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N.L. Belardes Archive

N.L. Belardes

The Night I Told That Radio Guy I Was Searching for Frozen Babies At Disneyland, or Why We’re All Captivated by Urban Legends

August 13th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

One night I was a guest on the Red Eye Radio show with host John Wessling. It was midnight. I was sitting in a bathroom near Disneyland. I had called in and started telling the show host how I was on a mission to find out if some of the dolls on the “It’s a Small World” ride were really little people from around the globe who were cryogenically frozen.

“I’m ready to unravel the mystery,” I said. “These sad little people need not go on display for the sake of international fame!”

My family was flip-flopping in the other room on uncomfortable beds, disturbed by my muffled bathroom cries to save the frozen children of Disney.



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N.L. Belardes

A Thousand Words: Shaman Child

July 13th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I got onto the hood of our car and stared up at the milky stars. Eric’s yellow school bus was parked right behind us. Desert shrubs looked eerie in the moonlight. Olaf grabbed a blanket and walked off into the desert while I found myself dreaming about the past and the walking stick in the trunk and the mysterious man we had stumbled upon in the middle of the Ohio woods many days before.

Then I listened for snakes. I remembered what my parents had told me about the time they broke down in their old Volkswagen Beetle in the desert in the 1960s. My mother saw dozens of rattlesnakes when she took my sister for a pee by some shrubs. The way I remember my pop telling the story, there were snakes in the road, snakes winding past shrubs, snakes tangled, slithering, everywhere. It was like one of those classic old desert horror movies.

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N.L. Belardes

The Magical Pig of Akron

July 5th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I pulled up to the gas station in an old clunker, a 1978 Bonneville that was by far the worst car I ever had to drive or ride in. My girlfriend had that same stupid, sweet smile she had on her face as when we’d stolen some gas a few days before. We were in Akron, Ohio. A few days earlier, we had poured about sixteen bucks worth in the tank and took off without paying. It was easy as that.

We were living on the edge, but that was the state of things back in 1996. We were traveling in a terrible car, wishing we had more money, wishing we had a real vacation. We were living on the edge like some kind of drugless Hunter S. Thompson fiasco. My girlfriend had just gotten a job as a waitress at a restaurant where she stole bread each night for us to devour. It was that and the eggplant from a forest ranger who had a big garden in his yard. He made his own mulch, grew his own delicacies. Nick—that was the ranger’s name. He’d bought his car cheap after some people drove it into a lake and drowned in it. “The car smelled for a while,” he told us.

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N.L. Belardes

Critical Irony: Head Injury Caretaker Head Injured By Head Injury Victim

June 9th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

A few months ago I took photos of a fire engine and ambulance outside of the Centre for Neuro Skills live-in facility in southwest Bakersfield. I wondered, What’s going on here? Did one of the staff members finally get severely injured or killed?

Maybe the powder keg had gone off. Maybe one of their clients was hurt? (They don’t call them patients). I didn’t call. There were no reports from emergency services or from other media outlets. Deep down I really didn’t want to know.

The head-injured walk in a fog, literally. I often see the facility’s rehabilitation assistants walking with clients down Gosford Road, or along the tranquil park adjacent to the facility. The clients don’t often get very far, though a few have been known to run down the street, evading their caretakers. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

El Camino

June 6th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

El Camino. 1984. V8 engine. 350. I never had one and I still don’t. But my just-graduated-son Landen gave me and a six-year-old punk girl named Jai Ann our first El Camino joyride. Destination: McDonald’s.

VIDEO: El Camino Cruisin’

It goes like this: We hit Gosford Road and flew like the Furies were chasing us. Clouds rolled past. Time slowed. This was our video game. Pull out the joystick. Hit the fire button. Blast some asteroids. Jump like Frogger. Fly like the Pacman family. Donkey Kong it. You get the picture. Soaring Xervious adventure. This was old school. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Summer Reading For Kicking It At The Food Court And Other Strange Places

May 31st, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

It’s summer. You’re lazing on the patio and you’re ready to escape to another world. But you haven’t gone to the bookstore for your summer reads. In fact, you’re not even sure what to buy. You just know your mind needs to take you really far away. Don’t worry, your summer reading list has arrived:

Action-Adventure: Back in the 1970s, reading “Jaws” (or watching the movie) kept your grandpa out of the water and in a paranoid fit. Look no further, the fourth installment of Steve Alten’s MEG series was recently released. We’re talking 76-foot sharks and a lost world of monsters tucked away beneath ocean plates. Turn on the grill but make someone else cook. “MEG: Hell’s Aquarium” is an addictive heart thumper. When I asked Alten to describe his book in a short sentence, he said: “The most frightening sea monsters in history…are no longer history.” Yikes. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

My iPod ‘Real Memories’ List

May 21st, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

Get your iPod. What if you could take a collection of memories, weird and otherwise, and put them on your device? Then people could scroll through and play them back at their leisure. Would some play in loop mode?

Nick Belardes iPod Memory List:

Child screams for a purple balloon. As mom drives at 45 mph a purple balloon flies into car.

Driving through parking lot a bird flies in a car window and gets tangled in woman’s hair.

Downtown Las Vegas midget Charlie Chaplain twirls his cane while an Elvis impersonator slams on his brakes, nearly running over a hapless pedestrian. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Twitter Novel In The Twitterverse: Read The First 358 Tweets Of ‘Small Places’

April 15th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

People have been wanting a place where they can go to read the Twitter novel “Small Places” without clicking through the reverse order on its Twitter page site. Right away, this post is for “Small Places” readers and new fans, and people who want to discuss literary innovation, because here, they will get 14 chapters (of the 25 posted), and a whopping 358 tweets of the nearly 600 posted.

But first, what is a Twitter novel?

A Twitter novel is sent out in verses. Twitter is a social networking micro-blogging site tied to cell phone technology (140 characters or less per entry). That means people can receive updates on their cell phones, thus making ”Small Places” a mobile phone book. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

God Was In The Room

April 10th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

She was a head-injured quadraplegic at a nursing home. I took care of her sometimes. The other assistants who cared for her brought her Playgirl magazines. They’d open them up to a photo of some guy’s package, which brought a big smile to her contorting face. A former Cal Trans road worker, she had been smashed by some kind of vehicle. She couldn’t talk, only smile. She couldn’t eat except through a tube that dangled from her side. But she loved porn. You could see it in her eyes. I had to turn her constantly to keep the sores off her body.

A head-injured man shared the room. All he could do was eat. I spoon fed him and had to massage his throat so he would swallow. I changed his diapers, took him to a shower room and hosed him off while he lay on a big blue gurney. He stared a lot. That’s all he could do. I didn’t sense any thought behind his eyes. I figured any kind of reasoning was hidden far behind a veil of fog so thick that his soul was in a constant winter.

His mother, whose fingernails looked like strange spades, would come to his room once a week and rub his head. She thought he might wake up. “He’s going to come through,” she said. Her little puffs of grey hair and big glasses hid a motherly anger I didn’t ever want to rouse.

I hung out with a couple of CNAs at the nursing home. James was a large black man who would tell me lots of Bible stories. “You know Christmas trees are in the Bible,” he said one day, then launched into the old testament tale on the topic.

“Fool, that’s a bad word. Don’t ever call anybody a fool,” James said on another occasion. “People don’t know they should be afraid of that word. God will punish them.”

I was glad to be at the nursing home, far away from the clinic where the angry head-injured like Ken Svent couldn’t throw his breakfast at me, or scream until his ribs shattered, or like Herman Burger the former six-foot, five-inch-tall gay lumberjack — he couldn’t lunge at me with his razor or throw his shoe at his Alaskan wilderness lover, miss, and hit a window.

My favorite head-injured was an old timer named Tom. He pitched in the World Series back in the 1950s and still had enough wits to show me his slider and curve ball. His smashed brain could at least put together those memories. I always wondered if he made the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Anyone who played in a World Series should be so lauded, at least in my book.

The rooms and halls of the nursing home smelled like piss. That’s the difference between a clean hospital and any senior living center. The old in the hallways constantly piss themselves, the floor, their rooms. The smell lingers in a cloud of human waste.

I studied in the nursing home. I read and then fed the injured. I remember fall months and the leaves tumbling through the air outside the windows. I remember James saying he had another story for me. “It’s about God’s covenant by fire and water,” he said. He came into the room often and saw a bit of God in there. I know he did.
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N.L. BELARDES is a journalist and videographer who manages a news site in central California. His bizarre trivia book, “Random Obsessions” is due to hit store shelves in late 2009. His work has appeared on the homepage of CNN.com and other news sites all over America. You can purchase Lords: Part One, which describes the infamous Lords of Bakersfield. N.L. welcomes humorous notes and news tips to his MySpace or Twitter. He also has the twitter novel, “Small Places,” a literary micro-blogging corporate mockery that you can get a sentence at a time via the Web or cell phone.


N.L. Belardes

Anatomy of a Coward

March 13th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I don’t know what happened. I could be one of those people who black out, who say things in moments where there’s no clarity, no real consciousness, just daydreaming –  starwalking in silent dreams during schoolyard bells.

The bus dropped me off near Geneva Avenue — that’s on the southside of Bakersfield. It was a poor blue collar street with stray dogs, tumbleweeds and the shitty kids I grew up with.

Walking home, I remember a short Asian-Mexican boy with a cleft palate. His face always looked angry, distorted. He had a mouth like a pumpkin scar. He was in the group of kids following me, encouraging the boy at the front of the pack to get me. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Olaf’s Smile

March 11th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

Nearly 1,000 miles from home, it was just us and the two Norwegians in their blue pick-up. We took a road out of Santa Rosa that headed away from the red-banded hills near town and into the Chihuahua Desert. I felt a sense of wonder and satisfaction as the truck flew down the highway on what seemed an adventure never before undertaken—deeper into the New Mexican desert than anyone could ever venture. Not even Coronado’s tears could penetrate this place. Far away we drove to a moonscape, a desertscape, under a red glow of sun and blue wisp of desert day. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Kites Over The City

January 27th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

There’s a Star Wars kite that flies through my imagination. It fights a plastic parrot kite over a lonely section of the city. Cars zoom past and we all ignore them. The kites dart and dodge. They batter one another. They’re  not really even there. But I can open the front door of my apartment and see them flying across the apartment tops in a pool of blue sky. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Mothman Nightmares And Hybrid Readers Of TheNervousBreakdown

January 10th, 2009
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I’ve been working on this book, “Random Obsessions” and it has me creeped out.

Mothman and bizarre West Virginia tales of glowing red eyes and giant winged 1966 Horus-headed birdmen. An interview with someone in Hell Town, Ohio talks escaped 1944 Peninsula python, mutant men and an Indian mound cemetery hill of crystal skull energy. An anonymous source relays a story with an old woman on the Fiji island of Rotuma. Is it true? Are the Cannibal Islands still picking the flesh off their enemies with forks that look like bug mandibles? (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Robot Boys Of The Standard Hotel

December 28th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I didn’t know there were going to be robots.

I stood on top of the Standard Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. I had just sat in a red metal pod with Brenda Knight. “There’s going to be pods,” she said. She was right. There was also a swimming pool. A girl slipped into it, glided through the water. Buildings crowded all around. The U.S. Bank Tower with its thousand lit windows looked like it could grow feet, step over the Standard and run into the ocean. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Erika Rae, Rich Ferguson, And Hollywood Spinning On A Top

December 20th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

“Write about each other,” I say. I’m not sure Erika was listening. She got fixated on some strange Colorado party where the local book club dresses up like characters from novels. She’s some slinky sex kitten out of a D.H. Lawrence book. Why not? She was chased by a giant moth on some Chinese beach. That’s sort of D.H. Lawrence-ish. Maybe not. We debated the moth sighting for half an hour. I Googled to no end. I didn’t even know there were giant moths on planet Earth. But she’d nearly touched one.

I think she was having a Peter Pan dream. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Songs Of The Glue Machines

December 5th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

The glue was pink. Barrels of thick pink glue.

Pink liquid poured through tubes, was sucked into basins where rollers whipped through them, coating pads. The rollers spun like little worlds on their axis. The pads, if you used your imagination just right, were shaped like continents and dripped with pink goo.

As each piece of paperboard shot through the rollers, pads would leave their marks. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

The Dead Generation

November 18th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

I’m wondering if writers in my Generation X age group who contribute their talents to various sites and newspapers, and yet don’t feel like they’re a part of a literary movement, might feel a kinship to this particular piece that I have never shared publicly until now. The Dead Generation is an excerpt from chapter 9 of Citrus Girl, about a third of that chapter, and was written sometime between 1996 and 1998. Could all be drivel. It’s up to you to decide…

It’s 1996 and I’m thinking about Malcolm Cowley, one of the ‘lost’. There he was back in America and in the early 1930s writing of ‘mansions in the air’ and ‘blue juniata’, you know, contemplating future generations. Because back in America he realized an entire lost generation would eventually come back home to the cities, hillsides, countrysides to where innocence escaped them, to where in America, “somewhere the turn of a dirt road or the unexpected crest of a hill reveals your own childhood.” Those literary enclaves—the lost generation—the beat generation—any generation, generations inspiring non-writers and non-literary minded to become just as lost, or just as beat. After a while someone probably said, “You don’t have to be a beat writer or bop musician, or to have known any of the famous beats to be one” —and soon a generation having already took root, expanded, appeared in pop culture, subculture, counterculture, mainstream culture until all they had to do was just look like a beatnik, act like what they thought was a beatnik…

And now today’s dead generation—lost, but never forever lost and never completely forgotten—where are their slacker rebel origins? (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Fistfight In Wilcox

November 15th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

The bus rolled out of Bakersfield and went straight to Los Angeles. We crept out of the Central Valley, past cornfields and vineyards. Alfalfa lands sprouted purple wildflowers. An ascent into the Los Padres and over the San Andreas Fault meant an eventual descent with the bus like a rocket onto L.A.’s dirty streets. The grimy Greyhound station was in neighborhoods covered with graffiti and barbed wire. I expected smoke stacks on a cutting horizon, glowing neon “Blade Runner” umbrellas held by half-Chinamen and steam-faced cyperpunks in leather and make-up. This was 1998. No 1999 party yet. No new Millennium glitter. Just the excitement of the L.A. bus station, its high interior walls, addicts, travelers, pickpockets and lost souls. We were in a reality that steps over sad-faced women huddled around piles of clothing and bums sleeping on benches covered with the L.A. Times. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Drowning With Velvet Ants

October 4th, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

It’s happening again. I’m slipping as the ledge gives way. I close my eyes and see sweeping shades of brown: crumbly red-brown wet dirt, rushing mud waters, entire banks of sweaty boiling brown. Hands caked, grabbing, clawing. They’re covered in muck. Dirty tears are streaming.

I can’t hear my own cries for help.

I take a walk because I don’t want to think about it. I always do when I make decisions where I’m drowning in uncertainty. I mentally fight against the slide just like I did that day: arms and legs kick out to plow the mud as I slip further toward the torrent. (more…)


N.L. Belardes

Moths In Cotton Fields

September 23rd, 2008
by N.L. Belardes

BAKERSFIELD, CA-

“I didn’t used to be good,” Mike said. We sat in his white truck in the middle of a dirt field. All of the workers were gone. We were getting paid just to sit there. Time-and-a-half for a few hours at least. The radio preacher was turned down. Mike’s door was open. One of his boots was practically touching the ground. Cars passed along a stretch of highway. “I worked overseas. I got into some trouble,” Mike added. He didn’t say about what. But the radio preacher seemed to say, “Amen.” (more…)