Saturday, May 28, 2011

Versatile Blogger Award

I was pleasantly surprised to find that good friend John Wiswell over at Bathroom Monologues bestowed upon me the Versatile Blogger Award. He also added some nice comments, all of which are unnecessary but highly appreciated. Had he told me his intentions in advance, I might have given him a few more unnecessary comments. :)

According to what I surmise, the recipient is to share seven "unknown" personal facts and then to pass it all forward. So, in a theme of "I never tried that again," here we go...

  1. At the age of four (or maybe it was five), while living in Colorado Springs, I had a neighbor girl over for a play-day. On this day, she and I decided to explore and watch each other "potty." Suffice it to say, my father, a bible college student preparing for the ministry, was not as amused as I was, and after a stern lecture, along with a bit of corporal encouragement, I never tried it again.
  2. During the same age, I scared the pants off my parents when another friend and I climbed through a church balcony window and stood the edge of the roof looking down at all the people on the sidewalk below. Another stern lecture, with my father probably having doubts about me living in a parsonage, and I never tried that again.
  3. At the age of thirteen, while living in Michigan, I was visiting a friend down in the Pontiac area. After watching him roll down a hill on his BMX and jump off a ramp, I decided to give it go. After pulling the handle bars out of my chest, the pedal out of my leg, and then staggering around with no air in my lungs, I was certain that I would die at any moment. I never tried that again.
  4. At the age of eighteen, after a night of working at J.C. Penney's in Overland Park, Kansas, I decided to take my Toyota Corolla for a thrill ride of slides and spins, through the fresh snow in an empty parking lot. In the excitement, I completely forgot about the sidewalk that divided the parking lot in half. Four replaced rims and an empty wallet later, I never tried that again.
  5. At the age of twenty, while living in Fort Worth, Texas, my boss and I took a road trip to the border town of Juarez. Wanting to explore life and see some "dancing girls," we asked a taxi cab driver if he knew where we could find some action. Several twists and turns later, zipping down alleys and completely lost as far as I was concerned, we finally stopped at one of the brothels John mentioned in his blog. After a few minutes, seeing as how we weren't spending any money, the establishment kindly escorted us out. I never tried that again.
  6. At the age of twenty-one, still sowing my oats as it were, I decided to take on a bottle of Glenlivet. After losing miserably, and then having to clean up a nasty mess in the bathroom, I never tried that again.
  7. At the age of forty-two, now living in Lubbock with a my wife and two kids, I looked at the prospect of remodeling the kitchen cabinets for my wife and told her, "I can do that." Several weeks later, with my lungs full of sawdust (and primer and paint and glaze and sealant) I finally finished. I can tell you now I will never do that again. In the words of Dirty Harry: "A man has to know his limitations."

There. I hope you learned a little more about me and enjoyed a few laughs at my hard-knocks education.

For my recipients, I would like to honor Linda Simoni-Wastila, whose blog is a virtual potpourri of poetry, flash fiction and personal stories.

I also want to honor good friend Paige over at Paradise Valley. Just like Linda, Paige's blog is a mixture of poetry and personal stories. She even has a secondary blog where she has posted a photo a day.

Again, my personal thanks to John Wiswell for his thoughtfulness. If you haven't been by his blog, or by Linda's or Paige's, then I recommend you do so.

Until next time...

Friday, May 27, 2011

#FridayFlash - Because You Pay Me

My patient lies quietly in the bed. His eyes are closed, his cracked lips slightly open, but he is not asleep. Not completely. More likely than not, he is in the far away place he turns to each day.

Tired lungs, ravaged by years of abuse, raise his chest slowly and then collapse with a huff. Beside the bed, an oxygen tank beckons me like it has a secret to share: Not much longer.

I step across the room on carpet so thick it squishes beneath my feet. As I open the curtains to welcome in the morning light, my patient coughs.

“Why are you here?” His voice is whispery.

I look over my shoulder.

“It’s Ignacio Garcia, Mr. Cohen. Your nurse.”

“I’m not blind.” His eyes hold fast on mine. “Why are you here?”

I look back through the window, a flash of anger burning at my face. It is the same question he has asked for the last two weeks.

“Because you pay me.”

A fragile breath wheezes past his lips. “Then close the curtains.”

I take a deep breath and pull the drawstring.

“Is there anything I can get for you?”

His hooded eyes lift up. A dry tongue rolls across chapped lips. “A glass of water, maybe?”

The adjoining bathroom is closer, but I opt to use the kitchen instead. Downstairs, I wonder if he’s always been this way. Surely there must have been a time when he was nice, as a young man. Filling the pitcher, I try to visualize this younger man, a man who opened doors for women, who considered his word just as binding as any contract drafted by an army of lawyers. But then, reality sets in. People like J. Samuel Cohen don’t exist for others. The only door he ever opened for a woman was the one to his bedroom. And words hold no value unless they can be looked upon, pointed at, enforced.

On my way back, I stop at the foot of the stairs and gaze upon a portrait. At his side, Cohen’s now deceased wife, Anna, sits in a velvety red dress, her placid hands in her lap. Behind them, wearing expensive clothes, are four young children—the same ones who now, years later, have left his care to me.

I shake my head and climb the stairs, stiffening my resolve. We are worlds apart, those children and me. Growing up in a mansion, living a life of prosperity, they have never struggled. They’ve never felt the pain of whispered conversations—snide remarks regarding the lightness of skin or the unusual color of eyes. They have never felt the ache of a father’s embarrassed gaze.

Back in the room, blue eyes as bright as a cloudless sky look at me. “Do you have any children?”

“No. I haven’t found the right woman.”

He nods.

“Do you fear death?”

I shake my head. I’ve seen enough death through this job, and my heart has grown calloused. People get old, they die. “I don’t worry about it much.”

“Someday, you will.”

I shrug.

He closes his eyes. “It’s all I think about these days.”

I fill a glass and place it on his nightstand. Then I turn to the television. “Shall I find something for you to watch?”

“Not today. Something different, maybe.”

“The radio?”

“Some poetry.” He coughs and groans and then continues. “Maybe the Greeks. They were famous for the iambic hexameter. Did you know that?”

“I never paid much attention in school.”

“Poetry, Ignacio. Language of the gods.” He points to a bookcase. “You’ll find something over there.”

“You sure you don’t want the television?”

“No, not the Greeks,” he says. “Grab volume four instead.” When I hesitate, he adds, “The blue one.”

“I don’t read very well.”

“And yet you made it through nursing school.”

“That’s different.”

“Not really. Please, grant an old dead man his wish.”

“You’re not dead yet. You have adinocarcin—”

“Don’t,” he snaps. “Don’t dignify it.”

Turning to the shelf, I find that the book is heavy, its pages worn.

“Anything specific?”

He shakes his head.

I open it up and read.

“‘Where art thou, Muse, that thou forget’st so long…’”

“Ah…” A warm smile tugs at the sides of his mouth. “Shakespeare. How appropriate.”

I read only another line when he closes his eyes and recites the poem word for word, finishing with a triumphant smile. “Very good,” he says.

“I can’t take much credit.”

“Do you know what it’s about?”

“He’s looking for someone.”

“Not someone, but something. You understand that.”

I shrug.

“Of course you do. It’s why you’re a nurse. Why you’re here.”

The flash of anger again burns at my cheeks. “No, I’m here because you pay me.”

His smile fades, replaced by a deep sadness.

I quickly close the book and turn toward the bookshelf.

“Keep it,” he says.

“Excuse me?”

He lays his head back. “In fact, take the whole set.”

“But your children.”

He scoffs. “Where are they? Do you see them?”

I shake my head.

“There is only you now.”

I set the book down on a chair, but intend to replace it later. I’ve worked too hard, and I will not be accused of stealing anything, not even a trifle token.

I look at my watch. “We should probably get you something to eat.”

“Your mother,” he says. “She was a good woman.”

“She was a great woman.”

Mr. Cohen nods and then mutters something else.


“You have done well for yourself. She would be proud.”

“I can only hope.”

He fixes me with a piercing gaze. “You are a good son.”

I stand in silence for a while, uncertain as to what I should say. Then, the oxygen tank beckons me again. Mocking me. I silently curse it.



“I’ve changed my mind. Will you open the curtains?”

“Certainly.” I walk across the room. “That’s what you pay me for.”

Friday, May 20, 2011

#FridayFlash - Timber Pass

The Timber Pass Bridge bristled as two boys pushed their bikes across its deck. Under the supports, the cliff walls cut jagged edges toward the bottom where, over four hundred feet below, they framed a narrow river and its rocky bed. From this height, the deck muffled the sound of the bubbling water to a whisper.

One of the boys asked the other, “You watch the game last night?” Squat and pudgy, the boy waddled across the deck, his double-rolled belly squeezing into a tattered pair of jeans. Dark stains marked the pits of the shirt stretched across his chest, and an exclamation point of sweat soaked the center of his back.

The second boy said, “Yeah, man, the homer Rodriquez slammed in the ninth was awesome.” Compared to his porky-pie friend, this one was taller, thinner, and better dressed.

Baseball. If it weren’t excited about the prospects of two more victims, the bridge would have groaned. The boys had all of creation spread out before them—grasshoppers buzz-sawing across the meadow, birds singing merrily in the trees, not to mention the beautiful fifty-year-old wooden structure beneath their feet—and they wanted to talk about sports?

The bridge slowly shifted its frame.

The skinny one stopped. “Hey, you feel that?”

The fat one looked over. “Feel what?”

“It felt like it moved.”

“Ah, that’s only the wind. Nothing to worry about. This thing is just old.”

The skinny one looked over his shoulder. “Maybe we should go back.”

“What for?”

“What if it collapses?”

A grunt. “Don’t be a wus.”

“I’m not a wus.”

“Yeah, you are.”

The fat one bent over and picked up a beer bottle. It had been left by a drunkard who happened along two weeks earlier. Barely twenty yards across, he stopped and set the beer down. Then, he unzipped his pants and sent a stream off the side of the Bridge. The way he swayed, all it took was a shudder and the man was never seen again.

Porky-pie inspected the bottle, the contents long evaporated. He said, “Hey, watch this,” and chucked it. Both boys pushed their bikes to the edge, watching as the bottle performed a graceful series of summersaults down into the mouth of the canyon. At the bottom, it hit a boulder and exploded.

The fat one pumped a fist into the air. “Awesome!”


The Bridge was about to send a shockwave across its deck when the boys turned their bikes and resumed their walk.

“Hey,” the skinny one said. “You hear Danny Ekstrom went out with Teresa Jameson?”

Another grunt. “They ran into each other at the county fair. Hardly a date.”

“Well, I heard they rode the ferris wheel and kissed at the top.”

“What? Who told you that?”

“Edie Hall.”

“And she saw it?”

“She was at the bottom watching.”

The fat boy stopped walking. “Edie wasn’t even up in the next car or something?”

The skinny one didn’t respond.

Porky-pie shook his head. “Doesn’t count.”

“Whaddayah mean?”

“There’s no way she could have seen them well enough in the dark. Danny was probably just whispering something in Sarah’s ear.”

“How do you know? You weren’t there.”

“And neither were you.”

The skinny boy stood there for a moment. Then, “Ah, I get it.”


“You got the hots for Teresa.”

The fat one’s mouth dropped open, but nothing came out.

“You got a big ol’ flaming crush on her.”

“Shut your pie hole, or I’ll throw you over the edge.”

The bridge liked the sound of that. Little Porky-pie Toby might actually save it some of the trouble.

The boys stood in silence, staring at each other. Finally, the skinny one said, “Hey, it’s cool. I think she’s good looking, too.”


The boys resumed their walk. Halfway across, the Bridge shifted its frame again, this time not so subtle.

The fat one stopped. “Whoa.”

“You see,” the skinny blurted out. “This thing’s not stable.”

The Bridge held still as a breeze cut across its deck.

The fat one looked around for a moment. When nothing else happened, a small chuckle escaped his mouth. Color returned to his cheeks. “You’re such a jerk-off,” he said. “Now you got me acting all scared.”

“No way. This thing moved, and you felt it.”

“It was just the wind.”

“You kidding me?”

“C'mon, let’s just get off this thing.”

The pushed their bikes another twenty yards before the fat one spoke again.

“I wonder how many people have actually taken a swan dive off the side.”

If it could, the bridge would have told them the answer: fourteen. Sixteen after today.

The thing was, hers wasn’t even intentional. A young girl, after enduring months of jokes and tricks and criticisms about her red hair, her freckled homely looks, coming down to cry it out. Only the wind decided to play a game too. Taken by surprise, she screamed as she fell, but nobody heard. And nobody came. Not even her mother.

Afterwards, her spirit turned bitter. She vowed that nobody would ever walk over her again.

“So, you think Sarah would be interested in a guy like me?”

The fat boy’s voice broke the reverie. They were now two-thirds of the way across and still the conversation was about them. Them. Them. THEM!

The bridge’s structure popped as it shifted harder this time, twisting beams, dropping one side down.

The fat one screamed. “The bridge is collapsing!”

The thinner boy dropped his bike and ran as the bridge sent another jolt and dipped its deck further. Wood splintered along the causeway. This time, the fat boy fell to his knees and cried, “Wait! Wait for me!”

Before the bridge could shift again, both boys gained their footing and made it to the other side. They turned and watched in horror as their bikes slid off the edge.

Slowly, the bridge righted itself, cracking up and down like a stiff spine.

The thinner boy said, “Wh-wh-what just happened?”

The fat one boy shook his head and quickly turned, running as fast as his legs could take him.

The bridge groaned in disappointment at its loss. But that was okay. Sooner or later, someone else would happen along.

They always did.

Friday, May 13, 2011

#FridayFlash - Not All That

Julia glanced over at the counter and pursed her lips. With gel-slicked hair, one ear sporting a small diamond stud, and the subtle hint of a dimple in his chin, the young barista was cute. And buff too. Even from where she sat on the other side of the café, she could see the strength in his broad shoulders, the well-defined chest through his white cotton tee. And the best thing? She really liked the way he looked at her when she had ordered the decaf skinny mocha latte, an extra shot of vanilla. The slight grin, the mischievous look in his eyes, said it all, and it wasn’t about the drink either.

“So…” Across the table her friend, Kim, broke the spell. “How’s the new husband?”

This morning was their weekly therapy, a time slated for the two of them to sit down and visit—talk about the kids, the schedules and anything else that came to mind. Before she answered, Julia took a sip of the coffee and flinched. She liked her coffee hot but, jeez, not that hot. She licked at her bottom lip, feeling the instant burn, and stared back at the barista, who was now busy with another customer, a cute teenager with a ponytail and most likely a diva, too, by the looks of her. She decided next time to tell Mr. Cute and Buff to cool down her drink with a little ice.

And there would be a next time.

No doubt about it.

Placing the cup down, she realized Kim was staring at her. “Oh,” she said, “The husband, right, he’s wonderful. Good listener, well mannered, and low maintenance. No laundry on the floor, the toilet seat is down, and—”

“Wait.” Kim frowned. “He’s a squatter?”

Julia shrugged. “It’s not like I stand there to watch, you know? I’m just saying the seat’s down whenever I go in.”

Kim leaned forward, apparently more interested now.

At the counter, the young barista looked over again and locked eyes with Julia. He smiled, and she leaned back against the chair, the plans already starting to whirl in her mind—what she would ask for, how she would ask for it.

Life was funny when she took the time to think about it. And more often than not lately, she did just that. There were the subtle ironies, like some Shakespearian cosmic comedy playing out on the stage. Take the young man at the counter, for instance. If that wasn’t some twisted turn of fate—life bringing them together after she’d exchanged Husband Number One with Husband Number Two—then what was it? And there was some energy there, she couldn’t deny that. Like two planets defying God’s design, whirling out of their separate orbits and finding each other in some small pocket of the universe yet to be discovered. But now they were going to collide, and just like she knew the time had come to get rid of Husband Number One, put him beneath her feet so she could move on, she knew the time was coming for her and Mr. Cute and Buff. And probably not too far off by the way he kept—


She glanced back, found Kim staring at her with a puzzled expression.

“I’m sorry.” Julia scratched at an eyebrow, trying to hide her embarrassment. “What did you say?”

“How much did it cost and what’s the rate of return?”

The rate of...

Julia smiled. Yes, Kim was still curious about Husband Number Two, and not just in the general sort of way. Another one of life’s ironies, come to think of it—how, in a day and age when women could purchase the programmed bio equivalent of Mr. Right, women still wondered if they were getting a good deal. And Julia had a good deal, she knew. She had bargained pretty hard for it, too, complaining to the manufacturer how the first husband was flawed, demanding either a full refund or a new model free of charge. The agent finally agreed to the exchange at no additional cost, which in essence extended the life span on her first investment by five years. Not a bad rate of return at all. Still, the nights in bed weren’t what they used to be. Like when she was in school, back before stem cells, when girls hooked up with actual boys and ran the risk of stolen virginities, deflated egos, and broken hearts. Even with all the advances in relationships, however, the passion wasn’t as strong, the caressing not as satisfying.

She looked at the barista one more time and smiled.

“To tell you the truth,” she said to Kim, “I’m not so sure whether I’m going to keep Jim or not.” As advertised, the manufacturer would even program a husband's name and give him some history to talk about. “He’s a good asset in many respects, but the amortization of the intangibles is highly accelerated. In some ways, having the latest technology isn’t all that.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

#FridayFlash - Flowers for Sarah

Listening to the stereo, Lance tracked time and distance with the reflectors on the road. On some stretches, the yellow squares came at him through blackened asphalt looking more like Morse code than a steady metronome pulse. Dot, dot, dot. Dash. Dot… Staring ahead, hands on the wheel, the sounds of Steve Perry and Neil Schon blaring through the speakers, he wondered how long it had been that way. Had some department of transportation employee, working off a previous night’s bender, decided that maybe he would have a little fun? He supposed it might have been possible. Closer to the truth, however, was that the missing markers had simply taken too much stress and finally cracked.

In the distance, under a haze of violet sky, the stars gradually poking through the waning resistance of daylight, wind turbine lights spanned the horizon, their synchronized flashes of on-and-off red like that of a cheap motel sign. Vacancy. Vacancy. There was always an empty room available. Out here, in the middle of Texas, the lights were the only company a driver could rely upon to keep his mind from wandering. From thinking about things said. Or unsaid.

On the seat beside him, the bouquet of flowers lay wrapped in a blanket of green paper. As he picked them up earlier tonight, the florist had looked at him and smiled.

“Going to give your sweetie some nice roses?”

He had nodded.

“Gonna surprise her, huh?”

“No, the surprise is that I’m a day late.”

She gave him a knowing look and, as he turned to walk out, she said, “Good luck.”

Driving down the lonely stretch of road, now about fifteen miles or so south, south-west of Sweetwater, those words hung across the beams of his headlights, dangling in front of his eyes, forcing him to look at them one more time. Luck was a misnomer, a misconception for those who hadn’t seen the harsher realities of fate and consequence. We are the sum total of our choices, Woody Allen had once postulated, and boy did he live up to that one. In fact, if Woody ever decided to pull together a calendar based on his lines, Lance’s face would be the one posted above the month of December, that line serving as more than a caption.

In another mile, he knew, the road would curve ahead. There the beams of his headlights would ride the line of barb wire stretched out into the darkness.

He wasn’t sure how the argument had started, only that he hadn't seen it coming. It had been something about time, though—his time and hers. All she had wanted was for him to massage her feet, and then spend a quiet evening soaking in the hot tub, glasses of champagne perched on the drink tray.

“Not tonight, okay?”

The pouty, disappointed look followed. “Why?”

“I have too much to do.”

“You always have too much to do.”

“Uh-huh, well, look around. You can’t tell me you don’t like the results, can you?”

“Sure, it’s all fine.” She shrugged. “But it’s not enough.”

“Oh, please, not again.”

Noticeable hurt registered in her eyes. “And why not?”

“Because.” He swept an arm around the room, as if to point out all that they had. “We’re not ready.”

“I’m ready.”

“But I’m not. In fact, the longer we go, the more stupid the idea seems.”

From there, the conversation spiraled, sucking the energy of their life down with it. Fifteen minutes later she had walked out, telling him he was a fool. And now, he felt like such a fool. What a great decision maker, a planner among planners, he had turned out to be.

After the bend in the road, he slowed down, allowing his eyes to adjust to the natural rise and fall of the landscape. His turn-off was right… around…

He saw the tree along the side and pulled over. He stopped the car, switched off the engine, but left his lights on. The stereo continued to play and would until he opened the door. Journey was Sarah's favorite band and this, their Frontiers project, was her favorite collection. He allowed the song to finish before he opened the door, finally silencing the music.

Sliding out from behind the steering wheel, Lance stepped out into the middle of the highway and held his arms outstretched. Maybe, if he was lucky, just maybe. A minute later, he realized again that luck had nothing to do with it. It was still all about fate. And fate was a tyrant, never yielding. Unlike tonight, where he could look out and see a canvas of stars that one who lived in the city could never imagine, the night over five years ago had been weighed down by thick clouds. It had rained, too. And in his experience, that was how fate worked, raining down on some while leaving the rest dry.

He walked back to the car, reached in and grabbed the flowers, and then stepped around to the tree.

“Hey baby.” He smiled for a moment, remembering the night they first met, when the world held so much promise. The smile quickly faded then. At the base of the trunk, the crosses were still where he had left them. Of the dozen roses, he placed eleven, all red, at the foot of one; the lone rose, its petals as white as newborn snow, he laid at the base of the second cross—a tiny replica of the first.

Finished with the flowers, he knelt down and waited. Soon, in spite of the clear sky, a torrent of tears would eventually wash over him. It always did.