Saturday, May 21, 2016

Incident at Vinny's Cabin

When I finally have her, my body burns. Her long copper curls, the dahlia lips and nails. I get closer and can taste her shampoo in the slight space between us. Her skin is perfect—smooth and clear. Once it receives my touch, I can't be stopped. Won't be. Locking my arms around her, the fire grows. She fights bitterly as I breathe deeply and calmly, the illusion of time evaporating. Slowly the fire abates until I'm nothing but smoldering, flickering embers. Then I end her.

"Huh? No!" I jerked awake. Nightmare. Thank God. Where am I? Not in my bed. Shit.

But the smell of the room—its dusty smokiness deeply embedded after sixty years next to the fire pit, jostled my memory. My crusty eyes scanned the faded turquoise walls and crooked Bobby Kennedy picture above the dresser.

Vinny's cabin.

Why was I here? Boots suffocating my ankles, I propped myself and examined the mud they'd smeared from a night spent on top of the bedspread. Shit, Vinny said his grandma made it.

One arm still in my jacket, I sat up. My head pounded and my knuckles throbbed, joints rusty and sluggish. I rested my face in my hands, startled when my fingertips traced deep, curved gashes along my jawline. Grabbing my phone and seeing my face, an icy bolt of awareness shot through me.

I had no memory of last night. Or yesterday. Nothing. Didn't remember seeing Vinny, or driving out here, or going to bed in my goddamn boots. My phone said it was Sunday. I remembered work on Friday, coming home, having a beer watching Shark Tank, going to bed... and... that's it.

On the floor sat a muddy backpack, a blue towel sticking out the top. I slid it over and pulled it apart, the towel staying put in a stiff heap. As I shook it open, an earthy stench of iron and dampness overtook the cramped bedroom. Holy shit.

The towel's middle was caked thickly in clotted blood; splotches and spatters orbiting the main stain. I threw it on the floor.

Remaining in the bottom of the splayed bag sat more contents: a coil of yellow rope, a roll of duct tape and a serrated—blood-coated—hunting knife.

Oh my God, what the fuck did I do? And where's Vinny? I sprung up, high-stepping over the bloody pile on the floor. I pulled open the door, and there he stood.

"You didn't take your pills yesterday, did you?"

I've known Vinny a long time. He's not Italian; his real name is Vanya. His great grandparents came over from Russia after the Great War, bought this land by the lake and built a cabin on it. I've been coming out since I can remember. 

"Dude," he said, you were ridiculous last night. Oh, there's the backpack." Vinny's "365" outfit of black t-shirt, cargo shorts and flip-flops always provided the comfort of knowing some things really don't change.

"I don't remember anything, Vinny. And this shit on the floor is freaking me out a little bit." I sat back down on the muddy bedspread. "And what do you mean 'ridiculous'? Like awesome ridiculous or ridiculous ridiculous."

"Awesome ridiculous. Just calm down and I'll tell you everything." Vinny sat on the floor by the backpack, lifted out the knife and lightly bounced his finger on its tip. "Thank God for this bad boy."

"The fuck are you talking about?"

"You really don't remember... "

"Tell me, asshole!" My temples pounded.

"Alright, alright. Jesus, calm down."

"Not easy right now."

"That's why you need to take your fucking pills like you're supposed to." Vinny dropped the knife onto the floor. "We came up here last night to fix the rope swing. I can't believe you don't remember this. Hence the yellow rope and the serrated knife."

"It's bloody, though! Ropes don't fucking bleed, dude!"

"I'll get to that. The duct tape was to reinforce the windows for winter. You put an X pattern on 'em and you're good to go against storms. My mom makes me do it every year. Come on, man, you're starting to concern me."

I couldn't look at him with that red knife staring at me.

"Okay, and here's where things get a little bit amazing." Vinny came up next to me on the bed. "After finishing our tasks, we made a fire and enjoyed a couple of beers, sound familiar?"


"Well, anyway, we're sitting there and out of nowhere comes this fucking huge mastiff. I think it belongs to the Mitchells next door and I've seen this monster a few times. Doesn't like anybody." Vinny toed the towel with his flip-flop. "This dog apparently really didn't like you, because he came at you like a bat out of hell."

"Where were the Mitchells and how did he get out?"

"Hell if I know, but they apparently weren't around, so I have no idea why he was even up here. But it's a good thing that knife was within your reach, because I wouldn't have been able to unlock that guy's jaws from your little chicken throat if he'd made it that far."

"So you're telling me I killed a dog?"

Vinny blew out a breath. "That's what I'm saying, yes. He got you pretty good but you handled him. Well done."

"Well done, really? Not something I'd brag about on a bar stool. Ever heard of Michael freaking Vick?"

"I have, but you might change your mind when you see the size of this fucking dog. He would've eaten you, dude. Come on, let's check it out."

"Where is it?"

"Under a tarp. I thought we better deal with it in the morning."

I followed Vinny into the living room. Just like he'd said, all the windows were criss-crossed with silver tape, causing weird shadows on the braided rug. We walked around to the back of the cabin where an overgrown horseshoe pit sadly waited for attention. Beyond that, a tarp-covered mound rested beside the woodpile. Watching Vinny's flip-flops fling the morning dew back toward me, I strained to remember yesterday, to recall even a snippet of a misplaced chunk of life. Still nothing but black.

"Check it out," he said.

I stood above the mass, my eyes tracing the contours of the blue plastic. Near the far corner something caught my eye. I walked around and in that moment of epiphany, studied the beautiful hand jutting out into the morning, its fingers perfectly painted with dahlia-colored polish. Standing there alone, I looked back at Vinny's cabin and at the lone trail of footprints in the trampled grass.

Should've taken my pills.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Location

"Honest to God, that woman can be such a diva sometimes." Edward lifted the soaking paper and lowered it into the sepia tray. "Insisting that I use film for the shoot. And that I must personally process every print? Um, hello? Elton John called. He wants his bitch back."

"Ha! I like it." Edward's assistant Greg sat on a stool, trying to take notes in the amber light of the darkroom.

"But she can also be a goddamn genius, and I must admit," said Edward, "I am enjoying this whole film thing. Haven't produced sepia tones since the Nineties."

Which was also how long he'd known Mia Kirkwood, managing editor of Buzz magazine—compadres since their early days at art school, Edward now felt more like her obedient lackey than a renowned photographer in his own right. "Definitely a unique location, to boot."

"I don't know," Greg said, "Was I disappointed to leave that miserable place? Hell no." He watched Edward nimbly transfer another print from bleach to clean water. "Place made me shiver, like, the whole time. Think about what it was like living there."

"Or dying?"

"Okay, thanks, now I'm shivering again. Eddie, I'm not kidding, they need to take a fucking wrecking ball to that place."

"I suppose. But you have to admit it was amusing how disgusted those poor little models were." Edward clipped another sheet to the line. "Well tough shit, little girlfriends, y'all make more than I do, so you can just go ahead and put on your big girl panties. Edward noticed that Greg's arms were tightly folded. "What freaked you out the most?"

"Um...shit, where do I begin? The reception area?"

"True enough. Mental hospitals aren't most people's idea of home." Edward reached toward the wall, his hand cranking the amber light's intensity. "Let's take a look."

The five dangling photos slowly came to life as Greg's gaze sharpened. "Oh, God." He hugged himself tighter, unaware how his torso rocked as he absorbed the imagery.

Edward chuckled and clipped on another dripping print. "Mia Kirkwood, you've done it again."

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Trump vs. Hillary: Wake Me Up When It's Over.

Finally it's come to pass—Trump vs. Clinton—estúpido hombre vs mujer acostada.

Are you ready? If not, that's fine, because we've got a solid six months ahead of us to watch a muck-huckin' donnybrook not witnessed since Geraldo took a neo-Nazi chair to the face. We'll have a nice long exposure to this toxic spectacle, so let's just pace ourselves, okay?

And by ourselves, I mean me.

Four years ago, little intrigue marked the 2012 presidential primary season. As with every incumbent president over the past thirty years, Barack Obama sailed through spring and summer unopposed by anyone from his party. In fact, the last time that happened was 1980, when a cranky Ted Kennedy challenged Jimmy Carter ("We cahn't bayah fah mah yeeahs of wicked pissing failyah!").

On the right was Mitt Romney: tanned, rested and crisply mom-jeaned. After biding his time in the well-choreographed dancing order of Republican establishment candidates, he'd placed considerable distance between himself and the field by May, anti-climactically creaming Santorum in the final delegate count 1575 to 245.

That Obama-Romney matchup, while packing some considerable wallop due to the men's stark ideological and cultural differences (car elevators, magic underwear and Stanford vs. single moms, magic cigarettes and Harvard), seems nearly flavorless compared to this year's eminent insane.

Currently, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are polling historic numbers in the category of "strongly unfavorable." It seems that we don't just despise Trump, we want to take that orange mull-hawk and hurl it around the freaking room like Bam Bam with a granite easy chair. As for Hillary, she doesn't just lightly chafe our sensibilities, she fracks into our souls with her venomous guile and heaves around more baggage than Mr. and Mrs. Howell.

So yeah, this one's a little different, and there's no way to know how a contest between two such remarkably unappealing candidates will affect voter turnout. On the one hand, this November could experience record participation from non-white and young voters. Specifically Latinos, with their 48% turnout lagging behind African-African (67%) and white voters (65%) during the 2012 election, may go big on November 8. Why? A little refresher:

They're not sending you, they're sending people that have lots of problems and they're bringing those problems. They're bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists and some, I assume, are good people, but I speak to border guards and they're telling us what we're getting. -Donald Trump, July, 2015

By the same token, over the past year both Trump and Bernie Sanders have risen to symbolize America's immense dissatisfaction with traditional insider politics. Not all who backed Sanders can be considered rubber stamps for Hillary, and certainly not for Trump, whose splintered his own party like the delicious inside of a Butterfinger.

This war of attrition will end in six months. Pissed off honkies who can't find it in their consciences to vote for either candidate will recycle their ballots and set their iTimers for 2020. Pissed off Latinos and African-Americans will vote in record numbers, but more as a referendum against Trump than an "atta girl" for Hillary. She'll win the presidency decisively.

Remember, though, there's still a long way to go, so you need to calm the hell down.

And by you, I mean me.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

It's Crime Rhyme Friday


What should we do
With the guy in the trunk?
Should we cut out his tongue,
Make him live like a monk?

The Boss said "Don't care, just
Make him disappear."
Our options are open,
Then let's have us a beer.

Should be shoot him, or stab him,
Or let him go free?
Maybe waterboard him, yo!
Always wanted to see.

Should we call up his grandma
For some old phone a booth?
Then send her a letter
Attached to his tooth?

Do we chop him up, burn him up,
Hack with a hoe?
Do we untape his hands,
And say "Dude, you can go."

I hope you remembered
The axe and the saw.
I hope we weren't seen
When we taped up his jaw.

Should we drive to the desert,
Or head to the woods?
Hey look, there's an Arby's,
Curly fries would be good.

Should we bury his torso,
Apart from his noggin'?
Keep driving until
We don't see people joggin'.

What should we do
With that dude in the back?
Remember, it's like lifting
Three concrete sacks.

Should he beg us to live,
Should he cry for his wife?
Will he tells us there's cash,
If we'd just spare his life?

Did you use enough duct tape
To keep him from kicking?
Hear that? Holy shit!
I don't think that shit's sticking.

Should we pull over here,
And just check on the load?
What's that noise? Do a U-turn!
He's bounced down the road.

Goddamn it! He's dead now,
And it's all your fault.
I'm sick of your shit, so
Climb in the trunk, Walt.

I need to get going.
Really need to get get drunk.
But what should I do
With the guy in the trunk?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ignorance and Hate in the Tar Heel State

Okay, what's up with this whole bathroom thing?

Back on March 16, the North Carolina General Assembly passed HB 2, banning employers and businesses from discriminating against employees or customers based on their race, color, country of origin, religion, age or “biological sex.”

Which is good... ish. Problem is, by saying what can't be done, Carolina's new law is actually implying what can be done. Omitted from the bill's language is any prohibition on discriminatory practices against those who identify with a different sex than the one designated to them at birth.

Before we go too much further, help me understand why—what were the true motivations behind such a strange rule? Why did a state's congress spend so much time and energy crafting this legislation? Here's all I could come up with, as explained by Davy Doug Duggar, Carolina kissin' cousin to the celebrated Duggar clan of Arkansas:

a) Fear—"Y'all just watch. Y'all gonna see those goddamn abonimabations settin' up shop in every laydees room from here to Stoney Creek. 'Specially that one down the hall from the food court at Raleigh Mall. Y'all never mind how I know that, I just do, a'ight?"

b) Power—"Case y'all forgot, we're the waht gahs. We in charge. Y'all can take yer baby killers, Mexicans and freaks and dump 'em on off in San Francisco or Seattle or one o' them other shit holes in California."

c) The convenience of dealing in absolutes—"Ever since Adam and Eve was cast out of the Olive Garden, men have held sole possession of the penis. Except that Jamie Lee Curtis, and ah do love her work."

Feel free to add your own theory, because this whole thing freaking flummoxes me. And in terms of item c), while life is mostly grey, there are plenty of black and white issues I can get behind. Here's three off the tip of my tongue:

1) There will never be a perfect ratio of chips to salsa. Ever.

2) The coat closet can never be left partially open. Since moving in, I've closed it 6,022 times. Yes, I figured it out.

3) Cats are weird.

I mean, sure, at my current proportions I'm imposing enough to be Leo's prison daddy, but if I ever shrank to the size of a troll doll, first he'd torture me by slowly gnawing off my arms with his toothless gums, then finally halt my misery by clamping down on my little Adam's Applet.

Fickle beasts, they are.

Given more time to consider the concept, I'm sure most of us would be able to conjure up a few more examples of good and bad, of black and white, of right and wrong. But gender isn't one of them. What right have we to label someone as wrong or bad after what has surely been years of struggle and shamed secrecy in pursuit of his or her true identity?

I'll answer that one, too—we don't have that right. If you're uncomfortable with your kid using a public restroom, go in with them or find a single-occupancy "family" facility. And speaking of family, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, of the 69,000 child abductions that occurred in 1999, about 82 percent of them were perpetrated by family members, and 11 percent by friends of the family (or other adults that the child knew well). So, North Carolina, if you really want to keep your children safe, maybe y'all should look a little closer to home. 

This is simply another in a long line of smoke screens churned up by repressed conservative men to keep the usual suspects in line. Anyone who disputes that our lives contain shades of grey apparently hasn't figured out how to utilize the grey matter God gave them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The Yin's Fine, But That Needle's a Little Close to My Yang.

How open are you to trying to new things? Ever bought a pair of red Chuck Taylors, then actually worn them? Ever had your ear pierced in Canada then didn't get rid of it when you got back to the States?

Hey, me neither!

On a scale of one to ten, how game are you, with a one being, "Hey, Honey, can you hand me a new bottle of Pert over the curtain? You know I can't wash my bottom with a dirty head," to a ten being "Hell yes I'll eat that monkey!"?

While most of us fall somewhere mid-range, I've always skewed toward the "there's only one way to get to Tukwila" end of the scale. Sure, I've always talked a big game, but inevitably I've skedaddled to the comfort of my black and white cocoon of absolutism.

But when it comes to my asthma, experimentation has always bucked my conservatism. Since my first attack in '65, I've experimented with any number of inhaler cocktails, yet stuck to my tried and true friend, Albuterol, much like Donald Trump's well-documented dependence on Cialis and finger extensions. I'm a freaking OG vaper, which is why my adult life has witnessed a winding chain of steroid-based treatments, but without the benefit of large deltoids and small testes.

Prior to this winter, my only foray into eastern sensibilities had been a brief smidge of ponytailed dabbling back in the '90s, devouring Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in an impressive year-and-a-half. In summary, its message was that when we're able to shake free our dualistic mindsets (good/bad, right/wrong, subject/object), and simply experience every moment as it occurs, our egos dissolve and we become one with everything. No separation will then exist between the energy that powers all living things, a force within which God resides.

So yeah, while the whole Zen deal is amazing and enlightening and all that shit, not once in all those pages does anyone mention God shoving needles in my cheeks. And I'm not talking about the more insulated cheeks located south of the Bible Belt; if my eyes are midtown Manhattan, the needles are setting up shop in Little Italy.

Regardless, by December of last year, things had gotten to the point where, whether at work, home, the bus or the Target check-out line, I'd become a wheezing, coughing, throat-clearing phlegmbot, tirelessly annoying folks of all shapes and sizes, It was time to act or be assaulted by loved ones and strangers with equal impunity.

In January, I began weekly acupuncture treatments, and since, I've managed to vaguely grasp the theoretical reason why the Army Corps of Engineers felt it necessary to construct a weekly needle runway from collar bone down to lower abdomen, stopping just short of the more sensitive Silk Road to the Temple.

The gist of the theory is that when our bodies are balanced, energy flows freely from within and without. This energy is known as qi (pronounced "chee"), or life force. Qi consists of opposing forces, the yin (moist and cooling, emanating from the earth) and the yang (warm and invigorating, flowing downward from the sun and sky).

With my flow of qi impeded, an overabundance of "wind" or yin, becomes trapped in the lung, causing wheezing and shortness of breath. To combat this, needles are inserted along the lung meridian, one of nine energy pathways present in our bodies, to re-kindle the egalitarian relationship between yin and yang. In other words, the lung meridian is prodded with enough little lawn darts to force the twins back to the negotiating table.

Finally, following these months of treatments, yin and yang appear to have stopped fighting in the back seat over the last Red Vine, and Father Qi hasn't had to pull over and spank, as he calls them, "those goddamn twins."

Is all of this working? Has my asthma gone the way of the IBM Selectric? Not yet, but it's improved substantially. Unfortunately, I'm unable to fully attribute this change to acupuncture alone, since during this same period, I've eliminated dairy, lost some weight and implemented a regimen of 18 herbal supplements per day. But hey, what matters is results, right?

Actually, l changed my mind. The acupuncture is fully responsible. Let's order a pizza.

Friday, April 1, 2016

These Two.

I was going to type this up last night but I started throwing up. How's that for a hook?

Before I move on, a quick word about the process of vomiting—and it is just that—a process. Very few of us spontaneously hurl, as usually we're provided warning signs anywhere from minutes to hours prior to the ultimate act of yelling yogurt. I'm here to tell you though, somebody paid for express delivery on this one. I went from enjoying a beer on a beautiful Thursday evening, preparing a nice black bean soup (with bacon, where you leave the grease in the soup and it's freaking delicious) to bedazzling the bedpan in less than two hours.

Sorry, I tend to trend graphically in this forum and I do want you to read on, so I'll stop there. It's just interesting how, when the human body encounters a breach of security, it goes through a sort of NORAD Defcon level progression. And not to worry, feeling much better today.

I was planning on featuring my two daughters in this post, since during April the older kid turns 21 and the younger, 16. It's a big milestone and they've been subjects, sometimes willing but usually not, of numerous posts over the past seven years, Accordingly, I've decided my gift to them is Seinfeldian in nature—the gift of nothing—no interviews or greatest hits. You're welcome, darling angels.

Alas, most of the cute stories, the mispronunciations and heart-tweaking sentiments, the naive perceptions of life on Earth, have slowly evaporated with each passing season. And like many of my friends also experiencing this, I've tried to embrace the evolving nature of parenthood, from hands-on to hands-off in fairly short order.

April fools! Here are the top five quips from each daughter since this blog started back in 2009:

Older daughter (I'll call her Hermione):

3) December 5, 2011 (age 16)

Hermione: "Hey, Dad, I can see your butt crack,"

Me (I'll call myself Ryan, either Reynolds or Gosling): "Okay, do you want me to put down this hammer and this really small nail and this huge string of lights that's teetering on collapse and get down from this stool and pull up my pants? Huh? Is that what you want?" No answer. "Just look the other way or something." I pounded. I taped. I failed. I pounded some more. I swore some more. I pounded. Finally, success.

Hermione: "Dad, guess what? We filmed you on my phone."

Ryan: "You filmed me? Are you serious?"

Hermione: "Yeah."

Ryan: "You filmed the whole butt crack conversation, too?"

Hermione: "Yeah."

2) January 12, 2011 (Age 15)

Ryan: "It looks really short."

Hermione:"Dad, don't worry. I'm wearing spandex underneath, so even if it gets hiked up, no one can see anything."

Ryan:"You only need to touch your nose to hike that thing up."

Hermione: "Dad, just wait until you see me with it on. You'll feel much better."

Ryan didn't.

1) March 30, 2010 (Age 14)

Ryan: "If you could change anything about your first ten years, what would you change?"

Hermione: "When I was four, I wouldn't have peed on the floor of my room and wiped it up with your towel and put it back, thereby forcing you to dry yourself with my urine.

Ryan: "I wish you could change that too."

And now for the younger child (let's call her Chrysanthemum)

3) February 29, 2012 (age 11)

Chrysanthemum: "I let Autumn borrow my deodorant in gym today. I know I probably shouldn't do that, but I sort of feel sorry for her because she smells like..."

Hermione, interrupting: "Seriously, you guys, I was looking at my stomach in the mirror this morning and my two-pack is looking so good..."

Chrysanthemum, interrupting: "You just interrupted me."

Hermione: "Sorry. But really, check this out (exposing her bare stomach). Is this not a highly-defined two-pack?"

Chrysanthemum: "I don't care about your stomach. Can I finish talking please? Thank you...I forgot what I was talking about. Anyway, Ashley and Jonah are dating now, so there making it Facebook official tonight and then they're...

Hermione, interrupting: "Ewww! There's something in my Au Jus!"

Chrysanthemum: "You just interrupted me again! And it's a piece of bread. Stuff gets in your Aus Jus all the time! Look at mine. It's got stuff in it, too. Now listen to what I'm saying!"

Older Daughter: "I think I need a bang trim."

2) August 21, 2009 (age 9)

Chrysanthemum: "You know what I want for dessert?"

Ryan: "What?"

Chrysanthemum: "Gilletto."

Ryan: "You mean gelato?"

Chrysanthemum: "No Dad, I mean gilletto. Come on. You've had it a lot."

1) July 13, 2009 (age 9)

Chrysanthemum: "Dad, tell mom to change her clothes. She listens to you."

Ryan: "What are you talking about?"

Chrysanthemum: "Dad, Mom has a doctor's appointment, and the doctors and nurses are going to be really embarrassed to see her in her brown sweater with huge buttons. She looks super ugly."

Ryan: "People in our family are allowed to dress any way they want, including you."

Chrysanthemum: "But I always wear really pretty things."

Ryan: "Just leave your mom alone."

Chrysanthemum: "Just tell her to change her sweater, then. She can leave her pants on."

Ryan "I have to get back to work. Just let it go."

Chrysanthemum: "Okay, but you have a really unattractive wife going out in public."

Happy birthdays, my beautiful girls.