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FUBAR Tuesday: Highway to Hell

August 24, 2010 1 comment

A few years ago when I was regularly negotiating the I-71 slalom back and forth between Cincinnati and Cleveland, I would usually spend half the trip cursing the oil, automobile and highway construction lobbyists. You see, it was their fault that I was making a dangerous and boring (boringly dangerous?, dangerously boring?)  four-and-a- half-hour automobile drive instead of riding comfortably on high-speed rail where I could work, read, flirt or even have a cocktail (while flirting). The trip from cities like Cleveland to Cincinnati is ideal for rail because it’s too far to safely drive and too short to fly (by the time you get through the check-in and security bullshit you might as well have driven).

Americans have been stupid enough to allow lobbyists to deprive us of an efficient, low-polluting, pleasant mode of transportation enjoyed by the civilized world, (notice I didn’t say “rest of” as I don’t consider America civilized). Yes, high speed rail would have to be subsidized but so is the automobile and so is aviation. The real cost of gas is about $15.00 but we only pay $2 to $3 dollars. As a buddy of mine is fond of saying, conservatives only call it subsidized socialism if it rides on a rail.

In the Sep/Oct edition of Miller-McCune magazine (if you haven’t heard of it and I’ll bet you haven’t, you need to rectify the situation www.miller-mccune.com ) Bruce Selcraig lays out the details of the American transportation travesty in his article, “A Track to the Future”. I’m going to excerpt portions of it below but you need to go read the whole piece.

“…Unthinkable in Europe, America has metro areas with more than a million people – such as Nashville, Tenn., Columbus, Ohio, Phoenix and Las Vegas, – with no inner-city passenger rail of any kind, at any speed.”

“…In virtually every developed nation except the United States, although there may be pitched battles over immigration, foreign policy and soccer, hardly anyone argues about the wisdom of fast trains.”

“… Building a new system of high-speed rail in America will be faster, cheaper and easier than building more freeways or adding to an already overburdened aviation system…”

“… in America it [subsidies for rail] has become a call to arms for libertarians and “fiscal conservatives” who insist that high-speed rail pay for itself, while ignoring the massive subsidies received by the auto and airline industries.”

“…Since 1983, mass transit has only received about one-eight of those highway taxes, and none went to true high-speed rail because, to date, the U.S. has no high-speed trains.”

“… not be enough to alter the course of a me-first, car-first nation, until, of course, $8-a-gallon gas does the altering for us.”

Categories: Breaking the Chains

Small Rebellions

August 21, 2010 1 comment

A radio personality with a microphone urges people to step up and participate in the ice cream eating competition. He sounds like he’s talking from inside a culvert. The person who can eat a quart of Creamery Brand Ice Cream fastest wins a year’s supply. What exactly is a year’s supply of ice cream?, Nate asks himself.

Nate steps up on the gazebo in Riverside Park where a long table is laid out with intermittent spoons. The contestants can choose from a variety of Creamery flavors. Most of the contestants choose vanilla because it is bland and will melt quickly under the withering sun, perhaps thinking they can drink their way to victory.

Except Nate, who chooses Mint Chocolate Chip even though it has big slabs of dark bitter chocolate that, like life, he will need to chew. He chooses it because it is his favorite.

When the contest starts, the frantic competitors shovel great gobs of ice cream into their wide mouths, many swallowing the frozen cream whole without savoring, tears in their eyes from the searing, cold pain.

Nate calmly scoops a small spoonful with a bit of the chocolate as he looks around at the desperate, cream-slick mouths and soiled shirts. He loves the tingle of the mint, the way his mouth comes alive when he draws a breath. Fire and ice.

By Nate’s fourth spoonful, a contestant rises from his seat and brandishes an empty carton to the stunned and cheering gathering. The winner is declared but Nate, with most of his carton intact, has already wandered down the makeshift steps from the stage and onto the Square, leisurely enjoying his treat. Eyes of confusion or mirth follow. The Creamery Ice Cream Representative and the Radio Personality are not amused. Nate sits by the fountain and scrapes the waxed paper carton with the wooden spoon. Tosses both into a waste can.

At the far end of the Square, a group of people wear stickers that read My Name Is on their breasts. They sip cocktails in clear plastic glasses within a velvet roped area. Signs and buttons with stars and stripes read Re-elect Senator Powers. An effusive young woman asks Nate if he is a registered voter and satisfied with his answer and his signature, fictitious address and phone number, writes NATE with a Sharpie in big block letters on a label and presses it on his shirt pocket. Ms. Effervescence smiles and moves on to an unlabeled human.

Nate looks down at his pocket and seeing, from his perspective, his name upside down, peels it off and inverts it.

Nate makes small talk with the guests. Answering questions about his place of residence and livelihood and other matters demographic and social. Harmless fictions. He sips at his gin and tonic through the tiny straw. When an interrogator tells him his name tag is upside down, he looks at his breast and says it looks right to him. They are amused and take him for a prankster. They thrust business cards in his face. Nate accepts the cards though he has none to offer in exchange. After he has accepted enough cards to warrant five weak gin and tonics he moves toward the velvet rope where he encounters a young woman who blocks his path. “Hello. I’m Alex,” she says even though her name-tag is clearly visible. She offers her small, soft hand, “it’s short for Alexandra.” “Nate,” says Nate taking her hand in his, “it’s short for Nate.” He does not shakes it but holds it delicately as though he has been handed a Faberge egg. When her hand is released, she takes a business card from a small, grained leather pouch. “Do you have a card?” she asks, handing him her own which identifies her as an attorney.

“I have several,” Nate says as he withdraws the stack from his pocket. He flips through them. “I think this is my favorite,” he says handing a card to Alex. He smiles, steps around her and walks through the gap in the enclosure.

Alex watches him for a moment before she looks at the card. It reads Margaret Tomlin, Vice President of Sales, Hummingbird Communication. There is a colorful hummingbird, snout poised above a honeysuckle flower in the upper right hand corner of the card. Alex knows Margie Tomlin. She laughs and shakes her head. She studies the gathering, busy sipping, chatting, gazing, listening, posturing. Looks at faces she recognizes. Then she turns and follows Nate, who becomes ever more diminutive in the distance.

Nate crosses the street against the light. A car skids to a halt inches from his thigh. Horn blaring, the driver gesticulates from within the fishbowl Ford, air conditioning blowing at full blast. He hits the horn repeatedly as Nate passes but fails to capture the jaywalker’s attention. Nate’s expression is not defiant but detached. Nate is already across the street when the driver drops his window. The driver sits open-mouthed and confused through the light change, his eyes wide in something akin to, but not exactly, amazement. The driver withholds the invective but continues to idle until the driver behind him begins honking. The light has changed again.

Alex quickens her pace but can’t close ground in her fashionable heels. She’ll lose him now, she fears, but looking through the traffic she sees him turn into an alley off Rubicon Avene which was, more or less, the demarcation between the prosperous Riverside and the dilapidated Near North neighborhoods. She should reverse course and return to the party, to her friends, but she doesn’t. She crosses the street. At the alley she pauses. Even in the bright sunlit afternoon the alley is dark and bleak. Foreboding. She presses on. In the alley she discovers the entrance to the Delirious Dissident bookstore near The Lemongrass, a Vietnamese restaurant she had heard good things about but never visited because she avoided the area. She has practiced her lines to explain her unexpected presence. You were so captivated that you accidentally gave me someone else’s card. A card you might need. But once inside the practiced words fall away. She sees Nate talking to a bearded, long haired clerk behind a glass counter displaying old books. She can only blurt, “Curiosity kills the cat,” and wonders, herself, precisely what she means. Nate smiles a crooked smile. The speechless clerk shifts his questioning gaze back and forth between Nate and the young woman who is sweating profusely in her business suit.

Alex peels a lock of dark hair from her sticky forehead. Delirious Dissident has no air conditioning but she is intermittently greeted by blasts of air from a large, swiveling pedestal fan. The store’s climate is pleasant, liking stepping inside a cave. The fan’s thrust lifts her fine, silky hair from her shoulders and makes her skin tingle like the taste of mint. The shop holds only the three of them and books that smell pungent and ripe. Alex plops down into one of the old over-stuffed chairs scattered about the shop. As Nate and the clerk study her like a curio she scans the bookshelf nearest her. Dusty volumes of books by people whose names she doesn’t recognize and some she can’t pronounce: Hannah Arendt. Amiri Baraka. Nathaniel Chalmers. Noam Chomsky. She kicks her shoes away from her tired, hot feet as if she has arrived home at last from a long journey. On a battered table next to the chair is a copy of Blue Lard by Vladimir Sorokin. She picks up the book. The text is in Russian.

“I could translate it for you if you like,” Nate says. “What do you usually read?”

“I don’t know,” Alex says and is disturbed by her admission, “maybe you could make a suggestion.” She kneads her foot cocked upon her knee and knows that she is showing too much thigh but shifts her leg higher instead. Brazen and obverse. A thrilling self realization hits her like a crashing wave.

A large dog arrives from the back of the shop, tail swishing vigorously, rolling his rump to and fro. The dog tries to push his nose into Alex’s crotch. She grasps the dog’s big head with both of her hands, kneading the fur and scrunching his ears clumped in her fists. The canine teeth, capable of ripping out her throat belies slobbery smile and loving gaze. That’s how the world is, she is learning, it happens or it doesn’t and the vagaries of life, the randomness of reality make a mockery of her plans. The dog tries to launch himself up to lick her face, to climb into her lap, riding her skirt farther up her thighs. Alex doesn’t wear undies and she imagines that her fecund fragrance fills the room and complements the musky books, that it beckons all of the animals in the room.

She fondles the animal’s ears as she pushes his head back down between her knees, the insides of his ears feel like velvet.

“Zhivago!” the clerk scolds.

Zhivago turns and looks at his owner with a contrite expression. Then backs away to sit. Drooling. Admiring his new friend.

Nate, who had wandered to the back of the store, has returned. He studies Alex with an expression she doesn’t quite recognize. He hands her three Mad magazines from the ‘70’s, their back covers creased from folding the cartoon puzzle. “This is a good place to start,” he says. Alex thinks he’s kidding, then decides he isn’t. He smiles, steps away and strides to the door. The bell’s ding signals his departure.

“…?” her eyes ask, maybe of the clerk, maybe of the dog. Maybe of the books. Maybe of herself. The dog puts his head back into her irresistible lap.

The clerk shrugs and says, “He’ll be back,” remaining motionless behind the counter.

The dog’s muzzle has dampened her skirt.

She closes her eyes and enjoys the breeze from the fan. She feels like a hummingbird probing an exotic, beautiful, fresh blossom.

End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

Poets & Troubadours: Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower


Though the song was written solely by Bob Dylan and first appeared on his John Wesley Harding album, I’m giving Jimi co-authorship credit. Hendrix’s powerful rendition is the definitive version and easily the most recognized.

Inspired by Old testament verse that alludes to the Four horsemen of the Apocalypse and the Day of Reckoning, All Along the Watchtower takes the wealthy and powerful to task for their usury ways. It chastises the establishment for knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing. Only outsiders, those on the fringe, truly value life and take it seriously.

In the song, outsiders are arriving to wreck the old order with the Joker serving as a symbol for the Artist whose role is to entertain but also to mock and provoke the powers that be.

In the same way that Hendrix used his guitar to portray the chaos and destruction of the Vietnam War in his version of The Star Spangled Banner (the only official version, in my mind), he uses it to build suspense for the conflict to come in All Along the Watchtower. When Dylan performs The Watchtower live, he is truer to Hendrix’s interpretation than his own folksy original.

The Watchtower is Dylan’s the most minimalist, expressionist and symbolic of his lyrics. It is one of my favorite rock and roll poems.

                                                            ###

All Along the Watchtower

By Bob Dylan

“There must be some kinda way out of here”
Said the joker to the thief
“There’s too much confusion
I can’t get no relief”

“Businessmen, they, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it’s worth

“No reason to get excited”
The thief, he kindly spoke
“There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke”

“But you and I, we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late”

All along the watchtower
Princes kept the view
While all the women came and went
Barefoot servants too

Outside in the cold distance
A wildcat did growl
Two riders were approaching
And the wind began to howl

All along the watchtower
All along the watchtower

Categories: Verse

Rubicon Avenue: A Short Story


Rubicon Avenue                   3,833 words

Stumbling from the bar, stepping from curb to street, Jimmy goes down. Approaching, Kyle grips the shirt collar and with a forearm under the armpit, lifts him up.

“You okay?”

“Back.”

“Huh? Your back?”

“Back to Ruby.”

Kyle contemplates the request as the light changes and cars move toward them.

Who the fuck am I to argue? Where I was headed myself.

Sluffing along, arms around shoulders in a friend’s embrace, they go. Kyle and Jimmy beneath a sky of blinding luminosity, ablaze like a supernova.

###

“I already cut you off Jimmy,” says Tonya as she dries a glass with a towel. Sets it up-side-down beside two others on a towel spread on the bar.

The Ruby Cafe, murky and cool as an autumn dusk while the afternoon August sun broils the pavement outside, heat waves warping your sight, baking all of your senses. Cool Ruby despite the broken air-conditioner. A ceiling fan breeze.

“One more Tonya. Jimmy needs it. I’ll vouch. You’re not going to get him more fucked up than he already is.”

Tonya silently stares at Kyle. Wipes her hands with the towel. The faintest hint of a smile. A scar runs across Tonya’s right cheek. Then an inch of unmarred flesh before the scar turns downward to her throat. It’s an old scar but it’s still angry. Though not as angry as the criminally jealous ex-boyfriend doing time.

Tonya has a soft spot for Kyle. She’d do pretty much anything he asks. He hasn’t asked for much.

“It’s on me,” Kyle says as Tonya sets ‘em up.

“It better be. I’m already running Jimmy a tab. Don’t tell Mike.”

Jimmy’s usual P.B.R and shot of Jameson. Jimmy smiles sheepishly, appreciative of his shepherd. Silent, knowing he can’t harness the tongue that would careen like a bumper car inside his mouth. The Jameson down the gullet before Tonya sets the Burning River in front of Kyle. She tries to make eye contact but Kyle is studying Jimmy. Studying Jimmy’s worried expression. Jimmy worries about his perpetually drunken state, about his empty wallet, about the cat that hasn’t been fed today. Or yesterday.

“Haven’t seen you in a while, Jimmy.”

Kyle tips the Burning River longneck to his lips. Looks away from Jimmy to Tonya who has moved to the other side of the horseshoe shaped bar to attend to the only other 3 p.m. customer on what she calls Melancholy Monday. The quiet customer had appeared as if conjured. She doesn’t recall his request for the first beer. Recalls no echo of his voice. The man wears a tan sport coat with jeans. Mature though Tonya can’t get a fix on his age.

Kyle studies Tonya from behind. Firm, fine rump and nicely defined calves.

“Jush got out,” Jimmy finally says mushing forth.

“What this time?”

“Drunk’n d’sorderly.”

“…” Kyle takes another sip.

“an zist’n ‘rest.”

Jimmy can think clearly. The words form perfectly in his mind. They just don’t come out right. And his limbs have turned to jelly. His ears ring. If he hadn’t fallen, he’d be home by now in his studio apartment in Near North.

Shoulda’ kept going.  Home to feed Jinxie. She hates Meeces to pieces. Stop smiling. They already think you’re nuts. Shoulda’ refused the drink. A loser and a mooch is what they think. I’ll show ‘em. Never coming back to Ruby again. This shithole.

Jimmy takes a drag off the P.B.R. Slides off the stool with the cracked vinyl seat, batting peeking out of the wounds. Staggers to the bathroom. A glimpse of himself in the mirror as he passes. Sandy disheveled hair receding. Bleary blue eyes. No comb in his pocket. Closes himself up in the bathroom stall. Sits just in time for the eruption. Releases in a single explosion. Elbows on knees, head bent low. Too despondent to wipe.

###

“He’s been here since I opened,” Tonya says.

“Says he just got out of jail,” Kyle says. “Zistin ‘rest is serious business,” Kyle says. Tonya smiles.

“He came straight here after his release. He said I’d have the honor of being the last bartender to serve him. He’s done after today.”

“We’ve heard that before.”

Tonya hitches a hip on the edge of the cooler, presenting her good side to Kyle. Her slender arm rests atop the shiny bar freshly lacquered a few weeks ago. Refurbishments at the Ruby are infrequent and usually derided by the regulars. Her hands pretty despite all the washing and wiping. Small hands with unpolished nails clipped short, unadorned with rings. Out of the corner of her eye she sees the brown bottle resting in the recessed edge of the bar. She crosses and sets a fresh one in front of the laconic customer. Did he arrive before or after Jimmy? She tries to remember. Clinks the empty into the tall trash can.

###

Clean of ass and retrousered, Jimmy spins around and drops to his knees on the sticky toilet floor, embracing the bowl as the poison gushes forth. Filthy drool hangs from his lips. Jimmy gasps, teary eyed. He feels better instantly despite his disgust at the puke-slick atop shit like the sum total of his existence.

###

A corona enveloped form erupts from the shimmering maw. Before the eclipse of the closing door clarifies the view Kyle knows it is Ted. Laconic man watches like an astronomer observing. Measuring. Calculating mass, trajectory and force.

‘Pull up a seat,” Kyle says.

“Already have,” says Ted.

“Jimmy was sitting there.”

“Jimmy T.?”

Kyle nods. Ted picks up the three-quarter full P.B.R. and moves it to his left.

“Must’ve fallen in,” Kyle says nodding to the bathroom door. Tonya sets a Bud in front of Ted and a fresh Burning River in front of Kyle.

“J.T. working?”

“Doubt it. He just got out of the klink. You’ll have to ask him.”

Stepping from the restroom, Jimmy hesitates.

Asshole’s here. In my seat.

“Hey, Jimmy. How’s it hanging?” asks Ted.

Jimmy acknowledges Ted with a nod but doesn’t speak. Sits at his re-assigned seat and takes a drink of the warming Pabst.

“Here, Jimmy. This will do you good.” Tonya sets a pint glass of ice water with a slice of lemon in front of him.

She moves to the cash register and pulls her purse from the shelf underneath. Rummaging in the bowels, subconsciously looking for a smoke. It has been four months but she still craves, especially when she’s in the bar. She has yet to cheat. She knows if she does she’ll be right back at it again. And she knows that she can’t hide it. The smell gives her away. Kyle would know, not that it fucking matters. He hates smoking and smokers. Disgusting habit he reminds her over and over. “Good for you,” he said lamely at the news of her quitting.

“You playing anywhere, Jimmy?” Ted asks.

Jimmy shakes his head.

“You guys could rock,” Ted says looking back and forth from Jimmy to Kyle. “What happened to the Bangers?”

Kyle shrugs his shoulders and finishes his second beer faster than the first. Jimmy remains mute and solemn. Gulps the cold, citrus flavored water, Adam’s apple bobbing.

“Linda thinks you were the best. Guitarist, I mean. Not so good at other things, huh, Jimmy?”

Ted laughs and punches Jimmy on the shoulder, not hard but enough to nearly push the wavering Jimmy off his stool. Linda is Jimmy’s ex-wife and Ted’s current one.

I’m going to kick your ass as soon as I sober up. I’m going to beat you to a pulp and then I’m going to piss on your Armani suit and shit on your hundred-dollar haircut.

###

“Tonya, will you turn that shit off?” Kyle asks, pointing to the ESPN broadcast on the wall-mounted big-screen T.V. “I want to play the juke box.”

“The T.V.’s muted, it’s close-captioned,” Tonya says.

“I know but it’s distracting. Hey, buddy,” Kyle calls across the bar to laconic man, “mind if we turn the TV off and put on music?”

The drinker shakes his head. Sets his empty into the grooved inner lip of the bar as he turns to gaze at the television. Watches the screen blacken over his shoulder. Turns back to the fresh beer that has materialized.

“Mike’s not going to like having it off,” Tonya says.

“Fuck Mike. Who cares what Mike does or does not like?”

What a question! What’s Kyle doing here on a Monday afternoon anyway? Stay the hell away and let me live my miserable life in peace.

###

The first song starts. Kyle punches in the last of his series. Walks back to his seat. He always plays the same songs.

  • I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire, sings Peggy Lee.

“Lord, help us,” said Tonya when the music started but she sings along anyway in a soft, low voice. When Tonya lets go, when she lets her rip, she sounds like Grace Slick, Kyle has told her.

As Kyle remounts the stool, he says, “Randy Newman…”

“… provided the orchestral arrangement and conducted. You’ve told me a thousand times,” says Tonya.

– Is that all there is, is that all there is?

Kyle with a hurt expression. He likes telling stories about songs.

“And the lyrics were inspired by the Thomas Mann story Disappointment,” says Tonya.

“Disillusionment,” says Kyle.

“Whatever.”

“You always play the same crap,” says Ted. “Why don’t you play some good music for a change?”

“Who are the fucking musicians in the room, asshole?” asks Kyle with an ambiguous smile.

“Yeah,” says Jimmy emerging from a dark, fathomless place. The P.B.R. is warm. He is working on his third glass of water.

“I think a little gratitude is in order here, Bub. Who gave you that cushy job?” asks Ted.

Tonya perches herself back on the cooler and says to Kyle, “Why don’t the Bangers play anymore?”

“No time for it. And look at Jimmy.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re too busy selling ads. Chasing the American dream,” she says and casts a disparaging look at Ted.

“Remember the Riverfest gig?” Jimmy asks with alarming clarity and diction.  The puke has done him good. He talks across Ted who is busy punching at his smart-phone.

“One of our best performances,” Kyle says.

“Nick on drums. Lunatic,” says Jimmy.

“Possessed,” says Kyle.

“And the new song you wrote. Li’l Bruno dances no more.” Jimmy sings the line slightly off-key.

“You gents enjoy your stroll down memory lane,” Ted says standing to leave. He puts a twenty on the bar. “I’m covering the next round for the degenerate arteests. The rest is yours,” he says to Tonya. “I’ll talk to you in the morning.” Ted’s narrowed eyes, finger pointed at Kyle, winking.

“Don’t need your fucking beer,” Jimmy says. He takes a gulp of the water.

“Have it your way,” Ted says as he moves to the door. “I’ll give Linda your regards.”

I’ll cut your balls off if when I get the chance.

“Don’t let him get to you,’ Kyle says as the door closes behind Ted. “He and Linda are on the ropes, anyway.”

Kyle sees Mike’s Cadillac Escalade pass the front window, through the garish beer signs. He’s earlier than usual.

The laconic man follows Kyle’s gaze.

“You know that your stuff is on the box because of me,” says Tonya.

“And because Mike knows that the minute my songs are gone, I am too.”

“Mike doesn’t give a shit if you’re here or not.”

“I don’t think that’s true. For a variety of reasons.”

###

Mike steps into the Ruby. He is a large man but not a jolly one. He’s a spent sun at the center of a dead solar system, providing no warmth to the bodies on the periphery.

Kyle, in a testy mood, asks Mike, “How much does Budweiser pay you to advertise for them?”

With a confused expression Mike says, “The signs are free.”

“You think somebody is going to walk into this dump because you have a free fucking Budweiser sign. Did they offer you a free forehead tattoo?”

“When you own the Ruby you can make the business decisions. How’s that sound?” Mike says before he wanders away to get a case of beer to ice down.

“Sheep,” says Kyle but Mike doesn’t hear.

Mike doesn’t care for Kyle. The feeling is mutual. Mike knows about Tonya’s infatuation. Still, business is business and he’ll tolerate the prick if he keeps drinking the expensive stuff and buying for all his buddies.

The next week Mike will add a Corona Extra sign and a Miller mirror embossed with NFL logos and cheerleaders out of spite.

The room was humming harder,

As the ceiling flew away

###

“How’s the peanut gallery treating you today?” Mike says as he bends to kiss Tonya. She turns and defiantly offers her damaged cheek. He hesitates a moment before giving her a peck. Tonya is self-conscious about the scar. When she is not working, seated at the bar or in a restaurant, she’ll use her hand to hide the scar. Lately, though she has been taunting Mike with it. Mike knows a plastic surgeon who says he can help. The surgeon can’t eliminate the scar but he can soften it, smooth it out. He can also enhance her boobs like Mike wants. The facial procedure is scheduled for next week. The boob job isn’t on the docket yet. Kyle has told Tonya that he loves her little titties and the scar accentuates her beauty. Says the imperfection calls attention to her creamy complexion and delicate jaw-line.

Why the fuck should I care what Kyle thinks? 

“I need you to stay late. I’ve got errands to run this evening,” Mike tells Tonya.

Great. Another double shift.

“I have plans,” she says.

“Cancel them.”

That her face at first just ghostly,

Turned a whiter shade of pale

“I love this song,” Tonya says to Kyle.

“It’s about a drunken seduction,” he tells her.

“So you’ve told me. I love drunken seductions, I guess.”

###

A pretty woman walks in alone. A very pretty woman. She halts after a few steps into the Ruby and looks around. Her eyes adjust to the darkness. Everyone looks, except laconic man who treats her arrival as something inevitable, a prophecy fulfilled. Tonya gauges Kyle’s reaction.

The newbie sits two seats down from Kyle. Kyle studies the young woman, and she, smiling, returns his gaze.

Tonya throws the bar towel on the cooler and tells Mike she’s taking a break. She marches to the cigarette machine and, with a flourish, buys a pack of Capri Menthol 100’s. They thud into the tray. She snatches them up.

Lights up in the blistering heat. Sidewalk like a griddle. She takes a few pulls off the Capri and feels nauseous. Drops the cigarette onto the sidewalk and grinds it with the toe of her old Nike that looks like a club connected to her delicate ankle. Walks toward her car in the un-metered alley. “No Parking” signs but she gets away with it. The meter cops know her and don’t give a shit. She drops the pack of Capri’s into the green garbage can as she turns the corner of Rubicon and Tinsley. The beige Camry has a crease along its side from a hit and run. A Ruby’s customer no doubt. A drunken coward. Inside she cranks the air conditioner to the maximum setting. Begins to cry. Considers driving away.

###

“Christie,” says the pretty woman in response to Mike’s question. She has ordered a Cosmopolitan and Mike is stalling for time. He hates making drinks. Tonya should be back.

Mike learns that Christie is newly arrived in town. She’s getting settled in her apartment in Riverside. She’s looking for a part time job. She’ll start Nursing School in the fall.

There must be some kinda way out of here

Said the joker to the thief

“A Bob Dylan song,” Kyle says, looking at Christie’s slightly equine profile.

“This is Jimi Hendrix,” says Christie.

“Right. But Dylan wrote it.”

“What kind of work do you do?” Mike asks Christie, looking irritably at Kyle.

“Customer service or bar tending.”

“Same thing,” Mike says. He opens the cash register, lifts the cash drawer and takes an employment application from underneath. Hands her the form.

“We know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” Kyle says to no one in particular. His mind working on unrelated problems.

Mike glances at his watch. He is furious with Tonya.

Two riders were approaching

And the wind began to howl

Mike sets a drink of dubious quality in front of Christie.

“Hendrix’s guitar builds the anticipation. The shit is about to hit the fan,” Kyle says to the fresh bottle of Burning River.

###

When Tonya returns, Mike glares at her. “Thirty minute fucking break,” he says under his breath. He sees that she has been crying so he’ll save the confrontation for later. Now he has to go.

The Ruby has recently caught the attention of residents in the newly renovated apartments around the park on the border of the Riverside District and Near North. A four-some of “Riversiders” (which refers more to an attitude than a place) have taken a table up front, near the jukebox. Fresh, young shiny faces, like polished apples. Kyle fears they’ll punch up some of the crap music that Michael, desperate to curry favor, has loaded on for them. The young crowd loves the Ruby for its dive atmosphere that they are doing everything they can to ruin.

One of the shiny apples comes to the bar to order drinks. He asks Tonya to turn on sports. Mike has left to run his errands without noticing the dark t.v.. She tells the shiny apple the television is broken. Kyle punches in more songs. Tonya turns up the volume. Kyle takes a thin book from his bag. He found Claire Rabe’s Sicily Enough in The Delirious Dissident used bookstore. He has read it a half dozen times successively. He takes a pile of white bar naps from the plastic container with the Johnny Walker logo. Flipping back and forth between the sections he has highlighted, scribbling on the napkins, crumpling some and throwing them aside. Tonya and Jimmy watch. Laconic man smiles at the act of creation.

###

Kyle shuffles the little napkins into an appropriate order and hands them to Tonya.

“It’s about her isn’t it? Your new inspiration.” Tonya nods to the empty stool. Christie has gone to the Lady’s Room.

“Read it.”

I arrive, dogshadow thin

Broody men watch me bending

Mandolins in the tavern

Desire never ending

He stares at my thighs

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

Desire flares inside me

As the sun on my back

Hot as hell and red in corners

Deep like that

Thick smell of sex everywhere

Lets my name out with his sperm

We make love like religion

Fills my vagina, I fill time

Adored like no virgin

Waiting for an end

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

Some nights I want to be held

The purpose of my being

In a kiss there is not time

Only constant eating

I grow not old, only deeper

Here on my knees in filth

Licking away at my self esteem

Praying at the altar of a groin

What’s it mean?

A witch ensnared by a fool

Lick, suck, squeeze away loneliness

Hate is better than an empty bed

“What’s it mean?” Tonya asks.

“It’s about you. Pretty much everything I have ever written is about you.”

“. . .” She cannot respond.

Kyle takes the napkins from Tonya’s fingers, though she doesn’t want to let go, and hands them to Jimmy. “Set it to music.”

###

“Too many words,” Jimmy says.

“Shorten it.”

“It doesn’t rhyme.”

“It doesn’t matter.”

“It’s not the kind of stuff we do.”

“Time for a change. Just write it. It’ll occupy your mind while you’re riding the wagon.”

“What wagon?…. Oh!” Jimmy says with a reflective pause.

Jimmy pushes himself away from the bar and the warm beer. He is steady on his feet.

“I didn’t mean right now,” Kyle says but Jimmy doesn’t stop walking.

“Your phone still out?”

Jimmy nods yes and stops just short of the door.

“Come over to my place. This Friday. You too Tonya. We need your voice and your advice.”

Christie returns to witness Jimmy’s departure.

###

In the restroom, Kyle splashes his face with the cool water gurgling from the faucet. Wipes  face and hands with coarse brown paper towels. Rakes a comb through his dark hair, shorter than his rock days but still too long for the corporate world. Looks in the mirror and wonders who is looking back. He takes a small leather case from his breast pocket, containing his business cards. Kyle McGee, Account Manager. He pulls the cards from the sleeves and drops them into the waste can. Fingers the grain on the case before tossing it in after them.

###

Tonya picks up Christie’s application, abandoned by Mike beside the cash register. Pretends to study it.

“You’re hired. You start now.”

“What?” asks Christie, setting down her second Cosmopolitan.

“You have anything better to do?”

“I guess not. But I’ve been drinking.”

“So? Come here and I’ll show you the cash register.” Tonya writes her phone number on the back of a bar check.Takes her Ruby keys from her purse, hands them to Christie.Tommy will be in at 9 to relieve you. Call me if you run into trouble.” Tonya ignores the uncertainty etched on Christie’s brow.

“You’re not staying?”

“For a little while. I’ll stick till you get the hang of it. Trust me. This is the easiest bar tending job in the universe.” Laconic man nods his head and takes a drink.

“What do I tell Mike if he returns?”

“Tell him anything you want. Tell him Tonya said to go fuck himself.”

Tonya takes a seat by Kyle.

“I’ll have a Gin and Tonic,” she says to Christie.

When Christie sets the drink down, Tonya says. “There’s a price list taped above the register. Gin and Tonics are $5.00 but mine are on the house. At least until tomorrow.”

###

The songs and lack of sports have driven the Riversiders away. Kyle leans and whispers into Tonya’s ear. She giggles and blushes. A Whiter Shade of Pale is up again. He stands and offers Tonya his hand. Leads her to an area with space to dance. Her ruined cheek against his.

Tonya notices that laconic man’s seat is empty and there is a $50 tucked under the empty beer bottle.

How did I not see him leave? 

Tonya and Kyle turn and turn. Slowly. Locked in mutual orbit as the cosmos hums around them.

The End

Categories: From Swerve to Bend

FUBAR Tuesday: Onward Christian-Right Soldiers to the Corporatist’s Crusade

August 10, 2010 1 comment

I’ve had it up to here with Tea Bagger propaganda. Creeping Socialism, my ass.

Creeping Socialism is the smoke screen behind which Corporatists pursue a quite opposite, neo-feudalistic agenda. When the Corporatists manage to privatize everything, the same 2% (of which I doubt few Tea Baggers hold membership) will own everything. The public realm will disappear. No more Social Security, no more Medicare, no more National Parks, no more Public Libraries or Schools. No more public anything because, you know, the private sector does it best, say the scriptures.

Turning free market capitalism into a religion allows the Lords to turn their agenda into a Crusade. And hyper-religious, Puritanical America so loves a Crusade. Truth is, the Corporatists give a rat’s ass about free markets only to the degree that it depresses wages and gives them free reign to exploit the environment and us. They’ve proven time and time again that they are not at all interested in the competition side of the equation. They love monopolies. Free markets to the Corporatists is a euphemism for cheap labor and deregulation.

Once the middle class has been safely eradicated like so many rats in the Lord’s mansion, the only way American serfs will survive is to pledge an oath of fealty to their coporate masters. The Master can then choose to provide or deny health care or retirement or even a liveable wage as there will be no government to provide even a modicum of protection.

We will be free no more. We will be indentured slaves lapping the few crumbs that spill from the Lord’s sumptuous table and Crusader words like socialism and capitalism and free markets won’t mean shit because we will be unable to eat the rhetoric or clothe ourselves in the thin ideology. And even then the Tea Baggers won’t realize they’ve been duped, used as pawns by chess masters, because they were successful in their Crusade against the infidels, against all who think or look different than they. They will have won out against science and enlightenment and humanitariansim. They will have done the job they were asked to do. They will be able to live in the purified and homogenous Homeland. The land of fear and hatred and bigotry and anti-intellectualism.

And slavery will be such a small price to pay for having served the Lord.

Categories: Breaking the Chains

Poets & Troubadours: Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?”


“Is That All There Is?” wasn’t written by Peggy Lee (it was written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) nor was it written for her. But it should have been. The song was a perfect fit for Peggy’s cool, understated style. No other performer has been able to match her detached, unemotional melancholy. A lesser artist would have delivered “Is That All There Is?” as a frantic, overwrought plea.

Randy Newman, no stranger himself to wry, understated melancholy, composed the orchestral arrangement and conducted the orchestra.

The lyrics are based on Thomas Mann’s short story, Disillusionment. A character in the story asks, “Do you know what disillusionment is? Not a miscarriage in small important matters, but the great and general disappointment which everything, all of life, has in store?”

Peggy was an intellectual and reader. She loved the essays of Ralph Waldo Emerson. She was also a perfectionist and a strategist. Early in her career, tired of trying to sing over the cacophony of jazz club audiences, she captured their attention by lowering her voice. The softer she sang, the quieter the crowd. Thus, she developed her seductive and cooing yet powerful style. She used an appearance on Joey Bishop’s late-night talk show to force a reluctant Capitol Records to release a song they thought was too depressing.

                                                             Is That All There is

I remember when I was a very little girl, our house caught on fire.
I’ll never forget the look on my father’s face as he gathered me up
in his arms and raced through the burning building out to the pavement.
I stood there shivering in my pajamas and watched the whole world go up in flames.
And when it was all over I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a fire?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

And when I was 12 years old, my father took me to the circus, the greatest show on earth.
There were clowns and elephants and dancing bears
And a beautiful lady in pink tights flew high above our heads.
And as I sat there watching the marvelous spectacle
I had the feeling that something was missing.
I don’t know what, but when it was over,
I said to myself, “Is that all there is to a circus?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Then I fell in love, with the most wonderful boy in the world.
We would take long walks by the river or just sit for hours gazing into each other’s eyes.
We were so very much in love.
Then one day, he went away. And I thought I’d die — but I didn’t.
And when I didn’t I said to myself, “Is that all there is to love?”

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that’s the way she feels about it why doesn’t she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I’m in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I’m standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I’m breathing my lst breath, I’ll be saying to myself,

Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that’s all there is my friends, then let’s keep dancing
Let’s break out the booze and have a ball
If that’s all there is

Categories: Verse

Peep Show


Our government (it doesn’t feel like it belongs to us, but it does) is pissed off about the Afghanistan Wikileak. I started work on The U.S. Police State: Part II: Internet Filtering, wherein I would warn you about the coming Internet censorship. The censorship will arrive in response to a Child Pornography/Sexual Predator crisis in the same way that 9/11 provided a convenient excuse to trample the Constitution. 

But along the way, I got distracted by a memory.

So, consider yourselves forewarned about the coming Internet crackdown. ‘nuff of that. I’m shifting gears.

                                                                   ###

For my Junior-year at Ohio State, when I was all of 20 years old (I think that’s right), I rented a dilapidated two-story house south of campus in a neighborhood of working class families.

In the spring, with the world budding all ‘round me, I discovered her. I never knew her name so I’ll call her Daisy. I’d seen her before, walking with her little sister to school, texts clutched to her breast like a suckling child. A teenager of about 15 was my guess. Daisy lived directly across the street.

Retiring uncharacteristically early one evening, I walked into my second-story bedroom in boxers. Across the street, framed by a parallel, glowing window was Daisy. Nubile teen in panties and bra. We froze and looked at one another across the narrow city street. I expected her to cover up or flip off the light. She did neither. She just looked. We looked. And looked a little more. And then she moved to the light switch and that was that.

A few nights later, at about the same hour, we re-enacted the scene. This time Daisy, facing the window, removed her bra to reveal small, perfect alabaster breasts before pulling a t-shirt over her head and retiring.

Five years age difference, more or less. A 30 year-old man with a 25 year-old woman? Yawn. But she wasn’t 25 and I was a pretty smart kid. I knew Daisy was jailbait. I had no intention of going beyond our little peep show. Daisy was a cute little girl but not especially fetching and by the looks of her mother the future, perhaps, wasn’t so bright. Nothing worth risking my own future over but there wasn’t anything illegal about looking. Was there? Frankly, to this day I’m not sure.

Nonetheless, I would once in a while pass on or delay the Oar House drinking bouts with the buddies. Being home alone at 9:30 p.m. or so suddenly seemed like a good idea. I’d often catch her waiting for me.

It wasn’t an every night thing but it progressed. Daisy never acknowledged me with so much as a wave but she would slowly undress and lie down on her bed, which backed up against the opposite wall facing the window. I’d continue to stand since my bed was not so conveniently positioned and drop my boxers. We’d watch each other until. Until. Well, you know.

When I’d encounter Daisy on the street, she’d look the other way and scurry home. We never spoke and hardly met each other’s gaze outside of our respective inner sanctums.

I sometimes worried that a passerby would notice or that one of her parents or the younger sister would come bursting through her bedroom door but it never happened. And a little danger only enhanced the experience. The adventure continued intermittently, following more or less the same script, until I left for the summer.

In the fall when I returned to OSU I took an apartment on King Avenue, a mile or so west of the old house, close to my new part-time job. I thought about Daisy hardly at all. It would be many years later before I told anyone my story (I certainly couldn’t have trusted my college friends).

The Daisy experience was not lurid. I do not believe it was pornographic. Daisy is stored in the part of my mind reserved for sweetness and innocence.

I hope it was as good for her as it was for me.

Categories: From Swerve to Bend