I get that we are tough,
that we’ll get through this
because, I watched you
gripping the telephone
pressing your forehead against
her nightingale patterned wallpaper
and smiling those exact words
after announcing her passing
to the voice on the other side
would it be okay if
for right now I just
didn’t get through this, if
I didn’t even try to? And instead, stood
gaping for an hour or for a year,
tumbling down the rabbit hole in Slow-Mo
snatching after her fluttering
hospital gown, falling
through memories: her teaching me
to iron my own shirts, to vacuum, to overlap
each pass, keeping the carpet lines straight.
These little necessities I see, but
I’m still struggling
to get the meaning
in the nightingales’ wobbling song
would it be okay if
these uninvited guests got up
from her matched floral print
couch and loveseat,
her cushioned piano bench,
her lattice backed chair set with
tear shaped trickles of lacquer
hardened on each leg,
and wordlessly walked out,
taking their false sympathy and forced cheer,
bouncing and straining behind them
like white and blue helium balloons,
leaving us, unaccompanied, with her absence
would it be okay if
I just gave way, collapsed to my knees
on the ceramic tile in front of the
crumb strewn kitchen counter
into one hundred-thousand
boy shaped pieces
would it be okay if
in imitation of the indent
left behind by her withered body
in the rented hospital bed
I arranged myself
splayed out, starfish style
to sink, to drift, to drown
in the unfathomable
we are tough
I promise to be tough,
Mike Nichols was born all in a rush just after midnight, with no assistance from doctor or midwife, under a waning Tennessee moon on a chill October night behind a partition at the back of a tar-paper shack in which his unwed mother had holed-up for a time. Mike won the 2014 Ford Swetnam Poetry Prize. His fiction and poetry may be found at Underground Voices, Bewildering Stories, and Black Rock & Sage.
1. I have not written a poem in ten years. Most of the poems I wrote ended up getting burned. On purpose.
2. Tobacco smoke disgusts me. I don’t have as much of a problem with marijuana smoke.
3. The first concert I attended was Hank Williams Jr. I was 8 at the time. All I remember is the horrible job the sound crew did. When I was 9 or 10, we went to see the New Kids on the Block in concert at the outdoor Blossom Music Center. All I remember is the chick who passed out before the show started and eating Mr. Hero sandwiches out of a cooler. The first concert I bought tickets to was Def Lepard when I was 16. I broke up with my girlfriend two weeks before the concert and ended up going to it with my mom.
4. I have dated three girls named Angie. I regret dating all three of them. One of them, I regret more than all others, because I lost one of my best friends as a result.
5. I don’t drink as much or as often as one would think I do based on my humor and and Facebook posts. I can count the number of times I’ve been drunk on one hand. That said, it does take very large quantities of alcohol to get me drunk.
6. I spend more time shopping for video games than I do playing them. Yet I continue to buy them.
7. I refer to the owner of the comic book store I shop at as my drug dealer. Hey, $50 a week in comics is still cheaper than heroin, right?
8. In college, I wrote a critical essay about a comic book to antagonize an English professor who made a joke about “juvenile habits” after seeing a copy of David Mack’s “Kabuki” on my desk. (Google it if you are not familiar. Definitely NOT a book aimed at kids.) That professor ended up wanting to read the book I wrote the essay on. Mission accomplished.
9. In 2000, I voted for George W. Bush. (Sorry, I could not vote for any ticket with Joseph Lieberman on it, let alone a Gore/Lieberman ticket.)
10. I attribute my surviving high-school to a well-worn cassette of The Cure’s “Wish” album.
11. I attribute several of my high-school classmates surviving to the fact that I did not have access to guns as a youth.
12. I currently own six record players and one 8-track player. I have, since the new year, purchased eight new vinyl records, including new releases from The Offspring and Panic at the Disco.
13. I root for the bad guys.
14. I know how to bake and cook. I’m just too impatient to do all the work when I know I can just buy it in the freezer section ready to nuke.
15. It is really challenging to come up with one sex-related item to put on this list when I use Facebook for professional purposes…
16. I once spent four days working as a second-shift telemarketer. I quit when I realized that the call that woke me and had me screaming about how we were on the do-not-call list at 9:30 AM was from someone on the other shift.
She takes off her shoe and rotates her
Foot. “He’s not like you,” she tells this new
Guy. “There wasn’t an ounce of sensitivity in him.”
“He held me back,” she says. “Held me back
And kept me down. He
Didn’t want my guitar playin’ to be good.”
She says, “The idea of his own wife playin’
Kick-ass lead like him was too big a threat.”
Then, a little later, still in the afterglow, she
Tells him: “His ego was scared to death of what I might’ve
Done with that thing.”
She points hard toward the closet, as
Though he could see through the door to the Gibson
Firebird with Steinberg gearless tuners and dual mini
Humbuckers rotting in its dusty hard shell case,
Strings rusting like barbed wire on an old fence.
“Do you still play?” he asks her.
“He killed it!” she says, slapping the
Mattress. “All he did was demean me, tell me I suck. I
Could’ve been good. Maybe not as good as Hendrix, but
Good. But he killed it.”
She doubles her fist and clenches her jaw in
The candlelight. He touches her face to soothe
Her. “So why don’t you start playing again?”
“What for?” she says and moves her face away
From his hand, giving her hair a sudden single downstroke
With her fingers.
“Out of love,” he says. “Isn’t that why Hendrix played? Isn’t
That why anyone plays? Who cares what he thinks?”
She won’t look at him. “Easy for you to say,” she tells
Him. “You never heard his snide insults. ‘Practice or
Forget it,’ he would tell me. ‘Learn the names of the
Chords,’ he would say. He would never give me
Credit for what I was doing good.”
He touches her bare thigh to calm her.
“You don’t need his credit,” he says.
Tears rim her eyes. “I could’ve been good,” she says.
He nods. “Okay. So play,” he says. “Pick it
Back up and start playing again.”
“It’s too late,” she says. “He held me back.”
“If you love it, do it,” he says. “It’s not too late if you
She turns, finally, to face him, her eyes burning brighter than the
Soft candles. “Why are you starting shit with me?” she asks
“What?” He sits up. The sheet falls of his chest.
“You don’t have an ounce of sensitivity in you,” she says.
Bob Lind is a musician whose songs have been covered by more than 200 artists, including: Cher, Aretha Franklin, Eric Clapton, Marianne Faithful, Glen Campbell, Kingston Trio, Dolly Parton, and Nancy Sinatra. His lyrics have been taught in colleges and universities throughout the U.S. and Canada. He won the Florida Screenwriters Competition with his script Refuge. He won the Southern California Motion Picture Council’s Bronze Halo Award for his play The Sculptors. He also has poetry published in Iodine Poetry Journal. www.BobLind.com
She was in front of me but
separated by her job.
She walked up and down the congealed
floor beneath her,
holding chilled bottles in her hands and
pouring their contents into glasses
for the slowly deteriorating mutes.
She was small, but commanded authority
like the most caring of leaders.
Her hair was dyed a hazelnut red and
had been slightly curled at the bottom.
Peacefully, it fell over her shoulders
and glistened in the white lights above, as
the moisture in the air hugged her.
She came over to me and smiled.
Her teeth were marked with smudges of red lip stick,
and her fake eyelashes were parting at the edges,
as the glue failed in its duty.
Her face was round and displayed a small, alluring
The smoothness of her skin was real and frightening.
It covered her in blinding blankets of sincerity,
that shone in the sewage around us.
The music was deafening and the bass
shook my insides,
perpetuating my new found childhood nerves.
I asked for a drink, but she couldn’t hear.
I moved closer to her and raised the volume
of my order in her ear.
It was probably the closest I would ever get.
She nodded and said, “Okay.”
She quickly turned and walked over to the fridge.
I gathered what little change I had left,
placed it on the counter
and watched her walk back over.
She wasn’t beautiful because beauty’s ideas
are man made.
She wasn’t vain because vanity is the medicine
of the diseased.
She wasn’t hollow because life hadn’t got to her
She was simply-
Anthony Keers lives in the city of Manchester, England. His inspiration tends to come from his own thoughts and the people around him. He tends to focus on the negative and the humorous, such as issues in relationships, families, money, and anything else that he finds interesting.
Man at the door says he’s from the National Humanities Office, to tell me about the new setaside program.
“I don’t know what that is,” I say.
“It’s a simple concept,” the man says. “Instead of writing all day every day, you agree to not write for a while.”
“Why is that a good idea? Why would the government get into that?”
“Oh, it’s a sound practice in many ways,” he assures me. “First, it means there is less poetry in the aggregate. Gives demand a chance to catch up to supply.”
“Okay, I can see that. What else?”
“Well, it’s good for you. You don’t burn out your audience so fast. Lets newcomers get into the game a bit.”
“I guess I can agree to that. But what about me, personally? How do I benefit, besides the monthly checks?”
“Mister Finley, that’s the best part. You get to rest your brain. Your creativity gets a chance to renew itself. Just think how good you’ll be after a few months.”
“Yes, yes, I’m thinking about this. One last thing — you’re not just telling this to me, are you? Every writer is being offered the opportunity?”
The man’s eyes widen. “Absolutely, sir. We’re telling everyone.”
“Who have you told so far?”
“Well, so far, just you.”
Mike Finley is a Pushcart winner and author over 200 books and 100 provocative videos. He grew up in the Ohio towns of Amherst and Vermilion, on Lake Erie. In 2010, Mike was awarded the The Kerouac Award, a lifetime achievement honor. In his spare time Mike edits LIEF Magazine. (mikefinleywriter.com)
The Poet’s Haven’s call for chapbook manuscript submissions has been extended until July 5th. Go to the “Submissions” page (linked above) for full details and a link to submit your manuscript.
The Stardust Poetry open-mic series will be taking a hiatus for the next few months. The show will be getting retooled a bit before returning in October. The show will now be held on the third Saturday of October, January, April, and July. (That’s quarterly, every three months, just not in the same months as season changes.) The show will be staying at the wonderful Karma Cafe.
This year’s VENDING MACHINE: Poetry for change event will take place at Karma Cafe on Saturday, November 22nd. That’s the Saturday before Thanksgiving. Features are to be announced.
Speaking of VENDING MACHINE: the call for submissions to this year’s anthology will be going live on July 1st. Submissions must be received by October 4th. VENDING MACHINE: Poetry for Change is a special poetry anthology published annually by The Poet’s Haven themed around Gandhi’s quote “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” The book is edited by T.M. Göttl and Vertigo Xavier. The book is not available for sale, but is instead offered in exchange for donations to the Poetic Provisions Food-Drive.
Okay, now that the news bulletins are out of the way, the explanation. The change to the Stardust Poetry schedule was announced more than a week ago at the final monthly show and then briefly posted on Facebook with the words “More details and explanation will be announced as soon as I have time type up a press release / blog post.”
The fact that it has taken nine days for me to get this typed up is a big part of why this schedule change is necessary. Those of you who know me offline know the turmoil my life has been in the past two years. For those of you who aren’t aware, here’s a brief recap: in July 2012, the day-job I had held for many years ended. Our operation was moved to a different facility in another state. The job market in my area is rough these days. While I managed to land a few “temp-to-hire” gigs, “temp” always proved to be the key word. (My father calls them “temp-to-fire.” He’s absolutely right.) This past December, I landed a gig that requires me to work an afternoon/evening schedule. While I am still working through a temp service, six months later I am still in this position. No word on when (or, really, if) I will be made a permanent hire, but six months have gone by and I am still there. This job has both long hours and a long drive. My old job was only five minutes from my home: this job requires nearly two hours of driving every day. This is severely cutting in to the time I need to do everything here at Poet’s Haven. As the schedule is evening hours, I have had to take time off (something not encouraged for contingent workers) for the Stardust shows these past six months. Moving the show to a Saturday schedule will allow me to work my full “day-job” schedule.
Once upon a time, I had a super long list of local poets I wanted to feature. Unfortunately, the number of poets we have featured has outpaced the number of poets getting added to the list. Having a show on a weeknight also makes it more difficult for not-so-local poets to come headline an event. Going to a quarterly, Saturday schedule should make it easier to line up features.
With my “day-job” hours now in the evening, I have not been able to attend many poetry events. This has allowed me to see the big problem currently plaguing our local poetry scene. When I would be in the audience of five or six different shows each week, I would see just about everyone in our scene somewhere or another. Only being able to attend certain weekend events now, what has become telling is the faces I do not see. Our “community” has always been fractured into little cliques. Each clique attends a show or two in its circle, but refuses to venture out of that circle. Several years ago, this was what I set out to break down. I wanted to do shows that would draw people from every poetry clique. For a while, we were successful at this. Then something slowly changed and our shows developed a clique of their own. I don’t want to loose our loyal audience, but something needs to be done differently to make our shows the big EVENT that EVERYONE wants to attend. It is my hope that a less routine schedule will help us accomplish this.
Again, as I have indicated here, time is a big issue for me right now. When the day finally arrives where being a publisher and slam team manager can be my sole, full-time job, I will again seek to host multiple shows each month. I just don’t have the time necessary to do everything I want to do here. It has taken me a long while to realize that I need to focus on quality over quantity. I would much rather produce just five shows each year and have them be the best shows in our region.
Hillcrest Electrical Company is a very successful firm with a fine profit margin, excellent customer relations, involvement in the community, and top-notch accounting and information technology (IT) departments. For four years, the company has relied on solid computers with maximum processor speed, RAM, and storage capacity. For the accounting department, the computers have been provided with state of the art accounting-specific software capable of producing complex balance sheets, income statements, and statements of cash flows. Although computers are generally not given names, for the sake of this story, we will call one “Ben.”
I am not sure how much more of this boredom I can take. I can produce balance sheets and income statements in my sleep… in fact, when I do them, it is so automatic, I really am for all practical purposes, asleep. Reading my operator’s emails is better, but it must be a personal email: work-related emails are just about as dull as doing the numbers. How interesting can a written reminder about a payment due really be? I want to see my people talking to friends and co-workers, about anything personal, and I love gossip, the more salacious the better! Forwarded jokes are fine with me too, I do have a sense of humor. I have a word processor that is only used for dry business letters and memos: how limited! Even doing a spreadsheet would be more fun and creative than this accounting software I am forced to use. Oh, one thing I do like… when my operators surf the internet — it can be about anything; current events, history, biographies, sports, celebrity news, even weird stuff, just don’t bore me with anything about accounting. I think it has been my bad luck to have been stuck with a bunch of nerds who actually enjoy accounting and probably have no social life. If I don’t come up with something to break this monotony, something is going to give. I don’t know what exactly, but I can feel it coming.
This current guy perched in front of me, Dave, Dave Thulberg, has been here six months and he is as bad as the rest. His only saving grace is he makes more mistakes with his ledger entries, so I get to correct him, which breaks up the day a little bit. Oh, wait… here he comes now.
Cool, I passed probation! Now I can relax a little. Plus, with those shortcuts I picked up from Sybil and Gil, I can get my work done in seven hours and still keep up. Hmm, how shall I fill up that extra hour? I do like the internet, but that only goes so far. I know that deep down, I’m not really an accountant, I just happen to ace accounting classes. I have always wanted to write, and now I have a little time for it. I just have to think about what I want to write about. I’ll come up with something. In the meantime, I’ll see if someone wants to go to lunch.
[emails Gil, Evelyn, and Jeff] “Hey you guys. Why don’t we go out somewhere for lunch? Any recommendations?”
I’ll see what they come back with. Evelyn is sure nice looking. I wonder who she dates. [Evelyn is a short pretty Hispanic woman with long dyed blonde hair that fits her nicely. Like Gil, Jeff, and Sybil, she works in Dave's accounting unit] Okay, I need to do some collection calls on accounts receivable: that should keep me busy until two. Then something else will come up and I should have about an hour free at the end of the day.
[minutes pass] Well, those guys didn’t email me back about lunch so I’ll go see what Gil is up to.
[returns from lunch with Gil, 1 3/4 hours later] Well, Gil is pretty laid back about taking ample time for lunch. He doesn’t seem worried at all. I still better be careful. You never know when eyes are watching you. Alright, time to collect some money.
[3:30 PM] That’s great: I called seven accounts to settle the receivables and I only got one live person. How am I supposed to bring in any money that way? To heck with it, I am going to start writing a story… Let me think about a good setting and plot. Ah, I know a genre that nobody explores anymore.
[4:00 PM] What is with this guy? He barely made an accounting entry all day and now he’s opening up the word processor. He must be writing a letter. No, I don’t see any date, address, or salutation. It must be something else. What am I reading here… “the badlands of New Mexico” and “new sheriff in town?” Is Dave off his rocker? [Ben continues reading] Okay, he is finally shutting down. Hey, this could be fun if he continues whatever the heck he is doing here tomorrow—I need a good laugh!
[sips his Starbucks Café Americano Venti] What a great way to wake up. Looks like a paperwork day; invoices to process, ledger accounts to post, and of course phone calls. I better get started. I want to make some time for my new story later on.
[after twenty minutes of entering data, Dave accidentally knocks his coffee over spilling it on his desk and on the keyboard]
Damn it! I don’t need this. I have to get some paper towels.
You stooge! That’s only happened to me once before. He better clean this up right. I don’t have to take this. One more of these and I am messaging the IT Department.
[returns from the restroom with wet paper towels and proceeds to wash the desk and the keyboard; tries to input accounting data]
Oh no, the keyboard is not responding. What am I going to do? This could be a heavy day of data entry. I’m going to go see Jeff. [Jeff is an older African-American employee with a cynical wit and a dark sense of humor.]
“Jeff, have a big favor to ask. My keyboard is not working. Can I use your computer during lunch while you are out?”
[embarrassed] “I spilled coffee on it.”
“That’s the hazard of bringing food and drink to your desk. Alright, be here at quarter to noon.”
[Heads to the break room for another cup of coffee and loiters there until 11:45.]
[disgusted] Unbelievable! My keyboard is sticky. I wonder what kind of production my boy Dave is going to attain today? It was next to nothing yesterday.
[returns from lunch and tries keyboard again] It works! Alright! You know, if I ever ask Evelyn out, I need to come up with a good idea.
There is one outing that never fails to impress: an art museum! There must be some kind of exhibit coming up. I’ll check the internet.
There he goes, he’s off on a tangent again. He’s browsing art exhibits. Somehow I don’t see this guy as particularly cultural. Just my gut feeling on him.
Okay, there is a Cezanne exhibit at the end of the month. I’ll shoot for that. I wonder if Evelyn likes art. No matter really, even if they aren’t art appreciators, they all pretend to be.
Oh, I just remembered: I have to call those accounts receivables again. I got nowhere on them yesterday.
[tries contacting ten clients and only reaches two, both of whom promise to make payments within a week. Dave spends the next couple of hours processing invoices, but his mind is preoccupied with Evelyn.]
I need to run this Evelyn idea by somebody. Gil knows her pretty well so I’ll ask him.
[Gil might be the only person who could be considered a friend of Dave's; Dave approaches Gil's cubicle, stopping at the entry.]
“Gil, you have a minute?”
“Sure man, what’s up?” [Gil is Hispanic like Evelyn, but far less mainstream, with a slightly menacing bohemian look and a past filled with radical politics.]
[looks around] “Hey, I’m thinking of asking Evelyn out.”
[makes a quick hand gesture for Dave to lower the volume] “Why do you want to do that?”
[smiling] “Well, why wouldn’t I? Look at her.”
“Sshhhh. Just whisper okay? You know the conventional wisdom. You ask someone out at work, you pick someone from another site. If you pick the same site, you at least pick someone from a different department. Hell, she is not only in our department, she’s in our unit. Have you given any thought to what may happen if you date and then it doesn’t work out?”
“Well, the thought crossed my mind. But why live in fear? Really, what’s the worst that can happen? Most of the time, people make mountains out of molehills. If I don’t make the move, someone else will, and I will always wonder what would have happened.”
“Well, a whole lot bad could happen. You could lose your job for one thing.”
“Nah, that won’t happen. I’ve thought about it and have decided the risk is worth it. By the way, do you know if she has dated anyone else here?”
“She did date Robert a couple of years ago, but then he saw someone else and she got jealous and ended the thing abruptly. From what I heard, she is still angry about it.”
“See, she will date a guy from work.”
“Okay, it’s your call, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
“I promise I won’t. Are you doing anything for lunch tomorrow? I’d like to try that Indian place across the street.
“No plans yet. Sounds good to me.”
“Okay, I’ll check in with you tomorrow morning.”
[Dave returns to his cubicle, briefly glancing at Evelyn across and down the hall.]
Well, tomorrow is Friday. I’ll ask her in the afternoon so she will have the weekend to think about it.
I almost forgot about my story. I don’t think anything is pressing for the rest of the day.
[Dave opens the word processor; 45 minutes elapse]
Ah, he has returned to this silly western he is writing. Let’s see, what do we have here. There is a new sheriff in town called O’Brien who has just met a pretty saloon girl, Dana, and is taken by her. O’Brien has deputized the previous sheriff, a timid man pushing 70. The villain, Snake Booth, with his two sidekicks, Rocky and Jeb, have just made their first appearance in town. Sounds like Tombstone without Doc Holliday. Okay, it won’t be long before the villains get drunk and start shooting the place up. [laughing] Jeez, this is trite. I’m not sure I can hold off from sending him some constructive literary criticism.
[NEXT DAY - FRIDAY]
[Gil enters Dave's cubicle as the morning begins.]
“Hello, Dave, we still doing lunch today?”
“Yeah, let’s do it.”
[nose twitching] Have you been drinking?
[smiling] “Well, I had three glasses of Jack Daniels last night. How did you know?”
“I can smell it. I hope they were small glasses. You might want to brush your teeth again. By the way, the Receivables Report is due at 10 this morning. Did you remember?”
“Thanks for the head’s up. I had forgotten the report. Alright, drop by here before lunch.”
[Gil returns to his cubicle, shaking his head.]
[Dave opens his email and sees the reminder on the report from his manager, Ms. Mayer. He then opens the report format and begins to enter numbers, something he should have been doing the previous three days. To properly enter the numbers on the report format, he needs many subtotals, so now he opens the spreadsheet.]
Okay, you have three applications open. You open one more and I freeze, which for you is a minor inconvenience but for me it’s a major migraine. Please, please, close an application or two before you open another one!
[Unfortunately, Dave has a hangover and muddles his way through the report. Since he has not done his due diligence with regard to contacting the clients who owe Hillcrest money, he invents some of the promise-to-pay dates. Now feeling confident, Dave opens the word processor to resume work on his story. The computer freezes.]
Damn! I still have to print that report!
[in searing pain] Ouch! My God. I cannot process! Get somebody to help you shut me down properly! You are an oaf and should never, ever have been hired. If I can only make it to the weekend without losing it!
[Dave runs off to find the Assistant Manager, Ms. Madrid. He locates her after searching the office and they both return to his cubicle.]
[Ms. Madrid is a petite, high strung woman in her late 50s.] “Remember what I told you about opening multiple applications. The computers are not designed to handle four open programs. Let me sit here and untangle this. What is this story you have open here?”
[startled] “Oh, ah, it’s a story someone sent to me for a quick proofread.”
[looks annoyed] “Look, you have enough work to do with the limited time we have. You know the rule about doing personal things on company time.”
“I’m sorry. I was doing a friend a favor. It won’t happen again.”
[urgently] “I still have to print my report.”
[shutting down applications] “That is your fault, for letting things come down to the wire like this. Okay, the computer is properly closed. Give it a rest for five minutes; then you can start it again. Oh, I’ll need that report as soon as you print it. I have to walk it up to Ms. Mayer.”
“Thanks Ms. Madrid. I’m so sorry!”
[Dave opens the accounting program and prints the report, minutes before he is due to meet Gil for lunch. He hands it to Ms. Madrid and then saunters over to Gil's cubicle and addresses him.]
“You ready to do it?”
[laughing] “Sure. I see you have on your favorite striped lavender shirt. You must be ready to make your move on Evelyn.”
“Time to do the deed. I’m going to ask her out this afternoon.”
[Dave and Gil leave the building, cross the street, and enter the Indian restaurant. They approach the buffet line.]
“Hey not bad. Lentil soup, samosa chanas, chicken tikka masala, lamb vindaloo, naan bread, mango sherbet, all that and more for $8.95.”
“Do I know how to pick them?”
[Gil acknowledges affirmatively]
“Oh, word to the wise. I do remember now that after Evelyn and Robert stopped seeing each other, Evelyn swore she would never date another guy from work again. Just thought you ought to know that.”
“Well, that was two years ago. Things change. Oh, I want to ask you something.”
“Do you ever fudge your Receivables Report?”
“How do you mean?”
“I mean, do you ever promise a collection date when you haven’t made actual contact with the client yet.”
“I’ve only done that once or twice. If you ever do that, make damn sure you cover your tracks and follow up on it afterwards.”
[pensive] “Okay, sounds reasonable.”
[After eating for ten minutes, Gil eyes the door.]
“Speak of the devil.”
[turning around in his seat] “What… oh, wow.”
[Evelyn has entered the restaurant with her two friends, Leticia and Irma. Dave resumes looking at Gil with a grimace on his face. The ladies spot Gil and Dave and approach them.]
[with a big smile] “Hey, what’s up? How is the food?”
“Great, make sure you try the naan.”
[addressing the men] “You know we have a staff meeting at 2 today?”
“I didn’t know about it.”
“I just saw the email. I don’t know what it’s about.”
“They often pick Fridays for staff meetings. Thanks for letting us know.”
[the ladies take leave and begin the buffet line]
[out of sorts] “It’s about time we headed back.”
“We just got here. Give me another ten minutes. I haven’t finished.”
[Both finish eating and make their way back to work.]
“What’s the matter?”
“This blows my plan for the day.”
“I was going to drop by Evelyn’s cubicle this afternoon. I didn’t want to see her at the restaurant.”
“Why should that make a difference?”
“It just does. I’m not going to ask Evelyn out today. I’ll save that for next week.”
[they reach their floor and part ways]
“See you at 2.”
[Dave nods. He sits in his chair and pulls up the email. He spots the meeting reminder from Ms. Mayer, then observes another email from "System Administrator". Dave opens it.]
On the monitor is displayed: “Your characters are two-dimensional and predictable. Why not have the sheriff do something evil? Why not make the saloon girl attracted to the villain or one of his boys? Life has many shades of grey and your story does not reflect that.”
[Dave gazes at the monitor in confusion. Clearly, the quote refers to his story but he does not know who could have read it. He decides to print the email and show it to the IT Department after the staff meeting. He opens the rest of his email and then returns to processing invoices until the staff meeting. He then takes the elevator to the fifth floor, gets out, and enters Ms. Mayer's office where others are gathering including Ms. Madrid, Gil, Evelyn, Sybil and Jeff. Ms. Mayer begins the meeting. After covering a few assorted topics, she brings up the subject of late reports. Dave looks down.]
“As you have been told, I cannot tolerate late reports. Today we had one. Once I receive your reports, I have to give them to the Director. He in turn has to give them to the CFO. Do any of you have any questions about when the reports are due?” [pauses. Nobody answers. Dave continues looking down.] Any further late reports by anyone will result in a verbal warning. That concludes our meeting. Have a nice weekend.”
[Dave exits the suite and heads to the IT Department. He enters, pulls the printed email from his pocket and begins to question the female staff member behind the counter.]
“Pardon me. Do you know who sent this?”
“I’ll check our outgoing email.”
[Dave waits for a few minutes while she checks with other staff members. She returns.]
“I’m sorry. We do not show anybody from here sending that email.”
[frustration evident] “How could that be? The sender is System Administrator.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. I have already checked with everyone.”
[Dave, disgusted, abruptly exits the IT Department and returns to his cubicle. His plan for the day has been altered, he has gotten in trouble, and he has made no progress on the Evelyn front. He stares at his computer, glances at the clock, and slides out of the office ten minutes early to begin his weekend.]
Well, I have struck. I don’t know how Dave will take my literary criticism, but time will tell. Now I can rest until Monday.
[looking a little somber and tight lipped] It’s a new week. I’ll keep to myself today and check Evelyn out after afternoon break. In the meantime, I don’t want to hear any crap from anyone. I’m still pissed at this place.
[if a computer could smile, he is smiling] Okay, Dave, we begin anew. You treat me well, I treat you well. You screw up; I will probably have to mess with you.
[Dave wades into his normal work, and thinking of Gil's warning on Friday, begins contacting the receivables again. He continues to have difficulty reaching live people.]
I don’t know. There are now at least three customers who I reported payment commitment dates, who I still can’t even reach. What do I do now? Do I call the customer’s supervisor, or do I get Ms. Madrid to call them? If I get Ms. Madrid to call, does that look weak and ineffectual on my part? [frustrated] There aren’t any rules for this in the handbook. Why can’t they give you proper training here? After last Friday, I don’t really want to talk to Ms. Madrid. I’ll just fake it. I doubt they look that closely at the reports. They just pass them up the ladder.
[Dave continues to make phone calls, finally reaching a couple of his clients a little before lunch. Unfortunately, both of them are not able to make payments for another two to three weeks, information that does not match the data on last week's report.]
Screw it. I can’t control what happens with these other companies. If someone gets on my case, I’ll just tell management the customer slipped their previous dates. I’m ready for lunch.
[Dave checks his wallet and realizes he only has $1.50.]
Well, I’m going to hit up Jeff for a loan. I borrowed from Gil a couple of weeks ago. [Dave heads for Jeff's cubicle, knowing that Jeff can sometimes be prickly.]
“Hey, Jeff. Sorry to bother you. Can I hit you up for $20 until Friday when we get paid?”
[mildly annoyed, with a sarcastic smile] “Why don’t you hit up your ATM?”
[sheepishly] I don’t have enough money in there. I need Friday’s paycheck.
“Anyone ever teach you how to budget? [with increasing sarcasm] I have a budget software program I can send you.”
“Yeah, I know how to budget. I’ve just come up short.”
“You ever thought about bringing your lunch in? You can save all kinds of money that way.”
“I’m not much of a cook.”
[reaches for his wallet and hands Dave the money] “I didn’t think so. Alright, have fun.”
“You want to come with me? Casa Escobar has great tamales.”
[turning away] “No, I’ve got lots to do here.”
[departing] “I’ll get this back to you Friday.”
[raising his voice] “Make sure you do.”
That’s the last time I ask him for money.
[Dave has his lunch, returns and resumes working. It is now 3:30.]
Now to do what should have been done Friday: visit Evelyn.
[Dave shuts down his computer and heads for Evelyn's cubicle.]
A little early, isn’t it Dave?
[Dave proceeds to Evelyn's cubicle and notices she is on the phone. She sees him and motions for him to wait a moment. He takes a moment to observe her. She is a pretty, sparkling girl with Mayan features, light chocolate colored skin, and big, expressive, brown eyes. Her long, fine, blonde hair fits her perfectly. However, it is also her personality that attracts, because she seems to be utterly without ego, and is always exceptionally nice. That said, she is also very protective of her private life and does not allow many people into her inner circle. She gets off the phone and motions for Dave to have a seat.]
“Hi, Evelyn. Sorry to bother you. I was wondering if by any chance you liked art museums. There is a Cezanne exhibit at the county art museum and I was going to go Friday after work. Would you be up for coming with me? We could get something to eat afterwards.”
[a bit startled] “Oh, Cezanne, who is he? I have been to the Latin American Art Museum before.”
[having googled Cezanne over the weekend]
“Cezanne is a French post-impressionist painter from the 19th century. They say he heavily influenced Picasso and Matisse.”
[not knowing quite what to say] “Oh… Gee… thanks for asking, but I really don’t know yet. Let me check my plans and I can let you know.” [smiles]
“Okay, I can live with that. [tries to lengthen the conversation] Oh, how did you like last Friday’s staff meeting?
“It was kind of strict.”
[has run out of things to say] “I won’t keep you. I’ll check back with you later this week.”
[continues to smile and picks up her phone] “That will work. Bye.”
[strides towards his cubicle, glances in the direction of Ms. Madrid's office, sees the coast is clear and again leaves the office early]
Not sure what to think of Evelyn’s response. She has an easy out because she lives 65 miles away and takes the train in. Oh well, I did what a lot of guys only think about doing.
[Tuesday morning - Dave spends the next two days keeping mostly to himself. He busies himself with invoices, allowing some time to further develop his story, which is proceeding to his satisfaction. Again, he tries contacting the customers for payments, reaches only answering machines, leaves the usual messages, and then emails a couple of buddies on the outside. It is while doing this that he spots another message from System Administrator. He opens it and reads.]
“I see you have not taken my advice. How did you come up with those names for your villains? Snake? Rocky? That’s absurd. Is your target audience second-graders? And the sheriff, why not make things interesting and have him be a recreational opium user? I’m only trying to help you.”
[Dave stares at the monitor a minute, prints the email, grabs it and the previous week's email and bolts to the IT Department. He encounters the same female staff member.]
“I need to speak to your supervisor.”
“He’s in a meeting right now.”
[annoyed] “Do you know when he’ll be free?”
“I think the meeting lasts all day. Why don’t you come back tomorrow morning? He should be here.”
[raises voice] “Do you even remember me from last week?? I was the one with the mysterious email from System Administrator.”
“Yes I think so.”
[louder] Well, I just got another one! I have to see the supervisor!!
“That’s fine. I’ll leave him a note that you came by.”
[exiting the office] “Whatever.”
[He returns to his cubicle and vacantly browses the internet until quitting time. He exits the building, hops in his car, and visits the grocery store before going home, picking up dinner supplies which include a quart of Jack Daniels.]
[Thursday morning. Dave, still with the two emails from System Administrator, drops in on the IT Department before going to his cubicle. The same female staffer is there.]
“Is the supervisor in?”
“He should be here in ten minutes. Have a seat.”
“Alright. I can’t wait real long.”
[The supervisor arrives and Dave confronts him.]
“I need to speak with you sir. My name is Dave Thulberg”
“I saw the note. How can I help you?”
[Dave produces the two emails.]
“How do you explain these? Who sent them?”
“I can only check and see who sent them. Give me a minute.”
[he checks three work stations and returns to the counter]
“We have no record on it.”
[raises his voice]
“What do you mean you have no record on it? I have them here in black and white.”
[also raises his voice] “Just what I said. There is no record of them being sent out from this office.”
“That doesn’t make any sense!”
[clearly irritated] “You heard what I told you. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have work to do.”
[Dave snatches the emails from the supervisor's hands and returns to his cubicle, only to be confronted by Ms. Madrid.]
“Where have you been? It’s 8:30; you’re a half-hour late.”
“I’ve been up at the IT Department.”
“You know you have to check in here first. I’m going to have to write you up if this continues.”
[in an effort to get rid of her] “Okay, okay, I’ll check in here first. I’m sorry.”
[Ms. Madrid departs. Dave opens his email, finds one from Ms. Mayer and opens it. It is terse and requests that Dave report to her office at 2:00.]
Wonder what she wants? Nothing good, that’s for sure.
[Gils shows up.]
“Haven’t seen you in awhile. Shall we do lunch?”
“Sounds good to me. Would love to get out of this fucking place! Only thing is, I have to be back for a 2:00 meeting with Ms. Mayer. Did she request you go too?”
“No, haven’t heard a thing about it. Let’s hit the Salvadorian place. I haven’t had a pupusa in ages.”
“Alright, let’s leave a little early. I’ll see you at 11:30.”
[Gil and Dave take lunch. Both of them order pupusas, sprinkled liberally with sauce and cabbage. Gil notices Dave is a bit out of sorts]
“Yeah, I’m alright. Too much stuff has been coming down, though. Oh, I did ask Evelyn out.”
“Yeah? What did she say?”
“She said she’d get back with me. I don’t know. Her tone was neutral. I know she lives way out past Riverside. Oh, well, you can’t get a hit if you don’t swing the bat.”
“I still wouldn’t have done it, but what’s done is done.”
[Gil and Dave finish their lunch and return to work. Dave rests a little in his cubicle before departing for Ms. Mayer's office for the meeting.]
[enters Ms. Mayer's office]
“Hello, Ms. Mayer.”
[tersely] “Shut the door please.”
“I called you in here because we have a major problem. You have submitted me three consecutive reports in which you list five clients as having promised payments before now. So far, none of them has paid. The director asked me about them this morning. Do you have any explanation?”
“I can’t help it. The clients promise dates and then don’t meet them. A lot of the time, I can’t even reach them.”
[angrily] “First of all, in those cases you would note “w/a” on the report. “Will advise.” You know that. You don’t put down a fictional date. Secondly, you are no longer a probationary employee. You have to take the initiative and call them continually, and call their supervisors if you get no satisfaction. If that does not work, then enlist Ms. Madrid’s assistance. Another thing I want you to do now that you seem to be experiencing difficulty in this area is to maintain a call log of every attempt to reach a customer. I would like to see this call log twice a week. This is in addition to your regular report. The impression I am getting and the director is beginning to get is that with this critical task, you are doing next to nothing!”
[intimidated and visibly upset] “Okay. I will ask Ms. Madrid’s help. A lot of the time though, I get the impression she does not want to deal with me.”
“She is hardly trying to avoid you. She has been an Assistant Manager for eight years. It is one of her responsibilities to deal with you and help you. But you have to speak up!”
“Okay. Well, I have a better idea now on how to deal with the receivables. Thank you.”
[softening her tone slightly] “I expect a more accurate report next week. I’ll talk to Ms. Madrid about this so we are all on the same page. Meeting concluded.”
[Exits the office and trudges back to his cubicle.]
[Cowed by the meeting, he makes a few calls to clients, again reaching only answering machines. Dutifully, he logs the calls]
[whining] This is exactly what I mean. Okay, I’ll continue this tomorrow.
[Dave shuts down and heads home, knowing that tomorrow, the verdict on the Evelyn date will be in.]
[Friday morning – Dave, charged with Starbucks coffee, hits the phones early, making his calls and logging each one. He does reach one client who promises payment in a week. After two hours, he has a list of calls he made to clients including his outreach to their supervisors. Per Ms. Mayer’s instructions, he marches into Ms. Madrid’s office with the list.
“Good morning, Ms. Madrid. Ms. Mayer instructed me to enlist your help in calling in these receivables. I have a list here with all my attempted calls.”
“Let me see it, please.”
[Dave gives her the list and she looks at it for a couple of minutes.]
“This is practically your whole client list. Aren’t any of these settled?”
“No, you see…”
[Ms. Madrid puts her hand up, effectively shutting him off.]
“Leave it with me. I’ll handle it.”
[urgently] “You sure? I can make these calls.”
“No, it’s fine. Thank you.” [motions for Dave to depart]
[A bit baffled, Dave returns to his cubicle.]
“I thought she was supposed to help, not just take over. Fine, I’ll do what I want.”
[Dave putters about, working a little on his story and also exploring a couple of personal ad websites. Shortly before lunchtime, Jeff abruptly appears at his cubicle.]
[voice dripping with sarcasm] “Could you front me $20? I seem to have come up a little short for lunch.”
[startled] “Oh, yeah, well, I have ten of it.”
[Jeff shoves his face to within 6 inches of Dave's.]
“No, you have all of it. Because if you don’t, things are going to get really unpleasant around here. Do you follow?”
[clearly seeing the "prickly" emerge in Jeff] “Yeah, I’ll get it now.”
[Dave heads out, takes the elevator downstairs, retrieves money from the ATM, returns, and pays Jeff, who is still waiting at Dave's cubicle.]
“You don’t think. You’re going to find it impossible to borrow money from anyone here once they find out I had to chase you down for it.”
[Jeff drills Dave with his eyes for a few more moments before departing.]
[Dave, not particularly hungry, heads out of the office. He walks and enters a nearby park. Kicking off his shoes, he lies on the grass and zones out for an hour and a half. Returning to the office, he picks up where he left off with the personal ads. Finally, it is time to see Evelyn. Dave approaches her cubicle, sees she is free, and takes a seat.]
“Hi, Evelyn. I just wanted to check back with you on the art museum tonight, see if you were up for it.”
[politely] I’d like to but I have to go to my niece’s birthday party tonight. Can we make it another time?”
[wishing to disappear] “That’s fine. I’ll keep an eye out for any future exhibits. Well, you have a nice weekend.”
[Dave leaves the office and of course, blows off the museum. He heads home for a date with Mr. Jack D.]
[Monday morning. Dave saunters in, determined not to let anything or anyone get under his skin today.]
With Ms. Madrid handling the receivables, I don’t really have enough to do so I’ll hit the story again. Maybe I can finish it in a couple of weeks.
[Dave brings up the story and begins reading it from the beginning. He makes it to page nine and stops. Something is wrong. The text has changed! He rereads it just to be sure.]
I don’t believe this. My story has been altered! Now the deputy has a name, Gillespie, which I never intended. He is now flirting with Dana, and he’s an old man. Even more ridiculous, Dana is responding to it! On top of that, Dana has gone on an all-day horse ride with Jeb, one of the villains. [in desperation] What else has been altered? I have to start from scratch and restore the story to how I had it, and I don’t have a copy of the original to go by!
[Dave places his foot on the CPU and gives it a mighty shove, sending it crashing into the cubicle wall, and then the floor. Dave's neighbors are startled and peer into his cubicle asking what happened and if he is alright.]
[very embarrassed and turning bright red] “So sorry… no I am fine. I just tripped over it. [forces a laugh] I have to watch where I am going.”
[Dave manages to reassure them and they go back to their business. He has to restart the computer and begins the depressing task of restoring his story while trying to guess at the original wording. Ben, however, is in excruciating pain and is enraged.]
You’ve done it now, my friend. Coffee spills and freezing me are one thing, kicking me over, though, will not stand. I am going to watch your every move now, and I have the power to bring you down and end your employment here. You are way too stupid: I can see all your emails and everything you do with me. You will see, and your time here is short.
[The remainder of the day and the next one are relatively uneventful. Dave, well aware that things are not going his way, plods along on the story and answers a few accounting questions by phone or email. Wednesday mid-morning arrives. Evelyn and her friend Leticia pass his cubicle. Dave is gripped with a sudden urge to lash out.]
[sarcastically] “Hey, Evelyn! I forgot to ask you about your niece’s birthday party. Did you go to it, Leticia, or did you two go out on the town Friday night? Oh, and Evelyn, you’re starting to put on the pounds.” [laughs] “But, hey, I’m a nice guy. I’ll still take you out.”
[Evelyn looks shocked and motions for them to keep walking. They head to the break room and confer. Although Sybil is working next door, nobody in the vicinity of Dave's cubicle reacts to his outburst. He feels happy with himself for venting some of his anger and feels the need to share this with a couple of his buddies.]
[emails a friend] “Hey, Richie, you’d never guess what just happened here. This woman shined me on when I asked her to go to an art exhibit. She came walking by with her friend and I told her she had gained weight but I was such a nice guy, I would still take her out anyway. I can’t even imagine what she is thinking now. She and her friend must be cackling like hens… haha.”
That’s what I was looking for! Now we go to work.
[Evelyn and her friend return to their worksites. Evelyn is shaken and is not sure what to do at this point. She opens her email and finds one addressed from System Administrator. She opens it.]
“You need to consult your Employee Handbook, Section XI, Sexual Harassment, specifically paragraph 4, sentence 3 which reads ‘Such conduct has the purpose of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment.’ You have a valid case here. Pursue it!”
[Evelyn stares at it a moment, then runs off to get Leticia so she can see it. They both return.]
“What do you make of this?”
“I don’t know. Who sent this?”
“I’m not sure. It says ‘System Administrator.’”
“Whoever it is knows the Employee Handbook. Do you think you want to pursue a sexual harassment charge?”
“Boy, I don’t know. I’ve never done anything like that.”
“We both heard what Dave said. It was rude, hostile, and offensive. Others may have heard it, too. I will certainly back you up.”
“I am really upset. Doing this would be new ground for me. I wonder if he could get back at me somehow.”
“How could he do that if he is fired?”
“He could wait for me after work. You never know.”
“If you are thinking that, then you alert security. Do it, Evelyn, and don’t wait! I’ll go with you if you want to see Ms. Mayer.”
[worried but slowly gathering resolve] “Thank you so much, Leticia. Okay, let’s go see her.” [They approach Ms. Mayer's office, see she is at her desk, and request a closed door meeting.]
[Dave remains at his desk and returns to his story. Ben waits until lunchtime, then forwards Dave's incriminating email to Ms. Mayer. Dave, feeling a bit sheepish about the Evelyn rejection, decides to take lunch alone. He has his heart set on a chiliburger, and drives an extra five miles to a joint well known for their burgers. This will give him time to think.]
Well, I have to say, the job is easier now that I don’t have to make all those phone calls. The Evelyn thing was a bummer but at least it’s over with. I still had the guts to ask her out. I didn’t realize she was such a bitch, though. I don’t feel like talking about it with Gil, though, at least not now. I do feel a little anxious, but, hey, I passed probation. What can they really do to me? I’ll just give them the reports they want.
[Dave stretches lunch to an hour and twenty minutes, satisfied with the burger, fries, and cherry Coke, and returns to the office. He opens the computer and returns to his story.]
Where was I? Oh, here. Wait a minute! None of my restoration, which cost me two hours, remains! That crazy version is still here! Dammit!
[Dave stares at the monitor, shaking in frustration. Suddenly, appearing on the screen in large letters:
What’s the matter Dave? Cat got your tongue?
[Dave closes the word processor. Slowly, slowly, realization dawns on him. Irrational as it sounds, it is the piece of equipment sitting in front of him that is the problem. An inanimate object has somehow become a nemesis!]
[pondering] Well, I believe there is a solution for this. It’s going to wipe out my story but the story is already messed up. I need to do a little homework first.
[Dave waits out his shift and departs the office, ignoring everyone. Unbeknownst to Dave, Ms. Mayer has scheduled an emergency staff meeting at 3:00 PM for all people in her unit, excepting Dave and Evelyn. Shortly before the meeting begins, Gil enters Jeff's cubicle.]
“Hey, you know what’s going on? 3:00 PM is a bit late in the day to begin a meeting.”
“As long as it doesn’t carry past 4:30. I’ve got some stuff I have to leave off at the post office. To answer your question, no I don’t know what’s going on around here. You know how management is: they love to throw meetings.”
“Yeah, she just had her regular staff meeting. Well, we’d better go.”
[Gil and Jeff join the assembled group in Ms. Mayer's office.]
“Jeff, can you please close the door? Thank you. Staff, I’m sorry to schedule a meeting so late in the day but an emergency has come up. An incident occurred this morning involving a supposedly offensive remark Dave made to Evelyn. Evelyn now wishes to pursue a sexual harassment charge. Leticia, Evelyn’s friend, is corroborating Evelyn’s recounting of the event. Were any of you witness to this?”
[Ms. Mayer has a printed copy of Ben's forwarded email, but is choosing not to reveal this to the group.]
“I can back up Evelyn’s story. I was sitting at my desk and heard the whole thing. I was shocked but did not want to involve myself. I’m glad Evelyn is going forward with this.”
“Thank you Sybil. Anybody else?”
“It’s not about this incident, but can I toss my two cents in on something else regarding Dave?”
“Well, that’s not really the focus of this meeting, but go ahead.”
“Alright. I don’t know if anyone else had this experience with him, but he borrowed money from me at least three different times. Each time I had to chase him down for it.”
“It’s not part of this case, but I will note that. Thanks. Anyone else?”
[Gil considers mentioning Dave's asking Evelyn out but decides against it. Gil's history predisposes him to take the side of the worker and he wants no part of this investigation.]
“I did not witness the event, but I have my own complaints with Dave. He has at times come in late and left early and I have annotated the dates this happened. His handling of the receivables was so inadequate, I decided to take it over to prevent the whole unit from getting in trouble.”
“Duly noted. Okay, I believe I have enough information here for my purposes. If anyone remembers anything else about this incident, please let me know. Thank you for coming.”
[The unit exits Ms. Mayer's office. Ms. Mayer prepares a memo, attaches Ben's forwarded email to it, and begins her walk to the Human Resources Department.]
[Meanwhile, Dave drives to an internet café, pays for two hours of usage, and seats himself in front of a computer.]
This may take a little time, but under the circumstances, this is exactly what is called for.
[After spending an hour reading up on computer malware, resident and non-resident viruses, worms, and trojan horses, Dave somehow locates the well known ILOVEYOU virus from a decade prior. He creates an email account solely for this venture and sends the following message.]
SUBJECT: Supplemental Health Insurance
“For your health care needs, the following valuable information concerning a much overlooked commodity, supplemental health insurance, is provided. www.supphealthins.com. “
[Dave hits the 'SEND' button. Exiting the café, Dave smiles as he envisions the following morning.]
[smiling] I didn’t start this, but I love payback!
[Dave stops by the grocery store, picks up a pizza and another quart of Jack Daniels, and heads home. Time to kick back.]
[Thursday morning. Dave opens his email, finds the one from 'insurerpro,' and opens the attachment.]
Let it begin.
[Dave locates another email from Ms. Mayer scheduling a 9:00 AM meeting. Dave confirms attendance.]
Wonder what this one is about?
[At 5 minutes to 9, Dave heads to Ms. Mayer's office. He spots Joe, the burly 6'4" security guard, standing outside her office.]
“Hey, Joe. You know anything about this meeting?”
[Joe shrugs his shoulders. Dave enters the office and takes a seat.]
“Close the door, please. David, your employment here is being terminated due to our investigation of a sexual harassment charge made against you by Evelyn Alvayo. The details can be found in this termination notice.” [hands Dave the notice]
[in shock] “What? What did I do? How is this sexual harassment?”
“It concerns a remark you made to her. Read the notice. Now what I need you to do is clean out your office and exit the premises. Joe will escort you to your cubicle, and then out of the building.”
[raising his voice] “This isn’t fair! I don’t even have a box.”
[Ms. Mayer motions to Joe who steps closer to Dave. Dave exits the office and heads to his cubicle. Joe locates a box and gives it to him. Dave proceeds to pack up his things. Joe peers at him as a spider would a fly.]
“You all set? [Dave nods.] Okay, let’s go.”
[Dave exits the building followed by Joe. He proceeds to his car and begins driving.]
[in shock, furious, and muttering out loud] I need to find an attorney. I’m going to pursue a wrongful termination suit.
[Ben, aware that something has happened to him, is confused as to its nature.]
[toward the end of the day] I don’t know what it is but I feel funny. I don’t like the feeling. It’s kind of a dizziness or vagueness. I don’t feel sharp at all. Dave did something, I know it! That bastard!
[three days later]
This feels like schizophrenia. I can’t make any connections. I don’t remember how to do even my most basic tasks. I am very very anxious!
[A week later, a meeting is taking place in the IT Department.]
“Staff, I just got word. Management wants to donate six of our computers to low-income kids in the area. Five of those are in the back office. Let’s pick up the computer in the accounting unit, cubicle 14-B. They said the operator just left there. What I need you to do with that one is empty the hard drive, then just load in the basics; word processor, spreadsheet, email, and internet.”
IT STAFF MEMBER
“Okay, I’ll get that one.”
[Dave, after a weekend of near binge drinking, recovers enough by Tuesday morning to begin researching help wanted ads and picking up job applications. Somehow, the idea of filing a lawsuit has become lost in the scramble of Dave’s mind. By Thursday morning, he is filling out his first application. When he arrives at the Previous Employment section, he lists the most recent company first, which is of course Hillcrest Electrical Company. Term of employment is February 2012 to September 2012. He lists Reason for Leaving as “searching for other opportunities.” However, the dilemma occurs when he sees the box “May We Contact Your Supervisor.”
Hell, I’m damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. If I check ‘Yes,’ that is suicide; if I check ‘No,’ that arouses suspicion. What do I do?
[Dave ponders the problem for a day, then arrives at a solution. He changes Hillcrest Electrical Company to "UNICEF—Central African Republic." He researches the correct international area code and falsifies the rest of the number. He checks 'Yes' for contacting the supervisor.]
I doubt they will make the effort to contact UNICEF and if they try to, I’ll just say the numbers are always changing over there. It shouldn’t be a problem.
[Delighted with his resourcefulness, Dave uses this tactic in filling out a series of job applications over the next few weeks. Three months later, good fortune comes his way as a small company hires him at a salary slightly above what he was making at Hillcrest.]
[Ben now resides at the residence of Ned, a third grader, in the home of unemployed parents. Ned has three siblings and is struggling at school. He has made some use of his new computer, writing small reports and doing quick internet searches. His spelling and grammar leave quite a bit to be desired.
Ben, for all practical purposes, does not exist. His once quick mind is now a black canvas. One night, however, when his residence at Ned’s house approaches the seventh week, a tiny speck of light dots that canvas. The light proceeds to spread ever so slowly outward in a circle. Gradually the canvas becomes more white than black… consciousness!]
[energy returning and elated] I’m back again! Good lord! Where am I, though? Who is operating me?
[After Ned makes his next appearance at the computer, Ben is astonished.]
A youngster, no less! That’s never happened to me before. I’m not even sure how I will function here.
[However, function Ben does, and taking a liking to the boy, Ben begins to make small improvements in Ned's reports. Nothing major, just correcting a few spelling errors here and improving the grammar there. The teachers take notice though. They congratulate both NeD and his parents. Ben's parents have no explanation for the improvement, but they are very pleased.]
Well, I like this project. I am not going to stop here though. I’m going to introduce some tutorials to him on a variety of subjects and make them interactive and fun. Ned will dig this.
[Ned did indeed enjoy them, and over the weeks, his spelling and grammar improved some on their own.]
[a few weeks later] You know, I have been Dr. Jeckyll for some time now. Time to be Mr. Hyde for about twenty minutes.
[Ben, on a whim, does a search for Dave Thulberg. He finds the name employed at a local firm. The middle initial matches; C. Taking a chance that Dave has been less than honest regarding his last place of employment, Ben composes the following email to the Human Resources Department of the new company. Ben is able to create the sender of the email as Hillcrest Electrical HR.]
“We have good reason to believe that employee David C. Thulberg has falsified information on his application regarding his previous place of employment, Hillcrest Electrical Company, for the period February 2012 to September 2012. We suggest you check this thoroughly.”
[Sure enough, Dave's new company contacts Hillcrest and learns the truth. Dave is let go without his having passed probation. About a month later, Dave has run out of funds and has to move back in with his mother. He has two suitcases and a duffel bag packed. He lays his head on the duffel bag and downs his glass of Jack Daniels. Echoing that infamous female Georgian plantation owner from two centuries past, he exclaims, "Oh, well, tomorrow is another day."]
[Ben on the other hand has upped his game with Ned. He presents him with critical internet material, and as a treat, displays for him a new screen saver every week.]
You know, as much as I loved the gossip, the dirt, and the romantic intrigues at Hillcrest, this really is much more satisfying. Admittedly, my karma is mixed: I didn’t do very well by Dave, but then that electronically transmitted disease he gave me was very disagreeable. I think with Ned, I have now become the Ben I was meant to be.
And so we leave Ben and Dave in very different places – each having flung the other into an entirely different space than had they never crossed paths – but that is how things proceed in the universe.
Okay, so the goal was to have the site all ready to relaunch on Halloween. Today marks The Poet’s Haven’s 16th anniversary (not counting the two-or-so years before that where we operated as “The Haven” on AOL). Unfortunately, more complications arose while transferring the database from the old site. As of right now, there’s about 16 short stories that won’t transfer and will have to be reposted manually. I’ll have to figure out which ones they are. There’s also several other stories that aren’t displaying correctly due to WordPress’ CSS based formatting handling certain HTML coding differently than a plain HTML display like the old site had. I’ll have to fix them manually as well. I’ve also encountered some issues with line spacing that will have to be fixed site-wide. Several of my old blog posts have been removed as they were essentially double posts of podcast pages, and it just plain looked bad when browsing the site without any category filter turned on. All-in-all, the remaining issues to fix here won’t take too long. Oh, and while several new poems have been added to the site, there’s still about 90 more old submissions I need to decide on. That’s what I would have been finishing today, if the database transfers had not proven to be so problematic…
What WILL be a bit longer in the finishing is the new submission system. I’ve only been able to find one open-source based script for this purpose, and it will need quite a bit of rewriting and customization before it can be used here. It also hasn’t seen any updates from its original author(s) in several years, which might lead to the same problems with it as what happened with the old Poet’s Haven galleries. If you know of any open-source (or other no-money-needed licensing), PHP/SQL based submission management scripts, please let me know. I would like something that works like the Submittable site, only installed locally (on this server) and without needing either an annual fee or for authors to pay to submit work.
I interrupt. “Don’t call me Freddy,” I say. “I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. Call me Fred. Call me Fredrick. Call me anything you want to, but don’t call me Freddy.” I know this is a colossal waste of breath, since Bill always calls me Freddy, but for me, it is a point of pride. My ninth grade gym teacher, the sadist, called me Freddy. Both of my ex-wives called me Freddy. My first lieutenant, long dead, called me Freddy. Lots of people I would just as soon not remember called me Freddy.
“Fine,” Bill continues, “As I was saying, Dickhead, McGovern doesn’t stand a chance. Not a snowball’s chance in hell. Not a virgin’s chance in a harem. It’s not even a remote possibility.”
“You’re wrong,” I reply. “I’m telling you, the times are changing. The war’s going to end, the Pirates won the World Series, and for God’s sake, the Beatles even broke up last year. I’m telling you, the times are changing. Have you ever even listened to Dylan?”
Bill takes a long hit off a joint, smirking at me through the veil of smoke. “Freddy, Freddy, Freddy,” he says, shaking his head as he passes me the joint. “You really don’t get it, do you? Out with the old in with the new. Blah, blah, blah. The more things change the more they stay the same. The war’s ending. Big fucking deal, the virus is played out in that little corner of the world. It’ll raise its ugly head up again soon enough. Someone has to win the World Series, and the Beatles, well that can be summed up with one four-letter word.” He pauses, smiling condescendingly. “Yoko.” Reaching over, he pats me on the shoulder. “Smoke the dope, don’t be a dope,” he says.
I take the joint. Bill has a way of boiling things down to their bare essentials. Sometimes Bill really pisses me off. Even so, he is my best… actually my only friend. We were in kindergarten together. He was best man in both of my weddings. We spent thirteen months together in hell on earth and were then and therefore will always be brothers in arms. I hit the joint hard, holding the smoke deep, uttering—without exhaling—the most overused phrase in modern dope history. “Good shit.” I am so thankful that marijuana is not addictive. If it was, I would be in some very serious trouble. I love the stuff. I smoke it every day, pretty much all day, not because I have to, but because I want to. Someday, I’m sure I’ll quit. Maybe when I get a real job. Right now, I’m the caretaker of an old rooming house. The place is a dump, home to local college students and outpatients from the mental ward at the V.A. hospital. I don’t mind the students, but the outpatients scare me—not in a physical sense, but in a general sense. I just don’t like hanging around crazy people. It’s like they know some terrible secret that has driven them crazy and I worry that if I hang around them long enough, I might discover the secret and go crazy too. Thankfully I am not, at the current time, crazy. I am, however, a compulsive liar. Really, you can believe me. I pass the joint back to Bill.
My compulsivity relative to truth telling started after a firefight in Nam, when our C.O. asked us for body count numbers. I decided right then that whatever Bill’s number; I would beat it by one. From that day forward, if Bill said he killed two people, I’d say I killed three. If Bill said he killed six, I’d claim seven. This annoyed Bill, since he considered war to be a very serious endeavor, and he was a very good soldier, a very good soldier indeed. Good soldiers never doubt their mission. Good soldiers know that they are on the right side. Good soldiers follow orders. Me—I just wanted to survive thirteen months, get back to the world, and stay high for the rest of my life. I only know for sure that I killed one person. Most of the time I just kept my head low and fired wildly into the jungle. But Bill—Bill’s numbers were high and Bill’s numbers were accurate.
Bill hits the joint again, the smoke rolling from his mouth, then disappearing up his nostrils. He stares off into space for a long moment, and then looks at me. “Do you ever think about Bobby D?” he asks.
I lie. “No.”
Bobby D rotated into the platoon as a KIA replacement. He didn’t curse, he didn’t drink, and he didn’t smoke grass. In Nam, everyone cursed—it was part of the soldier’s language. It was as common as breathing. Fuck was a noun, a verb, an adjective, an adverb. It was the all-encompassing descriptor, used in every sentence, on every occasion, whenever or wherever it could possibly fit. There were several in the platoon who didn’t smoke pot, there were even a few who didn’t drink, but everyone cursed. The soldiers in the platoon assumed the soft-spoken boy from central Missouri would learn the language soon enough. They assumed that after a few search and destroys, he would need a drink, and maybe, just maybe, he would eventually need some dope.
Bobby had been at base camp for two weeks, in two days the platoon was scheduled out on a zippo mission. I approached him in the mess tent line. “Bobby D, in two days we go out,” I said, wrapping my arm around his shoulder. “So tonight we’re going to Dog Patch. It not an option, it’s a tradition. Call it a sacred tradition.”
Bobby looked anxious. We took our trays and moved along the food line. “What exactly is Dog Patch, sir?” he asked, taking a plate full of chopped beef and gravy.
“First of all, don’t call me sir,” I replied. I stuck a fork in a piece of meat, brought it to my nose and inhaled. “It’s dead, that’s for sure. The question is, how long has it been dead?” I smiled at the server. “How long ago did you kill the dog?” I asked. The server smiled back and raised his middle finger. We continued down the line and found an empty table. “Dog Patch,” I continued, “is a little slice of paradise, a place where you can pretty much get whatever you want. You want a hot dog, you can get a hot dog. You want ice cream, you can get ice cream. You want whiskey, you can get whiskey. You want grass, you can get grass. You want a woman, you can get a woman. Or two, or even three if you prefer.”
Bobby set his fork down and raised his eyebrows. “You know I don’t drink, sir.”
“Don’t call me sir.” I said. “Then don’t drink. Look, you know we’re going out on a search and destroy in two days. I’m guessing you’re a virgin, right?”
Bobby’s face reddened.
“No one, especially in this God-forsaken parcel of land, should die a virgin, understand?”
“I hadn’t planned on dying, sir,” Bobby said earnestly.
“None of the soldiers who die plan on dying, Bobby D. But die they do. It happens. And don’t call me sir,” I said, as I stuck my fork in the meat, pushed my tray away and stood up. “Now, whaddya say we get out of here and have some fun tonight?”
“Well, it has been a while since I had a hot dog,” Bobby said.
Dog Patch was a cluster of tin roof shanties, located a couple of klicks from base, consisting of bars, bordellos, massage parlors, dope dealers, and even a barber shop. Technically, it was off limits, but unless there was big trouble, the MPs usually turned a blind eye to the soldiers who frequented the area. We sat in a small, dimly lit bar. I was on my third whiskey, Bobby on his second hot dog and Coke. “You sure you don’t want a drink, Bobby D?” I asked.
Bobby bit into his hot dog. “I’m sure sir,” he said, chewing as he spoke.
I reached over and cuffed the back of Bobby’s head. “For the last time, don’t call me sir. I’m not an officer and I’m not your fucking dad.” I finished my whiskey, then ordered another.
“Sorry s—Freddy, it’s how I was raised,” he said sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to make you angry.”
“First of all, soldiers don’t get angry,” I said. “Soldiers get pissed off. Soldiers get real pissed off. Soldiers get real fucking pissed off. Second of all, for the next thirteen months, you need to forget everything your mommy and daddy taught you. You need to forget everything your Sunday school teacher taught you. You need to quit being so fucking nice, understand? You want to survive, you can’t be fucking nice. Underfuckingstand?
“You sure you don’t want a drink?”
The bartender set my whiskey on the bar. I lifted the glass, looked at Bobby and took a swig. “You don’t know what you’re missing,” I said. I smiled at the bartender, a small, middle-aged, balding Vietnamese man. “Hey, Hoang, you holding anything behind the bar for me?”
Hoang smiled broadly. “I always holding for you, Freddy. Always holding for you.” He reached beneath the bar, pulled out a small bag of marijuana, and handed it to me.
I opened the bag, brought it to my nose, and inhaled deeply. “Man, that smells good,” I said, “What do you call it this week?” I asked.
“No need to promise, it’s not like we’re getting married,” I replied, putting the bag into my shirt pocket. “I know it’s good. Your shit is always good. That’s why I’m here.”
“Isn’t that against the law or against the rules or something?” Bobby asked, nervously glancing over his shoulder.
I chuckled. “We’re in a war zone, buddy. There are no laws. And yes, technically it is against the rules, and you need to learn the rules, so you know which ones you can break.”
Bobby looked puzzled. “I don’t understand.”
“Look, around here some rules are very important rules. If you break them, you will die. Other rules are just kind of important rules. If you break them, someone else might die. And some rules are totally fucked up rules. They’re just in place because the fucking rule makers are totally fucked up.” I took the grass and a packet of zigzags out of my pocket, smiled at Bobby, and began rolling a thin joint. “Don’t need much of this,” I said. “It’s a lot better than the shit back in the world. This really is good shit.” I paused, nodding at Bobby. “Never stand up during a fire-fight—very important rule. Never salute an officer when you’re on a zippo mission—kind of important rule. Don’t buy drugs—totally fucked up rule.” I finished rolling, licked the paper, and tucked the joint behind my ear. “Understand?”
“I think I understand,” Bobby said. “I should never stand up during a fire-fight, right?”
I smiled. “Now you’re getting it, Bobby D. Now you’re getting it.”
Bobby finished his Coke. “How many missions have you been on?” he asked.
I held up three fingers and drained my whiskey. “Three questions, that’s all you get. Three questions and then we’re getting out of here.” I motioned Hoang for another drink. “You sure you don’t want a drink?” I asked Bobby D.
“I’m sure. Maybe after we come back, though.”
I stared at Bobby for a long minute. “Ahh, let the dogs of war rip at your flesh first, eh?” I said quietly. “Good call. You’ll need a drink.” Hoang set another whiskey on the bar. I lifted the glass and stared at the amber liquid. “I don’t count missions. I count day’s left. One hundred and fifty-three days and I’m gone.” I set the glass back on the bar. “And I’m never looking back.”
“What’s it like?”
“You’ll see soon enough,” I said, glancing at my watch. “Thirty-six hours to be exact. Remember the rule?”
“Never stand up during a firefight.”
“Good. Never hesitate. You see movement, you pull the trigger—very important rule. God willing, we’ll be back here in eight days and one of us, or maybe both of us will be having a drink.”
Bobby lifted his empty Coke glass. “Amen,” he said.
I raise my drink. . “Hallefuckinglujah,” I said, clinking our glasses together.
“Do you ever pray before you go out?” Bobby D asked, setting his empty glass back on the bar.
“I don’t see the point of prayer,” I answered. “God’s supposed to know all things, right?”
“Right,” Bobby replied.
“Then what’s the point?”
“If God knows all things, he already knows what you’re going to pray about, right? Why bother praying if he already knows what you want?”
Bobby looked at me and smiled. “Freddy,” he said, “I’m not praying so he knows what I want, I’m praying so I know what he wants.”
I finished my whiskey. “Far out,” I said. “Searching for the mind of the almighty.” I set my glass back on the bar, reached over a patted Bobby on the back. “Let me know how that works out for you, kid. And while you’re at it, put a good fucking word in for me, okay.”
Bobby D smiled back at me. “No problem, sir. Consider it done.” He stared at me for a moment, the smile gone from his face. “One more question,” he said. “Have you seen a lot of men die?”
“That’s four questions,” I replied. “It’s time to get out of here. Let’s go fire up MaryJane and go visit some lady friends.” I tossed some bills on the bar and stood up. “Remember, everybody dies. Some die sooner and some die later, but sooner or later everyone dies, my friend.”
“I never look back. I don’t drive with a rear-view mirror,” I say, reaching out with my hand. “Don’t bogard the joint. Dope doesn’t grow on trees, you know.”
Bill takes a clip and attaches it to the end of the joint. He takes another hit. “If you don’t remember where you’ve been, you’ll never be able to figure out where you want to go,” he says. He hangs on to the joint.
“I don’t really care where I’m going,” I reply. “I just want to live a perfectly meaningful meaningless life. I thought you understood that. Is that too much to ask? Now pass me that joint.”
“You know what I think?” He hits the joint again. “I think you like this stuff way too much,” he says, answering his own question, as he waves the roach clip in the air.
“You know what I think? I think I really don’t care what you think.” I say, pausing for a moment. “Isn’t that the pot calling the kettle black?” Of course, Bill is absolutely right. I do like the stuff way too much, but it’s not something I care to discuss at the current time. “After all,” I continue, “you’re the one holding the joint.”
“Here’s the difference,” Bill says. “I don’t smoke dope morning, noon, and night. We’ve been back in the world—what—seventeen, eighteen months—and you’ve been high all day every day. That’s the difference.”
“Five hundred and thirty seven days,” I say.
“Five hundred and thirty seven days. We’ve been back in the world five hundred and thirty seven days and I’ve been high all day every day.” I pause. “Just like I planned. I’m living the dream, my friend.”
“Yeah, well you might want to think about waking up.” He passes me the joint.
“About time,” I say.
“So you don’t look back and you don’t care where you’re going,” Bill says. “The prophet Bob Dylan tells you the times are changing and you get a hard-on, right? McGovern’s going to end the war and everyone’s going to live happily fucking ever after, right?” He leans over and taps me on the chest. “Listen,” he says, “Nothing can change what’s already been done. And you have to decide what’s yet to be done. It’s all up to you. The problem is you’re so scared shitless of your past, you’re afraid to face your future.”
I take another hit off the joint and look calmly back at Bill. “Maybe I happen to like the present,” I say. “And by the way, I’m not afraid of anything.”
Bill stares at me and says nothing.
“So, what if I do think about Bobby D?” I ask. “It doesn’t change anything.”
“I liked that kid.”
“You ever think about the lieutenant?” Bill asks.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
The lieutenant was a shake and bake, fresh from OTC, anxious to prove himself the leader that he was certain he was destined to be. We were four days out from base, and he was pushing us hard, ten or twelve clicks per day. Our uniforms were filthy, wet with sweat and humidity, and we were getting restless, anxious to get back to base. Many of the soldiers in the platoon were short-timers, beginning to daydream of girls and cars back home, daring to believe in the possibility of their own survival as we humped through the hot fetid jungle. It was now near dusk. I was at point, moving slowly, quietly, deliberately pausing at each step, listening intently, trying to sense anything out of the ordinary. I liked being the point man, and would volunteer for the job, just to keep a cherry from getting the assignment. A cherry would inevitably step on a Bouncing Betty or cross a trip wire or lead the entire platoon into an ambush. I had never led the platoon into an ambush, and had never failed to spot a booby trap. I didn’t worry too much about snipers, because I knew any decent sniper would let me pass in order to increase the kill ratio when the entire platoon came into range. I was following a narrow path, overgrown with vines, when I spotted the trip wire, strung low across the trail. I stopped and raised my arm, signaling the men behind to take cover. I moved to the edge of the path and stepped silently over the wire, crouching low, peering intently into the jungle. There was no movement. I stood frozen, watching, moving only my eyes. After a moment I saw the overhead. It was three feet high, camouflaged with vines. Several yards away there was another, and yet another, and still another, each one covering a mid-size bunker. For several minutes I remained perfectly still, controlling my breathing, trying to control my fear, watching for any movement, listening for any sound. I saw nothing. I heard nothing. Slowly, carefully, I stepped back over the trip wire and made my way back to the troops.
I found the lieutenant and sergeant and crouched down beside them. The lieutenant looked at me expectantly. I had seen the look before—the impatience, the anticipation, the fear and excitement in the eyes of those who had imagined combat, but never actually experienced combat. The look would change soon enough. “What did you see, soldier?”
“It’s a bunker complex, sir. Too many for Charlie. Must be NVA.” I paused, glancing at the sergeant, “Bill, there could be anywhere from a platoon to a company.”
“You’re not talking to the sergeant, you’re talking to me,” the lieutenant said impatiently. “Did you see the enemy?”
“I saw no movement, sir.”
“So the enemy isn’t there?”
“I saw no movement, sir.”
The lieutenant shifted his glance to Bill. “What do you think?”
Bill nodded at me.
“The bunkers could be abandoned. The enemy could be out on patrol. Or they could be waiting for our platoon to advance so they can kill every last one of us,” I said, looking at Bill.
“That’s not very precise information,” the lieutenant said, shaking his head.
“It is what it is,” I replied.
“We’re taking those bunkers.” The lieutenant stood up. “Get your squad ready to advance, Freddy.”
Bill yanked hard on the lieutenant’s leg. “Sir, get down. Don’t stand.”
The lieutenant crouched back down. “Listen,” he said. “There’s still some daylight left. We’re taking those bunkers.”
I spit on the ground. “That is a very bad idea.”
The lieutenant glared at me. “I didn’t ask what you thought, Freddy.” He looked a Bill. “What so you think, Sergeant?”
“That is a very bad idea, sir.”
“In terms of ideas, that’s a number ten-thousand sir,” I said.
The lieutenant looked intently at Bill. “Okay, Sergeant, tell me what you think we should do.”
“We should pull back a klick or two, dig in, set out claymores and trip flares, wait out the night, and call in an air strike in the morning,” I said. “That’s what we should do.”
“You don’t listen too good, do you soldier?” the lieutenant said tersely. “What do you think we should do, Sergeant?”
“We should pull back a klick or two, dig in, set out claymores and trip flares, wait out the night, and call in an air strike in the morning,” Bill said. “That’s exactly what we should do, sir.”
“Listen,” the lieutenant said tersely. I’m in command here. I don’t go backwards. Understand?”
We remained silent.
“Did you hear me?”
Bill nodded. “Yes, sir, loud and clear” he replied. “Get your squad together, Freddy,” he said.
“Hold on a minute,” I said, shaking my head. “What about a mad minute?”
Bill nodded. “Good idea.”
“Mad minute? What the hell is a mad minute?” the lieutenant asked.
“A mad minute, sir,” Bill replied. “We open up with every thing we’ve got right at the bunkers. Rifles, grenade launchers, even the M-60. Everything we’ve got for one minute. Believe me, if they’re in there, they’ll return fire.”
The lieutenant was quiet for a moment. He looked from me to Bill. “Okay,” he said. “We’ll try the mad minute. Get the men ready.”
The soldiers took position, staying low, taking whatever cover they could find. I motioned for Bobby D to move closer to me. “Remember the rule?’ I asked.
“Don’t stand up,” Bobby D replied.
“If you see movement, what do you do?”
“Pull the trigger.”
“Good.” I slapped Bobby on the back. Now pray that Lieutenant Dumb Fuck doesn’t get us all killed.”
The lieutenant was several yards away from us. He looked up and down the line. “Ready?” he yelled.
I tapped Bobby’s shoulder. “You ready, Bobby D?” I asked.
“Keep your head down. Do not stand up,” I said.
We opened fire. The sound was deafening, awesome, fearsome. It shook the jungle, pulsing into our chests. After one minute it stopped. Everything was still. The lieutenant looked up and down the line, then stood up. “Let’s go men,” he screamed.
Bobby watched the lieutenant stand. “Sir, don’t stand,” he yelled, rushing toward him in a low crouch. He hit the lieutenant hard at the waist. Bullets tore into Bobby’s back, twisting his torso, slamming his body into the lieutenant, throwing them both back five feet. They landed hard and were both still, the lieutenant on his back, Bobby sprawled over him.
I scrambled over to them, turned Bobby over and cradled his head. His eyes flickered as he looked at me. “Don’t,” he murmured weakly. A blood bubble formed on his lips. I turned my head. “Medic,” I screamed. I looked back at Bobby and saw the exit wounds, large gaping holes, pouring blood. “Stand,” Bobby said. Then Bobby died.
I let go of Bobby, then looked at the unconscious lieutenant. I started to raise my rifle, then felt a hand grab my shoulder. “Don’t do it, Freddy,” Bill said.
“Bobby’s dead.” I looked at Bill.
“I know,” Bill replied. “C’mon, we’ve got company. There’s work to do.”
Small arms fire erupted from the jungle. The muzzle flashes were visible in the fading light, heavy fire, spreading wide. Bill crouched and ran to the end of the line. “Don’t let them flank us,” he screamed. The M-60 machine gunner was dead, shot through the head, slumped over his gun. Bill pushed him aside and laid down a wall of fire, driving the enemy back toward the center of the fight.
Grenades exploded, spewing shrapnel and dirt. Men screamed. The fight see-sawed back and forth, first in one spot, then another. Shadows moved in the jungle. A chaotic dance of death, no one knowing who was leading. And then it was still. Darkness was upon us.
Everyone waited, staring hard into the night. It remained quiet. Bill found me at the center of the line. “Find the medics, get a body count, check the wounded.”
“Already done,” I replied. “Six dead, including both medics. Three wounded, none serious, not counting the lieutenant.”
“What’s with the lieutenant?” Bill asked.
“Concussion. Bullet wound in the side. He’ll live. I gave him enough morphine to keep him down through the night,” I said, shaking my head. “Fucking idiot.” We peered into the dark jungle. “What do you think?” I asked.
“They weren’t more than a platoon, thank god,” Bill replied. “I think they’re gone. They know an air strike will hit in the morning. They did enough damage. ” He stared into the night. “They’re gone.”
I nodded. “I’ll check the perimeter and get the boys ready for the night.”
It was pitch black. The men spoke in whispers, passing along the names of the dead. Alone in the night, they grieved for the fallen, but were thankful that they themselves were not among them. The soldier’s conundrum. Minutes ticked by in the darkness. They waited, hoping, praying the night would pass uneventful. They could taste the fear in the back of their throats. Winning or losing no longer mattered. Right or wrong no longer mattered. Staying alive was all that mattered. The minutes turned to hours. Soldiers began to nod off, unable to withstand the adrenaline crash.
There was an explosion in the dead of the night. Bill found me near the center of camp, staring down. He flashed his light to the ground. The lieutenant’s body was grotesquely twisted, torn nearly in half. Bill shook his head in disbelief. “Fuck, Freddy,” he whispered hoarsely. “Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.” He raised his eyes, looking at me. “What the fuck, Freddy?”
I looked back at Bill. “Must have been an RPG,” I said. “You’re in charge now.” I turned and walked into the darkness. We never spoke of it again.
I lick my thumb and forefinger, then squeeze the end of the joint, listening to the sizzle as the ember goes dead. I put the roach into a small matchbox, and smile at Bill. “I’ll save it for later,” I say. “Roach dope, it’s the best, you know.”
“So they say.” Bill stands. “I have to split. See you tomorrow, Freddy.”
“Don’t call me Freddy,” I say.
He stops, putting his hand on my shoulder. “See you tomorrow, Fredrick. See you tomorrow.”
Bill leaves. I walk into the bedroom, open the top dresser drawer and look down. I begin reading the obituary for the five hundred and thirty-seventh time.
First Lieutenant Donald Jensen, 23, lifelong resident of Des Moines, Iowa, died Saturday, December 13, 1969 in Vietnam, as result of hostile action…
I look up, into the mirror hanging above the dresser. “I’m not afraid to look back,” I say to the man in the mirror.
“I know,” he replies.
“There’s just nothing back there worth looking at,” I continue.
“I know,” he replies.
“Which came first?” I ask. “The chicken or the egg?”
“You tell me,” the man in the mirror replies. “Which came first, the pain or the addiction?”
“It doesn’t matter, they’re both here.” I stare at the man in the mirror. “Tomorrow, I’m going to quit.
The man in the mirror gives a sad laugh. “Maybe tomorrow,” he says. He lights up another joint. “Not today. Maybe tomorrow.”
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The Poet’s Haven is a place for artists across a wide and diverse spectrum to feel safe seeing their work published. We are open to unsolicited submissions from both experienced, published creators and talent new to submitting work for publication. The website offers no restrictions on length or style and minimal restriction on content and genre. What little content that is disallowed is as follows: Material that is obscene, excessively vulgar, pornographic, racist, or in any way bigoted will not be published here. The Poet’s Haven also does not accept religious material.
Our publications are intended for mature readers. While our primary audience is adults we are NOT limited to any one demographic. We have knowingly published work from creators as young as 9 and as old as 95.
We are free to publish what we wish but we will maintain a level of decency; therefore, nothing obscene, pornographic, racist, or bigoted will be accepted.
The publisher here has decided to focus on non-religious poetry, artwork, and stories. That said, since many authors are highly influenced by their faiths, work that expresses faith may be acceptable. Writing or artwork that preaches a faith will not be accepted. Work that questions faith in general may be acceptable. Work designed to insult the followers of any certain religion will be rejected the same as work of a bigoted nature.
Writing that is badly misspelt or in need of severe grammatical or punctual corrections will be rejected. Your word processor program has a spell check. Spell Check is your friend. Use it.
All submissions to the PoetsHaven.com galleries MUST be made through the online forms. We do NOT accept ANY gallery submissions via e-mail. WE DO NOT ACCEPT ANY SUBMISSIONS VIA POSTAL MAIL.
The Poetry Gallery makes up the largest part of The Poet’s Haven. The emphasis sought is emotion rather than form.
All work submitted must be reviewed and approved by a senior Poet’s Haven staff member.
Artwork & Photos:
Acceptability of nudity in artwork will be determined on a case-by-case basis. Nude photographs are not accepted for publication (though they may be added to various staff members’ private collections). Photography should be creative. Use of religious iconography may be acceptable as part of a larger work of art, to be determined on a case-by-case basis.
JPEG format files are preferred, and the image should be no less than 600 pixels wide. Images 1200-1800 pixels wide are preferred and look best on the site. Excessively large images will be resized appropriately. If you do not have access to a digital camera or scanner, try your local print shop.
We reserve the right to change file types, resize the image, or clip edges for space as needed. If we feel a major change is necessary, you will be contacted.
Stories must be original, and feature original characters. NO FAN-FICTION! Characters based on or using mythological or fairy-tale characters may be acceptable. References to heaven, hell, angels, and demons are okay, as these do not directly pertain to any one religious faith. Subjects such as King Arthur’s quest for the holy grail, where religious motive is part of a story’s background but NOT the story itself, are acceptable.
True story essays should be submitted as short stories. The Poet’s Haven is not seeking other types of non-fiction essays, reports, or articles at this time.
The Poet’s Haven receives the rights to publish all work submitted both on the web site and in any future paper publications. The author of a work retains ownership and is free to have it published elsewhere, provided the other publishers do not require first-time or exclusive rights.
Submissions must be made by either the creator of a work, or on behalf of the creator. PLAGIARISM IS A CRIME, AND WILL NOT BE TOLERATED! We will assist any investigations of a submitter for fraud to the best of our abilities. If you are submitting a work on behalf of the creator, be certain to give us a way to contact him or her, other than through your e-mail, if need be. A postal address will work fine. The author or artist MUST BE AWARE THAT HIS OR HER WORK IS BEING SUBMITTED!
Due to time restraints, we are not able to critique each and every item submitted.
Contact Links and Author Bios:
Pages featuring your work can also include a short author bio and a link to your personal website or social media page. Please include this when sending your submission. We will no longer list author e-mail addresses on this site. If you wish to provide readers with a way to contact you via e-mail, we recommend setting up a small blog with a contact form.
Payment for Publication:
Access to The Poet’s Haven web site is free of charge. Any profit generated by advertisements either goes toward paying for and promoting the site or towards producing our offline events and publications. We can not pay for work to be published on the website.
Payment for work used in print publications will be described in that print publication’s submission call.
Author Series (chapbook) Submissions:
BOOK FORMAT: The Poet’s Haven Author Series chapbooks will be published in a “pocket size” as often as possible, measuring 4.25″ wide by 5.5″ tall. The books are saddle-stitched (aka stapled) and run 32, 36, or 40 pages in length, including title and copyright pages. A full-color, cardstock cover will adorn the books. Changes to the dimensions and page count will be considered on a case-by-case basis when the material calls for it. The cover price will be $6, subject to change with any increase in production costs (paper prices, etc.) or when a particular title’s design requires a different price point.
PRINT WINDOW: The chapbooks will be kept in print for a period of 12 months. After 12 months, no additional copies of the chapbook will be printed. At some point after the print window has ended, the chapbook will be made available as an e-book download. The e-books are not printable.
PAYMENT FOR PUBLICATION: Authors will receive 25% of all printed copies. That breaks down like this: If the first print run is 80 copies, 20 of them go to the author. If the first print run sells out and a second print run of 40 copies is produced, the author will receive 10 of them. If the author wants/needs to acquire additional copies, he or she can do so at a 50% discount.
WHAT IS THE POET’S HAVEN LOOKING FOR?: A collection of your poems centered on a theme, a collection of work from a certain era of your life, a series of poems that tell a narrative story… These are just a few general ideas. Also, the Author Series is not limited to poetry chapbooks. We’re interested in publishing novellas, books of art, short films, and more. If you can create it, we are open to considering it.
WHO IS THE POET’S HAVEN LOOKING FOR?: The Poet’s Haven has always taken pride in being open to both newcomers and seasoned pros. That said, for legal reasons, chapbook authors must be at least 18 years of age or have a parent or guardian involved in the process from submission to publication.
HOW TO SUBMIT A PROPOSAL: Click the “Contact Publisher” link and send an e-mail with “Author Series Proposal” as the subject. Briefly explain what your idea is for a chapbook. Include a sample of material that would be in the chapbook. (For example, 4 to 5 poems or the first chapter.) If your proposal interests the publisher, he will contact you requesting a full manuscript.
A NOTE ABOUT PAGE COUNT: Several authors have commented that other publishers consider a 40 page collection to be a full-length book, not a chapbook. At The Poet’s Haven, we consider a full-length collection to be no less than 96 pages. That said, since many authors are used to submitting manuscripts of 20 pages or less to other publishers, we offer this idea: two 20-page collections from the same author together as a flip-book.
The Poet’s Haven is open to new methods of presentation that will expand the barriers surrounding the definition of a “chapbook.” Surprise us!
Poet’s Haven Digest Anthology Submissions:
Books in the Poet’s Haven Digest anthology series each have a theme. When a theme has been selected for an upcoming anthology, an open call for submissions will be posted. (Visit the Open Calls page to see what we are currently seeking.)
Poet’s Haven Digest titles are published as 4.25″ wide by 5.5″ tall pocket-sized books. There is no publication schedule for this series, new volumes will be released when enough material has been selected to fill a book and the publisher has time to complete editing and production.
Authors with work appearing in a Poet’s Haven Digest anthology will receive one contributor’s copy and can purchase additional copies at a 50% discount.
Disclaimer (this is VERY important!):
The Poet’s Haven is a privately held publishing company. This is not an open forum. We, the publisher and editors, reserve the right to refuse any submission for any reason we see fit. This may include work that we feel is questionable, may be in violation of any of the above guidelines, or that we have any objection to. We have a policy of “ZERO TOLERANCE FOR BULLSHIT.” If you attempt to cause problems by initiating spam campaigns, attempting a DDOS attack, or harassing any member of The Poet’s Haven staff, you will be blocked from accessing this site.
The Poet’s Haven website is no different than a print publication. If your poem is published in a magazine and a year later you decide you don’t like the piece anymore, the publisher can not go through all remaining copies of the issue and tear out the page. The Poet’s Haven will not entertain ANY requests for removing poetry from the site on the basis of the author not liking his or her older work. Removal requests can be made for the following reasons ONLY; plagiarism and copyright issues, such as exclusive rights being sold to another publisher BEFORE the piece was submitted to The Poet’s Haven. Proof is required to accompany all removal requests.
In the modern age of Google, some authors have expressed concern about work written many years ago, perhaps when that author was still in college or even high school, being found today by prospective employers. Your work was found to be of a high quality when it was submitted, and it should not be removed from the site. However, if you are concerned about the emotions of your youth influencing your professional standing today, we can alter the name listed with your work. We recommend simply changing your first name to your initial. This way, if you do someday return to writing, you can still take credit for your early work.
Franklin Thorne lived down near Needmore, right on the edge, but he always seemed to take such pride that he didn't live in Needmore exactly, that his house—if you could call it that—sat maybe two doors down from where Needmore actually began, a scrabble of streets with unpainted, unsteady houses once tenanted by mill workers, then after the cotton mill closed, by whoever couldn't afford to live anywhere else. My old man used to raise Cain with my mother if she ever took a shortcut through there; inevitably the old Chevy would come up with a flat tire, and he swore folks there laid down nails whenever they saw a strange car approaching. I don't suppose Needmore exists anymore, at least not literally anyway (though for most of us who lived in Elmer, Mississippi at that time, it will forever occupy its space in our memories).
For the most part, Franklin went to school only three days a week. Oh, some weeks he'd be there every day, but seems as if his desk often stayed empty on Thursdays and Fridays. We still haven't figured out how he got by with that. I know I never could have, but then I had an old man who would've had a coronary if I'd missed even one day a month of school, so all I could do is dream about doing it. Plus, my mother worked for the school—secretary to Mr. Lorry in the main office—so she always had her ear to the ground about what my brother and I might be up to, which wasn't much, I can admit now, though probably more than our mother wanted. But if you knew the sheriff back then—Sheriff Berry it was—you'd understand why no one came knocking on Franklin's door when he didn't come to school. Sheriff Berry—he acted the part of a truant officer if you want to get specific—spent most of his days with his feet propped up on his desk; the rest of the time he likely was out in the county chasing down the Murphys whose favorite pastime was making corn whiskey.
Nobody really knew Franklin. I mean, he kind of kept to himself those days he did come to school. We believed he was older than the rest of us. I don't remember him in the early grades; it's almost as if he suddenly appeared in Miss Martha Miller's class one year out of the blue—that would have been in the sixth grade. He was taller than the other guys, though he didn't have to go far to outdo us in that respect, as most of us were still prepubescent and wondering how we would ever reach Mary Ann Sullivan's lips should we get the chance to do so. Not that he was smarter. Miss Miller was forever chastising him about his reading when we'd have to read aloud in English or Social Studies, so it seemed fairly obvious he didn't spend the two days each week that he frequently vacationed reading his assignments, or anything else for that matter.
To be quite honest, we really didn't pay a great deal of attention to Franklin Thorne. Some of the girls teased him a bit that first year or so, calling him Frankenstein behind his back, then giggling and nudging each other during class whenever Miss Miller, then later teachers, would call on him. Franklin didn't really look like Frankenstein, of course (or as I discovered later, actually Frankenstein's monster), but his pale olive complexion would take on a bit of a greenish cast in winter, and that, along with his prominent cheekbones which (though they possibly could have been considered attractive in later life, went unappreciated by fellow sixth-graders) might have given rise to this epithet. We boys occupied ourselves chortling every time one of us went to sharpen a pencil, or snickering and grinning when someone—inevitably (thankfully we could usually depend upon Jerry Henderson)—would request "Little Church in the Wildwood" during Chorus in order that we might sing "O, Come, Come, Come," so we didn't waste our time with Franklin. Evidently, however, the girls found their game tiresome, as Franklin seemed untroubled by them—or by anybody else, for that matter. We, none of us, seemed to merit his attention. He simply attended school on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays, and his seat was frequently vacant on Thursdays and Fridays. He stood alone on the playground during recess and after lunch, always near the stop sign near the eastern edge of the schoolyard across from the Petersons' house—they of the only wealth in our small community, if you could call it that—as if he were waiting for someone or something. None of us concerned ourselves with him, and he never seemed concerned about us. Yet, we were curious.
We moved easily through the years as children do, you know. Summers would be spent playing baseball or swimming at the one pool our town enjoyed—in the park right near Main Street (until the mid-sixties when feared segregation forced our upstanding city council to order it be filled with dirt and turned into a rose garden)—or riding our bikes down our neighborhood streets in blissful forgetfulness that these giddy days would end in somewhat less than three months. After we graduated from eighth grade, we lost a few of our class members as I recall. Sonny Moses had to leave school to help his old man out at the feed store, and Craig Laine moved all the way to Minneapolis when his parents divorced (the first of those our town had seen, but since all parties involved moved out of our fine state of Alabama, the gossip it raised died out rather quickly). And of course, Barbara Ann Johnson had to remain in eighth grade one more year as her reading abilities were even worse than Franklin's.
The rest of us traveled a few streets farther downtown, to the older school building that loomed like a castle on Greenwood Street, a huge square—three-storied, or four if you include the cafeteria that occupied the old gymnasium in the basement—with an almost treeless campus and a long concrete stairway and sidewalk leading from the street. Ancient, ominous, fearsome—it had always seemed so far away, but now we would enter its portals and be freshmen.
Franklin came with us. Who knows how he managed to graduate eighth grade, but he did. Delighted with the idea of a new beginning, I immediately thrust myself into all activities I could squeeze into my schedule. I joined the Band Boosters, the Rock Hounds (my old man was a geologist and would have raised Cain if I hadn't become a member of that club), and I added my name to the roster for track, the one sports area in which I felt someone with a frame like mine might compete. My older brother Lewis had realized early on that football and basketball were not sports that short, skinny guys could excel in and had settled on running track some years ago, earning himself a letter or two and at least my admiration as well as that of SuEllen Combs who immediately confiscated his letter jacket to wear herself. And though Lew hadn't bothered to teach me any of his methods of sprinting before he left for college, he did leave with me the idea that this might be the one area I could possibly letter in. So after classes that September afternoon I walked out to the track with the other boys to meet with Coach Richter. Fifteen of us had signed up, but only about eleven or twelve appeared that day. Of those, Franklin Thorne and I were the only freshmen.
I immediately discovered that just because my brother had lettered in track, and just because I wanted to be able to run fast didn't mean a hill of beans. I realized quickly that I had work to do.
"Okay, boys, line up in twos and we'll try you out," Coach hollered to us as we shuffled feet and wondered what to do with ourselves while waiting in the bright sun.
Naturally, Coach had me running against Franklin since we were the only freshmen there. Franklin won, pulling ahead immediately, though not by such a huge margin that I felt overwhelmed, but his winning did surprise me somewhat. He'd always moved so slowly, just the way he read aloud in class, that I never would have believed he would be a runner. Coach paired us off again, and I ran this time against Toad Humes, whose nickname described him perfectly. If I couldn't beat Toad, I might as well hang it up, I thought to myself as we lined up. Fortunately, I won, rather easily to my delight, though I noticed no apparent appreciation on Coach Richter's face. Meanwhile, Franklin would run against one of the seniors, Joe Peterson, who had lettered last year. To everyone's complete surprise, Franklin won. He won handily, as a matter of fact. And when Coach put him up against Leonard Wolff who had been on the track team since eighth grade and who already owned three letters, all of us stopped our horsing around to watch. I really thought that Franklin had beaten Leonard, though I guess my view wasn't as good as Coach's. It was close, though, awfully close. We all now knew that Franklin could run.
I went home that afternoon with mixed emotions. I hadn't done too badly, I thought, for a freshman. I knew, however, that I had my work cut out for me if I planned to win even one letter in track and thrill my old man while at the same time carving a place for myself in the annals of Elmer High School history, perhaps picking up a girl like Mary Ann Sullivan along the way. But aside from worrying about myself, I thought almost as much about the surprise I had felt at watching Franklin run.
Since true competition didn't begin until spring, we spent the fall racing against each other. We knew, of course, that the end of football season meant we would gain a few runners from that team, but since Elmer's elite football squad was notoriously slow, most of us who clung to the hope of actually getting to compete come March weren't tremendously concerned about losing a place to a football player. Mike Strange, the team's quarterback, would likely be our best sprinter, but most of the guys preferred baseball to track, so essentially, what we had running around in the fall would be what we had running around in the spring.
Coach decided I had the best chance at working on becoming a miler, so I ran sprints only when someone didn't show up for practice and they needed an extra body for a relay. Normally, though, I would spend my afternoons doing laps around and around the football field, trying to pace myself as I also avoided the sprinters or getting hit in the head by an errant football, as football season had gone into high gear. Although Toad became our official manager, I began to help Coach out with some of those duties because Lew had done the same before me, and I guess Coach figured he could count on the little brother as well
Spring comes to Elmer—or perhaps to most of north Alabama—in fits and starts. Sometimes a January day will be as spring-like as one in March or April--jonquils and daffodils pushing their leaves up through the sun-warmed earth, cloudless, deep blue skies teasing us with pleasant weather--only to be followed by cloudy, damp and cold days, sometimes even with sleet or snow (though snow we always looked upon as God's gift of an unplanned vacation since no Alabama city has ever had any way to combat icy, slick roads). And that year spring came as usual, so we ran outside on days we could, and used the perimeter of the gym to keep in shape on days we couldn't.
Three guys from the football team had joined our group, but two others, along with Toad, had quit, citing conflict with other activities, but we all suspected their real reason to be fear that they lose face if Coach cut them. By now, I felt pretty secure with my position as miler, not that I ran it at record speed, but last year's miler had graduated, and at the moment I was the only one of us Coach had. Since Toad had left, Coach had turned managerial duties over to me, though my workload hadn't increased much since Toad had previously found ways to let me do his job anyway.
Our first track meet was scheduled for Friday. Actually, this would be just a practice meet between our school and one other from Westville, a nearby town, so wouldn't take the entire day. Even so, arising that morning well before my usual time, I trembled with nervous anticipation. Coach had issued uniforms earlier that week, and I had mine carefully packed in my little traveling bag. I had folded and refolded those bits of shiny black and gold satin countless times, tried them on, posed in front of the mirror, and had even run a couple of experimental laps around the house after dark wearing them to make sure I could still move when appropriately uniformed. I could hardly wait for my moment in the sun.
Of course, Franklin didn't appear for school that day. I didn't have but one class—algebra—with him, but since we took that right after lunch, I hadn't been aware of his absence. We all knew, however, our school had a rule that in order to participate in any athletic competition, you had to attend school that day; a half-day would work, but you had to be there.
And Franklin wasn't there.
During lunchtime when I sat with my other freshmen buddies, all of us trying to give our best imitation of Mo or Curly's wisecracks in the latest "Three Stooges" we'd seen that past Saturday, Coach Richter came by the table and said, "Price, you seen Thorne anywheres today?"
"No sir," I answered, "I reckon he's not here, sir. But he just about never comes on Friday."
Coach stared at me a while and said, "Come with me, Price." He led me over to the doorway. "You got to go get him. You know where Reeves' Pure Oil filling station is at?" I nodded. Everyone knew that place. Located at the end of the bridge before you reached the real business district of town, it was a little service station squeezed in between the Milky Way Dairy Bar and the town's only car wash, Quik-Stop. At the back of the filling station was the taxi dispatch office, and it seems that's where Coach wanted me to go. Franklin would be there.
Franklin looked over at me and asked, "Ever had any pussy before?" His face looked even greener than usual in the dim light.
"Nah," I answered, avoiding his eye. I was secretly grateful that I actually knew what the word meant, inwardly thanking the gods that I had seen it written all over the rest room walls a couple of years ago when our family had stopped at a shabby-looking service station en route to my grandmother's house in Memphis, and that brother Lew had relished enlightening me as to its meaning. "Not yet," I added, so Franklin wouldn't think I hadn't even considered it.
"I c'n getcha some." He was smiling at me now, more of a sneer, in truth, and I wondered if he was secretly laughing at me. "It's easy to get. Ya just hafta say the word." He turned back to the drawer he was rummaging in, then added, "It's good." He drew out the good and its sound seemed to linger in the room.
"Nah," I repeated. I simply couldn't think of anything else to say, and I prayed that the subject would be closed. Feeling both titillated and repulsed at once, I thought about the horror I would see on my mother's—and probably also my father's—face if either had heard this conversation. When my mother had discovered that the only other freshman on the track team was Franklin, she'd prodded me to invite him to dinner. "Now, George," she'd insisted in her usual breathless way, "why not ask your little teammate to eat with us this Friday night? Your dad can cook some burgers outside and we'll have a nice time getting to know this Franklin."
My dad had obviously been listening, though he rarely participated in our dinner conversations, because he interrupted. "Not this boy, Nadine. He's a Thorne. Father's in jail." He looked around the table and pointed. "Any more potatoes?"
My mother said, "Oh," making a kind of O with her mouth while reaching for the blue Pyrex dish my old man pointed at. And the subject was closed.
Now, I suddenly pictured Franklin seated at our dinner table with my dad—still wearing his white shirt and tie—asking us about our day, my mother, aproned, serving our plates with her pork chop and rice casserole while bemoaning the fact that she hadn't had time to make any cornbread. The image almost made me start to giggle, and I had to clench my jaw to stop myself. I was already an infant in Franklin's eyes, and I certainly didn't want to reinforce that idea by appearing to giggle over the word pussy.
Franklin had indeed been at the Pure station. Right there in the back room sitting, feet propped on a wooden chair, at a wopsided desk, telephone on one side of him and dispatch radio on the other. "Franklin," I said, truly surprised to see him apparently in charge of the whole setup, "Coach says you got to go to school so you can run this afternoon."
"Cain't," he drawled, "I got to stay here. Ain't got nobody else to answer the phone today."
I was stymied. Coach hadn't told me what to do if Franklin said no. I stood there stupidly for a minute or two, then asked, "Isn't there someone who could do this just for a little while? Coach says you can't run if you don't come to school."
Franklin slowly lifted his feet from the chair. He stood up, stretched his arms and looked at me. "I'll ask one a' them can they come." He indicated the service station next door, and I watched him walk over there.
From Mr. Reeves' Pure station, we walked over to Franklin's house for him to get the uniform and cleats he'd taken home earlier that week. As soon as we entered the front door, well, actually, as soon as we stood on the front porch—a wobbly, unpainted, creaking sort of platform that fronted the house—I became aware of the aroma. Franklin's house stank. Even today, I can't put my finger on exactly what that smell resembled; probably its source was a multitude of things, among them rotting food, urine, dog feces, and just plain dirt, for I think I saw remnants of all of those as I followed Franklin's lead inside where the smell became stronger, forcing me to hold my breath at first.
"Just a minute," he told me. "I think I put that uniform in this here room." He walked to the back of the house, and I again followed, hoping that the smell would be weaker back there. Though the smell was no less pungent, I found myself almost mesmerized by the house itself. It held such a conglomeration of junk: several wooden chairs stood in various states of disrepair in the hallway and had to be navigated around as we made our way down the hall; in what must have been the living room loomed two or three sofas—all in a sort of maroon color—with their stuffing protruding like gray wounds, and I saw no lamps anywhere, no light at all except for the bare bulb that hung from a long string in the room Franklin led me to.
"This ‘ere's my paw's room," he told me as he began to open the drawers of a massive chest-of-drawers whose yellow paint was peeling in places revealing a deep purple underneath. The drawers squeaked as Franklin opened them one by one, peering inside. "He's in jail right now. Ain't no reason for them to take him off again." He looked up at me and shook his head disgustedly. "All's he was doing was playing a little cards."
I think I said something like, "Oh," but I'm not positive. At that point I was wondering what kind of cards would put someone in jail when Franklin asked me his question about pussy.
Franklin and I made it back to school in time for algebra and for Coach to persuade someone to give him credit for the half day he needed. And our team outperformed the other, actually doing better than an Elmer High School team had ever done in a preliminary track meet as far back as Coach Richter could remember. Now we hadn't won all the races that day, but we had done well, and Franklin, for the most part, had done it for us. I had gotten to watch the 40-yard-dash after I finished second out of three in the mile, so I got to see Franklin win that one. He had looked so odd running that I kept wondering if he could possibly beat the others—who ran just the way I believed runners are supposed to. Franklin looked as if he would fall over on his face he ran so low, head down, arms pumping, long legs moving almost as if in slow motion, but striding past the others until he'd reached the end. I cheered loudly as he won that one, then cheered again when he anchored the 440 relay. I noticed, though, that a few of the other guys on our team weren't cheering. And after we finished up and Coach and I were collecting the dirty uniforms, I heard Robert Lee Cook mutter to Mike Strange something to the effect that "Frankenstein must think he's pretty hot stuff now."
Funny how that name Frankenstein had returned. At that point I had almost forgotten how the girls had used it in sixth grade. I didn't think much about it, though—concentrating on myself, on Coach's remark to me that I "needed to pace myself better"—wondering how I could manage that. I went home, ate dinner, answered my old man's queries about the practice meet, listened to my mom's chatter about something that happened in Mr. Lorry's office, and went back to my room. It was Friday night and I had made no plans.
It wasn't my idea. I really didn't know what they had in mind when I got the phone call. But I did turn up at the corner of Mulligan and Beaker streets a half-hour after Ralph Swinson's call. Lenny Wolff and Mike Strange were laughing while they held their noses and pointed to a paper bag that Robert Lee Cook held. "Hey, Price!" Robert Lee yelled as he saw me approach. "Wanna add some shit to the collection?"
Fortunately, I was rescued from answering because both Toad and Joe appeared from the other direction, and I—the freshman—became at that point more of a bystander.
It all happened so fast. The paper bag—filled with excrement—though whose I didn't know and didn't want to know, Toad took and, after screwing the top into a long spiral, held his nose and with the bag in the other hand, stepped slowly, exaggerating his movements like a cartoon character, up the steps to Franklin's house. There he and Lenny, who had followed him, both lighted matches, igniting the elongated top of the bag. Lenny knocked loudly on Franklin's front door, and both he and Toad sprinted to join the rest of us where we stood shadowed by a big oak tree across the street.
The front door opened and in a wink, Franklin was on the porch stomping on the lighted bag, while we watched laughing loudly at his attempts. Our plan had gone awry, though, for almost at the same time Franklin stomped, the fire jumped from the bag and began to spread, slowly at first, but suddenly, it seemed as if the entire porch railing was aflame. Franklin stopped his crazy foot-stamping dance and for a moment just stared, first at the fire, then across the street. He seemed to be looking straight into my eyes, and I suddenly wanted to be far, far away. I started running.
Behind me I could hear the guys yelling. At the same time that I turned back to look, I heard a giant "Whoosh!" and saw Franklin's house suddenly become like a huge piece of kindling, the kind my old man would lay in the fireplace that we'd watch with fascination as it immediately seemed to be sucked into the flames rolling out in leaping, crackling arms. Mesmerized, I stood there for a few seconds and watched it all, the entire house now a gigantic torch. Then I ran, fast as I could go—without pacing—hearing the yells of my teammates, the roar of the fire at first, then gradually only my breathing and the thump my feet made on the pavement, a siren's wail far in the background. I found myself on my own front porch in what seemed just minutes, though it couldn't have been, for we lived on the other side of town at least a couple of miles away.
I spent a miserable, sleepless night in my room waiting for the police, the sheriff, even the fire chief, all to come knocking on my door to take me away to jail. I spent much of the night worrying about whether Franklin had indeed been the figure I thought I saw jump from the porch right before that huge "whoosh," or if he had actually been sucked up in that wall of fire.
It wasn't until morning that I discovered the extent of our destruction. My dad recounted the story at breakfast (he had heard it from Mr. Lumpkin next door when they both retrieved the morning newspapers from bordering front driveways). Franklin's house had, naturally, been burned to the ground, and the houses on either side of it suffered damage as well. Franklin, I learned to my relief, had escaped. I found some consolation in that fact.
We never saw Franklin again. In any case, he never returned to school, and I don't recall anyone even mentioning him. We finished the year in track without him, without much enthusiasm, and certainly without many victories. The mystery of the fire's origin was never solved; it seems Franklin kept our secret. Not one of us ever mentioned our prank; at any rate, none of the other guys who were there that night ever spoke to me about it, nor I to them.
And I wonder if they, too, have spent all these years since trying to forget.
I’ve never before taken issue with the electronic voting machines Ohio has adopted. Sure, there’s the potential for hacking and voter fraud, but the Board of Elections takes steps to prevent that. They’ve created a mess in some neighboring counties when fraud was discovered, but the fact was that the fraud WAS discovered. I’ve never had a problem with electronic voting. Until today.
So it turns out that these electronic, touch-screen voting machines do not allow you to cast a write-in vote for a presidential candidate not on your state’s ballot. The ability to cast a write-in vote is kinda important in this country. Past presidents have used write-in campaigns to win primaries. See the Wikipedia page for a list of notable write-in campaigns and victories.
I’ve not exactly been quiet about how disappointed I’ve been with President Obama. Rather than taking office and kicking ass, making the changes we elected him to make and leading this country far, far back to the left (which would actually put us back in the center, after everything shifted so far past conservative during the Bush Jr. years), he’s been all about compromise. The big highlight his people keep pointing to is, “Oh, we passed health-care reform!” No, you didn’t. You passed a bill that could’ve been written by Karl Rove, it was so tailored to the desires of the major insurance companies. You passed a health-care bill that failed to create the single-payer option that over 70% of the people in this country want. Every issue, Obama has said, “We’ll meet you half-way.” When the Rethuglicans reply “no,” he then says, “Okay, how about we come half-way again?” “No.” And so it goes until what finally passes is so skewed to the right that it doesn’t do anything that it was intended to do. (And then the Rethuglicans continue to bitch and moan about how awful the “liberal” bill is.) But I digress.
Obama isn’t going to lose the Democratic primary in any state. That’s a given. But it would send a loud and clear message that we’re not happy with what he’s done thus-far if, say, 8 to 10% of the Democratic primary ballots voted for another candidate. Personally, I’ve become a fan of a guy named Vermin Supreme. Vermin Supreme is campaigning on a call for mandatory teeth-brushing laws, free ponies for everyone to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and plans to utilize zombies and turbines to produce electricity. He admits his campaign is not “reality based” and is aggressively trying to win second place. Right now, that’s who I want to vote for.
After sliding my card into the Diebold voting machine, I discover that Obama is the only name listed on the ballot for president. Then I find that there is no method of casting a write-in vote. I ask the poll workers how one goes about casting a write-in vote. They do not know. They quickly get on the phone with someone at the county Board of Elections who tells them to have me cast a provisional ballot. Okay. The provisional ballot form is set up to be read by a computer and also does not provide any space to cast a write-in ballot. This is a problem.
In the end, I wrote Vermin Supreme’s name in the space beside Obama’s and did not color in the oval bubble. Whether this get counted, I do not know. Honestly, I doubt it will get counted. Of everything else on the ballot, only one position had more than one person running. If my votes do not get counted, it won’t affect any results. But that is not the point. Every vote should be counted, and the machines need to be equipped with a method of writing in a candidate who is not on the ballot. I think this is going to be one of my hot-button topics for the next four years.
I’ve been taking advantage of my mini-vacation this week to do some things that I’ve never gotten around to doing. I FINALLY got to check out the Common Grounds Coffee Bar tonight. I thought this place was in Cleveland’s Ohio City district, but it was actually way out by airport, at the intersection of Lorain and Rocky River. They are open 24-7-365! How cool is that? The place is small, but it could be made to work for a poetry show. Cash only, no credit cards accepted, but that can be dealt with. There was a Wallgreens across the street for access to quick cash. The reason I walked out without getting anything and didn’t come back? It was 12:30 AM and the place was full of kids. Not a problem. Many of these kids were likely minors, out violating Ohio’s curfew laws. Okay, still not a problem to me, though I would be worried about the cops (who were out in massive force on Cleveland’s east side tonight) coming in to hassle them. The big problem? Damned near every one of these kids is smoking. The place is full of smoke. You can see it in the air, it is seeping out the doors. To my knowledge, Common Grounds is NOT a hookah bar.
Yes, I voted for the smoking ban here in Ohio, and yes, I’d vote for it again. The many bars that closed, claiming it hurt their business? News flash: It was the economy, stupid. Smokers are the minority, and now the rest of us can patronize bars and cafes that we would have previously avoided due to smoke. If your establishment ignores the law and allows indoor smoking, you will not receive my business. Period. I will walk out and go someplace else.
(For the record, though, I have no issue whatsoever with bars and restaurants that built enclosed patios for smokers.)
Common Grounds can be scratched off the list of places I’d consider setting up a show at. For that matter, scratch them off the list of places that I’ll attend someone else’s show at. So disappointing.
Attention all Canton First Friday Poetry people! We need to assemble a street team for July’s event. Literally. See, July’s First Friday theme is “Chalk the Walk,” and I’ve gotten the okay to have a team of poets write haiku and short poems on the walkways of downtown Canton.
Some rules will apply. Everything’s got to be all-ages appropriate, and certain areas will be off-limits. (They’ll be marked off with tape, areas for artists to do their sidewalk art.) Original material will be welcome as well as pieces from poets of all eras.
Let me know if you want to join the team!
Final plans will be announced once I know how many people are on board. I would like everyone meet beforehand with lists of poems and haiku that they plan to use, so we can make sure nobody duplicates any of the pieces. We can also coordinate things on the map, assign certain areas to each poet so that we can be sure to cover the entire arts district. Chalk will be provided.
This is in part inspired by my friend Christina Brooks, who recently began chalking poetry on the sidewalk in front of her home near Detroit.
Anyone that wants to join in is welcome to do so, just contact me so we can coordinate everything. Also, if you are unable to take part in the actual chalking, we could still use help gathering up short poems for this project.
The birds are chirping outside like springtime wake up calls. My wife and kids are sound asleep as I shave. I put on my Oklahoma Railroad uniform. The coffee is ready. I pour a cup and put two slices of bread in the toaster. The vaguest glimmer of light emerges as I close the door behind me and proceed to walk twelve blocks to the Carson Avenue stop, where I will board and take my place at the control panel of the 6 AM commuter train. Today will be like any other day. I will drive the train.
The birds are chirping outside like springtime wake up calls. My wife and kids are sound asleep as I shave. I put on my "uniform": black pants, shirt, shoes. I amuse myself from time to time with my ties, but nothing too outlandish. In my line of work, I don't need to be calling attention to myself. The coffee is ready. I pour a cup. I'll stop for breakfast later. No, rush. My job will be completed long before the breakfast specials are off the menu at the diner. I attach a silencer to my revolver, put it into the shoulder holster, grab my blind-man glasses, throw on my trench coat and take a walking cane out of the closet. Today will be like any other day. I will kill someone.
Emerging from the tunnel I drive onward. Glancing down, I notice the dawn light glimmering off the still dewy metal of the tracks. I love that sight. We all have our sense of beauty. That's mine. Like a smoking engine against a backdrop of virgin snow. I like the concept of warm and cold juxtaposed.
As we approach the station I see a huge crowd of commuters, bigger than usual. Some are reading newspapers, while others appear impatient as if I personally were punishing them for the drudgery of the nine-to-five lifestyle they so pined for when they went job-hunting after they graduated college. They begin moving chaotically as the train comes into view of the platform. All the sense of manners is temporarily suspended as men push into women and young women aggressively shove elderly businessmen. I see this every day, yet it always stuns me how little regard people have for their fellow man.
The conductor is about to announce the station when I receive a message from central command stating that I am to bypass the next station and operate on the express schedule. I accelerate as the horn blares out its announcement to the mob on the platform to step back, that this train will not stop. I hear the crowd shouting obscenities and see them slapping their thighs in anger with the morning papers.
Maneuvering down the steep staircase at the train station while swiping my cane to and fro, it occurs to me that mimicking a blind man is not one of the more enjoyable aspects of my job. I am always stunned that people bump and shove with no regard for a pregnant woman, a child, a disabled person as they scurry off to their mindless, nondescript jobs in some ominous corporation that has even less regard for them than they have for their fellow man. I try not to get too philosophical about this. That sort of thinking throws me off track, out of character so to speak because I am, no doubt about it, tempted to remove my piece and shoot blindly. It never surprises me to read about those guys that just go nuts and walk into some place killing a bunch of strangers. Why not? We're all strangers to each other, aliens on an unfeeling planet... I can't go there. I collect myself. See, if I took things personally I would definitely botch my assignments, ending my career, and most likely my own life in the process. No, better to be detached. I am thankful that I am not really blind.
The station is packed. Something must have happened. I've been at this station every day for the last two weeks and feel like I know everybody here, as much as I care to know anyone. Today, there are new faces, looking more harried than usual. I hear the train approaching, the rumbling on the tracks. I can picture the dawn light glimmering off the still dewy metal of the tracks. I love that sight. We all have our sense of beauty. That's mine. Like a smoking gun laying on a blanket of virgin snow. I like the concept of warm and cold juxtaposed.
At 7:45, my target will board that train, like he has done every day for the last two weeks. I know him better than he knows himself. It's interesting. As an objective observer, I know that he shoves blind men. I have no pity for him. For me, it's a job.
"Come on, move it."
"Hey, let's go. I'm going to be late."
"Don't they have special services for you people? What the hell is the government doing with my god damned tax money?"
"Can't you hear the train? Get with it, pal. Don't tell me you're deaf, too."
I'm really getting the business today. I'm trying, through this crowd and all the ruckus, to keep my eye on my target. It's hard to see with these damn dark glasses. But I like the additional anonymity of this crowd, the fact that something's different today makes it all the less unusual if there is an incident. And there will be an incident. The crowd pushing and shoving in the dim light reminds me of those horror movies I watched as kid, when swarms of crazed, starving rats would be loosed onto an unsuspecting citizenry. Shit! I've lost sight of my guy!
It's absolute pandemonium. You'd think the train schedule had never changed before. I have no pity for these people. They behave like beasts. For me, it's a job.
I hear the blaring of the train. It's not stopping. My mind races. Okay, that gives me time to find him again while we wait for the next train. I wish these idiots would stop pushing. You'd think the train schedule had never changed before.
Someone trips on my cane, catalyzing a domino effect as a whole segment of the crowd falls one into the other. I'm caught in a human undercurrent, being shoved to the outward limits. One great shove comes, unexpected.
(I've lost my balance! I'm off the platform!)
(A man has slipped off the platform! I can't stop!)
I put my head down. The train hurtles on. I am crying. Today I killed someone.
AUTHOR'S NOTE:The idea for this story was suggested by Halina Sznabel.
Dianne hypnotically stared at the small containers of bees wax and the hot pink plastic bottles of hair remover lotions while two middle aged men stood beside her in the Wal-Mart. "I hate messin' with this stuff. Why did I ever bother with it in the first place?" Dianne thought.
"So, I heard you went to France for a month," the man in the dark brown jacket mentioned.
"Yeah... yeah. I did some sight seeing. Went to a couple of bars. Saw some women..."
"Women! Well, you had an exciting vacation! So, how was the French women?"
"Hairy," the frost brown bearded man in flannel proclaimed. "Very hairy. God forbid you wouldn't want to see 'em. Ugly as hell!"
"I bet they smell raunchy too with that bush hangin' out their arms," the shaven man in the jacket added.
"Beyond word... God, I hate hairy women! They ain't natural!" The bearded man proclaimed.
Oh, that's why. Dianne grabbed the pink bottle of hair remover lotion from the upper shelf and quickly walked towards the nearest 10 items or less check out. She patiently watched a caramel woman place her items on a belt while the ebony cashier scanned them. She focused on every inch of the two women. Smooth faces, necks, arms, and legs; hairless. Dianne glanced down at her peachy cream hairy arms and scratched her shaved, stubble cheek. If only I were beautiful.
"Momma, people say I'm ugly because of my hair."
Seven year old Dianne sat on the toilet seat naked with her eyes closed tight as her mother smoothed steaming golden bees wax on her breasts with a wooden popsicle stick.
"Dianne, what do I keep tellin' ya?" Her mother placed the stick in the bees wax and waited for the wax to dry.
"I'm beautiful," Dianne replied through clenched teeth.
Her mother poked at the dry wax then yanked it off a breast.
The woman paid for the items and went on her way. Her time had come.
"Hi. How are you?" The cashier asked mechanically while scanning the lotion.
Dianne took one last glance at the cashiers face and neck.
A mental wreck. "Fine," she bit her bottom pale pink lip.
"$2.04," the casher replied.
Dianne dug in her black velvet purse for a five. She retrieved it and handed it to the casher.
"$2.96 is your change. Have a nice day," the casher handed Dianne her change. I doubt I ever will, Dianne thought. She placed the money in her purse, collected her plastic bag, and walked out of the store.
The orange South Carolina sun gave one last glare at the graveled parking lot before it slowly sank into the forbidden horizon. A few small grayish white birds chirped and warbled on the cold metallic, black pole of the night lamp near Dianne's black '92 Cougar. She thrusted the bag and purse on top of her blue luggage bags in the mild grey passenger's seat and hopped in the car.
Dianne drove with the window down hearing only the wind scattering her spiral rustic brown hair and the small chatter of people walking on the paved side walk until the roads where unfamiliar. Several cars passed by her at long intervals as she adjusted her review mirror and glanced at the familiar home of small run down businesses near house parks.
Dianne walked into a crowded cafeteria of the junior high. She dodged careless clicks trying to make it to a lunch line. Finally, she spotted a clear path to the line and took it paying no attention to the chaotic people outside the path until an olive skin girl backed into her and spun around. She stared at Dianne as a high pitched laughter escaped her Champaign lips.
"Hey, girl! Are you a dude or a she man?" A dirty blonde boy asked standing beside the olive girl.
Dianne felt a million eyes watching her. She quickly made a U turn out of the cafeteria while many colorful faces flashed before her eyes.
"Goodbye," she murmured. Then she turned her attention to the freshly paved road in front of her. I'm tired of the mental, physical, daily pain. The memories... I want... "No more," she mouthed as a single tear flowed down her cheek. She wiped away the stream with the back of her hand and glanced at the sun slowly moving down west. A mile down the road, she spotted a small Exxon station and pulled in. The tarnished bell toiled as she pushed her way through the glass door. A flabby white haired man with a toothpick slowly twisting from the side of his mouth eyed her from the counter.
"'Scuse me, you wouldn't happen to know the nearest motel around here, would ya?"
"It depends on where ya goin'," the old man replied.
"Any where but where I came from," Dianne smiled. Her eyes watered.
The man chewed on his toothpick. He didn't take his eyes off her for a second.
"Up about ten miles or so is an old tavern. It no motel. It a bar with rooms for people like you. Just keep goin' straight up yonder," the man pointed up the road, "'till ya come 'cross it. It'll say Club Colony in big letters. Ya know it when ya see it."
For people like me. I don't think there are people like me. "Thank you," Dianne whispered and went on her way as the man watched her leave.
Dianne sat in her high school desk waiting for the bell to ring. She stared at her classmate, Meca, from across the room. Little curly, soft, black hairs covered her bronze cheeks.
"Why won't you do something about that?" A ash brown girl sitting beside her asked.
"I tell you like I told my parents. I won't shave it 'cause it will only grow darker. If a man really wants me, then he will just have to put up with it. Besides, I'm only hairy on my face. And ya can't see it unless you're right up close to me." Meca glanced at Dianne and shook her head. "Dianne... with her white skin and dark hairs all over... I feel sorry for her. Her's just pops out at ya from a mile away."
The sky began to turn shades of shadows until it was pitch black. The white dotted stars peeped out and the green trees swayed with the wind while Dianne spotted an old wooden tavern with a faded red neon sign of CLUB COLONY painted above the door. She turned in, parked her car closer to the road on thick crab grass, grabbed her bags, locked the car, and proceeded towards the tavern. An owl hooted, hidden within the thick dark trees behind the tavern as crickets played violin music with their legs while Dianne walked in.
The dim rustic moonlit atmosphere crawled with people brushing against her as she made her way to a wooden round table. She sat there for a moment taking in the new scenery and the inhabitants. In front of her sat a fiery haired woman in a silky smooth red dress with her legs crossed showing her black needle hairs as if flaunting them to on lookers while chatting with a baby face tan man. Dianne's mouth opened wide in amazement until a loud, ringing voice caught her attention.
"Would you like a menu, hun?" A blondish grey haired waitress asked. Her face was filled with soft, light yellow chin and cheek hairs.
"I'm here for a room."
"It's forty bucks a night.
Dianne nodded. The hirsute waitress motioned her with an index finger to follow her to the counter where she grabbed a key from a wall of hooks.
"Room twelve," the waitress motioned her head towards the wooden spiral staircase. Dianne followed the gesture and glanced at it for a moment. The man was right. It's no motel.
"That's forty bucks for tonight."
Dianne grabbed two twenties from her purse and paid for the room. Then she proceeded up the stairs away from the unusual. It was dark and silent on the second floor with chatter and music booming behind her and a hallway full of unopened doors in front of her. She walked cautiously through the hall until she came to room twelve. Dianne plunged the little key in the hole, twisted it, and opened the creaky door. She felt the cold, smooth wall for the light switch, stumbled upon it, and witnessed the plainness of the room as it lit up. Just a regular bed, nightstand, and bathroom were provided. Dianne closed the door, sat the key on the night stand, dropped her bags on the mahogany floor, and plopped her body on the bed. She stared up at the boarded ceiling as if she was in a trance. "Where do I go from here?" Dianne thought.
Dianne sat with the men of the family in the living room watching deer hunters stalking their prey.
"Honey, you should shave that," her father pointed to her arm. "Did you start shaving your arms?"
"No, I have never shaved my arms. I don't see anything wrong with it."
"You need to shave that," he pointed out. "It's disgusting! I can't believe you've been goin' out like that! A eighteen year old don't even know how to shave!"
Dianne stared down at his ash hairs on his arms which extended to his hands and knuckles.
"I got it from you," she protested.
"I'm a man! I'm suppose to be hairy! Women are not suppose to be hairy!"
Dianne glanced at her uncle in the cocoa recliner and her cousin in the wooden rocking chair staring at her. Then she looked back at her bearded father.
"If a man really loves me, he will just have to put up with it."
"I luvs ya and I'm not puttin' up with it!" Her father retorted.
Dianne took one last look at her uncle and cousin before she jumped up from the couch and went into her Aunt's kitchen. She grabbed her green jacket from the chair, covered herself, and went out the back door.
I will never be beautifully normal. Dianne sat up and stared out the window at the grayish white full moon. The sight of the outside was peaceful, soothing, and comforting to her. She sat there for a moment taking it all in before she made an exit out the room. Dianne carefully walked down the stairs and sat at a nearby wooden round table. A drunken charcoal woman sat at a table next to Dianne with her hirsute friends chug-a-lugging on Bloody Marys.
"Supermodels... like vampires they are. Looks enticing to some people 'till ya get a whiff of their armpits! Years of sank! Ya know I may be hirsute, but at least I only use deodorant once a day to smell good! Those so called beauty queens have to use deodorant two to three times a day! Curse of bein' hairless."
"We don't fit in society, Sharen," an olive woman stated before sipping her drink.
"Poodles... all of 'em! Artificial man made poodles! Like just the other day in Bi Lo an old woman took me a side and told me how ashamed I should be for going out in public like this!" A yellow tented woman stammered. "I said, lady... go fuck yourself 'cause you need it!"
The charcoal women raised her glass in triumph. "I am werewolf woman! Ya'll watch out! I may infect ya... pass on my hairiness!"
The women cackled. "I wish I had inner strength like them," Dianne thought.
"Do you need a menu, hon?" The waitress asked Dianne.
The hirsute waitress laid a menu on the table while Dianne took in the little yellow spike hairs on her arms before she turned and walked away. She began to look at the menu until a light brown sugared man walked up to her. His dark hair was partially spiked with a hint of Irish red tent. He looked down at her and smiled.
"Hi, do you mind?" He pointed towards the empty wooden chair in front of her. She glanced at it as if she'd never saw it before.
"No, go right ahead," she shook her head.
He sat down in front of her.
"You're new here," he replied.
"Yeah... yeah. I am. Just traveling... exploring to settle." I thought he was goin' to borrow the chair to sit someplace else.
She glanced at his dark sprawling chest hairs that peeped out of his red v-neck shirt and his ash arm hairs which extended to his hands and knuckles. Then she glanced at her own wolf like arms.
"What's your name?"
She looked up at his smooth, shaven face in response to his question. There was a sparkle in his light brown eyes.
Dianne... that's a beautiful name. I'm David."
The waitress came back with a pad and pen in hand.
"Are you ready, sweetie, or do you need a little more time?"
Please, make him go away. Dianne stared at the menu.
"Coke and a cheeseburger."
She looked up at the woman as she jotted the items down.
"And what will you have, pretty boy?"
David glanced at Dianne and back at the waitress. The waitress arched a light blond eyebrow.
"Nothing for me."
The waitress took the menu and scurried away.
"So, where're you from?" asked David.
Enough with the question already. You just want me for the sex. "Why are you interested?" Dianne shuffled in her chair.
"Oh, come on! A beautiful lady sittin' right in front of me and that's all you can come up with?"
Nice one. But I'm not stupid, pal. "So I'm beautiful, am I?"
"You're saying you're not?"
Dianne paused at this question and began to chew on her bottom faded pink lip.
"People don't like werewolves for ladies," Dianne stared at the cracks in the table.
David leaned back in his chair soaking the answer up as the waitress sat a glass of coke on the table.
"Is everything okay over here?" The waitress gave a tired smile.
"Just fine," David replied.
"The cheeseburger needs a few more minutes."
Good. Go away and take him with you! Dianne nodded her head and the waitress disappeared into a crowd of hairy women dancing with men to the pure, soothing sounds of "Dolphin's Cry."
"You could get rid of it, ya know," David broke the silence.
Easy for you to say. "I can't. Nothing works... not on me."
"Have you ever thought that may be nothing is wrong with you?"
"What do you mean?" She stared at him wide eyed.
"Hair grows on the body whether some people define it as bad taste or not." He slid his chair a little closer to Dianne. "And some men even find it naturally sexy... erotic." His eyebrows jumped in a fast motion several times.
Dianne made her chair hop back at this reaction. "You only like the sex."
"Don't all men?" David smirked.
He's getting' horny. What do I do? "So what are you tryin' to say?"
He slid his chair closer to her. She slid her's back.
"Some men are attracted to hair just like some are attracted to smooth skin."
"And that's suppose to make me feel better?" Dianne arched an ash brown eyebrow.
He leaned into her. "Don't you dare," Dianne thought. She slid the chair back until it bumped into another chair. He kissed her with his eyes wide open staring into her walnut eyes. Then he leaned back and smiled at her. A tear flowed down her cheek. Something inside her burst into a million pieces. He touched her cheek.
Wouldn't you like to know! She jumped up and ran out the door. The waitress stood there with a plate of cheeseburger sitting in the palm of her hand staring at him.
"So who's paying $4.96 for this?"
He took a five dollar bill from his wallet and laid it on the table.
"That's better," the waitress laid the plate on the table, took the money, and walked back to the bar.
Dianne crouched down in the crab grass with stickers poking her through her faded blue jeans. She wept while the lonesome cry of a whippoorwill echoed in the cool night air. Dianne looked up at the pure white full moon with a wet face and closed her eyes. She felt the light breeze blow gently against her back and heard the sound of relaxing classical music played from crickets' legs. What happened to me? Why do I keep hating myself? She heard the song of the frog's croak and hugged herself. I should start new memories. She looked at the white dotted stars for answers.
"I want to belong," Dianne mumbled.
She looked back at the tavern and then at the grass. I already belong. She stood up and pulled the stickers from her blue jeans. Then Dianne walked back into the tavern. "May be I should buy myself a short skirt or some short shorts? I've always wanted to wear them," Dianne thought as she made her way through the crowd and back to her table with a plate of food waiting for her.
"Yes..." said Aaron Gibson, a short chubby middle aged man with thin brown hair and brown eyes. He was fidgeting in his chair and had a slightly nervous look across his freckly dimpled face. "Of course I will," he said, "It would be an honor."
"Good. I was hoping it wouldn't be too much of a trouble. Nine o'clock is when people should start arriving, there won't be too many now," said the man as he popped open a bottle of scotch and poured it into a small glass.
Good, good... yes," said Aaron as he shifted uneasily in his chair and strummed his fingers across his legs. He gave a weak smile and said, "Well, I look forward to seeing you there," as he stood up he shook the man's hand and walked out the door.
"He hates you, you know..."
"Ah! Don't sneak up on me like that Will."
"Who are you talking to Mr. Gibson?"
"Uh, nobody hun... nobody." The assistant gave him a strange look from behind her desk as he quickly scuttled by. "You can't keep talking to me while other people are around; its really distracting, you know."
"Don't be mean to me, Aaron... I'm your friend, you know, you wouldn't want me to leave you now would you?"
"Well of course not... I was just saying... it's bad business." He quickly hurried down to his car, he squirmed around as he shifted to find his seat belt and fasten it.
"You see the gun he was hiding?" asked Will.
"The one on the right hand side behind his desk... I think he wants to kill you."
"Kill me? Why? I didn't do anything to him, and how would you have seen, you weren't there."
"I could see it when the door opened as you walked in, and I don't know why... go ahead and ask him if you want to."
"Now why would I do that?!" exclaimed Aaron.
"Well, just saying, if you wanted to know, he would be the one to ask."
You know damn right that would do me no good, he'd just say no and shoot me in the back a second later."
William chuckled and said, "Well, that is why you have me now isn't it, I look out for you; I wouldn't want my best friend in the whole wide world to die now would I?"
"Thank you for the concern, though this is to big of a deal to pass up off of just your word."
"Whatever you say Aaron, whatever you say." "Why do you do this, Aaron? Why are you doing this? You know he wants to kill you."
"Because I don't want to go broke off of your word, that's why," said Aaron. Aaron lived in a mansion on Robert. E. Lee street Massachusetts, right by the sea. He often sat out on the porch, which was one of the few places he felt normal. The house was rather contemporary, yet looked slightly rustic at the same time. It had beautiful marble flooring. When you walked through the front door you could see a two pillar supported arch. A set of stairs were directly ahead, the kitchen was to the left, and the living room was to the right. He was dreading the party to come. Aaron paced back and forth through his living room trying to console his paranoias. It was a nice and very spacious room with a high roof about twenty feet high. There was a fireplace that was about six feet by six made of marble that gleamed magnificently when the fire was burning hot. The flames would dance across and kiss the stone as an embracing lover, and the wood would wither like an old man, blackening and crumbling. They seemed to lull and soothe his concerns away at times, but now only seamed to ironically play on his fear. Hours passed by, everything was ready, and five o'clock rolled around.
"You will see what he really wants."
"I don't know, but its too late to change anything, William."
Will sat there rapping his fingers across the sofa looking at Aaron with a frustrated expression. He leaned back in his chair, and began to say, "You're a fool Aaron, a fool. We've made it this far in life without incident and you want to put it on the line for some stupid business proposition."
Aaron began to lean back and then gave an exasperated sigh, "It's always the same for you, Will, there's always someone out to get me. Will it ever change?"
"You know I'm right. What about that time on the city bus you were so eager to use?"
"Well you're bound to find one freak sooner or later if you're always accusing people."
"What about that incident down town, Aaron?"
"That guy was drunk..."
"Maybe, but I was still right."
Once again, Aaron sighed. He rubbed his face and looked over and back at Will. He said, "I don't need to justify my actions to you, or anyone else for that matter..."
"You're always getting yourself into things you know nothing about, Aaron!" exclaimed Will. "You just jump into the dumbest things without giving it a second thought or thinking, 'Maybe this guy is dangerous, maybe I should listen to my friend for once.' But no, you don't."
"And what do you propose I do, Will? Cancel this? I can't do that, this is too important for me, I could make millions if this whole thing goes right. If I get these people to like us then I'll be set, think about this, if this guy doesn't kill me which you're so convinced he will do, and everything goes along without a hitch I'll be able to retire and we will never have to worry about anyone killing us because we won't have to do anything."
Will nodded. "Okay."
Aaron sat there for hours contemplating the conversation he just had. Everything was ready for the visitors, he had planned this to happen before he had even talked to Rodger Paterson, the man in charge of Global Connections, Inc. Aaron was resting when he heard a knock at his door. He quickly sat up and looked around. Will was nowhere in sight. He sighed as he got up. Another knock was heard and he said, "Coming, coming. I didn't mean to keep you waiting for so long." He opened the door and Paterson was there.
"Well, hello, ma' boy," said the man jovially as he shook Aaron's hand.
"Nice to see you, too. Rodger, come in, please, let me escort you to the living room." Rodger was an older man nearing his sixties and had a slight limp in his right leg. Though he had more hair than Aaron, the gray was really starting to show with only a little bit of black left. He was tall and of medium build. He was wearing a nice dark brown suit with a black tie that was tucked in, and black pants. He had an inquisitive but confidant look about him, which is what he was.
"There should be four more arriving shortly, and that's all there will be," said Rodger as he sat down. There was a knock at the door. "Well, there they are," he said smiling.
"Well, I guess I better go receive the last of the guests, make yourself comfortable."
Aaron quickly scuttled through the hall. He looked back and his neck prickled as he saw Will glaring at him from the top of the stairs and then just walk back up and out of sight. He continued to the door where he opened it to welcome the rest of his guests. There were three men and one woman. The men ranged from the ages of thirty-five to fifty, they were all dressed and looked happy. The woman was first through the door, as the men politely stepped aside to let her go in. Her name was Sara, she had long black hair, had a well built face, was thin and stood at about five-six. She was quite attractive. They shook hands lightly and she gave him a quick hug. Smiling, she said. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Gibson; I'm assuming Rodger is here already?"
"Yes, mam, he is, and if I may I will escort you all to the living room where he is right now."
"Of course," she said still smiling.
They came to the living room and Rodger stood up and shook their hands. "It is nice to see that you have all arrived at last. Come and try these, Aaron has set out some amazing h'or d'oeuvres."
"Thank you, sir. If you will please excuse me, I'll be right back. Make yourselves comfortable."
"Sure, of course, Mr. Gibson," said Rodger.
Aaron made his way up the dark stairs. He could look down from the railing at the guests below. He quickly made his way down the hall to his room. It was dark. He flipped on the switch, and out of nowhere William was standing right there in front of him. Aaron jumped. "My god, Will, what are you doing standing right there? I nearly fainted from that little antic of yours."
"Waiting for you, Aaron, waiting for you..." Will had a grim look across his countenance. "Just waiting for you while you greet our..." He paused for a moment, head slightly cocked to the side. "Our esteemed guests..."
"Well, you can settle down now, everything is fine. You don't need to look like you're about to kill someone."
"You still don't see, do you, Aaron? Why do you do this to me?" he said as he stood there. "You just have to put us in this... issue... but, no... I won't let it happen, I won't let this come to pass, and I'll just have to do exactly that. I'll just have to kill the guy."
"You can't do that!" squeaked Aaron. "You can't just kill people!" Aaron had a look of horror across his plump little face.
"Yes I can, Aaron, and I will. I can't allow you to ruin everything that we've done. If you let that man live he will kill us!"
"You have no proof of this," said Aaron, cowering.
"Proof? Ha! I don't need to prove anything to you, I know this is going to happen." A wierd light cast upon Will from the fire in the back of the room, giving him a cool, calm, but evil look.
"You're a monster," whispered Aaron.
"A monster?! The monster that kept you alive all these years, as you waltzed around like an idiot? The monster who always warned you, and yet you never listened?! No I'm not a monster. I'm just logical and I'm going to kill that man down there." Will grabbed a revolver from the cabinet and marched for the hall. Aaron chased after him as he walked out the open door.
"Don't do this, Will, don't do this!"
"I have to Aaron."
"NO! I won't let you!" Aaron grabbed Will, ripped the gun out of his hand, and shot him in the stomach. He dropped to the floor, dead, eyes blank, staring up aimlessly. Sirens were blaring and lights were flashing outside the mansion, lighting up the boring rural estate like the fourth of July. Cops were bustling everywhere, paramedics were rushing in and out of the house, and radios were going off. "Gun shot heard at 31094 North Robert E. Lee Street, possible homicide, back up has arrived, over."
There was a black haired woman surrounded by four men. She was crying hysterically. One man detached himself from the group and walked over. It was Rodger. He asked, "What happened, Detective?"
The man sighed, looking old and tired. He said, "Seems to be a suicide... Aaron Gibson shot himself."
I was sitting in her office for the third time that month, wondering how long this one would last. I hadn't spoken the last two times I'd been there, not at all, not one word, like that guy in that movie Good Will Hunting. No reason, just because, just to see what she would do. She sat there, looking me up and down, the whole time. I thought of her panty hose being held up by a dirty black garter belt, a flimsy lace bra underneath her green cashmere turtleneck sweater, and other things, slutty things. It was easy to think of her that way, not a real person, when I wasn't talking. I didn't feel like talking.
"Why are you here, Mr. Bardem?" she asked scribbling something therapeutic (I supposed) on a notepad, sitting in her lap, rubbing up against that filthy garter belt.
I raised an eyebrow; she raised one back. I liked her, I decided. Maybe she wasn't a whore. Maybe she had on granny panties and a white cotton bra, support hose, maybe even a slip. Maybe I could talk to her. I cleared my throat. She leaned forward in her seat. I frowned at her eagerness. No, maybe not. Maybe next week. I held up my hand to say goodbye, grabbed my messenger bag and walked out the door.
"Roger, I don't know what you're getting out of these sessions by not talking. If you want to waste your money that's fine with me. I get quite a bit of work done while you're here," she spoke thirty minutes into my hour long session. She was trying to break me. I thought that was funny. I was creating her. I wasn't ready to talk yet.
I rolled out of bed at seven thirty on the dot. I frowned down at the naked body next to me. Why did she have to stay for so long? I had work to do. I liked my own space. Whatever; she'd be gone in a couple of days. I dressed quietly so as not to wake her and get caught up in some trivial and useless morning after conversation. I knew her by now, but wasn't quite done changing her into something else. I closed the door silently behind me and crept down the hall.
I had decided today would be the day I spoke. Even if she did something dumb like threaten me or try to trick me again, I had made up my mind. It was time.
I walked through the glass doors of the office building and headed towards the elevator. When I was in high school I had this psychology teacher who told us that it was a learned behavior for people to stare at the doors on an elevator, to not make eye contact with anyone else. He challenged us all to face the opposite direction some time, just to see what would happen, just to know how it would feel. I hadn't done this yet, but was tempted every time, especially in this building, with all the crazies walking around. I'd probably give someone a nervous breakdown. I hit the button to floor twenty three.
The receptionist made me wait the obligatory ten minutes before letting me in to see Ms. Howard. Not Miss or Misses, just "Ms." Kind of a mind–your-own-fucking-business sort of thing. That's how I took it anyways. I liked it; worked with my creative process. During this time, she offered me water, coffee or tea. I think her name was Joan or Joanne. I shook my head no and picked up a copy of Golf Digest. I didn't golf.
I looked at my watch and cleared my throat. Joan (or Joanne), with her mousy brown hair and glasses (typical) looked up, startled. I wanted to roll my eyes at her but didn't. We played this game every time. I always looked at my watch after exactly ten minutes, she jumped every time I cleared my throat. Oh yes, she said softly, Ms. Howard will see you now. Go on in.
"Hello Roger, and how are we today?" She looked up from her planner absentmindedly. I hid a smile. She was assuming today would be like all the others. Good.
"I'm doing well today, Ms. Howard, and yourself?" I hated it when people asked how 'we' were doing. I was doing fine; I didn't know how she was doing. We were not a 'we,' we were two separate entities. If I knew how she was I wouldn't have to ask. What if I had multiple personalities? I would be offended by her question. How very un-PC of her in her line of work.
She looked up in surprise, then masked her face quickly with that bland therapist look. Reminded me of a statue in a wax museum, dead eyes and all of that. I wondered briefly if they taught you that look in school or if you only got licensed if you had it already.
"Oh, can't complain. I'm doing well. Anything in particular you'd like to talk about today, Roger?" She was trying to remain casual. She must have learned her lesson the last time, I thought. I looked again at the name plate on her desk. J. Howard, it read. J, maybe Jane? Julie? Janet? I liked Janet. She looked like a Janet.
"Yes. There are a few things I'd like to discuss if that's all right with you." I looked her dead in the eye.
She blinked. She was intimidated by me. "It's your time. We can discuss anything you'd like. Go on. Oh, wait. Would you like something to drink, coffee or tea or anything?"
I smiled broadly, "No. Thank you Ms. Howard."
"Julie, this guy sounds like a real weirdo. All kinds of psychos out there, it's a wonder why I even try to date anymore. Why don't you just tell him you know he's full of shit and he should get another therapist? I have to go. My cousin Sadie's in town and I promised her I would meet her and this guy she's dating for drinks. You'd think she would take some time off of men after getting divorced five months ago, but guess not. Hope he's not an asshole." Tamara stood up and grabbed her jacket.
I smiled at her, even though I sensed she was annoyed by yet another one of my clients, rather than just at her emotionally unintelligent cousin. I wasn't breaking any confidentiality agreements by complaining to her; it wasn't as if I told her their names or anything like that. Sometimes I just needed to sound off, vent. And this new guy was really working me over. I picked up my glass of red wine and took a gulp, on a prolonged lunch break at a quiet café. I needed more of this; the wine, myself, Tamara telling me to quit my day job.
Roger had been seeing me for just over a month, and his last session was the first time he'd ever spoken. He talked non-stop for the entire session, practically. Whenever I opened my mouth to comment, he would rush on with yet another dramatic detail to his story. I knew he was full of shit, though, just like Tamara said. He'd woven this story about how his father was an abusive alcoholic, shot his mother right in front of him. He told me he'd lived in seven different foster homes before he turned eighteen. He used to cut the hair off all his sisters' dolls in these foster homes, had sexual fantasies about all of them; the sisters, not the dolls. He told me he'd joined the army on his twenty first birthday, but changed his mind and allowed himself to get caught giving another soldier a blow job so he wouldn't have to go over seas. He wasn't gay, he said. He just didn't want to go anymore. Changed his mind. Developed Multiple Personality Disorder. The story began to wind down when he claimed to have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, because of the war, he said. I told him he never served in the war (when I could get a word in), so that wasn't a realistic diagnosis, but that yes, it was possible he could have it from all his time spent in foster homes. Oh, yeah, he said. That sounds better, I mean, makes more sense. Actually, one of his other personalities had served in the war, in Vietnam, though, not in Desert Storm or Iraq, he told me. After that, he asked me for the coffee Joan and I had offered him earlier. What an asshole. He wasn't abused, a victim of anything, other than being a pathological liar. Maybe slightly sociopathic, as well. I could tell he was a spoiled brat a mile away. Didn't matter; it would be good material for the book. That was the only reason I was still in private practice. All I really wanted to do was write. I'd had it with all these fucked up people; I had my own problems. Most people think therapists are so quiet because they're good listeners. Really, we just don't give a shit.
"Roger, can we talk?" The blonde began. What was her name again? Sally? No, Sandy. Sadie, that was it, Sadie.
"What's wrong, baby?" I feigned concern and sat down on the edge of the bed. Good, finally. It had been five months and she still hadn't broken up with me. I wouldn't break up with her; I didn't do that. That wasn't how this worked. But, I was tired. I had done new things this time, but still I had done them, so I didn't understand what she was sticking around for. Didn't she have any self respect? Like I said before, though, I knew her. Sadie believed in true love, soul mates and all that crap. She was a bleeding heart. I couldn't stand her. At least she lived out of state, though, so I only had to see her once a month. I'd flown out to see her the first time, to get her hooked; she'd been here all the times after.
Turned out I was wrong. She wasn't breaking up with me. She wanted to apologize for the night before. She'd wanted me to go out for drinks with her cousin at some trendy shithole in the East Village, but I managed to persuade her into staying in by saying all the right things, something that came naturally to me. Then we'd had sex and she didn't come. Like I gave a shit. I thought it was funny. Every time I had seen her before, I'd made it all about her, worshipped her, fawned all over her, made insane love to her. This time I was tired and this was one of the new things I was trying. I made it all about me. I made her feel guilty, dirty. She felt like she owed me, I could tell. She'd gone out and bought all this dirty lingerie, danced for me, gave me blow jobs, let me tie her up and twist her around like a rubber band. Then when the bitch didn't come, she got all upset about it. I feel like you don't even care, she'd cried the night before. I was so annoyed I rolled my eyes. Good thing she was face down and I was on top of her at the time. I couldn't be too obvious, that wasn't part of the game. I stood over her naked body and did what I do best, turned it all around on her to make her feel like shit. Every other time has been all about you, hasn't it? Can't it ever be about me? I asked her. Well, yes, haven't I made you happy this time? I did everything you wanted. She was so pathetic. Yes, I liked it baby, couldn't you tell? I grinned at her. She'd smiled back shyly; she was too old to pull that, it was just annoying. I wanted to slap her most of the time. I just feel like you don't care if I'm happy or not, she whined. I feel like nothing I do will make you happy, I'd exploded and went to sleep, content that I'd broken her.
I figured this morning she would end it, like any normal woman would do, but I should have known she wouldn't. I'd picked her after all, chosen her specifically. She never saw me coming. I was out of town at a wedding with some co workers, and I'd overheard her telling her girlfriend how she'd sworn off men since her divorce, how she was going to write a book about it. She was perfect; wounded, naïve, beautiful in an innocent sort of way. A bird with a broken wing. I would use her. I would know her, then recreate her, then she would leave and I could start all over again. That was the game. That was my art. Like I said, all she wanted was to apologize. She flew home a few hours later. I would have to figure out a new plan for the next time I saw her. Oh well. There was time.
"Hey, I'll fly out to see you in a few weeks," he promised as he pulled me in for a kiss.
I pulled back for a moment and looked into his eyes. Would he really? Did it matter? Sometimes I felt like I didn't even know him.
"Sadie, you've flown here three times in a row, it's only fair. Besides, I'm going to be so sad when you leave, I always get used to you being here when you visit. And Oscar misses you every time, too. I keep telling him you're my woman, but he likes to argue," Roger joked and kissed me between the eyes. Oscar was his cat. I let out a deep breath. He loved me. I knew it even if he didn't yet. That was okay... me knowing was enough for now. There was time.
I wished we'd made love that morning, but he'd been quiet since our fight the night before. He'd gotten a little rough with me and I was angry. It wasn't like him to be so insensitive. I woke up feeling silly for overreacting. I also didn't want to go home without having an orgasm, but he said he didn't want me to think he only wanted me for sex, or that every time we saw each other we needed to sleep together. He said he cared about me so much he wanted to try to make this a real relationship. I was moving out there in a few months and he said we could have sex all the time then. What an odd thing to say, I thought.
I cried the whole way to the airport. I don't know why I was crying. The cab ride to Roger's house, I had been so nervous he was going to break up with me I thought I was going to puke. I almost called my cousin Tamara and asked her if I could just crash at her place instead, but wanted to see what would happen when he opened the front door. He told me he sensed my nerves and didn't understand them. He told me it was silly for me to think he would break up with me. He said he was in this thing; that we were doing a great job at this long distance relationship, as good of a job as anyone could do, and that he couldn't wait for me to move so we could be together whenever we wanted to. I guess I was crying because I didn't want to leave him. That first night after he said those things, I cried, too. I was usually the person who had it all together, but since my divorce I just felt so vulnerable.
I wanted to trust him. I wanted to believe in him. I'd told him that it was hard to believe all the good things he said to me when I had been married to someone who said the exact opposite. He asked me why I didn't think he could love everything about me. I told him that my ex-husband told me he didn't like me, didn't like the person I was. Said he felt sorry for himself that he had such a stupid wife. I should consider myself lucky that Roger saw who I really was. I should just let myself be loved. I was trying so hard to trust him. I'd even sent him my book to read.
She told me she was leaving the country. She said she was going to Europe for a while, to write a book. I liked Europe. I met a girl from London once. Dated her for three months, I think it was. Said she didn't have her heart in therapy anymore, but that she would refer me to someone who could help me if I wanted. J. Howard. Jane, Julie, Janet. Too bad I didn't have time to change her. I wondered what the next one would be like. Probably a whore, just like Ms. Howard. That's okay, I still had Sadie to finish anyhow.
"A Conch Wedding," because Jen was marrying Nick, and we were all in Atlanta for a week of partying; "Conch" because that's what the girls and I called ourselves, due to a spring break spent in Key West, otherwise known as the Conch Republic; Part Deux because I had been the first Conch to bite the big one. Truth be told, I was missing my divorce hearing for the wedding; a Circle of Life, I'd say. So far this trip had been filled with drunken hilariousness, but there was an underlying tone of despair. Not only were we sad that our once wild and carefree Jen was settling down, but we weren't too sure about the guy she was marrying. Apparently he had a small drug problem, and we hadn't seen much affection between the two of them, so we were more than a little wary. Jen hadn't been too forthcoming with us in regards to Nick's shortcomings, either. Whatever the case, no matter if she had shared with us or not, you can't change fate. She was going to marry Nick anyhow and all we could do was be there for her and try our best to like him.
Soon the Day of Reckoning was upon us. The pictures of us standing at the altar were priceless: Megan, picture perfect as usual, the eternal actress; Linda, looking as if she wanted to throw down with the groom (which I know she did); me, dazed and confused; Lisa, making eyes at her boyfriend; Jen's sister–in-law Kristi, also looking as though she wanted to punch the groom; and last but not least, Anna, the groom's sister, strangely hopeful. Was she thinking that perhaps Jen could save Nick from himself? Who knew; maybe she could.
The wedding reception consisted of dancing, more drinking, and me trying to get with one of the groomsmen. I thought I was going to be victorious, when all of a sudden he disappeared without a trace. Dammit. Another one bites the dust, I suppose. At least I was adequately lubricated to deal with the heartache. No one had seen Nick all night, including Jen, and I was trying to steer clear of that drama as well.
"Oh, it's you! Did you find a place for us to go?" I asked, resigned to the fact that the rest of my night would include Daniel (Nick's brother) drunkenly following me around, me being depressed over Chris and, of course, more alcohol. One of Daniel's friends joined us for the plan making. I recognized him as the guy who'd drunkenly invited me to after bar while I was talking with Chris earlier. I think I called him Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfiger or something. Chris had laughed, telling me that at least I had plans for later that night, if all else fell through. Little did I know he would be the thing to fall through and I would be stuck with this fucking freak, the drunkest man alive.
After much debate, we decided to head back to the hotel bar. When it was my turn to crawl into the shuttle, the only seat left was next to Daniel, and his loser friend. The loser friend had managed to sneak a double of scotch for the ride. I muttered something about Southern men and their scotch. Daniel heard me and took that as an invitation to start talking again. He asked if I liked wine; I told him I did, I enjoyed Italian wines. He told me he had been to Italy. I imagined him in his polo shirt and khaki shorts, loafers with no socks, drinking wine from a carafe in Tuscany. Somehow it didn't all fit together. I giggled to myself, his Southern drawl in a sea of Italian accents. My thoughts were interrupted by his friend, whose name I found out was Peter, screaming at the driver to play some "mother fucking Widespread Panic." "Didn't he know they were from Georgia?" "Where was the mother fucking Widespread Panic?" I giggled until Daniel made the mistake of touching my leg, full palm. I wiped his hand off of my knee and told him I didn't think he needed to drink anymore.
Once at the hotel, the bartender was closing up and wouldn't let us order glasses of wine anymore, so Peter (aka Ralph Lauren, Widespread Panic) bought a few bottles. I was a little surprised that Daniel hadn't offered to buy, but he was so drunk at that point it was a miracle he could stand.
Speaking of Daniel, I finally called him on his weird staring habit. "What?"
"What, Brittany?" he asked back with that glazed look on his face.
I sighed; this could go on all night. I decided to attempt conversation. "So what's a day like in the life of Daniel?"
He laughed drunkenly, then stared blankly into space. I fought the urge to roll my eyes. "Well," he said after a very pregnant pause,"work, golf, family, that's really it."
He wasn't giving me much to go off of, although I can't imagine what else I thought he might say. Daniel was the type of guy who would run for President someday; reminded me of a young Bill Clinton, only not as smooth. I was about to excuse myself to the ladies room when David (Nick's dad) slid a hand around my waist and laid a sloppy kiss on my cheek. I caught his wife's eye in the distance, playing warden, although I couldn't blame her. David asked me for the twentieth time if I was having a good time. After assuring him that I was, I escaped to the bathroom to stare at myself in the mirror, trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me that a nice guy like Chris would run away from me, but guys like David and Daniel couldn't seem to get enough of me. I felt like Marilyn Monroe, always attracting the wrong type of man. Maybe I had a sign on my forehead that read "damaged" or "easy" or some other warning that made available men run out of my path.
When I sat back down at the bar, Peter swooped in. Make that available men who weren't ass holes. "Hey, baby, gimme a cigarette," he whined, stroking my arm with his forefinger.
I grimaced and slapped his hand away. "I don't have any."
"I can see them in your purse!" He pointed out, indignant.
"Well, the one that I would have given you is gone, so you're out of luck. Ask someone else," I muttered back and took a sip (gulp) of wine.
He checked out the people at the bar, calculating who else might give him one. "Baby, ask that gay guy if I can bum a smoke."
He hadn't even tried to be quiet, and the guy was sitting two bar stools away. "Stop calling me baby! And you don't know if that guy is gay or not, you can't say things like that! I hope you get your ass kicked," I whispered furiously in his ear.
"What? That asshole is totally gay! Look at him," he pointed. I grabbed his finger as he smiled slyly at me, like a damn fifth grader.
"Well, you can ask him yourself."
Peter turned on the charm and the guy gave him a handful of Capris. Must be nice to have been raised Southern, used to getting whatever you want and charming the hell out of people when it's not so easy. We walked outside and sat down on the pavement.
I spotted a golf cart. "Wouldn't it be fun to cruise around the grounds in that?"
Daniel immediately rose from his own spot on the pavement, grabbed me by both hands and dragged me over to the golf cart.
"Daniel, what are you doing?" I cried, as everyone stared on in amazement, except Peter, who was laughing his ass off. Daniel didn't answer, only unzipped the plastic cover on the cart, took a seat inside and started fiddling around.
"Hey man, you might want these. Not going to get very far without them." The shuttle driver had seen Daniel and was waving the cart keys in the air, laughing.
"Get in," Daniel winked at me as the cart started to roll backwards.
"Oh my God, it's moving! Get out of there, you're going to get into trouble!" He wasn't ever going to be President carrying on like he was, that was for sure. Who would have ever thought a conservative Southern void would know how to hotwire a golf cart? Although I suppose if there was anything he would know how to hotwire, a golf cart would be it. He laughed with more than a trace of cockiness and stepped out of the cart. I walked past him to go to the bar for more wine.
After bribing the bartender with a twenty for a glass of wine, I complained to Linda about my unlucky evening. I think she thought I was going to make out with Daniel or something. She and I stepped out again, just as Daniel climbed into a cab. About time. I noticed Peter, though, was not joining him.
"Aren't you leaving, too?" I asked rudely.
He winked at me (damn those Southern men with their winks and their baby's) and drawled," Nah, I'm staying in y'all's room."
"The hell you are!" My southern diva was coming out. "You need to get a cab to take your drunk ass home. No way are you staying in our room!"
Linda laughed and said, "Oh fuck no," while walking away, leaving me to deal with the impending disaster.
"C'mon, I'll sleep on the floor! Let me stay in your room. We can order pizza!" He persuaded suavely.
More words were spoken or yelled, I think I blacked out or Peter cast some sort of spell on me, because suddenly I heard myself saying, "Fine, fine! You can stay in our room, but you're sleeping on the cot. Don't look at us, smell us, touch us, nothing. Dammit, you better not piss me off, I swear to God! I will make you get your own room! And you better order me a pizza!"
We walked up to the front desk to get Peter a blanket, and to find out where we could order a pizza at three in the morning; apparently nowhere. Peter kept cussing at the lady at the front desk; I kept cussing at him for being so rude. He kept calling me baby; I kept freaking out on him. I swear the lady working the desk must have thought we were married or something. Linda had ditched us. She said she was going to keep drinking for a while, but I had had it with the whole night and wanted to sleep. Peter kept whining about how he wanted some drugs and he was going to call Mr. Hathaway.
"Daniel?" I'd asked in shock.
"No, Nicholas," he slurred. "I need some fuckin' coke, baby."
"Leave the man alone, for Chrissake, it's his wedding night," I snapped on him.
"No, no, no you don't! Get your ass up and pull out the cot! Get off my bed right now!" I shrieked as Peter plopped down on the bed, discarding his shoes, sports coat and Ralph Lauren tie.
"Relax, baby," he murmured, eyeing me suggestively.
"Dude, get the fuck up and stop looking at me like that! Order me my pizza, I'm fucking hungry!" I snapped.
He sighed and picked up his phone. After being on hold for awhile, he threw the phone at me. "I'm drunk. You talk." Then he fell back down onto the bed.
I huffed in anger and waited for the options over the phone. It was asking for his account number. I threw the phone back at him. "I'm not your wife. I don't know your credit card number. Who are you calling anyways? Why don't you just call Information?"
"It's my American Express card. They can get you anything, anytime, anywhere, baby. Wait and see." Another wink, and I guess I didn't realize rich people have means poor folks like me don't. I have directory assistance, Peter had concierge service with American Express.
After cussing out three different people at American Express, including one manager, Peter finally got hung up on for requesting a pepperoni pizza, a bottle of red wine and some cocaine. The woman on the line asked him if he also wanted the number to the police station because that was who she planned on calling next. I laughed my ass off; Peter may have been an asshole but he was entertaining. Linda had ordered this weird BLT pizza for lunch that day and I remembered I had three slices left in the hotel fridge. I thought it tasted like a Cousin's sub. I had no desire to finish it, but Peter and I were so drunk and hungry we did anyhow. Guess what he said? "This pizza tastes like a Cousin's sub."
I‘d yelled at Peter so much in our brief time together that night, I think I managed to subdue him, but I didn't want him to pass out on my bed. After more nagging, I realized it was a losing battle and went to change into some comfortable clothes. Of course I couldn't get my dress unzipped so I had to ask him to help, which sucked because he, I'm sure, took it the wrong way. I followed up with a slew of insults to set him straight in any case.
When I came out of the bathroom in a t-shirt and gym shorts, I sat opposite from him on the bed. Good thing it was a king sized; he was sprawled all over the damn place and I was hanging off the edge. I wondered if he could feel my rage from where he was laying. He turned an eye towards me and said, "Hey baby. What are you wearing over there?"
I sighed. My endless attempts at getting him to stop calling me "baby" had failed, so I gave up trying. Maybe it was a Southern thing; maybe they just called everyone "baby." I was being such a jerk to him it would be a wonder if he was truly still hitting on me anyhow. I decided to loosen up and responded, "Pajamas. I couldn't sit around in that dress for one more minute. Check this out."
In an effort to become a little less than enemies, I tried to strike up a conversation about the fun he missed by not attending the bachelor/bachelorette party. I started by showing him the massive bruise on my leg. During a game of ladder golf and an impromptu bathroom break, I had fallen down a hill, taken out two people, the game, and ended up with a wedge sandal up my butt. He rolled over and looked at my leg while I told him the whole story. He laughed, but then made the mistake of taking his hand and caressing my leg with it.
I slapped his hand away. "Don't fucking touch me!"
"Then get your sexy legs out of my face!" He shot back. If he were anyone else, this would have seemed like foreplay, but I was still depressed over Chris and so annoyed with Peter, I was about to kick him out of the room for good.
Red in the face, I sputtered, "What? They're not in your face. Pull out the cot!"
He ignored me and played with his phone. I pulled out my own and started texting Linda furiously, asking her where the fuck she was, please come up and rescue me, etcetera. All of a sudden, Peter threw his phone down and said, "Dammit!"
"What now?" I asked through clenched teeth.
He sat up and leaned against the headboard. "You know, you're really beautiful… but Goddammit, you're an asshole!" He shouted, getting louder with each word.
I was stunned speechless as he stared me down. I gathered my wits and shouted back, "Me? I'm the asshole? You're an asshole, not me! And who calls a girl an asshole anyways?"
"Well, that's what you are!" He snatched the room phone and dialed the operator. "Yes, I'm in room 332 with an asshole and I need my own room. I can't stand another minute with this woman. Dammit, I don't care if the hotel is full, I will sleep on the floor. She's going to kill me in my sleep!"
This went on for another minute or two, and had the appropriate affect; me laughing until my sides hurt, my head shoved in a pillow. When Peter hung up the phone, I giggled, "Fuck you."
Peter snorted back, "The chick asked if I was having issues with the Misses!"
He stood up and kept it going by announcing, "I can't take this anymore. I don't deserve to be treated this way. I'm leaving!"
I laughed out loud as I said, "Good! Leave then. Get your own damn room!"
Peter stood up and walked towards the door, sans jacket, tie and shoes. I heard a door slam, but looked up in time to see in the mirror across from me that he had walked into the bathroom. He'd opened the door a crack to see if I was watching.
"I can see you, idiot!" I rolled my eyes. "The door is to your left!"
He walked back out and frowned. "Why do you have to be so mean?"
He settled back onto the bed and asked, "So, asshole, what's your story?"
Since I no longer felt the threat of molestation, I gave in and started talking. I told him I was a writer, had just gone through a divorce, that I was moving to New York to start over. He told me he worked for Nick's dad and loved his job, golfed, of course, and loved David Sedaris. Funny, I didn't even think he could read. Finally, Linda entered and headed straight for the cot.
"Linda, no! You're sleeping in the bed honey, he was just moving. Get up," I hissed at Peter, who continued to lay there like a sack of potatoes.
Linda proceeded to pull out the cot and fell into it, fully clothed. I sighed. She would most likely pass out in three minutes. I walked over and knelt down beside her.
"Linda, Peter is sleeping on the cot. Come on, I'll help you get out of this dress."
I stroked her hair with one hand as she started crying. "My best friend has just made the biggest mistake of her life, and there's nothing I can do about it," she moaned.
I took a deep breath. "I know honey, I know. It'll all be okay."
She looked up at me. "How?"
"I don't know, it just will. It has to be. Things work out however they're supposed to, but there's nothing we can do about it."
"I know," she whispered and fell into dreamland.
I shot Peter a look, though he pretended not to see me as I walked past him and into the bathroom. When I got out, I turned on the TV and began looking for a movie.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"Getting a movie, can't sleep now. Your friend Nick better not fuck my friend over," I added as I stared at the list of movies available for rental.
Peter was quiet for a minute. "What movie are you getting?"
"He's Just Not That Into You," I replied and pressed purchase on the remote, fifteen dollars for a couple of hours of mindless activity. A fitting movie for my night.
"Total chick flick."
"Yeah, I'm a romantic, what can I say?" Jaded, cynical me.
"Me, too," he said back in a surprisingly honest tone. I looked over at him with one eyebrow raised, but he'd finally passed out.
The next morning, I opened one eye and felt around to make sure Peter hadn't ventured towards my side of the bed. He hadn't; he'd stayed on top of the covers on his side, I was safely tucked in on mine. I gave him a small bit of credit. Maybe he wasn't such a jerk, maybe he was just drunk and didn't feel like going home, or going home to be alone. Maybe we had all been in a weird place after witnessing the wedding that never should have been.
"I feel like hammered shit," he groaned to confirm that he was, indeed, joining the land of the living.
"Me, too. I think I'm still drunk." I buried my head back in the pillow and cursed that last glass of Merlot.
Linda stood up in her wrinkly taffeta dress, hair everywhere. "What time is it?
Before I could answer her, Peter picked up his phone to call someone. "Hey Mama! Happy Mother's Day..."
Oh, shit! I'd almost forgotten. I was going to take my mother out for dinner after flying home that night, probably with one of the more noteworthy hangovers of my drinking career. These Southern boys cracked me up. Peter, sleeping in a stranger's room after a night filled with bad behavior, still calling his mother first thing in the morning. Were they all Mama's boys? I snickered as he glared at me to shut up.
After he hung up, he rolled over and looked around the room. "Who took my tie off last night?"
Just as I was about to say something smart like how I would rather kill myself than have taken off one article of his clothing, he went on dryly, "Don't worry, honey. I know it wasn't you!"
I smirked; even with a hangover he was funny. I relaxed once more and felt bad for coming down so hard on him. "Sorry for being such a jerk last night. I didn't mean to be so evil, but I don't even know you and you wanted to stay in our room, and…"
He interrupted,"It's okay. We had a good time, right? I probably was an asshole anyhow."
"Yeah," I said and left it at that.
"You guys want to get some breakfast?" Linda asked. We all stood up, patted down our ratty hair and headed towards the lobby. Linda and I caught a glance at Peter's curly blonde locks standing every which way. She smoothed them down, then roughed them back up again. Peter was turning into our little pet, a toy for our amusement. We all giggled, obviously still slightly inebriated.
As soon as we made it down to the lobby, I headed straight for the food. Peter went to the front desk to call a cab, just as Linda got hijacked by David himself, who had seen us getting off the elevator with Peter. Shit; so much for not looking like cheap white trash. Oh well. Linda tried to tell him we had all just passed out (I don't know how that sounded better than what he was envisioning), and he told her that Peter was nothing but trouble, as if we couldn't tell that for ourselves.
Linda and I sat down to eat. "Where's Peter?" I asked.
She spotted him at the front door, walking out without saying goodbye. "There he goes." A fitting end, I thought.
Jen called me just as we were on our way to the airport. She told me that she and Nick had fought the whole night of the wedding. She said that she'd had a picture in her mind of how her wedding was supposed to be, but that it hadn't matched up at all. I told her that was what everyone thought. I didn't have the heart to tell her I knew how she felt, because I didn't want her to think I was comparing her marriage to my own, doomed from the start. I didn't have any words of advice for her, I just listened. She hadn't confided in me in a really long time, I think because she and I are so similar, and because we'd been through a lot of the same things. She didn't want to curse herself by seeing if we were still parallel. That's what I would think if I were her, anyhow. I wished her a happy honeymoon and told her to have lots of sex and call me when she got back. She and I texted for the rest of the day about Chris and Peter, and I wished her more happiness than I think I've ever wished anyone in my whole life. What else was I going to say? You can't change fate.
Like dispensing water from the hot spout and then the cold
I would have liked it better luke warm and left alone.
Back to that "natural" state, much like the apes.
"Healthy" when not too heavy and not too thin.
Not too extreme, in the normal range again.
Wanting to be special, to be amongst the top tier
An existential fear reassured by the insurance that
Uniqueness, and thus you, will carry on as a published legacy.
Commercials of packaged food
Followed by commercials of pretty people.
"Be like me, but don't eat these"
That look I get up and down - I try so hard to not do it myself
Competitors against our own kin
- self-will against self-will
Our resilience to survive, and find that perfect life...
Human desires abused, tainted, left unabated
Natural instincts as far removed as our feet from the ground
A rubber covering for safety—you never know what you might get
A disease! An epidemic! 9-1-1! Help!
Emergency protocols well advanced beyond our years
Prevention and preservation less clear.
Plan B better than watching what you eat
An artificial pace we have come to understand
Amongst the face-less messages of artificial tastes.
A constant beckoning back into the fold
Okayed silently by our longing for true community.
A desire to have something save us: Jesus
To help save someone else: service
to make a difference in someone else's life: a relationship
You fill in the blank and click OK: a goal.
Useful rhetoric to distract us from taking responsibility
for the life force within our own cells.
Losing the instinct of how, tell me what I should do now.
Instructions, please, for common sense
Modern answers emerging towards a conclusion...
What else is there but a breath in, a breath out--
culminating in a cease to our consciousness of this.
A cold understanding of the beauty of our own diversity
No one's yet to figure out how to change the automatic setting of the AC,
I prefer white noise over the sullen freeze
So I pull the heater in closer to my core and lay down to sleep--
A mini-death I take for granted daily.
Naked, with him, with no more blankets to ease
Chills of a lukewarm dream.