How I'll remember my father--
my adult father; the one who listens
when I beg him not to try
to make home repairs without me--
is sitting on the edge of his recliner today
shining his shoes
before my uncle's Christmas party.
His hands worked patiently
as he stared at the television
chiming in with chosen words
when he heard my punctuation.
It took some heavy brushing
and a few layers of polish
to work out the scuffs
and make the leather respectable again
but when he was done
they could have been sold:
An old trick by an old man
who grew up shining shoes
for his namesake.
He still had the knack
and sense of humble wisdom.
He wasn't too proud
to make due or amend.
My three-year-old brother
ran into the room and I thought
I'll have to tell him someday.
He fucks better in his own bed
downplaying skill for the home team advantage.
He's still searching
for that lady's lost unmentionables
before they turn up
at the worst time possible.
He never brings the bottle
there with him in bed
so the walk to refill glasses
helps him gauge his state.
He's gone to strip clubs sober
for captive conversation.
He has shallow, meaningless sex
with shallow, meaningless people.
He doesn't get to see their eyelids anymore.
He's gifted his seed, though not for the money.
There's a cenotaph for his dignity somewhere
but no one will give him the address.
And if you see him out there
careening through the streets
please remind our vagabond
that addiction is addiction.
Neil pleas for a gold heart
through the static as I park.
It's possible to want something so badly
that you don't.
The sidewalk feels harder
than last year underfoot.
There's a view of my brick tower
from my path, though I don't notice.
My eyes stick to pedestrians.
Maybe. Hopeful. Christ.
And then, like in my nightmare
Mary Magdalene appears.
Perfection is propelled
by her feet in my direction.
This is how it's meant to be.
Organic. Random. Chance.
Her bangs fall from a hat
that can't disguise her sainthood.
Strength pokes through her face
with stubborn, rigid cheekbones.
The things that I would tell her
over Sunday morning coffee
lighten every step
as we breathe steam in the night.
Like living locomotives
we head for our collision.
I rifle through my lines
like a drunken understudy.
Before I can recite them
she breaks our dear formation
by crossing to her lover
who waits across the street.
There's how it's meant to be
there's how it is
and somewhere in the difference
lurks the humor that we're given
to help with unpulled punches
and moments that we've jinxed
with the notion that a human heart
is anything but shining.
"This Is How You Lose Her" by Junot Diaz.
Falling in love
at abortion clinics
and battening down
a decade of hatches
is enough to make me wonder
if I could have loved the waitress
whose insides smell like pennies.
Copper is an element
I've come to work already.
She made such perfect dinners
and never kicked me out.
I've given diamonds
and white gold for Christmas
against the urging of women
but I've sworn not to do it again
until I can give all they want: myself.
"Letters To a Young Poet" by Rainer Maria Rilke.
Waiting in line
I see a Marine.
his left shoelace
a spare dog tag shines.
It ain't there in case
he loses his boots.
I won't tell you
to "love it or leave it,"
and much of what We do
but the fact that you
can disagree in public
is due to the men and women
who are willing to adopt
a morbid dressing habit
that will guarantee a name
on the grave that may await
so that you can wave a finger
or a flag that doesn't match.
shall come as truths clandestine
like how it could have been
if you'd fessed up when you noticed
how her one eye smiles wider
a signal flare, a martyr
crying not about the hurt
but that we cannot show it.
"Padre Santo, Padre bueno..."
my mother would begin
while pouring medicine
to cure me
or help her sleep better.
She'd end the Spanish prayer
in the name of the Holy Trinity.
Salvation had hints of berries and alcohol.
Not much has changed
though I've ditched the pajamas
and I don't need a chaser
when downing my poison.
The taste of the syrup brings back that scene
as I stand comparing bottles
wondering if there's a difference
in the night and day formulas.
So much of healing occurs in one's head.
I rinse the plastic shot glass
as a cough shredding phlegm
rips through my chest
and transforms into self-aware laughter.
My mother's been right
about many things
but my Savior
will never be one of them.
Am I sick since I'm here
or here because I'm sick?
Whatever that Holy Ghost is
has got a sense of humor.
In a crowded bar last night
I met her.
Cynics have mocked me
said she didn't exist
but I've always known better.
Her tangibility dulls the pang.
I didn't even get to buy her a drink.
Brown strands of hair
that escaped her ponytail's cinching
landed behind her ears.
Every few minutes she'd
swipe her hand across her forehead
to gather any rebellious conspirators
and return them to their cousins.
Somewhere between sips
I imagined having the honor
of doing that for her
on a hungover Sunday morning
with the blinds drawn
as we smiled, close-mouthed
to contain the stench of stomachs.
Then she snapped me out of it.
Asked what I do.
I stammered on about writing and piping.
Left out the part about falling for strangers.
She seemed content with my answer.
So did her husband.
I met him shortly after she told me
the tale of buying a house
here in town.
He seems great.
Undeserving as the rest of us, but great.
Couples like that are rare outside film.
I meant both handshakes.
Even the second.
I wished them both the best
and walked her friend home instead.
It's about a search for
a sweet spot in this killer life
or at least not becoming
an ascetic hermit
who blows out candles
for the smell of it
over and over all night
since he never once surprised them
by leading with the left.
If you want me to talk
about snowflakes landing on eyelashes
I can, but wouldn't mean it.
"American Short Fiction: Volume 16, Issue 56 (Fall 2013)".
Ridley didn't see himself having much need for his canteen any longer. He tossed it five feet from where he was sprawled out, his back against a stone outcropping, and watched the dirt around the water jug dance. It was as he'd expected: his pursuers weren't taking any chances and compensated for their lack of skill with volume. A cloud of dust rose from the site of his experiment with lead replacing soil in a violent display of physics. Then a stray bullet crashed through the tip of his right boot, taking two toes in the process. He wouldn't need those again either.
From beyond the confines of his rock he heard the frantic directives of the low-ranking officer trying to earn a few stripes with his scalp. His orders, if executed and successful, could amount to a promotion. Little Generalisimo would switch to private school. Ridley had no problem with the way the world trades energy, though he wouldn't make it easy to sacrifice his own. He opened the loading gate of his Colt revolver, swapped out spent shells for fresh ones pushed from his belt, and spun the cylinder with a swipe of his left hand. The last move served no purpose other than compliance with habit. The Mexicans would receive him in his entirety, superstitions and idiosyncrasies included.
A spurt of blood sprayed from his hemorrhaging foot, drawing his attention back to the tactical specifics. He saw a brown mess of leather and flesh in the sand and wondered if they'd take the time to bury him completely, or at all.
"Come out, Comandante," the sergeant taunted in his best pidgin English, the sarcasm implied not lost on its target . "It doesn't have to end this way," he lied without a tremble.
The blood finally clotted in Ridley's mangled foot. The throbbing stopped and the adrenaline in his veins evened out to be of use. As the sergeant made silent hand motions that were meaningless to his poorly trained subordinates, Ridley leveled the blind barrels of his shotgun against the baking desert floor and squeezed both triggers in tandem with the hopes of one last Ace. Another barrage of gunfire chipped bits from the boulder, but this time there weren't statements from the sergeant's thirsty throat. A man so bent on glory would have stood in front, invincible. Ridley knew the type well; he'd beaten him before. Little Generalisimo would now be half an orphan.
The familiar echo of government issued rifles raced away toward the horizon. Things like sunsets did more than inspire a pensive smoke after supper--they could save a man's life, since darkness eases escape. Unfortunately it wasn't yet noon where this standoff was transpiring. Tokens had been thrown across the table and landed on one side. That lucky shot which folded the sergeant was the last favor granted by a god who thrives on numbers.
A corporal rose to fill the boots and split the squads for flanking. Ridley couldn't clone himself. It would come down to which side would first succumb. When seconds are precious and breaths on earth are numbered choices like this one would have to suffice. No more hollow offers came from his relentless assassins; only cocking hammers and footsteps crunching pebbles.
His shotgun was now useless since he'd emptied both its chambers. His clenched Colt felt like a crucifix forged in carbon steel. It had been there for some blessings and would now bestow last rites. He growled a quaint obscenity in his version of their tongue, though it wasn't necessarily meant to curse these strangers.
He'd made them chase him this long. He'd rationed out his ammo. There were no delusions of cavalry thundering over the ridge.
Ridley trained his pistol on a buzzard that was circling. Mexican conscripts cared not for shovels. Death was one thing; being spread across the desert by a scavenger of carrion was another. The .45 rang out twice, felling the vulture and stopping the advancing Federales in their vengeful tracks. By the time the last feather floated to the ground to join its humbled source the soldiers had circumnavigated each half of the stone. Had they not been distracted by dispensing hot brass from their borrowed hardware maybe one would have noticed the freshly carved inscription: "Here lies..."
They left him with his Peacemaker, but divvied up his rounds.
Somewhere between the sambuca and Chardonnay
we established where she'd be staying: in me.
The exposed brick strikes again
and an alley kitten's killed
for resting in an engine.
If you don't read poetry
with a shotgun on the coffee table
then you don't read poetry correctly.
If you're not writing lines
like there's one aimed at your head
then you're wasting your time and mine.
Saint Dave of the Wilderness would never understand.
So life, or what's left of it, is reduced
to an absence of the shepherd
in search of billable hours
to cram into the day.
"How do you sleep at night?"
his detractors ask in unison.
"I put my head down on the pillow
and close my eyes," he says.
The drummer was faking the pain on his face. That denim jacket wasn't worn enough to have lived, but he closed his eyes as convincingly as the next rhythmic cat while massaging his cymbals.
The guitarist needed shoes and a friend to tell him that ponytails aren't alright, even for jazz artists. His gear was solid and deliberate. I have a pair of boxers in the same gray and black print as his flannel shirt. The rest I could do without.
Sometime between blurred songlines a half-way to Florida businessman asked if he could sit at my booth. Not having a valid argument in opposition I made the universal face of indifference, sans shrug. That sentiment soon changed. He began smiling with too much tooth for no reason toward the stage. His head rocked so hard that the stubble of his salty goatee began to shake loose. And then the laughing commenced. Maniacal. Senseless. Caught up in a moment that I knew wasn't there, like a Born Again Christian speaking in tongues. It's no wonder this man would leave alone after the gig. A fraud in a herringbone blazer blowing inaudible whistles of approval through cracked lips. When he took the microphone between sets to play MC I wasn't surprised, especially by his quip about "working the box" when it came time to beg for donations.
"I don't know. I guess I'm getting old," I told the kid across from me.
"I'd prefer that to constantly embarrassing myself."
The kid had a point.
But the jazzmaster stole the show--switching between brass and woodwinds, equally war-torn, in three layers of collared shirt; pockmarked and fragile, thrusting his thin hips at the mic stand during a bold improvisation that made my stubborn head spin on the inside. Years of humble penance at his muse's bloody altar showed as scars through the tight curls on his damp tobacco face; raging against pain with the jowls of a black Bukowski, his watchman's cap unquestionable, his jeans worn at the knees. If you saw him on the subway you'd swear he'd never left it. This is why I came here. This man had truly lived it, unlike his choice of cohorts. It's too bad there's no whiskey. We'd share our fun renditions of making our own blues.
I won't mask this in a faded gray font. There shall be no need for dictionaries. I am me and you are you; the cowardly use of pronouns--he, she, they--was done away with when the boxing gloves came off after coffee #3. If I want to address Angela or Stephanie or Joy I will do so. It doesn't matter. Their last names are different now anyway, and rightfully. But Mike Vahsen? (Do you hear that, Mr. Editor? It's Mike, not Michael.) He's been the same since seventeen, at least when it comes to the core and its termites; still searching, still stinging--both getting and giving.
The sentence has been excessive. It's going on two-and-a-half years now in solitary confinement. If a court had been involved I'd argue the Eighth Amendment, but in this case it's merely karma and fate. I come home to an empty apartment on Main after working alone with the boys from the hall. A crew of fifteen, all with their partners, except the odd man who sees his way out. I joke with the steward, mentioning the necessity for a dog, though a shameless accomplice is all that I want: a brilliant belle with a laugh that's infectious for whom I can bring sincere bread to the table.
Instead there are stand-ins, holders of places; women who throw the predictable pitch. One makes the perfect Bloody Mary, multiple variables be damned. Another has the ultimate lust handles. Way up north there's a reflection of my mind who may be too much like me for her own good. There's always an artist, some self-loathing muse--the beautiful trainwreck the knight longs to tame. These archetypes continue. Don't feel so left out; likewise, I mean not to lessen your worth. I suspect the desire to fall in love with the writer. They'd settle for the steady steamfitter, get stuck with the part-time plumber. For that I pity them. Life's so unkind. I know all of their lines before they can say them, with their eyes or otherwise. I've read too much Hemingway. The dialogue's predetermined. These poor souls don't see the script that they're reading, or maybe they do and stare through the act.
The coffee's yielded to its cousin. A waxpaper cup filled with water collects the remnants of one vice, though maybe it's time to invest in an ashtray. Kristen would kill me for smoking inside. Kristen would kill me for smoking in general. And to set the record straight, Kristen never killed me. It's the blur of the sidewalk and the weight of my Levis that make it seem wiser to put a box fan in the window and suck out the stench of a man's last cancerous refuge. I lied again: look up "hiraeth".
The solution sounds simple. Keep my head down and work. Be a productive member of society. Install the pipes required to heat and cool, clean and nourish, move some fluid from Point A to Point B. But I've seen what complacency does to a man, the soul's slow erosion that drains one of talent and dreams. I know great tradesmen who've honed their craft exclusively, giving up on passions that once pulled their veins. Look into the eyes of a colleague on coffee break. Find the sacrifice, expose the dull ache. I fear becoming that man who's got nothing but pension credits and consolidated debt to show for the decades. Most are divorced, some went to rehab. Half have some kid whom they see once a week. The dream is a tease. We punch cards for nothing. Then, once we've realized, it's time to pick plots. Bury my heart at Wounded Knee. Leave the rest for the coyotes.
But it's not what you think. There's no cry for empathy. You may keep your shoulder. I've got two of my own. Those blessed with this affliction don't do it to see their names in print. It's not about the glory, nor the mercy, nor the sex. We type to suck the poison like the fan propped in my window. Maybe someone gets it. From this stage I see no lighters; some yawning, a few cocked arms, and a more-than-met two-drink minimum.
Your ears I'm now returning. My feet are all I need. Tomorrow my alarm clock will silence the madness of dreaming. (She lays her head down nightly somewhere safely far from me.)
I wonder how much less we'd respect our favorite mentors if they didn't show discretion that we amateurs ignore. My defense reverts to childhood: that monster in the dark disappeared with bulbs electrified.
He's burning to tell me
but his words can't leave fast enough.
It's something I share
with my three-year-old kinsman.
"I got hurt, Michael.
I was running and fell."
Even through the miles
I can hear his fettered thinking
and wince at lines of anguish
forming on his brow.
"I scraped my knee and my chin."
He's rubbing at least one of them.
Our father reclaims the telephone
to clarify the message.
"The girls track team was running laps
around the lake where we were fishing.
He took off after them with his little legs
and somehow got to the head of the pack.
It was amazing," the proud parent beams audibly.
But Newton and Murphy caught up with the kid.
His triumph was short-lived.
Those ladies were going for distance; not speed.
They're smarter than that.
He'll learn this again when the stakes matter more.
He'll find his own limits; be his own man.
Even big brothers can't cushion those blows
though damned I shall be if I don't try regardless.
"The Bear Went Over the Mountain" by Lester Grau.
I'd like to talk to you about "Greg".
We'll call him "Greg" since that's his name.
Greg is a twenty-five-year-old boilermaker.
Scratch that as well.
Greg is a sad demographic.
Greg is a statistic.
Greg is a heroin addict.
Notice there's no "recovering".
Not even a hopeful heroine could change that.
My mother falls into that category sometimes;
the Good Samaritan, I mean.
She's a social worker at a Rehab Center in Newburgh.
Greg was a patient there.
He had soupy brown eyes and rough hands.
(They still are.)
His mouth sometimes outwitted his heart.
(It still does.)
He meant well, but got in his own way.
(The story doesn't change, regardless of the name.)
Greg reminded my mother of me.
(I'm not sure how to feel about that.)
The union might have sent him on vacation.
Maybe he went by his own volition.
It doesn't matter.
Greg is a heroin addict.
That's all you need to know.
My mother saw that he wanted help.
He played by the rules.
Went to the meetings.
Slept under the required roof.
Completed some trivial Steps.
Greg even managed to graduate.
I think that's what they call it.
But Recovery is a continuing Step.
Greg didn't stick with that one.
They shipped him to a half-way house in the ghetto.
My mother bought him a bike, fixed it up.
Greg couldn't drive anymore.
The needle sews things closed.
She asked me to make some phone calls.
She's my mother.
I'd do far more than that if she asked.
Greg sounded nice enough.
Said he could weld.
Wanted to work.
Didn't have tools, but was eager.
Ready, willing, and able.
I made some more phone calls.
Greg said he'd go on the interview.
I told him to drop my name.
I didn't care.
It was for my mother.
Greg could do as he pleased with my reputation.
Lord knows I have.
It was his life.
Well, it used to be.
Greg is a heroin addict.
That contractor never heard from him.
The summer bled out on the sizzling asphalt.
Another graduate ran into Greg on a side street.
He looked like a broomstick wearing clothes.
His eyes had receded into his skull.
The soup was gone.
The hands were still rough, but shaking.
His legs were weary from walking around town.
Greg had sold the bike within a week.
Greg is a...
You get the idea.
My mother's voice was strained when she told me.
She's sick of seeing the Cycle repeat.
It was hard to hear what she had to say.
Greg had been picked up by the cops again.
He was with some unsavory characters, selling.
There was a hefty load of dope.
The bail had been set at twenty-five grand.
That's no petty possession.
Greg won't be making boilers for awhile.
But the other side of the story is what hits me:
If my mother had the money, Greg would still be hunting.
And I haven't deleted his number.
It's not that he's bothered
by her body broken by childbirth
but that he didn't get
to stretch that skin.
In all relations
where "I'll give you X
if you give me Y,"
X and/or Y are always
or their conglomerate:
On any given Thursday
you could dig through his wallet
and find the contents
of at least three fortune cookies.
He's collected them, unofficially
since the age of eighteen.
Our fates are scribbled in pidgin English
and rest on a shelf
collecting dust and threats of dead men.
In direct defiance of the Surgeon General's warning
he's renouncing the curse of the Human Condition.
"In what war has that officer earned his stars?" he asks.
The standing answer follows.
A cricket tunes its legs.
I've worn the same cologne since the irreparable brilliance of age fourteen. My mother bought it for me at the mall in preparation for my junior high debut; Polo Sport, the crisp fragrance of budding manhood throughout the privileged world. It came with a gym bag which I used to carry my cleats to football practice. That's still in my mother's shed somewhere. The scent lasted. The jock dreams didn't. There's not a single cell inside me that's not at peace with that.
Then, the better part of a decade later, she chimed in with a second olfactory gift. This one didn't stick. It came at the time of my first apartment, a foray into debauchery that led to years of karmic justice. The smell of Curve changed overnight, somehow smoothed into a buttery musk that quickly gained a shameful association with hangovers and awkward Good Mornings. It didn't last long in the repertoire. The man who still has notes from high school in a closeted shoebox didn't keep that overpriced bottle of regret. I hope it's bringing someone else better luck.
That was a far cry from the innocence of young boyhood when my anxious father walked into the bathroom with a gift for his six-year-old son. The packaged set of Jovan products slipped from his hands and the bottle broke against the tile floor. I was left with a stick of deodorant which I didn't need yet. That episode managed to sum up much of my old man's aspirations: a heart in the right place, hampered by his own overzealous fumbling. One should be grateful to have experienced half of that equation. I don't deny that. He's a better man than me in most ways.
Last winter I briefly dated one of a slew of Italian single mothers who wound up being slightly more predictable than the rest. When Christmas came I already knew that I'd be receiving a bottle of men's aftershave. It felt more apropos than clairvoyant. I wasn't her ex-husband, nor had I spent seventeen years clinging to the shirttails of her life, but I knew she'd want to somehow change me when the opportunity arose through the ritualistic giving of gifts. Refusal meant upheaval. It came as a clandestine blessing and I haven't heard from her since. I wonder if she hocked that necklace. New rule: No more jewelry prior to six months.
But the last one is what matters. It seemed a normal compliment when Jackie said that she liked the way I smelled. Ralph Lauren has narrated the tale of many a half-hearted endeavor. I probably reciprocated similarly. Pheromones contribute to cases of mistaken identity before reason has its say. She fed me and skipped through the channels as we played the parts on her couch. When my bladder prodded to be drained I excused myself to the bathroom. Her medicine cabinet contained no prescription pill bottles--always a positive sign. I could say that I was searching for some Advil or a Q-Tip, but I was not. Hemingway warned, "You never understand anybody that loves you," while a dying protagonist, thinly veiled as someone other than himself, bled out on his ship. Even less can be said of those whom are only liked. You drink the cork with the wine. You endure some mild violation with the expectation that you too are being entered into search engines on the internet. Consider yourself flattered. There are people in the world whom no one cares to know, but they're not in this formula.
There was, however, a familiar blue bottle of Polo Sport on the middle shelf of the hidden realm behind Jackie's bathroom mirror. Why did a woman have men's cologne among her toiletries? I picked it up and rolled it in my hand. On the side opposite the printed logo was a primitive, hand-etched stencil of a name: Andrew. I didn't, and still don't, know her handwriting well enough to determine if it was her scrawl, but I assumed it to be so. An image of the pencil drawing of a young man's face on her night stand, rosary beads draped over its frame, rose to the forefront of my mind: Andrew, her high school boyfriend who'd been killed by a drunk driver. The essence in common with this deceased kid was a token of the loss of innocence for our shared paramour. I placed the bottle where I'd found it, closed the cabinet, and saw a scoundrel staring back at me. There would be no prayers or grieving when I left. I was unworthy of art. I never even offered to do the dishes after dinner or help change the sheets.
"You smell nice," meant more than I'd earned. I haven't returned her calls. Somewhere, soaking raindrops, there's a spirit more deserving.
There's something disconcerting
about seeing someone in a football uniform
and shoulder pads grumble, but I too
was once a nine-year-old.
The neighbor kid's groaning
over being sent back downstairs
by his overweight mother
for the rest of the laundry
waiting in the back of their sedan
parked at the curb.
My smoke's half alive
but I toss it anyway.
"Need a hand with that?"
I ask, reaching out before
he has time to answer.
I know how this goes.
"Sure," he replies
handing me the balled-up blanket
that seemed to be defeating him previously.
Two friendly barflies
guarding the sidewalk real estate
in front of Joe's Irish
cheer from their battle stations.
I suppose it looks ridiculous
especially since I'm still
shoulders-to-shins in denim
slathered with grease from
a day of work next to a man
I wouldn't want in my foxhole.
But it pays, and this kid's laundry
is the lightest thing I've lifted all week.
#42's kneepads are spotless, along with
the rest of him. He's either very good
or very bad. I stubbornly give him
the benefit of the doubt.
"What position do you play?"
I ask as we trudge up the stairs
both tired for different reasons.
"The Line," he confesses.
"I played the Line," I tell him.
"It's boring. All you do
is hit the guy across from you
over and over again."
He takes his bundle back
when we reach the door to his apartment.
I can't remember if he thanked me
not that it matters.
My mind was back on my own Line
wishing I could have a second chance
to unleash my angst
on a faceless, mouth-breathing stranger
for an hour at a clip.
I think I'd be efficient now.
The reasons have amalgamated.
"The Hidden War" by Artyom Borovik.
I am not a good man, but sometimes I try to be--
or maybe I feign trying.
It's just as rewarding without all the sacrifice.
There's been a battle since I was seventeen
and discovered that in
[edited since she may read this
though I doubt it].
Still, always there is hope.
We'll get to that later.
I appear selfish to those safely removed;
selfless to those comfortable enough to pretend;
and once again selfish to the stubborn who dig diligently.
All of this is trivial.
The few who are any better
would never see this accusation.
Consider yourself judged.
When's the last time you asked yourself,
"Who would bail me out at 3 a.m.?"
I didn't think so.
Some more on negativity:
You wouldn't know it if it fucked you in the ass--
hard, and without lubrication.
So often I'm mistaken
for this woe-is-me hermit
who loves to stroke his misery
instead of making change.
That is not the case.
I'm working, if only in theory.
But part of that
meant cutting out the cancer
which is why most of you
wouldn't notice any progress.
You're too busy chasing handjobs--
social, emotional, financial, literal.
Your lack of depth is alarming.
Your existence is proof
that they should tax air.
The better part of your genetics
must've slid down the crack
of your mother's ass.
Justice will not be served
unless somehow one day
you accidentally consume
toast buttered with horse smegma.
Am I done yet?
Do I need to go on?
Are you offended to the point
of ending this charade of friendship?
I don't know if I'm a realist or a romantic
but if there's a common thread
And to hope implies that things aren't right.
(If you disagree there
then I want what you're taking.)
To acknowledge the presence of clouds
is to amplify the rays of the sun
when they're there.
If everyone tooled around
as delusively happy as you do
then the pharmaceutical industry
would cease to exist
and America would implode.
Is that what you want?
Where's your sense of patriotism?
Can we sit and rotate
on the marble cocks of our Founding Fathers?
"Yes we can."
Try making sense again
when you're not the latchkey kid
of that Dream with altered locks.
There's an extra layer of vanity involved
when you take her in your T-shirt
the next morning, though you'd never admit that.
There's no revenge for tasting sloppy seconds.
You do it to the next.
Forgive this menage-a-moi.
I needed it.
It meant nothing, I swear.
A friend went for the jugular.
Maybe she was right.
There's a first time for everything.
You never hear the bullet that kills you.
"To Love and Be Loved" by Sam Keen.
Reading back through gravity
even a mere two years
sends vapors through the cracks
under my doors.
In the time-warping fog
I see words I no longer know
and people I no longer know
and shudder with a cocktail
of emotions I'd rather not mix:
guilt of mind and heart eroded.
My heavy use of pronouns
for the safety of anonymity
makes my own rambling cryptic
but with a healthy dose
of forensic archaeology
the characters come back to life
rising from the paper.
And one in particular
I'd thought was a dream
rears her head
through vivid words
I assigned her
to prove to me now
here in my attic
that I once knew love
and can do so again.
"Islands in the Stream" by Ernest Hemingway.
The old man got rice pudding
and I had chocolate mousse cake.
There we sat
each across from a stranger
to savor our sweet vices
while making the right eye contact
to claim the same cursed blood.
"This diner's only good for dessert,"
I inform him
as he steals half the dollop
of whipped cream on my plate
like he has since the days
of divorced kid visitation.
He smiles with the knowledge
that his eldest won't piss rainbows.
I've learned to gauge his love
by the things he doesn't say.
We wolf down three days' calories
allowing beasts to sleep.
He left a lousy tip
but I didn't spring to change that.
My father will be missed someday.
I'll tell the boy a fable.
I don't want his inheritance;
only my whipped cream.
Some Saturday night incorrigibles
ripped the flowers
from that sidewalk pot
for the eleventh time
since living here.
Still his careful hand
plucks the remnants of the roots
while the other holds a cigarette
he'd rather not be smoking.
We're drowning in the rays
of spoiled weekend sunlight
too bright for our four eyes
It's partially the color
though mostly due to shape.
David's humble slingshot
tends to find its mark.
Glancing around the corner
reveals the doomed replacements:
another floral cluster
that will only grace the pavement.
He's flicked his burning butt
at a poorly parked convertible.
He pays no attention
to the dirt under his nails.
There isn't much advice here
like fathers who teach nothing
save for stinking sardine Sundays
and how to lose a wife.
What a great man
for someone else.
What a perfect afternoon
What's left but the madness
that these silent strangers share?
My friend hunts
with a rifle.
You won't see him often
out there on the prowl
though when you do
it's good, my man:
Distance shots I'd pass on;
Only the best trophies;
Never a maimed doe
bleeding out for miles.
I sling my shotgun
and head to the cafe.
There's not room enough
for dancing so the patrons
watch me read
and with all those little BBs
something's bound to hit.
This fall brunette's in season.
Watch the redheads graze.
And if, by chance, you meet a blonde
save it, dead-eye.
Sun fades on the brick
of his crumbling bedroom walls
while recapping the
sins of the day:
His hand hurts now
from cat scratches
remnants of a game
he played with her new kitten
similar to the toying
that rounded out the visit.
A few new books, unread
sat atop her dresser.
"You need to be
with someone like you,"
she declared, making excuses
on his behalf--
as if to say that's easy;
as if they're lining up.
Then she pulled off her shorts again.
(This hurt worse
than the claws.)
There it was, engulfing him:
that pink butterfly
which almost kept him happy.
Her mother called
so she reached to mute
Some sick part of him
hoped that she would answer
pretending not to pant
as her back was blown out.
It ended, as always
with seed spilled
Denim climbed his legs
and he lit up on her porch.
"I haven't smoked all month,"
"The last time that we met."
He wonders if she'll blame him
when the cancer fills her lungs.
"Am I the only one?"
He smiled, sucked down fire.
The only one today, poor girl.
The week is still so young.
Fear not the fascist despot
or his cousin, Commie Czar;
it won't be any monarch
who rules the melded masses
there among the roaches
once the end of days is nigh.
A superhero slouching
won't come close in his powers.
Death, nor even Taxes
can touch What Men Should Dread:
The woman drenched in diamonds
cast upon her by the pens
of a dozen wayward poets
who wasted their best words
on a princess proud of nothing
that a queen would never sell--
a lady made immortal
who'll serve the drinks in Hell.
You have to see her
in the right light
to find it
have her up to your place
for a beer
and alibi speeches
but once you do
it's burned in your skull
that perfect angle
from which she looks more
like an actress
from 19-hundred and 43
shark born swimming
who'll spit you out
over cocktail stories
with friends down at Max's
an exercise in the perverse
at a cost you'll never muster.
His name is John
but I call him Lurch
behind his back;
mid-forties, vagrant, gentle
He's got to be six-three
a ragged, over-sized T-shirt
from that frame that carries flesh.
There's a bald knot
which may or may not
be a tumor
protruding from his close-cropped hair
which was definitely cut
with a dull shard of steel
by a friend doused in drink
or a barber with no conscience.
His face looks as though
he had some great idea decades ago
as lightning struck his spine
freezing his nerves in place forever.
And I like him, mostly;
especially after that
when he saw I had one smoke left
and volunteered to take the empty pack
throwing it out in his travels.
A man who knows the value of a favor
should never go unappreciated.
John crosses the macadam
whenever there's a smoker
from whom to bum
on the opposite sidewalk.
I'm aware of this
as I know which dogs not to pet
on Main Street
(the ones that are on fire).
Tonight I went down
for my after-dinner cancer
with one Marlboro, a lighter
and my book of Chinese poetry.
No sharing of my pack
with the proletariat this eve.
There's a layoff coming.
Mine must be for me.
I suck the last drag
from my menthol
before tossing it into the street.
I'm half-way through a stanza
when he approaches
from the adjacent corner.
"Can you spare a..."
but I cut him off before he can finish.
"I don't have any, John," I say
pointing to my sparse items
on the stoop next to me
proud to be prepared
basking in my shamelessness
suddenly less compassionate
than I ever thought I'd be.
He turns, defeated, and picks up
my butt from the pavement
pulling hard with his lungs
on the burning cotton filter
and taking his time
to cross the double-yellow.
A truck swerves around him
this man with my saliva
and it just may be
the closest I've come
to kissing a true human.
Jesus, I curse myself.
I should've gone upstairs for one.
"Thanks," he said
when I gave him my last smoke
that other time.
"Some people get all bent out of shape."
You're my favorite frying pan for eggs.
You're the way I always know how far it'll shoot.
You're that cocktail, made just right
where the last dram fills the glass.
You're the wax I'll never scrape
from the surface of my table.
You're the rifle on my wall
to which my guests' eyes all adhere.
You're the half-bottle of tonic
I'll drink when nothing's left.
You're the feather on the pond
that floats farther away
the harder I writhe
to catch you for my cap.
("So he knows,"
they point and say.
"He knows, and does it anyway.")
I have an ancestor
whose dying wish was honored
to not be buried next to
her long-dead, horrid husband.
The priest spoke of forgiveness
while our family counted miles.
For eight dollars, plus tax, I could've been fossilized in a moment ripped from the pages of a long-gone literary hero's hopeful anecdotes. Instead I'm still shaking twenty-three minutes later, but not from nerves-- it's remorse at having been frozen during an opportunity granted by a Power who likes to push pawns off the edge of the board.
I stopped at a convenience store I rarely patronize for a pack of smokes that I didn't need. It was more of a means to break a hundred and avoid a scene at the deli the next morning when the cashier would look at me squarely and say she couldn't make change. Some men learn to be prepared for these catastrophes. Others continue to suffer the same fate. Most never realize they're happening and lead empty lives punctuated by meaningless deaths. I'm lingering somewhere in that equation, though it's not for me to specify. Recordists, you see, are limited to the facts. Allow me to relay them as purely as possible.
I recognized her voice first: that sassy snarl which used to grate my nerves late at night during drunken disputes over nothing. All of me stood still except for my eyes which scanned her presence for the familiar. The tattoo on her foot and a stud in the side of her nose which I could barely see confirmed the uncanny. I was standing behind one of the Great Ones, perhaps the woman who suited me most-- or would have, had I been ready.
Her hair was longer than I'd ever seen it. A flowery dress clung to her figure and was cut short at the knee where two legs protruded gracefully, milky and filled-out like a mother's-- since she is one now, God bless her.
"Declined?" she asked the clerk, equal parts confused and annoyed. The dark-skinned Arab man behind the counter looked my way as she rifled through her purse for another card to swipe. "Sorry," she said over her shoulder with half a glance in my direction. I wasn't sure if she didn't recognize me or was sticking to a strict regimen of damage control, but she said nothing to acknowledge that we'd been together for years back when things were simpler. My feet, sockless in old sneakers, wouldn't budge from the cheap tile floors. I felt new beads of sweat run from my neck down to my shoulders which were bare. A rare fashion sin in the form of a muggy-day Guinea tee and the uncombed, windblown poof adorning my head made me wonder if she mistook me for one of the local rough-and-tumble barrio boys. Part of me prayed it was so. I couldn't be crystallized like this. I'd left my smoking jacket and ascot at home.
Four tall boys of beer dripped condensation on the counter in front of her-- two imported, two domestic-- though the price tags all read the same: $1.99. I thumbed through my wallet and produced a twenty that'd cover both of our purchases, but no words came to my lips. "I've got that," or "Allow me," or "It's the least I can do for all those nights when I should've stopped playing the part so damn well." Any of these would've made up for eight years of slamming back gin and regret. Instead my tail spun as I yanked at the yoke, silent as church on Monday, but churning inside.
My moment passed. I'd missed it forever. The pawn rolled in a wasteful arc there on the cosmic table.
"Here, try this one," she said as she handed the cashier a different card. He rang her up, bagged the beer, and she left before I could congratulate her on doing what I still can't.
Black lacy things that hide under furniture. Mascara on the pillowcase warm water will remove. Long hairs in the shower drain and short hairs in the razorblade. These are more things your mother shouldn't see.
All that may be so but I felt like I was living. The laundry list of evidence tastes better than the void. The last five were Italian. I've got this new hypothesis: It's easier to sabotage than let yourself be wrong.
I'm standing on this sand bar a mile from the beach with a fist cast in wax from where I've held her candle. Blessings come in ruthless waves unnoticed 'til they're gone. If one stares at what's missing one becomes that same abyss.
It must've looked suspicious: a sweaty man in boots and beard marching onto the wooded railroad tracks with a shovel in one hand and a cardboard box in the other. A stillborn? Blood money? He made it quick and found the spot where a younger man once played and buried friends: a hill in the forest behind his mother's house.
The moat was harder to cross than before, balance being a gift to the young. His longer stride made the incline a shorter bound, though. Once atop the crest he set down the coffin and spade in search of a spot he didn't pick fifteen years prior. The blade found moist earth never tilled by the likes of a mourner. He's changed, maybe grown, since the last time he chose a grave. He hacks at roots and clay with the folding army shovel he keeps in his truck for emergencies. It's the first time he's used it. It's the deepest grave he's dug, though not the deepest hole. He's proficient.
Once it's low enough to house her he wrestles the inevitable question. It's decided that to leave his friend without a parting pet would be heartless. His has always been too big. He stays true to form and opens the box for the first time. The rigid rabbit corpse takes a few last strokes that it sometimes almost tolerated.
She deserves a parting gift at this impromptu burial, aside from her freedom from captivity. He's come bearing only what his work garb includes. It dawns on him to dig through his black leather wallet-- the same one he's had for more than half his life-- in search of something worthy. The perfect token jumps out at him: his lucky two-dollar bill. He's been broke at bars in Manhattan and not used it. Stranded and thirsty and screwed. Trading it off seemed blasphemous. For the better part of a decade it's ridden on his hip. Now it's between the paws of a creature as rare as that currency. No boatman could stop her. It isn't superstition. She fancies good food and will need a means to purchase. Besides, he ponders, no luck can last forever.
The first tosses of dirt go slowly, the rest fill in like liquid. He lifts a larger rock than he could've in his prime and covers the fresh soil to protect the foxes and foragers from her wrath should they get curious. It occurs to scratch her uncreative name into the makeshift headstone, but he refrains in case kids come and wonder what's below.
He says a few words in his head about his strange friend who's given him lessons in both unrequited and unconditional love, making his descent back to the tracks that will lead him to his truck and reality. There, in the shadow of a wilderness still rampant as his memory, he lights a cigarette with fresh dirt under his fingernails and walks on in search of more.
he invited me into his office to tell me what i already knew by the tone of his voice over the phone earlier. it's been a year of deaths. i recognize the sound by now, even when it's masked.
"she survived the surgery, but went into arrest afterward," he said after shaking my steady hand. "we resuscitated her once, but two hours later she passed. i'm sorry."
i avoid eye contact and rub a tattoo high up on my left arm: bugs. he notices.
"she was happy today," the vet lies.
"she was never happy," i quickly correct him.
"well, she was active. when we fed her and took her out of her cage she attacked all of us. the staff couldn't believe it. we called more people into the room to see for themselves. it was like in 'monty python and the holy grail'."
a sick smile spreads across my sweaty face as i respond to the chrome lining of the toilet. "she went out like a champ. she stayed true to form." i'm not talking to him at this point. i'm mocking the gods who just lost to a creature without opposable thumbs.
the expected reaction to losing a friend of five-and-a-half years doesn't come until i'm back in my truck. it's tainted with laughter, or maybe the opposite is true. some emotions, like exotic cocktails, are bizarre when mixed.
"true to form," i mutter at the rear-view mirror, an oddly silent cardboard box on the passenger seat next to me. "it's more than most can say."
RIP bun bun. 2008-2013. you'll be missed, regardless of the lack of reciprocation.
Chomping into a deathburger as my fries harden vessels that once held clean blood I watch while murky clouds approach the carnival like a phalanx in the lot across the street.
The mechanical merry-go-round still spins the children blindly and when the sky unleashes its deluge the swings remain in motion for long enough to tell me that the operator is having his fun for a change.
A poster on the nearest wall says "Have it your way," but the carnie and I know better than to falter.
Drenched parents corral soaked kids in the downpour through the glass while my fast food goes down slowly one crow at a time.
"Preparation," I garble through a mouthful to an unseen stranger doing the youth justice.
The bastard poured nails
down the barrel of his musket.
Now we're taking turns
tugging iron from our backs.
Remember the farmer
who defended his orchard
with rock salt shotshells
that stung without killing?
We didn't steal apples
from that corn-fed sadist.
His daughters would call
when they needed to scratch.
Daddy was jealous.
He used to get his
there in the hay
with gin on his breath.
No decent member
of Wilmington Parish
would believe little girls
with such faded dresses.
It went on for years
until that marked night
that we hopped the wrong fence
and heard signs of struggle.
We wish now we hadn't.
The sight was obscene.
He left her there bleeding
like it wasn't his blood.
You walked to Barstow
and left us to trample
what years of hurt silence
had built in her head.
The following week
we both met her sister.
The four of us dated
a month's worth of summers.
Then they shut down.
The damage was done.
Bruised, like sore apples
but no good for cider.
Their lovers won't be
in the fruit business, either.
The lists will grow long.
We've seen this before.
Remember the women
we both could've rescued
had sickened misfortune
not trifled instead?
Who are you kidding?
We needed our taming.
Now pass me that rifle.
I hear the police.
The next time the cicadas come I'll be 46, with: a mortgage or a hovel full of empties; a woman brave enough to try it or disproportionate arms; kids, or more abortions (more abortions, more abortions); another list of the right people I met at the wrong times.
Burrow back down your holes, bugs and take your pressures with you.
I won't miss your humming thrumming, buzzing through my fumblings. When the wind and rain knock your vile remnants from the tree bark my pity will be elsewhere:
Seventeen more blinks.
Currently reading: "Stalking Is A Contact Sport" by Fred Seton.
Mickey went home last night. The first time we met she asked me to stay over, the wine as an excuse to avoid the drive, so long as we both agreed to keep hormones at bay. We did. It felt right. When I walked to my car the next morning, dress shirt slung over my shoulder, I swore there was an invisible force-field blocking all negative rays.
Last week she had me for dinner on a Wednesday and I didn't leave until Friday. She offered the invitation for Night 2 before lunch Thursday morning to alleviate the confusion of wondering, generous soul that she is. But last night, after a trip to the theater to see the cinematic telling of the most poignant pining novel of love, loss, redemption, and more loss, she gathered her things and left.
"I need space," was her rebuttal to the silent agony on my face. "Take as much time as necessary," I lied. When a man like me feels rejected he builds walls around his heart. I don't want time to do that. The risk here is too great. If only I hadn't asked her that presumptuous question two nights ago. If only I'd kept my suffering my own. Movie film is not the only thing projected. Try as we might, we carry our pasts.
It's been a hell of a morning: rolling in the sheets I changed before her arrival, wishing she'd left her scent in them, trying not to think of what this backward trend means, begging the cardiac masons inside my chest to stall as long as possible. The phone rang once between my dreams of the George Washington Bridge and my first car accident. It was a coworker, probably inviting me to a barbecue since today is one of those summertime holidays reserved for empty calories and socially acceptable alcoholism. I didn't answer.
I turned my phone on Silent Mode to avoid any further disturbances. I'd slept with the volume raised in case she changed her mind. Never turn it off, you'll seem unavailable. A lot is said by the status of a cell phone. "Here I am," or "I'm not here," or "Look at how pathetic I've become." The answers to all never matter. Only a prisoner of his own skull would dig that deep for meaning. I'm a writer by trade, a builder of rooftops to pay the bills. A man who tries to sell words as his own has to do his share of excavation in the mundane. Mickey loves that about me. Now, however, she's seeing its danger-- or she would be, if she'd felt comfortable enough to stay last night.
"The total package," her friend called me once during a conversation that spilled its way into ours in that gracious way reserved for winning affection through disclosure. Mickey was describing her newfound beau to her lifelong friend and confidante, suddenly teary-eyed, when the compliment came. What they often forget to acknowledge, however, is that these "total packages" tend to come with baggage. How can one expect it all without the addition of some caveats? The wheat is not so separate from the chaff. Character's built through fire, but it tends to leave some scars. Mine pop out at the worst possible moments-- like three in the morning, lying in bed with a tongue loosened by alcohol, a truth too honest to tell as the culprit.
I fight the urge to call her as best I can for a few hours. It's a tragic battle between What's Right For Me and What's Right For Us. That's what they don't say in the handbook: the transition from self-preservation to nurturing a bond is as bloody as birth and not as successful. Finally, and with heavy hands, my destiny can't wait. Her phone rings four times and I'm about to abort before the voicemail recording, but then her tired rasp greets me hesitantly.
"Good morning, Dave."
"Good morning, Mickey."
There wasn't enough time between dialing and speaking to compose more of an approach. I stare at the left half of my bed where she should be right now and go all in. My words can't penetrate that rare skull thicker than mine so I aim for the ribcage instead.
"The cat's dead."
"That's why I called. I found him this morning, and..."
"Oh my God. Honey, I'm so sorry. I'll be right over."
"Are you sure?" I ask, faking humble reservation. "I know you said you needed some time."
"Don't be ridiculous. I'm a woman with rules, but I'm not cruel. You sound terrible."
She's not inaccurate. I do sound terrible, though not because of the alleged death of any pets. I sound terrible because of her, because of her absence, because of what I've equated that to in my mind after years of being abandoned by the ones who've mattered in my life. Mostly, I sound terrible because I am. And I'm not going to make a liar out of either of us.
"See you in a bit, babe," she assures me.
"OK," I say before she hangs up.
It takes only a small amount of convincing to rouse myself from the sheets in search of the cat. It never liked me anyway. It's probably hiding under the couch as usual. A jacket and gloves will protect me from the scratches. My illness will distance me from the shame. Nothing, short of God, will protect its fragile neck from the beckoning of my need for love.
We learned more in kindergarten than the sum of what came after.
There's a floral arrangement on the glass coffee table in my attorney's waiting room that resembles something from that dated cartoon movie with the wizard-mouse I never liked. I want to flick ashes in the bulbous cups of the flowers but they'd have me out of here in cuffs if I even finger-fucked the Bic in the left pocket of my Levi's. My copy of "Papillon" laughs from my lap.
"Excuse me. Mr. Vargas?" interrupts the receptionist. "Anthony will see you now." She leaves off his greasy Italian surname possibly an Esquire at the end for the sake of making me feel comfortable. I'm anything but. Their charade isn't helping. I know an act when I see one. That's why I'm here in the first place.
His office is on the third floor of a recently renovated walk-up. I'm winded by the time I find his glass paneled door and enter to the smell of fresh paint and new carpet. Crime pays his bills and business is booming.
I land my ass in one of two leather chairs, positive that they're real. Naturally, he's shaken my hand before a word has a chance to escape. "How are you, David?" he asks knowing the answer. "That's understandable," he replies to my face's response. It boils my balls to see how easily I fall into the script these people have spent years perfecting. Sharks are born swimming, alright.
I can't beat myself up but I could've thrown it back at him by informing this leech that sex doesn't feel good anymore and I want to invest in people. There are stories about fuck-sweat and disco tears that'd have his Guinea ass scrambling for holy water. But I spare him and break silent wind in his expensive leather chair instead hoping that it reaches his nostrils.
We go over the case. He embellishes for what he thinks is my benefit. "It's happened to all of us," when clearly it hasn't. The best of us, maybe but not the whole lot. I can feel salty beads forming on my forehead. The oscillating fan on the corner of his desk must've quit turning years ago. It's focused on him.
"Is it hot in here?" he strategically asks seeing the sweat about to run down my brow. His designer shirt doesn't lose a crease as he opens the window behind his desk. I almost acknowledge the lovely view since a brick building faces us from across the three-foot alleyway but decide that he's not worth my brand of jaundiced humor. I'm well aware that he wasn't warm and when I suggest we kill the radio playing to eliminate any distractions he looks at me like I've never had two women in the course of the same Friday night. Still, he wants my vote of confidence since that's the key to funding his shameful operation: the converted tenement, the student loans represented by calligraphed degrees hanging on four walls, the sleazy secretary doing her nails downstairs between sadistic billing sessions.
"Women like bad boys, Dave," he reminds me, managing to add clairvoyance to his list of credentials. "Men take broken bones better than broken pride. They didn't hang Him there all that time merely to drain the life out of Him." I cringe at this, though not for its borderline blasphemy. There's a degree of sympathy owed from one potential convict to the most famous One in history. Hopefully my tale won't end as poetically. It unsettles me to think that my fate's in this man's hands as opposed to some Creator's. Mythology went to the curb with the old reel-to-reels my mother tossed in a box for the trash man.
He skillyfully leaves the question of numbers to me, furthering his act of sincerity. "Retaining the firm," he calls it but we both know it's, "Buying your freedom." "That's our flat rate," he says in the Royal We "whether we appear one time or twenty-- short of going to trial, of course." His offer to appear makes me think of that big-eared cartoon mouse in the pointy sorcerer's hat again this time with the face of this olive skinned extortionist.
"Of course," I repeat sardonically. "And here I was worrying that everything I've heard about you people was true." "It is, and then some," he responds with a smile that has perjured the jury before.
I sign a name that looks nothing like mine glancing around the room for a razor with which to expedite the process through opening a vein.
He's won this bout like I prevailed in the one that got me here. Eight years ago that beer bottle broke my nose for the debut defeat, but there have been a few shots at redemption for that scar.
Retire a champ. Go out on top. Do what it is that makes you happy and keeps a good woman corralled. But retire.
Oh foolish child-- Every time you're blessed with sunsine you thank the recently deceased. By that logic, when it storms will you blame them for not protecting you from the deluge? Is the burn of every scorn you've tasted the fault of some supernatural power? How long will it be until you allow yourself to heal? Come to the only conclusion: the weather is the weather, regardless of you or any superstition you've created to cope with loss and the question of being. Don't mistake coincidence and science for angels. Neither of them care for you. Neither of them sacrifice.
The world owes you nothing; it was here first. Trying to make sense of it will only leave you betrayed, confused, and vulnerable. Accept the inevitable and save the ache of undue suffering. We are placed here to do good for whatever roll of Time's dice we pull. We are blessed with the company of sacred souls and cursed by the presence of others. Still, we persevere. Don't make it to be more than the brief inning that it is. You'll get your chance at the plate. When you're gone what will they say? Nothing, if you're lucky. May the last one out close the door.
Now fetch me my sandals and call off the disciples. I've got work to do today. There's a load to be carried. There's a weight you can't bear. Did I lead you to believe that these weary eyes are speckless? Oh foolish child-- You've got so much to teach me.
The lighting caught
his left arm perfectly
to show the weathered scars
I'd never expect to see there.
but one who lacked ambition.
Down the road, not across the street.
I suppose I should be grateful.
Dead men tell no tales.
But I shoot looks at my wrist
when there's no watch upon it
and I've been glancing at the wall
where the clock stopped last week.
There's a dog in that car
with the windows closed tightly
and a dancer of sorts
has taken a liking
to a man who's had his shelves and safe emptied
by clowns with dull badges
and no sense of humor.
There are tramps and trollops
mice and mere men
none of whom can explain what to do
with this drawer full of cardigans
and bobby pins left like landmines.
A man on a megaphone
is screaming nothing
but saying it well
while girls in stirrups
claim their own fates.
You take the north side.
I'll watch the south.
Friends save judgment
for after the barrage.
will I turn myself in
on my kid brother's birthday.
My laughter has limits.
Beware, the Toecutter that dastardly fiend who's sworn to his seekers they're wasting their time. He's honed and he's crafty. His madness makes sense. Believe his threats. They won't take him alive.
The mistake that was made presuming your safety will get your name on the list of his mates. Jack and his ripping through dainty old London pale when compared to crime in the States.
The rumors you've heard on the buses are true. Most of them stop at the coroner's door. The Chief was seen sobbing. The rookies called wives. The Toecutter's signature shows no remorse.
He sings with his shears. They've never been sharpened. There's rust and there's blood and some patches of hair. Learn, if you must, where he worships his treasures. I can't inform you. I've never been there.
You can talk to me if you've got "surrender @ nine on Friday" as a legitimate line on your to-do list and you mean to the police-- Assault in the Third, a misdemeanor but still.
There were times when you would laugh it off with a huge vat of bourbon on hand but now it's not so funny that you haven't put pants on or seen someone's face today and won't. You'll just suck 'til it numbs you.
With biceps too thin for the width of your shoulders and gonads too small for the size of your mouth-- who will be the one who claims you? Who will choose to leave them out?
You know what's wrong with me but refuse to share the news. For shame. For shame, with your cool million. For humming like a heroin hooker. For needing some fuzz on the peach to come. For shame.
I've loved all of you despite your forgetfulness. Somehow, I still do.
road dog digest, vol. XXIX: they had my check waiting as soon as i got there. my partner decided that he didn't want to suffer the night without me and came along as a true union brother does. besides, i drove both of us to work and he'd rather walk than hitch a ride with certain others. "dragging up", as they call it, has an air of defiance that makes the ride home sweeter. let the clueless foreman and the blue-hair with eight fingers handle the last shift alone. my accomplice and i have five I's in our names between the two of us. the hypothetical team can go to shambles for all we care at this point after how we've been treated. packing didn't take long. i threw my life into the back of my truck and sucked down two yuenglings, which may or may not come from america's oldest brewery. the four-hour ride will be rough on two hours sleep, but this wanderer's thirst for the familiar will keep his eyelids raised. i wish i could say it's been as great as an experience as last year's nuclear debacle, but it hasn't. i won't start lying to you this late in the game. regardless, it's been real. lessons learned, bonds hardened, radiation absorbed, money made, and home sounds that much better. i hope ya'll didn't spend too much on the fireworks for my welcoming gala. i'll try not to scuff the red carpet since i know it's a rental. the rabbit will be pissed that i chose to show my face again. in lieu of pity sex, please donate to your favorite charity in the name of joshua james vahsen. it's too late for this old salt, but my little brother could use a running start in the karma department. there's a tough world out there should you choose to see it. some of us take that risk to make a buck. road dog, signing out. see you on the next big one. [exit mouthpiece, stage left. fade to black as the orchestra dies.] ---- road dog digest, vol. XXVIII: jesus christ, i missed session drinking. the sad parts are that: (a)my tolerance has been lowered due to work-related alcoholic inactivity as demonstrated by the fact that i was talking to myself before the first bottle of wine was drained, and (b)there is no (b), unless you'd like to count the constant which consists mostly of your jester's solitude coupled with the humor he uses to cover up the associated grief. regardless, the bottle of brew is warming against my side as i type this between sips. it feels more like home than most of the people who've let me inside them. i suppose that isn't saying much so i'll move on under the guise of ossified ineptitude. sorry, ladies. you whack. my ball-busting brother just called me at 4:45 in the morning to inform me that two more members of our crew got the axe tonight. that means there are only three of us left. we all want that blade to drop. the fact that the foreman knows that makes it all the more frustrating. get us our fucking checks already. no one wants your blood money anymore. the gig is up, the jig is up. fuck the pain away. at least tomorrow is my double-time night. they can eat my ass with a nuclear spork for all i care after that. one thing i won't miss: having to wear scrubs on the job. the irony involved in my previous psychotic irish-german nursing endeavors becomes too extreme after the first week of said uniform. those broads would be laughing their hypothetical nuts off if they knew i had to dress like them on a nightly basis to make a buck. please hold as i shake off the douche chills. we need to shower and get ourselves in bed before the boys come home in half an hour. as the resident mother hen says: "when you're schizophrenic you're never alone." ---- road dog digest, vol. XXVI: the company had last night's shift catered. it's a general rule of thumb that when a contractor feeds you the layoff check is close to follow. this phenomenon is referred to as the last supper. ask jesus christ how that worked out for him. he may have only been a carpenter who dabbled in fishing, but his opinion still offers insight in this case. we're about to get crucified. the thing that the powers that be don't realize is that they're only threatening me with a good time. i can't wait to get out of this dump and blow through the money i amassed while serving my sentence here immersed in madness. part of that's due to the fact that it seems this outfit promotes based on incompetence. i'm an easy-going guy, but the constant violations of safety, procedure, and common sense have made it hard to keep silent with this moron at the helm. "your foreman's at it again," has become a common phrase around here; one that sarcastically implies that said man is not in charge of the speaker. good stuff. even when we try to help him he plays the part that we've come to expect of him: upper management's clueless pawn who's in above his head, taking his frustration out on those trying to get the job done. last night it came to a head and i had it out with him on the turbine deck. told him to go fuck himself, which he said he'd remember. i hope he also remembers that he doesn't belong running work. i find it hard to believe that he could successfully run a greased glove up his ass, let alone a job. the man couldn't lay out two flat washers or a fucking picnic blanket, yet we're at his ignorant mercy. it's fine. i have my show-stopper line ready for him if it comes down to it, but that one requires a multitude of witnesses and the element of surprise. yes, it's that good. hopefully the situation doesn't escalate any further and i get to ride the remaining few days out peacefully. i have no problem putting foolishness in its place if need be, however. all work and no play makes mike a dull boy. don't bark up this tree, brother. its roots run deeper than yours. but it ain't all a soap opera called 'as the pipe wrench turns'. there are some good eggs to make up for the insanity. when i sat down with my plate of food last night there was a napkin full of chocolate chip cookies waiting at my spot. "i know you like these so i took a bunch for your lunchbox," my buddy said from across the table. "i know you've got a sweet tooth." the old timers usually take care of me, partially because they see a glimmer of themselves in a younger man trying to make the best of a crap hand. sometimes they see the same mistakes and tell me so. whatever it is, it's appreciated. i've already eaten four of those cookies. the other guy under thirty on my crew left last night. he got a call to work in his own territory and informed supervision that he'd be leaving in two days so they laid him off instantly with promise of a mailed check. that's odd-- he didn't mail them the labor! lesson learned: don't be honest with your employer because they will screw you regardless. the sheep fucker is down the road, probably never to be seen again. that's the nature of our business. truth be told, he grew on me like a fungus. he may not know when to keep his mouth shut and makes an ass of himself by being such a goofy bastard, but he's harmless and has a good heart. i'll take that combination any day of the week, even the one where he dropped an inch-and-an-eighth socket into a turbine casing and six people had to spend time recovering it so it doesn't interfere with the production of nuclear power. here's to you, wayne of plattsburgh. long days and pleasant nights. i'm off to burn mine. night off of laundry, reading, and a possible expedition to syracuse in the name of staying awake. love the one you're with. ---- road dog digest, vol. XXV: last night in the smoke shack, where genius congregates, i learned that the bizarre shrieks of exotic birds that make you think you're in jurassic park if you close your eyes are actually a recording played by loudspeakers to keep real-life 'swego birds from nesting in the electrical transformers. how sadistically brilliant! "dry?" one of the old guys on my crew asked me. "it's about a fish in a martini glass," another chimed in, judging the book by its cover quite literally. "you reading motherfucker," said the first. "it's my escape from reality," i explained. "speaking of which, i'm going for a cigarette." i kept my fingers crossed that they wouldn't thumb through that one while i was gone to see what the hell it was actually about. not everyone can read a book about a homosexual manhattan man's fight with addiction and forays into love with an open mind. the boys would've ripped me a new one, so to speak. people are people, love is love. i understand that scene where the two turn around after parting ways at the end of their date to see if the other is looking, even if they are both guys. i'll stick to the ladies, though, regardless of whether or not they choose to stick to me. speaking of which, can i please have my layoff check and go home? the book i'm on now is about a prison escape. how fitting! ---- road dog digest, vol. XXIV: the transplant went well. they also found a source of internal bleeding and corrected it. there's a long road of recovery ahead, but it's not one that he can't handle. he's one of the strongest men i know. thanks for the outpouring of positive energy. now back to our regularly scheduled programming. went on a field trip to syracuse the other night. the supervisors and safety coordinator on the job asked for a volunteer to do them a favor so i raised my hand since my book was in a lull. apparently one of the millwrights became queasy and disoriented, pale like a fish belly. they decided to send him home for the night and needed someone to drive him down to his hotel room an hour away. it made for a brief escape from the plant and i was treated to mcdonald's on the company dime midway through. thus completes my volunteer work for the outage. waiting on my ambulance driver merit badge. my favorite source of entertainment was telling stories from his college days for our amusement. (it's an associates in plumbing, welding, and heating-- don't get too excited.) he reminisced about a spider that he and his roommates befriended in college. argyle was his name and he lived in a web behind a glowing pabst sign hanging in their living room. they'd disorient flies by whacking them and throw them his way, then watch him descend upon his victims. he'd drop himself down by a silken thread and sit on the arm of their couch while they watched tv. argyle got to be big in the process. one night, some female company of my cohort saw him dangling from the ceiling and squashed him. my buddy was so upset over the murder of his pet that he kicked the confused girl out of his place. loyalty to an arachnid was more important than an easy lay. this down time on the job isn't so terrible. it brings me a new level of respect for my colleagues-- the kind that shows their humanity as opposed to their piping prowess. i'll drink to that, though it'll have to wait for another evening since i've got to report to work in an hour. ---- road dog digest, vol. XXIII: his kidneys are failing due to the liver problem and he now needs one of those as well. i don't know if they transplanted the liver or not. i'm having a hard time staying positive. smoked like a fiend and noted the oddly pink moon. spent most of the night in a remote corner of the room with my nose in two books to distract myself and keep my poker face on while i wasn't hiding behind the laughs. the truth is that i'm terrified. i want this job to end right now so i can be where i belong and find out if i am a donor candidate. heartfelt thanks to a special brother member from local 420 out of philly whom i met during last year's nuke job. your encouraging text about keeping my friend (whom you've never met) in your thoughts and prayers epitomized the concept of brotherhood in a business often tainted by backstabbers. what they say about your city must be true. going to sleep prematurely, then calling his wife when i wake up this afternoon to see if any progress has been made. last year, before going on the road for the first time, he told me what his father told him about working out of town: "when in rome, do as the romans." if i could aspire to be half the man he is someday then i'd be a lucky motherfucker. ---- road dog digest, vol. XXII: i had some amusing scenes to relay to you today, but none of them are relevant right now. one of my best friends-- the kind who'd silently take a .38 slug for me without thinking twice-- has been under the knife for hours. a liver donor became available last night (read: someone else died) and he was rushed in for the transplant. he called to let me know, but i was sleeping due to my reversed sleep cycle. i wish i'd gotten to speak to him, and that i wasn't way up here while one of the few who have truly been there for me is at the mercy of millionaires practicing alchemy with blades. my mind will be with you tonight, brother. much love from the north country. over-n-out. ---- road dog digest, vol. XXI: last night in the break room i was approached by a tradesman who could pass for that hook-nosed hispanic guy from "sesame street" back in the proverbial day. this stranger carried himself with such confidence as if i met him at a pig roast or a spicnic in a past life. i warned him that i did not have any bananas in my lunchbox for him to fry, though upon later inspection i learned that he'd brought his own-- which i then schooled him on by suggesting that he store said fruit in a paper bag to help ripen them faster for platano status. he laughed and started making humorous observations about me to my partner. i then proceeded to ask him if he sprinkles adobo on his lady's downparts before proceeding with the act to make it more like everything else he eats. this was comedic gold which sent him reeling back to his table across the room. he returned with a single-serving snack package of some type of white pudding. naturally, i noted his flan addiction and scored one for team steamfitter. this guy is fun and can take a joke well. we'll have fun there among the Whites. last night was a sham. too many chiefs, not enough indians. i try to stay working with the second youngest guy from my crew since we see eye to eye and bust shit out without any drama, but sometimes that can't be the case since it makes more sense to split up the two young bulls who are young, dumb, and full of-- anyway, i'm hoping i don't have to snap on an out-of-town wretch of a stranger who needs to retire in the near future, but can't make any promises. i can turn a wrench, pal. you worry about your own deal, like making funeral arrangements. cracked a beer at 6 am to wash down my last smoke of the day on the porch of this rented fishing shack, the pink sky yielding to an indifferent sun ready to own its subjects again. there are some things about this gig which i could eventually get used to. be easy. ---- road dog digest, vol. XX: when i pay my weekly rent on tuesday the landlady will wonder where all these singles came from. ---- road dog digest, vol. XIX: tonight's my first night off in six days and it feels great to be sucking some sauvignon blanc. my lodging situation has yielded a surprising statistic: only one-in-four pipefitters bathe between returning from work and going to bed. the other three slide into the sheets with the shift's grime upon them and use the hot water to rouse themselves upon waking instead. i find it mildly repulsive. then again, we're not in kansas anymore so this may be an extenuating circumstance. my rule of thumb has always been this: white collar-- shower before work; blue collar-- shower after work. i'm not saying i'm superior to anyone or have commendable hygiene practices worthy of penning an educational children's song cartoon a la "i'm just a bill" or "conjunction junction", but it definitely is interesting to see how many assumptions are discredited when you get the chance to live with others. at least i don't have to worry about hogging all the hot water since i'm the only one who uses it at that hour. my last shift was another twelve-hour reading extravaganza due to the lack of work ready for our crew to perform. there's an immense amount of down time in the nuclear industry. i'll soak up the dough for as long as they let me. shakespeare shall be in the break room, boys. let me know when it's coffee time so i can put my novel down and go grab a cup. for the first time in my life i just cooked an entire meal at four in the morning. didn't eat any of it, mind you. it's packed away in the refrigerator in individual containers for my colleagues to take to work tomorrow night. the pork chops come out better broiled, but this cabin is lacking a cookie sheet so i had to adapt and overcome. funnily enough, one of the speakers at our orientation meeting said, "there is no 'adapt and overcome' in this business anymore." i rubbed the tattoo on my forearm with two banners that say both of those words and smiled at the guy sitting across from me. i'll keep making my own conditions, pal. you have fun holding yourself while someone publishes a thesis on how to accomplish your task. if it wasn't for creative problem-solving then i wouldn't be here today to roll my eyes in your general direction. these guys don't get it. their utopian dream of ideal scenarios does not exist. give me chicken shit and i'll make you chicken salad. if skinning cats was cool then i'd be the fucking fonz. fact: i missed white wine more than i miss most of you. ---- road dog digest, vol. XVIII: last night our crew did not receive a work package. with no assignment there was literally nothing to do but sit there and wait for a task. i read for most of the night. at one point there was ground water coming up through the basement floor so we went and found mops, buckets, and a fan to dry it up. you know men are bored when they begin to clean even though it's not in their job description. not sure if i can take a second consecutive night of so much "ass time", but there's only one way to find out. ---- road dog digest, vol. XVII: out-of-towners usually get pegged with the night shift, not that i mind the pay differential or laid back atmosphere of those hours. i did, however, forget how hard it is to sleep during the day when the body wants to be awake. with lodging mates stomping around the place, doing dishes compulsively out of boredom, and slamming toilet seats it is almost impossible to get more than four solid hours. i nod off a bit after being ripped from slumberland, but it's never the same. dreams are also much more vivid during the day because you never really enter the realm of deep rest. i can't count how many times i've snapped out of one since sunday, grateful as all get-out to not be living its implications. but now it's time to live the dream for another twelve hours of pipefitting bliss. until tomorrow, friends. ---- road dog digest, vol. XVI: the eagle took a shit last night. that's construction code for "we got paid." i don't do this for the love of the game, the sketchy camaraderie, or even the decent (yet sporadic) money; i sling pipe for the chance to be exposed to such hilarious jargon and ridiculous stories as the ones we hear on the job. like the one my coworker told me last night about how his kindergarten teacher thought he hadn't gone to class for the first three months of school. his parents showed up for conferences and asked how their son was doing, to which the teacher replied that he'd never showed up. "that's impossible, we put him on the bus every morning," they replied. the kid, my current partner, went by his middle name from an early age and therefore didn't answer to or associate himself with his first name in elementary school. when he was called during attendance he stared around blankly as the teacher marked that student absent. how no one caught on to this mistake is baffling, but stranger things have happened within the public school system. also, my buddy's still a space cadet. we never really change. had a random piss test as soon as i reported to work tomorrow. it was a fun way to start the day and i got to go lone wolf for forty minutes, snuck away for a smoke before returning to the pack. there was some strange terminology on the forms i signed to give consent. one section referred to me as the "operator" which seemed a bit grandiose, though flattering. another part mistakenly called me a "donor". no one's accepting that vial of urine, or so i hope. i'm not giving a kidney, dammit. whoever developed that paperwork needs to reevaluate their position on some of these matters. regardless, it turns out i'm not pregnant. i spotted an interesting character from last year's outage: one half of the brothers grimm. that's the nickname given to the twins that came to my last crew halfway through the job. they were in their early fifties, small and troll-like, bizarrely introverted, haggard, and insisted upon changing into their work scrubs in the foreman's office instead of out in the general population like the rest of us. last night while i sat and waited for someone incompetent to finish fouling up the rest of his task i noticed one of the brothers grimm walking down the hall as nervously as ever. he looked like the weight of the world was upon his shoulders. it made me thankful for the mindset i've developed. i'd tell you how i cope, but then i'd have to make a sales pitch for my self-help videos. you don't want that. the inside joke of our cabin was taken from the speech given by our head honcho at the orientation meeting last week. it sounds like a line from the "edited for tv" version of "goodfellas" and gets a laugh out of us every time we say it. my theory is that it could defuse a tense situation if tactfully applied by making the intended recipient laugh. the next time someone gives you guff unnecessarily, proudly say, "go do yourself." speaking of which-- it's time. stay thirsty, my friends. ---- in the event that i'm rudely awakened both prematurely and on multiple occasions for the second truncated sleep cycle in a row i am repeating the following mantra as i drift off to slumberland: "do not go out there and strangle a union brother...do not go out there and strangle a union brother...do not go out there and strangle a union brother..." if that toilet seat slams in the next three hours or anyone throws a dish in the sink from four feet away i may get medieval on their respective asses. goodnight, sunshine. go piss in someone else's cereal for a change. ---- road dog digest, vol. XV: be careful what you wish for. deliriously tired. birds outside my window may catch some lead for welcoming dawn. goodnight. new day-sleeper. intermission. elevator music. body confused. need darker curtains. payday. mayday. zzzzzz. ---- road dog digest, vol. XIV: after being here in canada lite for almost two weeks of training and cabin fever doldrums i will finally begin what i came here to do: work. the outage began today and my first twelve-hour shift starts at 6 pm this evening. i'm excited to start making the real money with 72-hour work weeks. time will fly by now that we're shifting gears. the sooner i can get this fucker up and running again with my nuclear pipefitting prowess, the sooner i can get the fuck out of dodge while laughing all the way to the bank. and if you didn't read that with a boulder of salt then clearly you haven't been paying attention. someone who's weaved in and out of my life for the last fifteen years is moving several states away come summer. this came as a surprise today via text message. if it makes her happy then so be it, but it seems she's only running to that greener grass. we're all seeking something. it takes awhile to realize that happiness comes from inside as opposed to a new set of headaches. if i'm honest i'll admit that i'm only bitter because i didn't jump at the chance to seal the deal when i should've during our last fling. thankfully, i'm not honest with myself. heard the sound of spring peepers through the raindrops the other night. strangely, it was cold enough to snow earlier that same day. i finished my smoke and called my mom since the sound of the tree frogs always makes me think of my futile attempts to find them while growing up. "my nature boy," she used to call me. no argument there, even here in loosely-defined manhood. i'm still curious about the nature of things-- like how the hell a piece of paper can make men sell their souls, or how anyone could detonate bombs at an innocent sporting event and injure dozens of strangers. the world needs love. packing lunch, donning pants, preparing to get my nuke on. be safe. ---- road dog digest, vol. XIII: went to do my laundry today in what the locals refer to as "town". loaded the machine, pushed the button, went to read in my truck to avoid the populace. upon returning half an hour later to throw my wardrobe into the dryer i found that the cycle never started. had to reinsert quarters and wait all over again. felt almost as dumb as the obvious fellow tradesman who was wearing safety glasses in the laundromat. talk about being institutionalized... tonight was my turn to make dinner here in the pipefitting commune. i was making mashed potatoes while the resident chef bird-dogged me from his perch at the corner of the table. i added one dollop of i-can-certainly-believe-it's-not-butter, then another; he told me to keep going until he said "stop". i was waiting for a whistle to blow or a yellow flag to be thrown. fortunately, i graduated from a large public high school so my meal came out just fine. note to self: don't volunteer if there's an audience. but some things go down easier for me when people are watching-- like failure. the men are living vicariously through my foray into redneck online dating. they salute my shameless endeavors and their cheerleading fuels my willingness to crash the test jet. i made it home alive without becoming a statistic. what happens in 'swego stays in 'swego. next tattoo: my teeth marks on my arm where i gnawed myself free. "is that why it says 'shakespeare' on your fitter's hat?" he asks. i affirm his deduction, explain how the nickname came about back as an apprentice when i'd read in my car on lunch break. give the abridged, two-sentence version of my college adventure. he goes on to tell me about a character in our hall called "the doc"-- a man who went to med school, then decided to join the ranks. "there are a lot of educated men in our local." i don't define the term, but agree based on its breadth. education, to me, means someone standing in front of a classroom. most of what i know i've learned from dead men. i'm learned, not educated. there's a difference. i know-- you still want details. she had three cats. that's all i'll tell you. ---- road dog digest, vol. XII: we sat through presentations for seven hours yesterday. it was a catered event at a local restaurant where all of us would've died if fire broke out. they had us crammed in like sardines with barely enough room to maneuver our way to the lousy sandwich table. the sheep fucker cornered me while i snuck a smoke between speakers. asked if i'm on nights, too. he'll be my assigned partner when the job starts. this much i know, judging from past karmic experience. the highlight of the day was the crucifixion of a painfully drab supervisor who had no business standing behind a podium. oration requires certain skills, none of which this man possesses. he droned on for over an hour without moving his hands, altering his tone, sneaking one dirty joke in to shake us up. i wanted to stab my eyes out with the toothpicks they used to hold the sandwiches together. about twenty minutes into the abortion of a speech i noticed that he used the word 'right' like a nervous tic. it came out as punctuation to every point and began feeling like a smack in the back of the head or a skipping cd. i made a game of it by muttering 'right' under my breath when i thought one of his was coming. most times i was, well, right. the other 250 tradesmen in the room picked up on his issue and started whispering 'right' as well. the catering hall turned into a low-key chorus of sarcastic union craftsmen who were sticking their tongues out at a pencil-pushing white-hat. that's when i lost it. i blurted out a laugh and covered my mouth. turned bright red, bit my hand, closed my eyes, felt sweat on my forehead. my buddy next to me said 'right' and nudged my arm. i choked on my own tonsils trying to contain myself. the image of my silent torture made my friend sitting across from me smile wide. i had to look away to hold back, but made the mistake of looking at another gent from my local. 'right,' he said at the same time as the nerdy speaker who was quickly losing possession of the room. i faked a cough and let out a neutered laugh. the welder from kentucky sitting to my left couldn't bear to look at me for fear of busting out. our table was directly in front of the microphone and in view of all in the room. my friend to the right looked me in the eyes and smirked. he didn't have to say 'right' that time. i lost my shit. tears rolled down my cheeks. and when i went to the bathroom at the next coffee break it was all anyone could talk about. one man counted the guy's fucking rights: 356. when we returned to our tables it was even harder not to laugh like in junior high math class when the teacher said '69' due to the anticipation. i didn't think i'd be able to make it. feared expulsion from the room, possibly from the job. that's when the poor guy did the best thing he could've: he acknowledged the fact that he says 'right' all the time, then invited anyone else to stand up there and address such a large audience without feeling nervous. laughter and applause erupted in the hall. we all commended his honesty and the air was settled again. i didn't feel the need to laugh anymore. thankfully, the lack of mystique and rebellion made his 'rights' alright with all of us. mercy on the mount. speaking of mounting-- i'm meeting an oswegan from my online dating site tonight for drinks and horizontal pity. this was an early entry for a reason (pun intended). what happens in north country stays in north country...including any bad decisions. if i don't make it back then assume the worst. tombstone inscription: "he went down with one gun blazing." ---- road dog digest, vol. XI: i forgot my father's birthday until he called. pretty sure i cursed myself out on the phone. it's a different world up here, not that location's an excuse. i have no sense of time relative to home; only money-- the main reason i'm pimping myself out like this. it's been confirmed that a curious raccoon is what's responsible for the power outage at the plant that caused all of us to be sent home after two hours on tuesday. the good news: we still got paid for the day. thanks, suicide coon! tell osama i said hello in hell. a stranger in my crew is missing the better portions of two fingers. i'm not sure i want to work with him. clearly his safety skills are lacking. and he's not even the one we've already dubbed "sheep fucker". that guy may get his mouth duct-taped shut before the outage is over. i don't pity people in coke bottle glasses for the mere fact that they look like apes from madagascar. for the record: he really did jokingly admit to sodomizing livestock. that's pretty baa-aa-aa-aad. it rained, then hailed, then snowed, then sleeted. i was waiting for the frogs to drop next. "you should've been a writer," he told me. "i enjoy your stories." i juggled it in my head, responded with, "always something." but i am one, goddammit; one who turns wrenches to pay the bills. there's no shame in that. i prefer it for the most part. keeps me humble, learning, pure. maybe that last one's a stretch. a writer's just a glorified liar. best quote of the week: "they got two channels up here: news, and fuckin' alligator shows." an instructor shared a tale from what seems like a past life in which he single-handedly took out the power and telephone connections of lancaster, pennsylvania with a crane while demolishing some unused railroad tracks years back. no one was killed, but the entire town showed up to chew him out. when the Man in Charge arrived and asked what moron was responsible for the offense the entire town proceeded to point at our poor instructor, who was then only a lowly tradesman. the image of him looking up to take that heat was the cover of the next day's newspaper. i appreciated that honesty. i'd trust him with my life. it's not the lack of fucking up that makes the man. it's the ability to step up and take the hit, but keep on walking. hear my boots? ---- road dog digest, vol. IX: god bless direct deposit. woke up, checked my account via text message, and decided to head to work since they paid me electronically under the cover of night. entered the actual bowels of the plant for the first time today. saw a lot more familiar faces and shook one-quarter of the attached hands (since i only pretend to like half the people i meet and merely tolerate a majority of them). characters dubbed chicken and tone loc: these are the men with whom my radiological safety is trusted. it's perfectly normal to those who know. tone's face lit up when we started jiving. chicken gave me that silent, knowing smirk. we're all here for the same reason. the variety's what makes it enjoyable. shortly afterward i ran into a fitter from last year's chem decon crew, but he barely opened his mouth when he said hello and didn't look me in the eyes. not everything's as golden as its crystallized memory. duly noted, shakespeare. it's been thirty degrees colder here than back home and the clouds all seem to congregate over this not-so-great lake. part of me is happy that this shutdown won't be as long as last year's. there's an angry rabbit awaiting my return, and landlords who refuse to learn my name. "buddy" must be an all-encompassing designation in albania. the amish farm has had a "closed" sign up every time i've passed it. it probably isn't wise to buy baked goods from people who don't have running water anyway. how do they wash their hands? you can eat that pie alone, pal. speaking of which-- the locals have responded...mostly with "my daddy works at the plant, too!" i'll leave that be for now. endorphins aren't worth losing ones life over, especially in this land that god forgot. i can't go down with only one gun blazing. and i couldn't have euthanized that buck if i couldn't've beared to look at it. that's my reasoning for not going back. it's working. i'm a pro. thrice in nine days i've caught myself repeating the last word of a sentence as if for emphasis. it doesn't take freud to reveal the true reason. i'm trying to convince myself. whiskey tango foxtrot. ---- road dog digest, vol. VIII: on the way to work this morning my partner and i witnessed death in its realest form. a deer was thrashing around in the shoulder, its rear legs demolished. hooves flailed around in desperation. one antler was broken off. it was a violent display of life's frail nature. i wished i'd had my gun on me to put the thing out of its misery. it would've been a noble first draw. the buck danced with death as we drove by slowly. my buddy said something appropriately somber, but it didn't settle my stomach. for whatever reason i noticed for the first time that one of his fingertips is missing. is it impolite to ask? work was a joke. a power outage prevented us from proceeding as usual. after two hours of floundering around they decided to send us home with "shape-up time", an industry phrase for two hours' pay. the irony of a nuclear generating station not having electricity to operate was painful to the tune of six hours of billable time. you can't make this shit up. the deer was gone when we drove back "home" to get drunk and make chili. hopefully a local scavenged it to put food on the table. fate's wheel spins on unaffected. the party's already started. we're just waiting for the right time to dance. ---- road dog digest, vol. VII: never trust a man who hasn't pissed in the shower. he'll tell you the world doesn't spin on a tilt. took the dreaded rigging class today. four hours of dry lecture from a man who needs to justify his position, no lunch (grumpy), written exam, "practical" evaluation, blessed 3:30. did well, got certified. lord knows i've ___-rigged enough things in my time. maybe it's the spring's herald of tree frogs or maybe it's the high pitched hum of the electric lines stemming like arteries from the power plant, but i'll take it. the great white north or the hudson highlands-- without a soul to share it with nowhere feels like home. be grateful. thanks for listening, even when i have shit to say. ---- road dog digest, vol. VI: this morning i learned that corned beef hash is kinda like dog food for (white) people. i ate it, but i'd rather pay the extra few bucks for some bacon in the morning. as a general rule i don't like meat in the can. regardless, i kicked our self-appointed chef out of the kitchen for long enough to make us some egg sangwiches on english muffins to accompany said puppy chow. went on a mission to syracuse in search of some adventure. didn't find it, but on my way back i saw a caravan of amphibious armored trucks on the highway with soldiers hanging out of every port armed to the teeth. fort drum is in nearby watertown and home of the 10th mountain division. at least if the zombie apocalypse happens i won't be so vulnerable without my precious hardware. and now, after an unfortunate unpaid day of doing nothing, i'm going to settle down to dinner with the men. later for this pipe nonsense. i'm going to refry beans for a living. ---- road dog digest, vol. V: this morning's cabin coffee talk went as follows: "hat do you need a hundred round "clip" for? then again, what do you need an ak-47 for?" i smiled, nearly bite my tongue off, and decided not to try to educate any temporary roommates on the purpose of the constitution. you can imagine how hard this was for me. felt like a tiger pacing his cage so i wandered out to the local watering hole where last year's crew would congregate. redeemed a free drink token i had since last year, downed my solo suds, and left. some coffee house reading proved beneficial due to god's grace in the form of college girls in yoga pants. kurt vonnegut's unofficial autobiography wasn't so bad either. called a union brother from the oswego local who has since moved to west virginia. was great to swap funny stories about belated revenge and catch up with one another as far as work and life in general. one of the most profound benefits that i've reeped through being part of an international organization has been the bond i've been fortunate enough to form with men i wouldn't have met had it not been for the pipe trades. within a matter of five minutes this cat offered to get me a sweet overtime gig alongside him in west virginia, then said that if i ever need a place to sleep here in oswego he'd be happy to make arrangements for me to stay at his unused house. brotherhood indeed. that stuff they feed us at meetings isn't all bullshit, believe it or not. during our discussion i also learned that two prominent men in the industry here were not permitted to work on this year's project due to dwi charges. i'm lucky to have a clean enough record to be here, even though "here" ain't always the greatest. pulled some frighteningly appropriate vonnegut gems from the pages i read while nursing two glasses of canadian club and coke-- not double-fisting, mind you. it was one of those serendipitous instances of a writer reaching you at the perfect time. kurt came back from the dead to offer some coaching on getting the word down and spat some lines about loneliness that rang true. there are few things more precious than the right book at the right time. it's better than advice from a "real-life" friend in some ways since it seems somehow supernatural. how could this stranger possibly know to speak those words at the hour that you need them most without even knowing whom you are? behold the power of literature. the whiskey was deep, alright. while returning my drained tumbler to the bar i noticed a middle-aged technician from last year's nuke plant shutdown. clearly he'd been on the road ever since. i saw it in his eyes and the clarity of his double-vodka. thankfully i couldn't relate; therefore, there was no hello. on the ride "home" i realized another reason for my sticking out like a new wrench here: the japanese truck i use to haul my ass around. the mileage is better and the body will rust before the engine takes a shit. i'll absorb the looks of jingoist scorn for as long as my wallet allows. one of my favorite songs of all time hit my ears during the last leg of my trek back to the fort. the words tattooed into my arm built their crescendo until the climactic end-- "where you are and where you want to be." the trick is to make them the same. ---- road dog digest, vol. IV: ghosted today in the name of rebellious exploration. passed by "10½ st" and "bankruptcy rd" en route to syracuse. if you didn't believe that this place is nowhere-- there's your undeniable proof. monday i shall trade in my skippies for boots and start to dress the part. it's a slow process, this selling of the soul for a dollar. the weekend should prove troublesome. no overtime and idle hands; i'll be spending it instead of making it. no one showered after work today. we're all too tired from doing so much nothing. sometimes they call their women and whisper like the beer's not talking. me, i have no one to lie to but myself. and i know better than to get drunk. break even. all i wanna do is break even. ---- road dog digest, vol. III: finished my site clearance exams halfway through the day. was disappointed that i didn't have to take the absurd psych test that asks fun questions like "does your soul ever leave your body?", "do you blame your mother for your misfortunes?", "do you ever daydream about dressing like a member of the opposite sex?", "how loud are the voices in your head?", and "would you rather be a florist or a librarian?" perhaps, on the other hand, it's for the best that they spared me this year. more importantly, for the next six days i literally have nothing to do once i report to the training facility at the plant. the project hasn't started yet so i'm in a holding pattern. found a cozy couch in the lobby, set up shop with some books i brought with me. paid to read-- doesn't get much better in my world. apparently i've been nominated the local shrink. people who come kill time in the office furniture next to me find it necessary to unburden themselves with whatever's on their minds. one boilermaker informed me that his 72-year-old mother had a hysterectomy this morning since she recently started menstruating again and her doctor said she shouldn't get knocked up at her age. great, pal. thanks for sharing. i went back to vonnegut as politely as possible before any other nuggets of knowledge could be wafted my way. went to lunch and saw a local fitter i met last year who told us the tale of how he "goofed in his pants while getting a lapdance" one time. needless to say, that's all i could think about when i saw him in the cafeteria-- not his name, but his premature ejaculation story. again, too much information. passed by pointless protocol posters with images of easy metaphors like ladders and puzzle pieces: things us dolts can relate to, aside from dollar $ignS. found out that i'll be working nights. glad in a way. it makes you feel like you're here for a reason if you tackle that miserable shift. it's a different beast, though for now i'll soak up the dough with some novels. when that got tedious and the sentences had to be read three times to sink in i texted some guys i wish were around for this one. miss those cats. killed my third smoke of the endless afternoon and strolled down an empty corridor with a mirror at the end. couldn't help but spread that maniacal grin as i approached. it's not that i'm enamored with this gig, but i like that i can say i'm willing to go. roll on. ---- road dog digest, vol. II: reported to the nuke plant this morning after checking in at the union hall up here in canada lite. it was the strangest sense of deja vu i've encountered sober and clothed: same training proctors, same lunch ladies, same armed security guards, and a lot of the same tradesmen. it felt like groundhog day, or that i'd never left this desolate generating station. regardless, the familiarity and structure were comforting. breezed through more than a day's worth of exams, got my security badge (complete with lazy eyelid photo), made amusing small-talk with the drug test lady to help distract us both from the presence of a cup of my urine sitting on the desk between us. even got to read some short stories while waiting for my next class. it was a bit uncomfortable when the middle-aged man administering one of my safety courses whispered "i've been meaning to tell you that i like your ink," but more odd was my internal reaction to the overheard "i love you" into the phone of a passing secretary. somewhere out there someone's lucky. for now i'm making hired gun money. asi es la vida. ---- road dog digest, vol. I: to those complaining that it's cold for april-- i drove through a blizzard on my way up here this morning and had to take two detours due to weather-related accidents. oswego is like canada, except that you can vote in american elections (sheeple) and there are amish people tooling about in buggies. aside from the precipitation, the ride was mostly pleasant. i never thought i'd pass through coonrod, new york twice in my lifetime, but stranger things have indeed happened. at least this time my gps didn't shit the bed whilst traversing that abomination of a township. sounds like a lousy place to get lost, unless you're into that kinda thing. off to go grocery shopping for the overtime apocalypse. be safe.