Will Power

I am craving a fudge bar

but I shouldn’t eat one.
So MANY Calories.
I should have a Popsicle,

and I stare at Lucille Ball

some more

driving away the craving

with bungling, Red Head antics

but a sudden commercial

makes me ravenous

and I wrestle myself

Inside

as I often do

and lose

and get up

and go to the laundry room

and open the floor freezer.
I’ve put the highest

Calories

under Megan

where they are much

harder to get

thinking

my laziness will

prevent my obesity

but I dig my arm

around under Megan

until out comes a fudge bar.
It sticks briefly to her

skin, and I pull it free

but she doesn’t make

a sound

because I told her not to.

She’s just an Embryo-shaped

cicle, all shivery.

There’s no head movement

when she looks out the corner

of her eye at me

and I see fear,

and I feel guilty

because I know she

is afraid of my

Lack of Will Power.

Uniform

the dead soldiers’ Uniforms are dusty

muddy and

shrapnel bitten,

chewed by the grenade

bayonet, puncture wounded

and dyed crimson, signed in the color of a setting sun

by an unwilling author.
bloated gray bellies

distend the carefully sewn cotton

they are camouflaged

but visible just the same

i snap the picture for posterity

and think of scratch-n-sniff ads

and methane putrefaction

and wonder if a mom or dad

will point at the picture in the paper

with prideful recognition like they did when

their son of three made the post for halloween.
the family will look upon a mouth sewn shut

eyes closed

body smooth and painted

and wrapped in his sunday’s best,

but I have seen the blender,

eyes wide with horror

mouth agape, twisted.

add soldiers, pulse for 20 seconds, cloths on, spread gently on the grass.
war is not a Three Piece Suit.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany – Exercise 157

Firing Weapon at Night

The hot asphalt is drenched in sweat. A turnout of over 3,200 triatheletes this year. Over six million viewers and close to six thousand users paying for direct links. And although they’ve been outlawed in several countries, we know of plenty underground linkage providers that have parallel sensory links with embeds. The users feel everything the tri’s feel. Everything. But that’s for big gold. Only the toppers can afford that. The rest of us down here at street level have to gorge ourselves on second hand electro’s and coarse-fitting neurals.

The runners have weaved their way through the sweltering January heat, through the smog pits, along the outer rim of the ground zero crater for the 2025 nuclear attack on what used to be Los Angelos. The initial swim through the shark infested waters of Upper Mexico left around 2,500 participants. That’s another 200 over what was eaten last year. They’re thinking about moving the swim lanes again, as the sharks are starting to gather in greater numbers every year at the currently designated lanes. There have also been reports of people illegally chumming in the areas a few weeks prior to the games. You can’t really blame them, though. After the amount of money they lost in the years following the 80 percent games, people were very forgiving when it came to rigging and cheating. They called it the 80 percent games because almost 80 percent of the participants survived. Nobody is interested in games where everybody wins. What’s the point? Where’s the danger? The adrenaline? People were paying record prices to link to tri’s that crossed the finish line. When they unplugged, they were just exhausted. Not much of a rush for the price. Things are much more exciting now.

The timer is huge this year. It’s neon yellow numbers are over 30 feet high in the amber sky, and you can even see it through the pollutes from almost a mile away. Everyone is crowding the road. The first time idiots who make their way to the front of the masses find out too late that when the timer runs out, they are suddenly part of the games, whether they like it or not. In the frenzy, everyone pushes forward, expectant, and those little two foot gaps that existed between pavement spectators disappears. There’s no way to turn around and sift back into the crowd. You wanted front row, buddy you got front row.

The timer is ticking down now. 38 . . . 37 . . . 36 . . .

The crowd’s murmur is intensifying; some of the tri’s family members are screaming for them to Run! For the love of God! Run! But the exhaustion is setting in and the pollutes are filling their lungs. Tri’s aren’t allowed to wear their masks for the last part of the race. Their throats must be burning pretty bad right about now. People linking in are probably hacking and coughing away in their little underground playpens. Choking on what is, to them anyway, imaginary particles of acid rain, CFC’s, ammonia, and enough carbon to choke a horse, if there were any still in existence.

12 . . . 11 . . . 10 . . .

The crowd is going beserk now. You can look out over the sands and see ripples of excitement coursing in waves through the masses. The runners near the line expend whatever energy they have left to make it before the countdown ends. A few groups of ten or twenty make a last ditch effort and make it across in small desperate clutches. Everyone knows that if you miss the countdown, the only chance you have is to form a clutch with the unlucky RBI’s on the outside.

3 . . . 2 . . .

When the timer hits zero, the crowds are deafening. You can’t even hear the gunfire. You can see it though. Flashes of red from the tips of the weapons and the runners forming and reforming groups as they struggle for the line. Some of the front row spectators are dropping.

The big gold players, they pay big for the first shots. During a race three years ago, a man paid a month’s food ration to have the first five minutes to himself. He had all twenty weapons in a row, filled to capacity, and emptied them all in the first five minutes. Only three or four tri’s out of a couple hundred got by. It was a slaughter. Viewings were at an all time high.

They can’t all be like that, but this race looks to be a solid 30 percenter. No shame in those kind of numbers, folks. This is ViewLink One bringing you live coverage as always, right from ground level. Remember, we stay connected until the end.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany – Exercise 2

Hospital Hallway

You walk into the doctor’s office and there is a heavy smell of antiseptic and death. There is no one at the front desk so you stand in front of it like a confused tree. Five minutes tick by and no one returns to the desk. Other patrons sit with straight backs, spines so erect it makes you uncomfortable. You are wearing a T-shirt, faded jeans, and a pair of muddy sneakers. Looking at the other patrons, you see everyone else is wearing their Sunday’s best. Ties and brooches, diamond earrings, shiny black shoes that make hard clacking sounds on the floors of important buildings. You look down at your shoes to see your left one is untied, so you lean over and retie it.

Sitting down without signing in will make your visit a useless one. You will never get seen. There is no sign-in clipboard on the counter. The other patrons are eyeing you with careless pity. You do not make eye contact with them. You listen for footsteps. Perhaps someone is about to open the door and call out one of these citizen’s names. You have waited eight minutes. You are now this room’s center of gravity; its focal point. If someone throws this room across the universe in a wide arc, your path will remain a smooth curve on an unseen graph. You decide to sit down at the chair closest to the front desk. Someone will come in and you will see them and jump up and take your rightful place at the head of a two person line. Or the person will come back from their bathroom break and sign you in.

You stare forward at nothing, making yourself invisible. No one can detect you in your invisible chair, surrounded by an invisible cloak. You focus on nothing and you are nothing. You are unaccounted for with no name on a paper that is not on the counter.

A lady in a white coat emerges from a small doorway behind the counter and you jump up like a rabbit during hunting season. You will soon exist. You will soon be a part of a process with a name, a time, an insurance card, and a phone number. These are all properties of you, and since they exist, you must therefore also exist.

The lady opens your mouth to say something, but another lady comes through the main door and opens your mouth instead.

“I am ready,” you hear yourself say.

“Wonderful,” you feel yourself thinking, and the words emerge from the lady’s mouth.

You intend to smile and her lips part to show pearly white teeth.

She leads you down a long, polished concrete hallway. The walls are white. The lights are bright. Nothing to hide here. When you turn and enter the room, there is an elderly lady lying on her back. The cold, silver puddle of steel lies underneath her. There are instruments lying in front of you. A scapel, tongs, pliers, garden shears, lighter fluid, a translucent bag of leeches, and a small kitten actively trying to escape its cage. The woman has already been opened from belly-button to sternum, a crimson meat flower ready for pollenation. You step forward and as you reach for the lock on the kitten’s cage a small, rustic farmer-looking gentleman rushes into the room, boots leaving clumps of red clay all over the floor.

He says, “Sorry, sorry . . . this young citizen is here to have her gall bladder removed.”

The woman in white says, “Oh . . .” and then turns to you and says, “come with me.”

You turn to look at the room one last time on your way out. Everyone is smiling. Their smiles are wide, like a youth minister’s. The kitten hisses at you. The woman on the table breaths through a tube. You make your way down the hall again. The smooth floor becomes textured. The walls are made of cotton. The nurse stops and suddenly turns to face you.

“I need you to cough,” she states. You can tell by the manner in which she says this that she has said it millions of times. You try to repsond, but cannot. “I need you to cough,” she states again. The walls begin to dissapate; the cotton turning a soft, slow black, like survivalist tinder. And then without warning the floor is gone and you are falling at 9.8 meters per second.

“Sweetie, I need you to cough,” the nurse says. You emit a dainty wisp of air on your third attempt. The room spins and time is no more. You open your eyes again and the nurse asks if you would like more blankets. Yes, you would. How you convey this, you are not certain. You are not fully self-aware, but this person is standing in front of you. You are not invisible. She can see you.

Before time is fluid again, you think for some reason of Juliet, your cat. Have they fed her? You must do what the nurse and doctors say and heal quickly so you can get back to your garden. So you can dig your wrinkled fingers in the dark, wet potting soil and give life to your flowers and herbs.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany – Exercise 1

Lava Storm

There are flames everywhere. I’m sitting in the window seat of the bookstore, sipping my coffee.

Exactly three people are on fire. Two are dead. It’s St. Patrick’s Day. Only six of the people outside are wearing green. One of the dead is clad in all green, but his foot-tall, striped hat was blown off with the wind from the initial impact. His beer mug, however, is still clenched firmly in hand. One wonders if these priorities will carry over to the afterlife?

The people around me are choosing three different methods of panic. Nine of them run screaming to the back of the store, looking for a way out. Four older German ladies run screaming to the bathroom, a solid structure in the middle of the store. That would help in a tornado, but not for this. Who wants to die in a public bathroom? Apparently old German ladies. There are two stalls in the men’s bathroom, but I have no idea how many are in the ladies. I thought about a quick glance once, just to see, but the thought of getting caught was too much. Two people, a loud-speaking, maudlin hipster couple, are behind the coffee counter huddling with the baristas. The woman who has received her double chocolate-chip frappacino has kept hold of it as she dashes behind the safety of the expresso machine. You can have my overpriced caffeine and diuretics, these citizens are saying, when you pry it from our cold dead fingers.

The two people who are on fire are being put out by four men who have come from the bar across the street. They are dragging the limp bodies back through the door of the bar. The stuff that was burning them is like Greek Fire. Their clothes and skin, the men were able to put out, but the amoebic lava that had crawled its way into the flesh, that was still burning them from the inside out.

There are two mopeds, six bicycles, and one motorcycle outside. There are 36 flowers in the median, evenly spaced in a checkered pattern. They are all fake.

The second impact sets everything in the street on fire. The vehicles, the dead people, the plants, and even the asphalt in the road. The sidewalks are not on fire, the curb being the straightline separator. Everything between the two curbs is melting into the river of liquid Sun that was the road. The heat doesn’t penetrate the imaginary line either; a wayward burger wrapper sits a few inches from the volcanic pathway and doesn’t so much as turn black.

The book I’m reading costs twenty eight dollars. It has 320 pages. Why does a piece of cardboard in front of and behind the content of a book raise the price by thirteen dollars? The tax is ten percent here, but a membership card cuts ten percent off of the price.

There are two other people sitting at the window, watching and counting. One is a small boy and the other is a female college student. We will sit here for another thirty two minutes, until the fifth impact. That’s when the culling begins. But we count first. How many of them are left is important. To few and we’ll end up having to take care of this planet ourselves. To many and there’s always insurrection.

There are 346 other planets to resource, but when we’re done, we get to pick any of those for the Longevity. It is 2:31 pm in this time zone. There are twenty-four time zones.

All hail Lord Pox.

Instant Buggy Karma

Grocery Cart

So as I’m walking back to my car the other night, I see this young couple getting in their car. Dude gets in his side and their car cranks up. That’s when I notice he’s left the buggy right next to his car like myriads of other douchebags who can’t at least run it up on a nearby median or something. They finish with their groceries and don’t even bother to look around for the buggy corral.

I’m stopped about 15 feet from their bumper, and openly watching them. I’m watching because this guy has topped all the other douchebags who do this. He was too lazy to move the buggy away from his car. The car-buggy gap was only two inches. I was parked to the right of him, so I had an excuse for standing their waiting. Sure enough, when he starts to back up, his car slides against the buggy, which catches on the back door of his car and gets dragged a foot or two. He looks at me with a stupid ‘aww-shucks’ smile. “Shit,” he proclaims, in what I imagine is a daily mantra for him.

My first impulse, even in this situation, is to help. To grab the buggy for the idiot. And although I can’t be certain, I think for a split second he was thinking the same thing. Maybe this complete stranger will come take care of this for me if I wait long enough. I stand still and smile back at him. He stops the car, and since the buggy is now next to his door, he has to carefully edge out of the driver’s door so as not to scrape it on the buggy. I begin walking to my car now as he grabs the buggy and takes it to the corral that is, are you ready for this, in the parking space directly opposite him. I hold back when I start to shout “INSTANT BUGGY KARMA!”

He’s only one ladder rung away from the people who pour drinks out next to their cars. Sticky veneers of high-fructose corn syrup and caffeine just waiting to make every step I take though a store a duct-tape ripping noise. And those shmucks at the very bottom; people who leave diapers in the buggies. This is especially disturbing because you know the Walmart employees don’t do anything but pull it out with a stick or something. Then you wonder in and set little Sarah down in the turd buggy.

These are the same people that drop their screaming kids off at the three dollar movies for five hours on Saturday night. Whose houses burn down because their Christmas tree was still lying in the corner in March. Who pee on toilet seats. Who watch the same channel for six hours straight because they left the remote on top of the TV (Okay, I’ve done that, but only a couple of times. It’s not a habit.).

I’m so irritated by all this I can hardly think. I stand next to my car and take special care to aim my urine directly into the drain below, being careful not to splatter, then drive home, trying not to think about all the idiots in the world.

Husk

colorful leaves

Sal picked up the acorn from the leaves. The boy watched. Sal stared at the little nut for a moment like a bug under a microscope.

“That an acorn?” the boy asked.

“Yep.”

“What tree is it from?”

Sal said, “Oak.”

The boy and the man walked slowly through the edge of the yard, shuffling their boots amongst the scattering Autumn leaves. Every now and then, the boy would spot a tiny branch sticking up out of the brightly colored detritus and pick it up, snapping off little pieces and redistributing them back to the forest floor.

“Can we plant it?” the boy asked.

Sal was silent for a moment, as if it took a massive amount of mental calculations to figure out whether you could cover this particular seed with dirt.

“You know,” Sal finally answered, “All the information needed to turn this small nut into a huge tree and keep it alive and flourishing for the next one hundred years is right here inside this small little shell.”

The child was about to repeat his question when he thought better of it. When adults got like this, it was better to let them ramble on until they were done.

Sal said, “I wonder if it has any notions, as it’s growing, that it has any say in what kind of tree it’s going to become?”

Sal trailed off for another unquantifiable moment.

The boy watched Sal turn the acorn over and over with his leathery, crinkled hands.

“If we don’t plant it,” the boy said matter-of-factly, “we’ll never know.”

He didn’t think this answered Sal’s question, but then again Sal hadn’t answered his question either and the boy had an agenda, after all. If they planted it now, by the time he was his brother’s age, and allowed to climb trees like his brother, he should have a huge tree to climb back in his own yard. In the boy’s subdivision, the developers had killed all but a few trees before they built their houses. The boy figured the trees got in the way somehow. It was the boy’s turn to ponder things now.

“So even though it’s not doing anything right now, it’s alive in there?”

“Yep.”

“But you have to put it in the dirt and water to grow it . . . or it just . . .”

The boy wasn’t sure. How long could whatever was in there live if you didn’t plant it?

Sal said, “It dies. You can’t tell from the outside, not right away, but it just dries up on the inside.”

Then he suddenly handed the seed to the boy as if he’d wanted nothing to do with it in the first place.

The Creep

happy devil

In the past month or so I’ve managed to be the most insulting, racist, and creepiest person I’ve ever been in my life.

The Creepy incident was at a sandwich shop. I was ordering and something was mentioned that I didn’t like, so I said,”Eewww, no. That’s nasty.” And then, because I think of things all the time that sound witty in my head, but come out like a spastic with Tourette’s, I say with a knowing smile, “The only nasty thing I like is a nasty groove.” For those of you as old as me, you probably got the Janette Jackson reference without hesitation. That’s when I realized that the girl in front of me was lower 20s at most. The look on her face had turned from Can I help you, sir to Am I safe now, even with people around? I felt like Ron Jeremy must feel all the time. I was, for the moment, the creepiest guy on the planet. Before she could press the panic button, I dug my way out of this one by acknowledging my failed attempt at humor and explaining the song. Luckily, my wife was with me to reassure the girl that I was safe while off my leash. I followed up by pointing out the name of the singer who was currently belting out I want to party all the time, party all the time, party all the tiiiiiime. That earned me some 80s cred.

But that wasn’t horrible enough, my subconscious thought. Surely you can take it to the next level. So I did.

Me and the crew were outside a Wal-Mart. Where this one is located, there is always someone outside with a sign. I always give something. Money, food, something. And most of the time, the people standing out there look the part. A little worn and scraggly. Their dress and the wrinkles in their face reflect their hard times. Not this fellow. He was maybe 19 or 20. Same age as my boy. He looked well kempt, but really down. Really down. We pull up and roll our window down. He hesitantly eases forward and as I’m reaching in my pocket (it’s hard for fat people to get things out of our pockets when we’re in our vehicles), I look up into his downcast eyes and say, because it’s reflex and I say it to everyone I meet automatically, “How’s it going man?”

That’s right. I asked a kid who might be homeless and destitute how it was going. I guess I could have followed up by slashing his arms with my pocket knife and sprinkling some salt in the wounds, or maybe running over his foot when I pulled off. I didn’t even realize what I had said until after I pulled off. I went low for a minute. Really low. I’m sure that if there are events in our lives that might send us straight to Purgatory when we die, I just earned myself a couple hundred years there. Then, because it was so horrible and there was nothing I could do about it, I began to laugh hysterically at myself. Because I’m a horrible person.

That was next level, sure. But was it worthy of a trophy from Hades? No. I had to one up that. I had to climb to the summit of Mount Horrible and pledge my soul directly to the God of Shame.

A few weeks later, the wife and I are doing the yard sale thing. We stop at one that’s half in and half out of a garage. I walk into the garage and a lady to my left exclaims loudly that, “Everything in this room is for sale!” Since I’m a smartass who overanalyzes everything, I immediately notice that she herself is in the room, so without thinking, I blurt out, “So are you for sale?”

Then it hits me . . . she’s black.

That’s right. I just asked a black woman if I could purchase her. I’m in Alabama. I’m white. I would normally immediately point out how racist that sounded and make a joke about how oblivious and aloof I am. But I am too flummoxed this time. I’m waiting for this woman to put me in my place. I’m speechless. As I stood there with my mouth open and eyes wide, I might have drooled a little on the concrete. I still don’t know whether she caught it herself, because she says, “Oh, no. My husband wouldn’t like that at all.”

I am blubbering. Can’t mind working not think doodoo duh. I hear myself say, “Oh, he’d probably pay a lot of money to get you back.” Okay, now I’m just saying stupid shit and I can’t stop. I continue to move robotically around the garage and then make for the car. As I leave, she calls out behind me, “Didn’t see anything you wanted to buy?” I don’t know if she is screwing with me now, or just trying to sale stuff and oblivious of social faux pas. “No mam. Thank you. Have a good day today.” I get in the car and look in the rearview mirror to see if a swastika has spontaneously formed on my forehead.

I am paranoid now. Moving cautiously through each day, fearful that I’m going to accidentally knock some kid out of their wheelchair or run over someone’s new puppy on the way to work. Please, if you see me out, know that I am a good person. Hold your children closer, yes, but know that I mean well.

‘Lost Horizon’ by James Hilton

Taihang Mountains - China

 

At times he had the sensation of being completely bewitched by the mastery of that central intelligence, and then, over the little pale blue tea-bowls, the celebration would contract into a liveliness so gentle and miniature that he had an impression of a theorem dissolving limpidly into a sonnet.”

If you haven’t read Lost Horizon, then you will never know what your view of Shangri-La truly is.

Would you stay?