I am in a room
a cigarette-holed tan sofa and cat-haired black futon are arranged against joining cream-colored walls
in a backwards L-shape
the coffee table is made from wood and glass
with a convenient little underside compartment keeping pristine horse magazines and battered New Yorkers
an empty banana yellow flower pot languishes on a small wooden table in a dirty corner
it smells like cat litter
a desk painted entirely sky blue taken from a soon-to-be shutting down local junior high
lives against the window
and underneath that the guilty litter box
a faucet somewhere can be heard dripping every 10 seconds
there are negative 2 TVs
and a fake fern in the northwest (I believe) corner of the room
making sure I don’t leave anything out
even the crumbs of the gray carpet
wheat thin debris
how else to live forever?
When I was younger, I listened to punk rock. I wasn’t the kid with the purple mohawk but I was pretty close. I wore it, I wrote it, and I spoke it. As much as you can do those things with a genre of music.
In high school, I often cordoned myself off with it. It gave me protection, comfort, purpose.
I still have a fondness for that kind of music and especially its energy.
As I get older, my taste has evolved, which is, I suppose, to be expected. I still marvel though. My young self would have snickered at what I listen to presently. I like to think I’ve aged gracefully though in the listening department. These days I am listening to all sorts of sounds, but I have a keen interest in country music of all stripes.
To give you an idea: My wife and I went to a music festival called Hardly Strictly Bluegrass in San Francisco recently, and I was very much in my element. I loved looking at all of the weathered guitars the artists brought on stage, and the music wasn’t bad too.
Lately, I have been digging Lucinda Williams. In the past, though she just never did it for me. I tried one or two times in my life.
For many years, I listened to the music of the lead singer of a glam punk band (and later a solo musician) named Jesse Malin, and he had it bad for Lucinda, and said so. So of course, I gave it my best shot, but when I put on a track like “Right In Time,” I’d find myself reaching for the skip button on my CD player. I wasn’t interested in the everyday poetry of a Lucinda song. I wanted drama, angst, and fireworks, and a healthy dose of skepticism. In short, she was boring to me: the way that all of her songs moved at the same middling pace, and the unwavering tone of her voice. You had to really listen to a song to discover what she was singing about. She has a very unfussy delivery and tone and aura that I don’t think I was ready for at the time.
But these days, that’s one of the reasons I love her. On a song like “Right in Time,” I’m not entirely sure what she’s singing about; it’s something to do with a past or a present lover, and it’s not necessarily about the couple’s swell rhythm, but it’s poetic, sunny with perhaps a glare, and kind of dirty (especially in the end). On “Something About What Happens When We Talk,” she’s slowing the tempo down, and this time she’s singing about the pleasure she gets from conversing with a particular gentleman.
Similarly, “I just Wanted to See You So Bad” is filled with the same straightfoward poetics. Every other line is “I just want to see you so bad” and very slowly as the song progresses, she paints in details. She doesn’t give us too much or too little, but just enough.
And when she wants to, she can rock out (see “Real Love,” which is Lucinda channeling the Ramones).
I no longer live in music; it’s moved more to the background of my life. I hear it in cars, and coffee shops, and sometimes I like it better that way. It’s so lovely to discover a Springsteen pearl or Lauryn Hill’s “That Thing You Do” (which is such a rad song) by accident.
I do still get the same joy from hearing it live.
The other day my wife and I were at a music festival listening to the wonderful folk singer Patty Griffin in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. We had fled the sea of humanity that had assembled to see her on the lawn, opting instead to recline against a tree somewhere a quarter of a mile away or so (I’m exaggerating but not by much). But it didn’t matter how close or how far to the stage we were — and that’s really the difference these days. I cling to music less than I once did. I’m happy to just close my eyes now, rest my head in a warm lap, and let it cast its spell.
On my way north
I stop in to a town called Wilits, CA for a burger and a shake
okay 2 shakes
the girl at the cash register
looks at me like I’m wrong in the head
when I ask her ’bout the town’s story
so I change the subject
“I’m on my way to Fort Bragg to visit my cousin
he’s got a rickety boat,” I tell her
“We’re gonna take it out
on one o’ the lakes over there
Lake Cleone, it’s called
go fishin for bass and trout…
it really is a hunk o’ junk.”
I think I’m bein nice
I ain’t cussin at her or nothin’
well not much anyway
I see across the street an old timer
pushing a wheelchair with his wife in it
rigged up behind the lady’s chair is an attached dolly like thing containing 7 or 8 plastic bags of clothes and other worldly possessions
the man has one hand on the chair
with the other hand, he’s carrying
a big fuckin’ cross
I’m talkin’ two 3 by 7 slabs of wood
fastened to each other
and finished a dark brown, real perfect, you know?
For 20 minutes I watch these 2 walkin around under the ugly sun
The man takes one break in that time
the two of them sitting in the shade
not sayin nothin’ to each other
“Who are those folks?” I say to the lady
“How should I know?” she says, like I’m bothering her
“Lemme get 2 bottles of coke,” I say, and then charge across the street, my arms high in the air.
Two minutes later, I’m marching over there where they’re sittin in the shade
I hand the man a bottle, but I notice that the woman is sleeping now
“You folks thirsty?” I ask him.
“Thank you kindly son,” the man says
“Are you a follower of Jesus Christ?”
“Well, now I aint got time for a sermon, old timer. ”
“Do you go to church?”
“Not in a while. when I was a boy my mom would take me on Sunday.”
“Now I go fishing”
“you oughta go back son, He’s waiting for you”
“I been in the penitentiary two times now. I’m not sure he wants to see me”
“he wants to see everyone.”
Just then my cousin calls on my phone
he’s tellin me to speed my ass up
or else he’s leaving without me
“Well I gotta go folks.”
“Think about what I said,” says the man.
And suddenly, I can’t help myself.
“I’m gonna come clean with you. I don’t even believe in Him anymore. I’s just being a nice guy. I figured you were thirsty and all.”
“God is with you, wherever you’re going boy,” he says. And then we’re starin’ at each other for a few seconds, neither of us sayin nothing.
Then I just “okay” him, smile and walk off, to cross the street.
I been around people like this my whole life.
Everybody thinkin their way is the way.
I’m a people person though
I talk to a lot o’ people
Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, even Buddhists
Anyone willing ta talk
I give them an ear
Some wanna show you the light
And then you gotta smile and nod a lot
and steer them clear of their belief
but it can be hard
especially when that’s all you got in this world.
Ahmed was being paid to blow leaves from the stretch of sidewalk in front of The Nugget, a large supermarket in town. In the fall, the shop’s manager hired him to do his job four times a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. What the manager didn’t know was that Ahmed, who worked in the early morning two hours before the Nugget manager arrived to open, was aiming his leafblower at the boutique art gallery and the upscale second hand clothing store across the street. Nor did he know that these shops had collectively hired Ahmed to vacate the leaves he had blown in front of their shops on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. He had a similar racket running all over town.
In Mogadishu, the thirty-six-year-old man with a neat line of a mustache and thinning black hair, had owned a rather successful cafe, but his money only went so far, and upon immigrating to America with his family of three, he found that the modest sum he had left wasn’t enough to start up a shop in his new home of Davis, California.
But Ahmed discovered that there was work to be found, one just had to know where to look. His wife’s cousin had mentioned something about going downtown to shops to see if anyone was hiring behind the counter or in the kitchen. Ahmed tried for a few days, and one day while eating a slice of pizza he met a man who worked as a leafblower worker. Ahmed thought the idea absurd. He couldn’t believe that Californians paid people to clear out the leaves in front of their businesses. Why didn’t they simply pick up a rake and clear the debris themselves. Wouldn’t that be more cost effective?
Ahmed fast learned that Americans had other people to do everything for them. When he ran his coffee shop in Somalia, he had to wear a variety of hats. He was the electrician, the plumber, and the carpenter, among other things. When the toilet water stopped flushing in the bathroom, he spent the better part of two days tending to it. During that time, his cousin Egal ran the shop.
Not only did they hire many different people, but Americans didn’t like to concern themselves with the details of these assignments. They told you what needed fixing, and you gave them an estimate and then you did the work. You didn’t get into the particulars of the issues, like say, someone flushing a tampon down the toilet. They didn’t want to know.
So when the supermarket store manager saw that the leaves were gone from her doorway come Monday when he got into work (courtesy of Ahmed), that was good enough for him. He didn’t care where the detritus went to, didn’t know that it was all piled up in front of the art gallery. The gallery owner, a middle-aged lady in her sixties who liked to wear a different hat everyday didn’t know any better. She didn’t get in until noon because noone was buying art before then during the week. And anyway she knew that by the next day the leaves would be cleared as promised. This gallery owner also didn’t know that the man who took care of her leaves was merely blowing them back across the street in front of the market. She only knew that the leaves would be gone for a day and then the next day they would return. Again, the leafblower’s doing.
This sort of thing went on for 2 years until one Monday the owner of the boutique art gallery came in early to take some measurements of her space, as she was thinking about a possible remodel of the interior.
The woman had decided to walk that morning because the weather was divine and she only lived 9 blocks from her shop. One block away , she saw Ahmed across the street blowing the leaves away from the sidewalk of the Nugget. His back was to her, and he had thick ear phones strapped to his head as the leafblower buzzed.
She called his name — “Ahmed!” — but it was no use. He didn’t hear, and that’s when she saw. She confronted him a short while later, and Ahmed stood listening as the shop owner grew increasingly red in the face. He could not understand everything she was saying, but he knew he had been caught.
Indeed, it was the beginning of the end for Ahmed’s leafblowing business, but luckily for him, he had raised enough money to get his cafe running only two blocks away from the gallery.
He called his shop, “The Morning Racket.”
At my elementary school
we have 6 different trash cans
to toss away food into
one for hard plastics, another for soft plastics, a compost bin, and 3 more for stuff I can’t remember
my dad says “it’s a sign of the times”
green is in
recycling is in
reduce reuse recycle
when my science teacher can’t understand questions kids ask her
she always says back
“reduce reuse recycle”
and I have to admit, it’s pretty flipping funny
“Earth finally went and got itself a PR flack,”
says my dad
“well good for the earth
when I was a kid,
recycling was an optional activity
you were like oh I could spend 5 minutes sorting out these bottles and plastics
or I could just save the energy and brain power
it would require
and go set off a stink bomb or toss screwdrivers at the grass in front of your house
now everybody’s under the impression that recycling is more important than developing your hand eye coordination, I guess.”
At lunchtime they force this poor lady to sort out garbage tossed into the wrong bins
and I’m not even sure she knows what she’s doing
like the other day
she told me
that the paper napkins should be tossed into the compost bin?
Thats just sounds wrong to me
she has a shirt that says “Green Patrol”
so she’s clearly an authority
she’s a nice lady though
probably not gonna shake her hand anytime soon though
so in conclusion
recycling: it’s annoying
but if you like being a human
and dislike dying of toxic gasses
and strange hues in your water
it’s probably worth the effort.
Long day teaching kids,
Feeding cat, groceries.
I sit down in my chair.
The man chair
The man of the house chair.
‘Darling…can you do something?’
‘Can you get me some cling film?’
The cling film’s right next to you.
‘Yes dear,’ I heave myself up.
Cling film sorted, I wander back to the chair.
Back to my poem.
My great poem.
‘Can you help me with something?’
‘Can you mix this. It’s really stodgy.’
Mixing sorted, I wander back to the chair.
‘Babby, can you pass a cushion please?’
Cushion sorted, I wander back to the chair.
In which the cat sits, smugly.
The cat chair.
The cat of the house chair.
5. This one over at the intriguingly named blog Close of Play is a clever rhymer about a peeping tom, written from the perspective of a neighbor who is doing a little peeping himself.
Mr Larcombe’s ladder
Is only six feet tall
I can’t bear its stupid frame
Smug against the wall
It can’t reach the gutters
Or get the windows clean
It is the most pointless thing
I think I’ve ever seen
It looks like it was made
By children of short sight
Or by dogs with gloves on
In the dark of the night
Bits of wood and plastic
With nails at every turn
Building pallet fragments
And logs that wouldn’t burn
Oh, here comes Larcombe now
I make my curtain twitch
He skips across the grass
Like Elvis with an itch
Picking up the ladder
Back past the garage door
Glancing for his wife now
What will he use it for?
I watch him move quickly
Down to his neighbours wall
Here its fit is perfect
The best ladder of all
Mr Larcombe climbs up
His grip as though he’s glued
To see his neighbour’s wife
Sunbathing in the nude.
He climbed the plastic rungs of the ladder
and tried to remember what it was like to scale this when the pool had just been built
20 years before
when the high dive for him was a cause of much excitement and consternation
now, as he stepped on the board, he felt sure of himself
he knew exactly what he needed to do to achieve flawless execution
and make the kids shake the fence in approval
in his thirties, he knew what he was capable of and what he wasn’t
the wisdom of age had granted him so much but also stolen something
his son, now 9, would beg him to do double flips or a front flip with a pair of twists
“Dad you can do it. I know you can. Just don’t worry.”
How could he explain to him that as you get older there’s a huge leap between being capable of something and doing it
that at a certain point your brain and muscles begin an argument that lasts decades
and is only resolved by death
As he ran his hands through his long black hair and stretched out his hamstrings , his ritual
he noticed a new face among the mothers beyond the diving pool, beneath the tarp
younger than the stay at homes that liked to steal glances at him,
she didn’t seem to have any little ones pulling on her limbs
and was wearing a black and white sun hat with a 4 inch brim, sunglasses, and a lopsided smile
when she saw him looking in her direction
if she hadn’t been sitting beside blue tank top guy (her husband, he’d assumed),
and if he was still that wiry 19-year-old hardcore drummer
and not a pizza worker supporting his kid
he would have polished off a double flip without a pause
and then they’d have snuck off to the bathroom to screw
Standing upright now, his back and legs straight, he took three long steps in preparation for his dive
suddenly he heard loud cheers coming from behind him where the other divers waited for their turn
He looked off to the side to the second matching high dive and then down at the water
at his son
who’s eyes lit when they made eye contact
“Dad, dad, I did it! I did it! I did a double flip! Now it’s your turn!”
I had a great time reading this piece of flash fiction, enough so that I ended up reading it to the people closest to me. It’s just a brisk, wonderfully written little thing that one wordpress commenter calls a “duel of sleeplessness” between two very weary travelers. It’s rare that I read fiction that actually makes me laugh, so I had to pass along!
Two Men and a Gun
It’s hard to say exactly how I ended up in this dreadful situation, although I could easily put all the blame on the Thomas-Cook train schedule. If they had made their timetables were a little easier to read, and their columns more evenly aligned, I may have never ended up on a midnight train to Athens. Yet here I was, sandwiched in among all the dissolute of Southern Europe in a third-class train compartment, trying to figure out how I was going to get some sleep.
It was bench seating only, benches that faced one another, with such little space between them that one had to sit straddling the knees of the person opposite you. There were smells of human body odor and of middle-eastern cooking, zeera and black cumin, the mixture of which was not a pleasant thing. I couldn’t imagine someone could be…
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