Friday, November 25, 2016


…In a couple of hours I’ll be on a plane to Puerto Vallarta for a week.  I doubt I’ll be posting anything here during that time, but please come back next weekend.  I’m counting on you.

…Here’s something I had published a few days back:

…And here are some thing I like ahead of the weekend:

“And everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

--William Yeats
William Butler Yeats - The Second Coming
“If you don’t start unpacking your baggage, it gets heavier as you move along.  The weight becomes impossible to carry, and it can get pretty messy.” Bruce Springsteen

“Face your deficiencies and acknowledge them, but do not let them master you.  Let them teach you patience, sweetness and insight.” Helen Keller

“A wise man will make more opportunities than he finds.” Francis Bacon

“The best way out is always through.” Robert Frost

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

“If you feel down yesterday, stand up today.” H. G. Wells

“To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Bob Dylan

“I don’t do drugs.  I am drugs.” Salvador Dali

"You have to live your life if you’re going to do original work. Your work will come out of an authentic life, and if you suppress all of your most passionate impulses in the service of an art that has not yet declared itself, you’re making a terrible mistake."
Louise Glück

 “Legitimate anger is the last thing a person has that humanizes him or her.  And that should never be for sale.” Yusef Komunyakkaa


Wednesday, November 23, 2016


                                                             The Unspoken
            It was the unspoken which frightened the boy most.  Often the unspoken was a riddle, a curse sifting through the air while a gray smoke genie ushered from his mother’s dark nostril as she sucked on a cigarette, the tip orange-red and smoldering.  Sometimes the unspoken was an empty bench at lunch time, save for the boy who was torn by being left alone while also savoring his loneliness.  The unspoken was an empty chair at the head of the dinner table, children chewing soundlessly, good manners on display, none of them trying to think about their father’s stiff body hanging from a rope in the garage or why he would do such a thing and desert them.   The unspoken could be noisy or shrill, muffled—sounds of sobbing or his mother’s scream in the middle of the night.  But mostly it was the jar inside his head, a jangle of trapped wasps fighting for escape, the lid screwed on too tight.



Each night he searches the blue-black sky, sifting through a necklace of glittering stars.  She once said Orion was her best friend, and though his sister’s been dead months now, he still whispers, “When I am older, I will become an astronaut, float through the Heavens in diligent search and find you.”


                                             Something Different

His new bride believed in those things and so when the Gypsy turned over the final Tarot card and shuddered, they left in a hurry, him claiming hoax, she not so sure.
            At home, he found a deck of cards.  “Time for something different, something light,” he said.
           “What?” she asked.
           “Strip poker.”


Monday, November 21, 2016


…Good morning.
Thanks for hanging with my through the entire set of linked stories in my book, “My Long, Uncertain Search For Myself.”  It was a few years ago that I wrote those words and I had mixed feelings re-reading them.  I don’t think the writing was that sharp.

…Here’s a podcast of a panel I was on with Robert Vaughan, Meg Tuite and Kathy Fish when I was at a workshop in Taos, NM a couple of months ago:

…I haven’t been submitting anything of late, but here are a couple of pieces I had published in the last week or so:

 …And here are some things I like on a gray Monday:

"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" Mary Oliver

"There was never a night or a problem that could defeat sunrise or hope." Bernard Williams

"When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another." Helen Keller

"You have to learn the science of your craft. Someone will say, "yeah, I used to read music, but I forgot". Bullshit. That's not the way it works. You've got to love it enough to work for it, you know, and get your tools." Quincy Jones

"Every man's work, whether it be literature or music or pictures or architecture or anything else, is always a portrait of himself." Samuel Butler

"I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light that I have." Abraham Lincoln

"Money often costs too much." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Determine never to be idle. No person will have occasion to complain of the want of time who never loses any. It is wonderful how much can be done if we are always doing - advising his daughter Martha, 1787." Thomas Jefferson

"The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That's real glory. That's the essence of it." Vince Lombardi

"The future of our civilization is based on prudence, critical self-reflection, belief in higher values, and wisdom in matters of ordinary, everyday life. It is not about grabbing as much as possible, as quickly as possible." Tyler Cowen

Friday, November 18, 2016


                                                    Sunday, December 14, 2014

It’s not even dawn. I’m broke, somewhere in the middle of East Jesus, Wyoming, and all the radio will pick up is twangy honkytonk or stations playing rambunctious Mexican music. Not only that, but my gas gauge is leaning its elbow on E.

This little joy ride of mine--almost a year now--has been an adventure, but it’s done nothing to transport me out of the funk of having been dumped by my wife. If anything, I feel worse than when I first set out. Seeking adventure is fine, so long as you have a safe harbor to return to afterward. Without an anchor somewhere, a man might as well keep driving, fly his car right off a cliff, or drink himself dead.

The dashboard lights up in the far right corner, flashing strawberry red: Get gas now!

I’m not sure what to do. I check my wallet and pockets. I’ve got a buck twenty. That’d get me a third of a gallon of gas. But I need to eat because I’m starving.

Get gas now!

The landscape is a shroud of darkness. I’m going to run out of gas and die in the desert, be eaten alive by lizards. Panic sets in, as if termites have invaded my chest and are trying to gnaw their way through my flesh.

I try to keep my eyes off the dashboard but it’s like trying to ignore your favorite pornography rippling across a computer screen.

Get gas now!

A spark of rage ambushes me. I feel the urge to break something, hurt someone, leave a life in ruins.

Get gas now!

Up ahead, the craggy, bone-dry land shows the semblance of a town coming into view—barn-shaped buildings and flat-topped domes.

I pull off at the first exit. It’s December and chilly yet my armpits are drenched and I reek.

I find the gun in the cubby and tuck it between my waistband and belly. I have no idea what I’m doing but as soon as I enter the AM/PM mini mart the smell of scorched wieners reminds me that I’m ravenous.

I grab a basket and fill it with Ho Hos and Hostess fruit pies (cherry and chocolate) and toss in a six pack of Budweiser and some Doritos and aspirins and bags and bags of beer nuts, plus rolls of SweeTARTS and an enormous sack of gummy bears.

At the counter, the teller rings the items up as if in a trance. He’s got a shaved head, a stud through his nose, and gauges the size of quarters in his earlobes.

“Thirty-seven fifty-nine,” he says, without looking me in the eye.

I whip out the pistol and point it at his forehead where a yoke-yellow pimple stares back at me.

“Hand me the money in the till.”

“Are you shitting me?”

“I’m going to be shooting you in a second.”

“There’s a camera,” he says, calm as can be, pointing up over his right shoulder.

“Do I look like I give a shit?” I jiggle the snout of the gun at him, hoping he doesn’t notice that my hand is shaking.

“Suit yourself,” the kid says, bored as death, stuffing bills into a brown paper bag that might have once contained his lunch.

“Change, too,” I say, feeling greedy and desperate, thinking if I’m going to go through with this, I might as well get it all.

“Where’s the duct tape?” I ask.

“Duct tape? We don’t have no duct tape.”

“Fine, then step around and get on your knees.”

“There’s no way I’m giving you a blow job.”

“You’re getting a little wishful,” I say. “I need to tie you up.”

When I cock the gun, it makes a teeth--scritching noise, and the kid obliges.

Once he’s on the floor, I realize I don’t have anything to tie him up with. I am probably the worst criminal ever.

“On second thought, get up. Give me the keys and your cell phone.”

The guy hands them over. His phone cover is a Hello Kitty logo. “It’s my sisters,” he says, reading my expression. “I dropped mine in the toilet.”

I lock him in the back office and stuff a stool up against the door knob so there’s no way he’s getting out on his own. I grab my money and goodies and fly out the door, waving at the camera on the way.

The only other car in the lot is the kid’s and so I take it instead of mine. His is a vintage Volkswagen Rabbit, painted purple, that smells like a combination of Lysol and sweaty feet. Surprisingly, the gas tank is full. Surprisingly, the car has some guts.

I head west doing ninety-five, keeping my eyes peeled for lurking state troopers. My idea is to go as far as I can until the gas runs dry, then catch a bus. I figure it’s the last place the cops would be looking for me, and besides, all they know is what the kid can tell them. My image on that camera won’t do a bit of good.

I take a big bite of a cherry fruit pie, pop open a can of beer and take a swig to wash the fruity taste down. I’m feeling confident now, burning with a felonious high. It’s the best I’ve felt all year. Even though I’ve committed a crime, I’ve accomplished something, something brave and daring. I wonder if my wife would be proud or scared or what. I wonder why I still care about her and what she thinks of me. Her new guy is probably doing her doggy-style right now.

Then I get a picture of her and him in bed, him mounted behind my wife, grunting and thrusting. My eyes sting. As I cross the border into Idaho, I start to bawl. It’s only the second time I’ve cried in a decade, but now that I’ve started I can’t stop. I don’t know who I am or what I’m doing. I think about the gun I’ve stashed in the kid’s glove compartment, next to his book of cigarette rolling papers. I could blow my brains out and not have to worry about my next move or how to make something of my life. I could fly off the curve up ahead where the road winds around a mountain. I’ve got a hundred different choices, and none of them are good.

It’s nightfall and I’m on a Greyhound bus seated next to a young man with two prosthetic arms. I want to ask how he got them, how he lost his others. When he catches me staring, I shift in my seat and stare out the black window.

“IED,” he says. “Afghanistan. “

I look back. He’s actually grinning.

“Could have been a lot worse,” he says. “The guy that actually stepped on it, PFC Raymond Williams from Kentucky, he lost everything.”

“God, I’m sorry.”

“It’s true what they say; war is hell.”

“But you made it out.”

“Most of me did. I’m thankful for that.”

I feel a sense of shame wash in. Here I’ve been feeling sorry for myself all year and this guy lost two of his arms yet wears a bright smile.

We make small talk for the next hour. When I tell him I robbed a convenience store earlier today, he laughs. Nothing seems to faze him.

So I tell him about my last year, how I’ve been searching for something all this time since my wife left me.

“That’s a shitty deal, a woman cheating on a guy. Not much worse, but you’ve got a choice to make.”


“You can let it haunt you forever or else burn all your memories of her and start fresh.”

“Is that what you did, with your experiences in the war?”

“I guess so. Of course, I’ve got these two reminders,” he says, lifting his fake arms.

I feel guilty again for all my self-pity, yet it’s easy to say, burn all your memories, and another thing doing it.

“Look,” the guy says, “it’s your life and who am I to say, but maybe what you went searching for was something that was in you all along.”

“Like what?”

He punches me lightly in the chest with his fake fist. “Heart.”

I’m not sure what he means exactly, but all the same he’s got me thinking about courage and renewal.

The bus driver comes on the speaker telling us we’re twenty minutes from Seattle.

“Say, did you really rob a convenience store?”

“Yeah,” I say.

“Man, you’re a real crack up.”

Cracked, I think, but with luck and a lot of hard work, fixable.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016




                                                        Callie And Company
                                                  Friday, November 14th, 2014

In Parsons, Kansas, a tiny place whose downtown is two blocks long, I find myself at a bar. Actually it’s more of a saloon. Has a real gunslinger feel to it with swinging half doors at the entrance (how do they lock the place up at night?), a long mahogany bar, antlers framed on the walls, and patrons who look like they just left the state penitentiary. One bald guy has a neck tattoo of a dragon. His glum buddy has a worm-colored scar that runs from middle forehead, through an eyebrow and across the cheek. Knife fight, I’m guessing.

When I walked in, all ten or so drinkers turned but when they saw it was me they looked disillusioned, as if they’d been expecting a stripper who was very late for the party.

I took a seat at the bar, feeling a little twitchy. People had probably died in this place, maybe even recently. I was chum for any one of these barrel-headed guys if they got hot around the collar.

I ordered tequila. It reminded me of Mexico and my honeymoon, my wife and I on a private little dinghy manned by a squat native nicknamed Cannibal who would shout, “Happy Hour” every sixty minutes, retrieve a bottle, fill a shot glass with tequila and 7 Up, slam it against the boat’s roof, and pass the drink to me or my wife. We got so drunk I hallucinated, seeing sharks in the water that weren’t there. My new bride became as frisky as I’d ever seen her and when Cannibal docked the boat at a small tropical island, she lured me away and we made love under a tree that kept dropping bombs around us as we went at it, two kids fucking like rabbits while dodging falling coconuts.

My memory is broken up by the arrival of a young lady who takes the stool next to mine, even though there are a dozen others empty.

“You’re pretty deep in thought,” she says, her voice sounding a little hillbilly.

“I guess so.”

“My name’s Callie,” she tells me. “I was named for the calla lily. You know that flower?”

“Can’t say I do.”

The bartender, a huge refrigerator of a man whose name is Earl, says, “I thought your Daddy named you after a Cadillac.”

“It’s Callie, not Caddy. Come on, Earl. Don’t give me any grief. It’s been a long day already.”

“I bet it’s been long,” Earl says, wriggling his purple tongue.

I hold up my glass to Earl. “Another please.”

Earl scowls, as if I’ve insulted him, but he gets me a refill anyway.

“Watcha drinking?” Callie asks.


“Buy me one?”

I don’t like how this is going, yet to refuse her would clearly be an insult. “Sure.”

“That’s so sweet,” she says, patting my knee.

When her drink comes, Callie knocks it back and taps the rim and Earl pours her another, which she drowns, just like the third one.

“Whoa,” I say, though what I want to say is, I’m not a fucking ATM.

Callie starts talking a million miles an hour, saying she’s had a patch of bad luck lately, she’s a Scorpio, she likes dogs and especially puppies, her dad’s an asshole, her mom’s okay, Callie’s self-employed, and would I like a date?

“Date? No, I don’t think so.”

She leans forward, massaging my thigh while looking down at some massive cleavage then back to me with a grin. “These are real.”

“Great. Good for you.”

“Want a squeeze?”

“Hey, I don’t think—“

She grabs my hand faster than a striking rattlesnake, and when I try to pull it back, she screams.

Now several of the large felons in the room are up and out of their seats.

“He tried to cop a feel,” Callie says. “He molested me.”

“I did not.”

Earl grabs a baseball bat from under the bar as Dragon Neck and his scar-faced buddy lumber over my way.

I put my hands up. “Look, I didn’t do anything.”

“I saw you,” Earl says. “You grabbed her titty and were holding on for dear life.”

“I did no such thing.”

“Strangers come in here all the time thinking they can treat our women like dogs.”

“I was just making some friendly conversation,” Callie says “when he lashed out and groped me. It hurt, too.”

“Fucking pervert,” Dragon Neck says.

Earl stabs my back with the blunt end of the bat. “We don’t cotton to sexual deviants in these parts.”

I wish I’d been smart enough to bring the gun along with me. I wish I’d never stopped in this ratty shit hole, wish I’d never offered to buy Callie a drink.

“What’re we going to do with him?” Scar Face says.

“I say we break a few bones.”

“Please,” I say.

Dragon Neck’s face is only inches from mine. His breath smells awful. He’s had sauerkraut for lunch, perhaps fried liver as well.

“Maybe you’d like to buy your way out of this,” Earl says, nudging me with the bat.

I get it now, how this was a set up. Probably happens any time someone from out of state is unfortunate enough stop in.

Earl rams me with the bat and a sliver pierces through my shirt and flesh.

“Okay,” I say. “How much?”

“How much you got?”

“Look,” I say, fishing out my wallet, “I’ll buy the drinks, plus how about fifty extra?”

“That wouldn’t even pay for ten minutes with a good lawyer.”

“Come on guys. Let’s be reasonable.”

Dragon Neck grabs my shirt by the collar and twists until we are almost a pair of Eskimos rubbing noses. My vision goes cross-eyed. Someone else takes the wallet from my hand.

“All right,” I say, as if they need permission, “you can have it. Just leave me something for gas money. That’s all the cash I have in the world.”

Dragon Face grabs me under my armpits, lifts me off the stool, carries me to the door and tosses me quite literally to the curb. Someone steps over me and into the bar, but not before spitting on my forehead first. My wallet it chucked next to my bleeding cheek.

“Stay the fuck out of here,” Scar Face says.

I get up slowly, first kneeling then standing up. Walking to the car I remember I have a gun in the glove compartment.

Inside the car I retrieve the pistol, holding it in my lap. With this gun, I could cause some serious shit, get my money back, even rob the place. I’ve never done anything so bold before and the idea excites me, the image of myself getting retribution and for once in my life being a badass.

But then a police car pulls over two spots ahead of me. An officer gets out with another cop and together they enter the bar. They’re likely all in cahoots—cops, Callie, Dragon Neck. Heck, Earl is probably Callie’s dad for all I know.

I drive off not feeling hoodwinked so much as feeling like a loser, cowardly like my wife often accused me of being. I watch the sun starting to set in the distance and remember how sudden the sun in Mexico would descend at a certain point in the evening, as if it got bored and decided to dive into the sea. I think about Mexico and my honeymoon, how it felt like life was just starting. I remember watching my wife blow-drying her hair naked in the hotel bathroom, her skin golden brown except for the places her swimsuit had covered. I remember thinking I’m the luckiest guy in the world, it can’t get any better than this, and now as I drive off I realize just how right I was.


Monday, November 14, 2016


                                                        Death On The Freeway
                                                     Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

This evening, I’m haunted by the road, by its width and narrowness, its endlessness.   I feel out of sorts and shouldn’t be driving, but there’s nothing else to do, nowhere else to go.  I’ve been away for ten months, untethered and drifting, and while it’s been something of an adventure, it hits me now that I’m a man without a purpose.

I ratchet the accelerator up to eighty miles per hour, then ninety.  The car strains and bucks like a mechanical stallion, as if it wants nothing to do with me.  When I pass a semi on the left, the driver blares his horn for a full minute, but I press on.

At the Tennessee border, fog rolls in, thick as root beer.  I can only see a few feet in front of me, yet I’m still flying.  As I come over the crest of the sloping highway, I see something in the center lane, glowing in my headlights.  It freezes, everything happening blink-fast, and there’s not enough time for me to brake or swerve and so I slam right into the animal.  The collision is sudden, but over in a second—the crash of impact, the rumbling under the wheel wells all happening in a fierce stitch.

Now my heart is beating behind my eyelids and I’m trembling, unsure what to do.   But I pull over and behind me another vehicle pulls over, too.

Steam mists off the hood of my car and I hear liquid pouring out on the asphalt.  In my mind, I picture an explosion, me and the vehicle bursting into the night air.

There’s a tapping on my window.  When I roll it down, a man asks if I’m okay.  He says he saw the coyote, too, but that it just appeared out of nowhere, dumb luck my hitting it, what are the odds.  He asks if I’m okay, if I want his name and number should the insurance company need a witness to say it was a fluke accident. 

Standing next to him is a boy about five or six years old.  The kid clutches a stuffed bear to his chest.  He’s sniveling and staring at me.  “He killed it,” the boy says to me.  “He ran it over.”

The boy’s dad tells him to be quiet, but instead the boy starts wailing.

When I get out of the car the kid jumps back as if I might try to grab him.

“Tommy loves animals,” the dad says.  “Our golden lab, Buster, got hit by a car, too.”

I’ve never killed anything in my life, but then I remember how I left my wife’s dog in our deserted house when I trekked across the lake.  Surely it’s dead by now.      

I should be inspecting the car, but I’m suddenly struck with waves of grief and guilt, feeling disoriented, dizzy and miserable, as if I don’t have the right to be breathing and alive.

I get down on my knees, my face hot with tears.  I say to the boy and his father, to my wife or anyone who will listen, “I’m sorry,” I say.  “I’m so sorry.  Please forgive me.” 

Friday, November 11, 2016


 Dirty Martinis
                                                 September 14th, Sunday, 2014

I’m not broke, but I’m getting there.  Besides, it’s lonely on the road and strangers are never as friendly as you’d guess.

So I pull over at a truck stop near Nashville with a Help Wanted sign in the window.  It’s a bartending gig, something I know a little something about having spent my last year of college fixing drinks for drunk frat boys at a strip club called Jiggles.  The manager here is an obese man who goes by the moniker Hercules.  He’s so huge that it’s torture for him to breathe and any time he moves or even leans a little it’s like hearing a vacuum cleaner going full blast.

Herc gives me a test run.  He has me make an Old Fashion, a Manhattan, Dirty Martinis and even a Dirty Girl Scout, which, by the grin on his face, would be his trump recipe, yet I nail the concoction with just the right amount of Bailey’s and a dash of crème de menthe.  The happy smirk on his face tells me he’s impressed.

“Start now if you want,” Herc says.   

I work my shift and another late into the evening.  Herc is low on bartenders, I learn, because almost all of them end up stealing from the till, which is pretty stupid since there are two low-hanging cameras in each corner.

No one ever orders a Dirty Martini, let alone a Dirty Girl Scout.  Mostly it’s gin and tonics, whiskey straight up no ice, or rum and cokes.  And beer of course.  Lots of beer.

I try to keep things clean in and around my work space but there’s so much alcohol soaked through the floorboards after all these years that certain spots give up a tight squeal when you step there, like crushing a poor kitten, plus the air smells like a well-used urinal. 

The patrons are mostly miserable, and they’re all drifters, yet an hour before midnight a lady comes in and I feel my knees buckle. 

She looks exactly like my wife, but with red hair. 

“Hey there,” she says.

I try to speak but I’ve got rocks in my throat.

She takes the center stool at the bar, staring at me, daring me to look away.  For a minute we just look at each other.  I feel sweat dripping down my ribs.  My socks are damp with sweat as well.

“Do I know you?” she finally says.

I swallow and manage to say, “I’m not from around here.”

“Me either.”

She smiles and it’s my wife’s smile, the kind she’d give me when she was in the mood for some hanky-panky. 

“What’ll it be?” I say, feeling dizzy and out of sorts.

“Give me your best drink, you pick.”

So I make her a Dirty Martini and when she says, “Why don’t you join me?” I do as she suggests, making another for myself.  It’s late and there’s no one else in the place, plus I’m thirsty and nervous, needing something to take the edge off.

When we clink glasses in a toast, she says, “To chance encounters.”

I drain my glass in three quick swallows.  She flashes that smile again.  I make another drink and try not to down it all at once.

She says, “You look like someone who’s had their heart broken in a million pieces.”

“How do you know that?”

“Ah, so you have?”

I nod.  It feels like there’s a balloon swelling in my chest.  Since I left home, I’ve done a pretty adequate job of not thinking about my wife, but now, here with this woman who looks and acts so much like her, nostalgia ensnares me and I feel as weak and defeated as I did when I found out she was cheating on me.

“Hey now, it’s all right,” the woman says, reaching across the counter and clutching my hand which is damp with what I now realize are my own tears.  “It’s like they say: Time heals all wounds.”

“You think?”

“There are plenty of fish in the sea,” she says, using her free hand to unbutton her blouse.


“Momma said there’d be days like this.”

“What are you doing?”

She draws my hand across the counter and pushes it inside her bra, purring, “There’s no place like home.”

Her skin is creamy and warm, her nipple as rigid as an eraser.

I reach under her armpits and hoist her off the stool and onto the bar counter, climbing on it too, positioning myself between her wide open thighs.

As I enter her, she grabs a fistful of my hair and yanks my head to hers, biting my ear, saying, “A stitch in time saves nine.”

We go at it furiously.  She makes the same urgent, wounded animal noises my wife would always make.  She’s demanding.  She bites my other ear.

It lasts a half hour or an entire day, I can’t be sure, because I’m in a netherworld.  Everything feels right and somehow restored.  When I say, “I’ve missed you so much,” there’s a guy across the bar in hunting fatigues sucking on a toothpick who snarls, calls me a “Queer” and backs out of the bar.

I look around for the woman who resembles my wife, but she’s not there.  I’m leaning over the bar, fully clothed.  The air smells of jasmine, the fragrance my wife loved, or maybe it doesn’t smell like anything other than barley and hops.