Banana Peels and Toothpaste

Josh also told me that he thought he was gonna die the day that I sent him off with a joint of dried banana peels soaked in toothpaste. I told him that it was too harsh to hold in like weed, so he should smoke it as if it were a cigarette. This anecdote is only funny in retrospect, however, because it wasn’t meant as a trick. Money was always in short supply and I had always heard (wrongly) that dried banana peels would get you high.

 

The night before, I ate as many of my mom’s bananas as I could and dried the peels overnight in the oven. The dried peels were so hard that I had to use a knife to cut them into small strips before I could roll them in Joint papers. The peels were hard to get to keep lit and when they were lit they would curl out in a black and red end ripping the end of the paper as sad strands of smoke rose from the diffuse cherry (if you could call it that) making it look like a cigarette load had just blown off the end of your joint. The smoke you sucked out the end tasted bad and burned your throat badly. And to make matters worse, it would not get you high in the slightest. But I had made up a bunch of these bad boys and Josh and his buddy Javier had come over asking me if I had any weed.

 

I told them that all I had were these shitty banana peel joints, but I did know of a trick that actually had worked for me. One night recently when I had been hanging out with my other buddy Josh, we had stopped by Danny’s house and asked him if we could use some toothpaste. This was a gamble because we weren’t sure if Danny or any of the meth smoking adults he lived with even had toothpaste. Lord knows they never used it. But the toothpaste was a sure bet, because this Josh was a little older and he learned about smoking toothpaste when he spent a short stint in rehab. Danny came back out of his house with an unused tube of no name toothpaste. Josh squeezed it out across one side of a Marlboro cigarette making it look like making it look like a long white toothbrush ready for your nightly hygiene rituals. We sent Danny back in with the toothpaste and walked across the street to the dark of the schoolyard hoping that Danny wouldn’t see where we had gone and wouldn’t follow.

 

That toothpaste on that Marlboro had gotten me high as fuck even if I felt like I was going to puke my guts out. So for young Josh and Javier I went to my medicine cabinet and pulled out the Crest Gel and squeezed it across the banana peel joint. It wasn’t the same type of toothpaste but I figured it would work for them.

The Erector Set

My buddy, Josh tells me that I am an asshole. He is wrong. I just like to make jokes. At others’ expense. But he is still wrong.

 

He reminded me of the time that I had gone with him to Jimbo’s house with him. Jimbo had gotten permission from his parents to stay the night at Josh’s house, and we were stopping by to get his things. Jimbo wanted to take his Erector Set with him to Josh’s house, but his parents were strict with his toys (At least the ones they spent money on). So Jimbo scratched out a note on a piece of paper and stuck it onto the fridge with a cheap magnet (Probably a picture of a cat dangling from a rope with a caption saying hang in there).

 

He had written: Mom, I have my Erector set at Josh’s house. His handwriting looked a lot like mine, and Jimbo and Josh had gone into his bedroom to pack his clothes. So I decided to change what he had written, just a little bit. I flipped the paper over to the other side and wrote, trying my best to copy his hand: Mom, I have my erection set in Josh’s mouth.

 

I figured his mom would read it, be somewhat confused, flip the paper over, and read what he had really written. She would understand that it was a joke and that would be that. I know that Jimbo and Josh were such goody buddies that they already seemed gay, but I did not expect she would take this note as an official coming out letter. I was just saying that they were sucking each other’s dicks. There is a difference.

 

This joke would have been funny enough if this were the last I had ever heard of it, but I almost died laughing when Josh told me about Jimbo’s mom showing up at his front door with the note flapping in her hand. Josh learned the definition of “erection” with Jimbo’s mother holding her hands apart saying: A big dick. An erection is a big dick.

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…”

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.

A Slightly Less Dangerous Game

the kid

“Are you sure your parents won’t mind?” Timmy fidgeted with the six pack of beer that was warming up in his hands.

The kid said, “Those dicks don’t care what I do.”

“Fine then, I don’t care what they think either.” Timmy thrust out his chest and walked through the front door. He kicked through the clutter and adjusted his weight to crush the few things he did step on.

The kid said, “Hey don’t step on that.” He grabbed the old bag of tobacco off the floor. Off to the right was the old couch, he grabbed a Low-Rider magazine from between the couch cushions and took a seat. He spread out a long line of dry shake, removed two papers and began to roll. The kid said, “Come on give me one of those. And pop one for yourself. Don’t just stand there like a pussy.”

Timmy removed one beer from the plastic ring. He threw the other five on the couch. “I ain’t no pussy.” He popped the top on the beer. He tried to drain the beer in one go, but he choked down two bitter swallows before the bubbles burned his throat. “This is good.”

“Here take this.” The kid held out a lit rollie in one hand while he held the other between his lips. He took a good drag then took a sip from his beer.

“There ain’t much better than a smoke and a beer. I tell you what.” Timmy took a drag. The slightly stale smoke seemed to bring sweet relief to the burning in his throat. “You sure can roll one hell of a smoke.” The odd rollies that his friends had given him and the occasional joint were oblong, uneven doglegs. The thing was pristine like it came straight from the factory, but the kid was a master.

Timmy had seen the kid around before, but until today, he would have nothing to do with him. The kid looked dirty, and his hair was shaggy. He was stupid and he never bathed. But the kid didn’t smell bad. His clothes were faded hand me downs, but they were clean. He lived further back in the woods, but the trailer wasn’t as bad as everyone thought. The kid was cool.

The kid said, “I got an idea.” He walked down the narrow hall and disappeared into his room for a second. He came out with an air rifle and tube full of pellets.

They went onto the makeshift porch and shoot at empty bottles that lay along the tree line. One would drink while the other took aim at the rusty old car half covered in brush or the random small animal unlucky enough to be caught in range. The kid took a beer for himself and handed the last one to Timmy. “I bet I could finish mine before you finish yours.”

“Hell no you can’t.” Timmy was far beyond such concerns as bad taste or esophageal irritation. Timmy and the kid popped open their beers and smashed them together.

“Cheers,” they both said.

Timmy got about half of his beer down before he had to stop to take a breath. But the kid was still working on his. After catching his breath, Timmy began to guzzle with increased intensity. He let some of the beer spill out of the corners of his mouth and drip off his chin.

“I won,” Timmy said.

The kid said, “You cheated you got half of it on your shirt.” But by the time they had both finished their beers, Timmy no longer cared who won the race.

They stumbled around stupidly through the brush to the back of the trailer. Timmy leveled the air rifle as best he could and shot a hole through the bedroom window.

“What the hell is wrong with you? You little asshole, my uncle is going to kill me.”

Timmy pushed the kid away by the top of his head. “Now, look whose being a pussy. Where is all the big talk now?”

“No, no, I ain’t no pussy.” The Kid picked up a rock and threw. Timmy flinched and stuttered out a word or two in self-defense. But the rock went whizzing passed his head and shattered the glass behind him. Timmy let the air rifle slip from his fingers. The kid pitched another rock then another. He did not stop until all of the windows were smashed out.

In the time it took him to walk back around from the front of the trailer something about him had changed. He walked with a measured even pace. He seemed contented, even at peace. He was holding something in his hand. “Look. I found a paint ball mask. Have you ever played this game?” He tossed the mask to Timmy.

The old mask had been faded from the weather, but Timmy saw the face that someone had taken the time to hand paint on the black mask. It was the shape of a skull but it seemed to resemble a retarded ape. But it was an ape with five long sharp fangs and no bottom jaw. Timmy tried to fit the mask over his head. The mask was set too small to fit over his head, so he began to worry at the straps. “Yeah. You got a couple of paintball guns? Let’s play.”

“Then run.”

“What?” Timmy looked up to see the kid pointing the pellet rifle at his chest. The kid pulled the trigger. “Ouch.” Timmy threw the paintball mask at the kid. The kid shot again. “You asshole, that hurt.” The kid raised the pellet rifle and stared down the sights.

“Run, or I will shoot out your eye.”

Timmy made his best menacing grunt and reached out to snatch the rifle barrel. The kid fired. Timmy felt a singing sting of pain in his cheek and a tickling trickle on his ear. He turned to run.

The kid said, “Stand still you asshole.” He fired another shot. This time Timmy was running full bore, and he barely felt the sting in the small of his back. Timmy was running wildly in the direction that he thought was the road. And the kid was trailing behind shooting and laughing.

Relationship Insights

cheap

Late Nights

Cheap whisky and a bottle of Seven-Up. A table full of unfolded laundry, grocery items still in the bag, socks, underwear, and a half used loaf of bread. A spot has been cleared, or rather, the mess has been pushed aside. Just enough room for a laptop and a tall drink. She bid me come to bed. We did not sleep.

Sleepless Mornings

When he did not come home last night, I scrubbed the thing until I couldn’t keep my eyes open. When he clambered his way into bed reeking of booze and other things, I mumbled something and turned over pretending I hadn’t woken. I listened to his drunken snore for at least an hour before I gave up on getting back to sleep.

I spent the better part of the morning staring at the stove. There was a smudge on the otherwise white enamel. I wanted to play the wife to cook him the meal that would keep him at home. But I couldn’t. I just stared at the smudge. When he woke, he decided that we’d go out.

I sat staring at him through the raising steam of our coffees. I was held at bay by the outline of a single red lip on the inside of my cup and the overworked stare of our waitress. My husband was trying to talk some sense into her. She didn’t want to give me a clean cup and claimed that I left the print. I hadn’t even the time to take a sip, and it wasn’t even my shade.

The Hangover

I woke up to take a piss. My head was pounding from the better part of a fifth, and there she was with her accusative stare. She, who couldn’t be bothered to attend to her wifely duties. She, who couldn’t even be bothered to cook breakfast, let alone brew a pot of coffee. She would dare to accuse me. If we are having this argument, I am at least going to get fed first.

Morning Drive Time

wheel

The van is silver, a Town and Country. The windows tinted keeping out the stares of others. Inside the seats are soft plush but somewhat faded by the sun. The back seats are cluttered, a car seat behind the driver’s. The floor, scattered with cookie crumbles, and an orange sippy cup.

I sit behind the wheel. The seat is hard but comfortably fitted to my rear. The steering wheel is rubbed smooth where my thumbs rest. The new key takes a few jiggles to turn in the ignition. But the engine starts strong. I let off the break, and the tires crunch against the pavement. The air-conditioned, stuck on full blast, blows musty and humid. I open the windows.

The odometer nears 200,000 miles, but the out of date safety sticker, from the previous owner, still sticks to the window. The power steering hums, and I pull out of the parking spot. There is the slightest squeak from the axels while things warm up. The smell clears, and I roll up the windows. But it sure drives well.