Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Tragfic Circumstance

“We need you Schmitty, the paramedics are unloading and we’ll need to move right away.”

Thomas Schmidt stood silently, staring down the frozen rail toward the instrument of death that he alone was certified to pilot. He knew he’d need to move, but at that moment felt paralyzed, able to do little more than in and ex-hale the ice crystals that permeated the pre dawn, sub zero air. The thrumming of the diesel engine hypnotized, its scent still noticeably pungent even after 26 years as a rail engineer. Perhaps it was the quickly freezing blood downstream that gave an extra harshness to the smell of the switchyard, maybe the engine was running rough once having killed one of its own.

“I saw the whole thing Levi; I saw his torso hit the ground. I should have been able to stop man, I tried, God knows I tried.”

Levi Brown gently put his hand on the man’s shoulder. The preacher they’d called him, as he’d talk the mission gospel while he worked. Not that he actually preached to anyone in particular, but that his exclamations were always peppered with “Thank you Jesus” and “Halleluiah“.

“God knows Thomas; you can’t stop a train with a flick of your wrist. Now let’s go man, Ernie’s out there, even though he’s surely dead we can’t leave him lying in the snow.”

“What if he’s…?” Though he couldn’t finish the sentence, the thought was enough to make Thomas start the walk back, carefully sliding across the ponds of ice that had developed on both sides of the track, ice from snow turned to water by the heat of friction from passing train wheels. Ernie couldn’t be alive, it was impossible. Calling an ambulance was simply an exercise in futility, Thomas had watched every second of the accident as if he’d known in advance where to keep his attentions.

The paramedics were waiting as he and Levi approached, and the four men climbed aboard Chicago & Northwestern 184, hauled up a stretcher and trauma kit and got underway. It seemed surreal having to travel a few hundred yards in a diesel engine but the yard was packed this January; only the main line and tracks seven and twelve were open at all, and the derailment had happened on twelve. It would have been hard enough for medics to reach the spot in the summertime, walking the rails at night was a daunting task for even those men that did it to feed their families. With snowpack and ice filling the gaps between one track and another, and the looming boxcars, 20 feet from ground to catwalk blocking out all residual light, there was no choice but to chauffeur the docs to the site of the tragedy. It was doggedly slow, but at least possible.

Thomas was very cautious on the throttle, now gun shy and worried if he’d ever again be able to stop a train; worried that it might have been his age or inattention or lack of ability that had created this mess. Hell it may have even been just his bad luck, but it was a part of him now, as much as he was a part of it. His foreman switchtender was dead, crushed in half, and it was his hand at the controls when it had happened.

They reached the site within a few minutes and Levi and the medics jumped from the wide step at the base of the engine, running through the snow to jump over a knuckle connecting two cars on track eight. There would be four knuckles to cross, four wide pieces of rusting iron, like giant, clenching fists three feet off the ground. They were too wide to straddle, yet the metal was so cold that touching it with bare skin would automatically incorporate your body part to the machine. So it took a little maneuvering to make each passage, all the more time consuming if there were indeed a snowball’s chance in hell it mattered.

Thomas watched Levi’s flashlight vanish as the shadow of the last medic grew to silo size and then winked out. It would be at least ten minutes, if there was anything that remained that might be collectible. It hadn’t appeared so.

It didn’t surprise him that his recall was in slow motion as that was how the original scene had played out. Ernie was hanging onto the last car’s ladder, halfway to its roofline, waving his lantern to signal distance between he and the train they would attach onto. Three waves with the lantern, three box car lengths, and Thomas cut the throttle back a notch, slowing the entire train to a couple miles an hour. Pushing a train was always a noisy process, on the push the cars would clank together and as the speed dropped each car would slam apart. Quiet was the sign of a good crew, though only strived for silently as no one would openly admit trying to micro manage hundreds of tons of steel and a few thousand horsepower. Ernie’s crew was generally as quiet as switchyard crews get. Not that there was a prize for being dainty; like all jobs on the railroad the faster you move the better the company likes you. It was more a relief from boredom that Schmitty would touch the throttle as if it were a woman’s fishnet stockinged leg, and twist it as if he were removing a bullet from his own… slow and certain, calmly, with all senses heightened.

It’s why he knew what was happening almost before it happened. He could almost hear the gravel roadbed give way, the tiny rocks pinging against each other in their rush to escape the weight of a hundred boxcars. He thought he heard the rending of a half dozen ties, the creosote soaked timbers exploding as if termite infested and dynamite rigged. He was sure he heard the rail clang, an unmistakable sound that travels through the air as if an arrow, the sound of tie pins snapping and a steel track being thrown outward by a tonnage too extreme to deny.

As the rear car derailed he swallowed his tongue or he’d for sure have shouted to Ernie to watch out. Like the last person on an ice rink whip, Ernie was tossed free of his handhold by the jostling of the heavy metal and landed on the frame of a hopper car on the next track, only a few feet away. He’d been spun midair and his body had disappeared in the open pocket between the hopper itself and the cars main girders, but the backs of his knees had hung up on a cross beam, and there he dangled a foot off the ground; for only a few seconds.

Thomas sucked in two lungs full of frigid air as he remember the next moment, the coming together of two trains, the explosion of flesh, crushed between unforgiving, relentless steel plate. He screamed, just as he had when it happened; only this time he let it loose and screamed until he could barely catch his breath.

A lantern beam swung from the ground to the engineer’s window; the three had returned and two were carting a stretcher between them.

“He’s alive for Christ sake! Thomas, he’s alive!” Levi shouted so loud that Schmitty winced at the power in his voice. “We’re on board get our asses outa here before we lose him!”

It was only a few minutes back, but it seemed a lifetime in hell. Thomas could not let it go, that the man barely breathing on the catwalk just outside his window, the half a man barely breathing, was injured because of some inefficiency on the engineer’s part. That his living would be no less an indictment, in fact perhaps more punishing as he would have incredible difficulty, pain, expense, and Thomas would carry at least a portion of the blame.

He was in a daze when he stepped off the engine. Levi and the paramedics had unloaded their charge and the ambulance was just pulling out of the “Q” yard’s driveway as Thomas stepped to the ground.

The yardmaster and the rest of Ernie’s crew was inside the yard office, all either crying or muttering obscenity, though Levi was praying while he cried. A handful of “It wasn’t your fault Schmitty”s came floating across the expanse between where Thomas seemed to be and where his mind was actually hiding, yet they never registered as absolution. Thomas was engaged already, heading for the time clock at which he punched out, then slipped his card back into its slot before turning and leaving the building. It would be the last time he’d cross that threshold; the last time he’d drive from his farm into the city. Yet never came the last time he’d suffer his nightmare, nor came an ounce of self forgiveness, for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Rise of Imbroglio



For the prompt: Chaos is dead



Imbroglio was adamant. “We must no longer acquiesce to Chaos” he shouted to the crowd; “Anarchy is our only hope!”
 

Fracas nodded, his plan unfolding perfectly. In only a single fortnight he and his co-conspirators Turmoil, Clamor and Maelstrom had turned the small but globally important
country against its ruler Ataxia, the 32nd Chaos of Malcontentia. It had been suggested that the disparate population  could not be combined, that such diverse citizens as Distemper, Plunder and Holy-Hell couldn’t be drawn together into a butcher’s quorum, that the evildoers would need to instead contract a mercenary band of polar opposites to do their dirty deed. Names like Harmony and Tidiness were mentioned, along with their assassin’s guild’s charismatic leader, Tranquility. 

But instead, believing in the concept of mobocracy as imagined by the once proud leader of the State of Disorientation, Tumult the Troubled, the conspirators spent their resources on riling the base rather than buying the sharp tongues necessary to replace an aging utter confusion.

On that fateful day, as Chaos was busily scribbling a speech on the blessings of the lesser god Entropy, a gallimaufry of un-landed gentry burst into his room and drove a muddle of mistakes right through his tiny heart, handing over his bloodied crown to their new liege, Imbroglio, 33rd Chaos of Malcontentia.
 

“Chaos is dead! Clamor shouted.
 

“Long live Chaos” the sheep replied.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cheap Date

It took 4 Cracker Jack peanuts laid end to end on the attic windowsill to get Rocky to leap inside for a better look. His stark fur shined in the late afternoon sun, a blazing white, just past blue on the blazing scale. He stared at me for a long while before jumping again to the sill for his treats. He was nervous. Well, so was I, but I sat motionless so as to assure him I harbored no ill intent. We could be friends, Rocky and I. An albino flying squirrel and an eleven year old outcast would make a great pair. I would certainly keep his secrets. I wondered if he would keep mine?

I tossed him a kernel of caramel corn to seal the deal.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Oh and... One More Thing

I was just about to pass the test to become an American citizen, finally, after jumping through all their hoops for almost 8 years. Id signed reams of paperwork, learned the language, including three local dialects, contributed to local politicians, stayed free of the law, even to the point of never receiving a traffic ticket. I was pretty much a golden boy, someone the country could use, a real asset, ready to hit the ground running. The only issue was I’d missed a bunch of questions on the citizenship test, like the one about Thomas Jefferson. I was pretty sure he’d started a motel chain, but it turns out that was Howard Johnson. And now here I sit, last question to decide whether I get my social security number and make my first real pledge of allegiance, or spend another 8 years trying to wade through fire to get here again.

The instructor looked at me and said “Spell column.”

Spelling! WTF! They didn’t say anything about spelling on this test! I clenched my teeth and racked my brain. Surely I’d seen the word somewhere. I stammered a bit as I said
“C-O-L-U-M… Colum!” When the teach told me he was so sorry but… I lost it.

“What kind of fucking moron puts an “n” in column? What kind of a stupid country is this? Can’t you people do anything right? Couldn’t you have given me antidisestablishmentarianism? At least I practiced that you idiot!”

I write this from my cell in Guantanamo. I guess I should have skipped the part about blowing up the Congressional Library Dictionaries…

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Poof



A globe of dew releases from its perch and drops the long inch to the pavement exploding into fifty siblings. The heat of the sun, now slinking over the eastern ridge warms the edge of each droplet, penetrates the core, vaporizes....poof. A life of leisure gone in a wink.

Birds begin the gathering, whistling while they work. Food, fur and stems of goldenrod slip into place as swallows feed their young and fortify the nest. A grackle screams in mock terror as goldfinch chase him from nearly hatched eggs.


The village guardian barks once, twice then yawns loudly and drops her head back onto the dirty, worn pillow. Hungry and bored she only hopes her ruckus has drawn attention and if not, there's work to be done sleeping off her protest.


The whiz of chain turning gears breaks the near silence as finely folded newspaper slams into an aluminum screen door, plops onto a concrete stoop, rips through the wet grass. "Ah crap".

A mysterious car drives across the service stations' alarm cord and stops. The high pitched bell begins its merciless howl, ringing and ringing and ringing and... Reaching across his body, still stupefied within the dream he cracks his hand down atop his alarm clock. Shaking himself to attention he caught his first thought midstream. Today was special enough to rise early he remembered. He'd made plans.



Slipping from under the down comforter he dangled his feet near the floor, gripped the mattress edge and rocked forward, pondering for a moment the most difficult question he'd face all day...."a denim ensemble? or stay in pajamas".

Nothing stood in the way of his choice, no job, no wife, not even family. He'd taken care of that a year ago maneuvering gracefully, manipulating fact until he'd been cast aside and forgotten. "Hmmmm...pajamas it is".


He dropped the long inch to the oak plank flooring and made his way to the kitchen, humming a remembered Irish dirge. It was the only song he could think of at the moment and it seemed "colorful".

One egg, softly boiled and lets see....Dorian Grey..."oops Freudian slip, Earl Gray tea." He laughed aloud at his cleverness. Someone had to and...he looked around the room...yup he was alone.


Timer set, kettle positioned he sat near the window and glazed his sight into the yard behind his two story house. A monarch disrupted his thought, landing on the porch banister well out of the heat of the morning sun.


"I could once hold my hands so still butterflies would land on my fingers and perch for hours" he mused. "I could watch them for..." The teapot howled for attention, shocking him upright he banged his knee on the underside of his
1950's vintage kitchen table.


"Ouch, damn, crap" he spat in exaggerated grief. Whipping the gas jet closed and moving the pot to its caddie he laughed again. "Man if THIS hurt....." A knot formed in his stomach, tightening, twisting. He relished its urgency his brain screaming "HEY stupid... HEY..You in there?", then shook it off preparing his breakfast. "No time for that now, got things to do" he muttered.


Solemnly he cracked his egg, scooped it from its shell and gently laid it into the bottom of a corningware dish. He slit it open, practicing, slowly drawing the spoon from left to right and then leaned back to admire his talent. Rich yellow yolk oozed from inside the white cover, not too much but, well, perfect.


Salt, a little pepper...well what the hell a lot of pepper, pour the cup of tea and he was all set. "Fit for a king." "Breakfast of Champions." "I spent too much time hugging the television" he snorted as he dug into his feast.

Lost in the moment he forgot to blow on his tea as the steam pierced his upper lip, scalding it with the heat of hell. He shrieked and damn near threw his cup, caught himself and carefully set it down. The knot tightened and then subsided.


"Great, I wonder if it'll blister" he moaned as he touched it gingerly with the tip of his tongue. "Hahahaha like it matters." Clever yet again.

Once finished he dabbed his lips carefully and carried the dishes to the sink. "No reason to leave a mess" he thought flipping open the tap and running water over what he couldn't scrape from the bottom of the bowl.

He opened the cabinet to deposit the china when suddenly he noticed, perhaps for the first time the delicate grain of the wooden door. Setting the dishes down, never taking his eyes off the dark brown plywood he reached up and touched it, slowly massaging its grooves and valleys, absorbing its natural perfection. "The little things...that's what I'll miss."

Dazed, tears forming, then rolling down his cheeks he stopped and wept for a few precious minutes. The clock was ticking and this was as good a time as any. The knot doubled its effort, dropping him into a crouch as he shuddered his way through a good cry.


Slowly he rose, blank, wet, spent. His jaw tightened. Resolved he put the dishes away, slammed the cupboard shut and walked to the bathroom to complete the routine.

He perched on the toilet waiting for something to happen. Nothing came of it. "That's ok it's the thought that counts", he grinned. Standing again and rifling through the medicine
cabinet he brought his tools into the light of day; White handcloth, toothbrush and paste, comb, straightrazor and shaving cream.

He deliberately placed them all in proper order on the now open cloth atop his toilet paper caddie as he'd done nearly all his life. There was a method to his madness and he wouldn't be denied...this time.


Carefully avoiding a mirrored glimpse he went through the humdrum of his dailies, brushing his teeth with fervor until his gums bled, then combing his mop in the blind, counting the hairs that had ripped themselves free at last.


He sprayed lather into his palm and looking up, painfully avoiding staring into his soul he applied the goo to his seven a.m. shadow. Checking the razor for sharpness on his thumb, blood massed into a small bubble and he quickly licked it away.

He was ready. He'd been practicing. He placed the edge of the razor at the base of his beard, tilting the blade to just the right angle. Then with some pressure, slowly drew it from left to right. Warm, maroon blood oozed from his throat as he sank to the floor in a heap............

Poof...a life of leisure gone in a wink.

Monday, February 18, 2013

A Satellite's Last Words

Sally muttered to herself as she switched her electric winch to off. “By my calculations” she said as she wheeled a furniture dolly carrying the duct taped body of her nemesis Broderick into position, “you should be breaking through the atmosphere somewhere around the 4 minute mark. Of course if I’m wrong, you will plummet back to earth, or at least your ashes will after the ensuing fireball has burned itself away.”

Broderick’s eyes bulged but his voice remained calm. “Why are you doing this Sally? And what's with the rubber bands?”

Sally cradled the young man’s form into the center of her contraption, a Kevlar weave blanket hooked to giant carabiners which in turn were fabric welded onto one mile long rubber straps, now stretched to their limits, their distant ends lashed to a pair of lodgepole pine standing at the top of 3800 foot tall Morden’s Mount.

“Don’t ever ask a girl to the prom if you don’t intend to take her mister. But don’t look at this as punishment for your bad behavior; think of it as my helping you fulfill a dream. You always said you wanted to see the world. I’m just getting you far enough away to see it all at once!”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Another Day in Monsterville

Jerry was new to the area, but not to his trade. With his long resume and charismatic personality he was hired immediately at Happy Harry's House of Furniture. His first day was quiet and uneventful, though a few of his customers were dressed quite garishly and made him more than a bit nervous. "I'd have thought long flowing multicolored crinoline skirts, huge hoop earrings and bandannas had gone out of style" he said to a coworker who smiled grimly in response. His second day was more challenging.

Shortly after punching in, Jerry was standing near the leather collection when the entrance door flew open with a boom and blast of white light. What followed was difficult to fathom. A man, nay a thing approximating a human being shambled through the opening, it's arms held upright and forward, dripping a greenish ooze. Jerry stood frozen by fear as the being limped to his side and then turned its head completely around, slowly, while little crackling sounds rifled throughout the building as if all the beast's bones were being broken and then reattached.

"Hello" it finally said. "I'm looking for a nice recliner, which would you recommend for a creature of my stature?' Sadly Jerry was unable to help the new customer. He'd fainted dead away.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Rocky Rendezvous

Luckily we’d each brought a tent. We both knew that we’d have to sneak to make love while camping with a few dozen co workers after a late night end of the year party, so individual accommodations were necessary, at least for show. But as it turned out an argument changed the course of the evening anyway; one silent for the most part, but vicious.

It was near dawn when the scratching woke me, still too dark to decipher shadow. Scritch, scritch. The outside of the tent moved inward with each stroke. She wanted to have sex after all. Much too late in my mind. She’d tossed off an insult that would take more than a few hours to make its way through my self esteem’s digestive tract.

“Hey, I’m not in the mood” I whispered. “Please not now!”

Scritch, scritch, scritch.

She never did listen to me, and now it was becoming annoying.

“Hey I said! Go away! I don’t want what you’re selling!”

I was still being careful with my volume, though my voice was breaking through the hiss.

Scritch scritch scritch.

The last straw.

“Dammit I’m not having sex with you tonight so get the hell back to your own tent and stop bothering me!” I shouted.

A raccoon jumped at the sound of my voice, his claws embedded into the fabric of my shelter, tearing open the right side of my house as if it were a set of curtains. After a few minutes of entanglement and a dozen claw swipes at my face, only a few of which connected, the fat little impostor took off for the woods.

“Who aren’t you having sex with tonight exactly” asked my boss who was now dressed and standing next to the shambles I called home. The giggling was deafening. The entire camp was awake and scrambling to write down the quote for Monday morning water cooler recall.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bugged, Big Time

I'm not normally a chip guy; were it not for my overwhelming need to self medicate in the moment I'd never buy them. Beyond that I generally abhor hyphenated chips (ie: bar-b-que, dill pickle-sour cream) even more than the tasteless types; the sight of a powdered chemical bath on my fingers, the quickly slimy goo that's intended to replicate flavor and color to make crappy foods palatable, only makes me more sick than I get eating the chips themselves.

The store was out of plain ol' ordinary junk and so I stood there like a moron for maybe 10 minutes like I do in front of a nearly empty refrigerator, trying to pick the least of the evils staring back at me. I marveled at the price chips command, reaching out to squeeze a few bags at the point where the chips end and really expensive air begins, and then swore under my breath at what a rip off they are; as if I'd never seen a freaking bag of chips before and hadn't done the same damn thing a thousand times.

Finally I grabbed a bag of nacho cheese tortilla triangles, the local convenience store brand so as to save nearly a dollar on what is really more a drug for me than a treat.

I got em home and nearly tossed them without even opening the bag, as I might have had I bought a pack of cigarettes and caught myself being stupid, before sucking one down in a single, satisfied and soon to be guilty breath.

But the flesh is weak and I dragged my nacho buddies to the shack, (an outbuilding I constructed for the purposes of writing and other really cool boy stuff) thinking I'd check my mail, write a few finely worded whines and sate my need for processed punishment by loading a few more pounds onto my growing profile with hydroginated crapola flakes.

I sat, flipped on my monitor and popped the bag open, grabbing the first handful and setting them on my desk so as to bathe in their aura. Then I noticed a little bug running from the area my chips were piled, trying to make it's way to the dark underside of my printer without being noticed.

I'm not sure what the bug was as my squisher instinct is sometimes well ahead of my insect identification search engine. It may have been a spider, it was black, a little shiny and ran like Usain Bolt once the shadow of my finger crept over its head.

All in all it was no big deal, but it does offer a dilemma.

I haven't seen any bugs in here besides a few European beetles; those yellow ladybugs that bite like rabid wolves the moment you think they're quite cute. So I have no clue where the bug might have come from.... unless, it was from the handful of chips.

As a card carrying boy, I'd eat bugs on a dare though I wouldn't like it much. If it's the symbolism of my manhood at stake, I'd eat light bulbs if I had to. But since no one's watching...I didn't have to debate chewing arachnid, I only have to debate what might be left in the bag if I dig deep enough.

If it did come from the bag, what if it was female and it laid eggs? What if the eggs are the same color and appearance as those tiny black splotches that tortilla chips sometimes have; so I wouldn't have any idea I was munching nacho cheese spider eggs on toasted tortilla chips as if they were some perverted reality TV canape'? What if those eggs hatched and I reach into the bag and a million little spiders suddenly leap onto my hand and quickly crawl past the orange crap the chips have left on my chubby palm and aim toward my face where they can try to nest in what's left of my hair and make even more teeny baby spiders?

I spose it might have been an ant....

I wonder if little ant footprints leave behind some kind of scent and if I eat chips infected with ant-stink I'll be attacked in my sleep by some freaking ant predator who smelled my breath from miles away.

Fuck. I was hungry too. Well, I was sad really. Same thing.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Dragon's Breath

There was no telling how fast it was moving. I could only control my own speed, and I tried my best to keep it above seventy as we dipped into a vale, crossed the Sand Creek railroad tracks and climbed the steep rise before us. She was uncharacteristically holding tightly to me, just as nervous about our pursuer as I. “We’ll be fine” I shouted above the loud crash and rumble that near shook the ground all about us, “I have this under control!”

It was dicey to rush at speed perpendicular to the beast down the gravel road that would take us to shelter, but to give up at that last moment would have been not only cowardly, but dangerous, as it turned out.

She near leapt from the bike as I rolled to a stop before our garage, and with a flick of her wrist at the door handle and a jump of the throttle, she and the bike and I were indoors, just a breath before the sky exploded and shards of crystal came pounding down. For 15 minutes the house shook, the trees touched the ground below them and the wind made melody of anger and impatience.

After the storm had been spent and the rain ceased to blot out the sun, we laughed about our escape from the jaws of the Earth mother and her flying voltage, and then sipped cocoa while watching the birth and death of a trailing rainbow.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Reeled In

She’d searched for a man of impeccable breeding,
one sturdy and honest and kind most of all.
He might be quite handsome, but that was not vital;
just pleasant to look at and less short than tall.

She’d wanted a master, at least of his own life;
employed, somewhat healthy and quick with his wit.
He must be unmarried, she’d no taste for drama,
but as to experience, she cared a bit.

She’d looked for a partner, a ying for her yanging,
a fellow explorer and not a blind slug.
If he were no champion he’d still maybe suit her
but he should be strong without being a thug.

I warned her that I had but few of her fancies;
that I was more substitute than perfect match.
But she stretched her wants to encompass my failings,
determined to see if this fish was a catch.

We found I could fill one or two of her wishes,
but most would be left on the cutting room floor.
She found herself fond of a bad boy with manners.
I found myself blessed by her hand evermore.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A Loss for Jimmy, a Win for Me!

Why is it I wonder that we toss off opinions on things that don’t concern us, so freely. Is it just a matter of controlling our environments? Is it making a case to ourselves so that we have a marker on the trail should another fact relating to the topic appear, that we at least have a starting point in knowing which way our winds blow?

It’s certain that my little unnecessary jibe had no real impact, I am not a believer in superstition at my core though I may joke about it now and then. I am not to blame for any outcome, my speaking out set no wheels into motion. Yet here I sit pondering whether I should or should not have cracked wise ten years ago when the proper thing to do would have been keep my musing to myself.

No one had asked me. Much like a hundred other spews I’ve delivered over the course of my time that seemingly leapt from my always open mouth and into the sky like a peck of ravens on the hunt for tasty road kill, the words found no obstacle on their journey; not for a moment did I stop and think to try something so radical as stopping and thinking before letting loose mindless trivia on my personal masses.

I’d bet dollars to donuts he’d be dead before he was sixteen, this extraordinarily loutish boy who did everything he could to see that his family lived each day in terror. He died at fifteen actually, though the four years I’d given him were probably chewed up in the three he lived.

So, did I know something, or was it just a vapid entertainment that pushed me to name his schedule. Might I have acted in his defense, or did I truly not believe what I was saying but only offered it as a child might tell a wry joke, in bad taste perhaps but something that would surely set heads to wagging and therefore solidify his position as the resident pseudo sage.

It’s just human, I tell myself; we all do it, we all say unkind things without reason. Then I wonder why they call compassion a person’s "humanity". I should be happy I won the bet I suppose. Isn’t life all about winning?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nightmare Disruption


She came every day, usually in the early afternoon. She'd say nothing, in fact sometimes I'd not even notice her until she left. She'd sit on the step just outside my control room door while I mixed music to spoken word at a hundred twenty decibels. I'd have thought it odd I'm sure, but I was lost in my own world. What moments weren't absorbed by my work were chewed and swallowed by obsessing my long list of tragedy.
 

That year my wife had left me, my mother and brother had died, my father had attempted suicide never having come to grips with losing his legs and my job had become untenable forcing me to give notice. I was far too busy dying inside to pay attention to a stray girl who'd wander into my studio now and then for what always seemed like a post lunch nap.
 

One day she stepped into my space and leaned into a counter top that framed my effects equipment. She was tiny, under five foot and thin as a pencil. Her face belied her age, (early 20s) but without it she'd have seemed no more than ten, and like a girl child she crossed her arms on the Formica and set her head into them, just looking toward me with brown eyes the size of the moon. I was in the middle of a mix and I was on a roll, I couldn't stop really; so I smiled and continued on for the rest of the six minutes I needed, and somehow, even with another person in my periphery I was still able to bring my spare thoughts to my sad hopelessness.
 

The silence, once I'd finished, was crushing. After a good subwoofer/tweeter pounding the ears take some time to recover and I closed my eyes for a few minutes, letting the reverberations of my work travel through my bones to ground as if audial lightning seeking the earth.
 

"I love what you do" she said; "how you do it... I come here sad, and listening to you work makes me happy."
 

I'd not heard her speak before; her voice tinkled like a wind chime, her words hung in the air as if crystalline rain. I couldn't help but pay attention.
 

"Thanks for not asking me to leave, for just letting me be here with you. You do make people happy you know."
And then she left as she'd come; quietly, without fanfare, almost imperceptibly. For the first time in what seemed forever, I'd taken my focus off my travails, and set it on another; perhaps an angel of mercy. I'd not simply painfully wallowed, but had given pleasure, however inadvertently. And for my gift, my nightmare had been set aside for just a moment, that I could share a breath with one who was not yet jaded beyond hope; one who reminded me there was more to life, than myself.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Accidental Nightingale




An old neighbor I call my personal Florence Nightingale once found a chick on the ground and had adopted it for a few months, feeding and sheltering him until he could fend for himself. It had the run of the house all that time, much to the annoyance of her husband who didn't cotton to finding bird poop on his socks. But when she finally gave in and tried to give it wing, she discovered it didn't want to leave. So she brought it to my house (a quarter mile away) in a cardboard box hoping that when she let it loose in unfamiliar surroundings it'd fly off. It flew right to my bald head and sat there for quite some time before I gently moved it to my finger and then my arm. I had a little chat with it, explaining that all little birds must find their way in life, without humans; and after an hour or so he finally took his leave. I pretend I still see him now and then and chit chat with the occasional finch. Lucky for me, they never tell me I've got the wrong bird:) As in a poem...

Accidental Nightingale

In her hands were just hatched robins; in her eyes, two mouths to feed
In her mind ‘twas childhood innocence, one guiltless for her deed
In her heart the chicks were lonely, they were peeping “Oh so loud”,
and I’d not the will to tell her she’d no call to be so proud

For their mother soon was screeching as she hopped about the nest
and the birds within her calling range would all become distressed
as a thief was in the local wood, a carnivore most foul
and the lovely songs the birds would sing soon turned to twittered scowl

But the task at hand was mothering, so to the books we flew
where the girl learned how to replicate what mother robins do
Jenny found an empty wooden crate and filled its floor with straw
then she set the chicks within their nest, her tear filled eyes in awe

For some weeks she fed them bugs and grubs and water from a spoon
In the sunlight she might read to them of bunnies and raccoons
In the evening she would sing a soft and lilting lullaby
of the wondrous gift, to be a bird, a master of the sky

Jenny cried when I said “let them go, it’s time they spread their wings
they’ve a hundred trees to perch on and a hundred songs to sing”
But she took her little children to the world and set them free
Now she thinks she sees them daily

and I never disagree

Saturday, February 2, 2013

An Attempted Trip to Infinityville



Sadly enough I have to work on Saturdays, driving the company’s rusting hulk of a minivan around the “south of the river” burbs, checking on employee compliance. Today had seemed normal enough. It had snowed last night; the sort of snow that made you wish for a 10 second burst of 50 knot west wind as it would blow all the offending flakes into the state of Wisconsin where because of the proliferation of white doom their governor might have the chance to insult a whole new clique of public workers, the snowplow drivers. But no such wind arose and the powder simply swirled as I passed as if Jack Frostian tornadoes.

While the side roads seemed a bit slippery, the main drags looked and felt dry as bone, so I ventured to drive normally when I was not trapped behind some 80 year old woman masquerading as a 20 year old manchild, driving ever so carefully with one hand on the wheel and a foot gently tapping the brake at random intervals while his other hand was cradling his phone and other foot pounding out the rhythm of whatever was being played too loudly over his much too high a wattage producing stereo.

So it’s no surprise I was doing 70 on 35E alongside a few hundred of my closest co-travelers while getting from here to there as is the custom. I wasn’t weaving nor bobbing; just lazily cruising along as I do most days. No hurry here, I’m on the clock you know. And then I saw trouble. Brake lights, ahead of me; and while I try to keep a reasonable distance between myself and the vehicle before me, that space was being eliminated at frightening speed.

I did what any responsible driver would do; I hit the brakes, hard certainly, but not slammin’. And yet the brakes must have misinterpreted my intent and locked themselves in spite of my gentle, measured pressure. I’d have thought “no problem really, perhaps I’ll stop more quickly than I’d like but I will stop nevertheless and a tragedy will have been averted. I say “I’d have thought” because while that might seem an appropriate response to the situation the “stopping” part of the equation was missing. I was not stopping at all but in fact, it seemed to me, speeding up. (No doubt an illusion created by the rapidly dwindling space between my hurtling self and the steel wall in front of me that appeared to be intent on crashing into its own steel wall before him, and so on and so on)

Naturally I gently tugged at the steering wheel to turn myself a bit to the left as I could see steel to my right and while I had no time to check my mirrors for onrushing left lane traffic there surely was none in my path at that moment. I figured if I cut someone off and they crashed into me it would be better than my crashing into someone else as at least I would be the hockey puck and not the stick so to speak, and martyrdom is my specialty. But the theory was never tested as my tiny leftward correction quickly became a full on perpendicular attitude and because of what I have to assume to be invisible black ice on the roadway I became a massive bullet in sidelong transit.

I must admit I did experience just a moment of glee. Not being an amusement park aficionado I am only lightly experienced in the “thrill” part of one’s lifetime. Most of my thrills have been connected to disastrous circumstances and this seemed well on its way to becoming another of the sort that mom would have warned me about; and yet, I was >< close to giggling, truthfully.

There was little I could do the straighten the car out, but I was able, with a little steering whipping and gas gunning along with a well placed brake tapping or two, to get the vehicle on a trajectory to enter the freeway ditch, which seemed both unoccupied at that moment and possibly navigable, presuming I lived in the end and still owned the appendages I would need to navigate at all.

Not being a skier I’ve always been impressed by those who slalom, their turning on a dime accentuated with a giant poof of snow as they whip their skies sideway to the hill. Well, they’ve got nothing on me at this point; I’m pretty sure even Lindsey Vaughn couldn’t kick up the wake I did as I entered freeway no-man’s land and made my way to the bottom of the vale. I wasn’t sure I could remedy the situation of course, but I was cheered by the sight of a multi-strand cable fence to my fore which could perhaps prevent me from entering the opposing traffic at the severe disadvantage of being aimed in mildly obtuse direction.

Apparently the shallowness of the ditch and the obstruction of what little snow had filled it was enough to slow me, and I was able to regain some sort of control over the vehicle. I knew that if I simply slowed to a crawl I would eventually be stuck. That raises all sorts of complications, not the least of which was the anticipation of suffering what we Americans refer to as a “good ol’ ass chwin” by the local highway patrol, in spite of the fact that I’d not only saved my own life but had avoided taking anyone elses. So I kept on driving and did my best to parallel the traffic that I would eventually need to rejoin, if I could work my way out of the dent in the earth that was doing its best to swallow me whole.

It took maybe a mile or so, sneaking up the side of the ditch little by little, failing some, reclaiming some, inch by inch until I’d nearly come out on top to take my rightful place on the shoulder where I might be permitted to merge by those either in awe of my prowess behind the wheel or scared shitless by my vehicular acrobatics. But it was not to be as I nearly struck some sort of survey post and had to retreat into the topless tunnel of woe for a second pass at freedom.

This time I was successful, and noted that as I reached the actual shoulder of the freeway, a car was holding back in wait for me, giving me the merge-hole I needed to enter the rat race once again, and luckily enough I was at least a half mile from my exit destination and had plenty of time to make my way to the off ramp and onto the streets of Eagan Minnesota.

It was interesting to me that I wasn’t trembling or otherwise suffering physical manifestations of stress. Normally the least that might happen would be I would spend 10 minutes screaming at myself for being (choose one: a fool, an idiot, a waste of space or a crappy drive that can’t even keep a vehicle on the road) but my passion seemed muted, my self-loathing well under control, and all I could think about at that moment was the previous sight of a huge, colorful, couch sized, triangular pillow type thing that had appeared in the road to the right of me as I rocketed past on its perpendicular axis. I was curious as to whether I was the only driver that had lost control trying to dodge Armageddon, but not curious enough to double back for a good gawking.

As I finished my journey I did notice one thing that made me smile in spite of the near tragedy I’d just lived through. Not only had I not met my maker or given anyone else a ticket to the gates of whichever infinityville they have reservations in, not only did I not demolish the piece of crap company car and give them all the reason they need to finally fire me rather than lay me off and save themselves all that severance money, not only did I not get stuck in a ditch on a busy freeway and have to suffer the long wait for a tow, the police report and the hours of humiliation watching people pass me by with a laugh at my expense… but I didn’t even spill my coffee. Now there’s a win I can be proud of.