Ray Zacek is a retired fed, now a tax consultant authorized to practice before the IRS. He has also pursued, with indefatigable and stubborn persistence, an avocation as a writer which he now seeks to convert to a vocation, defined as that endeavor which brings in money and status. Born in Chicago, he has lived in California (back when cars had fins and tiny bungalows were reasonably priced), Colorado, North Carolina and Seattle, Washington, residing in Tampa, Florida since 1983. He has written short stories, novels, novellas, tweets, irate letters to the editor, precious bon mots, and plays, both long and short. His full-length play, Desperados, was produced by Stageworks at Gorilla Theater in 2004. He is currently at work on another play, The Devil Takes Care of His Own, about the notorious Tampa bootlegger and gambler Charlie Wall; and a darkly comic horror novel about a lethal north Florida Elvis cult, Don’t Be Cruel.
1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?
Shakespeare, the secular saint, of course. And I continue to read Dante, in both Italian and the Hollander translation. Swift and the English Augustans; I received a lasting indoctrination in that literature in a class at Northern Illinois University taught by a renegade Irish monk named Shesgreen; he was a leftist, which I abjure, but he gave me perpetual safe passage through the excesses of Romanticism and for that I am grateful. American writers: Hemingway (The Killers, In Another Country and Che Ti Dice La Patria rank among my favorite short stories), David Mamet, Cormac McCarthy, Donald Barthelme, Dashiell Hammett. Poe, of course. And Melville: every few years I reread Bartleby (Billy Budd and Benito Cereno too). I grew up, in the Chicago suburbs, watching Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, which may account for my predilection for the macabre, odd, droll and dark. As for movies, I never got over seeing Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil during formative years.
2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?
If I had to pin myself ideologically, let it be classical liberal (the trifecta: limited government, individual liberty, free markets). I accept neither political party; political parties are highly oxygenated, rube goldbergian constructions by which politicians maintain themselves in power and manage the fractious coalitions that have, like carnival or revival crowds, flocked under the tent. Honest men in politics, it is said, are like virgins in a whorehouse; if they go there at all, they do not last long. Having worked 30 years for the federal government, for one of its most onerous agencies, the IRS (today even more onerous, thank you, Lois!), and now collecting its pension, I’d be a fool and hypocrite to be anti-government and anti-taxation. I believe in light regulation and lower taxes (I grew up in a frugal middle class household, immigrant grandparents from the Old Country, who firmly believed you ought to keep your money), and that government functions, and maintains the trust of its citizens, when it operates within limits, preferably constitutional, pitchforks and torches being too labor intensive.
3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?
Confessional: I was a Standard Liberal, brain dead and reflexively voting Democrat until Y2K. Then, late in life, I reassessed. I read Camille Paglia, an independent and outspoken liberal, thus shattering complacency. I started reading David Horowitz (I have an autographed copy of Radical Son) and listening to Rush Limbaugh. I will make no reference to Damascus or Pauline conversion, which would be pretentious as hell, but at that point in my life there was no turning back. I started reading Hayek, Sowell, Victor Davis Hanson, and David Mamet’s The Secret Knowledge.
4. Where are you from/currently reside?
Nativity: Chicago, Little Company of Mary Hospital, Evergreen Park, Illinois. Grew up in Palos Hills on the outer edge of Cook County, at the time, way out there the busses didn’t run. That area of SW Cook County was, in legend, where you went when you were taken for a ride during the Capone era; bodies turned up there. I have lived in, or have strong ties to and often visited, Texas, Arizona, California, Seattle, Denver, and North Carolina, living in Florida since 1983.
5. What are your writing goals?
Two hundred fifty to five hundred words a day, often simply exercises or tangents that I organize as Fragments; if a particular Fragment starts to cohere over time, it may graduate to a Work in Progress and a Work in Progress, after indefatigable effort, is sometimes Finished. Currently, I am at work on a darkly comic/horror novel, Don’t Be Cruel, about a north Florida Elvis cult, as well as short stories: one about a man covered with tats (of course, being a horror story, they are not tats), another a noir story about Jimmy from Algiers, a Louisiana hit man in love in Texas.
6. Where can people find/follow you online?
Mi piacciono tutte cose italiano: especially, Beretta pistols (owning an M9 and a 3032 Tomcat); Nardini grappa, cedro ormandorla; and Monica Bellucci. The history of Rome, republican and empire, retains my interest, as it did the Founders. And I’ve always been crazy about Westerns and film noir.
An Excerpt from “Chrysalis” by Ray Zacek…
Welcome to Leclerc USA, thought Coffman as he cruised down a potholed stretch of highway called Memorial Boulevard. Some of the potholes were real craters.
Leclerc County, its county seat the mid-sized city of the same name, was one of the poorest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the southeast United States. This had been abundantly evident to Coffman as he had driven from the airport past the abandoned storefronts, several of them burned out; derelict shopping malls and cheap by-the-month, by-the-week, by-the-hour motels. Pawnshops proliferated. Many of the billboard signs on the highway were blank or shredded, others peppered with holes that looked like small-arms fire.
I go where they send me, thought Coffman. Even here to Somalia on the Mississippi.
“This is highly irregular,” said Dr. Ahmad Jones after Coffman parked the flex-fuel Ford Fueron SUV outside the county morgue and got out.
The county’s Medical Examiner wore a charcoal gray wool suit and a tie despite the heat and humidity. Coffman thanked the ME for taking time to meet on such short notice, this banal and perfunctory statement being more or less obligatory, and offered him the folding plastic case that displayed Coffman’s federally issued ID.
“Is there a problem with my credentials?” Coffman asked, knowing there wasn’t. His credentials were in perfect form: impressive-looking, innocuous, and completely deceptive, a screen meant to conceal his actual function from petty local satraps like Doctor Ahmad Jones.
Don’t alarm the public was the basic tenet of the job. Don’t alarm the public, and get in and out quickly. And Coffman, who lived in a high-rise condo between D.C. and Baltimore, wanted to get out of Leclerc as soon as humanly possible.
“No, Mr. Coffman, there is no problem with your credentials,” Jones said, handing them back. The ME was agitated.
“This investigation, I must say, is highly irregular. I want to go on record as saying.”
“And you can’t park there. That’s a handicapped space.”
In the vast parking area, simmering in the heat, there were only three vehicles: the rental that Coffman had picked up at the airport; a late-model white Lexus in the space reserved for the ME; and a real piece of shit, a pond scum-green Buick with primer-gray fenders and a cracked windshield, its muffler hanging by a wire, in staff parking.
“Are you kidding me?”
Jones made a squeezed-lemon face. “No, Mr. Coffman, I am not a jocular man.”
“I do not indulge in humor or badinage.”
“I’m not moving the car,” said Coffman. He was a stocky, muscular man and he put on his no-nonsense, hard-as-concrete face. The ME was older and smaller–bantamweight.
“Hmph,” said Jones, frowning and peering at Coffman through red horn-rimmed glasses. “Very well then.”
Coffman gestured toward the building. “Shall we go in?”
The complex was housed in leased premises where a now-defunct computer superstore formerly operated. It was a snowfall white, cube-shaped edifice, modernist and bland, with a bright orange trim.
“One moment,” said Jones, “while I speak to my wife.” He strode to the Lexus and said a few hushed words to the young woman in a hijab sitting behind the wheel. Her face was the color of cocoa, her features soft and compliant. She nodded, started the Lexus, dropped it in gear and backed up, zigzagged, and pulled out. Doctor Jones watched her drive away. Then he strode back toward Coffman. “Let us proceed. This way, Mr. Coffman.”