12 September 2009

Some Q. and Some A.

Though not necessarily surprised at finding the toilet full of debris--copies of my books, the jewelry I had given her, and some of her feces--I was shocked at the vulgarity of the note that had been scotch-taped to its handle.

I am giving you everything you ever gave me back to you. I wish there was more. Enjoy it, it’s all you have left because I am gone forever and am never, ever, ever coming back. I wish there was more.

Love always Denise


you stupid fucker

“XOXOXOXOXO” means “hugs & kisses” and I still don’t know what “Love always Denise” means. Was she trying to tell me that, despite the anger and the bitterness that prompted her to leave my books, her jewelry, and (presumably) her shit in such a sodden arrangement, she would still love me in absentia? Or, was I being instructed to continue (or, perhaps, to really start) to “love always Denise” (Love Denise Always)? And did “stupid fucker” mean that she didn’t like me or that I had sex like an idiot? Boy, that girl sure could be confusing. I had already started to look for her to ask for a clarification, an explanation, of those confusing portions of her note before I remembered that it all meant that she wasn’t around to answer my questions anymore.

When I heard the back door open and then close, I remembered, guiltily, that I had forgotten about Ariel, Denise’s 11-year-old daughter. I was then surprised that A) Denise had not taken Ariel with her when she left and B) that since Denise had not taken Ariel, that she had not somehow arranged for her daughter to be in the bathroom, if not actually in the toilet, with the rest of her message.

“Hello?” I heard Ariel’s thin, 11-year-old voice from the kitchen. I heard the refrigerator door open and the corresponding rattle, of the jars of condiments stored in the racks. “Hel-lo-oh?”

“I’m in the bathroom,” I called back to her.


Several hours later, Ariel and I sat side by side on a couch in the living room (there were three, three couches; one living room) looking together at the place where a television had once been. Three couches, one living room, and zero televisions seemed somewhat imbalanced to me but we usually sat thusly on more normal evenings watching a television that was no longer there and I did not wish to upset Ariel any more than I thought she should be normally.

“We’ll have to go shopping,” Ariel said eventually.

‘Good,’ I thought.

“And get some new stuff,” she continued.

‘Excellent,’ I continued thinking. ‘She’s adjusting.’

“Like a TV,” Ariel attempted.

“We’ll see,” I replied, not wanting to step too far out of my normal character, not wanting to upset her anymore than I thought she should be.

“She does this all the time,” Ariel said.

“Who?” I answered. “Does what? When?"

I returned to the house with plastic grocery bags full of things that I had been certain Ariel would love. Though I knew that food could never replace her mother, I felt that the child should somehow be comforted, should know that someone cared enough for her to bring her delicious snacks.

As I began to unload boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinners, Cherry Cokes, Count Chocula breakfast cereal, Hostess Sno-Balls, beef jerky, Butterfinger candy bars, and Strawberry Quik, Ariel came into the kitchen.

“What is all this?” she asked me.

“It’s all for you!” I crowed. “It’s all your favorite things!”

She looked at me for a moment before she again spoke.

“How long have you known me?”

I did a quick count in my head. “Almost eleven months.”

“Have you ever seen any of this kind of stuff in this house before?”

“No, sweetie. That’s why I got it for you.”

She looked at me for a moment before she left the kitchen.

I was positive that it was not possible to return groceries for a refund and I didn’t want to try to explain how these had been accidental purchases anyway. I set the brightly colored boxes and packages in a long row outside the house along the edge of the sidewalk. By morning, every single item was gone.


On the way home from work that next evening, I realized that I was cashless and, quite rightly, assumed that Denise had taken the checkbook and its corresponding money when she left. I pulled into a convenience store, removed the water pistol from the glove box where I kept it, and went inside. I walked to the register and pointed the pistol at the clerk. Without a word, she opened her drawer and handed me 63 dollars. I refused the change she offered and she returned it to the drawer. She smiled as I left through the door marked with feet and inches. The water pistol is made of lime green plastic and has the words BIG SQUIRT embossed in gold along the barrel. I have “robbed” stores like this many times and have never had any trouble, have never seen these “robberies” mentioned in any newspaper, have never seen my description or height in feet and inches on the television show “Crimestoppers,” have never been approached by any member of any law enforcement agency, and stopped feeling regretful over 10 months ago.


When I arrived home, Ariel was sitting on the porch reading an old textbook. I had no idea what textbook it was and did not remember keeping any textbooks but there she was reading one. I gave her twenty dollars.

“Oh. Great,” she said. “Now my friends will love me.”

“What?” I asked her.

“Nothing,” she said.

“You’re welcome,” I told her on my way into the house.

I dialed a number I got from the business personals section of the classified ads of the newspaper in our town.

Deja vu hotline,” a voice said but, before I could begin talking, it also said, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. We’ve had this conversation before.”


Ariel came in the door with a new hairstyle.

“Isn’t that a new hairstyle?” I asked her.

She looked at me a moment before she answered.

“What is that supposed to mean?” she said and she looked at me for a moment before she left me sitting on the couch. I could hear her pick up the telephone in the other room and dial a number. It seemed like something like this had happened before. At least once before. Before.


Something had hit me and I had tried to become conscious but it was difficult because I had been asleep. It was Ariel hitting me and saying, “Wake up. Wake up. Wake up.”

When I was awake enough, I said, “What is it, honey?”

“Earthquakes,” she said. “There’s earthquakes on the TV. You come and watch them.”

“Honey,” I told her, “we don’t have a TV anymore. Remember?”

“Oh,” she said and let me go back to sleep. Again.


The next time I remember I was asleep and Ariel woke me up was when I was sleeping on one of the couches in the living room and she slammed the door walking in. I woke up and she threw my BIG SQUIRT water pistol into my lap.

“Here,” she said, holding a twenty dollar bill at me. “Now your friends will love you.”

“Thank you, honey,” I told her when I took it.

She just looked at me for a moment before she went back outside.

“You’re welcome,” I called after her.

When I answered the ringing telephone I discovered it was Denise calling us. After I said “hello” I listened to her voice for what seemed like the longest time.

“Yeah, yeah,” I was finally able to say. “I’m sure we’ve had this conversation before.” And hung up.

“Who was that on the phone?” Ariel asked from the other room.

“When?” I answered.


I began to disobey traffic laws. At first, I would merely slow down at the stop signs, look both ways, and proceed. I began to do the same at stoplights. I began not to yield, began not to look both ways. Soon, I drove without obeying a single symbolic directive, as if I was the only driver on the roads, as if the rules did not apply to me, as if all the obvious signs weren’t there at all.

Not one single bad thing happened.


I began to wonder why Ariel was apparently not going to school and approached her about it.

“Why are you apparently not going to school?” I asked her.

“I go to school,” she answered. “I go to school every single day. Except Saturday and Sunday. I go to Horace Mann Elementary School and am in Mrs. Whalen’s sixth grade class. I bring home notebooks and textbooks and can often be found at the kitchen table doing homework in the early evenings. Jeez.”

“And why, then,” I asked her, “have I not noticed this?”

“Because,” she answered, “you leave before I do in the morning and return after I am already home.”

I had to admire her because it was really that simple and easy to understand the way she explained it.


One night I was awakened by someone hitting me and it was Ariel. Again.

“Wake up,” she said. “Wake up. Wake up.”

“Haven’t we had this conversation before?” I asked her.

“There’s mudslides and tornadoes on TV,” she said. “Get up and watch them with me.”

“Honey,” I tried to tell her again, “we don’t have a TV anymore.”

“We do now,” she answered. “Get up.”

I was glad to hear we had a TV and, after I watched it, glad she’d gotten me awake. Those were some good disasters we watched that night.


One day, I approached Ariel with the intent to confront her.

“Okay,” I said. “If you go to school, what did you learn today?”

She just looked at me for a moment over the top of what I had only at that instant recognized as a textbook.

“In school. Today,” she answered. “We learned how telephones work.”


I was in the bedroom listening to the call-in program on the clock radio. It was 3:47 pm. The call-in program was coming from a (clock) radio station that played tapes that had been made in Los Angeles, California. They said it was a beautiful day “in the city” and that the topic was “protectionism.” All in all, I found that great. I heard the front door open and, a second later, I heard the front door close.

“How was school? Today,” I called out. “What did you learn? Today.”

What?” I heard Denise, not my little Ariel, reply.

“Jeez,” I answered. “Where did you come from?”

(Originally published in Triage, Boulder, Colorado, 1990)

10 September 2009

Manuscript Found in a Mad Dog Bottle

This is one of the stories I heard told under an overpass when I was, for a variety of reasons, listening to stories told under overpasses. And, even though I, for other and equally various reasons, no longer listen to stories told around garbage fires, fires fueled with cardboard and plastic smoldering under cement pylons, fat tires thrumming overhead, some of those stories that I did hear bear repeating.

In such environments—underpasses, crack houses, abandoned cars, cheap motels and the like—the usual denizen possesses but a limited repertoire of stories and repeated haunting of such environments and repeated interaction with the usual denizen and, perhaps, even becoming a usual denizen oneself soon exhausts all shallow wells of anecdote. Despite the varied backgrounds one will find represented, despite the varying degrees of social, economic or educational history, the stories tend to the deadenly familiar.

When one day is pretty much like any other, when all days are pretty much just one big blurry today, when not a lot different happens from big blurry day to big blurry day, amusing stories do not usually spring to mind. Despite popularized imagery, the occupants of this particular segment of the underworld actually see very little of it, entrenched as they are in the niche of addiction. They tend not to have their ears to the ground except for a single word: “dope.” They tend not to be tapped into the grapevine save where it concerns their own habits. They tend to be unreliable, capricious sources of information, eager to please but woefully lacking in both judgment and memory retention ability. They tend to lack the inclination or perspective required for anything remotely resembling an objective overview, to lack access to any kind of big picture. The same weary tales of violence and sex and some kind of pathetic, trivial triumph clung to all these passing years conveyed in a could-have/should-have/would-have mode of discourse; the same wearisome explanations and justifications and self-flagellations comprise the usual and expected gamut of street derelict cocktail conversation.

Most stories are truly in-one-ear-and-out-the-other oratory, ethanol or methamphetamine inspired rambles that start with tearful childhood reverie, veer off into social injustice and end with the tellers face down in their own white froth. It's hard to keep an audience when one's stories continually begin, "Last night, as I lay huddled in my filthy clothes and felt the tangible hand of my own self-loathing and shame spread it's long fingers into my freezing entrails...." People will tend to drift away from the fire when one begins one's narrative in such fashion.

But if one collects and sifts, if one listens long enough and closely enough, one will hear the truth of the world in the drunken whispers uttered by the lame, the broken, the insane and the outcast.

If one is to hear a story that begins, "Last night, I watched this woman and her dog save this blind guy's soul...," one tends to draw closer to the toxic flame, to carefully eye the speaker for clues as to where such a statement might lead, as fervently, Christianly evangelistic it may be.

"I have a talking cat in this here bag, but it's day-ed," while a suspect claim, carries enough intrigue and promises enough novelty to provoke a willing suspension of what's left of tattered disbelief.

"I used to be in NASA," will, of course, be greeted with derision but, more often than not, the speaker will be encouraged to elaborate for the sake of the yarn itself.

And if on one early November evening with gloaming still crisp and not heavy somehow on the western horizon, that kind of sky that makes a razor swipe of every telephone line, each troop of river-bound ravens dragging the night sky with them, if on that kind of night with the trash just catching flame within the barrel, with a jug of alcohol extracted from two cans of AquaNet® hairspray still two-thirds full, with no one yet hurt or in tears or screaming hollow noises against the sound of the interstate that shelters all...if on that kind of night a fellow draws into the circle and holds his cracked and bleeding hands toward the fire as if they could be warmed in that way or as if warmth was what they needed and that man says "I seen me how come people do so many bad things" well, that is indeed the kind of story that has a good chance of making a lasting impression.

And when he continues to speak, one can’t really help but listen.

“They’s like this worm, see?” he would mumble through filth-encrusted lips. “An’ that worm jes’ digs isself inside they heads and puts some bad, bad thoughts in theyah.”

And if one thinks about a “bad-thought worm,” it won’t make any sense at all, but if one just listens as his mumble draws one’s eyes into the fire where he stares himself while, unbroken, a stream of words falls out of his mouth and into the air beneath the highway.

“You can see them worms almost any bad place you care to go…I seen ‘em in Vietnam feasting in ’72 and it had got so bad by then that they’s come right into the cities and sometimes right inside our camps…and you better believe they was ever’where in the boonies…couldn’t hardly find a clear spot in the whole damn country.”

This is a point where some will ask for clarification, offer feedback if you will.

“What the fuck are you taking about?” might come the query.

“You weren’t ever in no Vee-yet-nam,” another might suggest.

“Why don’ ya shut yer fuckin’ mouth?” another of one’s company might suggest in a particularly vehement fashion. “Ya don’ know wha’ tha’ fuck yer talkin’ about.”

“I seen ‘em when I got back, too,” the narrator would continue, undeterred by his audience. “I started lookin’ for ‘em and then I started seein’ ‘em. They was inside the heads of the worst sort of folk, the sort of folk you see in the crazy house or the penitentiary. But I’d see ‘em on the street and know they was doin’ all sorts of bad things.”

“Anybody else see your worms, old man?” would come the inevitable question.

“Some do, some don’t,” he would reply. “Some can and some don’t want to.”

“What? Are these magic worms? Only magic guys like you can see ‘em?”

“I don’t think magic has a goddamn thing to do with it,” he would reply. “Magic is rabbits in hats, card tricks and sawing girls in half. These worms is part of somethin’ bigger’n any magic act. I don’t know what it is and, man, I don’t think I want to know. I just try and squash ‘em when I see ‘em.

“They’s bad and they make folk do real bad things. I watched one of ‘em dig it’s way into my sergeant when we was LURPing the Central Highlands an’ I still don’t like to think about what he done to some people after that, how long it took us to finally kill him and what that worm done after. Took us more’n six weeks to find that lil’ fucker and we tracked it from bush pig to VC sympathizer to a whore in Da Nang what liked to suck G.I cock with a mouth fulla broken glass.”

“You are so full of bullshit,” the same vehement soul would rejoin. “What the fuck are you trying? Who the fuck are you trying to scare?”

“Mebbe I’m talking about the fucked up worm inside your head that gives you the ideas to do the things you do to those kids,” the wrecked storyteller would conclude. “An’ mebbe I know the way to dig it outta theyah.”

And, with that, this underpass oracle would produce a rather impressive blade and begin to thrust it rapidly into the throat of one of the assembled company.

Now, these things happen in the course of this kind of life and no one is really terribly shocked when it does, but, still, to be standing in such close proximity to both victim and killer, to feel the warm spray of life pumped from a dying throat, to taste the rusty sweetness of another’s blood on one’s lips and to wipe it from one’s eyes in revulsion is quite another matter.

And, should one observe what appeared to be lavender gray, throbbing muscle, oily and wet and gasping, issue from the dying ragman’s wounds, uncoiling into firelight and poisonous air before flopping to earth, one might reconsider one’s earlier assessment of the storyteller’s veracity.

“I really hates them things,” the man with the gore-dripping knife would say. And placing his boot across the squirming, squealing thing’s back, he would skewer what could possibly have been its head and all the assembled would involuntarily take one step back to watch it writhe, twist and arch itself in futile agony against the blade which pinned it to the ground, the body of their one-time drinking pal forgotten in their fascination with the slimy knot of muscle convulsing in the dirt.

“God-damn,” someone might interject but it might also remain deathly quiet until long after the thing stopped twitching.

“Where’s that jug?” someone will eventually ask and agreement will be unanimous that it will be time for another series of drinks.

(Originally published in Cthulhu Sex Magazine, December 2005)

08 September 2009

Straw Man

There is something fascinating about watching one’s home and possessions burn. There is grief and panic and fear and horror, to be sure, but there can also be a frightening, overwhelming sense of relief and release.

One can see it on the television news when watching other people watch their houses burn down, when the screen shows the faces of families huddled on sidewalks wrapped in blankets, ignored by working firefighters, just standing there while everything they thought was important disappears. Mostly, one sees confusion and sadness and loss flowing across those faces, but if one looks closely, one will often see subtle smiles and dancing eyes as people watch themselves reduced to absolute freedom. Especially the ones without insurance; those folk can be hysterical.

There’s a noise that cars make when power steering starts to wear out; it’s a shrill, squeaking kind of noise that sounds like a cage full of screaming monkeys or millions of steroid-addled crickets in chorus. Anthony was amazed sometimes that he’d gotten used to it.

“Fucking piece of shit car,” he said.

The car shrieked in reply.

That was the kind of relationship they had, Anthony and his car. Sort of like the one his parents had shared for almost thirty years, though he and the car had only been together five. He loved hating his ride just about as much as his parents had loved to hate each other. Anthony had never known a girl well enough to hate her, so the car just had to do.

“Goddamn miserable cocksucking piece of whore-shit,” Anthony continued, thinking fondly of his dad.

The car squealed back just like mom.

It looked like a scarecrow. Or a crucifixion. But neither definition could explain its presence one hundred yards from lakeshore. They had to row out in a small boat to examine it. It was just a life-size facsimile of a person made of straw and crucified on a post sunk into the water with his straw back turned to the shore and his straw face turned toward the eastern horizon. Chief Margery sat in a boat that was rowed out for a closer look at the straw man. She was the head of local law enforcement after all (even if she was the only law enforcement officer on the force), and an investigation seemed clearly an official duty.

It was straw and skillfully made. Each stalk of straw had been carefully placed into each bundle then carefully woven into a near perfect, albeit straw-colored, simulacrum of a man in extreme pain. The detail of his straw face was extraordinary. The straw seemed molded, the parallel stalks shaping contours of cheek and brow blending to form a straw face, and the twisted rictus of his straw mouth drew back from meticulous straw teeth clenched in what appeared to be straw agony. Straw muscles strained against binding wires cruelly biting into straw flesh and straw tendons stood corded under straw skin along a straw neck. He shone golden in the bright summer sun.

Margery reached out from the boat to grasp the wooden pole supporting the effigy. A ring of rainbow oil haloed the spot where it entered the water’s surface. Looking up at the straw man, she marveled at the skill and effort it must have taken to create him.

“What the hell?” boat owner Mel asked no one particularly.

“It’s a man made of straw,” replied Tom, one of the many homeowners whose property now boasted lakefront views of this torture tableaux. “He’s crucified in the lake.”

And because Tom had said it out loud, they all had to believe it.

“What’s it for?”

“Who made it?”

“That’s fucking weird.”

“What should we do?”

The recognition of what they’d all been looking at released a tumble of words from their mouths. No one listened to what anyone else said; they all needed to speak a moment for release.

“Okay, okay, okay everybody,” Margery interjected and brought them back to quiet.

They waited, sitting in little rows in the small outboard boat that rocked in the slight motion of the lake’s currents. Since she had demanded their attention, they were giving it to her.

“Let’s just go back to shore for now,” she told them and Mel turned the boat and they returned to land. “I need to figure out how to cut this thing down and get it to shore.”

The impromptu reports delivered to those on shore did nothing to assuage the general unease. That it wasn’t a real man crucified there offshore was only slight comfort; for some, a real man crucified would have been less
disturbing than this strange artifact. A real man would have been somehow more understandable. The unanswerable questions flew about Margery’s head and she was searching her own knowledge for some procedure or protocol to guide her through what was quickly becoming a “situation.”

“Chief Gold,” one of the assembled spoke. “What are you going to do about this?”

Margery was stumped. She couldn’t see any crime that had been committed, but that didn’t mean a straw man in the lake shouldn’t be investigated.

“Teenagers,” someone said. “Just kids fucking around.”

Based on what Margery had seen of the local youth since moving to the area 12 years ago, something as complex and even artful as this straw man was completely beyond their abilities. They were a mouth-breathing bunch, much like their parents, and Margery knew them from their drunkenness, their violence, their auto accidents, and their vandalism. She did not know them for their artistic abilities.

“Devil worshippers,” another offered. “It’s the fucking Manson family or something.”

“It’s blasphemy, for sure,” still another contributed.

“People! People!” Margery raised her voice above the lakeshore chatter. Again, all eyes were on her, waiting for her to speak.

“There’s nothing we can do right now, right here,” she told them. “Let’s all go home now and let me do my job.”

And she wondered what “job” she was going to do.

He was a man made of straw wired to a pole with a crosspiece and he was tortured in the water one hundred yards from the shore and someone must have put him there but she already knew no one would admit it and no one knew why he had been placed there in their lake, so they just left him there for the time being. They were too confused to do anything else and there he stood where everyone could see him and no one would take him down, similar in that way as well to the original.

“Does someone want to help me get this thing out of the water?” she asked and went to her car to see if she had some tools that would be useful.

Anthony had flooded the car. Again. The starter danced on the verge of accomplishing its mission but the car itself seemed determined to remain asleep, only midly disturbed in its mechanical repose and certainly not to rousing.

“Muh. Thuh. Fuckah,” Anthony swore as he twisted the key, as he tried to physically hurt the car for not starting. If he could have, Anthony would have stepped outside and whipped the car bloody.

When it did finally catch and sputter to life, Anthony was not grateful. He was irritated because it had taken so long.

Gears ground when he yanked the shifter and the squeal began as he pulled into the avenue. If the radio had worked, he would have turned it on very very loudly but it didn’t so he didn’t. The one working headlight, angled off into the night and away from the roadway, burned dull yellow.

Long after her workday was supposedly ended, Margery sat at her office desk and pondering the results of her internet search. She had entered the words “straw” and “man” and “straw man” and “strawman” and every other combination and tangent she could think of trying to find something, anything, which would be useful. What she found was right out of her college freshman English class:

“The Straw Man fallacy is committed when a person simply ignores a person’s actual position and substitutes a distorted, exaggerated or misrepresented version of that position. This sort of ‘reasoning’ has the following pattern:

1. Person A has position X.

2. Person B presents position Y (which is a distorted version of X).

3. Person B attacks position Y.

4. Therefore X is false/incorrect/flawed.

This sort of ‘reasoning’ is fallacious because attacking a distorted version of a position simply does not constitute an attack on the position itself. One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person.”

Following a tangent on the web-threads her search revealed, Margery also found reference to the Devil, to Satan, to Lucifer the Father of Lies as the originator of this particular fallacy: “Now we come to the heart of the matter. Having set up his straw man arguments, Lucifer knocks them down with one swift stroke. After vilifying the corporate church and predicting awful judgments from God to come upon her, he gleefully declares, ‘The church age has come to an end.'"

This disturbed Margery. The lakefront crowd had murmured of devil-worship and sacrilege, but she had dismissed it from her mind until reading the words on her computer screen.

“One might as well expect an attack on a poor drawing of a person to hurt the person,” she spoke aloud. Looking up from the computer screen, leaning back in her chair, squeezing shut her tired and burning eyes, Margery asked, “Whose bad drawing are you?”

The straw man, propped in a corner of her office and filling her air with its clean stable smell, declined comment.

Anthony flooded the car. Again. It was 9:00 o’clock in the evening and Anthony was going to work. If such a thing were possible, Anthony hated his job more than he hated his car; in fact, Anthony often blamed his job for his car, reasoning that if it were a better job that paid him more money, his car would then logically be a better one and more inclined to get him to his better-paying employment.

As it was, working in an all-night convenience store, sitting behind smeared and grimy bulletproof glass, selling disposable lighters, lottery tickets, copper scrubbing pads, and disposable diapers to the crackheads and meth-tweakers who patronized his little corner of hell, was certainly not lucrative. None but crackheads and tweakers and crackhead mommies and tweaker mommies needed such things as he sold in the middle of a series of rotten nights and he hated them, his customers, while they counted out their dirty little coins and filthy bills into his steel tray. Of course, his customers hated Anthony as well. It was like family like that.

So, it was with a modicum of curiosity that Anthony watched the unfamiliar face (and body) enter the store. Squeezing between racks of pork rinds and Inca Cola, Chore-Boy copper scrubbing pads, macaroni and cheese, dog food, and diapers, was the most beautiful woman Anthony had ever seen in this or any other store. She wore little clothing, a micro-something around her hips and what looked like a band of rubber across her breasts. Her feet were bare and beautiful. She wore no jewelry. She was incandescent. Anthony hated her instantly and his rage burned whitely behind his darkened eyes.

She floated to the bulletproof cage protecting Anthony from the store. The closer she came, the more dazzled and enamored he became and the bile that rose to answer his infatuation, the red fury growing with each step she took, his rising wrath at her perfection flushed through his bloodstream like burning acid. She stood before him, languid eyes searching for his, long legs pushing her pelvis against his station, her long arms laid like a gift upon the counter.

“Cigarettes?” she purred.

Anthony just stared at her.

“Cigarettes?” she again spoke, moist lips barely moving, eyes hooded but hungry.

“Whaddya want?” he answered her finally.

“Something good,” she replied. “Something really good.”

Anthony just stared at her. If such a thing were possible, he would have reached through the thickly smeared glass and smashed her pretty face into an ugliness to match the ugliness he felt inside himself when he looked at her pretty face.

“Ferchrissake, lady,” he snapped. “Jus’ tell me watcha want, wouldja?”

“For Christ’s sake,” she murmured. “Yes. For Christ’s sake.”

Anthony fumed. And waited.

“Tell me, Anthony,” she eventually broke their silence. “Are you happy?”

And he wasn’t even surprised that she knew his name.

Chief Margery stood with the rest of them on the shore waiting for sunrise and looked at the new straw man standing there on the new cross sunk there in the waters in the lake shallows where the first straw man had appeared. Dawn light silhouetted this new straw man and then, when the sun’s first direct rays burned across the water and touched its straw head, there was sudden illumination, a burst of straw-gold light released holy fire and the new straw man was truly radiant in the morning light, the dawn of another holy day.

As the rising sun warmed his limbs, what used to be Anthony was feeling more and more happy. Things were finally going his way and the loss of hatred and rage lightened him as the sun’s rays lit him. As glow and heat grew, as the burning globe before him lifted itself from the watery horizon, Anthony smiled to greet what was looking to be the best day of his life.

07 September 2009

The Raid on Smara (introductory fragment)

Michel Vieuchange, costumed as a Berber wife

North Africa, 1930, 2:47 a.m.

For him and in his eye, it is gray and that is a grayness called "pervasive" and it is contained within and it is part of all things seen and all things sensed, of sparse grasses and the greasy wools draped over the shriveled gray bodies of the sheiks and the sky at night, not black, but grayed by the smear of stars more densely spread and deeper than any French skies seen, unseen, or dreamed.

Out there, amidst and amongst the gray, squats Smara, long dead and long forbidden city of the Muslim desert's heart and neither ever home nor any shelter to any Christian white man. And his journey, his swift and terrible dash through that dark and terrible wasteland, is as much a journey through grayness as it an embrace of grayness and that grayness, as the sweetest and most terrifying of lovers always will, enwraps him and envelopes him and enters his heart, his lights, his liver, his lungs, his soft gray brain in equal measure for his penetration of itself.

Under a dull moon's light, he writes the mystery that surrounds him; he measures things and he collects small samples of what surrounds him. He imagines as much as he sees and, below him, across dully lit gray valleys, crawl ghost caravans of ghostly warriors and ghostly camels burdened with ghostly salt and trailing long ghostly lines of slaves. And the word “Smara,” no matter how imperfectly formed and imperfectly pronounced, remains inside the dry regions of his throat and upon the cracked posture of his dried lips.

Moonlight silver on dull, pebble-flecked wasteland and he rocks camelback half remembering, half recreating, half dreaming Josephine Baker and the dans savauge into some half again real. For six nights complete he’d sat as in mesmer, polished and waxed and falling to pieces, to watch the arc of her arm and her leg create an invisible hanging geometry, a geography of clear longing the led to this, his nightmare raid on Smara, gray dead ghost city raised and fallen among low gray, long gray hills.

And Vieuchange can taste the ice dry evaporation of champagne someday in his mouth, small amounts and parceled and savored. He will stand erect and tailored to be introduced as Monsieur Le Explorer Formidable, a veritable voyageur, socially poised and, yet, enclouded with a vision breaking far beyond Parisian walls, the imprint of a kind of lunar gray dust lingering, yet, around eyes both narrowed from having glimpsed the infinite and somehow sunken both but brighter and darker and opening more deeply.


"Mon Deux, monsieur," Josephine Baker will someday say. "Your eyes! How they burn! You must tell me everything."

06 September 2009

Ton O' Bricks (a song)

Up until the moment that you walked out of the door
I thought things for us were going pretty good
And then it hit me:
Something was probably really wrong with our relationship

[Chorus; maybe a bunch of swirly harmonies or something?]

Ton o' bricks, ton o' bricks
a lot heavier than it sounds
Ton o' bricks, ton o' bricks
unpleasant to lug around

I punch my PIN number about a hundred times
but nothing good ever happens
And then I remembered
I don't have any money in my checking account
you cleaned out our joint checking account


I might go out some evening to a bar or to a club
and hope to meet some people but I never do
And then I'll realize:
My fly's unzipped and everybody can see my underwear


I crawl across the desert on my hands and on my knees
and I'm looking for a sweet oasis
And then I finally understand:
I'm going to die out here and no one's ever even going to know

[Chorus; repeat as often as necessary]