31 December 2012

2012 Draws to a Close


Two human heads poked out of the sand in the distance. At least they looked like human heads – I was still over a hundred yards away, and I couldn't make out any fine details. As I drew closer, though, I realized that I was walking up to the heads of two humans about five feet apart – presumably men, owing to the short hairstyles and the deep voices that I heard coming from them. I was approaching them from the rear, and could not see their faces. They had no idea that I was there. I was about to call out to them and ask them if they needed some help in getting out of their predicament before the tide came back in, but held my tongue when I heard their conversation.

“Eating like a caveman is what you need – my dietary therapist has me on a paleo-diet,” said the one to the right. “I only eat things that are in accord with the diets of neanderthals and cro-magnons. Raw meat. Nuts. Fruits. Then I run after buses as though I were chasing woolly mammoths.”

“You're an idiot” contended the one to the left. “What you should be doing is concentrating on avoiding gluten. My crystal- and reiki-practitioner has me eating seventeen small gluten-free meals each day, followed by rubbing my each of my chakras with a rose quartz crystal. EACH of my chakras.”

“RAWWWWWWRRRR!!” cried the one to the right, craning his head back against the sand as far as he could. “That is a paleo-roar, and it releases my aggression so that it doesn't ball up in my small intestine and cause a blockage. I do that four times a day. Then I kill a small, furry mammal and eat it raw while squatting next to a fire while wearing a loin cloth. A Lycra loin cloth. One must make some concessions to modern conveniences, you know.”

“Gloo-pee-lee ommmm...” chanted the one to the left, swinging his head in a slight circle. “Gloo-pee-lee ommmm...”

“Idiot,” said the one to the right.

The tide was coming in, but the two didn't seem to care too much. I cleared my throat.

“Leave us the hell alone,” they said in unison. “We are discussing dietary habits.”

I pulled out my hip flask and took a long swallow of gin. I shoved the flask back into my hip pocket and started walking up the hill to the shore road. I could hear the tide coming in, and the sound of the two men arguing about complete proteins.

Happy fracking New Year. You'll never get it.

28 December 2012

Lost in Tulsa?

It is not fiction, is it?  Go...go look.  There, over the Arkansas River.  I think I dropped it...

Go learn what it means.

14 December 2012

True Love Outside of Pucker's Retro-Emporium


 “They was more'n a 'ting dat' you all would wanna' save, dey was.” Hoplite Harry (long of tooth and short of brain) held up the tinny-tinny lunchbox. Rattled its contents and smiled, he did.

“Puttit down, shineboy!” cried out Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole. “Puttit down, 'cause you break it you buy it. That what the sign say, shineboy.”

“Don't calls me no shineboy, Bessie. I don't calls you no shinegirl, you know.”

“Jess puttit down, OK?”

Hoplite Harry shuffles down row after row of Hogan's Heroes lunchboxes and Schlitz beer pitchers and art-deco marital aids. Places a long, moist finger on the layer of dust covering the black bakelite telephone and draws the tip across, leaving a darker black mark.

“Can black be blacker den black?”

“Shaddup, now,” says Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole. “You always talkin' nonsense and I can't takes it no more, shineboy.”

“I sez not to calls me shineboy, you damn ole' hairy-mole-lip-witch.” Hoplite Harry says this and then shrinks, pulling his head inside his torso like a turtle.

“You stick your damn head out here dis' minnit!” Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole is livid and turns red in the face. Her mole pulsates, the little hairs doing a dance like few have ever seen.

Hoplite Harry sticks his head up, and draws a forearms across his face, defending against any potential blows. Wise move, it proves to be, as Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole grabs a martini shaker that is in arm's reach, hauls back and lets it fly. The shaker misses Hoplite Harry and strikes a set of small, felt-covered reindeer in a Christmas display. They topple over and fall to the floor. The shaker ricochets and bounces off a Hamm's Beer sign that shows an endlessly looping lake scene complete with canoe and campfire...over and over and over and over. You know the sign. I told you about it before.

“Crap-O! Whatchoo doin'?” shouts the hairy-navelled Pucker. Pucker runs his antique store with an iron fist. “Getda' helloutta' my store!”

Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole turns away from Hoplite Harry and makes for the door with fast little orthopedic shoes. Hoplite Harry wets himself and follows quickly behind, mumbling and mumbling.

“Dats' de' lasstime! An' stayout!” Pucker fumes, sits, smokes. Pucker spits, coughs, sips.

30th Street is busy and Hoplite Harry looks down at a wet patch on his faded jeans. Bessie-with-the-hairy-mole looks at him and shakes her head.

“I'll go buy us a sody-pop next door,” she tells him. “We'll pour half down your front so no one knows, and den' we drink de' rest.”

13 December 2012

Fake it 'Til You Make it


Prinny (you remember him, I am sure) always had a dream. It was one of those typical dreams such as most people have – the dreams of being a jet fighter-pilot, or learning how to yodel, or managing to excel at barrel-jumping (more on that at a later date, I assure you). Prinny wanted to play the timpani. The kettle drums.

When you think about it long enough, you come to realize that almost all of us want to play the timpani at one time or another in our life, but very few of us ever turn that dream into reality. It would be a sad commentary on human drive and energy if it were not for the fact that so few of us are born with the physical capacity to play the timpani – only one in ten thousand are born with the malleo-wrist organ that is needed to play the kettle-drums. The malleo-wrist organ is a small organ located in the lower arm that enables an individual to play the timpani. The malleo-wrist organ looks like a small piece of putty and is shaped like a three-dimensional representation of the state of Idaho.

Prinny had a malleo-wrist organ, but he was not the sharpest scalpel on the coroner's tray, if you know what I mean (and I have every reason to believe that you do). He had wanted to play the timpani all his life, and he knew himself to be in possession of the necessary anatomy. All he lacked was the equipment. That is what set him on the path to ruin.

Living in Prinny's hometown was one Mr. Clayton Jugboy, a virtuoso timpanist (who had a particularly large and supple malleo-wrist organ, by the way). He lived in a double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Weaverton, and played first kettle with the Weaverton Symphony Orchestra. Prinny would sit outside of Jugboy's trailer in the evenings and listen to him practice the timpani into the wee hours. Prinny would imitate what he knew Jugboy's arms must be doing, wildly swinging his imaginary mallets and feeling his malleo-wrist organs pulse and swell with delight (and lots of lymph fluid, as well).

It was in the autumn of a most tragic year that Prinny took matters into his own hands and set his heart on a dark course of action. Late one night when Jugboy was fast asleep after a performance, Prinny crept up to the double-wide and jimmied the lock on the door. He quietly slipped inside and felt around in the darkness until his hands made contact with what he had come seeking. As quietly as he could he hauled it outside, being careful not to make a sound.

The next day the Weaverton papers and radio stations were abuzz with news of the theft, but the mystery of who had done such a thing was settled early in the afternoon when Prinny appeared on Main Street with the stolen property.

There he was, in broad daylight, imitating the swinging of timpani mallets, striking invisible kettle drums with invisible, imaginary mallets. He was clothed in Mr. Clayton Jugboy's tuxedo, however, and to all the world he looked like a virtuoso timpanist. As the police hauled him away, one of the officers was heard to mutter quietly under his breath, “not the sharpest scalpel on the coroner's tray.”

So I guess you could say that everyone has dreams. Some just go about achieving them in different ways. And some just jump right into living the dream before they know what's hitting them.

You all be careful now, OK?

10 December 2012

Sympathy for the Cruller


The devil looked a lot like the old man who owned the cigar shop back home, except I knew that it wasn't him, as old Mr. Sullivan had been dead for at least a decade or two. Old Scratch here, on the other hand, was most definitely alive, and was sitting right next to me and enjoying a nice cup of coffee and a cruller.

“So, how are you today?” he asked between bites of cruller.

I shared with him my dissatisfaction with things – a whole bunch of things. The economy, the Yankees getting knocked out of the playoffs by the Tigers two years in a row, and my growing sense of uselessness in life.

“Oh...don't worry,” he said, “everything is just fine.”

“But how about my job?” I asked, “I feel as though I'm wasting my time. I feel as though I'm wasting my talents and throwing away my dreams...”

“Oh, come on, now,” he said, “you're just fine. You are doing a great job. Just keep doing what you're doing. Here...have a cruller.”

I accepted the cruller that he handed to me, and I was about to bite into it. I paused, though, remembering a friend of mine who had been given a piece of fruit once and lived to regret it. I was starting to hand it back when he interrupted.

“If you don't want it, just give it to someone who does. It's nice and fresh.”

“OK,” I said, wrapping the cruller in a napkin and stuffing it into my jacket pocket. “Thank you, anyway, though.”

“Sure thing,” said the devil. And then in the smallest, tiniest, most quiet voice he whispered two words in his pasty, crumbly, cruller-scented breath.

“Crucify him.”

07 December 2012

June-Tune


He just stood there. The dirty milkman just stood in line, doing his little shaky-leg dance (don't you just love the shaky-leg dance?), and rolling his greasy-looking little eyeballs back into his skull. The line was a long one, but he seemed to be patient, aside from the shaky-leg dance, which made him appear antsy (you know how it makes people look antsy, don't you?).

“So you kick them too?” I asked.

“Doesn't everyone?” he said, staring up into his skull.

I thought about this. I couldn't really decide if everybody kicked pigeons when they had free time, or if it was just people like the dirty milkman and his pigeon-kicking compadres. Milkmen have so few joys in life, I reasoned. We might as well let them have this one simple pleasure.

So I strolled away to find the liverwurst I had come seeking. Might you remember the liverwurst sandwiches that your mother used to make for you when you were young? Do you remember the white bread – Wonder Bread, it might have been. No more of that. There was full-fat mayonnaise, of the variety that has been banned in California and New York State because of its fat content and whiteness. Finally there was the liverwurst – plump, pink and salty, smelling like liver sausage should. I had come over to the East Village (no, not THAT East Village – the one in Davenport) to the one place I could still find the illusive, illegal, and tasty liverwurst.

I walked into Gypsy Dan's little shop. The place smelled of incense and onions, and I could barely see Gypsy Dan through the haze. There was some kind of sitar music or some such crap playing lightly in the background. As I approached the counter I saw that it was coming from a hairy, dirty hippie who was seated on the floor, strumming away and smoking a zucchini.

“Any requests, man?” asked the hippie on the floor.

“Do you know 'Okie from Muskogee'?” I asked.

The hippie shook his head.

“How about 'In My Merry Oldsmobile'?”

The hippie ignored me and started playing something that sounded vaguely like the Beatles. Or was it the Rolling Stones? It didn't matter. It all sounds the same, especially when played on a sitar by a dirty, stoned hippie.

Gypsy Dan stood before me at long last, smiling and nodding his head.

“You got it?” I asked.

“Sure as hell,” said Gypsy Dan, handing over a brown paper sack.

I reached out to take it when all hell broke loose. A seven-man tactical squad in black ballistic nylon burst through the door. All we heard was the sound of rustling rip-stop, breaking glass and men shouting “Hut! Hut! Hut!” Gypsy Dan hit the floor with his hands behind his head. The dirty hippie dropped his sitar and threw his hands up in the air. I froze in place with the bag of liverwurst in my outstretched hand and was knocked to the ground by a man with a short-barreled shotgun and night vision equipment. The bag was swept from my hand and my wrists were zip-tied together. I laid there on the floor, face-down and afraid to move. The tactical squad left as quickly as they had burst in, and Gypsy Dan's shop fell perfectly silent.

After a long, long time I heard Gypsy Dan get up off the floor. He came over and cut me free from the zip tie.

“Damn,” he said, “I guess a guy's gotta' be more careful with 'wurst these days.”

I nodded my head and rubbed my wrist.

“I'm gonna' have to go back to hiding the stuff in bags full of meth.”

04 December 2012

There is an Old Saying...

"Never hide a snail in the cookie jar."  My great uncle Cosgrove used to say that before we had him put away.  I never quite understood what he was talking about, but recalling his words have shed some light on the world this week.  The midget cowpokes who follow me around the city streets do not seem quite as intimidating today, and the birds are whistling a merry polonaise.

I suggest, dear reader, that you read some exciting blacksmith-fiction today, and then go out for a walk...keeping your eyes open for midget cowpokes.

I will see you all tomorrow...

29 November 2012

May-Tune


As soon as the lady handed me my coffee, I walked out into the crisp air on 14th Avenue and kicked a pigeon. That always gives me such a lift – almost as much as does the coffee.

“Hey, wall-eye, don't be kickin' no frickin' pigeons, lest you wants to kick me too,” called out a gravelly voice. I turned to look, and saw a dirty man in a old-style milkman's uniform sitting on the curb.

“I beg your pardon, and that of the pigeon's,” I said.

“No...no,” he said, coughing up a lung and spitting forcefully against a mailbox, “I mean you could kick me too.”

I was a little perplexed, as it seemed as though he really wanted me to kick him. It is not every day that a dirty old man in a milkman's uniform asks to be kicked.

“Do I understand correctly? You would like me to kick you?” I asked, opening a fresh pack of cubebs.

“You got it right, carp-sucker, you give me a little kick, and then you give me a little spare change.”

I noticed the sign he was holding. “Will be kicked for money,” it read in two-inch high red letters. He had decorated the edge of the sign with glitter and glued-on tongue depressors. Used tongue depressors, it appeared.

“I didn't mean anything by kicking the pigeon,” I said, feeling a little sheepish (thank God I hadn't kicked a sheep).

“No one ever means anything by it. They just kick. You can do the same to me, and the price is right.” Dirty milkman stared at me with a sunken eye that was dripping a little fluid on his formerly crisp, white uniform. I offered him my hanky to sop it up. “No need, crap-o. I gots me a bleachey-sponge back in my hovel.”

I sat down next to the man in the milkman uniform and offered him a cubeb and a light. He graciously accepted, and we sat there smoking our cubebs and watching the pigeons land. At length a pigeon flew over and sat down next to us.

“You want to give this one a little kick?” asked the dirty milkman.

“Naahh,” I replied, “I think I'll just enjoy my cubeb without any additional avian violence.”

“But you might want to warm up for kickin' me, you liver-lipped fool.”

I thought about this for a moment and realized that it must be a stock response of the dirty milkman's, as my lips were not even close to resembling liver. I knew one fellow back home that used to sit on the balcony of his house in the summers and stare at passing traffic. He had liver lips.

But not me.

“So,” I asked, “do you just sit here and wait for people to kick you and then give you money?”

“No,” said the dirty milkman, “I actively solicit my kickers. A man has to be proactive in this economy, you know.”

“Sure,” I said, inhaling the cubeb smoke deep into my lungs. I vomited twice and then continued interrogating.

“So all you do is entice people to kick people for money?” I asked.

“What?” he asked. “Isn't that enough? You ever been kicked?”

“No,” I confessed, “But it just seems a trifle limiting. Have you ever thought about working for a living?”

“Again,” he said, “have you ever spent an eight to ten hour day getting kicked? Don't tell me it's not work.”

I thought about this, and even though it rubbed me the wrong way, I decided to give him a pass on it. What did I know about getting kicked, anyway? I dropped a ten-spot in his can, gave him a good swift kick, bid him adieu, and then walked away, gliding down the street and humming an old Prussian military tune.

It was not until several days later that I realized that I have been taken. I was shopping for liverwurst across the river in the fashionable East Village of Davenport (otherwise known as the Village of East Davenport), when I spied the dirty milkman standing in line.

He was waiting to kick a pigeon.

27 November 2012

Professional


Edgar came over and told me he was a “man of the cloth,” and I had no idea what the hell he was talking about. I guess I had heard the phrase used to describe clerics of one sort or another – priests, rabbis, pastors, imams, and the like. Edgar sure as hell wasn't one of those, so he had me wondering when he said “man of the cloth.”

Edgar sold hope from a old, beat-up Volkswagen bus, but business was slow and he pretty much had to rely on the charity of those more fortunate. He talked about driving off to some place where the market would be better, but he never got around to it. He would ply his wares and talk a good game, but never really do what he hoped to do. We all deal with a little bit of that in our own lives, I suppose – even those who are real successful, they sometimes never get around to some of the things they want to do. Go ahead, just try to tell me you don't know what I'm saying. You know damned well what I'm talking about.

“I'm a man of the cloth,” he told me on that evil, wet Thursday morning. He grabbed me by the collar of my jacket and shook me. He looked me in the eyes. His were all bloodshot and looked like they were covered over with an unhealthy layer of pus or slime or something. He looked ill. But sure as can be, he shook me and told me “I'm a man of the cloth.”

Now, I wasn't too sure how to respond, so I just looked at him and said “that's great, Edgar.” He giggled when he heard that, and I heard him make a little noise in his trousers. Sometimes he would get like that when he was excited.

I think he was mistaken. He wasn't really a man of the cloth, and I think he was just using that term loosely. He would stand before God, sure, just like the rest of us, and he would intercede on mankind's behalf. He never knew how to keep quiet, though, like I always suspected a real man of the cloth would. I never met a real, honest-to-goodness man of the cloth, but if I did, I was sure that he would be quiet. Not mousey; just quiet. I was sure that he would keep kind of still and silent and wait upon that all-holy voice of the Almighty to rumble through the skies and through his heart. I wouldn't expect him to just go shooting his mouth off all the time and going about the business of always telling you what he thinks about every damned thing that pops into his mind. Every damned thing.

At least, that's what I guessed a man of the cloth might be like, and Edgar wasn't that. You know the type?

So when we found Edgar hanging by his neck off the Government Bridge, I finally got the idea. There he was on another evil Thursday morning that wasn't nearly as wet, but every bit as evil, I suppose. His face was all blue, and his eyes were all kind of buggedy-outty. He was hanging so gently, so quietly, with the toes of his shoes just barely getting wet in the river. It was a sheet he was hanging by, it appeared. A long, white bed sheet. Real soft-looking.

A man of the cloth, after all.

26 November 2012

An Update

Hello, dear and gentle readers.  I hope I am not incorrect in assuming that you have guessed the reason for my sporadic posting of fresh, short fiction.  You might think that I have been on safari in deepest, darkest Iowa, or that I have been running whiskey and trying to avoid the revenuers.  You would be wrong on either account.

I am just about to put the final chapter together for the novel I am working on, and it has been taking almost every free moment that I have.  Well, the free sober moments that I have, anyway.

Hopefully the tiny excerpts from this fresh work have been enjoyable; I promise more short fiction in the near future.  As soon as Michael Nitrous tells me how he got back to the roller-rink...

16 November 2012

A Glope-Step in the Desert


(An excerpt from the forthcoming Yerba Maté- a Novel.  What fun.)

 “I just want to be who I really am,” Michael Nitrous said aloud, giving voice to his thoughts of just a moment before. It was hot, he was alone, he was in what looked like a desert, and he was carrying a backpack. His clothes were completely different than what he had just been wearing. Pasteybottom Joe and Jerry Grogan were nowhere in sight. There was no grove of trees. No yerba mate and no bombilla.

He was in a desert, it certainly seemed. He had never been in a desert before, although he had seen pictures of them, and he had seen the movie “Raising Arizona,” so he pretty much knew all there was to know about desert culture. This was a good thing. Unbeknownst to Michael Nitrous, he was at that very moment in the state known as “Arizona,” and he was walking away from a large city known as “Tucson” toward a place called “Mount Lemmon.” All of this would be lost on Nitrous, however, and the details wouldn't really make all that much difference. He was in a different aspect of existence.

A quick word about the plant known as the “cactus” would be appropriate at this point. The cactus is known as a “succulent,” and while most people think that this has something to do with the water-retention ability of the cactus, it is actually due to the wonderfully rich and decadent taste that the cactus has. Cactus makes a succulent little dish. If he had been thinking about it, Nitrous might have drawn the connection between the plants around him and the nopalitos tiernos that he had eaten with Jerry Grogan at el Taco Muchacho just a few hours ago. It seemed like days, or weeks. It seemed like it never happened. Cactus makes a succulent dish, though. Mmmmm. Can't you just taste it?

The cactus is covered with spines, of a sort. You might call them needles. You can call them whatever you might want to, but in any case they are sharp, spiny little devils. My brother-in-law sells these beastly plants out of a little shop that he runs. They are not all grown from little babies, either. Some are plants that he buys and re-sells (at a profit, of course – this is America). I have always thought it would be the strangest thing to be able to tell people that my brother-in-law is a used cactus salesman. Michael Nitrous would have thought it to be the strangest thing, as well.

The cactus is a very prehistoric plant, and was brought to this planet by extra-dimensional travelers from an extra-dimensional planet called Mookie – a lovely desert planet not terribly far (in existential terms) from Bezelda. No one was around on the planet earth to see the first cactus planted in the Sonoran desert.

What do you think?” asked the first extra-dimensional traveler as he put the cactus into the dry, sandy soil.

Move it a little to the left,” replied the second.

After that began the virtual salad days for the cactus. They were the only game in town, aside from a scabby little Joshua tree here and there and maybe some aloe vera, whose value would not be discovered for thousands of years yet.

That is probably enough of the quick word about the plant known as the “cactus.”

Nitrous felt good. His legs felt springy and the warm desert sun and the dry desert air on his skin was something he had never felt before. He wondered for just a moment what was inside of his backpack, but in but a moment he realized that he already knew. In fact, he could perfectly recall the pack's contents as though he had packed it himself. Which he had, of course. He just couldn't remember having done so in this particular aspect of existence.

He continued up the highway, wondering exactly what piece of geography he was climbing (it was something called “Mount Lemmon,” as previously noted, but Nitrous had no idea that was the case, and it would not have made a bit if difference if he had). He was walking along, kicking at a little piece of asphalt here, a little stone there, when suddenly he took what is known in some aspects of existence as a glope-step.

The glope-step is a step that stops midway and allows a pause for reflection from the person taking the step. To the outside observer of the glope-step, nothing looks the least bit different. The person taking the glope-step looks as though they are just walking right along. To the person taking the glope-step, however, everything is different. The world stops. Time stops. Forward motion temporarily ceases.

I would tell you to go and try it for yourself, but I can't. You never quite know when you are going to take a glope-step, and they come on rather without warning. Incidentally, it was rare for a extra-dimensional traveler or one who is experiencing an alternate aspect of existence to at the same time experience a glope-step. Michael Nitrous was one of those rare, fortunate few, though.

His left foot went up in the air (fitting, as it is the weaker of his two legs, and he was only at the beginning of something great and good), and it paused within the layers of two of his aspects of existence.  

13 November 2012

The Sum of Which is Twelve


Standing before the dirty creamer-merchant was a desk made out of something that looked like human flesh. Now, I have told you about creamer-merchants before – I know I have – but you must understand this: there is a great difference between creamer-merchants and dirty creamer-merchants, and never the twain shall meet.

The dirty creamer-merchant folded his hands, and then flexed them, extending his soiled fingers like tentacles. He placed a single soiled finger on the desk and found that indeed, it did feel like human flesh. He bent down and put his mouth near the desk's surface. He leaned in a bit and lightly brushed his lips against the flesh-like substance. He rubbed his lips back and forth and then opened his mouth ever so slightly, extended his tongue, and touched it to the fleshy desk. He grew bold and placed the full surface of his tongue upon it and lapped at it several times. It was salty, and he noticed that it even had small hairs protruding from its surface.

The strangest desk he had ever seen. Or tasted.

It was an otherwise normal desk, he would have to say. It appeared to have normal drawers and even a green blotter with leather corners. He opened the top desk drawer ever so slowly, and found the interior to be bright red mucous membrane, much like the inside of a person's cheek or even more private regions. The dirty creamer-merchant tried to force certain thoughts from his head, and was only slightly successful.

He bent down over the open drawer and once again extended his tongue to touch the red, moist interior. It was warm and inviting. “Come inside,” it called to him. He withdrew his tongue and stood upright.

He had noticed the teeth.

On that Tuesday like so many others the dirty creamer-merchant stepped away from the desk made out of something that looked like human flesh. He stepped far, far away and lifted leg after churning leg to the beat of a safety drum. A dry and pale safety drum.

I have said it again. I will say it again. Go learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.   

08 November 2012

Penne for Everyone in 300 Words.

I looked at the man across the room from me. He was sitting alone in a booth, eating pasta.

Dirty, a little messed up. His hair was tousled, and he had a light beard growing on his chin and cheeks. He couldn't have been more than thirty years old, but he probably could have passed for fifty on just the right day.

He was eating pasta, as I said. Really eating pasta. I mean really getting into the eating of pasta. I could hear him across the room. I heard the pasta going in, I heard the pasta going down, and I heard his level of satisfaction with the pasta (which seemed to be quite high).

“I'm glad you're getting my money's worth out of that penne,” I said under my breath.

As though he had heard it, he looked at me between forks full of penne. Our eyes met. He nodded at me. I nodded back. He turned his attention back to his pasta. The waitress came by with the bill. I pulled out my credit card and thought I would try it one more time. “But I didn't order any penne,” I said, glancing at the guestcheck.

“Sorry, sir,” she said, “rules are rules.”

“Yeah,” I said, “whatever.”

I waited for the waitress to return my credit card and got up to leave. I strolled past the man eating the penne. What could it hurt?

“Enjoy your pasta,” I said to him. He kept his head down and just kept eating. I was a stranger to him.

He did not know me.

No contract.

“I much preferred it when we used to eat together. I always enjoyed buying you lunch.” With that, I walked out the door.

But rules are rules.

31 October 2012

June of '73


I looked down into that small hole out in the back yard. It was a hole that I had begun digging the day before. I had dug it with the small garden shovel that my mother called a trowel, and that spent most of its time hanging from a nail in the shed.

I remember digging the hole when I heard my dad talking about a gas shortage and something about the Chinese. I said to my cousin that I might try to dig all the way to China, as I was intrigued after my dad had been talking about it. My cousin assured me that it would not work, as he and a friend had tried doing the exact same thing last week and they had no luck. “You end up in India,” my cousin said, “and they don't speak any English there.”

I got myself ready for the dig and for the trip, nonetheless. I packed a small bag with some necessary items, including some adhesive bandages, the flashlight that I took from a drawer in my mother's sewing room, and a couple of pixie sticks. I figured that the pure cherry-flavored sugar would keep me well fueled for the journey and might also make good trade items for bartering with the Chinese or the Indians – pixie sticks were probably legal tender anywhere you might go.

There were a couple of things that I didn't put in my bag that I could have but decided against. I did not take a firearm, although I considered packing the rubber band gun that my brother had made for me out of a wooden ruler. I did not take with me any of my G.I. Joes, although I thought they might have been good company. I did not take any of the pencil drawings that I had made while watching The Flip Wilson Show, nor the not-even-close-to-scale model that I had made of the World Trade Center (which had opened that very spring!) that I thought might be a nice peace offering to the Chinese. I understood little about geopolitical affairs, you see.

And so I stood there on the edge of the small hole that I had begun the day before, and the spirit of adventure percolated just below the surface of my heart. My sweaty little grip on the garden trowel tightened.

“Tommy! Come and get cleaned up! It's time for dinner!” Mom was leaning out the back door, calling to me.

I could smell the casserole. Even out here in the back yard, on the very edge of my journey through the earth, I could smell my mother's casserole coming out of the oven.

A little later, over dinner, my dad said that Secretariat had won the triple crown. I had no idea what that meant. “So, Tomaszu, what did you find out in the yard today?” he asked. He always called me that when he was having a really good day. I didn't appreciate it until I was nearly 30. I didn't miss it until I was 42.

“Oh, nothing,” I replied.

“You know what they say,” he said, smiling at me, “if you dig deep enough, you might get all the way to China.”

29 October 2012

Bezelda...a Travelogue


(This may or may not be an excerpt from Yerba Maté- A Novel)

“So tell me about your home planet,” said Michael Nitrous.

Jerry Grogan leaned back in his chair, took a long drag off his cigarette, and blew the smoke out in the shape of a question mark intersected with an exclamation point. He ran his fingers through his hair, broke wind, and then began to tell Michael Nitrous all about the wonderful springtime on the planet (or rather, moon) Bezelda, how the flowers only bloomed in the middle of the night so as not to be accused of vanity, and how the barnyard animals have elaborate mating rituals involving dice and hat pins. He told the tale of the Way-cheeda Glacier that encircles Bezelda like a great, icy doughnut, forming a perfect circle around the equator. Unlike so many planets and moons that you find out there, the equator of Bezelda was the coldest region, while its poles were the warmest. Don't ask me how it works – I have no idea. Jerry Grogan couldn't explain it, either.

Grogan went on to describe the miniature mountain lions that were used for giving exfoliation therapy in the barber shops of Bezelda, and the things that looked like leeches that were used as marital aids. You could buy these anywhere, incidentally – not just at special shops. He sang a few bars of the Bezeldian national anthem – there is only one nation on Bezelda, so there is no need for a whole bunch of anthems. The anthem went something like this:

Bezelda! A little dab'll do ya'!
Bezelda! You'll look so debonair!
Bezelda! A little dab'll do ya!
An extra-planetary home so fair!

Grogan did the little Bezeldian dance that traditionally accompanied the singing of the anthem, wherein the singer places his or her hands on his or her buttocks, stamps his or her feet repeatedly and then shakes like a bed-vibrator in a cheap motel.

“That sounds a lot like an old advertising jingle that I remember,” said Nitrous.

“Impossible,” said Grogan, going back to his seat. “That song is from another universe – a parallel universe.”

“Well, then there is an incredible coincidence.”

“Impossible,” said Grogan again, “there are no coincidences allowed on Bezelda – beside the fact that they are impossible there, owing to the interesting laws of metaphysics that the whole of Bezelda embraces.”

Michael fell silent again and lit another cigarette. He really didn't like to smoke, but sometimes he did this – he would buy a pack of cigarettes and smoke all of them, usually in one sitting. He wouldn't do this again for a year or two, and in between he would sometimes make a puritanical display of displeasure if he happened to be in a roller-skating rink or a milk-bar and someone lit up. He would fan his hand in front of his nose and maybe even move to a different table. This day, however, he was going for all the gusto – smoke 'em up! Yeehaw!

“Let me tell you about the medicine man, OK?” asked Grogan, taking his finger out of his nose and wiping it on his trousers.

Nitrous made a sour face. “OK.”

26 October 2012

Here's to You, Mrs. Robiczyk


If I had a lever and the right place to put it, I could move the world.

Somebody said that once...I think they even told it to me, but I forgot it for a long time. I tried using short sticks – just little broken-off pieces of longer sticks, such as you find when you've been following that one kid home from school past the corner sausage-shop. That one little kid from the immigrant family up the street (and don't forget that you are only a generation behind him – you just don't have to deal with hand-made sweaters, the way he does). That kid would walk home and grab fallen branches, break them up into smaller pieces and leave a trail of little sticks on the sidewalk.

“Stop makin' a mess!” I wanted to shout at him. I never did, because I knew I would be making the same mess if I were alone. We all make messes of one sort or another, and it would have seemed a little hypocritical to shout that at him, knowing full well my own desire to break branches apart. I didn't know the definition of hypocrisy back then. Did you? Who did at that age? Who knew what an immigrant was? That little kid had hand-made sweaters and a mom and dad who shouted at him in a different language. It was the language my grandparents spoke – not my parents, though. I had sweaters that were purchased at a store.

He broke sticks apart, and he broke things apart when he got older. Broke people apart when he got older. No one wants to break things like that, but some just do it, and he was one of them. He didn't speak the same language as his parents anymore. He didn't speak my language, he didn't speak anyone's language. He spoke his own language and broke things. And his parents weren't buried in Polish soil, but soil is almost the same anywhere you go, isn't it? And if you imagine hard enough you can see it's all connected and maybe leaving a path of little broken sticks can help anyone find his way home, as long as the soil is all the same.

But it isn't.

The story? The plot? Kid grows up. Kid trips out on chemicals that he injects into his tongue to make his language better. He takes a long syringe and injects industrial chemicals into his tongue – right underneath, where the veins are blue and slippery. You know where I mean.

Kid gets the chemicals into his brain and they make his eyes get all loooooopy-wild. Kid clocks his mom and dad on the head (both of their heads) with a pipe or a steel rod – no one was sure what it was. Kid lights the house on fire. Kid sits in the front yard and injects industrial chemicals underneath his tongue while he waits for the fire department to show up. Kid's heart explodes from overdose of industrial chemicals. Kid is buried in soil (please see reference to his parents, above).

And we all lived happily ever after.

If I had a lever and the right place to put it, I could move the world.  I just know I could.

24 October 2012

Q & A at Nib Magazine

Please have a gander at the nice Question and Answer interview-thinggy that Nib Magazine did with me after they published my short story "A Mound of His Own" in their launch issue.  You can click here or on this tasteful picture of the magazine cover.  Thank you!

22 October 2012

In Defense of Pasteybottom Joe


(An excerpt from the forthcoming Yerba maté - a Novel.)

"There was a small boy. I was just now going to tell you what his name was, but then I realized that it really makes no difference what his name is, and the only possible benefit to telling you his name would be for the benefit or the ease of storytelling. But let's try this, shall we? This small boy was a thin little nipper, quiet and given to introversion. He was a fair student , but he genuinely loved going to school. There was hardly a thing that he did not absolutely love about going to school, in fact, even though he struggled to keep up at times. He was, for the most part, a fairly normal little kid in all other ways, aside from his unfortunate cauliflower ears. He had never suffered an injury to his ears, nor had he ever been in a fist fight. He just had these enormous, puffy ears that stood out like veritable cauliflowers. They were so prominent that one year at Halloween his mother suggested that for variety they just cover the darn things with green makeup and send him out as a broccoli merchant. His mother was not very creative, and did not see the obvious impropriety in her suggestion.

One fair day during a group assignment in their chemistry class, the small boy was sent out into the hallway with three others to take measurements of a small stockpile of a radioactive isotope that the teacher had placed there just for this very experiment. The small boy loved these sorts of assignments, and he relished the work of measuring isotopes. He was the first in the group to complete his portion of the work, and so he waited just outside the doorway of the classroom while the others finished up.

While the other students worked, the small boy overheard the conversation in the classroom between the teacher and the rest of the class, and he heard the students voicing their concern that the small boy and his teammates would be bothered by the heinous shriek of the decontaminating unit that they would have to enter after their exposure to the isotope. They expressed particular concern about the small boy, as they felt he was a particularly tender flower.

“It's OK,” said the teacher, “with those hellish-looking ears of his, I don't think he can hear a damned thing most days.”

The small boy was crushed. Suddenly he had no desire to complete any more isotope-measuring assignments, and he lost all desire to return to class. He left his worksheet just outside the door of the classroom, and with his shoulders hunched and his head hanging low, he shuffled home. Things were never quite the same, and his schoolwork suffered for the rest of his time in public education. He managed to graduate and join the Merchant Marine, but we'll just use this little section of his life as an example of what happens when one is hurt by unintentional words . We can always come back to the small boy at a later date. 

 How does that sound?"

19 October 2012

Lamb


“He was safe,” said the burly catcher to the umpire.

“I said he's out,” shot back the umpire, flexing and swelling the veins in his neck. (Have you ever seen umpire veins flex and swell in the same motion? It is almost erotic. At the very least it is titillating.)

“Listen here, Mr. Umpire, sir...let me tell you a little story,” said the catcher, removing his mask.

“I ain't got time for this. He's out. You tagged him. What the hell is your problem?””

“In the ancient days of baseball, when the world was still young, and the dew of creation still hung on the outfield,” said the catcher, “there was a tiny, tiny shortstop, possessed of a quirky, forthright spirit.”

“I told you I ain't got time for this.”

“Bear with me.” The catcher motioned for the umpire to sit down, which he did. They both sat down cross-legged on either side of home plate. The first baseman had strolled over and pulled a harmonica out of his pocket. As he played a plaintive tune, the catcher took a deep breath and continued the story.

“The dew of creation, in fact, had hardly dried in the outfield when the primordial umpire hollered 'play ball!' and the first pitch was thrown. It was only on the second pitch, I think, that the first batter got some wood on the ball. It took a couple of hops on its way to the shortstop. It bounced off the top of his glove, and when he grabbed for it on the ground, he missed it twice. An easy out turned into a base hit.”

“Some kinda' rookie?” asked the umpire.

“They were all rookies at that point,” said the first baseman, taking the harmonica away from his lips for a moment.

“It went on like this for eight innings,” said the catcher. “The shortstop kept on messing up easy plays.”

“I woulda' benched the guy and put in a different shortstop,” said the umpire, pulling some pemmican jerky from his bag.

“They didn't have enough shortstops to go around at that point,” said the pitcher, who had left the mound and joined the others in sitting cross-legged around home plate. “Not enough players at any position.”

A large bird winged its way over the box seats down the third base line, and a vendor in the stands hollered out “peanuts!”

“Well, somehow the home team managed to hang in there and was down by one run in the bottom of the ninth. With one out and a man on third, the tiny, tiny shortstop came up to bat. Everybody held their breath. One elderly lady in the bleacher section passed out, in fact.”

“What happened?” asked the umpire.

“On the third pitch, he hit a long fly just to the left of center. Two outfielders both ran for it and collided in mid-stride. It was spectacular. The runner on third scored, and the tiny, tiny shortstop's little legs churned as fast as he could turn them. He went past first, past second, and rounded third. The second baseman had run out to shag the ball, as the two outfielders were lying unconscious in the grass, and he made a mighty throw for home.”

“And...?”

“The throw was just in time, and no one could quite tell if he was safe or not. The umpire started raising his arm like he was going to call him out, but just then there was a rumbling of the earth and the skies darkened. The backstop in the bullpen was rent in twain. The runner, the catcher, the umpire and most of the coaching staff of both teams were struck dumb and were paralyzed.  And everyone heard a voice from the heavens, booming out of the clouds.”

“What did it say?” asked the umpire, his mouth agape and full of pemmican jerky.

“Learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

The same large bird winged its way over the box seats down the third base line, and a vendor in the stands hollered out “cold beer!”

Wind blew over the infield. The umpire and the players got up from the ground and dusted themselves off. The umpire pulled out a handkerchief and wiped his brow. He swallowed hard, choking down the jerky. It was as though there were mighty drops of blood upon his forehead. He stared into the silence of the outfield.

“Safe!”

16 October 2012

Reverse Paristaltic Wave


I walked over to the small box that was lying on the ground and I gave it a little kick. It tumbled over and I could see that it was empty. I thought about stepping on it and crushing it. It looked as though it was made out of cardboard, and it would have crushed easily under my shoe.

“So you thought better of it?” said the voice as I walked away. I knew it was him again, but I didn't want to acknowledge the voice in my head anymore. It was the same voice that had awakened me on the morning that my father died – about an hour before my phone rang and my brother told me that he was gone. “You're such a loser,” it said to me that morning, “a complete and total loser – a slacker.” I hate that voice.

I decided to speak up and defend myself.

“I just decided to walk away. There was no moral weight to the decision, you bastard,” I said.

“You're getting feisty. And you're using rude language. If you were a child I could bend you over my knee and paddle your bottom.”

I tried to ignore the voice after that. I put my hands into my pockets and I shuffled down the avenue, but the voice wouldn't shut up.

“He was never proud of you, you know that?” asked the voice. He sounded just a little feminine today – a little bit like Ethel Merman. I always hear her voice when I am feeling insecure.

“He never really knew me, so to say that he was not proud of me really makes no sense,” I said. “If he had really known me, he might have been proud of me.” My eyes burst out of my head and my heart ripped right in half with grief and fear and loneliness and pain and confusion and loss and the feeling like you might get if suddenly you were the only person on the earth. I turned around and walked back to the box and crushed it. I brought down my 10 ½ D black cap-toe oxford right upon that crappy little cardboard box and I crushed it. Crushed it flat.

The voice was strangely silent after I did that, and I continued down the avenue, in search of a shoe store that would sell me a pair of wingtips. I couldn't find wingtips anymore, it seemed. The kind like my father had worn. The kind he had always worn. I would look down at the wingtips, brown on some days, black on some days, and then I would look up and smell his blue aftershave, and see his tie. I always loved how his ties looked.

He wasn't wearing a tie the day he died. The voice had made sure that I was aware of that.

10 October 2012

In Time


Pearly Hotdish played ever such lovely dirges on that harpsichord in the village square, and it wasn't until “the condition” set in that she ever had any problems whatsoever. In fact, we all thought that Pearly Hotdish would go fantastic places, do great things, and make a wonderful, wonderful and most delightful name for herself on the blessed harpsichord.

“Play me some of those old-timey songs,” would screech Rascal Matley as he drew close to Pearly, his dank, reeking breath forming droplets of moisture on her alabaster back (for Pearly Hotdish would only play the harpsichord while entirely devoid of clothing – she said that woven fibers made her weak and tone-deaf). “I love those old-timey songs.”

Miss Hotdish would oblige, of course (How could she resist the four-toothed grin of Rascal Matley? How could she?), and Rascal would leap in the air, sloughing great clouds of dry, dead skin as he pirouetted. Crowds would form. Elderly men and women would dance a small folk dance from a far-off land, and Miss Hotdish would play all the more earnestly and with greater emotion, working herself into such a haze of perspiration.

“I have for you a small treat,” said Rascal Matley, producing a small sugarcube from the folds of the adipose tissue around his waist. The cube was moist, as you might expect, and perhaps just a little foul-smelling. “Allow me to improve upon this fair cube of sweetness,” he did say, turning away and pulling a small brown bottle from the pocket of his loin-cloth. The label on the bottle read “Scramble the Melon!” and Rascal twisted it open, drew out the eye-dropper attachment, and dropped a single spot of the pinkish fluid onto the surface of the sugarcube. The cube drank up the fluid, and nary a stain remained upon its surface.

“For you, the precious Pearly,” said Rascal as he offered her the sugarcube. Pearly stopped playing for a moment and turned around on the bench, her sweat-moistened bottom making a queer squeaking noise as she swiveled.

“Mister Matley,” sighed the precious Pearly, “it is ever so kind of you.” She received the tiny sugarcube into her dainty, outstretched palm, and conveyed it thence to her pink, waiting lips. “My, but it is sweet,” sighed the precious Pearly.

The pinkish fluid worked quickly, and Pearly Hotdish was as limp and flaccid as a Maine Coon in its lover's arms.

“I can no longer play a delightful and melancholy dirge for you, Mister Matley,” sighed Pearly as she slumped onto the keyboard of the harpsichord. Short, red-haired attendants that were waiting nearby walked up to her and, taking hold of wrists and ankles, carried her to the waiting sedan chair. Pearly allowed herself to be gently tumbled into its seat, where another attendant covered her with a modesty-shawl.

“Precious Pearly,” said Rascal Matley with reeking breath, “you will, no doubt, be my guest at Matley Manor this very evening, where I will feed you shellfish and bitter herbs, and you might delight me with a dirge upon the harpsichord.”

Pearly Hotdish looked at Rascal Matley through woozy eyes and tried to focus on his four-toothed grin. “I do not think that would be prudent,” sighed Pearly as her brother, Captain Traynor Hotdish of the Duke's Grenadier Guards walked up to the edge of the sedan chair.

“I believe I will escort my sister to her home,” said Captain Hotdish, his saber and medals jangling.

Rascal Matley let out a great, reeking breath. His face flushed a bright red.

Captain Traynor Hotdish scooped his sister and her modesty-shawl into his arms, and with a turn and shake of his spurs, they strode off toward the Hotdish estate, the plume in his hat bouncing jauntily.

The harpsichord in the village square was quiet that evening, as was the harpsichord in Matley Manor.

05 October 2012

A Little Bit of Chapter One


( Excerpted from the forthcoming Yerba Maté - a Novel )

“I been off the sauce for eighteen years now,” grumbled the gravelly-voiced old man with the nine o'clock shadow. “Lemme' tell you, when a man hits rock bottom, there's nowhere to go but up.”

“Or stay on the bottom,” said Michael Nitrous.

In another universe or in another dimension, Michael Nitrous had run into a man who was a deep-sea pearl collector. That is, he went and collected pearls on the bottom of the deep, deep sea. He did not just go and buy pearls that someone else had gone to the trouble of harvesting, no sir. He went there himself, and faced the dangers that one faces when collecting things while on the bottom of the deep, deep sea. Sharks. Piranhas. Cuttlefish. Jacques Cousteau Disease.

Shark are large, top-level predators that like to eat soft things without a lot of crunch to them. My friend Brian (a friend of Michael Nitrous, as well, in case you were wondering) always used to maintain that there was nothing like a normally soft food that suddenly had a little crunch to it. He was thinking in terms of chocolate and nougat bars and that sort of thing. Maybe a nice soft cheese sandwich. When you hit some nuts or a crisp wafer in your nougat bar, it makes your palate sit up and take notice. You do too, in fact. You might say “wow...this is some nice wafer in this nougat bar.” If you come across something crunchy in your nice soft melted cheese sandwich, there is the same effect. You might say “wow...this is some very nice crispy bacon in this cheese sandwich.” It all kind of goes together.

With the sharks, it is quite different. As I am told, they tend to like nice soft foods like jellyfish and squid, and when they hit something crunchy, like a femur or an oxygen tank, they are less than excited about it. Wouldn't you feel the same?

Piranhas don't actually live at the bottom of the deep, deep sea – they are river-dwelling carnivorous fish with enormous appetites and razor-sharp teeth. They mostly populate the murky waters of the Amazon and late-night horror films.

Cuttlefish are cephalopods who have the most amazing ability (also known as a “super-hero power”). When threatened, they are able to throw off what is called a “pseudomorph” - a glob of ink surrounded by mucous that looks amazingly similar to the cuttlefish itself. It will do this to confuse an attacker, who will bite the pseudomorph and get a mouthful of ink and mucous rather than cuttlefish. How delightful!

Jacques Cousteau Disease is a disease named after a famous deep-sea diver. The disease is contracted by speaking French at extreme depths. Some people have even developed symptoms of the disease after merely thinking in French at the right depths. Native French speakers are immune, however.

The deep sea diver whom Michael Nitrous had met in another universe and another dimension had said something very simple and very profound to him. What he said to him was this seemingly pithy little epithet: “when you hit the bottom, you can only do one of two things – go up or stay on the bottom.”

There you are. Michael looked at Jerry Grogan, sitting there and weaving. Weaving while he sat in a chair – this was no small feat. Michael knew that he was most likely lying about being dry for eighteen years. He could smell the booze on him.

“I have two questions for you,” said Nitrous. “One, how come every time I meet a drunk who has gone through rehab the only two subjects they want to talk about are themselves and recovery from alcoholism? Two, how the hell do you expect me to believe that you haven't had a drink in eighteen years? You stink like a distillery.”

Jerry Grogan sat upright as much as he could. “First, I ain't never been through rehab. I'm a stinking drunk, and I just like talking about myself. Second, I never said I don't drink – I said I've been off the sauce. Clean out your ears, homeslice.”

The phrase “the sauce” or “on the sauce” or “off the sauce” usually had to do with alcohol, you have to understand. You probably do already. “Sauce,” then, was this euphemism for alcohol. To be on the sauce was to be actively (or passively, I guess) allowing alcohol to have a physiological effect on you. Typically it suggested that the person “on the sauce” was drinking regularly and giving into a destructive dependence on alcohol.

The crazy thing is that when Jerry Grogan said “the sauce” he did not mean alcohol. He was actually referring to a sauce. As I am prone to do, I will share the recipe for this sauce with you now:

2 eggs, separated
1 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 micro-rod of partially-depleted Tropericium (finely ground)
salt and pepper to taste

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Discard. Combine egg yolks, vinegar, mustard and ground Tropericium in a lead bowl. Stir until it forms a smooth paste. Apply paste to base of skull. Sprinkle salt and pepper onto tongue until the taste goes away. Repeat as necessary.

Jerry Grogan had been repeating this far more than was absolutely necessary until about eighteen years ago, when he finally managed to quit using “the sauce”.