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Tuesday, November 30, 2004

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It had been another one of those nights at the house. He and his wife had argued again. Money. It was always about money. For some reason, people who are good with money always pair off with people with no fiscal discipline. In this particular marriage, he was the one with the money sense.
This fight had been particularly bad. Jimmy was on schedule to get paid the next day, which was a good thing, as the rent was due three days from now. Doreen was between jobs, which was the way people politely tapdanced around the fact that she was unemployed. To add to the fact that Doreen was now suddenly not generating revenue into the house, any money within her reach disappeared as if scattered into the ocean like an urn full of ashes. As much as Jimmy tried to make ends meet, Doreen was foiling his every good thought with one of her own. Today, Jimmy had walked through the front door of their modest rented house and was greeted with a new television set. Doreen, unbeknownst to Jimmy, had decided to rent to own without telling him. He blew up like he had so many times before. How were they going to afford the payments on this, in addition to the payments on his truck, the rents, the utilities, the phone?
Doreen countered by telling Jimmy that as long as she was out of work, she might as well have something nice to watch. Jimmy vainly tried to explain that her energies should be focused on finding a job. Doreen began to nearly cry, following her tradition of not fighting fair to the utmost. Jimmy yelled that the television was going to be returned tomorrow. Doreen yelled twice as loud that it was staying. Jimmy stormed out of the house, slamming the door behind him, the vibration on the paper-thin walls knocking one of Doreen's collecible plates off of the living room wall.
Seven hours had passed. Jimmy now found himself in front of a drive-up automatic teller machine. It was almost 1:30 in the morning. He had been here for fifteen minutes without completing a transaction. The screen welcomed him to the bank with the entreaty "PLEASE INSERT CARD" in big, green computerized letters. His wallet was in his lap, beaten and fat with business cards, photos he never looked at, his ATM card and assorted five- and one-dollar bills, which were stuffed into it in no particular order.
He sat with his truck in park, staring straight ahead, tapping his wallet on his right leg. He had been here before after midnight. He had trouble finding a place to think after he and Doreen quarreled. He had a recurring dream when he came here. He told himself that he was going to put his ATM card into the machine, take all the money out of the checking account and leave. He and Doreen had no children yet, so he would just leave and not look back. He would teach Doreen a valuable lesson about what is was like to really not have money. By the time her credit was irreparably damaged and she was living out in the street, she would beg him to come back, and he would say no. That would show her.
The plan only had one small obstacle to overcome. For her many faults and through her appalingly poor judgment, Jimmy loved Doreen. It wasn't a poetic love made of a young man and woman, full of life and happiness, running across flowery fields into each other's arms. I was a love of habit and comfort. They had been together so long that they would hardly know what to do with themselves if the other suddenly wasn't there. As much as Jimmy yearned for peace, far away from Doreen's impulsiveness and fiduciary recklessness, he knew that they were meant to be together. They had been together since they were 16, never leaving the town they grew up in, knowing each other as familiarly as their surroundings. Jimmy;s heart was out beyond the town and back in the living room with Doreen at the same time. Left to his own devices, he could never leave. Anyone who knew him would have a hard time believing that Jimmy would be in any other place.
Jimmy saw headlights in his rearview mirror. Another car would soon want to use the ATM. If he were ever to put his well-practiced fantasy into action, now was the time. He put his card into the ATM. It asked him for his PIN number. As always, he punched in 1-1-0-9. November 9th was his wedding anniversary. The gravity of entering those numbers struck him for a moment.
He pushed the button next to "RECEIVE CASH" and paused as the account choices appeared on the screen. His face turned sad and full of regret. Tonight, like so many nights before it, wouldn't be the night. He hit the button marked "CANCEL" and took back his ATM card. He rolled up his window and began the three-mile drive home. Doreen would be up and waiting when he got home. They'd both apologize, with Jimmy deferring his dreams in silence for another day.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Hey everyone!!
I haven't received a word lately (AHEM! you know who you are....), but the songwriting germs are beginning to flow. I'd like to share with you a song I just finished about five minutes ago. I was inspired tonight by the story of Les Harvey, a singer with an old band called Stone The Crows. One night, he went out in front of the audience and touched a live mike, electrocuting himself. The trouble was, the audience thought it was part of the act for a minute until they realized that he wasn't getting up. For songwriting purposes, I changed the venue from concert hall to circus tent, played with the plot line a little and before you know it, I had the following magnum opus.

Burn Clown Burn


The spotlight shines down on the entrance stage left

As the happy clowns take to the floor

Some faces have smiles; some faces have frowns

And their shoes are all size twenty-four

Then Buggles the Clown runs away from them all

To a little red car in the center ring

And then a flash of light, an explosion of flame

And the crowd begins to sing


CHORUS:

“The elephants smell, and the acrobats fell

Burn Clown Burn

We paid 20 bucks, and the ringmaster sucks

Burn Clown Burn

Who’d think that a car with such little tires

Could turn all at once to a funeral pyre

And there’s nothing so funny like make-up on fire

Burn Clown Burn”


Coming to Buggles’ aid, from entrance stage right

More clowns come to do the right thing

A fireman’s truck about the size of a deer

Rushes straight out into the main ring

They spray him with seltzer until the flames die

But Buggles just lay in a heap on the floor

But the crowd doesn’t see that poor Buggles is toast

They just start to sing like before

(Chorus)


I need to write more songs like this. I definitely see improvement. I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Related
Sun and Moon
And all things in the heavens
And all things that circle another
Like a stalker, like a groupie
Like the halo of a saint
Or the fire of the sinner
Like your mother or your father
Or your ancestors
Or your progeny
Or a brother or a sister
Whether in immediate family
Or the group called humanity
Like the senses of Man
Seeing the horrors of War
With the stench of carrion
Hearing a blood-curdling scream
Tasting powder and Death
Touching survival of the fittest
Like the wood
And creatures living life within
And the predators hiding in the shadows
And the snapping brush beneath it
Shielding insects below
Surviving deep within the Earth
Like the sweet taste of Wind
Drawing aromas of salt from the Sea
And chilling the homeless vagabond
Tearing tall oaks from their roots
Giving power to the powerless
Taking pain afar with a gust
And like myself
Existing from moment to moment
Feet planted on the ground
Mind and soul dancing in the clouds
Floating, elated
I stand with the universe related

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Pardon this brief interruption from Storytime, whilst I tell of a brief sojourn into a Red state.
I spent a fun and strange weekend with Lovely Lady Leslie in Freeman, Missouri at the new and spacious home of Leslie's aunt and uncle. It is roughly a 9 1/2 hour drive to their front door. With Rocky in tow, we drove towards our destination. Needing fuel on the way down this past Friday night, we stopped in Lamoni, Iowa, home of Graceland University. I should have known that even the slightest reference to Elvis would lead to something weird, but I truly had no idea as to the extent of it.
As I'm filling the tank with cheap ethanol fuel (thanks to a federal subsidy), two pickup trucks sat in front of me. The driver of the truck on the right, which had arrived second, got out of his truck and addressed the driver of the other truck.
"I've got somethin' fer ya", the man said to the other man. He reached into the back of his truck and grabbed a large dead raccoon by the arm. He handed it to the other man, who then threw it into the back of his own truck. I looked at Leslie, who was sitting in the front seat of the car, and it was all I could do not to explode in laughter. When I got back into the car after closing the gas cap, we decided that we would avoid the local Subway sandwich shop, which was the reason why we had chosen this exit.
Saturday started off on rather unfriendly terms. Leslie's cousin's two dogs, her aunt's two dogs and Rocky were running around the property. Suddenly, Tucker, Leslie's aunt's Sharpei-Husky mix, made a beeline for the new neighbor's property. A short time later, the neightbor called to say that she had shot Tucker. After a long morning for Leslie's Uncle Mike, riding with the neighbor to the local veterinarian, Tucker was ok, his wrinkled Sharpei skin around his neck deflecting the buckshot into his leg. Leslie and I couldn't help but feel like the harbingers of bad tidings until we knew Tucker made it through his ordeal a little scathed but for the most part healthy.
For the remainder of the weekend. I just relaxed while Leslie and her cousins and aunt went shopping. Her cousins, aunt and uncle are quality people. Continued good fortune to them all.
We returned yesterday (Monday) uneventfully. I'm now listening to "Nashville Skyline" by Bob Dylan and relaxing. Sleep well, World. I have a long way yet to go tonight.

Embellish
When he had gotten on the plane to come to Chicago, he had been sweating profusely until the plane took off. As soon as the plane's front wheels began to leave the ground, he let his body be absorbed by his first class airline seat. New York City, much like Paris, London, Barcelona and Toronto before it, would now be a memory.
Had he remained in New York for just a few more hours, and there's no telling what might have happened. His intelligence and his senses, sharpened by years of confidence work on two continents, told him that the walls were beginning to close in again. As much as he had enjoyed the previous eight months in New York City, it was most definitely time for him to leave. The contacts he had cultivated, both charmed and fleeced, were on to him. Armed with a credit card from his final victim from the Big Apple and a masterfully faked driver's license bearing the same name that was on the credit card, Willie Cooper, now temporarily known as Jason McCormick, boarded an early morning flight to Chicago.
The martini he now began to consume had never tasted sweeter. He twisted the vent above him to let in some cool air to help him relax. The flight attendant was currently making his entree for the morning. He had ordered Eggs Benedict. He had never quite shaken his taste for breakfast cereal, but he simply couldn't be spotted eating something so plain in public. When he was working a con, he tried to shy away from such a middle-of-the-road dish, the better to impress those who surrounded him. To this day, it was the hardest part of maintaining the many fronts he had created. It was sometimes difficult to pretend he had eaten a lifetime of upscale foods which weren't really his taste, but he persevered.
He hadn't shaved since he left New York, and he had no plans to for the immediate future. He had always been amazed by how easily it was to transform his facial features by either shaving, growing a beard or purchasing a new set of eyeglass frames. The beard was coming back on. Or maybe this time, he would just try a nice thick mustache to blend in with some of the men in Chicago. He had about a week to decide between the two.
He decided that he would put on some weight to go with it. When he circulated within the young cliques of New York, he had to be careful to maintain his thin waistline, A little weight gain would be noted by his marks, making his job that much easier.
He was still trying to figure out what went wrong in his final days in New York to blow his cover. He prided himself on being meticulous in detail when working his cons. He had learned at a very early age that a systematic lie was nothing more than a collection of interwoven truths and half-truths, melded together to produce one large legend. It wasn't enough to speak Spanish; he would have to describe, in minute detail, an Andalusian village that tourists usually missed, from the size and shape of the buildings to the names and faces of people. He had to know the location of every crack in the sidewalk in New York City. A British accent was nothing without the sardonic wit of a lord and an encyclopedic knowledge of the royal family. His French accent could not be Quebecois in Paris, and vice versa. Somewhere in New York, his lastest story, and all its accompanying embellishments, fell apart, and it annoyed him. What really bothered him is that he had to leave New York so quickly. He was just beginning to enjoy the place.
As his plane floated over Lake Michigan towards its final descent into O'Hare, he began to formulate whose identity he would link himself to next. In New York, he had linked himself to the Carnegie family. "Like the Hall?" was always the first question. He had spun a tale of his journey to New York via the suburbs of Pittsburgh, where he had said he grew up. In truth, Willie had grown up in Aberdeen, Maryland, the son of a school teacher. In that environment, he couldn't help but learn a few things about the world and its people. He used his humble roots to his advantage, living the good life at other people's expense, as one person after another was relieved of their money, thinking that making a small loan to a millionaire- or even to a millionaire's distant cousin- would reap greater rewards later on. He left silence in his wake, his marks too embarassed to admit that they had been conned. New York was his first close call. People actually found out that he wasn't who he said he was.
He planned out the next two weeks in his head. He would get a cab to a less-traveled part of town and rent a room in a hotel. He usually started his research by reading the society pages of several newspapers. He had a copy of The New York Times in his carry-on luggage. His next identity would be gleaned by reading the section carefully. The next step would be research in a local free library, finding a place for himself in the well-healed family of his choice. He was never a direct descendent or relative. He was always a cousin or a nephew. It was always more believable than way, and much less easy to be discovered. The people who believed him would be skeptical at first, until his litany of facts from his week full of research convinced them. He would add his own touches later, inventing moments he had shared with more famous members of his newly selected families. First came the set-up, then came the embellishments.
He was always careful to make the family he belonged to not be a native of the place where he was going. In Paris, he was a Kennedy. In Barcelona, he was a Rothschild. In London, he was a nephew of the Spanish royal family. In Toronto, he was the cousin of a Scottish lord. In Chicago, the possibilities lay before him. Willie's next opportunity lay on the newspaper like a shiny bead buried on the beach discovered by a metal detector. Virtually everyone knew that something was there, but it took one patient person to dig it up to make it valuable.
The plane touched down in Chicago, and Willie was barely off the plane when he ehaded for a newspaper stand. He could invest in several local and national papers with which to read, learn and expand. He could even buy a Spanish language newspaper or, if one was available, a French language paper. This was probably not going to be found in Chicago, but he could at least give it a thought with a trilingual brain. His mother always wanted him to learn another language. Never being one to displease his mother, he learned two. It was shortly after he had entered his first year of college that his parents were killed by a member of a prominent Maryland family who was driving drunk. The killer got a few months in jail, while Willie got a grave stone to visit. Without his mother's prodding, college didn't interest him anymore. It was then that he took his knowledge, his wits and a small stipend from a trust fund that would come due when he turned thirty to fly to Paris. He was having fun at other people's expense. He didn't see it as ripping off the people who believed his stories. He saw it as ripping off the rich and powerful, his small taste of revenge on the wealthy for taking the lives of his parents. He would do this for two more years until his trust fund came due. Then he would retire from the vagabond life and point his life toward a more noble purpose. Until then, his world was an open book, or more appropriately, an open newspaper.
He stopped by a pay phone in the airport that had a telephone attached and wrote down the address of a cheap motel. He grabbed his bag, walked across the terminal and stepped through the automatic doors into a sunny April day. As a stiff Chicago wind tossled his hair, he hailed a cab and headed into another new morning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Last
The first day of school was always so exciting. And why wouldn't it be? Summer was nearly over and the beaches were all closing. All of the friends he didn't get a chance to see over the summer would be at school. It was indeed an exciting time to be a ten-year-old.
There was only one problem for Danny Zembrowski. All day today, he would be last.
This was the one day of the year that he wished his last name were Adams, or Burns, or maybe, just maybe, he would let it go as far as Logan, but that was the absolute limit.
And yet, no. His name was Zembrowski, with a Z. In every class today, he would be called last, would have to take his seat last, invariably sitting in the far left hand corner of the room, behind the Watsons and the Youngs. He dreaded the time it took to get to his name.
7:15 in the morning, and homeroom was about to begin. His teacher, a lady in her early 40's, went to the front of the room to organize the children.
"OK, everyone. Settle down....settle down. My name is Mrs. Pitney and I'll be your homeroom teacher this year. When I call your name, come to the first row of chairs here and sit in the first available chair from front to back. OK? OK....Carly Adams......."
With that, Carly Adams, a freckle-face girl with curly red hair, sat in the first chair on the right side of the room. The long journey to the last chair on the left had begun.
"Marissa Block...."
He looked out the window and began to daydream. He thought about how satisfying the first kickball game would be at recess.
"Mary Bunning...."
He didn't care where in the kicking order he ended up, He just couldn't wait for that sweet moment when his foot first met the bright red rubber playground ball and sent it flying, and with it the last person in the outfield scrambling backward to try to get it. He was great at kickball.
"James Coughlin..."
"It's Jimmy..."
"OK, Jimmy...."
He didn't spare a thought for actual schoolwork. Why would he do that? He was so happy about seeing everyone again he could barely contain himself. So many desks yet to fill.
" Brian Daniels....."
Maybe a good game of freeze tag would be the thing to do today at recess instead of kickball. Hopefully, he thought to himself, he wouldn't have too much learning today. It was the first day, after all.
"Jennifer Durkin....."
Maybe today, just today they would play games in class just to waste the day. There's no telling where this day would lead. The waiting continued.
"Jane Evans...."
Hopefully he wouldn't see his brother David on the playground at recess. David often bullied him. He often wished that David had never been born.
"Miranda Fisher...."
Lunch would be fun too. He had a new lunchbox to show off in the cafeteria. His thermos was full of fruit juice. His mother would never let him have soda. She said it was bad for his teeth and his stomach. He liked fruit juice better than milk. He would drink it out of his thermos cup like his dad drinks coffee out of his mug in the morning.
"Christopher Foster...."
"Just Chris...."
"OK, Chris. Have a seat."
His mom had packed him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. they were always so good when she made them, because she would always take the crust off the bread.
"Stacy Gardner..."
There was an apple in there too. Danny liked candy bars much better than apples, but his mother always scolded him when he ate too much chocolate. The apple was a healthier snack. Danny didn't like being healthier.
"Ian Godfrey..."
Danny knew Ian. Ian had a really cool skateboard. Danny's mom and dad wouldn't let him have a skateboard. They said they were too dangerous. To compensate, they bought him a video game featuring skateboarders. Danny was only partially satisfied with that compromise.
"Susan Harrison...."
The number of kids in the back of the room was quickly thinning. Soon he would be the only one standing behind the row of desks waiting to sit down. Danny was beginning to shuffle from foot to foot, clearly wanting to be anywhere else but standing and waiting.
"Timothy Hawley...."
"Tim...."
"OK Tim...."
At least his teacher seemed nice enough. She was treating his fellow students gently, trying to get everyone's name right in her head. He thought that Mrs. Pitney was someone he could get to like.
"Linda Horvath...."
Linda rode the bus with Danny. She usually sat up near the front of the bus, never talking to anyone. She seemed smart, and shy.
"Michael Jameson...."
One thing Danny could always count on was a seat by the window. He suddenly felt sorry for Mary Bunning, who was stuck right near the sliding door to the room's supply closet. The one bad thing that Danny could see about his seat was that he would probably not be able to ever be the first one to leave the room.
"Elizabeth King...."
"It's Betsy...."
"OK Betsy. Have a seat...."
The heater was right underneath the window. That would probably come in handy in the wintertime. The windows at the school were a little drafty, so the heat near the windows would cancel that out. Danny didn't give this any thought at all. Ten-year-olds very rarely think about the weather unless either rain or snow is falling from the sky.
"Robert Marcus...."
"Bobby...."
"OK Bobby...."
Bobby Marcus was the biggest boy in the classroom. Everyone was a little afraid of Bobby, but he was really not much trouble. He was just big for his age.
"Alpa Patel...."
Alpa was easy to spot. She was the only Indian girl in the classroom. She always had her head in a book. She very rarely spoke to anyone either inside or outside of class. She always had fantastic grades.
"Greg Perkins..."
That first run at recess was always the best. It would turn out to be a race with all the other boys in his grade. Danny wasn't as fast as some of the other kids, but he held his own. He was better at longer distances, like when the kids have those fitness tests in the middle of the year. Danny liked doing the run with the blocks.
"Veronica Ralston...."
Veronica was the cute one. Danny only noticed or thought about that a little bit. He rarely talked to the girls. Veronica had long straight blonde hair. She had a nice smile for a new fifth grader. Only one row of chairs remained.
"Tyler Smith...."
Tyler always dressed impeccably. His parents drove him to school in a Land Rover. At parent-teacher conferences, his parents would always smile too much and dominate the conversation. Tyler took Ritalin and constantly had a worried look on his face.
"Michele Turley...."
Danny was getting nervous. The long wait was almost over. His brief shining moment in the spotlight of the classroom was about to happen.
"Henry Walters...."
"I go by Jimmy...."
"OK....Jimmy....Have a seat"
Henry went by his middle name. He realized at a very early age that he didn't like Henry.
"Shari Williams......"
This was the third year in a row that Danny would have to spend the rest of the year staring at the back of the head of Shari Williams. When Shari talked to Danny, it was usually some variant of "Shut UP! JERK!". Shari's voice got really loud when she got mad.
"And finally, Daniel Zembrowski...."
"Danny...."
"OK Danny, have a seat...."
The long-anticipated moment had come and gone, like so many other moments in the life of a ten-year-old boy. Danny would find himself in middle school a year from now. Would they still call the roll the same way? Would he still be last? He couldn't figure out exactly whether being last alphabetically was a good thing or a bad thing. The wait seemed like forever, but he always knew where he belonged when it came to his last name. A new school year was starting now. It only took a moment for the end to become another beginning.
I must have jumped ahead...I have no words in my inbox tonight, so I think I'll just go to bed.
Or maybe I'll continue listening to Nick Drake and wish I had another beer.
The weekend approaches quickly. I'm setting myself up for an early dismissal on Friday, allowing Lovely Lady Leslie and I a chance to travel to the Kansas-Missouri border to visit a few of Leslie's relatives. Beats my relatives any day of the week.
How about a song? Here's another entry from the Writ of Common Wisdom. There's a bit of a long story behind this one.
When I was younger, I lived in Philadelphia in the Overbrook Park section. It was still a primarily Jewish neighborhoodthen. We had a Jewish couple who lived a few doors down named Mary and Sam. Mary was, by all standards, a shrew. Sam was mostly in Mary's shadow. One day, Mary Died, and Sam began to come out of his shell and revealed himself to be a really nice guy. By that time, he was so old that any good he could have brought to the world had been pulverized under Mary's heels. One wonders how happy he might have been with someone not quite so domineering as a wife. This song is for all the Sams of the world. Rise up, Sams! The world needs you!!

Good Neighbor Sam


Good neighbor Sam doesn’t drive anymore

It’s been three years or four since they took his license away

And good neighbor Sam wears Coke-bottle glasses

The smile that he flashes tells you, “Have a good day”


Good neighbor Sam will tell you “Good morning”

And he’s not even yawning; he’s barely sleeping at all

And good neighbor Sam holds a rake in his hands

In this way he will stand ‘til the end of the Fall


And when the kids come out to play, you can here them say,

“Hey Sam! Sam hey! (HEY!)

And if their football should come his way

He’ll throw it to them underhand

He’ll throw it to them underhand

He’ll throw it to them underhand

And send them on their way


Good neighbor Sam bids the postman hello

He’s just lonely, you know, since Eleanor passed last year

But good neighbor Sam is far beyond pity

He’s got friends in the city, and a ton of good cheer


And at the end of a busy day, you can hear the people say,

“Hey Sam! Sam Hey! (HEY!)

And as the sun sets and fades away

He goes inside to watch TV

He goes inside to watch TV

He goes inside to watch TV

Then maybe hits the hay


Good neighbor Sam died Saturday morning

It came without warning; his funeral was today

But good neighbor Sam filled the whole church with laughter

Then seven days after, they took his TV away

This song is kind of dumb and requires a large Beatlesque arrangement to be palatable, but my heart was in the right place when I wrote it, so you'll not receive an apology from me. And with that I bid you good night.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Combust
Tom sat with his face in his hands at the end of his driveway, an almost-empty gas can next to his left knee. His eyes were wide with disbelief, as his garage lay in ruins in front of him. The neighbors had begun to gather around his property, slack-jawed at the spectacle of Tom's new truck buried under dripping, blackened lumber and roof shingles. The garage door had exploded outward, sending four panes of glass and twelve door squares in all directions. The only positive thing to take away from this was that no one had been home, either at Tom and Renee's place or at the Ferguson's house next door. The local volunteer fire department had responded very quickly and put out the fire with what could only be termed amazing speed.
A propane tank, unhooked from their gas grill and carelessly placed in front of a window in the August heat was to blame. Heat plus accelerants equals combustion, as Tom learned all too acutely today.
"She just had to have a gas grill", was all Tom said to the approaching neighbors, his face still wearing a shocked yet expressionless facade. He would end up repeating this sentence to every neighbor who came up to him in the next twenty minutes to ask him what happened, still unable to accept the fact that his garage was now so much kindling.
Since no one was hurt, the black humor began to flow in waves around Tom.
"Ah, nothing beats Ford F-150 Kabobs in summertime", came from Gil Stratten, who lived across the street.
"What the matter, Tom? Out of Match Light?", said Dan Landis, the neighbor four doors down to the left, letting out a grin that quickly lead to a nearly-soundless belly chuckle.
"Joan of Arc called. She'd like to push her martyrdom back to Thursday.", added Bob Ferguson, throwing his left arm around Tom's shoulders and letting out a loud laugh. He had a front yard full of glass and wood, but luckily no property damage from the explosion.
Through all of the jokes, Tom still shook his head in disbelief, trying to laugh, but stuck in a stunned catatonia brought on by property damage which bordered on the massive. The crowd kept growing, this being the biggest thing that happened on Great Pine Way since the development was finished six years ago. Everyone's thoughts first turned to Tom and Renee's homeowner's insurance policy. Were they covered? Tom didn't know. Renee handled those things. He didn't have the patience for it at home. Renee was due home any minute from work. She would be parking her two-year-old Volkswagen Jetta on the street for the foreseeable future.
"I love the smell of propane before dinner", chimed in Jim Bennett, the neighbor two doors down to the right. He was so deadpan most of the time that it was very hard at this moment to know whether he was kidding or not.
Larry Riegelmann from the end of the street didn't say anything for a moment, then broke into a mocking air guitar version of "Fire" by Jimi Hendrix, which quickly descended into laughter that left him doubled over.
Tom was lucky to have known virtually all of the people who now surrounded him since he moved into the neighborhood. This street was different from other suburban communities like it. Most of these neighborhoods that popped up out of nowhere contained rootless early thirtysomethings in search of something to temporarily call their own. These people had bonded almost immediately, defended each other staunchly, keeping a wary eye on each other not so much in a nosy way, but more of a protective fashion. As Tom was sitting by his driveway, those men of the neighborhood who were free that weekend made plans to help Tom and Bob clean up from the explosion. The women of the neighborhood were already offering their assorted spare bedrooms for Tom and Renee to stay. They had no children.
At the end of the street, Tom spotted Renee's black Jetta coming closer to Ground Zero. He watched as her face slowly morphed into horror as she looked for a place to park along the street. She got out of her car so fast that she didn't give a thought to her briefcase or her handbag.
"WHAT THE HELL, TOM!", was all she could say.
"I came up with a postmodern design for that deck that you wanted", Tom said, joining in the frivolity that up until now Renee had missed.
"WHAT THE HELL,TOM!!", she repeated for all within earshot to hear.
"The tank for the grill exploded."
"HOW?"
"It got hot. You're asking ME?"
An animated fact-finding mission by Renee soon gave way to a discussion of homeowner's insurance contacts and contingiency plans for the meantime between now and the reopening of the house. Renee went into the house to retrieve the insurance file from the metal filing cabinet at the back of their bedroom closet. The next hour would be spent with Renee on the cell phone and Tom packing their bags for a hotel, which would be paid by the insurance company's dime. Tom loaded their suitcases into the back of the Jetta and walked up to Renee, who was finishing up her last cell phone call.
"Comfort Inn on Claridge?", Tom asked.
"Sounds good", replied Renee, "The Adjuster will be out tomorrow between eight and ten in the morning."
They said their temporary goodbyes to the neighbors, letting them know where they would be for the night. Everybody wished them luck.
"Hey Tom?", yelled Dan Landis, as Tom was about to get in his car.
"Yea Dan?"
"Cigarette?"
Fifty-two minutes ago (yes I'm counting), I returned from a really comfortable night at Studio 305 here in the Bay View area of Wisconsin. It was the first of what I hope will be many Open Stage events at the Studio. All the Project I Am cognoscenti were in attendance; Eric Kulwicki, the fearless leader of our revolutionary outfit; Jennifer Lee, who borrowed my guitar and played a song called "Thank You" (she just had to say it; I didn't need a song, but the song was great anyway); Craig Stoneman was there with a new introspective song, refusing to take center stage, preferring the comfort of the left-hand wall. Also in attendance was the banjo-playing satellite of us all, Martin Grinwald, playing flawlessly after a few drinks (how does he do that?). I'd like to take this opportunity to thank, VOCIFEROUSLY, Dominic and Linda, Keepers of the Studio, for a marvelous night, with a special thank you for the "aperitif" I was handed by Linda earlier in the night. Good times!!
Lovely Lady Leslie sleeps, attempting to kill off a developing cold. I type. I type some more. I have gastric accidents in my chair while no one's around. I sip water from my water bottle. I plot the revolution......

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Kismet
"I'm sorry. We only have one muffin left and it's banana walnut", the waitress said with enough contrition to make even the hardest of hearts not affect her gratuity.
"That's the one I wanted. Perfect!", Ann said, smiling brightly, her grin spreading to her mother who was seated on the other side of the table. They had arrived for breakfast in the nick of time, as a line was now forming in front of the hostess' station at the front of the restaurant.
Ann and her mother were out for breakfast on a Saturday, just the two of them. It had been awhile since Ann had been home. She had some vacation time to take and found herself not wanting to visit anywhere else but home. She had thought about exotic destinations. She had also thought about staying at home and cleaning her condo. Visiting her parents and her home town seemed like a nice way of balancing her need to get away with her internal drive for personal responsibility.
Her dad had declined to join them for breakfast. He liked to tackle his weekend chores early on a Saturday, leaving the rest of the weekend for what he called "Gary-Time". The results were usually a clean house and an aging man asleep in a chair while a college football game played itself out on the television. The family now referred to everyone's similar fits of drowsiness as "Gary-Time" in his honor.
Since Gary was having Gary Time, Ann was having her Meg Time, as she and her mother shared a breakfast. Meg always liked being with her daughter. It was strange how easy Ann's adolescense had been. Ann was that rare daughter that never did anything wrong. It wasn't for lack of prodding. Gary was always dropping hints about how she needed to get out of the house more often when she was in high school, but Ann rarely relented. In those rare times when she took the car and ventured out of the house, it was usually just to go get something to eat, then she invariably returned to her studies. The strangest thing about her behavior was that Ann wasn't homely by any definition of the word. When she went to her proms, it wasn't with an actual date, but with one of her friends from her history class who wasn't doing anything that night. Her friends in high school always wondered why she never dated, why she never seemed to wear enough makeup, why she never seemed to be interested in all the mini-dramas that make up the life of a teenage girl. Her reply was always the same; what guy around them was worth it? "And no, I'm not a lesbian", was always her coda of choice, which was true.
"What made you take your vacation here?", Meg asked Ann, as they waited for Ann's banana walnut muffin.
"I'm checking up on you and Dad", she said, adding with her trademark sense of humor "more to the point yours and Dad's money".
"We closed the Swiss bank account and wasted it all on high-risk tech stocks", Meg retorted, showing which side of the family gave Ann her humor, "Did I mention you're paying for breakfast?".
They both smiled.
"I'm glad you're home. It gives me a chance to use some of my vacation time, I have about two months saved up", Meg said. Meg worked for a law firm as a legal secretary. She had been there for 17 years. She was going to put 20 years in and that would be it. The quality of her work was impeccable, and because she was a little older, everyone trusted her and nobody dared cross her, lest they be put in their place, which was a cruel punishment for any lawyer.
"I just needed a dose of something familiar", Ann said, "Medford is running out of new discoveries".
Ann had lived in Medford for four years since her graduation from college. It was your typical suburb, not far from the downtown of the big city that was Medford's neighbor. She was accomplishing good things in her job as a corporate trainer, but the personal time was beginning to add up, making for a lot of down time with nothing interesting to do or see. She'd run the gamut of halfway intriguing co-workers and they now bored the hell out of her. She was ready for a change, but didn't have an answer. All of this was in her mind over breakfast with her mother.
The waitress brought Ann her muffin.
"Any men out there for you?", Meg asked, never truly giving up on the idea of grandchildren just yet.
"Nowhere close, Mom"
"Women then?". It was a mother's priviledge to ask.
"NO! MOM!..."
"Well, if I can't ask, then who can?"
"It's nothing like that. Most men I meet..."
"Let me guess; married, gay or damaged by the last woman?..."
"And BORING! I refuse to act interested in sports just to get a date."
"You're not going to the right places. Go to the places that interest YOU for a change."
"In Medford?"
"Oh, you're fine in Medford. There's someone out there for you."
Meg was right. There was someone out there for Ann. There was a time when Ann thought she knew who that person was, but it ended up being nothing but an adolescent dream that Ann never shared with anyone. His name was Rick Sampson. He ran the long distance races for the track team in high school. She didn't care that he was an athlete. She did care that she was once in a geometry class with him and that he actually understood the course. Athletes weren't supposed to comprehend things like geometry. They were supposed to be easily confused by pictures of intersecting triangles. While they were in high school, Rick had dated another girl in their class. They lasted all the way through high school. It was everyone's assumption that they would someday marry. A year later, when they broke up out of the view of everyone they went to school with, it barely registered the way it might have had it happened while everyone was still in school. Up until this moment, Ann had gone a long time between thoughts of Rick Sampson. Where was he now? What had fate dealt him? Was he still running? Had he gone mad trying to intersect every triangle he saw in fits of geometric madness? Was it worth all of this idle speculation?
She thought about her much-anticipated Southwestern omelette. "It's just good to see familiar faces", Ann added almost unnecessarily.
The waitress came with their breakfasts, to which Ann's muffin had been a prelude. The table fell silent briefly as they consumed their meals. They talked about how they would spend the rest of their Saturday. There were fabrics to be bought, clothes to try on, knick-knacks to add to their homes. It was going to be a really good day. The Rick Sampsons of the world would have to wait another day. Fate belonged to Ann and Meg, and was going to be very generous with the Gary Time.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Morality
He knelt down to pray for the second time today, the words contained in his prayers, which were familiar from an entire lifetime of repetition, increased in intensity as he continued. His hands, still smelling of gunpowder and gasoline, were intertwined save for his thumbs, the knuckles of which providing a resting place for his forehead as he chanted to himself under his breath.
Night had fallen. He had been driving for five hours straight since the shooting, with the imprint of the steering wheel on his reddened hands. He had a tape of Christian music in the tape player that flipped itself over and replayed five times. He had stopped only once for gas, making sure to look down at the ground as he went about pumping gas, as to not appear clearly on any security cameras that may have been filming his every action. He forced himself not to think about the food that tempted him from inside the mini-mart at the gas station. His mission today was too important in his eyes to forfeit it all for physical sustenance.
As he closed in on his destination for the evening, he passed a one-car accident. An ambulance was being loaded, the car they were driving overturned. He drove through the scene slowly, taking it all in. When the scene had disappeared into his rearview mirror, he said a prayer to himself for the person involved in the accident.
He came upon a small roadside motel in the middle of nowhere that he had passed on his many travels as a door-to-door proselytizer. This was the type of place that was unaccustomed to seeing anything other than couples registering under a phony name. The desk clerk eyed him carefully, figuring he would soon be joined by a woman in waiting. When you're off the beaten path and renting out rooms for the night, adultery and prostitution come as part of the decor, like the aging wallpaper and the cheap paintings on the wall of seascapes.
And so he found himself praying, kneeling on the floor, elbows resting on the bed, the aging lamps extinguished. Every prayer in his head taking on urgency. He prayed for guidance in a troubled world. He prayed for every member of his family both living and dead, paying special attention to his sister, who was expecting her fourth child within the next 6 weeks. He also prayed for the man he had murdered earlier in the day.
With the exception of the clock reading 4:05 AM, his day had started like most others in his life of late. He started his day by kneeling down beside the bed and thanking God for seeing another day, promising that this day would bring glory to him. He showered, shaved, dressed and ate a bowl of cereal after thanking God for his meal. He lived alone now, his wife and children having now relocated to another state. He had no visitation rights, with restraining orders in two states making the very thought nothing more than a pipe dream. He always made it a point to pray for his children's souls, as well as for the soul of his ex-wife, telling himself all the while that that was what God wanted him to do.
This morning had a special purpose to it however. He was sure to make some extra time to make sure his hunting rifle was cleaned until it shined, all its parts in perfect working order. He repeated a prayer to himself as he cleaned the outside of the barrel, moving up and down until there were no fingerprints on it. After placing the rifle into a soft shoulder bag, he took out two unspent shotgun shells and wiped those down as well. He silently prayed that they would strike their target and take his life, so others could be saved. He placed the shells in a small zip-up pouch in the shoulder bag. He grabbed a suitcase he had packed the night before in his right hand and threw the rifle over his left shoulder, and walked deliberately passed his kitchen table, which had a stack of letters from the local Domestic Relations office on them. He paused before he went through the garage door and took one last silent look around the inside of the house. He asked God to protect his home and all who would later enter through its doors, knowing that he would not be included in that group.
He loaded the rifle bag and suitcase into the back seat of his car. This was to be the last trip he took in this car. He was driving to a rental car agency to rent a car for his journey. Because of his limited budget, he was going to rent the smallest car the agency had available, making sure everything would fit. He couldn't make his rifle public knowledge, however. He parked his own car a few blocks away in an inconspicuous location and grabbed only his suitcase for the short walk to the rental car agency. He would double back for the rifle after the other car was rented. Despite the fact that it was now 5:30, he knew someone would be behind the counter. He would have to be quick, as he needed to be at his destination by 6:15.
"Welcome, how can I help you today?", the rental agent said
"I believe I have a reservation. The name's Smith; Jonah Smith", he replied, trying not to look like he was in a hurry.
The agent confirmed the reservation, went over the rental agreement, to which he nodded his head in understanding, despite the fact that he was barely listening to the rental agent. He gave her his last remaining credit card that still had enough of a balance to rent the car, which was approved by a whisker, signed off on the rental contract and grabbed the keys to a Ford Focus. Such a fitting name for a car today, he thought to himself, for he felt that, at this small point in time, he had never been more single-minded on his reasons for walking the Earth. He loaded his suitcase into the trunk and began his journey.
He drove to his own car and looked around carefully as he loaded the rifle into the back seat. He then began his final journey to the other side of town. Only 10 minutes away, he thought to himself. He could be there by 6 AM, leaving fifteen minutes to set up shop.
He arrived in proximity to his destination, a women's health clinic just outside the city limits from where he lived. For the last two years of his life, this place had been his home away from home. He had been arrested several times in the past outside its doors, one of a dozen or so rotating faces who carried graphic signs and bellowed Bible verses to all who entered their doors. Of all the protesters, he had proven himself to be the worst of the bunch. He was jailed for ten days for throwing fake blood made of flour, red food coloring and water on one of the nurses who worked inside the clinic. That was 14 days ago. He had decided while he was sitting in that jail cell that if the courts and society wouldn't take the action to stop abortion, then he would have to do it. He would be protected by God for all that happened to him afterwards. He was right and the world was wrong, and it was certainly not up for discussion anymore.
His wife had left him shortly after he had begun to protest at the clinic. He refused to find a job, saying that God had given him this most high of callings to protect the lives of the unborn. They had argued. His ex-wife accused him of shirking his duties as a father to his children, calling him a headcase. He responded by slapping her across the face as the children watched. She and the children were gone the next day. The first restraining order arrived at his door two days after that.
He parked around the block from the clinic and set up shop behind a row of hedges behind the clinic. It was still dark at this time of the day in early December, which provided adequate cover for him to carry his gun from the car to the hedges. He found his line of sight to the clinic's back parking lot and began to assemble his rifle. From watching the movements of the clinic for such a long period of time, he knew the comings and goings of the doctor who worked at the clinic. While the doctor had varied his start times for the better part of a year becuase of the death threats he had received to the best of his ability, The clinic started seeing patients at 7 AM, and he would be there for the first patient of the day.
The rifle was now assembled. He loaded in the two shells, then checked the view through the infrared sight on the top of his gun. It was perfect. He was ready.
At 6:23, the doctor pulled up in an old beat-up Toyota Corolla. The doctor had abandoned his luxury car after the death threats began to come. He was told to simplify his appearance as to not stand out from the rest of the staff. The threats first came in the mail and on the phone at the clinic. One package that arrived required the intervention of the local bomb squad, which ended up being nothing more that copper wire and tiissue paper, wadded into a box to appear as if to be a bomb. He began to receive similar mail and similar phone calls at his home, to the point where he now only had a cell phone, the number of which was known only by the staff and his immediate family. He later found out that his home phone number had been posted on a domestic terrorist website devoted to abortion doctors. He sued the website and won, making him more of a target than ever before.
He readied his rifle in his hands as the doctor stepped out of his car. The doctor was locking his car with his briefcase in his hand when he fired the first shot, a direct hit to the wrist. The second shot ripped through the back of the doctor's head, his lifeless body crumpling to the ground. His assassin began to run to his car, his rifle case over his left shoulder, his rifle in his right hand as he ran. As he jumped into his car, he noticed a few people had come out of their house, not fully dressed for the morning and attempted to get his license number. He turned on his headlights only when he was far enough away that they wouldn't be able to make out any number or letters on his plate. They now knew the model of his rental car however, and this would more than likely be a problem, but he didn't care. God's will had been served. He was sure to enter the gates of Heaven now as God's avenging angel.
He continued to say his prayers now, on his knees, in the motel room many miles away from the sight of what he saw as his greatest deed. He smiled as he prayed, his belief in his own deliverance now absolute. Morality has finally won out, he thought. A thought was not saved for the doctor, his friends, his family, his patients. The doctor was merely an instrument of salvation, a key to the kingdom. He knew that lives would be saved, justifying any ends he himself had gone to to save them. He was prepared to martyr himself to the legions of devils around him who would think of him as a murderer. It was not their opinion or what he saw as their shallow ideals that he followed.
He brought himself up from the floor at the conclusion of his prayers. He reached for the lamp and turned it on. He now had a chance to get his rifle back into the case. When he left this hotel tomorrow, he would throw the rifle into a nearby lake, hoping it would never be found, but not really caring one way or the other, for he was now protected by God. He would return the rental car to an agency in the next big town along the interstate. After that, he had not had a plan. He would try to be invisible to earthly law for as long as possible until he was either caught or met some other and unpredicted end. He considered it his forty days in the desert, just as Jesus had done, fighting temptation and the evils of the world until he would someday sacrifice himself. His mother had always told him as a child, as she took him to church, that God would reveal great things to him. As he finished packing up his rifle and laying out his clothes for the morning from his briefcase, he turned off the light and put himself to bed, knowing in his heart and mind that his mother had been right, his mission on earth accomplished.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Substitute
A tall 24-ounce glass of ice water.
It was usually by this time in the morning that this glass would be filled with vodka, but not today. It was the first day out of alcohol and drug rehabilitation for the glass's owner, and this glass, like all others from this point, would contain no alcohol.
It was hard to say just how many hundreds-or could it be thousands- of drinks this glass had seen over the past five years. It could somehow count itself lucky, for how many of its brethren in the fluid container community in the kitchen cabinet had been dropped, or for that matter tosseed against the wall in anger, and shattered.
It was the shape of this glass that kept the owner coming back for more. The glass was thick, and had an etched imprint of the name of the owner's favorite beer in all the world. In the old days, the glass only saw beer. The owner would frost the glass in the freezer, readying it for the weekend, for in the days before dependence, the weekend was the only time it was used. Dark beer was the drink of choice, forming a thick icy sheet inside the glass as the bottle slowly emptied into the slightly tilted glass. The head of the beer would leave a naturally-created series of descending foamy brushstrokes, which plunged to the bottom of the glass, as if each ring was a nomad completing one final Hejira to end its brief life. Though their lives were always short, every beer was consumed with a smile, every sip savored, every painted ring bringing the owner closer to an unknown secret.
Soon, beer binges on the weekend gave way to a nightly beer to unwind from a work day. Sooner than anyone anticipated, the owner was up to two, then three. In what seemed like the blink of an eye, three beers before dinner and three beers after dinner gave way to ten beers as dinner. What had once been a lucid mind attached to the mouth which fed from the glass slowly became less nimble; less quick with a joke, less fleet with a fact. The owner's hands, which had taken lovers into them with a passion and a love of life, now reached out to nothing. Nothing, of course, except the glass and its contents.
There were days when the glass suffered from neglect. In the end, as the owner bottomed out, dishes were left dirty for days, sometimes weeks. The glass, which had held mind-clouding beverages that filled the owner with dreams, nightmares and delusions of every stripe, soon found itself with a coating of mold at the bottom, neglected, temporarily unloved and unused. Drinks were consumed straight from the bottle. Such a useless thing a bottle; created as nothing more than a temporary weigh station for the soon-to-be-consumed. Recyclability is all they have going for them. Some have a very distinctive shape, but one use later, they are useless. Who would refill a bottle these days?
Twelve weeks had passed since the last beverage touched the glass. The owner returned to the house and became reacquainted with the layout and the items in the house. All remnants of beer and liquor had been removed from the house. The glass and its owner would now do their level best to go without, which was going to be no easy task. The glass would be of no help in this regard, its etched trademark staring its owner in the face, reminding the owner of days gone by. The owner had the look of someone wanting to rebuild a life from ruins. Cigarettes were now the addiction of choice, a half-smoked pack now joining the car keys on the dining room table. If smoking takes the place of alcoholism, is it only nothing more than trading short self-destruction for time-released doses of the same thing? Would the next dramatic narrative in the house center around the ashtray? Only time would tell.
For now, the glass would do the work for which it was made. It would not be so central to the story of the owner anymore, but its lifespan with the owner would be much less threatening and tenuous. More time from now on would be spent in the cabinet, resting with its surviving brethren at the end of an interior war that threatened the life of the owner. Occasionally, for the inevitable jogging of the owner's memories, the glass would be called upon, as it was at this very moment , for a victory lap. Hopefully, this would not be the last tall 24-ounce glass of ice water the glass would hold, but given the abuse it and the owner had suffered, the glass was more than happy with the substitution of water for vodka.
A quick word is in order to give the readers an itinerary for the next 7 days retroactive to last night.
I saw the reformed Pixies last night at The Milwaukee Theatre.
Altenative bands since the late '80's, for the most part have had a nondescript appearance about them. Usually, they have been groups that have followed the fashion trends of the day. As I watched the Pixies go through a near-flawless set of their most known musical works, I was struck by the actual physical shape. After over ten years apart, they have roughly the same appearance as they did all those years ago as they changed the rules of alternative music for the rest of time. Frank Black (Black Francis?) was still the heavyset lead singer, Joey Santiago was still the bald lead guitar player, Kim Deal was still the tall female bass player, and David Lovering still played his drums in the same position, hunched over his drum kit, coiled and ready to strike. I highly recommend that any fan of the Pixies not miss this show. I called it "near-flawless" because they didn't play "Tony's Theme", but that's just one fan's beef, and I can't hold it against them for everyone else.
This Friday night, I'll be playing the Open Stage at The Coffee House down near Marquette. I have an idea to record a solo acoustic album there in four visits, as they record for a nominal fee down there.
Monday, I'll be playing an open mic at Studio 305 around the block. The keepers of the studio, Dominic and Linda, are just wonderful people. I'm letting them borrow the PA from me for the night. It's very exciting to be on the ground floor of a new venue. I can't wait.
The balance of my time shall be spent in creative pursuits of one kind or another. Ah, Autumn, my energy source. I am empowered by the smell of the season. Sandy Denny sings in my ear, and my thoughts turn positive, despite the many negatives of this world we now find ourselves in. May they spread to you too, dear reader!!

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Foreign
Frank Harkins never wore a coat, and after years of dodging the bullet that is the biting December cold of New England, today, he was paying for it. He lay in his bed, in the grips of the flu, covered with two blankets and a quilt, feverish, but still too cold to get out from under the covers. A half-consumed pitcher of water sat on the night table next to the bed to his left, an empty glass stationed in wait next to the pitcher. A bucket lay on the floor on the other side of the bed, awaiting any sudden emesis that may have appeared before Frank could reach the bathroom, which seemed like it lay one hundred yards down the hall.
He couldn't help thinking, as he lay in bed, with no energy at his immediate disposal, beads of sweat painting slow rivulets from his forehead to his temples, how much this felt like a hangover. Or did it feel like that time when he was playing basketball and he slammed the back of his skull against the concrete? Probably not, as his head didn't so much throb as feel extremely heavy.
Without the energy to accomplish anything else, he tried to think of the exact moment of where he caught the flu. Even through the fog of contagious illness, he knew the answer to that question. This past Friday; it must have been, he thought.
The party at Dave's place. Dave was a friend of his from college who happened to have settled in the same town as Frank a few years after they had both graduated. Several months ago, Dave had had another party at his place. He had invited many people to that one. It was the beginning of Spring, and everyone was getting used to going jacketless for the first time in months, New England winters being what they are. As he circulated from room to room at Dave's place, a woman caught his eye in one of those moments that all humans have.
Dave's basement had been converted into a comfortable party space, complete with full bar, pool table, dart board, a stereo system with a 100-CD changer and, as an inside joke, a portrait of those dogs playing poker. He first saw her in the basement. She was leaning up against a wall, her legs crossed one over the other, holding a drink in her left hand and playing with the ice cubes in her drink with her right index finger. She was dressed casually, with short blonde hair and what appeared to be blue eyes from across the room, but he couldn't be sure. She was talking to another woman, listening, sometimes laughing, at which point, at least to Henry, her entire face would radiate pure joy and beauty. For the rest of the night, Frank tried to be an undetected satellite of this woman, staying somewhere in her vicinity, doing his level best to avoid all eye contact, and ultimately, too shy to approach.
The following day, on the pretense of helping Dave clean up the house from the night before, he stopped by Dave's place for an after-hover scouting report. Yes, Dave knew her. Her name was Corinne. Immediately in his head, he began to pronounce her name with different overly romantic and breathy inflections, becoming his silent mantra. Corinne was a co-worker of Dave's. She had been there less than a year. She was single, but not necessarily looking. She liked to go out after work. Beyond that Dave knew only her age (twenty-six) and her obvious physical attributes.
For months, Frank asked about Corinne every time they met. He was a man obsessed. He hadn't been on a date since seeing her at the party. Every spare moment of time that his brain could muster was a chance for him to say her name to himself. As Spring turned to Summer, then Autumn, time gave way to a reality of the situation. He saw this woman once; more than likely she had to have been taken by now. The opportunity had come and gone and he was left with a positive memory.
And then, December. Dave was having a Christmas party at his house for selected guests. Dave made a point to to tell Frank that his once-and possibly future?-dream girl, Corinne, would be in attendance, and yes, she was still available. Frank's pupils dilated to the whites of his eyes with excitement and nervousness. Suddenly, on the brink of Winter, Frank had a goal.
The party at Dave's was on a Friday night, so Frank scheduled a haircut for himself after work, getting himself in the barber's chair right before closing. Next, he needed to impress his quarry with impeccable taste, so he went to the liquor store and, not knowing one wine from another, chose the most expensive white zinfandel on the shelf for purchase. Thank you Mastercard, he thought to himself. He passed by the local bakery for an impressive cookie tray. Thank you again Mastercard. When one is on the hunt, it is best to pay it forward.
Frank then went to his own home to spruce up a little with a fresh shirt and a change into casual shoes. He was now ready for sport.
He arrived at Dave's fashionably late, wearing no coat as usual, bringing with him the bottle of wine and the elaborate cookie tray. Dave thanked him for the gifts, and Frank proceeded inside. It took him all of 20 seconds to find her. Since the Spring, her hair had grown out a little. He could see her eyes now, and he had been right; blue, and an alluring blue at that, as if this beauty from beyond the pale had needed any final touches. Tonight was going to be the night. He was determined to be on the top of his social game, in case anyone-and by anyone he meant Corinne- see him falter. He decided that he would be the unofficial co-host of the party. He would greet everyone who came in with a joke, a handshake and a beaming, uplifting personality that would shoot light in all directions from him like a crystal chandelier in a ballroom.
Like a political candidate he began to work the room, conspicuously working around Corinne, in a desperate attempt to save the best for last. He made sure to leave them laughing as he went, so as to add "great sense of humor" to his dating resume.
The moment of truth had arrived. With a glass of wine in hand and his confidence restored, he approached.
"Hi. Frank Harkins", he said, smiling and knowing what was coming.
"Corinne Peters. Hiiii", drawing out the power word of greeting, "How do you know Daaave?"
A nasal, mallchick voice, he thought to himself, as he answered her question. Over the course of the next five minutes, his heart, which had risen and fallen for many months at the mere thought of who he was talking to, began to sink without chance of resurfacing. Beauty is one marker, and then comes personality. Not only did Frank and Corinne have no intersecting interests, but they actually diverged, and in some cases violently. There was absolutely no hint of compatability on any level that would make this work. For a brief second, it broke his heart that some man out there who he probably would ignore otherwise would someday land this beauty and win her heart. When the second passed, he thought about how that voice would be in someone else's ears in the future, and he was elated. He carried that elation away from Corinne and onto other conversations. He was struck as to how someone so native to the surroundings of his head for so long a period of time had suddenly become such a foreigner. He needed conversation, he needed cookies, but most of all, he needed that wine. Even the damned poker-playing dogs would be a welcome change from this.
All of this replayed in his head as he lay in his bed, sweating out the flu under a few inches of bed covers. As the foreigner that was Corinne left his head and heart for good, another foreign invader, this year's strain of flu, decided to set up shop in his body, reducing him and his bed into an island of sickness. His bed had all the telltale signs; balled up tissues stuffed underneath the pillows, a deepening dent in the mattress from his occupancy and the stain of prescribed cough syrup which he had spilled on the bed. This bedroom was now officially a sick ward.
He had shaken too many hands, been out in the world without a coat for far too long, wasted too much energy on something that produced energy in the wrong direction. Now was the time to convalesce. The myth of metaphysical perfection had claimed another victim, leaving him sweating and freezing, looking forward in time dazed and harshly repatriated into reality.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Cannibal
When he first began to hatch his plan, curiously, he thought about what he would wear. He thought briefly about an altar boy's outfit, but at the age of 26, he was just too tall for a jaunt down memory lane. He then gave a thought or two to just casual clothing, the kinds of things you buy at The Gap that make you look trendy. These were the kind of clothes that one would wear if they weren't worried about the slave labor that stitched them together. This potential wardrobe wouldn't do either.
As he descended the fifteen steps of the staircase, his decision revealed itself. He had chosen a black suit, white shirt, solid black tie, black dress socks and newly-shined Florsheim shoes. Looking at him in this frozen moment, with his impeccably drab wardrobe fitting perfectly into place, one would get the impression that today was the day he would go on that job interview at the local mortuary. Yet this was not his purpose today; today, he dressed this way for dinner.
His outer appearance was unexpectedly augmented by a shave and a haircut, received earlier in the afternoon at the local unisex salon, located in a strip mall around the corner from his home. It was performed by a middle-aged Hispanic woman who wore a crucifix and a St. Christopher medal around her neck. As the stylist combed his hair for the finishing touch, he was struck by how many years it had been since he had actually cared what the hair on his head had looked. His mother would comb his hair on Sunday mornings, right before church. He had to arrive early to prepare for mass as an altar boy. He would always serve mass with Father Ryan, who was always insistent with all the parents of the parish of the Church Of The Redeemer that his altar boys ' appearance be of the highest order. Everyone loved Father Ryan for drilling into the boys a strong sense of discipline and order. The woman who gave him his haircut and shave was very gentle with the razor on his slightly acne-scarred cheeks. The stylist's name was Maria.
Hw wore on his face an expression of peace and contentment he had not know for many years, dating back to the simple days of early childhood. It was hard for him to recall the feelings and sensations of that time. With almost 20 intervening years since this contentment he was feeling, one could not blame him for feeling detached from his past. The years since had been filled with inner turmoil and restlessness, chronic truancy, alcoholism and drug addiction. When the prevailing wind blows pain, any shelter from the storm appears as an oasis on the horizon. It was when he was forced to re-enter the storm that he realized that any peace was all too fleeting and temporary, unless he finally confronted the demon that had brought him to such places of desperation.
It was with this in mind that he found himself in his home, dressed to the nines for a very special dinner. The only other person expected this evening was Father Ryan, still much beloved by the community, currently laying dead on the dining room table.
Father Ryan had been missing for four days. He was last seen leaving for his nightly stroll around the grounds of the elementary school, which shared a parking lot with the church. He was a man in very good shape for the age of sixty-seven. He attributed it to healthy eating habits, plenty of exercise and the will of God.
"And not necessarily in that order", he would say to inquisitive parishioners.
When Father Ryan didn't return after an hour, the other priests in the parish became worried. The police were summoned, but no evidence turned up. Father Ryan's face was now the most well-recognized missing person in the greater metropolitan area, thanks to the local media, who loved to lead off their broadcasts with a good tragedy to scare the hell out of the viewers. The adjective most used to describe Father Ryan was "beloved", each passing hour seemingly bringing him closer to canonization. That is, if journalists had been in charge of the beatification process.
He hadn't wanted to be an altar boy. Father Ryan had spotted him after a Sunday Mass one sunny day in May, standing next to his parents.
"Such a strong boy! He'd make a fine altar boy, Mrs. DiGregorio", he remembers Father Ryan saying to his mother.
"Oh Father, Dominic and I were just discussing that the other day", his mother said, mixing her ingratiating demeanor with a little white lie. His parents had never mentioned him being an alter boy until that very moment. Two weeks later, he was carrying the hosts to the altar at the 8:30 mass.
He was an altar boy for roughly a year, telling his parents that he wanted to sleep later on Sundays. His parents didn't fight his decision to stop, figuring that it was all temporary anyway. He always seemed so tired on Sundays after mass. Perhaps the extra sleep would do him some good after all.
At first, being an altar boy seemed easy. He would show up about ten minutes prior to the start of mass, change into his cassock, and serve mass alongside Father Ryan. After about a month, Father Ryan asked his parents if he could arrive a half-hour prior to mass, his justification being that the 8:30 mass was beginning to get progressively more crowded. Things needed to be perfect. Everything needed just that much more time to be arranged. He remembered now that his parents had never asked him directly, but simply complied with Father Ryan's wishes, never knowing or realizing the unspeakable horror this decision brought to their son.
In the moments prior to mass, in an anteroom behind the altar, Father Ryan would tell him to wash his hands in the font of holy water, take off his pants and close his eyes. For nine months, Father Ryan committed atrocities on the boy, commanding him after every episode never to speak of it to anyone, lest he face the wrath of God. During the mass, he would see the Stations of the Cross, displayed in order around the church. His eyes would always settle on "Jesus Bears The Cross". What does he know of suffering, he thought. Why won't he help me now? After he quit as an altar boy, he became more and more enraged, watching the people of the church treat Father Ryan with such reverence, such respect. His parents were deeply offended by his decision, at age twelve, to stop going to church. They thought it just a phase, thiking that he would "return to the flock" in the near future. That return never came.
His grades slipped and he skipped school more frequently as his teenage years progressed. He fell in with the crowd that always seemed to have access to a stray bottle of liquor and an endless supply of Vicodin, burying himself in a place where he could keep the pain at bay, however temporarily. Never once did he mention the burden resting on his shoulders to anyone.
Early in his senior year of high school, his parents, worried that he would flunk out of school, placed him in an inpatient psychiatric ward for treatment. He never opened up the old wounds when questioned by the doctors. When he declared two days into his stay that he wouldn't talk anymore to anyone at the facility, his doctors approached his parents with other options of treatment, one of which was "electroconvulsive therapy", a soft-pedaled phrase meaning shock treatment. He left the facility, two weeks and five shock treatments later, deadened and numb. He graduated high school with barely above a D average.
The eight intervening years brought no solace. More drinking, more and harder drugs, more psychiatry. It was three weeks ago in a group therapy session where he finally had an epiphany. The psychiatrist had spoken of never finding rest until the source of pain was isolated, confronted and put to rest. How could it be that no one had ever said this in such a way to him before?
It was in this spirit that Father Ryan found himself dead on the dining room table, his mouth gagged, his hands and feet bound tightly together, his skin a tinge of blue from suffocation, the imprint of his killer's tightened belt forming a perfect pattern around his pulseless neck. For a man so well known for being in good shape, extinguishing the life from him was rather easy. One could barely see the point of walking at all.
He stopped for a few brief moments to gaze upon the lifeless body of his childhood tormentor. Just a few preparations more and peace would finally come to him.
He thought for a moment of the many ways that this man had violated him. How, as a defenseless child, he had no other option but to close his eyes and take it. His fear was subsiding now, all trepidation and inhibition that had ruled his life slipping away a little farther with each passing second.
Silently and deliberately, he went to the kitchen to retrieve a cleaver from the a kitchen drawer. He thought about Judges 19, the Levite and His Concubine. He thought about the waste of spreading the Levite's comcubine's remains in little pieces in the desert. For Father Ryan, there would be but one vulture to pick from his bones. It would take at least 5 days to consume an entire priest, he thought to himself, as he began the preparations for dinner by undressing the body of Father Ryan.
(Writer's Note: I feel I must make the reader aware of my strong opposition to cannibalism. It also bears stating that this story is fiction)

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Ambiguity
Is this the way it goes, Nina thought to herself. She sat on a bench in the park, a few blocks away from the building that housed her first temp job, thinking about making it her last temp job. I didn't go to college for four years to push a metal cart full of files around, she was thinking, eyes wide open, legs crossed underneath her smart black business attire. A newly -ignited cigarette was smoldering in her right hand, slung in a tired fashion on the opposite side of her body.
One would think that at this point, five years in this city-with four of those at the college-that she would finally get used to the all too harried and all too brusque rhythms all around her, but one would be wrong. She had reached that point. She hated her environment and was rebelling internally against everything within a three-foot radius. The pigeons all moved like Mick Jagger in an old video she saw once on VH1. Why were the Rolling Stones still employed as musicians, she thought. Isn't it time to move to the country and retire?
The country. She had almost forgotten. Had it really been five years since she left her high school class numbering 185 to go to college here. If she looked up from the cement beneath her feet and took a look around, it would take her about 30 seconds or so to spot 185 people. What was she doing here? Was is so long ago that the simplicity of adolescense surrounded her with light and hope? At times it felt like only yesterday, at other a murky mountain obscurred by clouds, rising somewhere in her memories, but always seemingly too remote to reach
Her mother and father seemed like remnants from a bygone era. In the city there was action and activity that she would never find at home. She could gaze down any city street and find more traffic lights and public buses than she had ever encountered in the entire county she grew up in. There were things she had always dreamed of, possibilities that she had never explored, people she had always envisioned meeting and finding with them an instant connection to something larger.
The things she dreamed of were non-existent, the possibilities ending up being the same old things with the same old hang-ups, but in a different space. The people she had wanted to meet had all been met, and they were self-absorbed assholes. There would be no connections, there would be no higher meaning or purpose. She would meet a series of people, similarly frustrated, looking for something; something other than Nina. Something other than public bus exhaust and traffic lights. The city, clearly, was getting to her, leaving behind, in the form of a 23-year-old woman, a hardened city dweller where once there was a girl from the country.
As her lunch hour slipped away, her cigarette following close behind, it was clearly coming time to come back to the world of responsibility. Or was it? Isn't five years of responsibility enough for anyone, she thought, resting her back against the back of the park bench. She began to people watch, every once in a while watching the Jagger pigeons peck at something invisible to her eye on the ground around her. She would need to head back soon. Another ride on an elevator with some portly thirty-something from another office in her building staring at her ass as she watched the floors count off above her, pretending not to be deeply offended and deeply flattered all at the same time as she waited for the computerized "bong" at the 14th floor. She would get off the elevator, smile at the receptionist (was her name Marty or Matty?), and walk down the hall into the main office area, punch back in on the electronic time clock on the wall in the break room and return to her post in the file room. She would desperately try to ignore the people giving her the "seems like a nice temp" face as she walked to the file room, snaking through a few sections of cubicles. She would return an occasional and unexpected "Hi Nina!" with a simple "Hi" to anyone who offered. In an office of 65 people, she knew her boss' name and the name of the other temp in her section with any certainty, and that was it. Attempting to know names was useless here. She was obviously not staying here long term. That was not her purpose or destiny.
As she delayed her eventual departure from the park bench, she tried to isolate in her mind that exact moment in the last five years where she went from feeling like the center of the universe to an inconsequential speck of a file clerk in a city office like any other. She found herself briefly suspended between two worlds, one the simplicity of her teenage years, the other the future in front of her. It was hard to see that future in front of her when she spent eight hours a day filing and pushing a cart around, returning hellos to people who may as well have no faces, voices or pulse. She thought briefly about those commercials she used to watch in the afternoons on her rare days off in front of the TV, touting future careers as a computer technician, beautician, truck driver or in the exciting world of broadcasting. She had to be in better shape than that. Or certainly in better condition than the people who needed the personal injury attorneys that also advertised in the afternoon.
It was now late September. The leaves were beginning to change. Some of them had even managed to shed themselves from branches already, moving along the street with the flow of traffic, occasionally taking flight in the wake of a passing taxi. She got up and began to walk back to the office, doing her best not to catch her heel in a crack on the sidewalk. She didn't really know whether she was going to quit this job or not. The money was enough for now, but her student loans were coming up fast. Something better had to come along. She told herself that in the unlikely event that this place offered her a job, it would have to be much better than what she was doing now. Pushing that damned cart made her feel like a bag lady. It was getting so that she was nearly looking for cans on the floor in the office to collect for loose change. No, the fictional offered job would have to be something fabulous, with responsibilities and benefits, and co-workers who didn't mind the occasional drink after work. A drink. Now there was an idea.
The early Fall air almost began to invigorate her as she approached the entrance of her building; The Bennett Building. Who was Bennett, and why did he get a building? Would he feel differently knowing that the building that bears his name plays host to bag ladies?
She opened the brass door handle of the building and stepped inside, not happy or sad, not hopeless or optimistic, not fearful or brave. Mostly ambiguous, and mostly hoping that her ass would get stared at on the elevator by someone younger for a change.
My side, the side with brains, has lost the election in the United States.

Instead of dwelling on this and telling the world to build coffins because that will be America's main export over the next four years, I'm just going to post a song that I wrote for this emergency we find ourselves in. This is my song to everyone in the world. I urge you to ignore what America says and does. It's destroying itself from within. Pray the end comes quickly, for the sake of the world.

Right Foot Down


The turnin’ of the tide is turnin’ to a tidal wave

And no one seems to listen anymore

It only takes a nervous tic on someone else’s gun

To turn discussion into civil war

But I’ll be on the sidelines with my gun up on the shelf

Drinking beer and living long while you destroy yourself


CHORUS:
So put your right foot down

Pick your left foot up

Kick your right foot out

And you’ll all fall down (2X)


See the monkey leader read his cue card speech with ease

He made himself on someone else’s dime

I wonder whose banana he’ll be chomping on today

Or if he’ll just go missing one more time

Though someone’s gonna pick him off it hasn’t happened yet

As he stands on top of corpses telling you you’re in his debt


(Chorus)


What seems to him like heaven is a hell for me and you

If you think that number one is bad, take a whiff of number two

(Chorus – Fade Out)


'Nuff said.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

It's 11:06 CST in Milwaukee. The "election" will go on for weeks, as organizing a vote in Ohio seemed to be too much for the intellectual cretins who make up that state's Board of Elections. If you want "election" results, wait a few months and in the meantime, CRY!

We're trying something new here at The Spencer File. I have noticed with increasing frequency that my posts here are becoming stale, unfunny and not at all interesting.
In an attempt to remedy this, I have called in reinforcements. Once a day, I shall have Tara, an acquaintance from Minnesota, e-mail to my personal e-mail address a random topic/word of her choosing. I shall write about whatever she lights and places on my doorstep.
Fear not! There will still be the occasional bit of personal gossip, reflection and angst to throw into the Spencer File. Until such time as I can train myself to be interesting (this could be YEARS), I shall apply this new format to this space.
So without further ado........

Time
It was my grandfather who said, "You see them?" referring to my older female cousins, "They have their hearts in the right place, but they can never get anywhere, and that's because they don't respect the clock".
I once saw a Poster that said "WORK: A Prison Of Measured Time". The person who first thought of this poster should win the Nobel Prize.
"God finds you naked and he leaves you dying/what happens in between is up to you". So says Robyn Hitchcock. So true.
You would think that given the revelation of this knowledge, we would not waste time on things that we later find as an impediment to human development: arguments, waiting in line, whether it be for our own money, a bus or the return of Jesus. The inventors of the sundial, the clock and the wristwatch are the Devil's answer to the Holy Trinity (you know, The Old Guy, The Younger Beachy Guy and The Dove). Only man would devise a way to measure what he has lost. I am surrounded by clocks in my life, but I absolutely REFUSE to wear a wristwatch. First problem with watches for men; we have HAIR on our wrist, which is easily pulled out when the watch is removed. I HATE that. Second problem: to me, it feels like a unihandcuff. I can think of no one in my sphere of existence that likes to be held at the wrist. I feel jailed by jewelry when I wear a watch.
"Time is too slow for those who wait
Time is too swift for those who fear
Time is too long for those who grieve
And time is too short for those that laugh"
-It's A Beautiful Day
The biggest fear that we carry with us in life is the fear of demise. The survival instinct is strong in all of us. Once we're here, we don't feel like leaving; EVER. For women, we have invented a mountain of cosmetics that supposedly "slow the aging process of your face". For men, it's that gullible twenty-something with big tits looking for a fling with an older, more secure man that keeps us from thinking of the grave. For both genders, there's hair dye, the occasional margarita on a cruise ship and that one song from our youth that makes us temporarily forget about the fat hanging over our belts.
We're born, we eat a few things, we anally expunge what we don't need until we lose the strength to do either and then we die. ALL OF US. NO EXCEPTIONS! For every living being on this planet, whether there are billions just like you or if you're the last of your breed, this is your time. If someone tells you where to go or what to do, you look them right in the eye, stamp one foot and say "NO! This is MY time. You are in my way of making my mark in this world while I'm here and I don't have to take this from you!". If one person does this, they'll be called a crank. If TWO people do it, you have self-absorption by the power of two. If THREE people do it, why it's then that you genuinely have a movement that can change the world. There's no time to accept boundaries. There is no time for worrying about someone else's opinion of you. You are not a tool to balance the universe. You ARE the Universe.
Take the time to do EVERYTHING you've always wanted to do. Tomorrow is not coming. Jump out of an airplane, drink a whole bottle of scotch, love like no one has ever loved and take the chance that it may not last. There's no reason to worry about what someone else does. There's YOU. Control YOU and you control the universe. Don't look with skepticism at any one man, for that person may hold a key to your next adventure, whether that person be good or bad....hmmmm, from good, bad; from bad, good. Just like that there is a balance to your universe, and suddenly you find yourself bulletproof.
When you seize your own destiny, time disappears and becomes just a caveman -like observation of the sun and the moon. You won't be counting the hours on Friday until the weekend; you won't be looking at your calendar wondering why your period's late; You'll stop living paycheck to paycheck. What you have is you, in tune and playing your own song. Despite the fact that your clock is still ticking, you won't feel it. You have existence without boundaries of time and age, leaving only one question whenever you find yourself standing still.
"What are you waiting for?"..