Category Archives: Culture

The Grape Apex

Photo by Caio on

It was a greasy Sunday morning and there was a chill in the air for it being May. We pulled into the Walmart parking lot, it being dawn. Some stars remained in the bruise-colored sky. A few cars idled in their spaces. Someone was shouting. There was a warm sick feeling in my guts about how terrible life could be so early in the morning and here we were about to feed the terribleness by stepping out into a world full of people who didn’t feel much for each other, but instead they just liked to feel each other physically like creeps.

There was a man or maybe it was a woman, but it was hard to tell because they were dressed in all black, like in a long gown, and their head was on a fire; it was a head of orange flames and the flames sort of trailed off to one side because of the breeze in the air. This person on fire was pushing a shopping cart and when they turned in a certain way to unload their things into their car, I realized the head on fire was nothing but the sun creeping up on them like a silhouette.

And this is why we were at Walmart so damn early in the morning—because I was having trouble taking breaths and I was seeing things, too, and even sounds were becoming onto me something strange. Momma decided I needed some sort of over-the-counter medicine or maybe just a good walk beneath the bright lights, but I didn’t believe any of that nonsense. I tried to tell her I needed a real doctor because I really thought I was completely losing my marbles… Green, glass marbles, like eyes, falling out of my head and crashing to the ground and shattering and then I’d be blind.

And momma squeezed my hand as she dragged me to the entrance of the store and she looked down on me, spirit wholly crushed as usual, and she said to me, “If all else fails we can be prayer warriors and the man upstairs will hear us and make me all better… But I was so confused because I never saw no man upstairs. No one is truly upstairs except our lodger and his name was Jarrod Peeps and he was a strange bird, but after daddy ran off momma said she needed a lodger for extra money.

I thought Jarrod Peeps was a creepy name and he was creepy and his name did fit him because I often saw him, the door to his room slightly cracked, peeping out into the hallway, especially early in the morning when everyone was running around trying to get ready for going to school and we would be scrambling and fussing—that being me and my younger brother Jamison and my younger sister Revvie and me, that being Sharpe, and I’m a boy in case you were wondering. Maybe you even weren’t wondering. I don’t know.

But like I was saying, this lodger, Jarrod Peeps, which was probably a made-up name because I believe he most likely had a shady past. He was a mostly quiet and nervous man who came and went to his job and whatever else he did out in the world without much turbulence. Momma liked him because he always paid his rent on time, and he could also be around for us kids at night if momma had to run off to do something like go drinking or be with a man. Jarrod always wanted to play that Barrel of Monkeys game with us because he said he liked the feel and smell of the plastic pieces, and that the “mechanics of the game help me with organizational skills.” Yep, he was a strange bird all right. His job was working as a carpenter, and he always smelled of sawdust. He helped build all the new houses going up on the edge of town.

But that is that and this is this… Momma dragging me into Walmart on a greasy Sunday morning in May because I’ve got problems. What the hell did she think was going to make me better? Grape-flavored cough syrup? I don’t know.

Once inside, the store had that collective stench of all that’s wrong with humanity. Personally, I always preferred the smell of Kmart because it had that added tang from the popcorn popping at the snack counter in one of those silver circus machines. But our Kmart shut down and they turned it into a megachurch, and I suppose it doesn’t smell like popcorn in there anymore, but I can’t say for sure because we’ve never been inside. But then again, I can imagine Jesus siting around up there eating some popcorn and listening to all these people talk about his life and how we should all live because of it, and I bet Jesus would just be tossing back that popcorn and shaking his head at all the stupid things we’ve become through the twisting of his intentions.

Momma took me straight to the pharmacy counter and asked the woman there what she would recommend for a crazy child. She just looked at my momma like she was the crazy one. The pharmacist came over and started yelling at my momma for taking space in the line from real customers. My momma fumed and called him a “prick”, but I figure he was just trying to do his job but, in the end, I still felt crazy, and momma felt defeated.

I told my momma that I might feel better if she took me to the toy aisle and let me pick something out. Sometimes getting something from the toy aisle gives me hope and purpose and a reason to live onto the following day. I always loved the toy aisle at Kmart, it gave me a good feeling in my guts sort of like bursting out the door of the house on those few first days of spring and there’s only a few patches of dirty snow left, and all the grass is pushed down from the weight of January’s crush, but you can smell that it’s coming back to life. It always comes back to life. I dread the day the grass doesn’t come back to life. I wonder if anyone else ever feels like that.

I wanted a plastic model car to put together. I wanted it to be one of those cars from back in the day that old men like. I found a ’57 Chevy and I liked how the box felt in my hand. I imagined how all the plastic pieces were in there and how I’d glue them all together and put on the tires and paint it red. It gave me a reason to stick around awhile. I know that it sounds crazy pinning all my hopes for a sustained life on a model car kit, but that’s how I was, maybe still am.

My momma went off to find some shampoo or something and she told me to stay right where I was and so I did stay in that same aisle, and I walked up and down it real slow and I watched other kids looking at all the shiny new toys and some kids were getting what they wanted, and others were being yelled at for wanting things they supposedly didn’t deserve. One lady kept saying to this crying little girl, “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” I felt really bad for her because she was nearly choking on her own tears. All she wanted was some stupid doll and her mom refused. Why? What’s the harm? I glanced into the cart they had, and she had all sorts of crap for herself. Nothing for the kid. I imagined popcorn-eating Jesus being real upset about that.

The aisle cleared out again and I was all alone, but then this odd man came down the along and he was looking at puzzles, but he kept glancing over to me and smiling really weird. I didn’t like it. He gave me the creeps, and then he walked near me real slow and reached out his hand and touched me on the rear-end and I jumped away and looked at him. I couldn’t say nothing to him. It just wouldn’t come out. He just stood there and leered at me like I was some sort of little rump roast he wanted for dinner. He was creepier than Jarrod Peeps and he wouldn’t go away so I ran. I ran to find my momma. But I couldn’t find her anywhere. She said she was going to be over by the shampoo, but she wasn’t there. I started to panic. I kept looking over my shoulder and the man who touched my rear end was lurking there in the distance and he was tossing me uneasy glances.

I set my model car down on a shelf where the bathroom towels were, and I ran for the exit. Once I was clear of the Village of Idiots, I searched the parking lot for our car, but I couldn’t find it. I wandered up and down all the aisles. I almost got hit by one crazy driver who apparently couldn’t fathom the fact surrounding the necessity of slowing down in a Walmart parking lot. They blew their horn at me like it was my fault for existing. I often felt like that, though. That for some reason I should feel guilty for existing. How does a 10-year-old kid end up feeling like that? I don’t know.

I decided to go hang out by the front of the store and wait for my momma to come out. It wasn’t long before the man who touched my rear end appeared holding a lone plastic bag. He saw me there and smiled. “Hi there,” he said. I wanted to run but felt frozen to the ground like in a dream.

He reached into the bag and pulled out the model car I had picked out. “I got this for you,” he said, and he moved it in my direction.

“No thank you,” I said.

“Oh, come on. I know you want it. Just take it.”

I reached my hand out toward it but then I thought about how awful I’d probably feel the whole time I was putting it together. I pulled my hand back. “No. I don’t want it now,” I told him.

“Are you sure? I could help you put it together.”

Misery deepened by the minute for me. But then the man violently jerked forward and fell to the ground. In his place was my momma standing there holding a big bottle of shampoo that she had used to club him with. The man groaned down on the pavement. I leaned down and took up the model car. While I was down there, I said to him, “You shouldn’t be touching rear ends in this here ghastly Walmart, mister. And I’ll take this model car after all and never think of you again.”

I got up and looked at my momma. “Let’s go, crazy boy,” she said to me. “Let’s go home and put you in your room and preserve your life for a while longer. That sound okay?”

“Yes, momma,” I answered, and it did.


The Dreamers of Fortune Street

Photo by Engin Akyurt on

Is it me causing all the ruckuses?

Is it me blowing down all the brick walls?

I went to the Centrifugal Theatre downtown because I wanted to watch a movie that made me spin. Halfway through the picture, an old black and white, the usher came up to me in his red uniform and monkey hat. He pointed his flashlight right in my face and inquired if I was a doctor.

“What kind of doctor are you looking for?” I asked.

“A doctor that can deliver a box of popcorn to that young lady right over there.” He nodded with his head and smiled. “Isn’t she just dreamy?”

“Why do you need a doctor for…”

And then I realized I was mixing reality with what was happening up on the movie screen. The usher was really telling me to get my feet off the seat in front of me. The movie scene had a guy buying popcorn for his date. It was a centrifugal mixing of the thoughts in and out of my head. Then I looked around the theatre and I was the only one there. Then the projector started acting up and the film became all tangled and warbled. I got up and walked out. It had been a decent piece of cinny up to that point though.

The next thing I did was walk out into the night air of Fortune Street and that made me think of fortune cookies and then I became incredibly hungry for some good Chinese food. So, I walked and walked and walked along the dirty sidewalk of the big, big city until I came upon a place called the Alabaster Wok. I went inside and the host, a small man in a red uniform, seated me at a round table covered in a red tablecloth. Everything seemed to be red and golden. There was a Buddha shaped candle jar in the center of the table. The flame inside flicked like a fiery tongue being unfurled from the mouth of the Egyptian sun god Ra. It was mesmerizing to someone like me.

A waiter brought me a menu the size of a small book and I flipped through the sticky, plastic pages. There must have been a thousand items to choose from. I noticed a lot of misspelled words. I suddenly had to go to the bathroom and got up and went to find the restroom.

The entire restaurant was bathed in a dim, yellow light, and the same went for the bathroom. I stepped up to the urinal and started to make pee when suddenly, a man came bursting out of one of the stalls and he made a wicked Kung Fu stance and then started wildly chopping and kicking at the air. He did spins and jumps and flips while he jabbed at the space around him, and the whole time he was shrieking at the top of his lungs: “Hiiiiiiiii Yahhhh!” repeatedly.

I jumped back out of his way, and I was pressed up against a cold tiled wall when one of his feet came bolting toward me in a high kick and smashed into the area right next to my ear. “Don’t fuck with me, bro!” he hollered. Debris crumbled down to the floor. “My name is Hai Chin and I’m a badass Kung Fu master.”

I was shaking at this point, and my heart was pounding so hard I half expected it to burst right out of my chest cavity. “Jesus, man,” I said. “You scared the shit out of me!”

He took great pride in that and grinned wide. He slapped me on the shoulder. “Sorry about that. I was just practicing for an upcoming territorial gang rumble… But hey, I’ve got to get back to work. I’m the dishwasher.”

With that, he slammed his way out of the restroom chanting some crazy battle tune.

I braced myself at the sink and tried to regain my composure. After a few calming breaths, the door to the restroom burst open and Hai Chin was now soaring through the air, and he planted both feet into my back. The blow was intense and caused me to violently jerk forward and my face smashed right into the mirror and broke the glass. I fell to the floor with a thud and my hands went immediately to my face to assess the situation. When I pulled them away to look at them, there was blood.

Hai Chin was standing above me, hands on his hips and he had the biggest smile on his face. “Gotcha mo’ beans!” he said, and he laughed out loud.

I yelled at him. “Dude! What is your fucking problem? I’m really hurt here. Give me something to press against my face.”

“Huh? Like what?”

“Like a warm, wet towel!”

“Okay… Be right back!” And with that, he ran out of the restroom again, but quickly popped his head back in just to say, “Don’t forget to jiggle the handle!”

I got up and steadied myself against the sink. I looked into the busted mirror and the jagged reflection made me look like a cut up monster. It wasn’t long before Hai Chin returned with the warm wet towel. He handed it to me, and I put it to my face. “Thanks,” I said.

“You are welcome, sir. Welcome to the Alabaster Wok. Can I get you something to drink and perhaps an appetizer?”

I turned my aching face toward him. “We’re in the bathroom. Can I at least get back to my table before you take my order… And I thought you said you were the dishwasher.”

“I am the dishwasher… But on slow nights like this, waiter go home, and I take over for him. I’m what you say—multi-tasking. And the boss man cheap.”

“Right. I’m going to go sit down at my table now. I haven’t even had a chance to look at the whole menu yet.”

“It’s big, like my woman whopper… Ha ha!”

I just shook my head and brushed by him. I was hurting and very hungry and in no mood for his bullshit outlandish behavior.

When I returned to the table, there was a bag of frozen stir fry vegetables there with a note attached: Sorry for the brutal attack. You can use this to relieve any swelling. No charge. Hai Chin.

I looked up and saw him peeking at me from behind a red curtain on the other side of the restaurant. But I was hungry and so I gently pressed the bag of frozen vegetables against my now swelling face and looked over the menu once more. What was I thinking? I had made my mind up long ago, before I even got here. Orange chicken with a side of fried rice. Why don’t I ever just trust my own gut? Why do I always second guess myself? Sometimes I could just throw myself out of a window, or in front of a speeding train, or into a flock of doves.

And that’s when Hai Chin suddenly appeared behind me like a flash of lightning. He just seemingly popped up from some portal beneath the floor. “It’s because you lack confidence in yourself,” he told me. “You need to explore your spirit. You need training.”

My head whipped around. “How did you…”

“It no matter,” Hai Chin said, and he raised his little notepad and pencil. “Are you ready to order?”

“I’ll have the orange chicken with fried rice… And throw in a side of the crab Rangoon with some sweet and sour sauce.”

“Something to drink?”

“How about an oolong tea.”

“Yes, sir. Anything else for you?”

“No. That should do it.”

He bowed and scampered away. A moment later I heard him shouting my order to someone in the invisible back.

The food arrived quickly. The chicken was steaming, the rice was steaming, the tea was steaming. I moved the plastic broccoli aside for it was an unnecessary addition to the plate. The crab Rangoon called to me, and I took one of the starfish shaped treats and dipped it in the sweet and sour sauce. I took a bite. It was glorious Heaven upon glorious Heaven, oh my friends. It too, was hot. But sometimes a craving overtakes a burn.

I ate as much of my dinner as I could. There was still a mountain of food left. Hai Chin came to the table and bowed. “Everything fine then?”

“It was delicious. May I get a to-go box?”


Hai Chin went away and quickly returned with the box, check, and a fortune cookie. “You pay up front,” he said. “Thank you for dining at the Alabaster Wok… And I hope your face is better. You can keep the vegetables.” He bowed again and walked off.

I was too full to even eat the fortune cookie, so I put it in my pocket for later. I went to pay and was soon out on the gory gloryhole of neon Fortune Street again. The lights sparkled, the air was cool, a breeze cautiously touched the city. Other people moved by me like in a dream. I heard their voices, their laughter—as if it were coming from another realm. I felt like Ichiban Kasuga in Tokyo on New Year’s Eve. (Even though he was Japanese, not Chinese Yes, Karen. There is a difference). My stomach was stretched, my face still hurt. I walked toward home.

I decided to cut through the park and sat down on a bench to rest. I placed my bag with the leftovers beside me. The stars above managed to squeak a bit of their ancient light in through the treetops. The moon breathed through the veil of backlit moving clouds. I reached into my pocket and retrieved the fortune cookie. I unwrapped it and pulled out the small slip of paper inside. It read: You’ve got a big surprise coming to you, Wendy. A very big surprise.

“Who the hell is Wendy?” I thought aloud to myself.

And that’s when Hai Chin, the dishwasher and fill-in waiter from the Alabaster Wok, came dropping down from out of the trees above me like a runaway elevator heading toward the ground floor. He was suddenly right in front of me on the walkway, and he was furiously whipping around a set of nunchakus, and he cried out “Hiiiiiiiii Yahhhh!” The end of one of the sticks grazed the tip of my nose.

I leapt up and backpedaled away from him. “What the hell are you doing!?” I screamed. “Are you trying to kill me? I sort of thought we were friends.”

He suddenly stopped whipping the nunchakus about and tucked them neatly under his arm in one svelte move. “Friends?” he said.

“I mean, yeah you kicked my butt, but you were still kind enough to give me that sack of frozen stir fry vegetables.”

He bowed to me. “It was the honorable thing to do.”

There was moment of uncomfortable silence before I said, “That thing you were saying about my spirit and training… I think I need that. I need to get out of this damn city and away from all these idiotic fools and clear my head and cleanse my soul. Where shall I go?”

Hai Chin put a finger to his own chin and thought about it. “You will come with me to the great mystical mountain in the clouds and there I will teach you the ways of Kung Fu.”

“For real. You’re not fooling with me, are you?”

Hai Chin became dejected and sat down on the nearby bench. His usual Wisconsin bubbler-like personality drooped. “I only wish I could. But the truth is, I really am just a damn dishwasher. I’ve never been able to fulfill my dreams of being a Kung Fu master. I’m a fraud.”

I sat down beside him. “I know what you mean. I wanted to be a million other things than what I turned out to be. It sucks, but society presses it into us. Society strips of us our dreams in exchange for meaningless work. We’re all just loaded into the boxcar and shipped off to Doldrums City, merely pieces of a machine.”

He nodded his head in agreement. Then his face suddenly brightened. “What if we just say, ‘fuck it,’ and do it anyway. Let’s not let society tell us what to be and how to act. Let’s go be Kung Fu masters. Let’s go to—Bhutan, Nepal, or Tibet. Let’s find a new way to live. Let’s find our true selves… I’m sorry, what’s your name?”

“David. David Pearce Goliath.”

“Let’s just do it, David Pearce Goliath.”

We both paused and thought about it, and then I asked the ever deciding question, “Do you have money?”

“Money,” he repeated bitterly. “No.”

I shook my head. “Neither do I. You got to rob a bank to have a dream come true in this fucking world.” I looked up to the sky and some green comet or spaceship arched over us and across the banner of night. “Can you imagine what the world would be like if we could all just be what we really wanted to be?”

“But instead, we putter away at mostly pointless things. It will never change,” Hai Chin said. He started to get up. “I must get back to the restaurant. Boss man want me to clean kitchen.”

I looked up at him. “Why don’t you just say, ‘fuck it’ and come over to my apartment and we’ll have a few beers, maybe watch a documentary about monks.”

He nodded his head in excited agreement. “Right, right mo’ beans! Let’s do it. Let’s get what we can get while we can get it.”

I grabbed my sack of leftovers and stood up. We started walking to the other side of the park and across the wide avenue and to where my apartment was in a low-key high-rise called Vandenburg Arms. What arms are those? The arms that squeeze us tight and hold us against our will. The arms that keep us cold and make us tired and ready for another day as small brass gadgets in a big and ferocious world of dreaming saints and sinners.


The Morbid Mind Correctional Facility (1)

For The Morbid Mind Correctional Facility.

The Lord of Life sat in a morbid café on a Sunday afternoon unsunny with rain and cold and a gray veil that seemed to cover everything. He was cold and his heart hurt, and his eyes felt like lead as they pointed to the prophetic pink moon that hovered over a landscape of stone and saguaro. He sighed over the carnage playing like a film in the white ball he held in his hand.

Mummy practitioners of velvet voodoo moved through the air like bellows of cauldrons filled to the brim with coffee and lava and all the hopes and dreams of multi-colored birds and souls. The meat meters ticked away, wishes spinning in a velodrome, the whizz of wheels, the pumping of veins encased in skin, the round and round and round of another yellow child at the edge of the city lagoon where the bum prophets read from their Office Depot plastic binder manifestos on all the injustices of the cruel metal world that loves money more than men.

That messy-faced child in the banana gown wanders the world and now sits in the sand on a cold beach beside a cold body of water the size of a sea. The waves churn a lonely beat out there. A repetitive strong lull. The child with the hair the color of the Black Knight exoplanet, the deepest known black in the universe, beset upon her pear warm face, periwinkle eyes behind orange-colored glasses, plastic, venomous, she recalls the ear candle torture at the Victorian red brick home in a place like Boston or New York or Applesauce City in the far northern regions of the upper upperest Michigan.

Someone played the piano in the parlor, soft and melodious notes, while the girl sat on an antique chair with the scent of chaotic history, her head tilted, the gray-haired woman with the scent of a funeral parlor leering above her with the waxy stick of fire. “But it burns, it hurts, it scalds, it gives me nightmares beneath the cloud-raddled moon,” the girl whined.

“Hush now, Rosalina. Hush your overworked puppy mouth and let me proceed with the procedure.” She peered into the girl’s ear canal and grunted. “Ahh, the demons are on the run. I can see them!”

So, under the cover of night and crawling out from the comfort of a warm bed in her attic bedroom and out onto the rooftop where she saw a sea of other rooftops and stars and smoke and gallantly shining lights of gold and green and corpse blue, she ran away to another day… And that is where and when she looked out at that cold body of water the size of a sea.

A woman dressed as a cocktail waitress, a peacock blue fabric that glints in the sun, walks along the same beach slowly, a semi-automatic rifle perched atop her shoulders behind her neck. She is wearing dark sunglasses and a facial smear of makeup. A police uniform type hat rests upon her head, raven-black hair spills out from beneath it and falls down the sides of her face like thin curtains. There is a lost valley in her rosy eyes when she raises the shades. She sees the girl named Rosalina in the banana gown sitting there in the sand staring out at the water. She stops, cocks her head at the wonder of it. “What are you doing here?” she asks in her husky yet feminine voice. “Are you thinking of wandering out and getting carried away to the arms of Neptune?”

The girl named Rosalina rubs at her nose before turning her head and looking up at the woman. She immediately notices the assault rifle. “Are you going to shoot me?” she asks.

The peacock policewoman smiles for a moment. Then she brings the rifle down and into position. She aims it at the girl and peers across the sight. “Is that what you want? For me to shoot you?” Her finger trembles near the trigger.

“Nah,” the girl halfheartedly says. “Shooting kids is so old school. Get it… Shooting kids, school.” She tries to laugh. “It’s just become such an acceptable art form these days. I was hoping you could be more creative.”

The woman lowered the rifle then swung it around to a place across her back. “Okay… I won’t shoot you. But are you lost?”

“Lost? No. I’m not lost. I just don’t want to be found.”

The woman maneuvered her body to be able to sit down in the sand beside her. “Why don’t you want to be found?”

The girl licked her lips before she spoke. “Because they’re so mean to me. They’re trying to burn my brains out.”

“Who on earth would do something like that? Your parents?”

“No. The foster people. I’m with them because my parents have,” and she looked up at the sky. “Gone on to the realm of the other side.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. What happened?”

The girl studied her intently for a moment. “You’re too pretty to be a police person.”

The woman smiled. “I’m not really a police person. I’m a member of the New American Peacock Brigade. We’re anti-government female vigilantes. Do you know what that means?”

“You’re rebellious,” the girl quipped. “You kill based on random conspiracies without any factual basis.”

The woman laughed. “Something like that… What’s your name?”

The girl hesitated for a moment, perhaps still untrusting of the intruder and possible sycophant. “Rosalina. I’m kind of Mexican. What’s your name? Your real name.”

“My name is Magda. Magda Balls.”

The girl laughed. “That’s a very weird name.”

The woman turned to look out at the cold water that is always there, like interstate traffic. “I know… But you haven’t said. How did your parents die?”

The girl looked down between her knees and began to breathe heavily. Then she started to cry and whimpered through the tears, “They were killed in a hot-air balloon accident in Arizona. My pa ended up nearly unrecognizably broken on top of a saguaro cactus. My momma was smashed to pieces on some beautiful red rock. They said the blood blended in just fine.”

“That’s terrible,” Magda said to her.

The girl turned to look up at her and scowled. “Of course, it’s terrible. Dying in a hot-air balloon crash is a very terrible thing.”

“Don’t you have any brothers or sisters?”

“No. I’m a lonely only.” The girl reached into her pocket, retrieved a pack of cigarettes and tapped one out. She stuck it in her mouth, reached into another pocket for her lighter and set flame to the tip. Her lips clamped down on the white stick and she drew in a drag. Exhaled. Coughed.

Magda Balls was slightly shocked. “Do you really think you should be smoking? How old are you?”

“I’m 10.2… And I don’t need a lecture from an anti-everything female vigilante.”

Magda Balls put her hands out in the air in a gesture of backing away. “Okay… Sorry. I suppose it’s none of my business.”

“Right. It’s none of your business.”

“So, are you just going to sit out here forever? Do you have food? Clothes? Anything?”

Rosalina motioned her head toward the Lidsville backpack in the sand. “I’ve got what I need for now. I’ll just steal stuff if I need anything else.”

“And I thought I was rebellious… Or at least you did,” the woman said with some confusion.

“Right. Whatever.” The girl took another drag off her cigarette and exhaled and sighed at the same time before tossing the cancer stick in the sand. The red-hot tip glowed momentarily and then blacked out completely like a vaporized thought. “I guess I should probably move along.” She stood, brushed the sand from the various parts of her, and reached down for her backpack. “It was nice meeting you I suppose. Good luck with your ridiculous reign of terror.”

“Wait,” Magda called out.

The girl stopped and turned. “What is it?”

“My place isn’t too far from here… If you want, well, I have a pretty comfortable couch. You’re welcome to it until you figure things out. I mean, I just hate to leave you to the dangers of the world.”

Rosalina scrunched her face as she thought about it. She looked all around, and the world did seem very big and scary to her. She knew she was tough, but maybe she wasn’t tough enough.

Magda could hear the wheels turning inside the girl’s small head. “I have Netflix and internet and lemonade and nuts and board games and bubble bath and… I suppose I have everything you could need or want.”

“And you’re not going to try to burn demons out of my brain?”

Magda stood. She was tall compared to the girl. She reached out her hand and cupped Rosalina’s chin. “Absolutely not.”


The Gravy Canoe of Wild Wyoming – 9

food meal eat fat
Photo by Negative Space on

Carrie Gould in her tight red dress resembled a hot stuffed pepper oozing melted cheese as she sat across from him at the Rambler’s Ranch Buffet on the traveler’s edge of Berlin, Wyoming.

Steel Brandenburg III couldn’t believe his eyes as he looked over at the enormous platter in front of her — a massive mountain of mashed potatoes with gravy, pieces of fried chicken, a thick ham slice, fried shrimp, catfish, hush puppies, golden corn, yam wedges, three buttery rolls, pasta salad, cottage cheese, pickled beets, peach halves in heavy syrup, fried okra, a slice of pizza, two tacos, orange gelatin with fruit cocktail pieces inside, and along with it all, an extra-large lemon-lime diet soda.

She seemed oblivious to his presence as she shoveled and slurped and smacked and swallowed like a farm animal. Steel forked at his salad and ate some of it. He chewed a radish. He cleared his throat because someone just needed to say something. “Can I ask you a question?” Steel said.

Carrie Gould suddenly looked up at him, her mouth still moving in a chewing motion. She wiped at her oily lips with a paper napkin and smiled. “Yes, darling. Anything at all.”

“How much do you weigh?”

She coughed and sputtered a bit. She hadn’t expected such inappropriate bluntness. “How much do I weigh?” she repeated.

“Yes. I’m curious. I watch a lot of My 600-Pound Life because I’m always just so fascinated about how people let themselves get to such an awful state. And frankly, it makes me feel better about my own life… You know, seeing others in such dire circumstances. It makes my failures seem far less potent.”

Carrie Gould was mortified. She looked down at the pile of food in front of her and sighed deeply. “Do I embarrass you?” She looked around the room and in her own mind it seemed like everyone in the Rambler’s Ranch Buffet was staring at her, judging her. But in reality, everyone was lost inside their own little bubble of emotional pain, mental anguish, and physical discomfort.

Something twitched between Steel’s legs and his stomach smiled up from its pit. “Not at all.” He leaned in closer to her. “Truth be told… I’m imagining what you must look like out of that dress. Mmm… The thought of all that plumpness sprawled out before me.”

Carrie Gould blushed and stuffed an entire buttered roll in her mouth. “Oh, Steel,” she said once she swallowed. “You’re just saying that to make me reconsider the lawsuit and the pressing of criminal charges. No one would ever imagine that. Not ever.”

Steel sipped at his iced water with floating lemon wedge. “No, it’s true. I’d like to see you whaled out on my bed completely naked… And I’d like to feed you an entire pumpkin pie with a bucket of whipped cream.”

Carrie Gould’s hand jerked unnaturally, and her glass of soda tumbled over, and the liquid raced across the table. “Oh, shit,” she whispered loudly. She grabbed up a wad of napkins and worked to absorb the spill.

Steel grinned. “I bet you cause a lot of spills.”

She beamed at him. “Why are you being like this? It’s a bit over the top.”

“Aren’t you glad I’m interested?”

“I was hoping for some romance, not straight up gross pornography. I’m not a circus act. I want a relationship, not a one-time fling.”

Steel rattled his fingers against the large plastic maroon cup of lemon water. He turned his head and sighed.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Plenty of things. But you never answered my question… How much do you weigh?”

Carrie Gould leaned back and puffed out her puffy mouth. “Five-hundred and forty-eight pounds.”

Steel jerked forward. “Really?”

“Yes, really. Don’t make fun of me.”

“I’m not… I want to see it. I want to see all of it. I want to bounce up and down on it.”

Carrie Gould scowled at him like an evil witch. She grudgingly pushed herself away from the table and got up and walked over to the dessert bar. She piled a wide bowl high with cherry cobbler and then went to the ice cream machine, pulled the lever, and slathered the cobbler with a turd-like glob of vanilla dairy treat. She went back to the table and sat down and worked the cobbler into her mouth without looking at him.

Steel snapped at her. “I said I wanted to feed you pumpkin pie… Why did you go ahead and get dessert?”

Still without looking at him and with her mouth crammed full of cherry cobbler and vanilla dairy treat she said, “I have a mind of my own, Steel. Get used to that fact if you want to be with me.”

“Be with you?”

“I’ve decided to up the stakes,” she began. “You’re going to be my boyfriend. My steady boyfriend. We’re going to have a completely exclusive relationship. And I’ll give myself to you when I’m good and ready and when the Lord lets me know the time is right. Until then, you will support me emotionally, day and night. You will be available to me when I need you, not the other way around… Do it, or I’ll sing like a bird.”

“Wow. Threats. So, I get nothing out of this so-called relationship that you’ve just suddenly created? That seems unfair, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do that. Doesn’t seem very Christian of you either.”

“You leave the Good Lord out of this… I’m not the one with my backside on the line. This is all because of your actions, Steel. None of this would be the way it is if you hadn’t pranked me with that trick gum. Now, you pay the price.”

“But I’ve already made it clear that I want you… In a very bad way.”

“Don’t be so disgusting. And I’m not a plaything to satisfy your sick desires. I’m a human being with feelings and needs.” She suddenly and uncontrollably released a giant, long-winded belch that echoed throughout the restaurant. Horribly embarrassed, she covered her face with her hands and sank down in her seat.

“Here piggy, piggy, piggy,” one of the other restaurant patrons called out from somewhere. There was a communal cloud of laughter.

Carrie Gould peeked out at Steel. Tears were streaming down her face. “Let’s just get out of here,” she said.


Grapefruit and Stars

person covered with plastic bag on head while holding sliced blood orange
Photo by Elīna Arāja on

Tarnished and solitary
microscope the gods to the bone
the rubbermaid ache getting more desperate every day
darkened spirits grow more onyx
with each ocean passing of the sun
there is no carnival high-beam in my life
only shadows coaxing another sparse scream
when I walk through the wooded lands
clutch the trees and their dirty hands
the reeds like spears, like knives
a natural morsel of Easter Jesus candy
cutting the jugular jamboree in the egg garden
the neon blood spills silently onto the plastic grass
the bees and the flies and the gnats gather for a swim
they don’t recognize that the moon’s fluids
are completely full of marshmallow burns
of the oblong and stretched native aliens
and Earth leaves them rancid and shaky
any day
every day, all the way
flipping through the advanced-tech screen
washing away locked-down dreams
with laser beams and rabbit feet
to just dream inside a dream
where reality oozes through so sparkly distorted
yet so real and prophetic
the greasy heat like silver fast-food cell
the hotness of commerce rising off the souls of the unblessed
the air of a constant panic
what does waking and moving mean
anything, or delicious delusions again
sleep baby your pumped-up dreams
pay at the pump baby dream of sleep
broken down bag of checkers and bones
paralyzing love attacks, hybrid kisses
a swift kick to gravity and we all fall home
no rhyme or reason remains
I am sparklers in heat
a hose without a hand
a car driven by someone sleeping
a pounding at the door that will never be heard
lost and cast away on sand island at sea
like a dime store comic book dug out of an attic
blow off the dust
wipe the cover clean
what does it mean
merely trapezoidal trash
lonely counsel with the wind by an open window
the bees curve and dive
they make life, they churn spice
honey drips down broken wings
tears caress the memories of a painful way
pain inside out like custard mirrors
lavish buckets of discontent
the meat of a green cactus with flowered eyes
pierced by the thorn of the sun god
begging big blossoms to bloom
and then they are done
one last flaccid cough of color
and a gentle float to the earth
to disappear
to turn to dust or rust or unwilling lust
to be trampled by a new life
maybe not so nice
carrots or cartoons
negative nothing a laugh
negative nothing on a salad ranch
nothing for miles and miles
means anything close to porch kisses
pressing to this hollow can
this rusting skin
this decades-old man of aluminum foil
stretched thin and stuffed full of it
in a nation that loves to hate
in a world longing to dance and escape
in a universe of grapefruit and stars
memorizing every tick of time there ever was.

The Flatulentapede

Man eating salad instead of junk food in park. For Flatulentapede.
Photo by Darya Sannikova on

Dear Ambrosia:

I’m sorry I make your life reek of flatulence. But your demeanor in front of the Weavers last evening is something I cannot forgive. I am your husband, and you should stand by my side regardless of the weather, but instead you somehow found it necessary to embarrass me, to make a complete fool of me. You know I have stomach issues. It’s a medical condition. You’ve been to the doctor with me on numerous occasions. I don’t make fun of you for being anemic and culinarily challenged so why do you make fun of me for excess flatulence? And now you have gone and told our good neighbors that we no longer sleep in the same bed because I make the room smell like a pig stye. I know I disgust you on many levels and in a myriad of situations, and for the things I have the power to change and have not, I am truly sorry. But to berate me, to stop loving me because of a condition I cannot help… I can no longer be with you. I refuse to live like that. By the time you awake and find this note, I will be on an Amtrak headed west. Yes, Ambrosia, west. Where the sky is big, and the air is clear and crisp. Perhaps there I can live freely and without ridicule and shame. Perhaps beyond the borders of your beloved Tennessee, the people will be more tolerant and loving and forgiving. Perhaps I will come upon true Christians rather than hate mongering ignorant cave dwellers. Do not try to find me. Do not follow. Just go on and live your life without the stench that is me. I wish you well. Goodbye.

Your loving husband,

Reginald Rangoon

Reginald slowly turned the pages of a colorful astronomy magazine as he sat in his assigned seat on the No. 58 train bound for Denver, Colorado. His comprehension of the words on the glossy paper was made muddled by the great amount of activity buzzing all around him. He looked out the large window at the platforms, long like piers on water, the tracks running between. He saw all the various people upon the platforms, set there like little plastic painted figurines on a realistic model train display. Some stood still, some moved. Some were quiet while others spoke and made gestures. Some were lost and sad, others were joyful and ripe for adventure. But then his dreamy thoughts were derailed, so to speak, and he suddenly clenched his stomach via his backside, but hard as he might, he could not refrain from releasing an invisible yet audible mushroom cloud of retched gas from the confines of his inner bum.

Reginald winced with embarrassment as other travelers came down the aisle searching for their seats. He noticed how the expressions on faces suddenly changed from intrepid glee to looks of disgust as they came near him. A stodgy woman wearing a feathered female bowler and with over-inflated party balloons for breasts stopped at his row. She looked at her ticket, and then up at the letters and numbers above the seats there. Her entire face was puckered as if she had just sucked on a lemon wedge with great gusto. “My, my,” she groaned in a concrete tone as she waved a hand around in the air. “I do hope that awful smell isn’t coming from you. It would be quite a miserable journey all the way to Denver if it were.” She cheerfully laughed at herself, stowed her bag above and wriggled her way into a seat across from him.

Reginald Rangoon then told a lie. “No, mam. It wasn’t me. Must just be the scent of the city working its way into the train car. This is such a filthy and overburdened place. That is why I am starting anew out west.”

“How wonderful,” the woman said to him. “I suppose you could say I’m doing the same thing.” She sighed. “I’m no longer wanted here. You could say that I’ve been run out of town.”

“But why?” Reginald wondered aloud.

“I’m an entertainer… And there are certain prejudiced ideas being put forth here in this state by the current ruling political junk and their mindless followers. Our so-called leaders are supposed to represent all people, but they don’t. They want to legislate their own specific brand of morality, which in itself is immoral. They are closed-closet thinkers. They believe they can decide what is right and what is wrong… For everyone.” She put her hands out in front of her, one at a time and with palms up. “They claim to be this, when in all actuality they are that. And the that is no good at all. The that is akin to bigotry and hate. They idolize fear and the greatest buffoons of history.”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

The woman extended one of her large hands toward him in a gesture of introduction. “My name is Milton, but you can call me Millie.”

Reginald shook her hand. The grip was strong. He studied her carefully. There was something different…

“Honey, let me spell it out for you… I’m in drag. I’m a drag queen.”

“You mean, you’re really a man?”

“Does that disappoint you?”

The tornadic swirling of Reginald’s guts came on again. An air bubble inside him boldly bloomed and then violently burst. He couldn’t help it. The air around them suddenly turned foul. “It doesn’t disappoint me in the slightest,” he said through clenched teeth as he desperately tried to hold in yet another assault of intestinal origin. He relented and let it blow. He wasn’t strong enough to defeat this demon. He was powerless to stop it. “I’m so sorry,” he said to her. “I wouldn’t be a bit offended if you requested a new seat assignment,” and Reginald quickly got up and made his way to the on-board lavatory with the speed of a cartoon desert roadrunner.

Reginald had to flush 14 times to vanquish this latest horror to the netherworld. He cried in the mirror while he scrubbed his hands. He suddenly feared his new adventure would be nothing but the same. He questioned if his existence would ever be better. An impatient stranger pounded on the door. “Are you almost done in there?” Reginald dried his hands and came out. The impatient stranger went in. And as Reginald walked away up the aisle, he heard the impatient stranger cry out, “Oh my god!”

When Reginald returned to his seat, he was surprised to see Millie still sitting there. The train lurched forward in impending departure. Reginald wobbled on his feet, nearly fell into his seat. She looked up from her knitting. “Everything okay?”

Reginald sighed. He felt betrayed by his own body. He felt defeated. “For the moment,” he said. He looked out the window and the movement of the world passing by began to pick up speed. “You didn’t change seats. Why? I was entirely prepared to make the journey alone… As I so often do.”

Millie smiled. “Honey… We all have struggles in this world, some more than others. I’m not going to look down upon you because you’re different. I’d be no better than the fools running the show here in this fascist state. I’m different, you’re different… Hell baby, we all are different. What gives them the right to make my way of life illegal? They don’t have any. Just like I have no right to bash you over the head for having a bewildering ass. But here we are, both of us escaping our present-tense situations because we can’t live the way we want to live. History is full of situations just like this. Full I tell you. Yet here we are again, having to fight to be who we want to be.” She stopped to take a breath and look out the window as the same world that passed him by passed her by as well. “But they’ll get theirs in the end,” she exhaled with hope. “Hateful folks like that always do. And when it comes, I will make a joyful noise and dance upon their toes.”

Then Reginald Rangoon made a joyful noise of his own and he soiled the world around them with his own brand of rugged individuality, and they both gagged for a moment and then laughed like Jokers, and they settled in and carried on to newer and better lives atop the rails, steel wheels biting and sparking in defiance.


The Toast Technology of a Chicken Maniac

For The Toast Technology of a Chicken Maniac

The world is full of those who claim to dance with the vigor of advanced toast technology. But Henry Towel was like a bagel in a four-sided slot. He was an overly wired individual with exponential 1970s Art Garfunkel hair. But it was beyond even that. Henry Towel liked to play with light sockets. He claimed it never burned, but that it gave him something that made his mind anew. “It clears the pathways.” And made his hair poof and revel in a wild bounce when he walked or talked or whatever he did because he often jerked with a nervous energy. It was something akin to the teachings of the Elaine Benes Dance Academy.

Henry Towel was unemployed, once again. He could never seem to hold down a job for more than a few months, weeks, days, or even hours. He never fit in, anywhere. His attention span was that of a finger snap. Nothing ever kept his interest for very long. Not many things, at least. But he did like the dancing. He often danced all alone for countless hours in a dimly lit room near a window. He moved wildly to music by The Cure or Joy Division or other post-punk goth rock goodies. He would crank up the volume and shake, weave, thrust and jiggle like he had gargantuan ants in his parachute pants.  

Henry once took a job as a night auditor at a hotel of mediocre niceness. The man who had hired him was a cold and salty old sod, like North Atlantic cod, with no hair and no sense of humor. On his very first day, Henry began training on the morning shift with a woman who needed to lose weight and brush her teeth. None of what she explained to him made sense. She was mean. She was short with him. She expected too much for his first day. She told him to take notes, but Henry just tapped at his oversized head with a finger and said, “No need, darling. I’ve got a mind like an aluminum trap.”

The procedures and rules and regulations of the job were so incredibly boring, the tasks so pointless and soul crushing. Henry was ill at the thought of having to do such a thing night after night. What kind of life is that? It was no life he wanted. What sense was there in continuing to live if that’s all it was? None he decided. That’s not why he was created by great Bog the fate sprinkler who sat on his crisp British biscuit out in space. And so, when it came time for Henry to take his very first lunchbreak, he walked out the heavy front doors of the hotel and never came back. He never said goodbye. He told them nothing.

It was January in a place called Colorado and absolutely freezing outside. It was all made worse by a bitter wind. Henry hadn’t even bothered to grab his winter coat from the employee lounge. He just walked out into the cold and drove home. He unlocked the front door of his square apartment that reflected the colors of a pumpkin patch and went to take a warm bath with bubbles of a rainbow sheen. For more than an hour he bathed and screamed at the gray day monochrome burst that rested there like a paralyzed cloud. The hotel manager never called to find out why he did what he did. Henry never got his coat back. He didn’t really care.

Henry Towel sat mostly naked in front of his computer and skimmed through job listings on Al Gore’s Internet. He was sloppily spooning cereal into his mouth from a round white bowl. Milk dribbled down his pale, thin body. He had no interest in making himself look any better with muscles or rock-hard abs or a firm ass. Even if he had the body of the greatest man ever made, it wouldn’t matter because his personality was so strange, awkward and raucous, his heart and soul so wayward, that no woman would be able to stand him for very long. “I’m a confirmed bachelor.” At parties, he would drop that particular cliché to anyone who listened, and then he held up his glass like Jay Gatsby and smiled and pretentiously laughed like he really meant it.  

A job for a crew member at a local fast-food restaurant caught his attention. There was one line in the advertisement that for some reason spoke to him like nothing else had ever done before. It was a desired prerequisite by the company, a quality they were seeking… And this part is true, apply if: You want to make your customer’s day and it shows in the way you are maniacal about serving great-tasting chicken with a great big smile.

“Maniacal about chicken?” Henry thought aloud. “Do they really want someone like that? Because I can be maniacal. I can give them maniacal.” He went to the online application and filled in the blanks. Some of what he put down was true. A lot of it was not. They were probably so desperate for help that they would be willing to take anyone. Even an odd, fabricated individual with no sense of purpose in life. He hit submit, yawned, and went to bed.

It was snowing outside on the day a woman named Susan Gregory called him about the job for a chicken maniac. Henry agreed to come in for an interview later that same day. He even brushed his hair until it looked like golden spun sugar. He shaved until his face was smooth as mirror glass. He wore clean clothes. He was even somewhat excited.

The woman named Susan Gregory sat with him in a plastic booth in the corner of the dining area. She was the general manager and she smelled nice, like chicken and flowers, but she had those big artificial injectified lips that artificial people opt for, and she looked stupid. It was unflattering. Henry had a hard time focusing on the questions as he watched her mouth flap around like a swollen clam as she talked.

“Are you available to work all shifts, including nights and weekends?”

“Sure. I’m a very flexible person. You should come over some time and watch me dance.”

“How would your past co-workers and supervisors describe you?”

“I’m upbeat and easy to wrestle. I’ve got perfect tempo when I hum and walk. I can be a sophisticated jerk at times, but overall, I get the job done when it needs to be done. I can keep a secret. I’m a creative thinker. But I dislike people who have birds as pets.”

“Would you consider yourself to be a team player… And why?”

“Absolutely. The game of life can’t be won by just one person. Or maybe it can, but it generally takes an entire team working in synchronicity to achieve a common goal… And I believe here, in this kingdom of chicken, that common goal would be customer satisfaction.”

“It certainly is. Every day in every way. Because without the customers, we wouldn’t even be here. We would have no reason to exist. Now… Tell me why you want to work here?”

“Because I want to be maniacal about serving quality chicken with a great smile. I’m somewhat of a maniac in real life so this sounds like the perfect place to express myself, earn competitive wages, and have fun. Right? Because that’s how you all portray it in the job description.”

It was 478 days later, and Henry Towel was the new general manager of the fast-food chicken restaurant. He was sitting in the same plastic booth he had sat in with Susan Gregory when he himself was interviewing for a position so long ago.

The female teen who now sat across from him was nervous. She kept playing with her hair and biting at her lip. She had wandering eyes and a shaky leg. She kept sipping at her complimentary soft drink. Henry had his doubts about how intense her dedication to serving delicious chicken with a smile might be.

“So, Tina,” Henry began as he looked over her application. “I’ve worked here for a long time, and I must tell you, it’s the one job in my life I have stuck with… And do you want to know why?”


“Because I get paid to be maniacal about serving the best chicken, and I get to do it with an upbeat, electrified, often questionable attitude. But people love me for it. I’ve become a great success here. And if I can do it… You certainly can. Does that prospect excite you?”

“I guess so. I really just need to make some money to help pay for college.”

Henry was disappointed, but curious. “Oh. What do you plan to study?”

“Elizabethan literature… And business.”

“Business! Well, that’s fine, just fine,” Henry gleamed. “Working here could be an excellent opportunity to learn about business. And you get to be maniacal about chicken at the same time. Maniacal!”

“What exactly do you mean by that? I’ve never heard anyone anywhere ever say that.”

“I’m glad you asked, Tina. Being maniacal about serving the best chicken in the business with a great attitude… That’s our culture here. You can taste it in the air. Literally. There’s nothing like a bead of grease being flung from a piece of hot and tasty chicken and landing on your face. It’s akin to an African rain. In my time here, Tina, I’ve adopted new procedures that make the job fun and exciting and worth waking up for. I’ve untethered my workers from the restraints of the dull and mundane. I’ve released them from the confines of corporate jabberwocky. They are totally free to express themselves. It’s not just words anymore… I’ve given the work here a heartbeat. I’ve given it life! To be maniacal about chicken is to throw it around, to yell, to scream, to cheer, to smile madly, to be whimsical, to be fully enlightened by what we are doing here. And in that rabid enlightenment, we are fully engaged with our customers. Fully engaged and plugged in to all their needs. And people really appreciate that. That leads to success. Success in the fast-food chicken arena means everything to me, Tina. Everything… So, does it sound like something you could get into?”

Tina the teen slid out of the booth, reached down for her backpack and hung it over a shoulder. “I don’t know if this would be the best job for me. I appreciate your time, but I think I’m going to keep looking.” She started to walk away.

“Hey, Tina,” Henry called out before she reached the exit. “I’m concerned that you might regret this. Are you sure?”

Tina stopped. She looked toward the back, beyond the customer service counter. She saw the smiling workers, she heard laughing and yelling, and even the maniacal screaming. Chicken was indeed flying through the air. The employees seemed very happy. Maybe it would be the best thing for now, she thought. Tina reconsidered. “Okay. I think I’d like to give it a try.”

Fourteen years later, Tina the teen, now Tina the adult, sat in the same plastic booth of the fast-food chicken restaurant she herself sat in with Henry Towel so very long ago. It was showing its age now. The whole place was. She looked across the table at the young man and smiled. She looked over his application. He shifted uncomfortably. “So, Dylan,” she began. “I’ve worked here for a long time, and I must tell you, it’s the one job in my life I have stuck with. I ditched a college education for this. And do you want to know why?”