Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Reluctant Positivist

Life was quickly becoming boring. All that happiness, all the pleasure, it was all just a bit much. Everything had been going fine for way too long, in fact so much so that I could hardly remember the last time I’d wallowed in the mire of a good depression. What I needed was a little angst to get stuck in my throat so I could choke a bit, sputter out a few expletives, dress my bed with the comforter of self pity that I might sleep more comfortably underneath the weight of the congealed mass of my lifetime’s misfortunes and give the least of my friends the golden parachute they desired that they might leave me forever and still blame me for their action.

I began where all good deep thinking is done, on the toilet. Sure, it sounds vulgar, but where else can one sit without distraction for as long as “it” takes?

First I pictured all those people that have done me wrong, hoping that I could kick start my misery without having to delve into my own faults. Let’s be honest, everyone wants someone else to lay their troubles on, if it weren’t for the cruelty of the human beast we wouldn’t be so sad, true? Pas tout à fait?

It was a little hard to get a visual, there are so many guilty creatures the montage stretched on for a half mile (in the brain one inch equals ¼ mile, in case you’re in the same position one day) I can’t really remember an earlier slight than when Nicky Olsen bashed my head into my home’s concrete stoop when I was four, so in spite of the fact that I’m instinctively positive I was done dirt well before my fourth birthday, my first photo was of Nicky. I drew a mustache on it immediately, though that resulted in my giggling which was counterproductive.

Once the wall of shame was intact, I rifled through the images as if they were rolodex pages, each picture causing a physical reaction to the memory leaving me a tic ridden floppy rag by the time I’d reached the present. Still, not one creep shot to the fore, not one scourge so overpowered the rest that I was able to pluck him or her from the maelstrom and allow the wound they’d inflicted upon my tender sensibilities to reopen and fester properly. So I was forced to concentrate my efforts on the most vicious of my attackers, my ex wives.

I thought and thought and thought some more about all the rotten things these two had done to me while I was putty in their wicked hands, and I must admit I came up with enough anecdotes to fill a black hole and had some left over with which I might be able to mix into a paste and coat the surface of the sun. But still, as hard as I squeezed that sponge of the collected tears of years gone by, I could not eke out enough venom to poison me. I’d never have thunk it, they’ve always been a mainstay of my misery, why they’re the capital G in my Gloom! And yet, I was driven to move on, before I lost all feeling in my legs.

So I turned to old reliable, inward, to the mass of cherry jello I like to call… ME. I do suck after all, there was little doubt in my mind that I’d be able to find suitable petards with which to hoist myself toward the ever cloudy sky.

I tried to lay out all my mistakes, like dominoes, the stupid ones butted up against the stupid ones and then the creepy ones touching the other creepy ones. The problem was there were too many categories. Even alphabetizing was going to be a pain, given that my feet were already asleep (the price one pays for thinking deep thoughts on the toilet), so I just whizzed through a few assuming it wouldn’t take more than a dozen or so to set me on the downward spiral.

Starting with the wimpiest of self aggrandizements like ”could have been a pro hockey player, but can’t skate… you MORON!” and working my way up to heavy hitters like “forgot to pay your bills one month cuz you were busy havin a heart attack cuz you still smoked cuz you’re such a miserable creep, you MORON!” I attempted to spring the trap that would eventually drag me down, funkify my days, deliver me to wretchedness, amen. But, nothing worked. I called myself every name in the book, I admitted every fault, exposed every secret, railed upon every blemish and… nothing. Just shrugs. Just, “yea, so what”s.

What the hell was wrong with me I wondered? Had I lulled myself into some horrifying complacency? Had the infectious pod people who spend their days smiling and clapping each other on their backs finally broken through my immune system and filled me with the same disease they share? The dread… positivity?

I had only one place to turn. Hobbling, as both feet and my right leg were now devoid of blood altogether, I found my wife, and saying nothing but only that which can be expressed by the eyes, pleaded with her for an answer to my dilemma.

“You took your Prozac this morning, didn’t you” she said matter of factly.

SHIT! I HAD! DAMMIT DAMMIT DAMMIT! A pox on Eli Lilly for ruining my life!

I wrote myself a note. “DO NOT TAKE PROZAC THIS MORNING!” and taped it to the inside of the medicine cabinet. I only hoped I would be able to read upon waking, or this nightmare would begin again!

Friday, April 26, 2013

A Chance to Shine

He swore to me no one would get hurt; no one that didn’t deserve it at least. My high school classmates were all locked into the gym where a half dozen terrorists were holding them hostage as part of some cruel plan that was unknown to me. All I needed to do was rappel down a nylon rope into the center court, firing my M-16 as I went, picking off the individual bad guys before I hit the boards, and everything would be fine. In fact, better than fine. All those creeps who treated me like crap would suddenly see me as a hero. I’d have saved their lives, and they'd feel really bad about shoving me and calling me names and trying to trick me into saying something stupid; not to mention the chicks who would never have given me more than a sneer until I pulled them from this burning gates of hell. Man, 20 minutes of shootemup and all my problems would be solved, plus I’d finally get laid a few times before I’m 30!

“Mister Runeborg? Would you please read the first paragraph of page 17 aloud?”

Shit. Reality.

I made a mental note to put some daydream gloves into my daydream backpack before I stepped back into the real world for a momentary diversion. I didn’t want any imaginary rope burns on my hands if I was gonna get imaginary booty!

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Forever Mine

My memory as a whole is fading, little things escape more frequently, keys, wallet, sunglasses. I’ve no doubt if I wore more pants than sweats I’d forget my zipper often enough, as I forget to take my pills and forget to add salt into a cookie batter.

But I do remember the last time I saw her. I can feel the plush of my seats, the shifter I gripped so tightly I thought I’d wrench it from the transmission. I remember her smell, her voice, reluctant whispers. Best friend she said. My demotion. I remember the taste of my tears, the heaviness in my chest, the choking on my words; last time I said. Like a creature caught in ancient amber, that moment is forever mine.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Do Overs

For the prompt: ordinary people


Why are we alone daddy?

Well, we’re not really, we have mommy, she’s just out looking for food.

I meant all three of us. Why are we alone?

Because everyone else is dead Junior.

Why did they die daddy?

It’s a long story Junior.

Do we have to be somewhere soon?

You have me there son. Ok, this is why. It started with the ordinary people. The farm workers and truck drivers and custodians and dock hands. The rich people got tired of them, always whining about never having enough, always committing physical crimes, always being unhappy and vulgar. So the rich people started wars, and they sent all the ordinary people off to other places to kill each other, until the wars were over, and then they just stopped paying attention to the survivors until one by one they died.

So how come there’s no rich people?

Well, once the ordinary people were all dead the rich people discovered none of them had learned how to do all those mundane tasks the ordinary people did, so they went without cleaning crews and bakers and grocers and infrastructure maintenance folk and the world was over time, smothered in rot and disease and starvation.

Couldn’t the rich people make their own food?

Oh some tried to eat the products of their own labors, but they found there was virtually zero nutritional quality in ledger sheets, whether by the individual page or by the entire vault full.

Was that the only food they could make?

Oh some could cook alright, there were a few of their women who were just bored enough to learn a toaster from an easy bake oven, but without the farm laborers and the butchers and the millers and even the people that operated the machinery to turn chicken beaks into pink slurry that could be molded into McNuggets, not to mention the power plant operators who would create the juice to run the microwaves that served as rich people ovens, they couldn't heat anything anyway, and once you are accustomed to a certain standard of living, so I hear, cold food just isn’t worth eating unless it’s smothered in caviar… and without fisherpeople… you see the problem son.

But…

That’s enough son, your mom can explain more if you like, I’m tired of speaking about the past.

Just one last question daddy, one that’s different from those others?

Sure kid, one more. Shoot.

Why are we still here daddy? Aren’t you either an ordinary person or a rich person.

I am a warrior son. A mercenary. The rich people hired me to kill the ordinary people who were stealing their money, and the ordinary people hired me to kill the rich people who were stealing their lives. Once they were all dead, I only had to kill the other mercenaries, and lucky for your mommy and you, I’m very, very good at what I do.

Will you teach me to use a gun daddy?

No need son. At long last, we don't need guns.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Freelance Nightmare

When I was writing songs as part of my employment repertoire, and to a lesser extent even when mixing music for narrative, I never considered myself remotely brilliant; if anything, only blessed. Then I had no choice but to believe in myself, to exude as much confidence as I was able. That bravado gave me the courage to say yes to a client asking for a song from scratch in less than 24 hours, and the wisdom to know when no was the right and only answer.

It was false bravado in fact, I was quite often scared to death that my last tune would truly be my last. I had no idea where my ability came from, how the ideas formed, in what closet I stored the words I'd end up pulling from a hat when I needed them.

It's one thing to write if, when and on what topic I choose; and quite another to write on command, when the difference between approval and rejection is measured in real dollars and cents and not just broken dreams or mildly hurt feelings.

But both types of writing have the same effect on me as it concerns tomorrow; I fear I'll never again write what even I would care to read, that I'll never, on reading back something I've penned, think the words profound, stylish, complex or even simply clever. I assume one day, likely this day, whoever gave me this gift will take it back, that the deal made with the devil when I was born will have run it's course and now I'll need to pay for my time in the light with a few bars of darkness and void.

It's not an everyday thing, but often enough to skew my emotional obsession about my contribution to the art world. I know there had to have been some contract signed by my parents perhaps, with a nameless otherworldly figure who offered creativity in return for certain sections of my brain, randomly selected over time, to toy with for it's amusement. It's either that or I'm actually crazy and it's my insanity that fuels my fantasies. Yea, like that's possible...

I'm sure my oft desire to be dead let's say, makes me more likely to pen inventive suicide notes masquerading as cries for help, and long, descriptive regrets that dig so far into my past that even I can't figure out in what century they happened, and in turn, who could possibly be that freakin sorry for that freakin long.

No doubt I feel as if with only a few hours left to live, and a few months worth of things left to say, I need to hurry it along a bit; in case I actually do the big bang in the near future. This would explain my prolific nature, or at least my verbosity. And the regret idea fits into the "overwrought anxiety for no real reason" mold, a page to every overdramatized emotion, and an overdramatized emotion to every page. If all this fits together as it appears to, I'd not be creative if not for the fact that I'm nuts...a pact with the devil if I ever heard one.

My lack of memory seems to be a part of every problem; I forget the last time I was stupid enough to write directly on line where incremental saves are unlikely, and so I re-commit myself to the same silly yet painful mistake over and over; the erasure of another godlike work in progress.

And my big dumb ox thing seems to be a blessed curse along the same line, a "must have been preordained by signatures in blood" sort of affectation. I am deeply in tune with honesty for example, not so much because I'm a purist or even a moralist of some sort. It's mostly that I forget how much it hurts when people hate me for saying what I actually think in deference to a creative modification of the truth based on what I think they think. Had I any memory at all, I'd be ducking and clucking just like the majority of humans, damned afraid of the next sharp stick in the eye to come my way in punishment for words I could easily have kept under lock and key.

It's like everything I've done of a creative bent is tied to my wierdness, and that in turn is tied to contractual events (if I'm right) beyond my control; and all this being the case, the fact that I can write/sing/draw/scratch my butt and chew gum at the same time, is gifted to me by some unseen force that could at any moment withdraw the offer.

It's all too real, this fear of being struck stupid, talentless and tasteless in one fell swoop. I really do wonder every time I hit "turn off computer" whether the next time I switch back on it'll be only electronics that fire up, and for my part I'll stare at the screen and drool at the purdy pitchur in the 17" plastic frame.

You'll know it when you see it, particularly if I'm writing verse. If ever I rhyme "faint" with "Hank" for instance, know that I'm washed up and delete me from your friends list before you feel nothing but pity, or worse, annoyed boredom. If you see "faint" followed by "paint" or "'aint", and "Hank" with words like "crank" and "skank", feel safe to read on as my benefactor has allowed me one last profoundly creative moment, before stripping me of all redeeming value. Wouldn't it be funny if it was right after writing about losing my artistic insight, that I'd lose my artistic insight?

His name was Hank, he loved a skank,
he paid her with an ounce of crank

Nope....I guess I'm still ok so far.

Into the Breach

I checked the mirror. I would definitely have to lose the Bermuda shorts and flip flops, but I wondered if I had the right outfit and accessories for this soirée or if I’d have to destroy some work clothing to get the job done.

As luck would have it, my two week old jeans were right where I’d dropped them, half standing of their own volition against the west bedroom wall. I could have gone with the shirtless look, all the thugs were doing it, just skin and jacket and call it good; but I decided I might need bandage material and rather than wearing a corpsman toolbelt with assorted gauzes and tape, I selected a clean t-shirt that could be ripped into squares if necessary.

Then the colors, the low top cowboy hat complete with doggie choke chain and authentic squirrel tail, the pointy toed shitkickers, the fingerless black leather gloves, the skull rings, Harley primary chain belt, Vietnamese tasseled armband and spurs.

Finally I slipped my one and a half inch open end wrench into my belt, my stiletto into my custom boot compartment and a 9 ounce sap into my jacket wine pocket.

I took one last look. I was hoping to intimidate a few adversaries into finding another target. If I were many of them, I’d back off from what faced me in the glass. Gang wars though were such a crap shoot. Sure as hell I’d show up dressed for bear and they’d show up with an elephant gun.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Minute Clinic For The Win!

Dinner’s on the table hon. Where ya been?

Oh I was at the mall and once I was done shopping I decided to do some retail therapy.

Don’t you mean you went shopping so you’d feel happier?

Nope. I mean the Minute Clinic now has mental health services so I stopped in for a neurosis tuning and a diagnostician special. Both were on a Groupon half off sale so I thought I may as well take advantage of the convenience of it. After all you know I’ve been feeling kinda glum.

You don’t have to tell me dear. So what did they say?

Well they seemed to think at first I had a touch of Tourettes, but it turned out to be just a strong aversion to paying a bill in advance coupled with a limited vocabulary.

I’m sure I’d have the same diagnosis. Anything else?

Well again, they were thinking exhibitionism, but I told them I was just hot and they seemed to accept that as the reason I shucked my coat. I said I thought they were kinda jumping to conclusions, and that made them think “paranoid personality disorder”. When I argued, they added “narcissistic tendencies” and possible “intermittent explosive disorder”, but they stopped after the last and waited for me to explode, and when I didn’t they withdrew that one.

Wow, it sounds like they were quite thorough! Was it expensive?

Nope! Like I said the services I bought were on sale. In fact I could have had a Two minute drug consultation off the dollar menu, but I figured I was at the drive up so I didn’t want anyone in line behind me getting mad.

Ah, more proof of the p…

Paranoid personality disorder, yup.

So There must have been a point to it beyond getting a raft of bad news. Did they prescribe anything to deal with your diagnosis?

Sure! They said I should go shop my brains out for an hour and I’d feel much better.

Somehow I knew we’d come back to that…

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Bout of Spring Fever

So I gets up this mornin and I’m feelin kinda cranky cuz this gol dang winter is longer than Sarah Palin’s nose, so I switch on the Enshrinkerator and jump into the garden hose, grab my surfboard and traveling monkey and jets off to Rabbit Hole.

So I zip by the bubble shark altogether and land at the Pardy Hardy’s Café where I know the fae hang out and sure enough, there’s the Queen, so I sidles up to her all nonchalant like (after buying and consuming a few scones with strawberry cream cuz I’m not sure how this’ gonna go and I don’t want to miss my chance)

“Queenie” I says, (even though we’re on a first name basis I can’t pronounce her first name cuz it’s got all kinds of ackkk’s and pffft’s and crap in it) "how about you and your painters get busy out there? It’s the middle-o-April already for Pratchett’s sake, and there ain’t nothing green ‘cept my envy of southern folk!”

“Ronnie” she says, (even though she knows my name’s Ron and I hate that bastardization of it) "there’s still snow out there and you know full well our contract states in section 64, paragraph 4.76.3 “in the event the middle of March shall come and yet winter is still omnipresent, no Fairy shall be held responsible for the color of the grass. Neither shall any blade thereof be properly painted until said winter has departed and all snows have been melted away.”

“Queenie” I says, “who created your contract? That’s really crappy writing says I.”

“Ronnie” she counters, “This world is full of crappy writers.” And then she and her retinue laugh like they think I don’t know if the world was written by me that I am all the crappy writers she’s talking about.

“So Queenie” I says, just to break up the beginning of the sentence a little, “what should I do then? Cuz I sure am sick and tired of this winter!”

“Ronnie” she says, “melt the snow and I’ll get right on the job!”

So not wanting to stick around for the next peal of laughter I go lookin for my pal Flamey, the pocket dragon! I explain the problem to him and while sucking up as best I can, intimate the only he and his relatives can melt the snow and save me from OverWinter Lengthiness Syndrome (That’s Owliness to you)

“Sorry Ronnie” Flamey says, knowing it bugs the crap outa me, “I can’t help you. We’ve all been laid off!”

“Laid off,” I said , “I didn’t even know it was your job!”

“Oh yes” says Flamey, “We public Pocket Dragons take great pride in our work, but we don’t do it for free ya know. And since Mayor Snake McWalker crushed our union and did away with collective bargaining, we’ve gone on strike!”

“Aw crap” says I, in my colorful way, “can’t we like put a sunlamp on him to get the Snake to shed a skin or two so at least we could show the skins on TV and accuse him of running around naked? Or something?”

“I’m afraid all that’s been tried Ronnie. We’ll just have to wait for the rot that obviously infected his brain to finish the job! I’m guessin… about a month!”

“Double Crap” I says.

So knowing I’m screwed and winter’s never ending no matter what that moron woodchuck says, I go trompin back off to the garden hose for my trip back home… and suddenly I’m stopped by Dusty, my favorite Pixie and he says “C’mon buddy, I can cheer you up!”

And so we go to the Pixie concert hall and he sits me right in the front row and all the Pixie string players come out and play Hearts and Flowers for me on the worlds REAL smallest violins, as opposed to the ones in that stupid joke everyone tells (which are much much bigger).

Then I goes back home to the sound of Pixie giggles (which you think would be cute but are really just annoying as hell, especially today) and enlargify myself just in time to get depressed cuz winter’s still here and I shrunk my testicles just a little more (side effect of the enshrinkerator) for nothing!

So, I think I’ll kill myself. But that’s so cliché I think I’ll do it in a really novel way. I’m gonna overdose on sugar. Yes, I’m gonna go out in a huge sugar rush! Then those creatures will be sorry they made fun of me!

“Unicorn” I says, “Take me to the grocery! I’m in the mood for Bavarian Cremes!”

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Wisdom of the Don

I was a taxi driver, just 18, working the overnights which put me on the street at 11pm. I got a call to pick someone up in an a neighborhood that was wealthy in its day, but now the small mansions were surrounded by the grit of the big city, within walking distance of the finest crack houses and brothels. That part didn’t bother me, I was the guy they called on to cruise the ghetto and housing projects in the wee hours, 22nd and Blaisdell was nothing to be nervous about, except they told me I had to pick the guy up in the alley.

It seemed way too fishy so where normally I wouldn’t have made an issue of a fare I had to ask “what the hell is this all about”. Turns out it was a halfway house for the St. Paul archdiocese, a place where priests leaving the clergy were housed and remolded into ordinary citizens. That didn’t really answer my question, it still wasn’t an area where I should be cruising around in the dark down refuse roads, but I figured if a soon to be ex priest would brave the combat zone, so would I.

He was 15 minutes after I’d arrived. I had radioed in and complained, it was a Friday night after all and there were fares to be had. But they’d called and verified so I stuck it out. Finally this really thin medium height nerdy looking guy gets in my cab, breathless, as if he’d run all the way, which he hadn’t. “Where ya off to” I asked. “Brass rail” he answered; “and don’t worry about the wait, I’ll tip you.”

I swore under my breath. The brass Rail was just downtown, probably a 3 dollar fare which meant I’d make a buck for my half hour of screwing around. But what can you do. I was gonna be a priest once, so I supposed I owed him some brotherly forgiveness or something like that. I looked in the rear view as I pulled out of the drive and into the alley. He was wearing the standard Nehru collar blacks, the “collarino” only without the white square in the center. I thought it odd. It didn’t seem to me that was “regulation”, but I didn’t have time to try and conjure up a memory microfiche of that page of the “manual”, the guy was leaning forward, crossing his arms over the front seat back. He wanted to chat.

“So how are ya.” I was normally a pretty chatty driver, known to be capable of completing a philosophical discussion between downtown and the airport with almost anyone, including Dale Evans and Leo Buscaglia. So I was pleased that at the least my crappy fare wouldn’t be a total bore.

“I’m good” I said. “I’ll be better when this shift’s over.” Never hurts to remind the passenger I’m a workin stiff and could probably use a nice, fat tip.

“Great” he said as he squeezed forward a little more, almost enough to whisper directly into my ear. "Hey, you wanna know something funny?”

Already I was thinking “well no, now that you mention it” as his tone had changed and whatever was driving it I didn’t like it. But hey, there’s that tip potential thing so I sort of had to take a chance. “Yea sure” I said, “I’m always up for a laugh.”

“What would you say” he said in slo motion, like he was trying to draw the words out because he thought I was Albanian and I might not understand unless he talked real slow, “What would you say… if I told you… I was late getting into your car because… I was busy givin a guy a blow job and he just wouldn’t cum?”

I’m reasonably sure I stopped breathing. Luckily I once thought very quickly on my feet.

“Huh” I said, as if he had just explained to me that the moon’s circumference is 35000 miles. What the hell else would I say?

When and where I grew up there was no such thing as “gay”. There were queers and faggots and dykes, and they were different than the rest of us but if you left them alone they’d leave you alone so outside of the real assholes who wanted to prove their manhood by terrorizing someone “in the family”, that’s just what we did. I hadn’t known anyone who identified themselves as homosexual. Any male that seemed effeminate was a fag, and any chick who seemed the part was a dyke and that was that. The only people who were “out” at the time either worked at or frequented a downtown bar called the “Gay 90’s” (go figure) which had a stage and regular female impersonator shows.

But I did know two things that slightly set me apart from my compatriots. One is, I was called fag, more than once, and I didn’t like it. Not because of what it implied as I had no question as to my gender and no curiosity to visit “the other side”. It was used on me because treating women as worthy of respect made me effeminate in my crowd. Not knocking a chick into next week after her insulting me in public would mean I had left my testicles at home in the sock drawer. I didn’t like it because of the contempt with which it was said, the disgust it conveyed. And that was even while it was half in jest. It made me think of “the second thing”.

I spent a lot of time in restaurants at that age. I didn’t cook and was too young to drink. (I didn’t like booze anyway so that part didn’t bother me) So I (we) would take a cribbage board or a book to the Embers on 26th and Hennipen and spend much of any non work day buying as little as possible, drinking a lot of coffee and flirting with the waitresses. (My first two wives were waitresses, so I must have been good at it, or bad, depending on how you see it) That’s where I met Don.

In retrospect I’m pretty sure Don was gay. He reminded me of Tony Randall, physically as well as temperamentally. He ate dinner there every night of his life and he’d always eaten alone until my wife to be introduced us and I joined him. We became friends, at least, in house friends. He was ten years older than I, but still interested in what I thought and what my life entailed and my beliefs… he enjoyed my company and I his. I said in retrospect I’m pretty sure; at the time I was positive. He was single, always alone, quite effeminate, fastidiously dressed, had a self created speech impediment; there was no doubt in my mind. And I didn’t care. It’s no hero thing, had I been trained that way I suppose I could have hated him as some no doubt did, but I just saw him as a nice guy, albeit a little weird.

It was probably a couple years I’d broken bread with Don. During that same time I’d used all the words in conversation, talking about nebulous creatures who had no faces, those “fags” we could roll those “fags” or taunt those “dykes” as if we had people picked out and knew where they lived. It was teenage biker braggadocio, pissing on trees, marking our territory. But the longer I knew Don the less I enjoyed the banter, and those times I was called a “fag”, made me think of people doing the same to him. I thought of the fear, the shame, the anxiety, the scar. It almost made me physically sick.

Still, I wasn’t so comfortable with the idea that graphic depictions of homosexual sex didn’t throw me, and my taxi passenger du jour was unrelenting. On he went. There was this guy, he was another ex priest to be ya know, and there was the mailman, what an amazing coincidence he said, the mailman at his last residence was queer too, and all I could do was grunt to show that I was listening lest he grab my hair and shake my head, or maybe bare his incisors and try to sink them into my neck.

I was confused. I’d always though the Brass Rail was a hetro strip club, and what the hell would this guy be goin to a…

I was a pretty good hack. I was there in a flash, my ears burning all the way. I couldn’t wait to pull away from the curb, leaving him in the dust, washing the visual out of my brain with that of a hooker and pimp combination. But no such luck.

“Geez, I’m afraid I don’t have any money on me. Sorry. I can get it inside though. C’mon in and meet my fiancé.”

Jesus

Of course I went. I could have just driven off and taken the loss, but I was already working for a dollar an hour, I didn’t want to make it zero. Now I was becoming annoyed. It was bad enough I had to listen to boy porn all the way there, but now I’d have to wade through the clientele at a local gay bar to shake hands or whatever they did with a female impersonator or cross dresser or whatever the hell it’d be just to get my 3 buck fare and then most assuredly be stiffed on the tip, no pun intended. I was seeing more red than people so I stayed at the bar and waved him on, keeping an eye on his whereabouts so as not to lose him to an open window and a dash down the street.

There was a big round table full of priest aficionados. One of them was wearing a white fluffy dress with a veil. I could only guess. Fiance. I returned the wave and smiled at their laughter, knowing that I was the joke, and patiently waited for his return. Meanwhile I noted the man next to me peering at my leg, then my ass, my waist, my…

“I’m just a cab driver, not a patron” I said, hoping he’d get the point without my having to spell it out. “Too bad” he said, both relieving me and bugging the hell out of me at the same time. I felt like I had to pee, not that my bladder was aching, but that I wanted to run into a small dark room and surround myself on three sides with structural impediments.

Finally Father Faithful came back and handed me a fiver. “Keep the change” he said as if he were a Carnegie. “Thanks” I said, as if two bucks in any way compensated me for my troubles. “Pleasure to meet you” he said, “sure you won’t join us?”

All that fag queer stuff blew through my brain at a thousand miles per hour. Every stereotype, every nasty catcall, every cruelty, and then it all vanished. This guy didn’t make me angry because he was a homo, he pissed me off because he was rude, presumptuous and a crappy tipper. “No thanks man, I have to make enough to pay for dinner before the night’s over.” I had this tiny flash that my clever retort might catch him unawares and he’d be so moved that he’d give me another couple bucks just because I was worthy. But he’d turned and wandered back to his clown car before “pay for dinner” had crossed my lips. And so it goes.

I didn’t dwell on the experience. I did tell the story a few times. Let’s face it, some dude telling a stranger he’d given some other dude a blow job was fairly unusual in my circles, and good for a laugh. God knows, as that was the type of adventure I had nearly every night driving a taxi, I needed all the laughs I could get.

I might have forgotten about it altogether except for the incident that happened a few weeks later. I was pulling an afternoon shift and I had to move this guy from Nordeast to the “Men’s Club” downtown, a weight lifting steam bath sort of joint even I knew was homosexual territory. He was chatty, we talked about current events. But then he began to compliment me; first for my obviously superior brain power, and then for my he man physique. At first, and I mean for the first two sentences, I was flattered. But quickly it became annoying, then obnoxious and then outrageous. He asked me if I’d like to join him, that it was a great club, that he could introduce me around. He said I’d do well there, that I could be a body builder what with my shoulders and….

I said no thanks at first, no after that, repeatedly. He wasn’t buying it. Apparently he thought I was being coy or something. He pressed on and finally I reached our destination, pulled in, topping the curb because I was in such a hurry I’d quit paying attention, and reached back to flip the door handle open. He got out and stepped to my window. which because of the one way street we were on was curbside. Then, he grabbed me, insisting that I really wanted to take a steam bath, that I’d really like it.

The event didn’t last long, I was able to extricate myself firmly and without harming more than a few of his fingers, but I have to admit I wanted to waste him. I waved his fare and sent him on his way.

Later that night I had dinner with Don. (Don and Ron… isn’t that cute?) I told him both stories, being as careful as I could to not imply I thought there was any sort of connection between him and them, yet hoping that he might have something to say that would make the experiences make sense on some plane, because… he knew something I didn’t. I was right. He did.

“What assholes” he said. “Man, you must have bad luck, I’ve never met anyone like that in all my days.” We laughed. He was right. I have bad luck, and he was right about them being assholes, and assholes are everywhere, in every color and flavor imaginable. I thanked him for the reminder, silently. I’m sure he heard me.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Favor for a Friendish

“Hey, they’re havin an art auction at the Marriot! I got me an entry so I can sell some first editions I’ve collected, but I need some help getting all my pieces down there. You mind helping me?”

I wasn’t thrilled. Jeff wasn’t exactly a friend. I did play volleyball with him but he’d never shown any interest in me as a human rather than as a brick wall at the net. Still, I figured maybe this would turn that corner. Maybe we could have coffee afterward and get to know each other a little.

“Yea, why not; Gimme your address, I’ll be right over.”

I wondered about his taste in art, what it was we’d be transporting. He didn’t seem the art type, but then my lefty friends are always telling me that first impression judgment is out of fashion. Maybe he was a Van Gogh sort, or a freakin cubist. Probably more a nature print lover; more Monet or another realist. Whatever it was would tell me a lot about him, and maybe even where he’d likely choose to go to lunch.

In 20 minutes I had backed up to his garage where he was waiting patiently for me… standing next to the biggest collection of velvet Elvis’ I’d ever seen. It looked like lunch was gonna be at Burger King.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The 97% Solution

It made me laugh when I recognized the room. Nothing had changed in the 20 years since I'd been there last, even the same paint was peeled in the same corners. Of course when my mother was in psychiatric lockup it was because of a breakdown having to do with a disease, something far easier to comprehend, even with the little green men and taking dogs. This was my father, the man with no fear, the great Scandinavian stoic who had suffered a lifetime of indignity with a raised head and focused eye.

They didn't even have a meeting room. There we were in the patient lounge, surrounded by cuckoo nesters, discussing what would become of daddy. It would be a come to Jesus meeting. We were to tell him everything we felt about his suicide attempt, explain to him that this was unacceptable.

“He needs someone to talk to besides his children,” I said; “he needs camaraderie with people who have lived through similar tragedy and survived.”

The shrink on duty explained that while there may be some therapy involved, 97% of depression was dealt with through chemistry. It was then I decided that if that’s what the world has come to, suicide wasn’t necessarily unacceptable after all.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Lady's Gardener



I was her gardener, she in turn would make me breakfast; I’d happily say that she was far more adept at her trade than I.

My grandmother’s kitchen was small. On some days that made it an annoyance, as when trying to bully through the space carrying some box bound for the basement from the attic. But on other days, the days I spent alone with her while taking care of her “manly” chores, it was cozy and warm, like a private cafe.

My mother was a pretty good basic cook. Her mother was an amazing cook, and would trade my trimming hedges and mowing laws with engaging conversation over 6 course morning meals.

By the time I was cleaned up and ready for my dividend, her little steel and Formica table would be already set; good china, cloth nappys, real silver. If I were lucky the orange juice, a commodity I’d never experienced at home, would have been pre-poured into one of my two favorite glasses. The first was a very tall, thin, white frosted glass, embellished with red, green and blue polka dots. The dots were embossed and smooth, in contrast to the scratchiness of the frost surrounding them. Something was very cool about the difference in textures, the indent of the dots. I’d slip my fingers into them slowly, as if they were keys on a saxophone. I could feel the bumps of dried watercolor as the glass seemed hand painted, the color spread by a twist of camelhair. The other was a cobalt blue glass goblet. The color fascinated me, and it too had dot like indents that were more reminiscent of the flesh left after a melon baller had been let loose on a ripe cantaloupe.

I was enamored by finery and craft, and not because it resembled wealth. Her silver was of a classic colonial design for instance, the edges of each handle roped, the emblems convex and intricate, the weight, perfectly balanced. Upon holding a knife before me I could envision a craftsman working the metals, polishing and primping, tacking and clipping. I envied those who had talent in their hands as I had next to none.

In order to get the full experience of each visit I needed to pay close attention to each tidbit of sensory input, from the light “calack”ing of the steel kitchen cabinets opening and closing, to the smell of bakery bread slowly toasting, to the riveting red color of homemade strawberry jam that centered the table in its crystal decanter complete with its crystal, doll house spoon.

Her bacon was bought at a butcher shop, a hickory smoked slab from which she’d order the number of slices she’d enjoy. Many of her staples were purchased from a local farmer’s market, her breads, when not self made, were the neighborhood baker’s pride; often a crisp loaf, tender and starkly white inside as if newly fallen snow had been lightly packed into a flaky crust, baked until just tan and sliced by the highest pitched strings of a grand piano.

Her eggs were softly scrambled, yellow as the dawn, sometimes flecked with a tiny bit of an exotic cheese or a pinch of fresh herbs; or they were baked in ramekins, topped with bread crumbs or dabbed with pungent sauces.

There we’d sit while coffee percolated on the stove in a clear glass carafe. Between bites we’d discuss events of the day, shows we’d seen, people we’d found fascinating. There it was made clear to me that at least one person in my life was sincerely interested in what I had to say, what I considered right and wrong, what I thought was funny. There it was forever safe, and comforting, powerfully charismatic and so easy to remember I can smell the chives frying in a small pat of butter, hear the snap of crisp bacon, see the polka dots well enough to slip my fingers into their indents and hear the woman that taught me kindness and the art of listening, giggling and goading me to continue my story.

Friday, April 12, 2013

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 it's 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 fairy 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, just...man 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

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Grease Paint.

From a thousand feet up the runway was almost comical; a tiny strip of tarmac surrounded by plowed, black earth, neither a town or a hospital in sight. The town I wasn’t so worried about. We wouldn’t be staying and I could sate my hunger through a vending machine. The hospital though, there was a chance that I’d need one of those before the next 20 minutes had passed.

It was nearly a perpendicular crosswind I would need to land in. According to the weather spotter it was steady to 20 knots and gusting to 45. By all rights, my being only a recreational pilot, I probably should have moved on and hoped the next possibility would be calmer; but I was low enough on fuel that it was just short of now or never and I didn’t trust in providence to deliver me from evil somewhere down the road.

To keep a plane straight one has to find that balance between speed and attitude, flying into the wind yet slipping to the side while dropping altitude until that very last second before touchdown. Too soon and you’re pushed off course and have to start over if you can. Too late and your wheels contact askew and most likely assist the wind in the process of flipping you onto your head.

Had I been alone I might have been less careful, a little more playful. I had my dad with me, and a friend, and the length of their lives was not up to me. In what might have been the greatest landing of my short career behind the yoke, I greased that sucker on the runway without so much as a squeal from the rubber. My life had seen oodles of failure, but the few wins were damn dramatic.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

BJ's Stuff



He says he's gonna kill me and toss me in the creek! Can you guys come and get me? I think he might be serious this time and I'm afraid.

It's not the discussion you would choose to have with your mother in law, but some people's lives are just more dramatic than others and I knew full well that if she'd actually called us, she wasn't crying wolf.

It was nearly 40 minutes to the house and Linda and I talked during every second I raced westward. She'd divorced her parents for all intents long before I'd met her, and it was my doing that had put her back into the relationship saddle. Her mother never would have called for any reason beyond offering holiday meal schedules, had I not butt in and prodded the two together; explaining in my good natured know-it-all way that there would surely come a day Linda'd regret having tossed off mommy and daddy.

All my wife had regretted to this point was her reunion, the two adults who'd raised her were a daily nightmare and this day, only the most spooky to date. It hadn't been six months since BJ had been found passed out in her running car; the fact that she was at the street end of her own driveway had not swayed the judge in his quest to remove her license and drop her into a 72 hour lockup.

That was the first time I'd really pushed. The clinic/halfway house had called and pleaded with us to convince Barbara to stay a month, or as long as it would take to dry out and realign her priorities. Linda had no desire; she believed alcoholism was a fallacy, that her parents could stop drinking themselves to death by simply saying no and that there was no convincing anyone to do something they were dead set against.

BJ and Raymond had been drunks all her life; time had only increased the frequency and longevity of each binge until finally it had become booze upon first rising until last light. There was no hope Lin would say, and our chatting with BJ won't do anything more than waste an afternoon.

I played the logic card, that certainly nothing would happen if we didn't try, and that we had all day with no previously scheduled agenda so what would it hurt?

I had my own thing; Barb liked me and I liked her back. She could be clever and calm, she was well read, well versed and well mannered...around me anyway; and I really felt badly for her with a husband that verbally beat her from dawn to dusk.

The first time I suggested "intervening" Linda told me if I was so interested that I could do it myself. I couldn't blame her, I didn't have her baggage. I hadn't spent my life ducking and dodging hurled abuse as she had...well, not from her parents anyway; so at one time I offered to go it alone if she liked, but that didn't set well either as it was her parents/her problem.

Eventually we'd decided to go together and rope one brother into our group as well. Linda was right in the end, it was pointless. BJ turned a deaf ear to the assertion that she had a problem, and was insistent that there was zero chance that she'd spend one more moment in recovery than the law forced upon her. I was right too, it was the right thing to do to at least try, no matter how predictable the outcome.

Since the day we drove off with BJ still in denial and state required bondage, we avoided the family as best we could. Both Ray and Barb were back on the heavy sauce the moment she was released, and her not having the freedom of a drivers license only made her feel the need to stay loopy 24/7.

Now some months later the powder keg had lit up at last and the two were at each others throats in a more physical fashion, though still not of the type that could be used to separate them by law.

It was silent as we drove mom from the country into the big city; we waited for her to blow off steam and she responded by staring out the window.

Once in our livingroom she opened up a little but never really explained what the fight was all about, nor what the threat was designed to accomplish. The reality was that Raymond walked as if he were 100 years old; his legs were unsteady, his feet were tender and he was always stoned so he couldn't have caught BJ to kill her if his own life was in the balance.

Maybe she just needed a break from his shouting, but we felt that if things had gone far enough that we were going to be dragged into it, she was gonna have to live with whatever lecture we'd dole out. So with no apologies we dug in, pressuring her to leave Ray once and for all, to sober up and start a new life before her old one killed her. To that end we offered her every resource we had from places to live to every cent we'd collected in 40 some years; we had a list of people who had sworn to come to her side and we promised to be in the front lines alongside her so long as she took the first step.

She humored us for a time, agreeing that she had a problem that had to be dealt with; and then she shut us down explaining that she could never leave her home because that's where her stuff was. Stuff this and stuff that, she wasn't going to take the risk that she would lose so much as a thimble's worth of her "memories" by either moving out or legally forcing him out...her stuff was worth more than her life.

It's more complex than I can make it here, history always is. But the bottom lines are true and all our cajoling and pleading didn't change a thing. The next morning we drove her back to her stuff, where Raymond was impatiently waiting for her to serve him lunch and retake her place as his whipping post.

Within the year she was dead at 66. A liver induced coma had dropped her into the hospital and she never recovered. One of Linda's brothers refused to even visit her on her death bed as he claimed my mother died years ago, I don't know this woman.

Lin is grateful that she'd repaired her relationship with her mother enough that BJ felt compelled to call her the one time she reached out for help. And as we did everything we could have done, there's no guilt in our house. But man, what a shameful waste of a life; one of many more to come, no doubt.

We were talking today about how many incidents of this magnitude we went through in the first 5 years of our marriage, and we were both a little amazed we came through it all together. But when I think about it, I couldn't imagine not having someone just like her to lean on as she leaned on me. BJ believed she was alone, that the world would take everything from her if she ever let down her guard. Poppycock. She chose to ignore those that might help her, those that cared enough to be there in spite of her prying them away.


As for me, I have Linda watching my back...the world doesn't have a prayer.