11 April 2009

Another Mostly True Story

I was so angry at Richard Lacanatto, though now I cannot actually remember why, that I just hauled off and hit him on the back of the head with his brother’s softball bat and the “ping” of the aluminum when it connected surprised me, a trivial sound layered on top of the more serious crunch of Richie’s skull breaking and he was hurt, oh for sure and badly, and I knew, at 9-years old, that I was a now and would forever be a murderer and that I was going to jail and to hell, straight to my room and to the electric chair, and cops were going to beat me up and my dad was going to spank me and who knew what Mrs. Lacanatto would do?

This I pondered, sort of frozen in a building anguish, as I watched Richie begin to weave his way home, confused and saddened by my attack, too physically hurt to completely cry but tears of betrayal nonetheless leaked from his eyes. He made a noise like “Mmmm, mmmm, mmmm.”

So, of course, I never said anything and I never have said anything and I never will say anything after Richie stumbled into the street and was immediately struck by Mrs. Stellarman, returning from a card party in Ronkonkoma and more than slightly drunk. Richie died in the ambulance, they said, before even reaching the hospital. Mrs. Stellarman got in a lot of trouble but, since she was married to Mr. Stellarman, not a whole bunch happened to her but they did move away soon afterward. The Lancanattos were bereft. And I never told anyone what I had done and, even now, it’s just your word against mine.

10 April 2009


I suppose it may not be the case in other cities, say for instance Los Angeles, California, maybe, but certainly here in Santa Teresa, the life of a "pool man" is not anything like glamorous or overly sexy or anything. I guess there's a kind of reputation for a pool man like for a lifeguard or a traveling salesman or a rock star. And I'm not saying that the reputation isn't possible maybe in a city where there's a lot of pools so the law of averages might tip in favor of "Dear Penthouse" kinds of experiences, but here in Santa Teresa there's about 25 pools all together counting four motels and the high school, the public park municipal and the Primitive Baptist's indoor/outdoor immersion tank (and this does not in any way shape or form include any kind of hot-tub or spa or Jacuzzi Brand bath-tub with built-in jets; I'm thinking to myself that maybe that's where the real action is for a town like Santa Teresa). Five or six of the private pools clean and service themselves, so I have about twenty pools on my clipboard and those are on different visitation schedules--some are weekly, some twice a week (usually Monday after the weekend and Friday before), motels every other day, high school daily, and municipal at least twice daily and emergency on-call for whatever (I wear a pager now; big whoop). It is seasonal work.


The most exciting thing to happen, really, on a pool job so far has been finding a drowned llama in the Purcell's one morning. I had to knock on the screen-door and say "Pool man" while Mrs. Purcell was fixing frozen waffles for her children. She came out with a very "what-is-it-now? what-do-you-want?" attitude even though this is a small town and I've known her since she went to high school with my oldest sister, Lorraine, and there's really only one supermarket in town so we do see each other from time to time anyway outside business.

"Could I talk to you outside for a second, Christy?" I asked her.

She just stood there at the screen door and had to do one of those wiping-her-hand-on-her-apron gestures but in like a real exasperated kind of way, like dragging her away from the toaster and her kids banging their sippy cups on the Formica was a total pain in the ass for her and I was a pointless jerk for doing it. She opened the screen door and stuck her head out the littlest little bit.

"What is it?" She sounded peeved. That is the perfect word for the way she sounded--peeved.

"Umm...that llama ya'll keep in the pen to the barn?" I started out asking her.

"Yes?" It was like she was deliberately trying to act like some teacher in grade school, the way she said "yes" and her voice rising up at the end.

"Well, he must of gotten loose last night or something," I told her.

She looked back over her shoulder for a second back into the kitchen like she had to keep an eye on those Eggo Brand toaster-waffles or something. You could tell that one of those kids was going to probably start crying pretty soon; you could hear it in all of their already-bored-in-the-morning voices all whining and irritated. And of course, the little color TV on the counter was also on about full blast with cartoon xylophone music and explosions.

Christi squinted down at me from the step-up when she turned around.

"Okay...?" She had an edge of the same whine as her kids building in her voice and she was waiting for me to fill in the blank, getting ready to say something like, “That’s not fair” or “Why do I have to do everything?”

"Well," I wanted to wait for just a few more seconds. "Well. I don't know how to say this...but...."

I could see her getting frustrated and she twisted around to look back at the toaster, two of the kids that were on the verge of a slap-fight, and quick back to me standing there already stinking of chlorine and hydrochloric acid with my ratty PE shorts over my bathing suit and my Chuck Taylors gray and falling to pieces from wading around in toxic chemicals with twelve feet of aluminum tubing and a leaf scooper in my hands.

I heard the toaster pop, that metallic springy noise they make, and I heard a kid sort of shriek and I heard a glass get knocked over.

"That llama's all drowned in the pool now," I told her and stepped back into the yard.

"What?" she said, her arm raised in mid-smack, one of her daughters frozen into a protective ball beneath her frozen hand. "What did you say? Hey, you...what? Get back here!"

But, I had already spun around and started walking back to my truck and dragging and banging my pole through the gravel on the ground behind me. I could hear at least two, maybe more, of those kids starting to cry back in there.


A llama may not look like all that much alive, kind of small and skinny, but they soak up pretty good and Starbright, as I learned that particular llama had been named, must have come in at six or seven hundred pounds of wet wool and bloated creature.

Cindy called Animal Control and that one-legged guy came out with his truck full of cats. First he snaked a loop around Starbright's hindquarters and we winched her out of the shallow end onto one of those blue plastic tarps we’d spread out on the lawn. Then the Animal Control guy turned his truck around and we winched old Starbright right up onto that little metal shelf on the back end of his city/county pick-up. All those cats made a hell of noise, too, their yowling kind of harmonizing with the whining grind of the winch. Then he drove her away and I dumped about forty pounds of chlorine into the water. You couldn't even see the bottom at the three-foot end, that's how much chlorine I dumped in.

09 April 2009

Werewolves Everywhere You Look

Number One

Don's head felt like it was in a thing like a box or in a thing like maybe a real big fist and it was closing and Mark over there in the kitchen was not helping anything feel any different. Mötley Crüe was pounding out of the speakers of the boom box Don's sister had loaned them, the boom box she'd put on the windowsill and nobody had moved since. Maximum volume created maximum distortion and the music was set to both. It didn't matter that much to the boys, either of them; they'd memorized the whole album years before.

Mark was cutting oranges into quarters with a big commando-type knife. When he'd gotten about one thousand chunks of orange piled up on the counter, he jammed the knife into the formica surface. He starting scooping up orange quarters and dumping them into the refrigerator. Although the music prevented Don from actually hearing anything else, he did see Mark's lips move and Don knew that Mark had just said "Awl riot" in the way that was his, Mark's, trademark. It meant the same thing as "victory" or "how unusual" or "I can't think of anything else to say." It was like Don's own bandanna, like the one he had tied around his neck in ninth grade and it just became something he kept on doing; it become the thing he always did. People said, “Don. You know, the guy who has that bandanna around his neck all the time.” Everybody did things like that, like Mark always said "awl riot" and Don wore a bandanna around his neck and this girl or that girl wore a lot of gold-toned rings on every finger or another wore red eye shadow all the time or some such thing. Everybody did something that they did all the time.

The boys' apartment was a good apartment because almost everybody who lived in the complex worked day jobs of some kind or else had a bunch of kids that would keep them all pretty busy and out of the way. Nobody was out much during the weekdays and Don and Mark could do pretty much whatever they wanted. Don might bring over one of the guys from his baking industries classes or Mark might cruise one of the high school parking lots. Just like that, just about every day there was a party.

Don's headache was getting much better. It seemed to have a little life all its own, that headache. It came and went like an old friend though lately it was making more and more of its own decisions without asking Don and it, the headache, seemed to be getting desperate as if it were running out of time, running out of choices. Don was the guy who hated pain. He had never and probably would never get used to it. He was the kid who was scared of spankings because they hurt. He was the one who wouldn't fight, who would eat shit on the playground rather than risk getting hurt. Don used to lie awake in his little bed in his Mom's apartment trying to sleep and just keep seeing himself falling off his bike into gravel, getting "swats" from his PE teacher, burning up in some horrible car wreck.

Don tried to stop thinking about his headache specifically and about pain in general. He drank some more beer and looked at their clock with its electrical cord trailing down to the outlet. Don wondered if they sold aspirin at liquor stores. While he was doing that, the tape in the machine ended or stopped or something and in the shock of sudden silence, both boys realized that someone was knocking really loudly on the door.

"Whoa," said Mark.

Don opened the door and it was this friend of one of Mark's girlfriends; her name was Julie. She was sixteen and she liked to come over to the apartment when she was supposed to be in study hall and she'd wait around hoping someone would get her high or show her some deep attention and then she'd go back to school for social studies or hygiene class or something. This girl always wore a black, TV-type detective fedora kind of hat. It was her trademark.

"Hey, Don," she said.

"Hey, Julie," Don said.

She sat down on the living room floor and lit a Marlboro Light. It was the kind of cigarette she bought from a machine rather than risk get carded by convenience store clerks. Don went back into the kitchen near Mark.

"Did you guys ever have Mrs. Lamont ever?" Julie asked them. "For English?"

Neither Mark nor Don said anything. Don was looking through some empty cassette boxes, not thinking about his headache, and wondering where all the tapes were.

"Well?" Julie asked and she whipped her head around to look right at them and her black TV hat almost fell off. "I mean, did you?"

Don moved as quickly as he could to the front door and opened it back up. Sunlight came in sheets through it.

"Hey, Julie," Don sort of said. "I mean, see you later, okay?"

Julie just sat there a second and then she stood up really fast and just left.

"That was harsh," said Mark.

"Nah," Don said back. "Not really."

Number Two

It was extremely near closing time and, okay, I will admit that I was very drunk. I had run out of cash early in the evening and had been running a tab on my credit card. I was drinking shots of vodka and glasses of draft beer. I figured out a long time ago that those are the kinds of drinks you drink when you don't want to commune with other people. If you drink something with pineapple or grenadine or other vivid colors, you're asking for someone to talk to you. Even ice can be dangerous because it makes that attractive clinking sound on the way to your mouth. A shot and a beer meant something else altogether, something kind of morose and silent.

At least, that what I always thought until this guy at my left told the bartender to “give me another round and put it on that pussy's tab" and jerked his big thumb to his right which was directly at me. The bartender looked at me and I was pretty surprised and didn't really know what to say and then the drinks came up. Everybody within earshot was looking at me. I still didn't know what to do but I knew I didn't like what was being done. I didn't know what to do so I nodded and listened to the acid laughter drip out of the Thumb and his buddies drinking on my tab and basically the rest of the entire bar was laughing, too. They all seemed to have figured out that they had it made no matter what I was drinking. My choices had become extremely limited.

I finished my vodka, decided to leave the rest of my draft on the coaster, and slid off my stool in a humble, I'm-off-to-take-a-leak-Sir-but-I'll-be-right-back kind of way as if I was really worried about keeping on his good side, what he was going to do to me next, what he was really thinking about me. When I got near the exit door at the back of the room, I stopped and looked back toward the bar. I waited like that until the Thumb had the time to look over and wonder where I had gone off to and when I was getting back. He was still thinking about me, thinking about me paying for more drinks, and maybe even missing me. The bar was crowded enough, I figured, to keep him from just charging into me swinging his big fists and, I figured, he'd want to tell a few people what he was going to do to a drink-buying pussy like me. I figured that once he saw me, I'd have about half a minute to get ready. I kept staring at him until he looked over his shoulder, I locked my eyes onto his, I pointed my finger straight at him, I made a hooking kind of gesture, and I made my mouth make "You" real obvious. And then I crashed backward through the exit door out into the parking lot.

I was shaking and scared as hell, hyper-conscious of how bad all my calculations probably were, and how even my few seconds where fading away fast. I was just about ready to give it up and run when I found what I was looking for, a big flat piece of landscaping rock. I got to that rock, grabbed it, and the door swung open. The Thumb was alone. I took my swing and the rock split his nose cleanly down the middle, squashed it up under his right cheek. He just stood there and watched the blood ruin his nice shirt.

""Okay? Fair?" I tried to whisper. "Want to quit now?"

His eyes cleared up and he said, "Now, I'm going to kill you, now."

The rock bounced against his left ear. It sounded soft and wet when it hit but he didn't react the way I hoped. He made a noise like "woof" and then he made another noise that sounded like "fucker."

I started to really panic. I tried to think about what I should do next. I threw the rock straight at his mouth and ran. I figured that if I could get to my car and start it and drive, I could run back and forth over the Thumb until his pieces were too small to do me harm. He didn't follow me, though. I got my car door open and I twisted my key into my ignition and, as I drove out and away, I could see he was still standing there bleeding under the light of the “no entrance/exit only” sign.

Number Three

Even though he was pacing everywhere through the house, even though he acted like he was bored to distraction, Jackie really wasn't. He was just Jackie, Jackie here and there throughout the house.

Once in a while, he would stop at the door of the kids' room and call in.

"Are you kids okay? Do you need something?"

"Your mom will be home real soon. Okay? Kids?"

Stuff like that.

When he was out in the kitchen, he finished washing the dishes, scoured out the sink, scrubbed the cutlery a second and then a third time, scoured out the sink again, and started on his shirt and pants. He yelled toward the kids' room a lot.

"Cleaning up in here!"

"Getting things spic and span in the kitchen!"

Things like that to keep them posted on how things were going with him getting ready for their mother to come home.

The stains on his clothes were difficult and he couldn't even start to think about the stains on theirs or the other messes around the house he was going to have to start cleaning. His clothes took a lot of rubbing and scrubbing and some "god-shit-fuck-goddammits" before they came away clean (or cleaner than they’d been before he started trying to clean them). In between all those times he was scrubbing at his clothes, he was still pacing around the house only he was naked and looking out the windows and discovering that he was wandering away from the sink and his dirty dirty clothes again and that he was smoking a cigarette in the hallway near the bedrooms and the doors to theirs, the children's rooms.

But Jackie got everything all washed out and rinsed and hung up on the shower curtain rod in the bathroom. When he saw his reflection in the bathroom mirror, he saw that he had no shirt on which made him look down and remember that he had no pants on either.

While he was in a closet getting fresh clothes, he heard the crunching noise from the gravel in the driveway. Jackie went lurching out into the hallway tangled up in his new, fresh, clean clothes; he was all tangled up in those arms and legs in an eagerly comical kind of way.

"Kids!" he called. "Hey, kids! Your mom's home."

08 April 2009

Silk Cut

The smoke from a Japanese cigarette
curls backward to this boy's mouth
against the current of typhoon.
No way will any divine wind change
the way these blossoms
in flame
again and again
and then stop falling.

(Originally published in Wild Dog Nights, Albuquerque, New Mexico, 1993)

07 April 2009

Another Step Toward True Democracy

(Xian, The People's Republic of China, 1986)

He remembered the oily feel of the mud as he dug bones with the rest of the work detail, the soft (almost silken) feel of the skulls and there were thousands of them, the way they tumbled in the air toward the piles heaped next to the Nanking riverbank.

He remembered the smell of yams baking in the marketplace oil drums, the cackle and cry of the yam men who held them smoking in their thick gloved hands, the miserable blister of yellow yam skin as it fell, peeled, to the dirty street.

He remembered the damp smell of forbidden books, the ones long hidden and poorly handled, the ways their pages opened as if the words themselves would tumble off the paper into dirty piles of useless ink.

He remembered the way his father gasped in the whitewashed hospital room, the smell of carbolic and the rotten mouths of nurses who could not even read, the way a choking man was mocked by medicines trapped inside glass cases.

He remembered the tears that wet his stomach, between the layers of quilted coat and threadbare trousers, and the way that Shan Nyu cried to create them with his penis in her mouth, the lights of the evening buses cutting through the dismal smokes of coal and diesel near the Bell Tower.

He remembered the way sugar tasted the first time it was in his tea.

[Originally published in "El Nopal: Journal of the Southwest Symposium" (University of New Mexico, 1991) and reprinted in Artificial Rats & Electric Cats: Communications from Transitional China, 1985-1986 (Camber Press, 2008). Click on title or book cover for more information.]

06 April 2009

Sake, Beer, and the Rain

all day &
all night the
rolling voices of
other arguments bouncing
off the buildings rising
around us that
surround our
balcony hung with
children's clothes &
toys, some broken
by the bad kids in the
courtyard of grass & dirt & short bamboo &
a maple tree that will
turn serrated crimson long after we
are gone

05 April 2009

She Saw An Eel

and it made her sick.
Sick and limply violent.
She wanted to put it in her mouth,
wanted to see how bad it could be.

"Quit that," he told her
and she stopped making her face.
She wrote E-E-L
on her palette with her tongue.

(originally published in the literary journal Tyounyi, New Mexico [1989] and reprinted in Slack magazine, Boulder, Colorado [1993])