Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fiction. Show all posts

Friday, April 26, 2013

Free Will

There is nothing to do except park the car and ponder the blue-grey of the sky, but one needs a car first. Failing an automobile, one instead walks out the front door, goes across the lawn until they reach the street. One sits on the curb,  under the portion of the canopy the large, old oak tree provides, and            then pull out out a box of wood matches from a shirt pocket. 

One , though, does not have a shirt, so one rises up from the curb they'd been sitting on and turns to walk back to the hose. This time, though, a decision is made to cross the lawn and not the        walk way to the porch, the hope being that a wonderful texture of green grass between the toes of bare feet would create a sensation that would remove one's memory for a moment and allow one entrance into a glorious sphere of what-if. There is only pain, though, as one has stepped on a nail from some past repair job rendered loud and sloppy by drunk contractors. 

One looks at the wound, a bitter puncture blossoming blood, and then one looks up to the porch to see one's mother, staring hard, her mouth a strict, straight line, her hands , clenched into mighty fists, resting on her hips. She told one to wear shoes before going outside and now one must realize that there is nothing free about free will.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

22 Short Pieces

one:Nothing yet to be made of the day but some wet hair clinging to the nape of the neck, coffee that's too hot to power down, a groaning neighbor regretting last night's play-making. I type a bit, reach into my pocket and come upon a to-do list of things to finish. It was folded a dozen times, it seems, each crease deep as wrinkles in an experienced skin.
I made the list a week ago.
Every deadline has lapsed, every task is incomplete. I hate myself for some minutes, sip at the coffee, cringe at the cold hair teasing the wet locks adhering to the back of my neck.
Time to go.
two:Hair cut, short, bristles. Cold wind cuts through the spiky clump like a lawn mower taking out a large section of unruly grass. Chill of the night as the night sky falls over a line of roofs that vanishes against a black tarp of starless sky, replaced with strings of lights that burn like the head lamps of stalled cars on a strange road that curls around a mountain range no one has seen from the air.
Why did I get a haircut. Yeah, that's right. That woman on the bus asked me if I watched Jerry Springer.
No, I said, I don't.
Well, she said, breathless, breathless, you look just like Jerry Springer, and I got on the bus and you were sitting there looking out the window and then you turned around and I said Oh My God, there's Jerry Springer.
I'm better looking, I said.
And my god, she continued, you look just like Jerry Springer, and I'm looking for cameras and a microphone, but you said you don't watch Jerry Springer...
I've seen it once or twice, I said, but no, I don't watch Jerry Springer...
But I said, Oh My God there's Jerry Springer, but you said...
And so the woman who cut the hair wrapped the towel around my neck and asked me what she could do for me.
You know the kind of hair cut middle aged guys get when they're trying to hold on their fleeing sense of youth? Short and spiky, almost punk rock...
So you don't mind if it sticks up?
Nope, I said, let's bring it on home.
Number three clippers?
And a fine hair cut it is, I thought outside the store, feeling the bristles with the tips of my fingers. Strange to the touch, soft, and grey. Grey as the sky was that day. Wet. Drops. Rain. A downpour. Rain.
three:Tapping a finger on a hard counter top does make time move faster, nor convinces others in line that your cause is greater than the needs of the others in line. He looks at his watch, the third time in under three minutes and ponders what is at stake as the bank line crawls, inch by aggravating inch, toward an open window. Everyone seems calm, collected, even the children hanging on to their mother's hands are quiet , eyes wide and seemingly transfixed on a puppet show that is playing for them in a dimension on their eyes uncover. Tapping the folded paycheck and deposit slip against the watch he just looked at makes matters worse; now he knows what time it is, too late to ditch the line in order to be in the office on time, too late to even call a taxi , too late to do anything but wait.
four:Down time, and she thinks of the city that unfolds before her from the hotel window, and thinks of all the people and all their histories in the buildings she can spy from the writing table she sits at, people with families sitting at desks of their own or standing, running between rooms with important papers or calling some one with news of either business or of home life or maybe even plans to be made for when ever leisure time evinces itself, she thinks of lives trapped in jobs in careers or marriages or cars on the freeway going to the suburbs after five or to the center of the insanity near the break of day, when the sun is still cold and the coffee is too hot to sip without a burn on the tender upper or lower lip that quiver at the thought of another day smiling to clienteles that are themselves people trapped in their concentric circles of routine, longing for a time when they might only have to stare from hotel windows in a city not of their residence, abstracting the lives of residents and keeping them at bay, at once, in the distance of a long fog that circles around the end of an imagined peer while small white and yellow lights illumine what remains of a visible coast line, vanishing toward Mexico, ah , she thinks, it's time to leave, ah, she thinks again, adieu, farewell...
 five:On most nights after most days I stay sober long enough to make it without a drop to midnight, when the whole thing starts again, though I might nap for three or four hours about things that fill the emails and answering machines with an unaddressable fear of what waits beyond the next recognizable landmark, a school or burger franchise, a dread that creeps up behind the words and sends a tremble through the hand either holding a pen or motioning over a keyboard, a panic takes invades the language we use to tell the world, our friends, our bosses and lovers that we are ready, that I am ready for what  intensity this day and this day alone brings me,

"This machine never sleeps, it's all waiting, again, the sadness and stresses of the bad coffee and miscounted change for the pastry, the news about all the missing children after bombs change the face of cities that don't have a chance against the results of advertising, there is no sleep, I think I would be thirsty but for..."
But for other dreams, perhaps, that I have where I am drinking all the time from endless streams from silver faucets, and I only become thirstier, hungrier, more aware of a world that still spins and complicates itself."
I don't know what any of that means, but this is another morning, it seems a good time to put on a shirt, clean socks, pants that still have a crease, thinking through the shave and the ride to work and the endless faces with an infinite selection of expressions to match the bottomless contents of their respective packaged miseries, of your face alone at home in a light that makes your entire head a sphere of such cloud-clearing joy that all such hours of slog and trod are worth the hassles with price checks, gift certificates, phone calls from amnesia victims , you offer me a soda and a steak, a kiss, something like that, that's what I think when I don't drink,
 and I find that I miss you all the more.
six:Joe Lavano and company are playing a sweet set of notes on the player, linked saxophone choruses that skip beats and chase rhythms that crack and break and then regroup in a wonderful, witty, winsome apparatus that configures each grunt and growl through the reeds into a continent of pitches, dialects, musical communities that keep their accents while the borders stretch and the dialogue gets more exciting, profound, the differences falling aside like clothes that are useless in the hot climate, where only similarities are noticed, distinct, memorable, a democracy of crazy time keeping.
seven:I like my coffee in the morning with a newspaper from a work before. It's so stimulating to be always catching up with the news, to stroll up to head line rather than have it run me over with an urgency only neurosis can sustain. I drink the coffee, I rustle the pages, and find something satisfying that what I'm reading is no longer news, but history, over long enough to make sense in a world where mornings are an hour of warning shots saying beware of the day ahead, go back to bed, go back, go back…
eight:Good morning, good morning, ah silly me, yes, a newspaper that is a week old, how quickly, how fast the days are enshrined in foot notes and commentary, our Instant Boswells have entombed is in print that is already fading and turned brittle to the touch, the microfilm is cracking as I turn the wheel in my memory of the graduate library looking up the major incidents of Bernard Shaw's great New York City adventure, I was yearning for coffee while in the stacks, a newspaper that at the time would have been one from the same day I woke up, that, a cup, a paper , and table on a patio to read and sip and opine into a nearby wood on a vacation that doesn't have a calendar to contain it, no work, no phones, just me and a cup, a paper and clear skies, and I might as well say, some birds to fly over head to cry out and leave their mark as my mind attempts to unmoor itself and drift with the eddies of current events, I wake up, yes, startled, an electric jolt, and shake my fists at the birds, five clenched fingers against the clouds, no good, I wish she were here, I look for a phone book, a phone, I wonder how it is she can get on with her life after the history we've had...
  nine:Sometimes I wonder if I was born or merely set aside in another dimension of newspaper grey and was launched into this world because what ever the case was running low on the premium designs.
Its a habitual thought, a shudder of doubt when staking hands or crossing streets or visiting people who and which are so familiar, so complete in intimate nuances and shared knowledge that they seem alien and strange, like specimens under glass in a museum I keep visiting for a lesson that just keeps turning the corner to the next gallery when my hard shoes hit the tile. Everything I looking for is just out of focus, short of the designs I see and have drawn.
Believing the world is seeing beyond the box scores and trusting what it says on the certificate; the biography has already been started, a page of facts that have gotten absurdly complicated, in love their own inventory of details that are pressed now in their uniqueness, creased and pleated, ready for rough waters I imagine await at the end of the map, where boats fall off and drift with sails full of solar wind until I wake up and yawn and scan the items on the table, the newspaper, the dirty bowls, someone else's pack of Marlboro 100s. The universe is reassembled, seamless as death itself.
Years ago I wondered if there was life on other planets precisely at the time when she left me, or asked me to leave, I wondered who else in this darkness knows this hurt as well as I?, and I stared for hours at her apartment\ as if trying to make the walls fly away, to lift her off the sofa, away from her meal , and bring her into my arms where I stood in the dark, next to a payphone, with out change to call out far enough to the wilderness where there is only wind and tall grass, maybe houses at the bottom of canyons that you see from jets leaving your home town before you enter the clouds that will drag on the wingspan, I would stare and the walls would stay where the carpenters intended them to remain, there was nothing to see, but I stared harder, right through the building, to the stars I knew were there, receiving radio waves, TV shows, thoughts of strong desire translatable only by action, hear me, hear me, who else shivers in a dark corner in unique misery, genius of articulated regret, who else speaks when no language gets the purity of the idea right, just right, thus forcing one to live in craziness, at the end of the alley, drinking from bottles I've pealed the labels from?
As usual , the stars don't answer, they don't say a word
ten:In front of things adorning the lawns of our town, I abjure to squint of cranes and deers, jockeys with faces white as the walls of empty gallery stoic as they are in their enameled resolve,
Not here or there nor on any brush in sight can relief be spelled in a flick of the wrist , a motion that captures the tone and twist of a minute in this day when all the frustrations seemed they might just dissolve like thin sheets of sugar under warm tap water and just wash away, there is not a gesture that lets me let go of things short of releasing all fingers from around the neck of the idea that is old, inert, unable to be redefined or made new by new paint on old boards.
The doors of the houses are wide open , dogs whimper and yelp their routine protest about weekends out of the town, in the back of the truck, it’s broad daylight, the sunlight is spread like miles of smiling bed covers over the happenstance of my moods in this moment, the newsboy pitches my newspaper to the roof, again, it’s business as usual, a full schedule of things to do or lie about doing.
Should I continue with my walk to the beach in a constricted stride, suffering the thoughts of phone calls that seemed to be about everything that was never said until the night past and hysteria goes back to sleep, my mind seems a cave with deep, blurred echoes of what we talked about, the impossibility of the desire, the attraction to fires, bright lights at the end of cigarettes?
Damn these animals and doors, damn this daylight, damn the world and it’s orderly progression.
eleven:Not here or there nor on any brush in sight can relief be spelled in a flick of the wrist , a motion that captures the tone and twist of a minute in this day when all the frustrations seemed they might just dissolve like thin sheets of sugar under warm tap water and just wash away, there is not a gesture that lets me let go of things short of releasing all fingers from around the neck of the idea that is old, inert, unable to be redefined or made new by new paint on old boards.
twelve:My tie cuts off the blood to my head and my socks have holes in them that are as old as toe nails that continue to grow years after clipper ships found new shores to set foot on, you imagine water everywhere along with the music of pipes ringing during hot showers, you hear the streaming sirens of lost songs glide along your body, slide down your breasts, your hands find a motion that is fine for trilling along the unsaid syllables that fill the room with steam and then you discover and are dumbfounded by the fact that your panty hose vanished during the night and there's no telling where it went, now there is steam coming out of your ears, come, I say, and let's have our usual breakfast, black coffee and two cigarettes, any style.
thirteen:Morning light crawls over the street as the fog recedes back to the corners of the earth that are invisible in the glare of spring and summer days.
"It's a beautiful day in the neighborhood" is song I hear coming from the next room.
A devastated newspaper is spread over the breakfast table.
"Nothing beats a great pair of legs" I say, and this gets your attention. You're walking around in your underwear, toothbrush in your mouth, feeling around the lunch counter for a pen so you can write a check to the School District
 to cover the cost of a class field trip to the Zoo. You tilt your head, and try to grin around the tooth brush.
"Nothing beats a great pair of legs except maybe a full house" and you laugh; grab the first pen that appears from a layered surface of bills and memos, and then yell "Emily, turn off the TV and put on your shoes, I have the check and I'll be ready in a minute."
The TV doesn't go off, and you go into the other room, and the yelling commences again, more threats, tears, the beams of the pitched roof raised with threats of no desert, movie or field trip if Mr. Rogers doesn't vanish from the TV screen, Emily stands her ground and you pull on a skirt, a hand made shirt, two shoes from the prop department, you're ready to go.
"Won't you be my neighbor...?"
Emily turns off the TV and sings to herself as she readies herself for school from a time zone only six year olds live in, she sings lyrics that have never been written and won't be sung again, she abides by rules that are correct, substantial and relevant only to this instance and then no more and never again, I can hear you drumming your fingers on the door, I can almost hear you tap your toes in those drama department shoes that are too small even for your ballerina feet.
I'll be at the hotel all day, answering phone calls from all over a shrinking world where everyone says hello and good bye in accents that sound like their ducking gun fire in towns baking under cruel desert suns or from penthouses or office towers that try to reach the sun and conquer it with incredible piles of theoretical money that catch fire in the glow of hubris,
All I can say is "One moment please" and connect everyone to Room Service, House Keeping, The Bar on the Roof, rooms where the guest hasn't emerged from for three days, or, sadly, tell everyone who wants to stay that we are sold out, every room has a paying customer, so sorry, no please don't threaten me, sorry, I cannot take your money, please understand, the rooms are all occupied, so sorry, please don't threaten me, lower your voice, sir and madam, please stop screaming,
I realize my joke has it wrong, so wrong, a full house never beats a great pair of legs.
 fourteen:Too many minutes have dropped off my watch in line at the movies buying tickets.
So many minutes are lost as the microwave beeps along it's growling, turning, chirping away, turning the food inside into something that's hot as guns in Duck season but unrecognizable as anything I'd want to put in my mouth.
The library shelves bear their spines with titles that allure and beckon from under their fine dust patina, but all I can do is wave them on, bid them goodbye, there is not enough time left in the week after all that fast food and instant coffee, so many rapid distractions keep me on my feet, spinning in the spot where I ought to be sitting, passing out when I ought to be absorbed in small print, foot notes, facts that didn't exist until I read them, but there is no time left after doing all the things that save us time, This is an affliction I don't have time for.
Could I have THE 24-hour flu instead?
fifteen:The lust of italics is obvious, the wake of roses taken seriously, off-kilter are the fingers making a path through your hair, a new part where a comb finds the soul under the brain that keeps you wondering about the world,
Those nights, half asleep, a small fist raps your back, you say it wasn't you, but floorboards groaning the way they do in old houses that sag in fall, swell in summer, contract in winter, and all that's left for spring is laughter and fear when everyone goes out doors again after dark, testing door knobs, it wasn't you , you say, only the house or some such thing,
Shared chills or beads of sweat, the double “s” molding prevailed, every position and posture on the mattress a buried language of what wasn't said any of those times when working was more heartache to keep for an idea of love that seems to choke because nothing seems funny anymore, nothing weighs less than an unwanted ton, we change positions as if speaking too fast for court reporters,
"I hope I don't dream" you say. " or if I do, let it be of a big black wall with nothing on it, just blackness, blackness..."
The apartment is so quiet that it is the refrigerator that sings us to sleep, a high and ghostly whistle coming from it's deep frozen stillness. We drift off as headlights flash across the ceiling and car radios play music pulled from the air from other states, we drift off while the house sinks deeper into an earth that wants it all back.
sixteen:She crosses the street after standing at the corner for minutes that seemed nothing less than hours. He watched ,thinking of lyrics to write. She stood at the corner, jabbing the button of the pedestrian signal box, looking across the street as if to see if perhaps a store she wanted to get to before they closed might have flipped the sign over in the door, from "open" to "closed". As if she could see through all that traffic.
I know, he thought, a song about a guy watching a woman trying to cross the street while he tries to imagine a lyric he might or might not write. The irony, he thought, or was it just laziness? All these bagels are cold and hard as tile. He lights a cigarette, dumps the match in his ash tray. The woman is across the street, and vanished into a parking structure.
"May I have another Latte?" he asks a passing woman carrying a tray to the cafe service station.
"I don't work here" she says without breaking her stride.
seventeen: Your tastes are sweet and deep in the dish of everything a library shelf can give you, yet there are no poems nor pieces of prose that tell you the elusive truth that someone else has walked over that same patch of ground, that same square of cement where you felt the ache of falling in love quite literally, off a cliff and into a void that seemed a swarming mass of mist moving in gyrating tirades of insanity as your head just spins with a name and the blurred countenance of hair, lips, eyes, pouting lips streaking by like finger paints left in a drizzle, your heart just fizzles and calms down, it rests a beat after so much running up and down the same stairs where to visit and leave the footprints of where you've been, yes, it seems no  else has walked in shoes quite your size nor entered the stream in precisely the same spot where you might have slipped on the rocks and seen death in a flash of melodrama that the same cartoon we remember seeing when mornings were merely black and white TV and screaming clowns pouring glasses of milk for a silent, frightened room of children who were mystified why anything like this was happening to them. 
eighteen:You and I have watched lightning exploding silently behind the dress grays of twilight and we’ve kept on saying that the world just doesn’t work anymore and then laughed, drank more rum, sang an atonal riff before a garbled, tongue clucking solo, and then watched the lightning again for hours while it lime—lighted the small patch of trees and the few blocks of curving intersections you and I called home and thought diseased when we had a good buzz while walking past displays windows in shops we couldn’t afford to browse in on the blocks getting torn down, buildings coming down and nothing left standing but firewalls and brick chimneys, the world didn’t work anymore around the sidewalks we walked, you and have stood in the rain nursing paper cups full of Pepsi and Meyers, sad to see the neighborhood go because some one was getting rich while we were getting drunker luxuriating in the melancholy that the turf no longer reminded us of why we were angry about being cheated and being different from the rest, our misery was a shadow that followed us that even the lightning couldn’t cut through and remind us again what it was we were drinking to forget.
nineteen:There is only the other side of the road when you come over, the other side of the tracks even though we live no where near a train yard.
I bow to your good looks and great legs and the meals you’ll make before you even notice that You’re tired of the sound of my voice on the voice getting real close to the speaker, becoming a grainy whisper alone the wireless sky,  “Maybe we should keep our apartments” you say, “just so that both of us have some place to go, you know, if all this turns out be only a mess, a mess...”
You drop a fork in the kitchen sink as the water runs over the lettuce, birds alight and fly toward the sun that is going away, “I give in to you’re wisdom” I tell you, “Whatever you think is the right thing to do...”
Across the street is a million miles away and the bedroom doesn’t exist at this precise minute, my magazines stack higher than any man’s ever seen,
But not every night is heaven when there some things missing from around the house when I look around,
This side of the street seems to be sliding off the face of a cliff that is losing the earth that gives in a severe inch with each storms that comes from the south or the north, each blast of electric guitar, every plane you took up to know when there is only me in an empty room older than I planned on being, more alone than what the law allows.
 twenty:What I’m not saying is that you ought to park campers on your front lawn, tire tracks deep in the mud that is slowly becoming merely mire with each rain that happens by.
Nor do I endorse leaving old couches and refrigerators in the alley three garage doors down or dumping in on empty lot where combinations of abandoned furniture and appliances can stare at the world that passes by them, mute as if in unending astonishment that anything comes to a finish..
What I am saying is that you don’t have to give away all your clothes because churches don’t fill the pews as do movie theatres or ball games during a series where so much depends on ball being hit by a stick that might fly over the cheap seats and into a window, into history that is.
Religion hasn’t been as good as the movies in decades anyway, and those kinds of ball games are rare , being , as it were, miracles true and factual, the only place where prayer makes sense and the game is more important than what any man or woman wants to with their appetites.
Find yourself a face to kiss and leave the Laundry undone just for day, wait until the net day off to sharpen the knives for battle (while I pray that day never arrives for that reason), stop for a moment and think about what you’ve been thinking about.
and when you’re confused enough, come see me, when I’ll put on some coffee and we can read each other from any book the house, my treat.
Twenty one: Lawn
It is just another day of lawn mowing in lethargic shoves, sweating under the arms under the sun's smarmy glare while the blades stroke and grab and cajole armies of sodden leaves to relinquish their height, their standing, their destiny for the good of the land, the glory of the hedges.The smell of cut grass piled up becomes the legacy of the day, futures are based on what aromas filter from the back of the garage where blades of another kind turn to compost, break down into their essentials compounds and trace results, energy dons a new suit of clothes and leaves a trail for more life to come.
I stop pushing the lawn mower, lean on the handle. Pretty girls in summer dresses of bright, corpulent patterns walk by, hand bags and head phones waving free.
Part of me wants to wave back; part of me wants to be left alone.
The kid next door works on his car in the driveway. Engine parts are strewn about his feet.
The oil stains soak the cement. The leaves on my crescent hedge are turning brown as mud.My mouth is dry and I crave water.It's astounding what can happen when nothing is going on.
That's why I am not a painter; I never developed the art of not-getting-it-right. Rather, I'm still amazed of things in and of themselves, doing nothing, undressed of human perception or ideas, things just falling apart of their own accord unburdened with conceits of glory, glee or horrible, terrible, inconsolable sadness and terror.An uncle of mine worked a farm his entire life and all I remember were several generations of farm machines left out in fields or behind sheds, rusted out and useless years after they rolled from the factory, and when I asked him about what he was going to do about them, he just laughed and said he planned to do exactly nothing because there was nothing to be done, no emergency to attend to."Those parts aren't hurting anything where they are" he said," I have a farm to run, not a garage.
My job is to make things grow, not go..."
Our fathers and their fathers knew something about things in this life running down, new things appearing as if out of the ether.
Swallowing hard, I push the mower onward in the path we've been blazing through the deep, molding grass. Onward, says the general, to where the sky kisses the edge of the earth/
twenty two:Just tell the band to strike up a song that blends well with the color of a crowd whose faces blur in swirls across a whirling ballroom floor, high hats and tom-tom drums and cowbells filling the city blocks with locomotion that doesn’t stop until the clock hits the last minute of the last hour.
Everyone stops swirling to get their coats and then their cars to return to their homes and apartments that stopped seeming so extraordinarily alive with the things they brought to the rooms and hung up on the walls.
The music stops at midnight and the only thing you can think of now is how your feet hurt, how many hours to sunrise and the start of your term on the clock and in the customer’s face with service you know you wouldn’t hand your dog after the biggest mess he could produce on the rug you brought home from an enclosed mall.
But it’s late on the road, rain falls with an even temper, small fists bang the roof since the start of history, there are fields of applause your going through in the city on this drive, you drum the steering wheel as she leans against the glass, humming lightly, racing drums and quicksilver trumpets grow winged feet and chase one another from station to station to station on the AM dial.
She starts to sing something you don’t understand as the wheels seem to hydroplane over the asphalt, saxophone blasts a whole in the clouds and the moon is on you as you slow down the car coming to the apartment house,
Love seems to lasts forever in ash-silver light, you think, coming to the garage, the music cutting out and static going off like firecrackers on a string under the stars of a night full of train wheels singing along the rails with steel wheels
Clouds meander over the moon once more, the light is gone, there is only a garage full of tools and dirty boxes of unpacked stuff you never want to find.
Her eyes are closed, her head against the door, oh, to dance across the city in top hats, long sideburns, and long white gloves like we used to dream it would be always, this is what you’re thinking,
She sings a song without the words, nonsense syllables filling in spaces where lyrics used to be crooned,
“Do you know the words”, she asks, “do you know the name of the song?”
“Sure do” you said, switching off the ignition and tapping your forehead, “it’s up here somewhere, lost forever.”

Sunday, December 2, 2012



Dolphy was goosing the low end notes from his bass clarinet , a solemn, fluid tone that swam between the other fragments of drums, bass and teen-dream pianistics, a pulse that made the speaker cones rattle and the juice in the glass Blue poured form himself to shimmy sensually in the water glass that held it. Blue needed to go the store for some birthday candles because his girl friend had the idea that if they burn down the house with a simple incendiary device, a short candle in a roll of toilet paper in the hall closet where the hand towels and cleaning products were stored, they could collect the money from the insurance money she thought Blue had taken out on the four poster disaster where she slept next to him every night in a room with no windows, on a mattress with no springs. The sagging in the center of the mattress meant backaches by the boatload.
 Blue, though, didn't buy any fire insurance for the house, thinking it was silly to do since neither of them smoked. He was in no mood to be yelled at , though.

 He turned up the Dolphy record, scraping guitars and abbreviated saxophone copulated in every molecule the room contained, his head was swimming in terms that amounted to wishful amnesia. He would go to the store and get the birthday candles, they would set up the incendiary device and the house would burn down, a glorious blaze that would light up the night air in this criminally inane neighborhood, and then he would tell her the truth, point blank, blunt and cruel, honey , I never bought insurance for this house and there are no checks coming our way. But on the way to the store he stopped by the Velvet Hammer lounge for a quick snort, maybe two, two that became twelve ; the next thing he knew he woke up behind the wheel of his car, which was going near 80 miles an hour over the Mission Bay bridge.

They found his car in the bay later that night, but they didn't find him. He was never seen again. "All he did was play that atonal shit" his wife told police when they talked to her. She showed no emotion. "I said either this shit comes off the stereo our you hit the road. Dumb fucker."

Nothing in the store was over five dollars

Nothing in the store was over five dollars , so Brake thought nothing of it to get a bag of cell phone cases for a sweet deal of a buck and a quarter. He gave the cashier a five, pocketed his change as he released a satisfied snort , and walked out of the store.

Then he remembered he was still in Clairemont, at an intersection that had chain coffee shop, an adult continuation school and Church full of garble tongued snake handlers on the other three corners. Just beyond a grove of dead crab apple trees he could see the High School Science building roof, a bleak and dreary twp story slab of flyweight construction from which the American flag was seen caught tangled in the chain and pullies of the flag pole.

The flag wrapped around the pole as the wind made sharp corner of the item flap listlessly like an animal caught in a trap who's reflexes spasmodically twitched and pulled against the inescapable of the steel tooth device. Brake thought of Thanksgiving dinner and dropped his bag of cell phone cases, remembering he had no cell phone and no phone number either.

Monday, March 26, 2012


There is little else but ill will circulating through the tubes of the internet this morning, general grousing, gripes and jeremiads about little of consequence, although I would have to lend credence to the notion that a lot of anger is generated by site specific fears of losing one's financial security. This means that a good number of us in the work force, from upper management, mid management and the guys who wash out the trash dumpsters in the back of the stores we can't afford to walk into are worried that they might be invited into the boss's office and asked to close the door behind them. Not a fun way to start the morning, so I force myself to think only happy thoughts.  La la la la la la is what I sing to myself, and I imagine pink ponies with ribbons and rainbows and smiley faces all over the landscape. Next I turn to my Facebook page where one of my friends posted a video of Brit punk band The Exploited doing the least ambiguous song I will hear all month: FUCK THE USA.
The rainbows evaporate, the pink ponies eat some toxic ragweed and fall over and die. Red robins drop from the sky. The smiley faces are now flipping me off.

Later this morning there is a mood of subdued insanity as each of us smile tightly, the corners of our mouths jagged like upended hangers, boomer rang creases pushing the eyes and eyebrows into the leering slant of a deranged carnival clown. Everything is fine and all of are going to heaven in a white boat with Black sails, that seems to be what we are dreaming while awake, a promise of deliverance tempered with an omen for perpetual disaster. Free floating anxiety that wakes up ten minutes before you do and starts pressing the proverbial buttons on the control center that constitutes your dreaming self. Oh dear, oh my, the worst has already happened, although neither the West nor the East coasts have slithered into an angry, boiling ocean. That boiling sound is more of a gurgle, the coffee maker that has stopped working, producing scratchy gurgling noises; it gave me half a cup this morning and did nothing else other than engage that death rattle. Another fine day to begin the day, especially on a Sunday. And now here I am, wondering, what? What am I wondering?
I was reading a piece by Peter Whitmer about Norman Mailer's essay "The White Negro” while on the bus coming to work this morning and noticed that the day so far had the hue of a dingy wash rag. I lifted my eyes from the twitching pages I was trying to read to see someone standing at the bus stop where the bus had paused to pick up new passengers, spying a guy in a grey hoodie standing on the side walk looking into the bus, straight at me where I was seated.

Alien twelve tone gangster movie theme songs emerged from my pocket just then, my cell phone was ringing. I answered, staring into nothing but an interface crowded with blurred icons. "This is me" I answered, "Who are you?"
The voice didn't bother with an explanation or an introduction or a confession of any kind, rather, he issued a command.
"Let me talk to the other guy" he said. There was a burst of static, a high whistling shriek. And then the phone became very hot in my hand.

After lunch I turned off the computer and noticed that there was a tickle in the back of my throat, the sort of irritation that makes you think of wet sandpaper being the universal standard for raw flesh and blues hysteria. My throat felt the way Tom Waits sounds, amplified aggravation in the center of the soft tissue, red and familiar like a bully's smirk before he knees in the nuts and bitch slaps you more time when you try to sneak out of school via the custodian's entrance. There was nothing I could do about the damn condition at the moment, but I did have a half bottle of Tustin, some generic syrup for the alleviation of sore throat, cough and yet manly enough to expel the grubbily greased mucus from the deepest of chest resonating chambers. I drank it one gulp, a semi sweetened version of the cruel cures your grandmother used to force down your throat with a funnel and the business end of a high heel shoe. It was awful, and all at once the store room started doing jumping jacks, my stomach declared itself a sovereign nation, my eyes saw through the thickest walls of the building and could the lips of cops writing crime novels behind billboards when they weren't getting hummers from bums who need one more dime for some Blue Nun. I was stoned on something, and suddenly the phone rang, or I thought I did. All I remember, really, was that I answered something.

"Gewekeekek" I said into the receiver.
"Hi, I need a  red rubber octopus..."
I paused.
"Don't we all" I answered.
And then the sun exploded.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

July madness

Yes, San Diego is hot in July, beastly sometimes, that insects chew your collar kind of heat that feels like a combination of itches and small bites as you tough out the day in a smelly t-shirt and a bottle of tap water that has the chill of room temperature coffee. Tell anyone who lives elsewhere in the contiguous United States that you're unhappy with the way the July climate of San Diego has taken to expressing itself on your particular day off and you're likely to be laughed at, slapped, spit upon, mocked with sock puppets questioning the legitimacy of your family line. Worst, someone you care for dearly, or at least took to be someone somewhat sane and not given to hasty reactions, would slam the phone down on you make you disappear from her Facebook simulacra. Horrible things to ponder while you stand over a retail sales counter in that smelly t shirt ringing up sales of nicks and nacks and varied  punk bric an brac made in China, but alas,  cooler climes.

"My testicles  are in a twist, bitch" is what my ex girl friend in Detroit told me.  She's now fifty seven years old and now works in the Cass Corridor where she manages a Swedish Black Metal Cafe called Bub's.

"All my studs are rusted and no ointment cools the irritation, motherfucker". I said it was good to hear her voice and wondered aloud if her Swedish  Black Metal Cafe was making any money. Money was the reason I called, as I lent her train fare to Amtrack her way back to the D after she visited me in Pacific Beach five years ago, both of us staying in my walk in studio apartment; it was the same thing as locking two hungry baders in a dark , empty sardine tank.  "Jesus , Ted, your tunes are lame" she said at one point, "I mean, where are your Skull Drag discs, where's the killer Fist Taco Grope Technique jams? No one cools a hot day like Slit Tongue Manicure, fuckin A, Jack..." It went on like that, ugliness and snarls. Even the garbage complained about our noise.

"You ain't seeing no goddamned money til you say something clever about the weather" she declared, and then she yelled to someone "Gapper, make me a Psychotic Break,  extra lemon".

I had another call coming in just then. I told my ex to hang on while I got the call. "Hold on just a second. But remember, I can really use the money."
"Eat a crab apple: she said, " hurry up". I answered the other line. It was Mike from Detroit calling.



Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Open Reading

(None of this happened.-tb)
Grank stared at the microphone that was staring back at him, and as his eyes adjusted t the dark, he could see a room full of hooded, shaved, tattooed and love starved waifs and curbside geniuses looking at him, clutching notebooks of assorted thicknesses, scraps of paper, waiting their turn on stage, waiting to see what he had. Grank tugged at his collar, dropped his neatly typed sheets, and began to rant. Horrible feedback washed up to the stage from the coffee bar. Grank made the most of the vibe he’d been given.



Grank was in a trance, raised his arms as if receiving great wisdom from cloud gods watching from just above the whirling ceiling fan that only seemed to make the coffeehouse hotter, he was in the groove , he had the élan from Ceylon, he was indeed the PaduchaBazooka©, and as he lowered his arms and raised his head, ready to open his eyes and witness the stunned silence that was is genius’ calling card, something struck him in the head. He opened his eyes in time to see a coffee mug come flying at him and then feel it , painfully, smash him in the nose. Then someone hit in the back of the head with the microphone stand. His eyes were closed again as he collapsed to the stage and curled into a ball as the steel toed tips of a dozen Doc Martin boots dug their treaded thickness into his ribs.

“Your poetry poetry blows donkey dongs in H-E- DOUBLE HOCK STICKS” someone screamed before they kicked Grank in the head.

“Tough crowd” was what Amos said as he leaned over the table to make the remark to Shelltone. Shelltone closed her notebook and took a sip of her Hammerhead.
“Yeah, these Fray guys are a real tense bunch”.

“Uh huh” said Amos, who then arose to get his licks in.

Ted stood up rather abruptly and critiqued the poem from his table. He knocked his cup over the manuscript he brought with him.

"Transcendent of post-Objectivist language obsession and locked in a Central Modernist tonality that bridges the outer edges of lesser avant gard traditions that emerged in urban centers at the end of the last century. One would be better off reciting a calculus equation or making the case for Don Blanding's pre-rigored corpus than putting with with this serpentine nonsense." The crowd applauded and

Geoff yelled "Go!"

And then the sun exploded.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Flanders in the dark

Night never seemed the time to get sentimental about the way the world never becoming what it was you wanted it to be when you were young, so thought Flanders, but this night, this very night, the lights on the wet streets making slurred rainbows and hissing sounds as the tires rolled over the pot holes in the asphalt, he thought, why not, this night of endless dreaming when there is only he and his cigarettes, the bottle of hooch in his back pocket, the clubs along the avenue up to the old water tower where he’d been in trouble on nights like this years earlier, earlier, faster as the rush of speed hit the brain and the tongue swelled and dried as ideas and impulse came into their own just then, this night of cigarette smoke in is lungs, a dry and parched pinch of burning charcoal filtered blackness that roasted the pink design of nature’s idea of breathing, Flanders took a drink, he wanted to talk he fingered his change and lounged against the wall of the door way he was in, cracking his knuckles, rattling the coins in his pocket, thinking he’d love a blues jam to break out in front of him right now, a long and searing guitar solo ala Alvin Lee or Johnny Winter, none of this po’ sharecroppin’ Negro shit where the notes were all wrong, the coarseness of the singing too beat up, chafed, scuffed up , none of that at all, he wished it would rain, he thinks that would help the way he isn’t feeling about this world and how it never comes around to his way of thinking, anyone’s thinking when there was a time for him to be alert enough to ask someone, why couldn’t he just drink like the other guys, just be like the other guys, just drink and sit in a bar and smoke the cigarettes, endless butts crammed in an ashtray, get drunk, pick up on some swing shift cootie cutie and fuck his brains out, be in some place warm, worn out, fucked up, fucked and asleep, oh yeah, not outside on a rainy night, looking at the traffic, all his teeth grinding something fierce, molars going like trains passing each other in mountain towns where the coal and the axel grease comes from, to the shelves of California, Flanders took a drag off his smoke and felt his back pocket for the bottle, wanting to slow down, the cars came to the intersection and just roared by when the lights changed, when the lights changed, the cars just roared by, big radio speakers cracking the promise of dawn and early returns of bus lines up and at ‘em and really alert to the cause of what the fuck am I doing here, oh pleaseeeeeeeeeeesssee man oh god in heaven this is such a bad bad badddddddddddd buzz, fucking A man, bad bad bad, Flanders was awake enough for an invading battalion, the white crosses had him marching, ready for anything, just alert, nothing moving but notions about what he might have done in former times, the chances he passed up , the chances, man that guitar solo smoked!!! I went down to the cross road, to hack a ride , oh yeah..

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Tell You What--a story

Not a true story, but pieced together from bits and pieces heard over the years. Some who have overcome a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body don't acquire the humility or hard won wisdom dreamier narratives would lead us to believe. -tb

“I'm gonna say this one more time" Karl was saying, "I mean how many times you want me to say this? Or do wanna see me turn myself turn inside out?"
It was the stupidest thing he'd said so far on a hot night of post-meeting bluster, but the point was to keep his prospects' attention on him, unnerved, eyes big and sleepless. He dropped the match book to the diner table and fingered the unlit cigarette he wedged between two clubby knuckles. It was creased and mashed in the center. Loose tobacco spilled from the tip. He scratched the back of his neck with a fingernail he hadn't chewed, and studied the twirling fan over them, rotating like helicopter blades. Shadows chased each other across the drop ceiling. The prospect stared back, motionless, massaging his knuckles, watching Karl who glared in turn at fan blades whose rotation only stirred the muggy air into listless currents. His mouth hung open as he considered the useless air-conditioning. He looked dumber than a pile of ashes.

"What are you looking at?" he barked, feeling the burn of his table partners' stare, "drink your coffee." Across from him a man who absently fingered a spoon. He tapped it against the cup so that it made a dead, thudding noise, not a clear pinging, but a thump, Karl thought, like a sock full of other socks being slammed against the side of one of the houses he used to break into when he need drinking money. He threw the cigarette at his prospect. The prospect turned his head to t he side, and the twisted smoke bounced off the padded booth cushion.
'9Knock that shit off' Karl said, He wiped a sleeve under his under his vein-gorged nose. He pulled another cigarette from his pack. The other man lifted his chin as though to speak.

"Now, I..." he managed to say.

Jack cut him off; the flat of his hand shot up and he waved like he was wiping a car window with a grimy rag.

"Don't say anything". Karl was almost pleading. He stroked the length of the Camel studied the pack, wished he were sucking in a
lung flail smoke, he wanted to choke on the fumes of something burning.
Recent California elections contained a state wide proposition that would ban smoking in all public facilities, including bars and restaurants, and unconstitutional travesty authored he felt by fascists and Commie punks This riled Karl considerably, if only because he once swore that elections were a fake as a climax in a porn video whose results would never come to bear on his life style The proposition passed handily, evidence that non-smokers considered themselves an ignored political force who needed to stick it to a group that most of the electorate was out of sympathy with, that, with the death of Communism as universal bogeymen and the rise of causes based on a collectively perceived sense of being slighted and stomped down , smokers had to bend over and take what was columnists and Sunday talk show gadflies assured us, a decision that would be good for the soul, good for the lungs, something that would clear the air and have us be civil to one another in a smoke less public sphere. Karl wanted to smoke, and his sense of duty to his querying prospect, this man who wanted to know how to stay sober, was waning, frayed by rules, chipped at by police, eroded by the current that ran from his brain to his lungs that demanded the aroma of the sulfur, the sting of the first smoke hitting lungs and caroming over the tongue, the glory of the choke the bum, the proud suppression of a cough. He should have voted.

His career as a political forecaster was over, and all he was left to do in diners and meetings halls was fidget reshape one cigarette after another, and think variations on a theme even he was tired of thinking, revs given up everything else, even sex isn’t coming in like it used to, Mi that A left A coffee and smokes, and flow; he though4 these Goddamn those goons wanna get there again, a man gives something up that almost kills him and sons of bitches say I can't smoke with my coffee.

The cigarette he'd been tapping through his reverie was between his clubby knuckles again stroked, stained, creased with worry. He tried staring into the eyes of the man sitting across from him and to start his sermon on getting sober, but the lights distracted him, his mind was

five miles away where he wanted to be, sitting at another table with friends who could make their. own beds. Something glistened in the prospects' eyes, tears held back. Karl wanted to comb his hair, to make this duck tail ride high and mighty in the back like fins of a car he owned years ago in Modes t6, a city full of dust and drinking.

His prospect was named Doug, fifths from appearance, with hair tat was a swirl of brown and white strands woven inseparably together The tines of his face deepened into middle aged ravines that sagged, a gathered sadness. He dressed in a way tat didn't advertise position or hidden money, just cast -off rags, a work shirt, jeans, tennis shoes. He might have been homeless, ambling from a church service center, or a Mercedes dealer doing his own yard work, puttering around the hillside of a Del Mar estate whose ocean view only God and bank accounts could give you. He had a sleepless shiver, nerves that would rattle a train from its rail.
"Well" Doug said, clearing his throat to forestall a stammer he knew would rattle his words, "Well, I mean, could you tell me again, I mean, what you mean, that is, there's something I missed at the meeting and I thought you could tell me the actual method, the way you stay stopped..."
A woman's voice broke in.

"How you guy's doing over here?"

Their waitress Tina , as it read on a her name tag embossed in flaking gold leaf; hovered over them with both arms flail of plates and a fist full of meal tickets tucked in an over sized pocket in her apron. She gave off the feeling that everything about her was precarious and that she might drop everything she held, finally standing in a pile of shattered restaurant china and half eaten chicken fried steak. But Tina seemed like a seasoned server who negotiated the chaos of coffee pots, antsy kids tossing ketchup soaked French fries over the bunkered dining booths, and special requests for Nutra-Sweet instead of sugar, decaf, not coffee with a gliding, frictionless grace. Arms of dirty plates or no, she would stop and ask if there as anything one of her tables desired. Doug desired to go home, stopping at the liquor store for something that would turn off the noise. Karl ran a finger around his coffee cup and hoped Doug had money.

"You need anything else-- more water, or coffee, or maybe some desert?'
Her voice had bleached traces of an Arkansas drawl that had rubbed against the toneless inflections of California malls. The uniform was a cool pink, and looked like it had come right off the laundry truck; the pleats were crisp and curt.
Karl straightened up instinctively, his knee bumping the underside of the table, knocking over a water glass. Water and lumps of melting ice spilled right down the middle of the table, and rushed toward Doug, and splattering in his lap. Doug's face turned sour, the lines in his face becoming became a map of a growing bad mood.

"Goddamn it" he said, "goddamn mother- of -god" Flustered, tried to stand from where he sat, and banged the table even upsetting the coffee he hadn't touched He fell back into his seat coffee, not yet cool. He dropped the spoon.

Greasy punks tell me jackshit I have a motherfucking cigarette with my goddamned piece o fshit coffee; thought Jack Stuben. He shoved the cigarette, newly squeezed and indented in the middle, behind his ear.

The waitress set the plates on the table next to them, where a young man and woman swam dreamily in the inexpressible vastness of the others' eyes. They traded, shared and exchanged gut reactions and insights and feelings about an edgy experimental avant-garde independent firm they’d just seen. They stopped talking and looked up the waitress at once, seemingly rehearsed for this precise cue. Both mouths opened wide as doors, wordless in minor catastrophes. They were in their twenties, and wore wire frame glasses, and were looking forward to sitting together after a movie and talking to one another like the adults they wanted to think they were.

"God fucking damn it" Doug mumbled. His arms blurred trying to cool the burn in his crotch by waving a menu over the seared inseam, looking like he were trying to keep somebody under the table who'd tired of their heaven of pressed wood and gum wads.
"Could you get us some towels, Tina?" asked Karl.

"Tell you what" she said, " my name isn't really Tina it's Cheryl, but I forgot my name tag at home, so I put on this one in back by the time clock, because you have to wear something tat has a name and the restaurant name on it--1'
Cheryl already bad towels in her hand, had piled dishes and removed cups, professional and almost without noise, and spread the towels over the spills and padded the towels and turned them over knowingly, a professional press of the hands
"--so I just decided to where this one, even though there's no one here named Tina, I thought it would be all right for one day, because you know, a waitress without a name tag is probably holding the place up, you know, how are you doing, mister, do you need first aid, are you hurt..."

Doug held up his bands and smiled widely to reveal two rows of teeth, white as an over-painted fence. He shook his head, his attempts at laughter resulting in a snorts and grunts.

'No thanks', he said, half sobbing, gulping hard.
"Could we have our check?" asked the man from the booth next

to them. Cheryl looked around and glanced at the table, the dishes she set there, the ice cream deserts they had ordered. He was dejected, severely bummed out, out of sync with the night as he planned it to happen. All that film analysis they would not get to, it was too early to walk her to her car, oh stir; he thought. The woman was digging through her purse. The chat about the cross- cutting between the grin fire and the hero's dad undergoing heart surgery was so close to epiphany and then Pd touch her hand, and then I woulda asked for the check oh damn it. He sighed, a slow hiss gushing between his teeth, which were as perfect as dullness itself.
"Coming' right up" Cheryl said, "just let me clear that stuff for

"It's alright" the young man said, "just the check, please..."

"Sorry about that, Doug" Karl said," man oh, man, I sorta start talking some stuff here,” I get a little clumsy... glad you're not hurt... ".Now, you were asking me about how one stops drinking, and I was gonna just add that it’s not a matter of stopping, it’s a matter of staying stop, and we in the program say that if you do what’s asked of you, if you work the steps, if you go to meetings, then you can find a way to live a life that's happy joyous and free..."

Doug squirmed in his seat. He glowered at Karl as he shred the paper napkin he used to pat his scorched crotch. Shredded layers of the napkin lay on the table in front of him. His jaw was clenched, and his eyes glistened even more than they had before, but k was not sadness this time.

"First you treat me like I'm a moron, "he began," I mean, I come to tile meeting because I cannot stop drinking and my life is full of shit and tragedy and everything I ever work for is about to go away because I am a drunk, and I listen, and I hear nothing but complaints and whining about nothing at all and I ask you afterwards to talk to me and you tell me to take the cotton out of my ears and in into my mouth because I don't know anything, and you tell me to come to coffee here with you, and you’re going to elaborate on how you stay sober, and I get spilled on and burned and then listen to you jabber on like nothing happened about nothing I can use..."

Doug took the cigarette from his behind his ear Goddamn motherfucker, he thought.
"You sound mad, Doug. Real mad, I think you ought to turn this resentment over to God."

Fuck it, thought Karl, I'm going to fire up right here and blow a flicking goddamn smoke ring where all the assholes can see. Kiss my ass, motherfuckers.
"Anger is not a luxury an alcoholic can afford" he said.

"Ma'am, can we have our check?" the man next to them pleaded with Cheryl, who raced past them. The diner had gotten busy. It was near midnight, and people wanted coffee and a meal before a drive home, to the end of the day.

"Right there, sir" Cheryl said. She had a hand full of menus and was taking people to tables that hadn't even been cleared off yet.

"Our busboy and dishwasher decided to get drunk? On Friday night? Christ."
The night manager rubbed the top of his sweaty bald head and went back to ringing up customers at the register after another waitress told him why there was an unexpected backlog.

'No clean tables, no silverware, no pots and pans, no monkey dishes, nothing... "he rang up a customer, made change for a twenty and thanked the man and the women who'd had their film discourse intervened upon.

"Fuck you" said Doug, "l mean, seriously, fuck you. You are a high and mighty little punk I wouldn't hire you to sweep my sidewalk."

"Well, look you, all high and mighty all of a sudden. You forget you approached me about this. I 'vex been sober ten years...

"I made a mistake, and lam gone away from you..."

Doug stood up and tossed a five dollar bill on the table.

"You are gonna get drunk.” Jack Stuben thought, Christ on a crutch this guy is mad.
"Maybe" said Doug, "maybe..." he turned and walked to the exit, into a thick clutch of customers lined to up to pay their checks, while others huddled, waiting for tables to be cleared.

In front of the restaurant, the young man was holding his date's hand, pausing for a second before he walked to her car in the parking lot where, he hoped, there would be a pause in the light talk, a drift in the lilt of her voice as it trailed off looking for another image to describe a fun evening, where he would lean over and kiss her, touch her lips, put a hand on her shoulder and then lightly, gently, trace the tines of her back, and then walk away, a promise of phone calls on his lips, a skip to his own car, his favorite CD in the player, fresh senses to inspire his bed time. He was about to say something, after staring into her eyes when
"Fucking goddamn asshole, drunken hypocrite jerk, FUCK!!"

The restaurant door blew open with a bang, and Doug stormed out, yelling under his breath, passing the forlorn lovers, arms flying fists balled together, walking up the street to where there was a stretch of bars and liquor stores whose signs lit the night with a smeared amnesia that was as dark as the night could ever be if there were no city to get lost in.

"GODDAMNIT!!" They heard him yell. They stared at him until he turned a comer at the light, and there was nothing but gaudy signs that seared the evening sky like it were black paper. Car horns insults, car horns. Doug was gone, around the comer, and through a door into the bean of something where the sun could not reach.
The couple was still on the comer as Doug vanished around the corner, and looked at each other as the street sounds overwhelmed their awkwardness. They were aware of themselves standing outside the Denny's with all their small talk and smart chatter unheard, only themselves and their breathing.

"Maybe I should walk you to your car" he said.
"Maybe you should" she said, and took his arm.

tamable you should come to my apartment1 she said, puffing him closer after she hooked arm through his, ' I think you should..."
They stopped."I want you to" she said. He smiled at her, and was going to lean over and kiss her before going to her car , anticipating the night and the way it night yet undue itself, when there was a speech, god, he thought, another screaming bum of tires, more screaming, tires hitting the asphalt, car horns and curse words tearing the night apart, rage under hoods delivering what is the fact for intersections and neighborhoods where the century stopped two decades ago, he caught the screech and the words before he could plant the kiss and the suggestion of how, maybe, perhaps, please god, that the rest of the night would go, he held her close, he heard the squeal of the wheels, the words


A Chevy, a car frill of guys, a beer can flying from the back seat,
a siren, a chase maybe, more lights and car horns and signs for booze and strip
tease, she pulls back from her date.
"Can we just go?"

The night manager had his sleeves rolled up and a plastic apron on, pushing another tray of dishes and silverware into the washing machine. His glasses were steamed up. The dishwasher and the busboy were out by the trash bin, and he could hear them swearing in words he'd never heard in Spanish before. Next the pots, then the pans, and then the rush from midnight until three, when the bars start to empty and there is never enough monkey dishes or water glasses and all the forks from the last load through the machine are caked with egg yoke. He pulled a hose coming from the top of the dish washing machine, and aimed it at dish rack he just filled with plates to be run through. He pulled down on the handle, and jets hot water shot forth, pelting the caked food from the plates, filled the station full of steam. The night manager let the hose shoot water For some reason the steam, the billowing vapors that
surrounded him, felt pleasant as it soaked into his clothes and warmed his skin. He couldn't explain why even to himself It just felt good.

Karl put the five dollar bill in his shirt pocket after folding into an origami of his own invention. Fuck it, he thought. Sober ten years for what. Ungrateful newcomer. Christ He stood and walked to the cashier stand by the front door, walked sideways between opposing camps waiting to pay and waiting to be seated. His check was still on the table.

"That dirty dog" said Cheryl, coming to clear the table and finding the unpaid check. Not even a dollar tip, cheap asshole. A man's voice intruded. "Excuse me) Tina, but could we get some water here?"

She turned and saw another couple seated at the adjacent booth, a man and a woman, in their forties. Cheryl smiled. Nice hungry people who have to be set right in their manner of ordering meals at one of her stations.

She tapped her name tag. "Tell you what'1 she said, "my name isn't really Tina, but I forgot my own name tag when I came to work today---"

Saturday, June 27, 2009


"There’s noise and then there is love and then there
are soldiers in Balkan nations staring across old city plazas,
gripping their guns like orchestra batons, astounded that the
limits of their fire power stops with marching orders that tell
them to direct traffic the best they can manage..."
Deke dropped the newspaper he was reading, letting it
collapse in his lap. The pages fell to the floor gracelessly,
a blur of headlines and tire store ads folding over one another.
Sam had his nose in the A through C volume of a supermarket
encyclopedia, leaning against Deke's desk. Deke put his glasses
back on and squinted and then noted that Sam's crotch was only a
rough six inches from his face, a bulge wrapped in sweaty denim
pressing against the zipper.
"You gotta hand it to those Joes in East Europe, they don't
fuck around arguing about constitutional rights, they just grab
a gun and open fire on generations of bad manners. Whattaya think
of that shit, Deke, buddy, pal???"
"Well, Sam, lemmee be as politic as I can". Deke scratched took off his cap and rubbed the top of his hairless pate, and
then removed his glasses, folding them and placing them on a
shelf behind his chair. Then he punched Sam straight in the
Sam eyes widened like bay windows in August, and he opened
his mouth to scream, but he managed only a grating, pinched
whimper the grappled for syllables and vowels with the swelling
tongue he'd just bitten... He fell to his knees and keeled over
atop the newspaper Deke dropped a minute ago.
"I think that you oughta stop coming around my business and
dog-earing my goddamned books and running your mouth like a
busted toilet. "
Sam was gasping, trying to form words, the sound dry,
brittle, breaking.
"And I'd also say that you should mind where you decide to
hang your jewels in relation to where people are sitting, do you
understand? I mean, you've been begging for a shot in the nuts
for months. If you want a blow job, why don’t you just ask?"
Sam was curled up, the newspapers were now unreadable.
"How long have I known you, Sam? Ten years, more? Dog ear my
books and giving me insights as insipid as greeting card rhymes,
all the while hanging your testicles in the faces of men and
women who'd wish you'd go away or die, mostly both."
Deke was standing over Sam. He kicked in the nuts, his foot
recoiling, his heel digging.
Deke reached under his desk and produced a tool box, from
which he removed a jar of peanut butter and roll of bagels.
Want some, Sam?"
Sam stopped moaning and stood up, brushing off his jeans.
"No Thanks, Deke, but say, can I have one of your brackish yet
frosty cans of beer?" Deke had a bagel in his mouth, which was smeared in crunchy
peanut butter. He made a grandiose gesture of the hand.
"Hell, yes, my good friend, have a beer, watch The news,
fuck your self, I DON'T CARE!!!."
"Hey, Deke, when you gonna do the e next cue?" It was Zed,
who'd just come through the front door.
"None of your goddamned business, you homophobe. I’m gonna kick
you so hard in the nuts your screams will shatter the Ipana
invisible shield. How do you like that basket of facts?"
"You're gonna have to wait, I'm getting a rip snorting blow job
in fifteen minutes."
"Then have a peanut butter bagel, you revisionist."
Sam walked back into the room with his beer. Zed looked at him,
"Oh, you're here" said Sam "I didn't expect to see you for
another fifteen minutes."
"Fuck off, service me now "said Zed, indicating his crotch with
a telling finger.
Deke shot up from his chair again and punched Zed in the
"I said have a peanut butter bagel! Now."
Zed's eyes widened as Sam's had done, and tears formed and
glistened at the sides of his eyes like limpid underwater jewels.
Both hands were crammed in his back pockets, and he tried to
pucker and whistle as if nothing at all had whacked in straight
in the lair.
"I'm trying to be cordial host" said Deke, chewing on a large
wad of bagel, his hand of joy wiping peanut butter up and down
the zipper of his jeans, "I want you share my bounty, and in
doing so, you consolidate the years of all of us staring at each
other watching word balloons come from each other's mouths and
then pop when the air of my shop was rendered stale and rare, you
fellows think I'm with out wit. Eat some goddamned food, you
sickly homophobic sissy. DON'T MAKE ME GET Friendly..."
Then the phone rang.
Then the sun exploded.
"Late paying the phone bill, Deke?" queried Sam, poking his
head over a cloud set against the vast tarp of endless outer
"This is a nice slice of shit" Zed said,” not even a can of
beer left over. Hey Sam, gimmee one of your blues harmonicas."
Deke rested his head against a fleecy billow of mist,
holding the phone he picked up before the explosion of the sun,
considering like it were an archeological find who’s anonymous
origins taunted him. He turned it over and looked at the bottom
while Sam and Zed played Howlin'Wolf duets to the roster of stars
and solar systems spinning out of control around them.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Little Denny--a tale of youth and food

Little Denny kept sliding off the lunch counter stool. The waitress poured his mom another cup of coffee.
The waitress laughed, a snorting giggle.
“That's cute” she said, turning to look at Mom, a young woman in her mid twenties who'd peering at a magazine while fidgeting with her food. She slapped her sandwich on her plate and grabbed Denny's arm.
“Shit” she said, her voice a irritated hiss, “he's doing this on purpose, the rat-“
“OwwwwwwwwwwwwWWWWWWW” yelled Denny when she yanked him upright on the stool, forcing into an impossible posture. His face met the edge of the counter half way,
where he could see a history of dried and chipping wads of gum mark the rim like mountain ranges on three-dimensional globes. The hamburger Mom ordered for him sat on its plate in front of him, a mountain of meat and sesame seed buns.
“Now eat” his mother demanded. Her long finger that had been leafing through the magazine pointed to the plate, looking crooked, shaking, with a long, twisting fingernail curling toward the charred patty as if to drop something from a claw. Denny cringed again.
“Eat” she said again “eat and quit fucking around.”
The waitress's smile shrank to a chastised `o' from his bulging , full-cheeked glory, and turned to chores , her own business. She pulled half empty ketchup bottles from a shelf under the counter as Denny reached over the chasm between he and the counter and grabbed the hamburger from the plate. It was the size of a football in both his hands. Squeezing it tight, he raised it to his mouth and then turned his eyes to Mom in order to see if she could see him doing exactly what he was told, a mature boy of 4 and a half!
Mom was sipping her coffee, the sandwich on the plate with two bites out of it, staring at the waitress who was pouring the remains of the ketchup bottles into a single vessel, so to waste not a drop. Denny squeezed the burger so tight that the patty slid from between the buns and hit the floor with a wet slap that sounded like a kiss heard in rowdy cartoons. The phone rang, and when the waitress reached over to grab the line, her arm swept into the bottles and knocked them to the floor. The bottles shattered into a hundred red, bloodless shards. Startled, Mom spilled her coffee.
Little Denny fell off the stool.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Big If has Big Ideas and sucker punch laughs

Mark Costello's novel Big If is a superb and unforgiving comedy of American life involving a low-level Secret Service agent who must get reacquainted with her estranged computer-genius brother when she takes a respite from the paranoid turns and twists of her nerve-rattling job.This is a book of richly skewed characters doing their best to make sense of their lives, or at least have their lives take on a fleeting semblance of normality. The quests, individual and collective, aren't what anyone would expect—this novel takes a hard left turn from the Anne Tyler/Paulo Coelho fictions that insert everyday mysticism into the complications of city life—and the results are habits, tics, behaviors, and alienation from self that comes close to home, in the heart of the nest: the bedroom, the dining room, the kitchen, the places one lives the most and gains small satisfactions or walls themselves off to unreachable Siberias of the psyche.

In many ways, this is one of the best novels to investigate what one might do without God, or even a convenient social construction of The Public Good. All points of reference in Big If are minimized and negotiated from relevance. Costello's prose is alive with the things of our life, and is superb at demonstrating the clash between the happiness material items promise and the world that denies such rewards. He is the master of setting forth a metaphor and letting it travel through a storyline just beneath the surface, operating silently, mostly invisibly, always effectively.

Their father, in the first portion of the book, is a moderate Republican insurance investigator of scholarly reading habits who happens to be a principled atheist. You cannot have both insurance, the practice of placing a monetary remuneration on unavoidable disaster, and assurance, which has religion promising protection from evil and disaster.

The children, in turn, assume careers that seem to typify the dualism their father opposed, son Jens becoming a programmer for the Big If online game for which he writes "monster behavior code" that attempts to outsmart human players and have them meet a hypothetical destruction. Daughter Vi, conversely, becomes a Secret Service agent, schooled in the theory encoded in The Certainties, a set of writings that lays out the details, nuances, and psychology of extreme protection. These are world views in collision, and Costello's prose is quick with the telling detail, the flashing insight, the cutting remark.

The problem, of course, is that no one can define what "good" is. Big If is excellent, and what makes it work is that Costello accomplishes the dual difficulty of handing us a small town/suburban comedy the likes of John Cheever would have admired. The other is with the rich detailing of the other Secret Service agents who work with Vi Asplund.

There is something of a domestic comedy seamlessly interwoven with a skewed Washington thriller, with the elements of each spilling over and coloring the underlying foundations of both. In the first part of the novel, we have an atheist Republican insurance investigator who has a habit of crossing out the "God" in the "In God We Trust" inscription on all his paper money, replacing the offending word with "us". Vi, years later, winds up in a job where "in us we trust" is the operating rationale, as she and her fellow agents strive to protect their protected from the happenstance of crowds, acting out on intricate theories and assumptions that can only be tested in the field.

Costello is wonderful at the heightened awareness in the ways he presents his details, his comic touches. A beautiful agent who still receives alimony checks from her smitten ex-husband carries on a correspondence with him via the memo line of the checks, where he continually writes "come back to me". She writes "No, never" each time, deposits the check, knowing that her ex will see the reply when he receives the canceled checks. The book is full of these fine touches. We have a sense that it's the small things, the small frustrations, as much as the larger disasters that conspire against our happiness.

On view in Big If are different models on which characters try to contain, control, or explain the relentless capriciousness of Life as it unfolds, constructs through which characters and the country and culture they serve can feel empowered to control their fate in a meaningful universe. The punchline is that Life goes on anyway, with its fluctuating, undulating, chaotic dynamics that only occasionally seem to fall into place. Costello wrests a subtle comedy of manners from the small failures of anyone's world view to suitably make their existence unproblematic. This is a family comedy on a par with The Wapshot Chronicle, but in an America that is suddenly global, an air that makes even the most familiar things seem alien and fantastic.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Problem with Women is Men 2: Love letters as last call

Drunk men and angry women seem to be a theme in some of the prose sketches I've written in the last five years or so. No, I don't drink, not for twenty years, and no, the women I know aren't angry, but this writing was, all the same, a way to picture what it was like in terms I couldn't deny or minimize through convenient amnesia. This is what I was like, and this blog is what I'm like now. A grouch, sure, but sober as a hammer, and with a better sense of humor about myself. Please indulge me, and tell me if you think I'm full of shit. --tb

Shouts and screams from rolled up windows tells me it's the end of august in a parking lot behind a beach bar that's about to get robbed, and then shut down by the cops for serving minors, ahem,

everyone is in a hurry to get ripped and ripped off, jerked off and jacked around. ravaged and raped and taped to the side of a car on the way home along the side streets down alleys in residential neighborhoods that shadow the free way on the thought that police are at the beach listening for shouts and screams from inside rolled up windows, burglars trying doorknobs,

This is what I heard, “give it to me, godddd dammnit all, give me allllllllllllllllllllll your love, babykins, I know you want it”
“you're a slob and a drunk and you're disgusting, get off my foot , get your hand back where I can see it, GET OUT OF MY CAR!!, JESUS, what the fuck are you about??” “ohhhhhhhhhhh, baby, don't be so cold like a cone with no cream to lick from the rim, just love my seething sweet thing and let's be a noise only god hears on a good night..” “ watch the hand, grub boy, GET OUT OF MY CAR!! I'm gonna crown your buddy Frank for setting this up, FUCK OFF! GET YOUR DRUNK FACE OUT OF HERE…”

It's a night of extremes because the car bounces in it's spot, next to a dumpster, as the bars empty and bartenders check their keys, dishwashers hose down dishes and waitresses do another line of speed to make the night come home faster as patrons roll over each other, going from hugs to handshakes and all manner of gestures that melt into wars that are declared and over with out a shot being fired, the moon sweeps the street that fills with loud jokes that wakes the neighbors with swear words and car alarms that make the punch lines a home invasion, there's nothing else to do after the little and big hands fall where the do each night about right now,

Cops have their smokes, their batons, riot guns, their back up bottles,

The cars all rock with ignition, roaming hands in the middle of what is now becoming morning, some fingers trace the line of a thigh , other fingers fold together, it's the end of the summer, and there is no more spending money.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Ah, the Seventies, where every grace and freedom gained from the previous decade turned to poison and cant, a dance of bad habits we couldn't seem to break. Let me say right here that this little nightmare is based on actual facts of my life, back in the day , in my late teens , early twenties when sex was the greatest thing in the world , and it was my right to have it with any woman I desired . I thought what I considered my good looks would make zippers drop all over the beaches and alleys of La Jolla and Pacific Beach in the city of San Diego. I was an asshole trying to do everything catechism taught me was a sin. It wasn't pretty.

Liquor store lights enlarge the facts of the night.

Gimmee a pack of goddamn Camels she says,gimmee a fuckin'pack of camels or you can dry hump against this telephone pole.He tries to kiss her but she turns away, looking into the liquor store at the rack of smokes next to a cash register decorated with permits and checks from dead bank accounts. The lighting made the inside of the store radiate through the windows and the swinging doors, pourin over into the parking lot where the payphones and news stand appeared to be devoured by an encroaching sea of wicked india ink.
Bunny heart,he says, how about some MD 20/20 or a coupla quarts of Schlitz, maybe? After we get some, we can go to the high school and hang out at the dance, the band is Gnarly Beast,
they play lotsa Deep Purple like it's right offa the record.

Her eyes burn through him the way the store sign burns through the night.There was no light in her pupils, just round puddles of unforgiving black under an angry, dark set of eyebrows. He could a pain in his jaw.

I told you,she says, I wanna pack of Camels and then
I wanna go to the beach where there's a party I heard about.
What's with your beer and wine?

Ok, Camels, he says, but how 'bout maybe Camels ”and• some MD20/20? Go sit on the sand, smoke some, get a buzz, later, well...
Oh fuck it, she says, alright, get both, then we'll go.
I love you, sweet meat, he says.

Don't call me that,she says,how much money do you have?
Five bucks, hey says, oughta cover it. Sure about the beach?
Beast kicks out the jams on that Deep Purple.

He tries to kiss again and cram his hand down the front ofher jeans, but she turns again, pushes him back with one arm andswats in the groin with the other.

You dense fucker, she says, all I want is pack of Camels andyou're off doin' something else. I'm going to the beach by myself.
She turns and walks up the street, walking near the storefronts to avoid the street lights.He thinks,go ahead and walk away, bitch, Deep Purple rules and you don't even know, you're just a chain smokin' Deb wannabe anyway, fuckin' bitch.
He limps away, cutting up a service alley toward the highschool,where he knew he'd find some of his bros in the lower student parking lot leaning against car hoods , feigning thehoodlum poses of guitar heros under the yellow corona of a streetlight.A pain shoots through his crotch and stops him in staggering.
Goddamn bitch, he mumbles and comes to a complete stop
in front of two door garage at the end of the alley. He squints his eyes on a sign nailed to the wooden garage door, letters dancing through a vibrating haze of pain and real mist, shit,my goddamn nuts ache, he thinks, leaning closer to the sign for
no reason other than conquer one obstacle, what's this shit say? "NO PARKING," he reads, and then blacks out, collasping between two trash cans formed from the toughest rubber.