At night, in the desert, you’re always being watched.
I can hear them in the brush, scurrying – stopping dead as I near. Rabbits, lizards, snakes, maybe a coyote. God knows what else. Birds, bats – we’re watched from above as well.
Joni Mitchell once released an album called “The Hissing of Summer Lawns”. I thought about that last night as I stepped out the front door around midnight, a bag of trash in my hand, headed for the curbside. I found myself listening for the hiss of the lawn because there were no other sounds. The breeze that normally rippled through the trees was quite absent. There was no scurrying in the brush. Not even a single cricket. There were only my footsteps, tapping the concrete and echoing down the street – maybe even to the mountains, and that slight rattle and crinkle of the Hefty bag. Like all the random junk inside was jockeying for position before its final ride.
Then I noticed the sky. It was beautiful. Just a few big fluffy clouds floating in the glow of a perfect full moon. I knew I’d be rushing in to tell the wife and kids. There’d been a sadness in the house all day and I thought they all might get a kick out of the striking night sky. Smile and laugh they all did. Their giggles headed to the mountains to find their dad’s echoing footsteps. The iPhones were out, snapping pictures of the big ol’ moon.
We were still grinning as we returned to the living room. The girls raced to post their photos on the internet. The smiles were wide until I happened to notice something in the bottom left corner of one of the photos. What exactly is that?
At night, in the desert, you’re always being watched.
“Between Catskill and Cooperstown” can be found in the horror anthology SERIAL KILLERS ITERUM.
More of my writing:
“I’ve never been around so many people who made me feel normal.”
The Showtime television series Dexter is based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay. To over-simplify, the show is about a sociopathic serial killer who happens to be a blood spatter expert for the Miami Metro Police Department. We like him because he has fought mightily to harness his murderous urges, and uses his secret burden to rid the world of those who’ve killed the innocent. To say our family are fans of this show would be a gross understatement. We watch it, re-watch it, look for minutia in the background, freeze it, quote it, add our own would-be lines to it, play the board game, buy the Blu-rays, oh, and you might find more than one character bobble-head in our home.
How then, are we to act in a dignified manner when we are somehow invited onto the set of television’s greatest drama? It seems my wife, our two daughters and I have these dark passengers inside us that we can’t fully reveal to the cast and crew, lest they think we are insanely annoying or annoyingly insane.
I have a buddy named Romeo. He has worked on Dexter since day one as Director of Photography. He also directs several episodes of this and many other shows. In fact, he is now more often than not, a director instead of a DP. He’s ridiculously great at both.
Full disclosure: Our family didn’t watch Dexter from the beginning. When I heard my friend (with whom, many years ago, I made a sort of student film – with me mostly writing and him mostly directing) had directed an episode, I finally ordered Showtime and tuned in. I didn’t know what to expect, other than a show that I knew would LOOK fantastic, since Romeo was in charge of that aspect. I watched the episode. Then watched it again. Then I gathered the family around to watch it once more.
Since we hate to see things out of order, we quickly bought what we had missed and caught up to speed the right way. Yeah, the show LOOKED great, as we knew it would, but the writing – holy F-bomb – was fantastic. As was the acting, directing, editing and everything else. It was, and is, a perfect storm of creative and talented minds.
“I just know there’s something dark in me and I hide it. I certainly don’t talk about it, but it’s there always, this Dark Passenger.”
We had been to the set once before. On August 17, 2011 we were invited to the interior sets at Sunset-Gower Studios in Hollywood. It was for an episode from season 6 called “Sin of Omission” – directed by Ernest Dickerson. Romeo was DP. I won’t break down the characters for those who haven’t seen the show, but we watched them film a scene that featured Dexter, Deb, Jamie and Harrison, in Dexter’s apartment. We also toured the rest of the sets including the police station, Deb’s beachfront home and the church of the Doomsday Killer.
We talked with Romeo, took some pictures, spoke a bit with Mr. Dickerson (who was very nice to us), but mostly we remained silent. Our daughters, and the eldest’s boyfriend, had been instructed to speak only if spoken to, and to not embarrass our host in any way, or make him regret inviting us. Call it our “Code”.
So yes, Michael C. Hall and Jennifer Carpenter were just a few feet away, but we let them be.
Last Friday, August 17, 2012 (one year to the day from our prior visit), we found ourselves back on the set of Dexter for an episode from season 7. Things were about to be taken up a notch.
I love living in the Las Vegas area. Wouldn’t trade it for anything that didn’t involve a time machine. I may not LOVE when it’s 112 degrees, but it doesn’t really bother me, and I like it much more than rain, snow, humidity or dark clouds. This past week, we had the good fortune to visit family and friends in Florida, and then in New York – on Long Island, and back in our hometown of Brooklyn. I’m going to touch on our visit to that Borough of Churches – population 2.5 million – and break it up with the titles of some of the songs that enriched our visit (thanks mostly to Sirius XM’s “Rewind” “Vinyl” and “70s” stations).
The weather was great – much better than our prior stop in rainy, humid Florida. Loved seeing our family there, but every time we journey to the self-proclaimed “Sunshine State” we are drenched. The Brooklyn weather was perfect and we saw none of the event-ruining precipitation that played a large part in sending us out west.
“Walk Away” – James Gang (Heard while driving up Gerritsen Avenue).
I’ll admit it right now; I ate like a pig. There’s Brennan & Carr, L&B Spumoni Gardens, Drakes Cakes and Entenmann’s (which are like black market contraband in Las Vegas) – not to mention a trip out to East Islip to Yong Wang Kitchen, which has the best Chinese takeout I’ve ever had. The Chinese food here in Sin City leaves a lot to be desired – even in our Chinatown. So as a result of my adventure in gluttony, I expect to be living at Fitness 19 for some time now.
“Rosalita” – Bruce Springsteen (Heard on Belt Parkway toward Brooklyn)
Not 30 minutes after hearing that Springsteen classic, my buddy Chris informed me that he would be seeing the Boss live for the 4th time on this tour. I tried to hide my jealousy as I have STILL never seen Bruce in concert.
We went to Brennan & Carr twice. Sunday night just myself, my wife, and our two daughters. I ordered what I always order: Cheese Beefs, Cheese Fries and a Cheese Coke (okay, not that last one). Beefs double dipped. The following afternoon we had lunch there with about 15 of the greatest people I have ever known – our childhood friends. It was one of the happiest days I’ve had in years. Oh, and I steered away from my usual Cheese Beefs to try a Gargiulo Burger. It was fantastic. You may have seen it on “Man Vs. Food”.
“Livin’ Thing” – Electric Light Orchestra (Heard on Southern State Parkway)
The cool thing about hearing that song was that I was wearing my ELO shirt at the time. Las Vegas connection: Brandon Flowers of LV’s The Killers once said that “Livin’ Thing” was his favorite song ever.
Our daughters are always amazed at how my wife and I might see an old friend for the first time in 20 or even 30 years, and there is never any awkwardness. It all just picks up very naturally. Never fails. We tell the girls that is what true, lifelong friendship is all about. As they get older, they’re starting to understand.
“Hello Goodbye” – Beatles (Heard on Avenue U)
When that Fab 4 song was on I reminded the girls to listen to the clever backing vocals.
After our lunch we all headed over to spend some time at the childhood home of four of the nicest girls on the planet. As kids, we’d be there – at least on the front stoop – just about every day. This turned out to be the best part of the afternoon!
Then it was time to go out back and visit The Alley. Known to many adults back then as the Community Driveway, The Alley runs the length of the block between two streets and a pair of avenues. Though, as kids, we’d all go to the park or the beach, the movies, bowling etc, The Alley was basically home base. It was really our world. Wiffle Ball, softball, football, basketball, boxing, soccer, and even hockey were played in The Alley. Sometimes all in the same day. Then there were non-traditional “sports” such as Manhunt and Hide-The-Belt. Meals were eaten there on laps or album covers. Sometimes it was just nice to sit in The Alley sun and listen to music on someone’s boombox. Could be rock, soul, or disco – depending on who had control of the radio, but it was always a nice mix. It always involved laughter, and sometimes tears. Each day could bring maybe a surprise kiss, a brand new friend, or an unwanted nickname. I’ve seen windows, bones and hearts broken there. I’ve learned of births and deaths in The Alley. Mostly, I learned about friendship. I have a hard time making friends these days, because the bar has been set too high.
“Brown Eyed Girl” – Van Morrison (Heard on Knapp Street)
I’m not sure how The Alley wound up with most of the nicest and prettiest girls in New York, but I’m not complaining. Hey, I was lucky enough to marry one of them! You know how guys are always searching through so many girls who are kinda fun to be around but probably not marriage material? Somehow, every single girl from The Alley was, and is, a keeper.
Why do I consider Brooklyn and its nearly 3 million people to be a “small town”?
Let me put it this way – I recently wrote a novel (setting: Brooklyn) that will soon be released by a small, but excellent publishing company called Blood Bound Books. It’s not a blockbuster with a load of publicity by a major conglomerate, but I know it is heartfelt and suspenseful, and some highly respected professionals have told me that it ain’t chopped liver. Not one person in the communal development in which we live in Nevada knows I’ve written this thing. Most don’t know my name, or if I am a butcher, baker or candlestick maker. That’s just fine with me. But I went back to that small town of Brooklyn and my old pals, and their moms, acted as if I (Dan, Danny, DOC, O’Connor, even Johan or Kippy Pratt – don’t ask) was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The book isn’t out yet, none of them have read it, they don’t know if it stinks (I promise it doesn’t), but they don’t care. They feel that one of them has made good on a dream. That’s all that matters. A couple of the moms have been talking about my book in their church group! We have another friend who is truly a Hollywood big shot now and all we want to do is support him in all he does. He’s someone who came from humble beginnings and is living his dream. That makes us all happy. The best part – he’ s still the same guy. I want all of those friends to make good on their dreams, no matter what they are. My dreams? The real ones that I have when I’m sleeping? They are usually populated by the people we visited last Monday in Brooklyn.
As we were heading back to the rental car, after that wonderful visit, we saw an older man walking his dog. His name is Bill and I hadn’t seen him in many, many years.
“Is that you, Danny?” he asked with a smile, “I heard you’re an author now!”
“Small Town” – John Mellencamp (Heard while leaving Brooklyn).
Sons of the Pope will be released in December
The Binding will appear in the anthology Blood Rites in January
Four guys meet every Thursday night at a little bar just off a desert road.
They’ve been coming for four years, watching some football, playing a little darts.
This Thursday, the fate of the entire human race rests in their hands.
They also enjoy the jukebox.
THE BINDING will be released in January, 2013 as part of a horror anthology called BLOOD RITES. I hope you will look for it, and for my novel, SONS OF THE POPE, due this December!
In bookstores, at Amazon and B&N on 12/12/12. Also available for Kindle and Nook!
In Brooklyn, before the murders, before the miracle, before the 1940s were gone forever, there was a tree.
If they just let that tree be, then perhaps little Joey Salerno would not have been born like that.
Joey’s father, Sal – just home from World War II – would probably never have gotten involved with the New York underworld.
Mary Salerno wouldn’t have had to spend her entire life caring for an eternal child.
Joey’s brother Peter might have enjoyed a life unburdened by guilt – and he probably wouldn’t have had that gun shoved in his face when he was seventeen.
Many more people might still be breathing. Perhaps nobody would have fallen from that Times Square hotel window on New Year’s Eve.
If only they left that simple tree alone.
There would be no need for the wheelchairs, the walkers, or the hospitals.
No need to run numbers for the Brooklyn mob.
Some would be successful businessmen today, instead of just meals for the creatures of the brine.
That young woman would not have thrown herself from the Brooklyn Bridge during its centennial year.
If that sycamore was just permitted to stand, there would have been no reason, four decades later, for that desperate pilgrimage to Lourdes, France. No need for Pearl Gholston to venture across those tracks, or for anyone to call upon the one known only as The Diabolist.
You are cordially invited into the world of Salvatore Salerno. Experience the richness of a story that spans half a century. Love and hatred. Devotion and betrayal. Murder and miracles.
Sons of the Pope is a new novel, written from the heart. It has come from the heart of Brooklyn.