I almost forgot

My mom recently sent me a bunch of my old stories from a blog site I used to frequent. There are several I’d forgotten about until she sent me the copies she’d made. Mom’s are great like that.

A lot of the stories are from my Florida days, and, boy, was that old stuff purple. It’s fun to look back and see the beginnings of my voice developing, but I’ve wrestled with how to treat them: keep them all in my personal archives, edit and rewrite, or post them as-is.

There are merits to each, I’m sure, but I know there are certain old stories I’ve repeatedly told over the years – the perennial stack – that change and tighten with each telling. So that’s how I’m going to proceed with these. I’m going to tell them better, but I’m also going to keep copies of them as they are, for posterity.

Rereading these old stories made me appreciate the benefits of keeping an unpublished daily journal to record the everyday stuff I don’t want to forget. For example, I didn’t want to forget that story about Jim and the boa constrictor, or the incident on the side of the road with the lunatic with a food beard, but I did forget about them. Due to the sweetness of my mom, though, I remembered them, and I also remembered I used to write things down.

I’ll drop them in here and there over the coming weeks. Meanwhile, I’m going to try to write something every day, because now I have four little ones, and though very often the chaos has me within an inch of my mind, there are a lot of tiny sweetnesses I want to hold on to. Think about joining me, not to have something to post, but to have something to remember later.

I Know about a Sparrow

The Book says God sees every sparrow fall. I believe it. I also believe I don’t have the guts for such knowledge.

Unlike the eons-worth of dead sparrows God knows about, I knew about this one, and I’m not happy about it.

I didn’t know those other sparrows from Adam, and it’s only by faith I can believe anything before this very second ever really happened to begin with, which is a dismissive way of saying this:

I didn’t set out a dish of water for those other sparrows.

I didn’t keep the dog in the house so they’d have a chance.

I didn’t scoot them into a safer part of the yard.

I guess I’d have made a pretty good god for that bird, but you can’t take a little and not take the lot. And I can barely stand to know about one dead bird, let alone all dead birds, time immemorial.

A Prayer for Mercy

Two men meet on the grassy area between the frontage road and the steep hill of the onramp. They each have a small dog on a leash, and both dogs, without consulting one another, have chosen the same pine tree on which to void their thimbleline bladders. Across the frontage road is a Dairy Queen where each of their families sit on the patio, children screaming, spilling drinks, dropping ice cream cones, gnashing their teeth. They don’t know each other.

One man sighs heavily. The other briefly shuts his eyes tight and says, “Amen.” A pine cone falls between them.

“That’s not what I asked for. You?”

“Lightning.”

This Machine

I was on a plane home from visiting a client, somewhere and somewho I can’t remember. There was a heavy man sitting across the aisle from me. He had a little gray at the temples, and a little sweat at the brow. He made conversation with me, and eventually we found our way around to music. As it happened, we were both musicians. In those days I was playing at a local coffee house once a month for about $30 and the fun of it.

He was Mexican – still is, as far as I know – and his gig was traveling to various universities playing a set of old Mexican folk songs, and telling about how the songs documented his people’s history.

“You ever hear of Woody Guthrie?” he asked.

“I sure have,” I said.

“I’m kind of like the Mexican Woody Guthrie.”

“Hold onto your dust bowl, friend,” I didn’t actually say. Then I did actually reach down and unzip my bag. “You may be the only person I don’t have to explain this joke to,” I said, as I pulled out my laptop and showed him a crudely homemade sign I had taped to the top. He laughed! Finally! O, to toss your pearls before someone who can appreciate what they cost the mollusk!

I suppose I’ll tell you what was on the sign, though I’m tempted to keep it between me and the Mexican Woody Guthrie. It said, “This machine deletes emails from fascists.”

West Texas UFO Spotter’s Club

ATTN: Alien Civilizations,

It is the custom of nearly every Earth man to rise early, get bare naked and step into a slippery tile and plastic box. This box has a spout and a number of dials (Sometimes it’s only one dial, but that still counts as a number here on Earth.) and sometimes two sliding glass doors. They turn the dial(s) and are showered with scalding water.

They then stand naked in the slippery, sometimes partially-glass-walled cube, smear lubricant on their faces to make them even slipperier than they already are and drag anywhere from two to five razor blades – sometimes vibrated by a tiny motor! – across their cheeks, chin and neck until all the little hairs are gone, almost always lacerating themselves in several places. When they do this, they are not yet fully awake and are outside their mind.

If you ever get the craving to have this place, you’d do well to come early in the morning when it will be as easy as over-powering naked, half-asleep, bleeding men in slippery, sometimes partially-glass boxes. They will only be armed with a handful of cheap razor blades, which they only know to use on themselves. You won’t need your ray guns or rectal probes or whatever other horrors you’ve cooked up. At most you’ll have to figure out how to break two pieces of glass and say, “Boo!” The rest will take care of itself.

We hope you will remember the West Texas UFO Spotters Club when you arrive. You’ll know us when you see us.

Sincerely,

Frank Bernhart
President, West Texas Chapter

The Interesting Part

My family and I were driving West to Odessa, TX for the Fourth of July when a piece of shredded tire the size of a man appeared too soon for my wife to avoid. It hit us like a man-sized piece of shredded tire. It tore our front bumper up something bad, but we lived, so this isn’t even the interesting part. Without the man-sized piece of shredded tire, we would never have stopped at the horrendous gas station at which we most certainly did stop.

Gas stations right off the interstate tend to have useful things like strong tape and cheap crescent wrenches. This one also had a wine bottle opener, for truckers with discriminating tastes. I bought two kinds of tape: duct tape, and strapping tape, that clear kind with string in it. I noticed they also had a small grill for burgers, fries, and the usual fare. The place was mostly empty, but while I stood there waiting to enter my pin, I was aware of the white noise of active fry oil.

Back outside, I could hear my wife on the phone with her father as I was prone under our vehicle. I tried not to think of what stew of dried poisons I was lying in – reactivating! – as I worked. There was too much road grime on the bumper for the tape to stick so I used the two tapes like rope to lash up the now hobbled undercarriage of our minivan. And it was not a bad job, I must say.

Naturally, I was filthy after this, so I resolved to go back inside the gas station to wash up. Entering the bathroom of an interstate gas station requires resolve.

The men’s room was appalling. There was graffiti floor to ceiling and the walls had been painted dark brown. I didn’t realize they were out of soap until I had my hands under the running water. By out of soap I mean there was a place on the wall where a dispenser used to be. There was another kind of dispenser on the wall I’m sure was well stocked.

Remembering the place was staffed by two women, I thought the ladies’ room would be better appointed. Mercifully, it was. Still, that electric hand dryer looked suspect, and there was no way I was about touch anything with my now clean hands. I was able to turn off the faucet with my foot, which, I believe, though I’ll have to double check, is part of the aptitude test they give parkour gang recruits. And for once I was grateful a restroom’s door latch was broken, enabling me to open it with my foot.

But that’s not the interesting part either. This is it.

There was a gap in the counter between the gas station side and the grill side. It was how they got behind, and out from behind the counter. The lady who sold me the tape was standing in the gap, leaning against the gas station side, thoughtfully regarding something on the floor. It was a one inch long beetle, also standing in the gap. Big as day. She looked up at me, unabashed, then back down at the beetle. She didn’t step on it, didn’t try to sweep it up quickly and lie, “This – well I just – I mean never – !” She just kept looking at it peacefully.

Maybe she was hallucinating. Maybe she believed it was a very short man asking for directions in another language. She certainly wasn’t acting like she believed it to be a one inch beetle standing feet from where food was being prepared.

Vocabulary

“Bobbin’ little bastards!”

Those were the words I repeated to Mom and Mimi as Pawpaw drove us across town to lunch. He and I had spent the morning fishing and Mimi asked how it went. Pawpaw sat a little lower in his seat, and Mom wondered aloud where I might have heard such a thing.

They Will Be Sorry

“No one knew the burglar had entered, and the family lost everything, all because the dog was not allowed to bark when he thought he heard something. The Bitter End,” wrote the dog.

Travel Journal

Ralph left the baggage claim and went outside to hail a cab. He asked to be taken to the nearest drug store.

“Which one?” said the cabbie.

“Doesn’t matter. Whichever is the closest,” said Ralph.

When they pulled up he asked the cabbie to wait. “I’ll only be a moment.”

Not three minutes later he came out carrying a small paper bag he had brought himself. It was rare to find a drug store that still stocked the small paper bags, and he preferred them to plastic bags. It was all plastic now, and plastic wanted to go in every direction at once.

Ralph walked toward a public mail box at the far corner of the parking lot. As he walked he removed a small, padded, yellow envelope and placed the brown bag inside it. The envelope was pre-addressed and the brown bag had “#100″ written on it, both in a woman’s hand. He drew a small heart on the back of the envelope, dropped it in the mailbox, and walked back to the cab.

The cabbie whipped back around in his seat and pretended to fiddle with the radio. Ralph saw this.

“Please take me to the Marriott on 7th,” said Ralph as he was buckling his seatbelt.

A few days later Ralph’s wife, Maxine, checked the mail to find the package. She walked in the house and put the rest of the mail away, then headed to a China cabinet in the living room. Ralph had built it himself from a kit. Preferring the natural wood, he didn’t stain them. She passed her hand over the heart on the back of the envelope and smiled, then turned it over to see “#100″ above the address where the name of the recipient usually goes. She had been expecting this one.

Ralph had left town with the last three pairs of envelopes and paper bags she’d numbered for him. He was going to be gone for two weeks, touring plants across the country so she wanted to send him off well stocked.

She opened the envelope, carefully unfolded the paper bag and turned it upside down over her hand. A shiny new pair of fingernail clippers fell into her palm. She placed it in the last remaining balsa wood stand in the exact center of the top shelf and removed the small strip of paper sitting in the lower lip of the stand. On it she wrote “Surprise, AZ,” then returned it to the stand and closed the door. She reached around to the back of the cabinet and rolled the little wheel on the cord to turn on the lights Ralph had installed. One hundred pairs of unused fingernail clippers sparkled in the soft light.

Maxine stepped back, took a photo, and texted it to Ralph. He replied a few seconds later. “Pack it up. I love you.”

She spent the next few hours wrapping each pair of clippers and each balsa wood stand in newspaper, returning them to their place on the shelf, and filling the rest of the China cabinet with newspaper. It was cheaper than the packing paper from the hardware store and the stands on the street corners were brimming with the stuff.

When she had filled the last shelf of the cabinet, taped the door shut, and bubble-wrapped it, she wheeled it out to the garage and put it in the bed of her small, import pickup truck. As she drove across town with her elbow hanging out the window she thought about all the different cities she’d written on the little cards. Rockford, IL, Cincinnati, OH, Big Spring, TX – Ralph said it smelled terrible there because of the refinery. Maxine had never been out of their home town, a reality with which she was at peace. She enjoyed imagining the long journeys the fingernail clippers took, and one time even tried to write a little poem about a pair of them but never finished it, telling herself, “The world only needs one pining Emily Dickinson.”

She pulled up to Bob’s U-Store, entered her code and snaked back through the rows until she arrived at #37, a 10×10 storage unit. She removed the padlock and raised the door. Using the dolly they kept in the unit, she removed the China cabinet from the truck, wheeled it a few feet into the unit and situated it with the others. Each unit could hold 12 China cabinets, and this one had room for two more. She and Ralph had the keys to eight units, #29-37.

Ralph sat in his hotel room in Arizona eating mediocre room service and admiring the photo Maxine sent him of the cabinet full of clippers. He opened his laptop and ordered another China cabinet kit with next-day shipping. He was planning to take a week’s vacation when he returned from this trip, and he looked forward to spending it building another cabinet and scrapbooking drug store receipts with Maxine.

Police Blotter: June 12th, 2014

Mesa View: At 8pm last night a man was arrested for trespassing and petty theft when his neighbor returned early from Bingo and caught him raiding her dishwasher “for the last time.” For months he would enter her home and steal clean flatware out of her dishwasher, leaving his own dirty utensils in its place. “He bought the same silverware as me so I wouldn’t notice. It took a while, but I caught on,” said the victim. “I suspected something was up when he kept asking me where I got my lovely grapefruit spoons and his dispose-all was always broken.”