Yearned for her.
Bob Church copyright 2007
"Take a penny, leave a penny"
I can’t speak for you, certainly, but I’m convinced that clerks at some convenience stores are abusing the “take a penny, leave a penny” trays that sit next to the cash register. Just think about it… how many times have you walked into the Quik-Stop to buy a 12-pack of Bud LightTM and needed a penny to keep from breaking a twenty, only to find an empty “take a penny, leave a penny” tray? Then, as you dig that twenty out of your wallet, you look up into the deviously happy grin and dancing eyes of the nineteen-year-old high school dropout with the tattoos all over his neck and arms, who even now salivates at the prospect of giving you change for your twenty, being sure to ask you if you mind if he leaves the pennies in the “take a penny, leave a penny” tray.
Then it occurs to you… if he waits until you walk out, picks up those three pennies and slips them into his pocket, he’s well on his way to retirement at an early age. Think about it, if he collects three cents from 50 customers a day, he’ll earn enough in two months to fund a $100 T-Bill or buy an eight ball of crack!
I figure that I’ve been buying 12-packs of Bud LightTM every day now for the last forty years. If I’d bought them all at Seven-Eleven, and that same clerk had grown up with me, I’d have supplemented his income to the tune of $438. If fifty other customers had contributed to his little slush fund in the same way and he’d invested the skimmings in T-Bills at 3% simple interest, he’d have over $40,000 right now! Or he’d have a $200/day crack habit that would force him to spend his off-work time breaking into my garage and stealing my Dremel®, miter saw and invaluable box of Slim Whitman records.
Folks, the moral of the story is very clear. Don’t fall into the trap of enabling that poor unfortunate manning the cash register… eschew the “take a penny, leave a penny” tray. It’s pure evil.
New England Woman
Now, ain’t it just like him? Here I sit, all dressed up, apparently with nowhere to go. It’s not so much that I really like barn dances, but he promised. I understand that I may not be the pick of the litter, but he didn’t seem to mind last Saturday night down by the creek when I let him have his—
I need to stop this. It ain’t proper for a mature woman to think about such things. After all, I wanted it as much as he did… maybe more. It ain’t like we’re a couple of kids. Maybe if we were, I could excuse him. But the things he said when he was…
There I go again. I think I need to go find something cool to drink, it’s jeezly hot tonight and I swear I’m about to get the vapors. Maybe not as hot as last Saturday night, all things considered, but any breeze at all would be welcome. This fan just ain’t gettin’ the job done. What I need is another swim in the creek, with a certain—
Stop it, Bertha, this ain’t helpin’ matters at all. Lord, how I miss Jedediah, God rest his soul. He was a good man, even if he lacked skills in a certain arena, unlike another man whom I hope dies a very slow and painful death if he fails to show up tonight.
Why am I hungry all of a sudden? Just sittin’ here like a ninny won’t bring him to my door any sooner… maybe I’ll go down to the kitchen and fix myself another plate of supper, that country ham was superb if I do say so myself. Too bad others don’t feel the necessity to show up when they’re invited to dinner.
But, I suppose Bessie Cavender is probably capable of cooking supper, too, even if her pickles have never won an award at the Fair. I guess if your breasts have trouble staying inside your dress, it doesn’t matter to some men.
I hope she drowns him in the creek—after she gives him the clap.
This is my Workshop Challenge, my interpretation of The Yellow Blouse by William M. Chase.
Totality of beauty emerges through unlocked doors;
sometimes meandering, others in passion’s scurry,
but always true to its innocence— for only there
can it find eternal dominion.
The trouble with portraits is their aggravating lack of subtlety. Take this one, for instance, a little beauty that Daddy paid handsomely for, one that a certain famous artist created to punish me for protesting and finally shunning his advances. As I stand before him for hours at length, my legs are not my only body parts to suffer from cramping. My very thoughts suffer their twisted effect as well. I can scarcely withstand his leering gaze as his eyes flit between palette and my bodice, as his mawkish expression trumpets my discomfort, exposes my shame. Even now his impudence mocks me, flaunting my weakness before the world.
No matter. Portraits, for their intimate betrayal of one’s innermost secrets, lack the cudgel necessary to wield blow after blow upon the psyche of a viewer, no matter how long he might stare at my questioning countenance, no matter what speculations he might hold about my character. No, portraits cannot inflict any modicum of retribution as exacted payment for indignities suffered at his hands.
The same cannot be said for the pistol concealed beneath my beautiful yellow sweater. For his sake, I hope he likes my Cross— it will be the last thing he sees when he stares at my breasts and bends to caress them.
Her Last Mardi Gras
Party streamers. Luciana LaBalenciaga surveyed the balcony meticulously before proceeding, taking great care not to step on any of the colorful beads and paper shards that only recently had been blasted onto revelers who’d poured out of the apartment for a prime position at the rail. Not that she really feared twisting an ankle; it was more a matter of respect for the spirit of the past and the dignity of the dead, even if the departed amounted only to a few beer bottles and strips of crepe. After all, Mardi Gras, with all its pomp and ceremony, floats and New Orleans marching bands, served only as a masquerade for people’s hidden agenda, drinking and obscenity.
Women who’d never dream of revealing their breasts in a public setting would, for the price of a few strands of worthless beads and an equitable amount of exotic alcoholic beverage, stand on the balcony and, to the exhortation of the multitudes, bare their feminine finery for all the world to behold—and hoot. How many of the same people would find themselves on their knees tomorrow waiting for the priest to smear chrism in the form of a cross on their foreheads, reminding them of their sinful ways and asking them to search their conscience, to rededicate themselves to the banishment of iniquity from their lives?
No matter… it wouldn’t be her. Not tomorrow, not ever again. This balcony would be her last. The dark, cool dampness of the late March night weaved its charms through the fine loose hairs at her temples, tickling her cheeks and whisking her to a simpler time when the breezes foretold only a storm of the natural variety, the spring rains that threatened daddy’s pirogue and made a walk through the bayou a muddy mess. Thoughts of mama standing at the screen door in her simple housedress and apron pushed their way past all the others, demanding that she concentrate, insisting that she listen. Luciana… you come on in now, chil’, de supper ready an’ you ain’t washed yo’ hans. A girl ‘most fo’teen years ol don’ need to be tole more’n once. You hear me, Luciana, don’t dawdle now, come on in.
“I’m comin’, Mama,” she whispered, “I’m comin’.”
With few regrets and malice toward no one, Luciana LaBalenciaga quickly scaled the ornamental wrought iron and stepped off the balcony. Somewhere in the sixty feet between balustrade and destiny she took her last breath of New Orleans honeydew and joined mama and daddy in the ageless memory of days gone by.
Bob Church© 2007
Lady of Spain, I Adore You
Mothers, in their attempts to enrich their sons’ lives, often resort to unconventional tactics. For example, my mother believed that the accordion was an instrument that people actually enjoyed. I never really inquired how she came to this conclusion (not that it would have mattered one iota), but one of her fondest dreams for my future included my coronation as the next Myron Floren.
What? You’ve never heard of Myron Floren, the Polka King? Mr. Floren was the accordion guru of the Fifties, having nailed down a position of prominence in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. On Sunday evenings in homes across the country, kids were sitting down to watch Bonanza or Walt Disney Presents or even Ed Sullivan Theater.
In my house, the couch was filled with Mom and Dad flanking me, attempting to keep me upright, silent and paying full attention to the mellifluous renditions of The Beer Barrel Polka. After the first week or so, I wasn’t allowed to go to the bathroom except during commercials, given my history of not returning for twenty to thirty minutes. I still can’t understand why I always seemed to get a tummy ache or bowel attack during that show. I can remember holding my breath to see if I could pass out or get polio… anything that would require my presence somewhere else. As I daydreamed, I’d set up mental scenarios with me laying on my deathbed on Sunday night, my parents at my side. Through her tears, my mother would ask if there was anything she could do, and I’d look up at her in my most pitiful expression and ask if I could watch Leave It To Beaver one last time…
It was usually about that time that she’d smack me on the side of the head. How could I ever learn if I didn’t listen?
At some point in time, I remember being driven to the music store, where I was taken into a back room with the world’s fattest woman, Mrs. Beasley. I’m sure she didn’t have a first name. She didn’t need one. Her neon purple dress stood out because the satiny material was a different shade every time she moved, and it reminded me of the big curtain at the Fox Theatre. Plus, it made the twelve pounds of rouge on her cheeks look like Christmas ornaments sitting on top.
Immediately, I knew why Mrs. Beasley chose to become an accordion teacher. She could actually lift the damn thing. Once, when she was sick, I had a substitute teacher, a thin little man. When it came time for my lesson, he merely picked the accordion up with a hydraulic wench and sat it on my lap. Once I decided to try to lift it myself. The next day I woke up in a ward in Presbyterian Hospital, recovering from hernia surgery. (That reminds me, why do they call them ‘hernias’? Women don’t get them, shouldn’t they be called ‘hisnias’?)
After four years and roughly a quarter of a million dollars invested in my stardom, I think my mother realized that Myron Floren was sleeping quite soundly knowing that I was a contender for his throne. One day, my accordion was miraculously transformed into a new pair of size six Ridell baseball cleats and a Wilson A-2000 ball glove, and the rest is history. I’m sure Mom would have liked to keep that accordion, just in case I changed my mind at some later date. Dad probably pointed out that the house simply couldn’t support that much weight in the attic.
I’ve given up my pursuit of learning the cello. Admittedly, what few attempts I may have made while an adolescent, while pluperfect, were less than vigorous. Frankly, the cello is an instrument whose tones I consider abhorrent if not totally repugnant, and any claims I may have made to attractive females regarding my interest therein were bald-faced lies designed to entice said attractive females to have sex with me. The fact that all such attempts were unsuccessful is beside the point.
No, the cello is no longer on my list of unaccomplished stratagems, but I’m still convinced that the ladies are suckers for musicians. With that in mind, I’ve decided to enroll in Banjo College. Wish me luck… with one finger missing on my left hand, I’m sure I’ll need it.
The ladle isn’t pure silver, certainly, and may not be silver at all. Like as not, it’s some lesser alloy of tin, forged in the 1850’s or thereabout, close as anyone can remember, but it’s silver in color at least. It doesn’t matter, though. It manages to stay pretty clean, since I use it only occasionally, to dip water from a bucket when I get nostalgic for the old days. I rather enjoy the slight metallic taste it leaves in my mouth after I drink from it. It’s not a good taste or a bad taste, it’s just… there. Besides, it doesn’t last long, and I don’t stand there like a ninny thinking about it, but it’s there, nevertheless, and worth pointing out.
I think we tend to do that when we get older. All the little things mean more since we understand that there’s a certain finite quality associated with mundane events. Focus becomes centered upon the immediate rather than the far-reaching, and attention to detail reigns supreme. I think the kids would call that micro-management or microeconomics or some such micro-gobbledygook. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it’s the recognition that’s important.
Anyway, back to the ladle. This particular artifact is no ordinary hunk of metal. Countless sets of lips have enjoyed a cool drink of water while resting on one or another spot around the rim. Apparently, it’s home-made. The designer was careful to round the lip, curving it under around the outside, ensuring that the baby or drunk grandpa didn’t cut himself.
Plus, the metal yields to temperature. When dipped into a bucket of ice-cold spring water, it makes sure you pay attention and don’t drink too fast. This sort of thoughtfulness is rare among inanimate objects and should, rightfully, be acknowledged.
Even the handle is accommodating. Whoever pounded out the metal could have left it flat and sharp, and in all likelihood, no one would have complained. After all, it’s only a way to grasp the ladle, so why worry about how it’s shaped? I’ll tell you why. It’s because his granny, mama, daughter or granddaughter might have grabbed that handle, and he wanted to make sure it would be safe and easy to use. That’s why it’s concave, too, providing a spot to rest your thumb on top while dipping or drinking since the ladle itself can be a little unwieldy if filled too full or if hands are very small.
I came upon the ladle by way of inheritance. When grandma died, I was told that I could have my choice of anything on the porch by way of remembrance. We were all down at the farm, and the funeral was tomorrow. By the time a small boy got his turn to pick, all the pictures, antiques and ice cream churns had pretty much been spoken for, but I didn’t care; honestly, I had zero interest in any of them, anyway. As soon as I saw it hanging on the wall, on the same nail it had always hung on, I knew it was what I wanted. My only regret is that I couldn’t take the porch and nail along with it. Images of Dad and Grandpa sneaking out onto the porch rushed into my head, as Grandpa hurriedly grabbed his bottle of ‘corn’ from under a slat on the far side of the porch. I can still see his grin as he poured and offered Dad that ladle. They each shared a couple of sips, alternating until it was empty, then Grandpa would stare into it before swirling it in the air and shaking it to remove any evidence that may have inadvertently been missed. Then, he’d reverently hang it on the hook before heading back into the house… they couldn’t stay long or they’d lose their stealth capabilities and be picked up as a heat signature on Mom or Grandma’s radar.
Of course, I can’t prove it, but Grandpa told me stories handed down from his grandfather about Robert E. Lee himself drinking from that very ladle. It was during the early years of the Northern Aggression, and the general had bivouacked his troops in the woods adjoining the property. It was not an altogether wise move, Grandpa said, because our part of Missouri bordered Kentucky, and everyone knew those ridge-runners to be a treacherous lot; as many cow-towed to the Union as were loyal to Jeff Davis.
Even the cup has a personality all its own. The years have yielded a few bumps and dings and the outside feels rough and pitted, but the inner surface is smooth and glassy as a baby’s behind with only a tinge of white discoloration in a semi-circle along the section opposite the handle. I suspect it may be calcium left when water evaporated while it hung. If I was to compare it to humans, I would say it takes on the appearance of age spots; and as I look at it, I only wish I could age so gracefully.
Yea, it’s just a ladle. There’s no precision machining or coat-of-arms, not a trace of pretense. It contains nothing of intrinsic value to anyone but me and that alone makes it precious. For now, it goes back on the hook, waiting patiently to be of service. It’s not silver, it’s pure gold. Someday, I hope my grandson will understand.
I'm sorry, I have to say goodbye... you'll find someone else
Sheena Easton, you are dead to me. I don’t care if you are scheduled to perform at the Lewis Family Playhouse in Rancho Cucamonga in November, I don’t feel any desire to be in attendance.
Okay, okay… you are rather attractive, I must admit, in a ‘90’s sort of way, with your sensual, suggestive album covers and your appearances on PAX networks’ Young Blades, which I must confess, I have not seen. However, I simply cannot sit still for an album named Todo Me Recuerda A Ti, even though I can’t recall ever hearing you sing.
Recuerda this, Sheena, if indeed that’s really your name, it’s nearly incomprehensible for me to envision a mother looking down at her precious newborn daughter and saying, “Welcome to planet Earth… Sheena”... she probably named you Brandi or Wilhelmina and you couldn't stand the stigma attached. Oh, you didn’t think anyone would question that, did you? You think we were all born last night, don’t you? Next thing you know, you’ll be trying to make me believe that Ian Donald Calvin Euclid Zappa’s real name is Dweezil.
So, go on with your pathetic little singing career and minor-star status among those pallid, simpering unfortunates gullible enough to pony up enough shekels in the audio department of the West Des Moines Wal-Mart to purchase your latest rendition of some hit that a real star made popular twenty or thirty years back.
Just know that some of us out here are keeping our eye on you, girl— any shenanigans and there’ll be h-e-double-hockey-sticks to pay. Someday you'll understand that it's not polite to ignore a well-wisher who cares enough about you to rent an apartment in your building... and restraining order or no restraining order, I've got your back, baby, don't you worry. If you'd just take the time to read one of the notes I slip under your door instead of giving them to the detectives, you'd understand that I just want to have dinner with you-- no expectations, of course, that goes without saying. I mean, I'm not some creep, you know? I just want to watch you eat your Cobb salad and check out whether or not you're truly left-handed. But, if it's really too much to ask, well, what can I say? If I miss this bus, another one will come by soon... or so my mother keeps reminding me seven or eight times a day.
I truly think you're swell... most of the time.
Shingled house, shingled house,
sitting in the glen,
won’t you open up for me
and let me walk on in?
Surely you can tell that
I’m a very weary man,
I’ve picked these wild grapes today
and stuck ‘em in this can.
My eyes aren’t what they once were
I’m sorry as hell to say,
things tend to get all blurry
now toward the end of day.
Blemishes are blemishes
whether shingles, wood or skin,
and make no other statements
of the quality held within.
So I won’t hold it agin’ you,
If you’ll do the same for me,
will you kindly grant me entrance
in the spirit of amity?
I promise not to bother
any treasures found inside
I won’t snoop in any cabinets
Though I might tarry fireside
And turn a page of structured prose
from bookshelf on your wall
I’ll try to make some sense of it
With no guarantees at all.
Then, hopefully, I’ll end my day
midst human apprehensions
just dreaming of my shingled house
with perfect glen dimensions.
The Fourth Night
Come with me, gaze tonight, into my world of transient dreams,
Where fairies flit upon the sands, resting until beauty gleams...
Come with me, your eyes though closed, still watching splendor full adorned,
Tears die there upon request; unmissed, unloved, and best-- unmourned.
Stay with me, my heart’s bequest, laze for eons in my arms,
Freed from stresses, love's frail craft lies moored in freeport, safe from harm...
Stay with me though starry night might beg entry, flashing eyes aglow,
Rejected once, its harried flight through cracks and fissures tries to flow.
Rule with me dominions grand, perched atop passions’ rubied throne,
Lightning bolts of pleasured lust have issued edicts- ours alone.
Rule we naught but what we feel, regal matters lost in rapture?
Affairs of heart take precedence; frenzy dictates terms of capture.
Rest with me, laze tonight, within my world of prescient dreams,
Where pixies flit upon your hands, resting still with beauty’s sheen…
Rest with me, your eyes yet closed, reliving glory that was born,
Tears of joy sit on my chest, treasured most when not forlorn.
Copyright 2007 Bob Church
Blues, my brothers...
I feel so good right now... energized in a way that is difficult to describe. And it didn't take much to accomplish it, either. I merely sat down on my couch and tuned the TV to AMC. I caught the last 30 minutes of The Blues Brothers, and came in during the scene where Cab Calloway and The Cotton Club Orchestra are performing "Minnie the Moocher". Immediately, convulsively, inextricably, I felt my foot begin to tap and my hands start to drum on the sofa... the blues inside me demanded to come out! Cab in his white tuxedo, slow-handing around the stage with his trademark "Hidey, Hidey, Hidey, Hi... Hodey, Hodey, Hodey, ho...skiddley, skiddley, skiddley, skee...", the crowd going wild and whatever soul I possess suddenly yearning to stand and dance along with him.
Then, on cue, Jake and Elwood goofy-foot their way onto the stage with, "Everybody loves somebody", Wilson Pickett's masterpiece zephyring non-stop across my consciousness, culminating in Sam Cooke's immortal, "Sweet Home Chicago" before I was able to realize that I'm really neither black nor standing alongside a thousand other revelers in Calumet City, Illinois… and I didn’t care. Sweet Jesus, does it get any better than this?
I don't need Masterpiece Theater right now... it'll wait. For now, I think I'll just go put on a little early Jimi Hendrix or Howlin' Wolf and pretend it's 1964, when we still had a conscience and time to feel our music's soul.
I’ve received a request. A young writer wrote and asked me to reveal why I write “like that”. Strangely, I understood the request and even stranger, I felt compelled to respond. I'm sure you'll be disappointed to hear that my mother did not drop me on my head, although I did spend more than a little time playing football without a helmet; however neither situation adequately answers the question. ‘You’ are basically nosy, I think; interested in knowing why I would be content with writing stories that contain little by way of socially redeeming value, why I seem to lack the desire to force my prose into tightly structured little boxes. I sense you sitting there in your chairs, expecting me to write something you might be interested in reading… it’s always about you, isn’t it? It isn’t enough for me to merely make some statements about some innocuous event, person or situation and expect you to assign value to it without some credible context because you have needs, man; you don’t want to waste your valuable time on tomfoolery, no matter how well-expressed it might be, am I right?
I’m aware that most of you consider quasi-versification outside the realm of ‘poetry’ heretical; and the presentation of alliterative or other roughly structured prosodic elements in the context of ‘prose’ unfit for the heterodoxy of thematic composition, except when it occurs as the result of bona fide attempts at poesy as a sub-text or stand-alone quote.
Rubbish, I say… for there exists within the beating heart of any prosemeister the occasional desire to cling tighter to his reins and challenge his inner steed to run with the wind, caring not whether the work calls for caution of enterprise or circumspection of intent, but riding closer to the edge and leaning over his flanks for a closer look at the abyss before returning to the safety of convention. Only then, nostrils flaring and hot blood coursing through expanded envelopes of pseudo-reality, can unfettered art find a home on its canvas.
So chide me if you will—mock me if you must—but somewhere within, you know I’m right. If you’re interested, I have one piece of advice for any writer: Leave the safety of acceptance and you will find a new world so complex, so appealing, so goddamn interesting… that you won’t want to leave. Never again will you be satisfied to tell someone else’s story in someone else’s terms; never again will you accept normality as a hallmark nor universal acceptability as a precept. Don’t describe a character’s life or actions, but help me experience his dreams. I promise your writing will fly like never before—with or without a few extra illusory similes.
Chain Saw Chuckle
I own a cat I named Cinnamon. I should probably explain, at this point, that Cinnamon’s name has nothing to do with her color… she is solid black. Neither does she receive her name from any perceived association with the spice derived from either odor or piquancy; in fact, she is quite clean and odor-free, choosing to spend inordinate amounts of time either bathing or sleeping, without exhibiting any of the behaviors known to most kitties such as attacking suspended strings, clawing the drapes or just being a general pain in the ass. I named her Cinnamon because that’s how I hope she’ll taste if I ever have to eat her. With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that if her demise at my hands were ever to become reality, with respect for my health, maybe I should have named her Waldorf, Cobb or Caesar.
However, if McDonalds continues to stay open twenty-four hours a day, the point should remain moot. But, enough... it's time for me to go polish my statue of W.C. Fields.
Last Gig at Lookout Point
Crystal Brodnax felt her heart beat in her ears with each foot placed in front of the other, the park’s running course kicking her ass this afternoon. But, if advancing years were to be kept at bay, she must keep running—if indeed her current pace could really be construed to be ‘running’. She recalled two little boys on skateboards who had passed her with no problem whatsoever, the little bastards barely slowing down to give her a sideways glance, as though she were but another park statue (without the benefit of decades of pigeon shit or cascading fountain to establish her presence). The breeze, still too warm to reward her rapid exhalations with prominence, nevertheless foretold the rapidly approaching autumnal season with a bite that seared her lungs a little. Soon, she would need to replace her silk warm-up jacket with more suitable woolen attire if she were to continue her early evening regimens, but with dusk fast approaching, her immediate goal included only getting back to Woodshire Boulevard without getting raped and/or murdered.
Like any large urban park in the northeast, the expanses of trees, hills and undergrowth of Lookout Park provided ample opportunities for mayhem, should the unwary runner fail to exercise due vigilance, especially when the sun shone less brightly. Crystal’s daily ritual included the full four-mile course that required her to negotiate several laborious uphill sections of twists and turns in the path that led to the park’s namesake, Lookout Point. Fortunately, several years back an anonymous benefactor bequeathed the funding necessary to erect emergency telephone call boxes every half mile and pave the path, thus rendering the surface smooth and nearly free of unseen bumps or holes that could turn an ankle and leave a runner at the mercy of the elements… or whatever else might lurk under the veneer of the surrounding glade. It was a nice enough place, she figured, and her safety was not in question so long as she didn’t wander off the course. Three years had come and gone since she’d first set foot on the Lookout Park Running Path, and Crystal Broadnax’s experiences on the course had all been positive, sore muscles or hours spent recuperating from the debilitating effects of coming down from the so-called ‘runner’s high’ notwithstanding. Yes, she did feel the euphoria of endorphins cascading into her bloodstream, but like the concept of orgasms (which she’d never experienced), any pleasure derived was likely of short duration and intensity. Plus, she didn’t enjoy the sweating or the rash produced by her abundant thighs, the female equivalent of jock itch, or so she supposed.
But, run she did, if for no other reason than habit demanded it. Crystal Broadnax, full-time EMT and part-time theater arts student, displayed all the anal retentive characteristics worthy of her undergraduate nickname, Sphincter. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right… every time. Her reputation as a ball buster earned her a good deal of time alone, which was fine with her. Most of the men she knew were gay, married or both, and the few guys for whom she felt any attraction whatsoever were either unsophisticated, cheap-feel skirt chasers or self-indulged narcissists. It wasn’t that she didn’t like men, it was just that she had neither time nor inclination to finish raising any of the juveniles she’d experienced in her social life… she didn’t want to become anyone’s Mommy. In Crystal’s opinion, if you get close enough to any man to lead him to believe you’re willing to spend more than one night at his apartment, he’ll have you doing his laundry before the week is out. So she ran… and she ran… and she ran some more, even if she could be timed with a sundial.
Stoner’s Ridge marked the start of the ascent up to the Point. Not so much a promontory as a line of demarcation, it served to define the beginning of a constant uphill journey, the point of no return for slackers where many stopped and turned around or simply paused to watch the sun set over the hills in the background. Tempted as she might be to stop, Crystal pressed on past her inadequacies, intent on her objective, the summit. Certainly, the area had earned its name, the glens offering easy access to teenagers hoping for enough privacy to light up a joint or cop a feel… or both. The line of trees at the juncture of the two adjoining side hills formed a notch accentuated by a rock outcropping at the bottom, an area that looked out of place with its neighbors, as though someone had merely placed the boulders there to give the runners something to distract their view from the path—and the dopers in the woods. The picnic table atop the ridge sat alone today, its gray top and benches lusterless and uninviting, the perfect place for a quick pit stop to pull her socks up and catch her breath.
A thin sliver of sun peeked over the hilltop, its refractory powers painting the sky an orangeish-purple and causing Crystal Brodnax to sit down on the bench as she reflected upon the scene with what little romance she still harbored for nature’s majesty. She would not allow herself the luxury of recognizing the romance of the colors or lamenting her perpetual single status, as hard as her subconscious might try. Ethan had used her ‘til he used her up, she figured, and no amount of sentimentality could alter her reality, so why give in to maudlin bullshit and let someone see her cry? Still, that sky was gorgeous and she felt the urge to—what the hell? At the base of the boulders in the notch of the valley, Crystal saw him.
The man’s figure rested between two large round rocks, his head and lower legs visible but torso obscured by the boulders on either side, as though he’d crawled into the crevice and couldn’t get out. The man appeared to be youngish, with a full head of curly brown hair, but she couldn’t see his clothing. A quick scan of the area around him gave no clues as to his situation. He wasn’t looking at her. In fact, he didn’t appear to be looking at anything in particular, if indeed his eyes were open at all. Only one thing was sure, he appeared to be in trouble, and Crystal’s inner EMT compelled her to investigate. Reaching inside her left jacket pocket, she took her whistle out and looped the cord around her neck. Then, discovering the aerosol can of pepper spray in its usual spot in the right pocket, she walked down the hill. Near the bottom, she jumped up on the rocks above the man’s head and looked down at him. Surprisingly, he didn’t move or acknowledge her presence. Truly, he was stuck there, although she couldn’t understand how he could have possibly arranged himself in that position, unless— there she stopped, noticing the blood stain on the rocks on either side. Someone had stuffed him in there, just a little more garbage to dispose of in the woods.
“Are you okay?”
The words seemed to revive him a little, and he craned his neck in his unsuccessful attempt to look up at her. Then, resuming his stare straight ahead, he muttered, “Oh, yea… what could possibly be wrong?”
His voice sounded resolute to Crystal… perky, even, as though absolutely nothing was peculiar about his dilemma. High? Demented? Crystal’s internal computer accessed memory banks of retained knowledge gained from twenty years of dealing with emergency situations in every conceivable scenario and decided to investigate further before deciding on a course of action for his rescue.
Jumping down from the rocks, she assumed a position where she could make direct eye contact with him, although the girth of the boulders prevented her from getting within three feet of his head. His arms still weren’t visible, although she could see the soles of his brown boots sticking out from between the two hunks of granite. Quickly, she tried to move the boulders, even jackknifing her body between them and trying to force them off him, all to no avail. Whoever put him here must have thought he was already dead.
“Listen, I’m going to get you out, I’m a paramedic. What’s your name?”
The question seemed to perplex him a bit. “Will my name have an effect on your efforts? Would you approach the task differently if my name were Alfonzo than you would if it were Jeremiah?”
“What?” The question made Crystal angry, although she didn’t know why. Why do I always get the drunks?
“Do you need me to repeat the question? Oh, wait… maybe English isn’t your language of choice. Sprechen sie Deutsch? Parlez vous Francais? Habla Espan—“
“You don’t need to mock me, dude. I’m just trying to help you.” Crystal snapped.
This caused the head to close its eyes and try to laugh, ending in a coughing, hacking expression of dismay. “You want to help me… how nice. Where were you when I needed help in Toledo or Scranton? Where were you when things got ugly during my second set in Springfield and the broad in the third row kept calling me a Communist? Now you want to help me? Well, there’s no helping me, lady, get used to it.” Again, a few haggard coughs escaped, causing his eyes to bulge.
“Bull!” Crystal roared at him. “I’ll call and have ten paramedics swarming this place in fifteen minutes.”
“Honey, you can get a thousand paramedics out here and a hundred doctors, too… but there ain’t a damn thing that can be done for me, except humor me for a few minutes. How about turning on your best Clara Barton charm and show me that bedside manner you folks have become so famous for. I could use a friendly audience as much as anything right now,” and his voice trailed off, as though he were finishing an insignificant thought.
“Be quiet for a second,” she cooed, all the fight gone from her voice. Reaching over the boulder, Crystal gently pressed the tips of her fingers to his neck, feeling for a carotid pulse, and was rewarded for her effort with a slow, thready beat. I need to get him flat on the ground as soon as possible. “Let’s start over, Sweetie, what would you like for me to call you?” Not waiting for his answer, she crawled down and started to examine his feet, pulling off one boot and revealing a nightmarish blood-soaked sock. Slipping it off carefully, she revealed a cold purple foot. Obviously, he had an injury to his leg that had cut off all circulation. Crystal slid her hand under the boot as far as she could, noticing that the earth gave way underneath, and the soil felt wet… he’d lost a lot of blood.
“Call me… Ishmael.” Then the man started to laugh; a natural, unforced chortle that caused his lips to quiver. His eyes opened and he looked for her. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist. I figured you’d enjoy the Melville reference. You are a woman of letters, are you not?”
Maybe if she could dig out from under his legs, she could force his release by pulling him out the bottom if his upper body wasn’t stuck. Since she couldn’t see his arms, there was no need in even trying to pull him out the top. Hurrying now, she began to scoop the dirt out from under his legs, sickened as she was by the red, sodden debris sticking to her hands.
In the waning light, a passerby might have confused her for a large dog digging for a bone as dirt flew behind her from between her legs. As her digging progressed further and further toward his butt, the dirt became firmer and harder to scoop, but the area directly under him stayed open, and she realized his upper body was lodged. Crystal reached around his leg from underneath and tried to pull down with all her might, hoping that she could feel some movement or some reaction from him. Nothing.
For the first time in her adult life, Crystal Broadnax felt totally out of control. Breathing deeply to keep panic from overtaking her, she stood up and looked at his face. Incredibly, a pale pinkness remained and his expression held no question. He seemed quite comfortable. “Who did this to you?” Crystal asked him.
Ignoring her question, he continued. “See? I told you there’s nothing you can do. If you’d listened, who knows what level of understanding we could already have reached, what plane of existence we could even now be sharing. It’s not as if we have a lot of time, you know. Would you answer a question for me?” His eyes were open again, and they implored her not to look away.
“Sure…” she allowed, “ask away.”
“Which Stooge do you think I most resemble?”
A meaningful pause ensued, then, with snot flying out her nose, Crystal gasped and put her hands over her face, laughter engulfing her. After a few seconds, she looked up and he was smiling, too. “Larry,” she offered, “definitely Larry.” Then, she turned her head away, feeling tears starting to well. He’s going to die, and I’m powerless to stop it… and he’s trying to make me feel better. I can’t let him see me cry.
With a few quick steps, Crystal scaled the boulder and placed her head close to his, staring directly into his eyes. “But, I think you’re much more handsome than Larry, and obviously better educated.”
He rolled his eyes. “Oh, sure, butter up the guy who can’t move. Roll these boulders off me and I’ll show you just how mistaken first impressions can be. When the time comes, would you please be sure to tell the coroner that I’m leaving my body to science fiction?” Both sides of his mouth moved slowly upward into a small, sickly grin.
Smiling back at him, she drew her legs up underneath her and sat Indian-style in an area where she knew he could see her. It’s my turn to talk now. “Who are you? Please tell me. If you do die here tonight, I need to be able to tell someone who you are. Don’t you want your family to know what’s become of you?”
The question seemed to confuse him momentarily. “Ah, yes… who am I… the eternal question, isn’t it? Who is any one of us, really? We come, we go, and if we’re lucky, we have a little fun in the interim. Let’s talk about you, anyone who’d bother to stop for a stranded comic enjoying his last non-paying gig has to be much more interesting, and probably funnier. Besides, I don’t have any family.”
“Okay, have it your way, but I warn you, I’m high-maintenance.” Noticing that his eyes were now only about half-open, she gently stroked his cheek with the back of her hand.
“My name is Crystal Broadnax. I’m originally from Parkersburg, West Virginia, I’m a 41-year-old paramedic and I’ve never had an orgasm.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph… you’re beginning to sound like every woman I’ve ever known, not that the list is lengthy. I think I liked you better when you were threatening me with paramedics. But, since you’ve taken the time and effort to stop by my clinic, I suppose you’d like to hear some psychobabble about human sexual response—but I’m required by law to warn you, any reproduction of the details, pictures and accounts of this game without the expressed written consent of the American Medical Association is strictly prohibited.”
Crystal grinned at him. “Is there a man on the face of the earth who doesn’t have that damned disclaimer memorized?”
“Yea, there are a few. In fact, one of them probably cuts your hair, but I doubt he’d be too interested in your little problem. Let’s press on, shall we?”
“Hey, pallie, I never said it was a problem— it was more a statement of fact. You know, a little tidbit of information about me that I thought might interest you, might make you more likely to relate to me on a closer basis.”
This caused the man to think for a few seconds before responding. “Oh, I see… you want to get close to me, I should have realized that. What lady jogger who comes across a gut-shot comic while she’s taking her afternoon run, doesn’t automatically start spilling her guts to the poor bastard? You start by telling me that you’ve never had an orgasm, then I tell you that I’d spend three weeks of non-stop foreplay with you trying to make it happen, then you tell me that you’d like to but you don’t know me that well, then I’d explain that the chemistry that we would have would just make not knowing each other all the more exciting. Then, you’d look into my eyes and say that, indeed, we could probably make all that happen… if only you knew my name, address, blood type, any chronic diseases and last, but not least, the location of my next-of-kin, then I’d tell you that my name doesn’t make the slightest bit of difference to anyone, and we’d be right back at square one staring at each other, with you still trying to find a way to make it all better.”
Now the smiles disappeared.
“Is it such a terrible thing that I’d like to help you?”
The man shook his head a little. “No, it isn’t. I’m sorry… but there’s nothing you can do, Crystal. Do you mind if I call you Crystal? You’re the last person I’ll ever talk to, and I don’t want to argue. My vision is starting to fade, but I do want to let you know that I consider you very pretty. I’d also like you to know that if I had more time, I’d make a serious run at you. Honestly, I can’t understand how any man who’s ever seen you would ever let you run by yourself.”
Overwhelmed by the honesty and nearly overcome by her own emotion, Crystal summoned all the courage she could muster. Stroking his hair, she softly cooed, “If I’d found you, I wouldn’t be running at all.”
The man tilted his head toward her, obviously enjoying her tenderness. “My name is Chuck, but you can call me…” He blinked his eyes and turned his head to the side, making eye contact with her one last time. “…Larry.”
Crystal once again checked his carotid artery for a pulse. Finding none, she jumped down from the rocks and walked up the path to find a call box. By now, darkness had overtaken the landscape and her mood. Isn’t this just my luck? Finally I find someone I think I might be compatible with and the bastard dies without me lifting a finger to help him. Irony, thy name is Larry.
Suddenly feeling tired and old, Crystal Broadnax sat down on a rock to wait for the coroner; and she longed for the days when she was but a simple Sphincter, who neither knew nor cared about orgasms… or sad, dying comics. Then, she wept.
Flat Tire On His Inner Journey
I can only see him from the back. He’s little more than a shadow silhouette against a backdrop of falls rising three stories or so, but standing there with his fly rod poised and an invisible line preparing to deliver a fly into one of the pools that engulfed his waders nearly to his waist, I know he’s a fraud. First, he’s no more than thirty feet from my vantage point on the highway, and his LandRoverTM, faithful lapdog to the rich and famous, stands at the ready, waiting to whisk him away should he suddenly tire of the exercise. Second, he’s fishing in a spot accessible by anyone at any time. Had I driven by here earlier in the day, there is little doubt that I’d have witnessed a bait fisherman sitting on the bank watching his pole and drinking a beer—with the same lack of success, given the fact that the trout have finished their spawn and moved out of the river into the adjoining reservoir where they’d spend the winter. Third, and most important, his casting technique is amateurish at best, the resultant of too much money and too little dedication. He’s a dabbler… a doctor from Gillette or real estate developer from Casper perhaps, coming out to spend one whole afternoon in the wild, making sure he can be back to The Long Branch before Happy Hour is over, of course. There will be tales to be to be told of daring-do amidst the rapids, of the flash of a fat German brown’s belly gleaming in the fading sunlight, while he buys her yet another Appletini and injects his worldly savoir faire into her giddy misconceptions of him, forcing her to appraise his obvious charm and suitability for mating within the next hour or so.
Meanwhile, I’ll fix their drinks and lament his success, muttering under my breath as I cut limes, collect money for the till and remove dirty glasses, beer bottles and cocktail napkins from the bar. Maybe he’ll smile at me as they depart arm in arm… and, if I’m lucky, he’ll even leave me a buck. I won’t bother telling him who she was with earlier this afternoon.
Ghosts of Halloween Past
A quick glance at the calendar reminds me that it is, once again, time for the office Halloween party, and, as usual, I haven’t a clue as to what costume to wear. Last year I felt adventurous, so I opted for the ‘aging Elvis’ motif (shown above). Talk about your fashion mistakes… Felicia in Accounting still can’t look at me without shaking her head in pity.
But, I’m a year older and arguably, by standards applied to Americans in general, a year wiser, so with a little luck and possibly the services of a fashion coordinator, I’ll do a little better this year.
The thought process itself becomes onerous… no one wants to show up in a costume that someone else is wearing (and, in all likelihood, looking better in than you ever could), so the elimination process begins in earnest, ruling out most of the characters that immediately come to mind like Cowboy Sheep Lover, World’s Oldest Infant and Birth Re-enactment. No… I must search deeper.
Slut Puppy, Grandpa Spiderman, Kiss, Twisted Sister Monk, David Crosby on Acid, Sleepy Infant In Jammies with Feet… no, no, no! I decided to step out of the ‘celebrity’ paradigm and think about something inanimate… Uncle Snuffy’s Outhouse, Golden Gate Bridge, Mount Rushmore… nope, been there done that. Besides, last year Jimmy Stevenson came as Plaza Where The World Trade Center Once Stood, and he’s now running the Shipping Department in Bismarck.
Then, it came to me… I’d go as a Top-Selling Dollar Store Cash Register Item! Who wouldn’t enjoy seeing me dressed up as Flyswatter Three-Pack or Bottle of Emerald GreenTM Dishwasher Soap? I’m sure that the room would buzz as I walked in as Commemorative Gulf War Beef Jerky, Betsy Eyes Too Far Apart Doll or Box of Apple Jacks with Krull® Action Figure Inside. All enticing, but somehow lacking in verve… I’d have to search further.
18-pack Senor Volto Battery Pack, Artificial Screwdrivers, September Enquirer… all possibilities, but none inspire me to rush right out and start accumulating building materials.
I’ve got it! I have an idea for a costume that absolutely no one will see coming—Aging Corporate Engineer Dressed In Normal Business Attire! It’s brilliant! No one has ever seen me dressed like that before, so I’m willing to swallow my pride once… I may even consider leaving my huge foam “We’re #1” Finger at home. I know, I know… but, it’s okay, I can live without it for one night in the interest of office unity.
Plus, with any luck at all, I won’t get the unexpected Monday morning call to the boss’s office for the yearly post-Halloween-party ‘don’t-ever-do-that-again’ dressing-down.
Lord, the things I endure just to stay employed.
Well, I’ve finally done it… now, every single person on the face of the earth hates me. For years I’ve existed as the hallmark of the precipice between warring factions of the scientific and religious communities. For years, I’ve held onto the hope that my self-loathing would suffice as sacrifice to the gods, blunting the edges of their riff and allowing both sides in the argument the opportunity to advance their cases.
However, all hope was lost this week as I earned the hatred of scientists worldwide when a team of creationists used me to once and for all time definitively disprove the theory of evolution. My only hope is that I can find that wolf troop that raised me. I should fit right in with this silly t-shirt with no sleeves... WOOOOOOO—OOOOO—YIP—YIP—YIP—WOOOOOOO !!!
Golden Corn For The Old And Worn
Of course, I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, time’s undaunted and merciless passage spawns memories of innocuous boyhood deeds and misdeeds more often than actual earth-shaking events that others might presume to be important. For example, I can’t remember a single detail about my high school graduation ceremony (I assume I was there, there are photos of me in cap and gown), yet I can still tell you every turn necessary to get from 23rd and Florence to 4th and Chester, while navigating the storm sewer running beneath Aurora, Colorado. Thinking back on it now, with the editorial distance reserved for old people, those adventures might explain some of the mysterious illnesses that three eleven-year-old boys from the same neighborhood contracted in the summer of 1958. Then, by extension, I suppose I owe our neighbor across the street, Mrs. Weaver, an apology for telling the doctor that her dog had licked my face. Yes, they euthanized the poor thing, but it shook most of the time anyway… Sorry, Mrs. Weaver.
Did the house that you grew up in have a basement? Mine did, and metal window wells formed a semi-circle around the basement windows, serving as a boundary against the yard. Not only were these window wells a great place to hide during a twilight game of hide-and-seek, but the rocks dumped at the base to keep the well in place served as a ready source of ammunition, should the urge to toss a few suddenly strike a guy. As I recall, Mrs. Weaver had a few choice words for my father, too, when a stone roughly the size and shape of those sitting at the bottom of our window wells found its way into her yard and took out the undercarriage of her mower when she ran over it. In fact, when he presented me the small sack of rocks she’d removed from her front lawn, no amount of temporary memory loss on my part could have saved me the ass-whipping that I remember to this day.
I suppose it goes without saying that those same basement windows provided a prime location for easy home invasion, too. The details are sketchy, but I seem to recall one such late night excursion into Mrs. Weaver's basement, as well-- after FiFi received her eternal reward, of course. We didn't take anything, that would have been wrong... but I recall seeing equipment that remained unidentified until ten years later when I sat in a crowded room with a dozen or so frat guys and watched an S/M movie from Singapore.
No matter, it’s all water under the bridge at this point… or perhaps running through a storm sewer.
If it’s Sunday, this just might be relevant
Oh, the thoughts still come and go, wafting in and out of the semi-permeable membrane trapped between my ears. Any reasonably trained water engineer should know that an excess of pressure on either side, especially for prolonged periods of time, might cause either damage to the membrane or diminished quality of the effluent. In my own personal case, I suspect both to be true. Plus, if you factor in the age of the membrane itself, it seems reasonable that failure might occur at any time.
Now, despite any lingering suspicions to the contrary held by my friends, family and/or readers, I am not a total idiot. I simply lack the resolve to be all I can be, in that regard. I still retain some lucid thoughts early in the morning (if I don’t watch the news) and I’ve even been known to converse cogently with others if the subject matter doesn’t involve George Bush, the New York Yankees or French toast. I’ve been stopped on the street and informed by complete strangers that my analysis of Berundian socio-political juxtapositions with respect to emerging ginkgo bilboa extract markets is top-notch.
It’s just that sometimes my membrane tends to ignore its assigned purpose and make its own decisions regarding the free-flow of information in direct opposition to any data I might attempt to input. It would seem that my mind has a mind of its own.
So, dear reader, the next time you waste precious seconds of your life reading my incomprehensible doggerel, and suddenly start to loathe me with an unbounded fury heretofore unknown to you, please take pity on me and understand that you’re squandering your anger on a dysfunctional membrane… and it could care less.