Monday, June 30, 2008

Sex and the Pity

Awright, leave me alone, I'm a little embarrassed but yes, I did see it and little of it remains save the faint aroma of bad $10-a-bag popcorn. I'm talking about Sex and the City, the movie where I seemed to be the only person in the audience who had a problem with the plot, the casting, and OMG, Carrie.

I can't stand her. I even like Big better. There. Cat's out of the Gucci bag.

Many years ago Carrie played a strumpet in First Wives' Club and though the role was a small one, she did it perfectly. Now? What can I say? Carrie is vapid, curveless, obsessed--as always--with designer labels. We're not talking form over function here, were talking form, and form only. This is a girl who drinks too much, smokes, screws at the drop of a pantie and has a pretty high opinion of herself. Her bon mots are often nasty and deprecating. She has little to offer save some hackneyed concepts that have been better observed by better writers...

The plot?? Boy gets girl. Girls gets greedy. Boy decides he is a fashion accessory. Boy bails. I won't tell you the end but you can guess.

The other three ladies are given short shrift, which is a shame. On TV, they held the story together as we struggled to put up with Carrie's increasingly frightening shortcomings.

OK, I'm ranting.

When the series first came out, a number of my male friends often gathered secretly to watch it. They admitted to finding SATC unsettling to the male ego. I remember one guy in particular saying that if you could put all the women together, you'd have one pretty decent chick. I'm not sure that's true anymore.

Here's installment 32 of Wasted Miracles.

“What if she has nothing to tell us?” Comfort said.
The Zulu thought about it for a moment, smiled. “She does. She perhaps doesn’t know it, but she does.” He paused, scratched his head, smiled again. “Because the late Herbie was not a stupid man. I know this, I hired him and, with few exceptions,” he gave Comfort a sidelong look, “I have not been known to hire fools.
“With that amount of money, Herbie would have, what do they call it, a back door? Yes. A back door, someone he could trust to get the money for him should he be unable to. Herbie had no family. Few friends. No one he could really trust, save of course Miss Stilwell. And he would want to boast. But Herbie was a paranoid man. All good drug dealers are, so his trust would only go so far. He would tell her, but without telling her. It’s really very simple, if you pause to think about it.” The Zulu looked quite pleased with himself. Comfort less so.
She thought it odd, interesting, somehow right that it would end this way. Drugs had been her life, her joy and nemesis, fighting their pull had been the hardest thing she’d ever done and she’d never actually won, not really. She’d been victorious in a few battles but had lost the war, no sense pretending otherwise, and what was occurring now was truly beyond her control. She hadn’t wanted this, hadn’t looked for it, it had just happened, an evil, wasted miracle. She spent minutes or hours wondering if, left on her own, she would have stayed away, decided not. In Greek mythology class she’d read about the sirens’ call and this was truly hers; it was her karma. Kind of like a Bhuddist thing. She’d read about that too.
They’d left her purse after searching it and when she became bored she took everything out and lined it up on the floor. Not much to show for a life: some spare change, a tube of lipstick, some Clearasil. Eight bucks, three singles and a five in her wallet. A credit card, driver’s license, an ATM card.
In the bottom of the purse she found the charm bracelet Herbie had given her when they’d visited Baltimore Harbor. They’d taken pictures. Herbie had a new camera he wanted to try out, a Pentax with different lenses in a leather bag. The bracelet wasn’t an expensive thing, plain silver links with a clasp, a single charm, silver as well, a tiny ship he’d bought her with the bracelet.
She stared at it. Used her teeth to separate the ship from the bracelet. Squeezed it between the palms of her hands until it hurt. She peered at it, saw it wasn’t really that well made, there was a visible line the long way down
the middle and she supposed that had happened when they stamped the piece in Korea or wherever it came from.
She stuck it in her mouth, bit down, felt the slightest give. Now there was the imprint of her molars on the hull. She wished she were on a ship, somewhere on a bright clean sea where the wind would whip at her skin and leave it feeling tight and good. At the harbor in Baltimore where Herbie had bought the bracelet, there’d been a big ship, one of those boats that she imagined circled around the world and stopped at interesting tropical places where friendly natives sold trinkets to the tourists and smiled a lot. Herbie had hired a limo to drive them to Baltimore that day, he didn’t have a license, said he hated driving, and the black chauffeur had taken a photo of them with the new camera, she sitting on the hood of the car, Herbie next to her, the tourist ship visible in the distance. She had few mementos, didn’t believe in the past very much but Herbie had had a print enlarged and framed and given it to her so she’d kept it. It had been one of those almost perfect days but now it seemed to belong to a different lifetime and a different person.

Friday, June 27, 2008

In Japan, the Seat of Power

Ever since I spent a decade studying martial arts, I have had a deep reverence for all things Japanese. And now, my friends from the East have once more demonstrated why they are ascendant even as the Western world continues its accelerating descent into chaos. According to the Washington Post , Japan's Toilet Seat Evaluation Standards Committee is concerned that 23% and 30% of Japanese males now sit to pee. It is more comfortable and avoids "urine splash." Not to be outdone, the Warm-Water-Shower Toilet Seat Council, found that Japanese women pee eight times a day with an average seat-time of 96 seconds. Meanwhile, Japanese toilet-makers are creating increasingly intelligent loos that sing, keep warm, spray perfume into the air, and memorize a family's toilet habits so as to be ready to handle Mama or Papa-san (and their offsprings-san) when they come a-calling. The johnnies cost some $4000 for luxury models that can hum Ave Maria louder than you can fart. This, of course, takes a lot of energy---more specifically, about four percent of a household's energy consumption.

I am desirous. I want one. Were I to iknstall one in my home, I am convinced my success rate of NYT crossword puzzles would increase drastically, making me feel a lot smarter and therefore more useful to society. I would program mine to sing Queen's We Are the Champions. My friends with inferiority complexes will thank me.

Here's installment 31 of Wasted Miracles.

When she came down fully from the sweetness and light--it seemed hours but may have been minutes--when the jarring suddenness of the need hit her and she first felt the crawling in her stomach, she remembered something she’d been told after a meeting, a phrase that hadn’t made much sense at the time. It had been an old guy, in his 60s at least, a former jazz sax player who still had an eye for young blondes so she hadn’t paid much attention. He’d sucked hard on his Tareyton, exhaled, breathed, “While you’re trying to live a normal life, your addiction is in the next room doing pushups.”
And from a counselor in her first rehab. “Your disease picks up where it left off.”
And from countless people who’d relapsed. “It took me years to build my habit the first time; it only took days the second time around.”
Now it made sense. She felt a gnawing in her gut, like something trying to chew its way out. She remembered the sensation, dreaded what she knew was coming. Her innards twisted. The tips of her fingers twitched, felt numb. Her lungs were raw. She sat cross-legged on the floor, Indian-style, very still, eyes closed. Her forehead started sweating. She tried to recite program mantras but the words took flight. With the tip of her tongue she could feel the warm smoothness of the glass pipe’s stem. She bit her tongue. The pain brought a moment of clarity but no more. Her mouth went dry and she gathered enough saliva to swallow just once. She gagged, coughed, felt like throwing up, mustered every gram of willpower not to do so. Then the cycle started again. After what seemed a nauseating eternity, the Zulu came into the room, smiled, said, “Can we talk?

Chapter 7

He had come into the room--what? Three, four times? Each time he fed her the pipe. Once, he said, “Do you like this? It’s a new compound, somewhat experimental but very potent, they tell me. Apparently, the effects are extremely potent but rather short-lived, as such things go. Unfortunate for the users, of course, but quite lucrative to everyone else. Now,” he smiled. “Have you remembered anything? Anything at all?”
Truly, she hadn’t. Herbie, his death, stolen drugs. To the depths of her being she didn’t know what the black man wanted from her. It was terribly important to her that she somehow communicate that very basic fact to the Zulu. It was essential. It was life.
In the darkness between the Zulu’s visits, she filtered thoughts, impressions, memories. She reviewed every instant spent with Herbie, every moment she could recall. Time became liquid.
The taller black guy--Comfort, what a wonderful name--brought her food, an Italian sub that she picked the onions and pickles out of. She didn’t want to eat, wasn’t hungry at all but Comfort stood by until she did.
The beanbag chair became home. Once, she threw up on it. Comfort must have been just outside the door and heard the retching sounds she made. He came with a bucket and some rags, cleaned the mess up and took her to a bathroom. She peed, stripped, cleaned herself as best she could in the sink. Comfort took her soiled clothes away so she wrapped herself in the damp towel she’d used and returned to the beanbag chair.
She wondered how her mom was reacting to her disappearance, felt guilty over the panic she knew she was causing. And her father? Was he concerned, worried? Probably not. She could visualize his face, his hands, his frown, downturned lips shaping disgust and disbelief. She wondered if her mom had ever used crack.
No. They’d talked about drugs and alcohol many times and there were few secrets there, though many in other areas of both their lives. Her mom had dabbled with the stuff people took in the 70s and 80s, dope of course, hash, acid. Coke a time or two but it had scared her, Josie remembered the conversation well, her mom had said, “It felt too good. You understand what I’m saying? Anything that felt that good had to demand a heavy price. It couldn’t possibly come free and that frightened me, the idea that somewhere down the line I’d have to pay up.”
Crack hadn’t even been invented then, had it?
Josie wondered if her parents had called the police, decided they probably hadn’t. Had they even considered it before deciding against? Had her Dad ever tried drugs? Had that ever tempted him? She’d seen him slightly drunk a number of times, a jolly smiling man too quick with the embraces, a man who got very red in the face after a second martini. Drugs and him were unlikely. Still, she’d been in the program long enough to realize that the straightest-looking, most normal people often rode their addictions to the meanest bottoms. It was the pale, bookish types who had the worst stories, the ones full of violence and theft and betrayal.
Her thoughts meandered back to Herbie. Dead Herbie, whom the Zulu claimed had told her things she couldn’t remember but eventually would.
It struck her in an idle way that she would probably be dead herself very soon. If the Zulu found out what he wanted to know, that would be that, he wouldn’t keep her around, certainly wouldn’t release her. And if she didn’t know, couldn’t tell him anything, the result would be the same. The thought held no fright, had a certain appeal. In her mind she’d seen her own death hundreds of times, had created endless scenarios. During her rehabs, it had been a way to while away the silent hours. It had helped her come to term with things, this vision and understanding of death. How would they do it? She hoped for an overdose, that would be best, too much of a good thing. After a while the cravings returned and she thought of nothing else.
Sunlight didn’t penetrate the basement. She thought she might have been down there maybe a day, maybe two, but it could have been less or more.
The Zulu seemed to know when to appear with a fresh dose. He would sit across from her on a footstool and play with the crack vials, tapping two against each other so they made a glassine sound, muted windchimes. He would hand her the pipe, light it, she’d suck at it greedily. He’d ask the same questions over and over again. He had patience, he never raised his voice, never threatened her. He would stay a few moments and then stand, straighten the crease in his trousers and walk away.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Buzzards and Beavers

The Washington, DC, area is a trove of rare delights. Whether you live in the city itself or in the Virginia or Maryland suburbs, there is a wealth of things to do, rain or shine, night or day.

One of my personal favorites is hiking. Within a stone's throw of the center of the Western world are parks rife with deer, owls, buzzards, giant carps, groundhogs, nutrias, beavers and a wealth of other flaura and fauna. Few people take advantage of these treasures. I try to.

A few days ago, I was hiking with my friend P next to Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which borders the Potomac for more than 184 miles. Originally, the C&O Canal was a lifeline for communities and businesses along the Potomac River as coal, lumber, grain and other agricultural products floated down the canal to market. Today, it's a haven for wildlife, cyclists, kayakers, walkers and fisher folks.

As we neared one of the canal's 75 locks, we came upon a covey of developmentally challenged children, most of whom seemed to be very young and very uncomfortable in their kayaks. The C&O is not deep, and the children were not in danger, but I'm not sure they knew that. They huddled together as what I assume was a counselor hovered nearby in her own kayak. The kids really didn't look happy, and I began to wonder whether the good-hearted folks who had planned this outing had even asked the kids if they wanted to go. This led to another question: when we sponsor community-facilitated programs for the disadvantaged, are we doing so for them, or for ourselves?

Here's why I ask. I am of the firm conviction that I have never had a selfless moment in my short existence. I believe this is true of others. We do things because ultimately they make us feel good. Whoever wrote the check for the children's outing must have felt good doing it. So did the people driving them to the canal, and the counselor who took them to the water. And, for all I know, so did all the tourists walking the canal and taking in this perfect example of mankind's kindness. But I'm still not in the least sure what the kids felt. They didn't look all that joyful...

Here's installment 30 of Wasted Miracles.

Josie looked at the men. It was important to keep things together, in perspective, as her mom would say. In rehab, particularly the inner city one she’d hated and sat through mostly silent, she’d learned never to back down in front of a black guy. A black guy himself had told her that. “They see you flinch, you be meat.” A simple piece of advice, she’d abided by it since.
She sat up straight, said, “And who might you be?” God, that sounded ridiculous, probably real nervy coming from a white chick with no visible means of escape, but there it was, out of her mouth almost before she realized it. The round black guy pointed to the other man and said, “That is Comfort. He works for me as well. My name is Dingane. Perhaps Herbie mentioned me?”
Josie shook her head.
“Or perhaps he mentioned the Zulu? A lot of my associates refer to me by that name.”
That rang a vague bell, but Josie couldn’t tell where. There was a movie, one of those things shown late in the night, bunch of black guys wearing animal skins charging down a hill and mostly getting killed. She’d seen it some months ago, hadn’t found it particularly interesting. She shrugged. “Sorry.” There was a little quaver in her voice.
The round black guy must have picked it up. “Don’t be frightened, please. I suppose that in spite of his many faults, our late friend Herbie at least knew how to keep his mouth shut. Which all in all is a good thing.” He shrugged, withdrew a small rectangular box from a pocket, took out a cigarette, lit it with a gold lighter that looked heavy. Josie watched him do it, wanted to stand silent, blurted out, “Did you kill him?” And knew immediately it was the wrong thing to say.
The round black guy sucked in his gut, tried to sit a bit taller. “I certainly did not. There was no need to resort to violence, absolutely none. Violence is a tool only fools abuse.”
But the other black guy, the taller one, got a frightened evasive look in his eyes, seemed to grow smaller under the Zulu’s gaze. Josie wondered why. She shrugged. “Whatever.”
There was a pause, a silence, then the Zulu said, “Well, let’s get down to business, Miss Stilwell. Where are my drugs.”
Josie thought he said ‘rugs’ but wasn’t sure. The Zulu did have a funny accent, kind of British but not really. She said, “Your what?”
He repeated. “Drugs. As in heroin, China White, to be exact. As in, a lot of heroin which your late boyfriend, Herbie, stole from me, which accounted for his unfortunate accident, though I am not to blame. Where is it?”
She said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Really.”
The Zulu’s face turned sad. He said, “Oh my.” Then he walked into an adjoining room and returned with a wooden box, a cigar box, Josie thought. He opened it, withdrew a glass object she was all too familiar with. She’d seen people in the street stroke such pipes, scrape them clean for residue, wrap them in small squares of felt or chamois. She’d seen people cry and plead and, in one instance, fight with insane determination over such pipes. She even had one stashed at home, had bought it just to be cool, which looking back was pretty silly. She should have gotten rid of it but it was well hidden, if she ever got home she’d trash it.
The Zulu uncorked a tiny vial, carefully placed a crystal into the pipe’s bowl, lit it without inhaling, thrust it at Josie’s face. She turned her head. At a nod from the Zulu, the tall black guy took Josie’s head in two large hands, held it still, squeezed beneath her cheekbones. Her jaw popped open. The Zulu stuck the stem of the pipe in, slapped her sharply just above her stomach. She gasped. And took it in. Then did it again. Then did it a third time.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I am officially confused. The American public--or whoever that tiny minority is that actually cares who gets elected--has spoken, and we now have a young, inexperienced man running for the presidential office. Countering him is an older gent who will soon be 73. A war hero who spent years in solitary in Vietnam, his heart ain't too good and his opinions are occasionally antediluvian.

Where's the choice? Why are we stuck with two guys who are both very scary for different reasons.

Inexperience on the world stage is frightening. There are some nasty people out there, with nasty dispositions and nasty weapons. Many of them have the US in their sights and will immediately challenge whoever is elected. Obama may be a young Kennedy, but no Kennedy ever had to face the prospect of US-based terrorism. McCain has been in politics more than 20 years, but I have visions of him trying to light the White House Christmas tree, hitting the wrong switch and sending nukes into the Middle East. Or maybe simply getting pissed off and having flashbacks to nights in a Vietnamese prison cage. Can anyone come out of such an experience fully sane? I'll tell you, something like that happens to me and I will harbor a murderous resentment for the rest of my days. And if there were ever to be an opportunity to push the guy who did me bad off a cliff, I'll do it. Luckily, I am not running for office.

Which leads me to the present administration. Impeachment proceedings against Dubya failed because were they to succeed, the VP, Lon Chaney, would become president. I am tempted to believe that Mr. Bush is a hell-of-a-lot smarter than anyone has given him credit for. Imagine, managing to plan a thing like that so far ahead!

Here's installment 29 of Wasted Miracles.

When she came out of it she did so slowly. She knew immediately what had happened. She’d done crack before just to see what it was like and of course she hadn’t gotten hooked, that was a suburban bullshit belief that one time got you addicted. But it had felt the same, a great lightness suffusing her body, an absence of anxiety, a feeling that things were as they should be everywhere but especially within herself. Except that the roof of her mouth was so dry she thought it would peel off, and her eyes felt gritty. That was the same too.
Josie looked around, not so much frightened as curious. A windowless room, cheap fake pine paneling on the walls, dim light above. She was in a beanbag chair, black, not leather, maybe plastic or the stuff they made car seatcovers from. She wondered why Johnny D had left in such a hurry, why he’d taken her to this place; he was gay, it wouldn’t be a sex thing so there had to be another reason. She didn’t know what time it was.
Johnny D had called her, told her he needed to see her. In retrospect, he’d sounded kind of weird but with someone like Johnny D, weird was just a word, the guy was off the scale dawn to dusk. In the car he was hyper, more so than usual, grinning like an idiot, not at all cool, she hadn’t paid much attention to it. The fact that Herbie was truly, truly gone was finally edging into her reality. She’d never known anyone who’d been killed, not if you didn’t count a couple of druggies and a friend in the fifth grade who died with her parents in a car accident. She wasn’t paying much attention to where Johnny D was driving either, but it seemed to take a long time and after awhile they were in a part of town she’d never seen, on a wide, dirty avenue with boarded up storefronts. She asked, “Where are we?”
Johnny D kept his eyes on the road. She’d noticed that whenever they were about to hit a red light, Johnny started slowing the car a long time before the intersection so he never had to come to a full stop.
“Anacostia,” he said. “Man, I don’t like it here. Not at all. Look at this,” he pointed to the side. “Can’t even fix the goddamned streetlights, and then they wonder about crime and shit.” The street was dark and almost shadowless. “Bunch of assholes...”
She nodded. She wasn’t focusing, life had thrown her one bad curve, Herbie’d been offed, that’s how they said it in the police novels. Offed.
She was half-listening to reggae on the car radio, UB-40 or someone like that, when Johnny D came to a full stop, jumped out, opened her door and hurried her up the front steps of a clapboard house. She had no idea where she was, the notion flashed by that maybe he’d taken her to a party to raise her spirits, but that went away fast when she saw two black guys step out of the house. Johnny said, “Here she is,” turned and sprinted back to the car. The tires screamed in his hurry to get away.
She got scared, pee-in-your-pants scared, the two black guys didn’t look threatening, but they weren’t that friendly either. She clutched at her purse, fingers nervously working the clasp.
There was a tall one and a round one, the tall one was older and had kinder eyes. Together they reminded her of early morning Laurel and Hardy cartoons, except the cartoon guys were white and these guys weren’t.
The round one nodded to the tall one. The tall one nodded to her, opened the door to the house. “Come in. Please. You won’t be harmed.”
Not much choice there. The living room was kind of dingy but with lots of leather, which she immediately thought as tacky. Not that long ago but before Herbie, Josie had spent a single night with a man who had a leather couch. She thought he was kind of cool until she saw his furniture but by then it was too late to back out, would maybe have created problems, the guy was pretty insistent. So they’d screwed on the leather couch, it had been mercifully quick but her back and butt had stuck there and made her feel all clammy. And then the guy had complained that she’d left stains on the leather, and that was just about all she remembered about that particular gomer, his sticky couch.
She sensed this wouldn’t be about screwing and it made her more nervous. Screwing she could handle, had been doing so since she was 15.
She hesitated a second and the round black guy said, “Comfort never lies, Miss Stilwell. Please do come in. You’ll be quite safe.”
So she did. The round black guy said, “I would have invited your friend Johnny to join us, but he seemed in a hurry. Have you noticed gay people always seem to be in a hurry? As if their perversions leave them no time? No?” He seemed both pleased by his own observation and disappointed in her lack of response.
“At any rate, I’m glad we have a mutual friend. It makes things much easier. Now,” he gestured her toward the couch, “all I need is a bit of information from you, and then Comfort will see you home. Door-to-door service, I promise.”
Josie looked at the couch, sat on it with misgivings. She said, “This is about Herbie, isn’t it?” Her voice came out squeaky, not at all as she wanted it to. She cleared her throat, tried again. “Herbie’s dead, you know.”
She noticed that the tall black man was starring at his shoes. The round black man nodded. “Sadly, I do know. A tragedy, but not an uncommon one for men in his line of work.” He moved to sit next to her. She squirmed to one end of the couch. He looked slightly offended.
“You, on the other hand, are alive, Miss Stilwell. For which I’m eternally thankful, I might add.” He smiled. Josie noticed he had very white teeth. She saw his eyes weren’t smiling, as if the man’s face was made up of two entirely different parts that only matched haphazardly. She said, “I really don’t know anything about that.”
The man’s smile remained fixed. “Of course you do, Miss Stilwell. The detective you spoke to, Mr. Robinson, isn’t it? He told you what the unfortunate Herbie did for a living. Or maybe he didn’t offer the necessary details. Herbie, you see, worked for me.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Things Worth Knowing

I have nothing to say today, so I thought I would reduce some 17 years of no drinking and no drugging to a few, possibly useless, aphorisms. So if you have a friends who abuses substances in order to alter their consciousness, memorize the list below and bore them into sobriety. You can thank me later.

1. Nobody ever woke up and said, “I think I’ll be an asshole today.”
2. My first reaction is always wrong
3. Not every day has to be the best day or worst day of my life
4. I can’t erase the past but I can turn the page.
5. I’m powerless over alcohol, no matter who it’s in.
6. The less I mess with my future, the better it gets.
7. Faith is not jumping from A to B. It’s jumping from A.
8. I may be powerless but I’m not helpless.
9. Stop putting quarters in the jukebox if it don’t play your song.
10. It’s not whether we get it, it’s whether we do it.
11. Live in the process, not the goal.
12. Normal people tailor their behaviors to their actions. Addicts tailor their actions to their behaviors.
13. Don’t stand in the idiot spotlight.
14. No matter how far down the road you go, you’re always the same distance from the ditch.
15. Acceptance is not approval.
16. Honesty is having one story.
17. Crying doesn’t pay.
18. We go through a lot of pain to avoid a little discomfort.
19. Life is lived forward and understood backward.
20. I don’t suffer from low self-esteem. I suffer from high self-involvement.
21. In any given situation, I can act like a child and avoid responsibility, act like a parent giving unwanted advice, or act like an adult and accept what’s mine.
22. No matter how good life is, I will always be looking for a dark corner for my stash.
23. Trying is failing with honor.
24. It’s not my problems I’m afraid of, it’s my solutions.
25. I drink therefore I am.
26. Reality is a shared perception of what may be.
27. I love the way things should be.
28. Forgiveness is admitting you have not robbed me of the peace of God.
29. Enough is never enough.
30. Some folks have a Lower Power

Here is installment 28 of Wasted Miracles.

She shook her head from side to side. “I swear a part of me died that day, Colin. And sometimes I still wonder if maybe deep down Josie remembers that, thinks maybe I was trying to give her away or something. And maybe that’s why she’s the way she is, addicted I mean. Because she thought I didn’t care enough to not let her be taken by this crazy woman.”
She stopped, took a long breath. “So that’s how I know. I’m feeling exactly the same thing now as I did then. Something bad’s going to happen to her, Colin, and I wouldn’t be here if I had any other option, believe me. Really. I wouldn’t involve you if there was another way.”
“You could call the cops, tell them she’s missing.”
She shook her head. “No. I can’t. I...” She fluttered her hands nervously.
“They’re used to stuff like that, finding people.”
She shook her head again, this time more emphatically. “No. You don’t understand. I don’t know what she’s been doing!”
Colin nodded. “Sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“She’s been busted before. She’s a grown-up now. They won’t just send her to rehab. They’ll take her away if she’s been...involved with drugs again.” Catherine paced the room, short choppy steps. “I want to trust her, I want to think she’d never get in trouble again. She’s my daughter, for God’s sake! But above everything she’s an addict, Colin, and addicts lie and steal and do stuff... You know all about that, we all do. I call the police, they find her, maybe she is dealing. What happens then? I couldn’t bear that, Colin, I simply couldn’t.”
“What about Lars?”
Catherine made a face, shook her head. “Forget Lars. He won’t help. He disowned us a long time ago.”
Colin turned to the leg machine, started to remove the 45-pound plates, made three careful stacks, said, “OK.” Catherine bowed her head, nodded. “Thanks. I knew you would.”
She fished in her purse, removed an envelope, took from it a photo and handed it to him. “That’s her high school yearbook picture. She was in the tenth--no, eleventh--grade.”
Long blonde hair, green eyes, Catherine’s mouth. The girl was staring frankly at the camera, the corners of her lips were raised just short of a smile as if she found the event vaguely amusing. She wore a white blouse buttoned to the neck.
“She looks familiar.”
Catherine canted her head. “Really? She doesn’t go to your meetings, at least I don’t think so.”
“I probably would have remembered her if it were that. No. Maybe I saw her at a store or something. Anyway. That’s the most recent photo?”
Catherine’s forehead wrinkled. “That’s the one I like best. She looks, you know, innocent. And yes, as far as I know. We haven’t taken many pictures lately. There haven’t been that many festive occasions in our family recently.”
Colin peered at the picture. “It’s strange. I’m sure I know her, maybe even spoke with her but I can’t place it. Can I keep it? I’ll call Joe.”
“Joe the Cop? I told you--”
“Joe will do it discreetly, nothing official, just ask around the station, see if anyone’s heard anything. If he has, we’ll take it from there. One step at a time, Catherine. Just like everything else.”
Joe the Cop said of course he’d help, he liked that kind of thing, was good at it. He’d met Catherine once at Colin’s apartment, had found her an interesting lady and asked Colin if she was single. She wasn’t, so his interest had faded somewhat but not entirely.
Yes, he would keep his inquiries discreet, a lot of people--mostly cops but also a fair amount of street scum--owed him and he’d put the word out as quietly as possible about the missing girl.
At the Zulu’s house, things were not going well. Comfort Okwuike thought the Zulu had over-reacted. A warning would have sufficed, there’d been no call for that great bloody display of power and vengeance. The Zulu was a very sick man.
True, Akim had not been very smart, but then Akim had never been very smart, even as a small boy in the village he had never shown the least propensity for anything original or unusual. He remembered Akim’s mother, his sister’s husband’s first cousin, holding the boy in her lap once, pointing at his head and shaking her own. “This one, I don’t know about,” she’d said. “Monkey ears, thin lips. Bad signs.”
Now Akim was dead, split open like a goat before a feast. He hadn’t suffered, or at least not much. Comfort had seen a lot of death in his time, babies and children and women and men, many of whom had died very slowly, life refusing to relinquish its hold, so he thought Akim was lucky, sort of. Comfort’s job had been to divide Akim’s body into several pieces which he packaged in Saran Wrap and plain brown shopping bags and placed carefully in twelve dumpsters. Akim’s head had been remarkably heavy, which made Comfort wonder about the relationship between weight and intelligence.
Comfort had cleaned out Akim’s room in the basement of the Zulu’s house. Akim’s collection of pornographic magazines showing large black males with tiny white women had made Comfort very uncomfortable. He had also discovered several vibrating phalluses in Akim’s closet--some were huge, beyond human comprehension or tolerance--and that had worried him most of all. What if the young woman had found them? He’d thrown the nasty things away, but not before saving the batteries.
The girl was now in Akim’s former room, Comfort checked on her every fifteen-or-so minutes though there was no real reason to. She was nodding out, her eyes glazed, unseeing. It made her much less pretty than she’d been just hours ago when she was first brought in. The Zulu had personally lit the pipe, slapped her three times sharply on the stomach to force her to inhale and that was that. The girl struggled but not that much, not like she really meant it, sucked on the pipe a few more times and when the drug connected, her muscles went flat.
Comfort didn’t like crack, wrinkled his nose whenever the sharp tang of the burning crystals reached him. He was perplexed by the whys and the whos of the substance. There was something disconcerting about so many once-young people willing and eager to perform indescribably evil things simply to get enough of the substance for a day, for an hour. The way it transformed its users amazed him, there had certainly never been anything like that during his own childhood; people drank ginger beer or stronger beverages if they could afford them, they got drunk, they sang, they shouted, they smoked khat, they fell asleep, occasionally they fought. But they seldom became slack-jawed, they didn’t drool, they didn’t become old in months.
Sitting in his own room in the Zulu’s basement, Comfort thought about all this and it made him vaguely unhappy. He liked to live up to his own name. He stood, kneeled next to his bed, squirreled a hand beneath the mattress, retrieved the small black book hidden there, opened it. The numbers reassured him. Fifty-seven thousand three hundred and twenty seven dollars in the bank of Ibadan, soon almost twenty times that in other accounts across Europe. A fortune, a legacy. In a short time there would be servants and a young wife. There would be a small house with a red roof and three or four or five children bearing his name and resemblance. There would be a vegetable patch in the backyard and he would grow yams and carrots. When he closed his eyes he could see his own face in such a setting, could smell his own contentment. He could picture his own smile, could almost feel the weight of a first-born boy on his lap. The Zulu had promised that Comfort could return home in a few months, had hinted at a sizable going-away bonus. Not that the Zulu’s generosity mattered much anymore... Comfort would call his house Sunrise, he had seen the name on a retirement home outside Washington and liked it. In a few month he would return to sanity and never again leave it behind.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Music To My Ears

I miss playing music. Its been more than a month since my band broke up and my guitar callouses are vanishing. I've played once or twice with friends but its not the same thing as the camaraderie created when four or five instruments and voices try to get along, sometimes succeeding, sometimes not. Even bad music can be good, but doing the latter is a lot more satisfying.

Last week I met a young singer whose presence was both haunting and earthbound, and though I only heard one of her songs, I was totally smitten. I promised when I started writing that this blog would not serve as free advertising for anyone (other than myself), but here goes. Check her out, folks, it'll be worth your while. This is a voice you can fall in love with.

OK, speaking of creative people who make a lasting impression, has anyone out there read Earl Thompson's Tattoo? Thompson is my favorite American writer, and almost no one, it seems, has heard of him. He wrote four books and died impoverished in Paris in 1978.

Tom Page, in the online magazine Pemnican, writes:

"Thompson was a novelist in the tradition of American naturalism who attempted to understand his world and times. In his trilogy of autobiographical novels: A Garden of Sand, Tattoo, and The Devil to Pay, Thompson analyses his people and experience from the point of view of Cat, Jack, or Jarl--the various names given his central character: a thinly disguised Earl. In these novels Thompson relates the story of an incestuous relationship with his mother and his disgust of racism, homophobia, militarism, and imperialism. While A Garden of Sand has some rough spots, in Tattoo, The Devil to Pay, and Caldo Largo--the story of an alienated veteran who becomes a gun runner in the Caribbean--his novelistic skills are fully developed.
Who are Thompson's people? In an interview published in Esquire in 1970, Thompson said:
'My persisting values are those of that class which is trapped between poverty that is a personal moral failure and the lure of material reward for citizenship they can never achieve. A class that is a persistent pain in the ass to all representative societies, whatever their ism. People who are so early frightened by violence anything short of death is a personal victory. And all have been wounded. '"

I am on a one-man mission to have Earl Thompson's works recognized. So please buy his stuff, new or used.

Two artists, different media, different generations. Both Earl Thompson and Karyn Oliver deserve your support.

Here's installment 27 of Wasted Miracles.

Nothing meaningful was gone from Josie’s room, the small possessions the girl would never willingly part with were still there, the stuffed turtle and one-eyed plush rabbit that had accompanied Josie to rehab, the Chinese jade necklace she seldom wore but treasured, the not-so-secret sixty-dollar stash in her left cowboy boot.
Catherine sat in the kitchen, held her head in her hands. She picked up the phone, dialed 911, hung up before anyone could answer. No. She couldn’t call the police. What if Josie was dealing again, what if she’d gotten herself in trouble? She was 19 now, an adult, liable to be sentenced, taken away from her, imprisoned. They’d make an example of her. Nice white girl, see? Just to prove to you that everyone is treated equal under the law, we’re going to nail her.
Catherine wouldn’t be able to tolerate that. Three times Josie had gone away to treatment centers and three times Catherine had died a little, wondering who would be returning, her daughter or some stranger living in Josie’s skin, sleeping in Josie’s bed.
She dialed her husband’s office number again, heard the phone ring three times, heard, “Hi, I can’t come to the phone right now, but if you’ll leave a message...” She didn’t, hung up. Lars would tell her she was being dramatic, reading catastrophes where none existed. Then he would get angry, sermonize, justify his reactions and tell her he’d see her later that evening.
She poured a glass of ginger ale, added ice, sipped without tasting. She wanted her daughter back. Safe, sheltered, in her arms. She wanted to tuck Josie into bed and read her a story. She wanted time to reverse itself or at least to stop. She stared out the window seeing blurry trees and blurry grass. She prayed with a fervor that almost frightened her, willing her thoughts into God’s ear. She glanced at the clock. Time hadn’t stopped.

Chapter 6

Colin let the phone ring. He was awash in sweat, the veins on his arms reliefed like summer vines. Sitting, his back pressed hard against the vinyl of the bench, he counted a slow three seconds up, pause, then three seconds down. The air hissed through his nose, gushed out of his mouth, the dumbbell rising in a methodical 180 degree arc that ended just short of the shoulder.
The work-out gloves he wore had once been white but now were almost black with use, the wrist straps gray, he never washed them, it was an article of faith. When he finished 15 reps on each arm, he dropped the fifty-pounders, picked up the thirties, started over. It hurt, a kind of welcome and friendly ache, a warm pain.
The phone chimed again, stopped after three rings. He adjusted the bench, lay on his back, held the thirty-pounders straight out, let them sink to the floor, arms extended, up, up, meeting over his forehead with a dull clink. Twenty minutes later when the phone broke his concentration for the third time, he dropped the weights, said, “Shit!” and answered it.
“It’s Catherine. I’m downstairs. Can I come up?”
She said, “I was afraid maybe you had a woman up here. That would have been embarrassing.”
He motioned her in, shut the door. “Slim chance of that. I don’t think watching a man push large inert weights around would be particularly stimulating.”
She smiled very briefly, nodded once, said, “Josie’s gone.”
“As in Josie-your-daughter?”
A look of annoyance shimmered across her face. Colin saw it, added, “I’ve never met her or seen her, Catherine, and you don’t mention her that often.”
She shrugged. “Yeah. That’s true. Sorry.” She gathered herself, looked around the apartment briefly, clasped her hands. “She’s gone. Didn’t come home last night and that’s something she hasn’t done since she rehabed. She didn’t take anything with her. She’s just... gone.”
Colin glanced at her, saw she had more to say. “And?”
“And I’m really worried. I didn’t know who to talk to”
“What about Lars?”
She shot him a dry look. “Lars?”
“Never mind.”
There was an awkward silence. “You’re going to make me beg, Colin?”
He turned from her, walked to the kitchen, busied himself there. She followed him.
“I know you’ve done things for people before, Colin. Program people. Everybody knows that. With DD and Stan...”
“That wasn’t quite the same, Cath.”
She nodded. “I know that. But still. Colin, I don’t know what to do...” Her face fell apart. He moved to her, felt her shoulders shaking beneath his hands, led her to the couch. “Start from the beginning, Cath. How do you know she’s really missing.”
Catherine fished a Kleenex from her purse, blew her nose noisily, wiped her eyes. “I know. I just know.” She balled the tissue in her hand, looked for a place to dispose it. Colin took it from her. “When she was a little kid, maybe three years old, I took her to a shopping center and one moment she was there, the next she wasn’t. And I knew in the pit of my stomach that something terrible would happen if I didn’t find her fast. Mother’s intuition, whatever. So I had the security guards help me, and it took maybe 15 minutes but it was a lifetime, they didn’t believe me, kept saying she must have wandered away but I knew she hadn’t, she’d been taken, Colin, I can’t explain how it was I was certain of that.” She paused, blew her nose again, took a deep breath.
“And I was right! You know where they found her? Some deranged woman had just taken her by the hand when I wasn’t looking for less than a second and locked her in her car in the back of the parking lot. And you know what this crazy woman said? She said she’d gone shopping, wanted to buy some English muffins--I’ll never forget that--and when she saw Josie she just thought she’d take her home too, but then when she got to her car, she realized she’d forgotten the muffins! So she had to go back because that’s why she went shopping in the first place, the muffins. That’s the only reason I got Josie back, because this crazy woman forgot her god damned muffins.”

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Fat People

An acquaintance--not a friend, the guy is a jerk--recently lost a lot of weight. On the order of 40 to 50 pounds. He wasn't fat, just chunky, and now he has a skinny little body and a big old fat head and he looks, yes, like a bobble-head. Not that's there's anything wrong with that, but it did get me to thinking that I've been trying to dump some pounds and maybe that's not such a good idea. I do not want to look like him. Or, come to think of it, act like him either. He's in his mid-60s, recently single, and the proud owner of a new bright-red-goosed-to-the-limit Mustang with a license plate that reads Ososik. I have fear he may be picked up for loitering outside a junior high school staring at the cheerleaders butts.

I can think of a bunch of people who shouldn't lose weight: Tony Soprano, Chef Boyardee, the Michelin Man, Alfred Hitchcock (yes I know he's dead but still), the fishstick lady, Aunt Jemimah, and the guy three houses down who owns one of the larger Hummers and likes to drive up and down the street playing the Bee Gees on his stereo.

Thing is, you can't help but notice all the fat people. They've become the norm. I was at Panera's the other day and a huge guy ordered three sandwiches. And ate them, along with the accompanying three bags if chips. I see little bitty fat kids at the food store being wheeled in grocery carts by their mothers. What, the kid can't walk? He's got Oreos in both hands and a large Slurpee. What are these people thinking of?

Never mind. Here's installment 26 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 3

Johnny D. didn’t like this but Johnny D. did what he was told. It had to do with his lifestyle, which he liked and wanted to maintain. Yes, he had given up booze, yes he had given up doping, yes, he had every intention of staying straight. But that didn’t mean he wanted to give up all the other things he enjoyed, like hanging out, like his car, like not working a nine-to-five and getting paid peanuts. So when the Zulu called and asked for a favor, Johnny D. said, “Yeah, sure, no problem.”
And it wasn’t, not really. He knew the girl, and if the Zulu wanted him to bring her over, he would. On the drive to her house, while zipping through the white Northern Virginia neighborhoods, he managed to persuade himself that the Zulu wouldn’t harm her and this made him feel a little less guilty. She was a nice girl, cute, trying really hard to stay clean and that was good. The $500 the Zulu promised was even better.
The 8:30 meeting was crowded. Of the 30 or so people around the room, he recognized only one person, a gaunt woman with ruined eyes. The guest speaker’s topic was sponsors. Asked to share, Colin said, “What gets me, pisses me off more often than I’m willing to admit, is that my sponsor is right a lot. Like he has a crystal ball and my immediate future is transparent to him. I can’t bullshit him, that upsets me, that’s what I do as an alcoholic, bullshit, what I’ve always done. And the worst part is that I don’t even really like my sponsor.”
He noticed that the gaunt woman smiled slightly. She knew Orin. After the meeting ended she approached Colin and said, “I know where you’re at. I can’t stand my sponsor. She’s a god damned Nazi. But that’s not the issue. Keep that in mind.” As she walked away, she turned around, added, “But Orin, yeah, he’s a particularly nasty sonofabitch.”
Catherine thought she heard Josie’s phone ring but she wasn’t sure. If it did ring, it was only once, maybe twice. A little bit later, she thought she heard the front door slam, but she wasn’t sure of that either. It was either very late at night or very early in the morning, she didn’t pay much attention to it, sleep had been hard to come by and harder to give up. She’d been to two women’s meetings that day, the intensity of the second one had left her exhausted. There were horrible things happening to women out there, events crowded in such emotional and physical violence that the stuff on her mind seemed inconsequential in comparison. One woman was just out of the hospital, her husband--a small brutish man with a heroin habit--had beaten her with the mean end of a hammer, broken her nose, split her upper lip. Catherine herself had never faced such a thing--all Lars did was ignore her, pretty benign behavior, really, more infuriating than anything else.
When Josie didn’t come down the next morning, Catherine thought nothing of it. The girl often left early, her movements largely unaccounted for. When Josie didn’t come home that night, Catherine began to get seriously worried. They had a deal: Josie had to sleep at home no matter what. The agreement had been forced on the girl and signed at the end of the last rehab, witnessed by a counselor. Josie had bitched, moaned, once or twice tested the limits by returning at the break of dawn but she’d never, not once during the last year, really pushed her luck.
At noon, Catherine called Lars at his office, got nothing from him but an irate reminder that she wasn’t supposed to disturb him there.
In Josie’s room she found an address book and methodically started dialing numbers. A lot of them were bad, disconnected, no answer. A few had voicemail or machines with recorded messages. Most entries were first name only and the people she managed to reach had very young voices and didn’t seem overly interested in her daughter’s whereabouts, though they promised to pass the message if they ran into her. A few didn’t even know her daughter, or pretended not to.
By five that afternoon Catherine was frantic.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Famous People I Have Met

I'm standing at the checkout line of my local market with two bags of overpriced lettuce. The woman in front of me tells the cashier her husband took the credit cards away, and she forgot her checkbook in the car, so... Off she trundles, annoyed, to the SUV she carefully parked in the shade at the rear of the lot.

The cashier looks apologetic, what're you gonna do?

I scan the magazines in the rack. People. Us. In Touch. Celebrity something-or-other. A lot of young blond women on the covers, and short-haired young men hugging the blond women. Some are smiling. Some look annoyed. Some display cellulited thighs and minimal triangles of cloth across their midriffs.

I realize I do not know a single one of these people. John and Jane; Mel and Molly; Patrick and Patricia; Tito and Jenna. Wait! Tito! I know Tito! He's one of the Ultimate Fighting thugs. Now I that's better--I am not totally out of step.

But still, I am feeling a little bit out of it. So, as an exercise in vanity, here are the famous people I have met, in no particular order save how I remember them.

Charles de Gaulle. Willy Brandt. Hunter S. Thompson. The Dalai Lama. Cheech and Chong. Brigitte Bardot. Mary McCarthy. Jesse Owens. Sonny Barger. Barbara Mandrell. Ben Bradlee. Marion Barry. Margaret Mead. Jimbo Manion. Jacques Fevrier. Eugene McCarthy. Emmylou Harris. Gerald and Betty Ford. Camille Chautemps. Dexter Manley. Bobby Byrd. Josephine Baker. Anna Marly. Hank Snow. James Lee Burke. Dick Smothers. Marcel Marceau. Nora Ephron. Dottie West. Bernard Fall. Bob Woodward. Fred Maroon. Jane Seymour. Ringo Starr. Josh Graves. Brian Bowers. Maybelle Carter. Pat Nixon. Mike Auldridge. Florence Florent. Tim O'Brien. Patrick Juvet. Loretta Lynn. Maurice Chevalier. Carl Bernstein. Lorne Greene. Martha Mitchell.

I'll add more as I remember them, but in the meantime I'm pretty impressed.

Here's installment 25 of
Wasted Miracles.

Later Orin wanted to go out and eat some spaghetti. “Sometimes,” he said, “I feel like Marsha’s a warden. ‘Watch your blood pressure.’ ‘Don’t get excited, it’s bad for you.’ Once, we were screwing, she says, ‘Take it easy, you’ll hurt yourself.’ Jesus. Woman says something like that, it ain’t inspiring, melts your hard-on, believe me.”
A perfect reason to have spaghetti.
Colin drove the ramp-equipped van, a $75,000 custom job with hand controls. Orin hated the thing, never drove it. It reminded him of his handicap. “You know what else really pisses me off? Sometimes, when she’s talking to some of her friends on the phone and she thinks I can’t hear, she says I’m ‘physically challenged.’ Fuck. There ain’t no challenge for Chrissake. I don’t have any legs? What the fuck is challenging about that?”
At the restaurant Orin had the special, fought the food battle and won, emptied his third cup of coffee. Colin admired the hundred little spots the tomato sauce made on Orin’s shirt. Orin belched, wiped his lips, said, “I really wish you weren’t screwing that woman, Colin. I’m being serious now. I’ve known you a real long time. She’s gonna get you into a shitload of trouble. Don’t ask me how I know, but I know.”

Monday, June 2, 2008

Crying Doesn't Pay

Clever title, don't you think? You have to say it aloud to get the full impact. I'm kind of proud of it.

Right now things appear to be in a holding pattern. I sent my novel off to my agent and I think I may have a touch of post-partum depression. It took me five years longer than expected to finish it--I had thought it would be done in three--and it's possibly the best writing I've done. But that doesn't mean it will find a home and get published. My characters--my friends--are off on their own. Their story is written.

I'm fumbling around in my house. I'm lonely, and curious as to what will happen next. There's a sense of unfinished business coupled with the urgency of an impending something and I don't know what to make of it. Oh well. Figuring things out is not my job.

Here's installment 24 of Wasted Miracles.

Orin went, “Hmmm.” He reached into a bag strapped to the side of his wheelchair, withdrew a battered pipe, a pouch of Carter Hall tobacco. He filled the pipe with deliberation, tamped the tobacco down with a dirty index finger, lit it with a kitchen match, spewed out a great cloud of gray smoke.
“The reason I’m asking all this, Colin, is that you’ve gotten kinda weird, lately. Out of sorts. You thinkin’ about goin’ out? Maybe a few Percodans? Your cross addiction workin’ on you?”
Colin said, “No.”
“You’re mumblin’, boy.”
Colin said, “No,” again, this time louder.
Orin nodded. “Well. I’m glad to hear that.” He paused. puffed on his pipe. “So what’s eatin’ at you.”
It took a moment for Colin to answer. “Boredom, I think.”
Orin laughed, puffed. “Like, you don’t lead an interesting life? Like that?”
Colin stood, paced the porch. “I don’t know. Sometimes it seems like a closed circle, you know? Meetings. People at meetings. It’s always the same stuff, ‘I want to do this, I want to do that.’ Drunks are amazingly boring, Orin. A lot of them don’t seem to have much of a life outside AA. I get tired of hearing about their hassles, about their relationships, about them wanting to drink or smoke or snort. I even get tired of hearing how happy they are that they’re not drunks anymore. I don’t care if their lives have gotten better. It never changes. Different faces, same crappy stories.” He paused, rubbed his face with his hands. “And then suddenly you realize it’s a different generation at meetings. Whole bunch of kids, and it starts all over again. It gets tiring...”
Orin seemed to think that over but not too strenuously. “You’re obviously not going to the same meetings I’m going to. Or not talking to the same people. Most of the ones I see, they’ve got some hope back, think they’re better off now. Mind you, that shit is just as boring as the tales of woe and tragedy, but at least they’ve got kind of a happy ending. Why’re you hearing only the crappy stuff, Colin? Last time you felt like this, you ended up getting into some really deep shit. Remember?”
Colin did.
“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Orin continued. “I seem to remember we had this little talk, oh, about six, seven months ago, and I told you to start going to more meetings and doing service work. Answer phones, drive people around, make coffee, whatever. And instead, you got involved with Stan and DD. And the only reason you’ve still got both your balls was that DD didn’t know it was a starter pistol. ‘Cause if she’d had the real thing, we’d be calling you Lefty.”
Colin held up a hand. “It wasn’t like that, Stan asked...”
“Oh bullshit.” Orin looked disgusted, sucked hard on his pipe, stuck out his tongue, expelled a small piece of tobacco.
“You didn’t have any business bein’ involved in any of that mess. Everyone knows DD’s a slut, including Stan. And Stan! Fifty-two year old man thinking he found the fountain of youth, screwing a nineteen year old bimbo who’s not even sober a month...”
Colin sat down again. In the kitchen, he could hear Marsha humming a tune, something from the 60s by Judy Collins. He said, “They were married three weeks, she files for divorce, tries to take his house and car away from him. That’s fair?”
Orin gave Colin a pig-eyed stare. “Fair ain’t got squat to do with this, Colin. You ain’t a divorce investigator! Sneaking around in the middle of the night trying to catch that little slut with Billy O. She should have shot you in the balls, gotten what you deserved. Lucky thing Billy O’s a fool and he bought that pistol thinking it was the real thing. Cause if DD had... Oh, never mind.”
The screen door opened and Marsha came out bearing a plate of sandwiches on a tray and a bottle of Shasta ginger ale.
She smiled at Colin. “You getting Orin all excited about something?”
She was a tall, sparse woman whose sharp features belied her kindness. Colin had rarely seen her without a smile, but when she didn’t have one he was reminded of an American Gothic farmwife. “Don’t get his blood pressure up, now. He’s mean enough as is.”
“We were talking about Stan and DD,” Orin said.
Marsha’s face narrowed in distaste. “Oh. Them.” She set the plate of sandwiches down, looked at Colin, “They deserved each other, those two. DD, I wouldn’t credit her with much sense. But Stan? I thought he was smarter than that.” Her lip curled. “Men.”

Sunday, June 1, 2008


It's been a while since I signed on, and to the loyal few who read this, my apologies. But the absence was well worth it. Went to Florida for a few days to re-gather the few wits I have, then to a fiction writers' conference in Oxford, Ohio.

It's always good to meet other writers. Writing is a solitary, selfish occupation. Writers have a tendency to isolate, to create worlds and then retreat to them. We are egomaniac with self-esteem issue. Who else would have the gall to assume our output is worth the time a reader migh invest?

It is summer in Virginia and my flight home was delayed by tornadoes and hail storms. I still do not know the whereabouts of my luggage, which vanished somewhere between Kentucky and Ronald Reagan airport.

I am getting saner; the devils have left for the moment; the last exchange with SBC was unpleasant and mean, a cruel salvo of words meant to wound. She sent me the stuff I had at her house and I returned the favor. There was a necessary finality to all this and yes, I harbor resentments even as I still think of her daily. It will be a while before I return to Richmond.
And that's about all I am willing to say at this moment. I'm glad to be back.

Here is installment 23 of Wasted Miracles.

Now he and Marsha had three kids and he spent most of his time on the front porch of the rancher they’d bought and equipped with hand rails and ramps.
For all his accomplishments he was not a nice man. Colin found him loud, offensive, short-tempered and rude to waiters. At restaurants, Orin didn’t eat his food, he fought it. He was not above calling the shaky newcomers to AA assholes, had little tolerance for fools of any stripe or color. Political correctness did not exist Orin’s house.
The first thing he did after Colin got there was take the plastic bag of salami, open it and roll two slices into his mouth. Then he asked, “You still fucking that rich lady?”
Colin ignored him. This was how Orin generally started their conversations.
“Guess you are, uh?” Orin nodded, looked smug. “Well, none of my business, I guess, but when your dick falls off, don’t bother bringing it here.
“Course,” he thought it over, looked down at where his lap should have been, “considering my personal state of affairs, and the number of things that have dropped off me, I probably shouldn’t be the one to talk...”
Every time they met, Colin had quickly noticed, Orin G. brought it up, as if maybe Colin hadn’t noticed that Orin was legless.
Colin smiled. “You said it. I didn’t.”
“And you’d fuckin’ better not either,” Orin displayed a mean smile. “You haven’t earned the right.
“So,” his face changed, became more tolerant. “Joe the Cop still your pigeon?”
“Saw him a couple of days ago. Seems to be doing OK. Said I should paint my apartment. Then told me about his master plan again.”
Orin laughed, a dry brittle sound. “Joe’s OK. Got the right idea, for a cop that is. He’s been straight how long now?”
Colin thought for a moment, “Two years, a bit more.”
“You working on anything now?”
Colin looked up, nodded. “Research for a writer who’s doing a book on Washington in the ‘20s.”
“Pay well?”
“Standard. Thirty an hour.”
Orin made a sucking noise with his lips. “Not bad. Thirty an hour for hanging around the library. How did the last book you worked on do?”
“Pretty well. The writer called me and said they were going into a second printing, then paperback.”
Orin nodded again. “One of these days, I’ll have to read some of that stuff.” He’d been making that promise for years.
This was Colin’s work now, research. He was good at it, had learned his trade in the newsroom and writing The Book. It allowed him to do things at his own speed, by himself. He knew how to ferret out the snippets of information that changed a story from mundane to interesting. Ten steady writers swore they couldn’t work without him, and his expertise over the years had become far-ranging. Cocteau, Haile Selassie, St. Exupery. The mating rites of gorillas. Silk weaving in Karnataka, the uses of a cyclotron. Colin’s name was in the acknowledgment section of a dozen books. He was on a first-name basis with every librarian in a 20-square mile area, a frequent visitor to the Archives, privy to the secrets of the Library of Congress. He knew the National Zoo inside out, held a Smithsonian Associate card. On the whole, the work pleased him, paid adequately though sometimes it was feast or famine. He enjoyed the concept of being self-employed, had toyed with the idea of setting up a small firm, two or three similarly bent individuals, had quickly given up the notion when he realized somebody would have to manage the work flow, and that the somebody would probably be him.
“That married woman you’re seeing, she’s got a daughter in the program?”
Colin lowered himself onto the rocking chair Marsha usually occupied. “Yeah, she does. Never seen her though. That’s something Catherine and me agreed on. Her family doesn’t get involved with this.”
“And you’re happy with that set up?”
Colin shrugged. “It works.”