Speaking of Hitchcock (Following up on the Last Post)

Speaking of Hitchcock (3/10/2013)

Recently, the Becourt Theater held an Alfred Hitchcock fest, 24 films in 23 days from the Master of Suspense. Jude had seen a couple of favorites at home, but he’d never viewed any on the big screen. So, I had to take him. Our busy schedule allowed for “Vertigo,” “Spellbound, “ and “Family Plot.” Of course, “Vertigo,” is my favorite and what many regard as the best; though I feel the latter two flicks are a bit underrated. You have to love that Salvador Dali scene in “Spellbound” and as Bob Dylan once sang about Gregory Peck, “I’ll see him in anything, I’ll stand in line.”

Anyways, Jude has a collector’s mentality, when he’s in, he’s all in, and so we’ve carried it back to our weekly pizza party movie nights. Jude’s mother also took him to see “Rebecca.” I have a feeling that while he really enjoyed the novelty of seeing the movies in the theater, but that he also loved the experience because it was something he did with both parents, albeit separately. That’s pretty rare.

Hitchcock is the master, for many reasons, among them his powers of observation, the psychology, the negative space. The great artists always know what to leave out, when to step back. In music, it’s called dynamics; in prose writing, emphasis. In Hitchcock, there are brilliant sequences where “nothing” happens, simple events leading up to what the audience expects to be the pay-off. These events add up. Faces and expressions cut back and forth to the scene unfolding, while we, as onlookers, sharpen our powers of observation and become wholly, fully, drawn in.

When Jude and I went to see “Family Plot,” it was a school night, towards the end of the series, and I didn’t have time to scout for a free parking space down the block. So, I turned into the pay lot next to the theater and went over to the machine to key in my license plate, slide in my credit card, and get my parking pass. I read the directions like the nearsighted man I am, making sure I knew which side was up, when a smooth-talking street guy jumbled up to us.

“You don’t need to do that, man”

Before I could answer, he started punching buttons with his spindly arms.

“I got da code.”
“That’s okay,” I said, “I…

A piece of paper dropped in the slot. It looked legit. Before I could say another word, he disappeared down the street.

The puzzle didn’t fit, the parts were amiss. A cold wind blew my hair back and Jude bounced patiently from foot to foot. I told him to hang on while I slid my credit card in the slot and punched in my license plate. It cost me ten bucks. We ran back and put it on the dash and into the movie we went, just as the previews were beginning to roll.

The next day, Jude and I sat down to dinner and began talking mostly about whatever popped into his head, in between large mouthfuls of macaroni and cheese. Suddenly, he stopped. “You did the honest thing,” he said, smiling.

My wheels were spinning trying to recall events of the last hour, week, or month.
“Yesterday,” he said, “in the parking lot. You did the honest thing.”

I smiled back, and I was proud, but I didn’t think it was a big deal on my end. After all, I didn’t give Jude a lecture on why we shouldn’t game the system, rig parking machines, or escape supporting our local arthouse. I didn’t talk about strangers coming up to us on the street, when to trust and when to be skeptical. I was just in the moment, doing what seemed naturally. Obviously, Jude has keen powers of observation, and as he shifted from foot to foot, he was watching carefully, filing it all away for future use. It was a good reminder, as a parent. Someone – your child – is always watching and taking it in.

Desert for Jude is a fruit cup. As he scooped, we talked about “Family Plot,” which was also Hitchcock’s final film, laden with references to previous works. One of the many twists is, in the end, you’re not sure whether Blanche is a natural, calling on her telepathic powers, or if she is once more, relying on more worldly devices. And, that’s something I could relate to.


Back in Sepember, a great zine called Twenty 20 published a short story of mine titled, “Stars,” in their Magic Realism issue.  You can check out the whole issue here:  here:  http://issuu.com/fourxfour/docs/twenty20_magical_realism .  I’m a big Magic Realism fan, so I was chuffed.  My tale is on page x (ten).

The catch on this journal is you have to keep it to 20 words.   And, when I heard about them, I just had to take on the challenge.   Hitchcock was big on cutting, shot to shot, to convey emotion.  That’s sort of what you do with songs, poetry, or 20 word stories.   Now I’ve written an introduction that’s longer than the story, but here ’tis:

Stars (September 2012)

We hiked to the highest peak in

the park so she could put names

to stars that no longer exist.


Luck Be a Lady

Dear Readers:    So, I’m going to use this blog to keep myself writing, short and long, on a regular basis.  But, part of it is also about sharing  published and unpublished “works” from the catalogue.  Eventually I’ll post a piece or two from my past story collection (“Bothering the Coffee Drinkers”) and preview a piece or two from my upcoming story collection (“The Tenth Inning.”).   And, in the meantime, here’s a little creative nonfiction piece I’m currently sending around  to zines.  Yes, that’s my son Jude with the frighteningly real wax version of the Chairman of the Board.   Thanks for coming along for the ride, Doug Hoekstra

Luck Be a Lady (September 2011)

Part I – The Chairman

Over the summer, I was tooling around in the car listening to Frank Sinatra, savoring his Reprise records version of “The Way You Look Tonight.” Goosebumps rippled up and down my arm. The melody always touches something deep inside me, and puts me in a place where time stands still. It had been ages since I’d been able to listen to Sinatra. Yet, on this particular August day, the cascading notes and smooth delivery seduced me and for a second, I reconsidered the whole notion of romance and the possibilities it holds. The song only lasted for a few minutes, but that’s some kind of magic.

“Fly Me to the Moon” came on after that. “In other words….” Frank crooned, “hold my hand…” Sinatra floated along on top of the accents, repeating the “in other words” with different examples. It’s a list song, you know. My insightful son Jude broke my day dream and piped up from the back seat

“His girlfriend just doesn’t get it, does she? He keeps having to explain it…”

Ah, Jude…someday you’ll be a grown man…and you will come to know all that you don’t know. Just remember, there are no fools when it comes to dreams. And, sometimes dreams are encapsulated in a single moment, a perfect evening. When Frank sang, he was letting us in on this universal truth. I wish I knew this when I was your age.

Part II – Heading Home

The reason I dusted off the Chairman was because of our impending Las Vegas adventure. Usually when I write about Jude (not Frank), I fill the tales with heartwarming connections, educational milestones, and father and son bonding. Yet, in many ways, Vegas is the opposite of this – mindless spending, Big Replicas of Interesting Things, and disconnected people grasping for something. But, the reason we were going was to see Cirque du Solei Love Beatles Love at the Mirage, the only place it plays. There’s magic in Cirque shows; and magic in the Beatles music. And, magic in our adventures.

So, the same summer that I could listen to Sinatra again, Jude and I were flying back from a visit to the grandparents in Chicago. Jude had quickly beaten me in chess again, so I started to flip through the Southwest Airlines magazine and came across their 40 prizes in 40 days giveaway, to celebrate their 40th anniversary. One of the prizes was two nights at a fancy schmancy suite in the Mirage, tickets to the Dolphin habitat, enough food for the weekend, and tickets to a singing ventriloquist named Terry Fator. That would get us closer, I thought and I took a complimentary copy of the magazine with me.

When the day rolled around for the Mirage prize package, I entered online and checked it off my list. A few days later I got an e-mail. “Congratulations!” You are the lucky winner of Southwest Airlines Spirit magazine’s “40 Days of Prizes” with Mirage/Las Vegas.” I wasn’t that surprised really, because somehow, I figured it would happen. I told a few friends and they found it hard to believe; because no one wins those things. A national contest, no less, it must be rigged. Several told me what I already knew, that I was a lucky man. Sometimes you just gotta put it out there.

Jude and I had a great time; Love was something else and it’s always great to see masses of people singing my son’s name. Between Sir Paul and Love, it’s becoming an annual event. But, I have to admit that when we were walking through the lobby of the Mirage at 3 in the afternoon, I was reminded of all the dodgy suburban clubs I played back in Chicago, in my first band. Skinny and pale, we’d load in for soundcheck at 3 or 4 p.m., when it was bright and sunny out, only to be submerged in a perpetual underworld where the lights are dim, the air conditioning is on full blast, and the air is still stale as the beer from the night before. We’d check our instruments and without fail, about halfway through, the owner of the club would put down his Coke spoon long enough to step outside of his office, creep down the stairs and watch. When we were done, he’d shake our hands and it would take two days to get the aftershave smell off my fingernails. These clubs had the mark of organized crime all over them, although I was clueless at the time.

A few years later, in a better band, we played some “classier” joints. There was one venue in Chicago where we opened for folks like Edie Brickell and Arlo Guthrie. These were big gigs and well sought after, though we’d only play for half an hour and get $100.00, literally pulled out of a suitcase of money, resembling the sort of thing you see in crime caper movies. At this place, there was a guy named Gino who always “took care of us.” This meant he’d come get us in our dressing room and walk us through a long circuitous backway to the stage, just like in Spinal Tap. As we got ready, he’d get on a phone and call the soundboard. That was Gino’s job. He liked us though, because after a couple gigs he’d say “you guys can play 35 minutes.” We got an extra five minutes, that was our gift.

So, I had a sense that Vegas would be something like that, a place where it was always kind of dank and cold, with crazy times and the ever present feeling of something lurking, but in the end, all would be well, and that I’d get five minutes extra for being so good. We did all we set out to do; The Dolphin Habitat (Jude loved the baby swimming with his parent); Our Posh Hotel; Houdini Shops, Flamingos and Weird Street People Dressed as Elvis and Darth Vader; The Big Volcano that Erupts; A Peter Max Art Exhibit Exactly Where You Wouldn’t Expect It; Meeting the Guy who Directed the Beatles Cartoon Series; and Taking A Boatload of Campy Photos at The Wax Museum. There was Frank, in wax and be-bop hat, making sure lady luck doesn’t wander off to blow on some other guy’s dice. And, of course there was Love, which was like being inside a three-dimensional visual montage of the Beatles music. I saw things I never saw before and I heard things I’d never heard.

But, as great as that all was, I still kept waiting for that extra five minutes.

Finally, after all adventures had come to a close, our plane touched down in Nashville late on Labor Day. Jude held my hand as we quietly took the long walk from our gate down to the baggage claim, where he sat down on the edge of the conveyor belt. He still likes to watch the bags come down the chute, just like he did when he was little. But, now he daydreams, as well, which I love.

After a few minutes of this, he looked up at me.

“You know what Dad?”


“This is my favorite airport because when we’re here, we’re either leaving on an adventure, or heading home.”

I smiled and tousled his hair and held the moment as if encased in crystal. My son was spot on, and hearing him express his thoughts gave me much more than an extra five minutes

In other words, take my hand….



Levon and Duck

Hey folks, here’s a brand new poem I haven’t even sent anywhere yet….but by posting it here, it is protected by all applicable copyright laws!  🙂   Dig the read!

Levon and Duck (February 2013)

My son takes piano lessons.

I try to teach him

About staying in the pocket but

You know it’s a tough year when

Levon Helm and Duck Dunn

Both leave the planet.

I wonder if rock and roll

Will ever swing again.


I wonder who will take their place

And play all night long

For memories, dreams and

Reams of possibilities that

Lie within three chords.

A fourth. A fifth

Suddenly I feel

Like a man out of time.


Backlit darkness

Cherry red cheeks

Long deep breaths and

The climax that peaks

Across silence.  Then

Another breath

Before the next dance

Starts up again


I wonder who will take their place

And work all night long

To escape cotton fields

And factories, cast from

Clothes of different colors

To hold on to what we feel

Man, woman, bass, drums

Transcending what is real

100_3416 - Copy

Hopi Point

Here’s the piece that led to “Museum of Americana” (below).  Enjoy.

Hopi Point (10/19/2011)

My eight-year old son and I drove into the Grand Canyon from the east, as so many before and beyond us, making haste through the Painted Desert so we could enter the park before sunset.   We had a week-long stay planned, but we were filled with anticipation shaped by a year’s worth of facts, legends, and word of mouth.    Majestic views, ever-changing colors, and spiritual awakenings promised to enthrall us at every turn.   Precarious cliffs would taunt  my fear of heights and  steep hikes would challenge my physical fitness.   And, every day my son and I would share an adventure that neither one of us would forget,  because we were doing it all together.   This is the essence of what I expected.

Our first opportunity to view the Canyon first hand came when we pulled into Lipon Point.   As we got out of the car, Jude, my son and adventure buddy,  ambled to the edge of the fence effortlessly.   I stayed back, inching forward slowly to acclimate myself to the one mile drop off and endless sky, a process I’d repeat many times during the week.  At first I wasn’t even sure where to focus.   My eyes are very sensitive, and if I venture outside on a windy day, I  tear up instantly.   It’s as if the wind is looking for the places the matter, the spaces that cut a little deeper around my eyes with each passing year.   And, when the tears flow and I wipe them clean, I see what’s ahead of me with more clarity.   That’s what happened at Lipon Point.   But it was okay, because I always had a different view ahead of me, equally resplendent, dazzling and ever-changing because of the way the shadows move and dance across the rocks as they play with the sharp but fading sunlight.

If you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about.

Much is  made of the spirits of the ages at the Canyon, etched into the soil and the rock, felt in the water and the wind, seen in the sun and the scenery.  That cannot be underestimated.   Jude and I challenged our sense of person and place every minute we were there.   But, despite the drama of that first breathtaking view, I’d still be hard pressed to call it our defining moment.  No, our most magical and memorable experiences came, as they usually do, when we least expected them, in the here and now, falling upon the simple things, the undiscovered.    An unmarked trail  led us through a forest to Shoshone Point, where we shared a picnic and admired the view in complete solitude, just us and the ravens.  Jude got sworn in as a Junior Ranger at Tusayan Ruins within spitting distance of the park’s oldest artifacts, twig animals that date back 4000 years.  We learned about ancient Navajo constellations and star gazed from rocking chairs outside Kolb Studios, a stones throw from where we discovered the work of a modern Navajo painter  by the name of Shonto Begay.   Before a hike, we met a man on the bus to Hermit’s Rest who was doing research for a film on the life of Mary Coulter, Canyon architect, and after the same hike, we saw a raven entertain a crowd of tourists.   And yes, I braved my fear of heights on the Bright Angel Trail.

Each day we went to a different spot for sunset and each minute brought a different view, the best one coming towards the end of our visit, at Hopi Point, on a mild yet vivid October evening. 100_2511We walked through the sagebrush to a little clearing, past one couple having a picnic and another couple taking a picture, the former leisurely, the latter hurriedly.   We found our perfect spot and sat down on the ground, far enough away from the edge for my comfort, but close enough to be present.   Jude was in a great mood and he talked constantly about the day’s adventures and I listened and nodded until the conversation wound down to silence as the sweeping vistas took over.  There are no words.  There is no time.    An hour later or so, we decided we were hungry enough to head back to the village to eat dinner.

As we left our spot, I spotted an elderly man bundled into a wheelchair, parked on  the Rim Trail, facing the Canyon.  He was at that age where you sensed he was growing smaller, his back slightly bent, his hands folded quietly in his lap.  Nodding his head slowly, I saw a crescent smile cross his face.    Across the Canyon, the geologists have given the most prominent points spiritual names such as the Brahma Temple, the Vishnu Temple, the Buddha Temple.  It’s fitting.  There is no coming, no going;  nothing created or destroyed.   We just change.

My son held my hand and I saw myself as that man, someday, remembering this particular moment and thinking of my son wherever he might be, hoping he was living the life he always wanted to live.   Or that he was living with the good grace to know that whatever life he had was a gift and with that would come happiness.   I thought of my parents and their parents and my son and his children, and I hoped he would visit this spot again someday and send me a postcard that simply said, “Dad, remember when?”  I saw myself smiling and holding the postcard in my hand.   The man in the wheelchair kept nodding.   My son and I kept walking.   My eyes are very sensitive, and if I venture outside on a windy day,  particularly at the Grand Canyon, I  tear up instantly.