Archive for February, 2009


Fate Pays The Rent (Eighth Installment)

It had taken Clement closer to an hour to get to Anna’s and he had found Jeff on his way out to the car. Taking a trick from Dolores’s book, he had seized his elbow to steer him back to a booth in the corner. Clement bit into a quarter-pound cheeseburger and, as the red onion gave between his teeth, he felt tomato juice running down his chin. He snatched up two napkins and quickly wiped his face. “You know, he didn’t really look the way I’d pictured him. I envisioned him as being a lot more guarded. A man with a past. The keeper of the secret flame. But he wasn’t like that at all.”
“Mari’s ex-boyfriend.”
Jeff’s hand stopped halfway to his mouth. He stared at Clement then at the French fry between his fingers as if trying to decide which to focus on. Clement won and the fry returned to the plate. “You met him?”
“No. I could have met him. Dolores, who works at the end of the third floor and is very protective of the minority-won cleaning contract for the building, wanted me to meet him but he actually was out of the building getting his nails buffed or whatever.”
“So how do you know what he looks like?”
“There’s a very nice picture of him in his office. It’s on the right-hand wall as you walk in. Very ‘founder of this business empire’ touch.”
“You were in the office? Did you get the photos?”
“Yes, I did. I just said, ‘Dolores, you’re right. I was putting one over on you about being a custodial supervisor. My real purpose was to get into this office and steal some nude photos of the owner’s ex-girlfriend. Now that you’ve been vindicated you can go right on back to your office and close up for the day’.”
“So, no then.”
“No. The trip wasn’t a complete loss. I managed to slip this piece of paper past Dolores. It was on the floor behind the desk and I picked it up after I knocked the pencil on the floor.”
“What pencil?”
“The one I was using to write him a note asking him to call and let us know what he thought of our cleaning service. Don’t worry. Dolores says he said he’d be gone until Friday but she didn’t know where. I’ll get the note back tomorrow night, I’ll have made Dolores happy, and no one will be the wiser.”
“Tomorrow night?”
“When I go back in.”
“Why would you? I mean you almost got caught today, right?”
“That’s why I’m going back. It’s personal now. I want to prove I can go in and get these pictures. It’s no longer just about making Mari happy so you’ll be happy. It is now The Impossible Dream and I’m going to achieve it.”
“I don’t think you should go.”
“Too bad. I’m going.” Clement speared one of his own French fries and chewed it thoughtfully. “So, shall we see what’s on this paper?”
“You didn’t look at it yet?”
“I slipped it into my shoe, put the note on the desk, thanked the lovely Dolores for her help and support, told her to keep her eyes on the prize, and hustled over here before you could leave me.”
“Í wasn’t leaving you; I was leaving here. I wasn’t sure how long I’d have to sit here so I thought I should go over to the ATM and get some more money.”
“And you waited an hour to do that because?”
Jeff put the abandoned French fry into his mouth and said around it, “Do we have to argue all the time? Are we gonna look at this piece of paper or not?”
Clement reached into his shoe, slipped the paper out and unfolded it. He smoothed it onto the table partway between himself and Jeff. “What do you make of this?”
“Looks like a really big window.”
“So why are there letters in the window?”
“It’s one of those puzzles?”
“I‘m pretty sure you only get one letter in each square.”
“Then I dunno. Maybe it’s one of those Joe-Harvey windows.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Mari talked about them one time. It’s all about your relationship to another person and your relationship to yourself and how they all get along.”
“Wouldn’t it have names or something on it instead of big and little letters?”
“You keep asking me like I’m gonna know. Let me see it closer. B. Br. O. W. ‘Cannot be duplicated’.”
“Where’d that come from?”
“Down here in the corner. See? Under all the windows. It says, ‘Too many possibilities. Cannot be duplicated. Hey, somebody drew a little cat on here.”
Clement shrugged and stabbed another fry. “I don’t get it. I’ll put it back tomorrow when I go for the pictures.”
“Yeah, about that. It’s gonna have to be after lunch.”
“I was actually thinking about doing it during lunch, since I figured fewer people would be in the building, but after lunch works too. Why? You wanna go with?”
“It’s not that. You can’t do during lunch because we have plans for lunch.”
“At the White House? Why are you talking in code? I feel like I need a Navajo to come in and tell me what the hell you’re saying.”
“That’s because you’re not going to like what I have to tell you.”
“But I’m going to like it so much better if it’s presented in the form of a riddle. Okay, I’ll play. Animal, vegetable or mineral?”
“Chandler Elementary School.”
“Okay, that probably counts as animal and mineral. Chandler Elementary School what?”
“Chandler Elementary School is where our lunch plans are. While you were out retaking that office building for the white majority, the boss called.”
“No no no. We had to go last time. They can send somebody else this time.”
“They’re sending everybody.”
“What? All the schools are having Career Day on the same day?”
“It’s not Career Day. We really are having lunch there.”
“With the kids? I got jelly thrown at me already this week; Now I gotta get hit in the back of the head with a buttered roll?”
“That’s what kids do to you if they don’t like you. They throw a buttered roll at the back of your head. You never even know it’s coming until it hits you and then you have to walk around the rest of the day with this greasy spot in your hair. It doesn’t matter if you go to the bathroom and try to wash it out. You can use hand soap. You can go beg the cafeteria ladies to use dish soap. You can ‘borrow’ some rubbing alcohol from the library. You can try to comb it out or comb your hair over it. Doesn’t matter. You’re gonna have that wet slimy place there and everybody’s gonna know you got hit with a roll.”
“I never heard of that before.”
“You never got hit with a roll in the back of the head?”
“What? Did you go to private school?”
“No. I just didn’t go to a school where they let the kids hit each other in the back of the head with bread products. We weren’t allowed to throw our food.”
“You never had a Jell-O fight?”
“Where did you go to school? The zoo? Did the students also pee in the corners to mark their territory and throw feces at the teachers when they became distressed?”
“Where’s this coming from? Is this because I got you to admit you’d like to beat that guy to death?”
“No. I’m just wondering what kind of things a child could learn in that sort of environment. Apparently you students were only this far from being completely feral.” He held his thumb and forefinger apart so light was barely visible in the space between them. “I hope the kids aren’t like that tomorrow. Maybe we should wear our company gimme caps just in case.”
“It’d give them something to aim at but it might deflect a little of the grease.”
“You going home after this?”
“Yeah. You? Going out with Mari?”
“Nah. She’s meeting some friends. Some female friends.”
“What do I care? So what are you gonna do?”
“Go home and read.”
“Right. What?”
“It’s a book about a serial killer who’s also a cannibal. You know, like Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s fascinating though because all through the book they put in some of his recipes.”
“That’s disgusting. What’s the name of this crap?”
“’Goat’s-Head Soup’.”~
“That’s the name of a Rolling Stones record. What the hell? Does the guy eat goats?”
“No, it’s a metaphor. Metaphor? You know, a symbol.”
“For what?”
“The author says that serial killers aren’t really bad because everyone would kill a lot of different people if they had the guts and thought they could get away with it. Serial killers are the scapegoats that carry out the bad thoughts everybody has.”
“So the serial killer is the goat?”
“And the serial killer isn’t the one that gets eaten?”
“Then it’s an even stupider name for a book because it also doesn’t make sense.”
“Calling it ‘Goat’s-Head Soup’ makes it sound like there’s a soup and in the soup is the head of a goat. But if the cannibal is the goat then it’s the goat’s head that’s doing the eating. See my point?”
“It’s still a good book.”
“It’s a disgusting book. This whole thing makes me wish I hadn’t had dinner. Or maybe it’s good I had dinner because I won’t be eating anything for a while. Especially because it’s gonna be hard to eat tomorrow when I gotta keep one eye on the back of my head the whole time.”
Jeff started laughing and Clement punched him in the arm. “Ow! What’s wrong with you? You said something funny. If you say something funny then I’m gonna laugh.” He rubbed his arm then pulled up his sleeve and blew on the red mark. “Ow! Why are you hitting people?”
“I’m not hitting people; I’m hitting you. The reason I’m hitting you is because you’re deliberately misunderstanding what I say so you can laugh at me.”
“I’m a person and we don’t hit people.”
“Thanks, Mom. I didn’t- You know what? It’s not worth it. Just take me back to my car.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a green thing with wheels and an engine that travels on roads but that’s not important now.”
“So am I allowed to laugh at that? You’re being intentionally funny? I wouldn’t want to misunderstand.”
“I’m intentionally trying to say it’s been a rough couple of days and you don’t deserve everything I’m throwing at you. Some of it? Yeah.”
“You’re such a jerk.”
“Thanks. That means a lot coming from you.”
Jeff placed the tip under a corner of his plate. Clement added a dollar and rearranged the bills so they were at right angle to the napkin dispenser. Jeff got to the door first and started to hold it open.
“You know, last time someone held the door open for me I ended up nearly wetting myself so I better get that.”
Jeff stepped aside with a bow, both men walked through and continued to Jeff’s car. “Did they really throw buttered rolls at your school?”
“No, some were the throwers and some were the thrown at.”
“That’s right. I was a thrown at. Once you’re a thrown at you don’t move to the other side. Even when you move on to junior high.” He sighed. “Even when you move on to high school.”
“And that’s why you’re such a jerk.”
“That’s why.”
“It’s a heart-warming story really. It’s a lot like that show with Mickey Rooney where you find out how the baby grew up to be Santa Claus.”
“It’s exactly like that. Thanks for noticing.”
“I have another book at my house if you wanna come over for a while.”
“Jeff, we’re not bonding; I am just trying to let you know what we’re in for tomorrow and why you shouldn’t be surprised if I grab a kid by the shirt-front and march him backwards to the principal’s office.”
“Okay okay. So how are you planning to get back into the office tomorrow and return that paper?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“But it’s my girlfriend and her pictures.”
“No. This was about your girlfriend and her pictures but now it’s not. Now it’s about me being able to get in there without having to ride the bus for hours and without having to explain what the hell I’m doing there. I told you before: It’s personal now.”
“She’s still my girlfriend.”
“I understand that. You have to understand that the fewer people who know what I’m planning to do the better it is for everyone. You asked me to do you a favor and now I’m doing one without being asked.”
“I don’t get it.”
“If I tell you when I’m going into that office and how and then something happens and the police find out that you knew ahead of time and didn’t tell anyone then it’s gonna be bad for you.”
“But if I don’t tell you and you don’t know then if the police come to you and ask if you knew anything you can truthfully say ‘no’. ‘I have no idea. He said something about red geraniums and asked me about the best thing to use if he wanted to bleach his hair. Didn’t mean anything to me. I told him to get some Summer Blonde and a heat lamp and call his mother’.”
“What if something happens to you?”
“Nothing happened to me last night. You had no idea where I was or what the hell I was doing until I came in this morning and told you. I guarantee tomorrow’s going to be a day at the park after that.”
“Let’s stop at Walgreen’s and get you one of those medical alert bracelets.”
“What the hell for?”
“Let’s say somebody comes up behind you and hits you on the head with something harder than a buttered roll. As you’re headed for the ground, just before you lose consciousness, you press the button and the emergency people come.”
“No, they don’t. An ambulance comes. Maybe a fire truck comes. No police will be coming to rescue me. The police don’t go to alert calls where somebody fell and broke their hip and can’t reach the phone. Anyway, what’s with all this talk about me getting hit on the head? It’s an office. It’s located near other offices. I’m not going into a war zone. I’m not doing anything dangerous. Nobody’s even gonna know I’m there so who would hit me?”
“I’d just feel better if you told me.”
“No. You know my lunch plans and that’s it.”
“Your lunch plans?”
“Yes, idiot. You’re going to be there too.”
“Oh, yeah.”


Another Reason I Don’t Do As I’m Told

Press ‘rinse’, read the coffee-machine.
In a rare burst of obedience I pressed the button.
Press ‘tall’ then press ‘start’.
Feeling less confident in the instructions,
Nevertheless doing as I was told.
A woman in a violet suit walked up to me and the machine.
She was carrying a mug; She was smiling with anticipation,
She looked at the whirring machine; She looked at her mug.
The smile was gone.
“It’s rinsing,” I said.
The smile was back.
The machine went quiet and we waited,
Waited together in the silence to see what would happen next.
Waited and watched as the machine peed twelve ounces of hot water onto the floor.
“This,” I said, “is why I don’t follow instructions.”
The woman went to find someone in charge, someone with a mop.
I just waited.
Waited to warn people so they wouldn’t fall.
Waited, with a sheepish look on my face, beside the puddle of dirty water.
People came to browse the selection of energy drinks and granola bars.
They looked at the light brown puddle on the floor;
They looked at me.
They looked disgusted and went away without buying anything.
A woman in a denim shirt walked up to me carrying a mop.
“Maybe,” I said, “they should write clearer instructions.”
She didn’t answer; She just set to work cleaning up my mess.


When Our Eyes Met

The girl
Walking slowly
Crossing against the light
Didn’t speed up but she did turn
Her head.


Boys In Their Summer Haircuts

Jason has a Mohawk.
Sam had a Mohawk too.
Sam’s parents were- shall we say- on the bleeding edge of hip:
Sam didn’t just have a Mohawk, his parents had dyed it with Kool-Aid
And his mother had a tattoo on her lower back that read “Property of”.
Jason’s mother seems to be very conservative and traditional.
I don’t think she got him a Mohawk for cultural reasons;
I don’t think she chose that style because of its punk connotations.
I think it’s just the new variation of the shaved-nearly-down-to-your-head cut
My brother used to get every summer because it’s easy to care for.
Now that style has its own connotations;
Reminding us of skinheads and neo-Nazis.
So we have the Mohawk, which has the added benefit of giving the other boys a look to strive to create
Standing in front of the mirror- with some extra help from the sink-
When everyone rushes in from playing in the rain.-


Naked Truth

No clean socks.
No undirty underwear.
The bottoms of the dresser drawers lie exposed and bare.
If no one processes the laundry, we’ll be left
In the raw.


Sea Change

Brady looked at the woman sitting beside him and pondered his situation. Where had he made his mistake? He had imagined her cradled in his arms, looking up at the stars from the top deck of the boat. Instead she sat as far from him as possible with her nose pressed against the glass. She was peering out at the sun-dappled waters of the Seine as if they might be whipped to tsunami heights at any moment and batter their boat to splinters against the shore.

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go up? The bridges are quite lovely and you can see them so much better from there,” Brady asked in what he immediately recognized as the wheedling tone mothers took with their tots to avoid a showdown in the checkout line. She looked at him aghast.

“I can’t imagine why I would want to look at the dank, smelly undersides of bridges,” she sniffed. “Besides, you know it’s not safe up there.” Brady tried not to sigh.

“Tell me again why we are risking our lives to go and breath the fresh Paris air,” he said.

“I don’t like your tone, but I will tell you,” she replied. “It is unsafe because there might be a fight on one side of the boat and if everyone ran to see what was going on then the boat might capsize. I prefer to stay here closer to the center of the boat where it is safe. You may go up if you like. Don’t let me slow you down.” Brady stood up. He stretched in an attempt to cover his hasty departure for the upper deck. He wanted to ask her if she didn’t think she would be safer on top of the boat where she could swim to safety if it did capsize. But he realized it had taken a lot of guts for her to board the boat in the first place after she had seen those two Vietnamese women on the gangplank. It was only after they heard them speaking French that she had agreed to the tour so long as they took the proper safety precautions.

Brady had reached the top of the short flight of stairs and he flung himself gratefully up the last step. He breathed deeply of the blossom laden air and looked around. It took only a moment for him to wish he had stayed below. Even in the brightness of the afternoon sunshine, they were there as they had been everywhere in Paris. Lovers entwined and oblivious to the world around them. He wanted to go to them and shake them and ask why they didn’t observe the rules of common decency. Why the rules for them were different than the ones he was forced to live by. But he realized he would rather be shaking her and asking her why she had so many rules. He’d take her by the arms and shake her until she gave him a satisfactory answer. But shaking her would involve touching her. Brady looked across the deck to where an elegantly dressed blond with the latest au mode haircut was being disheveled by a man who looked like he spent his days working on cars and his nights sleeping in them. Brady wondered how they had come together and why the woman was so engrossed in her lover and not afraid of a capsize. How could she let him touch her in such intimate ways out here where all the passengers on the boat might watch them and the people on the shore as well? Why was she so free with her body?

His thoughts turned to the woman he had left below. She would be asking someone about the disposition of the lifeboats by now. He realized it had been nearly a week since they had made love and nearly as long since she had let him touch her at all other than to take her elbow to cross streets or help her onto buses or elevators. How had it come to this? Not long ago she had been like that blonde over there or like the titian-haired temptress faking a snooze in her companion’s lap.

They had met in his figure drawing class. He was a student and he was delighted when he discovered that she was the nude model. He had gone to class expecting a young Adonis or a wiry hen of a woman as they’d had last term. Instead there she stood proudly but casually as the instructor pulled her limbs this way and that until he was satisfied with her pose. She didn’t blush beneath their inspection as he had expected. She reeked savoir-faire and after class an intrigued Brady had approached her to see what such a creature sounded like. They talked easily. They laughed about the snobbery of the French and the prudery of their home country. How silly to view the body as anymore than an extension of oneself and a convenient way to carry about one’s brain. After an afternoon of mocha lattes, they went to her rooms and made love on the flannel sheets and patchwork quilt her mother had sent in case there was no bedding in France. Afterward she smoked her first Galoise and was ill and laughed about it.

He wondered if she would pose the next morning after all they had shared that afternoon. But when he walked in, a few minutes late, she was already there in the center of the room in all her naked abandon.

“I must have you,” he growled some days later when they were cocooned under her mother’s quilt. She smiled.

“But you just did,” she said truthfully.

“That’s not what I mean,” he said. “You’re not like anyone I’ve ever met. You’re free and fearless. You’re like the best of home and here mixed together and that’s something I want to be near forever.” Brady noticed her smile was less bright but she consented to marry him. She kidded him about having been an American in Paris so they agreed to go there to celebrate.

A burst of song from the shore brought Brady abruptly back to the present. A group of four or five people with their arms around each other’s shoulders were swaying slightly and belting the words to a sea chantey that Brady knew well. He sang it to himself to give him courage as he walked down the stairs to face what he knew he must do. He had caused this problem between them and he must be the one to resolve it. Was it only after he’d asked her to marry him that the unreasonable fears had manifested themselves? Was it then that she asked him not to touch her in public and to maintain some dignity? Brady realized it to be true and reasoned that if his proposal and the prospect of being a married woman had poisoned this affair then he would just have to undo it. He would go to her and simply tell her that things had changed between them and he didn’t like it. She would cry and ask what she could do and he would tell her. We’re not getting married after all, he would say, it was a silly mistake. How could I have thought of caging a songbird like you? Then she would laugh and throw herself into his arms, telling him how relieved she was and he would carry her up to the top deck where they would view the splendors of Paris together.

Brady stood beside their bench now. He took a deep breath and held it then let it out slowly between his teeth. She turned to look at him. He was struck again by her beauty and grace. If he looked closely he imagined he could still see the spark of mischief in her eyes which his announcement would fan to a flame.

“I’ve realized I made a dreadful but very funny mistake,” he began.

“Oh,” she said.

“Yes,” Brady said starting to chuckle. “I realized that it would be a horrible mistake to marry you and tie you down. You should be free to follow your heart not follow me around like a dog waiting for a piece of meat.” He waited for her to join him in the joy of his insight. But her laughter never came.

“I’ve been waiting for you to come down so I could tell you I’ve had a wire from my parents,” she said. “They would be pleased to have us visit anytime after next month. They are looking forward to making the wedding plans then.” Brady was open-mouthed.

“Didn’t you hear? There isn’t going to be any wedding. It was a mistake. I never should have asked you to marry me,” he said. She stood up and walked around to stand beside him.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” She asked. Brady nodded.

“I thought this was just a silly joke of yours,” she stammered. “I thought it was a test to see how flaky I was, but you’re serious.” Brady nodded again. She rushed to the back of the boat and posed for a moment. When she was sure she had his attention she lifted one leg then the other over the guard line until only a few feet of wood stood between her and the churning waters of the Seine.

“Do you think this is a joke of mine?” she said coldly.

Brady racked his brain for a way out of his predicament.

“It was a joke,” he called as he moved slowly towards her. “Of course we’ll get married. You were right. It was just a test.” She didn’t smile.

“I couldn’t marry you now,” she said. “I could never trust you. I would always wonder. It would be like living in a perpetual classroom. I would spend all my time waiting for the next test and wondering if I would pass it. I couldn’t live like that.”

Brady was within arms reach of her now. His brain whirled like the wheels on a one-armed bandit but nothing came up. The boat was very near the shore now as the boat turned around. He could see lovers sitting on the benches. Their heads were together and the cooing reminded him of the pigeons on the roof of her rooms. That first afternoon seemed a century ago now. How had it come to this? She took one step toward the back edge of the boat then another. He could see a stone lion beside the walking path standing sentinel over the lovers crouched against his great haunches. She gave a great start forward and Brady leaped to catch her. But he had misjudged the distance and his momentum carried them off the back of the boat and into the water. He heard her scream as the cold engulfed them and he wondered for an instant if she could swim. He felt woozy and tried to think how long he had before hypothermia set in. But part of him was warm. It was his head. Brady realized he had hit his head on the side of the boat as he came up and he was bleeding. He saw her swimming toward him and calling for help. Then she grabbed his right arm to pull him toward the shore. Brady looked at the banks of the Seine. He saw lovers as before but they seemed to be sitting on the swings of his grade school.

Brady balled his left hand, the dominant one, into a fist then drew it back and punched her in the jaw as hard as he could. As he had expected she released his arm and both hands flew to her face. Brady took this opportunity to begin stroking farther into the Seine. He looked back once at the boat he had struck and saw that most of the passengers were now crowding the top deck. He blew a kiss to the chic blonde then sank beneath the water. He did not resurface.


Self Identified

Confucius said to
Call things by their right names is
How wisdom begins.

It’s impossible.
If everything is in flux
You will never know

What to call a thing
Unless it declares itself
And tells you its name.

My name is dazzling
Violet seeker of best words.
How may I know you?