Tuesday, May 29, 2012
Quayside bar in no man’s land
Full moon over the bay
Halfway to wormtown
No other way
Backing away from the precipice
As if she doesn’t exist.
What I had to do
To live with myself
Exchange my literal prison
To one of my own making.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
““…Or do you have comfort and the love of comfort?” What is Gibran saying here? Isn’t he accusing the people of Orphalese, and in a larger sense, modern society of sloth …”
The Rabbi droned on.His eyes heavy, Jerry wasn’t sure why he was here in the first place. The last time he darkened a Temple was for his Bar Mitzvah. His mother forced him to go to class and he would promptly fall asleep. Traditions and rules were a joke on other people and didn’t apply to him. The ruler would tap him on the shoulder and the huge beard with beady eyes would glare down at him. He was shocked that he found his Yarmulke, and it still sort of fit. Hope the congregation is color blind.
All he knew was 24 hours ago; he was in the Grady Hospital emergency room watching the docs work on Martha. She had collapsed in his arms while they were walking in park. In the prime of her life, he thought. And now she is in ICU with tubes sticking out this way and that. Clots, they said, in her lungs and maybe one in the brain. The scans were inconclusive, only time would tell. There was a delay in getting the meds, since Jerry wasn’t her husband. Luckily her father was the one that picked up the phone.and he immediately said yes. They weren’t completely sure, but they think they got them broke up in time.
The hospital staff was efficient, he had to admit that. And they were pretty compassionate, too. Even though he wasn’t the legal next of kin, they allowed him to stay with her and kept him apprised of Martha’s condition. One of the Chaplains came by while he waited. Nice guy for a Goy. He listened and understood his concerns, and had suggested finding shelter when the cold rain came. Jerry knew it was time to go back. Martha had been his friend, confidant and sometimes lover since he moved to Atlanta 20 years ago. And here she might be dying, leaving him alone. Prayer, he guessed, couldn't hurt.
They had met when he was involved in a patent fight over the loom. A large textile machinery company had blatantly copied part of his design without so much as a contact. She was one of the junior lawyers on the project, and they hit it off. He admired her smarts and she seemed to put up with his long days at the office and snarky attitude. But she worked long hours herself. One thing led to another and they became a couple. They never shacked up, though. Martha didn’t want anger her folks. Jerry liked her old man, even though he took the traditions seriously, so they lived separate lives.
“…and what about you? Successful? Smug about it? Could it be killing your own passion for life…”
Is he still rambling? Memories of Beth-El Temple in Flatbush flashed before him. It always smelled like somebody had died in there and sometimes this was true. Older schmucks would be set up in the parlor downstairs where someone would sit Shiva for them. It was alright, since some of these guys didn’t have family in the states. But he always thought it was a pointless exercise. His Father made him do the duty a couple of times in preparation for his Bar Mitzvah. It was boring, but it was better than some of the other projects the Rabbi suggested.
All he knew was the place was boring, poor and he was going to be rich. And he figured it would be easier to do it without worrying about all the damn rules. Oh, he agreed with the ten main ones. They made sense. But all the picky rules of eating and dealing with outsiders? Nah.
“… and what about those in your home? Are they so tied up in material possessions…”
Jerry did what he needed to do in school, mediocre grades. He schlepped at the Law Firm his uncle hooked him up with. It was boring, but it did give him a feel for contracts and how to use them, not to mention giving him spending money. Spending his weekends tinkering with the loom he bought, he figured out how to make it produce three times material with only one attendant. The design sold and he ended up not finishing college.He moved south to be closer to most of his customers, and he found he liked Atlanta, the people were friendly and much more open minded than he expected. He bought a house and then a second, each time moving to a better neighborhood. The Shabbat’s and poverty of his past were a distant memory.
He had his Buckhead penthouse, his 500SL and a management staff that gave him the time to enjoy it. He thought of proposing to Martha here and there, but he wasn’t sure he wanted to be tied down. And for her part, Martha felt the same way. They were always loyal to each other, even after twenty years. They took trips. Martha even went to his Mother’s funeral when he couldn’t. And now it looked like she could be gone. And all this stuff. Stuff accumulated in the pursuit of success? It was just dust.
“…so is comfort your master? Maybe each of you should look inside yourself…”
It was so confusing. How everything could go bad so fast. Maybe it was time to go home. He almost didn’t notice his phone buzzing in his jacket. He saw the hospital’s number on the screen. Good thing he chose a seat near the side door. He slipped out into the lobby and took the call.
“Jerry?” The voice was a high and a little garbled. “Where are you?”
“Martha?! You’re awake?”
“Sure, Silly. It’s awful lonely here and I need someone to tuck me in. Could you come down?”
A weight came off Jerry’s shoulders. “I’ll be down in a few minutes.” He hung up and slipped back into the Sanctuary.
“…and remember that God himself is watching over your life. Give your prayers of Thanksgiving every day for that. Amen.”
And for the first of many days, Jerry did.
The quote is from "The Prophet": On Houses, Khalil Gibran. (c) 1923
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
So, here she was at Manuel’s, her usual fifteen minutes early. A quick glance to make sure the lipstick line was still straight. Satisfied, the compact disappeared into the leather purse. Kari hadn’t been this nervous meeting anyone in quite a long time. But then, it had been at least 20 years since she had been on a blind date. What will he look like? All Mary told her was he was a bachelor with a paying job and no kids. Nothing about how old, or whether he was a slob or a crackhead. Not even the guy’s name. Only that she thought Kari would enjoy his company. Just be at there at 5:30.
Sipping on her gimlet, it seemed like she had never left. The Musak was mostly Sinatra and the political types still hung to their tables like they were still in high school. Tony, the manager, gave her a peck when he saw her and said she could come back to work any time. No. She’d had enough of slinging swill and dealing with the obnoxious, of stepping over the hookers servicing clients on the sidewalk. She was happy for the quiet of her house and workshop. Even if it did mean going out craft fairs and dealing with the obnoxious out there. At least they were sober for the most part and didn’t try to make you their next conquest. But there were so many memories here, both as a patron and an employee. A tear peaked at the corner of her eye and darted back. No need to be that emotional.
Five minutes past the agreed upon time, a short man resembling a refugee from a Jimmy Buffett concert came through the door. His shirt glowed with lemon blossoms and morning glories. Was the on/off switch under the collar or along the back tail? The twill cargo shorts were olive and the ensemble was completed with knock off Topsiders. Only thing missing was the straw boater, which would have hidden the obvious comb over. And a dirt road was prettier than the face. Truly, this was a man in a mid life crisis. The only type she attracted these days.
Then it dawned on her. This was her date. With a slight wave and a cloud of cologne, he came right to the table. The voice was a small and squeaky as the owner.
“Are you Kari? My name’s Steve. Mary Hamilton, I think, is a mutual acquaintance.”
“Yes, I am." She shook the outstretched hand lightly. "I guess she described me well enough.”
“Yeah, she said to look for the river of gray over a field of flowers. She didn’t mention the lovely sun of a face. Oh, Miss! I’ll have a highball and bring the lady another of what she is having”
Sitting down, Kari blushed. That was one of the better lines she had heard. Her hair as a river? That fit. She had always worn it long and she wasn’t vain enough to cover the grey. In fact, she thought it made her stand out a bit more. And her penchant for flowered dresses to match the season was well known. Even the couple of pairs of pants she owned were flower patterned. And when she wasn’t working, she was in her flower beds. Flowers were better than people, except for roses. They were just like them.
But, still she really didn’t want to be here. The drinks appeared in front of them and the waitress disappeared. The silence hung as Steve absentmindedly stirred his drink. Kari stared a picture of Jimmy Carter behind the bar just over Steve’s right shoulder. Would he have any advice on how to get out of this? After 30 seconds, Steve spoke up.
“So, you don’t do blind dates?”
“Absolutely never.” Kari took a sip of her drink. “Well, maybe a few years ago. Really, I don’t go out much. It just is too much trouble.”
“Yeah. I’m kind of the same way. I never liked going into bars and not knowing what or who I was talking to. I really am not the adventurous type. What do you do for a living?”
Twirling her silver mane, she hesitated, and then spoke up. “I buy, sell and make jewelry. Silver, mostly. I’m not what you would call talented, but I have a few designs that seem to sell. And what I can’t make, I usually can find wholesale. I sell mostly at craft fairs and local festivals. Atlanta has enough of a market where I don’t have to travel. And you?’
He stared at the top cube in the glass. “I’m between jobs right now. I am an actuary and the insurance company I worked for got bought out. No great loss. The management sucked. Frankly, I’m happy for the break. I can relax and not worry about some underwriter chewing me out for shorting a minor factor, as if missing it would be the end of the world. There were times the numbers would haunt my dreams. I had to let go of that and remember most of the suits were empty heads and assholes. I guess they needed to be in order to win the rat race.“
Steve took another sip and continued. “People are assholes, no matter what line of work you are in. When I was in college, I worked here at Manuel’s. I’ve known Tony over there since he was about six. Mr. Maloof, Tony’s dad, HE could be an asshole. But, I didn’t mind getting chewed out by him. It was his place and he’d built it with late nights and sweat.” His voice rose a bit. “ But when the nimrod doing the chewing is some apple polishing pissant, it gets old. But you can’t say anything, because you’ll still get fired.
Kari’s eyes widened. “You worked here? I’ve done three different turns here. Steve? Let me think. Weren’t you the skinny guy with the camp stove? The one we used when we couldn’t get out of the bar when we got the bad snow?”
A big smile came across his face. “That was me. It sure came in handy making the macaroni and cheese. I thought you looked familiar. You usually tended bar with the “Easy Eight” dice top showing 2 and 6. You never took crap off nobody. I came in one night and you were gone. What happened?”
“The old man got drunk and tried to roll my dice after work.” Her eyes crinkling at the memory. “Tony said it took three days for the red to leave his face. Needless to say, I was banned for few weeks. I would sneak in here and there, but I pretty much stayed away until he died. Tony then asked me back and I worked steady here and a couple of other places for several years. One of my customers, a lady, introduced me to jewelry and I gave up the bar life. I would only fill in once in a while when I need mortgage money. I assumed you made it back to school? “
Bitterness crept into the mouse’s squeak. “Sort of. I never really finished. I completed all my course work, but the school came up with some excuse not to let me graduate.” The round face began to flush “I mean, I wasn’t a good student to begin with and I really didn’t like anyone telling me what to do. So I left, claiming the degree and no one asked questions. I found my niche where I could work without being bothered and I didn’t have to play corporate kiss ass games.”
Changing the subject, she asked.
“Want something to eat?”
”Sure.” He waived at the waitress. “I’ll take a cheeseburger plate with fries and another highball.” He glanced at Kari.
“A Reuben plate. And bring a couple of waters.”
Nodding, the Waitress slipped off. Steve and Kari eyes met and held for a moment. The tremor in his face began almost without anyone noticing. The smile melted into a one sided frown as he began to go limp. He tried to speak, but only the most guttural sounds came out. Kari quickly stood up and grabbed Steve’s shoulders and gently eased him to the floor. She put her fingers in her mouth and gave Tony her emergency whistle. Soon every eye turned towards their table.
Steve was coughing and trying to say something, but she put her finger to his lips and said: “Hush, Love. This may be your time. I am glad we were able to reconnect before the bridge. But, relax. If it is your time to cross, it really won’t be painful. And if not, I’ll be here when you awake.”
He relaxed. Kari ran her fingers over his brow and the lids fell like curtains. The sirens from the engines began to filter into her conscience and she stood up to let the EMT’s begin their work. The bright shirt was cut away in just seconds. Then just a few seconds more before all that was left was an empty space between the tables.
Kari bowed her head for a moment and shed a tear. He seemed like a good man. She guessed that was why they met.
Then she turned and left the bar.
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
It is a French word meaning left. In some circles, like Paris, it still has a bit of cache. The Rive Gauche is known for its offbeat life and cafes. Pretentious people still like to insert foreign phrases into their speech to make people think they are sophisticated.
But Gauche, like its English counterpart, has another meaning. Since left is opposite of right, it has been used as a placebo for words like sinister, evil and awkward. To say something is Gauche is to refer to as ugly and out of fashion. Or maybe even evil. When I was a child, my sisters would always refer to something as gauche, rather than gross or ugly.
In I was in elementary school, I had a subscription to MAD magazine. Like most kids, I read it cover to cover. Unlike most kids, I began trying to emulate the writing styles. I knew each of the “Usual Gang of Idiots” by name and specialty. Don Martin and his offbeat misshapen people. Dave Berg’s Lighter Side, which poked fun at the foibles of suburban life. Antonio Prohias with Spy vs. Spy and all the others. Art and writing diabolically conducted by the team of Al Feldstein and Bill Gaines. And all terribly, terribly Gauche.
But the one artist that stands out more than the others, is Al Jaffee. The breadth and depth of this man’s insanity is something to truly behold. Bill Engvall stole “Here’s your sign” from his “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. The MAD Flag Poster. The list goes on. He wrote offbeat poetry, incredibly insightful prose and put out some of the wackiest art known up to that time. He invented the fold-in.
I would stare for several minutes at the poster in the back of every issue, wondering what the answer to the question would be. Then I would carefully take the corner of the page and gently swing it over, trying not to put a visible crease. And then, I would violently slap the page in place and have a great laugh.
Even today, I still will seek out an issue at the newsstand and when no one is watching, fold the page and spoil the joke for everyone else.
It’s so much fun.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
You said it wouldn't work
You said we were too much alike.
In our pictures, we look like
Brother and sister.
Yet, you were the one
That opened me up
To all the possibilities
I put up with the emotional tides
That threatened to wash you away.
Finally, we parted.
I married. You didn't.
I always wondered why?
You said we were too much alike.
In our pictures, we look like
Brother and sister.
Yet, you were the one
That opened me up
To all the possibilities
I put up with the emotional tides
That threatened to wash you away.
Finally, we parted.
I married. You didn't.
I always wondered why?
Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Stepping out on the wet sidewalk, Mark straightens the tail on his ragged shirt. What’s the hustle today? Asshole pissed all over his sign last night, so sidewalk cruising is out. No back up. It’s the story of his life. Get a scheme set up and some jerk screws it up for you. Of course, his warm bed was gone when he plowed the fat face into the wall. At least he did snag an extra cup of coffee as he went out the door. An ambulance screams past, turning in to the hospital across the street. Anybody he knows? Who cares? Most of the idiots he knows would stick you as to look at you.
The clang startles him as the purse misses his head and hits the pole. He looks up to see a strange woman screaming at him. She is a molten mass flowing on the sidewalk. A bored cop materializes in front of them, writing notes about some attack she claimed she witnessed. Nice to know there are crazier people than him. A bunny haired girl sits quietly on the wall watching the scene play out. She is the only smart one. Finally, the cop tells both of them to move it and Mark obliges. No sense starting the day in jail.
Shambling on, he turns the corner. He usually works the saps willing to throw a dollar to make you go away. And a dollar is what he needs. He sees a woman in a flowered skirt fiddling in the back of a VW Bus in the next block, Her long, graying hair flowing reminding him of an old hippie mother he knew in California. This looks like a good score.
“Problem, Ma’am?” He asks quietly.
A serene face turned towards him, smiling. “This old thing is being a pain this morning. I was heading towards the store and it decided to quit. One of these days, I am just going to have to retire her.”
“Want me to give it a try?” Mark asked
“Sure. It needs to get her out of the street before the tow trucks come. I don’t have the cash to bail her out.”
The van has its own mocking energy, almost daring him to approach. Leaning down in the engine bay, he sees the loose wire and secures it with an old twist tie he has in his pocket. The van starts immediately. Squealing with delight, the calm woman rewards him with a kiss.
“Thank you so much. I was at a loss what to do. I don’t have any money with me, but could I give you a ride?”
“I don’t really have any place to go. “
“How about my house?” She replied “I’ll fix you dinner and you don’t have to hustle today. By the way, my name is Kari.”
“Mark.” He shakes the offered hand. This is working better than he thought it would.
The accumulated papers fly off the front VW’s passenger seat. Climbing in, Mark spots an amethyst heart hanging from the rear mirror. Visions of brown skin and flowers filled his mind. It looked like Keisha’s heart. Mark shook a little at the memory.
“Interesting piece. Where did you get it?”
“I found it in a pawn shop in New Orleans a while back.” Kari shifted gears. “There was something magical about it, like it had a destiny and a past. I like stuff like that, so I bought it.”
The amulet warmed Mark’s hand and he struggled to control the tears that came out of nowhere. The street in front of him transformed into the hurricane shelter. Just as quickly, the image was gone.
“I knew a girl who had one like it.” A hint of sadness filled Mark’s voice.
“Really? Sounds like a story to hear over some wine and a joint.”
They fell silent. The van turned on to a side street and pulled up to an older structure in a neighborhood that had seen better days. Just past the house, the street dead ended at a rail yard. The sound of trains was loud and constant. A young black boy stared at her Earth Mother neighbor and her latest companion. To him, it seemed a like a new one every night.
She produced a key ring and jiggled the door open. As they came in he noticed a pack of Camels and a small Bible sat next to an easy chair. He notices the place smells more like reefer than tobacco. A torn leather sofa sat along the wall opposite the windows. No plants or indications of animals. There was just human habitation and an air of quiet desperation.
She pointed down the hall towards the bathroom. “Washcloths are in on the shelf and there should be enough soap. Just set the clothes outside the door and I’ll take of them. Take your time”.
Mark thanked her and went on down the hall. A few framed photographs of long dead relatives looked solemnly upon him. He wondered if there were any pictures of him somewhere? Probably not. He wasn’t much for pictures and he figured any of his relatives would like to forget he existed anyway. He flipped on the light and stepped into the spartan bathroom.
As his rags floated to the floor, thoughts raced through his mind. Who is this woman and why has she come into his life now? As the warm water cascades down his face, he begins to cry a little. It is almost as if God had finally heard his prayers. Everyone else he met had left him broken and broken hearted. Or he bailed when things got to hot. He was always a coward, sneaking out in the middle of the night to avoid the results of his actions. He still had to wonder what was the catch?
A knock on the door and Mark takes the offered robe. He comes back to the small living room to find a sandwich and a cup of tea on the table in front of the sofa. The fear was growing. He takes a bite and leans back. The past has come back somehow. It didn’t matter how many drugs he did or whose shelter he was hiding out in, Keisha was still there. Shaking, he thinks back to the hurricane shelter and wonders what ever happened to her. The memory of the heart hanging over his face is overwhelming.
Sleep overtakes him. Young girls and old women switch places in his as they float above him. He tosses on the couch. Keisha’s rich form and scent fill his nose. He reaches out to touch the mirage as it vaporizes. He awakes to a round geisha face. She has his clothes and a bottle of Riesling. The warm fabric against his skin is soothing as he puts them on. He is more alive that he has ever been. Kari smiles back at him.
“If you like, you can crash here tonight. I don’t bite.”
She senses a wall is coming down on the silver heart’s secret. The heart belonged elsewhere. She was just the foster parent, and she knew it. Like a caged animal, the heart filled any room with longing energy. The reward for the service was near.
Sitting next to him on the couch she hands Mark a glass of wine.
"So, where are you from?" Kari asked
Mark leans back and takes a sip. "Army Brat. I lost track of all the places we lived. Germany, Italy, up north. Dad died and, I finished up school in California. I stayed a while working on cars. VW’s mostly. That’s how I knew where to look for the problem on the bus. That generator wire works loose quite often and it just needs to be secured. Anyway, I did pretty well and had a good time.”
“Boredom and a DUI sent me up to Vegas Bright lights and all that. I met a girl in one the smaller casinos. Soft blond hair and a body that wouldn’t quit. She worked as a dealer and made pretty good money. We moved in together and had a daughter. I found a job in a small shop out by the Air Base. Things seemed to be working pretty well. " He grabbed a cigarette and lit it.
Kari handed him an ashtray. "What happened to her?"
"I started drinking pretty heavy and she didn’t like it. Can’t blame her really. One night, I got really lit and found her in our bed with this black guy. I freaked out and started swinging. Screams and blood everywhere. I got hit a couple of times. The scar on my face is where he got me with a knife he found. It wasn't pretty. "
Kari nodded. "Your daughter?"
"I’m not sure if she was even in the apartment or not. I got in my car and left afterward. I never even turned on the news to see if they were alive or dead. I just hit the road. “
“I drifted east. Denver. Oklahoma City. I landed in St. Louis for awhile. I worked construction and still worked on cars on the side. The guys I worked with never asked me any questions, so I never told them any lies. Started smoking Ice about then. I found I could go several days straight on it without many problems except when I needed to sleep. Then I would be a handful. Got arrested a couple of times, but I guess there never was a warrant from Vegas. At least nothing they ever found. “
“The construction work ran out and winter there sucks, so I went down to New Orleans. Worked at an oil refinery up river. It was a good gig, so I cut down on the Meth.. Only smoked when I needed to stay awake for a swing shift. Things were beginning to settle down when Katrina came and I got chased down to Houma to ride everything out. I …met a girl there.”
He went silent. Kari slipped her arms around his shoulders. Tears were forming around the creased eyes. The silence held thick in the room. Mark gulped down his wine and poured another glass. Kari sipped hers and waited. In as soft voice she quietly asked.
“What did she look like?”
Mark took another gulp of wine. Coughing a bit, he found his voice again.
“Keisha was a young black girl. She might have been 14 by the way she acted, but was but had a huge rack. She wore an amethyst heart on a silver chain, very similar to yours, that would dangle in her cleavage. I used to kid her on how the purple shone off her skin and she would just giggle. The sweet sound was something that was always in short supply in the shelter.”
“We were battlefield companions, sort of. She was separated from her family during the evacuation and she was pretty scared. We would spend the day playing cards and talking. She had a couple of girlfriends she would go off with every now and then. There were a lot of scared and scary people in the shelter. But she would always come back. She told me she felt safe with me.”
“The night when the other hurricane came in, we were in the shelter. It sounded like God himself was smiting us. We smoked little weed I had to calm us down and she snuggled in close. I held her and my hand started drifting under her shirt. She pulled away.”
He stopped again. Mark’s chest heaved and buckled as Kari held him. She kissed his damp face gently. She poured the last of the wine into his glass and handed it to him.
“Go on, Honey. You need to get it out. The memory is poisoning your soul. ”
Mark looked up into the Geisha’s face. This was his final confession. He knew police and jail were close to him and he didn’t want to go. But the memory was too strong and it flowed from his lips like a flood.
“I pulled her back against me. The shirt and bra lifted, exposing her small copper nipples. The silver heart hung between them. My hand brushed gently against her skin as I kissed her. She bucked a little under my weight.”
“Suddenly, there was no resistance. The Heart was offered and I kissed it hungrily. I kissed those breasts and smelled the unwashed skin. She gently stroked me. We both knew we needed something then. The Heart was glowing like it was another person joining us. It felt warm with joy as it dipped on and off of my chest. It couldn’t have been more than five minutes before it was over. The flower was mine and the Heart was satisfied. We settled back against each other and slept like children, not worrying about whether anyone saw our nakedness. The next morning she brought me breakfast and we made love again.”
“Later an uncle found her while she was hanging with her girl friends. I saw the reunion from across the room. There was happiness there and I didn’t want to interrupt. I couldn’t see the Heart. I don’t know if she ever let on what had happened with me, but I wasn’t going to take any chances. I snuck on to one of the evacuation buses and ended up here. “
Mark collapsed back on the couch as silence filled the room. The silver heart began to glow on the table beside them. Kari knew what the Great Spirit needed from her. Slipping the Heart on, she brought Mark’s face up to her breast. Glinting in the lamplight, the silver heart beckoned him to let its healing energy to touch his soul. Kissing away his tears, Kari held tight. There was no sin to forgive, just Keisha’s grateful spirit to impart. Mark was home.
Tuesday, May 8, 2012
Max sleeps now
Ashes morphing into starlight
With St Ex’s Prince
Dancing amongst the lights
Laughing at Roses and thorns
Commander K nuzzles Marvin’s knee
Welcoming their guests.
Asking how they fooled
The Space Cop.
A picture of
Max eaten by the Snake
And the Cop running away.
Everyone laughs at the ruse.
Smiling at the Earth.