What took you so long?

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Gossip x 2


Crows spread their rumors overhead, some of them believed by jays who take up the cry.
I wear a careless Saturday hairdo and a half-buttoned coat.
I walk in step to a soundtrack of my own composing, in slow 4/4 time.
This day is no more meaningful than the pillow I left behind on the bed with the imprint of my cheek or a candle on a birthday cake which has a minute of usefulness and is discarded.
Time runs together into more time, which is then forgotten.
I'm neither old nor young on this ruddy day that smells like autumn and is wrapped in light and the gossiping calls of crows.


He is the shell of my grandfather, his strong facial bones well past collapse. His ropey eyebrows are circumflexes atop the confused Os of his eyes.
I roll him to the park, making sure that lap blankets stay tucked around him, but he fidgets them off.
The scents of wet leaves and woodsmoke have touched off olfactory synapses, our stongest links to childhood memories, and his face spreads wide in a smile of pleasure at the sight of a black Lab leaping for a frisbee.
One withered arm rises slowly in the dog's direction and he calls, "Catch it boy! Good boy! Good Sparky."
We sit together on a green park bench, dreamers both: my grandfather chases a long-ago dog through autumn's flaming maple forests of Quebec, and I chase a not-yet-written short story to its conclusion.
He takes my hand and begins to tell me scandalous anecdotes about the neighbors, farmhands, cheats and priests he knew 88 years before.
Overhead, the sun races with the clouds towards the horizon.
We are rooted in this spot, delighted by my grandfather's long-ago gossip, both the telling of it and the listening.
For one golden afternoon, we are both children again.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

A Stranger in Town x3

1. Nice Sunshine

Nobody really speaks French anymore in Louisiana, at least not the younger generation, but everybody fakes it. Me, I really do, but I keep that to myself and pull in the shrimp nets and eat my soup slow-like, with a polite spoon.
So the other day, I hear this song on the jukebox down at Ma Jolie Blonde by some group called Beausoleil. That was some good song, with a fiddler sawing away and an accordian player squeezing away and all the shrimpers swaying on their barstools to the beat.
So I say, I give $5 if the guy next to me know what "beausoleil" mean, and he don't know, and neither does the guy next to the guy next to the guy on down the line.
Marie, who runs the joint, she say "It means nice sunshine," and quickly palms my five off the bar. But her pretty eyes say, "Well, look at you!" and my eyes say back, "There's more surprises where that came from."

2. The Kissing Lesson
He was full of American swagger, and like so many swagger-boys, he was not much of a lover. The night we met in the Café d’Azure, a tucked-away bar in Montparnasse, it was 1927 and he was just back from the green hills of Africa and full of his own success both as a great white hunter and celebrated author.
I was supposed to know that he was “somebody,” and when I didn’t, he took me for an ignorant bawd and pulled me to him for a kiss. His mouth was slack, and the kiss was too wet, too fast.
“Here,” I said, “here mon cher, this is how it is done.”
Our second kiss lasted for minutes, and it was slow, starting out soft, growing more urgent by degrees, with heart and heat until our mouths were fucking each other and the whole café was lovesick with envy and all of Paris undressed and rushed into each others’ arms.

3. Quik-Mart Guy

His deep-set eyes stop scanning the store momentarily to acknowledge me, and the frown leaves his upper face, although the lower half reserves the right to go on frowning if I misstep.
I come into his Quik-Mart every few days on my way to work with the same need: a pack of Pall Malls and three bananas for 99 cents.
His family also owns a store west of here, in a hollowed-out neighborhood where steel bars keep customers outside after dark, forcing them to push their money through a chute in the wall. The customers are used to this; it’s how they buy their crack at a low cinderblock house down the street.
My pecan-brown convenience store clerk has the jumpy-jumps, like a man with PTSD.
Behind him, on the wall in his cashier’s cage, is a small Fujicolor photograph of a lush garden in Kandahar with violent red hibiscus and foliage so green it looks black by a stately house where his life was neither more nor less safe than it is right here.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

In the Wee Small Hours (playing with voices)

I was telling Ralph – you know my brother, right? – the other day. I said, “I can’t get a good night’s rest. I wish I could sleep like a teenager again.”
Well then, of course, he launches into a whole megillah about his insomnia – it’s Ralph after all – with acid reflux this and restless leg that. Whatever you have, he has worse.
If you told him you had a neck lump, he’d tell you he’s got stage four brain tumor.
So anyway, I can’t sleep for nuthin’. It’s driving me nuts. We have a TV in the bedroom, but if I turn it on, I’ll wake Estelle.
It’s 1 a.m., then 2, then I hear noises in the attic. My balls itch, and I worry about the bedbug epidemic. I tell you, insomnia can make you a lunatic.
Then I get this idea. I’ll go in the den and call Ralph. If he’s sleeping while I’m tossing, that puts the kibosh on his long-suffering act.
No more one-upmanship. If he’s awake, hey, we can talk about the Phillies’ chances in the World Series.
So I call, and after six rings he says, “Benji, I was out on the deck. I have terrible insomnia -- for two days, now -- my blood pressure’s in the tank, we have bedbugs and there’s a rattlesnake in the attic.”
I can’t win with that guy. My one satisfaction is that when I die, the miserable little shit will die too. Just to show me.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The Grim Reaper Experiences a Slump


The Grim Reaper entered Charlene Shiner’s beauty shop via the back door, after hours, per agreement, and folded himself into a shampoo chair.

“Just the usual,” he said morosely, drawing a nail clipper out of the folds of his cloak and going at a few yellow hang-nails with a vengeance.

Char took one look at Grimmy’s head and slipped on latex gloves before touching him.

“What have you been using on your hair, atomic waste?” she said, peering at the gelatinous goo holding his comb-over in place.

“No editorializing -- I’m not in the mood,” Grimmy barked.

“Well look who got up on the wrong side of the bridge underpass this morning!” Char barked back, tolerating no lip in her own place of business.


Grimmy settled back in his chair with his knobby skull over the rim of the shampoo sink while Char ran hot water over his head, double long.

"In case you hadn’t noticed, deaths are way down, which puts me behind on my quotas.”

Char squeezed a gob of Head and Shoulders into her palm and started massaging, knowing from experience that he’d spill his problems after a vigorous scalp-scratching.

“Ceasefires everywhere, peaceful demonstrations, use of restraint, Rosh Hashana -- nobody’s killing anyone these days except the Mexicans.”

Char gave his withered ears two playful tugs and said, “Have you ever thought of branching out into another line of business ?”

“Well, I had been wanting to specialize in show business deaths, such as those Housewives of New York and those New Jersey shore people,” Grimmy said, "but that seemed too much like performing a public service."