22 February, 2010

Excerpt from New Manuscript

Since I had the cash, I went against my better judgment and decided to pay rent. The next day I woke up in the late afternoon and walked up to the gas station on the corner and bought a money order, two corn dogs, and a 40 of Miller High Life. On the way back I stopped by the manager’s office, the money order through the mail slot near the bottom of the locked door, and went back home to burrow in and avoid the day light. When I got back, there were two more messages on my phone. One was another message from Lynda, wanting to talk to me. The other was from my mother, asking if I’d talked to Rhea lately.

The corn dogs were hard from sitting under the heat lamp too long, but I added enough ketchup that it didn’t matter, and the beer washed it all down nicely. I tried watching TV for a while, but I couldn’t talk myself into sitting through any of the shit on any of the channels. They’d be doing me a favor, I thought, if they just shut the fucking cable off. How many years had I wasted watching television? Over my lifetime? It’s enough to stupefy the imagination. The time people waste never occurs until it’s well past reclamation; I spent my life doing what I thought was living. I worked – sometimes. I married. I had a child. I divorced. I worked – sometimes. I remarried. I got a career. I paid taxes, amassed debt, missed car payments and rent payments and utility payments. When I had the money I always tried to tip at least 15 percent when I went to bars and restaurants. I spent recklessly. I survived hangovers, evictions, break ups, break downs, deaths, funerals, births. In my mid-30’s I was able to look back and see a life not unlike the lives of other men my age. I wasn’t so different.

So why did most all of it feel like malingering death?

There were only two things I did right in my life, as far as I could tell: having Rhea and marrying Lynda. But Rhea was getting too old to visit and Lynda took a job out of town for a few months. She told me when she left it wasn’t me; but I knew it was.

“You never do anything. You don’t go anywhere except that bar. You don’t have any hobbies. You don’t even write anymore; and it used to be so important.”

“It still is.”

She shook her head. “But you’re not doing anything about it. You’ve been moping around the apartment for a year, Nick. A YEAR. I can’t take it.”

“So you’re leaving me because I’m a little depressed.”

She shook her head. “I’m not leaving you. I’m working out of town for a few months. I need to get out of here. I need to do this for ME, ok? Besides, the time apart might be good for us.”

“Whatever.” I didn’t believe for a second that she planned on coming back. She’d go off with her gypsy theatre friends and send me postcards that read Wish You Were Here (Not!).

A car honked outside. “That’s my taxi.”

“I could have taken you to the airport.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

It would have been, I thought. Once.

“I’ll call you when I land.”


She sighed. “I still love you, Nick.”


She walked out of the apartment and got into the taxi. I stood there watching her leave. It felt like my entire life was riding off in a yellow taxi.

That I wasn’t working wasn’t the issue, although that played a role. Lynda, unlike most of the women I’d had dealings with in my life, wasn’t obsessed with money. She worried over it sometimes, but not out of some shallow social-status issue. Her fears of poverty had deeper roots than even I understood when we first got married, and I had come to take them seriously – even if my own nature got in the way of doing anything about it.

I walked downstairs because I was tired of standing in the middle of the bedroom. Of course, once I reached the bottom of the stairs, I hit the wall of smell that encased the entire first floor. What had Randall called it? Dead fish and dirty ass? He was often an intolerable human being, but he could be (entirely too often) astute in his observations.

“I really need to clean,” I said. My voice echoed. It was a wonder that Marie Rubio didn’t say anything about it when she dropped off the delinquent rent notice. For all I knew, the odor was starting to creep out under the door and out the edges of the window. Hell, it could’ve been seeping through the walls; the walls were painted concrete blocks, which gave the place a cave-like quality. It also dated the construction of the complex to the late 1960’s to early 70’s. Before advances in central air and energy efficient building materials, the best way to build houses in the desert was out of cement blocks; they kept the cool air longer. It made for shitty insulation of course… but the winters were mild except for the nighttime temperature and the cold always burned off by ten the following morning. That was one of the things about living in the desert Lynda and I didn’t realize; I suspect that most people don’t realize it, either. The winter nights get cold – sometimes below freezing. It’s not the same kind of cold; it’s not that mid-western cold that gets into your bones the way it gets into the ground and freezes solid to stay until the spring thaw. The desert ground doesn’t hold onto the cold in the winter. There’s not enough water or soil or clay for that to happen. The temperature simply drops, and maybe there’s a micro-thin layer of dew the following morning; but that, along with the cold, disappears quickly and leaves no trace of its existence.

The cave-like atmosphere of the apartment held the smell in like it held the cold; sometimes I had to hold my breathe from the time I walked in the door to the time I made it up the stairs to the bedroom, which was the only sacred place left. When Lynda first left, I couldn’t sleep upstairs; trying to sleep alone in our bed was simply too much for me. And no matter how much I drank, I couldn’t sleep in our bed without missing her – the feel of her next to me, her radiating warmth, the little snoring sounds she always made (and always denied making). I missed the way she talked in her sleep and didn’t remember it the next day, and the way she used to cling to me in the night when she had a nightmare. I missed the weight of her when she’d lay on my chest, listen to my heart, and play with my chest hair, always pulling out the gray hairs and accusing me of turning into a monkey. So for the first month or so, I passed out on the couch downstairs and slept with the lights on to erase the memories that lingered in the darkness and kept me awake.

Eventually, though, the smell downstairs and the uncomfortable couch pushed me upstairs; and I made sure to drink enough that I wouldn’t wake up, and I kept the television on to block out the sound of all those memories whispering at me from the shadows in every corner of the room.

Coffee, I thought. I need a little coffee and then I’ll scour the place clean. I steeled myself and waded into the kitchen. Dirty dishes stacked in high in the sink and spreading onto the counter top when the space ran out. Old, dried out food encrusted on the plates, the bowls, the silverware. Empty, crushed beer cans and drained bottles that once held wine, bourbon, and scotch. The floor was sticky. The stove was covered in layers of crud and stained with meals I didn’t remember trying to cook and the burners were riddled with acne-like little circles from Randall lighting his cigarettes on the burner. Old pizza boxes. Rancid delivery and take-out containers. I had to clean the place; if Lynda walked through the door at that moment, the sheer horror of it all would have pushed her right back out again. It was not evidence of a Man Debauched – which she probably expected – or even of Dedomesticated Man – which might have been forgivable. There was some other evil at work there altogether; it was something older and more rotten. In the light of the morning – and why that morning I didn’t (and still don’t) know – I began to understand that it was more than my laziness or depression or drunkenness. The thing I faced in my kitchen was not months of neglect, but that ageless decay that all civilizations succumb to in the end. It was the thing that took down the Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Roman Empire. It was that impulse that lived on in the stories of the Christ’s crucifixion, the murder of Osiris, the death of Mohammed, the execution of Patrick Henry, and the railroading of Sacco and Vanzetti.

I found the coffee pot much in the same condition it had been in when I abandoned it the previous morning. How bad do I want this cup of coffee? I told myself I could walk back up to the gas station and buy a cup of their burned, yet still amazingly weak java. Then I could come back reinvigorated with something resembling caffeine and the fresh air, and take on the filth of the centuries that had taken root in my kitchen. The beer and the shitty corndogs were brewing in my stomach, churned by the deadly cornucopia of smells I had no choice but to breathe in.

Lynda would have a fit if she walked into this. She wasn’t a clean freak or anything; if anything, she was as absent minded as I was when it came to the daily futile chores of eradicating the dust, grime, and filth of living. But she would know what it was before I had a chance to try and explain it.

My stomach was in knots and I knew I was going to throw up if I didn’t do something. So I went back upstairs and took a fast shower; I made sure to turn the water up as hot as I could take it so I could burn the filth off my skin. Then I dressed, held my breath as I went down the stairs, and retreated from the apartment.

Instead of stopping at the gas station, I kept walking until I got to the bar.

16 February, 2010

[Morning Glory]

The next day I woke up to someone banging on the door. I wasn’t sure of the time. I looked at my cell phone. The clock read 10:35. Shit. I didn’t know anybody who would be up at this time, let alone anybody who would be banging on the door. I rolled out of bed and stumbled downstairs, if only to tell whoever it was to shut the hell up and leave me alone.

I opened the door. There was a woman on the other side of it. It was Marie, the apartment complex manager. She was an attractive Latino woman with big dark eyes, a ghetto ass, and smooth dark skin. When I opened the door and the outside air hit me, I remembered I was naked; but I was too hungover and pissed off to care. Marie took a few steps back and made sure to look directly at my face.

“What do you want?” I asked. “It’s not the first of the month.”

“Don’t you think you should… put something on?” I couldn’t tell if she was really offended or if she felt the need to act that way. “There are kids around here.”

“They’re in school,” I said. “And if they’re not, they deserve what they get.”


“Oh. They’re not up yet then. I wasn’t either, as a matter of fact.”

“There are FAMILIES here, Mr. Rafferty.”

“Did you beat on the door just to tell me that?”

“I could have you arrested.”

“Well, do that. I’ll tell them you sexually assaulted me.” Horror spread across her face. Of course it was all bullshit. But that’s what she got for waking me up. “I’ll tell them you threatened to evict me unless I put out. It’ll take YEARS to straighten out and by then you’ll have lost your sweet little gig here and I’ll be living in Alaska. Now if you’ll excuse me…”

“I was just dropping off this notice Mr. Rafferty.” She held it out in front of her at arms length. I grabbed it from her and looked at it. It was a notice informing me I was late on the rent.

“So what’s this mean?”

“It means,” she said, “that you have five days to pay or move. Or we start the eviction process.”

“Uh huh.”

“And let me suggest, Mr. Rafferty…”

“Call me Raff. Anybody who sees me naked gets to call me Raff.”

“Let me suggest, MR. RAFFERTY, that you take this seriously. And next time,” she sniffed, let her gaze drift downward, arched her eyebrow, and frowned. “Put on some clothes. You’re embarrassing yourself more than you are me. Really.” She turned and shimmied away, laughing to herself.

I closed the door, locked it, and looked down at my limp cock. Fucking depression. I blamed depression. Lynda had blamed booze. She said to me, “You’re giving up your libido for a bottle.” Fucking hell. Used to be I could set the clock by my morning wood. Used to be. And here it was letting me down, literally. I couldn’t get it up for pathetic reality TV women, girls at the bar, or even porn. It had been months since Lynda and I fucked. And that was before she left. And she’d been gone almost three months. No wonder Marie didn’t respect me. No wonder Lynda didn’t, either. I dropped the notice on the floor and went back to bed.

Twenty minutes later someone else was banging on the door. This time I knew who it was; it was Randall. He was calling my name while he was beating on the door. Among his more annoying qualities, he rarely experienced the wonder of a full blown hangover. The bastard. Again, I considered ignoring it, but then I remembered he had my key and he’d probably use it if I didn’t answer. For all I knew, the fucker went and made a copy.

This time I pulled on a pair of shorts before I stumbled and opened the door. When I did, he was smiling.

“I thought you’d be asleep by the pool again,” he handed me my key. “You gave me your house key.”

“Thanks.” I moved so he could come in.

“Does this mean we’re going steady?”

“Fuck off, Randall. I’m not in the mood.”

“Well GET in the mood. We got us some PLANS today, son.” He made a face and sniffed. “Dude, maybe you should… I don’t know… CLEAN every once in a while? This place reeks of old ass and dead fish.”

I was trying not to look at the mess as I tried to make coffee. “And just how do you know what those things smell like?”

“I visit you.”

“Do you want a cup of coffee before I kick your head in?”

He smiled. “Nah. You know I don’t drink the stuff. It’s bad for you.” He pulled a cigarette out and lit it. “Besides, we don’t have time for coffee talk. Get cleaned up.”


“We’re going to the track.”

“You didn’t lose enough yesterday?”

“Shee-it. That was yesterday. I got a new lease on life today.”

Lucky fucking you. “I don’t feel like doing shit today, okay? Just let me wake up and go on about my day. You can tell me how much you lost later.”

“Come on, Raff. We’re meeting up with Steve and Paul and Chris. It’ll be fun, man. It’ll be good for you. And if you don’t have any money, I’ll stake you a few bucks. But you need to get your smelly ass in the shower first and get that creeping stank off, or I won’t let you in my car.”

If I waited until later that night, he wouldn’t care about letting me in his car because chances were I’d be driving him home. I had money. I had a little money. My unemployment payments were reliable, if nothing else was. I was behind on rent, sure; but losing a few bucks at the track wasn’t going to make any difference anyway.

“I need coffee.”

“We can get you coffee up at the bar.”

“Will they let you back in?” I don’t know why I asked.

He laughed. “You know better. That place needs me. I bring in all the good business.”

“Fine. Give ten minutes.” I pushed by him to get upstairs.

“Seven,” he said. “I’ll give you seven. Hey, I saw this cute spick chick when I pulled up. Longish dark hair; ghetto booty. You know her?”


“You ever tap her?”

“Nah,” I answered. Briefly, I considered putting Randall on her trail; it would come to nothing but it would give him something to do besides roust me and it would annoy the shit out of her. She was only doing her job, I thought. So I decided to do her favor. “She’s a lesbian.” But I also said it for myself. I couldn’t have him trying to play grab ass with her; that would only make me homeless faster.


“Yeah. She likes chicks. Real militant, too. Hates men. Carries a big knife in case she feels like cutting somebody’s junk off. She needs more pussy than you.”

Randall whistled. “Fucking shit, man. I mean, I wouldn’t marry her or nothing…” he drifted off for a second. “Maybe she hasn’t seen the right dick yet.”

“I’m sure she’s met plenty,” I said. “Do you want me to shower or do you want to circle jerk over the apartment manager?”

“Shower,” he said. “I don’t spank in front of nobody.” His smile widened. “Unless she’s into that freaky shit.”

11 February, 2010

[Playing Pretend]

My First Love was Erica Delaney. She was five years old. I was six. She lived with her parents on the newer side of town. Her father was the team leader of the power company that had built the dam and blocked off The West Fork. The hydroelectric plant saved the valley, according to the power company; the alternative was to build a nuclear power plant a little bit up river. But that presented other problems. What to do with the waste was one. The other was the blow to civic pride that Blighton would’ve gotten the power plant instead of New Leeds. Erica’s father was a popular man and a CPA. She didn’t understand any of these things anymore than I did; all she did was laugh and run around in circles the way small children used to.

I was older because I got sick and couldn’t start school in time. When all the other kids my age were learning to write large block letters and to count on their fingers, I was in and out of the hospital. The doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me. When one specialist either announced his confusion or offered one more incorrect diagnosis, I was shuffled off to another specialist. I learned to read sitting in waiting room next to my mom, who would read aloud to me and teach me words at the same time. It was the same thing with every specialist, though. Each one of them would do the same tests: listen to my heart and lungs, take a blood sample, stick me with some needles, pinch and poke and prod, take my temperature. The allergists always stuck me with this needle that was actually a bunch of tiny needles bundled together. None of it did any good. One doctor thought there was some infection in my tonsils. Another thought it was my appendix. I’d been sick so long that I didn’t remember what it was like to not be sick; and even when I did go to school a year late, the only thing anybody came up with was chronic asthma and a ton of allergies – which meant pills, inhalers, and shots once a week.

And when I did go back to school, the slightest thing set off an attack. I couldn’t run too much at recess or hop around during classroom games. Any hint of excitement triggered an attack. Maybe that was when I learned to bury it all – because to show any excitement, happiness, or to get too rambunctious would lead to an attack that might kill me. All the kids knew about my asthma because the teacher had told them. But it was beyond any of them. I didn’t look sick. They just thought I was lazy, and their parents probably thought my parents were just babying me. When the kids made fun of me because I wasn’t allowed outside when the groundskeeper was mowing the grass, I learned to tune them out. Mostly While they were outside playing tag football or dodge ball, I sat inside, drew pictures, looked at books, and started making up my own games. Games I played in my mind. Playing Pretend. And in my mind, I was never sick and the other kids were all slower and weaker than me and none of them ever made fun of me.

Erica Delaney was not one of the kids who made fun of me. I think that was the reason I fell in love with her. She had long, curly blonde hair in which she wore brightly colored ribbons; the ribbons always matched her dress. Her eyes were a sparkling blue and she had this birdlike little laugh that I could pick out at a distance. Mrs. Chance, our teacher, liked her the best and always let her take the chalkboard erasers outside and clean them. She also let Erica pass out the cookies and juice during snack time, and whenever she asked a question, Erica Delaney’s hand was always the first hand in the air.

Sometimes, when I was actually allowed to go outside, Erica Delaney would smile and wave at me. And when I wasn’t allowed outside, she became part of the game I played in my mind. Sometimes I was a secret agent; that was when I first encountered the evil Dr. Tongo, enemy of all mankind, bent on either ruling or (if he couldn’t rule it) destroying the entire world. Inevitably, Dr. Tongo, in an attempt to keep me from stopping him, would kidnap my sweet Erica Delaney and hold her hostage. That meant I had to break into his super secret hideout, buried deep in the mountains in a place only I could find, to save her and upset his diabolical plans. The adventure was always full of peril, and while I was playing pretend I could be strong, emotional, and in control. I was trained in all the deadliest forms of fighting and I was an excellent athlete. And in the end, I would always rescue her and stop Dr. Tongo. And Erica would wrap her arms around my neck and hug me and kiss me the way women did in the movies and the television shows I watched. And her blue eyes always shone brightest for me.

10 February, 2010

Thick … As a Brick (dedicated to all the fantasy girls of my youth)

Shit jobs were easier to get 15 years ago. Even when you weren’t good at keeping them (and I surely wasn’t), there were still plenty of low paying, soul stealing, dignity defying sustenance jobs. If you knew where to look. The best system was suggested to me by a friend in college. Her name was Cheryl. We used to get drunk at her place to avoid having to go anywhere else. She also made a fantastic hangover breakfasts: one of those homemade masterpieces complete with cheesy eggs, sausage, biscuits, and gravy that always made the sunlight just a little bit easier to cope with. She also had these huge, gravity defying tits.

We were sitting on her couch and talking; I’d shown up to the party early because I wanted to tell her I was dropping out of college (again). I don’t know why I wanted to tell her, or what made me think I needed to show up early and tell just her; within five minutes of walking in the door, everybody else knew anyway because she, in addition to being a spot on cook and having gravity defying watermelon sized tits, she also had an incredibly big mouth. But she was beautiful, though not in that usual way that a woman can be beautiful.

At the time I think I had convinced myself I had a crush on her; it wasn’t difficult to talk myself in it. But I didn’t think she’d go for a guy like me. For one, I have always been on the large size, and not in a good way; I was large around the middle, but my legs and arms have always been shorter than they were supposed to be, so my clothes never fit me right. Back then I wore my hair long – I’m talking down to my ass, all the way around; unless I tied it back, I looked like Cousin It from the Addams Family. I’m lousy at games; I couldn’t hit a ball or throw a frisbee or play hacky sack to save my life. I’m also a longstanding social catastrophe. Even in high school, all I had to do was look at a girl I liked and she immediately assumed I was odd and wouldn’t talk to me; and then within 3 minutes neither would any of her friends. Eventually I learned it was easier to friend them than it was to fuck them – but even the friendship process was a lot of work and usually involved the help of third parties to lead the conversation.

“Temp agencies,” she told me after giving up on telling me I should finish college. She sighed when she said it, pushes the words out with what sounded like a slight tone of regret. She was wearing this cute hippie print sun dress that accentuated her boobs and showed just the right amount of leg. She had a B-girl’s body with the brain of a future rocket scientist. For a second, I allowed myself to think she sounded disappointed. Then again, I thought, don’t get your hopes up. That would mean she’d miss you, and there’s no way she would. She was getting cozy with a friend of mine, an ex-swimmer who was also good writer and, as far as women were concerned, a scoundrel. Not that I thought he’d mind if anything happened between Cheryl and me; but given the choice between my friend’s broad shoulders and mostly flat abs and rolly poly me, I figured I knew which way she’d go. I mean, why not?

“Get in with a good agency and they do all the leg work for you,” she said. “Especially if you’re not looking for anything permanent.”

I’d never been to a temp agency before. Sometimes I answered ads in the papers; sometimes I randomly showed up and asked for an application; sometimes a friend got me a job on their shift. A temp agency was a new thing. I asked her if it worked for her, and she said she’d been with the same agency since the summer she graduated high school. All she had to do was call them and say she was available and wanted work. She told me she was never out of work for more than a day when she wanted to work.

After leaving the following week and finding refuge in Cincinnati, I set about finding work. I called the closest branch office of Cheryl’s temp agency. The voice on the other end of the phone – a woman’s voice – asked me what kind of job I was looking for. I told her anything would be fine.

“Office or industrial?”

“Either really. Industrial I guess.”

The voice set up an appointment for me for ten the following morning. She told me to bring a copy of my resume, if I had one. I did, but it wasn’t much to look at. Besides, I didn’t see how it would make much of a difference. I printed one off and took it anyway.

When I got there the following morning I was greeted by the girl who belonged to the voice. She gave me a clipboard with an inch thick of paperwork on it. The first part of it was an application; the instructions read to fill it out even if I brought my resume with me. Then what’s the point of the resume? I wanted to ask the girl who belonged to the voice, but I didn’t want to make a bad impression by questioning office rules. I’d been fired for those kinds of things before – like asking the shift supervisor why the inspectors got rubber mats to stand on when the rest of the people assembling the stupid little plastic toys had to stand on the concrete floor for eight to ten hours a day. I filled out the application, the tax forms, and another ten or fifteen pages of a questionnaire that asked me to describe my skills and abilities in detail. When I was finished, I handed the girl my clipboard, and she told me to take a seat and wait.

After twenty minutes another woman walked out from the back and introduced herself to me. Her name was Kerri. She was shorter than me, but not too short, and dressed in a very smart gray business skirt suit and white blouse. She had these blue eyes and ultra white teeth. She was wearing make-up, but it was obvious that she was covered with freckles. I wondered briefly if she was freckled everywhere. She told me to follow her down the hall for a series of tests – standard procedure at temp agencies. “Just to see what your strengths are,” she said. So I followed her, half listening to her talk but mostly watching her ass, meticulously round and magnificently wrapped in her business skirt, sway as she walked.

Kerri led me to a small room with a computer and told me to take a seat in the chair in front of the computer. After I sat down she leaned over me and signed me into the testing program. she smelled good and when she leaned over, I got a decent side view into her blouse; nice seized tits encased in a red bra. I wondered if she was one of those who matched her bra and panties. I imagined she was.

“Just follow the instructions,” she smiled. “I’ll come back in and check on you in a couple of minutes.”

I found out much later that mostly they waited for you to finish before they came and printed out your scores; at the time, though, all I was focused on was getting through the tests so I could pick up a job. I was also focused on her red underwear and the shape of her ass in that skirt. But I figured a girl like her already had a boyfriend; there wasn’t a ring on her finger, but that didn’t mean anything. There was no way a girl that cute didn’t have somebody watching the clock and waiting for her to get off work and get out of that gray suit. No way at all.

So I set about my task. The first part was a math test, and there were some word problems. Math was never my strong subject, so I muddled through the best I could. The next part of the test was multiple choice; I was offered a series of work related scenarios and given choices of how to respond. For every situation I chose the answer that would best suit any employer, regardless of how asinine it was. After that was a typing test; the content of the test was this page long diatribe on what makes for a good employee, beginning with a quote from Mark Twain that was taken out of context.

A few minutes into the scenarios section, I heard Kerri saunter back in. “How’s it going?”

“It’s okay,” I said. I expected her to turn around and walk out; but instead I could feel her standing behind me. If I had reached up, I could’ve reached in and grabbed one of her boobs. The thought of that excited me a little and I had to shift in my chair. I stayed focused on my tests.

“So, “ she said, placing her hand on the back on the back of the chair, “are you in a band or something?”

The hair. Always when I had the long hair people assumed I was in a band, like nobody else would grow his hair out. “No,” I said. Then I said (and I don’t even know why I said it) “I’m a… writer. More of a writer. Really.”

“Ooh,” she cooed. Or I thought she cooed. Maybe I just wanted her to coo. I couldn’t tell if she was impressed or if she was making fun of me; it kind of sounds the same. “Have you written anything I’d have read?”

“Uh, probably not,” I stammered. “I mean… the places that publish my stuff don’t have a large distribution.” In fact, the only place I’d been published had been in a magazine I started in college. The magazine was short lived, much like my stays at college.

“Ooh,” she said. I felt her remove her hand from the back of the chair. I was increasingly uncomfortable. I felt myself start to sweat and I just wanted to finish the test. I still didn’t know what to make of her tone. She turned and left when I finished up the scenarios and was set to start the typing test. The scent of her lingered in the room, and it still excited me. I botched the typing test from the discomfort and raging erection she left me with. When I finished I did my best to be able to stand up; it’s not as easy as it sounds. All that shit people tell you to think about – baseball stats, your grandmother, your high school gym coach – none of those things actually work. It’s a work of the will to get a raging erection under control; deep breathing, mantras, and prayers are all a waste of time. After I’d managed to get it under control (sort of) I stood up and walked out and told Kerri I’d finished. She smiled, pointed to the chair in front of her desk, and told me to take a sheet. She smiled and her eyes flashed. Then she stood up, slowly. It almost seemed too slowly, like she was maybe letting me look her up and down. Then she sauntered into the little room I’d just been in, printed off my scores, and came back. The front of her skirt was unpleated and clung to her hips. She was wearing black pantyhose; I wondered if they were silk ; I hoped they were. Then I wondered they were the kind a woman stepped into or the kind held up by a garter.

She looked at my scores and told me she’d be back in a minute. I wondered if she really had to do something or if it was an excuse for me to see her walking away… again. When she came back, she brought a guy with her. He looked like an office manager. He was followed by three other people, all of whom had desks in the office and probably had the same job Kerri did.

“So,” the guy talked. “What kind of work are you looking for?”

“Something,” I said. “I just moved back into town and I need something. It doesn’t have to be anything major. Just a job.”

“I see on your resume that you’ve had some college,” he said.

“Yeah.” I loved it when they said it that way. “Had some college.” It kind of sounded like “had a case of pneumonia.”

“We’re looking for somebody to work here,” he said. I looked over at Kerri. She was smiling at me.

“Doing what?” I asked. “You need a janitor or something?”

Everybody giggled. Apparently they thought I was making a joke.

“No,” the guy said. “We’re looking for an Employment Associate. We need somebody to work with clients who want industrial work. And you’ve had plenty of industrial experience, I see. You’d be the kind of person they might respond to.”

I was interested. The office was clean and Kerri worked there. The other girls who worked there were also cute and seemed nice. “So I’d have a desk and talk to people looking for factory work?”

The guy pointed over to an empty desk. “You’d sit over there,” he said. “In addition to being the agent for our industrial clients, you’d also be responsible for calling places to get them to hire us for their employment needs. It’s kind of like sales; and you’d get a commission on every sale.”

“Base salary?”

“Ten dollars and hour. Plus benefits.”

I’d never had a job that offered benefits. I looked over at Kerri. She was smiling. I imagined what it would be like to come into work and see her everyday. Maybe I could ask her out for a drink one day after work. We could go out to lunch on Fridays or paydays. She looked like she had her own place.

“There’s just one thing,” Kerri said.

“What’s that?”

The office manager spoke. “You’d need to cut your hair.”

The words fell heavy in the air. Cut my hair? Why would I need to cut my hair? When it was tied back, it looked well kept. I kept it clean.

“Why? I mean, I’d be dealing with people who want factory work, right?”

“Right,” the guy said.

“A lot of people – guys anyway – who work in factories look a lot like me. Seems like it would just make them more comfortable.”

“It’s a corporate thing,” Kerri said.

“But why?” They were all looking at me: Kerri, the guy, the other office people. “Why does it matter? I’m a clean guy. I keep it clean. I’d keep it tied back. What’s the difference?”

The office manager shifted on his feet. “Look,” he said. “You’re a smart guy. You’re too smart to be working in a factory at minimum wage. This is a good opportunity for you. And all we’re asking you to do is one, small thing.”

I looked at Kerri. Was that hope in her eyes? Did she want me for a coworker? Did she want me for something more? If she liked me with my hair, would she like me without it? Would I like me without my hair? I’d been growing it for a long time; it was a part of who I was, a part of how I saw myself. It sounded like a good job. I could settle in okay for that kind of money. No worries. I needed some kind of job before rent came due.

Or was Kerri flirting with me just to get me to take the job? What if I cut my hair and took the job and then found out she was dating a body builder named Ted? What if I was misreading her entirely? Maybe she was just one of those girls who like to flirt for the hell of it. Maybe she wasn’t flirting at all; maybe she was just being friendly. There was no way a chick like that didn’t have some swinging dick waiting on her when she got home. No way.

“I can’t,” I looked up at the office manager. “I mean, I know it’s just hair… but it’s mine. I appreciate the offer, but I’m really just looking for something so I can get squared away. Really.” I looked over at Kerri. She stopped smiling and was looking at me like I was slightly insane; that was a look I’d seen before on numerous occasions. “Thanks, though.”

Kerri told me she’d call in a couple of days, but I knew she wouldn’t. the cardinal sin in any office setting was a lack of ambition, and I had turned down a job for what they saw as the silliest of reasons. As I left, there were other people in the waiting area, sitting the chairs and filling out the papers on clipboards. They all looked like corporate wannabes; the kind of guy Kerri probably wanted to begin with. I walked out the door and checked my wallet; I had enough money to stop in someplace for a drink. A few days later the office called. It wasn’t Kerri; it was some guy named Scott. He had a very confident tone and he told me he had a job in a Totes warehouse, where they made slipper socks. It was second shift, and paid a quarter over minimum wage. I told Scott I’d take the job. When I hung up the phone, I thought about Kerri and wondered what she’d wore to work that day. Then I turned on the TV and watched a rerun of Sanford and Son.

01 February, 2010

Moose Head

Madge just shook her head and waddled over to the three lever tap with Bill Watson’s empty glass. She made her way like someone who had worn out long before her body had; but when her body finally did wear our, it was still a bitter disappointment. She’d say time and again to anybody who’d listen that she never intended to be a bar owner. The Moose Head was her husband’s deal; he’d wanted to open a place even before he retired from the mill; and after the fiasco with the pension fund, since he’d have to go back to work anyway he figured he might as well work for his damn self. Madge had been okay with it primarily because he only wanted her help with the books and she rarely had to work the bar. It also got him out of the house and out of her hair, and gave her time to spend with the grandchildren and work on her sewing. It also helped that their son, Harold Jr, was sending them money once a month from Minneapolis; he was successful and he wasn’t married (though Madge still didn’t understand why), so he didn’t care to help out. Madge had never told her husband about the money, of course; and he never asked since she was in charge of the family finances.

“Poor bastard,” Bill Watson repeated like he was talking aloud to himself. “That’s just what he is.”

Madge filled his glass from one of the two working taps and waddled back across the length of the bar to where Bill was sitting. Most days Bill was her one and only customer. That was especially true in the winter, when the farmers had no reason to come into town and it was too cold for anybody else to linger longer than they had to; sometimes it got busy on Thursday or Friday afternoons – which meant that maybe a handful of people showed up instead of just Bill – but the bar had long been a place where old men (who were all friends of her Harry’s) could safely sit and talk the way bullshitting way old men talk without having to worry about the interruption of their wives or the impatience of the younger generations. The younger and noisier crowd went up the street to Mitch Bausendorfer’s place. She was tired and knew she would only be more tired by the time she closed the bar for the night; in fact, she hadn’t felt right all day. Normally, she would have had somebody cover for her; but there was no one who could. She’d had to let go of Thom, who tended bar for her husband. She also had to let go of one of the cooks; the only one left was that underage girl Kimmy – who had the night off – that Madge kept on account of her condition. The girl was pregnant, unmarried, and not even out of high school. The father, naturally, was nowhere to be found. And after Kimmy couldn’t work anymore, Madge figured on closing the kitchen.

“He knew what he was getting into with her,” Madge sighed and set the glass down in front of Bill; she was self-conscious of her hand shaking and spilling a few drops on the worn wood counter top. She wiped her hand on a bar towel and continued. “That woman wasn’t nothin’ but trouble from the word go.”

“Yeah, sure was,” Bill nodded. “But wasn’t YOU the one hired her?”

“HARRY hired her,” she corrected him. “Right before he couldn’t run things no more.”

“Ah, yeah,” Bill agreed and took a penitent sip of his beer. He’d been Harry’s oldest friend and best customer; once upon a time Madge even thought of marrying Bill. But that was years and years ago, when she was younger and Bill wasn’t such the crusty old drunk. Besides, she’d stood as Maid of Honor for Hilda, his wife and her childhood friend. They’d all grownup together, the four of them, in Havensham. That was a lot of years. Sometimes she thought it was too many, considering what she had to show for them. “But YOU fired her ass, didn’ ya?”

“I never wanted to own no bar,” Madge announced. “But I ain’t about to let some whore turn Harry’s place into a brothel.”

“Oh, don’t I know it.” Bill smiled like he was remembering something with great fondness. “But what’s wrong with a pretty girl trying to make a living?”

“Hah. That’s just like you Bill. Dirty old goat; you get a sniff of somethin’ young and you lose what little brains the good lord gave you. What if I told Hilda what you said?”

Bill snorted and chuckled. “She’d appreciate the break. She don’t like me hangin’ ‘round the house anyway. You know,” he paused to take another drink. “I wish somebody’d TOLD me retirement was so damned DULL.”

“Poor, poor you,” Madge spat. She didn’t try to cover her bitter tone.

”So,” Bill changed the subject, “you gonna close the place or what?”

She shrugged and didn’t answer. Her son had been telling her when he called earlier in the day that she needed to either close the place or sell the place. Her daughter Coletta, though, wanted her to keep it open and wait for business to pick up. But Madge knew that business wasn’t going to pick up; all the younger men who drank all the beer and all the liquor wanted to be where all the young pretty girls were. And all the young pretty girls were up the street at Mitch Bausendorfer’s, because he didn’t care what anybody did as long as there wasn’t a big mess to clean up and as long as nobody called the cops. Every day that she got up to open the bar, Madge thought about closing it down; but Harry’s bar gave her someplace to go and something to do and it also gave her something to bitch about.

“Have you seen Ricky lately?” Madge asked.

Bill shook his head and frowned. “Nah. He don’t go out much. Well he CAN’T really, unless somebody drives him. And since Lizzy, he hasn’t really had anybody.”

“He can hire somebody,” Madge said. “His insurance’ll cover a home health aid. It’s good insurance. He got it through the mill.”

“Huh. Ain’t as good as it used to be.” Bill drained his glass and held it up, signaling that he wanted another. “She still shouldn’ta done him thataway.” He shook his head and grimaced. “Cruel. It was just cruel.”

Madge picked up the glass and started towards the tap. “Everybody knew she was after his disability check,” she said. “Even Ricky knew that.”

“He said he loved her.”

“Good lord! Love. Maybe so. but that don’t mean she loved him. And that don’t give him the excuse to take leave of his senses.”


“Still nothin’. He should of knowed better. He knew what kind a girl she was. Hell. Before she sunk her claws into Ricky, she’d a laid down and spread her legs for anything with button fly.”

But still…”

“Still NOTHIN’.” Madge filled the glass and kept an eye on it as she made her way back to make sure she didn’t spill too much. “And even after she moved in with Ricky, she was still whorin’ around with those boys down at Bausendofer’s.” She snorted. “That ain’t no kind of woman to move into your house.”

“You know what I heard,” Bill leaned in like he was telling a secret when Madge arrived with his mostly full glass of beer. “I heard he got him one of them … pumps ... you know?”

“Good lord. All the good that done him.” Madge scoffed. “He wasn’t gonna feel nothing anyway.”

“But still…”

Madge shook her head and didn’t answer. Men, she thought. Don’t know nothin’.”

Bill drank two more beers before he left. Madge carefully washed the glass he’d been using and put it away. There were no other dishes to wash. She wiped off the counter top and went around to the other side of the bar to make sure all the stools were straight. She cast her eyes around the empty bar room and sighed. The cloth on the pool table was still torn from New Year’s Eve when Mary Taylor’s husband (The durn fool, Madge thought) drank too much Evan Williams and decided to dance on it. Of course Mary had apologized the next day and promised that her husband would repay the damages; but he’d been laid off from the chicken plant for a year and hadn’t found steady work since. The juke box was lit, but still broken. The walls were covered with hunting trophies: deer heads, a fox, some raccoons, and the above the bar, the big moose head that had given Harry the idea for the name. Sometimes all the dead eyes staring down at her gave her the heebie jeebies. Moose Head. She’d always hated that name; but it was useless to argue with Harry. He’d gone off on one of his hunting trips and when he came back he announced to Madge that he was going to sink their money – what little they’d had – into a bar. “It’ll be great,” he’d told her. “Things are going to be fine. You’ll see.”

Things were fine too, she supposed. Until Harry came down with the cancer. She watched him die for a year; towards the end, he wasn’t even awake and the doctors had to tell her when it was time to pull the plug and let him go. Sometimes when she was alone in the bar, Madge allowed herself to feel the things she didn’t normally let show; like anger. Some days and nearly every night she was so mad at Harry she could barely see straight. Mad because he’d opened his stupid bar with what little money they’d had left. Mad at him for dying first. The anger well up in her and caused to shake uncontrollably; she shook so much she had to sit down until it passed. A few times she allowed herself a shot of peppermint schnapps – just to settle herself down. But when the anger subsided, all she wanted to do was cry and cry and not stop until there were no more tears and no more emptiness and no more her to sit around and worry about whether she should have the hardwood floors of The Moose Head stripped and revarnished.

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this, Harry. Not at all.” Madge looked at her watch. It was only 8:30. She was supposed to keep the bar open until midnight; but she wanted to go home. Well, not so much go home as much as she was tired of sitting in the bar. She told herself she’d sweep the floors in the morning and maybe look for a realtor. Or maybe she’d let Harry Jr. handle it.

She locked the cash register even though there wasn’t enough money in it to worry about. As Madge waddled out from behind the bar, she pulled on her coat. It had been Harry’s old field coat, but the cancer shrunk him so that towards the end it fit him more like a large tent. Walking past the bar, she noticed the small brass plate where Bill had been sitting. The plate read “In Memory of Skip ’07.”Skip Saunderson had been one her son’s friends; he had died in Iraq. When news of the death hit Havensham, her husband decided to put the plaque there, hoping that might convince their son to come home and help them with the bar. It didn’t, of course. Young Harry liked his life in Minneapolis and he could mourn Skip just as well from there. Madge thought of Skip’s mother, Carol Ann; she’d been devastated by the death of her only son. For a moment, Madge allowed herself to feel lucky; she had only buried an old man, not her son. After Skip’s funeral, Carol Ann sold the house and moved in with her daughter, who lived in Florida. Madge thought about closing the bar, selling the house, and moving to Minneapolis. She didn’t want to live with Harry Jr. permanently; only until she found her own place. No grown man would ever find a wife if he lived with his mother; and she sure thought it was past time for him to get married and have a family. But things worked different in the city, she supposed.

Madge braced herself for the cold and switched off the lights on her way out the door. Then she walked out into the February night. Before she turned to walk to over to her car, she looked up the street at all the life going on at Mitch Bausendorfer’s bar. The rest of Main Street was quiet and the laughter and music emanating from the bar echoed through the streets. “Good night, Harry,” Madge said. Then she waddled to her car, not bothering to lock the door behind her.