Here’s the first chapter of my new novel, Squirrel Eyes. It’d be pretty goofy for me to pretend I’m doing anything other than trying to sell copies of the book, so — if you dig this chapter, please consider buying Squirrel Eyes. Right now it’s available for Amazon’s Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and as an ePub file you can load onto various e-readers (including Adobe Digital Editions, which is available as a free download for your PC or Mac). The book is also available for iPad. The paperback edition will be out in 2011.
(Author Mike Stackpole has a great post on selecting an e-reader on his blog, if you’re curious).
Let’s start with the back cover copy and a couple reviews:
Squirrel Eyes is the story of Alvin Bandy, lifelong movie junkie and would-be filmmaker, who finds himself alone in Hollywood after his girlfriend Alison sends him packing in favor of another man. With his career – if you can call it that, when it consists of one incredibly bad movie he wrote – on the rocks, Alvin hatches a drunken plan to course-correct his screwed-up life: he travels to his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico to seek out his first girlfriend, Kelli, and do what he never did before: have sex with her. Kelli, however, won’t be had so easily, and lays down a challenge to Alvin that could either be his undoing or his salvation…
Funny, dark, raunchy and sentimental, Squirrel Eyes is a novel about the strength of dreams, the depths of lust, the power of guilt and above all, the glory of cinema and the hold it has on us all.
“If you somehow cloned the perfect science bastard love-child of Cameron Crowe, J.D. Salinger and The Kinks, it couldn’t build a better story of underdog charm than Squirrel Eyes. Scott S. Phillips creates fascinating and endearing characters, then drops them in the hot zone of their own mangled lives, with nothing but their wits and pop culture to protect themselves.” – Axel Howerton, editor, Dark Moon Digest, author of Hot Sinatra
“Squirrel Eyes is a crazy journey through Scott S. Phillips’ twisted, pop culture cluttered mind. He touches on universal emotions in this insightful, often laugh-out-loud journey through protagonist Alvin Bandy’s – and the reader’s – most denied memories of love lost.” – Robert E. Vardeman, author of Burn the Sky
“The F**ker can write!” – Elwood Reid, author of D.B. and If I Don’t Six
And now, Chapter One of Squirrel Eyes. I hope you like it. (Note: probably R-rated).
TITLE CARD: 1999
I was a terrible drinker. When I say this, I don’t mean I was an alcoholic or that I drank a lot, particularly; I mean that I just wasn’t any good at it. My skinny frame condemned me to a life as a lightweight, and that was making me rather angry.
I took another swig of alcoholic lemonade. Girl-drink though it was, clutching the bottle of Wally’s Hard Squeeze made me feel kind of manly in my own pathetic way. It was my second one, and I was already lit.
Contributing to my fury was an outstandingly overwrought episode of The E! True Hollywood Story about some washed-up actor on the verge of a comeback. As the show (filled with scandalous gossip concerning the guy’s drug, alcohol and prostitute binges and his near-death experience after a particularly rousing weekend) wound down, the actor grinned like a shark and trundled out the old saw about having “no regrets,” and how, if forced to live his life over again, he “wouldn’t change a thing.” It had all been a great learning experience. Movies, he said, were his life.
What a load of crap. I wanted to tear his intestines out and beat him senseless with the ropy ends.
I’ve had my heart broken — I mean really broken, that how-can-I-go-on, slit-wrists-are-the-only-remedy broken — twice in my life. The second time was because of a girl.
Movies got to me first.
Technically, though, I didn’t catch on to what they had done to me until after the girl had done it, too.
Regrets? I had a few. Like getting out of bed in the morning. If I had to do it all over again, would I change things? Starting early and often. For instance, if I could relive the third grade, I might raise my hand and ask to go to the boys’ room rather than piss my pants and have to deal with the other kids’ vicious teasing. Fifth grade? Maybe I’d stand up to Mike Shipton — even if it meant an ass-kicking — rather than act like a damn pussy and let myself be picked on mercilessly for the rest of the year.
The Big One, though?
I would’ve steered Alison towards a different job. Maybe I wouldn’t have lost her to Franzke or whatever the fuck the bastard’s name was.
No regrets, my ass.
I am the Golem built from the mud of Hollywood. My brain processes life at 24 frames per second; my heart pumps sticky concession-stand muck through veins of curled celluloid. And maybe like the Golem of legend, I too am a soulless creature, animated only by the thousands of hours of pop-culture imagery funneled into my body over the course of a lifetime.
But at least the Golem served a purpose.
Normally, I’m a pretty gregarious drunk, on those rare occasions when I do drink — all goofy grins and back-slapping and professions of undying love — but my usual pleasantly soused persona had been beaten into submission by events of the last year, turning me into a sort of William Holden with a considerably smaller reserve of testosterone. Sour and surly — and anti-social to the point of becoming agoraphobic — I spent most of my inebriated hours staring at the television in my pocket-sized studio apartment, especially since the bottom fell out of Big Planet Entertainment, the b-movie production company I’d been working for. Suddenly I was heartbroken and unemployed, and what money I did have was running out fast. This was Los Angeles, after all.
I realized I shouldn’t have spent the seven bucks on those damn lemonades, instantly becoming irritated at the thought. Why the hell shouldn’t I have something to dull the searing pain of the numerous red-hot pokers lodged firmly up my ass?
I grabbed the remote and switched over to the Food Network, where Emeril was whipping up a mouth-watering oyster-bacon pie. Maybe if I stared at the screen while eating my dinner of potatoes (my main source of food since losing my job) I could somehow hypnotize myself into enjoying them. I thought about Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles and absent-mindedly picked at the shredded orange upholstery of the thrift-store daybed I was perched on, previously used as a scratching post by a couple of cats. Man. Waffles. And chicken. Chicken and waffles. I took another pull off my lemonade and stared blankly at the television. The cable was the last thing I was going to let go of, just before electricity.
Things started going wrong shortly after Alison and I moved to LA, almost exactly a year earlier. It didn’t occur to me how badly until a few days after I moved out of the apartment we shared; then one night while struggling to sleep on my friend Chad’s miserably uncomfortable couch, it all finally sank in: the sound editing job I’d been promised wasn’t there, Alison had no luck finding work (until later, of course), and I was dropped by my agent. I guess I didn’t realize how shitty things were going at the time because nothing ever seemed all that bad when I was with Alison. She had a way of smoothing out the rough edges, no matter the situation.
Then she pulled the rug out from under me.
Before the move, I’d been making regular trips to LA — about five years earlier, I had landed the agent on the strength of an action script I wrote, and while the hoped-for Big Sale (“low-to-mid six figures,” you always hear) never came for that one, the script had scored me a lot of meetings at the studios. Nothing came from those, either, although in an effort to please all those development execs, I had written numerous pitches and even went through four drafts (unpaid, of course) of a treatment for an action film about a heart transplant before cooler heads prevailed. When a second spec script went out, I landed a writing assignment that eventually went sour, but paid enough that Alison and I could afford to move to LA.
During one of my visits to the big city, I met the guy who promised me that editing job. He was a bit of a scoundrel, and since I was already used to being jerked around by Hollywood-types, it wasn’t much of a surprise when the job never materialized. However, being unemployed had made Alison as distraught as I’d ever seen her, and my lack of meaningful work wasn’t improving her condition any.
Desperate for some way to cheer her up, make her feel like we hadn’t made a huge mistake in moving to LA to pursue our respective dreams, I tracked down Drew McCarney, an old friend of mine who worked for a post-production house in Santa Monica. As luck would have it, the post house was hiring, and Drew lined up an interview for Alison.
If I’d had any idea what that would lead to, I would’ve worked two jobs — Fatburger and Astro-Burger, anything — rather than let Alison take the job at that post house.
Oh yeah — my agent? She was just “reducing her client list,” and was very apologetic.
I tried to focus on Emeril’s oyster dish, but a phlegmy cough echoed from the bathroom as the guy next door choked up an oyster of his own. I could hear everything he did, not because the walls were thin but because the bathroom window opened onto an airshaft traversing the space between our apartments. I rarely saw the man and almost never spoke to him — he had invited me over for a glass of wine once, but mostly we communicated only through the sound of our various bodily functions. The man was in his late forties or early fifties and had been an actor at one point. While I was having that wine with him, he had very excitedly dug out his reviews for a play he’d been in sometime around 1977 – the praise for his acting was glowing, but he didn’t seem to have ever done anything else. Now he was making a living by collecting signatures for some kind of political organization or cause or something, and was pinning his hopes on a board game he had come up with — some New-Agey thing wherein players have to ask questions of one another by using their innate psychic abilities. I figured it must take longer to play than Monopoly.
As my neighbor began splashing around in his tub, I found myself paying less attention to the TV and giving far too much consideration to the idea that I would probably end up just like the poor old sap. I had one writing credit — a crummy horror movie, shot on digital video — and the thought of trying to pick up girls ten years from now by bragging about that piece of shit terrified me.
Truth to tell, at that point the thought of trying to pick up girls terrified me all by itself.
One night after driving a couple of Alison’s female co-workers home, I’d told Alison that if she ever dumped me, I would never be able to date anyone else. Those girls had done nothing but talk the most inane shit — the best night to hang out at Durvey’s Lounge (Thursday, because that’s when the cute softball players came in after their game), how annoying men are (damned annoying), and which of their male co-workers was the most fuckable (a pretty long list, causing me to bite my tongue lest I say something mean about desperation).
The irony, of course, was that at that point, Alison already had a list of her own. There was only one name on it, but then Alison was never the sort to be desperate.
I shakily got to my feet, the daybed springs thunking as my bony ass released them, and wobbled over to the window. LA was a big, forlorn, miserable place. The street my building was on was lined by thin, towering palm trees, and now and then huge fronds would drop onto parked cars below, setting off their alarms. As one might imagine, this generally happened in the middle of the night. My cigar box of an apartment was on the second floor, overlooking the back yard of a house next door to the complex. In the yard was a smaller guesthouse, which stood directly beneath my window.
Woozy from the alcohol, I pressed my face against the glass and peered down at the guesthouse, trying to will the cute Asian girl who lived there to come outside. I didn’t see her often, but her appearance was always enough to stop me dead in my tracks no matter what I was doing. She had a thing for tank tops, which I liked just fine, although I didn’t approve of the baggy jogging pants she usually wore. Most of the sightings involved the girl walking from her car to the house (or vice-versa), usually accompanied by her boyfriend. How I loathed that guy. He was the typical Aspiring Hollywood Weasel, spending most of his time posturing in the driveway while talking on his cell phone, and from what I’d overheard, his conversations usually centered on how drunk he had gotten the night before. He and the girl seemed to fight a lot, too. I sometimes fantasized about finding her in tears after one of these fights; I’d throw open the window and ask what was wrong, being tender, caring, witty — all the things her boyfriend obviously wasn’t, and soon her head would be resting upon my shoulder while I stroked her hair and soothed her pain. Usually, these fantasies just made me feel crummier.
The best sighting by far had occurred about three weeks earlier. The cute Asian girl had come outside to water her plants, sending me into an hysterical fit of ducking and weaving as I awkwardly attempted to position myself to gawk at her without being seen. She handled her business far too quickly, turned to stare at her car for a second, then went back into the house. My disappointment turned to overwhelming delight when she re-emerged moments later with a bucket and began washing the car.
Jesus, what the hell was I doing? Thirty-four years old and here I was chewing my fucking lip in abject desperation, hoping for a glimpse of my sassy neighbor. I hadn’t changed at all, not one damn bit since I was fifteen years old and roaming my backyard, shovel in hand as if I might actually be doing something other than peeping at Gina, the teenage girl who lived next door.
Man, I could’ve fucked her, too — her and Kelli. If only I hadn’t been so lame.
Kelli. Christ, I hadn’t thought about her since forever. She was thirteen when I met her, and looking back on it, I felt certain she had already had sex at that point; she was built like a brick shithouse full of bobcats even then, and never missed an opportunity to let the world know it. At fifteen I hadn’t even held hands with a girl, due mostly to my devastating shyness, but also because in a way, I almost resented my newfound (and ever-increasing) horniness; it only distracted me from my unfortunate obsession with filmmaking (and let’s face it, it was a hell of a lot easier to remain holed up in my bedroom slathering my face with breakfast cereal and liquid latex until I had a decent zombie thing going on than it was to get into a girl’s pants).
Kelli and Gina were an incredibly troublesome duo, especially for a lad such as I. Their awkwardly nubile shenanigans kept my teenage libido racing like a Ford Mustang being double-clutched by Steve McQueen. You see, about the time she was sprouting breasts, Gina’s parents installed a swimming pool in their backyard. Didn’t they realize the insanity of that — giving their blossoming young daughter license to run wild in a ludicrously small bikini when a teenage boy lurked next door? Hiding behind the aforementioned shovel, I wandered my backyard for hours on end, digging holes as if searching for lost Nazi gold, all the while straining to get an eyeful of the burgeoning flesh on display one yard over.
And then Kelli started coming to visit. Her flesh had burgeoned some time before, delivering unto my youthful masturbation fantasies the equivalent of the Playboy Mansion a mere stone’s throw away.
By this time, I was in deep shit with my mom for having wrecked a large portion of the yard by digging dozens of inexplicable holes, and it was tough to find a reasonable excuse to hang around back there. I began mowing the lawn every few days, weeding the flowerbeds, and trimming the shrubbery without being asked. This heretofore-unseen level of responsible behavior smoothed things over with my mom, but I started to worry that Kelli and Gina would think I was some sort of gardening-obsessed Nancy-boy and find me undesirable for their making-out needs. I convinced my dad that my very life depended on the immediate purchase of a baseball, glove and a rebound net. It took me less than twenty minutes to realize that I threw like a girl; the baseball glove wound up buried at the floor of my closet (later, with the aid of some latex and cotton, it became the misshapen hand of a mutant monster).
One day as I was absent-mindedly whacking the trunk of an apple tree with a large stick, I noticed Kelli whispering something to Gina. They both giggled (I was sure they were laughing at me), then Kelli slithered from the pool, approaching the wall — and my tree-whacking spot. I felt like hundreds of rats were scurrying around inside my limbs, all racing toward my guts, where they began viciously fighting. Dripping wet, the deadly-dangerous teenage girl bobbed up on her toes to rest her arms on the wall, smiling at me. I almost dropped my stick. She asked my name, which I told her in a voice reminiscent of Bobby Brady’s (I mean, Alvin? How else can you say it?), then she suggested (so casually!) that the three of us should hang out sometime.
Which led to the Tickling Incident.
I struggled for a few moments to recall just what Gina looked like. Kelli was easy, of course, but a solid mental image of Gina was harder to dredge up for some reason. I remembered her as having an inordinately hawkish nose, but couldn’t for the life of me decide if her hair had been brown or black. Even her body, the sweetening flesh of which had driven me to the point of madness on more than one occasion, seemed to be lost in a fog. I remembered that she wore cut-off jeans most of the time, only because of one moment of real daring that had overwhelmed my traditional crippling fear.
My dad was at work the afternoon of the Tickling Incident; my mom didn’t have a job, but was not at home, for whatever reason. I was loafing around my bedroom, either watching Gilligan’s Island or poking through comic books or any number of other things that helped create the bubble of isolation that enveloped my teenage years — but then, what I was doing wasn’t the important thing. It was what happened after the knock at the door that was the basis of this eminently cherished memory.
I swung the door wide to find both Kelli and Gina standing there in T-shirts and shorts, grinning like delightful monkeys. They were inside and headed for my bedroom before I fully realized the impact of what was happening. As I followed their smoothly swaying bottoms down the hall, I wished I had stopped to look in the mirror before answering the door, that I had worn cooler clothes (not that I owned any cool clothes, but anything would have been better than my Kung Fu Karate! T-shirt), that there was anything about me that could be considered dashing, or, at the very least, interesting.
My stomach was like a blender overburdened with thick sludge as the girls explored my room, led as if by some preternatural force to the discovery of every goddamn piece of nerdy junk in my possession. Ha ha! they’d cry, holding up my Spider-Man Web-Spinner as if displaying the ear of a fallen enemy. See! one of them would shout, giggling as she offered the other a chance to peruse the latest issue of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. Stimulated as I was by being near the girls, I almost couldn’t wait for them to leave.
Their giggles and snorts of laughter seemed to increase in volume, the sound becoming an almost tangible manifestation of everything I had ever feared about girls. I wanted to run, get the hell out of there before they really caught on to what a dork I was. Before I could react, they were upon me, closing in like a pair of shrieking succubi, bent on my complete humiliation –
And then they shoved me back on the bed, tickling me like mad. Howling with laughter, I twisted and squirmed, feigning as if to get away while at the same time praying that my sudden erection wouldn’t be spotted — or worse yet, nudged. It was the most action I had ever had — and from two girls at once, for crying out loud!
I made a few hesitant return-tickles, poking at Gina’s ribs, jabbing at the back of Kelli’s bare knee. It was an event of orgiastic proportion in my young life, and I was extremely disappointed when the girls seemed to tire, their innocently directed sexual energy spent.
Which was when I made my one-and-only (to that point, anyway) bold move. With a girl lying on either side of me, my eyes fell upon Gina’s upturned bottom, packed tightly into those cut-offs. Without even thinking about what I was doing (another first, considering how prone I was to over-thinking everything), I slid my hand into her back pocket — only for a moment, after which I withdrew my mitt as if I had laid it on a hot stove – but in my mind, I had gone for the brass ring, gripping it like Arthur raising Excalibur above his kingly head.
Then my mom came home. The mood suddenly shifted to one of discomfort and embarrassment, on both my part and the girls’, and they didn’t stick around for long. However, before they left, Kelli paused at my desk, where she scrawled her phone number on the battered wooden surface.
It took me two years to work up the nerve to ask her out.
Although we dated off and on for awhile, I never slept with Kelli. She had wanted to do it bad, too, but for some reason — either fear or stupidity or lack of a decent place to perform the act — I had never managed to acquit myself manfully with the girl. And at the time we started going out, she was so hot I could hardly stand it. What the hell was I thinking?
How had I gotten off on this tangent? I hadn’t seen Kelli for what — fourteen years now? Thinking back on it, the whole thing felt like a story someone else had told me about their own life, rather than one of the high points of my existence. Dismal, I softly banged my head against the window, then backed away in alarm, afraid that I might somehow attract the attention of the cute Asian girl despite the fact that she was nowhere to be seen. I brushed my unshorn locks out of my eyes (a haircut didn’t seem like a necessary expenditure at the moment) and waited nervously. All I needed was for her to realize what a scumbag voyeur her neighbor was and never again step outside to wash the car. My financial situation being what it was, I probably wouldn’t be living here much longer anyway, but why take chances?
I felt weary, useless, unable to contribute anything to the world other than perhaps to never be heard from again. In an unprecedented move, I went to the refrigerator for a third bottle of Wally’s Hard Squeeze. I was going to the hoop tonight. As Emeril wrapped up his oyster-bacon pie with a spirited Bam, I sensed a filmy awareness of some sort of game plan hatching; a way to fix what the idiocy of my movie-sodden upbringing had done to my life.
Impaired reasoning can be a very dangerous thing indeed.
END CHAPTER ONE
Wanna read the rest? You can buy Squirrel Eyes for $4.99 via the following links:
And you might like my collection of short stories, Tales of Misery and Imagination:
And my collection of movie reviews, Unsafe On Any Screen: