Currency

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Ever go to give a bum or panhandler a quick buck to ease your soul and go easy on yourself and forget you got no cash or worse, only have a $5 or higher? And by that time he’s been eyeballing every move from the median strip because that’s what he has to do. And he’s seen you lift up your right ass cheek because that’s where you keep your wallet and he starts your way then quickly eases his gait not wanting to seem too eager with one eye on the light. And you pull it out. And you open it up.

Leather wallets and money each have their own smell; dusty, stale and used. It’s from being handled, passed around and stuffed under our asses. What do we call beggars, panhandlers, these days? Bastards? Bums?  Or  “This Guy” as in “Jesus Christ, look at This Guy”? I’ve heard people say they never give them money, it’s like feeding a stray cat, it only encourages them and why hell they make about 60k a year. All untaxed. Nice work if you can get it.

I don’t think most people have what it takes to act in that drama every day. Sleeping outside is fun until you have to. And even if it is an act, do you have the guts to do it, the unbowed stamina, and the enduring courage?

I think of Nutmeg during these encounters. Nutmeg is one of my rescue dogs. Every time we pass a sewer trough that runs into a little tunnel she has to stop, go over and sniff it. She sleeps under the futon, hidden by the overhanging blanket, while my other dog, Addie, always sleeps up top. My boys and I say Nutmeg must have found shelter in the storm drains when she was a stray.  On our walks she stops and sniffs every one we pass. She’s either remembering or casing them. Nutmeg is not human and humans are not dogs. They are both living creatures, though.

All I had was a $5. But I had committed. I was all in. I couldn’t finger my phone for the latest score, bombing or breach of civility nor could I gaze off into the distance beyond behind my sunglasses on this cloudy day. He thanked me for rolling down my window. I wondered how long my car horn would sound before someone pulled my head off of the steering wheel as a bullet cooled in my left temple. Thank you, sir, he said accepting my tithe, and handed me a small, orange piece of paper with writing on it.  It read: IF YOU HAVE FAMILY PROBLEMS, PROBLEMS WITH DRUGS or ALCOHOL THEN COME!!! FIRST CALL ON JESUS, THEN CALL US. I didn’t smell it. It would be dusty, stale and  used soon enough.

Glurping

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I was searching for the skips of stones across the water. Not the water. Not the stone. Not the sound. Not the splash that spins off of either, either.  The skips. I was searching for the skips. I was searching for the skips in and of themselves.  And not the skips that are skipping now nor the skips that will be skipping in the future, the skips to come. I was looking for the skips of the past. Not in the past. Of the past. What happened to them? Where did they go? Where are they now?

One skip would suffice. Plural skips aside, knowing that one skip may not, and in all reality, or whatever we deigned to term, call, be or accept as reality, be representative of all skips, one skip was all I sought. From back then.

The skip eludes the senses.  It can dodge ontological inquiries but can’t evade the mind. Specifically, my mind. The thought struck me to perform this in a controlled environment.  At night. Pitch black dark night when all other senses would be rendered mute, moot or senseless, too.  So I went to the river after the rains had ended and the shad had run and flung the flattest stones I could find and listened for the skip, as if they were echoes, successive generations that carried in them the skip like a long nose, a chortle, a drinking habit, and then I wondered. What did a stone sound like dropping to the river bed?  As if finding them asleep in the silt I could stir them wake and say, tell me, tell me about the skips of the past?

I felt the arm pull back, the feet brace firm in the muddy bank, heard the exhalation as the arm whipped and then the sonority of the whole world concentrated in that moment. The emptiness of that moment was the skip. In and of itself. And I realized this was the sound. The sound of me at 2:35 am where George Washington crossed the Delaware River.  And then it was gone. Glurping down to the silt of the river’s bed. But who knows? Who really knows what a stone falling through the water to the bottom of a river really sounds like? Not me.

I do know that memory is silence. Memory is a stone. Falling down to the bed of a river. Glurp.

 

Waking Up at the End of the World

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None of us start out with grand ambitions, we back-fill that memory like a wave crashing the beach, surf eddying around our ankles until the sand gets sucked out from under our heels and we totter. The water is not blue. Jellyfish take a long time to die. Sharks never swim in the shallow pools until they do.

 

I was here, on the beach at 52nd and Surf, at the end of the world, hung over, waking up next to what at first appeared to be a dead Mexican. But then his cheeks puffed out and he whimpered into the sand. I smelled my hands for blood but only inhaled a faint aroma of buffalo sauce that inspired no recollection.

Acting on a hunch I reached into the pocket of my neighbor’s jeans and BINGO! Found a packet of Alka-Seltzer tablets. And my car keys. I took another look at the prostrate Mexican and searched for a name.  Empty. Empty as my pockets.  Empty as my head save for the screeching of seagulls hovering above us like they were auditioning to be vultures. Everyone wants to be someone else it seems.

 

Suddenly it felt like the day was resting, in all its damnable weight, across my eyebrows.  I was either having a stroke or a religious experience without the patience to witness either come to fruition. I had heard that if you fed a seagull Alka-Seltzer their stomach would explode. So, bereft of water, and refusing, even at this late stage to drink my own tears, I tore open the packet, whistled as if calling an old favorite dog to the barn, and looking up into the screeching miasma of seagulls that was chopping up the daylight into flashes and explosions of heated air, then tossed the tablet towards the heavens and cowered for cover next to the Mexican. And waited. For the deluge.

 

When it hit me: maybe Henry? Henry was my cousin but he had that swarthy complexion, “Gypsy blood,” my mother claimed, in contrast to our paler, blonde inflected pallor.  At least I hoped it was him. If it wasn’t, I was truly screwed.  I practiced my Spanish, which consisted of insults and made up holy days, just in case.  The gulls swarmed.

Family Figments 1

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My grandma had a stroke was I was 8. After that she slept in a hospital bed downstairs in the converted dining room. We never went upstate that much and didn’t stay too long when we did. Something always happened that shortened our stay. A fight. An argument. Not that we we’re just in and out but we never stayed long as we intended, or my brother and I had hoped and always left when we had to “get our stuff together”. A few months after the stroke Nanny moved in with my grandparents for good to help her sister and my grandpa. Nanny was my aunt. Technically my great aunt, and she knew how to time things, so she could have a big bag of food, poppy seed rolls, fried chicken, cinnamon bread, candy, and cookies just waiting by the door ready to go. Her timing was impeccable. She was my grandma’s oldest living sister. And she wasn’t one of those people you want to meet in heaven, she was one of those people you want to bring back to earth. Her life was a like a light left on in the kitchen late at night, over the stove, the one you see when you’re walking up the hill at 3 in the morning and the snow’s falling and the temperature feels colder than it is because you don’t feel as drunk as you really are and you just have to get home. Things come to your memory at times unexpectedly, apropos of nothing. Things like that light and the smell of the kitchen and her shuffling around as she got older and my grandma died, and my grandpa died, and she lived alone in the house. By then my old man died and we could visit Nanny whenever we wanted. I still walked timidly through the dining room into the living room and would looked over hesitantly to where the bed was, feel guilty about feeling scared of my grandma when she was sick. But Nanny had outlived them all, all her generation, her sisters, her cousins, her friends. She still gave us food for the ride home, though not so much as before, and once on the road we’d ask each other if we could remember all those other return trips when we couldn’t wait to dig into the goodies and then we’d dig in. Now I live where it’s mostly warm, and hardly snows, and people mock each other when it does. And I never even drink anymore. But I keep a light on in the kitchen.

 

Lies, Life and Mac & Cheese

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I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss getting drunk. I even miss the general dissolution that overtakes you gradually once you’re off innocently enough with friends for wings and beer, movie and a beer, a ballgame and a beer, a beer and beers, because to drink is to know where it’s going but to not know how or when you’ll get there; knowing that is has to stop and it will one way or another. I don’t miss the guilt hang-over, though, when your entire body is off base, wobbly, weak, and creaking like a dry sponge. That’s a feeling more helpless-inspiring than not giving a rat’s ass enough to begin with.  Despair is one thing, fear is another thing entirely; fear of knowing that it isn’t just the drinking that’s bad but that the drinking is really only a symptom of something even more ingrained, habituated and insidious. But there is a reward is not giving a fuck if you play it right.  Not giving a fuck about how you feel about what you want to do as long as it’s productive. Compose a sonata. Walk to the mailbox. Write a failed poem. Make macaroni and cheese out of a box! I’ve found Life isn’t a competition, it isn’t a constant evaluation, it isn’t a comparison and contrast between the person you are, the person you could be and the person you think you should be.  Life isn’t stopping your habits; it’s replacing them while you still have the time, the wit and the will to replace them with something, anything other than what kills you quicker drink by drink, dose by dose, thought but thought, action by action because even negation can have its positives.  Sing your song then shut the fuck up. You’re not the only one with a voice. And neither am I.

Stopping Tomorrow

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He no longer prayed, for himself or others, though it had taken a while to bleed out of him, the desire that is. Then again he knew too he’d never see his own skull held like a puppet head in the hands of his enemies either. Oh well, life flowed on, sometimes around, under or over him but incessantly through him and this realization, this awareness is what really curbed his prayer. For by then he knew heaven no longer awaited him for he was already there: fucking Lori under the picnic table in the backyard of his friend Kenny’s house long after the party ended.

By his accounts he’d been in love with two or three women which was pretty good and all for who he was, what he’d come from and wherever the hell it was he was going. It was only after they were gone, really gone, like months and years gone, that he could truly love them. For they had passed from that awkward physical stage into the realm of pure theory where the fingers of his mind could mold, shape and cast them into any suitable representation available for later utility if at all. It kept the staid day not from advancing but forced it to go around them like mercury divides around a nail driven into a board only to reform itself leaving the cold hard nail clean, fixed into a plank of dead wood.

Wait no there was four, the one at the community college, the one who showed up at the party and they’d made out on Brandon’s back porch before one of them got sick vomiting right after making out. Lori? He’d known her from high school and she was there in the liquor store parking lot, met up like old times that never were, she knew Eileen and Chrissie and then that was that. See? Life could get you somewhere when you thought about it and no place at all either.

Lori wasn’t real bright but had a nice smile, crooked teeth (which he just read were now fashionable in Japan) and an amazing set of tits. Like some girls they have this real nice set of tits but that’s only because they’re fat. They kind of know it, the guys definitely know it, but no one says anything about, just another something to be silent about. Anyway, she had sweet lips and sparkly eyes, a strong mid-Atlantic accent that stretched out her “O”s and sounded like every word spoken had to be pushed up against the roof of the mouth before it was allowed out.

The years had been kind to her and they were both divorced. She was heading back to school, “Should’ve done that years ago” she said extending the last letter, breathing it out her nose down a long round tube. That accent actually made his dick twitch and he stopped and looked into her eyes and thought out loud, “The years have been kind to you.” She batted her eyes, looked at the ground and demurred sighing, for all women no matter what level of wit practice this skill reflexively, “Why, thank you”, scrunched her nose and tickled his chin with her right hand’s index finger to gauge tactilely any romantic potential, another common but latent female talent.

He learned from his divorce that men take women for granted and that a little flattery was essential to getting in their pants. Not fool-proof. But it worked occasionally; at least that’s what his marriage counselor told him one time after running into him when Jack was in the same office seeing another mental health professional. She looked good, too, her dishwater blonde hair still redolent of the ocean, her breasts still abundant and gravity-defying, “Nah, me and Mike didn’t have any kids so these babies are still in good shape if I say so myself” she said cupping her breasts in her hands, seeming exponentially drunker than at the start of the conversation though she had only taken a few sips of her Sea breeze. Ah, he thought, it’s good to be home even if it doesn’t exist anymore.

Just like old times. They had been drinking, a lot of drinking, mostly beer and some wine and some Jack someone or another had found. Playing basketball, grilling burgers, getting loaded; it was just another day in the life. Once, long ago, the girls would come over later, buzzed on wine coolers, already tired of the bar though they were underage. They were girls. Cute girls, too. Girl friends. Sometimes the guys could get in too if Beans was working the door. Funny thing; Beans was younger than all of them but just such a big motherfucker no one thought twice about it. He had to be cool and couldn’t let the guys in all the time since it was draw the LCB and they already had plenty of citations. Sometimes it got to be a drag just trying to get drunk or high let alone laid.

Afterwards they could always crash at someone’s house, sleep outside on a deck in good weather, under the stars, under a picnic table. Hell, someone’s parents would roust up breakfast, too. He had two scars, one on each arm from making Irish soda bread with Brandon’s mom at 3 am one morning so drunk off his ass his singed his eyebrows while lighting a Kool from an electric stove’s burner then took the bread pans out of the oven (he’d remembered oven mitts – did that make him “functioning”?) with his hands facing down, stood up and felt the top of the oven’s interior biting into two both forearms like electric snakes. It didn’t sober him up but damn it sure was funny.

Anyway there they were, under the stars on the back deck, music playing, someone had put Duran Duran in the CD player as a goof, wishing it was that simple to either fully embrace or completely disavow the past. Lori and he had been talking. And drinking. And drinking and talking about all kinds of shit, what they’re going to do, how they were both re- applying themselves to school or Life which was bullshit but he kept nodding his head as people often do when bored to death and their minds somewhere else but not so inconsiderate to stop the person across from them speaking and tell them simply,” Please be quiet, let’s you and I go away and fuck each other, ok?” Her breath dallied on the cusp of rancidness. It blew warmly on his upper lip, her ass insinuated itself into his lap, and he debated whether or not to be embarrassed by the burgeoning hard-on pitching a tent under her left butt cheek. He couldn’t remember when she sat on his lap. He wondered where his car keys were.

Then her tongue was in his mouth; it felt like a greased cable uncoiling into a supple muscle just emerged from the ocean, salty and warm. It was as welcomed as redemption itself and who doesn’t want a little bit of that? His left hand got some tit and he thrust his erection up along her left thigh. She sighed or hummed or something inaudible as his right ear was pressed against her left shoulder and her hand cupped his left ear. They separated and it was like they were the only two in the back yard, on the deck, under the stars, in the world. The words never made out of his mouth but the acrid, acidic spew of cheeseburger and Doritos sautéed in Miller Genuine Draft gurgled in yellowing pulses in the back of his throat briefly blocking his airway. Years earlier she had the inebriated grace to splay her legs just in time to avoid the splash (another cat-like reflex unique to her gender), stand up and pat his and say, “It’s all right honey,” and walk away. But this time he didn’t puke. He didn’t puke. The roiling gastronomical tumult of dubious beef, suspicious orange cheese and assorted chemicals that passed as a strain of tortilla chip somehow congealed into words, “Hey, baby, “he said almost coherently, “Let’s take a look at the stars.”

In the hammock they were able to hold each other in their arms and gaze toward the stars spared of any eye contact. It’s funny how you can be out of touch with shit right in front of you. Like her. But not because she had said that evening how much of a crush she had had on him since 7th grade and he remembered her because he was one of those kids who could see a lot and remember a lot and the only things he didn’t see were because he didn’t think he was worthy of seeing them. And it wasn’t that he didn’t see them clearly but he just never spoke about them, just kept his mouth shut about them and moved on. They always stayed with him, forming this amorphous presence in him, deep down inside him that stood out and away from time; it just always was, always there inside him. So to feel the flesh warmed by the blood of it, her skin warmed by her pulse on a night like this, after all, wasn’t so bad. He only hoped he would remember it in the morning and then decided, fuck it, memory is just an anchor to the past, threw his leg over her hips, put his hand down her shirt and started kissing her back, attacking her with kisses. She sighed and placed her hand on his crotch and the hammock broke, first the cords at their heads snapped one by one in rapid succession as time slowed and the stars streaked across the sky like someone left the shutter open and they toppled over onto the damp ground. Then the tethers at their feet snapped entangling their legs together until they were wrapped cocoon like in the musty canvas of the busted love-nest. He was face down with her breasts warming his neck, her hand still on his tumescent prick. “I don’t think this is gonna work like this,” she said bemusedly.

Kenny and Brandon watched the entire episode from the kitchen window. Both laughed uproariously as the interlude succumbed to gravity. They were glad Jack could find a bit of happiness in it all; he thought too much as it was. They had the decency to avert their eyes after that and return to drinking though Brandon really wanted to see Lori’s tits. He peeked every time he returned to the kitchen to get more beer but to no avail. Jack knew someone would be leering and by then had found them refuge by dragging the ill-fated canvas under the picnic table and spreading pine needles underneath to repurpose it as a “downy bed of sexual repose, that’s BJ Chesterton,” he told her, unable to play this charade all-in, “You’ll probably read about him in school”. She was impressed with his knowledge and began to unbutton her top. He was impressed with how much effort he was exerting for all this.

Her skin was translucent in the moonlight and she had a small tattoo of a dolphin leaping out of the water on her left hip although it may have only been random curlicues of shallow blue veins. He realized then it wouldn’t take long to see through her. Some people were like that though through no fault of their own. One could look upon them, gaze at them, peruse their countenance and what all for something, anything more and all to no avail. But tonight that was fine, it was ok, as fingers of moonlight crept up his back coolly like some assassin’s hand and her warm touch caressed his chest, pinching his nipples with her cracked magenta hued nails, because one could only go so deep on a night like this. Anything else and you’d never make it back to the surface.

It was the standard fumbling and murmured pleas and sighs. Some things never changed, they just moved around a little bit and settled there before dying. A film of sweat developed between their engaged bodies evaporating the ephemeral heat of the moment. The chill hurried each on selfishly as their blood flushed from all their limbs in a valiant, futile effort to empty through the intersection of their union. He knew he would never be a poet because at that moment looking at her face, lips pursed, hair matted to his sweatshirt-pillow, he just wanted to be done and go home and make himself some breakfast.

He climaxed arching his back, raising up on his arms and with a primordial grunt threw back his head into point of a nail that had been driven through the picnic table’s top, “AH FUCK!” he screamed into the whirling, infinite depth of this indiscriminate night. Lori locked her ankles behind his back, clinging to him like some marsupial and bit his neck, she was turned on by pain, “Oh, Mike”, she whispered, “Fuuuuuck me”.

Brandon heard the erotic exclamation as did most of the neighborhood. All heard it except Kenny now asleep, an open bottle of beer about to spill onto his crotch. Brandon turned to him and said “Sounds like our boy knocked one out of the park.” Kenny stirred, mumbled something and turned to stretch out on the couch. Brandon grabbed the bottle quickly. Kenny’s wife would have their balls if it spilled on their new leather sofa. “Fuckin’ Kenny,” said Brandon and drank what was left in the bottle.

Jack dismounted Lori, face-down, his head at angle peeking out from underneath the table. Scars. Now he was going to have one on the back of his head as his alcohol-thickened blood pumped out dully, congealing to a dark ruby red under the waning moonlight, its destiny to become a scab by morning. He couldn’t see it of course but the moon found its twin in the coalescing glob; it looked like a pupil in negative, a third eye on the back of his head.

As he ate a few blades of dew dressed grass he thought of all his scars. The scars were ok since after his mind he tried to live through his body best he could. They were his tattoos, tattoos of love he figured more than anything. There was the blotch just below his belly button from that night in South Carolina when a bourbon experiment went kind of wrong. Another one from a night in Paris was flush across the tip of his right middle finger. In wine-darkened passion he had rummaged through his toiletry bag for a condom only to find his double bladed razor instead and commenced to bleeding like a stuck pig. He tried to convince his future ex-wife that the maid wouldn’t ask any questions about so much blood on the sheets long as the left a few more francs for the tip but there’s no convincing some folks. Ah, at least they got to climb two-thirds of the Eiffel tower when they were there.

When it was over he asked for her number knowing he’d never call for they had already said everything there was to say. She knew, too, but gave it to him anyway. He’d gotten what he needed as much as he wanted and figured she had the same. They both knew that much though precious little beyond it so he just conjectured that’s what kind of kept us going, an impulse and everything else was living in the past. They got dressed and said their goodbyes, “See you in another fifteen years?” one of them said, their back to the other.

Jack wasn’t drunk anymore as much as weightless, his senses fatigued but preparing for the inevitable hangover. He stole a bottle of Gatorade out of Kenny’s fridge in a futile attempt to restore some precious bodily fluids but wasn’t so sure the label referred to the ones he had just squandered. He thought twice about rummaging any breakfast, denying the temptation of the baby biscuits sitting on the kitchen counter. His keys were in his pocket all the time and he split before Tracy woke up. She’d changed so much since college when she was merely annoying; now she was a perfect pain in the ass. He left without saying goodbye to Kenny and Brandon exiting through the garage where he found two cans of Old Milwaukee tall boys which he promptly drank for breakfast.

He wandered in the rain looking for his car. Had he been that drunk? If so the wandering would sober him up. It was like all his friends abandoned him to roam a faintly familiar labyrinth all alone like they had never even existed. So down mud-sluiced alleys and over mold-slick picket fences he meandered scaling back into some dark narrowing journey whose light kept drawing away from him perpetually illuminating only the angle of the rain or the density of the mist when the capricious heavens decided which way to fuck with him. No, maybe he was still just drunk, really fucked up pissing in the middle of Darlington St as the lights changed from green to yellow to red with a wet metallic clicking that echoed off the soused pavement plashing warmth up to his knees then curling away in white foam to meet the gutter at a right angle and twine itself like a rope, a hopeless tether disappearing into the sewer grate. He thought fuck what if a car hit me right now?

He teetered back on his heels and the sky splashed his cheeks with a cool mist which felt like impending sickness. Shit where was she? Ah she never liked being around him with her friends or maybe because he was always high or about to get high that she needed her alone time?

I go to school all week and sometimes just like hanging out with my friends on the weekends.

How did he not see that coming? He wandered north on Neal St. fighting upstream against a ghost legion of drunks but when he got there the deli wasn’t open yet. He thought about sleeping in his car once he found it. He didn’t trust sleeping anymore least not in his car down some unknown alley in a crappy little state-college town slowly reacquiring sobriety on an empty stomach. His jacket and shirt smelled like cigarettes and cheap perfume. Who was that girl, Maggie? Hadn’t he hooked up with her once a few weeks back? Yeah but no one ever talked about it, all part of the bargain of being young and free. 7-11 he remembered that’s where they had left his car. Heading that way realizing that when you loved no one you were finally free to love anyone, anyone at all.

Behind the wheel he looked up at the sky as he often did first thing and saw the morning bleeding up from the east though it felt he was heading north and thought of the word “permeable.” Clouds scarred the horizon where orange gave way to blue; he saw the twin vapor trails of an invisible jet like the eye of a needle and wished he could fly right through its opening not caring what was on the other side, just another daydream of escape, like something inside his head was intermittently switching places with his brain but he couldn’t tell what. Eddie Floyd played on the radio, “Love is a doggone good thing…” He headed home and called in sick to work.

Instead he spent the morning collecting butterflies to feed the crows. When he had enough he laid down in an open field just outside town and perched a butterfly on his index finger one at a time. The crows would mass like night around him. The butterfly strained to keep its purchase on his finger against the torrent of 1,000 crows’ wings flapping in unabated hunger. Waiting their respective turns, the crows would swoop down and each partake of a butterfly, Danaus plexippus, of course, but also Hackberry Emperor Asterocampa celtis, Zebra Swallowtail Eurytides marcellus and Mottled Duskywing Erynnis martialis, too, all gobbled up. It went on like this, one Corvus brachyrhynchos after another until all the butterflies were devoured and the crows sated. Then he stood up. Brushed off his clothes and headed to the bar for happy hour. Chicken wings were $.25 cents apiece and import bottles were $2 each. He could get dinner and shit-faced for under $15. And that included the tip.

He had met her here before, even got a name, Janine, Janice, Tara or something or other. She was either too drunk to remember or care by now as she lit one Marlboro Light after another exhaling with an audible exhaust like she couldn’t empty her lungs fast enough. Nice body though, lean, faint down above her upper lip bejeweled with sweat. Around her eyes and mouth lines were carved in by the drawing on too many cigarettes and squinting into harsh unforgiving daylight. She kept pushing her blonde hair behind her left ear reflexively so the star tattooed on her neck could shine like a solemn, lonely beacon in the bar room air stratified by thin layers of smoke, curses and the viral riff of AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. It beckoned him. He could taste its sweat that wouldn’t slake but only exacerbate his thirst until he no longer was the consumer but the consumed in yet another act of transformation that seemingly plagued every class of life.

“Thomas,” he said leaning into the bar,” What’s her name?”

“Urlene,” he said with a straight face.

“No, c’mon what the fuck is it?”

“Shawna, I think, used to date Billy the line cook, crazy as a shit-house rat”

“Billy or her?” he asked rhetorically.

Thomas answered by bringing another Labatt’s Blue on the house. He took a pull, the foam flushed his mouth and the coolness ran down his throat right into his shoes. “A dozen hot,” he ordered, “with bleu cheese.”

“Shawna, of course”, he said to himself. Why did the name of every woman he ever fucked or wanted to fuck end in a vowel? “Send her one,” he directed Thomas.

“Thanks,” she said toasting him lifting the mojito to her mouth. Her smile and the star pulled him towards her until Thomas came by and took money for their drinks. Was this his 4th, 5th or 6th? His $20 had been winnowed down to a buck and some change and he realized he’d have to hit the ATM to keep the party going.

“Hey I got to step out but I’ll be back in a few minutes. You’ll be here?”

“Oh, yeah. Hey could you get me a pack of smokes? Marlboro lights.”

“Cool,” he said, tapping the bar with his car keys, “Thomas save my spot be, back in a few.”

The air hit him hard but the night had already come and there was nothing to be done about it. He got his bearings and tried to devise the safest way to get to the ATM. There were usually cops around, just driving back and forth it seemed, did he live in that bad of a neighborhood or was the world just like that, full of cops just driving around? He was cool and was just heading down the road and back so he climbed behind the wheel, turned it over and backed out until a light pole’s concrete stanchion inflicted a 6 inch long scratch in his left quarter panel like some dwarf started to paint his car silver then gave up. How the hell would he explain that to anyone? He always thought bottoming out was going to be a histrionic catastrophe, a twisted heap of wreckage, a demise worthy of a good story at least but this? Another scar he’d have to obscure with lies.

Maybe he’d try AA again, meet someone there like himself and build up what he lost or better yet what he never had. The past was always good for a story or two, the truth never getting in the way. But he wasn’t a joiner. What drunk was? Seemed the meetings were always held in a church and you were welcomed unconditionally for the price of a confession. Ah the endless bartering for souls, when did it end if ever?

Lately moments like this were becoming more frequent, when he thought about drinking and what it meant to him and if it was somehow tied up in his destiny. It was when he felt most in control; each step down the hallway to that dimly lit room was a wrestling move with his better conviction, a furtive grope of a self-love so bitter “loathe” was a word written large against the end of each day as to be indiscernible; just a big book he didn’t have the time or desire to read. One you couldn’t read up close and by the time you backed off to get a better perspective you no longer gave a shit what it might mean. It was the way to freedom and he would feel himself falling to and away simultaneously. It didn’t placate his soul as much as fabricated it. The days aren’t really so empty or boring but necessary and therein rested the challenge of finding a new life to work into shape, paint it and roll it off the edge into his own sweet inevitable self-realization. Still he recalled with fondness the time in a NY state college town when exceedingly drunk he threw a phone through a wall. Again and again. He smiled saying to himself out loud “I’ll hit the Food Lion on the way home for a 6 pack. I’ll stop tomorrow.”

 

All The Soul Came Through The Radio

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She had two friends that year, that horrible year, Patty White who was black and Tammy Black who was white and she kept them from each other because that seemed what everyone did. Patty was her first kiss, but she didn’t consider that her first kiss until years later when sitting listening to a gospel group with her fiancé and he mentioned how beautiful the one singer was. She wondered what had happened to Patty.  That woke in her the memory of that first kiss, the confidence in calling it her first kiss. She kept it to herself. Tommy Massanelli was her first boy kiss she’d tell herself going forward.

 

“That one singer, the one all the way to the left she’s beautiful,” he said to her, “I’d love to record them,” and he feinted lifting his phone. Her heart skipped. He didn’t want to see intrusive.

 

“Yeah,” she laughed, “I know,” she demurred. She stifled a cough.

 

But the words carried her away, lifted off the bench simultaneously rooting her to this city but liberating her from it as well out beyond to where there were rules and forms like language, but it was all agreed upon and if someone said up was down it was so because everyone agreed on it. It took just a few seconds or maybe they had been sitting here for some time because immediately afterwards she realized time like language was just a construct to order components of the physical world.

 

The singing was like soul coming through the radio. It was like the soul that came through her radio all those years ago in NJ. Staple Singers, Rose Royce, Rufus with Chaka Khan. She realized we all come so far only to be right where we are. And for that moment she was back in NJ. She listened to soul music, quietly in her room, but only when her parents were on their monthly jaunt into the city to see the Opera, her mother always joked it was spelled with a “Capital O!” They would return with her father tipsy from too many scotch and sodas and her mom loquacious from sloe gin fizzes; it was their one day a month to unwind and relax like common people. She stuffed her robe into the crack under her bedroom door so her bratty little twin sisters couldn’t hear how loud she was playing it.

 

It was Panasonic clock radio tuned into music from the big city east of her and the big city southwest of her. If she had triangulated her position she’d realized now she was further than ever from where she wanted to be or at least thought she thought she wanted to be. She made sure to choose correctly between “further” and “farther”. It made sense. The words made sense when we agreed to them and kept things calm going forward.  She’d look out her window into the farmlands of western New Jersey just over the hedges and golf course to where they receded into the mist of Pennsylvania and knew her life lay elsewhere. Deep down she wished was Black. To be invisible together with a group of people who had Soul and who said exactly what they thought and felt.

 

She loved her soon-to-be-husband very much and felt nothing but a deeper connection to him because of what he said, the word he used; he felt comfortable enough to tell her anything unconditionally. Although he was simply wrong about Whitman –  What if they were paeans to young boys? He asked – but she felt now, in this instant, she was back again where Patty was all that time ago, just as out of place as she was then. It was empathy. The A Capella quintet began Will the Circle Be Unbroken and she thought somehow the circle hadn’t been united, not just yet.

 

It was winter when they really became friends and she always told herself later how she lamented waiting that long using nostalgia to castigate herself rather than for reverie, but she was that way and while it made her gut and heart sink at times she told herself it allowed her to see how we can trudge through the tough times, like all those bad nights in Barcelona with her ex.

 

She had slept over at Patty’s and went to church with her the next morning.  And it was that Sunday afternoon when they kissed. She was attracted to her beauty while Patty said, “What other choice do I have? I like girls, there’s not another black family within 50 miles, and who else in West Jabib, NJ, knows who Rufus is?” She was going to tell Tammy after gym class on Monday but when Tammy made a joke about scrubbing dishes with an afro all she could do was laugh.

 

She was living a lie. Not so far away from it that should couldn’t see it or taste it. And the memory of that kiss blew across her lips like a breeze. She wasn’t quite ready yet. For what she didn’t quite know, didn’t have the words for the nebulous sensation inside her.

 

They went off to dinner, at that Italian place, where he always had too much wine and she never seemed to have enough. She had the strawberry and goat cheese salad with olive oil and vinegar on the side while he had the pear and gorgonzola pizza with balsamic reduction. She paid for the meal quickly while he stopped in the men’s room. It was the least she could do now.

 

They made love later and afterwards she told him she was having her period, so it might be a little bloody. He had never heard her speak so plainly, directly and somewhat indelicately. When he washed her blood off his cock a few minutes later in the shower he realized that was the first time he had ever heard her talk of her cycle or even seen her blood. No errant swipes in the kitchen or a nicked shin from shaving her legs ever before. One time she even mentioned that her blood pressure was 82 over 60. As he stroked his dick clean he wondered if she was even alive – of course she was, he just couldn’t control himself sometimes and wore his emotions on his sleeve. When he returned to bed her back was to him. “Everything ok?” he asked. “Uh-uh,” she said flatly, “Just tired, have a big day tomorrow.”