29 March, 2010

Other Uses For Duct Tape

As she promenaded down the narrow Main Street sidewalk in her best outfit, Walter felt glamorous for the first time in her life.

She was sure they would stop ignoring her, now. Even though it was mid-day on a Tuesday and the center of town was deserted, Walter – who was now going by the name Wilomena (after her favorite grandmother) – knew she would make quite the impression. She was ready for anything. Stares. Glares. Insults. Screams. Threats. Bible quotes. When she put together her ensemble, perfect down to the size 10 stiletto heels, silk hose, and a bright but conservative handbag, she knew the effect she was going for. Her make-up was flawless and straight out of a fashion magazine. She tried to calm herself. Her nerves had almost gotten the better of her that morning; she almost talked herself out of it. But she’d been fantasizing about this day from the moment she started dressing in her mother’s clothes when her parents weren’t home. And if her father’s wrathful beating couldn’t stop her, there wasn’t anybody in town who could scare her either. It was her home as much as theirs, she figured. They would just have to deal with it.

Her first stop was in the Pharmacy Center, where that dried out Stacy Hauptmeyer was working the register. Wilomena had known her since elementary school; they had both been born and been matriculated through Arliss County Consolidated Schools. They both attended Briggs Straton High, where Stacy had been Prom Queen, and Wilomena – then Walter, the fat pimply kid everybody thought was a little retarded – wasn’t even allowed to dance without the entire Prom Court laughing and making fun the frilly pink shirt and baby blue bow tie and cumberbund she’d had to go all the way to Chicago to find.

Wilomena was held herself together and made sure to glide through the door: elegant and above the fracas of small town Mount Arliss. She was still a large woman. There was nothing to be done about that; she knew she was limited by her genetic heritage, so she did the best with what she had. There wasn’t a glamour queen alive who didn’t look like shit without her make-up, she knew that much. In this, she felt a kinship to beautiful women everywhere and it made her feel more beautiful.

Stacy the fallen prom queen (She’d fallen that very night, as a matter of fact, when she forgot all the lectures her daddy the Lutheran minister gave her and spread her legs for Billy Borgenstein, the butcher’s son and Prom King. By the time Stacy had given birth to Billy’s big-headed bastard, the only thing royal on her was the hugeness of her ass.) didn’t speak to her as she walked through the door; but Wilomena couldn’t contain her smile when she noticed Stacy’s eyes popping out of her head. Was it the heels, Wilomena wondered, or the brand name semi-couture dress that she could never have on her small salary as a check out clerk that went to Billy’s beer and his fat baby’s diapers? It didn’t matter. Wilomena walked up and down the aisles, trying to decide what to buy for herself. The item itself was irrelevant; the goal of her visit had been achieved. She stopped was in the small and pathetically stocked home repair section when she saw a roll of gray duct tape and remembered she’d ran out that morning trying to get into her ensemble. She picked the roll off the shelf and made her way back up to the counter. Stacy was talking quickly on her cell phone, and hung up before Wilomena approached the counter.

She rang up the Wilomena’s purchase in silence, intentionally NOT looking at her and scowling at the keys on the register. Wilomena could tell that Stacy wanted to say something; but it wasn’t high school anymore and Stacy wasn’t the Prom Queen. All she said was “11.75,” the price of the tape.

Wilomena paid for the tape in cash; she didn’t like to use her debit card when she dressed up because it still had her old name on it. She opened her purse and handed Stacy a 20; even when she made change, Stacy refused to look Wilomena in the eye. But Wilomena smiled anyway, graciously accepted the change, picked up her the white plastic shopping bag with her tape in it, thanked Stacy, and walked back out onto the sidewalk.

After that, she went down to Siegerson’s bar and ordered a mixed drink. At first, Mitch (the owner) didn’t want to serve her, but there wasn’t anybody else and business had been slow all winter. He didn’t say anything to Wilomena, either, though the hatred burning in his weasel-like eyes said everything that needed to be said. She finished her drink, left a small tip, and left – floating from her triumph.

Wilomena got as far as the courthouse.


She ignored it; her feet were starting to hurt from the heels, but a little pain was nothing compared to the victory she felt at that moment.

“Hey you! Faggot! Retard!” The comment was accompanied by laughter.

Wilomena walked around the corner and away from the noise. She picked up the pace, but she felt her feet started to swell up. That’s what I get, she thought, for tying out a new pair of shoes today.

She was almost to the corner a group of five men stopped her.

“Hey faggot,” one of them said. It was the same voice.

“Gentlemen,” she answered in her best husky voice. She smiled to try and hide her fear.

“We don’t like faggots here,” another one said.

“Yeah,” another said.

“Faggot!” hissed another.

“I think you have me confused with someone else,” Wilomena said, trying to walk through them.

“Walter?” the leader asked, pushing her backwards. “I always knowed you was a retard; but now yer a FAG, too?”

When they circled around her, Wilomena’s stomach jumped into her throat. She was about to reply when the first blow came from behind her and took her to her knees.

“You wanna suck our dicks, Walter? You faggot?” the leader taunted him and the others laughed. One of them kicker her in the back and other punched her on the side of her head. The leader bent down and picked up the shopping bag and looked inside. “Duct tape?” he laughed. “What does a little faggot like YOU need with duct tape?

“Maybe he tapes his dick back with it,” one of them said.

The leader smacked her in the head. “That’s fucking SICK, Walter. Is that what you do? Huh? You wanna be a girl Walter?”

“My name…” she said. “My name…”

The leader hit her again. “Let’s get him outta here,” he said. “Pick his fat ass up and get him over to my truck.” He tore the plastic wrapping off the duct tape. One of them held her hands behind her back and the leader wrapped tape around her wrists. They picked her up and dragged her behind the courthouse, where the truck was. The entire time they made fun of her weight, they tore her dress, and continued to punch and kick her. Before they tossed her into the back of the truck the leader took the roll of duct tape and wrapped her eyes and cross ways around her head. They punched her and kicked her, even as they drove out of town. They were screaming and howling like wild animals when Wilomena lost consciousness.

27 March, 2010

Rusted Out Minotaurs and Other Mythological Creatures: Parts 3 and 4

“What do you mean you’re going to help him build a fence?”

“It’s a little extra money. Besides, he’s being picked on by the Ainkle.”

She rolled her eyes. “Has he even discussed money yet?”

“No. But he’s a friend of your dad’s. Right?”

“What does that have to do with anything? You know… sometimes you’re so…”


“… naïve.”

That hurt. But what was I supposed to do? I was stuck between Bear, her dad, and the mystery beneath her clothes. “I gave him my word,” I insisted. “I can’t back out. If I do, he might fire me or something. Then I’d have to go back to Alice and beg that bitch for my job back.”

“At least it paid.”

“You WANTED me to work closer. Remember?”

She ended the conversation with another shake of her head and a change of subject. That was how she usually got in the last word. We were going to the movies that night; it was some western that made the Indians look all noble and the made the U.S. Cavalry look like barbarians. She wanted to watch it because it had something to do with some project in her American History class. She cried during the scene that showed an endless field of skinned buffalo carcasses. I remembered reading that Wyatt Earp had been a buffalo hunter. Pat Garrett, too. When it talked about them being buffalo hunters, it never made it sound like tragedy; and nobody I knew sat around and whined about the extinction of buffalos or mastodons or the dodo bird. The movie dragged on, but she was cuddled up next to me, holding tightly onto my hand. With her other hand she rubbed my inner thigh, giving me a painful hard on. The movie was way too long and way too forced. And Ape was way too interested when the lead, a burned out officer manning a deserted outpost, showed his ass on the screen. She and every other girl in the theater giggled like the lecherous old men who hung out at the American Legion Hall.

After the movie she wanted to go to Waffle House for coffee and pie. After that I took her home. When we got there, her dad was waiting up for us. She kissed me lightly on the cheek then bounded out of the car and bounced inside. I watched her tits bounce inside the purple t-shirt she was wearing. Then I went home, jacked off, and went to sleep.


When I knocked on Bear’s trailer door the following morning I was questioning myself for agreeing to be there that early. I knocked again and lit a cigarette. I wasn’t quite awake and I was grumpy besides because Ape was still toying around with me. I was trying to be nice guy; or rather, I was trying to behave the way I thought nice guys behaved – which was the opposite of the way every other guy behaved. It seemed like they were getting everything and I was getting nothing. It wasn’t fair. What made me less that I didn’t deserve more than being teased during a horrible movie that showed some other guy’s ass? What was wrong with a good old fashioned horror flick? At least in one of those you saw a pair of tits in first five minutes. It was practically a rule. I was probably the only guy who graduated from high school and hadn’t made it past a quick feel in the church basement.

After my third time knocking on the door, it swung open. “Damn boy,” he said, zipping up his jeans. “You knock like fuckin’ cop! You’re lucky I didn’t come out here ready to shoot your damn fool head off.”

When he swung the trailer door open, I got my first view inside. It was a small trailer – one of those that people hitched up to a pickup truck and took with them on vacation. It was big enough for a small bed, a cooking area, and a tiny bathroom in the back. No wonder he ate outside, I thought. What does he do in the winter? He stood there and yelled at me some more, and I probably would’ve been worried, but I saw the reason he didn’t answer the door quickly. There was a girl in his bed, making sure to cover herself so I couldn’t see. Was she naked? I told myself she probably was. What did Bear McGee do to get a girl to stay THERE with him?

After he was done talking at me, he looked at his watch. “Oh shit, kid,” he shrugged and smiled. “I told you 8 didn’t I?”


“Sorry ‘bout that.” He stepped outside and sat down on the steps to pull on his dirty white socks and worn out black cowboy boots. Then he stood up. “You had breakfast yet?”

I hadn’t, but I really wanted to get started so that we could get as much done as possible before the heat the day. But he wouldn’t hear of it. “How can you work hard,” he asked, “if you haven’t had a good breakfast. Didn’t your mama raise you right?” The he laughed and slapped me on the shoulder, pushing me towards the table behind his trailer.

“Liza will cook up enough for both of us, don’t you worry. She’s not good for much, but she’s a nice fuck and a decent cook.” He didn’t bother to whisper. In fact, he seemed to speak as loud as he could. Like he was showing off. Or bragging.

A couple of minutes later, I saw Liza because she brought out a carafe of coffee and two dingy mugs. She was hiding her face under a mop of dark blonde hair, dressed in a long t-shirt that just barely covered her ass, pink cotton panties, and a pair of blue flip flops. She poured our coffee without saying a word. Bear didn’t introduce us, but when she turned to walk back in, he smacked her on the ass. Then he took a sip of his coffee and made a sour face. “Sorry kid,” he said. “Decent enough cook, but can’t make coffee for shit. Do you need something for your coffee? I drink mine black, but I THINK we got milk or bourbon or something.”

“No thanks.” I took a drink of my coffee. It tasted like hot, dirty water.

He talked on a little bit more about nothing in particular. He talked like someone who enjoyed the sound of his own voice. He talked about riding motorcycles and of getting into bar fights; he’d been at a bar the night before with Liza and got into it with “some pussy who didn’t like how I treat her,” he said. “Can you believe that? I let her stay here, I buy most of her drinks. And some other guy was crying like bitch because he couldn’t keep his dick up long enough to fuck her when he had the chance. “ He laughed. “And it ain’t like it was that hard. To fuck her, I mean.” He smiled at me. “Shit, even you could probably get her if you wanted to. I wouldn’t mind. I mean, I reamed her out pretty good, so you may not FEEL anything…” he laughed again. “But shit. Feel free. You smile at her the right way she’ll give you the best head you’ve ever had.”

By this time Liza came back out with two plates of food. That was the first I time I actually saw her face. I didn’t place her until after she turned to walk away, and that was only because she spoke. “I’m gonna get dressed,” she said. “I gotta work today.”

Bear waved his hand, dismissing her. He dug into his food: watery scrambled eggs, rubbery bacon, burnt toast. He looked up to see if I was eating. “Say,” he said. “Where’d you go to school?”

I told him.

“Shit.” He put his fork down. “That’s where Liza went, I think.”

I knew that. Her name was Liza Brunnel. She had been a year ahead of me. My sophomore year, she started dating this upperclassman Rusty Hinkle, and started dressing like a low rent hooker extra from an episode of Miami Vice. There was very little left to the imagination, and the only reason she got away with it was that seeing her everyday probably gave our geriatric principal the first boner he’d had in years. I used to see Liza and Rusty humping in stairwells and making out at lunch and disappearing into the second floor boys’ bathroom. After Rusty graduated, she tried to change her tune and dressed like a Catholic School teacher; but it never mattered. I’d heard that she later posed for an adult magazine called Skank. Beaver of the Week.

“You two could talk about old time,” Bear went on. “Mutual friends, shit like that.”

“Uh, that’s ok. We should probably get started on the fence, shouldn’t we?”

He shook his head and picked up his fork. “Eat first.”

I picked through my food the best I could. I didn’t have much of an appetite. After a few minutes I heard Liza get in her car and leave.

22 March, 2010

Excerpt from Novel Mss: Eau De Garbage

Randall caught me on my fifth and final trip to the dumpster; the bags were filled to capacity and with every step I worried that one of them would split and dump everything in the alley.

“Hole-ee shiit!” he gawked. “Is hell freezin’ over?”

“Nope.” I heaved one of the bags into the dumpster. The plastic lid came slamming down and I was punched in the face with a breeze that stank of old garbage, warm beer, and melted plastic.

“You get evicted?”

“Nope.” I opened the lid to heave my last and heaviest bag into the dumpster. Randall, in an act of misdirected kindness, held the lid for me. “Thanks.”

“Lynda coming back?”

“You’re funny.” I dropped the bag in and managed to move before Randall let the lid drop, narrowly avoiding another blast of Eua De Garbage.

“Whatever the reason,” he said, “it’s about fuckin’ time. Your place was turnin’ into a fuckin’ sty.”

“You’d know. I hear they let the pigs roam the streets like child molesters in Georgia.”

Randall didn’t like when I made fun of Georgia, his accent, or the South in general. He wasn’t one of those “The South Shall Rise Again!” mother fuckers; but he was often critical of movements to stop flying the Southern Cross over government building. I didn’t make fun of it often because watching him get pissed stopped being fun. But he had to go and mention Lynda.

He must’ve realized his faux paus because he raised his hands to declare a truce. “I tried callin’ you,” he said. “You know what TODAY is, right?”

“Should I?”

“It’s THURSDAY, son!”


He shook his head at me and smiled. “It’s THIRSTY THURSDAY. Come on, let’s go.”


“The bar, jackass.”

“You need a reason to drink? Besides, weren’t you just there?”

He shook his head at me, disapproving. “It’s got nothin’ to do with it BEIN’ Thursday. It’s… IN SPITE of it bein’ Thursday. So come on.”

“Is Eunice running specials? Trying to get that TGIT crowd?”

“Shiit.” He spat on the broken parking lot cement. “You’d think you were AGAINST drinking all of a sudden. S’got nothin’ to do with Eunice; she’s not even working today. It’s not that. It’s just a THING, okay? Come on. Everybody’s there.”


“Quit bein’ such an old woman and come on. “Everybody. Steve, Paul, Chris. The important people. So COME ON already. I don’t put out this much effort to get laid.”

I went inside and washed up a little to get the garbage smell off of me. The kitchen looked better, even if the stench still lingered. I supposed I could’ve opened the windows, but that would’ve meant opening the curtains and letting all the people who complained about me see just how decayed my little world had become. Besides, Marie Rubio might stop by, and even though she had a key, she couldn’t enter without good reason. Granted – she was trying to get rid of me, and that might give her the probably cause she needed; but I doubted it. She thought very little of me at that point, but she still wasn’t sure how I’d react. Besides, she was the kind who’d follow the letter of the law and give me enough rope to hang myself. That, at least, bought me a little time.

When we got to the bar, the music was loud with a thumping bass beat; I looked behind the bar and there was Eunice, in all of her blonde bleached, tan sprayed and stretched glory. It was actually Lindsay’s night to work, and she was pouring drinks for some regulars; Eunice was behind the bar mixing free shots for her posse of users, abusers, and hangers on. She exemplified the rule that governed the universe: the person with the best stuff runs everything. And though she’d lost her stuff physically a long time ago and had gone the route of the saggy and haggy club druggie, Eunice still had the hook up for good drugs, free shots, event tickets and swag, and for forcing naïve young waitresses with nice bodies into perpetual sexual servitude. The only real difference between Eunice and a pimp was that Eunice didn’t take a cut from each girl; she took their souls instead, and used them to keep herself going a little longer. And when the girls got too coked out, dried out, or got knocked up, she kicked them to the curb like an unwanted cat.

I looked over at Randall, who was flashing his shit-eating grin. “I thought you said she wasn’t working.” I had to pretty much yell over the lousy music.

He laughed and yelled back. “I lied.”

“Great. You know that bitch doesn’t like me.”

“So what? Who cares? Lindsay is working and wearing a low cut shirt. Who gives a fuck about ol’ Sag Bags?”

To answer him would have required me to yell again; besides, my throat was dry and I was already there anyway. Might as well drink and hope somebody would change the music. When I sat down at the bar between Chris and Hugh, who was one of Eunice’s, Lindsay saw me and poured me a beer. Darling girl, that one. And while I didn’t like Randall’s hyper-piggishness, he at least had taste in women. I waved at Lindsay when she placed the cold beer. She smiled a short smile and went back to work.

Chris was staring into his beer and Randall was on the other side of him trying to talk Paul and Steve into going in on a horse. I looked over at Hugh. He was drinking his usual Rum and Coke and laughing at whatever it was Eunice had just said. Hugh was an older guy – maybe his late 50’s – and besides buying and frequently sharing Eunice’s medium grade cocaine, he was also fucking Emma, a former waitress turned arm candy. Emma wasn’t my kind of girl. Nice enough body, and the high strong cheekbones and dark eyes that betrayed her Mexican heritage; but she had this huge beak of a nose, and you could just tell by looking at her that the years wouldn’t be kind to her. She was the kind who peaked early, maybe in her teens, and had learned to get through the world on her tits and the occasional backseat hand job. But that can only carry a girl – even a pretty one—so far, and she had begun realizing it. So, she latched on to a grateful old man who liked fucking girls the same age as his daughters and was just riding the slow slope down, waiting for her looks to give out before she “accidentally” got knocked up. I didn’t like her, but Chris did. When she worked there as a waitress, he made special trips during her weekend shift just to see her. Chris was a friendly guy; the women liked him, but he never pressed the advantage. As far as I could tell Chris was one of the few noble men left in the world; he wouldn’t turn something down if she dropped in his lap, but he didn’t hound after pussy like Randall, and he didn’t play wingman like Steve and Paul did. Except for the horses and his fondness of beer and Mexican food, Chris had no vices. Except Emma.

I let Chris stew over his beer and focused on Hugh, the lecher. Hugh reminded of a stock character in a black and white noir movie; everything he did was predictable. Hugh always told the same stories, always cracked the same jokes, and never deviated from the script. His latest string of jokes, which I was certain he’d heard from somebody else, were about Michael Jackson. As a matter of fact, most of his jokes focused on child molesting and that form of lukewarm racism that lingered deep in backwater red states like Arizona. He was one of those guys who’d look around and check the demographic layout of the bar before he muttered the word “nigger” or “spick”, but as time wore on and the drinks and nose candy got to him, he cared less and less. Randall wasn’t much better; but at least he didn’t bother to act ashamed of his ignorance. The only thing that probably made Hugh attractive to Emma was the fact that Hugh, besides having a taste for acting thirty or forty years younger than he was, also had a lot of money. She tolerated his stupid jokes and inane stories, and even managed to push out a forced giggle when he called out “Where’s my Spick Princess?” when he couldn’t find her. Which meant, as far as I was concerned, that they deserved one another.

He looked like he was about to put out the arm candy mating call when she appeared and latched onto his arm. Chris looked over, but didn’t say anything. He barely seemed to notice me. It wasn’t fair. Granted, I figured Emma for a manipulator; but what the hell? Don’t people deserve a little happiness?

“So how’s it going, Hugh?”

He looked up and smiled to return the greeting; right when he did, I sniffed and rubbed my nose. It was a casual movement; Hugh didn’t seem to notice, but he sniffed and rubbed his nose, too, like a subconscious response. I could tell by his eyes that he’d probably already been to the back room with Eunice and had done a few lines.

“Fine, fine,” he said like he was trying to remember my name. I didn’t help him. “Hey, did you hear about Michael Jackson? When they went through his room they found a thousand pairs of little boys’ tightey whiteys.”

“Oh yeah?” I sniffed and rubbed my nose again. So did he. This time, he blinked and stopped for a second.

“Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, yeah.” He took a drink and I took the opportunity to sniff and rub my nose again.

“Yeah,” he sniffed and rubbed his nose again and looked around like he was nervous. “Yeah… he ah… apparently he used them as air fresheners.”

I sniffed and rubbed my nose. That time sent him off his stool, walking quickly to the restroom to check himself in the mirror. Too easy.

The minute he left Emma’s face went to stone and she stared off into the distance. I elbowed Chris break him out of deep meditation. He looked up at me like he hadn’t seen me the entire time. I nodded over at Emma. He smiled.

“Hey there girl,” he said. “What’re you doing staring off into the distance? How the hell have you been?”

She turned towards him and smiled. Then she breezed by me and hugged him the way girls hug old men and paraplegics. What the hell? It was something. They chatted it for a while and Chris seemed to instantly reanimate.

Meanwhile, Eunice was pouring another round of some pink colored shot for her crew and she set one for Emma right between me and Chris without so much as a hint of a hello or a recognition of our existence. Then she took her shot and walked out from behind the bar, heading for the back office. On her way there she ran into Hugh, who, after a few words, went with her to the back office. I looked over at Chris and Emma. They were chatting it up and Emma was leaning on him and laughing… just letting her boobs brush up against his arm. Poor, poor bastard.

19 March, 2010

When Asked (Because I Quit My Day Job and Am Therefore Not A Real Man)

People sometimes ask me am I happy. When I tell them
they’re asking the wrong question
they look at me strange or fall
into an odd silence as I explain
(again) that the word “happy”
is (like every other word)
abused and used loosely
by people trying to simplify
situations that are really
not so simple as to be explained
with a couple of soft syllables
made mute by far too many
greeting cards.
So then I tell them
(because they asked)
that I love my wife
and I own my car
along with
every stick of furniture
in the house; I tell them
rent gets paid and the lights come on
and I usually eat (at least)
one good meal a day
and can afford beer and a bottle
of cheap scotch when I want one. Then
I go on and tell them
I sleep well at night
(when I sleep) and that my dreams
are vivid and linger when I wake up
each morning, and that
even on a bad day,
I can manage to splice a few
well considered words together
that, to my surprise,
I don’t hate.

18 March, 2010

Plan Ahead Next Time: Part 1

Every woman in my life, except my ex-wife, has told me I’m nothing but a big softie. That underneath my growling and grumbling and howling against the universe, I’m just a sweet and sensitive guy. This has always been my undoing; and now I’m beginning to suspect they’re right.

I woke up that morning to Muriel’s loud pouting whine: “There’s no coffee!”

This was my problem for a couple of reasons. For one, she didn’t drink coffee before she married me. Didn’t even like the taste or smell of the stuff. She could manage one of those coffee drinks like you buy at Starbucks – all cream and sugar and flavor and next to no coffee – but beyond that, she didn’t like it. And at first, she didn’t like that I liked it. Scratch that. I don’t like coffee so much as I need coffee to keep at bay the OTHER aspect of my personality that gets me into trouble: the snarling, anti-social rube that, if the sweet bean nectar was withheld long enough, would melt into a puddle like that cackling green bitch in The Wizard of Oz. It didn’t take her long to see this, and, from early in our relationship when one of us spent the night in other’s college dorm room (which including the compensatory Walk of Shame the following morning; an interesting name since I never felt ashamed of getting laid) we developed an understanding: don’t talk to me before I’ve had a little coffee. That I am walking and maybe talking to myself doesn’t mean I’m fit for human company, including human company I desire above and beyond all others.

But marriage changes all of those early equations and accommodations, especially since the morning may be the only time when you are able to talk about all those annoying domestic issues: money, bills, buying cat food, taking out the garbage, what to eat for dinner that evening. (If you’re even eating together, that is.) And in this case, there was another reason why I needed to interrupt my not so deep sleep and listen to her: that there wasn’t any coffee was also my fault.

I’d known the day before that there wouldn’t be enough coffee, but I forgot to go and buy some. Now that she’s the bread winner and I’m her “cute unemployed writer” I also fill the role of June Cleaver. (Sans the string of pearls, heels, and anti-depressant painted smile. What would the neighbors think then?) She works outside the home. I work – theoretically – inside the home. We tell ourselves that we’re modern and that the old gender rules don’t apply; after all, television has been trying to convince us for years that a cock and balls is just a cunt twisted out and shaped like a small sausage and couple of rotten potatoes. Her forebears, the ancestors of all women who fought for equal rights and the option to wear pants, would all be cheering from heaven if, in fact, there was a heaven to cheer from. Mine, on the other hand, would be shaking their heads in disappointment and dismay and the decay of manhood in the 21st century; I see it in the faces of retired old men when I’m out during the day when most men my age are slaving away at some job for which they receive next to no money, no respect at all, and are compensated, if at all, with lousy health insurance benefits and a death benefit that wouldn’t pay for a pine box, a few nails, and shovel.

I’m grateful every day that they’re all dead and can’t see me. The old men on Main Street are bad enough.

But since I didn’t buy the coffee the day before, I knew I should get up and buy it. I would need it; but it was possible for me to dress, drive to the store, buy a can of coffee – being reduced to the cheap and functional in our one income household— and come home without talking to a soul – the advantage of having few friends and no one other than Muriel and the cats who cares for my daily existence. Granted, there shouldn’t have been any reason to rush, since it was Saturday; but since starting her new job, Muriel had taken to waking up early during the weekend. Her theory, as she explained it to me, was that if she woke up earlier that the day would last longer; and she hated how quickly the weekends flew by.

I think the opposite. On the surface, her logic makes sense. However, I had long begun to suspect that time worked more like quantum physics than straight mathematics. While it was true that being awake for more hours might equal a longer day, the quality of those waking hours made a huge difference. I could wake up before the sun if I HAD to and which I did when I was playing Ward instead of June Cleaver; but those hours were not quality hours; the days dragged on and I was simply subjected to more noise, stupidity, and the crowded thrall of humanity. Moreover, I was less able to cope because I lacked the minimum required hours of sleep – which for me aren’t even all that excessive. All I need are a solid six hours. Anything less, and the first few hours of my waking day are wasted.

What makes her approach so interesting and gives credence to her theory is that on days like that – Saturdays, holidays, or on those rare days she allows her workaholic soul a vacation— she will bound out of bed excited, energetic, and ready for the day. And that’s without the benefit of her cup of coffee – which is still more cream than coffee—or even a can of pop, which she will have right after finishing her coffee. Another compounding issue was that the previous night, like every night for more than two months, I woke up every night during the witching hours (between two and four) and could not sleep. That meant I usually got up and watched a movie or read or wrote in my journal until I felt sleep returning. And when I was awakened by the sound of sweet Muriel’s proclamation, it was 6:30. That meant I’d only been back asleep for two and half hours.

But I knew the coffee wouldn’t wait. My only hope was that she’d run out of steam in the mid-afternoon and I’d be able to take a nap in my chair.

“I’ll go get a can of coffee!”

“You sure?”

“Yeah. I’ll go.”

She was relieved and my feet were on the floor. I pulled on the clothes from the previous day, put on my boots, and wandered out of the bedroom into the kitchen and the nauseatingly bright overhead light. Muriel had gotten herself a can of pop and planted herself in front of the laptop in the living room to check her email and play those odd online games where nothing gets blown up and nobody dies – which, as far as I’m concerned, makes them pointless video games.

At that point, the coffee was more for me than for her; shed never drank more than one cup, and she rarely finished that. Since she had a can of pop, she would have the caffeine she needed.

I would’ve gone back to bed if I thought it would do any good. But all I’d do is lay there with my eyes closed pretending to sleep and hoping to fall back into the dream I’d been having.

“Coffee,” I muttered.



“Why don’t you pick up something for breakfast while you’re out?”

“Breakfast or something sweet?”

“Something sweet.”

Like one more thing mattered. “Okay.”

“Love you,” she said, not looking away from her game.

And that was when it happened. I was in the process of responding in kind and before I could finish saying the word “too” my boot ran into one of the cats. He screeched and hissed and tried to move. I tried to move and get him out from under foot, but that only resulted in me stepping on him again. He howled even louder and retreated under out bed, snarling like a corned raccoon.

It was the long hair black one, Che. The one a vet had once told us was “nuts.” Generally, the cat didn’t like people; he and I had this in common. Our mutual misanthropy bound us together so much that Muriel, who wanted a lap cat, eventually brought home the other cat, a short haired orange tabby we named Nine, in honor of the 9th Ward in New Orleans where it had been rescued from. Nine was an unrepentant whore that would love on anybody who fed it or reached out a friendly hand.

Che got under my feet a lot. Cats do that when they’re hungry or wanting attention or just wanting to trip you up for shits and giggles. Cats are rascals. They’re worse imps than young children when there’s no adult around to behave for. And, they’re egocentric little fuckers, too. They expect to be fed the same time everyday, in the same way, with the same food – which they will remind you of by yowling, scratching the furniture and, if that doesn’t work, by simply staring at you until you wake up. If they’re box trained, they expect the litter to be clean or they’ll remind you by taking a shit on your pillow or in your favorite chair.


“What’s wrong?”

“I stepped on the fucking cat!”

“Which one?”

“Which one do you think? Which one likes to get under my feet?”

“Why don’t you pay more attention? You know he does that.”

This was an old conversation, and I wasn’t awake enough to have it again. Regardless of how those little sons of bitches behaved, when something happened, it was my fault. Inevitably. Always.

“Fine,” I said, digging the car key out Muriel’s purse. It was a small red purse, her latest favorite among many; but it wasn’t small enough that shit didn’t get lost in it. Cigarette lighters, the car key, her wallet. The keys were nowhere to be found. I emptied the contents of the purse onto the corner chair.

“What are you doing?” She looked up, annoyed.

“Looking for the car key.”

She sighed and shook her head. “It’s on the bookshelf by the door.”

Fuck me. “Oh.”

“Why don’t you pay more attention?”

Why don’t you put things where somebody can find them? “Sorry.”

“Just go and get you some coffee, please? I hate it when you’re like this.”

08 March, 2010

Lines About A March Rain in Northwest Illinois

1. Morning Of

Woke to the first spring rain, still feeling the wonder
of the rarity of water I picked up living in the desert.
The sound soothes me and dulls the steady thumping
inside my skull, and reminds me
there are still small things worth watching
as the sun climbs high
hidden by gray spring storm clouds. The rain is
washing away what’s left of the snow
that’s covered the ground since early December; the grass
underneath is beginning to breathe in the still chilly breeze.
Under the large window facing the side yard, small yellow flowers
are blooming – a thoroughly pre-emptive strike at Spring.

2. Day of

I hear from the farmers, in town for last minute preparations
before the Spring planting, I should expect another winter storm.
It ain’t over yet, one tells me, though it’d be nice if it was.
Our conversation
interrupted his mental check list, the busy work
that kept them occupied through the winter
to avoid the worries about slow subsidies
and bad prices
and tornado season, which they are reminded of
because today is the day
they tested the emergency sirens
that warns people
it’s time to hide in the basement
and curl up in bathtubs.
Their voices are steeped
in anticipation, and their eyes are coated
in the worry born from generations of practice,
and I know they are weighing my responses
like another harvest – by the pound and ounce,
and deciding what its worth.
They have survived the winter
with mental check lists
and cheap beer at the local bar,
where they sit and tell stories and bitch
about having to smoke outside.

3. Morning After

The fog is still hanging close to the ground
and few patches of snow remain
like a bad hangover to remind me
of my first winter in four years
and that the memory of snow
is not the same
as the real thing.

01 March, 2010

3 New Poems (3.1.10)

Excommunicado: (Christ! Not) Another Love Poem

It’s true – the world is
a mediocre place, and
you are too big-hearted
for it. Your eyes, so large
and blue and filled to the forehead
with expectations others
haven’t the will

to fulfill, look upon us all
scampering as we do
over this thin crust
of an old planet – whose driving force
is more akin to the creation
that falls from your finger tips
like a welcome rain

than the crumbling skyscrapers
and endless cracking interstates
our long forgotten antecedents
gambled their souls on (and lost).
You look upon us,
the devoured, the dead,
looking for another soul

not quite excommunicated
who would build something
so magnificent
that Art could not describe it,
that Heaven would burn envious of it.
Watching you struggle daily
makes me ache because

(excommunicated as I am)
I understand
there are so few options
for the one in one billion
born with a heart that beats
as large and as long and as loud
as yours.

Things that Remain (For Stella)

You are too old now
to believe the fairy tales
you heard as an infant
and the world
would not let you believe them
anyway, and your mother
would throw them out
with yesterday’s trash
like all childhood memories
are eventually ignored, discarded,
and forgotten. I am not,

I know, the conventional father,
the doting father who walks in the door
before supper and who
is there to explain
why your last name is different
from your mother’s
(or why it matters)
and why those odd emotional turns you have
are completely normal
and why
you should hold onto
the privacy of your thoughts
with all you have (because
that is all anybody will have.)

I don’t remember the age you were
when I realized you were a stranger;
it was a terrible and glorious day
because the little that’s in me
that passes for real fatherhood
mourned the loss;
but the rest of me was excited
at the new person
I desperately wanted to know.
The only problem then was
(as usual)
I didn’t know how to begin.

Maybe we’re all born strangers
and it’s only that passing physical connection
that deludes fathers into believing
we understand our children. Maybe that mixture
of love and happiness and sadness I felt
the first time I held you
should’ve been some indicator
of what was to come – but
I was too overcome
with that sensation
that there was now
in the world
another human being
who might grow
to see her greatness
in that flash of insight
most people mistake
for a day dream.

Shadow Puppets

What we see when we turn out the lights
are the shadows of our own souls
looking back at us, wanting to know
if we will ever catch up with them, or
if we have fallen behind for good. It happens
when we are children: we fall say our prayers
and fall asleep one night still full
of dreams and the energy that (reportedly)
created the universe and stars and suns and planets
and all the basic elements. We fall asleep and

we fall behind and the dreams suddenly change
and we are so busy chasing them
that we do not notice. As we age
the shadows linger, hoping (as all children do)
that we will return
that we will find ourselves
and reunite ourselves
with the selves we know is missing
but don’t have the sense
to go in searching for. Gradually,

our dreams
take different turns,
adult turns; the scientists say
our dreams manifest our fears
and allow us to play out scenarios
safely without rocking the boat
or pissing off the office manager
who will certainly report us
who will certainly call us
the dirtiest of names:
insubordinate, immature, unqualified, and
(gasp!) not company material.

If that happens, then
all we will have left are
empty midnight emissions
and creditors calling
who will call us names
and tell us we are unworthy
of the American Dream;
though they, too, have forgotten all the dreams
worth having and will not admit
the one they are selling
is one that never existed. Their shadows
haunt them too, but they’re too busy to notice

while you
are lying in bed the following morning
grasping at a memory,
the name of which
is on the tip of your tongue
and whose face
is encased in the dried tears
staining your dirty pillow.