a brace of pistols

We make those random basements ours:
home and forgiving
like the smell of leather.

I love him for speaking
in hypotheticals--such a
splendid way to translate
our less-than-such world.

"Would he give me a personal loan
to buy that house the wife wants?"

"Sure he would. Of course."

"Would you sacrifice our hourly rate
to be happier doing something else?"

"In a heartbeat, brother."

"Does the State of New York
have Castle Laws?"

"We're to run if they come for us."

"Would you take a bullet
so that I could live to be a grandfather?"

"I'd take one if it meant seeing you tomorrow
and every day after until I hang these holsters up.
But let's hope Junior makes it through
high school without any shotgun weddings."


The rest is the rest and works well with the weather.
A brace of pistols. A sacred safe buried with a coffin.
What'll it matter when the worms come?, speaking
their stunning legalese.



I watch him shove the boiled yucca
I made to go with his rice and chicken
and am not shocked when the response
isn't overwhelmingly enthusiastic
even for a food connoisseur.

"It's a little bland," he breaks it.
"Maybe if it was cooked with garlic..."

Ah, garlic. The solution to everything, vampires included.

"It's been years since I've had it," I confess. "My grandma used
to make it back when she could be trusted to use the stove."

He chews, trying to like the root vegetable staple
so familiar to Puerto Ricans and other Latin cultures.
For a blonde-hair, blue-eyed German
he's trying admirably hard.

"Try adding more salt," I suggest. "It's basically a vessel
for that and olive oil." My words sound apologetic
but I don't begrudge the flavor. In fact, I'm taking my time
making sure the white, fibrous Puerto Rican potato
mixes with the yellow rice and garlic-marinated chicken
in every nostalgic bite.

How much of our childhoods were exactly that?
More, thankfully, than those that pale in adulthood comparison.

I'm no hippie, but...

It's an intentionally quiet Saturday as the three of us
watch the war movie about downed Army helicopters
in Somalia. The fourth friend snores through it
cocktail in hand as always. I think back to
the old lady I worked the drive-thru with at
my high school burger-slinging job. She couldn't
watch that film, two of her sons flew Blackhawks.
My eyes catch the screen and my OCD
sucks me back into the present.

"It's always bothered me that the flag patches
on the shoulders of their uniforms are backwards."

The ironic military expert of our group chimes in
with some interesting nuggets of wisdom:

"They have it that way with the stars on the right
because that's how it'd look if they were marching
into battle with the wind blowing against them."

I let this sink in for a moment, fully appreciating
the forethought that went into such a design.
It's the concept that bothers me, though.

If they can put that much effort into looking proper
going into battle, why not apply the same effort
into avoiding it entirely? I keep this to myself
for the time-being. The action's good, the guns
provide topics of discussion, and no real people
are dying in my living room; well, not from gunshots
at least.


Patients, Have Patience.

Having been trained right
by my mother
I lifted the seat
even though I was at a man's office
which he paid to have cleaned;
not his nightly castle
where doing so was one of the chores.
It slid halfway along the bowl
as I raised it
the screws in back
clearly in need of a good tightening.
When my business was finished
I went to my truck for a screwdriver.
There were still a few minutes
before my appointment
and the noise machine near
the door of the room where he held sessions
was still running so I knew someone else
was on a roll and in the thick of it.
What better way to kill time
than fixing a man's toilet?
Aside from the charitable aspect of the gesture
there was the selfish motive:
I'd already paid this person hundreds of dollars
to sit, twitch and show body language that implies listening
while I spewed out anecdotal half-truths
for forty minutes to an hour, depending on our moods.
If someone were to sit on his carnival ride of a toilet seat
slip to the side, fall off and injure themself
then find some sue-Jew lawyer to milk my shrink dry
all of the time and money I've spent
explaining the wreckage of countless gallons of rum
and sixty college credits would be wasted.
I pondered this potential catastrophe as I turned the screws
and secured the seat, making sure to use the antibacterial soap
provided on the rim of the sink afterwards.
The prior customer, dare I say patient
had wrapped up his pityfest in the interim
and when I walked back down the hallway, tool in hand
the good doctor looked at me as though his time had come.
"Don't worry. I was only fixing your toilet," I assured him.
"Really? Thank you. That thing's been broken
for over a year," he replied.
"It wasn't broken," I began
to correct him, then quickly changed my course.
"It's amazing how much can be accomplished
with a simple screwdriver," I said, trying not to make
him feel like the typically useless male homeowner
who comes pre-neutered and lacking common sense
at your nearest mega shopping center. I went on:
"Bukowski said it's the little things
that drive a man to madness: the toilet seats, the broken
shoelaces, the roommates that don't replace the roll."
He looked at me and asked who Bukowski was.
I absorbed the blow on behalf of my literary anti-hero
and moved the conversation along in a safer direction
like the wonderful drunken weekend I'd had with my friends
and a day of reconciliation that had come for my love and me.
When it came time to pay at the end of our long talk
my services were not reflected in the bill. I was not one bit
surprised since any Joe can turn a screw without having
a framed piece of parchment paper on his wall-- any Joe
that is, but the one with too many letters after his surname.
I handed over the check and rose to shake his hand.
My payment came in the form of sick satisfaction, a forced
acknowledgement that I was onto his rouse and no less a man.
"Ya know, Doc," I said, one hand on the doorknob, "I won't
tell anyone what your toilet proved tonight..."
He looked at me quizzically, praying for a punchline.
"I'm not the only one in town with a few screws loose."

Currently reading:
"Across the River and into the Trees" by Ernest Hemingway.

Another Dud

We descended into the basement of the apartment building
where we'd done a lot of plumbing, painting, and electrical
work over the course of the last eight months. The place
had started out as a brothel in the mid-1800s, then became
a moviehouse in the early Twentieth Century, was
subdivided into four separate units after that and was now
owned and rented out by one of Dave's customers.

"It looks a hundred percent better down here, doesn't it?"
Dave asked as he flicked on a light switch.

The place was a nightmare when we first encountered it:
dirt floors, wooden stalls that looked like dungeons, barely
any lighting, and a system of spiderweds thick enough
to slow your breathing. I was working for the union
when Dave tackled the basement cleanup project
and wasn't disappointed about missing out
on such a fun task.

"Yeah, man. Looks great. It's a shame I couldn't help."

Dave smirked and swallowed whatever words were
forming in his throat. He was good like that sometimes.

The grand tour led us to a room which had once
been full of defunct water heaters that plumbers of yore
had been to lazy to remove. The only thing still present
was a white spackle bucket sitting in the corner behind the door.
I walked over to it and investigated, assuming it was
left there intentionally. Dave, like myself, was a creature
of habit, if not reasoning.

"What's with the bucket?" I asked as I reached for
my flashlight to peer down into its contents.

"Take a look for yourself," he replied, his boyish
grin beaming at me in anticipation.

I reached down into the pail, which was half-full
of water, and pulled out a cylindrical object
eight inches long. It was a galvanized steel pipe
with caps threaded on both ends. One side had been
drilled and tapped, a small hole revealing the caked
white powder which had been packed inside the pipe.

"Is this what I think it is?" I asked in astonishment.

"Yeah," Dave said. "I hid it in there so the inspector
wouldn't see it. Probably the experiment of
some kid who lived here."

We both knew otherwise. A teenager would not
have had the foresight to drill and tap the cap like that.
I didn't raise this point, though. It was easier to
leave it alone.

"How do you get these messed up jobs?" I asked
my benefactor.

"Hey, someone's got to keep you busy
since our hall can't," he laughed.

It was true and I was grateful. My world would
be a far more dismal place without the aid of David.
A pipe bomb in the basement was no match
for the alternative-- sitting at home broke
and without a source for stories.


Daylight Shavings

His periwinkle Oxford looked a size too big
as though his wife had failed again
or the day's stress had deflated him.
I suspected the latter; a man with so many
framed degrees on his walls would not
settle for anything less than a model example
of bridal perfection. The trophy wives were left
to lawyers since the damned attract the damned.
Doctors, perhaps in freshman physiology, learned
how to clone their mothers for the greater good
of the marriage. Their divorce rate was low.

"Does it bother you?" he asked
not looking up from my chart on his clipboard.

"Not enough to make it worth acting on it."
I felt as though my epidermis was temporarily
transformed to plastic wrap. He didn't need to
glance my way to convince himself that I had
begged for abortions; I had watched families die;
I was a genetic contradiction incapable of being
related to a good patient like my mother; I was neither
what I made myself out to be nor what that chart said.
My foibles were beyond the scope of science.
I could no longer speak in the Royal We.

I heard a nurse yawn through the crack under the doorway.
Wasn't there some law against that?
A thousand ears were listening, or so I thought.
The truth is that I was merely another number--
in this case a less desirable one.
As a doctor and a man of probabilities
he suspected that there were cadavers more worthy
of life than me.

"Good. Then live with it as best you can,"
he said matter-of-factly as he loosened his tie
from around his neck with the hand not
holding the pen. His skin was sallow and waxy.
It looked bloated, like his body had been
decomposing in a river for two days
and then somehow became reanimated.
There I was getting medical advice
from a man beyond the Great Divide.
It seemed like a fitting decision considering
my track record. I sucked in hard
and tasted the infection. The dead were all around
me in that supposedly sterile room.

"Thanks, Doc. I hope to not see you soon."

He didn't laugh. Even if he'd never heard the joke
he would not've stooped to that.
A faint smirk shot across his taut face.
It wasn't because of my attempt at humor;
it was the fact that he got paid for this.
My curse was that I knew the difference.

Sundowning, baby.
They call this sundowning.


Always Opt for the Extended Warranty

The book was finally making sense
though it may have been too late.
My mother had pawned a bunch of them
off on me in exchange for the ones I'd lent her.
This one seemed the less of the evils, or maybe
it seemed the worst of the bunch
and therefore the most entertaining.
I was only appeasing her by succumbing
to the mindlessly predictable plot
shamelessly stuffed with a deeper, spiritual meaning
that'd fail to make sense to me for another twenty years
and countless failed attempts at flight
or at least a decent shake at the thing.

A middle-aged woman
long-robbed of her flowing locks
sat at my eleven
reading her book club's latest assignment.
The television blaring from the corner of the room
which most of us tired Toyota owners were ignoring
played a soccer mom cooking show.
When the phrase "all white-meat chicken" slipped from
the host's mouth like a promise of quality ingredients
I saw my fellow reader's head snap up
as if being cued by the words. Some Mexican peppers
were mentioned next and she frowned; Carl wouldn't like
all that spicy business, especially since the ulcer got worse
after his lay-off. Her head dropped back down
to her trite little novel like a defeated old hen.
Then I saw the title on the cover.
It was the same as mine.

"Mr. Vargas, your truck's done with the diagnostic.
It's the power steering pump. The part's four hundred,
the labor's two. Do you want us to go ahead and..."

"I'll live with it for now," I grumbled, tucking my book
under my arm as I reached for my wallet.

For now, maybe. But for how much longer?
I pondered my options as I made my way outside.

"Oh, we're reading the same book," the shorn sheep
babbled as she passed me in the parking lot.
Carl would be livid that the alignment had cost so much.
He always warned her not to hit those speedbumps so hard.
Her voice was fraught with the fear of telling him the damage.
"Do you like it so far?" she asked, pointing to my bookmark
two-thirds of the way through the tightly compressed pages.

"No hablo ingles," I said in my best John Wayne
as I left her to scratch her head. Carl hated when
they couldn't even speak the language...

Life's a book that no one else will ever bother to read.
I don't expect a second glance, let alone a Pulitzer.

Currently reading:
"The Celestine Prophecy" by James Redfield.