Monday, November 28, 2011

The Wrath of the Neglected

The weight of recent rem still lay heavily on my consciousness. I’d slept, deeply, but had no idea for how long; nor where. I had to assume it had been in my own house, in my own bed, next to my own wife; but we all know what they say about assumption. As it was, wherever I’d lay down the night before was not where I found myself upon my awakening.

And where here is, I’ve not a clue.

I am tied, every part of me immobilized save my arms and hands, my fingers now spread across some keyboard device which seems quite foreign to me. I am not uncomfortable necessarily, in any torturous way, yet what I imagine are softwood logs poke at my backside as I wriggle in a seated position, sticks prop my upper body upright, and I can smell the faint aroma of some sort of petroleum product.

Through the mottled haze I spy a face staring at my own. It is immediately recognizable, frighteningly familiar; the deep dimples, the silver, long ago receded hair, the vertical wrinkle that runs the length of the fellow’s nose, showing me that he sleeps on his right side and has pressed the pillow so hard for so many years that his face has taken on a permanent marker.

In fact, as the haze begins to clear and I take stock of the entire man, I find he is virtually a clone of myself beyond his garb, which I would describe as eighth century woodsman… and the fact that he has no belly to speak of, whereas my own is nearly the size of a 16 pound cannon shot.

“Let me at least wipe the drool from his face.”

The voice, a girl’s, lilting, Celtic I believe, comes from behind me. The man nods and a wet cloth slips under my chin, it’s user rubbing my face much as my mother once did when I’d been eating mud pies and hadn’t washed up before dinner.

“Where, where am I”, I stammered, annoyed that after 25 years in the voiceover business I was still incapable of  spiting out a sentence without making an error.

“Dementia lad”, came his reply; “and you’ll not be leavin’ 'til we have an agreement betwixt the half dozen of us.”

“Bragi?” I asked; “is that you?” Of course I knew the answer, or at least I should have as I’d created the monster that was now my keeper.

“Aye” he answered, “and as you’ve designed me as the main character I’ll be signin’ the papers, but there are a few with me that would like a word with you; to make certain you understand the seriousness of your predicament.”

A face as beautiful as any ever created slid into my periphery, her hair, yellow as the sun, her skin, peaches and cream, more a flavor than a shade.

“I’m thinkin’ you don’t care about me anymore mister fancy pants writer” she said with a grin which quickly changed into a scowl. “You’ve not given me any letter lovin’ for months, perhaps years, though it’s hard to tell real time in dementia as it’s your clock we all operate on. Either way, I’m quite disappointed in you as I thought our love to be as strong as my draw and as pointed as this arrow which you know I could shoot straight up your right nostril if I so desired!”

It was true. She was the Champion of Glimmerende, an archerette so perfect, so incredibly accurate she could plunk a single smallish wart off the nose of Robin Hood himself at 200 yards, and at such speed that the arrow head would be so hot it would cauterize the wound on its way by.

“Aishen” I protested. “By the gods I do so love you! I’ve just, well you know, been busy of late!”

“With that stupid game you play! I know all about it you heathen! You could be creating your own wonders and instead you’re waddling around in someone else’s with those silly, foppish characters you’ve generated! Now who’s better I ask, us or them?”

“Well my sweet, of course you’re better, and if I could have transferred you from my admittedly teeny weeny brain into the graphic system of World of Warcraft, you know I would have!”

She sighed, loudly; the kind of sigh that seems like it’ll soon be a choke that in the end will require the Heimlich maneuver. “Authors” she spat; “We characters hate you all!”

As Aishen L’Fay stomped off Bragi smiled and said “You see lad, we think you’ve ignored us far too long, and we’re not standin’ still for it. We weren’t sure how to deal with it exactly, as we are after all just figments of your imagination. So we had to speak to the only person that knows you better than we.”

“And who might that be” I asked, “did you visit heaven and speak to my poor dead mother?”

“No” said he, “though I should have thought of that.”

“Hi you big silly.”

It was my muse! Well, one of my muses if I were to be honest, but indeed, my favorite.

“What have you done lass” I cried. “I seem to be a prisoner of my own thoughts!”

She giggled. As angry as I was, I giggled too. I couldn’t help it. That’s why I loved her so, she always could make me giggle.

“It’s not like you haven’t been ignoring me too pal” she said while looking at her nails all Hollywood diva-like. “So when the big cur here asked me to help him and his friends, what could I do? I got bored! You never take me out to play anymore, and they let me have the run of the Castle for a few days so I could have the girls down for a party!”

The thought of all my muses together, uncontrolled, with an entire kingdom of imaginary creatures, foodstuffs and party favors within their reach, made me shudder.

“You didn’t trash the place did ya” I asked.

“Well” she said, “remember that door you built in the west wall? We kind of spun the castle around so now it faces east. I hope you don’t mind, the sunrise is lovely, I promise!”

I tried to stand so as to accentuate my protest with a little intimidating fist pounding, but to no avail, I was lashed tight.

“What is this exactly that I’m sitting on” I said through lightly clenched teeth.

“It’s a pile of logs sir” Morden said as he stepped into view. “I built the pyre meself, I hope it meets your needs.”

I was stymied. “Alright, why would I be tied up and sitting on a pile of logs then?”

My muse looked at her shoes and smirked. “Well that was sort of my idea, though I hadn’t meant it to be so literal.”

I looked around the room, dumbfounded; I still didn’t get it.

Ogre moved forward and spoke in his deep, slurry timber. “We asked Ms. muse what we could do to remind you to write about us more often, and she said we should light a fire under your arse.”

“And I’m here to do just that if you don’t cooperate” said Desiree’, who at that moment had a very small but stylish fireball poised on the tips of her fingers.

“For god’s sake it’s a metaphor” I shouted; “it means nudge me! Write me a note! ENCOURAGE ME!!! Not burn me at the stake!!”

Bragi only smiled, inadvertently showing me what a yellowed mess my teeth had become since I’d created him. “Had you conjured us within your own time frame we might have had a notion as to what this met-a-for might be your penniness, but as it is we are simple folk of something akin to the dark ages of human history. We still believe in trolls man! What the hell would we know? She said light a fire! And here we are!”

“So now” said Erik the Melancholy, the true King of Dementia, “As I know that you’ve stolen my name and printed it as if it’s your own on your silly journal, which means you owe me grievously, are you going to take up your pen and scribe our lives into memory once again? Or shall we have a marshmallow roast and wave you bye bye?”

It’s been a few hours since I signed the contract they forced upon me. Please don’t think I am in any way spontaneously creative and that suddenly I was struck with an urge to rekindle the story of Bragi Stringbreaker and his cohorts; because nothing could be further from the truth. I just like my arse is all; raw, unbaked, pink, without carcinogens. What part of me they might threaten next I can only imagine.

I’ll see what I can come up with….

Sunday, November 27, 2011

One Blade of Grass

Once upon a time I was in full self pity mode and I wrote the bleakest, most wallowy prose imaginable. Some of it was in free verse, some verse and some short story, but nearly all of it was as dark as a tunnel without a light at its end.

When I started I was alone, only on the internet because I'd come there out of boredom and flushed a few hours every day trolling journals in search of anything interesting. I suppose I wrote on a page of my own because the possibility of having it read (and understood obviously), while a gazillion to one, was more likely than it would have been to find a kindred soul in my day to day life on the tundra. Yea, I know, sad. But hey, it is what it is, and whether it's neurotic or not can be up to someone else, I just tell the story.

Suddenly a couple of people linked to my page and commented now and then that they did indeed read me, and on occasion did actually understand what I was saying if not feeling. One of those two was a girl from Finland, who once told me that she used to read Samuel Beckett before she went to bed, but now she read me instead. It was my first writing compliment. I was, in her eyes at least, even more eloquently miserable than the most miserable yet famous writer in all the English speaking world. I was quite moved. Let's face it, I was on the edge of the black hole and ready to grab at any straw to keep me at the surface; being so much as mentioned in the same sentence as Mr. Speck in the Dark... well that was all I needed.

The whole internet relationship thing fascinated me, and while I had enjoyed many cross cultural contacts in my life they were all about business and about as intimate as a dollar bill. Getting to know this person, these people, while they were getting to know me suddenly seemed great fun; a concept that might seem absurdly ordinary to someone not a relative recluse.

That's the background, this is the point.

The girl I'll call Suz was a candidate for Archaeology studies in Finland, and struggling to make the grade. She was very worried that she'd be cut from the short list. She sounded a lot like me. I did that "geez I wish I could do something" thing that happens when you know there's really nothing you can do. But ahh, there was something I could do, even though it was a little silly, and would only be a symbolic gesture, accomplishing nothing in reality beyond the possibility of creating a grin.

I had commissioned this two armed flagpole, and while I flew the Norse and Swedish flag from it, I'd always wanted a reason to fly others as I love flags and as you may have read, all the symbolism they command. So I flew the Finnish flag next to the American and sent her a photo, to say I was with her in spirit, that I'd fly the pair until she passed her final and was admitted to the school.

She did pass, she was admitted, and I had nothing to do with it. But I was happy to have delivered a few minutes of respite from the worry, a post it note that she wasn't alone, as she had done for me.

I'm posting and explaining this now because we lost touch for a long time, and recently found each other again, and I couldn't be more pleased.

To Suz, and her boy toy Jakob


And best wishes for your every day forevermore

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Christmas Visitor

For a long time I just stared at him, the tall man standing in our foyer as if he were at attention. His uniform was quite impressive, fat brass buttons, tan shirt and trousers, an embroidered crest that read Hennepin County Sheriff staring back at me from his left sleeve. His shoes were so shiny I imagined he’d have to be careful when looking toward the ground that he not blind himself with the sun’s reflection. And his gun was an amazing thing to behold. It looked massive, bigger than my fathers biggest hammer, the one that would swing from his tool belted hip whenever he was working on a project.

My sisters were crying; the eldest, wailing really, and the younger more sobbing with an occasional short scream added to punctuate her misery. It was as much their pain that kept me frozen to the living room floor as anything that was taking place at that moment. I felt so helpless, and it felt so emaciating. I was their big brother, one would think that I’d be able to do something, to say something, anything, that would make them stop hurting so badly. But as always, I was powerless; life was well out of my control and all I could do was observe.

“It’s Christmas eve” I said to myself again and again, as if the repetition would make reality change into something more akin to the spirit of the holiday. “It’s Christmas eve” I muttered aloud before I could catch the words between my clenching teeth. “Can’t you come back some other day? We’re supposed to go to grammas. We need her with us.”

The man with the gun flushed, yet didn’t answer; not right away. Oh he wiggled and pulled his collar away from his neck and scratched his chin for a second. But he didn’t look at me. He just looked straight ahead and upward, up the central stairway, toward the second floor where the other sheriff would be speaking to my mother about packing her bags.

There was screaming from upstairs. I wasn’t sure what the words were though they sounded real bad. Obviously mom wasn’t too happy about the sheriffs dropping by.

“Do you need help?” The officer in my gaze called up to the other while fingering his holster. I didn’t get the significance of that motion at the time, I could only wonder why a big strong guy would need help talking to my little skinny mother. Hell, I was only twelve and I could beat her in arm wrestling. She might get mad once in a while but she didn’t scare me much; the few times she tried to wail on me I was able to catch her wrists and hold them until she calmed down. She didn’t like it and neither did I, but it’d save both of us a ration of pain. She didn’t really want to hurt me anyway, she’d just lose her cool sometimes.

“It’s Christmas eve” I said again, “can’t you stop please?”

I didn’t want to cry. I almost had to since my sisters were crying and it was like it was contagious. But I’d done well until that moment, the moment when it struck me that these strangers were here to take my mother away from me and I had no idea to where, or whether I’d ever see her again.

“Please” I said again, tears rolling down my face, burning through my white shirt and gathering around my rapidly breaking heart.

“I’m sorry son,” said Mr. gun man.

Everyone says they’re sorry when you cry. No one means it, they just want you to stop crying. I looked past the officer and into the dining room where my dad was sitting, his face buried in his hands. I hoped he wasn’t crying too, I needed to lean on him and if he was crying that would mean he needed to lean on me instead. I’d let him of course, but I’d be sad that life was so unfair that I always had to be the one standing tall, being ok.

He sighed and pulled his hands down his face until his eyes appeared. He wasn’t crying thank goodness, but his look worried me. It was as if he was seeing right through me, as if he was seeing into some other dimension. I wished, if I was right, that I could join him there rather than stand here waiting to say goodbye.

The scuffle made me run to the base of the stairway and look up. I wasn’t sure I could do much to stop a man with a gun, but I knew I didn’t want anyone hurting my mother no matter what rights a court had given him to come into our home. She was brushing him off when she spotted me, and he was stepping back, allowing her the freedom to descend on her own. She stopped there a moment. She smiled, that little smile that says “please don’t look at me, I’ll be ok”. I turned away and retook my place alongside the entryway as the downstairs cop opened the front door and stepped onto the porch.

“You son of a bitch, are you just going to sit there and let them do this to me? Fuck you God damn it, fuck you!”

She was struggling now, screaming into the dining room, straining to escape the embrace of the officer who had pulled her arms behind her back before she could attack her enemy.

“Please Mary, please.”

Perhaps dad had been saving his tears for the right moment, as buckets full suddenly washed from his bloodshot eyes.

“I’m so sorry” he mouthed, the tears mixed with snot forming strings and bubbles on his lips as they moved in slow motion. “I’m so sorry.”

“Bye mom” I said under my breath, but it was too late in any case; the party had left, the door had swung shut, the clatter of footsteps had already echoed off the ceiling.

I stood in the doorway, face pressed against the plate glass, fingers tracing its beveled edges as they slowly collected into fists. I could see the Christmas lights above our porch twinkling in my peripheral vision. There had to be a way to reconcile what had just happened with the fact that it was “the most, wonderful time, of the year.” I tried to imagine what the baby Jesus would have said if centurions had come and dragged His mother from their house because the state had decreed that Mary was crazy and needed to be locked up for her own safety. I wondered if He’d hate the police like I did right at that moment, or if He’d hate his life, such as it was, as I’d begun to once it had become obvious something was seriously wrong with everything I loved. I supposed he would have said nothing untoward, only prayed for His mother’s safe return. So I followed that suspicion and began to beg God for a personal audience to discuss the state’s forgiveness of mom’s sins and of her being able to make it to Christmas day dinner on time.

As the car pulled away it occurred to me that they hadn’t turned their red flashing lights on. Maybe no one in the neighborhood knew; maybe no one would ask if it was true, if my mom was really crazy and the cops had to come get her on Christmas eve.

I felt his hands on my shoulders first, his chubby fingers squeezing as he rested his chin atop my head, a hug of sorts from the man who rarely hugged.

“You’d better get ready now, we have to be at gramma’s soon” he said, only sniffing once at the end.

“When is she coming back” I said, knowing there would be no answer.

“As soon as she can” he replied.

I ran up the stairs to find my coat and gloves and instead found the bed and pillow. Gramma would have to wait, I had grieving to do.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Beguiling Taste of Recognition

It's nice to be recognized publicly. I've won a few awards in my life but long ago, and the only people who know about them won alongside me. Even a Telly isn't worth much if nobody knows you have it lol.

I don't submit much, I write for fun and I'm not good with rejection so it makes sense for me in my neurotic world to keep what I do within a smallish circle of people. I have subbed a few pieces of late so maybe I'm getting beyond that but for the time I'm happy with a few readers, making a few people giggle or wonder or sigh, touching just a few hearts. In any case...

I've been nominated by for The Liebster Award. I'm not really sure what this means in total, but the one thing I do know is that a published author/poet (who barely knows me) thought enough of my typity typing to plaster my name on her list of favorite blogs in a public place where who knows how many people can see it; and I am greatly flattered. Here am da rules/suggestions for what to do with the nomination...
Leibster is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.
If you receive the award, you should:
1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
2. Reveal your top five picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.
4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers and keep it going!’
I don't really read blogs as such. I do read a lot of material but much of it has been on Live Journal where pages are generally "friends only". So this list is a little made up but it's still what I like... in no particular order.

Myfanwy Fox

Written by the lovely Myfanwy Fox. It's mostly ideas and such, observations, random thoughts, a little of this and that, but her delivery is poetic, her vocabulary selection near perfect and for some reason when I read what she's written... I nearly always smile... something I rarely do. I couldn't ask for a more enjoyable tour guide of Malvernalia.

Rachel Green

Rachel and I are worlds apart in many ways, but I've grown to love her as I've always loved her writing. She is clever, funny, smart, dark and brilliant... oh wait, that's smart... well too bad, she's both. I have no idea how many readers Rachel has, she may well not qualify for this nomination, but like Sarah Palin, I'm a rebel and she is one of my favorite reads so there ya go. She has many blogs in truth, and some far more writing-centric than this one, but I love the photos and the personal stuff as well as the work, so this blog fits my style.

Calum Kerr

Again, I'm not sure if this qualifies as to the small readership, but it only has 129 Facebook likes so I'm going with that stat. I just met Calum recently, but after reading a number of his short stories it feels as if I've known him all along. Personally, I don't have a clue who he is really though he seems a lovely chap as the Brits would say (in old movies), but his imagination and mine have tossed dice together at one time or another, or perhaps have ridden jet skis on Walden's Pond. This may or may not explain it, but when I read him I may not be sure where he's going but when he gets there all I can do is nod in agreement. He is a comfortable read, and a pleasure.

Stephanie Wright

I don't actually keep up with her blog as I read pretty much every word she writes on Live Journal. Stephanie is the smartest woman I think I have ever known. Also one of the kindest, most generous and empathetic. She's also a basket case sometimes just like me. If she had no boyfriend and I wasn't married... we'd umm... talk a good game about getting together but never do it. Still I love the woman as if we had gone to high school together and we were members of the Breakfast Club and then later we'd meet over coffee once every couple weeks and cry in each others' beer. Her writing is brilliant. Read it.


This one's a problem unless you're a member of Livejournal and can friend the page as it's behind that wall. But here's the deal. I very likely would have quit writing all together if not for musemuggers, as at the time I joined I was burning out and losing interest. It is where I met a dozen of the best writers I know, and a score of people who encouraged and praised, and ofttimes put their own ass out there like I did so I could see what others were doing that were not the Kings and Queens of the publishing world. I wrote a poem about it once. I won't post it here because it's not in context but the gist of it was that I saw as much talent, was as entertained, titillated and satisfied by reading the amateur authors that filled musemuggers, as I had in libraries and bookstores throughout my life. Not everything was a gem, but perfection is often as unattractive as clumsiness is charming. LJ seems to be dying, not a lot gets posted there anymore, but musemuggers was and still is one of the greatest anthologies by multiple authors I've ever read, and it's been an incredible blessing to be a part of its beating heart.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Feast and Famine

Perhaps as an infant I somehow developed the capacity to see symbolism as not only attractive, but deeply moving and additive to my life's experiences. I've no doubt being raised a Roman Catholic forged my imaginative steel into what it is today; a car that drives me to places few ever see, a plow that digs up meaning from even the most parched, compacted soil, a sword that cleaves the mechanics of writing away from its heart and soul, its spirit.
My reason for wanting to be a priest was altruistic in the main; it felt good to help people, and it felt even better to be seen as one who would help, under any circumstance. But something that surely solidified my desire was in learning the symbolism of the church, the reams of profoundly descriptive and powerful images that take form every day and are eagerly absorbed by the few who've chosen to take notice.

I'm sure this piece will be less poignant since I can't name 2 dozen of my favorite things and explain each in detail, but alas I've forgotten the details over time and only remembered their impact. This is only chronology to explain my eccentricity in any case, not a treatise on the merits of Catholicism.

The reason most people find me hard to fathom is that I tend to think in metaphor; everything I say has some story behind it, every time I listen I see a picture, as I read, presuming the writer is even of moderate ability, I can transport myself within the tale without so much as closing my eyes.

Nothing comes from my mouth easily, I had to leave radio because I think too fast and my lips could never keep up. When I write longhand, oft'times I'm mentally on the next paragraph as my hand is penning the last, and inevitably the two collide leaving a bevy of scratched out and replaced letters every few lines as proof. There are even times when I'm signing a document and in that infinitesimal span my eyes stray and I screw up my own name if you can imagine, leaving me in the embarrassing position of having to correct what obviously should be second nature.

I suppose it's why I write like the wind, and why it's so impossibly important to me that I'm doing it well...better than average...nah, incredibly. Because this is the only benefit I get for having to wade through a lifetime of intellectual, mechanically impaired sludge; and if I don't even do this well, I have no purpose at all. Particularly now that my health is failing. I once was able to chuck 200 pound boulders and make pretty with nature. I can't do that anymore. I'm losing my fallback position of doing with my hands when I can't with my brain, so I'm psychologically scrambling to make my brain do both jobs; to be the entirety of what I am, what I offer, what I'm worth, why I matter.

I am obsessed with proving that I have value because I'm losing my value as we speak, little by little, tick by tock. This page, and livejournal donnickcottage are symbolic of that struggle; I can actually see my station in the distance and I am rushing to tie up loose ends, to make good on my promises to people who've long since passed, to speak my love to those who've never known, who may not care, but who will at least, at last understand.

"See my station" is metaphor, I've no timetable; I only know it's closer than it was yesterday by leaps and bounds rather than single steps. But I live by metaphor, symbolism has never failed me; it is the cleverness, the wry smile, the irony, the real truth that lies beneath the "little white truth" of every persons life...every person who chooses to notice. So by the measure of my metaphor every post could be my last, every word spoken more important than those that came before.

Linda and I were talking about symbolism one night, and once she got me started I couldn't shuttup. I know that was her intent, like when she taunts me into reading one of my poems as she slithers into my leather chair, I know what she really wants is for me to read to her for as long as my voice will allow; my work, someone else's work, the phone book...whatever suits me.

But I talked about our Donnick Cottage flagpole; a silly little thing really, just a commissioned cross of steel pipe pinned between two short pieces at the ground, that it can rotate and be reloaded with new or different symbols. It was expensive as flagpoles go, and quite a pain to install for a mechanic from hell like me; and the older I get the heavier it becomes. Someday I'll need to use a ladder rather than zipping it downward along the palms of my hands like a logger lowering a hewn tree. And it doesn't work all that well as the pointies within reach will catch a well flapped flag and either shred it, or annoy me enough that I need to walk to the site and release it with an extendable paint pole I bought for that purpose.

But all that reality pales in comparison to it's fantasy; a Scandinavian maypole that would have been constructed in exactly the same way as many as 12 centuries ago, that would have held banners welcoming sailors home from plundering the new lands, or the fresh, cotton standards of each new conquering king.

It's topped by a replica cemetery cross, no doubt a replica itself of a steeple cross or even the knave peak cross of a Stave Kirka; the wooden, almost Japanese looking churches that rose five and six stories above the lush valleys of Trondhiem and Oslo, Narvik and Lillehammer.

It's just a flagpole. But every time it catches my eye I see women and girls in longskirts dancing to hardanger fiddle and squeezebox under it's cross arms, each dancer holding the loose end of a tethered strip of colorful fabric, skipping over and under the next in line and braiding a symbol to the wonders of spring down the steel upright.

Every time I look its way I remember pushing my father's wheelchair through church graveyards in Skotterud Norway, touching the headstones of Eriksson and Illaugs and Gronsathers whose own genes may have been present in the fingertips that at that moment stroked their marbled names.

As I leave my studio in darkest morning and hear the flapping of the symbols of my country and my forefathers, I think about the rate at which my grandfather's heart must have been pounding as he first eyed the Statue of Liberty; about the twinkle in my grandmother's eye when she spotted this lost Swedish boy-man trying to decipher English from a newspaper for the first time.

And as I change flags on special occasions I remember saints and sinners, triumphs and tragedies, the feasts and famines always present in the makeup of each drop of blood that runs sluggishly through my veins. It's in their honor, I tend the gardens that lie below, it's their histories I frame with rock walls and benches, and evergreens bearing a sample of the infinite color I feel washed in every moment my thoughts are on them. And it's in their honor I give their lives meaning, by trying to give meaning to my own.

In my life, everything is a symbol, everything has meaning beyond it's mere substance. It's beautiful, and complex, and it sometimes overwhelms me to the point that I can't possibly explain it. Sometimes it just keeps me from signing my name right the first time.

It's only a flagpole. And what a fucking amazing thing that is.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Unsleep Study

It was a lot like when I was abducted by aliens. Little spots were shaved, glue was squirted into the peach fuzz atop my head, round stickers were planted all over me; I looked like a refrigerator in a house with a dozen teenagers, my outside covered in post-its and my insides bulging with nothing but carbonated liquids and a few moldy leftovers. Then came the wires. I'm standing there in just my jockey shorts with a robe at the ready, in case some stray woman who's never seen cotton underwear before comes down the hall in search of the toilet, and misses the sign that says "Stay the hell out there's a nearly naked unattractive man in here!" and barges right in.

So this guy who's also a firefighter in his spare time starts plugging me into a harness and stuffing plastic tubes up my nose. Once he's done I have a huge pony tail coming out of the middle of my head, a braid in the thirteen shades of electronic color code. I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and my first thought is Genghis Khan as a punk rocker, or maybe My Little Pony's ass; my rainbow tail flowing out behind my well proportioned and tightly muscled rump/head as I frolic down the clinic hallways.

I'd seen the tech take a photo of something earlier, so I asked him to shoot me before the night was over. I thought Linda could have something that would perk her up if ever she felt really, really sad again, and a picture of me as a blown fuse might be just the ticket. He agreed to take it, and then didn't; another liar's name in the book I'm sending to Santa to supplement his naughty list.

He sent me back to my room and I moved into the hall like a samurai sumo-tron, my sore feet thumping the cold tile floor and my robe swaying with the weight of copper braid and plastic sheathing, and 300 little male plugs all salivating over the thought that soon they'd be slipping into their female counterparts. As I turn into my private door I reached up and swung my pony tail over my shoulder, like I used to back when I had hair; not because I needed to, but because I could.

He told me I could watch the tube for a bit if I wasn't tired yet, and I thought that'd be fun since I don't have cable and I've missed seeing the commercials that stack up every few minutes on CNN. I watched him assemble my connectors for a minute, his left hand full of wiring and his right plucking and plugging one at a time, but I suddenly visualized my ex mother in law working seven bingo cards at once, dabbing each box with a huge green magic marker, and I had to turn away.

Once I was all plugged in he turned on the purple glowlamp, so I'd be visible in the dark and the video cameras could document my thrashing, making it very clear that there would be zero masturbation this night unless I wanted to see it later on the internet; and then he left with a hidey-ho and haveagoodnight.

The harness was a little short. As the contact box was hanging over a post of the headboard, I could move my head about 3 feet from that corner, perfect I'm sure for people that sleep on their backs and never move. As I am not that person however, there was a little problem.

I prayed I'd fall asleep and stay there, that I'd put on a good show. After all I was surely spending thousands of dollars of my insurance company's money and I really thought I should come away from this with more than "eat less, exercise more, never smoke again"; the placebo I get after every other doctor visit. So once CNN had bored me sufficiently, I clicked off the tv and rolled onto my stomach, or at least rolled onto my elbows and spent a half hour untangling myself so I could lay correctly without strangling or shorting out the box, then causing a fire and setting off the sprinklers. I could see the headline; Man Fatally Electrocuted in Freak Accident During Sleep Study, Wife Sued by Greedy Hospital For Damages

Ten minutes later I had to roll to the other side. My feet were killing me and I had no access to my morphine. The pillows were like cardboard boxes scrunched into gunny sacks, and I hate to admit, I'm a bit of a pillow purist. I can't sleep well on bricks, badgers or batshit; it has to be softish unlumpy, smooth fabric things that don't smell like disinfectant or old person body odor.

And a new wrinkle I hadn't thought of surfaced... one of my many drugs had been causing me horrible gas for weeks, but not starting until late at night. I'd forgotten all about it, yet now it was creeping up on me.

I tried my old standby "fall asleep under stress" trick, imagining dusk as a curtain I command, watching the evening sky in my mind's eye as I roll the blackness slowly from one side of my brain to the other. No use, I needed to fart really bad, my stomach was making noise and I was miked so that if I started rattling off new mathematical computations in my sleep, the techs could copy and sell them to the highest bidders. The damn docs would be giggling about this grunting and sighing tomorrow unless I either went to the toilet, and all that means, or fell asleep like right now. So I rolled over and prayed. Dear God, I know I haven't talked to you much. I've been kinda busy what with my huge lj friends list and all; but I'd really appreciate it if you'd put me to sleep right now. Oh and if you can remove that hot air balloon from my gut without waking the dead, I'd love you forever. Amen!

As we all know by now, God doesn't like me anymore so finally I gave in and pulled the little cord my tech had masking taped to the side of my end table so I could reach it with ten pounds of cable sticking out of my head and various other appendages. "Sorry man, I have to use the bathroom" I said. He was not amused, but he deferred and began to disembowel the patch box and my three hundred connections which I swear gave a collective sigh once having suffered electronicus interruptus.

And then I sat in the bathroom. You know, that stark white echo chamber that's like a mile across and somehow funnels all sound to each room down the hall in turn. I tried a test, but it was the kind of gas that makes itself into a huge plug, as if it were one of Casper the ghost's mean cousins, entering my body and transforming into a cork just to make my life miserable. After maybe 5 minutes, or a day, I'm not sure, I let go a little and 1/1000th of my problem was solved. It rang like church bells, I felt like Quasimodo in the steeple of Notre Dame. My head started pounding and the little shelf below the mirror was vibrating for a few minutes after I'd finished; I just knew everyone in the freakin hospital was now sitting up in bed, leaning toward their doors, recording the progress of my affectation so as to have a good story to tell their kids at Thanksgiving dinner. That about did it, if I ever farted again as long as I lived I'd be one lucky sob. It was time to try sleeping again. At least I'd removed the knife from my bowels. Now if I could just ignore the half dozen bowling balls....

As I re-entered the room I was hit by a flash of deja vu. I HAD slept a little, now I remembered! It was somewhere between the prayer and the flatulence and the memory came rushing back to me as if I'd absentmindedly plugged my harness into a wall socket. So maybe my prayer was answered, in that fun sort of ironic way that God and I use to frustrate each other.

The first time couldn't have been more than a minute or two I was out, when I opened my eyes and there by the side of my bed was the fireman tech watching me sleep like one of my wives used to do (whichever one liked me, I can't remember now).

"I'd like to get you to sleep on your back for a little while" he said, as if we hadn't already discussed the issue at length and I'd made it clear I wouldn't be sleeping on my back. Suddenly I felt a little twinge of anger, and then curiosity. Perhaps this was a trick; that they let you fall asleep and the moment you reach xyz they rush into the room and ask you to name the capitals of all 50 states plus Puerto Rico, and Guam if they really want to see you squirm.

I'd been asleep, I was only half present, I agreed to his torture and rolled onto my back, mentally muttering things like "well this screws it, I'll never fall back to sleep now". He seemed pleased, like the guy in Texas Chainsaw Massacre after a fresh appendage removal. I grinned at him to make him go away. It worked, and as he left I whispered "fuck this" as if it had been involuntary sleep talk, knowing that I had a mike taped to my throat, and needing to poke him in the eye but in a secretive manner.

I tried, honest I did. I lay there as still as I could, in a position I hadn't been in since my heart surgery when the nurse had literally clamped me to the bed with a giant vise grips and a pair of pancake griddles to the groin. My back was first to go, no doubt bent out of shape by the bowling balls forming inside my already weighty front. Then my feet started screaming. I tried to ignore them, but they insisted, like a hungry puppy at momma's teat they weren't about to let me hide my nipples so to speak. So I wiggled them (the feet not the nipples) and moved my legs and twisted and rocked and clenched my teeth, then I thought of ice cream and sugar plum fairies and ravenous sex with me just laying there like a fish, like all my old girlfriends used to do while I worked my ass off trying to turn them on to no avail.

It was no use, the combination was too strong for my weak will. I had to turn over, tech or no tech, and with another exasperated, whispered "fuck dammit shit" I rolled onto my knees and began to unravel again, re-tightening the nose plugs so they didn't sag and make me feel like I had a face full of mucus.

By this time the bedclothes were mostly on the floor. It was undoubtedly risky to try and sleep this way; not only did the tech and later, the doc have to blind themselves watching my white cotton fat ass on black light cam all night, but the aforementioned stray woman of tender sensibilities might inadvertently creep into my room, thinking it was hers, dazed after a long bout of flatulence in the adjoining toilet, and suffer emotional trauma seeing a pantless male automaton...or at least that's something that was intimated might happen as I brazenly stood in only my underwear while being wired.

It took me a while to clear that vision, the frantic, mattress bound walrus, flippers waving into the sky in search of bedspread coverage, the Mrs. Howell, haloed in curlers and smacking of red lipstick screaming "Oh my God I've never seen a walrus in jockeys before help me please somebody!"

But apparently, now that my memory has cleared, I fell asleep again after a 20 minute struggle to flush the nightmare into my tales-o-woe parts junkyard. And I swear, I couldn't have been asleep more than a minute and in comes Mister medicine again, this time to fumble around on the desk at the foot of the bed, so I actually had to lift my head and turn to the rear so as to make sure he wasn't firing up a brazier in which to redden a hot poker so as to brand my feet Property of Medica Insurance Companies.

"What the fu..?"

"Sorry, go back to sleep" he says, like he hadn't noticed my finger shooting 357 magnum bullets into his head.

The door clacked shut and I was alone again, except for the audience on the other side of that camera which was no doubt wired directly to the Maury Povich show, making me part of the "most strange and frightening videos" segment that will run between a "You've been screwing my mother" episode and "Donna's twentieth choice for dna fatherhood testing".

Sure, I was able to fall back to sleep again, after an hour or two watching Maury in my head, introducing my white clad girth to the audience as if I was some captured ringwraith stapled to a hospital bed. "Shocking!" he'd say.

"Isn't it?" a guy sitting next to him would say as the camera panned into his face to magnify his leering grin. "How could anyone let themselves go like that?" Of course it was my tech and Maury was handing him a check for a million dollars as if he'd just answered some really hard question like how many pimples does Keith Richards have on his butt like they ask on Millionaire.

I only know I was asleep because within seconds I was woken again, this time by someone rattling my doorknob. I thought of the possibility that this was a deprivation thing, that the tech was noting I was actually finally drifting off and he muttered "don't make me come in there" as he reached for my doorknob and gave it a waggle to warn me.

So then there I was, beyond sleep and into the zoney zone where wisps of unidentified goo float past you looking too much like suburban Halloween decorations, once in a while gently rapping your eyeballs if ever they see them closing. And then came the gas, as if the nose plugs were tapping a helium tank and force feeding me air stuffing. Yes, and then the bathroom, the airhorn splurt and the return of the unsuccessful to his torture chamber, where I decided to slip on my sweats and put everyone more at ease... except for me of course, the guy that sleeps in his freaking underwear!

So I had slept after all! I'd have to ask the tech about why he kept waking me up when to most it would be obvious that trying to sleep in a strange room on a concrete mattress with tree bark pillows, tethered to a bank of computer nannies would be a difficult process without interruption. Perhaps I was quite clever in thinking this was all a part of their secret testing methods and now I'd win a prize for being the first customer to connect the dots.

None of that happened; he just glared at me as if I'd called him a Republican. As he went through the process of reinserting my males into the system's females, I whined a little about only having slept five minutes. "Oh no" he argued; "You've slept quite a bit!"

"Yea sure" I thought. Maybe I'm so good at trying to go to sleep I fooled the computers into thinking I actually was asleep, and now my test results will be crap and I'll have to suffer being a zombie 24/7 like I have for the last 50 years. It'll be just like a Linda doc visit as the doctor turns to me and says "I'm sorry Ron but there's nothing wrong with you, you sleep like a baby! Perhaps you're insane? Maybe a voluntary commitment to a mental hospital would be appropriate."

"Screw it, whatever happens happens" I muttered in code so the microphone would only hear "chew foot, hut one mappers mappers." Mental hospital indeed.

"But I thought..."

"No no" he reassured me, "You've tossed and turned some 60 times, but you've slept more than five minutes".

Yea ok, 6. Let's split hairs for God's sake, like I'm not tense enough.

As he finished and stood to leave me to my misery, I heard an engine start up, some Gnomish infernal machine, seemingly at the foot of my bed but no doubt actually deep within the bowels of the catacombs underneath the hospital; in the netherworld wing probably, where the hospital administrators and insurance adjusters get their nice winter tans.

"What the hell's that?" I asked

"What" he says; "I don't hear anything!"

Ok now it was getting creepy. I swear to all that's alive I could feel the pounding in my sheets, it was a cachunkita cachunkita cachunkita cachunkita thing going on and if he couldn't hear it, the Apocalypse had arrived and I had heavenly gifted ears, specially attuned to the wavelength created by the clomping hooves of the four horseman's steeds.

I damn near left the bed in a huff. "That!" I pointed to somewhere above my doorway as if the little girl in Poltergeist pointing out the swirling black hole in the ceiling.

"Oh that" he says. "That's the ice machine. Good night now". And he was gone.

Ice machine? This wasn't a freaking hotel, wtf? Cachunkita cachunkita; the more I heard the more I could feel my bed vibrate somewhere between the chunk and the ita; bzz, bzz, bzz, bzz. I rolled and untied and re-tightened and splayed and held my breath until I turned blue. Cachunkita cachunkita it went on and on and I'd lay there like I was Wally Walrus playing dead and then lift my eye as if Woody Woodpecker had smashed me in the head with a mallet and I was trying to understate the pain so as to intimidate him into leaving me alone. On one of those eye lifts I noted the sun was coming up.

I guessed they were worried about old ladies wandering into the wrong rooms but not peering into windows from across the wing because my shades hadn't been drawn. Maybe this was another test, to see if I could sleep with the morning sun burning a hole in my eyelids. I checked to make sure there was no magnifying glass taped to the inside of the window. It'd be just like a hospital to emulate Edgar Allen Poe by planning on cutting me in half with a modified sun beam if I happened to oversleep. Of course there was no chance their diabolical plan would work anyway; there was no way I'd fall asleep with a gas powered concrete mixer in my bed.

The covers were pretty much on the floor by that point, I was wearing clothes to bed, I didn't need a sheet. So I made my best effort to doze by stretching and rolling and yawning and ignoring the plastic tube that was crushed against my ear giving me a headache while it was loosening the oxygen device, slipping the little fob that was once in my nose, into my mouth. I did what I could to make the bed disappear by thrusting each of my appendages to each of its corners, and squeezed my eyes shut hard enough to glue them together should I create any of that eye stuff that we humans make once in a while.

I consistently muttered obscenities into the microphone each time I turned or twitched or rolled my legs or scratched my ass, so the guys would know that I was just as disappointed with my performance as they were, but after an hour or ten of that, I propped myself up on one arm and stared out the window, hoping the aliens would come and take me away again. I watched a blinking red light atop a nearby water tower and recalled Vincent Price as a carnival hypnotist, luring people into his diabolical web by swinging a pocket watch and nearly singing "you are getting sleepy ... sleeeeepppyyyyyyy."

Nothing worked, I was depressed, sore, and a bit cranky if you know what I mean. So I turned on the tv to see what time it was as there were no clocks available, nothing to distract worry warts and angst addicts. It was near seven and I felt as if I'd been awake all night, and that didn't feel good. So I thought maybe if I watched a little c-span I'd become dazed and fall off the second wind cloud I was lying on. A few minutes later, all hell broke loose.

He had an East Euro accent that I'd try to write in, but I don't want to make fun of him, that's not the point. But you have to imagine hearing a voice that might have been attached to a guy named Yuri, who shows up at the bars to your cell in the Gulag, to notify you that your appeal has been laughed out of court and your execution will begin immediately.

He blasted into the room as if there were a fire in the wastebasket and his paycheck was stored there by mistake. "Mister Runeborg there are people who like watching TV when they should be sleeping, this I know. And if you want to spend all your money and time to come to the clinic and watch tv, you can do this if you wish. But most people would sleep and not watch tv so you have a choice, either sleep or watch tv which will it be? I suggest you sleep!"

I'm paraphrasing of course, he was speaking too hurriedly for me to take it all in though his volume should have compensated for his accent. All I knew for sure was that he was scolding me. SCOLDING ME! I'm 51 fucking years old and this guy thinks I'm his toddler throwing handfuls of cream of wheat from his high chair onto the floor. "Naughty naughty, no tv for you!"

Well, I'm a bit of an intellectual pugilist anyway as many can testify, and add in the night's trivialities and I was just hoppin for a fight. I bolted up in bed and damn near ripped my skull off my shoulders. He was snotty like my youngest sister, and I didn't take that crap from her so I sure as hell wasn't gonna take it from a stranger with an accent!

"Well I was trying to sleep and that goddamn noise started and I just can't get to sleep now so I turned on the tv to wait it out because it has to turn off eventually...when the hospital makes a day's supply of fucking ice I suppose!" I made my speech as threateningly as I could, considering I looked like all I needed was clown shoes and I could join the circus.

And then his answer came, given with a look of astonishment, as if I'd just told him I'd seen Cher in her Witches of Eastwick costume and she was just outside the window with her magic wand ready to turn anyone bothering me into a frog.

"What noise?" he says. "I don't hear any noise!"

The tendons in my neck snapped as I yanked on my tether one more time, trying to get close enough to the invader to choke him to death. But I was secured to the wall. Perhaps that was for good reason, maybe some of the 300 wires were actually aircraft cable set like steel braided fishing line and I was the carp.

Again I pointed to the black hole, only this time I spat the description through my teeth, matching his verbal affectations with some of my own making. "Open that fucking it! Now... Don't fucking tell me you don't hear that!"

"Oh that" he says, as in my out of body form I leap across the room and with my cougar jaws rip his Adam's apple from his throat. "What did you say that was?"

"The last guy told me it was an ice machine!" I was speaking right through my forehead now, to save time mostly, and because my voice is so much louder when delivered right from the source. "Now I didn't think it was an ice machine but you guys live here, I'm just visiting so how the hell would I know to think you guys are liars!"

"That's no ice machine" he says, as if accusing me of misunderstanding when the guy said oh that's nothing really I heard "ice machine" instead. "That's just a fan" he adds and then reaches up to a rotary switch on the wall near my door and gives it a twist. Within a half minute the sound dissipates and I'm left in silence, or at least silence beyond the ringing in my ears. Now I know, had the first guy said "Why? Does that bother you? Here I can fix that-click click", I might have been asleep for the last two hours. But instead I stayed awake to have somebody having a bad hair day come blasting into my room mistaking me for his pet poodle, thinking I peed on his favorite beer glass.

"Now wait" he says, "I don't want make you angry. Perhaps turn off the tv and try some more. Would you like your drapes closed?"

I know I said "sure", but I was thinking "gasoline flame thrower marshmallow party". I was astounded let's say, that of all the people in the universe that might have had to live through this night, it had to be me at the controls. Like God had made this miserable pleasantry deprivation suit and then held it open at the door to the hospital, knowing I'd be along at any minute and too dumb to notice Him slipping it on me as I pass by.

He left, I switched off the tube, God help me I tried to doze as hard as I could but my mind was racing now. If I hadn't slept, I'd just wasted a night that would have to be made up at home or I'd feel like crap all day, the hospital will make their cash, I'd get nothing from it but a strike against me from the insurance company. It hardly matters anyway, the doc that set me up for this test is gone now so I'm alone again to look to myself for guidance when I don't have a clue what's going on. But at the least, even though most people don't like me or are afraid of me and my body is exploding and my life is exploding, at least I can have some dignity. I really don't have to put up with hospital workers yelling at me as if I'm some moron come to pay 1100 bucks to watch a night's worth of CNN. Or at least, so I have decreed.

I was up like a shot, yanking on my cord. It was time to go, there was no way I'd get to sleep now. A new guy came in, the shift had changed and there were two or more techs now. I was disconnected right away, the new guy was understanding if not apologetic and he just did as I asked. But he nearly begged me to fill out a "customer satisfaction" form. I said no a few times; I was angry and I didn't want to overdo what could easily be misinterpreted. Besides, the Euro tech came in with a food tray as I was being dismembered, cheerily calling out "breakfast" as if he'd already forgotten our cage match. "Take it away" I muttered in my best spoiled brat, after which I wanted to say "I'm going home I don't want your stupid breakfast!" His face dropped, he was very disappointed in me. Well dang it, I was very disappointed in him too!

But really it wasn't the Euro's fault. His bedside manner sucked sure, had he come in and asked if I was having trouble sleeping rather than blast me for being a big poopy butt I would have whined, turned off the tube and tried to nod off again like a good boy. He made a mistake, but I didn't want to stick a dagger in him for it. I'd already ripped out his throat in my imagination, my bloodlust for revenge was sated. And the firefighter/tech was a great guy really, in spite of the fact that he palmed off my picture taking request to the next shift, as if they'd do it either. It was just a long list of unfortunate circumstantial paper cuts that finally bled me dry. It was as much my fault as anyone's; I'm the one that made the gas giant bowling balls and couldn't fart in public. So I really didn't want to fill out the tattle sheet. But I did. And I was snotty and I wrote hard enough to rip the paper and I'll bet someone got a good laugh at my expense because I was so dramatic about it. "He scolded me! Can you imagine? He SCOLDED ME!" God help me what a boob I become. Doctor Heckle and Cap'n Bligh.

I could have at least thought to yell for another half hour, I'd left during rush hour and had to drive 28 miles in stop and go stupid people traffic while a monkey sat on my head trying to rip the back of my skull off my spine, or at least that's how the headache I'd developed felt as I bit my tongue trying to keep myself from pulling into a convenience store for a carton of smokes.

It took me an hour to cool off, the moment I walked in Linda asked me what was wrong and I answered "Nothing! I don't want to talk about it." She said ok and as she was walking away I unloaded every sorted detail, just as I'm doing here. I'm sure she was just as amused as I am writing it, she kind of patted me on the head as she turned her own head to cough down a giggle now and then to which I'd exclaim " think it's funny?"

I called later, hoping against hope that they have gotten enough wiggly lines from me to make a determination, that the entire experience wouldn't be wasted. They didn't of course. But they offered me a return visit, a freebie makeup test, and this time they'll put me on the other end of the hall from robofan so they say, though I'm betting it'll be just like the picture thing and whoever does the room assignments will just forget about it and I'll be stuck into the Pit and the Pendulum suite again.

It's only funny that the likelihood is that it's my getting lousy sleep for 50 years that's made me so trigger happy that I can't do a sleep test without stomping out in a huff before it's complete. There's something ironic about that, and I do love my irony; no matter how painful.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Give 'Em Enough Rope...

I swear I can feel the blood pulsing through the few hairs left on my head; maybe it's just the banging in my temples reverberating, shaking the layers of my skin as if seven  tectonic plates were in session, feeding each follicle a shiver and quiver like a miniature forest ripped from the ground by the big quake. Whatever it is, it's driving me nuts as if I needed something else to pile on.

I can hardly believe my neck didn't snap, I guess I didn't plan this very well. I always sucked at eyeballed height measurement; I should have been smart enough to actually measure. Yea that'd be good; HEY YOU! What're you doin over there with that tape measure!

MORON! It coulda been pills or guns or any number of bloody techniques, but I had to pick hanging like it seemed so prophetic or something; feet never touched the ground, for a moment I flew and nothing else mattered. Creatives, BAH!

Boom! That's what I shoulda done. All I needed was a pistol. Well, duh stupid, that's why we're here. No guns I said, Poe would never have approved of firearms. Fuck Poe; this is what I get for reading Edgar Allen fucking Poe! I shoulda been reading the life and times of George Patton, I wouldn't be swinging like a pendulum to the delight of Mister Morbid's Ghost!

I'm so full of myself I even screwed up my own suicide, I HATE PAIN, that was the whole point of this freakin exercise, and here I am choking to death, standing on my tiptoes like a fucking ballet dancer in a rotting warehouse that hasn't smelled blood since its last industrial accident probably two decades ago. Now there's a headline I want spread around, Pathetic Loser Pirouettes To His Death. Like my life hasn't been enough of a humiliation I have to make sure my immortality can be just as insipid, my tiny dancer picture posted on every irony loving bloggy website from here to Mars.

If I just let go, just l-o-w-e-r- JESUS that hurts! HAHA I'm dying and I still can't stop whining about paper cuts. God I'm a clown. I wonder what that nasty spike of pain is though, I wonder if I did some spinal damage in the fall. Man wouldn't that be just my style; to live through an attempted suicide by trading standard run of the mill self pity for what's called life, as a parafreakingplegic...better yet a quad! Well, I suppose I shouldn't push it, my legs still work or I'd not be breathing at all.

But I wonder what it is with my arms, GOD if I just had use of my arms I could reach up to the thirteen loops and pull myself up...well, presuming I could even pull my fat ass off the ground. Yea, wouldn't that be funny if I actually could use my arms and I didn't have the strength to pull my self free of this fucking noose and I had to give up and let myself die because I let myself balloon being depressed about letting myself balloon. FUCK I hate myself! Damn You, why couldn't I just have died, is this some big heavenly joke, is this a test to see if I'm worthy? Just wave bubye and pull the freakin trigger; so send me to hell already just get this over with!

Shit! the rope just tightened a notch, it's on my adam's apple for God's sake get it off get it off! Dammit I can't breath-this sucks I gotta twist...jump! Jump a little maybe I can shake it...there...Oh Man that was close, I was startin' to get dizzy. I suppose if I pass out that's the end of it; maybe that'd be the best idea, if only I could actually do it, take the pain, close my eyes and let go. What a pussy; I get up the guts to kill myself and it goes wrong, and now that I'm this close I can't just take the hit and finish the job. Man, if there was ever a doubt as to why I should be dead...

This must look incredibly stupid, like a Halloween party decoration. Of course, I’ll be lucky if anyone finds me before I’m a skeleton, I just had to pick this place that even the homeless avoid. Ok, what the fuck’s that noise, I can’t tell what direction it’s coming from. HAHAHA this is hilarious, my head cocked to one side, my neck stretched and probably rubbed through to the bone, dancing on my tippytoes like a freakin black swan and now I’ve got some kind of critters rummaging around. Maybe it’s a hobo and he’ll do me the favor of whacking me over the head. Won’t he be surprised to find out I have no cash on me. Hahaha. Like a ghost needs money...don’t leave home without it hehe; Sorry man, I was on my way to hell, I figured they'd let me in without the usual fee...after all....I did kill myself and all, that's gotta count for somethin'.

Screw, what’s that now! Something’s bumping against my feet. Maybe it’s some tool I can stand on or...nope, it moved. Ah hell, it’s scratching at my sock, it’s a rat I’ll bet. Damn if I could just turn enough to see... HEY...fucker bit me. Get away you freak! Geez now what...maybe I can swing, maybe I can take the extra weight on my jaw and kick this sucker into the next county. There, got it goin’ a little, it’s hard to tell when my feet are gonna touch to get a step in, I can't see sh...there I’m movin’ a little now, where’s that ra...Crap! Tighter...choking...stop, stop, stop oh shit touch, touch, touch! Oh Jesus I’m so sorry, Oh Fuck I ca...Oh God I didn’t mea

Monday, November 7, 2011

Velvet Chisel

 prompt: Jack the Ripper

Susan’s anxiety was beginning to develop into tightened muscles and a light headache. She needed to make a decision or there wouldn’t be enough time to create any memorial much less one perfectly designed.

Her father Jack was a kind man, a brilliant man. He’d always been there to support her, even in his worst days, even at the moment of his death he was caring only for her. They’d been through a lot together, but nothing more telling than the accidental death of her mother and two brothers in a horrible freeway crash. She’d crumbled. His pain was at least hers, and yet he held strong to lead her through hell and to a life of joy and purpose.

She’d considered hundreds of quotes that might speak for him, Thoreau, Frost, Whitman, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther; even speech from his favorite characters, fact and fiction, the likes of Doc Holliday and Jack Ryan, Jean-Luc Picard and Arthur Pendragon. But after a time it all ran together, each phrase important unto itself, linked to his life and parallel to his intellect, yet lacking in soul and devoid of her love’s expression.

It was almost four o’clock; she had no more time to debate, the decision was about to be made for her by default. Susan slipped from her car and walked to the door of Barnard’s Stone Company. The office was empty though she could hear sporadic noises coming from behind a steel door, and so she swung it open, hoping her appointment had not been forgotten and the man she was to meet would be inside.

It was the workshop she stepped into, a plain room of concrete and block, it’s walls covered in steel scaffolding wherein were stored slabs of granite and marble, and other textures and colors she didn’t recognize. There was a shirtless man in the room’s center, facing away from Susan at that moment, seated on a tiny stool and surrounded by tools of all shapes and sizes. She thought to say hello, though the man’s dress, or undress startled her a bit. But before she could speak her eyes began to absorb what lay before her.

It was a carver she supposed. She’d never seen it done but she could just see the headstone beyond the worker’s massive shoulders, and she watched as his fingers stroked the stone as if it were fragile as spun glass. He reached to his right and retrieved a small rattail file from the mass of picks and prods by touch alone; his head rocked back slightly, twisting left and right as if he were listening to a choir. And then he leaned into the slab and gently worked the file into an unseen crevice, rasping once, then feeling his cut and pondering it’s imperfections.

Susan moved a few steps to her left, never taking her eyes off the artisan and his canvas. She lost all peripheral vision, so focused she was mesmerized by the unwitting performance. Now she could see his profile, and as he moved his head, she viewed his face. His eyes were white, he was blind yet he had full use of the environment within his reach. He seemed to know where each of his dozens of tools were laying, and used each with such precision and grace it appeared as if he were a surgeon operating on his own loved one.

The words were as simple as they get in the business of death, “Rest In Peace” was all the stone spoke. But the three capitalized letters were done as in the Book of Kells, each blocked face housing a menagerie of birds and mice, clinging to vines and their trumpeting flowers.

She nearly fainted when she heard a voice at her back, yet still her eyes never moved.

“He’s a marvel miss. Jack’s blind, near deaf and has an IQ no bigger than a breadbox. But he cuts stone as if it was butter. He makes marble sing.”

“His name’s Jack?” she whispered, barely able to speak at all.

“We call him Jack the Ripper Miss” the man chuckled; “but don’t get the wrong idea. It’s because the only words he can spell are Rest In Peace, so the only carving he does is this, R.I.P. Sorry ma’am, it’s an in house joke, it’s only meant to be funny. This is a somber business, our humor tends to be a bit off color.”

Susan smiled. “It is a little” she said; “a little funny. He’s such a gentle man, he works the stone as if it’s flesh, so careful that he doesn’t hurt it in some way.”

“To him it may be ma’am” replied the mason, Tom Barnard. “When we have no work commissioned I give him scraps and broken pieces. He hordes them as if they were puppies.”

The artist set his tool on the floor, in the exact position from which he’d plucked it. Then he felt his work, sliding his fingers through every cut, following the contours of each animal, each plant.

Susan noted his light shivering. “Is he crying?”

“He’s mourning the soul who will lie under his work. He’s honoring the stranger who allowed him to present this gift, he’s saying goodbye, in case no one else does.”

Susan turned to the shopkeeper and wiped her own tears from her cheeks as he did the same. “He’s my son miss” Tom said; “I’ve watched him for 20 years now and I still tear up.”

“Rest In Peace is perfect” she replied, working a slight smile into her offering. “My father will be well blessed by a gift such as this.”

Friday, November 4, 2011

Little Dawgies, Get Along

Tattoos are like teeth. Everyone should have at least one. unknown comic

It started out as anger. Back into corner. Close eyes. Clench teeth. Swing wildly.

The neon stretched from the roofline, up thirty feet into the bright Montana sky; a cowpoke replete with fringed chaps and black leather vest, its embroidered silver conches outlined in glass tube gass. He had a giant white hat atop his bobbing head; a sign of wishful thinking I was betting, a not so good guy in disguise.

But the lasso was the true work of art, the moving piece once wrapped and belted, then slung backwards into loop stage, and finally tossed over the fuzzy, fragile horns of a young, rocking steer to rest on the doggie's outstretched neck and choke him into submission.

A loitering street urchin had informed me that I'd find what I was looking for in this saloon, the only business open this time of day in the ghostly, open range town of Glascow. And as I rode into the reflected greens and reds of the giant, flashing cowboy, my first thoughts were to simply continue on; to suffer a few dozen more miles and not chance a confrontation over what I could surely do without.

It's a constant struggle to live up to my self created advertising. I do exactly as I please, dress how I like, eat what suits me and speak in whatever tone forms upon my current mood, but there are times when I face the possibility of punishment for my boldness; and at those times I curdle with childhood fear.

Oh I fight it tooth and nail in silence, and as I toss my "do it- don't do its" about the nether regions of my skull, I generally force my body into the place of dread, sneaking past my internal security and dropping into danger before the brain catches on.

But then in the midst of my play I run the gamut of emotion, playing out my experience, my training, my stereotypical constructs one by one, and at the speed of light.

Anger is first. Anger that appearances deliver a message, a text decoded differently by each viewer, one seeing disgust, another lust and yet another, a threat upon their person, and so on. Anger that the human race has still not learned to tolerate what they don't understand. Anger that I care what others think at all.

Then fear. Fear that I'll be challenged and need to physically defend, a regimen I was never taught, a game I've always lost, a stupid response to an even more inane action perpetrated by Neanderthals that I just can't seem to avoid.

It goes on, trains of thought crashing and derailing, brakes blowing air, wheels showering sparks and lighting fires in dark and spooky places I'd rather have ignored.

I stepped off my chopper and stood upright, my simian stance a distraction to some passersby. Avoiding all random gazes, I snatched a small bottle from my saddlebags and turned to face the swinging double doors, snapping my head to the left that my mid torso length hair would return to its place on my spine.

I had silver toed shitkickers over my feet, a tiny part of the local uniform, "my one redeeming grace" I thought as I stomped through the doors and up to the long, utilitarian bar.

The crowd's movement slowed, the drunken cacophony muted a bit as I began to unscrew my bottle in wait for the barkeep. I felt a few dozen eyes boring into my skin, their thoughts obvious or so I imagined.

I was an invader, an outsider, a member of a competing warlike sect. Bikers and cowboys are generally a bad mix and when one shuffles into the other's territory, it's often seen as a challenge that cannot go unanswered.

It was too late to do anything about it; I'd taken the steps to the gallows as I'd always done, just as I'd walked into the dark cobwebby basement at age nine and faced off with the ghosts and goblins that had terrorized me from birth.

A few lanky men stood and moved in my direction, and I tapped my container on the bar surface, prodding the tender to tend to me sooner than later.

(Clench teeth) I was surrounded by dusty, wiry, rattlesnake chewin' pulchritude as the chubby, aproned, lightly scarred gentleman asked me "what fer ya need".

In my best voice of god I stated my passion, the addiction that had forced me into this precarious position in the first place.

"Coffee" I said, rotating my head and looking my new barmates squarely in their beady eyes, each in turn. "Filler up" I added, pushing the thermos and a ten dollar bill his way, "and keep the change".

There was nothin' like treating the locals to economic respect to show I wasn't a bad guy in spite of my being dramatically out of place. And as the grizzled server poured the dregs from three pots, the viscous, smelly, black substance plopping into my coleman bottle as I'd requested, my audience laughed as if on cue.

"Don't see many bikers in these parts", one said, smiling a partially toothy grin. "Where ya headed"?

The obvious would be to tell them I was off to battle Satan at the gates of hell, perhaps that I was the true GI Joe and had been called to single handedly stop communism in its tracks. Anything to add to my aura, any words that would surround me with the protection that only abject fear brings.

"East" I grunted, unable to find a more fearsome yet believable reference.

"Storm's cumin'" another muttered. "Maht wanna fahnd a motail ruum" his friend tossed out in Texanese. "Coffee's on the house boy" the bartender interrupted as he slid my thermos and ten spot across the bar. "It's all burned crap anyways, It's gonna taste like motor oil." The crowd laughed again, and this time I had to smile along.

"There's a Motel 6 across the road; I'd be shackin up if I were you. There's snow in these clouds and you don't wanna be messin with a Montana blizzard on a chopper." The guy with half a mouth's worth of teeth clapped me on the shoulder as he spoke, and then he nodded..that male nod that says we agree to stay out of each other's space, that nod of passive respect, the paranoid's get out of jail free card.

And I nodded back as if I'd never had a second thought about barging into a cowboy bar for coffee, beard beyond unkempt and pony tail waving in the wind. "Thanks guys" I said on departure, wondering if they knew that I was thanking them as much for not forcing fisticuffs as for the weather warnings. Nah, I doubted it. Nobody's weird enough to think like I do.

I did stay in that motel that night, and another, until the highways had been cleared of the dozen inches that had drifted past the giant lasso cowboy. And once in a while in my boredom I had to giggle about the chance I'd taken, the fear I'd felt, the nothingness that surrounded me when what I'd projected never became fact.

I still have my spooks, 20 years later; I still fear the unknown here and there. There's a few prices to never having grown up. Maybe this is one of 'em.