Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Home Again...Home Again...


How cool is Clint?


Okay, I've been home a few days and nights now and even though I spent nearly a full month in South East Asia, it's strange how it feels like I never left all. Maybe because I rarely break stride in my writing routine. Doesn't matter if I'm staying in a tin hut on a rice paddy, or my place in Florence, the Marriott in New Jersey, or my home studio in Albany, I try never to break the word count routine.

I'm just about to put the finishing touches on the first draft of The Caretakers Wife which is the book I've been touting as The Postman Always Rings Twice meets High Plains Drifter. I recently read the former and watched the latter in order to do homage to both stories, but only on a very surface level. The plot and story is naturally all my own. I'll finish the first draft then set it aside for a few weeks in anticipation of rewrite. I'm usually a three draft dude.

Keeping with my promise to publish something independently every month this year, the first episode in The Handyman erotic noir series will be published in a week or so in Kindle and KU. As soon as all three new episodes are published I'll bundle it and have the audio produced along with a paperback.

Missing the jungle
 
I'm also working on a third Sam Savage Sky Marshal pulp episode. This one is called Tunnel Rats and relies on some of my experiences in Vietnam, especially Chu Chi where all the Viet Cong tunnels are. What pulp author can resist that kind of action?

If you missed it, here's the replay of my radio interview with Susan Wingate that aired yesterday. If you wanna catch up on your Handyman episodes you can buy the full steamy bundle of season one, right HERE.


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Monday, July 2, 2018

My life: one of the lucky ones...


A day at the office...



Yesterday I found myself crawling through an underground tunnel dug out of the sandy clay soil beside the Saigon River in a jungle that was once devastated by US B-52 bombers during the Vietnam War (run-on sentence). It was a surreal moment, not to mention claustrophobic and a little bit frightening (two months ago a westerner took a wrong turn in one of those tunnels and got lost for six hours...I wold have crapped myself). But the experience which culminated with my birthday made me think just how lucky an SOB I really am.

Back when I first graduated college, it was expected of me to enter into a family business that I knew in my gut wasn't for me. This isn't me knocking it. Most people would have jumped at the chance to run a big company and to enjoy all the perks that went with it, like a new car every year, a big house in the suburbs, the nice clothes, the wife's tittie job and tummy tuck, the big TVs, the pool, the backyard cookouts, the vacations in the Bahamas, the trips to Florida...The malls!!!

I saw it as a trap and a slow death. But hey, I've had those things a couple of times in my life and during each instance, I either gave it up or somehow blew it. Correction...I didn't blow it so much as it was like fitting a square peg into the round hole (cliche).




So now I live a simple but somehow (it's) complicated life of writing, playing, traveling, and challenging my body and mind and improving myself even with the creeping up of age and all the little 50K mile check-up stuff that goes along with it (run-on sentence). The parts break down but the spirit is never weak (other than a morning after too much Jamie). You get to be a certain age and the stuff that used to disappoint, sadden, cause anxiety, or just plain piss you off, now just reduces you to shaking your head slowly and whispering, "Whatever..."

Some people will never find happiness before they breathe their last (if they didn't live life to the fullest, it's on them). But although my life is far from perfect, I know that I am one of the lucky ones, precisely because I chose the very path that everyone said I would fail at miserably. And I have, at times, failed miserably, but I've also won a few rounds, thank you very much. Won big. It's just a matter of jabbing. It's inevitable you'll land a few big punches. 



So, it's my birthday (again), and after two weeks in South East Asia, I'm tired, I stink, I have to be up at 4:30 am to hop a puddle jump flight to another town in Central Vietnam (maybe the airport will have a Starbucks). I'm working on a couple of new books while I'm here and researching for another. Freespiritedness....it's always scared the hell out of my buddy's wives, which is why I don't enjoy quite the crew I once did. The husbands do what's expected of them or else face the wrath. But my way is exactly how I've always wanted to live my life and it shall remain as such until the end.

IE...Had I done what was expected of me, I would have spent my birthday inside an office, passing around pieces of stale cake to employees who could care less (check out Office Space). I would have been miserable, wondering why I allowed my life to slip away. Instead, I spent the Bday on a jungle island in the middle of the Mekong Delta. My guides surprised me with a cake which we devoured after eating a whole fish, head and all, washed down with Saigon beer. Could life get any better?

It's been a rough, but wonderful year. Unexpected blows to the gut which weren't deserved but, well, whatever... (and what goes around...again, cliche). I'm truly looking forward to a new year and all the adventures and sweet exhaustion it will bring. Listen, the grass is never greener on the other side of the street (verging on cliche, but I'm making a point here). It's only grass. I've got my work, my health, my kids, and the rest of my life. It's for me and me alone to script. And hey, all my old pals and girlfriends, you're always welcome to come along on the adventure. Or not...

Life...

I guess you could say, I'm one of the lucky ones.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Live Bombs in Cambodia



I'm not one to beg forgiveness for some long dead war or wax apologetically about American sins of the past for two reasons. First, they weren't my idea, and second, there's two or three competing sides to every story. But since I'm in Cambodia at present, I thought I'd offer up a very brief essay, or update if you will, on why the bombing of Cambodia along with the laying of tens of thousands of landmines, all of which occurred between 1964 and 1975, is still plaguing the small country today.

Back during the American/Vietnam War, Cambodia (along with Laos) was officially a neutral country. However, the Viet Cong, or Communist Vietnamese Guerrillas from the north who were essentially invading the non-Communist south, were slipping over the borders to shield themselves from any American and/or South Vietnamese attacks (it's a military practice that's as old as war itself). At the same time, the Viet Cong utilized the Ho Chi Minh Trail that stretched the vertical length of South East Asia as a crucial supply and resupply route. Part of that route ran through Cambodia. Since we couldn't exactly invade the neutral nation with ground troops, we decided to bomb them from the air instead, the method behind the madness being that we would draw the Viet Cong out of Cambodia and back into Vietnam (it didn't work...and yes, believe it or not, we thought we were doing Cambodia a favor...).

Whether or not the act was legal is still being disputed today, but what isn't at dispute are the thousands of unexploded bombs and mines that still litter the jungles, fields, and rice patties of Cambodia. While I wasn't able to grab a photo of them, I witnessed a band of victims of the unexploded ordinance in the jungle. One of them was missing two limbs. Another was blind, and yet another had lost his legs. They were playing simple songs on simple instruments in exchange for pennies. How else are they going to eat?  But what really shocked me was that they were much younger than me.

 Will Cambodia and other war torn countries ever be landmine free?

They tell you that war is hell, but what they don't tell you is that it can last a long, long time. Just because the B-52s are no longer flying over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the landmines are no longer being planted by the Viet Cong or anyone else, doesn't mean the explosives still aren't doing the destructive job they were designed for.

Donate to this place to help dismantle as many landmines and unexploded ordinance as possible the world over:
The Halo Trust      

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

My first real Bangkok massage


That's not me, but you get the idea...


I'm not sure what Bangkok has more of...bars or massage parlors. Perhaps it's no coincidence that both establishments are located directly next door to one another. You know, I scratch your back (or rub it anyway), and you scratch mine. That said, so what did the intrepid traveler do last night after downing a couple Singha beers in a nearby open air tavern? He did something he swore he would never do in his life. He got a massage.

Okay, so here's the deal: You approach several nice young Thai women who are hanging outside their two-story establishment. They're all attractive and laughing the hot humid night away. They dress not in uniforms, but they do wear matching blue polo shirts. I say, "I'd like a massage." One woman whom I'm guessing is next in line for massage duty, stands. "Right this way, sir." We head inside and she tells me to take my shoes off. Or jungle boots in this case. I dutifully obey. She then tells me to follow her upstairs.

So like I said, I've had a few beers but the buzz is quickly worn off as I'm led up a narrow staircase to a windowless room that contains maybe eight bare mattresses all laid out side by side on the floor. The only thing resembling AC are the numerous ceiling fans. The small thirty-something woman smiles and tells me to take my clothes off. "You mean, like everything?" I ask. She hands me a green smock that reminds me of the thing my doctor makes me wear when she performs my annual physical. "Put this on," she says, before heading out of the room for a minute. I undress and slip into the nothing piece of clothing.

When she comes back in she asks me to lie down on my chest. From there she straddles my back and what begins is not the gentle massage my girlfriends used to give me, but instead the torture. She doesn't gently rub my muscles with her with fingertips. Good God, she doesn't even use her fingers. She uses her elbows and fists to jam, twist, mash, maul, punch, slap, karate chop, dig, bend, and eventually, destroy the knotty tissue. How the hell can this little snowflake of a lady be so freaking strong?

I find myself making grunting noises and little pain-filled gasps that cause her to laugh. At one point, as my eyes tear up, I consider giving her a time out-T (I mean, shouldn't we have established a safety word first?), but my arms are locked in place by her knees. I can't move if I want to. Being a writer and a fiction writer at that, I picture two burly Taiwanese bandits entering into the room, stealing my wallet, my passport, my cash and even my clothing. I picture myself having to walk out into the Bangkok night in nothing but that flimsy blue smock, the entire Asian world laughing at my sorry ass.



At one point she makes me turn around and place my head in her...well mid-section. While she proceeds to massage my scalp, mother nature begins getting the wrong signals and the flag begins flying at full mast (nudge, nudge, say no more). Talk about wanting to disappear. For a second I think about making a joke, but then it dawns on me that for her, the sudden rise of Magic Johnson is probably an everyday/nightly occurrence. Oh, BTW, if you wish for a happy ending, you must head to the red light district further in the center of the city. 

In the final analysis my first massage was an exhilarating experience, even if it did leave me feeling like Gumby. The nice woman gave me the full body massage that was promised on the billboard attached to the building's exterior. Not that I cooperated during the procedure. "You lift too many weight," she said. "You too tight. You no relax." I guess I was a crappy client. But what the hell, the price was right. Three hundred baht or about ten bucks US. I gave her an extra one hundred for her trouble.

As I'm putting on my boots back on outside on the front steps, I take a minute to converse with the girls. I ask them if they've ever been to New York. "You could do well there," I say. But they just laugh among themselves. "Too much work here," one of them says along with a cute giggle. "Why we ever go to New York?"

I guess she's right, too much business right here in Bangkok, servicing jerks like me. I bid them goodnight, and make my way back to the bar.

WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM


   


 

Monday, June 18, 2018

So.East Asia first leg and a note on sensititvity censors/editors

Kong Kong Int Airpor, early morning.



Traveling again. After a year of turmoil, not all of my making (for a change), I’m headed on an extraordinary adventure, even by my standards (not a brag). I’m headed to Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam with my old pals from Intrepid. This isn’t your garden variety expedition. I’ll be backpacking it, with the only mod cons my laptop and smartphone. I’ll be staying with a family in the Cambodian jungle, traveling upriver on Halong Bay, traveling by overnight train, plane, motorbike, and who knows the what the hell else. I expect the food and drink to be spectacular, the people truly amazing , and the memories, unreal. I’m old enough to recall the Vietnam war and I worked side by side Vietnam vets in my early construction days. So it's a special trip. I'll also be collecting research material for a new Chase Baker novel. I’m writing this now at 1AM in the airport and looking forward to passing out on the plane which is a good thing since the first leg is 15 hours to Hong Kong. 
Postscript: I've just landed in Kong Kong after the 15 hours flight. Three of the bathrooms were out of order, making it an especially grueling journey. 
 
LIT WARNING: word up on the street is that publishers are now hiring sensitivity editors. God help us if books are about to be judged based on their political correctness. This is dangerous territory folks. Sensitivity editors are just a kinder, fuzzier way of describing censors. These people want to crush voices, not encourage creativity. Are we heading toward a Stalinesque future for the written word? Be careful how left you're willing to go. The void of freedom will be replaced at tyranny. 

These are dangerous times for free thought, free speech (which is now officially being discouraged on college campuses), and free creative expression. If an editor chooses not to publish a novel of mine because it’s not sensitive to their particular political views, I should only be too happy for the privilege.


Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The reason why Anthony Bourdain killed himself




Anthony Bourdain killed himself last week after hanging himself from a shower head inside his hotel in France. A lot of speculation as to why a man who had the world by the horns both professionally and financially would do such a thing. Take into account his eleven year old daughter, and the whole world is shaking its collective heads in sadness and perhaps even a little pissedoffness. "Why?" we keep asking ourselves.

In my opinion, Bourdain considered himself a fraud. There's little doubt that he could be a nasty dude towards others, and I spoke about that in a previous essay. Let's face it, all too often that kind of attitude is a defense mechanism. Sort of like the school yard bully who picks on the defenseless kids because secretly he likes dudes. Or something like that. But Bourdain was also a well loved man and I've never heard of anyone referring to him as a bully. He was at best outspoken and at worst, well, let's call it insensitive.

Like I also mentioned previously, I originally knew Bourdain as a writer. Not as a cook. But when his memoir Kitchen Confidential went ballistic on the charts, he became a household name. I think for him, the purpose of the book was never meant to secure his legacy as a master chef. It was instead to prove that he was at his core, a great writer. And like all great writers, he wrote what he knew about. In this case it was food and being a cook. Had he been a lawyer, he would have centered his writings, both fictional and nonfiction, around that.

As time went on, Bourdain would become a TV personality, something I believe he on one hand, hated, but on the other, took great pride in. Unlike the vast majority of TV people, he wrote all his own material for his shows, and he was always working on a book or some sort of literary project behind the scenes. He even started a comic.

As time went on however, the writing side of Bourdain faded and he became the traveling guy you see on the Food Channel or the Travel Channel and finally, CNN.
 The cook talks writing advice...


Could it be that he accepted the TV gigs originally because he couldn't pass up the cash? Could it be he assumed the TV would act as publicity for his writing and not the other way around? Or could it be that he didn't know nearly as much about being a chef as the world thought he did? Maybe after a time, the TV personality beast became so large, he had no choice but to come off as something he wasn't. The traveling, adventuring master chef. The adventuring part is true, but maybe, deep down inside he considered himself a phony and he hated himself for it. Maybe, in the end, he would have been perfectly happy writing his books and articles, traveling the globe, and making just a fraction of the money. He would have been true to himself and perhaps lived a long life, free of the inner turmoil.

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Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, No Bullshit, No Regrets

Anthony Bourdain 1956-2018

"Bullshit!" Such was the first word rendered on the first episode of Anthony Bourdain's 2005 culinary adventure cable TV program, No Reservations. Of course, I was head over heels for the show from that moment on. I'd known the former Les Halle top chef peripherally in crime lit circles in the mid-1990s since he used to write mysteries and was even published at the same imprint as I am in Japan. I never gave much thought to his day job as a cook, until his hugely successful 1999 memoir burst onto the scene, Kitchen Confidential, and entire generations of foodies stopped eating fish on Mondays.




Mine and my then wife's favorite NYC restaurant became Les Halles on the corner of 28th and Park, back when it was still a small bistro where you could get sweet breads, steak frit, and eat at its small bar. The restaurant was expanded later on but it was never the same and more recently it has closed forever. That's sad enough, but to lose it's chef forever...now that's disconcerting. But Bourdain would break the bonds of NYC to become something of a phenom. A culinary adventurer who, and I quote, "... will risk everything...I've got nothing to lose." That risk earned him millions of dollars and world adoration.

After all, back in the early 90's he was a heroin addict reduced to selling used CDs on the side of the road for food money. He had a love affair with alcohol which lasted up until the end. His favorite music was punk rock...New York bands like The Ramones, Patti Smith, Richard Hell and ummm, Suicide. He cut the sleeves off his black CBGBs t-shirt and of course, he loved his Marlboro cigs so much that a chef bud of his invented a custard dish that featured the vague flavor of a Marlboro Red cigarette. Yup, you can't make this shit up.

When he began his first low budget show, A Cooks Tour, back in the early 2000s his heart was breaking while his long time partner and wife Nancy Putkowski and he were breaking up. Some of the early episodes demonstrates his desperation (he jumps off a cliff into the sea at one point). But he had a searing wit, wasn't afraid to call out his fellow culinary pros on being suckups or just plain sucking (he was particularly tough on Emerald and Rachael Rey). After all, Tony was authentic. He was the real deal. He hated the commercialization of anything, especially when it came to food and words.

He inspired me as a writer, so much so that back in the early 2000s I wrote a non-fiction proposal for a book called Construction Confidential, an insiders look at the building business (He, no doubt, would have laughed at it). It was rep'd by the William Morris Agency but went no where (Thank God!). Food is way more romantic and emotional. But when I started traveling not occasionally, but often enough to lose yet another wife, Tony Bourdain was never far from my thoughts. I never travel without looking at his essays and videos first. Just last night I was YouTubing his many visits to Cambodia and his favorite place on God's earth, Vietnam. Little did I know he was in the process of killing himself. I'll be in So East Asia a week from Monday on a research trip. No doubt, I'll dedicate a few drinks to Tony. I wouldn't be surprised to find his ghost bellied up to a bar right beside me.

Whenever a literary hero of mine dies by suicide it shakes me to my core. Brautigan and Hunter Thompson come to mind. The late, Jim Harrison, another lit hero of mine who also considered suicide at one time, said that when he saw his daughter's red bathrobe hanging on the door knob, he knew that he couldn't go through with it. Tony Bourdain leaves behind a little girl from his failed second marriage and that's the saddest thing of all. Jim Harrison also added that the next meal is also worth waiting for. Too bad Tony Bourdain didn't wait for one more great meal. And one more after that, and one more after that. Eventually, he might have changed his mind.

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