My sincere gratitude to the editors and publishers who have featured my work in their publications. I appreciate your commitment to the literary community.
(Publication credits cited at the end of each piece)
The Dead Goat Society
Bowling For jesus
The Suburban Cowboy Catalogue
E Mail From The Road
When Nature Calls
Fly the Friendly Skies
Buffalo Bob and the Honey Dipper
Elegy For the Old Republic
The Dead Goat Society
The owner says we’re the last live band at the end of a 30-year run. He’s closing up shop but new management is reopening the place as a strip club. Technically, there aren’t any public bars in Salt Lake City. They skirt around that by calling them private clubs and patrons join the club for the night by enrolling and paying a membership fee. The Dead Goat Saloon is in an alley off the main drag a block away from the Mormon Tabernacle.
It seems fitting to be the last live band. We played our first gig here years ago, opening for a well-known blues band. The night was so over the top that we changed our name to The Dead Goat Society, in honor of the stuffed white goat that guards the entry to this dark, tomb-like club.
The dimly lit saloon is more like a subterranean catacombs with cavernous arched hallways that open into different rooms. The over all vibe is vaguely illicit, conspiratorial and French Underground. The place has seen its share of shady deals and drunken brawls. Portraits of dead bluesmen gaze down from brick walls and surly looking bouncers patrol the barroom. Chairs are laden down with welded steel plate so they can’t be used as weapons, and there’s Jaegermeister on tap.
It’s still early in the first set when some wannabe pirate falls down drunk. He’s a biker with a do-rag, gold hoop earring, tattoos, beard, leathers and eye patch. He bounces back up and starts boogying like he’s Lord of the Dance, lurching around the dance floor until he crashes onto a table, taking out glasses and a full pitcher of beer. He doesn’t get back up.
A woman grabs a microphone and sings Happy Birthday as a couple does a slow bump and grind strip tease. They toss their clothes around the room. A lacy, black brassiere hits me in the face. I drape it from the headstock of my guitar and we tear into another song. The harmonica wails over screaming guitars.
A guy wearing a tattered cowboy hat lets loose a blood curdling rebel yell, and a woman rips off her shirt. She climbs astride her boyfriend’s shoulders, waving her arms wildly over her head. She looks like she’s been a regular there since the early days, and years of gravity and hard living have taken their toll. The room is electric with noise and heat and sweat. The frenzied crowd hoots and hollers.
Someone buys me a shooter. Tomorrow morning will be a good time for me to finally go to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, but at the moment I’m plotting my getaway after I load the goat into the van.
(Published in Thunderclap Magazine)
Bowling For Jesus
Flora’s daddy is a Pentecostal minister who goes from from town to town, preaching the Gospel of Mark and taking up serpents. When a canebrake rattler bites his face, he rolls around on the floor, speaking in tongues and is dead before the ambulance arrives. Mama quits the tent revival circuit and settles down with the kids in Ottumwa.
Flora meets Floyd at a Bowling For Jesus church tournament. He’s the church league champion with a blazing pompadour and a silver tongue, and she knows right off ~ “he’s the one.” Floyd decides to go pro and asks Flora to come away with him. Mama doesn’t want to let go, so Flora and Floyd elope, get hitched at the county courthouse and hit the road in Floyd’s old Econoline van.
“We’re bowling for dollars now Baby!” Floyd exclaims as the old van trundles over one of Ottumwa’s eleven bridges that crisscross the foul-smelling Des Moines River on their way out into the world.
They spend claustrophobic days and nights on the road in the Econoline. But on nights before tournaments, they splurge on a room in a Super 8 or Motel 6. She likes the antiseptic smell of Pine Sol and the way her bare feet glide across the cool and smooth linoleum floor. It makes her feel like royalty. They spread out and replenish their supply of little soaps, shampoo, lotion and toilet paper. They watch TV.
Flora spends most of these evenings polishing Floyd’s balls. She uses a special cloth she ordered from that ShamWow commercial on late night television. That was before that ShamWow guy went to jail after an incident with a hooker in Miami Beach. He claimed the woman bit his tongue and wouldn’t let go.
Although Flora has reservations about using a product she bought from a public fornicator, nothing can give Floyd’s balls the burnished luster they deserve like the ShamWow does.
Sometimes Flora daydreams about a more glamorous lifestyle. She wonders what their life might be like if Floyd had become a downhill racer or professional surfer instead. But those sports are much more dangerous and bowling’s a safer bet. The chances of Floyd breaking a leg or being attacked by a Great White shark in a bowling alley are slim.
Anyway, those other sports don’t have the sense of fashion style that bowling does. Floyd’s bowling shirts are artworks of sartorial splendor. Her favorite one is beige with two broad tan stripes down the front. Made from polyester, it drapes like silk, and has little bowling pin buttons and “Floyd” embroidered in red over the left breast pocket.
One night, as Flora gives Floyd’s balls a vigorous buffing, she glances up at a bowling tournament on TV. Young people, fresh faced and smiling, stand in front a “Bowling For Jesus” banner. She feels the slightest twinge of something like sadness before returning with renewed intensity to the task at hand.
(Published in Connotation Press)
The Suburban Cowboy Catalogue
The Suburban Cowboy Old West Snack Platter
It’s quiet out there. Too quiet. Dust devils spin like drunken dervish dancers and scraggly tumbleweeds cartwheel through desolate streets. You lean back on your chair outside the front door of Miss Kitty’s and listen to the tinkling honky tonk piano, waiting for something, anything, to happen. A red headed stranger appears out of nowhere, riding bareback on a lean and hungry, spotted feral mustang named Cassius.
Fortunately, you have just the thing for those potentially awkward moments when strangers ride into town unexpectedly. The Old West Snack Platter, a saucy array of frontier treats presented on an authentic repurposed stagecoach wagon wheel. Serve up a heapin’ helpin’ of hand jerked Buffalo Pemican, Old 49er Sourdough Biscuits, Line Camp Bacon ‘n Beans, Prickly Pear Piquant Picante Sauce and Shepherd’s Poo Poo Platter Prairie Muffins. Wash it all down with Cactus Jack’s Red Eye, craft distilled in small batches and aged in recycled gunpowder barrels. The Old West Snack Platter will have buckaroos and cowpokes in your bunk house clamoring for more.
The Suburban Cowboy Old West Snack Platter Item # 4625 $49.99 ______________________________________________________________________________
The Suburban Cowboy Stagecoach Shotgun Ensemble
Don’t let those mountains fool you. They’re a good day’s ride from here. You’re ridin’ shotgun on the stage coach from Tuscon to Tucumcari. It’s a rough trip through wild country, a gauntlet through 600 miles of hostile Indians, cranky conquistadors, disgruntled desperadoes, high plains drifters, rattlesnakes, scorpions, Texas blue northers and lightning bolts that even Pecos Bill couldn’t ride. This is no time for tragic fashion choices. You’ll be ready for anything in duds you can count on in The Suburban Cowboy Stagecoach Shotgun Ensemble.
The linchpin of this get-up is the Pinkerton Waxed Cotton Duster ~ exclusively wefted and warped by artisanal weavers high in the Italian Dolomites. Cavernous pockets deep enough to swallow your Riverboat Gambler Pearl Handled Derringer and Last Man Standing Alamo Bowie Knife with hand tooled scrimshaw blade. (Both Suburban Cowboy Catalogue exclusives) Lined in cozy Portuguese flannel to keep out the high desert chill on unseasonably brisk evenings.
This duster covers a lot of real estate so you won’t even need to wear jeans under this daring pair of Galloping Goatskin Chaps. Fashioned from supple, hand distressed goatskin in a World War II vintage leather tannery, the leather is over dyed and meticulously tanned to a buff sheen. You’ll be on permanent booty call in your hand stitched Komodo Dragon Leapin’ Lizard Boots and hand tooled Mexican Frito Bandito Bandolier. You won’t need no stinkin’ badges with this bandolier! Cover your noggin with our Haberdasher’s Orgasm, dress fur felt fedora with grosgrain sweatband. Nothing ties this outfit together like our signature, handwoven Simply Silk Lariat and the coup de grâce is a one-of-a-kind Braided Dreadlock Bullwhip in rich Corinthian leather.
The Suburban Cowboy Stagecoach Shotgun Ensemble Item # 4626 $3500
(Published in Defenestration Magazine )
E Mail From The Road
I’m writing from a Zippy Fill Truck Stop & Mini Mart somewhere in North Dakota. Winter Storm Leviathan buried the upper midwest in a block of ice and I’m stranded here with other wayward travelers just trying to get home for the holidays. North Dakota is the American Siberia. I feel like I’m on the inside looking out from Ice Station Zebra with nothing but frozen tundra and sky for as far as you can see. It’s only December and it’s already 20 below zero and colder than a snowman’s scrotum.
On the sunny side, Zippy Fill Truck Stop & Mini Mart is a one stop wonder and I got all my Christmas shopping done. Where else can you find stocking stuffers like 5 Hour Energy Drinks, roller dogs, beef jerky, evergreen air fresheners, condoms, eyeglass repair kits and scratch-off lottery tickets all under the same roof? They even sell underwear here, which is a good thing, because I’m wearin’ the only undies I got and they’re like crotchless panties. But that’s probably over sharing.
The woman behind the cash register is a truck stop angel. I don’t know if it’s the pistol tattoo on her neck, the way her spindly legs fill up those skinny jeans or the slight mustachio under her nose ring, but she kinda makes my trigger finger twitch. Don’t worry. I’m not in the market. Anyway she reminds me a little too much of Mona from my third marriage and the last thing I need is another divorce.
Thank God the Zippy Fill Truck Stop & Mini Mart has free wi-fi. At least until the power goes out. Although it’s doubtful we’d resort to cannibalism because there’s enough junk food here to get us all through a zombie apocalypse. I’m not too worried about that anyway. The whole place reeks of buttered popcorn, gasoline, grease and B.O. and I don’t have much of an appetite. I am gonna to buy a Power Ball ticket though. The jackpot starts at 40 mill and I feel like my luck is about to change. I’ll let you know when things get moving again.
(Published in The Writers Roundup Zine)
I’m here as mandated by the court. I look around the room with trepidation. It’s so mundane it’s stupefying. Harsh fluorescent lights, a circle of metal folding chairs and stale, acidic coffee in white, styrofoam cups. The acrid tang of Pine Sol fails to mask the pungent undercurrent of body odor.
I size up the other participants as they introduce themselves. I haven’t seen anything like it since I was in the circus. It’s more like night court or Walmart after midnight than a Program meeting. There’s a couple too strange to be true. She’s a ventriloquist and he’s a mime. Talking with them is like throwing darts with a drunken carny.
We’re all here for the same reason. To exorcise our demons. And we all battle the same demons. Obsession and compulsion. In my case it’s bowling shoes. I used to go bowling just to rent the shoes. Then I started keeping the shoes. After I was banned from every bowling alley in town, I broke in after hours.
The court mandated the Program, ordered me to surrender my hard won bowling trophies, priceless collection of vintage bowling shirts and my balls. I gave up drinking when I quit bowling. It just seemed pointless after that. For me, it’s all about the shoes.
I introduce myself and launch into some spiel about how well I’m doing. I think we all know where I’m going after this.
At least I do.
(Published in Lascaux Flash)
She came into the brightly lit room from the darkness, wild from the night, her mottled blue-black fur bristling with feral electricity. A wounded bird fell from her mouth as she released it at my feet. She looked up at me and meowed loudly as she bestowed her wondrous gift.
“Damn it Pert! You could have at least finished the job instead of just maiming the poor thing. You screwed up, just like you always do!”
“What a mean thing to say!” Ileen said. “She’s only trying to please you.”
“But now I have to be the one to kill it and I hate that. Last week I had to bludgeon a little bunny she brought in. It was seriously messed up. I felt like some kind of psycho killer beating the brains out of the Easter Bunny with a shovel.”
“That’s gross. Do you really have to be so profane and irreverent about everything?” she asked.
“You know me. I open my mouth and that stuff just comes out. I can’t help it.” I said.
Our two cats brought us trophies from the hunt. A continuous procession of bunnies, birds, snakes and mice were laid at our feet like tribute. Willsey, the big silver tabby, was a vicious killer and devoured her prey. More often than not, she would she would present us with only the head of some poor creature. Pert was the younger Burmese tortoiseshell. She looked small, but carried surprising weight for her size. She rarely killed her prey and preferred to bring it home to play with it.
Pert started to bat the little bird around with her fore paws. I grabbed a towel and picked up the bird. It lay quivering in my hands. I placed it on a counter top. Pert rubbed up against my legs, purring loudly.
“It’s got a broken wing. It’ll never survive if we let it go. This sucks.” I said.
“I don’t see why you’re so squeamish about this. You eat meat every day.”
“I know,” I said, “I’m conflicted about that. This is like being put on the spot to play God, or some kind of on-call assassin. I never know when I’ll have to randomly dispatch some poor, maimed animal she’s brought home. I’m gonna run it over to the university vet school. I heard they take wounded animals. It’s like a ten minute drive. I won’t be gone long. Maybe you could feed the cats and get dinner started?”
“OK – I guess.” she said “Do you have any ideas for dinner?”
“I think there’s chicken in the fridge” I said, and headed out the door.
(Published in On Velvet Feet An Anthology)
When Nature Calls
Shouts from men working on the wall, the blast of the crane’s diesel engine and staccato bursts from a jackhammer pounded his eardrums as he slogged uphill, work boots slipping and sliding in the mud. He looked forward to taking refuge in one of the portable privies strategically placed around the site.
Inside, the pungent chemical smell caught in his throat. He latched the door, pulled down his tool belt and jeans and sat down, gasping as his skin stuck to the freezing seat. Pulling off his hard hat, his long hair fell down around his shoulders. He pulled a magazine from his work vest and plopped it open on the floor in front of him.
He heard the sound of someone trudging through the mire toward the outhouse. Footsteps stopped outside the door. A hand grabbed the handle, yanked on the door and wrenched it completely off the hinges. The open doorway flooded with daylight leaving him as vulnerable as a beetle under a rock that had been turned over. He sat there, pants down around his ankles, squinting up at Pete, the carpenters’ foreman, the door swinging in his brawny hand.
Pete was a no-nonsense, old school construction foreman who knew everything there was to know about building big walls. A big, burly redneck, Pete didn’t tolerate long hair or slackers and ran two long-haired workers off the job after he caught them smoking pot during lunch-break. And there were stories of him pummeling the shit out of two bikers with a pool cue, and firing off his pistol in a bar.
Pete’s ruddy face flushed as he stood in the doorway holding the door in his hand. He looked down at the worker, who looked back, wide-eyed. They stared at each other until Pete finally blurted out,
“Whoa! Sorry amigo, I didn’t know anyone was in here.”
Pete looked at the door in his hand, then gently leaned it against a corner of the outhouse like he was returning a baby bird to its nest, and walked away, boots squishing in the muck.
He sat there, staring at the magazine on the floor, in full view through the open doorway as two guys from his crew walked past through the mud. So far, it had not been a very good morning.
(Published in Pure Slush)
Fly the Friendly Skies
The well-known slogan fly the friendly skies runs through my head as I board the monstrous plane that seats 10 across in coach. I’m in the middle of the plane, aisle seat in the center section, surrounded by a large group of public school teachers traveling to attend a conference. We’re settling in for the six-hour flight from New York City to San Francisco.
As the last few passengers straggle in, a young man in T-shirt, jeans and sandals, with a short beard and unruly mop of curly hair passes by. He stops directly behind me, shoves his attaché case into the overhead compartment, and slides into the window seat across the aisle. He smells a little funky, as if he hasn’t showered for a couple of days.
The attendant closes the curtain that separates first class from coach, as the last passenger to board walks up the aisle. The passenger is a young woman with lustrous shoulder-length, black hair and hazel eyes, wearing a short, white sleeveless dress, nylons and red high heels. She’s as glamorous as a runway model, and I don’t think there’s much chance she’s traveling with the school teachers, but I can always hope. She’s laden with glitzy shopping bags from various 5th Avenue stores and maneuvers up the aisle holding the bags in front of her. She apologizes for all the commotion, smiling and nodding her head at passengers as she passes by and heads for the center seat directly next to the man who just sat down. The aisle passenger gallantly volunteers to move to another available seat, so she’ll have more room for all her things. Window Seat Guy looks delighted. He should be.
On the other hand, I’m crammed into my seat next to a mountainous and dour woman who’s reading a Bible. The headphones clamped over her ears make it clear there’ll be no small talk; which is fine with me since I’m seriously delinquent in my Bible studies. She’s already claimed the armrest between us and is even spilling into my space. I
briefly consider offering to switch seats with her to give her more room, but I realize I’d really be trapped and possibly crushed. I quickly change my mind and thumb through a magazine article about marijuana farming in Humboldt County. Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss are chatting up a storm about all the wonderful things New York City has to offer. He helps by carefully tucking her shopping bags under the seats in front of them. I raise an eyebrow. I see where this is going. Lucky bastard, he gets Glamour Puss and I get lady wrestler who’s giving off the vibe she’ll bludgeon me to death with her Bible if I make one false move.
The plane takes off and climbs to cruising altitude. Passengers talk, read books, listen to music, work on their laptops or adjust the seat back and rest. Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss lounge across all three seats like they’re lying around in their living room. Ensconced in pillows and blankets, they’re drinking wine and giggling themselves silly. Bible Lady is already fast asleep and snoring like a buzz saw, head lolling on her ample bosom. Every so often she stops. Dead Silence. While this may be preferable to the harsh rasping and gurgling, it’s also disconcerting as I’m thinking she must have sleep apnea. This goes on for at least the next hour and I do my best to shut it out by eavesdropping on Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss. They’re drinking more wine and carrying on about Broadway shows and shopping and restaurants and God knows what all. I sigh and go back to my magazine article profiling Humboldt County as the vanguard of high-octane marijuana farming in California.
It sounds like Bible Lady’s breathing has stopped altogether. I’m alarmed enough to start mentally reviewing CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation protocols. Just thinking about it makes me sick to my stomach. Still no sounds of breathing. I grit my teeth and lean closer. Just as I get my ear up to her face, she erupts with a violent snort and a loud gasp that sends spittle flying in all directions. I pull back so abruptly I bang my head on the seat in front of me.
Bible Lady settles back into a regular breathing pattern and I settle back into my seat. I notice her Bible has fallen off her lap. I gently pick it up and slide it into the seat pocket
in front of her. I’m just starting to enjoy the quiet when I realize it’s too quiet. There’s no sound coming from Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss. I know they can’t possibly have sleep apnea too, so I turn to look. They’re lip-locked, tongues down each other’s throats. I jerk back around in disbelief, my mouth hanging open.
The other passengers stick their noses in books, snooze or watch the movie, which ironically enough, is The Wild Wild West. I whip open the magazine again and fix my eyes on the page, but I can’t concentrate enough to read. The cabin is dark except for scattered reading lights and the flickering movie monitors. The other passengers are at least pretending to mind their own business. They read, do crossword puzzles, chat and do everything but pay attention to Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss, who are now rustling around and muffling giggles as they rearrange themselves in the mountain of pillows and blankets. No way can I ignore this and I sneak a peek back to see what’s going on.
Glamour Puss is sitting on Window Seat Guy’s lap, facing him. They’re wrapped in blankets doing their own interpretation of “the beast with two backs.” Once again, I turn away in disbelief. Am I the only one who knows what’s going on here? I can’t believe Window Seat Guy got so lucky. That could be me back there, except he’s the one with the cojones to reach out and grab a once in a lifetime opportunity and I’m a rule follower. I’m a rule follower sitting next to a snoring giant who might be suffocating while Window Seat Guy gets to act like Caligula.
I eventually drift off until the captain’s voice jolts me out of my slumber. “We’ve begun our descent to San Francisco International Airport and will be landing shortly. It’s been a pleasure having you aboard.” I look back to see the couple sleeping like babies. Window Seat Guy is resting his head upon Glamour Puss’s shoulder with a blissful smile on his face. I shake my head as I turn back to fasten my seatbelt. I gotta hand it to the guy, I think, and actually chuckle out loud.
“Did I miss something funny?” Bible Lady asks.
“Oh good morning,” I say, “I didn’t realize you were awake. You certainly are a sound sleeper.”
“I took a sleeping pill,” she says. “It helps with my fear of flying. I could have slept through a hurricane. Did I miss anything?”
“Nope,” I reply. “Just another long, quiet plane ride.” The plane arrives at the gate.
“I put your Bible in the seat pocket,” I say. “I was afraid it would fall on the floor, and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Oh that’s sweet,” Bible Lady says. “You didn’t have to be so worried about disturbing me.”
“Well, blessed are the meek,” I reply.
Window Seat Guy and Glamour Puss stand in the aisle beside my seat like they’ve just been introduced at a cocktail party.
Glamour Puss says, “My name’s Adriana. What’s yours?”
“Josh,” he replies. “Here’s my card. Look me up if you’re ever up my way. I’m an organic farmer up in Humboldt County.”
They move a little way up the aisle. “They seem like they’d make an awfully sweet couple,” Bible Lady says. I smile and nod as I stand up and move back in the aisle so she can exit. I see the graphics on Window Seat Guy’s T-shirt: a marijuana leaf surrounded by the words, “Organic farmers do it in the dirt.” I realize I’m still holding my magazine and toss it in the pile of blankets on Window Guy’s empty seat.
(Published in the Real Anthology by Pure Slush )
He flips through channels, looking for anything worth watching. Someone said a person’s lifespan is shortened by 22 minutes for every hour of television watched. He should have been dead years ago.
Eyes glazed over, he gapes at flickering images, a kaleidoscope of catastrophe; pestilence, economic collapse, religious extremists, suicide bombers, civil war, revolution, record-breaking drought, floods, global warming, earthquakes, hurricanes and a wild fire out of control in Colorado. The bitter taste of bile fizzles in his throat.
He finds a movie about Vikings with flaming torches pitted against ferocious werewolves. The Vikings have Australian accents, the werewolves clearly actors dressed up in ridiculous wolf suits. A commercial advertises a remake of “Towering Inferno.”
Abruptly, he turns it off, jumps in the car and heads for Walmart.
He turns on the radio. Nothing but bad news. He comes up behind a Dodge Caravan with a sign in the window that reads “Baby on Board”. It annoys him. He takes it personally, like anyone without a baby on board is a deranged, meth addled, demolition derby jockey. Is it to remind him to stop driving fast and taking chances? Or to interrupt the text message he must surely be composing? Will it be the tipping point in his decision not to push the pedal to the floor and sideswipe their vehicle, forcing it off the side of the road at 60 miles per hour? He sees the bumper sticker “I brake for unicorns” and his face burns with aggravation. Temples pulsating and hands clammy on the steering wheel, he shifts over to the passing lane, guns the engine and gives the van wide berth.
He stops for gas and wonders what it would feel like to rob a convenience store.
Still contemplating that question, he scans the headlines of the tabloids as he waits to pay. “Dog Accidentally Shoots Man With His Own Gun, Elvis’s Hidden Extraterrestrial Daughter, Swedish Man Bursts Into Flames on Train Platform.”
Dammit! I could make better headlines than that.
His eyelid twitches. The smell of burnt gas station roller dogs is nauseating. Sweating like a stevedore, he pays and gets back in the car.
Walmart is where style goes to die. There’s a man in Sporting Goods with a mullet haircut and a tattoo that says “Do it in the dirt!” He’s seen that guy at the dirt track races. The man’s trying out baseball bats.
His mind a screeching smoke alarm, he realizes what he must do. He grabs a bat and heads over to Electronics, his senses assailed by images on 27 televisions; break dancing, burning buildings, cooking shows, Judge Judy, an oil spill, another school shooting.
He can already picture the headline. “Man Walks into Walmart, Smashes 27 Widescreen Televisions With Baseball Bat.” He likes the way that sounds. The bat feels almost too hot to hold in his hand as he strolls over to a widescreen flickering with the image of a raging fire and starts swinging.
(Published in The Bitchin’ Kitsch )
Buffalo Bob and the Honey Dipper
The morning started out like any other, but my heart sank with dread as I heard the Honey Dipper wind down through the gears, chugging and heaving its way towards the Ranger Station. A crushing sense of doom and despair descended upon me as I watched it round the final bend, pass through the gate, and pull into the service yard where it groaned to a halt outside the bunkhouse, hissing and steaming like a dragon from Hades. The Dipper existed to service the outhouses in the District campgrounds, pumping all manner of human excretion, toilet paper, baby diapers and other random objects from the toilets.
“You’re on dipper duty this week,” the foreman barked. “Take one of your Navajo boys from the Ship Rock Reservation to ride shotgun with you.”
I picked Junior, a bull rider on the rodeo circuit who was easy to get along with.
Buffalo Bob drove the Honey Dipper. The embodiment of a cowboy straight out of a folk tale from the American West, he was lean and wiry, of indeterminate middle age, but definitely old enough to be grizzled and crusty. We rumbled from place to place maintaining the campground privies, as he regaled us with outlandish tales from his past.
We were at the last campground before lunch. Junior plunged the nozzle into the pit. Buffalo Bob goosed the gas pedal on the Honey Dipper and the pump went into high gear. It whirred and whined and the hose sprung to life with a thick slurry of sludge surging through it. Junior struggled to maintain his grasp on the twisting, vibrating hose. The tail of a greased alligator would have been easier to hold onto.
Things flowed smoothly until the pump faltered, stuttered and wheezed like a cat coughing up a hairball. The hose jerked as something the size of a baby’s head was sucked into the orifice. It traveled up the interior of the hose before stopping at the coupling where it completely clogged the flow. The hose looked like a python choking down a chicken.
“Shut it down!” I yelled.
Too late, the hose broke free from Junior’s grasp and exploded at the coupling. It writhed and twisted like a serpent with its head cut off, spewing shit in all directions before Buffalo Bob threw the lever and cut the pump.
Junior stood bewildered and covered with excrement, still cradling his section of limp hose. The fecund stench was overpowering. I choked and gagged, pulled my bandana up and adjusted my rubber gloves.
“What the fuck is that? Get that thing out of there!” Bob said.
I reached in and pulled out a soft, mangled spherical object, dripping with chocolate colored goop.
“It’s a friggin’ grapefruit!” I said. “Goddamn campers! Can’t they read the signs? Nothing but toilet paper in there! I can understand tampons and condoms, but grapefruits? C’mon!”
“Let’s finish ‘er up boys,” Bob said. “ It’s lunchtime and I’m starved. I’m gonna eat a whole hat full a’ them chili dogs!”
(Published in the anthology Too Much by Uno Kudo)
I’ve brought the things she asked for. Traveling with a live chicken on a city bus is an experience I hope never to repeat. Snake Eyes takes the bottle of rum, the cigars and the chicken into the back room. I feel sorry for the chicken, but I’ve got to get some answers.
Snake Eyes is the name of a reader down on Calle Ocho. She does business in a ramshackle storefront called La Casa de Santos. She reads palms and the tarot, but she’s no ordinary fortune teller. She’s a an espiritista and I’ve got questions for the spirits. Her Grandmother’s a full fledged iyalorisha. She’s behind a curtain in the back room where the altar is, but I’ve never met her.
Snake Eyes turns over the first two cards, the King of Cups and the 2 of Swords. She mutters something in Spanish. I ask her what it means. “So far, so good,” she says. I hear the chicken shrieking in the back as Snake Eyes turns over the next card. The curtain slides open and her Grandmother appears. There’s blood on her hands. She looks right through me and then says to Snake Eyes: “He’s the one. Bring him back here. It’s time.”
(Published in The Molotov Cocktail)
I wake in darkness and know only that I must go on. I can’t remember where I’ve heard that line, but it keeps running through my mind and it certainly seems to fit the situation. Vaguely defined, amorphous shapes begin to turn into individual trees in the cold, gray light as dawn gives birth to morning. I feel the weight of the Bible in my upper chest pocket. Funny how I only carry that thing in these situations.
It’s absolutely silent and not even birdsong interrupts the preternatural stillness this late in the season. There’s not even so much as a hint of a breeze. I won’t need to calculate wind and trajectory like I did in Afghanistan. Over there I had to take my shot from as far as a mile away. Never got a chance to look him in the eye. To take a life is no small thing. It seems like the least I can do is to look a man in the eye before I kill him. How am I expected to live a normal life otherwise?
My mind is as calm as dark, still water. I exist outside of time and space. I’ve learned to slow my heart rate, pulse and respiration and become one with my target. Almost imperceptibly, I draw a deep breath and exhale as much as I can.
I hear the rough snort from the other side of the hedgerow. There’s an audible snap as a twig breaks, and a rustle of leaves as the buck enters the clearing almost directly beneath the tree stand and steps into the crosshairs of my rifle sight. My index finger rests as lightly as a butterfly on the trigger. All I need to do is look him in the eye and squeeze gently for the kill shot.
(Published in The Santa Fe Literary Review)
Elegy For the Old Republic
“Spitting? Really Wyatt!? Knock it off. That’s totally gross!”
“ I can’t help it Rosie, I’m so pissed off, that’s all I can do. You call the shit in this paper news? ‘Dog Accidentally Shoots Man With His Own Gun, Swedish Man Bursts Into Flames on Train Platform, The Truth About Elvis’s Hidden Extraterrestrial Daughter.’ Seriously? Enough about Elvis already. Everybody’s home jerkin’ off to media-invented Stepford pop idols, hypnotized by football games and glued to shows like Gettysburg on Ice, and Home Shopping Marathon. It’s all just puppet theater meant to distract us. Where’s the coverage about the eviction? You tell me there ain’t a conspiracy when they synchronize the eviction of the Occupy protesters from every camp in the country at the same time?”
“Wyatt, if it makes you feel any better, I heard someone say that they can evict us from the camps, but they can’t evict an idea!”
“My God Rosie, just look at us. Used to be you burned your bra and I lit my draft card on fire. What do we do now? Burn our AARP cards? Although that bra does make you look like an Amazon space goddess from Forbidden Planet.”
“Oink oink Wyatt! You know how on it turns me it when you talk like a sexist pig!”
“Rosie, I’m just sayin’, there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye. Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain? I don’t think so. He’s the one jerkin’ our chains. People gotta wake up and admit things ain’t right. Climate change is real and multi-national corporations own our ass. Next thing ya know they’ll be frackin’ the frickin’ streets of New York City. The Hopi shamans had it right all along. This little robot fairyland matrix holograph is coming to a screeching halt. That’s a good thing, but it’ll be a Hell of a lot less jarring and painful if we’re all awake when it’s happening. We gotta start taking care of each other and stop following charlatans who call themselves leaders. They’re playing us all like Howdy Doody marionettes. Time to stop listening to jokers who can’t tell Plato from a platypus. They’re all so lost and confused they think the only way to relate to another human being is to pepper spray them!”
“Wyatt, right now you sound like the world’s largest source of natural gas. They’ll be fracking you if you don’t settle down. You’re ranting & nobody likes a ranter. And please don’t start up again about the Mayan calendar, Illuminati and the Dark Lords. It gives me the heebie jeebies when you do that. Seriously, you sound like some kind of raving hybrid between Thomas Paine, L. Ron Hubbard and Rush Limbaugh on crack. Who puts these crazy ideas in your head anyway?”
“Rosie, I told you that Tonto and Tinker Bell do.”
“Who are they again?”
“They’re my spirit guides, Rosie. We talked about this.”
“Oh my God Wyatt, please don’t say things like that out loud in public.”
“OK smartypants, then how do you explain things like mysterious power outages, bank websites going haywire, cell phones not working, poisoned water wells and that freak I found outside the house going at our cable box with a screw driver?”
“He was just a telephone repairman Wyatt.”
“Telephone repairman, my ass. Our telephone didn’t need repairing. More like Men in Black, if you ask me!”
“Well, I didn’t ask you Wyatt. You’re just really paranoid.”
“Hell, ‘just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not after you.’ That’s from Catch 22. Joseph Heller knew the score.”
“Wyatt, what the Hell are you doing? Get off the railing. You’ll break your neck if you fall.”
“Hold on darlin’, just give me a minute. I got a speech to deliver. ‘Can you hear me now? Attention all you shadow people. Yes, YOU behind that curtain, wrapped in your coats of many dollars, hidin’ behind the smoke and mirrors of legislation bought with blood money! I hereby occupy this doorway! You think you can control us? Guess what? The time when you elitist bastards control all the resources, money, energy, land, food, health care, education, information and freedom is comin’ to an end. Game over. Sorry. I ain’t your organ grinder’s monkey! I refuse to buy your useless crap I never needed in the first place. I ain’t payin’ dues to join your club, buyin’ protection to keep my identity safe, or payin’ to extend my warranty. I ain’t upgradin’ my system when the one I already got works perfectly fine. I won’t contribute to your campaign, send my kids off to war, or come back to the church. I refuse to bet against myself with your stinkin’ life insurance, roll over my 401 K, invest in your latest ponzi scheme, or buy an arsenal of ammo and retreat into a bunker to protect myself from your manufactured Armageddon. I’m takin’ my ball and goin’ home. I don’t hate you. That’s just playin’ your game. I bless you. You can say what you want but I ain’t buyin’ what you’re sellin’. I don’t care if you don’t like it. I’m goin’ down swingin’, but I still bless you!”
“OK Spartacus, that was quite a speech. Are you done? Will you please come back down, now?
“Look at all this trash Rosie! Doesn’t anybody care anymore?”
“You should talk brother. Didn’t you just spit on the sidewalk? Anyway, this all got left behind when the protesters got booted out of the camp. Wyatt, listen to me. We’re all gonna to be OK. Everything’s gonna work out. Trust me. Keep shining your light. Speak your truth. Nobody’s got any control over you if you don’t buy into fear and push back on it. You know that. All we can do is to keep on doing what we can, from wherever we are, with what we’ve got.”
“Yeah Rosie, I guess you’re right. I hope you’re right about all of it.”
“Listen to us Wyatt. We’re beginning to sound like characters in a Beckett play. I think we need go down to Flannigan’s and occupy some barstools. We deserve a beer.”
(Published by Red Fez)