Watch the Grass Grow by A.B. Funkhauser
Watching an excellent newish documentary on New
Zealand vampires, I’m reminded of the oft criticized nocturnal practices of Rattus norvegicus (common sewer rat).
Like the vamps in WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014), dear Rattus has a habit of bumbling into spaces man likes to call his
own, an act seen as an unwelcomed intrusion. Rat chews on wires, starts fires
and damages water courses with his annoying burrowing, as does vampire, as
witnessed by the film’s 8,000 year old nosferatu Peter, whose untimely death in
a tragic sunlight accident sets off a chain of events that result in the near
break up of unlikely, but cohesive, flatmates.
Being out of step, out of place and eschewing
acceptance when all we want is the opposite is a compelling thing to play with,
and as a writer, I could not resist the temptation to build a character that is
not only morally ambiguous, but quite happy to be so. Adult, unapologetic and
cognizant, Heuer the lawyer is not a likeable character, at least that’s what
more than a few reviewers have said so far. He is “a bug” existing in a “macabre
setting” surrounded by “odd balls” yet we “root for him” and long for him to be
I personally liked him from day one, but I have odd
sensibilities—always have—and so I was more than pleased to see that my Rattus norvegicus had made his way,
wanted or not, into the psyches of the reader.
trouble accounting for their fascination. Short, curt, bespectacled, he courted
an ethos that favored enforced detachment. When people got close enough to hear
him speak, they detected a trace of an accent. Now faded after years of U.S.
residency, his speech still bore the unmistakable patterns of someone
undeniably foreign. Elaborate, overwrought and heavy on the adverbs, he spoke
very much like his neighbors. Yet the distance between them was incalculable…”
How did I do that? The answer might surprise you: I
don’t really know.
Like many, writing was something that hadn’t
occurred to me, that is, until I had a memento
mori. A Latin term, MM is defined in various dictionaries as an ‘object
signifying death.’ It could be anything— a casket, over-sized flower
arrangement, or wretched reality television show—as long as it awakens the
viewer to the notion that fragility lurks, and that this fragility can
compromise what’s right there in front of our noses.
But MM for me was so much more than symbology. It
was a green light that gave me a framework from which to hang all the
observations, obfuscations, happy lies, and friendly exaggerations that make up
a life in progress that wants to be shared.
“You’re writing fiction,” my friend, the writer,
assured, when I brought up the subject of the grief journal I’d been working on
since the sudden passing of a dear friend. What was a private effort at memorialization
had unexpectedly degenerated into a lot of made up stuff with generous dollops
of humor, the kind that flavored all the conversations we had when he was
“It’s okay,” writer friend suggested. “Keep going.”
Somewhere in and amongst the facts and feelings
that assault the bereaved, Heuer emerged like an unwanted house guest I could
not get rid of.
because it's over,
smile because it happened', Dr. Seuss insisted, and so I embraced my new weird
friend with all his flaws and foibles and weird ideas. What got me, held me,
and kept me banging at the keyboard well into the grey hours was the wonderful
joy that overtakes Heuer when Schadenfreude stings the tree hating neighbor:
the Genovese neighbor next door, had taken great offense to his acacia tree, a
towering twenty-five foot behemoth that had grown from a cutting given to him
by a lodge brother. The acacia was esteemed in Masonic lore appearing often in ritual,
rendering it so much more than just mere tree. In practical terms, it provided
relief, offering shade on hot days to the little things beneath it. And it
bloomed semi-annually, whimsically
releasing a preponderance of white petals that carried on the wind mystical
scent—the same found in sacred incense and parfums.
was a dirty son of a bitch of a tree that dropped its leaves continuously from
spring to fall, shedding tiny branches from its diffident margins. These were
covered in nasty little thorns that damaged vinyl pool liners and soft feet
alike. They also did a pretty amazing job of clogging Alfons’ pool filter,
turning his twenty-five hundred gallon toy pool green overnight.
chemistry compromised the neighbor’s pleasure and it heightened his passions,
blinding Alfons to the true nature of his enemy. He crossed over onto Heuer’s
property and drove copper nails into the root system. It was an old trick,
Byzantine in its treachery; the copper would kill the tree slowly over time
leading no one to suspect foul play.
Heuer was cagey and suspicious by nature, so when the tree displayed signs of
failure, he knew where to look.
acacia recovered and Alfons said nothing. Heuer planted aralia—the “Devil’s
Walking Stick”—along the fence line and this served as an even thornier
reminder that he knew. And if there was any doubt at all, he went
further by coating his neighbor’s corkscrew hazel with a generous dose of Wipe
Heuer’s exaltation became my own: writing him was
not unlike playing a Steinway piano at Madison Square Garden or piloting a
helicopter under heavy fire. I have done neither, but the play of emotions that
came with each scene gave me a pretty good idea what it must be like to be
grand, heroic and afraid all at the same time.
WHAT’S IT ALL MEAN
Two years ago, Central Ontario, Canada got slammed
with an ice storm that laid waste to heritage trees, frilly hedgerows and verdant
front gardens. The mess that became my front yard has been a sort spot ever
With my documentary at an end, I make my way
outside to watch the grass grow. I have diligently worked at filling holes and
killing off pretty lacy clover patches to grow a lawn that bare feet can walk
on once more.
It is a hopeful moment, because, like MM, it is
something from which other things will come. This is writing. This is how I do
Let me percolate on it for awhile, at least until
the next beasty burrows its way into my consciousness. Let it start some fires;
let it water onto my page.
Adult, unapologetic and cognizant,
I am A.B. Funkhauser.
Thank you, Marie, for having me aboard. Best!
My pleasure, A.B.! Thanks for stopping by and giving us an insightful take on your writing experience! :)
Guest Blogger Bio
A.B. Funkhauser is
a funeral director, classic car nut and wildlife enthusiast living in Ontario,
Canada. Like most funeral directors, she is governed by a strong sense of
altruism fueled by the belief that life chooses us and we not it.
“Were it not for
the calling, I would have just as likely remained an office assistant shuffling
files around, and would have been happy doing so.”
Life had another
plan. After a long day at the funeral home in the waning months of winter 2010,
she looked down the long hall joining the director’s office to the back door
leading three steps up and out. At that moment a thought occurred: What if a
slightly life-challenged mortician tripped over her man shoes and landed
squarely on her posterior, only to learn that someone she once knew and cared
about had died, and that she was next on the staff roster to care for his
Like funeral directing, the writing called, and four years and several
drafts later, Heuer Lost and Found was born.
What’s a Heuer?
Beyond a word rhyming with “lawyer,” Heuer the lawyer is a man conflicted.
Complex, layered, and very dead, he counts on the ministrations of the funeral
director to set him free.
A labor of love and a quintessential muse, Heuer has
gone on to inspire four other full length works and over a dozen short
“To my husband John
and my children Adam and Melina, I owe thanks for the encouragement, the
support, and the belief that what I was doing was as important as anything I’ve
tackled before at work or in art.”
currently working on a new manuscript begun in November during NaNoWriMo 2014.
*The novels: Heuer Lost And Found,
Scooter Nation, The Heuer Effect, Poor
Undertaker, Dirty Dale. The Shorts: The Essential
Heuer, Jack Bunny and the Rocket Man, Turd Meets Rock, Cassarine, Terra Nova,
Ursa Major, Hey! Birdy, Birdy, The Hagfish Conundrum, Mutual of Omaha, Cheetahs
in Flight, Lady Predator, and more…