Monthly Archives: May 2013

The Biggest Thrill Of Them All—Clark Humphrey

He didn’t mean to be born with this “gift.”  

He’d never consciously learned it. 

He didn’t know how to teach it to others; it was just so instinctual.

And he sure didn’t know what to do with it. 

It was always getting him in trouble with his younger sister. It was completely understandable that Jan would be upset at Mitch always being their parents’ favorite. But then Mitch would turn on the charm, make his puppy-dog eyes at them, and sister became as spellbound as mom and dad. They all liked Mitch, really. He always made them feel good about themselves.  

Like this last time, at the multi-family BBQ organized by the people at his mom’s work. 

Jan had prepared this big fancy dance skit for the talent-show portion of the day. She’d worked on it for weeks. Really hard. She’d even put together a special costume for it, based on pieces she’d borrowed from all her friends. 

But on the day of the event, everything went wrong. The iPod she had for playing the music track ran out of power. The park had only one real flat clearing, and it was a ways away from the picnic tables; by the time Jan got enough people to get over there to see her act, a steady drizzle had started up. 

Mitch came to the rescue. He pleaded and persuaded enough grownups to remain standing in the rain, and to stop talking to each other, long enough for Jan to finish. 

When it was all over, it was Mitch who clapped the hardest and loudest. Afterwards, the adults admired Mitch’s act of support for Jan more than Jan’s performance itself. It was Mitch over whom all the moms gushed. It was Mitch around whom the older girls trailed.  

And, later that night at home, it was Mitch who took Jan aside, after she’d not talked to him the whole drive home. He assured her she had been the real star that day. He kept telling her this until she smiled.

The next morning, Mitch sat by himself in his room. He pondered what would become of him, with his unasked-for gift.

His imminent adolescence, he predicted, would not be traumatic, not like it was for a lot of kids. He’d be able to get any girl he wanted. Give her a smooth line, an inviting grin, and a sincere eye. Make her feel comfortable and safe. Afterwards, let her down gently; convince her she deserved better than him.

No! 

That would be all wrong, he decided. Using people like that would be abusing them, and it would also be abusing his “gift.” He wouldn’t do that.

He also wouldn’t take up any profession where he’d be tempted to abuse his power. He wouldn’t be a preacher, a politician, a talk-radio host, or a salesman.

He would only use his ability to bend other people’s emotions as benignly as possible. For entertainment, maybe.

Three days later, while he was on a bus heading back home from Northgate, it came to him.

He would design the world’s greatest theme park.

It would be the perfect, total, immersive entertainment experience.

Every big and little aspect of this experience would build upon every other aspect. The look of the buildings. The music, both live and piped-in. The flavors of the concession-stand foods. The smells, piped-in if necessary.

The rides and other attractions in the park would invite guests in with color, glitter, and the promise of ecstatic fun. The guests would be treated to carefully devised thrills, scares, and minor physical jostlings; then they’d be gently brought back to “earth.” 

The whole place would be arranged so that guests would arrive and immediately feel welcomed into a temporary “home,” where the cares of the “real” world would quickly fade from memory. They’d be greeted by colorful facades, pleasant walkways, and the sounds of people just like them having the most fun they’d ever had. Every aspect would be so thoroughly designed and managed, that guests wouldn’t even mind waiting in lines for rides. The whole visit, from entrance to exit, would be timed and paced for the fullest emotional gamut, from laughter to tears and back again. And it would probably be domed for year-round, all-weather operation.

To accomplish this, Mitch would enough about the different necessary disciplines (architecture, crowd control, graphic design, color theory, game theory, story craft, even mass psychology). He’d still hire experts in those fields, but he’d know enough to lead these experts in their duties, in creating the greatest in-person entertainment experience the world had ever seen.

Mitch saw his future self negotiating deals with local politicians, landowners, suppliers, and employees. In every instance, he would use his charm and his understated control of any social situation. In every instance, he would win the other people over to his side.

Mitch spent most of his summer on the idea. He drew successively bigger, more detailed drawings of the place. By his fourth drawing, he was using the biggest size paper he could get at the art supply store, and had switched from crayons to color pencils. 

Before he showed his work to anyone, even mom and dad, he showed it to Jan. He invited her into his room, where the drawing-in-progress covered most of the real estate atop his bed. The drawing’s main figure was a detailed map of the theme park, including the locations of its concourses, its food courts, its performance stages, its various rides, its exits, and its one entrance. Around the outside of the paper, Mitch had begun rough sketches of each ride and other attraction.

Jan stood silently as Mitch narrated his scenario of an average family’s day at the park. Coming off of the highway and into the color coded parking lots, where they and other families strode with anticipation toward the entrance. Then at the silent turn of a turnstile, they’re in. Everything is comforting and exciting all at once. Placing a finger down on the map, Mitch showed Jan how this family would go from one great time to the next; from thrills to chills to joys. Yes, there was a big roller coaster. And a gondola ride and a splash slide and everything. But there were smaller rides leading up to them, stimulating the family members, step by fun step, toward the biggest and most fun rides of them all. 

Mitch invited Jan to trace her own finger across the map, in exactly the order and directions Mitch had done. 

Instead, Jan traced her finger in the opposite direction, counter clockwise. And she didn’t stop to pretend to ride the smaller rides first; she went straight for the big roller coaster. 

“No,” Mitch said. He reached toward Jan’s arm to try to stop her in her “path.” “That’s not how you do it.”

Jan pulled her arm away from his. “If I was at this theme park, then I’d go on only the rides I wanted to go on. I’d have my own fun in my own way. So would everybody else. You can’t make people do or feel everything in only the way YOU want them to.”

Mitch stared at Jan, and realized she was right. 

After that, Mitch never got around to finishing the big drawing. 

Two days later, though, he decided he’d become a movie director.

Summer Twilight – Tom Gaffney

Night arrives slowly this time of year.  Twilight’s patience outlasted hers and she headed off to the tent.  She left the rest of the group sitting, where they passed the flask and savored the setting and some conversation.

How many times here? She knew Matt would have a count of them, a replay of the weather conditions, what the snow had been like.  So many other things.  Funny, she could almost think of him winsomely at this moment.  Her story with Matt, even if it had beginnings here, was long over and well closed.  She had not thought of him in a long time and even having his image rise in her mind would have been the catalyst behind some anxiety if she were at home.

Teeth brushed and gear stowed she crawled into her tent.  With a heavy sigh she zipped into her sleeping bag.  Everything but her nose covered, she savored the warmth of her feather cocoon.  Sleep was not far away and her thoughts seemed to swim towards the vast darkness that lay just beyond the thin walls of the tent.

Perched on this ridge, listening to the light breeze passing over she reviewed the sights she had just left behind.  Snow clad mountains, trees, ridges, cirques, sights to truly remote places in the distance setting a scene: my little tent, my friends and I so tiny in this mountain landscape, itself so tiny.

Still settling, the words of the boys’ conversation carried to her.  Conversation carried on, fire or no.  She could hear Tim, relaxed a little more at the sound of his voice, and hoped he would join her soon.  Both of them had been here before but this was the first time here, together.  This route was no longer a challenge really, but it was good workout in a beautiful place.

               

                I’ve seen bear on one trip, Tim said, when we were on our way up to Cascade Pass.  Never here, though it has a reputation as a place for bears.  I had a friend out here once on a disaster of a trip.  Week-long trip and it rained every day.  Just miserable.  Relations with his partner had fallen to a low.  They were no longer talking much and had even gotten separated that final day as they headed out to the trail-head.  The rain is pouring down, Mark is just sick of his life as he heads through Hannegan Pass when he saw them, mother bear on one side of the trail, the cubs on the other.  Sick of it all, sick of everything he just keeps steaming on through.  Didn’t slow down at all, continued on the trail right between mother and cubs.  Shocked or startled they just let him pass.

 

Crazy, but true, at least as related to the two of them by Mark.  Altogether possible, though not advised.  And thoroughly believable: a miserable trip with Mark, who would imagine?

 

                Anyway, we were on our way up to Cascade Pass, were going to climb Sahale the next day.  It was early in the year so we were just going to camp right at the pass on the snow.  We saw the bear across the valley, wandering near the river well before we got to the pass.  I assume foraging, wandering, whatever keeps him happy.  He was in the distance.  It was just a beautiful, gorgeous day.  Really warm and clear, a riot of sound form the river and snow coming down off of Johannesburg: really close to the road, but perched so you could hear (and see) avalanches coming down all day while you were safe.  Well, the bear was down below and it was amazing to watch how quickly he moved.   One minute you could see him in the undergrowth, the next he was gone, and then off in the water and across the other side of the creek.  He was all the more enjoyable to watch because he was moving away from us.

 

This one has two parts, thought Peg.  Always has two parts: except I have not heard Tim tell it before. We were new then, sometimes I still feel like we are new, even though we’ve now been together longer than a lot of my relationships, certainly longer than with Matt. We’re fun, but with fewer scars.  A lot fewer, less of the wrong kind of fireworks.  Her interest grew and the words of the fellows were clearer with her attention.  What is he going to tell them?

               

                So, we camped at the pass.  You are not allowed to during the summer.  But while covered with a lot of snow it’s alright.  Amazing place, even prettier than here.  Sahale arm on one side, Pelton Basin and the path to Stehekin continuing to the East, and on the other side Mixup, Cascade, and Johannesburg all towering above.  Simply gorgeous.  We’ve set camp and hid out for a while.  But once it is really dark, sometime around midnight I guess, we decide to open up the tent, take in the stars.  Gorgeous night, not a cloud in the sky.

 

He was the one who wanted to get up.  All excited – extremely excited.  We did not get up out of the tent, but we did have it wide open so we could see the sky.  His affection was not unwelcome.  And the setting was truly memorable.  With the warmth and the clear skies and the setting, our newness.  Certainly did not seem like an error in judgment.  What is he going to tell them, that we were fooling around when it happened?  I know these guys well, and I do not want to listen as he tells some story, with me in earshot.  Matt would tell stories about me like that.  Tell these crass stories about me, embellished, that involved me, like I was some two dimensional cut out.

Peg was no longer languorous in the tent.  Wide awake now, she listened for how Tim would proceed.

               

                The sky was amazing.  You could see the Milky Way.  Pick out constellations.  Then we hear all this rustling down below us.  I’m sure it was a little further away than we first thought.  But in the darkness, it sure sounded close.  Real close.  And like it might be moving our way.  Talk about scary.  Now we’re as secure as we could be – food is tied up and some distance from camp.  But boy do you feel exposed as you listen to that.

                And I am getting freaked out.  The hair is up on the back of my neck.  And I don’t know what to do.  The urge to just hide in my sleeping bag, just cover my head and pretend none of this is happening, is almost too much to take, even though that would be the most ridiculous choice. 

                Peg though, she turns around, jumps out of the tent.  Just throws her boots on.  Leaps out, grabs the pots, starts banging them and yelling.  Runs around the campsite making a big old ruckus.   Then stops.  An eerie stillness.  By then I am out of the tent.  A clatter in the undergrowth, this time further away.  Then we see him on a snow slope, not two hundred yards away.  Moving quickly – away from us.

                What a relief.  Did not sleep much the rest of that night.  I was able to doze some with Peg on the watch.  She’s always ready.

 

She smiles and relaxes inside her sleeping bag.  Her faith in Tim renewed.  She’s always ready.  Just throws her boots on, he says.  Doesn’t tell them that that is all I had on.  I wonder where that bear might be tonight.

Bulldozer Rampage – Pandora

Bulldozer Rampage

 

In this exclusive interview, the first since the band’s dramatic final show and subsequent break-up 20 years ago, the former lead singer of Bulldozer Rampage talks to MTV personality Metal Head Mike about that final show, addictions and life post ‘Dozer.

 

Metal Head Mike: So it’s been awhile since we’ve last spoken, and I’d just like to ask what have you been up to these last 20 years?

Bull Dozer: Well, I’ve been doing a little of this and a little of that. Prison. Rehab. Helping my mom out with her business selling the Herbalife, ya’ know? Living there in her basement makes the commute to work pretty sweet! And I’m still working part-time down at Walmart, with the testing they know I’m clean. Though they don’t usually let dudes with visible tattoos work the floor I’ve been there long enough to get some overnight shifts since they went 24 hours.

MHM: Ah, I see you do have some visible tatts. And I hear we can now address you officially as the “Bull”?

BD: Yep. Got the name changed officially. You can see here the tattoo I got when we were still a band…[shows his knuckles with the words “BULL” on the right hand and “OZER” on the left]. We had to put the “D” on my thumb but I lost that in the accident…

MHM: I wasn’t sure if we’d get to talk about it but since you brought it up, what happened on that night?

BD: Well you know if I could ever have amnesia, the thing I’d most like to forget would be that night. I was pretty wasted on cough syrup you know and…

MHM: [Clears throat] Cough syrup?!

BD: Yeah, I had a pretty bad habit at that point. Lot’s of free Robitussin DM from work. Even tried to go to rehab before the accident for my addiction but no insurance working at Wally World you know.

MHM: So while other musicians were struggling and dying from drugs like cocaine and heroin you were on [raises hands to make air quotes] “the DM”?

BD: Yeah, I’m not proud of that time of my life. Made me do some pretty stupid shit.

MHM: Like drive a bulldozer onto the stage during your last performance?

BD: Yeah, that.

MHM: So how in the hell did you get a bulldozer onto the stage? And where did you get the thing?

BD: We were playing one of those enormous festivals where they set up a big stage in the middle of some farmer’s cow pasture.

MHM: This was the Ozz Fest in ’03 down in Enumclaw right? Total cow fest! I remember the stench when it started to rain. Smelled like a freaking feed-lot!

BD: So we were waiting around all day to go on, I was pretty high on DM and saw this big yellow Caterpillar bulldozer sitting over on one side of the field in the back stage area. I think the farmer used it to scrape all that cow shit off the field before the crowds came in.  Anyway, I told the guys we should go take some awesome band photos on the bulldozer and the guys were all like “No way man! I don’t want to get cow-shit on my leather pants!” And I was like “Pussies!” so I went over there by myself to check it out. As I climbed up into the seat to have a smoke I noticed the keys were still in the ignition. I’d driven a ditch witch with my Uncle doing irrigation jobs one summer so I felt like I knew what I was doing. When I heard the guitar solo that started our set I realized the guys had gone on without me…

MHM: Things were reportedly tense between you and Niles the lead guitarist at this point. Rumors of his trying to kick you out had been circulating. True?

BD: Yeah man. He just couldn’t handle that I was getting all the chicks and getting all the interviews.

MHM: He did write all the songs…

BD: Yeah, but without me the band would suck!

MHM: Hmmm. So back to the concert…

BD: So I fired that bulldozer up and put in into gear and started driving it up the back load-in ramp. I thought it would be the most awesome entrance of all time.

MHM: So you didn’t mean to cut the power lines to the whole stage?

BD: No way man! That was a total accident. And I didn’t mean to run over the drums either.

MHM: Good thing the drummer wasn’t sitting there yet! But what about Niles?

BD: Yeah, well, I didn’t mean to hurt him either. I mean I only ran over his feet. He can still play guitar and all.

MHM: From a chair.

BD: Yeah, that sucks. But I lost my thumb too man! I mean I was trying to figure out how to get the thing off him when my thumb got smashed by the tracks of the ‘dozer.

MHM: So that evening kind of put the end to your music career?

BD: Yeah, haven’t been onstage since. I’m just focusing on my career and living one day at a time

MHM: Well good luck with that! That’s all the time we have. Thank you to our guest Bull Dozer. [Turning to face the camera]Tune in next week when I will be talking to another former member of Bulldozer Rampage about their recently announced 20th anniversary reunion show!

BD: Wait a minute!! What reunion?!!

 

 

COLLINS—Daniel Enderle

COLLINS

 Daniel Enderle

 All throughout the miserable day, Jack had been feeling so bad that, when it finally came, the concussive thud of the ack-ack shell as it shredded the left side of his bomber caused him to exhale and relax his grip on the yoke. The explosion he’d expected had come and he was still flying. He hadn’t long been at this deadly business before he knew that what his serious, hard-working father had taught him about the foolishness of intuition and superstition was just plain wrong. Some mornings, riding a jeep out to the bulky green planes squatting on the runway, he felt a grim palpable gloom in the air and he knew the rest of his crew did as well. Those were always days of heavy loses. It was bad luck to speak of it. Sometimes he’d look at another crew climbing into their plane and he just knew that they knew that they weren’t coming back. That hurt. This morning had been particularly dismal and the hollow flutter of dread in his chest didn’t go away until one engine was burning, another was dead, and they were losing altitude.

In the seven weeks Jack had flown out of Yorkshire and across the Channel to bomb German cities, he’d come to think of the B-17’s and their ten man crews as a strong crates laden with easily damaged goods. Jack’s sorties had been shot up and blasted, but he’d returned each time with the planes still flying and able to land on their wheels. He’d lost five wounded, three killed and one blown right out of a plane.

Now they were halfway between heaven, where the remnants of the formation, loosed of their bombs and heading home, continued on without them, and earth, which expanded out below as it came into greater detail and finer focus with every sinking mile. The intercom was out. He worked the controls hard. The air down here felt warm, thick, and humid. Jack and his co-pilot pulled off their oxygen masks. The co-pilot swore as he went back to check damage and blasphemed as he returned to report two wounded and two dead. The navigator and one waist gunner.

Once the rest of them had bailed out, the co-pilot came back to the cockpit and screamed at Jack to go, but he just wanted to ride it out. It felt good to keep the mortally damaged bird flying level. He was reluctant to give it up. Much more profanity and the co-pilot was gone. The right side engines sounded like they were grinding. He thought it must be Holland down there. Several more pieces of the left wing tore off and vanished as the plane banked to that side and slid into a long, gradual and irreversible turn. His time was up.

As he worked his way aft he crawled more on the bulkheads than on the canted deck. Everything smelled of kerosene. His mom kept a boxy tin cheese grater in her kitchen and, as a kid, he used to hold the bottom of it to his eyes and peer through it into the backyard. He thought of that as he noted the damage to the fuselage. He could see the sky right through the side of the plane. The still seated navigator looked as if he’d just put his head down on the wind riffled charts spread across his little desk. He still wore his headset and oxygen mask. Blood pooled at his feet, but no wounds were visible. The waist gunner’s remains were gruesome. He looked as if he’d been butchered by an angry amateur. Jack vomited. He couldn’t remember the man’s name.

He tightened the straps of his parachute and pulled himself to the rear hatch. His hands bled. He’d only done two real jumps in flight school and they scared him worse than anything he’d ever done. How the instructors had screamed at him. He gripped the door frame, assumed the proper stance with his feet wide. He tried to breathe. He put his hands on his waist, closed his eyes, and jumped.

He jumped more out than down. The horizontal stabilizer caved in the right side of his head. He couldn’t breathe right. His right eye wouldn’t open. He knew there was something he had to do, and, although he couldn’t think of it, he did suddenly remember the waist gunner’s name. Jack said it to himself once before he hit the ground.

America’s Got Talent? – By Anne Holmes

America’s Got Talent? – By Anne Holmes

    If I could ever have amnesia, the thing I’d most like to forget would be that incident on “America’s Got Talent”.  We got a double X.  But we did get to finish our piece.  I think they at least figured we were entertaining.  We had our “fifteen minutes of fame”; we made it past the editing room floor.

The place:  “Belltown Ballet and Conditioning Studio”.  The class:  “Conditioning”, first developed by ballerina Irene Larsson and then modernized by her protégé Elaine Bonow.  The idea and inspiration:  choreograph the crab walk a la Busby Berkeley to be performed by the whole class.

It was a naturally hilarious exercise, the crab walk.  It started out as an arm and core exercise; butt side to the ground, put your feet and hands on the ground, lift butt off, bend and straighten your arms and go up and down.  Then a few people began to travel around the room turning it into the crab walk.  It even got Snowy the Westminster Terrier worked up.  He sprang up from his usual resting position next to Tina and was at high attention as Dianne scooted past him in said position.  It’s hard to say whether he wanted to attack, play or was scared, but he was definitely all eyes.  Whatever he was thinking, it was hysterical and we all completely cracked up and couldn’t even do the exercise after that.

Busby Berkeley was born into show biz.  His mom was a stage actress.  During World War I, Busby served as a field artillery lieutenant.  Watching soldiers drill may have inspired his later complex choreography.  As a choreographer, Busby was less concerned with the dancing ability of his chorus girls as he was with their ability to form themselves into attractive geometric patterns. His musical numbers were among the largest and best-regimented on Broadway.

I thought it seemed like a winning combination.

I brought up the idea during the annual Winter Solstice party.  That was shortly after the “Snowy” incident, still fresh in everyone’s mind.  The whole gang bought into it:  Elaine, Karen, Pandora, Ruth, Klaudia, Seiko, Dianne, Tina, Carole, Laurie, Stacey, Zoe, Katie, Ara, Genna and Frank.  They thought it was as good of an idea as I did while they were all guzzling wine.

We started to mess around, you know, improvising.  What a riot!  And who knew that everyone in the class was so creative!  The wine fueled ideas spewed forth like champagne from an uncorked bottle.  Oh yeah, and we drank some of that too, champagne, I forgot to mention that.  I’m sure all those bubbles enhanced our creativity; pretty sure bubbles do that.

Anyway, it became apparent after no time at all that the crab walk by itself would do us in; too much overuse of the same muscles.  So we decided to excerpt various exercises from the class repertoire to mix in with the crab walk so that we didn’t stress out one particular body part.

We selected our music from the conditioning class repertoire, “Mony Mony” by Tommy James and the Shondells, a class favorite.  We roughed out the choreography during the party.  We pretty much stuck with that and only later made minor changes.  It only took three more meetings to finalize things and do a couple of run throughs.

We decided to feature Frank and Snowy, our respective token man and dog.  At the very end, Frank would take his stance downstage center –hands on waist, legs spread wide while Tina catapulted Snowy through.

The first to buzz us was Howard Stern.  He buzzed us after about 15 seconds actually.  I don’t think he was impressed at all.  Second to buzz us was Howey Mandel.  He seemed to get a kick out of us.  Actually, I should say that both Howards thoroughly enjoyed the younger female representatives of our class.  Thanks to Sharon Osborne we actually got to finish the whole piece.  She was quite taken with Frank.

 

We posted our creation on YouTube.  Maybe it will go viral.

 

Beyond the Clearing —-Elaine Bonow

Beyond the Clearing

            He took his stance, hands on waist, legs spread wide and breathed deeply before he picked up the heavy axe and faced the pile of wood.

The weather was starting to change and although he had already stockpiled some of his winter fuel supply another four cords needed to be split and stacked. He had chopped down the trees with the help of his brother Rich, clearing enough land to create a boundary of safety for the small cabin he built.

To Jim and Rich, the Oregon Territory was going to be a vast opportunity. The brothers made the trek with only what their horses could carry. Jim, the older of the brothers had made the decision to relocate two years ago and Rich the youngest of the eight joined his brother on the trail.

They made great strides on their quest and when they landed they staked a claim near where the railroad would eventually reach. Jim had a vision of becoming a wealthy man supplying lumber to the future of America’s westward surge.

Jim’s natural tendencies drove him relentlessly. He felt that he could do any thing that needed doing. His mind was quick and learning anything was easy for him. He could read and write eruditely and cipher like a machine. He could tend to the health needs of animals as well has humans including pulling teeth, removing a bullet and splinting a broken leg. He knew blacksmithery as well as wife midwifery. He was a farmer, a cheese maker and a brewer of fine beers and spirits. He was an expert tracker and nothing frightened him. He was uncommonly lucky and always found himself doing well in life. A loner by nature, he didn’t need company and at his age didn’t actively pursue women. He wanted to be married but had never found a woman with whom he could share his dreams and ambitions, until now.

While he was piling up his split wood he mused about finding Rebecca at the end of this journey. He felt that she had been waiting for him, saving herself for him by an unknown force.

Rebecca’s family had come west before she was born. She was half wild much like the territory but had been educated by traveling Jesuits. Jim knew he needed a wife in order to be successful and Rebecca was the next piece of the jigsaw that fit perfectly into his plans.

Winter was approaching and after a very productive late fall Jim was feeling very satisfied with his progress except for his brother Rich.

Richard had never been as driven as Jim and always seemed to be recovering from one mishap after the other. He was loose with his women, loose with his money and couldn’t control his association with strong whiskey.

The brothers got along fine on the road west but since settling down, Rich had gone his on own path by being a saloon rat, going so far as to become the bootlegger of choice for the town. This unique position put him in the very dangerous position of becoming a frontier gangster, something that grated on Jim’s nerves. He sensed that nothing good was going to come of this, nothing good at all. Jim had tried to reason with Rich but Rich loved his status with the locals and just laughed at his hard working brother.

The brothers had decided to separate their lives. Rich was riding over today to get the last of his belongings and his share of the money the brothers had used to move west.

Jim swung the heavy axe and under his deft handling the ground was soon littered with neat wedges that he would soon stack along the side of his freshly hewn cabin. Rebecca was also on her way bringing provisions to cook for his early supper.

Jim was usually alert to his surroundings. Today, however, he must have let his guard slip. The animal’s senses were greater than the little human creature that appeared to harness nature so easily.

The bear was determined to enjoy one more meal before hibernation and before him was a very tasty morsel, so easy to flay with her expert talons, so yielding, so tempting to separate the flesh and to crunch those small bones.

Jim’s back to her his arms raised, she rushed to her delicious supper in three giant sized bounds. Rich, just arriving into the clearing saw the bear grab his brother’s scalp; blood streamed down his contorted face. His horse sensing danger reared up and Rich holding onto the reins in his left hand was able to un-holster his Colt 45 and fired at the huge head of the raging grizzly. The horse bucked as Rich fired. He missed, the shot instead pierced Jim’s throat killing him instantly. The unrelenting bear, her paw firmly attached to the bleeding scalp, dragged the carcass into the trees beyond the clearing.

 

Anniversary – Tom Gaffney

I look forward to this.  I hope they will remember to enjoy each other’s company at some point.  Things happen, get in the way.  It is easier to hold on to anger when you are young.  Joe will have to be patient.  There are times when we struggle to talk.  Gradually we rebuild, construct new things to fill the emptiness.

You can take communication for granted, not remembering how precious it is, a miracle we can talk or share things, however imperfectly, at all.  Sure there are regrets, but the accounting for the better times is often neglected and only missed when they are absent.

At least they can do it to humor me, son-in-law and grandson gather in Kit’s honor.  It is what she would have wanted.  She would have told them to forget the bumps and keep going. 

 

Nick arrives at the crowded café.  Party of three.  Gets them on the list and sits outside in the sun with his coffee.  Eyes closed, he sips, sighs, basks in the sun and imagines the cat at home, asleep in the window.  Better for me to be here first, he thinks.  Any problems are mine, and hopefully I can limit the wait.

 

There are better ways to spend a Sunday.  Easier to leave Joe out of this.  Nick is smarter and more patient.  Is that wisdom?  Despite the distance from youth he remembers better what it is to be young?  Or is it just the middle-aged who are so unpleasant?  An endless power trip, always wanting to tell someone what to do.  Trash about attitude and respect.  Not sure what he wants me to do, but he has something to say every time I see him.

Always has to be Joe’s way.  Kimberly is lucky to have moved out of town.  And I am happy to do this, for Nick’s sake.  Dad though, not for him.  Perhaps if he learned to apply his own standards to himself, we could come to a new beginning.

I have been dreading this day for a month.  Hanging over my head.  What do you think – ninety minutes?  Two hours and then I’ll be free.

 

Sean parks without much trouble and ambles up to the café, he finds Nick outside.

“Good morning grandpa.”

“Hello Sean.  What’s up with this grandpa stuff?”  Eyebrows raised, he scans the young man’s face.  He favors his mother.  I can see her in his eyes.  Perhaps it is better he smiles rarely at these events.  The wave of sentiment might overwhelm me.

“You know Joe can’t stand it when I call you Nick.  It’s disrespectful.  I’m trying to get things off on the right foot.  You know me; I don’t want to start any trouble.”

“Alright then.  We’ll see how far you get.  Probably better not to remind your father of how generous you are feeling this morning.”

I wonder who was more obnoxious when they were young, Joe or Sean?  Their friction grows out of similarity.  Whose grief is more difficult to overcome, the boy’s or the man’s?  Or mine?  Not sure.  No good conclusions come from trying to measure it that way.  The processes are complex.  We need each other, I see that.  Why we need to suffer with it, I do not understand.

Even if they just do this for me, I can accept that.  It is one thing I know, I need them.

The waiter summons them, seats them by the window.

“Joe, late again.  Imagine that.  Do you think he had a work call this morning? Perhaps he is trying to avoid us.”

“You can start asking that if he’s really late.  He’ll be here.”

“Not that I would miss him.”

“You would, we would.” 

 

Joe’s bike turns the corner and he labors up the hill.  He is aware that he is late.  Not much he can do about it now.  Maybe it was a mistake to ride, but it is a pretty morning and he will, most likely, have a huge breakfast.  Our second attempt to, somewhat officially, commemorate our lost mother, daughter, spouse.

I’m sure Sean arrived already annoyed.  But now, that I am late, it will be one more sign of my deficiencies and insensitivity.  Alas.  Do not be so dramatic.  Even if you do not say it, thinking it will prime you for some kind of larger error – a critical comment, perhaps pointing out any number of things that bother me, that should bother him.  Forget them.  I shall try to keep the morning from exploding, because that will be better for all of us.

How do I understand that they need me to be here?  Nick and I get along perfectly fine, and, if anything, see each other (happily) just to remind ourselves of her.  Because she brought us together and we’ve always gotten along.  And Sean is young and can’t stand his dad.  And he is sad and bitter at the loss.  And the sight of me embodies it, moves it from a silent presence to something personified that he can strike at.

No, that’s melodramatic.  I need to be here, for me.  I hope I can take what is handed out.

 

He sees them sitting in the window as he rides up.  He taps on the window and waves, then goes to lock his bike. Sean does not look too dour, and Nick is his stately self.  Three generations of men sitting down to a big breakfast on a sunny spring Sunday morning by themselves.  Suddenly he aches with loneliness. 

This tableau should be enticing, a reminder of how much they all have and how much they have shared.  But it has become a picture of loneliness to him.  He has started to go for days where he might feel alright, where he is able to proceed through the day without pausing, where he can remember without feeling, without a sense of desperation and loneliness.

But he sees them there.  He tries to remember her face in his mind, but it lingers out of reach, out of sight.  At moments like these her memory is suddenly a scar and he desperately does not want it to be that way, for him, for all of them.

I keep going.  I know I can do that.  But sometimes I wish I did not remember.

 

By the time Joe returns to sit, there is coffee and mimosas all around.

“Good morning gentlemen – Nick, Sean.  I’m sorry I am late, but it seemed a crime not to ride this morning.”

 “Morning dad – don’t worry, we have not been here very long.”

“Good to see you Joe.  It is a beautiful morning.”

“A toast,” Nick announces, they gather their glasses and meet at the center of the table, “in memory of Kit.”

“Cheers.”

“To mom.”

Food arrives and conversation ensues.  Politics, baseball, books, music.  Small talk.  Simple companionship fills the morning, and their individual unease recedes, as if behind a curtain.

Perhaps we’ll be alright, Nick says to himself.  Presence is easier to deal with than absence.

Maybe Dad’s not that much of an asshole, thinks Sean.  Maybe I should leave before he ruins it.

Better off with them than without, supposes Joe.  Time to savor a chance not to think.

Sober Sheila—Clark Humphrey

Sober Sheila awoke, in her own bed, with her usual Saturday morning hangover; only this time it was on a Tuesday.

She was on the left side of the bed this time; how odd.

Her first task, as it usually was on mornings such as this, was to get her brain into gear, to prepare herself for her second task. That was to turn to her side and inspect whomever Drunk Sheila had brought home the previous night.

Because Sober Sheila seldom if ever remembered anything Drunk Sheila had done, every post-drinking morning was a mystery. “Will your Mystery Date be a dream or a dud?”

It seldom mattered whether he’d been good at, or even capable of, the sex for which Drunk Sheila had acquired him. What mattered to Sober Sheila was what to do with, or to, him now. Had he thrown up anywhere? Would he want a “do-over”? Would Sober Sheila want anything to do with him, besides getting him dressed and out the door?

She had such different tastes in men than Drunk Sheila had. Sober Sheila didn’t care if a guy was tall or trim so long as he had good manners and treated her nicely. Drunk Sheila brought in all sorts of specimens (depending in part on the whim of the moment and the available supplies); but seemed particularly attracted to the loud, the loutish, the expendable, the kind of guy she wouldn’t feel bad about snaring, using, then tossing out.

Sober Sheila turned to her side. There was definitely a human there. A breathing, and thus presumably living, human. A hand appeared from under the covers. A slightly wrinkly, slightly hairy hand, with no visible wedding-ring tanlines.

He rumbled about in the bed a little. He quickly opened his eyes. He looked at Sober Sheila for the first time. He emitted a kind but weary little smile.

Good, thought Sober Sheila. No hangover grouchiness. He’ll be easy to get up, dressed, and out.

He coughed a small cough, said a not-too-embarrassed “Good morning,” and reached over toward her. She politely turned away and stood up. On some of these mornings Sober Sheila would rush to get a robe on. This time she took a little more time. The guy watched in smiling approval. Sober Sheila felt comfortable enough that she didn’t turn away when he got up, as she often did with these guys. His body was surprisingly “average” for something Drunk Sheila had picked out. Not too tall, muscular, or hairy. A flat ass. The part of him that had undoubtedly been Drunk Sheila’s center of attention looked all right enough.

Next came the usual taking turns in the bathroom; first to pee, then to shower. Sober Sheila was on a schedule this morning, so she asked the guy to forego a shower. He very willingly agreed.

It was in the shower that Drunk Sheila made her presence known. Not as an auditory “voice;” more of a thought process that emitted words and sentences.

“So whaddya think, dearie? Not too bad a specimen, if I do say so.”

Sober Sheila blurted “What?” out loud, until she realized there was a guy just in the next room. She switched to silent-response mode.

“Look,” Sober Sheila thought. “I don’t know what you’re pulling here. If you think one nice guy makes up for all you’ve done to my my bank account, my driving record, my social reputation….”

“C’mon hon. We’ve got a great reputation. All business by day. All FUN by night.”

“Barfing at the bar? Stumbling over chairs? That’s fun to you?”

“I thought you didn’t remember anything I did.”

“I’ve had those stories told to me, and worse, by people who didn’t look happy to see me.”

“That’s ’cause you were sour-tits You, not fun-lovin’ Me.”

“And how come I black out and don’t know what you’re doing until it’s too late, but you can run your DVD commentary track in my head on everything I do?”

“You’re just lucky I guess.”

“Your idea of ‘luck’ is as stupid as your idea of ‘fun.'”

“Well aren’t WE being harsh today? And after such a great night? Remember when we met up with those two tourists from…. No, that’s right, you wouldn’t.”

“You… after all… try to make ME feel guilty…”

“Words not coming to you, eh? That’s why you need me, hon. To chat people up when you’re afraid. You just can’t help it. You know you can’t chat up strangers or do that ‘networking’ thing at all. But there’s always that friendly bottle and that friendly shot glass. You pick it up. That means it’s my turn to come out and save your sorry ass.”

“More like make messes I have to clean up.”

“But we need each other, don’t you see?”

“No. You need me, to keep my job and to stay clothed and fed.”

“You might bring home the bacon, sister. But I bring home the sausage. Say goodbye to me, and you can say goodbye to anything hunkier than your pinky finger.”

“But it’s you who gets to enjoy the guys. If you call that ‘enjoying.’ I wouldn’t really know what it’s like. I’m blacked out during that, remember?”

“Don’t tell me that. I know you can feel the heat. And I know you’ll never want to live without it. Remember the last time you went to one of those meetings?”

“So?”

“So you just sat there. Couldn’t speak even when they asked you to.”

By this time, Sober Sheila had showered, dried off, brushed her teeth, and applied at least  enough make-up to hide any bags under any bloodshot eyes.

“Look at me,” Sober Sheila thought. “I’m a mess!”

“A BEAUTIFUL mess,” Drunk Sheila silently chimed in.

“Oh, NOW you try to flatter me. When you know I’m about to get rid of you forever.”

“Me? You’d never do that. You can’t. I’m your good twin.”

“Bullshit.”

“Just try it. You’ll beg to let me out again. You always do.”

“BULLSHIT!”

Sober Sheila opened the bathroom door to find the guy, now dressed, standing at the kitchen counter, having made Keurig Cup coffee for himself and for her.

Sober Sheila also realized two things.

She was still naked. (Most women who meet a guy for the first time, Sober Sheila thought, start out dressed.)

And she’d been responding out loud to Drunk Sheila’s thoughts, starting with the first “Bullshit.”

She darted into the bedroom for her work clothes, which were emphatically not a thing like Drunk Sheila’s party dresses. When she re-emerged, the guy was sitting at the dinette table with a calm look on his face.

“No problem. I talk to myself all the time too. You know what they say: it’s only a problem if you talk back.”

Sober Sheila gave out an obligatory smile and accepted his offered cup of coffee. She made a mental inventory of every liquor bottle in the apartment, and how long it would take to send each bottle’s contents down the toilet before she had to get to work.

Serial Hair Washer Gets the Day Off – Karen Uffelman

Peg stared hard at the bottle of conditioner. Its position on the shelf was ambiguous. She had come up with a method for getting through her shower routine – she’d pull both the shampoo and the conditioner bottles forward before she turned on the water. And then push them back to the tile wall once she had used them. Otherwise, she might wash and condition her hair two or three times, forgetting as soon as her hair was rinsed if she had actually done it yet. But today the bottle was in neither the use position nor the already used position. It was exactly in between. The water streamed down her back as she shifted her weight from one foot to the other. Peg began to feel panicky. She couldn’t be late for work again.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake.”

This particular memory lapse – the one related to the hair washing – started about a year ago. At first Peg assumed that if she couldn’t remember washing her hair, than she must not have done it, but soon it became a question every morning. The bathroom would be steamy, she had definitely been showering for a while. The soap would be sudsy in its dish. But had she washed her hair yet or not? She tried to convince herself that her memory wasn’t so unreliable. That she wasn’t standing in her shower everyday like a piece of looped film, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing. Her increased consumption of shampoo and conditioner, however, gave strong evidence to the contrary, and, after one terrible week, when Peg used an entire bottle of conditioner (an entire bottle!), she came up with the clever cheat of bottle position.

So many things in her life now required set routines, or clues that she’d leave for herself. Keys had to be hung on the doorknob, or she could forget leaving the house in the morning. Shopping bags had to be immediately returned to the car after groceries were unpacked, or she’d never remember them. Peg forgot to brush her teeth before going to work last week (so embarrassed when one of her co-workers insisted that she accept the breath mint he offered) so she started leaving her tooth brush and toothpaste out, on the edge of the sink, after brushing her teeth at night so she’d have an immediate visual cue in the morning. She had post-it notes and timers and designated shelves and trays and hooks for her glasses, her purse, her work ID and on and on.

As long as she kept to her systems and rituals, Peg was able to hold it together. Lately, though, everything was falling apart. Two days in a row she hadn’t managed to put her ID key card in the tray on her dresser where it was supposed to go. The first day she’d been frantic; jamming her hands in coat pockets she hadn’t worn in weeks and squeezing herself under the bed with a flashlight. Peg had finally found the key card behind the dresser. She assured herself that she’d put it in (or close to) the right tray and it must have just gotten bumped or brushed to the floor. She vowed to be extra careful. But the next morning, it was missing again. The key card turned up later in the kitchen, behind the sugar bowl, but by then she had already called in sick.

“Hi Mr. Reese. I’m sorry but I’m feeling really under the weather.”

“You were an hour late to work yesterday, Peg, and now you’re sick?”

“Yes. I’m sorry sir. Yesterday was different – I was just…late. Today I’m really unwell.”

She decided it wasn’t really a lie – there was definitely something wrong with her.

She’d confided in her neighbor, Dan, that she’d been more absent-minded of late. He recommended she try Ginkgo biloba, some herbal remedy he’d heard about from his girlfriend.

“Great for the memory, Peg. Don’t you worry – these’ll fix you right up!”

Unfortunately, she could never remember if she had taken them or not. She finally resorted to counting the pills in the bottle, writing the total on a pad of paper she kept near by, and then writing down the date each time she took one. But then Peg misplaced the pad of paper. And recently the bottle of Ginkgo biloba had gone missing as well. It was clearly not the answer to her problems.

She should tell her doctor, she knew she should, but she was afraid or what he might say. What the problem might be.

And so she thought really hard about whether or not she had used the conditioner yet and why it might be placed so confusingly on the shelf in her shower. Peg touched the bottled gingerly. It felt slippery and her touch made the bottle slide forward slightly on the shelf. She noticed a pool of milky liquid around the bottle. It might have slid on its own. Of course, she didn’t remember spilling conditioner, and that was its own problem, but since the shelf sloped away from the wall she was pretty sure it must have come from the already used position. And, therefore, she had already conditioned her hair. She gave a sigh of relief. Mr. Reese wasn’t a patient boss and she couldn’t be late again.

Peg dried herself off, brushed her teeth, got dressed, and found her key card, on the tray, where it was supposed to be. She made some coffee and then turned off the coffee pot as directed by the post-it note on the counter where she usually left her coffee cup. She was about to walk out the door when her eye landed on the wall calendar. There were Xs through the days of the first half of the month. She couldn’t remember writing them. The next day that didn’t have an X through it was a Saturday. Was it Saturday? Were the Xs marked correctly? Was this even the right month?

Peg opened the door and looked around. Dan was sitting on his stoop.

“Hey Dan, what day is it?”
Dan laughed, “It’s the first day of the rest of your life!”

“I’m serious, Dan, don’t kid. What day is it?”

“It’s Saturday, Peg,” Dan looked concerned, “you okay over there?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. No worries.”

She had lots of worries, actually. But on the bright side, she wouldn’t be late for work today and her hair was washed. And only once, as best she could tell.

3rd Base – Pandora

3rd Base

“Give me a break,” said Fred, as he turned towards his tormenter. “Why do you insist on causing me so much pain?”

“Because, faggot, you are a faggot!” sneered Cody James, the alpha male of Fred’s 8th grade class. “Now give it to me!” He rested the metal baseball bat up against the bench and slowly took off his well-worn batting gloves.

They were inside the piss-scented dugout of Kitsap Middle School’s disused lower baseball field. School was almost out for the summer. Due to budget cuts the field had been allowed to dry up, the once lush green outfield now filled with tall scraggly weeds. The paths between the bases had become dusty troughs sure to fill with muddy water whenever the rains started again. The reeking dugout was the perfect location for sneaking a smoke between classes or for illicit transactions:  most often involving small amounts of weed or prescription drugs pilfered from an unsuspecting parent; occasionally it was where furtive blowjobs happened. It was where the Goths and the freaks mostly congregated, but today a chubby, pasty white kid with acne, and a golden-jock man-child were the only ones there.

Fred scanned the deserted area before reaching into his backpack stowed under the bench. He felt the cold metal handle, marveling at how it seemed to radiate its own coolness into his hand and up his arm. Despite the heat of the day, he felt the hairs on his arms stand up as his hand closed around the icy grip. His finger instinctively rested on the trigger. Fred hesitated with his hand still in the backpack. He turned to Cody searching his cold blue eyes for some sliver of humanity. A cold trickle of sweat began to run down Fred’s arm from his armpit.

“Jesus Christ! Give me the fucking test answers fuck-head or I swear to god I will whip your ass!” Cody was becoming more agitated and nervously glanced back towards the school as the after lunch period bell rang out. He sat down abruptly next to Fred on the bench knocking his gloves to the dugout’s cigarette butt and sunflower seed shell littered floor.

In an instant Fred realized that Cody was afraid. Not of Fred, or of what he held hidden in his bag, but of what might happen if he didn’t get the test answers he so desperately needed to pass his math final. For Cody this was the crossroads of his young life: whether he would escape the purgatory of middle school for the promise of high school. And that outcome depended solely on the answers that only Fred could provide him. This realization flooded over Fred causing him to loosen his grip. He took his clammy empty hand out of the backpack and placed it gently, tentatively on Cody’s muscular leg.

“Dude. I think I left the test answers in my locker.”

Cody stared incredulously at the doughy hand resting on his thigh.

“Ass-wipe!” Cody swatted Fred’s hand away and jabbed him hard in the bicep. He stood and moved away to the far side of the fenced in dugout looking out over the over grown baseball diamond.

Rubbing his sore arm Fred slowly bent down to scoop up the gloves quietly slipping them into his bag. Shouldering the weighted backpack he stood.

“I’ve got get to class. Maybe I can get you the answers after school.”

But both boys knew Fred was not going to help Cody. Not today, not ever. Cody returned and slumped on the bench as Fred made his way out of the dugout.

Stopping halfway across the field Fred knelt at third base to tie his shoe. Looking back he saw Cody still sitting on the bench, not paying attention to what Fred was doing. Slipping the backpack off his shoulder he carefully took the gun out. It’s dark metal gleamed in the sunlight. He delicately rubbed the grip and trigger with the bottom of his sweaty t-shirt erasing any fingerprints he could see reflecting in the light. With his back still to Cody in the dugout, he gently lowered the weapon onto the space where the plate used to rest. He slipped the still sweaty gloves in next to it. Grabbing some of the dried tall grasses Fred covered the gun and gloves, quickly standing up and resuming his saunter back towards school. He knew principal Skinner would believe him once they found the evidence. Cody wouldn’t be Fred’s problem any more.