Tag Archives: Desert

The Laguna Bungle (Session 4)

The Laguna Bungle. A golden sunset punctures a deep blue sky over the ocean.

The Nomadic Mind

I’m not sure if the woman in the pink bathrobe had just hired me to kill her husband, but it sure felt that way. And if that was the case of the case, she was getting it for a bargain. But there was no way in hell I was killing her cheating husband for 1,000 clams. I’m not in the business to kill, and I never have been, and maybe never will be. But I suppose I should let it be known that if I had to kill someone, I would. If it came right down to it? Absolutely. I pack a Walther PPK because it’s a messy world out there and sometimes you have to protect yourself, stand up for yourself no matter what, even if that means plugging a guy, or girl, who are ready and all too willing to plug you. That’s how I feel about it. You can’t just let the world cross the line and have its way with you whenever it wants.

My thoughts drift like the sands of the Sahara. My mind is nomadic, and so here I go and go again.

I always find it strange that people are born into this world completely innocent and then they get folded into it with a prodding paddle of good and evil, and it makes them hard as stone, bad-hearted or sad or full of pain for some reason or another. I don’t get why we allow that, as a society, as so-called human beings. Why do we take this simple, fresh from the womb innocence and brand it with the burning hurt of this planet just to make more hurt. Right now, it seems the whole world is so damn backward that people are digging the pain, they’re digging the hurt, they’re digging the hate. The prayer warriors out there are cheering for demons. The leaders are ripe for gleefully tossing bombs. Their goals are suffering and destruction. I just don’t get it. Sometimes I just want off this watery marble. I want to be like Captain Kirk and transport myself somewhere else, somewhere else I can breathe.

Some people would argue and say that none of us are born innocent. They say we’re all born with sin already in us and the only way to get past that is to take a dip in a baptismal bath at the church, like the one of my youthful days, the one on Erie Avenue in my hometown by the sea in a place called Ohio. Well, it wasn’t really a sea, it was a lake. A big lake. A big, cold lake. But it looked like some magical, mystical far-off sea to me. Like the Caspian or something like that.

That’s where they dipped me in, the holy water font in the church, not in the lake, although that may have been better, more real, a far more shocking electrocution of the nerves, an authentic awakening of the newly born spirit. That house of the universal god blessed my throat and listened to my sins, too. And now I’m no better than most coming out on the other end of that long ago gig. Now I carry a gun and my nerves are shot. I get lonely, too, but then sometimes loneliness tastes good and I revel in it. There’s something about loneliness that drives a man’s creativity as well as wanton self-destruction. All my ex-girlfriends think I’m crazy. That’s why they’re exes. Maybe I am crazy, but you sort of have to be in this world and with what I do. I’m okay with my shader pale of madness as I like to call it. It’s like loneliness that you just can’t hold in anymore.

Church. What a bizarre place. So ornate, so golden, so solemnly colorful as the people look up and worship some invisible being or idea. I always liked the smell of the incense burning away in the swinging thurible, always in perfect rhythm to the indecipherable chant of the white-robed holy one directing the show. That exotic scent of the incense mingled with the worshippers, their perfume and the aftershave and the afterglow of rapid morning sex of sinful lovers in heat. I close my eyes and just listen and breathe it all in.

As I drove north on the 1, the PCH, I looked to my left and saw the ocean spread out like a big ruffled blue blanket. To my right it was clusters of buildings, rectangular plug-ins with windows and porches and verandas and parking lots and yards, all of the works of the inhabitants carved into the orange and green and asphalt gray and ancient white and yellow adobe, everyone gathered for a game of real life right there at the edge of the teetering coast.

Everyone is living on top of each other here. I live on top of others in a place called Huntington Beach. It’s crowded. My apartment is small, but it works. It has big windows at least, but the rent kills. It’s hard to find a place to park. I don’t have a bedroom because it’s a studio, so the rumpled bed is in the main living space. So is the refrigerator because the kitchen is too small. I don’t have a stove, only a two-burner hotplate. I eat out a lot which is fine because there are so many restaurants pressing in on me, just like everything else. It all presses in, there’s no room, it’s jam packed here. Every space flows into the next. There are no borders here.

But I can walk to the beach, and looking out at the endless ocean gives me a sense of release, and relief. I’m on the third floor and I have a small balcony so I can sit outside and drink coffee or read a book and look out upon the hive of madmen. I can listen to all my neighbors screw each other, too. No one is ever quiet about it. Sometimes I feel like I’m living in a dirty movie but I’m always the guy on the sidelines just watching and sweating, craning my neck trying to focus in on the penetration and I’m just puzzled as to how they get themselves in such positions. I can also hear the punches crushing faces and the screams and the cops knocking on doors.

Did I mention that the air all around me smells like the ocean and exhaust. It’s weird, but I kind of like it. It first hits you out around Indio when you come in from the east. It smells different than anywhere else I’ve ever been — this carnivorous California. These endless rows of mad life.

The woman in the pink bathrobe who hired me to throw surveillance on her cheating husband has a strange name. Carola Strawberry. That’s what she told me and that’s how I got her saved in my phone now. Carola Strawberry. Before I left her house, I made fun of her name because she made fun of mine — John Smoke. She thought it was made up, so I told her I thought her name was made up. Then she told me her husband’s name and I just about lost it — Garola Strawberry. “Granola?” I asked her.

She repeated it, slower so that I could understand her because she had a strange accent, like something out of South America. I got my money and told her I’d follow up in a couple of days after she emailed me some more info and logistics. I was heading home to get cleaned up before I headed out to the desert for a night or two just to get crazy lonely and moon high and wild like a wanderer. I needed time to think about everything. I needed time to consider my future in this world.


The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 5)

Gary Glasscack boasted that he had the largest collection of pornography in all of Giza, New Mexico. He bragged about it any chance he could. He especially liked to bring it up in conversation with young female interns at the Giza Revealer newspaper where he worked. He always found a way to slip it into casual conversation in the breakroom while unwrapping the sandwich his wife had put together for him every morning.

Gary feigned a hopeless sigh as Lyla VanFly from Bend, Oregon sat at one of the plastic tables sipping a soda and nibbling on slices of cheese like a mouse as she stared into her phone.

“Ham and Swiss on rye, again,” he said, looking down at it, shaking his head. He snuck a glance at her. “That woman loves to fill me with rye bread. Does anyone even eat rye bread anymore?”

Gary waited for a reaction.

She eventually looked up at him, adjusted her glasses, crinkled her nose, and brushed her straight brown hair away from her eyes.

“I’m sorry. What?”

“Rye bread. My wife keeps feeding me rye bread. Do you like rye bread?”

“I don’t think I ever had it. I’m not much of a bread eater. Carbs are the devil, you know.”

Gary sat down at the table with her and dropped his sandwich in disgust.

“Am I really supposed to eat that?” he asked, palms out and pointing with the tips of his fingers.

She looked over, annoyed that he was invading her personal space. His hands looked weird. They were thin, and bony, and old, too old for the rest of him. “Why don’t you just tell her you don’t like rye bread?”

“I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” He chuckled. “But then again, I do.”

“I guess you could just throw it out and go get something else, right?”

“I suppose I could, but that would be wasteful. I couldn’t live with that kind of guilt.”

He stared deeply into her freckled and somewhat damaged-by-life-at-a young-age face.

“I’m Gary Glasscack by the way, advertising copy writer and business promotion guru. Welcome to our little newspaper. How do you like it so far?”

His name. She was weirded out but smiled politely. “Nice to meet you. I’m Lyla. Lyla VanFly. It’s good so far. Just trying to find my way around.”

“Well, if there is anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask. I’ve been around for quite some time now. Just ask Gary, and I’ll be able to help you out. With anything.” He winked at her. “And it’s German.”

“Excuse me?”

“You gave me a look when I told you my name. It’s a German name.”

“Thanks for the clarification.”

Gary sighed again. “Well, I guess I should go ahead and eat this. You don’t mind if I sit here with you, do you?”

She did mind, but she didn’t want to come across as rude or spoiled or uptight. Thunder clambered outside.

Gary’s head oddly swirled around like a cat’s following a bird with its eyes. “Sounds like a storm is brewing.”

“I didn’t think it rained much in the desert,” she said.

Gary took a bite of his ham and Swiss on rye and nodded his head.

“That’s a popular misconception, but you would be surprised at what goes on around here,” he said with food mashing in his mouth.

Gary took another bite and as he loudly chomped on the sandwich like an animal he stared at Lyla VanFly longingly.

“Just between you and me,” he leaned in, looking around and almost whispering. “I have one of the biggest collections of pornography in all of Giza.”

He took another bite of his sandwich and winked at her again.

“Excuse me, what did you say?” Lyla stammered, suddenly becoming extremely uncomfortable, yet strangely intrigued, for Lyla VanFly was a girl of the world and was totally on board with new, absurd, and experimental experiences.

“Do you have something against pornography?” Gary asked. “I assure you it is very tasteful.”

“Why are you telling me this? Or rather, do you really think it’s okay to be telling me this? I barely know you.”

Gary picked up a potato chip and pushed it into his mouth. He took a sip of diet soda, being that he was a pervert who cared about not getting too overly loaded with sugar.

“Giza can be a lonely place. I’m just saying that a young woman such as yourself may need a sexual outlet at some point.”

Lyla leaned back in her chair, somewhat shocked. “I really don’t think that is any of your business — or at all appropriate for the workplace.” But deep down inside, she kind of liked the inappropriateness.

Gary smiled, oblivious to his behavior.

“You’re not in Oregon anymore, dear. What was it? Bend Over? This is the middle of nowhere. It’s a forgotten place. Heck, you could even say it’s a place that doesn’t even really exist.”

“It’s real as any other place in the world. And it’s Bend, not Bend Over.”

Gary exhaled and wrapped up the remaining ham and Swiss on rye in its wax paper.

“Look, all I am saying is, if you would like to come over one night, maybe have dinner with the wife and I and I could show you a few things. I’m not going to hurt you if that’s what you think.”

“What kind of things?”

“Just some pictures. Maybe we could watch a movie together.”

“And what would your wife think of that?”

Gary scoffed at that remark.

“My wife and I have an understanding.” He leaned in closer to her again. “In fact, we haven’t had any sexual relations in several years. She finds it off putting.”

Disgusted, Lyla started to get up, but Gary reached out and took a hold of her wrist.

Lyla jerked away. “What are you doing? This is not okay. None of what you are saying to me is okay.”

But then again, somehow it was. For Lyla was a deviant and mysterious free spirit hiding in the shadows, a curious young woman who rebelled against normalcy. She ached to be cool, different, and even weird. And she presently found herself in a very weird situation.

Gary sensed her low tolerance for male piggishness and got nervous.

“I’m sorry. Forgive me. I just wanted to be friends. I was just trying to be friendly. Welcoming, you know? Like I said, Giza can be a lonely, debilitating place.”

“I would appreciate it if you would just keep your distance,” Lyla said with authority. “I wouldn’t want any of this to affect either one of our jobs.”

Thunder banged outside, lights flickered, and Lyla VanFly left the break room and went to her desk in the cackling and bustling newsroom to work on an article about killer bees for the next day’s edition.

The Angelfish of Giza (Excerpt 4)

Giza, New Mexico, population 53,219, sat in a narrow stretch of hot land running from the prosperous north to the downtrodden south. To the west, desolate hills rose up and up through picturesque valleys eventually leading to a mountainous region and beyond, then diving into expansive bombing ranges of evil and hot desert land and to places called Alamo City and Las Corsica and eventually the state of Ari-zoned-out. To the east, red crumbling cliffs lurched above bottomless pools and formed a desolate plateau that carried on past the nearly indecipherable Texas border toward places like Yellow Plateau with its wretched Dairy Dew drive-in full of bugs and human piss; Amberfield, home of the ugliest woman ever seen; and onto hot, brown and alphabetical Lupland — an open-face hot beef sandwich thrown into the dirt.

Giza’s cliché Main Street, a mostly straight line, dissected the city directly down the middle, from north to south, like cranial sutures deeply sewn into a burrito-shaped skull of desert-bleached bone. Paramount Avenue ran from the west to east — or east to west depending on what end of town you were coming in at or leaving from — and dissected the city perpendicular to Main, crossing through it in downtown. Beyond the confines of the city proper, on the outskirts, there was the farmland, arroyos, stinking dairies, ranchland and rancheros, shacks, wide meadows, fields, haystacks, heart bending farmhouses, pockets of sunsets, thunder, gulley washes, creepy natural gas factories, chuckling newsies doing cocoa-puffs under moonlight, star maps of glittering silver made the world there, hot Mexican food cooking, a sun dropping big and golden, hot, like red sauce on a La Torrential Bravo burrito.

And there was something in the air or the water or the blood flowing through that place that had a visible effect on the people. It was almost as if giant scientists in lab coats were looking down from above and poking and prodding with gloved tentacles inside a sterile box. That talk of Giza, New Mexico being one big psychological experiment may have been true. There was a madness that brewed there. There was a loneliness, too. Was it the isolation? Was it the relentless dry heat of summer? Was it merely the gathering of lost souls in Hades on Earth to party and ache for a few years?

There was lawlessness, gang pride and shooting in the streets and it was all tangled together with rich white peace and sun-pulsing preaching. Old-school Jesus duked it out with Evangelical aluminum storm shelter prayer warriors. There were deep cultural contrasts indeed, yet they flowed through a heat-wavering pall of consistencies. Giza was the city that should have never been, yet there it was, like some sheltered bruise on a pee-colored map of New Mexico.

There was Old Mexico-like ghetto, there was prosperous land. There were dirt roads, there were carefully constructed oversized landing strips of polished concrete. There was an abandoned Army air base still rung with barbed wire fence — but it really wasn’t all that abandoned. It still glowed at night and men with guns marched there. There was a brand-new Buddha-Mart, an attempt at non-confrontational big box retail, dubbed “the biggest in the world.” Probably not true, but then again, what was, what is? There was a big community college and a small airport. There were mid-century strip malls painted pink and brown. There was a small zoo inside a park with a kiddie train and a carousel and there was an urban legend that they kept a man inside a cage there and used him for human mating experiments. Crack whores and Christians strolled the same mall together. Murderers waltzed down the streets and laughed on the hot sidewalks while biting into delicious burritos. Musicians strummed guitars on the back porches of haunted houses beneath golden beer light. Pyros torched schools and jilted lovers blew up houses and gunned down firemen. The jail was always full. Overflowing even.

The tallest building downtown was 13 stories high. There were two high schools — homes to the Galactics in the north and the Fire Ants in the south. There was a military school for bad kids. The big fair came every August and the whole banging place smelled of cotton-candy sweat and new sex. The excited screams and laughter from the torturous rides floated up to space and bumped into the orange moon. Someone always got shot. There were a lot of funeral homes. Old people liked going to Buff’s, the cafeteria restaurant behind one of them. It was convenient in case they choked to death.

Summer seemed to last forever, and the oppressive heat boiled brains and other internal organs. It seemed the sun rarely shut itself off. There were not enough dark clouds and cool rains, not enough ice cream to calm the madness, not enough popsicles for the girls to deep throat, not enough electricity to whir fans, not enough clean, dark holes in the ground to escape to. At times it was like a dome of Los Angeles exhaust clamped down tight over the whole nutty joint of Giza. There was no room to breathe. There were not enough men of the cloth to excise all those flames of hell coming up to chase them through the wild desert.


And love is but a trickle in this RAMSHAMBLED river of love, the armies of men keep marching upon the bones of memories under the grass, shot out of cannons, cloud seed ashes billowing and giving the puff of life when all falls down the stairs and justice can’t see straight, and idiot babies cower behind a crooked as geometry ding-a-ling ding dong and thump him like God in holy water AMMUNITION heaven. The maskless taskers take to yet another task of utter disbelief, these idiot genes, the cyclic generational stupidity tumbling from trucks and bleeding out through muddied star-spangled blue jeans. They meet this apricot alien of the universe on Sunday and then go back to the mob fight on Monday. The holy fuckin’ mob fight where busted teeth and busted guts and busted emotion is all part of the prize that comes at the end of the day when you finally turn your key in the lock of your favorite back door and breathe a sigh of relief that you’ve made it back to your own yellow hole in this world and can maybe shut out the mad libs and broken ribs for one night and always hoping that with the new sun comes a new hope and a better way.

But how could that ever be? We will be trapped in the dying limelight of our own skin from here on out. Until we die and they come pounding down the door for collection of all the debt you have so graciously piled and left behind. And all those broken souls are still lined up on Broken Boulevard reaping the harvest of a world they alone did not sew. They are reaping the bastions of all holy rape and looking to the ivory spires fucking the stratosphere out there on the smoky horizon, the tin shack dotted yellow hills on the horizon, the aches and pains leaking out the top lip of the stovepipe like mangled signs of white peace from the great Natives of yesterday, bent to it, the wind, the rain, the screams, the love gone astray, a 40 cent diamond ring resting in the breast pocket of your favorite leather jacket, waiting for no one, a love undone by selfishness, adultery, poverty, thanks again, she said with a gun tucked between her tits and a sliver of spit hanging from her heart, dangling across to mine, like a clothesline, in some great green backyard of some snowed-in metroplex pad of the East, where she sits and smokes tea as my alabaster soul floats off to brickyard Heaven, that place beyond the cabbage white ridge of hot dirt, that place of the pale lip red sandstone mechanical jaws like Jawas in the desert. I recalled all those days today in driving green, the look back at the looking down upon that lonely desolation, the memories gnawing my guts, the infinite ghost LEDs dangling like lightbulb jewels in a flawless blue sky, a sad Springsteen song breathing of eternity upon the dashboard.

How Our Axis Quakes (First Part)

It was torture of the magnetic kind. It was as if something was straining to rip his heart right out of his body. He could feel the bloody vibrations when he put his weathered hand to his chest. He rose out of the bed like a vampire from a coffin and sat on the edge. He moaned a sleepy moan. The man had tried to nap but he was much too restless. An old box fan whirred, stirring the warm air. He finally stood and he was a large and disheveled man. He was pale-skinned and white and wooly, somewhat resembling a Tibetan yeti.

He yawned and stretched his arms out high over his head and he could nearly touch the ceiling. He shuffled through the house and toward the front door. He yanked it open and stepped outside wearing only a white t-shirt and his underwear. It didn’t matter. He was miles away. It was too hot, though — hotter than normal — and he shielded his sensitive golden eyes from the light with a big, veiny, and speckled hand.

Ed Blackrose longed for the sun to drop out of the sky so the swarm of stars could return like they did most nights. That’s when he would sit out on the old wooden porch beneath the dim light and just rock back and forth. He found it harder and harder to think straight now. The old man had lost any peace of mind he ever had — years ago — because of all that went wrong; a past defiled, a future derailed. Then he retreated to the desert, despite the desolate heat, and he’s been there ever since.

The house he called home was small, but the land around him was big — a flat, dry land with a chain of dirty brown mountains wrapping its arms around. There was one lone road that ran straight and long. He could barely see it, but he knew it was there. There was never very much traffic. Sometimes people would get lost, or their cars would break down and they would hike up along his long, dirt drive and knock on the old door. What guts they had, he thought. What nerve. There was once a couple of hoodlums from the city who had arrived and asked him for something to eat. He made them thin ham sandwiches with cheese and iced tea to drink but kept his old eyes on them the whole time in case they tried to steal anything.

“How can you live like this?” one of them asked as he ate.

“What do you mean?” the old man wondered.

“I mean… So far away from everything. Why do you do it? How do you do it? Don’t you like life?”

“I don’t care for people much. I like my privacy,” the old man said. “And I like life just fine, mostly. I just don’t want to be disturbed as I live out my last days.”

“You should put out a no trespassing sign then,” the other suggested.

“I did,” Ed grunted. “Someone trespassed and stole it.”

One of them laughed and the old man glared at him.

“You find that funny?”

He nervously fidgeted with his glass. “I thought you meant it to be funny.”

“I didn’t,” Ed answered.

The old man didn’t drive anymore. He didn’t like to drive anymore. His sole reliance for getting things from the outside world was his one and only friend — Lewis Waters. It was usually on Tuesdays that Lewis would come rumbling up the dusty drive in his beat-up red pickup truck to deliver to Ed his food, prescriptions, a newspaper or two, his mail from the PO box, and whatever else he had requested.

It was the second Tuesday in a deep hot July and Lewis was sitting at the table in Ed’s house wiping his brow and chugging down a big glass of iced tea. Lewis was a small man compared to the other, opposite in disposition as well. He was deeply tanned, almost to the point of looking burnt. His mostly bald head was nearly always covered with a cap, and below that was a face that looked like an old, yet happy apple.

Lewis watched Ed as he methodically went through the grocery sacks and put everything away in the exact same spots he always did.

Lewis cleared his throat.

“Hey Ed?”

He didn’t turn around. “Yeah.”

“What are you going to do if one day I’m not able to do for you what I do now?”

Ed turned sharply. “What do you mean? Are you bailing on me?”

Lewis took a long, hard drink. Then he wiped at his mouth with his arm.

“No. Nothing like that.”

“Well, what the hell do you mean then?”

“I mean… What if something happens to me?”

“Like what?”

“What if I died?”

Ed laughed and sat down at the table with him.

“Don’t worry. I’ll be long gone before you will be. That I am sure of.”

“But how can you be so sure? We’re nearly the same age.”

“I just know. I had a dream about it. A premonition, I suppose,” Ed answered.

Lewis looked concerned. “I could die in a wreck on the way back home today.”

Ed slapped at the air with his big hand. “No, you won’t. It isn’t supposed to work out like that. Come with me.”

They got up and Lewis followed the old man to the bedroom in the back corner of the house.

“See that?”

“It’s your messy bed.”

“Right it is. And that’s where you’ll find me one day — dead as a yanked daisy.”

“Come on, Ed. I don’t want to hear this.”

“It’s true. I felt it. I have a special sense for things like that.”

Lewis sighed. “I still think it wouldn’t hurt for you to have someone else to help you with things around here. Maybe you should look at dating someone. I think it would be good for you if you had a wife.”

Ed frowned. “I’ve already had a wife,” he said, and pushed past Lewis and went to sit in front of the television.

Lewis followed him. “Ed?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Things are fine just the way they are. If circumstances change, they change. So be it. I’m too old to be making any sort of plans for a future that might not even ever exist. That would just be another god damn letdown.” 

Lewis went to sit down on the other end of the couch.

“Hey Ed?”

“What is it now?”

“I was wondering if you might want to come to church this Sunday. I can pick you up and we’ll just go sit and listen. And I was thinking maybe after we could go get something to eat. It will be on me.”

Ed chuckled and turned his attention from the television to Lewis.

“Sounds like you’re asking me out on a date. You haven’t turned queer on me, have you?”

“Oh, come on, Ed. I just thought it would do you some good to get out of the house and be around other people.”

Ed looked straight ahead and grew serious. “You know how I feel about that. I don’t like people, and as far as church is concerned, well, I’ve prayed in vain one too many times. God’s no friend of mine.”

Lewis rubbed his hands together, nodded his head in defeat, and stood up.

“All right. I can tell it will do no good to convince you otherwise. It never has. I’ll just see myself out then. But Ed, if you change your mind send word, will you?”

“I won’t change my mind. Goodbye, Lewis.”

It was on nights when the moon was full, and the stars were heavily dilated that Ed Blackrose would walk the property with a pistol by his side. He didn’t fully understand why it was that on nights of a full moon his mind and body grew so much more restless than usual. He walked and walked and walked — all the way to the high point of the property far behind the house. It was a scraggly ridge of loose rock and dirt and when he struggled up to the top he would just stand and look out and he felt like he was the only man on Earth — and he really wished he was. He would howl sometimes too, and the coyotes would answer back in communal yelps from a distance. He would look up at the other planets, the other hells perhaps, and he tried to reach out for them but of course the distance was far too great.

At times he felt something just shy of peace up there on the ridge. Other times there was a great, dark weight on him, and it was in these times that he would press the barrel of the pistol to his head and make a gun blast noise with his mouth. Then Ed would feel sick, and he would bring the pistol down and then carefully maneuver his big old frame into a sitting position in the dirt. And then he would just stay like that, and he would cry, and he would curse, and he would talk to himself, for hours, sometimes until the sun began to birth itself from a canal in space, and that’s when he would struggle to get to his feet and crawl back down the ridge, and disappear into the house to make coffee. Then he would lie down on the couch, watch television, and then drift off to sleep for two or three hours.   

The phone rarely rang and so when it did, it startled him nearly into a heart attack.

“Damn it! Hello!”

“Ed, it’s Lewis.”

“I know it’s you. You scared the hell out of me. I nearly pissed myself. What do you want, Lewis?”

“You sound sour.”

“I am sour.”

“I know I shouldn’t ask, but I was wondering if you maybe changed your mind about Sunday?”


“Look, Ed. There’s a woman at my church, a very nice lady. Her name is Sontag.”

“Sontag?” Ed wondered aloud. That sounds made up. I think you should investigate that, Lewis.”

“It’s not made up, Ed. She’s a real sweet gal.”

“Lewis. I’m not going on a date. You know how I feel about that. Don’t even think about fixing something up.”

“No, no. It’s nothing like that. It’s more like, well, I’m courting her, Ed.”

“I’m so sorry to hear that, Lewis.”

“Look, she’s offered to cook a nice Sunday dinner for after church and I just happened to mention that you and I might have plans and she insisted that I invite you along.”

Ed paused for a long time.

“Ed? Hello? Are you there?”

“You know how I feel about Sunday dinners with strangers, Lewis. Count me out.”

“Oh, come on. Just this once and I’ll never ask again.”

“You can be quite irritating at times, you know that Lewis? And that reminds me, don’t forget to pick up my nervous pills before you come over Tuesday.”

Ed slammed the phone down and rolled over on the couch.

Sunday morning came and Ed got up early. He pulled his best clothes from the closet and laid them out on the bed. He had grudgingly decided to accept Lewis’ invitation to church and dinner with his lady friend after all, but his guts rumbled with a nervous ache.

He showered for a long time. The cool water felt good to him as it ran down his tired body. He scrubbed at his thick beard with soap; lathered up the white hair on his chest, arms, and legs, and then rinsed it all off. He turned off the water, grabbed for a towel and dried himself off. He looked at himself in the mirror — deeply. That was something he rarely did for he was afraid of his own reflection. He was shocked at how haggard he had become over the years.

Ed combed his hair neatly in place and creamed it back a bit. He brushed his teeth, rinsed, and spit. He looked at himself again.

“That’s the best you’re going to get,” he said to himself.

He shook out his dark dress pants and slipped them on. He took the white dress shirt and worked himself into it, buttoned it, and tucked it into his pants. He worked a black belt through the loops of the pants and synched it tight. He forced his big feet into a pair of shiny, black cowboy boots and brushed the dust off with his fingers. He stood tall and tried to reposition himself. Everything felt snug on him, and he was uncomfortable. He was already beginning to sweat again and so he went to the kitchen and poured himself a tall glass of iced tea. He drank it down, grabbed his suit coat, and sat out on the front porch to wait for Lewis.

The old truck rumbled along the highway. Johnny Cash was playing on the radio. It was a 19-mile drive from Ed’s house to the town of Wallston — a dusty, strange desert burg of about 9,000 people. Ed stared out the window as the world rushed by. He hadn’t said much most of the way. Lewis sensed his uneasiness.

“I’m glad you decided to come. It will be great, you’ll see,” Lewis said, smiling and gripping the wheel.

“I’m sure it will be the highlight of my life,” Ed said, and then he reached into the inside pocket of his suit coat and pulled out a tall can of beer and cracked it open.

Lewis shot him a quick glance. “What are you doing?”

“What does it look like I’m doing?” Ed snapped back. “I’m having a beer.”

“Ed, you can’t drink in a moving vehicle. Would you just please throw it out the window?”

“Not until I finish it.”

Ed tipped the can back and drained it completely with deep gulps. He rolled down the window and threw the can out. “There. I’m done.”

Lewis scolded him. “I can’t believe you’re drinking a beer right before church.”

“I’m sure He won’t mind,” Ed answered with a slight chuckle. “I do believe He or whoever or whatever enjoyed his wine.”

“Please, Ed. This day is very important to me. I want to make a good impression with my Sontag. Could you just at least try to act decently.”

Ed grew defensive. “Decently? There’s nothing decent about the world anymore, Lewis. I think all this churchy preachy talk and your gal pal are screwing with your head. Don’t talk to me about decency. I mind my own business, I never bother anyone, I don’t rob banks. I don’t hurt anyone. Maybe you should just take me back home.”

“No. We’re not going back now. I just don’t think you should be drinking beer before church and meeting my friend for the first time. I think I have a valid point, Ed.”

Ed mocked him. “A valid point. Geez, you sure have changed.”

“But unfortunately, Ed, you have not,” Lewis snapped back.


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Sun burns world

Sunburn my lady
sun burns morning glory glows of you
while I wait in the queue
on some dock in Liverpool
the dusk dawn of ending day
perched high on the wireless clouds
polished antique haze
a dirty orange smear in the sky
a trench coat wrapped in rain
a pocket watch ticking out the pain
songs of doves and ice-cold cod
tolling bells of doom booming through the fog
the sunburn rains on down
an apple, a rose turning brown
halfway through the memories on haunted hill
halfway through the turnstiles stuck in glue
sun burns red, sun burns blue
a wind sick hotel in desert hue
sagebrush rolling through dry dust dew

I’m tapping on the dirty windowpane
scratching out a lullaby with jagged nails
the lovesick howl
of another lonely road
the lovesick boil
of crooked yellow veins
pumping globs along the asphalt trail
thunderclouds muscle the mountains
bloated bruises whispering might
I take a flashlight and head out into the night
sun burns down the juice of a pale moon
stars like angel eyes fill the room
of lightless morning desert bloom
there’s a knock on the door
but no one is home
there is a fist on the brick
shattering tender bone
sunburn rains down wanderer all alone
the clover and cattle moan
a sherbet shining erection of sun
blocks out the light of all that is done
wet spit harbor lights shimmer and shake
wet spit city lights clamber on the lake
little blue boats sweep against the waves
sunburn eye scans the sky
to alleviate the savage
to tempt the tea kettle to howl
to rise one’s heart from horizontal rest
yoga flirtations in a rocking chair
sunburn swirl in a rocket ship
her bottom lip
licked moist within the sway of a hammock

The sun burns a Bakersfield cathedral
porcelain dolls wet with makeup
make their way up
God’s holy stairs
and even angels stare
at the divinity of sunburnt blonde
kneel down and pray
coddle the crucifix
sun burns Jesus stained with holes
high noon it’s time to go
to the factory or the ghost town
to the clown with an upside down frown
time to go to longevity
to sweat the sweat of brevity
motel mattress smells of dust
motel mattress saturated with lust
checkout time was long ago
pounding on the door… It’s time to go

Sun burns the empty rot
of a drive-in movie lot
weeds and grass all a cluster
speaker boxes corroded like old toasters
the flicker of the screen
sun burns a celluloid dream
twists and melts and scatters away
yet another sunburnt Technicolor Day
cloudless blue burns right on through
to this heart and on every bruise
sun burns the junkie loading a needle
high times on the highway
90 mph plus to negativeland
screaming green neon the width of the band
whiskey sour at happy hour
the beat of the desolate
the beat of the chagrined
taps out the code of a breathless heartbeat
swimming rings around the warm wet circles
piling up on the warped mahogany bar
sun burns the ice chime singing to the glass
sun burns the momentum of a lover’s last stance

Back home in Hollywood
trying to find the ocean
back home in Dino’s Den
the racing pen
the hog tied hypocrisy of CNN
humming American voodoo at the tempo
of a sunburnt porcelain doll in heat
swipe the cherry bomb across the mouth
98.6 degrees of candy store junk
dripping all along the Walk of Fame
from hence the angel cove I came
sun burns the jungle land
of another Eden and Disneyland
heat up the honey in the jet stream
blur out the flag in another American dream
sun burns the justice and the liberty
sun burns the momentary meaning for us all.

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