Pax Romana

Feed a fever, starve a cold
or maybe it's the other way around.
We'll be doing Aussie New Year
whatever that means
in Sickness and in Health
with fresh bedsheets
and four eyes on the prize.

You're warming up your car
so we can run for a quick cheeseburger
since the symptoms have subsided
and I figured the last one of the year
should be in your honor--
the last poem, not the last cheeseburger.

Like I said, a hell of a nurse.
The best brownies this side of the Mississippi.
And we'll teach you to cook meat.
My mother doesn't worry anymore.


Neon halos burning out.

"Uncle Tony's getting back with Arlene."
"I thought the divorce was almost settled."
"Sarah gave him the guilt trip. He's doing it for his daughter."
"Christ, she's in college now..."
"I feel so bad for him. He was almost finally rid of her."
"Women are manipulative."
"I know, that's why my friends were always guys."
"I mean, Mike, I love you, but if you couldn't understand..."
"...so when should I come for dinner next week, mom?"

I cut her off so she didn't have to finish.
By then I knew what the words would be
even though I didn't want to make her say them
much less want to hear them:
That if I ever tried to make her choose
between her son and her husband
I'd probably lose, not because she loves him more than me
but because she values herself and her own happiness
more than both of us.

Call that selfishness if you want.
I respect the woman even more for her honesty.

If you don't take care of your needs and desires
no one else will, and a half-person forced to live
for someone else exclusively
is no use to anyone.

Even your parents are only human.
No one wants to live alone.

Now call me back, old man.


Lose at pool on purpose if you wind up in a biker bar.

I hate that she hates
that she can't always save me
from myself, my own stubborn eyes
my own sweaty ass.
I hate it as much as people
who come to my cocktail parties
and ask where the ice is.
Were you expecting me to say
"In the microwave," or are you
intentionally testing my dwindling patience?

Oh, that bitch.
That lying, one-armed bitch.
She said she didn't like to party.

He's doing well, I'm still doing
and we fielded it by talking
about everyone but myself.
Parried like pros, gosh darn-it.

My mother gave me a quill pen
ink well, and hand-tooled leather journal
for Christmas. She told me to write
my memoirs in it, cursive of course.
Christ, Ma--
I'm not on my deathbed yet, but fret not:
you're still the beneficiary
of that seventy-five grand.

They're dealing the next hand
at that same card table, but
my back's not to the wall
for once
and that sawed-off on a swivel
ain't brushing 'gainst my knee.

This is how Bill Hickock died.


Domestic Fiction

I wave my hand in her face distorted with wine
telling her to keep her mouth shut, that she's
blowing it out of proportion
and that she'll regret it in the morning
when we sober up naked next to each other.
She doesn't seem to agree.
She slaps me across the face.
I grab the hair at the nape of her neck
with my left hand and hold my right forearm
across her chest and biceps so she can't
raise her arms again to hit me.
"Are you going to calm down?"
She snarls, gnashes her teeth, spits in my face.
I realize it's a losing battle as usual
so I let her loose.
"I'm going to take a piss. Sit tight, we'll talk it out."

On my way to the bathroom I swear off beer
for the fifteenth time that month.
The bloated feeling and having to urinate
every twenty minutes once the seal is broken
really ruin the fun for me.
There's a fly caught in a web behind the toilet.
It gave up trying to escape, it's just twitching its legs.
The spider isn't in sight, but that's a false sense of security.
I jiggle and wonder which of the two I identify with more
at that particular time. It's a little bit of both I decide.

I rinse my hands off in the sink, and as I'm drying
my hands on the towel hanging from the nail
next to the mirror I hear the sound of a zipper
being undone. At first, in my drunken optimism
I think maybe she's getting undressed
for some prime-time make-up sex
but get sucked back to reality
when I realize that the fly on her jeans
is not long enough to make that sound for so long.
"Oh fuck..." I mutter to my reflection after it dawns on me.
I lock eyes with the ghost in the mirror.
Put on your game face, Brando.
You have some work to do
if you're going to make it through the night.
But do you really even want to?
I turn the faucet back on and splash
some water on my face, not bothering
to dry my hands again.

By the time I get back to my bedroom
she already has my shotgun out of it's
leather case and is backing herself into a corner
a wild gleam in her eye not lost through eons
of evolution that says "Now what, motherfucker?"
louder and clearer than I've ever heard it.

"Honey, let's not be rash..."
"Don't tell me what to do, Dave!"
"I'm not, only making a suggestion."
There's a good twelve feet between us.
She could get a round off before I get to her
if I try to rush her. I decide to stick to the original plan.

The butt of the gun is raised to her shoulder
and I notice that what they say is true:
The muzzle of a firearm looks huge
when it's aimed directly at you from close range.
She pumps the shotgun and it makes that
well-oiled machine noise as the cartridges
are cycled through the guts of the weapon.
Hollywood teaches people how to do that.
The first round is ejected from the side
of the breech and bounces on the carpet.

"There, it's unloaded. Now lower it, Sweetie."
"No it's not. That was just the shell in the chamber."
Hollywood teaches them too much.
I try to think on the fly, but can't come up with an answer.
She breaks the silence for me:
"I know you, Dave. You'd keep one in the barrel
just in case you had to fire quickly.
You're predictable as the rest once the code is cracked."
OK, so maybe this one wasn't Hollywood's fault after all.
I break eye contact with her for the first time
since walking in and turn my head to the side.
She's got me beat. The judges don't bother
raising their score cards.

The next words I say will have to be my best.
"Look, we're both drunk. Let's just go to bed
and pretend this never happened."
They're not my best. Not even close.
I left her open to jump all over me.
She does.
"You expect me to sleep next to you
in that fucking bed after what you've done?"

Why'd I bring up the bed? Stupid mistake.
My Judas just walked in on my Christ's dinner party.
The kiss of death delivered.

Suddenly her face loses that all-knowing expression.
The blood drains from it instantly and her eyes
scream for help from the gods as she pulls the trigger
again and again in a desperate attempt to blow me away.
Nothing is happening, it's just that clicking noise over and over.
The safety.
She doesn't know where the safety is, or that she has
to turn it off in order to fire the damn thing.
Hollywood keeps some secrets.

I seize the opportunity and dash forward, charging
like a starting linebacker. We wrestle for possession.
Her hands won't loosen their grip. She tries biting me.
I don't want to punch her so I grab hold of the barrel
with my left hand and beat it against the side of her head
a few times until she's forced to use one hand to block
the blows. It's a dirty move, but I have no choice.
And I can still honestly say I never laid a hand on a woman.
With one hand off of the shotgun it's easy to rip it free.
I pump it two more times, emptying the ammunition onto the floor.

The same grin that she had previously takes over my face.
Part of me wants to tell her she's a fool for not turning
the safety switch off. I reevaluate the wisdom in gloating
and settle for winning the pissing match.
She rubs her head and curses me out for fifteen seconds
without stopping once to take a breath.
A match made in Heaven, alright.

"I'll call you a cab."
"I can drive myself home, Dave."
"Knock yourself out. But call me when you're home safe."
"Fine. Asshole."

She gathers her things and storms down the stairs.
I hear the door slam and her car start.
The gears grind as abuses the clutch in her intoxicated rage.
Gravel kicks up as she peels out of my driveway.

I laugh uncomfortably to myself, turn off my phone
and crack the last beer of the night.
The best drink is always the one you almost didn't live to enjoy.

Sleep comes easier than one would expect.
I wake to five voicemails--
the first two angry, the next two apologetic
the last one pleading for another chance.
I'll give it to her.
I have to.
The craziest love burns the hottest.

We'll last three more months
until we finally give up on each other.
People say it was a mutual decision
when they've been dumped.
It's only fair to allow the loser
to use that defense mechanism.
Let's hear it for the home team.


I could write a three-part novel about
the things that went on in that house.
I won't bother.
Settle for this little tidbit.
Sleep tight.


The day the music died.


Knock the phone from my night stand in my half-asleep attempt to answer it. I pick it up and read the message. It's from my roommate. Apparently Andrew, an old mutual friend of ours, is in town. Says he's meeting him for lunch. Catching up since it's been years. Wants to know if I can shake the hangover in time to attend. I put the phone down, open, on the blanket that's mercifully shielding me from the stray rays sneaking through the blinds.
Sure, I could make it.
Physically, that is.
But otherwise?

Andy. Andrew. Andy was a smart kid. When I met him he was Andrew, so that's what I call him. Andrew James Maroney III: that's the name that our first-period computer class teacher recited from the attendance sheet back in the seventh grade at South Junior High School eleven years ago. His rosy cheeks, humble demeanor, slicked-to-the-side executive haircut, that quietly sarcastic sparkle in his eye. I liked him at first glance. I remember it like yesterday, only it's not.
It's a long time ago now.
Too long.
Not long enough.
More like histrionics.
I confess.

He was the first friend I made in that new school, though we didn't have much in common other than our huge bookbags that made us look like hunched-over turtles scurrying through the hallways to their next class. The true mark of an Honors Student during those primordial days was the massive backpack; it symbolized the fear of using ones locker in case one was late for class and/or accosted by a carefree hooligan waiting to prey on nerds. Most of us would rather carry all of our textbooks and three-ring binders in our bags, zippers screaming for mercy, than risk suffering either of those two fates.
Social Anxiety.
Even at that young age.
Priceless, in retrospect.

Andrew and I were in a lot of the same classes together all through those three years, even gym and lunch. He was always picked one or two rounds before me in basketball, but I got way more rebounds. He was eventually allowed to sit with the cool kids in lunch, but I remained with the derelicts for my tenure.
Not much has changed.
Not much will.
Your course in life is determined
by the track laid out for you
at age thirteen.
Think back, honestly.
Prove me wrong.

None of that's to say that I was bitter or jealous. The two of us were pals. We rode the same bus. We both lived in developments, though his was a sheltered cul-de-sac subcommunity of split-level homes with mortgages almost paid off by the joint incomes of two parents per house, and mine was a condominium complex comprised mostly of single mothers trying to make ends meet for the sake of breaking various cycles. And besides, right from the start that bright young prospect taught me something. Andrew Maroney was smart. He was naturally intelligent, studious, well-rounded and well-read. Me, I tested well. I retained information. I could figure things out based on context clues. I was a charlatan with a stroke of luck. He was bound for brilliance. Though both of us had the opportunity to "make it" in the world, I'd be the one who'd really have to work at it. It'd come to him as easily as long division had, and not that he wouldn't earn it. He was just predisposed to making the necessary sacrifices in the recipe for success. Me, I didn't care that much. I'd aspire to grand achievements, or I wouldn't. Years down the line I'd wind up being distracted by pleasures of the flesh, the girls and the booze and general debauchery that come with young adulthood. The stuff that dreams were made of would be destroyed by the furniture of the houses of Sodom, maybe even Gomorrah.
And it all started that first week of junior high when I realized I wasn't the star student anymore.
I relinquished that title once held in elementary school and made way for the Andrews of the world.
It didn't bother me one bit at the time.
In fact, it came as a relief.
I didn't have to fill those shoes anymore, and when I happened to do exceptionally well
it came as somewhat of a surprise to all, including myself.
Being slightly better than average had its advantages.
And when I finished high school with the thirty-sixth highest Grade Point Average in my graduating class of six hundred thirty-six
a lot of people were proud of me.
Me, not so much.
I knew better, saw through my own smoke and mirrors.
The Andrews were taking the hardest courses, Physics and Literature.
I stuck to the ones with the college credits and the likelihood of having attractive young ladies as classmates.
Electives came easy.
I liked easy.
I liked it too much.
It got me in trouble in college.
Trouble in college got me out of college.
There were no attendance sheets there.
Only empty bottles of Jack Daniel's
and emptier hearts.
Homecoming had a whole new meaning.

Somewhere along the line I landed in construction, and though I'm grateful for my union job it's not really me. It never will be. I'm the guy who reads in his car on lunch break. The one who always hears from coworkers how he's an idiot for wasting his true talents and should go back to school while there's still time. In the next breath they contradict themselves like most people. They tell me that I pay attention and do nice work, I make those pipes look good. They accept me as one of their own, though I'll never accept them as true peers. Union brothers, father figures, friends; but when it comes down to it we just don't have anything in common other than our tape measures, pliers, and pocket levels. No more over-stuffed bookbags.
Those days are done.
I had my shot.
I blew it.
I'm making the best of the hand I sabotaged.
It works sometimes.

I squint my eyes and wince as the sun gets brighter in my room somehow.
I contemplate replacing the blinds with plywood.

"You coming or not?" my roommate asks. I've been stalling for a few minutes, mulling it all over.

Andrew's career has budded promisingly, his fiancee is a trophy, his student loans and car payments and mortgage will disappear with a few years' salary. He'll earn every bit of it, he applies himself to the best of his ability while I let the chips fall where they may.

"Nah, I don't think I can make it." Ah, sweet double entendre.

I can look a lot of people in the eyes: my mother, since she watched me fight my way back up; my real friends, since they know I mean well despite my shortcomings; my various foremen and all the other disgruntled old construction workers, since they recognize my work ethic and respect me for that if nothing else.

I can look a lot of people in the eyes, but not Andrew James Maroney III. Somehow I feel that he was expecting more of me, even when I wasn't. He hasn't been around to see the struggle, equally valiant and shameful at times. It wouldn't compute anyway. He's bred for the win, God bless him.

"Tell him I said Hello."

"Whatever. Will do."


I turn my phone off
pull the covers over my head
roll over on my side
and go back to sleep
still a Wildcard in the Race
not yet an undeniable Failure.

As long as there's time
there's hope.

Movie Review

I already knew the ending, which stood as follows--

Adolf Hitler, National Socialism, Showtime Cinemas: 1
Tom Cruise, Scientology, My Wallet: 0

At least there weren't subtitles, just your standard
British accents that all Europeans have in American "film".

And a titty would've helped. Just one. In the movie I mean.

One thumb hesitantly raised to the Two O'Clock Position.



Go ahead:
Knock one out of the park, Son.
Come on, at least make contact.
Just keep your eye on the...

You ran over the neighbor's garbage can lid
last week because you'd been cheated
and someone had to pay.

Please turn your porn down in there.
She's screaming, but it doesn't sound
like she's enjoying it.
Sleep: it's what's for dinner.

When was the last time you came standing up?
No, I meant with someone else present.

You ain't been livin'; you been breathin'.


On Stephen Hawking, and other overpaid gimps.

Wipe the scent of strange from your face
and fall into the ranks.
Acknowledge the fact that you're your own God--
accept the responsibility, the praise, the shame.
Life doesn't make you.
Millions of years have made Life.
You make yours whatever it may be.
Or you don't, and you write about it.

Perhaps the biggest farce of all
is the idea that Evolution and Heaven can coexist.
Creationism is a myth, but don't worry, kiddies--
there's a Happy Ending in the form of some Pearly Gates
with our long-gone loved ones waiting with wings and halos.
That's like saying the race had a finish line
but no gunshot to start it.
Give me a break.
Save it for a Saturday evening miniseries.

Reincarnation is your best bet to believe in.
The flow of energy, who can deny it?
Let's say you grow a set and finally push
your toe against the brass trigger you've come to hold dear.
That reaction produces heat, light, sound, kinetic energy.
Your carcass in the ground provides food for worms
and fertilizer for the daisies.
And maybe someone will change a thing or two.
Fluid. Motion. Sacred cycle of unholy nothingness.
Secular pleasures limited to your short lifespan.

You can't mess up the Grand Scheme of Things
too badly simply because you don't have enough time.
It's a beautiful thing, really.
We're built obsolete.
We're dying from the day we're born.

You can't step in the same river twice, but you can
contribute to the current
and the river never stops, not even with your death.
Get over it.
I am
and, like most things
the process is better than the outcome.

Consumer Reports

Brushing ones teeth always seemed
to be an innocent act, and it was until today.
Rousing myself from my gloriously hungover
bed-rolling session at noon
I made way for the bathroom to wash up.
The new toothbrush I'd purchased two days
earlier had appeared to be a dud--
in my haste to get out of the store
I failed to read the "Soft" in fine print
at the top of the package.
I'm a "Medium" bristle kind of guy
since anything less feels like I'm wasting
my time rubbing tinsel in my mouth.
The real kicker was that I'd bought
a two-pack, thus increasing the blow.
It wasn't the money that concerned me, but
the principal of the thing. Always the damn principal.
I figured I'd suck it up and use the things
for the suggested three months for once
then get rid of them.
It all seemed so simple
right up until I got curious today during
my hygienic routine.

After I finished brushing extra vigorously
to account for the flimsy bristles
I laid the toothbrush down in its designated place
on top of the tube of toothpaste.
The faucet was running as I rinsed my mouth out
and glared down menacingly at the instrument
in question. For the first time I noticed a small
circular bump on the handle where ones thumb
would be while holding it.
Ah, another ergonomically correct product
engineered with the sole purpose of charging more.
I picked it up and pressed my thumb
to the exalted piece of rubber when suddenly
the head of the toothbrush began trembling
while making a vulgar whirring sound.
That was no thumb rest, it was a button--
a button to activate a God-awful vibrator
at the tip of the stupid thing.

I dropped it into the sink out of a mixture
of terror and embarrassment and shook my head.
I'd been duped alright.
I'd bought a housewives secret friend
a teenage girl's first lover
a widow's source of pleasure
when the peanut butter runs out or the dog dies.
I wondered if the girl at the register had noticed.
Sure she did, she probably had one at home. No, five
just in case the tiny batteries ran out on her
in the middle of those "Sex and the City" re-runs.
Lord, it had really come to that.

I picked it back up and pressed the button again.
It felt dirty doing it, but I started brushing my teeth
to see if the vibrating function really "Shook plaque loose"
or "Stimulated gums (gently)" like the package
that was now in my hand claimed so confidently.
Whom were they kidding?
They wrote this stuff with straight faces?
Did they tell their families what they did for a living?

This little baby was the biggest cover-up since Watergate.
Disgusted, I yanked the toy from my mouth
and held it just above my belly button
not knowing where else to "try it out" without
totally going off the deep end of humiliation.
I had to admit, it did feel good.
Admitting my loss and making a mental note
of what to give as next year's stocking stuffers
I retired from the bathroom, retired from the lunacy
while pondering the likelihood of an Afterlife and
dreaming of what in God's name they'd come out with next.

Survey says: "Brace yourself."


On suicide doors, and crimes worse than re-gifting.

I keep running into Fyodor Dostoyevsky
in public places. The long wool coat
the fuzzy black beard, the sad eyes of One who Knows:
I can't take them anymore. The man's been lying
in a grave in Mother Russia somewhere
for almost a century-and-a-half now
so it bothers me that I've recently been stalked by him
in bookstores and steakhouses, especially
since I'm not sure which is more appropriate.
In case he's out there reading this, too
I've prepared some choice words as follows:

You wrote some good stuff, old man.
You taught me a timeless thing or two
about human nature, the drive behind us.
Now die again already.
(You won't, I know.)
I guess Bukowski was more correct
than he ever could've imagined
when he listed you
as one of the Immortals.
That firing squad didn't stand a chance.


There, that's out of my system.
On to the rest, the "more of the same" section
of the menu that keeps reeling the same fish in
time after time like a lure that never loses its shine.

I've discovered the going rate of Heavenly admission.
Those Salvation Army bell-ringers at the grocery stores
have a monopoly on the racket.
It only costs them a few frozen weeks
of "God bless you, brother"-ing and fake smiles.
Perks, other than eternal bliss with our Maker, include
eight bucks-an-hour, plus all the loose change
and crumpled singles they can bring themselves
to pilfer from the red bucket dangling from the tripod.
As cynical as I am I always empty my left pocket
just in case it's not a scam.
Just know that I'm onto you, I won't be fooled
by a Santa hat and a few memorized verses.
If my father couldn't brainwash me with his barrage
of Biblical baloney, you can't con the coins from me.

But enough of that bah humbuggery.
It's road signs and mailboxes
uprooted by the snowplows
that form the true beauty of the season.
That, and having someone else
to wrap your presents for you
since you always manage to mangle them--
corners protruding, too much tape holding
too little together; the gift that keeps on giving.
Enjoy it.
Enjoy it, or someone else will for you.


J_ll_ st_ l_ m_ v_w_ls.

H_w v_r_ f_ck_ng _nf_rt_n_t_.
N_w _t'll b_ d_mn n__r _mp_ss_bl_
t_ wr_t_ s_m_th_ng t_n_ght.
(G__ss _'ll j_st b__t _ff _nst__d.
V_nn_ Wh_t_ c_n't fl_p th_ bl_cks.
Sh_'s pr_b_bl_ t_rn_ng tr_cks s_m_wh_r_.
"Wh__l! _f! M_sf_rt_n_!"


Some folks pay to hear white noise.

I hear things in the walls
of this old house at night
throbbing, humming, pumping
sounds not unlike those made
by the chanting multitudes of souls below
the C-5 cargo planes swooping overhead
the electromagnetic forcefield holding us all
begrudgingly in place each day.

Part of me swears it has something
to do with the six people who've died here
almost seven, eight

but it's probably just a combination
of the boiler, the refrigerator, the plumbing
my computer.


"My computer."

It sounds so vain compared to the rest.

I guess that means I'm onto something.
Bear with me; it's a fruitless labor of love.


On slander, libel, and other lesser sins of the tongue.

Adrenaline taints the flavor of deer--
you can taste the animal's fear in the meat
if it ran too long, if it panicked.

"If it bleeds, we can kill it,"
sayeth the wise Governor of Cal-ee-for-nee-ya
in one of his best roles to date
but no one ever mentions
that they test jet engines
by throwing chickens through the turbines
to make sure they won't explode
if they encounter a flock of geese.
No, not if;

Lion tamers and matadors
don't lose it gradually
like the rest of us suckers.
When they fail they die
and labor is induced somewhere
to spew the next phenomenon.

Meanwhile in the nosebleed seats
it's baseball bats vs. machetes
in a gang battle royale
with us taxpayers funding
the casts, slings, and reattached limbs
of the aftermath yet again

so Brother, you're just as nuts
as those who write prayers
on twenty-dollar bills
trying to save my soul.

Confession #342A

There's a girl who's recently single
her mother died in childbirth.
Ask her about it and she'll tell you
that it's her fault and she'll make it right
by not letting her mother down.
Some people really fall for that sappy stuff.

She'll show you an old photo
terribly Eighties, with feathered hair
and sci-fi eye make-up
across a tacky Sears portrait background.
That's the one she says is best.
She says her mother was beautiful
inside and out, and she's partially right
but not to the degree she claims
and not in either category specifically.
And between the two generations
of magnified X-chromosomes
there's not a lick of resemblance
though she'll tell you otherwise.

In fact, she's downright ugly.
Looks like she was dropped
from a baseball bat tree
and, well, you know the rest
or maybe it was Colonel Mustard
in the Conservatory with the Lead Pipe
and just what exactly is a conservatory anyway
if you don't mind me asking, Parker Brothers?
Regardless, the outcome's the same:
the puffed cheeks, the pug nose
the beady eyes lodged deep in her head
and surrounded by circles, the long brittle hair
dry from malnutrition, the sallow skin
that looks like it bruises at the slightest touch.
I could go on, but it's turning my stomach.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one.

So here I am, picking apart this poor girl
bit by bit, saying she needs worse than me to let go
of the past, claiming her mother was mediocre
and she is far less, admitting cold-heartedly
that I see no redeeming qualities in the bloodline
and could care less if the gene pool is denied
any further contributions from that source.
Here I am, blatantly playing the cruelest card
and not caring.

But I know just where that puts me in
the eyes of her Creator.

And when I burn in Hell (no ifs about it)
there won't be as many angry hymens
nor dejected friends, holy roller Fathers
pointing fingers and accusing me of
sodomy, covetousness, blasphemy
as you'd so quickly assume, dear friend.
There will simply be that bad picture
of that perfect mother who gave her life
in the name of her daughter
whose beauty I ignore
but will learn to love
while roasting.

There's comfort in knowing what's in store.


that fourth-grade logic still applies.

pete and re-pete are in a boat.
pete falls off.
who's left?

run through the jungle, baby.
give 'em a run for their money.


oh, anaphora...

i knew i was starting the day in typical fashion
when my alarm clock startled me
to the point where i jerked my leg
causing my calf to cramp.
as the bell got progressively louder
i spun myself around, braced one arm against
the floor and pounded the snooze button
vengefully with the other.
i laid there for a few minutes
not knowing whether to stretch my muscle
or let it curl up.
there's nothing like starting a day with acute pain.
if nothing else it reminds you that you're alive.
i laid there resenting the fact.

haven't opened my shades in days
a sin that's hidden is half forgiven
or so says giovanni.

just keep keeping away from run around sue.
just keep moving your lips as you stand in the choir--
the audience won't notice that you're not singing.

and that's the nature of things:
feast or famine.
always first or last
in the chow line
never in the middle.
it's a hell of a way to breeze through the days.
it's working for now.

someone's ghostwriting my life;
someone's ghostriding my whip.
the captain's lost the helm again

goddamn those buccaneers.


Nothing like a dick joke to ruin social commentary.

So I'm well fed, or at least full, and that's given me the gumption to rant a little. Tonight's topic: hypocrisy in the penal system (hold it together, Peanut Gallery); or, more specifically: questionably minor sexual offences (insert statutory joke here) such as indecent exposure. Please allow me to elaborate, as I'm sure I have to after such a brazen statement. As per usual I'll utilize a setting I'm unfortunate enough to know and know well: the construction site. (I'm sorry in advance-- I know you're all so sick of it, but I stick to what I know these days.) Allow me to give you two scenarios, both of which are quite true.

A: A carpenter is on a new site just after ground has been broken during a brisk autumn. He's assembling forms for a concrete foundation across from a school, a back-breaking job that's made even harder by the fact that there are no barriers built yet, i.e. walls, to break the wind. Towards the end of the day he unbuckles his belt, unzips his fly, and tucks his shirt back into his jeans in order to keep the cold from creeping up on him.

B: A (proud union) pipefitter and his (charmingly handsome) apprentice walk into a men's room on the college campus where they're working. There's already a large African-American student using one of the two urinals, which are located in close proximity to each other in the back realm of the bathroom. Said plumber's apprentice cringes with uncomfort on behalf of said black kid when said plumber opts to use the other urinal instead of using one of the three available toilet stalls. Old fitter whips it out and lets fly, student turns awkwardly towards corner for duration of relief session, apprentice tries hard not to laugh at blatant indecency and ignorance of the First Law of the Unwritten Man Code: Thou shalt not present thy Schlong to another dude at all costs, especially while talking or making eye contact. All parties leave bathroom relatively unscathed, though not entirely unaffected.

Both situations are real. One of them, however, landed a man a night in county lock-up. He also has to register as a sex offender now. Take a wild guess which one it is.

If you answered B, you have a very weak grasp of the role of irony in foreshadowing and can probably drool your way into the building trades alongside yours truly.

If you answered A, you're pickin' up what I'm layin' down regarding the unfairness of some laws. That poor carpenter was only trying to make himself more comfortable by doing what many people do several times a day. The only difference is that he loosened his jeans and tucked his shirt in across from a school. An anal retentive teacher saw the brief act through a window and called the police who then came and arrested the man for indecent exposure. Call me crazy, but isn't standing oddly close to another man while urinating (with no dividers, or "cock-blocks" as I like to call them, between urinals) more offensive? Granted, I know that the obvious argument is the age issue; the carpenter could have been seen by a child under the age of consent, whereas the plumber was standing next to a basketball player, I mean "college student." Still, I don't see how any judge would choose to ignore the circumstantial aspect of the case. An innocent gesture noticed by a teacher with a long neck versus a typical case of an old man not caring who sees his shriveled pecker anymore. Is one instance honestly worse than the other? And if so, do either warrant such stringent repercussions as legal action and sex offender status? I just don't understand the rationale, folks. The fact that I can practically see the awful headlines like "Local construction worker caught with pants down" only makes it worse. I don't know the details of the outcome of the case and its aftermath, but I hope that man appealed.

At least now I know to go straight to a stall if I ever enter a lavatory with my foreman again.

Newsflash: It's a sick sad world and no one's going to make sure you've got your Swimmies on before you're thrown into the cesspool of reality. Or as I prefer to put it, as my road-tested mantra goes: "Ration your ammo, the cavalry isn't coming."

Over and out, Ollie.


forensic entomology

there's no point to this foreplay;
dionysus is dying.

pictures from three years ago
--what a waste, what a waist--
like the smell of killing bugs
not the chemicals
the odor they emit
after being crushed.

oh it's a shame what a pity
look at those aviators roll
the hair looks like a wig now
and self-fulfilling prophecies
abound. who asked whom
to turn the lights out?

love letters and tattoos
that used to be new
piercings since removed
one chin, one love
one book at a time.
it all seemed so simple
so cut-and-dry
and now

your bedroom at your
father's house as the background
holding the shotgun
you stole two years ago
your old bed a bare mattress+
the t-shirts fit back then
the shoe did
the crown.

but they don't anymore so you shrug
and shove your hands into the pockets
of your one-size-too-smalls
cringing as you rip scabs off
your hands' solder burns--
you might as well call
the whole thing off
you might as well
hold your head in the oven
but wait, it's electric.

foreman just called you, drunk
/called you "mikey"
but you let him 'cause he likes you/
telling you he won't be in.
mom just texted you high
saying "hi," she can't wait to escape
her home life for the operation
as she put it, "cut me up!"
oh god your world is spinning
and you can't point fingers fast enough.


you like that one. you'll keep it in
the repertoire.
just jerk yourself into submission
knowing that you'd never tame her.

these days they can tell
how long ago something has died
based on what species
of insects are inhabiting the corpse
eating it slowly, laying their eggs.
any takers?
any wagers?
five years.
five. of the longest. years. in his-
a bow, sir. take a bow.
we didn't think you'd tread
water this long. you can stop now.

we'll cross paths eventually
at the toll plaza.
you know it.
you know it, but you're still not ready.


TMI (and Coping)

I came home last night and trimmed
my pubes with a pair of rusty scissors
(never ask to borrow a Puerto-talian's scissors);
wound up getting overzealous, cut the crease
between groin and thigh, sighed with relief.
Thank Christ Almighty for near-misses!:
I've already lost one dick this week--
can't afford to lose another.
(Oh come on, it's all in good fun.
Like you'd expect me to pass up the pun.)
Best of luck January One
(for real, this time)
and if I wrote
it like
it some-
how would've meant far
since we're old enough to ad-
mit that rhyming is OK
and form is fucking
but at least now
we both know
we still

Currently reading:
"The Decameron" by Giovanni Boccaccio.


La sola vida en busca del Dios.

It's a day care center
on a college campus
with a close view
of a veteran's cemetery;
all phases of life
crammed into one-tenth
of a geographic coordinate.
I always wanted to be
a cartographer, though all I know
is that they do something
with maps
valleys and peaks
depicted by fine lines
swirling across a faded green page.
There's a comfort in that
which only exists there in the
painlessly hypothetical, and I
embrace the lie like a lover.

I leave the infant stage
to cross over to the adolescent
in search of cold cafeteria food.
There's a headline
in a newspaper machine
about a young couple who
chose to succumb to carbon monoxide
in their garage, holding hands in bucket seats
since they couldn't justify
bringing a child into this world.
The ugly ducklings have lost their braces
and found that swans were half-cocked liars.
It's like when you see cars
adorned with snow on the highway
and wonder where the hell
they've come from
since it's been fifty-five and sunny
all week long in your little
neck of the woods.
It's like that, only not.
The eggs are over-hard
the short-order cook is overpaid
and I know my toast won't penetrate.

On my way back from the caf
I see a man of about sixty-five
in a green wool cap
and heavy overcoat
walking his dog
through the boneyard, that memorial to
that last hurrah.
Man's best friend
stops to piss on the deceased
who fought in the name of this land
and part of me wants to call out
to his owner:
"Hey! Have you no respect for the dead?"
But I don't bother since I know
that he will join them soon
and therefore has a comprehension
far beyond my own sophomoric dabbling.
My foreman takes his coffee from my hand
sips it gently, grimaces discreetly
since I can only make it
how I take it, light and sweet.
"Jesus, kid. You'll die
of diabetes before you reach my age."
If he knew my other vices
he'd reassess the cause and time of death.

We sit on the toolboxes awkwardly on break.
Through the window I see an old widow
bringing a wreath to her husband's flat headstone
that's perfectly flush with the ground
like all of the other soldiers' markers.
At least in death they're equal.
The widow's hair keeps standing straight
on one side where the wind is whipping.
She struggles with the small hammer
she's brought as she fastens the wreath
to the ground next to her husband's name.
After completing the task she stands over
the grave for a moment, head bowed
casting no shadow though the sun's so bright
that from inside it appears to be deceptively warm.
I toss out the rest of my overcooked eggs
and make a mental note to be cremated
and dumped down a storm drain somewhere
to avoid the possibility of frozen grieving
of anyone who might be foolish enough to notice
one less fallen mercenary.

And this is where the clincher should go
but I figured I'd make this little number
just as anticlimactic as the life sentence
we've all been served.


"I just wanna tend the rabbits, George."

Kevin's on the ladder cutting in a one-inch copper tee.
I'm on my knees roughing in the half-inch sink hot supply.
"So what'd you do before this plumbing shit?"
"I used to go to college."
"What happened?"
"Jack Daniel's. You done with that torch yet?"
"Almost. You should go back. Don't waste your brain."
"I saw you reading in your truck on coffee break."
"It beats taking a nap."
"Not for me."
"To each his own."
"I'm a stupid person."
"No, you're not. Your talents lie elsewhere."
"Great, I'm a good plumber."
"Not really. Look how crooked your pipes are."
"You know I've never read one book in my life?"
"I do now. Does this line look level from there?"
"Yeah, you're good to go."
"As soon as you're done with the damn torch."
"Hold your horses, kid. This is a union job."
"Got me there."
"But really, that's no joke about never reading a book."
"Maybe you should find one on how to use a tape measure."
"I liked you better the first two days, when you didn't talk."
"Apprentices should be seen and not heard."
"Mechanics should have to initial their work."
Thirty silent seconds pass gloriously.
"When my teachers assigned book reports I just copied the back."
"Did you paraphrase at least?"
"What's that mean?"
"Did you change the words?"
"Yeah, and added some stuff of my own."
"They knew you didn't read them."
"Maybe, but they gave me a C just for handing in the stupid report."
Kevin finally relinquishes the acetylene tank.
I walk over, grab it, solder my joints, and take my gloves off.
Kevin opts to break the precious silence again.
My guts tighten and sigh.
"Those old-timers are crazy for not wearing gloves."
"Yeah, they don't care anymore."
"My old lady won't even let me touch her if my hands are rough."
"Or dirt under the fingernails, they hate that."
"I always wear gloves at work, even though it's a pain."
"John Steinbeck wrote a book called 'Of Mice and Men' about that."
"About wearing gloves at work?"
"No, not really. One guy wears a glove filled with vaseline, though."
"To keep his hand soft for his wife."
"And that freak's the main character?"
"No, the story's about these two men who end up working on a farm."
"What happens?"
"The one guy's a little on the slow side, much like yourself."
He doesn't laugh, keeps staring at me with those blank shark eyes.
"So he accidentally kills the wife of the vaseline glove guy."
"He wanted a piece, that bastard."
"Not exactly."
"Then what?"
"The slow one and his buddy flee into the countryside."
"But the posse catches them, right?"
"Not 'til the one friend shoots the murderer in the back of the head."
"Who needs friends like that?"
"It's a mercy-kill. You'd let your only pal get lynched by an angry mob?"
Kevin sucks his lower lip in as he ponders the moral dilemma.
I polish my finished joints and bring the torch back to him.
"Books are stupid."
"Some of them, yes.
"I'm glad I don't read."
"Me too."
Kevin gathers his tools and moves on to the next bathroom.
I zone out, gazing through a window at the cemetery out back.
A dozen teachers roll over in their graves somewhere.


Sparring with Clay, losing to Ali.

Climb into your attic
and dig up the ancient snapshots of your parents
that they've been hiding from you.
They're wearing cowboy hats and beads
bell-bottoms and fedoras.
They're shoving flowers down the barrels of guns
one day and inciting revolution
through narcotics and casual sex the next.
They're just as crazy and confused
as you are now.
Take a look at those photos
and breathe deeply
knowing that most people
drift towards the center
and will mellow out eventually
once they start paying a mortage
and changing diapers.
There's hope for us all, ladies and germs.

The ones who don't change, the brilliant shining lights
the individuals blessed with an addiction to the flavor of
the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
are those who only lose more and more
of their minds and souls as time meanders forward.
These are the creators of the microwave oven
the men who developed the atom bomb
the holy rollers who first spoke in tongues
the legislators who banned smoking in bars.
The utterly ridiculous still held dear by the masses.
So, Camus, you want to chat about the absurd?

Many of the breed will hide behind a banner.
You've heard the slogans all before:
"We're from the government, and
we're here to help."
Beware the man
who swears he means
no harm
for he is truly
the most dangerous.

Don't be fooled; the myth of the
hopeless innovator, the cursed genius
the martyr bleeding on his perpetual motion machine
does not hold up in these happy hunting grounds.

That's no sheep wandering from the herd.
it's a wolf doing reconnaissance
for the rest of the pack.

There was a man who paid
to try to skip a day.
They killed him.
Meanwhile, there are people
who can tie knots in cherry stems
with their tongues.

Make it fun again.


Impromptu Nosferatu.

"Damn, look at the ass on that," I thought to myself. As always happens to most men, especially when they're with their women in public, the object of my attention turned around and busted me. The obligatory dirty look came, but it was only half-hearted. She continued removing her items from the cart and placing them gingerly on the conveyor belt that led to the register. I shrugged my shoulders a little, jingled my keys in my coat pocket, and kept a poker face; if she didn't want the attention she shouldn't have been bending over in jeans that tight. Her movements became more and more graceful, however, like she was putting on a show now that she knew she was being watched. And that face, I recognized that face. Her tits were obviously after-markets, the roots of her hair were several shades darker. It was all so tactless and cheap like hotel paintings. This was a fake woman, one that probably wore heels and neon thongs for a living. I squinted my eyes and tried to imagine what she'd look like in a dark room illuminated only by blacklights. Bingo. As she handed the cashier some money from her purse I hoped that there weren't any singles in the mix. That poor kid working for three dollars above minimum wage didn't deserve to be handed money that had been in this broad's various folds and crevices. She walked away with a heavy switch of her cheeks and strutted through the automatic doors towards the parking lot like she wanted me to follow her and help her put her groceries in her trunk. The world was a sick place, alright. I checked out and proceeded to my car. The ride home was business as usual.

Benny's car was sitting in the front lawn when I pulled into the driveway. It had been parked in the same spot for four days straight. He wasn't even trying to go out and get a job. I didn't know how much further my hospitality would last. There's something wrong with people who lack all ambition, and something worse with those who choose to do so on another man's couch. I parked the car and walked in through the front door to rouse him from his probable slumber in order to recruit him to help bring in the groceries. To my surprise he'd pried himself from his usual spot on my sofa. I heard the exhaust fan running in the bathroom and saw light coming through the door that was half-way open. I approached quietly to try to scare the deadbeat so he'd be awake enough to give me a hand. When I peered into the bathroom the first thing I saw were his feet, toes down. They were connected to his calves, which were attached to his knees that were touching the floor, which led up through the various bones in that children's song right up to his head, which was hovering over the toilet bowl. Benny's eyes were closed and he seemed to be in a mystical state of ecstasy. My attention went to his hands which were down inside the bowl. Had he dropped something in there?

I stood up on the tips of my toes and saw that I was wrong. Benny was kneading his own fecal matter like dough. I saw it oozing out from between his fingers and my stomach instantly turned. We all knew the man was a bit on the strange side, but none of us suspected the extent of it. For lack of a better plan in such a bizarre set of circumstances I reached for the knob and pulled the door closed as hard as I could. That would let him know he'd been caught without forcing us to make the terrible eye contact that neither would be able to handle. I heard a few expletives under his breath, and then the toilet flushed. Benny ran the sink, presumably to wash his hands. I backed away slowly from the door and awaited whatever was coming next.

The door opened abruptly and Benny made his way to the kitchen without saying a word or looking in my direction. He reached into the cabinet under the sink and pulled out a bottle of bleach. After running the hot water for a few seconds he plugged the sink and dumped some bleach into it, then proceeded to scrub his hands in the disinfectant solution he'd concocted as if out of second nature. This was not the first time he'd been through this drill. Benny was a repeat offender. I didn't have time for repeat offenders in my life anymore. Hell, I could barely forgive myself for most of the things I had done. He had to go, his welcome had been well worn out. Now it was just a matter of who would cast the first stone. Benny didn't keep me in suspense for long.

"I'll pack my things and go. I'm sorry, Ron. I can't explain myself."

I saw the genuine remorse in his eye sockets that had been hollowed by years of hard drinking and television. At that particular moment, and only for a brief time, I felt bad for the man. It wasn't defeat that was so hard to take for a person; it was admitting to it. That's what broke a soul. I'd learned.

"Yeah. Maybe that's a good idea." I instantly regretted using the word 'maybe'.

Benny gathered his things while I pretended to search through the refrigerator and cupboard for some dinner ingredients. I didn't trust him enough to turn my back to him anymore. A butcher knife sat in the dish-drying rack next to the sink. Both of us knew it was there, both of us probably knew that the other had the same plan if anything should go wrong. It was the most tense situation I'd ever been subjected to, but it played out so blandly and would seem so normal to anyone who had just tuned in. Those kinds of moments are the ones that make me wish I could write, wish I could describe the human condition. "Ron Hastings, World-Renowned Author!" It'd never happen, I'd already seen to that. My eyes stayed discreetly glued on Benny as I settled for being able to experience such an odd event, and live through it. I shuffled various food containers around and pulled some pork chops from the freezer. By that point Benny had gathered all of his belongings and was headed for the door.

"The key," I said more timidly than I'd hoped for.

"It's on the coffee table," he mumbled.

I felt like a fool. The nerve of this bastard to make me feel out of line! As if he shouldn't be walking on eggshells. As if he shouldn't be praying I wouldn't tell our friends. He was disgusting, like hamsters who have to be separated after giving birth so they don't consume their young. If this was what the human race had been reduced to it was no time for a photo op. I cringed at the thought of every handshake I'd ever given him. One last one for the road was absurdly out of the question.

"Bye, Ron."

"Bye, Benny."

The door closed gracefully like a top-knotch escort or foreign dignitary had just left. How could someone so vile even make movements similar to the rest of us? I shook my head as I put the pork chops back into the freezer and pulled out that bag of frozen peas that I'd always warned Benny not to eat.

Things appeared to be different in my bedroom. Everything was in its place, but I felt as if I'd witnessed some warped event that would never be erased from my memory. I sat at my computer desk intent on doing the only thing that I knew would put me back in control. I dropped my pants to my ankles and positioned the bag of frozen peas between my thighs. I entered my password for that monthly membership website and scrolled down to the latest movie uploaded. After spreading some paper towels across my knees I pulled open the drawer on the right side of my desk and shoved my right hand in. I rose to attention. The feather drawer felt so good, the tingling sensation shot from my hand to my spine and I started going to town with my left hand. It wouldn't take long, I'd just ripped open a pillow and added some fresh feathers to the drawer the previous night. Sure enough I was right. My head tilted back, my left hand sped up, my lips quivered violently as the the bag of frozen peas fell to the floor and the paper towels caught the mess. And to think that some clowns paid that supermarket strumpet hundreds of dollars in the back room of some dingy strip joint for the same result.

The world was a sick place, alright.


Don't quit your day-job.

"Make mine over-easy too, but I want bacon instead of sausage. And some white toast, please."

The Latino short-order cook nodded his head and turned back around to tend to the griddle. My new foreman, Paul, sipped his coffee as he stared at the sizzling food. The morning had gone well, but I wasn't sure if he liked me or not yet because he hadn't said one complete sentence. Maybe he'd open up over breakfast, maybe there was a dragon in his belly from last night's beer that had to be fed before he could socialize. I'd met a lot of men like that on the job. The twenty-year-old cook handed us our plates and we walked towards the register. It seemed a bit overpriced for college cafeteria food, but the novelty of eating something other than an egg sandwich made it worth the cost. Paul finally formed a complete sentence during our walk back to the jobsite.

"They're saggier than all hell, but I'd still love to give it to her."

Funny, I'd thought the same thing. Well, just the saggy part. A fifty-year-old Hispanic woman working as a cashier at a community college should probably not wear such low-cut tops. The site of those drooping monsters could cause a student's appetite to disappear thus affecting his academic performance due to malnourishment, and ultimately, the categorical demise of capitalism as we know it.

"Yeah, I noticed the same thing." I also noticed that Paul had started walking funny like his pants had suddenly gotten tighter.

"Gravity will do that to people, though." He snickered afterwards like he was in on the joke that the laws of physics were playing.

I looked down at the cuffs of his jeans to see if his testicles were dangling out. Paul was about sixty-five and should not have been talking about gravity's effects as if he were immune. He must've read my mind.

"Man, I'd like to rest my balls right on her chin. Then I'd shoot one right down her throat. She's been working here for a few years now, I've had some time to think about it."

By this time we'd arrived back in our section of the building. I closed the lid of the large metal toolbox and the two of us sat down on it to eat. There was a glimmer in Paul's faded blue eyes that hadn't been there that morning. One minor tail sighting and Paul turned into a raging nymphomaniac with the vocabulary of a phone sex operator. I wondered if he kissed his grandkids with that mouth.

"And that little Oriental slut in line behind us, I'd bone the living shit out of that one." I didn't bother reminding him that rugs were Oriental and people were Asian. "Then when I was filling her snatch up I'd shout, 'This is for Pearl Harbor, honey!' "

Paul was the kind to laugh at his own jokes, and he did. I joined him, but only due to the mental image of this withered and demented little Popeye of a man mounting such an innocent young co-ed. It didn't seem logistically feasible. Nature would not allow it, but those purple wonder-pills would make it possible if the opportunity presented itself. Man had beaten God again. No, it was too soon to know that verdict. Man had ignored God again, that was more reasonable.

"And that Spic chef they got over there, he'd better be hittin' that clerk off." Thankfully, no one at work ever guessed my ethnicity. I always let the remarks slide to avoid awkward tension. If not it'd be taboo, like someone tuning in to something other than a classic rock radio station on the construction site. "She doesn't wear a ring, she's probably single. She may be older, but she could show his punk ass a thing or two in the sack."

Paul was just short of drooling by this point. I practically heard the wrinkled skin of his ancient member growing. My stomach turned as I caught a glimpse of the sausage on his plate.

"Yeah," was all I could muster. I didn't want to encourage the conversation to continue. I'd had enough of my new foreman's voice for awhile. I wanted him to go back to pointing and gesturing and using simple phrases again. "Cutter." "Solder." "Inch-and-a-half elbow." Those were safe words. No degree of disturbing perversity there. Not unless he asked me to hand him a two-inch nipple or a gascock, or told me to go lay some pipe. Of all the trades I had to get into the one with the most room for run-of-the-mill innuendo. It was as predictable and painful as British humor.

A few silent minutes went by as Paul and I finished our meals. "That Spic chef" had made my second egg over-hard so my toast bounced off the yolk when I tried to free it's oozing orange goodness. I gave up on the rest of my food and looked over at Paul. He sipped his coffee and I lit the last cigarette in my pack. It didn't taste good, I'd smoked my lungs sore over the weekend while drinking with the boys. After taking a few miserable drags I smothered it out with the heel of my boot and flicked it across the room. Paul's phone rang and broke that precious silence.

"Hello?" he said tentatively after flipping the phone open and hugging it to his massive pink ear. He listened for two seconds and hung up.

"Telemarketer?" I asked with a half-assed chuckle. I was trying to be that likeable, funny apprentice who works hard when he's supposed to and shoots the shit on break like he's really one of the guys. It had always been a hard act for a recluse like me, especially stone sober. Still, the effort was necessary. This outfit was a reputable one and I wanted to stick around awhile.

"No," he replied quietly, raising his coffee to his mouth timidly like it might jump out and bite him. He'd lost that sparkle in his eye. Boner time was over.

"Angry ex-wife?" I persisted. It may have been the wrong move, but I had to respond with something. Letting it go entirely would be admitting that my first attempt at humor was foolish, thus negating any progress with earning brownie points.

"Yeah," he said just as solemnly as if someone had asked if his parents were dead and buried. I didn't know how to read it so I went in for the kill. Oh, hindsight...

"I have a few of those myself. Maybe it's time to change your number." Open mouth, insert foot, curtain begins to close.

As if on cue Paul's phone rang again. He didn't bother to look at the display screen, we both knew who it was. Regardless, he answered the phone the same as the first time. It pained me to watch him agree to take the beating we knew was coming. This time I heard it. "Listen, you son of a bitch..." but that was all she managed to get out before he closed his phone and returned it to the holster clipped to his belt as if nothing had happened.

Paul sipped his coffee again and scratched the bald spot on the back of his small head. I wondered how he managed to get a sunburn on it during the month of December and made sure to keep my mouth shut until it was time to go back to work. I wished I'd gotten coffee instead of chocolate milk. Then I'd have something to focus on during the imminent silence. This was why I'd become a plumber and not a stand-up comedian. This, Jack Daniel's, and a few noteworthy damsels in distress.

Paul would choose to like me or not and I would have little control over it. The clouds overhead parted and God donned a shit-eating grin as he re-staked his claim over Man once again, little purple pills be damned.


I put my book down
on the night stand
next to the bed
and roll over
facing her.

She's propped against
a pillow and the wall
reading a play written
during the Depression
for her latest college paper
that I'll pretend to help her with
in order to do it all again
the right way

"I'm co-o-o-o-old," she shivers
in that wavering voice
that she knows will make me
crumble every time.

A wide grin spreads across
my stubbled face automatically.
It's replaced with a shocked expression
as soon as she shoves her icicle fingers
underneath my ribcage
to absorb some of the heat
my body seems to radiate constantly.
"Get those outta here!" I yell
as I squirm and feign an escape.

She moves her hand to what should be
a less sensitive spot on my body, my neck.
Her ring and pinkie fingers bend down
as the index and middle find my pulse
in one of my neck's large arteries.
I instantly shrug away and go limp
writhing with disgust.

She laughs sinisterly because she knows
that I'm grossed out by veins, arteries
and anything to do with the circulatory system.
I once told her about how my hands would
go numb in ninth-grade biology class
and I couldn't take notes from the overhead projector.
That's what love is, though:
knowing someone's weaknesses;
letting someone know yours;
trusting that they won't use them against you
at least not for real.

"Your mom told me that she'll
have to give herself an injection
once a day for two weeks
after her operation, but that
she can't tell you
since she knows you'd flake."
I laugh.
I'm glad the two of them
are sharing things in the kitchen
while my stepfather and I
talk construction in the living room.
It's all part of the process.

I smile and rub her thighs.
She goes back to her work
as I think about veins and arteries some more.

It takes a special kind of woman
to understand a freak.
Yeah, I think I'll keep this one.


...popped one high to center field.

My stepfather Craig and I work together for the same contractor sometimes. Last week we were at a wire plant moving some heavy machinery. During the demolition phase I accidentally damaged a piece of equipment that was supposed to be salvaged. I was using the torch to burn some bolts that were anchoring a railing to the floor. The other guys were still on break but I figured I could handle the piece by myself. I was wrong. When the railing came loose it pivoted and got away from me, falling and landing face-down on an electrical control at the other end. The panel was dented in an important spot and I knew it'd be an issue. Craig came back and I told him what had happened. He said the same thing probably would've happened to him, there was no way to tell that the railing was so top-heavy. He was lying to make me feel better, and it worked. We shrugged it off and went back to our respective tasks. Later on I spotted him walking with the plant manager but didn't put two and two together; I was too busy dreading the next morning when I'd have to tell the boss about what happened.

I'm always the first employee on the job, but the next day I made sure to get there even earlier so I'd have time to explain the situation. Our boss sighed lightly and touched the damaged part of the machine. He said it wasn't the end of the world and that it may have still been functional. If not then the electrician would just have to replace it. The tour of the day's objectives continued as he led me through the factory and pointed out what he wanted done. I was relieved and knew I'd sleep better that night.

A few hours went by. The guy I was partnered up with was busting my balls about the previous day's failure. I told him that I had already told the boss about it and that he wasn't too upset. My partner stopped turning the wrenches and told me what Craig had been discussing with the plant manager when I saw him the day before. He had shown him the broken control and said that he had done it. "Man, he threw himself under the bus for me?" I asked. I felt even worse because the act was truly honorable in that he hadn't mentioned doing it. "Yeah, that's what fathers do," was my partner's response. He went back to work and let what he'd said sink in.

There has always been a small part of me that wants to deny my love for my stepfather, but it shrinks more and more as time goes on and we both come to understand our roles in each other's lives. No son likes to admit and accept that a man other than the one who sired him is sleeping with his mother, but Craig is much more than that. He's taken an active role in my life over the years and I know he's just as proud of me as my mother is. In a way I'm his second shot at fatherhood. He wasn't around for his two children often because he was still young and crazy when he had them and the marriage ended quickly. My kids will know him as Grandpa. I wish I could bring myself to call him Dad. Unfortunately, that title is taken by someone who doesn't deserve it. And if he were here right now he'd probably say he doesn't want it anyway. Or maybe he'd have his new mystery wife do the talking for him, the one who's a clown by trade. She's probably not even a good one, probably just a pathetic birthday clown who pulls quarters out of ears like that crazy uncle we all have. I don't think he could rope himself a prestigious employee of P.T. Barnum's beneficiary. He's just not that impressive. Runs in the family.

Sometimes I still wonder if that cheap blue swingset is still rusting in his back yard. When I was ten he told me he was going to sell it for some baseball gear. I never liked sports, but I appreciated his attempt at understanding what a son needs. None of that ever happened. Then he ditched me for Jesus. The rusted chains on those stupid swings are still pinching my hands somehow. My kids won't ever know that pain.

Not right now you don't.

Cliff was on his way to Jack's house. The latter owed the former six hundred dollars for five days of work. If those two words confuse you here's some clarification: Cliff was about to be six bills richer. He liked that he even knew what denomination to expect-- large bills, probably hundreds. Ones wallet tends to hurt ones ass while seated if it's stuffed with a thick wad of twenties, not to mention the irreparable damage done to the sciatic nerve. Besides, it's harder to blow through cash if it's in large bills; one feels guilty every time he breaks a hundred since it's common knowledge that twenties float away as carelessly as dandelion seeds, especially in the hands of a lush. He'd need that money to pay for the Christmas gifts he still had to buy. This was a time to be frugal. Cliff had a feeling that these reasons had nothing to do with the fact that Jack always handed him a thin envelope, though. It probably had more to do with Jack being a contractor, and most men in business have a hard-on for going big. Jack had never gone as big as he'd hoped, and if Cliff had been born a few years earlier and had more time to learn the trade then maybe he would've at least had a stand-in son to pass his construction legacy down to. As it stood, however, Cliff was coming into his own at the firm age of twenty-four while Jack was winding down at fifty-seven.

Poor timing can be held accountable for most of life's frustrations, big and small.

The sun had not yet set when Cliff pulled up Jack's long driveway and parked his truck in the usual spot on the lawn. He hopped out, still dirty and sore from his other job, and walked towards the front door. Through the kitchen window he saw Jack's wife Wanda wiping the corners of her eyes with upward motions of her index fingers. Maybe it was a bad time to be showing up for his pay, but it was too late to turn back. Jack had known Cliff was coming. He should've saved the nuptial drama for later in the evening.

Cliff called Wanda's name since the doorbell was broken. Her hand half-heartedly signaled him to come inside. When Cliff opened the door he was surprised at what he saw. Jack was on his knees in the front hallway adjacent to the kitchen wearing just his shorts. The strange part was that he was wiping shit up from the carpet. The smell didn't hit Cliff until he saw the light brown stains in the rug. Jack looked up at him as he threw the paper towel into a tash can. Barbara stepped in behind him from the kitchen. She'd composed herself by that time.

"Looks like someone had an accident," Cliff said as Jack rose to his feet and knodded his head in an informal salutation.
"It was one of the dogs, not Jackie," replied Wanda as she faked a smile.
"Of course, I know that..." came Cliff to the defense of his mentor's dignity.

Jack rose to his feet and reached for an envelope sitting on a small table. He handed it to Cliff. Cliff looked down and saw his name scrawled in the shaky handwriting that had become so familiar over the last six years. He wasn't sure if it was a nervous condition, Parkinson's, or DTs that caused Jack's hands to tremble, but it was even evident in the man's writing. Regardless, Cliff always felt comforted by the sight of it because it meant one of two things: detailed instructions for what to do at work, or money. Naturally he preferred the latter, but the former was useful in helping him to avoid looking like a fool the next day when Jack showed up to inspect his progress with whatever project Cliff was working on.

"No work this weekend. I'm tired. We'll try for next Saturday," said Jack in his deep voice. The smell of beer suddenly became as strong as the other smell in the house.
"That's fine." Cliff folded the envelope and shoved it into his back pocket. Jack was the one boss who always paid his debts in full, there was no need to count.

Wanda saw that her presence was no longer needed. She retreated to the kitchen and banged some pots and pans together in order to appear to be cooking.

Jack's massive belly hung over the elastic band of his shorts. A scar stretched from his hip to his belly-button. Cliff remembered the time Jack had told him how he'd gotten it. Wanda assumed it came from an accident on the job. Sometimes men have to lie to their women to keep them from losing sleep at night. Jack, Cliff, and Wanda all understood that. The scar was never mentioned if all three were together.

"Go on and get out of here before you get sick," Jack said, gesturing towards the door with his hand.
Cliff thought of all the nasty plumbing jobs he'd done for Jack in the past, ones that ruined jeans and required rubber gloves and dousing tools in bleach afterwards. Cliff never complained then. What made this any different?
"OK. I'll see you next week."
The two men shook hands and silently wished they could've been more to each other.

As Cliff walked back to his truck he heard a dog whimper. He turned his head towards the pen where Jack and Wanda kept their two dogs. Both of them were in there, and it looked like they had been for awhile because they were half asleep in the corner of the cage. Something didn't add up, but Cliff was just a stupid plumber and decided to leave the adding to accountants.

He climbed back into his truck. The key was still in the ignition. He held his foot on the brake and turned it. The sound of the engine cleared his head for a moment. Then he heard one of the dogs bark and the problem presented itself again.

Cliff pulled the envelope from his pocket, opened it, and dropped the six neatly folded hundred-dollar bills into the cup holder in the center console. He wished he'd waited until the following Saturday for his damn money. Some knowledge just wasn't worth having for a lousy six hundred bucks.

Currently reading:
"Women" by Charles Bukowski.


This message has been brought to you by all things plaid, and the letter W.

Some nights the tension's so thick
you could slice it with that knife o'yours.
Still not sure how they fall for that schtick.
Glad I don't.
Peanuts! Get your peanuts!
Fresh, salted

Had nightmares that I overslept
got lost on my way to the new job
and somehow wound up at a fishing seminar
being taught by my clumsy old foreman
where he got fish hooks stuck in his lip
and my forearm in a failed casting demonstration.
Must've been writhing in the sheets trying to escape
because I managed to pull the bookshelf
next to my bed over somehow
at two in the morning.
Thought I'd been shot when the crash
woke me up.
Would've been better off that way.

Work went surprisingly well.
The new foreman's like a mall Santa
who uses phrases like "You silly goose!";
needless to say we get along just fine.
The only problem is that Rockland Community College
is in the middle of a strictly residential Hasidic area
so a sandwich or a slice can't be found
within a fifteen minute drive.
Looks like I'll be brown-bagging it
or I'll just go hungry.
Could be worse.
Always can.

I've come to find out that
in a strange twist of fate
my absentee father's married
a Puerto Rican clown from the City.
No, seriously.
I'm too tired to go there just yet.
Hold that thought.

Milk and gas are sold by the gallon.
It's no coincidence that beer and blood
are sold by the pint.
Will you still love me


photogenic as a frog with anxiety issues.

You don't recognize how much
your face has changed
until you see it in the first
new photograph in months
since cutting off that last mask.
The chin is doubled, the bright green gum
perches between your teeth and tongue
as your chapped lips crumble with
your hair down to your eyes
and your eyes, Jesus
they speak volumes
that you're only used to seeing
in small print late at night.
Gone are the tricks your face makes
for the mirror, the good angles
the stretched neck
the eyebrows staying in place
no surprises in your nostrils.
While shaving tonight the mirror didn't stand a chance.
It was you alright, the same fool in those pictures.
The absence of stubble made no difference.
He'll see you for you.

The foreman on the job I start tomorrow
with the new company has no idea who I am
nor I him; this is only the second contractor
I've worked for in my three years in the union.
So many conclusions drawn
so many reputations established
all by a man's performance under fire
and I'm clumsy and slow on the first draw.
It could be a new home or a short gig
depending on how well I strut my stuff
show my knowledge of the trade.
It's a lot of pressure.
It's a career.
It's how I'll pay for my stupid truck
and someday a house and a family.

The men on the job will see right through me
and know I hate every second of it
every second except the ones
where I feel like I have some semblance of a father again
some brothers and a crazy uncle
but that takes months, years to acquire.
I'm a fungus that grows.
I have bills to pay.
The two go together like bleach and ammonia.
A walking bunch of nerves
too weary for another failure.
The only one in the local who worries this much
about starting a new job with new coworkers.

Shakespeare's got too big a heart.
Shakespeare's got too big a head.
Shakespeare died on the day he was born.
Christ died on the cross.
Shakespeare never existed.
I'll get back to you on Christ.

This new man whose number will be entered
into my phone tomorrow did not have a panic attack
in his bathroom while showering tonight.
It's just another paycheck to him, one of many
more to come. I'm just a number, one of many
more to go. My hand shook but the razor held steady.
I didn't cut myself shaving, but walked away with less blood.


All I learned on love and loss I gleaned from window lickers.

Call it blatant irony
or tongue-in-cheek cynicism
but I swear I learned more
from the "special needs"
"special education"
or whatever "special" noun
is currently politically correct
in describing the kids
picked after the preps
and before the nerdy honors kids
in gym class
than they learned
in all of their sad little
lousy public school system careers.
(That was a magnificently cruel sentence
but if I'm going to burn in Hell
it may as well be for offending more
than a few ex-girlfriends
and some over-sensitive latchers-on.)
But please, allow me to elaborate.
It's for the best, and you have no choice.

Admittedly, I was one of those
kids picked last for basketball
whether or not I was smart
or just a good test-taker.
One time while in the seventh grade
at Newburgh's splendid South Junior High School
I was sitting on the bleachers
in my shiny new Nikes
when an obese "special" boy
approached me and demanded
that I relinquish my kicks.
Naturally I refused, thus prompting
him to try to pull them off.
I grabbed hold of the bleachers
and kicked at the boy in front of me
as he tugged at my sneakers
with one hand and tried to slice my leg
with the lid of a Tic-Tac container
with the other.
I was so confused by his weapon of choice
that I was laughing as I fended him off.
Needless to say I didn't go home barefoot
since I had both the high-ground advantage
and a bit more together in the strategy department.
His shoes were just fine anyway, there
was no need for mine
but that episode taught me
the first lesson I learned from his kind:
If you want something you have to try to take it
no matter the odds against you
and that means using whatever
weapons you happen to have, even the absurd.

Then there was the cafeteria crowd.
My oh-so-cool classmates and I
shared our table with the special ed kids
since neither subculture was strong enough
to claim their own territory.
The area of brackish water where salt and fresh met
in the middle was always interesting.
Their self-declared leader, Jose
was the most outspoken of the bunch
and enjoyed bragging about his status
as chairman of that particular board.
He went so far as to try to convince
my friends and me that the special ed program
which was called PLC in our school district
actually stood for a less-than-kosher entity
that ended in "Licking Class". Here I'll remind you
of the hormones racing through fifteen-year-olds
if that'll help you figure out that elusive first P word.
Was that an elective that anyone could take?
And was it really a good thing to admit
that one needed further instruction in said activity?
Mind you, these are rebuttals that I make now safely
from the comfort of my bedroom ten years later
since my sneakers are no longer threatened.
At the time I just laughed it off and went on eating.
Jose had taught me lesson number three, though:
Tell yourself whatever you have to to make it through the day
and spread the good word, even if others aren't naive enough
to believe you; it'll make you feel better
and it just might fool some of those around you.

For lack of an exciting lie I am forced to confess
that the third and final incident with, you know, also
occurred in a cafeteria, this time at Newburgh's
fine-tuned Free Academy.
The tables were small round jobs at that school
so we finally had more seating options.
Two friends were sitting with me one afternoon
during my senior year when we noticed that a plump girl
in pink sweatpants from the special class had been staring
in our direction for quite some time.
After scoping us out for ten more minutes
she waddled over and handed me a photograph.
It was a picture of her, but not a portrait.
She was standing in a parking lot with a dog
or riding a train with a crazy aunt
or maybe it was some other random scenario
that my memory has deemed irrelevant.
I studied the photo, then raised my confused eyes
to see if I could determine her intentions
but she had already walked away.
My friends were pointing and laughing at me
over my new girlfriend, but I was silent
because I realized I had just learned
my fourth lesson:
I attract mentally unstable women.

Come on, throw me a bone.
You almost smiled.
A little.


A failed attempt at an explanation of my exponentially increasing hermitic tendencies.

You'll have to forgive my trend as of late.
You won't have to, but you should
as it's nothing personal against you.
Take this as you will, but quite frankly
I wouldn't let anyone matter enough
to say something that'd register
as more than another blip
on the vast radar of meaningless conversation.
Your thoughts and words
just don't hold that much water
around here anymore.
That being said, I love you all
as only a penitent sinner can.

Take, for instance, a perfect
sociological example: the customary wake.
I went to one recently, hair gel
leather shoes and a black pinstriped shirt
one size too small
hidden with a wool peacoat
that made me sweat bullets
as if I owed someone there money.

--pardon me, I seemed to have dropped
my razor in the sink.--

So there I was, dressed to the nines
despite the denim jeans for lack of anything better
trying to seem comfortable around
ninety people, most of which I'd never seen
before, the rest of which were oddly removed family.
I stood in line with my mother
knelt down before the open casket
and paid my respects to the patriarch
of that side of the family.
What I said in my head I meant with my heart
and the part of me still soft truly believes
that somehow the waxen man before me heard.
That was the easy part.

When I turned and faced his nearly blind widow
sitting in the wheelchair I tried to think of what to say.
My turn came. I squatted down, held her hands
and whispered my identity in her ear.
Luckily her English is better than my grandmother's
so she understood most of my bit
but it didn't matter-- what could I possibly say?
The only words that came out were ones she'd heard:
that I was sorry, that he was a great man
that I hadn't seen this many family members gathered
in a long time and it would've made him happy
and then the lie-- that I'd pray for her
as if I still believe in anything other than my two hands
in front of me, and even those are questionable at times.
A lie! To a woman who'd just lost her husband
of sixty-three years and would probably be next to go.
I was lower than dirt. I was the most despicable Spic there.
I kissed my grandmother's sister-in-law on the cheek
rubbed her shoulder and walked away with the sad face on
the one that everyone else seemed to pull off perfectly
after their stroll to the front of the funeral parlor.
As I walked past a sign on the wall
I learned the real name of the deceased
for the first time: Eusebio.
And all this time I'd only known him as Chevin.

--sorry, that coughing fit in the shower
brought some of my dinner back up.--

I felt bad, I was saddened, I am not a heartless brute.
But I was thinking more of the end of the man's pain
and was happy for him.
I looked around and saw all these charlatans
pretending to care one second, laughing like it was
a cocktail party the next. It sickened me.
I went from corner to corner trying not to seem awkward
but it wasn't my most convincing performance.
My mother came up and told me I should go get some
fresh air since my forehead was beaded with sweat.
I did.

It was no better out there, though.
I called my girlfriend to try to escape the madness
but could only manage to keep her on the line for ten minutes.
There were at least five others sitting in various parked vehicles
who had left the building, but I didn't have my mother's keys
and was too ashamed to ask for them.
Pacing around the parking lot seemed strange
and impolite so I made my way back to the door.
There were men I'd never seen before
smoking and carrying on about inappropriate things
like the funeral parlor was the clubhouse at a golf course
the nineteenth hole, and not a place to say goodbye to someone.
One of them was even wearing a leather motorcycle jacket
with chains around the shoulder and an insignia on the back.
I wanted to smack the Marlboro out of his mouth
grab him by the collar, and shove him against the wall.
I wanted to badly.
And if I were the man I write myself to be sometimes
I would have.
But I can't always pretend to be the hero, not even in words.
It's a tiring stretch.
I walked back inside and found my mother.
She said I looked green and asked if I'd thrown up.
We left half an hour later.
I didn't attend the funeral the next day.

--please hold while I turn the water off.
the bug washed off the wall of the shower
didn't fit through the drain and drowned.
how unfortunate.--

My mother said the people who wailed uncontrollably
and had to be escorted out of the church
were the ones who used to go hit the old man up
for gas money, a twenty or a fifty at a time.
I didn't miss much.
Just another blown chance to call a spade a spade.
And that's just it, I can't handle most personal encounters.
It's gotten to the point where I avoid them all most times.
If I can't help you and you can't help me
then what's the sense in pretending otherwise
and wasting precious time with forced conversation
that I could spend reading and you could spend...
...whittling, for all I care.
Excuse the partial blasphemy or misinterpretation
but wasn't it Christ who said something to the effect of
"He who isn't with me is against me" or something similar?
Christ, or Orenthal James?
Either way, at least my view is not that extreme.
We just serve no purpose to each other.
I'd much rather entertain myself
than try to make you understand
any of the things floating around in my head.
I'd rather communicate this way
to hundreds of people at a time
than become frustrated in a more personal venue.
You can opt not to read this, I can find something better to do
with my life than to write it, but in the meantime
we're still talking, right?
I'm not listening.
And besides, you're not saying much back
other than the oh-so-clever references and misconstrued quotes
to insinuate that you've been checking in.
Well that's just dandy and incredibly original, really.

The Wizard had his (amazingly phallic) Emerald City
and commercial grade curtain to hide behind;
just leave me my door and my oversized obsolete monitor.

Now anyone care for a cocktail?
I swear I'm not such a shit with a few in me.
This one's for you, Unc.


the Tupperware wars.

Here's one for every man who's had a ring thrown back at him
and the poor convict so fat that they laughed and said
they'd have to shoot him for fear his head would pop off
if they tried to hang him in the town square;
insult to injury in an unjust...

...just keep that to yourself, young man.

"Paging Mr. Cockburn. Mr. Cockburn, please dial extension 227..."
Her voice will cut off as suddenly as it came on, things will return
to normal in the warehouse, and good ol' Mr. C won't dare
touch that phone since he'll know his wife will be on the line
asking whose number she found in the hip pocket of his slacks, and
if he's wielding his over-stuffed Vienna sausage elsewhere again.
"Mr. Cockburn, she says you'd better call or she'll mail that package
she's been telling you about for years."
Mr. C will put his head down at his desk, weeping like a schoolgirl
two weeks after prom night when she finds out Johnny didn't mean it.
But Mrs. Cockburn does mean it, and will mail that package
to the proper recipient, thus ruining several lives
and giving her one more reason to get that perm before the holidays.
"Cockburn, you're fired!" will come over the P.A. from his angry supe
but Mr. C won't still be around to hear it.
The things that people do to each other in misnomered love...

My metabolism's slowed since being laid off.
I only feel the need for one meal a day sometimes
since I don't do anything to burn calories
other than roll around in the sheets flipping through pages
though my armpits still sweat as I sit here and type
but that's out of sheer excitement, love for the game.
He probably heard me still stirring at four in the morning
getting that last line down last night.
When it comes you have to go with it, your mind won't
let you sleep until you write it
and that's how you know you should continue
regardless of who's still listening.
If the shirtless sweating in this sixty-degree house stops
then I'll take up collecting baseball cards instead.
Until then it's more of the same to keep me sane.

It's the difference between green squash and zucchini.
(Yeah, me neither.)

Bayamon, 1920.

"Don't marry an ugly girl," she said in Spanish
from half my height, shaking her index finger
and lowering her head enough
to stare at me with her one good eye.
I laughed more comfortably than I should have
and walked down the stairs to tell my mother
what the Old Lady had come out with this time.

The next day my mother asked me to watch
my grandmother so she could go to the funeral.
My mother's uncle had died, but my grandmother
wasn't being brought to the wake or funeral
for fear that she'd suffer a heart attack
due to the crowd, not to mention the trauma
of seeing her eldest brother who had raised
her and her siblings during the Depression
on a small farm in Puerto Rico
after their parents had died prematurely.
It was an executive decision made by my mother
and one that I supported.
The Old Lady's dementia was kicking in sporadically
and helping her forget.
We wanted it to be permanent.

"I'm sorry that I'm sad today. My brother has died.
Father God gives me the strength to deal
with these things, but it's still difficult.
Tomorrow I could be the one to go."
I rubbed her back and kissed her cheek.
"Not yet, not yet," I told her.
I know my mother will want me to write
something to read at that funeral.
I know I won't be able to do it--
the reading part, that is--
so she'll just have to live forever.

Her maternal instincts to feed me took over
and distracted her from her grieving.
We made some coffee together
and she chuckled as she admitted
that she needed me to turn on the burner
since my parents wouldn't let her use the gas stove.
"Have some cookies," she told me five times.
"Where is your mother? When will she be home?"
I knew then why my mom had jokingly asked me
to take her out back and shoot her when her mind goes.
The questions. The broken record. All day.

One can only drink coffee for so long
so we moved the party to the living room.
Another mistake on my behalf.
As she sat next to me on the couch
her eyes teared up.
"That's my husband," she said
pointing to the large oil portrait of him on the wall.
"He was killed in a car accident before
your mother was even born. I told him to be careful.
He was stubborn. Still, he was a good man.
I didn't want another after him."
What was I supposed to say to that?
More coffee?
I rubbed her back again as she wiped her eyes.
"That's me as a young woman in the other painting."
Seeing herself young and beautiful again
alleviated some of the fifty-four-year-old agony
of losing her spouse.
That stuff about it being better to have loved and lost--
yeah, I've got some land in Florida to sell you, too...

All went silent and her mind shifted gears
as we stared through the sliding door
at the feral cats playing in the back yard.
"They know," she said as she laughed.
I wasn't sure what it was that they knew
but I nodded my head in agreement.
Then she saw the painting of her dead husband again
and told me the tragic story as if I'd never heard it.
That cycle repeated itself twice until my mother
finally came home.
I'm not sure whom has it worse:
the senile person who has to recall a life's worth of pain
or the people who have to hear about it each time.

"The ceremony was beautiful," my mother told me
after answering my grandmother's barrage of questions.
"I'd never seen the folding of the flag before.
One of the soldiers played 'Taps' and there wasn't
a dry eye." I pictured the widow accepting the flag.
My great-uncle served in World War II
and they'd honored him for it in this way
sixty-three years later.
It seemed a good send-off.

I walked into the kitchen to say goodbye
to my grandma.
She asked me if I wanted some coffee.
I hugged her and said I had to go and see a man about a horse.
It was a send-off
though not quite as good.


Hollywood, 1949.

"You're out of line, soldier."
"You know what I think of your line."
"Is that insubordination I'm hearing, private?"
"I didn't hear any orders given, so no...sir."
"Drop and give me..."
"The time? Oh-Nine-Hundred, give or take."
The officer crimsons as the other lights a cigarette.
He'll smoke four in a row with ease if the air is right.
"You'll live to regret that."
The smoke blown in his face is the only response given.
That face turns a brighter red than the tip of that cigarette.
"They break men like you at Leavenworth. Men far better."
"Slow down, sarge. Who said anything about a vacation?"
"You seem to have mistaken my rank. Count the stripes, private!"
"It was a figure of speech. Lighten up. These rolled ones don't last."
He stomps the cigarette out.
The level playing field presents itself so they seize the opportunity.
Both men remove their shirts, hats, anything with ingsignia.
They step aside and turn their backs on the others on the set.
Golf tones are used. Nothing above a whisper.
The director shouts French obscenities as he flips through the script.
Neither of them will work in that town again, he swears it.
"She told you, didn't she?"
"Yeah. Can you blame her?"
"Finish the scene. Give them their ten-dollars-worth."
"You always were the truer artist."
"Don't you think the world knows that?"
"Come on, enough already. Ride it out, improvise if you have to."
They reapply their uniforms out of contractual obligation.
It's hard to remember whose line it is.
The private steps on the butt again and sneers to cue his friend.
"The only thing lightening around here will be your paycheck."
"Court-martial? Don't threaten me with a good time."
"Take this man away. He's a liability."
The private fixes his hands at his hips, his elbows pointed outward.
Two guards hook those loops and drag him out of sight.
He pops a grin and winks as his boot heels slide away.
"Anyone else want ten years of hard time?"
A resounding "No, sir!" comes from the ranks.
At least the extras stuck to the plan.
The wind picks up and the cigarette butt starts to smolder.
It's the first miracle of the morning.