"The Dude abides."

I'm not sure if I told you this already, but I'm going to go ahead and say it anyway so such an important event in my life won't fall through the cracks: I once met Stephen Baldwin.

Yes, it's true. Stephen. The goofiest of the Brothers Bald(win), not to be confused with Newburgh's beloved Mahoneys. Not quite as presitgious as Alec, not quite as obscure as William, and wasn't there another one in there somewhere? I won't lie, though-- Steve (Stephe?) and I really didn't say too much to each other. It happened in passing, as most celebrity encounters do. I was working on the addition for the Nyack Library last summer and Mr. B. happened to have an office in the building nextdoor. Not quite sure what the office was for, though the secretary that he sent out for coffee and such was rather attractive in an alternative lifestyle kind of way: red streaks in her hair, piercings, an arm tattoo. Pretty sure that was all another cover-up not quite tabloid-worthy, but whatever. Can't deny a man the finer things in life, especially if he has the financial means to afford having them at his beck and call. But, as usual, I digress.

So I'm sitting on a stone wall next to the sidewalk eating my lunch one day. Roast beef and yellow American on a roll, lettuce tomato mayonnaise, salt and pepper. The guy at the deli had slathered way too much mayo on there so everything was sliding all around and trying to escape from the bread's clutches. It was tough to eat and my foreman was making fun of me as I tackled the sandwich laboriously. I was half-way done with it when the big moment came. The front door of Stephen's building opened, but this time it wasn't his secretary-- it was the 'Bio-Dome' legend himself! His dirty blonde hair was long but neatly kept, the tan appeared to be real which just meant he paid more for it, the tattoos on his arms and neck stated once and for all that he was not afraid to mar his body despite his acting career. And those baby blues. His eyes met mine in a foibled moment of fate as I was trying to force down a bite of the sandwich. I don't remember ever trying to swallow so hard, not even on those nights where that last shot didn't agree with my stomach and the saliva kept coming in preparation for the puke. His epic strides were leading him in our direction. He'd be passing us on the sidewalk in a few brief seconds. It could not be avoided. We'd have to converse, or forever hold our respective peaces. Or is it pieces? I guess they're interchangeable if you really think about it.

I gave him the head-nod to stall as I made sure my mouth was empty.
"How's it goin'?" he asked, and seemed to mean it.
"Pretty good."
Christ, was I really star-struck? I don't even watch TV and stick to miserable movies far out of his agent's realm. This man should've meant nothing to me, but for some reason I was nervous.
"Enjoying some lunch in the shade, huh?"
If it were anyone else I would've chimed in with "No shit, Captain Obvious," but this was STEPHEN BALDWIN, famed Hollywood acteur, and he had stopped mid-step to talk with the lowly likes of me, a mere union pipe-fitter.
So, I responded with the predictable "Yeah."
"Well, have a good one," and then he smiled, maybe even winked.
"You too," I replied with a quiver. How bad could his day really be?
And then he walked out of my life forever, at least in the physical sense.

"Dude, you're an asshole," said my foreman in his oh-so-sympathetic tone.
"Why's that?"
"You had mayo on your face the whole time."
I wiped my cheek. I checked my hand. I realized what the smile and wink were for.

And that was it, the end of my celebrity encounter. I hope that yours have gone and/or will go better for you. Always tell them to go easy on the mayo just in case.


Got my drink and my goose-step.

It's always when you're running late
or in a rush in general
that something further foils your progress.
Today it came in the form of a schoolbus
pulling out in front of me
on my way home from work
during my Friday Commute 500
to a much needed shower and nap.

The bus slowed and turned on its yellow
blinkers to alert me to the fact
that small children could soon become
potential speedbumps if I did not pay attention.
I turned the stereo up a notch and tried
to sing along again, but my throat was too dry.
It took forever for the two kids to step down
from the bus. They must've been sitting in
the coveted back seat, where brats made faces
at cars through the rear emergency door
and cool kids flashed cigarette packs and shared
the facts of life with shocked peers.

These two boys were too young for that brand of corruption--
probably seven and eight, or six and seven.
I could tell that they were brothers by their faces
and the camouflage jackets that they both wore.
It brought me back to the days when I used to
dress up and play army in the woods.
For a second I smiled as I watched the older brother
raise his knees and lead the way
in an overly dramatic march towards his house.
He must not have heard his little brother's footsteps
as loudly as he would've liked to, though;
as if suddenly possessed by the soul of a drill instructor
he spun around on his heels and commanded
his assumed inferior to march harder, louder, with more feeling.
I saw crow's feet appear above his mouth and a vein
pop out in his neck. He'd instantly aged twenty years
shedding his naive innocence to become something ugly.
My stomach rolled inside itself, and it wasn't last night's rum.
The younger boy frowned and lifted his little feet higher.
Their mother opened the front door and told them
to hurry up and get inside already so the two of them
gave up their drills for the day and ran to their house
like children are supposed to.

World War III hasn't happened yet, but when it does
we'll be ready whether we want to or not.
I hope I'm dead and gone before I have to bury
any toy soldiers like the ones I saw today.

And in case you're wondering
I wasn't late for my shower and nap.
I was early.
I always am.


Dear Port Jefferson Station

There are some bands, songs, and albums that still need to be reclaimed. It seems no one left remembers the words, or ever knew them to begin with. Please give me my friend back for at least one whiskey-fueled night. He's the only one who fully understands that process, and won't be ashamed of huggy drunken singalongs. My right hand had to be restrained by my left hand in order to stop it from ejecting Alkaline Trio's "Goddamnit" from my truck's stereo and chucking it out the window at fifty-five miles-per-hour, which was pretty dangerous since no hands remained to hold the steering wheel. As you can see the matter is urgent. Name your price.



The Chupacabra's coming, and he's not a happy camper.

I'd go downstairs for a snack
but I know I'd see the faces
in the windows and doorways.
I'm almost quite sure
that I know whose they are.

It's enough to make me swallow my gum.
It's more terrifying than the music
they play in a dentist's office.

Low rumbling explosions
from the television across the hall
and a plaintive fire siren outside;
I pull the blanket over my head
and pray for a rare dreamless night.
It's no wonder why I sleep
with the lights on sometimes.

But the trick to anything
is the trick to anything else
is this:
If the spider had ran faster
it wouldn't have been smashed
against the tile on the shower wall.

The Mexicans have revised their theory
and the Goat-Sucker is no longer an alien
but a fallen angel punished by God
with its hideous afflictions
and ravenous thirst for blood.
It must be true.
I saw it all on Telemundo.

No. 2 Led Pencil

I was reading a short story by James Thurber in bed when some plot details started to sound familiar. Walter Mitty and his secret life. Waterbury, Connecticut. A Webley-Vickers pistol. The words 'puppy biscuit' and a nagging wife. It all congealed into a very real moment in my tenth-grade English class with Mr. Coughlin-- Mr. Coughlin, the respectable veteran teacher who served as a journalist for the Navy during Vietnam, who either had very coarse and very green hair or a terrible toupee, who wore beige corduroy blazers with suede patches on the elbows like it was going even further out of style. Despite his idiosyncrasies he always had a silent cool about him, even in his predictably cartoonish ways reminiscent of Mr. Wilson from Dennis the Menace. Coughlin, whose first name was probably George or Harry, was a true-blue player in the game of Words. He'd lived the life to prove it, though it's probably over now. I envy him...for the first part, I mean.

But this isn't a characterization piece; I'll cut to the chase: moments like the ones I had in bed today act as road signs telling me that I'm still going the right way, even with my altered route. If I can accidentally re-discover the Stories, Novels, Poems, and Authors that teachers from my past once laid out for me, then I'm destined to make the Big Discovery someday, whatever that may be. It's why anyone reads, really, whether they admit it or not; some giant Truth to latch on to like a lifesaver in the frigid seas of life. Some Form or Purpose in the Great Nothingness of Being, presumably one that those who've come before us have found on their deathbeds with pen in hand. But again, I digress...I learned a lot from the back corner of that classroom when I wasn't throwing pencil fragments at my sophomore-year arch nemesis who sat four rows away.

Mr. Coughlin, here's one in your honor. I hope your jowls have only grown, your glasses have only thickened, and you'd still call me 'Mish-ter Vah-shen' like you did ten years ago if I ran into you at the supermarket. Oh, and thanks for making us write in those marble notebooks every day. I still toss one on the passenger seat of my truck every morning in case the urge comes over me on lunch-break at work. Turns out a little guidance goes a long way, and some homework assignments never end...

Bob Barker didn't write that theme song, he just perfected it.

What happens to Presidential hopefuls
when they return to their former state
governments with their tails
between their legs?
Do they shamefully reestablish
their roles as governors, senators
philandering philanthropists
and act as if nothing happened?

"Sorry, Voting Public. I guess we'll
have to settle for each other again...
that is, if you'll have me."
It's the subpar speech of a spouse caught cheating
and more often than not it works.

As Howard Dean sips bourbon and water
while watching the infamous "Byah!" clip
over and over in a dark room, while Bob Dole
takes the battery out of his back and tears up a contract
made with the fruit company, while Sarah Palin
tries her hardest to convince friends and family
that all of those horrible pornographic pictures
floating around on cell phones have been Photoshopped
Michael Dukakis blames it on a bad last name
and Al Gore blames it on the killer pit-stains due to Global Warming
and/or an election rigged by dead Florida residents
in cahoots with the Illuminati, Ross Perot
reclines in a twelve-bathroom mansion somewhere
counting his money naked on a couch
lined with polar bear fur between two
scantily clad former Miss Somewheres
and that's the only thing
that keeps my belief in our system alive.

Currently reading:
"Selected Poems" by Conrad Aiken.

Jethro Tull Flute Solo

Woke up from an accidental
evening nap, the kind that makes you
roll in bed sleepless later on, with my eyes
fixed on theirs in that ancient
photograph wedged in the trim of
the mirror on my dresser.
The edges rolled by the years
helped their faces meet mine.
The thumb blocking the lower-left
corner of the shot proved
that my father hadn't been
the only one drinking that night.
I wondered if they both wore white
to the party intentionally
and wondered even more
how much longer that look of
sincerity had lasted in their eyes.
I hadn't been born yet
though maybe there's not a drink
in her hand because she knew
she was pregnant.
Maybe she should've drank
and done hard drugs regardless.

I hate that picture
because of what it evokes
almost as much as I love it
and the churning it can still deliver.
The main thing keeping me
from taking it down is simple:
they were happy once;
that, and the fact
that I see myself
in my old man's face.
It's a reminder of what to not let happen.

Someone once told me...
Someone told me something...
...but that was a long time ago.

Poor bastard.
I hope he has his mother's eyes.


Sharks and swimming pals.

It's nothing that either
of my grandmother's brothers told me
before they died or lost their minds
but I'm sure that the best piece of advice
they learned from the War was this:

When it's time to hold the trenches down
don't pick the surest shot
as your foxhole partner--
go for the slowest runner.
He's the least likely to leave
your sorry sack of flesh
to die alone in that mud
when the whistles blow
and the barbed wire's breached--
and trust me: both will happen.

Currently reading:
"The Thurber Carnival" by James Thurber.


On shirts you can only wear standing up.

An actor made rich by an award-winning series
was hospitalized briefly for mercury poisoning
due to eating sushi three times a day

and we are told to pity him.

A prostitute from the local corner
died of a nasty venereal disease
due to a lack of education

and "She got what she deserved."

There is no level playing field
when it comes to occupational hazards.
There is no crying in baseball.
There's not much left to salvage from the wreckage
of a place where three inches can be added
to your manhood for a cool six grand.

I tell you now, friend:
many a hooker, many a whore
have gone undeclared
the difference being
we paid way too much for them.

But don't worry;
anything's good slathered in ketchup--
even the demise of a culture's
better judgment.

Please refrain from comparing me
to Humanity
in future correspondence.

This has been a test
of the Emergency Broadcast System.
Had this not been a test
you'd already be dead.

It's a case of that End of the World Syndrome;
there aren't enough who have that -itis bad enough.

I'll tell you what happened to Marv, Jim:
they ran him 'til there was nothing left.

And all the rest you scoff at
as wishful thinking?
You're wrong.
It's a reenactment

so while you're at it
stay away from the guy in the trench coat
drinking scotch at the end of the bar--
it's probably the Devil

Moonlighting Sonata

I got the call about his leaking tub around three in the afternoon. Typical friend-of-a-plumber scenario. "Just figured I'd give you a call before I hired someone else." Translation: "Just thought I'd save a buck by having you fix this for me." I always fall for it, the plumber with a heart o' gold-- at least when it comes to not ripping off laymen. "Sure, I'll come by in an hour or two." Besides, it was just the excuse I needed to talk myself out of going to the union hall for class like I was supposed to. Eight hours of welding on my knees was all the instruction I needed for the day, the lesson being the same as the one I'm always learning: I should've stayed in school.

The house was on one of the oldest streets in the city, right down the road from the bar that the usual suspects and myself succumb to patronizing from time to time. My friend's car was not outside and the lights did not appear to be on in the house. I began to wonder if I should've gone to plumbing class instead like a good little apprentice. Two knocks on the Munster-esque front door produced a muffled response in the form of a woman's voice: "Who is it?" I paused to think. "Mike, your son's friend." She unlocked and opened the door without the response I was dreading: "Oh, the plumber." It was a small personal victory and I cherished it.

"The bathroom's at the top of the stairs."
"Alright. Let me take a look."

She followed me up. I wished that she hadn't. The only thing worse than working in someone else's home is having to do it while the home-owner looks over your shoulder. The house was built in the 1800s. I didn't know what obstacles to expect, and I sure didn't want anyone witnessing my head-scratching routine as I tried to put my brain away and figure out what one of my coworkers would do. Having to switch mental gears and think like a construction worker is a difficult task for me. I'm a clumsy bookworm with too much time on his hands who happens to put pipes together for a living. Trouble-shooting a plumbing problem doesn't always come as naturally to me as discussing an author's strengths and weaknesses. That's an affliciton I'm proud to have. "You're an intelligent person," my esteemed colleagues always tell me when I ask questions about moonlighting debacles. "You'll figure it out." Please. I still haven't figured myself out and I've had almost twenty-five years to work at it.

"The handyman cut a hole in the wall to take a look at the pipes. He couldn't find the leak, though."
"How do you know it's even leaking?"
"There's a dark spot on the ceiling below it."
"It's leaking."
Good. That sounded professional.

I got down on my aching knees in the hallway and removed the three pieces of drywall that he screwed to the wall to keep the cats from getting lost forever. The floorboards creaked as I rolled over onto my back and got in position to have a look-see at the culprit. My flashlight didn't work so well upside down because the battery connection was compromised in that position. I rattled it around and mumbled "Figures" to myself. She heard me and laughed. A sense of humor is a good thing for a customer to have, especially when the bill is presented.

"Can you turn the shower on for me?"
"I don't see any water dripping down any of the pipes."
"It only happens when the water hits the wall."
"Can you make the water hit the wall?"
Sometimes people make me ask stupid questions.

As soon as she turned the showerhead I was splashed in the face. Never had I been so thankful for that; it meant I might be leaving soon.

"I found your problem."
Why couldn't I manage to pinpoint my own?

I rose to my feet and walked into the bathroom to unscrew the faucet handle on the cold side and showed her the dilemma. Whoever had cut the vinyl wall to install the shower valve had done a typical scab chop-job. The hole was about twice the size needed for the copper to poke through, and that's why the water was leaking into the wall.

"It's not a plumbing problem."
"Good! Then we can fix it ourselves with some caulk!"
Ah, the happy home-owner response. Just as expected. Another dud. I knew her next question before she asked it. At least she was sticking to the script.
"How much do I owe you?"
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. Tell your 'handyman' to use a flashlight next time, though."

She didn't argue with either statement. Getting a quick ribshot mildly alleviated the pain of having wasted my time. It felt good to help a friend, but was he really? Seeing a kid I went to high school with at a bar once every six months barely qualifies as friendship, but I couldn't bring myself to charge something just for making a pitstop on my way home from work. And at least I didn't have to do any actual plumbing work.

He came home as I was gathering the few tools I'd strewn on the floor in a vain attempt to appear to know what I was doing had I encountered an actual problem. I told him it was an easy fix and his mother told him to go get the caulking gun from the basement. He offered me a beer in lieu of the payment I'd declined, but I wanted to get home to rid myself of the sweet stench of failure for the day and lay in bed to finish Artaud and maybe Miller. Then he showed me his switchblade, told me he only used to open letters. People don't change much after high school. I said I had to go and he walked me back down the stairs.

"You can go out the door right in front of you, no need to go through the living room again."
"Man, you're trying to get me out of your house as quickly as possible."
"No, but I figured it'd be easier since you're parked right there..."
People don't sense sarcasm after you've done them a favor. Call it guilt.
"What are you doing Wednesday night?"
"I'm not sure yet," I lied. "Why?"
"It's my girlfriend's birthday, we're going to the bar," meaning the one down the street where I ran into him every six months. "You should come."
"Yeah, maybe I will," I lied again. Would he have invited me out of the blue if I hadn't seen him on such terms? Only a spineless coward with no self-respect would accept that offer. I'm only a spineless coward.
"Take it easy, man."
"Thanks, Mike."
"No problem."
"Thanks Mike!" his mom screamed from the top of the stairs in nosy mother eavesdrop fashion.
I shook his hand and walked to my truck.

"How'd' you make out?" my coworker asked when he called as I rode home.
"It was just a hole in the wall. I told them to patch it."
"Did you charge them the hundred bucks like I told you?"
"Then what'd you make?"
"But you drove there. Your time is worth money, kid."
"I didn't fix anything."
"They didn't need to know that."
"Are all plumbers so dishonest?"
"Only the ones who want to make a living out of it."
"I'd rather sleep at night."
"Then you'll never be one of us, Shakespeare."

Someone in my trade, someone I see at my awful job and work next to, someone who could be subpoenaed to testify regarding my profession had told me that I was not and never would be a plumber. My identity was intact. It was that same small victory all over again.

You can keep your hundred bucks and your bottle of beer. I'm going to go shower and finish those two books now.


Eggs for dinner, again.

At times
in retrospect
I wish
that the bear whose sense of smell we piqued
with our shameful streamside act
had done us in
right then and there

but more often than not
I'm just sorry for making you
take your tongue ring out
and various razor changes.

And like the rest
you hated how I ripped my fingernails off.
I find it a thing of convenience
but what do women know of that word?,
other than the danger of complacency
that hides in its wake.

The nailclipper you bought me
sat in my desk drawer
until it broke somehow.
It didn't go both ways, you see.

You followed me through three houses
until you finally lost the trail
for another
somewhere in the Catskills.
No one trusts an odd number
so we'll stay even, like
'52 and '68-- yeah I still know
but won't have the nerve
to crush more toenails
so don't lose any sleep
any heart
any thing.

Whenever I'm truly gone
and alone with him
I have to fight the urge to ask
by convincing myself that I already know:
you're better than you were before
though that's not saying much.

So what have we learned, class?
That love is like anything else:
it comes with old tomatoes
ultimatums, rather
and prices far too high to pay up front
so we throw trivial bits and pieces
of ourselves at it in an attempt to comply with
this warped installment plan
that our Maker has laid out for us.

"Play nice or I'll take it back," He says.
What an Indian giver.

But I hear He grants eternal life
to anyone who can lick their elbow
though who in their right mind
would want that?


What becomes of the broken-hearted.

I checked.
It wasn't in today's paper.
Suicides usually aren't.
People don't like to read about other people wanting to die.
Attempted suicides are even worse.
A botched desperate act.
That's even harder to read about.
Everyone involved ends up grateful for the ignorance.
Everyone accept me.
Wait-- except.
Accept, too.
We're OK now.

I wouldn't have known it happened if I hadn't received a phone call yesterday. A buddy of mine rang me up to tell me about what he'd seen on the side of the highway while coming home from work. He started to describe it, but it didn't register. That could've been anybody. Commuting sounded a whole lot more dangerous than it already was.

"Wait, so his face was crushed in?"
"Yeah. He was all banged up. Soaked in blood."
"Was he moving?"
"Not really. All his limbs were visibly broken."
"How'd you know he was alive?"
"His chest was rising."

My friend and his coworker were driving home together when they saw a car pulled over in the shoulder of the interstate. Then they saw the man sprawled out next to it. One of them was a fireman so they stopped. Both of them were human so I'm surprised they didn't keep going. I bet they wish they had.

"A woman was parked a hundred feet ahead of us."
"She's the one that hit him?"
"No. That was the box truck parked ahead of her."

His voice was surprisingly solid. If I'd been the one to witness the aftermath of a man being mowed down by a truck I'd probably be stuttering and grasping for words that wouldn't come. But maybe not. Maybe in seeing something as tragically real as that you're instantly forced to accept it as fact and present it as such. There's no way to avoid it affecting you in the long run, but regurgitating the events might be easier than assumed. Or maybe television really does desensitize us.

"What'd you do?"
"Put our jackets on him to keep him warm."
"Then what?"
"That lady walked over and told us what happened."
"Wasn't it obvious?"
"Not entirely. The guy ran in front of the truck."
"You're kidding."
"I'm serious."
"And the truck driver?"
"Some young black kid. Barely twenty-one, probably."
"He must've been a wreck."
"He kept repeating that the man jumped out."
"He'll be scarred for life."
"I don't think I'd be able to drive again."

There. Proof that my first theory was correct, cynicism be damned.

"But how did you know it was intentional?"
"There was a note on the seat of his car."
"What'd it say?"
" 'Call Ellen', with a phone number."
"Jesus didn't help any."
"He hasn't in awhile."

Neither of us knew what else to say about it, so we didn't.
That's a rare quality.
Find it.
Embrace it.

I don't know if the man died, but he doesn't deserve to.
He deserves far worse than that for his sins.
Blowing your head off is one thing, your Right in my book.
There's no cowardice in calling it quits after an honest try.
Risking the lives of others, however, is unpardonable.
He's lucky that no one else was hurt in the process.
I hope he's a vegetable for the rest of his life.
Even my pity goes only so far.

But he's not the real victim.
Neither is the truck driver, nor his wallet after the therapy.
Ellen's got it the worst.
She's the one who got that phone call.
She's the one who didn't believe her ears.
She's the one who may've never even heard from him in years.

Guilt is a hell of a thing to live with, whether it's warranted or not.
We regret the things we didn't do more than the things we did.
Maybe Ellen will regret not trying harder.
She'll age less than gracefully.
She'll die, too, though only on the inside at first.

And therein lies the problem.
"We're all dead and we don't even know it yet."
Sometimes I hate being right.

Only drink with Irishmen, have predictable friends.

My stomach always settles
as I do the dishes the next day
since through the haze
of that familiar ache
I know

that the square tumbler was his because
like a true connoisseur
he drinks it straight on the rocks

but the beer mug belonged to his brother
who goes for maximum comfort
and needs a firm grip for when he falls asleep
on my couch mid-conversation

whatever's the largest drinking vessel in the sink
fell victim to an old crony who always over-compensates
for showing up late to the party by drinking himself
right out of the game prematurely
leaving just in time for work the next morning

and the tall skinny one was mine

I'm not sure why
that's just how it works out

or does it?


I'm better at eating linguini alone.

I met a man once
who told me about a friend
he had who clipped a truck
spun his sports car, and died
on New Year's Eve
three years beforehand
though he left out the part
about the booze and coke, of course.
(No one ever mentions
those little details in stories
of misfortune, but they are to be
expected eight times out of ten.)

He asked if I'd ever seen
the metal cross on the side
of that stretch of highway.
I lied and said I did, and after
speaking to him that day
I did indeed spot it
at sixty miles-an-hour.

"I drove it down into the ground
with a hammer in the spot where he died
and every six months
I go back to spray paint it gold again."

"That's nice of you."

What else is one supposed to say in that scenario?
Judging from the stories this man had told me
he hadn't learned much from his friend's death
so my sympathy only went so far.

Besides, that thing has since
peeled, rusted, and disappeared.
Well, with the economy and all...

I hope no one makes the mistake
of a pointless post-mortem promise
when my time comes.

That slap must cross
the bounds of Life and Death
to reach its intended face
and I'll have enough problems in Hell.


We've got that benched plumber blues...

Things weren't going so hot
in the welding booth tonight;
well, only when my jacket
and gloves caught fire from the sparks.
I couldn't steady my hand enough
to run a straight bead across the steel
with all the stress on my mind due to:
being laid off for an as yet indefinite
amount of time, the lack of competency
at the New York State Department of Labor
and their precious Unemployment Insurance
which may or may not come soon, side work
as sporadic as weeknight sex, truck payments
and insurance agents and credit card bills
that don't care to hear the sob stories.
My nerves were shot, and quite frankly
I didn't want to be there in that smoky
welding booth in the basement of my union hall
for three hours pretending to learn a skill
that I have no illusions about ever mastering.
When I felt my phone vibrate in my pocket
I stopped what I was doing, took my shield
and gloves off, and hoped for the best.
It was a buddy of mine that I work with
returning my call. He'd just bought my old car
out of pity, and two days later one of his
vehicles bit the dust so he decided to throw
new brakes on mine and put it on the road.
Sometimes things work out that way
but don't count on it.
I asked if he had any jobs that he needed
help with, at first he was hesitant.
Maybe it was because he reevaluated
the urgency in my voice or maybe he remembered
what it was like to be a broke apprentice
or maybe he realized that he was driving a car
that he'd just bought for a hundred fifty bucks
but for whatever reason he changed his tune.
"Ya know what? I have a washer machine line
to put in for these two gay guys who called me."
He paused to wait for the joke. It didn't come.
"Yeah? You need a hand with that?" I asked with
the conviction of a death row inmate's mother.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do..."
Both of us honored an undeclared moment of silence
for the obvious homophobic jokes
that would've ensued in true construction fashion
had times not been so tough in the financial department.
It seemed a terrible waste to pass it up, but we did.
"OK, I'll see ya Thursday morning then."
That's where one of us would've mentioned
leaving the plumber's crack at home to play it safe
or reminded the other to bring his knee pads to earn a tip
but like I said, it was no time for a cheap shot.
"Alright, man. Thanks."
The welding went better after that boost in morale
but I still wanted to ask my instructor if I could go
outside to shovel the snow and then mow the grass instead.
Five more months of welding class, then one more year
of apprenticeship school, followed by forty-some-odd
years of hit-or-miss work in a trade that I fell into
when the Jack Daniel's took its toll.
Damn, it sounded so bleak when I put it that way...
but somehow, so fitting.

on parallel parking and other things you can't handle.

the bone and cartilage
have been replaced
by titanium
and rubber bands
or something
of those natures.

she'll carry a card now
to pass through airport
metal detectors
without raising eyebrows
stripping down
or missing flights.
that's the conversation piece.

and tomorrow she gets
fifty-four staples removed
from her legs
with only local anesthesia.
i'm not jealous
but she'll make it.
she's made it this far.
that's not my story
to tell, though.
even i
draw the line

but tonight when
i stopped by the house
where i used to take naps
between high school classes
and three-hour shifts at a fast food job
i saw her in bed propped up
against three pillows
and noticed that her arms had thinned
her chest had sucked itself in
since going under those new knives
a week-and-a-half ago.

it was hard to see
harder to watch
with opened eyes
and the hug
was categorically weak
as a result.

it's just part of getting
used to the cold
hard fact that
all flowers wither
and eventually

they wilt.

Currently reading:
"Under the Roofs of Paris" by Henry Miller.


They aren't all about this living in sin.

A coworker of mine gave in
and decided to buy my old car
that had been sitting in the back yard
for almost five months
covered in leaves, then in snow.
I was outside cleaning it off
and shoving its contents
into garbage bags
to be assessed at a later date.
She bundled herself up
in at least four layers
and came out back to help me.
It went much faster that way.
A lot of things did.

"Ohhh," she sighed softly while
tentatively stretching her hand
towards the trunk as
we stood there looking
at the old beater
that was almost as vacant as our stares.
I knew what she was feeling.
She didn't need to elaborate.
I won't either.

We walked to the porch
shook the snow off
and entered the warmth of the house.
I went upstairs, undressed
and prepared to take a shower.

Ten minutes later
with the bathroom window fogged
and shampoo lathered thickly in my hair
a knock came at the door.
"Come in," I said while trying not to get
any soap in my eyes.
"How do you make a Midori Sour?"
she asked from the dry side
of the shower curtain.
I spat between my feet and watched it
float towards the drain.
"Melon Liqueur and Sour Mix,"
I said, "shaken with some ice."

"Ohhh," she responded innocently
and for the second time that day
the same syllable made me melt
as I fell, well, you know
all over again.


Non-dairy Creamer

"He'll straighten up
when he finds a good woman."

She puts her coffee down on the counter.

"You've got it backwards."

He rinses out his mug in the sink.

The Kaiser's horses wore gas masks
'cause no one had the heart to tell him.

Currently reading:
"Anthology" by Antonin Artaud.

Bitter Fitter Beer Muscles

His talk about Going Big
never happened.
We just sat there after work
drinking beer for the second time that day
and he only paid for the first round.

So I made sure to leave
the bar while he still had half a pint
still had some other sap
to sop up his war stories.
I was tired of nodding my head
and acting like I hadn't heard them already.
He hesitated to shake my hand
like it was funny.
I stormed out
muttering to myself
something about the money
not being worth the hoax.
It was starting to become
a weekly soul-selling session
and I'm not one for playing the fool
for a wad of bills.

Part of me wanted
to write something witty
in the layer of salt
on his truck--
"Thanks" or something
more direct than sarcastic.
He'd made a fool of me
and a liar of himself
and the others would never
let either of us live it down.
My better judgment kicked in
and I didn't bother.
My better judgment kicked in
and I fixed my doubled eyes
on the tail-lights in front of me.
My better judgment called in sick again.

The one I left him there with
gave me a ring on my way home.
"I'm disgusted" were my first words
but he didn't get it
didn't get that we'd been duped again
for a lousy buck-twenty-a-day.
I let him ramble on for fifteen minutes
as I tried to ignore my bladder.
"My wife called and I excused myself
from the conversation," he said.
"When I came back he was gone."
Typical. A coward's way out.
"Listen, man, I have to go.
My back teeth are floating."
I pulled into the parking lot
of the first fast food joint I saw
and walked straight in
to the men's room to relieve myself.
It felt damn good, it was hard to stop.
I was in my glory for the better part of
one straight minute
and it didn't cost me a dime.

After washing my hands
I got in line and ordered a cheeseburger.
It took longer than it should have
and the kid gave me the wrong change
but I didn't mention it for fear that he'd smell
it on my breath.
Failure, that is.
I walked out to my truck
and noticed that someone
had parked next to me
while I was inside.
The logo of my former employer
of two-and-a-half years
jumped out at me from the passenger door.
I looked through the large window
of the restaurant, but didn't see anyone
worth threatening; he must've ran
to the bathroom to take a Happy Hour leak
as well.

No one in a position to pay me
could be trusted: not past, not future
not ever.

Caveat emptor. Et tu, Brute?

"Screws in the treads," I said to myself
as I pulled into my driveway ten minutes later.
"I should've put screws in the treads."



I worked with this Winner on the last job
who introduced himself
with his first name, followed by "the Plumber"
and I instantly knew.
I just fuckin' knew.

Premature salt-and-pepper hair, crooked teeth.
He had a nervous twitch
and looked like the long-lost
Stallone brother, retard strength
and diminutive size included.

I'd be smoking a cigarette in the parking lot
before walking into the building in the morning
and the inside of his car would light up
with the flick of his Bic.
He didn't smoke cigarettes.
That explained the stupid smile glued to his face
and that annoying beady-eyed giggle in the morning.

His workmanship and attitude were equally
appalling, but the worst part
was that the guy didn't stop talking
for the eight hours straight
that I saw him each day.
And he was a broken record.
He liked the sound of his own voice, too.
At least I don't repeat myself.
Or do I...

One time he told me that plumbing
wasn't about pipes, it was about bullshit.
Suddenly it all made sense.
He was trying to be the best plumber ever
by spewing the most bullshit.

But the real bomb was dropped
when one of my buddies
who lived in the same town
revealed that the guy had married
his own stepsister.
I imagined that it must be confusing
to fill out Christmas cards
when the family tree is shaped like a ladder.
From then on I just tried not to laugh too hard
especially since he used to brag about
what a freak his old lady was in bed.
The detailed account of the two hundred dollars
he'd recently spent on sex toys, and how
she didn't like the nipple clamps
only made matters worse.
At least the gene pool wouldn't be tainted.

He told me once that he'd done some plumbing
at one of the local prisons
and that the guards there
gave tours of the place and its inmates
like it was a museum.
He said he'd seen Son of Sam
that he was a tiny guy, Danny DeVito in stature
and that he wasn't impressed.
For some reason that statement stuck with me
more than the other three million
maybe because somehow it made sense.
I hear the dog talking too
from time to time
but I choose to ignore it.

When the job ended
and the axe fell on all of our necks
I was secretly relieved.
I wouldn't have to see him again
at least for awhile
until the hall decided
to punish me.

And so now, sir
I say with a clear conscience
that I too
was quite unimpressed

though if at the end
of my lifetime
I don't have enough filler
for my memoirs
I'll venture to write yours

"We're from the Government, and we're here to help."

There's this steakhouse/cigar shop/tavern near my mother's house that I pass on my way home from work sometimes. The building itself's been around for over two centuries, though I'm not sure how long the business has been there. Driving by every once in awhile gives me hope. Just on the other side of those rustic walls there are people sitting at an oak bar with a mirror behind it, and they're smoking. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc. The State can't intervene because the establishment has superceded the law through the grandfather clause. Besides, there's a powerful exhaust system in the ceiling of the joint that sucks all the smoke up into the ductwork. It's not as blue and gray and beautiful as the bars of yore were, where Hollywood icons over-acted to the point of painful perfection. But every time I take that route part of me wants to stop in to order a stiff drink and light something up. It's harder to resist the urge after work, but I do. I guess it's enough to know that somewhere is still zoned as a safe place to kill yourself. There's a haven for us stubborn health despots. The years of Public Service Announcements did nothing so the Man stepped in and encroached upon our right to self-destructive pleasure, claiming that it was done to protect the waitstaff and barkeeps, but we know better; eighty percent of people in that industry also smoke. There's no point in prolonging the inevitable in pursuit of intangible immortality. Don't save me from myself in the name of my well-being, thank you. Like I said: We know better. Our livers and lungs will never outlive our hearts. Only our regrets will accomplish that feat. Our regrets, and slightly fudged tax records. Drink on, brothers. Smoke on, sisters. There's solace in knowing the end of the story, even though we all lose.

Currently reading:
"The Selected Poems of Kenneth Patchen"


La Piedra Del Relámpago

My mother's brother was visiting from Florida. The two of us were sitting on a plush green couch in the living room of my mom's condo on either side of my grandmother. Catching up never took too long; neither one of us changed much: Uncle Tony was still a suave car salesman with bright narrow eyes under puffy lids, I was still a closet nerd trapped in a construction worker's rapidly aging body. We tended to move the conversation to funny family stories to avoid the tension brought about by rigid social stratification. This time was no different. We were still just as stuck on the same topic as we were stuck in the same respective walks of life. We hated both equally, but wouldn't admit it to the other.

"Has she ever told you the story about that rock on the coffee table?" Uncle Tony asked as he pointed to, well, that rock on the coffee table.

"No, I can't say I've heard that one yet."

My grandmother sat there innocently with her hands folded in her lap. It was not uncommon for people to talk about her like she wasn't in the room due to her hearing loss, senile dementia, and inability to speak anything other than Spanish. The smile on her face put there by the fact that she was in the company of her two favorite men was sincere so I can't say she was staring blankly ahead, but she was definitely staring. Those eighty-eight-year-old eyes were shining marbles, though one was dead and the other didn't work, and as long as they continued to sparkle as they always had we all knew she was still in there somewhere, trapped in her own body. It was a frightening fate, one that we'd all rather avoid with death, but we played it off masterfully like the myth of one's Golden Years was true.

"Mom, remember how you acquired that stone?" he asked her in her native tongue.

"No. I found that?" she asked, as shocked as if someone had accused her of inciting the Holocaust. Small things surprised her anymore, like someone telling her what she'd had for lunch that day. This new bit of information was certain to be a stunner.

Tony commenced the tale and Grandma zoned back out since she couldn't understand a word of it.

"It was five or six years ago, when she still lived on her own in her apartment. There was a bad storm, torrential rain and high winds. She was in her bedroom reading the Bible when all of a sudden a bolt of lightning came crashing down right outside her window. It scared her so much that she instantly leapt backwards in her bed and dropped her Bible to the floor, which she repented for vehemently later." This was where Uncle Tony inserted his first trademark smirk. Like me, he was not the most religious person, and therefore found it funny that someone would beg God's forgiveness for accidentally dropping a book written by mere men.

"I thought this story was about a rock." I was confused, but he wanted it that way. It made for a better telling.

"Oh, it is," he answered in that sly salesman voice of his. Enter trademark smirk number two, right before taking a sip from the glass of scotch that he'd been hiding from the Old Lady behind his leg despite his age. Old habits die hard, and no one wants to let his mother down.

"So then what happened?" I had to know, the mild suspense was killing me as I glanced at the perfectly round stone sitting on my mother's coffee table and wondered about its mysterious origin.

"Well, she put on her raincoat and walked around her building to the woods behind her apartment. She'd seen exactly where the lightning had hit, she wanted to find the rock." Sip number two, grin number three. I wasn't sure if I was supposed to drool in anticipation or ask if it came with power windows. He was good at his craft.

"The rock?"

"Yeah, you know...The rock inside a lightning bolt. That's what causes the damage to trees and whatever else the Lightning Rock happens to hit; at least that's what they told her when she was growing up Puerto Rico."

Grandma's eyes lit up momentarily at the mention of her precious island, but soon dulled back into oblivion when she realized she'd never see it again in this lifetime.

"Man, that's pretty funny." I didn't know what else to say. Back at the age of eighty-two she still believed in childhood myths; by eighty-eight she probably had some even more outrageous theories, though no one would pay enough mind to listen to a crazy old woman who repeated herself incessantly. No wonder she'd threatened to throw herself down the stairs during stubborn fits of helpless rage before. Losing ones mind seemed a cruel way to end a hard-won life, but at least she was being taken care of by my mother and not thrown into some nursing home. The whole experience had led my mom to ask me to kindly Old Yeller her out back if she ever got that bad when her turn came to grow gray. I promised her a spot in my shed, no euthanasia.

"Sure, it's funny, except for the part about an old woman crawling around on her hands and knees in the rain. She didn't give up until she found it, or what she designated to be the Lightning Rock. Back when she first told me the story she said it took her ten minutes."

"At least she found it." I reached for a cocktail that wasn't there.

"Yes. Yes she did."

Uncle Tony let that infectious chuckle slip out from under his thick moustache. I joined in a-fraction-of-a-second later when it had been established that it was safe to laugh at the ordeal. Hell, even the Old Lady giggled a bit, though that might have been due to whatever was or wasn't racing through her head.

Tony wet his lips with the slowly diminishing contents of the tumbler and proceeded to tell her the story, her story, so she could know what she was laughing at with us.

For some reason it didn't take as long to tell in Spanish.
It never does.

She spread her lips and showed me those spotless dentures as she nodded her head in affirmation.

The three of us turned our heads towards the table simultaneously and looked at that smooth gray stone as if responding to some silent cue. At least one of us swore that the Lightning Rock was looking right back. That's how I'll choose to remember her.

"The Time Traveler's Wife"

"It's not fair, I'm always sleeping or drunk."

"It's easier that way."


"Because it'd be hard to write you in completely."

"You manage to write in some other girls just fine..."

"They're not girls, they're the collective Antichrist."

"Stop, I'm being serious."

"So am I."

"Look, why can't you just write a nice one about me?"

"I have. I do."

"I mean where I talk, and say things that I really said."

"That'd be boring, no one likes reality."

"Then why do you write about it?"

"I don't, only two-thirds of it."

"And the rest?"

"How I perceive it to be, or how it could be worse."

"How dismal."

"I disagree."

"What else is new..."

"Look, you knew getting into this that I wouldn't give it up."

"I'm not asking you to, I never would."

"And that's why I love you."

"I hope there are better reasons."

"There are."

"I'm in your bed reading and you're at your damn computer."

"That's correct."

"It's cold over here by myself."

"I'll go turn the heat up."

"No. Stop conjuring this fake conversation. Come here."


And the rest actually happened, but I'm no kiss-and-tell.
Well, not entirely.


Darwin must've done this.

Snow hadn't starting falling yet
and I was beginning to wonder
if the weather men were lying again.
When I'd raised the blinds ten minutes before
she'd groaned as she covered her head
with the blanket before rolling over.

"Close that."
"It's eleven. We've slept enough."
"I'm not done."
"Fine, I'll read for awhile."

My back was sore from work
and propping myself up against
two pillows to read in bed
wasn't helping matters.
I put the book back on my night stand
and peered through the window.
Still no snow, the frauds.
And they made more than I did somehow.

But there was some movement
on a limb of a tall pine tree standing
next to my house.
A big old crow was raising and lowering
its shoulders as it gave its undivided attention
to some unknown object in its grasp.
I lazily watched the bird in a daze
as she started snoring next to me.

Two minutes passed in this manner
until the crow's folly was revealed.
A small beige dinner roll slipped from its grip
and tumbled to the ground through the branches
hitting several on the way down.
My gaze fixed itself to the spectacle
more intently as I anticipated
the crow's distressed swoop to recover
the meal that had been occupying its time.

That never happened.
The crow didn't even seem agitated about its loss.
It never even looked down.
It was as though the bread had never existed.
I was jealous of the wise bird's selective indifference.

"Shut the blinds, Honey. Let's go back to sleep."
The covers had learned to speak in the interim.

In equal parts honor and shame
I complied that time.
Who was I to make decisions for both of us?
A feathered scavenger had stronger will-power.

We slept until two in the afternoon.
By then the flakes had started to fall.

I know, I know.
I don't get it either.

Currently reading:
"Shakespeare Never Did This" by Charles Bukowski.


Matthew, Mark, and John

The ride upstate took longer
than I'd anticipated.
College dorms were more cramped
than I'd remembered them being.
But she was more beautiful
than the pictures had told me.
It wasn't always bad to be wrong.

"My friend's boyfriend is coming
to visit tonight, too," she said.
"You'll like him. He's cool
and the same age as you."
I noticed how she seemed to think
we only had the second thing in common.
I didn't blame her.

She was right, I did like him.
We had a lot in common:
he played in a band
and had a long beard
though I'd just shaved mine off
to appear somewhat normal again.
We both had tattoos all over our arms
that neither of us could remove
even if we wanted to.
He even smoked the same cigarettes
that I did at the time.
We hit it off, and that helped relieve the tension
of being surrounded by a bunch of college girls.

It was convenient to have someone
to help carry the beer out of the store.
Hell, it was nice just to have someone else
old enough to buy it.
We were old men, alright--
old men who'd struck gold
with younger women
yet again.

It's one of life's minor victories
that makes up for the pebbles in shoes
and spiders in sleeping mouths.
(Was it seven a year
or seven a lifetime?)

The night was winding down
and I knew the end was nigh
since neither of our ladies
had yet learned to handle their drinks
quite as expertly as we had
through various trials by fire
balancing on the edge of the porcelain god.

"You want to come shower
at my hotel room before they pass out?"
I asked him.
It seemed like the right thing to do, I couldn't
let him get ready for bed in that disgusting
college boys' room with vomit in the urinals
and strange clumps of hair in the sink.
"I'm going to head over there to wash up
before the girls give up the ghost, you're
welcome to come do the same if you like."

"Sure, that sounds good. Have you seen the
shower stalls on campus?"

"No, and I don't plan on it."

We drove back to the hotel.
I let him go first.
The shower started and I heard the toilet flush
three minutes afterwards.
Bukowski kept me company
on top of the cheap comforter
until he came out of the steamed-up bathroom
clothed to the waist.
"I'm all set," he said as he dried his hair.
"Hopefully you left me some towels."
He did.
"And you're supposed to flush the toilet
after you come out of the shower
so people don't notice you had the water running
to cover up the sound of your business."
He laughed.
I didn't.
Universal Man Code was not to be trifled with.

I took my shower, got dressed, and drove us
back to the college campus to round up
our women. Something had changed
but I wasn't sure what.
Maybe we were just tired--
tired, until we said goodnight
only to lay awake restless and yearning
as our drunken significant others snored away
next to us in our respective beds.
The apologies for falling asleep came the next day.
They never matter, though.
Highway miles should earn that honor.

And now eight months later
I hope to see my one-night friend sometime.
He's come, and gone, and probably come again.
I'm lucky to have stuck around the whole time.
The luckiest. Damn that song.

Maybe the two of us could buy beer for the party again
and I'll sneak a bummed cigarette in the parking lot.
I'd like that a lot.
If nothing else he owes me a decent shower
and a few clean towels.
I guess it could be worse.


They only practice medicine.

All I wanted was a shower
a nice, hot shower
but that wasn't in the cards, and meanwhile
my mom was laid up in a hospital bed
with a lovely morphine drip
to ease the titanium pain
where her knees once were.

Did I mention that ice-lined trees remind me
of Vermont postcards and maple syrup?
I mentioned it.
On to more of these strange adventures in basketweaving.

Somewhere on a greasy urinal
Hanoi Jane is screaming out
as a biker lets fly on her face.
That North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun nest
can't help her now.

The current state of affairs leads me to believe
that The Man Upstairs is also into golden showers.
Stay POSI, Ponyboy.

The movie about that brave little toaster
was probably the most depressing thing
I'd encountered until I found out what certain anatomy
was really for, other than urination.

A coworker told me his wife didn't like
the nipple clamps he brought home
but the ostrich tickler
went over huge. Me, I stick to
Modified Mish after dining at the Y
until there's a key change in the porno music.

A refrigerator cluttered with rotten food on the inside
and covered with last year's magnetic calendars on the outside
is exactly why I need to go back to work, but hey--

You, my friend, have been misdiagnosed, and
I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member.


Hearsay and Nicknames

The company had just picked up a new guy, Harold. The work he did was mediocre at best, but he consistently plugged away at his craft all day long. Those sinks weren't going to hang themselves. Harold seemed like he might. None of the men in the crew had heard of him before, from foreman right on down to apprentice. All they knew was that Harold was quiet and kept to himself, or so he had until the morning coffee break of his third day on the job. That's when he decided to form his first complete sentence. He'd come to regret it.

"I found this Fifty on the floor near the toolbox," Harold said hesitantly as he raised a crumpled bill in the direction of the foreman.

Everyone looked at each other from behind the coffee cups and egg sandwiches they had raised to their mouths to break the tension. Who did this guy think he was?

"That's mighty white of ya, Harold," was the boss' reply. "You hang onto it until the rightful owner asks if anyone's seen it."

During the duration of the break no man's eyes traveled to Harold's end of the room. No one pretended to care about him anymore by trying to pry him open with questions. The second he parted his lips and pulled that fifty-dollar-bill from his pocket he'd sealed his fate. They didn't know what to make of a man dumb enough to cough up a gift from God in the form of cold hard cash. Something was fishy about this one. He was no ordinary plumber, if there was such a thing.

The rest of the day went along with fewer jokes and problems than usual. Productivity almost doubled, in fact. The building wouldn't be completed for another three months, but those bathrooms would be ready with fixtures set in half that time. The sinks would be mounted, the toilets would be bolted down And maybe the owner of that lost money would come forward. Harold was banking on the fact that no one would.

But Harold was wrong. Marty "Shakes" Raskell, the biggest drunk in the local, was on the job. A man with a liver as masochistic as his would resort to anything to feed his extra hunger. It was said that he'd frequently arm wrestled men for their paychecks and squandered the winnings at the bar in one sitting. Some even claimed that apprentices' wallets tended to disappear when Shakes was on the job, though no young buck was ever dumb enough to file a grievance. The man was six-foot-four and could lift a twenty-one-foot length of six-inch cast iron pipe with one hand. His drinking habit, his strength, and his determination to fund the former were legendary throughout the members of the hall. That third honor was about to bite Harold in the ass, and hard.

"Hey, Harry. Thanks for finding my money," Shakes said in his farce Southern drawl. He was from the sticks and tried to distance himself from the city boys he worked with by conjuring an accent.

"The name's Harold," he croaked weakly.

"Well whatever. I appreciate your honesty," he spat as he reached his enormous hand towards Harold.

"No problem, pal," Harold winced as he dug into his pocket for the cash and handed it over.

It hadn't turned out like that before. He'd always been the hero. He'd always gotten to keep the money, and was always one of the last to be laid off.

He'd been defeated. The plan had blown up in his face, which dropped faster than his outstretched hand. It looked like he'd died a thousand deaths. Harold was beside himself, but couldn't get the words to leave his lips, and even if he could he'd be pounded to death by Shakes. That was one mess that the apprentice would refuse to clean up.

Three o'clock came and the foreman went around telling the men to pick up their tools. After such a hard day's work he figured they deserved to go home a little early, and one of them even had his money coming early. Harold knew what to expect when he saw the foreman approach him with the dreaded white envelope. It wasn't pay day for the rest of the men. Someone had caught wind of his scheme. It'd spread through the hall like wildfire. He'd never work out of the union hall again. A career destroyed for an hour's pay.

"I can't have a liar on my crew, Harold. Here's your money. Don't bother coming back."

Harold didn't bother to respond. He'd seen where speaking had gotten him. He gathered his tools and walked out to his truck, never to be seen on a construction site again.

Later on at the bar the truth came out. Shakes was there with the other mechanics, the apprentice, even the foreman. After the third round Shakes stood up and made a declaration:

"This one's on Hundred-Dollar Harold!" he proclaimed as the pitchers were filled by the barmaid.

The apprentice leaned over to the foreman seated at the stool next to him and asked what Shakes was talking about.

"Marty saw Harold yank that Fifty from his own wallet, throw it on the floor, and pick it up when I walked into the room this morning. That sorry excuse for a plumber was trying to secure his job by making himself some sort of saint since the quality of his work was not enough to earn him a long-term gig with our outfit."

"So that bum lost his job and fifty bucks all in the same day," snickered the apprentice. "But why's his nickname going to be Hundred-Dollar Harold when it was only half of that?"

"You haven't been in the union long enough, kid. Everything's exaggerrated, even the stories you hear about certain mechanics hitting apprentices up for beer money."

The corners of the foreman's eyes smiled brightly in the dark bar room as he sipped his beer and watched the apprentice turn his head back to the center of attention for the moment. He could practically read the young man's thoughts: Marty Raskell was alright after all, at least compared to that faker Harold.

The world was safe for another day.


Oh, Christ. Not another one of these nights...

I've loved independent women.
I've loved weak women.
I've even loved a woman
who showed no emotion at all
right up until she dumped my sorry ass.
(Fun fact: that was the toughest
one to get over, if you can even call this

But through the many loves
and losses of the saga that is me
I've learned one thing:

I am the biggest woman of them all.

Over the Top

Drunken coffee table arm wrestling.
I don't recall whose idea it was.
In all honesty I'd say it was mine
since an over-served display of bravado
made interesting by monetary wagers
sounds like something an intoxicated me
would whole-heartedly endorse.
Rallying the troops and funneling them
into the living room to gather round
the coffee table brought the excitement
back to the party that had long since fizzled out.
It seemed like a good idea at the time
as most of my failures do.

The first match was the most obvious:
my three-hundred-something-pound roommate
with biceps the size of baked hams
versus the kid I've known since junior high
who was captain of the varsity wrestling team
and gave a few headaches on the football field.
The latter was the underdog so I naturally threw
my ten dollars down on him without hesitating
in order to get things rolling.
I remembered when he would spend hours in
the weight room every other day and could lift
numbers that some of our fellow classmen
could not count up to.
That dedication was what I was banking on.
Three more guys got sucked into the bet:
the first two with ten each on my roommate
the last making a more pensive bet on my side.
Judging the match would be difficult
since only one person was right-handed
so we decided to make the competitors go both ways.
The two rounds were grueling battles
of sheer strength with sweat running down noses
but in the end mass beat heart as it usually does.
I was out ten bucks.

It was too early in the night
to let our new-found source of entertainment
disappear forever into a funny fuzzy memory.
We summoned the two lightest guys
in the house and coerced them into
assuming the position at the coffee table.
No one would bite at placing money on
the smaller of the featherweight fighters
so I tossed another ten into the pot
so there could be a match
knowing damn well that I'd just lost more money.
Two instantaneous wins by the opposition
proved my hypothesis correct.
Down twenty.
It was starting to be a rough night for me.

I wandered around the living room
in a frustrated daze while the commotion calmed down.
There weren't many other similar pairings
that would make for a good match.
I looked across the room at my muscle-bound gym-addicted pal
and challenged him to the final arm wrestling match of the night.
He accepted jovially and we hashed it out for a few short minutes.
The shame of having lost the first two matches
coupled with the whiskey and rum coursing through my veins
fueled a victory that I felt I'd earned fair and square.
It was all over and I almost felt better.
I say almost because in all of my vengeful glory
I'd forgotten to bet on myself in an attempt to cut my losses
down to only ten dollars.
I looked over at the kid in town for the first time in years
as he proudly boasted in between sips of his cocktail
that he'd won thirty bucks in less than thirty minutes.
Then I looked around the room at all of the other drinks
in the hands of my guests made with the booze
from my bar and realized that between that and
the twenty dollars already flushed down the tubes
it was going to continue to be an expensive night for yours truly.
The resounding blow of not betting on the one who matters
in the one that mattered only made matters worse.

I shook hands with my buddy as we rose to our feet.
We laughed and rubbed our sore arm muscles.
It wasn't his fault.
I was my own worst enemy again
and so in the morning when I woke up
I made sure to curse myself as I washed all of the glasses
in the sink after collecting them from their various
final resting places around the downstairs half of my house.

Endings can always be better
but sometimes the truth counts for something.

...and this one time I even tried Therapy.

So let me get this straight, Mr. Vargas...

Go ahead, I'm listening.

You'd rather lay in bed reading than spend time with others?...


But you say you like books because of the characters...

Only if they're done right.

You mean only if you can connect with them...

Not necessarily, just understand them. They have to be real.

Then why not search for these "real" people in "real" life?...

It's a lot harder to find them there than in good literature.

You sound so cynical...

You sound like you haven't been doing this for very long.

David, I don't think this is going to work...

Me neither. How much is the co-pay?

Check the back of your insurance card...

Thirty bucks, Jesus. Here ya go, Doc.

Thank you, Mr. Vargas . But honestly, what will you do?...

Write about it.

Oh, for another one of these treatises on Human Nature?...

No. It's just something to do while the pillows fluff back up.

Don't downplay your little hobby of documenting your martyrdom...

I don't like the way you said that.

Stop. You can dish it, but you can't take it?...

Anyone who says otherwise is a liar.

What a marvelous retort! I bet you'll use that later on...

What'd you just call me?

Don't play dumb. Come on, send me a copy so I can see the end...

There's no end, and even if there was you wouldn't get it.

Here he is, everyone: His Majesty the Well-Read Plumber!

You're not getting a dime, I'm calling the Surgeon General's office.

Behold his glimmering tales of failure and hard-won lessons!...

You're crazier than me. I'm out of here.

Wait! I haven't flown out the window yet like in the old cartoons!...

You won't.

And why do you sound so sure?...

Because then you'd win. Fact or fiction, I'm the hero in my shit.

Fair enough...


Squirrels in the bird-feeder, and other catastrophic phenomena.

Someone once took the unnecessary liberty of sharing
a conspiracy theory with me about jets by
claiming that those white cloud-like streaks
you see in their wakes tens-of-thousands of feet
in the sky are actually vapor trails laden with chemical agents
intentionally dispersed via airplane by the Government(s) in an effort
to keep people from evolving and smartening up enough
to overthrow the corrupt leadership of the world.
As if that nugget was not priceless enough
this person went on to inform me that in China
where this Big Brother-esque act is not practiced
the human brain has already started to grow in size
and complexity thus demonstrating said evolution.
To that I say "Great!" since maybe the next boatload will remember
to throw my goddamn soy sauce in the bag as requested.
Get back to me if the slant-eyes learn how to shrink heads instead.

Then there's the one about the world ending in the
Two Thousand Twelfth Year of Our Lord.
And why? Oh please let me tell you:
Because that's when the Mayan calendar ends.
It seems a tad illogical to take heed
regarding time's alleged limitations from an extinct people
especially since if their ears were so close to the ground
they would have foreseen the demise of their civilization
and not bothered to trouble the rest of us with their woes
by creating a calendar that would long outlive their own society.
That poor bastard who wasted away countless years
adding and writing all of those hieroglyphic dates and figures
while sweating his sack off in a straw hut in Central America
really chose the wrong career considering none of his kin
would ever live to see the fruits of his labor.
The futility of the act reminds me of the time
I rubbed one out with a rubber on in junior high
just to see how it would feel to finally get that far in the game
though a trial run in something as infinite as Time
seems considerably more obtuse.

But no it gets better as long as you have the time to listen.
Remember that groundbreaking multi-installment
movie franchise which shall go unnamed for copyright purposes?
I've actually had people tell me with a straight face
that scientists have indeed drilled into the crystallized remains
of mosquitoes' asses frozen forever inside tombs of ancient amber
in search of the DNA which will in fact lead to the reproduction
of the leviathan lizards that once roamed the earth.
I commend the sheer audacity of this one considering
the same people who haven't yet been enlightened to this gimmick
via Hollywood are the same twelve incredibly sheltered wastes of ATP
that they pulled out from under their own pet rocks in order to serve
as diligently ignorant jurors in the (first) O.J. Simpson trial.
Can we please be spared all the boring Jeff Goldblum banter this time
or at least warn me when it's coming so I can sneak out
of the theater to go take a leak like I did in the previous renditions?

Then there's the faction that still chooses to believe that
that poor man with those sad heavy eyes was convinced to decorate
his lovely wife and convertible Caddy with his brains that day in '63
by a Communist ex-Marine with a vivid imagination
and a Russian rifle so inferior to the technology of the time
that the shot itself would have been close to impossible to make
from the vantage point where he was accused of writing history

and if you believe that one then let me tell you a sad little story
about a snake in a tree that managed to sell an apple
to some naked broad in a garden somewhere back in the days before
satellite TV could keep those thunder-thighs glued to the couch...

The Witching Hour, Part IV

Through the sacred pact
between eardrum and pillow
I hear the velvet
brown blood
coursing through my veins
wishing I could be April.

mayonnaise should never replace ketchup.

i dislike cuckold
for the same reason
as reconnoiter.
coup? is there anything
remotely threatening in the sound
of that word?
chamois and chassis--
don't get me started.
but charlatan, that's alright;
my grandma says it, it's the same
in spanish.

oh, the cosmos...
oh, the crowd:
or owe
but certainly not
(and i mean over my dead american body)

There's how it should be, and how it is [according to a manic lush].

right, yeah
it's like when
it's like
you see a couple
and the one's clearly
well, you know
more attractive
than the other
and you're wondering
how the hell such an unbalanced match
came to be, it's just not right but
you judge them both, their situation
and your stomach turns
just like that, uh huh
but what you don't realize
what you'll never have the pleasure
the privilege
of, ha
ha ha
is that
that gorgeous individual
has breath that could smoke
a groundhog out of its hole
and the other poor sucker
whom you thought was the
well, let's be real, loser
looks forward to that sweet stench
every night
like the weather.

Vendetta Dentata

It was essentially like this: keep on drinking with the amateurs in that smoke-filled apartment, or take a chance on me in my eight-by-ten bedroom. She was dumb enough to fall for the latter. We made our strategic break from the crowd and headed for my room. I'd had the foresight to close the door before the party, we could almost breathe and see each other clearly once we locked ourselves in there. The booze was running its course in both of our circulatory systems. Fate would do the rest. Fate, and whatever the predecessor to karma is.

The lights went off and she showed me what she had in mind. It was good to be in favor with such a generous young woman. Good, and tragically familiar. I was twenty then, not even old enough to buy my own beer. Still, the alcohol kept flowing at my weekly wild parties and the line of new endeavors was growing faster than I could handle. It was almost like I'd died and gone to Muslim Heaven, or better yet-- found a way to reap its rewards without dying. This one would be another notch in the headboard. She knew it, I knew it, the people in the living room smoking expensive cigarettes while drinking cheap beer knew it. What she didn't know was that she wasn't the first of the evening.

But she found out the hard way once that boat left harbor. Hey, it was her idea in the first place. No one asked her to do that deed. She must've figured it out a few strokes in, but she wasn't about to confess that she'd been duped. Admitting that a previous girl had beat her to the punch was almost more shameful than the walk back out into the drunken haze of that apartment was going to be later on. Revenge would be silent. The teeth dug in to let me know that I wasn't getting over on her. My hand grabbed tighter at the ponytail she'd conjured to make her life easier. I was letting her know that I knew that she knew, but didn't care. We were both playing the game, I just happened to win that round.

If only our mothers could see us then. If only our fathers had been around. If only I could go back in time and unhurt all those poor, defenseless girls too naive to notice a wolf in wolf's clothing still on the hunt for vengeance after foolishly blaming the opposite sex for his sorrows. But I can't, so I write about it four years later. Sue me. I was young and stupid, and now I'm only one of the two.

Anyway, she finished. Well, I finished. We finished, and without a word between us ever since the cat stumbled out of the bag. She wiped her face, I zipped up, she yanked the door open and was replaced with the cloud of cigarette smoke that rushed into my room. Jumping to my feet would've been safer had I not been drinking so heavily; my socks slipped on the wood floor and I fell flat on my tailbone, cursing the wench for not being polite enough to close the door behind her. I reached over and gently pushed it shut. The latch caught and clicked, it was a comforting sound that I wasn't worthy of hearing at the time. I sat up against the wall of that small room, rummaged through my pocket for my lighter, lit a crushed Marlboro Menthol. Somehow my own smoke was OK. It wasn't the smell that bothered me, but the source. My own didn't stink back then. Things, of course, have changed. I've learned a lot from those days. Have you?

A friend told me today that the Earth's poles reversed millions of years ago. The globe flipped in a matter of seconds. Life as it knew itself ceased to exist in a cloud of dust and a tidal wave and the gods started over. I believe it.

I believe it, but that's only because I wish it were that simple.