Father's Day

Father's Day June 21, 2015

Father’s Day
June 21, 2015

A Story for Father’s Day:

NAME THAT BAND

“How can you not know that?” Ajax said. He was 12 and belligerent when offended.
“John Mayer?” I asked.
“Come on!”
“Ben Harper?”
“Now I am really getting pissed off.”
“Justin Bieber?”
“How can you not know this?  Everybody knows this.  It’s Jack Johnson.  J A C K   J O H N S O N.  He is the only person that sounds like Jack Johnson.  You ought to be ashamed of yourself.”
“I’m sorry; I don’t particularly like Jack Johnson.”
“I didn’t say you had to like him.  You just have to know who he is.”
We were driving to school and playing Name that Band to pass the time.  I had been listening to music for a lot more years than Ajax, which should have given me a big advantage.  But I didn’t like Jack Johnson and that was costing me now.
Ajax was disgusted. “That’s just wrong, Dad.”
There is something about belligerence and disgust in a 12 year old that sets my teeth on edge. I needed to take him down a notch.
We turned down a little street called Hermit Street.  We always took Hermit Street even though it was a small street and the neighbors didn’t like morning commuters.  They put lawn chairs and orange cones in the street to discourage us, but it didn’t work. We maneuvered around them like I was driving an obstacle course on a car commercial.
I needed to create some drama to give cover. There was on an orange cone in the street ahead. I maneuvered my SUV so that I clipped it on the side as we passed.
“Dad, look out! You hit the cone! Jesus! Dad. Watch where you are going.”
“Whoops.”
“Jesus Dad.”
“Ajax. Jump out and put that cone back where it was.”
“You do it; you hit it.”
“Ajax, may I remind you that I am currently driving you to school.”
You hit it.”
“Taking you to school.”
“Oh fine.”
As he bellyached his way to the cone, I  switched from the radio station to a playlist on my iPhone.
Ajax got back in the car. “Dad, that was stupid. I mean, just saying.”
“Thanks for the input.”
“You have to pay attention when you are driving.”
“Thanks for that tip.”
“You are almost as bad a driver as you are in Name that Band. And Dad, by the way, that’s pretty bad.”
“I am better than you.”
“What?! You didn’t even know Jack Johnson.”
“I could destroy you if I put my mind to it.”
“Yeah, right.”
Kill you.”
“Put money on it?” He said.
“You don’t have any money. You’ll try to get me to give you money so you can pay me.”
“You are my father. That’s your job.”
“Let’s play for something meaningful.”
“Like?”
Alex was wearing his prized Hartford Whalers cap. I said, “if I win, I get your snapback.”
“No Way. Not this one. This is priceless.”
“I thought you were a beast in Name That Band.”
“I am beast, not a beast. Don’t try to talk like you know what you are saying. Cause you don’t.”
“Basically you are scared to go head to head with me.”
“What do I win?”
“What do you want?”
“You buy me any snapback I want.”
“Fine.” I said.
“Seriously?”
“Seriously.”
“First one to five unless we get to school sooner, then whoever is ahead.”
“Bring it on.”
I flipped the switch on the SUV’s audio system and caught the bridge in the middle of Evil Ways. “Santana!” I shouted. Double points!” We always awarded double points if you guessed the name of the band before any lyrics had played. “Two – zero”.
“That’s Bullshit!” Ajax yelled, but after the lyrics kicked in there was no way he could dispute the call though it did not prevent him from complaining. As he was whining, the first chords from Jay-Z’s “Young Forever” played. I sang out Jay-Z before Ajax knew what hit him. He tried to override my call by yelling Jay-Z louder than I did but loudness couldn’t make his call go backwards in time to precede mine.
By the way,” I said, “that’s double points too.” Four to zero. Nada. Nothing. Zip.” And then just to rub it in I added, “featuring Mr. Hudson”.
He didn’t like it, but I had him. He leaned forward in his seat and cocked his ear toward the radio to make sure that he had a nano-instant of a head start on the next song. However, this was my  music on my iPhone.
I liked my odds.
The next song began. Before a bar of music had come forth I knew exactly who it was. Ajax did too, but it took him longer to shout “Kanye!” Than it took me.
“Six to zero, sport. I’ll take the Whaler.”
“No way. That wasn’t fair. Those songs were all your type of songs. I would’ve killed you on my songs. Double or nothing!”
“No way. I want the cap.”
“Come on Dad.” He pleaded.
I held out my hand to take the hat. We had pulled into the parking circle at school. He ducked when I tried to grab the hat. Before I could grab again, he pushed open the car door and was out of the car, holding his cap over his private parts and laughing hysterically. “Nice try Dad! Better luck next time!”  And he was off, sprinting up the stairs and into the school building.
I yelled after him, “six-zero, loser” but he didn’t hear me and even to me it sounded lame. I wasn’t concerned, however.
It took him five minutes to come slinking back to the car. I had locked it and rolled up the windows. I made him knock on the glass for a while before I deigned to notice him. I rolled down the front passenger side window. He leaned in.
“Hey Dad,” he said. He gave me a big warm smile. “Just wanted to tell you that you are pretty good at Name that Band. For an old guy.”
“I am a beast!”
“I mean, who cares about stinking Jack Johnson, right?”
“Exactly.”
“I never want to hear him again. He is a jackass.”
“Ajax. The time has come. Don’t suck up. Just, give me the cap.”
“No way, Dad.”
“Fair and square.”
“No way. You can’t make me.”
“Actually I can.”
“How are you going to do that?”
I started to roll up the window.
“Damn it. You suck.” He scaled the cap into the car. “Totally.”
I grabbed the cap and put it on my head. I gave him a big smile. Then I unlocked the back door let him take out the backpack that he had forgotten when he ran off before.
“You suck Dad,” he said one more time as he turned to go to school.
I waited two beats until he was 6 or 8 feet from the car. Then I leaned to the passenger’s side window and yelled at him gleefully, “they were all from my playlist! Every one of them! Ha!”
His head swung around. But he didn’t have the look I expected. No anger, no shock. He was smiling. He mouthed something that I didn’t get and then he smiled some more. No anger. No recriminations.
I drove off wondering if he was becoming more mature, more good-natured. Maybe these years of belligerence were coming to an end.
I didn’t figure it out until I got home and took off the cap. It wasn’t the Hartford Whalers cap at all. It was one of his old little league caps, a dime a dozen; he’d switched it out on me.
And then it dawned on me what he had mouthed just as I was driving off: “Jack Johnson.”

Tooth

Long in the Tooth June 11, 2015 (Seen on a mural in Clarion Alley, San Francisco)

Long in the Tooth
June 11, 2015
(Seen on a mural in Clarion Alley, San Francisco)

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

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Ordinary Life

Ordinary Life June 7, 2015

Ordinary Life
June 7, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

Ordinary Life originally appeared in The Citron Review.

ORDINARY LIFE

The two men were standing by the big mirror in the locker room. The older one was on the way to a workout; the younger one was drenched in sweat.

The older one was wearing a light blue tee shirt on top of a grey tee shirt. He stood slightly off balance and tilted his head as if he wanted to look up at the younger man even though they were the same height.
The younger man was observing himself in the mirror while he listened, politely, to the older man.
“…and that’s the vow I took,” the older man said. I would be an ordinary person and I would live an extraordinary life.”
“Uh huh…”
“That’s the vow I made.”
The young man nodded.
The older man continued, his eyes fixed intently on the younger man’s face. “I would be an ordinary person and live an extraordinary life. But somehow I just got lost in the ordinariness.”
“Uh-huh.” The younger man briefly looked over at the older man. He bobbed his head in sympathy, then returned his eyes to the mirror and continued the inspection of his own face.
“I just didn’t see it coming.” The older man said, shaking his head at the thought. “It just came over me and over me and after a while everything was ordinary and it wasn‘t just me – that would be fine, that was the plan – but my whole life was turning out ordinary.” The older man moved his face forward, closer to the younger man, and looked even more intently into his face.
“Oh.” The young man had found a hair on his eyebrow that wasn’t to his liking and he craned forward to see it more clearly.
“And if I hadn’t done something…,” it seemed as if he was building up to a big point, but he paused and let the suspense dissipate, “well, you know how it is….”
If the younger man knew, it was not obvious. He was trying to pull the hair out of his eyebrow but he was having difficulty getting a good grip. He had screwed up one eye and titled his head so that side of his face was closest to the mirror.
“… I’d have just gone on that way. Flat out ordinary. Nothing special.” The older man shook his head again, ruing the possibility.
“So whaddid you do?” the younger man said. He had scrunched up his face to get at the hair so it seemed as if he were grimacing at the older man’s story.
The older man ignored the question. “I am still baffled by it. It was like a big gray fog of ordinariness had totally covered me over and everything I did was gray just gray like I was inside a cotton ball.”
The younger man picked up a Q-tip and he began to explore his right ear – the ear furthest from the older man.
The older man continued. “I was lost, Mezzi. Really, I was lost.”
Mezzi turned to his full face to the older man, Q-tip now sticking out of his ear like an antenna. “So what did you do?”
The older man smiled in a rueful way, tipping his head to one side again. “I just decided that it couldn’t be. I wouldn’t let it. My life wasn’t meant to be ordinary and I wasn’t going to settle for that.”
Mezzi appeared to have lost track of the fact that he had a Q-tip sticking from his right ear. He inserted another one in his left ear.
The older man noticed, “Mezzi. You have got a Q-tip in your ear.”
“Huh? Oh yeah. Lots of sweat. Everywhere. In my ears. Every time…. So how’d you do it?’
“You sweat in your ears? I never heard of that.”
“Ha Ha. Not in the ears. But its runs in there. Every time. Drives me crazy.”
“Don’t you wear a headband? That’s what I would do. I would wear a headband for sure. I think that would fix the issue. I bet it would.”
“I just use these guys.” Mezzi extracted one Q-tip and then the other. He inspected each carefully and then pitched them one after another towards the hole in the counter in front of the mirror. The first went through nicely but the second hit the edge and stuck there, hanging by a sticky bit of ear wax.
The older man looked at the hanging Q-tip.
“So what’d you do?” Mezzi said, “How did you make it extraordinary??
But the older man was turning away. He didn’t say another word. He just walked away, slightly hunched.
“Hey,” Mezzi called after him, “How did you make it extraordinary? I really want to know?”
The older man just kept walking.
“I am serious”, Mezzi said, “I want to know. I really want to know. How’d it become extraordinary?”
The older man didn’t answer.
Mezzi stared after him for a few seconds. Then he turned back to inspecting his face in the mirror.
– Jay Duret

In Bogota

In Bogota May 31, 2015

In Bogota
May 31, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

IN BOGOTA

Joan Didion once published an essay called “In Bogota” and years later, in a hotel in Italy, I came upon it and discovered that she had written about Bogota when I was living there. In fact, the hovel of a residencia where I holed up was only a few blocks from her magnificent Hotel Tequendama. They were a long few blocks, however. Ms. Didion saw a Bogota with fresh roses in the bathrooms, a Bogota with hot water whenever you wanted it, a Bogota of gold and emeralds and parties with film makers from New York.
I was quite sure she had no idea what Bogota was about.
The day I arrived in Bogota its biggest building burned. It was a fifty or sixty-story glass box, the only one of its kind in Bogota in those days, sky scraping over the city with miles of dark glass and chrome and the look of LA or Tokyo or Manhattan. The first thin sizzles of smoke appeared at the sides of the tower at ten in the morning. The 10th or 13th or 20th floor had caught fire, far above the range of Bogota’s fire department, and all day from everywhere in the city you could follow the fire rising in the building, breaking out the windows floor by floor, licking higher up the black glass, loosing clouds of gray black smoke into the Andes. Only time before the building was consumed. All day long I walked the streets and found Bogotanos in tears. Tears not for the people who leapt from 30 stories up like angels; tears not for those who did not even reach a window for a rush of freedom between the smoke and the end. The tears were for the tower, for the chrome and dark glass, for Bogota that had lost its tallest building.
I arrived in Bogota after weeks in Santa Marta in the North. Dog years on the Barracuda Coast where the driving heat lost all hint of pleasure. I was robbed three times in the same week and I began to dream about going home. But I took a train trip instead, an astounding 30 hour train trip through the hot marshes of Central Columbia. A trip where the train had to back up for two and a half hours, for Christ’s sake, to let another train coming the other way pass. The inside of the train got so hot that I burned a one inch square on my forearm when I laid it on the metal marker on the armrest of my seat.
Coming into Bogota after a lifetime on the train was like one of those moments swimming in a sun drenched lake when you come upon a cold pocket and your bare legs below the surface are surrounded by the chill and your balls shrink to marbles in an instant and the color of the sky seems to change. At 8,000 feet in the Andes, Bogota was cold. It made me lightheaded to say the word. It was as if the change of temperature was a loosing of restraints. As if in the mountains you could really feel free.
Bogota was filled with gamines. Mock families of little kids living together in cardboard boxes and alleys, sleeping in warm brown batches in doorways, racing in packs into restaurants along Calle de los Hippies, and before the harried waiters could catch them, shoveling their mouths full of rice from the plates of departing patrons. Mornings opening the door of Hotel ABC and finding two black haired, black-eyed boys no older than six sleeping wrapped around each other in the threshold. They moved in their sleep like boys in the morning but they would not wake even as I stepped over them and out into the cold Bogota morning.
In Bogota in those days, you could buy a pack of oval Pielroja cigarettes for four cents. The black tobacco and licorice paper stained my fingers like creosote and after smoking a few packs, my gums began to bleed. Beer cost eight cents, but they charged another eight cents as a deposit on the bottle. I remember movies sitting in a crowd on wooden benches in the back of the theater for a dime trying to see over the barbed wire strung to keep us from sneaking forward into the expensive, thirty-five cent seats up front.
Mornings in Bogota with the streets full of men in heavy brown suits with bulging pockets and boys selling newspapers shouting “BOGOTANO, BOGOTANO, EL BO-GO-TAN-O” over and over until I heard them in my dreams. I would walk down to the American Express office to see about mail and stop for a shot of tinto neat at a stand up coffee bar along the street; the roasting smell of Columbian coffee so rich you carried it in your clothes for miles. Cold mornings in Bogota. Mornings that made it hard to get out of the cot I had at Hotel ABC, a cot too short so my feet hung over the end and no matter what I did I could never keep them covered and in the mornings I’d swear that I would move down the street to Residencia Tuesquilla where they had real beds. But Tuesquilla was thirty pesos a night, nearly double ABC, and after I’d warmed up with a tinto, I couldn’t convince myself to spend the extra sixty cents.
Hotel ABC was a beaverboard hotel. Its high ceilinged rooms were divided into cubicles by partitions that did not quite reach to the arching ceilings. There was no hot water and no shower head and it would be days at a time before I could get myself prepared for the experience of showering under the pipe. My room had a single overhead bulb hanging from the fifteen-foot ceiling on a twisted wire. I remember reading Dostoyevsky in the bad light and trying not to listen to the sounds behind the walls.
I finally moved from ABC to Residencia Teusquilla in September after the lodger in the next room began to cough in hard rattling sort of way like he had nuts in his throat, and I worried that whatever he had would come after me over the wall.
The Teusquilla was not really the family-style residencia I had thought. The Senor and Senora who owned the house had assembled an extended under-family of servants and freeloaders to take care of the day-to-day operations. The chief executive officer of this eight room enterprise was named Berta. She had long black frizzy hair and a smile you could take a nap in. One of her legs was shorter than the other. She had a dour three year old son named Cessa.
Cessa was fat and pouty. He spoke bad Spanish and was given to standing in my doorway staring at me in silence for minutes until his dark sulky stare lay on my shoulders like a wet towel, and I would get up from my chair and close the door. I could feel him outside the door staring in through the crack and when I’d open the door — it could be hours later — he’d still be there. It was like being haunted.
Other times, Cessa would come into the living room of the residencia when I was reading and climb onto a small coffee table across the room from me. He’d fish his wang the size of a hose from his little boy sailor pants and loose a rope thick stream of yellow urine into the potted palm by the table. He’d look at me the whole time, never smiling, only that dour stare and his black eyes. Then he’d climb down from the table with that serious expression he always wore and run off to find Berta, his wang still flopping. I never saw him laugh the whole time I lived there. And by the time I left, the potted palm had begun what was to be, I was sure, a bitter lingering death.
Maria was a student who passed time with me that year when the Policia closed the University. She was dark and short with a big Indian nose. Her family lived far in the North in Turbo where the smugglers jump off for Panama and the San Blas Islands. Her friends called her “imperialist woman” for being with me, and I thought that was funny. She had a typewriter and, astonishing thing, lent it to me so I could type a story I was writing. I remember hoping desperately that the University would remain closed until I could finish.
Walking home one night with Maria and finding the street lined with riot police for a hundred yards. Long grim rows of Colombian men in visors and heavy green uniforms standing in the shadows shoulder to shoulder the length of the street. They carried plexiglass shields and in the streetlight they looked as if they had come for some reason. Maria wouldn’t walk past them the first time, but they were there every night – purposeful, stolid, anonymous, rippling like a massive forearm – and it got so we wouldn’t even notice them. They were always gone in the morning, and I never learned why they were there.
Ricardo came up to me to practice his English as I ate yucca soup one night in a dive near the planetarium. He was about thirty years old, short, dark and morose. For nearly ten years, he had lived in St. Louis before being busted and, scared witless by stories about American jails, had jumped bail to Bogota where his family lived. He was desperate and miserable and broke and in love with the Missouri farm girl of his dreams. I couldn’t get rid of him. He had an unswerveable conviction that I could get him back into the States, back to old St. Louie.
The staff of the residencia took an unhealthy interest in my life. A page from my journal:

I went to see Cancha. Met her at ten. We walked and drank and ate. She had the grippe and came back to the hotel to give it to me. In the morning I was anxious to work on my story but I just couldn’t. I slept all afternoon.

 Bela and Belen had stiff necks all the next day from listening through my door. Berta tried to charge me an extra thirty pesos for Cancha’s use of the room. I refused to pay. Much wailing and screaming and threats of calling the Senora. Finally, Berta hammered a compromise out of me. I had to take the whole sad crew, including the beast Cessa, to the movies on Sunday and then to the park and they made me waste a half a role of pictures on Cessa riding some sad-ass burro that Berta found limping through the square.

 I spent days in Bogota trying to buy a pair of sneakers, but my size 13 gringo feet were size 48 by the Colombian measure and nothing, simply nothing, could be made to fit. I finally had a pair of shoes made specially for me. When I returned to the store a week later to pick them up, I found my shoes in the store window all alone the way an impossibly large clown’s shoe will be displayed at a shoe store in the States for a laugh.
I remember men in furtive suits and cheap hats who would slip up to me outside the American Express office with an armful of watches for sale. Colombian hippies who gathered in the evening along the Calle de los Hippies hissing in rotten English that they had “grasssssss” to sell. Gamines with torn sweaters and pants in shreds that would crowd around me with their runny noses and wide black South American eyes when I sat on the park bench near Hotel ABC because they knew I had a marvelous leather soccer ball and once playing wild futboll in the streets with armies of shrieking gamines kicking the bloody ball in a big footed blundering American way and, literally, knocking down the door of someone’s house on a back street and going in to apologize with a horde of torn gamines quiet behind me and finding a kitchen filled with babies and smoke and a sixteen or sixty year old cooking soup on a wood burning range who wouldn’t look me in the face and who took some money for the door in a sorry sodden sort of way as if money could never repair the door or her life, her wonderful life in Bogota.
I was in Bogota on census day. On census day no one was permitted to leave his or her dwelling. The streets were to be totally empty except for the military to enforce the edict and students to go from door to door in this city without street plans. Door to door counting every nino and indio and gamine and hippie and businessman and borrachero and smuggler, door to door counting every Bogotano.
Viajeros, as I called myself in those days, travelers, were not exempt from the edict but I snuck out from the Tuesaquilla over the desperate pleadings of Berta and the warning I’d be shot on sight by the Policia. I slipped out on census day because I couldn’t believe that teeming, seething Bogota could be tethered for even an hour. And before I was stopped, I saw Bogota bare and shivering in the cold Andean daylight; I saw Bogota naked. Running for miles in every direction, Bogota with dirty streets and ramshackle shops and peeling posters on every wall announcing a circus or prizefight or a baile on some long gone Sunday. Bogota sprawling and seedy; Bogota jerrybuilt; Bogota with streets sad and silent and empty, really empty. So that is how it looks, I thought to myself, and for years after I told myself I’d seen Bogota to the quick, I’d really seen Bogota.
But I was not right about that. I was not right about that any more than I was right about Ms. Didion and the Bogota she described. I never saw her Bogota but it does not surprise me that she carries it with her today. We come to Bogota on whatever road we happen to be traveling. We come to Bogota in the mountains and never know where we will be going next but when we leave, Bogota follows after us like the smell of rich coffee or the shouting of gamines running in a pack down some dead street in pursuit of a soccer ball that has gone forever astray.
***
In Bogota originally appeared in Outside In Literary and Travel Magazine and was subsequently included in the anthology Whereabouts: Stepping Out of Place.

L_st M_n S_ndin_

L_ST M_N ST_N_IN_ May 24, 2015

L_ST M_N ST_N_IN_
May 24, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

LAST MAN STANDING

They were in the seat in front of me on the BART. I could only see the back of their heads but their voices were distinct.
The guy said, “Oh my God it was bad. Really bad. The. Worst. Ever.”
The woman said, “Worst what?”
“Fundraiser. It was a hospital thing. You know that place where Jen used to work. A really big deal. Must have been 1000 people there. My boss couldn’t go at the last minute and so I had his tickets – they were like $2500 apiece or something insane.”
“Sounds like a big deal.”
“No kidding. There was a big tent and a million servers in tuxes. Went on and on with the speeches and the tribute videos and the celebrity appearances and they had this big time sleazoid emcee guy and everything.”
“I hate those guys.”
“And there were TV crews walking around and interviewing people. The last speech was a girl that had had surgery at the hospital and she had a cleft palate. There were before and after photos and she had looked really bad before and now she was great. I mean it was a great story and she told it beautifully – all the women were crying – and when she was done we all stood up to applaud for her.”
“Very nice. So what was so bad?”
“They wouldn’t let us sit down.”
“What do you mean?”
“The guy that was running the thing just said we should remain standing. He said they had come up with a fun way to finish off the evening.”
“I don’t get it. What were they going to have you do, dance the hokey-pokey?”
“SOO much worse. This guy says, ‘and now anybody who wants to provide $50,000 to help fund a new pediatric surgery chair should sit down.’ Everybody looked around at each other and didn’t quite know what to make of it. But some guy at the front table sat down right where everybody could see him do it. And as soon as he did, all these people burst out of the back room and started cheering and screaming. They were wearing these orange tee-shirts on top of their tuxedos – they looked like Oompa-Loompas, I swear to God – and they mobbed the guy like he’d just hit a three pointer at the buzzer.”
“Wow I’ve never seen it done that way.”
“I didn’t really even get it at first, but it became pretty clear cause then the emcee asked who wanted to give $20,000 to provide training for an intern in pediatric oncology. Like, he said, anyone who wanted to give should just sit down.”
“Oh my God, that’s awful.”
“Yeah and so like four people sat down.”
“Wow, what were you doing?”
“Shit I was just standing there, what else could I do? Like $20,000 is ridiculous. And I am like in the second table in the front cause I had my boss’s seats.”
“So what did they do next?”
“Well then they did $10,000 and $5,000 and then $2,500 and honestly I couldn’t believe it. People were sitting down left and right.”
“So did you try to sit down yourself?”
“No you couldn’t do it. They had us trapped because they had all these orange guys who kept swarming around anytime somebody sat down. You didn’t want to sit down by mistake. If you sat down you would be out $2,500. The only way to avoid it was just to keep standing. And so then they went to $1,000 and $500 and then they got to $250 and shit, I gotta tell you that by that point there weren’t that many people still standing and I’m there and everybody at my table is looking up at me like I’m a total cheapskate.”
“So what did you do?”
“Well, what could I do? I didn’t want to put up that kind of money so I just stood there and then they went down to $100 and then $75 and honestly I think at $75 I may have been the only person in the entire room left standing. They were all looking at me.”
“Oh my God. That’s horrible. How did you feel?”
“It had been going on for hours by this point, at least that what it felt like, and I had been feeling like a trapped rat, but when they got down to $75 I got really pissed. I am like screw this, I’m not sitting down. See what they do. So the guy went ahead and he called for $50 and I stood there and he looked at me and gave me a little friendly sort of sheepish smile like he was kind of sorry could I just help him out, but I am now in a total screw you mode and so I just looked at him like he was dirt.”
“Jeesus. What happened?”
“I think if I’d given him a signal that I could do you know 25 bucks he would have called that and we could have been done with it, but when I projected attitude, he started going down by $5 amounts.”
“You’re kidding.”
“No, seriously, it went $50, $45, $40 and by this time everybody in the place was totally pissed at me.”
“Why! Why were they pissed at you?”
“Cause they were all ready to go home and their cars had been valeted and they wanted to beat the line but they were trapped.”
“Why were they trapped? Hadn’t they already given?”
“Yeah, but I think they were worried that if they stood up people would think they hadn’t given and they would seem like they were as big a jerk as me.”
“Oh my God. How much did you give in the end?”
“I stood my ground.”
“Wow. You are tough.”
“You have no idea. They got down to 10 bucks and the sleazoid is giving me the stink eye but I just gave it back to him so he starts to go down a dollar at a time.”
“No way!”
“Yeah, finally some guy at the front had enough and he yells out that he’ll give $5,000 bucks if they’ll just stop.”
“No!”
“And the emcee smiles and looks at the crowd and he says, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have $5,000 do I hear $6,000?” And then people start bidding, just to stop the guy from trying to get me to put up a few bucks. It was wild, one guy bid $10,000.”
“And did he… Oh, shit… Goddamn it! You are bullshitting me, right?”
“Ha Ha.”
“God damn you. You are a jerk.”
“Thank you. Thank you very much”
“You are such a jerk.”
“Had you going.”
“Jerk.”

Friday Commute

Friday Commute May 17, 2015

Friday Commute
May 17, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

FRIDAY COMMUTE

I am driving into work on a Friday morning.  I am on the inside section of the Parkway coming into town.  The Parkway is two lanes wide and I am in the left lane coming up to a light.  The light is green.  In the right hand lane, a SEPTA bus is stopped at the light to pick up passengers.  I am passing the bus on the left when a bike rider pedals out from the front of the bus directly into the middle of the lane in front of me.  I am going 25 mph.  He can’t be more than fifteen feet in front of me.
I shriek as I stomp on the pedal.  My SUV skids forward.
The rider is wearing a red helmet.  He has a tuft of red hair under his lower lip.  He doesn’t deign to acknowledge my car hurtling at him.   He lazily moves forward and then, inexplicably, comes to a dead stop in the middle of the lane, broadside to me.
The skid takes hours.  I won’t be able to stop in time.  The biker appears to see me, but his expression remains one of utter indifference and detachment.  I am thinking I am about to detach him from his bicycle with the impact of a 4,000 pound SUV smashing into his hip, leg, ankle and foot.
I come to a stop; I am within a foot of the biker.  He pedals forward, never looking at me.  He doesn’t give me even the slightest nod of recognition that my quick reactions and heavy foot on the brake just saved his life.  He simply pedals on.
I am vibrating like a tuning fork.
The SEPTA bus on my right starts up.  I am now blocking traffic.  There doesn’t seem to be anything I can do.  I put my foot back on the pedal and go forward, ineffectually, to another Friday at work.
***
“Friday Commute” originally appeared in Boston Literary Magazine
 

Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea May 0, 2014

Sleep Apnea
May 10, 2014

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

Sleep Apnea originally appeared in Foliate Oak Literary Magazine

SLEEP APNEA
“What do you want me to do with the mustache?” She said.
“Can you trim it up?” I asked.
“How long have you had a mustache?”
“I don’t know. A long time.”
“How long?”
“A long, long time.”
“How come you have it, anyway?”
“I don’t think there is a reason.”
“My dad has a mustache.” She said. “A big red handlebar one.  He got it because he had sleep apnea.”
“Sleep apnea?  What does that have to do with a mustache?”
“He was really bothered by the sleep apnea so he went in the hospital for this treatment and they broke his jaw for a radical approach but it wasn’t supposed to break the jaw into all those little pieces.”
“Oh my God, his jaw broke into little pieces?”
“ Yeah, and so they had to wire his mouth shut.”
“Oh God. I would hate that.”
“And then he lost all the feeling in his mouth.”
“What, he lost all the feeling?”
“Yeah for like over a year but he has got it back now.”
“Oh my God.”
“Yeah and you should have seen him when he ate.  Like his food would fall out halfway through the bite because he couldn’t feel it in there.”
“Oh God.”
“Yeah it was pretty bad.  He aged like 15 years.”
“Does this ever stop?”
“No it was pretty bad.”
“I still don’t understand the mustache though.  How come he has a mustache?”
“Well he couldn’t feel in his mouth and he somehow thought he could feel better if he had a mustache.”
“Huh?”
“Yeah, he just thought it would make it better.”
“How did that work for him?”
“Didn’t help at all, but he loves the mustache”
“That is one of the worst stories I have ever heard.”
“Yeah, he’s a lot better now though.”
“Where did this surgery happen?”
“In the VA Hospital.  I didn’t think it was really such a good idea.”
“I’d say.”
“I mean his jaw wasn’t supposed to break and everything but it was supposed to really help out with the sleeping.”
“Well how does he sleep now?”
“Well he had to have his jaw wired shut for all this time and so he couldn’t sleep very well.”
“Ugghh.”
“Yeah, we had to feed him through a straw.  I mean it was really bad.  I’ve never seen my father cry before but he was crying.  It was just really bad.”
“Well this has been a real pick-me-upper of a haircut.”
“Your hair looks good. Do you want to see the back?”
“I’m not sure why I even came here. I just wanted a haircut. I wasn’t counting on a story about your father.”
“Yeah, it was really bad.”
“Plus, now I hate my mustache.”
“We can cut it off next time.
“No, I need it to sleep.”
***

Beach Fire

Beach Fire May 3, 2015

Beach Fire
May 3, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

See the collection here.

BEACH FIRE
They were gathered around the fire on the beach after the sunset had come and gone.  They were in beach chairs and pressed up against the fire for warmth in the New England evening.  The flames lit their faces and the underside of the bills of the baseball caps they were all wearing.
Suddenly there was a man in their midst.  He had a bag that looked like the sort of bag you pop popcorn in.  The bag had been popped full, it seemed, for it had that plumped up quality a popcorn bag takes after its popcorn has been popped.
“Do you mind if I take some of your fire?” The man said.  He did not direct the question to any one in particular and the people sitting around the fire did not seem to know who had authority to grant the request.
Finally a man in a red Justin Boot Company cap, plainly the oldest in the group, spoke. “Why not.”
The man who had appeared in their midst did not pause for comment.  He thrust the popcorn bag directly into the burning beach fire.
“We couldn’t get it to start,” he said.
“What is it?” the man in the red hat asked.
The man with the popcorn bag did not answer the question but continued his explanation, “We only had a few matches.”
“Is it a popcorn bag?”
One of the other people at the fire said, “No, it’s too big for a popcorn bag.”
The man with his hand on the popcorn bag didn’t respond, apparently intent on avoiding catching himself on fire.  He had a yellow slicker and he was wearing those faded red shorts popular on the island in the summer time.  “I think it’s . . .”
The end of his sentence was cut off as flames burst from the bag.
As one, the group said, “Ooh,” though it seemed less for the man’s success in lighting the popcorn bag than the possibility that he would also go up in flames.
The man in the yellow slicker stood up and raised the burning bag over his head like it was the Olympic torch.  He did not pause for more than a instant before he began to gallop away from them down the beach.
There was a pause and then a moment of shared loss as if a cherished family member had gone off. They stared down the beach as the flame receded. They kept watching – silently, intently – until the flame stopped moving. Then they saw the flame dip down, briefly disappear, and then rise again into a small beach fire, just like their own.
There were three beats of silence.
The man in the red hat spoke. “Do you guys know who that was?”
Another two beats of silence.
The man in the red hat answered his own question. “Prometheus. That was frickin’ Prometheus.”
There were two more beats of silence, then a woman sitting on a beer cooler, her sweatshirt orange in the firelight, said, “Yeah. That’s probably just how it happened.”
* * *

Sushi

Sushi April 26, 2015

Sushi
April 26, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

See the collection here.

SUSHI
They were sitting cross-legged at the low table waiting for the waiter to take the man’s credit card. They had been waiting for a long time and no waiter had appeared and now the man’s legs had fallen asleep.

* * *
Sushi originally appeared in Gargoyle Magazine