Wednesday, December 24, 2008

POEM - DIAMOND PENITENTIARY

it had become ridiculous
he’d open up shop at seven AM
and I’d get there at ten
it was too cold to stand around outside
so we’d each sit in our own cars
we’d keep the windows rolled down a crack
so that every now and then
we could turn to the other and say,
“this fuckin’ blows, huh?”
we were valet parking
in a place where nobody valet parked
so instead
we just sat around all day
watching the clock
making minimum wage
and trying as best we could
to enjoy our misery
the place was called Diamond Resorts International
but he’d coined the name
Diamond Penitentiary
around two he’d cut out early
and one or two cars would pull in
this was terrible
because I wasn’t allowed to leave
until every car was gone
or until six PM
so I’d sit there
tapping my fingers on the steering wheel
texting friends
reading now and then
until it got dark
then I’d sit there in the dark
rain sometimes drizzling down
just generally hating the working life
the imposed slavery
but then finally quitting time would come
and I’d rush home
crack a beer and hit the keys
and then nothing seemed too bad

POEM - LAST THOUGHTS ON 2008

the Kid had quit the drinking game
moved out to the desert
was never heard from again
Nielson was still down south
still at it
deep inside the bottle
breaking into apartments
to sleep in bathtubs
swerving along the highways
head out the window
unlicensed and insane
the hood of his car
smashed up against his windshield
and there I was
headed back to Port City
cross another country
another time
to fight the winter
and keep at the writing game
everywhere I went around the world
the words were my companions
my drinking buddies
my travel partners
running through floodwaters in Jakarta
abandoned on a roadside in the Outback
in broken down hotels of Aleppo
dancing all night long
in the smoky bars of Sarajevo
on that goddamn Nantucket island
where they first found me
or I first found them
even on fire escapes in Wilmington
the country saloons in Austin
through the casinos of Las Vegas
back over the mountains to the angry Pacific
where I visited a few old haunts
but didn’t even bother touch the water
feel it on my fingers
I think back over the past months and think
hell, it’s been quite a year

POEM - EVERY FEW MONTHS

it was in December
before Christmas
I was hiding under the covers
from my hangover
I was in Las Vegas
I think
it looked like a desert
out there
but then
the whole world was lookin’
pretty dry
this headache
it wouldn’t budge
then she called me up
she called me up
every few months
to yell in my ear
tell me to stop drinking
stop wasting my time
stop wasting my life
make something of myself
she was always high on grass
when she called me up
and she’d come at me
like a raging storm
talk about meaning and god
and finding your calling
this particular morning
I started laughing
my head hurt so much
that laughter was the only thing
I could understand
“Jack,” she yelled into the phone
“I’m serious! You have talent
but you’re just gonna let it go to waste!
Cut the shit!”
“oh!” I bellowed
pulling the phone away from my face
seeing a great opportunity
to use one of those classic scapegoat lines
that she and so many other people
I’d met throughout life
repeated like a holy mantra
“oh! YOU cut the shit!
Don’t you know,
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON!?”

Sunday, December 21, 2008

POEM - GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE

GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE
I was in my office
banging on the keys
the Kid called me up
said he was coming over
I told him not to
but he came over anyway
walked right in
past my barking, snarling dog
he had on a trench coat
color of coffee with too much cream
waltzed right into my office
grunted a few times
made for my allergy medication
said, “hey, what are these?”
“what do you want?” I asked him
he looked at the little cactus
on my desk
like it was the first time
he’d ever seen the little cactus
on my desk
“what do you want?”
“I wanted to see
if you wanted to go to BNG
and get some coffee with me.”
“get the hell outta here!”
I yelled at him
he stood there a moment
then walked back out
past my barking, snarling dog
into his jeep
drove off
10/16/06

POEM - VODKA, STUPID

VODKA, STUPID
vodka
it’s a stupid liquor, really
makes me tap the wrong keys
makes me tired and want to sleep
to not fight anyone
not climb buildings
or run on the hoods of cars
not do anything amazing
but that’s what I’m drinking tonight
while I sit here
eyes dry and burning
heart beating now and then
stomach churning
I need a burrito
that’s what I’ve been thinking
for the last half hour
I’ve been writing
but more so I’ve been thinking
about how good a burrito
would taste right now
smothered in Tabasco
that’ll burn coming out
it’s Sunday and nobody’s awake
not even that bastard who calls me up
every night and tells me he’s gonna kill me
maybe it’s another quiet night in Port City
10/16/06

POEM - BUDDY

BUDDY
I was at my desk
tickling the keys
when I heard a terrible shout
“aaaahhhh!!! Buddddddy!!
Buddy, come here! Come here, Buddy!!”
a kid sprinted into my driveway
past my window
soon there was more
yelling and screaming
and a pungent, filthy smell
came in through my open window
it was one of those horrid smells
you can taste but can’t spit out
“Buddy! Buddddy!! Come here boy!!”
I listened for a few minutes
sometimes you don’t know what to do
so you do nothing
the boy carried on
his voice shooting out
from different areas
around the house
finally I pulled on a shirt
picked up a flashlight
went outside
Buddy was in the woods
behind the neighbor’s house
a skunk clamped in his jaws
other people descended on the scene
family or friends
flashlights darted around in the black night
I turned around and walked away
glad that Buddy wasn’t my dog
that I didn’t have to clean him
and take him to the vet
and more than anything
I was glad that finally something
had gotten that goddamned skunk

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

POEM - THE SHOCKER

THE SHOCKER
I’d had this problem for a few months
where every time I got out of a car
I got shocked when I touched the door
it didn’t matter which type of car
or how far I’d driven
or the weather or anything like that
it was just that without fail
I’d become electrified
as soon as I sat in a driver’s seat
it was annoying at first
but then when I got a job
as a valet parking attendant
for an office building
it got worse
the same people came in every day
to valet their cars
and when they came out to retrieve them
they’d reach out to give me a tip
and in exchange I’d give them a nasty little shock
how do you react to that situation?
a shock is a weird thing
it’s not like I bumped into them
or said something rude
for which I needed to apologize
but day after day the tips grew smaller
and I noticed that when the people came out
they avoided me
and tried to hand their ticket to the other valets
the ones who didn’t hurt them
and the ones who got stuck with me
I’d bring up their cars
and they’d very carefully hold out their tip
and let it fall into my hands
if they gave me one at all
days went by and then weeks
and when I left on my lunch breaks
I’d notice cars that used to valet
would be parked blocks away
on all the side streets around the office building
all the other valets stopped speaking to me
and finally it got so bad
that the operations manager came down
to see what the hell was going on
to see why we were parking so few cars
he came up to the valet station
and we parked his car
he spoke with us
asked us some questions
then went inside the office building
spoke with some of the personnel
when he came out he said,
“ok, let’s do a quality check.”
he looked at me and said,
“you, go get my car.”
all the other valets looked on
with excitement in their eyes
I snatched his keys and ran to get his car
hoping the quality check
wouldn’t involve him actually leaving a tip
but it did
when I opened the door
I cautiously reached out for the dollar bill in his hand
but it was no use
he had heard all the stories and complaints about me
no doubt
and he purposely banged his hand against mine
and quickly retreated
“ouch, Christ!” he snapped,
after I gave him a nice one
“are you Jack Tom?” he asked
I looked around and hesitated “yes, sir.”
“Jack,” he said, pushing the tip back into his pocket
“here’s a better tip. Go get yourself another job.”

Monday, December 15, 2008

POEM - MIND CONTROL

MIND CONTROL
one day at the valet stand
Johnny turned to me and said,
“I ever tell you about that dude
who worked here
who believed that people
were controlled by satellites?”
“yeah,” I said, not looking up from my book.
“that thing about how they controlled people’s minds
and put thoughts in their heads?”
“yeah, yeah,” said Johnny. “well, I thought he was nuts
but then I hear this guy come out
with a cd called Mind Control
and he got this song about that same thing.
Crazy shit, huh?”
“yeah, sure,” I responded. “sure is.”
a few minutes passed
and I went back to reading my book.
“hey, man. I seen on the news the other night
that they caught a witch.”
“oh, yeah?” I said, turning to see
a very concerned expression on his face
“yeah, man. For sure. It was on the Spanish channel.”
“well, all right then,” I said, smiling
we all had our little quirks
our little interests and theories we believed in
ideas to sprinkle on reality
when you needed to spice things up

POEM - JOB RANT

JOB RANT
in my job as a valet parking attendant
at some timeshare company’s corporate headquarters
the work entailed doing just about nothing
and doing that for 8 or 10 hour stretches
we had this little stand that we leaned on
or walked circles around
I say ‘we’ because the company didn’t just want one valet
standing there doing nothing
they wanted two or three
occasionally one of us would say,
“hey, I’m gonna take a walk around the building,”
or “hey, I’m gonna go hit the shitter.”
we did anything to pass the time
there was this other valet named Johnny
he was a cool cat
a twenty year old Salvadoran gangbanger
who raced streetcars and rapped
and had a kid on the way with his 17 year old girlfriend
he’d tell me stories about getting shot
or stealing cars
that sorta thing
he’d done a lot and seen a lot
and I liked that about him
but then there was this other valet named Jason
he hadn’t done much or seen much
and he didn’t speak much, either
but when he did it was usually a drag
one day he came up to us
and interrupted one of Johnny’s stories to say,
“hey, you guys ever heard of a warrant?”
“yeah, Jason,” said Johnny. “we heard of a warrant.”
“no, no. A war ant. A war ant! Get it?”
“sure, Jason. A war ant. We get it.”
He piped down and Johnny went on with his story
it was about a bar fight
where he’d smashed a beer bottle over some guy’s face
afterwards we stood around for a while in silence
rocking back and forth on our feet
checking the time every few minutes
anything to pass the time
I thought Johnny might get a kick out of a story I had
me and a friend running from the police in Guatemala
so I started to tell it
not far in Jason came back up to us
“hey, guys. What I meant before was war – rant. War – rant, get it?”
we looked at each other
and then back to him and we both said,
“yeah, Jason. We get it.”
I was about to go back into the story I was telling
but instead I turned to Johnny and said,
“hey, I’m gonna take a walk around the building.”
and that was it
that was how the days passed by
and in the nights I drank the wine
did some writing and looked for another job

POEM - VALET PARKING

VALET PARKING
I had this job parking cars in Las Vegas
it was very easy and paid very little
I mainly just sat there in a chair
or stood by the valet stand
or walked around in circles
I was between two corporate office buildings
and all day people would walk
back and forth between the two buildings
some would say hello
and some wouldn’t
occasionally a person would drive up
ask for directions
and I’d tell them I wasn’t sure
because I really wasn’t sure of anything
in those days
this one time a woman was walking by
she stopped in her tracks
sniffed twice and looked up at the sky
then she turned to me and said,
“hmm. Smells like rain.”
without thinking I sniffed twice
looked up at the blue, cloudless sky
“yeah, it sure does.”
it was one of those interactions
you have with somebody
where your mind is just not there
like when you’re walking down the street
contemplating suicide
then you see somebody you barely know
and they say, “hey, how’s it going?”
and you say, “great. How ‘bout yourself?”

POEM - METER MAIDS

METER MAIDS
they are certainly a weird breed
obnoxious phantom mercenaries
from the Dept. of Public Works
daytime vampires
who sneak along the streets
preying on your hard earned money
during the day
only to disappear into the night
you never run into your local meter maid
at the grocery store
or the bar
these sinister beings
probably drive to other towns
to do their grocery shopping
or put on disguises to go to a movie
sadly aware that anyone
who recognizes them
will want to kick their ass

Thursday, December 11, 2008

POEM - THE SILENT POET

THE SILENT POET
then there was this other guy
he hid out in the back of the café
sometimes sneaking outside
to smoke cigarettes
and mumble to himself
but it was always a huge drag
when he got called up to the stage
because he’d just grab the mic
and shoot these glances
around the room
glances of shock and amazement
pure astonishment
every now and then
he’d put the mic to his mouth
and pretend like he was gonna say something
but no words would come out
no words ever came out
and after a few moments went by
after he’d sent his stupid glances
to every corner of the café
he’d take a big bow and say,
“thank you all very much.”

POEM - HE HAD A BETTER IDEA

HE HAD A BETTER IDEA
it was terrific
I went to this poetry reading
and decided to stay
most times I’d just drive
across the entire city of Las Vegas
take a look around
and drive all the way home
other poets always scared the shit out of me
but anyway
there were all these people
getting up
reading their work
really putting their hearts into it
pulling from the depths
like they were making
their souls give birth
but then there was this dirty, old bastard
he kept taking the mic and saying,
“now, here’s another one I wrote,”
Then begin reciting the lyrics
to some well known song
pretending they really were his words
Sinatra and Bennett
even Dylan
this old bastard didn’t give a damn
the world was his
finally the end of the night rolled around
and as this professional copy cat
was headed out the door
a skinny kid with tight jeans said,
“hey, those were some good poems.”
the old man didn’t crack a smile
said, “I know,”
and walked outta there
I read over my sheets of paper
over my own words
thought, “fuck it,”
and went straight to the bar

POEM - THE WISER WAY

THE WISE WAY
I was 28 and I had this job
where I was making $7.25 an hour
it was a pay cut from when I’d mowed lawns
15 years before
but hell, you do what you gotta
there was this girl
my manager
that worked there
she was five years younger than me
and didn’t know shit from shat
but she had a lot to say
seems like that’s the way it is
in this world
the more you know about things
or the wiser you are
the less you say
maybe it’s because you just realize
it’s all a bunch of bullshit

POEM - THE ASS

THE ASS
it was a beautiful day in Las Vegas
sun shining bright
but nice and cool outside
I went into the community clubhouse
to use the exercise machines
in all the times I’d been in there
which was only maybe six or seven
I’d never seen another person
but this time a girl came in
she had a pretty face
and a bounce in her step
I gave her a smile but it didn’t take
she set her stuff down
put earphones in her ears
turned on the television
and started walking on the treadmill
I wondered why the hell
she wasn’t walking outside
on the nearby trails
or the sidewalks
in the perfect weather
as I wondered this I stared at her ass
I stared for ten minutes straight
then realized I couldn’t tear my eyes away
it was just a perfect ass
I stared and stared and stared
and then suddenly understood why
she didn’t go out walking
or running on the trails
and the sidewalks
that ass wasn’t allowed outside
it would wreak havoc on the city
every other bastard out there
would stare at that ass
men in cars would stop
and put it in reverse
to get another glimpse
there’d be accidents and riots
over that ass
birds would fall from the sky
and the sun would be embarrassed
in front of that ass
the gods would weep
and the world would go to war
over that ass
no, no, I decided
it was very good that this girl
did her working out
inside that community clubhouse
good for the world
and even better for me

POEM - THE BOTTLE IN THE DARK

THE BOTTLE IN THE DARK
back there on Spring Street
before a bad breakup with the only girl
that ever really knew me
I used to sit alone in the dark
at night
at my desk
a bottle in one hand
sweat in the other
doing battle with the great pain of birth
the terrible fear of life
and the seducing call of death
alone in the dark
hands numb
teeth numb
mind on fire
those were some of the best nights of my life
feeling neither the bite of loneliness
nor the horror of being surrounded
by all the bastards of the world

POEM - GAS STATION POET

GAS STATION POET
every night I saw her
it put a grin on my face
it meant that I was on my way
to better times
that things were looking up
“hello,” I’d say to her
while walking past.
“hey honey,” she’d reply
I’d go into the cooler
come out with a few quarts of beer
and set them on the counter
“it’s another night,” I’d laugh
she’d smile her wrinkled smile and say,
“oh, it’s another night, all right.
Another lonely night.”

POEM - THE TRUTH THAT STINGS LIKE A THOUSAND BEES

THE TRUTH THAT STINGES LIKE A THOUSAND BEES
she was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen
and I fucked it up
me and my buddy Nielson
would go to her bar once a week
for their dollar drink special
we were a couple of lunatics when we drank together
passing notes and making faces
keeping tally of who received more smiles
from this particular waitress
who received more winks
that sort of thing
but one night I went in there and jumped
on the whiskey train
the plastic handle whiskey train
the rotgut rot mind whiskey train
I was having a hell of a ride
but then this girl
I’d screwed a few nights before came in
and everything went south
she ruined my spirits
because I had hoped to never see her again
I became a desperate man
stalked down Catherine
the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen
and asked her to marry me
when she laughed me off and walked away
I chased her down and asked again
after four tries I gave up
stormed back to the table
where Nielson was trying to smooth things over
with the other girl
I slammed my fist on the table and roared,
“look what you’ve done! You’ve ruined me!
You’ve ruined my chance to ever
get with the most beautiful girl in the world!”
Catherine came back up to the table
tapped me on the shoulder and said,
“no, Jack, she didn’t ruin your chance.”
“what?” I shrieked with a madman’s glee
“you ruined your own chance.”
with that she smiled at me
winked at Nielson and strutted off
while I ran out of that bar
clasping my head and screaming,
“oh, the goddamn truth! It hurts!”

POEM - THE RIGHT DECISION

THE RIGHT DECISION
Nelson texted me one night
said he was trying to schmooze his way
into sleeping at his ex girlfriend’s
parents’ house
because he had no other place to stay
I wrote back,
“what happened to the Russian broad?”
“in exchange for a place to sleep,
chauffer services,
use of her internet,
cooking and sex,
she wanted a relationship.
FUCK THAT!”
“what?!” I keyed in, laughing,
“who the hell did she think she was
making those kinds of wild demands?”

POEM - THE WORST IT CAN GET

THE WORST IT CAN GET
we were swapping words
back and forth
me and an old friend I’d seen once
in the past ten years
mainly we spoke
about the terrible state of the economy
how I couldn’t get a job to save my life
how he’d barely lucked into one
finally it occurred to me
one day
that I was back out west
Las Vegas, actually
and that the worst it could get
would be that I’d just drive over there
to the coast of California
live outta my jeep in a dirty parking lot
and fight the bums
for the empty beer cans in the trash.
“I guess I can't complain,” I told him.
“I've had a pretty good run.”

POEM - THIEVES AND BOOKSTORES

THIEVES AND BOOKSTORES
up the street about a mile
there was one of the big boy bookstores
I spent hours in there each day
reading bukowski, willy vlautin, hunter.
I’d send out my resume
to ten employers in the morning
leave for the bookstore
in the afternoon
it was closer than the library
and better, too
a place to kill the hours
when you wanted to get out of the pity hotel
(which was your friend’s guest bedroom)
but didn’t have money for the bars
good bookstores are like good books
you can disappear in them
find hope or despair
and that’s what I found in those days
hope and despair
because the great authors
whose books I’d pick up and read
were far outnumbered
by the volumes of horseshit
yet the horseshit got published
right there along with the greats
it just confused the hell out of me
so I’d finally leave
when the sky had gotten dark
and out there in the parking lot
the fool thieves wouldn’t believe me
when I told them I didn’t have money
even for their cheap stolen entertainment systems

Thursday, November 20, 2008

SHORT STORY - DMV

THE DMV

I drove over to the DMV off Flamingo this past Monday, hoping to quickly and easily swap my New Hampshire driver’s license for a Nevada one. Of course there was a line out the fucking door. I waited for an hour and when I got to the front I got motioned over to a counter. The woman there took a quick look at my application, pushed a button and gave me a ticket.

“go wait over there until your number is called.”

Over there was this massive room with a hundred rows of plastic chairs. In the chairs or standing up were hordes of people waiting. Blacks, whites, latinos. Men and women and crying children. Acne covered teens and professionals doing business on their cell phones. Couples wearing spandex shorts or goth kids with their pale skin and the chains hanging from their faces. Americans, all waiting around in a place they didn’t want to be.

After two hours a pre-recorded voice called out “H 299, counter 7.” I went up to the woman at counter 7. She took my ticket and looked over my application and keyed some things into her computer. She told me that to get my Nevada driver’s license I’d have to pass a written test and a driving test. She pushed another button and gave me another ticket and pointed with her finger.

“go wait over there until your number is called.”

I walked back across the room with hundreds of people waiting in lines or on plastic chairs to a somewhat smaller room with only fifty people waiting. I sat down on a chair and said, “this is fucking unbelievable.”

Half an hour passed and the voice called out, “G 437, counter 42.”

I went to counter 42 and the woman there looked at my application and said, “you’ll need to take a written test. Take this ticket and when you’re called up, go into that room over there and go up to the desk.”

I sat back down and waited. Nearly an hour later the voice finally announced “B 543 counter 28.” I went into the room and up to the desk marked 28. I handed the man my application and my ticket.

“okay,” he said, “go to computer number 9, take the test and come back here when you’re done.”

I took the test and passed and went back up to the counter. The man scribbled something onto my application, punched a button and pulled out another ticket. He gave it to me and nodded.

“go over there to Driver Testing and give them this ticket.”

I snatched the ticket from his hand and took my application over to Driver Testing, muttering curses along the way.

When they called me up the kid at the booth looked at my application and said, “okay, the earliest I can get you in is December 18th, at two pm. That’s four weeks from tomorrow.”

“what?!” I shouted.

“yeah, we’re pretty busy, as you can see.”

I gazed over my shoulder at all the waiting areas, the hundreds of people milling about in lines that just crawled along. My heart sunk and I felt sick. But before I turned back to him he said, “wait a minute.”

I expected him to hand me another ticket but he didn’t.

“it looks like they spelled your name wrong here.”

I leaned in and murmured, “uh oh. What does that mean?”

He played around with his keyboard and glanced between my application, my passport and his computer screen.

“because of this, I have to input you in here which means I can schedule you for an appointment tomorrow at two pm. You’re very lucky.”

“well, shit,” I said. “this is what lucky feels like?”

I walked out the door hungry and exhausted. I thought about trying to bring my luck to a casino but decided against it. The single bag of chips I’d eaten that day couldn’t push me along any further. All the waiting had nearly killed me. So I went home and ate.

The next day I returned to the DMV. I got in line at Driver Testing. A man approached me coolly and said, “you look like you’ve got an appointment.”

I knew exactly what he wanted.

“man,” he said, clasping his hands together and bending at the knees, almost in prayer. “man, I will pay you to let me have your appointment. I swear, I’ll pay you!”

I thought back to the day before. The tickets and the hours of waiting. The prospect of not getting an appointment for a month. I thought about how I needed a job and would have a hard time getting one without that Nevada driver’s license. I thought about all of this in two seconds and said to him, “go wait over there. I’ve got to think about it.”

POEM - WINNING AGAINST LOVE

WINNING AGAINST LOVE
seemed like everywhere I went
everybody was talking about love
looking for it
hoping for it
that special someone
the soul mate
the one
that they were meant to be with
the rest of their life
lucky for me
I’d given up on that shit
long before
and while other people sometimes
told me that was sad
like I was losing out
it made me feel like I was winning
without even getting into the ring

POEM - SEVEN MINUTE LAUGH

SEVEN MINUTE LAUGH
Nielson, yeah
you’ve probably heard about him
in some of my other writings
he’d returned to Wilmington
from some martial arts training seminar
in Kansas City
he’d moved out of this old apartment
we used to share
moved all his stuff into storage before he left
but when he got back
he had no place to sleep at night
told me he figured he’d try the key in the lock
the key worked
and nobody had moved in yet
the beers he’d stashed
in the drawer of the fridge
were still there
the fool bastard called me up one night
went on about how he’d snuck into the apartment
was drinking the beers
and throwing the cans at the walls
just like we used to do
then when he had to throw up
he’d go to a corner and let it rip
poor Nielson
he called our old landlord today
to ask about his security deposit
turns out he never ended the lease
before he left to go to Kansas City
so there he was
paying $800 a month
to sneak into his empty apartment
with his vomit in the corners
beer cans on the floor
sleeping in the bathtub with a dirty sheet
all the while paying
to store his furniture and belongings
a few blocks away
for another hundred bucks a month
I burst out laughing when he told me this
didn’t stop for seven minutes straight
and that was only to ask him,
“well, well, well. Who’s the jackass now?”

POEM - SUNDAY MORNINGS

SUNDAY MORNINGS
on Sunday mornings
she’d go to church
and I’d lie in my bed
with a can of cheap beer
it only took a couple
for me to get rip roaring drunk again
I’d call up my friends
all around the country
tell ‘em I was still a jobless man
but that I was having
a hell of a time with it
I had the economy on my side
in those days
the great, big scape goat
“well,” I’d say,
“with this economy and all,
no use even bothering
with the job hunt.
I’ll just sit tight and wait it out
just play around with the keys
and if things get too bad, I can always
just go out to the canyon
and lay down to die.”

POEM - BEER GRIN

BEER GRIN
I found my place, again
I’d known it for a few days
but was keeping it a secret
trying to play it cool
like it was nothing special
but one night she came home
laughed and said to me,
“so this is what I should expect, huh?
That every time I come through the door
I’ll see you sitting there
at the kitchen table,
pounding a huge bottle of beer?”
what could I do but grin
and write a little poem about it?

POEM - OH DEAR GOD

OH DEAR GOD
one of the more surprising things
a man can experience
during the humdrum of his day
is when he accidentally
lifts up both seats
before sitting on the toilet
holy Christ
what a shock
when his ass cheeks hit
the cold, piss covered porcelain
I’ll bet for a moment
he wishes he was back
in mother’s arms,
sucking at a warm tit
and knowing nothing about life
or what’s in store for him

POEM - THOUSANDS OF MILES

THOUSANDS OF MILES
she called me up one night
I knew she was drunk
“what’s up?” I asked.
“nothing,” she said.
“well, where are you?”
she’d been having some trouble
with the asshole that had replaced me
and I hoped it was something good
like he’d stolen her car
or beat up her sister
“I’m over at Winston’s.”
“Winston?!” I shouted.
“who the fuck is Winston?!”
“he’s a dog, Jack. I’m dog sitting.”
“oh, jesus fucking christ! I thought
it might be over
with you and that other guy.
You had me excited for a minute there.”
“hey, stop it.”
“well, what do you want, drunky pants?”
“I’m not drunk.”
“yes you are. I can smell it.”
“you can’t smell it. You’re
thousands of miles away.”
“I’ve told you about my sense of smell.”
“all right, maybe a little.”
“well, good. But what do you want? Hell,
it’s three in the morning there.”
“I just called to tell you,” she sniggered,
“that I don’t drunk dial.”
“what!? What the hell?”
she was trying to hold it in
but I could hear her laughing
she caught her breath and said,
“I don’t call you up when I’m drunk.”
“you’re drunk right now
and you just called me. We’re talking
on the phone, you know.”
“I know,” she said,
beginning to laugh hysterically.
I started laughing too
and had to give it to her,
she was playing a good game.

POEM - A SICK FEELING

A SICK FEELING
maybe I was seven or eight
when I discovered what it felt like
to slam a cat’s tail in the door
I’d gotten back from a sledding session
tired and content
I was taking off my jacket
and snow pants in the back hall.
“hey,” somebody called out
“shut the door!”
I reached behind me
grasped the handle and slammed it hard
to let them know how I felt
about being told what to do
but the door didn’t close
it came close
within an inch or two
but it didn’t close
there was this terrible cry
I looked down
saw a black tail
I pulled the door back and our cat
I don’t recall his name now
bolted into the garage
I screamed and said,
“I just slammed cat’s tail
in the door! What do I do?”
“shut the door!”

POEM - THE GUT

THE GUT
just like they all said it would
it happened
28 years old
and here comes the gut
I never had much meat on my bones
but now I have even less
the gut has begun to take it all
no padding on my ass
these pencil thin legs
I didn’t look that strange before
but now I’ve got this gut
that grows an inch with each bottle of beer
I stand in front of the mirror
get a side view
it sticks out over my pants
like there’s a fetus in there
that thought disgusts me
I go outside in the desert wind
light a cigarette
I’ll make it though this night

POEM - YOU CAN'T TEACH A DIRT DOG NEW TRICKS

YOU CAN’T TEACH A DIRT DOG NEW TRICKS
on television
there were all these shows
about fabulous Las Vegas
the 21 most sinful clubs
or the hotel suites that cost
over twenty grand a night
where to go to see the celebs
or blow a few thousand on craps
under a crystal chandelier
those shows were a good reminder to me
to get up and pound the keys
I’d never be like those people
didn’t care about two hundred thousand dollar cars
but I knew I’d always be able to make it anyway
a quart of cheap beer
costs less than two dollars
and I know plenty of people
with spare bedrooms
or empty couches

POEM - THE WORLD WIDE WEB

THE WORLD WIDE WEB
each day I sent out my resume
to ten or twenty prospective employers
I never heard a damn thing back
I’d apply to be an assistant foreman
or a dune buggy tour guide
sign holder or carpet cleaner
I never heard a word back
I’d write these people emails on a daily basis,
“I noticed that you’re still hiring
for pizza delivery drivers. Can I come in
for an interview?”
I never heard a single thing back
after some time
I began to wonder about the internet
if it wasn’t just some big scam
some electronic black hole
where hopes were sent to be buried
with monkeys
dead and frozen in space
like maybe, just maybe
there wasn’t any such thing
as the world wide web
I was just another asshole who’d gotten duped

POEM - MY FATHER'S GREAT AUNT BEATRICE

MY FATHER’S GREAT AUNT BEATRICE
there were many nights
at the dinner table of my youth
silent and hopeless
I sat in my chair
chewed my food
wondered what the hell it was all about
life, living, I mean
but if it ever got too quiet
like there wasn’t a spare word
my father would clear his throat and say,
“I used to have a great aunt,
her name was Beatrice.
She would cut her peas in half
with a knife and a fork.”
we’d all look at him
chew our food
and wonder what the hell it was all about

POEM - SOME POEMS

SOME POEMS
I had this poem
I was about to write
I fuckin’ mean it
it was all thought out
everything like that
and that’s a big deal to me
because writing or not
I don’t think things out before
I do them
but when I put my fingers
to the keys
the little bastard
just warped
to a different planet
maybe into
another writer’s mind
that could be it
some asshole out there
telepathically ganked my little poem
well, what can you do
but move on with your life
and try to dodge traffic

POEM - UNEXPECTED

UNEXPECTED
there’s a certain feeling you get
after speaking with an attractive girl
when you go into a bathroom
and see a crusty, bloody snot
crawling out of your nostril
let me tell you
it’s not a good one
but if you’re like me
and you have a sense of humor
when it comes to interactions
with that other sex
you get over it pretty quick

POEM - LIVING ON PITY AND A FRIEND'S COUCH

LIVING ON PITY AND A FRIEND’S COUCH
there were times when
you really just had to tap the keys
in a nervous way
hope to hell that something came out
because in the bottom right corner
of your laptop screen
the battery would go from full
to half full
to half empty
to empty
then when you saw the red X pop up
you raced to hit SAVE
let out a sigh
and took a hit from your wine
knowing you were still without a job
living on pity
and a friend’s couch

POEM - CHILDREN AT PLAY

CHILDREN AT PLAY
across the ravine
the kids run and play
they must be playing hooky
from school
cars slide by along Town Center Ave
and a pair of sirens
head east out of Summerlin
after a banshee scream
the kids are silent
one two three
four seconds
then a young girl’s voice
shrieks out through the desert air,
“ow, you fucking asshole!
that really hurt my head!”

POEM - BY THE RAVINE

BY THE RAVINE
out there on that patio
the ravine right over the fence
dry, jagged mountains
at the edge of town
it was always too hot in the sun
too cold in the shade
made me think of life
how for many
it’s either too much or too little

Sunday, November 9, 2008

SHORT STORY - I DIDN'T MEAN FOR IT TO HAPPEN BUT I DON'T MIND THAT IT DID

by JACK TOM

I’d scheduled a job interview with this total fuckin’ asshole. I knew he was a total fuckin’ asshole because he was an old friend of mine. Around the time he turned eleven is when he started to go bad, and from that point on our encounters were unpleasant but luckily infrequent.

He ran this fancy dress shoe company. He was sleazy and uptight and he was the kind of person that made you nauseas to be around, like you had to take a shit. But, as we had a few mutual acquaintances and I desperately needed work, I thought I’d give it a try.

When I went into his office he reached out and shook my hand and said, “Jack, after all these years, you’re finally crawling to my door on your hands and knees…”

I wanted to sock him in the face but I reminded myself of my empty fridge in my empty apartment and my mailbox full of bills.

“Rick,” I replied, “how’ve you been?”

He winked at me and said, “Jack, I’ve been wonderful.”

We bullshitted for a while, what we’d been up to over the years, the women we’d slept with, that sort of thing.

But after enough time enduring his presence, I got this overwhelming urge to put my feet up on his desk. I had these dress shoes I’d gotten at a thrift store for $2.50. On the sole, in black magic marker was written, ‘$5.00,’ but on the day I’d bought them they were half off.

It became very obvious to me that I’d never be able to work for that jerkoff. His whole being just turned me off. That grin, his shiny white teeth, and the ever present knowledge that he had been and always would be a total fuckin’ asshole.

It didn’t take him too long to notice the writing on the soul of my shoe and he said, “Jack, those are nice shoes. What kind are they?”

I raised my hands in the air because I didn’t have a clue.

“Rick, I really don’t know. I’m not very interested in brands of dress shoes. In all truth, Rick, I really couldn’t give a damn.”

It was then that he got the impression I wasn’t too serious about the job.

“well, Jack, that’s no good. A man should really know what brand of shoes he’s got on his feet.”

I set my feet back on the floor and stood up, leaning over his desk.

“you know what, Rick? You know what a man should also know? A man should also know if he’s a TOTAL FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE!”

Rick frowned, utterly confused. I burst out laughing, right in his face, and kept hollering things like, “a total fuckin’ asshole!” and “that’s what you are, Ricky boy! A total fuckin’ asshole!”

I kept laughing and screaming all the way out to the street. When I’d had enough I removed one of my shoes and hucked it at one of his office windows. It shattered the lower pane. After a few moments I saw Rick’s face looking out at me through the broken glass. His sleazy grin was gone.

“so, Rick,” I shouted. “are you gonna give me the job, or are you gonna be a TOTAL FUCKIN’ ASSHOLE!?”

Saturday, November 8, 2008

A POEM - IN VEGAS

IN VEGAS
everybody was always partying down
hittin’ the clubs and the casinos
blowin’ all sorts of cash
they probably didn’t have
lookin’ for celebrities
that were supposed to be in town
for the night
it all quickly became
very boring to me
when you live in a town that rolls 24/7
you can either do everything
or do very little
I hadn’t lived there
more than a couple weeks
before I found myself
polishing the bathroom mirror
on a Saturday night or
digging up a pair of tweezers
to go after a few rogue back hairs

A POEM - DON'T DO IT

DON’T DO IT
every evening
if I hadn’t already
I’d feel the need to get up
pour myself a glass of wine
or go outside on the patio
to smoke a cigarette
there was no chemical desire
and I didn’t do those things
to escape from
anything in particular
I just felt like doing something
that everybody
was always telling me not to do

A POEM - HE WAS TRYING TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO

HE WAS TRYING TO TELL ME WHAT TO DO
I was in this thrift store
off Charleston blvd
sorting through the dress shirts
to find something I could wear
to a job interview
if one ever came my way
the prices weren’t half bad
because that day
everything was fifty percent off
so there I was trying on shirts
when this old timer came up to me
and began to yammer away
something about the tremendous bargains
on that particular special day
after he pushed his cart up between us
he yelled, “if you need to move my cart,
go right ahead. I can’t hear good, see?
so if you say something to me
and I don’t respond don’t take offense.
I just don’t hear good.”
I nodded through my hangover
and slowly edged away from him
he was one of those people
you just didn’t enjoy being around
one of those people
who just brought you down
you could tell
he had a lot to say
and nobody to say it to
another minute passed
and without looking my way
he yelled out again
“now, I’m not trying to tell you what to do,
understand me,
but there are some real deals here
in this store today.
Now, like I said,
I’m not trying to tell you what to do,
you’re a grown man,
but there are some real deals here today
that you should take advantage of.”
I kinda nodded
tried to tune him out
but then he walked over
and nudged me in the ribs
winked and said,
“I’m not trying to tell you what to do.
I’d never do that.”
he stood there grinning this stupid grin
I didn’t know what to say so I said,
“well, thanks, I guess,
for not trying to tell me what to do.”
he coughed and moved back
to where he’d been sifting through the shirts
after a few more minutes passed
he pulled a shirt off the rack and said,
“now, I’m not trying to tell you what to do
or anything like that, but I think this shirt
would look great on you.”
he let his standard pause go by before he said,
“…not that I’m trying to tell you
what to do or what to buy or how to dress.”
the shirt he held up was clearly
two or three sizes too big.
“no, thanks,” I told him, turning back to the rack.
but the crazy fuck just stood there
with a shaky grin
holding up the shirt
pushing it out to me every couple seconds.
I realized he must not have heard me
so I turned again and was about to shout,
“no thanks” a second time
but he came towards me
and shoved the shirt into my hands
going on about how he wasn’t trying
to tell me what to do
or what to buy
or how to dress
finally I just slammed the hanger hook
onto the rack and barked,
“listen you old bastard,
stop telling me that you’re not trying
to tell me what to do! Because you clearly are!
Christ, this is ridiculous!”
a few people in the store looked over
I rang my hands at the ceiling
stormed out to my car
back to my room
where I could shut the door
pull the sheets over my head
and keep the world at bay.

A POEM - PALMER

PALMER
Palmer was this friend of mine
who never had much money growing up
I had quite a few friends like that
until we went our separate ways
then I had new friends
that didn’t have much money
but anyway
Palmer was living in Maui and
I went to visit him
if anybody has a place
anywhere I want to go
most likely I’ll end up there at some point
at least for a week or two
crashing on their couch
or their floor
or in their van
parked out in front of their house
I just hate to pay for hotels.
so Palmer said to me,
“yeah, come and visit,
it’s not much of a place,
but you’re welcome to stay a little while.”
it sure as hell wasn’t much of a place
it was this cinder block cell
filled with junk
crawling with ants and roaches.
“just about what I expected,”
I said to Palmer when I arrived.
But what I didn’t expect
was that strewn in
with the rotting food and garbage
were little piles of money
on the coffee table
the counter
the bathroom sink
and all over his bed.
“what the fuck is this?” I asked him,
pointing to the piles of bills
some folded neatly
some just crumpled up.
“oh, those,” he said quietly
“well, I’ve got this job
where I make some decent money now.”
I looked around the place
amazed at the number of piles
“so this is what you do
with it, huh?”
“well, I never had any before
so now that I do,
I like to keep it around in plain view.
I like to be able to see it
and lie around in it,
just be reminded that it’s there”
a few moments passed
then he became very serious
pointed his finger at me and said,
“but I know exactly how much
is in each pile, so don’t you fuckin’ dare
try and steal any of it”

A POEM - WHEN YOU AIN'T GOT SHIT

WHEN YOU AIN’T GOT SHIT
the economy had shit the bed
and quite a few people were
pissed off and upset about their losses
a friend from back east
called late one night
told me he’d lost more than half
his holdings in the stock market
another couple friends
had lost their jobs
joined the growing ranks
of the unemployed
one night when
playing a dollar a spin
on a Super Six wheel
in the New York New York
the old dealer man
whispered to me,
“last year my house was worth $865,000.
Now I’d be lucky to get $280,000 for it.”
I was only twenty eight
but I knew I could retire comfortably
for the rest of my life
on 280 fuckin’ grand.
but all these poor bastards
they had these tremendous losses
to pine over
to keep them up at night
eyes wide open in the dark
fear beating in their hearts
me, I lost nothing
I didn’t have any investments
to get wiped out,
no job to get laid off from,
no house whose value might plummet
I was in the clear, baby, because,
to paraphrase Dylan
when you ain’t got shit,
you ain’t go shit to lose.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A POEM - THE ANNOYING ONES

THE ANNOYING ONES
one time I went to community college
down in south Florida
on the first day of classes
I was riding the bus to school
there was this fucking asshole
going around and talking to everybody
he was introducing himself
and asking stupid questions like,
“what’s your name?” and
“what are you studying?”
he was writing down all this information
filling up his little black book
when he finally came up to me
I tried to ignore him
but this little fucker
got right down into my face
kept belching words.
Finally I said to him,
“what the hell are you doing?”
he looked around
to see if anybody else
had heard me
when he felt safe he whispered to me,
“hey, just don’t tell anybody else
you know my game, okay?”
then he walked away
down the aisle to harass somebody else
I checked my pockets and bag
to make sure
he hadn’t made off with anything
and then I dismissed him
as just another accident
of human breeding
seemed there were plenty
of those mishaps out there
and they all had an affinity
for taking rides on the public buses

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A POEM - LUNCH

LUNCH
No matter what job I worked
my co-workers were was always shocked
when they’d discover
that I’d packed a lunch to work
it was this whole big thing
that I was trying to save money
by not eating out
at some fast food restaurant
“oh, SMART guy!” my boss used to say.
“you see this, guys? He PACKED his lunch.
He’s a SMART guy.”
I really didn’t see what the big deal was
then they’d go crazy when they’d notice
I’d wrapped my sandwich
in a shopping bag
instead of a ziplock baggie.
I always liked recycling
just seemed to make sense.
“holy SHIT!”
this painter shouted at me once
brows in a big frown
eyes wide open
like they were witnessing a rape
“you wrap your SANDWICH
in a shopping bag? Are you crazy?”
“could be,” I replied.
I don’t even want to get into
when I’d be spotted drinking tap water
but it really freaked some people out.
“you can’t- you shouldn’t drink THAT water!”
they’d scream, horrified
it got to the point where
I’d sneak off alone during lunch
just so I could relax and eat in peace.

Friday, October 24, 2008

NOTES FROM AN AMERICAN NOMAD, entry TWO

“the Kid,” I said, speaking to a sheet that divided the room in which I was sleeping with the sparsely furnished living room. “now there’s an example of a whole different species.”

Nielson pulled back the curtain and poked his head in. “yeah, you’re really one to talk. You’re wearing a Jim Beam vest that used to be a t shirt, an American flag bandana, a showgirl mask facing backwards and a pair of commando pants.”

“these are mere accessories to my lifestyle as an American, you fuck. I’m just exercising my rights here. It’s still a free country within the confines of your own home, haha. As long as you haven’t made the Terror Watch list yet. And as long as you keep the shades down and the noise at socially acceptable levels.”

“yeah, jackass, it’s guys like me who are responsible for that freedom you’re enjoying.”

Nielson was an ex-Marine who’d done two tours in Iraq and he never missed a chance to chime in about the freedom he fought to protect. Since his honorable discharge, he shared my affinity for chronic unemployment but to his credit he’d found a way to live comfortably on a supposed mental disability check and unemployment pay.

“whatever, Marine. Get your fuckin’ head out of my room.”

Twenty minutes passed as I tried to figure out a way to build a guitar stand with a few pieces of wood I’d nabbed from a broken futon out front. Like most projects I’ve embarked on, it was doomed from the start. I soon gave up and went to the fridge for a beer.

Nielson was watching a television show about the ten things most likely to end the human race.

“you know what’s next?” I asked, slumping onto a filthy, piss-stained sofa with the grime so ingrained you could barely make out the tacky floral pattern. He looked over at me and watched as I snapped open my beer and took a sip.

“where’s mine?”

“in the fridge.”

“I’m not gonna get up.”

“I never asked you to. Anyway, number seven is black holes. They say that scientists first thought that black holes remained in one place, but it turns out some of those bastards are roaming around space, just devouring entire galaxies and solar systems and shit.”

“hmm, kinda like you. Just roaming around my apartment, devouring entire cases of beer and boxes of cereal.”

I laughed because he was right on with that one.

“now, will you get me a beer?”

“hmm. On one condition.”

“no! No, you can’t shoot me with your gun.”

Since I’d been down there in Wilmington, NC, living in his place and eating his food and drinking his beer, I’d developed this bad habit of shooting him with my air pistol. He’d be watching television and I’d be in the other room and I’d draw back the sheet just enough to sight his toe and then POP!

“OWWW! ARGGHHH! What the FUCK, man?! Why do you keep shooting me with that fucking thing?”

The only time I heard him swear, aside from calling me a jackass, was after I shot him. That was half the reason I did it. I liked to hear him swear. Usually he was saying things like, “holy smokes” and “gosh darn it” and that irritated the hell out of me.

“c’mon, grab me a beer.”

“please?”

“no! I’m not gonna let you shoot me for getting me a beer. Don’t you ever just wanna do something nice for somebody?”

“sometimes.”

“well, how about now?”

I got bored of the conversation and knew it would continue until I got him a beer so I got up and went to the fridge, thinking, “I’ll just shoot him later for this one.”

After the next commercial came the part of the show about the wandering black holes. And after that was the possibility that a certain asteroid, which was scheduled to just miss earth in the year 2029 would swing back and knock us out in 2036. It made me happy because I worried less about getting a job and settling down.

As soon as I got close to finishing my beer I could feel Nielson’s eyes move from the television screen to my beer can. He knew I had a little asteroid of my own. The way we did it was that whenever each of us finished a can of beer we’d throw it at the other’s head. It was just another game we played to keep the boredom at bay. To make things a little more interesting.

I tried to fake like there was more in the can than there actually was, but it’s impossible to finish a beer without tipping the can all the way up.

“I know you’re done, jackass.”

“maybe I am, maybe I’m not.”

He took another sip from his can and I side-armed it at him, clipping the back of his head and then dodging an immediate retaliation. His hit the couch but then bounced back and splashed on my shirt.

“you didn’t even finish your fucking beer, Marine. Now it’s your turn to get up.”
As lazy as he was, Nielson played by the drinking rules we’d established. He got up, went to the fridge, tossed me another beer and sat down again.

“so, you find a job today?” he asked.

“there’s nothing out there.”

“did you even look?”

“yes, MOM, I fuckin’ looked. Everybody wants you to have a degree in accounting or engineering and ten years in the field. You gotta be familiar with all these goddamn computer programs, as well as being a motivated self-starter who can work well, like, independently and on a team. You gotta have a clean criminal record, a clean driving record and a North Carolina driver’s license.”

I turned to him and swallowed hard.

“do you think I have any of that?”

“holy smokes. You are kinda screwed.”

He grinned and looked back to the television.

“you know what the biggest threat to humanity is?”

“you?”

“no, seriously.”

“I’m trying to watch the show, here.”

“it’s climate change. Global warming. Hell, I don’t even need a job because we’re all gonna drown or fry or eat off each other’s faces within the next few years. Maybe I’ll just coast along until then, drinking your beer and eating your food.”

He glared at me as though he believed it was a serious possibility.

“or maybe,” I said, standing up and walking to a map I’d tacked on the wall. “just maybe, one of these days, I’ll throw my shit in my jeep and drive my ass out to Vegas. Anybody can make it there, right? And if one of these calamities does happen, like if we do engage in all out nuclear war, (that’s the second on the list), I won’t even know until the very end because I’ll be holed up in the corner of some dark casino, drinking whiskey and watching the roulette wheel spin around and around and around. And by then…well…who knows?”

POEM - I'M FUCKIN' OUTTA HERE

I’M FUCKIN OUTTA HERE
There were a couple things I didn’t like
about that apartment.
The first was that
there were always cockroaches
in the bathroom.
Sometimes they were big motherfuckers
and sometimes just babies,
but either way
they just stood where they were,
never moving. Occasionally
I’d blow one apart with my BB gun
but sure enough, the next night,
another had taken his place.
In the corner,
on the ceiling,
under the toilet,
those bastards just stood there,
waiting,
making me nervous as hell.
I didn’t like that
The second thing
was that these college kids
had moved in next door
and there was this one chick
that just cried all night long.
She wailed and wailed
and she did this right on the other side of the wall
from my bedroom. At first
I thought about going over there
banging on the door
make sure she was all right.
Then I just got annoyed.
It’s not natural for a human being
to be capable of crying that much.
She put babies to shame with those gigantic sobs.
and that was how I spent my time
in that apartment.
Being wary of cockroaches
and going to sleep to the sound
of some girl next door
balling her eyes out.
The only upside was that I wasn’t paying rent.
I hated paying rent.
I had this fierce aversion to paying
for a place to sleep at night
when there were so many free places,
like park benches
or fire escapes
or 24 hour laundromats. Anyway,
it wasn’t long before I cut out of there.
“fuck this,” I said one day.
“I’m fuckin’ outta here.”

Monday, October 13, 2008

NOTES FROM AN AMERICAN NOMAD, entry ONE

I took another pull from my Blue Moon and scrolled to his number on my cell phone. I giggled before pressing TALK. After two and a half rings he picked up and murmured, “what’s up, dude?”

A moment later I screamed into the phone, “NATION! How the hell are those waves out there?”

I always had to trick him into talking with me because most of the time I called just to berate him about loathsome qualities he didn’t possess or to squeal about my own doubts and anxieties. How I’d never make it as a writer, or how we’d all soon be sex slaves to a super race of bisexual Chinese business tycoons.

I was always having these thoughts like, “times are strange and things are weird”or “it’s a fucked up world out there and it’s a fucked up world in here.”

It was a wonder to me that Nation ever answered my phone calls.

“not bad, dude. I work at Scripts now, so it’s only five minutes from being at work to being in the water.”

There was a hint of excitement in the big bastard’s voice. “it’s tight, dude. I get to surf on my lunch breaks.”

Woopty – doo! I get to drink myself into oblivion and wake up on fire escapes or in people’s trunks. We all have our fetishes.

I took another drink from my Blue Moon and then reached in, fished out the orange wedge and noisily sucked it apart.

“what are you up to?” he asked.

I hesitated before whispering, “well, Nation, I’m doing a little work for this company. I’m a producer. And a researcher.”

I looked around the booth. There were a half dozen empty pint glasses with orange rinds in the bottom and a few clippings from newspapers I’d pasted to the wall with Pete’s Hot Sauce. The clippings were of big breasted cartoon aliens and I’d set them up so that they were attacking a framed photograph of James Dean.

“oh yeah? That’s cool.”

“it is cool, isn’t it?”

“what kinda company, or, research are you doing?”

I could tell his excitement was fading. He’d probably begun to tap his pen on his desk.

“Nation,” I hissed, now above a whisper. “that’s not important. What is important is that I need funding for a small porno I wanna shoot and I’ve decided you’re my man, moneypants.” I began to snigger and then gasped, “now that you’re a fucking DOCTOR! DOCTOR Nation, now, right?”

“oh, Jesus Christ,” he sighed. “dude, I gotta go. I’ve got a meeting with my boss.”

“Nation goddamn it! This isn’t a joke. Not some schlepshow idea by some schlepshow rookie. This is the REAL DEAL. Now, how much can I expect from you? I’ll need at least fifty grand for starters. Even in this economy these midgets aren’t cheep. You can send a bank check to four twen-”

“I’ll talk to you later, man.”

“Nation, you’re a greedy, heartless bitch, you hear me? A real first class asshole!”

I kept yelling profanities into the phone long after he’d hung up. Then I turned to one of the big breasted cartoon aliens and smashed a pen through her stomach and into the wall. Over the rim of my pint of Blue Moon I saw one of the cooks’ heads peep out from the kitchen. He’d been on my case all morning.

A few moments later my waiter approached. He noticed the pen sticking out from the wall and turned to me.

“sir, is everything all right?”

I looked away, at the wall, regarding the cartoon, then splashed some more hot sauce under the pen so it looked like she was bleeding from the stomach. Spicy, tasty blood. I was just about to lick it off the wall when my waiter raised his voice.

“sir! You’re going to have to-

“no! No, kid. Nothing is all right. In fact, everything is terrible. And wrong.”

A few tense moments crept by before I tossed a twenty on the table, grabbed my things and growled, “and it’s all your fault.”

On my way past the kitchen I stopped and stuck my face in through the order window and yelled to the cook who’d ratted me out.

“hey! Hey you!”

He turned and frowned and balled his fists as though he’d been waiting for this moment all morning.

“hey, take a good luck at this face here, all right? Because you’ll never be seeing it again.”

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

SHORT STORY - THE WORLD IS A COCKSUCKER

“fuck him!” I shouted, throwing my cell phone at the wall. “that shit juggling circus monkey- argghh!”

I looked around for something else to throw. There was my drink, but I wanted that. I needed that.

“that cocksucker’s been trying to get me in trouble ever since I started dating you.”

“Jack, please-“

“NO! that’s it!”

I kicked over a chair and flipped the kitchen table.

“first he told the fuckin’ cops I was selling blow when I was bartending at Quiggey’s, and now he’s telling them I over-served his friend?! Are you fuckin’ kidding me? If his friend can’t handle his liquor, he shouldn’t order it. Fuck! I feel bad for the poor kid, but you can’t tell me I’m responsible for his death. FUCK that! I didn’t shove him into his car, turn the key and ram his foot on the gas. That was his own choice. Good or bad, it was his own, not mine! Oh, these fuckin’ laws! ARGGHHHH!! This fuckin’ state, this COUNTRY!! What the hell is happening to this fuckin’ country?”

“Jack, please calm down. You’ll be fine. Everything will work out. It always does, remember?”

“Nobody takes any responsibility for their actions anymore. It’s a country full of cocksuckers! That’s what it is. Litigious, pathetic cocksuckers, and it’s ruining America. Hell, it’s ruining the whole world, that’s what it’s doing! The whole world- the world is a cocksucker!”

I stopped for a second, looked over at her. The thought of her being with that sub-human excuse for a man who’d ratted me out to the police for something I probably hadn’t even done, it made me feel worse than anything.

“Jane,” I snarled. “let’s be honest with each other. This bastard is out to get me. He always has been. I’ve known that, but this is different. Now he’s telling his cop friends bullshit about me? Bullshit that they’re believing!”

“you said it before, Jack. They don’t have any proof because you didn’t do any of it. It’ll all blow over.”

“but look at the way it works these days. These people, this community. They don’t care about proof. They don’t care about justice. Not when it comes to alcohol. They just wanna see somebody hang. They’ll go after the driver first. If he’s dead, then they’ll go after the server, then the establishment. It’s all greed, that’s what it is. Fuck, though. It’s always been like this, right? It’s just never been my ass in the hot seat. Not this hot.”
I clenched my teeth and bent my head and clawed at the back of my neck.

“ARRGGHHHHH! I’m SO, FUCKING ANGRY!!”
I looked around for something else to destroy but then decided against it.

“and now I don’t even have a goddamn phone again! I’m always ruining my fucking phones!!”

I drank my drink down and poured another but they were doing nothing. I rehashed the conversation I’d had with that cop, Officer Dipshit.

“we have a witness that said he saw you serving the kid that night.”

A fucking witness? It was a packed bar and I was doing my job. I was serving drinks. I’d imagine there was more than one guy out of two hundred that saw me serving drinks.

“I may have served him. I really don’t know. I don’t know the kid you’re talking about, though. I don’t even recognize his last name, from having a tab or anything.”

“well, the witness, who says he knows you, said he saw you serving the kid.”

“well, sir, who exactly said they saw me serving him? Because lots of people seem to know me, but I don’t know any of them. Maybe by face I’d know them, but, I mean, come on. It’s not like I
know everybody who comes into the bar. I might pretend like I do, but I really don’t. Besides, if this witness saw me serving the kid, why didn’t- if he was friends with him, why did he let him go and drive off, huh? Sounds like a shitty friend to me.”

“I can’t tell you names, um, Jack. But listen, we’re gonna need you to come down to the station tomorrow and give a written report. We’ll probably want to ask some more questions, too.”

And I’m probably gonna want to shit in between the layers of your lasagna.

“well, do whatever you gotta do, officer-”

“it’s ‘detective.’”

“oh, sorry. I don’t know much about the ranking system you guys have.”

“just be expecting a call soon, okay?”

“yeah, sure,” I said, “whatever.”

“hey, you know what? You have a real bad attitude and it’s gonna get you in trouble someday. Maybe someday soon.”

“well, you know what, officer? A bad attitude never killed a kid.”

That was when I hung up the phone and threw it at the wall. I took a few deep breaths and then ploughed through the rest of my drink.

“Janesies?”

“yeah?”

“hmm.”

“what?”

“I think it’s time.”

“time for what?”

I narrowed my eyes and looked sideways at her for a moment.

“time for me to get the fuck outta here.”

I went about picking up the table and arranging the chairs. I didn’t bother with the phone. I’ve broken enough phones to know just how hard they have to hit something to be unfixable, and I threw it plenty hard.

“where will you go?”

“where will I go? I was thinking it would be more like, ‘where will we go?’”

“Jack, I have a life here. Everything I know is here. My job, my family, my friends. I can’t just run off. It’s not that easy.”

I had this soul patch on my face. Most of my friends made fun of me because of it, called me a fag and things like that. But I really couldn’t help rubbing it with the tip of my index finger when I had to think to pretty hard. And my eyes always just darted around the room like I was trying to follow a fly. Finally they settled back on Jane. I knew I’d miss her. But sometimes you get those feelings like you just gotta get outta someplace.

If I left, I knew I’d be in trouble. But if I stayed, I knew I’d be in a lot more trouble. It was pretty exciting, knowing I was about to be on the run. I’ll bet it was mostly the bourbon that made it exciting, though. But think of all those times when you’re young and you get in trouble and you’re sitting around with your friends and somebody says, “well, there’s always Mexico.” Like Mexico was this place of ultimate freedom. Like it was sneaking into heaven.

“maybe I’ll go to Mexico, babe.”

Jane burst out laughing.

“Mexico? Mexico, Jack? You’re not even in trouble yet. The cops just want to talk to you. You haven’t even been charged with anything!”

“Janers, I just have a bad feeling about all of this.”

“you always have bad feelings about things. And besides, since when do you follow every single one of your feelings?”

“Jane,” I said, “don’t downplay this. I could be in real deep shit. I’ve heard of this happening before. To bartenders, even a waitress of two. They get fucked by the law because some state or town wants to make an example of them. You know, show the world that they’re cracking down, being safe, being responsible. God, I hate that word. It’s all politics. It’s this whole War on Fun thing.”

“oh, god,” Jane sighed. She hated when I went off about this thing I referred to as the War on Fun.

“Jack, at least-“

“Jane!”

Poor Janie. She knew me better than I knew myself, but I’d never admit it to her. I was just too stubborn, especially after jumping on the whiskey train.

“you’re not gonna talk me outta this.”

“well, what about us? This is it? We’re through, just like that?”
There I was, rubbing that soul patch again. It pissed me off that she didn’t wanna just up and leave, too. We’d been together for a while. It seemed like I was about to embark on this big, important life-changing journey, and she was just like, “nah, fuck it. I’m not interested.”

“I can’t stay here, babe. I just can’t. Not in this town, not anymore. I’ve had too many brushes with the law over things like this. I feel like I’m pushing my luck.”

She stood there, shaking her head.

“I’ve gotta get outta here, Jane,” I said, a smile creeping onto my face. “they’re...after me.”
My smile grew and grew and was a tell all smile which she’d seen a hundred times before.

“you lunatic,” she yelled. “are you serious? You’re such a weirdo!”

The smile turned into this big shit – eating grin. The cat was out. I began to laugh and then sniffle because the laughter was making my nose run. I pulled out the seat I’d knocked over and sat down in it. The laughter wouldn’t quit. For minutes on end I banged on the table and slapped my thighs and gasped for breath.

“was that- are you just- was that even the cops on the phone?”

I laughed louder and finally leaned my head back and began to roar. The tears ran down my face and I didn’t even wipe them away. Why wipe away tears of joy?

“you know you broke your phone, remember? It IS broken. Was that all part of your joke, too?”
She came over to the table with the phone. The back had fallen off and the battery was out and the screen was shattered. I brought it to my ear and shook it. Anytime a phone rattles when it didn’t before, that means it’s broke beyond repair. This one rattled like a bastard.

“aarrrgggghhhh! I always break my phones!” I shouted through my laughter.

“Jack, that was, like, a two hundred dollar phone. You don’t even have insurance anymore!”

“ahhh godd!! I know. I know it, Janers! Ahhhh!”

She pulled out a chair and sat down across the table.

“and why do you always have to bring up my ex boyfriends?”

“oh, come on! I was just joking around!”

“well, Jack, some things aren’t as funny to me as they are to you.”

I knew that was true.
“all right, all right. Sorry, babe. Well, what do you wana do tonight?”
She stared at me and shook her head. I figured she was putting some serious thought into why the hell she put up with me. I didn’t wanna give her too much time to realize she didn’t have an answer.

“let’s hit the bars, babe. A drink couldn’t hurt, right?”

POEM - HOUSEMATES

HOUSEMATES
There was one thing
that really pissed me off
about living with those guys
it was that they’d never
refill the ice trays.
They’d just use all the ice cubes
to make their drinks
and then they’d leave the tray
out on counter
and move onto the next one.
And after all the trays were empty,
they just stopped using ice altogether.
I’d come home late at night
maybe from work or some party
I’d go into the freezer to get ice
to make a drink
a ‘nightcap’ is what I’d call it
but there’d be no trays full of ice
I’d look to the counter
stacked up and empty
there they were
I’d swallow hard and blink
turn towards the ceiling
towards the second floor
towards their bedrooms
I’d scream,
“oh! You lazy scumbags! What the fuck
is wrong with you guys?”

POEM - LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON

LIKE MOTHER LIKE SON
My mother had turned fifty
a few days before.
She came back from work
on a Tuesday afternoon
said to me,
“you know what? Now that
I’m fifty years old,
I just don’t give a damn anymore.”
I was seventeen at the time
I smiled back at her and said,
“hell, ma, I’ve been feeling
that way for years.”

SHORT SHORT - SOUTHERN BOURBON BEANS

SOUTHERN BOURBON BEANS
by Jack Tom
She called me up on the phone and said, “I’m so low on money right now I’ve decided I won’t go to the grocery store until I finish all the food in my fridge and cupboards.”
“so where are you now? Gotten to the canned goods yet?”
“hee hee. Yeah. I’m eating beans on toast. It’s not so bad.”
“naw, it’s not so bad. I’m on the canned goods, too. Right now I’m frying a can of black beans and flavoring them with cayenne pepper and Jim Beam.”
“Jim Beam?”
“yeah, I’m callin’ ‘em Southern Bourbon beans.”
“did you just make that up?”
“yeah.”
“what’ll you eat them on?”
“I’ve got some stale tortillas that I think I can make soft with a little more Jim Beam.”
“you’re wasting a lot of whiskey on food, huh? That’s not like you.”
“I don’t like me either.”
“no, no. That’s not what I said.”
“what’d you say?”
“are you drunk? You don’t sound drunk.”
“what does drunk sound like?”
“you know, c’mon. You know how you sound when you’re drunk.”
“do I sound like this? AHHH! AAHHHH FUCKKKK!! I’m SOOOO FUCKKIN’ DRUNKKK!”
“hee hee. Yeah, exactly like that.”
“ah, nice. I still got it.”
“so, are you?”
“listen, baby. We’re both eating out the last of our food. We’re broke and I’m jobless and the idea of us never being together again is worse than the idea of gouging out my eyes with dull pencils. Of course I’m drunk. How else could I make it through?”
“oh, god.”
“listen. I gotta go. These Southern bourbon beans are just about done. I’ll talk to you later.”
“all right, Jack. goodbye.”
“see ya around.”

Friday, July 25, 2008

A SHORT STORY - MAYBE IT NEVER WAS

MAYBE IT NEVER WAS
by JACK TOM
I was lying on the floor in the empty room in her apartment where I’d slept the night before. Around ten she came down from her loft bedroom and lied down right next to me, in that little nook between my right arm and my chest.
We spent a few moments staring at the ceiling. There was nothing on it, but that didn’t matter. Sometimes you just have to stare at a ceiling, pretending there’s some sort of wisdom stuck up there, like a piece of gum under a desk.
“my mom is going crazy like you,” she said. “she feels like a person she’s never known before. And she’s sad all the time.”
After saying this she looked over at me. I didn’t turn to see her looking, but I knew she was. I didn’t say anything back, not for a full minute. And a minute can be a really long time, sometimes. I focused on taking a deep breath because I felt like if I didn’t make an effort, my body wasn’t just gonna keep doing it by itself.
“oh, god,” I sighed. “mothers. Poor, poor mothers. I don’t know how they do it. They certainly carry a tough burden, don’t they? I don’t know anyone in the world who has it worse than all of the poor, dear mothers.”
“Jack,” she said. “do you think we’ll ever get back together. I mean, like, later on.”
“I don’t know, babe. I hope so. I hope someday we can both get our lives back in order and that all this craziness will end. It’s just that, well, nothing seems real anymore. But then again, maybe it never was.”

A POEM - MORE THAN ONE SITTING

MORE THAN ONE SITTING
Every time
I’d write a story
which I didn’t finish
in the same sitting,
I’d go back to it another day,
read over what I had
and then think to myself,
“oh, shit. how the hell
will I get out of this one?”
Bad stories were like all bad things,
easy to get into and hard to get out of.

A BAD LOVE STORY

A BAD LOVE STORY
by JACK TOM
We were crawling backwards on aching knees, priming new baseboards in a single bedroom unit off West Chester Street. The owner lady, some failed but wealthy architect from Germany, had graying black hair, thick black-rimmed glasses and a whine in her voice that made me want to stab her in the neck with my putty knife when she pointed to tiny imperfections in the wood and said, “vut about zeeeese? Vill you corrects zeeeese?”
Jose, like me, would nod to her and then walk off and do something else, leaving her to become either frustrated or confused but never satisfied. Then, as soon as she left Jose would peer from his knees over the window sill and study her scrawny backside as she walked cautiously across the sand lot and went into another one of her nearly finished rental buildings. After she’d gone far enough Jose would turn to me and shout, “CALLATE!”
“you fucking CALLATE!” I yelled back. “Callate your fuckin’ face! It’s Friday and it’s almost quittin’ time and I need a beer!”
“oh!” Jose yelped. “I can’t wait to jrink! I wanna jrink! I’m gonna go out and get jrunk tonight. JRUNK!! Joo here me?”
With two last strokes I finished the board I was working on and straightened my back, stretching it out. It hurt like a bastard from bending down all afternoon. I really hated that job and was always looking for some reason to quit.
“jrunk!” I laughed back, looking at Jose. “JRRUNNK!”
“that’s what I say, jrunk! My girlfriend and I, we break up last night. So tonight I go out, get jrunk!”
“hahhh!” I shouted, getting to my feet. My whole body ached. It always did. Laboring away the days and in the nights numbing the pain with bourbon, which only brought about a different misery in the morning.
“you two break up every week. Every Thursday, ha! I know you bring it about, too, just so you can go wild all weekend, ha!”
Jose sat back on his feet and surveyed the piece of baseboard he’d just finished with mild satisfaction. He turned to me with a big, guilty smile and I could tell the thoughts in his head were processing what I’d just said, which again prompted him to shout, “CALLATE!”
But that was the game he played. All week long he behaved well towards his old lady, charming her and conning her into thinking he was finally through with his drinking and his bouts of madness. But every Thursday night he would bait her into an argument. Maybe he’d mention that he’d like to go out for a drink with his work buddies the following night and how he needed some excitement. Something more than the domestic boredom in which he’d been living all week long.
There would be yelling and screaming and finally this old lady of his would raise her fist and stomp the ground and pledge that it was over, that this was the last time. Jose would go out and sleep in his truck and come in to work on Friday morning with sore limbs and a crick in his neck, but a devilish, excited little grin on his face.
According to La Viajita, an old El Salvadoran on the crew who’d told me all of this, it had been going on for longer than he could remember.
“Jose,” I said, “que es el nombre de tu chica?”
He stood up and walked towards the can of paint where I was already using my brush to wipe out the last few smears from my pail.
“her nombre es Silvia, gringo. Why-joo care?”
I mashed my brush against the lid of the can to get out as much of the paint as I could before dipping it into a bucket with a small amount of paint thinner at the bottom.
“por que, if you two are broken up, maybe I could have a go with her.”
I turned up to him, giving him a moment to understand. But it didn’t even take him a full second before he said, “ey, fuck joo, pendejo! I keel joo!”
He glared at me with his ferocious Dominican eyes.
“hey, calm down, Jose. I was just joking, just fuckin’ around, right?”
“no! no right. Joo no say shit like that to me!”
“si, si. Comprendo. Lo siento, sorry.”
But I wasn’t sorry. I wasn’t sorry at all. Jose could go to hell for all I cared. What I was interested in was his old lady, Silvia, and if she was the same Silvia whose ass I’d grabbed and whose mouth I’d kissed at the Muse the previous Saturday night.
When I told her that I painted houses, she’d said something about her boyfriend, ahem, ex boyfriend being a painter like me. But hell, there were over a thousand painters on that little island. I recalled her mentioning something about a breakup, though, and that if they ended up getting back together she’d only give him one more chance. And I figured Jose had used up that one chance.
“so, Jose, where are you going tonight? Maybe I’ll join you. I’d like to buy you a beer.”
I was slapping my brush against a dirty rag to get the thinner out. He looked at me and maybe thought I was kidding him. And I was kidding him, but he didn’t have to know.
“no se. Probably La Cantina.”
“La Cantina?”
“it’s good place, gringo. Cheap beer.”
I knew it was a good place and I knew they had cheap beer, too. I’d only been on that island a month and that was plenty of time to learn a little about every bar.
“well, then. La Cantina. I’ll probably make it out around ten.”
I finished slapping out my brush and wrapped the cardboard cover around it and tucked it into my bag.
“adios, Jose.”
I glanced back for just a single moment and saw that he was pondering the little conversation we’d just had in that wild brain of his. I stepped out into the sandy construction site but before I closed the door Jose called to me.
“Yack!” he said, failing to pronounce my name correctly.
I turned and looked back inside. He was smacking his brush on the same dirty rag I’d used.
“what?”
“CALLATE!!”
“yeah, whatever. Remember to close the door.”

That night I didn’t go out to the Cantina. I knew Jose would be there and I didn’t want to see him. Working with him all day wasn’t that bad, but I couldn’t spend the whole night with him too.
After shooting a bunch of whiskey, I went to the Muse, hoping that Silvia would be there. She wasn’t there when I got there, but that’s because I went very early, in order to get a seat at the bar. I don’t like it when I have to stand at bars to drink. I could stand in my kitchen if I wanted to do that, or in my basement. I also went that early so that I could look nonchalant, like I just happened to be there again, not that I was purposely looking out for her.
She came in around ten thirty and she was looking good. Better than good. For a moment I wondered why the hell Jose ever broke it off with her, never mind why he did it purposely every week. But then, every man gets tired of the same piece of ass, day in and day out. Some won’t admit it, but they do.
Silvia had on a pair of jeans and a white blouse and her hair was in a pony tail. Her body was nice. Latin and curvy, but it was her face that destroyed me. She had one of those faces that was so beautiful it actually hurt to look at, like it could drive a man insane. I wondered, for a moment, whether Jose had always been the way he was, or if this Silvia chica had somehow broken his mind.
But I kept trying not to think of Jose. It’s never nice to think about a man who has done the things that you want to do with the girl you want to do them with.
As soon as the doorman handed back her ID I turned away and took a sip of my drink, watching her out of the corner of my eye. For a moment I thought she was alone because she took a few steps towards the bar while glancing around, but then she spun around and smiled as two of her friends dealt with the doorman.
“of course,” I muttered to myself. “it’s not too many girls that go out to the bar alone.”
I took the opportunity to give her a long up and down and decided that she looked just as good, if not better, than she looked the previous weekend. Maybe it was the blouse. It came down almost to her jeans but the way she had it tied in front you could spot just an inch of smooth, brown skin.
I clenched my teeth and looked away at the television. There was a baseball game on. There was almost always a baseball game on, and if there wasn’t, they were showing the highlights of past baseball games.
In one of the mirrors behind the bar I snuck a peek at Silvia. She and her friends were making their way towards the ladies room.
“chicks,” I snorted. The first thing they always do after getting into any bar is to go straight to the bathroom. I always wondered what they did in there. Were they looking at themselves in the mirror? Taking a piss? Snorting lines off the toilet bowl?
I decided right then that as soon as she came out I’d go up to her and say hello. If I didn’t some other fool would and I didn’t want that.
When they came out they approached the bar opposite me. It was perfect. She looked over and I gave it a second and then smiled like I’d just noticed her. She waved me over and I nearly fell off my bar stool because my body had started moving before my legs had left the rungs.
“Jack,” she said to me, pronouncing it how it should be pronounced. “como esta?”
“Silvia! Hello. How are you doin’?”
“I am good, thank you. These are my friends, Esmeralda and Gloria.”
I loved Hispanic girls. Their names, their faces, their bodies, their attitudes. They had something there which I’d never found in other girls.
“nice to meet you,” I said, shaking their hands and leaning in to give them each a kiss on the cheek. “can I buy you a drink?” I asked Silvia, nodding to the others.
I didn’t want to buy them all a drink but in that sort of situation you can’t just offer to buy a drink for the one girl you’re going after. For a split second I wondered how many drinks I’d bought for how many girls in that same way.
All three smiled and said, “thank you.”
“well, what’ll you have?”
They discussed briefly what each wanted and then Silvia said to me, “Bacardi and coke?”
“three Bacardi and cokes?” I asked her.
“si, yes.”
“bien,” I smiled. “tres Bacardi y cokes.”
The two bartenders were watching the television and swapping stupid comments with each other. The bastards. Couldn’t they see I needed some service? After a moment I said to Silvia, “why don’t you guys go sit down at a table, and I’ll bring the drinks over.”
She smiled and said, “yes, thanks” and they moved off towards a table near the outdoor smoking deck.
As soon as they were gone I leaned in and said, “excuse me,” but the bartenders were the type that did everything on their own time. They’d tasted the power of their position, the ability to choose when to administer drinks to the desperate, pleading customers. I hated them for this.
“hey!” I finally shouted. “could I get some drinks over here?”
One of them put on this severely annoyed face and moseyed over to take my order. He mixed up three Bacardi and cokes. Afterwards he poured me a Budweiser draft.
“twenty five,” he said to me, like it was nothing.
I handed him a twenty and a fiver, left a couple bucks on the bar and carefully grasped the four drinks to head off to the table and the girls.
Esmeralda and Gloria were dolls just like Sylvia. I sat there sipping at my beer and thinking how lucky I was to be sitting there with three Latin beauties. Sylvia asked me enough questions to keep me in the conversation but for the most part I just sat there and nodded and divided my time staring between them.
I made sure to take it easy on my beer at first so I didn’t hit bottom before them but these girls were clearly not big drinkers. Instead of waiting around for them to finish first and offer to return the drink, I decided to really suck mine down so that they each still had half a drink left when I asked if anybody needed a drink. But when I did they all glanced at their glasses and said, “oh, yes, thank you.”
I felt nauseas for a moment. That would be another twenty something bucks. Why had I even asked? I remembered I was trying to get laid, and how I always did stupid things when I was trying to get laid. Probably most of the stupid things done in the world are directly due to a guy trying to get into some girl’s pants.
“okay. Well, I’ll be right back.”
They all smiled and I got up and walked to the bar. From behind I recognized the thick, sturdy frame of La Viejita, that old El Salvadoran who worked with us on the crew. I wondered what the hell he was doing there. I didn’t even think he ever went out to bars. After a moment’s consideration of whether or not to try and dodge him I said, “fuck it,” and went right up to him.
“La Viejita,” I said to him. “que pasa aqui?”
“oh, Yack,” he smiled. “I here to drink beer, si?”
“si,” I said. It did make sense. “pero, no para, uh, meet chicas?”
La Viejita laughed into his beer and shook his head. It was like the idea of going after chicks was a dirty thing to him.
“por que?” I asked.
“no more woman, no for me. Too many woman, all bad. I feel like slave when I with woman. No more. No for me.”
I glanced back at the table. Sylvia and Esmeralda and Gloria were all talking and laughing. I stared at them for a full minute until I caught Sylvia look towards me, probably wondering where their drinks were.
“fuckin’ a,” I mumbled. “I know what you mean.”
I stood there, waiting for the lazy bartenders to notice me. I knew since I’d left them a meager tip last time that it would take even longer this time. I’d probably be there for fifteen minutes.
“so,” said La Viejita without moving his head. “who are the chicas?”
I looked at him out of the side of my eyes, wondering if he’d ever met Sylvia. But he had this simple, old poker face that portrayed nothing except a mild satisfaction with the mixed drink he was sipping.
“just some girls I met.”
“hmm. Latinas, si?”
“yeah, they’re Latinas.”
I turned towards him again and he sucked the rest of the drink out of his glass and slowly rose from the stool. After checking his pockets to make sure he had everything he’d come with, he bent his head and said very softly, “joo be careful, Yack. Muy cuidado.”
With that cold warning he reached out his hand, shook mine and headed towards the door. As soon as he was outside I began to kick myself for not asking what he meant by, “be careful.” Or rather, who to be careful of. Did he know?
“yeah?” asked the same bartender who’d served me earlier, still completely disinterested.
“I’ll have another round. The three Bacardi Cokes and a Bud draft.”
He mixed up the drinks and then poured a draft, leaving nearly two inches of head on top. The bastard.
“twenty five.”
“I know,” I said, sneering at the beer. I gave him two twenties and when he gave me my change I left a dollar and walked away. Fuck him.
I brought the drinks back to the table and sat down.
“thank you,” they all chirped.
“no problema.”
There was this DJ setting up his equipment in one of the dark corners of the bar.
“so,” I said, looking at Sylvia. “do you girls dance? Bailar?”
She flashed her eyes and smiled this great big smile. “of course. And you?”
“yeah,” I said, snorting. “sure.”
I really couldn’t dance unless I’d had a lot to drink, and then I couldn’t really dance either, just thought I could.
“well, kinda. You’ll have to teach me some moves.”
Sylvia seemed to welcome my pathetic advances and that made me pretty happy. I kept sneaking glances at the line of dark skin below her shirt, hoping I’d soon be seeing more of it.
I took it easy on that second beer, wanting anything but to buy another round for all three of them. Soon the DJ had set up all his stuff and the music started. In a bold move which I’d never made before, I asked Sylvia to come out onto the empty dance floor to dance with me. I’d taken on this kamakazi mindset about the night, like it was the last one I’d ever have. After enough drinks, that’s how I usually felt about every night.
Once the DJ began to play the music I looked over to Sylvia and gave her the nod.
“we finish our drinks, first?”
“yeah, yeah. Sure.”
She took her time with her drink and I began to wonder whether she was stalling of if she was just a real slow drinker. Some girls are.
I listened to them speak and tried to pick out words and phrases.
“okay, Jack. We dance?”
“yeah, nice.”
She led me out onto the dance floor, showing no signs of self consciousness. I wished I’d had a few more drinks, but at the same time I knew that of the two of us, anybody watching would be looking at her rather than me.
Some sort of contemporary salsa club music came on and she began moving in this terribly sexy way. I immediately regretted suggesting that we dance because next to her I had nothing.
“okay, can you show me some moves?”
She smiled and kept dancing, probably not having heard what I said. Then she took one of my hands and began to kinda guide me along and it felt nice to be touching her hand.
Nobody else came out onto the dance floor until the second song began but I didn’t mind because I was just looking at Sylvia’s handsome face and sneaking peeks at that line of dark skin. She was very good at guiding me through little shuffles and hip moves and halfway through the second song I said to myself, “shit, I’m not half bad.”
When the third song began a few other couples came out onto the floor and as soon as that happened more and more jumped in and suddenly we were having to be careful of knocking into other people.
“you are not bad dancer,” she said, leaning her head back and in towards my ear.
“tsss,” I said. “it’s because you’re a good teacher.”
“no, no. You are very relaxed.”
I laughed because it wasn’t true but decided I’d go with it.
“well, it’s relaxing being around you.”
“aw,” she said, patting my shoulder.
We took a break after that song. Her friends were talking to two guys who’d bought them drinks so I turned to Sylvia and said, “another Bacardi and Coke?”
She hesitated for a moment, deliberating whether she should have a third.
“I’m not a big drinker, Jack.”
“okay, but I’m gonna go get another beer.”
I left her at the table and strutted off towards the bar, hoping that no other guy moved in on her. I wasn’t looking forward to going through the process of ordering another beer but the place had picked up and the bar was full and the bartenders had adjusted their speed accordingly. I went around the bar to where the other bartender was working and ordered a draft. He poured it quickly and poured it well and I paid him and left him a buck.
Back at the table Sylvia was listening to one of the guys who was telling some story about a big fish he’d caught earlier that day with his buddy. I felt like whispering into his ear, “dude, these chicks don’t care about your fuckin’ fish. Scram!”
But instead I slurped down my beer and looked forward to hitting the dance floor again.
Although it was nice not being the center of attention anymore, it was much harder to dance when we returned to the floor. There were tons of people moving around, either dancing or just walking in circles and squeezing between the dancers.
“Sylvia,” I said, in between songs. “I really like dancing with you.”
“well, thank you. I like dancing with you, too.”
I hesitated for a moment and then thought fuck it and said, “maybe we could go out sometime, the two of us, get a drink or some dinner?”
“aw, I’d like that.”
My body surged with this electric happiness and a big smile came onto my face.
“all right!” I said, laughing.
And then suddenly I was relaxed. I was probably the happiest guy out there on that dance floor, maybe even the happiest guy in the bar.
But the happiness didn’t last more than one more song because as she was slowly turning us in a circle I looked away from her pretty face towards the door and noticed Jose at the entrance. The bouncer was checking his ID.
A small part of me maintained the hope that this wasn’t the same Sylvia but deep down I was sure it was. I considered my options. I could quickly make up some reason to have to leave and then hope for luck on the date. Or I could go up to him and have it out right there.
I decided on neither, instead just ignoring him. I wanted to see how Syvlia would react so I held onto her and kept dancing away, while carefully watching her eyes to see if I could notice when she saw him.
“oh!” she said, her grip tightening on my hands. “oh, no.”
“what?”
“ay, shit.”
“what’s wrong?”
She kept staring at him for a few moments, not acknowledging anything I said.
“this, this will not be good.”
She’d stopped leading us around so that she could keep her eye on Jose. I turned my head to get a glimpse and right when I did he looked over. At first his face portrayed absolute shock and then I could see rage growing in his eyes. I turned away.
“Sylvia, what’s wrong?”
Her dark eyes settled on me and she said, “it’s my ex boyfriend. He’s, he’s crazy.”
When she looked back I saw her eyes dart around to find him again and then they became wide with terror. I turned to look behind me but before I could I felt a fist land hard on the side of my face.
“awww!” I yelled, falling against Sylvia and taking us both down.
“ay,” she screamed, hitting the concrete floor.
I looked up. Jose was standing there glaring down at me, snapping glances at Sylvia but mainly keeping his eyes on me. His nose and mouth were all mashed up like he’d just smelled the worst smell in the world. He was speechless with rage.
Sylvia shouted something to him in Spanish, something so fast and vicious that I couldn’t catch it. The two of them exchanged these terrible looks. I thought for a moment about what to do. I had to get up and fight back, but I had to help Sylvia up, too. In a moment I decided on neither. Instead I just turned to her and grabbed her face and jammed my tongue into her mouth. I had no idea what the hell I was doing and neither did she, but she reciprocated and as we began to make out. I was having a hard time really enjoying it at first because I was waiting to feel Jose’s foot slam my head. But it didn’t.
Instead, the strangest thing happened. We kissed harder and harder and then she rolled over onto me and I leaned back and we just had this great kiss that lasted nearly a minute. When I opened my eyes and saw Jose, still standing over us, socking his fists and screaming, “SYLVIA!!”
She didn’t turn to look at him and didn’t even let up kissing me. God, she had these wonderful lips.
“Yack!” Jose screamed, taking a step towards us. “I fucking keel you!”
Immediately a few guys in the crowd grabbed him and held him back and then two bouncers showed up and began to drag him out as he swung his fists and cursed at me.
After another minute I helped Sylvia up and her friends, who’d just now realized what had happened, came up to her and held her and asked if she was all right.
We returned to the table and I ordered a whiskey and water and Sylvia said she’d go for anther Bacardi and Coke. There was a pleasant silence for a few minutes before everyone began asking questions about the whole ordeal which Sylvia shrugged off like it wasn’t that big of a deal. She really could play it cool.
I was wondering if she would bring up the fact that Jose had yelled my name, and therefore obviously knew me, but she never did. We just drank our drinks and left that bar and after giving her a ride home and arranging to go on a date the following Tuesday, I said to her, “I can’t wait.”
My face hurt a bit but it didn’t bother me much that Jose had decked me. Maybe it was deserved. Besides, that was reason enough to not show up at work on Monday, or Tuesday, or ever again for that painting job.