Showing posts with label Mick Parsons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mick Parsons. Show all posts

30 November, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories: The Story of R (Retread)

[I first published this story on my old American Re:visionary Blog. But, as I grow and expand my Rubber Tramp Stories, I thought it was appropriate to include them all under one tag on one blog.]

The train station in Carlinville, Illinois is nothing more than a ventilated brick box. Cement floor, a single bench, no heat for the winter and not even a fan for warmer weather. I got there around 11:30 in the morning. The train to Chicago wasn't going to arrive until 3:30 that afternoon. The sky was cloudy, the temperature cold, and it was spitting a particularly unforgiving rain that made me grateful for I didn't have to walk the miles from Litchfield.

Nothing about Carlinville impressed me enough to get wet wandering around to explore it. I noticed one clearly No-Tell-Motel on the way into town. (The sign listed a price differential between single and double beds, and the ambiance suggested that there should have also been a price differential for hourly and nightly rates.) I also took note of several bars, none of which looked trustworthy enough to carry my pack into. Other than the rail, which rolled by a deserted grain elevator, there was very little left to describe. Like every other town that grew up along Route 66, it was impacted by completion of the I-55 corridor. And it was clearly impacted again by changes in the railroad industry.

I was alone in the brick box for about 20 minutes before he hurried in and asked if I had a cigarette. And if I was slightly inclined to dig deeper into Carlinville -- named, according to an optimistically written Wikipedia page, after a former Governor -- talking to R would have changed my mind.
He assured me that if I was looking to get laid, that all I had to do was walk down the street.

"Ah," I said. "So they're trying to fish outside of the gene pool?"

"Gene pool. Yeah, man You got that right!"

A man on the run from something has a distinct body language. Jerky movements. Disheveled look. Given the mostly pale demographic of the town and -- except for the Indians who worked in the hotels and the Mexicans who did the service industry grunt work -- R stuck out simply because he was black.

After I was unable to give him a cigarette, he asked where I was going and where I'd come from. So I gave him the quick and dirty version. Hearing that I walked from Staunton to Litchfield elicited a wide-eyed shake of the head.

"Why'd you do that?"

"I had to get here."

"You didn't have a car?"

"If I had a car, I wouldn't need to catch a train."

That seemed to satisfy him for the most part. It also gave him a door to prove the current events of his life more interesting than mine.

R was not from Carlinville. He was from Springfield, Illinois, but came there via St. Louis. And he did it for a girl. The part that seemed to surprise him, even though he was standing in a brick box train depot waiting for the train that would take him back to Springfield with his few possessions in a 33 gallon garbage bag, was that it didn't work out.

"She's a white girl," he said. "And she's... you know... not thick." He repeated this several times throughout the story, as if he was trying to convince himself that it should have, and for those very reasons.

The story unfolded something like this: he met the woman he was trying to escape the day after he got out of jail. R explained that yes, "It was drug related stuff," but that he had cleaned up his act since and was no longer doing whatever it was that got him locked up. But, he admitted that, upon his release, he was on the hunt for the one thing he couldn't get while he was incarcerated. And it just so happened that he got call from a former cellie who had a girlfriend who had a friend.

"I was looking for a one night stand," R maintained. "But it didn't turn into that."

Upon his release, R had been sent to a half-way house to ensure that his rehabilitation would take. After one night with this girl -- whose name, I have to admit, I don't remember -- she took it upon herself to harass his Parole Officer and the Missouri State Department of Corrections to secure his release from the half-way house so that he could move in with her. When calling St. Louis didn't help, R, said, she drove from Carlinville to St. Louis five days a week in order to visit him and track down the dodgy P.O. Naturally, the development seemed to work to his advantage, so he didn't argue. And while he never uttered the word, the confluence of events must have seemed to him, at the time, serendipitous. And when his parole officer secured his release from the half-way house... making it clear that his only reason was to get the woman off his back... R thought he'd stumbled onto the love of his life.

His first indication that something was amiss was when he showed up in Carlinville and discovered that not only did his true love have two kids -- from two different fathers -- and that both of them were medicated for educational and developmental issues, but that she also lived with her sister, her sister's flavor of the week, and HER two kids.

To hear him tell it, his one true love did nothing except sleep all day, eat ice cream and want to fuck. She didn't want to deal with her kids. She didn't want to deal with her sister's kids. Apparently the sugar she ingested while watching Maury Povich was only to be used in the pursuit of more ice cream and sex.

To hear him tell it, she screwed him raw. And in every way possible. And when he was too exhausted to get it up "I'm not as young as I used be, you know" she would insist that he do something else to fill her appetites. And then she expected him to take care of the kids, who wouldn't listen to him. And then she expected him to make her a sandwich. And then clean up the house. And then go buy her some ice cream.

I was waiting for him to admit to something involving a ball gag and a french maid's outfit.
Instead, he told me about changing the sheets on the bed.

Apparently, there was a day when his own true love actually left the house -- for reasons he didn't explain -- and he took it upon himself to change out the sheets on the bed. She had told him he could find clean sheets in a Santa Claus bag in the hall closet. He found the bag and starting digging through pillow cases and sundry unmatched soft goods until he stumbled upon something that wasn't so -- soft.

Actually there were several.

"I'm telling you," he said, "she could open a dildo flea market!"

He found out later, however, that not all the dildos were for her. Apparently she was hoping that R's time in prison made him a more amenable catcher to a stiff pitch.

He reiterated several times that he might have loved her "a little," but "The bitch is crazy, and those ain't my kids!" And while he never said so, I'm sure the Santa sack of toys didn't help,

Even love has it's limits.


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24 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 3

Letters from Trumplandia
Part of outreach means we end up seeing some the same people over and over. Sometimes we don't see certain folks for a span of time because they went inside, or got sober, or started getting treatment for their mental or addiction issues.  And that's always a good thing. I'm always happy to see our folks, but there's a few that I would be happier to never see again, if only because they need to get off the street for their own safety or health.

But sometimes we don't see people and we feel the dread in the pits of our stomachs.

The area around Wayside Mission is a heavy population area, not just because of the homeless shelter, but because of the large homeless population that lives adjacent to the shelter. Some of them won't go in -- concerns over safety, petty street feuds that spill over or are exacerbated by the shelter's policy of giving some residents the job of policing the others, regardless of their capacity to be able to do so, and the shelter's policy of splitting families --  and some of them can't because of legitimate bans due to violence or drug use that endangers other people.

Amanda and I hadn't served down there in a while because of shifts in the population and changes in the routes over the last year that we hope does a more effective job of serving as many of the community as possible. Historically, people have been run off from the downtown underpasses and around the shelter at three watershed moments here in Louisville: before Derby, before the State Fair, and when cold weather sets in. The motivations for these are different, but not really. The city likes to "clean up" it's image for big money events like Derby and the Fair, and whitewashing the city's homeless community is one way, besides planting more rose bushes and cutting the grass along the highway, that the city does that.

LMPD annually engages in a more focused harassment of the city's homeless at the onset of cold weather, apparently for the benefit of the homeless. By all accounts, the thought is that by putting pressure on the community to move on, the city is helping push them to the shelters or other services.

Mick Parsons, blog, TrumplandiaThis sort of thinking is an example of the staggering disconnect between the bean counters in Metro Council Chambers and reality.

But as the official and unofficial sweeps continue, it never ceases to amaze me who is able to fall through the cracks. This past week, Amanda and I went with the route that currently serves the underpasses as extra support and to make it easier to pass out meals and supplies.

We were also tasked with finding a family that had been in the area the last few weeks -- a couple with two small children. Usually, we serve them in their vehicle, but they have insisted to outreach workers in the past that they go into Wayside at night. This isn't the first time we've heard this, or seen it in practice. The city has very limited resources for homeless families. So when they do go to shelters, families are split up.

This is one of those cavernous niches that the homeless fall into; because even when there aren't any children involved, and even if they can prove they're married, couples are separated -- effectively isolating them from the one person they count on for mutual aid and survival. And while this can sometimes help vulnerable people escape dangerous situations, the families are collateral damage.

We didn't find the family. Their vehicle was not even parked out front, in spite of the fact that it was spotted earlier that afternoon when the kids were riding their bikes on the street. If we had seen their vehicle, that would have meant they were at least in the shelter waiting room before the staff at Wayside split them up for the night. Because it wasn't there, there is no telling where they were on a night when the overnight temperatures were going to reach freezing.

Sometimes it's who you don't see that gets to you.

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16 October, 2018

Rubber Tramp Stories 1: Big Rock Candy Mountain is Hollow

I met a hobo once, through a mutual friend. He came in on a southbound CSX and hopped off about seven blocks from my house, near a McDonalds. 

The only number he had was my friend JP's number. Naturally, JP called and invited me to hang out at his place in Middletown. He was always wanting to show me his world -- the world of trains and hobos. I've never met a man so in tune with his world vision, so able to bridge the connection between belief and action. Nearly everyone has ideas. Very few people actually live them. And while I think I'm not shabby in that particular area, I always embrace -- even if I am sometimes amused and/or frustrated -- by his attempts to educate me. 

Although I can't prove it, I think sometimes he thinks because I've spent a good deal of my time in school that I haven't lived.  This point of view isn't a new one, and in his case it isn't rooted in the usual good ol' American anti-intellectualism; no, for JP, the fact is that formal education abandoned him and he's managed to be a pretty well-read and self-educated guy anyway. But when he called and told me I needed to come meet his friend, I knew what he really meant. 

He meant "You're never going to believe THIS motherfucker."

JP and I haven't traded You-won't-believe-this-crazy-motherfucker stories, although we've traded here.
plenty of others.  And no, I haven't hopped trains -- mostly because a part-time hobo with a house out in Oakland named Dirty Face told me, without skipping a beat, that I was too old to start at 42. But I have done my fair share of traveling... as what the old timers would call a Rubber Tramp. When you travel off the beaten path for any length of time, you end up meeting some really interesting people... ones that I wrote about

So made it over to meet JP's hobo friend. I'll call him D. D is neither his given name nor his hobo name -- yes, that's a thing. He was still a little jumpy by the time I got there, but he'd had a shower and JP fixed him a plate and some coffee.

D talked primarily about two things -- a friend who died and his graduate work in Para-psychology. His friend died when he got trapped under an unstable load on a train he'd hopped. He was usually pretty smart, D said of his friend. But sometimes it just happens.

He was more animated talking about his graduate work. He was writing a book, he said. The whole basis of his thesis was that happiness is infectious, and if he just tried to get people to smile, that it would make the world a better place. I pointed out there was something very sociological about that and D shook his head. It was about the spirit, he said. And people, he said, almost always get that shit wrong.

People act like the big spirit is in the sky, he said. But really, it's under our feet. He told us about his epiphany, about how the Earth is hollow and how there's not a molten core at the center, but a city where a beings of a higher plane live.  People keep looking up for inspiration, he said. But all a long it's under their feet. Like tree roots.

I hung out for a little while. We talked and listened to Sun Ra records and drank coffee. But then it was time to go. And while I can't quite get behind the idea that the Earth is hollow, I found myself paying a bit more attention to the terra firma.

[Check out my friend JP's work here. It's good for your soul. I promise.]

Thanks for reading.

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10 October, 2018

Letters from Trumplandia: Invisible City, Part 2

[This is Part 2 of a series that I'll add to intermittently. It may come in waves of two or three posts in a row, or it may be weeks or even months in between. The focus of 'Invisible City' is my experience working with and around the homeless community. The first part is here. Thanks for reading.]

In addition to the usual route paperwork, I carried a list of 100 or so names. 

These are the names of people whose camps were scheduled to be cleared as of Monday October 8th. As of this writing, the three camps in question are cleared. Although there's a certain inevitability to this, it's hard for me to ignore the timing. Not only is it running up to an important mid-term election, with the mayor up for re-election, but -- more importantly -- cold weather is coming. And although not everyone had moved as of last Sunday, I wanted to carry the names of the people we will need to look for -- our organization and every other outreach organization that serves the Louisville's homeless community. 

With cold weather coming, the main thing at the front of my mind is that once again, there will not be enough beds, even for those willing to enter the shelters. The city will say there's enough, because they always do... or actually, they say nothing and point to the various shelters with an inferred, collective shrug that allows them to pass the buck. After all, the homeless don't vote.

But we didn't find anyone on that list this past week. We may when we go back out to serve. While there are some factors that make how camps disperse somewhat predictable, the truth is it's hard to predict what any one individual will do. We did find a guy in the middle of a seizure. We saw him on the sidewalk on a side street, and when we checked on him, my wife realized she knew him from her job at a local men's shelter. He was prone to seizures, and because the homeless in Louisville no longer have someplace to store their things.

While we were there with him -- he was in the process of trying to stand up and get his bearings back
-- one woman yelled down to us that he was on spice... which he clearly wasn't. Another drove by and asked if we needed him to "dial 5-0" and we assured him we did not. The only reason we hesitated in dialing 911 was because the man was in the process of getting back up on his feet and would have turned down transport to the hospital, anyway. As if being out on the street in Louisville isn't scary enough, he's got to deal with frequent seizures that leave him incapacitated for short periods, increasing his vulnerability. He's in the process of trying to get disability, but there is no streamlined process. And, because he's homeless and has no where to store his stuff, he has to carry his entire medical history with him ALL THE TIME.

Then, adding insult to injury, the default position anyone might take in seeing him is that when he's in the midst of a seizure -- a condition that is not his fault -- he will be mistaken for a drug addict. Because that's where people's minds go, almost every single time.



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04 June, 2018

It's all casual along the dirty, sacred river

Mick Parsons, writing, Louisville, violence
I spied the end of a sex transaction while walking to the coffee shop. As I rounded the corner from my street to the main artery, I saw a young man trying to simultaneously pull up and snap his jeans while walking nonchalantly. He did neither of them very well. The girl he was with was short, blond, and far less concerned about being seen than he was. Then again, her clothes were in place and walking seemed far less of an issue.
The young man noticed me and tried even harder to look like nothing was happening... at one point, even trying to put his arm around the girl, who, to her credit, could have cared less about the appearance of things. They continued to walk together, but it was hard to imagine them being a couple. He was very tall and dressed like an extra from a late-90's gang movie. She was very short by comparison.
And except for his failed attempt to look like she hadn't just serviced him near a busy street corner in between acts of the torrential downpour, I probably wouldn't have noticed were it not for the fact that, at a distance, she looked underage and it was a little early for the street walkers in my part of town to be out and about. 
I'm being unfair, I know. They COULD be in a relationship. But the fact is she was far more interested in her sucker than she was in him -- and in my experience, even a quick oral cop in the late morning between consenting adults will most likely include just a little post-glottal tenderness. 
This wasn't the blog I intended to write today. I had something else in mind, something having to do with this dog issue on my street. One of the houses on my street had a husky tied out without shelter all day yesterday -- a day with weather ranging from hot and sunny to torrential downpour. After trying unsuccessfully to find anyone home --or, at any rate, anyone who was willing to answer the door -- I called the city, which, with its usual bureaucratic ineffectiveness, did not come.  At points the husky was pulling on the VERY short tie out she was on and making that high pitched whine that only Huskies and German Shepards seem to make. 
Casual cruelty and abuse offend me more deeply maybe than intentional cruelty and abuse. At least when someone is intentionally evil, deliberately cruel and abusive, the direct action to correct it seems just. There is an intelligence -- albeit a disturbed one -- at work when cruelty is committed in a deliberate manner. I could even make the case that cruelty in the name of passion -- maybe not deliberate, but focused and full of evil purpose all the same -- is at least understandable, even though it is abhorrent. 
But casual cruelty is not deliberate. It's rooted in ignorance, and the educator in me still likes to think that ignorance can be educated and eradicated. And I know enough about this neighbor in particular to know that there is nothing deliberate in the aforementioned cruel behavior. Some people just don't see dogs -- big dogs especially -- as anything other than a soulless animal, something maybe pretty to look at, but in the end, not human and therefore not entitled to being treated with love and dignity.
At some point in the afternoon, some of the neighborhood kids checked on the Husky. Not long after, she disappeared -- and so I thought maybe either the city came and picked her up -- she would have found a home in no time -- or maybe the owner thought better of his or her cruelty.
The husky was back out early this morning. At an appropriate time I once again walked over to try and talk to someone at the house. Once again, no one was home - or no one answered.  I once again called the city. Sometime later the husky was gone again. And I hope to God that someone came and retrieved her.
There's no accounting for the humanity or lack thereof here along the dirty, sacred river -- or anywhere, really. One of the things I love about living in Louisville is that when you strip it to the bare bones and look at how it functions -- and in some cases, doesn't function -- this town is just that. It's a small town with some tall buildings and the growing pains of a mid-sized Midwestern City in the process of redefining itself. 
But when you look at the bare bones of a place like this, it's hard not to notice that while many of the things that make it a small town still exist, there's a malignancy growing there, too.  Live here long enough and you start to find odd connections between the seemingly disparate people you know because they either went to the same high school or grew up in the same part of town but never knew one another because they were bussed to different schools. Locals give directions based on non-existent landmarks.
But that casual cruelty -- which isn't absent from small towns, either -- grows on the bones and spreads with startling innocuousness. 

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20 April, 2018

Kintsukuroi: Or, Being Humpty Dumpty

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. ~ Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms

Mick Parsons Dirty Sacred River
Check out more of Beth's work on Instagram
or buy it at AA Clay Studio & Gallery
When I broke the bowl I was pissed. Maybe more pissed than the situation merited, but that probably isn't for me to decide.  

Keep in mind, I'm not one to lose my temper and I'm not inordinately attached to stuff... as a concept. Certain things among the stuff I have has intrinsic meaning, though. And while the bowl hasn't been mine long, it quickly gained the status of useful artifact.

The bowl, along with a sturdy little cup, was a gift from my wife. And if that wasn't enough, both were made by my friend Beth -- one of my oldest friends and one of the few remaining people from the ether of my undergraduate college years who I still talk to.

People trapped in an avoidance culture full of disposable everything dismiss the importance of artifacts. But I've long maintained the importance of certain things of the various stuff I've had over the years. At one point in my life, when all of my earthly possessions could fit in one smallish suitcase and one milk crate (for books... what else) I still had this red coffee mug from Bybee Pottery... a mug I still have and still use.

The glaze has a crack, but I can't let it go. And yes. That's my fidget spinner.

I don't know if the bowl can be repaired, but I hope it can. Amanda reminded me of Kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of repairing bowls and cups with silver or gold. 

In other words, as my wife succinctly pointed out:

If you can't hide it, paint it red.

At the core of her statement is an idea that runs counter to the avoidance culture we live in. We're not supposed to look like we've been through anything. Entire industries have grown that encourage us to hide everything from our age to our relative poverty (thanks to the usury perpetrated by credit card companies and the stupid amount of importance people put on their FICO Score).  Every truly human thing we experience, ranging from absolute happiness to the darkest of grief, is supposed to be tempered, homogenized, and run through a cultural meat grinder that either reduces it something just one person feels or -- maybe worse -- dilutes it into something that needs to be healed by the latest version of New Age hokum.

Living in the midst of an avoidance culture means every experience we have should be neither too happy, too hard, too sad, or too disastrous as to leave a mark. And when it does leave a mark, we should feel shame and hide them accordingly.

Well... to hell with all that.

The Hemingway quote I used is a pretty popular one. You see it in a lot of inspirational memes that are supposed to make people feel better about going through the meat grinder. But it's also cherry-picked... which is the curse of all great writing and proof that there is some truth buried in it that people want to overlook. Here's the rest of the quote:

But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

The truth here, as I see it, is that we really have two options. We live and suffer breakage -- which means, at some point, we have to find a way to repair the broken spots -- or we die. Finding a way to fix the broken spots doesn't mean we need to cover it up to make other people feel better, though. On the contrary. It is the things that have broken us that we have worked to repair that make us beautiful. It is these things that make us human. And moreover, it is these things that bring out the divinity buried in every person. Our broken points bring us closer to oneness with God.

The beauty of artifacts and of people... especially the broken ones... is that they bear the mark of our having lived through the moment when the break happened.  It means we survived. 







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30 March, 2018

Darkness as the absence, not the opposite of light (For Smiley) - A Draft

Mick Parsons Poetry

 My father, I think,
wanted to be a deliberate man.

On days when the boil in my blood near overflows
I imagine what the sensation must feel like.

These ill-humors do no one any good.

Do I blame the rain? Should I pray for the sun?
Would Heaven part for the prayers
of yet another more sinner?

Ghosts of a stern religious past
cast my lot in with theirs –
resigned, at last, to darkness.

At least there is no rain.

I think of my father.
I hope for the sun.

The floor is dirty
and dishes to be done
and obligations to fulfill
between now and moonrise

when all our dead fathers rattle their chains
and bade us revenge
this murder most foul.

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23 March, 2018

Rockabilly Billy and the Texas 5, Part 9: The Painted Woman

Mick Parsons Fiction
I let her lead the way up the stairs and while we were walking she hummed this funny little tune to herself, and every time I tried talking to her, she just kept shimmying up the stairs and humming that little tune.
That was one hell of a show, wasn't it? I didn't think Ol' Bill still had it in him.

She didn't answer, but as she reached the top of her stairs she started to undo the belt that held her dress together. When she crossed the threshold of her room, she let the dress fall to the floor. The dim candle light of her room cast shadows and light over every curve and crevice of her body, which was covered from collarbone to toe with ornate tattoos. When she turned to face me she giggled.
My my my. She sure was right. You certainly are a shy boy.

The protests started to form in my mouth, wanting to know just who the hell she'd talked to about me and what did she mean shy, I weren't afraid of no naked woman no matter how... beautiful she was because my heart belonged to the most beautiful woman of them all and there wasn't nothing she could do to change  that.
Bop a Lena smiled and shook her head. She walked back towards me -- I hadn't stepped beyond the threshold yet -- and walked out of her shoes. We don't have time for you to be shy, Georgie Boy. We each have our charge and our responsibilities. I have things I must tell you. But those things come with a price.

When she got close enough she reached out and took hold of my belt and pulled me through the doorway and into her room. Then she pushed herself on me. There wasn't an inch of her I couldn't feel through the thin fabric my clothes seemed to be made of. Bop a Lena kissed my neck and nibbled my right ear. Then she sighed and looked me straight in the eye.
She's put her mark on you, Bop a Lena said. I can smell it. But that doesn't change things. I have things to tell you, Pilgrim George. And I, like the Ferryman and like Ol' Bill himself, require a toll.

I didn't know what she was talking about. Himself didn't say anything about a toll. And no one said anything about owing Bop a Lena anything.
If it's a question of  paying for our rooms,  I said, trying to back out, I'm sure Bill has taken care of it. And if he hasn't I can find out.

Tsk tsk tsk. This isn't about money, Boy. What I have to tell you, I can only tell hand to hand, foot to foot, and skin to skin. She knew that when she sent you to me. No money gets exchanged here. That's Madam Bub's realm -- the realm of cash and petty flesh and pretty pats of (what some men take for) wisdom. 

This -- she gestured around the room, which contained only a dressing table with washing bowl and pitcher and a full sized bed -- this is the realm of soul and energy, of light and dark, of life and death. And what I have to give you has a price, Pilgrim. She sighed and looked me up and down. But because she left her mark on you, I make you this promise -- the part I take you will be able to get back, if you want it. 

She leaned in and kissed me on lips, undoing my belt and shoving me onto her bed. You can have it back... if you want it.

But, she said, climbing on top of me, you may not want it back. Not after tonight.

Lena, I said, trying to get in a word while I still had the ability to speak.
Don't call me Lena, she said. That's just a name I borrowed for here. Call me Leda. And you, Pilgrim George, will be my swan.
PD-US



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02 March, 2018

Something like the face of (draft)


Ignore the monsters in the shadows.

Life is not like your childhood cartoons,
and that is not a cape on your back.

The stories in the papers are all true –
in as much as any of them can be.
But don’t imagine for one moment
those monsters are the real evil.

Go looking for monsters to kill
and they will all have the same face:
something like the face of your father,
something like the face of your mother.

The beasts you should fight --
if that really was a cape on your back --

wear expensive suits
and sit in the front pew on Sunday,

smiling while you pray penitent prayers
knowing they have made you afraid of the dark.
when real evil sleeps in the sun.



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23 February, 2018

Ethel's Frankie - a short dog fiction (draft)

Mick Parsons, Fiction

Ethel knew there was just something not right about the boy, and she could never quite lay her finger on what it was. He ran around like boys were supposed to. Growing up, he played sports and did ok in school. He wasn’t going to be a scholar or anything like that, but he wasn’t simple, either. 

But dogs didn’t like him. And smaller children at church seemed scared of him, although he was always polite to everyone as far as she had noticed. Bessie, her friend at Wednesday bible study, told her she was looking at him as an extension of his father. There was always something wrong with Big Frank, and when her Stacy took up with him it was all Ethel could do to keep her faith that it would work out in God’s good time. Even after Big Frank disappeared, her Stacy was never the same. In and out of detox and rehab facilities in the city. In and out of jail. It about broke Ethel’s heart and mortified her at the same time when Stacy called from the police station after being picked up for solicitation at that big truck stop on just off the interstate. It made her think about all the men in town and wondered how many of them Stacy had allowed to use her like a cheap sock. The police wouldn’t tell her who the man was she got caught with, only that she was the only one arrested. 

Leave it to a man to get away after getting what man always wants, she thought.

So, when Bessie told her she was heaping the sins of the parents on the head of her Frankie-boy, she tried to take it to heart. She really did. And for a time, it all seemed all right. 

And then all the cats started disappearing. And then Ethel found where the bones were buried behind the compost bin.

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26 January, 2018

New Fiction: Thus the congregation says

Mick Parsons, fiction, Kentucky
I knew something was wrong when Twila gave me the stink eye outside the student union. Divorces are difficult enough. Being young – too young, I remember my grandmother saying – made it that much more difficult. Having a three-month-old daughter made it even more so. Getting divorced while being married with a three-month-old daughter on a small college campus in Eastern Kentucky pretty much guaranteed that only Sisyphus had a more difficult load to bear.

Perverting common wisdom, a divorce has more than two sides to the story. There’s the usual… what one partner says and what the other partner says. Then there’s what really happened, which tends to be somewhere in the middle. And then there’s what everyone else says. And depending on who it is, where their loyalties lie, what their predilections are, and what their own (inevitably skewed) views on marriage are, there are any number of stories, all of which sound true enough to pass the gossip test regardless of how close to the truth it happens to be.

The usual unofficial morning kaffeklatsch of what was then called the Non-traditional Student Union was congregated in it usual corner spot in the upstairs student cafeteria. Woody, Shyla, Tammy, Jack, Ernie, Barb, Babs, and Shane were all in their usual spots drinking their usual coffee and having the usual conversations – all of which can be boiled down to how most college students have it easy. Marie and I gained entry to this group not so much because of our age, as our ages fell within what is (still) considered the traditional age, but because of our marital and parental status. Young marriages were increasingly less common in the 90’s, even in Eastern Kentucky with its sometimes self-proclaimed penchant for the traditional and the morally unambiguous. Both Barb and Babs, both of whom were products of failed marriages forced by cultural shotgun, applauded our decision not to resort to sin by partaking of marital fruits outside the sanctity of the marriage bed. Tammy, Shyla, and Twila didn’t say that in so many words, but Twila – who was a grandmother with granddaughters who hadn’t headed the words of Jesus since being baptized Old Regular Baptist style in a coal sludge dirty creek at the age of seven – demonstrated her clear approval by speaking often about how she wished her Becky and Sue had inherited some stiffer moral fiber like me and Marie.

Ernie, Shane, and Jack had no opinions on the topic. Or at any rate they didn’t express any openly. Woody asked me once when none of the others were within earshot – with no small amount of incredulity, I might add – how I could saddle myself so young when there was a campus full of beautiful young girls to occupy my time. Jack kept his own counsel about anything that didn’t involve the NCAA and Ernie, who was trying to be a writer, mostly talked politics.

Shane never said anything at all. But since I knew he was the guy Marie was currently fucking, I felt like I knew what his opinion was on the subject of marriage.

The group fell silent when I approached. When I sat down everyone but Ernie and Jack moved their chairs back a little… not like they were making more room but like they were afraid that whatever was wrong with me might rub off.

Ernie eyeballed the women carefully before uttering a neutral welcome.

What’s going on, he asked.

Not a thing. Just waiting between class.

Barb made a harrumphing sound and Babs just shook her head. Jack nodded at me, the way men sometimes do to show solidarity right before the bombs fall and its every man for himself.

I tried making conversation, though I didn’t much feel like it. I wasn’t sleeping and even the copious amount of drinking I was doing wasn’t helping.  Going to class was more an exercise of habit than purpose at that point and my professors treated me with increasing levels of shock, annoyance, or unsympathetic pity. I wasn’t doing anything. But I still made it to class. I was still working, if for no other reason so I could give money to Marie for Rhea. After we split up she moved out of the trailer we shared and in with a friend to help defray expenses. I was staying with friends who would ensure that, if nothing else, there would be beer and tater tots to eat and who could give me a ride to campus.

Barb made another harrumphing sound. You don’t need to be here drinking coffee like you have friends here, she said. You need to go and take care of your daughter.

Babs, Tammy, and Shyla all nodded and vocalized their agreement with Barb. Ernie and Woody shrank back into their chairs. Jack shook his head and kept his eyes on his coffee. Shane sat there rubbernecking and waiting for the actual carnage. It didn’t take long.

You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Barb went on, thoroughly encouraged by the congregation present. Your wife and daughter are living up in some shack with no electricity because you threw them away. And here you sit like you deserve to be around civilized people.

That wasn’t what happened. I knew that. Marie knew that. I’m pretty sure Shane, as amused as he was with the show, knew, too. The only thing that was true was that I left. The arguments and accusations, the yelling and recriminations by both Marie and me weren’t anyone’s business. The misery we’d inflicted on another wasn’t anyone’s business. And it wasn’t anyone else’s business whether Marie or I were screwing anyone else. I wasn’t, but that didn’t matter. It didn’t change the fact that the marriage was over, that my daughter would grow up never knowing her parents as being a married couple. It didn’t matter that nothing in my experience had prepared me for that level of failure – not that anything does, really. But I didn’t even know any kids with divorced parents when I was a kid. My parents were happy. My friends’ parents seemed happy. That was what I expected when I got married, for all of the right reasons. And in spite of what Twila thought, it wasn’t to stave of immoral carnal lust. I was in love… or I thought I was, anyway.

But none of that mattered. Just like it didn’t matter that I had just seen Marie and given her money and asked if she needed anything. No, she said, like I insulted her dignity. We don’t need anything from you.

If there was any real justice in this evil world, Barb intoned, someone would take you out to a deserted holler and show you how we treat men that abandon their babies.

The congregation was silent. So was the entire cafeteria. Ernie and Woody refused to look at me. Jack met my eyes briefly and I knew he knew what was what. But he also knew, like I did, that no amount of words would change anything. Sometimes you take your beatings whether you think you deserve it or not.

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24 January, 2018

New Fiction: The Duke of Donuts

Mick Parsons, fiction
Drunks love chocolate. That’s one of the things they don’t tell you before you show up to a meeting. No one told me I should show up early if I wanted to get one of the limited number of chocolate donuts sitting next to the bottom burned coffee on a rickety folding table. Why it is that the people who run those meetings don’t just buy ALL chocolate donuts instead of that those boxes of a dozen mixed that’s always heavy on plain cake ones that taste like stale ass – or worse, the powdered donuts no eats because they don’t want to leave an AA meeting looking like a throwaway extra from an unaired episode of Miami Vice. Like those rolls of Lifesavers candies that are supposed to be a rainbow of flavors but always mysteriously end up being mostly yellow or green.

The first one to talk to me took the last chocolate donut. He also put enough sugar and non-dairy creamer in his coffee to cover any suggestion that it may have once been coffee at all. He smelled like menthol cigarettes and was wearing a hat that identified him as THE PUSSY PATROL. He told me his name was David W. Just like that. Not all of them talk like that. The drunks who have been in recovery for a long time – a decade or more – will just use their full name. It’s not that they’re bragging as much as they’ve been living in the world of recovery for so long that they don’t care who knows. David welcomed me and asked where I’d heard about the Sword of the Ever-Loving Spoonful of Soul AA group.

On the website, I said. It lists all the groups in the city and this one was closest.

That wasn’t strictly true. I intentionally found a meeting on the opposite end of town from my neighborhood in case the language of recovery didn’t stick, and I ended up going to the bar after. At least, I hadn’t ruled it out as a possibility.

David W. talked a little about his sobriety.  75 days and counting, he said. 75 days THIS TIME, he added. Before that, he’d been on the wagon 9 months. No sponsor. No step work. Just white knuckling his way to sobriety until one day, for no particular reason, he just decided to go to his favorite watering hole. He was just going to pay off his tab, which was outstanding and which he decided was part of his recovery. Walk away clean with no debts or grudges, he said, hand to God, that was ALL I had in mind.

And then, he said, it happened. I ran into one of my old buddies and he bought me shot of Jack before I could say no.

I understood. It would have been rude to turn it down. Right?

David W. told me all of this while eating on the last chocolate donut to be had and drinking his over doctored coffee. Whenever I see another guy drinking coffee like that, I think about this old friend of mine from Phoenix who drank his coffee black because, according to whatever font of wisdom he bowed to, that was how John Wayne drank it. By his logic, if that was how John Wayne did it, then by God that was the only to do it. I remember asking him once if it was true that John Wayne died with 22 pounds of undigested steak in his colon. Do you suppose, I asked, if The Duke had been a vegetarian that he wouldn’t have died from not being able shit properly?

I was going to ask David W. about his hat, but they meeting was called to order and everyone took a seat. He hadn’t managed to finish the donut before it was time for the meeting, but rather than sit down and eat the rest of it, he tossed two bites worth in the trash before sitting down.

Somewhere in the literature of AA, it talks about how, when you go to a meeting, that you’ll inevitably hear your own story. I don’t know if that’s strictly true – it wasn’t in my case – but AA meetings, like Catholic Mass, run on a pretty strict time clock. An hour of testimonials and tribulations and out the door. Of course, if you’re new to the meeting they ask you to identify yourself so people can talk to you after the meeting and get to know you better. I identified myself anyway, though I didn’t plan on sticking around to talk to more people.

I spent half the meeting thinking about David W. and the unfinished chocolate donut in the garbage. And while his story seemed alright enough… it’s no new thing for a drunk to fall off the wagon… it didn’t seem right to me that he didn’t finish the damn donut.

The chocolate donut.

The LAST damn chocolate donut.

When the meeting was over and we all held hands and said the Our Father, David W. found me and asked what I thought.

I told him I wondered what The Duke would do. He told me that the Duke might have lived longer and made more movies if he’d found his sobriety.
That may be true, I said. But he would have never liked the coffee.

On my way out I ran into a guy that recognized me from the bar I used to go to. He called himself Larry G in the meeting, though I’d only ever heard him answer to Squiggy.

People were wondering where you’ve been, he said.

What people?

Oh you know. People. Jack and Tom and Sal and Big Sue. Katie thought for sure your old lady killed you.

Does she strike you as the homicidal type?

He laughed uncomfortably and said Well, you know. Not really to ME, exactly. But you know how people talk.

I told him I did.

How long have you been coming to these meetings, I asked.
Oh, about a month.

Does it work?

Larry G. shrugged. I dunno. It gives me stuff to think about.

Well there’s that.

Larry G who usually answered to Squiggy told me to find him at the bar sometime and he’d buy me a beer. Beer don’t count, he said. It’s like in that John Wayne movie. The one where Robert Mitchum played the town drunk. They gave him beer and it weren’t nothing.

Say, I said. Have you heard John Wayne died with 21 pounds of undigested steak in his colon?
Larry G blinked. Then he blinked twice. No, I never heard that. I never heard that at all.

After a few cursory words Larry G wandered off into the darkness. Then I left. On the way home I stopped off at Dunkin Donut and ordered a chocolate donut.

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15 December, 2017

Every day is a title fight, Part 1: the applicants

Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you.~ Pericles

Politics is the attempt to achieve power and prestige without merit. ~P. J. O'Rourke
Mick Parsons, every day is a title fight part 1
The day of the interview, we sat in the 3rd floor conference room at city hall along with the other distinguished candidates.   Everyone -- well, mostly everyone -- was friendly and polite. Chase Gardner had his game face on, and John Witt ... a notorious Beechmont crank -- sat in the corner as if he was worried about something rubbing off on him. But the presumed front runner, Nicole George, brought a box of chocolates, which showed not only a certain amount of class but also that potential political appointees and recovering addicts have something in common; namely, both groups rely on chocolate as a way to curtail the cravings. And apparently chocolate works both for booze and for blood cravings. 
I mean, who could have guessed? It does give a kind heart hope.
The pleasantries dissipated quickly after initial greetings and meetings the hopefuls broke off into their subsets: the political movers, the local activists, one crank, one cop's wife, and the rash outsiders. George and former horseman Bret Schultz, the lone Republican, commiserated over the ineffective advocacy of $500 per plate political fundraisers. The activists banded together to talk about everything but politics and the unspoken competition for a metro council appointment that might, if levied correctly, help any number of causes. Witt sat in the corner and spoke very little, except on points of procedure. At one point the topic of South End economic development came up and Witt said only that he was opposed to more traffic and liked being able to get to the grocery store without dealing much with it.
The rash outsiders -- Amanda , me, and Nikki Boyd  sat over at the end of the table, having very little to say about $500 plate dinners or the various and noble projects and organizations we should be involved with that the three don't know about because we're ensconced in our own projects and organizations.
Mick Parsons, every day is a title fight, part 1I knew I didn't have a shot. Not really. The odds were so far out there that only a gambling addict would put a borrowed quarter on me. Amanda didn't think much of her chances either, though I thought that between the two of us, she would have the better chance for a whole host of reasons. Nikki Boyd just seemed genuinely happy to be there and was, from what I could tell, a very nice person who also questioned her chances simply because of the number of politicos in the room.

Then the interviews started. We were sequestered until our turns so no one would know the questions asked by the metro council members who came out to see potential appointees kick at the clouds as they hanged.
I was nervous when it was my turn. I don't get nervous speaking in front of politicians. I've spoken before Metro Council twice before as a concerned citizen, most recently in response to the city's treatment of the homeless population. But I wanted to put a more conciliatory foot forward. After all, I wasn't there to try and admonish or cajole them. In spite of the long odds, I felt like there was a real opportunity to be in a position to help not only the neighborhood I live in, but the homeless population I serve.

Of course, this would be no Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. But what really is, after all? Life isn't a Frank Capra movie.


When it was my turn, I introduced myself and answered a couple of thoughtful and useful questions. I was nervous, but I was doing ok.

And then spake the Wicked Witch of District 13, Vicki Aubry Welch, who had already come out for the presumed, chocolate-toting front runner.




Now, did she attack my lack of political experience, my past and current activism, or some perceived questionable moral fiber?

No.

Instead, she decided to focus on the fact that both my wife and I were applying for the same political appointment.


I'm still not quite sure why she would find it difficult to understand that each person in a married couple might be interested in applying for the same political appointment. I can only assume that such thing would never happen in her marriage -- which would make me feel sorry for her if it wasn't clear from the rest of the video that she found some way to go after almost every other applicant ... except her pick.


 
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07 November, 2017

Just yesterday morning, Part 3

All things are made bitter, words even / are made to taste like paper, wars gets tossed up / like soldiers used to be/ (in a child's attic) lined up / to be knocked down, as I am... ~ Charles Olson
The life of reality is confused, disorderly, almost always without apparent purpose, whereas in the artist's imaginative life there is purpose. ~ Sherwood Anderson 
Daylight Savings Time, Marriage, Art
Give it about 30 years and no one will even talk about Daylight Savings Time anymore.

Seriously. As annoying as it is, as pointless as it is, and as completely illogical as it is, it will cease to be the topic any real discussion.  
This won't happen because the powers-that-be will suddenly come to their senses and realize that moving the hour hand backwards or forwards doesn't actually extend or shorten the day. As a matter of fact, if anyone talks about hour hands, it will be in the sense of a quaint curiosity. Like jewelry made out of the hair of a dead loved one or the concept of privacy. All things fall into the dust of quaint curiosity shops of the mind -- including curiosity shops -- so seriously, don't put too much stock in the illusion that you're getting an extra hour sleep when we  FALL BACK IN THE FALL.

Don't worry about it. The Internet of Things will do it for us. We won't have to think about Daylight Savings Time because the ability to think about anything -- like the ability to read a clock or have a private thought that can't be described by a meme -- will have disappeared and we will have the IOT (Internet of Things, or, as we'll maybe call it NetStuf) heft the apparent burden of consciousness for us.

But if this Internet of Things... I mean, NetStuf... is so damn dandy, why can't it fix the hole in my ceiling? It can, apparently, predict what kind of advertising I'll respond to based on (really, very) random keyword searches. It can tell me who I was in a past life. It can tell me how I'm probably going to die and -- based just on my Facebook profile picture -- tell me where my ancestors came from. This Internet of Things assures that I'm instantly and permanently connected to countless facts, factoids, fake news, friend updates, new business connections, and scores for everything from the little league game (in languid immobile Summer, anyway) to World Cup Soccer.

But it can't crawl up into the very small and sort of claustrophobic space under the ceiling awning off the attic and repair a hole. It can't climb up on the roof and make any necessary repairs. It's 2017 and there are robots that can vacuum your house while you're gone... not that we can afford one or could even make use of one with three dogs and two cats to either hunt it, stalk it, or asphyxiate it with the endless trails of shed fur.

Ok, I know. I signed up for this life on the margin, right? Making Art out your life isn't easy, nor, I suppose, should it be. Though I'm still unsure of why. And I feel like I've been asking that question a really, really long time.




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17 October, 2017

Perpetual pilgrim, Part 2: exile amor fati

 I am an exile's book. He sent me. ~Ovid

Exile is more than a geographical concept. You can be an exile in your homeland, in your own house, in a room. ~ Mahmoud Darwish 


home and exile
Although I haven't lived in my hometown for better than several years and I rarely go back, I do follow some of the comings and goings there. There's an insatiable fascination about the place for me, in spite of the fact that there's nothing there for me but cemetery stones and geographically bound nostalgia. Think of it as something akin to voyeurism.

Recently on the Facebook page for my hometown's historical society I noticed an event. Five local authors were going to converge on the historical society... the old Grant Building where the library was housed when I was a kid ... to talk about how they became writers.

Each of them, I suppose, had written and published books. I only knew one of the names because other than random and terrible violence and the odd billboard paid for by a local church  proclaiming that Satan had taken over the school board, the only thing my hometown ever made the news for was the fame of the The World Walker. No one remembered him leaving on his trip, but everyone was there for the return, including a parade, a key to the village, and an invitation to speak to high school students about his experience.

Now, although I've made my home a few hours south and on the other side of the dirty, sacred river, the fact is that as much as I have no place or purpose in the place I'm from, I'm a transplant everywhere else. I guess it's fair to say that I haven't made The Big Time. There are no parades or keys to the town with ubiquitous invites to talk to ungrateful high school kids about my accomplishments.

Probably one of the most challenging parts of being a writer isn't actually the writing. That's always been the easier part. I don't believe in writer's block and I reject the idea that creative energy fizzles. It changes channel and sometimes doesn't march with popular tastes and trends, but generally the writers who chase trends end up burning themselves out -- not because their creativity fizzles but because they cut themselves off from it a long time ago and decided to sustain themselves on praise and marketability.

The biggest challenge for me has always been the subject of tradition... literary or otherwise. Although I don't remember much from when my thesis defense*, I do remember Dr. Glenn Colburn asking me where I would place myself in the canon of American Literary Tradition. I don't even remember exactly what I said because I was a bit taken aback by the question. I managed to write a collection of integrated (hopefully) poems and short stories. It was probably incredibly abstract and most likely total failure. My graduate advisor asked me once if I thought it would end up being publishable. My answer was that it probably was not at all publishable, because there was no way to categorize it in any way that literary agents and the publishing world would or could understand, or in such a way that agents and publishers could excise their percentages from sales.

I'm still pretty good with that. And I'm still pretty good with probably being a little too left of center for poets and a little to right of center for fiction writers. But it does sometimes nag at me that I grew up in  place that so assiduously tried to erase its history that I've been running all over the place for 30 years or more trying to find one, only to keep running into one inescapable fact: there is no such thing as adopting a literary root. Either you're born with one, or you cobble your own from the flotsam and jetsam of experience. It's that or it's creative death.

I guess it's OK that they didn't invite me, being as I'm not as news worthy as a guy who tried to rob a bank with a pocket knife (in my graduating class.) I suppose it's OK that I still can't answer the question of where I am in the scope of American letters because I'm not a Louisville writer or a Kentucky writer or, really, an Ohio writer... or even a Bethel, Ohio writer.

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