Dates

Dates A Story July 12, 2015

Dates
A Story
July 12, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

See the full series here.

DATES

I was sitting in a booth in a diner in the Mission, typing on my laptop. In the booth behind me there was a man and a woman. I could hear them well, but couldn’t see their faces without turning.
The man had a low and scratchy voice. “You get enough to eat?”
She had a high and bright voice. “Oh yes, thank you so much.”
He said, “can I ask you a serious question?”
“Sure, what’s up?”
“But I am really serious. I’m not fooling around.”
“Ok.” She said it with a very slight question mark.
“When my mom died I got a tattoo of her picture on my left shoulder.”
“Really?”
“Yeah, the picture looks awesome and right below it I have her dates.”
“What does that mean?”
“Her dates. You know, the day she was born and the day she died.”
“Oh. I hadn’t heard it called that before.”
“Yeah, those are her dates. Right below the picture.”
“Oh.”
“Sort of hard to show, but you can see part… See?”
I really wanted to turn around and see what that tattoo looked like but I was eavesdropping. Some people don’t care for that. And I wanted to see where this was going.
“Oh yeah. Wow!” She said. Her voice even higher and brighter than before. “That really is a picture. It’s almost like a photograph. How’d you get that?”
“I got a really good ink artist.”
“I’ll say; that’s nice work. So what’s the problem?”
“You see, I got the tattoo to honor my Mom after she died. The thing that gets me is if my mother had seen her tattoo she’d have known how much I loved her cause I wanted to have her on my shoulder forever.”
“Yeah that’s really nice. You are a good son, John.”
“But she never saw it cause I didn’t get until she was already dead. I just didn’t think of it, you know. I am not so good on planning that sort of stuff.”
“Don’t beat yourself up. I am sure she understands.”
“I don’t know. I hope so.”
“Yeah I am sure.” There was a pause then she said, “should we get the check?”
“Wait. I didn’t tell you the problem.”
“Sorry. I thought that was it.” She laughed, lowered her voice, and confided, “Actually, I was thinking it was kind of a strange problem; like not much you could do about it at this point. Haha. Whew. Now what’s the real problem?”
“I want to get one for my father.”
“A tattoo?”
“Yeah.”
“Where are you going to put it?”
“I want to do it on my other shoulder.”
“Well that seems fine. What’s the problem?”
“Like what I was saying before; I want him to see his tattoo. So he knows how I feel.”
“But it’s a memorial, isn’t it? For after he is gone? Isn’t that the point?”
“Yes. But what if I get it now?”
Now now? While he is alive?”
“That’s the issue. Do I do it?”
“Hmm. Is he… having health issues?”
“Knock wood. He seems to be going great guns.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah”, she said. Even without seeing her face, I could tell she was biding time, trying to figure out how to respond.
She temporized further. “But what about the dates? How would you handle that?”
“Bingo. That’s the hold up. I would do the picture and the day of his birth but I would have to leave the date that he dies blank. I mean I could put in two zero but I would have to leave a blank for the actual year of death for now. I’d just have to get it tattoo’d in later. Do you think that’d look weird?”
He didn’t wait for her to respond. “I could just wait until he dies but then he would never see it and he would never know how I felt. I so regret that my mom never did. I feel like I should do it – I mean, I decided I would do it, but then I ran into the dates thing and that has got me confused.”
“Hmm. Do you think he might be a little unsettled, you know the whole getting ready for his death thing?”
“Yeah, I don’t know. I mean I’m concerned about it, that’s why I am asking you. I thought maybe you could help, you know, think it through. I bet you’re good at that. What do you think?”
“Well thank you John. I am flattered that you asked. But I don’t know your father. I mean I hardly know you. So its hard to say.”
“But just in general. What do you think?”
“I feel that I’m, ah, not sure that I really… but you sure you want my opinion?”
“That’s why I asked.”
I could hear her take a deep breath. “Frankly, I think it might be a bit creepy to him.”
Creepy?” Clearly she had surprised him.
“Yeah, I mean it’s nice John, so nice, but maybe just a little creepy. He’s not dead yet. That’s a fact. If you do a memorial for him with his death date half in, maybe it’s like you can’t wait for him to pass. But who cares what I think? How do you think he will feel? You know him. I don’t know him at all. What’s he like?”
“He can be kind of difficult. Maybe you are right. But then what if I don’t do it now and he all of a sudden drops dead and never gets to see it. He’ll never know.”
“Yeah, there’s that.”
“I don’t want to make the same mistake twice.”
“Yeah, its always better to make two different mistakes…Haha… Sorry. That was just a joke. Can’t restrain myself. Sorry.”
I almost turned around to see how he was taking that, but I restrained myself. He paused for a good five seconds but when he resumed he didn’t sound offended. He said,  “I regretted it with her; it would be awful to do it again. I mean every day I am taking a risk. He could get hit by a truck, you know.”
“Maybe you should ask him how he would feel about it.”
“I can’t that would ruin the surprise.”
“You were planning to surprise him?”
“Yeah, I think he would get more out of it that way.”
“Wow. How were you going to do that?”
“I didn’t really work it out. I was just thinking, you know, I would invite him over for dinner and maybe after dinner when we were sitting around and having a beer I would just take off my shirt and see if he noticed.”
“Now we’re talking creepy.”
“Come on, that’s not creepy. And it’ll give him a chance to see how it looks.”
“What for? What are you going to do if he doesn’t like it? Get it removed?”
“He’s gonna like it. It’s his own picture for Christ sake.”
“Does he like the one of your mother?”
“I don’t know.”
“Has he seen it?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure he has. I don’t remember specifically, but I think he has. Yeah. He has got to have.”
“Maybe you should show him your mother’s tattoo before you go ahead and get his done. That will at least give you an idea of whether he is likely to like it, you know, in general.”
“I don’t know. He might just react to her, not the tattoo.”
“What does that mean?”
“He doesn’t – didn’t – like her much. They got divorced.”
“Oh wow. That puts a whole new spin on it.” She pantomimed the big voice of a game show host, “Are you ready to solve the puzzle?” She returned to her regular voice. ‘HaHa.”
“Why did you say that?”
“Just a funny. How long ago did they get divorced?
“I don’t get it.”
I really wanted to look at him. With that low scratchy voice I couldn’t even be sure his age. I mean maybe 30. She was easier. I had her at 25 or something.
He continued. “They got divorced a long time ago. Ten twelve years. Something like that. She got into a relationship with a guy from her office and he couldn’t abide that.”
“So they split up?”
“He kicked her out. I mostly lived with her in high school but I got to be pretty good friends with him after she died that’s when I heard the whole story. You see that’s why. I want to honor my father just as much as her.”
“Did he get remarried?”
“Naw. Not yet anyway.”
“How about your mother?”
“Yeah, she married Brad.”
“Is he still alive?”
“Yeah.”
“Haha. You thinking of getting his tattoo too?”
“Brad? Seriously? Not a chance. He’s a little twerp.”
“So I guess showing your father your mother’s tattoo isn’t that great an idea.”
“Yeah.”
She didn’t say anything for minute. With my back to the wall of the booth I could feel her shifting around on her side. Then she said. “Have you picked out a picture for the tattoo?”
“I got a great one at home. It’s from when he was in the Service. He’s carrying a rifle and wearing his uniform. Kick ass.”
Another pause. “Look John, this is just me, but you asked my opinion. I think you should definitely talk to him about it in advance. A tattoo is forever.”
“I know what you are saying, but what if he says no?”
“Then you know and you don’t do it, right?”
“But I want to do it. I want the balance.”
“Huh?”
“It’s awkward this way. You know, like one of my arms is heavier than the other.”
“Really? I doubt that could be the case.”
“I know. I know. It’s the weirdest thing, but I’ve been feeling that everything is out of sync. I don’t think it will be right until I get his done.”
“Even without all the dates?”
“Yeah, I don’t think they’re that heavy.”
“Seem pretty heavy to me. Haha. Just kidding.”
“Do you always do that? Look, I know it won’t be perfect but it’ll balance much better.”
“What if . . . no.”
“What were you going to say?”
“No… its not appropriate”
“Go ahead.”
“I was thinking you could use erasable ink.”
“Are you kidding? That isn’t a good idea at all.”
“Just so you could handle the dates thing.”
“No. It’s a really bad idea. You’re completely missing the point.”
“I was just trying…”
“Completely missing the point.”
There was a pause. I really wanted to look at their faces but I didn’t let myself turn around. Then he was talking again. “Just completely missed the point. I can’t believe it. I was thinking you would have really good advice.”
“Well you asked what I thought. Anyway, do you really want both of them on your body? They got divorced. You wouldn’t bury them in the same gravesite, would you? People don’t that, do they?”
“It isn’t the same.”
“Isn’t it? Like you are putting their pictures are on the same canvas.”
“I am not a canvas.”
“You got their pictures painted on you. How is that different? I am just asking if its a good idea to put divorced people on the same body. I mean what will they think? Do you think your father really wants to be with his ex?”
“You are making this too complicated.”
“Sorry. Sometimes I do that.”
“Yeah. I can tell.”
“But didn’t you say that she had an affair with that Brad guy.”
“Did I say that? But yeah. That’s why they got divorced. My Dad put his foot down.”
“Well, if it were me… I am just saying.”
“I think I will get the check.”
“Suppose it were you? Would you want to be forever on your kid’s shoulder with your cheating ex just around the corner? Wouldn’t that kind of freak you out?”
He did not say anything, and then she was talking again with the Big Game Show Announcer Voice. “Particularly with only half of your dates?”
Another long pause. I would have loved to be able to see his face.
“Sorry,” she said. “You asked my opinion. Always figure its better to put it out there; that way you know.”
“I can tell.”
“That’s the thing with these meet ups; you gotta be yourself. No sense wasting each other’s time, right?”
“Yeah. I guess.”
“No point to holding back.”
“I just thought you’d be more understanding. I really did. Thats why I swiped right. I thought you’d understand.”
– Jay Duret

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.”

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.”
* * *

Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice April 5, 2015

Fire and Ice
April 5, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

“I don’t get Fire and Ice,” he said.
We were riding in my car on the way to school.  My son, Ajax, was starting sixth grade and did not have a lot of time to talk to me in the car.  There were more important things to do.  Play on my iPhone.  Text the girl who was not his girlfriend.   But today there was a little time left before we reached his school and Ajax was actually talking.
“What about fire and ice?” I said.
“I don’t get why they have Fire and Ice commercials on shows watched by kids.”
“What’s fire and ice?”
“Dad, you really don’t know?  They say three things about Fire and Ice.  One, it tingles; two, it grows back your hair; and three, you can’t wait to put it on.”
“I don’t get it.  Grows back your hair?  Is it something for baldness?”
“Wow, Dad,” he said, shaking his head at my hopelessness, ‘it blows back your hair.’” He paused and gave me a look of utter incredulity,  “Do you really mean you have never heard of Fire and Ice?”
“No. What is it?”
“Dad, it is a condom, everybody knows that.”
“Well how does it blow back your hair?”
“Dad I said it grows back your hair.”
“Trust me Ajax, if a condom grew back your hair, people would have condoms hanging off them like they were a Christmas tree.”
“Dad, do you remember that time when I was in fourth grade and all the kids were standing outside after our service learning and we were talking with our teacher and right on the ground in front of us there was a used condom lying on the ground and the teachers were really grossed out?”
“No, somehow that didn’t make the class newsletter.”
“Yeah.  The teachers were really freaked out.”
“I am not surprised.”
“So dad”, he paused for a moment, “what kind of condom do you use?”
“Ajax I think you are asking a little too much information there.”
“Do you use an orthopedic condom?”
“What!”
“You know like an old dentist.”
“‘Orthopedic’ doesn’t have anything to do with dentists, it has to do with your bones.”
“Oh, I know, I was just looking for a long word.  What kind of condom would an orthopedic dentist use?”
“I really don’t know.  Ajax, you are one your own on this one.”
He continued along happily, composing a jingle: “Yeah, it tingles, it blows back your hair, you can’t wait to put one on. It’s the condom of an orthopedic dentist.”

At the DMV

A the DMV.  A Story for Sunday March 29, 2015

AT THE DMV
A Sunday Story
March 29, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday.

See the full collection

The large man across the counter took my form without looking at me. He was sitting in a small chair with rollers and he had it scooched to the side for more legroom, bringing him very close to a red headed co-worker sitting in an identical chair and serving a customer at the counter next to me.
The red haired DMV worker’s customer stood to my right shoulder. She was an extremely attractive young woman wearing a see-through chiffony type skirt. I had noticed her before. Many of the men waiting in line had been looking intently at the see-through skirt to determine if by seeing through they could see anything they wouldn’t otherwise see.
My DMV guy’s chair was below the counter and from his angle he could not tell that the red haired co-worker’s customer was wearing a see-through skirt. He had a different issue on his mind.
“Jeesus,” he said.  “Half the damn year is already gone. It just flew by.”
I was waiting at the counter to get my license and living in fear that I would be found to lack the necessary paperwork and be shunted into some vast holding pen to wait for hours while my records were retrieved from Sacramento or Harrisburg or Washington DC. I could not tell if the DMV guy’s observation was directed at me but since my prime strategy for the DMV was to be hyper agreeable, I responded as if it were.
“Sure has,” I said, “flown by.”
“Half the stinking year, already gone.” He shook his head.
Before I could say anything further, the red-haired co-worker intervened.
“Well not really. It is only May 28,” he said.
My DMV guy leaned back in his chair and raised his arms. “Jesus. It’s just a couple of days til June. Don’t split hairs.”
“July, not June. July is half way.”
“June 1st.”
“No. It’s July. July is half way. Not June.
“Jeesus, why are you always splitting hairs on me?”
“I am just going by the mathematics of it. Twelve months. Halfway is … July. Just do the math.”
My DMV guy looked up at me for the first time. “Tell him” he said, and jerked his chin in the direction of the red haired DMV guy.
“Yes,” I said, “that’s right. The year just feels like it is rocketing by. Can’t believe it is going so quickly.
The red-haired DMV guy had no interest whatsoever in my take. He had now noticed the woman across the counter from him. He couldn’t see the see-through dress but she had slightly hunched forward to fill in one part of the form and in doing do had pressed her breasts forward on the countertop, a situation that made the red haired guy rise slightly from his chair to better inspect.
I wanted to divert my DMV guy from the question of whether June 1 was actually the midpoint of the year, so I volunteered that we were near to Tax Freedom Day.
“What the hell is that?” my DMV guy asked.
“You know. It’s the date before which all your work goes to pay taxes. Keeps getting later and later every year, it seems. I think it’s about now, isn’t it?”
“Really? Half way through the year then?”
“Yeah, I said, “just about”.
My DMV guy considered the matter for a minute, weighing whether Tax Freedom Day was an interesting subject. For a moment he was going to go with it but then he shook his head and began to complain to me about the red haired co-worker. He spoke loudly enough for the red haired guy to hear him – maybe that was the point – but the red haired guy was more interested in his customer with the breasts perched the counter.  “I work with the guy all day and I can’t even have a conversation with him and look here I end up talking with you.”
“My pleasure.” I said.
“And you just walked in from the street.”
“To get my license.”
“Yeah, just goes to show. What’d you call it? Tax Day?”
“Tax Freedom Day. Depends what state you live in how late in the year it is. You know, state taxes too.”
“Yeah. Califormya. HaHa.”
“Its definitely later here. Sometime around now, I think.”
“Jesus. You gotta work half a year just to pay taxes.”
At the counter next to me, the red haired guy was working his computer. The attractive young woman had begun to read a book.
“That’ll be 33 dollars,” my DMV guy said.
I reached for my wallet but before I could get any money, the woman next to me, her face still in her book, tendered two twenties.
“I think he meant me…” I said.
My DMV guy had now noticed how attractive the young woman was. She was wearing a white straw Panama hat with a pink band and she had tipped it back from her forehead.
…but you are welcome to pay,” I added.
She looked up at me from her book, blankly at first but she quickly worked out the confusion. She gave me a flashing white smile full of generous intensity. She laughed at her mistake, “no, no, you better pay your own freight.”
My DMV guy saw an opening and jumped in. “You could make it a gift. To the great state of Califormya! HaHa. You could!” He smiled brightly as if he had come up with a way to solve the deficit.
The red haired DMV guy looked up from his computer when he heard my DMV guy poaching his customer. This was a clear injustice – the young woman was giving my DMV guy more attention than she had been paying him! And doing so while he labored over her paperwork! He looked at me for the first time and snarled slightly, “its a matter of mathematics, anyone knows that. Half of twelve is July. Always was, always will be. But then you have to be able to understand math and science.” He slightly lowered his voice and confided,  “You have to be able to actually count.”
My DMV guy flung both arms, palms up, to the sky. He looked right at me. “You see? You see what sort of asshole I am dealing with?” He looked to the woman, “Whoops. Excuse my French.”
The red-haired guy muttered: “Ha! Like you could speak French…”
I picked up the paperwork I had brought to the counter. “Say, how does this work? Will I be able to actually get a license today?”
My DMV guy was not focusing on me. “Like you can speak English…”
“Good one, Einstein. How much is half of twelve? Eleven? Thirteen?”
The woman snapped her book closed and leaned forward onto the counter. Her blouse gapped wide open, her breasts made globes on the counter. The red haired guy’s face snapped to her. She said, “excuse me. How is it going? Do you have everything you need?” She smiled that brilliant smile in the red-haired guy’s direction. He was quickly yessing and allrighting and printing out her documents. In no time at all, she was on her way.
My DMV guy was involved in a slow paced effort to staple two forms together. Something had gone wrong with the stapler and he had to give it a good smack on the countertop to get it to perform to his satisfaction. “They give us these damn things and they are constantly getting jammed.”
“Must be a pain in the ass,” I ventured.
“Helps,” said the red haired guy, “if you know how to operate them. Just saying.”
My DMV guy stood, kicked back his chair and turned to face the red haired guy. He had a bigger belly than I had observed before and when he balled his fists he looked as if he had been inflated with an air hose. One corner of his shirt had come untucked from his pants and it flopped over his belt in the front.
The red haired DMV guy kicked back his stool and stood up as well. He was thin and wore heavy winter yellow corduroy pants and hiking boots. “You gonna hit me cause you can’t work a stapler?”
“Jackass!”
“Fatass!”
An extremely large woman appeared behind the two men. She was one of those unfortunate souls whose shoulders and breasts form the top of a cube that drops in straight lines to the knees. Her clothing framed her body like a tarp covering a couch standing on end.
Her voice was as big as she was. “I don’t think so!” she bellowed. “I do not think so! You, round potato,” she gestured to my DMV guy, “Sit Down! I said, sit down! And you, Mr. Wiggly, you hear me? Get your skinny ass in that chair. Now!”
I saw my chance, “Excuse me, Mam. Any chance you can help me? My license application seems to be stalled while these gentlemen insult each other.” Ah ha! I had done it. I had taken it up a level. Take that! KaBoom!
My comment stopped time itself. For several long moments, no one moved. Then the large woman looked over at me. She peered forward and looked down her nose. “Excuse me.” She said. “Did you not hear that we were talking?”
“Yes,” I said, “that’s just why I spoke up.”
“Did you hear anyone ask you to speak?” She went right on. “No, you did not. So I will ask you to please let us finish our discussion.”
And then, without another word to me or either of the two DMV guys, she turned and glided away, a freighter in still waters.
The DMV guys, both my guy and the red haired guy, retrieved their chairs and sat back down. My guy handed me a white piece of paper and said flatly, “hold this over your left eye then please read the letters on Chart A line 3. “ He pointed to a group of optician’s charts on the wall. “Now read Chart C line 1.”
Without looking up at me he handed a slip that served as a receipt for the 33 dollars I had paid. With equal detachment he handed me a form to take to Photo Booth A.
I waited to see if anything else was needed. “Is that it?”
He mouthed something I could not hear, but I took it to mean I was free to leave. I grabbed the papers and started down for the photo line. I looked back at the red haired DMV guy and he was already in the midst of another customer’s issues. He had scooched his chair to the side for more legroom, bringing him very close to my DMV guy. They had their heads together and were laughing.

In Bed

IN BED A Story for Couples March 22, 2015

IN BED
A Story for Couples
March 22, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday. 

Sweetie. Sweetie. Turn over. You are snoring.
Huh?
You are snoring again. Turn over.
You woke me up.
You were snoring. Just turn over and go back to sleep.
Why’d you have to wake me up.
I didn’t wake you. I just gave you a little shake.
You woke me up.
Cause you were snoring.
I wasn’t.
Trust me. You were.
You didn’t have to wake me.
I did. You were doing that snorting thing.
Snorting? You said snoring.
It’s snoring all right; it’s the aggressive kind. Like you kind of gurgle for a while and then you wheeze and then you pull up short and you let out a little honk.
You are so full of shit. I don’t snort.
You do. That’s why I had to give you a shake.
You fucking woke me up. Just say it. Don’t say you gave me a “little shake”. You woke me up. Admit it.
Well I tried giving you a little shake but you kept snorting.
And so you decided to wake me up? At 3:00 in the morning?
You didn’t have to wake up; you could have just turned over.
I wasn’t even snoring. You just woke me up.
Trust me. You were snoring.
You can’t just wake me up in the middle of the night. I have got to get a good sleep.
You were snoring.
So what! It isn’t like you go all silent when we go to bed.
That doesn’t have anything to do with … anything.
How many times have you woke me up with one of your farts?
Never.
Oh right. You never fart.
Everybody farts. I didn’t say I didn’t fart. I said I didn’t ever wake you up farting.
Like hell. Sometimes its like there is a gunshot in here. Ka-Pow.
Very funny.
I am serious. I have had to go sleep in the other room.
Yeah-yeah, you are just changing the subject.
I am totally serious. I can’t believe you’d even try to deny it. You are famous for it.
Come on.
Ask the kids. Ask Delia. You have woken her up in the other room. I remember her coming in asking if there was a gunfight in the street.
You are just pissed cause you were snoring.
I am pissed because its 3 in the morning and you decided to wake me up.
I just gave you …
Don’t give me that ‘little shake’ crap.
I wasn’t …
If I woke you up every time you farted, you wouldn’t get up until 10 in the morning.
Sweetie. Why don’t you just turn over and go back to sleep. Just don’t sleep on your back. That’s when you snort. Just go back to sleep.
How can I go back to sleep? You woke me up. And now I am up.
Just go back to sleep.
And its gross. Really gross.
No, just turn on your side…
You fart under the covers.
Sweetie, you are going off on a tangent here.
I don’t think so.
Everybody farts when they sleep. I saw a PBS program on it.
You watched a PBS program on farting?
I happened to see part of it.
The part on farting?
Part of the part on farting. They said every person has to fart 35 times a day. It’s a fact.
You are delusional.
It is a fact. You can look it up.
I don’t think I will look up statistics on farting.
And it isn’t like you don’t.
Me?
Yes, you.
What bullshit.
Oh yes. You have had some spectacular farts.
Stop it.
Once there was a huge explosion and I woke up and there were no covers on the bed. I felt all around. I couldn’t figure out what had happened. And then all of a sudden the covers were back.
What are you talking about?
And I thought I was losing my mind but then I figured out what had happened.
You are so full of…
Your fart was so huge that the covers blew up all the way to the ceiling and then they came slowly drifting down.
…shit…
Like snow falling on cedars…
Very funny…
Just like snow falling on cedars.
I am going back to bed.
Just turn over. You don’t snore when you sleep on your side.
Fine.
I love you.
Love you, too… Just don’t fart.
Just don’t snore.
 
– Jay Duret
jayduret@yahoo.com

Captain Jimmy's Wake

CAPTAIN JIMMY'S WAKE A Saint Patrick's Day Tale March 15, 2015

CAPTAIN JIMMY’S WAKE
A Saint Patrick’s Day Tale
March 15, 2015

Imagined conversations, daily. Stories on Sunday. 

 The longest trip a son can take is the one he makes to bring his father’s body home.
The call came at 4 in the morning the day before St Patrick’s Day. I knew what it was before I answered the phone. I had been waiting for that call, it seemed, for years. They had found my father in a bar in Boston. The Full Moon Bar & Grill. He had been drinking. His prodigious capacity for alcohol, for self-remorse, for self-immolation, was not enough in the end. He died as he had lived the last several years – drunk, spewing up things that wouldn’t stay down, spewing up things that you could not identify. He was, in short, a drunk.
And now he was dead drunk.
I was on the road by 5. I took the new SUV; it was as big as a boat. I figured for this task it would serve me well. I drove straight but it was a long way to Boston from my home in Philadelphia. I had a long time to remember many of the things about my father that I would have preferred to forget. The times that he went away. The times he left me alone, just a twenty dollar bill on the counter in the kitchen and a note telling me he’d be back soon – I should just go to school and order pizza. But then he’d be gone for weeks and the money would run out and I’d be eating anything that didn’t move.
By the time I reached the bar it was almost dark and there was a crowd. There was an “e” in the Full Moon’s Grille. Tricky. There were men in jeans and down vests with knit hats. Older men in heavy suits with ties askew. Women with hard faces and long cigarettes. There were shiny foil shamrocks on the walls and mugs of green beer on the bar. Already the air was full of the oversweet and slightly rancid smell of spilled beer. Many in the crowd were wearing green paper hats. The forced hilarity of St Patrick’s Day.
I was wearing a camel’s hair overcoat and my usual dark lawyer suit. I did not fit in. I was used to that.
As I pushed to the bar, a middle aged woman with pockmarks and a chin that protruded from the plane of her face by a good inch and a half, grabbed me around my neck and gave me a kiss so full with lipstick it was as if I had been stamped rather than greeted.
“Its Captain Jimmy’s boy!” she yelled into the dense and throbbing crowd. “Captain Jimmy’s boy is here.”
For a moment there was no reaction. But then it was if the air had been let out of the room’s tires. A dense quiet, followed immediately by whispering. Intense whispering. From the back of the crowd I could hear one voice distinctly: “Shush, you moron. It’s Little Jimmy. He doesn’t know.”
The crowd parted my way to the bar. The woman with the pockmarks pushed me forward as if I was a tanker unable to maneuver in a harbor without the push of a tug. Behind the bar there was a giant of a man. He must have been seven feet tall and the way he had his arms folded across his chest made him look as wide as a Sub Zero. I felt like I had fallen from a plane into a remote wilderness and now I was being presented to the chief of the tribe.
“Hello,” I said. “I have come for my father.”
The giant looked down on me. His face was so broad and flat that you could project a movie on it. I thought he was going to say something but he just jerked his thumb behind him.
The woman with the pockmarks started pushing me again. “Oh, he’s in the back. He’s in the back. Come on Little Jimmy, your old Dad’s in the back.”
The crowd parted again and now we were maneuvering down a long narrow hall. The walls were done in pine paneling and there were brightly light neon beer signs on the wall. The hall was so narrow that we had to walk single file as if we were passing deeper into the earth.
Behind me the woman continued her non-stop commentary, “Oh we cleaned him up good, Little Jimmy, your Dad was a mess. But he is fine now. He is with the Lord now. He is just fine. Oh he was proud of you. Oh my, was he proud of you, Little Jimmy.”
Something in me just burst out. I swiveled around, nearly knocking a sign for Harpoon Ale off the wall, “I am not Little Jimmy. I have never been Little Jimmy. I will never be Little Jimmy. I am a lawyer. I am a goddam lawyer.”
“There, there.” She looked up at my face with pity. “It will be all right. We’ve done the best we could for him.” She patted my arm. “What’s your name lad, what’s your proper name?”
“It doesn’t really matter,” I said, “call me Ishmael.”
“Okay,” she said, “Listen Izzie, your Dad was a fine man. A fine, fine man. We are so sorry to lose him.” She gestured out towards the throng in the bar, “We had to have a proper wake for Captain Jimmy. Everybody loved him. They’ve been coming from all over to pay their respects. By tonight you won’t be able to get into the place.”
“It is St Patrick’s Day.”
“That it is. That it is.” She grabbed me again and pulled so that I faced her. She whispered insistently into my face, a long whistle of beer and cigarettes and lipstick. “She is here you know.”
“Who is here?”
“Wanda. She won’t leave his side. She just sits there besides him grieving for all she is worth. She has been crying ever since”
“Who is Wanda?”
“You don’t know Wanda?” She seemed stunned.
“No. Who is Wanda? One of his girlfriends?”
“He never mentioned her to you?”
“I never heard of any Wanda.”
“That’s odd. That’s very odd. She said she was an old friend. His oldest friend was what she said.”
“Wanda?”
“That’s her name. Wanda.”
“What does she look like?”
“Oh you won’t have any problem recognizing her. She is the one who drinks like a fish.”
“Honestly, I don’t know any Wanda.”
She gave me a queer look. Then she turned me around and gave me another push and I emerged into a banquet room in the back of the bar. A large room. There must have been a hundred people in the room with space for a hundred more. There was a huge exhaust fan on the back wall.   The walls were the same pine paneling as the hall. The same neon signs, touting beers from around the world: “Salty Dog,” “Flying Fish.” One of the signs was for “Lighthouse Ale”, and it had a rotating light in the center to give the effect of a lighthouse light whirling by.
In the center of the room, there was a long table, like a banquet table, covered with fruit and cheese. For some reason there was a small boat – an old fashioned skiff – on the table.
“You see what we done for our Jimmy.” She pushed me forward again, right up to the table.
“Good Lord.” He was in the boat, lying on his back, his arms at his sides. He was wearing a sailor suit, like out of an old novel. There was a decorative harpoon at his side. He had three stripes on his right sleeve and a little sailor cap. His gray beard. His red nose. Those metallic eyes, the burst red whites. It was my father. There could be no doubt.
The crowd from the bar poured into the banquet room behind us. It was hot in the press of the room. Someone turned on the big fan in the back   The blades were as big as airplane propellers. The woman with the pockmarks was talking again. “She’s looking at you Izzie. You better go and pay your respects.” She nudged me toward the center of the table.
There was no doubt who Wanda was. Monumental. Blowsy. All in black. Her breasts so large that her shapeless black mourning attire – what even to call it: her habit, her robes, her shroud – had separated on the sides as if she had gills. And she dripped. There was a pool beneath her. Hour after hour of salty tears had left her drenched and dripping, her sodden black clothing like canvas or the rough hide of some sea creature.
She started to rise. She was massive. Her eyes were set so far apart that to see me approach she had to turn her head to the side. She had a mole on the back of her neck as big as a blowhole. I had a sudden and uncontrollable desire to shout “Thar’ she blows!” but I restrained myself.
And then I was in front of her. Her massive bulk streaming, her blunt head vertical, that long gash of a mouth larger than my head.
“I don’t know what to say,” I said.
She was silent but she listed to the side as if I had wounded her in some deep and primordial way. My shoes filled with water.
“He was my father.”
From behind the pockmocked woman was hissing at me: “tell her you are sorry.”
I started to say that, but I couldn’t make my mouth move.
“Izzie. Tell her you are sorry. Seriously, lad, don’t mess around.”
I looked at her again. This woman. This Wanda. Had my father really loved her? Had he wrapped his arms around her blubberous bulk and murmured to her the little endearments he had long ago favored my mother with? Had he really gone amorous into her fishy stink, her sea change, her bed of kelp?
And at once, I knew it was not so.
She stiffened. As if she realized that I knew the truth.
I started to step back.
“Oh Jesus, don’t do that Izzie. You’ve never seen her mad.”
The crowd was deep behind us. The room suddenly was filled with shouting. The big fan in the back of the banquet hall whooshed as if there was a violent wind blowing. With the water on the floor it seemed as if I was on the deck of a ship.
The Wanda creature turned and moved into the crowd. I could not believe how quickly she streamed away. The crowd churned in her wake. The table where my father lay rose and settled as if a wave had run underneath it.
“Oh shit!” the lady with the pockmarks cried out over the din, “she’s coming back!”
Now the crowd was in rout. People were screaming. The wind had risen. Half of the lights had gone out and, in the dimness, the sea washed over the deck. “Oh Lord!” I heard a scream from behind me. And, coming from the far end of the banquet hall, there was the unmistakable snubbed brow of Wanda’s head plowing towards me, speeding as if she were swimming.
I leapt out of her way. Behind me I heard the moans and screams of St. Patrick’s Day partygoers dashed onto the rocky shoals of this Boston bar. I heard the whistling of the buoys. The clanging bells. The whip of the lighthouse light.
“Here she comes! Here she comes again!”
I jumped for my life. This time I had the fortune to land safely in the little skiff, flat on top of my father.
Now the wind was blowing out of control. The waves were breaking right over us. I could hear the wailing of drowning men and women. We were bucked and buffeted by the surging waters.
“Here she comes! Oh my Lord!”
And at the moment the light from the lighthouse lit Wanda up. She was half out of the sea, the size of a house, speeding directly for our little skiff. And her gash of a mouth was open. Wide open. Her teeth were as brown and nasty as arrowheads.
There was nothing to do. The little skiff would never survive this impact. I was a goner.
But at just that moment, my father rose up behind me. He was alive! He pushed me aside. He stood in the boat. He pulled the harpoon from the seat beside me. He reared back. The wind wailed, the thunder cracked. A flash of lightning and him illuminated just as he hurled the harpoon deep into Wanda’s blowhole.
And then Wanda hit the skiff.
I was thrown into the pitching sea. I was pitched into the hurling waves.
I pitched. I hurled.
I sank below the surface. I could not breathe. I struggled for the surface. I grabbed for a barstool that came floating by. I hung on for my life.
All around me there was shrieking. The whale that was Wanda was grievously wounded and in her frenzy she skittered through the waters erratically, leaving destruction and devastation in her wake. Men and women and pieces of fruit came bobbing past me. I could not help anyone. I could only hang on and hope that Wanda would go down before I did.
What happened next was so surreal that I cannot be sure that I actually saw it. In the whipping light of the lighthouse, it was a scene from an ancient movie. Frame by frame. My father on Wanda’s back, holding onto the shaft of the harpoon imbedded deep into her center. My father using the shaft to steer her as if she were some kind of hideous motorboat. My father flushed with abandon, out for a wild ride through the dark and frothing waters, leaving me in his wake, at his wake, hoping to wake from the nightmare into which I had wandered.
But there was a mad method to his course. He was driving that woman, that Wanda, directly towards the fan at the end of the room.
It was a big fan.
It was an exhaust fan.
“Daddy!” I sputtered, “Save yourself! Leap off! Leap off!”
But I knew he couldn’t hear me. He drove the Wanda boat into the distant reaches of the room, beyond where I could see. I heard him sing out “Baby, I am your biggest fan!”
There was a horrible sound.
And then there was a bad smell. Real bad.
For a minute, the sea all round me turned a horrible black.   A deep lethargy began to overcome me.
Then the giant of a bartender came into the banquet room. He snapped on the light. He surveyed the wreckage. He shook his rueful head as if to say that he knew he should never have allowed a wake in his bar. He waded to the closet in the back and extracted a large cardboard box. He opened it up. It was full of a green powder used to make green beer. He started shoveling the mix into the black waters. I have never seen anything like it; when that stuff mixed with the remains of Wanda – and, I hate to say it, my father – it turned into an emerald green velvety liquid, slightly sweet but not cloying. Like Crème de Menthe. And potent. Very potent. I began to feel better very quickly.
The giant bartender bellowed, “It is St Patrick Day! Drinks on the house!”
In moments it seemed as if every lad and lass in Boston was in that room, drinking the new green drink, laughing and toasting my father. By the end of the evening they were calling it a “Mint Jimmy”. And, as for me, I stayed up all night, drinking and dancing with the woman with the pockmarks.