Wicked Hunger

Teenage boys are dumb. Most of them are far too busy playing with fire or staring at bright lights to read. That’s why I’ve been saying for quite some time that “YA Fiction” should be rebranded as “YW Fiction” you know, for “young women.” Some boys read, sure, but if you’re going to write “YA Fiction,” you need to know your audience: brooding, introverted, artistic, intelligent girls. They’re the ones that sit in class comfortable in their zip-up hoodies. They love their music and their thoughts and they’re a step above the other teens that mill around them drowning in their preoccupation with fashion or the “he said she said” of teenage life. These are the girls you’ll be writing for if you delve into YA; they are your audience. And nobody knows their audience like DelSheree Gladden. She proves it in “Wicked Hunger.”

 

I’m not quite sure how she does it. The story is written in present tense, which is modern and keeps you in the moment. That part I get. The protagonist, an angsts ridden teenage girl named Vanessa, would be easy to identify with if you’re in the same boat. That part I get as well. But Gladden is able to convey a brooding mood and sense of tension through her prose and, I wasn’t quite able to pinpoint how it was done. The best part is that it felt organic; Gladden didn’t overly rely on artifice. Most of the story comes from Vanessa’s point of view, so her troubles and needs and fears aren’t filtered through narration. I really liked it.

 

Lastly, I’d like to commend Gladden for the darker hue with which she writes in her latest series. Most “YA” authors tone it down. I suppose they’re afraid of writing something too dark for someone too young, but giving in to that fear is tantamount to dishonesty. Young adults deserve literature that doesn’t pull punches at the expense of the story, and “Wicked Hunger” delivers perfectly. I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone who’s a fan of “YW Fiction.” You can find it here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0615832989/

Wicked Hunger

Vanessa and Zander Roth are good at lying. They have to be when they are hiding a deadly secret. Day after day, they struggle to rein in their uncontrollable hunger for pain and suffering in order to live normal lives. Things only get worse when Ivy Guerra appears with her pink-striped hair and secrets. The vicious hunger Ivy inspires is frightening, not to mention suspicious. Vanessa’s instincts are rarely wrong, so when they tell her that Ivy’s appearance is a sign of bad things to come, she listens. She becomes determined to expose Ivy’s secrets. Vanessa tries to warn her brother, but Zander is too enamored with Ivy to pay attention to her conspiracy theories. One of them is right about Ivy… But if they lose control of their hunger, it won’t matter who is right and who is wrong. One little slip and they’ll all be dead.

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The Durango Diner

My daughter will marry any man who brings her bacon. It’s disappointing. I was hoping that she’d require something more, something deeper. Maybe she’d fall for a brilliant romantic or the quintessential baller who’d keep me comfortable in imported cars just to please my daughter. But it didn’t happen that way. And what makes it worse is the fact that my daughter is five, and her fiancé is well into his fifties. But to be fair, I guess I should mention that he didn’t mean to propose; he simply slid a piece of bacon across the counter after he heard my daughter complain about the wait. She took one bite of that cured pork and said “Daddy, is that man married? Because I want to marry him.” His name was Gary, and he owns The Durango Diner.

 

It was one of those odd weekend mornings where everything slows down and colors change under a lazy sun. The wife and I took our five year old monster out to breakfast. And I call it “breakfast” because that’s what we ate. A punctual man would’ve called it lunch. We parked on Main amongst the motorcycles and tourists and walked into the Durango Diner. It’s one of those no frills places with a few tables in the back and a counter that faces a dully reflective grill. Everything is covered with a deep patina of time and tradition. The people are rooted in reality and the food is simple and cheap; simple and cheap, but ridiculously good. There’s even a white storm trooper helmet hidden amongst the décor, and if you’re a fan of “I spy with my little eye,” it makes the perfect target.

 

They make a green chili sauce, and I can’t prove it, but I think the main ingredient is heroin. The stuff is addictive, plain and simple, and I buy it by the jar just so I can take it home and slather it on everything like a true junkie. And I mean everything. I once considered freezing it in popsicle molds. Who knows; maybe it’d work as a desert? Whatever. The wife ordered bacon and eggs with hash browns. I had huevos rancheros with an extra-large side of green chili sauce. Our monster wanted bacon covered with bacon and a side of bacon. We sat and waited for our breakfast as the restaurant breathed around us. Flatware and thick white porcelain plates made their noises in the background as the staff bussed here and there. The air smelled like food and steam and humanity.

 

Our monster became impatient because her bacon didn’t spontaneously generate in front of her as soon as she ordered. She demanded food, with a miniature fist upon the counter, and Gary heard her before we could pacify her with a game of “I-spy.” He took a single strip of bacon, steaming and crispy, from the cooling rack and handed it to her with a smile. Her frown turned upside-down and she gave him one of those little girl smiles that can melt hearts. He smiled back and I knew at that moment that he was a father too; you simply can’t fake a smile like that. My daughter shook his hand and they exchanged pleasantries. He turned back to the grill and that’s when she asked me if he was married. Gary heard her and laughed. He looked over his shoulder, told her he was taken, and that he already had full grown daughters of his own. My monster was genuinely disappointed but it didn’t last; Gary gave her another piece of bacon and distraction took over. His service was quick and the rest of our food came within a few minutes.

 

We gorged, paid, and left as Gary and his staff sang out a chorus of farewells. We ambled along the streets of Durango slowly as a carbohydrate high dulled our senses. We were stuffed and sweating. That Saturday morning was perfect. The Durango Diner is the type of place that pops the bubble of personal space to which you cling anywhere else. You sit at the counter and laugh with strangers you’d avoid on the sidewalk. Waitresses brush up against you with an “excuse me hun” but you don’t mind because this is where you want to be; comfortable with the rest of your species breaking your fast as the weekend winds down outside. I remember smiling as these thoughts came and went. We got into my truck and headed home.

 

Durango is an odd little island of culinary awesomeness nestled in the mountains. If you wanted, you could walk across the street from The Durango Diner and pay fifty bucks for oak roasted lamb with a white truffle sauce. There are plenty of restaurants on main that’d hold their own anywhere in New York and they’ve got all the reviews to prove it. And to be honest, when I took the Durango Diner at face value with its simple fare and limited space, I wasn’t quite sure how the place was able to stay afloat given the neighbors’ reputations. But after eating there, after truly experiencing the place and meeting Gary, I know for a fact that it’ll be there forever (or at least I hope it will because I’m not looking forward to the withdrawal symptoms that’re sure to pop up if I’m ever denied their green chili sauce).

 

The wife and I have vowed to become regulars at The Durango Diner and I can’t strongly enough recommend that you make the trip down to 957 Main Avenue in Durango Colorado to experience the place for yourself.  I’m sure my new son-in-law would appreciate the support.

 

The Durango Diner

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Starbuck Died

Dead crawfish don’t float like you’d expect them to. They sink down to rest their claws on the glass pebbles upon which they once walked; uneaten spinach for a death bed. The red of their carapace mutes to something dull and lifeless as the black of their beady little eyes fades to a cloudy grey. At least that’s how it happened for Starbuck the Crawfish. I guess you’d need to read my previous entry to get most of this, but I’ll catch you up super quick: my daughter saved a crawfish from certain death at a BBQ, named him Starbuck, put him in a bubbling fish tank, and then started feeding him spinach.

 

My daughter was literally skipping into the house and wearing a comical smile the day she faced her horror. My mom was in town, we had just watched Iron Man 3 and gorged on pricey junk food; Catelynn was still riding a saccharine high when she ran into her room to check on Starbuck. She called me in with a whisper and I made it in just in time to see her smile morph into pure pain as she tap tap tapped on Starbuck’s tank. He’d usually raise his claws and charge the tank wall as if to say “What? WHAT? You want some of this?” But he’d lost his defiance, his life.

 

I looked at her and said the only thing I could think to say: “honey, you didn’t do anything wrong.” I could tell she was inconsolable so I gave her space. I walked into the living room and told everyone the news. As soon as I got it out, as soon as I told everyone that my daughter was inconsolable, my mom looked at me and said “honey, you didn’t do anything wrong.” I laughed a bit because it was one of those full circle moments; my mom said the same thing to me that I said to my daughter. Of course I hadn’t done anything wrong and I knew it, and through that realization, I understood that my daughter knew that she hadn’t done anything wrong either. I went back into her room a while later and told her the things that she needed to hear. That I loved her and her feelings were true and pure. Terra thought we should bury Starbuck to offer a bit of closure and Catelynn agreed.

 

I took Starbuck and wrapped him in a paper towel and placed him gently in a Tupperware box. I went out back and started digging a hole. I was about a foot into it when I started wondering: how deep does a crawfish grave need to be? Will the dogs smell him and dig it up if I make it too shallow? Holy shit; is that why human graves are six feet deep? Is that some sort of magical number that dissuades scavengers from digging? Fuck it; this Tupperware is airtight and eighteen inches will have to do.

 

I went back inside and got Catelynn; we did the deed. She tossed, dramatically of course, the first handful of dirt upon the Tupperware coffin as if we were in an old school gangster movie. I shoveled on the rest and we tamped down the loose soil. She started to cry again and I started to tear up watching her. We went back inside and ate dinner.

 

I watched my father kill one of my canaries with a vacuum cleaner when I was five years old. I’m laughing as I type this and it’s bothersome to think about what that might mean, but that’s irrelevant for now. It was an accident; Pops was cleaning their cage with the vacuum cleaner hose like he’d done many times before and the dumb one, they yellow canary I’d gotten for my birthday and named Tweety, jumped down to try and escape. He went head first into the hose and died somewhere along the line. My father dug him out of the bag to see if he was still alive and then just threw him in the trash. I used to wonder if Tweety had thought he’d made it, thought he was free, before it all went black… When it came to Starbuck, I was on edge because I knew this seemingly insignificant moment was a pivotal one for my daughter.

 

It’d be wrong to teach a child that when something dies, you can just replace it with something else, and I told this to Catelynn, but it’d also be wrong to waste a $60 fish tank that’d only been occupied for a week. My daughter’s face was still speckled with petechiae from crying but she nodded when I asked her if she’d like to go buy a betta. We drove to Petco to pick out a fighting fish to take Starbuck’s place in the tank. Thirty minutes later we were on our way back home with No Name the Betta and my monster was smiling again.

 

There was a picture of a betta on the little cup that No Name came in and Catelynn asked me why none of the bettas at Petco were as pretty as the one in the picture. I told her that “the fish in the picture was a model” because it was the first thing that came to mind but it got me thinking; are there really professional model fishes out there? Do they live in enormous cups? Are they given as many blood worms as they want, and if so, do they suffer from bulimia like human models? Whatever. We made it home and No Name is still swimming to this day. He seems to be immune to whatever killed Starbuck.

 

A few days later my daughter asked “dad, do you think that just maybe there’s a crawfish heaven?” This set me back a bit because we’re an agnostic family but simply saying “no” would’ve been hard even for me. I asked her why she wanted to know and she told me that it was just too hard to imagine him as completely gone. Of course I went the “nobody is ever gone as long as you keep them in your thoughts” route, but I also used the moment to teach her a bit about humanity. I used her question as an example as to how easy it is, how comforting it can be, to reach for a mythological crutch when times are hard. Sure, her pet could be dead and gone forever… or maybe he’s frolicking in an endless field of spinach with his perfect claws held high in defiance. “What? WHAT? You want some of this?” Thanks to Starbuck, she got her first taste of Marx’s opium. I never answered her question, because in doing so, I’d be robbing her of a conclusion that she needs to make on her own.

Crawfish Grave

 

***

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

The Odds

My daughter makes hypocrisy cute; hers is an innocent type of dichotomy that hasn’t yet been corrupted by ill intentions and the evil bullshit that comes with age. To her, death is an anathema. She’ll go out of her way to save the lowliest little bug that scurries dangerously close to my feet. She’ll cry at the thought of an injured animal. She’ll sit contently in the cabin of a fishing charter for which I paid handsomely and refuse to catch a fish; she’ll even refuse to eat the fish I caught because the horror is still fresh in her mind even though the rock-hard fish in the freezer isn’t. But when it comes to steak, you better watch the fuck out. She’ll dive across the dinner table to steal bloody scraps from your plate when you look away. Isn’t that cute?

We recently took her to a crawfish boil at a friend’s house, and at first, she refused to get out of the car. The thought of boiling alive thousands of little baby lobsters brought on some sort of tree-hugging paralysis. The wife and I tried to hold up her hypocrisy so she might see it:

“Catelynn, stop being ridiculous; you loooooooove eating steak and steak comes from cows.”

“Yes dad, I know. But cows are all clumpy and ugly and I don’t know who killed them and I don’t have to see it happen.”

“What about sushi Catelynn? The majestic blue fin is cute and you’ll eat the crap out of a rainbow roll. And a crawfish is just another type of fish, right?”

“I. Don’t. Care. I’m not going to a party where they kill crawfish and I’m not eating them.”

She eventually got out of the car. Her eyes were wide and her ears were perked. When she finally found the large stainless pot that was bubbling and reeking of Cajun seasoning, she frowned. I guess the carnage wasn’t quite what she expected. I introduced her to the host (who’s hand she shook with a scowl) and he asked if she’d like to see the live ones. She said yes.

We walked past all the drunken revelry and over to a huge cooler; he threw back the lid. My daughter sucked in a breath that spoke volumes. He picked one up, gingerly to avoid the pincers, and handed it to me before closing the lid and walking back to the bubbling pot. I looked down at my daughter, with budding tears in her emerald eyes, and sighed in the presence of such innocent beauty.

I asked her to follow me in that long suffering tone fathers develop after a few years, and we walked back to the car. I looked around inside until I found an empty Starbucks cup. It was huge and transparent so it’d make a perfect temporary home (as a side note, venti was big enough; trenta is just ludicrous). I filled it up to the green mermaid with tap water and dropped the lucky-as-shit crawfish into safety. My daughter spent the rest of the time at the barbeque, all three hours, staring into the cup and falling in love with “Starbuck the Crawfish”; we all smiled as we watched on and gorged on Starbuck’s cousins.

Starbuck

Sixty dollars later, Starbuck now has a luxurious life in a bubbling tank on my daughter’s bookcase that’s filled with glass rocks and spinach. He has two meals a day and a rock under which to hide. He has multi colored LED lights overhead and the love of my daughter. I’m sure to him, she looks like a monster. She’ll press her face up against the glass and smile; he’ll raise his claws and puff up in warning like a rooster or a peacock… or a frat-boy. It’s a wonderful relationship.

But what were the odds for Starbuck? Probably one in a bajillion. He came from a crawfish farm slash rice patty in Louisiana and he was born to be eaten. That farm ships out thousands of pounds per day, all over the US, but Starbuck came to Colorado in a sack with thousands of his brethren. He survived the flight when many didn’t. He clawed his way to the top of the cooler, but not too soon; our host had been cooking for five hours before we got there. He was picked up and handed to the only person there that would’ve saved him. He survived the ride home to New Mexico in a cup and he lived. A piece of food day before yesterday; a beloved pet today.

And what are the odds for my daughter? We recently went to a painfully long induction ceremony; our daughter made it into the junior national honor society. She sat amongst one hundred other kids that made the grade and we were all treated to a protracted speech from an old lady that touched on all the clichés. “I see a bunch of brilliant kids with dreams that’ll one day go on to be great blah blah blah.” Sure; some of those kids are going to make it, but the truth is that quite a few of them aren’t. For every future doctor on that stage, there’s also a future felon; for every success, a failure. It’s cynical but it’s also simple statistics.

Will my daughter make it? Will she claw her way to the top of the bucket at the right moment? Holy fuck I hope so; I’d die to ensure it. There are days when I have my doubts. Not because I lack faith in my daughter, but because I’m all too aware of how pernicious this life can be and I simply don’t want her to face it. But when I think about her staring into that cup and falling in love with a crustacean, when I think about her walking past all those drunken men at the boil to save a single life, I realize that she’s going to be just fine.

CJ and Starbuck

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Sihpromatum

Savannah’s book is still carrying a five star average after forty-two reviews and I’m pretty sure that’s a record. Even if it isn’t, this is still a pretty impressive book. I know I’ve blogged about her work before, and to a lot of you, what comes next will seem familiar; I’m reposting my first blog about Savannah (or at least a portion of it) because her book is now only 99 cents. It’s seriously worth it. If you buy it now, one of these days you’ll be able to say you read it before she was famous. Get it here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

SW

I’ve typically been annoyed by the fact that people think that an incredible event automatically translates into an incredible book. Kanye West’s mother went through the incredible journey of raising a superstar so of course she should write a book about it, right? I picked up her book, tritely entitled “Raising Kanye”, while I was in Hastings a while back, thumbed through it, and then dropped it back on the shelf as quickly as possible lest it steal some of my intelligence. I’ve read that 90% of all Americans believe they have a story to tell that’s worthy of a book deal (I guess I lied when I said there’d be no more statistics). Here it is: it doesn’t mean that you’re fated to be an author just because you’ve been through something extraordinary.

However, sometimes the yen and yang fit together perfectly and someone with such a story really does create a noteworthy book, and that’s what happened in “Sihpromatum” by Savannah Grace. The sub-text for her title is “I Grew my Boobs in China” and the word “boobs” may or may not have been why I originally gave this title a chance but I’m glad I did. Everything about this book just feels professional. It’s a nonfiction story that I suppose should be classified as a memoir, but it reads like a novel which is absolutely awesome. Sevannah’s style is polished and well beyond her years and she has some serious talent. I kept hunting through website for a publisher’s accreditation because it was hard to believe that such a work was self published. Sihpromatum is the type of book you’d expect Oprah to be throwing at her guests in one of her “favorite things” episodes (which I’ve never seen because I’m a manly man); it’s seriously that good (I mean, you know… if you’re in to that sort of thing). All joking aside, I don’t want to do Savannah’s work a disservice by pigeon-holing into the “chick-lit” category because to get something meaningful out of this book, the only prerequisite is to be human.

Sihpromatum

“SIHPROMATUM (Sip-row-may-tum): A blessing that initially appears to be a curse.

Sihpromatum is a memoir series of one family’s four-year backpacking adventure around the world. The first installment, “I Grew My Boobs in China” is the beginning of an intensely fascinating, sobering, and emotional memoir of Savannah’s introspective and innovative family adventure.

In 2005, 14-year-old Savannah Grace’s world is shattered when her mother unexpectedly announces that she and her family (mother 45, brother 25 and sister 17) would soon embark on an incredible, open-ended journey. When everything from her pets to the house she lived in either sold, given away or put in storage, this naïve teenage girl runs headlong into the reality and hardships of a life on the road.

Built around a startling backdrop of over eighty countries (I Grew my Boobs in China relates the family’s adventures in China and Mongolia), this is a tale of feminine maturation – of Savannah’s metamorphosis from ingénue to woman-of-the-world. Nibbling roasted duck tongues in China and being stranded in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert are just two experiences that contribute to Savannah’s exploration of new cultures and to the process of adapting to the world around her.”

I have two young daughters and while I can see immense strength in both of them, I can also feel that innate fragility in their youth that I’m so desperately trying to protect. That’s why Savannah’s story is so captivating. Even as a grown man I’m not sure I could handle the hand that was dealt to Savannah. Her story is incredible, and when you pair that with a natural prose and a love for storytelling, you get an absolutely viable book that belongs in the company of anything pumped out by the large publishing houses. I’m sure this book would’ve made it to the proverbial shelves even if self publishing wasn’t possible, but maybe not. Maybe the suits I mentioned in my first segment would’ve passed Sihpromatum by and chosen instead to publish the memoirs of a combat Marine thanks to gender. Who knows; all that matters now is that this book exists and it deserves attention, as does Savannah Grace.

On a personal level, Savannah comes across as fearless and genuine. It’s as if all her doubts have been melted away thanks to her struggle; I’d compare it to the way an athlete looses fat during their training.

Her story is a startling one about a young girl that looses everything before regaining something better by experiencing the world first hand with a brother, a sister, and a mother. Savannah writes a tale that stresses the importance of following a dream and staying positive despite the mirage in front of us. It’s a tale of that “trial by fire” that we all look for in our literature and I hope you’ll give it a chance. In any case, I’ve just written close to four thousand words in three segments about female authors and I need to get back to my own work before I too grow boobs.

Sihpromatum can be purchased through Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/Sihpromatum-Grew-Boobs-China-ebook/dp/B008YZ0184/

You can find further reviews, blogs, and information on how to purchase this book through Smashwords or Kobo via

Savannah’s site here: http://www.sihpromatum.com/

If you’d like to email the author directly you can do so here: sihpromatum@gmail.com

And everyone’s a fan of Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Sihpromatum-I-Grew-my-Boobs-in-China/367565703312088

A Tale of Two Teachers

Matt punched the paper towel dispenser in a berserker rage. It split two of his knuckles and I remember staring at his hand with an “oh shit” expression on my face. I could see the tendons, like white ribbons of plastic, and then the blood came a few moments later. It was odd; like the trauma of the punch retarded the blood’s response. The dented paper towel dispenser was just as clean and pearly white as we had found it. Its surface, now concave, reflected the light from the fluorescents above in odd patterns. I ran over to grab a handful of paper towels so we could apply pressure, just like they had taught us in health class, which was ironic because that was the class we were skipping.

 

As we were leaving, the principal intercepted us. He was a man’s man; they archetypical jock with cauliflower ears earned during a collegiate wrestling career. He was pissed. You see, someone had figured out that it was really easy to open the soap dispensers in all the boy’s bathrooms. They’d then cut a little hole in the soap bag and spray the green gel all over the bathroom walls; sometimes randomly, sometimes in graffiti talking all sorts of shit about the principal. I don’t remember why Matt punched the paper towel dispenser, probably something to do with Renee, but I do remember it being loud enough for the principal to hear as he stalked the halls looking for the ever elusive soap graffiti artist. He’ll never know how close he came to catching him that day.

 

He looked down at us and demanded to know if we were the ones that were destroying “his” bathrooms. We said no, of course, and then he asked Matt about his hand. Matt made up some flaccid excuse involving a skateboarding incident which only held up because Principal Cauliflower Ear couldn’t prove that we dented the paper towel dispenser. It was my contention that blood would be all over it if we had. He turned to us with a frown and dismissed Matt back to class. After all, Matt was a wrestler, and a damn good one, and jocks stick together. But I had long hair. I played the drums and hung out with a questionable crowd. There’d be no quick dismissal for me. Principal Cauliflower Ear looked down at me, literally with his fists on his hips, and told me in no uncertain terms that I’d be going nowhere in life, and furthermore, he’d eventually catch me in the act and “suspend my ass.” I walked back to health class with a smartass smirk on my face, but inside, I was a quaking child.

 

Principal Cauliflower Ear lost his job two weeks later. As it turns out, he was embezzling money from useless extracurricular activities like drama and the chess club and funneling it into wrestling and football. I guess the bean-counters weren’t jocks because they didn’t stick with Principal Cauliflower Ear. He left and retired as a dejected has-been. I haven’t seen him since, and my “how do you like me now?” moment is frozen somewhere in my past.

 

My civics teacher was a plump and flirtatious ass. He was the star of all the assemblies. He’d pump up the auditorium with his easy smile or do the splits after the other teachers “begged” him to do it. He’d walk the halls tickling and smiling and laughing as if he were just as cool as the cool kids. “Nah, don’t mind me, I’m not one of those grownups you can’t trust, I’m one of you guys.” He never really liked me, but he sure as hell liked the girls that I hung out with. He’d tolerate my presence in the back row as long as I didn’t do something retarded; if I did, and heads turned away from his spectacle to see what I was up to, he’d glare at me over my classmates with a look that promised make-up work. That man always looked down on me despite the easy “A” I carried through his bullshit class and I despised him for it.

 

A few years later I ran into him at one of those trashy casual dining places. The waitresses were tired and all the food was fried, but I was a college drop-out barely clinging to sobriety, so it was a comfortable haunt. He walked over to me, still smug and plump, and asked how I was faring in Oregon. Someone had told the ass that I dropped out, and when I confirmed it, he pounced. He threw back his head and laughed as if he were on stage and said he knew I’d fail because college was like a “smorgasbord of sin” and I was “too weak to resist.” Shit. It was true. It was raining that day and the weather must’ve left me witless. I paid my bill, tipped twenty percent, and left with my loser friends.

 

The next time I saw that ass, it was on TV. He was handcuffed and wearing an orange jumpsuit. As it turns out, Mr. Smorgasbord was the leader of a youth group at his church, and he accidentally diddled an acolyte. She was sixteenish with a nubile body and doe eyes. He was a man of power and influence looking down on a circle of doting underage girls; he had his own smorgasbord of sin and he sampled.

 

I shouted my “how do you like me now?” at the TV, but that moment, just like the former, lacked fulfillment. However, I guess it’s all unnecessary because somewhere, deep down, the two teachers heard me. Or maybe they heard me before I said it, before they were caught doing what they did. And maybe the reason they never liked me to begin with is because they saw my triumph, their failure, every time they looked at me. Because even at my worst, I never pretended to be something I wasn’t. I was a long haired bathroom vandalizing smartass in the back of the class, but luckily, that’s not something for which they make you wear orange jumpsuits.

 

***

 

I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Soap Dispensers

Monsters in Vegas

I felt pretty good about the fact that I was in better shape than anybody else in the gym right up until the sixty year old transvestite walked in and put us all to shame. The dude was ripped. He had twice the muscle definition as I did and his boobs were bigger than my wife’s; I have a solid six-pack and my wife is a girl so it was pretty impressive on both fronts. And I knew he was a he as opposed to a masculine she thanks to the skintight grey leotard he was wearing. I suppose he could’ve been smuggling a water bottle or something but I doubt it. He walked in with his argyle socks and ballerina shoes and looked around the gym trying to figure out where to start. He had permanent make up and a grey topknot and no fear whatsoever. He stretched and then started throwing a fifty pound dumbbell around as if it were a paperweight. I shrugged my shoulders and thought “Well, this is Vegas. What did you expect?” I went back to my pull-ups and didn’t think about it anymore. There’s nothing wrong with being the second buffest guy in the gym even if number one is twice as old and wearing a sports bra.

 

I finished my workout and headed back up to the room to meet my wife and children to plan the day. As a side note, if you would’ve walked up to me five years ago and told me that I’d go to bed early in Las Vegas so I could fit in a six a.m. workout, I would’ve accused you of being retarded. Things change. My wife and monsters were awake so I told Terra about the tranny just to make early morning small talk but then I heard my oldest daughter laughing at the story, and that’s when it hit me; I voluntarily brought both of my daughters to Vegas. All of the women in my family were on spring break; one from Montessori, one from middle school, and one from college, so we’d decided to load up the car and drive the eight hours to sin city just for the hell of it. But now what? Questions would arise, and thanks to my anti sheltering policy, I’d have to answer them. I just wish it didn’t have to start with a conversation about what I meant by “smuggling a water bottle.”

The Strip

We headed out, and about ten minutes into our trek, one of those shady but silent men on the street tried to hand me a small brochure advertising the best “escorts” in Nevada. Seriously? I’m not sure exactly what we were looking for that morning but it definitely wasn’t prostitution. Maybe the dude missed his orientation at whore-business-card-handing-out-school but I’m pretty sure a thirty-something year old man walking with his wife and two daughters isn’t in the target demographic. I kept walking and for once, my oldest and most ridiculously observant daughter didn’t see anything so I got to avoid our first conversation about “really bad choices.” But it came about a mile later.

 

The bums came out around ten a.m. and started plying their trade. Some were busking with harmonicas or guitars, others proclaimed to be veterans with camouflage coats as evidence, and some relied on creative signs: “Too ugly to prostitute; too stupid to steal.” I almost gave the last guy five bucks just for his proper usage of homonyms and semicolons but we just walked on by. My oldest, Catelynn, wanted to give a rather jovial bum with a guitar and a bandana something so I gave her a couple bucks. Why not? She ran over and put the money in his hat with a smile and he said “Thank you pretty lady! Stay in school or you’ll end up like me!” then he looked over at me and said “You’re welcome!” I thanked him and we continued on. I started chuckling because somehow, I had just thanked a bum for letting me give him money. The next day, we walked by the same guy a little after ten thirty a.m. and he had already drained most of the forty ounce beer in his hand. It was cheap and wrapped in a brown paper bag because I guess he’d felt the need to reinforce a stereotype. I turned to Catelynn and said “See? You bought that man a beer.” I could see the wheels turning behind her frown.

 

It wasn’t fifty feet later that we passed by a bum in a leather vest that had track marks and needle sores all over both of his arms. It looked as if he moonlighted as a cactus wrangler. My daughter stared at him and his bedraggled sign that simply said “please help” as we walked by and then asked why I didn’t give him anything. “Would he just buy beer too?” I asked her if she noticed the sores, and I knew she had because her observation skills are almost creepy. She said yes, and guessed that maybe he’d walked through a swarm of mosquitoes (she frickin’ hates mosquitoes). I told her exactly where they came from, and that every dollar that went into his coffee-can would end up in his veins. She didn’t ask to hand out any more money for the rest of the trip.

 

I was still thinking about heroin so I didn’t notice the bikini-clad flamingo girl that was running toward us. She bent over to look into my stroller and in a dulcet voice, she asked my youngest, Kinley, for a high five. She was spangled in sequins and almost falling out of her top so I’m sure it’s a mammary Kinley isn’t going to forget. Kinley gave her a tentative high five and the flamingo girl bounced along her way giggling “welcome to Las Vegas” over her shoulder. Great; now what? Should I sit my children down on the curb and explain the pitfalls behind daddy issues? Should I take Kinley to the clinic and get her disinfected just in case?

 

The entire trip was like that; good, but awkward. We took the kids swimming every day after our forages and if I didn’t watch out, I’d find myself swimming with both of my monsters in a manmade lake of twitterpated douche bags. We’d be wading and splashing and minding our own business, and then be inundated with a wave of pheromones smelling slightly of coconuts and Bud Light. There’d be a group of men to one side doing a line dance in the pool (I shit you not) and a group of women to the other giggling way too loud and doing their best to still pull off bellybutton rings. The DJ would shout “to the left to the left to the left” as the bass pumped and I’d do my best to get my daughters to the tiled shore before they’d be swept under by the riptide flowing out from the mating rituals.

 

Our children started suffering from sensory overload pretty early in the trip. We’d take them to see sharks and jumping dolphins and albino tigers; we went to carnivals, we ate and shopped constantly, we rode roller coasters and watched light shows. But as soon as we’d get back to the room, the kids would start pacing and staring at the confining walls like inmates on death row. “Dad I’m bored. I don’t think I can sit here anymore.” Jesus. But I guess that’s what Vegas is designed to do: continuously funnel the guests through a turnstile of constant consumption. And that’s what we did. Terra and I aren’t big gamblers, we only blew two hundred bucks (half of which wasn’t ours), but the three day trip still put me back about two grand. So be it. The lesson Catelynn learned via someone else’s track marks was worth every penny.

***

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Monster

 

Back of the Bus

I love the white noise that bleeds from the beastly jet engines near the back of the plane. I always request a seat as close as possible to the back of the bus when I fly and they’re usually available. You can sit unperturbed and read or daydream without having to listen to that most atrocious of things: small talk. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m just as gregarious as the next guy, just so long as the next guy is a troglodyte. I loathe all of that trite “so where are you from, my name is blah blah, I hope there aren’t any babies on this flight” bullshit and I’ve found that the droning roar near the back of the plane suffocates such niceties like a pillow to the face. There are other pros: you’re usually the first to board, you’re closer to the bathrooms, and the people watching couldn’t be better.

 

However, there is one con… one horrible, horrible con. After all, the first to board is the last to deplane. After hours and hours of immobility, you get to stand and watch the milling hoards in front of you slowly awaken and poke about for their belongings like the travel drunk zombies they are. The bottleneck that is the center aisle reduces the average traveler’s mind activity to that of a cow and it takes for fucking ever. It’s like that odd little accordion affect you experience at stop lights. Most of us stare at the car in front of us instead of at the light. When red morphs into green, the first car moves, cueing the second and so on. If we all watched the light and started to move as one, congestion would evaporate but thanks to our latent herd mentality, it’ll never happen. Anyway, the same thing happens on an airplane, but it’s ten times worse due to exhaustion and over priced cocktails.

 

I usually try to take the sluggish progress in stride, and I usually fail, but there’s really nothing to be done about it. Or at least I thought not, but I learned differently after one particular four hour flight back to New Mexico from California. I was traveling with my wife and our two children, and at the time, my youngest monster had just turned two. She had slept through most of the flight but when we landed, she awoke, and as soon as her little blue eyes popped open, I could tell that she had been possessed by a seriously righteous demon while she slept. The whining and the whimpering cries of impatience started almost immediately, and as the stewardess took her sweet-ass time opening the door, I started getting the “shush your infernal child” looks.

 

But nobody deigned to move any faster. Just like the stewardess with her updo and permanent makeup who took forever to open the door, all the people in front of us took their time as they stretched or looked for their bags. Meanwhile, in the back of the plane, the tension mounted and mounted in the mind of one seriously pissed off two year old girl. She wanted off this plane. She wanted to go home. She wanted food and TV and blankets and she wanted them now. She had no tolerance for slowpokes; she had no understanding of human nature and the tide of selfishness in front of her. She started to cry in earnest.

 

“Why daddy? Why can’t we get off this plane right now?!” The looks shooting my way started to become less guarded. These people wanted absolute quiet while they ignored the fact that their doomed quest to find a missing set of headphones was retarding the lives of everybody behind them. My first instinct was to shush my child, to tell her that she needed to be quiet and wait patiently for the cattle ahead of her to deplane first, but then it hit me. Doing so would be asinine. I’d be no better than the people I complain about, the people that I write about. I lifted her up so we’d be eye to eye and I said “we can’t get off this plane until everyone else is off, and they’re moving too slow.”

 

I watched in awe as comprehension bloomed in her little bloodshot eyes. She started to get angry, I could see it in her boiling tears, and she started to scream “MOVE OUT OF MY WAYYYYYYYY!!” over and over. I lifted her above my head and turned her so she was facing everyone in front of us. I’d like to think I looked like John Cusack in the end of “Say Anything” when he holds that boom box over his head to profess his love for what’s-her-name but I probably didn’t. I just stood there and let her scream; it was cathartic. I imagined tendrils of my own frustration flowing from my fingertips into her little possessed body. I imagined my own pissed off will mingling with hers and filling the cabin of that 747 with a sonorous declaration of our intolerance.

 

Everyone looked back at once in a shocked moment of indignation, and once they realized I was doing nothing to stop a terrible twos tirade, they started moving as if they meant it. They found speed and purpose and snapped out of their head-up-ass reverie. They dug deep for a bit of altruism and got out of my monster’s way. On the way out, a rather rotund gentleman wasn’t moving fast enough for my daughter and she actually punched him with a little balled up fist. He looked at me as if seeking an apology, and I pursed my lips as if to say “ehh, what ‘cha gunna do?” That plane emptied as quickly as I’ve always wanted and after it was all over, as I was carrying my exhausted child to baggage claim, I kissed her on the cheek and whispered into her ear “good job honey, daddy loves you.”

 

***

 

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

Move Bitches

The Goldfish

My high school biology teacher was as off kilter as they come, but we all loved him. He once read a study that supposedly proved students could score higher on tests if they listened to classical music during the examination, and he took it to heart. I’m pretty sure that by “classical” they meant something like Mozart or Beethoven, but our teacher came to a different conclusion. He’d play that Alice in Wonderland inspired song by the Moody Blues on an old cassette player and manically run around the room staring at each of his students so he could “see it working.” The distorted hippie music was more of a distraction than anything, and when he’d come over to my desk, reeking of coffee and something he swore he didn’t grow in his greenhouse, I’d completely lose my train of thought.

 

He was the type that would trip out on some sort of new discovery he’d found in this or that scientific magazine and then rant about it for hours while the rest of us willed the clock into fast forward. He was also the type that could milk out every ounce of our rapt attention by creating a bomb with a coffee can, a bag of flour, a bendable straw, and a candle. His class was a rollercoaster of highs and lows, awesome explosions and soporific lectures, but I can honestly say I that looked forward to it.

 

It was during one of his lulls that I drifted off and started staring at the digital clock on the wall with its malicious red numerals. Time seemed to bend and stretch around my impatience and I was doing my best to will it into the past when my beloved biology teacher looked over at me and accused me of being a goldfish. I didn’t know what he meant, so I asked, and he said that gold fish have a two second memory span and that I should do my best to extend my attention span. The rest of our time in class that day devolved into hypothetical badinage on what it would be like to be a goldfish, and the thought has stuck with me through the years.

 

I have no idea how they figured out that a goldfish only has a two second memory span, because it’s not like you can ask them, but what would that be like? How horrible would it be to be unable to recall anything that happened before two seconds ago? Or would it even be horrible? If you were a goldfish, and you lived in a tank with a bubbling treasure chest and a menacing skull, you could go back and forth and live in a constant state of surprise. You could swim up to the treasure and say “oh shit! I’m rich!” swim the other way, see the skull, and say “oh my god! That skull is crazy scary I’m out of here!” But then you’d see the treasure chest again, which would now be a complete novelty because you last saw it more than two seconds ago. That’d be your entire life: “Dude look at all that gold! AHHHH! A skull! Someone died here! Wow! A treasure chest! I’m the luckiest fish ever! Crap! A skull! I bet there’s a pirate in these waters!”

 

And what if you lived in a tank full of other goldfish? All day long, every day, you’d be making new friends because every time you’d meet a new fish, they’d be forgotten two seconds later, and they’d forget about you at the same time. You’d never be lonely, you’d never truly make friends, you’d never get irritated or fall in love; you wouldn’t have the memory span necessary to realize that it sucked, that it kicked ass.

 

My mom bought me an African tree climbing turtle when I was a child but we didn’t know it was special when we brought it home from the pet shop. The sticker on the tank in the store simply said “turtle.” We put him in a little aquarium by my bed, but when I woke up after that first night’s sleep with Sammy the turtle and looked over to find my new friend, he was gone. I searched all over that house through my tears and finally found him in the living room stuck to the wall about ten feet up. He must’ve heard me come in because he turned his little turtle head towards me with a “what, this is totally normal” expression on his face. Shut up; this is my story. Anyway, my stepfather got a ladder and popped him off the wall before handing Sammy down to me. We called the pet shop, learned the truth about Sammy’s heritage, and then put a Plexiglas lid on his aquarium. He tried to escape a few times after that, but mostly, Sammy the turtle spent his days eating goldfish. I’d put a fish in the water with him, he’d hold super still like the tree climbing ninja that he was, wait for the fool fish to get too close, and then high-ya! He’d latch on to the poor fish with his jaws so quickly that it made me distrust his usual slow turtleish way of doing things.

 

But he’d just hang on to the wriggling goldfish until it was dead and then take his time eating it. Looking back, I now realize that death was slow in coming; it took way longer than two seconds for the fish to stop twitching. How horrible would that be? Near the end, that goldfish with his two second memory would remember nothing but pain and fear and confusion. All the things that came before, birth, food and defecation, the trip to my house in a plastic bag with his friends, all of that simply didn’t exist. My crazy-ass biology teacher taught me something, despite the Moody Blues, and I do my best to cling to it when I feel my attention span shortening. Being myopic, letting the fleeting moments that constantly swim around us slip in and out of our awareness unmarked, is a mistake. I take note and remember, because I’m not a goldfish.

 

***

 

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI

New Friends, Old Strangers

Norway

The cat pawed at the dead mouse, tearing open its little stomach, then started pulling out the wet pearls of intestine. I stood there quietly; I knew that cats ate mice, but only via hearsay, and it was a bit shocking to be this close to the morbid truth. My mom said that I should look away if it bothered me, but I simply couldn’t. I was six, and my family was staying on an old farm in Norway for a few weeks.

 

I looked up from the mouse to the cat and we made eye contact. The housecat mentality had long since been lost thanks to the encroaching wilderness, and I felt as if the animal was deciding whether or not I was edible. I lost the staring contest and we went our separate ways as I followed my parents along an old forest trail that led to a church. The main building was surrounded by aboveground tombs that had enormous slabs on top carved with effigies that had been washed to oblivion by centuries of rain. A few were askew thanks to looters who had also long since died.

 

They let me use the enormous iron key to unlock the door. I felt that surely such a key could only open a pirate’s treasure chest, but the lock clicked and we went in. Living in Alaska, I had never really been exposed to antiquity, so the church came as a shock. It smelled of earth and years and the lead glass windows were actually thicker at the bottom then they were at the top because the glass, being an amorphous solid, had slowly succumbed to gravity. How crazy is that? My dad told me that even the newest part of the church was older than anything back in the United States. It felt sacred.

 

On the way back to the farm house where we were staying, we got word that a bull was loose. My parents went running towards the noise all the while yelling at me to stay back, but I simply couldn’t. We got there in time to see the bull, covered in mud and greenish manure, run into a small building along the trail. Tom, the farm’s caretaker, went in after it but came back out shortly after spitting blood and holding his jaw. The bull burst from the little building and started running away. My dad chased it, which I thought was awesome, but then the bull turned on him. It wasn’t a really big bull, but anything big enough to be called a bull is big enough to take seriously. But then again, so was my dad.

 

He grabbed the bull by the horns, literally, twisted and heaved, and then slammed a few hundred pounds of hamburger into the mud. Tom came running and tied the thing up and left it there writhing in the mud until they could figure out what to do next. I was awestruck. First the mouse, then the church and its mystical key, and then I got to watch my dad beat up a cow. Are you frickin’ kidding me? It was shaping up to be one hell of a day.

 

We went back into the farmhouse and cleaned up before dinner. Oddly enough, I have no remembrance of what we ate, but afterwards, Tom’s two toe head twins, Christopher and Cecilia, took me by the hand and drug me out to the barn and up a latter into the hayloft. Neither of the two spoke any English and I only spoke enough Norwegian to say “a thousand thanks” which doesn’t get you very far. We had long since reverted to that odd unspoken, giggling type of communication kids eventually grow out of, and through it, I figured out that they wanted me to jump off of the hayloft into a pile of hay that was a good twenty feet below us. My eyes said “no way,” Cecilia’s said “you’re a chicken,” mine said “oh yeah?” and then I jumped. Like the rest of the day, it was simply awesome. My little legs couldn’t carry me up the latter fast enough to do it a second time, or a third or a fourth. I clearly remember the musky smell of the yellow hay and the way it covered me as I lay in it. I envied the animals that lived in the barn. I recalled all sorts of nonsensical stories from bedtimes past and wondered what it’d be like to spin the straws around me into gold. We ended the night by throwing handfuls of hay at each other; to the twins it was commonplace, to me it was a novelty. I slept, and the rest of the trip has long since faded in my memory except for odd little flashes that I can’t place.

 

If you’ve ever eaten a Lay’s potato chip, then you’ve eaten a potato grown by a Navajo consortium that operates an enormous swath of land referred to simply as the Napi. I’m pretty sure it’s an acronym, but I don’t know what it stands for and I don’t care enough to Google it and find out. Anyway, all of Lay’s potatoes are grown right here in Northern New Mexico, and I often drive through the endless fields on my way to natural gas wells. The wells spot the expansive fields of rolling earth like odd little mechanized islands floating in an artificial ocean of vegetation. It’s easy to get lost, and I almost did last week, but I pulled over to the side of the road to get out and stretch and make a phone call. That’s when I saw the hay.

 

There, close to where I parked, was the most hay I had ever seen. I guess that’s not really saying much and I suppose it’s also a rather ridiculous statement, but whatever. There had to be at least one hundred thousand bails, each of which was bigger than my truck, stacked two stories high and lined up in long rows. The smell hit me and snapped me back to that farm in Norway like some sort of olfactory flashback and I stood there, stuck in my reverie and staring at the hay, until a truck full of passing Navajos honked at me. I can’t really blame them; I doubt they often see slack jawed white guys wearing hard hats and FRC coveralls staring up at their hay. I got back in my truck, pulled on to the road, back into the here and now, and then drove away.

Hay

***

 

Anyway, I write and sell books and they never cost more than a dollar. If you’re a fan of fiction, you should check out Trailer Park Juggernauts here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00704HK6Q  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AYRAXNI