The Shell Game

I’ve never been knocked unconscious, but I learned what it meant to “see stars” when I was six. I suppose my father had been drinking, but that might just be an assumption. I was sitting Indian style on the linoleum in front of the toilet. My father was sitting on the toilet doing his business and my mother stood in the doorway; everything was washed with light from a late afternoon and a few incandescent bulbs. This was the early eighties and it felt like it. The bathroom was decorated in earth tones. My father’s hair was enormous as was his beard. My mom looked like a hippie and I was wearing corduroys. They were my favorite pants.


My father had just finished assembling three different Lego sets; they were all small and placed right in front of him on the floor. All three sets were medieval; one was of a horse and carriage, one was of a catapult manned by a group of armored Lego men, and the third was a tiny prisoner transport complete with bars and a little imprisoned figure that looked suspiciously like Robin Hood. My crystalline memory is a sweet and sour type of power.


Pops looked down on me from upon his porcelain throne and told me not to touch any of the Legos until he was done. I remember staring at the three toys, arrayed perfectly equidistant from each other, and thinking that surely there was one toy I could touch without angering him. Maybe he wouldn’t even notice. I reached for the horse drawn prisoner transport after a subjective eternity and had time to move it ever so slightly closer to where I sat before my father hit me. And it wasn’t a gentle reprimanding type of slap either. Sure it was open handed, but my father was a three hundred pound behemoth of a man and the power in his right hand carried me across the linoleum and deposited me in a small heap against the shower stall. Everything went black and brilliant points of white floated in my vision. I remember thinking “so that’s why they draw stars” and that thought is verbatim; I swear I’m not taking any poetic license in the telling of this story. Up until that point, I had always thought the stars that rotated around the coyote’s head after the roadrunner bested him were nonsensical.


My mom came running in and screamed something unintelligible. She was coming for me, I saw it all from where I was laying on my side against the shower, but I guess my dad felt threatened. He stood up and went after her with his open hand cocked back but since he hadn’t pulled up his sweat pants as he stood, my mom was able to get away. He hobbled after her like a penguin as she shouted “don’t you hit me!” and I suppose hysterics are to blame for the fact that I look back and laugh at it all.


He sat back down after a moment of clarity and never noticed that he had broken the miniature catapult during his tirade. My mom came back in a few seconds later and got me. She carried me away and down the stairs and out of the house. They simply don’t make Mother’s Day cards that you can buy to thank a mother for something like that, but I was fucking grateful.


Later, my parents divorced and my father’s burgeoning obsession with Legos matured into something truly epic. He kept all of his assembled sets underneath his queen sized bed where they were organized into little stratified groups. The medieval castles and whatnot where near the foot of the bed. The space inspired sets with rocket ships and transparent laser guns were in the middle and the contemporary sets were directly below the pillows. They started to gather dust as the house suffered without a woman’s touch so my father carefully covered all of the sets with a sheet and there they stayed, like an entombed city of little plastic people, until I was sixteen.


I skipped school with two friends, Joey and Chad, and we went to my house to smoke ridiculous amounts of pot while my dad was at work. We got bored. I’m not sure why I did it, but I took my friends into my dad’s bedroom and told them to look under the bed. They got down on their bellies, lifted the sheet, and then slowly turned to look up at me with “what the fuck?” written all over their faces. I laughed, and we started taking all of the painstakingly assembled Lego sets into the living room. We started by doing our best Japanese mega-monster impressions. I was Mothra (because Mothra fucking rules), Joey was Godzilla, and Chad was Mecha Godzilla (there’s a huge difference). We stomped through a veritable city of Lego sets and destroyed like only mega monsters can. Then we sat and played with the damn things for hours. We built all sorts of shit. We had airplanes that’d never fly in real life. We had badass castles with laser guns because that’s how it should’ve been. We built ashtrays, and used them as such, because, well, why not?


My father came home sometime after dark and saw the three of us sitting there all pie-eyed and surrounded by the carnage of his Lego collection and just froze. I wasn’t six anymore. My mom had been replaced in this tableau by two eighteen year-old men that were each larger than my dad. He walked into his bedroom and buried himself into a book where he belonged. The three of us went out and got drunk.


I’m not sure why I chose to reach for that prisoner transport Lego set when I was six. Maybe it was just the closest, or the coolest, but like I said previously, I had thought that there had to be one of the three sets that I could get away with touching. But I realize now that the whole thing was nothing more than a shell game. When I think of a “shell game”, I think of some deeply tanned islander sitting behind an upturned banana crate with three shells on top. Underneath one of the shells a nut is hidden, and if only you can be fast enough, smart enough, to keep track as his hands blur and the shells shuffle, you’ll always know where the nut is. You’ll be able to tap the right shell with a knowing finger and win a small handful of cash. But the damn game is rigged. Sleight of hand is in play and the nut is swiped before the shells stop moving. You’re damned, no matter which shell you choose, you’ll lose. You’ll see stars.


But every silver lining has its cloud, or at least that’s the way I learned it. One of the best things you can learn from your parents is what not to do, and I took notes. My children have Legos, but they live in a tub. I try to avoid the mistakes of my father, and sometimes I fail, but my indiscretions are small in comparison and my odd quirks are leavened with compassion. Hell, as long as neither one of my daughters grow up to be a writer, I’ll be scot-free. And to be a writer is why I wrote this. Someone whose opinion matters greatly to me told me that “if you can write about your life, you can write about anything.” I’m paraphrasing what she had been told by one of her writing teachers, but I think the statement holds truth and I’m doing my best to pay it credence. I sit in front of this computer and try to bleed my thoughts on to paper, as Earnest H. sort of put it, and I write. I sit back and watch my wife read through my writing as she looks for typos, and when she’s through, I write. I remember things from when I was young that are unsavory, and today, I wrote.

Shell Game



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:  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here:

Chokecherry Dichotomy

Those trite little placards people post on Facebook usually piss me off. You know what I’m talking about; they’re usually quotes or vaguely funny one-liners disguised as “eCards” and it seems like they eat up thirty percent of all status updates. However, I saw one the other day that got me thinking. It was a picture of that evolutionary chain depicting man’s progress from something simian to where we’re at now, but the final image was a silhouette of one of those urban douche bags saying “YOLO” and “swag”. The penultimate figure was saying “go back, we fucked up.” Sure, it was just another prosaic internet meme, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t snicker a bit.


Sometimes it’s almost like I can feel myself morphing into one of those old bastards who bitches about the way things used to be and I really don’t want to come across like that. It’s nearly impossible for me to identify with the modern urban youth simply because that amount of pretention isn’t palatable. I hate the act and the lingo and the affected limps. But I don’t think that we as a species are headed in the wrong direction. We’ve got scientists that are close to capturing the god particle and using it to do whatever it is you do with a god particle (judge other particles maybe?). We’ve got doctors that are doing full face transplants and politicians that are pushing for legal weed. Not an Olympics goes by wherein at least one record is broken, so yes, pop culture might be at an all time low, but the rest of our species is kicking ass.


It’s a federal offence to deface Native rock art. I realize that probably came across as a rather jarring shift in direction, but stick with me. I live in northern New Mexico and it’s easy to go out into the wilderness and find a petroglyph. They’re usually pretty small; a hunting stick figure or a prancing deer or a crude woman with boobs (I guess that last one is the ancient equivalent of “for a good time call”). I enjoy hunting for the petroglyphs though. It feels odd to think that some dude drew the deer or the boobs centuries ago, and to him, it was nothing more than an idle moment of boredom, but to us, people he’d think of as aliens or gods, the small piece of rock art is the only surviving written record of a past era. That’s why the art is taken so seriously. You can spend some serious time in jail and face bankrupting fines if you fuck with a petroglyph.


However, Native Americans still have moments of idle boredom, except now, they come armed with rattle cans of spray paint. Not far from town, there’s a red dirt road that ambles through Chokecherry Canyon. You can find petroglyphs and metates and arrow heads and huge chunks of petrified wood. You can also find whisky bottles and mattresses and four-wheeler tracks and profane graffiti. It’s picturesque, it’s disgusting. How weird is that? Pottery shards have been replaced by Budweiser bottles. Spear tips have been replaced by shotgun shells. Look, I know that there will never be some advanced civilization in the future that’ll dig into our lives like we dig in to the past (they’ll hopefully still have Google) but I still think something’s been lost.


After a modern Native youth spray paints “420” or “fuck you” on a rock wall is it considered to be a petroglyph? It’s a misdemeanor to spray paint rock walls on state land, but it’s a felony to remove a petroglyph once it’s there. There’s a hilarious double standard buried somewhere in there if you dig for it. Hell, if I could think of an internet meme cheesy enough to encompass what I’m getting at, I’d probably post it on Facebook. But I guess it really wouldn’t be any different than the meme that inspired all of this in the first place. It’d be just as easy for a Native youth to fit into the silhouette shouting out “YOLO” above, and while it’s always been hard for me to read the bubble letters graffiti artists prefer, I’m pretty sure this says KEEP IT SWAG:




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:  If you’re a fan of real life with just a sprinkling of fiction, you should check out Ephemeral Truths and Short Fiction here:

Canadian Pogo Dancers

I’ve never understood how it is that men without hats can dress real neat from their hats to their feet. I’ve never understood anything about that song, nor have I ever been the type to delve into the meaning behind poetry or really trendy writing or 80’s new age Canadian rock. Actually, I doubt many people claim to be guilty of the latter. I won’t ask if you’ve heard it because I know you have, but do you like “Safety Dance” by men without hats? Um, I do. A bunch. If hell was an ever descending elevator playing one song over and over in some sort of tortuous loop, I’d ask for it to be “Safety Dance”. It’s a bit embarrassing to admit, especially here, but whatever; I can blog if I want to.


A huge wave of boredom swept me under and I recorded Bio-Dome on my DVR. I knew it starred Pauly Shore, but did you know that other guy was a Baldwin? Blew my mind. Anyway, there’s a scene in the movie when the riot police are trying to smoke Pauly Shore out of the Bio-Dome by repetitively playing “Safety Dance” over and over on a comically large PA system. Of course it doesn’t work; Shore’s music tastes are impeccable and he dances through the Bio-Dome like some sort of wood nymph on an ecstasy overdose. That movie got me thinking (I’m totally aware of the fact that I’m the first person in history to say that).


What’s that song about? Is it about safe sex? I guess it’d make sense if you massage the metaphor enough and that’s what I’ve thought for the past few years. I Googled it though, and I was wrong. I guess the lead singer was pogo dancing in some Canadian club right around the time that Disco was suffering through its death throes. New age rock was elbowing its way to the top of the charts and from what Wikipedia tells me, all the cool kids were starting to “pogo dance”. I’ve never done it, but I suppose it involves a bunch of jumping up and down sans an actual pogo stick. Anyway, the lead singer got kicked out of the club for jumping up and down when he should’ve been doing the electric shuffle of something and as he was standing outside that Canadian and presumably snow-dusted club, he said “we can dance if we want to”. Boom. I’d like to think that a big hair and spandex spangled explosion occurred in his mind. The song came out a few months later and took over the 80’s. As a side note, I sometimes wonder what new age Canadian clubs were like in the 80’s; I’d like to think that there was at least one neon maple leaf in each one.


Of course, the pogo dance was the only way to dance when shouting “we can dance if we want to” so the move spread from floor to floor until the electric shuffle was no more. Good job nameless bouncer. The pogo dance led to the smash dance which led to the mosh pit which led to crowd surfing which led to an odd moment in my life wherein I was holding a drumstick and standing on a deserted concert stage after Jane’s Addiction ran for their safety.


Alaska’s music scene is a rage fueled, culture starved, pit of nonsense. Actually, everything up there is like that. The Olive Garden up there continues to post record profits because when anything from the lower forty-eight opens up, the locals flock with open wallets just for a chance to live like all those fancy southerners in the commercials. Concerts aren’t much different. When an honest to goodness act deigns to play a show in the last frontier, ticket sales skyrocket and everyone shows up with great expectations and limited sobriety (twenty hours of darkness don’t lead to wholesome things). And inevitably, one douche bag bumps into another who then bumps into two more and the mosh pit is formed. It really doesn’t matter who’s playing either; I’ve seen it happen at Pantera where it belongs and at Blues Traveler where it doesn’t. Idiocy is contagious, and its spread most efficiently through a violent shoulder bump.


Anyway, Jane’s Addiction played a single show sometime in my early teens and a huge group of us went knowing it’d end up as a disaster. The band played five or six subdued songs in a row when the mullet bearing subspecies prevalent at most Alaskan concerts wanted something more conducive to handing out concussions. The crowd starting booing. The lead singer, smug in his corduroy suit, said something about how Alaskans didn’t have any more culture than a Fred Meyer and then he started playing the same short and shity song over and over again. That was a ridiculously bad mistake.


I was surfing the crowd on my back upon an intrusive cloud of hands when the anger erupted. The mullet brethren started chanting something indistinguishable and guttural and stormed the little wall around the elevated stage. I literally rode the wave of pissed off humanity towards the stage, and when I got to the wall and the little mote of concrete protecting the band, the ocean of man beneath me tossed me over like a castaway sailor being thrown from the surf onto the sand. I didn’t weigh very much however, and the momentum carried me over the protective area and directly onto the stage. The protective wall buckled shortly thereafter and the tide of pissed off Alaskans started washing up behind me.


I made eye contact with the lead singer, still in his corduroy suit but no longer smug, shortly before he made it to safety behind a steel backstage door. I smiled, flipped him off, and shouted “welcome to Alaska”. His eyes got a bit wider and then the door separated us. Whatever; I was fourteen. Blah blah blah I got a souvenir drum stick that the drummer abandoned while running for his life, the stage was demolished, and the police came; none of the rest really matters. What matters here is that if it wasn’t for a rather eccentric Canadian’s choice to jump up and down, if it wasn’t for the intolerance of a Canadian bouncer who kicked him out, if it wasn’t for the resulting declaration of damn it “we can dance if we want to, but leave your friends behind, because etcetera etcetera”, I never would’ve owned a drum stick used by the drummer from Jane’s Addiction. Like I said, whatever, I was fourteen. I’ve long since lost the drum stick, but I’ve gained a mantra. I’m not going to type it, because that would be cheesy, but hopefully, it’s playing over and over in your head by now.


Something’s Coming

They gave me an economy size bottle of pain killers when my wisdom teeth were removed; I think I was 16 and it was right before senior year. I was rattling them around in their translucent orange container when my dad called me at my mom’s house. His dad had died, as he put it, and I could either stay with my mom or come out to the valley and live on my own for eleven days until he got back. He promised to stash cash around the house so I wouldn’t starve. I told him there was no way in hell I’d miss the chance, and hung up my phone. My mom asked what he wanted, and I said “nothing, he can’t get me this week so I’ll need to have a friend pick me up.” She never would’ve gone for it, and rightfully so; I hadn’t done a damn thing to earn the trust.


And that’s how I found myself in a dilapidated ’65 Malibu SS heading to the valley with chipmunk cheeks and a pocket full of Percocet. The freedom was intoxicating. It was dusk and we were literally driving into the sunset towards untold adventure. The first party wasn’t that bad. My dad had called to tell me where the first envelope was hidden and I don’t remember how much was in it, but it was enough to completely fill the refrigerator with 40 ounce bottles of Old English like that old-school Dr. Dre video. We stole one of those six foot tall beef jerky tubes and fixed it up with eight hoses so a group of us could beer bong at the same time. It didn’t work worth a shit, but we named it “octopussy” and dubbed it badass. We also had one of those enormous Budweiser banners hanging from the rafters, and I don’t know if it came from the same place as octopussy, but it wasn’t acquired honestly either. Nothing really happened that night. We drank shitty beer and listened to shittier music until we passed out. There were thirty of us at most.


Do you remember those videos they used to make you watch in high school about spreading rumors? You know, you tell two people, and then they each tell two people, and then those four tell two apiece, and so on and so on. The video I remember kept filling the screen with more and more pictures Brady-Bunch-style until there were hundreds of smiling faces stacked on each other. In a nut shell, that’s what happened. It was State Fair time in the valley, and that fair was like a Petri dish for rumor. The parties kept getting bigger and bigger night after night and we were stoking the flames like rabid idiots.


The last party was on a Saturday. That day simply had a different feeling to it; there was a palpable sense of anticipation amongst my little click. Disaster was inevitable and we knew it because the party the night before was on the brink of insanity and every idiot in attendance was going to tell two more idiots and so on. I think we hit a hundred people some time before nine and I should’ve feared the mass of humanity that was migrating to my father’s home but for some reason, I embraced it. All the quintessential clichés usually reserved for unrealistic party movies were in attendance. There were naked women and fighting assholes. We had drag racing and bon fires and an impromptu live band headed by a bass player that’s a tad famous nowadays. My dad’s property had two 2000 square foot structures on three acres of land and by midnight, it was pretty much standing room only wherever you went.


I first started thinking that it had gone too far when people started pissing off the roof onto the people below. I guess they just wanted to clear a path to the front door so more kegs could be brought in but logic gets a bit soggy after that much drinking. The party had turned into a monster and it needed to die. We stabbed it with our steely knives by threatening to call the police, but we just couldn’t kill the beast. I apologize for the antiquated Eagles reference, but it fits.


The police finally did come, but not because we called them. The mile of road out to the highway from my dad’s house was completely shut down from all the parked cars and no one else in the neighborhood could get in or out. The cops had to hike in, and once they saw the size of my monster, they voiced their complaints to no one in particular, looked at each other, and then gave up before hiking back to the highway. That’s when I knew it had gone too far and the taste of fear wormed its way past the pall that a veritable cocktail of intoxicants had draped over my wits.


I retreated. I went as deep into the house as possible, which turned out to be my dad’s bedroom, with a few of my friends to regroup so we could figure out how diffuse the catastrophe. There were about eight of us in the group and we forced everyone else out of the room and locked the door. The best plan we could come up with wasn’t too dissimilar from the one that the cops had used; we were going to give up and let the party run its course. To kill time, we started playing with my dad’s guns.


There was an interior window looking out from my dad’s room into the room with the aforementioned impromptu band, and visible through that window, hanging on the wall, was a painting of a man and a horse in the night. My dad loved that picture. The rider was down off his horse looking off into the night as if he were afraid of what might be coming. One of my friends took my dad’s .45 and aimed across the bedroom, through the window, over the band, and at the horse’s head before pulling the trigger. I’m sure they make kids in high school watch videos about shit like this too, but we must’ve skipped that day.


Of course it was loaded. The window shattered, the picture was hit but the horse lived, and close to a thousand drunken idiots all tried to flee all at once. It was the mass exodus we had been hoping for and all it took was a sacrificial painting. The chaos lasted for a good twenty minutes as people were pushed past and trampled over; it seems nobody wants to be a witness to murder.  Cars honked and lights flashed but the police got what they wanted too. I wouldn’t call it a win-win, but whatever. There were about thirty people that were curious or brave or stupid enough to stay behind, and once it was obvious that no one died, we started cheering. And that’s when we saw the alcohol. The party had been BYOB for the most part, and nobody bothered to take that which they had brought when they fled. It was like the treasure you’d find in an alcoholic dragon’s cave. There was enough booze for a thousand people, but there were thirty of us. A few people trickled back in throughout the night, but there was still plenty of alcohol poisoning to go around.


The next morning, I did the only logical thing. I filled the hole in the wall with tooth paste, and fixed the picture with some sharpie. The bullet had gone through a black part in the painting and I had enough spare glass from the shattered window to fix the frame. I later blamed the window on the band (I think I said the drummer threw a stick or something). We spent six hours or so cleaning which was futile and then headed back to the fair for closing day. We didn’t really try to hide much because there wasn’t any point. My dad found a stack of pictures when he got back that demarked all sorts of debauchery but he never said a damn thing. He has since moved that picture at least three times as he’s redecorated over the years, and I don’t think he’s ever noticed my reparations. My buddy never paid me for the damages, but I wouldn’t have either. It’s hard to hold someone culpable actions bred in a moment you made possible.


What if my friend had aimed left and taken out the bass player? The indie rock station on my satellite radio would have one less band to play repetitively. There would’ve been death and arrest warrants and sorrow. What if he never pulled the trigger? I can’t imagine that any good could’ve come from that night if the beast would’ve kept feeding on hormones and bad decisions.


I’m starting to realize that I’m out of luck, and I’m nearly positive that luck is a quantifiable commodity. Everyone says that they did crazy things when they were young, but they usually say it with a fond smile. I don’t. I rarely admit it now that I’ve reinvented myself down here in the Land of Enchantment, but when I do, I let regret take rein of my expression. I’d love to go into further detail just to get it off my chest, but thanks to the statutes of limitation, it would be unwise to put it all in writing for a few years yet. However, I’ll admit that my decisions got poorer and poorer for a five year stretch beginning with that damn party. I’d love to tie this all together with a pithy little comment about losing my wisdom along with my wisdom teeth, but I didn’t really have any to start with. What if I really have let my karmic tank run down to “E”? Maybe I’ve used up every bit of grace that was gifted to me at birth, and now that’s it’s gone, maybe the bullets won’t miss.

Unknown Presence