Shit We Learned from Captain Fantastic



 
- No means harder


- Your rudder cable is your best friend


- The art of war is stay alive


- Buy her lobster and destroy the pud

- Lightning will find you


- Tequila for cheers, whiskey for tears


- Women can't fly, either


- Buy smokes while you have the chance


- So I say: but the kid don't look like me


- The Bomb is gonna change the way we live


- Civilian pilots are pigshit


- Sometime I'll tell you how I lost this finger


- There is nothing sweeter than a home-cooked meal


- The clitoris is a myth


- It's a long way to Gotha


- Death is for slackers


- Medals are nice, friends are better


- Have many of you guys are gettin' it regular?



I Remember





What days do I remember?
The days that I remember are few.
The goodness in the glass it goes so fast, swirling in your hand, your eyes look away for a moment. Sweeten the juice for me please.
Sweeten it with sugar.
I remember.
I remember being born, of looking into the world for the first, wanting to understand.
I remember days of warm tears, of unrestrained sobbing, the taste of salty water. I remember alone.
I remember my heart jumping out of my chest, forgetting to pump the blood when I felt sadness, or joy, or even love.
I remember seeing that no one else's heart did the same thing, and learning how to hide the happiness.

I remember homework, long shadows in the house, when raw November took the afternoon dark. I remember the smell of stew cooking on the stovetop.
I remember waking up cold from a nap, my mind disoriented, my body in shiver as I searched for a sweater.
I remember the fear for my parents, giants with power if not reason. I remember being two foot tall.
I remember the icy bite of Winter days, inside the house while the men watched football. I remember the sound of the whistle in the stadium frozen.
I remember seeing a beautiful woman's face and knowing love. Everything about it.
I remember days of not caring, of car rides and letter grades, of taking my first step to live music. I remember drive-thru windows.
I remember the days of liquid love, of bodies in tangle, losing my limbs in hers. I remember the speed of the pulse when someone was listening.
I remember the promise of a baseball game before the first pitch is thrown. I remember hope. I remember listening for the score.
I remember seeing her standing there, all the answers in a blink of her eye. I remember I couldn't speak.
I remember Summer days, when the sun refused to leave the sky, the ache inside me pull hard as the clouds soaked up the leaking color. I remember the sweet pinks, the savage blues, and the blood orange.
I remember standing outside, looking in. Waiting in a line that never moved.
I remember watching her walk away from me. I remember the new pain.
I remember riding the train, at night, all night, every night, wondering if the other passengers knew how all alone I felt. I remember black outside the windows, in my head and in my heart, holding back the moans as my soul bled slow.
I remember praying for daylight.
I remember that hot Summer day, in the park, when I was five. I remember the taste. I remember the hyperlife and absolute perfection, the sponge mind of a child in a brilliant moment, the green grass growing before my eyes, reaching up and out to touch the sunshine. I remember my mother and father in the distance while I stepped outside of reality, this dimension, into the real world so beautiful most human beings never get a look. I remember being the architect of the universe, creating, engaging, documenting every detail of that moment for reference in the life of pain I knew was to come.
I remember thinking 'it will never get any better than this.' I remember that moment has sustained me.
I don't remember much. I remember these things.
Oh.
And you.
I remember you.
Everything about you.
I remember every single beautiful, impossible, magical, loving, sublime thing about you.
I remember you.
And I always will.
I will always remember you. 

Grand Vending: Fantastic




I remember that day like it was tomorrow.
I mean yesterday. I was thirsty, thirsty for liquid. Liquid thirsty. Then I seen it: the vending machine.

It was right there in front of the place. It seemed to glow with the light of the fluorescent bulb some guy had put inside it. I stepped up.

I reached into my pocket and found four quarters... I took a deep breath and inserted them into the slot carefully. One... two... three... and finally four.

I selected carefully: a fizzy drink with carbonated bubbles. I pressed the button and KALKA! The machine rumbled & dispensed my soda. I grabbed it out of the holding zone, felt it cold against my hand. I popped the top and put it to my mouth and enjoyed the sweet taste. Success!

A lot of other things happened to me that day but I forget most likely.

Late Night (with Some Guy You Don't Know)




I believed that I was coming up from a dream, my head floating to the surface of the water, liquid subconscious drip slippery from my hair, and I blink in just a swallow of the daylight. Then I take a look around to find I'm in the middle of the ocean: no idea how I got here, no reason why. And then, just as I begin to welcome the drown I wake up.

I’m standing at the bar in a saloon. I must have nodded off. Some guy I never knew pours me a shot, buys me a drink on the house and you don’t ask questions: you just accept what’s before you when you know there's nothing else.

I pick up the shot glass easy and raise it to my mouth. Down goes the firewater, on schedule, making all the stops, flooding inhibition, down to grand stomach station, sending synapse spinning off course, to spiral pointless in perpetuity, in humanity, in insanity, never to conceive of rational thought again, and that’s when I knew that I was really waking up.

I’m in the passenger seat of a car, driving down a road with no buildings, the steering wheel leading me, the wipers working against time to hold back the rain. The sky is white and grey and without light- only moisture- as I navigate the center of an all-consuming cloud. This car is going nowhere and I realize: I’m ready for an accident. I have no problem letting go of the wheel, no problem closing my eyes, preparing for the impact, welcoming the warm black…

And then I woke up. For real. In my bathrobe and borrowed slippers. Sitting in an easy chair in a small library with red carpeting. The shelves around me are lined with leather & gilt-edged hardcover books… and all the walls are shelves. There is no way into this room, no way out, and the bust of Bill Shakespeare eyes me with contempt as a woman makes her entrance, the scent of her skin preceding her.

She walks in, white dress, dark hair, her breath a metered metronome. She looks at me as I rise, taking me in, smiling her smile, her face familiar and eternal. She places a manila envelope on the table before me. I open it and pull out the 8x10 headshot, taking in the grinning face of the talk-show host & understanding even before she says the words.

Licking her lips, her eyes lost in mine, “David Letterman must die.”

I knew it, of course. I knew that she was right. And I knew that I would never fall asleep again.

The Night We Created Theresa



Theresa slow explode out the principal's office, blinking in the bright light of day, shiver in her gray sweatshirt, her eyebrows a furious V, her forehead spiral in ever-curling circles of fury, her green eyes injecting venom direct into my soul, as she steam past the secretary with the face in the laptop, make her way across the hall, launch herself out the emergency exit and walk to our car on the curb. She flashed the finger at us retroactive, and we all saw it through the window: the secretary, me, the office staff, a dozen students... vintage Theresa.

My daughter, ladies & gentleman.

I turned to Principal Atteberry, standing in his office doorway, smoldering slow on state pay, looking at me almost as angry as Theresa, and for the first time I was genuinely afraid of the laundry list he was about to read me, the lecture on its way, the sermon he would blister into my skin and beyond. It was best to flash back, to think of how pure it had started, to remind myself and God that there had once been a love.

There had once been a love.

On the night we created Theresa... seventeen years and thirty-one days ago. Donald had come by to pick me up in his red Civic... the roads were wet with melting snow... it must have been late April. We had been out once before, Donald and I, but this date was practice for the Senior Prom, which we both knew was coming at us a like a bullet on meth. I remember the Civic with those impossible seatbelts. Ugh! My Dad had a Civic, so riding in one made me feel like a grownup, so goddamn responsible, which only made me feel like being dirty, like peeling off my clothes and showing Don just what a filthy slut I could be. But that part is just between us, okay?

All week long- we talked on the phone all night- Don had been making this joke about taking me to Wendy's- like that was his idea of the ultimate romantic night out or something- and then there we were on the date, looking for somewhere to eat, driving around to Before These Crowded Streets and it just became hilarious to us. We had to do it, had to go to Wendy's and order off the dollar menu. And it was one of those nights, do you know what I mean? It was one of those night that you never get back, you never get again... everything all right, all of it eternal: you couldn't script it if you were a writer. I was in my button-fly jeans, purple thong & Nine Inch Nails T-shirt... Donald was in his long-sleeve tie-dye nightmare. With khaki shorts. To this fucking day... khaki shorts... nope nope nope.

So we ate our burgers in the parking lot and we both had this feeling, like fuck it, tonight it's gonna happen, so why waste each other's time? And I felt it in him, something I never felt before or since, in any other man at any other time. Not even my Father. I felt the Love. I mean the Love. I fucking got it. I mean... I'm not sure everybody could understand- Don was... the guy was fucking glowing. Strong enough to be bulletproof, make me cry. And when he stopped the car at the Wendy's exit to kiss me a part of me melted inside. A part of me died too. Maybe it was the little girl. I was glad to see her go.

I surrendered. And I won. And Donald got so lost in kissing me that he didn't hear the furious Mexican guy behind us laying on his horn. I didn't either. Neither one of us saw him get out of his car & come up to the driver's side until he pulled Donald out and beat him savage. Worked Don over like ground beef with a meat hammer. Next thing I knew we were riding in the back of the ambulance and the EMT's were treating me like his wife: “Does he have any allergies?”

I was fucking honored. “Not that I know of.”

And so I waited with him in the exam room, through “ER” playing on the ER TV, through the beautiful nurse with the long hair, through the hours into the midnight, calling my Mom on my giant cell phone, walking outside to try and get reception: “Yes I'm with Donald... he's okay... HE'S OKAY!!!”

And then back inside with him waiting for the discharge. The diagnosis was sprained arm and facial lacerations, but nowhere in the doctor's papers did it say I was in love with this man, ready to give up anything & everything for the rest of my days to be by his side. I must have started to cry then because Donald wiped a tear off my face with reflexes intact and I was gone. Gone from head to toe, with every strand of DNA, just wanting to be a part of him... and somehow... somehow he knew.

Donald kissed me in the dark room beneath the fluorescent light, and I got wet in a rush, made squish so loud I was afraid the whole hospital could hear. I climbed on top of him, his hands finding my breasts and using them for their purpose. I was in joy. By the time I got my jeans down he was rock hard...  I slipped him inside me quiet and I was good: all the way home... the two of us fused like sacred matrimony... the completion of a circuit divine. We rocked and bumped slow and awkward, him holding my mouth closed while I took turns doing the same to his... and then, before they cut the bracelet around his wrist, Donald exploding inside me over and over, rolling waves of timeless generosity, the new juices, my body vitalized on his essence. Jay Leno was coming up next.

We got dressed in time for the nurse, who looked at us like she knew but was too cool to say. Nine months later I would give birth to the baby we made... we decided to name her Theresa.

From outside in the parking lot we heard Theresa laying on the horn in my Kia. Principal Atteberry paused before continuing on with his alphabetical list of allegations.

Tonight, I will tell my daughter the story... I will make her understand. I will sing to her of the magic in the air... the love that was and will forever be... on the night we created Theresa.

And then I will beat the shit out of her.


Peggy V Paula



Peggy, pink apron,
pig nose, complexion like a pepperoni pizza, on her period, pooling plasma, pad in position, pen to paper, plucking orders professional from Paula's customers: "Did your water girl tell you about the specials?"

The poor people placed their orders but had no idea what was coming: the police and paramedics said Peggy put cat poison in the pumpkin pie and paraquat in the potato pancakes, killing Paula’s customers perfect. It wasn’t personal: it was just waitressing.

Life was tough at the Table Talk: the busboys had a half-life of sixty days, and the ones who lasted past were under psychiatric evaluation. Their hair fell out in clumps, clogging the sanitizer, and their heart palpitations and epileptic episodes shattered more than one water pitcher in a thousand pieces. The diner was a perilous place: a packed powerhouse nearly 24/7, with hungry mouths and open wallets, people pounding pasta and packing pickles until they passed out. For the staff there was never any break, never any lull, and a waitress had to die or miss parole before a new one could be hired. Still, there was never a more polarizing pair than Peggy & Paula: pure, passionate, perennial, permanent.

Legend had it- and I’m paraphrasing Pepe the paraplegic proofreader- that they both started on the same day, both fell into a physical relationship with Nick the manager, both under the impression they were the only pie on his plate. When Paula caught Nick porking Paula in the pantry she pulled her pigtails out her scalp, leaving Peggy with two purple pockmarks and a perpetual prescription for pain pills.

Since then it was war declared: both competed for the regular tables, the parties of eight or more, the good-looking men, the tips, the tips... oh my God the tips. And sometimes, yes, they killed each other’s customers.

Paula, face like a concrete abutment, skirt so high she spilled thigh in the breadbasket, bending over slow, C-cup spilling pretty in the French Onion soup, giving jiggle silly good to Peggy’s table of frat guys: "Okay you studs- your waitress had to run. You can pay me." Paula all smiles as she pocketed her partner’s proceeds.

The next day Peggy had one ton of pig manure piled into Paula’s parking place.

They kept a running count of tips on their shift: Paula would bring her customers expired peach parfaits to pump up her gratuity. It would piss off Nick: “It isn’t right,” but twenty percent was twenty percent. Peggy, pathological, would do her shifts without panties and bend over backwards for her customers, bringing half-price Pepsis to parched pot heads, and when Paula found out she peeled a ply of skin from Peggy’s chest with her freshly-painted Passion Pink fingernails.

“There’s a birthday party of 17 tonight,” Peggy said persuasive, her puckered mouth around Nick’s swollen member, “make sure you put those people in my section.”

Paula, later that night, in the ladies room: “The cast of that play is having their after-party here… ” She pounded Nick’s pelvis as he lay passive on the porcelain. “I could really use the paycheck.”

It was impossible to please them, the other waitresses paranoid, petrified, afraid to show up for shifts or look any of the diners in the eye. Peggy & Paula were pushing everyone around, their hatred so profane and so profound it threatened to destroy the fabric of the food-service industry as we know it.

After the death toll peaked at one hundred Nick knew it was time to get proactive. He pulled Peggy and Paula from the floor, pointed them to the back and prayed for peace: "We are running a business here." He made them shake hands and promise to play nice.

It was an unlikely pact, transitory, but the girls pressed the flesh with pokerfaces.

That was when Nick decided to introduce the new girl in the pink apron.

"Peggy, Paula... this is Punky. She’s gonna be waiting tables with you."

The busboys made the sign of the cross.


The Specials



"What can I get you, faggot?" This is my waiter, possibly kissing his twenty percent goodbye, but I looked up from the menu anyway, a newfound respect for the boy with no respect for me at all. He's got grease in his hair.

I play along. "Tell me: what is it that makes your lobster ravioli so special?"

The kid looks East, looks West, and then with the dedication of a bad actor auditioning for a role he could never play: "I could tell you that... but then I'd have to kill you- and stuff your entrails into our lobster ravioli."

He paused for the laugh track, turned left and made his exit stage right, amusing if not brand new, and in my head I clicked the tip meter back up to seventeen percent. Seventeen if the mozzarella stick could remember to keep my water glass full.

He wouldn't.

I looked across the restaurant, at the women waiting to get fucked. They came in multitudes, in hungry throngs, in dripping swarms... they came with boyfriends who had embraced complacency and forgotten how to set their velvety lips on fire. They came with husbands who had found mistresses decades ago. They came in teams, in squads of micro-mini's, for support, for defense, to secretly hate the teammate who got chosen as the target of the juice.

They came with their parents on birthday dinners, begging to be stolen away and ravaged in the ladies room, freed from the prison-like convention of the day. They came in the bravest of forms: all alone, no pretense, perfume soak up the skin, pheromones dripping off the nape of their neck, loose strands of hair falling out the tight bun, teeth sink into their own edible lower lip, the itch between their stretch pants making them cross their legs involuntary, bat their eyes and look away, oh no I couldn't, you misunderstand, you just don't get it, you sick brutish man...

A waitress who was not my own drop a blank check at my table with her phone number scrawled on the back, and her name- Martha- written in liquid love above the digits. I watch her ass bounce away in her black lycra sandwich wrap, promising myself I will never call, but her cheeks grind good, her hips functioning independent, and my god I'm only human, can only hold out so long...

The sad secret of this restaurant is that they're all beautiful, all worthy of the sonnets and operas I keep deep inside. Tonight I'm not asking for perfection- just a girl to help me forget the last one. Just a heartbeat and a soul and a pink place where I can lose myself, where I can share my power. Just a woman I can hold a mirror to: give her a night to stop thinking and start feeling, start being, start melting in my arms... our bodies tangled alive in the universal joy. She's out there. In here. In this restaurant tonight. I get to choose her off the menu.

"Have you made up your mind, faggot?" My buddy the waiter is back, faux hawk & lisp & two-day stubble, and I'm tipping the kid 25% because he'll never get it.

I close the menu & hand it to him.

"Yes, my friend..."

I smile and inhale, take a breath of scented air, take in the all beauty in the restaurant around me.

"I have."

Khami, Midnight



Khami stepped out small, pudgy foot hesitate over kitchen tile, walk out slow from the foyer corridor, bare skin of white heel against icy porcelain, the cuff of her powder blue pajama bottom loose around her little ankle, this tiny girl of nine years old awake, alone in this lonesome hour of midnight: out of her bed, out of her element, out of her mind with the cold sink of fear.

Outside it was hot Summer, heart of a heatwave, but the family HVAC was working overtime, pumping refrigerated air into the house and the little girl's lungs. Outside the mosquitoes sting and buzz, the flowers wilting dry and the grass shrug in overgrowth, but in Khami's house: the weather so chill she could almost see her breath. Her feet left wet footprints on the Victorian hex, but still she walked, still she took her steps. The world as she knew it was deep asleep, headline news on repeat, tweets slug slow and liquor-laden, everybody pads & cells recharging. But she was drawn here, like a grown man to cinnamon, to the cool blue of fluorescent sunshine in the dark of night, pausing at the island counter, looking up at the man sitting stiff at the kitchen table, impossible tall: Daddy still inside the suit he wore to work.

He looked different than he usually did. He looked like someone else. Daddy looked like Daddy’s brother if he had a brother but Daddy didn’t have a brother. Or a sister. He looked far away, and distracted, like he didn't see her standing there. Khami expected this, take a step deeper inside the kitchen and sure enough, Daddy's eyes still looking off and out the sliding glass door, to the backyard and beyond, a look in his eyes like he was hypnotized, mesmerized, or somehow otherwise compromised. His briefcase was sitting by his side on the tile, his laptop out on the floor, closed and unplugged, on top of it a rock-solid everything bagel from two mornings past, cream cheese petrifying by the minute.

A breeze blew through the neighborhood, a quick rush of cool air as an apology for all the blaze. There was no one awake to accept.

Daddy look up- to the bedroom, the attic? He had his gold leaf business cards on the counter in a stack, just in case he should run into a potential client, just somebody happening by who might need a senior accountant for audit and internal control. On Frazier Avenue, at 12:04 AM.

On a Tuesday.

The untouched sushi platter sat on the counter before Dad, the one that Mom had delivered, the California roll going South, the spicy tuna losing taste. The wrapped fish, Daddy's favorite, was starting to smell like just seafood, turning green and going sour. Daddy just sitting in his spot, without clue, his nose closed off, unable to smell the ocean for the sea. In his head a sensory synapse fired- it must have- as he felt the pooling saliva in his mouth and came to the inescapable conclusion that it must be time to swallow.

And so, after a moment of consideration, he did.

The eyes in his head were hollow marbles, spinning without purpose or focus, their soul lost at some point last week in the debit columns of the accounting spreadsheets, trying in vain to reconcile the disobedient numbers as they multiplied, alive, unexpectedly, exponentially. It was too late. Eventually the junior staff would be brought in to audit, and they would discover, it would be revealed, they would find out...

Daddy’s hands, his fingers, were functioning independent of his blown motherboard. They had opened the cabinet and grabbed the Tupperware full of fresh Oreo cookies, placed them on the table, the zebra stripe of sandwich some cold kind of comfort. Daddy stacked them as he sat alone, one by one, climbing the corporate ladder, a series of tiny skyscrapers, ascending to glory and success, to heaven and return on investment and-

"Daddy?"

He looked up, missing Khami before him, not allowing the location of the sound or the fear in the voice to register. Daddy turned his head. Away.

Khami, across from him, now standing at the table, sensing wrong all day and yesterday as well: Mom on the phone with the therapist and Nana and Father Tighe, Dad’s car in the driveway all day, parked at the wrong angle, alternate interior, transverse the garage and cut off the walkway to the front door. She felt it too: tried to explain to Alexandra but the girl was too young. Some bad dreams fall on your shoulders alone, and there’s nowhere to go but the source.

Daddy add another story to the Oreo tower.

"Daddy?"

He turned his head to Khami, nine years on the planet, petrified beautiful and bold, and finally saw his daughter standing before him, her hands clasped together over her belly, her eyes blinking in the artificial bright. Khami was asking a question. Asking a question and praying for an answer.

Daddy’s first thought, for reasons unknown, was the Great Wall of China. He looked down at his Khami & smiled, told her to go back to bed, that he loved her, that there was nothing to worry about, reminding her that she had school & karate tomorrow and that she needed her sleep. Well… he tried to say those things… he even thought he had. He heard the words in his head, in a back alley off the boulevard, heard them spoken in his voice or an amazing imitation thereof. It was only when he looked into her eyes and saw them getting wet, boiling over, the tears ready to escape her face, it was only then that he understood he hadn’t said a word out loud. He had forgotten how. He looked at Khami’s brow, saw it conflicted, infected, overworked: it would never be smooth and sweet again, and he knew that there was nothing he could do. This is how the future happens.

"Daddy? Are you okay?" Khami's voice, like magic, like truth in music, filling the room, waking him for just a moment from his soul coma.

"What is it? What do you want?" and he knew he had said the wrong words, even before her eyes lost all stars and begin to spill, the tears coming steady now: real, hot and salty, and in spite of his state, in spite of his absence, as her father he could taste her tears in his own mouth.

"Mommy wants to know... why you won't go to work... and Alexandra & me... We're worried about you..." In the child's innocent voice he heard the cold fear, the alarm.

Daddy, the stack of cookies suddenly insane, broke out of the trance which had held him captive for the last three days, pulling his daughter close, his fingers in her hair, her head in his chest, and he began to sob like a small child, his chest seizing, his soul refilling his body.

“I broke it, baby… I broke the damn thing wide open.”

Khami, who didn't know what to say, said nothing.

Even through Daddy's tears Khami could sense the release, knew that her father was freed, knew that this crisis- whatever it was- was finally over. She looked up at him, smiling, as he dried his eyes with his loosened tie.

“Daddy, what happened? What's wrong?” Her chest heave involuntarily as she wiped the tears away. “Is everything gonna be okay?”

Daddy's knee made spasm, leap up and knock the table from below, and the Oreo infrastructure toppled in a mess of black crumbs.

Daddy, eyes on the wreckage, swallowed hard, and then, honest: "I don't know."



#5 Dream (City On Light)




We got a message from above, to watch the skies, that the aliens were coming. They would be here, tomorrow, to make us aware of their presence, and so that day we drove out to the desert… a great caravan of automobiles and SUV’s in line down the dusty road, all of us high on uncertainty: were our lives about to get better or were we on our way to die? There is a calm that comes when you finally face the future.

So we went… out to the cliffs, our cars parked, forgotten, and we sat in groups on the dizzying heights… the valley impossibly low before us, the wind buzzing our hair as we held the ones we loved. And then, at sunset, it happened.

A breeze blew away a cluster of clouds and an image appeared in its place: a square, a movie screen, and a movie began to play. “Aliens: Fact or Fiction?” What? This was a UFO documentary from the early 80’s: fuzzy… low-budget… with video stutters. I looked across the mountain range and I could see the guys broadcasting the movie, a bunch of tech geeks cracking up, their echoed laughter audible above the soundtrack: “Are aliens real? You’ll hear from people who think so.” The techs were laughing and hugging, overjoyed at their practical hoax while the digital projector beside them beamed the image into the sky.

Bad synth music as the video cut to an elderly witness: “I’m pretty sure what I saw was the real deal.”

And so we were back into our cars, hearts broken one more time, our faith ridiculed and our day wasted. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel real. We headed for home and I thought to myself, “No… that can’t be it. There has to be more.” And then, like an orchestra swelling simultaneous, it happened. I was the first to see it.

The trees were lit up, from inside, somehow, an everyday object rendered in three-dimensional light hanging over it: a pair of blue jeans, an apple, a sports car, a hardcover book. I started smiling.

The sky was illuminated by a light show… virtual fireworks without sound, a starburst of colors, minutes between blooms, and the night would get dark again as the embers dissolved in the black.

The show got better as we drove: into the city where every office building was glowing from within… not from man-made lighting or bulbs: the brick and steel itself was luminous, gleaming, beaming. The skyscrapers too had fully-rendered 3D light projections above them: Kermit the Frog, a traffic light, the logo of the New York Mets.

And we were out on the street with everyone else, radiating in the shine, saved, high on the light. This was the proof. We smiled and we laughed. And we



The Interview




She walked into my office for the interview, dressed as a cowgirl, and when I asked her why she said, “Sir... I AM a Cowgirl.”

I pressed the secret button for Security.

“So tell me, Eileen-”

Cowgirl Eileen,” she corrected me.

I sipped my coffee. “So why do you think you would make a good District Manager? Cowgirl Eileen?”

“I reckon there are five good reasons,” she said, loosening the tie on her ten-gallon hat. “Reason number one: I’m-”

And luckily for me our office Security is laser-fast. Two enormous uniformed guards burst into my office, knight sticks already drawn.

The bigger guy nodded toward Cowgirl Eileen. “Is this the lunatic?”

“Yep,” I said, crumpling up her resume.

The two guys grabbed her by the arms and lifted her out of her chair, dragging her violently from the room.

One of the guards turned to me on his way out: “Would you like us to beat her senseless as well?”

“Please,” I said.

Hey, it was a Monday.

Lush Cash Money




Dante run fast into the liquor store and out come the gun into the Sacramento moonlight. Then: the volume on the soundtrack up, the rush of blood to the forehead, and now it’s official, unfolding in real time: another liquor store robbery. This one was like every other, except completely different.

Sav-Mor, just another liquor store in a good city crumble slow, wine racks & Peach Schnapps & almost enough vodka to kill a sorority girl. It was the building on the corner, on the boulevard, a basser parked at the curb across the street, booming vintage funk on sub-woofers strong enough to shift tectonic plates.

Inside, under the neon, Dante “No Nickname” Aviles was standing at the counter, his grey-hooded sweatshirt zipped high like a bulletproof vest, beard stubble on his craggy Latin face. His eyes were dark & deep: open ditches waiting for the dead. His oily black hair was parted down the middle, highlighting the scar on his forehead from a knife fight with his sister. His heart was exploding, his mouth gone chalk, but he was ready to do this. He held his only power in his left hand: a 9 mm pistol, dull & heavy like a stepchild. He threw his head back and screamed… just so he could hear himself screaming.

Dusty bottles high above him tremble in surprise, their glass shoulders clinking as they rattle on their wooden shelves. In a Santa Monica minute they regain their composure, yawning, going back to bed.

There was no sleep for Dante: the blood in his eye spoke of insomnia, of drive-thru nutrition, of English as a second language. It spoke of nights spent in fruitless contemplation of being born insufficient, being born to a world that never wanted him. Life is a woman who turns you down and sends you on your way. He felt the pain every second, knew it would never subside. He was weary of the scheming, soured on the dream. He was poisoned: Dante was sick from the workday.

A softball-shaped schoolteacher in for margarita salt spotted the gun and quietly left the store. The girls would understand.

Dante, rearing back, “Gimme a bottle of Bluebeard’s black Rum!!!”

The store clerk, the owner, staring at the gun, blink slow, didn’t miss a beat: “I’ll have to see some ID."

This was Ermin Meyer, moist and fleshy like a halibut sautéed, cranky from the bassinet, his day’s newspaper unfolded before him, the Sports section already memorized. His white button-down was golden brown from decades of rinse cycles. He looked at Dante blank, a slow blink of his eyes to let the kid know this was not his first robbery. He licked his fingers and turned the page of his paper.

Dante took a big bite of air, hold the gun harder. He tried to process the defiance and lack of fear in the old man behind the counter but he just couldn’t compute: there had been too many neurons lost, washed out over time to chemical adventure. He shook his head while the veins in his temples pumped on high.

“ID… ID… myyy…yiiii… ID…” Gregory the parrot, winging in the cage behind the register: sometimes he liked to talk. Dante jumped back, his eyes bug the sockets.

Ermin stood like a still frame.

Dante watch as Gregory paced his perch: bright, long, green body with a yellow head. His metal cage was ceiling-mounted, rocking slow as the bird flapped and stepped in dance, and “Yip-yip-yip-yip…ID!”

Dante inhale, his eyeballs roll back to the old man, and he raised the silver pistol to his face. “This is my ID you son of a bitch.”

Meyer groaned, taking a brown bag from the counter, using his key on the register drawer, “Alright. No profanities please.” The drawer slid out & Ermin started to harvest twenties.

“What the fuck you doing?”

Ermin rolled his eyes, stuffing a moist fistful of fives into the bag. “I’m baking a cake.”

Dante bristled again, at the sarcasm, the lack of respect. “Aye-aye-aye,” Gregory chiming in, “aye-aye-aye baking a cake.”



Dante, disbelief: “Who told you to do that?”

“Don’t you want the money?”

Dante stomped his foot, kicked over the wine rack by the door. It fell over easy, the bottles jangle but didn’t break, sliding against the back of shelf. Meyer watched it lean, forgetting the gun for one minute, his patience falling away. “Do you want the money or not?”

“I told you before- I want the big bottle of Bluebeard’s black rum.”

“But not the money?”

Dante turned the gun to the life-size cardboard cutout of NASCAR racer Kevin Capuano. Kevin stood tall and proud in his corporate logo jumpsuit, mustache, & wife-beating grin, showcasing the 24 packs of beer on sale. Dante fired the gun, sending a bullet through Kevin’s paper heart, and the racer never lost the smile on his face, politely tilting backward and falling against the cases of the very brew he was being paid to promote.

Irony finds the finish line.

Ermin, deadpan: “That cutout had two days left to retirement.”

Dante made steam, snorting, turning the gun back to Ermin, and even the fearless old man could smell the burnt barium from the weapon. “You're a fool, you mess... you old dog…” Dante nodded at the pistol, “Just imaginate on what this could do to you.”

Gregory chirped in: “Could do to you,” his long claws clutched like fingers around the edges of his water dish. Dante's eyes were locked on the old man's: “You shut up your goddamn parakeet.”

Ermin smiled. “He’s a parrot, stupid.”

“I don't give a fuck.”

“He's a yellow-headed Amazon... he has-”

“Shut the fuck up!” Dante waving the gun, “Do what I tell you or you're going away!”

Ermin lowered his head, returning to his task. He was reaping lush cash money out the register like overgrown green grass… it even smelled freshly-cut. Stacks and stacks of cash that never seemed to end… it seemed to magically regenerate as the old man packed the bag.

“WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?!?”

Mr. Meyer was losing his calm. Agitated now: “Look, just take the money & go.”

“What fucking money? Who told you I wanted your money?”

Ermin, shaking, snapped back. “What the hell DO you want?”

Dante took a bottle of grenadine from the countertop display, unscrewing the cap. He poured the sticky red over Ermin's head, soaking him slow.

Meyer's reaction was unexplainable: he raised his hands as if to catch it, his face contorted into a hopeless frown, salt-water in his eyes.

Dante finally smiled, watching the juice stain the old man's shirt from last century. He could almost taste the tears.

“I want you to turn around, get on your stepladder, and get me the big bottle of Bluebeard's black rum. I'm not gonna tell you again.”

The gun was back in Ermin’s face. Gregory fluttered to his perch, taking cover, offering “black rum, black rum.”

On the sixth shelf above Meyer's left shoulder sat the jug of rum: 1.75 litres. The label featured Bluebeard, a fictitious savage bastard created by a marketing team to sell liquid cane to the general public. With his sword drawn and chunks of bloody remains in his tangled beard he stood on the shore of a beach he had just conquered, ostensibly by raping & murdering the natives. His grin was replete with holes and stolen teeth, the new sinister, a corporate logo worse than the actual killer.

“What do you want with all that rum?”

 Dante shook his head in disbelief.

“Gimme the goddamn rum!”

Gregory: “Eeee-ee-eee gimme gimme... gimme-gimme”

“Listen kid, all I’m saying is… why are you doing this?”

Dante, listening.

“Is this really what you want to do with your life?”

Neither man said anything… Dante understanding the emotions if not the words. Meyer took a deep breath.

“You want rum? I’ll give you rum. You want money? This is my store. I been here almost thirty years. There’s a better way to do things. You don’t have to-”

Dante turned his gun on the birdcage & fired, obliterating Gregory in a blast of green & yellow feathers.

Ermin turned round, eyes wide, jaw-dropped, to watch the now-empty cage swinging violent from its chain. The feathers floated in the air, hung there, defying gravity, sticking to Ermin’s syrupy clothes. “Gregory…”

“What does the bird have to say about that?” Dante put his hand to his ear, pretending to listen. “I don’t hear him say shit. Your parakeet must have forgot how to talk.”

Ermin, between sobs, “He was a parrot.”

Dante swung the gun back to the old man's face. “This is it. You have thirty seconds to do what I told you.”

Ermin, broken, turned and headed for the ladder, climbing up the three steps and pulling the jug down. Bluebeard beamed back at him in his head band, chest flush with victory, looking into Ermin’s eyes and seeming to say, “Told you so.” For the filthy buccaneer this was better than a prison break.

Mr. Meyer walked the bottle over and placed it on the counter in front of Dante, whose eyes kept flashing to it, magnetized, a smile in his eyes now that the drought was finally over.

Ermin, defeated: “Now please…”

“How much?”

“What?”

Dante shook his head, returning to furious. “Are you deaf AND old? I said how much for the bottle!”

Ermin, lost: “$39.95.”

Dante reached for his wallet with his free hand and slipped out two twenties, throwing them on the counter. Ermin eyed the greenbacks in disbelief, but didn’t wait for his next instruction. He plucked a Jefferson nickel out of the till and dropped it into Dante's palm- wet with sweat.

The gun was lowered as Dante reached for the bottle of rum sacred. He looked at it in love, satisfied... quenched. He looked back at Ermin. “Are we good?”

Ermin searched the hard Latin face across from him for some trace... some clue… but he found nothing.

He swallowed, mentally preparing the monster job of recuperation. “Yeah,” his voice weak, ravaged, “We’re good.”

Dante smiled, remembering childhood, and swung the jug of rum at Ermin’s head: blunt force, crack his scalp and shatter his eye socket, bottle breaking against the crunch of skull bone. Ermin go down to the counter without a fuss, blood flowing, spinal fluid pooling like white zinfandel. The old man, finished, wholesale, finally humbled, going out of business, bleeding quietly to death on the spot.

The bottle of rum, compromised, leaking molasses slow, soaking the Sports section pulpy as Dante grabbed the bag of cash, leaving his two twenties on the counter. He showed no emotion as he emptied the register, as he grabbed a green feather and tucked it behind his ear, as he turned to leave and caught me on my knees, hiding behind the shelf at the end of the whiskey aisle. He showed no emotion as he pulled his pistol from his pocket, and I knew I had told my last story.
 .

The Menacing Gynecologist Goes To Megan's House



He linger in the bush, in the darkness, outside her window... he crouching, crunchy sneakers in the soil. He rubbed his running nose, took a swallow of the evening air: sharp, holiday-cold, seasoned with the smoke from the neighbor’s chimney. He exhaled & saw his breath before him- steam heat- as he took another good suck from the home-rolled cigarette smoldering in his fingers, his lungs taking in the exhaust like good company.

Inside the house he saw Megan finishing up her tuna casserole, lick the spoon like a champion ramping, toss the bowl into the sink and stretch before walking to the bathroom. He watched her pull her pants down, sitting pretty on the toilet, as he take her pap smear out his pocket, licking long; languorous. Megan finish her spree & flush the goods away: he tried to image the inside of the bowl as it make swirl. He swallowed, his mouth still foul from the smear. He coughed & tasted mucous.


She was in the bedroom now… light switch on, entirely unaware. He watched her work shirt come off, change into her pajama top, his pants falling to his ankles, his coming alive in the November night icy.

‘How did I get this far?’ he wondered, stroking himself in silent fury. "I will be good tonight. I won’t go inside while she’s sleeping,’ he promised, telling a lie that was built to be broken. At one time he had been full of hope, a promising young med student at (cont. on page 43)


Dog Days

.


It was in the sand.

No, wait- maybe... 

Maybe it was in her feet.

The way her heel gave heed to the softness of the sand, the angle of her ankle as it move across the beach. It was sinking in, the smell of her skin, her long hair hang to the small of her back. A drop of sweat from being in the sunshine.

And her feet make scoop of the heat-scalded sand as she leads me away from the boardwalk. The screams of the Ferris wheel fading away as she leads me to the dunes, or the surface of the moon, and we lay down close to the shoreline.

Her hand holding mine, my heart lost in hers, and we lower our heads at the thought of the depth of the ocean.

We talk with our lips, without words, and with saltwater sweet on my tongue the sound of the surf reminds me: that I'm not afraid anymore.

And together we set sail.

Paper Route - Day 15

.

Well... it's official... I think the bloom fell off the rose. Slapped my Mother when she tried to wake me up. Gouged my sister's eyes out for finishing the cereal. Kicked the Cafero's dog in the head for looking at me funny. The phone calls keep coming in, the neighbors hate me & I can honestly relate. Who reads the newspaper? I mean what is fucking wrong with you? Tomorrow I might get up early, get the papers out on time and start a pattern of dependable productivity. Or I might burn down every motherfucking house on the block...

It could go either way.


The Shot

.


“I am nothing. We know this. Now give me the shot.”

Psychiatrist, because he had to, “Mm you sure you want to go out this way? Must be pretty rough in your world.”

Step One in getting the shot was not to get tricked into talking. Talking leads to tears, tears leads to sorrow and the next thing you know you're back in bed at the ward doing art therapy to help get your feelings out on canvas.

I'm done with canvas.

“The shot...”

The Psychiatrist, in pantomime, looked at the Processor, wink-wink, “Now has he filled out all his paperwork in full?”

The Processor, an older black man who would never win an Oscar, pretending to scroll through his laptop, eyes popping wide, the three of us in this tiny office playing make-believe, denying that death was the answer, as if some God was watching with the benefit of laughtrack.

“No, I don't believe he has, Mr. Winter- Doctor Winter.” Try learning your lines.

“Well then let's re-convene this appointment at a future date and time-”

“I filled out all my paperwork. Signed every consent form. I had my lawyer witness & notarize. Stop fucking with me... let's just not fuck with each other. Do you want the confirmation number?”

Bureaucrats, bristling in their seats, suddenly aware of their waistbands, and their assholes, and all the other lies they'd come to know, since their formal education gave them no answers.

“74-74-505-B,” I recited, and then to watch them car crash, as they came up against proof indisputable, as they ran out of reasons for show.

One last-ditch attempt from Dr. Winter, and as much as I hated the son of a bitch I fell in love with him for caring this much: “I don't think you really wanna do this,” he said, standing up from his chair, “you're not ready for the shot. You're just a chickenshit coward with no guts or no balls... you're taking the easy way out, and I think you're fucking pathetic.”

That passion. I could have kissed him on the mouth. The man cared more than most. But I had made up my mind a long time ago.

“Thank you, Dr. Winter...” I recited smiling, “now give me the fucking shot.”

He looked into my eyes, pleading with me for some sort of clemency.

“The shot.”

He nodded, and I knew. They called the nurse in... a blonde in all white with her hair in a bun, anonymous executioner, syringe already readied, looking at me soft & sweet in order to tell me she didn't really do this, this wasn't really who she was... yeah. Whatever.

And with a smile & a lick of her lips she pierced my flesh with the needle, her heart a block of ice, and in that golden moment

Skylon




I'm going to bed. I'm tired.

No, wait.


Not yet.

I think I have something to say. I think I have something inside me tonight.


Out the door, into the bright of evening, the dawn bossing the moonlight, beams of luminous wash on the dim of my sometime-green front lawn. Walking out on the domestic, leaving the playbook behind, I step over Christmas cards and Valentines & birthdays in my bare feet but I never leave a print. The warm is here and I'm lost in the pulse of it, my strongest Spring, maybe my last, and it’s already Summer.

Behind the wheel of my car and down the highway fast, like a liar making time, shadow of sunshine down the open road in the darkest hour of night: escapees left two lanes. To the life I’m supposed to lead.

I left a ransom note for my wife on the kitchen table: sue me if you have to, take me to court and to prison and to Hell and beyond if that's what it takes. I understand and I love you still. I don’t blame you for hating me… I keep making promises but this is the only choice I leave you. I had to get away tonight. I had to go to the grocery store for cling peaches. You will understand… someday.

Moon lights the road as I pull into the airport parking lot, the first of several spiral strips, centrifugal force, pulls my beating heart closer, deep into the vortex of departure, where logic takes a holiday and everyone gets a brand new name. This place above the clouds: you will take me there, the planes landing just above my head, fucking with reception and my ability to feel.

Calling my son as I cruise through Lot B... and the phone just rings and rings and rings until I get to his voicemail message, which is just him saying Fuck You.

In the terminal the passengers walk with tropical cocktails, a preview of what’s to come, and an actress that I recognize passes by, flanked by cameras and mics that she despises but cannot go without. She’s dripping babble talk about leading a balanced life and part of me pities her lack of scar tissue. I know her face but I'll never remember her name. I say a silent prayer out loud that she’s not on my flight and that her plane crashes into the ocean.

On the phone with my daughter while I buy my ticket... I can hear her masturbating to this call, getting wet on my weakness and making cream on my poor performance as a Daddy. She will file this in the book she’s been writing since the day she was born: “How My Father Failed Me (In Every Single Way)” & I know this will make Chapter 1.  

The hijacker next to me at the safety gate, saying hey & grinning wide & assuring us he's done all this before, and I believe him. They frisk me down lovingly, all part of the pantomime, and I board the plane with everyone else trying to get out, to get away before it’s too late. I’m stuck in the middle: a bitter widow in the window seat, a longtime bachelor on my right.

We taxi on the runway, and as passengers there is nothing left for us to say. We take our mutual desire not to die, tuck it beneath our seats, and prepare to defy gravity. 

The flight attendant down the aisle, nicotine miles on a brown paper face. There used to be glamour in this sham, and I wouldn't mind paying extra for the good old days to be here again, to reach out and slap her ass just to show her that I could, to remind the whole of us that we're still alive and about to take flight.

The terrorist stands up and rips his trench coat open, exposing his bomb beautiful strapped around his neck. Now we're in this shit together, and the passengers & crew give him a warm round of applause, a standing ovation, and he's basking in his moment, dismantling his bomb and slitting his wrists now that his workday is done. 

The stewardess staggers smiling as we pull back on the runway, comes out with our vials of cocaine & passes them out pretty. We barely have time to snort as the pilot starts to fuck with speed and electromagnetics as we gain momentum down the tarmac. The plane shakes, the woman in the seat next to me: “I think it's a fucking disgrace these days,” her nose white with powder nice. But I nod along because I feel the G's and what the fuck… I know what's coming next.

The stewardess unzips her shirt & buckles herself in, her breasts tremble in turbulence, comforting, hypnotizing us. I take my napkin and jam it in the mouth of the woman next to me, still trying to talk, to befoul the air with ugliness. The aircraft awake, now, tired of the pavement & the boredom of the land. Our bodies are forced back in our seats in respectful observance of the laws of the universe. The vibration is tearing the hull apart, our souls too, or at least it feels that way, and I remember you have to die to be re-born. And I doubt my son will ever call me back. 

The skyline is the sunset, the clouds soaking up sinfully rich pastels of red, blue and orange, the white light blinding the pilot who decides to ram on against the odds. And we lift off, breaking up with planet earth & leaving the ground as we know it, against every rule of physics, into the blue, above everything else, sailing off into a better tomorrow or the joy of not having one.


And the stewardess, my cock in her hand, a gleam in her eye, on the PA, her fuzzy voice crackle static over the plane: “Thank you for flying with us...”

I lay back, relaxed, and ready to glide, and I think to myself, “You're welcome.”



Lost Puppy

- Answers to the name Assbasket


- May bite, gag or snarl when approached



- History of diarrhea



- Blind in working eye



- Registered Republican



- Limited bladder control



- Listen for incessant, high-pitched yelping



- In heat



- Allergic to liquids and beef



- $9 Reward


Dan Dare (Pilot Of The Future)





Dan fly in from out of town and, okay, it raise up the right amount of emotion. 

Days of shiver and solitary detox and Dan, he laugh, he telling lies. He's egocentric, like a snake in the refrigefrator: he's only blind to the self, he monopolizing dinner times and appetizers and small talk. He brags of kicking animals, of pushing children to the ground. I'm sorry not sorry that I just can't relate. He sings soft of his glory and all of the perks of the set, leaves my stomach in tumble... my head swirl and cold stone inside my soul. When you're with Dan there is only Dan.

Dan, viking of tin,  given up on killing the pain: his answer is to spread it around. He doesn't believe in medication, in the half-life and the covalent bonding, so he's going to chew you with talk until your ears turn purple with the sickness. He can't decide if he hates you good or needs you by his side. My prediction: he's an addiction waiting to be fed, a brush fire dying for the fuel. He makes his wife recite a character testimonial at gunpoint: 'I am the most caring and considerate man in the world, and I would never hurt my enemies.'

Enemies?

And everything is alright as long as he's done it. Or doing it. Or willing to admit. When you're the smartest man in the room, you've already lost. At least in my book. So we keep our mouth shut while the dippy Down's waitress- all of twelve years old- asks advice on how to use the camera, in a whine apropos of Napa Valley. Some laugh at Dan's outrageousness. Others nod. Me? It takes every ounce of restraint to keep from breaking his fucking jaw.

So dear Dan: you can take your personal jet and you can point it elsewhere, away from here, where I live, where people are strong with the Force & God's love and are left with little patience for those so desperately needy that they must be the center of attention at every given moment. I just don't have time for you. Take to the skyway...

Fly, Dan. Fly.


.

A-Rod's Bad Dream



He looked at his reflection, smiling wide like a criminal in court and then, in love with what he saw, he leaned in and kissed the mirror, his lips making deep & warm with his own, dizzy from the intensity of his own impassioned eyes, his own forbidden taste.

And then, realizing what he'd just done, Alex Rodriguez made hot sick in his mouth, hoping he could hold it, or swallow, or at least take it to the toilet, but the rush of bile had its way: it escaped his throat & launched as a projectile stream out his mouth, splattering the mirror and obscuring his reflection, his senses overtaken by the hot stench of his own undigested foul.

A-Rod lowered his head, as he felt the vomit drip off his face, obscuring his image in the mirror. He hiccupped, a final round of liquid shame escaping his lips and pooling on his chin. He couldn’t ask Rosa to clean this, not after all the other humiliations, not after that night with Derek & the sheets. He knew he'd have to skim the glass with his own hand, in his own paper towel, from his own spray bottle of Windex. Where was that last glass of scotch?

He turned the shower on, letting the hot water run, praying he'd find absolution in the steam and the spray, wondering why he felt so bad over a meaningless one-year suspension, or why he felt worse about making upchuck on the mirror. He watched the steam and considered his legacy- liar- and his impact- cheating- on the game, wondering when this drinking thing became more than just a hobby.

He opened his mouth to sneer, at the puppet Commissioner, at the Player's Union, at Major League Baseball, humanity in general, but he found there was more Big Ted Burger inside him than he had realized. Tequila, beer, & ground beef fueled his final blow and he made rancid chunk, soaking his chest and shoulders in the acids from his stomach, throwing up testosterone, HGH & anabolic steroid from deep inside his system. The potent combo stained his skin pinstripe white.

The vomit covered his body, became a uniform, a Yankee uniform, and Alex was on the field at the new Yankee stadium, the antiseptic corporation bowl at sell-out capacity, the faceless fans in the stand all cardboard cutouts, their voices loud & clear, and all of them booing at him on this dark Summer night, a night too dark for baseball, and he was the only player on the field, standing alone at third base as eight baseballs flew past him from all different directions. He reached. He ran. He couldn't catch them. The crowd was disgusted.




Then he was at the plate, a bat in his hand, a pitcher on the mound with eyes of black and a face of fury, throwing the ball so fast Alex couldn't even see it fly by. He struck out. Over and over again. Six swings. Nine. Twelve. The crowd called him names, told him the truth. The umpire told him he was out. He stood alone at home plate choking up.

A-Rod found the beer bottle in his hand and took a sip. 'That's right,' he thought, fresh from his shower, 'I have a plan.' And though he couldn't remember it right now he was sure that it would clear his name, exonerate him for all the things he did wrong, which he never did in the first place, so there was nothing to worry about.

He staggered down the steps of the deck into his backyard, the bat back on his shoulder, the baseball in his left hand. Soggy on the drink and weakened from the sickness Alex tossed the ball up in the air and swung at it with all his might, missing by a country mile and creating a force of wind so powerful it almost went hurricane.

'It's okay,' he thought, as he looked for the ball in the overgrown grass, getting ready for the second pitch, 'This is all a bad dream, and I'm the greatest baseball player in the whole fucking world.'


Something To Scream About



"MAKE A RIGHT TURN ON RED!!!"

The String




Riding in the elevator Martin noticed the string hanging out of Carrie’s skirt. It was about six inches in length, clean and white, dangle lazy from her waistband, hanging cool against the black fabric. It led down into her skirt… and then where?

And then where...?

He was going to ask her, but before his lips could form the words he found his hand already outstretched, the kind white string between his thumb and forefinger. He pulled gently.

“Yiiiiiiii,” giggled Carrie, as the elevator rode higher and higher. She was smiling in spite of herself.

“What is that string for?”

“It’s connected to something,” she said, annoyed but still smiling, “so please don’t pull on it.”

The floor numbers light up the dial, and Martin tried to be cool as he listen to the motor jive, tried to think about politics, and that one Italian opera he had always meant to see. What was it called…? The name was on the tip of his tongue but his left hand had already closed fingers round Carrie's mystery string and he tugged, this time with a bit of force.

“Zwaaaaaaay!” squealed Carrie, standing on her tip toes. She hit him with her magazine.

“I thought I asked you!” Her smile was unstoppable. Then, “Go away, Martin!”

Her teeth looked great. Brighter than usual.

It was just a white cotton string, thicker than thread, thinner than rope, delicate and vulnerable, innocent but powerful, and it was disappearing into her skirt just in front of her hip. Leading beneath… leading down... leading God-knows-where. Martin’s head was spinning.

What is that rule? Two times is funny, three is too much. Or wait! Maybe it was three times funny, four times too much? Three times too much, two times too many? He knew he should quit while he was ahead. Two times funny, three times seven... twenty-one?

He gave the string a strong yank- Carrie’s spine liquified, her eyelids fluttering, her eyeballs going slack and rolling to the back of her head. Her tongue hung lame out the side of her mouth. She shivered, then staggered, and then came the familiar grin and giggle, like she had just come into a great secret.

“Hymeeeeeeee!!!” she howled, and Martin took a step back, afraid. But she looked at him with such affection that his fear fell away.

“You’re going to get it,” she said, smiling wide and laughing music.

“Please. Please tell me what that string is for… what is it connected to?” Martin asked.

She gave him a look that seemed a warning: ‘Martin….’

“Please, Carrie. I have to know. Please tell me what that string is for.”

Carrie’s smile was crooked now, devious, and she looked around the empty elevator as if someone else might hear. She licked her lips and took a short breath.

“Okay, I’ll tell you,” she said, “but you have to promise to never tell anyone else. Ever.”

“I promise,” swore Martin.

The elevator leveled to a stop. The bell chimed and the doors opened.

“Sorry, Martin,” Carrie said, slipping off, “this is my floor.”


Victory



Gina, with the glow stick, under neon, slammed the dance floor when her tit slipped out her top. It leaked easy, didn’t really matter, and no one took a picture. Gina just keep dancing, in rhythm to the music, in time to the Ambien and the Ecstacy: she couldn't even feel her nipple poke you in the eye.

The club was live, the crowd was lost in the bass, moving furious in bliss of velvet chemical courtesy of good pharmacists gone bad. DJ had the records running backwards: house speakers breaking everybody's jaw, scratches deep enough to scuff the sidewalk. The wide floor was full, the bar in the back of the hall all but abandoned, tenders drying glasses, cocktails melting in surrender. The spotlight hit the uptown crowd of corporate digital kids, young money party fine, their glowing necklaces lighting up the darkness in genius junior. Tonight they live their dream of freedom, all of them in their own music video. Gina was starring hard.

She blew the bouncer to get in, burly with a beard, and while her mouth was full with his member her phone began to ring. It was her Mom, and the scene was so absurd that Gina would have giggled if she wasn’t busy gagging. Afterward the guy gave her a goody bag of pills; Gina swallowed like a good girl. Mom left a voicemail but fuck that noise. Too many conversations… too many mondays at the office where the clocks don’t go. It was time to break out, to forget all her manners: tonight she was ready to lose her head, to amplify and divide. Gina feel the warm glow from the bouncer in her belly, and a couple vodka cocktail helped the tabs liquefy pretty. This was getting good. Tonight’s mission: absolute obliteration.

Gina’s breast, bouncing free, liberated joy and blind to her opened eyes, until a colored girl called Macy slipped it back into Gina’s strapless top, all done under the guise of grinding beside her. Macy was smooth: Gina didn’t feel a thing. Some of the junior execs who had sponsored her first drinks were hitting the dance floor now, unable to sit still in the presence of the scent... the smell of soft earth from a good girl's garden. Gina had been shy with the boys at the bar: talking small, her butterfly eyes on hover, her mouth wide smile. The guys could feel her gravity, danced around her in spontaneous symmetry with cash in their hand that took flight and disappeared into the neon sky. To leave this baby thirsty would be a crime against everything beautiful.

Out on the dance floor Gina couldn't see the boys she had made men, didn't notice them finding funk & flanking her, all intent on taking her home, for the chance to get inside and go beyond. Gina, loving the beat, feeling free as her body finally did what it had always been meant to do. She had grown up in silence, afraid of her oatmeal, but she was learning quick that good girls drive their own cars.

She slipped her finger down the front of her pants, under the waistband, dipping it quick between her lips. She pulled out the sweetened finger and - in time to the beat- pushed it in the mouth of the app developer dancing to her left, who tasted her wet and got hard. Gina didn’t know his name.

Just then some joker fucked up on oxy & a lifetime of Playstation put his lighter to the smoke alarm, and against all odds the sprinkler system actually works. Water flooding the dance floor, rain pouring on the party as the boys and girls scramble for the exits, trying to preserve their club clothes and what's left of their dignity.

Not Gina. She kept moving to the music, laughing hard to her own private joke as her dress gets soaked and her tit slips back out her top. She pulled her dripping hair back, her calves stretching, her smiling cheeks sore, her wet breast bouncing to the beat. Nothing was gonna stop her from dancing tonight... she loved this song.

Seed (Second Planting)


So it’s there, in the ground, and you’re getting old from stepping over it, going deaf from pretending it isn’t there. You’re getting sick from walking by every day, keeping your eyes up, and really, what’s the worst that can happen if you water this seed? What’s the worst that can happen if it grows?


So you’re into the tool shed, past the lawnmower for the watering can, and you hold it in your hand, and you find yourself on the spot. The can is heavy with the liquid, your wrist is struggling to stay upright and then you find that it’s tilting, you’re pouring, and you water it good. And the ground soaks it up. The soil goes dark with satisfaction. And the seed inside the ground. Well, the seed.






Location




He smiled as he threw the dynamite through the window: this was something special.

No more apologies. No more concessions. No more taking less because it was easier.

Listen up.

Stand back.

He put the car in drive and was gone before the



Blackjack (Cocaine)




Cocktail waitress whispers in my ear, “Let me you bring you a piña colada.” She’s close. Closer than she knows. But she still hasn’t found my flashback beverage. She’s standing so damn close to me, closer than she has to be, but she knows what she’s doing. I can feel her warm voice vibrate the fibers of my ear… I can hear her glossy lipstick as her lips make smack, words reverberate like kisses as her tongue comes down to rest wet. I hear the thoughts her tongue thinks.

She doesn’t know me, knows I don’t know her, and she knows that I don’t care. She’s got her arm on my shoulder, hoping that it will make me melt, like fresh butter, like Spring snow, like I’ll drink her piña colada just for a chance at her affections. Like this is my first time in Vegas. In a city where ass is legal it’s an absurd approach, a longshot at best, but then she’s a cocktail waitress. Hit me.

Nothing is going to stop me from winning this game. The hand, the table, it all belongs to me. This night was born in my back pocket, I been waiting for it all my time. This is not about leisure, not about revenge, this is the rise and fall, all hands on deck, all together and in unison. This is bigger than me, although the money is mine alone, no one else gets a penny. I’m doing this for everyone out there, every sheep who’s been sheared by this fucking casino, by chance or circumstance or a system rigged against the odds. I’m doing this for America, and I won’t stop until I take the whole house down.

“Fuck off.”

This was not in the original script. Cocktail Waitress recoils, unguarded for a moment, the little bitch inside her swimming up to the surface, but then in a rhythmic shuffle she was back in character, sweet seductive grin on her face that showed nothing at all. “I’ll be back,” she sang, walking to whatever offstage corridor she used to hide the sobs. Good times.

I came through the door tonight with my entire paycheck- six hundred forty-two dollars- and after five hours of muscled, antagonistic play I had bred those bills to almost twenty grand. The dealer who called himself Phil was sweating, looking over both shoulders for the sweet relief of his replacement. There was no replacement coming.

I put five thousand on the hand and was dealt a four with an ace up. Phil showed nine. He always showed nine. The black man on the stool beside me was trying to make small talk (“Don’t it seem like Phil always gets a nine?”) but he was fifteen steps behind me and ten steps behind the dealer. Tonight I’m not slowing down for anyone. I’m not playing this game to make friends. I took the local bus but I am my own express train. Catch me me if you can. Peripherally I can see the black guy roll his eyes and shrug to the dealer. Maybe they can split my piña colada.

“Hit me,” and Phil did, with the suicide jack. Fifteen. Son of a bitch.

My brain- chemically enhanced, anecdotally intensified- performed an acrobatic series of amplified calculations, utilizing physics, mathematics, Fate, the existence of God & random chance in the universe and arrived at the inescapable conclusion that I had to have another card.

I motioned for Phil to come at me and he did, with a three. Eighteen. I stuck and watched the Philster do his thing. He turned over his hole card to reveal a six. Sucker!

Phil swallowed and hit. A two. Stuck on seventeen! Oh, Poor Phil I'm so sorry give me my fucking money and deal the next hand.

Now I could feel the motion around me as some lump of pit boss entered the scene. He stunk of ex-cop and could barely contain the disgust in his body: props on the poker face. He circles round the table like a dog waiting to piss. A new player came to sit in- a woman with a posture too formal for her faded Jets T-shirt.

If they want to play hardball then I will gladly play along with them.

I put all my money down:  twenty five grand and the table got tight. Pit bull picked up a phone- who the fuck is he gonna call? Jennie Jets did her best to look excited as she realized she was sent in too late. She mentally readied her resume and wondered if they would hire her back at the ranch. Phil the Dealer shit his pants, but just a little bit… something broke inside anyway. I tried to stay focused, to not think about 9/11 and the day the US government killed its own people. On the deal I got a king and a queen. I exhaled. This was gonna be easy.

Phil had a three showing, and after I stuck he turned over his hole to reveal a two. He drew a five.

And then another five.

Fuck. Just bust, Phil.

He drew an Ace.

Here he was at sixteen and I didn’t like my luck. Jenn Jets was playing with her hair, tickled and lost. Phil grinned at me and for the first time I knew the motherfucker had me, knew he was gonna bankrupt me with a single card, and I wondered why I had been so stupid, so arrogant.

Turn over a two or three, you son of a bitch, or I die in this place with no windows.

The pit bull put down his phone. Who was he talking to in the first place? Phil’s shit-eating smile spread round to the back of his head and he was doing this on purpose, doing this to torture me.

For the first time all evening a bead of sweat spilled from my brow, heavy, rolling to the tip of my nose and pausing there for a split second before


- plunk -

Onto the green. It didn’t matter. None of it mattered. I didn’t care. Even if the son of a bitch wiped me out I’d be back here next week, higher than ever and even more determined. I won’t lose, I'll never stop, and I’m not just doing this for me, I’m doing it for America… because this casino is dirty and some motherfucker has to take it down. It might as well be me.