Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Door in the Desert***

The bartender pulled out his trusty bar bat, giving the slumping figure a tap on the shoulder.
“You can’t stay here mister, it’s time to close.” He pushed him again.
“I ain’t got to go get Eddy do I?.
The slumping figure jolted up. “I’m Jack and I’m back.”
“Well all right Jack, but you gotta go.”
“What time is it?” as though he were actually late for something.
“ It’s time to go Jack and that’s all we got to say.”
Jack, the drunk smart ass lifted his head, smiling at the bartender. “Would that be the ‘Royal “we?” he asked. The bartender put both elbows on the bar and pointed a stubby, bleached finger, holding the bat, at Jack.
“That’d just be you Jack, said the bartender.
Jack’s feet dangled from the barstool, like some curious octopus, tentatively searching for the floor as his knees expressed a certain need to buckle under him. But he stood up in one of those sober moments, smiling at the bartender and held his hands out as if to surrender.
“I’m going.”
The bartender stepped back, tapping the bat against his palm.
“Good, ‘cause Eddy don’t like to get up if don’t have to.”
Jack grabbed at his own throbbing skull as he turned for the door.
“Who’s this Eddy?”
The bartender let the bat hang loose by his side.
“Eddy Bartlett. His Daddy owns this town. Family been here almost a hundred years come this New Years.”
Jack looked around at the ancient black & whites and the dated color pictures on the walls.
“So he owns this bar too?”
“Every inch.”

Jack put his shoulder into the door and mumbled.
“Must be a fuckin’ jerk.”
The bartender stepped forward, cupping one incredulous ear, bat in hand, unsatisfied.
“ What’d you say?”
Jack rubbed his face and burped. “ I said, it must be a lot of work.” Jack winked him, Stepped out into the cold and let the noisy, spring loaded door slap back at the bartender.

Jack stumbled in the street, fumbling for his keys. Driving was out of the question he thought, but there was nothing but desert at this end of town, and no one to ask any questions, and so he’d drive, he decided. Nothing but rough roads to nowhere and and he’d already been stuck there too many times.
He looked back at the bar, dark now, and thought of the mysterious Eddy, sleeping soundly and perhaps dreaming about crushing some poor souls head with a baseball bat.
Jack rolled down The window thinking he might be hurling soon and then in a fit of drunken bravery he yelled in his best red-neck-yokel-ese, “I’ll be back you sons-a-bitches.” But then he hurriedly pumped the gas and rocked back and forth as he turned the key. He’d forgotten the golden rule of bravery, which was to engage the clutch before opening up the mouth.
He pleaded with the old jeep. “Come on guzzler, don’t let me down,” and the ignition groaned as if to ask, where the hell we going at this hour?
Jack prayed up into the starry night then glanced at the dark shadows of the bar, just in case old Eddy was into sleep walking. The ignition caught.
The jeep lurched through first and second whining into the night before he thought about hitting third. Stars opened up the darkness, bringing a hint, just a hint though, of clarity to Jack’s mind. He was a moonlight drivin’ fool and then just as he realized the edge of the road was near, he thought to turn on the headlight. Singular. Just one, and that was the right one, which caused him for no great reason to lean heavily to the right as he drove, or was that the booze, or perhaps a slightly magnetically northern favor that his body proposed. He turned off the main road and stirred up some moonlight dust, lugged the transmission in fourth, stalled, and fell out into the dirt, heaving bud, bourbon and a slightly used cheeseburger.
He was a magnet all right. A magnet for love and trouble and all the trouble of love, but without all the trimmings; He was a man of the one-night-stand, or no stand at all. and now he was a man lost in a mystery. And forget standing for the moment.

*** can you help me with a title?

I Loaf You

Her table was waiting, but that’s another story. The other guests had already arrived and seated themselves comfortably as Carole threaded her way through the maze of fine diners, her Pugliese tucked safely, but for all to see, under her arm, snug almost, up there in her pit.

“Thank you,” she said, as the waiter pulled out one chair into which she put the loaf of bread. The waiter scooted the loaf up against the edge of the table, until just its finely dusted crust looked over the edge.
The waiter smiled, pulling out another chair for Carole. “A fine Pugliese,” he said, as Carole brushed speckles of flour from her arm and looked warmly at her fresh baked loaf.
“With olives,” she reminded him as her finely clothed figure tucked and bent just as the waiter gave her chair a gentle push.
“Of course, “ replied the waiter.

One of the diners--an as not yet introduced guest-- flagged the waiter as he backed away from the table. “Could we get some bread,” he asked.
The table froze, all eyes on the uninitiated guest. The waiter looked at him and said, “But there is bread at the table sir. A fine Pugliese.” and just then he caught a glance from Carole and he added, “With olives,” and with that the waiter left the table guests to stare at one another.

Inasmuch as he could, the Pugliese with olives said nothing, but instead, looked across the table, admiring, from his point of view, the underside edge of the fine china before him, and the hungry eyes upon him.

Carole dabbed at a precious crumb from the Pugliese, studying it for a second before letting her tongue take it away.
She of all people knew her Pugliese had olives and she reveled for a moment in it’s delectable fine place in the world of breads.
The guests stared at Carole’s Pugliese, each slowly grasping their butter knives as Carole’s attention slipped inwards to other loafs lost.
Her last loaf nagged at her. He was a carelessly attained multi-grain that should have been factory sealed in shrink wrap and freshness-dated for three years, but instead pulled off a fresh baked look, by somehow ending up in a tastefully designed and somewhat tailored brown bag.

She was prone to falling for a well designed package and that multi-grain player had her going for a while.
He took her for the lumpy cold hump of dough that she could sometimes be. She needed him and he kneaded her and he had her right in the palm of his seedy hand, or so he wished, because he was a loaf of bread after all. And a low-life loaf at that, having almost ended up just plain wheat and sliced (or “serrated,” as he preferred to call it) and shelved next to the lowliest of lows -- the white breads.
Yes, the white breads, with their smooshy, preservative laden smiles and deceptively thin heels. But a heel was a heel in his book of bread and this multi-grain who showed such disdain, even for his own heels, wasn’t about to spend his career loafing around on some tempered steel bread rack, getting cozy with some sliced up ditzy in an opaque and grossly patriotic wrapper of red white and blue. He wanted the bag and the basket and a chance to be held and sniffed and carefully placed next to the fresh bouquet of table flowers and the over-priced bottle of extra-virgin olive oil.
He knew that being anywhere near the white bread could end him up smothered in peanut butter and jelly or facing another belch while pressuring a cold bologna and mayo into the gastric path of a bread neophyte.

But Carole wasn’t asleep at the cart. She could see right through his filmy wrap and she caught onto his game and his machine perfect sliced edges. She wanted her bread to have a few rough ones. To know how to take a knife. How to be strong on the outside and yet warm and sweet on the inside, or sour, as she sometimes preferred them, and that multi-grain wasn’t what she wanted. She left him at the check-out stand and never looked back.

This Pugliese had a name worth pronouncing in mixed company. Eyes lit up at the sight of the two of them. And he had olives. What more could she ask for?
A fine Italian loaf, round, flat, dusted just right and hot out of the oven. Heat was a factor for her and for others.
She could hear the talk as they walked by. “He’s hot,” they’d say. Or “He looks so hot I could eat him. I just want a little nibble, just a tease. He could bake my bread any day. Oh would I like to smother him in some of mama’s garlic spread.”
The comments were endless, coming from the back stabbing bread lusting aficionados and the common dinner role heathens alike. They all wanted Pugliese or one of his lusty, tasty, good with olive oil, brothers.

Carole’s mind snapped back to the present and to the table of dull bladed, hungry -eyed diners.
She could feel the tension and snapped at them “ No one’s gonna cut my loaf but me,” she said.
“I could use a good loaf like that,” murmured one of the guests.
“How much for the precious Pugliese, said another. “I’ll fill him full of cheese and see how he likes it.”
“You realize he’s not even old enough to be a sandwich yet,” said another guest.
Carole flashed her butter knife at the table of hungry eyes. “It’s a Pugliese, “ she hissed, as she stared them down, “ He doesn’t need cheese or meats or condiments.”
She snatched the Pugliese up and held it close, squeezing so tightly that a puff of white cloud burst forth then settled on her nerved features. “This loaf is the love of my life,” she hissed. Everyone recoiled slightly, wincing in shared pain with the tightly squeezed loaf.
The guests couldn’t argue and settled back in their chairs, content to choose other appetizers and to want other things, less desirable, such as each other.
The Pugliese said nothing.

Love For Sale

“Ray, are you there?” she asked.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” he said, his words echoing in the phone, bursting, pursing and pushing with little palpitations of anxiety, each melting into the collective ambient hum of the telephone line.
And as his lips grazed the receiver, he thought of all those other words, oozing through the countless tiny holes, like garlic through a press, or some other excruciating metaphor.
“Where are you,” she asked?
“I think I’m in love.”
“What’s it like?” she asked.
“Oh I’m kind of lost in it at the moment.”
“You’re not lost, you’re there aren’t you?
“Well, tell me about it, tell me about love.”
“I don’t know what to say. I can’t articulate anything.”
“Then don’t articulate,” she said, “Just talk.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” said Ray. “I’m running out of words.”
“Then you must not be in love.”
“No, I’m in love,” Ray Said. “As far as I can see, as far as I can tell.”
“Then what does it look like to you?” she asked.
Ray squinted at the last traces of sunset miles and mountains and deserts away, while his mindless finger traced doodles in the dusty glass. Ray said nothing.
She, after a long silence said, “When you find it let me know, and save a few words for me.”
“I will,” said Ray.
“And let me know what love looks like, and maybe I’ll meet you there."

Ray cradled the phone against his ear, the comfort of her voice lingering in the receiver, then fading into soft static. He’d never been good at saving anything--least of all words.
He felt the weight of the phone, thinking for a moment of all the voices, all the anger, despair and happiness that had passed through its mass of plastic and circuitry, and he wondered if all that emotion got stuck in there, giving the phone its bit of heft. Perhaps, he thought, he should unscrew the mouthpiece, and let the phone dangle, to spin and spill the words out.

Outside the phone booth, a naked buzzing light bulb illuminated what there was of love. Ray felt reluctant to move, but stepped out, staring at the glowing booth, and the dangling receiver, swinging in the wind, its wired guts, unscrewed, exposed, spilling.

There was no life at all in this place where he now stood gazing at the moon, the dark buildings, the gravel road ahead and behind. Love seemed to be unpaved and empty.

Suddenly there was a hum, and a crackle, and a buzz. Ray looked back at the booth, its light fading in the darkness. Panic.
He turned towards the noise, first walking then skipping, then running until he almost passed it by but then he skidded, turned and stood transfixed before the neon sign, that burst into all its neon glory, as the dust settled at his feet.
The cursive words hummed and flickered on and off, in their static display: Words & More . . . More, words, Words, More, Words & More . . . So much more.
He stepped into the warm orange radiance, feeling alive in its glow.

In the window below, blocky letters on white butcher paper advertised the specials of the moment: “Bastard & Bitch!! A scream of a deal and great when bruised or mixed with booze: “Bills, Bills, Bills, cheaper by the dozen!!!” But he didn’t want those words. “Lonesome” and “Depressed” were at a super value blue sticker price -- “buy one and get the other for free!" But he didn’t want those either.

He pressed his face to the glass. Here I am, he thought, all the things I need to say, all the emotions I could ever hope to find . . . and he pushed with all he could but the door was locked.
The lights in the store shut down in a wave of darkness that came towards him and he slapped at the glass.
“Hey, Hello, can you let me in.”
He yanked on the door again, but this time it opened easily, flinging him backwards, almost tripping in the street until he caught himself. He stood there, looking at the open door, which began to slowly shut, and he ran forward, slipping in just as it closed behind him.
The store bustled with a growing energy as though the words were alive with some sort of friction and certainly he could reach out and rub them against one another.
The aisles overflowed with them: Big words and small words and sentences and incomplete thoughts and dangling bits of participle and an abundance of innuendo and run-on sentences and . . .
He reached out touching “Friendship.” In big warm letters the sign below it read, “Never on sale but always a deal.”
Down the aisle words popped out at him. He stared at “Lust” and poked at “Desire,” then looked back at “Friendship.”
He stood there, realizing that something was missing and then, as though it had fallen off the shelf in front of him (but it hadn’t) he thought of love.
After all, love was what he craved. He’d been in love, felt love, made love -- but he still didn’t quite know what love was. And lately he’d just been feeling no love. Now here he was, in love, and he could buy all the love he wanted.
But he couldn’t find it. He raced up and down the aisles and the words became a blur, but still no love. He yelled out.
“Love, love, love, where’s the love?”
“Can I help you?” A voice said.
He turned to see a man standing there, dressed like any grocery clerk, but holding the word “ME” in his arms.
“Do you work here?”
“Only in your imagination. Can I help you with anything?”
Ray paused.“I’m looking for love.”
The clerk sang out, "In all the wrong places!”
“What?” Ray asked, moving towards the clerk
who turned and laughed.
“Never mind, sorry, it was just a joke. What’s your name," the clerk asked?
“Ray,” said Ray.
“Oh, like, ray of light, or truth, or sunshine, or doe Ray Me, or-”
“No, just Ray”
“Well, Ray, what was it you want?”
“I’d like to buy a little love, but I can’t find it.”
“Then we must be out.”
The clerk turned and walked away. “Sorry,” he said, “All out of love.”
“Out of love,” moaned Ray, “come on.”
“How about a nice case of anger,” said the clerk as he stepped away.
Ray’s shoes squealed down the aisle and he slipped on the word “lost” as he turned the corner. He stopped to shake it off the bottom of his shoe.
“Figures,” He said. “Sell me something I don’t already know.”
The clerk yelled from the next aisle, “Be careful!”
Ray looked around for the clerk. “Look, I just need some help finding love, and it would be really, really, really, wonderful if you could help me out.”
The clerk yelled back, “Oh really. Sorry but somebody came in here and bought up the entire supply.”
Exasperation filled Ray’s voice. “You let somebody come in here and buy out the entire God damn supply!”
The clerk sliced open a box of sarcasm and reached inside. “I really wish I could help you.”
Ray frowned. “Look, I get all excited to come in here and buy, buy, buy, and you’re telling me you’re out of Love?”
The clerk put sarcasm on the shelf. “Do you want it that bad?”
Ray clenched his fists. “Yes, yes, I do. I want it bad. I was thinking of taking some home tonight and maybe sharing it.”
Ray turned around to find the clerk behind him. “Follow me then,” he said as he sauntered down the aisle singing, “Cookin’ up a little lovin’ throw it all into the oven, easy bake and 1,2,3 . . .that’s the kind of . . . ”He stopped singing and turned to Ray.
“Ray, Do you know what love looks like, how it feels, what it’s made of. Is it squishy or soft or sharp?” He looked into Ray’s frowning face.
“How can I poss--” The clerk jumped on the end of his sentence.
“Then how can you possibly find it?” He stepped forward and shook his finger in Ray’s face. “You--are standing in the middle of hell-knows-where, which just happens to be the center of aisle #6 of WORDS & MORE, are you not?”
“Yeah, I guess so, I mean . . .”
The clerk put a stop to Ray’s indecision cutting him off with a wave of his hand and leaning forward, whispered in a
conspiratorial tone, “So you must know something of love.”
The two of them stood there, silent until a spark set the clerk off in a mad speech.
“Take your time. Check out our other aisles. Specials on more damaged goods, parables of thought, allegorical insights, litanies, empty rhetoric, super redundancies, etc.”
Ray’s face twisted in confusion. “What the hell is all that stuff?”
The clerk looked indifferently at him. “No idea really.”
Ray looked up into the endless white of the ceiling and at his empty reflection in the mirrors, feeling hopeless.
“When’s it going to get here?”
He turned around, and was again startled to find the clerk standing right behind him. The clerk smiled and motioned Ray forward with a wave of his hand.
“Here you go.”
Ray looked at the shelves, then back at the clerk.
“Yeah, so?”
The clerk snapped at him.
“You don’t want this do you, this love.”
“No, I mean, yes, yes I do,” pleaded Ray, “Really.”
“This then,” the clerk indicated with another long sweep of his hand, “Is all the stuff that goes into love. It’s all right here.”
Ray picked up the first word he found.
“Admiration,” glowed like a smile, “commitment” felt heavy and solid and “patience” waited on the shelf, but even so, Ray could not pick either of them up.
“Look, I just want love, L-O-V-E--one word.”
The clerk hissed, “Listen, you want to know why you can’t find love--it’s because you can’t describe it, you
don’t even know what goes into it--what it’s made of, which, in here, means you ain’t goin’ to find it. So I’m telling you now, I’ll help you find everything that goes into love, but you’ve got to make it yourself, then maybe you’ll never forget.”
Ray stood there. “Okay, I can do this.”
“Good,” said the clerk, “watch this.”
The clerk picked up respect, commitment, fidelity, then jumped to the other side of the aisle and caught passion, romance, affection, devotion, adoration, dote, and stacked them on top of one another and said, “These ought to do for now.”
He pushed the words together, smooshing passion into devotion, dribbling desire down the sides to trickle into dote. The words began to look less and less like themselves and more and more like one big ball, and then he worked it
into the palm of his hand until finally he closed it, shook it, and opened it. There, in the palm of his hand, was “Love.”
Ray stared at love. “I don’t believe it.”
“You must, you’re here,” said the clerk, “And like I said, you don’t get in here without believing, even if it’s only a little bit.”
Ray reached out, grabbing at love, snatching it from the clerk’s hand. The weight of it almost made him lose his balance and the nimble clerk snatched it back and with the deftness of a taffy-twister, pulled the words apart and put them back again.
“So, if you want this,” The clerk held love in his hand and tossed it over his shoulder, catching it behind his back, then pulling it out into a string of words. “From this, well, it’s up to you.”
They stood silently, each waiting for the other, until finally Ray spoke.
“I think,” But before he could say anything more, the clerk raised his hands in exclamation and said, “Excellent,
great, right on, let’s get to it!”
Quicker than words could hurt, the clerk shoved a basket into Ray’s hands.
“Catch,” he yelled, throwing the first word at Ray and then the next and then another.
“A little of this and a little of that,” but suddenly he stopped and looked at Ray. “I get a little carried away some times. You should be doing this.”
Ray hesitated. “I can’t do this on my own.”
“Oh, but you can if you want, or else.”
The clerk spun around and walked away,chattering.
“I’m busy, busy, busy.”
Ray yelled, “But how do I pay?”
“Oh, you’ve been paying all along,” said the clerk.
“What,” shouted Ray.
“You can’t buy love,” said the clerk, “But did you check out the cliché section?”
Ray suddenly felt like one of those mad, happy shoppers, grabbing up all they could in a matter of minutes to win the contest.
Everything fit into his basket and finally he stopped, his basket full, yet his basket felt light, as though he might have only grabbed up one word.
Ray walked out the door and turned to look back at the store. He felt so good and thought not to leave, that this good feeling might not last.
But nothing happened and he walked farther and farther down the road ahead and the store was a beacon of warmth, radiating out into the night, bringing love to the desert of life.

She Just Lay There

“Is that you?” he yells from the bedroom. She closes the door, tosses her purse on the floor.
“Who else is it gonna be after all these years”
“Can’t hear you,” he says. “Can’t hear me, what page are you on?” she asks.
“Thirteen, your unlucky number.” He says. She stares at whiteness all around her.
“Do I still get killed?”
“Same old story.” He says.
You seem to like that part of the story, a lot.”
“What,” he says, “be out in a minute.”
“Sure, fine, bring me with you, will you.” She glances down to her feet and looks up her entire length. “Courier, fuck”
He comes into the room, lays himself out on the page, “kinda drab looking, can I take a guess? “
“Go for it,” she says. “Pulp?” he says, wincing.
“Begins with a “P,” rhymes with scorn and don’t get any ideas.”
“Porn.” I knew it. You get all the good stuff.
“I’d say, fuck you, but I heard it enough today.”
“So it wasn’t that good.” He asks.
“No, “she says, “I just laid there on the page.”
“Back tomorrow?”
“No, it was a quick read. I did a lot of moaning and very little development. “
He looks at her, smiles. “ Kind of nice to be just turned eighteen though, isn’t it?”
“Hardly,” she says. What about you?”
He sits up, in all his times new roman glory. “I got to be Uncle Sam and spread lies about American history.”
“Boring,” she says, and goes to the kitchen. He rolls onto his side. ”What’s for dinner, he asks.
“I don’t know, why didn’t you bring a nice fresh label home with you?
He thinks to himself, she’ll never let that one go.
“It’s not those labels I’m into, it’s the list of ingredients.”
She closes the door of the bathroom.
“Labels, lists, ingredients, all the same. You’re a fuck and you know it.”
“Honey, I said I was sorry.”
She bangs on the door, “ And what about that little italicized number?
“I couldn’t help that, you look good in italics too baby.”
“Even courier?”
He leans into the door, san serif, banging gently. Searching for the words to save himself.
“You make courier Italics look like . . .”
She opens the door. Smiles at him. “Okay Uncle Sam, give me a minute.”
He feels good. Maybe this will be a nice night after all.
“Dinner’s in the next chapter.” He says.
“But I’m dead already.”
“yeah, but they’re gonna talk about you.”
“No thanks, you go. I’m gonna watch my P’s and Q’s.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Girls Waited

The girls stood across the road from the Sierra Mountain Gas & Tackle, situated at the very east end of the lake.
A clean, blue, cloudless sky swayed the tall trees, but otherwise a roll of hot valley air perspired against my skin.
Across the lake, the two-lane highway looped around, unnoticed in the trees except for the effort of the occasional car whining its way up the steep grade.
A motorboat burbled somewhere on the lake, and the gas pump churned and ticked, and if not for the call of an occasional bird, the world stood quietly, and innocent.
The girls’ laughter sparkled and broke the moment, like glints on the water, then passed. Secrets on a summer’s day at the edge of the lake. Something funny, soon forgotten. Something said that only young girls could understand.
They marched across the road, chirping, sandals clomping, all skin and sunburn. Blonde, ageless faces, uninspired by the world’s woes. They dragged their beach towels and pink backpacks, yet were burdened by nothing more than innocence.
I watched through the truck window, invisible, as they passed, knowing that nothing could get in the way of their being young girls on a summer’s day. They owned everything as they marched before me and through the creaky door into the air-conditioned, neon world of the Gas & Tackle shop.

Butch came round from behind the store and wrestled his plaid girth into the truck cab just as the girls came back outside.
They straggled back across the road, each of them handling a large, melting, ice cream cone.
The truck rocked as Butch waddled in the seat, situating the necessities––cigarettes from the pocket, lighter on the dash and lastly, he pulled from the bag at his feet, a beer.
“Cold one,” he said. “Nah, thanks,” I said and instead reached for his pack of cigarettes. “Maybe later.”
Butch, as though driving with a can of beer was a natural and law-abiding thing to do, took a long guzzle, then paused to stare at the cold sweating can before him. “You don’t want a beer?”
“Good stuff, gonna get warm if we don’t drink it.”
I think he just didn’t want to drink alone, but he took another swig and nestled the beer between his legs.
“Suits me,” he said, pawing for his cigarettes. “Suits me just fine.” And with that he reached in and had another one popped before it left the bag.

We sat in silence, in no hurry to get back to driving the two hours up and into the mountains.
We smoked the cigarettes and stared blankly at the girls across the road. They dropped their towels and backpacks, engrossed in their messy, melting cones, hands, tongues, lips, laughter, they dripped vanilla and chocolate, pushed one another as though they were boys, and then, just then, a dusty Volvo pulled off, just past them and they began to cheer, loudly.
Butch tossed his cigarette to the floor and cranked the key before grabbing another smoke. Outside, the girls whirled and thrashed, each of them working with one hand, while they hurried to finish their cones and toss their things into the back of the car. The mother paced back and forth, arms in motion, cell phone at her ear. She stopped her conversation for a moment. “Finish those before you get in the car.” She said.
We watched as they made quick work of the cones and then one of them, the first, jumped up and down, “I won,” she said. “Second,” shouted the next girl and then mom chimed in, “let’s go,” and without fanfare the other girls either finished their cones or dropped them at the side of the road.

Butch pulled out of the station and we watched as the last of them got into the car. “Not too many ice cream summers left there” he said and I didn’t know quite what he meant, but I did, and with that notion floating around, I reached down and pulled out one of the beers.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

President’s Day, Oh Joy

With a sudden inhale, fear and logistics converge, gripping me as I thrash my way out of bed, heart racing, darkness, fingers struggling, forever re-learning how to shut off the cell phone alarm clock function, as my eyes open, conjuring up the myth of another day and the only real reason to get up, street cleaning.
Naked, my feet barely on the floor, my entire world catches up, surging down through me, impeding my forward movement, as it settles in an ache of confusion and angst. My mind hits the preview button, super-speed; my lack of cash, my relationship, lost dreams, the costly engine repairs, rewriting the resume, dishes in the sink, how cold it is outside, why does my gut feel still feel the bulge of last nights feeding frenzy at the Chinese joint . . . all of it, everything that could, would and will, conspires against me––packing itself into one constipated urge of despair. I’m awake.
In the focusing of this dread, yesterday’s underwear doesn’t seem like much and it’s right there––I try slipping into them, but it turns into something less graceful, sort of a rubics cube of contortion and decision, but after that, the learning curve steepens, leaving my pants, shoes and so on, to go on, in a much easier fashion.
Endless training has prepared me for these moments of quick decision––glasses, wallet, cell phone, keys and I am out the door, double time, sunrise at my back.

All across the city flaccid civil servants still sleep soundly, pondering far-off dreams of retirement. Banks with your imaginary money jingling in their vaults keep their doors closed. Only a few are out, roaming in the sunrise, earning your tax dollars: the bus drivers, the police and on this morning, expected between the ever vague hours of eight and ten a.m., the street cleaners.
They come with a rumble and a hum, spraying, brushing, and vanishing around another corner, gone for another week, into the void, a quantum leap of physics, soon to reappear in another time zone––probably the one you will park in next.
But before them, the pariah, the leeches, the blood sucking, expletive inducing, parking control officers, putter up and down the blocks, three wheeled raiders, preying on the slow, the sleeping, the forgetful, the arrogant . . . the soon to be booted.
You can hear them coming. Little stubby Cushman’s sputtering neatly, like flies to shit, turning, stopping, scooting (did I forget, writing) on in bee-like fashion; their occupants dull, slumping, smoking, quota minding clerks of the city, aiming to please, to exercise their bloated sense of power and to take your verbal ravages with nothing more than a patronizing, “Sorry but I can’t do anything once the ticket is written,” which of course translates to fuck you sucker, I get all my tickets fixed.
I’m hustling but there’s always time for coffee. The donut shop girl smiles the smile that never changes or seems to acknowledge me, in spite of the fact that I tip her a quarter every morning, sometimes twice a day. I imagine my tips going for all the fuzzy pink, pastel trinkets decorating the dashboard of her spotless Honda.
“How are you today, I say, plunking that quarter in the jar before she’s said a word. Audible as it is, she must be used to the sound of change hitting the bottom. I’m afraid to give her anything less that a quarter for fear of scorn, even though she will make more than me today, just in tips.
“How are you today,” she repeats, in her square structured response and I have long given up hope of her ever replying with, “I’m fine,” or some other colloquialism of donut shop banter.
She knows her donuts though––tongs a the ready while
I, in turn, struggle to remember, “maple old-fashioned.”
She descends, comes up, an old-fashioned in her grip.
We both confirm its authenticity. I suppose she does know me, as we agree again, in unison, “large coffee.” I shoot her a ramble of dialogue that paralyzes her expression. She’s lost in my short babble, barely able to say thanks to my thanks as she surrenders my donut.
I turn for the door, taking that cautionary slurp of coffee––the one that’s supposed to create that safety zone, but instead always manages to spill and dribble and I just have to thank the gods that I am not dressed down in some Khaki formation, about to jump a bus with my crotch spotted in French roast.
I’m sipping, spewing expletives, vaguely aware that someone is near by. I spit out another burst, like
buck-shot, to let them know that I mean business. I’m pissed, I swear, and never mind the dribble.

My car is blocks away, in an almost unbroken line of parked cars, like a trail of Morse code that runs off over the horizon. I can just make it out as a black dash, but more importantly, no sign of the Cushman brigade, and no one racing grand prix style, across the road to get to their cars.
I relax my gait to account for the fact that it is a crisp blue day and a crisp blue president’s day at that and the irony that I should celebrate in a way, the fuck ups of past leaders and most certainly the fuck-up that presently leads us along. I’ll enjoy the day, if only to laugh at him and think that somewhere, that idiot is being congratulated.
But first, and far more important than any president, my very used 1987 guzzler awaits and I pray to all the gods possible that it starts up; that I did not leave the lights or the heater or anything else on; that my tires are not flat, no windows are broken and nothing is missing that I would not miss anyway and lastly I pray that no middle east gold is leaking from below.
Because the key lock is long broken, I open my door via the small window. Snake my hand in and down, nudging the lever, extracting my hand, always waiting, holding my breath for someone to call me on this––to question my ownership––especially if they should be spy enough to see that no key is required to start the engine.
I climb into the familiar smell of old car dust and worn seats, a menagerie of lonely gear: ski poles, tire tubes, bike helmets and tools for something to do with car repair.
I settle into the guzzlers world, checking the buttons, switches, nothing on. Relief. As I flip the wiper switch, I think of a space ship, long abandoned and floating in some far off galaxy.
The empty hulk gets boarded by a bunch of ragtag heroes in training and after so many, maybe hundreds of years in stale space, all systems down, someone flips a switch and the sleeping giant yawns, buzzes, screens light up and the ship awakens to cheers. I feel this way whenever I start my car.
The wipers, front and back push away a weeks worth of dirt, leaves and bird shit, softened to a sludge by the cold morning dew.
I contemplate turning on the engine but decide to sit in silence, waiting for the drone of terror.
Suddenly it occurs to me that this is a holiday of sorts and being presidents day, I think, damn, this should be the most important day in America. Certainly the street sweepers will be paying their respects by staying home, and then I remember who they are––not the street sweepers, but the rodents in the little chariots. They are probably at the bedside of every street sweeper in town, tugging them out of bed, urging them to climb out of bed and up into their lumbering steeds and follow them, ‘cause there’s tickets to write and we got ‘em off guard. Presidents day is just another, thankfully, vague holiday, not worthy of getting out of bed, except for this.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Knot the Not (also known as Deleting “And” an editing exercise)

Something eluded him like he didn’t know. Nothing made any sense or was in its place but he still felt there was something to find or figure out, if only he could find it.

Just then the doorbell warbled and he realized that there was sunshine outside and traffic going by and radios playing and maybe even someone at the door, but who knows, or who knew.
He didn’t and so he let the bell ring again and then it rang no more and he thought that was sort of poetry in a real urban sense; it had a beginning ,middle and an end., or maybe not so much of an end because as they say somewhere out there in the land of sayings, every end is really a beginning and he ran that through his cerebral cortex a few times and marveled at the word, cerebral cortex. Was it just a syllable heavy gobble of words for brain?

He didn’t know and there was certainly not a dictionary handy, at least not one that would require him to get up from his less than comfortable but what were his options anyway, kind of horizontal stance. He had to pee for one thing, but no amount of blistering sunshine was going to get him up just at this moment. He was content to lay there, or lie there. He could not decide if he was laying or lying and then he could not decide if all of this was a lie.

What was this anyway, that he now found himself back at. He was looking for something but he felt like he was being tied in an intricate knot. No, not an intricate knot, not a logical knot, not a sailor’s knot or any knot that someone could talk him through, like how to land a jumbo jet once all the crew had been killed off or something, but more like a twisted, stupid knot that comes from throwing a pile of rope or that extension cord that you need in a hurry and the fucking thing got all screwed up in a knot––that kind of knot––and he’s slithering and choking his way through that knot and getting no where except tighter and tighter and more confused about where he started and where he might stop, but as I said, he was already on his way, the knot and metaphor were already losing him and he had to catch up.
He had to get out in front and be there to yell at whatever it was that he was catching up to and he had to say, “Stop” and he had to do it in a way that meant something. That he could see and the thought could see and the two of them could come to some sort of agreement and recognize and then and only then might the knot stop and he might see whatever it was that he could not see in the beginning of all this and that would be the beginning and he’d be right back where he started which was just as confusing to begin with since whatever it was eluded him and he didn’t know.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Please Hold on as Sudden Stops are Some Times necessary

He shot himself in the fiction section, being careful, he thought, not to soil any of the books, including his own.
But a last glance at his name on the spine of that light volume that took place just as his mind raced through his childhood memories caused him to swerve, ever so slightly, splattering and scattering the validated names of several of his fellow writers, now resting on the shelves.
He too was now resting, albeit, on the floor, under cover of several volumes of again, various authors.
His face, blackened slightly from the gunpowder, had that certain look that all newly dead people have a sort of confused look. Especially by those that commit suicide, for it is at that very last tiny particle of infinite and yet oh so finite time that a certain realization comes over them.
For him it was knowing that as he fell back, bullet through the palate, the brain, the skull and then his finely coiffed head of hair, that all his efforts might have been in vain.
He should have just stayed home and placed his thin volume of self-published fame on the nightstand, then laid down and put the bullet to work, but no.
Or he could have ever so casually pulled out his pistol while reading to a crowd and then, think of the fame, he thought. All of them first cowering in fright but then, once he made use of all 9mm of lead, they would gather round, wondering at the power that his book might contain.
But here he was, in the fictions section. He was a writer of fictions after all. And he'd longed to have his name up there straddling the greats, so if being amongst them just meant sitting on a shelf, then that would have to do. This would be his tombstone.
But that look on his face said it all, if one could say anything––that was the look of a man, watching as his last will and testament, his life's work, fell not backwards, to rest upon him with all the others, but instead, fell forward, into the dark abyss behind the shelf, the collector of all volumes too small to stand amongst the greats.