El Gringoqueño

All a man needs out of life is a place to sit ‘n’ spit in the fire.

Category: Stories (page 1 of 4)

For those writings both fiction and non-fiction that tell a story beyond the banal. They might be banal, but that’s just on the surface. It need not be non-fiction to be true.

The Melancholy Detective

I have been helping my father-in-law with a laptop computer from his cousin who passed away recently.  The cousin had been a playwright and performer in the New York theater scene for decades. Recently he had become less mobile and had trouble getting in and out of his apartment.  Once I was able to gain access to his account, I found draft legal papers indicating a lawsuit against his landlord to get required accessibility modifications. That did not look like fun. I could imagine the toll it took – behind the scenes I could hear the landlord fuming to himself, “Why can’t the old goat just die?”

The laptop, a new shiny Sony Vaio purchased in 2011 (model from 2011), had as his username login 21centuryplay. Such illusion, I thought. He was in his seventies, but looking forward to a new century of creative works. It is the dawn of a new era. He would define himself as a man, a writer, a performer for this new century.

First things, first. The laptop did not function and nobody could access its data. There was  a electrical short of some sort and all the thing did was issue long beeps on start up – as if in perpetual keypress. I tried to connect an external keyboard, but nothing. The shorted key(s) were disrupting anything I tried and I couldn’t disable it.

The only thing left to do was to take out the data drive. I disassembled the case and pulled out the tiny 2.5 inch SATA drive. I then placed it in an external enclosure and copied the data to my workstation. There, I could retrieve anything of use. My father-in-law had been looking for an indication of his last will and testament. Everybody had insisted his cousin had one, but no one could find it. I grepped through the files and found nothing. It looked like the last login was April of 2014. There were a couple of unfinished writing grant requests. I retraced his steps to an online form; the procedure for request seemed daunting to me. Perhaps he had printed them and filled them out by hand. I hoped he had, anyway.

There were various drafts of the lawsuit, the back and forth, the changes, the settlement. His landlord was ordered by the city to make the required changes. Did he? I couldn’t tell. I hoped this man had at least some dignity in his last year, or was he stuck in his apartment, only going out when someone was there to help him down many flights of stairs.

I ordered a new keyboard for the laptop on the off chance it could be repaired to working order. I pried the old one out. Underneath there was a sticky goo. Orange juice? Year-old orange juice reduced to its sticky syrupy essence. Now I understood the droplet marks on the screen. On one spring morning, Carlos had sat down with his morning orange juice, popped open his laptop to read the morning variety, a mix of gossip and New York local news. He had logged in as 21centuryplay. He was reminded that he should get working on that. Perhaps today.

Then his arthritic hands failed him, and he dropped his glass of orange juice a few inches to the table. The glass didn’t break, but the liquid sloshed out over the screen and into the keyboard. He did his best to wipe it up, but the keyboard ceased to function and the laptop was rendered useless.

Didn’t he have anybody to help him? I wish I could have been there. I would have fixed his laptop and encouraged him.

I know now that in a year he would have passed. It’s with profound sadness at seeing into this man’s past that I write this. He didn’t know what was coming, or rather when it was coming. He had hope, evidenced by his username, and plans, and he still had ambitions, still had creativity. He was failed by his body and modern technology, thwarted by the world of flesh and blood while his spirit continued to yearn.

Every man who has reached even his intellectual teens begins to suspect that life is no farce; that it is not genteel comedy even; that it flowers and fructifies on the contrary out of the profoundest tragic depths of the essential death in which its subject’s roots are plunged. The natural inheritance of everyone who is capable of spiritual life is an unsubdued forest where the wolf howls and the obscene bird of night chatters.
— Henry James Sr., writing to his sons Henry and William

A Man and His Money

The fat old one that was like a ball gripped his pen and scribbled something on the paper.  “Here, hold these,” he said to the other one who was standing.  “No, no, give me that, you’re messing up my system.  Hold it.” And he snatched a couple back, passed a few tickets to the standing one and directed his pen to the other. “eight, four, twenty-one, seven.  I have a system,” he said, “I have it all here.” The standing one and the one holding a little bag with money and papers in it, both chuckled. “Let’s see…” and he added the numbers, shuffled the papers, passed them to the other, wrote some more, consulted his crumpled little green pad with another series of numbers. “You see? I have it all worked out.” And he flashed it briefly.

The man rested his hand on his cane, leaned back and peppered his compatriots with little bits and pieces to match his little papers. “You know, you have to be precise.  I have a system, There is an order. Let’s see,” he said again. “The seven must be here, and the eight there. The twenty-one has to be like this and add this way.”

The other two nodded and remained quiet.

“Let me tell you something, my money is my money. My wife said she wanted an ATM.  I said, why would you need an ATM? When I go to the ATM, I want my money to be there.  Better to get them a credit card, eh?

The others nodded in agreement.

“I mean, my money is my money.  I need it to be there when I need it… not for some woman and her capricious spending. Don’t give them money, boys. Keep a tight rein on your money, don’t let them waste it.” He paused, consulting his papers again. “All right, I think I have it all, seven plus eight plus twenty-one plus four…” He repeated it one more time, double checking. “You didn’t get those out of order, did  you?  Give me those again.” And he snatched all his little tickets back and shuffled them once again, then dispatched them to the one with the little bag of money.  “Here you go,” and he handed over some bills. “You see? You have to have a system.  The system works.  I’ve been doing this a long time.  I have it all worked out.”

The other two rolled up the little bag of money and departed without looking back.

The Sage Does Not Exact His Due

Today’s quote spoke to me.

After a bitter quarrel, some resentment must remain. What can one do about it? Therefore the sage keeps his half of the bargain But does not exact his due. A man of Virtue performs his part, But a man without Virtue requires others to fulfill their obligations. The Tao of heaven is impartial. It stays with good men all the time.

I did some work for a guy (a collections agency of all things), and he stiffed me.   I had known him from the business community, Chamber of Commerce, a church group of all places, and our general neighborhood zone.  We bumped into each other from time to time.  I had attempted to get him to pay me for some time, but my emails and phone calls went unanswered.  I’d see him here and there and make it a point to talk to him, but he always managed to slip away.  I knew that his business was struggling, but damnit, I was struggling too, and I had wasted my time helping him out.  He needed to talk to me, make a payment plan, something, I thought.

It was in that mindset that I ran into him at his church one day.  “Hey J,” I said, “How’s it going?” And I clasped his hand firmly.  Very firmly.

“Hey! Let go of me,” he whined.

“J, you owe me some money.  You know that right?  You’ve not paid me a dime.  Not one dime. Never.  I did work for you and you won’t even talk to me.”

“Hey, let go of me.”

“You know, J, it’s awkward.  We travel in the same circles.   We can’t help but run into each other, talk to the same people.  You know that right?  I need you to pay me something, J.”

And he pulled his hand away.  He was obviously stressed out and nervous at this point.  He turned tail and fled, disappearing into his meeting room where he was on his church council.  Oh the irony, I thought.  I did feel bad however.  I may look like a big tall American asshole, but I’m a softy, and I felt bad for putting on the spot like that.  Fuck it, I thought.  Son of a bitch owes me money, least he can do is say he’s sorry and try to make it up.  I’m not the one who stiffed him.  He called me, I showed up, slaved over his network issues, went to meetings for him at the drop of a hat – everything he asked.  The fees were also discussed up front, so there should have been no surprise.  Asshole.  And my pity faded quickly – aw, who am I kidding.  I thought that he probably felt like shit that night, worried that I would tell everybody I knew what a creep he was.  Poor guy, I thought.

About a month later, I get a nice email from him saying that he has been trying to put things right with his creditors, that he wants to make it right with me, that he feels bad for not being able to pay, that things have been tough.  He wanted to know what sort of payment plan I would be willing to accept.  I said three payments of $750 should do it.  I could spread them out over quarters, if he wanted.

He agreed and I resubmitted my invoice for the initial payment.  It took him a while, but I eventually got a check along with a nice note wishing me and my family a Merry Christmas, that he was sorry for the almost two year delay, and that he hoped this began to mend the business relationship.

That’s nice, I thought, but I’m not writing shit back until this thing clears.  Hah, I’m such a cynic, no?

So, to finish up, I deposited the check, it cleared, I wrote him back thanking him and saying no hard feelings, that I’m cool, and that I’d do business with him again (a lie, but I didn’t want him to think I would be badmouthing him).  His worst fear, I’m sure, was that I would be spreading the gossip of our problem to others in the community.  I wanted him to know that he had nothing to fear from me at that point.  J, you’re off the hook.

And I never submitted the other two invoices.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I wanted to be righteous, maybe I wanted the upper hand, maybe I wanted to be magnanimous.  Maybe I just felt bad for him and figured I was better to be done with it.  I got some money out of it and the poor man had suffered enough.  I’m a softy.  Don’t tell anyone.  I had never considered that I was a sage*, though.  That’s cool, I very much like that.

*Laura says I am not a sage.  Okay, can I be a little itty bitty sage?  Is that all right with you, hon?

Forgotten Warrior

Mira, look,” the young man whispered, “It is Jose Maria. Quick quick, get out of my way, stupid, I do not want to look at him.” The young man pushed his compatriot ahead of him in a hurried jumble, spilling some of the roots he had gathered in his arms.

Ya, look what you have made me do,” he said as he stopped to gather his food. The first man looked back with a quick smirk at his good fortune, and made his getaway.

Tiedra, in Castilla y León, was cold this time of year, nestled as it was between nothing on the plane and another great nothing for as far as the eye could see. The flat barren landscape seemed to tuck up into itself seeking a lower profile. Let the merciless wind find the taller structures to lash, it seemed to say. The land did not stand up. It had never stood up. The land cowered beneath the low stone structures, and the winds sweeping through sent the heat scuttling away over stone floors, skipping and whistling through cracks in the thresholds. Overlooking the pueblo, just a few hundred feet away out on a brown grassy little hill, higher than any other structure, stood a church.

The young man was happy to have avoided talking to Jose Maria. He found him disagreeable. Jose Maria traveled through town every morning and spent time, from sun up to mid day, on his knees in that little church with the wind that blew through it. The young man had been in that church many times for misa, but that was different.  The church was tolerable when they were huddled together with the people of the pueblo. He would always find a warm seat by a fat old woman.

He never saw the old man on Sundays, though. The old man must have been pious, one could only suppose. You would have to be to spend so much time on your knees. The young man could hardly stand more than five minutes on that hill in the winter, let alone hours on the hard stone floor. He shuddered, “Cold.” and crossed his arms, pulling his woolen cowl tighter.

“You bastard,” his friend called chuckling, “I almost had to talk to the viejito.” He punched his friend in the arm.

“Forget him. He is old and crazy and does not mean anything to me. He is probably a very bad man, or at least has done something terrible. He goes there for penance. Why else? He has no wife, no children, no sick family to pray for. That I can understand. Surely God would listen to such piety. But this one… no, I would not want to talk to him.”

“But then what? Why doesn’t he go to the priest for absolution? Why doesn’t he buy an indulgence? I have seen that he has some money. He is not a poor man. Wouldn’t it be better to rid himself of this ritual on his knees by paying some money?”

“Who knows such a thing? I do not. He probably just does not want to part with his money. He will wait out his death, perhaps.”

“When? When the bastard is one hundred years old? Would he even remember what he did? The old senile bastard.”

They both chuckled supposing a predicament whereby one would pay penance for sins but have forgotten them. Would not God, they supposed, have to absolve one by default? How could God hold you accountable for sins that you have forgotten. So many childhood sins were never confessed, but they were forgotten. To attempt to confess them now would surely have resulted in another sin, one of speaking falsehoods. Did God have a list? Would he make them guess?

Did the old man remember his sins? Maybe not. Maybe he was just an old miser, clinging to his treasure. He would not pay, but would wring atonement from his bent and withered knees. Had he not suffered enough, though? Surely it was enough, no?

And they arrived where they had begun. Obviously he had not suffered enough, so he must have done something truly terrible, horrible.

They could not forgive him for the thing they could not name.

“Bah, it is all the same to me.  I don’t want any of it on me.”

“Forget that old son of a bitch. No one even knows. I will bet even he doesn’t. Just forget it.”

And they continued on their way toward their homes, to feed their pigs, tend to their fowl, and check their stores. The winters were usually hard, but not terribly long, and come spring they would hunt again.

Change is Simple

This is a little short story I wrote today based on a prompt.  Alex Keegan runs a boot camp and writing group on Facebook (transplanted from the old Compuserve days), and I've been participating by writing at least 500 words a day.  I ran dry with my project, so I used one of his prompts to come up with this.  Read it through, and I'll tell you what the line was in the comments.

The clinic was as clean and bright as any. The little room met all the needs of the waiting folk, yet didn't encroach. What was it that they said in their literature, he wondered? Ah, yeah, motherfucking feng shie shit or some goddamned nonsense. The paint was bright, but not too bright, whites were more like b­one, and the soft greens were of a child's room. But there were no children, Frank mused, not yet, anyway.

He sat down and grabbed a magazine from the table and thumbed through it, waiting for his name to be called. Frank was neither very young, nor very old, but his face was strained, tired, and his jacket weighed down on his shoulders as he slouched in the chair. He was tired all the time, no energy. He was a rusty old engine before his time.

He thumbed through the glossy magazine with the beautiful, impossibly thin brunette. “Ten Tips to get Ready for Swimsuit Season!” the title screamed in sixteen point Helvetica and below that, “lose 10 pounds in two weeks.” There were beautiful people inside, airy girls, with legs splayed wide in a loose jangle, knees twisted in, and bitting their lower lips. They threw up their arms in others, kicking sand or water, laughing, twisting, fixing on him. They didn't have a care in the world. A smooth fashionably disheveled young man flashed perfect white teeth and flexed tan muscular arms. Those arms, that chest - they belonged on another planet, the fuck. Maybe I'll start working out. Maybe I'll finally be able to keep it up and make some progress.

Another page asked him if he felt moody, if he might have some disorder. Ask your doctor, the page implored. Another goddamned ad, he thought. There were more advertisements than articles. Sometimes you couldn't tell the difference. Scratch that, it didn't make a difference, they were the same shit.

Pharmaceutical ads read like clinical reports from the New England Journal of Medicine, always adding the helpful “get a medical opinion.” As if that would make a difference, he thought. Ask your fucking doctor. Motherfucker's probably in the back pocket of the salesgirl in the short skirt. Give me what I want doc. I need some fucking drugs. Modern doctors were goddamned drug pushers, that's all – put us all on a merry-go-round, an' collect money on every spin.

Actual articles aways seemed to be pushing something too. Feed the writer with your agenda, and then write a “solid” article. Bah! Who are they kidding, The ads are ads, and the articles are too. Guess everybody needs to make a buck, though, and he shrugged and tossed the magazine back on the little table. It opened up, some of its pages spilling over the edge, dragging it, slithering to the ground in a heap. He sighed, knelt down, and retrieved it, cursing to himself softly.

Maybe he just needed some drugs after all. Maybe he just needed a drink. Weren't the solutions all easy? Isn't that what they were selling, easy solutions. He was no different, and he was here to get things fixed. Easy. He pondered the notion of easy. Was easy uncomplicated or did it just mean with little effort. Effort is something he was going to have to deal with. It took effort, lots of it, so yes, he decided, it would not be easy. It would just be uncomplicated. Not like now anyway.

“Mr. Koloski?” said a young woman in a smart uniform, “They are ready for you.”

“But are you, hon?” he joked.

“Oh, Mr. Koloski, you're much too young for me,” and she giggled. “Maybe in a few years, hmm? Sign here, and proceed to room 9.” And she handed him a tablet with a place to scan his thumb.

Frank shuffled down the hall, leaving black scuff marks in the newly waxed tiles. He turned the knob to room 9 and entered.

“Hello, Mr. Koloski,” the doctor said, smiling, “Welcome, again. Let's just get a few formalities out of the way, shall we? Do you have further instructions before we do the trace? As you know, legally, and practically, the rights of your person will be terminated at the moment of the procedure. All we will have to maintain continuity is your trace and this document. Carefully consider any instructions you have for us, and rest assured that they will be followed in the strictest confidence and faithfulness.”

“If possible I would like to be born C-section this time. My shrink told me that my difficult birth... left me blocked.” He waved his hand in front of his face. “Time before that, I didn't get into a good school. Limited my career. Yes, I have decided, I would like to have a less traumatic birth this time. They tell me I'll have it easier.”

Farewell to an Old Friend

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You have been good to me all these years. I purchased you in the fall of 1993 in Maryland while I was attending my Army Officer Basic Course at Aberdeen Proving Grounds.  During that time, we toured the Chesapeake, navigating the hidden inlets, enjoying the beautiful fall colors. There was such a rush of freedom and headiness in those early weeks that I got carried away and wiped out. You carried a ding in the top tube until the very end.

Later I moved to Boston and commuted to work from Mass Ave, left on Commonwealth Ave and straight on out to Brighton (if I recall correctly). I lived in an Apartment in the South End, and you were my ride. Life was good. I had my panniers, a Star Market 20 minutes away (kept me in shape), and a beautiful town. I used to tool around the city on weekends, making sure to take in the way along the Charles River.

Next we went west, San Francisco, Noe Valley… way the hell up in the clouds. It seemed we lived on a 90 degree grade. Those were the times I was in the best shape of my life. If only I was still competing, I lamented. Those San Francisco hills exacted a heavy toll from my ride to the 24th Street Bart Station Embarcadero Bart Station. Okay it wasn’t to the Bart Station, because duh, that was downhill, but coming home, the ride was brutal. Sometimes (err… frequently) I would wimp-out and ride the bus. I still did my shopping and around town errands on two wheels. Good times, those were.

After Laura and I got married, we moved to Oakland. We got a place on Lake Merritt. Here’s a shot I took back in the day. Beautiful. I loved Oakland.

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I used to ride my bike to the nearest Bart Station and catch the train to San Leandro. There was no shower at my workplace, so pedaling to work was not a viable option. I’d ride home though. It was a good way to finish the day. I’d stop off in a park in Lake Merritt and do some pull-ups, push-ups. Then I’d go for a 3 or 4 mile run with the neighbor.

1996 rolled around and we were off to live in Spain. My bicycle got to pedal around the Basque Country, the south of France, and even a stage in the Tour de France in 1997. We did the first stage of the Pyrenees. The ride wasn’t so bad, but I got the worst sunburn of my life. Ouch.

I took classes in Spanish at the university in San Sebastian. Rode my bike.

I did some of the shopping on my bike.

And I rode for fun. It was always fun, even in the rain and the chill.

Around this time, the paint was looking a bit ratty, so my friend Iker and I cooked up a paint plan. I worked in their little bike workshop (avid racers all) removing the paint bit by bit with some sort of sulphuric acid compound. Later, the father of Mari Fran (Iker’s girlfriend), sweet man that he was, did an awesome paint job with in a metallic forest green. Iker and I drew and cut out some vinyl lettering that read "Askatasuna" or "Liberty" in the Basque Language.  It’s a political slogan, but I latched on to it because my bicycle has always been my liberty.

We left Spain in 1998 and came to Puerto Rico. My bicycle has continued to serve me well since that time, but alas, the brutal heat and humidity, salty air, and my prodigious quantity of sweat had caused my Liberty to develop this:

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I discovered the hole while I was scraping the paint. This August I attempted to patch areas of, what I thought were, surface rust.  The problem went way beyond the surface, though. Now, I know this looks bad, but I still had to go for my morning ride. There were eggs, milk, diapers to be bought. I wasn’t going to let a little structural deficiency stop me. I will continue to ride you, Mr. Bike, while I cobble together parts for a transplant. Besides, if I remember my engineering properly, the top tube resists a compression force, not really any shear force. It should be good, I hope.

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Good God, what was I thinking?! I am an idiot. You see? This evidence reveals two important aspects of my personality: I love my bike… can’t get enough riding, AND I can’t throw shit away. Sigh. By the last two days of its existence, the frame was making strange noises like those in a disaster movie.

"Did you hear that?" an unsuspecting character asks.

"Hear what?"

BAM! – the walk way collapses, the wing snaps in two, the floor crumbles, the wheels fly off, or cargo bay 14 decompresses violently.

Fortunately for me, Ebay came to my assistance in the purchase of the following (including shipping):

  1. Aluminum frame – no more rust, yeay! – $100
  2. Front derailer – old one was rusted to hell – $60
  3. Stem – new frame needed a different size, and besides it was rusted to hell – $25
  4. Fork – frame required a new size – old one rusted to hell – $55
  5. Headset – needed for new fork and stem which were 1 1/8" instead of 1" – they were rusted to hell anyway. – $20
  6. Seat post – slightly different size needed for new frame – $20

I bought some cables and housing at my local bike shop. Actually, I tried to get all of it at my local bike shop, but they never had anything. I’d rather buy local, but everything I needed/wanted was old-school. Ebay is the only place you can find vintage new old parts. Anyway, for around $300, I built a new (mostly new anyway) bike. And it’s just the way I want it.

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Lovely, just lovely. I saved the thumb shifters because Jose Mari, Iker’s father and fellow hardcore bicycle enthusiast, once told me, "Those thumb shifters are the single greatest piece of equipment to ever come out of Shimano." The thumb shifters are dead simple, convenient to use, durable, and work well. I agree, but I also keep them around because every time I look at them, I now think of Jose Mari and his general loving adoration of bicycle equipment. Gets you right there, it does. Brings a smile to my face.

I also saved the brake calipers and cantilevers. They’re aluminum and pitted a bit but still work as well as the day they were new. Maybe I’ll change them at some point, but for now, they work just fine.

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Now, after this little eulogy, and nearly 75,000 miles in nearly 15 years, I bid my former ride a fond farewell.

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I know I am a dork.

Yes I was Dead Dead Dead with a Hole in My Head

Haha, Dave an’ Brian, remember that? Dead dead dead with a hole in my head. Brian wrote that right? Ah, good times.

He used to get close to her. He was an attentive sort, would always move in when he was sure she wouldn’t be bothered, when he knew he would be safe from from her careless ways. She’d not the time to consider him. He’d busy himself though, tidying up, scurrying about.

Unlike the others, too cool, too uninterested, you could tell he cared. Was his a reincarnated soul with a deep connection to her, so profound and abiding as to only be taken in spoonfuls – for it was all he could bear. He must pace himself, he thought. We should live long, very long. The long race does not lend itself to a sprint. Better that our relationship be slow, a walk, a stroll, soft hand in soft hand.

Once he made a bold move, coming close when she’d not asked for it. It was a mistake he would not soon forget. Sometimes the love overwhelmed him and he forgot his place, forgot what he was. She recoiled from his touch. He fled in fright.

He was but a servant. He made himself scarce for a time, but the attraction was there. He couldn’t help himself. When she came into his space, he watched her every move, the way she poured a glass of milk, made toast, the rustle of her dress, the sienna of her skin.

He would venture forth to inhabit her space, breathe the same air. Perhaps she would let a crumb fall for him.

It was a mid-afternoon day when it all came to an end. Bah, he had said to himself, a stroll lacks the capacity to express how I feel. I am transcendent, I am more than I seem to be. I am not content to walk a long slow walk. I need more. And puffed up with his new found resolve, he danced and skipped from his space into hers, touched her bare leg, put a hand beneath her dress. Such was his passion. I shall not live a life in silence away from you, my dear, within reach of you without… I must touch you. I would rather die than live a thousand years thusly.

Let me touch you.

She leapt up in fright pushing her chair back.  He gave her a start, but it began to subside when she saw it was him, his little reptilian self scurrying in fright.

With her errant chair, though, she broke his back, sending him to his death. It was unintentional, but inevitable. The end for which he had hoped could never have been.

Poor Jerry the Lizard, it was your love that killed you. T’was beauty that killed the beast.

Gingerbread House

In orbit around the Earth, they were safe, safe and isolated from the depths of space by their craft, their suits, their technology.  They were safe from the vacuum, the cold, the radiation, and small chunks of debris. They were as safe and comfortable as in their kitchen sipping tea and reading the Times.  "Martha, will you fetch me some toast?  Thanks, you’re an angel."  Thanks to the wonderful technology of their deep space craft and its marvelous systems, designed by the finest minds of 22st century Earth and swaddled as they were in their cradles of poly-alloy something, they had not a care in the world.  Not a one.

"What was that?" Justin breathed into his helmet microphone.  "I think I heard something."

A voice responded.  It was helm control.  "I dunno," he whispered, as if asleep, "I think we’re approaching the outer atmosphere.  Sometimes the heat makes things creak."  At least it sounded like creak.  It could have been creep, or weak.  Justin couldn’t tell. 

"Um, okay."  It wasn’t important, he guessed.  The helmsman was a stout sort of fellow, predictable and faithful.  He always showed up on time, checked the craft, before launch.  He was a by-the-book sort not prone to imaginative thinking, but he did his job, which was good enough surely, and probably what you want in a helmsman.

Justin looked around at the relaxed forms of the other passengers.   They were scientists, like himself, but perhaps not like himself.  They were fascinated by things other than a little re-entry.  They obsessed over big problems or small problems, tiny little worlds or grand grandiose big big worlds.  Make the little worlds bigger, they’d say.  Make the big worlds smaller, would reply the others – two schools of thought, Justin reflected, two schools of thought that always end up in the same place.

Justin was awake now, and he couldn’t close his eyes.  The Earth was this big beautiful ball of blue, crystalline blue, shiny, reflective, shimmery, but calm, peaceful, enveloping.  It’s like you could just reach out and touch it, squeeze it, wrap it all around you, he thought, just roll around on it.  Man, he thought adjusting his poly-alloy something pants, been out here too long – getting turned on by this big blue ball in space.  Geez.

"Hey, Melinda," he whispered though the microphone, "did you get the data you were looking for?"

"Hmmm…  you talkin’ to me, Justin?  Yeah, yeah, I got what I was looking for.  Gracias a Dios. They were there just waiting for me.  I stepped around the corner and there they were as if they had chosen me.  The mission was un exito total." 

"I’m glad."  He had had no such luck.  His first opportunity out here had netted him nothing, nothing, and now that he thought about it, nothing.  Maybe when they got back, he’d see if maybe he could salvage at least something of this nothing of a trip.  "I’m glad for you Melinda.  Couldn’t have happened to a better person.  You know you’re the best."

"Thanks, Justin.  You’ll get something, soon, I’m sure."

There was that weak, creeping creak again, trickling over-head.  "There it is again?  Did you hear that?  What the hell is that sound?"

The whisper came again, "Look, it’s nothing to be worried about, the hull’s heating up.  It does that, uneven heating, causes uneven expansion, uneven compression.  It’s all taken care of.  Now, newbie, if you want to make yourself useful, lie back and close those big weepy eyes of yours.  I’ll get you back to your mama’s arms before you wet yourself, I promise." And he clicked off his mic.

To Justin, the break-up seemed almost in slow motion.  There was a shudder, and the pieces came off like big giant flakes of rust spinning out and away into the blackness their edges glowing faintly, discolored like the petals of a dying flower. 

And down they fell.

…to be continued

Sensual Delights

I was reading over some of my old writings from around ten years ago, when something struck me.  They were so rich with flavor, like for example, "To Build a House."  I reflected with disappointment on my current work.  It’s so immediate, so sparse, so "get to the point."  Perhaps it’s this Internet age that is upon us.  I feel like it’s shaped my writing in a negative fashion.  Where before I would indulge in the senses, the details of a particular scene, I now hog-tie it down like a starving maniac.  Got to get to the point, quick before someone comes along and takes my scrap of meat.  And wild-eyed and ravenous, I babble forth matter of fact prose like a recluse who hadn’t spoken in years.  Bah! How lazy, how shallow, and how tasteless it has all become. 

So, I dug up an old piece that I wrote in the North of Spain.  I hope by posting it here, it will remind me what I should be doing.

I met Laura in front of the cathedral in Renteria, near where we were going to eat. She looked lovely, happy to be out in the festivities of a Basque celebration of culture. Loudspeakers broadcast Basque music into the echoing walls of the plaza. Young people, intermingled with the old, gathered amongst the posters for freedom, and graffiti covering the ages old stained stone. We walked hand in hand to a small restaurant near the church and sat down in a small wooden alcove. Warm deep rich paneling and beams of rough hewn logs surrounded us. The waitress approached.

"For to start, we have mixed salad, stuffed peppers, and rice with chicken."

"I would like the mixed salad," I said.

Laura decided to have the stuffed peppers. The woman hurried off, and I said to Laura, "I have been inspired this morning on the new issue."

"Oh, I’m so glad for you."

"I’ve been thinking about a lot of things, and it’s got me all excited. I feel so invigorated. Everything’s flowing."

"Well, I’m just glad we’re finally feeding you, it’s probably because you haven’t eaten in two days, loopy man."

"Nevermind that, it’s the artist’s life. Seriously, I just haven’t noticed. It’s easy to do. Other things have been feeding me, or gnawing at me, can’t say which." I looked at her. "This issue has awakened a lot within. I think people have forgotten."

"Forgotten what?"

"Oh, I don’t know, sensuality. It’s like Hemingway’s ‘Snows of Kilimanjaro’ ‘…He gave them up for richer and richer women.’ It’s like people just upped and walked away from themselves. Hell, it’s like the entire world is walking away from itself. Spielberg’s Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up, but did eventually. He forgot. He forgot himself, who he was, what he truly was. He walked away and ended up bashing fantasy, giving into the nature that says there can be nothing separate from my experience.  To believe in fantasy is false.  There is no magic, no wonder.  And Pan ceased to exist."

"What a beautiful thought." She smiled at me.

The waitress brought our appetizers, some bread, and some cider, all Basque staples. I dug into the bread dipping it liberally into the vinegar and oil on my mixed salad. I mopped some of the mixture from the anchovies strung out over the top."

"Ummm, hon, can you hand me one of your tomatoes. They look really good." She looked longingly in the direction of my tangy red garnishes.

"Sure, but only if I can have some of your sauce." I reached across with a piece of bread and mopped the cheesy tasty liquid running out of her pimientos rellenos. "Oh, man that’s good." She smiled a satisfied smile at me as we dug into our food.

I said, "At least we’re both getting the bacalao, so you can’t steal any of that."

"But, I do so much like stealing your food. Maybe just a piece?"

"Okay, dear," I rolled my eyes.

"Oh, are you going to eat your olive?"

"No, you know I don’t like them. Here." I passed my olive to her plate. "Okay you eat the olives, I’ll drink the cider, since I don’t expect I’m going to get any help from you."

She popped the olive into her mouth. "That’s what makes us such a good match. I eat the things you don’t like, and you finish my coffee, tea, wine, and cider." Laura laughed.

The waitress returned and took our plates, polished clean of every morsel, every speck of food. "Man that was good," she said.

"I know," and I poured us each some more cider.

Peering into Dark Places

Why oh why is the world like this? I was listening to the bizarre account of the two little girls who where stabbed in Illinois. The suspect/culprit is the father of one of the two. How could it be? How could a person become so enraged that they would kill their own child. Obviously the answer is that this person is broken, a broken human, aberrated and twisted by a lifetime of apathy, violence, and despair.

What is it about our society that crafts these wackos? They are works of beautiful twisted art, perfectly shaped from babes to fulfill their seeming lifelong purpose to go out in a blaze of violence and destruction.

Remember the runaway bride? It was so long ago now, and I don’t give a crap what her name was, I don’t even remember much about her particular case. It is lost to me lo these many days. What I do remember of the incident was that I’m sure she was mad at somebody. There was anger, displaced resentment against, I can only imagine, her parents and their relentless pressure for her wedding to be perfect, her husband to be perfect, for her to be perfect. She had been arrested and convicted twice for shoplifting. Her family was wealthy, upstanding, but they’d demoralized her, belittled her, drove her insane with their control, her church’s control, her community’s control. "LEAVE ME ALONE!" She acted out in the only way she didn’t know how. She flailed and writhed to cause them pain in the way that gave her control. I want to hurt them, she screamed to herself. She didn’t care about consequences. She was not thinking. She just wanted to hurt them because it was the only thing that she felt she could do.

Fight or flight. Let’s do both, shall we?

So back to Zion, Illinois. Let’s paint a picture of this guy Mr. Hobbs and his life. He was born into poverty, possibly lower middle class. His parents struggled all their lives. Dad was an abusive type. He worked long hours at a menial job. He resented his lot in life… these damn kids, this damn job, and his meager life of anonymity. So he drank. The alcohol helped him not care. When he’d smack his son around, he didn’t feel a thing. Damn kids, clean up your goddamned room! Pick this shit up! Your mother’s too soft on you. And he’d whack ’em, whack ’em good. When he wasn’t hitting his kids he was just gone.

Sooner or later, Jerry started getting into trouble in school. First he’d just pick on those littler than himself. He was the classic troubled bully. As he got older, he got into more and more trouble with the authorities, both school and otherwise. He dropped out of school.

You should be able to figure out the rest from here. When he got into a dispute with anyone or anything, he lost it. He’d start lashing out with whatever was handy. He didn’t care. His rage flooded his senses, brought back his powerlessness. Somewhere deep down he remembered the lessons of his father.

They are bringing it on themselves. Bitch doesn’t listen to me. She’s a fucked up bitch, telling me what to fucking do.

She screams that she’ll kick him out, or she’ll leave him, or call the police. She used that threat a lot. She used it like a blunt object. I’ll call the fucking police, she screamed.  She doesn’t deserve to be treated this way, she’d say.

Goddamnit… treat HER this way. What about how you’re sucking the life out of me. You – you’re doing this to ME, fuck you, bitch, I don’t give a fuck how you feel you deserve to be treated. You’re a whore and bitch, and – and.

He was cooling down in county lockup. He wasn’t so enraged now. The bruises from his tussle with the cops who responded to the domestic disturbance were starting to throb. Four of them had piled on. They seemed to take pleasure is roughing him up. "Hit a woman, didcha, tough guy. You’re a big fucking tough guy, hittin’ a woman. You hit kids too?" He rubbed his shoulder where they’d wrenched his arm high up on his back in a chicken wing. They’d clubbed him in the kidneys too. Damn, that hurt. He couldn’t sit comfortably. Was he still mad? He hurt, but he’d calmed down. It was out of his hands now. Remorse started to creep in. Damn it, he didn’t mean to lose control. She was just – doin’ it again. A twinge of rage lit off like a spark plug.

He was sentenced to 18 months in state prison. This was the final straw. The judge could see where this was going. This guy needed to know that society was serious and that he’d done wrong. Justice decided that he spend some time outside of the boundaries of society, an adult time out, so to speak.

Jerry, fully intended to change his ways. He thought about it every day. He wrote crudely spelled sentiments to his wife. He loved her and looked forward to turning it around. He saw all the good in his life. It was modest, but they had a little house, a beautiful daughter, and he could always get some work. It’s not like they needed much.

The day came that Jerry had waited for. Here was his big chance to start over, to take control of his life and live it. His wife accepted him with open arms. She’d fallen in love all over again, mostly. Jerry, it seemed, was a new man with a new outlook.

Mother’s Day 2005

"Jerry, don’t worry about it. It’s okay. It’s Mother’s Day. I don’t want to fight about this. I’ll punish her tomorrow. Can’t we just have a special day without yelling?"

"No, she took that money, she’s got to answer for it. I won’t have any daughter of mine growing up a thief."

"Look, can we just drop it?"

Little Laura pranced out the front door with a nahnahnah to greet her friend and scamper off to play. There it was again. His blood began to boil. She’d sassed him. They’d all sassed him, made him feel powerless., revealed his impotence. Nahnahnah, there’s nothing you can do, you stupid son-of-a-bitch with your limp dick and ugly face, they seemed to say. His face twisted up almost unrecognizably and he charged out after her. I’m going to drag her back to the house by her hair if I have to. She’s not going to get away with this. I’m the man around here. She’s the kid. She’s got to listen to me. He flew down onto the path where the two girls were laughing and giggling. "Come here," he yelled. "You’re going home."

"Mom, said I could go out," she retorted.

"I say you can’t, now get over here."

"I’m not coming and you can’t make me. Mom said I could stay out. Leave us alone." and the girls turned to leave.

First he slapped her, then grabbed her hair and threw her down. Her friend had a small pocket knife and stabbed at Jerry to protect her friend. She didn’t know any better. She thought she was protecting her like on TV. A knife?! raged Jerry’s mind. You’d try to stick me with a knife you little bitch. What the fuck kind of parents do you have. And he grabbed her wrist twisting it unnaturally. She yelped in pain as Jerry snatched the knife and stabbed it back at her. Stick me, will you! He slashed and slashed and slashed. His daughter’s horrified face looked to him like contempt. SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP!! He silenced her disdain. That’ll teach her.

As soon as it was over, the rage left him and the weight of what he’d done came down. It was only a matter of time, but he was strangely calm. It was all out of his hands now. He was free.

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