|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
NO MORE BULLETS
A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL
OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT
OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF
MASTER OF FINE ARTS
UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA
I would like to thank my family, my teachers, and my colleagues. I offer special
thanks to my thesis advisor, Jill Ciment, whose wisdom and support are the guiding
forces behind this thesis. Additionally, my gratitude and love goes to my friends, both
inside and outside of the university.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
A CK N O W LED G M EN T S .............. ... ........... ............................................... iii
BEA U TIFU L IN TH E LIG H T ............................................ ...... ...........................................
BINGO ......................... ...............1.....1
BEAUTIFUL IN THE LIGHT .............. ....................4
P A U L A N D D IA N A ........................................................................ ............................. 14
REFLECTIONS ON THE ELKHORN ........................................... ........................ 20
M A R G O ................... .......................................................... ................ 3 8
T H E L A ST B A ST IO N ............................................................................. ....................46
S T R IP P E D ............................................................................. 5 1
F L A C O ........................................................ ...................................6 7
B IO G R A PH IC A L SK E TCH ...................................................................... ..................72
Abstract of Thesis Presented to the Graduate School
of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree of Master of Fine Arts
NO MORE BULLETS
Chair: Jill Ciment
Major Department: English
The short stories included in this M.F.A. thesis represent two years of work in the
University of Florida's creative writing program.
The first story, "Bingo", arose from a workshop experiment inspired by Thomas
Bernhard via Padgett Powell. "Beautiful in the Light", the second story, was also
inspired by an outside source; the prompt was "write about light".
"Paul and Diana," the third story in this thesis, has been a project in the making
since 1996. I began the piece while staying in Thomas Merton's hermitage at the Abbey
of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Using Merton's personal library and my own, I drew from
sources as varied as Friedrich Nietzsche to Janis Joplin, Tom Robbins to St. Augustine,
Voltaire to Mother Isabel Daurelle, John Lee Hooker to Shakespeare. I believe the story
has finally found its true form.
"Reflections on the Elkhorn" is similar to "Paul and Diana" in that I have been
working on the story for several years. The original inspiration was derived from my
experiences operating a canoe rental business in central Kentucky while I was an
undergraduate at Georgetown College. Like "Paul and Diana," I believe this story has
finally come together the way it was meant to be.
The next three stories, "Margo," "The Last Bastion," and "Stripped," are
survivors from two larger projects that I originally imagined to be novellas. "Margo"
represents the opening chapter of "The Dirt King," a longer piece concerning the main
characters you will read about here. "The Last Bastion" and "Stripped" are excerpted
from "The Pirate Haus," a novella-in-progress similar in structure to William Elsschot's
"Villa des Roses." Even though these are excerpted stories, I believe they have the
ability to stand on their own merits.
The final story representing this thesis is titled, "Flaco." I was playing around
with the idea of having a monkey on your back, except nobody else can see it.
These stories are like ammo, and at this point, I have "No More Bullets."
A Finnish Spitz named Bingo, who was owned by a man named Theothilus Lee
Jr., killed a woman named Jane, who was Theothilus' mother. I am Theothilus Lee Jr's
attorney. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Theothilus enjoyed singing the Bingo song. This much is known. The primary
source, Theothilus, confirmed this information during the hearing.
What is less known: Theothilus Lee Jr.'s mother, Jane, often imagined herself in
Tarzan movies. She would watch Tarzan marathons on satellite television late into the
night. It has been said, by neighbors and other bystanders, that Theothilus' mother
jumped from the couch to the futon into the recliner and back on many occasions. This,
the neighbors imagined, or so they said when interviewed, was her way of imitating the
activities of Maureen O'Sullivan in the Tarzan movies. This cannot be confirmed
because Jane is dead, so we must go on what we have, which is the word of the neighbors
and other bystanders.
Theothilus Lee Jr. said that he never heard of this erratic behavior until the trial,
and he is the primary source of information here, other than the authorities, of course. It
is also not known whether Theothilus Lee Jr.'s mom really thought she was Jane from the
Tarzan movies or if it was just a coincidence that Tarzan's woman was named Jane and
so was Theothilus Lee Jr.'s mom. This would have been a deciding factor had we
known, according the authorities. Theothilus Lee Jr. really didn't care one way or the
other, or so he told me.
What is even less known: Theothilus Lee Jr.'s dad, real name unknown but often
referred to as Rat Fink or That Goddamn Motherfucker (both terms overheard by
Theothilus Lee Jr. during the phone conversations of Jane, confirmed during testimony),
ran a methamphetamine lab out of a trailer somewhere in the backwoods of Tennessee.
This is all hearsay, actually, and I probably shouldn't even be bringing it up. I asked
Theothilus about it one time and he said, "Who cares?"
New to this story right now: Theothilus Lee Jr. is aware of the meaning of the
word obfuscation. I was just talking to him and I said, "I'm confused, Theothilus."
And he said, "Obfuscation is a way of life."
I found this very comforting; both the fact that Theothilus Lee Jr. knew the
meaning of the word obfuscation and that he is a philosopher.
By this time Theothilus Lee Jr. was seriously tiring of looking at the list and
pictures of AKC registered breeds. I knew this because I was sitting right beside him and
could read his body language. The book was thick and boring unless you were really
interested in dogs, and Theothilus Lee Jr. was not. He saw a picture of a Finnish Spitz
and said, "That's the one. That's Bingo!"
It was later determined by the authorities that Bingo was, in fact, a Finnish Spitz.
This highly displeased the Finnish Spitz Club of America, who upon finding out about
Bingo's alleged activities, threatened to sue on behalf of the Finnish Spitz breed.
Theothilus Lee Jr. was long gone by then anyway so what did it matter to him?
It is thought by all involved, except Jane (because she's dead) that after the
mistrial Theothilus Lee Jr. and Bingo went on the lam together, possibly headed for
Tennessee. It is still not known why Bingo killed Jane, but many believe Jane may have
mistaken Bingo for a fox (the Finnish Spitz, does, in fact, quite resemble a fox) and tried
to kill him for food (Tarzan must eat), whereupon Bingo, in an attempt to save his life,
attacked Jane. Others, mainly the neighbors and other bystanders, believe there's more to
the story than that.
Personally, I have no idea, and I'm glad it's all over. I didn't study law for this,
and I hope to never see Theothilus Lee Jr. or Bingo again. Not that I ever saw Bingo,
mind you. Don't try and pull me down with this mess. I only took the job for the
publicity and the experience. It's hard going into private practice. And with all the
sleazy lawyers out there, I have to distinguish myself. I'm a stand-up guy. I have
BEAUTIFUL IN THE LIGHT
I woke up inside the tequila bottle that I'd left empty on the bar the night before,
or at least that's what it felt like. The light shattered my eyes and the imaginary glass,
and there she stood, blazing in the blinding morning sun, the smell of fresh coffee, and a
steaming cup in her hand. I suddenly knew I wasn't at home.
I had no idea where the restroom was and this was important. I had a morning
formula and it involved puking.
"Where's your bathroom?" I said, rolling out of the sheets, my bare feet hitting
the hardwood with a clumsy clump.
"You know where it is, baby." She turned away from me and slid across the floor
in her bunny slippers and pink pajamas in what I imagined as the direction of the kitchen.
So I guess I did know where the bathroom was, or was supposed to, but not really,
cause I had no recollection of how I got there, who she was, where we were, the baby-
who-are-you-and-where's-my-pants? scenario. Which, actually, happens to very few
guys I know, though I'd landed in this situation more times than I cared to count.
I wandered around for a bit, admiring the vast array of angelic figurines and
plants all over the apartment. She had countless numbers of each: the Archangel
Michael fighting a dragon, Gabriel with his trumpet during the Last Judgment, and
Raphael holding the hand of a child. Those were a couple I could identify. I had no idea
about the plants; they all grew together into one big jungle.
I finally got to the pisser and considered hanging around for a while instead of
doing my usual 'Thanks for a great evening but I've got to go' even though baby seemed
a bit too intimate that early on a first morning. The place was throwing me for a loop,
which I enjoyed, and I liked what I imagined as her confidence: the way she was just
standing there looking at me and smiling. And her place: it wasn't just the angels and
the plants; the whole apartment was glowing with light. I couldn't place it, thinking
maybe the apartment used to be a sundeck or the whole place was one of those sun-
heated and cooled deals or I had died and gone to an indoor arboretum. And it smelled so
I flushed the toilet to cover up the sound and puked. Nothing really came up in
the mornings, just some disgusting bile because I hadn't eaten anything substantial the
night before. Just drinking. Always more drinks.
I was still thinking about staying around. The deciding point was the toothpaste.
Crest with Whitening. Cap on. I smeared some on my teeth and my tongue, scooped up
water with my hands and rinsed. Spat. I looked at my not-so-stoic naked self in the wall
mirror. I looked like hell. I needed someone to take care of me; I knew it. All of my life
there had always been someone there, or at least something keeping me going, but things
had gone out of control as of late. I let it happen, actually welcomed it while it was
happening, but I knew in the back of my mind that things had to change, this period in
my life had to end soon or I wasn't going to make it much longer. I needed a savior; I
needed an angel. Maybe she was what I was looking for. The one.
But in my arrogant stupidity, which always seemed to take over in social
situations, I decided I was going to play it up for all it was worth just to see what load of
b.s. I had dropped on this girl to end up in this place. I imagined her better than this one
night stand, much better than me, a real woman with a soul and responsibilities, and a
life. I'd landed in this good place and wanted to know the how of it and the why. At that
moment, this idea seemed like a time worthy investigation.
Her name was Beatrice, and I admit, again, I was looking for someone to dig me
out of the grime. Back before I started managing The Broken Spoke, I had been a
somewhat normal guy, graduated from college, took on a decent job at a small daily
newspaper, then a better one at a TV station, then on to a non-profit that gave grants to
activists, that one with benefits, even. I lasted about two years at each job, but something
was always wrong, like the time I got really involved with a story at the paper about a
local graffiti artist who had serious talent but was homeless and half the article and all the
photos got cut for a political editorial on the mayor's stance on tree trimming. Or like
when the feature, "Poetics in Kentucky," I had been assigned at the TV station and
worked weeks on, compiling info from all three of the recent Yale Younger winners and
the Kentucky Poet Laureate, complete with in-depth interviews, wasn't broadcast because
of a game warden saving a fucking bobcat from poachers. At the non-profit, my boss
pissed me off by assigning me to make cold calls to people trying to get money out of
them, and I got tired of the white shirt black tie nice pants and shiny shoes daily rut I
found myself in.
So I took over a music club. A friend of mine was leaving the job to manage a
nationally touring band and handed it over to me. This seemed like what I was looking
for, but within a week I was waking up drunk, going to bed drunk, and drinking in
between. Nobody cared. The owner, who I referred to as The Good Doctor, cause he
had a doctoral degree in communications and lots of pills, was more wasted than I was at
any given time of the day. I would test this theory weekly, either by calling him up at
home for some stupid reason or going over to the pub side and saddling up beside him on
a barstool. I've never known a man more messed up than this guy, and considering my
friends, that's saying something.
I figured I must have met Beatrice at The Broken Spoke the night before during
the Derek Trucks show. I was unofficially not working that night though I was on the
clock, which meant don't come to me with your fucking problems cause I'm getting
wasted. It had only taken a couple of weeks for the bartenders and assistant managers to
figure out this plan, and it helped that I'd throw a Franklin or two in their tip cups at the
end of a big night. So we were all in agreement.
This didn't seem like a good place to start the conversation with Beatrice though,
cause honestly, I only remembered the band going on about 10:45 and the rest was a blur
of tequila and Budweiser. I went for the apartment approach to get my investigation
"Your place is beautiful. Why all the light? My mom used to have this thing
she'd plug in called a Depression Light, which supposedly makes you non-depressed.
She paid big money for it. She'd sit in front of it at nights and wait for me to come home
when I was in high school. It never worked. I wonder if this place would have cured
Beatrice twisted a curl of red hair between her index and middle finger. She was
beautiful in the light. "The light is for the plants. I'm a botanist. I work for the
community college during the week and for Parks & Rec on the weekends."
"So you're an educated gardener? My dad loved flowers. He'd work 70 hours a
week moving numbers around as an accountant and then spend the entire weekend
outside the house messing with the yard and stuff. I've got a bamboo plant at my place.
Three stalks. For good luck, they say. It's turned a little brown though." I had no idea
why I was telling her all of this.
"You're talking about Dracaena sanderana, a bamboo look-alike that goes by the
name lucky bamboo. The reason it's turning brown, I'd imagine, is that you're not
keeping the plant out of direct light and changing the water every other week."
Shit, did she know her stuff. The plant was sitting in the windowsill and lucky to
get watered at all, much less changing it.
Beatrice pointed with her cup at a vine climbing up over a trellis. "My favorite is
Jasmine. I had it on last night. You said I smelled good."
I must have. I wished I could remember something, anything.
"It's a night-blooming flower that releases fragrance through its blossom glands.
It is the essence of India and is dedicated to the love god Kama. Jasmine also stimulates
the brain for greater awareness. It reminds me of you, being night-blooming as I imagine
you are, though there wasn't much blooming going on when we got here."
I could have lived my entire life without knowing this detail. She could have left
it out, but she didn't. I really wanted my pants. I've always found it easier to talk with
my pants on.
"Though it's not a big deal about last night," she said, sipping on that hot steamy
cup. I wanted a hot steamy cup too.
Then I got to thinking, 'No big deal?' This girl couldn't possibly exist in the real
world. I need this. I need her. Then, find pants or no? Why is she fully clothed?
Anyway, I decided no clothes; this might end up as something I could remember, would
want to remember.
I thought it best to change the subject for the moment. "You really like angels,
She looked at the clock on the wall and said, "You want some breakfast?" I felt
something tugging at my insides, different from the normal hangover, though it might
have just been the need for a drink. I really wanted to know about the angels.
We sat down to eat in a little corer nook with a window that reminded me of
windows I used to look at in this Log Home Living magazine at my parents' house. I had
always wanted a cabin in the woods, big windows, lots of trees, maybe a squirrel feeder
or two. A couple of dogs running around. I needed something solid, something
substantial, a place to come home to. Her place was almost like having the woods,
except in the cabin, and it was as close as I'd get in the city, and I liked it.
I looked at her for a while and considered my life. I could give up the bar, cut
down on the drinking, try and go back to something closer to reality, maybe use my
English degree to teach high school, help kids rise above the daily banality. Do
something useful, something beneficial.
"You don't even know what this is about, do you?" she said, piling up a bagel
with a serious mound of cream cheese, New York style, and my favorite.
"What do you mean?" I said, lost in thought. She handed me the bagel and made
one for herself. Basil pesto.
"My name is Beatrice. I'm sure you don't remember."
I went to interrupt but she cut me off with the hand signal. I wish she hadn't. I
needed to talk about things, about me, about my life, the one I wanted, the life I needed,
"Last night, around midnight, at the bar, you offered me $350 to take care of you
for twelve hours. You even broke it down. You said 350 divided by 12 is almost $30 an
hour, which was some quick math. I could tell you meant it. I took you up on the offer.
$350 pays the rent on this place for a month."
I was officially sick. I heard the Yeats poem, the one that opened my failed TV
feature, looping over and over in my head, 'Things fall apart; the centre cannot
hold... Surely some revelation is at hand...'
"Did I pay the band?" was all I could come up with. I dropped the bagel onto the
plate. It didn't taste so good anymore. The plate was white with a light blue outline
around the edges, three hula girls dancing in the middle. I stared at the plate and the
"Yes, I was in the office, they made way over the guarantee and were happy.
That's when you gave me the $350 in cash." She was ravaging her bagel.
"Did Johnny lock up the bar?" I asked.
"The guy who looks like Bob Dylan except already dead?" She wiped some stray
cream cheese off of the corner of her lip with a linen napkin.
"Yeah, that's him." I hated Johnny.
"Yes. Then I took you here. I dragged you up the stairs. You passed out on the
floor. I put you in bed. I took your clothes off and put them in the washer. You were
stinking up the place. They're dry now. You've got 15 minutes. Finish your bagel."
"What do you mean, 15 minutes?" I had to scramble. Things needed to be said,
to be shared. "We haven't really talked. I don't feel like..."
"I don't want to talk and I don't care how you feel. A deal is a deal, and that's
what we've got. Nothing more." She carefully folded her napkin and put it on the plate.
"But I slept most of the time, couldn't you at least cut me some slack and tell me
something about yourself while I pull all of this together." Come on, slow down, talk to
"Here's something: You get drunk and pay women to spend time with you. I
think that about covers it." The look in her eyes was not one of friendship.
"That wasn't about you, that was about me." I had to keep trying.
She paused over this. "OK. I'll let you in on a little secret. I'm gay."
Not what I was looking for. "You're not gay. There's no way."
"Yes, I am. And I'm expecting my girlfriend in a few minutes. She's been out of
town visiting her family and she's not going to be in the mood for some wino hanging out
in our apartment."
"I'm not a big fan of wine. So she's coming over, is that it? Well why don't I
just tell her about our little deal and see what she thinks?"
"That's not what concerns me really. What concerns me is that you are still
talking and still here."
"And I plan on staying here until I hear more about you being gay. So you prefer
women over men?"
"Why is that?"
"I don't know why, it just is. Will you please leave?"
"I still don't believe that you are gay."
She fiddled around with the napkin, poking at it with a fork. "That's probably
because I'm not."
"Then why did you say you were?"
"To get rid of you, but obviously that isn't working."
"Right. So I've learned something, you're not gay. Neither am I. There's a
start." I thought this was a good point and might lead somewhere useful.
"I'm calling my brother, he's a cop," she said, and it looked to me that she was
trying her hardest to be as serious as possible.
"You've got a brother? Does he live around here? Maybe I've seen him at the
club?" If I was going to win her over, it was going to have to be with humor.
"I don't think you heard what I said."
"So, you're going to call your brother, who is a cop, tell him there's some guy in
your apartment who paid you $350 to take care of him, and you expect not to get arrested
"You are making me incredibly tired. You are tiring."
"Do you even have a brother?"
"Do you know any cops by name?"
"I do. We've got this guy who hangs around the bar all the time, at the back door
to be specific, looking for underage kids who try to sneak in, though what he's really
doing is confiscating..."
"Now that's what I'm looking for. I haven't seen that smile since I woke up this
"You know why I was smiling this morning?" she said.
"Because you were so happy to see me?"
"No, because I knew you wouldn't be here for long. Our deal's up at noon. Get
your clothes and leave." She said this with clear authority.
I never saw Beatrice again, though I looked for her every night at the bar. I still
do. I haven't gone anywhere. I'm still down under the dirt. I'm still a drunk. I have a
girl I see who drinks as much as I do. She drives a car that looks like it's from the set of
The Dukes ofHazzard. She has no light but lots of style.
I'm not trying as hard as I could. I know what to do but I don't do it. This makes
my insides burn, but I just drink it away. Sometimes I fuck it away. Other times I just sit
around and let it burn. There's some comfort in the pain of knowing but taking no action.
I wish knowing were enough, but it's a lie. I'm burning right now.
PAUL AND DIANA
-And I saw a great sadness come over mankind.
The best turned weary of their works.
A doctrine appeared, a faith ran beside it:
'All is empty, all is alike, all hath been!'
And from all hills there re-echoed:
'All is empty, all is alike, all hath been!'
-Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra
Paul says to Diana, "Haven't you heard?"
Diana says, "What?"
Paul says, "God is dead, baby."
Diana says, "I've got to get down to the liquor store for some cigarettes."
Paul says, "Formerly all the world was insane."
Diana says, "My last cigarette is finished."
There is a lizard on my shoulder who tells me things. Right now he's saying,
"You should only believe in a God that would know how to dance."
Diana sings along with the radio. "Oh, lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes
Paul interrupts her, "Then we'll cruise across the west through Texas, Arizona,
across into Mexico, cross back into California and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway
Diana screams, "Hello San Francisco! Freaks, geeks, ghosts, ghouls, vampires,
cupid and the maidens."
Paul reads from the newspaper, "Jack Kerouac's body isn't going anywhere for
the time being."
Diana says, "Let's get sillydrunk tonight and it'll feel so good."
My lizard is talking to me again. He is black and blind and talks all the time. He
says, "The soul that can laugh can also dance to its own pipe."
As Diana drives, she remembers smoking Jamaican Red on Blue Mountain. She
sips, she slushes, she breathes, she swallows. Deconstructed in this way, the separate
elements of the coffee's texture and flavor seem discernable: spice, oil, sweetness, fruit.
She feels high and pours another cup.
Her mother bought the black Phantom of the Opera cup for her a long time ago.
She wonders if her mother's still in Las Vegas.
My mind, in the flash of a trembling glance, came to Absolute Being That
Which Is and it was you offering me another chance, but that's not what I'm looking
So you smiled and walked on up the street.
Paul and Diana are sitting on my futon arguing about something. I walk into the
kitchen to get a cup of mushroom tea and a copy of Rolling Stone. There is ice in the
laughter that I hear.
As I walk into the room, Diana is saying, "In the middle of the sacred dance,
Dionysus was slain. She rose again, as the vine, in ecstasy. Christianity embodies this
same idea, slightly modified. Someone should sue for copyright infringement."
I entered the interior of my soul and seemed to descend into the giddy depths of
an abyss where I had the impression of being surrounded by limitless space. My lizard
was there and so were the Red Judge and his Seven Devils.
Lizard said, "Existence begins in every instance."
The Red Judge smiled and the Seven Devils raped 700 virgin brides and here we
The Pale Man casually strolled by, watching, and said, "What is this destruction?"
He then offered me a box, opened it, and said, "There is a little truth that I carry."
I still don't know what was in that box. I think it was from India.
The clock on the wall says three o'clock. Paul's riffing:
"Hurry up please it's time
to get on down the line
cause we're out of cigarettes.
Good night, ladies, good night,
sweet ladies, good night, good night."
The lizard on my shoulder has grown tired. He longs for solitude in the
wilderness. He says, "There is a little foolishness in all things."
Diana says, "But the show must go on."
Paul says, "Who's the midget with the big gray beard?
Diana says, "That's Moses."
Paul says, "What's he doin' here?"
Diana says, "Looking for work. He's been bustin' rocks on the chain gang down
in Mississippi. Served his time I guess."
Paul says, "He looks old as hell."
Diana says, "And tired."
My lizard has become restless. His color is fading. He says, "Man would rather
have nothingness for his purpose than no purpose at all."
Paul says, "The sun caresses me and bums me down."
Diana says, "I have no pigment around my eyes."
Paul says, "The serpent and the sun are too much for me."
Diana says, "I need to rest."
Paul reads the paper to me at the kitchen table. "Coffee drinkers may be less
inclined to suicide."
I can faintly hear Diana in the distance. "Suicide has no class. It's bad form."
Paul yells toward the other room, "What is that noise?"
Diana replies, "Oh, it's just your momma calling' you."
Paul says, "You want me to kick your ass?"
Diana says, "Go ahead, but O che sciagura d'essere senza coglioni!"
You are standing on the corer of 7th and Race smoking a cigarette. Smoke drifts
through your hand and I laugh. Your eyes look tired.
I wave for you to come over and join me.
You smile a sad smile, shake your head, and walk on up the street. A beggar asks
me for change.
Paul and Diana, at exactly the same time, both say, "I still don't have any
I think that I have a quarter in my pocket. My lizard, fading, says, "All that has
price is of little value."
Paul and Diana have gone. I'm eating barbecue chips and reading the Book of
Revelation. I notice a sore on my hand. My whiskey and water turns red. My Zippo
explodes in my pocket. The lights go out. The room begins to shake.
I eat another chip. Everything returns to before.
I look around for one last smoke, and find it, covered in glass. The red letters
read, "break in case of emergency." The cigarette tastes horrible. I smoke it anyway.
REFLECTIONS ON THE ELKHORN
For, lo! The winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the
flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come,
and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
-The Song of Solomon ii. 11,12
I sit here eight hours a day, seven days a week, renting canoes. My job is easy and I still
complain. There's not much to do.
The creek is up today compared to three days ago. That day it rained and I
wrecked my van on the way home from work.
Turtles sit and relax in the sun on a log in the middle of the creek. Everyone who
comes by says, "Hey, do you see those turtles?"
I always smile and say something nice.
I could tell you the turtles' schedules if you like.
The creek creeps along but doesn't seem to flow. I can stare at it for hours and
only see movement when the wind blows. The turtles don't seem to mind.
People here are generally nice and two-thirds of them are stoners. I often get
offered a beer or ajoint for a discount on the $25 a day rate. I usually take them up on it,
seeing that I have no boss, no records of who did what when and no real worries.
Sometimes families of four stop down to rent a canoe for the day. They ask all
kinds of questions. "Well, where can we go?" or "Is there a good spot somewhere that
we can stop for a picnic?" I give them a free map and the spiel about paddling upstream,
floating downstream, the location of the dams, and then a quick lesson on how to steer a
canoe. Usually, no matter what they want to do, they take my advice.
Once in a while a canoe will get swiped and I'll have to go find it. Some asshole
cut through a canoe handle with a saw just to take it for a fifteen-minute cruise late one
Friday night. That really pissed me off.
But mostly I just sit in my van and read books. Bukowski, Kerouac, Pirsig and
the Time-Life series Mysteries of the Unknown have been keeping me busy lately. I'm
reading other things to broaden my horizons.
The breeze is cool today and business is slow for a Saturday. Leaves drift by on
the cool green creek that pays for my groceries. People drive past and honk their horns
but I don't know why. Maybe they're just happy. I'm kind of indifferent to the situation
and only wish that I had time to be doing something else. I guess that's the way it always
But for a summer job you can't beat it and the government doesn't see one cent of
my paycheck. That's what I really like about it. That and all the people I meet.
Frank comes down to visit me daily but lately he's been busy. Doing what, I don't know.
He's an unemployed veteran with long hair who wears Harley-Davidson t-shirts all the
time. He's good for company and knows a lot about life that I don't. He always wants to
burn a joint sitting in my van. He rolls them so huge it would take ten people five hits
each to ever smoke the thing. I usually turn him down.
He eats Mini-Thins like candy and lives at the Flagg Inn. He lost his license in
'83 and never got around to getting it back. "I don't have a car anyway" is the way he
looks at it. So he walks everywhere.
His wife and kid come down occasionally but they don't stay long. His little boy
just celebrated his third birthday and he still can't talk. He has his own language and no
one understands it. He smiles all the time. The last time I saw him he was wearing a red
baseball hat that was five times too big. I asked Frank's wife about it. She said, "I
wannada get im a Taz hat but em's high. That'un wuz 2 dollars. Da Taz one wuz six."
Frank is always buying something with the money from his big disability
payment. The company settled and he showed me a Xerox copy of the check. He was so
proud. I wasn't paying much attention and don't remember how much it was. So he's
always bringing me candy bars, water or a Mountain Dew.
And on especially spend days he gets curly fries from Arby's across the street.
"Hey man, I got some extra fries, want'em?" I usually take them.
Frank hasn't been around today.
Mexicans at Arby's
I always go over to Arby's for lunch. They know me as "that guy with a cool tattoo."
Some Mexicans came in today while I was getting my usual $3.69 lunch. They
were dirty and speaking Spanish and laughing a lot despite the hard work in the tobacco
fields. I wanted to speak Spanish.
They were having trouble figuring out the menu. The pictures really helped. I
was glad that I got there before they did. I hate to stand in lines.
As I was walking out the door a few more Mexicans came in and stepped out of
some rich guy's way. I wondered why they did that. They had pieces of country blue
towels on their head for sweatbands. It looked kind of funny but I didn't laugh.
Two young guys were sitting in the back of a local farmer's truck as I walked
past. I guess they didn't have the cash to eat at Arby's. Probably not on $2 an hour pay,
but I hear it beats Mexico.
I like to travel. I would rather be there than here.
The sun was warm as I walked back across the street to the canoe landing. Somebody
honked but I didn't know who it was.
The water is still calm with a slight breeze. One turtle is on the log chillin. I
wonder where his friends are.
My friend Juan comes down around three times a week. He's not regular like Frank. He
drives his G-ride with the broken seat and flicks his cigarette butts on the ground. "I'll
pick them up later," he says but he never does.
He does a lot of acid though and watches the tree leaves turn to butterflies. He
wears small blue sunglasses all the time, even when it's dark. He always has his four-
foot bong in the car. He wears black Adidas shoes and referees soccer games a few times
a week. He also works for the college handing out pool cues and answering telephones.
He often says something like "Han visto el pollo azul" and I have no idea what it means.
I've never bothered to ask.
Sometimes he works for me when I have other things to do. I think he scares the
customers. Business has been slow since last Saturday when we went looking for
wedding bands. We found some cool ones.
My Soon To Be Wife
My Soon To Be Wife comes here sometimes. She's usually over-dressed and I worry
about her getting dirty. If she stays and we talk, I leave work early.
She works for The State answering telephones and taking calls about delinquent
nurse aides and dysfunctional child-care centers. One time she told me a story about a
call she took.
"It was Paul and Matthew and some kid whose name I don't know. Anyway,
Paul had this idea that they should take turns sucking each other's pee-pees so they did.
Some other kid watched because he was too scared to join in and then he told the teacher
'they were kissing each other's pee-pees.' The teacher didn't think it was too important
so she didn't tell the parents. Somehow they just found out. I think it was maybe when
this one little girl told this little boy to pull his pants down and then she started licking
and kissing on his pee-pee and he got scared and told the teacher. The teacher didn't
think it was too important. So he told his parents."
I guess his parents called my soon to be wife at The State.
I always ask her how the day was and it usually sucked. She spends her mornings
in the bathroom puking because she's having my child. She especially hates puking
orange juice so she quit drinking it. I really like it.
Other times she goes into the bathroom and falls asleep in the stall on the toilet
seat. I wonder if anybody misses her.
Water Truck Guy
There's a guy who comes down here every day in an old water truck that creaks and
moans like it's dying. He never talks to me or looks over here for that matter. He just
drives down to the far end of the landing and gets out his pump. The he throws a nasty
looking hose into the creek and turns the power on. It makes lots of noise. He gets back
into the cab of the truck and chain-smokes while flipping through a magazine. When the
tank is full he leaves.
I can't imagine what he does with that water. It is very disgusting and sometimes
it looks worse than the sewage in the Port o John down by the picnic tables.
Kids stop by to rent canoes and ask about a good swimming hole.
"There's one fifteen minutes downstream," I say. "It's called Peet's Hole and
there's a waterfall."
They let me know when they have a good time.
I went swimming there once by accident while trying to get back into a kayak
from the bank. The water was cold because it was early May. It stank like dead fish and
so did I when I got back.
Fish & Wildlife Guy
One time the Fish & Wildlife guy came down to visit. I had never seen him before even
though he was sure he talked to me last summer when I wasn't here. I asked him if he
wanted to rent and found out that he won't go out in a canoe because the last time he was
in one he was searching for a dead body. He makes poor conversation
He was fat and balding and I'm sure sex was a relic. He smoked and flicked his
butt on the ground. He didn't pick it up either. His truck was really loud and even
though I couldn't hear a thing he just kept talking. I nodded at what seemed to be the
appropriate times. I haven't seen him since.
There are two turtles on the log now and they appear to be sunning. Someone just
honked and I don't know who it was.
On Tuesday and Fridays the Farmer's Market is here with a bunch of old people selling
their gardens to the public.
One of my favorite stands is Miranda's Ice Cold Lemonade for 25 cents a cup. It
tastes like thawed Country Time with a little extra water. I buy it anyway.
Miranda's mom makes great banana bread for $4 a loaf. I usually buy that too.
The farmers set up under little white tents with metal poles that collapse easily.
When the wind blows a lot of them fall down.
Business is slower on Tuesdays than on Fridays.
An older black guy in a green hat runs the market. He's always talking to me
about something, usually his kids who are grown now or his tomatoes. Sometimes I help
him move things.
On Friday there is a lady who cooks burgers on a charcoal grill. They sell for $2.
I usually buy one and she gives me two. I don't know why. Maybe it's because the
burgers she doesn't sell get thrown to the dogs. I put cheese, a tomato slice and mustard
on my sandwich and buy a Mountain Dew for 50 cents. That's the only time I don't eat
at Arby's for lunch.
Lady With Dogs
The lady with dogs comes down a lot. She's here almost every day around lunch even
though I haven't seen her this week. She drives a navy blue Nissan truck with mag
wheels. She has a high-pitched voice and she's always eating ice cream or yogurt from
Her dogs are big and reddish brown. They ride in the back of the truck. She
throws sticks or plastic bottles into the creek and the dogs jump in and fetch them. She
watches and yells commands and eats her yogurt/ice cream.
After the dogs get wet they shake out all over everyone around. This has
happened to me twice. Then they piss and shit all over the place making sure to mark
every tree at the landing. This ritual takes around 20 minutes. More than once I have
scooped up dog shit with a paddle and thrown it into the water. I hate stepping in dog
shit especially since I'm barefoot most of the time.
I talked to her once on my way back from the Port o John.
"You have pretty boring day, don't cha?" she said.
I laughed and agreed.
"I hope it's worth your time. Hope you're making' money."
I laughed again.
Why I Hate Joe
The guy I work with is a loser. His name is Joe. He wears black t-shirts with the sleeves
cut out tucked into khaki shorts with a nice belt and polished white tennis shoes. We split
the profits three ways between Joe, myself and Ned, the guy who owns the canoes,
paddles, and jackets.
I work more hours than Joe does. He randomly takes off during the day. He
closes early. He drives a truck and leaves the jackets to rot in the rain. He scams on
some sixteen-year-old chick from the Farmer's Market. She sells squash and cucumbers.
I don't know which is worse.
He acts like he's a used car salesman when people come to rent. "Hello, my name
is Joe, how may I help you?" he says and it drives me crazy.
He took off this week for Cleveland without any warning. Glad I didn't have any
Occasionally there are jackasses who bring their boats to the dock. Lots of people do this
but they're not all jackasses. You can always tell a jackass by the size of his motor. This
creek is small.
They fly up and down the creek disturbing the turtles and almost knocking over
my customers. I like my customers. I don't like jackasses.
Other jackasses rev their motors full blast and leak oil into the creek, turning the
sky smoke blue. I don't like them either.
Often I consider letting the air out of their tires. But then I'd have to listen to
Today I saw a jackass come flying by in his big motorboat tearing up the creek.
There was a turtle on the usual log chillin in the sun. I watched and waited for the turtle
to jump into the creek and be destroyed by the jackass and his motor.
He didn't jump.
I like that turtle.
He has balls.
Port o John
About once a day I walk down the creek to the Port o John. It takes about three minutes
and I get bored so I look around. There's not much but some big mud puddles, a few
picnic tables and a small playground. The creek usually looks nice and calm unless the
water truck guy is down there with his pump. It makes a lot of noise and excretes blue
The Port o John is actually a Kentucky Tuff-Jon. It is light blue and strapped to a
tree with a yellow rope. It's up on wooden blocks and has "FUCK ALL YOU
MOTHERFUCKERS!" scribbled in black marker on the door. It stinks like hell and
doesn't get cleaned out often. I wouldn't sit in there if I had to.
I piss in the little side part and leave.
I get really upset sometimes when I walk all the way down there and it's
occupied. Then I go to Arby's.
I hate flies. They buzz around all insane and it really pisses me off. Especially if it's
humid and I'm tired or hung over or bored or business is slow and the book I'm reading
Flies are definitely my main occupational hazard. I have often heard that trying to
relate to flies leads to insanity. I do it all the time.
Sometimes at home I walk around the house with a rolled up newspaper in my
hand chasing flies and killing them. My soon to be wife has seen this and we're still
But the flies are much worse here, especially after 4 p.m. I don't know why.
Maybe they are expecting suppertime to roll around. Maybe they just got out of bed. Or
maybe it's just me. I don't know but I hate flies and they're usually around.
It's not that bad as long as they don't land on me. I can handle the
buzzing... .theflying....thelanding... .thetakingoffagain....thebuzzzzzing...... the
landing...as long as it's not on me. But they always have to try it just once to see what
That's when I start reasoning with them. But it never works. Then I yell. They
don't usually fall for that either so I start swinging and they die. I leave a few lying
around dead hoping that their friends will get the picture. But that doesn't work either.
I often think about getting the turtles up here to eat them but I'm not sure if turtles
eat flies. I wouldn't want to bother the turtles anyway.
The creek is bright green and reminds me of a color I've seen in a bad horror movie
The three turtles on the log don't seem to care. Someone just honked.
My friend Dean lives in San Francisco. We write long rambling letters back and forth
discussing the importance of literature in the modern world. We include a lot of our own
Dean stopped here one day on a surprise visit. His dad paid for a plane ticket to
Kentucky so Dean could make some family gathering. Dean showed up with his
fingernails painted purple wearing white and black fifties style wing tips with a black
silky type shirt and lots of silver jewelry. His black hair was curly and dripping with
Geri-Curl. He didn't look like he was from around here.
His dad threw him out so Dean came to stay with me. We had an interesting
weekend. One night he drank most of a half-gallon of whiskey and started hitting on
somebody's wife and telling stories about bloodletting and masturbating on stage for
money. He kept drinking and I kept laughing.
On the way home he asked me to pull over. He puked in a subdivision near my
soon to be wife's house.
There's a guy with a purple Blazer who comes here about once a week. He's kind of tall,
gray-headed and has a scraggly beard. He's usually wearing mis-matched neon clothes
from the eighties. He is not very talkative when he rents. By the time he gets back he's
talking all the time. I don't know what he does out there.
He has a short fat little dog that always barks at me. Then it decides to try and
climb into my van. But it's too fat and short to jump. So it barks.
The dog looks like an anteater crossed with an opossum that barks. That dog
always barks. I kind of wish it was an anteater. There are lots of ants around and they
climb on my feet when I'm eating my lunch.
The guy's wife comes along with him but she never goes out on the water. She
has black hair that is dyed with a bit of a purple tinge. She always wears pink socks. She
usually looks tired.
They also have a son. He's short and blonde with a crew cut and always gets his
fishing line caught in the trees. When he's not catching leaves he catches fish and throws
them back into the water because they're too small. Most of the time the kid has on some
basketball jersey with a t-shirt under it. He wears Fila shoes.
They usually bring food from Taco Bell and eat on the tailgate of the Blazer. The
boy never eats with them. He just fishes and the dog barks.
One time the kid caught a small fish and couldn't get the hook out of its mouth.
His parents weren't around so he asked me for help. I sent him down the creek to some
fisherman guy in a Marlboro hat who looked like he knew what was going on. That guy
got the hook out.
I like to know where my Zippo lighter is at all times. I often lose it or leave it sitting on a
canoe or in the back of the van. And this upsets me.
When I wear jeans I have that little fifth pocket to keep it in. But I don't wear
jeans at work. So I leave it lying around and sometimes I lose it.
The first Zippo I ever had was a wedding gift from one of my friends. I didn't get
married but I was his best man. I had it with me all the time. It always lit on the first
strike. It was black and had my name in Old English letters on the front.
On one especially drunk night I lost it somewhere. Sometimes I dream that I've
found it. But then I get up the next morning to my new Zippo lighter that is silver and
never lights on the first strike.
I can't imagine lighting anything without a Zippo lighter. The smell of the fluid
after the initial click of the lid and the flick and FLAME. The cool tricks you can do
flipping the lid and lighting the wick and closing it. It's good entertainment on a boring
You can't smoke a bowl with a Zippo though. A Bic works better for that.
My drug-dealer friend D comes down around 4:20 every day during the week. He's
always talking Indicas and Sativas and about the plants from Holland he has growing in
his house along with all of the stuff he's going to buy for his mountain bike when harvest
He always eats at Taco Bell and he never brings me anything. I drink his
Mountain Dew without permission and he smokes my cigarettes. I always have
cigarettes because I chain smoke.
D has blonde hair that usually needs to be washed. He wears a thick hemp
necklace that my friend J made for him. He has a nasty stutter that bothers me
I'm usually reading something when he gets here but I quit when he starts talking
drugs and he's always talking drugs.
He brought the latest issue of High Times around the other day and showed me
the plants he's going to grow next. I wasn't real excited and wanted to get back to my
reading. He told me his goal in life was to have a picture of his buds in the mag.
"And then you could say, 'I smoked those buds."'
He handed me a free joint and took off. D grows the funk.
Death of the Magic Bus
My friends called my van The Magic Bus. My mom used to ask, "So what's so magic
about it anyway?" I never told her.
The Bus was kind of like a VW except it was a Mitsubishi. There weren't any
windows on the sides. It was white and looked like a loaf of bread on wheels. I had lots
of stickers on the bumper. I moved all of my canoe equipment with it. It made for a
good office down here at the creek.
I really liked my Bus. We had been all over the United States together. But I
crashed it into an old Chevy truck and now The Magic Bus is dead.
Juan reflects, "Yeah man, I smoked a lot of spliffs in the Bus. We almost got
busted in it. Remember the time that Japanese kid ratted on us and the cops came. We
thought it was the Domino's man. Remember? And then we all tried to hide. But we
got off the hook, man, 'cause you knew the security guard. That was cool. And D ate
that joint. Man, and I was laughing That's...what I'm talking about."
Today I wrote a haiku about the Elkhom. Here it is.
Turtles on a log
basking in the warm sunshine
A train passes through
The trains are one of my favorite things here at work. They pass through a few times a
day although I've never been bored enough to figure out the schedule. The tracks are
close to the creek and I can see the trains as they come through. They blow their horns
and they have a reason.
Downstream about 30 minutes in a canoe you can go under a railroad bridge. It's
nice and quiet down there when the trains aren't around. A constant stream flows from a
crack in the foundation. The sound is relaxing.
My friend Optik's tag is on the side of the bridge. It was cool when I realized he
had been there before.
Optik and I used to go down to the tracks scouting for cars to paint. I went with
him one time when he bombed a cattle car. I guess the design looked cool but I couldn't
really tell because it was dark and we were kind of paranoid about the police. I don't
think he was happy with it but I'm not a graffiti artist. Someday he'll probably get rich
and I hope he'll let me stay at his place a couple of nights when I'm around. That or he'll
be in jail for defacing property. Then I'll go bail him out.
Either way, I really like the trains.
Today's not Tuesday but I wrote this on a Tuesday.
A girl in a black Phantom of the Opera t-shirt is smiling in the sunshine while the
farmers are selling their vegetables in the breeze. Bukowski is boring me with his tales
of drunkenness and rape and I'm tired of reading about the horse races.
The canopy tops along the landing are blowing, the trees are swaying, and I'm
smoking a cigarette. An old man in a red shirt and suspenders is loading his boat into a
truck. He seems strong for his age.
Two longhaired hippie types are checking out tomatoes at the third stand down.
The tall guy has an Army jacket on even though it's eighty degrees. The blond is
wearing dark sunglasses. Cigarette smoke is blowing in my face.
A woman sitting by herself at a picnic table is doing something interesting but I
can't tell what. A small group of elderly ladies is standing in the shade pointing and
talking to her.
The lady with the banana bread is weighing oranges on a homemade scale. Some
chick in a white shirt is buying them. They are talking and laughing. Cars are driving by
on the highway behind me. Someone just honked a horn.
Miranda the lemonade kid is doing a dance while drinking from a Wendy's cup.
She is busting some moves. I can't hear any music.
Four turtles are on the log baking in the sun. The biggest is in the front. They are
all facing downstream. One person has rented a canoe this morning and business is slow.
My cigarette is finished and I'm putting it out in the ashtray.
Sometimes it's the wind through the trees, the splash of a paddle, or laughing and talking
in the distance. Or footsteps in the grass, songs of the birds, the crickets chirping and the
cicadas humming. The train passing through or the click of the Zippo.
Other times it's the semis braking, the boats revving or the radios blaring and
bumping. Or horns honking, cars without mufflers and flies buzzing. Bulldozers tearing
up the land or people yelling at each other.
It's best when there's an even mix.
Today, for the first time ever, I caught a honker. It was Dr. G and I was pulling a canoe
from the water as he drove by. I looked up and saw him waving from his black Volvo
with the Felix the Cat/Grateful Dead sticker on the back.
Dr. G hooked me up with this job because he knows what a hard-working young
entrepreneur I am. Sometimes he stops down and we sit in his car and listen to vintage
bootleg tapes of the Grateful Dead. We don't say much. We just sit there and let the
music speak for itself.
Other times I just lean in the passenger side window and we talk about stuff. But
in the background I can always hear The Dead.
Yesterday was the first anniversary of Jerry Garcia's death but I didn't see Dr. G.
I bet he was wearing a black suit.
There are four turtles on the log in the middle of the creek. A fifth turtle is circling
looking for an open spot. Access denied.
One more turtle and the log would sink or they would all fall off. The turtle in the
rear isn't really on the log anyway. It's just kind of hanging on. The three in the front
are sun-dried and relaxed. The turtle in the rear looks wet and stressed.
Jimmy and I picked Margo up in Graceland. We got drunk at a party at his trailer,
saw an infomercial for some Elvis junk, and just up and drove the 10 hours, wasted. That
was before his face got burned up. That was when I owned this car. That was when
Margo looked good. Now she just looks ravaged. Her dress, green & stringy, is worn
out from the wind, so bad that the spring, which holds her to the dash, shows through.
"Junk!" Jimmy yells. We're sitting in the Barracuda, and it won't start.
Jimmy gets out and pops the hood, and I can see him through the crack of the
hood. He pulls on some hoses, looks at the carburetor and then opens and closes the lid a
few times. His burn scars are turning red in the sun. I usually don't notice them, but
sometimes I just can't help it, like when people start staring at the store, or when we're
Jimmy keeps messing around until he finds a leak in the gas line and goes to the
trunk for tools.
Jimmy bought this car from me a couple of years ago. I ripped him off, he knows
it, and we've never really brought it up. I needed money. Jimmy took out a loan. We're
both still broke.
I step out of the car, careful of the chrome doorplates, and go into his trailer for
more beer. The trailer is trashed, the floor covered with his sister's kid's toys, clothes
and junk. I get two more beers and look around. I don't think the place has been clean
since it was put together in 1969. Looking out the window at Jimmy is like trying to see
through a glass bowl filled with resin.
Outside, it's hot and I'm tired.
"It's the gas line," Jimmy says as I hand him a beer. "We're stuck and fucked."
"What do you mean stuck? I got things to do, man. Fix it and let's go."
We've been drinking all day. Jimmy looks like he's been run over by a cement
mixer. His face and chest are dirty and smeared with grease. His jeans are covered in old
white paint and more dirt. And those bur scars. I realize I must look like shit too.
"Screw you, man." Jimmy's arms and chest flex with anger. Veins stand out of
his forehead. "You fix it. You sold me this damn car and all I've ever had with it is
I've heard this a million times.
Jimmy sticks his head back under the hood. I light a cigarette.
"What are you trying to do? Blow us to hell? There's gasoline everywhere."
I hear him say 'dumbass' under his breath. And yes, there is gasoline
everywhere. Jimmy's covered in it. You'd think a man whose face has been burned up
would avoid gasoline. Not Jimmy.
I look at my lighter and then back at Jimmy.
"You got insurance on this?" I say.
"Yeah. Classic car. It's cheaper. $8000 worth."
We get behind the Barracuda and roll it out into the road. The hood glimmers in
the sun and the chrome blinds me for a second. I look away and wipe sweat with my
Jimmy's staring at me hard. "You gonna cry, wuss? It ain't that hard to push.
And get the cooler. We're gonna need it."
It's good that nobody's around. One of the things I always liked about Jimmy's
place. It's in the middle of nowhere, down by the backwater of the Ohio River, Kentucky
side, way off the main road. We used to swim in the river, until I got sick from
swallowing water. I can't stand it now.
"You're not pushing. Get behind it."
We push harder. It's really hot, and the car is heavy. They don't make cars now
like they used to. This is one heavy piece of machinery. A 1974 Plymouth Barracuda,
the last year they made them. I picked it up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Saw an ad in
the Auto Trader and couldn't resist. I didn't even have a license then. I asked my dad to
drive me down there. We looked at it, ugly as hell, covered in some type of reddish-
brown primer. The doors were all banged up. The front fender was rusted. It barely ran.
I was in love.
We took out the drive shaft, trailered up the front tires, and as soon as I got my
license and made enough money, I went to work. I bought a replacement fender, patched
the doors, got a bunch of new chrome, added a new vinyl top, rechromed the bumpers,
bought some Cragar wheels, big fat BF Goodrich Radial T/A tires, new windshield and
put fresh Plum Crazy paint on it. She was a sweetheart to look at. Still is, really, minus a
few spots of rust and the dirt. Still a pretty sweet car.
She sure looked fine on the outside, and under the hood wasn't any different. The
360 engine glowed with a new Edelbrock Performer intake manifold, 600 CFM carb, and
roller timing chain. I added an Edelbrock Signature series chrome air cleaner along with
matching valve covers. Even the Hooker HTC coated headers with side pipes shined.
Then I installed a B&M shift kit after having the tranny overhauled, and it could lay
black marks like you've never seen just switching gears. In an automatic.
The interior was clean and black with bucket seats. I mirror tinted the windows
and since the original tach didn't work, I installed a new Autometer Tachometer just to
make sure I wasn't gonna blow my baby up.
Things went well. I won a few races, lost a few, but the car always looked good.
The guys at vocational school drooled when they saw me pull up. It sounded bad, looked
bad, and was bad.
Then the block cracked, or so I figured from the loss of oil pressure. Everything
was ruined and I knew it. Where was I going to get another 360 block? Even better, the
money to pay for it. I sank every cent I had into it, and just my luck, the engine blows
So I was in a bit of a situation. I had too much money and pride in this car to tell
anybody, and I needed to unload it quick before things got worse. I put a FOR SALE
sign in the window and parked it in the yard in front of my parent's house. I got lots of
offers, but I didn't really want to sell it. She was just too sweet to me.
I had two months to finish high school and no plans for the future. My parents
told me to get ajob. So that's what I did, at the slaughterhouse, knocking cows in the
head with a hammer.
The Barracuda sat most of that summer, but then my parents didn't want me there
anymore so I needed my own place. I was partying too much and not making jackshit at
the slaughterhouse. I called Jimmy and said I'd cut him a deal. I was asking $8000, told
him I'd sell it for $5000. The way I figured it, things would be better if someone I knew
and trusted had the car, whether I ripped them or not. I didn't want to let go.
Jimmy stopped by the house the next day and the deal was done.
Jimmy didn't have any problems for a week or two. He noticed the oil pressure
gauge was low but told me he guessed it had just quit working. It happens a lot in old
cars, I said. I was feeling like a jackass.
Then he took the car to the drag strip. By the time he made it down the track, the
car was throwing oil in every direction and the motor sounded like a bunch of chimps
beating on pots and pans with sticks. It was a bad scene. At least the car didn't catch
fire, like his old split-window Corvette. That's how his face got burned. The Corvette
blew up at the end of the track. Luckily, he had on a helmet, but no mask or shield.
Jimmy was pissed. I take it he assumed he had destroyed the Barracuda racing.
Drag strips tear cars up quick if you don't know what you're doing, or if you have a car
that needs some serious work. He was laughed out of Edgewater and I don't think he's
been back since.
Over the next year or so, Jimmy had nothing but bad luck. He bought a new
engine, put a bunch of money in it, and then the transmission blew. He installed a new
transmission, and then the rear end locked up. The problems never ended.
And here we are, today, planning to torch the car I love for insurance money.
I'm tired. It's getting dark. The dirt from the road is packed into my boots and all
over my jeans. Everything smells like gas, and I can see a gasoline trail dripped into the
dirt. We stop pushing.
"All right, give me your lighter."
I hand Jimmy my lighter. "What're we gonna use for gas?"
"There's plenty of it right here."
"We've been leaking gas for a mile."
Jimmy tries to light the line in the dust. It doesn't do anything but spark.
"We'll just have to siphon it then."
Jimmy just stares at me. I can see the wheels trying to turn but the only thing
happening is one big misfire. Jimmy pops the hood and starts pulling off hoses. He
walks around the side and pulls off the gas cap, throwing it hard. He tries to suck gas but
nothing comes out.
I say, "I'm not walking all the way back there and bringing gas. We're pushing it
into the river."
The right side of the road is a tobacco field, but the left is a slight grass decline for
a ways that suddenly drops off, like a cliff, into the river. We've been down here a
million times, screwing around, drinking and lighting fires. We used to sit on the edge,
feet dangling, beers in hand, and wonder what the river used to be like when it was as
high as the bluff
We turn the car to the left with more trouble than it should take. Jimmy's really
drunk. At least we've still got a few beers in the cooler.
We get a running start and push the car as hard as we can down the hill. It gets up
some speed and drops off the edge just as I let go. It drops almost straight down, like you
see in the movies. I always thought that stuff was fake. The front end hits the beach hard
but the tires land on all fours and keep rolling. I watch as it hits the concrete post at the
corner of Jimmy's launching dock and stops, smashing up the front end and breaking the
I turn around and Jimmy's already smoking another cigarette. "It always did pull
to the left," he says smiling in the smoke.
"Forget this! I've got to go home."
Jimmy takes off down the cliff to inspect the damage. He slides and falls and
ends up rolling to the bottom. The cooler busts open and beer and ice go everywhere.
Jimmy goes over to the water and washes his face and the beer cans. The driver's
side door is hard to open. I sit down in the seat, grab the shifter, but the transmission is
stuck in park. I start rocking the car back and forth, trying to get the gear unjammed.
Jimmy comes over to the other side of the car.
"What are you trying to do now?"
"It's stuck in gear. Rock it. We'll unjam it and push it into the river from here."
Jimmy starts to push back and forth. I jerk on the gearshift but it won't budge. I
start turning the ignition key back and forth, and then try the gearshift again. Won't
budge. I turn the key one more time and the car coughs and then starts. Everything
smells like gas and radiator fluid. Jimmy sits down in the seat.
"What?" Jimmy says.
"I don't know. It just started."
"Fuck it. Fuck this piece of shit. Fuck this whole day."
"Look man, I'm sorry about the car."
"What are you talking' about? We're supposed to sink it."
"No, I mean, before. I knew the block was cracked."
Jimmy is silent for a minute. I see thoughts running across his face.
He lights up two cigarettes and hands me one. He opens a beer and it explodes.
He takes a drink anyway.
"Who cares? Let's go. You're driving."
I back the car up and hit the bank. The back bumper, loose from the descent
down, falls off onto the ground. I put the car in gear and floor it. The engine sputters,
coughs, almost dies, and then gets some air. Jimmy looks over at me, his eyes wild, his
face burnt, beer can in hand and a cigarette in his mouth, grinning. We hit the dock, he
grabs the dash, I let go of the wheel, and we go flying, airborne for a second or two, and
then dive into the water.
The car sinks faster than I had imagined. Jimmy's gone out the window, and I rip
Margo off the dash. I stay in the car as long as I can until I can't stand it anymore.
Jimmy meets me on the bank. Hula girl in hand, I point her to the sky and say,
"I'll be damned if I'm going to lose it all again."
Jimmy's staring at me with that sly grin on his face. "You're nuts, man. Looney
We walk back to his trailer and have a beer on the porch.
THE LAST BASTION
The Castillo de San Marcos, or Fort Marion as the Americans called it, has been
through some serious shit. It's been attacked more times than my mother has told me to
shut up, but it's never been taken by force. So while I was visiting St. Augustine, I
figured I'd go check it out, not suspecting that the sneakiest attack ever was in progress.
I paid $5 for my ticket but hadn't finished my $6 coffee so I carried it in like all
those No Food No Drinks No Smoking signs didn't exist. I thought some dude in
pantaloons might stop me at the Sally Port drawbridge ((#1 on your map) but he was
talking to a couple about Spanish weaponry. So I slipped on by.
We were immediately under siege. The Britney Spears look-alikes were
everywhere, and they were armed. They were stealthily disguised as a middle school
class from a local school but I knew better. I could tell from their I-Pods and text
messaging that something was getting ready to go down.
I thought about alarming the pantaloon guy so he could warn the masses but he
was nowhere to be found. I ran for the guardrooms (see #2 on your map) but there was
nothing in there but a bunch of empty bunks and gunracks and some Spanish graffiti that
I couldn't understand. I was determined to find somebody who might stop the belly
button ring invasion.
I looked into the prison (#3) but it was locked and nobody was in there. I
considered busting the lock and luring the enemy in with a promise of free music
downloads, but I didn't want to make myself obvious. I resorted to being a spy.
I left the guardroom and the prison and walked out into the courtyard (#4). The
enemy was standing around the Plaza de Armas in small groups of 3 or 4, laughing like
their evil plans were funny. But I knew the truth. The takeover was just beginning.
Soon there would be hordes of them trying to gain the fort. First it was the Spanish who
founded the place, then the British took over, then the Spanish again, then the
Confederate Americans, then the Americans again. And don't forget about the Indians as
prisoners, the French, and the pirates. And now the Secret Order or SOCOOL as they
liked to call themselves. I couldn't let this happen.
I raided the gift shop (#5) for the closest thing to a conquistador outfit, which
happened to be a felt pirate hat, plastic hook hand and sword, and an eye patch. I quickly
ran to La Necesaria (#6) to get on my new disguise and check myself in the mirror. I also
had to urinate because I finished my coffee.
Feeling fresh and relieved I launched out of the latrine and into the Powder
Magazine (#7) with my sword drawn to make sure the enemy had not infiltrated our
supply of gunpowder, and the room was empty. I figured some of the infantrymen must
have been assigned to stash it somewhere else because the enemy had access to the same
self-guided map I did, so it would be obvious for them to find the gunpowder in the
Powder Magazine. This was very clever thinking on the part of my comrades-in-arms.
The pantaloon guy must have already sensed the danger before I did, that's why I
couldn't find him.
With the gunpowder secure, I figured the next point of attack would be the
Provisions Room (#8). This is where we stored all of our ammunition, weapons, lumber,
tools, dried beans, rice, flour, and corn. The heavy wooden and iron door was propped
open, which I took to be a bad sign. I peered in through the iron bars first, just to make
sure there weren't too many of them to confront at once. An old lady was reading a
placard about Seminoles and Plains and Apaches. I walked up to her with my sword but
she didn't care. She just kept on reading.
I was thinking food now so I got my stash of Raisinets out of my jacket and
tossed a couple in my mouth. I considered the enemy's options. I thought I'd best put
some thought into it and not make any rash decisions because the survival of the people
of St. Augustine was in the balance. So I went over to the Chapel of St. Mark (#9)
because I knew there was no way the heathen enemy would spend any time in there.
While in the Chapel I found by studying the empty Raisinets box that I had
consumed approximately 46% of my daily saturated fat intake. When combined with the
20 oz mocha latte I finished earlier, I assumed I was somewhere around 110%. I have
heard many sports stars talk about giving 110% so I was ready to go back into battle with
My next destination was the Spanish artillerymen quarters (#10). These were the
guys who shot the big guns, like the cannons and mortars. They weren't there so I
deduced that the most likely place for an artilleryman to be would be near the artillery.
All of the big firepower was on the roof of the Castillo so I ran up the stairs (#11),
jumping four at a time and almost falling into one of the enemy. I didn't want them to
spot me because then they'd know that I know about their plans and I would be banished
or forced to walk the plank or maybe even hanged in the town square.
I got up to the gundeck (#12) and was surrounded by the enemy. I looked around
the four firing walls and four bastions for any sign of my team, but I couldn't locate
anybody. I ran to the San Carlos Bastion (#13) first, and one of the enemy was standing
in the bell tower (#14) with headphones in her ears, swaying back and forth. Avast
Landlubber! A sentinel should have been in there, but I guess the enemy eradicated him
because they knew he'd sound the alarm. Man they're tricky.
I decided running was becoming obvious because everybody else was just
strolling around so I calmed down a bit. I waited for the headphoned enemy to get out of
the bell tower so I could stand in there for a bit. She finally left but gave me some type of
disapproving look as she walked on.
The entrance was really low and I had forgotten about my pirate hat so I crashed it
into the top of the doorway. Some of the enemies were taking pictures of each other
beside a cannon (#15), and they started laughing at me. I smiled back because I had to
appear friendly or they would find me out.
The bell tower was pretty cool. I wasn't supposed to but I rubbed my hand along
the coquina walls to get a feel of how it could have been to be stuck in there for hours
waiting to be attacked. I didn't really get a feel for the attack part but I found it
interesting how they made the entire fortress out of this shell rock. If it had been made
out of wood or something else the place would be nonexistent today and I wouldn't be
able to run around it wearing an eyepatch and carrying a plastic sword.
Back to the business at hand, I was careful with my hat on the way out of the bell
tower so as to not bring attention to myself. Most of the enemy had left the roof, so I
walked over and looked down into the Plaza (#4). A different guy in a different pair of
pantaloons had drawn their attention, and he was giving a presentation about the military
activities that had taken place here since 1672.
This guy was good. He was flirting with the enemy, showing them his rifle and
pistol and sword and boots and hat and all the other stuff he had on. He was much
younger than the earlier pantaloon guy, and I was wondering how much a person gets
paid to stand around in a period costume and recite historical facts and answer questions.
Then I thought about if I'd be any good at that and decided the answer was probably no.
I was getting hungry since the only thing I'd had to eat was Raisinets, so I
finished walking around the gundeck (#12), read some placards about the cannons and
other historical stuff, went back down the stairs (#11) and across the Drawbridge (#1) to
behind a big tall sign where I could light a cigarette with a match in strong wind. I
wasted two matches and was worried the third, and last, match would waste too. But I
got the cigarette lit and walked on.
I guess the enemy won that battle, but it's not over yet. My $5 ticket entitles me
to as many return trips as I want in the next six days. They're firing cannons off
sometime this weekend, but I doubt I'll still be in town then. When I leave town, the
people of St. Augustine, as well as the rest of the world, will have to defend themselves
against the likes of Britney Spears and her jolly horde of ne'er do wells.
Then she made me say things I didn't want to say
Then she made me play games I didn't want to play
She was a soul stripper, she took my heart
Soul stripper, and tore me apart
-AC/DC, Soul Stripper
I'm in a strip club, on the line with my wife. It's not going all that well.
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing?" she says.
I can see her face through the phone. "I ran into Randy after work and then we
met T.P. down at McCarthy's and now we're here. Is that alright?"
"No, it's not." She smokes those little Capri cigarettes, and I can hear her sucking
on the filter.
I take a drink of my whiskey and consider whether I should mention to Lauren
that I lost my job today. Actually, it was more like a hand-over. The foreman handed
over my check and told me not to come back. I decide not to mention it.
"Are you listening to me?" She pauses, probably trying to figure out what I'm
going to do next.
"Goddamnit, you loser bastard moron fuckup! Shit-goddamn-hell-fuck!"
She hangs up. One thing I always liked about Lauren: she can cuss with the best
My snakeskin boots glow in the black lights as I walk back to the table. The floor
is covered in some type of jungle decor. The leaves glow in the light. Most of the girls
"I ain't givin' a bitch a dollar for a belly that's bigger than mine," Randy says,
nudging T.P. with his elbow. Strippers have surrounded our table. Seems Randy has
been here several times before.
Randy grabs the arm of one of the girls. "I love you, darling, that's why I can't
pay you," he says.
There's movement around the table. I'm figuring there's a switch in shifts or
Another girl comes over. Randy says, "Hey baby, you're beautiful. Why don't
you come sit in daddy's lap and stay awhile?" She flops into his lap. Randy's a midget
so she doesn't really fit. They switch places, and Randy sits in her lap like he's a little
kid bouncing on her knee.
This is when I realize I've made a bad decision and don't even want to be here.
Her name is Simone. She's not wearing much, just a pink spandex top, no bra,
and tight white bell-bottoms. Her hair is corn-rolled back to the middle of her head. She
has on lots of white makeup.
Randy is dressed to the hilt. He's wearing a three-piece Armani suit, a Rolex
watch and shiny expensive shoes. His bald head shines in the light. She and Randy keep
I fade out of the conversation. The music's pounding so loud the ice in my glass
shakes. The DJ is walking around with a headset, his long hair white, arms covered in
tattoos, eyes sunken, wearing all black and a studded leather belt that glimmers with the
disco ball. He looks like death.
He walks up to our table and screams into his mic, "You guys ready to party or
what?" Randy and T.P. yell along with the other men in the bar. This is the dumpiest
strip club I've been to in this city. There are so many other places we could be, but I
wonder if it matters where we are.
Just looking around this place gives me reason enough to not want to be here.
One guy's wearing a T-shirt that reads "The Best Dad on Earth."
I move to get up but suddenly there are very tan breasts in my face. "Wanna
shot?" she says.
I sit back down.
"Sure. What do you have?"
She eases off.
"Rattlesnake, Cuervo, Danielle's Special, that's my drink, Kamikaze, Sex On The
Beach, Absolut, something pineapple, Hot Damn, coconut. I don't know what this is."
The shots are in test tubes, lined up in a wooden rack like you'd see in a chemist's
lab. I reach for mine, hoping it tastes better than the cigarettes on my breath.
"No honey, I'm going to give it to you."
She gets down on her knees and spreads my legs. She puts the tube next to my
crotch and licks it up and down. I see the butterfly tattoo on her back. Her braids hit the
insides of my thighs. She leans up, puts the tube halfway in her mouth, and acts like
she's sucking it off. Then the other end is in my mouth and her lips touch mine several
times. Just barely. She puts the shot between her breasts, leans into me and I drink it
down. The drink tastes like candy.
Randy and T.P. are drooling. The other strippers are watching.
"Mind if I have one?" she says.
"No, go ahead."
She kills her shot straight. I suspect it's just juice. "That'll be $12, honey."
I pay her and she walks to the next table. Another guy gets the same treatment.
Simone says, "She used to strip but she's better at serving drinks." Everyone
I get up and walk back to the pay phone by the bathrooms. I'm not the type of
guy who cheats, and I'm feeling a little bit bad. I'm wondering what Lauren is doing at
home. I try to imagine the scene but nothing comes to mind. I just want things to be OK
when I get home. I dial her up.
"Fuck you, you dickless bastard..."
"No, really, hold on a minute. I've got to tell you something." I need to tell
Lauren how much I love her and how I can't wait to get home. But I can tell that's not
going to happen.
"I'll tell you something. You told me you took care of the car, but it still won't
start. Did you forget? Again? And why didn't I get the message from the loan officer?
She called again today, said she left a message with you..."
I love her, but I have a problem drifting off when she's bitching. I cradle the
receiver against my shoulder. I smell like Danielle's body lotion. She must have had it
all over her. It smells really good. I can still taste that sweet drink in my mouth.
I interrupt whatever it is she is saying. "Look honey, I'll fix it all tomorrow."
"A little late. I won't be here tomorrow."
She hangs up again. I put the phone back in the cradle and walk over to the table.
I sit down and reach for my drink, feeling sorry for myself. T.P.'s almost lying in his
beer, and Randy's nowhere to be found.
I know it is in my best interest to abandon this scene and go home, but I don't.
Sometimes my urge for a drink and people to talk with overrides everything else. And I
don't really feel like dealing with Lauren. She's beyond the point of logic. I'll just have
to wait a little while until she calms down. I doubt she's really gonna leave. She's
threatened before. I decide to ride it out.
Another stripper walks up to me and says, "Wanna dance?"
Her hair is long and dark. Her skin shines. She's wearing a see through gold top
with sparkles and some type of skirt over a Day-Glo g-string.
"No thanks. But I think he does." I point to T.P.
He lifts his head and his eyes light up. I feel sorry for the guy. He's never had a
She says, "Sweetheart, why don't you go and get me a drink?"
T.P. jumps up and strolls over to the bar, his wallet chain jangling. The woman
on stage is completely naked, humping a gold pole and flexing her butt cheeks. They
T.P. comes back with a Budweiser in a bottle. I watch the ice cubes melt in my
"How about a glass?" she says and looks at T.P.
He walks off again.
She says to me, "He doesn't know much about women, does he?"
"None of us do, lady," I say. I drink my drink and light up a cigarette. She bums
one. I light it for her.
T.P.'s back and a little more sweaty than usual. She pours her beer into the glass,
says "thanks" and walks off. T.P.'s not happy.
"Fuckin' bitch just reamed me for a beer," T.P. says, banging his hand on the
table. I wish the only thing I was gonna get reamed for was a beer, I think but don't say.
I'm wondering how to break the job news to Lauren. I'm wondering how I'm going to
get another job. It ain't like I'm qualified to do much of anything but construction, and
I've just about wore out all my connections. This last job was a gimme, lined up by
Randy as a favor.
Simone's on stage dancing to AC/DC. Randy has reappeared and is putting a
dollar in her garter. She grabs him by the ears and rams his face over and over within an
inch of her shaved crotch. He comes back smiling.
"I got her number. Look."
Randy does have her number. It's on a weekend pass for another strip club.
"You gonna call her?" I say.
"Damn straight I am. She's got a big ole booty but I can get into it."
She's as sexy as a naked woman can be on a stage, laser lights flying, disco ball
turning, simulating sex with a pole.
My head's killing me. "Let's get out of here. Go someplace else. Or home."
"What are you talking about? It's early," Randy says.
It is early. The door opens behind us and light shines in. More men walk in.
"It's your round," T.P. says, draining the last from his mug.
I check my wallet. I'm running low on funds, but when it's your round, it's your
round. I go back to the phone and dial Lauren. Maybe she's calmed down a bit.
"I'll be home after this pitcher."
"You son of a bitch, why didn't you tell me you lost your job?"
Oh shit. Not ready yet. I play dumb. "What?"
"You heard me. Janet said she heard you did. She's on the other line."
I think about my options. I could lie. I could hang up and beat her to the punch.
I could disappear. I could join the Army. I could be a rock star. I could go get T.P.'s
Remington off the gun rack in the truck and shoot myself in the head. I could drink until
I don't remember, then shoot myself. But I figure the easiest thing to do is to tell the
truth, then duck and cover.
"Yes, I did. But I'll.."
The phone clicks before I can finish.
I drag myself back to the table, taking the long way around so I don't have to pay
attention to the stripper on stage. I try not to spill the pitcher or my whiskey.
I pour a round. T.P. stands up headed for the stage and steps on the bed sheet
that's passing for a tablecloth. Beer spills everywhere. I save the pitcher.
"You a little drunk there, player?" Randy says, and picks his glass up off the floor
and fills it up.
Simone walks up. "You boys doin' alright?" she says.
"Yeah, we're fine," I say, drinking my Jack Daniel's and wishing I was
somewhere else with less drunk people.
Simone's wearing clothes. Randy's running his rap on her again. She seems to
be having a good time. The rest of the women look incredibly bored. They dance on the
stage, faking interest in the men who put money in their garters. A man in a wheelchair
has apparently bought one of the girls for the whole night. She just keeps dancing naked
in front of him, watching herself in the mirrors that line the walls.
We sit in the club for hours. The music gets louder, more men show up, more
women get naked. Pitchers are emptied. I smoke a pack of Camels. I try to forget about
my problems. Lauren. Job.
Randy says, "Look, I've got this girl over at the east side who wants me bad.
Let's go over there and check it out."
"Whatever man. As long as we get out of here," I say. The place has become
stale, and my whiskey doesn't taste like it should. The flavor is too bitter.
T.P. can't drive at all. He's swerving all over the place. We stop at
SuperAmerica so I can get some more money. I pull out $20 and check the balance. The
balance is $.73.
We drive for a while, all three of us across the front seat, T.P. and Randy singing
along to rap songs from the '80s that I don't know. Ijust want to go home.
"Here we are!" screams Randy as T.P. almost hits another car in the lot.
I thought the last place was low cash but this one's worse. It's in the backside of
a large complex, hidden from sight with one tiny door. It costs $5 to get in.
T.P. and Randy get drinks. I ask for water. The women keep harassing us. T.P.
gets a table dance from some chick that looks like Sheryl Crow. She really gets into it,
bending backwards with her legs wrapped around T.P. Her hands touch the floor and her
breasts jiggle. She flips over and then crawls across the floor. Almost everyone in the
bar is watching her. I think T.P. might explode.
When I say explode, I really mean it. I've known T.P. for years. He got the name
T.P. because he always carries around toilet paper in his jean pockets. He could be the
poster boy for irritable bowel syndrome except he's real ugly so nobody would want to
look at him on a poster. I don't think he's ever been this close to a woman before.
T.P. likes to say, "My entrance works fine but the exit don't." The story he tells
is that he first knew something might be wrong the time he went to a church softball
game with his dad when he was eight. T.P. was not T.P. then, he was just little Tommy,
and Tommy had to use the bathroom and use it real quick. Tommy went running over to
the dugout and saw that his dad was in the outfield. He tried to stand around and wait for
his dad but he couldn't make it.
The old lady who played the church organ saw Tommy suffering and asked him
what was wrong.
Tommy said, "I have to go poop."
The old lady took Tommy over to the outhouse and said, "There you go. Aren't
little boys cute?" and walked away.
Tommy had never even seen an outhouse before but had heard horror stories from
his mother about when she was young and dirt poor. He dreamed about snakes and
spiders and getting bit on the butt. Tommy had no interest in going into the outhouse so
he just pooped in his bib overalls because he couldn't wait any longer.
After messing up his bibs, Tommy went back over to the dugout and sat by his
dad who was in from the field. His dad noticed something smelled really bad and walked
Tommy over to their Pontiac.
Hs dad said, opening the trunk and handing Tommy some toilet paper, "You
should always have some of this with you in case you need to go poop. Now go clean
yourself up in the creek, T.P."
T.P. is red in the face but smells fine. "What's the problem?" he says to me.
"They don't get naked here or what?"
The strippers only take off their tops. They've got skills though. The Sheryl
Crow look-alike is on stage now. She dances around the pole, acting like she's seducing
it. She grabs it, pulls herself up, wraps her legs around it and hangs upside down.
Randy wanders back, and he's got several women around him again. Now I know
why he's never got any money. "Now that takes talent," Randy says, and the girls giggle.
Randy has his own talents. He's the best bowler in the world. No joke. A couple
of weeks ago he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He's out in front of this bowling
alley in Des Moines, surrounded by strippers in heels wearing fringed mini-skirts, his red
pants tucked into his white boots, standing a bit sideways so the hand-sewn Randy can be
seen making its way down the genuine leather upper of his boot, the outline of a flame
around his name in red stitching, holding his golden bowling ball up with his left hand
and his red silk jacket shimmering in the sun.
It's rumored that Randy made a deal with the devil at the bottom of a cave to get
his bowling skills. T.P. told me this and said he was there when it all happened. I don't
know about it but people are always jealous so they've got to make something up. That
story also sounds good to the press.
I guess I'm thinking about my friends because I don't want to think about me. I
haven't been in this much pain in a long time. My head hurts. My lungs ache from
smoking so much. My bed's calling my name and I've had enough of this shitty strip
I go for the phone in the back. I dial the numbers but it's useless. No one picks
up. I dial again to make sure I pushed in the right numbers. The phone just rings.
I walk back to T.P. and Randy. "Look, I'm going home. I'll call a cab if you're
not taking me."
"What's wrong Mark? We're trying to show you a good time and all you're
doing is bitching about it." Randy's got a girl hanging off his arm. She's wearing green.
"Fuck off." I get up and leave. Outside it's cold. Randy and T.P. follow me out.
"Now what're we doin'?" T.P. asks.
"Goin' home is what I'm doing."
T.P. unlocks the truck and we get in. The rap music is way too loud and Randy's
basically sitting in my lap, so I'm smashing myself up against the door.
We drop Randy off at his Cadillac after we almost die several times. "I'm gonna
go pick up Simone when she gets off. Then I'm getting' off," he laughs and drives away
swerving and squealing tires.
It's a long drive home. We leave Lexington and take the back roads to
Georgetown to avoid cops. My head's spinning, hurting more than anything. It's really
dark and the car behind us has their lights on bright, blinding T.P. in his mirrors.
"Want a cigarette?" I ask.
T.P.'s concentrating hard on the road, measuring the space between the white and
"Yeah, hook me up."
I light my last two cigarettes and hand him one. I miss his hand and the cigarette
drops. We both duck for the floorboard and T.P. drives off the road. We spend a couple
of seconds in the ditch. A fence blurs by. He gets it back under control and on the road.
"No more ditch diving on me, alright man?" I say. A wreck would really make
this night. But then, if I got hurt, maybe Lauren would forget about all this mess and be
happy I'm not dead.
T.P. says nothing and takes a drag off of his cigarette. His face glows in the
We cross the city line. A cop pulls out behind us.
"The last thing we need," T.P. says. I can see him stirring in his seat, the way he
acts when his IBS is about to act up. When he gets nervous, things are worse for
"Pull into SuperAmerica, I'll get something to drink."
"I'm going to White Castle," he says. "I'm hungry."
We pull into the White Castle lot.
"Is the cop back there?" I ask, not wanting to turn around and look obvious.
"Nah, he pulled off to talk to another cop."
White Castle is closed but the drive-thru is open. We get a sack often
cheeseburgers and two Cokes.
We drive out onto the bypass, make it about 500 feet, and then the lights get
There's more than one car. T.P. pulls over to the side.
"Goddamn pigs," I say. I eat my second cheeseburger.
A cop walks up and we go through the motions. He got a call from dispatch, a
concerned driver reported a possible DUI. He says T.P. didn't use his turn signals
coming out of White Castle. He pulled us over.
"Do you know your ABC's well? Do you have a high school education?" T.P.
nods. "Then could you recite from the letter D to the letter Q."
T.P. messes it all up. His nerves are wrecked. I'm afraid he might not be able to
control himself. I'm afraid that when we end up in jail, there won't be anybody to come
bail us out tomorrow. I'm afraid of Lauren leaving me.
The officer gets him out of the car. I can hardly see for all the lights. I eat
another cheeseburger and drink my Coke.
I want to turn around and see what's happening but I don't.
A few minutes later another cop walks up. "The next question is, how many have
you had to drink tonight?"
Talking to a cop always give me some type of stupid bravado. I hate cops. I
decide to get smart. "I ain't driving."
"Then you're walking. How far do you live from here?"
"About two miles."
"Get out of the truck."
"Can you give me a ride?" Might as well get home as quickly as possible, I'm
"We'll see about it. You start walking and we'll pick you up."
Not what I'm looking for at all. Bravado kicks in again. "I'm not getting out of
this seat until you tell me you're not going to bust me for public intoxication."
"If I was going to bust you, I would have already done it. Now get moving."
I get out of the truck with the White Castle bag and starting walking up the
highway eating another cheeseburger and drinking my Coke. I don't want to look
suspicious. I make a half turn and see that T.P.'s cuffed, crouching behind the cruiser
with his pants around his ankles. I knew he wasn't going to make it. I hope he's in a
good place in his head. Otherwise, there'll be shit all over the back seat of the cruiser
before they get him to jail.
T.P.'s favorite thing, when he's real low and his butt is on fire from shitting so
much, is to go down to the Catholic Church and imagine he's the baby Jesus cradled in
the arms of the Virgin Mary. This, T.P. has told me, would be the life, forever held in the
arms of the Holy Mother. Also, he could still wear diapers and not have to worry about
what he calls a sideline shit, which is happening right now. Usually, instead of this
situation with the cops, he has to lock up the brakes on his truck, pull over, and run for
the nearest cover so his ass can explode. Everybody around town knows about his
problem so hardly anyone makes fun of him anymore. Somebody will be driving by and
see his truck parked on the side of the road and just yell out the window, "Hey T.P.!"
T.P. will wave from behind whatever bush or tree he's run to and the days go on.
Tonight, though, we haven't seen anyone we know.
"Later, man" I yell and wave my cheeseburger. The cops look up. I keep
About a mile into my walk I realize it's really cold. My boots are old and worn
out and have holes in the soles. My head still hurts, my feet are killing me, I'm out of
cigarettes, I don't have a job anymore, and I doubt Lauren's gonna be at home. I can't
wrap my head around all this. Not now. I've got to get home.
Cars keep passing at lightning speed. I'm walking on the wrong side of the roac
I wonder if I can get picked up for it and decide to just keep walking.
A cop's sitting in the median waiting to pick up speeders. I can see the light fro
his radar gun. I walk past and nothing happens, though I expected it to.
The last half-mile is the worst. People are flying up and down the road. I
recognize several cars but none of them stop. I just really want a cigarette and to go to
I get home and Lauren's not there. I take off my boots. There are words scrawled
in magic marker on the dining room table. The words read, "You're a useless bastard.
You don't have ajob, you drink too much. I'm gone. Don't bother trying to find me
either, you fuck."
I rub at the marker and it's already dry. The table is mined. I look around for a
cigarette and realize I still don't have any. The phone rings. It's T.P. "Hey man, can
you pick me up in the morning?" He sounds better than I would have imagined.
"I don't have a car that runs, but sure, yeah man, just call," I say and hang up the
I walk out onto the back porch looking for a butt in the flowerpot we use for an
ashtray. I dig through and find one with a few drags left and light it. I lean against the
wall of the house and think about fixing the car. Things are gonna have to change. I
don't mind. But it'll all have to start tomorrow.
Sean can't ditch the chimp. It follows him everywhere. At restaurants, it's
always under the table, pulling at the tablecloth, or jumping up and down on the tabletop
knocking over drinks. Sometimes it steals Sean's silverware just to piss him off. Sean
goes after it and then comes back and the chimp is eating his meal.
Sean doesn't understand why the maitre d's at such nice restaurants, like this one,
let in a chimp. He thinks it's maniacal.
Today Sean's at the Happy Dragon, a new Chinese restaurant just off the
interstate. He thinks he's lost the chimp. He left his apartment and the chimp was sitting
on the fire escape one floor up. He got in his car and the chimp was in the backseat. He
went over to McCarthy's for a drink and the chimp was playing Pac-Man in the corner.
He walked outside while the chimp wasn't looking and stole a car so the chimp wouldn't
recognize it. It was a convertible just so he could make sure the chimp wasn't in there.
Now Sean thinks he's safe. He orders Seafood Delight and two egg rolls along
with some green tea. "Have you seen a chimp today?" he says.
The waiter goes to get the tea.
Sean hears something shuffling around. He jumps out of his seat, throws up the
tablecloth and looks under the table. There's the chimp.
"Is there a problem, sir?" a passing waitress asks.
"There's a chimp under my table."
"You're not serious?" she says as she continues to walk quickly in the same
"Yes I am. This damn chimp follows me everywhere," Sean says. He lets down
The green tea comes quickly. The waiter doesn't look stable.
"I heard something under the table. Would you mind taking a look?"
"Sir, that's a little inappropriate. I can guarantee you there is nothing under your
table. We pride ourselves on keeping the Happy Dragon very clean."
"Oh yeah, buddy. Then what the hell's this?" Sean jerks up the tablecloth again
and spills tea all over his pants. He screams in pain and grabs a napkin.
There's nothing under the table.
The waiter attempts to help Sean clean off. Sean gets offended and blurts a
particularly rude racial slur.
The waiter leaves.
A very official looking man comes to Sean's table. Sean assumes he is the
manager. Sean composes himself.
"Look, I'm just wanting to have a peaceful meal here but my chimp keeps
bothering me. He's always causing problems and I can't ditch him."
The very official looking man still looks very official. "We are very glad that you
chose to dine at the Happy Dragon today. Don't worry about paying for the tea, but
please do leave before any more problems arise."
Sean hears something like a giggle under the table.
"Did you hear that? The fucking chimp's laughing at me. Look!"
Sean pulls hard on the tablecloth and everything clatters to the floor. There is no
"Sir, please leave before we call the police."
It's a little too late for that. Sean walks outside and cops surround the convertible
he stole earlier. Sean walks in the other direction.
It's hot as hell and Sean's thirsty. He sees a Mexican place called El Rio Grande
across the lot and walks inside.
"Hello, Senor. Party of one?" The waiter's hair net looks funny but Sean doesn't
say anything. He follows him to a table in the corner.
"What would you like to drink, senor?"
"A Corona with lime, por favor."
Sean's just waiting for the chimp to show up. He's going to knock the fucker
over the head with a beer bottle and then kill it with his fork. He's got the plan. Where's
The waiter comes back with the beer and some chips.
"Would you like a menu, senor?"
"No thanks, I'll be meeting someone shortly."
The waiter walks off wondering why in the hell a guy would ask for a table for
one when he's planning on meeting someone. He goes out back into the alley for a quick
Sean's found the chimp and is beating it to a pulp with his beer bottle and his fork
when the waiter returns. Sean saw it hanging from a rope in the corner of the room,
wearing a sombrero and a cheesy grin. He'd had enough.
"Senor, senor, please stop!" the waiter screams. Customers are leaving.
Sean's hands are bloodied from the glass and his hair is in his face. The fork's all
bent up from being rammed over and over into wood. There's beer everywhere.
Sean looks down and realizes he's been stabbing a wooden monkey. "It's part of
the decorations, isn't it?" Sean says.
The waiter does not reply. Sean puts $20 on the table and walks out the door,
Outside in the parking lot Sean can still see the cops over at the Happy Dragon.
The very official looking man is talking with them. They all look in Sean's direction.
Sean sits down on the curb. He's tired and his hands hurt like hell.
A cop walks up. "Excuse me sir, could I speak with you for a moment."
"Look, I'm just trying to get something to eat. This chimp keeps following me
around and he's driving me nuts."
"Where is this chimp?" the officer asks.
Several officers are milling around now. One of them comes walking out of El
Rio Grande with the wooden chimp that looks like it's been mauled by a beaver.
"Is this your chimp?" the officer asks.
"No, that's not my fucking chimp. My chimp is real, goddamnit! And all he does
is follow me around."
In the back of the cruiser, the chimp is sitting on the seat beside Sean.
"You fucking piece of shit. I ought to kill you right here."
"What did you say?" the officer in the passenger seat says.
"I was just talking to the chimp. Look at the motherfucker. He's right here."
The officer turns around but there is no chimp. "Look pal, you've already
screwed up enough for one day. How about keeping' a lid on it, okay?"
The chimp snickers.
"Fuck you!" Sean screams.
Sean's never been in jail before and it sucks. The chimp's in the corer playing a
"Fuck it," Sean says. He wonders why he's never asked the chimp its name.
"What's your name?" he asks.
The jailer outside says, "Charlie. Why?"
"Not you fuckhead. I was talking to the chimp."
The jailer walks off nodding his head. The chimp hits a low note on the
"I guess I'll call you Flaco then. Flaco's a good name for a chimp."
Troy Teegarden has interviewed more than four hundred poets and writers for
radio and print. He is also the founder and editor of the quarterly literary journal
Stovepipe and the author of four chapbooks, "Alison" (2004), "CIGARETTESaPOEM"
(2000), "Unripe Tomatoes: Poems 1995-1998" (1999), and "Reflections on the Elkhom"
(1997), all from Sweet Lady Moon Press. His poems, stories, essays and interviews have
appeared in Art: Mag, Atom Mind, Bathtub Gin, Blackbird: an online journal of literature
and the arts, Blunt Object, Brouhaha, Earspank, Grievance, Haiku Canada, Hellp, the
Lexington Herald-Leader, Lilliput Review, Limestone, The Metropolitan Review, and
Magazine, as well as in the anthologies The Book of Kentucky (a limited edition
available through the University of Kentucky) and In Our Own Words: A Generation
Defining Itself, Volume 2 (MW Enterprises, 2000).