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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Love and Marriage - The Skinny

Here's one from Uncle Jerry for your bumper sticker and to embroider on your fancy throw-pillow: "Love is a Mysterious Elixer and Marriage is a Fragile Vessel". You're welcome. This nugget came to me after reading an article about a 99 year-old man who is divorcing his 96 year-old wife of 77 years over an affair in which she had apparently indulged - when Ike was president, some 60 years ago... Ike or Truman, not certain - I am not known for my thoroughness and my grasp of presidential history is tenuous at best.

I am probably not the one who should be making hay at the expense of a failed marriage; after all, I am working on my third and attribute most of the credit for its current success to the fact that she lives in Mexico and I live here in the US of A. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, it's true - but it also solves the problem of fighting over the television remote and drinking milk from the carton. Not the most qualified person to expound on the disintigration of this union, perhaps - they were married for 77 years, after all - but I will try.

First of all, kudos for making it 77 years in the first place. God bless you both. I cannot imagine living with the same woman for 77 years any more than I can imagine eating the same breakfast cereal every day for 77 years. And extra kudos for living to be 99 years-old - that's almost a hundred and I think you get a watch. Barring building a resistance to Iocane Powder over time, I imagine I would have undoubtedly been poisoned by my lovely bride around year 22. Or right about the time Elvis made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show.

However, kudos delivered, what in the hell were you doing rifling through your wife's things. You're 99 years-old, for Chrissakes. The only thing you should be searching through is the cabinet where they keep your sippy cup and cheap Scotch. Apparently, the man was going through a storage chest of his wife's and came across a bundle of love letters from her one-time flame. When confronted with the letters, the wife came clean and the man proceeded to kick her ass to the curb. That's moxy, if you want my opinion. If I was 99 and my wife admitted to an affair from over half a century ago, I would probably simply ask if that's where I got the genital warts. That would teach her. Then I would go back to my sippy cup and Charlie's Angel re-runs. At that age, with that much water under the creaky bridge, it might be more cavalier to let bygones be bygones.

My guess is that the guy was looking for a reason to get rid of his wife. Probably had been for 30 years. She was most likely a nag and he didn't have the stomach for murder. Either way, he can look forward to spending his post-golden years in bacheloric bliss. He'll load himself up on the Viagra and wheel himself down to the rec-room and get himself some busy. And maybe buy a puppy, if he's optomistic. Or a 7 year-old blue tick hound rescue dog if he's not feeling so sunny about the days and weeks ahead.

I see what I have to look forward to. I'll try to be patient and weather the storms ahead and maybe I can make it to 99 with the current wife. My guess is that for this to happen, she'll need to stay in Mexico for another 32 years and bring me a big sippy cup when she does come home.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Discovery (Fit and Health)

I was flipping through the television channels earlier, searching for some suitable white-noise to have on in the background while I worked on my latest project. ESPN is awful - too manic, with excitable talking heads shouting to be heard over one another as they attempt to make their points about Tim Tebow or the latest NASCAR feud. Movie channels are no good; I am inevitably drawn in to another showing of "A League of Their Own" or "That Thing You Do" and first thing you know, there's two more hours of my life that I will never get back.

The same holds true of the Biography Channel and the Food Network. If I get hooked into an episode of "Chopped", or "Restaurant Impossible", or a special two-hour documentary about "Beatle Wives", once again, I accomplish nothing besides wandering to the fridge during a commercial break.

However, the History Channel is generally pretty well-suited for providing background noise while I write - narrators drone on about some shipwreck or another, or perhaps the real location of Eden. So, I usually go to the History Channel or on some occasions the Military Channel, where I can watch us beat hell out of Hitler and his evil cronies, which never fails to put me in a better mood.

Today, however, I discovered the Discovery's Fit and Health Channel - which apparently offers a variety of medical-based fare. What caught Jerry's eye? you might be asking yourselves. Well, the description of a show about women who have orgasms non-stop all day long, that's what. Done and done - here's an hour I'm not going to get any work done.

Turns out this malady, known as PSAS (Persistent Sexual Arousal Syndrome), is not the Godsend I imagined it would be. I frowned as the lady with the British accent explained that this condition often put women off sex altogether as they simply dealt with making the feeling go away every ten minutes by rushing off for a few private moments alone, mostly. With just their unfortunate condition and a barrel full of helpful toys, I imagine. There was, however, one exception to this general rule - a scary-looking lady who pressed her husband into service whenever possible. I began to see the downside and it made me sad.

This show was followed by another offering about circumcision - I got as far as the first minute, when it was explained that a man was going to have his foreskin re-attached. I had no interest in hearing how this would be accomplished or where they would find the lucky skin with which to fashion this pud-holster. There was also a show called "Strange Sex", but after being fooled by the non-stop orgasm trickery, I was not about to fall for that one. A commercial advertised a reality show about an ER - I glanced up to see a poor unfortunate with something sticking out of his bloody shoulder and nearly swooned. I realized that this channel was a bummer and not even worth having on in the background.

But this is not why I'm writing this evening.

I began thinking about the whole orgasm thing and how lucky we folks are who have normal sex-drives and are fairly happy with the equipment we have been issued. I never really pondered the messy reality of the act of sex - but there is some weird stuff out there. I blame the internet. The internet and Viagra. I imagine that there have been oddballs out there since the beginning of organized sexual activity - history will bear me out on this. But I think that the availability of all this cyber-smut and the ability to find footage on the World Wide Web of virtually anything that even the most perverted oddball could ever imagine has only proven to provide a giant, invisible petri dish in terms of cultivating the twisted tastes of the oddballs.

I am not making moral judgements here - it takes all kinds, of course, to make the world go round. Actually, probably not - the earth would probably be fine on its own if we all simply looked at Playboy and had missionary-position sex. No change whatsoever, in all likelihood. What I am saying is that we probably don't need to jumpstart every deviant thought that might cross a youngster's mind. In fact, it's probably not healthy to do so - we are most likely twenty years away from finding out what happens when we provide everyone over the age of six with their own phones, two-hundred channels of cable television and a laptop with internet access. I am curious to see how it all goes. In the meantime, I am off to find a saucy photo of Raquel Welch in a bathing suit and imagine an idyllic world where we are a couple and she has PSAS and I have a shipping trunk full of Viagra. I know which photo I am looking for and I'll bet I can find it on the internet. In seconds.


Another early story, written for a creative writing class. I was rather proud of writing about a couple of eccentric upper-class folk, the likes of whom I would never meet and had only ever seen in movies from the 1930s and 40s in the person of James Mason or Ray Milland. In fact, those two guys could play the characters in a film version of this tale.

Ah, where are the Ray Millands and James Masons of today?


Condensation from the melting ice formed and rolled down the side of the short rocks glass. The cocktail napkin shriveled as it absorbed the moisture from Nash’s whiskey and soda. Nash stared at the half-empty glass and observed that the effectiveness of the napkin was rapidly dwindling and it was only a matter of time before the moisture left a damaging ring on Jonathan’s expensive oak table, a prized antique that Jonathan often bragged had been spirited out of Atlanta during Sherman’s march to the sea. Nash watched another drip slide down the glass and smiled to himself, inwardly pleased.

“It appears, my friend, that you are in serious trouble.” Jonathan said, shattering Nash’s pleasant reverie. He had taken Nash’s rook with the black knight, leaving the white king exposed and vulnerable. Nash picked up his whiskey soda and scrutinized the board. It was true that his left flank was naked, but he was by no means in serious trouble.

“I think not, Jonathan,” Nash said, waving the drink at his companion. His right side, he knew in fact, was still quite strong and mobile. His queen, gnawing at the bit, was anxious to venture forth and inflict some damage of her own on the cocky, unsuspecting black soldiery. “In your overzealous pursuit of a high body count, my dear friend, you have been careless in your surveillance of my Lovely Lady.” Nash toyed with the white queen, his fingers tracing along her sleek, smooth curves. Jonathan’s eyes darted down to the potentially lethal piece.

“You don’t frighten me with your bluster, Nash,” he said, his mouth betraying a slight twitch. Jonathan evaluated the situation at hand and waved a bejeweled finger at the polished marble board, which had been imported at an exorbitant price from the Peruvian black market. “There is no way that my bishop warrants putting your queen in such danger.”

Nash inhaled slowly, feeling a certain comfort in the rich, familiar smells of Jonathan’s den with its first-edition, leather-bound volumes lining the walls, the massive Prussian roll-top desk, the thick, dark rugs woven centuries past in the ancient orient. The two men had been meeting in this room for nearly forty years, matching wits, circling and parrying mentally, attempting to gain any slight advantage over the opponent, using whatever means necessary. “One of your biggest problems is your short-sightedness, Jonathan. Of course I could take your bishop, standing exposed as he is in the middle of the board like some sacrificial lamb.”

Nash watched with amusement as the beads of sweat began to form on Jonathan’s forehead. He felt the power of the white queen as he lifted the heavy piece from the board and swung her back and forth in a gentle arc, pondering his next move. “But there are much greater rewards than those that lie so openly exposed on the surface, aren’t there, Jonathan?”

“Your brash threats and innuendo won’t change my strategies, Nash. Talk is cheap, as they say…”

It was 1975, here in this elegantly appointed den, amongst the dusty volumes of Shakespeare, Poe and Hemingway, that the men had taken their matches to a new level of competition. It happened that Nash was particularly fond of a certain BMW that he had been driving to the games. That night, so long ago, Nash had left the car parked in front of Jonathan’s home in the big, circular driveway. As Nash walked into the house, he admired the car, freshly washed and waxed as it shone in the glow of the full moon. The room was silent during the game; both men having sustained taxing losses on the board and neither speaking, so absorbed were they in the subtle rhythms and nuances of the match. Suddenly, outside the window of the den, a blinding flash of light and a deafening explosion erupted and a mushroom cloud rose from the spot where the BMW had stood.

Nash ran to the window and screamed for nearly a minute, his face pressed against the glass, tears running down his face. “My car…My car…” He mumbled, deep in shock at the sight of the burned-out hull that remained in the circular drive.

“Cheer up, Old Man, pull yourself together,” Jonathan said, clapping Nash on the shoulder on his way to pour himself another Chianti. “That wasn’t your car—it was an old wreck I had purchased from a junkyard. Nice effect, though, eh? Very powerful…” Nash eventually calmed down enough to sit down and resume the game, but Jonathan had gained an upper hand mentally. Nash couldn’t concentrate; his hands shook uncontrollably and he couldn’t stop sweating. Jonathan won the match.

Nash now sipped his cocktail and with a quick, decisive motion moved his queen across the board, striking not the bishop, but an unsuspecting pawn, erasing it from the game. Nash heard Jonathan gasp audibly, hitching air into his lungs. Nash was now in striking distance of Jonathan’s own queen, who lingered back with no defense, her forces scattered about the board in a fruitless, aggressive campaign.

After Jonathan’s staging of the BMW explosion, the competition had grown more intense, the level of exchange ruthless. Once, deep in the midst of a particularly trying match, Nash innocuously set fire to some drapery, causing Jonathan to spill a drink on himself and to singe his carefully-cultivated beard in his panicked attempt to smother the flames. Nash won the game. Another time, Jonathan accidentally dropped a heavy cannonball from the battle of Waterloo onto Nash’s foot, shattering his arch and leaving Nash with a permanent limp. Jonathan apologized, paid the hospital bills and most importantly, won the match.

Over the ensuing decades, the men ruined furniture, automobiles, clothing and irreplaceable family heirlooms. Jonathan bedded Nash’s wife and Nash seduced Jonathan’s twenty year-old daughter. Together they had incurred over $100,000.00 in hospital expenses and had endured numerous physical violations. They were now in so deep that neither could stop. The game was the thing — victory the ultimate goal. Their activities along the way were simply distractions, clever ruses to gain an upper-hand and keep the enemy off-balance. All was fair in love and war and this was war at its most bloodthirsty. No quarter would be granted, nor would it be expected.

Jonathan loosened his tie and wiped his palms on his trousers, standing to look at the board from various angles and vantages. Nash wondered if Jonathan would continue his reckless assault against the white forces. There was, of course, an advantage to such style of play. One could thoroughly deplete an opponent’s ranks by the time the backpedaling enemy could gather a solid defense. Nash figured, however, that Jonathan was too smart, too seasoned to attempt such a daredevil maneuver. They had been playing far too many years for Nash to panic under the threat of a kamikaze attack. Jonathan sat down and fondled his black queen.

Ridiculous, Nash thought. The only move that could be made with that piece was the taking of the white queen, leaving Jonathan’s own queen victim to the white bishop. Surely Jonathan wouldn’t send his most powerful weapon to such an early death. Jonathan moved the piece slowly, savoring the action as he swept Nash’s queen from the board.

“You bastard,” Nash hissed as he felt his face flush. “How could you do that to your own queen?”

“Nash, Nash,” Jonathan said as Nash’s hand moved to his bishop, the weapon with which he would silence the presumptuous attack of the foolhardy bitch. “I haven’t done anything to my queen — I haven’t endangered her in the least.”

Jonathan touched Nash’s hand gently as it gripped the white bishop. “Please look carefully before you move your bishop.”

Nash looked down, his eyes scanning the board. Then he saw it: His king! His stupid, weak, defenseless king was being protected by the bishop! This meant that the bishop could not be moved, lest the king be in check. Nash felt a fool for not spotting the predicament. He had thrown his queen to the lions, wasted her life on a meaningless pawn and played into Jonathan’s manipulative hand. The time was now to make the boldest move yet; a move that would swing the momentum back his way—a move that would win the match outright. Nash looked squarely at his opponent and played his ace in the hole.

“Jonathan,” Nash said, gliding a harmless knight into an unoccupied area of the board — one that could possibly pay dividends within a half-dozen moves. “I want you to know that I have planted a timer-activated explosive device on the premises and that you have less than an hour to find it before this whole place comes down in a violent shower of flames and rubble.” Nash felt a giddy rush of delight swell up inside him, threatening to burst forth in an insane giggle. He took a deep breath and waited for Jonathan’s reaction of terrified panic.

Jonathan’s eyes didn’t waver from the board. He looked at his watch, then again stroked his queen. He was totally nonplussed. Nash felt the wave of euphoria drain from his body, leaving him empty and numb. “No need to worry, Nash,” Jonathan said, as he moved the queen to take the bishop protecting Nash’s feeble king. “It’s almost a blessing, really…” He continued, a pleasant smile dancing on his lips. “If the estate should happen to be engulfed in a violent rain of rubble and flame, the authorities would have a devil of a time even identifying your charred corpse, let alone detecting the poison that you’ve been drinking in your whiskey all evening…”

Nash swallowed hard, feeling nauseous as he looked down at the drink that was leaving a ruinous ring on Jonathan’s oak table. Jonathan laughed heartily as he placed his queen on the smooth, black Peruvian square from which Nash’s bishop had just been evicted. Her imposing figure shadowed the helpless, unprotected king.

“That would be checkmate.”

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Video Difficulties

This is another one of my early efforts (since updated, with the reference to 24 hour cable TV)—I believe I wrote it when Bigler and I were enrolled at Scottsdale Community College, just out of high school.

Our creative writing professor would tell us that we could leave when we finished our first drafts of a short story and Bigler and I would set to writing and be finished in ten or fifteen minutes, competing with each other to see who could complete his first draft first. We would turn our stories in and leave, then turn in the first draft as the completed project when it was due. We passed with flying colors and minimum effort. But then again, those were simpler times.

Video Difficulties

In the predawn morning in 1978, still years away from 24 hour cable TV, the “Star Spangled Banner” waved yet another broadcasting day to its patriotic finish. The last notes of the national anthem faded into the incessant him of a test pattern and Charles sat unfulfilled, needing another dose of video—one more rerun.

It was 2:15 on a Thursday morning, and another two and a half hours before he would be able to tune in to Sunrise Semester or The R.F. D. Report. The empty Strohs can in his hand fell to the floor as Charles looked at the half-bag of Doritos that sat on the coffee table in front of him. Charles rose from his barcalounger and shuffled to the set, mumbling under his breath. With little hope, he flipped through the soundless, snowy channels one last time, hoping to catch a last-minute reprieve of Andy Griffith, The Untouchables, or even local news before the mounting anxiety would force him to eat every Valium in the house and chase them with a slug from a large-caliber handgun.

“Shit,” Charles barked, flipping the channels so ferociously that he nearly snapped the plastic dial between his sweaty fingers. “Nothing…” Charles spat at the set. Charles was tense. His pupils began to dilate and a light froth formed at the corners of his mouth.

“The Three Stooges, God-damn it!” Charles yelled, cuffing the set. “Oral Roberts—anything!” Charles heard the baby cry and took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He glared at the television and it hissed back at him, noncommittally.

“Honey,” he heard Evelyn call from upstairs. “Is everything okay?”

“Yes, Dear,” Charles said, clearing his throat, his voice amazingly calm, despite the sweat running down the back of his neck. “Just a little problem with the set…” Charles gave the glowing box the finger. “Bastard,” he muttered.

He heard Evelyn go into the baby’s room to coax him back to sleep. “Smother the little beast,” said Charles to himself as he paced back and forth. The baby wailed and Charles gnawed his index fingernail down to the painful quick. Finally, he walked to the staircase, re-carpeted as of January with an expensive Burberry, worth more than twice what the entire staircase was worth. Not an extremely brilliant move, Charles thought, considering that the baby would be urinating and vomiting on it within months. “Honey,” Charles called up the stairs. “I’m going for a little walk…”

“It’s 2:30—where are you going?” Charles heard his wife ask as he picked up his coat and slipped out the front door. In the cold winter air, Charles’ breath left his mouth in frosty plumes that dissolved into the night as he hauled his overweight, middle-aged body into a lethargic jog.

Charles was wheezing and sweaty when he stopped at the corner to light a cigarette. “George Ferman,” he suddenly grunted, then about-faced and began to chug toward Crenshaw Avenue. As Charles huffed and puffed his way toward George Ferman’s house, a police cruiser pulled up to the curb. “Uh-oh,” Charles wheezed.

“How’s it going, Champ,” the officer asked as Charles coughed to a stop. “It’s a little late for track and field, isn’t it?” Charles nodded, laughed, then coughed so hard it hurt his testicles. “What are you trying to do, get yourself a heart attack?” asked the officer.

“No,” Charles searched for his breath as the sweat ran into his eyes. “I’m…looking…for…my dog.”

“Really,” the officer said. “What kind of dog is it?” Charles frowned. “A spaniel, or terrier,” he said, distracted. “Or something…”

“Look, are you alright?” The officer looked concerned. “It’s 2:30 in the morning. You look tired.”

“Thanks,” Charles said, impatiently. “Look, I’ve got to find my mutt, okay?” Charles began lumbering toward Crenshaw Avenue as the policeman drove away. His vision began to blur and his black loafers pinched his toes and ankles as he came up on the sign for Crenshaw Avenue.

“Jeez, it’s about time,” hacked Charles. His head was pounding. “Why the hell would George Ferman want to live so far away?” Charles approached the door and wiped the sweat off his face with his sleeve. He knocked, coughed six times and began to worry about serious damage to his internal organs. A light went on upstairs and Charles laughed, spat and coughed some more, still trying to catch his breath.

George Ferman opened the door and tightened his robe. “Chuck Greenwald?”

“Howya doin’, George,” Charles smiled, wiping more sweat off his red face. “Sleepin’?”

“A little,” George Ferman said, picking a stray crusty from the corner of his eye. “What’s the matter? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine.” Charles began to get tense again. “Look, George—can I borrow your video machine?”

“What, tonight? It’s three o’clock in the morning!” George opened his crusty eyes a bit further.

Charles was getting a bit tired of people telling him what friggin time it was. If he wanted to know what friggin time it was, he’d look at his friggin watch. “I know what time it is, George,” Charles said, his smile fading fast.

George started to close the door. “Look, come back tomorrow. Go home and get some sleep.”

Charles grabbed the door. “Look, George—I’m serious. Just the player and a couple of tapes…Maltese Falcon, Deep Throat, anything! I’ll give you five bucks!” Charles held white-knuckled onto the door with his left hand as he dug into his pocket for his wallet with the other.

“Chuck, this is crazy…You need some sleep—and maybe a doctor.”

“I need the God-damned video machine is what I need!” Charles yelled, all pretense of civility gone. “I’ll watch ‘Attack of the Killer Tomatoes’, for God’s sake!”

“Jesus, Chuck…” Charles and George played tug of war with the Ferman door as the police cruiser pulled up in front of George Ferman’s house. Charles saw the police car out of the corner of his eye, cursed and broke into a middle-aged sprint as the policeman crouched by his open door, gun in hand.

“Freeze, Dog Lover!” the policeman yelled.

Evelyn was unreasonably quiet on the drive home from the police station, Charles thought. Maybe it was the $375.00 bail, or just the arrest in general. Whatever the reason, Charles saw no reason to be a bitch. Evelyn stormed upstairs and closed the bedroom door. Charles turned on the set and flopped his aching body into the barcalounger. He stared at the snowy screen. It was 4:30 a.m. and the morning news would be on soon. Charles sought out a cigarette, leaned back and smiled. The news
would be on in no time at all.

Pretzels For Breakfast

When I moved into this apartment with the brother of my ex-wife, I thought it would be fun and save us both some money. Then children from both sides came pouring into the place and suddenly we were in the child-care business.

It was an interesting time, with us sharing the parenting duties and trying to keep the peace, while both of us toiled in the restaurant business, sometimes working fifty or sixty hours a week.

I’m sure the kids don’t think about it much, but Kelly and I both know that we earned our stripes that year.

Among the notable instances:
Once nearly losing a couple of the young ‘uns in a blizzard just a hundred yards from the back door. We took turns making trips to the pack and carrying the kids one by one through the thigh-deep snow while the other waited with the children to try to minimize their panic until we had the entire passel inside and warm.

We may have drank some Jameson’s following our dramatic rescue.

Pretzels For Breakfast

It was like “The Brady Bunch” viewed through one of those circus mirrors that distorts an image through refraction, thus skewing the overall picture. Five kids, two sets of twins, all girls, all under the age of five, raised by two men who mostly walked around, hands held in a defensive position, wondering what hit them. Sounds like a sitcom, right? Welcome to my world.

Now divorced, the father of twin girls, nearly five, I live with my brother in law, also divorced, also the father of twin girls, nearly four and a “singlet”, aged five. He is not a bad sort, my brother in law, and the fact that I was once married to his sister I no longer hold against him. I have visitation of my girls on the weekends and at the time I moved in with Kelly, his daughters were in North Carolina, in the custody of their mother. We figured we would save a little money, share expenses and hey, we would be two swinging bachelors in a fine, swinging bachelor pad. The world was our oyster—it was a fresh start.

The alarm sounded, waking us from this blissful, idyllic vision of life with a start the day his ex-wife showed up with the kids and dropped them, literally, on our doorstep. As men will sometimes do, we accepted this change in circumstance with a single-mindedness of purpose that can only be found in divorced fathers, or really dumb dogs. “Good,” I declared, rolling up my sleeves. “They’re better off with us anyhow.” “Yeah,” Kelly said, as we rearranged the furniture in the living room to better accommodate a set of bunk beds. “You got that right.”

We high-fived, chest butted and got down to business. The first week went smoothly—we were old pros, after all, we had been fathers for years, and moreover, we had been married—nothing could intimidate us.

Until the weekend.

I picked up my daughters, who were giddy with joy when I gave them the news of their cousins’ return. It would be wonderful — one big, happy family, the girls with flowers in their hands, running slow-motion through meadows with the sun glistening off their golden hair. The two proud fathers, in their pressed khakis, golf shirts and Cordovan loafers, standing in ankle-deep clover, relaxed smiles beaming from their tanned, chiseled faces as they protectively watched their daughters frolic in innocent bliss.

We arrived at the apartment just as Uncle Kelly was getting ready to leave for work. The hurricane of shrill, screaming voices and stampeding sneakers moved in a tow-headed flurry to the living room, thereafter known as “ground-zero”. Kelly and I watched after them for a moment. My brother in-law turned to me, a look of relief coming over his face as he reached for the doorknob. “Are you going to be
alright?” I smiled bravely. “Of course I am.” We gave a half-hearted high five and Kelly bolted out the door, down the driveway and into his minivan with more grace and speed than Barry Sanders in an open field. I gazed from the doorway as he backed out of the driveway and barked ‘em off down the street with a hurried wave. I closed the door quietly and mouthed a silent prayer as I walked toward ground-zero.

It was now filled with manic, blonde heads, all bright and smiling and screaming and rabid and ten little arms churning in attempts to dismantle the toy-box, its contents and most of the entertainment center and its contents as well—just for good measure. “Hey, hey,” I said, wading through the children, who turned to me and began to grab and claw, their young, girlish laughter belying the cunning and innate sense of battle savvy that lay just below the surface. “You kids aren’t supposed to be playing with the stereo,” I began. As two or three of the children tugged at me, forcing me to my knees and the “Roughhousing Position”, two or three more darted off to another room, for more pillaging and plundering. I didn’t notice until it was too late—the floor was littered with tattered CD covers and the walls were crayola-covered. It was divide and conquer worthy of Eisenhower—I had to smile with pride even as I cleaned the invasion-zone.

After a dinner of macaroni and cheese, a food-fight of Belushian proportions and a bath-time that involved more spilled water than the Titanic disaster, we settled in for the two and a half hour battle of wills known as “bedtime”. When the kids finally drifted off to sleep—from five separate sanctioned areas of the house—and after I had carried them to their beds and tucked them in, I stood back to assess the damages. The angelic faces that lay before me overshadowed any injuries the house may have sustained. I cleaned and straightened and laundered and laid out breakfast for the morning—pretzels and Coco Puffs, the breakfast of champions—and sat back on the couch and a Barbie-doll arm. I pulled the arm from under my backside and tossed it in the toybox with the other wreckage.

“Not bad,” I muttered to myself. My pants were still wet from the bathwater and my shirt bore remnants of the dinner battle. My hands had nearly stopped shaking and the shrill ringing in my ears had dimmed to a distant hum. It was going to be a long war, with many battles and hard-earned rewards. I would see things that few men could ever dream. A long road lay ahead and we would have to be prepared and fight together if we were to persevere. It wasn’t the Brady Bunch, but then again, Greg and Marcia never got to have pretzels for breakfast.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Day in the Life

A true story, I fell down and smacked my nose on my bathtub. I called in at work and went to the emergency room, where many had a good laugh at my recalling of the events. I went to update my driver’s license, since I had the day off and still have the picture of my face on the ID, turned ever so subtly to the side, so as not to showcase the swelling or blackening of my eye.

A Day In The Life

So, I'm taking a shower Thursday morning, around 5:30--just getting ready for another day at the salt mines. I drop the soap--this is not unusual, it is soap, it is wet and it is slippery. Yet, everytime it happens, I have to smile at the thought of all those prison movies that make great hay at the expense of the soap droppers, but I digress.

Having thrown my back out a couple of weeks back, I bend over to get the dropped bar of soap very gingerly, of course not wishing to further injure my still-sore lower lumbar. At this point, I should mention that I had recently cleaned the bathtub, ridding it of the persistent grime that always manages to insinuate its way into what should, by all logic known to man, Christ and everything holy, the cleanest possible place in the house. Cleaning the tub makes the tub slippery, which is, I guess, natural, because the cleaning implement is generally soap, it is wet and it is slippery.

So, there I am, gingerly kneeling on what turns out to be most of one foot, when the world goes crazy. The most of one foot that I am balanced upon slips out from beneath me with a speed that is incomprehensible by anything other than those slo-motion cameras that capture the moment of a golf club head's impact upon the ball and the subsequent smooshing of the golf ball into an oblong rather than round object before it's flight into the woods, rough, trap or fairway, but I digress. Reaching for the soap as my foot betrays me and beats a hasty retreat into the air leaves me with no hands whatsoever above the wall of the tub, thusly providing me with absolutely no means of slowing the impact that awaits my face (which I am nearly certain bears a resemblance to those old films of the astronauts in G-Force
training, with the cheeks all blown out and nothing but a feral panic in the eyes). So, at whatever rate a 200 pound object falls to the earth--I am no physicist, I have no idea of the exact rate of speed (Some say a feather falls at the same rate as a bowling ball--I beg to differ)--My nose and right cheekbone smash into the rim of the bathtub.

Within milliseconds--again, I was not wearing a stopwatch--I do not usually time my showers, but I can say with some certainty that it happened very quickly, the tub turned into a scene reminiscent of "Psycho"--blood everywhere, me flailing about, screaming like a baby seal, soap in my hair and scrambling for purchase. I grab the pair of shorts that I had jettisoned before entering the torture chamber that was the shower and apply direct pressure to the spurting faucet that had been my nose just moments before. Screaming gave way to cursing as I looked around at the Tate-LaBianca-like scene that I had created without the benefit of a single butcher-knife, axe, chainsaw. Yes, using nothing more than the blunt, and surprisingly unyeilding surface of the bathtub's wall, I had been able to throw enough blood, snot, and what I could only assume was my brain around the bathroom to make Quentin Tarentino swoon. Eventually, I was able to stem the flow of blood and cram a couple of rolls of toilet paper up my nostrils, finish rinsing my head off and clean up the bathroom, lest Taggart arrive home to the scene and assume that I had wrestled, bested and butchered a wild Javelina in the bathroom. Again.

I made it to the emergency room and six hours later was released with a clean bill of health and a man-sized headache, with nothing broken but my spirit and my pride. I have been telling most that I was breaking up a fight between three sturdy Hooter's girls who were fighting over my affections and caught a stray beer stein in the face. So, please keep this to yourself. How was your week?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

And a Happy F*cking New Year...

A few years ago, when the internet nearly instantaneously made the cumbersome tradition of writing letters and dropping them into a mailbox a quaint waste of time, an old chum and fellow writer Jim Bigler and I began to correspond through e-mail. It began innocently enough—keeping in touch, tossing story ideas around and so forth. But very quickly, these correspondences took on a life of their own and we were soon e-mailing short stories—a page, two at most—back and forth for our own amusement. These were bloody, perverted tales, often propelling protagonists of questionable virtue to tragic ends, usually taking countless innocents along with them.

It was only a matter of time before these protagonists consisted of B-movie actors and washed-up television actors and rock musicians down on their luck. Names like Gary Busey, James Coburn and Morey Amsterdam began peppering these outlandish stories of murder, decadence and perversion. Eventually, we had enough of these to put together a volume titled “The Inevitable Downhill Slope”.

And A Happy Fucking New Year is one of the first short stories I sent to Bigler after “The Inevitable Downhill Slope” was completed. A new day begins…

And A Happy Fucking New Year

The elf checked his pockets again, hoping against hope that there would be something—anything at all—to eat. Alas, there was nothing. Not a scrap, not a crumb. The elf began to sob softly, the tears nearly drying on his rosy little cheeks as he stumbled through the snow, which continued to fall. It seemed like he had been wandering in the blizzard for hours and was very hungry. “It’s getting too deep,” he cried. Fuck, even a real, adult man would soon be doomed to a horrible, frozen nightmare of a death—forget about an elf. The elf keened into the blizzard, his small voice covered by the sound of the wind blowing through his pointed little ears. His tasseled hat had long ago been lost to the wind and his red hair was frozen as if coated in gel.

“Just this one package,” Santa had begged. “It’ll only take an hour and you’ll be doing me a grand service…” The elf sobbed some more, his breath coming in hard, frozen bursts that burned his lungs. He closed his mouth and tried to breath through his nose with no luck. It was small and upturned at the end and was as stopped up as the workshop toilet, which he had contacted the Elves Union about only weeks before. Working conditions at the North Pole were not the best—and he was always the first to speak up for Elves’ rights—but he would give anything to be in the warm, beloved workshop right now, instead of stumbling through the blizzard.

His felt shoes with the pointy tips were soaked through and he could no longer feel his feet. Santa had been none-too pleased with him after the complaints had been filed with the Union and he had seen this favor to be a grand way to get back into the old man’s good graces. He cried some more, his open mouth filling with snow, causing him to choke. He fell into a drift and tried to claw his way out, his small hands digging at the snow, which was already beginning to cover him with fresh fallings.

It was a trap, the elf thought. Santa knew what would happen all along… There would be no more uprisings amongst the workers, no more senseless talk of better working conditions, higher wages, shorter work weeks. No, the rest would see what happened to instigators. His hands stopped flapping in the snow and the cold seemed suddenly not so bad. He began to relax, coughing a bit of snow out through his nose.

Ironically, he was a mere thirty yards from the Clause House and Santa had watched the last few minutes of his struggle through the front window as he sipped an eggnog and brandy. “That’ll teach you, you little fucker,” the fat man muttered, turning away from the window as new snow buried the pint-sized ingrate. “Merry fucking

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Back to the Sea - A Tale for the Holidays...

Back to the Sea is a story I wrote about the complications that occurred when the second ex-Mrs. Ford and myself were expecting the birth of the twins and the months following. My mother had long been a champion of my writing and I had mailed her (via the quaint US Postal Service) everything I wrote and she was always enthusiastic, always positive that one day “you’ll publish one of these…”

I submitted this story to Twins Magazine and promptly forgot about it, fully expecting the form-rejection slip that I could toss into the envelope with the other seven thousand. When Mom suddenly passed, I was in the midst of moving from my studio apartment (having split with the second ex-Mrs. Ford) to another apartment in a Chicago suburb. The girls and I drove to Ohio for her funeral and I came back to Chicago frazzled, with still some moving to do. One of the last things I took out of the studio apartment was my answering machine, which was blinking furiously. I pressed “Play” and tucked in with all the messages from bill collectors and telemarketers was a message from Twins Magazine informing me that they would like to buy the rights to my story and publish it in their magazine. I had sold my first work!

My first instinct, of course, was to call the one person who would get the most joy out of this announcement, but of course, we had buried her the week before and that was simply one call I would never be able to make again. But I still like to think that she not only knew about it, but probably had something to do with it as well…

Back to the Sea

It was Allison’s job to give things back to the sea. While Logan and I spent the afternoon digging in the sand and burying each other, as well as the beach ball and anything else we could find to bury, Allison dutifully returned things to the sea. Rocks, sticks and even scoops of sand were diligently carried to the wet beach, to the place where the waves die on the shore. There, they were given new life, a second chance—hurled into the approaching water with as much gusto as the four and a half year-old arms could muster. The fact that it was the not the ocean, but North Avenue Beach, just South of Fullerton, Lake Michigan, City of Chicago mattered little to the young girl—this was her mission.

I did not question the mission—my job is not to question—I merely observed and envied the single-mindedness with which she approached the task. Trip after trip she waded into the chilly water—it was after all, only June—braving waves nearly waist deep, to better deposit her cargo into the depths. She observed sticks as they floated away, and she watched handfuls of the beach slide through her fingers and settle into the shifting sand at her feet beneath the waves. But Allison’s life had not always been a day at the beach.

From the time the twins were en utero, it was readily apparent that neither of their lives were to be taken for granted. In fact, simply making it out of the NICU would take weeks, each small victory relished for only a moment, with us daring to herald each new miracle with little more than a sigh and a prayer. We as parents spent our
sleepless nights with the silent knowledge that our next call to the NICU could just as easily bring news of the latest setback rather than the move forward that would allow us to bring our babies home.

Twin-twin transfusion occurs when the fetuses in utero battle over nutrients and one twin retains the lion’s share while the other slowly starves. This situation brings harm to both unborn children, with the over-nourished baby in just as much danger as the undernourished. Living in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I got the call at work from my wife. “The babies have stopped moving,” she told me. “Maybe they’re sleeping,” I said. My wife was prone to dramatics and I was accustomed to such calls. In fact, the day before, she had told me, “Well, that’s it—I’m not getting out of bed for the
rest of the pregnancy…I’ll crawl to the bathroom and back to bed, but that’s all…” Being a model husband, I fielded all such statements with appropriate skepticism.

“They’re not sleeping,” she said, her voice filled with genuine concern. Her concern became my concern, not for the first time, and certainly not for the last. She made it to her doctor, whose concern it also became, almost immediately. At around ten o’clock in the evening, a decision was made: My unborn children were in serious
trouble—the rarity known as twin-twin transfusion had been slowly draining the still-developing babies of their strength. It was trouble for which the hospital in Santa Fe was unprepared. My wife and her cargo would be transported by ambulance to Albuquerque, where the staff and the hospital were more versed and better equipped to handle the potentially fatal situation.

I followed the ambulance, my mind turning cartwheels in my head, my hands and feet somehow (after erroneously taking me to the wrong hospital) delivering me to the Presbyterian Hospital not too far behind. My wife was immediately hooked up to monitors and straps and gadgets all designed to help determine the well being of the tiny, unborn babies. At five in the morning on December 23rd, 1993, another decision was made: The babies would have to come out. Two months early, barely clinging to life—this was the only chance they had.

The Caesarian delivery was if nothing else quick, and mercifully bloodless. I am not one who maintains consciousness well at the sight of blood, but when the nurse asked if I would like to see my daughter, I saw no recourse. I gripped my wife’s hand tightly and with all the courage I could gather, I peeked over the curtain in time
to watch them whisk the little, shivering white bundle away. Quickly. The next little girl came and went with equal velocity and the births were over—in under five minutes.

Having managed to bring our daughters into the world, we now faced the awful possibility that neither child might make it through the night. However, thankfully, attached to respirators, both girls made it through what was our best Christmas and at the same time, our worst Christmas ever. We were thankful for the birth of our
children, which had gone without a hitch, yet we were despondent over the unstable nature of their conditions.

Apnea/bradycardia were the next hurdles we faced. It seemed that neither child was having much success at keeping their hearts or lungs going without outside assistance. On one memorable occasion, three and a half-pound Allison went blue in my arms as I fed her from a tiny bottle. Without warning, she had simply stopped breathing. Bells and whistles shattered the calm of the NICU and I shook the
little baby gently (while screaming for the nurses) and she finally remembered to breathe.

Allison, in the meantime, had also taken to extended fits of screaming and upon examination, it was discovered that her body was not properly disposing of the fluid that surrounded her brain and spinal cord. This condition, known as hydrocephalus (and in the old days as “water on the brain”) was causing an abnormal increase of the cerebrospinal fluid within her cranial cavity—the storage area between Allison’s brain and her skull. The excess fluid caused an unnatural swelling of the skull and a tremendous pressure within. The pressure within her head put the child in great pain and several spinal taps were performed to relieve the pressure and also with the hope of “jump starting” her body into performing the task on its own.

When the spinal taps were ineffective, the next procedure advised was to “shunt” the child—to install a valve in the skull and run a drainage tube down her neck, under her arm, over her ribcage and into her stomach, where the excess fluids would be discharged as waste. Before the operation, feeling as helpless as any man in history, I wondered just how I would get through this if little Allie didn’t make it. Luckily, I never had to find out. I remember the first time I was allowed to see my baby girl after the surgery. I was brought to tears by the sight of this tiny child, not yet four pounds, her head swaddled in bandages, tubes running out of her arm, a huge respirator tube attached to the lower half of her face—but she was alive, given yet another chance.

The rules were thus: The girls had to make it seventy-two hours without a “spell” of apnea or bradycardia. They had to breathe on their own for three days—for three days their little hearts would have to beat non-stop—then they could come home. Two times, they made it to the seventieth hour, and we packed hopefully for the trip to
Albuquerque, only to learn that a spell had occurred. To our surprise, little Allison, she of the brain surgery and indomitable spirit, was the first to find the will to breathe and the strength to run her machine on her own for three whole days. Though she would be attached to a monitor for a month or so, our little girl was coming home. Logan came home shortly afterward, and both girls proceeded to put the
hospital stay behind them. The respirators, the incubators, the surgery and the gentle, caring hands of their nurses all became distant memories and the girls at last began the daunting challenge of simply being Allison and Logan.

That warm June afternoon at the North avenue Beach, it was Allison’s job to return things to the sea, for a second chance, a new life. It was as if the actions were somehow ingrained in her very spirit—it seemed only natural. She looked at me and smiled, throwing a stone into the waves. For a moment, it seemed she knew where my mind had taken me. Another rock, another second chance. It was only fair, she probably figured—everyone deserves a second chance. After all, not so long ago, she had been given just such a chance herself.

Happy eighteenth birthday, girls - I love you more today than yesterday!

Plastic Surgery - What the Hell?

This is Priscilla Presley. Hubba-hubba. The question I pose today, using Ms. Presley as an unfortunate example is: What the hell were you thinking?

I woke up at two in the morning last night and tossed and turned for awhile, then turned on the television, figuring "what the heck - I'm on vacation..." Perhaps there would be a Ray Milland movie on, or I could catch up on my Alfred Hitchcock Hour (the DVR-thing records two per night - I usually watch one, so at this rate television will become another medium before I catch up).

Instead of either of those tasty options, The Biography Channel was running a documentary on Priscilla Presley. "Hubba-hubba," I thought (see above).

I turned it on and this is what I saw. What?

Apparently, Ms. Presley has decided to jump into the plastic surgery pool. Judging by the way her mouth has been stretched into a wide, permanent frown, it must have been an unpleasant swim. Her mother was on the show saying a few kind words, sans surgery, and looked just fine as an older lady. I have got to think that the Beaulieu family must be biting their collective tongues when their daughter, with her new lizard-mouth sits down for Thanksgiving dinner - especially since she's probably paying for the spread with some Elvis-cash. Watching that thing eat must be horrifying.

So, I went on the internet this morning (thankfully, I did not have any Priscilla-Monster nightmares when I finally went back to sleep) to look up plastic surgery disasters of the rich and famous. Now, I can certainly understand the part about not wishing to look old, ironically trying to live as long as possible at the same time. Having passed into the world of my 50's, I see the bags under my eyes, my flagging muscletone and beard going to white. Still, plastic surgery is not an option. Nor are hair-plugs or lipo. If I end up dying like Elvis ("Elvis died fat, untalented and dead", according to Mike Lyon), then so be it. At least mothers won't rush to hide the eyes of their children when I pass them on the street. Well, not because of some plastic surgery mishap, anyhow.

I was appalled by all the images I saw of these surgeries gone awry. Kenny Rogers, of all people (who has looked old with his white hair and beard since the 80's) had his face tugged up so that his eyebrows are raised in a constant look of surprise. Not bad, unless there are no surprises around, at which point you simply look like a happy retard. There was some Italian lady and another old rock-star guy who had so much botox injected into their lips that the looked on the verge of explosion.


I scrolled through and saw disaster after disaster and began to question not only the vanity of these unfortunates, but their overall sanity. Lips like that have got to be dangerous, right? I wouldn't want to be around when one of those things exploded. Perhaps it's the inherent self-esteem issues that cling to many who take up professions such as acting and singing and all the other showbiz tomfoolery where one's life is spent essentially screaming "LOOK AT ME! LOVE ME!" to all who will listen. Even after all their success, these folks still cannot simply grow old gracefully and let the salad days rest as pleasant memories.

That awful orange-tinted hair and tight skin and big lips and fake boobs - you can keep them all. Give me one with a nice smile, wrinkles and all and some sturdy hips and I will walk hand in hand with her into the sunset. FADE OUT.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Chronicles of Tom - Part 2: The Backstory

"Killing Tom" is the story of two drunken, drug-addled nincompoops who conspire to murder the insane boyfriend of one of the men's mother, who they feel will most likely eventually soak up every last penny of any possible inheritence to be had down the road.

The story takes place over the course of a year - from one Christmas to the next. I thought it only fitting to sit down and apply the finishing touches to the first draft while on Christmas vacation from the Anonymous Fortune 500 Company. It somehow makes sense, and I somehow feel ready to write the last of it.

It's been a long road - this one has been in the hopper for years. My ex-brother in-law Kelly and I started writing it back and forth via email for laughs, each entry taking the story in a more absurd direction than the last. That worked for awhile, but eventually my instinct for story began to take over, for better or worse. I started writing longer chunks and eventually Kelly dropped out. I don't recall why - I'm certain I probably kept writing and stopped emailing, hijacking the tale for all intents and purposes. Sorry, Kelly - it wasn't intentional. Of course, he might have simply lost interest... I should ask before I get all apologetic.

But I digress.

Looking at the book to the point where I left off, the nincompoops (Walter and Jack) have thus far butchered the neighbor's dog (by accident), nearly burned down the family cabin in Wisconsin, set off a bridge disaster on the Chicago River, gained and lost equitable employment as a circus clown, ingested liquid morphine, handfuls of painkillers, gallons of whiskey and set a man's feet on fire. There promises to be more to come.

The story is dark and frightening. It is also some of the funniest work I have ever written. All at the same time. I look forward to chipping away at the rock over the next couple of weeks to see what lurks beneath. The story awaits - it is up to me to find it.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The Chronicles of Tom - Part 1: The Plan

I have the next two weeks off for vacation. I plan to finish a novel that started out a few years ago with my ex-brother in-law as an exercise in email exchanges advancing a storyline created only for our own amusement. Details to come in "The Chronicles of Tom - Part 2: The Back-Story".

This gives me 14 days to complete a book that is approximately halfway finished. My books are usually around 200 pages - I get bored and have no idea how to proceed beyond that point. Stephen King astounds and amazes me. It's like I compose coloring books in comparison, but that is neither here nor there - let's do the math... If I write 10 pages per day, I should end up with a completed first draft, unless things spiral out of control and I suddenly turn into a real novelist, whose works often span many hundreds of pages. Frankly, I haven't the patience nor the diligence, so I am assuming I will be done by the launch of the new year.

The plan is thus: I will get up every morning (unless the powers that be have alternate plans for me) and go to the gym. This will suck, but I am willing to pitch in for the long-term betterment of me (again, unless the powers that be decide to veto my plans). After the gym, I will treat my days as a work day, only with Scotch, which is much better than a regular work day. I have decided to go Hemingway with this book, keeping a bottle at the right hand and a shotgun at the left, just in case I need it. This is that kind of book.

I have written other novels and used CDs as the background soundtrack to their composition. When I wrote "Speaking of Michelangelo", I played The Pistoleros throughout - when I wrote "In For a Penny; In For a Pound", I had Harry Connick Jr. on the player. With "Killing Tom", there has been no such soundtrack. Perhaps tomorrow I will find one. Maybe The Band - that might work out just fine.

I usually set my sights on three pages per day. Of course, that's part-time goal-setting. I will go for the ten for the duration of the vacation. Not as hard as it sounds, when all you have to do is rue the gym and scoff at laundry.

I am going to set up my laptop for when I want "Restaurant Impossible" as my passenger and work at the desktop when The Band needs to climb aboard. I will mount an attack on two fronts - three, if you count the gym...

So, that's the deal - follow along if you like, it costs nothing to follow this blog - and I will be back to the usual nonsense soon enough. For now, this medium will be used to help me focus and to finish up the darkest, funniest book to date.

Wish me luck.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dubai - Land of Mystery

I was reading today about the Royal Family of Dubai being robbed in London while there on a visit. Robberies happen all the time I suppose and there is no reason why the Royal Family of Dubai should be immune. It could have simply been dumb luck that a random robber stumbled onto a Royal Victim and collected a better-than-usual payday with his stroke of robbery luck. And kudos to him - hard work and dumb-luck once again positively reinforced.

But this was not the case.

This pair of intrepid criminal masterminds instead brilliantly executed a well thought-out plan to relieve the Dubaian Royals of their holiday spending cash - some 2 million pounds, or just over 3 million American smackeroos. KA-CHING! You might be asking yourself, how did they pull off such a caper? Well, they simply waited outside the London bank where the family had gone to pick up their 3-million dollars in walking-around money and asked them nicely to hand over the two black briefcases stuffed with neat stacks of bills or they would "shoot their face off".

After collecting the loot, the gun-toting, would-be face-shooting robber ordered the family and their attending faction into a coffee shop next door to the bank, under the threat of more imminent face-shooting action and fled on foot to a waiting car.

The getaway driver and the cash were recovered shortly thereafter, along with the ID of the well-heeled strong-arm man. It will only be a matter of time before he is under lock and key as well and everyone can live happily ever after and our robbers will have plenty of down time to plan their next ingenious heist.

This is not, however, why I am writing today.

The Dubaian Royal Family is headed up by Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is a Sheikh and the Prime Minister and Vice President of the United Arab Emirates, as well as Absolute Monarch of Dubai, which has a tremendous ring to it. If I were not so deep in my campaign to be King, I would ditch the effort altogether and take up the cause of being elected as our Absolute Monarch. Sheikh Mohammed is one impressive dude - if in title only.

Apparently, his security detail is not quite as impressive, having chosen to give up the briefcases of Sheikh paper-money under the threat of having their faces shot off. If I know my Absolute Monarchs, there is no doubt a couple of Chiefs-of-Royal-Security who have been dispatched in short order and whose heads now rest on high, bejeweled poles as a stern warning to any others who might take exception to having their faces shot off in lieu of handing over the Royal Vacation Cash.

Now, I don't even know if the Sheikh was on hand for this humiliating episode - I prefer to think that he was lounging on some overstuffed pillows someplace, being hand-fed grapes and fanned with a huge osterich feather by saucy exotic women in "I Dream of Jeannie" costumes. But I am convinced he was probably immediately notifed of the daring robbery, as soon as the Chiefs-of-Royal-Security got their feeble excuses together and had those responsible promptly shipped back to the palace and summarily and efficiently eliminated. That's how the Absolute Monarchs roll.

But my question is this - do they not have debit cards in Dubai? Why on Allah's Green Earth would you need to have three million in walking-around money? Charge it to the room, for Chrissakes, or have the Royal bookkeeper take care of it once vacation is over. Howsabout one of those fancy black Amex cards - the kind that only Seth MacFarland and Paul McCartney can afford? Three mil in CASH? Really? What kind of cash purchases are you making, anyhow, Sheikh? I understand that with a "Senior" wife and all your "Junior" wives and your 24 "officially recognized" children that vacations can get a little pricy and that the bric-a-brac kiosks sometimes accept only cash, as well as the sno-cone vendors. And if you and the fellas are sneaking off for some "Sheik-Time", hookers and cocaine dealers often prefer cash. But in what world are you operating that three million US dollars in paper currency could possibly be necessary??? Just askin'. And apparently everyone knew it, since Tweedle Rob and Tweedle Drive were able to track you down to the bank and threaten to shoot your face off.

I tell you, when I am King, I will run things in a lot more efficient manner, would-be robbers be damned. And I will not need cash to do so. I promise.

Remember to support Jerry Ford for King in the next election. It will be a write-in, so vote early and vote often.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Story of the Ex-Wives (From the novel "A Bunny Screaming")

Having dipped into only my mother’s side of the gene pool—save for the traits I have outlined above—I have long been aware that people in my family do not live very long. Those who haven’t died in car accidents, or been hit by trains or shot in the back by cowardly, jealous husbands, have had the bad fortune for the most part, to fall over at a relatively young age with deadly, fatal heart failure.

This aside, I have never been short of candidates, all things considered. I do, however, question the accuracy of my antennae de amore. I am attracted to dark-haired, olive-skinned beauties with brown eyes and fiery tempers. I have always been attracted to these women, have walked into telephone poles ogling these women and have always been thankful to have had the opportunity to date a colorful variety of these women. All obvious variables that would seem to add up to a trip to South American, Italy, or Thailand, a quick perusal and kick of the tires, followed by a safe return home, new bride in tow, capped with a long, tempestuous, yet passionate marriage lasting a lifetime.

Instead of the logical trip to Venezuela or Calcutta to find my life-mate, I married two sturdy blondes. The first was an intellectual woman who was studying for the bar and became a successful attorney shortly after our marriage and, in a lottery-like coincidence, whose father owned a beer distributorship. The problem here was that she was a lawyer, a tiresome, over-achieving type-A personality, who could (and often did) force her tastes and beliefs onto those around her just by the sheer stamina of her personality. It wasn’t that she had a powerful or even charismatic personality—she would simply outlast any in her sights with nothing more than a dogged stubbornness and willingness to wait out the opponent. Regardless of the costs.

Problem A: I am, and always have been, a rather free spirit—some might call it lazy, I would not—who would rather be motivated by muse, or by the sun or the tides, certainly not by being harangued and goaded and browbeaten into submission. As most who have opposed any attorney worth their salt in a court of law can attest, this is the way of the lawyer. Counselor at law is only a title that was made up by a lawyer—attorneys do not counsel, they grab and tear and growl and hang on until their prey has been vanquished and do not quit until there is no sign of life left in the bloodless carcass of their victim. But she had a winning smile and for a brief moment, I thought we might be compatible.

“I hate to hear your car pull into the driveway,” I said, somewhat sheepishly, one afternoon, shortly after hearing her car pull into the driveway.

“What?” She asked, scooping a lap dog into her arms in an uncharacteristic display of anxiety.

“I’m just not happy…” I said.

“Well—I’m happy,” she retorted, shifting into lawyer-mode.

“How can you be happy when I am so unhappy?” Gavel rap. Case closed. Win for the little guy. Fuck you, Perry Mason.

Problem B: She was blonde and fair skinned, her flesh Nordic in color and her mouth surrounded by the thin lips of the Eastern European. Pretty, even desirable by some, but, as previously stated, I prefer my women to be of a darker, sultrier ilk. Give me a peasant woman with sturdy hips and eyes ablaze with passion and keep your educated, tenacious daughters of beer barons. Of course I would miss the free beer, but the marriage was doomed.

Wife #2 was also a sturdy blonde. She was not as intelligent, overbearing or tenacious as Wife #1, but her slow wit and surly disposition made up for it. The fact that she turned out to be a lesbian I only discovered after I left, otherwise, I could use it as an excuse for the end of the marriage as we knew it. A damned fine excuse, too, if you want my opinion. But I had to make a decision before this card was offered in the game, and opted for the following: Reason A: No sense of humor. She was also dour and moody and never cleaned anything. In the old world, she would have been beaten and thrown into the muddy streets by her husband and outcast by the rest of her village. She would have eventually left the village when she tired of living on scraps and died in the forest, victim of her own laziness.

“What do you mean you’re not happy?” She asked, her dim eyes glazing just a bit further.

Picking up a crayon that had nearly caused me to break my ankle the night before, I drew a face on the piece of paper that had also facilitated the nearly ankle-breaking slip. I drew a frown on the face. I showed her the face.

“Really?” she asked. Doomed. I wondered how she would survive, but being the world as it is, I knew I couldn’t allow myself to go down with this particular ship. Survival of the fittest.

Reason B: I do not like blondes. Did I mention that? Though she definitely had some peasant-like qualities that could have easily been mistaken as attractive, she was a poser, too lazy and surly to ever have survived long-term in the true peasant world.

Bottom line: The marriage was doomed and should never have been consummated.
I began to wonder how may times I may have turned my head or walked past a woman who would have been of a perfect compatibility in my pursuits of these who were now no more than a bump in the unpaved, rocky alleyway that charted my love life.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Albertsville (From "The Inevitable Downhill Slope", by Jerry Ford and Jim Bigler)

Edward Albert sat in the darkened den, the glow from the television set the only light in the room. He sloshed a bit of iced Scotch onto his shirtfront as he mouthed the lines with the movie that played on the screen. Wiping absently at his shirt, he watched Anthony Quinn scrunch his face in agony. “Nico!” Quinn screamed. “Niiiiiiico!!!” Edward had played Quinn’s son, Nico, in The Greek Tycoon, in 1978, a pathetic effort whose only saving grace was the fact that Jaqueline Bisset didn’t wear a brassiere throughout most of the movie. Nico had just crashed his airplane into a mountain, giving Quinn the opportunity to gnaw on the scenery for a few minutes. His character now dead, Edward Albert lost interest in the movie.

“Fucking Anthony Quinn,” Albert muttered. “Goddamned Greek Tycoon—ruined my fucking career…” He rose unsteadily and staggered to the window. He tugged at the heavy drapes and sunlight streamed into the richly paneled room, still furnished as it was when he bought it, at firesale price, from Ray Milland’s widow in 1989. Albert had settled into a morose funk soon after moving into the house and despite his best intentions, had been unable to shake the gloom since.

Albert had made grand plans for the house, intending to renovate the electrical, which in some rooms still had light switches that had ceased to work around 1957. Albert had visions of elegant gardens and installing ponds and topiary that would help him maintain his serenity. Instead, he had fallen under the spell of the demon rum, often languishing for months without venturing into the open air. The big, drafty house still held the pungent odor of a half-century’s worth of Milland’s chain-smoking and many of the elegant imported rugs bore burns from the cigarettes and stains from countless spilt drinks and corkscrew mishaps. Still, Albert refused to open the windows, somehow finding comfort in the closeness of the air.

He had stopped taking visitors, even his father, who had attempted until his dying day to draw Edward from his self-imposed exile. “Get the hell out of here!” Edward would shout from an upstairs window, often accompanying the warning with the toss of his chamberpot, which was usually filled with one sort of late-night deposit or another. “Go back to Zsa-Zsa!” Edward would laugh, knowing how much it irked his father when he referred to his “Green Acres” co-star Eva Gabor by her sister’s name. Ever since he had walked in on his father frolicking with the Hungarian tramp in a coat closet, she had been somewhat of a sore spot between the two.

Albert took a moment to gaze out of the window at the shoddy grounds with the overgrown weeds and dying shade trees and thought about his long-abandoned plans for the place, the thoughts stirring his mind, if not his mood. He walked away from the window and refilled his Scotch, then walked over to the 16mm film projector that sat in the center of the room. Also a left-over from Mrs. Milland, Albert dusted the projector weekly and paid careful attention to keep the wheels and sprockets in good working order. He would hate to see a valuable relic such as this rust away from mishandling.

Albert spooled up a film and lowered the ancient movie screen with the electric switch on the wall by the wet bar. He looked at his watch. Almost noon, he thought. Edward smiled. It was almost time to watch The Thing With Two Heads.

Millandsville (From "The Inevitable Downhill Slope" by Jerry Ford and Jim Bigler)

Milland, Ray (1905-1986)
(Reginald Truscott-Jones)

Welsh-born light leading man of ready smile and equitable disposition; carved a pleasant niche for himself in Hollywood in the thirties, and later surprised many by becoming an actor and director of some repute before stepping on the inevitable downhill slope…

Harmond Neville was pissed. The director of “The Thing With Two Heads” had a budget to meet and a schedule to keep, and Ray Milland was nowhere to be found. “Goddamn it,” he fumed to his effeminate assistant, who was sucking juice from a plastic lemon. “Where is Milland?”

“Well, Harmond,” the assistant stammered, chewing on a piece of plastic stem. “He’s in his trailer, watching a copy of ‘Dial M for Murder’…And I think he’s been drinking…”

“What the hell…” Neville found himself storming off to the trailer that was serving as the Ray Milland dressing room, followed by his callow assistant. Inside the darkened dressing room, Ray Milland was slumped in a lethargic limbo, sipping gin from a silver monogrammed flask and moving his lips to the dialogue on the screen. Only the opening of the door and intrusion of the midday sun drew his attention from the bluewhite picture that flickered on a bare wall of the trailer. Irritated, Neville slapped at the light switch and Milland ducked his head as if under attack and blinked his bleary eyes. “Jesus Chrisht,” the slurred, yet familiar British accent demanded. “What in the hell are you doing?”

“Um, Mister Milland?” Neville’s assistant attempted to calm the actor—he knew they could be touchy.

“Shut up and get the hell out of here!” Milland yelled, gesturing at the image on the wall. “Can’t you see who I used to be?”

Neville exploded. “Nonsense! This is a bunch of bullshit! Ray Milland or no Ray Milland, I’m going to finish this picture on time and under budget!”

“Is that a threat?” asked Milland. “Must I remind you who I was? Ray Milland…” He raised his flask to the image on the wall as the director fought for his attention.

“I don’t care if you used to be Don Ameche—I’ve got half a thing with two heads out there who is about to die of heat asphyxiation!”

“Welsh-born light leading man,” Milland mumbled to his flask. “Of ready smile and equitable disposition…” He once again toasted the black and white image flickering on the wall as the director stormed out of the room, cursing under his breath. His assistant followed quietly, closing the door gently. He paused to take a last look at the figure slumped drunkenly in the chair. After all, he thought, what’s a little delay and a thing with two heads when you’re dealing with someone who used to be Ray Milland…

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Shaving Of An Era

Meet John Gunn. John Gunn has a magnificent mustache - some might say legendary, but I am not one given to hyperbole. The point is, John Gunn has allegedly had this mustache for thirty years. To contrast, the only thing I have been able to hold onto for thirty years is my fondness for a perfectly-prepared ribeye steak, generally sour disposition and devilish way with the ladies. According to lore, Gunn shaved it once about fifteen years ago, thanks to a grooming mishap that sent its finely managed and delicately-calibrated symmetry awry. This has yet to be verified and I have sent my minions to the streets in search of photographic evidence.

This is my baseline observation of John Gunn: He is always in search of the next cool thing. I have never been by his desk without observing some new bit of technology, sorcery or a toy, gizmo or colorful bric-abrac that he is tinkering with or displaying with panache. I am assuming that this has to do with his tireless zeal and affinity for shiny objects. So, this mustache must be important to John, otherwise he would have dispatched with it long ago, and taken up with a new, exciting means of facially follicular celebration.

Regardless of Gunn's fondness for his mustache, he has agreed to a bet - a do-gooder wager - that will soon having him biting his new, smooth, clean-shaven upper-lip. The month of November has recently been re-named "Movember" (a portmanteau of the slang "mo" for "mustache" and "November"), and is an annual, month-long event involving the growing of moustaches during the month of November. This, to raise awareness and funds for men's health, targeting such issues as prostate and testicular cancer. A young man sponsoring a Movember site issued the following challenge to Gunn: If we raise a target amount of money for Movember, would you be willing to shave your mustache? Seeing this as an excellent opportunity to support a fine cause and setting the bar at the unlikely reachable total of $2500, to ensure that his elegant lip-whiskers would most likely remain intact, Gunn agreed.

Well, here we are in December and not only was the total reached, it was surpassed and today is judgement day - today, the mustache gets shaved. A gentleman by the name of Jeb Henry donated the most money (a $600 windfall) and gets to do the honor of barbering the imposing thatch of hair. I asked John Gunn (or The JohnGunn, as I refer to him) if he had any concerns. He had three: Would the shaving leave a white stripe of virgin flesh below his nose that would make him look awkward? Would the mustache grow back gray? The third and most frightening concept was "what if I shave it and I lose all my tireless zeal and become sluggish and unresponsive to the world around me and all of its delights - unresponsive to life? Like Sampson - perhaps the mustache holds all that is good and positive in my world." A tear ran down Gunn's cheek and was swallowed up by the mustache as it attempted to pass. I had never seen him so introspective. I nearly got weepy myself, but as with hyperbole, I am not given to weeping, unless it's that Goddamned "Up" movie with its seriously unfair emotional ambush. But I digress.

Witnessing the barbering was an adventure in itself. Walking into the lunchroom, where this event was set up as a live stream for the internet and subsequent YouTube video, I couldn't help but notice that the place resembled an old-fashioned execution, with Gunn's chair facing the rows of chairs much like Bruno Hauptmann's electric chair, only with less fanfare from the audience. Gunn shrank back noticeably from the first swipes of the electric trimmer that Barber Jeb first used to cut away the outlying regions of the thatch. I honestly expected more screaming, begging and weeping, but was pleasantly surprised that the man in the chair accepted his fate with an honorable stoicism. Whether the trimmer was rightfully overwhelmed by the task, or Gunn's mustache simply grew back as quickly as it could be cut, it appeared that little headway was being made. One observer quietly offered that the "thing must be made of steel", all the while gazing on in wonderment.

Eventually, the mustache, despite all its heroic efforts to defend the only home it had ever known, fell to the blade and Gunn emerged none worse for the wear, looking at least ten years younger than when the task began. Some might consider it a valiant sacrifice for a worthy cause, or a new start - a fresh beginning... I'm nearly certain that John will find that the air feels a little bit different as he moves through it and his gait has been slightly altered by the removal of the mustache, which had previously acted as kind of a rudder and stabilizing device as he walked.

We shall see what the coming weeks bring - will JohnGunn turn into a listless creature with no drive, ambition, or savoir-faire? Will the patch of white ever tan? Will the mustache grow back gray, like Sam Elliott's in "Tombstone"? Only time will tell, but in the meantime, please pour yourself a glass of whatever pleases you, raise it high and join me in an elegant toast to the shaving of an era.

Monday, December 5, 2011

"Get yer fresh hot baby Jesus!"

It was Christmas time in 1978, and Bigler and I were cruising in the Bigler family Carry-All—the 1970’s version of the SUV—a large vehicle, with two huge bench seats and storage space behind. It was the ancestor to the modern-day Ford Explorer, designed to take large families—like the Biglers—on rugged camping trips and safaris and other hunting excursions. We often took the Carry-All out and usually ended up in mischief, after all, driving in such a vehicle designed for adventure.

Our M.O. would be to hop out of the Carry-All in front of a home blessed with front yard lined with citrus trees and fill our tucked-in tee-shirts with oranges or grapefruit until we resembled bloated Oompa-Loompas and we would waddle back to the vehicle and untuck our shirts, dumping our citrus payload onto the floorboards. Then we would cruise the neighborhood streets, taking turns driving, the passenger leaning out the window, hurling stolen fruit at street signs and yard lights, paying no heed to danger or consequence. We simply drove and threw and drove and laughed some more, then went home and went to sleep at our respective parents’ homes, without giving the night’s events a second thought.

Christmas, 1978, Bigler and I found ourselves driving around in the Bigler SUV, studying the terrain, nothing much in mind.

ME: Pull over.
ME: (Gazing at a nativity scene, lit by classic Christmas lights in a front yard) Pull over.

Bigler pulled over and I leaped out of the car and snagged the Baby Jesus from his plastic manger, lined in its plastic straw. I ran back to the car, tossed the Messiah into the back seat and we accelerated into the night, no one the wiser.

This would have been a single, oddly disturbing, sacrilegious moment, had it not been repeated nearly a dozen times over the course of the evening. Instead, to us as it happened, it turned into high comedy. We drove down a side street, near Yavapai elementary school armed to the teeth with Plastic Christ Children and a group of younger kids was gathered on their bicycles on a corner, shooting the December breeze and simply hanging out, was youngsters will do. I leaned out the window of the Carry-All, Son of God firmly in-hand and yelled, “Get yer fresh hot Jesus!” I threw the plastic Messiah with all I had into the gaggle of kids and the Lord rattled amongst the bicycles and the kids and they hit the dirt, fearing further damage. We drove past, laughing heartily and congratulating ourselves on achieving a new level of notoriety.

A half hour later, we happened to drive by the same group of youngsters, the back seat of the Carry-All still fully stocked with identical plastic Christ and again I grabbed a Baby Jesus by the plastic ankles and leaned out the window of the fast-moving vehicle. “Get yer fresh, hot Baby Christ!” I screamed and flung a Jesus wildly at the children. Again, they hit the ground too late and Christ bounced from bike to kid, eliciting shrieks of surprise and pain. Again we laughed and drove and hunted the land in search of more plastic Messiah.

We happened to drive by the same street a bit later and the same stubborn group of kids hung out on the corner, presumably admiring a growing collection of plastic Christ-babies. I glanced at Bigler. “Seriously?” I asked. He shrugged and nodded and I gathered up a Christ and leaned out the window. I had barely begun to yell “Get yer…”, when all the kids hit the ground, covering their heads with their arms—two of them using plastic Jesus as cover. I tossed the Christ onto the pile with little fanfare, more a reward for their tenacity than anything else. Again, no hint of punishment for Bigler or myself—even for this, the most heinous and sacrilegious of deeds.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Baseball, Handguns and Grass Carp (The Jersey Wheeler Experience)

Jersey Wheeler loved baseball—that much was for certain. In fact, I had witnessed Jersey Wheeler long before I ever met him,— while watching a baseball game on NBC in the 1970s. It was thesummer of ’73 or ’74, I think—and I was watching a game between
the then red-hot Big Red Machine and the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the weekend, probably a Saturday.

I was lounging on the floor of my parents’ house in shorts,eating a Twinkie with some milk. Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek were handling the play-by-play duties. I settled in. Ball three, strike one was the count when Johnny Bench ripped a screaming foul ball down the first base side of the field. It went flying like a missile toward the area that was reserved for the photographers, just on the other side of the dugout. The alert photographers, no doubt veterans and not just a little gun-shy of these hundred fifty mile an hour bullets, hit the deck at the crack of the bat—except, that is, for Jersey Wheeler.

With three cans of a six-pack of beer dangling at his side in his right hand, held together by the plastic loops and an open can in his left, Jersey Wheeler stuck out like a sore thumb as the camera panned the scene. In live NBC color, Wheeler wore blue jeans and a bright yellow “Zuma Beach Volleyball League” tee-shirt and was apparently not watching the game. Nor was he interested in the fact that a baseball was screaming toward his head with alarming velocity. He was turned away from home plate, in blatant disregard for one of the most basic rules in live baseball attendance—never turn your back on the ball— in the midst of a very serious shouting match with a photographer in a brightly-checkered sports coat, who was suddenly
on the ground with the rest.

The ball didn’t hit Jersey Wheeler, or any of those on the ground and although I didn’t know at the time that this man was Jersey Wheeler, the image of this madman, shouting at the photographer on the ground, six-pack dangling from his hand, stuck
in my mind as I watched the game and long afterward, simply because of how much it didn’t belong at the game. I had never seen anything like it at a baseball game, and never would again. For this reason alone, Jersey could have easily been someone I would never forget.

It was a cold, rainy night, not unlike those you read about in gothic romance novels or see in a cheap “B” horror film and I was driving my Subaru on a deserted country road, about six miles outside the town of Fairmont, West Virginia. The mountain road was slick and difficult to drive and my visibility was probably ten feet. The rain
just kept coming in dirty sheets that battered my windshield without mercy, causing their ineffective swiping to seem even more useless.

In retrospect, I was practically positive that I had filled my gas tank earlier in the week and could even remember throwing the carbon from the charge card into the glove-box. But regardless of what I thought I remembered, in the cruel, unfair way things tend to work out in these situations, my car began to chug and sputter and several minutes later, I was pulled along side the road, hazards flashing, most
definitely out of gas.

I glanced at the fuel gauge, which read way below empty and cursed under my breath and turned off the ignition. I listened to the rain coming down in sheets on my roof and considered my options. I could sit there until the weather let up; which could mean staying in my car until morning. Or, I could get out and hitch-hike, but not
having seen a single vehicle since downtown Fairmont, hitch-hiking seemed even sillier than sleeping in my car. The third alternative was to walk in the rain to the one lighted house I’d seen on a hill a half-mile or so back. Jeez, I thought. This is getting more like a cheap horror story every passing minute… I slid out of the car and tightened my collar and began to slosh my way down the road, listening to the cold rain beat on my head.

It seemed like hours, with my shoes filled with mud and the clothing hanging off my body like wet burlap, but finally I saw the house looming just ahead. After trudging down the muddy road, my head was numb and each drop sounded like a deep thunder in my
ears. As I approached the house, I realized that the pounding I was hearing was coming from a stereo system—a very loud stereo system. I recognized an old Paul McCartney song being played at earbleeding volume and I began to beat on the door, hoping that the Wings fan inside would hear me above the din. After several minutes,
the music stopped and I knocked again to make certain they heard me.

As the seconds crept by, I began to think it might be better to brace the mud and rain to sleep in my car. The door suddenly burst open and I was grabbed by the wet lapels and thrown to the ground. I was on my back, about to complain, when a very large handgun was thrust into my mouth. My eyes widened and I looked up to see the
smiling face of a wild-eyed madman man hovering above me. It would later come back to me in a rush of realization that it was the very same, obviously volatile man I had seen accosting a harmless photographer on the Saturday afternoon baseball game all those years ago.

“Okay Fuckhead,” he said, calmly and I noticed that his hand wasn’t even shaking as he pulled back the hammer on his grossly-oversized firearm. “I want to know why you’re harassing me and how many more you have outside.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” I tried to say, with the bluedsteel tongue depressor resting against the back of my throat.

“Speak English, or I throw your bloody, headless corpse back out into the rain,” he said, rattling his piece against my teeth for emphasis. I pointed to the gun and peed a little bit in my drawers. He pulled the pistol out slowly, then placed the business end of the barrel against my forehead, neatly between the eyes. “If you don’t talk fast, I’m going to put this back into your mouth,” he said, sincerely. “I feel more comfortable when it’s in there…”

“My car ran out of gas, my arm is falling asleep and I may have wet myself,” I blurted.

“Alright, then,” he said, releasing the hammer gently with his thumb. “Good enough for me… Is it raining hard?”

“Yes,” I said carefully, not wanting to trigger another assault with a lousy weather report. “May I get up now?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, rising from my chest almost as an afterthought. “Let me get you some dry clothes and a cup of joe.”

“Thanks.” I got up slowly and tried to shake the feeling back into my arm. “What, were you going to shoot me?”

“I don’t think so,” he said. “Not with this anyway.” He pulled the trigger and a small flame came out of the end—just large enough to light a cigarette. He laughed uproariously—I chuckled nervously. Then, out of the blue, he pulled another revolver and blew a hole the size of a saucepan in his wall. The sound of the report rang in my ears. “I might kill you with this puppy, though!” He laughed with gusto again as I began to eye the door. The rain didn’t seem so bad now—in fact it sounded damned fine compared to further dealings with a man who didn’t mind shooting his own house.
“Howsabout that coffee,” he said, tossing his pistol onto the sofa nonchalantly. “Do you like Paul McCartney?”

“What?” I asked distractedly, as the blood finally began to flow back into my tingling arm. “Yeah, sure.”

A few minutes later, I sat on the sofa across from Jersey Wheeler with the rain continuing to pour down outside. We were drinking hot coffee spiked with bourbon and Jersey was trying to convince me that Paul McCartney was dead—had been since 1966.
“What about Band on the Run? Who did that?” I asked, citing the one album if McCartney’s that had been compared with his best work with the Beatles. I had warmed up enough with the bourbon to play devil’s advocate.

“Can’t you see,” he said, kicking an ottoman for emphasis. “It’s Billy Fucking Shears!”

“I don’t know…”

“For Chrissakes, it’s on the albums—the lyrics, the covers… Even Ringo would have figured it out eventually—if Lennon hadn’t let him in on it.” He slumped back into his chair—he had put another McCartney album on the turntable and “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” drifted in and out of the conversation. Butterpie? The butter wouldn’t melt, so I put it in the pie…

“Now there’s two down…” His eyes lit up dramatically. “We’ve got to call Harrison—he’s bound to be next!” He reached for the phone. As he fumbled with the receiver, he looked at me with urgency. “What’s the area code for Los Angeles?”

“I think George owns a big place in England, doesn’t he?” I asked, momentarily caught up in his mission.

“I know that,” he said, throwing a Bic lighter at my elbow. “You don’t think I’m asshole enough to try to call George, do you?”

“Well, who then?”

He thought for a moment. “Billy Preston, that’s who.” He smiled, pleased with his brainstorm. “If anyone knows how to get ahold of Harrison, it’s Billy. Hell, he toured with the guy, you know, the fifth Beatle and all that…”

“What makes you think Billy Preston is going to have a listed
number?” I inquired.

“Jesus Christ,” he yelled, slamming the receiver into its cradle. “You are no fucking help… It’s not going to be under Billy Preston— it’s going to be William, or BILL.” He sat back, dejected. “What’s the use. He’ll never get to George in time.”

There was a long silence that probably could have gone on for days. “Do you think you could give me a ride down to my car?” I asked gently. “It’s just a ways down the road.”

“What do you do for a living, Don?” he asked, quietly. I didn’t even tell him my name wasn’t Don—nor did I particularly mind the fact that he had called me Don—but all of the sudden I felt a darkness settle over the room that had nothing to do with the weather. I sensed that robbery, murder, or quite possibly something worse might loom on my horizon and I was, for all intents and purposes, helpless to do anything about it.

“I’m a writer,” I began. “For a comedy show on a cable network.” I saw Jersey Wheeler’s face go blank, as if in thought, then suddenly light up like a carnival midway. He pounced over the coffee table and grabbed my shirtfront, latching onto a fistful of chest hairs in the process, and threw me from the sofa onto the hardwood floor, just scant inches from the softness of the Persian rug under the table.

Apparently, this was one of his favorite moves and I was becoming quite familiar with the position. Only this time it wasn’t a pistol pointed inches from my nose, it was Jersey Wheeler’s own face, eyes crystal clear—if slightly crazed—and breath that smelled of the spiked coffee and Marlboros. “You write comedy.” His eyes dared around the room. “For a comedy show.”

“Yes,” I said. I could feel rivulets of sweat running down my temples. I imagined that there was an outside chance that it was the coffee making me perspire.

“There are several objects within my reach,” he looked down at me with the utmost of sincerity. “Very large, heavy objects.” I squirmed beneath him—he raised a finger. “Don’t, okay?” He asked softly. I stopped. He lowered his face very close to mine and spoke almost in a whisper. “Now… Do you expect me to believe that’s what
you do?”

“Yes,” I repeated, at a total loss for any other answer.

“Really.” He loosened his grip and half-raised to a semi-squatting position, eyes surveying the windows. He returned his gaze to me and again raised his finger, which I noticed had a tattoo on it. “Now, if you’re lying and there’s anyone out there, I’ll use any one of these large, heavy items to beat you senseless… Then I’ll shoot you and throw your carcass outside—just to make a point,” he added, removing himself from my supine body, which was beginning to ache—needlessly, I thought.

“What are you talking about?” My voice verged on a whine, but I did not want to incite him further—it was the best I could do. “I’ll assume you really don’t know what’s going on here,” he said, picking up a bowling pin from an end table next to the fireplace. “This? Just under four pounds,” he offered, showing me the pin. “I’m
going to pretend that you write comedy for a cable show.” He shifted the pin from hand to hand. “That you’re not from the fucking committee and that you’re not here to harass me.”

“Alright,” I said, nodding to the rhythm of the pin floating from hand to hand. I looked at his face. “Fair enough…What committee?”

Wheeler threw the pin violently through his living room window and pointed after it. “The one that’s out there, spying on me, harassing me. Trying to get me to give up my land.” He glanced at the rain that was beginning to wet his drapes. “It really is raining like a bastard, isn’t it?”

The music had stopped, the needle ricocheting off the label. He moved to the stereo system and lifted the arm of the turntable.“Are you sick of fucking McCartney music, or what?” I shrugged. He replaced the album in its sleeve and began to search through his collection for another. “I own two hundred acres,” he gestured, his
back to me, one arm waving a large circle in the air while the other sifted through the wall of vinyl. “Coal mining used to be this town. When the coal mines shut down, so did the town. Period. Drive downtown—nothing.” He pulled a record out and put it on the turntable. It crackled and popped and finally Derek and the Dominoes filled the air. “There’s a couple of shopping malls outside of town and some hotshot real estate folks built some subdivisions a few years back—which they still own, by the way—but nothing has happened in this town for years. So life goes on and time goes by and the land is available dirt-cheap. Along comes me—Jersey Wheeler—who buys
up two hundred acres of useless, rocky Blue-Ridge Mountain land… Now you’d think that these fine folk would be grateful to me for doing it.” He paused to play air-guitar with “I Walked Away”.

What kind of name is Jersey Wheeler, I thought—not normal. But, then again, Jersey Wheeler was no poster child for normalcy. “Why did you buy the land if it was useless?” I asked, pouring more bourbon into my now-empty coffee cup.

His fingers stopped moving, his eyes burned into mine and he said two words: “Grass carp.”

I drank the bourbon,and as Eric Clapton wound his tortured way through “Bell Bottom Blues”, Jersey Wheeler explained to me how he was going to terrace the mountainous terrain and scoop out shallow ponds with enough room between them to maneuver farm
machinery. This was the basis of “the farm”. Technically known as “triploid white amurs”, the fish were commonly called “grass carp”. He would breed the standard diploid fish, then by chromosome splitting from diploid to triploid, effectively de-sex the offspring. The resulting strain would be extremely large (averaging four feet), longliving and incapable of breeding. Their entire reason for being—their
sole purpose would be to eat—algae—and tons of it. The machinery would be used to hurl grain into the shallow ponds for feeding. There was a fortune to be made supplying golf courses, parks and state irrigation systems with schools of the mighty neutered bottom-feeders. Although they were illegal now, according to Jersey Wheeler, many places imported variations of the triploids at exorbitant black-market
rates. Supposedly, legislation was being processed that would legalize the fish, opening the market for enterprising individuals such as Jersey Wheeler.

“Come here, Ted,” Jersey said, picking up the bottle of bourbon. “I’ve got something I want to show you.” He turned sharply and walked toward the front door. I hesitated—he opened the door.

“Come on,” he said, beckoning me with the half-empty bottle. I grabbed my wet coat and put it on as Jersey walked into the downpour, which showed no signs of letting up, screaming the lyrics to “Layla” into the night. I followed him into the darkness and we walked around the corner of the house. A storm cellar door was unlocked and Jersey heaved it open and walked down the stairs. It was pitch-black until he flipped a switch and several long banks of fluorescent lights flickered
into life and lit up what could only be described as a concrete bunker. He took a .357 Magnum off of a shelf by the door.

“What’s that for?” I asked, looking at the cannon.

“Shhh.” He held his tattooed finger up. “The light usually freaks them our for a minute.”

My eyes darted nervously around the cellar and I saw what the carp-farmer was already sighting in. A huge rat—the size of a small dog, large cat, or medium sized sloth. The beady-eyed, long-snoutedcreature stared at us, as if smiling defiantly, daring us to enter his kingdom. But not for long—the blast shook my head as it
reverberated around the concrete walls and ceiling. “Bingo,” Jersey Wheeler said. The rat had vaporized into a pool of furry, multi-colored semi-fluid. “Ugly little fuckers, aren’t they? No fear whatsoever…”

The floor of the cellar was dirt, well-traveled and packed solid. Jersey led me to another door, this one metal, at the far side of the cellar. He turned to me, smiling with anticipation as he pulled open the thick steel door and a waft of cold, dry air hit my wet body, causing me to shiver. “Climate controlled,” Jersey said, flipping a light switch as he led the way. “No rats in here.”

The room could only be described as a huge vault, concrete top to bottom, floor to ceiling. Crates and boxes lined the walls and lighted display cases held court in the center of the room. I approached a display case and peered inside. It was a baseball jersey, number seven, in the familiar pinstripes of the New York Yankee
uniform. “The Mick,” Jersey said, proudly. “Mickey Mantle. The Yanks retired his number after he left the game—’69, I think. But this…” He tapped the case lightly and winked at me. “This is from the ’51 world series, October the fourth. The Mick got caught up in an outfield drain and ripped up his knee. In this uni!”

I gazed at the thick cotton jersey and found myself getting chills. It could have been the cold air, but standing there, next to the uniform in the vault, seeing the obvious pride and awe on Jersey Wheeler’s face led to more gooseflesh than did the temperature. "He was never the same... Who knows how good the kid coulda been?"

“How much is it worth?” I asked, still staring at the young Mantle’s jersey. “It’s not the money,” Jersey walked to another lighted case. “Look at this.”

I walked to the next case. It was a bat and a glove—the old type of fielder’s glove that looked like swollen dwarf-fingers embalmed in leather. “The Babe.” Again the shivers. The bat was weathered and cracked, the glove shrunken from decades of disuse. Babe Ruth. The Sultan of Swat had held the bat in his hands and with it had knocked leather over Yankee Stadium’s left-field wall. The Babe. “You can’t place a dollar amount on something like this.” Jersey sat down on a crate. “This is history. Babe Fucking Ruth! The Bambino! Of course, no one rates any higher in my book than Mutt’s boy Mickey Mantle, but a bat and a glove? That’s a coup."

I nodded. “Where did you get this stuff?”

Jersey stood, pointing to another row of cases. “DiMaggio’s spikes, an auction, Mick’s jersey, the black market. Musial’s bat, family. You can get anything if you offer enough money. But money is not the point. It’s the history.” He pulled from the bottle. “Mick’s uni, Joe’s spikes—it makes your nads crawl or you’re not American. I probably paid a lot more for this stuff than it’s really worth. They can
smell me coming. Once I see something I want, I just go blank—a trance. Shit, they could ask a million bucks and I’d just write a check. I could send someone to do it, but it’s not the same. Seeing this stuff for the first time is like sex. Your heart races, you sweat, you feel faint… Lou Gehrig’s hat… “ He winked. “That’s better than
pussy…” Jersey sat on his crate smiling, obviously in heaven on earth.

“What’s in the crates?” I asked, glancing at a Yogi Berra
catcher’s mask.

“Cards. Thousands of them. They’re in chronological, alphabetical order, the important ones autographed. When this room is eventually finished, I’ll pull the appropriate cards and put them in the appropriate case. You know, Willy Mays’ card in the case with his hat, that kind of thing.”

“This is amazing—how much money have you spent on all this?”
“The climate control alone is obscene. I have back-up generators, the room is sealed, all that. Then the actual artifacts? Probably six mil.”

“Six million dollars?” I was dumbfounded.

“If the committee knew about this room, I’m sure they’d shit. They think I’m raping the land. If they saw all this high-tech bullshit, they’d really come unglued.” Jersey toyed with the magnum in his hand. “They just don’t like me around here. They don’t trust me. It was fine when I was buying all their shitty land, but when they found out Ol’ Jersey was going to be fucking around with genetics, mashing things around to create giant sexless, albino, algae-eating triploids, they shit their pants and formed committees. They spy on me, just to intimidate me… Fuck ‘em.” Jersey took another swig, passed the bottle to me. “Just fuck ‘em, you know,” he said, turning toward the wall of crates to look at a label. “Grover Cleveland Alexander had a nephew or grandson or something that lives in Morgantown. Him and
Don Knotts—Barney Fife is from Morgantown, too…”

“Really,” I said, vaguely recalling that Grover Cleveland Alexander was a pitcher—way back when. And of course, everyone knew Barney Fife.

“Yeah,” Jersey replied, turning to face me. “I used to shoot pool with him. He’s got one of Grover’s gloves and a baseball he says Grover beaned Ty Cobb with. I offered him two hundred thousand for the pair, sight unseen, but no dice.”

“Really,” I said, feeling redundant.

“You should meet him—he’s funnier than hell.”

“Maybe someday, if I’m in Morgantown.”

Jersey got up and walked to the steel door. “Let’s go.” He exited, turning off the light. I took one last look at Jersey Wheeler’s mini-shrine. Mantle’s jersey took on an eerie glow in the dim light of the outer basement, where the smell of gunpowder still hung in the air. I walked out and Jersey shut the door behind me and led the way into the rain, placing the magnum on the shelf as we left.

If anything, it was raining harder than before. I tugged my coat up around my neck as Jersey led me away from the house. “The garage is this way,” he shouted back, sloshing through the mud.

“What’s in the garage?” I asked. I really didn’t want to make the trip—especially if it was to see a vat full of sexless grass carp.

“My car, you fucking simpleton,” Jersey shouted as he picked up the pace. I sped up, splashing harder through the puddles. Perhaps he was finally going to take me back to my car—it was a long shot, but I followed with renewed enthusiasm in my steps. Jersey swung the door open and we went in. The garage roof leaked horribly and everything was soaking wet. Piles of newspapers, a couple of lawnmowers, a stack of paint cans and other assorted debris all sat in pools of water, the newspapers ready to resume mildewing at the first sign of warming sunshine. Amidst the clutter, I
saw a primer-gray 1974 Nova four-door that had seen better days. As Jersey rooted around in the debris for a gas can, I looked in the car. It had no back seat—probably lost in some wild-eyed escapade years ago. The entire back seat area was littered with empty beer cans and fast-food wrappers. A high-living millionaire was
Jersey Wheeler. “Bingo,” he said, fishing a gallon can from behind a steel shelving unit. Minutes later, we were in Jersey’s Nova, idling in the garage as the car warmed and Jersey searched the radio for a rock and roll station. Even with the garage door open, the fumes were beginning to make me sick when he finally found “Sweet Home Alabama”, turned up the volume and slipped the car into reverse. As
we backed out of the garage, I started to tell him where my car was.

“First things first. Let’s get you some gas,” he said, raising a tattooed finger in the air. “Johnny Phelps runs the Sunoco on the other side of Barrackville. He’ll open up for us. He’s the only one I know.” Jersey settled back into the seat, a new mission at hand. It began to dawn on me that Jersey went from one crisis, one crusade to the next.

The rest was irrelevant.

“Is it far?” I asked.

“What, you don’t like the company?” Jersey roared, as if it were the most ludicrous thing he could ever say. We drove without talking for two miles, letting the sounds of the rock and roll station fill the space. Visibility was horrible with rain beating on the windshield and what was left of the Nova’s windshield wiper blades were dragging behind the metal arms, which continued to scrape away at the glass like some time-challenged metronome. That of course didn’t keep Jersey Wheeler from putting the machine through its tired paces down the slick, winding country road. ZZ Top was tearing their way through a chainsaw-guitar rocker as Jersey fired up the remnants of a joint that was stored in the ashtray. He offered it to me and while I felt as a good God-fearing passenger that taking my eyes off the road for even the briefest of moments would surely send us careening off the side of the mountain that rose to our left, the nerve-calming smell off the sweet ganja was too tempting at this point to resist. I reached for the roach.

Why on God’s earth a five-hundred pound elk with a full rack would be bounding across a winding mountain road in a torrential rain storm was beyond me—and Jersey Wheeler, concentrating on handing me the reefer with a minimum of fuss was certainly in no position to anticipate and react to such an occurrence. The elk stopped bounding long enough to have its legs cut from under it at 45m.p.h. by the Nova, sending it airborne into the windshield, its antlers shattering the safety glass and coming to rest inches from my face.

Jersey’s Nova slued sideways toward the mountain, one headlight broken out, the other shooting hopelessly skyward. “Fuck,” Jersey muttered, once the car had gently nudged the very rocks from which the Kamikaze elk had bounded. I opened my door and slipped out of the car, easing my head past the antlers, trying with all I had to
avoid contact with the animal. Jersey slid over and pushed the elk’s head out of the way, the limp neck bobbing the head at his touch. Once out of the car, I threw up, my stomach set off by the combination of the bourbon and the smell of the dead, wet elk.

“That’s not very manly,” Jersey said, standing clear of me as I wretched in the downpour. “When you’re done with all that, give me a hand with the bastard.”

I straightened up, avoiding eye contact with the elk and I saw Jersey pulling a coil of rope from the trunk. “What are you going to do,” I asked, suddenly very tired and keenly aware of every raindrop that struck me. “Hang it?”

“We’re going to tie him down on the hood and drive back to the house.” He looked at me, smiling, rain running off his nose. “No use wasting meat.”

I had never smelled a wet elk, live or dead and after ten minutes of wrestling with the carcass of the beast in the rain, I was certain I would never forget the stench, especially if I chose to keep this jacket. It had to be the rain, I suggested to Jersey, that made the animal smell so God-awful. The rain and the fact that it was dead.

“No,” Jersey said, dashing my theory. “Livestock always smells, live or dead, rain or no rain. And this fellow here is no exception.” Jersey cinched a final loop around an antler and tied off the end to the front bumper. “Now you can concoct any hairbrained theory that you want about smell and all, but the fact of the matter is that this fucker will be 300 pounds of elk-burger in a couple of days and that’s all that really matters, now isn’t it?” He slapped the elk on the flank and walked
toward the passenger side door. “Now, let’s roll.”

Jersey got in and slid to the driver’s side and I followed. The car started reluctantly and Jersey scraped it along the mountain for a hundred yards or so and finally eased the crippled machine onto the pavement. We got up to twenty miles an hour, with the rain glancing off the elk, before it began to shimmy horribly, its Jack Elam headlight bobbing like a spastic searchlight. Jersey shook his head.
“It’s just that kind of night,” he said, wiping the water from his face. I didn’t know exactly what he meant, but I had a good idea. As the elk bounced around on the hood, I tried to remember just where in the hell I was going before this whole adventure began. Jersey was very quite and I figured he was thinking, too—God only knew what— of one of Mickey Mantle’s tape-measure home runs, or perhaps elk-skinning.

“I saw you on TV once,” I heard myself say. I suddenly realized why this man—this lunatic—had seemed familiar to me. That long-ago Saturday afternoon watching the Reds and the man in the yellow Zuma volleyball tee-shirt clicked in my mind, and I knew that it had been Jersey Wheeler.

“Oh yeah?” Jersey said, the rain pouring through the shattered windshield. “What was I doing?”

“You were hanging out with the photographers at a Red’s game. A foul ball almost hit you, but you were too busy yelling at a photographer to notice.”

“Oh.” Jersey was solemn. “You know, I love baseball. If I had done things differently twenty, thirty years ago…”

I realized how ludicrous it was for us to be having a serious conversation while driving in the rain with no windshield in a crippled car with five hundred pounds of dead elk straddling the hood. But it didn’t seem that bad. In fact, it seemed the next logical progression, given our relationship, of course. “What did you do when you were younger—did you play ball?”

“Me? Hell no, I was too busy making money.” Jersey laughed and turned to look at me, the rain pouring through the windshield beginning to ease up. “I patented an idea—several ideas on self-contained, water-cooled integrated circuits for electronics use.”

“Yeah?” I wiped the water away from my face with a soaked sleeve. It smelled of elk.
“I came to an agreement with a Japanese company to let them manufacture and distribute for a percentage of the profits and they mail me checks.” He smiled. “Big ones.” I could see Jersey’s house, with the living room lights on, much as I had seen it when I passed it hours before, a beacon in the storm. “Once I got that out of the way, I could concentrate on doing things I like. Like baseball. And farms to
cultivate huge algae-eating carp.”

“What are you going to do about the ‘committee’?” I asked, now wondering if this Jersey Wheeler character was not so crazy after all.

“I don’t know.” Jersey pulled into his driveway and as if on cue, the car stalled out as we pulled into the garage, elk intact. “If they end up voting me out, in that queer, inbred way committees work, I may just have to give up and try somewhere else.”

Jersey’s door wouldn’t open, so we both got out on the passenger side. I helped him drag the elk off the hood and Jersey tossed the rope over a rafter and tied the end around the elk’s back legs. Then we hoisted it into the air and Jersey secured the line. The elk swayed gently and Jersey produced a large hunting knife from the trunk of the car. “But I so love this part of the country,” he said, poising the knife at the elk’s throat. “Where else could you poach an elk of this size and get away with it?” Then, Jersey turned and went to work, bleeding the elk.

The rain had stopped and I walked out of the garage. The sun was beginning to come up. I began the walk through the mud to my car. That was the last time I ever saw Jersey Wheeler—full of purpose, huddled over five hundred pounds of swinging elk-burger, singing a Badfinger tune.

I moved from Fairmont to Phoenix to work for another television station shortly after I recovered from the nine-month chest cold I had gotten after my night with Jersey Wheeler. Though I never had contact with him again, when watching a ballgame, I always look in the stands and in the dugouts—even the area where the
photographers are—hoping to see him, a six-pack dangling from his hand, not looking for trouble, but fully expecting it to rear its ugly head.

Word has it that the Arizona state legislature is passing a law making it legal to import grass carp to curb the algae in our irrigation canals. Shipment of the first 30,000 non-breeding triploids is expected to be imported from a farm in the Northern panhandle of West Virginia.