How I Deal with Life.....

How I Deal with Life.....

Saturday, March 31, 2012

What Memories are Made of...

Good times with good friends. Worth much more than material objects or accolades. Last night I had one of those good times. Two birthday boys, a birthday cake, silly hats, six good friends, and three bottles of wine all made for a evening that I will tuck away in my memory to recall when I am old and the small golden moments of my life will be pulled out and reexamined like a treasure.

            The topic of conversation, while we all wore our silly hats and refreshed our wine glasses, was of zombies, midget porn, strange funerals, Spy vs Spy (from MAD magazine fame), and bubble gum. Not exactly intellectual discourse for a well educated and eclectic group (except for the zombies.. that was quite enlightening).  

            Last night I laughed. And I saw the happiness in the eyes of my friends, and the night made me love them even more because sitting there surrounded by them, I was once again reminded of how lucky I am and how little I know about midget porn.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Thoughts on why I wrote "SEEING THE ELEPHANT" and my revisied version

Doing something a bit different here. I wrote a short story last night, mostly as a way of trying to deal with all the senseless events that I see on the news: the killings, the wars, the horrors. They really confound me. We sit around and try to point fingers, but the way I see it, we are all to blame. None of us wants to point the finger where it belongs. As a society we are responsible.

And I don’t understand how one death can make national news and create such a wild outpouring of outrage, while other murders barely register a blip on our consciousnesses. What tunes us in psychologically where we express more outrage over one murder than another? Isn’t murder, murder? Have we “evolved” so much that we can assign murder numbers like an Olympic Event? “I give that one a 7.2, Bob. Should have been more blood and the victim wasn’t quite young enough to garner much sympathy.”  

The following is a revision of last night’s short story. I slept on it and it “percolated”, as I like to tell my students. I went to sleep thinking about the story; where it didn’t work, what needed redefining, what needed to be cut. So, this story is the percolated one and still may do a bit more percolating and go through more revision. They all do, but I have to stop at some point, declare it finished, and move on.

Until then I think I’ll stay away from the news today. I can’t take any more hypocrisy this week.
He walked in a determined rhythm, head down scrutinizing each step, feet flapping against the pavement like dead fish.
            “Hey, where you going, Elmer?”
            Elmer answered without turning, “To see the elephant.”
            “Okay, uh, you need some clothes on, Elmer. Why don’t you let me take you home?”
            Elmer stopped and blinked like a child waking from a nap.
            “C’mon, Elmer”, Ned opened the driver’s door of the police cruiser and stepped out. “I mean, look at ya. You can’t go around town like that.”
Elmer was naked as the day he was born, save for a blue ribbon tied in a dainty bow around his flaccid penis.
            “But I gotta go see the elephant, Ned.”
            “I understand. But first, let’s go get some clothes on you.”
            “I walked into the jungle in Nineteen-ninety-nine, and I haven’t left yet”, Elmer mumbled. “What year is it, Ned?”
            “Two-thousand and twelve”, Ned answered.
            “I’ll be damned.”
            A car pulled up alongside the police cruiser, slowed, and a voice called out, “Hey, it’s naked Elmer!”
            Ned placed his hand on his holster, glared at the barely- legal-age-for-driving occupants, and the car sped away.
            Elmer sank to the blacktop and starting sobbing, “They killed my boy.”
            “I know.” Ned had been new to the force, but he was the officer elected that night to knock on Elmer’s door and tell him that his only son was gone. An innocent ten-year old bystander in a botched convenience store robbery. His killer the fifteen-year-old son of Mr. Taylor, the local barber..
            “No more Dr. Pepper’s, Ned”. Elmer whispered, “I asked Cory to get me a Dr. Pepper”.
            The crime scene photo had frozen the glittering shards of a shattered Dr. Pepper bottle scattered like diamonds and the small almost imperceptible hole in the middle of Cory’s puny little chest. All else in the photo appeared normal, small town, serene even.  Ned had thought it looked like a twisted Rockwell. Lives had been changed in a millisecond of irrevocable decision. It didn’t make sense.
            “Who killed him, Elmer?” Ned whispered.
            Elmer reached his long spindly arms into the air and opened his palms wide. Bits of gravel were imbedded in the soft pads of his hands.  “We did, Ned. We did it”, Elmer wailed. “We all have blood on our hands.”
            Elmer fixed his eyes on Ned’s.  Both sets rimmed red and glistening with fatigue, anger, confusion, and teetering madness. The pain was a sharp bayonet twisting its point into each man. Ripping into humanness.
            Ned knelt down beside Elmer and put his arms under the naked man’s arms. He heaved, but it was no use. If Elmer didn’t want to move, he wouldn’t be moved.  Ned sighed, and sank to the ground beside Elmer. What a fucked up day. First The Linley baby and now this.
            “You know, Elmer, it wasn’t supposed to be this way” Ned said. “No, sir, was going to put in my twenty-five, stash me a little retirement, and plant some corn and beans on daddy’s old farm.”
            Elmer stopped sniffling and cocked his head. “What you say?”
            “Farm, I was gonna rest easy and do a little bit of farming after I retire. But this morning I scraped  a dead baby off the road.  Car accident out on Old Thomas Road. Baby wasn’t in a car seat. Went right through the windshield.  I couldn’t even tell it had once been a child. How do you retire, sit on your porch, drink iced tea, watch your corn grow, and forget something like that?”
Elmer shook his head, “You don’t.”
            “”I know.” Ned sighed and took a toothpick out of his uniform pocket and stuck it between his teeth. “People think they know, but they don’t.”
            “The elephant.” Elmer repeated.
            “Yeah, the damned elephant” Ned agreed.
            “Made me tie a ribbon to my dick.” Elmer offered.
            “Before it’s over, bud, I might be tying a ribbon to my dick.” Ned paused and looked up the road. The sun was starting to set behind the First Baptist Church. Evening services would be getting out soon. He had to get Elmer off the road so none of the Baptists would have their sensibilities insulted by the sight of naked, raw flesh. But it was more that they didn’t want to see. Much more.
            Elmer stood and held his hand out to Ned. “Take me home, Ned.”
            “You got it.”  Ned palced his hands in Elmer's and allowed hismelf to be pulled to his feet. Ned brushed the back of his trousers free of gravel and noticed a stain along the edge of his pantsleg. Blood. Lindley baby blood. The elephant. The zebra, The jackal. Hell, the whole damned zoo.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Unmemory Place

There’s that noise again. That swishing sound. Like a small broom. It’s in his head. Taking away things.. what things? Is it real? He leans back in his chair and looks through the sunroom window. His wife is out there in the swing. She has that little dog on her lap. It’s a cute little dog, but not too cuddly with him. He’d like to hold it, but it runs away most times. It will play chase in the morning and he likes that.

            The sunlight is piercing at an angle through the window. He can see the dust motes dancing. They capture his attention for a moment. They look like dancing thoughts. Is that where his memory went? Is it dancing in streaks of light away from him?

            He picks up a magazine by the chair. The letters don’t make sense. He can pick out a few words, but what do they mean? He flips though the pages and gazes at the slick gloss advertisements for perfume, recipes for chili, and a photograph of a man who looks familiar. He tosses the magazine aside.

            The phone rings. He has to get it. It will ring and ring. He hates the ringing. He goes into the kitchen and raises the receiver to his ear, “Hello?” A woman starts talking. She’s asking about some medicines. What medicines? Her words are jumbling together. What is it he wants him to do?  He tries to tell her to hold on, but his words come out in a tangle. His wife walks into the kitchen. He throws the phone at her in a panic and backs away. His wife starts talking to the lady. His wife understands the lady. He walks back into the sunroom and settles back into his chair. The ray of light is gone and so are the dust motes.

            His wife comes and tells him what the lady said. What lady? He asks his wife three times what the lady said. The third time he almost understands, but his wife looks frustrated. He won’t ask her to explain it again. He only says, “I see”.  His wife is talking about going to the grocery store. He doesn’t want to go. He just wants to stay here, but she is insisting. “We’ll only be gone a minute” she says. He knows that isn’t true, but follows her out of the house into the car anyway. He gets into the passenger seat and closes the door. His wife slides in behind the steering wheel. They pull out of the driveway and a ding ding ding echoes in the interior of the car. “Put on your seatbelt”,  his wife says. He reaches over to grabs the seatbelt, pulls it around it and fumbles with the slid in mechanism. Why do they make these things so hard to put on?

             He peers out the window as the landscape goes by. There’s where Nubbies used to be. When he was in high school all the kids gathered there to park and shoot the shit. And there’s the drug store. Why are there giant plastic rabbits hanging in the window. Must be Springtime. Rabbits mean Spring, don’t they?

            His wife drives too close to the white line and then veers over towards the yellow one. It scares him and he tells her to keep the car straight. “I am”, she says.  She’s going to wreck the car, but she won’t let him drive anymore. Sometimes, when she goes somewhere by herself, he finds the key to the other car and drives to that BBQ place and gets a hamburger or drives to the Pick and Pay and walks around. He always makes sure to get back before she does. He doesn’t know why that is so important. Why must he get back before his wife? He’s a grown man. He should be able to go where he wants to go.

            The way his daughter looked at him last week when he came home after a Pick and Pay trip made him flush with sudden anger. She didn’t say anything, but she was in his house when he got home. Going through his things. What right did she have? And what was that look she gave him? Later his wife told him the daughter was helping. Helping to do what? Everyone has started treating him like he hasn’t got any sense. Him, a man who served his country for twenty-five years. Him, a man who had a top security clearance. Him, a man who always took care of his family, no matter what. His family never lacked for anything. He has always provided for them. Now they look at him strangely. They watch him. He sees the looks. He hears the whispers.

            They pull up to the store. His wife parks and gets out. He fumbles with the door latch. The car door won’t open. He pulls at it. It still won’t open. He wife walks around the front of the car and opens the door for him.

            “Won’t work”, he mutters. “

             “I know”, she says.

            People come up to him in the store. He knows their faces, but can’t recall their names. He tries to speak to hem when they nod to him, but the words short circuit somewhere between his brain and his lips. He stutters and stumbles for worlds. People walk away before he can find the words. Where did his wife go? She was here a few seconds ago. He wanders around the store and sees her in the bread aisle talking to another lady. He approaches and catches snatches of their conversation. His wife doesn’t introduce him to the lady, so he must know her. The lady finally turns to him and smiles,              “And how are you doing today?”, the lady asks.

            “I’m…uh.. the …..”  he holds out his hand. It’s trembling again. It always trembles. He can’t make it stop. . The lady takes his hand and grasps it. “So good to see you”, she says.

            “Goooo…. I mean,.. it’s ….ah, g… good to see you.”

            The lady walks away.  He is bewildered and turns to his wife. “Who was… who was..”

            “Who was that?” his wife prompts. “You know, Grace. She plays the piano at church. You remember?”

            He doesn’t remember, but he shakes his head yes anyway.

            Everywhere they go his wife knows someone and they have to stop and talk. He hates to talk. He was never really one for chit chat, but now that he stumbles so much with his words, he dreads these encounters.

            Finally, they get to the checkout. His wife has the money. He reaches into his back pocket and pulls out his worn brown wallet and opens it. Two one dollar bills. Why does she have all the money? Why does he only have two lousy dollar bills?  He tries to help carry the bag, but his hand is trembling so badly that he can’t get it into the plastic handles. His wife tells him it’s okay and not to worry, but it’s not okay. He wants to carry the bag. He reaches to snatch it from her. The bag almost spills, but his wife catches it. If it had fell, the glass mayonnaise jar would have shattered all over the clean tiled grocery store floor. He pulls the bag forcefully from his wife and they walk out of the store in the fading sunlight. An elderly woman is pushing a cart back towards the store from the parking lot. She is limping. He shoves the grocery bag towards his wife and hurries after the woman. He takes the cart and smiles. She says “Thank you” as he wheels the cart toward the metal cart corral.

            His wife is waiting for him. “She needed help”, he explains when he reaches her.

            “I know”,   she says

           When they get into the car and pull away the car starts ding ding dinging again.

         “Put your seatbelt on” his wife says.

         “Okay”, he says. He reaches over, grabs the seatbelt, pulls it around, and fumbles with the slid in mechanism.

            They drive home and the broom starts sweeping in his head again. He pictures his daughter’s face.

            “What is that girl’s name”, he demands abruptly.

            “What girl?", his wife asks.

            “The girl… that one who… our..”
            “Daughter?” his wife asks. “You mean our daughter?”

            “Yes, that one.”

            “Beth. Her name is Beth. You named her.”

            “He nods his head. “That’s right. Beth.”

            He watches as the scenery blurs past.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Do or Die: A Short Story

I get home from work and she’s still sitting in the recliner where she was when I left this morning. She’s watching Jerry Springer on the flat screen television she bought at the pawn shop a year ago. The volume is up as high as it’ll go. The smell of cooking oil is heavy in the small, dark apartment. She barely looks at me and I go into the kitchen to see what there is to eat. A grease stained paper towel covers a plastic plate. Two fried pork chops sit in a congealing mass. There’s a covered pot on the stove. I lift the lid and peer inside. Rice and tomatoes mixed together. Her favorite. I put one of the pork chops on another plate, scoop a glop of the cold rice and tomatoes next to the pork chop, and place the plate inside the grease filmed microwave oven. I punch in one minute and forty seconds and then press the start button. I retrieve the glass pickle jar from on top of the refrigerator and dump my day’s tips onto the pile of loose change already inside. The coins clink and clank like tiny chains. I put the top back on the pickle jar and spin it closed.
            Chants of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” blast from the television.
            ”Hey! That shit is too loud”, I yell.
            “What?” she yells back.
            “Too loud!” I scream back.
            “Who’s proud?”
            Oh, hell. I go into the living room, pick up the remote from the coffee table. The dark wood varnished table is covered with white discolored rings. She refuses to use coasters. I turn the television volume down until I can finally hear myself think. The picture on the screen shows a short man licking whipped cream off the body of a fat woman in a bikini while Jerry looks on with the microphone in his hand.
            She looks up at me. “Why’d you do that?”
            “Too loud”, I say and go back into the kitchen. She follows me, shuffling her feet in her once fuzzy pale blue slippers. The slippers are now as worn as she is.  I grit my teeth.  I hate it when she shuffles her feet.
            “I cooked pork chops”, she offers.
            “I saw.”
            Rice and tomatoes too.”
            “I saw that too. Thanks.” The microwave dings. I reach for the plate and burn my finger. I grab a dishcloth and carry the plate to the table.
            I place the plate on the red and white checked plastic table cloth. It’s seen better days, like everything else in this apartment. I grab a mismatched fork and knife from the drawer next to the sink and down. My head hurts. She sits across from me in the only other chair at the table.
            “Your day go good?”, she asks.
            “It was okay”, I answer. I hold the piece of meat down with the fork and saw into it with the knife. It’s like trying to saw into a cowboy boot. I stuff a piece of the pork chop into my mouth and crunch on a piece of fried fat. I shovel some of the rice and tomatoes into my mouth. This shit is going to give me heartburn. She knows that.
            “Marty called”, she says.
            “Oh, yeah. What’d he want? More money?”
            “No, he just wanted us to know that Linda is out of jail.”
            “For how long this time?”
             She lights a cigarette. I glare at her.
            “I told you I don’t want you smoking in the house”. I say.
            “Sorry”. She takes a puff and then drops the cigarette into a cup on the table. The cigarette hisses out.
            “And don’t use cups as ashtrays. That’s just nasty.”
            “You ever gonna be nice again?” she asks.
            I get up and scrape my almost untouched food into he trash can. ‘Probably not”, I tell her.
            I go into the bathroom and peel off my work clothes, and then my panties and bra.  I fill the tub with hot water and ease my aching body down into the rust stained tub. Chants of “Jerry! Jerry! Jerry!” blast from the television again. She can’t hear worth a damn. I slide down until the hot water covers my breasts. I soak the weariness out of my body while the water cools, and then I slip my head down until I am submerged. It’s quiet under the water. Peaceful. I feel like the Lady of the Lake. I come out of the water just long enough to take a breath and then slip back under. I wish I could stay here forever. But I have to take care of her. I don’t want to do this anymore. I don’t know how I got elected for this shit job. Hell, she’s not even my mother, she’s Rich’s, but he’s gone.  He left me his Mama and a house going into foreclosure.      
            “Damn Skippy, you did, Rich”, I say out loud. I have been talking to myself a lot lately. I wonder if that’s normal.
            I get out of the tub and dry off and then slip into a t-shirt and my gray sweat pants.
            When I come out of the bathroom, she’s still watching television. Some old seventies sitcom. M*A*S*H maybe? I used to like M*A*S*H.  Yeah, there’s Hawkeye. She doesn’t even look at me as I walk over to the television and turn it down.
            “I can’t hear it now,” she complains
            “Yeah, and neither can the people in Alaska,” I say.
            “You don’t like me,” she says.
            “It’s not a question of liking you, Stella. I’m just tired and the T.V’s too loud.”
            “Rich didn’t care if it was loud.”
            “Well, I’ve got news, Mama Stella- Rich is dead.”
            She flinches like I’ve just struck her with the back of my hand, and suddenly I feel bad. She hasn’t got anyone else, but how in the hell did I end up with her? I hate Rich. If he wasn’t in ParkWay Cemetery, I’d probably kill his sorry ass.
            She starts to cry. Now I really feel bad. I go into the kitchen and open the tip jar. I sit at the table, empty the jar out on the picnic checked table cloth, and start separating the coins into neat piles; pennies there, nickels there, dimes and then quarters. I count the pennies until I have fifty of them and then slide them into the red penny sleeve. I tuck the pennies in tight and then fold the ends of the sleeve. I can hear her sniffle a few times from the other room. I continue rolling coins and try to ignore her. When I finish rolling the pennies, I start on the nickels. When the pickle jar is empty I have seventy one dollars rolled. I get up quietly from the table, careful not the let the chair scrape against the linoleum, and walk over to the kitchen doorway. I peer into the living room. She’s sleeping in the recliner, her head lolled to the side.  
            I go back into the kitchen and kneel down in front of the sink. I open the lower left cabinet door underneath. I push the container of Comet and the squirt bottle of Glass Plus aside, then reach way back into the cabinet until my fingers locate the cloth bag. I pull it out. I take the bag to the table and unroll it. I silently place the newly rolled coins inside with the rest and then roll the bag back up. I kneel down and push it back into the dark recesses of the cabinet and then arrange the cleaners in front again before closing the door. I brush off my hands and silently calculate how much I have now. Let’s see Tuesday I had fifty; I added seventy-five on Wednesday and then yesterday sixty. There was already two hundred and fifteen dollars from the two weeks before. With today’s seventy-one that brings me to four hundred and eighty dollars.  In two and a half more weeks I should have enough, if I work double shifts like I’ve been doing. 
            I only need about a thousand dollars. That’s all, just a thousand, and then I can get out of this town.  Down to the ocean where the rich folks live in Gulf Shores. Where it’s sunny and warm and I can walk on the beach, the real beach, and let the sea water rush over my bare feet, gaze out over the horizon while the sun sets and the sky turns all pink and orange.  I can listen to the sea gulls cry, smell the salt air, and feel the sand between my toes. I might even drink a margarita with salt around the rim. I heard they’re good. I can make a go of it there. I know I can. I’m a good waitress and rich people always need waitresses. Don’t they? Find some cheap apartment. I don’t need much.
            But what about her? I’ll just leave her here. Someone will find her. Someone will take care of her. I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t. I’m fifty-five years old. If I don’t get out now, I’ll never get out. Never once in my life have I ever seen the ocean. When Rich and I first got married he promised he’d take me. But he never did. After six years of trying, we found out we couldn’t have babies. We didn’t talk much after that. Those first six years were pretty good though. The best I ever had. But six years don’t make up for the thirty-three lost ones. I deserve something. Damn right I do.
            I go back into the living room and she’s still sleeping. I go to wake her so she can go to bed. The minute I touch her, I know. I put my hand over her breastbone. No heartbeat. Her chest is still. No breathe moves in and out from her tired old body. She’s dead as a proverbial doornail. The old lady finally did me a favor.
             I look at the television. M*A*S*H is still on. Hawkeye is wearing his Hawaiian shirt. I wonder if they wear Hawaiian shirts in Gulf Shores?



A Mom’s Explanation

Just because I don’t agree with how you run your life doesn’t mean I don’t love you.

Just because I choose to distance myself, doesn’t mean I am abandoning you; it just means I am saving myself and probably you.

Love sometimes means that a person just has to walk away.