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)

Atlas Is a Myth

This is a scene from the book Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I have taken the liberty of inserting myself into it in order to argue with Francisco d’Anconia’s stupidity. I’m not sure yet if he’s meant to be an ironic character or what, but whatever. In the scene I am taller, more eloquent, and better looking than in real life. Hah! James Taggart is the brother of the main female protagonist Dagny Taggart, and a jealous moron. Not only does he seem to be stupid, but tries to sabotage his sister at every turn. He’s also a strawman for what Ayn Rand seems to think is the best of the socialist idealist. Francisco d’Anconia is an from an Argentinian mining family and former lover of Dagny. In this scene he has returned from a disastrous mining venture in Mexico where the entirety of his and the Taggart’s operations have been seized by the state. We currently find James and Francisco mingling at a party thrown by the wife of another industrialist.

James Taggart had approached the group and was waiting to be noticed.

“Hello, Francisco.”

“Good evening, James.”

“What a wonderful coincidence, seeing you here! I’ve been very anxious to speak to you.”

“That’s new. You haven’t always been.”

“Now you’re joking, just like in the old days.” Taggart was moving slowly, as if casually, away from the group, hoping to draw Francisco after him. “You know that there’s not a person in this room who wouldn’t love to talk to you.”

“Really? I’d be inclined to suspect the opposite.” Francisco had followed obediently, but stopped within hearing distance of the others.

“I have tried in every possible way to get in touch with you,” said Taggart, “but . . . but circumstances didn’t permit me to succeed.”

“Are you trying to hide from me the fact that I refused to see you?”

“Well . . . that is … I mean, why did you refuse?”

“I couldn’t imagine what you wanted to speak to me about.”

“The San Sebastián Mines, of course!” Taggart’s voice rose a little.

“Why, what about them?”

One of the group edged closer to James and Francisco, drawn by Taggart’s rising agitation. He was tall and heavy and barrel chested. In contrast to the angular high cheekbones of the lot of them, his face was smooth, rounded, and punctuated by an ample chin. He looked more at home bailing hay than holding a drink.

“Pardon me,” he smiled reaching his hand out. “I couldn’t help but overhear this talk of the mines. Do go on, and pay no attention to me. Pretend I am but a fly on the wall. We can all hear you anyway, but I’d prefer to just be up front about it.”

James shot him a sideways glance and reluctantly returned the handshake. Francisco straightened up to match the height of the interloper, and greeted him. “Pleased to meet your acquaintance. Didn’t catch you name.”

“Oh, my name is unimportant. Fly on the wall an’ all that. I must hear about these mines.”

Taggart turned himself to Francisco giving the interloper his back the best he could. “But . . . Now, look, Francisco, this is serious. It’s a disaster, an unprecedented disaster—and nobody can make any sense out of it. I don’t know what to think. I don’t understand it at all. I have a right to know.”

“A right? Aren’t you being old-fashioned, James? But what is it you want to know?”

“Well, first of all, that nationalization—what are you going to do about it?”

“Nothing.”

“Nothing?!”

The interloper smiled and sipped his drink, his eyes twinkling.

“But surely you don’t want me to do anything about it. My mines and your railroad were seized by the will of the people. You wouldn’t want me to oppose the will of the people, would you?”

“Francisco, this is not a laughing matter!”

“I never thought it was.”

“I’m entitled to an explanation! You owe your stockholders an account of the whole disgraceful affair! Why did you pick a worthless mine? Why did you waste all those millions? What sort of rotten swindle was it?”

Francisco stood looking at him in polite astonishment. “Why, James,” he said, “I thought you would approve of it.”

“Approve?!”

The interloper spat his drink, unable to contain his laughter. “Sorry about that,” he said wiping liquid from his lips. “I didn’t get any on you, Mr. Taggart, did I?”

“No.”

“Sorry, I know I said I was going to be a fly on the wall, but I really must know, Francisco. Who would approve of a worthless mine? Comeon, my man, you mustn’t play so, toying with James like that. He’s asked a valid question, and he deserves an earnest response.”

Francisco smirked. So it was to be two on one, eh? He was the great Francisco d‘Anconia. This should get good.

“I thought you would consider the San Sebastián Mines as the practical realization of an ideal of the highest moral order. Remembering that you and I have disagreed so often in the past, I thought you would be gratified to see me acting in accordance with your principles.”

“What are you talking about?”

Francisco shook his head regretfully. “I don’t know why you should call my behavior rotten. I thought you would recognize it as an honest effort to practice what the whole world is preaching. Doesn’t everyone believe that it is evil to be selfish? I was totally selfless in regard to the San Sebastian project. Isn’t it evil to pursue a personal interest? I had no personal interest in it whatever. Isn’t it evil to work for profit? I did not work for profit—I took a loss. Doesn’t everyone agree that the purpose and justification of an industrial enterprise are not production, but the livelihood of its employees? The San Sebastián Mines were the most eminently successful venture in industrial history: they produced no copper, but they provided a livelihood for thousands of men who could not have achieved, in a lifetime, the equivalent of what they got for one day’s work, which they could not do.

Isn’t it generally agreed that an owner is a parasite and an exploiter, that it is the employees who do all the work and make the product possible? I did not exploit anyone. I did not burden the San Sebastián Mines with my useless presence; I left them in the hands of the men who count. I did not pass judgment on the value of that property. I turned it over to a mining specialist. He was not a very good specialist, but he needed the job very badly. Isn’t it generally conceded that when you hire a man for a job, it is his need that counts, not his ability? Doesn’t everyone believe that in order to get the goods, all you have to do is need them? I have carried out every moral precept of our age. I expected gratitude and a citation of honor. I do not understand why I am being damned.”

The interloper’s belly laugh filled the room. So loud, it was, that all turned to him. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” he said wiping a tear from his eye, “I sometimes forget myself. Francisco, you can’t possibly believe all that vomit that just came out of your mouth? Tell me, man, is your hyperbole meant to be ironic? If it is, bravo for painting the most deliciously ridiculous portrait of a Socialist that I have ever seen. If not, then -” and he chuckled loudly, “then may God have mercy on your soul.”

Francisco, turned toward the man, nudging Taggart from orbit. “Pray tell, sir, what do you mean? I was being honest. Sincere.”

“Oh. Well then. Then you have taken careful pains to depict your adversary’s argument in the worst possible light, haven’t you, Señor d‘Anconia? Perhaps Taggart is a charity case to your wit. I mean, we all know it’s his sister that’s the smart one in the family, but you can’t possibly ascribe to him and his ilk such a dreadfully idiotic and logically fallacious position. No offense, Mr. Taggart,” he said touching his shoulder.

If James Taggart had any inclination that the stranger would have been a sympathetic associate in the face of Francisco, that pretense had been destroyed.

In the silence of those who had listened, the sole comment was the shrill, sudden giggle of Betty Pope: she had understood nothing, but she saw the look of helpless fury on James Taggart’s face.

People were looking at Taggart, expecting an answer. They were indifferent to the issue, they were merely amused by the spectacle of someone’s embarrassment. Taggart achieved a patronizing smile and walked away.

“Hah!” bellowed the stranger. “I’ll give you your answer, Francisco. It’s down to you. And it is down to me. Let me first help you understand why your mines failed, my man. They failed because you didn’t give a lick of care to them or the workers, for the geological survey, for the operations, and for the investment. How could you even make such a statement as to having given to them all livelihoods? You and I both know that is ridiculous. It’s the kind of point that a college freshman makes after his first semester of microeconomics. Take for example the case of a state-mandated minimum wage – “

“Yes, let’s.” said Francisco.

“Yes, minimum wage. So one would say in a free society that labor should seek its own value and that business should be free to pay for it what the market will bear. In our society we have established a minimum that one should be able to accept and what one should be able to pay. The buffoon, the ignorant, the ill-educated might ask, where does it all end? If such and such quantity is good, why not make the minimum a thousand dollars an hour or a million? Where will it end? You would say that it would end with the rumination of society, where everybody is converted into a moocher or a looter. You have educated us, Señor d‘Anconia, and thank you for it. Thank you for revealing our silly suppositions and saving us from ourselves.

“Let me give you a better scenario. Let me give some respect to the argument and introduce a key concept that seems to have gone missing in the mix.”

“And what would that be?”

“Sustainability, my friend. Sustainability. Your little educative adventure in San Sebastián was an exercise in useless motion, lots of sound and fury but signifying nothing. Keep the same altruism. Keep the same tenants of providing good jobs. Keep the same principles of happy well paid workers, but put a dash of sustainability into the batter. You’ve got to find some copper, don’t you? Without producing anything in the mine, you may as well have put your money in a pile and lit it on fire. You benefited no one, save  your immense ego.

“You cannot simply take the idea that an individual should be free to do exactly what he wants in the way he wants to do it and extend it to all things in all ways. If a drink of water is good for you, an ocean dumped upon your head must be better. Moderation, my man, moderation. You can’t simply take a little of something and double it, thinking that it will be all the better. Is the needle moving too far into government control? Perhaps. But that’s a discussion that good people can have. If government meddles too much perhaps it distorts markets, creating unintended outcomes. If the government meddles too little, the greedy will exploit – well everything and they too distorting the market. You know this is true, because history has shown it, or was the French Revolution a response to nothing? Were the kings and royals the only true makers? They had palaces and riches while the third estate had their famine and filth. Did they deserve it? Is the vast majority of humanity simply defective in some way, Señor d‘Anconia? Do they deserve the lot they were born into?

“Let me ask you a question. How much of what you have did you start with? You might have doubled it, because you’re a hard worker, impassioned, smart, driven – but there’s this trouble of being born on third base and believing you’ve hit a triple. You grew up with the best schools, global travel, opportunities for leisure, learning, all of it with the safety net of your family’s fortune and reputation.

“Are not those who toil in your mines and ventures worthy of human dignity, to not simply be some sort of social experiment for you to toy with? Should they have had the schools that you had? Should they have had the same opportunities that you’ve had? Are you inherently superior? Do you cry for their children whom you have crushed with your useless operation?

“Did you deserve those things you were born into, Francisco? Even if you were to tear it all asunder, as you seem to be doing, I am convinced that you could rebuild even from zero, because no one can take away your inheritance of self – your mind as it was expanded, nurtured, tested, and filled.” The stranger paused. Francisco had gone quiet, chewing his lip and looking restless.

“I have taken too much of your time, I’m afraid. Don’t worry, Francisco, I’ll leave you with one final thought. If you had been born to nothing, having only inherited the poverty of your father, and your father’s father, do you think you would be where you are today? You may be, but would it be likely? Today, with your immense wealth you would attempt to throw off the shackles of oppression by the looters and the moochers, but is not poverty itself the greatest ball and chain?” The stranger took a breath, downed his drink and placed the empty glass upon a passing tray. “Be better, Francisco. You must be better. I am reminded of an African proverb – if you want to go fast, go alone; but if you want to go far, go with others. Do you want to go far, Francisco?”

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.

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