Showing posts with label Excerpt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Excerpt. Show all posts

27 June, 2017

Excerpt from current project: Have You Seen the Tattooed Pig?/The Dust Storm

The bus trip from Cincinnati to Phoenix took almost three days and I almost missed my job interview because of a delay in Chattanooga.  The thing most people don’t realize is that bus routes are more circuitous than direct. There are depots that operate like hubs. Sort of like airports. So even though you can look on a map see a direct route from, say Louisville to Denver, the fact is you never go the most direct route. You may transfer buses two or three times, which is pretty typical for cross country trips.
 So anyway, the route I was on took me through Laredo. It was night and the city was all lit up with neon, which stood in contrast to the darkness that sat like a wall across the bridge in Mexico. We rolled into the city and I at least three drug deals and one pimp hustling a john who refused to pay for services rendered. A lot of people were out. It was a maybe a Friday or a Saturday. As we got closer to the station, the bus driver told us that unless Laredo was our destination, we should not leave the station because we would not be let back in, even if we had a ticket. The station was buried under the bridge that goes across to Nuevo Laredo – this was before the travel advisory they released a few years back about Americans disappearing once they cross the border. I won’t like. I thought about checking it out; I’d never been to Mexico. But, I also didn’t have a passport, and the days of being able to your driver’s license to border hop were long gone. And, you know… the job interview.  So, when I got off the bus – I was waiting on a transfer bus west – I walked inside past a policeman wearing a bulletproof vest and armed with an AK. The station was empty except for one guy who was stretched out across a few chairs that he pulled together to avoid sleeping on the floor.
 My layover was a little over an hour. The bus station was old. After a certain point, most Greyhound stations look alike. Some have more bells and whistles than others, but there’s a lot of consistency in the colors and font styles… you know, that McDonald's kind of thing? At some point someone in their marketing department decided that stations built or renovated after a certain year needed to have a more consistent look. Maybe they were able to get that industrial gray and blue paint in bulk. The walls were a dingy brown that looked like it had been left standing after the Spanish-American War. The ticket window was closed and locked. There was a space against the far wall where pay lockers probably used to be. There was one payphone that probably worked because there was a sign over it advertising a special rate to call Mexico. All the windows had heavy metal grating over them, making it next to impossible to look outside. Not that there was much to see. The station was beneath the bridge that stretches over the Rio Grande in Nuevo Laredo and what few lights there were right outside the station did nothing to cut the darkness.
The ticket counter was closed, but the bathrooms weren’t. I went and splashed some water on my face. When I came back the man sleeping on the chairs had begun to snore. They were these deep, snorkeling, passed out drunk kind of snores. I sat down in another seat that wasn’t too close to him. I’d had longer layovers. I waited something like seven hours in Chicago for a transfer. Late night layovers are a little worse, though. You don’t really want to go to sleep in case you miss the call for your bus. And I wasn’t sure this was the place I wanted to miss my bus, anyway. Seeing it in the daylight was no incentive either.
And I know what you’re thinking. Why think about being stuck in Laredo when I have a job interview in Phoenix? It’s hard to explain. I always have this inclination to shoot myself in foot, I guess. To run contrary to what I probably ought to do for no other reason than it’s contrary. I’m working on it.
Anyway, so I’m sitting there, nodding off but trying not fall asleep. Then someone says Have you seen the tattooed pig?
 Well I open my eyes. The guy who was asleep is sitting up and looking at me.
Have you seen it yet?
 Seen what?
He was getting a little impatient. The tattooed pig. Have you seen the tattooed pig?
No. Can’t say I have.
The man sighed like he was annoyed or disappointed. His lips flapped when he sighed, like a drunk in a 1950’s sit com.
You will, he said. You will see the tattooed pig. It will all make sense then.
 Ok, then. Thanks.
 Did you know there are carnivorous pigs in southern Arizona?
 No. I didn’t.
 He shook his head a bit too vigorously. Yep. Be on the lookout.
 Sure thing. I’ll be on the lookout for a tattooed pig.
 The man frowned. No. That’s different. The tattooed pig doesn’t run with other pigs.
Ok, then. I was a little confused, a little jealous because I really wished I had some of what this guy was on.
 When you see it, it will make sense.
 I was about to inquire further about where one might find a tattooed pig…or for that matter, why anyone would tattoo pig. I was also a little curious about what it was that I didn’t understand that seeing an ink stuck pig would clear up for me. I was about to ask when the door opened the armed cop looked at me.
You waiting on a bus to Las Vegas?
 Well, it’s here. Get a move on.
 So I grabbed my stuff and headed towards the door. The cop acted like I was interrupting his busy schedule of standing there looking bored and heavily armed. It was obvious the bus had pretty much stopped just to pick me up. I’ve noticed that bus drivers hate the one person pickups. They’re normally at out of the way or under used stations, and they almost always cut into the regular schedule. I boarded and found an empty couple of seats… meaning I would be able to stretch out and relax a little for the next leg. Before we pulled away from the station two cops came on board. The one in front had a drug sniffing dog. The other checked everyone’s ID against their bus ticket. After each of the 20 or so passengers were checked, they exited the bus and we started moving.
 The bus didn’t move more than maybe a thousand feet before it stopped again. We were still underneath web of concrete created by the interstate and the bridge. This time two different cops and a different drug sniffing dog got on and checked everyone’s ID against their tickets. Again. This time, the one checking tickets asked me where I was headed.
Is that your final destination?
Depends on how do at the blackjack tables.
I’m on my way to Phoenix for a job interview.
He looked at my driver’s license again. Then he looked at my ticket, which he held in the same hand so he could keep his other hand free to sit on the butt of his gun.
 The cops left the bus, but then they opened the bottom of the bus and set the dog to sniffing all the checked luggage. After a minute or so, they pulled one of the bags out. The cop who didn’t have the dog boarded the bus and asked one of the other passengers, a dark complected man who was probably in his mid 30’s (around my age) to please disembark the bus and speak with him. The man obliged.
People are, for most part, looky-loos.  Generally, if there’s a wreck on the interstate it’s not the accident or accident clean up that’s causing the delay. It’s the damn rubberneckers slowing down to see there’s a dead body they can gossip to their friends and families about. We’re basically obsessed with what’s happening with other people, you know? I mean, we can’t help ourselves. Maybe it’s some latent ESP linked kind of empathy from when people were more connected. Maybe it’s schadenfreude. Maybe it’s a way to prove to ourselves that we’re still alive, like trying to catch a corpse breathing during a funeral.
 But this time, NOBODY looked. Nobody on the opposite side of the bus got out of their seats to look out the window. Most of the people who were sitting on the side of the bus that had a view weren’t looking, either. As it happened, I was sitting on that side of the bus, which was not the driver side. And, I didn’t have really turn my head and look like I was obviously gawking, so I was able to watch as the man spoke with officers. They directed him to his bag and most likely asked him to open it. The bag was a large duffel bag with a single zipper. The man shrugged and unzipped it. One of cops reached in and pulled out a bag of what looked like coffee beans. They talked some more and walked away from bus. In a few minutes the cop who was holding the coffee bag gave it back to the man. Neither cop had their hand on their gun. They laughed and the man even pet the drug sniffing dog. He put the bag of coffee back in the bag and zipped it up. The driver came back from around the front of the bus, where he was probably smoking a cigarette, and put the duffel bag back under the bus and closed up the compartment. The man re-boarded the bus and sat back in his seat, and the driver boarded right behind him. In a couple of minutes we were moving again.
We were not stopped again on our way out of the city. Rolling west, Laredo shone like neon pyrite against the cloud covered darkness. Across the Rio Grande, the absence of any lights at all stood out more than the lights of Laredo, spreading like giant black wings over the landscape.
I went to sleep thinking about tattooed pigs.


I was lying on the bed, trying to take a nap. It seemed odd to me that I was laying on our old bed in that white box condo in Tempe, since we hadn’t lived there in years and since Gayle and I hadn’t been together in a while, either. In the dream I was exhausted. I felt like I’d worked three days straight and I could barely keep my eyes open. I knew she was around somewhere. I could hear Gayle in background, talking on the phone. I thought that was weird too, since I wasn’t entirely sure what her voice sounded like anymore.

Part of me – the part of me that was awake, maybe – tried to tell the rest of me that it was only a dream. That Gayle and I weren’t together anymore. That we weren’t living in Tempe anymore. But in the dream it was like anything that happened outside the dream was actually the dream. We hadn’t left Arizona. She didn’t leave me for the neighbor woman. Like it was all some weird nightmare, or worse, some alternate reality I was switching back and for into and out of. Each switch meant I had to take time to remember… each reality had its own memories and its own time lines and I had to reboot… sort of.

I looked over and the screen doors to the patio were closed but the blinds were open. The balcony was gone, blown away by the dust. Then I realized the bed was in the living room and not the bedroom. Was that a detail from another timeline, another reality? I told myself to lay there and reboot. What was real (at the moment) would return to me shortly and the confusion would pass. So I turned my head to look out the window. The dust was blocking out the sun. It was then I started hearing the wind and the sound of rocks and palm tree parts hitting the building. There was a low level shaking to everything. Like an earthquake that wasn’t an earthquake.

Then I heard Gayle and could make out her words. She was in the backroom, talking on the phone. He won’t leave, she was saying. He won’t leave and we’re going to die here.

I started to get up, trying to call out that we could leave, that there was still a way. I tried calling out that I was sorry but that I had a plan. I knew how we could get out. I knew I didn’t have a plan, but I knew if I thought about it hard enough that I could pull an idea from the reality where we left and were safe from the relentless dust storm that was wiping everything around us off the face of the planet.

Is this what it was like in Ephesus? I wasn’t sure where that thought came from. Another me. Another timeline in another reality. Maybe the me that had been at Ephesus. Didn’t Ephesus sink into the river? I couldn’t remember. I wanted to ask a different me that had actually gone to seminary.


I didn’t know whose voice that was. For a second I thought it was my dad’s voice. But I couldn’t remember what his voice sounded like either and the memories of other time lines were starting to fade, blow away like the dust was taking them away, too.

I tried calling out again. Gayle was crying the way she cried whenever I was too drunk. I tried calling out, asking her who she was talking to. She wasn’t answering me.

It’s ok, I said. I’m back now. We can survive this. I tried sitting up again but something bit from bit my arm. It hurt all the way up into my shoulder. I looked over on Gayle’s side of the bed… the one nearest the sliding doors… a pig with giant tusks had bitten my wrist and was trying to drag me to the other side of the bed and onto the floor, out into the storm. It was an angry looking pig with tattoos all over its face. The skin was wrinkled and grayish black. I managed to shake my wrist loose, which caused it to throb and caused blood to get everywhere. I tried calling out for help. If she would get off the damn phone with her dad and get that fucking pig away from me, we could escape. I knew there had to be a way.

But the pig latched on again and I could not shake it loose. As it pulled me over onto the floor on the other side of the bed, the glass sliding doors shattered and everything was obliterated in fury of dust and stone and uprooted everything.

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11 November, 2010

Excerpt from In Season: The Nuclear Option

Between the scratch I bring in and her salary, we can get by about as well as we've ever gotten by. Catching up is a distant dream, and one that I don't think about very often. Too depressing. Maude thinks about it a lot; she has her third eye focused on that ethereal moment you see in stock broker commercials during the Sunday morning talk shows. Lately I've begun to feel like I'm letting her down. She hasn't said anything like that; but the weight is still there, bearing down on us both. I'm starting to wonder about her old age, how she'll live, how we'll get by. I don't worry about myself so much because I figure I'll keep going until I collapse on the street; maybe still writing about chili cook offs, maybe mumbling to myself and scribbling odd two line poems on the back of fast food wrappers. And I'm really okay with that … for me. But Maude deserves more. It's just difficult for me to see that far forward.

When I don't have anything on the burner to write about, that means foraging: which is by far the most meaningful part of my job. I think of it as loafing with purpose. That means I hang around looking useless, eavesdrop on conversations, pay attention to local gossip. One of the problems with being a small town freelance hack is that most of the news isn't really new. Everybody knows what's going on before the paper even comes out on Wednesday; so it's not really a matter of informing people as much as confirming what they've already heard. This frustrated me, initially. But once I realized that I was under no real obligation to inform anybody of anything, I was free to write about whatever I could find that was timely and interesting. The highest hope I have is that I can at least dispel the inevitable hearsay that's a part of every well-established ear-to-ear gossip network. This may not be the kind of illumination I always looked for in poetry; but it's something.

Then I figured out that no one really read the paper except to get the high school football, basketball (boys) and baseball scores.

But in a way it was also a liberating experience to realize that regardless of whatever got printed in the paper from one week to the next, people most likely choose to believe the shit they overheard in the line at Blaine's Farm and Fleet instead of anything I carefully researched. Then I came to understand that the issue was not that I wrote it as a member of “the liberal media”, or that it was too honest, or even that they saw my articles as an out and out lie. The major hurtling point was that I actually took the time to research it instead of just talking to the Pharmacist or getting my facts from the grizzly old bastards who ate lunch every week day at the Moose Head. They sat around this one large round table, where they were often joined by the County Clerk – who had the clarity of mind to get most of his opinions and at least half of his ideas from the eight men sitting at that table – and called themselves the Round Table. Most of them were round, too... though that had less to do with the table and more to do with a diet consisting of fried food, salt, and shit beer. They meet each work day at noon for the lunch hour, order whatever the special is for that day (Monday Chili and Fritos, Tuesday Tacos, Wednesday Open-Faced Pork, Thursday Pizza Burgers, Friday Fried Fish Sandwich) and solve all the world's problems. They loved politics and especially loved that each of them agreed with one another on three basic tenets:
  1. Country life is the only way God intended man to life;
  2. Cities are bad, and only made worse by all the blacks and illegal Mexican immigrants living there; and
  3. The only thing worse than blacks or Mexicans is a democrat.
Their solutions for all the world's problems: war, poverty, the national debt, the educational crisis, gun control, or anything else not listed, were as uncomplicated as they were predictable:
  1. Shoot the democrats;
  2. Shoot the blacks and Mexicans; and
  3. Shoot anybody that didn't look like they belonged there.
As a matter of fact, they often sat and talked about the advantages of full scale nuclear war, which they saw as the sum total solution to all the world's problems:
  1. All of America's enemies would be destroyed.
  2. Most of the cities and tainted horrible people in them would die. And
  3. The ones who didn't die right off would eventually because they didn't grow up in the country and didn't know how to take care of themselves. Plus, they'd be deformed and if they wandered into town, they'd be easy to spot.
It took them the entire hour to actually say these things. Or things suspiciously similar.

Not much going on, and I still had some cash and nothing to do. It was important that I be productive, that whatever I do that day in some way relate to getting paid; I decided last night that I would get work done, no matter what.

It's harder than people think... not working. You drop a enough points below the poverty line and you have to be smart. Sneaky. Like being turn a few pennies into a hamburger. Or being able to turn the money for one scotch on the rocks into several cocktails and maybe a beer or two. It requires finesse. And if I was careful, I might be able to extend my scotch and get a story or two for the week, and earn a little scratch.

That, I told myself, was all I really expected from a good day. That, and a night of restful sleep.

But I have to get through today first. And then... we'll see what happens.

05 November, 2010

Excerpt from In Season: The Burn

I got into freelance writing because my dream job – if I've ever had one – disappeared. I used to tell people... including my high school guidance counselor Mrs. Glick … that I wanted to write for The World Weekly News. Bat Boy was my favorite item, a brilliant little ironic nugget I found buried in the black and white pages – pages that still had that ink smell newspapers used to have. The cover story about a toilet possessed by Satan was my second favorite. People underestimated the WWN because it looked like every other grocery line rag; but it wasn't. The other ones pretend – in a badly affected tongue-in-cheek kind of way – to be real news sources. They write about celebrity fat camps and California divas giving $5 blow job on Hollywood Boulevard to buy crystal meth. The WWN never had that kind of pretense, which is what made it brilliant. Fantastic stories with only a pinky toe hold in reality; and they all worked because the honesty of it all wasn't sidetracked by something as abstract and subjective as Truth. People who don't know any better, or people who are still naively optimistic, look for Truth. In absence of Truth … and it's always absent … they replace it with many little truths. Little puzzle pieces meant to make feel better and to justify what they think they already know. That's the problem with journalism today; it barters in what it considers The Truth, and leaves honesty by the side of the road. Bat Boy and the the possessed toilet spoke to something deeper in the human psyche, something more honest than “accidentally” released sex-tapes. Down deep we want our monsters to be soft and cuddly because really down deep we're still afraid of beasts under our beds and demons in our toilets. Urban legends about alligators in the sewers and snakes sneaking up sewage lines are some of the things that highlight who we are as scurrying bipedal critters under the sun. We can identify genomes, we can see atoms; we've mastered the art of mutually assured self-destruction and happiness in a pill. But we're still afraid of something crawling up the pipe and biting our nuts off.

The digital age and people's need for more objective-sounding lies killed The World Weekly News. And now all that's left is Rush Limbaugh, John Stewart, and a corporate owned media structure that looms over a dying small town press establishment.

Sam has problems. His biggest problem is that he actually cares. He and I don't agree on much, other than a few large and abstract principles; but I do think he cares. He cares so much that he makes deals on advertising and doesn't squawk when they don't pay on time or at all. He sees himself as anti-establishment, even though the conservative slant of the paper is more in tune with the general attitude of people around here than any of the other local rags. There are a few principles he will actually go to bat for; but like all small town newspaper publishers he will cede in the end to the will of his advertisers. Which is why he guts my articles down to unintelligible drivel, because unintelligible drivel will not, by it's nature, offend anyone's sensibilities. I tried to explain to Maude once why his linguistic clear cutting bothered me; her response was that there would always be somebody cutting my words because I would always have an editor. In other words, I should get used to it. Probably the reason why I'm still freelance – and why I have always been freelance – is that I don't handle editors or the editing process very well. It's not that I can handle criticism. I (mostly) ignore criticism. Editing is not the same as criticism. A critic will spout a thoughtless, pointless, gutless critique – like my Victorian Literature professor in college, Dr. Mortise. They'll go through with their red ink and redder eyes; but in the end, the work stands in spite of the deluge of bullshit. An editor has the god-like power to change the words themselves, to alter them in such a way that the message itself is alter, changed, or lost. Sam has the power to make me sound like not me at all.

This makes having to hustle a bit more complicated, because now I have to decide whether it's worth it to put my time and sweat into doing the footwork for an article that'll come under his editorial scalpel. But what other options do I have? Work at the DQ? Try and get a job bagging groceries at the IGA? We knew moving here that there would be nothing for me to do; that was part of the appeal. For me, anyway. At least life in Mount Arliss is cheap; of course that also means that the options are limited and what options there are – for entertainment, for food, for libation, for camaraderie – are also limited.

Halfway through my next cup of coffee I decide to take a shower and get started. It's after 10 in the morning. Most everyone in town is looking forward to lunch and I've barely moved. This is the story of my life. Starting later than everyone else and not nearly as motivated.

The shower feels nice, though. I always make the water hotter than it probably ought to be because that's the only way I feel clean. Maude makes fun of me, tells me I obsess about being clean. But I never really feel clean unless I'm just out of the shower or unless I'm halfway through a bottle of scotch. I switched from bourbon to scotch because Maude says bourbon brings out the redneck in me; she's the only one in a position to know, so I rely on her observations when I lack the proper context. Of course, like all criticism, I take her observations with a certain skepticism; but in the end, when they are useful, or not too contradictory to my daily life, I listen and adjust accordingly.

It's all about the burn, really. Hot water burns. Liquor burns. And with the burn I know it works, that I'm clean... in the way that medicine should taste bad and the way my father's mouthwash always burned. Listerine. I don't trust things that don't have some burn or bitter taste on the tail end, whether it's mouth wash or booze or anything else. People that can take the bitterness may not always be the best people to be around, but they're reliable. I may not be the most pleasant person, but I like to think I'm reliable.