Iron and other ferrous metals.

"...and all of you
will spend this year
learning how to weld...."
he said from beneath
a furrowed gray brow
above two eyes
green with envy
for our youth
and opportunity
still not quite gone.

"...and you will do it
my way, the Right Way
since all of you
are here tonight
because this is the Career
You've Chosen."

I tried.
I swear I tried extremely hard
but it happened--
that damn uncontrollable smirk
that only God can wipe off
through His almighty smiting.

"You. What's your name?
Something funny about what I just said?"

Better judgment intervened.
I had a whole year
of apprenticeship class
with this authority figure to endure
in the basement of the union hall.

"No, sir. Just thinking
about something
that happened earlier."
'Earlier that day' was implied
in order to get out of trouble
but I was really thinking
of what had happened
a few years ago
and how that had gotten me
where I was, sitting in front
of this bitter old man
who swore he was going
to make a welder out of me yet.

What he said was too much to handle--
I didn't chose the pipe;
the pipe chose me
or maybe the bottle
made the decision for both of us.

"Well there's no thinking
allowed here, Kid.
Just welding.
And what did you say your name was?"

But before I could respond
my buddy sitting
across the room
opened his mouth:
"That's Shakespeare, Chucky.
We call him that on the job, he reads
in his truck on lunch break."

Chucky exhaled the smoke
from a cigarette he wasn't smoking.
"Shakespeare, huh? I've got my eye on you.
I can tell you're 'The One' in this class..."

He muttered something under
his breath about how there's
always got to be One Per Group.
I was too busy correcting him
in my head to pay attention, though--
"The One in this class?
I'm the one in a million, brother."

Currently reading:
"The Plague" by Albert Camus.


With all their groaning, what do dogs dream?

It was a relief that I saw coming a quarter of a mile away. His right hand was stretched straight out, perpendicular to his body, his torso pointed plaintively at the oncoming traffic. Every time I'd seen a hitch-hiker for the last several years they had always thrust their thumbs out too late and there had always been a row of cars behind me that'd hinder me from stopping so abruptly. This time was setting up to be the one, though, since he'd given me plenty of time to slow down. Besides, I was the only one driving at the time on that part of the two-lane highway that meandered through those orchards and farmlands. I pressed my boot down on the brake pedal and fumbled for the hazard lights button as I veered to a wide spot in the shoulder ten feet beyond the old man. One look at him scurrying my way through my rear-view mirror told me that this was a break that this fellow needed.

"Ed, I'll have to call you back." He sounded confused as I rushed him off the phone since I had already begun talking to my new friend who was jabbering something incoherent to himself as he opened the door of my truck. I hung up the phone and slid it into my pocket, taking time to absorb the character that I was about to meet and would probably never forget. The first thing that struck me was the stick. He had been waving it around with the hand not projecting his thumb when he hailed me. Now that I had an up close view of it I found myself having some questions that I knew I wouldn't be asking. It was a wooden walking stick of some kind that appeared to have originally been something else, perhaps a fishing pole. Bits of bright plastic were attached to the center portion and rotting shreds of twine were rapped around various sections. He clutched it firmly in his old bony knuckles as he took his sweet time climbing up into the passenger seat of my pick-up. I watched with horror as he jabbed his stick skyward and stopped just millimeters short of the fabric lining the ceiling of my new truck. Even if he'd punctured it I wouldn't have said much, however. It's a general rule not to threaten a man who carries a stick such as his. Women and children should probably avoid men who carry strange devices like said multipurpose mystery stick, but I was not afraid, being a six-foot two-forty construction worker and all. "Howdy," I said in a tone amiable enough to show good will while firm enough to express my willingness to make it home alive.

"It's just a ways up the road," the old man muttered from somewhere inside his deeply wrinkled face covered with a dense layer of white stubble. His anxious response to a question I hadn't even asked yet suggested that he'd been through this before and knew the routine. Suddenly I felt bad for worrying about his crazy-person stick.

"Not a problem. Buckle up, though. That beeping won't stop for awhile unless you do. Damn technology." He complied, or tried to, but apparently didn't understand my intentions. Pulling the seat belt over his shoulder and tucking it under his arm, he turned and faced me for the first time. "Yeah, that cop who hides up ahead is a jerk. Short, pudgy little guy. Real bastard." It didn't click in his head that the ticket was not what concerned me. I wasn't about to argue the point. "Aren't they all, though?" I asked, adding a forced laugh afterwards. "I'm Al," the stranger said, staring me in the face with his piercing baby blues. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I'd already gathered this information through my skills of inductive reasoning, or just the white tag with "Al" embroidered on it in red stitching that clung to the breast pocket of his haggard denim shirt by barely a thread. "Nice ta meetcha, Al" I replied as I turned off my hazards, put the truck in gear, and pulled back onto the highway. "I'm Dave." And sure enough, that beeping stopped shortly after.

It wasn't long before I came to the conclusion that Al was out of his mind, or at least did an Oscar-worthy performance pretending to be. I tried guiding the conversation in a logical direction but good ol' Al kept reverting back to that pesky cop that hides around the bend with his radar gun. His vehement hatred for this speed trap seemed funny since Al had probably not driven in quite a few years, which was probably for the best since I could smell it on him. The beer permeated through his pores and filled the cab of my truck with that unique scent of copper and bananas that only an old alcoholic can produce. He didn't appear drunk and didn't smell like alcohol itself, but barley and hops had definitely become their own food groups in Al's diet over the years, which in turn probably led to his need to hitch rides. I knew he didn't have his license because I'd seen him walking that road before many a time over my years of traveling it. The more I thought about it the more I found it surprising that this was the first time I'd actually seen him ask for a ride. My mind settled on the fact that his caving in this time must've had something to do with the ominous rain clouds rolling in over the hill and his lack of an umbrella, and then I started listening again since he was done complaining about local law enforcement for the time being.

"It sure is cold. Was beautiful today, cold now. Snuck up on me, this weather." I cracked a smile at my own sick pleasure with myself at having been right as to his decision to get a lift. It quickly faded after I remembered that pride is a deadly sin. "Yeah, it's supposed to rain tonight," I replied in conversational least common denominator fashion, but even my weather talk was not going to steer Al in any kind of predictable direction. This was a script that would play out according to how he wanted it to and the sooner I'd accept that the better of I'd be.

"Make a left here," he barked in a voice unlike the one he was using just moments before. It came as a surprise since it was his own fault I'd almost missed the turn and had to slam the brake and cut the wheel hard in order not to pass it. Al's demeanor instantly changed back to its happy-go-lucky and semi-insane self as soon as we were safely on his road. A broad grin smothered his face and a sparkle gleamed from the corner of his eye as he scanned the rolling green hills of farmland on which he'd probably spent a lot of time. This was home for him and it felt good. "Jackson Road," he blurted as if he was reading my mind. "Yeah, I've never been back here before. Sure is nice." I was about to attempt a question about the land when he shot his pointer finger out so rapidly and forcefully that it made a sound as it cut through the still air in the truck. "Deer! They're all over right now. People building homes, deer are all over." I imagined that Al had not legally held a weapon used in the sport for an even longer time than he hadn't operated a motor vehicle, so I didn't ask if he was a hunter. "Right, more construction forces them out of their habitat and the deer don't know what to do with themselves." It didn't click with him, though. He just kept staring blankly at the three does bounding through the field towards the forest. I didn't mind my inability to have a normal conversation anymore. There was comfort in giving up. Al was a strange duck alright, but I could relate to his solace in simple pleasures. The two of us watched the deer disappear in silence and I drove on, only more cautiously since I'd learned about Al's tendency to give directions at the last possible moment.

The barn seemed to rise up out of the ground itself. All of a sudden we came around a sharp bend and over a hill simultaneously and there it was, just as it probably had been for over a hundred years. The planks were in need of repair and it looked like it hadn't been painted in decades, but it was still standing, albeit at an angle that seemed to defy gravity. Just beyond that relic of architecture was a house in not as bad shape that relieved me for some reason. I slowed down in anticipation, but Al never gave me the cue to stop and I rode right by the ranch house. "Hundred and fifty cows here," he mumbled as he shifted his stick from one hand to the other. That was the first time that I saw the other thing he'd been carrying, a burlap sack. "Lots of cows but I can't ride one of them to the post office," he said in his attempt at humor. So that was where he'd gone? And what was with the empty sack? More and more questions flooded my brain as I continued to drive. It distracted me enough to almost miss the turn yet again when Al snapped "Right here!" as we almost passed a driveway leading to a shack. It was in not as bad condition as that barn, but not quite as new as the house. "This is my place," Al beamed with that same dreadful pride that had made me feel guilty before, only he didn't seem ashamed as I had over it. There was an innocence about him that I couldn't quite put a finger on, though it probably had something to do with humble years spent in solitude.

I pulled into the lot and put the truck in park since I figured it'd take him awhile to gather himself and get out of the truck. I was right. As he went to thank me I caught him off guard by asking a favor of him. "Can I use your restroom?" I had to urinate awfully bad and didn't want to have to wait until I'd reach my destination. "Sure, sure. Come on in," he replied as he hobbled away, his stick and sack now in the same hand in order to allow him to open the front door of his shanty. I could tell that he was talking to himself just by the motion of his jawbones that I saw from behind as I turned off my engine and stepped out onto the dirt. I didn't feel strange about asking anymore because it seemed to please him to be able to return the favor. Somehow Al and I had more in common than I'd first thought when he sat down next to me on the side of that highway, and part of me wanted to stretch out our encounter a bit longer if possible.

Al was about as big on formalities as he was on conversational etiquette. By the time I reached the door he was already inside and seated at a small table with only one chair. "Want some cider from the orchard?" he asked, throwing the stick and sack into a corner of the small room. "No thanks," but it almost didn't seem necessary since he had already started scribbling something down ferociously on a surprisingly pristine sheet of paper, his tongue sticking out of one corner of his mouth as the pen scratched the parchment hard. That cider was never a real option for me. In fact, that cider was probably still sitting down the road at the orchard. His offer was just a shallow gesture that his mother must've sowed in him when he was a child. I was OK with that.

I glanced around the room awkwardly for a few seconds trying not to seem too curious, but finally gave in to better judgment. "So where is it?" I asked of an audience that had long since left me. "Where's what?" was my answer, and I chuckled at what I thought was another bad joke. "Oh, right. The crapper." He'd really forgotten why I was standing in his home-- no, he'd forgotten I was there at all. All that mattered to him was whatever he was writing down on that piece of paper. "It's the door on the left." There were only two doors adjacent to the room and I was glad that my options were limited since further assistance would not be easy to obtain. His voice had changed back to that harried one that had first reared its head when I almost missed the turn onto Jackson Road. I was in his domain now, impeding him from doing whatever it was that was so important to him, which had something to do with whatever that arthritic hand was jotting down.

I walked into the bathroom, did my business as quickly as possible, washed my hands, and strode back out into that open room where he sat at the table for one. That's when I noticed something strange. All along the wall where I had walked in through the front door was some kind of sorting system. It looked similar to something a post office would have to organize letters, only the grid system was different. Instead of having zones or streets, the X and Y axes were curiously labeled with the months of the year and years themselves, dating all the way back to the 1960s. Each box in the matrix had been stuffed to the brim with envelopes to the point where it was almost hard to tell where one box ended and the next began, the thin wood being nearly covered by the fanned out ends of the letters. This man was clearly some form of farmhand, not a postal worker, which was a good thing since he obviously would have been late with his deliveries. What was the meaning of this? My better judgment succumbed again for no excusable reason and it slipped out before I could catch it: "What is all that?" I was afraid I'd just opened a can I wouldn't be able to close, but it was too late to turn back.

Al stopped writing for the first time since I'd walked in three minutes ago. He looked up at me, then at the wall of envelopes, then back at me. His head cocked to one side a little as if my question was a silly one. The five longest seconds of my life crawled by and his head straightened out again. "Those? Those are my ideas. What's your name again, mister?" He smiled wide, revealing spots where several teeth were missing, though the ones he had left were as white as the perfect piece of paper lying flat on the table in front of him. "Ideas?" I asked, still utterly confused and blatantly ignoring his question as to my identity since I suddenly needed to know what was going on in that tiny bungalow in the middle of nowhere. Al put his pen down, slid his chair back from the table, rose to his feet and walked over to his masterpiece. Choosing a coordinate arbitrarily from the rack he plucked out an envelope and held it up in front of his chest with both hands. "See? See the postmark? Dated, official." He flipped it around and held it the same way. "See this? Sealed." I started to comprehend what he was getting at but didn't want to break the news that this archaic form of cheap copyrighting would never hold up in court. That was an old wives' tale perpetuated mostly by people who would never have an idea worthy of laying claim to in the first place. "Oh, I see..." and let the last word trail off as if to show appreciaton for the genius of the man standing before me. It was evident that Al loved that charade because that boyish smile shot across his face again and those baby blues deepened. He turned to return his idea from June 1973 back to its rightful place and I headed for the front door. By the time my hand reached the knob he was already back at his desk and hard at work. I turned to thank him, but didn't bother. I knew he wouldn't hear me anyway. Al had big things going on here, whatever they were. I was only in his way. I understood that finally.

My truck seemed further from the house than I'd thought. As I made my way back to it I pieced together the facts: the old man still bursting with thoughts deemed important enough to save after years of living in isolation; the walking stick that helped him get to the post office in his worthless attempt to copyright his ideas; the empty burlap sack that was used to transport his treasures back and forth; but mostly, and to my greatest dismay, the tragic truth that no one would ever know what it was he was trying to say in those letters to himself and that they'd probably wind up in a dump someday, unopened. It broke my heart for a split second.

The truck started up, but the engine hummed differently. The final oddity came as I pulled out of the driveway. Just at the end of it was a post with a large tin mailbox, "LeGORY" painted in black lettering on the side. At first it seemed unreasonable that an absurd old man who lived alone in a tiny servants' quarters on a forgotten farm would walk all the way to the post office when he could have just as easily put his letters in that mailbox and addressed them to himself. As long as the stamp was on it the postal delivery worker would've taken it to be processed and brought it back. Then it dawned on me that I wouldn't have risked losing my life's work either if I could have limited the distance it had to travel outside the safety of my hands. One can only trust oneself in this world unfortunately.

I started whistling a song whose melody I didn't know I knew and drove off over the hill that hid this place from the main thoroughfare. "Good luck, Mr. LeGory," I said to myself aloud, which no longer seemed odd to me. "I'll see you again."


high speed ramblings over the air, vol. 1

the taste of blood in my mouth
from too much red meat
an autoerotic monopoly on God
one hand slicing the other

a coat left at my house
is its own license to wear it

and anymore there's no rush
quite like talking into a tape recorder
at eighty miles an hour.

oozing sex from the ears
and ailment from the eyes
ears popping with the elevation
of twelve hundred feet
and it's autumn in New York

like when you offer someone
a stick of gum
and they ask you
"what flavor?"

They suffer in silence.

It had been awhile
since she'd let me pick her up--
a typical specimen
with her own agenda
and little time for me in it.
I caught her off guard
in her half asleep state
rolled up in a mound
of fuzzy blue blankets.
Victory was finally mine.

She squirmed around at first
until I stroked her head
and between her shoulders
enough to calm her down
for a quick bit of affection.
Once I'd stopped, though
she seized the opportunity
and leapt from my my grasp
sprung from my torso
and landed on the hardwood floor.
It was only a two-foot drop
since I was sitting down
but the angle and force
at and with which she hit, respectively
didn't seem too accommodating.

My chores led me downstairs
so I left her to her own devices.
Half an hour later I came back
to check on her and managed
to pick her up again, cradling her
in my arms against my chest.
I moved my hand and saw
bright red blood covering my finger
then noticed two spots on my shirt
where she had been leaning.
I put her back down and inspected
her limbs and found where the blood
was coming from.
She must've broken a nail on impact
when she'd jumped before.
It had happened to others
I'd had in the past, but this was the first
time I'd seen her injured.
She hopped gingerly behind the chair
where she felt safe
and nursed her wound with her tongue.

I let her be for the rest of the day.
I knew she'd be alright, but it was hard
to watch her lose that precious blood
even in small quantities.
What shocked me was her serene
appraisal of the situation.
She'd never seen her own blood before
but it came as no surprise to her
and she mended herself as best she could
just as Nature embedded in her genetic coding.

The bleeding stopped in an hour
and so did the limp-wristed hobbling.
She was her same rambunctious self again.
We'd made it-- she'd survived and I still had my friend.
You can't say you've really loved something
until it's bled on you.


Chipped black nail polish and other things that turn my stomach.

We'd been working at getting
the plumbing up and running
for five hours by that point
after working a full day.
It was dark, we were tired
and dirty and didn't foresee success.
I called my mom at nine thirty
to ask if we could swing by
her place to shower
since going to bed
in waste water is less than sanitary.
I was shocked when she said no
since she was too tired to hear
the noise of the shower
and it was embarrassing to have to tell
my roommate that we'd have
to look elsewhere.
Did she want me to get a hotel room?
I said I'd call a friend instead
and hung up, disillusioned and confused
as to the meaning of blood relation
especially in a case of minor inconvenience
on her behalf versus our filthy plight.

Two days later she emailed me
as predicted, saying exactly what I knew she would
the same spiel about my selfishness
and unwillingness to see it
but I shrugged it off as usual
since reverse parenting
is so six summers ago.
I ran right over when she needed
something as simple as
a washer machine valve changed
which I'm sure her husband could've handled.
How could she not let me use her shower?

We haven't spoken since
and it's been three more days.
She seems to think I mind
but I'm used to losing parents now
and the main reason I even go there
most times is to see my grandmother.
Let her think she's proved her point.
I know where I still stand.

It's the same issue I've had
with any woman:
they don't comprehend
that I can hold out
much longer than they can.
I've learned to rely on myself.

Currently reading:
"A Happy Death" by Albert Camus.


a greater crime than parricide.

Tonight was the my first night
back at stupid plumbing class
down at the union hall.
It was just an orientation session
for designating schedules and doling out books
so we got out two hours early
but it still managed to leave me sour.

The coordinator of the apprenticeship program
a fake-tanned Italian man of fifty-five with a penchant
for fine scotch, expensive cigars, and leather blazers
was speaking in front of the fifty or so apprentices.
In his feeble attempt at professionalism
he mentioned an exam that the class about
to graduate from the five-year apprenticeship program
can take in order to receive an associates degree
in our trade, which is essentially useless
though it'd look good tacked to a wall next to a dirty calendar.
Only two members of our local can take the test per year
so it's up to the intructors to decide whom to nominate
from the unenthusiastic list of potential candidates.

Someone sitting in one of the front rows tonight
mentioned how no one went to take the test
last year anyway, implying that it's a waste of time.
The same heckler said that the one kid who would've gone
last year is the one who died in a car accident
after a night of heavy drinking at a Mexican restaurant.

That's when the feet started entering the mouths.
"Yeah, maybe he would've gone," said the coordinator
in his best Joe Pesci impersonation voice
"but that was yet to be determined by the instructors.
I just said that at the kid's funeral to make his mother
feel good."

I couldn't believe he had the nerve to say something
so audacious in front of the peers of the deceased.
It turned my stomach instantly and a buddy of mine
and I glanced sideways at each other simultaneously.
I didn't know the kid personally, but I recognized
the name when I heard of his passing
and came to find out that he was the older brother
of someone I went to elementary school with
who gave me a bookbag full of his older brother's toys
that are rolling around in my mother's shed somewhere.
We're reminded how small a world it is on a daily basis.

And on nights like tonight I'm reminded
of how cruel a world it can be
even amongst us alleged "brothers".

If they ever threaten to take my card
on account of my doing what I have to in order
to make a buck, scabbing it up on weekends and such
I'll tell them to make sure
to let that same prick do the talking
at my hearing so I can respectfully remind him
who dies in "Goodfellas," and why.

We would've known what to do if they weren't at their stupid Jehovah meeting...

For those of you who've lost faith in God:
don't count the Old Man out just yet--
He still smites, therefore He still exists.

Came home to what
for the sake of sparing you gruesome details
could be categorically considered
a plumbing disaster.

I know what you're thinking:
how perfect, since I'm a plumber, right?
See, 'plumber' is a term commonly misused
to describe my union brethren and me.
We are technically 'pipefitters'
who install piping systems of various sorts
that transport various fluids
so we don't encounter actual human excrement
quite as often as you'd like to assume.
Catastrophes such as this
still come as a shock to us.

My roommate and I
spent a good five hours in my crawlspace
snaking out waste lines in an attempt
to locate and neutralize the stoppage.
The trusty process of elimination
told me that the problem was further down
the main outside of the house
but the snake I borrowed didn't reach that far.

When all else failed we dug up the lid
to the septic tank and pulled it off.
Sure enough, there was our problem:
a massive wad of tampons.

If you don't see the irony in this
you obviously haven't read my last little number
which is probably for the best.
I have been punished for lashing out
against our Maker's finest creation.
Unfortunately, my buddy had to suffer alongside me
but hey, you know what misery loves.

So now, after calling out of work
to deal with the aftermath
I'm off to the supply house
to gather parts needed to reinstall our toilet.
And girls, for the almighty love of
He Who Speaks Loud and Clear via Ironic Afflictions--
try to remember not to flush your rag
down the toilet from now on.


On losing the taste for the sport.

It's a good thing I got out
of the game when I did--
I was beginning to hate
its ultimate goal.

Have you ever actually seen
one of those things?
Most are by no means attractive
and seem almost foreign
some alien life form
grotesquely slimy, hideously confusing
like a lobster's face.

The smell of most
isn't much better.
Even the prettiest girls
get a fair share of funk
where the sun don't shine
after a day's worth of friction.
It's nothing to be ashamed of, ladies.
Just be more appreciative
of the next guy who goes down.

And he will, in more ways than one
and that's my real gripe--
not the various forms of unsettling discharge
nor strange pasty stains on inside-out underwear
nor any other of the physical oddities
of that unholy hole.
It's the unfair advantage that you're sitting on
that really gets to me, and more specifically
its ability to drive a man over the edge.

Case in point:
Here lies John Q. Average, another sad victim
of the Vagina Conspiracy.
Dignity and reasoning
first to go, followed by soul and spirit.
"Bros before...nevermind.
I'm turning off my phone,"
and that's only the beginning of the travesty
of sacrifice that comes with the territory
that I'm relieved to no longer
let enslave me.

It comes when it comes
so to speak.
(For me, it may never again
thanks to this one.)
It goes more easily.
(Yeah, now we're talkin'!)

Free at last.

Just kidding, girls.
Treasure that goldmine.


From one Dick to another.

His name is Richard.
He's about sixty, though he could pass for
seventy-five, a retired local cop who looks, walks
and sounds like some sort of balding scarecrow.

From where I sit in my bedroom
I can see into his kitchen window.
He's drying a plate with a white towel right now
and as frail as the man is, every motion he makes
during every task I watch him perform
from the safety of my voyeuristic perch
is done with such deliberate fervor
as if to stake claim to something
that could be lost if he isn't careful.
Sometimes I want to remind him
that if it hasn't left him yet
it probably never will
but we'll never speak
since we have no reason to.

I'd wager money that you could find
a lint-covered piece of butterscotch candy
in the right hip pocket of his brown slacks
and in his left would be a receipt from the oil change
he got today for that car that's older than me
which it seems he constantly makes excuses
to drive around town as if he bought it yesterday.

His back yard is filled with other vehicles, sheds
and unfinished projects long since rusted beyond repair.
Toys his grandchildren left out fill the gaps in between.
His family visits him daily and I see his peppered moustache
dance above his flannel shirt as he waves goodbye
in his driveway every evening as if he won't see them tomorrow.
He knows he might not.

Tonight I see you, Richard
and commend you for a life well-lived
though I don't know your last name
or whether or not you've ever cheated on your wife
or your taxes.
None of that matters to me anyhow.
That Frankenstein fence you rigged years ago
has made us good neighbors.
But honestly, why is the light always on
in your basement?

Currently reading:
"The Stranger" by Albert Camus.


Being laid off isn't so bad. All concept of time goes out the window. Tuesday might as well be Saturday, and the fine State of New York pays for my laziness. That's not to say it's time entirely wasted. I've been catching up on my reading at least. And besides, I still work three or four days a week when the guy I work for on the side needs me to come in and bail him out. It's not a bad gig.

My stepfather, Craig, is also working for Tom with me right now since his sheet metal business is slow. The two of them go back twenty years so it's funny to watch them interact. Tom never refers to Craig by name. It's always "Good morning, Dickhead," or "Hey Mike, where's Asshole hiding?" And the gay jokes, can't forget the gay jokes. One time Craig made the mistake of saying "Fredo, my man!" to this Mexican gentleman as Tom walked by silently in the background. Later on in the afternoon Tom confronted Craig about "his man," and asked if there was anything going on between the two of them. Craig's not as quick with the comeback as Tom and usually just curses him out while storming away, tools clenched tight in hands. I absorb all of it and receive Tom's subtle winks with a secret pleasure.

Sometimes it's more akward than amusing to work with my stepfather and watch him be the butt of the joke. It turns out construction workers are perverts. There was a six-month period where Tom would not say "Good morning" to me, but opted for a more direct "Ya eat any pussy last night?" It was a comical way to start the day, and most of the time it was harmless. Until of course one time when I made a point to make Tom proud one night so I could answer in the affirmative the next morning, and after hearing the good news Tom took it upon himself to approach me and Craig as we were working. "Hey, Asshole. The Kid ate some pussy last night, I'm proud of him," at which point my stepfather and I laughed uncomfortably since my girlfriend at the time had just come over for dinner two nights previous. It's not so easy to switch back and forth between family and coworker at times like that, and things get even more complicated when the joke is on Craig since he's married to my mother.

One such instance occurred last week. It was unseasonably warm in the plant where we were working and all of us had walked back and forth for tools or material at least twenty times over the course of the day. Sweating profusely plus walking long distances equals chafing. As the bunch of us working for Tom washed our hands at the end of the day this subject came up. Craig mentioned how badly chafed his balls were. Another fellow, who must not have known our relation, told him to stop whining and have the old lady take care of it. Craig responded with "I can't, they're so torn up from working for Tom that she won't go near them!" What was I to do? Pretend not to have heard? Laugh uncomfortably? Express pride in my mom's better judgment? "Yeah, Ma, that's right. Stay away from those nasty red balls, you're better than that!" But instead I dried my hands and made sure to avoid eye contact on the way out of the bathroom.

And there it was. And so we are. God bless the American Way.


In loving memory of Jane Cooney Baker, who died before her time.

I'm so sorry, Sophie
and Olivia, it could've been grand
but none of us will ever know
'cause there was nothing quite like good times
at the expense of unsuspecting women
back then.

"Repent," he told himself
but it was not quite as easy
as getting rid of a broken toaster oven.
It was more like the aftertaste of milk.

It had been awhile since he'd heard from her
and he was hoping she said "He's a Hitler,"
but he was wrong, and the bruises
she went to work with for two weeks
proved it.

Then there was the one who'd pant his name
every other breath. She'd be reminding him
of whom he was trying to forget he was
while straightening her eyes
until the sun came up and the party rolled off
of their respective couches.

Again, the toaster didn't stand a chance
but I'm still brushing dairy teeth

and by the way, whose is that toothbrush
that's been on the vanity in my bathroom
untouched for over six months?
I'm throwing it out now.
This packrat lets go eventually.

Well, mostly.

It's a hard town to drive through still
avoided like the plague, the scene of a crime
the young Bohemian couples holding hands
because though I've since retrieved it in Another Form
I was robbed of something there once
and I blame it all on German engineering.

It's all just more
of the same soap opera
with less weddings--
a shoebox full
of many perfumed letters.

There are melodies lingering
in your head that you've forgotten
are there, but that makes them
no less real
and you no more innocent.

I put a knot in my hair
that I had to rip out
while watching a movie
the other night
and now I know how she feels.

I told all this to the rabbit
but she just cocked her head
and looked at me funny.
Our conversations have been
one-sided lately
the novelty of my presence
having worn its welcome
since I'm laid off and home all the time now.

So the King of Pronouns plays it safe again
though changing names and places
may still hurt the Dearly Departed
and more important Others.

A man like me has no choice.

Lo siento, Mi Amor...
con palabras como besitos.

You can't fire me, I quit!

It's an unseasonably warm October, yes
but where have all the ghosts gone?
My second day off in a row
after eight straight on
and I'm a greasy Puerto Rican
rolling around in bed with Hank and Teddy.
Trotted down the stairs in my underwear
put the thawed pork chops back in the fridge
since I was there, forgot what I originally
went down there for, settled on a slice of cheese.

The smell of strange smoke wafted through the window
and I bolted back down the steps, checking to see
if something caught fire on the stove somehow
but it was a false alarm. A look out the hallway window
told me what the problem was. Thick gray smoke
bellowed through three yards across the street
as an old man stubbornly continued to mow his lawn
with a constant cloud of heavy exhaust
pouring from his riding mower.
He rode out onto the street and I assumed it was to
stop the engine and inspect the problem
on non-flammable ground, but he turned right around
and mowed another strip of dying autumn grass
not caring if the whole yard went up in flames.
My hat was off to him for that.

All this commotion inspired me to put pants on
and venture into the real world to run some errands.
I knocked a book off the shelf at the first place I went
the silence being broken as it tumbled end over end away from me
and tipped over a sign at the supermarket afterwards
with the six feet of two hundred forty pounds of clumsiness
that I am. I saw a father in the juice aisle pleading with a toddler
to walk in a straight line and behave
and it frightened me to think that I can barely
manage my own self in public, let alone someone else.

I stumbled to the checkout successfully
after finding what I needed to cook those pork chops
and looked at the tabloid covers as I waited in line.
One issue had unflattering candid shots of female stars
sans make-up in some kind of selfish attempt
to make us ordinary people feel better about ourselves
for not being perfect. Fumbling my way through
the self checkout process and escaping that place
could not have happened fast enough.

But getting home was not as unhindered as I'd hoped.
I crept forward at the traffic light where I make a left
to pull onto my street and some guy was coming out
of the wrong side of the one-way lane where I had to turn
thus preventing me from getting my groceries home
as quickly as I'd hoped. I yelled at him and made
made suggestive gestures with my fingers showing him
which way he was supposed to go as I waited for the light
to turn again so he could get out of my way.
After I was done with my display of enraged bravado
he shrugged his shoulders innocently, his curly greying hair
bouncing a little, and I couldn't look at him after that
though I'm not sure why.
Maybe it was because he resembled Alan Alda from M*A*S*H.

Unemployment Insurance be damned.
I need to get out of here
before the bedbugs take over.


On rugburn and shirked responsibilities.

We were eleven or twelve
and on top of our game, so we thought
the railroad tracks between
the woods and the back of our development
being our access to the outside world
of retail stores and pizza joints.
The strip mall the two of us had to walk past
in order to get to the department store
whose aisles we haunted
in our baggy jeans and camouflage jackets
usually buying nothing
had mostly been abandoned.
It seemed that no store could stay
in business there, not even a supermarket
that had been shut down and cleared out
long before I moved to the area.
It didn't even resemble a grocery store anymore
its concrete floors stripped of tile
and broken light fixtures dangling like
swinging convicts in an old cow town.
But the hundreds of dead pigeons
that lined the floor like an extra dense shag carpet
are what really got my attention
trapped and starved to death
only to drop one by one to the ground
in that dark mass grave void of all life
except the quickly dwindling bird population.
Why couldn't someone leave a back door open
once in awhile to let them escape
or sweep up the bony piles of feathers
or paint the windows black
or at least cover them with paper
so people walking by did not have to see?
Sometimes I'd slow down to get a look
through the dusty windows at the dead pigeons
and my friend would tell me to stop worrying
about the damn birds and to keep up with him.
I did, until I learned that he was filling the pockets
of that army jacket and those baggy jeans
with merchandise from the department store.
I stopped tagging along after that
and he eventually got arrested.
The strip mall was demolished eight years ago
and a new one sits in its place now.
Once every couple months
I go to the thrift store there
for T-shirts, but that's about it.


Glancing sideways at my boxers thrown on the floor
the green background and billiard ball print
suggesting that it really was all just a game.
The drunken sex was so bad that I distracted myself
by trying to remember what numbered balls
corresponded to which colors
until finally it was over, and that was my life
in a nutshell for a few years.


For a day or two last week
some sort of beetle
was stuck in my bathroom sink.
I brushed my teeth and washed my face
in the morning and watched it swirl around.
I washed my hands after using the toilet
and watched it swirl around.
It never went down the drain for some reason
and I never scooped it out of the sink
because I didn't care enough to bother.
Finally I went in the bathroom and it was gone
a tiny leg bent between forty-five and ninety degrees
the only trace of its stint trapped in the porcelain.
I'm not sure if it was flushed or escaped
and I don't care.


People who tell you
that they're good people
usually aren't.
That's one rule
without exception.


On my last talk with the Devil.

"I want it back. It's not worth it

"Sorry, Kid. Doesn't work that way."

"Tough shit, Lou. Even you gotta have
some kind of warranty
if not a heart."

"Have you forgotten with whom you're dealing?"

"No, good point and good English...but come on.
It used to be fun, now it makes me
think too much
gets me out of bed at night
forces me to jot things down while driving
distracts me at work.
It used to get me pussy
now it just pisses off my friends."

"All part of the price you pay.
Should've read the fine print."

"I would've but it's dark down here."


"Cut me some slack.
It's late and this idea
isn't as original as I thought
it was in the shower this afternoon."

"Fair enough. Where were we?"

"Something about the trade I made
thinking it'd pay off in the long run
and the unfairness of the rude awakening
when I found out that no one can write
what they want all the time and get away
with it consistently, no one's immune
to the scrutiny of even those closest to them
and no matter how much a perfect world
would like to convince you otherwise
a writer can't just say his piece
without painful consequences
if he hopes to maintain any relationships
with friends, family, and the opposite sex
because self-imposed censorship
the filter between the brain and the mouth
well, fingertips
is the only way to sustain the balance
between chaotic creation and
a responsible product."

"Listen, pal, you got the better
end of the deal here.
I practically gave it away on this one.
Your number was as good as mine
according to those sixty-something souls.
This transaction was just insurance."

"Insurance in case of what?"

"In case later in life
you continue to follow
in your old man's footsteps
by choosing to go the way of
the Great Oppressor again
after you put them down."


"The bottle, the ego, the past
the list goes on and on.
You'd know it by heart
if you had the balls to call him
and level."

"Level. Plumb and square.
Oh, the irony.
You win again, Lou."

"Not in the Last Chapter, Kid."

And then we woke up.


Whatever you deem fit.

People assume the worst
when we tell them where we're from.
"Oh, I always see that place in the paper,"
but it's really not so bad, at least not
as long as you know which streets
to avoid and when.
Most of my fellow inhabitants
like the looks they get
during these conversations
like hailing from this locale
is some badge of honor
or like someone might get sliced
if the wrong thing is said.

There's a lot of history
in this city and its surrounding towns
that I could bore you with for hours:
Washington had his headquarters here
Broadway was the second city street
illuminated by electric light bulbs
and it was the first place
to have fluoride in the water
which may explain some of the natives.
Well, either that or the fact
that it was the first American city
to have crack cocaine introduced to it
back in the 1980s.

It's had many nicknames over the years:
The Crossroads of the Northeast
due to the intersection of Routes 87 and 84
The City of Churches
due to all of the steeples visible from Beacon
just across the Hudson River
but none of these associations
have any bearing on my biggest gripe
with where I live:

What really bothers me
about this town is the simplicity of its name.
For such a diverse and exciting place
it sure sounds like something dull
an unimaginative author would come up with.
It consists of two syllables
'New' and '-burgh'
that are typically
only descriptive parts of a place's name
but never the root, never the meat.
It is essentially a prefix and a suffix
combined to form one boring word
that falls far short of describing
what living here is about:



Every time my uncle Ray
comes to visit from Florida
he tells a story about me staying
with him down there as a kid
catching lizards to pass the time
while he was away at work.

Only somewhere along the line
his mind's eye gets muddled.
He claims to recall
a trick I allegedly did
where I'd con the captured lizards
into opening their mouths
hold them next to my ears until
they'd bite down on the lobes
and wear them as earrings.

I'm not sure where he conjured
this false memory from
but it sure is elaborate
for a totally incorrect story
though most fibs usually are.

Whenever he tells this tale
the people present in the room
always look at me and laugh
uncomfortably, smiling a little
while trying to figure out
how the hell a small child
would get such an absurd idea.
I always respond by glancing away
to avoid awkward eye contact

but never
not once
have I denied that it happened
however ridiculous a notion it is.

Sometimes you have to let people
remember what they want to
even when it didn't really happen
even when other people judge you for it.

It's the least I can do
for a man who taught me to fish
before I could even ride a bike.


I strangled that bluebird long ago, kid.

Hone your craft, oh soldier of misfortune.
Go west, young man, and prosper.
But if by chance you return with less than expected
they'll tell of your failure for decades to come.
So save yourself some time and pride
and beat fate to the punchline

though the worst part about
that kind of death is the logistics of it
more than anything.
The blood and the shit and the piss
on the floor, seeping into the cracks
and underneath the door
until someone you know and probably love
finds you and then someone you don't know
and probably cut off in traffic once or twice
carries you out in a bag
because it's their job.

That whole scenario is the frightening part
not the question of whether there are Pearly Gates
or a light at the end of a tunnel to be followed.
A stranger should not pack away what's left of you;
we give too much of ourselves to people
we don't know on a daily basis already.
Why honor them with those last rites as well?
No, it should be your best friend to cart you off
and your worst enemy to give the eulogy
since maybe then that person would be forced
to find some good in the you that once was
or at least pretend to for the sake of the service.

In the meantime I sleep better knowing I'm worth more
dead than alive these days, seventy-five grand
to my secret beneficiary.
At least she'll finally get what she deserves
in a good way, of course.
Somewhere on God's sliding scale
it'll all even out in the paperwork and dividends.
Until then it's a matter of more of the same:
hallelujah, praise the Lord, and pass the ammunition.

Currently reading:
"Living On Luck: Selected Letters 1960s-1970s" by Charles Bukowski.


Anchors Away

I was not made
to wear a shirt and tie;
my arms are too long
my shoulders too wide
and I sweat like a pig
wearing a T-shirt in October.
Who could take seriously
a pit-stained teacher
in too-tight dress clothes?
Or for that matter
one who can't say with conviction
that he never ends
his sentences
with prepositions
or leaves participles
among other things

But I do just fine
weaving in and out of highway traffic
in my truck on the ride home from work
windows down, wild hair waving in synch
with the blasting music
too miserable to sound good at such levels.
I dodge police radar
karmic car accidents
and the Good Lord's Lightning
with equal dexterity
always making it home
mostly intact
aside from a few burns
from the soldering torch
and shoulders sore
from humping pipe.

Still, that's not to say
that it's always open lanes
and exact change.

Sometimes it's like
that void in the sill
between the glass and screen
paved with chipped white paint
that grasshopper legs
and dead flies

but I've got to admit
that if the last fading rays of sun
hit it just right
even that grotesque scene
can be beautiful.

And at the end of the day
I'm always reminded
that I have friends
who turn the lights out
when they leave
my house at night.

Those are the best kind.


A day in the life of Frank Stallone.

Went to cash my boss' check that was bad last time I tried, insufficient funds and such, and was unpleasantly surprised. Not having an account with that particular financial institution, I had my license out and was prepared to stamp a thumbprint on the check as is sometimes required; this would not suffice anymore, however. The teller had the nerve to informed me that there would be a fee of six dollars to cash the check, at which point I told her how I felt about said monetary penalty. "No other bank has ever charged me for cashing one of their own checks. You mean to tell me you can't honor this piece of paper with your bank's logo on it without charging me six bucks?" It seemed like a reasonable question. "Unfortunately, sir, we just adopted this policy." It seemed like a cop-out of an answer, but I knew it wasn't her fault so I scapped up the money she had laid on the counter and walked out. If she had given me all twenties instead of large bills there would've been another problem, though.

Headed over to the Chinese food joint to place a take-out order for lunch. "Ten minute," the clerk said right before yelling something far more vulgar sounding in her native tongue at the downtrodden cooks in the back. I went for a walk since I'd left my book at home and didn't feel like sitting a table without some form of entertainment. A few shops down in the strip mall was a mattress store. Strolling past the large display windows it dawned on me to walk in and pretend to shop. The salesman paid no mind to me since he was closing a deal with a young couple. I found a nice specimen in a back corner of the large open showroom and proceeded to lay down. My eyes had just closed when I heard the front door open and close, presumably that couple walking out of the store. Cheap shoes on cheap tile headed my way told me that I was next on this guy's list, or so he thought. "Sir, can I help you find something you like?" His voice was so plaintive and weak that it made me wonder if this was his first day trying to sell anything at all. "No thank you, I'm doing fine shopping on my own," I replied as I removed my hands from their folded position behind my head and rolled over on my side to face the wall in the hopes that this schmuck would walk away for nine more minutes while I copped a quick nap. "Sir, I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to..." but he didn't quite make it that far before I faked some snores and he sauntered away, the rough friction sounds of his cheap suit almost audible. I thought I'd won. I thought that for a good thirty seconds until I was roused from a dream state by a firm poke in the shoulder. "Hey, I thought I told you to..." but that sentence didn't get finished either. I opened my eyes to a large bald-headed man in a form-fitting black T-shirt three sizes too small, the word "SECURITY" printed in white block letters on his chest. "Come on, buddy. Don't make a scene. We get your type here all the time." My type? And is it really such a crime to take a rest on a display mattress for ten minutes?, I thought to myself as I was escorted to the door. Do homeless men and teenagers too tired to ride their bikes home just yet really resort to this strategy often enough to warrant having a security guard present? The neckless wonder walking next to me must've read my mind somehow. "Don't worry, that Chinese food place is fast. Your order's probably on the counter already."

And he was right. The woman at the register motioned with her hand in my general direction as soon as I walked through the door as if to insinuate that I had been gone for hours and better get up there and pay already. I whipped out my wallet and forked over the cash, not worrying about the change at that point, and carried the hot paper bag out of the restaurant. My first total success of the day, and for a mere five dollars. That price was even less than what it had cost me to cash my paycheck! I grumbled obscenities to myself over the first few encounters of my day all the way home, and Stop signs seemed to read more like Yields. Sitting down at the table to eat calmed my nerves a bit. There was no soy sauce in the bag, but that was probably my fault for not asking. I chalked the loss up to experience and chowed down. Just as I went to scoop up one of the last stalks of broccoli in the container I noticed something wrong with the scenario. A small, curly black hair about an inch in length was beckoning to me from its hiding place in my food. I plucked it out and wondered what else I had already eaten, and tried to remember if any of those distraught looking Chinese men in the kitchen had curly hair or not. Not remembering for sure, but admitting that the Chinese are a fairly homogenous race and I've never seen a Chinaman that didn't have straight hair on his head, I confessed to myself the probable source of the hair in my food. Alas, even the exchange of the day which I thought had gone well had ended in my defeat. Maybe something could be salvaged after all if I'd only adhere to the advice inside the unopened fortune cookie sitting on my kitchen table in front of me. "Avoid taking unnecessary gambles," it read, and I tried not to choke with laughter as I swallowed the dry semisweet bits of ironic wafer. Maybe I wouldn't be venturing back out to the grocery store that day after all.


A Legacy, in 150 words or less.

Grandma knits lop-sided doilies
of yarns of many colors
since her mind left her
unable to spin her own ninety years worth
and her eyes left her
unable to see asymmetry.
They're pawned off on guests
bags and bags in the closets
a failed attempt to sell them
at a yard sale once thankfully forgotten.
Someday, when she goes, all those
who possess the multicolored monstrosities
will go on mad dashes through their homes
to get rid of the sad reminders
unable to cope with the tokens of her life and death
but not me.

I will be picturing her humming
those Spanish gospel songs, tiny wrinkled hands
working diligently at the yarn in her lap.
Her subtle sense of humor
her final joke on all of us
will not be lost on me, and I'll smile
knowing that I should celebrate her
last victory in the face of death that'd make
great generals fallen on the battlefield jealous.

the problem with this picture

A valley town can't hide its cemetary
nor a hamlet its whore
any more than a faltering prophet his fears...

"It smells like a family lives here," he said
as we marched up the stairs--
him to the shitter and me to the fridge.
I knew what he meant, had thought
the same myself seconds sooner.
The combination of his proclamation
and the motherly centerpiece on the pristine
dining room table made me feel bad
for heading to the kitchen for ice
to put in my fourth cocktail of the night.
But hey, the song was not going
to write itself, and someone had to melt.

...And maybe mine is that wherever
I wind up planting my roots
will never achieve that precious scent
unable to be faked, made only by years
of sacrifice and mingling bodies loving
unconditionally, as only they know how.