Freud would have a field day.

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

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

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


Milk, Bread, Eggs...

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

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

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

The Lameness Czars

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

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

thers Kar-
? (Please?)


Don't threaten me with a good time.

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

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

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

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

"And do what with it?"

"Let it go outside."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Now what?" I asked.

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

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

"No hammer this time, OK?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I couldn't have agreed more.


The Job of 38th Street

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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


Keep that dirty Pig Latin under your hat.

If held at hipster knifepoint
I'd humbly confess


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

it's best to use
that rusty cider press.



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

Thankfully, no moment is perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

"Yeah, of course."

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Popcorn sold separately. Batteries not included.

It felt so liberating to finally remove my boots
after that grueling fourteen-hour day.
My bad ankle had been acting up since I first hit the gas pedal.
She wouldn't be laying in my bed anymore, she was already
back on her way to her city.
All I wanted was to smell her in the sheets.

It wasn't on my desk next to the keyboard
when I entered my room and started to disrobe.
Maybe she wrote it on the second or third sheet of
the pad so I'd find it a few days later
after tearing off previous pieces, shopping lists and such
(she did that sometimes, too)
but it wasn't there, either.

I frowned and emptied my pockets onto the dresser:
a marker, some chalk to mark pipe, a box-cutter, a few quarters.
After tossing the dirty clothes into the hamper
I turned and faced the bed: she'd changed the sheets before leaving.
So much for inhaling that sweet and spicy scent.
It'd be detergent in my nostrils while I drifted off to sleep.
Detergent and the smell of copper.

The shower went as usual. The steps were just as creaky.
The rabbit still ran under the arm chair when I reached the landing.
Fortunately, though, I didn't turn off the light before climbing
into bed. Something in my gut told me to lift my pillow.
There it was, her tired cursive waiting to be discovered.

But I won't tell you what it said.
Some things are private, even for me.
Suffice it to say I slept well, and it wasn't just because
of the overtime I worked.
Newland Archer-- you old fool, you...


Illegally in the HOV Lane

There's a bump near the southbound
95th Street exit on the Joe DiMaggio
West Side Highway, Henry Hudson
whatever you want to call it.
If you hit it at fifty
your balls float a little.
I try to hit it at sixty.

Once, on my way down to see her
I contemplated picking up
an outdoorsman who was sleeping
on the sidewalk under some sheets of cardboard.
We could grab a slice, maybe some coffee.
The thought of what his piss-soaked clothes
might smell like in the seat next to me, the
windows rolled up tight to keep the noise
and stench of the city out, deterred me.
What if I threw up? He wouldn't like that.
They say most of them are mentally ill
whether that caused or resulted from
their living conditions. I didn't want to risk
being shanked in the neck, being found
dead on the side of the road, soaked in
my own blood and vomit, my head leaning
on the horn. They'd try to bill my family
if it happened in a No Honking Zone.
Insult to injury, further shame to death.

I decided to keep driving.
Can't save them all.
If you don't have enough for the whole class
you can't have any.
Save your money
for the eight-dollar bridge toll.

Street cleaning rules are in effect.
Everything else has gone out the window.


There's a line drawn in the sand.

"V as in Victor
A-H, S-E-N,"
she annunciates
into the phone
with the same cadence
indoctrinated into me
as a kid
by my mother
who no longer uses
the name.

"No, not B, V.
And it's H-S, not S-H."
I can hear her getting
agitated, glad it's not at me.

She waits for the recital.
I feel her pain
after years of trying
to explain the same name.

"Yeah, that's it."

She's too good at the speech
not to want it.


I'm working with my buddy
Dave the next day. Well, not with-- for.
He knows I could use the cash
and throws me some side work
when I call and ask him if he needs a hand
putting a boiler in or running some pipe.
He's thirty-five, married his high school sweetheart
and has three rambunctious boys
that love him dearly. I can hear it
in their voices when they answer his phone.
"Daddy, it's your friend Mike..."

I'm up on the ladder getting ready
to solder a joint. He reaches up to hand me
the torch when I notice some black electrical tape
wrapped around his middle finger.
"What happened, Mr. Accident Prone?"

"Cut myself on some copper."

"That stuff's supposed to make you money
not make you bleed."

"Yeah, yeah. Sweat that joint, Shakespeare."

Before getting back to the task at hand
my eyes are drawn to the adjacent finger.
He's one of the few men in the trade
I've seen wear his band.
It's supposed to be a safety issue--
tools or machinery could get caught in it, so they say--
but most guys just use that as an excuse
to leave it at home on their dressers.
The fact that Dave doesn't
is another reason to respect him.
What's a finger compared to a life?
I know which camp is mine.


So narrow you can see right through.

The big-
gest sin
is not
it's fail-
ing to
from your

(You did
stolen re-

these hills
are nothing

But my
of Heaven

to sleep
beside you
every night

and on
our ride
from the
I kept my
a secret
for fear
that you'd
stop rub-
bing my


Your idea of a Grand Finale is a waste of my tax dollars.

Call me an un-American grouch
but fireworks make me sad.
And no, it's not because
my dolt of a father brought
the dog my parents had bought for me
as a present for my fifth birthday
to the Bear Mountain fireworks
where the second shot had terrified
him so much that he bolted hard enough
to break his leash and run away
never to be seen again.
It really has very little to do with that.
Promise. Swear. Cross my heart and hope to...

It's more of the fact that those quiet, reflective
moments shared by some of us present during
the celebratory spectacle of light and sound
are generally a farce. We sit and think
of all the promises made and broken
to and by ourselves, respectively.
We imagine a beauty that isn't really there.
We wait until it's over to look down at our watches
and complain that the show was six minutes
shorter than last year's. And then we walk home
pretending not to be disillusioned.

But the real kicker is how eager we are
to pull the people under our arms closer to ourselves
as if that'll keep them from repeating the process
that we've come to know so well.
Sure, they'll be there for that first year's
fireworks display. The two of you will hold each other
tightly and think of how fortunate you are to be together
and how many more fireworks shows you hope
to enjoy in the holy presence of one another.

Then a year goes by: lo and behold, you're
watching the damn fireworks yet again. This time, however
reality's set in; those little flaws you used to love so dearly
during the honeymoon phase are now the hideous idiosyncrasies
that drive you to the point of insanity. You both know
you probably won't stay together much longer, let alone
forever, but you may make it a few months longer. Then
one of you will wisen up and do what's right for both parties.
It's just a matter of when.

And then comes the third fireworks display in the vicious cycle--
the one where you're either alone and questioning
how many of those statements were lies, or if you're lucky
you've got someone else under that needy arm of yours
as you're wondering if you can somehow manage
to not blow it for once. Either way it's depressing.
Either way you should probably just stay home next time.
They won't hold it against you forever.
Can't you fake a cold or something?

Benji, if you're out there, you had the right idea.


Havin' it whose way?

"Are you ready to order yet, sir?"

"I'd like a Number Six, please. Medium-sized with a Diet."

"Anything else today?"

"Can you hold the mayo and put that spicy sauce on it instead?"

"What spicy sauce?"

"The one on those new sandwiches being advertised."

"I don't have a button for that on my register."

"Can you tell the guy in the back to put the sauce on it?"

"I guess so."


"That'll be six seventy-two, please pull around."

If I was really feeling sadistic that night
I would've handed her eleven seventy two
at the window and watched her head explode.


Under the covered bridge.

Globs of wax on the floor from the previous night's candle-lit encounter held their dull pastel purple perfectly. We were sprawled out in the dim half-light of my room on that lazy Thursday morning, the beast with two backs having been killed twice already. She was reading a book I'd lent her as I slowly fed her her favorite ice cream, a smooth mixture of coconut and pineapple that would've gone great in a rum concoction.

"Let me turn the light on, Babe. It's too dark to read in here. Bad for your eyes."

"Says who?"

"Mothers throughout the centuries."

She shot me a look that sought to dispelled the old wive's tale. I reached down for another silver spoonful of the rich dessert and noticed a small, wet circle on the sheet where my left armpit had been dripping. It wasn't particularly hot in my room, but my body's accustomed to draining itself. Our bodies were practically empty as it was, the eager lovers that we were and had always been. She caught me staring down at the sweat mark on the sheet and snorted quietly through her nostrils to express her slightly disapproving and hesitant amusement. I loved when she did that.

Was it time for another bite yet? We were sharing the remnants of the carton, but I was only partaking so she would indulge. Two for her, one for me-- the ratio I preferred.

"Last bite. Open."

She complied, despite my awkward movement. It was clear I hadn't dealt much with children.

"You're terrible at feeding people."

"You're great at ruining things," I said, rising to rinse the bowl out in the sink.

The bathroom was closer, and therefore my destination. Besides, I didn't feel like going downstairs to the kitchen considering I wasn't wearing much of anything. I swished some water around in the bowl as the early afternoon sun shone through the venetian blinds in the second-floor bathroom. She must've opened them before. She always did that for some reason, ever since she'd first started coming here. Sometimes, when I wasn't her intended host, I'd find the bathroom shades in their open position and stage a silent protest of longing. Why couldn't I have seen her? Why was I such a coward? The worst part was that I knew the answers to both of those questions and chose to do nothing about it. It didn't matter anymore, though; things were as they should have been from the start. But there was still that sour memory of what the opened venetian blinds used to symbolize.

"Would you shoot me?" I asked her once I'd returned to my bedroom.

"I think so," she said, a puzzled look on her face. I could tell that she'd really thought about it. It disturbed me a bit that she'd responded so sincerely without the further clarification that I planned on delivering next.

"I mean with non-lethal shells. Rubber buckshot. I want to get some to keep in the shotgun as the first two rounds. Doesn't seem right to be OK with using them on someone else if I don't know what they feel like. You know, kind of like how cops have to be pepper-sprayed before they can carry the stuff."

"You're ridiculous, but I get it. You sure you trust me enough for that?"

"More than anyone else right now, myself included."

She put the book down on my bed, wiped some coconut pineapple ice cream from my beard with her thumb, and ran her fingers down my left cheek. There wasn't much light in the room, but I could tell that her eyes were more gray than green at the moment.

My mother would approve someday. My father would miss out. It didn't seem such a bad deal, all things considered. I'd done in twenty-five years what some people hadn't in a lifetime, even if I wasn't sure what exactly that was. The days of taking hostages were over, and I was done eating ice cream.



When I hear a drum fill like the one
in that last song I listened to
before pulling into my driveway
I'm forced to miss watching
a drummer keep time
on his head or chest while not playing
as me and the boys hold it down
with the strings. It's one of those things
you can't explain to someone who hasn't been there.
It's not the music I regret not having around anymore;
it's the moments like that in a circle of half-drunk friends.

But I was once accused of having
and I quote:
"a warped perception of reality."
That became a title
and another reason to leave, though
I forget who left whom that fifteenth and final time.

It's a lot like comfort food from my mother
going bad on the kitchen counter
while I'm out gallivanting in the sunlight
I claim to hate.

We'll all get over it eventually.
We haven't much choice.
That's the beauty of the thing.


"Too late," I said half inquisitively
as the mailman shut the back of his truck
after emptying the blue drop box in front
of the post office. He was pudgy and short
and looked like he wouldn't be doling out random kindness.
Wrong again, oh cynical one.
"No you're not," he said with an extended hand and
what was either a wink or a squint
in the orange glow of the setting September sun.
As I pulled away he gave me a salute
his postman's key dangling from the long chain
attached to his blue shorts.
Those words echoed in my thick skull
bouncing around all the bad ideas.
A prophet who loved his job
despite the stereotypes.


Wrecked him.

The four of us arrived at the union hall
in the same order that we would
if we were going there for our weekly
plumbing classes, though that wasn't
the occasion this time.
We were going to carpool down
to Westchester Medical Center to see Ray
another guy in the apprenticeship program
who had recently been hit head-on
by a dump-truck while coming home from work.
Collapsed lung, lacerated liver, shattered ankle
appendix and ten feet of large intestine removed
but they said he'd be alright.

"Anybody hear from Tim?" I asked
as I approached the designated smoking spot
outside the front of the stone building
where we met for meetings.

"He'll be here in ten. Need a smoke?"

"I'm good. Quit." I went for my pack of gum.

We shot the shit for a few minutes catching up
on work stories, tales of general hilarity and misfortune.

"Here he comes now," I announced to the other two plumbers.

Tim offered to drive down to the hospital.
I thought I'd end up doing it, but he jumped
at the chance as if it was his silent penance
for holding us up. We saw the empty paper bag
and knew why he was running late.

"Does Ray need us to bring him anything?"

"Bacon double cheeseburger from a fast food place
and two strippers," I said from my spot in the back seat.
"Maybe a few feet of guts if we can scrounge some up."

"I brought him this," the kid next to me said, pulling
a folded magazine from his back pocket.
"It's a Collector's Edition."

"Playboy? Think that's what he really wants right now?"

"You're right. Can he even use his pecker?" Jay was turning
red with embarrassment. We all knew his heart was in the
right place and wanted to console him. Construction workers
are only allowed to do that by busting balls, though.

"Jesus, Jay," I said from the half of my mouth
that wasn't smiling as widely. "If the nurses catch him
rubbing one out they'll kick him to the curb."

We passed the skin mag around and flipped through
the pages. Lots of actresses from throughout the forty years
it had been in publication. A few washed-up singers.
One dead sex symbol. All in all it was a quality issue.

"I don't think he should have this anyway," Tim said
as he shoved it under the visor above his head
with the hand that wasn't driving.
We all laughed, he pulled it back down
and tossed it into Jay's lap.
The rest of the ride went quickly.
We found that bacon double.

Tim was the first one to enter Ray's room.
The forty pounds our pal had lost
in the seven weeks since the accident
had changed his appearance so much
that he was unrecognizeable; so much so, in fact
that Tim did an about-face and started to
walk out of the room as if he'd made a mistake.

"Tim! It's me, man," came Ray's weakened voice
from behind the light blue curtain.

Ray wasn't a big guy to begin with. This
tragedy had diminished his size even further.
His chest was small and frail, his arms thin
and the tendons in his neck stuck out like
cords tightened behind a thin beige sheet.
He could've been in a film about the Holocaust.

The four of us looked at each other.
I was glad we'd made it a point to get
exactly what he wanted to eat for him.
He needed all the help he could get, especially
since he was a divorced man of forty-something
whose family lived in Florida.

We sat around our emaciated friend
and made him laugh as much as possible.
No patronizing, no sugar-coating the facts.
Told a few recent work stories that had
been circulating at coffee break.
Nothing major, nothing too deep.
Company, fraternity. No stroking of anything.

"Crossword puzzles, huh?" I commented
letting my fingertips graze the cover
of the book of puzzles on his table.
Reminded me of laying with my girlfriend
and feeling intellectually spanked.
A proud defeat.
I tried to hide my happy memory out of
respect for my friend's situation.

"Yeah. I only get a few answers, then give up."

Then Tim chimed in with what we'd all been wondering:
"You need anything else, bro? A book? Some magazines?"
That was supposed to be the cue. He was baiting him.

Jay locked eyes with Tim before glancing at the rest of us
as if to say "No way in hell am I pulling that
magazine out of my pocket." There were things
far more important than some famous naked broads of yore.
A man's got to walk before he can run, let alone fuck.

"Nah, man. I'm good."

Jay sighed in relief.
Ray pushed the button that allowed more morphine
to drip into his system.
The rest of us counted our respective blessings.
We found more things to laugh about.

My watched stopped for some reason
while we were there
and the ride home felt like it took much longer.

"Next week?" I asked as we pulled into the
parking lot at the hall.

"I'm in."


"No doubt."

Some of us are only born
without brothers.