29 December 2011

The Moral of the Story

You want to know the truth about Billy Drebnik? I'll tell you the damn truth. He was a fake. A liar and a fake. His dad owned that shop over on the other side of town, and he was an unrepentant believer, he was. His father, that is – not Billy. Billy would hang glide for hours, leaping from the 428th story of that under-garment manufacturer's office building and screaming bloody murder with a tail of tied-together pantaloons, corsets and jimmy-warmers streaming behind him. Billy would go out of his mind as he floated through the ether and the pantaloons would become dragons, the corsets would become air nymphs and the jimmy-warmers would become tiny air snakes, and the lot of them would chase little Billy to the ground.

But he was a fake. A liar and a fake, I tell you. He would make up outrageous claims about the things he saw while he floated through the ether, and he claimed to have the answers. Billy Drebnik always told us that he had the answer to big things like world peace and hunger and domestic violence, and that one day he would go to that big city where they make the laws and start wars and things and he would change the world. The pantaloons and the corsets and the jimmy-warmers would follow him to that big city, and they would help him figure it all out.

That was before the fever.

Billy Drebnik came down with the fever in his thirteenth year, and it lasted until he was almost forty-three. That is “forty-three” with a capital “4”. When the fever broke, Billy's father had long since died and the store had crumbled to dust. The pantaloons and the corsets and the jimmy-warmers were threadbare, and the 428-story undergarment manufacturer's office building from which Billy used to leap had been sold to a developer and was now the home to the city's largest Croatian Buffet (with a branch location near you). The fever broke and Billy wobbled to the window of his room. He stared hard through the glass at a world that had passed him by. He had not gone to the big city where they make the laws and start wars and things. He had not changed the world. He did not offer to the world the answers to world peace and hunger and domestic violence. He had lain in bed for three decades and watched the world pass him by. The rest of his days would consist of drinking cheap beer before noon and writing angry letters to editors of small-town papers and dreaming of past loves that never were but could have been and now never will be.

A fake? Why a fake? That fever was fake. That fever never was. Billy just rubbed his tongue with a mixture of camphor, chicken fat, and lye every time the nurse came to take his temperature. The whole three decades were fake and Billy knew it. If they weren't fake, then at least they no longer existed, but Billy was not man enough to find out which was the case.

Let this be a lesson, little Mikey Nitrous – let this be a lesson to you, even though it has already partially come to pass in your own life. Let this be a lesson, because you know, sweet-cheeked honey-child that you are, this cheap old fake by the name of Billy Drebnik, he doesn't have to wind up his days drinking cheap beer and writing angry letters.

Go ahead, ask him if he's going to the spring cotillion. Perhaps he will lace up one of those corsets, pick up his best gal and join you at Colonel Murphee's palatial estate for dancing and some of that fine, fine lemonade the Colonel is known for.


28 December 2011

Holy Innocents

Filthy gray sweatshirt, reeking of body odor and cigarettes; hang, hang all limp and lousy on shoulders like the back of the kitchen chair of a wasted day. Wasted day and a wasted lip, dangle that cigarette and stare – stare as only a lip could as it hangs all limp and open and moist and chapped and shaking, quivering. The cigarette shakes the lip. The cigarette, like a curb feeler for the lip, bounces when the filthy sweatshirt-wearer shucks that crap about a day not wasted, about a life so full, about a person in the prime of life. The prime of life not wasted and filthy with meth and with cigarettes and with sugared sodas that fuel the meth-wasted day. A filthy, filthy, f**king filthy day with filthy eyes and filthy lips and filthy meth-wasted days that look out over the filthy, wasted asphalt.

Happy holidays,” says the filthy set of lips, empty and filthy and as wishing and as wanting and as weaned, weaned, weaned from any hope that something other than a f**king happy holiday could offer.

You got a couple a' bucks I can have? I gotta' get a bus.”

26 December 2011

Still a-Hungering

Do you remember when little Mikey Nitrous forsook his Zoroastrianism and became an orthodox fish tickler? Most of Weaverton remembers that day, but most of us remember it not for little Mikey's conversion but rather for the great sign that appeared in the sky over our fair community.

When the sign first appeared, the bulk of us Weavertonians were hard at work – in the shops, in the factories, or in the open pit crouton mine that accounted for most of Weaverton's gross domestic product. There we were, hard at work, when the great sign appeared in the heavens and called us all to a different sort of life, a different plane of existence. It was a sign that gave many great hope and that gave many cause to stop and rethink their lives. It made all of us realize what a great hunger was growing inside of us and what a great void our lives had known up until that point.

Mr. DeGraff, the beak-nosed armpit-sniffer with slick, black hair removed his clothing and stood in the public square, inviting others to join him in celebration of the sign. Weavertonians have never been much in favor of public nudity, and the appearance of the sign did not change that. Officer O'Malley walked over to Mr. DeGraff and pummeled him mercilessly with his night stick until Mr. DeGraff agreed to put his clothes back on. Order was restored, the people stopped averting their eyes, and their attention was drawn once more to the sign in the heavens.

One of the high priests of the Potted Veal Victory Temple attempted to make contact with the sign around 1:30 in the afternoon. He walked out – directly beneath the sign – and began his shimmy-dance, accompanied by seven swaying acolytes of the Veal Temple. He shimmied to the east. He shimmied to the west. He shook his shreptik in a circular motion and chanted the Veal Temple chant. Nothing happened. The high priest then held his shreptik with both hands and shook it until it started to fray a little bit on the end and tears filled his eyes. He beat his shreptik on an acolyte, slapping it against the back of the poor fellow's head. Nothing happened, and the sign remained suspended, silent, and motionless in the sky. The high priest and his acolytes returned to the Potted Veal Victory Temple with dejected hearts and a frayed shreptik.

A little before supper time, little Mikey Nitrous wandered out into the village square, right beneath the sign. He looked up at it, and felt the hunger that all were experiencing. He felt a gnawing emptiness deep down inside of him, and he called up to the heavens. “Let this sign be seen by all!” he shouted, “let it be proclaimed to all the nations of the world!”

Just then, a bright orange electrical cord descended from the heavens and began to coil on the ground right next to little Mikey Nitrous. With surprise and delight little Mikey grabbed the cord and went in search of an electrical outlet. He found one on the side of Mr. Cannonball's house. He unplugged the cord that had provided power to Mr. Cannonball's outdoor Scientology shrine, and watched the giant statue of Tom Cruise go dark. With hope and eager expectation he plugged in the cord that dangled from the heavens.

The sign began to shine with a brilliant light, and illuminated faces across the length and breadth of Weaverton were lifted up to see its brightness. It gave a new message of hope, a promise of fulfillment, a pledge to end the hunger that was gnawing at so many. For in its brilliant white appearance, the faithful and the apostate alike could not fail to discern its message.

Eat at Phil's Pork-Hut”

20 December 2011

Day 48

(Yes, dear readers, this is excerpted from the forthcoming Balloon Heart by Tom Andrews)

It was shortly after I first met up with Ed's ghost that I had the nightmare. Maybe “nightmare” is a little strong – it was just a bad dream, I guess. Anyhow, it had to be about a week or so after I met his ghost, and I suppose that it still had something to do with it. I once read where some doctors who study such things think that dreams might just be our minds sorting out all the garbage that we encounter during the day and are unable to make sense of. The subconscious mind then takes it, shakes it up, spreads it around and it gets crapped out of our gray matter as a dream. So the guy mowing his lawn and the car pulling out of the funeral home parking lot and the bird landing on a gazing ball become a seven-headed hydra eating a bacon-cheeseburger while a garden gnome plays a harp. Or a nice lunch with your naked grandmother. Or whatever. You get the picture.

So I saw Ed's ghost and about a week later I have this dream, and the dream scares the living shit out of me. There's a guy who looks like he was a a clown, except almost all of his clown makeup has been removed. His face still has smears of white on it and there is a reddish halo around his lips. No fright wig, no rainbow wig, no big floppy shoes. No red ball for a nose. Just these scary remnants of makeup and greasy, jet black hair and black irises in his eyes, with no pupils. And he's talking at me. AT me. Really fast and forcefully. And I can't figure out what he's saying and it scares the crap out of me. And then he starts threatening me with what seems to be a baseball bat, except I can't see it. The baseball bat or whatever is, like, just out of view. He keeps his hands down low and I can't see what he's holding.

Well, this guy starts getting really animated and yelling at me, and he moves at me, and I put up my hands to stop him just as he raises the bat or whatever it is that he's holding, and it looks like he's about to brain me with it – he has it up over his head with both hands. And just as he starts to bring it down I close my eyes and turn my head. That's when I hear it. I swear I hear a whack and the squealing of a dog or maybe a puppy.

Shit, I think to myself. In fact, I say it aloud in my dream, and I might have actually said it aloud in my sleep – I don't know. But when I open my eyes – in my dream, that is – I turn to look and I expect to see a dog with his head bashed in, and instead I see an elderly lady in the same position. It's awful. And I turn my head away so I don't have to see it and I look at the guy with the clown makeup and I see that his face has turned into an exact duplicate of the old woman's whose head he just bashed in – complete with the blood and the little bits of stuff you don't want to see.

So I look around in the dream and then everything is gone, and I'm standing in the same place I was when I saw Ed's ghost, except Ed's ghost isn't there. And I can feel the wind blowing the same way it was that day when I saw him. It was strange. The wind, that is. Like it was generated by a machine, only I know it wasn't. I turn my face to look into the wind, to see if I can tell where it's coming from, and then I woke up.

I had the worst diarrhea that morning, and I guess it was probably due to the oily gin I keep in my footlocker – the same reason my head was banging just a bit. It couldn't have been banging as hard as what I just dreamed, though, and I was pretty thankful for that.

The craziest thing was that as we were getting ready to go out on patrol that morning, I realized my boots were too loose. It was like my f**king feet shrank over night. The squad leader shouted at me to get a move on, so I just put on an extra pair of socks to make them fit better.

I've been doing that every day since the dream.

19 December 2011

The Friendly Skies

Good God, will you just look at it...it's immense.” My brother Pat's mouth was as agape as my own as we marveled at its size. It had to be the largest manatee liver we had ever seen in one piece, let alone served in a restaurant.  We were enjoying a quiet dinner together in the back room of Limpy's Place in midtown, and our entrees had just arrived.

Wasn't there some sort of federal law passed about manatee livers some years ago, Pat?” I asked. I was sure that I read something to that effect in one of the many obscure trade journals that I find myself flipping through from day to day. One does not easily forget federal regulations regarding the internal organs of large aquatic creatures. “Didn't the FDA or someone get some sort of law passed?”

It was the FAA, actually,” said Pat, nursing his scotch and contemplating the liver before him.

The FAA?” I asked, incredulously.

Yeah, I know it sounds crazy, but I actually ran into this in a project I was doing down near the Everglades. One job was held up for several weeks while we ran through all these crazy federal bureaucratic channels. In the end it was the FAA that had jurisdiction over the harvesting, processing, and subsequent braising, sauteeing, poaching, baking, or frying of wild manatee liver.”

You designed a manatee processing plant?”

“Heavens no...of course not,” he replied, “it was a casino that had its main restaurant built around a manatee buffet.”

Oh. I see,” I said, swirling the spear of orange circus peanuts in my Beefeater martini, “I hear those sorts of things are huge down there.”

Yeah,” he said, “the snowbirds go crazy for it.”

But how on earth did the FAA get involved?”

Well, Tom, it is a little known fact – largely lost on medical science – that manatee liver has a special quality. It has a trace chemical in it that, when combined with fried onions, imparts the ability to levitate. If a person eats enough of it, well...you probably get the picture. Think of what this could do to the airline industry.”

My gosh,” I said, dumbfounded.

Suffice to say that I never use my frequent flier miles on trips back from the job site in Florida.”

Pat, that's amazing,” I said. “Why don't more people take advantage of this stuff?”

It's the taste, Tom. Not much you can do about it. Manatee liver tastes almost identical to manatee excrement. Or so I'm told. I just know it's awful tasting. Hence the third scotch.”

Aha. But you must not mind it too much – look at the size of this liver you ordered.”

Well, Tom, I have to be in London tomorrow afternoon, and both JFK and Newark are closed for Kwanzaa preparations. I have little choice.”

Well,” I said, lifting my glass, “bon appetit. And I'll make sure they bring you a doggy bag – you can enjoy the leftovers on the flight. Happy holidays, Pat.”

Happy holidays, Tom. God bless us, every one!”

16 December 2011

"Friday Follow?" Like a Stalker? Huh?

Happy Friday to all of you - I hope your week has ended on a positive note, and that you are all looking forward to a tasty little cocktail after work. 

Those of you who use Twitter might know about something known as the "Friday follow" phenomenon - #FF as it is seen in tweets.  Essentially, people using Twitter can encourage others to follow people whom they are following.  I try to do this myself on most Fridays and this week was no different - I posted a list of some of my favorite people to follow and encouraged other people to have a look at them.

If you are on Twitter and would like to follow me, my username is @martinipen .  You can go ahead and follow me and then check out all the people whom I've suggested today!  What's fun! Even better than root canal!

Along with that I'd like to suggest that you look at some of the blogs that I list in my favorites on this site.  In particular, please take a look at "Tolstoy is my Cat" - always chock full of book reviews and insights for the literary minded.

That's it for now folks.  I hope you have a great weekend, and I want to thank you all for continuing to check out "A Martini and a Pen", and for continuing to tell your friends about it.  There will be more fresh flash fiction and other strange things in the new week, so until Monday, as my office manager Linus would say, "toodles!"

14 December 2011

Puckered Pie-loaf

Look, over there. No, more to the left and down just a bit. Do you see it? I'm sure you must be able to see it. It has slightly rounded edges and it wobbles a bit. Really now...look a bit more toward that fellow with the pile of hair on his head that looks a little like salad. Apple salad. Furry apple salad. Less like Waldorf salad and a bit more like apple salad. Yes. Definitely like furry apple salad. Look over there and I think you will see it. It is wobbling a bit just now. See it?

My cousin Janet had dropped by a little earlier today and I think that she saw it, but for just an instant. When she dropped by to loan me that pipe wrench and the little bit of crystal meth. I mean “teflon tape.” Forget I said crystal meth. She loaned me the pipe wrench that you see sitting over there in the corner and I gave her a covered glass dish filled with raw onions. She said it was a fair trade and that she had many uses for them. Janet is good that way. Anyhow, she saw it for just an instant. It wobbled out into view, and then it wobbled back behind that crusty outcropping. Yes, the outcropping that looks so very crusty. “Crust” is such a nice term, you know, when it refers to the outside shell of grandmother's bread and the edges of grandmother's pie, but it is less appetizing when it refers to the matter in the corner of grandmother's eyes or that material in her underclothing that makes her so very uncomfortable during long bus rides across town when she shouts at people about the rain. Grandmother is nasty that way.

Well, if you would just take your eyes off that smutty, smutty book for a moment you might see it. What you find entertaining about midgets is beyond me. Look, there it goes – it just wobbled behind your leg and you did not even notice it. For a brief instant it resembled that man who took the blue plastic bags away from that place that had all the nice policemen visiting last week. It looked like him, but the little wobbling object is much better dressed and does not carry blue plastic bags. There is not that overwhelming chemical odor that stays in your nasal cavities, either. Come to think of it, grandmother has a similar issue, doesn't she? Grandmother can be nasty that way.

Well, there you go. You allowed it to get just a little too close to you, I think. How does that feel? I bet it must smart a little bit. That needle is very long and it has something of a checkerboard pattern on it, it seems. You look all swimmy-headed and as though there is something in your throat. No, on the inside of your throat, but I can see it from the outside. Have you been eating walnuts? Nevermind. I was just a bit concerned, for I was once told that a person should not eat too many walnuts when one is receiving injections of that sort. Or perhaps it is the pine nut. Or the hazelnut. Or perhaps the vaunted Brazil nut. Uncle Sweepey had such an unfortunate nickname for the Brazil nut. He called it the “crap nut,” and he would always get to calling it that after he had enjoyed two or three vodka-and-milk eggwhips. He had originally called it the “bit-of-crap-in-a-plumber's-butt-cracknut,” but he stopped calling it that because cousin Janet said it was politically incorrect and bigoted against plumbers.

There it goes again. Did you see it?

13 December 2011


It was the ladies doctor that everyone liked,” said Mrs. Humphries – a puffy-dressed, silver-tressed hot-dish smacker. “It was his wife that none of us could stand.” She placed a stainless steel slotted spoon in the enormous tureen that reeked of onion and mediocrity. Mr. Humphries burped a quiet, contented burp that was substantially heavier on the onion.

Her dinner guest shifted in her seat. She always grew uncomfortable when anyone spoke of special doctors, and even more so when the person speaking was handling stainless steel.

Would you like a little more hot-dish?” asked Mrs. Humphries, moving the spoon from the tureen and letting it hover over the casserole.

Oh, no thank you,” said the dinner guest.

Now don't be shy,” said Mr. Humphries, “her hot-dish really sticks to your ribs.”

No, thank you,” said the dinner guest again, shifting in her seat. She looked out the window at the snow that had just begun to fall. The scene out the picture window looked nothing like a postcard, to be truthful, and the dinner guest noted this to herself. It looked like a street scene in a run down suburb, which is exactly what it was. The house across the street was framed by dying cedar trees and sported several strips of vinyl siding that had broken free and were hanging at odd angles.

So the one ladies doctor that everyone liked was the one who ended up having the...issues.” Mrs. Humphries looked down at her smudgy-greased apron, flecked with spots of blood that were fresh from her own left thumb that she had cut open while slicing onions. “He had to leave, and in fact he left the state. I think he is in Mexico now. Do we own that? Is that a territory?” she asked aside to Mr. Humphries.

No, dear, Mexico is a country. A sovereign...nation.”

Well, whatever the case, he's gone.” Mrs. Humphries closed her lips tightly, gathered up some of the dirty plates and carried them into the kitchen. She came back out with bowls and spoons, which she laid at each of the three places.

Now, you do like mint chocolate chip ice cream, don't you?”

Oh, Mrs. Humphries,” said the dinner guest in a trembling voice, “I get so very nauseous from mint. Ever since the...procedure.”

12 December 2011

Preamble du Jour

Hunnycutt. Now there is a man's man. A man of the old school. A man who was never scared to carry his mother's purse in public and a man who never did mind having his underwear hanging out on a wash line so that it might dry in the noonday sun. So you say that dear Mrs. Jetski from across the street is looking at it and wondering what the stains are from? Never mind. Old Hunnycutt would flex his muscles and puff up like a salamander on methadone if you were to suggest a repeal of wash line aggression. “Harbor for a wayfarer,” he used to say when the pains began, “harbor for a wayfarer.”

Well, Hunnycutt stepped out into the street the other day, and he hollered “taxi” as loud as he could – for when he was a child he saw this in a cartoon, and for all his life he thought that if he hollered “taxi” anywhere he might be, well, he thought a taxi would show up. So Hunnycutt thought that one day he might step out onto a deserted street in Ryan, Iowa, or in Bend, Oregon, or in Marion, Arkansas, or in Mount Airy, North Carolina, and that he might holler out “taxi” and lo and behold there would be a taxi that would appear in just a matter of minutes. Well, old Hunnycutt wanted to test that theory – it is one of those “childhood theories” that you might hold onto. The same, in a sense, as believing that if you dig down in the sand on the beach and you keep digging deep enough that you are going to come out in China (like Hunnycutt's friend Piker believed). Or believing that your mom and dad will always be there to take care of you no matter what, and maybe that someday you would return to live in your parents' house and do the same things that your parents did and live a life just like theirs (like Hunnycutt's friend Borchardt believed). Everyone has at least one unrealistic “childhood theory” that he or she has held at some point early in life. Hunnycutt's theory just happened to deal with taxicabs.

So Hunycutt stepped out in the street the other day and he did just that. He hollered “taxi” as loud as he could, and he waited and waited, but no taxi pulled up. He wondered what he would do if, in fact, one showed up – would he get in and tell the driver to take him somewhere? Would he dash off and hide in the bushes? Would he deny having called for a taxi? Might he, in the end, just come clean with the taxi driver and tell him that he was simply testing a childhood theory? Hunnycutt just laughed, instead, and realized that his silly childhood theory had been just as unreasonable as old Borchardt's childhood theory had been. Hunnycutt shook his head and laughed, and went back inside the house where he settled down to a nice plate of eggs and cold, sliced veal kidneys.

Three minutes later a yellow taxicab pulled up in front of Hunnycutt's house. The driver looked from side to side a few times and, seeing no one, shrugged his shoulders and pulled away.

09 December 2011

Traveling Today...

Hello everyone...I am on the road this fine Friday, so I would like to suggest that if you have the time you could take a peek at my personal website and offer any suggestions you might have on improving it.  I would be ever so grateful!
Please find the site at www.tomandrews.us .   Any thoughts you have are appreciated! 
As my office manager Linus might say, "toodles!"
And, once again, as always...thank you for reading!

08 December 2011

The Turn

(Excerpted from The Pultenham County Sketchbook, by Tom Andrews)

So Tinny hollerd' out 'Harper you asshole!' at me and started shakin' me, so as to get my attention, but I was too wrapped up in lookin' at the road in fronta' me to really figure out what the hell was goin' on. But I coulda' told you alla' 'bout how it done happened.

Me and Tinny was comin' back from Cotton City – yeah, we were just hangin' out, and we had only been drinkin' just a little bit – me more than Tinny, I s'pose. And I ain't real too sweet on him or nothin', so I think that I probably had just a little bit more than I shoulda', well, you know how it goes. I probably shouldn't have taken my shirt off, but we was laughin' and it was hot and the AC was busted in his old Ford, so I just took it off 'cause of that. It was stupid, I know, to go wavin' it out the window, so when I lost hold if it and Tinny hit the gas, I was like all 'well, shit, what am I gonna' do now' and I kept beggin' Tinny to turn around and go back and get my shirt, 'cause I didn't have anything else on under it. It was hot and all, you know.

So when that sheriff pulled us over, I just felt all red and flushed, but what was I gonna' do? When he came up to the car, I just sat there with my arms crossed over my chest, like nothin' was wrong. Dumb, I know, but then he done seen me of course , and me sittin' there with no shirt on, so he says like 'Miss, can you get outta' the car,' and he didn't even say please. Well, I did, and I thought he was gonna' try to make me walk a line or somethin', but instead he just reached out and grabbed my chest with both of his rough, grimy hands and says I'm in deep trouble, how this is a felony and I'm gonna' spend time in the county pen. I try slappin' his hands and pullin' away but he clamped down on my tits like he was hangin' on for life. I screamed at him and he hauled off and hit me one, and said I was gonna' only make it worse by resistin' arrest and how that was gonna' be another felony. I was scared shitless, I was.

He grabbed my wrists harder than I could imagine 'em bein' grabbed, and he hauled me back to his patrol car. I was screamin' for Tinny to do something, but he was just too scared to move. That sheriff with the stinkin' breath threw me in the back seat and I just cowered up against the other side's door – I tried it but it was locked somehow and I couldn't open it. That was when I turned and saw that filthy sonofabitch start undoin' his belt and I felt like I was gonna' shit myself. I just screamed and looked for something to grab and hit with, but there warn't nothin' to grab hold of.

And it was then that I heard a pickup truck pull up behind the patrol car. I turned to look out the back window, and thank God I saw Mr. Switchback getting out his big old white pickup, and walking toward that filthy sheriff who got back inna' the driver's seat without even closing my door. As he hit the gas and the car started pullin' away, I piled outta' that back seat and right down onto the gravel son the side of the road without even thinking. That Mr. Switchback bent down to see if I was OK and when I said I was fine, he sprinted back to his truck, got in, and started chasing after that damn sheriff.

Craziest damned thing you ever did see – that white pickup chasin' after the sheriff's patrol car that was racin' to get away like a bat outta' hell.

07 December 2011

Have You Red Marks?

As I recline here in my study, sucking Easy Cheese straight from the can, I am reminded of a delightful little story that I was told while on safari with some brothers from my lodge. Allow me to light my hookah and tell you the tale...

When the rains come in the bluest of June-times, the plaintains grow strong and the young children who pick them develop the most amazing hook-like prongs on the soles of their feet – all the better to scurry up the plantain trees and pluck the precious plantains from their leafy, frondy moorings. The hooks never recede in the most skilled plantain pluckers, and so they are destined to lead a life high in the lofty branches of the plantain metropolis of Saccu-saccu.

Squatpiler, a young plantain plucker of Saccu-saccu, hung upside down from a tall plantain tree one rainy afternoon, swinging from a branch by the hook-like prongs on the soles of his feet. Back and forth he swung, letting the moist jungle breezes blow between his knees. He had been plucking plantain all morning, he was weary, and needed to take a short rest. So it was that he found himself dozing off as he hung there, swinging gently back and forth.

Pitchee-caw ratcha!” cried a hairy little bletcher bird, black as the coal in Squatpiler's St. Swithun's Day stocking last year. “Pitchee-caw ratcha! Chee-chee cuka roo!” Squatpiler awoke with a start, for the cry of the bletcher bird could mean only one thing – the approach of danger. Swinging from plantain tree to plantain tree, Squatpiler made his way to a protected outcropping of branches, hauled himself upright and sat quietly, watching for the approach of whoever it was that had alarmed the bletcher bird.

A portly man in khaki safari wear and a pith helmet came slashing through the jungle undergrowth, hacking at the thick vegetation of the place that Squatpiler called home. The man slowed to a stop just under the tree where Squatpiler hid, and the plantain plucker watched him pull a pack of Virginia Slims cigarettes from his khaki purse that he called a “haversack”. The portly man was in the habit of calling the cigarettes “Old Dominion Slims,” but he was probably fooling very few people.

As the man stood and puffed away, the smoke rose to the lofty branches of the plantain tree where Squatpiler hid, and a ghostly white tendril snaked its way beneath his nose. The tobacco smoke tickled Squatpiler's senses and he quickly erupted in a massive sneeze. “Pelosi! Pelosi!” sneezed poor little Squatpiler (that is how they sneeze in Saccu-saccu). The portly man looked up and saw Squatpiler holding his nose.

I say,” said the man, “you really should sneeze into your forearm. Less chance of spreading germs, you know.”

Squatpiler sat silently in the tree, not sure what to make of the man in khaki.

I say, old boy...is that a plantain tree you're hiding in? Indeed it is! The very reason for my visit! Come down here this instant! I need to speak with you!”

Squatpiler could not speak a lick of English, but could tell from the man's grand gestures exactly what he wanted. He scampered down the tree and sat down on the ground, as he was unable to easily stand upon his hook-soled feet.

It was a tremendous tale that the man in khaki told to Squatpiler, a tale of dreams, a tale of hard work and a tale of eccentric canapes toppings. Sir Nigel Mumphrey Pitherington-Hackwich was this man in khaki, and he was the man behind the largest fried-plantain business in all of Somerset. What began as a small one-stool shop in Lamyatt grew into 64 separate fast-plantain dispensories all across the county, with three in Taunton, four in Wells and no less than eight “Plantain Palaces” in Bath. Nine if you count the one that closed unexpectedly due to a gypsy infestation. It seems that nothing goes with cider quite like a fried plantain, and Sir Nigel was there to supply.

Life was never the same for Squatpiler. He travelled far across the oceans with the man in khaki to a strange land. The years went by and he adjusted to his new home in the tropical botanical gardens of Shepton Mallet, scurrying up the plantain trees with his hook-soled little feet, swinging from branches high above the High Street, and tossing plantains down by the armload to the porters waiting below. He was never quite sure what the man in khaki was saying, as he never learned even a word of English. He never accepted payment for his work, as he would not have known what to do with a note or a coin even had he ever seen one. Needs were attended to, and he was never in want. Never in want, that is, until that one day when he took one misstep on a plantain branch and tumbled down, just narrowly missing the wall of the botanical garden and landing on a grassy patch outside, in front of a Vodafone store. He wobbled to his hook-soled little feet and tried to stand there as he looked into the window of the shop, looking at the wonderful smartphones on display. Something in the colorful touch screens and the entertaining apps called to him, and he was filled with a desire he had never felt before.

Pitchee-caw ratcha! Chee-chee cuka roo!”

06 December 2011

Arjuna, do Your Duty

Even though you might harbor a well-founded and great hatred for little Mikey Nitrous (to be known to the world one far-distant day as Mr. Michael Nitrous of West 43rd Street), there were things about the slippery little child that endeared him to a great many of the pill-rollers, tobacconists and shad-mongers of his tiny home town. Little Mikey Nitrous had the most comely eyebrow, and he would raise it and lower it to his advantage whenever the opportunity to do so arose. Up went the eyebrow when he knew that surprise was in order. Down went the eyebrow when all around him were perturbed or concerned. The eyebrow would flutter and bounce when he deemed it profitable to appear to be having some sort of seizure. On the days he needed sympathy he would pray to the eyebrow god and then slam that most comely eyebrow in the door of his father's El Camino. Great geysers of crimson blood would shoot forth and all who gazed upon the most comely, reddened and throbbing eyebrow would frown symapthetically. Little Mikey Nitrous would be the recipient of gift cards, sugar-cured hams and reptile collections – showered upon him by adoring well-wishers who felt ever so bad about the nasty state of his most comely eyebrow.

When the winter winds began to blow in the spring of his fifteenth year (Little Mikey Nitrous' home town was always a few months behind the times), Little Mikey was overcome with a charitable pneumonia that wrapped about him like a pheasant-skin comforter – pilly, bloody, and dotted with freshly plucked pheasant flesh. Little Mikey Nitrous slipped quietly into the bathroom one day and hunted down his father's straight razor and shaving supplies. He lathered up that most comely eyebrow and with a single deft slice removed it.

Hours later, when the bleeding had slowed to a trickle, Little Mikey Nitrous packed the most comely eyebrow in his lunchbox, nestling it into a bed of ice cubes taken from the bucket behind his father's wet bar. Whistling a merry tune and carrying his frosty and precious package, Little Mikey skipped all the way to the eyebrow bank in the neighboring Cherokee village – no small wonder, seeing as he grew up in Saugerties. Entering the Medicine Man's hut that housed the eyebrow bank, Mikey bowed low and swept his arm before him.

Sim salahbim,” said little Mikey Nitrous.

How's it hangin', kiddo?” asked the wizened old Cherokee Medicine Man, tapping the ash from the cubeb he was smoking.

I bring an eybrow of unique quality, kemosabe.”

Don't you fricking kemosabe me, you little crapper...let's see this unique eyebrow of yours,” replied the Medicine Man, staring at the bloody chasm in little Mikey's still-weeping forehead.

Little Mikey slowly opened his lunchbox.

That's a hairy caterpillar,” said the Medicine Man, frowning.

It's an eyebrow,” replied little Mikey.

Kiddo, come back when you got a real eyebrow to sell, OK?” The medicine man turned back to the peyote-pops he was crafting in his Cryo-matic pop-engine.

It was not only little Mikey Nitrous' forehead that wept as he walked back home. The skies poured down thunder. The mountains shuddered. The rivers shifted to and fro. Little Mikey Nitrous made a detour past the shrine of the eyebrow god that stood next to the statue of Clara Peller in the city square. He slowly and silently walked up to the shrine and placed his limp eyebrow upon the altar. He backed away, waiting for lighting, waiting for smoke, waiting for earthquakes and a voice from the heavens.

A fly buzzed past little Mikey Nitrous and landed on the still-bloody eyebrow. Little Mikey thought about waving his hand to shoo away the fly, but realized that the fly might just be an avatar of the eyebrow god.

Little Mikey Nitrous crept away...backwards and on all fours.

05 December 2011

For the Record

I threw the can of creamed corn as hard as I could. So hard, in fact, that I think I tore something in my shoulder when I let it go. “C'mon, you damned corn,” was all I could think as I watched it speed away in a shallow arc.

To tell the story properly I suppose I should go back a few months to when I was sitting in the coffee shop of that truck stop on I-39. It was a nice morning, and I was just getting a quick cup of joe and doughnut – one of those custard-filled long john types with white icing and sprinkles – those really are my favorites, even though they probably are the most childish if you want my honest opinion. I figure if you're going to eat a doughnut anyway, you certainly shouldn't try to cloak the truth and make yourself feel like you're having granola or kashi or sprouted wheatberry cereal or something. Call a spade a spade and then damn those torpedoes and full speed ahead. Rock on with the long john.

Anyhow, I was sitting in that coffee shop when the biggest snake oil hustler in black denim and a mesh-backed baseball cap sporting the legend “Sissy's Steak House” slides right past me into the adjoining booth. He orders a cup of coffee and a plate of biscuits and gravy. The waitress tells him they don't have biscuits and gravy (hell, I figure to myself, we're so far north of the Mason-Dixon Line that the only gravy they see here is brown and poured over turkey). Mesh-backed baseball cap man curses a little bit, says something about the truck stop and asks for some eggs, toast and bacon instead. The waitress goes off to get his order and he turns to me.

No f**kin' biscuits and gravy...can you f**kin' believe that?” he says to me, with a tone that was normally reserved for someone transferring stolen microfilm to a foreign agent.

I don't think biscuits and gravy are too popular up here,” I reply.

Shit...” he trails off, sounding less like a secret agent this time. “Where you from, boss?”

Lots of places,” I say, not really wanting to strike up a conversation with this guy.

Me too...maybe we went to different schools together.”

That was a saying that my father used to use, and I had not heard it for years – since well before my father's death. I was about to mention something like this to him when he slides across the booth, leans in close to me and continues.

Just stay the f**k right there with your hands on your coffee cup and you ain't gonna' get hurt. You're my friend from back home, right? You say something and you're a dead man.” He's holding his hand in his jacket pocket, and I didn't need to find out if he had a gun in there along with said hand.

I won't trouble you with the rest of that morning's events – the police record has all of that. Suffice to say that I got out of questioning after a few hours, and later on they found my wallet (minus the credit cards and cash) along with those belonging to everyone else who was in the coffee shop. They found them all next to a dumpster outside an adult bookstore in the next town up I-39. It was a pain in the ass for a few days getting everything sorted out, but things were OK. No one got hurt.

So that brought me up to just this evening as I was working the canned-goods drive for the local food pantry – we were set up outside the Shop and Save Grocery Galaxy, and when I heard the scream and saw a man in black denim and a mesh-backed baseball cap sporting the legend “Sissy's Steak House” come sprinting out of the automatic doors, I figured my time on the mound in American Legion ball and that can of creamed corn were a perfect combination. My shoulder's gonna' be OK. I'm sorry he needed seventeen stitches. I wish I could have given him an even twenty.

02 December 2011

Greetings (in a poetic-hating way)

Yes I wonder if you have any rather self conscious area rugs for you see I am looking for a self conscious area rug and I don't think I'm going to stop until I find one there are so many rugs on the market these days that just are not self conscious enough just look at them will you the way they wear their braids and the way they lie about all day long did you see that man walk in there just right now the one with the axe he looks like a nice enough guy but I think he is also looking for a self conscious area rug that axe of his sure look sharp I hope he is not planning on using it so can you show me something that looks a bit more self conscious I like this one but it seems rather dull I'm always amazed by the amount of blood you sometimes find coming from something like that this one looks lovely I'll take it

01 December 2011

Stones and Halberds

Travesty Jones held the muzzle of the nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol hard against her right temple and sang the theme song from “Chico and the Man” over and over. She knew that Freddie Prinze had met his end at his own hand, although she was not sure exactly how. But when those strange white birds got to turning brown – you know the birds...the ones that would wait outside of Travesty's window and then follow her as she walked to the gallows each morning – that's when she knew.

Each morning she would walk the one hundred and sixty paces to the gallows with the white birds following her. She would feel the hangman's noose - coarse around her soft, pale, tender neck, and the smooth black velvet hood being slipped over her head. When the trap door opened she would drop to the end of the rope and a hot silver streak would course through her upper spine as the fall and sudden stop snapped her neck. The executioner would let her body down and she would go her way to the shops and the beauty parlor and that one little place near the community center where they served such good Italian pastries with coffee.

And so Travesty enjoyed each day – aside from the three very difficult minutes spent dealing with the executioner and his gallows. As she walked the one hundred and sixty paces each morning, she did, as mentioned, begin to note the gradual change in the birds. For what had once been snow white birds had become dull brown birds – some almost as dark as coffee grounds. They still followed her, but the brown birds did not give joy the way the white ones did.

And so it was that she sat in her breakfast nook that one morning, with the muzzle of the nine millimeter semi-automatic pistol hard against her right temple, singing the theme song from “Chico and the Man” over and over. The birds were already flocking around her door, waiting for her to leave and walk the one hundred and sixty paces to the gallows, but Travesty was not about to be made a mockery of again.

She closed her eyes and slipped into a waking dream, wherein a large gray piece of moist, hairy flesh covered over with a great many blackheads was hanging in a deserted barn. Around the barn there was a crowd of people, all naked as jaybirds, headless and with feet where their hands should be and hands where their feet should be. The grotesque, naked crowd wanted access to the barn, so that they might force themselves upon the piece of moist, hairy flesh and do unspeakable things to it. Travesty knew this was a bad idea, for the piece of moist, hairy flesh had done nothing wrong.

The 115 grain bullet exited Travesty's left temple moving at approximately 1,100 feet per second. “And I know, things will be better. Oh yes they will for Chico and the Man.”