2009 Poem: I’m Slappin’ Yo’ Mama

I’m slappin’ yo’ mama

Running in circles and jumpin’ up and down

I’m slappin’ yo’ mama

Somewhere, nowhere, and everywhere around

I’m slappin’ yo’ mama

Speaking faster at a furious pace

Acting stupidly as I stare into space

I speak so absurdly, my words make no sense

I’m slappin’ yo’ mama

That’s my recompense

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July Poem 31

A beautifully decorated children’s

Choir of storm arose.

We have been full

Of them, felt curtains rooted down

In the communicating corner.

The cold I thought,

Was masquerading as grapefruit.

Many trays of lime juice and salt

People see in his unfinished work were

Directed with an upturned plastic cup.

2010 Personal Narrative Essay: Anchors Aweigh

The two days after Christmas had been consumed with busywork and travel. The first day, I filled out paperwork at the Los Angeles, Military Entrance Processing Station. The next day, I flew from Los Angeles, California to Chicago, Illinois. Although I was stressed and tired, I was happy to be on my own for the first time. Then I arrived at the Naval Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, Illinois. It was December 27, 1995 at 11:00 pm, and the brainwashing had begun.

Luggage in hand, the other new arrivals and I were filed into a small room with a row of desks and a chalkboard on the wall, and we waited. Periodically a man in a sharply creased, blue military uniform popped his head into the room and yelled for us to stay awake and shut up. After about an hour and a half, another man, dressed in a khaki uniform and a funny hat, came into the room with an enormous stack of paperwork and pens. He stated his name and rank, passed out large stacks of paperwork and a pen to each of us, and ordered us to sign each sheet. “You will complete this task before you can go to sleep,” he bellowed.

Upon completion of the paperwork, we were herded through labyrinths of halls and rooms. Each room had its own function; yet, all were designed to humiliate and degrade. We reached room one; we were given a total of two minutes for thirty of us to call home. However, there were only six payphones. We reached room two; our luggage and the clothes we were wearing were packed up and sent back to our families, and we stood in the middle of the room naked. Then, two clerks passed out our new clothes as we stood there embarrassed and cold, and we were ordered to get dressed. We reached room three; a barber, angry and tired, butchered our hair. He used quick strokes with dull clippers and ripped out more hair than he cut. We reached room four; it was a cavernous room with multiple stations set up to poke and prod. I received a series of injections culminating in a shot of penicillin in my left buttock that left me limping for days. Finally, we were sent outside.

In the dark and cold of a Chicago winter night we walked single file through the snow; we wore only sweat suits and jogging shoes. The horizon began to lighten as we arrived at our new barracks to sleep. First thing in the morning, I awakened to the sound of a grown man yelling obscenities and beating on a trashcan lid. The sun was just peeking into the sky. I felt like I had slept only three or four minutes and probably had.

For the next two months, I marched. I marched until my feet were blistered. I marched until the blisters on my feet popped. I marched until the popped blisters on my feet began to bleed. I marched until the popped and bleeding blisters on my feet began to ooze a stinking, green puss that glued my socks to my feet. I marched until the wounds on my feet healed, and the throbbing dimmed into a total lack of feeling.

I woke up when I was told. I ate when I was told. I exercised when I was told, and I did not stop until I was told. I no longer cared why I was told to do something; the only thing that mattered was that precise moment, and when that moment was over I did not think of it again. I was a cocked and loaded weapon; if a superior pulled my trigger, I would do as I was ordered without thought and without conscience. It took me a lot of time and distance from boot camp to fully deprogram myself of the military’s mind control, but I learned a valuable lesson. Self-control and individual thought is an illusion; therefore, to make sure I am dictating my own actions and not having them dictated for me, I question every action before I take it.

2012 Short Fiction: You’re the Boss

A man was pushed through the doorway; he was hunched and whimpering like a beaten dog. His left eye was swollen shut, and his mangled and protruding lower lip was reddened by a mix of blood and saliva. The smell of stale beer and dried urine followed him into the small office in the back room of the pool hall. He was guided in by a large man who had two big handfuls of the back of his blood-spattered jacket.

The dimly lit room was yellowed from years of cigarette smoke, and the desk was adorned with a large overfull ashtray. The grizzled old man behind the desk stubbed out his last butt and lit another. He still held the match to the end of the cigarette when he spoke.  “Tony, did you do this to him?” His words were a soft growl.

With a puzzled look on his face the large man began sheepishly, “Boss, you…”

“Shut up!” The force of the old man’s words sent a cloud of smoke across the room, and the obscenities that followed shook the room like artillery fire. Yet, the cigarette never moved from the corner of his mouth.

The old man regained his composure and faced the bloodied man. “Johnny, you are family, and I assure you that this was a terrible mix-up.” The blood drained from Tony’s face, and his skin matched the pale yellowed color of the wall like a chameleon trying to hide from a predator.

Johnny was emboldened by the mention of his name and his face became a grotesque caricature as he bared his cracked and bloody teeth in an attempted smile. His shoulders straightened as his lungs filled with air, and his mind swirled as he tried to come up with the perfect words to strike fear into the heart of the man who just beat him senseless.

The old man’s years loansharking had imparted a certain amount of understanding of the impulses of desperate people and he intervened. “Don’t say anything that you are going to regret, Johnny. Tony, here, was just doing what he does to all the deadbeats that refuse to repay their debts. He is a little thick in the head. Had he realized that you were married to my niece, I’m sure he would have treated you with much better care.” The old man flicked the growing ashes off the end of his cigarette into the ashtray and shot a withering glance at Tony. Tony knew that now is a great time to stay quiet and listen. “In fact,” the old man returned the cigarette to the right corner of his mouth and continued. ”I can’t help but feel responsible for this, so I’ll tell you what. I am going to forgive your debt. And to tell you just how sorry he is for what he’s done, Tony is going to give you a little something too.”

“Pull out your cash,” the old man commanded. Tony reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a wad of twenties. “What is that four, five hundred bucks? Johnny, that money is yours.” The old man’s breath caused the long ash to fall from the cigarette in his mouth. The ash crumbled upon impact. The old man slowly wiped at the ash and left a long grey smudge on his sweat-stained shirt. “If you need more money to get your teeth fixed, don’t hesitate to ask. Now, go wash up and go home. And if anybody asks, you tell them you fell down the stairs. I don’t need my niece being upset at me. Understand?”

Johnny nodded as he pocketed the money. “I understand, Mr. Contadino,” he said, and he shuffled out the door toward the restroom at the end of the hall.

“Lock the door and sit down,” the old man said to Tony. The old man’s cigarette now threatened to singe his lips.

“Did I screw up, Boss?”

The old man smashed out the butt and retrieved two more from the pack in his shirt pocket. He handed one to Tony, lit it for him, and then lit the one for himself. “Relax. You did just what I wanted.” He produced a bottle of Scotch and two glasses from the desk drawer. “Remember when I said I was going to teach you how to run this business yourself?”

“Yea, Boss.”

“Well,” the old man drawled, “consider this lesson one…”

2011 Poetry: The Spiders Web

 The wind blows briskly by

Garbage fills the sky

The rotting fish stench makes me cry

The CPU fans soft buzz becomes a roar

Acts of which we do abhor

The rotting fish stench makes me cry

 

The rotting fish stench makes me cry

Sticky teardrops from my single eye

Cleaning up is now the chore

Rotting fish stench is such a bore

2012 Short Fiction: The Maharaja

 

She smelled of tone wood and instrument polish, but to me the smell was seraphim. She was beautiful, slick, and clean. She sang out uncertain at first; gradually, she came up to pitch. She repeated this warm-up exercise moving from low to high. First, she sang an E, then an A, and a D; next, she sang a G, then a B, and another E. Now that her throat was clear, she was ready to perform. To me, her song was ancient and sacred. It was the sound of an Angle’s harp ringing up to heaven. I played accompaniment with a purpose that was not my own. I felt otherworldly and possessed with the righteousness of god. I was swimming in the sound, and I knew I was in love. This was not the first time I had fallen so deeply and quickly in love, nor do I expect it to be my last. I go through this same experience every time I buy a new guitar. I fall deeply and madly in love; I take every chance I can to stroke and caress my new lover until the new guitar smell is gone. Then I will change her strings and rub her down with instrument polish. However, she will eventually take her place within my harem of guitars, and my roving eye will be on the lookout for my next love.

2012 Personal Narrative Essay: Road Rage

I anticipated an excruciating day of nausea and indigestion; I thought aloud, “That was a terrible breakfast.” My halfhearted words spoken straight at the windshield could have easily been ignored, but the bulbous man in the driver’s seat had a general need to contradict everything I said.

“I thought those hotdogs were delicious,” he replied. It was mid-morning, the second day of an interminably long trip down a Nevada back-road.  We were stopped at the lone gas station of a miniscule town wedged between an improbable lake and a mountain that shot straight up from the rock-strewn white line that signaled the westward shoulder of a meandering two lane highway.

The man to my left claimed to be Mexican, but his German name, his corpse-flesh whiteness, and his lilywhite accent did not agree. His receding hairline, swooping eyebrows, beak nose, and imperceptible neck made him look like an owl; his eyes bulged as he stared at me with mounting disgust. I despised this man nearly as much as he despised me, and I tried to remember why I was there.

I was waiting for my ride in a parking lot behind the Wal-Mart. I was excited to see the big blue truck lurching in my direction; it wheezed to a stop. Robert Gore had given me his name over the phone, and now he was pushing open the passenger door.  Stooped in the doorway, he inhaled deeply and nearly doubled his considerable girth. He grabbed my bags. “Get on board;” he said in a jovial manor, “We’ve got to make time.” His frame deflated as the gale-force words caused his lips to flap violently.

The gradual curve of the truck started at the front bumper ending in a senseless peak where the dusty white trailer began. The aerodynamic styling was obviously not functional. The interior was perfumed with the bittersweet mix of diesel fumes and human armpits. The seats were a mottled blue with large rings of amber from sweat that leached off countless rear ends. The armrests were streaked with a gloss of black grime where the oils from hundreds of bare forearms were laid to rest, but I barely noticed. My mind enthusiastically recounted the tales my cousin had woven; they were tales of excitement and adventure concerning his wanderings about our nation’s highways. My mind was brimming with possibility for adventure of my own.

Hours later, the sun drooped near the horizon, and we pulled over for the night. The truck stop was sparsely filled, and we easily backed into a spot away from the other trucks. As night turned black, the lot filled up, and I watched a lone truck weave tiredly through the lanes; it hoped to find an open spot that was not there on the three previous times around. As I watched, I wondered why Robert had been in such a hurry to leave only to sit around pointlessly at a truck stop. Later, I climbed up to the top bunk, a toddler bed but half as wide. I laid in the fetal position my head smashed against one wall and my feet imbedded into the other. The husky dwarf, Robert was lost in the expanse of a larger bed below. It was going to be tough, but I only had to sleep in this bed for one month; then, I would be out on my own.

My arm hung off one side of the bed and my leg dangled from the other when I jolted awake in the middle of the night.  My head was buzzing with confusion and alarm. I had heard a loud noise. Dismissively, I assumed it must have been the refrigerated trailer next to us; it must have started up automatically and forced my heart out through my throat. When the hum of the reefer started to sing its lullaby, I became aware of my mistake. My eyes began to water, and my nose stung; my taste buds withered from essence of decomposing walrus, and my lungs strangled. I needed air. As I opened the tiny vent, two more rounds burst forth from the rump-cannon on the lower bunk. I pressed my face against the vent and created a hermetical seal around my mouth and nose. The rancid barnyard smell, from the bull hauler two trucks away, was sweet ambrosia compared to the nerve agent released in the trapped air. Eventually, my nostrils died and sleep resumed.

Sunlight Streaked in through the vent hole as I awoke. Robert inhaled from one end and exhaled from the other, and I knew without having to look that he would not regain consciousness soon. Therefore, I trekked across the long expanse of urine-stained blacktop to the showers where I completed my morning routine. As I was walking back to the truck, I passed Robert with sleep in his eyes. He just woke up and was headed for the showers. Upon his return, I informed him of my dreadful night of flatulent terror. He was indignant. “I do not fart in my sleep,” he exclaimed; “I have never farted in my sleep.”

Before leaving the truck stop, Robert bought three of the largest bags of sunflower seeds I had ever seen. By midmorning, He had consumed half of his first bag and showed no signs of stopping. He tilted his head back and poured the seeds directly from the bag into his mouth. His cheeks bulged and his jaw ground the seeds from side to side like a cow. He chewed shell and all. The speed and efficiently with which he did this made my household garbage disposal hang its head in shame. He sucked out the juices; then, he expelled the fibrous paste into an oversized soda cup to ferment.

Three days and ten pounds of sunflower seeds later, I asked intentionally trying to anger him, “Aren’t you worried that all that salt is going to give you a heart attack?”

“How dare you,” black and brown spittle paste exploded from his mouth. “My health is my own problem.” A mixture of new and chewed sunflower seeds fell against the floorboards.

The morning dawned; we were headed down a lonely Nevada back road toward a lakeside town, and we wanted breakfast. A few hours later, we pulled into a dirt lot next to a quaint old gas station. The food inside was limited to pickled pigs feet in a filthy communal tub and shriveled, jalapeno-spiced hotdogs that rolled back and forth on a grease stained griddle.

I had no idea that I would recount these stories with great fondness. I found out the hard way: adventure is the bad, the strange, and the silly parts of life that can only be appreciated in hind sight. Great stories are ten parts misery and one part revisionist history. I no longer go in search of adventure; I can’t handle the aggravation.