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PAGE 1

NO MORE BULLETS By TROY TEEGARDEN A THESIS PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF MASTER OF FINE ARTS UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2006

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Copyright 2006 by Troy Teegarden

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iii ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank my family, my teacher s, and my colleagues. I offer special thanks to my thesis advisor, Jill Cime nt, 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.

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iv TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS.................................................................................................iii ABSTRACT....................................................................................................................... ..v BINGO.......................................................................................................................... .......1 BEAUTIFUL IN THE LIGHT............................................................................................4 PAUL AND DIANA..........................................................................................................14 REFLECTIONS ON THE ELKHORN.............................................................................20 MARGO.......................................................................................................................... ...38 THE LAST BASTION......................................................................................................46 STRIPPED....................................................................................................................... ..51 FLACO.......................................................................................................................... ....67 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH.............................................................................................72

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v Abstract of Thesis Presen ted 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 By Troy Teegarden May 2006 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 wo rkshop experiment inspired by Thomas Bernhard via Padgett Powell. “Beautiful in the Light”, the second story, was also inspired by an outside source; the pr ompt 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 Friedric h 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 busin ess in central Kentucky while I was an

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vi 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 or iginally imagined to be novellas. “Margo” represents the opening chapter of “The Di rt 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-progre ss similar in structur e to William Elsschot’s “Villa des Roses.” Even though these are excer pted 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 th is point, I have “No More Bullets.”

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1 BINGO 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 mara thons 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 wh en interviewed, was her way of imitating the activities of Maureen O’Sullivan in the Ta rzan 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 authorit ies, of course. It is also not known whether Th eothilus Lee Jr.’s mom really thought she was Jane from the Tarzan movies or if it was just a coincide nce 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.

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2 What is even less known: Theothilus L ee 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 th e 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 hi m 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 se riously tiring of l ooking at the list and pictures of AKC registered breeds. I knew th is because I was sitting right beside him and could read his body language. The book wa s thick and boring unless you were really interested in dogs, and Theothilus Lee Jr. wa s 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, thre atened to sue on behalf of the Finnish Spitz breed. Theothilus Lee Jr. was long gone by then a nyway so what did it matter to him? It is thought by all involve d, except Jane (because sh e’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

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3 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), wher eupon Bingo, in an attempt to save his life, attacked Jane. Others, mainly the neighbors and other bystanders, belie ve 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 Theoth ilus 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 disti nguish myself. I’m a stand-up guy. I have morals.

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4 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 sheet s, my bare feet hitting the hardwood with a clumsy clump. “You know where it is, baby.” She turned aw ay 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 wa s, or was supposed to, but not really, cause I had no recollection of how I got ther e, who she was, where we were, the babywho-are-you-and-where’s-my-pants? scenari o. Which, actually, happens to very few guys I know, though I’d landed in this situa tion 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 hi s trumpet during the Last Judgment, and Raphael holding the hand of a child. Those we re a couple I could id entify. I had no idea about the plants; they all grew together into one big jungle.

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5 I finally got to the pisser and consider ed hanging around for a while instead of doing my usual ‘Thanks for a great even ing but I’ve got to go’ even though baby seemed a bit too intimate that early on a first mo rning. 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 glowi ng with light. I couldn’t place it, thinking maybe the apartment used to be a sundeck or the whole place was one of those sunheated and cooled deals or I had died and gone to an indoor arboretum. And it smelled so good. I flushed the toilet to cover up the sound and puked. Nothing really came up in the mornings, just some disgusting bile be cause I hadn’t eaten a nything substantial the night before. Just drinki ng. Always more drinks. I was still thinking about st aying around. The deciding po int was the toothpaste. Crest with Whitening. Cap on. I smeared so me on my teeth and my tongue, scooped up water with my hands and rinsed. Spat. I l ooked at my not-so-stoic naked self in the wall mirror. I looked like hell. I n eeded someone to take care of me; I knew it. All of my life there had always been someone there, or at least something keepi ng me going, but things had gone out of control as of late. I le t it happen, actually welcomed it while it was happening, but I knew in the back of my mind th at things had to ch ange, 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 alwa ys 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

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6 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 wo man 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 lik e a time worthy investigation. Her name was Beatrice, and I admit, ag ain, I was looking for someone to dig me out of the grime. Back before I star ted 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 last ed about two years at each job, but something was always wrong, like the time I got really i nvolved with a story at the paper about a local graffiti artist who had serious talent bu t was homeless and half the article and all the photos got cut for a political editorial on th e 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 th ree 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 hande d 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 re ferred to as The Good Doctor, cause he

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7 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 sadd ling 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 fo r the bartenders and assistant managers to figure out this plan, and it help ed 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 star t the conversation with Beatrice though, cause honestly, I only remembered the band goi ng on about 10:45 and th e rest was a blur of tequila and Budweiser. I went for the apartment approach to get my investigation started. “Your place is beautiful. Why all the li ght? My mom used to have this thing she’d plug in called a Depression Light, wh ich 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 her.” Beatrice twisted a curl of red hair between her index a nd middle finger. She was beautiful in the light. “The light is for th e plants. I’m a botanist. I work for the community college during the week a nd for Parks & Rec on the weekends.”

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8 “So you’re an educated gardener? My dad loved flowers. He’d work 70 hours a week moving numbers around as an accountan t and then spend the entire weekend outside the house messing with the yard and stu ff. 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-alik e that goes by the name lucky bamboo. The reason it’s turni ng brown, I’d imagine, is that you’re not keeping the plant out of direct light a nd 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 c up 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 a bout last night,” she said, sipping on that hot steamy cup. I wanted a hot steamy cup too.

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9 Then I got to thinking, ‘No big deal?’ This girl couldn’t possibl y exist in the real world. I need this. I need her. Then, fi nd pants or no? Why is she fully clothed? Anyway, I decided no clothes; this might e nd up as something I could remember, would want to remember. I thought it best to change the subject fo r the moment. “You really like angels, huh?” She looked at the clock on the wall and sa id, “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 corner 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 some thing closer to reality, maybe use my English degree to teach high school, help ki ds rise above the daily banality. Do something useful, something beneficial. “You don’t even know what this is a bout, 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 t hought. She handed me the bagel and made one for herself. Basil pesto.

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10 “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 want ed, the life I needed, serious things. “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 Yeat s poem, the one that opened my failed TV feature, looping over and over in my h ead, ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold…Surely some revelation is at hand…’ “Did I pay the band?” was all I could co me up with. I droppe d the bagel onto the plate. It didn’t taste so good anymore. The plate was wh ite with a light blue outline around the edges, three hula girls dancing in the middle. I stared at the plate and the bagel. “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.

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11 “Yes. Then I took you here. I dragged you up the stairs. You passed out on the floor. I put you in bed. I t ook 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 real ly 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 careful ly folded her napkin and put it on the plate. “But I slept most of the time, couldn’t you at least cut me so me slack and tell me something about yourself while I pull all of th is together.” Come on, slow down, talk to me. “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 le t 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 girlfr iend 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 de al and see what she thinks?” “That’s not what concerns me really. What concerns me is that you are still talking and still here.”

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12 “And I plan on staying here until I hear more about you being gay. So you prefer women over men?” “Yes.” “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,” sh e 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 wi n 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 for prostitution?” “You are making me incredib ly tired. You are tiring.” “Do you even have a brother?” “No.”

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13 “Do you know any cops by name?” “No.” “I do. We’ve got this guy who hangs ar ound the bar all the time, at the back door to be specific, looking for underage kids w ho try to sneak in, though what he’s really doing is confiscating…” She smiled. “Now that’s what I’m looking for. I have n’t seen that smile since I woke up this morning.” “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 sa id this with clear authority. I never saw Beatrice again, though I looked fo r 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 driv es a car that looks like it’s from the set of The Dukes of Hazzard 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 dri nk 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.

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14 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 Part One 1. 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 th e liquor store for some cigarettes.” Paul says, “Formerly all the world was insane.” Diana says, “My last ci garette is finished.” 2. There is a lizard on my shoulder who tell s me things. Right now he’s saying, “You should only believe in a God th at would know how to dance.” 3. Diana sings along with th e radio. “Oh, lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?”

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15 Paul interrupts her, “Then we’ll cruise across the west through Texas, Arizona, across into Mexico, cross back into Califor nia and drive up the Pacific Coast Highway until…” Diana screams, “Hello San Francisco! Freaks, geeks, ghosts, ghouls, vampires, cupid and the maidens.” Paul reads from the newspaper, “Jack Ke rouac’s body isn’t going anywhere for the time being.” Diana says, “Let’s get sillydrunk tonight and it’ll feel so good.” 4. 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.” 5. 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. 6. My mind, in the flash of a trembling glance, came to Absolute Being – That Which Is – and it was you offering me anothe r chance, but that’s not what I’m looking for. So you smiled and walked on up the street.

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16 Part Two 1. 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 sa ying, “In the middle of the sacred dance, Dionysus was slain. She rose again, as the vi ne, in ecstasy. Christianity embodies this same idea, slightly modified. Someone should sue for copyright infringement.” 2. I entered the interior of my soul and s eemed to descend into the giddy depths of an abyss where I had the impression of be ing 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 are. 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. 3. The clock on the wall says th ree o’clock. Paul’s riffing: “Hurry up please it’s time to get on down the line cause we’re out of cigarettes.

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17 Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.” 4. 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.” 5. 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 b een 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.” 6. My lizard has become restless. His color is fading. He says, “Man would rather have nothingness for his purpose than no purpose at all.” You smile. Part Three 1. Paul says, “The sun caresses me and burns me down.” Diana says, “I have no pigment around my eyes.” Paul says, “The serpent and the sun are too much for me.”

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18 Diana says, “I need to rest.” 2. Paul reads the paper to me at the kitc hen 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.” 3. Paul yells toward the other room, “What is that noise?” Diana replies, “Oh, it’s just your momma callin’ you.” Paul says, “You want me to kick your ass?” Diana says, “Go ahead, but O che sc iagura d’essere senza coglioni!” 4. You are standing on the corner 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. 5. Paul and Diana, at exactly the same time, both say, “I still don’t have any cigarettes.” 6. I think that I have a quart er in my pocket. My lizar d, fading, says, “All that has price is of little value.”

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19 Part Four Paul and Diana have gone. I’m eati ng 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. Ever ything 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 ci garette tastes horrible. I smoke it anyway.

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20 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 Intro 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 thr ee 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 turt les’ 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-th irds of them are stoners. I often get offered a beer or a joint 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,

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21 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 a nd I’ll have to go find it. Some asshole cut through a canoe handle with a saw just to take it for a fi fteen-minute cruise late one Friday night. That really pissed me off. But mostly I just sit in my van and re ad books. Bukowski, Kerouac, Pirsig and the Time-Life series Mysterie s 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 grocer ies. 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 some thing else. I guess that’s the way it always goes. 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 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.

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22 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 st ill can’t talk. He has his own language and no one understands it. He smiles all the time. Th e 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 spendy 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.

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23 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 di d that. They had pieces of country blue towels on their head for sweatbands. It looked kind of f unny 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 ea t 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. Transition The sun was warm as I walked back across the street to the ca noe landing. Somebody honked but I didn’t know who it was. The water is still calm with a slight br eeze. One turtle is on the log chillin. I wonder where his friends are. Juan 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 bu tts on the ground. “I’ll pick them up later,” he says but he never does. He does a lot of acid though and watches th e tree leaves turn to butterflies. He wears small blue sunglasses all the time, even when it’s dar k. He always has his fourfoot bong in the car. He wears black Adidas shoes and referees soccer games a few times a week. He also works for the college ha nding out pool cues and answering telephones. He often says something like “Han visto el po llo azul” and I have no idea what it means. I’ve never bothered to ask.

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24 Sometimes he works for me when I have ot her 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 te lephones and taking calls about delinquent nurse aides and dysfunctional ch ild-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 turn s 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 thi nk it was too important so she didn’t tell the parents. Somehow th ey just found out. I think it was maybe when this one little girl told this little boy to pull his pants dow n 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 s oon 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 havi ng my child. She especially hates puking orange juice so she quit dri nking 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.

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25 Water Truck Guy There’s a guy who comes down here every da y 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 a nd gets out his pump. The he throws a nasty looking hose into the creek and tu rns 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 wa ter. It is very disgusting and sometimes it looks worse than the sewage in the Port o John down by the picnic tables. Peet’s Hole Kids stop by to rent canoes a nd 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 wh ile trying to get back into a kayak from the bank. The water was cold because it wa s 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 summ er 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

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26 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 eith er. 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. Transition 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. Farmer’s Market On Tuesdays 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 Lemona de 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 th at 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 th e market. He’s always talking to me about something, usually his kids who are grow n now or his tomatoes. Sometimes I help him move things. On Fridays there is a lady who cooks burge rs 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

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27 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 Ni ssan truck with mag wheels. She has a high-pitched voice and sh e’s always eating ice cream or yogurt from Dairy Queen. Her dogs are big and reddish brown. They ride in the back of the truck. She throws sticks or plastic bottl es 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 a nd shit all over the place making sure to mark every tree at the landing. Th is ritual takes around 20 minut es. 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 ba refoot 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 makin’ money.” I laughed again. Why I Hate Joe The guy I work with is a loser. His name is Jo e. He wears black t-sh irts with the sleeves cut out tucked into khaki shorts with a nice be lt and polished white tenn is shoes. We split

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28 the profits three ways between Joe, myse lf 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 wh en 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 wit hout any warning. Glad I didn’t have any plans. Some people. Jackasses 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 disturbi ng the turtles and almost knocking over my customers. I like my customers. I don’t like jackasses. Other jackasses rev their motors full blas t 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 them bitch.

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29 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 th e creek to the Port o John. It takes about three minutes and I get bored so I look around. There’s no t much but some big mud puddles, a few picnic tables and a small playground. The creek usually looks ni ce and calm unless the water truck guy is down there with his pump. It makes a lot of noise and excretes blue smoke. The Port o John is actually a Kentucky TuffJon. 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 w ouldn’t sit in ther e if I had to. I piss in the little si de 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. Flies 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 sucks.

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30 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 getting married. But the flies are much worse here, esp ecially after 4 p.m. I don’t know why. Maybe they are expecting suppert ime 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….theta kingoffagain….thebuzzzzzing……the landing…as long as it’s not on me. But they alwa ys have to try it just once to see what it’s like. 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 frie nds will get the picture. Bu t that doesn’t work either. I often think about getting th e turtles up here to eat them but I’m not sure if turtles eat flies. I wouldn’t want to bother the turtles anyway. Transition The creek is bright green and reminds me of a color I’ve seen in a bad horror movie somewhere. The three turtles on the log don’t se em to care. Someone just honked.

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31 Dean 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 poems. Dean stopped here one day on a surprise visi t. 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 a nd 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 lik e 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 ha lf-gallon of whiskey and started hitting on somebody’s wife and telling stories about bloodletting and masturbating on stage for money. He kept drinki ng and I kept laughing. On the way home he asked me to pull ove r. He puked in a subdivision near my soon to be wife’s house. Purple Blazer There’s a guy with a purple Blaze r 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 wh en 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 fa t and short to jump. So it barks.

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32 The dog looks like an anteater crossed w ith an opossum that barks. That dog always barks. I kind of wish it was an anteat er. 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 bl onde with a crew cut and always gets his fishing line caught in the trees. When he’s not catching leaves he ca tches fish and throws them back into the water because they’re too sm all. 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 a nd 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 fo r help. I sent him down the creek to some fisherman guy in a Marlboro hat who looked li ke he knew what was going on. That guy got the hook out. Zippo lighters I like to know where my Zippo lighter is at all times. I often lo se 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 fi fth pocket to keep it in. But I don’t wear jeans at work. So I leave it lyi ng around and sometimes I lose it.

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33 The first Zippo I ever had was a wedding gi ft 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 th e lid and the flick and FLAME. The cool tricks you can do flipping the lid and lighting the wick and cl osing it. It’s good en tertainment on a boring day. You can’t smoke a bowl with a Zip po though. A Bic works better for that. D My drug-dealer friend D comes down around 4: 20 every day during the week. He’s always talking Indicas and Sa tivas and about the plants fr om Holland he has growing in his house along with all of the stuff he’s goi ng to buy for his mountain bike when harvest time comes. He always eats at Taco Bell and he never brings me anything. I drink his Mountain Dew without permission and he sm okes 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 sometimes.

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34 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 Ti mes 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 a nd 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 a ll over the United States together. But I crashed it into an old Chevy truc k 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 Japane se 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 secu rity guard. That was cool. And D ate that joint. Man, and I was laughin’ That’s…what I’m talking about.” Haiku Today I wrote a haiku about the Elkhorn. Here it is.

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35 Turtles on a log basking in the warm sunshine A train passes through Trains The trains are one of my favor ite 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 graff iti artist. Someday he’ll probably get rich and I hope he’ll let me stay at his place a c ouple 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. Tuesday afternoon Today’s not Tuesday but I wrote this on a Tuesday. A girl in a black Phantom of the Opera tshirt is smiling in the sunshine while the farmers are selling their vegetables in the br eeze. Bukowski is boring me with his tales of drunkenness and rape and I’m tired of reading about the horse races.

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36 The canopy tops along the landing are bl owing, the trees ar e swaying, and I’m smoking a cigarette. An old man in a red shir t and suspenders is lo ading his boat into a truck. He seems strong for his age. Two longhaired hippie type s 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. Cigarett e 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 la dies 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 da nce while drinking from a Wendy’s cup. She is busting some moves. I can’t hear any music. Four turtles are on the log ba king 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. Sounds Sometimes it’s the wind through th e trees, the splash of a paddl e, or laughing and talking in the distance. Or footsteps in the grass, s ongs of the birds, the cr ickets chirping and the cicadas humming. The train passing through or the click of the Zippo.

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37 Other times it’s the semis braking, the boats revving or the radios blaring and bumping. Or horns honking, cars without muffl ers and flies buzzing. Bulldozers tearing up the land or people ye lling at each other. It’s best when there’s an even mix. Dr. G 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/Gratefu l Dead sticker on the back. Dr. G hooked me up with this job becau se 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. Transition There are four turtles on the l og 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 th ey would all fall off. The turtle in the rear isn’t really on th e log anyway. It’s ju st kind of hanging on. The three in the front are sun-dried and relaxed. The turtle in the rear looks wet and stressed.

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38 MARGO 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 ju st 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 rava ged. Her dress, green & stringy, is worn out from the wind, so bad that the spring, wh ich 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 carbu retor 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 peopl e start staring at the store, or when we’re really drunk. 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 n eeded money. Jimmy took out a loan. We’re both still broke. I step out of the car, caref ul of the chrome doorplates, and go into his trailer for more beer. The trailer is tr ashed, the floor covered with hi s sister’s kid’s toys, clothes and junk. I get two more beers and look ar ound. I don’t think the place has been clean

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39 since it was put together in 1969. Looking out the window at Ji mmy 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 thin gs 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 burn s cars. 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 trouble.” I’ve heard this a million times. Jimmy sticks his head back unde r 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 a nd 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 s econd. I look away and wipe sweat with my hand.

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40 Jimmy’s staring at me hard. “You gonna cr y, 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 th e car is heavy. They don’t make cars now like they used to. This is one heavy pi ece 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 reddishbrown primer. The doors were all banged up. Th e 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 Goodr ich Radial T/A tires new windshield and put fresh Plum Crazy paint on it. She was a sweet heart to look at. St ill is, really, minus a few spots of rust and the dirt Still a pretty sweet car. She sure looked fine on the outside, a nd under the hood wasn’t any different. The 360 engine glowed with a new Edelbrock Perf ormer intake manifold, 600 CFM carb, and roller timing chain. I added an Edelbrock Si gnature series chrome air cleaner along with

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41 matching valve covers. Even the Hooker HTC coated headers with side pipes shined. Then I installed a B&M shif t 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 buc ket seats. I mirror tinted the windows and since the original tach di dn’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 th ey 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 in to it, and just my luck, the engine blows up. So I was in a bit of a situation. I had t oo 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 pa rent’s house. I got lots of offers, but I didn’t really want to se ll 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 a job. So that’s what I di d, 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 pa rtying 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

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42 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, wh ether 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 ever y direction and the motor s ounded like a bunch of chimps beating on pots and pans with sticks. It wa s a bad scene. At l east the car didn’t catch fire, like his old split-window Corvette. Th at’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 th e 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 laughe d out of Edgewater and I don’t think he’s been back since. Over the next year or so, Jimmy ha d 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 to rch the car I love for insurance money. I’m tired. It’s getting dark. The dirt fr om the road is packed into my boots and all over my jeans. Everything smells like gas, a nd I can see a gasoline trail dripped into the dirt. We stop pushing. “All right, give me your lighter.”

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43 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 du st. It doesn’t do anything but spark. “We’ll just have to siphon it then.” “With what?” 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 fiel d, 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 lighti ng fires. We used to sit on the edge, feet dangling, beers in hand, and wonder what th e 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 ha rd as we can down the hill. It gets up some speed and drops off the edge just as I let go. It drops almo st straight down, like you see in the movies. I always t hought 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 concre te post at the

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44 corner of Jimmy’s launching dock and stops, smashing up the front end and breaking the windshield. 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. I follow. Jimmy goes over to the water and washes hi s 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 ge t 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 un jam 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 th e 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 talkin’ about? We’re supposed to sink it.”

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45 “No, I mean, before. I knew the block was cracked.” Jimmy is silent for a minute. I see thoughts runni ng 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 imagin ed. Jimmy’s gone out the window, and I rip Margo off the dash. I stay in the car as l ong 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 go ing to lose it all again.” Jimmy’s staring at me with that sly gr in on his face. “You’re nuts, man. Looney Tunes.” We walk back to his trailer and have a beer on the porch.

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46 THE LAST BASTION The Castillo de San Marcos, or Fort Mari on 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 we re 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 myse lf obvious. I resorted to being a spy.

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47 I left the guardroom and th e prison and walked out into the courtyard (#4). The enemy was standing around the Plaza de Arma s 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 ove r, then the Spanish again, then the Confederate Americans, then the Americans ag ain. 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 clos est thing to a conquistadore 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 dis guise 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 thin king 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 st ored all of our amm unition, weapons, lumber, tools, dried beans, rice, flour, and cor n. The heavy wooden and iron door was propped

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48 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 conf ront 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 stas h 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 de cisions 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 heathe n enemy would spend any time in there. While in the Chapel I found by studyi ng the empty Raisinets box that I had consumed approximately 46% of my daily satu rated 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 b ack into battle with newfound enthusiasm. 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 artill eryman 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 ma ybe 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 fo r any sign of my team but I couldn’t locate

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49 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, sway ing back and forth. Avast Landlubber! A sentinel should ha ve 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 forgo tten about my pirate hat so I crashed it into the top of the doorway. Some of the en emies 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 th ey 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 coul d have been to be stuck in there for hours waiting to be attacked. I di dn’t really get a feel for th e attack part but I found it interesting how they made the entire fortress ou t of this shell rock. If it had been made out of wood or something else the place w ould be nonexistent today and I wouldn’t be able to run around it wearing an eyep atch 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 atten tion 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.

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50 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 mu ch a person gets paid to stand around in a period costume and reci te 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), re ad some placards about the cannons and other historical stuff, went back down the st airs (#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 thir d, 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 he r jolly horde of ne’er do wells.

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51 STRIPPED 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 goi ng all that well. “Just what the hell do you th ink 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 no w we’re here. Is that alright?” “No, it’s not.” She smokes those little Capr i cigarettes, and I can hear her sucking on the filter. I take a drink of my whis key 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. I swallow. “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 of them.

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52 My snakeskin boots glow in the black lights as I walk back to the table. The floor is covered in some type of jungle dcor. The leaves glow in the light. Most of the girls glow too. “I ain’t givin’ a bitch a do llar for a belly that’s bigge r than mine,” Randy says, nudging T.P. with his elbow. Strippers ha ve 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 something. 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 weari ng 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 w earing a three-piece Armani suit, a Rolex watch and shiny expensive shoes. His bald h ead shines in the light. She and Randy keep talking. I fade out of the conversation. The musi c’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

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53 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 in to his mic, “You guys ready to party or what?” Randy and T.P. yell along with the othe r men in the bar. This is the dumpiest strip club I’ve been to in th is city. There are so many ot her 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 Da mn, 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 be tter than the cigare ttes 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 butte rfly tattoo on her back. Her braids hit the insides of my thighs. She leans up, puts th e tube half way 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

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54 times. Just barely. She puts the shot betw een her breasts, leans into me and I drink it down. The drink tastes like candy. Randy and T.P. are drooling. Th e 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 tabl e. Another guy gets the same treatment. Simone says, “She used to strip but she’ s better at serving drinks.” Everyone laughs. 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 co mes to mind. I just want things to be OK when I get home. I dial her up. “Hello?” “Hey.” “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 di dn’t I get the message from the loan officer? She called again today, said sh e left a message with you…”

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55 I love her, but I have a problem drifti ng 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 re ally good. I can still taste that sweet drink in my mouth. I interrupt whatever it is she is sayi ng. “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 ab andon 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 w ith 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 de cide to ride it out. Another stripper walks up to me and says, “Wanna dance?” Her hair is long and dark. Her skin sh ines. 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 girlfriend. She says, “Sweetheart, why don’t you go and get me a drink?” T.P. jumps up and strolls over to the ba r, his wallet chain jangling. The woman on stage is completely naked, humping a gold pole and flexing her butt cheeks. They shake violently.

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56 T.P. comes back with a Budweiser in a bottle. I watch the ice cubes melt in my drink. “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. She smiles. 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 anythi ng 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 ea rs 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.”

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57 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, dr aining 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 La uren. Maybe she’s calmed down a bit. “Hello?” “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 hear d 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 shoo t myself in the hea d. I could drink until I don’t remember, then shoot myself. But I fi gure 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, taki ng the long way around so I don’t have to pay attention to the stripper on stage. I tr y not to spill the pitcher or my whiskey.

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58 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, pl ayer?” 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 m oney 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 musi c gets louder, more men show up, more women get naked. Pitchers are emptied. I smok e 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. Th e 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 sw erving 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.

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59 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. I just 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 aroun d T.P. Her hands touch the floor and her breasts jiggle. She flips over and then craw ls 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 outf ield. 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 suffe ring and asked him what was wrong. Tommy said, “I have to go poop.”

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60 The old lady took Tommy over to the out house and said, “There you go. Aren’t little boys cute?” and walked away. Tommy had never even seen an outhouse be fore 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 be cause he couldn’t wait any longer. After messing up his bibs, To mmy went back over to the dugout and sat by his dad who was in from the field. His dad notic ed something smelled really bad and walked Tommy over to their Pontiac. Hs dad said, opening the trunk and ha nding 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, acti ng like she’s seducing it. She grabs it, pulls herself up, wrap s her legs around it and hangs upside down. Randy wanders back, and he’s got seve ral women around him again. Now I know why he’s never got any money. “Now that ta kes 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

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61 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 bott om of a cave to get his bowling skills. T.P. told me this and sa id 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 becau se 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 club. 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 hi s 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.

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62 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 Le xington and take the back roads to Georgetown to avoid cops. My head’s spinni ng, hurting more than a nything. It’s really dark and the car behind us has their lights on bright, b linding T.P. in his mirrors. “Want a cigarette?” I ask. T.P.’s concentrating hard on the road, m easuring the space between the white and yellow lines. “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 cont rol 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 La uren 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 darkness. 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 everyone. “Pull into SuperAmerica, I’l l get something to drink.”

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63 “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 wa nting 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 of ten cheeseburgers and two Cokes. We drive out onto the bypass, make it about 500 feet, and then the lights get bright. 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 wrecke d. 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 afra id 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?”

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64 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 we ll get home as quickly as possible, I’m thinking. “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 dr inking my Coke. I don’t want to look suspicious. I make a half turn and see th at T.P.’s cuffed, crouchi ng 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 lo w 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 to ld me, would be the life, forever held in the arms of the Holy Mother. Also, he could st ill wear diapers and not have to worry about what he calls a sideline shit, which is ha ppening 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

PAGE 71

65 the nearest cover so his ass can explod e. Everybody around town knows about his problem so hardly anyone makes fun of hi m 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 chees eburger. The cops look up. I keep walking. 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 st ill 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 road. 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 pi ck up speeders. I can see the light from his radar gun. I walk past and not hing happens, though I expected it to. The last half-mile is the worst. Pe ople 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 sleep. 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 a job, you drink too much. I’m gone. Don’t bother trying to find me either, you fuck.”

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66 I rub at the marker and it’s already dry. The table is ruined. 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 phone. I walk out onto the back porch looking fo r a butt in the flowerpot we use for an ashtray. I dig through and find one with a few dr ags left and light it. I lean against the wall of the house and think about fixing the ca r. Things are gonna have to change. I don’t mind. But it’ll all have to start tomorrow.

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67 FLACO Sean can’t ditch the chimp. It follows him everywhere. At restaurants, it’s always under the table, pulling at the tablec loth, 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 l ooking 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 orde rs 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 th e table. There’s the chimp. “Is there a problem, sir?” a passing waitress asks. “There’s a chimp under my table.”

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68 “You’re not serious?” she sa ys as she continues to walk quickly in the same direction. “Yes I am. This damn chimp follows me everywhere,” Sean says. He lets down the tablecloth. The green tea comes quickly. The waiter doesn’t look stable. “I heard something under the tabl e. Would you mind taking a look?” “Sir, that’s a little ina ppropriate. 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 th is?” 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 ma n 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 a ny more problems arise.” Sean hears something like a giggle under the table. “Did you hear that? The fucking chimp’s laughing at me. Look!”

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69 Sean pulls hard on the tablecloth and ever ything clatters to the floor. There is no chimp. “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 walk s 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 waite r’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 chimp? 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 mee ting someone. He goes out back into the alley for a quick smoke. 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.

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70 “Senor, senor, please stop!” the wait er 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 monke y. “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, dripping blood. Outside in the parking lot Sean can s till 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. “He’s inside.” Several officers are milling around now. One of them comes walking out of El Rio Grande with the wooden chimp that l ooks like it’s been mauled by a beaver. “Is this your chimp?” the officer asks. “No, that’s not my fucking chimp. My ch imp is real, goddamnit! And all he does is follow me around.” In the back of the cruiser, the chim p 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.

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71 “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 keepin’ 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 corner playing a squeezebox. “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 squeezebox. “I guess I’ll call you Flaco then. Flaco’s a good name for a chimp.”

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72 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 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 Elkhorn” (1997), all from Sweet Lady Moon Press. His poem s, stories, essays and interviews have appeared in Art: Mag, Atom Mind, Bathtub Gin, Blackbir d: an online journal of literature and the arts, Blunt Object, Brouhaha, Earspank Grievance, Haiku Canada, Hellp, the Lexington Herald-Leader, Lilliput Revi ew, Limestone, The Me tropolitan Review, and Vmagazine as well as in the anthologies The Book of Kentucky (a limited edition available through the University of Kentuc ky) and In Our Own Words: A Generation Defining Itself, Volume 2 (MW Enterprises, 2000).


Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014001/00001

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Title: No More Bullets
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

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Holding Location: University of Florida
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Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/UFE0014001/00001

Material Information

Title: No More Bullets
Physical Description: Mixed Material
Copyright Date: 2008

Record Information

Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: UFE0014001:00001


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NO MORE BULLETS


By

TROY TEEGARDEN














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


2006

































Copyright 2006

by

Troy Teegarden















ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

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

By

Troy Teegarden

May 2006

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."















BINGO

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

morals.















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

good.

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

started.

"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

her."

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,

huh?"

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,

serious things.

"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

bagel.

"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

me.

"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?"

"Yes."

"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

for prostitution?"

"You are making me incredibly tired. You are tiring."

"Do you even have a brother?"

"No."









"Do you know any cops by name?"

"No."

"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..."

She smiled.

"Now that's what I'm looking for. I haven't seen that smile since I woke up this

morning."

"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

Part One

1.

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."

2.

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."

3.

Diana sings along with the radio. "Oh, lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes

Benz?"









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

until..."

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."

4.

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."

5.

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.

6.

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

for.


So you smiled and walked on up the street.









Part Two

1.

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."

2.

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

are.

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.

3.

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."

4.

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."

5.

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."

6.

My lizard has become restless. His color is fading. He says, "Man would rather

have nothingness for his purpose than no purpose at all."

You smile.

Part Three

1.

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."

2.

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."

3.

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!"

4.

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.

5.

Paul and Diana, at exactly the same time, both say, "I still don't have any

cigarettes."

6.

I think that I have a quarter in my pocket. My lizard, fading, says, "All that has

price is of little value."






19


Part Four

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

Intro

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

goes.

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

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.

Transition

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.

Juan

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.

Peet's Hole

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.

Transition

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.

Farmer's Market

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

Dairy Queen.

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

plans.

Some people.

Jackasses

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

them bitch.









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

smoke.

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.

Flies

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

sucks.









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

getting married.

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

it's like.

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.

Transition

The creek is bright green and reminds me of a color I've seen in a bad horror movie

somewhere.

The three turtles on the log don't seem to care. Someone just honked.









Dean

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

poems.

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.

Purple Blazer

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.

Zippo lighters

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

day.

You can't smoke a bowl with a Zippo though. A Bic works better for that.

D

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

time comes.

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

sometimes.









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."

Haiku

Today I wrote a haiku about the Elkhom. Here it is.









Turtles on a log
basking in the warm sunshine
A train passes through

Trains

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.

Tuesday afternoon

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.

Sounds

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.

Dr. G

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.

Transition

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.















MARGO

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

really drunk.

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

trouble."

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

hand.









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

up.

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."

"With what?"

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

windshield.

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.

I follow.

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

Tunes."


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

newfound enthusiasm.

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.
















STRIPPED

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.

I swallow.

"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

of them.









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

glow too.

"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

something.

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

talking.

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

laughs.

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.

"Hello?"

"Hey."

"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

girlfriend.

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

shake violently.









T.P. comes back with a Budweiser in a bottle. I watch the ice cubes melt in my

drink.

"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.

She smiles.

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.

"Hello?"

"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

club.

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

yellow lines.

"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

darkness.

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

everyone.

"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

bright.

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

thinking.

"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

walking.


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

sleep.


t.


m


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

phone.

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.















FLACO

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

direction.

"Yes I am. This damn chimp follows me everywhere," Sean says. He lets down

the tablecloth.

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

chimp.

"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 chimp?

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

smoke.

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,

dripping blood.

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.

"He's inside."

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

squeezebox.

"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

squeezebox.

"I guess I'll call you Flaco then. Flaco's a good name for a chimp."















BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH

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).