Monday, October 31, 2011


[It is seldom easy being the outsider. To make it easy, one has to practice, to accept, to endure. Here is the pivotal point for me: from then on, being the outsider felt easier.]


They howled whenever they saw me, up on that tenth floor. It started out, as it always did, by one guy suddenly noticing that I wasn’t… normal. That in some way—like those odd pictures that hide images you have to find practically cross-eyed—once you’d “seen” me, you couldn’t seem to stop “seeing” me.

I don’t mean that it happened all the time, only that it happened. I made the process easier by having hair that brushed beneath my shoulders, by acting like I didn’t need the world and like the world didn’t need me. I never made much of an effort, if any at all, to fit in, to try to pass as “one of us.” I didn’t care for “us.” So I was always one of “them.”

The guys in the corner room just two doors down from me were “normal.” Three in that room, with friends that came almost every day to share loud music (heavy on hard rock and metal and most of it quite good), beer, some marihuana and a howling session if I happened to drop by.

Because I had an odd routine, we never met in the communal bathroom. I wonder what would have happened if they had walked in while I was showering. A fight, I’m sure. If it’s at least three to one and you’re naked, you negotiate or flee only for further humiliation.

For weeks, they howled. Several times, in the early mornings, they’d pound my door and yell “Wolfman! Hey, Wolfman!,” shout obscenities and howl like maniacs. Once they dragged a protesting young lady “to see the Wolfman.” I opened the door that time, actually carried on a conversation with her and when we’d finished, I heard her ask “Why do you bother him? He’s okay.” Maybe I was.

I superglued their lock shut, even down through the doorplate. Took Campus Services three hours to get it open. The next night, my door was glued. Took the same guy ten minutes to open mine, cursing most of the time. While he worked, we stared at each other, four guys in full understanding that a line had been crossed.

The muttering worker left and as soon as the elevator dinged closed, I walked towards them. Six steps. They backed up, into their room. I stopped at their door and they sat down, ignoring me. The TV came on, one grabbed a magazine and the third pulled at a longneck beer. I stood.

“You started it.”


“You glued our door.” The TV guy wouldn’t turn around.

“You don’t know that.”

They all turned to me. “Who else would do it?” Beer guy sucked at an empty bottle. Nerves.

I shrugged. “Same guy that puts superglue on the toilet seats.”

They started. One of them mumbled morosely. “We’re even.” They looked at me.


“What are you gonna do about it?” Magazine guy was pissed.

I pointed to the lock. “Guess who’s got a master key now?” I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The howling stopped. I even got a surly “Hi” every now and then. It wasn’t peace, but it was tolerance.

Things would have been different if only they figured out that their answer to my question was “Not you.”

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


[I often start stories seeing just a single image or thinking of one sentence. This one on came about after reading the description of a car crash, where thankfully, no one was injured, but the damage to the vehicles and the premises was huge. What connected that to this is a good question.]


            The battle had started in hyperspace, with temporal bombs—primarily subquantic cores wrapped in antimatter shells—being fired like ancient grapeshot. As the ships were damaged, they dropped out of warp and fired phasers, photon missiles and even a suicide run by a shuttle tug with its warp core disabled to explode via a timing mechanism.

            The badly-crippled ships hovered at cockeyed angles to each other, drifting closer together to meet some time in the future. But for now, with life support compromised, lifeshuttles skipped through the debris, firing laser cannons and scoring infrequently with totally fatal results.

            Eventually, three lifeshuttles made it down to the near-frozen planet, a Type G with scant atmosphere and no life signs. One of the Debengan shuttles lost control as it approached the landing point, rolling and smashing into an icy outcropping. Within seconds, the shuttle exploded.

The Terran shuttle slid onto the icy planet’s surface with a metallic screech, ripped away by the fierce winds. The remaining Debengan shuttle slammed down, bounced and came to a grinding halt. For almost half an hour, nothing moved except snow flurries. Then a blue laser beam shot out from the Debengan shuttle and sliced a chunk of ice near the Terran shuttle’s landing gear. Once again, silence.

            A figure dropped from the Terran shuttle and quickly rolled for cover behind a nearby outcropping. The figure was wearing a heavy suit, equipped with two airtanks on its back. In the right hand, the Terran held a heavy hand phaser, military issue. In the left were “bola packs”, sonic grenades linked by plasteel bands. The bolas could be adjusted for detonations from loud sound to Mach 4 impact capable of shredding steel. Moving in short dashes, the Terran approached the Debengan shuttle, using every inch of cover.

            With a sharp blast, the Debengan shuttle blew out a panel. From the opening emerged a large, gray-covered being, its suit a doubled set of orbs with four tentacles emerging from each orb. Two of the tentacles held a large cannon-like weapon, its opening glowing a hazy blue. Two other tentacles held smaller weapons, each glowing a different shade of red. The being whirled on its suit’s base, the tentacles snapping to point at different targets. The cannon fired one shot, high up against a nearby crag. The impact slammed an avalanche onto the Terran shuttle, smashing it under a blanket of ice.

            The Debengan stood still, then fired the smaller weapons at the only visible part of the Terran shuttle. The red beams converged and made the metal sizzle, then flare into a blazing explosion. The entire area then convulsed with a massive explosion, forcing the Debengan to retreat to avoid the debris.

            As the flurries covered the black scar where the Terran shuttle once stood, the Debengan retrieved the blown panel and began wedging itself back into its own shuttle. The actinic flare of a Terran phaser sliced through the suit’s midsection and the Debengan dropped and fired in an unbelievably fluid motion. The firing stopped as a bola pack landed next to it and exploded, sending a Mach 2 sonic wave against every solid surface nearby. The Debengan felt its insides hammered by a veritable wall of vibrations. It staggered, dropped its weapons and collapsed, quivering horribly. The Terran leaped down from its vantage point on the crag and fired once, slicing the Debengan nearly in half. The ruptured suit released a gush of fluids that steamed in the frozen air, a gush that quickly froze into a muddy stain on the ice.

            Tapping the suit’s chest pack, the Terran said “Lieutenant Grissom reporting. Debengan dead, shuttle recoverable.” Several seconds went by, then: “Excelsior, here. Well done, Casey. Are you injured?”

            The Terran sat on a frozen rock. “Negative. But I have no shuttle.”

            A chuckle was heard before “We barely have a ship. But we can pick you up in fifteen. Hold tight.”

            “Roger.” The Terran looked up at the heavy gray sky and set the timer on her suit for twelve minutes. After that kind of battle, a nap was really a great idea.

Monday, October 24, 2011


[Reading has taken up almost as much time of my adult life as sleeping, mainly because I get by on less sleep that most people. That might not be an advantage, what with playing sports somewhat recklessly, healing and being tired tend to happen too often. Which gives me more time to read.]

Frodo and Gerard

Sometimes fictional characters come to you as if from on high, their reputations preceding them so that the first encounter is like meeting a celebrity. Then there are those characters that explode from the mists, leaping onto the mental stage with undeniable presence.

Frodo came recommended. From a chance encounter with The Hobbit, which I didn’t read at the time, I discovered the growing popularity of Tolkien’s creation. A few years later, I bought the books as a set and immediately plunged into it.

Not good. Although there are flashes of lyrical brilliance, The Hobbit's tone is often smarmy if not openly condescending. The adventure has a cartoonish feel to it, flat yet colorful. The end result was that it put me off the trilogy for several months, until a lengthy bus ride—my last—almost forced me to find anything to do.

Starting slowly, almost ponderously, Tolkien weaves a very different tale in The Lord of the Rings. The smarmy tone is replaced with near-historical weight, a chronicler rather than chatter. And Frodo, tiny Frodo, is the golden thread that holds the story to the heart, an innocent struggling with a world beyond his ken or control. If Aragorn is the quintessence of human nobility, Frodo is that of the human soul, often battered, always challenged, but rising above it all to endure.

On a long bus ride, with a spot of light in inky darkness, Frodo carried me with him past The Tower, a shared journey unlike any other I will ever have.

Gerard, or more accurately, Brigadier Etienne Gerard, was the best rider, swordsman, adventurer and lover in Napoleon’s Grand Armeé. From the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Gerard is Holmes’ equal in memorability, for despute the fact that Sherlock Holmes was the “first” of his kind and Gerard another soldier hero in a long line of warriors, Gerard is panache personified.

Told as tales of an old soldier, the set-up is perfect for romantic excesses handled deftly. Conan Doyle was always proudest of his historical writings and with Gerard, his love of history and powers of characterization are keenly displayed. With delicate tweaks at the British and French amour de guerre, Gerard swashbuckles and gamboles through his adventures, defeating the mightiest, wooing the loveliest and outshining the brightest of friends and foes across the face of a troubled Europe. Gerard is charming in his excessive self-love and pride, but his wit and eye give him a humanity we can all cherish.

Two British writers, two dissimilar characters, one obvious result: admiration. Like the ideal conclusion to blind dates—described beforehand or surprised afterward—one takes the chance and is pleased. Odd how life has a way of doing that, too.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


I spend a lot of time in bakeries and cafés, pretty much anywhere I can get a cup of coffee or--rarely--some chai. (With milk.) The time often passes with me watching the people; this time I chose to create the story I wanted to see unfold.


            She came into the bakery as she did every morning…A little flustered, slightly flushed, her hair sporting a stray tendril or two, her hands flitting about her slim figure in a near-frantic search for keys, wallet, sunglasses or change.
            Milton was always there, often kneading dough for one of Eiffel Pierre’s delicate pastries. The quiet dawn hours were his favorites, but they gained a new aura once he knew that she—Jean Marie—would walk in. She was simply beautiful, not in the glamorous, plastic modern way, but in the natural “look twice and you’ll see” way, the kind of beauty that slips across your eyes, brings a small smile to your lips, then gradually absorbs you until you can’t remember ever thinking she wasn’t beautiful.
            Milton’s claim to fame, at first glance, or maybe down to a third or fourth, were his eyes, a deep green that shimmered with gold specks reminiscent of elves in a wondrous fairy tale. Sadly, those beautiful eyes were obscured by the heavy lenses of glasses that kept him barely this side of legally blind. His eyes were the main reason he took up baking, for the work relied very little on seeing and oh-so-much on sensitivity and feeling.
            Jean Marie breezed in and Milton, as was his habit, smiled shyly, wiped his hands of flour and stood in rapt attention as she flittered and flexed in search of…something. Milton waited patiently until Jean Marie smiled up at him and asked his usual opening question: “Will you buy a pastry or three?”
            She laughed, as she usually did. Their morning ritual complete, Jean Marie bit her lower lip and scanned the display, hovering over each item as if absorbing its essence. Milton watched, entranced, taking in her profile, the gleam in her eyes and the very sense that Jean Marie was alive in a magical way no one else was.
            Milton’s heart sped up. It always did when Jean Marie was around.
            “A maple-glazed doughnut, a pair of ladyfingers and a medium coffee, please.” She frowned slightly. “I may be overdoing it.”
            Milton shook his head. “No, ma’am. Seems to me you’re just having a solid Continental breakfast.” He quickly placed her order in a waxed box and served her coffee, to go.
            “That’ll be $5.87,” he said. “Busy day today?”
            Jean Marie stopped suddenly. “Oh, yes. Today’s my last day at work.”
            Milton took her money and sombered a bit. She was leaving town! He was afraid to ask, but simply had to know. “Did you get a new job?”
            Jean Marie shook her head. “No. I did something better.” Her smile was half delight, half roller-coaster rictus. She seemed happy and on the verge of fainting. The she laughed happily and he let out the breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Something big!
            Milton chuckled. “You bought the company?”
            Jean Marie clapped once in surprise. “You almost guessed! I did buy a company, of sorts.”
            Eyebrows rising like semaphores, Milton said “’Of sorts?’ What did you buy?”
            “This!” Jean Marie twirled, a lithe ballerina under golden hair, swirling like a vision of happiness in the morning light. “I bought Eiffel Pierre!”
            Milton’s jaw dropped. His first words got lost somewhere between brain and mouth, but his next group came out audibly, if somewhat strangled. “You’re…my new boss?”
            Jean Marie dimpled, and Milton’s jaw dropped again for he’d never seen that touch of beauty before. “I guess so.” Then, with a blush of shyness that made Milton’s heart break and soar at the same time, she said “That way we can see each other more than just before breakfast.”
            And they did just that, for the next forty-one years.

Monday, October 17, 2011


[A down period in my life, summed up in the word "aimless." With a touch more honesty I could have said "lonely." And then something small makes all the difference.]

Chicken and Potato Logs

Fall, 1983. The days were pastel and vague, having lost their brilliance and sharp edges. Rather than driving myself energetically, I drifted from hour to hour, a high-charged battery losing power.

To amuse myself, I’d try to find different paths to walk to and from classes, often losing myself in the walks so that not arriving was the ultimate result. It didn’t matter if I got to where I was going: I didn’t want to be there anyway.

One afternoon, a warm sunny day that promised summer would return, I stopped at a gas station, one of those little spots that calls itself a “mini-mart” with the confidence a terrier calls itself a guard dog. There was no plan in my mind; I was just marking time.

A twenty-second tour of the place led me to stop at a glass case. Under heat lamps, arranged with the care of an art gallery, were large pieces of chicken and potato logs. I ordered a box of two pieces of white meat (a Southern courtesy to avoid the word “breast” not extended to words that are truly offensive) and some potato logs. With a Coca-Cola tucked in the bag, I walked away in some direction not leading to my apartment.

Food is food, in my book. It is not a passion, though I understand it is to some. I prefer simplicity, and it’s hard to get more simple than chicken and potatoes, dipped in batter and fried. But there are times, beyond physical need, when food becomes comfort, soul-affirming, a blanket on a chilled soul, a moment of pleasure that breaks a long dark night in the heart.

Or maybe I was just hungry. In any case, the chicken was a revelation: fried to crispiness, yet juicy, filled with flavor beyond just salty to encompass rarer spices and a touch of pepper. In a break from my usual habit, I ate the chicken first. Then I bit into a potato log and forgot my day.

It’s basically a large french fry, but this potato log was a work of art, well-deserving of careful display and appreciation. The batter was crisp and whole, not flaking or clinging. The potato itself was soft and firm, as spicy as the chicken, but with more subtlety. In minutes, all four of the revelations were gone, the Coke was slamming down my throat and the day sharpened in contrast.

My walks now crossed the path of this mini-mart every day. My lunch or dinner was the same box of two pieces of chicken and four potato logs. I always ate it while continuing my walk, enjoying the flavors, the moment and the slight but noticeable difference in my day.

I once asked for the recipes, but the guy told me the food was prepared by a woman at her house and she brought it in twice a day. I never asked her name, nor did I ever bother to seek the recipes again. I saw these simple items as gifts to my day and I wanted to keep them that way. One must learn to accept gifts as they come, when they come… without having to deeply explore why they come.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


This just came out in one long stream, although I detect my interest in stem cell research may have been at the heart of the initial thought.


            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... Yes, we have all types of organ tissues, including corneas…No, it doesn’t come in any colors…No, ma’am, it’s not at all like contact lenses…Corneal tissue isn’t something we can color-coordinate…Extension 436, ma’am…You’re welcome.”
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... You want to know if we have ‘experimental’ bodies here? What do you mean, sir?... Breasts where?... On the back? What for?... No, sir, we don’t experiment with human bodies here. We don’t do that kind of work… No, sir, I certainly don’t know who does…”
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... Excuse me. Excuse me, sir! I told you last time we can’t do that without your wife’s permission… I understand you find her less attractive than your neighbor, but it is her body and it is her decision alone whether to get the implants or not…Sir, we don’t do that without the patient’s prior written approval…Have you considered marital counseling or therap--…No! She has to request it and she has to sign for it personally… I’m sure she has other, very positive qualities, sir, which you would do well to focus on instead of her glutes…No I will not send you pictures of me…Good day.”
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... It takes several weeks to generate compatible tissue, unless you have an account with us… Because all our clients get what we call “starter cell sets” that are basically cell clusters at different stages of development. With them we can generate organs in less than half the time than starting from scratch…No, that wasn’t meant as a pun, ma’am…Any body part or any organ…Yes, any body part or any organ… A what, ma’am?... Uh, no, I don’t think we can do that… I understand, miss, but the hymen isn’t an organ… No, a wedding is not a true medical emergency… May I suggest you talk to your grandmother or an older female relative? I’m sure one of them will have very good advice on how to handle this—uh—problem… I once read that iodine was good for that… No, miss, on the sheets, to give the right, uh, impression, if you know what I mean… Yes, while he’s sleeping is a good time… I’d try the drugstore or a friend who works in a hospital… Oh, he does? Then try some other hospital, miss. You know how people love to talk… Best wishes.” 
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs…Please slow down, sir. I can barely understand what you’re sa--…Sir, please! Start again…When did this happen?... If it’s been less than ten minutes, shouldn’t you be calling 9-1-1? You could bleed to death before the replacement surgery takes place!…I know that, sir, but you need to live to have it reattached…I’m calling 9-1-1 now and patch them in…Direct pressure!...May I suggest you worry about size later, sir? You need to stay alive… If your wife is caught and they get your—uh—original, uh, part, back then we’d use that, sir…You don’t want it? I see…I’m sure you’ll be happy with a RossGen—uh—replacement, eventually. Yes, sir. I’m glad the EMTs are there… No, sir, I don’t date clients… Especially after surgery.”
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... You did what? You cut off your husband’s…No, we don’t accept tissue donations unless they’re from clients who want us to genera—…No, we don’t take ‘second-hand’ organs, even if it were an organ… Pardon me?... All our clients are dealt with in the strictest confidence, ma’am. We neither deny legitimate treatment nor divulge treatments, so if he does call us, we will provide him with the service or services he contracts us for… I can’t tell if that’s a police siren or an ambulance…Hello?...Who’s this?...Officer Brand?... Yes, she called just now and was talking to me when you came in… Did who call?... I’m sorry, I can’t confirm if that person called RossGen this morning or at any time… I can’t confirm that, Officer… No, I’m not being difficult, I’m just doing my job… Yes, I go out for lunch… I don’t think that'd be a good idea, Officer, seeing as how I’m married… I’m not like that. Are we done here, Officer?... You’re welc—“
            “Good morning, RossGen Labs. How may I help you?... “

Monday, October 10, 2011

Essay: MUSIC: 1984

[More so any other year in my life, 1984 is associated with music. Not exactly sure why.  But just reading the song titles puts me back there.]

Music: 1984

I arrived in Hattiesburg with barely a plan: say hi to Tim-the-Freudian, find an apartment, get a job. Though I had changed living quarters in Oxford a few times, the move to Hattiesburg was my first in four years, damn near a lifetime in my experience, and was the first I had orchestrated entirely for my own reasons.

A new sense of time, place and self had emerged. My own steps. My own decisions. Beholden to no one. Not yet 20, not really 19. Found Tim, an apartment and a job. And on the second day, I rested.

Music had become visual, as the MTV experiment had grown into a major entertainment phenomenon. Intrigued, I watched music. But despite some excellent and even artistic efforts, music would remain a product of my imagery. So despite the undeniable presences of Michael Jackson, Madonna, Culture Club and The Police, other songs and artists framed my moments.

Hours went by as I drove the streets and roads in senseless attempts to be what I wasn’t. The somber aches of those moments return with OWNER OF A LONELY HEART, by Yes and HARD HABIT TO BREAK, by Chicago. Hearing Chicago was especially poignant as Don was an avid fan of their music, the only person I ever met who had all their albums.

The newly-won freedom of relying entirely on myself is revived by Laura Branigan’s SELF CONTROL; Kool and the Gang’s JOANNA; I CAN DREAM ABOUT YOU by Dan Hartman and especially THE WARRIOR, with Scandal adding Patty Smyth to the mix. And Billy Joel's FOR THE LONGEST TIME was a connection to a rock and roll feeling I grafted onto my quickly-suppressed memories of Oxford.

Two songs evoke the feeling of Hattiesburg in ways I can’t pinpoint: HOLD ME NOW, by The Thompson Twins and The Cars’ YOU MIGHT THINK. Over the years, the undefinable essence of that evocation has prompted many a self-search. On the other hand, CUM ON FEEL THE NOIZE, by Quiet Riot reminds me of riding to Mac’s Fish Camp with Brendan and Terry, jammed together in his small Isuzu pickup truck… and me riding in the back during the return because the All-You-Can-Eat for $10 was a bargain, a challenge and a chance for gross excess we could not pass up. We were indeed a quiet riot then.

My central stage in Hattiesburg was Brendan’s comic book shop, a snug library of memories and discoveries. Conversation, joking, games, hilarity, trading, reading and music fused into a single experience, pearls on a growing string. The songs that place me there, sitting on an upturned milk crate and watching the oddities walk in and out are TRUE, by Spandau Ballet; OH SHERRY, by Steve Perry; IF EVER YOU'RE IN MY ARMS AGAIN, by Peabo Bryson and ALMOST PARADISE, by Mick Reno and Ann Wilson.

The jokes would fly and reach outer orbits as Corey Hart revealed he wore SUNGLASSES AT NIGHT, prompting intensive discussions of stupidity (in other people, never ourselves.) Tim Shoemake and I would argue constantly over Stevie Wonder’s nasal I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU, my trenchant observation that it was Stevie’s lament while sitting on a nail trouncing Tim’s loopy opinion that it was the love song of the decade. I still rehash the give-and-take that often included references to Watergate, the Byzantine Empire, John Lennon, bad cheesecake, the best way to drive to Alaska, impressionist paintings, how the invention of gunpowder doomed the Chinese empire, why money isn’t real, medical procedures that sound more horrible than what they actually are and doomed relationships. Customers walking into the middle of our conversation would invariably ask what we were discussing. Tim and I always shared what we called “the recap,” going backwards from the current topic and tracing the path back to Stevie, relishing the blank faces of reaction. I smile even now.

On the other hand, both Tim and I agreed that WAKE ME UP BEFORE YOU GO-GO, by Wham! would make them a one-hit wonder, never to be heard from again.

Okay, so I missed one; he missed two.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Flash Fiction: FOOD FOR LOBO

In my hometown, a very elderly lady, bent almost double by osteoporosis, sells small bags of shortbread cookies every day. Watching her make a sale gave me the idea for this story. (Booger I just made up.)


            I didn't catch Booger teasing Lobo, tied across the street, until the night the power went out because of the wind storm and the heat made it difficult for me to sleep, even when I took another two of my red pills. Booger came up to where Lobo, a pit bull/mastiff mutt, was chained. Booger was dangling a long piece of rope in his hand and started whipping the dog with it. Lobo went crazy, snarling and foaming at the mouth, yanking at his chain so hard that he sometimes flipped over backward with a thud. Booger laughed like a maniac, like he did when he was 6 and started becoming the bully he was, a laugh that sounded crazy and silly and at the same time. He beat that dog for a good 15 minutes and when he left, Lobo was left spent, his neck and mouth bleeding. Lobo couldn't bark, but his wounds spoke volumes about what he felt.
            Booger came up almost every night. Lobo would get wild when he sensed Booger was near, pulling hard against the chain. Some nights, Booger would just stand there, a few feet out of Lobo's snarling reach, the long piece of rope dangling, unused. On other nights, Booger would beat the dog horribly, snapping the rope with his lanky arm's strength. A few times he tied a big knot at the end of the rope. On those nights, Lobo bled a lot. His drunken owner never saw anything, just slopping the food and water in the dog's bowls and staggered away to get drunk again or sleep.
            I'm 94. I live alone, have no car, no phone, no kin, no visitors except for the Meals on Wheels woman who acts like delivering food once a week is penance for wearing too much make-up. I couldn't call the police, nor ask anyone to do it for me. The people near me were afraid of Booger, many of them old and frail as me. To rat out Booger was to ask to be hurt. Or killed.
            Once a month, I'd dress up warm and take a very slow walk to Findlay's Groceries, four blocks and two hours away. I did it to buy my own food with a budget that could barely keep a body and soul together, even one as thin as mine. A stock boy once asked me if I had a lot of cats. I lied. That's why I bought my own food: fewer questions that way.
            My long walk was nearing an end, the light bags now heavy in my rolling walker's basket. I could see the door to my house and Lobo, across the street, lying in the shade. Suddenly, water drenched me head to toe. A big black car, music thundering from it fit to wake the dead, drove away, Booger at the wheel, his arm thrust out the window and the middle finger rising above it.
            I took a chill that lasted almost a week. I thought I'd die, what with no one to care and the Meals on Wheels woman knocking once and leaving the food on the doorstep, where I found it four days later. That same day, before the chill could stop me, I walked again to Findlay's. Bless his heart, Greg Findlay actually came out to see if I was okay, senile maybe, for making a trip back so soon. No, I said, I want ground beef. Two pounds.
            He actually looked very sad. Rather than waste a word, I opened my purse and showed him the crisp tenner I had saved for a rainy day long ago. He pursed his lips, got the ground beef himself and even got his manager to give me a ride back. I didn't say no, because my legs were aching something fierce and my head was fit to burst.
            It took me an hour to thaw the beef well and roll chunks of it into meatballs. My hands weren't as good as they used to be, but a ball is a ball. With the sun going down and my heart hammering to break a rib, I walked across the street. Towards Lobo.
            I tossed him a couple of meatballs and went away. I did that every day, getting closer to Lobo until I gave him the last two standing right next to him. Then he waited patiently as my feeble hands sawed at the thick leather collar he wore, tears of rage at my weakness splashing his matted fur and the fear that I'd faint and be found out. I lost what little strength I had left and had to leave. I had to take four of my red pills because the pain was awful. I was sobbing from the effort. But I was awake and smiling when Booger got the smile ripped off his face by Lobo. I swear I heard that mutt howl with glee.

Monday, October 3, 2011


I was in high school at 13, in college at 15. As a freshman, I was about 65 inches tall and weighed barely 125, with Coke-bottom glasses and enough acne to give Greeks the idea of constellations. And I had massive chips on both narrow shoulders, the chips manifesting in sometime odd ways.

Charlene's Bitter Coffee

Charlene was stacked. A tall brunette with slim hips, long legs, dark blue eyes and excellent excuses for mammary fixation, Charlene was a vision. The fact that she was a biology major made her a swan amongst groundhogs. A female swan amongst male groundhogs.

She and I met when I ventured into the herpetology lab. Eighteen cages were filled with a variety of snakes, one to a cage, all of them venomous. On several occasions prior to that day, I had milked the rattlesnakes, for making antitoxin, so I had dropped in just to see what was going on. Charlene walked by and started a conversation about the snakes.

She dressed very well, with great style and her attire was meant to be looked at. One could sense where she was in the Biology building by the scattered rush to a certain floor. Comical. Or worse.

We saw each other fairly often, but always in passing. I found it odd that she was almost always alone. We talked a couple of times, but like the first time, she would keep asking questions. If she hadn’t volunteered her name, I wouldn’t have asked. She was definitely behind a wall.

One morning, I had lingered in the cafeteria past mid-morning, sipping coffee. There were some 20 guys in the place, with a group of about 12 sitting together as a mass some tables away from mine, which was near the door. Charlene walked in. Tight jeans, stylish boots and boasting a grey angora sweater with a thin belt at her waist.

Conversation stopped. Twenty pairs of eyes watched her as she went through the line and started to get coffee. One pair of eyes dropped out. I searched the tables with two thoughts in mind: sugar and location. I was looking to see if there were still sugar servers on the tables. They weren’t, having been collected prior to lunch. Then I tried to predict where Charlene would sit. It would have to be somewhere between the mass of guys and my table. She wasn’t going to sit with me, that I knew. I noted the table. And made a decision.

Charlene paid for her coffee and once again, twenty pairs of eyes were glued to her. She glided to the table I had selected as her most likely choice. As she set the cup down, she glanced over at me and nodded. I nodded back. She sat down and reached for… nothing. She looked over at the register, past the mass of guys, where the sugar was. Then she turned and looked at me, a soft appeal on her face.

I waited half a second to shake my head. It was simply the expression of my earlier decision: If she wants sugar, she can get it herself.

I knew my reasons. The overt one was my thought that if she dressed for attention, then she had to live with the results of that attention. That one made me feel self-righteous. The other, darker and covert reason was that I simply would not risk being seen doing her a favor, the sad sack guy trying to coddle up to the beauty queen. She picked me because I was safer than any other alternative. I was also the only guy who simply couldn’t do it.

Charlene drank her bitter coffee. Mine was suddenly bitter, too.

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