St. Andrew

Now I know why he drives the drunk bus.
Because he loves them.
All of them.
That's what the ant I freed from the shower web told me.

The rabbit knows and hates me for it.

Our confidants can't sway us.


Pompous Sir: Come. Stance.

Received an email at my normal address today
informing me that my college account
would be automatically terminated in 60 days.
Caught me off guard since I left the fine
State University of New York at Albany
five years ago and haven't accessed
said email account since then.
And to think that all this time I could've been
impressing new-found friends
with a falsified identity that'd suggest my affiliation
with such a prestigious insitution of Higher Learning.

The only UA acronym that my name can honestly
be attributed to these humble days is
the United Association of Plumbers and Steamfitters...

That spider I saw in the bottom of the refrigerator tonight--
I should've warned it that the light would only be on
for a few brief moments while I grabbed another beer.

Babe, the first time.

My teeth chomped down
on what was left of a
refrigerated pear;
I wish I could say I had it for you now.
Fresh produce had been
a common recent theme
appropriately rejuvenating.
Turns out it's still ticking somewhere.

The excuses were droppin' like flies
like dead ants down the drain
from half-killed beer cans
poured into the sink...
Or maybe they were piling up
like empty rum bottles, dirty jeans.
Regardless, it was good to be there in that kitchen
even wearing workboots and a grin that ate unmentionables.
I hated the fact that I'd have to change my alarm clock again.
Hated it with a passion that sometimes I'm scared I've lost.

Alcoholics Anonymous defines Insanity as
"doing the same thing over and over
and expecting different results".
This is fine. Let them.

I tend to abstain from such rigid diagnoses.
We remember the watched showers in ICU
and who the crazy ones really were.

The relationship, whether or not you want it, is this:
Hope can drive a man...well, you know.
At least that's what Red said
before that broad rolled his car on him.
Almost serves him right for playing for the wrong team.
Yes, the wrong team is whichever one I'm not currently on.

Old souls we are
but it ain't so bad.
I'll keep my trick repertoire the same.
No one could handle a new schtick anyway.
Not even a second chance in the form of a perfected clone.
It's not my fault I only run in my head.
In? From? Who's keeping track anymore?

Maybe just my mother, and clandestinely.


The third best feeling in my world:

when I see those three turtles fucking
or maybe just sunning themselves
on that cardboard box floating in the middle
of the pond at the last traffic light
before I reach my road.


Their weapons and tactics ain't so special.

I'm eating an early dinner
alone at my kitchen table
back to the wall
in true Hickock fashion
naked except for my dirty boxers.
The front door's cracked;
I can hear the birds
pretending that there's much
to sing about
as the neighbors mow lawns
that haven't grown back yet
in the Sun's slow farewell.
I'm convinced that I'm the only one
not lying to myself
at the moment.
It's all so premature.

That bubble bursts
the moment I glance up
from my plate of food
for just long enough
to think I see dark shadows dashing
for cover in the nextdoor neighbor's yard.
This lethal imagination takes over
and it's instantly a SWAT team
closing into position to take me out
once and for all
and I do mean "for ALL".
My mother's leftover rice
falls from my gaping jaw
as I mumble "Oh, shit"
to myself as peacefully as
an elevator weather comment.
At least my last meal is comfort food.
One can only hope for Spanish rice
at a time like this.

A flash-bang grenade is hurled
through the window in front of the table
where I'm sitting-- no, they're not trying
to stun me this time.
It's tear gas-- no, they're not trying
to force me to come out with my hands up, either.
It's a Goddamn fragmentation grenade.
I flip the table on its side as a shield
to use against the flying shards of steel
being sure to keep my bare feet from underneath it.
It works, but my ears spurt blood when the blast's
concussion hits me.

Giving them time to breach my compound
and yes, at this point my home has reached Compound Status
would be a fatal mistake. I scramble for the stairs
on knees and palms as the smoke from the explosion clears.
Boy am I glad I have that Kalashnikov stashed.
Halfway up the staircase I see laser beams
on the soft green wall behind me.
The man who painted that gentle hue
would never have suspected that this would ever go down
in his quiet house on his quiet street.
Yes, I have time to think of all this
as the bullets fly: Time slows down at the end of ones life.

Suddenly the lasers disappear from the wall behind me.
They must've caught up with my stride.
Before I have time to verify the fact that they're
sights are locked on my torso I hear the three-round burst
that will put me down-- I hear it before I feel the rounds
pierce my bare flesh.

Then Black, just Black.
I hate to be cliche, but I'm so damn good at it.
When they find my twisted body in a heap on the floor
they'll notice the eerie smile made by my broken teeth:
you see, they didn't take me alive
and they were so scared to try
that they shot me in the back.
That's a hell of a last chapter, one I'm not worthy of.

A car honks its horn at the teenagers
walking down the middle of my street
and snaps me out of this morbid fantasy.
My heels hit the faux-wood floor hard
while the SWAT team vanishes and the
holes in various walls and windows disappear.
All is well again at 30 Innis Ave--
all except this Goddamn headache
that my chatterbox partner gave me during our
grueling eight hours of laying pipe together.

Chewing the current mouthful of my mother's meal
I feel a jagged chicken bone and pluck it from
my tongue: another dodged bullet.
And that is how it will actually be, pal: far less dramatic
than what my mind likes to embellish out of sheer boredom.
Far less dramatic, but just as deserved
as those who truly know me would agree.


I'll take 'Salty Liquids' for a thousand, Alex.

Despite the fridge being full of homemade leftovers
I'm eating Ramen noodles tonight--
call it a craving reminiscent of my Warehouse Days
when I somehow managed to live
on a thousand bucks a month.

I remember waiting for the water to boil
and for the cheap beer weekends.

My grandkids will only hear half of that story:
My Half.


A fictional call made from outside a college bar at three in the morning on a weeknight.

"Yeah. Want to do something stupid again?"
"Please, I've learned my lesson. Were you sleeping?"
"Yeah, some people work in the morning."
"Aw, poor baby. I ran into Jules tonight."
"Was she dancing on tables again?"
"No, but if she was it'd be your fault."
"The Brown Man's Burden. Can we skip the speech?"
"Do you know what you did to her?"
"The same thing I did to a lot of girls between 2003 and 2007."
"You heartless bastard! You know the dates?"
"Just the years, give or take. Goodnight."
"Ugh! I swear to God you're the most..."

I hung up before she could finish her sentence
making sure to turn my phone off.
It was nice ending it on a positive note
being "the most" and all.


He cooks for an army that doesn't exist and says it's for love of the game.

When I first moved in it took some getting used to;
he put the toilet paper roll in the dispenser
backwards, at least according to how I was raised.
Sure, it wasn't a big deal, but I bent before I broke.
Don't tell me I never compromise. That's a lie.

It's amazing how unaccustomed to change the
human race is, even with such a seemingly trivial orientation.
If you don't believe me
move your refrigerator to a new location in your kitchen
assuming that's where you keep it.
You'll be amazed at how many times a day you absent-mindedly
veer off in the wrong direction in search of food or drink
then saunter back around with the hopes that no one noticed.
The neighbors must think I'm dancing in my kitchen at night;
I'm not, I'm just lost.

It's in your bones.

Even on the hot and sticky nights
we tend to need at least a sheet
covering our bodies, a thin linen layer
between the world and us at our most vulnerable.
Try and sleep naked on a bare mattress
with nothing to wrap around yourself;
it's close to impossible, sober.
There've been studies conducted that prove all this.
We're an insecure species.
Sue us.
It's not entirely our fault.

It started early with the lining of the womb.
Then as children we'd pull the blankets over our heads
when the eyes glowed in our closets
as if that precious cotton
would save us from the knives, the claws.
And now, as young adults still feigning sea legs
we have the same latent yearning

though tonight, despite all the claims I've just made
about that deep-down need for a woven barricade
I couldn't help but toss it off with this new heat and
then, you see, as always, there was this girl...
but we've had enough science for one night.

The safe word is "Forever."


Always with the flailing.

There were some ancient cultures, Chinese
Dynasties painted prettily in books and such
who executed prisoners quite gruesomely
using rats, a pot, and fire.
See, they'd lay the man down
put the rats on his bare stomach
cover said rodents with the pot
and heat said pot with a torch
until the rats would have no choice
but to chew their way through the man's flesh
to avoid being baked alive.

What people tend to disregard
about this cute little game, however
is that the rats were the ones being tortured;
the man, he was being punished.
There's a difference implied--
it's a matter of guilt or innocence.

Call me cynical
but I've always felt worse
for the rats.
Humans are capable of dirtier deeds
than what they call vermin.



When I opened the trailer door this morning
Ed was sitting over the blueprints
with red eyes, pretending to be absorbing
the Big Picture; I knew he was secretly
wishing he had gotten some more sleep
instead of crawling to his basement at 3 a.m.
to load more ammunition. His efforts will
pay off someday if this plays out as predicted.

I sat down on the rigid metal folding chair
four feet from my future self
and waited for the punchline that wasn't coming.
Some men let those go, you know.

The packaged shoelaces sat on his desk
in front of me calling my name. I broke
the silence with a laugh.

"I knew you'd forget to pick them up again
so I got ya some last night," he gently snarled.

There are children outside my window playing.
There are children.

I looked down at his boots and noticed
that he had bought the same set of laces for himself.
It would've been weird if he hadn't, almost unacceptable.
That'd suggest some things that neither of us
would want to admit: that we love each other deeply
and without reason; that we fill roles in each other's
broken lives; that we're both closet drunks
with a penchant for beers with orange slices in them.

The day went on as you would imagine--
I hated pipe in general and sang '80s hip-hop in my head.

A little after lunch we went into a classroom
to check the status of some ancient copper heat lines
that our contract required us to replace.
There were tanks, cages, and aquariums
along the perimeter of the room;
evidently it was a biology class.
It was Spring Break, I forgot to tell you that.
No one had been in there for a week, wouldn't
for another four days.

The ball python hid under some molded tree-bark, a lizard
was perched near the lid of its tank, two red-eared sliders
swam in a ten-gallon tank next to the goldfish they'd eat
and then there was the hamster. I say "hamster", but
it could have been a gerbil, the bottom line being
that it was a small gray rodent running in a wheel.
I approached his cage as he spun his fruitless vice
and saw that his water bottle was empty.
Did the teacher really think it'd survive
twelve days without a refill?

"I gotta give this thing water, Eddie."
"We're not supposed to interfere with the classrooms."
"This isn't about class."
"I didn't see anything, do what ya gotta do."
I did.

It turns out that wearing the same shoelaces
and shooting the same caliber rifle
don't make you the same person.
Thank the god that laughs loudest.

The rodent kept running in its wheel.
The three of us would live to see Monday.
The sun set on me and my liquor-drunk friends on my porch.

They're gone now.
I'm OK because I remember.
That's not always an affliction.
Sleep soundly next to your mortal enemy.


I'm sure it's been done before, and better.

Came home from a night of welding
to the porch light on and waiting.
The clock next to the front door
was still an hour slow
weeks after most other Americans
had dutifully changed theirs.
Cursed my laziness
and checked my watch
which was three minutes behind
according to the nearest cell tower.

Time and I never have gotten along.
It's one thing that hasn't changed much.

I opened the door and was followed inside
by a moth the size of a small bat.
It fluttered around the kitchen
confused as anything else out of its element
finally finding the glowing bulb above the stove
and bouncing off that a few dozen times.

My boots were heavier than usual
my empty stomach churned
and I needed a shower like a man needs a maid
but I took the precious twenty seconds to catch
the poor thing in my hand and set it free outside.

I know what it is to be attracted to that bright light
that's only going to burn you in the end.
"No soldiers left behind," if I can help it.


Not bad for a Polak.

So Joe cruised up the Congo
and saw the flaws of Man
before writing 'Heart of Darkness'.
You may have seen the modern adaptation
in celluloid form: 'Apocalypse Now'.

Another dead friend who wasn't
ashamed to make his private hell
public for the sake of...

...no, let's not
put words in his mouth;
the worms and dirt are bad enough.

Joey, your kind's alright in my book
even though I can't write.
Don't worry, I'm still laughing.

Currently reading:
"Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad.

...keeping in mind that it's a heliocentric system.

There are Letters and Numbers
for cases like this
but don't let them distract you
from the true sense of the Word.

We're all scared of foreign languages in print.
The price of silence is never too high.
A long-winded friend fueled by stiff drinks
is always far better than the terse late-night phone call.
The Red Ring of Death affects all parties.
And when we find the missing part to bridge the song
it's already too late to make a difference
but braking in time to miss a squirrel makes up for that.

Tap your bat on the plate three times
maybe once on your left heel
and get ready for the next curve.

You know it's coming.
Don't waste the litmus paper.

At least we didn't become math teachers.


As bad for me as it was for you.

The headlights behind me closed in fast
so I already knew what was about to happen
when the rollers went on.
I pulled over right away
and thanked God I hadn't been drinking.
He (the cop, not God) hopped out of his car in an
uncharacteristically fast manner
as I rummaged for my registration
in the glove compartment.

"License," he barked.
I saw a fine myst of his saliva glisten
in the bright light surrounding his imposing silhoutte.
"And registration?"
"Just do as I say, boy."
A twang had suddenly developed in his voice.
"Sorry, sergeant."
I slipped that one in as a feeble attempt to gain
brownie points after noticing the stripes
on the sleeve of his jacket.
"I'm not a sergeant, son."
"I'm sorry, officer."
"I'm not an officer either."
"Then who are you?"
"I'm your ex-girlfriend's father
and I know what you did
in the back-seat of the Volkswagen!"
My jaw didn't even have time to drop
before he reached through the window
and tried to collapse my windpipe
with the iron grip of his two hands.

I jolted awake in a cold sweat
swatting my face in the process
as part of the nervous reaction.
The stubble raked against my palm.
Shaving would be painful, I shouldn't have put it off.

Pop Culture was giving me nightmares
and I would be giving myself razor burn.
It seemed like the usual unfair trade.


Rum for dinner

I'm sorry for the sentimentality
of the last one, as well as
that of this one
but you see I've been drinking
like I used to when I thought
that all the Greats did
when they
sat to type.

I had a friend once
who used to call it channeling.
I had a friend once.

Monsters are prettiest when
skeletons escape the closet.

Twenty-seven per.
So I got a few back.
Big deal.
Fuck, man.
You've seen me.
Tell 'em it's real.

When I've had a few
well, this many
I can lock eyes with myself in the mirror
for a good two minutes straight.
It's a first and only that I take pride in.
Let me.

Sometimes I pull the lever back.
I'd be doing everyone a favor.

Are you embarrassed to be on my team?


What lies behind my rabbit obsession, and more reasons to hate my father.

My mother took me to pick him out
one afternoon at my Grandma's friend's house.
Their back porch had been converted into
a rabbit breeding center, cages everywhere.
Naturally I picked the one that came over
to sniff my hand. Little did we know
that it was not a dwarf rabbit like the rest of them
and would grow to be a-foot-and-a-half long.

Let me back-track, I always start these in the middle.
I was six and my dog had recently ran away
after my brilliant father had brought him to the Fourth of July
fireworks. It only took two explosions to scare
the thing enough to bolt so hard that he broke the leash.
Four hundred bucks and a trip to Ohio for the rare breed
all washed down the tubes by my father's carelessness.

Mom would ride her bike around town calling his name
for weeks, but never found Benji.
I'm sure someone picked him up.
He was a handsome dog and didn't bark
though he did chew my mother's Bible to shreds one time

In retrospect the rabbit was Mom's way of making up for the loss.
She didn't tell my father about her idea and when we brought
the rabbit home he wasn't happy about being left out of the loop.
In retrospect that well-intentioned gift was another nail
in the ever-growing marital coffin. At six I didn't see that.
To make matters worse, or better, depending
my mom coerced my father into building a large pen for Cuddles
(we weren't sure of the sex yet, hence the ambiguous name).
He got some two-by-fours and some chicken wire
and screws and hinges and divided the front porch in half.
Cuddles had a spacious eight-by-ten home
complete with a swinging door and Benji's old plastic doghouse
though he never used that, almost as if he knew it wasn't really his.

Within the year Mom started sleeping alone in the guest bedroom
upstairs, a whole floor away from my fanatically Christian father.
I didn't understand it then, and when I finally thought I did
I blamed her. Again, the six-year-old didn't know any better
and didn't fully grasp it for another fifteen years, give or take.
When the divorce finally came my father brought up
the issue of the rabbit in family court. My mom and I were moving
into an apartment across town and didn't want to disrupt
Cuddles' lifestyle by cramming him into a cage.
Two months ago my mom told me that my father requested
fifty-dollars-a-month in rent for the rabbit.
I'm not sure if it was that ridiculous stipulation
or the fact that my father didn't want to take care of the poor thing
but either way Cuddles was to be given away.
My dad had a friend from the town's fish and game club
who raised rabbits in his barn and would take Cuddles in.
The only condition we had was that he'd be used to stud
and not butchered for food like the rest of the bunnies there.
It sounded like a good arrangement, but the worse ones
usually do.

The apartment wasn't as bad as I had predicted.
Even at six the glass was half empty. I was an early bloomer
and quick fader. My mother had some musclebound locals
help us move the furniture into the new place.
I'm pretty sure most of them worked at the only gas station
in that ragged one-horse town at the time.

It took me some time to adjust, but I did.
My mom was relieved to be free from my father.
Not everyone was so well-off, however; don't mistake
this for some sort of Happy Ending.
Those aren't doled out so easily.

The two of us went to visit Cuddles to see how he was doing
a couple months after our respective moves.
My mother and I even brought him a carrot as a treat
and a small blanket to make him comfortable in his new home.
An old woman answered the door at my father's friend's house
and led us to the barn where the rabbits were kept.
"Oh, the mean black one..." she said
when we said who we were really there to see.

The barn was dimly lit, a far cry from the front porch
at what was now only my father's house.
We approached the rabbits slowly and looked for Cuddles.
His tiny cage was towards the bottom of the stack.
I called his name in the same tone that I used to use
but he didn't respond.
I stuck my little fingers through the holes in the wire
but he bit me.
My mother tried giving him the carrot
but he wouldn't nibble on it.
He no longer lived up to his name.

We looked at each other and held back tears.
I threw the blanket out the window on the ride home
and never went back there again
until now.

I hope they ate him before the meat got too tough.

The rabbit I have now runs free from the time I get home
from work until I go to bed at eleven.

Dad, you lost me sooner than either of us ever realized.


It skips a generation.

Ben Ashcroft threw the front door of his house open like his wife hadn't seen for thirteen years when the neighbor's kid backed into their garbage cans. His face looked like an advertisement for fresh plums, complete with tiny droplets of perspiration. Marge could tell he'd been sweating profusely and saw the fury in his complexion. The few wispy hairs left on his head flew like a yellow quarantine flag in contrast to his purple face. "Get me the razor!" he yelled with the same urgency as the captain of a ship stuck in a storm. Marge turned the stove down to the simmer setting and scampered to the bathroom without asking questions. She knew better. Thirty years of marriage will do that to you.

When she returned with said item in hand Ben had disappeared from the foyer. She heard him rummaging through the junk drawer in the kitchen and crept cautiously to his aid. "Can I help you find something, Darling?" she asked in her most accommodating voice.

"Where are the scissors?" Ben snapped, now more the iron-fisted czar than the concerned seaman.

"They're on the table. I was cutting out some coupons earlier." She added that last detail as an excuse for having the audacity to have moved the scissors from the safe darkness of the junk drawer. It was an expert move.

Ben began to form a syllable of disapproval, but swallowed it instead. Marge's prompt explanation had defused the situation. He cursed womankind for having the upper hand, or at least knowing how to respond correctly at any given time. Thirty years of marriage will do that to you. "Very well, then. Towel. I'll need a towel," and he marched back out of the house, slamming the door behind him.

There was a lull in the absurdity of the scene, just enough time for the dog, the second one purchased after the first one's untimely demise at the hand of a brazen sixteen-year-old, to yawn. Nothing surprised him anymore in that household. He looked forward to walks moreso than was probably healthy, despite the risk of death by automobile.

Marge found a towel in the linen closet and made her way out into the fresh air of the summer afternoon. On the side of the house she found Ben unkinking the garden hose while mumbling words that only belonged on the walls of port towns' men's rooms. Once a steady stream was flowing from the nozzle he proceeded to fill the bucket next to him with water.

"Chop it off!" Ben ordered his wife as he thrust the scissors in her general direction.
"What?" she asked, still confused.
"This damn comb-over I've been sporting for the past eight years. Cut it off, now!"
She took the scissors from his hand and began clipping the sad strands of fading hair that only sprouted from the left side of his head. It didn't take more than forty seconds.
"Now shave the rest, Honey." Ben's face didn't look like a plum anymore. He was beginning to regain his mild-mannered composure. The "Honey" was his attempt to signify his return to normalcy.
"But why, Darling?" she asked sincerely. "I don't understand."
"If I'm going to be bald, I'm going to be bald. No more lying to myself." He smiled with the stubborn pride of a kamikaze pilot.

Marge didn't understand his change of heart. They'd spent countless hours discussing the topic when the abomination had first plagued Ben's scalp. She dipped her hands into the bucket of water and gently wet his head, then started shaving the thin strip of hair that remained around the back and sides of her husband's crown. When the last of it had been removed she told him it was finished and that he looked better, distinguished even. Ben grabbed the bucket of water and dumped it over himself to rinse off the remaining clippings. It looked like a second baptism that most of the other Catholics on the block had never experienced. Ben silently refused the towel Marge offered him, shook off like a dog, and strode inside confidently-- a new man suddenly happier with himself and the world around him. Marge's jaw stayed low as she watched in disbelief. Who was this imposter, and what had they done with her husband?

The scissors, razor, and towel were laying in the lime green lawn before her. Marge bent over to pick them up. "Good thing I turned the gas range down," she thought to herself as she switched back into dinner preparation mode. The long-sought revelation came when she turned around to head back inside to her spousal duties. The shiny new fire engine red convertible Ben had purchased for himself as an early retirement present was sitting in the driveway, heat waves distorting the air above its still-hot hood. The top, of course, was down. No salesman in his right mind would've reminded a balding potential buyer of the dangers of owning such a vehicle.

Ben's mid-life crisis had slapped him in the face for his entire commute home from work.

Marge Ashcroft laughed to herself quietly at the new phase of her marriage, looking around to make sure no one was watching. Thirty years of marriage will do that to you.


My father's father was born in 1906.
He died before I ever saw the light of day
but my mother met him a few times.
She says I didn't miss much, just a round old
womanizer with two faded Navy tattoos on his forearms
who had a weakness for Puerto Rican rum
as strong as my father's for Puerto Rican women.

When he kicked the bucket he left my father his guns:
various rifles, a few shotguns, and an unregistered
.380 semi-automatic that a detective friend
had given him to keep under the bar at his establishment.
The little pocket pistol would've been nice to have
in his absence, maybe even a fair trade
but my father, the stickler that he is, handed it over
to a cop friend of his since it didn't have any paperwork.
One good jerk deserves another.

Then there was his Navy rifle and sword.
Charles George left those to Charles Martin, too
and the latter bungled that just as efficiently.
The set was sold to some collector
to help with the down payment on the house
that my old man still lives in.
It takes a special kind of person
to sell a sentimental piece like that.
Granted, my grandfather was in the Sea Bees
or CBs, the Navy's Construction Battalion
which means he mostly played softball in Hawaii
and sometimes aided in building airstrips or barracks.
They'd go in and do their thing once the fighting had ceased
and the perimeter was secure enough to start construction.
Never saw any real combat, but that's not the point.
A man's service rifle is a man's service rifle, dammit.
You don't go pawning it off to the highest bidder.
Or maybe you do, just like a man's stories.

But the real kicker
the thing that truly gets this Prodigal Son's goat
is that my dad had the nerve
to throw out or bury
the jar of Japanese teeth
that his old man brought home
from the War.

You'd think I'd be better with pliers at work
considering the talent of my ancestry.

The air still looms, alright.


Don't wear their shirt to the concert.

I once thought I saw the face of God
in a footprint on the set-list
from my favorite band's last show
that I taped to my wall
but then again
it might've been the rum.

Somos muertos, pero no los sabemos.

Today I bought a box of 7.62 x 39 full metal jackets
for my AK-47 after work, and laughed
as I read the label in my truck heading home.

We live in a world
where ammunition packages
come with lead poisoning warnings
on them

and I'm supposed to be concerned
about the state of the economy.

When all Hell finally breaks loose
and Mel Gibson starts driving his jalopy
around the post-Apocalyptic desert
you can bet your eye teeth
I'll be plenty ready
and not so surprised.

Until then, though
my left index- and right middle-fingers
(the only ones I type with)
want you to know
that the Best Place To Eat Alone
is the Stewart Airport Diner
according to the local paper

and "Be kind. Rewind."
is only another brilliant adage from
a past that not even Max can change.

Come quickly to catch the after-church crowd.
I'll be waiting in the belltower.


The barkeep played the bongos, and well.

"A born loser," and my mentor sipped his beer.
"Nah, he just sucks at Quick Draw."
"It's more than that, man."
He put his bottle down and I rested my case.

I talked to Paulie later, his ears weren't ringing.
Bought him a beer, then asked for a smoke.
He almost blushed at both, but gave the latter
with an enthusiasm not worthy of the price.
I needed one bad, it was too nice outside
to not be drinking with the lepers in a dark bar.

"I wrote something about him," I whispered.
My bastard father took it as an insult to the man.
"He's a good guy, just a nobody."
"I didn't mean that in a bad way. He's a character."
It didn't register. The beer was too deep.
I gave up and continued listening to his dreams
instead, past and present.

Paulie realized where the second beer came from
twenty minutes later, then invited me out
for another cigarette on the porch.
The rate was unfair, but I'd set a precedent.
We stood and talked in the new March sun for a few drags.
He bragged about remembering my name.
I listened intently to the man of the week
mostly focusing on the Leo pendant around his neck--
the Lion Man: I was correct in my assertation.
The draft went down easier and I made a mental note
to keep following my gut, despite its many thirsts.

A round came out of my stack of bills
and the three of us kept drinking
until my two cohorts peeled themselves off of the oak
conspicuously or otherwise.

"Have you seen Paulie?" I asked a drunken female regular
a hard woman who scared me and
happened to be a corrections officer.
"No," she replied from her seat on the porch steps. "You OK?"
"Yeah," I said half-in-the-bag, the sun being long gone.
"You need gum?"
"You're chewing it like you need it."
"I don't."
"Paulie can take care of himself, wherever he is."
I spit out my gum and drove home.

Sometimes I go places more to observe than to participate.
The booze is just a bonus.
Call it my curse.


How any good parent rewrites the script.

"Did you eat the leftovers I gave you?"
"Yeah, Mom."
"Don't sound so thrilled."
"There's too much chicken in your penne ala vodka."
"I'm sorry."
I instantly felt bad for saying it.
Her mother's rice never had enough.

And my uncles couldn't play basketball with a corpse
though one of them was just inducted
into his high school's hall of fame
fifty years after ever running the court.

If only the Sixties and Seventies hadn't hit.
If only that car hadn't killed their father.
They say I have his nose.
I think it's his heart.

She offered me a cookie on my way out.

The people who smoke in cars
with the windows up during winter
are the same ones who still believe
that squinting helps one think harder
or remember the name of that actress.
They lick their wounds on beer-stained couches
illuminated by the blue glow of the TV screen
but can we blame them since we made them?

There was a man I knew who worked in the City.
He'd get to the skyscraper where his office was
forty-five minutes early each morning
because he chose to take the stairs.
The elevator riders didn't even know his name
even though he'd worked there for five years.
You see, he was claustrophobic...

If you really want an aging live-in relative to die
all you need to do is have a shower rail installed
or maybe one of those electric stair-rider jobs.
That's how God's odds work, they wait for construction
and good intentions to laugh in the faces of us ants.

I heard it said once at a seminar
that "The solution to pollution is dilution,"
and haven't been the same dry self since.
They're getting fatter in the dreams.
I guess that's a good thing.

In two hours I'll be directing a crane
at a local middle school
and then setting curbs on the roof
of Marlboro High in some sort of sick
pre-emptive measure some years too late.
It's all just more meaningless shop talk.
It's all not so funny anymore
but all I can do is laugh into the pillow
until my stomach hurts.

Last night we watched a movie in the basement
of the union hall at plumbing class.
The final frame was a Shakespeare quote
and the kid sitting next to me kicked my chair.
We smiled simultaneously, but for different reasons.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't see it coming.
Preacher, you raised a prophet.

Currently reading:
"The Complete Stories of Dorothy Parker"