30 April 2011

Sirenum Scopuli Gulch

There was a thumb-twiddling wine-label artist who used to live out of his car, “somewhere up on the highway” as old Brenda Dent used to call it. The lecherous thumb-twiddler would draw all night by the lights of passing cars and the occasional satellite flying miles overhead. The satellites would course through the edge of outer space and emit their lonesome beeps and chirps while the lecherous thumb-twiddler would draw the dreary facades of French chateaus that never were. Oh how lonely is the edge of outer space.

As that often-overlooked place “somwhere up on the highway” was beyond the veritable edge of the universe as far as the inhabitants of the nearby town were concerned, there was little reason for anyone to go there, aside from the thumb-twiddler himself. Afternoons would find him chasing bison across the praire – running them into arroyos and listening to the thunderous cracks as their necks broke when they hit the bottom. With a whooping war cry the thumb-twiddler would remove his Italian silk necktie and wear it as a headband, sometimes using it to hold in place an array of pigeon feathers. In the evenings he would play Lithuanian carols on hambone. On and on he would play, until his thighs and chest were red and swollen.

It was on such an evening of hambone and freshly harvested okra that the thumb-twiddling wine-label artist met the love of his life. Across the arroyo he heard a voice singing in the cool dusk, “It's a long way to Tipperary, it's a long way to go...”

He raced away from his car toward the arroyo, yearning to lay eyes on this veritable siren. When he reached the edge of the gulley, he saw her. She was clothed in a floor-length evening gown made out of raw, sliced onions, and she wore a live but heavily sedated badger upon her head. The strains of that venerable music hall standard poured out over the prairie as the sun sank beneath the horizon. The sky turned a deep, deep violet. The thumb-twiddler swooned and instantly rushed out toward the edge of the arroyo.

With the sound of satellites chirping and beeping and blinking their pensive lights at the uncaring ether somewhere high over the edge of the atmosphere, and with thoughts of French chateaus that never were coursing through his imagination, the thumb-twiddler felt himself suspended in what he thought to be a cloud of blackstrap molasses – a cloud that held him fast and gave him ample time to imagine himself in one of those chateaus that never were. He would bow to the lord of the manor, and the woman in the sliced onion evening gown would curtsey. The lord of the manor would clap his hands to summon the string quartet and clap them again to start the music. The thumb-twiddler and the woman in the sliced onion evening gown would dance minuets and quadrilles until the wee hours of the morning. Afterwards he would carry her out to the waiting carriage that would spirit them away to a secluded place that was far, far away from the satellites and the passing cars.

The bottom of the arroyo was hard and unforgiving. The thunderous crack of his neck brought an abrupt end to the woman's song and to a delicious dream that died “somewhere up on the highway.”

27 April 2011

At The Hors d'oeuvre Convention

Look, Peasy Lou...look at that tiny man in the peculiar jockstrap!”

Sure enough, Elsa Mae Grabbethorn was gesticulating wildly at a short Greek man wearing a codpiece that had been crafted from what appeared to be chrome and lunchmeat. This trip to the big city was turning out to be more exciting than she had expected, and this was only the first day. Tuesday's side trip to the lard rendering plant was sure to top even a peculiar jockstrap.

Peasy Lou sauntered over to the tiny man and tried to be subtle about inspecting his codpiece. To be certain, it was made of chrome and something that looked like it might be braunschweiger. The braunschweiger was molded into small peaks and tufts, giving the appearance of studded armor.

Cracker?” asked the tiny man, proferring a crispy wheat round and a plastic knife. Peasy Lou blanched and was unable to respond.

Cat got your tongue, Peasy Lou?” asked Elsa Mae, smiling and looking hungrily at the braunschweiger. “Cause if you haven't got the gumption to dig into that scrumptious luncheon meat, I believe I will myself.”

The tiny Greek man offered the plastic knife and cracker to Elsa Mae, who readily accepted both and dove in greedily. The tiny Greek man struggled to remain upright as the plastic knife was plunged deeply into the braunschweiger.

I remember a luncheon spread like this that I had one summer at the Minnesota State Fair...I think that it was made from veal, and it was displayed for consumption upon a pair of velvet spats. This is much heartier, though...it has much more body to it. Doesn't it, Peasy Lou? Oh here, you must try some.” Elsa tried handing the plasctic knife to Peasy Lou, who remained silent and immobile.

Another cracker?” asked the small Greek man.

Oh, don't mind if I do,” replied Elsa Mae, “they are ever so light and crispy. Thank you.”

Elsa Mae sliced off an entire mound of braunschweiger and piled it on to an already overloaded crispy wheat round. She looked intently at the man, glancing up and down. Raising an eyebrow she inquired, “did you go to Pitherington High School, class of '69?”

Yes, indeed I did.” The tiny Greek man raised an eyebrow in return.

Gregory Snoffaloppalous? The president of the theater club and captain of the debate team?” Elsa Mae was wide-eyed with disbelief and excitement.

No,” replied the tiny Greek man, “Niko Pazalatalas...I just spent a lot of time in the industrial arts wing.”

Oh,” said a deflated Elsa Mae Grabbethorn, clearly let down, “I am terribly sorry.”

Not a problem,” answered Niko, “Greg is down by the next set of tables – you'll see him. He's wearing a seaweed vest.”

Elsa Mae grew radiant once more. “Come on, Peasy Lou, let's go get us some Futomaki.”

(Appeared in Red Fez #34, May 2011)

22 April 2011

Gornisht in the Pupik, Part I

Deeper and deeper we went...until the daylight on the surface seemed like a dream.  How deep the elevator would take us I was not certain, but I was beginning to wonder if I suffered from bathophobia in some slight way, as my tongue was beginning to feel like salt pork and I could feel a cold sweat on my brow.

"You're sure it's down here?" I asked the nice young man in the white smock and apron.

"Certainly sir," came the polite reply.  "We'll be right there."

I had ducked into the local Shur-fine Foods for a box of matzoh crackers, and had encountered the unexpected.  The young stock clerk, when I asked him directions to the matzoh, motioned for me to follow him, and I did just that.  We had now been on a sort of mine-shaft elevator for the past two minutes, descending into the depths of the earth beneath the store.

The elevator clanked to a halt and the rusty gate screeched open.  The young stock clerk in the white smock and apron led me through a veritable maze of tunnels and passages, all lined with shelving and an assortment of (mostly Kosher) food.  We arrived at what appeared to be the matzoh department, and a man stepped out of the shadows.

"Larry Fine!" I exclaimed, just about dropping my teeth in astonishment. "One third of the Three freaking Stooges, and back from the dead, no less!"

"Hey, hey...what's the big idea?" asked the iconic Jewish comedian. He attempted to poke me in the eyes, but I quickly and deftly placed my right hand in front of my face, the thumb toward my nose.  Fine's index and middle fingers wound up on either side of my palm, missing their marks.  The frazzle-haired comic reposted with tug of my nose and slap of his hand.

"OK, OK...break it up, you two," said the stock clerk, in his best Moe Howard impersonation.  "Mr. Fine, this nice gentleman is looking for some matzoh crackers."

"Aaaaaaahhh, fooey.  We're out of matzoh crackers.  Tell him to go away."

"But it's the middle of Passover...how could you be out of matzoh crackers?"  I asked, incredulously, not really expecting a response.

Just then a small covered wagon shot out of a corner, tearing across the floor with a small, shaggy terrier in hot pursuit.  By the red-and-white checkerboard canvas covering the diminutive Conestoga, I new that another fine Purina product was being hauled to its destination.

"Well, boychik'," said Larry Fine, "it looks like you're in luck...here's a new shipment of Hungerik Yingl Chow arriving just this very minute."

19 April 2011

Midnight in the Valley of Kwong and Sanchez

On an early morning in 1991 Pete the Marine chambered a round of 5.56 and peered into the dawn over a berm. 20 years later he chambered a Vicodin and peered into the mirror over the sink.

"Cessation of all major hostilities."

13 April 2011

Red Fez #33 is Out...

The April edition of Red Fez is on the virtual newsstands, as it were.  There is some awesome stuff in this issue, might I say, as well as an odd and rather quirky piece by yours truly...

Red Fez, April 2011

On the Third Floor

That plastic is ever so soft, ever so clean, and it makes you think about the water in a small inlet on a secluded Caribbean island, doesn't it? It is blue, as well, which completes the image ever so nicely.

Go ahead...go ahead, honey child, and put the wig on your head. It feels good, doesn't it? You know that wig is made of 98% post-consumer waste, so it is what we in the early twenty-first century used to call “green.” No, no, sweetie...it is definitely not green in color – it is only “green” in the sense that it makes people feel good about reusing non-renewable resources to satisfy their vanity. Go ahead, put it on your sweet little melon.

There. Isn't that nice? Let me tell you a little about that particular wig, honey child. This particular wig was woven and crafted from the spun fibers of recycled Frisbees. Well, to be on the safe side in regards to copyright law, I suppose we should say that it is from the spun fibers of recycled flying discs. These were hand-picked flying discs, though, selected from among a wide variety of flying discs harvested on disc-golf courses across southern California. Only blue discs were harvested. You can almost smell the patchouli on the fibers, can't you? Those disc golfers are such ecologically-sensitive athletes, you know. I am sure that the patchouli oil was made from only organic, free-range patchoulis that were spared any laboratory testing and whose fat was rendered using low-temperature boilers so as not to require the purchase of carbon offsets.

Wig hooks? No, of course not, honey child, this wig does not require the use of wig hooks. My, my, my, no...this particular wig is held in place by a detachable iron framework that can be anchored to titanium stanchions implanted in the wig-owner's cranium. It is a swift, painless procedure, performed under the administration of only a local anesthesia. If one prefers, one can use this dedicated epoxy in lieu of the framework and stanchions, but it is a less-permanent option. If one plans on being in high winds or becoming inverted during the wearing of the wig, one should opt for the framework and stanchions, of course, honey child.

The life-expectancy of wig-wearers? Of this particular wig? Well, honey child, I do have to inform you...that is, it becomes my duty to inform you that there is a slight issue with the life-span of one who might select this wig as one's own. It is a challenging problem at this point. Most owners of this particular wig will find themselves permanently unable to perform metabolic functions within 3 to 5 years from the time of purchase and subsequent wearing of said wig. Metabolic functions? Well, that is to say, they die. We believe, or rather, doctors who have been studying the matter believe it is due to a combination of carcinogenic elements contained in the fibers of the wig as residue from the manufacturing process and the use of steel pins tipped with depleted uranium to anchor the wig to the scalp during wear. No, these are separate from the iron framework and titanium stanchions. The pins serve only as a positioning aid. You will understand how they work once you begin wearing the wig yourself. Yet these are all very minor issues when you consider what a stylish wig this is, would you not agree?

Thank you so much, honey child. Here is your receipt.

(Originally appeared in Weirdyear, 11 May 2011) 

10 April 2011

Amherst Seems So Far Away (age:12)

"He just started breathin' faster and faster and his face was getting' red like he was gonna' pop or something. And he kept on saying that it was like bein' underwater and he couldn't get enough air. We sat there for a while on that little hill on the logging trail, and it smelled so good like a whole world fulla' pine-fresh smells – so good and fresh. I think it made it harder for him, though.

We had set out just about two o'clock – just for a little hike. We weren't gonna' be out very long, just long enough to walk up that logging trail and look back at camp from that high hill way out on the end of the trail by the power lines. We started goin' and once we got about a half hour out he says to me that he forgot his inhaler, but he thought it would be OK on account of how he had been pretty good lately and the air seemed pretty fresh with the wind all blowin' and him feeling pretty good. So we kept on goin'.

It was about an hour and a half and he just seemed like he couldn't drag those breaths in no more, I thought. He was lookin' at me and it was like his eyes almost kinda' bugged out of his head, but they weren't really, they were just kind of bulging and he was red and sweaty. I think we got too hot and he started breathing something his lungs didn't like, and that's when I got worried.

He just kept on cursing that he forgot his inhaler, and I gave him my water bottle and said just to sip it real slow and try to breathe real steady like. He tried it but it didn't seem to do any good. He just sipped real slow at that water bottle and I could hear him breathing – he was workin' real hard at it, and then he said he was getting' woozy and he kept on sayin' “God, Kelly, don't let me die, I don't wanna' die. I can't breathe no more, I'm gonna pass out.” And I was just tellin' him to be quiet and not get all worked up on account of it takin' more air and he didn't have any to spare.

And he started looking up at the clouds like he was looking at a painting in a museum the kind like we went to in a field trip once. And he was almost smiling, and so I started looking up to at those same clouds and they were framed by those pines and those white clouds were drifting by and the fresh pine smell was in the air, and we were sitting down and pretty soon I just leaned back and I was lost up in those clouds, and I could almost hear music, but it was just his windpipe or his lungs and they were making a sound when he breathed – first a high-pitched sound and then another lower-pitched sound, so that when he exhaled what little he could exhale, it was like it was in harmony. A little like a pipe organ and he sat there, making that music and I just drifted off to sleep and I don't know how long I slept.

And now I don't know where he's gone off to, but he can't have gone too far. And I tried hollerin' for him, but I don't think he'll holler back.

08 April 2011

Kulinski Coal Company

Skinny, chapped-lipped little Michael Pekart used to stare at me with those scary, beady, crust-cornered eyes of his.  He would drink his white milk with great gusto when everyone else wanted chocolate, and he would stare, except I could tell that his gaze was aimed about six inches above and to the right of my head.  I remember the time he flipped out while we were all playing in those fields behind the coal company.  Michael started throwing clods of earth at everyone and that raspy, raspy breathing came out like grunts - grunts that mixed with a mournful cry, a cry that probably began when his old man came home from the factory by way of the tap room, drunk and stinking of beer and far too many cigarettes.  Michael would get the back side of his old man's right hand any time he tried to talk when that dirty, filthy presser of seamless rolled rings was looking at the damned idiot box and waiting for Mrs. Pekart to shovel out another hot, fatty dinner framed with instant mashed potatoes.  Mr. Pekart was such a dried-up little turd of a man, sunburned and drunk and stinking and with a grubby, scowling, unshaven face that always seemed to cry out "I'm a pointless bastard of a human."

"Don't bother your father, Michael," his mother would say, "he's had a long day."

Michael would slink off to his room and tear the wings off of flies that he trapped against the window pane.  He kept a metal band-aid box full of wings that he had torn off of flies, and when the summer nights were hot and he had trouble falling asleep, he would take that little metal box out of his night stand and give it a little shake, just to remind himself.  He would feel better, and sleep would come more easily.

So he would stare at me with those scary, beady, crust-cornered eyes of his and when he spoke of how his dad would kick the ass of anyone else's dad, little bits of white saliva froth would collect at the corners of his mouth - the mouth that had those lips that looked like they were twice as thick as they really were, owing to the chapping.  When he got all crazy and wild like that, everyone would back down and go away, even the biggest kids in class - they all thought he was crazy, I think - which he probably was - and they were scared of getting little flecks of spit blown at them.  So we would all scatter, leaving Michael Pekart to shout at the school building until one of the teachers would come out to try to calm him down.  That usually took only a few minutes and the teacher would lead Michael back inside.  A box of white milk and the skinny, chapped-lipped little devil was ready to go again.

The day Michael Pekart put his arm through a glass window on a door near the school gymnasium was another story.  He had rushed up to the door and missed the little brass hand-plate.  His hand went right through a glass pane about eight inches square, and his arm followed - right up to the elbow.  Michael made the mistake of instantly wrenching it right back out again, shredding the inside of his forearm on the glass shards and exposing veins and tendons for all the world to see, including me, as I stood about five feet away and received a little drop of the sacrificial blood on my gym shirt.

I should have known what he would say, what he would start crying out the moment the pain registered in his brain - maybe even before it registered.  That skinny, chapped-lipped little Michael Pekart started crying out and thrashing around, in no way that a teacher and a box of milk would ever settle down. And he shouted at the top of his lungs, crying bloody murder and screaming himself hoarse until the paramedics arrived.

"I want my momma!! I want my momma!!  Momma!!"

(Appeared in "Dreamscapes 3" at hackwriters.com)

07 April 2011

From the Land of Sky Blue Waters

Merv Duckwiler, that old door-to-door vacuum-tube salesman, sat down at the bar just after he shook the dust of a hot Kansas afternoon off his sandals.  In his case those sandals were a pair of brown, scotch-grained bluchered wingtips with a double sole.  "Damn fine shoe," he thought to himself when he bought them.  "That's a damned fine shoe," the shoe salesman said to him, confirming Merv's thoughts.

"Gimme a bourbon on the rocks - a double," Merv called out to Donny the bartender.  Good old Donny.  Donny always set you up right.  Donny always poured just one more for you when you needed it.  Donny always listened.  Donny never judged you, like some people.

"Hot one out there, Merv. How's sales today?"  asked Donny as he obliged with the double bourbon on the rocks.

"It's rough," confessed Merv, "with that new radio store over in Wichita, people just take a drive.  Buy some corn, buy their milk and booze and they buy a radio tube.  Japanese crap."

"Take your medicine, chief," suggested Donny.

"Yeah.  Japanese crap."  Merv slowly sipped at his bourbon and felt the tension kind of slip away.  He stared at the electric picture over the bar.  The little lighted sign revolved or something, somehow, and a placid, tranquil scene of a northwoods lake with a canoe on its shore advertised some beer named 'Hamm's'.  The picture revolved internally and you would see the shoreline of the lake pass by every minute or so.  Merv voiced his approval to Donny.  "You got this 'Hamm's' beer here?"

"No, sorry - ain't that something else?  My brother Steve in Minnesota sent that to me just last week."

"Nice," replied Merv, and accepted a refill on his double bourbon.

The afternoon was just as hot, he realized, no matter how much bourbon was coursing through your veins.  After a second and a third and then a fourth double, Merv settled up, tipped his hat to Donny and headed out into the late, late afternoon sun of Augusta, Kansas.  In a few hours that sun would be going down and framing Wichita off to the west in a golden glow, and there would be some ass of a pimply-faced kid in a radio hut or a radio shack or a radio house or some damned thing selling a vacuum tube to his customer.  Merv Duckwiler's customer.  Merv Duckwiler's hard-won, fought-for, pandered-to customer who meant the ever-loving difference between a full belly and an aching, aching hollow when those Japanese for-crap tubes start selling off the ever-loving shelves in that radio hut or that radio shack or that radio house or some damned thing.  Wichita.  "You could just go shove that whole filthy city where the sun don't ever want to shine no more," a reeling, staggering vaccuum tube salesman shouted at the hot, deserted Augusta downtown.

Merv Duckwiler started feeling something welling up in his gut, and he knew those four double bourbons would see the light of day one more time.  Don't scuff those wingtips, Merv, as you kneel down in the alley behind Donny's Place, kneeling and praying and vomiting and wishing you were paddling a little fiberglass canoe on the placid, tranquil lake in northern Minnesota.

Customers hate scuffed shoes on a salesman, you know.

06 April 2011

Dreamdriver - III

It really looked pretty normal at first, thought Bill, if this was death. 'Nothing like he had expected. No going out with a bang, no misery, either. Just closing his eyes on one room and opening them on another. He would have to tell Knuckles, his brother, all about it at some point. Then he realized that the next time he might see Knuckles it would be no mystery to him anymore. Knuckles would know all about it - firsthand - by then.

If there was anything odd about the whole experience, it was the food. Bill had always liked a nice buffet from time to time, but this was like nothing he had ever seen. The catfish and the fried chicken certainly were finer than anything he had ever had before, but the amazing part was the availability of Asian foods at this particular buffet – General Tso's Chicken, Sweet and Sour Pork, Tangerine Beef, you name it. There were also a good number of dishes he could not identify, and which Bill, out of habit, avoided. He was making a trip up to the buffet for a third serving of spare ribs, when he heard a voice behind him.

You find that odd at all?”

I beg your pardon?” asked Bill, turning to face a nondescript male in his early thirties.

The pork spare ribs. Do you find them odd?”

No, I think they're pretty good. Kinda' like my Aunt Barbara used to make. She would pressure cook them or slow cook them or something first, and then put them on a brazier or a grill or something just to finish them off. She'd put the barbecue sauce on afterwards so it didn't burn on the grill.”

The stranger nodded and stared at the buffet. “It's just that there are so many different people here. Is it to teach some kind of lesson or something?”

Well, this is heaven though, isn't it?” asked Bill, wondering if there was something wrong with the spare ribs on his plate.

Oh heavens, no. No pun intended, of course. This isn't heaven.”

Well, where are we?”

We're at a buffet, and an awfully good one. I just wondered that since the whole heaven thing hasn't happened yet, there might be people who don't know the whole story and they might be offended by the spare ribs. The shrimp might pose a problem, too.”

Bill thought about the shrimp that were also on his plate...right next to the spare ribs. He saw nothing wrong with either food item, and fully intended to eat them. If this were the waiting room for heaven, then God must be picking up the tab at this buffet, and he figured if God is having them served at his very own buffet then there could hardly be anything wrong with them. Bill put an extra shrimp on his plate, in fact.

The stranger moved off and Bill watched him for a little while. The guy didn't seem to have a very big appetite, even for as slender as he was. He managed to put some flatbread and some broiled tilapia on his plate, just as he struck up a conversation with the elderly couple from Poughkeepsie who had succumbed to carbon monoxide inhalation during a power outage last winter. Bill had the chance to meet them earlier that day, and they found that they had shared a keen interest in genealogy and steam engines. “'Nice couple,” he thought.

He watched the nondescript fellow move through the people at the buffet and smiled to himself. “Such a nice fellow. I hope we get to chat again.”

Bill sat down at a clean, round table, gave thanks in prayer and dug into his spare ribs.

You're welcome,” came a cheery voice from somewhere near the buffet.

05 April 2011

Dreamdriver - II

David read the news of Bill's death over a bowl of Fruity Pebbles, and as he slowly chewed the sweet little nuggets of crispy, fruity goodness he tried to imagine what the man had been like. That was one of David's favorite pastimes, you know – reading the obituaries of people he did not know and trying to construct a personality for a complete stranger. The only hobby he had that he enjoyed more than that was the construction of scale models of urban settings using household items, caulk and tempera paint. He had once re-created the entire central business district of Durango, Colorado using dried pasta, matchboxes and shot glasses, and his great dream was to use a pair of kitchen colanders, out-of-date desk calendars and dental floss to construct a diorama of downtown Albany, complete with that wonderful Mexican restaurant just off of Swan Street . Next to these undertakings, David loved his post-mortem identity creation more than anything.

As he read of Bill's life and his family and his service to the school board, one corner of the newspaper dipped slowly into the rice milk with the remnants of Fruity Pebbles floating in it. Like a wick, the newspaper took up the rice milk and before David was aware of what was happening the whole corner of the newspaper was soaked through. He noticed that he could read the advertisement on the back side of the page he was reading, and so through the life story of Mrs. Edna Kimmer he saw a great deal on slab-cut bacon at the local Food-Rite. Mr. William Storey, late of Stethem Street, had a backwards “$2.98 / lb.” across his black and white, half-toned forehead. David found this somehow strangely prophetic in a retroactive sort of way...as though he were a priest of some ancient culture, pulling through the innards of a stag to divine the future, yet rather he looked through newsprint soggy with rice milk and chemical flavorings to read the past of freshly-dead humans.

Worthless! Worthless!” cried David, upending the breakfast table and sending a multi-hued shower of crisped rice across the kitchen. The Fruity Pebbles flew in an arc through the air, creating a veritable rainbow. A dozen super-heated memories went screaming through his brain, and his body shivered with each face that passed before his mind's eye. He had been told a long time ago that when a person shivers for no reason at all it means that someone is walking across the ground where your grave will one day be. He thought about this now, and he shivered again...he thought about where that ground might be, and he wondered why people were walking there right now. Memories of his father's funeral shot past thoughts of the last time he went to confession as a young man in Schenectady. The sound of Mudhoney bounced off of memories of his trip to Eugene, Oregon before the war.

The only way out of this mess called life,” he shouted, “is through the grave and gate of death!” It had been trampled, trampled, trampled down, but the images of a burnt-to-a-crisp Iraqi in the back of a white pick-up truck sure looked a lot like death was alive and well. Alive and well and living in suburban Chicago, if the undertaker is to be believed.

David spent the next eight minutes cleaning Fruity Pebbles off the linoleum. By the time he looked back at Bill's obituary, he saw that the rice milk had soaked clean through. “Two for one” could be read clearly through the words describing a life so well lived.

04 April 2011

Macaroons and Sprayvy

“I had to laugh when you told me it was a macaroon,” exhaled a nervous Sheila Day.  “I thought perhaps it might have been a windmill cookie, and for goodness sakes, NO ONE eats windmill cookies anymore.”  Neither did anyone sharing her public space in the small city park take note of the macaroons.

Sheila Day outweighed her companion by a good 200 pounds – those pounds being mostly comprised of adipose tissue that very likely had been placed upon her swollen frame by a good number of macaroons and the ubiquitous windmill cookies.  Eat them furtively, Sheila – no one sees you.  Hide in your Sheila-forsaken closet and cram those windmill cookies into your mouth.  “Wrap your rosies around them,” as my father would have said had he ever known you.  Sheila wore that hot-pink jumpsuit with an attitude.  It would forever be 1983 for Sheila, and hot pink jumpsuits would forever be the rage.  As classy as the paint-spatter mini-skirt she could no longer fit into.

“No, they’re just macaroons, and I like ‘em.  But I like windmill cookies, too,” replied a forever-scared Tony.  Tony had been scared since 1983 – the year in which Sheila was eternally residing.  It had something to do with the threat of the Soviet Union’s missiles, unemployment, the second coming and that sprayable gravy in a can that Tony was never sure actually existed.  Tony was genderless.  That is, Tony never knew if Tony was a man or a woman.  In 1982 Tony had been taken to the doctor in the middle of Tony’s 9th grade year (freshman? freshtony?), and Tony’s family doctor had to finally admit that something had gone really, really wrong.  Tony had no gender…no discernable sexual organs.   Tony’s anatomy below the belt resembled that of a G.I. Joe or a perhaps that of a Barbie…somewhere kind of in between, in fact.  To cover all the bases, Tony tried out for the football team and the pom-pon squad that year, being selected for neither.  Tony then just settled into life as a member of the forensics team and a bit-part in the spring performance of “Equus.”  Life was never quite the same after the diagnosis, but finding an open changing room at the local Fashion Bug was a whole lot easier.

“Well, if I ever saw anyone eating a windmill cookie, I'd have to just laugh aloud.”  Sheila reached for a macaroon, and nearly tipped off the park bench as she leaned forward and her center of gravity shifted.  “My dad used to eat windmill cookies and he would dunk ‘em in his coffee, until they got all soggy and soft.  I remember the little chunks of windmill cookie in his coffee cup when I would do the dishes.  I hated that.”

“I hate coffee,” shot back Tony.  “You can stick your coffee up your ass.  And leave my macaroons alone.”

“Geez…why so touchy?  It’s just a cookie.  I’m not even drinking coffee, anyway, it’s a mocha.  Geez.”

“Well, just don’t eat all my macaroons.”

“I won’t.  Now tell me about your new job.  You like it?”

Tony just kind of stared off into space and ran the soft bits of macaroon between tongue and palate.  Tony could feel the tender little bits of coconut once the rest of the cookie had dissolved.  For a second it was the late 1970’s, and Tony was in grade school again, eating a macaroon in the school lunch room, thinking about the episode of “Welcome Back Kotter” that was on last night, wondering who would get picked first when they chose up sides for kickball after lunch.  Tony never got picked first.  Hell, Tony barely ever got picked.  Tony would end up watching the kickball game from the sidelines half of the time, half-heartedly watching, and with the other half of the heart thinking about going home to the family dog after school and playing out in the backyard that Tony’s mother had insisted be turned into a concrete topiary playground.  Rotten concrete gazelles eternally staring at concrete gnomes who in turn stared eternally at anthropomorphic concrete pigs.  A great yard to come home to.

“So you like it? Do you?” Sheila prodded Tony with her plastic drinking straw, and left a tiny droplet of mocha on Tony’s arm.  “Sorry, whoops,” offered a genuinely repentant Sheila.

“Well, if I didn’t have to talk to anyone, it would be a whole lot better.”

“But Tony, you’re a morgue attendant.”

“Yeah.  I know,” Tony replied, “except we prefer the title ‘Post-Human Mass Storage and Retrieval Specialist.’  Now keep your filthy hands off my macaroons.”

Across the street from the small park a group of school children were just beginning a game of kickball.

03 April 2011

Dreamdriver - I

The last time I saw Knuckles Pittinger, he was mourning the death of his kid brother. That is really not all that unexpected or unusual, as the funeral was only yesterday and I took a long hard look at old Knuckles – I looked long and hard when he was not looking at me. I kind of saw right through that overweight, bald-headed senior citizen with the diamond earring and the wife with no legs. Who on earth wears a pair of shorts to his brother's funeral, anyway? Knuckles Pittinger, that is who. And “mourning” is a quaint word for what Knuckles engaged in. In certain parts of the world I think they describe it, rather, as “kvetching.”

Old Knuckles called himself an old Spam-jockey – a pug-faced man who flew transport planes into Greenland or Iceland or North Dakota or some other God-forsaken place that the Army Air Corps or the Air Force or someone had sent him. I suppose that he called himself a Spam-jockey for the usual reason.  A good portion of his cargo had been rations for some Army or Air Force base. Spam-jockey. Spam-jockey. Right after I heard the word I thought what a good name it would make for a band, so I filed it away for future reference. Knuckles just kept droning on and on about all the people he hated, and I just found it painful. I even offered a suggestion - “maybe let go of the hate, Knuckles,” I suggested. He just kept droning on and on and his wife with no legs sat there in her wheelchair and smiled and nodded her head. Don't get your hair too close to those candles, Esmerelda...all that hair spray and your bouffant would go up like the freaking Hindenburg. Oh, the humanity.

So Knuckles, you just droned on about all the people you hate, and your poor dead brother's ashes just sat there on a little rickety table and you could have cared as much if it would have been an ashtray in the cockpit of that old transport plane you flew. I just wanted to slap that bald little head of yours to stop the kvetching, honestly. Or was it the mourning that I wanted to stop? Oh yes, I forget. They are one in the same.

I couldn't help notice, though, that there was something unique about old Knuckles – something about him had changed, and I did not stop to ask him why. There was a small triangular scar below his right ear, and every time he spoke there was a hesitation around words beginning with the letter “b.” Boy oh boy. You had better bet. You better believe it. Another Bourbon?

Finally, as the day drew to a close, looking deep into the dusty beams of light filtering into the funeral chapel, with a look that was a thousand miles away and decades distant, old Knuckles Pittinger cried a single tear and shook like one of those tin spring wind-up toys we used to get for fifty cents at the discount store next to the abandoned radio tower. Wind it up, set it down, watch it shake, shake, shake. Shake like Knuckles Pittinger when he looked at that urn of ashes that used to be his kid brother. For a second he didn't hate anyone anymore.

"Oh Bill...my little brother!”