The Fussy Librarian

My novel, “Running with the Enemy”, is being featured Sunday, November 10, at The Fussy Librarian, a new website that offers personalized e-book recommendations. Readers choose from 32 genres and indicate preferences about content and then the computers work their magic. It’s pretty cool — check it out! @ www.TheFussyLibrarian.com

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Literary Awards for this novel:

Runner Up in General Fiction
2013 Beach Book Festival

Honorable Mentions in General Fiction
2013 San Francisco Book Festival
2013 Hollywood Book Festival
2013 New York Book Festival

Praise for “Running with the Enemy”

“Obviously drawn from the author’s first-hand experiences as a Marine serving in Vietnam,Running with the Enemy is a rough but occasionally heartfelt war story. … The book is sometimes too obviously drawn from his experience. But ultimately that’s a small complaint about a book that, on the whole, is quite good and has a lot to say about the nature of the conflict …”
– 21st Annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards commentary from an anonymous judge

“The author definitely has inlcuded vivid, entrancing descriptions of the country, the people and the military who served there. … It is an action-filled, intriguing story I will not forget soon.”
– 5-star review from KMT through a Library Thing Giveaway

“From the first chapter to the end, it kept me going. Lofthouse writes from his heart and that always makes for a good story.”
– 4-star review from Mahree through a Library Thing Giveaway

“For those who would like to get a sense of what combat was really like, this is an excellent book, which began as a memoir of Vietnam.”
–  4-star review from Harvee L.   [an Amazon Vine Voice]

“The fight/combat scenes are stunning, very realistic. … Betrayal, revenge, murder, and desperation make this a must read! … Very highly recommended.”
– 5-star review from Great Historicals

“This was quite a riveting but cruel story, not for the faint of heart. Well written with very graphic language and violent scenes but all-over, a very good suspense book.”
– 4.5-star review from Lynelle of (South Africa)

Q & A with Gail Lindenberg, the author of “He Wrote Her Every Day”

1. Q:  What made you decide to write a war novel?

A:  It certainly wasn’t my original plan.  When I retired from teaching, I had no intention of writing anything.  But when my mother handed me those letters, the book took shape quickly.  I still feel as though my father is the real author of the book. It’s as though he stood over my shoulder the entire time.

2. Q:  Is this a novel?  You never refer to it as such.

A:  I call it a “book” because it defies easy categorization.  The genre would have to be “historical novel,” and yet that doesn’t quite work for me either.  Dad’s letters are primary witness accounts of events as they happened.  My mother’s interviews are her own memories, filtered by time and my reporting of what she said.  The back-story of the war experiences is my fictional version of what I read in the letters and remember from my father’s stories. 

3. Q:  Did you have any other books to serve as a model for your writing?

A:  Yes, but they were not war novels. I have never been interested in reading books about war time and my lack of depth in this area was a major weakness when I began.  Margaret Atwood wrote a book called ALIAS GRACE.  It is historical fiction and tells the story of a woman by using articles and public records about her.  Her book made me realize that this book of Dad’s would actually work as a genre of literature. I was encouraged by her pattern of including original documents, her own research, and a back-story that, while it might not have happened, was entirely plausible.  Just because it didn’t happen exactly as written does not mean that it isn’t true.


Staff Sergeant James William Hendrickson, Jr. 1945
Staff Sergeant James William Hendrickson, Jr. 1945

4. Q:  How long did it take you to complete the book?

A:  I started scanning the letters at Christmas time in 2010.  I read the letters as I scanned, and the idea for the story took root over the next few months..  I began the actual writing four months later.  My goal was to complete the book in time for my Mother’s ninetieth birthday on December 8, 2012.  Then I received a diagnosis of cancer.  Surgery, chemo, and radiation treatment began in August of 2012.  I printed a “rough draft” which was a hard-cover family version.  Only twenty copies came off the press.  Once I had recovered my faculties, such as they are, post chemo, I edited the book with the help of my Writer’s Workshop group.  The book has been up on Amazon as a Trade Paperback and e-version since September of 2013.

5. Q:  Your mother is a character in the book. What was your mother’s reaction to the story?

A:  She says she feels like quite the celebrity.  The book has received a very positive response, and she has heard from people from her home town as well as relatives and friends.  She did say that she thought I was too hard on Grandma Hendrickson.  And every time she reads a section through again, we have a conversation about that during our phone time. I still phone her every Saturday morning.  She always tells me that my father would be very proud to read it…and we both laugh.  We can see him shaking his head to think that his letters would be available to the world to read.

6. Q:  How do you think your father would react to the book?

A:  I can only hope that he would feel like it was a true depiction of who he was and who the men were who fought alongside him.  Dad’s life was one of sacrifice for others.  I think this is true of most men who serve their country, but especially so for the boys who fought in World War II out of conviction for a cause and a sense of duty.  Dad wanted to bring his brother back from PW camp.  He wanted to right a wrong.  He lived his life by those convictions.

7. Q:  Would you characterize this book as a romance more than a war novel?

A:  I never saw it as a romance.  These were just my parents.  It was only after reading it aloud, six pages at a time, to my editing group that I had any sense at all that it would be perceived as such.  One woman said, “Gail, I have fallen in love with your father.” 

I do think that the history piece and the war story he tells might fall into the category of edging on being anti-war.  But I have a strong notion that most men who go to war would like to be certain that their children will not have to.  Dad’s idea was that this would be the war to end all wars. 

The answer to your question should probably be that the book will be seen by the reader as they wish to view it.  There are two history teachers I know of who are using the web site for the book with lesson plans to provide a research source for studies of WWII.  And there are women who read it just to enjoy the story line provided by the strong relationship my parents were able to forge in war time.

Camp Roberts and Burbank visits 'Jim's in there somewhere'

Camp Roberts, Burbank, California

8. Q:  The link to your web site is included as a section in the book.  Why is that?

A:  When I wrote the first version, I scanned all the letters, pictures, etc. and copied them to a thumb drive for my family.  As I was editing the final book, I realized that the graphics would make the book far too expensive for printing.  Also, folks who read it before publication were, for the most part, interested in the letters.  So I decided to set up a web site where people could go and find every letter, document, and photograph Mom saved from those two years of war time.  HeWroteHerEveryDay.com is up and running for those who are interested.

9. Q:  What kind of response have you gotten from people who have read your book?  You mention that the response has been largely positive.  Any negatives?

A:  Yes, the response has been warm and generous.  But then, the people who know me would probably not tell me if they didn’t like it. 

Many people who read the advance manuscript wanted to know more about Dad after he got home.  So the published version has a brief epilogue that outlines Dad’s life post war. 

I did have one relative who wasn’t happy about a small anecdote in the book about someone on my mother’s side of the family.  That surprised me, because the story is primarily about my father and the Arizona Hendricksons.  But that was the only sour note in the symphony…at least so far.

10. Q:  Will there be a sequel? 

A:  I honestly don’t think so.  This book was unique in that it was driven by real events that were already written about by the subject of the book, my father.  I am too close to the years following Dad’s war service. That was my childhood and I was his first baby since the twins were 5 months old by the time he got home. I would not know where to begin. 

And, after all, the whole point of the book is that my father was just an ordinary man who lived through extraordinary times.  He was sent to war. They didn’t just hold the Germans off; they turned the tide of the war.   Dad wasn’t expected to survive, but he—and so many thousands of others—did survive.  And they came home to America and lived ordinary lives.  While that story might not make a good sequel to this book, it certainly made a good life for me and those of my generation.  It’s a legacy that I hope we will be able to pass along to our children.

Return to or Start with He Wrote Her Everyday, a review by World War II Vet and author Allan Wilford Howerton

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Lloyd Lofthouse, this blog’s host, is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

“He Wrote Her Every Day” reviewed by World War II Vet and author Allan Wilford Howerton

As a WW II combat veteran of the 84th Infantry Division (Railsplitters), serving in the same unit as the subject of this book, I [Allan Wilford Howerton] was honored to be asked to read and react to the manuscript of He Wrote Her Everyday prior to its publication.


Note from Blog host: the 84th Infantry Division landed on Omaha Beach, November 1 – 4, 1944, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 – January 1945.

Ms Lindenberg, in getting the story together, has made a grand contribution to the literature of World War II. In addition to a war story, it is a wonderful book about love, longing, and faithfulness under unimaginable hardship and uncertainty.

Anyone with an interest in World War II will like He Wrote Her Everyday. It tells, among many other things, a true story about the plight of replacements rushed to the front lines to augment units suffering heavy casualties in the Siegfried Line and the Battle of the Bulge.

I was there, an infantryman in the same division, but thankfully not a replacement. They were assigned, often in the middle of a battle, knowing no one and without buddies to rely on. Many became casualties but those who survived adjusted pretty rapidly and went on, like the subject of this book, to make major contributions during the drive across Nazi Germany to end the war.

Writing about war experience is difficult for those who experienced it first-hand.  It is nearly impossible for someone who wasn’t there to give a believable picture of how things really were.   Use of the letters written during the war gives this book a strong sense of the soldier’s walk through the snow.

Cover for He Wrote Her Everday by Gail Lindenberg

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Allan Wilford Howerton, World War II veteran and the author of Dear Captain…

Continued on October 22, 2013 in a Question and Answer about the writing of “He Wrote Her Every Day” with author Gail Lindenberg

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Lloyd Lofthouse, this blog’s host, is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

Good News Twice in One Day

Early this morning—before I went out to work on the patio-fence with more than one gate project that I’m building from scratch—I checked my e-mail and discovered that my suspense-thriller, Running with the Enemy, had been awarded an Honorable Mention in General Fiction at the 2103 New York Book Festival.

A good way to start the day.

Fast forward several hours—I finished working on the project about 3:00 pm, took a shower, and then logged-on to check my e-mail only to discover that Running with the Enemy had been named Runner Up (2nd Place) in General Fiction at the 2013 Beach Book Festival.

A good way to end the day.

In twelve days on June 22, the 2013 New York Book Festival will be held at the Radisson Martinique on Broadway in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan—just steps from the Empire State Building.

When Running with the Enemy picked up its first honorable mention at the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival, I attended the free seminars and the private award ceremony, but I’m not planning on buying a ticket to fly to New York at this late date. With the lowest nightly rate for the Radisson at $385.00 and flights to New York from San Francisco costing $583 – $2,072 (depending on the airline you book a flight with), I’m staying home. The grand prize winner wins $1,500, but an honorable mention and a runner-up do not come with a cash prize.

However, if you live near New York and you are a writer, poet, author and/or an avid reader, you may want to take advantage of the free seminars. The San Francisco event was well worth my time, and I’m planning on going next year. The price of a BART ticket to ride into San Francisco from where we live is about $10 round trip.

NEW YORK BOOK FESTIVAL DAY SCHEDULE
– this event is free –

  • 11 a.m.-12:15 p.m. The Art of Marketing and Promotion – An examination of what it takes to get your book noticed in a crowded marketplace. 
  • 1:00 p.m.-2:10 p.m. Writing About Your Life – “Write what you know” is one of the most debated axioms of an author’s life. A panel that drew on their experiences and career paths discusses what it takes to put it all down in book form.
  • 2:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Children’s Books in a Modern Age – Authors/publishers of award-winning books from the San Francisco Book Festival talk about their books and the market.
    Panelists: 
  • 3:40 p.m.-4:00 p.m. Dr. Neal Hall – the poetry winner of the San Francisco/New York/New England/Paris and Los Angeles festivals reads from his work and answers questions.
  • 4:10 p.m.-4:45 p.m. The Future of Books – The rise of eBooks, the shrinking retail scene, the consolidation of big publishing and the explosion of the online world. A discussion on where everything appears to be heading and how you can leverage these developments.
  • 4:45 to 5 p.m. A Conversation with the New York Book Festival grand prize winner

The grand-prize winner of the 2013 New York Book Festival was Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora by Emily Raboteau (Atlantic Monthly Press). The Rainbow Troops by Andrea Hirata was the winner of the general-fiction category and it was first published in Indonesia in 2005 selling more than five-million copies. The English translation of Hirata’s novel was published by Sarah Crichton Books (February 5, 2013)

The grand-prize winner of the 2013 Beach Book Festival was Inside Linda Lovelace’s Deep Throat by Darin Porter published by Blood Moon Productions, March 12, 2013. The winner of the general-fiction category was Rosi’s Time by Edward Eaton, published by Dragonfly Publishing.

The private-award ceremony will be held June 21 at the Grolier Club in Manhattan.

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Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran.

His latest novel is the award winning suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW!”

2013 San Francisco Book Festival Award Winners

Running with the Enemy by Lloyd Lofthouse was awarded an honorable mention in general fiction at the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival.

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The winner of the general fiction category went to John Irving’s In One Person published by Simon & Schuster, and the grand prize was awarded to The Power of Starting Something Stupid: How to Crush Fear, Make Dreams Happen & Live Without Regret by Richie Norton with Natalie Norton — Shadow Mountain Publishing.

John Irving won the National Book Award in 1980 for The World According to Garp, and he received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for the short story “Interior Space. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules.

Richard Norton, the grand prize winner of the 2013 San Francisco Book Festival, is the CEO of Global Consulting Circle. He is a sought after speaker and consultant for the corporate growth and personal development industries. Norton has shared the stage with bestselling authors such as Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and Kevin Rollins, former CEO of Dell Computers.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the author of the award winning My Splendid Concubine and Running with the Enemy. His short story, A Night at the ‘Well of Purity’ was named a finalist in the 2007 Chicago Literary Awards. Anchee Min, Lloyd’s wife, is the author of Red Azalea, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year—in addition to national bestsellers Becoming Madame Mao and Empress Orchid, which was a finalist for the British Book Awards. Min’s memoir, the sequel to Red AzaleaThe Cooked Seed—will be released May 7, 2013.

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Lloyd Lofthouse, a former U.S. Marine and Vietnam Veteran,
is the award winning author of
My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition].

His latest novel is Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he did not commit while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

And the woman he loves and wants to save was fighting for the other side.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper left-hand column and click on “FOLLOW

Unwanted Heroes – Part 4/4

 3:  The Daily Grind

AHHHH!

The scream is loud and piercing.

I am in the storeroom in the back and immediately run to the front of the coffee shop, where San Francisco Financial District’s finest are packed around tables steamy cups in hand. Passing the big freezer, I rip open the door and grab a blue ice block fearing burning coffee is hideously scarring someone’s unblemished skin. With great concern for my customers and an inevitable impending lawsuit, I think, Not on my bloody shift!

“Fuck man! You’ve spilled your coffee on my papers. You clumsy asshole! I’ve gotta submit this today. My professor will kill me!”

Oh no. A law student!

“I’m so sorry. I tripped on the strap of her Timbuk2 bag,” the middle-aged businessman replies, pointing to the adjacent table. “At least it missed your laptop.”

Oh no, an optimist!

“If you’d spilled it on my laptop, I’d have sued your ass.”

Assault with a deadly drink … graduating this fall; no doubt plotting to make partner next year!

“Well, I’m glad it missed … oh, wow, is that the new MacBook?”

This man clearly has attention issues.

“Yes, a spanking new one! Look, I’ve gotta finish these corrections.” She picks up the soggy pages. “Just move on.”

But the guy just can’t. Then his tone shifts. “Why did you print it out if you’re still editing? A waste of trees, don’t you think?”

“It’s easier to spot…” She glares, ready to pronounce the death penalty. “What the fuck do you care? I’m trying to…”

This is my cue. I am the barista: a master of the mocha, a connoisseur of the cappuccino. Well, that’s my pick-up line. With careful delivery, I believe it sounds sexy, like a hairstylist, a DJ or an open-heart surgeon. I know from experience—I brew coffee at the corner coffee shop on Mission Street isn’t likely to elicit the coveted phone number.

But for now, I play mediator. The law student accepts wet napkins to clean up the mess and the sympathy of Tabitha. I escort the man to a vacant table on the other side of the coffee shop as far as possible from the threat of litigation. Both receive complimentary drinks, and soon the buzz of many conversations restores normalcy.

The law student stops me when I pass her table. “You’re alright for a Brit, Scarecrow.”

Scarecrow is a nickname that seems to follow me. I am reasonably tall, five-nine I think, thin, and with hair that refuses to be subdued by even a highly disciplining gel. About five minutes after grooming, I am left with, on a good day, the controlled scarecrow effect. I automatically move my hand to flatten the offending spikes and she laughs.

“You look fine.” She giggles.

“And you’re alright too.” I mumble, flattered to get her attention. “At least for a law student.”

Our café borders the financial district and the Embarcadero as well as some law and business schools. This prime location attracts refugees from the intensely caffeinated work culture by day and draws an eclectic crowd in the early evening when The Daily Grind transforms into an intimate wine bar. We also serve tourists who have lost their way to the nearby Ferry Building and the attractions of the Embarcadero.

Like all coffee shops, our weekday has its ebbs and flows. The morning is a madhouse as no self-respecting San Franciscan can possibly begin the day without their caffeine fix. By seven in the morning the line snakes outside our shop. With regulars, I try to remember their usual orders; a good memory ensures that loose change finds its way into the tip jar. If I can’t recall what they drink, I make an educated guess and am rarely far off. Even then, I apologize and explain how I evidently confused them with an actor, singer, sportsman or politician. Compliments generate tips just as effectively as a good memory.

As the day wears on and eventually draws to a close, we place aromatic candles on the tables; vigorously air out the place to lessen the robust coffee aroma and turn on carefully placed spotlights to highlight the heavy, oak wine racks lining the walls. Polished wineglasses take prominence over coffee mugs while jazz plays softly in the background.

The crowd changes, at least in its intent. Tired businessmen and women seek a ritual to cleanse themselves of the workday stress. Couples huddle in the corners wondering over a deep-red Merlot if the person facing them might just be the one. Life is a Cabernet, my friend, and a soul mate is waiting to be found.

It’s a job, a good one, and it pays for my other life. You see, I’m not only a barista. I’m a writer. A well-worn book about famous writers who spent time in San Francisco sits by my bed. I’ve walked in their footsteps, frequented their coffeehouses and wine bars, and opened my Mac in search of the same inspiration.

One day soon, I’ll be a famous author. Someone once defined an author as a writer who never gave up. I’m far from famous, but I’m also far from giving up. Like others of my tribe, I’ve saved the rejection letters—evidence of the emotional scars that all wannabe authors bear.

Let me show you my world: the parallel realities of the barista and the writer, the highs and lows of an aspiring artist, the pitfalls that await a lonely young man with much to give. But first, let me introduce you to San Francisco, the greatest city in the world.

Yeah, I grew up in London with fog rolling off the Thames, but I do not recall locals stopping to admire it. Other cities share similar traits to San Francisco: Rome has hills; London has immigrants and culture, and Paris the artistic mystique. But San Francisco has all of this and it is not thrown in your face. It just is.

I lean over the rails on the Embarcadero and stare out at the looming Bay Bridge, gray and partially veiled by early-morning mist. Next to me stands a metal woman eighteen feet high—a creation welded from hundreds of recycled pieces of junk. She holds hands with a child about eight feet tall and together they stare out to sea.

The metal woman lacks the elegance of the Statue of Liberty. That is what makes San Francisco special. It works without pretentiousness. I am told that the metal mother and child stand at the annual Burning Man festival in the Black Rock desert. Fire courses through her body and out of her hand into the child.

We could do with a fire right now. I shiver as I watch wisps of cloud hover above the water. It is very early and I must open the coffee shop. Despite the cold, I love this hour of the day when the city slumbers but is not asleep. It is simply preparing for the onslaught.  In two hours, tens of thousands of people will spew out of the BART and MUNI public transport tunnels. Others will stubbornly drive in searching for elusive and pricey parking spaces. The more enlightened drivers have recruited passengers from the casual carpool pickup points scattered around the bay thereby paying less for the bridge tolls and utilizing the carpool lanes. The passengers, for their part, get a free ride into town.

Walking down Mission Street, I see Clarence, a huge African American dressed in a shiny black suit. I cannot tell if he is awake behind those big black sunglasses until he raises his saxophone to salute me. The shiny instrument gleams, even in our fog-filled streets, and Clarence lets rip a short riff to announce the barista has arrived!

Clarence customarily stakes his position in the early morning. There are more street musicians than ever these days and, with only a few prime spots, Clarence must claim his territory. But at this time of day, he plays only for me and I feel like a king. Clarence knows I do not have spare change to throw in his open sax case—perhaps he would feel insulted if I did.

Later, around 9.30, when the herd is safely corralled into their office cubicles and Clarence’s muscles are aching; he will come and rest in The Daily Grind. When I think Mr. Tzu, the owner, is not looking, I leave a cup of coffee on Clarence’s table. I used to mutter under my breath that some jerk had changed his order after I had already poured his cup and there is no point wasting it. After about the fortieth time, I figured Clarence had picked up on my ruse so I just place the steaming cup on his table without a word.

No thanks, but I know the gesture is appreciated just as I appreciate Clarence playing for me as I pass him in the early morning. He will sit for an hour or so then slowly move off. I know little of Clarence, but he is part of my life—another strand that weaves this urban tapestry called San Francisco.

Two weeks ago, a bunch of students entered The Daily Grind and their clothes were covered with ‘New Orleans’ insignia. They were excited and boisterous as they passed Clarence at his regular table. From the way Clarence eyed them, I thought that their intrusion annoyed him, but I was wrong.

“Hey! What’s with th’ shirts? What y’all doing with New Orleans?”

A young woman, blond, thin and tanned, excitedly explained how they’d just come back from a week helping rebuild houses damaged by Hurricane Katrina. “You should’ve seen the damage that hurricane did,” she said.

“Ain’t no hurricane did that, gal,” Clarence replied with a growl. “Weren’t no nat’ral disaster. Don’t let ’em bull ya’. The hurricane would’a done some damage, but if those levees had held, if those bastards had built ’em like they should, well, ain’t no one have died there. My grandma’s house waz swept away. Broke her, it did. Such a proud w’man.”

Clarence rose and moved heavily to the door but then turned. We all watched. He spoke now in a softer tone. “But I thank y’all for going down there t’help. It’s import’nt y’all show ya’ care, that some’n shows they care.”

We saw his tears as he walked out the door and left behind a heavy wake of silence. I could not stop myself. I nodded to Tabitha to cover for me and followed him out of the café.

He stood on the corner of Mission and Spear caressing his saxophone and let rip the most beautiful, soulful jazz I have ever heard. He was not playing for me that time; he was not even playing for San Francisco. I could almost see his tune rolling out of the bay along with the fog making its way to the Gulf Coast.

When he finished, I approached unsure what to say. We stared at each other.

“I’m so sorry,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

I had spoken with Mr. Tzu, that day. I had an idea and from that week, every Friday at lunchtime, Clarence played in The Daily Grind to a packed audience. Big jars were scattered around the tables with labels: All Proceeds to New Orleans Relief Projects and as the music touched our customer’s souls, the jars filled, because San Francisco has a heart, and that heart was bleeding for a sister on the Gulf Coast.

Return to Unwanted Heroes – Part 3 or start with Part 1

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You may buy Unwanted Heroes at Amazon.com

Growing up in London, Alon Shalev has been a political activist since his early teens. He strives through his writing to highlight social and political injustice and to inspire action for change.

Moving to Israel, he helped establish a kibbutz where he lived for 20 years and served in the Israeli army.

Shalev then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and fell hopelessly in love with this unique city. Being new to the US, however, he was shocked to see so many war veterans on the streets. He regularly volunteers at initiatives such as Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank where he meets and talks with war veterans.

To follow this Blog via E-mail see upper right-hand column and click on “Follow”.

Unwanted Heroes – Part 3/4

2:  The Letter

I stare at him in bewilderment as he strides out of the café. I cannot decide whether I admire or fear him and conclude that probably a bit of both is most prudent. Turning back to the counter, I see Tabitha watching me as she hands change to a customer. I feel a sharp wave of panic.

“So they’re onto me?” Her tone is flippant when it is just the two of us. “It’s the addiction, Will. Caffeine and a full moon. Such a fatal combination.” She raises her cup and flutters her eyelashes as she sips.

“Until Mr. Tzu shows up, we’ll have to rearrange the work roster,” I reply somberly. “I assume Ginny has been filling in for Mr. Tzu over the weekend, but you have more experience. You’re going to have to pull the shift opposite mine.”

“But then we won’t get to work together! Who’s going to train me, nurture my career, and bring out my full potential?” She does a credible job pouting like a spoiled child. Then stretching out her hands, she bows her head. “I’m still your humble apprentice, Will, my lord, my barista.”

I relax. “Be mindful of the Force, my young Padma,” I say in my best Yoda-ese, “and keep the fucking Beast clean. Remember, the coffee flows through the Beast.” If only my school counselor had let me pursue a career as a Jedi Knight. “Right now, you’re the only other person supremely qualified to run shifts,” I say, getting back to business.

“But what about the wines?” Tabitha asks.

“George and I will alternate,” I reply.

“Carrot Face?”

“You’re going to call him that to his face one day soon and I might not be around to protect you.”

We both laugh. The prospect of Carrot Face or George and I going a few rounds over Tabitha’s honor is amusing. George is a recent addition to our staff. He knows little about coffee but worked on a vineyard in Napa for a few years. He is skinny, spotty, awkward and … well you can probably guess his hair color.

“But you’re gonna work a lot of hours,” Tabitha says, concerned.

“It’ll only be for a few days. He’ll be back soon.” I hear the doubt in my voice.

I serve two businessmen, who take their drinks swiftly to a table—their discussion never stopping.

Tabitha shrugs. “I bet the bastard rented a sports car and is in Vegas denying his age. Men are jerks, you know.”

“How would I know that?” I roll my eyes.

“You’re a writer, Will. You must’ve noticed them. Jerks.” Tabitha manages a disdainful expression.

“I’m also a man—never mind. The other day when Mr. Tzu chewed you out, has that happened before?”

“No, I’m actually a wonderful asset to the business!” Tabitha replies, her voice feigning hurt, then she frowns. “Hey, Will, you’re worried, aren’t you? You’re not convinced he’ll be back in a day or so?”

“I don’t know,” I say. “I wonder what made him crack.”

Tabitha shuffles and stares down at her scuffed Doc Martin boots.

“Tzu’s always been kinda tight, y’ know. Not big on the conversation, but he’s not a screamer either. That day, though, he was really pissed and not just because I failed to clean the Beast to his standards. He later chewed out Carrot Face after George quipped that, though it was his brother’s birthday, he was ignoring it as they weren’t close.

“Tzu heaped him a nasty lecture about family and loyalty. It wasn’t a fatherly rebuke either. Tzu was really pissed. I figured maybe it’s an Asian thing. They’re very family oriented.”

Tabitha puts down a wineglass that she’s been polishing and sighs. “Look, I don’t know Tzu. I’ve always been a bit scared of him ’cause he never talks or anything, so I’ve kinda kept my distance. You never know what’s going on in his mind. It’s intimidating. I’m not a barista or a wine freak like you. I’m expendable. As a woman, too, I feel vulnerable around him. Asians are pretty patriarchal, y’know, and I’m at the bottom of the food chain.”

“Yeah.” I’m feeling increasingly uncomfortable. “Let’s get back to work.”

A few minutes later I see Tabitha hovering by Tzu’s desk in the back of the store. She’s holding a badly crumpled piece of paper and calls me over.

“Will, look. This letter appeared the morning Tzu wigged out on me and Carrot Face. It had been slipped under the door before we arrived to open the café. I picked it off the floor, but Tzu grabbed it from me and read it immediately. He had it in his hand or his back pocket all morning. Later, I saw him put it in his desk drawer.”

Hoping for a clue, I take the letter. It is dirty and creased, and I just stare at thick, black Chinese characters.

I return the letter to the drawer of Tzu’s desk. It will be here when he returns—probably tomorrow. But Tzu doesn’t return and as the week passes, the whole staff begins to worry for Mr. Tzu and our jobs.

Early Wednesday, an elderly Asian woman enters the café. She wears a thick heavy coat and a green-silk scarf covers her head probably to ward off the chill. I turn to serve her as she approaches.

“Will?” Her voice is unsteady and her English heavily accented.

“Mrs. Tzu?” I hazard a guess.

She nods. “Please, bring green tea and sit with me.” She shuffles over to an empty table. There is a heavy flow of customers. I don’t like the other staff members seeing me sit while they work, but this wasn’t presented as a request.

Mrs. Tzu sips the tea and stares at me. Her face looks tired and worn.

“I’m sorry about Mr. Tzu. I really am,” I say. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“Husband will come back.” She nods as she says this but without conviction. “He says you are good boy. He says you can be trusted.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Tzu. That is high praise.” I am pleased to hear this. “I love my job and the coffee shop.”

“Good, good.” She nods. “You stay and run place. Mr. Tzu will soon return and give you reward. Okay?”

“Sure, Mrs. Tzu. Do you have any idea where he might be? Could he … could he have gone home to China?” Last night, I dreamed that he had returned there to die, but I don’t feel it prudent to share this.

“Mr. Tzu is American.” She shakes her head. “Left China as very small boy and feels no love for China. Love 49ers and Giants. For him, America is home.”

“What do your children think? Have you talked with other relatives?”

She again shakes her head. “I speak with children. Speak all the time. No brother or sister. This disappearance is very strange. He has gone before when very stressed. Has something in past, something from war.”

“So you don’t think he’s been kidnapped or anything? He doesn’t have any enemies, does he?”

She looks at me for a moment perhaps to see if I am joking. Then she leans forward, her expression serious. “Mr. Tzu is good man. Very fair. Many in city know him. All have high respect for him.”

“I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to imply—” I didn’t know what I didn’t mean to imply, and we both fall silent.

Then Mrs. Tzu leaned forward. “I am from China. Parents die during time of Long March, I think. Maybe later. China was chaos. Hard life then. I brought to US to stay with aunt. Meet Mr. Tzu in city. America is good but for me not home. Mr. Tzu is my home and so America is my home.”

She leans back and sighs. “49ers and Giants, they suck. Coffee not good either. Bad for Shen, for spirit. Green tea is good—keep you young.” She winks. Then she laughs, and I try to laugh with her.

I feel a wave of sympathy toward this brave woman who, like me, is far from her home. I swallow hard. “Mrs. Tzu. I don’t know where he is. I don’t really know him.” I’m getting repetitive perhaps feeling guilty that I haven’t tried to befriend him. “But maybe you could come into the café more and sit here to help look after the staff and customers?”

She flashes the briefest of smiles. “Thank you. Mr. Tzu is right. You are good boy. I go down to visit children in Ventura for few days. Help them not to worry.” She smiles and looks proud, so I think that they have invited her. Then she asks, “You good son to parents, yes?”

I’m a little bewildered by the change of direction but manage to say, “Despite the distance, I try. My father passed away about ten years ago, but I think they were always good to me. My mum’s still in England and I miss her—both of them, I guess.”

“Maybe you send mother flowers to show you think of her? Write letter. I come back and check, yes? After I return from Ventura.”

Write a letter—shit! The letter! I reach into my pocket but something stops me. Mrs. Tzu rises pushing down on the table as she straightens and shuffles out. I remain seated staring at her cup of still-steaming tea, which she hardly touched. Mrs. Tzu could probably have translated the letter her husband received on the day he flew at the staff, yet some strong impulse holds me back. I shrug. I can show her the letter another time.

I pick up her warm cup and hug it between my two palms. As I stare at the door she has just exited, I have a strong feeling that I am getting sucked into something that shouldn’t be part of my life yet unequivocally is. Shit! Maybe I should give up coffee for green tea. It’s bad for my Shen whatever that is.

Continued on February 20, 2013 in Unwanted Heroes – Part 4 or return to Part 2

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Growing up in London, Alon Shalev has been a political activist since his early teens. He strives through his writing to highlight social and political injustice and to inspire action for change.

Moving to Israel, he helped establish a kibbutz where he lived for 20 years and served in the Israeli army.

Shalev then moved to the San Francisco Bay area and fell hopelessly in love with this unique city. Being new to the US, however, he was shocked to see so many war veterans on the streets. He regularly volunteers at initiatives such as Project Homeless Connect and the San Francisco Food Bank where he meets and talks with war veterans.

You may buy Unwanted Heroes at Amazon.com

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