29 November 2012


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


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.