in the manner of Turner
An intensity of
smog & smoke.
clings, the dark
moves its feral
in the manner of Turner
An intensity of
smog & smoke.
clings, the dark
moves its feral
Almost surreal horizon
swathed in midnight sun
light, a halo of primary
colors above white
in the bay the whales
their songs echoing
There goes Godzilla, destroying the city.
Again. The glassed in poster in Davis Square
mirrors a see-through phantom me, looking
kind of squirrely as lesbians rattle by like
smug bumper cars and the tattooed man
in the sideshow is every other guy.
“In the Valley of the Lost,” the movie should be.
Reefer drifting like sweet exhaust.
Texters on the street who walk like dreamers.
The indoor life bruited about on the cellular sidewalk,
“Ah don’ care what that ho’ said! That bitch
is dead to me! You know I mean it!” As do we all,
young man, as do we all. Oh where are we?
Tokyo should be so crowded and who is
lonelier in a crowd than Godzilla?
I begin to grow. I begin to change. Hipsters
become alarmed as I become engorged, enlarged,
enhanced, happy. I swing my arm and the
fusion restaurant across the street crumbles.
Like Japanese extras, the ice cream strollers
scramble for safety, wherever that may be,
stumbling over each other (and their little dogs, too!)
terrified through their interesting eyewear.
Mike’s Pizza is gone with a back kick. And
the little shops I snuff with a thumb—Magpie,
Davis Squared, Buffalo Exchange,
JP Licks, Comikaze, Blue Shirt Café
Every move I make is a catastrophe.
Every step I take is a disaster movie:
blinding dust, heaping bricks, shattered glass,
the screams of the dying, the stench of the dead.
There goes Godzilla, destroying the city. Again.
Roy worked at the poison factory for twelve years. It actually had a different name but everybody called it the poison factory. He lived in a one room apartment a block from the factory above a Cuban fast food restaurant. The one block walk meant he didn’t have to own a car. He always took his dinner in the fast food restaurant after his eight hour day at the poison factory. He worked in a huge room full of stainless steel vats where most of the chemicals were blended and cooked. The room had cinder block walls and a thirty foot steel ceiling and the vats were lined up in rows which seemed the length of a city block. Alone all day in the vat room, he read gauges and turned valves and swept the floor and polished the vats and wore his stiff blue uniform and steel toed boots with pride. And every Friday afternoon, his supervisor would come and meet him at two next to vat number twelve and ask him how things were.
Great, he said, smiling. Another five days, another five dollars.
Good Roy. Great job. Have a nice weekend.
These nine words were all he said every week. The vat room at the poison factory was under control. And now the weekend faced him, like a great brick wall. There was no way to hammer down or plunge through the wall to get to Monday. The wall was solid; Saturday; Sunday; Sunday night—the wall was solid but brick by brick it began to give way and at last swept past all at once in a rush, and he was back in the vat room at eight on Monday morning with his vats and valves and piping and hoses and gauges and mops and brooms and pails. This was his life, in the poison factory, for twelve years.
Then something changed.
On Friday at two o’clock he stood by vat number twelve waiting for the supervisor. The steel door opened as usual, but two people came in, not one; the supervisor and a stranger; a short middle-aged blonde woman, who also wore a blue uniform and steel toed boots. She smiled at him narrow-eyed, as the supervisor spoke.
This is Jill, he said smoothly, fingering his tie—she’s going to handle the vat room on the second shift.
But there’s no second shift in the vat room, said Roy quickly, raising a hand. We shut down every night. I close the valves, cut the pressure, stop the flow, and lock the place up.
Not anymore, said the supervisor; we need to increase production now. We’re going to run the weekends too. I’m hiring a part-timer for that. There’s a big demand for our chemicals all of a sudden—but anyway—you’ll be training Jill. She’ll work with you starting now, and all next week. But how are things going now? Got any questions?
No—I guess not, said Roy, forcing his usual end of week smile, not looking at Jill, but only at the supervisor—another five days, another five dollars.
Good Roy. Great job. Have a nice weekend.
The supervisor left.
They stood there.
He considered her. He considered how to train a person. He didn’t know how—as a matter of fact, this was the first time in his twelve years in the poison factory that someone else had been in the vat room with him, other than the supervisor visiting each Friday. His palms grew hot and his stomach grew heavy. He could not look at her for a long moment. Then, at last, he forced himself to look at her, and to speak.
There isn’t much to do right now. Things are about closed down for the weekend.
Okay, she said.
They stood there. He looked away from her. His palms came together, damp. He longed for the day to end, for the two hours to pass, to escape into the wall of the weekend.
Do you think you could show me around? she said, causing him to look at her.
Oh—sure—okay. Well, he said, waving—this is the vat room, and these are the vats.
What do the vats do?
Uh—the ingredients get combined and mixed here in the vats. You got to watch the pressure and the flow. But—there isn’t much to do right now. Things are about closed down for the weekend.
Silence rose between them. What would she say next? What would she want now? He glanced at his watch—there was too much time and not enough to say—
Well, she said softly—could you show me how to watch the pressure and the flow?
He looked at her again. Her eyebrows were raised and her face turned up at him. What is this woman thinking? I have watched the pressure and the flow for today. Let the time pass more quickly—let the weekend come; and all at once he realized this was the first time in twelve years he had longed for the week to be over. It was a bad feeling—a tense feeling. Nervously, sensing the silence between them had gone too long, he opened his mouth to hear what would come out. He listened as his mouth moved. It made sense.
You watch the gauges. You make sure none of them go into the red. If they move toward the red, you open the valves and bring the readings back down to zero. At the end of your shift, you close the valves and shut the flow completely down.
Sure, she said, nodding. I get it.
Once more he looked down the row of gleaming vats. He had trained her! He was training her! He knew how—and it was easy. Suddenly he realized he was breathing again. He had been holding his breath. He opened his mouth again and it moved making more words.
You sweep the floors. You mop the floors. You dump the trash. You keep the place neat and clean. And to tell you the truth, that’s about it.
Yes it made sense it did it did—
Oh yeah, he said smoothly, surprising himself—but there’s a hundred and fifty vats to mind. It’s no small job—no small job at all.
Pride filled him with a warm feeling in his stomach. His job was important and was not small. The silence came around them again. It was like liquid—it made her hard to see. He looked at his watch. The round dial came clearly. It was time to shut down. He blinked his eyes to see her in the mist and he spoke again, this time knowing what he was going to say before it came out.
Come on, he said—we have to go to each vat, close the valves, and zero the gauges. That’s the routine for shutting down the shift.
It came to him that he had long since lost count of the number of words he had spoken today. He usually only spoke the nine words to the supervisor each week—but now he had lost count. He thought to think back and count the words he had said but he knew he would never remember them all. It was then he first felt he was losing his grip. He had said more words it seemed than he had said in a lifetime. He shakily gripped the valve of vat number twelve.
Like this, he forced from his mouth, as he turned the valve. Turn these until the gauge reads zero. You take the next row. I’ll do this one.
Okay, she said, and she faded away around vat number twelve into the next row and he was glad to be alone again, though the air felt different—there was someone else in the vat room. He moved down the row of vats turning valves. There was someone else in the vat room, yes—there was someone else in the vat room. The valves all felt different. They turned harder and rougher. He moved more slowly than usual hoping to fill the rest of the day, so the weekend will be here; oh no; there was someone else in the vat room.
When he was about halfway down the row she reappeared around the far end.
All done, she said. Is there anything else to do? Should I help you with this row?
No! he blurted. I’ll finish this. Grab a broom, they’re in the corner. We’ll sweep the floor until quitting time.
Nodding, she turned. He kept turning valves. She swayed like a woman. She was a woman. A woman was going to do his job. A woman was doing his job. The valves turned. There were about ten more vats in his row. That is nine words. There were about eight more vats in his row. That is also nine words. He used to say just nine words. She swept her way past him, without looking him in the eye. Her eyes were on the broom, on the floor. That is nine words too. He finished the last vat. She had disappeared again. He moved toward the brooms, but then, the bell rang. He looked at his watch.
The day was over. The week was also over.
That was nine words too. She put her broom back.
See you Monday.
He nodded. They left, and he locked the door without speaking
And that is nine words too.
He faced the brick wall, but it was different. He left the building and walked to the Cuban restaurant and had his dinner. But it was not the same. They greeted him, he nodded—but it seemed they spoke somehow differently than before, though the words were the same.
Hello Roy. Good to see you. Will you have the usual?
He nodded yes, but no, no; things were not as usual. You have spoken to me somehow more brightly; more brightly, and with a look, as though you know something. Do you know something? Do I look different somehow? Why do you look at me?
After eating quickly, he went up to his room and he drummed his fingers on the table.
Why is this all happening? To me, to me—
The twilight slowly came up in the single small window and all the while he sat. At least this was as it always was—and this will not change. Twilight will come each day, into that same window. And he will watch it. But when it comes up there will be someone else in the vat room—it will not be closed and locked and dark as it ought to be when he is not there. But at least tonight, tonight it is as it should be—and all next week it will be as it should be, at night, during twilight, locked and dark. So he went to bed peacefully later that evening, when night stood out in the window and matched the quiet darkness of the vat room. He had never been in the vat room before when it was dark. His eyes closed tighter as he drank in the feeling of being alone there, like he’d been for the last twelve years. Something special was coming to an end. He at last spiraled down toward the deepest sleep known, as all feelings fell from him and everything stopped and a deadly pale smile slowly and delicately draped his silent still face.
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Dead Car in a Farm Field – Tom SlatinRead More (Untitled)
My wife left me for a 27-year old Easter Bunny. He worked over at Harry’s Burger Playland, over on Penn Street. I should have seen the signs, when Rachel started insisting on dining there on our Saturday night dates. She’d always hated the food before, especially the soggy burgers. She’d started leaving the house at the oddest hours, giggling in that off-key way she did when she was nervous, always with some story. She was visiting her sister Esther at the other end of town, whom she spoke to maybe once a month. She had a gig related crisis or another. We played an adult game of chicken and there was no one to tell us otherwise.
I’d gone out on a Friday in May to see Bulworth at the Three Rivers Multiplex. After another week teaching English and history to tenth-graders at Thaddeus Stevens High School, I needed a break. The story of a once-idealistic senator finding himself in a state of exhaustion was something I could relate to. To stay real, true to myself seemed so simple as a child, shielded from the world. I was fifty-seven now but I still had a hard time reading the world’s nuances.
I noticed Rachel while Warren Beatty was rapping about big money and that dirty word, socialism. She sat in the back row with a young man. She smiled, a slightly crooked smile. His arm was draped around her shoulder. He had a huge rabbit head peeking out from underneath a jacket.
“Crisis with the folk singers averted tonight?” I arched an eyebrow. The man muttered something and tried to quickly force his rabbit head under the seat. It slipped, rolling down the aisle and across the red carpet toward the trash can near the front entrance. A little boy picked it up, laughing.
“Goddamn it.” She shook her head, clutching the arm of her seat. Her eyes darted across the room. “You really have no sense of trust, do you? I have every right to have a good time, you know. You always read the worst into everything.”
“I was trying to enjoy the movie. You think I came here to fight? Hell, I can get that for free at school with Principal Edgar. And this is just a good time?”
“Maybe it is, Jeffrey.”
A woman whirled around and asked us to take it outside. This wasn’t a goddamn talk show, she said. A chorus of voices shushed us in agreement.
We wandered into the lobby with its magenta and lime-colored walls. The scent of warm butter and salt drifted from the crimson popcorn machine in the corner. A neon clock hung above the ticket counter, along with posters for coming attractions. Saving Private Ryan. American History X. A bare-chested Edward Norton frowned in black-and-white, his eyes sweeping us with instant contempt.
“Look who’s talking about trust,” I shouted. “You go and throw this all away with rabbit boy? Goddamn it. He’s half your age. What’s so special about him?”
I tried not to picture him gaping at my wife’s body, those shapely, smooth curves that were still perfect to me. I wondered if they’d done it in our bed. I didn’t want to know. My wife had lied to me. It was not knowing what to think, not knowing my wife anymore that truly hurt. I wondered how much of what she’d told me over the years was bullshit.
“All right, Jeffrey. Yes. I’ve been seeing him.” She tossed her hands in the air, nearly knocking over the gumball machine. “Thirty years and you expect me to follow you, do whatever you want of me. Just once, I’d like to have a little piece of something to myself.”
“What’s with this? You make it sound like I wanted you to be my slave. If you wanted out, you could have told me.”
“I loved you. For years, I loved you. Even when I wanted not to.”
Rachel told me he was an honest man, with a sense of where he was going. His name was David. He worked as a “playland animal associate” at Harry’s, spreading joy to children with his jokes. She admired his selflessness, the natural way he interacted with others, his childlike bliss when he danced around. She’d been seeing him for six months because she’d needed a break, needed time to think about where we were going, needed to look inward for some sign.
“So, where are we then?”
“Jeffrey, you’re drifting. Just goddamn drifting.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
I’d worked my ass off for her all those years. I’d thought I was lucky to have her, no matter how things got at school, among the politics and the ass-kissing, which I took part in too often. It was something I reminded myself of daily. She was unlike the other wives, the one who played mind games and thought only of their own selfish whims.
“We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “You aren’t committed to this marriage anymore. When we were first married, you had goals. You wanted to write, to teach. I don’t know what you want now.”
“I go and teach these kids. That’s not a goal?”
“Christ, Jeffrey, you tell the class about your glory days. Getting high with some big-name poet or another.You want to feel good about you.”
“I got high with Allen Ginsberg,” I said. “And yes, I ran around North Beach naked, playing the bongos. The one fucking vacation worth remembering.”
I had wanted to teach the class about the Beat movement. I really had. I wanted to make it real. You didn’t get people interested, teaching the same facts over and over again. Teachers like that were the biggest fucking fakes.
A brunette in Capris and a black turtleneck walked past, glancing at us. She muttered something to the man in the Hawaiian shirt next to her, something about family feuds.
“What about us, Jeffrey?” Rachel motioned wildly, as though she were a conductor. I took her for granted, she said. We used to act like two married people, not just strangers barely getting along. She loved how I used to drag her along to hear my favorite writers speak. Our midnight history trips to Philadelphia. New York. She was a part of my innermost life, then.
“You know what I see?” She took my hand. “I see a man who’s too afraid to even dream anymore.”
We’d met in the Gaslight Café in Greenwich Village in 1965, where I’d been living with my sister. She sat at an oak table, Tiffany lamps bathing her in warm shadows, as though she were a sultry Greek creature. She wore her jet-black hair in a bouffant and smelled like vodka, cigarette smoke, and Chanel No. 5. I remember the way she tossed back her head, that thin smirk she wore, as though she owned everything and nothing. I envied her.
“These people are a bunch of goddamn phonies,” she said, when I tried to introduce myself. “Don’t you think so? Look at that woman, the one in the polka-dot dress. She thinks she’s really doing something wild, coming in here tonight. She’s some high-minded liberal who thinks she loves the Negroes, the radicals. She thinks she wants to live deliberately. But when it comes to choosing between principles or hubby’s money, she’ll take the money faster than you can say excuse me, please.”
“Are you a writer?” I laughed. “You could write a great story. The polka-dot princess of Greenwich Village.”
“Goddamn it, no. Writers are the biggest phonies, in my book. They observe one or two things, they think they know mankind like the back of their fucking hand. Don’t tell me you are?”
I admitted it. I was trying to write that ever-so-tired great American short-story, the one that ended up in The New Yorker. My mother had wanted to be a writer, but hadn’t had a story published in her life. I had to get published before I hit thirty or I was a failure, another aging tourist looking for vanity and falseness in the city.
“So, what’s your story then?” She smiled, resting her hands on her chin.
“I write a lot about family conflict. Teenagers, fathers. There’s always a character who smokes grass.”
“Ah, the coming-of-age story. Don’t give me second-rate bullshit. Who the fuck is the real…what was your name?”
“Rachel Greene. Who is the real Jeffrey Rabinowitz? The one in here.” She pointed at her heart.
I started from the night I’d left home in 1957 with my sister Betty. I told her how my father wanted me to become a corporate lawyer, about my sister’s Communist activities. The stories I’d tried to publish. The time I’d handed out Soviet flags to further my sister’s “revolution”, subjecting housewives and children in coonskin caps to diatribes about capitalism and Santa Claus. I ended with the day my mother died of pneumonia when I was thirteen, working backwards unlike every other storyteller.
Rachel hoped to become a folk singer and register Negroes to vote down South, to spread what she called “the winds of equality.” Music, she said, needed to further an ethos, to take a stand. She was the one who could shake up the folk scene, she claimed. She wasn’t in it for the money.
“You give me a ukulele, my friend. I’ll write you a song and take you a trip, all in one.” She smirked.
“Did I mention how modest you are?”
Thinking about the past could be the worst thing, Rachel said. A memory here or there was all right. But it was too easy to dream, especially about what never was.
“Then I’m a man in need of saving.” I slammed my coffee down. “Go on. Save me.”
She just sighed and laughed.
“With all you dreamers stuck in the past, you wonder how anyone’s going to change the present.”
I went into Harry’s the night after Rachel broke up with me. Laughter drifted over the sounds of clinking trays in the kitchen area, the scent of sizzling fry grease overwhelming me. Employees in various animal suits wandered through the pink and purple-walled playland behind the dining area, supervising children playing in the ball pits or riding the long, curving blue slides. One of the animal chaperones motioned here and there for a child not to throw a ball so hard, or to have a little chat. I counted two kangaroos, a chipmunk, and a Tyrannosaurus-rex, who glanced around frantically. He muttered to himself, shaking his bulbous head, bounding around the room. He reminded me of a dinosaur on a bad LSD trip, as though the Flintstones had met flower power. David was bent down in front of a table, in his rabbit suit, naturally. He was talking to a little redheaded girl in overalls and her mother. She laughed and clapped, wrapping her arms around him in a hug.
David noticed me and stood absolutely still, as though I were an alien, a distinctive threat to the harmony among these disparate species. The little girl frowned and asked him something, which I couldn’t hear over the horrible carnival-style music that blasted over the playroom PA. He nodded to her, walking away.
“Ah, Jeffrey.” He motioned to me. “My shift’s over. God, this costume is hot as hell, but it’s the freest thing in the world.”
“It’s liberating to dance like a jackass?”
“Come on. Look, can’t we move on? Rachel’s told me about you. Surely you want her to experience life the way she wants.”
“You’re really the person to give her that? Tell me, why do you do this job, day after day?”
David waved at the little girl. It freed him up to be a whole other person, he said. For a few hours he could be someone he only imagined before. He could make it all up. He was Davy the Hare, after all.
“It sounds like your run of the mill job.” I shook my head.
When he put on his rabbit suit, he said, he transformed into a hero to everyone in the room. It was good to have that, if nothing else. Even if he was still working there when he was sixty.
We walked out to the parking lot to a silver Toyota Corolla parked under the gold-and-white Harry’s sign. Stars flickered brightly across a deep velvet sky, the stillness broken by the occasional car horn.
“So, how’d you get into this?” I said. “It’s not like you wake up and say I want to be a five-foot tall rabbit.”
David had rear-ended a woman in a minivan a year ago. He attempted to escape because he was scared of the consequences, not to the driver, but to himself. He’d done some jail time and Harry’s was the only place that would hire him, once he’d been released. This town might pay lip service to forgiveness and rehabilitation, but it couldn’t deliver, he said.
“I’m sorry.” For a brief moment, I pitied him and hated the fact that I did.
He unlocked the driver’s side door, setting his furry head on the front passenger seat, which was strewn with papers and a velvet-bound Bible. It smelled like gas and some sort of cologne. On one of the papers he’d scrawled Resurrection Video: Step1, 2,3 and moneychangers.
“Rachel’s a special lady,” he said. “She just puts it out there. She tells you how she feels about the smallest things. Did I tell you I wanted to go into my own business? She was the first to encourage me.”
“And what would that be? Hopping down the old bunny trail?”
“I’d like to open a Christian video store.” He sat on the curb, stretching his arms with a sigh. “Spread the Gospel my own way. Luther spoke of a priesthood of believers. We all serve the Lord according to our own abilities. This is mine. I learned that after the accident.”
I coughed. If this five-foot tall rabbit was the theological expert on matters of the universe, I might as well have been Job, with all my luck.
“Rachel thinks it’s original.”
I had a hard time believing Rachel would buy into that. She always called herself a Jew by background, even though she thought religion poisonous and divisive. Being Jewish was one of the three things she was most proud of, of which I’d once been a part, along with her songwriting and the band. I suspected I’d been off that list for longer than I’d thought before. I felt an emptiness and a sense of relief, knowing exactly where I fit.
“I’m sure she has.” I turned to leave. I envied the children streaming out into the parking lot, the children who could wake up from their nightmares and buy into the most soothing lies their parents could afford. Unfortunately, I lived in a world of adults, where the lines between nightmare and reality blurred so thickly, I couldn’t tell the difference.
Rachel moved out on a Sunday. The next day I called in sick, and tried to work on a new story. I hadn’t written in several years. I thought it would make me whole again, let me recover an old part of my life, even if Rachel wasn’t around to see it. I turned on some Debussy and went to work in the bedroom with the windows open, and the scent of lavender and incense that Rachel had always kept. I had a great idea for once, something Rachel would love if she came back. I wanted to make this work.
The story was about two friends brought together by a funeral after one of them faked their own death. The whole time I kept thinking about Rachel and David, though. I played a thousand scenarios in my head. Rachel exchanging deep secrets to David, secrets that she’d entrusted me with. She was telling him her doubts with the band, her fears that she’d become a self-promoter and not an artist. Secrets that once made me feel special because she felt I was worthy of keeping them.
I saw her smoking in bed with David. Drinking shots of vodka, watching movies the way we used to. I saw myself confronting David. Literally knocking that rabbit head off in the Harry’s parking lot. Of course to complete the dream, there had to be a group of shocked children watching as their hero stumbled, unmasked. Rachel would see me as that man of action, a man who stood for something, at least in that moment. But, I knew that door was closed for good. I could do a hundred things and they wouldn’t matter at all.
On Friday, I cleared the house of the last remaining items that had even a minimal connection to Rachel. The wedding vows I’d kept in an oak box. The pictures we’d kept on the fireplace, in the bedroom, lined in precise, unchanging rows all those years, including the one my sister took of Rachel and me, with her folk-singer friend Dave Van Ronk, after a performance at the Gaslight. We were all laughing, Dave holding his guitar. I was in the middle, Rachel leaning her head on my shoulder playfully, doing her worst attempt to smirk. It looked phony now, as though we needed to force ourselves to laugh. It seemed as though we were lying about our lives, trying to keep our carefully constructed selves together.
I needed a drink after all that, a little treat, so around noon I went down to Doyle’s, near the university. It was tucked away behind old warehouses that had been turned into quirky astrology and New Age shops. I wasn’t your regular cocktail hour drinker or regular patron, but I liked Doyle’s because the most interesting characters wandered in. One time, I actually met a well-known communications professor who claimed to be the reincarnation of Humphrey Bogart, complete with trench-coat and fedora.
There was a dank mustiness, mixed with raw fish, but I hardly noticed. I had a few martinis and listened to the Wurlitzer jukebox in the corner play 70’s songs, including the bartender’s favorite,“Stayin’ Alive” which the bartender said he skated to during his days at the roller rink, out hunting pussy. A few dark-haired men and women in crisp navy-blue and black business suits lingered near the pool tables.
“Law is bullshit,” one of the students said. “It’s all about making money. That’s your fucking goal. You honestly believe your shit about defending the little guy? You guys are like hookers. Money’s a gigantic dick, waiting for a solid blowjob.”
One of the men, who had a bad case of five o’clock shadow, told the student that was the sort of money that was probably putting him through school right now. He wouldn’t be singing this song, if he had to work at McDonald’s and his parents weren’t covering him.
“You wouldn’t do whatever it took for a nice house, a good car? Tell me that.”
“Fucking A right,” the student said, shaking his head pretending to smile. He ripped one all too audibly. “Poor, but fucking happy. That’s what I’d be.”
“Talk to me in ten years.” The man stroked his mustache, gazing at the faded American flag, the photos of our war veterans on the wall. It all reminded me of the last lecture my father had given me, the night I left home. I thought about getting another drink, but the whole day was ruined. You couldn’t drink just for the sake of drinking.
The sun was shining when I left the bar, which put me in a bad mood. I should have called someone to pick me up, but I didn’t know who. A woman leaned against my gray Honda. She wore a black skirt and white sleeveless top and smelled of sweat and toothpaste. A pair of oversized aviator glasses kept slipping over her nose, her crimped blond hair blowing wildly. She whirled around, smiling, but leaned in closer to get a look into the car.
“Is there something fascinating?” I said.
“So, you like Allen Ginsberg. I wouldn’t have guessed that based on that car of yours.”
“Should I be calling the police?”
“It’s three o’clock.” She arched an eyebrow, adjusting her glasses even lower. “There are three reasons you’d be drinking now. One, your dog died. Two, your wife left. Oh yeah, three, your dog died, your wife left, and she took your prized toy trains. Am I wrong?”
“Number two. My wife left me.” I sighed, staring across the street as though I expected someone to rescue me. “For a fucking Easter Bunny.”
She laughed, tossing her head back. It was an obnoxious laugh that reminded me of a goose on cocaine, but there was something about it that stirred something within me, a physical flash.
“What about you? What’s your tragic tale?”
“Not much to describe. I’m a lawyer. Civil rights.” She placed a bony arm around my shoulder, smiling. Her eyes were bloodshot. “I started out studying to be an Episcopal priest. I dabbled in bartending for a while. Made a mean motherfucking White Russian, still do actually. I even thought about going professional as a bowler. Somewhere down the line, I decided to settle down. So I went with law.”
“I know what you mean. I travelled a bit myself.”
“I met this kid once,” she said. “I can’t remember where, but it was while I was in my priesthood stage. He wanted to be a piano player, you know. He didn’t have a piano, never had a lesson in his life, but he was always listening to the radio, doing all sorts of odd jobs in the neighborhood, real slum at that, so he could get that piano. Earning a dollar just illuminated his whole face. I can’t describe it. One fucking dollar, and he just pushed on.”
“His mother told him there was no point. The powerless can’t fight back, she said. To be able to improve his lot even a little would be a blessing. Working at some minimum wage was what he should be shooting for. And I wanted to cry because he was so confused, trying to tie it all together, figure out what was right and what wasn’t.”
“Thank God I’m not a parent.” I leaned against the car, nearly slipping. I laughed. “I’m a drunk 57 year old. That’s about it.”
“Maybe that’s when I decided to go into law. Not for the prestige or the headlines, and what-have-you, but for me. I gave myself that power.”
A semi-truck rolled past, rumbling loudly. The mustachioed driver looked at us, together, shaking his head. He probably thought I was one of those older men who needed to live vicariously, to try to capture youth like fireflies in the hazy summer dusk. Both of us would be troublemakers, making love for the sake of shallow pleasure, going about our daily routines with a certain unpredictability. We’d go for dine-and-dashes in beat-up trucks, angering the hell out of people for its own sake. I only wished it was true.
“What’s with the looking in cars, then?” I tried to frown. I could never fucking frown.
“I’m an observer of the world.” She smiled, sticking out her chest. “I suppose I want to remind myself these people are flesh-and-blood, not abstract principles. And I’m a sucker for a good story, too. I grew up too normal. Two parent household, pretty unremarkable. I used to fantasize about coming from some unstable background. Mom running off, Dad at the bar.”
“Do you want to get a drink or something?” I laughed.
“That’s kind of you. But I need to stay in my element. Getting involved, it’s just too much risk, because you end up giving some piece of yourself away. It just happens. You seem like the sort of guy who understands. For the love of God, your wife left you for a fucking Easter Bunny.”
“She left me for a fucking Easter Bunny.”
“Your wife left you for a fucking Easter Bunny.”
I glanced around in the late afternoon air. Plumes of smoke rose from the paper factory across the river, a moldy cheese-like scent mixing with cigarette smoke. The neon sign flickered in the bar window and silhouettes moved around, enjoying their drinks and delusions. I wish I hadn’t left so soon.
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you should have the wine glasses left smokey with dust
I’ll take the ashtray from Spain
have the love seat, the one ripped side
can be fixed
it won’t cost much
think about the photos
and the set of round black framed
still hung on the south wall
that leaves the wooden cutting board for chicken
I’ll take it I guess
you’re a vegetarian now
the china, a wedding
gift, shipped broken
we never returned, let’s
divide each jagged
piece, each sharp
point, find new use for
The second time,
I told myself
that lying held a kind
That night, I watched the thin-
toothed woods sit on the
rough lip of the road.
I couldn’t see
the tree roots reaching
toward some promise
there’d be water.
This isn’t winter.
The winter I know of, you can play outside
without getting hypothermia.
But my raynaud’s is raynauding,
and all of my fingers burn an icy-cold white.
In real winter, the snow falls so delicately
that you can actually taste
half a teaspoon of melted ice—not water—
on your 98.6-degree tongue.
I’m the one with the Elmer Fudd hunting hat,
tie-dyed liners, luke-warm hand warmers,
and bright blue mittens on top—
so that grabbing my keys
is more of a contest than an ability.
Even Hoth wasn’t 19 degrees,
and Han wore a furry hood
like one of those kids in elementary school
who fights their mom on wearing something
so ridiculous to school. Because it’s uncool.
But I guess if Han did it, I could, too.
But now, no hugs or heaters, nor passionate kissing
will heat up the blood that refuses to boil inside my body.
And all I really want is a man with a lightsaber,
willing to slice open a Tauntaun to keep me warm.