Showing posts with label love. Show all posts
Showing posts with label love. Show all posts

16 January, 2019

from Record of a Pair of Well-Worn Traveling Boots -- Anticipation

I was traveling when my wife and got together. Our courtship was one of distance and of patience: letters, emails, phone calls when a charged battery and available cell towers permitted. The pattern of my leavings started even before that, though, back when we were still just friends, still in our 20's, both of us, I think, still searching, though for very different things. I remember going to tell her I was going to drop out of college. It was a deliberate trip out to see her. I went alone because anything I said I only wanted to say to her. She greeted me in a gorgeous sun dress and when I told her I was leaving, the light left her face like the sun disappears behind a storm cloud.  

But because our courtship probably would not have existed without my leavings, they have been a part of our relationship from the start. 

She knows I have to go from time to time because the ticky-tock thing in my gut won't stop long enough for me to stay home like normal people do. I call that behavior normal because it is the most common, and for those who choose it I say have at it. I love my wife and I love my home -- Louisville, Kentucky breaks my heart like no other place I have ever lived. But still, when the wind kicks up, the current shifts, and urge to go sweeps up upon me, it's bad business to ignore it. And though I've written about it before, I feel like I need to reiterate: traveling as I do is not the same as a vacation. It's true that I often visits friends when I travel. But a vacation is, by definition and practice a respite from normal living to go and do something outside of the daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly routine for the purposes of being able to reintegrate back into that same routine with renewed vigor.

I decided that was bullshit 20 years ago, and life has done nothing to change my mind.

And while it's true that I love being home when I am home, I always feel like I'm in between trips. No matter how present I try to be, no matter the fact that I love my life, my wife, our home, and the grand art we are creating in building our life together, the fact is I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to better perfect my pack so that when I go, I'm as streamlined and prepared as possible. I buy clothes based on durability and utility (pockets).  It's not even an active thing on my part. It's just how my brain is wired.

So when the wind kicks up... I go.

But I always know the way home, even if it's the long way.
Please check out my work for sale on Amazon.  

You can also throw a little in the tip jar:

20 January, 2017

Il est Trumplandia: No quarter given

With reasonable men, I will reason; with humane men I will plead; but to tyrants I will give no quarter, nor waste arguments where they will certainly be lost.  -- William Lloyd Garrison

I should have taken that bet with Kenny Rose, a former colleague at U of L who I shared office space with in the basement. I should have taken the bet, but I didn't want some messed karmic consequence for calling the election a year ahead.

I should have that kind of luck with the horses.

Back when people -- mainly centrist liberals and conservatives --  were insisting that Donald Trump could never win a presidential election I pointed out that national elections are, for the most part, popularity contests. I also pointed out that Trump had made a career of selling everything from overpriced real estate to himself.

Still, I was told: it would never happen.

Well, we're here now, working on how to move forward in this, the Grand Republic of Trumplandia.

I have friends, comrades, and former colleagues who have taken to the streets today in Washington,
From Reuters
D.C. I wonder why I'm not there with them. When I'm being honest, I'm not sure I have much faith in the actual impact of street protests. I do believe that direct action works best, and sometimes that many require taking to the streets.  For me, though, the work is here. I don't know what kind of impact I could have on the street in D.C.  I do know what kind of things there are here in River City to do. We have our own little fascistas here. We have people who will be targeted by them after being emboldened by a new President who cares nothing for already targeted communities. We have mountains and trees and already polluted rivers that will need stewardship in the wake of President Trump's disdain for climate change science.

We have the poor. We have the homeless. There are battles here.

And if the early reports are true and Trump intends to eliminate The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, then I really have work to do.

And so does everyone else who writes, who plays music, who creates art of any kind. The work is wherever you are.


If you like what you're reading here, I have work for sale on my amazon author page:

17 December, 2010


 “Do you really want to piss off the only person in town that still likes you?”

Maude has a way getting straight to the point. “Parton doesn't like me. I'm not enough of a bigot.”

“ENOUGH of a bigot?”

“You know what I mean. He's a moron.”

“I'm not talking about him,” she said. Her voice was tired. She was almost always tired when she came home from work. When we first moved to Mount Arliss, I would try to have supper on the table when she came home. But it became impossible to know what time she'd be there; sometimes she worked late if she had a lot of ticket sales, or if she was working on a a new pamphlet or poster or some other marketing tool. Sometimes she said to hell with it all and came home early. But it was impossible to tell exactly what she had planned and she never called to say she was on the way home or to say hello. I'd call her sometimes, just to see how her day was going. If it was going good, she was too busy to talk. If it was going bad, she was in too lousy a mood to talk. We both have cell phones, yet I never seem to be able to get a hold of her; granted, cell phone reception in Mount Arliss isn't the greatest. But if she wants to find me and she can't, I end up hearing about it later.

She was tired because she'd had another in a string of bad days. There was a time when I would try to get her to talk about her bed day. Her strategy for dealing with bad days was different from mine; she would simply not talk about it and hope that by ignoring it all, that all the bad feelings would simply vanish. It's a beautiful system in idealized form; something out of the 1950's image of the prosperous American. Smiling wife serves dinner in a spotless, perfectly ironed dress. Husband smiles and shovels food in his mouth, content that he's done his bit for god, country, and family that day. Bad feelings? Depression? Anger? Push it away. Bad feelings are the enemy. They're communists. They're islamofascist terrorists. Ignore them and they'll go away. Then no one has to listen to anyone else's bullshit and everybody can be happy. Happy happy joy joy. The problem with her method was that outside of the idealized form, it doesn't work. The human psyche isn't built to hold in an infinite amount of negativity. When it reaches the fill point, rather than expand to take on the extra load, all that badness and negativity spills over into the body, becomes aches, pains, sickness. High blood pressure. Diabetes.

My strategy is less elegant. I simply howl at the universe until I feel better. This tends to annoy other people, but since they're generally part of the reason I'm howling, I figure they might as well take on their share.
Maude never says so, but from the way she acts, she thinks my approach is the more selfish of the two. She's probably not wrong.

“Well who ARE you talking about?”

She sighed and looked at me with a weary expression. Thick as a brick me, I finally got who she was talking about. I didn't answer and opted to pour myself another drink instead.

“Why do you have to do that?”


She pointed at my glass of scotch. “That. You're drinking more than you used to.”

“Not really. I pace myself better than I used to. I've slowed down, comparatively.”

“Compared to what? It was one thing when you sat around drinking beer...”

And, I thought, you didn't like that either.

“...but now you sit around drinking whiskey...”

“It's not whiskey,” I said. “It's scotch.”

She rolled her eyes. “It's the same thing.”

“Not really.” Maude didn't like it when I drank whiskey. She always said it turned me into a different person. I never really thought it did anything but make me more honest... temporarily removed the filter in my head that kept the more acerbic parts of my personality at bay. There was a time when I was horribly concerned about the little green demon in my brain. The one that scrapes and claws at me and wants me to simply be, without all the hang ups of worrying about anyone else. I sued to try and keep it under control because of a similar statement I heard once from my ex-wife. She used to say that when ever I lost my temper I became a different person. She said I even looked different. I never knew how to take it, and I wasn't absolutely sure that she wasn't just trying to manipulate me into feeling guilty; that was some she did often and was very proficient at. That was before I learned that guilt, and the heaping of it upon the self and others is all based on obligation and expectation. A husband, according to my ex-wife, was supposed to fulfill certain expectations, play a certain role. And I had certain expectations of myself too – higher ones than I was capable of, I eventually came to realize. That was when her manipulations stopped working, and it not long after that I left and we divorced.   

One of the wonderful things about Maude is that she doesn't try to manipulate me. She's far too direct for that, which makes her – as far as I can tell – a rarity among womankind. Most women manipulate the men they “love” because maybe there was a time when that was the only real social power they had. Like it a kind of defense mechanism against the patriarchy. Most women not only manipulate their men, they try and manipulate other women, too. It's about status, position. Men who pick up on this trick and adapt it to their own ends become politicians, local busybodies, church officers. But Maude, god love her, doesn't do that, and she hates it in other women. The impact of this is that it makes her more direct, more honest. And while I take this as a good thing, a rare thing to be cherished, there are times when her directness borders on something else.

When we first got together, I was a drinker. I've been a drinker for many years. Back then, she drank too. As a matter of fact, she could drink me under the table. But she tapered off and eventually quit drinking. I didn't.
“It IS the same thing.”

“Okay,” I conceded. “It's similar. But it's different, too. It's about the age and the fermenting time...”

“Don't change the subject.”

“Fine.” She knew me too well to be baffled by bullshit.

“It's not good to sit around and drink the way you do.”

“Some people eat chocolate. Some people drink.”

“Don't try and be cute.” She paused. “You're a drunk. You know that, right?”


“When was the last day that you didn't have a drink?”

I shrugged. Probably a truly miserable day.

“Do you think it's healthy?”

“I think it's healthier for me to drink than it is for other people.”

“Oh please...” she snorted. “Because YOU'RE so different?”

“Everyone's different,” I said.

“I don't like who you become when you drink.”

“Who am I when I drink?”

“You're just... different. That's all.”

I didn't answer.

“Sometimes I think you want me to end up sitting next you in a hospital, watching you die. Is that what you want?”

It wasn't. I'd seen people die from drink. Fucking horrible way to die. Besides the pain of it, the worst thing about dying is that people don't really care about you when you're dying. You're liver's cashed, your kidneys are failing, your body is swelling like an overfilled water balloon because you can't get rid of toxins anymore. If you're in a hospital, they end up jacking you up on morphine until your body finally wears out; this isn't mercy as much as a way to quiet the moaning and groaning. It makes the doctors' and nurses' lives easier. There's no mercy in the world for people who drink themselves to death, just like there's no mercy for junkies or the homeless or people who eat too much. No mercy. That goes back to obligation, too. It's generally agreed upon that the good, the upright, the useful, they live in a certain way and in a certain manner. They work. They save money. They pay taxes. They aspire to upward mobility. They live in nice neighborhoods and lease new cars every two years. And when you step off the worn-out path into indulgence, intoxication, or living in a way that most people probably would if they had the balls, the price you pay, among others, is the absence of mercy.

Maude wasn't merciless. On the contrary, she probably had too much mercy. But I was starting to realize that maybe I was wearing her down; that didn't surprise me as much as that it had taken this long for her to get to that point. But it wasn't just the drinking. It was that she was really the only person in town that I ever talked to, in spite of the fact that we'd been living there for a year. I never made friends easily. Not like her. People were just drawn to her, her energy, her enthusiasm for things she cared about. Part of the reason she was always so exhausted was that she always put everything she had into whatever she was working on. She was like that with every job she'd had since she and I had been together. Maude didn't know how to be any other way, even though her work ethic had been taken advantage of time and time again. She gave until there was nothing left, and then she would simply implode. I'd never known a person who had been hollowed out by the world so many times and still went back at it in the exact same way.

“That's not going to happen,” I said.

“How do you know?”

“Because I just do.”

She shook her head again gave up. But I knew we'd have the same conversation again, sometime soon.

“I love you,” I said.

“Do you?”

“You know I do.”

“Do I?”

“Yes, goddamn it, you do.”

She stood up, patted me on the head, grabbed her pack of cigarettes that were sitting on the end table next to my chair, and lit a cigarette. Then she asked what my thoughts were on dinner.  

13 January, 2010

Pendleton Underground: Part 6 of 7

I’ve always hated the smell of hospitals. The particular odor of death, urine, and bleach that’s unique to all hospitals and nursing homes fills me with what I can only describe as preternatural dread.

“We have to go,” Linda told me. “We really SHOULD go.”

“Is it a ‘have to’ or is it a ‘should do’ kind of thing?”

“Don’t be that way.” She rubbed my shoulder and kissed my cheek. “If you don’t go and something happens you’ll regret it.”

I couldn’t argue with her; but part of me still wanted to. It’s hell sometimes when a woman knows you well enough to make you do what you really need to do but don’t want to do.

We’d gotten a call from Red. At least half the time I just didn’t pick up the phone when the caller ID flashed his number; mostly he called when he wanted to complain. Sometimes he called to brag – but that was rare. Our conversations never lasted more than a few minutes because I always ran out of things to say. This time I answered because I was in a particularly good mood. I’d picked up a couple of classes at a community college and was bringing in a little money for a change; Linda was still working too much overtime, though, and I was looking around for other opportunities. I’d also had some luck publishing – a poem and short story were going to be published in two different small journals with an even smaller distribution. There was no money involved, of course; but it was nice to be noticed and appreciated, even if it was only by a few people.

Red’s call sucked all the air out of my lungs and all the good energy out of the room. He called to tell me Pendleton was in the hospital, that the doctors weren’t optimistic. Surgery would definitely be involved and because of all his health problems – high blood pressure, bad heart, kidney and liver problems (a side effect of the blood thinner) – one tiny problem and Pendleton wouldn’t wake up.

“You should be here,” Red told me. He was barely holding himself together. “In case… something… happens.”

It took us two hours to get there, driving at night in late October rain. Linda drove because I don’t like driving at night. When we got to the hospital, Red met us in the lobby and took us up to the ICU waiting room. It was full of exhausted, worried people living on vending machine coffee and bad cafeteria food. I didn’t see Brenda, but Red told us she’d gone home for a change of clothes and would be back.

“We should wait,” he said, “until she gets back before we try and see him.”

“Have you seen him?”

Red nodded.

“How’d he look?”

Red shrugged, trying to be unemotional and manly. He was trying not to cry.

“Can’t we just see him now?” Linda asked. “There’s no harm in seeing him now.”

Red sighed and nodded. He was being very solemn. “You need to prepare yourself,” he intoned. Like a fucking undertaker, I thought. “He looks… ah... different… from the… last… time… you… saw him.”

I wanted to tell Red to shut the fuck up and cut out the dramatics. I wanted to tell him I wasn’t some dumb ass kid who’d never seen an ICU or visited someone on the edge of death. I wanted to tell him that I wasn’t the pussy standing in the middle of the waiting room crying. Mostly, though, I think he was talking to himself; so I didn’t say either of those things. His calling me was simply a courtesy – one that Brenda probably hadn’t agreed to, but Red had convinced her that Pendleton would want to see me. Linda took my hand and gave it a squeeze; she knew exactly what I was thinking and was telling me it would be okay.

I found out later that he’d been in the hospital for three weeks. That was when I figured out that calling me wasn’t a reaction; it was an afterthought. I was an afterthought. I’d been out of the loop for so long that it was only Red’s sense of propriety and obligation that prompted his call. For some reason, that hurt more than the possibility that Pendleton might die and leave his bitch of a wife in charge of his memory.

Truth is I knew my exclusion was my fault. When Linda and I moved out of the cabin, I cut off all contact with Pendleton and Brenda. If there’s one thing I can do well, its hold a grudge. And hold one I did. I still did. This has been called different things over the years; my parents, friends, ex-girlfriends, my ex-wife and my ex-mother-in-law all called it stubbornness. I was too bullheaded. I was too drunk. I was too deluded. I was too proud to admit when I was wrong. I was too arrogant to consider the possibility that I might be wrong. About something. About anything. About everything.

What the hell do they want from me? I thought. I’m here. Linda and I came here and now I have to stand here and listen to Red tell me to ‘Prepare myself.’ What did he think I was doing all the way there in the car? Singing show tunes? Linda must’ve felt my muscles tighten, because she latched onto my arm and wouldn’t let go. If ever there was a woman whose love I didn’t deserve, it was hers. Maybe I wasn’t a nice guy; maybe I drank a little too much and maybe I was a stubborn son of a bitch. But Linda loved me. She understood me. Even if Red, Brenda, and Pendleton had their little goddamn sewing circle, I had Linda. The only bad part of that deal was that Linda had me.

Red was still dragging his feet when Linda asked him again if we could go back and see Pendleton. He kept talking about stupid shit. Cars and his job and his soon-to-be ex-wife and how she was using the kids against him. He made a joke about the cafeteria food and bitched about having to go outside to smoke. He told off-color jokes about some of the nurses. Red was always good at small talk; he could talk for hours and not say anything worth remembering. I was never good at small talk. Attempting it was torture. In most social situations I came off awkward or weird. First impressions have never been my forte. It wasn’t unusual for me to enter a light conversation and end up taking it somewhere serious. For years people told me I needed to relax and develop a sense of humor.
Pendleton always understood that about me. He didn’t mind when I didn’t talk, or when I inevitably led the conversation into some serious or odd direction. “If you’re going to talk,” he told me, “it ought to be something important, anyway. There’s too much static that passes for conversation.”

When I asked to marry his daughter, he eyed me carefully. It was an uncomfortably long silence. I’d expected him to smile and be happy about it. My family was in a state of shock, which wasn’t surprising; but her mother had been thrilled. Looking back, I realize she was hastening the union, almost from the beginning. She needled and prattled on about us, talked about us like we were already married. She used to let me spend the night when she knew there was more than sleeping going on in her daughter’s tiny back bedroom. I had more or less extricated myself from one family and inserted myself into another. They attended my high school graduation. They took me to college. I used to sneak back and visit without telling my family. I skipped out on holidays to be with them as much as I could. When Pendleton’s daughter graduated from high school, I transferred to her university to stay with her. We’d been attending the same university for a semester when her mother bought up (in the guise of a joke) the idea that we could get more financial aid if we got married. My ex kept saying, “We’re getting married ANYWAY, right? What’s the difference if we get married now or four years from now?”

Finally, after staring at me for what seemed like forever, Pendleton asked, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?”

“I think I do.”

He shook his head. “Is this what YOU want? Are you sure?”

I told him it was and he nodded his consent. Six months later I was his son-in-law. A year and half later, she moved out. A month after that, he moved in.
Red was stalling, trying to keep us waiting until Brenda got there. But when Linda mentioned it for a third time, Red looked at his watch and nodded. I noticed the hint of resignation, but didn’t say anything. Brenda would not be pleased. He led us through the doors that led to where the patient rooms were. It wasn’t a private room. I guess it was the poor man’s ICU; but the other beds were empty. Pendleton was hooked up to monitors in both arms and an oxygen machine. I noticed the piss and shit bags on the side of the bed with tubes disappearing under the sheet. His breathing was labored. His skin was so gray that it seemed almost translucent under the dim light above his bed. His hair and beard were long, mostly gray, with twisted strands of white. His eyes were puffy and his lids were closed, like he was thinking.

“Look,” Red said to him. He talked to Pendleton in that loud voice people use with the very sick, the very old, and with retarded kids. “Look who’s here.”

Pendleton opened his eyes; it took him a couple of seconds to focus. Was that surprise I saw spread across his face? Or was it pain? Maybe he farted.

“Hey,” he huffed.

“Hey,” I answered.

Linda smiled and touched his hand. “How are you feeling?” She spoke to him like we were sitting around the kitchen table playing cards. Such a sweet woman; she was always good at knowing how to talk to people. I was trying not to look at all the tube and block out the monitor sounds and keep myself from puking because that smell – that fucking hospital smell – had permeated the inside of my mouth, nose, and throat. Linda made more small talk and flirted with him in the innocent and adorable way she used to – which wasn’t all that different from the way she talked to little old men. Red stood there, arms folded, feigning machismo and still trying not to cry. I stood there, waiting.

I didn’t have to wait long. We weren’t there five minutes when Brenda’s heaved her way in. I didn’t think it was possible for someone that big to get even bigger. When she entered the room, it was clear from her body language who was in charge. She squinted at Red, who moved out of her way. She approached the bed, put her bible down on the tray next to the water he couldn’t drink and the food he didn’t want, and then she leaned over Pendleton and kissed him on the forehead like she was marking her territory. This is mine. She was wearing a small silver cross pendant around her neck; I’d seen it advertised in late night commercials; it had a gem in the center that, if you looked through it, you could see the Lord’s Prayer. That was when I noticed the framed picture of Jesus on the bedside table; it was one of those paintings where he looks like he was born to an upper class family in Connecticut.

“You can pray if you want,” Brenda said. “Everything helps.”

I didn’t answer. I hadn’t prayed in years and I wasn’t about to start at the behest of a church channel watching cunt. I wasn’t about to appeal to her god or her Anglo-Saxon savior.

“How you doing?” I finally asked him. “The nurses treating you nice? I guess with all these tubes, that limits your ability to harass them.”

Brenda shot me a hateful glance, Red held his breath, and Linda shook her head. Pendleton chuckled and coughed.

“I’m … ok…” Pendleton breathed. “I’m…”

“Of course he’s ok,” Brenda finished. “We’re just waiting for them to come and take him for surgery.” She looked over at Red. “I kind of thought you’d get here after it was over.” She went over everything the doctors had told her with the accuracy of a tape recorder. His kidneys were on the verge of failure. His heart lining was thin. His intestines were in knots. They were going to change his meds. “Gawd willin’,” she said, “he’ll be around for another 50 years.”

The sickness and Brenda’s voice were getting to me. I needed to smoke a cigarette. My stomach was turning and I was sure my complexion was going green.

“Do you want to pray?” Brenda asked again. This time she was clearly talking to Linda more than me. Linda wasn’t anymore of a believer than I was. She was about to answer, and I was curious about what she’d say, when the nurse came and told us we all needed to leave so they could prepare him for surgery. Brenda kissed Pendleton on the forehead again. Red wiped his eyes. Linda took my hand and led me out of the room. When Red and Brenda walked out, Linda and I followed him through the labyrinth of pastel walls and ugly floor tile to the outside lobby, where we could smoke and not talk about the dying man upstairs. I smoked slowly, trying to prepare for the long night ahead.

19 December, 2009

Alka Seltzer Communion

Bless me for I have sinned;
plop plop fizz fizz
early AM Arizona mornings
cold couch nights stretched
too thin because you are
too far away. This morning you call
anxious in the face of a dream
because life can’t be Too Good.

I am sick and not up to the task
of telling you (again) you’re wrong.
I know you’re lonely because
I’m lonely too. These mornings are
three times too frequent since you left.
Early morning midweek hangovers
is the price for an hour or two
of dreamless, unsatisfying sleep.

We’ve been here before—
but it never gets easier.
You call me crying
(Bless and forgive
my inability to cry) and
I know your loneliness only means
as we walk through the world
we are not so alone.

27 October, 2009

Rusted Out Minotaurs and Other Mythological Creatures: Part 2 of 7

When I got to the Graveyard the following morning, the first thing Bear asked me was if I brought my own tools. I showed him my tool box and he nodded. I stood there for a minute, waiting for some more specific instructions. Like where to start. He just looked at me. “What’s the problem? You change your mind already?”

“No,” I said. “I, ah, I’ll go get started.”

“Be careful how you stack them parts once you get things apart,” he warned. “I have to sell those, you know.”

I walked down the short hill into the Graveyard, trying to find a good place to start. There was no order to any of it. Maybe once upon a time Bear organized the place – there was some remnant of a loose organizational system. Motorcyles in the front, lawnmowers and bicycles in the back. But that had clearly been a long time ago. There was more rust then anything. Everything was left uncovered and was at the mercy of the elements. The ground was permanently muddy in places. There were pools of spilled oil, transmission fluid, break fluid, and water everywhere. Every once in a while there were things laying on tarps – like he had intended to keep them off the wet ground – but in most cases, the tarps were torn and the pools of liquid simply sat on top. Even I could tell there wasn’t much worth salvaging.

For no particular reason, stopped somewhere near the center of everything. A small pile of five or six push mowers was as good a place to start as any. I found a reasonably clean and dry patch of grass to sit on and started on an orange one that still had most of its paint. The big bolt holding the cutting blade to the bottom of the engine was rusted and difficult to break loose, and so were the smaller bolts that held the engine to the mower base. After wrestling with it for several minutes, I made a mental note to buy some WD40 before I came back. The other mowers were in similar condition. I took them apart and separated everything into piles: a pile handles, a pile of blades, a pile of motors, pile of mower decks, and a pile of bolts. Then I went to work taking apart some bicycles. By the time I finshed, it was midday. There wasn’t any point to doing anything without some WD40. When I made my way back to the top of the hill, Bear was nowhere in sight. I put my toolbox in my trunk and pulled out of the empty gravel lot.

He was waiting on me The next day. “Come on,” he pointed down the hill. Then he led me down into the graveyard, right to the spot I’d worked the day before. “Here,” he pointed to the piles.

“You did this, right?”

“Yeah.” The piles were still neatly organized amidst the rust and chaos.

“Can I ask you something?”


“How am I supposed to sell those parts when they’re not organized?”

I didn’t say anything; the piles looked organized to me. They looked a damn sight neater and more organized than anything else in the graveyard. I considered pointing out that if he wanted them organized a particular way, he should’ve said something. April had warned me against that, though. Bear apparently took a dim view of people arguing with him. So I continued to stand there and not say anything.

“Don’t you know ANYTHING?” he snarled. “Lookee here. You got the Briggs and Stratton parts mixed with the Tecumseh parts. All the bolts are mixed in together. Plus,” he pulled one of the handles out of the pile, “you didn’t take off the gears or choke chord.” He tossed it back in the pile and looked at me like he wanted to spit. “I’m not paying you to half-ass out here. Do the job right or I’ll find somebody who will.”

Fat fucking chance, I thought. “Yes sir.”

He nodded and stomped out of the graveyard. I lit a cigarette and stood there for a moment, considering my options. If I quit my only other option was a one of those plastic name tags, an ugly hat, the smell of canola oil and wilted lettuce. I finished my cigarette, sighed, and went back to the piles I’d made the previous day to begin again.

“You need to watch out for him,” April warned me that night when I told her what had happened. “He’ll make you work and then fire you so he won’t have to pay you.”

“Doesn’t he have to pay me?”

She rolled her eyes. “He’s paying you cash under the table. He doesn’t have to do anything.”
I didn’t show up at the graveyard until after noon; there wasn’t a set schedule and I didn’t feel like waking early. Bear wasn’t around when I got to the graveyard; so I just grabbed my toolbox and headed down into the graveyard. It was Thursday. I was trying to keep my mind on the weekend coming up. April and I were going to be hanging out, as usual. I agreed to go to church with them on Sunday – not so much because I was interested in all the hellfire and holy talk, or even to score points with April’s old man – but because I wanted to see April in a skirt and she hardly ever wore one during the week. Ok; so it wasn’t the best of reasons. But it was a reason; and if I had to sit through a couple of hours of moaning and hymn whining bullshit to get a quick view of her thighs, so be it.

April and I had been going out for months – and beyond the heavy petting, we hadn’t gotten anywhere. Not for my lack of trying. But there was always something. An early curfew. A big test. The emergency break in the car. The small back seat. Always something. The closest I’d ever come to anything with any girl up to that point was when Suzie Parks’ swim suit top came undone in the lake two summers before. She was most of the way out of the water before she noticed. (The only thing that saved her was that this was life before cellphone cameras.) It would be unfair to say I was desperate; I’d had girlfriends before and I’d gotten to cop several feels; but that was as far as it went and I was, after all, out of high school and almost in college. The clock was ticking.

It was difficult to think about April’s skirt when I had to actually pay attention to what I was doing and make sure I put everything in the correct piles. I never bothered to ask Bear what would happen if it rained – the nuts and bolts would most likely sink into the mud and the exposed motors would be waterlogged and more prone to rust. I wasn’t a mechanic, but I understood not to leave anything metal out in the elements. I’d left my bike out overnight once when I was younger. It rained that night. When I went out the next morning, the chain was drying out and the tires were waterlogged because the rain collected where I had left my bike. Plus it looked like stray cats used it as a scratching post / litter box. But I knew better than to say anything to Bear. Clearly he had a system that worked for him, even if it didn’t work for anybody else. Towards sunset I packed up my tools and walked out of the graveyard.
Bear was waiting for me at the top of the hill. Fucking great, I thought. He surprised me by smiling. From the look of it, though, he didn’t smile often.

“So how’d it go in there today?” he asked, slapping me on the back.


“Why don’t you come on over and sit for a bit. It was a little hot today. How about something cold to drink?”

It had been humid that day the way late June can be in southern Ohio; I’d brought water with me, but something cold sounded good. Bear directed me to a kitchen table and four wicker back chairs sitting outside the small trailed he lived in. “Have a seat.” I chose the chair that looked the sturdiest and sat down while he went into the trailer and came back out carrying a couple of cans. “All I have is this Hamm’s Ice,” he said, handing me a beer. That wasn’t the first beer I’d ever had, but it was probably the greenest. Even though the can was ice cold, the beer went down sickly warm and left an aftertaste like dirty socks in my mouth. He must’ve noticed the face I made because he chuckled to himself and shook his head.

“So, Kid… how you like the graveyard so far?” he asked.

“I like it fine,” I said, lighting a cigarette to get the taste out of my mouth. I looked aound, hoping a customer would pull in and give me an excuse to leave. Highway 67 was empty.

“There was a time when this was a good location,” he said. “Used to get a lot of traffic out this way.” He took another drink, draining his can. “Not so much now.” He crushed the can and tossed it in a pile of empties next to the trailer. “Recycling,” he remarked, with a chuckle. Then he stood up. “You want another?”

I shook my head. “I’m good.” When Bear walked back inside to grab himself another beer, I looked at my watch. It was nearly six. I could tell him my mom expects me at home, I thought. Then I thought better of it. A guy like Bear McGee wouldn’t respect a guy who ran home to his mother. He came back out and put another can of beer in front of me. Then sat down and cracked his open.

“So,” he said, “Carl says you’re seein’ his daughter.”


Bear smiled. “I wouldn’t worry,” he said. “Carl’s a push over. That girl’s got him wrapped around her little pinky finger.” He took an swig and smiled. “Like she proly has you wrapped around the other one.” He laughed. “I haven’ seen her in a while. I hear she’s all grown, though.”


“Carl says she’s gonna go to college.”


He nodded. “Well, that’s good. I always wanted to go, myself. But it just wasn’t in the cards,” he

shook his head. “What about you?”

“What about me?” I was bus trying to get to the bottom of that can without puking.

“Are you going to college?”

I shrugged. “Yeah. I guess. They’re always telling us we need to think about it. My mom wants me to go. Ape thinks I should go.”

“And what do you think?”

“I think they both sound like the guidance counselor,” I said. “And I don’t like her very much.” When the words left my mouth I immediately regretted them. After all, I wasn’t being exactly honest. I wasn’t so much excited about going to college as I was about the prospect of getting out. But that was something, right?

Bear laughed like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. He nodded. “Yeah, I felt the same way. Fucking people telling you what to do what to do and what to be. It’s all damn useless.”
I nodded and looked down into my can of beer. It was almost empty; but the second was was sitting there, getting warm and waiting for me.

“I think you’ll do just fine here once you get the hand of things,” Bear remarked. “And there’s plenty there to keep you busy. I was wondering, though, if you’d like to help me with something.”

I drained the first can and steeled myself for the seond. “What’s that?”

“I need to put up a fence, he said. “Around the graveyard. Just in front. So nobody can see it from the road.”

“Why? You can’t really see it from the road unless you’re looking."

Bear’s eyes narrowed and darkened. “It’s the goddamn Sheriff. He’s been trying to close me down for years. He dropped by this morning and gave me a ticket. Told me people were complaining. Called me a public blight.” He grunted and took a another drink of his beer. “Told me if I didn’t get it cleaned up, or at least get a fence around it, he’d get a judge to close me down.”

“Can they do that? You live here, right?”

He nodded. “Don’t matter. The Sheriff, he’s been trying to close me down for years. Even back when he was just a local cop.” Bear shook his head. “Anyway. I tried telling him about you… about how you’re going through and cleaning things up for me… but that’s not enough. Nope. He told me if I didn’t get it take care of by Monday, he’d come back with a court order.”


“Yeah. Listen, I just need help,” Bear said. “I can get the fencing. I just need someone to help me put it up. Interested?”

“Sure.” Even I knew that Sheriff Tom Ainkle was a pain in the ass. He’d been Sheriff for as long as I could remember, and he was one of the principle reasons why the township was still dry and why the only two non-white families – a black family from Cincinnati and a family of Mexicans looking for work – had decided to pack up and leave. Naturally, though, the older folks and the church goers liked him; and he made sure to exploit that every election season. “I’m in.”

Bear nodded approvingly. He made no mention of money. “It’ll have to be done Saturday. Can you get here Saturday morning? Say around 8? I should be awake by then.”

I nodded and downed the second can so I could get out of there. “I gotta go,” I choked. “Ape’s expecting me.”

“You don’t want to keep a girl like her waiting,” he smiled. “I know I wouldn’t.”

21 October, 2009

Rusted Out Minotaurs and Other Mythological Creatures: Part 1 of 7

“It ain't a hard job,” Bear McGee said to me through his cigarette. “All you’re doing is taking things apart and organizing them into piles.”

Looking around the piles of old lawn mowers, motorcycles, and bicycles, it was difficult to know where to begin. None of the piles were tall – but they covered a lot of territory. Bear McGee’s Motor Graveyard took up every bit of three acres, right next to Highway 67 about ten miles from town in either direction. He’d been in the same location for more than 20 years and lived in a small trailer on the same property. Bear was a tall, intimidating guy who lived up to his nickname in appearance and demeanor. All he ever wore was a pair of faded blue jeans, worn out steel-toed engineer boots, and a black leather vest, t-shirt optional. His beard was as long and knarly and black as his hair. Rumor was that Bear McGee used to ride with a motorcycle gang. I never heard him deny the rumor; but I never really saw him ride a motorcycle, either. He owned eight or nine of them – but none of them ran. Each one of them were either missing a part, or needed some small bit of repair. He used to tell me he didn’t want to work on motorcycles anymore; that it was easier to just pay somebody else to do it. Then he’d tell me in the same breath that all mechanics were crooks and they just wanted to rob him.

“So Kid, you want the job or not?”

I looked around. I needed the job, even if it didn’t pay that much. Bear never brought up money, and neither did I. He was good friends with my girlfriend April’s dad – who, oddly enough, acted like he liked me – so I figured it would all work out. It was the summer after my senior year of high school; in a couple more months I’d be off to college and free of the small town whose borders seemed to close in a little more every day. I had just quit my last job – my second job ever – as a grocery store stock boy because the manager Alice, an aging bar cooz with topographic face and tits as saggy as her jowls, kept trying to corner me in the back room. I couldn’t see myself working at McDonalds, wearing that ugly ass uniform and trying not to spit on people’s food in between cleaning up kiddie puke in the restroom. No thanks. At least at Bear’s I could wear what I want, smoke if I felt like it, and I didn’t have to worry about how I looked. I told him I’d take the job.

He grunted his approval. “Start tomorrow,” he said. “Bring your own tools.”

Later that evening when I saw April, she tried to warn me about him. “He’s creepy,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

She shook her head. “It’s just the way he looks, and… the last time I was there I caught him … STARING at me… you know?” She shivered. “It was just creepy.”

“You weren’t wearing the red tank top were you?” I asked. I liked it when she wore the red tank top.

She slapped me hard on the arm. “You’re disgusting,” she said. Then she kissed me. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

19 January, 2009

Tostadas Can Catch Fire, Too

The way Elwood figured, it was their only way out. What surprised him was that Lilly agreed.

But she still had her doubts. “How are we going to pay for it?”

Elwood cracked open a beer. “I told you how,” he answered after a very deliberate sip. “I just need you to trust me.”

Lilly was standing in the kitchen preparing dinner. It was Mexican night. She liked to cook when she was thinking about things; it gave her something to do besides worry. Elwood had learned not to take her worrying personally. He knew it wasn’t that she didn’t trust him; she was just a worrier by nature. He knew she believed in him. He just wished he had the same kind of faith in himself.

He wanted to get them out of Phoenix because he’d brought them there. It had been his idea. He’d dragged Lilly across the country, away from her family and the dismal prospects that faced them in Chattanooga. The economy was bad and it was only getting worse. He couldn’t find a regular job to save his life, unless it was temp day labor. The advantage was that he got paid at the end of the day. But then he had to get it cashed, which meant paying a fee at the Check-n-Go check cashing/payday loan place. What was left was never enough. He’d considered sticking up the Check-n-Go a couple of different times, but there were a lot of cameras and security. Besides, he’d promised Lilly he’d find regular work. He’d known some people who were doing well in construction out in Arizona; the real estate boom was making people rich and there was plenty of money to go around if you weren’t afraid to put your back into it and if you could outwork the Mexicans. It hadn’t taken long to talk Lilly into the move, because she wanted to get away, too.

But by the time they got out to the desert, the economic bubble went bust. All the money that could be made had already been made. New home constructions were almost non-existent, and the people he had known wouldn’t help him. “Tough luck,” they told him. “We just can’t use any new people right now. Sorry, Bro.”

Over the years, he’d had a lot of different jobs. He was a fast food line worker; he’d been a janitor; he’d been a bartender. Garbage collector. Night watchman. He even tried to better himself and struggled through half a semester of technical school trying to learn about computers. None of it was any good.

He was a crook, and he knew it. Sure, he was small time – but it was always the big timers with their big egos and their grand schemes who always got caught. It wasn’t like they showed it in the movies: crooks with big plans and big crews ended up doing hard time and being some bull queer’s midnight bitch. No, small time was better. Small time was safer. He even took a small amount of pride in his work. Carjacking. Mugging. Purse snatching. A little B & E. The occasional convenience store. Ok, he told himself. It wasn’t glamorous. But the problem with most small timers was that their lifestyles were incompatible to the job. He didn’t mind living simple. He didn’t own anything that he could pack in a single bag, or ditch entirely in case he had to run. He didn’t mind the cheap motels and rooming houses, the dive bars and lousy food. The problem, as he saw it, was that people built up expectations for themselves, and expectations made them sloppy. He knew he’d never amount to much. He’d never have the big house and the brand new car. But he would stay alive. And he would be free.

Then he met Lilly. She was beautiful, but not in that fake glamorous way. Quiet. He hadn’t expected her to talk to him, and when he told how he made a living, he expected her to run. But she didn’t. When she looked at him, he got the feeling that she saw something else. Not who he was, but who he could be. He liked that. But her family hadn’t liked him. They figured him almost immediately, and he wasn’t what they had in mind. Both of her parents were hard working, semi-religious folks. The time clock was as important as the bible. They thought he was lazy. They thought he was dangerous. They tried to tell Lilly that he didn’t really love her – but she knew better. When Elwood married her, they accepted it. The day before the wedding, Lilly made him promise.

“I need you to tell me you’ll try,” she said.

“I’ll try.”

“I need you to promise. Promise me you’ll try and find a job.”

“I promise. It’ll be ok. I promise.”

But it was proving to be a hard promise to keep. She wanted him to have a regular job and a regular life; but she was also scared of being poor. She didn’t want fine things; but she couldn’t live the way Elwood could. He’d been supplementing his occasional paychecks with a few snatchings here, a few muggings there. Just enough for some cash to keep the lights on, or to take Lilly to the movies. She worked two jobs. Elwood didn’t like it – not because he objected to her working. But it made him feel horrible, watching her wear herself down.

He was trying to think of some way he could get them out of Phoenix, but there was nowhere to go. That was when the phone call came from Lilly’s mother. Her mother, Lilly’s favorite grandmother had died. Of course, there was no money to make it back for the funeral. But when she died, she left her house to Lilly.

Elwood’s first thought was that they could sell it and use the money to move somewhere else. He could tell from the look on Lilly’s face, though, that she had other things in mind. She wanted to move back, to live in the house. It was a small house in Cape Cod, right on ocean. She’d spent summers there as a kid. Elwood used to get her to talk about it so she would smile.

He knew he had to get her there. And there was only one way to make it happen. He needed a big score.

It was day of the job and he was trying to relax. He enjoyed Lilly’s cooking, even Mexican night, though he couldn’t eat the refried beans. She was finishing up the meat. All the fixing – the lettuce, tomatoes, cheese and sour cream – were ready. She’d bought tostadas instead of burrito wraps this time. “Something different,” she’d said. They looked like flat taco shells to Elwood; but he didn’t say anything. He was too busy trying to stay calm and think things through. Trying to remember how many tellers would be working and how many cameras there were and which window would give him the least visibility to the cameras. He knew to make sure they didn’t put the ink pack in the bag. It was a federal bank, so they wouldn’t fight him. It was Friday, so there would be more cash in the drawers to accommodate paychecks. He was going to use the cell phone gag. He’d walk in, hand the teller a note with all the information. Then he’d hand her a cell phone. On the other end of the cell phone, he had a friend with a kid who agreed to pose as a kidnapper. People get extra antsy when they think a kid’s in danger. The teller would empty her drawer and ever other drawer, or (according to the note) the kid would die. If there was a dye pack, the kid would die. If the alarm went off, the kid would die.

Of course, nobody was going die. Including Elwood.

Just as Lilly was putting the tostadas in the broiler to warm them up, the telephone rang. “Can you watch these, honey?”

“Sure,” Elwood answered, a little annoyed by the distraction. He was thinking about things. Important things. He was sure Lilly knew something; but she didn’t say anything. She wanted to go to Cape Cod. That would take money. She’d been talking about having kids, too. And that would also take money. He didn’t know what kind of work he could get up north – maybe shoveling snow or some shit – but he knew he had to make it happen. That was what she wanted, and goddamnit, she deserved something in this life. Something solid. Something good.

He was pulled out of his thoughts by the smell. Something was burning. There was smoke pouring out of the stove. He jumped out of his chair. When he opened the stove, the flames jumped, and he closed it fast. He turned off the stove, and looking around, noticed Lilly’s water glass sitting on the cabinet. He filled it at the tap and then, very quickly, opened the stove and through water on the fire. It took a couple of glasses, but the fire went out.

By this time, the place was filling with smoke. The alarms weren’t going off. Fucking great, he thought. Elwood opened all of the windows and the patio door. Then he looked up and saw Lilly standing there.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I turned my head for a second….”

She walked over and hugged him. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. “ I just…”

“It’s ok,” she said. “Tostadas can catch fire, too.”

He looked at her. She’d been crying. He hugged her for as long as she wanted to be hugged. Sometimes that was all there was to do. It wasn’t taking long for the smoke to clear out. But the smell, he knew, would take a little longer.