Friday, September 30, 2005

Almost Done, I Swear

I'm almost done, but I don't want to rush the ending. Some of you may be able to guess now how it will end, as I have laid clues out that are a little too telling to be giving without showing the ending.

By the way, it's my birthday today; I'm officially forty something at 41. Let's hope that life begins at forty, huh?

Part 1
Part 2

Ned pulled up to the corner of Main and Tupelo and looked through the front window of the bar Evie had mentioned, and remembered seeing the place while searching for a hotel in this backwoods midwestern town. He was fifteen minutes early so he parked across the street and waited for Evie to show.

His brain felt like a rock, and he wished not for the first time that he hadn't thrown his meds away. A woman with a short jean miniskirt, lipstick-red cowboy boots and long, dark hair that cascaded from a white cowboy hat down the length of her back danced in front of the club as the pounding beat from within pulled at her strings like a marionette. Ned stared for a moment and blinked twice. He almost didn't recognize her, but there stood Evie. It only now struck him as odd that she had found him so far away from home.

Evie looked around the street, and Ned ducked out of sight. She wouldn't recognize the car he was in. He dumped off the truck the night he left Hayden Lake, and stole the car to replace it. German engineering was known for it's excellence, but he had never actually driven a Mercedes before. The sound system was impeccable, and the ride was like skiing through fresh powder. Thinking about it made him dizzy, but try as he did, he could not remember what possessed him to make the swap. His pickup truck was his pride and joy. Many Sunday afternoons turned to dusk while he washed and waxed until it shined like a crown jewel.

He cautiously peeked over the steering wheel, and found that Evie had gone inside. His hands were cold, so he rubbed them together furiously to warm them. The doorman regarded him as Ned approached with a suspicious glare.

"You look like shit," the man boomed like a bass drum.

"Yeah, well I feel like shit too. I could really use a cold one, know what I mean?"

The doorman didn't respond, but leaned towards him and stared, probing and aggressive. Ned felt self conscious and tried not to blink. "Keep your nose clean and don't cause any trouble," the man said finally, but his manner promised a savage 'or else.' He moved aside just enough so that Ned had to turn sideways to squeeze by, and as he did, he felt the doorman's breath on his face that huffed in loud gusts from his overlarge, bull-sized nostrils.

The dance floor was packed with men and women dressed in colorful cowboy regalia line dancing to an upbeat western swing. His eyes were irritated by the smoke that hung in the air like billowing fog on a windless day. There was no circulation, creating a rank fusion of sweat, smoke, shit, sawdust and stale beer, tempered with a touch of perfume--like a clammy armpit with a swipe of chap stick. The bar was a corral enclosed by a ring of beer glasses, pitchers and stools, where three bartenders bounced around like pinballs, taking drink orders with complete indifference and eye contact on a need-to-look basis only.

Evie sat on the other side of the bar closest to front window, so Ned found a spot kitty corner from her. When the bartender asked, "What'll it be," Ned replied, "A Bud for me, and whatever the girl is having." The bartender looked to where Ned pointed. His eyes widened for a moment, then he shook his head.

"No way."

Over the bartender's shoulder Ned saw his reflection in a mirror between stacks of shot glasses. His face was gaunt and his eyes were sunken with dark rings. He pulled out a hundred dollar bill and placed on the bar. "Just do me this one favor and keep the change."

The bartender hesitated, then, cocking an eyebrow, took the money and went to Evie. He leaned over the bar and gestured towards Ned, then fixed her a Tequila Sunrise. She looked at Ned with a smile that wavered slightly when she saw him. When the bartender gave him his beer, he scooped it off the bar and made his way around to where she sat.

"Care for a dance cowgirl," he asked with a smile, that despite his bedraggled look, illuminated his face. She turned slowly with her drink in hand and took a long pull from the straw.

"I appreciate the drink cowboy," she said with some contempt, "but I'll settle for a how d'ya do, and thank you to be on your way."

to be concluded...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

The Middle of a Short Story

I'm not doing it on purpose, but a short story ironically takes a long time to write. If it's any consolation, I'm starting to have a good time with it.

Read part one

Ned wasn't sure how long he had been on the road, or what state he was in. He couldn't stay in Hayden Lake any more. The town was small and his friends despised him for leaving his family for that "little whore." The affair started small, with occasional lunchtime trysts, but Evie demanded more and more of his time, and called him sometimes at home, hanging up whenever his wife answered. He called in sick at work and spent his time with her. He lost his job eventually, but went away daily as if he hadn't. Soon it was impossible to hide his indiscretion from his wife, who even after all the humiliation of being the last to know, still gave him a chance to reconcile, for she was a devout Christian and believed that her vows meant something, for better and for worse. But even her faith had limits. After her ultimatum was ignored, she packed their things and the children and left him alone in an empty apartment and bank account.

When he told Evie the news, she curtly and without explanation told him not to call her anymore. He left hundreds of messages but she would not return his calls. He was devastated, unemployed and broke; his depression was exacerbated by the sudden dearth of antidepressants that his wife wasn't around to force down his throat, so he became dark and dour. His entire social circle were mutual friends with his wife and wanted nothing more to do with him, leaving him nobody to lean on as the rent came due.

Desperate, he drove to nearby Spirit Lake and staked out a small bank and decided to rob it. He parked his car outside of town, behind some bushes where it wouldn't be spotted, and hiked through the woods while memorizing his escape route. Carrying a semi-automatic .45 Glock that his father willed to him, he stormed into the bank lobby wearing a Yoda mask and fired a shot into the wall inches above the shoulder of the dozing security guard; the old man soiled his trousers and fell to the ground as Ned unsnapped the man's holster and removed the gun into his own belt.

Ned jumped on the service counter and had each teller empty their cash drawers. He made away with over five thousand dollars, and spent little over four minutes in doing so. He was safely under cover of the trees as the police screeched to a halt in front of the bank and stormed the lobby.

The time to leave town was long overdue, so he packed what little belongings he had into the back of his pickup. It was a Friday night when he was ready to leave; his head was swimming in a haze, on a very low swing of his manic depression. He stopped outside a nightclub where he had met first met Evie, and parked as far away from the entrance as the lot allowed. From the dark cab of his truck, his face slightly aglow from the neon nightclub sign, he saw Evie climb from the passenger seat of a Mercedes. The driver, a man with long blonde hair slicked back over his ears, in his early twenties wearing an Armani suit, walked around and opened the door for her.

"Pretty boy," Ned grumbled. Evie stood on the tips of her toes, wrapped her arms around his neck and let her purse dangle down his back. They kissed deep and long. Ned's brow was furrowed and his forehead was pressed tightly against the windshield; a cry like that of a wounded animal gurgled in his throat. The lovers parted and turned towards the night club entrance, and Ned saw the man's hand cup her from behind and below the belt. An ice storm raged behind Ned's eyes; his vision blurred, then the world faded to black.

to be continued

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Longer Start To A Short Story

This is harder than I thought. The story is a simple idea that can be expressed in a sentence, but the devil is in the details. I am swamped at work and my little guy gives me at most five minutes in a stretch to type. This is probably about half, although I might stretch it...

"No, no, no, no, noooo!" he screamed and covered his ears, alone in a dark hotel room. The gigantic shadow of his head danced on the wall behind him, strobing like his heartbeat to the scene of death on the television. The high school photo of a dark haired girl reflected in the glossy marble of his eyes as a single tear ambled cautiously down his cheek.

He reached over the foot of the bed and shut the TV off and the blackness swept over him. He sat hunched over with his head cupped in his hands for over an hour; the hum of the nearby freeway was his only company.

The phone exploded like a fire alarm but didn't startle him. He watched the orange light on the headset flicker until it burned holes in his retinas, but made no move to answer. The calling party was unperturbed and waited patiently until he finally picked up.

"Ned?" came the voice from the other side.

Ned said nothing but his presence was betrayed by the wheeze of air squeezing through his constricted nasal passages.

"Oh, come on Ned, say something for Christs' sake."

"Why don't you leave me alone Evie," he growled into the phone.

"Now baby, is that any way to talk to your fiance?"

"I'm warning you Evie, do not mock me."

"I'm not mocking you Ned. I made a mistake and I want a second chance."

"Forget it," he screamed.

"C'mon baby, you know I can't live without you. Who loves you?"

"Don't make me laugh."

She paused for moment and cleared her throat. "Ned, I know you left your wife and children for me. It was overwhelming--I mean, you gave up everything for me, and I'll admit that once the roadblocks were out of the way, I lost interest; the challenge was gone."

Ned's eyes narrowed to slits, but he listened intently.

"I behaved so badly, Ned. I was so cold."

"Are you going somewhere with this," Ned asked icily.

"When we were together, you did everything for me. I took from you Ned--because I could. I never stopped to appreciate what I had. I've never felt like this Ned, and I need you to come back to me; let me prove that I mean what I say."

"You turned all my friends against me, Evie," Ned yelled, " I had everything before you came along, and now I am a dead man walking, friendless and alone. You ruined my life and have a lot of nerve calling me."

A long silence filled the gulf between them. Finally Evie said, "There's a little bar on the corner of Main and Tupelo. Meet me there."

Ned didn't reply.

"I promise you Ned, if you come and meet me, the word 'No' will never touch my lips again."

Still no reply.

"I need you Ned; please meet me."


"Oh, thank you. Thank you baby, you won't regret this. Listen, I want to start completely over."

"I know Evie, just shut up before I change my mind."

"No, I want to meet you all over again, like we never met before, and start again like two young lovers with a world of possibilities before them."

"Jesus Evie, why do you always have to play games."

"Please Ned, indulge me on this. Let's start fresh. See me like you saw me when we first met; woo me, seduce me with that beautiful smile."

"You want me to pretend like we've never met?" Ned asked incredulously.

"That's right. Won't it be fun?"

"And you want me to pick you up?"

"Uh huh, but don't think I'm going to be easy buddy. I'm not that kind of girl."

"I see."

"Will you do it then? For me?" Evie asked sweetly.

"I'll think about it."

"That's my teddy bear. I'll be there at 10. I love you Ned."

"Sure baby."

to be continued...

Monday, September 26, 2005

Short Start To A Short Story

This is the start of a short story, and idea I had last night. I labor over my words too much and I have work to do, but this is actually going somewhere...

"No, no, no, no, noooo!" he screamed and covered his ears, alone in a dark hotel room. The gigantic shadow of his head danced on the wall behind him, strobing like his heartbeat to the scene of death on the television. The high school photo of a dark haired girl reflected in the glossy marble of his eyes as a single tear ambled cautiously down his cheek.

He reached over the foot of the bed and shut the TV off and the blackness swept over him. He sat hunched over with his head cupped in his hands for over an hour; the hum of the nearby freeway was his only company.

The phone exploded like a fire alarm but didn't startle him. He watched the orange light on the headset flicker until it burned holes in his retinas, but made no move to answer. The calling party was unperturbed and waited patiently until he finally picked up.

"Ned?" came the voice from the other side.

Ned said nothing but his presence was betrayed by the wheeze of air squeezing through his constricted nasal passages.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Just A Flesh Wound

In Houston, Rita was like a sneeze that almost was: Ah, ah... Whew. Thank goodness. Aside from a little wind there wasn't much to talk about. Of course the criticism will start flying about the evacuation order, how it should never have been issued. Clearly George Bush was behind this whole thing and should tender his resignation, or at worst be impeached. You think I'm joking? Some nutball will frame it such.

Friday, September 23, 2005

In The Foxhole

There is an old expression that everyone has heard: there are no atheists in a fox hole. With Hurricane Rita bearing down on the Gulf Coast, my sister has seen the light, and understands the true nature of God.

It has officially spread now to every member of my family in Houston; they are all true believers now. Excepting for my brother, who honestly could use a dose of religion right now. I'm not an atheist, but neither am I a church goer. It seems that God is like another addiction, a weird virus that infects us all until we wander the streets of Cairo chanting, "Imhotep, Imhotep."

I hope I am not offending the holy powers, but if my children are wandering the streets screaming my praises, I would be flattered, but after a while I would consider them a little insane. I would tell them to turn more inward and find that same love for themselves, to quit using me as a crutch.

My sister dated a boy some years ago who had a disabling fear of cities and people of different colors. They existed in a tight group and never wandered far. He was a nice guy; he didn't do drugs or drink, and in all other categories was an upstanding citizen, but the guy was a whackamole. And my sister bought into his rhetoric--for a while.

She dated a boy in high school, and carried his pistol in her purse. They broke up when he went to jail. She waited for a while, but thankfully she came to her senses.

She had a child with a drug addict, and became embroiled in the drug culture for a span, but once again, she came to her senses and dumped him, and started on her life of a single mom, barely into her twenties.

Along came Charley, a man child who lived to surf and party with his friends and brothers. If he was five feet tall I would be shocked. I didn't see the love at all, but they got married quietly and announced it later. He wanted a child of his own, but when a little girl was born, he showed not an ounce of enthusiasm to raise her--no doubt he hoped for a boy--spending more and more time away with his "brahs." Hang ten asshole. At least my sister got the house in the divorce.

Her latest boyfriend, whose praises I was singing only yesterday, is a loan salesman, with that typical smarmy, too-good-to-be-true personality that gives sales people a bad rap. I called my sister today to tell her to tape her windows to prevent inward shattering. She didn't want to talk about that because, as she put it, "I found God."


"I mean it, I found God."

"I'm happy for you. Listen, did you tape your w..."

"You are not hearing me."

"Listen, if God gets you through this hurricane then I'm happy for you. But I've already been given the sales pitch before."

She said, "Now I understand my mother. Her husband is God, and she has been trying to tell me about him for years. I've gone to church but I never heard; I never understood. God guides her actions."

"Really. Is it God that guided her fist into my belly when I was a little boy? Was she following Gods plan then?"

Then she put her boyfriend on the phone, who proceeded to tell me about how great a person my step-mother is, and how God speaks through her. It was everything I could do to keep my cool with this presumptuous prick.

"Listen," I said, "You don't have the first clue as to how she is or what motivates her, but if you hang out long enough, you will. That I promise you. Right now, I'm worried about the hurricane that is bearing down on you and how my family is prepared. Ok?"

This sobered him up and he told me earnestly that he had taped the windows, that a two story home stood between them and the winds that were to come. Then he let me talk to my sister and I said a quick goodbye. I hope it wasn't my last.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Just Add Water

Houston has been shut down by the mayor, and everyone is trying to evacuate, so the freeways are at a stand-still. Sugarland, where most of my family lives, has been given the recommendation to evacuate, or perhaps stronger language was used. Every hotel for a thousand miles inland is booked to capacity, food and water are scarce on grocery shelves, and there is no more gas in the tanks. In other words, they are literally sitting ducks.

My sister and brother are my half-siblings; we share the same paternity, but the connection has not been equal. I am the oldest and lived with my father as my siblings went with their mother. Dad has always been a wanderer and really lost touch with his other children, whom have come to resent him for being gone and not supporting their mother financially. They have every right to be angry with him, but it burns them like a molten fireball in their guts, and has held them back in life. Each has acted out in their own way--my brother with drugs; my sister with anger and estrangement.

My dad called me the other day and said, "You will never guess who just called me?!" His voice was jumping with excitement. "My daughter!"

In the past it was about wanting money, but it was different this time. She just wanted to talk to her dad.

"I'm so proud of you," I told her.

"My new boyfriend has helped me in so many ways," she said on the phone this morning.

"Then he is my new best friend," I replied. "All your anger has been chewing you up, and I was seriously worried about you.

"That's all changed now," she continued, "I have to bring this family back together. Mom is scared, really scared about the hurricane. I told her to come over here, and she said, 'Nobody invited me.' I swear!"

"You need to get out of Sugarland," I said.

"We can't; we have nowhere to go. The highways are jammed and the gas stations are dry. We have to take our chances right here. Besides, we aren't under sea level here. If it floods, it will go away soon after."

"I hope you are right."

"Well, I called my brother and told him to get his butt over here, but he still doesn't understand that our third largest hurricane EVER is heading towards us, and I think he is messed up on drugs."

"God dammit!"

"I know, but if he won't come, then I am driving over and stealing his keys. I'll MAKE him come."

"Good for you sis."

Maybe when this storm blows over, in the wake of the destruction will stand a unified family where only broken parts lay scattered before.

For this I pray.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Tied With Dad

I'm climbing a mountain with my dad. He's young and handsome, with a thick bushy beard and mustache that hide his mouth until he laughs, yells or tells a story I have heard a hundred times--each telling features something just a little more fantastic and bigger than before. His brown hair covers his head like a domed mushroom cap, while mine lays flat against my scalp, except for the five or so cowlicks stilted like searching periscopes. I'm tied to him as he ascends--he's sure of every hold, and supports me when I fall, dangling in the naked abyss thousands of feet above the ground that waits like a catcher signaling for the fast ball. I holler for him to pull me up, but he tells me to swing--and I do, until my hands and feet gain a purchase once again, and I climb back up to him and he pats me on the head and tells me that I come from a long line of survivors.

The clouds are racing by, storms rage and deliquesce, the sun streaks across the horizon, swinging like a morning star--around and around, propelled by the wielder of time. The sun scalds and the night freezes, and still we climb on and on. We see other climbers along the way, safe on grassy shelves; dad borrows some of their equipment and knows he'll never return it, while I silently disapprove.

We crest a peak into a sunny valley where the sun has slowed to a normal pace; the mist tickles my face as I stare in wonder at a rainbow in the sky. The sunlight spreads like a Geisha's fan across a small town where a pot of gold should be, and I start to run. Dad stops me with a hand to the shoulder.

"We are pressing on son."

I turn on him, "To go where dad?! We've been climbing forever and I'm sick of it."

His brow is wrinkled now, and flecks of gray have suffused his hair like bright light behind a bullet-riddled door. "It's who we are son. Life in a town is about rules and restrictions. Up there," he gestured towards the mountain peaks that splayed like broken fingers, "is freedom."

"It's not who we are dad, it's who you are. I'm staying here."

He scratches his head and smiles. "Well, well, my boy has become a man." He steps in front of me, and our eyes meet on the same level. His are slightly misted but his face is alight with pride. "Go then and make your way, but I can't stay."

He turns and starts away.

"Dad, wait." He stops but doesn't turn to look.

"Will I see you again?"

His voice is cracked, and I understand now that he can't look at me anymore. "Whenever you need me, I'll always be a call away."

I don't feel like a man anymore as he disappears into the shadows of the trees, rather a little boy--stifling a cry for his daddy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Tag, I'm It

Mr. Schprock tagged me, and I'm passing on the favor. I was going to write a clever introduction, but I expended my energy writing out my answers. So, without further ado:

Seven Answers to Seven Questions

Seven things I plan to do before I die:

1) Publish a novel - So everyone says this, but I really, really want to do this. Hell, I'd settle for writing one to completion, one that has a definable theme, inner and outer conflict, climatic mini scenes and a punch-you-in-the-gut surprise ending.

2) Own a thousand acres of land with creeks and a lake, build my house on it and invite my father to build his own wherever he wants, as long as I can't see it.

3) Have enough money to send my children to good colleges, and teach them enough about the world to be intellectually independent, immune from politically radical professors. Throw in enough money to buy them homes and give them a head start in life, and yet somehow teach them the value of money.

4) Own and operate my own airplane. With fuel costs skyrocketing, I'm not sure how this one is going to play out. But I have always dreamed of flying through the clouds under my own control. I want a biplane that can turn loops in the air. Or--yeah, this is good--buy one of those Russian Mig fighters and pull a turn that nearly causes me to black out.

5) Have a small farm that can support myself if I suddenly couldn't go to the grocery store for a few months, and a store of water, canned and dry foods. I'm getting a little over the deep end here, but I fear I am too dependent on the trappings of society. I'd like to be able to survive if I had only myself to depend on. This is my inner dad talking.

6) Design and build my own Disneyesque theme park. I've always been fascinated with the rides through a fantasy land, where animatronic characters talk to one another as you ride by in wide eyed wonder. Think Pirates of the Carribean and Splash Mountain.

7) Create a truly artificially intelligent program, that is capable of thinking and responding according to it's own beliefs.

Seven things I can do:

1) Play guitar - I could be a LOT better, but I can play acoustic rythym, flat pick and some lead. One of my goals is to build a music room away from the house so that I can play and croon as loudly as I like. I can also sing within a limited range, and once in a while can figure out the harmony part of a song.

2) A back flip from my diving board into the pool--still. I used to do a one and a half, but suddenly I feel heavy.

3) I'm an old dog that really can learn new tricks. Give me the directions or a how-to guide, and I can almost always get the job done.

4) Play like a kid.

5) Apologize

6) Step into someone else's shoes

7) Party like it's 1999

Seven things I cannot do:

1) Travel back in time - I'm fairly certain this will never be possible in my lifetime, because I would have come back and told me what to invest in.

2) Be creative in a vacuum - I'm a '76 Nova in a snowstorm. I need my windshield scraped and always need a jump start.

3) Shut up - My mouth runs at a slightly faster pace than my brain, although the brain is starting to catch up. When I was younger I made the most inflammatory statements--although they were always true, at least to my way of thinking. This was good and bad, as I had a few good friends that admired that quality, but a whole army of detractors.

4) Tolerate assholes. You could file this under keeping my mouth shut or being diplomatic. You could also put this under one of the things I do best.

5) Organize my time - hardly a quality for a future business owner

6) Do two things at once. My attention becomes hyper focused on whatever I am doing. If I get distracted I forget what I was doing.

7) Keep my focus on long term goals. Hmmm.

Seven things that attract me to another person:

1) I love a person who is self confident, man or woman. My best friends seem to have a grandiose sense of self. I admire a person who walks through life with a purpose, searching, reaching for a goal, exuding a zest for life that inspires imitation.

2) More so than confidence, a sharp wit. Someone that always has an answer with a funny twist.

3) Moral conviction. I don't mean this religiously; I admire a person who knows the difference between right and wrong in any situation, someone who knows when the line has been crossed even slightly. An extreme example is Seth Bullock on Deadwood, who knows who he is and what he stands for, and makes absolutely no compromise when somebody intrudes on his beliefs.

4) In a woman, I have to admit I am attracted to the tempestuous, sporting a Do Not Disturb sign, and shiny red buttons that are begging to be pushed.

5) I like a person who can comfortably talk about issues that matter to me, whether personal or political.

6) This should probably be number one, but I absolutely love a person who gets my off beat sense of humor. There is no better payoff than a belly laugh to a joke I was sure nobody would get. I love a person who laughs anyway, but when they think I'm funny...

7) Dutifully last, there is nothing like a pair of long, shapely legs. Women come in all shapes and sizes, and there is no rule here. If a woman has nothing else of classically physical importance, a great set of gams can put me on another planet.

Seven things I say most often:

1) Shite

2) Fuck an A

3) I love you kid

4) Sugar Tits - My nickname for my wife. Intentionally ribald and tongue-in-cheek. Oddly, she doesn't mind.

5) Fuckin' Guy - This has to be said with an Italian mafioso accent with a slight laugh while shaking my head. Said to someone who has crossed me in some fun way.

6) Khaaaaan - Geeks know

7) We were small, but we were slow.

Seven celebrity crushes:

1) Sally Ann Howes - She could be my grandmother, but in my mind she will always be Truly Scrumptious.

2) Teresa Wright - Unfortunately Teresa is gone, but she personified many of the qualities that I admire most in people. I fell in love with her after seeing her in Hitchcock's Shadow of a Doubt. She had an inner light that was unmistakable even when she was old. She played Miss Birdie in the Rainmaker, and she was so cute.

3) Hilary Swanke - I wouldn't call this one a crush, but she is certainly a beautiful woman, and a deep, interesting person; she seems so anyway from the roles she takes. She was NOT attractive in Million Dollar Baby, but at the Oscars she was so gorgeous.

4) A waitress at Slates in Walnut Creek. I don't remember her name, but she was just about as attractive a woman as there is in this world, totally down to earth and friendly without an ounce of pretention. She told me that her idea of a perfect afternoon was curling up on the couch for The Price is Right.

5) Trisha Helfer - The sexiest Victoria's Secret model turned Cylon in the universe. I saw her in an interview, with a floral print dress and hair long, flowing and straight, almost like the girl next door; she looked sexier than I had ever seen her, and had a disarming smile and an airy, affable manner.

6) Brooke Burke - This is more of a animal attraction thing, but aside from her obvious qualities, she seems like a genuine person and has a nurturing smile. I could be wrong about, but then who cares?

7) Monica Crowley - I saw her on Real Time With Bill Maher, and she held her own in a sea of a hostile audience, Bill's other guests and Bill himself. Bill had to regress to sexual inuendo as most men do when faced with an intellectually superior female opponent. Smart and sexy; intimidating for most men, but not for me.

Seven bloggers I'm tagging: I apologize if you have already been tagged, I chose who I think may not have been already:

1) Mr. T
2) MagnetBabe
3) A Darcy
4) Tee
5) Ashynioki
6) Tanya
7) Joely

Monday, September 19, 2005

Attitude Adjustment

It was probably ten years ago when I was working as a contract software developer for one of the most laid back, easy going and smart people I have ever come in contact with. Mase was opinionated and had a way of elevating his views as the only sensible ones, then threw up several layers of defense as you tried to offer your own in return. Most people were confounded by his ways, and would throw up their hands, some even angry; but Mase laughed it all off and thought the world was simplistic and funny. He was my mentor and manager, whose style of programming assignment was, "Ok, we have two parts that need to get done; you pick one and I'll take the other." He didn't mind which you chose, and trusted me and all his developers to deliver. In the programming world, he was literally one in a million. One of his favorite expressions was, "It ain't rocket science." If you know an accomplished software developer, chances are he or she thinks highly of their own intellect; Mase however believed a monkey could do his job.

He and I traveled to Topeka Kansas to work on and install software for ATSF Railroad, which turned out to be the gem of my career. Everyone involved that contracted us was promoted; the software was installed and ran without a single problem, completely bug free. Anyone in the know will tell you flat out that I am lying, because that is nothing short of a miracle. But it is so, and even Mase will grin when I bring it up today.

Mase was a notorious figure amongst the employees on our project at ATSF. I took a break and caught a group of them imitating him around the water cooler. I ducked behind a cubicle wall and eavesdropped. They were really good. Mase has a manner that is hard to describe. He is very particular, and always wears what appears to be the same slacks, loafers, shirt and tie--every day. His laugh is free and staccato from years of smoking. He has a quick, inappropriate wit, but for whatever reason people give him a pass. One member of the ATSF group told him that she was a Sooner, to which he replied, "Oh, I'm sorry. I'd SOONER be dead." He was hardly ever serious, but when it came time to explain something technical, he cleared his throat and went into professor mode, full of pomp, and commanding full attention, which he got. That tone of voice was being imitated to expert perfection on the other side of my cubicle wall. I stifled a laugh, collected myself and sauntered by like I hadn't heard anything.

"Hey guys, what's going on?" I asked innocently.

Mitch, the natural leader of the group, said uncomfortably, "Oh, nothing. J-just hanging around. What's up?"

"Nothing. It's weird, but I could have sworn I heard Mase over here."

They all shrugged and tried to look innocent.

"Ok, try this one on for size." I stood with my palms up and extended and rolled my eyes like Mase when he is disgusted with something he has seen in my code, and with a high pitched voice I squealed, "You can't fucking do that!"

The group cackled like a bunch of hens and the Mase show was back on prime time.

Mitch called me for support on the software, some six months after we had gone home. He asked me a question and I tried to answer as best I could, but I was struggling because I didn't really know. Mitch replied to me, "That's great Scott, now why don't you answer the REAL question." I lost my temper badly and gave him a few choice expressions from my archive, then hung up. Mase was sitting across the desk from me and just looked grim. I wasn't trusted anymore to speak with customers, and it became a joke and tarnished my reputation for the rest of my tenure.

That brings us to present day. My company had to thin the herd in order to survive, so quality assurance and technical support people have moved on to the happy hunting grounds, leaving us software guys to test our own work and to deal directly with our customers. Fortune has given me a second chance to prove that I can rise above my emotions to deal with a difficult person once again. Our customer has hired a consulting firm to write a software product, but that group has missed two deadlines. We have been brought on board to provide a small service that integrates with this delinquent group's software, so the "customer" that I am actually dealing with is one of the consultants. What I am finding, is that these people are trying to shift blame onto us, such that when things go wrong emails with stark accusations are sent to managers and their manager's manager.

The first problem started with an offhanded comment on the phone.

"I have to tell you," Sanjay told me when I had to email him a missing file, "my experience with your company so far hasn't been a good one."

"That's because you haven't dealt with me yet."

"Well let's hope it gets better."

I sent him a description of how to install what I was sending him, but it was tailored for a Windows machine instead of Solaris. I got an email, with everyone from his organization and mine CC'd, that condemned my documentat as inadequate and unclear.

I sent him an unofficial release late Thursday night as a favor because he was working late and he wanted to see if my changes fixed some problems we were troubleshooting together. I emailed the changes to him and took my family to dinner. The next morning, again with everybody CC'd, he accused me of not sending anything to him, and implied that I was holding the project up.

I guess I am old school, but when one guy behaves like this in relation to another, there is no authority on the planet that would convict me for hunting this prick down and giving him an old fashioned ass kicking. Hank Junior calls it an attitude adjustment. So far, against every screaming impulse, I have held my tongue.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Lying Low

I apologize for not being around for the last couple of days. My company is leaner than fat free bacon, and I am no longer the developer that deflects issues to technical support. Now I work directly with the customers, which has certain advantages. The software I write turns out to be more useful, and when things go wrong, I put more into logs to make it easier to diagnose.

But I won't bore you with that. I'll be back as soon as this blows over.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Lying For Heaven

My son is going to be two years old soon, and we still haven't gotten him baptized. It's a moral conundrum for me, because I don't believe that for going to heaven, if such a place exists, baptism is going to be the deciding factor. But that's my belief and the church has scared me into action as an insurance policy.

We got Jackson, my oldest son, baptized when he was around the same age, and of course he was one of the oldest kids there. First we had to go to an orientation where they explain to you that the god parents must be active in guiding the child in his faith in the church and Jesus Christ. It was like getting married, saying vows, promising something so the church will grant your child passage to heaven. This really upset me, because according to the Catholic faith, there is no other way to get into heaven unless you are baptized and forgiven of original sin, committed in a far away garden by presumably the first two people--or if you combine evolution with the theory of Intelligent *cough* Design, two monkeys--on the planet. So they dangle the carrot of eternal salvation but make you beg pretty please to get it. That would be like, say a company like Pfizer developing a cure for cancer, but only giving you access to the new drug on the condition that you only use Viagra, swearing off any false fertility drugs such as Levitra and Cialis, and that you accept CEO Hank McKinnell as your personal savior. The church espouses good will to all men, but what they really mean, is good will to all men and women who will bow to their way of thinking.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Boys Are Back In Town

If you are a Cowboys fan like myself, then you have been waiting a long time for a decent group of guys to don the uniform. And if you have been paying close attention to the drama of the Jimmy Johnson/Jerry Jones breakup, the painful demise of the triplets and an unstoppable dynasty, the failings of a long line of successive quarterbacks since the fall of Troy Aikman, and rebuilding of this team once Jerry Jones hired Bill Parcells, thus admitting his inability to continue winning through puppet coaches--if you've chewed your fingernails each season down to throbbing nubs, then you have been richly rewarded last night with an impressive victory over last year's 12-4 San Diego Chargers.

The picture above should be called Redemption. Here we have our new free safety Keith Davis, who has had to step into the capacious, clown-sized shoes of Darren Woodson, the last great player from the halcyon days. If you don't know a thing about football, the free safety is the guy on defense who hangs out in the far back field and is the last line of defense against the deep ball. San Diego punished Davis for two quick touchdowns, who made huge blunders on each play leaving the receiver wide open in the end zone. But at the end of the game, Dallas pulled ahead by four points, meaning that San Diego had no choice but to score a touchdown as the game clock was running down. Twice they had to go on fourth down. The first time, Drew Brees, the quarterback of the Chargers, was amazing as he back pedalled under an intense Dallas rush and threw what looked like a desperation pass, but landed right on the money and put them at first and goal on the eight yard line. The picture above is Keith Davis laying a smack on Keenan McCardell on second down, forcing him to cough up the ball and saving the touchdown. This game went to the bitter end, and the Dallas defense held, winning their opening game for the first time since 1999 when Troy Aikman was the quarterback.

Ah! Football is back, and my boys are starting off on a good note for a change. The mood around my house is directly proportional to mine, in the opposite direction. My wife has taken to grumbling around the house, and my kids hang from every limb as I try to take in every moment. Thank God for TiVo. I have to pause the game periodically to do damage control. The wife and the kids do not take kindly to my diverted attention. It's not until Superbowl Sunday that I can actually watch a football game without all the attitude.

"Babe, you should have seen the ending of that game!" I yelled after running up the stairs, two at a time, as the kids were coming out of the tub.

"Greaaaaaaaate," she said like a bedridden patient recovering from a session of Chemo, or was it a creaking door? At least the latter can be fixed with a dose of WD-40.

I'll have to work extra hard at my honey-dos this week!

Vive le cowboys!

Friday, September 09, 2005

Can You Imagine?

Can you imagine how it would have been perceived if a president of the United States of one party had pre-emptively taken from the female governor of another party the command and control of her forces, unless the security situation made it completely clear that she was unable to effectively execute her command authority and that lawlessness was the inevitable result?
No matter what side of the argument you fall on, take a step back and absorb the impact of those words. This is was spoken anonymously by a senior administration official. In a nutshell, a great many violent crimes and deaths could have been prevented but for knee-jerk, irrational partisan politics. If you hate George Bush and cannot be persuaded to make the slightest concession where he is concerned, you are not alone. But take a hard look at those words and shoulder a fraction of responsibility in this matter. Republicans are no better. They desperately turned over rock after rock for something to hang on Bill Clinton, and had to settle for a sex scandal, embarrassing our nation for it's pettiness while Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda put the final touches on their fateful attack plans.

Do you see the pattern here? While we bicker amongst each other and lambaste our politicians in the media, we are helping destructive forces to be more effective. I'm sick of it.

By the same token, I'm shocked that a port responsible for 20 percent of our nations energy supply could be knowlingly left to the whim of nature. Didn't we just invest in Homeland Security? Regardless of who eventually shoulders the blame, I submit that we are all to blame, to varying extent.

Why aren't we harnessing alternative sources of energy? Bush talked about tax breaks for wind farms. Off the coast of Nantucket, the elites don't want to have their view obstructed, so that project sits and waits.

What about our borders? The slow distintigration of the middle class? The exportation of our jobs is a joke when we have such poverty as we are painfully witnessing now. Why not create some kind of agreement with those states that gives tax breaks to corporations that manufacture there, where people would gladly work for third world prices. Let's take care of our own for a while. We can take care of the world but we can't lift a finger to save ourselves. We have been exposed as impostors.

The next wave of politicians aren't getting my vote for their party affiliation, but for the ideals they hold dear. I better start hearing about reduced oil dependency and self love, or I'm not voting at all.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

My City Was Gone

I was driving alone through upstate New York, when I saw an exit for Niscayuna. I had seen it before, but I was always with someone or in a hurry. Today I had time to kill, and I hadn't seen my old town since I was a little boy.

I didn't know my way around of course, but I knew the name of my old grade school, Hillside Elementary, and the name of my old street: Van Antwerp. It didn't take long to find it after asking a few pedestrians along the way; soon I was looking at my old school grounds where I had once punched Peter Canal for no reason at all, and ran around like a fool trying to impress the new girl.

I got out of my car, alone in a dark parking lot, and wandered to the swingsets and wondered if these were the same or some newer model. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes, as the smell of minty grass triggered the faint sound of long ago, of children laughing and screaming at one another. My friends and I would compete for the farthest jump away from the swing, so I tried it once again, swinging back and forth as the frame squealed in protest; I felt oddly apprehensive to launch myself and convinced myself that discretion was indeed the better part of valor. From across the street, I saw a curtain jerk open and a pair of eyes staring at me, only to disappear as I noticed. It was time to leave.

Van Antwerp wasn't hard to find, as the school was nearby my old home. I felt an old excitement to explore the trails of the old field that once abutted my yard. Maybe Timmy still lived two doors down; I wondered if he would remember me if I knocked on his door.

The house was still there, and didn't look any different. It was on a corner of another street, so I pulled up and parked a half block away. There were quite a few more homes around, so I walked up to where the road dead ended, which was the old trail entrance that once led the way to the golf course. What I saw broke my heart: an upscale neighborhood of beautiful homes. It was late, and I had to see if the old trails were still back there somewhere, so I ran between two homes and looked over the back fence, and still there were more homes.

"Hey!" A voice yelled from a dark doorway of one of the homes on the property on which I was trespassing. "What the hell are you doing?"

"I know how this looks, ok?" I said as if I were negotiating with a jumper. "I used to live here when I was a boy, and I just wanted to see if there were any of the old trails I used to explore."

"It's all developed now," he said with a little more calm, almost sadly. Apparently the man lived here for a long time.

I walked towards the gap between the homes the way I had come in with my hands slightly in the air, trying to look as harmless as I could. At 6'4", 230 pounds, and as a stranger in a suburban backyard, it was no mean feat. "Sorry, really, I didn't mean to alarm you."

No reply.

I got back to the road and looked back. An attractive brunette holding a toddler in her arms and a little five year old girl stared at me from the front livingroom window, with eyes so wide I could see the whites. I waved back and apologized, then wandered back to my old house.

I didn't want to repeat my faux pas, but I felt desperate to look around and see the house. The lights were on in the livingroom, so I knew somebody was home, so I walked up onto the creaky front porch, covered with peeling white paint, and knocked on the door.

An eleven year old blonde haired girl answered the door, and I asked to speak with her father, and I realized suddenly that I had no idea what I was going to say. The man came up to my shoulders, and had a gentle disposition. His hair was slightly curly, and his complexion was fair and soft. He reminded me of Richard Dreyfus.

"Hi," I started nervously. "I used to live in this house a long time ago, and I was wondering if you would allow me to look around in the back yard."

He stared at me incredulously. "Uh, I don't think so."

"No problem, I would say the same thing if I were you. I know how strange this may seem, but I had some of my fondest memories from living in this home." I pointed at the window the overlooked the porch. "That was my bedroom right there."

The little girl lit up, "That's my bedroom now!"

"Uh huh," I said, feeling a roll coming on, "There is a pipe that feeds into the basement through a hold that's too big for the pipe so that you can see through to the bottom.

The man grinned, "I just filled that in; it was letting in a cold draft at night."

His wife stepped into the doorway behind him and looked on curiously.

I said, "There was a little creek running through the back yard, behind the garage. My dad used to feed the raccoons at night that would come to raid our garbage cans."

The man said, "That's all covered over now, but the raccoons are still raiding us at night. Maybe your dad had the right idea!"

They seemed to forget that I was a total stranger, and I reminisced some more, and each memory I shared melted the ice of distrust between us. I decided to go before I lost my ground. I shook hands with the man once more, and stepped down from the porch. The family gathered at the top step and watched me go, waving and smiling all the while.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Our Gang

My footsteps echoed back at me as I stepped into the kitchen and took one last look at my childhood home, known to me now only in dreams. I remember the neighborhood kids, Timmy, Eva and Dawn. Eva Rotherock told me the difference between a boy and girl, and I certainly did NOT believe her, until my mom verified her story. I told the girl who lived in the apartment upstairs, and she didn't believe me either. Her mom had a talk with my mom, who quite awkwardly told me that I should keep such things to myself.

Eileen was a couple years older than us, and had convinced us that she was a witch. She would sink into a reverie and close her eyes, then rose with a murderous look, a piercing cackle in her laugh, and chased her terrified victims around the yard and up into the thick, spidery branches of the big willow, but always and thankfully regained control of herself and coaxed us back down. I warned my mother about it, for her own protection. Mom Constantine was not afraid though, and with a few private words, exercised the evil spirit from Eileen, who was free forever from the possession of the wicked witch.

Timmy introduced me to the five finger discount at the local drug store, where we would steal candy bars and Wacky Packages. My dad sometimes wondered at the size of my collection, but never figured me out. Or perhaps he did and felt a spark of pride; who knows? I finally got caught and actually learned my lesson.

In those days there were no fences between yards and dogs ran free. Back yards bordered on endless fields described by winding paths to secret hideouts and other back yards. I had a crush on Helen Reddy back then; my heart would freeze whenever I Am Woman came on the radio. I was too young to know what it meant, but my dad explained: "Women's Libber."

"I don't know what that is, dad." I said curiously.

"Women want to have the same rights as men, make the same money, be treated the same."

I thought about this for a moment. "Shouldn't they?"

"I guess so." This was the essence of dad. He understood the difference between right and wrong, and could simutaneously support and oppose an ideal, depending on the setting. He was the same on racial issues, as I would come to find years later. I grew up hearing nigger, spic, wop, rice eater, chink, towel head, etc. I knew something was wrong, even when I was a pup, but was convinced that my father hated all people of different color. And YET, whenever he interacted with any of these people, he was just as cordial, polite and respectful as any man could be. Whenever I confronted him about his paradoxical behavior, he would grunt or change the subject.

Randy Wagstaff was my best friend at school. I can't remember much about him really; it was second grade after all, a mere 32 years ago. I noticed while taking a bath that my hand submerged in water looks exactly like his, and even today on that rare occasion that I find myself soaking in the tub, I'll see my hand and feel that ancient wind.

"We're leaving now," my mom said to me, "let's get in the truck."

"Can I call Randy and say good bye?"

She looked irritated, but allowed it begrudgingly. I picked up the phone, which looked conspicuous as the only object a the wall once decorated with paintings, knick-knacks and pictures. I dialed his number that I had committed to heart.

"Hello," his mother answered.

"Hi, is Randy there?"

"He's out playing with his friends; can you call back later?"

I panicked. "No! I'm moving away and I won't be able to."

"Ok, let me see if I can..." I heard the pounding of feet on a hollow floor. "Randy!" she yelled. "Phone."

He picked up on the other line, out of breath, probably from playing tag or hide-and-seek. "Yeah," he said impatiently.

"Randy, I'm leaving now."

"Ok, bye." Click.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Wait For Me Johnny

Johnny was a kitten in 1990, the year I graduated from Potsdam University with a degree in Computer and Information Sciences, and the year I started the first job of my professional career. I lived in a house with three of my best friends; I was single and didn't have the credit to get a credit card, much less to own a car of my own. I depended on my roommates for a ride back and forth from work.

Jeff took me to upstate New York to pick him up. Jeff was learning to play the bass guitar, and indulgence for me, his friend who was obsessed with the electric guitar. I have always had the fantasy of going back in time and playing a song that would someday go platinum to an unsuspecting crowd, passing it off as my own, and for one glorious night enjoy the moniker of genius. My dream played out before my eyes in Back To The Future, as Marty McFly played Johnny B. Goode to a fifties school prom audience, and I had to learn that song. I was in the throes of that passion when we brought my new kitten to live with us, and it was no stretch of the imagination that I named him Johnny B. Goode, forever Johnny for short.

Johnny was gentle and social, friendly to a fault. He was perfect and beautiful, and followed me around like a dog, and could even be counted on at times to come when called. Even during the cacophony of our ear-splitting jam sessions, Johnny was always there; nothing seemed to bother him.

I felt guilty that such a love-sponge had to spend his days alone, so Jeff and I made the trip once again and came back with little Mew, a playmate and life companion for Johnny. Now I had two little lumps in my bed at night.

They made the trip with me to California in my new Mazda MX-6. I was creditable now. The car held everything I owned, which was mostly my clothing and music equipment. I rented a large empty apartment that for the most part remained so. Both Johnny and Mew made friends with the neighbors.

Years later we moved to San Francisco where they both for the first time were trapped inside, and I vowed to buy a home where they could safely run outside. Years later I finally made good on that promise as, now married with a newborn, we moved into our first home. While Mew hid from my growing son, Johnny took his abuse and never scratched at him or tried to get away.

The economy crashed and the technical gold rush of California had come to an end. We decided to move to the east coast and live near our families; we moved into an apartment while our house was on the market. My youngest cat Mew got curious and snooped inside someone's garage storage unit, which the person only visited once in a great while. The garage door closed him inside, and the owner didn't discover his body until three weeks later. Johnny was alone, and we were forced to bury Mew in the woods and leave him behind.

Three weeks ago, I took Johnny to the vet because he was scratching his ears, and in general he wasn't himself. He checked out healthy, except for an ear infection, which I was given drops for. Ever since we've lived in this house his cries kept us up at night, and I was forced to leave him outside at night. Johnny used to be my only focus, but with two children, his role steadily diminished. He was so lonely, and his health was declining, despite what the veterinarian said. The light in his eyes was dimming.

I looked out the window into the front yard and watched him walk around our great venerable oak, and his step was so tentative. He layed under some bushes below our windows and basked in the warmth of the day. Later he was sleeping in his litter box at the base of the stairs from our kitchen and into the garage. I had never seen him do this before, and I scratched him on his side. He looked up at me with a satisfied look and I felt him lightly purr. He blinked his eyes once, grateful for the moment of attention. I thought about picking him up and taking him inside with me, and I now I wish I had. The signs were there, and a part of me read them correctly, but I just didn't want to believe.

Yesterday, on Sunday, September 4th of 2005, I saw him still laying there. I almost walked on by, and even thought to myself that he was such a quirky cat, but something made me stop. I stared at his chest, and looked for it's familiar rise and fall, but it wasn't there. I touched him and the warmth was gone, and he was stiff like a clay likeness.

When he was a kitten, I was still a boy who would never dream of having children, or being tied down in any kind of relationship. I couldn't borrow twenty dollars from a friend, much less enough to buy a house. Johnny and I grew up together, and he helped to raise my own children. He was a loyal friend even when he was nearly forgotten.

We buried him in our back yard. My wife padded the bottom of the box with a few of our old baby blankets. My oldest son drew him a picture while my wife found some pictures of Johnny with all of us. We found a mouse toy that my oldest had bought for him at the vets, and a stuffed animal cat and a few toys. And last we added his cat brush, which had tangled in it a tuft of his hair.

The box was from the post office, and had an address label that said: To. I took out a Sharpie and wrote Heaven. Under that I wrote: Johnny B. Goode. I love you. What for us there, ok?

Friday, September 02, 2005

May God Forgive Me

My dad was always best when everything in his life had been taken or wiled away; his mind cleared of all distractions, crutches and possibilities, his friends strewn like ashes about the battlefield in his bloody wake, isolated like a castaway, alone and hopeless. A zen Buddhist atop a faraway peak, with only his god to consult with, seemingly from whom his divine inspirations came.

Only his faithful remained with him through these years, some out of blind loyalty to a proven but sporadic leader, others like wild dogs that follow the alpha male, ever wary of a weakness and a time to strike. Clay was one of the former, a simple man content to cash his paycheck on Friday, pay off his debts incurred the previous week only to re-indemnify himself against his next.

Dad complained about his work ethic, which had over the years declined in direct proportion to his use of cocaine, an interest that he and Anna shared. Dad gave him the floors to sheet on a university job, and it was typical to find Clay fast asleep on a stack of plywood. But when Clay's engine was warmed up, he could get the job done faster than most, and as such, Clay would sometimes work deep into the night to make up for lost time. Dad would have fired anybody else who behaved as such, but with Clay--well, everybody loved Clay, and everybody took care of him.

On our bottommost rung in life, dad finally had his epiphany; he sought and was granted a subcontract on an army base for vinyl siding. Suddenly our group was loaded for a cross country caravan from Washington to New York. Dad assembled the operation with frightening speed and hired everyone he knew, including two of my cousins and an uncle. He was so efficient with the siding contract that the general contractor granted him an additional framing contract, and hired more people, gave raises and promotions to his people, and suddenly we were a major outfit.

Then dad met his next wife, while the one he already had waited in Washington for his return. At the time dad had her brother and two nephews on his payroll, but dad didn't care. He installed me in the front office and put me in charge of the entire operation, and left to pursue his new love. I found out then how poorly managed the business really was, and how angry most of his employees were. I was under considerable strain with no power to change things.

But Anna worked in the office with me during those trying times, and we told stories and laughed while laboring over payroll and reports, getting paid and distributing pay. I don't remember what I said that prompted it, but she tenderly whisked a lock of my long hair from my eyes and told me, "You are so much love."

The business wasn't making enough money to sustain the payroll and the taxes, and I sought outside help. My dad was enraged and fired Anna while I was away, and the report came to me that she buried her head in her hands and ran out crying. I found her later and she tried to hold it in. "I used to be so happy to see your father," she said with big glossy eyes, and I hated my father for being so cruel.

Clay and I both went to work soon after for the Ricks boys, and Dad shut his operation down and got married as soon as his divorce was final. I got a small apartment with a girl friend in Watertown, but she was a friend-friend, that slept with most all my friends. If I was interested at first, her lifestyle quickly dissuaded me.

One night Anna showed up at my doorstep at one in the morning, severely drunk.

"Clay and I had a terrible fight, so I took a cab and came here. I hope you don't mind," she said with a pouty look.

"Of course Anna, come in."

She met my roommate Kathy in the living room, and started to tell her about how wonderful I was, and started giggling uncontrollably. She was as cute as she ever was that night; her personality was bubbly and her laughter was so contagious that Kathy and I were rolling on the floor.

Kathy went to bed and I gave Anna my bed and fixed myself a sleeping bag on the floor next to her. We both were yawning and the conversation got sleepy. She reached over the bed and put her hand on my back.

"Can I touch you?" She asked.

My body wanted one thing, but my mind couldn't stop thinking of Clay. How could I look at him if I did this? She took my silence as an affirmation and scratched my back, slowly and lightly raking back and forth, and from her finger tips electricity threw sparks across my skin and I shook uncontrollably.

"I could sleep with you if I wanted to, couldn't I?"

I felt like a lion, lying in the bush, poised to strike, on the edge of the abyss with just the heels of my feet for support, teetering and resigned to the plunge and my death that followed--all it would take was a little, tiny, insignificant nudge, as from the wake of butterfly wings. May God forgive me, I was helpless to stop it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Hip Hip

Keith and Clay, Clay and Keith, I can't remember who got top billing. Both were cut from the mold of the original hippie, long scraggly blond hair, full bushy beards, bright tie-died shirts and jean cut-off shorts. The both worked for my father to build an apple warehouse in Leavenworth, Washington; the first time I saw them they pulled up in a Voltswagon bus painted in bright color patches and symbols of peace; the inside was billowing with white smoke, belching forth like whirling tops when they opened the doors, dancing to the rhythm of Jimmy Hendrix and his Purple Haze. With them, everything was "mellow" and "cool", and although they were stoners, they were efficient as soldiers on the job. They collected their paychecks and headed for the local bar, and no matter how hard they had partied the night before, they were at work on time and running full speed.

Clay followed dad around the country as an employee and a friend. He eventually cut his hair and trimmed the beard, revealing the face of a striking man. He had a charming smile, and always had a beautiful woman at his side, if not always the same one. He was like an uncle to me, but I loved him like a brother.

He and dad went separate ways when the work ran out, so Clay moved to Seattle and started a remodeling business. Eventually we needed to stay with Clay in order to get on our feet, and he put us up in his Seattle apartment. We spent our days gathering firewood and selling it by the chord, and were literally dependent on a sale each day to eat. We were sometimes reduced to buying the excess bacon fat from the local grocery store, and splitting what little meat it sizzled down to for dinner. This did not dissuade us however from going out on Friday night and blowing the money we had, at a bar tended by Clay's latest girlfriend, a Mexican hottie called Anna, who was the female shadow of Clay, ebullient and delightful. She and I were instant friends, and she loved to flirt with me.

I picked her up from her house to bring her to work where dad and Clay got a head start on the night. With her I could let my guard down and talk about my deepest feelings and dreams; with everyone else, I had to be tough in order to fit in with the "man" crowd. Feelings were for pussies and faggots. Arrrrrrr! Bartender, pour me some grog while I look for an ass to kick!

Anna leaned towards me in the car as I pulled to a stop in front of the bar. My breath caught in my throat. "Do you think I have," she whispered in my ear, "big ones?"

Gulp. "Uh, that's not really a matter of opinion now is it?" I said nervously. She giggled but seemed to move closer, or perhaps my telephoto eyes where on auto-zoom. "I think you should go inside and see Clay now, ok?"

Her eyes seemed to spark in triumph as she reached for the door handle. "See you inside Scotty," she sang, and out the door she went. I let out the breath I didn't realize I was holding.