27 August, 2010

Sketch of The Reason Why (Zed's Justification)

Everything about her seemed deliberate. No. Deliberate’s the wrong word. Practiced. Everything about seemed practiced. Yes. Practiced. Not like she stood in front of the bathroom mirror every morning going over her accent, elocution, smile, wink, and blink that made her come off more like a Victorian Era coquette than a Gen-X burnout. She was practiced in the way a woman becomes practiced because she always did the same things. A lovely creature of habit that, if she had bothered knowing anyone long enough, her mimicry of herself would have been found out.

But Alice didn’t get to know people. Or maybe it was that she didn’t get close to them. Not really. Alice was warm and friendly, flirty, fun, a good conversationalist. Good drinking partner. The kind of person that people instantly fell in love with, wanted to be around, wanted to talk to, wanted to impress. And yet, she never told anybody anything about her. That was her. She wasn’t a woman you wanted to know as much as she was a mystery you needed to solve.

We had mutual friends because she had an affair with my best friend Donnie. Calling it an affair makes it sound seedier than it was, though, because he wasn’t married. But they were together for almost an entire month; they were always together. In that whole time, he never knew anything about her except the exact number of tattoos on her body and how she liked her coffee. She liked her coffee with amaretto and whole milk. Donnie wouldn’t talk to me about the tattoos.

Then I ran into him one time and she wasn’t there. I asked him where she was.

He shrugged. “I dunno.”

“She didn’t stay over last night?”

He shook his head. “Nope.”

“You guys have an argument?”

“Nope.” Donnie seemed satisfied and not all that heart broken. Women usually liked Donnie. Donnie was exciting. Dangerous. Or, at least he played the part. So I assumed I’d see Alice again eventually. I thought about her from time to time and sometimes I’d ask Donnie if he’d heard from her. He hadn’t. Sometimes I would call her. She never picked up or returned any of my calls.

When I saw her again, it was two years later. I was standing in line at a coffee shop in Seattle. I was there on business. She was standing right in front of me. Her hair was a different color; but I knew it was her. I said her name, and she turned around. It took her a minute; then she smiled and asked how I’d been. She talked to me like she couldn’t remember my name.

“Zed,” I reminded her. “I’m doing fine,” I said. “I’m here on business.”

“Hmm,” she answered. “That’s nice.” I expected her to ask me what kind of business I was in. She didn’t. She also didn’t say why she was there or how long she had been living in Seattle.

“Do you ever talk to Donnie?” I asked

“Hmm?” Alice looked up from ordering her coffee. She ordered espresso with whole milk and amaretto syrup. She looked like she was trying to remember who I was talking about. “Oh. No.”

“Oh. Well, he’s married now.”

“Good for him.” She smiled. I didn’t detect a hint of sadness. I didn’t detect a hint of anything.

“I’m still not married.” I regretted it the instant the words came out of my mouth. I knew how it sounded. Desperate.

“Oh. That’s nice.” She paid for her coffee and moved on. She waved at me and smiled. I thought about asking her if she wanted to meet for drinks; but she was out the door before I could.

26 August, 2010

Sketch of a Man Late for His Father’s Funeral

Uriah was sure he saw Santa Claus working on a road crew; he was the one holding the two-sided sign that read SLOW or STOP. Uriah passed him by when the lane opened and the line of cars he was near the back of was allowed through; at first, the inconvenience of the delay annoyed him. But once he thought he saw Santa Claus, he wanted to turn around and be sure.

Turning around was no easy task. Although the road was a main artery, it was still only a two lane state route. It ran almost the length of the state and was parallel with the Mississippi River for nearly the entire distance. It ran through several small towns and wound its way up and down the edge of the state, much like the Mississippi wound its way through the continent down to the Gulf of Mexico. Uriah knew to stick with the river and eventually it would take him where he needed to go. He didn’t have a map and didn’t own one of the fancy GPS screens like people had. He traveled the way he always traveled – with a vague notion, the memory of where he had gone, and a little common sense. His father had been a traveling salesman and since Uriah’s mother deserted them, he went with his father. Uriah had no diploma to prove he was educated; but he had learned to read on diner menus, practiced on Gideon Bibles in cheap motel rooms, learned math adding up his father’s sales, and learned to write from filling out order forms. His father taught him how to drive in the middle of Nebraska.

What he couldn’t learn any other way, Uriah learned in libraries; sometimes, his father let him sit in the library reading books all day while he made sales calls, if they were in a town with a decent library. Because salesmen travel set routes in the same way the planets orbit the sun – at least that was the way Uriah’s father explained it to him, and he saw no reason to contradict it – eventually people along way stored up books for young Uriah, and saved them for him for when he and his father were back in town. Sometimes they saved toys for him, too, or a new pair of pants or shoes. Especially the women. He realized later that the waitresses and librarians and preacher’s wives all felt sorry for him and for his dad, and that some of them – some of the waitresses and nearly all of the librarians – wanted him and his dad to settle down and live with them. But Uriah didn’t feel sorry for himself. Not usually. The only time he wished he had a normal dad with a normal job was around Christmas time. They’d drive through towns all over his dad’s orbit that were decorated with lights and ornaments and fake icicles and manger scenes. The manger scenes were Uriah’s favorite, because he thought he understood how Jesus must have felt, having to stay in a barn like that. The pictures of Santa Claus were his other favorites… and the men dresses as Santa who listened to other kids’ Christmas wishes. He even sat on a Santa’s lap once; but the beard wasn’t real and so Uriah knew it wasn’t the real Santa Claus.

But Uriah was a man now and realized that Santa Claus wasn’t at all real; it was one of those stories normal parents told normal children. His dad told him, too… but only because he probably felt bad about not being normal.

It was more than ten miles before Uriah found a decent place to turn around; he didn’t like to turn around in people’s driveways and avoided U-turns on narrow roads like that one. Especially if there wasn’t much space on the edge of the road. He almost didn’t turn around; but he saw an empty parking lot up on the right. The parking lot was in front of an empty building that had once been a bait and tackle shop. As he turned around in the gravel lot, Uriah wondered briefly if the inside still smelled of fish and old men and pipe smoke, the way he remembered it when he had been very young. He wondered how the man who had ran it died, and wondered why his son didn’t keep it open. Sons follow the orbits of their fathers, like the planets around the sun. It didn’t make sense to him that the bait shop owner’s son wouldn’t be a bait shop owner. Then again, he thought, it didn’t make any sense that Santa Claus would work for an Illinois road crew when it isn’t Christmas.

25 August, 2010

A Run Down as to Why I got Nothing Done Today

We ran out of water bottles and
all that was left was beer. And
(I know!) you wouldn’t want me
to dehydrate and it’s important
to make the best of what we have
rather than linger on the things
we don’t. And beer
is mostly water anyway… and
so was the bourbon. And
the left over champagne… you know
it gives you headaches, anyway. And
I know, I know there’s always tap water,
but I guess I sat up at the bar
too much and listened
to the old men talk about cancer… and
you saw that report on Dateline
about nitrates in rural drinking water… right?
I had every intention of mowing the yard and
Getting Out and Doing Something and
I even took the time to shave and
put on a clean t-shirt so’s the people about town
wouldn’t talk behind your (my) back
because you know they like to do that
and anybody around here
who doesn’t have dirt under their nails
is thought to be a bum. And
I know, I know
I’m not a bum…

oh shit. Who am I kidding?

Sketch of a Corn Fed Beauty

She had managed to save enough money to get to Phoenix, and she told herself that it had to be enough. To start. She’d been scrupulously putting back money and planning her departure since she was 13. That had been the first year she didn’t at least place in the Young Miss Corn Husker Beauty Contest at the County Fair. That year she was in the top 5. Her mother had consoled her afterwards by telling her what was wrong with her. Her shoulders were too wide and mannish, her mother had said, and her hips were child-bearing hips. “And what the good lord gave you,” the woman harped through pursed lips that had worn too much lipstick, “you didn’t use.” Her mother was referring to her pretty face and her large breasts. She knew she had a nice smile, and that didn’t bother her so much; but her mother had tried to talk her into a strapless gown that she knew she’d fall right out of; and while Billy Halderstadt, that little pervert who sat behind her in geography and undid her bra strap, would enjoy it, she didn’t want to run the risk. She went with a dress that she thought her Daddy would have liked instead. That, according to her mother, was why she placed 5th.

Even though she didn’t enter any more beauty pageants, she worked. Sometimes at the library, and then later, when she was old enough to drive, she worked as a waitress one town over. Her tips were always pretty good. She knew to smile. People liked that. Then the restaurant closed because the owners died within 2 days of one another – they were in their 80s and had been married as long as anybody could remember – and she found a waitressing job at the new Pub & Grub. She couldn’t serve alcohol because she wasn’t 21; but her tips were better. It was because of the tank top; but she didn’t care. More tip money meant more money put away for her escape. At first, she wanted to go to Las Vegas. She’d seen it in movies and it seemed so glamorous, so different from the fields of corn and soy and the stink of manure. Then she saw pictures of Hollywood. Palm trees. Infinite sunshine. Beautiful people. Everyone there seemed to be from somewhere else, and they’d gone there to become something else. So she decided on Hollywood.

But there were distractions. Billy Halderstadt, for one. He always came around on her shift, always asked to drive her home, always asked her out. He worked at the granary during the summer and made pretty good money. She finally gave into him to shut him up. And that had been her mistake. She ended up letting Billy kiss her. Before long over a few more dates, it led to other things. Then she found out she was pregnant. And when she told Billy Halderstadt about it, he laughed and called her a whore and asked her how she knew it was his. The tears burned her eyes. After that, everyone in town seemed to know. Everyone except her mother, who still harped on her about minimizing her mannish shoulders and her child-bearing hips.

She thought about keeping the baby; but there was too much at risk. If she did that she’d never escape. Never get to Hollywood. Never be someone else. So she took some of her money and drove to the nearest clinic, two hours away. The nurses there wanted her to have someone to drive her home. But there wasn’t anyone.

After that she stopped trying to date and focused on 2 things: saving money and counting the days until her 18th birthday. Her 18th birthday was the day after her high school graduation. She made her plan. Her mother wanted to throw a big party; so she let her just to keep her mother busy. She counted her money and checked on bus ticket prices. She could get to Hollywood if she used everything she saved; or she could go to Phoenix and have a little left. She looked up pictures of Phoenix. There were palm trees there, too. And infinite sunshine.

17 August, 2010

A Refresher Course in Feminism

1. First Edition

I used to live with this woman who always told me
my problem was that my soul was too young.
That was why, she perpetually explained,
that was why I always acted so old
and read old books
and didn’t have tattoos
and didn’t spike my hair
and color it purple. You just need to
let go she would preach… let go
of all that shit you think you know. She also
pronounced me mopey
and dopey and moody
and she said I wasn’t any fun when I drank;
though mostly I drank
to put up with her inane ramblings about
the great goddess and her heaping big vagina
and how the problem with the world
was men. Well, I would say, what about
Lysastrata? And she
would roll her eyes
and shake her head
and tell me
that only a dull old man (of 25)
would refer to a dead Greek play. Then,
to better illustrate her point,
she would get dressed up, go out
and fuck all my friends…
only to inform me later
that was what it meant to be free.

2. Revised Edition

So I’m the bastard
because I don’t know how
to react to small town Lolitas
and the scripted hedonism
of homogenized bohemians.

I never got the correlation, anyway,
between nudity and freedom
and I don’t really see
how it’s liberation
when a woman strips down in the woods
for an audience
and how it’s exploitation
when there’s a cover charge
and a two drink minimum.

09 August, 2010

Flood Water Elegiac: Part 1

[Note: thought I'd play with the typer, since my laptop is on the fritz. Dedicated to George and Lance. Just because.]

In Season: Part 4 [Rafferty]

When Rafferty’s glass was empty the bartender Rhonda – a large breasted woman in her early 50’s who looked much younger at a distance and who hid her most obvious attributes beneath an oversized black NRA t-shirt emblazoned with an American bald eagle grasping a musket in its talons – refreshed the ice and refilled it scotch without saying a word. Then after she set the glass down in front of him, she took the exact amount of money from the dwindling stack of bills next to his left hand. He thanked her and smiled. When he tipped the glass back he closed his eyes as if he was praying.
“Rough day?”

“They mostly are.” Six months as small town reporter had done nothing to curb the sickness that required constant self-medication. City council meetings that were neither in a city nor full of much council; public outcries over brick streets instead of cement and city funds going towards catching and neutering feral cats rather than going towards bullets to shoot them or simply to let them freeze to death in the winter; school board meetings that left even the board members bored; local Rotarians wanting their picture taken as they pass checks to representatives of worthy projects like the Arliss Anti-Sex Abstinence Education League (began by the DAR) and the Girl Scouts of America Quilt Against Hunger Campaign; captioned shots of farmer’s markets, the county fair, and Police Chief Dolarhyde posing next to the brand new cruiser he’d use when he set his usual speed traps. And from what was left over from his paltry check after he paid rent on his small room above the antique mall on Market Street, bought the little bit of food he could cook on his hot plate, tobacco and rolling papers, as well as and his bar bill, he knew there wasn’t much else he could say. As the scotch rolled down his throat and soaked in, he heard the voice of twelve year old ER intern who had advised him to stop drinking or “suffer permanent” damage to his liver. But he if he was drinking more, he wasn’t getting more drunk; and Mount Arliss looked less like an agrarian Eden and more like a rejected Tennessee Williams script. So it clearly wasn’t enough.

“What is it you DO again?” Rhonda was fairly certain she’d never asked the man about his job; but she acted forgetful out of habit.

“I’m a reporter,” he replied without much passion. He was certain, however, that no one noticed its absence but him. “I work for The Northwest Prairie Register. “ He finished off his scotch and Rhonda went to pour him another. He watched her methodically refresh the ice, pour the booze, and return. The bulky syllables of his new employer rolled around in his mouth like old razor blades. Prior to his arrival in Mount Arliss, Rafferty had been a moderately successful horseplayer, day drinker, chaser or wannabe bohemian girls with tanning bed memberships, and a reasonably respected Arts & Music hack for a widely read alternative news weekly in Phoenix, The Cactus Mouth Weekly. He’d gone from a barely paid freelance schlep in Pittsburg to having a regular check, a byline, free passes to every concert and most of the clubs, and connections in every art gallery in the East Valley – the ones that mattered anyway. Plus, he was working on a novel. The Book, he called it. He never gave it a title. Just The Book.

Rafferty’s rise from lowly Midwestern Nobody to Phoenician Somebody read to him like destiny. Like kismet. Like one of those stories he read in The New York Times Review of Books – back when they published it – about a novelist’s first book rocketing to the top of the best seller list. Back in Pittsburg, he’d written a particularly good article about a local artist for a local rag called ArtSpunk. A young editor at The Cactus with Midwestern roots and survivor’s guilt read it and hired him over email. All he could see was the Event Horizon of his life. First journalist, then novelist. Like Hemingway. Like Twain. Life Faulkner.

The art scene was horrible. Lots of overpriced crap in response to the flood of people moving to the Valley of the Sun who wanted vanilla art to cover the eggshell white walls of their prefab stuccoed condos. The artists were a lot of horribly inspired copyists who favored faux-turtleneck and Elvis Costello glasses. But he liked the local music scene; and he was on a first name basis with all the bartenders and had a friend that could get him into the Winner’s Circle Club at Turf Paradise.

The bubble burst after the young editor, disgraced after a failed series of investigative articles about pharmaceutical companies using expired medications to drug the public by flushing anti-depressants and other MAOI inhibitors down toilets all over the valley, left Arizona and returned to Ohio to live with his parents. His replacement quickly brushed Rafferty out the door … making the excuse that it was important for her to “make her mark” on the paper and “take it in a new direction.” The truth was that she never forgave him for the time he managed to get her into bed after an awful gallery opening in Glendale – when she conveniently forgot she was a hard line lesbian.

Some people, he decided, didn’t know when to let go of a grudge.

“Oh.” Rhonda smiled. It was one of those smiles people saved for times when they felt the need to act impressed whether they were or not. “That’s the paper that comes in the mail, right?”


“Can I ask you something?” Rhonda leaned forward and rested her ample tits on the bar.


“You’re the quietest guy I’ve ever seen.”


“I mean,” she smiled, exposing a pair of sharp eye teeth and a cragged line of teeth that looked like they could chew diamonds. “Usually when guys come in here and drink like they do…”


“…not that I care,” she hedged. “How much a man drinks is nobody’s business…”


“… I mean, that’s what it means to live in America…” Rhonda shifted uncomfortably and unconsciously referred to the giant angry eagle splayed across her chest.

Rafferty smiled and waited in silence for the question, but he could tell from Rhonda’s body language that she had gotten as close to asking as she was comfortable with getting.

“You don’t say much.”

“I talk when I have something to say,” he said.

“Oh.” She nodded like it made sense to her. Then he saw his moment and took it.

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure.” she smiled.

“Isn’t the mayor married to the owner’s daughter?”

“Sure. One of them. Deanne.”

“He ever come in here?”

“Uh… no. Not really. I mean, he usually drinks closer to home. Doesn’t like to announce the relationship, you know? For the more religious people.”

“Sure. Has he ever come in here and talked to Jacob Hassbach?”

Rhonda started acting shifty. She stepped away from the bar and started looking towards the door, like she was hoping that somebody would wander and give her something else to do. No one did. “I don’t… think so.”

“’Cause I heard that he was in here once and Jacob Hassbach and he had words.”

Rhonda face was blank. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. I also heard that this Hassbach guy said he was going to run against Mayor Bates in the next election.”

“Oh yeah?”

Rafferty decided to change tactics. “You’re big fan of the NRA, huh?”

“Of course.” Rhonda straightened her back and pushed out her tits like she was trying to stand at attention. “We like our 2nd Amendment rights around here.”

“Sure, sure,” Rafferty went on. “Hassbach was in the NRA, right?”

She shrugged. “I guess.”

“Wasn’t he also in the local chapter of John Birch Society?” Rafferty downed the rest of his scotch and set the glass down on the bar.

She shrugged again and didn’t move to refill his glass. “I think so.”

“I heard he was the president of the chapter.”

Rhonda kept looking around. “I guess.”

“Such a tragedy for a guy like that to die because of a hunting accident, right? I mean, that’s what I heard. He was hunting with Don Breeble and Chief Dolarhyde and he died because of… a misfire?”

She shrugged. “Accidents happen.”

“But three guys, all of whom are gun experts?”

“Accidents happen.”

“Aren’t Don Breeble and Dolarhyde old friends?”

“A LOT of people here are old friends with A LOT of people.”

“Uh-huh. But aren’t they also friends with Mayor Bates?”


“And it doesn’t strike you as odd?”

“Accident…” Rhonda began.

“…happen.” Rafferty finished.


Rafferty was about to take another tact when the door opened. In walked Don Breeble and two other men. Breeble wasn’t as large a man as Rafferty expected; but he carried himself like a big man. The two men with him walked half a step behind him, like they were bodyguards. Rhonda hurried down to the end of the bar to take their orders.

“Better not run too fast there, darling,” Breeble barked. “You’re likely to take somebody’s eye out.” He laughed at his own joke and the two men laughed with him. Rhonda’s face turned red, but she laughed, too. Breeble and the two men looked down the bar at Rafferty. Rafferty chose not to look at them, but left a couple of bucks on the bar for Rhonda and left.

FUCK, he thought. He had nothing. Nothing to show his editor that might convince him there was a story there; nothing that might deliver him from writing about church chili cook offs and budget meetings. His midget murder conspiracy was the only thing that kept him from exercising his 2nd Amendment rights and blowing his own head off. He knew there was something to it. If he could get somebody to talk to him that would actually go on the record. But he couldn’t get anybody to say anything. A real writer would get somebody to say something, he thought. A real reporter could. A real writer could do this and write that fucking Book, too. But I’m not any of those. Fuck me.

Living Broke: Short Stories

03 August, 2010

Under Another Blue Moon: 1

The shirt I wore was blue; and when you were born
your skin was blue and your skull was huge.
And though you could do little else
other than cry at the unfairness of being born,
somehow you clung to me
in my wrinkled blue shirt
while the nurses tried desperately
to whisk you away
to some holding tank/nursery
on another floor of the hospital
where all the newborns were kept away
from the exhaustion and apathy of parents
who chose their children’s names
out of one of those books that are always
in the bargain book bins because
the only time a name is important
is when someone gives it to you because
they think – in spite of everything –
that picking just the right name
will somehow mark their spawn
for greatness in a world weighed down
beyond the breaking point with mediocrity.

I held you and you held my finger.
And the only name
that came to mind was “Mine.”
And in my youth and my uncertainty
I prayed to a god I no longer believed in
that it would be enough and that
in this world, for which I have little love,
you would be safe: because
though I do not love the world
I love it more
that you are in it.

But fathers are foolish. And your skin
turned pink and your head seemed
too big for your body because it housed
these two big blue eyes
that never seemed to blink:
though the nurses were, on the day you were born
jealous of your eyelashes.

The first five months of your life I was convinced
your hair would never grow—that you’d be
that bald blue-eyed girl staring through the world
and into the souls of people the way
other people’s kids stared at television screens.
When you were three years old I held you all night
when you ran a fever. My eyes were red;
The couch was green; your blanket was blue. And I remembered
as I held my hand to your heart – to make sure
you were breathing – that moment when you took my finger
the way strong men shake hands and I prayed
that you would walk through the world
just like that. When you started talking,
I didn’t want you to stop – though after a while,
I started hoping you would learn
the comfort that comes with silence.
But you are not a silent child.
You are not me – though I sense
that you have your own quietude

to retreat to and it gives me hope
that the landscapes of your imagination
are prettier than mine – because that means
the world you live in
will be prettier than mine
and that maybe, if I’m lucky,
yours will grow so large
that it will spill over
and all the ugliness I have seen
will be washed away
under a tide of blue water
the exact shade of your giant eyes.