"Of all the ghosts, the ghosts of our old loves are the worst." - Arthur Conan Doyle, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
I swear I write novels in my sleep. I wake up and the lines are floating off into the air. One after the other they go, dissipating as they touch the daylight that breaks in between the cracked slats of the tattered blinds. Sometimes they mean nothing; sometimes they mean everything. Rarely do I write them down. I'm not so sure I trust those words that come where others have dreams, visions. They seem part of a disingenuous chicanery aimed at something I can't put my finger on.
This morning the words were there. Tons of them. I kept waiting on the sun to get rid of them. No dice. I took the pen and paper from the nightstand and started to write them down. As I did, a strange thing happened - I realized I had actually dreamed. One of those dreams that everybody else has - the movie-in-your-sleep kind. As I jotted the words down, it created a trail that pieced everything back together. It led to the woman, of course. Where else would it go? I didn't know whether to feel elated or violated.
I should've gotten up then and there, walked the dog, took a shower, anything to shake it off. Instead I grabbed onto the words and followed them back down that cloudy hole. She was there in front of me, standing in a corridor. Little by little, it all came back. It was a house, familiar yet foreign It was as if I'd walked its halls a million times but still didn't know where they led. She was dressed in white, a lighter shade than that of the walls. She walked backwards, keeping eye contact with me as I followed her through the veins and arteries of this place: the rooms, the stairs, the meandering maze of this dreamscape. She had the same look in her eyes that I could never figure out in real life. The one that asked to be caught and begged to be left alone. And just like in real life, I didn't dare latch on to her for the fear I might not let go.
Soon we came to a foyer and door. Dark wood, ancient and oiled. She put her hand on the doorknob and then was gone. One more thing to hate about dreams, the way you have to accept the absurdities as the hard truths of the moment, all because the illusion seems so fucking real. I twisted the cold metal of the knob and threw the door open. The city, once so vibrant and bustling, was gray and silent. Dead. No sounds other than the cold wind. Barren trees, skies that matched the sidewalks in color, everything damp and musty around the edges. Everything smelled like snow and distant fire. It didn't take Freud's Interpretation of Dreams to figure out the metaphor.
I cut it off there. I scrambled out of the rabbit hole as fast as I could. I put on my sneakers and ratty shorts and pushed down the stairs and out into the familiar, harsh heat of my reality. I tried to shut out all thoughts, as I picked up the pace and started running. My feet hitting the pavement was painful and pleasant. The burning in my chest, the natural burning, was exquisite. Fuck the emblematic burning of being heart stung. Replace it with something real. Again, the symbolism in the act of physically running was not lost on me. Still, no matter that the sweat rushed down into my eyes, stinging them sweetly and partially blinding me, I was unable to shake the visage of the woman. Goddamn it all.
Through the years, I had tended to think only of love I'd squandered on people. Family and lovers and and wives that simply didn't care. I suppose this is the curse of being the center of your universe. The previous year had spread out like a time warp, however, seeming to have lasted much longer than usual. I could lay it out like a map, unfurl it, scrutinize it. It was here that I saw the love that had been squandered on me. Every touch I'd shrugged off, every intimacy betrayed, every tear cried while I sat in the airport lounge, quaffing beer, sipping whiskey, and pretending I didn't know the heartache my carelessness imbued. No excuses to be made, no quarter expected. It had all always been so easy to shrug off, but now the words wouldn't let me. Fucking Jacob Marley's ghost, showing me the chains.
Physically wiped out, I trudged back up the stairs. I sat down at my desk and did what I always do; I wrote her a letter. Handwritten scribbling, manic, frenzied, coming up from the depths. I sealed it in a crisp white envelope, addressed it, and walked over to the sink. It was there that I set it alight and watched it burn...
Tuesday, March 18, 2014
The following is the opening paragraph for a chapbook by me and Jamie Vayda that will be available exclusively at the 2014 MoCCA Arts Festival in New York (April 5th and 6th). Come see us and pick up a copy to read the rest.
The rats were bad that year. You could sit on the slab of concrete that passed as a back porch and watch them come up from the creek banks and run through the grass along the back end of the yard. Watching those rats run made me think of a movie I had seen on our old black and white TV set. In this film, hundreds of guys playing at being soldiers were running out of boats and storming the beaches of a Normandy that was probably actually somewhere in California. As fake as the movie might have been, these rats were very real. They came up the gully in droves and with a reckless determination that those Hollywood G.I.s could never have hoped to capture. My cousin said they were as big as cats. Considering that I was six and she was eight, they probably seemed that way at the time. You have the warped vision of a Texan at that age, wherein everything seems much bigger and more grandiose than it actually is...
Tuesday, March 11, 2014
Eleven words were all it took for me to know what was going on: “I need you to call me when you get a minute.”
I had just stepped into the break room to grab my lunch, when he left the message. A co-worker standing at the sink must’ve seen the odd look on my face.
“What’s up? Everything o.k.?” she queried, a look of concern spreading across her brow.
“It’s my old man. I reckon he’s dying. Probably cancer or something.”
“Oh shit,” she said, hand flying to her mouth and then quickly moving down to make the sign of the cross - something that caught me off guard as being at once absurd and oddly touching. “What does it say?”
I showed her the message. The look of concern transformed into one of confusion peppered with the seedlings of distrust. Was I fucking with her? Was I fucking nuts? “How do you figure?” she asked in that stilted manner and detached-yet-pleasant tone of voice that is usually reserved for talking lunatics out of doing something they ought not to. Ya know, like killing somebody. You don’t really want to hurt anyone, do you?
“Trust me. I’ve known the man forty-one years. I came outta his nut sack. He’s dying.”
I turned around and walked out the door, leaving her standing there still trying to figure out what to say next.
I got to my room and locked the door behind me. I hit the call back button.
“What’re you a’ doin’?” came the old man’s voice from across the miles. I don’t think we’ve ever had a phone conversation that didn’t start with one of us saying “What’re you a’ doin’?” It’s a habit I picked up from him over the years, only in these days of cell phones and caller ID and all that shit, he’s always able to beat me to the punch, even when I’m calling him.
“Got your message. Figured I better call you back.”
“Well, shit. I figured you was still at work.”
“I am. I’m on lunch. What’s up?”
The old man knew I’d call him back no matter where I was or what was going on. I coulda been landing on the moon or been balls deep in Miss America and there was no way in hell I wouldn’t stop what I was doing and call him. He sent up the distress signal. He’d used the word “need.”
You see, that’s one word that doesn’t pass between men in our family. We don’t need anything. We don’t want anything. We don’t ask for any fucking thing. Least ways, not from each other. It’s a sign of a weakness, a sign of laziness, and a sign of not having any self-respect. You may do that shit with other people and have to look at yourself in the mirror at night, but you don’t do it with family. Of course, your goddamned ear better be to the track and spotting the vibrations for when somebody is in need of something. In that case, you just show up and throw your back into it. No “thank you.” No “you’re welcome.” Just some things getting done. If you pull the trigger on that flare labeled “need,” that means there’s some serious shit going down. After all, everybody knows you’d rather stand there with your head on fire and your ass about to catch than to toss that out in front of god and everybody.
“Well, I just wanted you to know that the doctor says I got leukemia and they’re gonna have to start the chemo pretty soon.”
“Yep. I reckon it is. I just thought you ought to know ‘fore I start the treatment and all that horseshit. Ain’t nothin’ to worry about. I done talked to him. It’ll all be fine.”
I heard something else in the old man’s voice right then. Something just as foreign as him using the word “need.” Within a span of fifteen minutes, he’d done two things I’d never ever known him to do before: he’d professed to needing something from someone – even if it was something so simple as a phone call - and he’d lied to me. Or maybe he was lying to himself. I’m still trying to figure that one out. Either way, that lie about everything all being fine must’ve cut him as deep in the guts to say as it did for me to hear. I’ve called him an asshole, a son-of-a-bitch, and ten shades of motherfucker over the years, but I’d yank my own tongue out before ever calling him a liar. The other terms might be fairly debated - “liar” can not. It has simply never been in his makeup. In that moment I knew shit was pretty bad. I also knew that things most certainly were not going to be fine.
A great lover of women, he immediately changed the subject to who I was seeing, who he was seeing, and damn ain’t they all so wonderful. I didn’t press it. I conceded. I figured the old man had already lost way too many battles within the span of this day, and fuck me if I was gonna chip away at a dignity that he already felt was shattered.
We hung up as the bell rang for me to get my ass back to work. I didn’t, though. Fuck it. I went out, got in my truck, and cruised down the block to the local filling station. I went in and got a chocolate milk and a Zero candy bar. Kinda surprised to see they had ‘em both, but glad as hell that they did. You know, the old man used to take me for rides in his rig and when we’d dock it at the terminal, he’d take me into the break room and buy me a chocolate milk and a Zero candy bar. Every time.
I’d sit there with him and his buddies, while they’d shoot the shit and carry on about all kinds of nonsense, dragging me into the conversation where they could. I can still smell that break room. Stale coffee, body odor, grease and oil. I can feel the burn of the ice cold chocolate milk all the way down my throat and into my gut. I can feel the sugar from the candy bar fire up the holes in my teeth. I can see all the men who have long since become ghosts. Cancer, car wrecks, old age. I can feel the old man’s hand squeeze my neck as we head out into the sunlight and hop into his truck for the ride home. I can feel a tear stinging my eye ‘cause I’m pretty sure who the next ghost is going to be.
I wanna tell him I need him to stick around a while.
But the words just won’t come.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
As my marriage crumbled into the final stages of divorce, I found myself on the cusp of forty, unemployed, and trying to finish a college degree that I’d already shit out on some twenty years before. I was occupying the spare bedroom of the house that I’d dumped my life savings into, with all my shit stacked up around me like a semi-transient teenager. I was back in college and back to living like a cash-strapped twenty-year old again, subsisting on Top Ramen and Blue Ribbon Beer. Not the best place to be in, psychologically speaking.
All my friends, however, thought I’d been handed a divine opportunity. Here I was surrounded by “college girls” day-in and day-out. Why wasn’t I taking advantage of it? Hell, my wife had been a “college girl” when we met and that hadn’t worked out worth a tinker’s damn – there’s one good fucking reason. But let’s be real for a minute. I’m not blind, nor am I a monk, and in close quarters nature will take its course. Or maybe it’s just the fact that some dogs are either too old or too goddamned dumb to learn new tricks. At any rate, once the word of my split from my wife got around, I noticed a fair amount of the girls were being way more friendly than they had been previously. I was suddenly being asked out for drinks after class or out to dinner on the weekends. Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth, let alone a doe-eyed young lady with her parents’ platinum Amex card? Who knows why I was suddenly the toast of the proverbial town? Who cares? My ego wasn’t up to closely scrutinizing the daddy issues or mental imbalances that were making me appealing.
After a handful of brief flings, I started seeing this one girl every Friday after classes were over. We’d go over to her apartment, have some beers, shuck our britches, and have some fun. She had red hair, some meat on her bones, and a nice bush. She found my shitty tattoos appealing, liked my drawl, and told me in no uncertain terms that she just wanted to, and I quote here, “get fucked by somebody who knew what they were doing for once.” I could sympathize. You see, the sad truth that most of my friends didn’t believe was that the only thing more boring than trying to carry on a conversation of any substance with one of these mythic “college girls” was actually fucking one of them. You can chalk it up to any number of things: lack of experience, the fact that most of them were used to going to bed with drunken college pricks that still thought the apex of sexual accomplishment was sticking it in and watching it come back out in one piece, or the way that their parents had told them that they were golden-child-special so long that they had come to actually believe it. No matter the reason, it did nothing to curtail the predominant boring factor. This young lady was the exception to that rule. As the old men back home might say, she was a real go-getter. Hell, some days I felt like I was Rocky in one of them getting-his-ass-in-shape-for-the-ring montages. You know, if Rocky had a pot belly and horrific facial hair.
Life was good for a month or two there. There’s a dark cloud under every silver lining, though, and this one soon became evident. You see, this young lady’s “thing” was that she liked to put records on when we balled. Nothing wrong with that on the surface, so maybe I should clarify and say that she liked to put a record on: fucking Escape by Journey (or should I say E5C4P3?). Yes, you read that right. She had a vinyl copy of this penultimate moment in 80s shit rock that she’d drop the needle on every time she started taking her clothes off. The first couple of times, it was easy to overlook. By the third time, not so much. I didn’t like the goddamned thing when it came out and my uncle blasted it incessantly over the tape deck in his Camaro; three decades had done nothing to change my mind.
I did my best to ignore the opening track of “Don’t Stop Believin’,” which wasn’t such a difficult task. After all, here I am watching a beautiful young woman take her clothes off and hop into bed with god’s own fire in her eyes. I would have totally preferred “Hungry Like The Wolf,” but it’s still fairly easy to get to your happy place under those circumstances. The second tune was so bland and unmemorable that it was no more than muzak in the background, but that third song? Sweet fucking baby jesus on a pack mule. If you can keep a boner through “Who’s Cryin’ Now” under any circumstances, you are a far better man than I.
I soon fell into the routine of getting my head between her legs by the time that odious lament to love gone bad came on. I’d grab her thighs and pull ‘em as close to my ears as I could possibly get ‘em. The soft, meaty flesh worked wonders as earmuffs, and helped to drown out the sound of Steve Perry’s over-dramatic warbling. In hindsight, this was probably the wrong tack to take under the circumstances. She was probably thinking, “Goddamn. When that tune comes on, this motherfucker goes to town like a pig at a slop trough.” Me? I’m thinking I got about fifteen minutes ‘til this side of the album ends, at which point we’d start to fucking in earnest so there’s no chance to flip the record over. It was a good plan, and it mostly worked for a while.
Until that one day. I came up for air to make sure the record was done, just in time to hear the needle lift up off the wax. I whispered a silent thank you to a god I didn’t believe in and started inching my way up her torso. Belly, breasts, mouth…and then right at the point where Tab A was about to find its home in Slot B, she said. “Wait a minute!” and pushed me off of her. With a big smile, she flipped the record over and laid the needle back down in the groove.
“STOP! NO! Please. Take. It. Off. NOW!” It all came blurting out. Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
She cut her eyes at me and smiled. “I guess we do listen to this a lot. Am I turning you off to Journey?” she said in a lighthearted, playful manner.
“No. I’ve never fucking been turned ON to Journey. So, no, you’re not turning me off to JOURNEY; you’re turning me off to FUCKING!” I nearly screamed. The look on her face said it all. Call it one of my natural faults, but I’m no stranger to making women cry when we have our clothes off. I’m a master of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. If you don’t believe me, just ask the lovely lady that I made a passing joke (yeah, I’m the jackoff that makes passing jokes during sex – wocka, wocka, wocka) about her daddy fucking her when she was little, only to find out in a rather startling manner that she had indeed been molested by her father as a child. Go me.
Instead of crying, like a true trooper, she regained composure quickly. She smiled and said, “Geez. That’s O.K. Let’s find something else.” She pulled out a record, plopped it on, and triggered the arm mechanism. She crawled back in bed, nuzzling and kissing and, well, hungry like the wolf. It was all very nice and fine, but what was coming out of the speakers was tickling the back of my brain. What the fuck was this? I knew it from somewhere. Fucking forget it, man. At least it’s not Journey. Just fucking forget it. C’mon, now.
Sometimes I should really listen to the inner me. Just as she mounted my cock, the second song came on. Fuck. No way. “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner. REALLY? REALLY? No boner can survive that. None. Even the boner that survives “Who’s Cryin’ Now” and pulls the sword out of the proverbial fucking stone will shrivel and die upon hearing that song. I kissed her cheek, untangled myself from her soft and supple nakedness, and pulled on my Levi’s. I slipped my boots on and headed for the door. I haven’t seen her since.
Why couldn’t it have been Billy Idol? Or even .38 Special?
Sometimes I just can’t help myself.
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
LOUD #1 is available for pre-order now. Street date is first week of October (or thereabouts). Jamie Vayda did the artwork. The first issue has stories by me, Erika Lane, Sonny Joe Harlan, and Frankie Nowhere.
The Motorhead story we did got picked up for a different anthology, but this will have the story about my uncle that I posted a teaser for here this week. Here's a sample page:
You can pre-order right now, right here: Bird Cage Bottom Books. Thank you'ns. Catch you on the flip.
Saturday, September 21, 2013
The following is a teaser for the comic me and Jamie Vayda are doing for Loud #1, due out in October. I think it's the best piece of writing I've ever done, and I can't wait to see what Jamie does with it graphically. You wanna hear the REAL story about the wooden leg? Buy the comic. It's worth every red cent.
I 've heard it said that it takes a great amount of determination and intestinal fortitude to be a full-time alcoholic. My Uncle Johnny must have had them both in spades because if they'd handed out world championship belts or gold-plated cans of Red, White & Blue on one of those skyscraper-sized trophies, he would have had a room full of them. As it was, all he had was a budding case of cirrhosis, a garage floor full of empties, and one more bad attitude.
Now my dad always told me to never talk bad about family, and my mom constantly told me to always tell the truth - talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place. It's no wonder most folks thought I was a deaf-mute when I was a kid. But Uncle Johnny's been in the ground for a good decade, so I reckon the statute of limitations has long since expired. Besides that, I'm not here to damn him, I'm here to celebrate him, or at least provide a decent combination of the two. After all, that's all any of us are deserving of in the end.
To be quite honest, Uncle Johnny scared the hell out of me when I was a kid. I've come to learn that no matter your station in life in regards to money, power, or physical and mental prowess, there are some men that it pays to be afraid of. My uncle was one of those men. As my father so eloquently put it, "He was already fucked in the head a little when the Army got a hold of him." I guess two tours in Southeast Asia turned that little into a lot.
Speaking of Southeast Asia, that's how most folks assumed Johnny got the wooden leg. I never heard him do too much to dissuade folks from that particular notion, if that's what they were predisposed to believe. Hell, that's what I thought until I was almost thirty years old...
(names have been changed to protect the not so innocent)