Friday, December 30, 2005

Way to go, Ed

For monkey 0 and for the real-life Ed.

Ed felt it right as the ball left his fingers, a perfect throw, rolling straight as the path to God down the lane, lights shining off its surface. He closed his eyes to hear the sweet clatter as the ball hit true, ten pins down.

"You ever hear anything so pretty?" asked Ed, turning back to his boys.

Cecil shook his head, slurping suds from his moustache, "You're on fire tonight, Ed."

"Throwing with the angels," agreed Johnny, angling up to the ball return, his long fingers slotting into his own ball.

Throwing with the angels. Ed nodded, in a state of grace, something special tonight. He knew he had that magic 300 in his fingers, he just had to step aside almost, a simple perfection speaking through him.

"Whatever happened to that Sherry?" asked Ed. He could still remember the feel of her lips on his cheek last year, after his second 300 game, always thought it was her nominated him for the Hall of Fame in Kalamazoo. The way she looked at him sideways from behind the counter, shiny red lips in a little smile like they had a private joke, just the two of them.

"She married that Kosanke fellow," Cecil slumping back from a sorry throw, "From last year's All Star's?"

"Moved out to...Illinois, was it?" Dick rolled his head against the back of the bench, Ed guessed his shoulder was acting up again.

"That girl had real class," Ed nodded his way back to the lane, last throw of the game, head full of Sherry and her long brown hair. Even under the alley uniform you could tell she was built like one of those girls on the mud flaps, tiny little waist, hips rolling under the edge of the shirt. Too young for him, he knew, but she let him dream. Ed held his hand over the air, thought again of her breath on his cheek, her gentle voice in his ear: "Way to go, Ed."

His fingers slid into the holes like home, the ball warm and alive in his hand.

This is a good night, he thought, letting go, rolling true as the word of the Lord, the boys jumping up almost before it hit, he could hear them yelling his name, a perfect 300, stars shooting behind his eyelids, his heart swelling up, he turned around to see their faces once before tilting to the floor, Sherry's voice in his ear, calling him softly home.

"Way to go, Ed."

Thursday, December 29, 2005


This is my very late post for monkey 0's topic.

Stanley dropped the cherry from his cig down between the couch cushions. Bad scene, man. He stuck his hand down after it, quick, moved it back and forth. Nothing. Shit.

Stanley dragged himself up and yanked the cushion off the couch. No smoldering kernel, no ash, no nothing. Nothing, nothing, nothing, man. Not even crumbs. The bare couch was as clean as the day the plastic came off, however many damn years ago that was. Fifty or something. Crappy old flowered couch, and he'd been eating and drinking and smoking, playing cards and getting drunk and farting and even had a chick once or twice on the thing, and there's nothing there. Clean as a baby's bottom.

That shit's fucked up, thought Stanley.

He was standing anyway, so he lifted off the other two cushions, knocking his dead cig off the coffee table, and rocking his beer where it stood. Stanley lunged for the beer, caught it off balance, spilled some on the cushionless couch, but managed to save most of it. He was about ready to take a pull when the puddle of beer on the bare seat started moving. Not like running like spilled beer should, man, but like gathering itself together and looping, brown and shiny, toward the crack, that long crack at the back of the couch.

Stanley put down the beer. How many had he had? Damn, not that many, only four or so, just a regular weekday, but damn him if that puddle wasn't slipping right into that crack, leaving the couch as clean as Sunday morning.

Stanley sat down on the coffee table, and looked at the couch. It sat there, not saying a word back to him. It was just a couch, just a raggedy-ass old couch. Maybe it was just curved funny so that everything that landed on it slid to the back. That was it. Stanley nodded once, then knelt on the couch and reached into the crack.

And he kept reaching, pushing his arm in all the way up to his shoulder, his hand waving around in fucking empty air. He yanked his arm back, fast, and pulled the couch away from the wall, knocking it against the coffee table. The beer went over again, but Stanley didn't even stop to see the liquid foaming out of the can, sliding quietly into the crack. He was busy running his hand over the back of the couch. Nothing, just the back of the couch. Wall on the other side.

Stanley stood up. He looked at his right hand, the one he'd stuck into the crack. It was warm. Warmer than his other hand. Shit, it wasn't 40 degrees out and his heat hadn't worked for a month. He was used to the cold. He held his two hands next to each other, and the right one was radiating heat.

Stanley went back around to the front of the couch and laid down on it. He pried open the crack. It was just dark down there, but something, a warm breath and a scent.

Fuck, was that flowers?

Stanley scrabbled in closer. No, it wasn't just dark, there was a glow down there, far off, like sunshine from another room, and...he pried it open just a little further...he heard a breeze, wind through palm leaves. And the scent of flowers. And...Stanley pushed his head as close as he could...ocean waves, lapping against the beach.

The far-off cry of a seagull.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Billy gets a camera

Click to see larger photoWhile I can never hope to be the thing of the moment, nor am I always watching, I do now (thanks to the stupendous Mr. Billy) have a camera.

I am therefore dangerous.

The father of the girl in the pink boots, for example, was - rightly, as it happens - suspicious.Click to see a larger photo

I promise, this is not about to become a photoblog. I just had to show off my new toy. I'll throw in a picture now & then, but if I find it growing into an obsession (a distinct possibility), I'll find another home for the pics.

Want to see more from my day at the beach? Trundle on over to Flickr.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Billy unplugged

To my highly attractive and obviously brilliant readers: I will be away for a few days. No cell phone access, no T.V., no internet. On my return, I will repent of my lazy blogging and everything else I've neglected. Or, at least, have a few days of furious activity followed by weeks of torpor and sloth before the guilt piles up again.

I know, you can hardly wait.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Promiscuous Billy (90.18%)

I've been a bad blogger. I haven't been posting, haven't been leaving comments on the brilliant blogs of brilliant bloggers who leave comments on mine. I haven't written about things found between couch cushions yet, either.
And today I find out I'm also 90.18% slutty, thanks to the Slut-o-Meter.

For all the other things, I will mend my ways, I will.

But the sluttiness, well, I don't think I can help that.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Fake leg

"...but you know she has a fake leg."

"Fake leg? She don't have no fake leg, she lyin to you."

Some mornings, I like sharing the bus with teenagers. These two were having their conversation around me, like I wasn't even there. The boy was the one telling about the girl with the fake leg. He was small, deep black, sitting with a pudgy white boy. The skeptical girl was little, too, but you could see she was already almost a woman. She held herself very still, her dark hair carefully combed back from her face.

"No, I'm tellin you, she have a fake leg. She got run over, it got run over, and it broke."


"Yeah. It got run over an now it's fake."

"She lyin. You don't get no fake leg from havin your leg broke. You just get a cast, like I had last year?"

"No, it was broke, an it healed, an then it got run over."

"An I'm tellin you she lyin."

"I see her today, I'm gonna kick her in the leg."

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Old Ranch Dies

Mom grew up on a ranch.

At home she held court in the bedroom, propped against pillows on the king size bed, Dad's abstract-expressionist canvas spreading across the wall above her; a wingless angel in yellows and oranges looking down. I see her most often there, in a flowered caftan, my brothers strewn around the bed talking, Mom's legs crossed neatly at the ankles. I would lie at her feet, my fingers tracing the scar that curved around her ankle bone where they put the screws in.

Summers we went to the ranch. Grandma and Grandpa kept it going well into their eighties. Mom was different there, in jeans, riding a horse, in the garden with me and my sister, picking strawberries. We'd sneak a few into our mouths along the way, heavy with summer juice.

The ranch was alive to me then, games of Marco Polo with my brothers and cousins in the yard. A nest with robin's eggs just out the window of the upstairs bunkhouse. Shucking corn in the dooryard. A hand slipped under the fluff of a hen for warm eggs. Grandma bustling around the kitchen, apron over her faded flowered dress, Grandpa chewing on a piece of hay, pulling off his work gloves before sitting down.

The ranch is gone now, lost. Sold after Grandma & Grandpa's deaths, fallen into mud and neglect. But Mom saw its death long before. She knew a different time, when the bunkhouses were full of ranch hands, Mom as a girl, with her sisters, carrying pots of food to a tableful of men. When Grandpa called her Tommy, and she pitched hay at his side.

I wish I could bring it all back - Mom and the ranch, the poplar trees and Grandpa's hands around a cow's teat, ringing milk against the metal wall of a bucket - I try, with words, but it's never enough.

Mom, maybe, was more successful.

Old Ranch Dies
Uncle Tone played Bonies with us
in the dooryard dirt, between
the poplar trees; heifers,
horses, mares in stick corrals;
collected from their disconnected
skeletons, sun dried, bird cleansed
for our farms and barns.

Uncle Tone lived that summer
in one of a row of cowhand cabins
made of wood so old it held inside
the cool and ancient light.

We watched him shave
from an enameled basin, chip-pocked,
filled with soap scum on the water, cold.

He worked the leather razor strop,
lathered up. I thought saddle soap
would serve better on his tooled face,
than the floating bloated stuff.

He applied the edge and grated
upwards, laying swath by swath;
made a map like hayfields mowed,
with only fringes top and bottom
left, for a sidewise scythe.

His face wavered in the mirror
and he turned and flung the basin
empty to the dooryard,
water arcing a continuum
where poplars stood in rows
armed against the wind--

And made a sheltering place
for owl, pivoting his face
as he spoke--

Of how the pigs got out that day,
left us clinging to the screen door
while aunties grabbed their brooms,
sweeping courage in stampeding clouds
doubling the other way--

Of how we three rode sandwiched
flank by flank upon Old Ruth,
among the cottonwoods--

How, in the grainery we slithered
in within the bins of wheat--

And how we stood inhaling leather
hanging smooth inside the saddle house,
soothed in the gloom of the light.

Uncle Tone could swing a lariat
while headlong galloping the hills,
could bounce it, bellied out against
the wind, that spoke of white-eyed
panic from the day that Golden Racket
kicked his stall apart, reared
and neighed his way out,
splintering the fence.

Uncle Tone played Bonies with us
in the dooryard dirt. Now he's moving on.
His skeleton is in its mound--white bones
are disconnecting, making
bonies, underground.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

"We'll be home soon"

"...a relief." Rico was talking out loud, but he didn't think anyone heard him, their feet moving around his head, shouting somewhere far above him, Rico couldn't understand what, but it didn't matter, what Marie had said was right, everything was going to be okay.

Marie had been talking him through the whole thing, getting on the plane and the drink service, all of it, "We're starting to land," she'd said, "just twenty minutes and we'll be on the ground," she seemed to think he was nervous, but it was Marie who was scared when she found out he'd missed his dose this morning. Rico was just rolling back, away from all the noise and colors and realness, like a camera dollying back from the action, and it was turning into a movie, a dream, Rico just sitting back where it was safe and quiet, watching himself bouncing his knees, bumping them up against the tray table, watching his shoulders twitch inside his new blue shirt.

"We just have to get through customs ... We're going to be home soon, and everything will be all right," Marie had her hand over his while they stood, stooping, at their seat, watching the other passengers bunch up in the aisle.

From his far-off spot, Rico saw one of the passengers - the guy with wet strings of hair pulled over the top of his head - look hard at Rico, he was looking at him and thinking Terrorist, Rico could smell it, he smelled what the bald guy was thinking, he looked at Rico and saw a terrorist.

Rico moved his backpack around to his front, it made him feel safer from the man who saw a terrorist, it made him feel strong, he could lift his arms out to the side and look down at it, it looked good, it looked powerful. It looked like it could be real, could be dangerous, could be a bomb.

The man moved his head, jerking it to the side. Rico watched himself flinch back, watched himself break for the aisle, he could see a panic on his face, the Rico he saw had to get out, Marie left behind, he just had to get out out fast.

He didn't see the man in the Hawaiian shirt, though, not until after the shots yanked him right back inside his head, the man standing over him. Did he hear me thinking? wondered Rico. Did he hear me thinking about my backpack, how it could be a bomb?

It didn't really matter, thought Rico, blood slipping from between his lips. Everything was okay, just like Marie said. We'll be home soon.

"I should blog,"

...she said, reaching for the Spiegel catalog.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Our Lady of the Triple T

The Triple T truckstop in Tucson is Our Place, where I meet Mother Mary when I'm in the area. Mary has been a friend for twenty-five years, and though she is fully occupied with mothering now, I still see her, at eighteen, playing Joan of Arc with fire and virtue. For me, there is Jean Seberg, there is Mary, and no-one else.

The people in the Triple T belong out here. Waitress stretched thin by desert wind, wrinkles cut in deep by the sun. Most of them just as happy to be alone as with other people, odd in a private way, peculiar to the desert. A woman not much older than me with flamboyantly rumpled hair and missing teeth. A bony man curved over the counter, moustache dropping down either side of his mouth, running under his chin like chocolate milk, eyes bulging out of his head, following every little movement in the place.

It’s a truck stop that sells massages for truckers, tarantula paperweights, porcelain horses. Girl behind the counter with dyed black hair and fierce black eyeliner might provide other services, as might another girl walking through the restaurant, fried blond hair jacked up tight into a ponytail on top of her head.

A mother with a special, cultivated roll of fat right around her middle, like a careful tire bulked beneath her tight black dress, holding the hand of a girl – more than chubby, her skin filled tight as a sausage all over – cheeks pink with the effort of walking from one end of the restaurant to the other.

Later, Mr. Billy's parents take us into the hills, where Our Lady of the Sierras and a thirty-foot cross overlooks the wide, white desert, Arizona to the left, Mexico to the right.

We follow the stations of the cross up the hill to a shrine at the top. Christ hanging on a cross constructed of those white rocks popular for edging suburban driveways in the seventies.

The waterfall is half-frozen, icicles hanging from the rocks. A cactus beside the fall starts green at the base, shading up to a vibrating violet, “livid” I say, “Yosemite Sam purple,” says Mr. Billy.

There's a small nod to the locals, Our Lady of Guadalupe mural hiding a propane tank. But it is a monstrous, white, blue-eyed Virgin Mary who simpers beside the cross, obscene pink toes the size of golf balls poking out from under her dress.

I can't help thinking my own Mary, of the Triple T, would have made a better model.

Friday, December 02, 2005


A new story of mine, "Raimondo the King," is being published in issue four of Things That Are True.

The theme of the issue was Hills, which sent me deep into a sort of sick-nostalgia centering around the Hemingway story, "Hills Like White Elephants" and that moment in my past when I first read it and how it blew my mind and made me say, "yeah, man, that's just how it is," when I really had little idea how it is.

But then I pulled my head out of my ass and wrote "Raimondo..." which has nothing to do with anything except itself.