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Thursday, March 26, 2015

THE SHOVEL

The Shovel

The numbers 3, 8 and 22 can lick my asshole clean.

I

Three is the number of sisters I have. All of them older. They dressed me up as a girl until I was five years old. Danae was closest to me in age, only a year older, but she still treated me like a kid. I’m 38!

 As she drove me to get smokes she confessed, “I’m addicted to yoga.”

Her kid Rory, was about to enter kindergarten and couldn’t pronounce his own name.

“Lol-lee, my name is Lol-lee.” It was painful to watch him try to form an R in his twisted mouth. “Roar- Ree,” I said slowly. “Roar-Ree.”

“Lol-lee” he repeated. Kid spent his days staring at the cat while his mom scooted off to yoga class to downward dog her way to spiritual enlightenment.

“I feel more connected with my goddess when I do my practice daily,” she continued.

“Danae, your goddess wants you to get your kid a speech therapist before he starts kindergarten or he’ll be a lamb to slaughter in public school.” She looked at me over her sunglasses hinting at a smile. Even though it was mid-January it was hot as hell.

“Michael believes Rory chose his impediment and will be stronger by overcoming it on his own,” Michael is her doughy husband. His has an atoll of long hair just above his ears, which he pulls back in a pump handle ponytail. He smokes a ton of weed, writes a conspiracy blog with half a million followers, and wears sweat pants and superhero T-shirts every day.

“That makes no sense whatsoever.” I said, staring out the window at the generic strip malls of sprawling Phoenix. Block after block of uninspired entrepreneurial spirit store fronts. Nail salons, liquor stores, check cashing places. Only the occasional taqueria with its hand-painted windows showed any sign of soul. “Does Michael still think he has a chip in his head?” Danae focused on the road, ignoring my question.

As I tamped and unwrapped the smokes, I handed her one as she said, “I’m worried about you. Are you still gambling?”

“Christ Danae, remember when you did so much blow your heart stopped and I had to jump up and down on your chest to get it to start again?”

“You’re projecting Tom,” she said. “Are you still gambling?”

“Well fuck yes I am,” I reclined the seat to get my eyes out of the sun. “And not very well, hence me sleeping on your floor. Did you know I spent the holidays at the Waldorf Estoria in New York City? I was up big, Danae. Private jet from Barcelona big.” I paused to light a cigarette. “Shit, did I tell you about Barcelona?”

“When were you in Barcelona?” She asked.

“Like two months ago. I had to swim ashore from a casino boat, buck ass naked. I lost my good suit in a hand of blackjack.” This was why the number 22 could lick my ass. “These two Saudi dudes stripped me and threw me overboard. I swam to shore, fashioned a loin cloth kind of thing from a plastic grocery bag and headed to La Rambla.”

“What do mean ‘fashioned a loin cloth from a grocery bag?’ Like a diaper?” She asked.

“Yeah, like a diaper, I stuck my legs through the bottom and synched up the waist. Then I went to La Rambla.”

“In a plastic diaper?”

“Yes,” I said. “Well, that and a tattered blue tarp that I found next to a construction site. I tied it around my neck, cape-style.”

She was looking at me again over her sunglasses with a full smile. I knew she loved these stories.

“Go on,” she said, ashing her cigarette in a lidless sippy cup with apple juice molding in the bottom.

“So yeah, I start walking up La Rambla and it’s packed with people, shoulder to shoulder. There are some buskers hustling money. I spy this skinny fag named Rory, oh weird, I mean ‘Lol-lee.’” Danae laughed up and punched me in the shoulder. “He and I were at a few parties together. He was hanging around this old coke dealer dude…”

“Like Dwayne?” She asked referring to this gross old dude that would give Danae eight-balls of coke if she’d go to parties with him.

“Yeah, like Dwayne. Rory sucked his cock though.”

“I never touched Dwayne,” she said. “Gross.”

“Whatever. Anyway Rory had obviously fell from grace because he was on the street beat boxing into a loudspeaker.”

“Was he good?”

“Yeah, really good. He could make some crazy beats.”

“So you started dancing. Right?” Danae guessed, knowing the trajectory of the majority of my stories.

“Exactly,” I said, sitting up in my seat. “I started doing my pop and lock routine.” I demonstrated arm moves.

“In a plastic diaper?” She asked.

“And a tattered blue cape.” I reminded her. “Yeah, we killed. We split 50 euros after only an hour of our routine.”

“Oh, the poor deprived citizens of Barcelona only got an hour of your dance routine.” Danae rolled her eyes and laughed.

“Rory took his earnings and scored blow. I took mine to a hardware store and bought a spray bottle, which I filled up in their bathroom with tap water, and a little pilfered glass cleaner. I also bought a 3 euro squeegee. I took my tools down to the corner of a busy intersection just off of La Rambla and started washing car windows.”

“In your Sanford and Son superhero get up?”

“Yep, it’s like dad said, ‘Never let an opportunity pass you by.’ Made 600 euros before the sunset. Bought a cheap suit got back on the casino boat and won over 10,000 euros from those Saudi bastards.”

“That’s like $15,000 US dollars?” Danae wondered.

“Something like that. I turned that in to $175,000 US over the next month. I chartered a jet, flew to New York and spent a month at the Waldorf Estoria and ordered room service every day. Best Cobb salad I’ve ever had.” Danae turned left at the light and started heading toward downtown. “Where are we going?” I ask.

“I’m taking you to the bus station.”

“What about my bags?” I asked.

“You didn’t bring any.”

“Oh yeah.”

We rode in silence. “Michael is weird and so is your kid,” I said stepping out of Danae’s car in front of the bus station. “I love you though.”

“I know they are. I love you too, Tom,” she said, reaching out for another smoke.

II



The number 8 can suck my ASS!

If someone lifted the rock off of America they’d find Greyhound busses filled with a conglomeration of repeatedly wronged single moms ignoring their sugar-amped kids rotting their brains with eyes glued to screens. Seats filled with veterans telling war stories to heal the wounds that nobody wants to acknowledge, and broke widows whose farm has long been repossessed knitting sweaters for ungrateful mid-western grandkids on meth. And me, a hot and cold gambler who was currently cold. Dammit! I forgot to ask Danae for Xanax, I thought as I made a donut out of my jacket to sit on. A twenty-three hour bus ride from Phoenix to Denver without pharmaceutical aid and flaming hemorrhoids was made only slightly more bearable by way of a dirty hippy kid named Slug who was packing some incredibly powerful weed. We smoked at every stop.

“What peyote dancing, shoeless voodoo wizard named you Slug?” I asked as we duck behind a dumpster to smoke a bowl outside of Tuba City.  

“I earned my name at the Burn,” Slug said choking on smoke. “Have you ever been to Burning Man?”

“Fuck no. I have no interest spending a week watching oppressed professionals dangle their gentiles while hula-hooping in a sand storm.”

“You wouldn’t watch, you’d participate. It’s one of the ten principles of Burning Man.”

“No I wouldn’t. I’d sit there, judge the hell out everyone, and be miserable.”

Slug looked at me for a while. “Yeah, maybe you shouldn’t go. It’s not for everyone.”

When we got back on the bus, sitting in seat number 8 was my ex-girlfriend Alex.

She looked at me standing in the aisle next to Slug. Both of us reeking of pot, eyes as red as taillights. “Hi Tom. Who’s your buddy?” She asked, giving me the same half smile Danae gave me.

“I’m David Cohen,” Slug said. I looked at him and shrug my shoulders.

“Are you going to Denver?” I asked her.

“No, Albuquerque.”

“Good,” I said walking past. I was too stoned to chat. I felt so stupid. I sat in my seat next to the bus driver who just got off shift. He was eating a can of sardines in mustard sauce and slugging back Old Grand-dad. He had to weigh over 300 pounds. The seat next to Alex was open. I stayed put.  

III

The bus arrives just after midnight depositing Slug and I on to the quiet, snowy streets of downtown Denver. There is at least 6” of fresh snow covering the streets and sidewalks. My nylon jacket, thin socks, and penny loafers provided zero insulation from the biting cold. After two steps my loafers fill with powdery snow. “Well this sucks,” I say looking to Slug.  “Let’s formulate a survival plan.”

Slug is walking down the sidewalk toward a black Cadillac Escalade. “It’s my dad,” he says. As he walks away, he transforms from a slimy invertebrate into David Cohen. Opening the back door, he disappears into the warm interior.  He may have waved goodbye, I’m not sure. The windows are tinted.

When you are broke and alone in the bitter darkness of a strange city there is only one thing to do. Walk. If you are walking you aren’t loitering. If you have your eyes open, and your standards are low enough, you can always find what you need to survive on the streets and in the alleys of any city in the US.

By the time I get to the corner, I find a nappy wool balaclava under the eaves of the bus station. No cootie can survive this freezing cold so I didn’t worry as I pull on the facemask.

Tower cranes are the true bellwether for the economic growth of a city. From my downtown vantage point I count seven jutting out of the Denver skyline. The boom before the bust, I thought. Mid-western cities never quite grasp their own disposable nature. When times are good they build as though the nation depends on them and can’t believe when everyone returns to the coasts when times are lean. Denver, upon first impression, seems like it was getting all dressed up in knock off designs for a dance that will surely get cancelled. 

I walk in the direction of the state capital. Its huge golden dome radiates a halo of rainbow splinters in the cold air — the opulence of the gold in stark contrast to the emptiness of my wallet.

The snow falls in flakes as fat as the white washcloths in the Waldorf Estoria washrooms, soft terrycloth washcloths being thrown from rooftops by a demigoddess in an herbal mask. Only two blocks from the bus station and my head and shoulders are blanketed. Passing a construction site I spy another tattered blue tarp, which I tie around me more like a shawl than a cape.  I line my loafers with two grocery bags to keep the snow out.

Another inch of snow falls by the time I pass the Capital and cross on to 13th Avenue. The scent of fresh baked treats holds me fast in front of a bakery window made opaque from the steam and warmth. Inside are silhouettes of worker bee bodies pulling trays of baked goods from hot ovens. In the windows reflection I see myself in the nappy facemask and blue tarp and reluctantly move on.
                        

IV


From underneath the cloud cover a band of silver blue appears on the low eastern horizon illuminating the underbelly of the clouds pregnant with snow. The dawn brings winds that sweep the snowstorm across the high plains, turning the soft flakes to needles, which ricochet off the western wall of the Rockies, sending them back into a frenzied spiral through the deserted streets of Denver. Each flake an assault on my exposed flesh. My toes and fingers are in distress, my teeth begin to chatter. I need shelter quick.

Pushed against the wall of an alley, a mere twenty yards from the bakery, is a quarter round awning about six feet long and three feet high and wide. I remove the snow that is piling up against it. Painted on the front and sides is a wide-eyed, smiling, cartoon chicken holding a drumstick. Chester Fried Chicken. Pulling the awning away from the wall I shimmy my body and some cardboard boxes I procured to make a pallet on the asphalt underneath the awning. As I reclose the gap between the wall and the awning, I am enveloped by darkness. The wind whips and drifts snow outside as I remove my wet clothes, light a cigarette and wrap myself in the blue tarp. Moments after my last drag, I lie down and sleep the sleep of death.

So total is the darkness that there’s no difference between eyes open or shut when I awake, maybe hours or days later. It is silent. Absolute quiet, absolute darkness, absolutely alone. I stay perfectly still and enjoy deeply the situation I find myself in. Goddamit, I have to take a piss — a reality that would not be denied much longer. I’ll be damned if I’m going to lie in my own filth even for continued solitude. My escape from underneath the awning is thwarted by the immense weight of the snow that accumulated since my arrival.  Try as I might, the awning would not budge.  I panic. Premature burial has always been my greatest fear. My screams are absorbed by the insulation of snow. With my feet against the wall I shove against the awning to no avail. I pound in vain on the canvas fabric of the awning. My breath becomes shallow as I imagine the recirculation of my own toxic gas and no fresh oxygen to replace it.

Pulling out my pocketknife, I make a thin slit in the awning fabric between the ribs of the structure. Crouching beneath the opening I begin to claw my way through the drifted snow. My hands turn new baby pink as I scoop away over three feet of snow. Packing the tailings into the corners of the shelter, I am quickly running out of room. Finally I breach through. A shaft of light, refracting off the tunnel of crystalline snow, shines upon me. On my knees, hands uplifted I bask in that shaft of light, deeply inhaling the crisp air from outside.

More digging as I wrestle my head and shoulders through the small slit opening and up through the canal of snow. My forehead bleeds profusely from a cut receive from the rough edge of the metal frame. By the time my head pokes through, the surrounding snow is stained red. “Yarrrrghhhh!” I yell as I tumble out of my frigid womb into a landscape so white I can see no deminsion. Mounds of fresh snow soften every angle. Cars look like ski moguls and tree branches droop and crack under the heavy blanket of snow.

A pole sticking out of a dumpster catches my eye.  In my penny loafers, lined with thin socks and grocery bags, I make my over to the dumpster and shake the snow off the pole. It’s a snow shovel. Its only dysfunction is the D-handle had broken off. Like Arthur the page-boy I pull the shovel from the dumpster and hold it forth like Arthur the King. This shovel is to be my salvation.

I begin to shovel the walk in front of the bakery and receive two cinnamon rolls and cup of coffee for my efforts. The ladies in the bakery suggest I continue shoveling the walk in front of the restaurant for which I received $15. Within an hour I had cleared the walk in front of all the shops on the block, earning over $150, and I begin to make my way to the residences near-by.

As I shovel a walk in front of a simple brick home, my mind and body at peace with the labor, I hear the sounds of children laughing. I clear a step and sit to smoke a cigarette and watch. A young family is setting about to build a snowman. The father clad in a wool pants and sweater begins the foundational ball as the mother, rosey cheeked, exhaling great plumes of breath fiddles with the children’s mittens and hats. The youngest child sucks on an icicle while the elder helps her father roll the giant ball.  The scene is joyous and pure.


I watch them play as I take slow drags of my cigarette. I remember my wife. She hates me now. I remember my wife and remember why I hate the number 2. 2 will break your heart.

Monday, March 23, 2015

FOREVER CHANGED

The prompt from Nicole B. Hagg~  There was the bing of a new text, the envelope in front of her and the bottle of tequila, all within arm’s reach.  She debated which to open first… ~  The prompt was altered slightly for the purposes of Daniel Landes’s flash fiction piece. 

Forever Changed

Our fluids and hair were left on the peaks, and in the valleys of the bed sheets.   Scant evidence of our carnal ritual, soon to be bleached and laundered. 
She left just before the sun rose.  Somewhere inside her was my vitality.  “You think you are someone don’t you?” she asked as we shared a drink in a hotel bar in a city neither of us lived.  “I don’t think, I know,” I responded slipping my hand further up her thigh.  She removed it and placed it on the bar top.  “You have no idea what you’re dealing with,” she said.  “What, or whom, I’m dealing with?” I ask.  She smiled turning her eyes to the floor revealing a graceful arc from her shoulder to her ear.  I could see the pulse of her heart coursing through a bluish vein.  I brushed her neck with my fingertips.  She flushed red and repeated her self in a purr, “you have no idea what you are dealing with.” 
She took my hands and opened them palm up.  With her index finger she traced a stigmata on both palms until a red mark appeared between my line of life and my line of fate.  “Why would you do this to her?” she asked.   I took my hands back and pumped them like a heart beat. I was drowsy, past the point of no return.  “She did it to me first.” I said.  “Revenge?” she asked.  I took a sip of our drink and mulled over the ‘why’ of what I was doing.  “Not revenge.  Equitability.  Balancing the scales.”  “She knows you are here and why?”  She asked.  “She knows,” I answer.  She again looks to floor.  Her hair is a black as the space between the stars.  I return my hand to her thigh.  She allows it to stay.  Without looking at me she says “She knows you are here and why, but she can’t possibly imagine with what.”  Again I wanted to ask her with ‘what’ or with ‘whom’ but I let it pass.                        
I allow myself to be led to the hotel room.  She became intensely somber.  Before we cross the threshold from the fluorescent hallway to the dark room I change my mind.  I want nothing to do with this.  I want to push her away, slam the door and lock it.  I just want to go to bed.  I am past the point of no return.  We cross over and she takes complete control.  The marks on my palms began to burn as she covers my body with soft kisses.  I know what is happening, what is at stake, but am powerless to stop it.  She drained me of my life force and replaced it with something dark and eternal.  I thought of my wife, of revenge and the god of love. 
She left with my vitality before the sun rose.  I lay, forever changed. 
I heard the bing of a new text.  I knew it was from my wife asking if it was done.  On the bedside was an envelope. In it would be confirmation that it was.  On the dresser was a bottle of tequila.  I reach for it forever changed, forever changed.   
           
           


Sunday, March 15, 2015

NICER CARS

Nicer Cars


I grew up in a suburban, South East Denver neighborhood.  It was quiet and safe. Routines were easy to identify.   At 7:00 am the men pulled out of their garages and followed the brass ring to work.  Mr. Newman drove a Saab, Mr. Engles a Ford and my dad, an Audi.  At 8:00 am the neighborhood children walked out their front doors to the bus stop where we’d brag and lie, push and shove.  At 10:00 am the woman pulled their cars out of the garage to run errands, volunteer at school, or play tennis.  I don’t remember what they drove, something practical to usher kids around in. 

My father didn’t always drive an Audi.  He drove a Datsun, then a Ford, then an Audi.  The cars followed his progress up the corporate ladder.  By the time he purchased his Audi he began taking long walks with the neighbor lady, my best friends mom, his mistress.   My mother contracted an autoimmune disease during this time. 

The bus took us to school and dropped us in front of the industrial brick building where we would queue up and wait for the bell to ring.  It was the era of bussing.  There were Black kids, White kids, Mexican kids, Vietnamese kids. I had a crush on a girl named Natalie, was bad at math, and never won a blue ribbon on field day.  I liked the way school lunch smelled but hated the way it tasted.  In fifth grade, my friend Rob, who matured young, said Julie had a nice butt.  I had no idea what he was talking about.  I still played with toys. 

Ronald Regan was President.  His wife Nancy was first lady.  One day all fifth and sixth grade students were given a very important letter to take home to our parents announcing a very important meeting that was being held at the high school lunchroom on an evening in the very near future.  The importance of this letter was reinforced by a phone call home to remind our parents that their attendance, along with their child, was requested for a very important meeting at the high school lunchroom. 

As the meeting day grew closer, the atmosphere around it grew in intensity.  We didn’t know what the meeting was about, only that it was very important.  We kids all agreed that we would be there with our parents. 

On the night of the meeting, my mom, my best friend, his mom (yes the one my dad was carrying on with) and I had a pre-meeting dinner at Arby’s. I hardly had an appetite but managed to choked down a Jamocha shake.  Our mom’s spoke to each other in low whispers.  A woman, waiting for her take out order, dropped her infant baby on the red tile floor.  The sound, a melon drop thud, was sickening.  We all held our breath until the baby let out a sharp scream. The mother then worked hard to comfort the baby.

The high school lunchroom smelled like the elementary lunchroom but was far bigger and had murals painted on the walls.  There were posters plastered announcing candidates for student council.  I saw many kids from my school, some had older siblings who attended the high school.  The kids with older siblings looked cooler and more comfortable than me.  In front of the older kids I became painfully self aware of the clothes I was wearing.  Our group of four took seats at a folding table. 

Three police officers walked into the lunchroom.  Two of them carried large black bags. 

The eldest of the three welcomed us to the meeting and thanked us for being there. 

“There is an epidemic infecting the children of America.” His began in a deep authoritarian voice.   “An epidemic that is ruining families, lives and the American dream.” He paused looking just over the heads of his audience.  “We are here tonight to educate you the parents, and you the children, about the dangers of drugs.”

A low whisper spread throughout the room as the officers began unpacking their bags loaded with drug paraphernalia, and to our great surprise actual drugs.  That night we learned about pills, weed, shrooms, acid, PCP, Heroine, opiates, all of it.  We saw bongs, rolling papers, and hash pipes.  We heard horror stories of addicts and promising young lives ruined by drugs.  Just one hit of weed, one dose of acid and a star athlete was now eating paint chips on skid row. 

Another officer introduced ‘McRuff the Crime Dog’ who advised us that ‘only losers use drugs’.  They always use a dog for this kind of authoritative mascoting.  A cat wouldn’t care if you did drugs.  Do drugs, don’t do drugs. I don’t care. Just stay out of my sun.” The crime cat would say.    

Then the police officers showed a short, unforgettable film about a kid who ate some acid and went to the store.  Why go to the store on acid?   Anyway, a hallucinogenic nightmare plagued him.  As he reached for an orange it filled with maggots and worms, the check out lady went Large Marge on him.   The kid, in the throws of a bad trip, ran from the security guard who was trying to help.  In a demented rage he ran through a melting city up to the top of a building and threw himself off.  The film was unnerving.  

Nancy Regan made a cameo at the end of the film and addressed us; “Drugs take away the dream from every child’s heart and replaces it with a nightmare, and it’s time we in America stand up and replace those dreams.  Children if someone offers you drugs ‘Just Say NO.

We all left the meeting quietly, scared, and forever changed.

That night I lay in bed thinking of all that I learned.  And here’s the fucked up part.  I knew, despite how scared I was, that someday I would totally try drugs

… and I did.

I have often claimed that my life was bettered by the moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs.  Mushrooms and acid had a profound effect on how I saw the world.  After using them a couple times I became aware of the “lives of quiet desperation” of my father and the men in my neighborhood.  I felt the graveyard of my stomach as it digested the flesh of animals and searched for compassionate alternatives.  I recognized our home planet as sentient and interconnected.  I understood my self as ethnocentric and miss educated.  My reading took a turned from Steinbeck and Hemingway to Tom Robbins, Richard Bach, then to the beats.  From Kerouac I discovered Gary Snyder and from Snyder Alan Watts, and from Watts, Lao Tzu. 

My life was greatly influenced by my moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs.  I read Watt’s book The WaterCourse Way and opened a restaurant based on the Taoist philosophies it trumpeted.  With the guidance of psychotropics I understood the illusory nature of this physical reality and so proceed forth into this life with great confidence.  I was fearless.  I applied my understanding of gentle power to feed people, to serve people, to practice compassion.  And it worked!  It was as if the drugs allowed me to skip the first eight chapters in the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment allowing me to just get to work.  I married the woman I loved and she gave birth to two beautiful boys. We raised them in a one-room cabin in the woods where we split wood and carried water. 

Our successes created other successes.  We began to buy property, open other businesses in other countries, moved down to the city.  My attention was on creating things, and stuff, and success!  By the time I was forty, for all intents and purposes, I was a success.  My intentions were good, the results positive, the money flowed in.

We drove nicer and nicer cars. 

And then my marriage fell the fuck apart.  And boy, was it ever an ugly disentanglement.   

All these beautiful things, this gentle stuff was litigated, and dissected by lawyers.  Incomes were tallied, businesses were quantified, details were picked apart, sums were divided, and all these successes, these beautiful things, looked ugly to me.  What was once fluid and gentle now became crystallized and jagged like the vicious grit of a kidney stone. 

As I flailed and suffered through the meat-grinder of the divorce process I looked to the spiritual enlightenment I attained with the aid of the moderate use of hallucinogenic drugs for help.  It was not available to me. 

Come to find out, the kind of spiritual help I needed, as my life was falling apart, was written in the first eight chapters of the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment.  The chapters I skipped as I tripped mushrooms in the canyonlands of Utah communing with the grandfathers and grandmothers of earth and sun.  I never knew I would regret skipping those chapters until I sat in my apartment alone and cried out in pain and confusion and no one answered.

And so I stayed in my darkness, alone… until recently when I learned what chapter one in the metaphorical book of spiritual enlightenment is titled.



Chapter One
Meditation


And so the real work begins.