Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Man I Never Met

Long ago, in another career far from this one, I worked as a construction manager for shopping center developers. I met a lot of fascinating characters, many of whom have wormed their way into books that I’ve written. But one of the most interesting was a guy I never actually met.
The Pier Pavilion

During the mid-eighties, I was working on the development of the Pier 17 Pavilion at South Street Seaport in New York. I kept hearing about a guy who’d worked there, but who had died shortly before I started.  He was a great construction guy, always on top of everything going on, but also a wild man, popping pills and snorting cocaine, working crazy hours. He was only in his mid-thirties when it caught up to him, and he had a heart attack.

The story that resonated most with me was told by one of the leasing reps. She’d had a party at her apartment, and this guy had taken off his shoes and done vertical push-ups against her living room wall. Long after he died, the smudge marks from his socks remained high up on the wall.

This guy, whose name I’ve long since forgotten, became the inspiration for Junior, the project manager in my MFA thesis, Invasion of the Blatnicks. He’s introduced to our hero, Steve, by the secretary.

“You can’t miss Junior,” she said. “He’s about six feet six and he’s wearing a tie that looks like it ought to have an extension cord.”
“I think I can find him,” Steve said.
Junior is going to make a construction manager out of Steve, and often shows him things around the site:
On Friday, Junior and Steve were out on their morning walk-through when Junior stopped to let a concrete truck rumble past, its mixer rotating slowly. When it stopped, Junior walked up and plunged his arm into the lumpy gray mix. He brought his hand up, rubbing his fingers together. “This shit won’t pass the slump test,” he said. “Look how thin it is.”
He held his hand out to Steve. “Good concrete holds together more than this shit. You’ve got to get a feel for it. Here, stick your hand in.”
Steve hesitated. 
“Go ahead, there’s no alligators in there.”

Junior was just a minor character in Invasion, one of the crazy people circling around Steve, who was the calm, if sometimes clueless, center of the storm. But Junior kept floating around in the back of my brain, wanting a story of his own, and what resulted was “Rhiannon,” e-published by Untreed Reads.
The story is set in North Bay Village, on an island in the middle of a causeway linking Miami to Miami Beach. It’s not a place that gets much play in South Florida fiction, and I thought there was a nice metaphor there about where Junior is in his life – stuck in the middle.

When I met Rhiannon I was going through a bad time.  I had been working as the project manager for an office building in West Miami, but the funding was all coming from some South American country, and when they had one of their frequent revolutions the supply dried up quicker than a splash of sweat on hot pavement, and I was out of a job.

Rhiannon has a secret, though, and when it’s revealed Junior is going to be challenged. But he’s a wild man, and I knew he was up for whatever came his way.


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