The First Line Of A Story I'm Too Damn Chicken-Shit To Write

It was an autumn we were cheated, when the leaves turned brown and fell without the usual consolation prize of that fleeting orange bliss.


Meadow Soprano, Where Art Thou?

Wives and daughters of New Jersey policemen (, and I'm not limiting it to New JERSEY policemen, but know for a fact that such is the case with their little haven of perfected nepotism) are given faux-metal badges with rubber suction cups on them to stick to the insides of their windshields. These Get-Outta-Jail-Free Cards are rather large and obvious, even for the rarely bashful Smokestack State. In order to catch any potential thieves of said Holy Grails, wives and daughters of New Jersey policemen are instructed to take them down one month out of the year which, of course, is agreed upon by yes, you guessed it: the Fraternal Order of New Jersey Police (or FratOrNJeP, as I like to call it. Actually, this was my first time, but I like it and may use it in the future). Anyone seen operating a motor vehicle (MV) with the pseudo-badge proudly displayed during that designated Dark Age is instantly pulled over, interrogated, forced to describe their most traumatic childhood experience in dramatic detail through interpretive dance, and released to hopelessly wander the jug-handles, roundabouts, left-hand exits, and other absurd oddities of the New Jersey Highway System...and God forbid they're Asian; then we're all at risk.

You may be asking yourself: Self, what about the husbands and sons of New Jersey policePEOPLE? Well, quite frankly, they're left to fend for themselves. No one likes a man who can't make his own way in this world. Besides, the Situation doesn't have a Courtesy Badge in his ride. Why would any other brah possibly need one?


Justification: Too Much Hemingway Dialogue, Not Enough Sleep (For a Reason)

"...but all you do is..."

"Not all. Just mostly."

"Then why don't you...?"


"Because you're scared of being...?"


"Then why are you still...?"

"It's the one thing that only I can do, and I like that."

"Jesus. You're just as..."

"Watch it, now. That's my..."

"...for now."


"Then you both deserve..."

"...the best."

"But is that really...?"

"The Good Fight's worth its weight in empties it's inspired."

"And the bad ones, Socrates?"

"Won't get honorable mentions at any funerals."

"That's a bit melodramatic. You make..."

"...good drinks. Care for another?"


"You're a rare, easy customer."

"You need all the help you can get."

"You're not the first to say that, though I tend to disagree."

"That's because you're stubborn."

"I prefer 'persistent'."

"Whatever it takes to help you sleep..."

"Not until Friday night."

It's Out of the Question, Genetically Speaking

"Is that your cat?" I ask the three-year-old
as I point to the black mangy tom
sprawled peacefully on the radiator
that Dave and I replaced.

No answer from the girl.

"Who's that on the TV?" I try, nodding towards
the latest, freakish neon cartoon shipped with love
from Japan to rot the minds of American children.

She smiles a bit, revealing a full set of rounded teeth.
They're so perfect and miniature that they seem fake.
I'm surprised to see them, considering she doesn't speak.

I try the cat thing again. It seems more organic.
And besides, if she decides to make conversation
I know more about cats than I do about new cartoons.
Her green eyes light up her milky face
and the near-white ringlets draped over her ears
twitch with delight. Her right hand pats her thigh
three times in an inexpressable jolt of excitement.
It's got nothing to do with what I'm saying.
She just likes to hear me speak-- a trait she'll grow
out of in another fifteen years if she's anything like
the rest of her kind.

"That cat's silly," I venture, but the patting stays the same.
I begin to wonder if she even speaks English.
Maybe they do things differently in Walden.

"Alright. Boiler's up and running!" Dave calls
from beneath the floorboards. Nothing's leaking.
It's another minor miracle of the plumbing world.
Hallelujah, praise the Lord, pass the ammunition.

"All Quiet on the Western Front!" I yell back down.

"Huh?" Dave asks.

"It's a...nevermind. We're all good, baby!"

The girl, of course, pats her leg some more.

"Leave that poor man alone," the young mother
pleads from the kitchen. I wonder how she knows, if
my reputation precedes me as far as the next town over.
"Come and get a cookie, Lily," and my audience wobbles away.

Lily, the perfect name for a gorgeous bundle of almost-albino life.
I wonder if they had another one picked out, but changed it
after her birth since it was too fitting to pass up. (Yes, these
are the things your friendly neighborhood plumber thinks about
when he's in your home. These, and how to screw you.)

Lily and mom come in from the kitchen, cookies in hands of both.
Dave climbs the basement stairs and enters the room as well.
The three of them look at me, but only the one who knows me
asks what the smile on my face is about.

I pat my thigh three times and shrug
hoping the training pays off someday.


Grumpy Young Men

Fall foliage and a valley
carved deep by the Hudson's tide
drew me to the park
for a bout with Hem and loneliness.
His latest on my list
was on the Spanish Civil War--
something else he watched
but didn't fight in, then transcribed.
It was a recurring theme with him.
I was beginning to respect his writing more
and his farce of bravado less.
No, that's not true.
He lured me in
like those leaves.

The parking lot was empty
when I faithfully arrived.
It took me by surprise that
the high-for-season temperature
didn't bring out the illegals
cooking and fishing and playing in the water.
I thought it'd be too loud to read.
Instead I had a ghost town.

There was one old timer walking near me
on the path to the beach
where I used to lay with lover.
I noted the lack of people.
He said the same of yesterday
aside from a man in a kayak
who started in the Great Lakes
and was heading to the Gulf
for a charity for wounded vets.
"The aquatic Appalachian," I quipped
at his gray beard. He knew when
to break the conversation with a humble
"Have a good one," before it got too awkward.
I was thankful and sad at the same time.
Hemingway had conjured himself
only to vanish in thin air again
this time without the use
of his trusty twelve-gauge shotgun.

And that air was more than fierce
as it blew off the water and tried
turning pages prematurely.
The wind was whipping clouds
predicted to cast showers overnight
to the point of my discomfort
and immediate agitation.
I muscled through the story
of betrayal in a wartime bar
and made my way for my vehicle
and the safety of my room--
the waiting set of another tragedy.

The ride home gave some ammo
for the cynic in the critic:
Behold the daylight drug whores
of the main drag in my city.
A traffic light presented two bumpers
with opposing views stuck on:
"Pray the Rosary" and
"Born OK the First Time"
(a shot at Holy Rollers).
I made peace with happy medium
and told them both to scratch.

But the kicker in the sticker
didn't come until I laid down in bed
to read again and heard the uncommon
combination of lawnmower and crickets
through my open bedroom window.
An overly ambitious neighbor, or perhaps
a proscratinator, was trimming his grass
in the pitch-black of six-thirty.
Coupled with the insects it sang nothing less than home.
I tossed the book, hit the lights, and complied
with what fate gave me: a symphony to sleep through
while my mind erased the day.


The Joys of Being Cold-Blooded

The orange has peaked
at this end of October.
It's the most vivid display
since I was a kid
or maybe this year
I just notice it more

like the God Rays
reaching down
like fingers through the clouds
kissing outstretched legs
of six turtles on their log.
It's late in the season
for them to be out
but no one's pulling over
to shout that towards the pond.

Statistically it's proven
that men stab up
women thrust down
and me?
I lash out wildly
in every direction
favoring the one that's easiest.
In this case it's my driveway:
a harmless, homeless number.
Be thankful for the rote.

But those stubborn, timeless turtles
in their late October sun
are God's immaculate orgasm:
a happy mess that feels good
without having to sleep
in the wet spot.

I'd gladly sleep in yours.

Currently reading:
"The Fifth Column" by Ernest Hemingway.


An Alto In the Weeds

My mother didn't tell me
'til after my fifth-grade concert was over
but she used to stand outside the bathroom door
and listen to me practice singing "Hallelujah" in the shower.
"It was beautiful," she lied, and tried to imitate my pre-pubescent
butchering of the a capella, one-lyric hymn that I sang in chorus
(back when God was still almost tolerated in the Arts programs
of public schools, as long as no Muslims were on the roster).
She must've known that if she'd told me I would've stopped.
A mother always knows when you'll stop.
A mother knows you'll stop
before you do.

Currently reading:
"The Torrents of Spring" by Ernest Hemingway.


Clearance Conscience

It was a sign that my fear of change
had to be faced:
the office furniture store down the street
was having one of its outdoor used swivel-chair sales
as I was driving by en route to my union hall.
I told myself I'd stop by on my way back
not sure if I actually would.
My desk set at home was the same one
my mother bought for me when we moved away
from my father's town thirteen years ago.
It'd served me well throughout that time.
The chair, however, had been designed for someone
with a wet weight half of my current size.
As a result the padding was not so comfortable anymore
and I could only manage to sit at the computer
for forty minutes at a time without having to stretch
my legs and relieve my sore behind.

I did the unthinkable and stopped on the way back.
The chairs were strewn about randomly with no
regard for color, quality, style or price.
A middle-aged salesman with a purple coldsore
on his upper lip came outside and greeted me.
I asked about the one that caught my eye, a hunter green
number in excellent shape that sat low to the ground.
He fumbled with the paddle underneath the seat in an
attempt to show me how to raise it before realizing
it was broken. I offered him five less than the suggested price.
He told me he'd let it go for ten instead. How could I argue with
a deal like that? I paid and placed it in the bed of my truck
checking my rear-view a few times on the ride home
as if it'd somehow fall out and spare me the chore of
replacing my old faithful wooden number.

It felt like sneaking a paramore into the house.
I lumbered up the creaking stairs with it
like a clumsier Frankenstein's monster.
The rabbit ran when she heard the racket.
Then again, she ran whenever I approached.
I wheeled the chair into place next to Old Faithful.
Same height, more or less, with a favoring on the less side.
Shamefully I rolled the old chair away and slid the new one
in front of the desk. I sat and set my hands
on the keyboard with little-to-no regard for the "home row"
they tried pounding into my muscle memory in my ninth-grade
keyboarding class. I was up to ninety-something words-per-minute
but went right back to my hybrid style of hunting and punching
as soon as the semester was over. It's not that I can't be trained;
it's more a matter of stubborn resistance.

The mouse felt a bit out of reach with the slightly lower position
but the arm rests served as a pivot point on which to rest
my elbows. The keyboard was also a fraction higher
and marginally out of reach, but part of me liked that aspect.
It felt as though I were stepping up to the plate to write.
That's how it should be; otherwise you're doing it wrong.

I looked over at Old Faithful in its temporary position in the corner.
The diving knife I strapped to its leg when I was fifteen and
my stepfather first moved in would have to be removed.
An honorable legend further stripped of glory; it felt like sin
and not that kind that we revel in at night. The kind
that we try to hide from the friends who truly matter.

So hear I sit in this second-hand chair that's new enough for me
typing away about an oddity of life that could only be
over-analyzed by with someone with too much time and heart.
If it were any other way you'd be surprised, though.
The most sacred things never change.


Sushi Worth the Mercury

First there was the second round.
I couldn't come. I faked it.
Love's so full of mercy
that I try to share
with you.

Caught a whiff of carnival:
greasy food and greasy people.
Caught a scratch
I couldn't itch
and threw it back at you.

There's not a rep in this department.
There's not a soul to sell.
The subway preacher damned us both.
Let's sin our way to hell.

And if I die before I wake
I pray my stocks my mom does take.
I'd leave them all in your name
but I know you'll join me, too.


Systematic Failure of the Pull-and-Pray Method

The drone of powertools and
hungover yell of the laborers sinking shovels
had a lull long enough for a rare
chance to correct my mentor
in a semantic slip-up:

"He's not a setback
or a situation. He's
your kid, whether or not
you still see him."

Fifteen years of a weekly
financial burden dissolved
as a sublime dry ice
punctuated by a brief moment
in which my teacher
looked at me
with the hatred of the kid
whose mother sent celery
and peanut butter as the group snack
for his kindergarten class.

"You know what I mean."

I tossed him a bone
in the form of a nod.
The difference between right
and righteous is merely a matter
of grace.

Forgive us fathers
for we know not
what we do.


Jimmy Hoffa Fought, Died, Was Shipped to China in the Trunk of a Crushed Japanese Car for This?

A dump-truck driver's life is known to have its share of waiting. That's not to say he's necessarily lazy. It's part of the teamster's routine. His bed has to be filled in order to commence carting off the load to whatever unfortunate destination it has in store. Some guys sleep. Others smoke little black cigars, though not as well as Clint in his early Westerns. Then there is the literary crowd...

I witnessed a specimen of the latter variety today. As I walked by the truck I caught a glimpse of a familiar, bold-lettered font on the cover of a magazine; perhaps a computer-enhanced hip as well. The driver was hunched over the steering wheel like a preacher over his pulpit. His eyes were fixed upon the pages. He was waiting for his load, alright. I left before it came.

And women complain about the ones that are only a bit foul-mouthed...


Hardhat Stickers and Trophy Scars

A lull in the work and a crest in the confusion lends time to relieve myself in the three-by-three portable latrine on the jobsite. It's after eight-thirty, we've been working for over thirteen hours to get the steamlines tied back in by tomorrow's deadline-- a promise made flippantly by an absent owner at a job meeting without consulting his foreman as to the true state of things. Through the thin plastic walls I overhear another pipefitter talking to his five-year-old daughter on his phone. A welding machine buzzes and hums in the background as it guzzles gasoline.

"I'm sorry I couldn't see you today, OK? I had to work late again, OK? Do some artwork for me and I'll hang it up when I get home tonight, OK?" That last part about reaching our homes this evening feels like a goal that can't be met at this rate, but it sounds like he honestly means it. Maybe he doesn't realize how far under the gun we are. I'm the realist of the crew if nothing else. Strangely, I'm also the youngest.

We crawl back down into the manhole. There's a sixty-pound bag of grout in the way of our work that a laborer must've left behind. For his diminutive hourly rate I can't blame his lack of ambition. I pick up the bag and move it to the corner of the concrete vault, taking a moment to read a warning in fine print after setting it down. I decide to inform that fitter full of apologies of all the danger we're in.

" 'This product contains crystalline silica, which in the State of California is known to cause cancer'," I recite. "We sure are lucky we're on the other coast or else we'd be at risk!" I jest.

The joke fails, barely earning a smirk. He's got other things on his mind. And the knowledge of our certain death is beginning to rival the redundancy of a snare drum. He's moved on to bigger and better. His cell phone's in his hand again, but this time it's not pressed to his ear.

"What are you doing?" I ask. "Taking pictures of what not to do for the Union magazine?"

"No. I'm sending my wife a video. She doesn't believe I've been working for thirteen hours in the rain. She thinks I'm having a rendezvous."

I ponder what his spelling of his last word would be. It's just as doomed as he is. I decide right then and there to get out of the trade before it claims another casualty. I lift the collar of my sweatshirt over the bottom half of my face, inhale a deep whiff of decay, and realize it's too late: it isn't the wet leaves I'm smelling this time.


Rule of PoeTRY #831.27, Sub-Division 6-A, Clause VII: Naming the Stillborn.

Line unwritten's
a shallow threat
a sterile thought knowing better
than to admit it's ex-
for the sake of
the record
the potential ear.

(And to think they
to write
chivalry's obituary.)


A Vintage I Can Appreciate, Even If It's Not My Taste

I'm going to tell you the worst thing that's ever happened to me
this side of the county line.
I'm going to let you feel my wrist for a pulse
only to find a jackhammering.
I'm going to show you how crazy I am
without asking for your pity in the form of a mercy-fuck.

Tonight as I read Vonnegut-- an old, yellowed copy
she bought for under a dollar (a token of her love)--
fifty-some-odd pages fell out.
It was only a matter of time.
The spine had been broken, cracked through the binding
in two places.

Every night in bed and every morning in my truck before work
I held it gingerly in a vain attempt to prevent the inevitable
(an accidental metaphor rears its pompous head)
while reading the nourishing words of a man madder than myself.
But it matters not. It's gone now. He's dead, forget about it.

It can't join the ranks of the works on my shelves, not in
that tattered form.
It's tainted. It's flawed.
And it isn't printed on acid-free paper.
It won't survive the move. It won't ride the weather.
It won't see tomorrow. It won't last forever.

My blood's still flowing hard through my
like when I get so...so...nevermind
with You-Know-Who.
It's the closest I've come to panic attack.
Will this be the second book in history
I've started and never finished?
No. No, it can't.

My jaw's pumping now; the tendon's in my neck
are bulging: I'm making the same face
that my father did when he lifted weights
when I was a kid and we still spoke
and Kurt Vonnegut was a stranger
and my father was not
and now KV's a friend instead
and oh, isn't that a funny coincidence?
No no, it's a SIGN.

But I need to go to bed now.
Care to join a liar?


What's fact, what's false, and what's slightly stretched to bridge the gap.

Firemen in Tennessee stood and watched
a house burn down
because its owner hadn't paid
his seventy-five-dollar firehouse fee this year.
Only after the flames had spread through the yard
and threatened a paying neighbor's home
was the fire extinguished, and masterfully.

Authorities in Beacon have been
hot on the trail of a moose on the loose.
Experts say it must've wandered down
from its northern realm by accident
but something tells me it was chasing
some tail and made a wrong left turn.
Been there, brother. Good luck finding home.

I recently texted a union contractor
by whom I was previously employed
at six o'clock in the morning
telling him I love him
by accident, of course.
Fortunately he's been out of business
for years and has probably had his
company cell phones turned off
or at least that's what I'm telling myself.
Perhaps I should not operate a phone
and motor vehicle simultaneously anymore.

There was a day last week
when I unintentionally ended
every sentence
with a wink.
I hated myself on that day
slightly more than on the rest.

Morning sex is nice and all
but it only makes us late.


Currently reading:
"Jailbird" by Kurt Vonnegut.


Emptiness is godliness through the Law of Syllogism?

I was twelve years old and dying at the same rate that I am now--one day at a time--though the money and the maidens didn't matter then, or at least didn't play as noticeable a role. Cash received in Christmas cards and other tax-exempt sources was thoughtlessly squandered on whatever tickled my fancy right out of my nylon and velcro wallet. One such investment was "The Aeroplane Flies High, Turns Left, Looks Right" or a similarly pompous title conjured by the conveniently tortured mind of Billy Corgan: lead guitarist, lead singer, founder and CEO of 90s-rock alternagroup The Smashing Pumpkins. (To what the genre was a self-proclaimed "alternative" I'm still not sure. The stuff hit you as often as a middle-schooler's cheap cologne.) His feminine whine assaulted the airwaves for almost ten years of viable commercial success. One of the band's many logos, a small heart with the letters "SP" brilliantly incorporated into its center, soils my left bicep to this day in the form of my third tattoo. And unsurprisingly, since my first favorite band happened to fall into my lap at a time before the existence of rent or car payments, much CD-binder real estate is occupied by said group.

My first musical purchase had come in the form of the CD single of "1979", a minor lie of a radio hit released in the year 1996. That disc still sits in its case on one of my shelves to this day, the four original band members walking out of a roller-rink in some sort of drugged-up stupor, pastel make-up and silk and leather attacking the dizzy lens. I listened to the six songs on that disc until they became a part of my heartbeat. It wasn't a matter of "playing them out" as can happen when something is listened to too frequently; I simply didn't hear it anymore. Everything was alright if I heard Billy's tinny pleas. The songs became home, the status quo soundtrack to my life in homeostasis.

But home too becomes tiresome for most. After several months of repeated play I decided to move on to bigger and better through acquiring the entire album. This proved difficult, since the confused Wal Mart employee had never heard of "Melancholy and Infinity Sadness", partially because it didn't exist. My mother tried to aid in the search, but her role as liaison was limited due to the error on my part to give the correct title. Alas, the internet had yet to be invented (and not by Al Gore, despite what he'd have you believe). A few more desperate attempts at conveying the correct title to the slightly subhuman employee of Satan led to a positive response from the almighty computer: "Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness", a double-disc to my delight, was out of stock but could be ordered for the mere price of $23.99, which I gladly forked over to the boy in blue. A week later and it was in my hands, in my room, in my ears and the ears of my mother and pet rabbit, neither of which had much say in the matter. More and more singles kept being released off the record, more and more music videos were made, and each time I felt like an old friend was succeeding. Billy and I would conquer the world, so long as I and millions like me kept buying posters, pins, patches, shirts, and compact discs bearing the name of his creative baby. There must be a specific date for when Rock-n-Roll was reduced to Capitalism in purest form, but musical historians will have to duke that one out on their own time and dimes.

It came as no surprise that I sought out the ultimate in geek-level fan merchandise: a six-disc box set--complete with 124-page booklet of lyrics, liner notes, and general egocentric babble--of the band's six singles off "Mellon Collie". Sure, it cost between fifty and sixty dollars and I already had one-third of the songs in my possession (the six singles from the record, plus the B-sides from the aforementioned "1979" CD), but could a pricetag truly be placed on fanhood and dedication? Yes, folks--you've come to the right assumption: music collection was one of my earliest forms of obsessive compulsive behavior, though not my first. A fixation with even numbers (Freud might say as an attempt to bring fairness to an unfair environment) and repetition to achieve them to achieve them came at an earlier date, but I won't bore bore bore bore you with that.

My mother's Sears-bought stereo could not be accessed fast enough. I sprang into the condo and loaded its six-disc changer with the entire overzealous collection, then plopped myself down on the beige rug in front of it, watching the digital seconds and tracks tick by in orange block lettering. By the end of the musical marathon I was sprawled out on my stomach and barely able to keep my eyes open. It seemed as though one song, the last one in line, had been playing forever without making much sense. I came out of my quasi-coma and glanced up at the time display indicator. The track had been playing for forty-three minutes and counting! Thumbing through the pounds of paperwork provided in the package led me to the name of the "song" in question: "The Pistachio Medley". Upon closer investigation I realized what I'd been unfairly subjected to. The entire track was simply a string of totally unrelated riffs and snippets that'd been taped in the brainstorming process for the album's composition, most of which consisted of heavily overdriven guitars poorly recorded. Not one word came from Mr. Corgan's mouth. Not even a bassline could be heard. It was simply a guitarist or two jamming with a drummer for ten seconds at a time, only to be copied and pasted between two totally different pieces of metallic trash. It was a vain man's display of true power, a sad way to take advantage of an impressionable young mind. I hit the power button and stormed up to my room. If I hadn't paid eight dollars for each of them those two posters would've been instantly ripped down. Billy Corgan had cheated me. Later lackluster releases over the course of the following eight years would prove that it wouldn't be the last time. But what's that they say? You never forget your first?

For nostalgia's sake I popped the telltale CD into my truck's stereo last week and forgot about it. When that disc finally came on last night I turned it up and rolled the window's down on Eighty-Seven since no one could hear me anyway. But that last song, that piss-poor "Pistachio Medley" hit my ears like a ton of ancient aural bricks, so I stopped playing air drums at eighty miles-an-hour to do the only appropriate thing: I pictured myself and my first taste of disillusionment there on that plush carpet and laughed.