13 December 2013

Contracted, Lethal

Do you remember Beulah Minor? Oh, sure, everybody says that they remember Beulah Minor, but only a handful of people actually do. Beulah used to play first trumpet for the executioner's orchestra on the planet Bezelda. This was long before Jerry Grogan became a naturalized citizen there, of course (please refer to my novel Yerba Mate – if you cannot get a hold of a copy, you have the choice of time traveling into the future to obtain one from almost any North American or European home, bookstore, library, college, university, synagogue, or brothel, or of taking my word for it).

Beulah held almost everyone in high esteem. She was known for this. In her high school yearbook, there was a tiny, little listing by her picture, and it read “most willing to hold someone in high esteem.” People had her number. They were on to Beulah Minor. This was many years before she was shot by the policeman in the woods outside of Bennington, Vermont (please refer to my short story “Priceless and Serene.” If you cannot get a hold of a copy, well, it looks like you are up die scheissenfluss, as we used to say in Tulsa).

In case you are wondering, “schiessenfluss” is the author's manner of rendering a pidgin-German translation of “fecal matter river.” Why the author chose to do this is anyone's guess.

There was one person, however, that Beulah Minor did not hold in high esteem, and that was Crackface Eddie. Crackface Eddie was a dealer of the extreme variety, and he would calculate the molecular weights of all contraband that he peddled, and sell it by the mole. Crackface Eddie got his name after a barroom fight when he was young, and it actually had nothing to do with illegal drugs – the name, that is, not the fight. The fight had everything to do with illegal drugs. Eddie got sliced by a man who had a razor. The man wanted some chemicals that Eddie had up his sleeve and in his pocket and, sadly, within his bodily cavities. The man with the razor, when told that he could not have the chemicals, sliced Eddie's face with said razor, leaving a wound from upper lip to forehead. Eddie's colleague, Finchbreath Hernandez (don't even try to figure it out), said that the new scar made Eddie's face look more like his backside, and that his face now reminded him of a plumber's derriere. “Crackface” was born.

Before the “Irreputable Naysayer's Narcotic Act” was passed, people were always trying to obtain illegal chemicals (in any molecular weight, it seemed) so that they could render them into liquid form, place the liquid into a syringe and then inject the lovely little chemical cocktail into their veins. The chemicals would course through the person's body and sometimes render their brains as pliable as salt-dough. Sometimes their hearts would explode. Sometimes their eyes would bleed. Life was fun and unpredictable back then. Hooray!

Beulah Minor once received a lovely gift from Crackface Eddie. Beulah had tried to purchase a Mother's Day gift from Eddie, and Eddie made it difficult for her. I mean, really, who buys only 20 milligrams of methamphetamine for a Mother's Day gift? Eddie was adamant about only selling less than a quarter gram a day, and he was getting near his daily limit when Beulah showed up. She pleaded and pleaded, but it was no use. Eddie stood fast. He always used to say “what good is a rule if you don't keep it?”

A good saying, I suppose.

Beulah was beside herself, but Eddie was unwavering. He did, however, sweeten the deal, but promising to give her a wonderful, lovely gift if she went away with only 20 milligrams.

Beulah though about it, and decided that there was probably no other meth lab open at that late hour, and she would otherwise be unable to purchase a gift for dear old mumsie on the eve of Mother's Day (all the pipe-wrench emporiums were closed, after all).

Beulah quickly nodded her head and got out her credit card. Crackface Eddie swiped it, closed the deal, and gift-wrapped the tidy little package.

“My gift?” whispered Beulah Minor in a voice as light as cotton.

“Memories,” said Crackface Eddie, smiling a greasy, toothless smile, “which are better than the real thing.”

Beulah walked home several inches above the sidewalk.

The next day, after her mother's brain had been rendered as pliable as salt-dough, her heart exploded. Beulah watched as her mother took her last breath and as her eyes fluttered shut like the closing wings of a briny-flower moth.

The days ahead and behind were cold and broken like a glass-shard siren. Veins and nerves and breath of stale air, nestled in lungs that shook at the slightest suggestion of a human touch.

But the memories were better than the real thing.


05 December 2013

A New Book For You to Buy!

worse than it looks

poetry by
Tom Janikowski


This nifty little volume of mine makes a wonderful Christmas gift for your therapist, spinster aunt, or neighborhood stalker.

Order now! 

Order often!

02 December 2013

Quasi-Sasquatch, Quasi-Squanto

You've heard it told how Mr. Michael Nitrous of West 43rd Street was a wily little street urchin when he was young. Back in the day he was known as Little Mikey Nitrous, and there was more than one thing that held his interest. Some people thought that he was an orthodox druid, but he was not – his parents had been reform druids for some time, but little Mikey himself was more of a shaman. He used to eat druids for breakfast. In fact, on Little Mikey's unicycle there was a bumper sticker to that effect (no small feat on a unicycle) - “I eat druids for breakfast” it read.

Little Mikey used to make his way down to the shamanic mall every now and again, especially when they held a smoker. Mikey would fire up a cubeb (usually a cubeb, anyway – sometimes he would smoke a lizard, as it was said that Mr. Huston fellow did upon occasion), and hold forth on some great and important topic related to shamanism. It might be harmonic vibration or badger innards. Who could tell? Little Michael Nitrous covered it all. At least in his own mind, and at least until people stopped referring to him as “little Mikey Nitrous” and began referring to him as “Mr. Michael Nitrous of West 43rd Street.”

Everything changes. Some of it for the better. Just wait...you'll see.

At one particular smoker, little Mikey came face to face with a demonic shaman – one who was just right testy, believe you me. The fellow wore a red jockstrap and a headdress made of calf's liver – you don't get much more testy that that, if you know what I'm saying. The demonic shaman saw Mikey and shook his little bird-bone rattle at him.

“Quee-hotch!” shouted the demonic shaman.

“Awww...applesauce!” cried back little Mikey Nitrous.

“May the spirits confound your aura!” shouted the demonic shaman.

“Yer mama's got a confounded aura!” shouted back little Mikey, waving his hand.

This was too much for the poor shaman to take, and he limped off to the wet bar, seeking a cool draught of gin and milk. Little Mikey Nitrous wiped his hands on his trousers and smiled a contented smile. He might have just as well licked his chops, but alas, he did not.

Licking one's chops” is a phrase that was used profusely throughout the 20th century, and it referred (in the literal sense) to a person or animal licking his or her teeth with his or her tongue – often in anticipation of eating some nearby and readily-available food. In the figurative sense, this referred to eagerness or anticipation of some soon-to-be-realized source of pleasure. In the 21st century we stopped using this phrase altogether. By the early 22nd century we had begun using the phrase “dulking the mudjow.” It means about the same thing. Trust me.

Little Mikey Nitrous followed the demonic shaman to the wet bar and skulked up behind him (Mikey had always been an expert at skulking). With a little shake of his very own bird-bone rattle, Mikey began to sing the “Rime of the Ancient Shamanic Mariner.” The demonic shaman looked on in disbelief.

Several hours later, little Mikey wiped the spittle from his chin and adjusted his balsa-wood breastplate. He looked the demonic shaman in the eye. He looked him up and down. He looked at his hairy left ear. “Sorry for sayin' that about yer mama's aura,” said Michael.

The demonic shaman narrowed his eyes until they were showing as little red slits.

“I shoulda' just pointed out yer sloping mast and dipping prow,” said Michael, “but I thought yer name was Coleridge, so I just left it alone.”

Michael turned on his heel and walked back to the dancefloor. The demonic shaman collapsed in tears, and a puddle of milky gin.

Some things are just too hard to take, even for a demonic shaman.

Just wait...you'll see.


20 November 2013

Back to Balloonheart

I peered out of the open access panel over the stubbly corn fields overgrown with prairie grasses, weeds, and wildflowers. What exactly is the difference between a weed and a wildflower or a wild grass, anyway? It has something to do with what is supposed to be there and what is not, I guess. Certain things are in a place because someone put them there, and other things get to where they are because they just wind up there. No telling, really, how a lot of things end up where they do.

Kind of like me, I guess you'd say.

I had not seen Ed's Ghost for over a day, and I started thinking about what a ghost might really be. I had never been what you would call a “spiritualist” or (in the old fashioned way of talking) a “dualist” - that is, one who believes in the a separation or coexistence of a man's mind and his body. I never found any reason to start thinking that way – until I met Ed's ghost, that is.

I looked at my rifle. My stolen rifle. My rifle stolen from a guy who had a heart attack while he was trying to peacefully take a leak on a roadside. Poor fat fool. Since he was dead, did my taking the rifle from him count as “stealing”? I suppose if I stole it from anyone, I stole it from the Project. If there was anyone that could afford to lose a rifle, it was the Project. And if there was anyone who would serve up your head on a platter or your chest against a firing squad for stealing a rifle, ditto. It was the Project. I would plead ignorance and fear, I suppose, if I got caught, and just hope for a blindfold. Bastards. Like they need all the rifles they've got.

It was a peaceful looking rifle. Black. Gas-operated. Air-cooled. Magazine-fed. Select-fire. 5.56 millimeter bore. My uncle Niles said these were almost the same kind of rifles that they used way, way back before the war. In fact, Uncle Niles said that his granddad (is that my great-granddad? Great grand-uncle? I don't know) had used almost the same rifle in a place thousands of miles away where we went to go kill people for killing the people who were helping us to kill people. He had stepped on a bamboo skewer of some sort – the thing went right through his boot when he stepped in a pit. The damned leg got infected and they ended up having to cut it off. Uncle Niles showed me a picture, once, of his great granddad and some of his friends using drugs in that same war. Not the kind of drugs we have now, mind you. We have safe drugs now. Him and his friends smoked things right into their lungs. How crazy.

That was before his leg had to come off.

Anyhow, it was a peaceful rifle – nothing like the street sweeper that I used to use on patrol. I held it up against my shoulder and looked through the ghost rings. Funny name, isn't it? Ghost rings. I thought about Ed's Ghost while I did that, and I thought about Ed doing the same thing. And I swept the barrel over the stubbly fields way down below, and I thought back to Ed getting pressed though that steel grating – the whole big load of titanium ingots coming down on him like a ton of heaven or a ton of hell, and turning Ed into pulp in less than a second. Pressed him right through that grating, clothes and bone and kevlar helmet and all. And Cindy only had his one gold tooth that they found that she could identify. The gold tooth with a cross engraved into the back of it. Crazy.

And I saw a three-man patrol way down below – looking for me, no doubt. They were less than 100 meters away when they came into view, stretching their way across the corn field, just like they were trying to flush out some kind of game – which they were, of course. I trained my ghost rings on the man in the rear, and flipped off the safety. Snap. He went down like a sack of silicone caulking. The other two crouched down and shouldered their rifles. Before they could figure out where the shot had come from I trained on the second one. Snap. Right through his teeth. I saw it. Down he went.

The last man let his rifle drop on its sling, and he turned to run. I put the front sight right between his shoulder blades, and took up the slack on the trigger.

“Hombre, easy.” I heard the voice of Ed's Ghost.

I thought that I shouldn't let him get away. I thought that he would let the garrison know my location. I thought I shouldn't shoot a man in the back.

“Ed, I can't shoot a man in the back,” I whispered into the ether.

“Easy,” he said again.

There was a flash of white light and I saw bits of fatigue coat go blowing into the air. Probably a little soldier-meat, too, but I didn't look too closely. The guy had hit a white phosphorus anti-personnel mine. He probably never knew what him him, I thought to myself.

“Like a ton of heaven or a ton of hell, Hombre,” said Ed's Ghost. “Take it from someone who knows.”

It got silent. So did I. I snapped the safety on and crawled back into the main shaft of the windmill.


The wind picked up, but I fell asleep, and dreamed of wild prairie grasses and gold teeth.

15 November 2013

Lunch? Or a Story?

“Lissen' here, Gutboy,” said Prentice, the silver-haired exterminator chimp, “I gots me a lil' story to share wif' you, so I needs you t' juss shuddup and siddown.”

Gutboy was in no mood to cooperate. Gutboy was enjoying the gladiator match far too much. His low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula was not helping matters, either. He chewed (not silently, unfortunately) and shook like a bowl full of schmaltz as he watched the chariots tip end over end.

“Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell dis' here story to,” spouted Prentice in desperation, “I GOTS to tell de' story. If'n it don' get told, it goes away fer' good. Don' choo get it?”

Gutboy stared into space. When a person does not want to hear a story, you can hardly force it on him, can you? No, of course you can't. Forcing a story on somebody is just ridiculous.

Prentice reached out with a meaty paw and seized poor Gutboy around the throat. Now, while we have seen things like this played out before in our fine literary establishment, it has never been the throat of a poor, unwitting puppet that we have seen grasped with a meaty paw. It has always been right around the cranium (the work of very large hands) or the lapel (accordingly, that of very small hands). Necks, while seemingly a fine target, never get grasped in the way you might expect. Perhaps it is due to the soft flesh. Perhaps it is due to the proliferation of fragile bones in that region. Perhaps it is due to the neck-devils that so many people seem to be sporting these days – neck-devils with barbs of stainless steel and the occasional spool of concertina wire.

Who would want to grab a neck-devil?

Prentice grabbed Gutboy around the throat without a thought to the neck-devils, and his gamble paid off. Gutboy made a sharp gulping sound and lurched forward. He lurched backward. He lurched inwardly, attempting to escape the meaty hand by means of existential absence. Nothing seemed to work. Prentice increased the pressure on Gutboy's throat until the poor fellow could no longer concentrate on the gladiator match and the low-carb roast mutton wrap.

Such injustice.

“Okay...now you sits down an' I tells you de' story.” Prentice dropped Gutboy's limp body to the floor. His spirit sailed aloft, however, hovering several feet in the air.

“When I was just a lil' chillun', I used to hafta' go an' gets my daddy a pail a' beer from de' corner tavern. You know how dat' goes? When you gets a nickel slapped in yer meaty ol' paw from a way meatier paw? An' den' you hasta' go an' walk t' de' tavern for de' pail a beer?”

Gutboy's spirit shook its head. Prentice never saw it, so he went on.

“An' de' one day you gets to de' tavern, an' at de bar 'dere sits de' biggest ol' lumpkin of a man – puffin' on his ciggy-but an' hampherin' away at de' ol' lumpkin next to him.”

Prentice made a pantomime motion of a man smoking a cigarette.

“Well, when I gets to de' bar an' de' barkeep' he up an' sez “well Master Prentice, wha' choo' want? Nudder' pail a beer fo' yo' daddy?” an' I looks at him and sez “yessir.” Well, de' hairiest and biggest ol' lumpkin of dat man, well he reaches on over an' tweaks my cheek wif' a meaty set o' fingers and a smelly, bony thumb.”

In mid air, the spirit of Gutboy pondered what a bony thumb might smell like. He gave up after but a moment.

“Well, 'dat bony thumb, it lef' a mark. It lef' a deep mark. Like dat' man said as he tweaked it, “be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.” I dint' know what he wuz talkin' 'bout at de' time, an' dat' he wuz usin' anudder man's words. Dere' wuz worse, too...”

Gutboy's spirit hovered and with a wispy ethereal hand made a 'so, go ahead...go on...' kind of motion. Prentice never saw it, of course, but he went on anyway.

“I got home wit' de' pail a' beer, an' my daddy din' even say thank you. He din' even say a 'ting. As time got goin' by, I got to prentendin' dat' I wuz a whole lotta' bad stuff. An' dat' kin' be really bad. Just look.” Prentice swept his hands in front of himself, as if to display what he was wearing.

“But now, I ain't gonna' preten' no more. You kapiche? Gutboy? You kapiche?”

Gutboy's body was motionless on the ground. Gutboy's spirit nodded his head though, and said silently with wispy, ethereal lips “kapiche.”

“Gutboy...Gutboy, youse de' one I gots' to tell 'dis here story to. Ain' choo' gonna' say somefin'? Ain' choo' gonna' say? Do I gotsta' go on wif' de' pretendin'?”

Gutboy wept. Not for himself, but for Prentice. His spirit flew away, not caring anymore about gladiators and low-carb roast mutton wrap with arugula.

Spirits have bigger things to care about.

And spirits don't have to pretend.


Kapiche?

13 November 2013

Two's Company

With a hop-holder starchart, that gravy-drinking idiot thought he could find his way around the universe of dreams, but he was mistaken – there is nothing you can read on a hop-holder starchart that will tell you how to get anywhere.

Just ask that old Tumultuous Tooby, the wisher of pigeons.

Tooby held his pigeons in a grand old coop. This was back in the day of much larger coops, however, so for me or anyone to call his coop “grand” really meant something. It was grand. It was lavish. It was clean. It was energy-efficient and (for the most part) politically correct. Everyone wanted to visit Tumultuous Tooby's pigeon coop. Wouldn't you?

Of course you would.

(I say that a lot these days.)

Tooby had one of those less-than-accurate hop-holder starcharts, and on a blissful day back in 1979 he attempted to actually reach the stars – he was going to go for all the glory. I was but a tender youth at the time, but I knew a grand coop from a plain one, and I knew what glory that gravy-drinking Tooby would draw upon himself if his outlandish plan would actually work. He would be the talk of the town. The toast of pigeon-land.

Tooby took that hop-holder starchart in his sweaty little fist. He clenched. He squeezed. He dreamed. He went to his happy place. He went to his calm place. He went to his agitated place. He went to his nervous and shaky place. He soiled his trousers. He whistled a German marching-tune.

Nothing happened.

Tumultuous Tooby opened his eyes and wiped the palms of his hands on his stained trousers. He had felt the sweat pop out of his pores like bullets. That is, each little droplet of sweat had actually come to the surface of his skin as a little lump of soild lead – some of them with hollow points or with steel jacketed cores. It was the strangest thing. Tooby listened to the little leaden droplets as they rolled off his pants leg and onto the linoleum floor of his kitchen. He realized that perhaps the kitchen was no place to shoot for the stars and assume that your hop-holder starchart was going to do you any good.

Tooby came upstairs and sat down in his beanbag chair, right next to me in mine. We looked at each other for a brief moment.

“It didn't work, did it?” I asked him.

“Shut up and give me a bite of your Zagnut,” he replied.


I handed it to him and we turned back to the TV. The hop-holder starchart never worked for Jack Tripper and Mr. Roper either.

08 November 2013

Ages

“Terrance, I done told you to lay off that rot-gut.”

“It ain't rot-gut, ma, it's just whiskey.”

Terrance never was too bright, and when his ma told him it was rot-gut, he should have just believed it was rot-gut. A kid can't go around second-guessing his ma too long, 'fore something bad happens and he winds up hurtin', dead, or dumber than he was before. Like that story of the brush chipper I was tellin' you all about – how Jared Austin got hisself all up and killed just by being a little too careless.

But then, I already told you about that.

Terrance always got that rot-gut whiskey from that man up in Blanchers who was known to have a still out back of his barn and who kept it hid behind a bunch of old machinery. Sheriff Morgan never went 'round there to check out things, and everyone says that there might have been some kind of a deal struck there. I ain't sayin' that, mind you – that's just what everyone says.

I ain't sayin' it.

So Terrance would get that rot-gut and go off on a wild spree, drinkin' and cuttin' up, and hangin' out with his friends up in Cotton City. He lost his job at the mill, and took to livin' back at home – that's how his ma got to knowin' about his drinkin' in a real first-hand sorta' way. She seen' it. His aunt Lila seen' it. The mail delivery driver seen' it – seen' it when he was passed out in the culvert with his coveralls bunched up 'round his ankles 'cause he was drunk and didn't want his ma to hear him having the trots in the house. Dumb, drunk Terrance saw it fit to do his business out in the culvert, and he was still there when the mail came around.

Word travels fast, and folks 'most already knew the truth, anyway.

There was time that Terrance had to spend in the pokey in Haverland, 'course, and I think Sheriff Morgan liked havin' a little fun with him whenever he had the chance. No one said a thing, even though some seen' it. Lotsa' folks suspected it, but none could ever prove it.

Terrance didn't last too long. He wasn't near' as old as his old man was when he passed away. Terrance done dumb things, and then he done some dumber things. Dumbest thing of all was ever getting' started down a road that he shouldn't have set foot on. You know how that goes? You know roads like that? You know how a road can look like it's goin' in one direction when you set out, and then by the time you ain't too far down that road, you're headin' right' different.

And so it was that his ma looked at the piled up dirt on the grave and thought about things a ma should say and things a ma just can't. You know how it is. I ain't never been a ma, but I think I know as well as anyone – we all do. Anyone that has seen fit to ever think about right and wrong or even just been faced with the difference. You see it and you can hardly not think about it. You can't hardly let the thoughts form ideas and the ideas form words and those words form right into the shapes on your tongue and on your lips and they damn near come rollin' out your mouth. Even rollin' out words when you're lookin' at piled up dirt on a grave.


“Terrance, I done told you to lay off that rot-gut.”

05 November 2013

Find Me on Facebook!

Hello everybody. As a bit of a shameless plug, I would like to let you know that you can find me now on Facebook. In fact, you could even go over there right now and "like" my page. No...no...really, you could do that...I wouldn't mind at all. No,  really, go ahead...don't let me stop you:

01 November 2013

The Beginning of Chapter Four

From the forthcoming Radio - a Novel  by Tom Janikowski

4.

If you have read this far, it is worth sharing a few things with you. Seeing as how most readers of fiction never make it through the third chapter of any given book and merely go around criticizing it based on something they read on the dustjacket, I opted to make the third chapter inordinately short. I figured this would get you “over the hump” and into chapter number four. Which, if you are reading this, seemed to work.

This being the case, you are probably ready for me to share with you the strange truth regarding the word “all-righty,” sometimes spelled “alrighty.” The word has more or less the same meaning as the phrase “there you go,” alternately rendered as “there you have it.” A phrase or a word of affirmation. A phrase of agreement. It is a phrase, however, that by the end of the war, had fallen into disuse, only to be replaced with the word “rab-klaat.” Linguists, English scholars, and bloggers were uncertain how this particular word made its way into the language, but they had plenty of fun trying to explain it. Most believed it was an Inuit word (the Inuit being an advanced nation of people, who had discovered the key to cold fusion long before any advanced extraterrestrial races had done the same). There was an Inuit phrase “ra-ab kla-a-at” that originally meant something like “pass the seal relish, Rob,” but had devolved into meaning something like “yeah?”. This was as close as anyone could figure.

I tell you this only because I intend to use the word profusely over the next seventy-five or so chapters, and because that was also the first word that Michael Nitrous heard as he stepped out into the moony-light airframe of a swollen day. The wafer-thin cheesewood door swung open, and he heard a dry voice say “rab-klaat.”

“Huh?” asked Michael, thinking he had misheard someone.

“Rab-klaat,” said the dry voice again. Michael turned in its direction and saw something very unlike an Inuit reindeer herder. It was the old man from chapter 26. An old grey-headed fellow with an out-of-style sort of leisure suit and a smell about him that was something like a tortilla factory. Or a tortilla factory that had soiled itself, perhaps. Michael shook his head a bit and looked again. The old man was still wearing polyester.

“Hey, there's someone in there,” started Michael, motioning toward the door.

“Yes, I know,” said the man in the leisure suit, “I'm aware of that.”

If we may just chat about polyester leisure suits for just a moment, that would be most delightful. Polyester was a petroleum-based fiber that the pre-war world of the 1970's found easy to manufacture and rather stain-resistant (you can never have enough stain-resistance, you know). When clothing-chemists first began the search for the leisure suit, there was great optimism and an overriding hope that some sort of fruit-based fabric could be worked out, but it never happened. Researchers the world over were forced to begin crafting the embryonic leisure suits (sometimes called, in those early days, “non-toil suits”) out of petroleum-based fabric known as “bridgetfelt.” bridgetfelt was a tough, fibrous fabric that reminded most people of an over-cooked buffalo steak. Development was rapid, however, and progress came with each dawning day. How romantic.

Enough about leisure suits. No one ever really liked them, anyway.

25 October 2013

A Hot, Dry Spell

(The concluding segment of the forthcoming collection of short fiction by the same name.)

And so a hot, dry spell issued out into a long, long time of waiting, and hoping and, if truth be told, of dreaming. That seems to be the thing that hot and dry spells always lead to. When you can't have, you dream. When you can't dream, you just might die. There was a man once who said that where there is no vision, the people perish. I believe there is likely some truth to that.

I put the last of my things in the back of my truck and drove out of Crawford County on a Sunday night. Not the most usual of times to leave, but then, the County is not the most usual of places. I knew that if I didn't get going right then and there, I might never leave. I took my record collection, of course, and all of my books. I left photo albums and such (such as I had) behind. I won't miss them.

A long time ago, when I first moved to Crawford County, I set fire to all of my pictures that I had from the years before – when I was up in Kentucky, and when I was drinking more. Those were good times, but it seemed that when I moved down to Haverland I didn't need to be reminded of any of that. And that was a good thing, for when you enter into that hot, dry spell, you just hate looking back at a time that was lush and green – a time that was well watered and full of life. You can hardly stand a thing like that, can you? Certainly not. Certainly not when the grass is brown and dry and as crisp as a wicker basket.

When I finally parked my truck the next morning, I was in the city – no, not Cotton City, mind you. I had gone a lot farther north that that. There wasn't any kudzu to be seen, and not a single sourwood, as far as the nose could smell. Everything was different.

And that was exactly the reason I was here.

Sometimes the most common thing is the strangest to a person. I heard about a guy who had come down with some disease wherein his body started rejecting certain other parts of his body. I think his liver was the first one to go, if my memory serves me. The doctors were able to keep him from completely shutting down by allowing his body's immune system to develop something of a lend-lease agreement with the organs as they started to be rejected, if you know what I mean, but this only went on for so long. His body just didn't want to put up with such nonsense anymore.

How could it?

Other times, it is that which is entirely foreign that you crave and you desire. It is not unlike a man being joined to his wife – two distinct and separate entities that become one and are nearly inseparable. That is exactly it. Instead of a body rejecting itself, the body craves that outside itself which makes it complete.

And so it was. And so it is.

I could never go very far north. Folks are too different the farther north you go, and nearly incomprehensible. I had a friend, once, who had a brother who had a friend who lived all the way up in Wisconsin. He came down to Crawford County and I met him at a hog roast out at a farm near Blanchers. He was full of himself, and cold.

But then, I guess you could say I was being judgmental. There you have it.

Well, I am getting to rambling, and that is sure no way to close when I've been telling you. Not that all of it seemed to stick together, of course, but that just seems to be the way I tell things. I just want to make sure, after all is said and done, that you all know how important it is. Life, I'm talking about. There are those who think it isn't worth a plugged nickel, and who treat it as such. Then there are those who just take it for granted and let it slip right by without a thought. I'm here to tell you not to do either.


Even in a hot, dry spell.

22 October 2013

It Was Yet Another Dark and Stormy Knight

I stepped out into the driving rain and pulled my oil-skin tightly around my neck and up to my cheeks. Not those cheeks, you sicko – the oil-skin was not nearly that long. Anyhow, I swaddled myself right up and headed down the street to Limpy's Place, late for my traditional nightly meeting with my brother Pat.

After the short stroll to my traditional watering hole (“always buy a house close to the watering hole”, my father had once told me. He had lived for five decades in a house just across the street from a delightful little gin mill that changed its name every six months or so. Mother did a lot of needlepoint.), I opened the door to Limpy's, to see that Pat was already ensconced in his traditional spot – right next to my traditional spot. He was drinking his traditional single-malt with some unpronounceable and traditional Scottish name, and he had ordered up my traditional martini (stirred, very dry, straight-up, and with a single, unskewered olive stuffed with traditional pimiento – I detail this for your benefit and mine, just in case I come to visit your area and you wish to buy me a drink.), which was waiting for me on the traditional bar mat. Pat greeted me (traditionally) with his traditional greeting.

Hey, what's up? You look thirsty.”

Absolutely parched, Pat,” I said, slipping off my oil-skin and handing it to Limpy, who looked at it suspiciously. I watched as he took it in back and a small dog started whimpering. “How was your day?”

Horrendous,” he said. “I had to give a graphic artist the sack.”

The sack of what? Some kind of grain or something?”

Pat looked at me with a blank expression. “No, Tom,” he said, after several agonizing moments, “I had to fire him.”

Ahhh...I see. Why? What happened?”

Well, it was kind of tragic, really. The oaf had been working on a presentation for a new aquatic entertainment facility that we are doing for a zoo up in Saskatchewan – 60,000 acres dedicated to showcasing the Richardson ground squirrel.”

Do Richardson ground squirrels spend a lot of time enjoying aquatic entertainment?” I asked.

Don't be ridiculous, Tom,” he said. “This is for the patrons of the zoo. Canadians love synchronized swimming, I'm told. Best of all, we have one entire outdoor pool that has an expandable liner. In winter the whole thing freezes over and they can use it for ice hockey, curling...whatever.”

Fun for the whole family,” I said.

Sure,” Pat said, going on. “Well, as it turned out, my graphics guy...”

Former graphics guy,” I interjected.

Yeah. Former graphics guy. Well, he had put together a fairly decent piece of work, and I just said something to him about the kerning. He tilted his head at me, opened his mouth, and walked out of the office. He came back the next day. It was awful.”

What happened?”

Well, when we sat down to look over the presentation one last time, I asked him if he had taken care of what we had talked about.”

And...?”

Well, the long and short of it was that the guy wasn't really a graphic designer. He had a degree in botany or something from some school in northern Wisconsin or Norway or somewhere. He just had a good eye for lettering and knew how to use the right kinds of software. He had been stealing little bits of artwork here and there. That's why our graphics have had the unique 'ransom-note' feel to it for the last year or so.”

I always kind of liked that,” I said. “I just thought you were being avant-garde.”

Yeah, I did to.”

So what tipped you off?” I asked, draining my glass.

When I asked him about the kerning, he had no idea what I meant. He thought I said 'gurning'. “

Gurning?”

Yeah,” Pat said, “gurning. The art of horrendously disfiguring your face using only your muscle control.”

You have got to be kidding me...” I said, flagging down Limpy for another round and to ask him if the dog was all right.

Nope. There the poor schmuck sat, sticking out his tongue and bulging his eyeballs out of their sockets, all the while trying to puff out the tops of his cheeks and frown at the same time. It was awful.”

I can only imagine.”

Well, we all sat there in a really uncomfortable silence for a minute or so. Finally Woody, our landscape architect, cleared his throat and said something about going for a smoke. Woody being an orthodox druid with only one lung, I figured a serious nerve had been struck. I had to go for the nuclear option.”

How'd you break it to him?” I asked.

I just told him that we didn't need his services anymore.”

That's it?” I asked as our drinks arrived.

Well,” said Pat, “I did warn him that if he did that too often his face would stay that way.”

You do have a heart, Pat. Here...drink up.”

Thanks, Tom. And you know, I started researching gurning after that.”

Really?”

Yeah,” he said. “I was thinking that if the whole writing thing doesn't work out, there could be a future for you there.”

Thanks, Pat,” I said, rolling my eyes back in their sockets and sucking in my upper lip. “Here's to health.”


16 October 2013

Tulips for Gas

Down the ramp did that mint-sucker fly, running right up to old Levinhook and slapping him on the back of the head. It mussed his hair, but that was OK.

It was just OK.

Step back from the melon cart,” cried Levinhook, sizing up the mint-sucker and thinking to himself an unpleasant thought. “Keep your filthy hands off me!”

Levinhook, you old nutter,” said the mint-sucker, “I know what they say about you...I know all the things they say about you, and I know they're all true.”

Hell,” said Levinhook, “like that one man said in his song, it's a real good time to forget I ever knew you.”

But you know you can't,” said the mint-sucker, prancing in circles and lifting his eyelids in a most provocative manner. He slapped Levinhook on the back of the head once again. The subcutaneous fat beneath the wrinkled skin of Levinhook's head shook just a little bit. Had anyone noticed, it would have seemed reminiscent of gelatin in a pan, surrounding a cold pork hock.

Gelatin, incidentally, is often produced from the connective tissues of animals. Sometimes these tissues are taken from pigs, in fact. I just thought you might want to know this.

The mint-sucker pranced around Levinhook, who kept his beady little eyes trained on him, lest he fall victim, once again unaware, to another slap on the head. High overhead a man carried a long two-by-four beneath his arm as he strolled nonchalantly on a steel beam.

This was all taking place adjacent to a construction site, in case you were not aware.

A big construction site. One where they were constructing wonderful things.

Levinhook,” called out the mint-sucker, “would you tell me where you found that crazy, crazy sweater you are always wearing?”

Levinhook blushed bright red. Beads of sweat popped out of his fatty little head.

Get out of here, you prancercizing fool!” Levinhook took a swing with his meaty fist and nearly hit the mint-sucker, who bobbed and weaved like a championship boxer.

I know where you got that crazy, crazy sweater! I know right where you got it! I know who you took it from!” The mint-sucker was jumping about wildly and flailing his arms like a windmill. Levinhook stood silent and motionless.

High overhead a load of steel suspended from a crane swung perilously close to the man carrying the two-by-four.

High overhead a Kosher wife and two Kosher children never gave a thought to a crazy, crazy sweater.


04 October 2013

Branson is for Lovers

The strange gurgling sound in his throat had begun only a few weeks ago, but he took it to be a sign that he was getting older. Gurgling sounds in the throat did not scare him as much as the emptiness in that place that some would call the heart, some would call the soul, and some would just ignore.

Yep, that's our Pinny. Pinny with the tongue of the Rocketman still lingering in his nose.

Precious, precious Pinny stayed low against the tops of the furniture (so as to hide himself from the snipers that might be outside) and he listened carefully. The only sound he heard was the gurgling noise in his throat, but he knew that sometimes the snipers were trained to move during the gurgling and remain motionless during the silence. Pinny gurgled in uneven intervals and tried to catch the snipers moving unexpectedly, but he had no luck.

He made his way toward a window (pure foolishness, he knew), and took a quick look outside into the chaos of his back yard. Chaos. Pure chaos. Loads of rusting automobiles and engine blocks, and loads of places for snipers to hide. This would not do. He collapsed to the floor, breathing heavily. Gurgling heavily.

You have perhaps realized, dear reader, that there are no snipers in Pinny's back yard – only rusting automobiles and engine blocks. The snipers, of course, exist only in Pinny's imagination. Can you say”imagination”? There you go. I knew you could. “Imagination” is where the Easter Bunny lives, along with personal freedoms in the early twenty-first century. Accordingly, “imagination” is being gradually being beaten out of our schoolchildren – not with leaden pipes, but with leaden curricula...but that's another story. Let's get back to Pinny and the “snipers”, so -called.

The whole of the day he limped about, gurgling, limping, crouching, avoiding chaos and avoiding the deadly crosshairs of the snipers. It was in the early evening when precious, precious Pinny stubbed his toe against a block of poly-resin that had been crafted into a scale model of the pyramids of Cheops. Or was it Ramses? Or some other Egyptian celebrity?

Pinny dropped to the floor to inspect the pyramid. He picked it up and held it before his eyes. Little crystalline chips seemed to sparkle on its surface as he rotated it upon its axis. He looked carefully at the little doorway molded into the pyramid's side. He imagined himself as being very small and walking right into the doorway, down the descending corridor into the pyramid's interior, into the ante-chamber, and then right into the burial vault. With a deft little pop of his crowbar he would pry open the lid on a mummy's sarcophagus, revealing the linen-wrapped corpse within.

The linen-wrapped pharaoh lifted his scoped rifle and cracked a single shot through the forehead of the imaginary Pinny-adventurer, who fell to the floor of the burial chamber, leaving the pink mist hanging in the air.

Justification for the beatings, now, isn't it?


Justification for the emptiness in that place that some would call the heart, some would call the soul, and some would just ignore.

23 August 2013

Build the Perfect Breakfast

It was just patch of tall prairie grasses and a couple of thin, spindly trees, but you could hardly see through it. The sunlight came racing along and stopped dead in its tracks when it hit the vegetation.

Hell,” said Schmiechowski, rubbing his eyes with the palms of his hands, “when I bought this prime little piece of real estate over fifty years ago, there wasn't a damn thing anywhere around. It was all just a rolling prairie with a couple of patches of trees here and there.”

A little prairie wind blew gently across where we were standing.

I wanted a little place to retire to,” he continued. “A little spot of land where I could put my rocking chair and watch the earth crumble away to dust. I could only afford this little patch.” He motioned to the four foot square patch of vegetation.

Schmiechowski shifted a little, moving his hands nervously on the handgrips of his aluminum walker. The hiss from his oxygen tank reminded me of a serpent. Serpents get their heads crushed, though, you know.

Well, the damned place grew up around it, as it turned out,” he said. “This whole area got developed. It used to be pristine public lands. Now its a strip mall.”

And a movie theater,” I added.

And a movie theater,” he agreed, nodding his head. “Now this little patch of vegetation is so overgrown, standing here by itself in the middle of this parking lot, I can't even set my lawn chair down in it. You see what I mean?”

I nodded to show that I understood.

Get to it then,” he ordered.

I started up the Bobcat and had the job done in less than three minutes. In the middle of the asphalt parking lot there was now a four foot square muddy scar on the earth, where tall prairie grasses and a couple of thin, spindly trees had just formerly grown.

Schmiechowski opened his lawn chair with one hand and threw it into the center of his little patch of land. He plopped himself down in the chair, knocking over his walker as he did so.

I guess I don't need that damn thing anymore,” he said.

Schmiechowski looked around at what had been a beautiful forest just fifteen years ago. He breathed in what had been pure, clean air just fifteen years ago. What a crock, he thought.

Schmiechowski took a last breath and died right there. And crumbled away to dust.

And crumbled away to dust.

26 July 2013

Walkabout and Rocketry

Pinny walked out his skin that fateful day (the day after he died in the cold county jail, victim of the United States Postal Service). Pinny walked down the street and up to the house of the man who was rumored to give rocketry instruction to anyone who was interested. That is exactly what the sign on his lawn said: “Free Rocketry Instruction to Anyone Who is Interested.” Pinny figured he had nothing to lose. He had been dead for a day, after all. What could it hurt?

Right?

With a deft rap on the door, Pinny summoned Rocketman, who quickly appeared.

“You're the meth addict who died in the county hoosegow, ain't you?” asked Rocketman.

“Sure am,” said Pinny, rubbing his tender noggin with a piece of flannel soaked in camphor. “And I'd like some rocketry instruction.”

Rocketman studied Pinny's eyes and his nose and his mouth. He went on, studying his chin and the lump on the side of Pinny's neck. Pinny shifted uncomfortably.

“What 'cha doin'?” asked Pinny.

“I'm studying you...as one must study oneself. You got it, or do I gotta' pop you one? Now shut up, while I study.” Rocketman seemed impatient.

Pinny could feel the insects beneath his flesh begin to move again, and he was afraid that his beloved necklump might be shifting in shape or size. He raised his hand to cover it, and then lowered it again, afraid that it might call attention to him in a way that he did not desire.

“Is that the cha-la salute?” asked Rocketman, noticing Pinny's raised and then lowered hand. “You a cha-la boy?”

“I'm afraid I have no idea what you're talking about,” said Pinny, blushing bright red (bright red for someone who has been dead for a day, anyhow. These things are rather relative, you know).

Rocketman stopped his study and stood close (very close, in fact) to Pinny's face. He locked his little beady eyeballs onto Pinny's little beady eyeballs. And he leaned in close. Close. Real close.

And he stuck out his tongue.

The serpentine tongue must have measured at least eighteen inches on a good day, but Rocketman only needed an inch or so of it just now, as he placed but the very tip upon the very tip of Pinny's nose. It felt cool, and then warn to Pinny, who very nearly drew back, but stood still and allowed Rocketman's tongue to linger for at least a minute.

Rocketman withdrew his suddenly rainbow-colored tongue and turned back into his house.

“Where you going?” asked Pinny. “You going to go get your rocketry supplies so's you can teach me?”

“I will not teach you,” said Rocketman. “I will not give you instruction.”

“Why?” asked a saddened Pinny. “Do I taste bad?”

“Steel,” said Rocketman. “Steel dreams. They ooze out of a man's flesh. And I can tell your dreams, even if you cannot tell them yourself. Be off. And be well.”

Pinny turned to a deserted street – nowhere to wander for a lonely meth-ghost, but the abandoned avenues of Rocketman dreams.


16 July 2013

Breakwander

Once, twice, a fourth time the bell sounded. It skipped right over the third ring and made the fourth ring louder than ever. Eyes shot heavenward to see if the bell was right. Eyes shot up, eyes came down. Eyes closed and deep breaths came in...deep breaths went out. It was the fourth sounding.

The man down the road who kept pigs in his backyard “lifted a finger,” but not to help. The man (he was a priest, but not the typical kind) made a motion. A gesture. A sign. He lifted his finger, so that no one could say “he didn't even lift a finger,” but it made no difference whatever the case. Sometimes you have been on the right side of a thing like that, sometimes on the wrong side. Sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes it doesn't. The best part is when the person (the man with the pigs in this case) offers you something really fun to eat.

Consider the fun things you may have eaten when you were a child. You may have been given all sorts of sweet things and precious crumb-cakes. I might as well have called this clappy-doodle tale a “precious crumb-cake,” for I love the tale with the same affection I pour out of my very soul for that wondrous baked good. Don't you? The fun things you ate as a child might even come back to haunt you, for just last week I was visited in my dreams by a horrendous meatloaf. I loved meatloaf, and I still do, especially such as my mother made, complete with a hard-cooked egg in the middle. My mother always said there was a “surprise” in the meatloaf, but I knew better. I knew it was just a hard-cooked egg.

But in my dreams it was a horrendous meatloaf that came to me. I struggled to wake up, and I tried calling out. While I thought I was screaming, when I began to come to consciousness I realized I was making only a quiet “engh, engh, engh” sound (as in “what sound does a turtle make, Timmy?”). The meatloaf in my dream was not, in and of itself, horrendous, but rather it was the spectre that carried it that was so horrendous. I cast my mental gaze upon him, and did not even ask why he was carrying a meatloaf. I just tried to move, to scream, to flee. For there are awful things that a spectre with a meatloaf can do to you in your dreams. Don't even ask me to elaborate.

And so he made no sign, he lifted not a finger. It was just as it always had been. I was on the right side, but I noticed that no finger was lifted. And the bell sounded again – a fifth time, a sixth time, a seventh time. It fell silent, never to ring again.

And the man down the road, the man who kept the pigs, he said the same thing. The same thing that always gets said. By someone. Anyone. The same thing I have told you all a thousand times if I told you but once. The same six words that make me want to break into a wander. That make me break and wander. That make or break a wander. A breakwander. Breakwander.

I told you once before to go and consider what this means, and nothing changes. You know that.


I desire mercy and not sacrifice.”

12 July 2013

The Boss

As long as we have been on the topic of the Trudgey Mint®, we had best say a few words about the Lumpy Burger®, and the psychic benefits of consuming this most delectable treat.

Crafted entirely from reclaimed and karmically-neutralized human flesh, the Lumpy Burger® is the fast-food delicacy you have been looking for! Aside from the golden-brown spelt and glucose-ethylene bun that serves as a royal throne to this king of meat-wiches, the Lumpy Burger® is 100% gluten-free, and produced exclusively from the donated limbs of free-range Chicagoans. Bone fragments are carefully removed, and the resulting meat is ground to a smooth and even texture.

Before we go any further, please note that this entire account is fictitious, and neither the blog, the editors, the writer of a Martini and a Pen, the board of directors of Tom Janikowski Industries, Inc., or the Monika Luukkonen Literary Agency advocates cannibalism or the eating of human flesh in any way.

Little Mikey Nitrous knew just how beneficial the Lumpy Burger® could be, and he would save up the nickels and dimes that he earned from mowing old Mr. Swicknipple's lawn just so he could enjoy the meaty treat at least once a week. When Mr. Swicknipple's lawn did not need mowing, Mikey would break into his house in the middle of the night, flood the basement with a garden hose, and then offer to help Mr. and Mrs. Swicknipple bail it out later in the morning. Mr. Swicknipple was always confused, but grateful. Little Mickey would squirrel away the loose change in the tin-foil brassiere that he had crafted in art class and that he kept on a high shelf in his bedroom. Sometimes when the moon was full and bright, its light would reflect off the brassiere at night and keep Mikey awake. A small price to pay for such fine artwork, he felt.

Good art is like that, isn't it? More on that on another day.

When the time was right and his brassiere was full, Mikey would ride his little scooter-contraption down to the local Lumpy Burger® franchise and order up “a double”. This was always a little dicey, as each Lumpy Burger® was crafted from the flesh of a single limb, but there was no such guarantee made about the continuity of limbs when more than one patty were combined. The diner might be consuming the calf-meat of a dental hygenist from Cicero and the forearm of an accountant from Westchester, or the bicep of a transient from downtown and the thigh-meat of a shop owner from Skokie.

Psychic and karmic confusion could likely ensue.

After consuming his Lumpy Burger®, little Mikey would recline on the cool, cool lawn outside the restaurant (for Lumpy Burger® restaurants were always, by contract, encircled by a wide swath of cool, green grass). He would look up into the sky and watch the puffy, white clouds float by as he waited for the spirits of those whose flesh he had just consumed to talk to him. Often, with a double, he might be liable to hear from spirits on “both shores,” as it were, for about half of the Lumpy Burger® donors were still alive and merely getting by with prosthetic limbs.

On one fine day, after having just enjoyed a double with friend onions, little Mikey Nitrous lay in the grass, listening for voices and looking at clouds. He did not have to wait long.

“Make peace with your creator every day,” said the spirit of a librarian from Lincoln Park who had met her end by a falling brick.

“Give me back my stapler, you idiot,” said the spirit of a graphic artist currently working in Elmhurst.

Michael swallowed and then sat down the rest of the burger. Using his little entrenching tool (he always carried his little entrenching tool), he dug a small grave in the soft green lawn. He placed the remains of the Lumpy Burger® in the shallow hole, and carefully covered it with soft, cool earth. He picked up his things and, wiping the dirt from his hands as he walked from the grave, got back on his scooter-contraption and zoomed home, feeling his neutralized-karma levels to be at a dangerously low level. Mikey contemplated this as he arrived at his house and went inside.


He went to the den and plopped down in his father's overstuffed recliner. “Aww, fiddlesticks,” he said, flipping the TV to the shopping network, “the hell with Karma. I'm just gonna' buy me some herbal samsara inhibitor.”