Fore!


Yesterday, as I turned on the U.S. Open (only because it was being played in Wisconsin – for some unexplained reason I needed to see what Wisconsin looks like on national television.), I was reminded why I don’t watch golf on television.  No, it wasn’t because the pace moves slower than most glaciers.  It wasn’t because of the sleep inducing hushed tones of the announcers.  It wasn’t because of the silence from the crowd that is demanded by the middle-aged millionaire “athletes” while they line up their shots and wiggle their butts, not the righteous indignation  that is suffered should an unfortunate soul in the gallery so much as sniffle, while 18 year old boys in the NCAA basketball tournament, with  the national title and billions of dollars to the school on the line, have to stand at the foul line and make free throws with an entire student body screaming and waving flags straight in their faces. It’s not the ugly slacks and shirts and general lack of understanding of seemingly simple fashion concepts like color coordination or basic good taste.  It’s not even the fact that Rosie O’Donnell was correct when she summarized golf as “men in bad pants walking.”

All of these transgressions would be forgivable, especially when one considers that after fifty some mind numbing years of watching television, my attention span has shortened to the height of a leg-less midget and I’ll stop and watch anything that has a shiny object, let alone a little white ball that’s being swept on a green carpet by men in orange pants, rolling across the screen in hypnotic rhythms until it drops into a cup. That, my friend, is compelling television. So there must be a reason I won’t watch televised golf.

Is it the big corporation sponsorship and the commercials for the Wall Street banks that drone on and on about such foreign subjects as “wealth management” and maximizing one’s “investment portfolio?” Is it the ads for luxury S.U.V.s and sports cars that cost more than my house?  No, it’s not even these things, or the fact that most Republicans love the sport almost as much as they love discriminating against minorities or making money off of and then screwing over poor people.  Compared to how they usually get their kicks, watching golf on television is pretty benign.

So if it’s none of these things that make watching golf on television an intolerable torture, then what is it?  Well,  I’ll tell you what it is …

It’s the guy in the audience, who, as soon as the ball is struck, yells out, “Get in the hole!”

Can there be a bigger moron in the world than this? On every shot, be it the tee off of a 600 yard plus par five or a two inch tap in, some idiot is compelled to yell this out.  Whether they believe that their shouts have the power to override the laws of time and physics and will the universe to act in accordance with their shouted words isn’t clear; the only assumption I can make is that somewhere sometime long ago, someone shouted these words and the ball actually did get in the hole.   Once.  Many years ago. Hasn’t happened since. Yet still the yellers persist.

These yellers somehow strictly embrace the code of silence and the polite “golf-clapping” etiquette that is expected of them otherwise, yet once the ball is struck, something inside demands that they scream out their four word mantra at the top of their lungs.  It’s as if they are saying, I paid my thousand dollars to watch this agonizingly slow spectacle unfold, I have to do something to keep myself awake.  Maybe screaming unsuccessfully at a little white ball to “get in the hole” reminds them of their sex life (note:  it is always male voices you hear shouting this, and there is always a hint of frustrated inadequacy in them that would be consistent with the Republican male that completes the profile of the typical golf enthusiast.)

And it’s only a Republican male that would be shallow and self-confident enough to so brazenly advertise their stupidity. Believing in “get in the hole” with no record of success would be consistent with believing in things like “trickle-down economics” or that climate change is a hoax.

So, golf fanatic, please carry on and enjoy your lunatic ranting and raving. Just do it without me.  I’ll be searching the airwaves for the next televised bowling match.

Welcome Home


(This is a short introduction I wrote tonight for the Kenosha Writers Guild anthology project.)

On a warm summer night in 2008, I attended a meeting of a local writers’ group in Kenosha for the first time. I’d brought with me a short piece, one of several little fragments of memoirs that I’d found myself recently writing. I found the group by doing a Google search on local writers groups. I had no idea what to expect as I entered the downtown ice cream store that was the location for the meeting. I’d brought along my little two page piece and nervously clutched it as I entered the store. The girl behind the counter pointed me to the table in the back where I joined the handful of others who were already there.

With about a dozen participants on hand, the meeting began, and after short introductions, the group got down to business. It turned out the old group was dissolving, and as I sat there, confused and unaware, I witnessed the birth of the Kenosha Writers Guild. After about an hour of establishing baseline rules, electing a president and board of directors and frankly boring me to death, they finally got around to sharing some writing.

There were poems, novel excerpts, short stories, and essays. Some were rough and unfinished, others were more polished, and the subject matter varied widely, but there was something I couldn’t put my finger on right away that they all shared in common.

Then it was my turn to read, and as I was (and still am) mortified by the thought of public speaking, another guy was nice enough to volunteer his voice.  He read my piece aloud for me, and as I sat there and listened to my words spoken by this stranger’s voice, it occurred to me that I knew what the common thread was that all the pieces, including mine, shared. It was the fact that everybody at that table, at the end of a long day working and raising families and living the life they had to live, found time to sit down and put pen to page, or fingers to keyboard, and put down whatever it was they ended up putting down.  But that was only part of it.  The other part was that they felt compelled to take what they’d written and share it with others.  I knew that was the case for me, that the need to have my work heard by others was what drove me there in the first place.

The meeting ended sometime around ten o’clock, and as I walked the couple of blocks to my car, I was joined by an older guy from the group who complimented me on my piece and said, “welcome home.”

That was nine years and two novels (one self-published, one just finished) and three or four published short works and a personal web page with over 200 pieces posted ago. I am now one of the senior members of the guild, and one of the three members of the steering committee that headed this project.  Many writers of wildly varying skill sets, young and old, have come and gone, writing in all kinds of genres and forms. In terms of skill and sophistication, our writers have covered the spectrum.  The one thing they’ve shared, though, is that something drove them to not only write but to share what they’ve written with others. The Guild not only provides a mechanism to fill this need but also an audience who is also driven by the same fever. It remains a place where writing and reading are celebrated, a place where we speak the same language, where we look out for one another, where we help each other grow and develop.  It is in the truest sense of the word a family.

So to all my fellow Guildies, past, present and future, enjoy this collection as a representation of where the Guild is at this point in time. And whether you’re a nine year veteran or a future member, let me extend a simple but sincere:

Welcome home.

Of Porcupines and Men


I know a few things.

For example, I know that with my instance of Parkinson’s disease, my balance is often times off kilter, and I tend to be even clumsier than I’ve always been, prone to trips and falls too frequent to enumerate.

I also know that dogs and porcupines can be a bad match, and that a snout full of porcupine quills can actually be fatal, that innocent curiosity can kill the canine.

Sure, I know plenty of other things, too. But it was these two little tidbits that rose to the forefront of my consciousness this afternoon.

Let me explain:

My sister and I both own pieces of property in Northwestern Wisconsin, our two cabins about one hundred yards apart on the same dirt road.  Across the road is a large farm field. Last weekend, my sister called me up and told me that while walking down the road she observed a dead porcupine in the tree line between the road and the field, right across from my cabin. I was concerned, because I and my wife and our two dogs were planning on spending a long weekend starting today, at the cabin, and as I’ve already mentioned, I know what a bad combination dogs and porcupines, alive or dead, can be.

So the first thing I did upon our arrival today was to make sure my dogs were safely secured inside the cabin while I, with shovel in hand, walked across the road in search of a dead porcupine. My intent was to find said porcupine and bury it before my dogs found it and answered a question whose answer is one of the many things I don’t know but would just as soon not find out: are a porcupine’s quills as dangerous when the porcupine is dead as when alive?

It didn’t take long for me to find the deceased porcupine, right where he’d breathed his last, in a small thicket of underbrush next to the trunk of a small tree. He was, I guess, an impressive figure, at least as far as I supposed when compared to other porcupines, about two or three feet long and thick. Actually, he was pretty much a non-descript combination of fat and quills. I decided to dig the hole for its final resting place out in the open, on the edge of the farm field, about fifteen feet from where its lifeless hulk lied.

I went to work, kicking the spade into the muddy and rocky and root-ridden clay until I had a hole deep and wide enough to cover the substantial girth of the deceased. Satisfied with my work to that point, I had one more thing to figure out: how do I move the body the fifteen feet from under the tree to in the hole I’d just dug? It occurred to me that I wanted to avoid any contact with the ex-beast, one, because I didn’t want to get a snout-full of quills any more than I wanted my dogs to, and two, it’d been dead for at least a week, and was probably riddled with disease-carrying maggots and or other deadly micro-bacterial monsters.

Then I remembered that in my garage I had a half-sheet of plywood, four foot by four foot that would be the perfect size.  I’d shovel Porky’s corpse onto the plywood and then carry it to its grave, where I’d drop him in, say a few respectful and profound porcupine-ish words over him, and then cover him with the blanket of earth that he’d soon dissolve into and become one with.

It was a good plan.  Off to my garage I strode. There was the sheet of plywood, only it wasn’t the four by four foot piece I remembered, rather, it was an odd size, about three by six foot. No big deal, I thought, and returned with the plywood to the lifeless mass of Porky.  I set the plywood down right next to him. I then put the spade on the other side of Porky and half rolled and half lifted him onto the plywood, where he sat, close to the edge but secure on the plywood so long as I held it level.

There’s the rub.  It turned out that holding the awkward dimensions of the plywood with the additional ten pounds or so of inert mass balanced on it level would be more difficult than I had planned, especially when I remembered what I knew, that my sense of balance these days isn’t all that great.

This knowledge was heightened when, while walking away from the tree and the thicket towards the hole I’d dug, I felt my left foot get caught on a root in the ground beneath me, and I felt myself lurch forward. I saw very clearly the mass of quills and decomposing porcupine flesh directly in front of me, and I felt my face surge forward, and I realized, even if I dropped the board, that if I fell forward, my face would end up in Porky’s quill-filled brisket. My life flashed before my eyes, as I’ve known with some certainty for some time now that whenever it is I die, whenever my number is up, it will undoubtedly be in the form of some bizarre and embarrassing death.  It occurred to me right there that getting killed by a dead porcupine would qualify on both counts.

Fortunately, I was able to right myself and remain vertical long enough to get Porky to his final resting place. I tried to think of something to say, something that a porcupine would appreciate, but it struck me that all of the porcupines I’d ever seen over the years (and there’s been a few) never did anything; about all I’d ever seen them do was sleep. It occurred to me that one thing I didn’t know was how to measure porcupine meaning, how to judge a good one from a bad one. I had no idea how to eulogize a porcupine. I placed my hand over my heart and muttered something about dust to dust, quills to quills.

Then I filled in the hole and went back to my cabin and released my hounds. They ran and played happily, oblivious to the danger I’d shielded them from, and to the ultimate sacrifice I’d almost paid to keep them safe.

Hero, you say? Well, if the shoe fits, so long as I keep the laces tied …

Ostriches


Today, January 27th, 2017, was International Holocaust Remembrance day. It also happened to be the day that President Trump signed an executive order shutting the door to the United States on all refugees from all countries.

Trump is an incompetent madman, and his die hard supporters are morons.  But as bad as they are, they are not the worst.  The worst are those who accept all of this madness as a new normal, who dismiss the discourse as nothing more than the usual partisan bickering.  Admittedly, often times the dialogue fails to rise above the lowest levels.  But the stakes are so much higher now. There are literally lives at stake.

Trump’s decision today violates the best interests of both American values and American interests. It violates the values of freedom and compassion that we’ve tried to live up to ever since they were written into our constitution, and it goes against our interests in that it will only give rise to the very extremism the order is intended to protect us from.  Of the thousands of people we turn away and condemn, it’s inevitable that hatred for America and Americans will rise. American people, soldiers and tourists, Republicans and Democrats, will become targets of retaliation both at home and abroad.

To those of you out there in Facebook land who are tired of all the political posts, who wish that social media would get back to just being pictures of cute little kitties and the such, to those of you who are sick of all the hate and think you’re above all of the fray, go ahead and stick your head in the sand.  You won’t be the first ones to tune out the cries of innocent people dying.

Today is a reminder that we have to remember the Holocaust because we can no longer hear the crying of six million innocent lives. But if you listen closely, you can hear the same silence that emboldened another small man who become the architect of the perversion of another great nation in 1933.  It grows louder with every order Trump signs, and the shadows of guilt spread over the souls of those who remain silent like a cancer, black and bitter and cold.

December


(I’ve been stuck on writing the final three chapters of my novel in progress. I’m hoping that last night I broke through – here’s the fist couple of paragraphs that’s got me started again)

The weeks that followed all blended together. Days bled and blurred into nights, and some nights lasted for days and others just for minutes. The daytime skies were a constant and solid cement gray, the sun lighting the landscape despite never being seen, never revealing itself.  Occasional snow flurries would float and fall and tumble from the skies but never amounted to anything, never accumulated, the ground as flat and gray and hard as the impenetrable sky.

The breeze carried with it a foreboding sense of gloom, of death.  Death was in the cold air, in the clouds of breath that’d emerge from breathing mouths and nostrils only to dissolve and fade, consumed by the unrelenting grayness. Days in bed and days outdoors, unending nights awake in the darkness, consumed by fever, joints cold and aching. There was cold death in my bones, I could feel it, I could feel the bones and dirt of an unmarked grave in the sightless dark of the unending nights. Fever dreams became indistinguishable from unreal days, visions of insulated wooden boxes placed on the lawn of a section at the bottom of the hill in Cornish Park, lit up at night by hot lights plugged into extension cords, blended with dreams of burning corn fields and the smooth  coldness of ice-covered lakes.  The mechanized hum of a diesel engine, a giant backhoe ripping into the thawed flesh of the ground, ripping and tearing it apart, a clear plastic sheet with mud and clay caked on it folded around something three dimensional, Angela and Nancy Cornish and Jim Musgrave and Mel Fleming from the television, their faces intermingling with the faces of my mom, and my dad and Frank Cornish and Sam Richter and Death himself, in his long black robe and pale skin, and the sharp unfeeling mechanical teeth of the backhoe and the thawed mud at the bottom of the hill in the grey and lifeless trees of Cornish Park.

A Greaser Christmas


(This is the unabridged version of the story I told last Monday at the Olio Storytelling event at Kenosha Fusion. I dd the math and about 17% of this really happened.)

In December of 1972, I was a freshman in a high school in a small town in southeastern Wisconsin.  I was born in 1958, at the height of the post-world war two baby boom. There must have been a whole lot of procreating going on at that time, because fourteen years later the small town high school was bursting at its seams.  The school became so overcrowded that fall that they had to rent out some classrooms in the church across the street.

The school cafeteria was modern and clean, brightly lit by the daylight that streamed in through windows high upon the walls. It had long tables with attached benches. After the last lunch period was over, a custodian would fold the tables up into compartments on the wall, where they’d rest until late morning the following day, when they’d be unfolded in advance of the first lunch hour.  Each table sat about twenty kids, ten on each side, and there were about fourteen tables. As nice as they were, there still weren’t enough of them to seat the expanded student body, so they knocked out a wall on the north end and expanded the cafeteria enough to fit in about six old black tables to handle the overflow.  There weren’t even any chairs, you’d just stand there at the table and lift forks full of Spanish rice or soy casserole to your mouth. This overflow area became home to the misfits and oddballs who didn’t fit in with enough kids to get a seat at one of the nice, fold down tables. Needless to say, that included me.

It’d be difficult to believe looking at me now, but at the time I was small. Ridiculously small. I was the smallest kid in my class, possibly the smallest class in the entire high school. I was short and scrawny. I was five foot two and weighed 95 pounds sopping wet.

There was one part of my anatomy that was disproportionately large, and no, unfortunately, it wasn’t that – rather, it was my mouth.  I had a big mouth that I’d shoot off with little regard for consequence.  I was a smart ass, my big mouth writing checks that my tiny body couldn’t cash, constantly getting me in trouble that I had no business getting into.

So I ended up with three other oddball freshmen who were also exiled to the chair-less tables at the new end of the cafeteria.  There were also about a dozen or so upper class men, juniors and seniors, who also occupied this space. They were what at the time was commonly referred to as “greasers,” the thugs and hoods, the bad asses and tough guys, the bullies who are a part of every public high school.

The leaders of the greasers were three older guys – the Kowalski  brothers, Earl, Butch, and Alfred Lord.  Alfred Lord Kowalski was the sensitive, cultured one of the three – he’d recently mastered the art of using silverware. Nobody knows how many years the Kowalski brothers had been pursuing that elusive high school diploma, but rumor had it that Earl, who was the oldest and the alpha dog of the pack, had recently acquired his AARP card.  To say they were scary looking would be an understatement. They wore black leather jackets and had tattoos on their arms. In 1972, tattoos hadn’t become fashionable yet – unlike now days, when everybody’s little brother and sister has a dozen or so. In 1972, only legitimate bad asses like the Kowalski brohers had tattoos.  They also had scars on their faces and they occasionally walked upright.  They had a una-brow – you know, one uninterrupted eyebrow over both eyes – only in this case, it was one eyebrow shared between the three of them, covering all six of their eyes. It started over Earl’s left eye and then his right and then it would leave Earl’s face and dangle in midair until it connected to Butch’s face and covered his eyes and then suspended in the air it’d connect to Alfred Lord’s face and cover his eyes.

Most of the time, the greasers left us alone, immersed as they’d get in their philosophical conversations, debating, for example, whether fire good or fire bad. I was learning to keep my big mouth shut, and we gave the greasers their space and they gave us ours.

Except for that day in December.  Me and the other three oddball freshmen were standing in a row on the same side of our chair-less table, me on the left end, the other three to my right, eating our lunch when all of the sudden we noticed that our table was surrounded by greasers, standing silently in uncomfortably close proximity. It felt suffocating, claustrophobic. We could feel their warm mouth breathing on the back of our necks.  Then the Kowalski brothers emerged.  Butch stood next to the kid on the far right, Freshman Number One, and Alfred Lord was standing next to me.  I turned and tried to walk away, when Alfred Lord stopped me.  “Where do you think you’re going?” he asked.

“Me? Oh, I’m sorry, I have to leave.  I have an appointment with my podiatrist.”

“You ain’t going nowhere,” Alfred Lord Kowalksy said.

“Hey, Butch,” Earl said.  “You know what?”

“What?” Butch replied.  Butch was the dimmest of the three, his vocabulary limited to mono syllabic grunts.

“It just don’t feel like Christmas this year, does it.”

“No,” Butch grunted.

“I’ve been trying to figure out why it don’t feel like Christmas, and I think I finally got it, I think I finally figured out why it don’t feel like Christmas,” Earl said.

“Why?” Butch replied.

“It don’t feel like Christmas cause we ain’t had us any of them Christmas songs.  Ain’t nothing get you in the Christmas spirit like some of that there Christmas music.”

“Music good,” Butch stated.

“We’re gonna change that right now.  We’re going to have us some Christmas music so’s we all get into the Christmas spirit.”  With that Earl approached Freshman Number One, standing on the far right of the four of us.  Earl grabbed Freshman Number One by the shoulders and said “kid, get up on the table and sing us a Christmas song.”

“Oh, golly, gee, I don’t think so,” Freshman Number One replied, “I’m kind of shy, kind of …”

“Kid,” Earl scowled, “I don’t think you understand.  I ain’t asking you if you wanna sing us a Christmas song. I’m telling you. Now get up on that table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re going to kick your ass”

Now, let’s pause for a moment and reflect on the phrase, “kick your ass.”  If only it were that simple.  Sure, it might involve pointy-toed boots, and if they really got good leg speed into it, a kick in the ass might hurt for three hours, four hours top.  But the expression was never meant to be taken literally.  No, if I intend to “kick your ass,” I intend to beat the humanity out of you, until your last frayed nerve ending is screaming in pain, and you are a mere hollowed out shell of yourself, and then, when there is nothing left of you but a quivering pad of gelatinous goo spilled on the floor, then, maybe then, I might add in a swift and hard kick at your posterior just to serve as an exclamation point, but that’s not really necessary.

So Freshman Number One, his options made clear by Earl, responded the only way he could.  “Oh, golly gee whiz there, Earl, I’m really uncomfortable in such demonstrative displays.  Could you find someone else?  Could you?”

At that point the greasers converged on Freshman Number One and beat the daylights out of him until he was left there in a crumpled heap on the floor, oozing blood and tears and other bodily fluids, all draining out of him and beginning to pool right there on the cafeteria floor. And Freshman Number One lay there in a crumpled heap, and he was bruised and battered and broken and bent and bloodied.

Then Earl moved on to Freshman Number Two, and said “Kid, either you get up on this table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re gonna kick your ass.”

To which Freshman Number Two replied, “I wish I could, but I’m afraid that my religion strictly prohibits such enthusiastic displays of enthusiasm as singing Christmas songs, so I just can’t.”

And the greasers converged on Freshman Number Two and beat the living crap out of him until he was left lying there on the floor, just a crusty and lifeless spoonful of unrecognizable goo.  The greasers lifted him off the floor and threw him on top of the crumpled heap that used to be Freshman Number One, and now the crumpled heap was two freshmen deep, causing their bones to lock together in impossible and painful angles, and Freshman Number Two was oozing blood and tears and other bodily fluids, all draining out of him and intermingling with Freshman Number One’s blood and tears and pooling right there on the cafeteria floor. And Freshman Number Two was bruised and battered and broken and bent.

At the table, there were only two freshmen left, Freshman Number Three and myself. Earl approached Freshman Number Three and said, “Kid, either you get up on this table and sing us a Christmas song, or we’re gonna kick your ass.”

Freshman Number Three, of course, responded with, “I’m sorry, Earl, but I’m getting a scratchy throat and have a hoarse voice, and I think I’ve got a fever, so could we take a rain check?  Maybe sometime next week?  A rain check?”

At which point the greasers descended upon Freshman Number Three and just destroyed him, as he disappeared beneath them and when the savagery was over the greasers backed off to reveal about 150 broken pieces of Freshman Number Three scattered on the floor, and then a greaser emerged from the crowd with a shovel in his hand, where he got a shovel in the middle of the cafeteria, I have no idea, but he scooped up all the pieces of Freshman Number Three and dumped them on top of the crumpled heap, and now the crumped heap was three freshmen deep, and, since I was only five foot two inches tall, the crumpled heap was now nearly as tall as me, making it even more intimidating a sight than it already was. And Freshman Number Three was oozing blood and tears that intermingled with the blood and tears of the other freshmen and drained into a pool right there on the cafeteria floor.  And Freshman Number Three was bruised and battered and broken and bent.

Now there was only one Freshman left standing, all five foot two, ninety five pounds of me.  As Earl approached me, I felt my heart pounding so hard I thought it was going to leap right out of my chest.  Then Earl was there, right next to me, and he started, “Kid, either you get up …”

And he stopped.

In mid sentence, Earl Kowalski stopped.

The reason he stopped, was, when he looked up at me, I wasn’t there.

I was gone.

I was already up on that table, halfway through the first verse of “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer.”

Now, you have to understand that in December of 1972, the television airwaves were dominated by the cheesiest and schmaltziest of all forms of entertainment, the celebrity Christmas special.  They were these awful variety  shows, and for some reason, the Las Vegas style entertainer was popular at the time, with stars like Dean Martin, Tony Orlando, Wane Newton and Sammy Davis Junior all over emoting and swinging through lip synced renditions of the most horribly clichéd pop standards.  It was all awful, and as I didn’t exactly have an active social calendar at the time, I watched them all and studied their acts.

Now, on the table performing for the greasers, I found all the time I’d invested watching those shows was informing my performance of Rudolph.  I started it out as a slow and soulful ballad and then, halfway through, kicked the tempo up into gear until it was a swinging and rollicking production number, accented by my finger snapping and the random “heys” and “babys” I punctuated each line with.

I looked down at my audience, the dozen or so greasers that had surrounded our table, and they were all silent and still, mouths gaping open, looks of utter confusion and bewilderment on their faces.  Even Earl Kowalski was stunned, and it became clear to me that they had no idea how to react. They knew only one thing, how to kick ass. They had never estimated that any kid would have low enough self-esteem to get up on that table and humiliate himself rather than take his ass-kicking.  This plus the fact that I seemed to be enjoying myself really blew their mildly developed minds.

I finished singing Rudolph to no reaction, just stunned greaser silence. I’d done my song, but nobody knew what to do next.  We were in unchartered waters. It occurred to me that as long as I remained up on that table, it meant that the greasers weren’t kicking my ass, so I plowed forward with the rest of the show.  I decided to throw in a little joke next – playing the part of Rudolph, I said, “I just flew in from the north pole, and boy, are my antlers tired!”  Still, no reaction – just stony, or maybe stoner, silence.

I looked at the clock on the wall, and there were still a few minutes left, so I kicked into my second song, “Jingle Bells,” really rocking it, making it swing, baby!  Still only slack-jawed silence from my audience.  So I launched my rendition of “Deck the Halls,” fa-la-lalling with all my heart, when, in the midst of a fa-la –la, the school bell sounded.

The end of lunch hour!  Saved by the bell!

I announced, “Sorry, folks, that’s all the time we have.  Thank you, and good night, ladies and gentlemen.  I’m here all week. Good night, and drive safely.”

The greasers were still standing there, stunned, as I jumped off the table, into the perimeter of the circle of greasers that sill stood unmoving, surrounding the table.  I confidently tapped the one in front of me on the shoulder and boldly said, “Excuse me, please.”

Much to my surprise, the greasers parted as if I were Charlton Heston and they were the Red Sea.  And I walked, no, I strutted out, past the greasers, past the hideous specter and painful moans of the crumpled heap, past the now coagulated and hardened pool on the cafeteria floor, as if I were walking out on a red carpet.  And I exited the cafeteria and walked into the afternoon, intact and unscathed from my encounter with the still discombobulated greasers.

The next day, I entered the cafeteria, feeling good about myself and the performance I’d given the day before. I walked past our table, and there was no sign of either the bloody pool or the crumpled heap or, for that matter, the other three freshmen, who I could only assume were in a hospital somewhere in different degrees of traction.

Then I saw the Kowalski brothers approaching, and for a split second, my heartbeat accelerated, but only for a second. I suddenly realized that I wasn’t afraid of them anymore.  Sure, they could kick my ass, but so what? I had two older brothers, so it wasn’t like I’d never had my ass kicked before. You get over an ass-kicking pretty quick, but one thing I’ll never get over, one thing the greasers could never take away from me was the fact that the day before I’d gotten up on that table and rocked the joint.  I gave it everything I had, and I was swinging, baby!  And no Kowalski or any greaser could ever take that away from me. So at the sight of them approaching, I kept walking.  I will not back down.

Then they were there, right in front of me, when Earl says, “Hey, kid …”

I braced myself for the pending ass-kicking.

“Kid,” Earl continued, “I just wanted to tell you, how much I enjoyed your show yesterday.”

Stunned, I replied, “Thank you, Earl.”

Then Butch added, “Show, good!”

“Thanks, Butch.”

Even Alfred Lord Kowalski, normally the quiet one of the three brothers, chimed in. “Dude,”, he said, “I thought you had a real stage presence, although some of your material lacked a cohesive core.”

“Thanks, I think, Alfred Lord,” I said.  They liked me!  They really liked me!

“Kid,” Earl started, “your show was so good, that I think everybody in this school ought to have a chance to see it.”

“Why, thanks,” I replied.  “That’s the nicest thing anybody’s ever said to me.”  And it really was the nicest thing anybody had ever said to me.  The fact that it came from Earl Kowalski of all people made it all the more meaningful. This was turning out better than I could have ever imagined.

I closed my eyes, basking in the moment, feeling the adoration and adulation of the Kowalski brothers wash over me, and I felt my feet leave the ground, and I was floating, and with my eyes shut I could see in a future T.V. Guide, the Bob Hope Christmas Special, the Bing Crosby Christmas Special, and now, the Dave Gourdoux Christmas Special, with guest Star Ricardo Montalban, and …

Suddenly I felt some unidentified force grab my arms and lift them above my head and I opened my eyes only to realize that I wasn’t floating after all, and that Alfred Lord Kowalski had a hold of my legs and Butch had hold of my arms, and they were carrying me, through the cafeteria exit to the hallway beyond, where all the other greasers were waiting for us.  Then they lifted all 95 pounds of me above their heads and they were passing me along, like I was body surfing in a mosh pit, and I could see in front of me, on the other side of the hallway, the big rectangular doors that opened to the gymnasium.  As they passed me closer to the gym door, I could see, high above it, a hook that protruded from the wall.  And they lifted me up as high as they could until my belt loop in the back snagged and caught on that hook, and there they left me, dangling helplessly by my belt loop high above the hallway below.

Earl Kowalski looked up at me and said, “Kid, it looks like you’re gonna be up there for a while, so, if I were you, I’d start singing now.”  The Kowalski brothers and all the greasers had a good laugh at my expense as they entered the cafeteria, leaving me alone in the hallway, dangling up above the gym door.  Then, looking the other way down the hallway, I could see the horde of kids headed for lunch hour, and I knew Earl was right about one thing.  Since you had to pass that gym door in order to get to the cafeteria, every kid in the school would get a chance to see my show.

I decided to open with my brand new arrangement of “Silver Bells” …

A Hard Rain


So Bob Dylan won this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature. There’s been a lot of controversy about whether a songwriter is really a creator of literature, but I’d argue that there have been maybe three or four artists who have consistently written lyrics that are worthy of being classified as literature, and of those, only Dylan would qualify for consideration of a Nobel Prize.

Dylan has long been a personal hero of mine.  Above all, it’s his songwriting and his performances that I’ve admired so much.  I’ve also admired his eccentricities, his I don’t give a fuck if you think I can’t sing or I’m weird or whatever.  Dylan has always done what Dylan wants to do, and he’s remained relevant and vital and enigmatic for more than fifty years now.

Dylan didn’t attend the Nobel conference, but he did pass along a warmly worded note expressing his respect for the institution and his sense of honor for winning.  Best of all, they got the great Patti Smith to perform “Hard Rain” on his behalf.

It was the perfect selection of singer and song.  “Hard Rain” is even more relevant now than it’s always been before, given Donald Trump and the threatening cloud of nationalism that is advancing across the world.  The horrors of Syria and the atrocities occurring in the Philippines along with tumult in Gambia and the specter of Russian aggression all portend the eruption of those dark clouds into maybe the hardest rain the world has ever seen.  And even when Smith bungled a couple of lines in the middle of the performance and admitted her nervousness, it seemed right, that even a poet and songwriter and singer as great and formidable as Smith could be humbled in the presence of Dylan’s work.  That she recovered and was still able to get to the emotional core of the song is testament to the greatness of both artists.

“Hard Rain” is Dylan as prophet.  In the song, the singer’s “blue-eyed son” has returned from a long journey that can only be interpreted as a trip into the future.  He describes the sights and sounds and the people he encountered there as nothing short of apocalyptic.  In the first verse, he describes the physical landscape in terms that become increasingly horrific, culminating in “dead oceans” and “ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard.”

Oh, where have you been, my blue-eyed son
And where have you been, my darling young one
I’ve stumbled on the side of twelve misty mountains
I’ve walked and I’ve crawled on six crooked highways
I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests
I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans
I’ve been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, and it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

The second verse describes the people and cultures that dominate, and again, the images are so clear and concise and horrific. From a “newborn baby with wild wolves all around it” to “a black branch with blood that kept dripping,” there’s a sense of abandonment and isolation. Nearly fifty years before Sandy Hook, Dylan wrote about what at the time would have been unthinkable:  “Guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children.” And the “ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken” seems accurate, too, as there is so much hysterical and vitriolic and ineffective talk from both sides but no real communication.

Oh, what did you see, my blue-eyed son
And what did you see, my darling young one
I saw a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it
I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it
I saw a black branch with blood that kept drippin’
I saw a room full of men with their hammers a-bleedin’
I saw a white ladder all covered with water
I saw ten thousand talkers whose tongues were all broken
I saw guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

Then he describes what he heard.  Note that as the verse goes on, the sounds become quieter and more personal, ranging from the roars of thunder and tidal waves to the cry from an alley.  This apocalypse is more than the death and destruction of the masses, it is also the end of individualism.

And what did you hear, my blue-eyed son?
And what did you hear, my darling young one?
I heard the sound of a thunder that roared out a warnin’
Heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world
Heard one hundred drummers whose hands were a-blazin’
Heard ten thousand whisperin’ and nobody listenin’
Heard one person starve, I heard many people laughin’
Heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter
Heard the sound of a clown who cried in the alley
And it’s a hard, and it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

The next verse is the most conflicted, as the dark imagery (“a young child beside a dead pony”) is somewhat balanced by shred of hope and beauty (the young girl who gave him a rainbow.) He meets two wounded men, one “wounded in love,” one “wounded with hatred.” This is the line in the song that I have the most trouble interpreting.  It’s also one of my favorite lines.  Is he saying that in the end, love and hate are equal in their ability to inflict hurt?

Oh, what did you meet, my blue-eyed son?
Who did you meet, my darling young one?
I met a young child beside a dead pony
I met a white man who walked a black dog
I met a young woman whose body was burning
I met a young girl, she gave me a rainbow
I met one man who was wounded in love
I met another man who was wounded with hatred
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

And finally, what is the prophet to do with the knowledge he gained from his journey?  He’s “going back out before the rain starts falling” to “tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it.”  This last verse is incredibly powerful and beautiful.

And what’ll you do now, my blue-eyed son?
And what’ll you do now, my darling young one?
I’m a-goin’ back out ‘fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
And the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the color, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall

 I don’t know how anybody could deny that “Hard Rain” is literature.  The raw beauty and power and emotion captured in these words are undeniably great.  “Hard Rain” highlights the humanity, the unshakable integrity and profound genius of a true prophet.

Ever since the election in November, I’ve been unable to express the feelings of overwhelming dread and loss that I’ve been experiencing. Believe me, I get no pleasure in being right about things that are so wrong, and if I am proven wrong about how bad I think things are going to get, I’ll be unapologetically glad. I’ve been looking for something to describe what I’m feeling and fearing, and have been unable to articulate it. Then I returned to “Hard Rain,” and realized that it perfectly summed up what was going on in my head and my heart. And this is what great literature has done for me time and time again.  Whether it was “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers or “Big Two Hearted River” by Ernest Hemingway or “Two Soldiers” by William Faulkner, it’s shone a light into the darkest recesses of my soul and helped me walk out. More than anything, it’s made me realize I am not alone.

Congratulations, Bob Dylan, Nobel Prize winner.  You know your song well, and thanks to your amazing gift, so do I.

 

Like Fine Wine


Thank you to everyone for the sediments you sent me for my birthday today.  Once I finish dredging my basement, I’ll be able to express my appreciation in greater depth.

I had a wonderful birthday, with lots of presence – my family was present, and although we’re all nervous, it won’t last long, and soon we’ll be finished with this present tense. Although we’ve passed out in the past, it is past the time to present me with more presents, especially in the presence of those who’ve already given me presents.

This is my fifty eighth birthday, which makes me four hundred years old (50 * 8 = 400).  No, that is incorrect – it is actually my second 29th birthday (29 * 2 = 58), although I seem to remember moving a little bit easier on my first 29th birthday.

I was born in 1958, and today I’m 58 – you’ve all heard of “golden birthdays”, when your age matches the day you were born?  Well, I think when your age matches the year you were born, we call that the “rust-colored corrosive” birthday.

And even though I’m 58 now, I’ve actually just finished my 58th year on this planet and am beginning my 59th year. And while 59 may seem like a big number, it is a prime number, meaning that for the next 364 days I’ll be in my prime. So while fifty eight was great, fifty nine will be fine. Look out, world.

Next year, to celebrate, I plan on wearing my birthday suit and, with apologies to Matt Damon, presenting to all the world my born identity.

I know it’s only a small thing, but it seems like a nice gesture.

Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing


We’re down to the last month before the election, when America will finally conclude its political limbo contest.  The question on everybody’s mind is, how low will they go?

They’ve already gone so low that they are subterranean. But if last week is any indication, and if Donald Trump makes good on his promises, we’re going to burn a hole right through the solid inner core of the earth, or down to the depths of the fiery under world of Lucifer himself. (It feels like we’re already there.)

In the meantime, all Hell is breaking lose in the Republican Party, with all kinds of senators and representatives bailing on Trump, offended by his hate filled and misogynistic rhetoric.

This is, of course, all bullshit. The Republican Party shouldn’t be surprised or shocked by Trump.  After all, they created Trump – they are responsible for his being thrust on the American people. He represents everything the Republicans have stood for for more than twenty years now.

In 1994, running on Newt Gingrich’s “contract with America,” a well-organized Republican party won control of the House of Representatives. It was smack dab in the middle of Bill Clinton’s first term, and the landslide victory seemed to send a message to Clinton that his time was limited, and the country had moved to the right. Step aside, Slick Willie, we’ll be saying goodbye to you in 1996.

But then something happened.  Clinton, it turned out, was a political genius.  He stymied the Republicans by … becoming a Republican.  Well, I exaggerate slightly, but Clinton frustrated Gingrich and company by scrapping Hilary’s health care reform, and instituting welfare reform and NAFTA.  When Gingrich threatened to shut down the government, Clinton replied, “Go ahead.”  Gradually his approval ratings increased and in 1996, he was re-elected.

This is when the Republican Party first revealed its Achilles heel: they take things too personally, and get lost in their lust for revenge.  Infuriated by Clinton’s theft of their thunder, they became what they remain today:  the “investigation” party. It started with an investigation of Bill and Hilary’s big real estate “scandal” called Whitewater (remember that one?).  They were unable to uncover any wrong doing by the Clintons (including the bat-shit crazy theories that they’d murdered Vince Foster), so, with time and money running out, they shifted the investigation to the breaking news that Bill Clinton had received blow jobs from Monica Lewinsky. The press went nuts at the lurid details, and the Republicans impeached Clinton on charges of perjury, that he had lied under oath about his affair.  We were treated to months of testimony about a stained dress, what the meaning of the word “is” is, and so on and so on.  Clinton survived the impeachment, and his approval ratings actually went up as the proceedings dragged on.  Meanwhile, the economy, fueled by the dot com explosion, was doing terrifically well.

Then in 2000, Al Gore ran probably the worst presidential campaign ever, distancing himself from Clinton’s indiscretions and in the process distancing himself from the booming economy. Despite all of this, he still won the presidency but then lost it to a partisan and political ruling by the Supreme Court.  With Republican control of the executive and then the legislative branches, we suffered through eight years of corruption and incompetence, soaring debt, and political cronyism.  We found ourselves bogged down in two wars that quickly became quagmires. The Patriot Act and Citizens United both attacked individual rights

But congressional investigations were either suppressed or didn’t exist. Lies made by the administration based on faulty intelligence went unchallenged. Torture conducted by Americans at Abu Ghraib went unpunished. There was the horrible treatment of veterans at Walter Reed, and the sending of American soldiers into war without proper body armor.  All of this was left unquestioned.

The Bush administration ushered in the Great Recession and enabled the criminal activities on Wall Street, resulting in the greatest government bailout ever. We narrowly averted global economic collapse.  Yet any investigations were quiet and ineffective, and to this day, not one day of jail time has been served by those responsible for such greed and avarice that manifested itself in the theft of millions of dollars from every day citizens.

Then in 2008, President Obama was elected, and the hatred and vitriol from the Republicans spilled over. They couldn’t find any scandals to prosecute him on, so they tried to create a few. None of them gained enough attention to warrant any investigations, but they were determined not to recognize the legitimacy of his presidency.  From shouting “you lie” during a State of the Union address to the Senate Majority leader saying his number one goal was to make Obama a one-term president to government shutdowns to a refusal to confirm or deny his most recent Supreme Court Nomination, the legislature has been doing very little governing and a whole lot of obstructionism.

Then there was the ridiculous assertion that he is secretly a Muslim. Or the one where Michelle is actually a man and the first couple is also the first gay couple, and that their children were kidnapped into their roles as daughters. And, of course, there was all the nonsense about his birth certificate, from which Donald Trump the candidate was born.

And, since she was the Secretary of State and presidential hopeful, there had to be more investigations of Hilary Clinton.  She was the target of the Benghazi investigation into the four Americans killed at the embassy, despite the fact that 60 Americans at 13 different embassies were killed during the W. presidency, with no investigations.

There was the FBI investigation into the private server.

I doubt that there has ever been as many tax payer dollars spent on as many investigations as has been spent on the Clintons. Yet none of the investigations resulted in charges or indictments.  It’s not like the Republicans haven’t had the appetite for indictments. It’s obvious that they have wet dreams at night about the Clintons behind bars.

So now they are stuck with Trump. It’s sickening to see the party establishment act all noble and talk about trying to be “statesmen” when opposing Trump and his rhetoric.  They are trying to convince us that Trump is an exception to the norm of the Grand Old Party as the party of dignity and family values.

I’m sorry, but that dog won’t hunt.  At least not with the Republican Party of the past twenty five years.  The “Grand Old Party” has become the party of racists, religious zealots, and deplorable morons (that’s right, any “Evangelical” who still supports Donald Trump after everything he’s said and done has to be both deplorable and a moron). The “establishment” didn’t complain when this constituency voted them into office. They didn’t complain when they spent billions of taxpayer dollars on trying to, as Trump so eloquently puts it, “put her (Hilary) in jail.” They have openly defied their constitutional duties to either confirm or deny a Supreme Court appointment – so they can’t complain about the many constitutional abuses that Trump so ignorantly extolls.  They haven’t passed any meaningful legislation in two terms, even though they’ve voted to repeal Obamacare more than fifty times.  But now, suddenly, with Trump dragging them down, they become the respected statesmen that are horrified by the rhetoric Trump espouses.  Their outrage is exceeded only by their hypocrisy. We can’t let them off so easily – they are the wolves in sheep’s clothing.

It’s beginning to look like Hilary has a good chance of winning this thing (although I’m still not convinced Trump won’t come back – it seems the more unhinged he becomes, the more people vote for him) – so let’s assume for a moment that happens.  And let’s assume congress retains its current form.  That means at least two more years of Republican obstructionism.  And if they couldn’t overcome their inherent racism to show proper respect to the first black president, how do you think they’ll treat the first woman president?  We need look no further then the trumped-up (pun not intended) Benghazi hearings to answer that question.

Nope, if Hillary wins, it’ll be back to business as usual within days. Unless…

Unless the Democrats win control of both the Senate and the House. It’s just about the only hope we have to prevent a repeat of 2016 in 2020.  Bottom line – we need to throw the scumbags who begat the orange headed freak out before they procreate again.

Death, Loss and Beer


(This is a very short fiction inspired by real events …)

One Saturday morning in the summer between my Junior and Senior years in high school, my Dad came and got me and said, “Come on with me, we need some muscle.” I must have still been half asleep, because the next thing I knew, I was in the back seat of Mr. P’s car. My dad was in the front passenger seat, and Mr. P. was driving.  Mr. P. lived two houses down from us on Yorkville Avenue. He was older, in his late fifties. He was always quiet and reserved, soft spoken. He didn’t drink and attended church every Sunday with his wife. He seemed to be the opposite of my dad, who loved being the center of attention, always with a story to tell.  They had one thing in common, though, that trumped all of their differences: they both drove the big rigs, eighteen wheelers, for a living, Mr. P working for a beer company out of Milwaukee and my dad for an over the road freight company.

I was only half listening to my dad and Mr. P’s conversation, and only picked up on a few nuggets.  I heard the word “cancer” and didn’t think much about it, as my dad had cancer the previous year but now he didn’t.  I assumed they were talking about him until I heard Mr. P say, “It’s a hell of a thing.  Only twenty five years old.”

Just prior to arriving at the southern edge of Main Street Mr. P pulled into the back alley and parked next to an empty wooden trailer parked in front of an old garage behind a two story house. We got out of the car, squinting in the bright sunlight as Mr. P led us up the back stairs to a porch. He pulled a key out of his pocket and unlocked the door.  Mr. P entered first, followed by my dad, then me.

We walked into the kitchen of an upstairs apartment that looked both lived in and abandoned at the same time. It was neat and tidy, yet it had a kind of musty smell, like it’d been shut up during the recent heat wave.

“This is a nice place,” Dad said.

“Yes, it is,” Mr. P. said.  “Maggie just loved it. But now, it’s just too much, for her alone …”

I recognized the name Maggie as belonging to MR. P.’s daughter, about eight or nine years older than I was. I didn’t really know her, other than she was pretty, with straight and long blonde hair.  Mr. P’s son, Bob, on the other hand, was in the same class as my oldest brother Mike, and had been one of Mike’s best friends since they were in grade school. Bob was a musician, playing guitar and bass in several garage bands over the years. Bob and his dad clashed like fathers and oldest sons so frequently did in the 1960s, the “generation gap” being a real and discernable thing.

Mr. P walked us through the apartment, showing us the living room, a small home office with a desk and chair, a bedroom, and the bathroom. The bedroom closet was filled with a man’s clothes, his shirts and trousers, and his razor sat on the edge of the bathroom sink next to a can of shaving cream, and it became clear to me where we were.  I vaguely remembered hearing that sometime in the past year or two, when Mike was still in the army, Maggie got married. I had no idea who her husband was, but it was clear that he was gone and wasn’t coming back.  At one point Mr. P opened up the refrigerator.  It was nearly empty, with just some butter, a couple of eggs, and an unopened six pack of Olympia beer.

Then we were back outside, in the glare of the sun again, walking across the alley until Mr. P took the keychain out of his pocket again and opened the pedestrian door to the garage.  There in the dusty streams of sunlight that burst through the door and the windows sat an early sixties vintage white Corvette.

“That was his baby,” Mr. P said. “Such a waste.”

“Way too young,” my dad added.  “Way too young.”

“Well, we’d better get to work,” Mr. P said.

We went back into the apartment, and we started with the big stuff, the couch and the bed, the overstuffed chair, the end tables, bending our backs as we walked them down the steps in the bright sunlight, and loaded them all on the trailer in the alley. Then we started on the smaller stuff, loading what we could into banker boxes that Mr. P pulled out of the trunk of his Buick. We’d filled the trailer to its capacity and fit whatever boxes we could into the trunk of the Buick, but there was still some random stuff left upstairs. We were all standing in the nearly empty apartment when Mr. P said, “Thanks, guys. After he gets off work, Bob and I’ll get the rest.” He said that Bob was borrowing somebody’s van and it had a hitch they’d haul the trailer with.

We got back in Mr. P’s Buick.  It was about 2:00 and it was hot out.  As he craned his neck to back out into the alley, Mr. P. said to me, “Thanks, Dave. I really appreciate your help.”

“No problem,” I said. They were the first words I’d spoken the entire day. I’d had a million questions I’d wanted to ask, about death, love, and life, and the things we leave behind, but I knew it wasn’t proper, I knew that this was not the place or the time to ask these questions, and that my dad and Mr. P weren’t the ones to ask anyways. It was obvious to even my sixteen year old self that they didn’t know the answers to these questions any better than I did.

Mr. P pulled the Buick into his driveway on Yorkville Avenue. Maggie was there.  She was wearing shorts and a white t-shirt and sunglasses. She smiled as we got out of the car, saying “Thanks, dad,” to Mr. P as he opened up the trunk.

“Don’t thank me,” Mr. P. replied. “Thank these guys. On such a hot day yet.”

“Thank you, guys” she smiled at us as she moved and stood next to her dad, facing the open trunk.

“You’re welcome,” my dad said.

Maggie reached down and pulled the six pack of Olympia out of the trunk.  She turned and handed it to me, smiling from under her sunglasses, and said, “Here, take this. Consider it payment for your hard work.”

I looked at my dad to make sure he was okay with it.

“Don’t look at me,” he said. “You earned it, take it.”

I replied a meek thanks.  Dad and I went home and I put the six pack in our fridge.

That afternoon and evening, every time I’d open the fridge, I’d see the beer.  It sounded good, especially on a hot day to a sixteen year old to whom beer represented freedom and adulthood, especially since I’d worked so hard to earn it, but for some reason, I left it untouched. I couldn’t bring myself to open it because it was his, and he had touched it, and death had taken him, and no amount of work I might have done could ever stand up to death’s infinite power.

That night I dreamt I was small again, in the third grade. It was the last day of school before summer vacation and we’d just been released out into the cool June afternoon.  The wind picked up out of the east and blew the helicopter seeds off of the big Maple tree at the end of the playground, and as they took flight and whirled and twirled in the warm breeze, I felt my feet leave the ground and I was floating, too, me and a thousand helicopter seeds, free, to wherever the random winds of fate would carry us. The dream ended and I woke up in the dark thinking about not just the places I’d be taken, but also about the things and people I’d leave behind. And I thought about Maggie and her dark glasses and her pale skin, and I wondered how she could find the strength to muster up a smile from so deep in the depths of the dark shadows cast by death.  And for the first time I wondered about him, what he looked like, I wondered what his name was, and I pictured the two of them riding on an open highway in his Corvette, the wind blowing Maggie’s blonde hair back.

It was 2:30 and everyone else in the house was asleep. I got up and crept through the darkness to the kitchen.  I opened up the fridge and ripped a can of Olympia free from the plastic grip of the six pack. I sat at the dining room table, alone in the dark, and raised a silent toast to Maggie and her dead husband before I slowly finished it.  It tasted good.