My dear friend of twenty-three years, Steve Manzino, lost his battle with cancer on December 4, 2018. I am absolutely devastated, and my life will never be the same, but here is how I choose to remember him.
Steve Manzino—I called him Manzino, though, everyone in our group of friends did—and I used to have the strangest and most entertaining conversations, especially when we were prepping in our dressing rooms for whatever show it was we were acting in at the time.
“When I die, I just want people to get up and tell the truth about me.” He shrugged into the tweed jacket he was wearing in his role as Frank in Educating Rita. “Because I hate this, you know, the guy’s an asshole but then he dies and suddenly he’s an angel. It’s just ridiculous.”
The comment was all in fun, of course—death was so far away from us back in 1996—but I promised him I would. And then this latest comment, word for word the way he’d uttered it, went into whatever journal I had going at the time, joining all of his other random bits of off-kilter wisdom.
Eventually, that—and a few other declarations—would end up in my fiction.
Now, sadly, art has imitated life, and I am tasked with following through on what always seemed like what would be a forever-unrealized promise.
When Manzino got sick, he did not go gently; he put up a valiant fight. But that shouldn’t have been a surprise to any of us, because he didn’t go gently anywhere when he was alive, and that was the most wonderful thing about him.
He spoke his mind, he was a stand-out in style, he was never afraid to tell you he loved you, and the party—whether it was one of about twenty-five New Year’s Eves, a Prohibition-themed blow-out, an Edgar Allan Poe dinner or a tribute event to Robert Burns—honestly wasn’t made until he was there. He was a larger-than-life presence in a fedora and a classic suit. To meet him once was to have the pleasure of not being able to wait until you could hang out with him again.
If you knew Manzino, you also weren’t untouched by the man’s incredible quirkiness and creativity, and his generosity with it. He kept his first car, and showed up, unannounced, at our house one day, insisting that Nathan go for a ride with him; Nathan said riding in that car was like a trip back in time. Not only were his Peanut Butter Classics flavors—like Date Walnut and Marshmallow Toffee Crunch—some of the most unique I’d ever experienced, there are pieces of him all over my house. One year, for the holidays, he made eight-inch tall Christmas trees out of wood.
“This is the one I made for you,” he said. It had a highway on one side—he knew that Tom Cochrane’s “Life is a Highway” was my favorite song at that time—and an umbrella on the other, which was connected to our performances in Educating Rita. I love that thing, and it has been on display in my guest bathroom since the day he gave it to me. When just about two decades had passed, every time he came to my house, he’d marvel at how I still had it. “I don’t think anybody else kept theirs,” he said. “I mean you have to admit, they were kind of funky and weird.”
As self-described funky and weird as his brain children sometimes were, there was sensitivity in his artistry. After my father died, I asked Manzino to reupholster the old tiger oak rocking chair. It had two monks smoking cigarettes and drinking beer carved into back of it, and I gave him carte blanche with deciding on the color and design of the replacement cushion. He came back with something in a royal gold and white pattern that created the shape of the cross, and centered it perfectly on the seat. “I thought something religious to support the chair’s theme might really work,” he said. Needless to say, I was blown away. Who thinks that deeply when it comes to upholstering furniture?
He was inventive in a pinch, and if you needed a wingman, Manzino was it. He was a pall-bearer at my father’s funeral, and when he showed up early, the body hadn’t yet arrived, and the flowers had been carelessly strewn all over the altar in a fashion Manzino did not care for. When the casket finally got there, he helped them bring it in and fixed the altar with only seconds to spare before we showed up (I also happen to know he hurled some choice language at the funeral director, but I won’t detail what went down here). He was also the contact for our wedding coordinator, Anne-Marie, when Nathan and I got married at Howe Caverns. When we came out after being announced as husband and wife, I noticed, from across the room, that the cake had a strange cascade of blue jewels down the front of it that I hadn’t ordered. I also noticed there were random blue jewels tossed all over the tables. I just assumed the bakery had made some kind of error and continued to enjoy my day, but found out later that our topper had fallen off the cake and scored the icing down the front of it. As I was busy walking down the aisle, Anne-Marie had run to get Manzino to beg for his help. “Honey, I got this. Nothing is going to ruin this day,” Manzino said.
“What are we going to do?” she asked.
Manzino walked into the kitchen and saw several people trying to repair the icing. He said, “well, first of all, you’re all going to put the knives down because you’re just going to make more of a mess.” Then he told me he had an idea. “I had a box of these blue plastic jewels in my trunk and I thought, ‘yeah, that’ll work, we’ll put ’em on the cake, and then we’ll just throw them all over the tables so it looks like we did it on purpose.’”
“Steve,” Anne-Marie said, “the cake didn’t look like that.”
“Don’t worry. She’ll be drunk and dancing by cake time.”
After that, Nathan and I never questioned that we had definitely made the right choice in our wingman. Of course, the real question we should have asked ourselves was, “who the hell drives around with a box of blue plastic jewels in his trunk?” Obviously, Manzino did, and it saved our asses.
As much as he loved to make things with his hands, he also loved to find unusual items at tag sales, flea markets, and curiosity shops. If you knew Manzino, then you also knew his place was full of things like retro soda ads, old tools, cracked teacups, and vintage barware, but he relished sharing his treasures. He’d show up to one of my cocktail parties in his silk smoking jacket, bearing some unusual gift he’d found just for me—a vintage lobster-shaped serving dish, an ornate gilded ceramic pitcher. I would kiss his cheek in thanks and say, “you really didn’t have to do that,” and he’d say, with that grin and swift movement of his hands, “It was just so serious and cool and retro you just had to have it.”
As for the smoking jacket, Manzino had lent it to my husband for a photo shoot. Nathan didn’t want to give it back, but he did—because really, it just screamed Manzino; no one could pull it off like he did.
Manzino was also a great listener, and an even better conversationalist, especially on deep and painful matters. Then we’d reach a point in the discussion, and he’d stand up and scream, “Let’s stop talking about all of this heavy stuff and get into some serious martinis!” loud enough so that my entire neighborhood would know what we’d be quaffing in short order.
True to my promise to the man, I will not give Manzino wings where he had raven’s claws. Manzino had his moments. If you were in a show with him and he forgot his lines, he might just walk right off the set in the middle of a performance. If he was disgusted by something he was doing—like, if the politics of a certain production got to be too much for him—he’d just disappear, and good luck trying to get him to pick up his phone. When he was annoyed or angry, he would simply walk away from the conversation and leave whoever it was hanging. And sometimes? You’d ask him to do something for you, and it would take him forever to complete it. I highly suspect that he was just the world’s most amazing procrastinator. Still, when whatever you’d asked him to do was done, it had been more than well worth the wait.
Manzino, though, was also a very funny person, with an infectious laugh that, once started, usually spread to and accelerated in everyone around him until whoever was in the room could no longer stand up or breathe. Yes, the way he saw the world was hilariously inappropriate sometimes, but it was never wrong, and it was always delivered with the sense that, although he was speaking a truth, he never took it too seriously—even though he always sounded like he was trying to sell you a washing machine. His rants about the ridiculousness of people, in general, were always my favorites.
We were having a red wine fueled conversation about an argument I’d had with a guy I was dating at the time. I detailed everything this man said to me. And Manzino thought for a second and said, “See, you know, this is why people should just stop talking, because half of what they say is just so stupid.” He popped a cracker in his mouth. “I really think that animals already went through a talking phase and they already figured out it doesn’t make any difference. It only adds to the confusion. So they decided not to talk anymore. They figured they were better off. So they run around naked with their tongues hanging out all day. But if you look at their faces and into their eyes, they have a real Old World look about them, like they’re very wise.”
I used those comments as-is and had them come out of the mouth of a character named Manzino in my short story “How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Bunny,” which is coming out in a collection next year. My publisher wanted to change the character’s name for legal reasons, but the real Manzino insisted it should be left in. “I absolutely did say that, it’s totally true, and now the whole world is going to know that I said it,” he said. “Besides, who doesn’t want to live forever, right?”
Manzino, as tender and loving as he was, never went gently anywhere in life. And long may his memory rage against the dying of the light in the minds of us all.
Recently, a friend and I were going to spend some time in the car driving to an underwater archaeology lecture at a nearby college. We had just seen Bohemian Rhapsody and were dying to listen to Queen.
The only Queen music we both owned was still on cassette, believe it or not.
“So…how are we going to listen to it in the car?” she asked.
I went through a whole thing about streaming on the phone and hooking up the Bluetooth and all of this other complicated stuff. And then it occurred to me, for the first time in probably years, that I could just go to the mall on my lunch break and get a CD!
Then I thought…wait, who still sells CDs around here? FYE is gone, Best Buy’s selection is nil if it even still exists at all, and there are no more specialty stores like Record Town (remember THAT?) or The Wall. I called my housemate Charles, but he really didn’t have too many ideas either—except for Gerosa Records. That was probably worth a shot, but it was too far for me to go on a lunch break.
In the past few years, I haven’t really missed being able to just run out and buy a CD; I’ve gotten incredibly used to Amazon Prime and having them arrive in a day or so or downloading an MP3. I like the new way of doing things: yes, there’s instant gratification, and yes, I can simply purchase only one song and not all of them (there were singles and Cassingles, but most of those were for the popular tunes only. You wanted something that wasn’t released as a single? You had to buy the entire album). But it’s not the same as getting into your car, unwrapping that cellophane and inhaling that plastic and new disc smell, slipping it into your stereo and mmmm.
What did I end up doing? I dashed home after work, downloaded some MP3’s, and burned them to a CD. But I gotta tell ya—nope, just nope. Nothing would have been more magical than to go to a record store at lunch and pick up exactly what I wanted.
Nothing says Black Friday like a ghost story, right? If you missed the opportunity to read my novella “Splendid Chyna” – perfect if you like Asian Horror (i.e., The Ring, for those of you not familiar) and abandoned theme parks – the Kindle version is on sale for 99 cents through Thursday, November 29!
“Splendid Chyna” appears in the collection Three on a Match with two other novellas, “All’s Well that Ends” by G. Elmer Munson, and “Thicker than Water” by Melissa Crandall. These shorts are just the thing to be reading in between season busy-ness.
You can get it here, and happy holiday shopping!
I’m grateful fo all of my readers! Thank you so much for supporting me.
From our house to yours … wishing you a happy day spent with loved ones.
~ Krissi, Charles, Nathan and the cats, Poe & Mikey
Writer John Palisano recently posted the following on Facebook:
Just got an email from NanoWrimo stating that ‘every’ writer would rather ‘have written’ than ‘write’ and that writing is painful and such.
I disagree. I love being in the zone. I love tapping away at the keyboard, the story flowing out like music. It’s one of my favorite things in the world. It doesn’t hurt. It’s not painful. It’s not a struggle to make happen, most of the time.
I’m not the only one, am I?
No, he’s definitely not the only one. There is nothing like being in that zone. That vanishing into a world in my head and staying there with my characters, living out whatever fantasy I want (no matter how outlandish), the words just flying out of me as easily as drunken conversation. It’s almost like being on a magical vacation; the outside world recedes. I obsess over whatever topic, setting, or interesting object that the story is about. I avoid bills, cleaning, laundry and just about anything else I can get away with for the sake of art, and hey, if I have to function because I can’t get out of something, it’s an excuse to mentally tune-out.
On the flip side, if the fiction is really just a channel for something sad, stressful, and overwhelming I’m trying to process, it can be gut-wrenching. I fail to eat for however long it takes to get it done, I avoid correspondence or contact with anyone as much as I can, I question every single choice I’ve ever made in my life or even why I exist at all. And I usually cry a lot.
This isn’t the case with every piece I write, but it was the case with a piece I finished this morning. It’s been the greatest week of my life in a long, long time, but it’s also been balls-on anxiety and other not-so-pleasant emotions since Tuesday.
A few of you out there are aware of this. It’s official–the first draft is done, and I have set myself free! I’ve not only written a very solid story (yes, it still has to go through revision and critique, but I don’t invest in that on a spiritual level), I’ve emotionally worked through what I was processing. I feel completely unburdened and can have some fun now—I can focus on cleaning my house, doing the shopping for Thanksgiving, and wrapping some Christmas gifts (I shop all year, so it’s never really too early to start).
I’m having a glass of wine in a nice hot bath to celebrate. I encourage you all to celebrate with me in whatever way you see fit! If you’re waiting to hear from me, you will soon. And oh my God, where are the cheese and crackers because I’m starving.
Have a great week!
Whether or not you believe in the supernatural, I think it’s safe to say that you’ve probably had at least one thing happen to you that defies explanation.
Do I believe in the supernatural? Yes, I do. I have since I had something I had no explanation for happen to me in college back in 1989 (which is too terrifying for me to write about. I think there’s maybe one interview someplace in which I bring it up, but that’s it); and in 2007, on a dark road late at night, a person in a white runner’s outfit ran in front of my car. I slammed on the brakes, and, heart racing, I leapt from the driver’s seat to find out if the person was okay.
There was no person in white runner’s shorts, and there was no sound of the crunching of leaves in the nearby woods.
I called “hello?” without response.
There was no one on that road but me.
No head-scratching experiences since then—until last week.
I was with my sister and brother and their families at my aunt’s house for what you might call an early Thanksgiving. In its glory days, the three-family house was the social center of a large Italian family. There were Sunday dinners, all-nighter New Year’s Eves, endless pinochle games, summer picnics in the screen house, fresh vegetables from the garden and jugs of plain awful homemade wine. The generations that were responsible for all of that are pretty much gone, but the house, built very early in the 20th century, still stands.
So does a bunch of stuff in the basement.
My brother and his family were rummaging around down there, finding things like original Burger King Star Wars glassware in mint condition, century-old cookbooks, and Disney board games no one’s seen since the 1950s.
I was standing in the kitchen. Just as I saw them emerge from the basement, I heard the bell on the ancient toaster oven go off.
My first thought was that my aunt—who is now suffering from a form of dementia—had perhaps gotten up and come into the kitchen and turned on the toaster oven. I knew, though, that this wasn’t possible—I’d just spent the past hour with her, and she hadn’t moved from her chair.
I said something to Maryanne. She said, “Sometimes that bell just goes off.” And it is possible someone could have jostled it earlier in the day, when we were all cooking in the kitchen.
Then I touched it, and it was hot.
Which would’ve been fine—except that it was unplugged.
I called my husband Nathan, who’s a retired paranormal investigator. He gave me a list of things to check, so we all discussed the possibilities: was it sitting in direct sunlight? No. It’s over the spot in the basement where the furnace is, so are the cabinets underneath hot from heat that could be coming up through the floor? No. Did Uncle Lou, who came over to the area a few minutes prior to get a glass of water, use the toaster oven? We asked; the answer was no. Had either of my brother’s sons played with it? We asked; no, and anyway, they were down in the basement the whole time. A toaster oven might retain heat. Has it been used in the past twelve hours? No; its last use was two days prior, and no toaster oven retains heat for over 48 hours. Could it have a short? Well, sure, yes, but how does a toaster oven, which doesn’t have any battery back-up, have a short and get hot when there’s no power source?
So there you have it. Absolutely no explanation. If anybody has any ideas, I’m all ears. Otherwise? I’m chalking this one up to the supernatural.
It’s unusual that a short story is so moving that I finish it and immediately give it a second read. Douglas Bruton’s “Thirteen Wedding Dresses” is, happily, one of those rare finds.
This compact tale of loss details the impact of a missing suitcase on several lives. Where this piece excels is in its universal appeal: there is not one of us who hasn’t felt one of the carefully illustrated emotions here. Its hauntingly-rendered prose will make it difficult for the reader to forget that sometimes something lost can lead to something found.
“Thirteen Wedding Dresses” is one of a dozen in The Fiction Desk’s 12th anthology And Nothing Remains. You can get a copy here: https://www.thefictiondesk.com/anthologies/and-nothing-remains.php
In this episode, things get super-hairy just minutes before deadline, and friends are called in. This may be the one time revision is just no fun…unless wine’s involved. You can read the short story “Mujina” in Dark Passages II: Tales from the Black Highway. Get it at http://bit.ly/DP2Mujina.
Unfriended: Dark Web is now available on VOD and disc, and Dark Discussions goes deep into it as well as its predecessor, Unfriended, in episode 347. You can listen in on Stitcher, Itunes, and here: http://www.darkdiscussions.com/Pages/podcast_347.html
The Unfriended franchise is unique in that, while considered found footage, the story Read the rest of this entry
I’m over the moon to announce that I’ve signed the contract for Books and Boos Press to publish my collection of short stories, The Shadows Behind. The original announcement is on the Books and Boos Press website here.
Release date is set right now for April 30, 2019, and there will be some signings, along with a special one up at Howe Caverns in Howe’s Cave, New York, next summer!
Although the Table of Contents is still being finalized, this collection will contain a few long out-of-print favorites, among them “Deconstructing Fireflies,” (co-written with Nathan Schoonover), “Candle Garden,” and “How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Bunny,” which was originally published in Citizen Culture back in 2005.
It will also include some pieces which are only available in single anthologies, and several brand new stories as well as a preview for an upcoming novella.
I’ll keep you posted!