An early sign went undetected.

Over on the neighbor's porch
there's a cat that's been pacing
in the two inches of snow (and counting)
trying to scratch its way
through the sliding-glass door.

If only it were eleven already
I'd be watching with a drink in hand
and a chuckle in my gut
well aware of my status
according to the experts.

Embrace what you are.
It's all you've got.


trite and rote in equal parts

"It's like green eggs
and ham," she said.
"You love it or
you hate it."

The cavalry?:
A laugh.
A fairytale to put kids to sleep.

Like breaking plans with friends
and dodging family functions...

What a perfect word.

And what am I
to mention now?
Lots of the best
has come from Here
but I can't rack my brain
for the strokes that won't be coming.
The lights? The sirens? The whores?
I can find them anywhere, and have.

I'd rather hide out
between blanket and fan
waiting for the night shift to end.
Take me home, Montezuma.
You can drive my truck; I'll sleep.

"It's more like that cartoon," he sighed.
"An elephant's promise:
one hundred percent."


sans confectionary

In certain lighting
and from certain angles
I swear I'm back in time
though I darenot say where

...was the son of a preacher man.

Charlie dragged me along
to a lot of his Born Again functions
when I was a child too young to say No.
Playing catch in the yard
during weekend visitation
was not to be expected; "revivals",
"retreats", "seminars", "conferences"
and many other synonyms
for "Holy Roller nonsense"
were. I saw people "speak in tongues"
and pretend to pass out
when the traveling magicians
would lay their annointed hands
upon the sinners' heads.
In retrospect it was disgusting--
the farce of all farces
based on insecurity.

It seemed each guest speaker
each "minister"
(and I'll refrain from further
quotation marks to avoid redundancy
though you can assume they
are implied)
had some gimmick to set
him apart from the last prophet
or apostle to roll through town:
a new mantra for weak souls
to live by, a fresh-pressed pinstripe suit
or a direly important word from the Man Upstairs.

But it dawned on me today
some ten years since
I've set foot in a church
for anything other than
a secular tradition
that all of those men
had one thing in common:

breath so bad it
would've raised Lazarus.


Snow behind closed doors.

The bedroom door was locked
for a few disheartening minutes
at the party's drunken zenith--
it raised several stiff eyebrows
among the dizzy cocktail crowd.

"What's going on in there?"
a drinking buddy asked me.

"No idea," I lied, sucking harder at my rum.

The truth would've made me
seem quite the sudden hypocrite;
I prefer the slow-burn method:
such a tasteful crucifixion.

When the door opened again
we saw the tell-tale mirror compact
as it checked for evidence
but pretended not to notice.

"They were discussing Christmas presents,"
I fibbed through crooked teeth, well aware
he didn't give a damn about my gifts or me.
"All top-secret stuff."

That second line wasn't a stretch.

It's harder to feign naivety
than it is an air of splendor.


Take your pills.

Herbert Krinkstrom sipped what was left of the instant coffee he'd made and put the empty mug down on the night stand. His wife, Marlene, had recently made him switch to decaf. A mound of pillows supported him as he leaned back against his bedroom wall and sighed to himself. He knew Marlene be coming home soon. That woman was like clockwork. If only he could have a few more minutes of peace.

"Herb? Herb, why isn't the water running?" came her shrill voice through the foyer. She had barely been in the house for five seconds before she noticed his failure to comply. Could she hear the plumbing's silence through the brick exterior walls of their house? "Herbert, you know I like my bath at eight-thirty. Why can't you manage to get anything right?" Her words trailed off as she disappeared into other regions of their brownstone in search of nits to pick regarding the many short-comings of Herbert's less-than-productive day.

"Guilty, your honor..." he whispered to himself as he scrambled down the hall to draw her bath.

"What was that?" Marlene shrieked from some unknown location. "Herbert, I may have to start leaving you a list on the refrigerator. If this marriage is going to work, then..."

But he'd already closed the bathroom door behind him; gingerly, of course.

Herbert Krinkstrom sat on the edge of the cast-iron tub with his wrist under the faucet. If Marlene sprung through the door and caught him ignoring the water's temperature it'd be curtains for his evening. The detective program he'd planned on watching later on that night would no longer be for his viewing pleasure. If Herbert didn't straighten out his act, and quickly, Marlene would force him to watch her shopping shows. He knew this from prior experience.

The tub was finally three-quarters of the way full so Herbert withdrew his wet wrist and turned off the tap. Steam rose from the tub in what appeared the be the same rhythm as his heartbeat. Was he having another anxiety attack? Marlene wouldn't like it if she had to take him to the hospital again...

Rising to his feet, he reached for the make-up mirror on the vanity. It was a free-standing round affair, a thin rim of blue glass surrounding its circumference. The glass was dull and smooth like it had been washed by years of waves. Herbert though back to the sea-glass he and Marlene found on the beach during their honeymoon. It seemed like ages ago. He smiled briefly, until he remembered how that vacation ended.

Herbert lifted the round mirror to his face for the first time ever. To his horror his nose appeared to be elongated and bulging at the sides, his pores dark caverns filled with unflattering bodily oils. It must be magnified on this side, he thought to himself as he flipped the mirror around. Why would women want to intensify their flaws? No wonder they had insecurity issues. No wonder he was so miserable. No wonder half the male population of the city seemed to be homosexual.

"Herbert, stop zoning out with my mirror and fetch me some fresh towels," Marlene nagged. He hadn't even heard the bathroom door open. Maybe that doctor was right. The episodes seemed to be getting worse. No one would have to know about the prescription. No one but Marlene, of course.

"Sorry, dear," he plaintively replied. "I'll be right back."

By the time Herbert returned from the linen closet his wife was already in the tub. Five years into their marriage they stopped making love, eight years in she stopped undressing in front of him, and now she barely admitted to having a vagina at all. As long as things flowed undisruptedly Herbert didn't mind so much. He'd gone without sex for most of his youth; he could manage again in middle-age.

"Marlene, I...I'm sorry to have to ask this, but I really have to..."

"Oh, go ahead and use the toilet, you brute. You had all day to urinate! Why'd you have to wait for me to get home? You know how important my bath is to me, but you completely forgot to have it ready. Now I'll have to hurry if I'm going to catch the beginning of my shopping program..."

Checkmate. The shopping show. If a life-sized queen were in the room he would've knocked it over, preferably right onto his loving wife reclining in the tub.

"...and make sure you sit down while you do your business. I don't want to hear that awful tinkling sound while I'm trying to unwind after a hard day's work. Work. Ha! Remember when you used to do that, Herbert?"

His blood pounded in his temples as he sat on the toilet seat biting his lower lip until he tasted copper. The blow-dryer was still plugged into the outlet next to the sink. Maybe he could toss it into the tub and make it look like an accident. Hell, even prison would be better than this, he thought.

Once the final drop was squeezed he stood and buttoned his pants. It'd only be two hours until he got to go to sleep. That was the only thing keeping him from a jury of his peers and a twenty-year sentence in a medium security country club.

"You're not going to leave that in there, are you?" Marlene asked snidely, shattering Herbert's pleasurable prison fantasy. "Flush that vile stuff!"

"Sorry, my love," Herbert replied in a tone far from autonomous. He pushed the lever down and the contents of the bowl splashed out onto his leg as the violent flush cycle commenced.

"Now look at what you've done to your pants, you slob!" Marlene yelled, her hair lathered with shampoo. "You've truly gotten worse, Herbert. These zombie spells of yours are starting to worry me. Maybe it's time..."

He wasn't listening anymore. His Happy Place descended onto his consciousness like a warm blanket. Seaweed, Herbert thought to himself. He wanted to be reborn as a tiny clump of seaweed waving gently on the ocean floor. Even at the Jersey Shore.

"...and when you're done putting those filthy pants in the laundry basket why don't you go and call that plumber friend of yours and see if he can come fix our toilet tomorrow?"

"Joe's not in town, Marlene. He and his wife went..."

"Oh, for crying out loud! Enough with the excuses. Why can't I have a normal marriage with a responsible husband who takes me on vacations like Mrs....Mrs...What's Joe's last name again? Herbert? Herbert, come back here!"

As he cut the cable connection behind the television set Herbert Krinkstrom smiled knowing he didn't have any electrician friends. Marlene would have to lie through her lipstick tomorrow on her coffee break at work when the other women chatted about those stupid shopping shows.


The barristas sighed in unison, rolling bloodshot eyes.

"Babe, that's him!" I said
almost choking on my
Chocolate Truffle Espresso.

"Who?" she asked
turning around in her seat.

"Albert Taylor," I answered.
She knew the name well.
I'd mentioned him every time
we passed the McDonald's on
Eighth Ave where Albert and I met
three months ago at four in the morning.
I'd been chasing shots of Sambuca
with gin-and-tonics for five hours;
he'd been talking to himself
in busy fast-food restaurants
for a few decades.
Somehow the playing field
was leveled.

When I stumbled through
the Golden Arches
in a non-discerning search
for breakfast food or cheeseburgers
Albert caught my ear, my heart, my liver.
He was muttering to himself about
Xerxes, Thebes, Alexander the Great.
A sheet of music and three wrinkled
newspapers sat on the table
in front of him, a cup of black coffee
in his left hand.

Al was one of those intriguing black men
who could've been anywhere from fifty
to seventy-five. His melon-colored button-down
meshed nicely with the pinstripe suit he wore
and his gnarled, broken teeth sat between
his heavy lips making him resemble
a jabbering hippopotamus.
I sat across from him for at least two hours
listening to his passionate soliloquies
as I ate my Deluxe Breakfast Platter
washed down with orange juice from concentrate.
Twice I offered to buy him something
perhaps a refill for his Joe
but he fervently declined.
All Albert wanted as a soul to talk to, or at
and I was in no shape to refuse
let alone walk back and figure out
which of the three keys
opened their three respective locks
to her apartment.

By the time I managed to escape
the sun was coming up over
the jagged city skyline.
He was talking about the laws of Logic
after my failed attempt to explain the
Law of Syllogism when I finally interjected:
"Albert, the Law of Woman says I'd better
be getting home before mine starts to worry."
He kept on rambling as I rose and donned my coat.
I'd done my part in terms of exiting politely.
He'd done his in helping me sober up a bit.
The odds were in my favor again.

When I told her about my fascinating encounter
she shook her head and said I shouldn't
talk to crazy strangers while drunk
and alone in public. The beauty of
the scene was lost in my poor explanation
as is often the case with my limited abilities.

But now the man was back.
Out of seven million people
bustling about the Isle of Manhattan
I had chanced to stumble upon
this unmistakable individual yet again.
It seemed a gift from God.

"I want to say Hi," I told her
with naive enthusiasm.

"Don't bother. He won't remember you,"
she said snidely between sips.

"I know that. But I remember him.
Come on, I'll introduce you."

"Don't you dare..."

The conversation drifted elsewhere though
my eyes kept drifting back
to Albert's progress through the room.
All the seats were taken
at the overpriced chain coffeehouse
and that was all he'd come for.
After one disheartening lap throughout
the shop he made his way for the front door
and walked back out into the brisk night.
His lips didn't stop moving once
while he was amongst us. Albert
was just as certifiably nuts
as the first time I'd seen him, not that
this came as a surprise.
Part of me was glad to see the man
was still kicking. I thought of
how ridiculous I must've looked that night
sitting at his table listening intently
to all he had to say. Who was truly
the one out of his mind in that scenario?

"I should've said something," I groaned
shortly after his departure. "It's such
a random coincidence to be seeing him again
that it seems like a waste of fate not to act on it."

"No. You're better off leaving him alone."

Too many people already have in his lifetime, I thought.

We left it at that and went back to talk
of Russian literature
and all its confusing characters
and sub-plots. It seemed much
less substantial, though.
Dostoevsky spun in his grave.

Next time, Al.
Next time.

Currently reading:
"Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" by Hunter S. Thompson


The Lab

We were probably too young
to be playing with it
but my mother wasn't about
to confiscate a crazy aunt's
Christmas gift from a ten-year-old.
Besides, limiting the play area
to the back patio of our condo
meant less work for her
when it came time to do laundry--
no more mucky swamps
pricker bushes leaving thorns in clothes
socks drenched with murky pond water.
She didn't mind me inviting friends over
to play with the chemistry set out back
as long as I didn't make a mess.

The first thing we did when opening the box
was toss aside any and all enclosed literature.
A guided study of the chemical world
was not what we sought. Come to think of it
none of us knew what we were looking for
other than an alternate way to waste an afternoon.
We'd seen mad scientists mixing unknown substances
on TV shows and in movies before, what further
instruction could we possibly need?

The company did us the favor of dyeing
the six different substances bright and varied colors.
It made our pointless experimental endeavours
seem more dangerous and meaningful
when the crystals and powders
we spooned into tests tubes
were vivid reds and neon yellows.
Once we'd mixed a few together
and added some of the provided distilled water
it all turned brown, of course.
And when that special water ran out
we stole some from my mother's
bottle of spring water in the refrigerator.

I'd venture to say that the manufacturer's biggest
mistake was including the candle.
Matches were still illicit and coveted items
to children of our young age.
We were ardently preventing forest fires
as per one famous Bear's advice
and some of us still said our prayers at night.
All of that stigma could be disregarded
in the name of science, though.
Most of the concoctions we created
were boiled at some point, the metal tongs
provided in the kit being used to hold
the test tubes over the candle's flame.
One time when my buddy held the glass
too close to the fire the test tube quickly
blackened and exploded. We cleaned up
the evidence of our exciting blunder
and thanked our lucky stars that our
potion was not potent enough to blow off a hand.
Later on in life that friend of mine
became much more proficient with chemicals.

But when the powders and flakes and test tubes
ran out, so did our fun playing scientist.
Back to the woods to play Rambo, back to
the swamp to catch frogs.
All we cured with our brief stint in research
was a case of the Sunday Afternoon Blues.
At ten years old
what else could we have asked for?

His Masterpiece.

"Are you interested in pictures?" he asked
after catching me staring at the wall
of his apartment which he'd plastered
with the one person we had in common.
He politely left the implied "...of my daughter"
part out of his question. There's a grace
that must only come with gray, or so I thought.

"Yes. Please."

He led me into his room
where even more photographs
of his children, mostly his youngest
lined the perimeter. It was like
being on holy ground, or the inside
of a submarine.

"Here...this is me as an infant...right
above her baby picture."

Daddy's Little Girl, alright.
I almost chuckled at the symbolism
but couldn't cheapen his shrine
once I saw his silly grin.
We continued to admire
thirty years of beauty
framed throughout his room.

"God...that hair. It breaks my heart."

"You like her with long hair?"

"I like her either way, but yes.
How it was when we met."

"I like it short," he said
and once again I felt out-numbered.

We shared a few brief silent moments
absorbing her smile until he interjected--

"This one was taken at Universal Studios
when she was seeing that guy who..."

"Please don't," I begged, waving my hand
in his stubborn direction. It was no use.

"Oh, no. It's fine. She was with this..."
he continued with his signature lack
of social tact, let alone remorse.
She was right: he really was oblivious.
I pulled a trick from my former life as an amphibian
and sealed my ears to keep out the bad.
The past. The ones who did her wrong.
We stumbling knights in tarnished armor
always hate the men in ten-gallon black hats.

"How about her lovely tan in this one?"
I asked in a desperate attempt
to change the subject
that he was so adamant about clarifying.

"That's when she lived in LA with her brother."

"She's gorgeous," I said in a tone humbled by beauty.

"That's my girl."

I could've chimed in self-inclusively, but opted
to let him have that one to himself.
The photos proved he'd earned it.
Someday I'll ask if he thinks I could, too.


Love Poem, Redux

Most times
I'm not with you
I just wear
a hat.


I'd offer to help, but...

I'm not sure if it's his brother
or an in-law who's doing it
but someone has been taking
my recently deceased neighbor's
slacks and dress shirts
out to his garage
all morning.

Every twenty minutes or so
he takes a smoke break on the steps
looking out across the lawn
at what the buried man had built.
I wonder if he knows
that I know
what he's thinking.

It's a task that'll help the widow cope.

I hope I find a friend like that.
I hope they throw the clothes away.
Donation's overrated.

He's out there now, taking short drags
and talking to himself.
It's forty degrees, but he's wearing short sleeves.
The bald spot's slowly growing.
He's wondering who's next.
He just caught me staring.

The daring young squirrel on the flying trapeze.

The summer before last
was an odd one
if for no other reason
than the squirrel
that broke into our house
several times.
It chewed through the screens
of open kitchen windows
plundering whatever dry food
it could find on the shelf.
One time I came home from work
and froze as soon as I saw it
poised and ready
on the kitchen counter.
It scrambled back through
the hole it had made
after our five-second locked-eye showdown.
Truth be told I was just as startled as it was.

Casey finally managed to shoot one
with his pellet gun after
hours dedicated to the stalk.
Another screen was detroyed a week later
thus telling us an innocent party
had been executed.
Whether the death set an example
or the burglar squirrel found a new
house to terrorize we never found out
but the break-ins ceased shortly thereafter.
It was a good thing, too.
The next plan of action was one
a bit less discerning than the
single-squirrel assassination.

Casey called his dad in Virginia
who told him a story about the time
he wiped out the yard's squirrel population.
He let some oranges ferment in the garage
and threw them on the lawn
once the alcohol content was able to be smelled.
The squirrels ate the intoxicating fruit, returned to
the branches they inhabited, then proceeded
to plummet to the ground once the
booze ran its course through their veins.
Apparently their impaired motor coordination and blurred vision
made it hard to maneuver from limb to limb
and when they leapt and missed and fell thirty feet
it was no wonder that their cute little necks snapped.
Although the rodents went out with a buzz
and probably never felt a thing
it sounds a bit barbaric and I'm glad
it didn't come down to that.

We still can't open half the windows
in the kitchen because of the gaping holes
in the screens left by that one summer's tyrant.
That animal left its mark, alright.
It's more than some of us will ever be able to say.
But it's two in the afternoon and I can smell myself.
Maybe it's time to shower and stop this reminiscing.


It snowed through the night
and early that
but by five
in the evening
there was a rare
December thunderstorm
that meant something
to someone
or maybe
all of us.

Threadbare lush
in the belly
of the beast--
your fatal flaw
was falling in
love with that

The Japanese have a word
for it:
It means "Die well."

Duelling scars, duelling scars.
They can't take those
from you.

Currently reading:
"The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho


7 deadly texts to myself on the tail end of the Express.

The train stops and she gathers her things. I'm surprised-- doesn't look like the Harlem type. The black guy behind her stands, too. He does.

They exchanged numbers earlier. Maybe now they're off to his place to exchange fluids. I turn my head to the dark window as they approach...

Catching one last glimpse of her straight black hair and piercing blue eyes in the reflection. She looks like a Russian model...

Sounds like a raspy-voiced gift from God. I inhale deeply as she passes in an effort to identify her perfume, but...

It doesn't come. My head's turned away to see her; I can't breathe her, too. Though isn't that what Life is? Choosing to see or to breathe?

The chapter ends. I close the book. My choice is made every day: She's waiting at Grand Central for me, smiling like a schoolgirl.

I hope the two of them have fun tonight. Knowing what you decide not to have keeps that grass on the other side brown. It's got nothing to do with Luck.


Proposition 27

Any decent mind would be lying if it didn't admit to pondering how to pull off the perfect crime at least once. That's what keeps most people from acting on the basest of impulses to commit sins against their fellow man: the fear of being caught. Don't let talk of moral fiber fool you; it's strictly the threat of punishment, loss, and shame that keep us in line with society's rules.

You're in a big city, say Manhattan, walking behind someone. Through some strange sixth sense they feel your presence. Out of 7 million people, you're suddenly the only one who matters. You pass them at next corner, let them see your back. Give them that false peace of mind. Men have made millions doing the same. Then, once they feel comfortable again and take the lead, you strike...

But it's not as simple as that, killer. Like any game, like any play, there are roles, characters. Each one plays an integral part, and a poor casting job in any category can strafe the plan like a Spitfire. Let me break it down.

The Donor: If you're going to do this you have to be able to justify those eyes in the mirror. Don't make a victim of the person you're about to rob. View their loss as a donation to a cause, your cause, the most honorable charity around. Sizing up the Donor is crucial. Never let it be a woman. Ordinary citizens, even the meekest of men, turn into Batman if a damsel's in distress. Now that we've narrowed it down to the less-fair sex, Does he look like he's packing heat? Is that middle-aged Hasidic gentleman going to pull a pistol from an ankle holster hidden beneath the cuff of his black slacks? It's illegal to own a firearm in the City, let alone carry it concealed. Does he look like someone who would disregard that law? Does he have too much to lose if he's caught with a piece?, or could he buy his way out of trouble? And how would he handle the Handoff? Would he chase the Runner to try to regain possession of his bag?, or is he smart enough to stick with the Picker and try to have him caught and arrested? Runner? Picker? We'll get to them, don't worry.

The Picker: This is you, pal, if you're smart. First and foremost an analyzer of men, the Picker must select the right target. Part psychologist, part ruffian, part escape artist. He must know who and when to strike, how to overpower the Donor without lethal means, and, most importantly, how to disappear once the Handoff is made. A non-descript black jacket should be worn under a vividly colored coat, maybe a hat in one pocket. Once the Handoff is made and enough distance is placed between the Picker and the Donor to allow for a quick costume change that bright coat can be ditched and the hat can be worn. Anyone looking for a man in a black jacket wearing a hat in a city as busy as Manhattan may as well cut his losses and try to figure out a way to get his charitable donation to count as another tax right-off. Meanwhile, the Picker will be riding the subway peacefully right alongside a uniformed cop on his way home from work, neither of them appearing to notice the other. That look of innocence has to be convincing.

The Runner: He doesn't have the be the brightest, just fast. If the Picker does his job correctly all the Runner will have to do is exactly what his title implies; no thinking, no dealing with a potentially hazardous situation, no split-second judgment calls. A wide receiver whose mother never loved him enough to make sure he stayed in school would be perfect. Young, dumb, and full of...you know the rest. He'll be wearing sneakers, a T-shirt and gym shorts or sweats. This will make it look like he's running home from a work-out, again relieving any suspicions. The Runner will also carry a gym bag to put the Donor's parcel in once out of sight of any immediate witnesses. This, too, disguises the crime. The Runner must be able to be trusted, possibly even a bit naive-- just smart enough to know that trying to cut the Picker out of the score will not end well for him, and loyal enough to meet up at the Rendezvous Point once the smoke has cleared.

The Rendezvous Point will not be the home of the Picker or Runner. That would raise too many questions, draw too much attention, allow for too much interference from uninvolved parties such as friends, family, and significant others. Instead they are to meet at a pre-determined movie theater where they'll each buy one ticket, cash, for the least popular film playing an hour before the reels are to roll and find seats in the back row. There, in the dimness of the theater, the Score will be divided. It's best for the Picker and Runner to meet shortly after the hit is made. Stacks of statistical anecdotes prove that a Runner in sole possession of the Donation for too much time is more likely to do something foolish. A gold-digging girlfriend may make poor suggestions, the little devil on his shoulder may get the best of him, a temporary lack of clear thinking may lead him to believe that the Picker would hesitate to hunt him down in a heartbeat. After all, he selected him as a partner in the venture with the possibility of that happening in mind. What's that they say about keeping friends close?

And then, of course, there is the inevitable. Come on, you've seen enough mob movies to know what happens in the back of that dark theater before the law-abiding patrons show up. I'll leave that part up to your imagination, though. I've laid enough out for you already. Suffice it to say that the Picker wore such a wide-brimmed hat for a reason, as security camera analysts will later find out.

It's been ten weeks since I've worked. The bills are piling up, the upcoming holidays are hard on my wallet, and I've had too much time to think.

So here it is, the obvious question:

Do I know any good sprinters who can be trusted?

No need for a fence.

All day long they came and went;
from the safety of my elevated window
I watched the procession of big dark sedans
park in front of the neighbor's house spewing
sharply dressed septuagenarians with shoes freshly polished
clothing coal black, hair tombstone gray.
The way that they carried themselves proved they were cops
or had been at one time. The way that men congregated
in the driveway told me that something had gone wrong.
People don't stop to chat outside in the cold
unless there's a reason, something to know before going in:
how it happened, how the family's holding up, what not to say.

Even a patrol car or two stopped by, potential speeding tickets
be damned.

All those cops in one place clarified what had happened.
They were paying their respects.
When a police officer goes it's a big deal.
A Fraternal Order indeed.

Richard was a retired cop.
Rumor has it he chased around my buddy's dad years back.
The stroke he'd had ten years ago forced him to leave the force.
The cigarettes he continued to smoke against doctor's orders
took him out of the game in one sense, kept him in it in another;
at least he was still doing it his way.
That's more than most can say.
And he didn't give a damn that his moustache was jet black
while his hair a mottled gray. He walked around his property
thinking and smoking and kicking up leaves
without a worry as to what it all could've meant.
He'd put his time in. He'd served.
What else did they want from him?

This may be the first thing written in your honor
aside from a modest obituary in a paper people only read
for lack of a better one. I apologize for its shortcomings
as would I like to say I'm sorry for that party early on
where your wife came knocking on our door, or my failure
to shut the blinds a few times, and I'm pretty sure
there were several instances where I could've waved
as you drove by in your boxy twenty-five-year-old car
but didn't.

Light one up for me, Rich.
I'll keep my eye on the place for ya'.

Currently reading:
"Lucky Jim" by Kingsley Amis.


The one from Arizona's better off.

Googled myself on the interweb
for sobering shits and ha-has
only to find that I played
in a lot of lousy bands as a kid
and for the Navy's football team.

I'll go with the latter half
and pat myself on the back
for keeping a family tradition alive.

I'll stick to what I know next time.


Don't fall for the peanut butter.

We hear a loud snap
in the next room
followed by the sound
of wood and hardware
bouncing off the floor.

I stop what I'm doing.
She stops what she's doing.

"There goes the mouse trap,"
I say from beneath the sheets.

"Go make sure it's dead,"
she replies, her breath catching up with her.

"No. I don't want to. It'll make me sad."

I go back to what I was doing.
She goes back to what she was doing.

Five minutes later her thighs deafen me.
We've won again.

In the morning I go into the bathroom
to take a leak
and find the mouse belly-up
its head hidden under the trap.
I'm thankful not to see its face.

It was a good night
for some of us.

The rest broke even.


The Home Team

We'd already been playing cards
for three half-drunk hours when it happened--
there was no way to call the tie
without the aid of Rock Paper Scissors.

The two of us threw the same
for six consecutive rounds.
When the seventh came
and my paper covered his rock
he leaned back in my kitchen chair
immediately falling to the floor
when it exploded underneath him.
The rest of us joined him on the ground
rolling around in laughter
till the tears came.

Turns out we still think a lot alike
though in the long run
I'm not so sure
that I'm the one
who won.

You take what you can get sometimes.


Faulty Zookeeping

It's as inevitable
as Death and Taxes
that one day I'll come
home to the cat
dragging the rabbit's corpse
around by the back of its neck
the gate dividing their two realms
having been knocked down
by the persistent predator.

Who's fault will it be?
Mine? God's?
Certainly not the cat's.

I'll have to
chalk it up
to the advice in
the Serenity Prayer.

She must feel it coming--
Her ears just spread apart
and her nose stopped twitching.

Sorry, friend.
It's been real.


Like a bird trapped in the grocery store.

And I could write
of bathroom ties
or what the survey really said:

The twenty pounds scared off of me;
begged and bound we fell from grace.

You should've lied
the first two times--
found another number.

Dragging feet through No-Man's-Land
I find this message in the sand:

You can take your brogue
and shove it.


There's arsenic in apple seeds.

It's a full-mooned Tuesday night
that'd blend in with the rest
if my roommate hadn't asked me
if I'd heard the choppers

The President's in town
giving a speech at West Point
trying to justify his decision
to send 36,000 troops overseas
when he initially promised
to Bring 'em Home.

Any voter worth his lead knows
that vows made in No-Man's-Land
don't count.

I turn off my bedroom light
and crouch down low enough
to get a good view through my window.
There's nothing but the whir
of the rotors and a dazzling white face
made of astral cheese.

Another liar in the sky.

I go back to my book
and stroke my semi-automatic.
Just another night stockpiling ammo
waiting for the other shoe
to drop.

A friendly suggestion.

There's a junk sale
passed off as an antique-oriented street market
that goes on one block up
from her window every weekend.
The vendors come from Massachusetts.
The locals there must be onto their ruse.

I strolled through the tents and tables
two weeks ago to kill an hour
while she slept off the previous night's shift.
Bought a table vice for fifteen bucks
that'll hold my pistols just right
while I work on them.
Flipped through some "vintage" clothing racks.
Read spines of books I'll never bother to read.

But it's the guy I overheard
at the last table I stopped in front of
who stands out most in my mind now.
He was chatting up a merchant
about something other than his wares
and said "If I'm going to put something
on my tombstone it's going to be Try."

His words hit me like a laughable ton of bricks
forcing me to rub the tattoo of the boxer
on the back of my left arm. That image
along with the words "Don't Try" are on
the marble above Charles Bukowski's grave
somewhere in Southern California.
Whether the brief advice was a typically
cynical notion of my wine-guzzling anti-hero
or a positive Yoda-esque message of
"Try not. Do." is something that could ruffle the panties
of book snobs worldwide at faculty cocktail parties.
My bet's on the first horse, though.

Hank-- the next time I see you in the streets of Manhattan
will you take the time to say Hello?
These clowns don't have a clue.



And so they takes pages from
the book of my father:

I'd rather be hated
than forgotten.

Do the Devil's clothes
smell of smoke, too?

Currently reading:
"'Tis" by Frank McCourt.


It's no Water into Wine, but...

"How'm'I s'posed to shave in here?"
I shout over the hiss of the shower.
"The mirror's all fogged up."

"Rub some soap on it," she replies
in between shampooing and conditioning
with a nonchalance a Buddhist monk would envy.

I pick up the bar next to the sink
and take her advice
mumbling doubts under my breath.
Sure as the sunrise
it works: I can see my ugly mug
more clearly than I'd like to.

"Thanks, Babe," I offer meekly through the plastic curtain.

"No problem," she responds with a splash over the rod.
"Now hurry up and shave so you can get in here."

It's the first of many miracles that I'm sure are yet to come.


She's working nights
at the hospital
and I've been laid off
for two months
so what better place to be
than her room in the city?

I've already walked her to work
at seven this evening; now I'm
visiting her wing at two in the morning
since there's not much else to do
alone in her queen-size bed but read
and my man's going through a slump
that I don't feel like dealing with at the moment.

I'm in the elevator on my way up
to her floor. The old Hispanic security guard
standing at the opposite corner of the chrome affair
is staring at me politely with an innocent grin
that has me wondering why.
My reflection warrants no such welcome:
my black wool coat zipped to the throat, thick
brown beard and black wool watchman's cap
make me look like a wayward sailor
or angry cartoon henchman--
not the type to be studied and made light of
in a dangerously secluded public place
like an elevator. Confusion overtakes me
and then he clears his throat.

I have a hard time understanding him at first.
He's obviously spent most of his life
on whatever Caribbean island he hails from
and has not bothered to master the language.
All I can gather from his broken English at first
is that he's quite foolishly happy to see me.
The white hairs highlighting his gentle moustache
and eyebrows twitch with enthusiasm.
It's enough to make The Man in Black
ditch the chipped shoulder and listen a little harder.

"You look exactly like an old friend of mine, Manuel Garcia.
He was my sparring partner when I used to box.
I haven't seen him in forty years. Exactly like him...
It warms my heart."

"Yeah?" I ask inconclusively, still trying to decipher
how to appropriately respond to this stranded stranger
at two in the morning in a city that falsely claims not to sleep.

My sunken chestnut eyes find themselves
in the polished steel wall of the elevator.
They're ashamed for not knowing what else to say to this man
who clearly yearns for words that won't be coming.

"Have a good night," I mutter unaffectedly.
It's a cop-out, but my floor's arrived;
or rather, I've arrived at her floor.

He's too busy smiling at a memory to answer my arbitrary words.
Our chance meeting has made his night, no thanks to me.
Somewhere in a wooden box barely buried by Atlantic sand
Manuel Garcia's skull is smiling back.


Someday every Sunday.

Horseradish cheddar washed down
with mid-priced white wine
mostly naked in her mother's house
with the prematurely fading sun
begging through the windows
and all I can find to sum it up
is that first piss after
the second good lay of the day.


An evening, self-contained.

I saw the blues
through a fogged bar window
and apologized for the hardwood floor.
Whether or not
it flew
was irrelevant.

Drank all the spiced rum
in the joint, switched to Canadian Whiskey.

Tim said Yes so I did:
An old tactic, a cheap trick.
It cost us the monsoon season.

We passed a house
on our sober ride home
where I make the lights stay on
or used to.
(Work's slowing down, you see.)

And all night long
behind a soldered buckle
hollow-points fought
the tension of the spring.


Fun with phonetics.

Why the State of New York
requires these stupid plumbing classes
to deem our apprenticeship program
accredited I shall never know.
It's a sadistic cross between watching paint dry
and witnessing your friends' balls get ripped off
well knowing your turn's next
for three hours a night, two nights a week, five years.
And at the end of it all the eight of us will get our books
have our cards, become journeyman, mechanics
sit on the list waiting to go to work
like the other three hundred bums already there.
My kids will go to (and stay in) college.

"Alright, guys," says my overzealous teacher. "If
an eight-inch pipe is full of unsaturated steam
at three hundred pounds of pressure, what do I have?"

"A hard-on," I say without thinking twice.

The rest of the class laughs in agreement.
My teacher is forced to accept this truth.

"Maybe, but what else?..." and the doldrums trudge on.

Two hours later I've finally managed to fall asleep
with my eyes open when the Soapbox Pipesmith
decides to call on me.

"If a thermal steam trap is stuck in the closed
position, what is it?"

"Fucking hot," I reply after waking from my
fantasy. The peanut gallery remains faithful
saving me from punishment, though that'd
have a hard time competing with what
I'm already being subjected to here
in the name of tradition and state-alotted money.

My teacher gives up on getting a straight answer
out of me and calls on the sorry bastard to my left.

"Jimmy, go ahead and read the second paragraph."

Jimmy blinks his eyes as if it'll help him keep
the smell of beer from wafting from his throat.
It appears he's having flashbacks from
both years he spent in the third grade.

Half-way through the paragraph
Jimmy's questionable reading skills choke
on what is arguably a toughie.
"This reaction is...is...ANAL-OH-GUESS.
ANAL-OH-GUESS? What the fuck kind of
word is that?" he asks in half-drunk frustration.

Two of my classmates look at me.
"Come on, Shakespeare," quips the guy
I've worked with most. He used to catch me
reading my car on lunch break. The nickname stuck.

"ANNAL-UH-JUSS," I mutter, my teacher's eyes
glued to my lips in humbled envy. I follow it up with
"Comparable" to clear any doubts as to the meaning
as eyes widen and grow bright with anger.

"Why the fuck would they use that word in a pipefitting book?"

"What's the sense in that?"

"What are we? Fuckin' scientists?"

"Why not just say 'comparable'?"

"Why they gotta fuck with me?" asks Jimmy
before finishing "his" paragraph.

All valid questions, really
much akin to
"What the fuck am I doing here?"

The answer comes to mind
as I look up just in time
to see the perfect pearly whites
in my teacher's mouth
shine with a devilish grin.

He's won for the night.

Confessions of a ne'er-do-well wordsmith.

I know I lose the meaning
and take the words too far--
the analogy, the image, the adjectives...
I run the theme pool dry
trying desperately to make sense
of what can't be generalized.

And for these sins, my guilty brothers
mea fucking culpa.

Forever doomed to flounder here
with the saddest lot--
fumbling half-talents of the world
never discovered to be forgotten.

But hey, it keeps me from masturbating...




My mother called tonight
just to tell me that
she'd cancelled our Thanksgiving
but had a frozen turkey
for me.

"Grandma's been beating
on the walls at five a.m.
and I've been searching
for a hole big enough
for me."

We still have some things in common.

My grandmother's reverting
to a child, my mother's rebelling
and I am growing older
by the minute.

And so I'll join the ranks
of the hapless twenty-somethings
deprived of a tired seat on the couch
for the Dallas and Detroit games.

Alas, the last holiday I held sacred


The hand that feeds.

Rabbits are silent sufferers.
Their vocal cords aren't developed
enough to make the sounds
that other creatures of similar size
are known to make.
The occasional grunt, a primitive-sounding
attempt at vocalized discontent, escapes
their heads once in awhile; other than that
the only time you'll hear a rabbit
make a peep is when it's mortally wounded.
And in those brief moments before death
it more than makes up for its years of silence.
I've seen a few flail around convulsively
as they squealed their last breaths.
It's something that sticks with you.

I squat down next to her cage
and rub her nose, the valley on top of her head
between her bulging eyes, the notch
at the base of her skull where her ears protrude.
She bows her head and lets me pet her
in a rare display of submission.
The tolerance she's showing is
not to be confused with affection.
After half a minute it becomes too much
for her feral nature to bear
and she grinds her teeth in muted frustration.
I give her soft beige fur one last stroke
and retract my hand from her cage
in order to respect her desire to be left alone.
Still, not a sound from her crouched five pounds.
She remains motionless as I turn and enter my room
a rigid statue of an ironically cold-hearted animal.
Only now do I hear her munching on some hay.
Things are back to normal in her world again.
Sometimes I feel bad for disrupting that continuity.
This strangely unrequited love is something
I've grown used to somehow.
I hope to never have to do that again.

Rabbits are silent sufferers.
I wonder whether or not its a classic case
of opposites attracting.

South Sea Pearls

Something strangely chilling
about the word 'ribcage'
makes me shudder to think:
What's it really holding, anyway?

Optimists and onanists agree:
Somewhere there's a world
where mice die of natural causes;
where no one really knows
who cast the first stone;
where history repeats more slowly--
But don't bother calling your local travel agent.

Although I'm not a Catholic
at times I feel as though
I gave something crucial up for Lent
and never got it back.

I blame it all on a number of things
inflation and the diminished value
of the Chinese Yen included.
Don't you?

Currently reading:
"The Life of Pi" by Yann Martel.


Fool's Gold: Twenty at Twenty-five.

I was rolling around
on tie-dye sheets
in a tiny expensive room
dimmed by drawn shades.
Strings of Christmas lights
my mother had sent with me
for my foray into college life
tried their hardest not to
shake their heads in shame.
It was easy to ignore
as other issues usually took prevalence:
nine-times-out-of-ten I was
hungover or still drunk from
naively sweet whiskey sours
and I had trouble keeping food down.
The smell of bourbon
still turns my stomach
five years later.

The familiar "cha-ching" sound of
a cash register that meant she'd signed on--
I was waiting for that noise
as much as I was dreading it.
Regardless, I'd perk up.
Maybe she'd reconsidered.
Maybe she'd say hello, ask how I was.
Maybe I could put up a new pathetic away message
to punish her with the guilt that only I deserved.

A good thirty pounds packed
themselves on between
the desperate months of
October and January of that year.
Various victims between then and now
would see me in different weight classes.
Gone was the sleek seventeen-year-old.
The stretch marks they'd find
later on under the hair
came from that period;
the scars under the tattoos--
yeah, those too.
I'm thankful there aren't many pictures.
Part of the reason
I have yet to own a camera.
Hoping that might change.
I'm ready.

When that Stones song came on at a bar
I'd down my drink and buy another
even though Mick got her name slightly wrong.
We never tried. I never tried.
I am this time.

And truth be told
I forget what she smells like.
Guess that means it's finally over.

There's a new standard in town
and I know she's here to stay.

Praise the lord.
Pass the ammunition.


No cork in the wine.

"My, what a pretty lake of death you have..."
he squandered as the emeralds grew deep and dark.

Later on that week they laughed the ghosts away
from half-way point hotel beds

and the beach at Acadia was fine, just fine.
(There was no cork in the wine this time.)

Surely his uncle is missing out.

Currently reading:
"The Continual Condition" by Charles Bukowski.


fer da chilluns.

snow leopard, snow lion.
why's that crocodile cryin'?

is it 'cause he's missing out
on what he knows he cannot have?
or is he just now finally seeing
that it wasn't in the bag?
are there many captions calling
his senses all apalling?
or does he know too much
for a lizard in the sand?

snow leopard, snow lion.
you ain't the only one who's dyin'.


Now that's what I call quality customer service.

"So, Mr. Vahsen...now that we've cleared up your phone's service difficulties and established your hundred-dollar contract renewal rebate...is there anything else I can help you with?"

"No, Gary. Not unless you can straighten out my girlfriend." I was standing in her kitchen gazing towards her bedroom door as I said it. She was on the other side of it sobbing under the comforter. Both of us were guilty for our own reasons, though neither of us cared to admit it. We'd get over it; we always did.

"Ha! I've got a hard enough time with my wife."

Gary and I were still laughing when we hung up our respective phones. A little anonymous guy-to-guy therapy. And somehow, when we opened those doors again, it wasn't so bad since we knew we weren't alone.

Can you hear me now?

Yeah, Gary. Loud and clear.

Currently reading:
"Bless Me, Ultima" by Rudolfo A. Anaya.


Botched Recipes

"A lot of short skirts out tonight," I say as I notice the cabby's eyes wandering the sidewalk.

"Yes, a lot of freaks."

His response is succinct. I can't tell if he appreciates my effort to break the silence or not. This one's not talking on a hands-free cell phone in his native tongue, maybe he could use some conversation. Maybe we all could use a good talking to.

It's Halloween in the City and the gals are dressed to the nines. He calls them freaks, and in his culture they probably would be considered so. I think about how strange a custom the holiday is and try to imagine how ridiculous it must be to the man driving me home. It starts to matter less and less as the street numbers climb, as the avenues rise. I'm almost where I want to be: back with my own little freak.

The car ahead of us has a bumper sticker on its dented trunk that seems redundant and pointless at first. "I <3 My Wife." I think about it for a second and realize its implications, the novelty of such a statement in this day and age. The light turns green and my driver gives hubby a good lean on the horn to wake him up. The back of his head isn't visible from behind. He must be an old man, probably married fifty-five years to his high school sweetheart. It's easy to forgive him for not letting up off the brake so quickly; it's just as easy to understand the cabdriver's frustration. Time is precious to both men, though for different reasons. Twenty-five years have taught me enough to grasp the importance of considering the source, trying on the shoes. Forgive. Forgive. It's all we can do.

I'm fumbling through my wallet for small bills as the cabby and I pass a yawn back and forth. There's no language barrier when it comes to sleep. I decide to tip him well. He thanks me in a genuine tone that only a foreignor can pull off successfully. The hallway in the apartment building smells like ethnic foods from around the globe, all of which are loaded with garlic. My stomach growls as I let myself in with a turn of the key.

She's still asleep. Last night's shift was a rough one-- only three other nurses on her floor as opposed to the usual six. I rummage through the refrigerator and cabinets in search of ingredients for the meal I'm about to make. The smell of food might rouse her from her slumber. If not it's no big deal. I understand. Forgive.

I've been laid off for almost two months, the occasional side-job here and there: a bathroom addition, a gas manifold in a new restaurant, some blown heat lines, a boiler, a curiously named hot water heater. Just enough to supplement my income. I can pay the bills and have some cash left over to play, but I'm not exactly rolling in it. She's the breadwinner right now, and that's fine by me. It feels good to breathe easier knowing I ain't no Atlas. Not all the time, at least.

I crack two eggs into a metal bowl, scramble them, assess the amount, then add another. There's a red bell pepper in the fridge. I slice half of it into the bowl, toss in some green olives, grate some jalapeno jack. A half can of refried beans hisses in the frying pan as I spoon in some leftover rice.

(Pay attention now; here's where I mess up. Again.)

I pour the contents of the omelet bowl into the same pan as the rice and beans.

The eggs disappear into the brown mass of refried bean goodness. The cheese melts nicely, the vegetables warm up. But the eggs. The eggs are gone. All the hot chili sauce in the world won't make up for that blunder. Eggs rancheros this is not, regardless of the tortilla. I stir the brown concoction around as it stiffens up and finishes cooking. Too many ingredients used to start over. It'd be such a waste. Should've cooked the omelet separately, added the rice and beans afterwards. Chalk it up to experience.

The bedroom door opens and she comes out in her robe, eyes still swollen with sleep.

"Whatever you're making smells amazing," she groans as she scratches her cheek, still adjusting
to the light.

"I messed up. The eggs blended in with the beans. They're in there somewhere. I..." but she cuts me off.

"Oh good. I won't have to see them. I don't particularly like them anyway."

She pulls out a plate and sits next to me to eat while my heart reaffirms to my head that I'm still the luckiest man alive.

Behold the broken god of redemption.



Life in the Big Leagues.

You stumble passed
your cracked mirror
at two in the afternoon
realizing two things:
you look like hell
and you get what you deserve.

So you made the six an eight: big deal.

The wind blew all the leaves off last night.
You're a week too late. Maybe more.

Of course there is a God, you fool.
Can't you hear him laughing?


The Hangmen of George Hillock

I'd been away with her for days; came home to
a sink full of dishes, a bar littered with empties
overflowing trash cans and general disarray.
Needless to say
I instantly wanted to leave again, head back
to her big city.
Twenty-five and still shackled to a roommate
is no pleasant state of being
but I can't have what I want yet.

After heading upstairs and unpacking my things--
a book I hadn't touched, some dirty underwear--
I went to pull the blinds and noticed something
floating in the bucket that I use to catch the condensation
under the air conditioner.
There he was, alright: the elusive mouse
that had been scampering about the second floor
darting under doors after stealing the rabbit's food.

The gray fur was thin and matted, his feet dangling below him
like tentacles of a jellyfish that'd never live to sting another.
It was quite a pathetic sight, conjured very little pity.

At some point he just gave up.
I wondered how long he treaded water for before succumbing.
What was his last thought?

The toilet flushed itself as the bowl filled violently with the contents
of the bucket, the mouse swirling
down to the septic tank buried beneath the front yard.
"Delivered by plumbing once again," I laughed to myself.

There's something to be said for the gracious loser, the one
who bows out humbly when he knows he's lost.
There's a story there, but not mine.


A maze in grays.

Right now
in Sweden
they're burning dead rabbits
to heat
their snow-capped homes.

Watch me swell
and fade
in the shoulder--
I'll be the madman walking
through the haze
of carbon monoxide.

We all want
to laugh with
in the dark.


Bury him in Gabriels, far away from me.

On a beeline trip for safety razors
(of the pink variety, mind you)
I witnessed a young father
in the produce aisle as he tried
to reason with his three-year-old son.
I could hear the frustration in his voice.
"Here, get in this cart (the kind with
the fake plastic kid-holder car attached)
since the one you're in now is broken and..."

The rest of his verbose explanation was equally arbitrary.
He should've just told junior to hop to
if he knew what was good for him.
A child who drools in his sleep
doesn't understand logical reasoning.
Then again, a man who still does
(and can't buy dark sheets for that reason)
doesn't understand much more
but I'll disregard this instance as anecdotal.

En route to my razors (well...hers)
I overheard a blonde mom in her late twenties
behind me as she answered her adorably redundant daughter
(who was also being pushed in one of those
car-shaped toddler toters, oddly enough):
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, Eliza."
"I love you, Mommy."
"Mommy loves you too, Eliza."
"I love you, Mommy."
"I love you, too..."
at which point I turned around and smiled uncontrollably
trying not to scare the two of them with my work grime.

My humble conclusion:
One out of two local parents has it right, knows what counts.

You can never tell them enough.
Some parents forget that; some kids do, too.


There's a crumpled picture of us behind the trash can
in my room. I'm sitting on his lap, my arms outstretched
for my mom behind the camera. (I must've learned
which parent was the better of the two at a young age.)
My father and I had the same eyes, even then.
In a fit of rage I went to throw that photo out a few months back
but retrieved it from the wastebasket. Somehow I felt it'd be
an irreversible sin so it sits on my floor out of site instead.
He doesn't deserve my love anymore
but despite his three-year absence I can't deny it's still there.
That's what hurts the most.

I won't become him.
And a eulogy is one thing I'd have trouble writing
if I even decide to go.


Blue chalk boxes, white chalk lines.

Those two non-cougars
put up a hell of a fight
but as the boys said
I was doin' work that round.
Three in a row, four in a row--
even called the pockets.
I set my partner up
to sink the final ball.
It was an across-the-table shot
that I advised him not to take.
Would've begged had their been no shame.
Sure as shit he sunk the cue
and surrendered the game of my life.
I swore the jukebox jinxed us, went back
to drinking my spiced rum cocktails.
The bathroom mirror proved her right again:
my new thrift store button-down was pink
not salmon. I may or may not have defiled the wall.

The next joint was no better in its luck index.
There was a five-dollar cover, a rare occurrence
for that painfully predictable hole-in-the-wall.
The band played mostly songs from
the same defunct grunge act.
A brother member caught my ear
and forced me into talking shop
for two cocktails and three shots
until the lights flickered
signaling Last Call.

My friends and I were filing out
into the downtown city street
when five gunshots echoed
from what sounded like a few blocks away.
Driving up the main drag towards home
revealed the crime scene.
Five squad cars formed a semi-circle around
a strip of sidewalk littered with
derelict denizens with questionable intentions--
roaches running from the rollers, a cynical street fair
at four a.m., more tax dollars thrown down
the tubes along with the life of a dark-skinned Duane Doe.

It happened too late to make today's paper
but I'm sure I'll see it in tomorrow's.
It's a small town, but not too small.
Someone besides my pool partner scratched on the eight.
Let's hear it for impeccable timing.



In the artificial darkness of your room
I battle backaches. Street noise. Hunger.
The temptation to get up.
Light oozes through
the cracks in the walls while you
let out little cat-like sobs of comfort
that I pray I've had a hand in bringing
with my stubborn presence.

Those green-gray eyes cracked open
or maybe it was a dream.
You swore you wouldn't sleep again.
I'm glad you tried one last time--
Your knees in my chest, your toes in
my shins, my calloused hands
between your warming calves.
I shove my head beneath the sheets
and smell our musty sex
hanging densely in the air-- once, twice
three rounds to take us down for good.
For good?
The best. The only.

The guys at work wouldn't get it.
Well, maybe a few.

I know now that to love is to
fight off insanity in shifts.

Your turn.


The Monte and a Skeleton.

We were seventeen
and almost virgins.
Couldn't hold our beer worth a damn
let alone our liquor.
Our cars had been around
the block, but we hadn't.
His was a knockoff of a common
car of the time, a terrible teal sedan
that reeked of suburban complacence;
mine an awful beige boat
with two massive doors as heavy as I was
and a front end that made
potential cutter-offers think twice.
Our portable CD players
plugged into our tapedecks
and we parked in the same
two spots on South Street
Monday through Friday
rain or shine or teenage angst.

We swore we were it, man.
Even had a band.

A few times at red lights
he made the mistake
of letting me get behind him
with that fifteen-year-old beast o' mine.
I'd let off the brake just enough
to snug my bumper against his, then
tap the gas in a mock attempt
at pushing him into traffic.
His eyes would flash wide
in the rear-view mirror
as his foot slammed on the brake
to try to stop the slow forward roll.
Whatever sophomore girl
was in his passenger seat at the time
would laugh. I'd blow smoke out the window
and smile as my torn speakers blasted
what then seemed to matter.
But music, like jokes, get old.

I wish I had it in me to rear-end
a friend while driving these days.
Whether the surveys admit it or not
we're gods at seventeen.


A few weeks' worth of mild heart attacks.

It'd happened several times since I'd seen him last--
My hand had gone for the horn prematurely
in a sad-sack false alarm
when I thought I saw his truck approaching
in the lines of on-coming traffic.
The roof-racks always proved to be different
upon closer inspection, the drivers had no beards.
My hand went back to the shifter.
The lump in my throat sank southwest.

Then today he finally called: made the same jokes
we've had for years, did his impersonation
of that journeyman we couldn't stand
but suffered through together.
It was good to hear his awkward optimism
not knowing how to respond, where to
next take the conversation.

When I got off the phone and went back to work
the pipes seemed to slam themselves right together.

I wasn't so alone anymore.
I had my make-shift dad back.

He's got more closet space than God.

"Keep my name out of your mouth,"
from a riled, silent bird
still ringing seven later.
It's no wonder some hearts
keep strict bankers' hours.

Peeling pipe cement
from my hairy, mangled arm
doesn't take the mouth
of the boy who's found a gun
under the pillow of his love--

I wipe, see blood;
Again, with hopes crushed
by the crimson in the hazel:

Some things are as
they should be.

It's like trying to describe
colors to the blind.


Riding on baloney skins.

Last winter I was driving home in my then-new truck during a brutal snow storm and had a near-death experience. I was on a hilly stretch of Route 94 in Blooming Grove, a road I've traversed hundreds of times in the last five years. A red Jeep, very similar to the one my father drives, ironically, lost control and came spinning at me at about forty-five miles an hour. There was no room to veer off to one side or the other since both shoulders were narrow and sloped down to deep ditches. My body froze as I braced myself for the worst, the friend on the other end of the phone still rambling. Somehow I managed to avoid being hit by the rotating death truck. It's spin was timed perfectly so that our vehicles were parallel at just the right time and I skated by unscathed. I looked back over my shoulder and watched the vehicle slam into a tree backwards. There was no way I could stop with how slippery the roads were so I informed a police officer at the bottom of the hill who was directing traffic caused by a fender bender.

Every time I'm on that section of highway now I think of that day. That red truck's still coming at me, I'm still waiting for the impact that isn't coming. Once burned, twice shy-- only this time I made it out intact. Sometimes the underdog breaks even.


fine print

I'd decided to take
the back way home
from work
since it was three-thirty
and school was getting out.
The winding road
passed through a valley
where vinyl-sided
split-level houses
cluttered the fields
that were once grazing pastures.
It seemed some sort of crime
against whatever god you choose.

The image presented to me
by the route was surreal:
All of the driveways
were the same shade of midnight.
All of the mailboxes matched.
Most strikingly of all, however
was that where each driveway
met the road stood an anxious
disillusioned mother waiting for
the bus that'd bring her husband's children
back home to pick at another
unappreciated meal, to dream another night
in a bed that was taken for granted.
They stood like rigid sentries
their eyes unflinching as they stared
through my windshield, through my entire
truck. I could see where their beauty once
was before the soccer practice schedules
and "late nights at the office" took their tolls.
The men whom they married may or may not
still have loved them, regardless of
whether or not their secretaries went
that extra mile. Maybe those women
were waiting for their husbands
at the ends of those driveways as well?
Was part of them praying that he
finally would confront the truth
and not bother to come home?
A bold assessment of the situation, you may say
but if you'd been there with me
to see the fire fading in their eyes
the notion wouldn't seem so far-fetched.

I sped through that gauntlet
and told myself none of that would ever become
the fate of my beloved.
Some promises, though no less important, are easier
to keep.


...and let this be the worst of my sins.

He conveniently misses my calls all the time.
I'd like us to be more than what we are, to get
him up to speed on me, to learn his ropes and landings.
The ball's rolling around on his side of the court.
I have a feeling it always will.
There's no one there to blow the whistle.
That's alright by me.

We're two old fish with numerous hooks
streaming from our proud, wide mouths
like tattered badges of valour and injury--
they ain't reeled us in just yet, would have to wake up earlier.

At least once, maybe twice
we sat in the high school library
on our common free period
passing sheets of loose-leaf
back and forth across the table
since the angry Asian librarian, all of four-foot-nothing
ruled her precious silence with an iron fist.
Our shared sick sense of humor
made it hard to contain our laughter.
Even nerds like us could get in trouble.
Saying 'us', meaning 'him'.

When the others poked and prodded
in those loud marble hallways
I wanted to stand up.
I didn't.
They say you regret the things that you didn't do
more than the things that you did.
It's true.

Part of me sees now that it didn't matter to him
anyway. He was on a different plane.
They couldn't touch him.
A forcefield of tragic humility.
The wisdom of an old soul.
Good God, if that's a lesson...

But I put those notes in a folder, made sure to keep them.
They're in a box somewhere in my attic.
I'll dig them up one day when he finally breaks out
and changes the world in some small way
as all of us who've known him
know that he will.

He forgets that about himself sometimes.
We all do.
I'm here to remind him.

He conveniently misses my calls all the time
but it's hard for a dunce like me
to be offended
by a brilliance such as his.

It's threadbare advice, but I mean it.


Two in the bush.

They were both in their early forties
but dressed and wore make-up
like they were trying to live vicariously
through their teenage daughters.
It was sad and painful to watch
from between the bottles on the other end
of the liquor store, their dirty blonde heads
yapping away like the ankle-biter dogs
that were probably waiting at home for them.

"Isn't this a good brand of vodka?" one asked the other.

"It must be. It's expensive. But my husband
swears by this one. Besides, no need to go all out
for the party."

Something told me her husband drank
whatever rotgut booze he could get his hands on
and with good reason. It's often easy
to pity a man you've never met at
a time like that. If the brief time I'd spent
in the presence of those two broads was any indicator
then there were probably a lot of nights spent
hiding in those vodka bottles after dinner.

"Excuse me, sir," the apparent alpha female hacked
in her mentholated cigarette rasp.

I glanced up from the bottle of red I was considering
and prayed she wasn't talking to me.
Even us heathens have a god in certain instances.
I lucked out.

"Yes?" replied the disinterested clerk from
behind the cluttered counter. I could see right through
his act. He was just as annoyed with these two as I was.

"Is there a discount on wine if it's bought by the case?
See, we're having this party, and..."

I could bore you with the facts and figures, but I won't.
Suffice it to say they got their damn discount
and then got the hell out of the store.

I had been waiting for them to stop taking up precious
real estate at the register so I could deposit my handles
of rum and vodka, my three bottles of cleverly named wine.
I set my alcohol down on the counter and waited for
the thirty-five-year-old clerk to ring me up.
Both of us were relieved with the store's restored silence.
The air had calmed as soon as the bells on the door quit ringing.

"You couldn't pay me enough to go to their party,"
I said as he started punching numbers into the register.
"Not without earplugs at least."

"I know exactly what you mean," he said.
The tone of his voice was appreciative; he was glad
that someone else had said what he'd been dying to say.

"Here, try a bottle of this," he said as he reached for some
vodka that was in a box to his left. "We're phasing it out."

This man I'd never met in my life took it upon himself
to repay my small gesture.

"Are you sure?" I asked as I handed him my bills.
I didn't want to take advantage of the guy, but who was I
to look a gift drunk in the mouth?

"Yeah. It's on me." His smile sealed the deal.

My ride home from the liquor store was vastly more
victorious than usual. Sure, I'd spent almost a day's pay
but that one bottle of free vodka made all the difference.
I knew I'd only gotten it because of my smartass remark
and that was fine by me. My demeanor has its benefits
when applied in the right situation, when I meet the right people.
Unfortunately, however, those people are being phased out
just like that free vodka.

It's not as bad as our mothers said it'd be.
It's worse.

Currently reading:
"The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" by Junot Diaz.

Don't get in a cab if the driver is caucasian.

"I think it's that one lid has
more skin," she tried to lie at first
until our better judgments kicked in
and forced the truth upon us
as is usually the case.
It's only recent news
that I've got a lazy eye
though I've always known
about the no ass issue.
My mother calls me "Plancha",
the Spanish word for "Board".
I've never forgotten to wear a belt anywhere--
I wouldn't make it out of the house
without noticing that my pants are falling down
since there's nothing there to hold them up.
Even physical abnormalities have their advantages
if you look hard enough. Just ask...
No, that'd be mean.
I'm cynical and self-deprecating
but not a heartless misanthrope.
Let the masses find their own specks;
I can see the plank in mine.

Last week I got a letter from myself
and though that I was tripping, that my mind
had finally unhinged.
Took me a few moments
to realize it was a
I'd submitted with my pistol permit application.
Now take a second to decide what's scarier:
the thought that there are two of me
or the possibility of me having a concealed handgun
should the fine County of Orange decide that
that's a good idea.

Work should be fun today.
It's four in the morning and I can't sleep.
The ceiling fan spins off-kilter with an unsettling rattle
and it's too cold for the window fan
so I'm shit out of luck when it comes
to my insomnia cure-alls.
White noise or whiskey
and it's too late for the latter.

It's funny, but no surprise--
any of it, really.
I remember the relief I felt
in third grade when I learned
about the water cycle.
Up until then I'd thought
that we turned off the faucet while brushing our teeth
to prolong the day when we'd eventually run out.
For those of you who find me neurotic:
you should've seen me pre-third-grade.


Freud would have a field day.

I had this one two days ago, but it's as fresh in my mind as when I first woke up. My father and I were in his old car, the one he had when we still spoke. He'd just gotten out of some Holy Roller conference and was wearing one of those "Hi, my name is..." name-tags on the left breast of his maroon T-shirt. There was already a thin layer of slush on the roads and the flakes were coming down harder by the minute. For whatever reason he was driving erractically; strange, since my old man's always driven dangerously slow. We skidded around on the slick pavement crossing into the opposite lane quite a few times as the frozen roads wound up and down the hills of Rockland County. At one point he wasn't paying attention and almost sent us off a cliff. Subconsciously wanting to be the hero in my dreams, I grabbed the wheel and steered us back on track. Once he'd re-commandeered the vehicle he managed to throw us right back into danger. The tires were slipping on the wet snow as we were desperately trying to ascend a steep hill. We wound up in the wrong lane. I screamed at him to stop fllooring the gas pedal, that it was getting us nowhere. I saw headlights coming around the bend and thought we were done for. I'd died in my dreams before, it wasn't a surprise. Somehow, though, we managed to get back into our lane. The stubborn old bastard still wouldn't slow down, however. We were flying down a hill marked thirty miles-an-hour at a brisk fifty-five; I was close to shitting myself. Not knowing how else to slow us down I pulled the emergency brake. When that didn't work I shifted the car into a lower gear. It was all futile, my father was hauling ass. My pleas to be more careful must've finally gotten through to him. He pulled over and switched seats with me. It was comforting to get behind the wheel, but not for long. The car wanted to accelerate on its own and the brake wasn't doing much of anything. My dad stared straight ahead, didn't bother giving me the "I told you so" look that a normal human being would've relished. We zoomed past a cop car at a speed that'd undoubtedly raise any patrolman's eyebrow. I was not about to get into an accidental high-speed pursuit, especially with that old coot riding shotgun, so I opted to stop the car the hard way. I could see a thick patch of snow in the center of the road ahead of us, a five-foot snow bank in the shoulder to the right. My foot slammed the brake as hard as it could as I aimed for the dangerous spot in the road and jerked the wheel, sending us spinning. Luckily, we landed in the bank, facing the wrong way so we could see the rollers on top of the approaching cruiser. My father and I both jumped out of the car thankful to still have our lives. When the officer arrived on the scene he immediately blamed by father for the accident. Good ol' Charlie didn't put up much of a fight, even though I'd been the one driving. He managed to irritate the cop with his antics and stupid questions, the socially awkward dolt that he is, as I cringed and called my mother for a ride home. There was a lot of noise in the background when she picked up her phone. She said that she was at a restaurant and was too drunk to drive. I told her not to worry, I'd be OK without her help. After hanging up I turned back and saw that my dad was in handcuffs. I guess he finally pushed that cop over the edge with his nonsense. And yes, the police officer in my nightmare was played by no other than Reginald VelJohnson, friendly neighborhood cop in both 'Family Matters' (Carl Winslow) and 'Die Hard' (not Carl Winslow). Who else could it have been?

I woke shortly afterwards as is usually the case. My beard and the pillow were soaked in drool, another unfortunately common occurrence. My girlfriend's green-gray eyes peered over at me from under heavy lids. She asked what was wrong, what had happened in my sleep. She can tell when they're about him now. Sometimes I think she knows more about me than I do. I recited the story I just told here. She suggested I talk to someone, go see somebody, a shrink-- since my father's absence has clearly become a major theme in my life. Maybe that's not such a bad idea. Regardless, it doesn't take a Sigmund Freud to decipher what this one in particular meant: I couldn't slow that damn car down any better than he could. I'm making the same mistakes, heading down the same path, suffering the same consequences; and that's my biggest fear, really: the self-fulfilling prophecy, the unbroken cycle. Maybe I should've aimed for the telephone pole across from that snow bank instead.

And Sigmund--
I'm well aware of what they didn't tell us in college: you were just a perverted cocaine addict who lost his jawbone to cigar-induced cancer.


Milk, Bread, Eggs...

An old friend called me up
said that 'Having feelings sucks'.
(Well, she didn't really call me
but it sounded better.)

And she disappeared before
I could settle any score.
(See, it's not the case 'cause if we didn't
what then would they trample?)

We can hear more rhyme than reason.
I've been dreamin' more than sleepin'.
It's no wonder that she cropped him
(the fuck) out of the picture.

The Lameness Czars

But can't she see
it's no coin-

that my fav-
orite novel's called
'The Bro-

thers Kar-
? (Please?)


Don't threaten me with a good time.

Dave and I had already been there
working on the boiler for two hours
when he found the poor thing.
He was kneeling in the corner of
the basement and let out a yell that sounded
like it came from a frightened schoolgirl.
It was so feminine that he probably would've
paid a substantial sum of money
to hide all evidence of it having happened
from our brother members.
Even plumbers have fears.

"You're afraid of a little snake, Dave?"
I asked after my laughter had died down.

"Didn't used to be. Not taking any chances."
He was riffling through my tool bucket in search
of something with which to hit the coiled up garter.
It didn't seem right.

"Don't kill it. I'll catch it."

"And do what with it?"

"Let it go outside."

"Fine, but if you try to catch it
and it escapes in here
you can work in this corner all day."
The sincerity in his voice was matched by
his raised eyebrow. For a grown man
he sure was acting like a little girl.
They're not even poisonous.
Snakes, I mean.

My tape measure served as a good
instrument to use to prod the terrified snake.
It snapped at its metal hook a few times
and refused to be goaded into the pail
I was holding in front of it. Getting sick of the charade
I found a rag and used that to grab it.
Dave peered down into the bucket with disgust
after I caught the snake. The hammer in his hand
twitched with the remnants of the dose of adrenaline
his initial scare had afforded him.

I've never understood people who kill things
for getting in their way, much less out of unjustified fear.
I've never really understood people at all, truth be told.
I suppose I'd be worried if I did.

Dave followed me outside to watch me free the captive.
He hadn't put the hammer down yet, it was starting
to worry me a bit.

"Not here. Keep walking," he said
when I went to tip the bucket in the back yard.
"It might slither up my hose if you set it free
too close to the house."

The green garden hose we'd run out from
the basement to drain the old boiler
prior to removing it was a good ten feet to my left.
My friend's fear was legitimate. I felt bad.

We watched it disappear into some tall grass.
"Thanks," Dave said. "I'm glad I didn't have to kill it."
He flipped the hammer around and caught it
in mid-air by the head, then turned and walked
back towards the house with long, even strides.

A few hours later we were done piping the boiler.
Dave's specialty was wiring and he was about
to show me just how great he was at it-- that is until
he opened up the electrical box on the wall and jumped back
with that same shrill shriek.

"Now what?" I asked.

"Look at those black wires with the yellow stripes."

He was right, they did resemble smaller versions
of our reptilian friend.

"No hammer this time, OK?"

When the customer returned home three hours later
Dave made reference to the day's capture.
"No extra charge for snake removal, Mrs. Cho."

"What you mean?" she asked with a gasp.

"My partner here got rid of one he found in the corner."

Mrs. Cho nodded in silent appreciation. Then she
asked whom to make the cheque out to.
"Dave Bush Maintenance," my partner said.

"Spell that, prease," replied Mrs. Cho.

Dave looked mortified for the third time that day.
"D-A-V-E, B-U-S-H," he recited as he fumbled through
his pocket. "M-A-I-N-T-E-N-A-N-C-E," he read
from the business card his wife had printed up for him.
Arlene was clearly the brains of the operation.

"That word always messes me up," he explained
after Mrs. Cho had walked out of the room.

"She's from a foreign country. What's your excuse?"

"I'm a plumber, Shakespeare," Dave responded.
"More of a plumber than you'll ever be."

I couldn't have agreed more.


The Job of 38th Street

Their asses swayed back and forth
in front of me on the dimly lit sidewalk.
Both girls were a few inches shorter than me
and quite a bit paler, though I never did
see their faces. They walked arm-in-arm
possibly lesbians; probably so, in fact--
sometimes I feel like us red-blooded
heterosexuals are the minority in this city.
One of them had a black hooded sweatshirt
and bleached streaks in her dark hair.
The other, the taller of the two, wore
a pink sweater that didn't quite cover
her orange undershirt. I like when that happens.
We all do, us red-blooded heterosexuals.

My shins were killing me from all of the
flat-footed pavement-pounding I'd been doing.
I'd just dropped her lunch off at the hospital
and was heading back to her apartment
in the hope that the key she'd made me would work
this time. I needed something to focus
my blurred vision on, something to follow
in order to make it those twenty blocks back to the apartment.
It wasn't personal, wasn't sexual; just something to follow
to latch onto, like a set of red tail lights on a tired drive home.

I could smell the rich sauces in the Chinese food cartons
that Bleached Hair was carrying in a white plastic bag.
The familiar aroma made me feel comfortable in
an otherwise unfamiliar place. Then I caught a whiff
of the perfume that one of them was wearing.
Something in my motivation changed.

I banged a left at the next intersection, crossed
before the red hand disappeared, almost got clipped
by a delivery boy on a bicycle who cursed at me in Spanish.
I'd have to find a new guide home. The asses weren't so harmless
anymore and my lazy eye couldn't carry the guilt.

Everyone loses in a city made of sidewalks.
Don't mind my noticing;
blame it on the low blood sugar.



The book got boring so I marked my page and put it down. She was still too into hers to be distracted by my fingertips as I stroked her back in a feeble attempt to initiate something. This is her place, this cubby hole in Midtown West, and I should know better than to try to run the show. The narrow mind that I am, I try sometimes.

Someone outside her window (she'd rather hear me say 'our', but I can't just yet) is taking the building's trash out of the two wooden bins near the front door. I can hear the bottles clinking together, can almost hear the man cursing us gringos under his breath. How did he get such a job? Why is he automatically Latino? Have I seen him before?, maybe on my glorious zombie stroll back from the bar at five in the morning the other night? You know, the time I stumbled into some Pakistani restaurant since it was the only place open at that hour, took a look at the bearded men around me, mumbled 'Goddamn terrorists', and somehow managed to walk out without becoming the next day's lunch special. It's no wonder she worries about me wandering this town alone at night when she's off taking care of strangers for a living. No no no! She's a nurse, not a prostitute, though one of those approached me in the bar on the infamous Pakistani night and asked if I wanted to hang out. I told her I already was hanging out. She didn't seem to agree, stormed out with a clickety-clack of her heels and a swish of her dangerously short skirt. Later on was a little different. The rats ran away from me as I chased them down alleys. It's a wonder I made it home. I just wasn't made for Manhattan, but I'm trying for her sake. No, in this case I'll say 'our'.

That poor spic bastard's still out there. The bottles are still crashing into one another, he's still muttering curse words that'd make that hooker blush. He's downstream from my existence in this place, praying I'm not pissing in the river. If I didn't empty the bottles then he's going to get a sticky surprise. If he drops one by accident then the homeless woman who sleeps on the sidewalk is going to get cut. Do you know they weld steel rods on top of fire hydrants here so that bums can't sit on them? Have you seen the benches with dividers in them to prevent them from being used as beds? This place is one big sad food chain and that's one of my main problems with it. The social stratification is just too broad and heartbreaking. Give me Suburbia where everyone's relatively equal, at least to the naked eye. I'm looking out the window now at a spire atop a church three blocks away. I'm not sure who's at the top of this chain, but it sure isn't God. He abandoned this experiment a long time ago. I just heard the Devil in the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel-- the Devil, or the collective death rattle of a few hundred motorists filtering into this bustling metropolis to start another day of the race.

And me? I'm embedded like a tick engorged with blood, a jostled Romeo under house arrest trying to keep his head above water while keeping his ear to the ground. I currently have $230 in parking tickets and the unemployment check won't be in the mail for another week. It's a hell of a predicament for a simple man like me. It takes a hell of a woman to make that all worthwhile. Her book must've gotten boring, she's pressed into the pillow. Let me go join that dream of hers. Ours. Amen.


Keep that dirty Pig Latin under your hat.

If held at hipster knifepoint
I'd humbly confess


that in a case
likes this
where you can almost smell
her bleeding

it's best to use
that rusty cider press.



My feet dangled down off the edge of the dock just shy of touching the water. Despite the minor separation I could feel the lake's coolness chilling my toes. It was a little after five in the afternoon and I'd had my share of nautical recreation. The novel next to my left elbow made way for the book of crossword puzzles under my chin. If a gin and ginger was dripping condensation onto the pressure-treated planks under me I just might have died happy right then and there.

Thankfully, no moment is perfect.

Two shirtless, golden-brown elementary school boys rowed into view as if to prove the above statement by breaking the precious silence I'd worked so hard to obtain. They were obviously brothers, my conclusion being drawn on their matching bowl cuts that were clearly the work of their mother. Shiny, chestnut-colored hair with streaks of sun-bleached blonde fell gracefully around their tender skulls. They were too young to appreciate their full heads of perfect hair and too naive to tell mom that the style they donned was far outdated. It'd be at least another eight years before they'd start to see their mother, their father, their grandparents as mere mortals perfectly capable of fucking up royally. I was precocious, started at seven. Wouldn't wish that on anyone.

"I don't want my butt to touch the weeds, Andy," said the younger of the two. "It tickles." His inflatable tube was being towed along the surface of the late-August water by Andy's canoe. "You don't take me through the grass now, I won't take you through the grass when it's your turn to get pulled." It seemed like a fair deal.

"OK, Tate," called Andy over his life-preservered shoulder. "Watch out, here comes Pat."

Enter Canoe Number Two, Stage Right. It's occupant, Pat, was at least two years older than Andy, and being that he was sans bowl cut, did not appear to be a third sibling. His puffy, white cheeks had the beginnings of what would later develop into sunburn. A faded green T-shirt underneath his too-tight life jacket suggested that Pat was old enough to realize he was on the verge of a life of ridiculed obesity; old enough to know it, and old enough to try to cover it up with that silly T-shirt. Prior experience told me that Pat's personality would probably try ever-so-hard to compensate for his physical short-comings.

"Slow down, Andy!" he yelled between paddle strokes. "I want to run Tate over!"

Sometimes I hated being right. Still do. Turns out there are a lot of Pats in the world.

The Bowl Brothers responded to the approaching threat accordingly. Andy paddled harder, Tate propelled himself as best he could with his arms. Pat was certainly en route, but his larger size could be exploited if they made it under the low-hanging branches before he could ram the tube. They knew damn well he wouldn't be able to fit under the canopy formed by the drooping maples near the water's edge. They knew that Pat knew that they knew they'd be safe if they made it there in time. Being that this is a somewhat true story, they did.

"23 Across. Early Germans. Seven letters, third letter U."
I sucked on the back of my pen and thought for a moment.
"Teutons," I whispered, filling in the corresponding blocks. I decided to pay attention to my crossword puzzle instead of the splash-fest that was going on twenty yards away on my once-peaceful lake. The maple leaves deflected most of the water sent airborne by both sides, though that didn't deter the combatants one bit. Armistice was a long way away. If only I'd had that lovely gin and ginger I might've leapt in and joined the battle. But for which side? I suppose it wouldn't have mattered.

"Try and hit me now, Pat!" Tate yelled as he smacked water towards his portly friend.

"Yeah! Leave him alone!" Andy was laughing more than he was splashing.

"You guys are so dead once you come out of there," replied a frustrated Pat, his cheeks no longer white at all. "I'm telling your mom you got my good shirt wet."

It was a desperate move, the mother card. Pat's choice to play it, even if he was bluffing, was a self-declared defeat. The Bowl Brothers stopped splashing, I believe more out of pity than fear.

"Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" went a whistle from way across the lake. The three boys' heads turned simultaneously in the direction of the noise that was apparently so familiar to them. They'd probably associate the sound of a whistle with childhood summers as long as they'd live. It'd be a good memory.

"Come on, they want us back at the camp."



"We'd better get back there soon," said a suddenly responsible Andy. "It's almost dark and we're all the way over here."

"We'll make it before night-time, right Andy?" inquired an audibly concerned Tate.

"Yeah, of course."

"I don't know about me, guys. I'm pretty tired from all this messing around," sighed a nervous Pat. He was probably afraid that abandonment would be the punishment for his attempted sins.

"I can throw you the other rope and tow both of you back," said Andy. "As long as you row a little at least."


"Great," huffed Tate. He had yet to learn the value of forgiveness. Turns out there are even more Tates than Pats in the world.

I glanced back down at my crossword puzzle, the drama finally over.
"34 Down. To Quit. Five letters. Second letter B, last letter T."

"Pat, are you even paddling?" Andy asked over his shoulder as the three boys sailed off out of sight.

"No, of course he's not," Tate answered agitatedly.

"Hey, give me a minute to catch my breath," Pat defended. That was the last decipherable statement.

A small fish jumped as if to signify the official departure of my temporary company. Their non-descript voices trailed off into the quiet dusk of the Adirondack evening. The delay in their voices carrying over the water was comforting, the pixelated reflections of the dripping maple branches a work of art that no painter could reproduce. A duck dove in search of prey, came back up swallowing something. I hoped the fish I'd just met had made its escape.

I sucked the back of my pen in search of the answer to the last crossword clue I'd read. It came to me like an invisible bullet.

The word slipped off my lips curtly, my thumb clicking the ballpoint out to its ready position.

"Babe, you alright?" Cecilia called from the porch behind me.

"Yeah. Be right in." There was not as much conviction in my voice as I'd intended.

I heard the screen door slam shut as I filled in the letters with a shaky hand. A well-deserved splinter pierced my knee as I rose from the dock to join my beloved inside.

The summer was over for all of us all over again.