Wednesday, December 24, 2008


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


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


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,

Sunday, December 21, 2008


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


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


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


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


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


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


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?”


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


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.”


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


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


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


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


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.”


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!”


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.
“what?!” I keyed in, laughing,
“who the hell did she think she was
making those kinds of wild demands?”


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.”


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