Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Contemplative Tippler


I’ve been wearing the same clothes for too long now. Something woebegone and comforting in it, I suppose. The usual stitched-up and unkempt look, a willful obedience to the strangely commonplace errors of my ways. A crazed mopping of the brow, perhaps? Likely. Just as my love letters are all riddled with typos, I am a man of rumpled deliberateness. Unscathed by the drudge of getting by, I do as I do, and what else batters me or stomps out my will to wish the weather would hold but a sly rumination on the nature of open-all-night neon signs or the tatterdemalion flush of topcoat inklings. I do say. Or, perhaps I do not. 

There are worse ways one could be spending one’s Easter; I am sure of it.

The consolation of ice cubes. The reconciled guilt of another glass’s clink. Sunnier pastures to be out to, that is for certain; but they are not for me to ever be on. There goes another waiter, on a smoke break, off a crying jag or two. I’ll take mine with lime and zeal on a rowboat in the rapids of my head. And I’m getting a bit one-dimensional in my attempts at being free.  

I knew a bum once; he could beg for change in eight languages. Like some ump with a rectangle for a strike zone, everyone hated his guts. I want cheaper truths to slide by on, the scruffy stuff of maudlin afternoons. Busted in, crammed out. That low-and-outside changeup’s just not going to cut it anymore. A rifle shot in the breeze. I am going to put up with a lot less in the days to come: something to bet the over/under on.

So, let’s see here. I am hard at work being lazy. I am taking all chances, and putting aside some drinks for later. The waiters’ little hop-step, harried stirs wake me from a reverie, and something is not right with the way I am seeing things. Blue dots imploding and streaks of blurry rose too. Peace is for the competent, not for those of us weepers whose poker faces have gone south for all seasons. I couldn’t guess at what that barman knows over there, with his bowtie and his shiny auburn vest. I want a bowl of fresh fruit. I want a girl who needs all the things that I’ve got to give. Somewhere there’s a plea cut with absinthe on the longest bar top in the world, and I cannot wait for it to arrive anymore. I nod my head, order another, and make the best of what I know.

Stand around. Make a little sense. Throw a couple of bucks down for a tip. The bannisters are rough with it; the ladies across the bar snack of anchovies and broiled pig hearts. I almost wink at one of them. I almost pretend they’d care. There’ll be wet socks on the floor and a roadblock in the headlights. Nobody to take home. Nobody to go home to. Some inside-the-park job with nowhere left to run. Guess I’ll have that drink now.

Woe is not so me anymore. Jesus. I stop off and ask for a rare steak, and I get eyed and roughed-up by looks. So I stare in the windows some more, and the more I ask for the most I won’t get. The slender women slip by and don’t smile much; they glare at the sidewalk or talk on their phones. I move through the obstacle course of the masses and dream less vividly. There is not a thing left for my sight to catch. The only thing around here that keeps me going is the bottle’s promise of a not-so-terrible night. No Parking signs dot the landscape with worse luck than most, “Or You Will Be Towed” like and epitaph for my darkest hours, drifting with the out-crowd I go.

Sleep’s country is a place I never travel too far in. It is always another wakeful yawn away. Strolling over some water, never enough to drink, and the slake is all that’s left. And so I tremble myself awake again and again. Rest if a place I’ll never know well enough.

Me? I’ll have another of the same.

I knocked over the lamp she gave me, and it cracked and broke all over the floor, and I screamed, “Vida Blue! Smokey Joe Wood! Three-Finger Brown! Kenesaw Mountain Landis!” I righted the thing the best I could. It had sharp edges now. It was a fighter, gone down and back up again with the scars to show for it. I missed her like nothing I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing enough to miss before. Another 100-proof belt of a song I’ve never quite finished knowing. I let go and hung on. I toppled over on the bed and lay there sobbing like a dimwit. The moths swirled and buzzed. I made no move to counter. I sat up, scoured the nightstand for a cigarette, found one, promptly lit it best I could, and sat there on the bed smoking until I felt as close to alright as I could get. It wasn’t the most noble of things to be partaking in, but it was all I had, and I was okay with that.

The tree’s leaves’ glint sunset colors in the way she sued me for a wave and another last time. A cutter on the inside corner. A train-station echo that hollers, “Honus and Ty on the back of a coin! Flip for it!” I thought, ‘Asshole.’ Who am I to make such distinctions? It’ll all peter on out anyway, even before I’m through. Every fathead who walks into this place is just looking for excuses, ways not to have to deal with whatever it is they’re dealing with. The louder they raise their pathetic voices the less they’ve got to say. I get up and lean on the bar. I get the barman’s ear. “Hey, why don’t you guys switch on the ball game? Give us all something to look at.” He winks at me, “The leaves are all brown, sir. All of them, the ones that are left, that is.” He turns the TV above the bar on the ball game. I go back to my seat and get on with my staring at it. Everything is happening as it should.

The homeless lady who sings arias is in the window. Her mound of blue-black hair’s filled with glitter and tickertape. I can see the places she’s been in her widowed eyes. She’s really going for it, hitting notes so high I worry about my highball glass. The rags she wears suit her: some tacky spray-painted silver wedding dress torn in all the wrong places, a whalebone necklace; high heels with broken heels. I don’t want her song to end. A few joggers go by. A horde of tourists on a walking tour. A cop with bad sunglasses and a worse mustache. Sometimes the world’s more wonderful than any of the things in it. I sip and sip at my drink. The aria comes to a sad and beautiful end. The homeless lady walks away with her chin tilted slightly up and her arms akimbo, strutting and smiling a better smile than most could ever dream of. I feel that I’ve been a part of something important.     

The drinks will come.
The drinks will go.
The reasons to live?
Maybe not so.   

 
Things get hectic and rush. I get removed from my seat. I mumble, “Well…well…you know nobody brings anything…small…into…a bar.” Those who lay their hands upon me do not mind what I say. Those who carry me off to a slumberous place, or a gutter’s comfort. I wish them very well. I wish the traffic, the lampposts, the mail boxes, the dogs being walked, the misanthropic losers like me, the runners of errands, the mostly confused cabbies, the out-of-work right fielders, the musterers of bad dreams, the harlots in drag, the bad waiters, the out-of-town scoreboard watchers, the meek and hale, the whole tempered bullshit ragoutof it all, I wish it all the best; and then I subtly, with great pomp and soigné, go to hell.

 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Bowling Shoes And Mismatched Socks


I hope this drink is strong enough to bring me some much needed peace.

Me, hustling and hobbling along Columbus with my burrito in tow, as usual, slightly jumpy, a tad at ease, worn out and weary, rubbed with a dab of hope. I do not make mistakes when it comes to cruelty. Sure, the excesses of my nights carom off rubber walls of doubt with an unhinged yet frivolous sense of self importance. Sure. But who the hell’s around to notice? I get nervous around crickets and crows. And there you go. I have my doubts about restriction. And— just a minor observation in the crux of all this— there are more or less goopier parts of salvation to sop up before the long ride back home’s all you’ve got to look forward to. I am less prepared to face it, too. A real screamer hit right back up the middle for your trouble, I tell you. Then again, it’s the stubble’s relatable sign of hazard that gets me all twisted up inside over barely a thing. It’s a cut of clouds sleeping over the rooftops again, and I’m off to other hassles. Trust me. I’m bigger than the grudges I keep holding onto by the skin of my teeth. Getting over things is a dilapidated proposition at best. Any poultry cook will tell you the same. The doom of dizzy spells tilts the pinball game of my ways, and it’s not even morning out yet. Still the same old bluesy terror stripped of context in the tawdry, sallow light. I might not mean more than a mashed potato to most, and I’m not playing the part of being me very well right now, but there’s still a streak of two of misery left in me; I’m sure of it.         

Counting on being counted out, when the humbling hurl of tragic instances gets me into bed for keeps in the morning. I am where I mostly don’t want to be, most of the time. I’ve got more anchors dropped from me than any boat on the waterfront. I’m doing the telling, and, kid, it’s not that bad. Also of note: it’s not that good.

You, rustic and stoic too. A bit absurd of mien and stance. Ruffled habits bordering on preposterous, with ill-fitting strums of moods, flagrant and obtuse, in or out of lesser-known meanings of try. Devastated with will power. A wintering souvenir special reeking of castor oil and Crest. There is no courtesy worth salting away for later in any of it. Keeping up the façade of sour-faced deliverance. Nobody’s on hold. And the rain’s gone off the air.

Get this: my wind was gone for the night. A spiffy little drag from you to me, some shiver-sender to inebriated spines. All the shop being talked was this postulation-type stuff, and I didn’t care for it, to be somewhat in the vicinity of honest about it. Then some middle-of-the-night idea hits and I’m done for. This also: “Consciousness is not a countable thing.” That’s about when I learned how to stop being a misogynist and became a feminist instead. Mostly I was drudging up complaints too, something to do with the fact that some smile-at-anything-in-pants lady was roaming the districts of my discontent. And the sharps were busy with their baize games of looking cool. Nothing seemed enough. A barrel of water to spray on the dirt. I began to take my shots in the dark.

Aunt Millie started out seeing jumpers in her sleep. The high-wire act in her head was drooling and defunct by the end of it. Like a collapsed intake valve of past: bridges she’s seen in some other where of her spent time; or other spot-on marks of former achievements, the sight of which could well up a working title of space without time to be in it. She sold illegal fireworks to kids, the kind that’ll ruin a mailbox or catch fire to a barn. She meddled in optional responsibility. Millie had opinions about the true nature of Tardigrades, about how they’d outlast even our planet itself somehow, and that, really, this world belonged to them; the rest of us were just rushing about on it on a loan from the plants and bacteria, without whom we’d all be toast. This thought pleased her immensely. “Get me a jug of dirty hard cider and a rope,” she’d preach to the muskrats, “and I’ll never come on back this way again.” Apparently one day she did just that.  

Forget the plowing and the preacher-like tug of ecstasy that comes from “knowing” a small truth for a small time to be smaller and smaller even than you’d ever want to convince anybody of. In any two-cow town, scalping the flowers, scraping nothing but the scratch-awled walls. My penitence is never over. And the things I’ve said to absolute strangers would make even the scrawny sandpipers go ape-shit over measly scraps. Here’s one: “That’s a Loggerhead Shrike. Those bastards, they’ll even eat smaller birds from time to time, just to keep things interesting out there in the big old ornithological world. They hang their prey up on thorns and barbwire fences. They’ve got black-eye masks and hooked bills, and you only really see them during winter. You really don’t want to fuck with them, buddy.”  

Me, sullen and shirking all duty for another waylaid day. Putting on another showboating act for no one. I believe in long, slow, lazy afternoons with the promise of dusk tinging the horizon with juniper and hot asphalt while I mildly sip cloudberry wine with the windows slung open, with my feet dangling from the fire escape, or from the eaves— perhaps high-up above town somewhere with only a pinup girl’s photo and a rusty way to say goodbye to my name. I may be cruel, sure; but not wholly unkind. So. Come closer. There is something almost too gorgeous to be beautiful here that I do wish to show you.    




 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

the glory of complacency


 
Love’s the one equation that’ll never be complete.

Love is the solution that’s anything but replete.

Love will knock you by the wayside.

Love will leave you wishing that you had a different suite.

Love is just a waltzing when all there is goes to the rhumba.

Love kills more men than bombs.

Love cures all the ills that you never thought would ever be wrong.

Love’s a curse.

Love’s a demand.

Love’s the freedom you’ll never expect to happen.

Love’s a squashed pear on a bookshelf.

Love makes the world worse and better, and better and worse all the time.

Love will die and it’ll live again.

Love will leave and come on back.

Love’s the slowest train you’ve ever known coming down the track.

Love is pretzels when you’re thirsty.

Love is the last song at the skate rink.

Love cuts the reason from your only rhyme.

Love slurps oysters over a dirty sink.

Love will end you up in The Clink.

Love’s a toast you can’t make.

Love is forever’s ending.

Love is stale tortilla chips dipped in rancid salsa.

Love is a half-dollar when all you need is a quarter to start the washer.

Love doesn’t care what promises were meant for.

Love gives up before it ever had a chance.

Love is way slower than the sound of loneliness.

Love’s a tougher way to say goodbye.

Love won’t just move on over for just anybody.

Love’s a miserable proposition to some guy with food poisoning.

Love is Paris in a bottle.

Love is being on the run.

Love will sit heavy on your chest when you’ve fallen down, again.

Love’s a place you’ve never been that keeps calling you home.

Love will strain and ebb and dash and flow.

Love won’t remember your car when you go.

Love will speak into the crook of your arm and spell your name wrong.

Love’s got a shot of whisky in it sometimes.

Love has no idea what to say most of the time.

Love irks more umps than Earl Weaver ever did.

Love makes plans just to break them all the time.

Love’s digging through the used-record bin while drinking a vanilla coke and listening to a popcorn machine pop.

Love won’t sashay with all those unnecessary plastic objects that fill a purse.

Love dances closer than that.

Love’s a longshot gone to the wild horses.

Love cries over TV shows.

Love makes the nights worth the days.

Love is on sale all the time in some dingy five-and-dime.

Love will make you cringe and cry and feel ashamed.

Love is hazel eyes and chestnut tears and all the dates you never got to have.

Love’s an escalator going sideways.

Love is just a Nanci Griffith song on the radio.

Love rends and roars and reaps without a sow.

Love will leave you blind when all you want to do is look.

Love is Mississippi on the horizon.

Love gets cranky and ashamed when the weather won’t work out right.

Love doesn’t listen.

Love doesn’t always bend with the stems of flowers.

Love waits and waits and waits and waits and waits.

Love’s some abandoned shack on the side of an old highway in the Mojave.

Love’s a high-school kid’s binder covered with felt-penned band names.  

Love creases anything you’d ever dream to fold.

Love is a newborn crying through the wrinkles of youth.

Love cannot be just cause or effect.

Love will tell you when you’ve had enough.

Love won’t listen to your excuses.

Love is some Santa Cruz girl telling you that you’re just tops.

Love is the bottle’s last drop.

Love is that last sip of bourbon from a best friend’s glass.

Love is what never dies when you do.

Love is a kiss blown across a room to some girl you barely know.

Love cheats and conspires and marries for money too.

Love is not true or kind or gentle.

Love is its own end.

Love reminds and forgets.

Love crowds a bar and thunders through another storm.

Love is a heart you’ve never known wishing you farewell.

Love is some little kid crying in their sleep.

Love casts prayers out into the dark waters of time.

Love doesn’t always make amends.

Love is cruel.

Love is anywhere but here.
 
Love is everything and nothing and all that’s in between.

Love is sometimes all you’ve got.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

testing testing


I’m a nibbler and a sipper. I am a tester of water. Yes. And I will ask myself also, “What if there is no water? And what is water? How do I know if it exists, or if I exist? For what reason or reasons am I testing it, and for whom? And what results would qualify as passing for this test?” I get lost far too easily in such matters. I cannot become staunch now about being a passenger here. “A diamond for your thoughts,” they say. I say, “Loosely ground,” to it. I won’t make myself special if it can be helped. Assuaged and lip-read, I grouse without a sound. If the water’s warm I will jump. And be settled to it.

 
A discovery: “trisp” is not a word. Let the letters be whatever color they want. Brash is the lunge I get after the spectacle of acting my part is done with. Okay. Hurry up with a tad more on the revolutions of the celestial spheres: Copernicus. His sunniest side didn’t work out in the always heliocentric ego of what’d last and go on. “Proper,” you say? Well. I’d give a look-see to it. The ease that comes without opulence: an inebriated pride perhaps, a wheelbarrow’s fortifying grace. I know not the aluminum’s crash, yet. We here— including myself, of course— are not neighbors. Shed. Sweep. Level the surface. Joists turning under the whole rig’s weight. More things to worry about. “Trisp,” I say to it. “Bogus.”

 
“Treat me for ringworm once in a while.” That’s the shipbuilder in me talking. He continues, “Ahem. Yes. That about does it. Goodnight nurse.” I guess it’s about time for some carpe dieming. I’ve been putting it off for so long. “Get to it then.” That’s me growling back at the shipbuilder. Neither one of us is becoming very comfortable with the other. And now some joker’s turning off the hot water on us.

 
The water stays, tested or not. I prowl over it lightly with bated breath and a few jab steps. Who would I be to glide safely through it? If I must administer these tests, these showboating things with crabby mysteries to unveil, who will be there to see the results? I am not the one who functions well under the cool eyes of disbelief. I almost could get myself to swear to that. I won’t though. I have to believe that all of this is necessary. I have to believe that I am, if nothing else, this “me” who shudders at most vain attempts at placing whatever it is that resides in these tests to the test. What test would I use to get results like the ones I never am able to comprehend, nonetheless get? Rich am I with empty gestures. I skim my lithe hands over the choppy wave crests of what little I know, and I pretend to know things that I wouldn’t give a glass of spinach milk for the knowing of. Shallow or deep, I am at least proper in my estimates at what I can claim to be constraining myself in with these acts of motionless awe. I am a too, also.

 
A man arrived just the other week. It was not another incompetent one (man or week), but a trifling stipend of guff and grist for me to sift through and over. And so I thought, ‘Let me just see here.’ The man was a bright-tie guy, and he was balding and wore wire-rimmed spectacles and had on a corduroy jacket with patches on the elbows, and his presence made me think of a small house cat for some reason. “I do not have time for silliness. We all need results.” This was his way of introducing himself. I would’ve shook his hand and said, “Howdy. Put ‘er there,” if it had seemed likely to be reciprocated in this by some fashion of his, but his perturbed scowl came to a hilt, and it came to pass that he was solely perturbed with my diddling and trawling nature, and his, “Let’s slice to the core of all this frank-and-beans,” was a necessary course of events.

 
I sorry-ed my way through amateur-hour courses in flamboyance over a topic which concerned me about as much as if I’d been slipped a note reading: “I still think of you as a babe. Hotter than coals as ever.” The man was ho-humming the whole affair, and I carefully washed his thoughts in vinegar as we walked and tiptoed towards what one of us believed to be water. Soon he was aghast at things I hadn’t mentioned. “Where are there squeaks like these?” He asked. I told him, “I know not squeaks, madam.” A certain puckering came to his visage. I quit our journey and stowed my luck away in a broken radio. “I want rascals, not childish egos to deflate. Are either of us kidding the other?” That’s the last thing he allowed me to hear.

 
There will be dump trucks and wagons here at seven in the morning. I will be listening to the sound that planes make as they perform flybys overhead. I do not preach sympathy or little smacks of deliverance. I test the water. That is all. I am doing nothing but something, and I will continue whether anything here really exists. Snip go the gardening shears. I can notice them from where I belong. Dip a toe in? I distrust such obvious designs. If I were somebody ordinary I might flay the expense from the trust I never had a chance to retain. I am that man who was here the other week. He is not here now. I am. Of these peculiar things I can be sure. Lips on a face. A wisp of hair curling from a neck. Bright waters run still deeper with it, more than can be supposed or tested. Water is just a guess. I was not made for it. Laugh so I might not starve before the next test follows from the last, and all over again, and, of course, never. Never is my final at-all. Test it out yourself. See what you think. If you really are there and not here, or are you and I not the same? The point of all the testing is that it doesn’t matter. The water’s not anyone’s to test. One is not capable of the other. And the days will trickle by now, and you will not know for whom you test and on whom or what, if the water’s still there in the morning. Yes?




 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Certain Peculiar Certainty

Dearest Olive,

This patter I’ve caught myself in needs a way out. Charlie Chaplin knew it. It’s in the drop of poison you never get. He threaded it all night long through the slaughterhouse of his chagrin. Perhaps I’ll relate to you what happened last night. Apparently I believe that you will care.  

I wasn’t in the mood for getting-to-know-you chitchat. Inside the bar it was too crowded to sit, so I went outside and tried to mingle with the smokers. As recently as being a bit sloshed would allow, conversation wasn’t making itself available, and I knew it, as I was dribbling on about having a nap like it was early on in the evening in Spain or something. Who the hell knows why I say all things that I say? It’s just a tight place to be situated in. I noticed a little girl holding the string of a few balloons in a doorway. The doorway was in a little alley, one that reminded me of all those brick alleys in Lowell, or then again maybe it was just a rope to dangle a few bad memories from until their necks all snapped. I pulled a smoke from my vest pocket and handed it to a beautiful lady. I lit it for her. She smiled and told me to go to hell. That made me feel more than just a tad delighted; it was the best news I’d heard all day. I lit one for myself and stood there like a jerk, coolly inhaling and exhaling— something I’m quite accustom to looking dashing while doing. She was unimpressed. I admired her taste. “You’ve really got something going there, lady. Stick with it. You’ll really go places.” She called me an asshole and told me to leave her alone. I obliged.

Soon after I was strolling down Columbus, alone, deliriously contented with myself, and in an odd way, morose. There were folks gathered in smoking scrums outside of bars all the way down the wide boulevard as it cut its diagonal path through town. I snaked my way through them and kept going along until I came to the edge of Washington Square Park. It was nice out. It’d been raining all day, and the streets were slick with it still, as the night had cleared up and kicked the storm east. A sickle moon was slicing away at a few ambushed stars, and the streetlights were making up stories about pedestrians and dogs. I wanted a place to sit, and so sauntered on over to a bench on the south side of the park. Miraculously it was dry. I sat there and watched the trees and St. Peter and Paul’s all lit up across the way. I spotted a rat scurrying around in the hedges. It noticed me noticing it, and quickly darted up a tree. A certain train of thought rumbled its way through me, and I decided that all I really wanted in life was somebody to goof off with— or maybe goof around with too. It felt grand to finally have some purpose in my life.     

Hello again. My dreams are more vivid now.

I am not so mean anymore. I lean into things, like my nights and backdoors. Reason stands proper by my side, even when I am not able to need it. The windows see right through me, and I get tuckered out around noon, shortly after waking from an unendurably deep sleep. The cats in my building’s lobby scratch at my door. I never let them in, even when their petulant purring turns me into a sobbing wreck. I want hotter coffee, damn it. I want golf balls to throw at pigeons. Just a few things. Not so much to ask for, really.

In hopes of not reaching you, this letter’s not made of declarations or snide mischief. If it were to place itself—all these things and some other stuff too— in the grubby mitts of some bail bondsman, if it were to shabbily go where naught but jewelers and pie sellers were meant to go, well, then I guess I’d throw a few more colons in for the sake of unbound ideas or the sorted well-meaning jousts of towel-wringers and horseshoe loaners. By gut instinct I renounce the pecuniary joy that is brought to most people on paydays. There’s a light on in the parlor. I must attend to it.

Formerly I woke to realize that a moth had died on my cheek.

It was just table-setting to be engaged in, that worry in the parlor, and the light showed me less of it. Swallowing gasps of gulped air, I livened up to switches, to on-off clicks, to darker stretches for my roaming to go about in, or through at least. I need others to blame, but only have myself.

The velvet settee is being delivered unto the lord. The music’s too soft, and I’ve grown too old to hear it. Been up and out of here, too, in the rash haste of my sort of ways. Tilling at dawn’s ploughed rows of rising, and the matchwork is mismatched with me. And, also, who knows? I mean things and then I don’t. Balance is not always such a stable thing. A picked-apart room. Astonishing reasons for behaving just the same as always. Or can you find it in me, maybe? (And if you have to ask what “it” is, well, that’s mostly your fault.) What could’ve happened without you is not what the striptease theater barkers are going on about. That? That’s something you are most likely just finding out.

Last night I threw my topcoat up a sycamore. It hung there in the gnarled, leafless branches like a ghost between scaring bouts. It was mesmerizing. I left it there to do as it would. I’m through with it now, whether I like it or not, and it will not be returning to my closet. Perhaps I am envious of it, dangling there in the wind and the rain, holding on through spasms and quirks in the nature of things. It should think, ‘I wonder when the leaves will come back?’ It doesn’t. Instead it relies on the notes of late winter to toy with its meandering wonder. And if I never shall return? Only you’d ask such a blundering question. So, I leave the answer to you as well. The finding out is the easy part. Besides, fanatical attachments aside, I’m not such a bad guy once you start to know me. My topcoat has set sail for uncharted regions of foliage. I don’t mind the irreconcilable trust all of this must somehow involve. What is there left to mind anyhow?

Also, before I forget to mention it, this lady, the other day, she called me a “dorn forker” while I was riding the subway. I was standing, holding the metal grab rail, and she comes up next to me and calls me this name. Then she walked away, opened the door between cars, and fled the scene. I detected a defect in her pitch, something I trust that you’re surely aware of— acutely even. When I slow down my thoughts everything comes out differently. This women was a token of the dismal traces people defend of what their too fearful to believe is their former self. I hung on for the sake of holding on, as is my wont. Being interrupted is all that happens now. You can see that, can’t you?

I stand at my window and dream, outwardly, in your general direction. A passive shrug, and then I’m done. There are only hate letters left to compose, complacently as it were, in the catchall of any last silence I might break. I forget what your breath smells like.

Whoever’s,

Harold Hamgravy
 
 

 
 
 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Rocky's Testament (Part 1)


“Things are looking rather deplorable for this here Yours Truly lately. People refuse to read anything I write, even if I pay them to do so. And the money’s running out on me too. Will you burn this letter with the rest of my scribblings when I have finally passed on to that great barroom in the sky? Perhaps people will come to read these things after I’m dead, and the thought of them doing so just absolutely devastates me.” –from Franz Kafka’s final letter to Max Brod.
 

The rain is here again. Back from a well-deserved hiatus, a slumbering hibernation perhaps. And me? I never had time to be young. I was born aged, weary, tired. There are no worlds left in me to explore. A legacy of emptiness. A hell of a thing to be. Refueling’s optional at the moment, so I go in for a few warmer whiskies: hair of the mule, or something like it. There’s a purpose for all this. Don’t you worry. Light some kindling and send a smoke signal to that great bartender in the sky. Tell him, “Please stop.” 

Okay. I’m still here. Poured another drop out of this here bottle into me. Should sate the demons for a bit, at least. I want a mannequin in my likeness to be displayed on pluvial days in Union Square. No plaster-of-Paris-souled son of a bitch is going to graffiti on some statue of me— of that I’m damn sure. Let them tear the limbs from the thing, if they must. I won’t mind the struggle. Besides, I’m a plagiarist at best. Worn sop of a gun that I am, I believe all attention will eventually sway towards the details, and then away, and then further than that. I’ve got my particular type of calculus to deal with, alone with my bottle and a typer. It’s futile to believe anything will be accomplished around here. I’m a bona fide saint in some circles though. It’s not easy to believe, but I’m told by those who are paid to know such things that it is true, so I believe it. What else can one do?

So. Let’s roll around to the peachier stuff of this life spent running the empties to the cellar trashcans.

Kids are singing on the street: “Train, train, go away. Come again some other day and take me on away. But today, train, train, go on away.” I agree with them in principle. It suits me somehow, in this drizzly state I keep myself in. There are plenty of worse things to hope for, roses and weeds and mud and all. I’m better for their singing. Soon they trot on away, splashing in puddles, ruining the tenebrous skies of my disposition with little tacks of sun. I’m glad when they’re out of earshot.

When it hails it kills. That’s what an ancient postman once told me. It’s not something I’d let on about to strangers or little kids, but perhaps there’s some listing of truth in there somewhere. It’s bad enough for me. It trains my attention to what it needs to focus on: spare tires in treewells, broken umbrellas turned inside out in the gutter of some place called Brooklyn Alley, the rust on a fire hydrant’s chain, a moving van’s shot hydraulics, a butterfly’s flutter to hold still in a gust, wrinkles on an old woman’s brow, the patrolling eyes of a traffic cop, the bluster of a card sharp, the noise of a garbage disposal, the mop and swing of a grade schooler’s uninhibited laugh, all the napes of the necks of all the girls I’ve loved before.

Just wasting time like the rest of them, I guess. It’s always so though, isn’t it?

The back of the room’s cleared. I put all of my chips on red, but not white or blue. I want Luis Tiant’s windup and Hammerin’ Hanks muscles. There goes my everything and my nothing, all at once, heaving it all up or falling asleep in your arms. I’m just the same for it, as always. Maybe R. Carver could’ve done something better, or O. Henry. But I’m just another sucker off the mend again. Nobody’s worried about me though. Nobody at all. Not even me.

A cab trolls by, skidding through the rain-wet one-way. And I’m left up here getting older and resting less and less easy. The typer skids too, smearing everything to all hell: some sort of resuscitation for me, I guess. Wasting more time than I’ll ever let on about. It’s still something. And something is still better than nothing, I find.

                The places I go, they're not worth going on about. Situations run their course, and I sometimes get what’s not mine, in some Pennies-From-Heaven scam. It’s a two-bit smile that never comes through. An empty subway car after midnight’s gone for good. Whatever’s not happening, that’s what gets me through it all. A barely legible sketch in the scratchy record of who I was, I get by still. Begging more pardons and getting less and less in return.

                Trotting out the worst of me, through thimbles of terror and canisters of ineptitude. There’ll be more to go on about soon, perhaps, but I’ll be the worse for it. Isn’t that the way these things seem to mostly go? I need trumpets and all I get are these shoddy saxophones.

                The rain is here again. My shoes are in the oven. The rain’s here to keep me here. There are less likely suspects. The smokes are all gone from my hiding place. Get me a brick and a lighter, some yarn and a rifle. Tell Beverly that I’m done with that stuff, even though I never will be. The cat’s the only part of that equation I cared for anyway. And maybe the couch.

                Don’t get me right, I’ve always held others responsible for my inconveniences, and there are spelling errors still in my soup. The scent of umbrellas is all over everything, and I can’t make tails out of all these heads bereft of any sense. I’ve been making it on my own for just long enough now. It’ll all squander itself out in the end. There are even moths that know more than the rest of us.

                The Chinatown parade’s shut down the street again. The kids are playing with fireworks in Brooklyn Alley. Nobody’s my only one, now. Headlights as far uphill as anyone could ever see. The slight hinge-squeak of brakes. A patter of bass from a car stereo. The husky throttled stop-and-lunge voice of a bus. Only stinkers on the horizon. I’d see past and back, and the retreat of bolder voices less brassy slaloming down the sidewalk’s slope. With enemies like these who needs enemies? A tin’s tap and a hand holding a sleeping head in such bright yellow light. Idling motors and squeals of waiting through traffic’s jam. Solely together. Maybe the clothes will change themselves.

Perhaps all red turns to white and back before we notice it’s not too late or it is, also. You care with the swan-neck curve in the sodium yellow of it all, maybe? The parade’s just the litter of firecrackers, leftover egg-drop soup containers, and the pigeons snack on rice and discarded chow mein. The so-long is gone from the ago. Parallel parkers be damned. The onions are shredded and my paperbacks are all falling to the carpet. We have indecency to have while the bathtub grows more scum rings. Walk or walk. Our names on the slips from fortune cookies. It’ll be a jab at sweeps of the gutter, seeds and stuff, crumbled postcards, the ripped pouch that once held your hairclips and safety pins. An acrobat in the coffee pot. A honk’s shatter. A xylophone for your dreams? It bests the best I never got to have. Made into a distant thought. Chinatown’s not for hikers or parachuting bellboys. We know the hanging lamps, the bored fish in the window, and we read backwards through the dying neon signs and the clothes dangling like bait from the fire escapes, and we use chopsticks like swashbuckling barbers might, or midshipmen on shore leave. There are more sinister things to be. The swish of pedestrians pulled past the intersection through passed-over tchotchkes and artificial sentiment, and never our names on those miniature plastic license plates. There are huger deals, sure. But if one alit upon a razor’s edge would there be less demand? Made beds and always unmade minds. Up is the spiral lift of a softer place to lie.

The elevator to the rooms has been out of service for as long as any codger can recall.

                A supposition: I’m in the clutches of the devil, but he doesn’t want me. Somehow he can’t just get himself to let go though. All my running around just doesn’t do him any bad. Frustrated to all hell, as only He can be, He ruins what’s left of my scurrying around with dead-ends and bad luck. It doesn’t work. I just keep ruining right on along. Praise the lord. I’m whole again.

                So, blisters notwithstanding, these hills get wrecked. The murky ruin that substantiates any claim on doing better than this is bottled and sold to the lowest scum any bottom-feeder could find. And yes, right now that’s me. All the girls who won’t call back. The ones who think they’re above it all. Well, the rain will make you just the same. Sitting here feeling bad with my sunglasses on, wishing I were anywhere but home, with only a broken suitcase and an old pair of shoes to my name.

                What I’m saying is, “Just leave me alone, kid. I’m in a bad mood.” But what I really want is someone to come around and make me feel better about being me.

                Sentiments. I’ve got ‘em. Sure. Hot Toddies be damned. I’m running low on life’s joys. And when it comes to religion, well, it’s like the old Groucho Marx joke: I’d never want to be a member of a church that would have me for a member. That being said, from an early age I’ve always felt that I might be Southern Baptist trapped inside the spirit of a Buddhist— or maybe just an American Anglican flecked with a dash of Marxism and a dollop of agnostic leanings.

Maybe there aren’t any dots left to connect?

The way birds won’t fly. Sops on the street getting tired and getting nowhere. Sirens echo and the gravel relates. Time to stop horseshoeing around so much. Got a worse job than the last. If your sobs are filled with joy, then. If I’m up to nothing. Don’t shoot. I’m only here asking after applications. Typing with my eyebrows. Tantrums of lift that are never lucky. Don’t take root. The way birds fall in love. It is in the arc light of buried eyes. Got a better out-of-work slogan. Just a guy with some time. Into the architecture of concrete I dive. So little. So. 

Just this, something I haven’t told anyone else yet: “I don’t care what your parents named you. I’m a sucker for a girl in a raincoat. The drizzly parts of me surrender. And I am at the mercy of your whims.”  

                The evening’s all patched up with bandages of fog. The cops are never coming. Late-night TV simmering on and off through blundering cartels of after-work lassitude and wired agrypnotic staring. A bedroll for the old guy. I’m sledding through the shame of it all. Where’d the dial tone go?

If the off colors are wedded to repairmen, if the deleted words show up, and, “That’s no way to treat a telephone,” is all that’s said— then I would want to know why you shouldn’t like me, even a bit. But until then, forget it.

                When hearts like ours meet. Nothing growing. Through all musts of devastation. Sad. Nobody home to answer my knock: a last call for desperation. Where you been? How does it not go? Are we really never going to speak like this again? Hell, even Dear Abby doesn’t got any advice for me.

                Disjointed but never apart. Some grade-school genius gone to pot. Perhaps if I were El Greco something could be done. And then we could all sing, “The Lord, He thought He’d make a man. These bones are going to rise again. Made him out of mud and a handful of sand. These bones are going to rise again.” But no, I am just dripping right along with the eaves. Wrong’s the rain, now, and so am I.
 
 
 
 
 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Our Life-Boat Men


“The brave vests made from soapboxes keep the band in arrears. A tress of rope swung lower than ever. This day of all days to meet spent packs of matches in the park. Low is me. Rattail soup’s getting cold, and there’ll be only Warty Angler pie for dessert. Sides are gone. Leaping’s made for arms without hands, or churches. Nobody’s getting outmuscled by any of it. That’s another “no more” to coincide with. Lowercase gratitude prevails. People’s sympathy only extends so far and for so long. Everything’s a copout at some point. Reveal and revel. Hush and be hurt. It will be a sum that’s less than great, always. A rush on seaweed wreaths and holy saltwater. Dogs in the detritus. Seagulls in the garbage bags. Nobody’s piling away silver in a garret. A horse drunk on bilge water, drinking itself to death, or it’ll die trying. Lullabies filled with cussing and cigar smoke. The hike of a blouse and the ankles are bared for all to write off or take on back home. Never to be carried over any threshold or given a ring made out of a spoon. There will be dead pigeons in the swimming pool and cats in the alley scraping up a living like the rest of us. You’ll miss all the same things once it’s all gone and changed for good’s worse. Every then and again you’ll stick around, only to find that the rain don’t come around as much as it should, and the streetlights are too bright for kissing. Let’s pretend were mockingbirds and shoot marbles in the gutter. Pass the prayers on over here. We could use a few more for the night. Nothing to keep you warm in the big-old lonely disaster that you call being alive. Nothing’s right. Nothing’s okay. The moon can’t outshine the TV’s light. Growing disasters like weeds. There will be heart attacks in the basement and new wallpaper along the stairway. Tonight’s shot. We need heroes and hamburgers. Perhaps a bottle of later-evening to go with the afternoon’s dash and dip. Feed the parakeets animal crackers and get a one-way ticket to next year. So long. So bad. So absolutely ravaged to all hell and cranky and devastated almost all the time. Jesus Christ, I can’t help myself. It’s just that time of the season. God’s name in the microwave’s light. Another necktie gone. And we need bravery like we need blue’s ruin and a carload of hitchhikers. Mover over oblivion, I’m taking names just to give them all away. Rip the cord from the parachute. Get yourself up a tree, Jack. A rained-out campfire. A lost cat. We all marble the sky with our latest misery. But I never sob in town, and my umbrella’s filled with holes. It’s all a Times Square billboard dropped on your head. I give up. I’m finished, through. So, so long. I will be up on the roof counting shingles and trying to stay put until further notice.”



Sunday, February 9, 2014

No Appointment Necessary


The foul rag and bone shop of the heart has gone and lost its dogs. I’ve got enough trouble with my eyes as it is. You see? She wasn’t the sort of girl you’d share an umbrella with or anything, but she’d do. There’s so much damn neon in this neighborhood. It’s slashing all through the streets, catching us doing our dying ahead of time, scrabbling for an out, dear and deep we go, one bottle after another. Just enough time for one last shave. A potion for arrhythmia. An elixir for groin pains. The night fate stepped away for a smoke. Vaulted ceilings and detailed wainscoting, the whole works. Likelier magic doesn’t do the trick. She learned her lessons at an older age than most. The world wasn’t willing to fix it. A girl like that, she ought to have her own floorshow, or maybe she ends up in the back of a prowl car, hiking her skirt back down.

Everyone’s got at least a little bit of decency in them; maybe mine’s beginning to show. All the nice things have gone. And so she says to me, “I’m just hoping that you’ll come looking for me one day. More than anything, I’m hoping for that.” It’s stuff like that that makes you want to drive the nails in before you should. Rudely shattered complacency is all I get left with lately. I’m corroded with it. My nights replete with ungovernable terror. But my observations are shit. Besides, I’m the gregarious type. Enough talk as it is, you know?

My mom and I, we talk about Orson Welles and Roald Dahl, old live Westinghouse commercials for home appliances, tomato plants and bad weather. I ask her about the kids on her block. She tells me that they’re always up to good.

Zombies from mars are invading the breakfast nook. My necktie’s hanging looser and looser all the time. Sweating through my undershirt. Chapped lips and a head made for longing.

There’s a warm chill running through it all, chemicals in the breeze, a dazed apprehension deliquescing to morning’s dew. The announcer’s voice rings in another suppertime waltz. Bad night and worse luck. We’re all here to be juvenile in our most simple and mutinous thoughts. Overthrow our inhibition? It’s worth a shot.

                (Note: my dreams are hyperboloid structures. They’ve got teeth, rope, shovels, all sorts of ordinary things that curve inward as they take shape and then lose it.)

Based on all arcs of comprehension, there are bastards like me all over, and they’re the same all over. A brittle, coarse bevy of lunatics leering close to the fringes of it all. Man, what a drag it’d be to be young again. Outer layers, growling down a fleer, hounding the brash plaster of slingshot nickels, clawed from sheepskin sheets, a lower feeling than down. Flip the bird to the rest of them. I’m out of coins and ideas.

                Trekking down the middle of the boulevard in the late-afternoon’s small bit of rain. She wore gold and yellow boots with lions and blue stars on them. Talking around some coffee in a midnight booth. Refuting’s for the trashcan poachers and the misguided doves. I’m less hell-bent about it now.

                “You had a big part in my dreams last night. A real starring role. Your name in lights on the marquee of my imagination’s theatre. Where was I in yours?”

                “Late for breakfast.”

                “And if we had tire swings? And? What if we made rope from wigs and led stray dogs through the wilderness?”

                “Time’s a big waste with it all. Tuning frantically in the background. That’s you.”

                “But shouldn’t people be more impressed with me?”

                “Maybe. But I doubt it.”

               

The visitor-side bleachers were dripping with sprinkler water. The wood seats soppy and warped, the aluminum runnels below them shining silvery in the first bright spray of light from the sun. Two slightly dumpy guys in their mid-thirties were wandering around near the base, on the cement walkway in front of the first row. They were both wearing long-sleeve shirts underneath short-sleeve T-shirts. One of them had an LA Rams cap on. It was becoming balmy out: the first sweat of the day breaking out on the two companions. Neither of them were concerned about nuclear weapons or the disappearance of boat-tailed grackles. The moon had just gone down. That’s all.

 

“We’ve fallen out of favor with the drum-machine crowd. Better put on your dust jacket. I’m working on my pissed-off face.”

“Flowers to put some blight in your day. Frankie and Shirley sitting on a tractor. Point right away from it, and the rips of rain tear the bad lord’s echoes to tatters. Peel me a peach. I am going to all the nowheres that I can.”

“Keeps me up early, this stuff. Like us. Just like bastards like us.”

“Remain. Just. Remain.”

“My cows are too lonely.”

“That too. Yes. There is still that, too. Yes.”

“Hum an ‘ahem’ for me, will you?”

“……………………………………………………….”

“Thanks.”

 

The press greets a benched catcher who is not quite the spitting image of Mickey Cochrane with a smattering of awkward applause. It makes him feel a few time zones behind. Just another way to not catch up to rest of the pack. Nobody’s made for postgame interviews, two-week marriages, and penny-arcade rings like an out-of-work pitching coach. The way the shingles just fall on you sometimes. It’s winter’s hold on what’s not crumby that lets the starters keep diving for seeing-eye grounders. Attention’s a sham. They all roll over on sinkers sooner or later. Take off your hat. Stick around for some of the while.

 

“Cooler burnings. A sleeker shade of tungsten. Last time I smirked it made my toes itch.”

“This is the life that I’ve made for myself. The same things, here, year after year, and I find myself all tangled up in the end of it, or in the midst of it, or, perhaps, just at the start of something. A bottle of vodka and me, alone in the dark with people dying all around. It’s the way I’ve mapped it out all along: to be here, like this. Breaking dishes and moving by habit. A roar that’s whimpered out. Learned it all so well. And it’s all the same. It’s the same. Days after nights after more of the same. The life I’ve made for myself out of empty bottles and lost phone numbers. I might as well give up and get on with it, or without it.”

“You don’t got it. Not any of it. Not at all.”

“My hate goes with me everywhere, but where o’ where does my love go?”

“Flushed and weary, down, down, down.”

“Trucked away we go with ears pinched instead of cheeks, tongue tucked in them too, and we gust but not like the wind at all. It’s more of a guess, I guess.”

“Never or nor, a bad like this gets to be being better, nearly, something unhealed and worth lost money.”

“Careful. Language can be a tricky thing. Watch it. But you’ll never really see a thing. So, forget it— for now and for later.”

“Drooled me down to this, didn’t you?”

“Beats me. My love is defunct, and I’ve come down with a touch of nothing. And— another ‘and’ too— with this derangement come lately there are certain bills to pay.”

“The go is with it. I’d suspect at least that the barmen in purgatory are worth the while, at least. So, how about a kiss for the dying, Carmelita?”

“She’s just mariachi static on the radio. That’s all. On the outskirts of hell’s give-and-take that rooms with every retired boxer in town. Romp and roam and die alone. That’s all there is to it.”

“I’m all strung out on being solitary. There’s no way to hold on any tighter. Everything’s just some black-and-white comic strip that I’m trying to crayon-in the spaces of.”

“Schmucks like us can’t color in, or even around, any of it. Both of us would be better off scaring up some lentil soup from the cupboard, just sitting around with our socks on, knocking back shots of almond milk, resting uncomfortably on perfectly unbalanced chairs. I’ve got it. I really do. It’s all just carrying around a suitcase filled with scotch and water. Emergency exit only, you know?”

“Perhaps this’ll be the time of our lives when we start chanting about it—the Gregorian monks in us having their night in the moon.”

“Rock with me. These chairs were meant for it. That’s all it takes, and, maybe, that’s all we need.”

“Sweet.”



Thursday, February 6, 2014

So Long, And Sorry For All The Typos



Are you lonesome tonight? Well, that’s being crabby. Don’t go in for it. Raised into this, you can help it, still. Rile the curtains closed with drawled verses. The chorus will cling to you.

I learned somewhere along the line to ditch people who were too normal, too tied to the hooks of society’s tune. I make hay with the poorest and looniest of folks, those who don’t need a computer to know it’s raining outside. Running with the absurdist of characters, tracing faces in the windshield of a junked car. Almost not there. Can you not hear it yet?

Palms out, up, and not ready still. Counting away the ways you won’t have any of it. Spurn the best of me for the worst I’ll never let on about to sudden strangers. Suddenly not so familiar at all.
 

(ad for drug to relieve Jerk Syndrome)

There are capsules of gelatin and silver that’ll make your heart go crazy with togetherness. The bruised, slighted sighs of just getting by will leave. You will for the first time feel as if you are not a mistake, that your life is being lived with purpose, for a reason, and that reason will be pellucid to you through all the drudgery of your past. You will feel empathy and compassion for others, and you will come to see that other people are there to help each other, and that this includes you— being helped and aiding as well. A marching band of hope will encompass you. A slight trickle of joy tinged with euphoria will sop up your worries. You will no longer seek the appreciation of others but instead will come to find a new appreciation for them. Appearing desperate or sad will no longer matter to you. You will be genuine at all times. This effect will last 4-6 hours. Afterwards you will go back to being ordinary, but with a vague notion that at some point you experienced something worthwhile, though not sure of exactly what that something was.
 

Still, after it started and stopped, all this on-again/off-again hassling around held truer. The take it took: people walking pigs around instead of dogs, half around the corner to here. The names it takes give off more than a pulling would. Take one. Take another. Rise with the slope, shabby or not, until the dirt chokes and the mandrake’s pulled.      

Find an older way to drink. A way to put yourself to sleep. A way to slowly waste away. A way to rove more aimlessly and sincere. A way to put it all away.

Horses believe the year. Another not is put away for a to’s have. A spit of rain brings back the susurrations of years bought off too soon now. Places that tell, “Dying is nothing compared to all that life you get to live before it.” A rapt rejoinder to what commandeered a smile left boiling points undeniably and invariably unwilling to get known. We played with snails and salt. The diving board broke a few noses and then the moon came up.

Yes. The winter steered through coffee shops to machine shops to robot factories to relapses in fundamental flaws through bone-density scans and empty sugar packets. We filmed each other in the red and gold light, mouthing through some stuff’s rough, and there were no locks on the darkroom doors. To put it smashingly, “Perhaps you will come to know what to like about me, or what it is about me that is there to be liked at least, in the barbershop weather or stiletto light of shaping down what’s not there to be liked, or in the taillights of passing you’ll find me shooing cigar lighters away to ululating why-nots. But if we’d both stoop up— better yet, side-to-side—maybe the days will crash on us instead of crush us.”

No. It is something like, “If I could count the ways I miss you, babe, I’d never count again. If the wind’s will were mine to keep, I‘d lose my hat and grin. If we were poor with syrup, babe, it’d be all we need. If you’d come around still and darn my dreams, because they’re weak at the seams, babe. We could stay up late and eat chow mein, watch the latest shows they’ve got, and still miss each other the whole while.

“If I could rant without a rave about the busses. If you’d say, ‘They always all go the other way.’ If this were just something to sing, babe. We’d sing it all up into no ever’s down.

“If we had whistles to blow at cops, if we used old t-shirts for mops, if we had none of tip and a bit of tap, if we mooned Texas, if even just on a map.

“But hell, I’m getting so tired of this dead-end life. Why don’t we go to Reno, babe, and I’ll make you my wife.”

There are tenants who live below street level. A walk-down place with a sentimental fugue leaking from the window frames. Relapse into boredom. Really, there’s no better sake than for the devil. And we’re slaked with it, of course— in a place where the commercials know you better than you know yourself. There was another “Ha” there for us. Probably a stupid scheme to rhyme luck with something, but the shares of us were sold too low. I last only to lie around and think about that girl two flights below, the one who stole my mail. I slip a note beneath her door: “I’m taking my ‘like’ back. You don’t deserve it. Trip over a railroad tie. Call the wolves back from dessert. Don’t rise down too slow. Irrelevant truth aside. Take my leave, please. Take two of these and text me in the morning. Rule it all in. We are mistakes in the slide. A smoother grade to slip down. I’ve long been of the belief that there are more details between the details than in them. And, also, by the way, I think maybe it’s not too good to give too much of oneself away at once. Anyway, I think there is plenty enough there to know plenty enough about me without knowing me at all yet as it is. Later. And later still.”



Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Better Call Saul (Part Two)


The air conditioner was rattling like a garbage compactor, and my secretary Marnie was shitting her panties over some plainclothes situation developing in the waiting room. God. That waiting room. Festering with leprous mouth-breathers who don’t cover their coughs and seem to always be in the midst of having life-threatening accidents. It pays the bills. I keep my door locked during business hours. Anyway, that damn air conditioner was making all its noise, and I had that porcine ditz Marnie to deal with, among other things. The aggravations I put up with in this life. It’s really munificent of me, really, to do what I do. But that’s Saul: give, give, give. Mash my brains in over the most picayune of b.s. here in the dank humidity of it all. Boxed-in on all sides by the petty and the dutifully insane. Weeds always a tad higher than the garden around here, boys and girls. But I get by okay, I guess. There’s a fee for everything. And Saul’s not one to shy away from a larger payday just up around that perpetual fucking bend there just oh-so-close up a head. Besides, lies suit some of us better than others, and my personality’s always won over more hung juries than money’d buy. Shit. I’m not such a bad guy once you get to know me, though.

Marnie’s a rough-and-tumble sort: a haunch-heavy woman with varicose veins and a sailor’s mouth. I tell her things to keep her company, stuff like, “You’re a real violin of woman, Darling. The sycamores are weeping for you.” I’m not sure what any of it means. My mouth just runs on without me sometimes.          

There was trouble stewing in the lobby. Some wits-end codger causing a ruckus, going around with his shoes untied and his fly down. I tried to quell the shit storm I sensed was approaching.

“Okay, buddy. Hey! Let’s keep the roaring to a minimum, huh? I’ve got sensitive ears.”

The raving codger quieted down and looked me over. He was gnarly. A real grizzled character. More hair in his nose and ears than on his head. Eyebrows like wrecked dusters. His tie was loose and spotted with coffee and/or snot stains, as were the sleeves of his “vintage” suit jacket. There was a civet-tinged stink to him, like vinegar, mildew, and piss with a hint of musk. I had to force myself to only grimace and not puke carrots and peas into the carpet.

“Marnie, can you open a window in here? It’s getting too stuffy for these good people.”

“Saul. Saul. Really? I mean, with the air conditioner going and…”

“Marnie. Marnie. You doll of copious flesh, you. Just crack it more than a tad, okay? We can afford a little draft. We do want our potential clients to be…ahem, comfortable, don’t we?”

I did a lot of winking in her general direction. She gave me one of her famous Okay-You-Asshole looks and screeched open a few windows. The whole waiting room inhaled.

I coerced the reeking duffer to come to rest in a chair as far away from the other customers as possible. He collapsed into it and got quiet. I blew out all kinds of relief, made some small talk with the other waiting-roomers, gave Marnie a quick pat on the bottom, and fled back to my office. I made out the vague remnants of Marnie’s voice vituperating me from a safe distance. I locked the door, scanned Mr. Dough Head’s floor-bound position, and went back to my desk to tackle some paperwork I’d been putting off for a season.


I riffled through some canary copies of things I’d lost the original to, and came across this letter from somebody named Amelia Cassidy. It was addressed to my office, but the addressee was a Colonel Jefferson Sanderson. I had no idea what it meant, or if it were meant for me, but I tore it open anyway. I fight the law all the time, and I do a lot of winning. It read:

“Hey. I mean, hi, there, or here, maybe. All is alone. Try on my t-shirt for size. Walk around in my dreams, why don’t you? Hey. There you’ve gone. It’s so swell there, I bet. So, why don’t you go on ahead and break my heart. There’ll be ruin in my wake soon enough. Teach me to whistle like a train. Jump. I triple-dog dare you. I won’t be sticking around for long. Hey. There you aren’t, still. Hi. I meant to say something. I miss the sound your name makes. Getting all sorts of nowhere. The mirror’s cracked in seven places. I want my good times back. I’m thinking about getting a cat.

“Hurry. There’s a ribbon that’ll never get worn. Put on a stupid hat. Give me the finger. I won’t Don’t-Walk anywhere anymore. Dreams don’t sell as well as all that. To glibly not go. Wait. There’s a horse this year that’ll have to die soon. Asleep on my feet again. Better than being swept dust. A girl with a cat. A hand to slip fingers through. A crumby stance on being on the run. Nothing as lively as what a little poison will do to you. Never is my only when. A tract of bruises. Something creeps out of the metalwork. I choose whatever’s being you today to go along with, stilted prayers and piecrust and every first thing too. No more is my only now. Be a razor. Be a prosthetic dream. Be dizzy enough to fall. All’s coming up short. There will be boots by the door. Make an oubliette below the moon roof. Stick with me. Rubber medals for the sleepy. I’ve pulled the plug from your bathtub gin. Let’s pretend we’re jewel thieves, dress up in tuxes and drill holes in the floor, crack a few safes, make a clean getaway. Be arresting with resistance. Hint. Whole cemeteries filled with it. God. Who made up these lives we’ve been misleading? And the you who is lost pesters the tattered edges of the smallest things. Cooler coats to paint over what we were. Bailed in to the thin of me. Hit the gas. The burglar alarm’s clogged. Everything’s gone to heaven, now. Whither away with me, Doll. Take the reins and pull. Nevertheless. Alwaysthemore.     

--Amelia C.

 

I made a sound like, “Hu?” or “Hmm” or “Humph,” or something like that. Of course I had no idea what to make of the thing. But I liked this Jefferson Sanderson guy immensely. I’m not sure why. Maybe the fact that he could inspire such a bunch of nonsense from a woman, well, maybe it gave me hope. It’d been a while and few-and-far-between for old Saul. Vicarious living was becoming my course’s par, I guess. Any whose how, I promptly folded up the letter and tucked it away in my coat’s inner breast pocket for safer keeping. Something was gargling on my floor.  

Dough Head was arriving back to consciousness, for better or a bit worse, and I went over to him and gently escorted him back to his seat.

“Well. Well. Look who’s decided to rejoin the living. Feeling better, kid?”

He just sat there, lumpy and disheveled, breathing phlegmy sighs.

“You just take your time there. Don’t mind me. Just making a living over here. Nothing to see here.”

He scowled. He forced a frown. I could tell he was still dizzy and in The Disorient of the world. I spilled some bottled water into him and then went on about my paperings. He sat there shaking his head and grumbling nonsense. I didn’t let it bother me at all.

“It’s a real rough go I’ve had of it…you know, of late. Can’t control much these thoughts I’ve got. Misery…and she’s gone. She’s just so…gone. The never coming back kind of gone, you know?”

All this talk was startling. “Who? What? Where? When? Why? Are you aware of my presence here, Dip? If you haven’t noticed I’m trying to push some damn paper over here, and so you talkingless in inane riddles would be a great help.”

“Amelia. That’s who. You should…I don’t know. You are aware…aware of certain...details.”

I was bored with all the shenanigans and the coincidences that were coming to light. I wanted answers, but I didn’t even know the questions. It was a shit deal.

“Sure. I, um, got her letter. For starters though, why was it addressed to somebody else with my address?”

That brought him to life. “Her letter? What? How’s that?”

I decided bullying wasn’t going to get me far enough. I eased up.

“Tell me all about it, buddy. What did she ditch you out for another dud? Something like that.”

“No. You don’t understand it at all. It wasn’t like that. It was…nothing. Nothing. She’s gone so far away. The farthest of aways. And now they’re coming for me. They’ll knock down my door any night now. I just know it.”

“Sure. Sure. I get it. Same old dull tale. She left you for a trombone player. The kind of guy who starts his morning out in the afternoon with a few beers. Well, them’s the breaks. No need to get all shifty over it. Hate the hater not love’s game, right? Shit. The more you know ‘em the less you understand ‘em. And now some no-gooders are after you for the balance. Well, park it on over here, buddy. Let’s make her mistakes count.”

“No. No. That’s…hell. Think what you want about it. But the kids. That’s what gets me. Why the kids? So much damn fussing over so little. It’s all just a fucked-up shame. Damn. And now I’m stuck with this ineffable missing. It’s all I’ve got. Duking it out with God and little children.”

I was running out of responses, so I ventured some support: “Arguing theology is good for kids. They eat that stuff up. It’s the Cocoa Puffs of debate.”

“Prove it to me.” He flinched here, some. His face was all bloated and lobster red. “Besides, my raison d’être has gone so far away.”

“Your what?” I hated this sort of talk. It got you nowhere, slower. “Listen, you mayor of Shit Town. I meddle around, sure. But it’s all a lot of hands-off stuff. Hey. Up here, dingbat. Hi, there. Would you mind prying your eyes from your shoes for a minute?”

He did one of those admonishing squints of his, and then scowled up. He was in the mood for blurting; I could tell. He blurted out, “I love the smell of the world after it rains.”  

                “Could you quit the non sequiturs and just try to focus here? Pretty fucking please with ice cream and cake and god damn cherries on top? Whether you like it or not, we are in this fucking thing together. Just a tad of concentration while I attempt to organize a getaway. That’s all I’m asking.”

“You got…concerns. I get it.”

“Oh, well, yippee-motherfucking-kazoo! We’re cruising on stun again.” I love mincing words for effect with my clients. It’s the best tough guy act in town.  “Let’s throw a pool party and get liquored up with the safety inspectors. Shit. I don’t know what sort of Shinola act you’ve got going on, but…”

“Fuck…you.”

“Ha. Fuck me? You? Seriously, you are desperately in need of some tiptop head shrinking. Wish I could help you, pal. But that’s not my area of expertise. What I am here to do, you do realize, is put you on the next fucking train out of town.”

 “A train. You think I’m getting on a train?”

“It’s a fucking metaphor, you lily of a red river valley, you. God. You are just reeking with the sound and the fury of it all, aren’t you?”

I was cracking my knuckles under my desk like some grade-schooler who’s just discovered a way to gross out other kids.

“But you can get me out, safely, right?”

“Well, I’m not going to cross my heart and hope to die over it or anything, you know? But old Saul’s got longer sleeves than you’d think, and more up them than David fucking Copperfield. Shit. I’ll turn you into a fly-over state guy if I have to. Oh, and by the way, we are most definitely not depending on the fucking kindness of strangers here, okay?”

He sits there. Grunting, doing some sort of facial exercises or something, and then that stupid bullshit grin again. It’s all getting a tad too sentimental for my taste.

“Fuck you, you grim asshole. I’m through hunting up strangers to fill your place and time with. Even Saul’s got his limits, shyster. Shit. Just listen to me. I’m talking like a deranged Tupperware-party girl again. Shit. I’m taking cruise control off. I’m boogieing on to bigger things. You hear that? You won’t have to see me for a pregnancy. Congratulations.”

“You sure can talk, can’t you?”

He just sits there, of course. A born thumb twiddler. That dopey dunce look on him. That boring lift of his brows. I wasn’t going in for any of it anymore. It was all an act, and a crap one at that.

I got Marnie on the horn and told her to check the address of one Col. Jefferson Sanderson. She said, “On it, boss,” and hung up. I felt terrible about everything except for myself. I was quite content with who I was in the universe, in the space and time of that moment, and I laughed into my fist a bit before scanning back to the befuddled wannabe escapee from the tangles of love’s most morose music who just so happened to be sitting across from me and staring daggers at a picture on my wall.