Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts
Showing posts with label novel. Show all posts

27 June, 2017

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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27 April, 2011

Excerpt From The Muckraker's Chronicle: It's Hard To Be Humble

Denise. That was her name. It stuck with me. It woke me up at night. Denise Gunnersaun, the woman who hanged herself in the Arliss County Jail rather than stand trial for defending herself. I had a girlfriend once named Denise. She was Denise the amazonian from the wrong side of town. None of the popular boys would admit they liked her, but they all stared at her boobs. We were in 7th grade. I was too timid to do anything but hold hands. Denise, who liked me because was I gentle and kind and because I wasn't mean to her the way the rest of the kids were. Denise who broke up with me using a note she had her best friend Becky give me in Ms. Algers math class. Denise Riddley. I didn't like her enough to be broken up about it. I was more annoyed that Becky got caught passing me the note; we both ended up getting detention for it. Becky spent the entire hour after school giving me dirty looks. To this day I'm still not sure what it was I did wrong.
That wasn't the only reason Denise Gunnersaun stuck in my mind; the whole story seemed absurd. Drunken asshole of a husband comes home, wants to take his bad mood out on his high school sweet heart and mother of his sons. She has enough, swings at his bloated head with a frying pan. Yet she's the one that gets arrested. She's the one that's left alone, deserted by her few friends and the community of women who have been turning a blind eye to the suffering of their own gender for years... decades, maybe even longer. I sit in on town council and county board committee meetings where they complain about drug traffic and the riff raff and how people are poor because they're not willing to work. Mothers will gossip about the alleged sins of other mother's sons but defend their own children's obvious improprieties with a “boys will be boys” attitude. Better to marry an abusive asshole if you get knocked up rather than take on the stigma of being an unwed mother in a town that prizes the appearance of things over their content. Of course, the church matrons will never forgive you anyway and still think you're a dirty whore... but as long as you seem willing to not ever forgive yourself either, it makes the whole thing go a bit easier.

The article was a short one; took me less than a half hour to write, including interviews. The coroner and the sheriff both made statements, I typed the story up, turned it in. It was one of the easiest articles I'd ever written. Ever.

And then the old men at the Moose Head started talking about it. Don Parton was the most vocal. He was vocal about his support of Daniel, the husband. The poor guy who now had to raise his two sons alone after that psycho bitch of a wife did herself in. It was maybe the best thing for everyone, though; after all, Parton said, the negative effect she was having on those boys might have ruined them. Of course, that Daniel married her at all amazed everyone; when the oldest boy, Jesse, was born, there was no way of knowing whether Daniel was even the father, Parton said. “The way SHE got around,” he said, shaking his head. Judgment. It's so much easier to judge the dead since they're not around to defend themselves. Not that anyone waited that long to judge Denise Gunnersaun.

And of course, no one other than Sheriff Cleary – who was actually pretty broken up about it – and the coroner – who was annoyed that her death interrupted his golf game – would talk to me on the record. I tried talking to her friends … the few that would claim to be, anyway … and while I heard several ear fulls of information, the only way any of them agreed to talk to me was if I left their name out of the paper. Great. “An unidentified friend of the deceased claims...” Right. Or maybe I could go all Woodward and Bernstein and give each of them code names. Flappy Jaws, Trailer Queen, and Stovepipe. The three of them still lived in Denise's Gunnersaun's old stomping ground: the trailer park at the end of Wakarusa Road. For many of the the upstanding citizens of Mount Arliss the trailer park was a symbol of the epidemic of laziness, communism, and liberalism that was spreading like a virus across the nation... leaching out from Chicago like some hideous kudzu like weed, taking over everything. Southern farmers hate kudzu because once it takes up residence in a field, it's almost impossible to kill. And it takes over everything. Entire hill sides in Eastern Kentucky are eaten up with the stuff... it kills everything else by using up every bit of nutrient in the soil and propagating. It grows the way cancer grows.

Which is how people who didn't live in the trailer park saw the trailer park. In one trailer alone, they would say, the (unmarried, of course) woman had seven kids. And she wasn't even 30. Seven kids, seven different fathers. Hers and the bastard children of the other trailer park whores running around town like a plague, destroying things, taking up room the schools that should have been saved for upstanding children from good families. Not that many of the good families were staying, since there were no jobs to had in Arliss County that didn't include underpaid menial labor or seasonal farm work – and the seasonal farm work inevitably went to the migrant workers pouring over the Mexican border like a punishment from Heaven. Naturally people made biblical parallels. How could they not? It was so easy. The entire world was going to shit. Gays wanting to get married, Mexicans taking American jobs, and the whores in the Wakarusa Trailer Court. And Denise Gunnersaun, for the sin of trying to get out the only way she knew how – which was admittedly not the best or smartest of ways – was symbolic of Heaven's judgment against the whole country.

Or so Don Parton thought and said. And when Parton talked people tended to listen... mostly because he never let anyone else talk that didn't agree with him.

Her friends... the ones that wouldn't talk to me on the record... gave their point of view on Daniel Gunnersaun. He'd been the favored son of a well known and respected property owner... which in Mount Arliss meant a farmer. A favored son, a farmer's son, and the star Varsity quarterback... which put him somewhere on the same level as God for most of the adults in town. He always had the prettiest girl on his arm – never the same one for very long and almost always a cheerleader. Always won the crucial football game. Always managed to get by in his classes. A 4-H award winner. President of the Mount Arliss Future Farmers of America, and the youngest member of the county's chapter of the NRA. He was actively recruited by Illinois State University and Michigan State; he was a hometown boy with a bright future.

And then he met Denise Favre.

Her mother had lived in the trailer park for years and before that she had lived above the laundromat on the corner. The only thing certain about Denise Favre's parentage was that Rachel Favre was her mother; who her father was had only been the the topic of idle gossip and conversation. The upright uptight church matrons called her the Whore of Babylon and every man in town, married or single, had at some point walked through her door and laid down in her bed. Who her parents had been, no one knew; she wasn't from Mount Arliss; Rachel had simply appeared in town one day and proceeded, to hear the God-fearing women tell it, to dig her claws into their husbands and sons. The less than God-fearing women didn't especially like her either. And each and all of them passed on their dislike to her only daughter.

How's that song go? Same old story, same old song and dance. Being from the wrong family in a small town is like being the middle child; no matter what you do, you always lose. And when you're from the right family, no matter what you do, your shit doesn't stink.

“Why are you letting this bother you?” Maude asked me when one of my insomnia nights woke her up. “Why do you let any of this bother you?”

I told her I didn't know. “It just doesn't seem fair. Or something.”

“You get too involved,” she said. “And it ends up keeping you up at night; or it gives you another excuse to get drunk and pissy.”

“I don't recall ever needing an excuse,” I said. “And I'm never pissy.”

“If it bothers you,” she said, sitting down in her chair and lighting up a cigarette, “why didn't you write a longer article on it?”

She's right, of course. But there's no point in saying that out loud. I didn't write the longer article... the one I should have written … because I waited until the last minute to write it. Squeezed it in right over deadline.

“I was working on other stuff,” I said. “That was a busy week. I wish I COULD just focus on one story at a time. I'd have been awarded a Pulitzer by now.”

“And yet,” she said, “you're still so humble.”

She loves me. I know she loves me because she picks on me. Most of the time it makes me laugh. It did this time, too. “I know, I know,” I said. “It's a burden being this brilliant still be an everyday normal guy.”

“You've never been normal.”


“What about this is bothering you, though? I mean it's not like you knew her.” She looked over at me with that inquisitive look she used to give me a lot more when we first got together and I still had more women friends than she thought was normal. It's probably not fair to say she was jealous; but whenever she saw me with one of them, she would still give me these looks from time to time that said “Are you sure you're not fucking this chick?”

I ignored the look on her face. “It's the situation, maybe,” I said. “Everybody in town is glad she's dead for the sake of the asshole who abused her.”


“Isn't that enough?”

“Enough to complain about? Yes. Enough to be indignant about? Yes. But why is it bothering you?”

“Did I tell you that Don Parton tried to get Sam to fire me?”


“Because I've been asking around about Daniel Gunnersaun's background, his history around here.”

“And what's the point in that?”

“I don't know. Not really.”

“And what did Sam say?”

“Sam told him to take a flying leap.”


“Not in so many words. Sam has more tact.”

“Is this story worth losing your job over?”

“I'm not going to lose my job; it's barely a job as it is. I probably would've written a bigger article if I hadn't needed to write five other ones that week just to make a decent check.”

“You could do something else.”

“Like what?”

“You could teach,” she said. “You said you almost became a teacher.”
“I almost became a fire watcher, too,” I said, “except that they don't use fire watchers anymore. Guess I missed out.”

“What's that have to do with teaching?”

“They don't need real teachers anymore, either.”

She sighed. Maude's exhaustion was getting the better of her. My absence from bed woke her up, but she needed more sleep than I did. “Let's go to bed,” she yawned.

“You go ahead. I'll be there in a bit. Save me some room.”

She sighed again, but she was too tired to argue; she stood up and shuffled back to bed. After I heard her settle in and fall back asleep, I thought again about Denise Gunnersaun and her three friends who wouldn't come to the defense of her memory. And it still didn't sit right.