blackie’s birth.

“Come, Blackie,” Clarence commanded from somewhere distant. A cat ear twisted in that direction, but the rest of the cat was reluctant to follow. Blackie had chosen to be forced to cross the no-cat zone and found himself on the far side of the only escape route, while being aware what awaited him, causing his reflexes to fire off before he was ready. Without my father moving a muscle, or uttering a sound, or even looking menacing in any way, it was simply his presence in the room that was threatening. The demon existed, he was there waiting, and Blackie had to cross his path. What we witnessed will live in our memories for all time and will bring guffaws, smiles and head-shaking each time we think of Blackie crossing the room that last time. My side-splitting laughter brought on tears which clouded my vision, but I can still describe the scene just as it happened.

Blackie, stiffly, puppet-like, danced into the room on four stiff legs, his back arched, his eyes flaming yellow, his teeth showing but his vision and head were fixed on only one thing…my father’s face. He couldn’t make much forward progress by hopping forward one inch at a time, but honestly, it was the best the poor animal could do at the moment. He hopped, he spat, he glared, and at long last, his savior appeared with a broom above his head, rushing toward him with menace from the opposite doorway. The last we saw of Blackie was a puff of hair as the broom Clarence swung at him made contact. Then he was gone.

Alexander Francis

Logic Pro X Filters


As a last comment on building our sound booth and recording as well as editing the sound track, I wish to share our settings.  After much experimentation, we have settled on a simple set of three audio filters using Apple Logic Pro X software.

When we started, I had an idea that our narrator’s voice should change dramatically between characters she is portraying, and I made a concerted effort to find plug-ins which could handle the task.  I used both Antares and Flux, both highly rated, for voice modification.  You see, I wanted to create a male voice or a youthful voice, or even separate female voices.  Much like hiring different actors for the various parts.

It didn’t work.  Even though these add-on filters are excellent and expansive (yes, a bit expensive also), they create a strange voice instead of a natural one.  Try as I might, I could not achieve the effect I desired, and we went back to the tried and true method of voice control by the narrator.

Noise Gate

A major goal is to eliminate any unwanted sounds as  we discussed previously, and it comes down to careful editing and noise control inside the booth.  There are sounds, though, which creep into the highest and the lowest frequencies no matter how careful you are. These can be controlled with the right settings on your filters.

Channel Equalizer

Another issue is the dynamic range of the narrator.  In our case, Janel can become hyper-charged during reading of an exciting section, and the result is a very wide range of dynamics captured faithfully by the mike. Again, this is managed by the appropriate settings of the software.


Some speakers, particularly female ones, tend to emphasize the “S” sounds of words.  Good, clear speaking demands that it be so.  But, it can be too obvious and a distraction as well.  We use a nice little de-esser which diminishes the pop of an “S” sound without removing it.  Less is better than more in this case.

For our needs, the three filters produce a clear sound which converts to a high quality MP3 and is easy on the ear as well.

To be clear, we record the narration on a track without filters and do the editing and post-processing later, outside of the studio.

Good luck on your own efforts, and I hope this series has been helpful.

Alexander Francis

Cords…They Hate Me


It’s one of those things I have to get off of my chest, an admission, a coming out, and it will surprise even you, my dear readers.

I am troubled by cords…they are out to get me, and they have, many times. No, I’m not talking about musical chords. No problem there. I’ve made friends with musical chords, and we share mutual respect, even longing for each other. Its just cords, and by that inclusive word, I mean ropes, electrical wires, cables, hoses and the like. Just about anything that is rather round and linear.

My troubles started long ago, but at the time I attached no significance to it. Rather, I was self-depreciating about my experiences and travails, blaming any difficulty on myself rather than accuse an inanimate and otherwise harmless object. As a youth, I worked with my father in the summertimes, helping him with electrical work. I even got paid a minuscule sum, likely what I was actually worth. Several times, I was asked to perform a simple task…roll up the extension cord or unroll the extension cord. Never could I do this elementary task without creating a hopeless tangle…a gordian knot of electrical wire so hopelessly intertwined that I considered using a pliers and cutting myself free. More often though, my irritated father would snatch it away mumbling “gimme that” and in a few furious seconds, the matted tangle would disappear but not his scowl in my direction. It was so bad that I would even trip over any cord or line innocently lying on the ground under my clumsy feet.

How could I know that it wan’t an adolescent clumsiness at fault? It was a cord conspiracy, and it got worse over the rest of my life. Later, I took part in vertical rock climbing with my son, and during training, our instructor would frequently yell in my direction that I was “ Yo! Standing on the rope…again!” Sure I was, but what he didn’t know was that it was a protective move on my part. I was simply holding down the rope to prevent its mischief. Try as hard as I might, the habit persisted until the instructor gave up. I was hopeless. Later, my son and I hired a professional guide for some really hard climbs. Heading up Devils Tower, I was entrusted to carry the spare rope, coiled in neat even coils and tied off like experienced climbers do. All I had to do at the appointed time was to tie one end off and toss the loops into the void, supposedly allowing the rope to uncoil and hang down obediently all one hundred eighty feet along the sheer wall. You know the rest. When the time came and the rope went down, there were not one but three knots swinging defiantly along the course of the rope. After I pulled it up, nearly being pulled off the side by the rope trick of wrapping around my feet, I untangled it and tossed again. It took three tries to finally get it straight. When we started down, I gave some thought to what the rope might try to do to me as I used this single important device on which to dangle my life. I’m sure I would still be up there trying to descend, but the calming hand of my son on the lower end of the rope demanded order instead of allowing chaos. Cords don’t hate him.

By now you are convinced that either I am exaggerating or am headed for therapy and medication. I assure you that I am totally sane and physically competent. The stark truth is that cords hate me. Let me give you an example. Any time, any day, in my basement projects I have to be unusually careful about cords, air compressor hoses, pull chains. They all give me trouble and are particularly devious about it when I am not attentive. For no reason at all, the electrical cord of the saber saw will end up in under the basement door. I don’t put it there or even allow it to happen, but when I try to extract it, the plug becomes wedged on the hinge side and nearly any effort won’t budge it. Still think I’m crazy? Then here is another example. Under my computer desk there are, of course, many cables. Given my lifelong experience, I am ultra careful about routing, grouping and securing the cables, nearly to a mania. It doesn’t matter in the least, because the wires and cables, alone for a few moments will creep relentlessly into a tangle.

I’ve had to deal with my fate as best I can, coping without anger most of the time and only occasionally giving in to shredding and cutting…and cursing. Thinking it over, I surmise that one innocent day in my youth, I gave offense to a well-meaning cord, and well, so it goes.
Alexander Francis

The Learning Curve




I promised that I would discuss equipment we are using for recording our narrator’s voice, and this is the correct time to do that. After completion of the audio version of Geminknot, we have learned a few things that I want to pass along.

First of all, the size and design of the sound booth is perfect for our needs. It is both pleasant, attractive as well as functional. As I’ve said previously, you must consider how much time your narrator will spend in a small enclosure and how important it is to provide an environment conducive to good work.

We are using a professional microphone by Shure (model # SM7B) which is widely respected and for good reason.  We have found that it will pick up vocal sounds in a way that enriches a voice but will also faithfully pick up unwanted sounds,  the kind you will hear during the editing process. I want to give you a heads-up regarding several of them. We earlier identified chair squeaks during body motion and by experimentation find that most of the time we can’t do anything about it.  Our solution has been for the narrator to move in the chair as little as possible during active sessions.

Another interesting sound occurs during  touchpad use on the Apple laptop, either during  ending the recording session or during pauses. Even though this sound might be missed by the intended audience, we choose to edit them out. Speaking of the computer, we have discovered that during a long session, the computer’s ventilation fan is activated and can easily be heard in the recording. Solution: place the computer on a cool object (we use gel-based cold packs).

Unfortunately, various  human sounds, those that originate within the digestive system, are part of the listening experience and are exceptionally hard to eliminate short of starting over.

A word about our equipment, but I want to emphasize that many other systems will work as well as ours and that we make no claim to have a superior system.  I have already mentioned the mike, and you can see the wrap around sound absorber behind it.  An interface is required to input the recording into our computer (which is visible on the right side).  We are using a Track 16, which we also use for music session recordings.  It is a very high quality unit and easy to use.  Our narrator wears a pair of Shure headphones during the recording (SRH 840) which enables her to use playback to edit or continue the session.  The computer is running Logic Pro X which inputs and records the session.  The file is stored on our iCloud  and is therefore protected from loss and easily retrieved later for editing and conversion to an MP3.

To insure that there is no paper rattling, we use an Apple iPad to display the text for narration.

The results speak for themselves,  and our sample recordings will soon be updated with the latest version.  Currently we are creating music to be overlaid and blended with the narration.

Next time,  I will disclose our settings and filters for Logic Pro which have allowed us to modulate and improve what was already an excellent recording.

Alexander Francis