Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Longest Month

He returned home from a night out; fish and chips with a decadent dipping sauce of mayonnaise, malt vinegar, and some other spice that only the chef knew. A mid-week treat accompanied by stout beer and a side of whiskey, and the bustle of strangers with somewhere else to be. His dog was waiting, wagging his tail slowly, knowing that a long walk wasn't far away. The clock read 10:30.

He traded his jeans for snow pants to shield him from the recent deep-freeze temperatures and allow a lengthy romp with his dog in the freshly fallen snow. He zipped his coat and tied his boots, put on the mittens good for nothing other than warmth, and tipped unsteadily down toward his dog's nose. “You ready? You wanna go check out the lake?” His dog snorted in the affirmative, then reared back and lowered down in a long stretch and farted.


After a few warm days the temperature had fallen again, but his dog didn't give a shit. He loves the cold, and ran with his mouth open, low to the ground, scooping up snow like a mini steam shovel until he reached the end of the leash. As the two made their way to the lake, he began to unload his thoughts aloud. “February is the longest month.” he said. “I don't know what this horse shit is, going in like a lion or a lamb or what but February...is a bitch kitty.” The winds howl louder in February, and anyone who says wind chill isn't a real thing clearly has never spent a February night in this state. “The clock hands hardly move...did you notice that? 28 days of solitary confinement...might as well be a year.” Even now, leftover winds carried his voice away to nobody as they crossed the desolate street and approached the frozen over lake.

All the geese were long gone, the paddle boats and floating docks were lodged roughly along the beach house, the sign on the lifeguard's perch reads “CLOS D”. Pausing for a moment to take the air, he admired the moon with a slight smile, and teetered slightly heel to toe before dropping down for an impromptu wrestling match.

Alright, alright now, hold still a minute.” His mittened hand fumbled with the collar's clasp. When finally freed, his dog ran out ahead on the snow covered ice as if fired from a canon, darting left then right every few yards to sample the snow on either side. During the long nights and short days of winter the dog spent most of the time folded up on his mat, this was his only chance to really stretch.

Mother Nature's schizophrenic mood swings the last few days had created an interesting slurry on the lake; 8 inches of ice, a few inches of thick slush, topped by an ultra-thin layer of ice, crisp like wax paper. A frozen crème brûlée that, if you didn't know any better, would make you think you were about to go through the ice...until you hit the solid stuff underneath.

He could just barely make out the shape of his dog, cutting this way then that, maybe 50 or 60 yards away. Frozen minnows and fish parts were a special treat, and he ate ice shavings around fishing holes like it was candy. “Let him go...” he thought. “He needs to run. He should run.”

He started to feel better out there on the wintry mixture, disconcerting as each step was. Then right in the middle of the lake, exactly center on all sides, he was confused and startled to find his left leg suddenly plunged into the lake. There was no time to scream, only “Oh no...” with a quiet gasp. Dozens of pictures flashed through his mind; ice cracking open, floundering for a solid edge, slowly sinking into the black, wondering who would take care of his boy.

It took a few seconds to realize that he wasn't going all the way through. He had somehow found an ice fishing hole from earlier in the day, one that hadn't quite frozen over enough to support his weight, camouflaged by slush ice and covered over by blowing snow. All of his weight was now pressing down on his collapsed right leg, and no leverage to stand up as the water quickly wicked up the lining of his snow pants. The cold bit into his calf and thigh and pierced all the way through before turning to a burn; immersed in ice water, on fire.




He leaned forward, arms outstretched, to brace himself and hoist the saturated leg when his face slammed into the slush. There was no support, and all too late he remembered that ice fishers up here don't drill just a single hole and sit by it on a bucket. No, they set up shelters. Light heaters. Drink spiked coffee. All after drilling hole after hole after hole with gas powered motors on a 12 inch auger. Another gasp drew water a degree away from freezing into his lungs, his sinuses flooded, three limbs through three different fishing holes. “I can't believe I'm about to drown in two inches of water...” he thought. There was no one around, no traffic on the nearby road, nobody knew he was there. One thing he did know, he knew he didn't want to die.

Don't panic...” kept echoing in his head, but his body didn't listen. Splashing, clambering, fighting all the wrong angles with numbness quickly consuming each arm, seconds passing slower than February. Only by arching up on his forehead was he able to pull free and roll onto his back, the left leg still trapped. He let out a low moan, lower than the north wind, through a quickly freezing face mask. Suddenly, he felt pressure on his face, then warmth. A patting. Lapping. It was his dog, licking his face. Finally opening his eyes, he sputtered out a gurgling laugh.

I owe you one.” he whispered.

Managing to sit up, the last task was figuring out the puzzle of finding the right angle to get his foot up through the ice. “Dammit,” he said, “I lost a mitten.”

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Gale of November

Past boarded up windows of boat houses
With hoarded up crumbs for the lone mouses

Avoiding the thugs with unleashed dogs

Anointing the rugs of unleafed logs

Where everlasting summer got up to go

Balanced against wind a day before the snow

At lakes edge where ducks and geese balk

Biding time to take the first ice walk



Sunday, September 8, 2013

3 o'clock, asshole.

Genevieve was almost 15 when she got her first hearing aids. Something degenerative had been slowly turning down the volume in her head since grade school. Now in her late twenties she could hear almost nothing, and taught young kids, in varying degrees of hearing decay themselves, at a little academy in an upscale part of town.

People never seemed to notice her hearing aids, though she never really tried to hide them. They weren't small, like her dimples. They weren't disguised by her bobbed hair, that always seemed just dried. Most likely it was the disarming way she looked at people when they spoke; inconspicuously, intently, reading lips to pick up anything her ears didn't catch. With her cool blue eyes, most people didn't even notice she had ears, let alone devices.

It was the first day of class, complete with awkward hugs for the younger set whose parents had taken the morning off, and older kids exiting donated vans with their hands blurred in conversation. No dew on the grass thanks to the late summer heat, just bits of exposed dirt turning to dust as the kids bottlenecked at the door, the early morning sun already raising beads of sweat. Genevieve watched the children from behind starlet sunglasses at the end of the walk, nonchalantly checking email on her phone or refreshing the Missed Connections page on Craigslist. Maybe she caught someone's attention at the movies a few nights ago, or perhaps someone noticed how she sauntered slowly through the entire farmer's market yesterday, but bought nothing.

She looked up in time to catch a man consoling his son of about five or six. The kid couldn't decide if he wanted to fiddle with his aids or hold dad's hand, stalling before letting go that last time before walking into the building. Even though Genevieve was older when it happened, she remembered this day when she went through it. She put her phone in her pocket and made her way over to say hello. While she couldn’t hear much without her earpieces, Genevieve still had full use of her voice. She tended to speak a little louder than necessary, and sometimes talked over other people a little, when she didn't realize they were talking, but that was no different than 90% of the other people in the world.


Hi…what’s your name?” she asked the little boy. He said nothing, just stood there looking at her, almost motionless, squinting in the sunlight with one hand on the hammer loop of his father's pants, the other gingerly futzing with one of his hearing aids. She waited, smiled, then shot out her hand and said “I’m Ms. Genevieve.”

I’m sorry, this is Eli.” the father said. Evidently Eli had been on the edge of tears all morning, nerves and what-not, and he was having trouble getting used to his new hearing aids. She understood completely. He said this was a big transition for everyone in his family, but they were all doing their best. “I don’t think any of us got much sleep last night.”

He’s in the right place, this is just the spot.” Genevieve knelt down eye-to-eye with Eli, wrapped her hands around his, and smiled. “Those things…they kind of suck, huh?” Eli nodded. “Let me show you something…” Genevieve took off her sunglasses, turned her head left and tucked her hair behind her right ear, then slowly turned her head right and tucked her hair behind the left, exposing both of her hearing aids to Eli. “See? I have them too. And you know what?” Eli shook his head. “Almost everybody here has them, or something like them. Soon you won’t even know they are there.” Genevieve booped his nose then stood up.


The father fell victim to the same set of blue eyes everyone else did, the tanned skin of her face only made them more obvious, and more obvious that they were looking right at him. Like most he immediately started avoiding eye contact. She said “You know, today is more about getting acquainted than anything else, you're welcome to come inside for a little while, if you have a few minutes.” She imagined striking up a witty conversation, giving a personalized tour of the school, and perhaps offering up her business card. As inappropriate as it might seem. The father looked down at Eli, Genevieve couldn’t see his lips, and said “How would that be, bud? You want us to stay for a little bit?” Eli immediately lit up and nodded quickly, almost like he'd just been asked if he wanted to blow off class and go to the zoo.

Genevieve asked if they had begun working on sign language with him, because that would probably be the most rigorous part of the first semester. “We have, yes. Well, we’ve just started.” He looked down at Eli again, and again Genevieve couldn’t see his lips. “Haven't we?” She said it would be a good idea to start integrating both speech and sign around the house, to start making it a habit.

For the first time since she approached, Eli spoke. “Dad, when are you going to pick me up?” The father held up three fingers, the last three, with his thumb and forefinger touching tips. The 'OK' sign, but upside down. “Three o'clock, ok?” the father said. “Three o'clock, ok?” Genevieve couldn't help but laugh, and she stifled her chuckle by clapping a hand over her mouth, but her shoulders blew her cover.
The father stared, then half smiled. “What?”. Genevieve took his hand and held it up, shaped it into the 'OK' sign. “This...is 'ok'.” she said. She took his elbow in her other hand, and turned his arm down, forearm facing up. She said that when you hold the 'OK' sign this way, it takes on a much different meaning. She whispered “You're signing 'asshole'.”


With eyes wide he finally held Genevieve's gaze, except there were no words. The background slowed to a stop like a record player suddenly unplugged. He broke the silence by pitching back his head, erupting in laughter. Funny thing about laughter; even if you can't hear it, it's still contagious. She let her hand fall from her face and smiled, her shoulders still giving away her efforts to stifle her amusement at the situation. The father turned red and doubled over, laughing silently now, then finally caught his breath sounding like an accordion in reverse. It completely drowned out Genevieve's snorting.

She looked up to see a woman approaching in a trot, carrying an Iron Man backpack. Genevieve's laughter stalled when she said “Got your bag, Eli.” The father could do nothing but motion for her to come closer, turning his hand counter-clockwise toward him. “What...what's so funny?”

Ms. Genevieve, this is my wife.” Genevieve said hello and put out her hand, but the invitation for a shake was not accepted. The wife in fact recoiled slightly and offered only a quick hello through a cautious grin. The father held up his hand with his fingers fanned out. “This...this is 'ok'.” He wiped tears away from his eyes, then rotated his arm down, forearm up, fingers still fanned. “This...is 'asshole'.” What he thought was a very reassuring combination of sign and speech inadvertently turned into his first sign language swear. The wife was not amused. The cautious grin turned to one much more forced and rooted in disbelief. “The first day of school and you're teaching him profanity in sign language?”

Well...no, I mean it was a mistake I made, she pointed it out. She corrected me. Thank you, for that.” He paused. She glowered. “Oh c'mon, don't you think it's funny how one little thing changed the tone of the whole situation?” The wife exhaled a little cough. “Hysterical”, then took Eli by the arm and made for the door after shooting Genevieve a big, fake smile.


The father followed after, then stopped and turned. “Thank you. I needed that.” He thumbed toward his wife, mouthed 'She's ok', with his hand up and fingers fanned, then turned and left to catch up.

Genevieve waved and smiled, then said softly “No, more of an asshole.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Lockup

Another day inside gray walls
Might as well be a cell
Still draggin' around the cannonballs
Do-it-yourself private jail

I lost the key but there's one other
Around the neck of a would-be lover

There ain't no gang or county line
But I still swing and wail
The midday sun bakes my mind
Deep in thirst beyond the pale

I start to drink and then falter
Poison has overcome the water

Take the lash at the whipping post
Then involuntary solitary
Pay for the crimes self imposed
Each misdemeanor and felony

Nothing harder than doing hard time
Just pray for pardon or reprieve sublime

Free to go I can leave anytime
Can't savor good behavior
Turned myself in for no reason or rhyme
An empty bottle for a savior

Lights out and there's a fire in my bed
Another day gone with no verdict read

*Music to follow

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Galvanized and Bulletproof

He's galvanized and bulletproof
Except maybe at the seams
Cut himself on a devil's tooth
And bled out all his dreams

He stole a wishbone from the warden
then used it for a shank
Went out and fired up his Norton,
Rode off with a lit rag in the tank

He's invincible, near invisible
Maybe under a voodoo hex
Unpredictable, fights bare knuckle
Walks one shadow to the next

He saves women in distress
And maidens locked in towers
He can beat Death at chess
With his divine powers

He's clairvoyant, a prophet
Contacts beings on other planes
Plays blues on Gabriel's trumpet
And broke loose Samson's chains

He flies all night on his rounds
wading through nightmares in the dark
Two steps ahead of the hellhounds
with bites much worse than the bark

He's a cloud splitter, shape shifter
All the elements at his comply
Thunderstorms under his bowler
You can tell his mood by the sky

*Music to follow

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Just After 3:15

Musta been about 11 o'clock with a
little yellah moon lightin up the block
that I asked that girl up for a beer or three.

Next thing you know it's a quarter of one and we're
in the back yard shootin' some guns and she says
"hey cowboy, roll one of your smokes for me."

Suddenly it's a quarter of two and we
finished off the last of the brew and junebugs
stared at the porch light on the screen.

I could say I got lost in her eyes
my mind was found near her waist and thighs
that was...just after 3:15.

Round about quarter of five when the
sun just started splittin' the sky, she said
"I think I just stayed the night."

We can continue this grand little opry, I said
"Let me just get started on the coffee. The bacon.
Home fries. Eggs over-easy alright?"

*Music to follow

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Driver, Pt. II

Like I said.” Lou turned and made like he had busy work to do leaving Boone to cover the conversation. “But the driver isn't in the story.”

I tried another swig and answered in the affirmative mid-wince. Jose was still fending off his hiccups. “You don't know about the driver...unless he doesn't...do his job...” Jose threw up in his mouth a little.

I don't know whether to be flattered or not, Jose.”

Boone for some reason loves to watch people vomit. He started rubbing Jose's shoulders, telling him to just let it out, like your mom used to. Lou said something sarcastic thinly veiled as a joke and that he'd be right back with some more god-damned rags.

He just drank too fast, that's all.” Boone finally stopped the rubdown and let the poor bastard make his way to the bathroom. After the door closed Boone turned and started tapping his Newport on the bar. “Ain't no way in hell I'm goin' in there with him.”

Lou arrived with more rags and a can of sawdust. Can you believe that? A coffee can of sawdust. Haven't seen that since I threw up in the cafeteria in third grade. Turkey gravy over mashed potatoes, so it was a Thursday. He got to the other side of the bar and saw nothing. No Jose. No vomit. “He didn't yak?” Boone pointed to the bathroom. “Ah shit. I'd rather he done it out here. Now I gotta do the whole toilet.” Lou sat and leaned against the bar and slowly crossed his arms, staring at the bathroom door. For the first time, we were all on the same side of the bar. “He only had two beers. Grainbelt, but still.”

Boone asked about the driver again just as the juke went on random.


See the thing is...” I had no idea where to start.

Over the over the years, those rutted out paths that olive oil cart has to take have become common, and alpenglow has lost its luster. The olive oil eaters have no idea about everything that goes in those precious vessels. If they did, plenty would balk, a handful would be even more grateful, the lion's share would buy Bertoli if it was on sale. All this is pondered perched at the point of this parade, on wood wear-worn wide as the wagon, pining for pardon and carrying a torch for someone he hasn't met. Thinking about how maybe after this next delivery, he might take the cart in another direction. Just to see...ignoring that he knows those horses are going to head straight back to the barn.

The thing is the driver is just pleased as shit to have a job in this economy. Am I right, or am I right?”

They both agreed and mumbled something motivated by their own individual politics.

People tell stories everyday over dinner. I tell stories to sit at the table. I can convince you that bullshit is fact, and fact, bullshit. The fact of the matter is...you'll never really be sure. You don't know me outside this bar, and I doubt you'd ever swing by my place for beer and a burger some night to find out whether I'm full of shit or not.”



Boone stopped tapping his Newport. Lou stared at the bathroom door over folded arms. Jose was quiet. We were all quiet.

I'd come drink your beer. I'm free next Tuesday.” Boone said finally.

Lou said “I like hamburgers. Big fan.”

You have a bar to run. Boone, you've got kids.”

Lou said that if Boone was going to my place on a Tuesday night, he might as well go too. He would rather sit on a deck with a burger than sit by himself in a dimly lit bar. “I haven't closed early in ages. It'll be good, blow the stink off me.”

I didn't know what to say. It happens from time to time. Usually when the time is inopportune, as it is now. There was no way to take back my left-handed invitation. So. Next Tuesday night Lou and Boone are coming to my place for beer and burgers. Jose has yet to RSVP.