v264, July/August 2016
Internet ISSN 1555-1555, print ISSN 1068-5154
Note that in the print edition of cc&d magazine, all artwork within the pages of the book appear in black and white.
the passionate stuff
Razzin’ Dazzin’ Dazzler
A comic vixenheroine
(Begging my query
Are they “heroines” as in “heroin”
Because some men find strong women a drug?)
But the vixenchickie
Olivia Newton KISS
They had to fix her, later
We all have the idea
The Other has to be fixed
Be different, today!
And, Now! And...Now!
You ask me why I’m alienated, duh
I’m Human in Full
I Am Me
Everything’s a dealbreaker
Male as beta
Perhaps, as an exception
Rather unique as Kewl
Like if Pollock had painted exactly one piece
Male as beta
Is, truth, now
The friend you only want to see
Once every six months
Get all the good dirt
Then press a social button
So they go away
Flying Celestial Club Remix, art supplied by Xanadu
Remember our last apartment?
With the coughing windows, the weepy toilet, the elevator on the fritz.
But we soon got used to that, though we never grew accustomed to the rent.
We paid it punctually, we paid it cordially, and (privately) feared the future, with curses under breath, our youthful faces rumpled, losing in composure, careworn by the month, with curses under breath.
Remember our last apartment?
Hookah Possessed, art by Brian Looney
(whose artwork is also available a etsy).
Muhammad in transit
I went out and bought a printer.
I decided to print out a copy
of the New Testament
I made the thing on the thinnest
paper minimum wage could buy.
I turned the font down low
--like I was setting the mood--
eye-strainingly-low then clicked print.
I smiled in rapture
watching the laser etch horizontal,
prance its little frenzied dance,
creating the Good Book in the Beautiful Language.
I stapled, collated and made another copy.
I met you at your parents’ place in the country;
late, everybody was already there,
cousins, brothers, sisters (including Maggie), Grandma & Poppy.
I didn’t knock though I’d never been there before.
I assumed it was one of my houses from a previous life.
I strode in smiling like Buddha,
glowing like Joan of Arc,
radiating like Muhammad in transit.
You all were waiting for me at the dinner table,
plates & glasses, forks, spoons & knives
set like type, food uncovered and steaming.
“Greetings,” I proclaimed. You should’ve seen
your mother’s face.
I pulled up a chair, two down
from where you sat, confusing everyone.
Your grandfather, Poppy, cleared his throat
and everyone joined hands & bowed their heads.
I let my eyes study each waiting, hollow face,
hunger, impatience, impending drunkenness, boredom
flashing across the suppliant faces like a news crawl ticker.
I don’t remember what the old man said.
I doubt you do either but there were
Amens all around. I cleared my throat
and pushed myself up from my chair.
Eyes darting up, expecting, fearing,
stabs of annoyance, shots of caution,
all turned to me, face smooth as
melting butter, eyes as clear
as a ringing Tibetan prayer bell,
mouth as moist as green spring mist.
“Yes?” your father asked,
more demand than question.
“I have something, sir, for you.”
I reached into my inner jacket,
one copy, shining & golden & waiting there.
I retrieved it. I reached down
from my place in the clouds,
high above you & your family,
my cherub’s wings a-flutter,
the golden trumpet poised at my wet & shining ruby lips,
and gave your father the News.
As he unfolded the stapled & collated
pages, white as the first snow of winter,
your sister, Maggie, caught my eye.
As your father squinted down, confused
and disoriented like the neophyte he is, she
sent the message across the gravy ladle:
“The fuck is this chicken scratch?”
“What is it, Clark?”
“Jim, what is that?”
“The boy is in-sane.”
“Why’s he smiling like that?”
Maggie, as forgotten as Mary after her son’s Ascension,
got up from the table, eyes as sharp as
nails, signals vibrating like a cat’s soft purr,
& made her way out of the growing Babel.
I got the other copy and left it in Poppy’s
frail, shaky hands and followed her.
“What in the hell?”
“Is this Arabic?”
“I think it’s Russian.”
“Is he some sort of terrorist?”
“He’s a weird sonofabitch, that’s for sure.”
Her trail was lavender, sweet, light & enticing.
One door, two doors, three doors,
the fourth was open:
the bathroom, recently scrubbed and glistening like diamonds,
smelling of lemon-scented disinfectant, votive candles,
soap, piss and, there, Maggie’s sweet lavender.
I fucked your sister in the shitter
of your parents’ country estate
& your family stumbled over the Word of God.
Affaires de Coeur
Frank De Canio
What kind of skirmishes are these?
Us soldiers must surrender arms
we’ve sheathed, so savvy gals can seize
them in exchange for arms in harm’s
way! Even then, while being hard
pressed to besiege their citadel,
our thrust is stopped by flanks that guard
its entrance. Thus, our legions swell
in numbers that cannot retreat
until we forge ahead on terms
that all but guarantee defeat.
For an incursion just affirms
captivity inside a realm
where gals sit at their country’s helm.
Starlight In The Roof (weathervane)
on the roof
spins upside down
Eclipsed Moon image from NASA
with dark thunder
after the moon’s
clean up and fuck me and i’ll . . .
really a meteor
she asks me
what success will change
she wants to know
if an advance
will hasten my
trip to the morgue
by putting a
ticket to afghani
in my veins
i tell her
i will quit the scene
from my weakness
& move off skid row
& go surfing
she doesn’t want to
she and my sister
this is only the first
i have with this
new literary agent
on a wednesday night
under the stars
standing beside her
leveled and tuned
to a morphine groove
while she leaned
against her car
while her boyfriend
fucked some chick
i saw her there
i was too high
to fuck around
Perseid Shower photo from NASA
After fixing my son a toad-in-the-hole I sat and thought about being real
I thought being real was about accepting all the possible scenarios
Except living forever
All the deaths you can die and lives you can live
All the things you can stuff in to all the orifices
When he finally leaves the rush of lipstick and blush have me
Bulging in his mom’s silk panties
Its mirror image I wish was real-how much time do I have?
I empty myself all over the sink
Meticulous clean up
As I drive to work I sit and think about being real
One who Has Too Much
People may have looked her way
wait a minute,
she’s had it made all along,
she got ahead at work,
she made a ton of money,
she traveled around the country,
and yeah, they tried to kill her
but after it’s over
she found herself a man
(isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?)
and she was running the poetry scene
in one of the biggest cities in the country
(and don’t you dare tell me
it’s the Second City,
because that only shows
what an East Coast snob you are
and you don’t know a thing about architecture,
or giving a shit about your fellow man)
so even though she’s been
ripped from her roots,
what the Hell,
she’s got everything she materially wants.
As they said in the ‘80s,
what’s her damage?
I wonder how she’d answer.
I’m sure she’d probably say
you might be right
and he was
the perfect person for me,
and it’s a shame
that it took almost dying
to force me
to find him.
But then she’d think,
don’t think for a second
that I’m the woman
who has too much.
Sure, we can complain
that we lost most of our savings
because of the crash after the Internet boom,
but I lost my soul before then.
What do I have too much of?
I have too much anger.
I have too much angst.
I have too much depression,
because if you think you have it all...
If you have it all
you can also have
what everyone else doesn’t want
and you can live with that torture
all your life
as you look around
why everyone wonders
why you look so sad
when you seem to have it all.
Well, you’re right
I do have it all,
I have the pain
of a thousand soldiers
running toward an enemy
they don’t understand
being told to kill
when it’s against their will —
but this is their only choice.
And even if
I didn’t see the slaughter
I went through the recovery
for far too many months
for far too many years,
and I’m still recovering
that someone else
did to me,
and for some reason,
I have to be the one
who always has to
Maybe you don’t understand
because you don’t realize
what you already have.
Because even when you have it all,
can take apart your body
against your will
while you try to piece your mind together
and make sense of what you have left.
I was hoping
the world for women
was turning the corner,
that the world
may finally have evolved
to respect us women.
Wow silly of me.
hold your own
out alone at night,
and don’t assume
if men give you drinks
it’s just because
Some men are good,
I know it’s true,
but that doesn’t mean
the battle is over
and you can feel safe.
Watch your back,
walk fast, check
over your shoulder.
You still work
harder for less
pay than men,
and the men
expect you to cook
and clean for them,
birth and raise
their babies too.
‘Cause that’s your job,
to do everything — and
don’t forget to smile.
I mean, if you think
you’re in the clear
and have nothing to fear,
you can be raped
by people you trust
as well as strangers...
Because keep in mind
now have a name
for the Syrian
and Muslim refugees
they’ve taken in:
mass sexual assaults
seem to be
the raping theme
in twenty sixteen.
You think you’re safe?
Because now we’ve learned
that we can be raped
for being nice.
So, keep a vigilant eye,
and keep up the good
(poem from the “Obey” 6/4/15 Austin show)
Earth is a Topiary
that maybe Earth
is a topiary.
and she said,
if the definition of a topiary
is that it’s two thirds water
and a topiary is supposed to have
worms traveling around
and flies swarming in the air,
Earth is a topiary.
then he said,
but what if Earth if a topiary,
and it’s a centerpiece
at a wedding table.
and the candles are stars,
thinking of the candles
reflected in the eyes
of the guests at the table,
and the guests at the table
are the galaxies.
and at the end of the night
all of the guests leave,
and it’s like all of the galaxies
are traveling away
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 6/4/16 show “Obey” at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! in Austin (Sony), first reading her haiku poems
then reading her poems
Earth is a Topiary (her 1st of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
On Becoming a Woman (an editing and expansion of her 1999 poem Becoming a Woman),
Viewing the Woman in a 19th Century Photograph (an editing of her 1991 poem Photograph, Nineteenth Century and her 2nd of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
Content With Inferior Men, portions of her poem
In The Air with slightly altered wording, and
Oh, She Was a Woman (an editing of her 1997 poem She Was a Woman).
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers in her 6/4/16 show “Obey” at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! in Austin (Cps), first reading her haiku poems
then reading her poems
Earth is a Topiary (her 1st of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
On Becoming a Woman (an editing and expansion of her 1999 poem Becoming a Woman),
Viewing the Woman in a 19th Century Photograph (an editing of her 1991 poem Photograph, Nineteenth Century and her 2nd of 2 poems where she used a voice modulator to reads parts of her poem in a male voice),
Content With Inferior Men, portions of her poem
In The Air with slightly altered wording, and
Oh, She Was a Woman (an editing of her 1997 poem She Was a Woman).
Download all of the show poems in the free chapbook
6/4/16 at Expressions 2016: June is a Woman! show in Austin
(selections from “Farewell Chicago” 8/14/15)
(started 7/20/15, finished 7/21/15)
I’ve heard the buzz before,
that we could be breathing
the same molecules breathed
in Julius Caesar’s last gasp.
Because he was breathing oxygen,
and molecules are constantly
rearranged and recycled.
It could happen.
But wait a minute -
why stop at just Julius?
Why not Cleopatra, or Caligula?
Why not Attila the Hun, or Adolph?
And why stop there?
We’ve shared the air
with the Dinosaurs
from T-Rex to Pterodactyls.
Someone out there
is even hoping a single
molecule they’ve breathed
was once in Jesus’ lungs.
Some people think this way.
And these people don’t want to admit
we share the air
with the homeless people
we avoid on the street.
So, fine. Figure this out,
and master the math. Because math
can prove what’s right or wrong,
and make the world crystal clear.
So some scientists
started coming up with numbers:
oxygen molecules in the atmosphere?
67, plus 48 zeros. (Wow. That’s a lot.)
So make some quick calculations.
Over an 80 year lifespan
(and Adolph Hitler, or even Caligula,
didn’t live close to that long) -
but over an eighty year lifespan
us humans only breathe point zero
zero zero (add 6 more zeros),
zero 1 percent
of all the oxygen atoms on Earth.
Because, you see,
with numbers that small
you can start to like math more,
because with how many
oxygen atoms are out there,
and how few oxygen atoms
on Earth we actually breathe,
statistically speaking, well, this
becomes the most pathetic way
to try to connect yourself
with anyone interesting in existence.
I’ve met a few famous people before,
and they each tried to say something funny,
and trust me, it really fell short,
so I made a point to get away.
Because it’s true, just because
they’re known, doesn’t mean
you should know them.
I don’t want to find
6 degrees of separation
between me and Kevin Bacon,
and I don’t want to know
if I’ve breathed Aristotle’s air.
‘Cause believe me, it might not be
the smartest idea
to spend your time fantasizing
that you’re linked by shared air to others.
Just be busy
being someone yourself,
and see others wasting their time
trying to link to you.
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers (wrapped in VHS tape) in her 8/14/15 show “Farewell Chicago” in her final scheduled feature at Poetry’s “Love Letter” (while living in Chicago) in Chicago (Canon Power Shot), with her poems
Breaking Their Heart,
change (2015 edit),
Planting Palm Tree Seeds,
Other Souls, and
ever leave me.
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers (wrapped in VHS tape) in her 8/14/15 show “Farewell Chicago” in her final scheduled feature at Poetry’s “Love Letter” (while living in Chicago) in Chicago (Canon fs200), with her poems
Breaking Their Heart,
change (2015 edit),
Planting Palm Tree Seeds,
Other Souls, and
ever leave me.
Download poems in the free chapbook
of this & other poems read 8/14/15 at a live Chicago show
See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Shared Air(Cfs) 9/30/15 at Chicago’s Poetry At The Gallery Cabaret
See YouTube video
of Janet Kuypers reading her poem Shared Air (Cps) 9/30/15 at Chicago’s Poetry At The Gallery Cabaret
See YouTube video 6/10/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems Questions and Tension, Shared Air & Us, Actually Touching at Georgetown’s Poetry Plus open mic at Cianfrani’s (filmed from a Canon Power Shot camera).
See YouTube video 6/10/16 of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems Questions and Tension, Shared Air & Us, Actually Touching at Georgetown’s Poetry Plus open mic at Cianfrani’s (video filmed from a Sony camera).
Tree Top, art by the HA!Man of South Africa
This art was not in the performance art show.
litter history books.
- - -
I wish I was Joan of Arc,
carrying her banner in battle,
giving Divinely-inspired advice
to the men under her command.
And I wish I was burned
at the stake for my beliefs.
As the flames rose
to her Roman nose*,
I wonder if she ever knew
of her ultimate power.
- - -
I wish I was on the Titanic
(that sounds so like me —
I’d be the rich elite
on the first cruise
across the ocean)...
I wish I’d gone down,
gone down with them.**
I don’t care
what passenger I am,
the point is that
people will study the disaster
that I was in
Books will be written.
movies will be box office hits.
All from me being
in the wrong place
at the wrong time.
- - -
I wish I were my ancestors,
Marie, Aafje, Petronella, Johanna —
I wish I was in the resistance
to save Jews from the SS
in World War Two.
I never lived
through their struggles
but I’d gladly take their place
and fight for something,
even if it meant
being killed by the Nazis,
for trying to save lives.
- - -
I wish I was on flight 175,
just another one of my trips
across the country,
I’m getting used to airplanes,
it’s actually quite a nice morning.
Come two thousand one,
come all the damage I have seen
so far in my life,
maybe this would be a way to go.
I haven’t seen
the World Trade Centers
since 1995, wow, what a view
this flight is giving me.
Maybe I’d hear
from a neighboring passenger’s
phone call about the hijackers.
I’d see the inferno
of the North Tower
before I’d take part
in a big inferno myself.
Some time to panic,
my name would be
cut through metal
memorialized around the fountains
on the once tallest buildings.
Yeah, it would be quick,
but people would come
to this New York intersection
by appointment only
and run their hands
around the letters
of my name.
After all this pain,
they wouldn’t forget.
- - -
litter history books.
Some may have been great,
some, as I said,
may have been
at the wrong place
at the wrong time.
And after I’ve been attacked,
and after I’ve been almost killed,
I’ve pieced myself back together,
I’ve screamed my stories from rooftops,
I’ve etched my words into stone.
And no one hears me.
And if they do,
no one will remember.
* The Smiths, “Bigmouth Strikes Again”
** Morrissey, “Munich Air Disaster 1958”
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems True Happiness in the New Millennium, Just Desperation and Other Souls at the 5 year anniv. of the open mic Elizabeth’s Crazy Little Thing in Wicker Park, Chicago (Cfs)
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading her 3 poems True Happiness in the New Millennium, Just Desperation and Other Souls at the 5 year anni. of the open mic Elizabeth’s Crazy Little Thing in Wicker Park, Chicago (Cps)
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers (wrapped in VHS tape) in her 8/14/15 show “Farewell Chicago” in her final scheduled feature at Poetry’s “Love Letter” (while living in Chicago) in Chicago (Canon Power Shot), with her poems
Breaking Their Heart,
change (2015 edit),
Planting Palm Tree Seeds,
Other Souls, and
ever leave me.
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers (wrapped in VHS tape) in her 8/14/15 show “Farewell Chicago” in her final scheduled feature at Poetry’s “Love Letter” (while living in Chicago) in Chicago (Canon fs200), with her poems
Breaking Their Heart,
change (2015 edit),
Planting Palm Tree Seeds,
Other Souls, and
ever leave me.
Download poems in the free chapbook
of this & other poems read 8/14/15 at a live Chicago show
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading 4 poems 8/31/15 at the Chicago open mic Weeds (Canon fs200), with an edited version of her poem
Communication, plus her poems
Death Takes Many Forms,
True Happiness in the New Millennium, and
See YouTube video of Janet Kuypers reading 4 poems 8/31/15 at the Chicago open mic Weeds (Canon Power Shot), with an edited version of her poem
Communication, plus her poems
Death Takes Many Forms,
True Happiness in the New Millennium, and
the boss lady’s editorial
my (now) Outsider’s look at Chicago Violence
I seem to be torn from two sides. For instance, I’m a tall girl, and I’m strong enough to choose to live alone in a dangerous Chicago neighborhood. I’ve shot guns, I’m married to a Marine who is a hunter and a martial arts specialist. I can handle myself under pressure, and because I’m an emotional girl, I keep my violent side in check.
That, and I’m a vegetarian. (Apparently one of my ways to control violence around me is to not support the killing of animals when we don’t need to.)
I’ve done my best to process the violence in my past that has almost killed me, and as a Chicago girl and a poet, I ran a Chicago poetry open mic for over half a decade before I had to move away, because of a job. (But trust me, I’ll still go to bars in Austin TX to watch a Bears Game because it’s not on network television here; I’ll do anything to keep my Chicago roots).
But when running that open mic, the mantra was to allow anyone to perform — I mean, I only vote Libertarian now and my only Democrat vote was for Bill Clinton in the ‘90s... But at my open mic I had to tolerate near-Communist poets reciting un-researched theories (and when their philosophies wouldn’t solve their problems, I’d think, if you think that way, then get the f out of this country, but I was trained to be tolerant as the host, so just try to tune out the drivel).
I’ve witnessed violence on many levels... I got out of a stranglehold from an ex gang banger. I’ve helped people as an acquaintance rape education counselor, and I’ve helped women when being chased from physically abusive husbands. I’ve avoided threatening situations when I was alone at night in a questionable Chicago neighborhood because I was a woman and a minority there. And during all this I’ve witnessed a variety of sides politically, and it seems the vitriol has only escalated during the current presidency (a presidency with a first term White House Chief of Staff who later became the Mayor of Chicago).
And the thing is, when people ask me where I’m from, I proudly say Chicago, and then I go on to explain that the architecture and skyline in this city are unparalleled, and that there are not only ton of summer neighborhood events in this blues town but also an amazing richness to the cultural diversity. If people mention the violence they hear of there, I stress the minute area any violence occurs, and I would still recommend the City of the Big Shoulders to anyone who looks for the best place in the United States to visit.
Okay, I got my PSA for the beauty of Chicago out there for you...
Which brings me to what I’ve witnessed in Chicago. It made it’s way into the general public in the past year in a mini-series about violence in specific neighborhoods in Chicago, and about how high school students could not safely get to their schools. Seeing this series highlighted the efforts of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and police Superintendent Garry McCarthy to keep neighborhoods safe (when statistics did for a while show that violence in the city annually was going down). But random shooting in a select few four block areas were the only thing you saw on Chicago’s local news, and recently (not that I’ve moved across the country) I see that violence on select Chicago streets is even making it to the national stage.
And now that I’m an outsider to the Windy City (named not for the strong winds between the high rises next to Lake Michigan, but the windiness of the local politicians) I watch the news reports and learn that the violence in Chi-Town has given Chicago the nickname Chi-raq, due to intense gang activity and the perceived worsening of shooting incidents (sometimes blamed in part on the demolition of inner-city housing projects). Even in Chicago I was used to hearing the news of shooting deaths after every weekend, but then one news story came across the 24 hour cable media that I couldn’t avoid.
Because (According to the Chicago Tribune) on October 20 2014, 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was running down the middle of Pulaski Road near 41st Street when Officer Jason Van Dyke, standing next to his SUV, opened fire. Apparently the City turned over evidence in this case — including this video (https://youtu.be/Ix2N6_jLAgA) — to prosecutors a few days after the incident. A year and a month later Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder, and then this video was released to the public.
The video is disturbing to watch. When I saw it, I could see that at 9:57 PM (about 5½ minutes into the video) McDonald was walking down the street and away from police officers (there was clearly nothing in his right hand, and he wasn’t moving to or turning toward police — and even if he did have a knife, he was always more than 10 feet away from police officers). Then you could see the flash of the first shot from Officer Van Dyke (keep in mind, this is the first of 16 shots in 15 seconds fired into McDonald), which spun McDonald 230 degrees before he fell to the street.
He did not use his arms to break his fall.
Or protect his head.
Watching the next seconds of the video, you could see McDonald crumpled on the ground, on his side, and then you can see dust from more bullets fired at him from Officer Van Dyke. You could see McDonald’s arm move and his head lift, before more shots were fired, and McDonald was dead on the scene.
According to the Chicago Tribune, “Van Dyke’s partner told authorities there was a brief pause in the shots and he saw Van Dyke reloading, so he told Van Dyke to hold his fire so he could approach and disarm McDonald.”
(Yes, Van Dyke was reloading, so he could continue to shoot McDonald, laying there, already shot multiple times by him, on the street.)
Cops drove up, got out of their car, moved to other officers; no one looked to check McDonald’s condition (though this dash cam video only lasted for a minute and 20 seconds after Van Dyke started shooting).
I understand the concept of feeling personally threatened when in public (just today walking alone along the streets when a large van pulled up and stopped their van 20 feet in front of me, I instinctively fit my keys between the knuckles of my closed hand, so in case I was attached I could possibly get a punch in that could draw some blood before I got away). I can understand the camaraderie between police officers (people who every day potentially put their life on the line support each other, in the same way soldiers think of all others in their group as brothers you’d fight to the death for). And maybe I’m not a cop (and I’d never want to be one, trust me), but when other cops were there to help me — like in this case — I don’t know how threatened I’d feel of one black kid walking down the street away from me.
And if my one shot made him pinwheel to the ground, I don’t know if I’d still feel threatened enough to shoot someone on the ground 15 more times in 15 seconds.
I had moved away from Chicago by the time this report hit the national news, and it appeared that Mayor Emanuel was taking a stand by charging Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder (and even firing police Superintendent McCarthy). Maybe this would be a sign that excessive use of guns against Chicago teens may change...
Peaceful protests filled Chicago streets after the release of this shooting video, because this is not the first time a black person was shot dead by the Chicago police in recent years. To quote CNN:
“Chicago began being called the murder capital of the United States back in 2012, after it registered 503 homicides, more than any other city. It didn’t get much better, with the FBI’s 2014 statistics showing 411 killings — more than the 333 in New York and 260 in Los Angeles, two cities with higher populations.”
There have been 20 allegations against Van Dyke (for thing like the use of excessive force against a black man) and the police did nothing over the years in regard to Van Dyke about these allegations. So yes, I was looking for a light at the end of this racism tunnel and found this first-degree murder charge.
But it still makes me pause. This video was released over a year after this incident. Why did it take so long to deduce that criminal charges to be filed? I search for answers, and no one has them. All I have heard (and this is only speculation, let me stress this again, I have no proof) is the Mayor Emanuel wanted this case hushed up for a while because he was running for reelection.
Well, he got his reelection, and now everyone is demanding he step down as Mayor because of the case.
Not that he’ll step down; I’d just really like to see how he thinks he’ll get out of this hole.
Now, I know one case could be enough to make you pause and reflect (like the Ferguson trials did), but this is Chicago, it’s not like this racial shooting by a cop is an isolated incident. And yeah, I could turn to the New York Daily News, or NPR, or even People magazine, but I think I’ll continue to stick with my Chicago Tribune (I know, I know, it’s my Chicago bias) for the story:
According to contact reporters Megan Crepeau, Jeremy Gorner and Grace Wong for the Chicago Tribune, police responding to a call about a domestic disturbance just after Christmas (Saturday December 26th at 4:30 a.m), shot and killed a 19-year-old engineering student — the 19-year-old, Quintonio LeGrier, who was carrying a baseball bat and threatening his father. A police source said no gun was recovered at the scene.
(These are the moments when I still life singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” over and over again...)
But wait, the story gets better (or should I say worse). Bettie Jones (a 55-year-old mother of five) was a downstairs neighbor who was asked by LeGrier’s father to watch for the arrival of the police. And somehow, according to police, she was “accidentally” shot and killed too.
An ex state police officer once explained that if he went on a domestic disturbance call, he wouldn’t bring his gun in the house with him. Because that might make tensions worse, and someone might get shot, like himself or anyone in the house, which was the last thing anyone wanted.
Who knows, maybe when you’re responding to a domestic disturbance call in West Garfield Park in Chicago you go in with guns drawn. Maybe you go in trying to make the situation better but end up shooting people, making the situation a whole lot worse.
I don’t know if it is because of a change over the year of requiring police officers to have bachelor’s degrees in college before they could be hired (and don’t get me wrong, getting a college education is paramount in my book), but these people fresh out of school lack experience dealing with people in the streets, which may sometimes be a better way to keep the peace. Maybe the psychological tests weed out those people who would actually make good, safe cops and admit those who are quick on the trigger.
And the West Side tragedy was the first police shootings that Saturday (once again, happy belated Christmas). On the far South Side police responded to an “assault in progress”, and shot a man (where they then took him to the hospital I was born in and almost died in years later).
So although these reports seem commonplace in Chicago, cases like this one now seem to be getting a little more light because of the McDonald shooting.
Don’t know if it’ll do any good. Illinois is the state where our governors make our license plates (since half of our past governors are serving time in prison), and Illinois and Chicago’s pattern of cronyism helped get an inexperienced first term Senator into the Oval Office. Crain’s Chicago Business even named Chicago the “most politically corrupt city in the U.S.”, so... When I see the further increase of taxes in Chicago (like most liberal cities do, take more money from the people who make money here, that will help the city) I see that Chicago flag with too many frayed edges. I don’t know how good of a seamstress you have to be to keep the flag together, when so much is tearing it apart.
Janet Kuypers has a Communications degree in News/Editorial Journalism (starting in computer science engineering studies) from the UIUC. She had the equivalent of a minor in photography and specialized in creative writing. A portrait photographer for years in the early 1990s, she was also an acquaintance rape workshop facilitator, and she started her publishing career as an editor of two literary magazines. Later she was an art director, webmaster and photographer for a few magazines for a publishing company in Chicago, and this Journalism major was even the final featured poetry performer of 15 poets with a 10 minute feature at the 2006 Society of Professional Journalism Expo’s Chicago Poetry Showcase. This certified minister was even the officiant of a wedding in 2006.
She sang with acoustic bands “Mom’s Favorite Vase”, “Weeds and Flowers” and “the Second Axing”, and does music sampling. Kuypers is published in books, magazines and on the internet around 9,300 times for writing, and over 17,800 times for art work in her professional career, and has been profiled in such magazines as Nation and Discover U, won the award for a Poetry Ambassador and was nominated as Poet of the Year for 2006 by the International Society of Poets. She has also been highlighted on radio stations, including WEFT (90.1FM), WLUW (88.7FM), WSUM (91.7FM), WZRD (88.3FM), WLS (8900AM), the internet radio stations ArtistFirst dot com, chicagopoetry.com’s Poetry World Radio and Scars Internet Radio (SIR), and was even shortly on Q101 FM radio. She has also appeared on television for poetry in Nashville (in 1997), Chicago (in 1997), and northern Illinois (in a few appearances on the show for the Lake County Poets Society in 2006). Kuypers was also interviewed on her art work on Urbana’s WCIA channel 3 10 o’clock news.
She turned her writing into performance art on her own and with musical groups like Pointless Orchestra, 5D/5D, The DMJ Art Connection, Order From Chaos, Peter Bartels, Jake and Haystack, the Bastard Trio, and the JoAnne Pow!ers Trio, and starting in 2005 Kuypers ran a monthly iPodCast of her work, as well mixed JK Radio — an Internet radio station — into Scars Internet Radio (both radio stations on the Internet air 2005-2009). She even managed the Chaotic Radio show (an hour long Internet radio show 1.5 years, 2006-2007) through BZoO.org and chaoticarts.org. She has performed spoken word and music across the country - in the spring of 1998 she embarked on her first national poetry tour, with featured performances, among other venues, at the Albuquerque Spoken Word Festival during the National Poetry Slam; her bands have had concerts in Chicago and in Alaska; in 2003 she hosted and performed at a weekly poetry and music open mike (called Sing Your Life), and from 2002 through 2005 was a featured performance artist, doing quarterly performance art shows with readings, music and images.
Since 2010 Kuypers also hosts the Chicago poetry open mic at the Café Gallery, while also broadcasting the Cafés weekly feature podcasts (and where she sometimes also performs impromptu mini-features of poetry or short stories or songs, in addition to other shows she performs live in the Chicago area).
In addition to being published with Bernadette Miller in the short story collection book Domestic Blisters, as well as in a book of poetry turned to prose with Eric Bonholtzer in the book Duality, Kuypers has had many books of her own published: Hope Chest in the Attic, The Window, Close Cover Before Striking, (woman.) (spiral bound), Autumn Reason (novel in letter form), the Average Guy’s Guide (to Feminism), Contents Under Pressure, etc., and eventually The Key To Believing (2002 650 page novel), Changing Gears (travel journals around the United States), The Other Side (European travel book), the three collection books from 2004: Oeuvre (poetry), Exaro Versus (prose) and L’arte (art), The Boss Lady’s Editorials, The Boss Lady’s Editorials (2005 Expanded Edition), Seeing Things Differently, Change/Rearrange, Death Comes in Threes, Moving Performances, Six Eleven, Live at Cafe Aloha, Dreams, Rough Mixes, The Entropy Project, The Other Side (2006 edition), Stop., Sing Your Life, the hardcover art book (with an editorial) in cc&d v165.25, the Kuypers edition of Writings to Honour & Cherish, The Kuypers Edition: Blister and Burn, S&M, cc&d v170.5, cc&d v171.5: Living in Chaos, Tick Tock, cc&d v1273.22: Silent Screams, Taking It All In, It All Comes Down, Rising to the Surface, Galapagos, Chapter 38 (v1 and volume 1), Chapter 38 (v2 and Volume 2), Chapter 38 v3, Finally: Literature for the Snotty and Elite (Volume 1, Volume 2 and part 1 of a 3 part set), A Wake-Up Call From Tradition (part 2 of a 3 part set), (recovery), Dark Matter: the mind of Janet Kuypers , Evolution, Adolph Hitler, O .J. Simpson and U.S. Politics, the one thing the government still has no control over, (tweet), Get Your Buzz On, Janet & Jean Together, poem, Taking Poetry to the Streets, the Cana-Dixie Chi-town Union, the Written Word, Dual, Prepare Her for This, uncorrect, Living in a Big World (color interior book with art and with “Seeing a Psychiatrist”), Pulled the Trigger (part 3 of a 3 part set), Venture to the Unknown (select writings with extensive color NASA/Huubble Space Telescope images), Janet Kuypers: Enriched, She’s an Open Book, “40”, Sexism and Other Stories, the Stories of Women, Prominent Pen (Kuypers edition), Elemental, the paperback book of the 2012 Datebook (which was also released as a spiral-bound cc&d ISSN# 2012 little spiral datebook, , Chaotic Elements, and Fusion, the (select) death poetry book Stabity Stabity Stab Stab Stab, the 2012 art book a Picture’s Worth 1,000 words (available with both b&w interior pages and full color interior pages, the shutterfly ISSN# cc& hardcover art book life, in color, Post-Apocalyptic, Burn Through Me, Under the Sea (photo book), the Periodic Table of Poetry, a year long Journey, Bon Voyage!, and the mini books Part of my Pain, Let me See you Stripped, Say Nothing, Give me the News, when you Dream tonight, Rape, Sexism, Life & Death (with some Slovak poetry translations), Twitterati, and 100 Haikus, that coincided with the June 2014 release of the two poetry collection books Partial Nudity and Revealed.
A Note to Young Writers
Over the years I have been accused of many things in real life and in the virtual world as well and often deservedly so. Recently, however, I sent a few poems to an editor unknown because samples on his site suggested to me that these particular poems, rejected by other editors as not fit for their sites, might find a home there. One never knows and can only try.
These poems were scabrous enough, I thought, to have a chance at this site but they lacked profanity, sex and violence. I am neither in favor of nor opposed to profanity, sex or violence but I don’t knowingly traffic in any of those when it comes to writing.
Sex is too easy to write about, I feel, and profanity seems an easy way out when the right word can’t be found. Violence I don’t think I have ever dealt with although I have dealt with the prelude to violence as well as its aftermath. I guess it’s all a matter of taste.
Nevertheless, I decided to send these poems to this particular site because I thought they might fit there. No cost to send an email overseas. It’s not like when I started out decades ago and you would have to weigh envelopes and affix overseas postage not to have the postmaster return the envelopes damned as bearing insufficient postage.
Editors vary as greatly as writers in taste and patience and I speak as a former print editor bearing the scars of many years of experience. I remember writing acceptances and rejections and receiving pleasant and irate responses. But the response I received in the rejection of this batch of poems accused me of something I had never been accused of before.
The editor told me in no uncertain terms my poems were too “nuanced” for his site and left it at that.
If you write for many years and send a lot of stuff out, you should eventually become less elated by acceptances and less dejected by rejections. But when I received this particular rejection, I thought what if a young writer starting out received a rejection that said his or her poems were too nuanced.
Rightly or wrongly I’ve always thought nuance was a good thing in writing poetry, fiction or an essay.
At the same time I think there is a place for tough poems that can be nuanced if that is the right word to use. Such poems may cause some editors dyspepsia and I have no problem when they send them flying back. At the same time I would never consciously inject profanity, blatant sex or hard-core violence into a poem. I have never felt poetry was the place for that kind of thing. Perhaps that comes from reading too much T.S. Eliot as a young man and not enough Charles Bukowski.
As someone who grew up admiring Jack Kerouac and Gregory Corso and most of the writers in The Beatnik Generation, you would think I would find some merit in the writings of Bukowski but try as I might—and I have tried off and on over the years—I have not found anything that made me want to read more of him. Yet there are writers today who think of Bukowski the way Buddhists think of the Dalai Lama and Catholics think of Pope Francis.
There are more than a few sites that are almost dedicated to Bukowski but editors at many of those sites don’t seem to demand imitation of him in the poems they publish while some seem to like that kind of thing. And I think an inordinate admiration of Bukowski at this particular site is why my efforts were judged “too nuanced.” But as my wife often reminds me I could be wrong once again.
In any event, I hope young writers learn early on to accept rejections for what they are. Either accurate because something is wrong with the poem or simply because the poem is not suitable for that site.
Or maybe the editor has too big a backlog or simply doesn’t like your content or your style.
Or maybe he or she doesn’t like you. Not everyone does, you know. I don’t think any writer should strive to be everybody’s friend.
The editor who does all the work on any site has the right to have the site reflect what he wants his efforts to accomplish.
So whenever you get a rejection, look the poem over, make changes or not, and send it out elsewhere. If the poem has merit, it will likely find a home somewhere. But try to pick potential homes carefully—almost as carefully as you might pick a spouse.
the meat and potatoes stuff
Under the long steel span across the Ohio, against the abutment just off the water’s edge, I hear the wake of a passing coal barge lapping in the mud a few yards below our hunker spot. It must of rained up the Kanawha, the water didn’t seem that close last night. But last night was a little fire and a couple of bottles of Mad Dog. Nothing got too close.
Struggling from the dumpster blanket it hurts to see my breath blossom in front of my face. As if the DTs ain’t enough. Looking over at Mitch wrapped in a plastic drop cloth, I wonder if the plastic is any better than my blanket. Stirring not a lick, maybe Mitch is on to something. Seeing his empty bottle at the lip of the plastic, I figure we’re even there. Mine was empty before my face hit my hat.
Reaching out my hand to gauge how bad it is, or worse yet, how bad it’s going to get, I see my tremble is just inside a sway. My need is alive but Mitch is old, I’ll give him a little longer. Hustle then we will, try the trash around town first for maybe a quick one left behind. It will be late enough to beg after that. The rumble above has yet to really get started. Wish I could sleep like Mitch. Those days are gone for me. Maybe 15 minutes more.
Pulling the blanket as much around me as I can get it, my back to the concrete, I stare out at the wide river and the long line of coal barges being pushed by a single tug. Pushing a load like that, wouldn’t take much of an error to hit one of these abutments and bring the bridge down. But coal has enough money to hire good pilots, make sure that doesn’t happen......most of the time. Still most of that money goes somewhere else. Always has. Can’t seem to think of anything that coal has left around here that moves on independently or grows much. Coal to China and the money to the Northeast and Midwest. Oh well, too much soot I guess. Dirties the ink on those nice Benjamin Franklins. A warm Mad Dog would do me just as well about now.
“Mitch roll your ass outa that plastic, we got to get something to drink. Ain’t no coal barge goin’ to pull up and unload us a taste. Get up!”
Staying wrapped and getting to my feet with no small effort, I try again. “Come on Mitch, get up. Ain’t a lick of Mad Dog left!”
Going over to Mitch, I hate to do it but need is need. Reaching down and taking the edge of the plastic I unroll him to the elements.
Having no longer any troublesome needs to fill, his pale face to the early rumble above, Mitch is dead.
*Appeared in Wilderness House Literary Review, Oct. 2015.
Kicking It All In
Reflecting off the brass instrument, sunlight flashes on the small gathering as the bugler stands at attention and plays Taps. Scripted sounds and actions that have been honed for decades.
His mother dead from cancer, Johnny has only me and a few of his high school friends here for his burial. Enough people, I suppose, for those who run these parodies of honor and sadness to make a buck.
It’s what he wanted. Never able to grasp the things I tried to tell him, he was still a good kid, but just plain humble. It was always about something greater than himself. Sacrifice or struggle was almost as alien to him as pride. Johnny was simply what he was, a good boy who naturally wanted to help others. Easy pickings for the war mongrels drumming moralistic jargon about a greater good. If only he could have seen it another way. But Johnny had no capacity for that kind of insight. That would have required a feeling for dishonesty. Too trusting, my boy. After losing his mother, his natural anchor gone, he was no more than high cotton to those ass holes.
Setting near my boy’s casket, I see the young uniformed man approach. Proffering the folded flag with white gloved hands, he dips to almost one knee in front of me, like a curtsy to royalty or something. Looking at his eyes, which are fixed on his flag, I wonder where he will spend his evening liberty while my boy lies cold in this ground covered with crosses. Taking the flag for Johnny, but in my heart hating this symbol and the people who dress it as worthy of my son’s life, I wish this garish spectacle over with. So I can say goodbye to my boy.
Holding the flag to my chest, lest I sling it to the ground, I watch all the cute precise closing turns and steps of this charade. At the same time I try to show a little appreciation to Johnny’s friends for coming. But half of them, I know, went with him to that God awful recruiter and his tales of honor, service, and adventure. That makes it tough knowing that, for them, Johnny’s death only brightens their tokens of luck, with nary a regret for the hand they had in it. Just a metal fragment with Johnny’s name on it is all that it is to them. The kind of reasoning that the adventurer always offers up. Or the plain decadent.
Wheeling my chair over to Mary’s grave, I try to avoid the other markers all around but my vision is not so good when I am weeping. Hitting the marker next to Mary’s throws me forward and out of my chair, scraping my forehead on the ground. Getting back in my chair is a chore but, with the help of a nearby monument, I manage. Having had my legs blown off in a Vietnam sewer paddy, my stubs are not much help when it comes to regaining my chair after a fall.
Just able to reach down and touch Mary, I tell her that Johnny is on his way. And that, after much thought, it seems only right that I come as well. She seems to understand.
I remember how she priced my legs as not worth enough to kick it all in. We always had a lot of fun using words that suggested that I still had legs. Our humor would make Johnny laugh as well. And we moved on. I tell her it’s not like when she left and told me that I had to take care of Johnny. She understands and doesn’t hold it against me that I couldn’t make him see. She says that such things, done by those so keenly sharp at what they do, would have been a challenge for her as well.
I wheel around and straighten what I can reach of her place then, using the monument again to lower down out of the chair, I finish the job by rolling around on my nubs. My place next to her’s needs not much tending. The one stone is for both of us and I’m already on it, with only the date to be inscribed.
Rolling to my face, I spread my arms over Mary and lie with her until the sun is almost down. Then, my resolve firmed, I regain my chair and wheel back to my customized van.
Making it to the cemetery while there is still a touch of dusk left, I wheel my chair under a half moon and a beginning blanket of stars back to Johnny’s grave. The dusky purple of the early evening lends a somber and calming feeling to this place as I tilt the chair over and hit the grass, throwing both the folded flag and pistol from the small back pack on the rear of my chair.
Talking the folded flag and standing it against the white marker, I pick up the 45 caliber pistol that I led my platoon in Vietnam with, check the chamber and clip, and wobble-roll to the foot of Johnny’s grave. Holding the colt with both hands I put three shots into the flag, the colt rocking me back with each shot. Reaching forward, I lay my hand on Johnny and put the barrel just past my lips, pointing towards the roof of my mouth, and pull the trigger.
Standing in a booth almost a mile away, a uniformed sentry hears three shots echo across the dark interior of the cemetery. Picking up his landline to the guard shack he says, “I just heard what sounded like three gunshots, wait a minute,.....make that four gunshots out in section D. Want me to drive out there and check it out.”
“No that’s ok,” comes the reply, “we got another burial out there tomorrow morning. That will be soon enough.”
“Roger,” replies the sentry. “I pulled one today. Nobody out there going anywhere anyway. Out.”
*Appeared in Saturday Night Reader, Sept. 30th 2015 Issue
Like the center stage of a sprung gallows, my insides quickly seem less when I discover my former wife’s obituary on the internet. Despite all this time apart I am snapped back to that time we knew together. Wholly unprepared for this discovery, I quickly learn just how deep some things can run. Things that lie mostly dormant yet are a part of the main, always there just waiting for the right synapse. I thought that I had a much better handle on my past and what it makes of me. Thought that I would not be so taken unawares in my years. Memories of her flood my mind. And a lump in my throat tells me that it is not just in my head. Suddenly, out of the past, I am touched.
Young and new, Southern Appalachian boy and Northern New Jersey girl, a mutual bloom along a common route, we were.
Plates of drippy spaghetti held beneath our chins while our eyes smiled across the room at one another, Julie and I were oblivious to the others scattered around the austere off-campus apartment. I knew that she wanted me. She had told others. And she knew that I was looking for a steady girl. All my friends knew that. In the small underground social groups of that time word of such things got out no less than in society at large. Perhaps even more so. That is one way that I knew that Julie was not promiscuous as many other hippies were. Another was from my own interactions with her on a more intimate level. We were alike that way. Still I wanted to bring our relationship to the bed but Julie didn’t want to go that far that fast. Our impasse was well known among our immediate early 70’s counterculture. The others, most well into their own relationships, simply were socially aware. Situations like mine and Julie’s were things to keep track of. It made for a smoother trip through those times.
Like two rare birds, Julie the colorful art student, and me a drab military veteran back in school, we flashed our young wares. It seemed only natural that evening, among the community, spaghetti, and warmth, that I should try to make it with her again. And it seemed that Julie wanted that as well.
Moving to her side along the arm of the large chair where she sat, I searched her face and said, “Is it true that you really like me?”
Not surprised by my candor since we already had more than a casual knowledge of each other, Julie smiles and nods.
“I feel the same way about you,” I said. “But I want us to start with a commitment all the way. Can you do that?”
Her eyes suddenly a little anxious, Julie slowly looked down and said, “Yes.”
My one room apartment was only across the alley in the next building so we set our plates aside and, hand in hand, quietly left the gathering and went there. The creaky old steps provided the only sounds along the climb to my place atop the old off-campus house known as “The Ghetto.”
Without saying a word or even turning on the lights we committed together and never looked back.
Poor but fresh and continuing to blossom, we passed through our studies and graduation and began our travels along the same roads as most of the rest of the country—jobs, real living expenses to pay, and a crash course in after school life.
Much different from the freedom of academia, there were struggles and disappointments to begin with but we pulled together and found that, though times could be unpleasant, we were indeed young and stronger for the effort. We developed a rhythm to our ways, be they capital bound in Julie’s New York or excursions back to my Appalachians and the nurture of spirit that they could provide. Eventually times became less arduous and more relaxed. Perhaps it was then that our bond began to flex and grow less tight. Some of the principles of our former counterculture began to yield to the pressures of a money driven society. Avenues and uncommon roads took on a different light and seemed to beckon our growing confidence and changing priorities. We began to explore things that might have seemed too mainstream before. But not always together.
Because of her natural beauty Julie was frequently hit on by the customers of the Soho Arts Cooperative of lower Manhattan where she worked as a buyer. She would tell me of those encounters and laugh them off leaving me unconcerned about it. But the one that would do the damage she never mentioned until it was probably too late to gain a foothold in my priorities.
I had recently lucked out with a new and better paying job in the Behavior Sciences Department of Bellevue Hospital. And, being involved with the switch from the gofer class to the gofer for class, I neglected our relationship and perhaps set the stage for Julie’s excursion into nude modeling for one of the major shareholders of the arts cooperative. In other words, for one of her bosses. Since all the work was done in the cooperative studio and Julie was well paid for it she felt it unnecessary to tell me about it. That’s what she later said anyway. But when the paintings of her became so well known for the lovely model that appeared in them, it all came out. She became so sought after that she began doing it full time, making a lot more money than I did. Involved in my work, I simply chalked it up to the Southern boy, Yankee girl thing. Just different styles but likes in the heart. And I helped spend the money on higher living along the path to wherever we ex-hippies were going. Too much my thoughts were about not checking the teeth of a gift horse and not enough about there is no free lunch. Julie’s New York was lining our road with sugar plumbs while the beautiful colors and hardwood forests of my Appalachians received none of our once popular zen visits. We were happening.....and we were still young.
One late afternoon I needed Julie’s signature immediately on an investment document. Quickly, I made the short trip from Bellevue across Manhattan to the cooperative. From the Canal Street Subway exit I hustled a couple of blocks North on West Broadway only to find a sign in the cooperative front door saying, “Closed.” However when I tried the latch the door opened into a dark shop but there was light coming from the walled off back studio where her work usually took place. I was a little surprised to find that the shop was closed during her sitting or standing or whatever it was called but I had no time to ruminate about that if I was to meet the investment deadline. I hurried through the shop to the connecting door and, without thinking, pushed it open. There, my beautiful naked Julie was, her arms gripping the hind quarters of a bronze pony, while one of her bosses pummeled her from behind.
“Nooooooo!” I screamed. A primal cry like none other
From a park bench in Washington Square, I first noticed the large statue and where I was. It was very late. Though I had not eaten nor drank anything, I didn’t know how I got there. It was much later still after I walked the many blocks up to what only hours before had been my midtown home. For a good while after that I was not all present. Just so much tissue going along by rote.
Julie and I never spoke much after that. It wasn’t long until I left for the somber blue evenings and smoky mornings of my mountains. Julie and her driver gave me a ride to LaGuardia and before I got out of the car at the drop point Julie laid a hand on my arm.
“I never would have made it without you, Richard. You know that don’t you?”
“Yes, I know that,” I replied, while getting out of the car. I was about to shut the car door when Julie suddenly slid across the seat, raised her beautiful eyes, and said, “Thank you for all your help.”
Feeling like a cracked and empty vessel headed for the scrap heap, I managed to reply without a hint of irony, “No problem, babe.”
As I turned and walked toward the terminal I heard her car door close. And then in my mind I heard that scream that haunts me still.
Landing at the Roanoke Regional Airport, I rented a car for the long drive to a property that I had bought while in New York. I needed the drive to defuse if it were possible. At needful times I had always been able to bet on the Appalachians for that. The scenery along the way was magnificent and I felt myself begin to ground a bit by the time I reached my new home.
A small but sturdy structure atop the Blue Ridge chain with a view across the valley to its parent Appalachians, my place would be plenty enough. It was nothing like where I was coming from when it came to material resources but I had provided it with all the ways necessary to keep up with my investments. And it was thoroughly stocked for new beginnings.
A short hike away was my familiar Appalachian Trail and the spot where I had scattered my Mother’s ashes not so long ago. A place where silence was familiar, cherished. One day, from there, I would continue my journey down life’s highway. But right then it was a wonderful rest stop
I have come many a way since then and I have learned that most things will pass. I have new loved ones now and the peace that comes from that. But I can’t help but wonder if Julie had that blessing as well.......on that other high road. And I grieve, trying to hide it from my wife. She thinks all my nightmares are about the war. I don’t ever want to try to put into words that which is better left alone. That’s the thing about growing old as the scars of travel are sported more clearly. More baggage, good and bad. The scream is not good certainly, worse than any I have heard. But I loved Julie, and that is more the constant. Her trip is over and I have to believe it was a good and kind exit. Our travels often befool us in many ways but if mine ever take me by the place where the obituary says she is, I will leave a Rhododendron bloom to pay my respects.
Installment 1 of A California Blue
a lawn chair has fallen on its back.
How many sons of the rich and famous are doomed?
You can find genetic material by the freeway, beer cans and rubbers: out the window clues to what we love by the roadside.
My pain is tattooed between my eyes. look! he’s just like us!
the sun out here shuffles my eyelids. dog in the grass, what are you thinking about? i’m thinking about how medicated i am.
747 jet trail: I am anticipating your destination.
windy promises, bent weeds, abundant roses and a kid’s swing, fickle bamboo and eggplants, brussels sprouts.
where is my girlfriend? with her son at counseling. the kid needs it. i’ve never met anyone as lazy and apathetic. he cannot raise the toilet seat to take a piss. i constantly clean urine off the seat before i lift it. i have met men who have lied as well and easily, but the kid still has time to perfect the art. time, it’s on his side. if he sits long enough he’ll be rich. he thinks about that, knows it. 10 years old and he’s telling his grandparents not to build a ninth house on that lot in tahoe because he doesn’t want to take care of it. he needs a smack society now says i cannot hand out. i drink and smoke like a suicide complex, but i want to live to see how it all turns out. will the stem support the fruit?
the drugs change. perception is altered. all that i do is new. i tell myself not inferior. but i don’t know. when you are inside, you can’t see from the outside. i feel better this time, but it’s always night in here. i’m buying guns in my head when i don’t need one i have one just want a bigger caliber that’s all want to be sure. last night i dreamed i bought a tommy gun. that’s sure as the giant spider on this table fearless red and black. i have it made in the california ginko sun and cypress, loftings of yesterday’s blue jeans and spoils. these drugs aren’t bad. the others weren’t bad. i’m just getting worse. they say that’s the way it goes. take the cocktail and fuck the announcers.
time. my life was bound to appointments. i never wore a watch and i was never too early or late. an internal clock, the sun, something primitive. after the crack-up i can’t tell you the hour or day or week or year or place the planet in the solar system, but i’m still never late to the dates i don’t have.
pestered by whiskers. i have found a friend in this sun that gave me my life.
flora. there’s a sick pleasure in hanging on for the next disaster. no claims to sublimity, i’m just another asshole collecting bacteria. i’m my own dinner.
old friend. out of touch 21 years. my former best friend and i don’t have much to go on. sentimental reminiscences are worth a page. then? he brags about how good his life is. i do the same. our lives are pretty good. we were surf buddies and put a lot of time in the water together, dawn patrols, road trips, torturing humanity when the surf was flat. we talk about surfing now, jumped from 1990 to 2011 without a period. i was the better surfer, but now he has me. i went the other way into words and derangement, alcohol and heroin, while he stayed on the wave. he’s an aesthete, but in good shape. we still have respect and don’t discuss how it ended. he can’t interfere with my love life here, the jealous liar. he knows he was wrong. he knows i have written about him. he contacted me to revise history. he’s worried about how he looks. he’s not worried about who he is.
pizza on the way. marilyn showed me her obit because she was 28. marilyn likes to show me obits of people my age and younger because she wants to scare me out of my habits. the girl was a blonde and i recognized her. i picked her up hitchhiking a year ago. she wasn’t really hitching, but she had her thumb out and i am in the habit of picking people up. she was a prostitute. i asked her where she was going and she said palm springs – about 1,000 miles from eureka. quite a ways, i said. she asked me where i was going and i said fortuna. she asked what’s in fortuna and i said my girlfriend’s house. we were heading south. we got to fortuna and i let her off after she asked me to buy her lunch at mcdonald’s. i didn’t. she got on the onramp heading back to eureka. that’ the last time i saw her. with her thumb out. she was wearing skin colored nylons, as if to improve her legs. she was quiet, yet present. the obit said she was creative, a free spirit. i guess she was. you never see these things coming. i should have bought her lunch. i didn’t mention it to marilyn.
typing outside. this old typer came from marilyn’s cabin. marilyn found it in her grandmother’s closet. her grandmother is dead so we took it. it’s a late 30’s portable smith-corona, near identical to the one i bought on polk street for $4 and wrote 4,000 pages on. that was the only typer i was ever sad to leave on the junk pile. i’m sitting outside in the sun and wind drinking light beer and smoking my own cigarettes, wondering if my dad will get his father’s day card on time. marilyn is putting a pizza in the oven for me. i enjoy writing outside, the looseness that comes over me when faced with nature’s order. in the midst of its rules, i am liberated. something good comes of conservatism but not the miserly. out here it’ a splitting off from logic, a degeneration from indoor confusion. i used to know that nature helped but i thought this for the wrong reason. the grass and trees are opposition, friction i need, the conflict I need to make art – surrounded by the indifferent.
noble. if he wants something, he wants it, but he rarely complains. he craves attention and gives it freely. he is equally solitary and spends a lot of time with his head in his hands, alone, ears tuned. he knows love so i suspect he knows despair. we wrestle and play frisbee, cover the beach like fleas. the car is full of sand. he believes in eye contact and wonder. he doesn’t have all the answers. he looks at me. the bridge is near complete. shared wonder we have and we each know the rare joys and abundant sorrows, together and alone. we have met one another. man and beast.
someone else’s kid is not your kid and there’s no substitute for the loins. i have inherited a boy who is a good kid and a monster. he talks back more than i ever did and i was almost sent to a penal colony in australia by my parents. this is not a joke. it was arranged. i threatened to run away before i’d leave my friends. the kid is abusive toward marilyn and lazy as shit. he plays video games all day. at the dinner table, if he needs a spoon, he cannot get up to get one. he asks you to do it. he doesn’t eat home cookin’ because he’s dined in so many fine restaurants throughout the world with his grossly affluent and spoiling grandparents. he can’t flush the toilet or turn off a light bulb, close a door or pick up his expensive toys, which he leaves in the rain after brutalizing you into buying them for him. i told marylin last night that if he continues like this as he ages, there’s a chance i will move out. i want to be surrounded by pleasant, actualized people, not live with a little asshole. she didn’t take it very well, but hopefully it will be impetus to be a less lenient parent. the kid has been spoiled. and he’s spoiled. he has never known a slap, deprivation, or even very many “no’s.” he’s set to inherit fourteen cars and harleys, eight houses in california and hawaii, and a mountain of cash. he will be the typical rich kid i hated in high school and college. this country was brought up to its best by men who were slapped around by their fathers during the great depression. the dog is eating corn chips out of the bag behind me. i just had some pizza. now with a natty light and cigs, the sun a few inches or maybe a foot from going down on this thursday, the last day of school for the kids here.
the idiot. i’m exhausted from living with assholes like my last landlord. he listened to rush limbaugh and went to the pentacostal church, where he fell asleep. he told me the indians gave the europeans syphilis. he told me the jews deserved it. he had phd’s in history and chemistry. he once taught in saudi arabia because he couldn’t find a job here – the worst people on earth, a bunch of goat herders, he said. his woman friend told me he said i wasn’t smart. every day the radio clock was set for rush limbaugh. he locked his beer in a refrigerator in the garage after I asked him for a couple. he wrapped a chain around the refrigerator and put a padlock on it. why? because i drank his beer. he was moneyed. i was living on $700 a month. i cut the chain and drank his beer. i cut the chain so he could not see the break and i could reassemble the links seamlessly. when he took the chain off to get his beer, the chain held together. for a week he didn’t know i was drinking his beer. it had not occurred to him. one day i got really thirsty and drank six of his beers. There were only 10 in there. “are you drinking my beer?” he said. “yes,” i said. “you’re out of here! i want you out of here by the first!” he hated my mother because she was a jew and he liked my father because a bully likes a bully. he got a dishonorable discharge from the air force after striking an enlisted man. he was never violent with me, but i thought of killing him. the basement floor was dirt and nobody would have missed him.
authors’ prayer. I am always discouraged by the man who can be led to a book, drink, and gain nothing. i hope never to be read by such imbeciles.
qualifications. there is no looking back when you are obsessed and compelled. if you become unobsessed, you will die. i mentioned this to greg and he wrote a poem about it, the peril of becoming unobsessed. he is also obsessed and doesn’t want to die. i’m less obsessed with dying than getting caught. i don’t know what i’m doing, but i fear getting caught. i must be doing something in addition to eating, sleeping, drinking, and smoking. maybe i’ll get caught making love. . . i have always heard words. i catch my words. i do not hear voices, hallucinations, but words, quiet language running like a river in my head. i have stars in my hair. flowing and shining for a long time, they guide me toward nirvana. they have always been with me. i earned myself the rest of it, except for my genes. i never made anyone fuck anyone. life gave me the rest of the rest.
the jews and the irish have had some hard travelling. humor evolved to stall despair. a manic-depressive sees life from more coordinates than most men know exist. an artist is one who is looking for something and in the process of not finding it. derangement is an ingredient, but will take you only so far. derangement is not a meal or wisdom. derangement is an illness you give yourself to diffuse the healthy shield you are born with. you must rewire your brain, but whiskey and needles don’t add up to vision. of course you are an alcoholic because you have a weakness for life. they tell you that you are legally insane, sanity as defined by the doctors, engineers, hot dog men, and barbers. inspiration. the muse. visions. you take them seriously without being precious. you have been hearing these words your whole life, familiarity breeding familiarity. you have no memory. you cannot remember what you did five minutes ago or five years ago or what you did when you were five. but, but – memories come to you as verbs. memories are acts by another that you watch. you pause when someone asks your name. it is of no consequence. memory belongs to those who lack judgment.
you have survived. your friends have not. you have known loss like a war. you are alone, walking the streets with your head down, looking for cigarette butts, dismissing humiliation. you live on peanut butter and forget the days when you spent $2,000 a month on wine. you have known more women than rudolf valentino and errol flynn, or at least more than you’ve known. which reminds me: you are a man and not a woman. the cessation to misunderstand existence happens in the balls. some days the will to live overcomes the price. in the beginning we are mouths and in the end we are assholes. the most we can do is shut up and eat less. choose your context, man.
“sascha’s looking at me.”
“what’s he looking at?”
“i don’t know. he’s always watching me.”
“you’re not doing anything. maybe he’s waiting for you to do something.”
“he’d better be patient.”
“it’s true you don’t do much.”
“when the spirit moves me.”
“look, his eyes are closing.”
“he’s looking for those spirits.”
“greg, why is it every time i send you a poem you write a poem based on my poem? and whenever i am eloquent (rarely) you write a take-off on my words? don’t you have your own thoughts?”
“and you’re a thief, which i suppose makes you a genius, which i already knew, but you look like a barnacle. i’m thinking of not saying anything intelligent to you again.”
“i have plenty of my own thoughts.”
“i’m aware. do you want me to steal your life? i don’t mean your words, i mean your existence. because i can. or should i leave it to you to live?”
“i’d be honored if you wrote about me.”
“i’m not talking about that.”
“then what do you mean?”
“i mean i know you better than you know yourself. i’m talking about your soul.”
“i need some dialogue for this story.”
“why? it’s fine without it.”
“it’s a visual thing.”
“you don’t need it.”
“i don’t need the story either.”
“give yourself and the reader a rest.”
“no and yes.”
“why don’t you talk to the pilot of that 747 overhead?”
“how boring is flying a 747?”
“like driving a big car in a straight line for 3,000 miles. we build ourselves up to the greatest boredom/success/loss possible.”
“you never seem bored, just weird.”
“i worry about the day i’ve grown bored. i reassure myself with the alleged immensity of the universe and the peculiarities of man.”
“you’re so full of shit.”
“really, i’m reassured.”
“bullshit. you’re just killing time like the rest of us. you’re travelling in your head. you’re beyond boredom.”
“i suppose the universe could be bored with itself. you do something long enough.”
“is that why you gave up on physics?”
“i didn’t do physics long enough and i didn’t give up. i’m working on a perpetual motion machine.”
“and cold fusion.”
“i’ve seen post de facto cold fusion in a rock.”
“perpetual motion will always be conditional.”
“that doesn’t even make sense. love is the only perpetual motion machine i have known. and it is a machine that often breaks down. a few get it right.”
“does this horseshit fill your need for dialogue?”
“it’s not the right dialogue.”
misogynist. a man can be dumped and still talk to the woman. a woman gets dumped, she ignores, forgets, or torments the man. don’t go there, the voice says. you know women who did not cut you off, the fleshpots and whores, real whores who never asked for a thing. the ones who refuse to talk to you are the ones who always thought well and high of themselves. you have insulted their existence, a woman’s existence being her womanhood. you rejected her pussy. the whores are more than women, more than pussy, they gave you a man.
greg wrote a sad poem about the girl we once shared. it was supposed to be a sad poem, and it was, but it was also a lie. barbara was doomed by abuse. she spent her life fleeing her father. she could not adjust. greg and i shared her for a couple months. greg and i knew of one another, but had not met until barbara insisted. greg and i, writers and painters with similar tastes in women, got along brilliantly. a pimp turned her on to dope after greg forced a needle into her arm. he leapt on her veins with a rig and she came to me crying like she’d been raped again. how could he do such a thing, but she liked it. the pimp came along and she told me excitedly about how she was getting free drugs from a cliché, a puerto rican in a long fur coat. it was ominous, but we had all broken up by then. she was living in another city. soon she would be turned to the streets. greg’s poem about our lost lover did not ring true with me when i recalled how he got her drunk on vodka the day she was kicked out of the hotel for being drunk. or the time we were together at the cemetery. she said that greg was distracting me from my writing, which he was, but it was my choice. greg said what about my writing? barbara said, i don’t care about your writing. he kicked her shoulder onto the ground. later she showed up at the lobby of the hotel with her face beat in. she said a gang of kids created the bruises. then she said the cops did it. i don’t know who did it, but greg has a long record and has served time for beating up women. i don’t like greg’s poem and i don’t like wondering if barbara is still alive.
wolff helped writers lesser than himself. he’s got carver helping him. been dead 20 years, but he’s got carver on all his book jackets. the same quote again and again. i like carver. he taught me a lot and opened himself to all./ blindness, suppression, jealousy, fear are wolff’s. wolff is an ivy league war criminal. go to oxford and drop bombs on children in a vietnamese elementary school. i’ll use what he said about me, render onto wolff that which is wolff’s. our enemies define us as much as our allies.
okay, maybe you’re a man. observation is my defect. my response is a weakness. the rotten need spoils the peace. my flaw is my humanity, for good and for bad. as for the medium. . . the highest production of power is not conduction but the POWER released in a short-circuit.
sascha needs to learn how to tilt back his beers before we can become true drinking buddies.
i repeat myself because the themes are the same and i don’t know many words.
disgust. it is not enough to spin off hemingway or bukowski or kerouac. you must be able to do hemingway, bukowski, and kerouac better than hemingway, bukowski, and kerouac. courses on your own journey include fucking the dead heroes up the ass.
greg wants me to write the introduction to his book. i said yes. but it is better to say yes to a party invitation and then pass out at the table than to decline the invitation. i am cautious about these things. as a reviewer, i was forced to say good things about garbage for years. a reviewer cannot say “this is an unnecessary, unoriginal piece of shit” to every book that his editor, who is sometimes friends with the author, hands you. you would not have a job and since reading and writing were easier than sanding yachts, i looked for the positive and where there was none i made it up. i was a professional liar, doing something which was the exact opposite of what i did at home. the worst part was listening to romance writers say “my agent.” reminded me of the slackers in san francisco sitting at the café terraces seemingly not in need of jobs, with their laptops and $100 pens. i was envious of their time more than anything, but the cool of it did not go unresisted. the café guys looked cool. i never looked cool. i had no money for the clothes and they wouldn’t have fit anyway because i was too troubled. i crossed the street and walked on the other side, less than a ghost to the scene. when i hear some hack drop the line “my agent” it’s emetic.
greg’s request is similar, though i think he is qualified to write a book about a beagle mix. he rescued elliot from an ambivalent home and gave him a good life. elliot gave greg insight into a being other than greg. marilyn wants me to have nothing to do with greg because he knowlingly gave me hepatitis and tried to kill me with a hot shot. “he tried to murder you,” marliyn says. it’s accurate, but i put myself into those situations and got myself out of them. greg cannot be blamed so much as noted. the note would read: “stay away.” i tell myself greg is interesting. he may be changing too. he also makes it clear to me how much i mean to him. he says he’s never had a friend like me. maybe a con, but hard to resist. i’m being myself – with some reservation. he passively tried to murder me the night he killed himself. i saved his life and this has now become my problem. he overdosed. he went out. he turned pale grey and stopped breathing. resuscitation, life support, brain damage. when he says i saved his life it is true but it is not a simple truth. he tried to take me with him. he said, “here’s yours” five seconds before he keeled over. as i watched him die, i thought about closing the door on the scene. as a drug buddy, he had been abusive and greedy. he was abusive toward all his friends. i could have let him die because that was what he was about and he had tried so many times so why not let him finish it? instead, i cradled him in my arms and spoke to the corpse until paramedics arrived. now i’m in a spot. the people i trust the most tell me they cannot find one good thing about greg. i tell marylin he’s a good writer and she scoffs at his pornographic poetry. his writing is reason enough to talk to him, but like him? yes, i say, though i am not sure why. i respect greg’s street creds and how he has survived adversity. i realize he brought most of that adversity on himself. i cannot reconcile the good i see in him with his dark half and i don’t think i need to.
uppers coke and speed and meth are false personalities, turn people into human flies. down, down, down to the roots of my beauty and the majesty of life/death, love/hate, good/evil, to the water and wheat, humble heroics, the gangsters were saints because they drank, the winged obscene.
i don’t have a big heart and i have admitted this to myself. my big heart has been sliced away. i don’t have a small heart and i know this of myself. i don’t piss on it all from any height. i’m sensitive and brutal as lightning.
the neighbors have rats so we have rats. that’s the way it goes. even the worst rat can get through the best fence.
the morning starts like that and the day ends like that. i mostly reside in the in-between lands.
today i am not a writer and this typewriter smells like oil and grandmothers, metal and ink. the guy smells like fungus. he’s sweaty and his bare feet are warm and his wrist hurts. he wears blue jeans and a white t-shirt and has nothing on his mind but the next cigarette and cold beer. if he was starving in ethiopia he might be concerned with changing the world. . . i told angela about the prostitute i picked up. the girl in the newspaper obituaries. she listened well and didn’t say much. of course she can’t like me picking up women hitchers and prostitutes but she just said women shouldn’t hitch. in her eyes, i am supposed to discriminate between blondes and beards. i see her point of view. the beard is headed to the soup kitchen and the blonde wants in somebody’s pants. sex was never mentioned but it was there in the talk like a sublime underworld that couldn’t translate to action. as for prostitutes, i’ve never paid for it. i’ve been with two, one as her lover. i’d see her turning tricks on the corner and say that’s her life. let her buy me lunch.
i am not a flycatcher. one editor i liked called me a “malcontent.” i didn’t say anything. i could have asked him if that was a political statement. i could have asked him what he was content with. i knew i was a discontent. i could have told him and asked if that was alright. this editor was alright. i wasn’t much discontented with him, except for him calling me a malcontent. i don’t have the predisposition to be negative or be predisposed to things. a malcontent is a cynic. he runs on a program. i’m skeptical and leave room for the sacred, like the sound of a carpenter hitting nails, a man sweating over the lawn that was forced on him, a dog barking behind a fence because he doesn’t know what’s on the other side. people::: i don’t hate you. i don’t like you. there’s a difference. . . that’s how we keep going. . .
the bettors. hawks fly over the chicken coop, looking for rats and chickens. they fly overhead again throughout the day. in a year, i have never seen one dive for prey. i did see a falcon explode out of the sky in chase of the two metal sparrows which sit atop our birdfeeder. he sat atop the feeder with his inedible prey for a moment. the hawks never give up. they’ll fly by for five years to catch one meal. the chickens and rats are on the itinerary if not today’s menu. there’s always a chance. chance for gain equals compulsion.
marilyn happened to see this story on my table. she said she had read only the part about me leaving if things deteriorated with her son. just moving out, but she saw it as me leaving. she said i was shallow. the going gets “unpleasant” and i bolt. “unpleasant” is a very unspecific adjective, but nonetheless we had much ado about nothing. nice argument there. i told her i had no problem with her and did not intend to leave her but that suddenly i have a 10-year-old brat.
marilyn says she doesn’t want to come near my renegade crotch, even though she does. she says my jock itch is a ploy to avoid sex. always playing for the lay, my sweet marilyn, and i like it. our sex is infrequent, but i can’t think of another woman when i am with her. to defeat flight from the present is ecstasy.
fidelity comes to me often. it arrives. you must be faithful. to her, to this, to all. i consider its price. i consider my dual nature. i consider hurting people. i cannot come to a decision. there is no agreement in the all. i can look at the parts. i look at one or the other for an answer. it’s a hell of a mess love has gotten me into. it’s a hell of a mess to live without love. i imagine choices. i want what doesn’t exist. the all exists, but you can’t have it. why do i want what isn’t? what i cannot have? here comes the discontent and paralysis. not over any person, woman, but with the rules and the subjugation to a thing i will never understand.
when the love is gone
I’ve searched for it, and wondered:
where did the love go?
The Bell Tower
Reverend Langston Penniman sat on the edge of his bed, stretching his black fingers. Everything had either twisted up on him or shrunk except his stomach. Once six-foot-five, he now plunged to six two, still tall, but not the imposing dignitary he once was standing behind the lectern in front of his congregation.
His parishioners aged, too. So hard nowadays to attract the young, he thought standing from the bed he shared with his wife of fifty-two years. His knees cracked. He’d gotten his cholesterol under control, but at seventy-five, his health headed south as his age pushed north.
Born and raised in Montgomery, Reverend Penniman had a hard time staying relevant, what with tattoos, body piercing, rap music, not to mention homosexuals getting married and reefer being legalized. For a man his age, changing was like pulling a mule uphill through molasses.
The smell of bacon and eggs drifted down the hall. He heard the coffeemaker gurgle. How he loved his mornings with the Montgomery Daily News—not Internet news—something he could hold in his hands, smell the ink. He even enjoyed licking his fingers to separate the pages.
Off in the direction of the Alabama River, he thought he heard a siren, not far from his church.
“Breakfast ready,” Flo shouted from the kitchen.
Flo was the sweetest gift the Lord ever bestowed upon a man. Oh, he was fortunate, he thought, passing her picture on the dresser bureau and the photo of their three boys and two girls. Proud of his church, he was even prouder of their five children. Three graduated from college, all of them respectable citizens.
“It’s gonna get cold if you don’t come and get it.”
“I’m a comin. Just let me wash up.”
The siren sounded closer.
The Alabama spring day was warmer than usual. At nine in the morning, it was headed off the charts, as the kids say nowadays.
Reverend Penniman washed and dressed. At the bureau, he brushed back the sides of his white hair, his bald crown parted like the Red Sea. When his kids teased him about looking like Uncle Ben, he grew whiskers just as white. His boys joked he looked like Uncle Ben with a beard. He chuckled. He would have preferred Morgan Freeman.
“I’ll feed it to the garbage disposal if you don’t come and get it.”
“I’m a comin now, sweet thing.”
He heard the siren turn the corner at Bankhead and Parks.
Reverend Penniman looked at the cell phone lying on his dresser. He’d yet to master how to get his thick fingers to press one picture at a time, or type on that itty bitty keyboard. He couldn’t even hold it in the crook of his neck.
He hurried down the hall. The floorboards of the fifty-year-old house creaked just like him. Not quite shotgun, his house did have a similar layout what with add-ons for the three boys.
The siren was upon them.
“Lord have mercy,” Flo said as she put the food on the table. “That sure sounds angry.”
“Sure does. Let me take a look,” the reverend said from the kitchen’s entrance.
He went to the living room window and saw a police car pull into his driveway, the siren cut-off. Two uniformed police officers, one black, the other white, got out of the cruiser and headed up his footpath.
He opened the door.
“Are you Reverend Penniman?”
“I am. What’s the problem?”
“There’s a girl up on the bell tower of your church. Says she’s gonna jump,” the black officer said.
“Good Lord!” Flo cried standing behind her husband.
“Let me get my keys,” the reverend said.
“No time, sir. Come with us. You’ll get there faster.”
Flo took off and came back with the reverend’s cell phone. “Here baby. I’m gonna meet you there soon as I shut down the kitchen. You should at least have your toast. I can put it in a baggie for you.”
“No time,” he said as he hurried out the door with the officers.
Reverend Penniman sat in the back of the car with a screen separating him from the policemen. “Who is she?” he asked.
“Don’t know,” the young white officer answered.
“What’s she look like?”
“Black teen, skinny, baggy pants, chain hanging from the pocket, hoodie pulled over a ball cap.”
“You know her?”
“Like one of my own.” The reverend looked out the window as the car pulled away. He clasped his hands together and said a quick prayer for the troubled girl. Lord, help me help her, he repeated to himself. “Did she ask for me?”
“How’d you find me?”
“Your name is on the marquee of your church.”
“I’m Officer Johnson,” the older man said. “This is Officer Perry.”
Officer Perry reached forward and turned on the siren. The noise deafened everything, including the pounding of Reverend Penniman’s heart.
They drove toward downtown Montgomery along the banks of the Alabama, the RSA tower soared above the city’s skyline.
The speed limit was forty. The reverend guessed they were doing twice that. His right knee pumped like the needle on Flo’s sewing machine.
The siren screamed. The lights blinked and rotated flashing red and blue on the hood of the car. Reverend Penniman felt like he was up on that bell tower, on the edge, with his arms stretched out, his body holding back the weight of all his parishioners who had wept in his arms.
At the corner of Graves and Buckley, the cruiser slowed, the siren cut-off. Officer Johnson made a right turn. People rushed along the sidewalk their cell phones pressed against their ears.
Halfway down the block, Reverend Penniman saw more people standing outside his church than he ever had inside. A fire truck parked in the lot with men unloading a ladder.
The police car jumped the curb and drove to the side of the brick building. He saw Greaty, Akeesha’s great-grandmother in her burgundy wig, mussed like a tornado whirled through it. She cupped her black hands on the sides of her mouth screaming and crying at the roof. Her pink housecoat hung open revealing her cotton nightie.
Before the car came to a stop, the minister jumped out.
Greaty saw Reverend Penniman and ran to him. “You get my baby off the roof, you hear, Reverend? She done gone and have a meltdown.”
“We’ll get her down. Just craving attention like all teenagers.”
“She cravin’ nothin’ but death. She gonna jump. She all I have!”
He ran to the front of the church. Greaty followed. The reverend gasped. “Good Lord.” Akeesha teetered on the edge of the bell’s shelter. Her baggy pants flapped in the breeze.
Two firefighters carried a ladder to the roof. They propped it against the gutters.
“Get away,” Akeesha screamed. “I’ll jump, you try to get me.” Her voice carried over the mob.
“I know the child. I can get her down.”
“Don’t think so, Reverend.”
The minister turned to see Officer Johnson standing beside him. “Then why’d you get me?”
“It’s your church. I thought you’d be younger.”
“I’m young enough and I’ll get her down.” He gazed up at the girl. “Akeesha!” he shouted using his pulpit voice. “I’m coming to you, child.” He sprinted around the side of the church, to the back, amazed at how his body complied with his will. Officer Johnson’s leather holster crunched with each matching stride.
Akeesha had broken the frame of the door and busted in.
“If I have to cuff you Reverend, I will,” Officer Johnson said.
“You really want to save this child?” Reverend Penniman asked. “I’ve known her since she was four. I’m the only father she’s ever known. Now you let me do my business.”
He pushed open the door when he heard car wheels on gravel.
“Langston,” Flo yelled out the window. “Where do think you’re going?” She slammed the driver’s door.
“Good Lord, woman, I don’t need you pestering me too.”
Flo ran up to her husband. “Officer, you arrest this man if he so much—.”
“You gotta save her... she my baby—she all I have!” Greaty screamed coming around the corner.
“Calm down,” Reverend Penniman said.
Greaty wiped her face with the sleeve of her house coat. “She never been so upset. She so angry. Them girls who beat her up. Them punks who tried to rape her.”
The reverend looked at Officer Johnson. “Get all those people away from the front of my church. And tell those firemen to take down the ladder.”
“I’m the one in charge here, Reverend.”
“How about we get Captain Martinez?” Officer Perry asked. “They can secure the reverend with a rope and harness.” Before his superior had a chance to argue, young Perry ran off.
“Thank you,” Reverend Penniman shouted.
“She a good girl except for her sin,” Greaty sobbed.
Flo put her arm around Akeesha’s great-grandmother.
“Flo, take her to the car,” Reverend Penniman said. “I’ll be okay.”
“Keep him safe, Officer. Don’t let him do anything foolish,” Flo said as she led Greaty away.
Reverend Penniman heard the whirling blades of a helicopter. “Good Lord. A child’s life is at stake and this is turning into a circus,” he said entering the back of his church.
“How’d she get up to the bell tower?” Officer Johnson asked.
“There’s a room with pulleys. A stairway curls around leading up to the bells.” Reverend Penniman could kick himself for letting Jake show Akeesha the inside of the tower.
Officer Johnson shot up the stairs.
“Wait! You can’t go that way. You’d come out behind her. I swear, man. You let me handle this my way or that girl is going to die.”
Officer Johnson turned on the landing.
The reverend had him in an eye-lock. “Please,” he said, not used to the sound of the word or the helpless feeling that it carried.
“Why is she up there?” the policeman asked.
“She’s a homosexual.”
“My brother’s gay,” Officer Johnson said.
The minister watched how the cop’s eyes captured a memory, something powerful enough to soften his features.
Reverend Penniman climbed the fourteen steps to the landing. He’d always been proud of his bell tower, right now he’d wished his ancestors never built it.
Officer Perry returned with Captain Martinez and a boyish looking black man. Both men held gear as they took the steps in three strides.
“Well Johnson, your call,” the captain said.
“We’ll feed Reverend Penniman below her, on the roof.”
The reverend led the men around a corner to a loft with stairs to the church roof.
“Got your Nikes on, I see,” Martinez said. “Good.”
“Now put that contraption on me and let me out there.”
The firefighters held the harness for the reverend to step into. They hooked the cloth rope to the straps, gave it a tug jolting the reverend backwards, then tossed the rope to another man who waited below. “Side-step going down the incline. It’s not steep, but we got you no matter what.”
“Get rid of the ladder and the lookyloos. And stay well below. I don’t want her knowing you’re around.”
“We’ll be down on the first landing,” Captain Martinez said.
“I’ve had enough talk, gentlemen.”
Reverend Penniman took the steps to the roof praying as he went, for Akeesha, for Greaty, but most of all for himself. That he’d say the right thing, be sincere, because Akeesha had the gift of honesty. He prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to fill him with wisdom.
The door to the roof was ajar. He gently touched it. He felt the rope tug the harness. The door swung open.
The roof slanted and leveled out several feet down. The area around the tower was flat.
He smelled the fumes from the asphalt as he stepped sideways onto the shingles, planted himself and managed the incline. He took his time placing his right foot, then his left, and held for a moment. He did it again until the roof flattened out.
Applause and shouts broke out. “Get back!” Officer Johnson shouted. “Everyone!”
The reverend glanced at the Alabama River. The spectacular Montgomery skyline like a masterpiece God painted. Then he looked below. He saw the van of a local TV station, the helicopter off in the distance; the crowd herded across the street by young Perry, and so many cell phones held up to the bell tower it looked like Beyonce held court.
He heard sniffles, then crying.
“Akeesha. I’m here to talk, child.”
“Won’t do no good.”
“Well, I didn’t climb all the way up here thinking it wouldn’t do no good. You and I have a way together, now don’t we?”
“Prayin’ don’t work. I’m still gay.”
“No reason taking your life.” He thought back to the convention when one minister said, let the gays kill themselves. We need to protect our children. Only problem with that was all the molesting he knew came from men with little girls. He left those conferences feeling tired and old, the same men year after year with their stale jokes and self-righteous rhetoric. He felt trapped by the old ways and frightened by the new.
“Everyone knows. It’s on Facebook.” Akeesha whimpered.” My girlfriend broke with me.”
Reverend Penniman made his way around the side of the bell tower feeling the tug of the harness. He looked up at the teenager.
Her hoodie covered all but the bill of her ball cap. She wiped her tears with the black leather band she wore on her wrist. “I wanna die.” She inched forward to the lip of the shelter. Her hand left the arch.
“No!” Reverend Penniman yelled his arms stretched out as if he could catch her.
The crowd oohed.
He moved slowly around the tower until his back was to the mob. “Sit on the ledge baby.”
“I’m goin to hell when I die. Bible says so.” Her voice quivered. “Greaty found out. Said I’d bring shame on her house—more than my mama in jail. Said a woman’s body parts were made for a man to make babies.” Her voice trailed off.
“Greaty loves you, child. She’s running around screaming and bossing, telling us to get her baby off the tower. You hear me, child?” He watched horrified as she balanced herself on the rim of the tower. A slip and she would die.
“They callin me a freak.”
“Sit down now. We need to talk.”
“Jump faggot!” someone hollered across the street.
Reverend Penniman looked back at the crowd. Officer Johnson grabbed the man. Perry hauled him away.
“They all stupid.” Akeesha sobbed.
“We can work this out.”
“Don’t dish with me, Reverend. Talkin’s no good,” she shouted.
He lifted his head up to see her lip quivering. “Can be,” he said.
“I’m goin to hell. Might as well get it over with.”
“Now, don’t talk like that.” He thought of all those times they knelt together holding hands. Their eyes shut tight, the way Akeesha repeated his words to rid herself of the sin of homosexuality. When they were through, her face was wet with tears. He’d never forget how she’d wipe her fingers several times across her jeans like she’d been holding hands with a leper. He knew then she’d yet to be cured.
He talked to his daughter about it. Rose told him the gay people she knew said they were born that way. She told him his generation treated the Bible like a deli, picking and choosing what to live by, who to hate and the nonsense of fearing God. His conversations with his middle child made him reflect. That’s all it did. He loved his children equally, but Rose had the gift of benevolence.
“You jump, I’ll try to catch you. Then I’ll die trying to save you. You know that’d make Flo mighty mad, child.” He took a careful step back to get a look at her face. She gazed out at the Montgomery horizon. Her calm scared him.
He remembered the first time Greaty brought her to church. She was four, always carrying her dump truck and running it along the pews. During the sermon, she’d nestle into Greaty’s bosom, thumb in her mouth. Her short hair braided. When she got older, she sang in the choir. For extra money she gardened around the church. He’d take her to McDonald’s afterwards. They talked. She was a good girl—even if she did look like a gang banger— thoughtful and quiet, never swore, didn’t do drugs. But she suffered at school. It showed in her grades, and she finally dropped out. He was the only man in her short life, and she clung to him like a daddy. Her great grandmother looked after her like a one-eyed cat watching two rat holes. She ain’t goin to end up in jail like her mama, or dead like her granny. She gonna be respectful, yes, indeed, she gonna be a fine woman when she grow up.
“Akeesha,” he said with a stern voice. “You want to give Greaty a heart attack? I told you how worked up she is.”
“She always worked up.”
“She loves you.”
“Quit lyin!” She spread her arms out.
“I’m not lying. You’ve seen her below. Running around. Now you hold onto that post.” The noon light threw no shadows. The wind rippled his shirt. He felt the sun beating down on his bald spot. “God loves you.”
“Then how come we pray to change me?”
“Cause you wanted to be like other girls. Remember? I’m not a psychiatrist. Praying is all I know.”
Reverend Penniman took out his handkerchief and wiped his brow. In the 1980s, he buried a young man who died of AIDS. He’d never forget how his boyfriend threw himself on top of the casket crying and shouting the dead boy’s name. He never thought homosexuals had feelings until he witnessed that young man’s grief.
“We prayed to make your life easier. So you’d be happy.”
“Didn’t work. My life be easier if people left me alone.”
“You’re probably right, child.” The reverend wiped his mouth with the handkerchief and put it in his pocket. Even if his heart struggled with what he was going to say, perhaps he could save her. “Maybe God made you perfect the way you are,” he said thinking of Rose.
“You lyin so I don’t kill myself.”
“No child. I’m saying it cause God has a reason for you being here.” He heard sniffles. Then he saw her skinny hand swipe across her face. “Oh baby, come down and let’s have a good cry together.”
He watched for any movement from her feet.
“Quite a view up here,” he said trying to sound casual. “We live in a beautiful city. Don’t you think?”
“I wanna go to California.”
“Now, why would you want to do that? What about Greaty?”
“What about her?”
“Girl, I’m getting a crick in my neck looking up at you. I haven’t eaten today. At my age, I’m on a schedule, and I get awfully tired if I’m hungry. We can talk better down here. Sit behind the tower. Alone. I want to talk to you like a grown-up.”
“I am grown up.” She shifted and pulled the hoodie off her head so it fell around her neck. “Jalissa broke with me. Who gonna love me?”
“Child, there’s a whole lot of people in the world. There’s got to be one just for you.”
“You not being honest.” She tugged the hoodie back up. “You wanna boy to love me. I don’t wanna boy.”
“Darlin baby, I admit I don’t know much about such things. All I know is that I love you, and that love is greater than any judgment I cast upon you.” He hesitated, and thought about the words that flowed out of him so effortlessly. It sounded like something coming from Rose’s lips, not his.
He looked up. “Akeesha!” Where’d she go? He held onto the tower. He circled it fearing she jumped from the other side. “Akeesha!” he cried. He didn’t dare to take that part of the roof. The slant angled too steep. He felt weak, a little dizzy but his adrenalin rushed. He went back the way he came, the harness tugging. Sweat poured into his eyes.
The door to the roof creaked open.
“What you wearing Reverend?” Akeesha stood in the archway.
“Lord have mercy, child!” His heart felt like a bowl of confetti. Instead of fearing the worst, she had climbed inside the tower and took the stairs to the roof. “You could have answered me when I called. You done scared the daylights out of me, child.”
“What you mean, your love greater than your judgment?” Akeesha asked.
“Oh, oh, my darlin baby—we should enjoy this magnificent view of our city and thank the good Lord for the beautiful child that you are.”
“I’m not beautiful.”
“In God’s eyes and mine you are.”
“I swear on my sweet Flo’s life.”
“Then why we waste all that time prayin when I’m already okay?”
He caught a glint of the stud that she wore in the center of her tongue.
“You not as smart as you think, Reverend.”
Reverend Penniman let out a hearty laugh. “Well, I’ll tell you a secret, Akeesha, I don’t have all the answers. Sometimes I have to make it seem like I do or no one would come to my church.”
“They won’t come anyway, lyin and all.”
He thought about what Rose said, how the young have turned away from religion. “You know my daughter, Rose? She’d agree with you. You know she’s studied in India. Traveled the world. Says God is always expanding—not sure what that means.” He walked slowly toward the girl. “You know something, Akeesha?”
“You taught me something.” His voice fractured. “You taught me, child. And I’m truly grateful.”
“Taught you what?”
“Can we sit here, for a minute? I’m really tired.” He slid down the wall. The harness grabbed at his thighs as he sat.
Akeesha walked like she’d been on the roof a hundred times, maybe she had, he thought. She sat next to him.
“You taught me to accept you.” He slowly pulled the hoodie down so he could see her face. “I’ve always thought of you as one of my own. Flo, too.”
Akeesha took his gnarled old hand. She spread each of his fingers to include hers. He felt love in her fingertips.
The confetti in his heart flung out over his beloved Montgomery. It showered like a vital rain. “I think there’s only love in God’s house,” the reverend mused. “So much of life is good.”
“Can we go to KFC?”
Reverend Penniman smiled. “Not McDonald’s? We always go to McDonald’s.”
“Sure enough. My treat,” he said. “I could take you to a fancy place where we sit at a table with a white cloth and linen napkins. We can order ribs. They have finger bowls with water so our hands don’t get all sticky. Eat as much as we want.”
“No. KFC,” she said standing and holding her hand out for the reverend to grasp.
Previously published by FICTION on the Web and won an honorary mention in the Soul-Making Keats literary contest for 2014.
I wake up and decide not to kill myself. I’m a big fat pussy. When you wake up every morning for eight years and actively decide not to kill yourself it’s because you’re a pussy. A real man would’ve killed himself years ago.
Defeated, I roll off the mattress and shuffle to the sink. I brush my teeth and my toothbrush turns pink with blood. I don’t floss. I also chew the insides of my cheeks.
I go sit on the sweaty couch that serves as my camper’s living room and smoke. Five cigs in and the hangover remains. My empty weed tin forces me to start drinking to get myself right. The two dumb blondes on the morning show drink this early, so it must be fine, right? I get my moral compass and political leanings from these two fake cohosts. Their teeth gleam with honesty. I pour a tall gin and tonic with a slice of lime for the health benefits. Protects me from getting a cold now, but destroys my liver for later.
I’m feeling much better now and thinking about getting up and dressing in something other than my boxers. Maybe splash on some Old Spice just in case I meet the burnt out skank of my dreams. Just have to check to see if “Cops” is on first. I love that show. No matter how bad things get for me, I’m not being chased by the police as long as I’m in my living room watching other pieces of shit getting chased by the police. But it’s too early for “Cops.” That’s adult fare, you know. I settle for one of them “People’s Court” rip off shows.
“Angel of Death” by Slayer suddenly thrashes from my cellphone. The assigned ringtone for my ex-wife. I close my eyes and wait for the song to stop. “Sadistic surgeon of demise...” and it ceases. Good. Last thing I want to do is talk to her now. Four G&T’s in, she’ll probably smell it through the phone and give me reams of shit. She thinks she gets a say because she added me to her phone plan when my service got cut off two months ago.
Well, now that the phone has my attention, maybe I’ll go ahead and surf some porn real quick. I pick up the cell and go to my porn bookmarks when “Angel of Death” starts up again.
Shit. Two calls in a row could mean an emergency concerning Sean or something. The 13-year-old hooligan hates me and hates his mother even more. But I guess I have some sort of responsibility for unleashing the asshole kid on the world. After all, my ex added me to her phone plan because she believes that I need to be available for him. I guess. So, here goes my day.
“Why didn’t you answer before?”
Oh, God. The shrill condescension. The heat in her voice burrows like a flaming mole rat into my brain. Whatever part of my hangover the drinks fixed comes rushing back.
“What do you want?” Flat. Trying to enunciate through thickened lips and tongue.
“Not going to answer my question?” Please, please die. Or let me die.
“I was busy. What do you want?”
“Did you get the message from Verizon? It’s only a week into the billing cycle and you’ve already used up 50 percent of the data usage for the month.” Just a torrential rain of bullshit flowing out of her mouth. “What? I know you aren’t calling around looking for a job.”
“Okay.” Oh, God. End this.
“Okay, what? What?”
“Look. I’ve got no Internet. I only have the phone.”
“Well, I use my phone for the Internet, too. And I don’t use as much data as you. Not even close. What are you doing? Watching your pornographies all day long?”
“Okay? Okay? That’s it? Okay what?”
“Okay, I watch ‘pornographies’ all day long and it uses a lot of fucking data.” I would never say any of this sober. “But fine. Okay. I’ll watch the fucking data usage and get some porn mags. Just don’t get pissed when Sean comes over and finds them all lying around.”
“You’re an asshole.”
“And how is the job search going, winner?”
“That’s what I thought. Couldn’t even hold down a simpleton pizza delivery job.”
“Come on! My car is fucked! How am I supposed to work without a car?”
“Whatever. I’m not paying for extra data usage. Get a job. Christ.”
She hangs up. I sit and stare at my belly. I’m 46 and not entirely obese. But I’m mushy and round like dough. I’m disgusting. I’ve just let it all go since she bailed on me. As much as I hate to admit it, she kept the worst of my depressed laziness at bay with her constant nagging.
But, hey. At least now I’m free to do whatever I want.
I glaze over and watch another hour of bullshit stupidity on TV before I finish all the tonic water. So, now I’m just drinking straight gin until it pours air.
A roach tickles my leg and breaks me from my abyssal reverie. It’s after lunch and I haven’t had any food at all. Only sucked on the limes from my earlier drinks. I flick the roach off and take two wobbly steps to the cabinets. Nothing to eat except stale Cool Ranch Doritos, ketchup, limes and lemons.
Well, I need to refill my weed tin anyway, so I guess I’ll have to make a trip. I just don’t know if I’m up for it. I can barely make it out of my bed much less make it out of my camper. But my needs are stronger than my will to have my body remain at rest. Physics!
I call Chad.
“Hello?” Sounds like he was sleeping. The fat fuck sleeps all the time. More sedentary than even I am. But at least he’s happy about it.
“Yeah, Chad. It’s me. I need to get hooked up. Just a twenty’s worth, man.”
“Uh, okay. Come on over.”
“Cool. Listen, you got any booze over there I can get off you? And maybe some snacks? I’m all out here and don’t want to swing by the store.”
“Aw, man. I gotta couple beers. You can have them, dude. And some pretzels, I think.”
“Nothing with a bit more zing?”
“Uhhhhhh,” I hear some rustling and bottles clanging. “I got like a quarter bottle of vodka.”
“Yeah. Cool. See ya in a few.”
“All right, man.”
Now comes the hard part.
I gotta get over there. I decide to throw on my old bathrobe to cover my shitty boxers. I snatched the robe from one of our family vacations years ago. Stains streak the white terry cloth and smokes have made quite a few burn holes. But you can still make out the name of the cruise ship. The Carnival Radiant.
I slide my feet into my hiking boots, which are untied and uncomfortable from lack of wear. I rummage through the basket on the counter and dig out the 20 bucks I’ll need for the weed and stuff it into the robe pocket. The last of my pizza tips. I put my phone in the other pocket and open the camper door.
I immediately want to call the whole fucking thing off. A hot wind blows around the fragments of a recent storm and the strobe light bursts of sun nearly send me into convulsions. Mud spreads throughout the entire RV park. Florida’s wet heat takes my breath away. I feel like an ant under a magnifying glass. Just burning crisp. Is the weed and booze really worth this shit hassle of a trip?
I duck back inside and let the near darkness of the camper embrace me. It feels so good. I want to sit back down on the smelly couch and let it caress me.
But then what would happen in an hour when the gin totally wore off? And plus, weed would take me to the level I need in order to contemplate doing something for the day.
I can make it. I open the door of the camper and stumble down the metal steps to the soggy ground. The boots irritate my ankles and I nearly slip in the sludge. But I must press on.
I trudge through the slop in front of my camper to the lime rock road. Its potholes are full of water, so there’s that to avoid. And I see that Andrew - not Andy, but Andrew - sits on a lawn chair out in front of his RV. A light blue tee stretches over his paunch and his orange Bermuda shorts match his orange flip flops and drink. Clean and bright, but a dim bulb inside his skull.
His RV is a dozen years old, but it was a real big sweet ride back in the day. He takes care of it, but it still shows a bit of wear. I really hate this guy and his wife. They stay for only four months out of the year, quite long enough for me to want to stab them both in their sleep. I know what comes next. Oh, God.
“Howdy, there neighbor.” All fucking like we’re friends and he gives a shit. I resist the urge to run because that would take effort and I would undoubtedly fall on my face even if I tried.
“Yeah, afternoon, Andy.” I do a quick wave and resume my hike. He stands up to walk toward me. I shrivel.
“It’s Andrew, buddy. Hey, I’ve noticed that Cora hasn’t been by in a while.” Oh, Cora. A used up piece of shit I picked up at Frenchy’s Pub. She ended up crashing at my camper for a week before I sobered up enough to realize what a horrible, scabby bag she was. I literally threw her out screaming and crying. What a disaster, especially since she gave me crabs.
“Yeah, we broke up.” Irritated with this friendly bullshit, I try walking away again. The asshole clutches at the shoulder of my robe. I swing around and instinctively slap his hand away. My boots slip into a pothole and I take a tumble. I try to do a ninja roll or some shit to quickly stand up, but just flail around like an idiot. I give up and take a slow, humiliating climb to my feet. My face burns.
“What the fuck, Andy?”
“Whoah, there! You okay?”
“No! I’m all covered in muck, asshole.” He takes a step back. “The fuck, man?”
“Well, sorry. I was just trying to be a neighbor,” he stammers.
“Yeah, well does it look like I’m feeling neighborly?”
“I guess not,” he says with slight smirk. “Well, enjoy your un-neighborly visit to wherever you’re going.”
“Will do, Andy, chap.” As if I needed any more reason to hate the guy. He rides around in his huge ass RV, taking up all kinds of room, breathing, keeping tabs on my comings and goings. Fucking asshole.
I trudge past Andy’s RV, past an empty lot and then to Chad’s Airstream. It’s a bit older than my camper, but he keeps it in decent shape. He even has a few sad plants growing around the perimeter. The fat fuck.
As I approach, I see the Airstream shift and then Chad opens the door. This slob lugs around a hulking mass of fat-dimpled flesh. And he’s nice and always has weed. I really hate the guy on a deep level.
“Sup, man! What happened?”
“Took a spill coming over.”
“Yeah? Well, come on in, but try not to get mud all over my place, dude.”
I want to punch him in his fat smiley face. It would be nice if he could just hand me the sack and I can be on my way, but too many eyes. Like Andy’s. The type that likes to call the police on dope peddlers bringing down the lot values in “his” shitty RV park. Plus, Chad likes to chat. Chatty Chad.
The clouds begin building up again as I climb inside. It takes a second for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior of Chad’s pad. Cheap incense burns my throat and eyes, intensifying my headache.
Besides the shit smell, Chad’s place is comfortable enough. He keeps his camper up better than himself. That’s for goddamn sure. I plop into one of the booths at the dinette where he stacks all his goods and brace myself for conversation. The place heaves as Chad squeezes in across from me. He plunks down the bottle of vodka.
“Gonna eventually outgrow my shell. Ha!”
“Good one, Chad.”
“Yeah. How ya been?” He starts separating some buds from the mound in an old metal Empire Strikes Back lunchbox and puts them on a scale.
“All right, I guess.”
“Your ex still busting your balls?” You wouldn’t think his hotdog fingers could so nimbly pinch out just the right amount of bud for a $20 sack so quickly, but the guy mastered at least this one thing.
“Too bad. You look like shit, man. Ha!” He slides the weed filled baggie over to me. Score! “Twenty bucks, sir.”
I slip my hand into the pocket of my robe and it’s empty. I check the other pocket. Only my phone.
“Oh, shit, Chad. I know I had it in my pocket. Where the hell?” I stand up and pat around myself like the money is just going to be stuck to the outside of the robe or some shit. “I must’ve left it at home. Christ!”
Chad’s normally passive stupid expression turns hard.
“Then go get it.”
Fuck! This means I would have to go through the same ordeal all over again. Walking. Andrew. Goddamn this whole day!
“Chad,” I plead, “I’ll bring it over tomorrow when it’s not so hot and shitty outside.”
“All right, buddy.” Chad takes the glorious sack and dumps it back into the lunchbox. “I’ll still have your weed here tomorrow.”
“Shit, man. All right.” I quickly come up with a great idea. “How about just a bowl to get me through until...”
Then, somebody knocks at the door.
I’m the paranoid sort. I fall into a panic at almost any moment when dealing with weed. But an unexpected knock at the door in the middle of a pot deal puts me into pass out mode.
“Holy shit! Who’s that?”
“Shut up, idiot,” Chad seethes. He reaches under the dinette, pulls out a handgun and stands up.
“The fuck, man?”
“I said, shut the fuck up.” Suddenly Chad doesn’t seem like the affable slob I know. I want to throw up.
Chad stands next to the door and looks though the peephole he installed for such an occasion. He turns to me and gruffly whispers, “It’s your neighbor. What’s he doing here?”
Chad puts the gun to his puckered lips, shushing me and turns his eye back to the peephole. Then, the knock comes again, this time a little louder and longer.
“Guy looks kinda pissed,” Chad mutters.
Through the other side of the door I hear Andrew yell.
“I know what’s going on in there! If you want your dirty drug money back, then you better open the door!”
Chad glares at me. “He’s holding up your twenty bucks, dumb fuck.”
It must’ve fallen out of my pocket when I took that tumble. My lips go numb and swirling blackness creeps at the edge of my sight. I’m losing it.
“Oh, man. What are we gonna do?” Panic rises in my voice.
“Shut up,” Chad hisses.
Andrew pounds on the door again, this time hard enough that the Airstream shakes.
“If you don’t open this damned door right now, I’m going to call the police,” Andrew screams. “I don’t want this drug crap going on here anymore. Let’s settle this like men!”
Bile rises into my mouth. I begin to see stars and my chest feels like it won’t expand to take in any air. Full scale panic attack is imminent. I have to get the fuck out of here. This place has no air to breathe other than poisonous incense. I have to get out and get through this shit. Flight. Flight! FLIGHT!
I stand up and spit out a huge glob of bile onto Chad’s floor. He looks at me in horror and disgust. I lean heavily on the dinette table.
“That’s it,” Andrew yells through the door. “I’m calling the cops on you!”
Chad opens the door to the Airstream. I see Andrew’s lemon-pinched face for a brief second before Chad’s bulk blocks the view. Then my knees buckle and everything swirls as my breath fades out.
I wake up on Chad’s floor to the sound of screaming, then a squishy thud. I struggle to my feet, stumble over to the closed door and look through the peephole. I’m horrified.
The rain has started. Andrew lies sprawled out in the mud, unmoving and face down. Yelling, with blood flowing down his face, is Chad. I recognize Andrew’s sagging wife standing across from him. She holds Chad’s gun, pointing it at him. Real fucking bad.
I watch as Chad lunges toward her and the gun goes off. Chad pummels into the bitch and they both fall into the mud. The wench starts screaming but Chad no longer moves.
Flight! Fucking FLIGHT!
I lock Chad’s door, turn away from the shitty scene and grab the frying pan on Chad’s stove. I pull up the blinds on the window next to the dinette, smash through it with the pan and clear the glass as best as possible. I grab the Empire Strikes Back lunchbox full of weed and the quarter bottle of vodka and chuck them out the window. I climb on the table and thrust myself through the opening with frying pan in hand.
My robe catches on a piece of glass jutting from the frame as I fall on my back in the mud. I struggle to rip the cloth free and I hear approaching sirens. My panic exceeds passing out.
The robe comes loose with a chunk of glass still wrapped in it. It snaps toward me and digs into my shin. I don’t feel it and the sirens are getting closer.
I scramble to my feet in the slick mud. I gather my treasures from the muck and run toward the flatwoods that sit at the edge of the RV park. My boots don’t want to come easily from the mud, so I high-step like a show pony, my toes curled up to keep the boots from slipping off. I don’t look back as I part the wire fence and plunge into the woods.
The rain pours as I settle beneath a palmetto bush and look to see what’s going on.
There are four Hernando Sheriff’s cars outside Chad’s house. They put Andrew’s wife into one of the cars, but I can’t see what’s going on around the other side of the camper where Chad and Andrew are laid out. Neighbors mill around, surely making up their own stories about the event. The police wrap yellow tape around the Airstream.
I open up the bottle of vodka and take a swig to warm up. Even in the heat of summer, the rain chills when you sit in the woods wearing nothing but a ripped robe and boxers.
Ambulances come and go. I can’t see who or what gets loaded into them. More police show up, as well as an SUV marked forensics. I’m fucked for sure, so I take in more of that potato liquor. They take two large garbage bags out of Chad’s place. I can only assume it’s his big stash.
I’m feeling the effects of the vodka when I notice cops appear on my side of the camper examining the broken window. I begin to shake. They take pictures and talk. They look around at the ground and toward the woods. God, I hope the rain has washed out my prints. I know they can’t see me at this distance through the rain and foliage, but I try not to breathe. I see a few officers going door to door in the RV park. After an eternity, the two cops behind the camper walk around to the other side.
Metallica’s “The Thing That Should Not Be” starts playing from my phone. Sean’s ring tone. I grab the phone from my pocket and quickly answer it to silence the damn thing.
“What?” I whisper.
“Hello to you too, dad.”
“Yeah. Sorry. Hi Sean. I’m kind of busy. Everything okay?”
“No. Mom won’t let me go to the school dance tomorrow night because I didn’t finish my homework last week. Why are you whispering?”
“I’m just tired. Sorry about the dance. Your mom sucks. Nothing I can do about it.”
He sighs in the deep irritation that only teens can.
“You could talk to her if you weren’t such a dick!”
“Sean, I don’t have time for this shit right now,” I growl through clenched teeth. If I could reach through the phone and rip out his entitled teenage heart and shove it straight up his ass, I would. “I wish I could help. I wish I could come over and drive you to the stupid dance myself. And then all your problems would be solved until tomorrow when you find some other fucking bullshit thing to whine about. But that’s just not possible right now. Plus, your mom’s probably right. So, there you go. I’m a dick and that’s that.”
He hangs up without saying another word. Not even a “fuck you.” Yet another bad memory I’m so easily able to create.
I’m well buzzed by the time the news cameras arrive. I place the frying pan over the bottle opening to keep the rain out. The sky darkens and the news people have huge lights on their cameras as they chat lively in front of the scene of the crime. The rain continues to come down as the cops begin to leave. They seem done with talking to the other RV tenants. From my angle in the woods, I couldn’t see if they ever knocked on my shitty camper or not. Shit. Maybe they went inside and searched it. Maybe they’re hiding in there for me.
I do know that my bottle feels empty and I’m drunk, but the chill worsens. Fucking miserable.
I have no idea of the time when the last cop car pulls out and the tenants disperse to their own crappy lives. I toss the empty vodka bottle and take the long way around the RV park. No way I’m going to walk straight through to my camper, even on a night darkened with rain.
I make a drunk mess trying to slog through the woods to the cow pasture that borders the east side of the park. I struggle through the wire fence and limp through the pasture. There’s no cover here, so I go as quick as I can. My torn and bloody robe drags through the grass and cow shit. I don’t really feel the pain in my shin. Just a low heat of sorts.
When I’m directly opposite my camper, I power walk a straight line to it, struggle one last time through the wire fence and slip inside.
I take in the familiar aroma of sweat and failure as I flick on the lights. No police hide in waiting. The roaches scatter, except for one brave palmetto bug in the far corner. I put the lunchbox on the table, peel off my robe and throw it at the palmetto. I miss by just an inch, but that fucker doesn’t even move. Just its antenna twitches. Braver than me.
I plop into my couch and open the lunchbox. It’s full of bright green weed and it’s surprisingly dry for the most part. I turn on the TV and holy shit! “Cops” is on!
After such a shit day I deserve a night of relaxation. I pack the first bowl as I watch some dumb transvestite get arrested for stabbing her boyfriend with a pen.
Sorta glad I didn’t kill myself this morning.
Flawed Logic of Alcohol Molecules
Ike and Turk weren’t the kind of guys I’d invite over to watch the game, but we got along well enough to sit in my car, a clean inconspicuous four door sedan. My name’s Vern, Ike and I chose to sit here instead of the local tavern “Drink a Few.” It was packed for early afternoon on a hot overcast day. The A/C awaited the repairman and the ventilation didn’t do a thing for the smell of empty beer bottles.
We had a good view of everything going and coming down the block long Plymouth Street nestled between Congress Parkway and Van Buren Street. There were a few parking meters on one side of the block and delivery trucks servicing businesses and condo complexes on the other. The south end of the Central Business District has it all, moral and immoral, organized chaos with Van Buren lined with adult bookstores, old established delicatessens, Chinese food restaurants and a few transient hotels. We were comfortable in our little spot and the beat cop didn’t hassle us as long as we didn’t disrespect his/her authority.
“OK, Ike, say it.” I held out my cup and watched him pour the vodka.
“Why didn’t you pull that bitch, did you see the ass on her?”
Ike’s a good guy; his short wide frame made him an ideal fullback. When he tried out for the pros a trick knee screwed up that dream and he ended up at UPS. But, the more he drank the fouler his mouth. “No ‘B’ words, Ike, remember?”
“Right, sorry, but still.”
“She didn’t interest me. I don’t care how she flashed those bedroom eyes.”
Ike shook his head. “Damn, sometimes I wish I was tall with straight black hair like you.”
“Why? You’re the bodybuilder female’s love, right?” Ike grinned and poured juice in his cup. “You got a point, bro.” I didn’t need to know to hear the BS. “Did you like her friend?”
“Yeah, she came in a few minutes later.”
“No, I missed her.”
“I’d go back in and show you, but it’s too hot and stuffy. I bet they’ll be back tomorrow or soon and then we make a move. OK?” That should put that to rest.
“Cool.” We drank in silence and watched our fellow rat racers hurry to the Amtrak and Metra stations.
Ike pulled out a joint. “You’re drunk and that’s the last thing you need; weed will really fuck you up.”
“I’m on the train today.”
“Well, smoke it outside, I don’t need a contact.”
“Fuck it then.” He put it back in his pocket.
“I got to be careful; vodka will sneak up on you.” I said. It wasn’t my drink, but Ike was buying. “I’m thinking about slowing down and going back to school.”
“School? I got a degree and you see where I am, driving a UPS truck.”
“Right, but that piece of paper got you on the short list for promotion. I’m tired of being a postal window clerk.” I said and killed my drink.
“Want to trade places?”
“No, I can’t do the heavy lifting.”
“I don’t lift, Vern, I’m a tractor-trailer driver. I never mentioned that, but guys our age need to find their niche. We’ll look around and be forty, fifty, and sixty and time to retire.”
“Yeah, you right and since we’re discussing the future, where’s Turk? I thought I saw him inside.”
“You did.” Ike looked in his mirror. “Speaking of the devil here he comes.” When I turned around Turk grabbed the door handle and hopped in. He was one of the more interesting drunks I’d met. He said he was the assistant stock manager at the Sears on State Street, a stone’s throw from the tavern. He was a small guy with a baritone voice. I’ve seen him in uniform once, but the name tag said someone else. Go figure, and we did. Turk’s lying about the job or his name. He smoked a ton of weed and occasionally the pipe, so he said.
Now you see why I wouldn’t invite him over.
And, he drank the best of them under the table. But, he brightens the conversation with his humor and perspective. He pushed my jacket aside and tossed a bag on the floor. “Where’s the taste y’all, I see the cups?” Ike showed him the empty bottle. “Damn, you could’ve saved some for the brother.”
“How are we supposed to know you wanted in?” I asked.
“I always...always want in.” Ike reached in the bag between his legs and revealed another bottle. “OK, cool pour me some.”
“I see you changed clothes. Pull up those baggy, sagging pants before you get arrested.” We laughed and for the next hour we gossiped.
“Well brothers I’m done I got something to do.” Ike opened the door and got out.
“Don’t go to sleep and get clipped.” I said and he headed down the street. “I’m tired and drunk too, I hope traffic has lightened up.”
Turk got in the front. His phone chirped; he gotten a text message. “Vern, I need a favor.”
“And what’s that?”
“Run me on the West Side to my female’s crib. I’ll give you gas money and buy another taste.”
A red flag popped in my impaired mind. Why did he change into hood clothes? He was at least thirty-five and dressing like that brought heat. Now he looked like the typical brother on a wanted poster; medium height, weight, brown eyes and short black hair. “Let me think a minute.” I looked at the time.
“C’mon man, if you need to crash, you good, but I need to get there soon.”
It’ll be Ok, Vern, take a nap at his girl’s house if you need to. “Ok, Turk.” I crossed my fingers.
The closer we got to the intersection of Madison and Wilson the slower the traffic. A gaper’s block. Two emergency vehicles zipped past and turned at the corner. Their sirens faded. Police were directing traffic at the light, a black SUV had t-boned a smaller vehicle. Why did I come on the west side? “Turk, put the cup down man. I don’t want the cops radioing ahead.”
“They do that?”
“Duh.” What was he thinking? He wasn’t driving so what does he care? “Where’s the BBQ joint? I can smell it.”
“Uncle Reggie’s is a few blocks ahead, but first I need to make a stop, if you don’t mind.”
Here we go with the BS. Think positive, Vern, think positive. An order of tips with mild sauce would hit the spot, but that would put me to sleep. I promised the wife I wouldn’t be late two nights in a row. “Turk...Turk.”
“Don’t start no shit man. Ok?”
His tone changed. “Don’t insult me; I’m too old for dumb shit. Turn right at the next corner and find a spot.” That was what I did and Turk hopped out. I watched him hobble down the block pulling up his pants with every step. He stopped at a court way building and spoke into the intercom. The block was lined with wood frame house and several vacant lots. I couldn’t help but notice the speed bumps. The hood doesn’t change even on the Westside. I heard faint gun shots to the north.
What am I doing over here? If Turk was one minute longer I’m gone.
He must’ve have heard me. He shot out of the six foot wrought iron gate and ran down the opposite side of the street. He slowed and pointed behind me. I looked in the rear view mirror and he cut the corner headed down Madison. I reached to turn the ignition when two big guys ran out the building’s gate with pistols out, stopped and scanned the street. Jesus! I’m glad I hadn’t started to pull out. I leaned over and hoped they didn’t see me. What did Turk do? A few minutes passed and I pulled away when they pocketed their weapons and headed north. Good bye, Turk you’ll get your bag whenever. The street lights came on; I circled the block and drove down Madison to the BBQ shack.
It wasn’t too crowded and I parked between two small trucks. Surprise. I was out in ten minutes with a small rib tip with mild sauce.
Who was that in the front seat? Damn, it was Turk. Where did that asshole come from?
I hit the panic button. He damn near jumped out his skin when I snatched open the door. “What are you doing, Turk. Where did you go?” I couldn’t get in fast enough. “Get out of my car, now.” I ripped open my order and dug in when he left. The food sucked. The spicy mild sauce didn’t cover the taste of over cooked pork. A tap on the window interrupted my drunken feast.
“Yo, Vern, let me in, man so I can eat this shit.”
I let down the window slightly. “What is it, Turk?”
“I know what you’re thinking. Those guys weren’t after me; I got out of there before the shit got started.”
“Yeah right.” I was too drunk and hungry to argue with him. I hit the button. “Get in, and don’t let the air out its still hot out.” We ate in silence while the only jazz station in town relaxed my thoughts about the idiot sitting next to me.
A full stomach, spinning head and a reclined seat equal darkness.
I didn’t know what woke me, my snoring or the elbow in the ribs. Where was I? In the parking lot of the worst rib joint in town. My head should’ve hurt but it didn’t. “Wake up, the cat naps over.” Turk said. He slipped out of his pants and shirt and changed back into his work clothes.
“What are you doing?”
“Changing back to look presentable to my old lady. I ain’t going into a house of ill repute in my work clothes. You got mints?” I nodded. “Chew some, you breath is loud and clear.” I reached into the console and popped several tic-tacs.
I chuckled. “House of ill repute my ass...crack house is the term. Take your garbage and don’t forget anything.”
“You not giving me a ride?”
“I didn’t plan on it, Turk. I’ve had enough adventure for one day.”
“C’mon Vern, I ain’t far from here.” He flashed a couple of twenties. “For the gas and other shit.”
“Ok, if you insist.” He grinned and we left.
Several lights were out as we drove down the alley and pulled into the building lot. I didn’t like it. My gut churned and it wasn’t indigestion. The porch of the three flat was dimly lit with a narrow walkway that lead to the front of the building. Turk opened his phone. “Shit, this thing is dead. Sit tight I’ll make sure she’s dressed.”
“Ok.” I didn’t say I was going in; when he gets out I’m gone. Turk walked down the sidewalk in front of several cars and cut the corner into the gangway. I turned off the a/c and let down the window. The crack of several rapid shots came from the side of the building. I tried to duck down. “Got that muthafucka,” somebody shouted and two guys ran past me into the alley. My heart raced. Did they see me?
Thank God, my lights were off.
What do I do?
Wait a minute then get out of here before the cops saturate the area. I counted to ten then pulled into the alley and drove at a normal speed to the next corner.
What the hell. I kept going and turned the corner at the next intersection a wave of blue lights zoomed by. Should I go home? But what if someone saw or followed me?
My high was blown. I needed another drink. Stupid, but I still made a beeline back to the bar.
The Friday night crowd thickened and the ventilation system was back online. God knows I needed to ease my mind. I knew I was upset when I started talking to the bartender who I couldn’t stand. Uppity people sicken me. I pushed my glass at him. “Another shot and a Miller’s, James.” I belched and excused myself. He poured a half shot.
“That’s it...go home, Vern, you’re drunk.” He said.
“You’re right after this I’m gone.” He snarled and went to serve others. What happened to Turk, was he dead? When we drove the alley nobody was around. I felt bad leaving, but he might’ve deserved it, if he really got shot. I kept telling myself; you owe him nothing. Forget him and go home to your family.
I stood and it hit me. I was drunk again, but in control.
Famous last words.
I’d parked close to a corner in a tow zone, something I rarely do. I pulled off and went through a yellow light. The blue lights hit me. I pulled over by LaSalle Street and Van Buren. When the cops pulled off with me cuffed in the back they left my car in the tow and street cleaning zone.
I remember being led down a pale grey hallway that reeked of urine into the proverbial interrogation room with the one bright lamp. “Sit down!” A short bald headed cop with bad breath shouted. Being really drunk I broke the cardinal rule of being stopped on a DUI.
“.310, you are fucked up!” Baldy shouted.
“No shit, Sherlock.” I said. They laughed and off to lock up I went.
The wife was pissed and said jail would sober me up. But, I had to get my car before 6am. Momma to the rescue and she let me have it all the way back to the car.
Thank God, we made it in time. I moved to a legal spot and she drove me home.
I prepared to close out my window and to my surprise my last customer was Ike. “Surprise Vern, where you been?”
I shrugged. “Chillin’ like I said I needed. What can I get you?”
“A roll of stamps. I heard Turk got shot by some young boys. They say he’s on a respirator.”
“That’s too bad.” I tried to forget that night two months ago. Turks problem came close to being mine. I won’t let it rob me of my serenity and when I thought about it nobody knew I dropped him off. What a relief. I didn’t have to worry about that any longer.
“Stop by the bar, we miss you.” Ike gathered his stamps and change. “See you later.”
“OK, be careful.” I had enough to think about; a DUI, suspended license and a car note. I closed out, punched out and went in the opposite direction of the bar like somebody with sense.
The World’s Worst Four-N-Sick Geologist
Forensic science has engulfed the Country. Colleges and Universities offer courses leading to certificates and degrees. Quintessential endorsement of this is reflected in a frenzy of TV shows.
And it came to pass that there was CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Gack!) which begat CSI: Miami (Double Gack!!) which in turn begat CSI: New York (Triple Gack!!!). and CSI: New Orleans (Quadruple Gack !!!!), defying spontaneous generation long ago discarded by scientists, a number of tepid pretenders vainly desiring improved Nielson Ratings emerged. Currently the armed services has joined the chorus represented by NCIS. No worthy broadcasting network can maintain currency without a forensic science program.
We are csi-ied to death awaiting the crushing effect of CSI: Disneyland starring a cloying, squeaky voiced rodent vigorously brandishing a hand held magnifying glass. Linguistic purists may wince at the Mike Tyson verb csi-ied, but until CSI: Disneyland comes on line to titillate insatiable appetites, TV suits will frantically race for priority with proposed CSI: Island Survivor and CSI: Fear Factor.
Forensic science draws on a variety of disciplines (chemistry, physics, biology, engineering...). An early inclusion to this menu was geology which leads to the protagonist of the piece. Let’s join this redoubtable practitioner of forensic geology.
With the gravitas of someone reciting The Gettysburg Address Paxton Lumpkin ponderously exclaimed, “Forensic science is the application of scientific/medical knowledge to legal matters...
“...as in the investigation of crime,” Demosthenes Jones (DJ) his confidant of many years patiently recited. “You’ve mentioned that several times before,” Jones wearily offered. Lumpkin took umbrage at Jones for interrupting one of his favorite bromides.
“Well,” Paxton testily said, “it deserves repeating that ...”
“...whenever two objects come into contact with each other, there is always a transfer of material; yes the Locard Principle,” DJ doggedly completed.
Pausing dramatically for a moment Paxton continued. “Are you aware that Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle’s creation Sherlock Holmes ...”
“...was portrayed as the first public consulting detective applying sciences to criminalistics? We’ve covered that one also Lumpkin.”
Paxton Lumpkin glared at Demosthenes depriving him the pleasure of pontificating on some of his comforting clichés.
“Excuse me Paxton. I’d love to pursue this further but my stomach’s rumbling. Breakfast awaits.”
“How thoughtless of me,” Paxton generously acknowledged. He was not a cynical person. Still, he detected, no pun intended, a note of insincerity in his companion’s voice. He sensed Jones had put him off, clearly recognizing that the public didn’t share his passion and dedication for forensic geology, until they sorely needed its service. After all. He had memorized the entire canon of Sherlock Homes cases preparing for his vocation. It was his sworn duty, maybe not legally sworn, to fight crime and the forces of evil wherever he found it or whenever it sought him out.
Several miles away another scene was unfolding. “Is he still out there?” Police Chief Irwin Sousè whispered. Deputy Marvin Gardens stopped sharply at the Chief’s door, surprised by the hushed voice emanating from behind several large filing cabinets. As the only other officer in Hardly Normal, Wisconsin’s Police Department nothing should have surprised him anymore. Still, the inexplicable invariably reared its head.
“Oh! It’s you Chief.” Who else would it be in a two man department? “Didn’t see you back there. Did you lose something?” Probably his mind, Gardens pettily thought... “Is who out there,” he remembered to solicitously ask.
“Don’t play games with me deputy. You know who. How many times have I told you not to answer a question with a question. It’s unprofessional.”
“Sorry Chief. If you mean Paxton Lumpkin. He’s come and gone. Told him you were meeting with the Mayor discussing security for the Founder’s Day Festival. Wanted to show you a new investigating tool.”
“Deputy Gardens! Hardly Normal doesn’t have a Mayor nor do we celebrate a Founder’s Day.”
“No problema Chief. Paxton doesn’t know that. Thought it would keep him off your back.”
“Man’s a menace. Going to drive me to drink. With a name like mine I have to be very careful avoiding any reference to liquor in a town still committed to Blue Laws.
My name’s French you know. Accent grave over the e.”
“Oh! Just like that old movie The Bank Dick. There was a bank security officer with the same name as yours Sousè. Only everyone ignored the accent grave and called him Sousè which he was of course. He would try to explain...”
“Give it a break deputy,” Chief Sousè nastily snarled. “Lumpkin left me a list of local crimes. Wanted me to prioritize them... Some kids at the Peter Moses designed Burning Bush Golf Course drove up on some greens. Did a couple of poppa-wheelies. Broke a few green flags. Busted some ball washers.”
Chief Sousè continued. “Another group pushed a couple of porta-potties into a drainage ditch. Unfortunately one was occupied. Harlan Headcheese was inside gawking early Carmen Electra slides with a view finder. Got so excited he jammed his eye. Harlan’s okay though. Clinic’s cleared him.”
“Did they recover the slides?” Gardens innocently asked.
“Not funny Marvin... Local farmers reported some missing fruit. Lumpkin thinks we’re on the verge of a crime wave.”
“In Hardly Normal hardly anything normal happens. The theft of some fruit before
Halloween doesn’t qualify as a crime wave.”
“Most Hardly Normalians know that. Still, Lumpkin thinks it’s a precursor of some sort of agricultural conspiracy... Marvin. You be sure and keep me posted on Lumpkin’s comings and goings. Don’t want to be blindsided by that knucklehead.”
“You’ve got it Chief. You can count on me.”
Meanwhile the object of their attention Paxton Lumpkin was feverishly working his computer reviewing Inbox messages. “Demosthenes. Glad you’ve returned. Matters are moving rapidly. Dropped off a list of crimes for Chief Sousè to prioritize. Expect his answer momentarily... Sousè is a peculiar name for a Police Chief. Doesn’t exactly engender a warm feeling of confidence in his behavior or judgment. Sure are some strange people in law enforcement.”
“Anyway. To more important matters. Demosthenes. They’re getting bolder and
bolder. I’m moving this caper to the top of our list. Let’s call this the case of the Plundered Pumpkins? ... Pumpkin Predators? ...I’ve got it. Pumpkin Pirates. Catchy huh?”
DJ remained silent at Lumpkin’s lame attempt at a bon mot.
“The games afoot my friend. I’m off to interview the victims about this heinous crime. Are you coming with me?”
“Don’t think so Paxton. The down homers don’t understand our “speshul” relationship. They get a little uneasy when we appear together in public. By the way old boy. You’re over doing the Sherlock Holmes shtick. Holmes didn’t originate The games afoot. Conan Doyle took it straight from King Henry the Fifth.
When did DJ study Shakespeare Paxton mused. “Well it’s probably better you remain here and answer any important e-mails,” he said aloud. If Demosthenes could only write better, he’d be my Boswell or dare I say it W‘‘n, Paxton thought to himself.
Meanwhile out on the highway. “Where’s Chief Sousè?” Gardens anxiously barked at the town’s dispatcher.
“Chief Sousèeeee,” the dispatcher exaggeratedly replied, “is playing golf with the
Gardens had neither the time or inclination to correct the snotty dispatcher’s ignorance about the non-existent Mayor.
“What’s the problem deputy?”
“Paxton Lumpkin’s the problem. Chief Sousè wanted me to keep tabs on him.Get me through Chief’s phone. ...Chief? Deputy Gardens here. Sorry to bug you on your R and R. Thought you should know. Lumpkin’s going house to house questioning every farmer who may have lost some pumpkins. He’s even demanding they scrape some soil off the bottom of their remaining pumpkins. Something about clay analysis... Yeah! Folks are getting testy with him. Had to restrain the president of the Garden Club from clocking him with a potted hosta. Should I cite him or better yet arrest him for disturbing the peace? ...You don’t want to make a martyr out of him... Just keep an eye on him... Defuse the citizens’ ire. That’s a good one Chief... Sorry.”
Recognizing the value of defusing the Chief’s anger he asked. “How’s your round going? ...You’re tied after 16 holes and the Mayor just hit his drive into the rough. Hey! Now you’re saying it... You know? Mayor. We don’t have a... Sorry Chief,” Gardens mumbled. “Over and out.”
Gardens met Lumpkin at a turn around. The latter’s car was full of small, labeled plastic bags with clay samples and a variety of small to large gourds. “Good to see you again deputy. Glad to see you’re on the job. My work’s done here now. No! Please don’t thank me,” Paxton shrugged modestly. “Helping to fight crime is its own reward. The Questers were a little put out. And the Meals on Wheels crowd was down right huffy when I went through their cooking pots. Still, after I explained the nature and magnitude of the problem, they were more cooperative quickly turning their pumpkins over to me for examination. Many thought that I probably needed them more than they did. “Whatever pleases you Paxton just plumb tickles us to death,” they shouted. “How bout that for an enlightened citizenry?”
“After I perform clay analyses from the bottom of the pumpkins and soil samples from local pumpkin patches, Chief Sousè will get a complete report. Until we have all the data it’s premature to speculate, but at first blush the magnitude of this foul deed may be even bigger than I first imagined. The folks in Bridgeville, Delaware planning their annual Punkin Chunkin Contest have to be alerted. Hardly Normal commonly provides some of their pumpkins. The Bridgeville folks are p-r-e-t-t-y picky about the quality of pumpkins used.”
“Have to get cracking. Keep up the good work. Please tell Chief Sousè I’ll see him at the very first opportunity... Could he be a closet drinker? With a name like that one can’t be too sure.”
“No Lumpkin. He’s not.” Gardens rapidly replied momentarily feeling guilty consciously misleading the public by deliberately mispronouncing the Chief’s name. “I’m sure the Chief will be looking for you,” Gardens guardedly answered.
While sampling the pumpkin patches Lumpkin had found some discarded eaten apples.
“Calls for a cast of teeth marks on the apple cores,” he noted in his data book. Returning to his house he informed DJ. “After that. I’ll need dental casts for... everyone in town. That could be challenging... Perhaps if we convince Chief Sousè or better yet the Mayor to provide a dental cast the rest of the town will follow suit.”
“Maybe the Chief. Certainly not the Mayor,” DJ offered.
“We could run them through the cafeteria at Sasquatch High School,” Paxton enthusiastically added. “I’m sure the Principal would cooperate with such a public cause.” He vaguely recalled his earlier days with Ms. Ana Konda who used to languidly drape her expansive self around him while complimenting his teaching. Of course this behavior wasn’t deemed harassment then. If he hadn’t been so dedicated to crime fighting, his life might’ve been very different with the sultry, slinky, seductive Ms. Konda.
“You might want to think this one through Paxton. Supplies? Dental Technician? Peoples’ schedules? Some of them might take exception to this.”
When thwarted, confused or even happy Lumpkin characteristically turned to his ukulele for solace, singing “The Kind Kangaroo.” He’d prefer to play the violin like his icon, but he just didn’t have the motor skills to master it and had lost his ear not unalike a famous Dutch painter.
“Oh the kind kangaroo/ Said oh what shall I do?
If I had a cradle/ I’d rock it.
But I think that after all/ My baby’s too small.
So I’ll carry it around in my pocket.”
Jones characteristically fled when Lumpkin played and sang.
Back at the Police Station action picked up. “Chief. Some guy on the phone. Won’t give his name. Wants to talk only to you.”
“Who’s this?” Chief Sousè growled. “Better be good. Got a lot on my plate now,” turning from his pasta. “That’s a pretty good one if you ask me” he whispered to Gardens. “Don’t need any crank calls now.”
“This is Special Agent Pharki Donatus calling from the FBI Investigation Laboratory. Am I speaking to Police Chief Irwin Sousè?”
“Nooooo! You’re speaking to Police Chief Irwin Sousè. That’s Sousèeee.
Would you like people mispronouncing your name Special Agent Pharki-Don’t-on-us?”
Special Agent Donatus was stunned momentarily rebuffed by this rude, rural humor.
“What kind of name is that?” the Chief demanded. “Sounds Bolshe to me.”
“My father was an amateur paleontologist. Named me after a 340 million years old fossil snail called “Pharkidonatus.”
“Must have thought a lot of you,” Chief Irwin snidely offered. “No! Don’t even go there. Don’t want to know the names of your brothers and sisters. This is a family community and we don’t cotton to vulgar talk like that.”
Donatus managed to contain himself. But the latter wasn’t finished yet.
“How does a guy named after a 320 million years old fossil snail get a fancy job with the FBI?”
“That’s 340 million years,” Donatus corrected.
“Standards must really be slipping,” Chief Sousè added. “Maybe there’s something to the government’s spoil system.”
Gathering his composure Special Agent Donatus took the initiative. “Chief. We got off on the wrong foot.”
“He’s probably left footed and goes clockwise in circles,” the Chief said quietly to Gardens.
“Let’s try again. May I call you Irwin,” Donatus smoothly petitioned.
“Sure. If I can call you Pharki,” Irwin smugly countered winking at Marvin.
Assuming the air had been cleared Donatus continued. “Irwin. Do you know Mr. Paxton Lumpkin? Does he live in Hardly Normal? Can you tell me something about him?”
It was the Chief’s turn to be silent. Oh my God and Justin Bieber. What’s Lumpkin done now he asked himself. Aloud. “Yes. I know Lumpkin. Lived here all his life. Considered a bright guy. Science teacher at Sasquatch High. Wheels came off the wagon after Coach Lombardi of blessed fame stepped down. Packers faded for a while and so did Lumpkin. Never recovered from the loss of the glory years. Packer fans are very rabid. Starr. Hornung. Favre. Rodgers. Well! Maybe not Favre. Still, he made the Green Bay Hall of Fame. The Frozen Tundra and all that stuff. Fancies himself as some sort of crime fighter using Four-N-Sicks.”
Failing to contain himself Donatus hurried to say. “That’s forensics Chief.
Look Irwin. Let me level with you. Mr. Lumpkin’s been sending e-mails to investigative institutions and prominent crime fighting personalities all over the world. Demanding information. Soliciting evidence. Offering unsolicited advice on crimes and situations he knows absolutely nothing about or has any statutory or legal right to. He’s falsely using the Bureau’s name as a portal for his activities. Washington takes a very dim view of this. Assistant Deputy Director Hobart Heaver has charged me with ordering Mr. Lumpkin to strike his false flag and to cease and desist these illegal and irresponsible activities.”
“Very heavy stuff indeed Special Agent. Lumpkin’s small potatoes or pumpkins,” Chief Sousè smiled for the first time in a while.
“Irwin. You don’t know the half of it. My staff has tried to contact him by phone or e- mail. The only response they’ve received is from a Demosthenes Jones, Mr. Lumpkin’s assistant or partner. According to my staff Jones seems smart and on top of things. However, he hasn’t managed to corral Mr. Lumpkin. Do you know Mr. Demosthenes Jones or DJ?”
“Not really. Never had the pleasure to drink with... I mean socialize with him.
Talked to him several times on the phone. Does what he can with Lumpkin. Still, I wouldn’t really count on him in a pinch.”
“Irwin. I really need help with this. Someone named Sam Spade contacted Mr. Lumpkin informing him that there was increased criminal activity in Roswell, New Mexico. Spade said the local police thought it was due to illegal aliens. Mr. Lumpkin agreed. Only maintaining they were from another galaxy. Spade and the police were dumb-founded. Thought Mr. Lumpkin was a looney tune. To top this he even asked them to send some rocks from the crime scenes. They agreed thinking it would be good fun at Mr. Lumpkin’s expense. Lumplin informed them the rocks were fulgurites.”
Chief Sousè remained silent not wanting to reveal his ignorance of fulgurites.
Donatus continued as if reading Irwin’s mind. “A fulgurite is the product of sand melted by lightning strikes. Mr. Lumpkin maintained the fulgurites were produced by exhaust from UFO rocket engines. He’s totally misapplied a natural process providing false confirmation of UFO landings at Roswell. According to Mr Lumpkin the police should be rounding up extra-terrestrial aliens not terrestrial ones.”
“The New Mexico Governor’s chewing on the President’s ear to immediately send troops to anticipate an invasion from outer space. Since acting FBI Director Orville Peacock’s office is being indicted for security leaks, he wanted nothing to do with illegal, extra-terrestrial aliens from Roswell. He slickly, I mean efficiently handed the assignment off to Assistant Deputy Director Heaver. The latter didn’t exactly enjoy his visit with the President.”
“Took him to the woodshed huh? Well. Lumpkin’s the limit sometimes,” Chief Sousè lamely offered.
“The Chinese see this differently,” Donatus cannily baited the Chief.
“What do the Chinese have to do with Paxton Lumpkin?” Irwin swallowed the bait.
“We ah... co-opted some e-mails between Lumpkin and Mr. Charlie Chan in Hong Kong.” Finally realizing what he’s been dealing with Donatus dropped the honorific of Mr. for Lumpkin. “The Chinese became suspicious about their rice bowls and teacups. Chan asked Lumpkin for help. Turns out the rice bowls and teacups were counterfeit. Take my word for it.
Chinese know a real teacup from a sub-standard one made in the U.S.”
“Particularly if the labels read Made in the USA Chief Sousè shrewdly added.
Donatus nearly slipped off his ergonomically correct chair at the unnecessary corroboration. “Lumpkin determined the type of clay and its source tracing it to a factory in New Jersey named The Modest Little Maker of Truly Important Rice Bowls. After informing Mr. Chan, a Chinese special ops unit was sent in to obliterate the factory... Since it was a mafia laundering operation, the Bureau wasn’t too concerned about reproaching the Chinese agents, even though it challenges our Monroe Doctrine of intervention.”
“Is that some kind of new religion,” Irwin quickly pounced. “What do you call it? A cult?”
Shrugging that off Donatus continued. “Now the Chinese are running out of cost effective tea cups. A pandemic of epic proportions is emerging. One point eight billion Chinese can’t be wrong. Lumpkin specifically recommended bentonite, a clay weathered and aged from volcanic ash as the clay for their tea cups and rice bowls.”
Irwin could barely remain awake through Donatus’s screed nearly slipping off his worn leather armchair with the big hole in the seat and the flat ball bearing rollers.
“Now all this sounds very precise and scientific with your Lumpkin on top of things.”
“No way is he my Lumpkin,” Irwin murmured.
“However, after washing the tea cups and rice bowls, they started cracking, crumbling, and leaking. Whole thing came to a climax when the Comintern met celebrating the Chinese New Year. Bunch of embarrassed guys sitting around with rice and tea on their Mao suits and wet trousers. Their headman didn’t think dribble cups were particularly funny. The Chinese take loss of face very seriously.”
“Sounds like they lost a lot more than that,” Irwin wryly said as an aside to Gardens.
“As expected with any respectable bureaucracy they looked for a fall guy,”
Donatus blandly opined. “C. Chan was long gone for parts unknown. So they looked elsewhere. Voila! They contacted their ambassador to the U.S. who contacted State. The Chinese threatened to go public on Ellen DeGeneres, Piers Morgan and O’Reilly. A former Obama oficial didn’t want any “wild” rice thrown her way, if you know what I mean, and contacted the Bureau. She strongly recommended we find the person responsible for the faulty information about the tea cups and rice bowls.”
“Chief. Bentonite serves as a lubricant for drilling muds. It’s totally unsuitable for ceramics.
Emerging from a cat nap Irwin responded. “That’s quite a story Pharki. Don’t know how it concerns the Hardly Normal Police Department. Lumpkin hasn’t broken any laws. Gave some bogus information the Chinese should’ve checked out. Can’t bust him because a dim witted Governor of a small, desolate, desert state bought off on spaceships and extra- terrestrial aliens, and a few Chinese big wigs, who got slobbering drunk, couldn’t balance tea cups and rice bowls on their laps.”
“Chief! Chief! Chief!” Donatus whined. “You have to help us. We’re receiving calls from all over the world involving your man Lumpkin.”
“Pharki. I never said he was my man.” Irwin loved hurling that stupid name back into his face.
“You didn’t?” Donatus continued treading water hoping against hope Sousè would throw him a life preserver or at least a line. “The University of Miami’s Collection of Sands of the World called the Bureau. Lumpkin contacted them demanding they replace the USDA and Soil Science of America size grade scale for particle size analysis with the Atterberg size grade scale.
Paxton thought the American scale was too provincial and nationalistic.”
“Imagine that?” Sousè muttered. “A whole University dedicated to collecting sand. And I thought those California schools were soft and ditsy. California thinks they’re so smart with their anti-Wisconsin dairy ads. Contented cows. Yeah.”
“The Center of Forensic Sciences, The Servizio Polizia Scientifica, The Home Office Laboratory, and The Forensic Laboratory Garda Head Quarters called the Bureau. They’ve been deluged with calls and e-mails from a certain P. Lumpkin wanting information or providing unsolicited advice.”
“Yup! That sounds like Lumpkin.” Better them than me Chief Sousè muttered softly to Gardens. Aloud again. “Did I tell you that he thinks there’s an international conspiracy to steal pumpkins? Calls ‘em the Pumpkin Pirates. Pretty catchy huh?
I’ll tell you. The folks in Bridgeville are pretty riled up. No pumpkins of the proper size and consistency. No Punkin Chunkin Contest. Heart of what America’s all about.”
Special Agent Pharki Donatus didn’t want to hear about other peoples’ problems with pumpkins. “All right then. Can you direct me to his house when we arrive?”
“Sure. I’ll have Special Deputy Marvin Gardens escort you there.” Irwin winked at Marvin knowing he liked the special deputy part. The latter grinned enthusiastically.
“Irwin. We want to play this in low key, if you don’t mind. No convoy of police cars. Flashing lights. Wailing sirens. Just me and Agents Bowersox and Zuckerman.”
“Sounds like a law firm. How come your partners aren’t special like you? Something wrong with them?” Donatus didn’t deign to answer another bucolic broadcast.
“Have it your way,” Sousè grandly acquiesced. Irwin was secretly pleased to rid himself of this officious feebie dork and that whacko Lumpkin without incurring a public relations disaster for the Police Department. Chief Sousè would be seriously chagrined; no pissed, if he knew what normal Hardly Normalians thought and publicly expressed about him and the Department.
Several days later. “Hello in there. This is FBI Special Agent Pharki Donatus. We want to talk to Paxton Lumpkin.” After a slight pause he heard a voice from behind the door.
“Pharki Donatus! Well make Clint’s day. I’ve never met anyone named after a 360 million years old fossil snail. Your father must have been an amateur paleontologist.”
“Well actually it was a 340 million years old fossil snail,” Donatus conscientiously answered. In fact he was incredulous that someone knew the origin of his name and further that his father was a paleontologist, or an amateur one. “Am I speaking to Paxton Lumpkin,” Donatus queried.
“No you’re not,” came the teasing reply. “This is Demosthenes Jones.”
Donatus looked gratefully at agents Bowersox and Zuckerman and whispered,
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Look Mr. Jones please let us in and get Lumpkin.”
“No can do. Paxton’s indisposed right now. Maybe I can help you.”
Donatus was disappointed at DJ’s response. “Are you aware that criminal authorities from Canada, Italy, England, Ireland, China, the State of New Mexico have filed complaints with the Bureau against Lumpkin?”
“Well. I knew Paxton was e-mailing a bunch of people, but I was unaware of any trouble.” During the conversation Paxton silently joined Jones behind the door.
“Why don’t you tell us; I mean me about it,” Jones nodded slyly to his friend.
“Lumpkin told Toronto he was going to provide evidence for a class action suit against Canadian asbestos mines,” Donatus intoned.
“Sounds very serious to me,” Jones somberly responded.
“He equated Canadian white asbestos with South African blue and western Australian brown asbestos as major causes of mesothelioma.”
DJ interjected, “Risks from white asbestos are less than that from the other two sources.”
How in the name of Monica Kazaza did Jones know about white asbestos, Donatus mused. “This nonsense suit could cause the Canadian Government hundreds of millions in unnecessary cash settlements.”
Demosthenes quietly chided Paxton. “How could you confuse those varieties of asbestos?”
“Easy. I was busy that week. The case of the Maltese Marbled Godwit took up most of my time.”
“Italy’s in an uproar,” Donatus continued. “Lumpkin charged Italian officials with bilking the public. Some vandal chipped off a piece of Michelangelo’s David illegally sending it to Lumpkin who determined the rock was made of Solenhofen Limestone.”
“Therefore, according to Paxton the David was a fraud because the original was sculpted from Carrara Marble,” Jones finished.
Donatus was momentarily startled by Jones’s erudition. “But it was... Carrara Marble and Lumpkin was... wrong,” Donatus sputtered.
“How could you confuse an organic sedimentary rock with a metamorphic one?”
Demosthenes whispered to Paxton.
“I was deep in my experiments producing home made-plum brandy,” Paxton cheerfully offered. Demosthenes just rolled his eyes.
“Ireland’s pubs are dying out because they’re drying out,” Donatus continued.
“Some son of Erin sent Lumpkin a piece of the Blarney Stone from Blarney Castle, Blarney Ireland.”
“That’s an awful lot of blarney Special Agent Pharki,” DJ gleefully interjected. Jones and Paxton giggled at DJ’s rejoinder.
“The same guy claimed an outbreak of food poisoning there. After examining the rock sample Lumpkin discounted food poisoning. Attributed the trots to kissing the Blarney Stone which contained traces of arsenic. Moreover he charged the people managing the venue with perpetuating a fraud. According to Lumpkin the original consisted of sandstone. The combination of a “poisoned rock” and a “fraudulent stone” basically killed tourism in the area producing a huge lack of confidence in the integrity of the Irish Chamber of Commerce. The loss of hundreds of thousands of pounds has the Irish fighting mad...”
...“As it turns out food poisoning was due to Salmonella from a traveling shepherd’s pie vendor and the original stone was a pelitic schist. Paxton was absolutely wrong on both counts,” Jones once again finished.
Donatus was astonished at DJ’s knowledge of confidential material.
“Another bad day Paxton on that Irish caper?” Demosthenes whispered to his friend.
“Yes. How did you know?” Paxton over anxiously replied eagerly seeking sympathy.
Jones knew Paxton had never had a headache since he had taken up with him. In contrast his cases had produced a never ending series of Excedrin headaches for DJ.
“Are you still there Mr. Jones, I mean DJ? Would you please open the door and get Lumpkin.”
“He’s coming. Just be patient.”
Donatus turned to Bowersox and Zuckerman. To restrain their impatience and maintain their attention he shared the latest info from England. “This mad hatter has to be stopped. Shook up the British which really takes some doing. Lumpkin convinced Ms. Marple that the Punkin Chunkin people claimed there was a conspiracy to corner the market on Halloween pumpkins in the U.S., precluding their one of kind contest, advising her to be on the lookout for similar activity in the U.K. In turn she contacted the Prime Minister. It wasn’t the Iraqi war that did him in, but Lumpkin’s bizarre claims.”
“Further he told Ms. Marple that as soon as he completed taking dental casts of everyone in Hardly Normal, he would direct Chief Sousè/Sousè, whatever, to make an arrest. Can you believe that? Everyone in town? Then she unaccountably exacerbated the situation by pulling a Goosey Lucy informing contacts on the Continent.”
Turning to Zuckerman Bowersox quietly asked, “Who’s Goosey Lucy? Are we busting him too.”
Zuckerman disgustedly hushed his partner. “You’re so dumb. Goosey Lucy’s a she, not a he, and she’s not listed on any wanted circulars.”
Donatus continued highly agitated. “Lumpkin’s taken a minor crop failure fabricating a global pandemic. We’re not talking Mad Cow Disease, Ebola Fever, Malaria folks. He’s managed to get the attention of 50% of the world about the imaginary plundering of a large, round edible fruit.”
“How in the name of Martha Stewart and Emeril could you confuse squash with pumpkin?” Jones challenged Lumpkin.
“Their both in the gourd family. What’s the difference?”
“This would entirely invalidate the Punkin Chunkin Contest. Making it a laughing stock.
The squash couldn’t stand up to the demands of the trebuchets, catapults or air cannons. Totally eroding the credibility of distance records.”
“Moreover, millions of American kids don’t carve Jack-O-Lanterns in squash. If you insert candles, they’ll become barely heated, poorly cooked zucchini. You’re talking about millions of dollars in sales at least in the U.S.”
As an aside to himself. Am I the only sane one here? Hasn’t it occurred to the FBI that Sam Spade, Charlie Chan, and Ms. Marple are fictional characters and not real detectives?
Why is the FBI giving any credence to their participation in these cases? Wonder what SAT’s these agents got?
Paxton gave a wry smile shrugging his shoulders. “Let’s get this over.”
With that he opened the door.
The FBI agents rushed into the room. “Paxton Lumpkin I presume? I’m Special Agent Pharki Donatus with agents Bowersox and Zuckerman.”
Paxton furrowed his brow. “Pleased to meet you. What’s a Pharki Donatus?”
“Don’t even start,” Donatus abruptly interrupted. “Be advised we’re serving you with a federal order to cease and desist any representation associated with the FBI. Further this order directs you to report to the Department of Homeland Security explaining your contacts and communication with foreign agents.”
“Ah! They’re taking seriously the galactic visitors at Roswell,” Paxton proudly asserted.
“On an informal note,” Donatus rambled on, “it was very unwise of you to continually ignore the sage advice of Mr. Demosthenes Jones. By the way. Where is your associate?”
Paxton looked fondly at DJ. “Awk! Polly wants a cracker,” the latter tried to bluff. “I mean Demosthenes wants a cracker,” he feebly squawked. “Oh for crying out loud. DJ’s out of here.” With that he flew out the open door.
Donatus was stunned by this unexpected revelation momentarily freezing his hyper-kinetic personality. His career ignominiously flushing down the toilet.
Bowersox turned to Zuckerman. “That’s a darn smart bird,” he enviously noted. “I wouldn’t mind having one like that.”
“It was a Macaw,” Zuckerman confidently replied. “They go. Caw! Caw! Caw!”
“That’s a crow dummy,” Bowersox challenged. “It was a Toucan. Yes a Toucan.”
“Toucan do what?” Zuckerman pounced.
“No! Listen to me! A Toucan is a bird.”
“That’s what you said the first time,” Zuckerman petulantly countered.
“Toucan. Macaw. They’re both parrots,” Bowersox struggled to regain credibility and the intellectual high ground, if there was any to gain in this conversation.
After some thought Zuckerman queried. “Do you think it was Goosey Lucy in disguise?”
“Will you guys cut that out,” Donatus desperately screamed. “Where’s that dingbat Lumpkin? Our jobs’ at stake here, if we don’t bust him.”
Taking advantage of Donatus’s shaken state and the amazing exchange between Bowersox and Zuckerman, Paxton Lumpkin quietly slipped out the back door jumping into a hot air balloon. After several minutes Demosthenes Jones easily lighted on Paxton’s shoulder.
Paxton cheerfully responded. “DJ. I think this is going to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”
“Ah! Mon ami. You’re channeling again. The lines from Casablanca and we’ve known each other for years.”
“Yes so we have,” the other firmly asserted totally oblivious of uttering his original statement. With that he picked up his ukulele which he never left home without and started to sing. “Oh the kind kangaroo/ Said oh what...”
DJ winced persevering as only a captive audience can do. As they floated along Paxton couldn’t help but point out various cloud types. “Cirrocumulus, Cirrostratus, Crirrus.” DJ was hard pressed not to rain on his friends’s cloud discourse as he had characteristically confused high clouds with low clouds like Stratus, Nimbostratus, Cumulus, and Stratocumulus.
Earlier Jones had discouraged Paxton’s entrance into meteorology as drifting a little far a field from his specialty in geology. Demosthenes was grateful Paxton hadn’t e-mailed hurricane and tornado forecasts to the National Weather Service, FEMA, and Jim Cantore. The amount of damage his prognostications would’ve produced would be incalculable. It was just a matter of time. Indeed his recent interest in developing an avian flu vaccine had to be scuttled before the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention descended on him.
“You know Paxton. You may not be cut out for this forensic geology stuff.”
To himself. We could hope for more Grissom than Holmes at least.
“Not to worry DJ. Don’t know why a few people got so excited over a few trivial mistakes,” Paxton graciously allowed.
“Have you ever considered other fields to enter and... to master? After all.
You’ve attracted a great deal of attention in forensic geology. You’ve done enough to the field to last a life time. Establishing standards of excellence heretofore unattained,” DJ said with a straight face, if a bird could be said to have one.
“To be sure old man,” Paxton modestly replied, secretly pleased at his friend’s praise.
“When duty called, I was there.”
“Yes you certainly were,” DJ firmly answered in his best Oliver Hardy imitation.
“Funny you should ask about a change of menu. Quilting and apiary in particular the latter comes to mind.”
“Paxton. Holmes favored bee keeping. I think we should reduce his influence on your mind set.”
“If you say so Demosthenes... Wasn’t that a scream about Macaws and
Toucans? Those two agents didn’t recognize a Regal Parrot.”
With that DJ couldn’t resist preening his feathers. “Paxton. This might be a propitious time to renew your relationship with Ms Ana Konda. She’s always had a soothing effect on you.”
“Would she’d like to ride in my beautiful balloon?” Paxton softly intoned.
“Sounds strangely like a song. Have I heard it before,” DJ innocently asked.
Paxton responded with his customary sleepy smile wondering when his friend Harvey was going to drop by providing quality control on his home-made plum brandy. Harvey strangely never seemed satisfied with his sample size. Jones didn’t have to know all his secrets. “Why don’t we wrap up our latest case. I promised Chief Sousè a report on those pumpkins... Okay. Squash. He’s undoubtedly awaiting my call.”
“Well Marvin. We haven’t heard from that nut case Paxton Lumpkin in some time. Looks like those feebie guys finally busted him. About time they got something right. Not a moment too soon if you ask me. Wonder what happened to his assistant? Hope he didn’t go down with that crazy coot.”
“Hey Chief! Would you look at that. A guy with a big bird on his shoulder embracing a lady in a hot air balloon. Why! They’re coming right down in our parking lot...”
bonus line haiku 2/15/14
reach temperatures as hot
as the first second
of the Universe
Screwed, Glued, and Tattooed
Edward Michael O’Durr Supranowicz
Alright, I do not like tattoos. Never did, or mostly never did.
When I see a tattoo, I want to wash it off, which is sort of a problem since the tattoo is on somebody else and they probably prefer to do their own cleansing and scrubbing. And, anyway, they probably want to keep it.
I guess the ablution urge stems from when I was a kid and washable cartoon character tattoos came in cereal boxes. Those things would dry and feel creepy on your skin, plus I usually got bored with them by the middle of the day.
Another facet of my dislike or disinterest involves going to the circus and seeing the tattooed lady. She was kind of wrinkled, and when she pulled up the folds of her skin these crazy and scary looking creatures popped up.
Then there was Sadie, who worked at a truckstop. She seemed polite, and everybody says she was nice, so be nice to her. And she always wore sparklingly clean button-down white shirts with long sleeves.
So I ask Sadie out, and she turns up at the construction site I was working at. She’s wearing a tank top, and both arms are covered in jailhouse tattoos. The guys ask if I was going to break my date with her, but that would not have been cool, so we go out to dinner.
Sadie indicates she is up for anything, which probably meant anything, but somehow that makes me pause. And then I find out Sadie has been turning tricks with truckers for kicks and extra money.
Guess you can’t say the tattoos made her do it. Neither can you likely rightly say she had the tattoos because she tended to do stuff like hooking. But let’s just say I did not want to see any more tattoos for a while.
A Little Unicorn
First time I saw Annie she was standing in the middle of the street looking lost and terrified.
And it turned out she was looking that way because crossing the street sometimes did make her feel lost and terrified. Not always, but just sometimes.
That day, that time, I took her hand gently and walked her across the intersection before the light turned green. Not then, but several weeks later she told me that when she gets paralyzed like that it was because she suddenly feels she is in the middle of an ocean that keeps spreading outwards from her.
Annie said her unicorn usually protects her, and she couldn’t understand the times it didn’t. Since unicorns are mythical (far as I know), I just put her remarks down as jabber. It wasn’t until we slept together that I realized the unicorn she talked about was a small tattoo nestled next to her belly button.
As I said, I don’t like tattoos. But I figured the unicorn was not likely to multiply or get much bigger. And I doubted it made much noise or ate very much. As long as it stayed in its belly corral and I got the rest of her, I wasn’t going to get angry or jealous.
So, after an appropriate interval, or maybe just when it happened to happen, the three of us moved in together. First thing Annie did was throw some straw on the front yard. She said that was so the new grass would grow.
Annie wanted a space to express herself, so she started painting images on the walls of a spare room. At first she just duplicated her unicorn. Then, dragons began to chase Lilliputians, Dante’s Hell gained several extra levels and various new forms of torture, and oceans became seas on fire.
I came back from work one day, and she was standing naked in the center of the room. All the walls, the ceiling and even the floor had been painted. A sea of images surrounded her and seemed to stretch outward to infinity.
She spoke little, but was visibly tired. She looked satisfied, but not necessarily in a happy way. I ask her no questions. She would speak when she wanted to, which ended up being several days later.
Then the next week, I once again found her in the middle of the room. The entire room had been painted black, and Annie was covered in tattoos from her head to her toes. All the images that had been on the walls, ceiling, and floor were now on her.
Even her long dark hour seemed to glisten with writhing monsters and swirling seas. Only her clear blue eyes seemed the same. Touching her belly, she spoke and said she could not find her unicorn. Darkness swirled around her like an endless sea.
And so did the quiet.
Of course it bothered me that the Annie I looked at now did not look the same. Alright, it did creep me out at times. I may not have been thrilled about what happened, but neither was Annie.
But we tried to go about our daily business, not altering our basic plans and hopes. However, Annie had gained a bit of celebrity that made us both uncomfortable: several tattoo magazines wanted to feature her on their covers.
We talked to Annie’s doctor, then a shrink, then a gypsy fortune teller, but nobody had a clue - not about Annie’s condition, nor it seems things in general. An internet search turned up nothing even remotely similar.
It was a chilly morning, and I started to put a cover over Annie’s sleeping form, but I stopped abruptly. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. At first, I wasn’t quite sure what.
But then I noticed that Annie was preternaturally still, as was the air in the room. Annie’s blue eyes were now completely white as if they had rolled back inside her head. Her body and her hair were translucent, seemed only to be composed of tattooes, not skin and bones.
I called 911. The cops threatened to arrest me for a false report, that a tattooed life-size doll was no excuse to call them and EMS. When I insisted that was Annie, or some version of her, they threatened to put me in the looney bin. They laughed at my suggestion they file a missing person report.
I called Annie’s parents, but they would not claim her remains. They insisted it was not their daughter, and besides, their rabbi would not bury anyone/anything with so many tattooes.
I decided to pay for her burial myself. However, no funeral home would take her remains. I was called a variety of names, none of them nice.
The tattoo magazines heard about the situation and offered to buy her for display. That was just too degrading, disgusting, and inhuman to give even a second’s thought to.
I checked with a lawyer and the health department and was told there was nothing illegal with burning Annie’s remains, as long as it was done outside city limits.
I made a pyre and lit the fire. Smoke began to rise and swirl around me and her remains. Shapes and shadows drifted in and out of each other and spread outwards like an endless sea.
And in the middle of it all, there seemed to be a unicorn, running, running towards the setting sun, laughing at the rising moon.
The Sacred Heart of Your Buckshot “I”
The lessons of History, teach us only what we take away. There exists no “must”, in this. Learning, as all, is personal. If there is no “normal”, my chosen facet, is Mine. En example, the hoary school film showcasing Maurice Ogden’s poem, “The Hangman”, a cautionary tale against incursion of government oppression trampling human freedom and passersby “allowing” it to happen. Well written, WW2 blowout. NSDAP under the beds. A real fight, if you take it up as a McCarthyite cry. You’d be told McCarthy was the Enemy warned against. Which defaults to some oppression being good and some being bad, and maybe we argue into morning’s light, calling it the push of “no one should force anyone, or sit by and watch another forced”, which is half a click less stupid than “Be it resolved therefore: War is Bad.” But a push, a draw, a 38th Parallel North, all right, it has its benefits. I struggle with my rights stopping an inch from your nose. I’m thrilled to the marrow, yours stopping an inch from mine. Only, they don’t, depending on how you define rights. There’s something called cable, and something called the WWW. If I lived alone, I would have neither. The reason you hear of CEE and read CEE and perhaps take a tranquilizer due to or create voodoo dolls of CEE, is the fault of Mrs. CEE.
I throw up online and in adverted print, because she will not live in a house running only the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show”, Don Dunphy calling the Gillette fights, and movies predating “I did not have sex with that woman.” We have unspoken agreements, a bit tough for me, but navigable, as two people can be a love story, an island or a sitcom, but not a clique. You can kowtow or allow a ball in your mouth, but that’s a far cry from “going along with the group”.
I avoided cliques, immune to peer pressure all my life, as I so lived in my head, I never knew it was occurring. And I’d watch the film of the Ogden poem, and as alienated Self, think, “But...that’s Not going to happen, and if it did, I’m not my brother’s cage cleaner. Societal power shifts, happen. Vox populi, is a mirage for purposes.” Actually, at 17, I’m sure I only thought, “What bullshit!”, but community responsibility in the 21st, translates only as policing your neighbors. Not protecting them. Seeing a parent swat their kid and reporting them. Finding out who didn’t buy insurance and reporting them (make sure you spell my name right—if it ain’t free, it’s a bad law). Sensing racism and reporting it. All this is “love thy neighbor”, Today, because your neighbor, the Other, is a congenital idiot. And he adopts stuff all the time, and goes along with it.
As Jerry Seinfeld put it in 1995, “we have stupid people, who think they’re smart!” Yet these buy the goddammed insurance like dogs for the Frisbee, cast votes in response to nanny cliches delivered as peer pressure, and do without everything they’ve enjoyed ingesting, for the privilege of being a wrinkled sack of shit astride a dying world, a few more years...months...weeks...hours? I recall seeing the pictures of the first successful artificial heart transplant (opposed to the test work done by the Frankenstein of Cape Town, Christiaan Barnard), as a callow youth. I stared at the newspapers and TV feed of a dude hooked up to a Dunderback’s machine, the lone advertisement Jarvik Heart would ever need, and thought, “Why?!” and “How fucked are YOU?!” Why the craziest, most desperate shit in the world, rather than Mr. Death?
The answer, which for me came much later than norm, is of course, “fear”. Same ‘why’ as letting The Hangman enjoy his work. Fear. Nothing else. If you maintain something Buscagliaesque, let’s us do lunch with Seinfeld. He can offer his variety of “I detest you” leers, while I insult your menu choices. Let’s be transparent on that score, while we’re at it: you don’t really like the tasteless shit you choke down. You’re just terrified of being inert material. You believe Chevalier’s tired quip, re: old age. It’s another thing you’ve nodded to. Because your friends said to jump off that bridge.
How far, though, does your nodding extend? If, hypothetically, in an alternate universe, Charles Martel and his allies had been defeated at Tours in 732, and the Arabs and Berbers became the Future became sharia law as unquestioned...if the children of Ismael ruled all but dots on our globe, conformity makes perfect sense. A dullwitted maxim I read, online: “I have never learned anything, in a roomful of likeminded people.” Facefart users Love such pap, yet despite this, Others crave Others of their own gray matter’s tartan, so that in process of “Ein volk, ein Reich...!”, or Ireland just before the birth pangs of Fine Gael, utter absorption within a system, however scarily Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”, represents normalcy. Though as we, greatgreats of grands of greatgreatgrands of grands’ grands of the Franks, do not exist in the Above stated model of Community, there therefore exists no proposition for permission of it, but in Maurice Ogden’s poem, exchanging Holy for Order and Sin for Crime. If you watch anything happen, nonfriend, unchecked, it becomes the Way of Things. The simplest stuff. Dandelions. Cute one day, a chore the next, necessitating professional thieves and their chemicals if you wait two weeks. Entrenched. Something you didn’t want, which won’t leave you alone. And Bruce Hornsby and The Range play out with “The Way It Is”, as a mouthful of Dante’s Inferno happens every day, every town, and is chatter for the dinner table. The masses ever adopt the lowest common denominator, much as our household’s cats never learned one another’s GOOD habits or proclivities, only those which catapulted me out of my chair in the guise of William Hurt in Altered States.
George Carlin, in The Day well joked of the deductive reasoning of The Establishment, “beer leads to heroin”, et al. A good bit. And well played, as we know nothing leads to anything, given power of choice. You may know me as scoffing at any addiction not physical in its compulsions, and we could argue about that, although we’d have to stop after awhile, as we had lunch with Seinfeld on deck...but, social choice? As observer, let alone adherent? Brutality as mortal as written with the finger of God (yeahyeah, shut up, that’s specious, you’re a nit, Torquemada’s centuries dead)
? What do you think would happen to your internal processing, at the stage of Ogden’s model unfolding behind the Groucho glasses of universality? There’s no equivocation, nonfriend. The choices aren’t a spectrum. It’s
1) Sieg Heil this Umayyad Reality into full being and write Charles Martel out of the history books.
2) Play the role of the limp first person in Ogden’s “The Hangman”, then pee pants as you watch the prophecy unfold.
3) Fight it now, throw down, Davy Crockett meets Arnold.
4) Though sickened, Punt. Wait and see. You’ll know when to advance into this with a flamethrower...right?
The decision, as all, hello, is personal. For myself, sociopathic and with the same regard for community I have for gum on my shoe, it involves Ogden’s silent man keeping a good thought until the bell tolls for he. Then, something 80’s and Peckinpah at the same time, and One Trick Bill-O pens “Killing CEE”...except the divine court probably wrote his epitaph, too, by then...but, you never know. Given a neo-Phil Dick world of “The Man in the High Minaret”, once larger protection of vast armies have knelt like busts on COPS, loudspeakers, radio and The Emergency Broadcast System advise we play nice with the new overseers, once troops Not Nice At All by the van line are in your vicinity and the fifth person you’ve heard say, “Fuck Off!”, has been machine gunned, after it turns into the truth of Eddie Murphy’s vintage bit, re: the mindless notion of slave revolt as individual belligerence...and then, 15 years go by? I grant, it’s surreal to consider capitulation, in a country whose emblem should have always been a middle finger. But, Dick’s landmark “...High Castle”, if nothing, shows a Bizarro America, one unabashedly about the naked animal survival I insist we live in, already. I hate pretense, and I hate awkward, polite horseshit, personnel directors who come off computer at Captain Kirk, “Working!...We...just...decided...to...go...a different...way...with it!”, when you know goddammed-well what you’re really saying, STOP LYING!!
I’m all for every darkness lovingly rustproofed inside each of you, to be ‘whom’ you display as, provided the playing field is level. And in this black light, as any peoples conquered are only in toadying obeisance—but for a few true converts far freakier than the supplanting Other culture—then, in lowest tones or clicks and wiggles, handwritten code, Jim Carrey as Truman taken to the rare space he could not be seen or heard, all people would reveal truest Selves. Enough Hate Earth to make most vomit, but no-dross honest, so, bonus points. And the subjugated, delighting in crumbs, strained from neverending fear and stress, driven to primal on every scale but drilled yield of “Yes, sir” and “No, ma’am”, are spectres. Suffering shades.
America, 15 years after being driven down, “a nightmare version of itself”, a familiar quote, recall? As an enemy in this Ultimate Reality who made a lasting imprint, 15 years ago, said he would make of us. I doubt he planned on domination of a place so schizophrenic as we hit the pillow September 10th, we couldn’t bust Gary Condit and throw him off Miss Liberty...but more and more, with America in overdrive, caffeine and sugar substitutes, tech prompting we imitate its speed (I thought the dialog on The West Wing, was FedEx-idiot, but I’ve heard people who worked in Georgetown, say it’s real)? With one really hard shake of our canary cage, a quick bolt through the yard next door to the kennel, a worrisome incident to get all chickens clucking, and, if big enough—Hitler, on the subject of lies, dear Watchmen, if Big Enough—we’d never be able to shut the fuck up and stop stressing. Add to that the diversity already permitted, even 15 years ago? Diversity of POV, if nothing? We were marked as Basket Case Nation, I’m certain, long before I first heard about Y2K from a buddy and thought as I rode home, “How can people swallow this garbage?”
How? Really? If we listen to Rome’s Cato, “Man, is a social animal.” Taken as true, it’s what I find most objectionable about the beast, as very few indeed, can resist repeated shit injections from the Other...my coin and usage of “Otherstain”, more frequent in the past, was derived from an anecdote of Buscaglia’s (of all people), the Japanese monk who slapped him and said, “Don’t walk in my head with your dirty feet!” Yet, beneath stars and stripes and spy cams, all walk in each others’ heads until only dirt remains. Shitheaded, everyone keeps talking...again, my term, “babbleshit”. It’s hysteria as kaffeeklatsch, here. It was rarely a passing part of life, until made stick. It was made stick. We can’t get it off our shoe. As with mandatory school attendance. As with income tax. As only so briefly, my dear, sweet Prohibition. As not asking an applicant’s age, or even acting like humans do that. As with You Have To Rent To Someone You Don’t Want To, serve them, hire them. NOT kill them. Okay, okay. Are you sure that last one’s off the wall, though? Not that you’ll “have to” kill anyone, like this is an old Night Gallery shortie. Just maybe watch it happen. Just maybe have it happen to you. Just maybe say nothing, as that’s their culture. And yours. And mine. And ours.
The Greatest Generation, were terrified until just about the minute the last Volkssturm teen yelled, “Kamerade!” and the Enola Gay opened bomb bay doors. A scifi book from the Cold War, shows why. Blow past our armaments, America as individual, is craven. You and you and you, are Gollums all, gobbling leavings because of high school cliques. Which, is pathetic. People mocked Sally Field, in the Long Ago, e.g. “You like me! You really like me!”, but that corn kernel is so desperately important to each of you. Like the sad man with his Tinkertoy cyborg heart buying a 112 more days. Conversely, if it represents the given groupthink, you’d die for it. You’d be stoned to death in public like something out of the Pauline Epistles, rather than seem prejudiced. I have enormous respect for effective suicide, but go for the Nathan Hale, for Self, not in bending to convention. For Self, not cringing from buzzwords. For Self, not your goddammed walking group. They’ll keep walking, the day after you die.
If I lose the respect of the Other and a nickel, I have lost a nickel.
If I die for Their perception, I just threw a ruby in the garbage.
I grow a bit more ill, every few days. I refuse to die in a hospital, which I believe are sewers. As I cannot gamble against my wife’s regard for life, and as I will under no circumstances allow my freedom be stolen in any sense of the word, I warmly welcome 8th Century religious killings into our downtown, and hope they spill over to the infidel. Or a tax agent of another kind, comes knocking, that I might be forced to conform, Mutual of Omahawise. Or whatever ya got, Brando. Let it serve as my exit-statement, too much I confess, the playground’s “Can’t make me!”
Ogden’s Hangman, a surreal character stretched Silly Putty to warn of a conformity all too real, was impossible in his godlike might, to resist. In this world, the rote, offline-one less colorful, resistance may or may not be futile, but I’m going for it, and to proselytize You, I offer CEE as Mrs. Reagan:
Just Say “No”, to anything forced upon you by a non-cop. A non-judge. A non-government agent. Whether undercover Krishna in a van playing doubletalk misdirect, or unauthorized holy violence in your hamlet as 9/11 fallout, Just Say “No”. At least some of you will die for your efforts, headline or talking point of the day. I won’t claim you abet the hangman, if you blow this off and, say, allow sharia a place at the lunch counter. Or any thinking, laws or regime. It ain’t about any “enforcer”, never was. This Is Not Other based. Almost nothing, is. As all, this is personal. It’s You, Will Powers. Only You.
I’m sorry Thomas Hobbes was right, that life in the natural state is nasty, brutish and short. But right he was, so, why cry about it? I’ll die in bed, but at least like Jim Bowie. As for the rest of you, calm. Don’t be afraid. The brief fragrance, is gone. I know; I loved it dearly. I miss it, too. Don’t accept what you can’t. Stand in the gap. Hold your position. Run your inventory, lock and load, then go. If any push boundaries sans options, come back like they’re William Zabka in the 80’s, but, hell with sand da floor. Grab that bastard sword. Or Eastwood’s harpoon gun, in The Dead Pool.