In the Land of Misfortune, Vahsen is king; for everything else there's Mastercard.

The party's downstairs, but the whiskey's
in here so all isn't lost just yet--
besides, her scent's still on the sheets
on her side of the bed
and I'm wondering how long
I can keep it there for
while she's away at school.

One of the unnecessarily close
audience shots in the comedy special
we watched before she left tonight
showed an attractive young woman
laughing her pretty little heart out
and I felt bad for the poor bastards
who fell in love with her
alone at two in the morning via TV screen.
It's not always easy to find the drive
to make sure the bills are paid
the pets are fed
and the dishes are done
but it's nice to know
where mine will always come from, and
that's it's only a two-hour drive away, at worst.

August is the time that millions of girls go back
to college around the world, and as I'm in my room
sipping this first and last cocktail of the night
I can't help but wonder how many of those girls
are trying their hardest to blend the shorter lengths of hair
in with the rest, and how many lonely guys are hiding
those locks from their friends in their pillow cases.

I'd like to think a lot.

Currently reading:
"Selected Poems, 1945-2005" by Robert Creeley.


At this rate you're just a disgrace to the game.

"What happened this time?"
"She blinded me with science."
"Damn, not again..."

The same kind of person who doesn't flash
his lights when he knows there's a cop ahead
is the same kind of person afraid to piss in the shower
is the same kind of person who doesn't understand
why Father's Day gets confusing in both Harlems
and the real reason for those horny dwarves tolerating Ms. White.
But ultimately he'll learn that Frank is a dish best served cold.

Too often we make heros out of people
for succumbing to the inevitable, for doing
what human nature already determined
thousands or millions of years ago, depending;
the way I see it is this:
Prometheus was just a punk
with a hard-on for stealing shit.

Currently reading:
"Truly Tasteless Jokes" by Blanche Knott.



It's arpeggiated madness
one pluck at a time
skipping strings for Satan's sake--
a new tattoo idea
just a loan payment away.

Some things are best
with a hangover:
reading Buk and Dos in bed
a rabbit's fur against your flank
the purple-lipped pleas from the previous night
ringing in your pounding temples
after you've flushed the eggplant down
and tried to piece together the words and lines.

All he said was that it's time:
men of words
with a voice that still sends
chills down my spine.

Downing the day's last glass of two-percent
smelling skunk in the kitchen
of a house with four kinds of milk in the fridge
and two-dozen eggs
cups drying on the window sill above the sink
from last night's cocktail party.
You really don't know who your friends are
until you check the couch after they've left.

Amengual, her "maiden" name.

Men of words unite, untie.
And it really is a shame
about those pipes of his.


Sorry if I got it wrong, Honey.

She's napping in my bed
for the last time for a few weeks:
I should be next to her, but I'm not
the tired one for once;
I should be next to her, but I'm tired
of reading books right now;
I should be taking pictures of her
seemingly tiny face, the only exposed part
of her peeking out from under the warmth
of my comforter;
but I'm not.
Instead I'll tell you what I wish I could claim
as my own.

Once upon a time there was a girl...
Five or six years ago, before I knew her
there was a talented teenager
on the varsity swim team
who was deathly afraid of nothing.
She says she was, says she still is
but I know better, can pick a winner
know how to find the genes I lack
even when mine don't fit anymore.
If I remember correctly she set a State record.
I'll have her dig up the paperwork someday.

Anyway, this girl was being bussed down
to a college in Manhattan for a big swim meet
those five or six years ago, before I knew her
when she was stronger than she thought she was
and still is, even while sleeping five feet behind me.
She was on that bus and the bus was on the highway
and the highway was on hiatus because of a five-car pile-up.
(It may have been more, may have been less, but since
it's me telling the story I'll go with five for nothing more
than the sake of the internal rhyme-scheme that she'll like.)
So this traffic jam was pretty bad, and even though I know
she wasn't, I tend to picture her staring out the window
wearing a navy blue bathing suit and swim cap, yellow trim
as if they didn't have locker rooms to change in.
The sun's out and beating down on the stationary bus
and the windows don't open enough to allow proper
ventilation and if you can picture the traffic jam
in the music video for "Everybody Hurts" that'd help me out.

So they're swelterting and crawling along and she's looking
out the window as they pass by the cause of the gridlock.
She instantly regrets letting her eyes wander--
there, in the shoulder of the road, smashed in on one side
is a small, red car with it's windows busted out.
(She didn't tell me the car was red, either
but that's how I picture it, if for nothing else than to provide
contrast for the green skin of the dead man hanging out
of the driver-side window, limp as the spaghetti we made
last night for dinner. And yes, she did tell me he was green.)
It was the first dead person she'd seen, excluding wakes.
She didn't tell me if it was the last, but for argument's sake
let's consider it the one and only corpse she's witnessed.

The bus managed to arrive in time for the swim meet
but it didn't matter much to her anymore.
The image had stuck in her head for the rest of the trip.
She was shaking, well she didn't tell me so, but I know she was.
She told her coach she felt sick and couldn't get in
the water. Coach understood without saying much
and so did her parents. They told her they'd take her
to get something to eat instead, pancakes I believe.
I picture her in the locker room
taking her swimsuit off and getting back into clothes
not because I want to see her naked (well, I do
and if I play my cards right I will again later) but because
I want to go back in time to hold her and tell her
it's OK and that she didn't have anything to prove anyway
and that I'm sorry for being insensitive at times
since I know nothing of death, as she does, despite my dabbling.
(The pancakes probably had whipped cream on them
and her mom and dad didn't say a word when she only ate half.)

The best part is that she'd forgotten it all
until a few weeks ago when I mentioned being stuck
in traffic on that same highway on my way home from work.

So here's another one I stole, this time from my Beloved
as she sleeps innocently in my room
tucked and rolled under the covers
since I've got the AC blasting again.
But this editor Wyatt Mason once said
"good poets borrow, great poets steal"
so it's entirely like whatever, man.
I'm just jealous that my own light
only reaches so far into the darkness;
the rest I can't write about since it'd be a lie
and I save those for my accountant at tax time.
The worst part about only living once
will be not having enough stories
to stall St. Peter with.

Enough of this.
I'm going to go do what I should be doing now.


To everyone I've ever known (, with love as ambiguous as your intentions).

We're not as great as we once thought; not as horrid, either--
another one of Life's mediocrities we'll have to suffer through.

If you miss me...well, I miss me, too
but if that answer just won't do
I have no other option than to offer this advice:
(To everyone...the hardest pills to take: your own.)

Find the nearest mirror
strip down in front of it
turn around, spread your cheeks
take a good, hard look
and there you will find me
(laughing all the way to the bank).

At least it wasn't another
about the defloration of some poor girl's

(I drew a well-proportioned penis in the margin
next to that last line.
I drew another dick you'll never see

Silence was
and always will be
And the hits
(and the hatemail)
keep coming.

Currently reading:
"Nine Stories" by J.D. Salinger.


What the Goonies couldn't say.

Friends chip in for the final lift.
A massive heart attack, premature.
Or plain loneliness.
A casket not big enough
for the heart he hid all along.


A loan shark's three best henchmen
with baseball bats in a dark alley...
no, in his own driveway.
Or lung cancer.
Either way, hundreds at the funeral
some to say goodbye
some to make sure he's gone for good.


The family laughs about it as usual
toasting his death as they did his life.
Cirrhosis finally set in, you see.
Cheap whiskey and a cheaper toupee
thrown in the coffin at the last minute as one last
shot to the ribs, how he would've wanted it.


Locked in his fortress of a house
trophy wife calling the accountant
before the undertaker.
A simple box of pine nothing like
the one he'd picked with the velvet lining
and combination lock to protect
the valuables he'd planned on taking with him.


Quietly and comfortably in his own home
with great-grandchildren by his side
at an age old enough
to have seen the world he was paid to write about
though his tone became more biased with experience.
Finally not afraid of that world
and almost not afraid of himself.
The "winner," if there can be one in this Event.


And as for me?
Legends don't die, motherfucker.
We just dwindle day-by-day
until the Rapture.


His pockets were full of knives and lint.

Something tells me
that Hell will have
pretty flowered wallpaper
peeling at the edges;
maybe a leather couch
that sticks to the bottom
of my sweaty legs;
but definitely, if nothing else
postcards from you, far away

What they say about
the devil you know
being better than
the devil you don't
will go out the window
as soon as I find myself
in that fiery eternal waiting room
face to face
with what I'll realize is the only Devil
the one I've known all along:
Bingo, and I hope those seven years'll go fast.

But hold on, now;
you're getting ahead of yourself.
Don't laugh too hard
until you read the roster.


Addendum to a PSA on the Human Condition.

Prepare, friend, to swallow
this double-edged sword:
our blessing's the same
as our curse;


prepare to swallow
some teef.

Rock the White Man off the boat if his Burden gets too heavy.

There are people
who do not know
how the world works;
it is not your job
to tell them.

There are people
who believe
that four plus four is five
because their teachers said so
despite the fact
that you can prove them wrong;
don't bother.

There are people
who trust
in the gods they create
in order to justify
wasting time disproving others
with slightly different
Divine Imaginations;
avoid them altogether.

What's that you say?
Ends and means?
Fuzzy math?
Manifest Destiny?
And yes, my mother does
say I'm special.
Thanks for noticing.

There are people in the world...
...and that's just our problem:
we're only human.


Only angels should have wings.

We'd exchange gifts common to Puppy Love
both of us having met as sixteen-year-old virgins
with unexplored areas of the heart and loins:
homemade cards, popular music on disc, oral favors
and the occasional bad verse (framed, of course).
It was back before I learned that there's nothing
more gratifying than breaking up just before
Christmas, or even better, her birthday
to avoid having to give her presents
'her' being the frustrating female sex in general.

It was an innocent time.
I didn't even beat it on the Sabbath back then
and I still almost believed in one.
All of that changed when the cherries were popped.

The fights became more harsh.
At seventeen we sounded like bad parodies
of our parents and soap opera actors
all because of the introduction of intercourse
and the complications that came along with it.
I broke it off three times but always returned out of guilt
until July 14th in the Two-thousand and Second
year of "our" Lord when...well, just "when"...

Our first love had come and gone
as easily as that first condom
that I blew up like a balloon
and then lost in her house somewhere
after letting it go and watching it zip around
the two of us searching for hours afterwards.

My conscience was unusually clear.
I told her not
to follow me to college, dammit.
Maybe that cold-heartedness was the beginning
of the modus operandi that followed.
Again, another story I'd rather not tell...

My mother temporarily disowned me
for leaving one for another.
She made me go live with my father
for two weeks while she cooled down
and hated the new girl for the first few months
on principle alone. Never doubt the wrath
of a Puerto Rican woman, or the ability
of a Puerto Rican man to bring it out.

During this period her anguish was doubled
due to her own motherly need to pry.
I was away at school and she was "cleaning my room"
when she must have lifted my mattress for some reason
and found one of those cute little gifts previously mentioned.
It was never brought to my attention, mind you;
I only know this because it was gone when I came home.
The calendar my Ex had made me marked with all of the dates
relevant to our high school romance was no longer there.
Our first date, our first kiss, our first time having sex
all documented on oversized sheets of paper
held together with pink ribbon in one corner
for my mother to read at her leisure.

The cat was out of the bag.
I was on the loose
and my Ex was not the only girl
with a broken heart.
It was official.
The war was on.

If only I'd kept the list of casualties lower
I might not feel so gosh-darn crummy
but ya can't take it with you
and I think it was a Beatle who said
something about the love you take
being equal to the love you make
in the end, and that might be out of context
but nevertheless it would be the basis
of my defense though I know it wouldn't
hold up in court.

There are some people we'll owe
an explanation to until the day we die
and the most humane thing to do
is to leave it that way.

Never is a promise, alright...

Currently reading:
"Rimbaud Complete: The Poetry and Prose of Arthur Rimbaud."


bang it out

took the tomb
there're angels in there

her hair like ex-loves and their mothers
all smelling the same

"i'll take 'what they do in the bathroom after sex
and other unmentionables' for a thousand, alex"
"silence! you'll take whatever i give you, bitch"

birth control makes women crazy
but what's my excuse?
and there's something to be said for fucking
while they're on the phone
trying to stay silent

my sheets, her canvas
she's painting the masterpiece
one stroke at a time
ha ha, good one

saw a man walking along the highway in a shirt
that said 'the black american dream' and i'm not sure
what that was supposed to mean
unless it has something to do
with a movie i saw on the internet with leroy
fucking the white man
or at least his wife and daughter

i don't have time for this
it's hard to run with my shorts around my ankles

swallow the dragon and hope for the best
ejaculate another dream away
this is why nothing gets done on sunday.


Splish Splash I'm In Need of a Bath

Tea for two and two for tea
and the only good Indian is a dead Indian
the answer to "How do you know it's Real?" being
"I haven't done Something Stupid yet."

French Quarters and state quarters
and reading how the legends lived through them
grew into their shoes before dying, literally
or falling off.
"Do you want to live forever?" the sergeant asked the PFC
before shoving him out of the plane
not giving him time to answer.

It's nothing new to history, his story.

Last night before bed I picked my nose and saw blood
the thin bright red kind, watered down and fresh
only from one nostril so I wasn't all that worried
as I wiped my face and finger clean
my main concern being staining my pastel sheets
so when I woke up this morning it came as a relief
to find them unscathed
and when I spat into the sink
it didn't taste like pennies anymore.

What is it about dropping trees close to a house
on a balmy August mid-morning with rope and chainsaw
that hardens any red-blooded sailor?

A : Maybe the rope and chainsaw.

The rabbit's trying to gnaw through the mattress again.
Better go tend to that, George.
(She smells like maple
leaves; fingers, arms, and toes, maybe
but she never bites my face.)
A swan dive on the bed, 8.5 out of 10
and she scampers back to her corner
cocking her head, no longer twitching her nose
showing who the crazy one is, the animal.

Bernie Mac died of pneumonia and not a soul stopped laughing.
We'd be lying if we pretended to care.

But I'm more of a coffee guy, light and sweet
and some of us are better at collecting scalps than others.

Currently reading:
"The Complete Poems of Ernest Hemingway"


I typed for miles.

The crickets are loud tonight
beckoning each other with a fervor
louder than mine could ever be
as the menthol tastes better
than the hangover will tomorrow.

The slate on my bare feet
is rough as I pace the patio
yearning for sleep
and shunning it at the same time
as I spit towards my car in the driveway
not caring if I hit it.

This is a shot from the hip
the gut
the liver
without a drink in my hand
since he'd fire me for showing up drunk
and seven hours is just enough to sober up.
I've played this game before, done the math.

It's spontaneous, not nearly as entertaining.
Can you still relate?

Didn't think so.

And so, Henry, we're still alone.

So that was why your eyes dodged mine.

Someone call the architect--
these prints aren't matching up.
Somewhere along the Longest Line
Misfortune turned his head for a second
and let a winner slip by in my general direction.

So now instead of useless friction of the hips
there's a fire between my heels
and the bedsheets
that only one can extinguish
without the aid of a good book
or a stiff drink
though either are OK in her company.

It's a damp flank from the wet spot
with faces reeking of sex
and what can we say for ourselves
that hasn't been said already?,
besides "I'm grateful for this day
and every day to come."

It's looking in the rear view
and seeing that the chipmunk made it
despite your failure to swerve

and why buy it at the yard sale when you can rise early
and beat the garbage man to it the next day?

"What are you, Babe?"
"A pain junky, of course."

There's no need to remind me
how to open that vein;
we taught each other, remember?

And the Holy Rollers flood the month of April
with blood to let, a need to feed--
"Ah, Christ. Who let them in again?"
and, more importantly, "Who's turn is it
to see them back out?"

Even Jesus' lunch wasn't free;
those fish and loaves, that wine--
they cost Him His life.
The sermon was on repentance
and I hope I wasn't thinking aloud
when I wished the preacher would tighten his collar
until his face was as blue as his veins used to be.

(It's a mattress shoved in a dumpster
and who taught you to parallel park
that really matters.

I'm sorry if this offends you
but if you want a square look in the eyes at night
I need somewhere to spit the poison
and what better place than my desk?)

She was hoping I'd change my mind
between now and the Apocalypse.
Why else would you give a Rosary to a Heathen?

(I'm hoping she hasn't seen my bank statement.)

[Act I, Scene IV: Slowly but surely the subconscious creeps in...]

This isn't writing, it's drunken Copy-and-Paste.
It's no wonder it smells like rum and cum
and failure in here.


Next time I'll bring a candle for that mouth of yours.

The despairing uncle was visiting from Florida last week.
The manic-depressive man of sixty-five
first Puerto Rican cop in Rockland County during the Sixties
until he came home high on LSD
to find his wife, my mom's best friend
cheating on him, and killed her with his bare hands.
He did some time for that one, alright;
probably not enough, but fifteen years was sufficient
to send the family into a spiral from which it never recovered.

I remember visiting him in prison when I was two.
More specifically, I remember the glowing logo
on the Pepsi machine in the big room where we'd meet
and not understanding why we had to wait for him
to come out and see us.
They told me it was his job.
In a way it was.

When he came out he was a new man.
"Found Jesus" and all that jazz.
Married a woman fifteen years younger
who loved him for him, even stayed with her for awhile.
But the man was always OK in my book.
He'd pick me up from my grandmother's house
to take me out on adventures in the wilderness
fishing the lesser-known streams and lakes
in the area he grew up in.
He was finding himself again, I was along for the ride.
And when my parents went through their split
he was the only one who listened to what I had to say
always having an analogy that a six-year-old could understand.
(My first understanding of the word 'perspective'
was somehow related to a plane passing overhead
though I don't recall the details.)

One day when he took me for a ride near a train trestle
he decided to tell me the whole truth about his past.
Somehow it didn't phase me, even though a ten-year-old
should understand the weight of his crime.
It was still my Uncle Ray sitting next to me in the car.
I loved him just the same.
Maybe more.

So that's your preface.
This is what happened the other night:
(It wasn' much but I want to remember.)

I was eating rice and fried chicken at my mom's house when he
walked in, a big bowling-pin of a man in a salmon polo shirt.
It was an awkward time for an arrival. No one likes
to be interrupted while eating, or shall I say shoveling
comfort food into one's mouth.

"What's up, Dude?" as he strides into the kitchen.
I mumble something incoherent, trying to keep the rice
in my mouth as he stands himself behind my chair
and squeezes my shoulders with those big, rough hands of his.
"Man, your shoulders got wider. You look even bigger
than your dad." My mom cuts in with something about
"that V-shaped upper body" that my father and I have
as I suck in my gut to try to prevent her from being a liar
though I guess it's still true from a front view.
And Ray was exaggerrating, Dad's frame is huge
or maybe I just remember it being bigger than it is.
He goes on to ask if I "work out, or if it's from
lifting the pipes and stuff."
I answer tersely with "Lifting the pipes and stuff."

His seven-year-old daughter runs past him
and around the corner into my mom's living room
to play on the computer. He left his wife twelve years ago
when she began demanding a kid and he said he was too old.
That makes it all the more ironic that the Peruvian illegal alien
he was seeing several years ago became pregnant with his child.
In a way that little girl saved his life by forcing him to think about
someone other than himself. That's always been hard for him to do
the bipolar oldest sibling who Did Time with other Christ Complexes.

"Celeste, say Hi to Cousin Mike," he pleads.
I finish chewing my food and swallow.
She comes in and lifts the sleeve of my shirt
asking why I have so many tattoos.
Christ, can't a man eat in peace?
My mom overhears the topic of discussion
and mentions the tiger lily I have for her
in a tone that still leaves me confused
as to whether that pleases her or not.
Uncle Ray starts telling a story about something arbitrary
and all I can focus on are his teeth, or lack thereof.
He's lost a few more since I last saw him a year-and-a-half ago.

He must've noticed me staring:
"Your mother's been calling me a Jack-O-Lantern. Nice, right?
My bridge fell out and another tooth shattered somehow
down here," as he pulls his lip aside to show me.
Dinner was over for me then if it wasn't already.

We walked into the living room to sit down and catch up.
He asked about work and my living situation.
For some reason I couldn't look him in the face
for too long, but I couldn't pinpoint why at the time.
Maybe because I knew it was coming.

He came right out with it:
"So you fired her, huh?"
("Her" being my Ex that I had brought on "Vacation" to Florida
with me at the end of the March before last
and the end of our horrid relationship.
He could never get her name right and kept calling her Lisa.)
"Yeah, but I found a much better one," I retorted.
"Of course, of course," as he nodded his head knowingly
implying that I get my moves from somewhere.
And when that five-foot-four Improvement walked in
and stole the show Ray's eyes lit up in agreement
with my assessment of the situation.

The three of us made small-talk until it became redundant.
I stood up, her hand in mine, saying we were
going to take off for the night.
I went into the kitchen where my mom was cleaning up
to kiss her goodbye. We said our appropriate farewells
and gave the obligatory hugs, though they're always warm
in my mother's house for some reason.

Before I left I pulled Ray aside.
"So I hear you're going to be a Hall of Famer."
My mother told me he was being inducted into
the North Rockland High School Basketball Hall of Fame.
It sounds funny some forty-five years after the fact:
his name on a plaque in a box in his closet;
his name on a wall in some gymnasium
in a long list of others
stared at blankly by bored parents sitting in bleachers pretending
to watch the game but really thinking about what's for dinner later.
"Man, I don't care about that nonsense. I'm not going to that
stupid ceremony. For what? To see a bunch of other old men
point and say 'Look, there's Ray Amengual.' I ain't got time for that."
He didn't care and he shouldn't; the man's got far more
to be proud of than that.
That little girl, for instance.

We laughed about it for a second as I gave him one last hug
making sure it was adequate for a curtain-close.
It was one of those moments you have to make
in case you don't see someone again.
We'd shared a lot over the years that'd be eulogy-worthy
but a story is only as good as its ending.
This is just another one I sold short.


The man who tried so hard and got so little.

Putting pants on seemed like too much
of a task for this Friday evening
so going for take-out was out of the question.
Instead I resorted to a lazy bachelor dinner
reminiscent of my warehouse shipping clerk days.
The can of Progresso Chicken Noodle
and grilled cheese went down well
but there was still a high-protein element lacking.
A can of sardines seemed like a good idea
though most ordinary people would disagree;
I wasn't seeing my girlfriend later, it didn't matter
if I reeked of canned minnows and olive oil.
As I stood in the twilight coming through
the kitchen window forking chunks of salty fish
into my mouth it brought me back to another
time laden with fuzzy half-truths.
My father used to eat sardines and crackers
as a Sunday afternoon snack when I was a little kid.
Big on being like Daddy, I'd do the same.
My mother was concerned that I was the only
first-grader who would eat such a pungent food
but wouldn't even entertain the notion of a peanut butter
and jelly sandwich for some odd reason.
Back then it was easier to follow in the footsteps
of one who still commanded my respect
but as I grew older I started to see his short-comings.

One time I was taking a bath when Dad came home
with a surprise for me. His face was lit up with excitement
as he fumbled through the bag for the package he'd brought
but my clumsiness comes from somewhere.
The box fell out of the bag and the bottle of cologne
(the same kind that he wore, of course)
shattered all over the tile floor of the bathroom.
He salvaged the other half of the gift, but it was useless.
Most pre-pubescent children would have no need
for the matching deodorant that came with the cologne.
He swept up the shards of glass holding back tears
with that strained grimace that encompasses our eyes
when we try to play the tough guy.
The slivers didn't stick in my feet
but the image buried itself in my mind's eye
for whatever strange reason that we subconsciously
choose to remember what we do.

Some of his failures weren't contained to the privacy
of our home, or what became his home after my mother
and I moved out. It was my little cousin's birthday
and we were headed to the party at a reception hall
somewhere out of town. Dad had the bright idea of
wearing small Band-Aids in the same place on our faces
when we walked in and to explain to everyone
that we'd cut ourselves shaving that morning.
It was another corny joke that'd make me cringe
if I had been just a few years older than I was
but it seemed normal to me since I was a kid.
It may have almost went over well if my old man
had gotten the right date when he spoke to my uncle
on the phone about the party. We'd shown up a week early.
The unknown family celebrating their function didn't
seem to notice as we snuck back out of the door
after realizing the mistake. When we returned
the next week, tails between our legs, neither of us
donned the bandages again, at least not on our faces.

Things only got more awkward after the divorce
as they tend to do. Some heartless scumbag
in the legal profession spit forth the term 'Visitation'
and implied that it was a valid way of maintaining
a relationship with the parent that the child does not
live with on a regular basis, in most cases the father.
It was more like some sort of parole program than anything else:
two uncomfortable dinner dates per week, every other weekend
in a house haunted with memories of a happy family
and half of Summer spent kicking rocks down the road alone
in a run-down town that my mother was smart to run from.
Despite the sense of being forced to do something
and be somewhere that I didn't always want to
I kept faithful to my duty, still managing to make time
to meet the old man for dinner once a week
right on up until two years ago at the diner
when I saw him last. It was not always fun
not always tolerable as my teeth clenched at sermons
and my toes curled up in my running shoes
that never met more than a brisk walk.
Sometimes it was a cheeseburger and soda for me
and coffee and salad bar for him. Sometimes it was a kid's meal
at Friendly's for me and nothing for him, being that his job
working with multiple-handicapped and retarded people
did not pay well (I already make almost double what he does a year).
The portion of chicken fingers and fries was more suited to
a younger child with less of an appetite, but it was hard to complain
when my fading hero sat across from me skimming the newspaper
pretending not to be hungry. It got to the point where it was such
a routine that the waitress that we had every week placed our order
as soon as we walked into the building. The big selling point for him
was that my meal came with a small sundae at the end.
I always got one-and-a-half scoops of Vienna Mocha Chunk
with hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry. He always ate
the whipped cream and cherry off of the top as soon as it came out
while pointing out the window to distract me
but again it was hard to say anything with a clear conscience over
a starving man who also wanted something to eat.
When they demolished that Friendly's
to build a supermarket years later
I was not in the least disappointed.

He wasn't always hard up for a meal, though.
His grandfather made money in the meat-packing industry
by opening a plant when he arrived in America off the boat
from Germany. Dad used to say how good it smelled in there
when he'd gone there as a child, but Upton Sinclair's famous novel
from the Nineteenth Century suggests otherwise. I guess we're all
allowed a few skewed memories. Anyway, my grandfather opened
a prosperous bar and restaurant in the Forties that thrived
right on up through the Seventies until it was time for my father
to take over. He turned it down after seeing how it had torn
the family apart. The restaurant was sold and became
a Latin night club, but it was not forgotten.
People who grew up in Port Chester, New York
during that era still remember Vahsen's Tavern if I ask if the name
rings a bell, sometimes having to add the descriptive "down by
the train station." The pewter mug filled with pens sitting
on my dresser bears the establishment's name and some sort
of false family crest. Dad told stories of the days in his young
adulthood when his buddies from his all-male Catholic high school
football team worked as bouncers at the pub, coming in to school
bruised but triumphant some Monday mornings.
Then there was the time when someone was threatening
my grandfather in the restaurant and my dad jumped over the bar
to protect his aging father just in time to have a chair broken over
his head, coming to with a welt and his old man patting him
on the back thanking him for trying to come to the rescue.
The wrong place at the wrong time and just enough zeal to blow it.
Sound familiar? Anyone want to take a Heinie to the face?
When he asked where that scar came from I panicked for a second
before he answered for me: "A box fell on you at the warehouse?"
It was a lie I was expected to make for his sake.
If he only knew how many times I've found myself in his shoes.

But his were even tighter on me growing up
since I had to wear them constantly. My Sunday-go-to-meetin'
shoes never fit quite right, I'd rather be stomping through swamps
in my sneakers than sitting in pews waiting for the sermon
to be over. Once a month they passed around the silver trays
one with crackers cut in half, the other with shots of grape juice.
I'd hold the morsel of food and little plastic cup for what felt like
forever until the pastor said the appropriate words and we were
allowed to partake. All I ever wanted was more grape juice. Instead
I had to sit through Sunday School and hear the same stories again.
They weren't new to Dad either, but his faith had recently been
restored. When an Alcoholic becomes a Born Again be careful;
hypocritical sparks fly. Most would rather have the drunk back.
That was part of the reason for my mom leaving him.
He'd try to pay for past sins in a literal sense by tithing
one hundred fifty dollars a week, pissing away his income.
Then there was the time he went out and bought
fifty shiny new tambourines for the congregation.
I still remember standing in my sandals in the church
parking lot, squinting to keep the sun out of my eyes
as I tied red ribbons onto the white tambourines with him.
I didn't get it, I still don't.
"What are these for, Dad?" My fingers were small then, I couldn't tie
as fast. "That red ribbon is the blood of Christ, son. Keep tying."
I did, but not with any conviction in my heart. Why did I have to
atone for his sins, too? Throughout our relationship he tried to save
my soul over and over, but only turned me off with his fanaticism.
You can't be a prophet in your own land, but things might be different
if he'd let me drink his grape juice, too.

The one heroic memory I have left of him is just another farce.
I was about five or six and we were watching TV together.
It was black-and-white file footage of a high-rise district
during the Thirties or Forties. My father must have known
what was coming next, must've seen it before.
"Watch this," he said as he pointed the remote control
at the screen and pushed a button that I previously thought
did nothing. Not even a second later the skyscraper in the center
of the shot exploded and crumbled to the ground in a controlled
demolition session that I was convinced my Dad had somehow
triggered from the comfort of our couch.
I was impressed with his skill and made sure to clean my room
and mind my manners extra carefully for the next few weeks
in case he decided to point the remote control
at me and push another powerful button.

And in a way, almost twenty years later, he did: