Dec 22 2017 5:24 pm

slip past the sleeping guard

The busiest shoe shine stand I ever saw was in Washington D.C.'s Union Station. The swiff and snap of the towel, the smiles and pleasantries exchanged, there were three men in chairs having their shoes shined. Perfectly gleaming cowboy boots were arrayed in a line at the edge of the stand. It was dim in the station and the sun shone in through a narrow window at the top of the wall across the corridor and brightly illuminated only the cowboy boots at the edge of the stand on the tile floor and the floating dust in the air about them. Another man was shining a shoe while holding it in his hand, standing up, a woman's shoe, then he applied a polish that was the same color as the shoe. Two more men sat in chairs waiting their turns. One of the shine men removed a pair of shined shoes from a man's feet with practiced expertise and a bit of a flourish. He inserted shoe stretchers and neatly tucked the laces into the shoe before carefully wrapping each one in a single page of newsprint and tucking them together into a cardboard box. The train station was loud and everything echoed and hundreds of people flowed by every minute in all directions.


The difference in scope, in color and timbre, in feeling and racket, between a train station and an airport is dramatic. What does it say about the changing needs, preferences, and values of society that these two hubs of travel are so different? Train stations tend to be older and more worn, they're made of stone, masonry, and tile instead of metal, plastic and glass. The grand halls with elaborately decorated, massively vaulted ceilings seem so oddly extravagant and unnecessary to the modern traveler, but stunning and calming and somehow affirming. The people who use the train station are on the average rougher around the edges and carry more old duffel-bags and suitcases and fewer roller-boards and laptop cases than their airport counterparts. There are more homeless beggars in the train station, more short skirts and tall shoes, leather jackets, big hair and makeup, strollers and bikes, nuns and gangsters.


These differences extend to all horizons in every direction: clattering and swaying across bridges over the northern arms of the Chesapeake Bay watching ospreys feed their chicks on the tips of wooden pilings in their massive nests, a tangle and splay of sticks and grass. The sensory deprivation of high altitude jet aircraft travel above the directionless white space of cloud tops perfectly without acceleration or guidance for the inner ear, the dull, even, constant roar of thin air rushing over the wings. Smiling at the hard cops wearing tattered bulletproof vests and who look only vaguely vigilant but supremely helpful and supremely competent, a deep and worn perspective of humans being humans at this porous interface of the world and a loosely coherent institution. People board the train unidentified and uninspected.


The gloved hand of a creepy dopey doughy subcontracted TSA stand-in rubs against testicles and vaginas, under the folds of buttocks, fingers slipped behind belts and up the backs of necks while the crisp folds of their brand new fastfood uniforms struggle to resist smoothing during the absurd procession of this multibillion dollar security charade. The friendly brusqueness of the train conductor handling things that absolutely need to be handled, barking: "let me see your ticket, next stop is BWI, only exit at these doors, the club car is three cars to our rear." The polished composure and practiced saccharine script recitation by the flight attendant is supposed to give a sense of order and security in an otherwise tubular metallic death chamber hurtling through the air at nearly the speed of sound 38,000 feet above the hard earth. I'm fairly certain you'll never have to use your seat cushion as flotation because instead you'll just go splat.


So stop worrying about 401ks, IRAs, mortgage pre-qualification, debt to income ratio, sale to list ratio, engagement rings, are you sick and tired of wrestling with tangles of Christmas lights every year? Try the new laser lights! Just stick the light in the yard and point it at your house or your tree or whatever you want to vaguely appear as if it’s wrapped in lights! Pick your way around that fresh road kill, that small dog on the road. Slip past the sleeping guard as you flee the compound. Never get sucked into a filing cabinet conveyor by your pant leg. Stop worrying about who was elected president, what someone said about you behind your back at work, who already called chips and salsa for the pot luck.


I want you to start worrying about the relationship between full moons and menstruation, how there’s something irreducibly primitive and mysterious about human beings. Images of ancient fertility rituals should race through your mind where feather clad dancers with painted faces and wild eyes thrust their massive wooden phalanxes into the air and their broad tongues flip rapidly from wet mouths, guttural moans and high pitch yelps create a disorienting cacophony. You latch onto your first passable idea: eat a goat’s penis. No. Eat a skink boiled in wine with rocket weed. Splash beet juice and jasmine on yourself before sleep. Masturbate three times into a bonfire of hickory wood.


Witness: a small city in the Midwest during the super moon where women have suddenly and violently synchronized their menstrual cycles, uteri wrung by lunar gravity like the oyster colonies below Mont Saint-Michel before the tide rushes back at the speed of galloping horses.


Quit your job, sell your boat, move to the edge of the French Quarter. Start a relentless and disciplined psilocybin microdosing regimen and only do street coke on Fridays. Push a crust punk into traffic for panhandling too aggressively. Start a band with a beautiful be-dreadlocked creole baritone saxophonist and feel your genitalia tingle every time he reaches down to grab that thunderous low note.


comments 4

Dec 21 2015 11:24 pm

how to stay awake while driving

Frank drove down the road like a ghost. The remote interstate in central New York rolled ponderously through the hills, swinging broadly around nonexistent corners and along the outskirts of small towns with small churches. A line of storms had moved through quickly and the thunderheads were still over the landscape to the south, grey and ten thousand feet tall. Frank craned his head to get his eyes underneath the door frame to look up at them and it gave him vertigo and the car drifted onto the rumble strips.

The sky was bright blue behind the storm and most of the leaves on the trees were still turned around from the wind and showing their gray undersides. The road was barely wet and the sun was dropping lower in the sky as Frank drove west.

Frank thought of all the words he knew for big fish: pig, chunk, chunker, duker, slab, slaunch, beast, toad, walter, tank, bruiser. Shark? Did he know anyone who called big fish “sharks”? He couldn’t recall. What about “whale”? That would kind of make sense but he didn’t think anybody actually used that term to describe big fish.

It was almost dark when Frank hit Erie. He’d been driving for more than four hours, but he wanted to get to Traverse City by 7am. He’d stop if he had to, pull off into a rest stop, lay back in his seat and sleep for a few minutes, but he would fight it. He tried singing along with the radio, keeping the windows open, blasting the air conditioning, slapping himself in the face, but he kept nodding off.

He was just in Binghamton for work. He was a technician that traveled to factories all over the northeast to service big machines. The job in Binghamton was over in a day, which meant Frank and Cliff could leave early. Cliff was a sales rep from Charlotte who was there to smooth over the problems caused by the machine breaking down. Cliff was a tall, thick guy in his fifties with heavily styled thinning salt and pepper hair. He always wore a black leather jacket and silver chain bracelet. Cliff liked to push Frank around and make fun of him in front of the factory guys. He’d tell guys that Frank took it in the ass from all the sales reps at the yearly meeting and one time a random factory guy actually said “fag” under his breath when Frank walked by.

When Cliff left the factory he was excited, talking rapidly, saying goodbye, shaking hands with a big smile on his face. The plant manager didn’t want to go out for dinner and Cliff’s flight back to Charlotte didn’t leave for four more hours, which meant he had time to hit one of his favorite adult video arcades on the east coast. This particular “theater” had three different booths with glory holes, wall to wall mirrors, and no one cared at all what went on back there. Cliff was actually pretty versatile. He liked sucking dick as much as he liked getting his dick sucked, and he camped out in that place until the last possible minute.

As he stood in line at the gate in the airport and shuffled down the boarding ramp one or two small steps at a time, shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the flight, he kept his face down and smiled and thought about the glorious three hours he spent at the theater and how he stands like a Minotaur when he cums.

Cliff got home late and his wife was already in bed. He drank beer and smoked cigarettes as he thumbed through some mail and then got on the internet for a while. The dog stayed in the corner keeping one eye on him the whole time.

The dog’s whining woke Cliff and his wife up in the early morning and she said that the dog had diarrhea in the house earlier and that she’d get up and let him out. Cliff said no and said that he’d shut the dog up and if that dog shit in the house with him at home it’d be the last time he’d shit anywhere.

Cliff walked right into the puddle of shit and yelled out “goddamn this stupid fucking dog.” Then Cliff’s wife could hear the dog wheezing and whining through Cliff’s hand that was clenched tightly around its mouth, the dog’s nails frantically scraping the linoleum floor in the kitchen as it was dragged towards the side door. The sound from the .22 came more quickly and quietly than she expected. The side door banged shut. She could hear Cliff cleaning up. He climbed back into bed and said, “I left him layin’ there. I’ll bury him in the morning.” 

His wife said, “you will get your ass up and you will bury that stupid fucking dog right now.”


comments 11

Jul 27 2014 7:47 pm

aluminum rasp

For the rapid removal of material, for rough shaping and forming of wood, plastic, and soft metals, good for truing the battery hole on your jet jon. I like the way your hand soap smells, very feminine. Everything you eat could be poison. An aspirin could be deadly, concentrated poison. That bottle of beer could contain deadly, cyanide poison. What faith we put in food, what epistemic blindness, what nonchalance about life and death.

Be so courageous. Be so strong. Walk into the room like you own it. Speak loudly when you speak. Make sure everyone knows that you know you’re elite. Punch a stranger. Show everyone who’s boss. Shoulder them out of the way. Spear them in the heart. Eat their liver. Eat their organs. Literally feast on their soft parts.

Let’s plumb the depths of our collective shame. Reach down deep into the weirdest, shameful shit you’ve got. Grab it. Own it. Think about it all the time until your blushing burns out. Racial shit. Sexual shit. Whatever you’ve got, don’t tell me about it. Just dwell on it. Focus on it. Examine it from all the angles and be sure you know why it’s shameful. Be sure you know why you have it.

Houses that need painted are a good indicator of poverty. The houses look scaly, like they have siding eczema. The once-landscaped beds are weedy and the tops of the weeds aren’t uniform and they scraggle and reach towards the crooked porch.

Last weekend there was an F150 from the mid-nineties up on those sketchy metal ramps in the front yard. She was sitting on the top step of the front porch, leaning over her knees, smoking a cigarette, the weeds scraggling, the paint peeling, the porch leaning, the kids running around everywhere. She was definitely the same woman I saw the week before, at the DMV.


She was sitting on the bank of hard plastic chairs next to my bank of hard plastic chairs. We were both holding small pieces of paper with numbers printed on them. She slurred, “Yer like a bear. You need, like, all those chairs.”

I laughed a little and said, “Yeah, at least I have this side all to myself, imagine if I was sitting next to you.”

“Oh, we’d have a good time, you and me, we’d have a great time. This fucking guy, he’s doing homework or something.” She looked over at the kid sitting next to her and gestured at him with a lazy finger.

I said, “Well, we can’t all have tattoos of a naked woman riding a tiger on our legs.”

This made her blush and she crossed her legs at her knees trying to hide the tattoo on her left calf, sinking down into her seat a little bit. “Now I’m embarrassed.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you, I think it’s a pretty badass tattoo, actually.”

“I have a bunch of stupid tattoos,” she said like a child sulking.

She was skinny and pale with dark, shoulder length hair and had black low-top Chuck Taylors on, no socks, short jean shorts, a black tank top, and big silver earrings. She had a lot of tattoos. They were randomly arranged and mostly incomplete, single color drawings. I could smell the booze on her breath across the aisle between the chairs and she was high on something too. She had a pock marked face, but she was young enough that if she stopped now, she’d probably be OK, but it wasn’t going great, so far.

She pulled her heels up onto the lip of her chair and hugged her knees and I looked at the back of her thighs and stared at her ass and thought about fucking her.


comments 15

Feb 19 2014 9:01 pm

don't cross me

Everybody always says “follow your dream.” My dream is to be independently wealthy and travel the world and fish for everything everywhere and do a lot of drinking and when I got sick of all that I’d retreat to a beach house in the Keys or a big apartment near the Blind Tiger or a cabin in the Ridge and Valley and write about it and I’d make beautiful things and everyone would buy my books and I’d drink nothing but fresh, hand-pulled mild and half liters of dunkel lager and have a really responsible, sustainable opiate habit and then when I got sick of being cooped up I’d head out to Kamchatka or Bolivia or probably both and I’d have a wife that loved to do what I loved to do and we never got sick of each other and we had all sorts of weird sex that was completely fulfilling forever.  

I guess I tend to think that the “follow your dream” advice does more harm than good. I hate clichés as much as anybody and probably more than most, and both of these perspectives are equally clichéd, but I do take pleasure in going to a real job everyday and being part of making things that people want and the routine that comes with it. I take pleasure in making things better and trying hard and seeing things work out in the end for the effort. But it doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for this. And it turns out I really need deadlines to actually get anything written either way.

I’ve been weird lately. Some things are going great: promotion, job satisfaction, really hitting my daily drinking stride after a few years of practice, self abuse peaking in the morning, tapering off never, constant thoughts of small city strippers and what they’d do for fifty bucks. Tramadol Thursdays have been a highlight. Having actual responsibility in a fast paced production environment is stressful and maybe not quite as rewarding as I thought it’d be, but at least I’m appropriately self-medicating.

I’m mad at fly fishing not because I don’t like fly fishing but because I’m kind of generally mad at everything these days. I’m about to buy a jet boat which is what happens when you get a promotion and don’t have kids, I guess, but I’m pretty sure I’ll just rip around the river being a dickhead and only throw giant perch husky jerks and put all three trebles in the face of whatever shows up: big browns, smallmouth, pike, deer, canoers.

Don’t look at me the wrong way because I will wake your canoe. Even if you have children in it. You are going down. Don’t cross me.

Chad’s wife’s brother was seventeen and he wrecked his truck last week. He was speeding between Panama and Clymer, heading south towards the PA line doing seventy when he grabbed some loose gravel on the shoulder and lost control of the truck and rolled it into the ditch and he was thrown around the cab because he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt and probably died then but the truck caught fire and burned him up and his cousin, the lesbian embalmer, was the one who cremated his body.

She was close with him, so it kind of surprised everyone that she wanted to do it, but that also probably explains why she wanted to do it. The thing that was most amazing was the way Chad told this story, clearly excited to share a story like this, close enough to partake in some sort of narrative authority, but far enough away to detach himself from the emotions and just spit it out with macabre fascination, hawking it to us on a Monday afternoon like something we’re supposed to buy.


comments 40

Aug 13 2013 8:23 pm

interesting synaesthetic facts

1. I fished next to him several times before he grunted at me in salutation one random weekday evening. He wasn’t very friendly. He had the wiper fishing dialed in pretty good and I don’t think he liked seeing all the college town transients fishing his water.

I like to think he approved of my struggling in the wind with a fly rod every day and not catching anything when a lot of other guys were throwing gear. He usually had a fly rod and a hard plastic stripping basket and he was a very good caster. He would make three false casts and shoot all his line. Then he’d tuck his rod under his arm, and with one hand after the other, strip small lengths of line into the stripping basket. The way he did it kind of reminded me of a crab feeding itself slowly.

He was a media coordinator or something like that for NASCAR. He traveled a lot for the races and I suppose it made sense to be based in southern Indiana: Crossroads of America and all that. He had a long, Greek last name. He had dark hair and a serious face. He was maybe in his forties. There were only a couple places to fly fish for wiper without a boat. Whenever I was fishing where he was fishing I thought I did a good job even if I didn’t catch anything.


I saw him using a spinning rod a few times. He was always throwing a Zara Spook. He could huck that thing at least two hundred feet and he’d walk it back slowly and patiently. I never actually saw him hook a fish on it, but just the way the Zara Spook walked was enough to stick in my mind as worthwhile.

I was in Walmart the other day and they had some small white Zara Spooks in the discount bin, $1.50 each. I bought all nine of them. I’m thinking of giving up the fly rod to fish Zara Spooks exclusively.

2. This town in north central Pennsylvania was mainly poor people. Not the working poor, but the actual poor, the Social Security Disability Insurance poor, the extremely skinny and the extremely fat, the people that grocery shop at gas stations. The people that stare unabashedly into your vehicle as you drive down their street and have lots of dogs and cats usually.

The one guy was a clean cut, well built Asian man about forty years old in a new white baseball cap and white golf shirt and khaki shorts putting gas in a clean, white, late model Dodge four-door pick up. A white guy with bad acne scars on his face, a patchy five day gray and black beard, torn up discount white high top sneakers, dirty jeans, dirty shirt, dirty baseball hat stepped out of the gas station, put a cigarette in his mouth, threw his right foot up on the bumper of the truck and retied his shoe lace. And he wasn’t dirty because he had been working all day. He was just dirty.

These two men knew each other and obviously arrived together in the truck and were going to leave together in the truck. The white dude put his foot back on the ground and lit the cigarette and got about two drags in before a tall, skinny, mid-twenties, brown complexioned clerk in a tight blue polo shirt, tight jeans, and European sneakers came out of the station and said in a thick accent seriously, “Hey boss, no smoking, OK? No smoking around the pumps, boss. Thanks, boss.” The clerk had a mustache and a truly majestic pompadour of thick, jet black hair.

3. Hippyman Jeff was a craps dealer in Atlantic City for a while. Every Wednesday night I used to go over to his house and roll dice so he could practice his payouts. We’d sit around his little rinky-dink kitchen table with aluminum legs and those tiny pink and yellow boomerangs all over the top of it and drink cheap wine out of small water glasses and talk about the girls that worked at the diner and wax pseudo-philosophical about random psychological and historical facts.

 One night we were sitting there and Jeff said, “Did you know that the cardinal directions were once referred to by color, black for north and red for south? In the northern hemisphere, I’m assuming.”

“I did not know that,” I replied, as I scooped up the dice and shook them in my hand slowly and rhythmically, squinting through the cigaret smoke and privately marveling at how we’re all so good and truly fucked.  


comments 22