This is my psychiatrist's couch. Take from it what you will.
But do leave a note.
I still am a late middle aged former government worker marking time until the cliff.
Short Fiction, Doggerel and Insensitive Opinion are spoken here.
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[The scene is a trailer park. The units are older, but in good repair. Children play tag in the dead end road. A pudgy woman with a mass of salt and pepper curls is holding court on the wooden stoop outside her home. Clothed in a T-Shirt and faded jeans, it’s obvious she has been drinking for a while]
“My name is Krystle Gayle Tomley, but my friends call me Miss Piggy. I’m 46 years old, a mother, grandmother and soon to be great-grandmother. They say I’m the third generation Tomley here at the trailer park. But that’s not important. What’s important is that you know my story"
[Lighting a cigarette, she coughs briefly and continues]
“How we Tomley’s got here was Granddaddy come down from Villanow to work in the bomber plant just after he got back from Korea. But he wasn’t the first Tomley. That’d be Uncle Rufus. That’s his picture there on the table, the man on the motorcycle. He’s probably more like me than any of my direct kin. He came equipped with a wild streak wider than a river.”
“Now, Rufus wasn’t actually from Villanow. He’d came up over in Fort Payne where his Daddy worked at a strip mine. For some reason the Army didn’t want him, so he’d come here just as the plant first opened. He lived over in that blue trailer over there. When Granddaddy go back home, he let him stay there a month until he could get this trailer we’re sitting on. Grandma joined him as soon as he was settled and Momma came real soon after.”
"Grandma died having her, so I didn’t get to meet her. I always was sorry about that. From what the cousins say, she was a fine Christian woman. But that was how things went back then, not every birth went right. Granddaddy was so heartbroken he never did remarry, although he did have offers. Instead he spent his time with his Mary Nell, making sure she looked presentable and fed. She was truly the light of his life."
[She reaches into the cooler next to her chair for a beer. When she opens it, it sprays out, soaking her hair and putting out her cigarette]
Dang it! Y’all hand me that towel over there.
[Quickly drying off, she takes a swallow and settles back on the porch]
"Anyway, Rufus died when I was a baby, so I don’t remember much. But Momma said he was nothin’ but an old drunk. The Law was always picking him up for something. One night when Momma was in high school, Granddaddy came in and caught Rufus trying to reach up her skirt. He kicked ol’ Rufus right through the screen door and told him never to come back. He went on back up to the mountains and drunk himself into the grave."
"Momma met Daddy in school when they was in the third grade. Momma said they'd walk along the fence outside the school in the summer, picking honeysuckles and talking about their futures. Daddy wanted to be a pilot, out fighting the commies in Vietnam. Momma would smile at her would be hero, hoping, like in the fairy tales she’d hear at bed time, their dreams would come true."
[Another cough. Another swallow]
"Granddaddy liked Daddy and invited him to church. I guess his folks didn’t mind. Afterwards, they’d take dinner down to this grassy field next to the Ford Dealer on Four Lane Highway to watch the planes from the plant take off and land. Momma said it seemed like magic when the big metal things would lift off, pretty as you please and Daddy would play like he was at the controls, banking right and left, always going the distance in battle. Momma would hug him for winning."
[Stops a moment to light another cigarette.]
"Daddy flunked the army physical, something about a heart murmur. I guessed that’s what killed him later, but Momma never talked about it. He figured if he couldn’t fly the planes, he could at least build them. Granddaddy told him they wouldn’t hire him at the plant unless he finished school, cause some of the jobs at the plant were changing. They weren’t making bombers anymore, but these big ol’ cargo planes. Daddy did what had to do. He buckled down with his studies and got finished."
"One Sunday after they graduated that they went on back to the trailer instead of the field after church cause Granddaddy had something to do. The honeysuckles were out and Daddy picked a few to take home with them. Since no one was home, they shared them and their lips locked. One thing led to another and I came along right after that. Y’all probably thinking shotgun wedding, but Daddy was an honorable man. They got married in Pastor Jackson’s office with Granddaddy as the witness. So, I was a “legal” young’un."
"They both told me the only thing wrong with what happened is I pushed up the wedding a year or so. I asked Momma how I was named after a singer, and she said it was just a coincidence. Gayle was Grandma’s name and Momma thought Krystle was a nice word. I think so, too. Krystle Gayle didn’t get on the radio until I was in school, anyway. They never did say why I had Momma’s last name, though."
"They wanted more kids, but Momma just couldn’t carry. Made me sad ‘cause I always wanted a sister or brother to play with. But you just have to go with what God gives you. The old biddies in the park said it was Momma’s punishment for sin of having me too early. That was a load of horse to my mind. Other women would have kid after kid with no husband and nothing bad would ever happen to them, excepting getting beat by whatever man they were with. Momma told me not to pay them no mind. They were jealous ‘cause she had a hard working man and they didn’t. Oh, they had their fusses, Momma and Daddy did. But he never hit her and she wouldn’t have it no other way."
"I went to the same schools they did, but by the time I came around black people had started moving in. A lot of the neighbors moved out, but Momma and Daddy wouldn’t. Said it wasn’t right to treat them like that. But then them big cats started picking fights and it was all you could do to keep out the way. Daddy didn’t like that and even talked about sending me up to a cousin’s in Villanow for school. But he died before could do it. He collapsed at his paint station. He was just 30 years old. Every said his heart just gave out, but I always suspected he got a big huff of paint. A couple of boys at the high school died huffing paint earlier that summer. It made sense to me since Daddy worked with paint, paint was what killed him."
"Momma never was the same. She took to drinkin’ and yelling at me. Granddaddy would try to calm her down, but how do you calm a grieving widow? Of course, I can say that now, having been down that road myself. But back then, it just confused me. We fussed all the time over school, boys and liquor. I was a headstrong young’un and I upped and ran away. Ended up down in Atlanta. I’m ashamed to admit I walked the streets, but it kept me fed and I learned how to keep my wits when things would get crazy."
"I had my Mary Nell just short of my 15th birthday. I named her after Momma and for about six months we lived out on the streets. I wasn’t tricking as much, but I would do a few to buy diapers. One man tried to make me his working girl. Somehow, Granddaddy heard about it and brought us home. Like he did with Momma, he made sure Mary Nell got taken care of. Momma never could reconcile what I had done. She ended up moving on back to mountains and left the trailer to me. Granddaddy, bless his heart, passed a few months later. I was on my own again."
"I never went back to school. I ended up working in a warehouse down the road. It wasn’t a bad job and the guys were great to party with. Oh, I’d hear those old biddies’ beaks flapping about being me being fallen, but I kept Momma’s advice about it and stayed quiet. Pastor Jackson, he really was a good man, tried his best to rein me back to the flock. But I wasn’t havin’ none of it. I’d done tasted the moonshine and couldn’t get enough.I was as bad, if not worse than any man when Friday night came. I’d bust out of work and go find the liquor."
"One night, when Mary Nell was about six, I went to this girl’s place on up Austell Highway. We got it in our minds at 3AM that I needed to be blonde. A girl had given me a box of dye when she moved out of state, so we cleared off the kitchen sink and started to work. Can’t remember exactly what happened, but we mixed it up wrong, and when we got finished the girl looked at me real funny. It wasn’t just a bad dye job, but the worst one ever. This red and green thing was looking back at me from the mirror. I decided to quit drinkin’ right then."
"I met Billy later that day at Waffle House while I was trying to sober up. He said it was the first time he had seen someone turned totally green. I couldn’t help it. I threw up all over his shirt. I was expecting to get hit, but he just cleaned us both up and took me home with him. We didn’t see outside for three whole days."
"I guess you’d say Billy was to me like Daddy was to Momma. Like all them, he worked over at the plant, only he was on the assembly line. He didn’t care about my past, though, and he took Mary Nell as his own. I knew I had loved Daddy dearly, but it wasn’t until I met Billy that I understood how deep Momma’s love was. We never did get married, though. He had his place and I had mine and this worked for us. As long as I could talk to him, it was enough. I stayed sober. Oh, it wasn’t a bed of roses. There would be fusses and he did have other women. But I was in no position to judge on that. But those quicksilver moments…they were worth it."
"Oh, I could on about how Mary Nell didn’t fall far from the tree, or how Billy died, but I need to get on down to the store. I’m out of beer and I need to get my Quick Pick tickets for the lottery. If I win, I’ll take you to Vegas and teach you the real meaning of partying."
He wasn’t that talented. He said so himself. A third rate guitar player with a knack for lyrics and the ability to transport an audience into a new world. You could tell he was happiest on stage, watching the faces rise and fall with the tenor of his scratchy voice. We laughed along with the easy banter of the band. Whether it was the prairie scenes of “Mail Order Annie” or the mind at the edge of adultery in “Halfway to Heaven”, you could forget your own foibles for a while and have sympathy for the protagonists. An experience that when it ended, you always came in with a smooth landing.
I was in my office balancing a store inventory when the news that Harry had died came over the radio. It felt like a door slamming closed on a significant part of my life. I met him at an after party at the Fox Theater in March 1978, where he invited the attendees to participate in a World Hunger Year event that was coming up. I did and it started a long association with homeless services in and around the Atlanta area. Because of this looked up to him as truly a hero.
Two of my stories are based on his lyrics: “The Deal” is “Taxi” relocated to the card rooms of South Los Angeles and “Debbie” was the lost girl in “A Better Place To Be”. I have a couple of more short story ideas that probably need to be written, but they just haven’t completely gelled. But the wide subject matter lends itself to tangential plots and bursts of imagination.
Harry’s motto was to be kind when possible, and to him it was always possible. “One concert for me and one for the other guy.” By all accounts, this caused chaotic scheduling and drove his road crew crazy. But it was his way. This philosophy drives the The Harry Chapin Foundation to this day. Sweet dreams fly unless somebody cares. And the foundation sees to it that they still do.
Sometimes I wonder how he would have morphed had he lived? Would he still be the bug in everyone’s ear on social issues? I would like to think so. Even if love and kindness seems so out of fashion, it is ultimately what is save us from utter destruction.
This is a project of Jolene Naylor, and gives the reader a chance to see works in progress.
This one is from a three part serial story I wrote several years ago, Streetlights. I am the process of consolidating the parts into a single piece.
the cramps were starting again. Kari
hated driving with them.As the muscles tightened, it reminded her of
her boss. “Charlie Cramps”. A fitting nickname, she thought.Only he was messy and a pain 24/7, not just
once a month and a tampon in the mouth didn’t shut him up.
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If you have editorial comments, those are welcomed, too.
The above is Psalm 2:1, for those of you who are not familiar. It seems to be appropriate for today's world. All sides appear to be heading for a collision, each side vainly thinking theirs is the only true and right way. Some using outright violence, others implied fear. The rest of us sheep stuck in the middle hoping not to get caught in the crossfire.
Let us pray.
EDIT: After I posted this, I found this little gem.
The bandstand was deserted hours ago and almost everyone else had gone home. A red, white and blue neon sign screamed BBQ, Babes and Beer! The screens above the bar were silently running the day’s latest tragedies. But Jack wasn’t having any of that. That all smacked of celebration. This was a vodka and depression kind of night. A wave brought the bottle and the glass was emptied and slammed back as soon as it filled.
“Damn, man. You hardly let me pull up.”
With a sigh, the glass was filled again.
“But this is your last one. Got it?”
“Sssurre.” Came the slurred reply. Using the edge of the bar for balance, Jack slowly stood up. Picking up the glass, he stumbled over to the jukebox. A dollar in the slot brought solace.
The bars are all closed…It’s four in the morning and I must have shut them all down…
He had enough. Or could he really get enough? Damn woman took off out a word, changed her phone number. All because of some argument over a… whatchamacallit? A lady’s shaver? Was that what she called it? It had curved with a kind of wide head and a long handle. He’d never seen anything quite like it.
And if drinking don’t kill me, her memory will…
Of course, he’d never seen anything quite like her, either. A long drink of swamp water, the dark skin and pink stilettos made quite an impression. Guys kept lining up the alien creature, buying drinks and trying to get dances. He and his buddy got to talking to her and she decided he was going to the conquest du jour.
“Run with me and it will be the experience of a lifetime.”
The voice was honey mixed with Tabasco. He was putty and clay. The friend he was with wished him good luck and left. There was yellow caution sign on the wall just to the right of her afro as she said this. He should have listened. This was not going to be an easy night.
A mechanical bull sat in the corner of the room. The first thing she dared him was to ride. He’d never understood why you would sit on a randomly swinging piece of machinery, but he wanted those almond eyes. He paid the twenty and hopped on. The whirligig cranked up and he lasted two seconds. His buddies yelp and the girl laughed as she helped him up.
“Not much of a cowboy, are you?”
The words and beers got him mad.
“Let me back on.”
Another sawbuck was thrown and with a wheeze, the whirligig spit and spun around. Jack hung on for dear life. Lights appeared from right and left. Each stop and start felt like a two by four across the side of his head. A tingling sensation began to build. It was a Damascus moment, the blinding feeling of letting go and landing on the foam mats. He was lifted up with a kiss.
“Now, THAT’S more like it.” Almond eyes twinkled back at him. “Let’s dance.”
The rest of the night was a blur of line dances and laughter. Somewhere, their eyes locked and everything was on.
They ended up the motel next door. He vaguely remembered the room number-118. The door was green and past it was a bed and the normal assortment of furniture. It must have been her room because there was pink and black lingerie on a rod and some lady stuff on the counter.
His shirt came off but he couldn’t remember if she had stripped. The huge, pink thing was coming at him like a weapon. There was screaming and next thing he knew, the friend he had been with earlier was helping him into his car. Six hours later, he woke up in his place with no wallet or keys and feeling like three days death. Somehow, they forgot his phone. Flicking it on, he looked for any follow up messages. Nope. Fishing around in his pants, he found the number the girl had given him and dialed it. No answer.
They did text a picture.
It was an image that couldn’t be drunk away.
The song on the jukebox ended. Glancing up toward the old caution sign at the door, he noticed another one just below it.
I don't normally do politics in my blog. As a former government worker, I avoid it like the plague simply because I don't want to relive dealing with pompous, entitled folks without the skills to hold a legitimate job. And talking politics generally devolves into a death spiral, each side getting more and more entrenched with each rotation.
Like the Middle East.
Like the current crop of displaced refugees.
There seems to be two sides of thought on these folks. Either, they are enemy agents and should be repelled immediately, or they are total victims that will die if nothing is done.
I fall into the second camp. 95% of the displaced people are exactly that. They lost their homes, businesses, farms, etc due to the political turmoil. And because most don't subscribe to the particular brand of Islam that ISIS champions, they are considered to be blasphemers and apostates and should be exterminated without mercy. And as such, they are deserving of a safe harbor.
However, I realize a group this large is going to bring massive problems.In the remaining 5% are two types of bad seeds: 1) Agents of the various Islamic terror groups hoping to find a foothold and 2) Criminals. If you look at prior immigration and refugee groups, it will be the second group that will cause the most trouble. Extortion and prostitution rings set up to exploit the other 95% is guaranteed. Some will use opium connections and make their fortunes in the heroin trade, and some of that money will find its way to the first group only because it is expedient.
Can any of this be stopped?
No. It is like a ocean wave. You might be able to slow it down with vetting (which already takes 18 months), but at least some of these folks are coming.
So, the other day I got home from picking up my wife and picked up the mail. Most days, it is ads, bills and other items that frankly they shouldn't have bothered with. Just think of how many trees died for that slick coupon sheet advertising house cleaning services and what not. And this batch of mail was similar, except for one envelope with a laser printed address label. I shrug, guesses it is a dinner invitation from a stock broker wanting to "invest" my non-existent money in a fake warehouse scheme, or maybe for some inaccessible land in the mountains.
The shredder is hungry, but I stop.What really is in there? Ripping the flap open are vouchers to a local restaurant, and then I notice who sent it.
A local funeral home.
Great! Now, I know I'm getting old. I mean, I've been getting crap from AARP for at least ten years and now someone wants me to face my own mortality, probably on the monthly finance plan.
It all started when I met Charlie Balczak at Mess. Who’s he?
An E4 grunt I’d bunked with. A short, wiry guy from Ohio, he could drink guys
twice his size under the table and then hold his own in the fights that
followed. Oh, he was alright for a Marine. Not quite as crazy as most of them,
but he did have his moments. And this was one of those moments.
We were assigned to a demolition unit at Ft. Bliss and had
just gotten our deployment orders. Yippee. We get to do our jobs for real and
get out of this Godforsaken desert. Still a desert, just not this one. This was
my first deployment and Charlie’s third. He had warned me that fun was not
allowed over there, so we drew overnight passes to get our kicks out before we
A good thing was there were no girl friends or wives to
answer to. And for what we were planning, that was a very good thing. Butterbar
told us Juarez was off limits again, but we’d been 86’d out of every bar in El
Paso and Las Cruces was a dump. We had to go somewhere and there was Puta we wanted to see.
Charlie had an old yellow Bronco he called The Wayfarer he
bought after Boot. The truck was a combination dog and family, it traveled with
him to every stateside duty station and had waited patiently in a storage yard
at LeJeune the last time he deployed. One night at a bar, he had told me there
had been no one waiting for him when he deplaned, but when he went over to the
truck, it started up right away. And he’d been gone fourteen months. A lot
better than the girl he’d left. She’d fucked some flyboy and followed him to
The truck had been across the border a couple of times
already. It was almost entirely rust,
but the engine was strong. There were the four bullet holes from a prior
adventure, but I didn’t care. It was ugly enough not to attract the attention
of Banditos and roomy enough to use
for sleeping if need be. Packing it with clothes, condoms and a couple of
gallons of water, we hopped in and left Bliss in a cloud of dust, radio blasting.
Traffic across town to the bridge was almost nonexistent. The
freeway green sign: Bienvenidos De
Mexico!, beckoning fun and danger for all gave me a little thrill.A lone Federale
stood at the check point and after a quick check of licenses, he waved us
through. I should have thought something was up when nothing was said about the
Base sticker. I didn’t care, though. There was going to be no reality for a
We turned off the main road, past broken houses and trash. A
statue of Guadelupe looked lovingly over an open air drug market. We weren’t
interested. Beer and munchies came from a little bodega on the outskirts of the
city. Paying for it wasn’t a problem. U.S. money was welcomed with a slight
mark up and it was still cheaper than in El Paso. You just had to be careful
not to show too much. Loading back up, we headed to Doña Maria’s farm.
It wasn’t much, a four room adobe shack in so-so repair on a
plot of chaparral scrub. The roof was faded clay, which contrasted sharply with
the rest of the house and the hill behind. A mangy dog sounded our introduction
as we turned into the pitted driveway. A boy of about 13 was tending to a small
vegetable garden. He turned toward us, smiled and shouted back at the shack. A
petite, dark skinned woman appeared at the door, smiling at the arrival of the
truck. Returning customers were always welcomed, even if we kind of tore the
place up last time.
“Eh Bien, Amigoes.”
She gave us both big hugs. The smell of sweat overlaid in cheap perfume was
exciting. The boy had already taken the hint and was heading down the road
toward town. Charlie got the cooler and I got the munchies and like good
soldiers waited for orders.
“Don’t just stand
there, come in.” She stepped away from the door and we escaped the sun.
The main room was
dimly lit and over furnished. A large couch sat on the wall opposite the door.
A hand hewn piñon coffee table and several chairs competed for space. An
American football game flickered silently on the screen hung up in the corner. Lifting
the lid of the cooler in Charlie’s hands and opened a Modelo, taking it down in
one chug. Motioning toward the sofa, Charlie set the beer down and had a seat.
I put the bag of food on the dining table next to the kitchen.
“So good to see you
again. You promise to behave this time?
“Si, Doña Maria.”
Our voices sounded in unison. “We promise.”
“Good. If you
don’t, I’ll have to use the Nun’s lessons.” A twinkle of fire lit in her eyes
as she said it. The old steel ruler glinted in the sun next to the door,
begging to be used. She would enjoy every bit of that and, really, so would we.
Maria became the
hostess with the moistest, handing us open beers and kissing our foreheads and
rubbing our legs like we were her lost children. Flipping a switch on an
old stereo, music began to pour out.
Dear Lover, It’s been
a long, long time…
She was not really a whore, but more like the
mothers we had left behind, always concerned that we would be killed in action.
She listened as we talked about the Sergeant and our chain of command.We asked about Paco, the boy outside. He’d
managed to stay out of the local gangs and was trying to get enough money to go
to his Aunt’s in San Antonio.
Soon the chit chat was over. The soft voice became our
move the table over there.” It was done without delay.
“George, rub my
shoulders.” I knew not to hesitate. Grasping at the seam of her collar, I
rubbed the cured skin and watched her relax.
“Hmm… so strong…ayi”
Charlie in the
front and me in the back, we began our dance…
And that’s the last
thing I remember until the Federales
found me. Sir? Yes, Sir! I was insubordinate going to Juarez. No, Sir! I do not
know what happened to Cpl. Balczak or his truck. Sir? Yes, Sir! Those red marks
are from where Maria hit me with the ruler. I’m willing to take my punishment.
Sir? Yes, Sir! 15 days in the Stockade and six hours extra duty for six months after
I get off the plane? Sir? Yes, Sir! I’ll show myself out, Sir!
The picture sat on the desk mocking him from behind the screen.
It was a simple thing, really, a sketch of an old cigarette ad. The vested sax
player stared at him across time and space, playing some silent tune, a memory that
was happily slumbering two hours ago. But it sprung out from the holiday
decorations box and onto the floor. Honestly, he had thought the picture was
lost two or three moves ago.
What does she look like now? A homely girl that everyone
ignored, the only reason he even met her was passed out at a party that had
already died. He would have been just as happy for her not to have woken up. But,
no, his buddy threw his empties at her, and he had to open his mouth. So began
the four year odyssey of drama and pain.
It was fun at first. Impulsive and spontaneous, she would
chide him for public displays of affection and then pull him behind a car to
have her way. Emotions more changeable than the weather and more powerful than
the tides buffeted him. There was the call where he thought she was going to
kill herself, only to find out after making the hour ride she fell asleep and
she wondered why I had come. They broke up and made up more times than he could
remember every encounter more intense than the last.
Finally, she ran off
with a teacher at the college. She ended up getting charged with interference
of custody when she sheltered the kids during the divorce. The charges were
settled and the teacher moved on without her. One of the last calls to him had been trying
to talk her off the ledge. He had assured her she was worthy of someone, even
though it wasn’t him.
After all the legal crap, she dropped completely out of
sight. Over the years, there had been updates passed on from mutual friends. She
had never married. Drifting from town to town, she eventually settled in a
small fishing town and worked for an oil company as a safety manager.
The sketch was the only skeleton left. He had watched her
draw it, eyes focused and to Hell with the rest of the world, including him. None
of proportions were right, but that didn’t matter. Nothing in their
relationship was right either. She thought since the band was still together, it
fit. It was gift for his birthday and was supposed to have been a surprise. So,
he kept up the charade of being surprised, like she kept up her charade of
sanity. And the party did go as well as could be expected.
Now he is digging bones in the cemetery of his mind. Just
because a two bit amateur drawing wouldn’t leave him alone. A cup of coffee
stands cold alone next to the keyboard. The wife somehow understands. She had
never been her rival, just a ghost in his past that never really went away. And
this exorcism is the only way for peace to prevail.
With a couple of strokes, the mother’s obituary is seen. The
list of survivors confirms the location. With another inquiry, an address and a
phone number is written down. The oscillating hand drifts between the keyboard
and phone, not sure. The ring startles him out of the daze. The caller ID
blinks the number of a fake veteran’s charity that has called before. They can
talk to the machine, he thinks as he presses the reject symbol. Mechanically sipping the cold coffee, he gathers his wits.