Chronic Pain: A Short(ish) Satire

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I was in the circus back then. I was in a traveling show and I saw what was left of the world before they built it back up. That was the summer when God fell off his high horse and Fox News Network took over the world. They called it globalization, but they were just goons riding a nuclear threat. They didn’t know entertainment.

Anyway, I put on a nice song and dance for the acid rain generation. I went all around the country in a hot air balloon powered by political pundits. When Fox took over, they sold MSNBC correspondents for ten dollars a pop and our ringleader, Mr. Teedlefritz, got in on the pre-sale–he knew somebody’s uncle. Well, he rigged those pundits up to the hot air balloon, said some words about trickle-down theory, and they lit right up. I heard Cirque du Soleil had some high powered executives greasing their wheels, but we could never be sure. Everybody had different ways to travel.

My trouble began like a Reader’s Digest joke: There was a circus performer, an old theologian, and a scruffy expatriate drinking jagerbombs in a sports bar. It was the kind of place with gladiator spears and Glen Beck memorabilia on the wall. 

I was watching Comedy Central’s roast of TBS–a terribly barbaric practice, but very funny, indeed–when the expatriate struck up conversation with the theologian. I caught the argument half way through, when they started hollering. 

“He’s in chronic pain, man,” the ancient theologian was standing, hands clasped, as if in prayer. “Constant pain, I tell you. When that horse slipped on that banana peel, he fell down hard and shook the Earth right rotten, I tell you. Right rotten!” He sat down, a single tear slipping off his chin’s whiskers. “And the world–it ain’t been right since.”

The expat shook his head, scratched at the stubble on his chin. “It don’t sit right with me.” He shook his head some more. “It just don’t seem right for God to sit back and let the world go to hell.”

The fire got hotter. I could feel the flames scorching me through the monitor. 

“I just don’t think it’s proper of him, that’s all. Where I come from, man’s got to do his job. Why does God get a break, anyhow?” The expat kept on shaking his head.

“No, please, you must understand. Someone must understand.” The theologian spun around, his monk-like robes dancing, and pointed at me. “You sir, you’ve got to understand it, don’t you?”

Now, I’ve never been one to cause trouble. I believe that if you dance on a banana peel, you’re bound to get roasted. But I was a couple jagerbombs in, and I guess I was looking for some conversation. In any case, I couldn’t see the harm in tossing in my two cents.

“What do you want, asshole?” I gave him my best stink eye and grunted a bit.

“I want to save this man’s soul,” the theologian said.

“What do I got to do with it?”

“Well, sir, you seem like a God fearing man.”

A sitcom screamed, toasted. 

“I’m only afraid of silence,” I responded. A circus man likes to hear applause, a little laughter, the red velvet curtains rising and falling with the beat of his heart.

“Well, that’s all he’s given us since the fall, ain’t that the truth?” The expat spat a gob of mucus onto the bar floor and shook his head again. He tugged on the collar of his brown leather jacket and growled.

“Blasphemy! He speaks in the little miracles of life: the rain that falls from the heavens and the birds that fly!” The theologian was standing again, raising his arms up to his heaven.

“Listen,” I answered, “all I see is acid rain, and the only flying power in this world is politics. I don’t know what God’s got to do with any of that.” I shook my head like the expat. 

“No!” Tears stream-lined down the old man’s face, dripping from his white whiskers. “These things, they are temporary. He’ll fix ‘em right on up, I tell you. Once His pain is gone.”

And then the expat, he got really angry. Lost his cool. He stopped shaking his head and started pummeling the theologian, splattering blood all over the place. Grabbed him by the robe, hitting him with fist, spit, and theory.  

“He’s in pain? He’s in pain? I’m in pain! And it’s always constant and he ain’t doing nothing about it! Nothing, you hear? It’s up to us, now!” Screaming and punching, and the flames kept rising up and up and up. 

He kept on going until the theologian’s brains were spilled out and dangling off the bar stool like spiraling computer cables off a mahogany office desk.

I guess the theologian dying and the expatriate shaking his head got to me. It wasn’t the first time I saw a man’s innards bloody up a bar stool. Certainly wasn’t the last, either. Those were the days of bloody bar stools. In the end, all the talk and all the blood was just a Reader’s Digest joke. The kind of thing you’d read on the toilet. 

Now, I don’t know about wars or politics. I was a circus man back then and I always will be. I’m at the whim of my audience, and when the red velvet curtain lifts I feel a pressure in my heart. A pressure to prove I’m worth a damn in this life and the next. But I realized: that’s a kind of pain–the kind that makes people laugh and breaks God’s silence. Without that pain I sure as hell wouldn’t have been up on that stage. But the funny thing was, when the curtains fell and I was left in a cloud of dust and darkness, that pain didn’t leave. It balled up under my ribcage, like I fell off the stage or maybe just off a horse. God, He was right there with me, right there inside of me, suffering the same disappointment. The finale never turns out quite right, does it? And God help me, it hurt so bad every time. 

I guess that’s why I decided to leave the circus. To fix it. The loneliness and the pain. God and myself. I wanted to get away from bars with gladiator spears and Glen Beck memorabilia on the walls. I wanted to get away from Mr. Teedlefritz and expatriates who thought they knew the answers, but didn’t, really. But it wasn’t that easy to disappear, even back then. A man’s got to work to find himself. A man’s got to fight the odds. He’s got to get himself a friend to rely on, a girl to love, and villain to fight. And I got all of those in spades. That’s the story. That’s what I did the summer God fell off his high horse and Fox Network took over the world–in the age of bloody bar stools. I went off and had myself an adventure. And that is the story I’m going to tell.

I met Mr. Teedlefritz about the time God fell — right before Fox began running the show. I was down on my luck. A joint venture company that manufactured scissors had gone under, my partner having laundered all the money away. Left it in his suit pockets–the whole company’s worth. I went to the launderers to get it back, but everybody being so concerned with the environment, the money was biodegradable. Disintegrated somewhere in the rinse cycle. Left me washed out to dry. That’s one thing I’ll say about Fox. They knew how to make money. The kind that didn’t get liquidated into nothing. 

Anyway, my partner felt so rotten about the thing, he went and jumped off a cliff. With him dead, the money gone, and the world run by hooligans, I had to perform my act in karaoke bars and on street corners, just to keep from starving. It was at the intersection of Backwater Lane and Hollywood Avenue that Mr. Teedlefritz picked me up. Said he liked me. Told me there was a place in this world for me, and the intersection of Backwater and Hollywood wasn’t it. Mostly just waved cash under my nose and let me get a whiff. It smelled good. 

Mr. Teedlefritz was an excellent entertainer. He didn’t need graphics or green screens. All he needed was a stage, a meal, an audience– maybe a little gin to get going. He had a special condition. Some might say it was a power–that he got bitten by a radioactive insect, or sent to Earth by some doomed alien race. But I think he was just a man who missed the boat on evolution. He had this over-active metabolism. Now, that doesn’t mean it was fast, or anything. Sometimes it was fast, sometimes it was slow. It changed every second. At any one moment, he would go from obese to rib and bones. Right before your eyes. Audiences loved it. One man’s sorrow is another man’s chuckle. But Mr. Teedlefritz never complained. He built a career, and an empire, on his weight. And it was a might heavy foundation, when his metabolism was in the right kind of mood.

The circus was the only place left with a little joy, in those days. We had the Blueberry Twins, the Upside-Down-Mustache Men, Mrs. Mister, the Globbing Tomato, mongooses, and three-headed sloths–to name a few. Mr. Teedlefritz was our ring leader and our manager. There was very little that Mr. Teedlefritz didn’t manage, and even less that he didn’t know. Organized the whole gang with and iron grip. It was despotism at its fattest and thinnest. But I didn’t mind, at first. It was nice having a boss.

I did a lot of things, but my specialty was scissors. Could cut through just about anything, while making a joke or two. Give me two dull and rusty blades, and I’ll craft a dainty snowflake out of a sheet of iron. It’s not strength, or anything. I just understand physics like most men can’t. 

My first day on the grounds I was practicing my act by the mongoose pen when I met Salomé. She was your classic femme fatale. Strutted around in tight black dresses. Painted her lips red. Talked in this husky, breathless kind of way. Flipped her long dark hair over her face when she smiled. Trouble.

“Well, what are you supposed to be, big boy?” I was practicing with my scissors and some antique fifth century chain mail. “Knight in shining armor, or something?” The Upside Down Mustache Men were singing a little ditty off in the corner. 

Daddy loves me

Puts me to bed

I see Daddy’s stomach

Daddy’s head

Daddy smiles

Daddy’s dead!

“No, ma’am.” She picked up my scissors and stroked the blades, lingering on the tips. “You like playing with knives?” I asked her.

“Naturally.”

“How bout fire?”

“I’ll play with any old thing.” She looked right up at me with these big black eyes. “Long as it’s dangerous.” 

“Those blades ain’t dangerous unless I’m holding them.”

“You’re not afraid of me?”

“You look like the kind of woman could hurt a man real bad.”

“Yessir.”

“In his heart. Not for real, lady.” I laughed, feeling big and powerful. “Bet you couldn’t even touch me. Less I let you.”

She smiled, red lips wide and just a little parted. “Would you let me?”

“I suppose any man would, with hips like those.”

“Oh, you like them do you?” She looked down, like she’d never seen them before. “Guess they’re pretty nice. But, it’s not so much what they look like as what they can do.”

“And what could they do?”

She laughed. “You wanna find out?” She winked and snapped the scissors apart into two blades. “I could show you.”

“Show away, darling.”

She feigned glancing around. Licked her lips. Innocently peered at me. “Here? Now?”

“If that’s what those pretty nice hips of yours desire.”

She clutched those blades on up to her face, kind of mulling the proposition over. I thought I was doing fine. Two hours in the circus and a beautiful woman was going to show me what her hips could do. Fine indeed. She smiled with this spark in her eyes and said, “Well I can’t see the harm in it.” I braced myself for just about anything. Anything but what happened.

She pulled her arms back, each hand clasping a sharp blade that could cut through chain mail armor. I hesitated, and suddenly those arms shot at me. Stabbed me in the gut. Blood spurted everywhere. I went to grab her arms, but she stabbed me in the neck. Pulled my throat right out. Kept stabbing and pulling until I was on my knees, trying to hold my organs in. Her whole face was covered in blood, like she bathed in that rouge lipstick of hers. I fell to the ground. I tried to holler for help, but my throat was gone and I couldn’t breathe. She bent over me and started stroking my head. Leaned over so all I could see was the black folds of her dress. Whispered in my ear, “I can break more than hearts, darling.” 

It all went black. Black, white and red. I didn’t see any bright light, but I saw a dazzling array of banana peels. That’s all I really remember. Then this tugging sensation. Not on my body. I didn’t have a body. Just on me. I heard the sound of ripping, like paper. Then I was lying on the ground next to the mongoose pen and Salomé was singing. Some old timey jingle about carpet cleaners. Shook her hips like I had never seen, and the blood was all gone. Right back inside me, like it never left.

When she saw my eyes open she stopped. Bent over me and bit her lower lip, that twinkle in her eyes still flickering like candle light. “Like what you see, huh?”

Now, I had just died and been brought back to life. As far as I knew, my throat was still lying in the dust somewhere. I was in no condition to tell this woman if I liked her hips or not, so I just stared up at her trying to look mean and put together. She laughed at me.

“You should see my act from the other side sometime. It’s less humiliating when it ain’t your blood spilt.” She stood up and made like she was about to walk away, but stopped short. “Maybe we could work together sometime.” Her eyes shot to the blades, stacked up next to my head all neat, not a spot of blood on them. “I like your scissors.” Then she left. After a while I ventured to sit up and think it all over. She really was something special. And most definitely something to be avoided.

We did work together, though. Became Mr. Teedlefritz’s best act. Men were always clamoring to be brought back to life by Salomé. But in her old act, she would kill them herself. It was disturbing to watch, so I’m told. She was blood lustful, if anyone ever was. So we set up a new act with me as the murderer. I would use my physics to cut through men. I could slice through breast, lung, and heart. Right in half. Then she would dance, seductively swing to a trombone tune played by giant poodle. Meanwhile, I’m cracking jokes for the women. Salomé never was popular with them. 

When the man stood back up again, body back the way God intended, the audience would go wild. Just wild for us. It was the perfect circus act. Drama. Humor. Sex. And a bit with a dog. People came from miles away to see it wherever we went. Came to be that Mr. Teedlefritz had the MSNBC correspondents post this picture of us on the hot air balloon. 

Life in the circus was real fine. My stomach was never empty and there was always something to do. No matter how rotten the Earth got shaken, the circus never changed. The mongooses were always causing mischief and The Up-Side-Down Mustache Men were always writing new jingles.

Then there was Salomé. She was something else. No matter how many posters of the two of us Mr. Teedlefritz plastered onto the balloons, she never quite warmed up to me. She was either teasing me or hollering. And whenever she got mad, she’d go ahead and decapitate me or something horrendous out of spite. I must have died some twenty times that summer, in total. I’d threaten to ring her neck, but I never did. I let her kill me, or at least that’s what I told anyone who dared ask.

I got comfortable. Settled into the circus way of life. I was happy, really. At least, I felt happy. But even in the circus, we couldn’t ignore the changes. Suddenly, we had government producers telling us that some acts were too mature for our audience. They made Salomé and I shorten our bit and lessen the blood. Little things that amounted to a big nuisance. Mr. Teedlefritz had somebody in Fox, but whoever he was could only do so much. Still, we avoided the taxes. The money was more important to Mr. Teedlefritz than the quality of the acts. That’s why he didn’t want me to go. I made him money, and it would be a mighty hassle to take down the hot air balloon posters. 

To talk to Mr. Teedlefritz, you had to make an appointment with the MSNBC correspondents, but they were morons. Argumentative and abrupt. It became strategy to wait till they fell asleep, or the news came on, and then sneak by them into Mr. Teedlefritz’s tent. But, some important politician was caught in a scandal that day and the correspondents were all hyped up. When I went to make my quiet entrance, two coked up ugly suckers saw me right away.

“Hey, mister. Where are you off to?” This big greasy one in yellow suspenders and red balloon pants jabbed a finger at me.

“Do you have an appointment, sir?” A littler one with pimples and glasses flashed fake dentures.

“Ah, yessir.” I coughed a little. “I do, in fact, have an appointment.”

“Oh fantastic.” The little one reached into his jeans back pocket and brought out this appointment book that was bigger than the Bible. 

“Name,” The big one asked.

“Ahh, well,” I tried to glance into the book, but they were so concerned with security, it was written in code.

“You, know, it’s odd, but I don’t have anyone listed for this time of day,” The little one picked at a his face. “Give us a moment. We’ve been reorganizing to make our appointment process more efficient.” Blood and puss squirted out of a pimple.

“Yessir,” the big one continued, while the little one went and grabbed a shovel. “We now keep three different appointment books.”

“In three languages! For your security.” The little one smiled up at me, then abruptly started digging.

“One, Gangle here keeps in his back pocket.” Gangle smiled proudly while the big one kept on talking. “The other, we bury.”

I cleared my throat. “Sounds right efficient. You put all the appointments in all the books?”

“Oh, no sir.” The little one chuckled a bit. “That would be an enormous waste of time. Instead, we update one of them, and when someone like yourself comes, we check all three.”

The big one nodded, proud of the system. “It’s been a real success. We’re transforming the appointment process.”

Now, I was in no place to be waiting for them to dig up an appointment that didn’t exist. So I said, “Fellows, how bout you boys keep digging and I just go see Mr. Teedlefritz?” 

Gangle stopped digging. “That is impossible,” he said.

“Not really.” I laughed as pleasantly as I could muster. “See, it’s very possible for me to step into Mr. Teedlefritz’s tent and you boys just continue onward.”

“Now sir, I assure you that we will find the book,” the big one said. “It’s somewhere down there. Can’t quite remember where, but it’s down there and we’ll find it and see your appointment, at which time you will be free to enter.”

“Well, that sounds mighty fine, I guess.” I stood looking awkward, when an idea popped into my head. “Where’s that third book you boys were talking about?” I asked.

Those two correspondents just kind of stood there thinking it over.

“Didn’t I give it to you?” Gangle tapped the big one with his shovel.

“Now, don’t you go and throw around falsified accusations.”

“I didn’t accuse you of anything!”
“There was an implied accusation!”

“Of what?”

“I did not lose the third appointment book!”

“I didn’t say you did!”

“But you implied it!”

“If the world was built on implications, there would be no international transparency and everybody would be dropping nukes all over the place.”

“Not if there was a complete eradication of nuclear capabilities.”

“A complete eradication is damned near impossible! The way around the end of the world is a controlled reduction of arms, in which we stop the spread!”

“You can’t stop the spread!”

“You can’t eradicate all the nukes!

While they talked over nuclear policy, I shuffled my feet on into Mr. Teedlefritz’s tent. Let them work out how to step around the end of the world. I just wanted to give my notice and be off. Find some meaning in it all. Find the source of the pain. Maybe burn a couple banana peels.

Mr. Teedlefritz’s tent was opulent. When he had the MSNBC corespondents decorate, he told them to make it opulent. And they did. Went to craft stores and garage sales and bought everything that looked expensive. Threw jeweled red boas over antiquated Roman statues. Fox didn’t believe in nationalizing relics. History belongs in the hands of the people. Picassos mostly just ended up decorating bathrooms, but it was democracy. Mr. Teedlefritz had a few Picassos himself–some Ancient Egyptian golden artifacts and other assorted priceless items. He always wanted a gladiator spear or two, but the sports bars bought those up fast. 

Anyway, it always made me uncomfortable. There was too much gold and too many silk draperies. He had stained glass windows from 16th century French churches propped up against the sides of his tent. It never made much sense to me. I’m simple that way.

When I walked in, Mr. Teedlefritz was crunching numbers under the yellow light of his crystal chandeliers. He wore one of his glittering gold track suits. One size fits all kind of deal. He was sitting in this throne, hunched over a mahogany wood desk. Using a quill pen that probably belonged to a king, or someone, to write on gold leafed paper. Typing into all kinds of high powered calculators and such. Lots of cords spiraling down to the socket. He was thin and smiling.

“Buck!” That’s my name. “How good of you to visit. Wasn’t expecting you.”

“To be honest, I didn’t have an appointment, sir.”

“Aw that’s just fine.” He winked. “Those correspondents throw a hell of a hassle about those damn appointments.”

We laughed about that for a while.

“Well, Buck, what can I do you for?” He put the quill pen down.

“I was wondering if I could speak to you. About my time here.”

“Well of course!” He gestured to a throne on the other side of his desk. “Sit on down, boy. Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I sat. Licked my lips. I felt a bit nervous. Mr. Teedlefritz had been nothing but nice to me. I didn’t want to offend him. 

“Well, sir, I’ve been thinking about my life here.” I shuffled a bit in my throne and Mr. Teedlefritz raised his eyebrows. “It’s been a great ride, sir. A real great experience. Me and Sal have had some great moments on that stage, and I do appreciate everything you–and the troop, here–have done for me.”

Mr. Teedlefritz took some candies out of his pocket and popped him in his mouth. Nodded at me, looking curious. I rubbed my hands together.

“But, I’ve had an epiphany.”

“An epiphany?” His eyebrows got a bit higher and his stomach expanded. The gold track suit whined under the pressure.

“Yessir.” The skin on his face puffed and where there was one chin, there now protruded three. “I saw a man killed in the name of God in a bar today.” 

“Well, Buck, men are killed in bars all the time these days. Ain’t nothing special about that!” He slicked back his brown hair with now sausage fingers, arm fat jiggling with the motion. He shuffled and everything shook like jello, getting bigger and bigger, like someone was filling him with air.

“I know it, sir, but this was different. There was this guy who just wanted the pain to go. I mean, both men wanted the pain to go, but they had different ways of easing it. One man seemed like he was running. He was a foreigner. The other was praying to his God. He was so certain that the pain would leave.” I trailed off.

Mr. Teedlefritz sat bloated and fat. His black eyes were little holes at the end of caves through his puffy face, but they peered out at me intensely. “So an expatriate and a theologian are in pain. We’re all in pain, Buck. It’s no reason to leave.”

I started a bit. “How did you know I was planning on leaving?”

He smiled that big old reassuring smile and locked his hands together. “Oh, Buck. It’s my business to know. When you’re in pain, I’m in pain.” He leaned over the desk onto his elbow, flipping his hands open. The candy was wearing off, and his sausage fingers started shrinking as they gestured at me. 

“That’s just it, sir.” I felt emotional for some strange reason. “Everybody’s in pain, you know? Nobody’s happy. But not one son of a bitch is doing anything about it. I just–I just want to know why.”

“Why what?” The smile mutated into a scowl and he snatched his thinning hands back to his breast, over his heart like he was pledging.

“Why God slipped on a stupid banana peel and why we’re being censored by some creeps at Fox! Why it hurts, even when I’m happy. Why everybody’s hurting. There must be a reason.”

“These are hard times, Buck.” He looked down sadly, his chins shrinking. “But, these days will pass. The human spirit won’t be run down because a summer was spent in Hell. It ain’t that bad. A man’s mind can make a Heaven of Hell, anyway.”

“And a Hell of Heaven.”

He sat with his mouth open, thin face oval and dark in the crystal chandelier’s dim light. He was mulling it all over, I guess.

“There’s nothing for you out there, Buck. I brought you here. Gave you employment. Food. Security. Is this how you repay me? Leave at my critical hour?”

“No sir! I don’t mean to sound unappreciative. I’m grateful. But I feel like there’s nothing more for me here, and there’s nothing more for me to give.”

“Your act!” He stood up and threw his hands into the air. “Your act is what you should be giving to repay me.”

“Sir, I–”

“When I found you, you were washed up. Dying on a street corner cutting pennies for nickels!” He grunted, disgusted. “You owe me everything, boy. Don’t forget that!”

I sat in silence, not sure what to do. I was set on leaving, but it was all very awkward. Mr. Teedlefritz sat down and made himself comfortable again. 

“You’re still planning to go, ain’t you?”

“I don’t mean to disrespect you, but–”

“But you’re fucking me over, anyway.”

“If you see it that way, sir.”

We sat in some more silence. He took a little air horn out of his pocket and blew four times. A whole gang of MSNBC corespondents rushed in around me. 

“I’m sorry to do this Buck.” He stood up. “But way I see it, you owe me, and these days there’s no law for me to turn to. A man’s got to make his own law. Make his own way. Every man for himself. And what kind of man would I be, if I let you leave without paying me?”

“Paying you?” For the first time, I was feeling a little worried.

“Yessir. Paying me what’s owed.”

“What do I owe you?”

“Your life!” He waved his hand at the corespondents and two of them grasped my arms. “I’m sure sorry to do this, Buck, but you’ve left me no choice.”

I struggled a big, but I was no match for those political pundits. “I’ll run away!” I screamed while they dragged me out. Mr. Teedlefritz motioned for them to stop. Walked over and put his face real close to mine. I could see every wrinkle of the man. Every intention and intensity. Pores the size of canons, filled with darkness.

“Now, Buck,” he said gently, but still stern. “That would be a real mistake. You know, no matter where you go on Fox’s green Earth,” he smiled, “I would find you.” With that, I was dragged back to my tent and tied to the bed. A circus, indeed. 

 

*Picture curtesy of Picasso 

ISPEAK: A Poem

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If I spoke in ispeak, would you be charged to import what I’m writing?

If I downloaded your mode of communication and uploaded my message to your message board, would you hear a word?

How bout if I youtubed my testimony?

Or synched my library with your library?

Then would we be reading the same facebooks?

If I gravatared toward you network, could we work through the blogosphere and find some common programming?

Could we learn to surf the same google waves and virus-up the same yahoos?

If I were to override and export the old software and download your attire, can we chat?

I’ll do that.

But first I’ve got to search this society devoid of spoken verse for the terse meanings of not speaking.

It’s a society that’s not separated by age or ethnicity, but by who can tell the difference between a JPEG and a Gif and a who give’s a shit zip-file floppy disk mouse click.

But let’s say we turn off the noise.

We regress to the spoken word.

We cut the copy and paste and just say what we’ve got to say

Will you disconnect?

Probably.

So turn those speaks up up up

And raise that virtual cup

To an age of singers made famous with an auto-tune,

when 3-D glasses reveal the truth,

and youth is defined

by how much time you dedicate to the everythingness of space.

After I learn to ispeak

and I can navigate like a Best Buy geek

will my message be

lost in translation?

I Aspire to be the Starving Artist: A (satirical?) Poem

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I aspire to be a starving artist

Living on the streets in the farthest

reaches of the globe

an ex-pat, or something contemporary, you know?

And there I’ll starve my way through essays

have meaningful encounters with crack addicts in alley ways

Learn to write in dialects

Foreign to what my fans can imagine or expect.

I want to die in a gutter like Poe

Rejected in life, but in death be so…

Well known.

I want people to say it was a shame I died

Before my time

That I was always ahead of my time, in fact

It’s really a loss that she died like that.

I want History and English majors

(who will end up being teachers)

to scrutinize my every word

to write dissertations on my verse

and to speak to mood and tone and worse,

to symbolization.

I want them to fantasize about my stories

To capsize in the world of my fancies

to carry my work as proof they are enlightened

and defend me when their peers call them pansies.

I want to move generations who don’t have a cause

to give them phrases that make them pause

and although they don’t quite get it

and perhaps they let it mean something I never intended,

I still want them apprehended

screaming my words.

I aspire to be a starving artist

A future pop culture catharsis

for a society of marxists

who don’t know I’m a Democrat,

and don’t care.

I aspire to be somebody

and all I know how to be is a writer

But writers don’t make money,

so I aspire to be a starving artist

and therefore be serious,

and poignant

and prophetic

and hungry.

Weebles Wobble: A Short Story

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“They were always bad kids,” she says letting smoke escape her lips, carrying the words and tangling them into thinning wavering wisps above our heads.

“That’s exactly right,” I say, taking the bong from her outstretched hands. “They were mischievous.”

I take a long hit, wait to talk until the smoke dances out of my throat, shake my head, knock the bits and pieces in my mind into order, offer the bong back. Pause. Talk.

“But they were cute, you know.” She nods. She knows. “They were just bouncing along, two bad kids bouncing off each other.”

“And they really loved each other,” she cuts in before lighting up.

“Oh yeah, they really did. They were best friends all through high school.” They really really did love each other.

“He’s still bouncing, I think.”

“Oh I totally agree.” We’re taking a breather. A slight, unannounced break welcome by both parties.

“He’s still bouncing, but she’s kinda just…” she pauses, searching. “She’s wobbling. Is that a word? Wobbling?”

I give her a thumbs up and smile, sad but triumphant.

“Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down.” I sing laughing, still sad. “That’s the word. Lilly ’s wobbling and Evan’s still bouncing.”

“He’s still a bad kid though.” She looks serious.

“Definitely. But he’s got his shit together. She can’t even function.”

“Well that’s what he was saying last night. He’s just over her.”

“That’s so sad. Do they see each other at all?”

“Naw, not really. He said she texted him like a month ago and he was gonna buy wine off of her or something and she told him to meet her at the beach, but she didn’t show up so after an hour he was like ‘fuck this’ and now he’s just over her.”

“Well that’s Lilly for you.”

“She didn’t answer her phone or anything. She’s just not who she used to be.”

“Oh totally. No etiquette. No respect. All she cares about are drugs and the people who do them with her.”

“And like, I’m okay with drugs. I do a lot of drugs. But like, that’s too much.”

“There’s a line and she’s crossed it.” Damien Marley croons in the background. There’s no AC. Fans whoosh. It’s too hot.

“When was the last time you saw her?” I ask.

“A few weeks ago. She texted me and asked if she could come over so I was like okay, whatever, and she showed up here with like seven people. And then, she was like can we smoke here, and I was like okay, do what you want to do. But then she was like, do you have any weed and I was like, no. But they had their own weed so they smoked and then they like, left. That was it.”

“Fuck,” I say. She shrugs her shoulders, raises her eyebrows, looks down and purses her lips.

“That’s why I didn’t invite her last night. I don’t want her bringing her kids over here and doing all kinds of crazy shit.”

“I think you made the right call. She doesn’t go anywhere without her kids.”

“True. But I was happy to see Evan.”

“Yeah, he’s a good one.”

We finish the bong and go downstairs.

“What are you watching?” she asks. Her brother lounges on the couch.

“Football.” He stretches out. We stand beside the couch, eyes flickering from the screen to him and back again. “What were you girls doing upstairs?” He smirks. He knows.

“Girl talk.” I smile.

“Right.” He turns back to the television. “I’ll change the channel then.”

We watch tv for a few hours. Her brother leaves. Her mom comes home. The high wears off. We go back upstairs.

“What do you think Lilly’s going to do with her life?” I ask, reaching for the lighter.

“What do you mean?”

“Like, after college. When she can’t do what she does anymore.”

“Like when she grows up?”

“Yeah. When she grows up.”

She wrinkles her brow. I hit. She waits until I’m finished.

“I don’t know.” I pass to her.

“You ever wonder…” I hesitate. “You ever wonder if she’ll make it?”

“She probably won’t graduate.” She hits, milking and pulling until the smoke drifts through her teeth into the room.

“No, not like that. I mean, do you think she might…” I shrug, hoping she knows what is missing. “I mean, it happens. All the time. Like, that’s what everyone’s always talking about with drugs and stuff. Just not really here. But like, in middle school.”

“Addiction? But Mr. Ellington was totally a pothead though.”

We laugh. He was.

“Yeah he was. But I don’t really mean like that. Everyone here smokes weed. But like, you know, the war on drugs and stuff. How they’re always saying it ruins lives. People getting hurt.”

I hit. She scrunches her lips to the side and cocks her head. Deep thought.

“Do you mean like…” She hesitates. Neither of us wants to be the first one to say it. “What do you mean?”

I pass off and our fingers touch for an instant. I have the thought of transferring the idea, never saying it but having her know. I don’t want the word out, tangling with the smoke wisps and fading into the air.

“I mean what if she dies. Overdose. That stuff.”

She puts the bong on the bedside table. I see her considering it, deciding her response more than her actual opinion. It’s getting dark outside the window. Crickets chirp. Cars rumble down the road.

“You know what’s weird?” She asks.

“What?”

“We have a lot of friends who do a lot of drugs, right?”

“Yeah.”

“And here, it’s kinda not a big deal.”

“Compared to other places, yeah.”

“And people talk about it all the time.”

“All the time.”

“But I haven’t heard the word overdose since middle school.”

“Same.”

“It’s like, drugs are normal.”

“Naw, it’s true though. It’s like a reactionary normalization.” I nod, impressed with myself. She laughs.

“What?”

“Listen, so everyone was told back in the day that drugs are the devil’s work. And if you do them, you’ll get addicted and ruin your life and die and stuff, right?”

“I guess.” I sit up and use my hands, motioning with the sentences. Conducting the words through the atmosphere.

“Yeah, that’s what they were told. But then, a bunch of them did it anyway and were like, this is not that bad. Because for the most part it wasn’t. Weed is not a bad drug. It’s pretty awesome.” I gesture toward the bong and shrug my shoulders.

“I love me some weed.” She nods, agreeing.

“So then a couple of these kids, they did some other stuff. Some garden variety shrooms and some acid and some coke and maybe a little MDMA, before Molly was even a thing.”

“RIght.”

“And again they were like, this shit’s not so bad.”

“I love me some Molly.”

“Exactly. But the difference is respect.”

“Respect?”

“Yeah. You respect the drug and you respect yourself. You don’t do it to…” I smile and put on a stupid voice. “Get fucked up, man.” She laughs.

“You’re dumb.”

“Yeah I know. But for real though. It’s an experience. It’s a journey. It’s fun. It’s like going to the beach. Something you do to have a good time. Not to come home and brag about how much you go to the beach. You do it for you. Not because you need to or you want to brag.”

“Yeah, I got you.” A dog barks in the distance. The summer winds pass through her window, smelling like the ocean and the mountains.

“So anyway, these guys were like us.”

“Wait, what guys?”

“The guys back in the day.”

“Right. Okay.”
“I’m getting to my point. I swear. Don’t get bored.”

“No, I’m not bored.” She shakes her head. “Not at all.”

“Okay. I’m getting to my point. Dudes back in the day were like us. Respect and shit. But, because they did it the way we do, they decided all the anti-drug people were stupid. So they reacted against that by making it normal.”

“That’s exactly what happened.”

“Right. Minus some details, but that’s the gist. So anyway, because they cut out the negative language, you get these kids coming along like Lilly who don’t respect the drugs.”

“No self respect at all.”

“No respect for anything. All they want to do is get fucked up, man. But because they grew up here where the negative language isn’t a thing, they don’t really know that overdosing and addiction and those buzzwords were created because they’re reality. They think it’s just part of the anti-drug conservative bullshit.”

“Danger zone.”

“Exactly. Danger zone. So kids like Lilly who might have problems anywhere, growing up here, can’t handle it.”

“Hard to tell when things are right or wrong.”

“Exactly.”

“And then Evan .” She lays back and positions her head on the backboard. “Evan  didn’t know when he started, but he found out.”

“Yeah.”

“So really, actually, it was Evan who changed. Not Lilly. She just escalated.”

I yawn. “Guess so, actually.”

“That’s weird.”

“Weebles wobble.”

“But they don’t fall down.”

“Not yet, anyway.”

“Yeah.” We pause. “I’m calling it a night. I’m tired.”

“Me too.”

We move to the sofas downstairs and tuck ourselves into the pillow folds. It’s too hot for blankets. New Hampshire is quiet tonight. Quiet and peaceful. The silence extends.

“Hey.” I roll over to see if she’s awake. It’s too dark to make out anything but general shapes. She’s just a lump in the room.

“Yeah?” She’s almost asleep. Tomorrow, she won’t remember what I say now.

“Do you ever feel like you’re just waiting.”

“For what?” She mumbles, half in dream.

“For Lilly to fall. She’d be the first of our friends from high school, but I feel like she’s teetering on the edge.” I pause. “Maybe we should do something.”

“She makes her own life.”
“Yeah, I guess so. Just feels like I’m waiting for the phone call. And maybe I’ll regret doing nothing.” Silence. I wonder if she’s sleeping, but then out of the darkness she sniffs.

“She makes her own life.”

“Yeah. Can’t argue with that.” I roll back over, back into the pillow folds. “Good night.” I close my eyes.

“Night.”

Warning-Project X in Poetics: A Short Story

Image

Paper plates with mashed potatoes underneath the priceless photos and the origami lotus blossom is totaled. Plastic red cups filled with mixed stuff and some are melted in the stove. The smell of burnt plastic ashes released to roam through the ruins of his parents’ home.

“Shit.”

Blue balloons popped and strewn through the kitchen and living room are covered in sticky shit that kinda almost smells like cheese wiz. Toilet paper dances in the trees, fluttering in the morning breeze and someone took the time to take all the fallen leaves and stuff them in the toilet. They then wrote: Flush Me Please 🙂

“Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Glitter mountains gleam here and there and there’s a steady stream of underwear that leads to his room, and God not there! Yes, his parents’ sheets need to be changed. The family portrait has been removed from its picture frame, the TV’s got something wrong with the display, and somebody at some point played his Xbox 360. Before puking on it.

“Fuck.”

The welcome mat now sports a whipped cream dick, and the car is full of condoms and someone lit a candle on the top of it. The gnome is gone, as to be expected, and the flagpole no longer stands erect and he believes he can detect the faint sound of his mother’s music box off in the distance. But this is the least of his worries.

“Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”

All over town they are now. Nursing hangovers and wounds and how did this happen to him anyway? All he had to say was that his parents were away. For the weekend, just for the weekend. It all happened so freakin’ fast. And now the time to act has passed.

Parents take my advice to avoid such situations: Don’t advertise your departures or leaves of absence, because responsible kids won’t suffice when he or she comes up against peer pressure. However unreasonable that seems, it’s right. This scene could happen to you, too, because this is what teenagers do. In a world where there are no cops or conservative neighbors, where there is an unlimited supply of toilet paper, this is the result of vacations.

Know your children’s limitations. They can’t say no, and the kegs will come on their own, and no one will know how to stop it as the drunk teens pop and lock it through the night. Responsible parents, do what’s right. Because this fear is justified. It’s not a media-endorsed lie. It’s true. And it will happen to you.

Gators: A Short Story

A story kinda about weddings. Don’t worry—nothing sentimental.

Gators

She was jogging along one of those drainage ditches that line the city park’s waterways when an alligator snatched her up. Nothing left but a splotch of blood and bone fragments. The police were astounded when the reporters reached them. They couldn’t fathom how an alligator got into the city, but they promised to catch the sucker. At dawn the next day they got together and had themselves an alligator hunt. Some animal rights group threw a protest when the giant beast was captured and sentenced to death, but the bereaved mother cried on the news and public sympathy demanded the gator’s head. There’s been three fatal alligator attacks this year, my mother says. The guy on the Discovery Channel told her so.

We get to the wedding seven minutes late. My mother’s worked Annie into a frenzy. Annie looks right and left before getting out of the car. She’s seen an alligator at a country club just like this one, she says. Right on the seventh hole of the golf course. Just sitting there.

It’s a nice joint full of folks who made donations to the Reagan campaign. Not my kind of people. My mother runs off with the string quartet and I leave Annie with her makeup bag in the bathroom. Family affairs make me uncomfortable, but I put on this face like I’ve got it together and waltz into the ceremony. I sit in the back and look for familiar faces. There are none to be looked at until Uncle Tim comes up behind me. He’s really glad I came, squeezes my shoulder and ushers me to the family section. I guess I’m related from somewhere up the tree, but this is more gesture than thick blood. The last time I saw these people was at a funeral. Not much has changed, I suppose, despite the color of the flowers.

Annie makes it back in time for the procession. It’s short and sweet with all the proper trimmings. There’s a flurry of excitement when Aunt Liz is marched down the aisle via skype. We wave to the computer screen and the guests are confused. Welcome to the family.

There’s ‘I wills’ and ‘I dos’ and my mother sings the Lord’s Prayer, as Aunt Liz instructed. Applause, and my mother revels in stealing the show for three minutes. We move to a reception space where guests ask if she’s professional and she flashes that coy smile meant to say, I could have been. She abandons me to receive her adoring public, Annie dutifully by her side.

I wander over to the cousins. I remember Sam and Andy from weddings and funerals long past, but the blonds on their arms are new. There’s also the bartender and the nurse, but I’ve never been able to remember their names. We’re a large family fully extended and I can’t be expected to remember the names of all the distant cousins who show up for weddings and funerals.

No one seems particularly interested in me, so I down a glass of champagne and hope to make myself more social. When the conversation turns to the Kardashians I give up the effort and escalate my drinking to beer. Sam’s girlfriend asks if I have a boyfriend. Vodka cranberry, as strong as possible. We’re called into the ballroom for dinner and I try not to stumble my way there.

I’m assigned to the cousins’ table. I sit between Sam and the bartender. They reminisce about a party from way back when. I should make an effort to join the fun, but I don’t. I didn’t come here to meet the cousins. Somebody orders shots, but the catering service is too classy. We get a double of tequila and pour it into our champagne glasses. Bottoms up.
“He was hung like a moose!” The nurse is wasted. She’s in the midst of a messy divorce. I met the husband at the last funeral, but all I remember was her being wasted then, too. “I like girls now,” she confides to the bartender loud enough for us all to hear. “But they don’t think I’m cute!”

“You’re adorable!” he says, too enthusiastically.

“I know, right!”

Another vodka cranberry.

We hit that moment when everyone gets loose. The filets are finished and the old people are doing the twist on the dance floor. The girls go on a piss run, but I miss the call to action. Soon, Sam is whispering with the bartender.

“Lesbians don’t get me off!” I catch the bartender say.

“Wait, what?” I don’t usually like drama, but I’m drunk enough to butt in. “She’s your cousin, isn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Sam smiles. “Like, a real cousin.”

“Fuck you.” The bartender’s upset.

“Dude, that’s some backwards shit.” I’m not trying to make a good impression anymore. “Your babies would have three eyes and their blood wouldn’t clot and stuff.”

“I’m not gonna fuck her!” He stammers and Andy laughs from across the table. The girls return.

“Oh my god. We made like, the best decision,” Andy’s blond gets all jazzed up. “Sleepover!” The nurse is going to stay with the rest of the cousins tonight. It’s bad news for the bartender and I can’t help but smirk.

I hit up the bar and hope to god it all ends soon. After a while, it does. The cousins go off to have their sleepover and I give a wink to the bartender. He pouts and stumbles away.

Alligators can run faster than humans. 60 miles per hour. Your only chance is to climb a tree and holler for help. There were these two dumb kids skinny dipping one night who learned the hard way. When an alligator started chasing them, the guy shimmied on up a palm tree and hung on. Probably scraped up his johnson something terrible doing it. The girl kept running, screaming so loud they heard her for miles around. She deserved to get eaten, my mother says. She should have watched the Discovery Channel like her boyfriend.

Day two begins a lot like day one. There’s a good deal of bickering and alligator talk. Annie wants to go swimming, but my mother interjects. She goes on about the fornicating skinny dippers and reminds Annie of her golf course gator. Annie’s convinced enough to strip off the swimsuit and suit up for brunch. When Aunt Liz calls, Annie answers the phone. We’re at that point where she’s been in the family long enough to be family.

“We’re just so glad you’re still alive!” Annie says, folding and unfolding her swimsuit. “We were going to swim, but there’s alligators around. Dangerous world we live in, but of course you know that.”

Brunch is a swanky affair. More neo-Reaganites, but Aunt Liz doesn’t get skyped in for the occasion. The cousins are absent, sleeping off hang overs and, I imagine for the bartender and the nurse, shame. I spot Uncle Tim and offer a polite smile. I’ve never been all that warm, but he goes in for a hug and I feel obliged.

“You comin’ to the house after?” He asks, squeezing my shoulder again.

“Of course.” I widen my eyes and sigh. “I fly home tonight, so today’s the day.”

“Sure. Sure.” He pulls me in for another hug and I control the instinct to squirm. “We’re just so glad you could make it.”

“Me too.” We break, eat, and drink coffee spiked with Bailey’s. We drink mimosas. I’ll drink anything, at this point.

My mother and I sit with a judge. The kind of guy who wears an American Flag pin to church. My mother asks if he supports the death penalty.

“They don’t call me Hammer for nothing!” The conversation evolves to evolution and I check out. I never enter scientific debates when there’s a Bible on the table.

Hours later, we exit with Uncle Tim. It’s time to get down to business–to do what I came to do. I say my goodbyes and down one last mimosa. My mother drives, following Uncle Tim until we get to a coral green gated community. The kind of place where they hold water aerobics classes on the hour.

How do I tell this story? It’s the story of mortality. Of dysfunctional families. Of my own apathy. It’s not the kind of story I usually write or enjoy reading. There’s pieces that are boring–that are fucked up. There’s pieces I’ll never tell and pieces I’ve made up entirely. But, despite the general confusion of my weekend in Florida, there’s one thing I’ve taken home: Aunt Liz is going to die and I, for the time being, am going to live. That’s the only truth I can handle. Leave any deeper meaning to those with the capacity to accept it.

I’m summoned in first and the show goes to hell. I try and smile beneath the face mask. My breath smells like champagne and bacon. I feel like I’m suffocating, but I’m buzzed enough to act cool. She’s lying in this bed with a million pillows, shadows of palm tree leaves dancing across the comforter. I say hello and sit down.

“Be sure to not touch me,” she grumbles. Off to a great start.

We were never all that close. I have broken memories of playing dress up in her closet as a young girl. She went four years without talking to our branch of the family. Something about who should have inherited my grandfather’s watch. Everyone’s friends again because blood runs redder than anger, my mother explains. She says it like that’s all there is to it, but I was never quite satisfied.

I mumble how great it is to see her, how beautiful the wedding was, how glad I am she got to be there, if only digitally.

“It’s not every day your son gets married,” she croaks.

I suppose not and prepare to babble. She’s weak, Uncle Tim had said. She looses her breath. I don’t plan on anyone losing their breath on me, but she cuts me off.

“Listen, kid.” She takes these labored breaths and I do as I’m told. “I’m dying, here.” We’re in dangerous territory. I make some opposition. You’ve got time still or But you’ve done so much. Empty. She continues.

“No, you listen. There’s a lot I didn’t get to do, because I was young and married and stupid and maybe a little scared.” She tilts her head down, giving me something along the lines of a stink eye, “But you’re none of that. You’re gonna be queen of the desert. The new Gertrude Bell. You know who she is?”

No.

“She was somethin’. Really somethin’.” She nods and looks off, eyes misty. “She entered tents no women had entered before. And you–” she coughs. “You’ve got to do that, you hear? You’ve got to go out there and enter tents and do somethin’. Really do it. Go out to the Middle East and make like Gertrude Bell. Learn the language and teach ‘em about peace. Show ‘em how to get along.”

A tall order. She reaches for an oxygen mask and I’m stunned silent. None of the cousins have to fix the Middle East. She told the bartender to keep water skiing, or something.

“I know you had it tough,” she goes on. “With your mother and Annie the way they are.” She wasn’t the picture of a perfect parent herself, but I resolve to just shrug. “Don’t be stupid. We all know, over here.”

More coughing.

“You’ve got to take it. Ball it up and carry it with you, right under your ribs.” She jabs at her stomach and breaths harshly. “Make somethin’ of it.”

We share a prolonged look. I nod like I understand it. Don’t argue with a dying woman. That has to be a golden rule somewhere. She breaks eye contact and throws her blanket off.

“Grab my nurse. I have to piss.”

I don’t say good bye. Just nod and call for the nurse. Sit down on the couch with my mother, Uncle Tim, and Annie. They ask how it went. Fine, it went fine. Normal death bed talk. The usual.

The nurse comes out and says Aunt Liz is finished for the day. Everyone’s upset.

“You wore her out!” Someone accuses. I don’t argue. We leave and I get dropped off at the airport, sit at the bar and drink it all over.

I google Gertrude Bell. A nineteenth century modern woman. One of the few British Imperialists the Arab nations remember affectionately. She was a diplomat. A suffragist. A spy. A writer. An adventurer. A kickass lady. She died unmarried of a sleeping pill overdose. Some say it was suicide. She was depressed. Aren’t all the greats?

My mother says alligators are the last dinosaurs on earth. The only ones to survive the Lord’s dinosaur rapture. She’s not sure about the evolution of it all, but those monsters are not of this earth–man’s civilized earth. They don’t belong. Fish out of water.

The last fatal alligator attack victim was this fisherman. He’s sitting in a dingy watching the sun rise over the swamps. They’ve got these trees in Florida that look like they’re covered in thick spider webs, twisting down from the branches. The sunlight’s swirling through the webs and he’s caught up in the moment. Not paying attention to what’s lurking below.

Police reckon the beast was the Jaws of alligators. Teeth sharp as razors and jaw strong as the hand of the reaper. A giant creature of the deep, looking to gnash someone open and catch a peek inside. The bloody stuff that really makes us.

This monster slides through the water, silent. The old fisherman’s sitting in his dingy lazily holding his line. I like to think his eyes got misty, watching the sun burn illumination onto the horizon. And then CHOMP! Up from below, the alligator snaps the dingy right in two and swallows the fisherman whole. Nothing left but wreckage. And even that rides the tide out to sea.

The Jewish Backhanded Compliments (for my future therapist’s reference)

When I say I’m Jewish, I don’t mean Jewish in the way most people mean Jewish. I’m Jewish in the sense that a good portion of my relatives are Jewish, I like corned beef specials and I have certain physical features that are often associated with God’s chosen people. Why God chose to endow his special people with schnozes I will never know.

Image

My adorable women on adventures in Hawaii.

In any case, I don’t practice. I’m from New Hampshire, where being any minority is distinguishing, so I often boast anyway. My family adopted the phrase faux-Jew in explaining ourselves when friends come over for Christmas dinner. My mom is a born again Christian, but like me prefers Jewish culture. Who doesn’t, honestly? My mother will put up a menorah on Christmas to honor our heritage and general preference for Jewish people. I guess it’s our equivalent of a love candle, summoning nice Jewish doctors for me to marry someday. But she hangs a cross on it, just to be confusing. Religion. Tricky stuff.

In any case, there have been occasions wherein my faux-Jewishness has been challenged. It’s a religion not an ethnicity, etc. A fair point. But I feel I’ve earned my matzo ball soup. I’ve been raised by Jewish women. And any woman who’s been raised by Jewish women knows all about it. For those of you who don’t, let me explain.

The backhanded compliment. Ahhh, fond memories of insecurity and frustration. A backhanded compliment is one wherein an older woman, usually with a New York accent, will hide an insult in what appears to be a compliment. Mostly, they start with an innocuous question that builds to the commentary. It’s like taking a bite into a valentines day chocolate filled with vinegar.

I’ve gotten a lot of these. I mean, a lot. So, I feel entitled to my Jewishness. I earned it, biting my tongue for years and years and accepting the insults as professions of love. They don’t criticize to hurt. They criticize because they don’t have censors. You come to accept it and laugh it off. And then post it on the internet. These are some of my favorites from my awkward adolescence. Enjoy my pain:

Did you do something to your hair? It looks better.

That’s a nice new outfit. I’m so happy for you. You found a store with stuff that fits.

Have you lost weight? You look more like a woman these day.

That top is for women who are fat and insecure. And you are not insecure.

I read your short story. It was a very good effort. You put a lot of work into that.

You gonna wear that? That’s brave.

Here eat some more food. I’ll be insulted if you don’t. I slaved away all day. (five minutes later…) My goodness you have an appetite. You can really eat a lot for a woman.

You stop going to the gym? You look… richer.

He’s a nice boy, your boyfriend. A great experiment for you. Have you seen Donna’s boy lately? He’s a very nice boy.

 Oh, you’re doing it that way? I mean, that’s not the way I would do it, but you’ll learn from your mistakes on your own.

 

The Mushroom Man

An oldie. Back when I had aspirations for poetry. I was young…

The Mushroom Man: A Fairytale

1

“Take it slow, Joe. Don’t overflow that load.” He’s back and attacking the senses, but Tommyboy listens to the wisdom and cuts down the size. Breathing slow, out it goes, circling round and round.

“Got that feeling, Tommyboy?”

“How the hell should I know?” Tommyboy laughs as the Mushroom Man begins his dance and the show goes to hell as the music swells. He still falls off the booth.

“The Mushroom man can cancan and if you’re good, he’ll pop the hood and let you breathe his juice.” The song goes on and Tommyboy breathes and blackness comes, but it’s good.

“Tommyboy tell me, how goes the life.” The Mushroom Man sits besides the boy and brings the bottle low.

“Man, if I could get out of here, I’d let you know.” He laughs the shallow empty laugh that usually comes when the Mushroom Man is done.

“Tommyboy, it’s you and me and the J.O.B. How much you got in the bank? Or do you keep it in the pillowcase?”

“They say the depression’s off, but who really knows? I’d rather keep my pillowcase than trust a bank that ends up closed. Man, I talk in rhyme when I’m with you.”

“You talk in sense when you’re with me.” He laughs again, aware of the neon grass beneath his ass, and the cough starts up too early. Recovered slightly, he sighs aloud.

“Man it’s too soon to suck this cloud.”

“Soon, noon, what’s the difference,” the Mushroom Man smiles. “It’s mileage, man. Experience comes, learning is dumb, but money makes the world go round. So how goes that world, Tommyboy? Spinning fast, or too early to ask?”

“Man, it never spins fast enough. No matter how hard God kicks, it never spins fast enough.”

2

He’s back again and just when Tommyboy was done. “I thought you’d left.” He says through breaths of trickling silver snow. The world is spinning fast at last. The Mushroom Man has resumed his dance, and the people know how it goes.

“It’s Mushroomville where we do our deals, and the sky turns red at night. Beware the light that shines too bright, for here we love the cold.” Mushroom Man smiles slow, and the world turns bright as city nights where shady people go. Tommyboy knows this dance; he knows this place; he knows this feeling; he knows, he knows, he knows.

“I heard the J.O.B. is finally making money.” The Mushroom man sings.

“God must have had some power drinks cause the world ain’t turning slow. No, Joe. The world will never turn slow again, not with you, my friend.”

“We’ll be together forever; we’ll frolic on cloudy days; we’ll dance with diamonds in the sky, and watch the world turn on by. Tommyboy, ain’t this the news.” But the Mushroom Man knows what’s really in Tommyboy’s head. Besides that ice and uncommon spice, a doubt starts to grow. It isn’t another Mushroom Man, to dance with the first. It’s a little girl who cries, “Tommy, I’m hurt.”

3

“The world’s gone to shit and we’re wading through it, waiting for the planes. But the planes are flew by those select few whom the police see fit to reign. Dang. What am I doing? What the fuck am I doing?” The Mushroom Man knows the questions as well as he knows the answer. He’s a professional bullshitter, as well as dancer. But he sees that Tommyboy’s fees are fast amassing.

“You, silly Tommyboy, are fighting for your rights. Fighting those incapable suited men who condemn the pipe. What are you if you give in, just letting the pensioned assholes win? You’re nothing without the Mushroom Dance and Mushroomville and Mushroom Land. You’re nothing but a subservient punk who flunks outta jail without a bail, to find the shit keeps on rising. And then you’re dying, Tommyboy, and there’s no one there to help you, because society fears you. And that little voice that screams in pain is also afraid. But, Tommyboy, you’re all set, because although you’re wet, you’ve got an umbrella. That’s right, Tommyboy, I’m your cover and we help one another.”

“Best friends for life.” Tommyboy sucks in deep and goes to sleep on the neon grass. The Mushroom Man watches him fall, but what can he do after all?

4

The pain’s been gone for so long, he forgets that it keeps growing. The Mushroom Man remembers, but plans to keep on going.

“Just keep flowing till you’re numb. What fun the times have been.” Tommyboy laughs the laugh and falls on the neon grass. He looks up at the reddened sky, tears of laughter running around his eyes and wonders where they go. The Mushroom Man will know.

“Tears make an excellent read, when rolled up and mixed with weed, but they also do well with speed and LSD. Acid, baby, let it burn. It’s Tommyboy’s turn.” Tommyboy smiles the smile, and suddenly he’s just a child. There’s the baby, weak and mild. Mother’s eyes, crazed and wild. Anger rising, criticizing. Couldn’t comply, why, Tommy, why?

“What a boy I would be, if I wasn’t me. If I wasn’t me.” But the Mushroom Man sends mom away.

“Leave that past for a sunny day. Today the clouds are nice and low, blow Tommyboy, blow.” He’s the wind and he catches the storm and it makes him warm, but not too warm. So he turns to the Mushroom Man.

“I love you, man. You’re my best friend.” The Mushroom Man just does his dance.

“I’m your only friend. Your only friend.”

5

The pressure eases as the Mushroom Man comes to pieces and starts to sing once more. “Life got you singing the blues? You know that problems come in twos, so let’s get on those dancing shoes and two-left-feet them away.” But Tommyboy is now aware of that growing pain ensnared, and he can’t forget the feeling that forced him to start dealing with the shit that he deals with now. And for some reason he can’t stop shaking and the ground keeps quaking and the Mushroom Man is taking too long to make him laugh.

“They’ll be writing your epitaph with a face like that.” The Mushroom Man is dancing, but it’s not as entrancing as it was last time. “Nickels and Dimes, Tommyboy, they stealing your feelings? Only I can do that.” The chat feels better and the sky gets redder and Tommyboy knows how to silence the pain. He’s gained quite a bit of tricks on the subject of trips and he practices his exercises daily.

“I just need to numb.” The Mushroom Man smiles.

“No one ever said you were dumb. They said you were a bum, they said you’d get caught, but dumb was never thought.” Tommyboy falls off his bed and he sees red, but it’s a good red. He breathes until he can’t feel the chill, and then the growth screams from beneath, “Don’t get dead. Don’t get dead.”

6

He’s not sure if he wants to be here. The pain is searing and the screaming leering, and the voice is too familiar to forget. Tommy, I’m hurt. Don’t get dead. And if it’s not to drown in red, he’s come to forget what she said, but he finds he hears only her. The Mushroom Man hears her too and the plans he drew just won’t do, because she’s screaming. The Mushroom Man sings his song, but Tommyboy can’t sing along. He’s seeing the failure and he’s in the green, dreaming the bitter dream. Suddenly the red sky becomes blood in his eyes and the neon grass stabs into his ass like broken glass.

“Broken Glass!” And now he’s back to her face, to the place where he became what he would be, and the Mushroom Man cannot see. The Mushroom Man was there that day, but far away, far away. Who was to blame?

“You say you’d save me if I drowned, but what if I turned around? What if flashing lights came screeching and metal beneath me started lurching? What if cars started crashing, and the broken shards slashing? What if she was slipping, all the while I was tripping? Would you stop the burning? Or are you the burn? And what about her, what about her?” The Mushroom man stops his dance to serenely observe.

“Let it flow, Joe,” he smiles sadly, and the bleeding slows. “Just wait it out, Tommyboy. Soon you’ll be back home.”

7

He’s only come to say goodbye. More grand times will fly without the Mushroom Man. The Mushroom Man cannot dance. He’s too angry to cancan.

“After all the dreams I saw come true, all the shit I’ve been through with you, all the terror learned through error, you dare to leave me! Tommyboy, can’t you see, you don’t have cover, we need one another! And God don’t kick the world as quick as me.” He’s fuming now, and the clouds spur thunder under the blood red sky. But Tommyboy knows this place as sure as he knows the Mushroom’s face.

“Take a dip in your own deep poison. Tell me I don’t have my reasons. Enough have died in this red season. Let it go. Let it go.”

“No!” The Mushroom man is angrier now, and he reaches forward toward the clouds and the lightning strikes through diamond fields and the neon grass slyly yields. For the Mushroom Man wins the hand. The Mushroom Man made the dance. The Mushroom Man doesn’t lose his friends. Not till the end, and this isn’t the end. The end comes when the fun is done and the needles are coated and the joints bloated and the world exploded and the client devoted. Not till the Mushroom Man leads the way, dancing to a higher place, higher than the clouds in space, higher than the shit and waste. But Tommyboy knows the drill. He was the sergeant until today, and now he’s going away. There’s a voice in his head, wise and full of dread, and it tells him to leave the red skies behind. It tells him he can be exactly what he was going to be and the mushroom doesn’t have room in the plans. His dead sister says he’s forgiven, though he had driven that day. She sends the Mushroom Man away and takes his hands, leading him back home. And then, when he’s safely nestled, crying slow, she leaves him alone.

Epilogue

On the road that slowly winds. The Mushroom Man pulls down the neon blinds. He’ll hit some twit on his way. No need to say jump in. They always know the way to swim, because the blood red skies of the Mushroom Man’s eyes shine through the shit. And then there’ll be another friend, another trip, another end, and the story will go on and on. Will you come along?

The First Conquest: About Me

And in the beginning, there was a blog post about me. Expertly copied and pasted from the ‘about me’ section. Welcome to blogging.

Writers are constantly smashed, in the critical way and the Hemingway way...
Writers are constantly smashed, in the critical way and the Hemingway way…

 

I’m getting a degree in creative writing–or as my engineer friends call it, arts and crafts. It sucks, but I am impressively inept at everything else.

Despite the emotional/brooding/starving artist stereotype, wannabe writers are people too. And we vary like regular people do, believe it or not. I’m a very private, unemotional person. The idea of sharing my writing or personal thoughts with my friends is terrifying. Helluva writer, huh? Unpublished, unemployed, and clinging desperately to how well I did on the SATs years ago, my only claim to actually being a writer would be starvation if I didn’t eat a lot of take-away french fries.

I’ve been asked for years for a link to my blog. It’s expected, and I guess that’s why I rebelled so long. That and laziness. Aren’t you a writer? Fuck off. But I did get inspired and from the most unexpected place. Something clicked. For the first time, I wanted to try this blog business. My experience may follow the pattern of the hundreds of diaries sitting in my childhood home’s attic, first few pages filled with promises of future entries that would not be. Commitment. Tough stuff. Or, I could get into it. Crazier things have happened.

I was inspired by the calorie count website. Yes, I count calories. No, I don’t count calories after midnight or in the form of alcohol. In any case, I recommend the site even if you’re not into obsessing over the nutrients in your panini. There’s this forum where people post a report from their day. The original concept was probably to share with family and friends how well you ate and exercised, etc. But it’s public. And people interact–strangers interact. I got addicted to reading the posts. People write the most personal information in short, grammatically painful bursts. Death, divorce, kids, parents, illness–all the usual stuff. But there’s this underlying theme of insecurity. They talk about being fat. Wanting to be skinny. Cravings, clothes fitting, clothes not fitting, nostalgia for their past bodies, desire for bodies they never had. And they tie being fat into these profound traumatic experiences. Like the anniversary of a mother’s death making you want to eat cake. It’s incredible. No ulterior motives. No long analysis of how they really feel. Just honesty. I want to be like that. Just honest.

So, here I am. Sharing is caring. Strangers are my first step to being a more transparent person. I don’t know what I’ll say. I don’t know if I have anything to say. I’m a quirky person. I’m a weird person. I’m a creep, I wish I was special, etc. Read me. Respond to me. Ignore me. I think the act of putting something out there is all I really want from this. So, here’s another entry into the ether–into the blogosphere. I’ve conformed at longggggg last. Shhhhhh–don’t tell anyone. I probably owe someone money for caving.