Story #39 – Dead Endy

The afternoon was warm and sunny.  The sleek glass skin of the buildings reflected the sparse cumulus clouds grazing like fluffy white buffalo in the azure.  Along the thin seam where one building would meet the sky, clouds pulled apart like a Rorschach cotton kaleidoscope.  It is easy to become lost in the simple elegance of this modern architecture.  You forget where you are, and all the little people buzzing around the corridors of these colossal mirrors become diminished by the sheer weight and power of the sky.

Transfixed by this majestic ballet, Enderton barely noticed the huffs of disgruntled power suits scurrying about their lunch breaks.  The music in his headphones both complemented the power of the scene above and drowned out the rumbling street noise. The buses and limousines, the taxis and motorcycles, powerful men yelling at their cell phones and homeless beggars with outstretched coffee cups; all were defeated by the sonorous swells and triumphant clashes of the third movement of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique.

Hector Berlioz was Endy’s favorite Classical composer.  A music appreciation class in college had only glossed over his work, but Endy was drawn to Berlioz.  The unorthodox method of composing which drew criticism from his peers was a unique gift that allowed Berlioz to create music with an unprecedented voice.  A self-taught musician, he drew inspiration for his symphonies and cantatas from life and art, from passion and heartbreak.  His themes and movements were manifestations of raw emotion rather than harmonic solubility.  He was a rebel—the James Dean of nineteenth century Paris.  Endy dug his style.

Listening to music and walking slowly around these midtown blocks was a meditation for Endy.  An hour away from his cubicle and the repetitive number crunching was a necessary respite.  It was the closest ritual he had to Church, and looking up at the sky’s gentle movements was the closest thing to praying he knew.  Endy had given up on organized religions some time ago.  He had seen too many good, hard-working people—people who went to church or synagogue or mosque regularly—struggle and suffer repeatedly in spite of their faith and sacrifice.  He had witnessed his father’s loneliness draw him back to crippling alcoholism.  He had seen his sister, struggling as a single mother, switch religions continuously in a desperate quest for answers and meaning.  And he had heard the doubt manifest in his brother’s voice as he attempted to reinforce his own faith in the tumult of a divorce and bankruptcy.

In effect, Heaven and Hell, reduced to abstract poetics, became words used merely to evoke symbolic images.  A fluffy cloud Paradise, dark caves rimmed with fire, angels and demons, were only personifications to playfully associate with his daily routine and casual encounters.  Right now, eyes angled upward, the idée fixe of the Fantastique pushing into the fourth movement, he was in Heaven, and completely oblivious to the Hell churning around him.

Hands fidgeting in his jacket pockets, he pulled out some small wads of paper: receipts from daily expenses, a small pink bank deposit slip, an obsolete grocery note.  Folding them and tearing them up into small pieces, he released a puff of confetti into the space above an overflowing corner trash can.  It was time to go back to work—a job he despised yet was grateful for.  His debt was no small monster: student loans compounded with an addiction to Nike dunk basketball shoes, plus a habit for dining just slightly out of his price range, had him trapped at the mercy of a fearsome beast.

His temp job as a tax consultant offered him a modest weapon with which to battle this hobgoblin of servitude.  Paycheck by paycheck, the monster was being hacked down, smaller and smaller.  But the process was not a quick one.  Endy would be trapped in this tepid dead-end job for awhile yet; and every morning at 7:15 a.m. the monster, wearing a necklace of fresh kicks and spouting a convolution of sushi-scented Philosophical and Scientific chatter, would bound up from under his bed to taunt him into one of his collection of second-hand suits and ties.

It was the purgatory of his lunch breaks in the canyons between the buildings that kept him sane.

Eyes upward in quixotic repose, ears pricked by the march driving the fourth movement of Fantastique, he turned a corner and crossed the street.  Closing his eyes for a moment, he let himself be taken completely by the thunder of the timpani and the crashing of the cymbals, his favorite part of the symphony.  He lifted his arms and conducted the symphony.  To the outside world he appeared to play puppet master to the whirling crowds.  He opened his eyes just in time to avoid a collision with a smart looking woman in a pant-suit, and skirted around her nonchalantly.

People seemed to be rushing past him with more fervor than usual, but before he could think to turn and see what the fuss was about, his attention was caught by an old mongrel of a woman feeding a flock of puffy pigeons.  She was garbed in black from top hat to bootstrap and wore, over her long dress, a flowing cloak far too thick for this warm time of day.  Her eyes sparkled like emeralds as she glared at him through the rushing crowds.  Absentmindedly, she continued to strew hotdog bun crumbles to the pulsating soup of dirty feathers mooring her in place.  They almost looked like they were flooding out from under her robes; as if, were she to move from her spot, they would surge and slurp along with her.

She started talking as he drew closer to her, but his headphones protected him from whatever scratchy incantation she was attempting to bewitch him with.  She rotated her head to maintain eye contact and raised her arm wearily gesturing back the way he had come.  He neither looked back nor removed his headphones as he passed her.  He distrusted homeless people.  There were too many crooks in the city making more money than him by masquerading as the poor and indigent.  And there was always the possibility of falling under a gypsy curse.

He was two blocks from his office building.  The fifth movement of Symphonie Fantastique was beginning to build in his headphones, sharp horns and skittering strings.  Passing a café where there were always pretty girls sitting outside eating their lunches, he craned his neck to see if a particular brunette was working the counter.  She was not.  But in the reflection of the glass he saw a giant shadow sweep across the far side of the street.  He would have dismissed it for a plane passing overhead except that it jolted to a stop and held its position, dousing the other side of the street in shadow.  Instinctively he looked up to see if something was hovering overhead, but above him was only more blue and white ink blot clouds.

He stopped dead in his tracks and turned to look directly across the street.  The once-broad shadow was drawing into itself and darkening.

Like a giant puddle being sucked down a drain, the edges of the immense shadow quickly congealed into a two-foot wide slop of glistening black.  Endy looked around, but no one seemed to be noticing; The girls sitting at the café were laughing and swallowing bites of panini, a man polishing a chrome railing sneezed, but otherwise continued his tedious polishing.  Endy turned his attention back to the puddle across the street; a delivery boy in a white apron swinging several plastic bags of lunch from each hand was heading straight towards it.

“Hey!!  Don’t yo—” He stopped mid-sentence.  The puddle slid silently out of the delivery boy’s way, and held its new position.  It looked like it was shivering.  A city bus blew by and, after it passed, the puddle moved into the street and was gliding towards Endy.  No one was paying attention.  Unnerved now, he began to walk a little faster down the sidewalk advising an elderly couple of French-speaking tourists he passed, “I wouldn’t go that way!”  They looked excited.  The woman raised her camera and took a picture of an ambulance and a fire truck fording the whitewater scuffle of the interchange.

Running now, he yanked his work ID out of his suit jacket pocket and pushed through the revolving door to the MegaChomp Multinational Building.  The lobby was empty aside from the security guard, not much more than a lump himself, sitting behind a large black-granite-topped desk adjacent to a mechanical turnstile.  He must have been busy with a Sudoku puzzle; he didn’t even look up as Endy lurched into the lobby, shouting.

“Call the cops!  There’s a—” Glancing back at the revolving door, the Slick had maneuvered its way in and was bubbling upwards from the floor taking the form of a slick baby-like creature.  Its sleek skin oozed and dribbled as it rose to the size of a small child.  When it opened three red eyes with pupils the size of pin-pricks, Endy shrieked and leapt over the turnstile heading for an open elevator.  The guard looked up and made a face as if a mouse had farted.  The empty lobby gaped back at him and he returned back to his puzzle; disconnected, unconcerned.

In the elevator, Endy found himself tapping the “46” button with the frantic vigor of a cartoon character; the symphony in his headphones matched his rhythm, pounding brass swells and timpani rumbled toward a crescendo.  The sloppy steps of the gurgling demon were just outside the doors as they slid shut.

Heart pounding, sweat dripping, knees and hands shaking, Endy slid to the floor gasping.

What the fuck is going on?  What was that thing?  Am I dreaming?  Is this some sort of experiment?

His thoughts were as much a muck as the creature had been before it took form.  No one else had taken any notice of it like it was some sort of hallucination.  Had he eaten something rotten?  His streetcart halaal chicken schwarma had never done him wrong before.  His heart hammered nails through his bloodstream.

The floors counted upwards slowly (12), (13), (14), and Endy closed his eyes to try to focus his frantic thoughts.  That thing was disgusting looking.  Short and stocky, slick and shiny, and those eyes.  It seemed like its breath was steaming!  …  But he was safe now.  Wasn’t he?  Safe in the elevator and getting closer to the office he usually hated, but right now was overjoyed to be able to escape into.

Suddenly something didn’t feel right.  The air had gotten moist and thick.  The elevator took on the climate of a tropical rainforest.  As his own breathing calmed down he noticed a secondary panting become audible.

Opening his eyes, first he noticed the numbers still climbing, (38), (39), (40), almost to 42.  But in the elevator, standing catty corner to him, was the heaving, three-foot, oily creature.  Aside from its heavy breathing, it didn’t move, and neither could Endy.  He was frozen in terror.  The thing could easily have jumped onto him at any second.  As far as he could see it didn’t have a mouth though, so there was no threat of being bitten.  But its large flared nostrils were definitely emitting little wisps of steam.

They regarded each other for a frozen second.  Its strange red eyes locked and focused on his baby browns.  The thing’s entire body shifted as it slowly cocked it head.  And, again, it shivered.

At this point Endy stopped breathing entirely.  He might have suffocated himself if the elevator doors didn’t sweep open with a bing!  Trance broken, he leapt from his crouched position and rushed out the elevator door simultaneously taking in a giant gasp of fresh copy-tinged office air, and found himself immediately bounding through empty hallways.  The cubicles of “Schitter and Loufa Tax Consulting” were as silent and still as a graveyard.  Row after row of desks, in various states of disarray, blurred past him as he ran frantically in search of hiding.

He didn’t know where he was going.  He didn’t even have time to wonder why, all of a sudden, no one was here typing, filing, or otherwise attempting to seem proactively occupied.  He ran, for no other reason than a desperate search for authority, to the boss’s office.  Driven faster by the squishy thumps of his pint-sized pursuers trot, he was screaming, “Help!  Anyone!  Debra!  Scotty!  Uva!  Mommmmmmyyyyyy!!” when he entered the tragically vacant sanctum of Franko P. Davenport IV, the C.E.O.

Two giant walls of windows washed the office in warm mid-afternoon light.  The desk, aside from the open laptop angled toward the empty leather chair, was reminiscent of a mighty wooden altar.  Potted trees glowered in the farthest corners of this vast room.  Endy tossed off his headphones and went straight for the phone.  He dialed the front desk and started counting the rings.

One, – He had left the door open.  Too late now.  Please pick up.

Two, – Turning around he looked up at the sky.  The same sky that held him safe and warm only minutes ago was no closer and offered him no comfort.

Three, – Maybe he had time to run and bar the door with something; anything to keep that thing out.

Four, – Now he looked out behind him and down to the street and saw the firetrucks and ambulances.  The same ones that screamed past him on the street, that the French tourists seized as a photo-op.  There was a crowd of people milling around trying to get a better look.

Five, – Someone has been hit by a car while crossing the street.  A stretcher is being carried to the ambulance.

Six, – The pigeon woman was facing his direction and seemed to be looking up at him and pointing to the stretcher.

Seven, – He drops the phone and turns around backing up to the window.

The tar-monster stands in the doorway heaving lightly.

“Oh no!  Please!  What are you?  What do you want!?”  Endy’s legs give out and he slides down, cowering as the demonoid begins advancing on him slow and steady.  A mouth opens up from nowhere splitting the sleek skin under its eyes to reveal several rows of razor-like teeth.

The last thing Endy heard was the faint climax on his discarded headphones across the room, and the goblin’s queer voice, like a rough-edged squeal, repeating what sounded like, “Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum. Yum.”

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Story # 38 – The Weird Thing

Uncle Gene was just coming back from the bar with a fresh round of beers. he was wearing a blue shirt with red flowers on it that I had gotten him when I went to Hawaii to study the medicinal herbs of the island. I had gotten him the gift more as a joke, it was definitely more loud than his usual wardrobe, so I found it very sweet that he wore it out, especially to a college bar in Cleveland.

The bar was crowded, full of my fellow students doing Jager bombs and bouncing their asses to a song I should probably know. To avoid the crowd he took the route by the pool table where some denim-clad bikers appeared to be having a very serious game of billiards.

I didn’t like the bikers. They were prone to picking fights with students for no reason. I had been “accidentally” bumped by them several times, which they then took as an excuse to accost whatever male I was with. The last guy I had come here with had even ended up leaving with a black eye!

Uncle Gene put down the drinks and slid onto the booth bench across from me and I thought I saw a flicker of worry streak across his features. His hands were shaking a little more than usual. Uncle Al, next to me and oblivious as usual, grabbed his beer and slurped sloppily, getting some beer suds in his gray beard.

“You okay, Uncle Gene?” I asked above the din of the bar.

“Uh? Oh! Fine, Anna. Fine. Got you a lager!” He said, pushing a pint glass in my direction.

Uncle Gene and Uncle Al weren’t really my uncles. They were my neighbors growing up. They didn’t have kids, but were always kind to me when I wandered over onto their porch bask in the tobacco smoke billowing from their pipes as the sun went down. My parents divorced when I was nine. Meanwhile Gene and Al were passing through Ithaca on their way to Niagra Falls for their 50th wedding anniversary.

Uncle Al, the more gregarious of the two, launched back into the story he was telling about the time he had to brush the teeth of an entire flock of pigs. Gene and I knew the story well, but we also knew how much Al liked telling it, so we let him ramble on.

“Did any of them bite you?” I asked. I have asked this so many times that it’s pretty much part of the story now.

“Every damn one of them!” He blurted comically.

One question I had never asked was why he had to brush all their teeth anyway. I was pretty sure that porcine dental health wasn’t a priority at many mills. Also, I knew him to be a podiatrist, so there’s that. I didn’t want to ruin his rhythm though, so I tucked that question away for later.

Uncle Gene got up and seemed to wander toward the bathroom. This was weird because I thought he had gone to the bathroom on the way to get our beers.

“I had one arm wrapped around the bugger’s head and was reaching around with the other, but the damn toothpaste kept slipping off the brush. Did I mention it was a hair brush?”

“Yes you did, Uncle Al.”

“It was a small hair brush! Anyway, this sheep in particular was known to be grumpy.”

The bar churned around us. High pitched giggles erupted from across the room. Shot glasses were emptied and slammed down on the bar. Heavy bass thumped beneath the clamor carrying it on its shoulders like a train of squealing children.

“And the teeth came out in my hand!” Al exclaimed. “Did you know sheep could have dentures?? I was damn flabbergasted!”

He guzzled some more of his beer and leaned back beaming, his mind still relishing the memory. I stared off in the direction of the bathrooms, hoping to see Gene emerge plodding toward us. He did not. Then I noticed that the bikers had abandoned the pool table area.

“Hey! Where did Genie go?” Al said.

I was already getting up from the booth. “I’ll go check,” I said.

The bathroom was empty. And very smelly. It’s like boys just pee everywhere.

Instinctively I followed the dark hallway into the bar’s secret areas. My heart was clawing it’s way up my throat as I moved farther from the circus of the bar. The water-stained drywall and peeling-paint guts closed in on me.

I had my hand on the back door when a sound from somewhere below froze me. To my right I made out the shape of a door hidden in a small alcove and stepped softly toward it. The deepwater rumblings intensified somewhat. I placed my hand on the nob and turned it carefully. I pulled the door open a crack and the voices came into focus.

“I have to get back to my table!” Uncle Gene warbled.

“Not until you pay,” came another voice, deeper and hoarse, a little scuffle and a soft bang of what sounded like utensils being rattled from a shelf.

My stomach felt like it was being squeezed by a bag of hair ties. I could feel my hands shaking with my thudding heart. I took a deep breath and clomped down the stairs with as heavy steps as I could muster with my tiny frame.

“HEY!” I shouted even before I could see what was going on.

The basement looked like what you would expect for a shitty college bar. There were kegs stacked to one side and some old neon signs crusted with years of dust. There were some shelves stacked with cardboard boxes and office supplies, papers and random bric a brac. A lone 60-watt bulb hung from the ceiling.

The three bikers had Gene pushed up on a desk. His eyes were large and glassy and his skin was as pale as his gray hair. They all turned to me as I stomped down the stairs.

“What the fuck is going on down here?” I yelled in my bassiest butchest voice.

“Anna,” Gene said. My name sounding as foreign in this subterranean world as I felt.

The biggest biker dude, the one with the shaved head and the tattoo of a roach on his neck, let go of Gene and turned to me slowly.

“Go back upstairs, little girl,” he said, “before these big bad wolves add you to the menu.”

One of his goons snickered. The other one spat. It was quite a routine.

“I’m not going anywhere without my uncle,” I said. Somehow my voice remained strong despite the imminent feeling that I might piss myself.

“Your uncle?” Snickered the snickerer.

Cockroach beamed a sick smile. “Your uncle here owes me money. He’s racked up quite a tab.”

The basement was getting smaller, the walls pressing in on me. I was also getting smaller, shrinking before these strange wolves and their koans. The riddle just presented to me could have been scrawled in the clouds in hieroglyphics.

“It’s okay,” Gene stammered, still jammed against the desk. “Go back upstairs. I’ll be along shortly.”

I didn’t break eye contact with cockroach. “How much does he owe you?”

“Three fif–” the spitter tried to say but Cockroach slapped him in the chest.

“Four hundo” said Cockroach.

I looked at Gene. Four hundred dollars was a lot of money to me. Apparently it was a lot of money for him and Al too. His bloody nose dripped on the shirt I bought him forming a flower of a different shade red.

“I’ll get it for you, but you can’t hit him again.”

“Don’t you want to know what it’s for?”

I looked at Gene and suddenly my friend who I had known most of my life wouldn’t meet my eyes. Gene was always the loud laugher in the room, but just as quick to zero in on whoever might be feeling uncomfortable and offer a comforting word or smile. On any given day I could have picked him out of a crowd of any size anywhere on the planet, but at this moment I could barely recognize him. His body was contorted in a strange way, like a doll that had been stepped on too many times to regain its proper shape. His hands were shaking and he was exhaling a little too heavily as if he were deflating.

“There’s an ATM upstairs. I’ll be right back,” I said turning from the whole unpleasant spectacle. The bikers had a good laugh as I climbed the stairs. Behind me, back in that strange dimension, I heard one of them say, “G! Does your niecey know you shoot H?”

It was difficult not to lose my shit, to break down and weep on the way to the ATM. When I got there I couldn’t remember my pin. When I did finally remember my pin, I could only pull out $200. I couldn’t call the cops. I looked across the room at Al who appeared to be sleeping in our booth. Did he know? Was he a junky too?

I did the only thing I could do. I took my $200 back down into that fucked up basement to see if I could haggle my poor battered old friend out of any more punishment. After all, When the wolves huff and puff and try to blow down my house, I’m the type of little pig who bites back.

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Story #37 – Mean Time

Andy has memorized twenty-seven knots.

He can easily show you the difference between a davy knot and a double turtle. He knows ten different hitch knots as well as various bends, slings, and splices. He started learning them when he got his first sail boat. He has since sold that boat and upgraded to a rare old schooner with a diesel motor that he is relishing the process of refinishing. He does this when he is not working on one of his several properties in a town that America forgot, but is now beginning to remember.

He was lucky to be there during the forgetting with a little money because he was able to snatch up a few lovely old houses on the cheap. He grew up in the town and he has no plans to ever leave. It suits him just fine. If America wanted to forget it, that was America’s problem.

The forgetting was more of an economic downturn, and like all downturns in American markets, an upturn was imminent. Economic upswings have a way of jogging the country’s memory.

The problem that occurs when America remembers a town that was once forgotten is that the shift in tides can drown the little life that barely managed to hold on there in the mean time. Economic downturns are the definition of “mean time” in case you were wondering.

Suddenly the abandoned waterfront and its lovely dilapidated piers and faded marina is prime development material and the people who had been left behind to bear witness to the deterioration are now in the way. The ones left behind to live out their lives on social security, barely scraping by in the simplest manner possible, can no longer afford their property taxes.

Injury is added to insult. And when these brave stragglers lose their homes they have nowhere to go. But they go anyway. And the condos that rise and shine from out of their tattered lives never look back.

Andy and his wife Sara are doing their part to ameliorate this process, to keep the tides of progress at bay, simply because the tides of progress are destructively precocious. Progress is defined by the ones with the fattest wallets, and the dissenters little voices disappear into mean time.

Sara and Andy bought their house at the height of the forgetting. They got it for a song and now they are raising their two kids and two cats in the old house. They host couch surfers for indefinite periods of time. They also host monthly potlucks for their friends and neighbors.

At least some of their neighbors.

Directly next to them is a house in serious disrepair. It is a slum and a stark reminder of the forgotten who remain like jagged shrapnel in a freshly blooming flower bed. The windows of the house that aren’t boarded up have wisps of plastic that flutter in the breeze like ghastly curtains. These neighbors aren’t pleasant, but that may be because of the sex dungeon they operate as a side business. It’s not particularly savory, but who can judge them in the face of mean time?

The house on the other side of them is in a similar state of disrepair but is mercifully abandoned. A mattress molders in a bag on the lawn like a giant rotten pop tart.

Across the street a woman is breeding dogs for the local dog-fighting rings. She also doesn’t attend the potlucks. She also was in the neighborhood before they moved in and decided they had a role to play. She sets her life according to the ticking of mean time.

They know all their neighbors because they pilot frequent neighborhood and community campaigns where they go knocking door-to-door. They are fighting to maintain the diversity of their neighborhood in the face of gentrification. They would rather uplift the downtrodden than allow them to be erased and replaced. They know what the ticking of mean time sounds like.

The neighborhood is developing so quickly that Sara and Andy have bought several of the houses in the block. They want to thwart the developers who have begun to sweep up all the real estate within walking distance of Lake Eerie. They want to keep their neighborhood from being forgotten again. It is one thing to be forgotten in the mean time and another to be forgotten as you are rushed out the back door just as the show is starting.

One of their houses is section eight and their tenants are doing their part by leaving trash in the street and parking on their lawn.

The Mean Time ticks on.

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Story #36 – she disappeared into herself

The building was an old dentist or funeral home. We figured this out because as we were loading in our amps and guitars and drums from the van we passed through an area with tiled floors and an adjacent room with tiled walls which was not nor ever was a bathroom.

This tiled room now had a little couch and some tables with snacks and water for donation and some indie zines that were no doubt rife with anti-establishment propaganda and bad poetry. The cover art was cool though.

The proprietor of tonight’s DIY venue, Ed, was holding the door for us. Ed could easily have been either 20 or 70. He was pale with blonde gray hair parted down the middle that hung well past his shoulders. His vaguely feminine features were augmented by his skeletal frame and long slender fingers flecked with black nail polish.

“Thanks for coming, guys,” he said. “I’m really excited for tonight’s show.” He said this with the amount of excitement in his voice one usually displays when they get the yolk just right in their fried egg.

Just inside the door a young woman was thoroughly engaged in playing a solo piano concerto. She did not stir as we lugged in our gear. Amplifiers and drum guts floated past her like tanker ships in a crowded harbor at night. I thought maybe she had been hired specifically to play music for us as we loaded our gear in–kind of how luminaries are greeted when they visit foreign countries for political purposes. However, small DIY venues in Cincinnati generally lack that sort of pomp even for scrappy indie rock outfits such as ourselves. It turned out she was actually one of the local acts brought on to generate some sort of crowd for us out-of-towners. She also just likes playing piano.

When she was finished with her plangent noodling she joined us in the back room where the performances were to take place and introduced herself as Nancy. She was a mousey girl with eyes like spotlights playing across the room in search of lost souls. Her beanie and large cardigan gave her what seemed an intentional aspect of androgyny. We discussed who was playing when and how to orchestrate a smooth transition between acts. Such are the obligations traveling musicians must concern night after night.

Once our gear was set up we ran a quick sound check. Ed helmed the board and quickly dialed in our levels so that everything would sound right later. It was a good mix, if not a little soft, but we could always turn up later when the room filled up with bouncing bodies.

After the sound check, the band headed out to smoke and I hung back to talk with Nancy.

“We were listening to your records in the car on the way here. I’m excited to see you play tonight.”

“We haven’t played in years,” she said.

“I heard that. Why not?”

Again her eyes drifted across the room.

“I’m really not much of a musician,” she shrugged. “I never really knew what I was doing.”

“I doubt that,” I said with an encouraging smile. I had heard her sing and I knew she was being modest.

She shrugged and said, “I guess I just got tired of forcing it.”

In my mind I puzzled over this. Did she mean forcing the creativity?

“You know?” she continued. “I was just pushing so hard to make everything work. It got exhausting. It started to feel like a chore to keep creating.”

I nodded. I had waged my own battles with the drudgery of creating within the cage of others’ expectations. As if our own weren’t enough.

Still I was somehow welling with idealism. I said, “Yeah, but what else can we do? I mean, just because people develop certain expectations with regard to our work, it doesn’t mean we have to adhere to them. Sometimes the greatest breakthroughs come when we deftly defy the constraints our audience attempts to throw on us.”

“It’s true,” she nodded, swigging from a bottle of Old Crow Whiskey which may have been in her hand since she rolled out of bed that morning. I imagined her briefly struggling to pull her cardigan over the bottle, her sleeve taking the shape as it slithered toward the sleeve opening. “But I never had as much trouble with their expectations so much as my own aspirations…I wanted so badly to make it work that I started to lose sight of the work I needed to do.”

I took a sip of my beer.

“So that’s why you stopped playing?” I asked.

“That was just part of it,” she shrugged. “I’m also not really into crowds.”

This is a funny thing with musicians that I had encountered fairly often. I nodded.

“I’m the same way. It’s a personality type thing. There are some folks who only have so much energy to spend on other people. We can be on stage and have this amazing experience with our bandmates, this conversation that the crowd gets to be in the room to listen to. And when that conversation is over, there are a bunch of people in the room who desperately want you to know that they understood exactly what you were talking about, that they felt what you felt. They experienced the intimacy and vulnerability we share with our bandmates, and they feel a certain entitlement.”

She nodded slowly, acknowledgingly.

“Right?” I continued, hoping I wasn’t waxing myself into a philosophical mud pit. “And because they saw us onstage, they think we felt that same connection to them as well, and they need us to affirm that moment.”

“I can’t talk to people after a show,” she said, again swigging her whiskey. “I leave that to my drummer, Carl. He’s much better with people than I am. Especially after a show, I just don’t have anything else to give.”

“Yeah!” I agreed. “No one gets that.”

“I just have to go somewhere quiet and pick apart everything that just happened, accept all my mistakes, pick up all the pieces of myself I just threw up into the air and, I guess, just pull myself back together.” She sighed. “That’s kind of why I had to stop. I got tired of ripping myself open and then finding so much fault in my performance every time I started reassembling the pieces.”

“We’re always our own harshest critics.”

“I don’t know. I never understood how we got as far as we did. I often felt like a fraud.”

I smiled reassuringly and said, “but you kept going!”

“Until I stopped!”

“But here you are tonight! You’re still doing it!”

“Well,” she sighed again, “for tonight at least.”

I stared at her in that dim and empty room, in a building that may have been a mortuary once, surrounded by instruments that defied their own purpose in their quietude. I thought about all the brilliant artists I had met in my life and travels who had succumbed to their own self-doubt, who had ducked out of the spotlight because they felt like they could never live up to their own expectations, much less the responsibility of creating anything worth of their audiences’ attention and time. The greatest artists I had ever met were all crippled by their own humility.

“You know,” I ventured. “You’re very humble. I’ve heard your music and you have not only a talent for melody and lyrics, but also an engaging and haunting voice that conveys even more than you can probably imagine.”

She blushed and I continued, “I think that humility is a huge asset to creating honest art. There are so many artists who come off so confident and self-assured, but I think that their art suffers for it. Confidence leads to solipsism which leads to elitism. If an artist thinks they know something that their audience doesn’t then they aren’t having a conversation anymore–they’re giving a lecture. As musicians, we know that any person in a band who stops listening to the other members immediately weakens the art as a whole. Good art is always a dialogue!”

“That’s right!” She said, smiling.

“I think as long as we can embrace our imperfections and continue to keep putting ourselves out there, then we are doing our jobs as artists. We can strive to be better, but we should never let our vanity overcome our curiosity.”

She nodded and spoke slowly, as if unwrapping a delicate artifact, “It is our ability to reach into our fears and poke and prod around in the darkness that gives us strength.”

“Yeah!” I concurred.

“And it’s fucking exhausting!” She laughed, raising her bottle in a toast which I readily indulged.

It was exhausting. There was no doubt.

Creating honest art is an incredibly self-conscious process. It takes a level of honesty that is almost inhuman. That’s what distinguishes the greatest artists. Their honesty humanizes all of us. We watch them and listen to them and absorb what they give to us and it is that honesty which makes us feel so connected to them, like they’re family or lovers.

Later that night, Nancy started her set with an excited smile. The room was half full, but the crowd was taut with anticipation for her performance. She strummed her guitar and turned from us and leaned in to her drummer as their voices wove into beautiful harmonies. She must have drank a little too much Old Crow, however. She made a few little mistakes, missed notes on her guitar, melodies that wavered a little too far from the chord progression, and rather than letting them go, she let them crawl under her skin. She started making excuses and apologizing to a crowd that was more than happy to just let her keep playing, reaching into her darkness before our eyes and showing us her courage.

But she stopped. We cheered her on and encouraged her to keep going, but she shut us out.

Her apologies were aimed at herself for not living up to her own expectations of her performance that night. I tried to catch her eye, to show her that I knew what she was feeling, that it was okay, and that we were with her, that we would love her imperfections if only she would love them too, but she wouldn’t meet my gaze.

They attempted one more song, slow and beautiful and sad. It drifted over us and through us in waves and as she sang, she got smaller and farther away.

The next thing we knew her drummer was singing a song by himself as she slunk off into a dark corner and the arms of a close friend, a safe place where she could try to sift through the shards of herself that no longer made sense.

And as the drummer sang a song that no one wanted to hear, in that dark corner Nancy slowly disappeared into herself.

She left shortly thereafter and the room cleared out again and I stared at the empty whiskey bottle still glistening in the spotlight.

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Story #35 never happened

There were a couple false starts, my eyes bleary near midnight, my girlfriend and dog competing in the snoralympics and taking up most of the bed. I dug into my past and present and the memories sifted through my fingers like tired sand. I spat in my palms and rubbed them together and my thoughts could still hold no shape.

I wrote about electric bikes in Myanmar, temples constructed from ash and dreams, but the little goblin who trotted up the temple my girlfriend and I sat upon had nothing to say. The sun rose over the thousand temples and bathed our dusty faces is orange light. An immense silence filled us up with something beyond our feeble grasp of time and love and happinesssorrowangerfutilitypride and most importantly permanence.

The Goblin had nothing to say to us and so I had no story to tell.

The other version of story 35 was a measure of my own arrogance. I took a deep breath and jumped into a malformed world. I swam as deep as I could, grasping into the darkness for some thread that would reveal the sunken beast, the sleeping mountain of wet fur and furtive grumbling. I caught nothing. The pieces were well-intentioned and grandiose in ambition but they were too far apart with edges to serrated to weave together.

In the space between sleep and wake, when dreams blink their way into smudges of reality, I often hover my fingers over the keyboard. My hands hang there like spiders that have forgotten how to dance. My head turns into a watermelon and rolls down my chest and onto the floor into a patch of other watermelons tangled in vines and grass. My skin turns translucent and crinkles away and my organs fly off into the night like butterflies.

And in some alternate dimension my own snores join the chorus filling the darkened bedroom.

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Story #34 – The Huff and Shuff

I could have died just then.

I was walking down the stairs to the subway, the poltergeist wisps of my work day still clinging to shoulders, and I might have tripped.  In front of me, an overweight child was being guided down the stairs by his overweight mother at an intolerably oafish pace.  He hung lazily from her arm like a plump little marionette and might as well have been deaf to her restrained goading.  Commuters wearing designer scowls were negligently careening around this descending puppet show the way a river pushes around large obstinate boulders.  There was no train in the station and no distant rumble to indicate any imminent arrival, and yet people were hurrying to the platform as if their arrival there would induce a train to share their enthusiasm.  I suppose I am also guilty of this.

It was only Thursday and I was already thoroughly exhausted.  The bull pen that I work in is shared with several drones who function on a lower level of consciousness.  Content to pass the day loudly jabbering and recounting the same lowbrow stories and arguments over and again, their raucous patter comprises the majority of my daily atmosphere.  Even with my headphones on I cannot escape them.  The loudest, dumbest, and, unfortunately, most attention-starved of them, their witless leader, Mack, regularly paws at me to confirm that I had heard his latest inane observations, his charcoal laugh cuts through my Spotify playlist and prevents me from ever zoning out enough to sufficiently forget my work day.  It’s like when you try to take a nap and your wife decides to clatter the dishes into the cupboard or your neighbor decides to start shooting hoops under your window.

But the job pays very well, and my workload is fairly manageable, so I cannot bring myself to quit until I have paid off a sufficient enough chunk of my student loan debt.  So I work in a monkey house.  Soon enough I will be flinging my own excrement about, but for now I am merely tortured by the overwhelming aroma of theirs.

It was this dismal existence which I was attempting to shuff off as I scuttled down the stairs, around the huffing mother and her bloated toddler, and into the thick mass of zombie tourists and somber yuppies.

It is a habit of mine to scan their faces as I brush past them.  I examine the sharp pinches of their cheek bones, the curvature of their jawlines, the symmetry of their eyes, and I imagine what their skulls would look like underneath their skin.  All the worry lines, crows feet, dimples, scars, dark circles under their eyes, chapped lips, and furrowed brows removed, stripped down to the delicate gray bone.  There is something to be said for the simple elegance of the human skull.

Ironically, this morbid practice, I believe, plays an integral part in maintaining my sanity.  One of my quirks, I guess.

However, on this day in particular, I hadn’t even made it to this part or the routine.  I was lingering behind that hulk of a mother and I was thinking about what a chore it must be to navigate one’s child through the rush-hour swarm, what a chore it must be to raise the little fuckers in general, and the countless sacrifices that must inevitably be made, and the potential repercussions of maintaining any shred of selfishness when it comes to their upbringing… Essentially, I was pondering potential safeguards against having a fat kid.

When I finally reached the subway platform, I had one of those moments where you realize that for the last five minutes of so you’ve been so absorbed in your reveries, that you’ve also been completely oblivious to the real living breathing rushing pushing huffing world around you.  My physical body was operating on auto-pilot while my brain overtook and precluded all conscious thought and perception.  I descended most of a staircase in rush hour traffic and was not even really been in my body.

I realized that I could easily have fallen down the stairs.  I wasn’t paying attention.  There was a constant jostling of impatient and rude people pushing past me as well as kicking at my heels.  I could have mis-stepped and tumbled forward onto the diabetic duo sweeping them up with me into a fatal avalanche of flesh and flailing limbs.  I could have died and accidentally taken them with me.

I’m not even so sure it didn’t happen.

___
|___
|___
|___
/

I wonder how long it will take my soul to realize that it is living out a fading dream.

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Story #33 – The Hype Beast

The line started in front of the store and snaked around and through four city blocks. Teenagers, mostly boys, were camped out on chairs wrapped in sleeping bags. They had coolers and bags of snacks and solar batteries for their phones and smart devices. They growled and mumbled as I made my way up the block.

“What’s this about?” I asked a lanky kid with close cropped blond hair. His colorful puffy jacket was big enough to hide other lanky kids inside, perhaps even secret them into the store with him. It was also shiny enough to be seen from space. It was definitely too hot for the jacket. He didn’t look up from his phone so I leaned in. He smelled like marshmallows.

“Hey, kid. What are you standing in line for?” I asked a little louder.

“Huh?”

“Is a famous philosopher or inventor about to unveil some dramatic truth about the universe in there?”

“Whatever, bro.”

He turned around and I knew my voice would never make it around his jacket. I moved on down the line toward the head.

I noticed a girl was shuffling out of her giant baggy ski-pants. She shuffed them off like a viper shimmies out of its skin. Her smooth legs glistened as if covered in morning dew. He little pink underwear might have been a bed of flowers in another universe. She then stepped into a pair of green joggers decorated with a wild paisley pattern and did a little dance as she adjusted them to her body.

“What are you doing?” I asked her.

“Changing outfits,” she said without looking at me, as if she were talking to someone further up the line.

“How long have you been here?”

“You ask a lot of questions.”

“Do I?”

She looked at me then and I was transfixed by her iridescent blue eyes. I fell into them, crashed through the ice and my heart stopped as I was swallowed by those polar waters.

“What? Are you some sort of pervert?” she asked.

Apparently she had already made up her mind because she turned from me and took off her shirt in an apparent bid to bait me. Or maybe she was just finishing changing outfits.

I moved up the line to try again. I passed a kids in shoes with wings and flashing lights. Another kid had a backpack with DJ hookup. While he stood there engrossed in his phone, a friend of his mixed songs on a digital display on his back. A small group of kids pogo’d nearby to the strange subsonic pulsing. I started noticing that many of the crispy new jackets and accessories bore the same bright red and white logo.

It read: HYPE BEAST

I passed a girl who wore an outfit comprised primarily of feathers. It was like a feather bikini, vaguely Native American in styling. She, however, didn’t look very Native to me. Her porcelain skin was beginning to sunburn.

At the head of the line I found a group of three guys in their late teens, maybe early twenties. They all looked emaciated and were shaking slightly. The crowd near them all looked significantly more tired and weak that farther back on the line. One of the guys had the beginnings of a mustache shading his upper lip. Another had a snap-back ball cap covered in sequins balanced at an impossible angle on his head. The third wore sparkling white coveralls emblazoned with the HYPE BEAST logo.

I attempted a different approach.

“Sup, Bros?”

“Sup, Geezer?” Ballcap snapped.

I was pushing forty. I allowed it.

“Crazy line,” I ventured.

“Yer tellin me bro,” said Ballcap. “Best ever.”

I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I pushed forward afraid any lapse in conversation might shut me out completely. “How long you bee waiting?” I asked.

“Fucking weeks, bro!” Mustache chimed in.

I looked back at the snake of people curling around the corner. So many tired and bored and weak looking people, all tied together with the peppering of the red and white logos stretching off into the distance.  It undulated slightly, like it was one breathing body, weak, ready to die at any minute.

“Damn, yo.” I still had some lingo down. “When they gonna open the doors?”

“Don’t know,” said Coveralls. “Doesn’t matter. We here until they open up. We a part of this. I been down since it started. It’s a movement. My boys here, they down too. We bought the shit when it was a small store in BK. Wasn’t so wild back then. Still got a scarf from the first line. We roll into the club with this gear and everybody knows we down. Mad props. Ladies know what we about.”

“So you’re just waiting to get some more gear?”

“Can’t wear nothing else. Can’t be nothing else.”

“You look weak. Did you guys eat today?”

“Ain’t eaten in weeks, bro.” Mustache muttered bitterly.

Coveralls straightened and said, “It’s a sacrifice. Can’t afford to eat and wear these clothes. Gotta save every penny or we might not be able to cop the hot shit. If we ain’t got the hot shit, we ain’t hot. Might as well be dead.”

“Right,” Mustache said, noncommittally.

I looked at the entrance of the HYPE BEAST store. A string of triangle flags glimmered like sparkling fangs. Two red police lights swirled like manic eyes. A sign in the door read “EXCLUSIVE GEAR COMING SOON! Limited edition purple label socks! Don’t sleep!”

I heard a sound and looked back to see the mustached kid collapse onto the sidewalk. His friends looked down at him.

“Oh shit!” Coveralls said. “He scuffed his shoes!”

Mustache kid didn’t seem to be breathing.

They leaned down to check on his shoes.

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Story #32 – some Hip Hop shit.

MC Drama had Lil Spotty makin’ beats for him!

I didn’t know how to feel about that. Drama had started out as my producer. He didn’t even want to rap! When we were first startin out, he wrote a rap for a beat he made and wanted me to rap it. I learned it and tried it out, but I was the one who encouraged him to rap the song he wrote instead of me. 

We were an MC/producer team and it was perfect how it was. He crafted the dope beats that I could never have made and I thread them with the hot bars that he could never have written! I should have just rapped his damn song!

From that one song he started putting out solo albums and collaborating with all the dudes in my crew. 

Now here he was being invited to a private studio to pick some Lil Spotty beats for himself! Shit was bananas! 

He was cool about it, though. He said he’d let me get a verse on one. But it was still fucked up. Not only was he not really making beats for me anymore, he had moved on to another producer for himself! He wasn’t even really building with the homeys anymore.

Lil Spotty was only kinda famous though. 

He had made some beats for a couple of the bigger underground heads. One of his beats has made it to the radio, maybe gone gold, but he was no Premo or Timbo. He pretty much just cut a sample, made a loop, laid some drums on top and moved on to the next. For some people, the idea that if you just churn out enough content, some of it at least has to be golden. Lil Spotty had only churned out a couple nuggets.

Anyway, MC Drama had some Lil Spotty beats now. 

And after I got over my initial tinge of jealousy, the bruise on my ego that Drama was already moving past me, maybe even away from me, I realized that I wasn’t sure that I would even want to rap on some Lil Spotty beats. They were basic to say the least. There was no progression in them, no movement. They were stale. They were a huge departure from the music that Drama and I had set out to make when we met. 

In my mind Lil Spotty’s beats were a step backward because they weren’t artistically challenging. 

In Drama’s mind they were a step forward because they were connected to someone with a famous name, someone who could gain him extra recognition.

But why would he want attention from a demographic that was so different from what his artistic goals were? What I didn’t see at the time was that he didn’t really have artistic ideals. He had designs on fame and prosperity with little regard for the path there. He was trying to fly to the stars in a prop plane.

It didn’t last long. He never released any of the music he worked on with Lil Spotty. It was probably for the best. Drama didn’t have enough gold teeth, and his middle class Connecticut upbringing didn’t mesh well with Lil Spotty’s hardcore street vibes.

We started to drift apart after that. He used my connections to book a tour without me. I had always booked and managed the tours so of course it tanked. It also soured relations with a couple of the homeys so that another tour with that combo never had another chance.

He started building with another equally opportunistic rapper named Fatz. They put out some mixtapes that we’re flashy and funny but lacked heart. They thought they had found the recipe to rise out of the underground. Punchlines and catchy beats! It wasn’t a bad plan. Lots of rappers used gimmicks to differentiate themselves from the growing ocean of people who thought they rhymed words good.

It wasn’t a gimmick though. It was the same old bullshit. They ditched their edge for the same dull stabs.

I thought that because we had similar influences from the offset that we had similar ideals for the end game.

Now he’s a lawyer and has kids and a condo.

I’m an artist. I don’t know where my next paycheck will come from. But I never made a song that I wouldn’t play for my Mama. And one day when I have kids, I will be able to look them in the eyes and tell them that I made the art that I wanted. It was never about a paycheck. 

Hip hop was never meant to be about a paycheck.

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Story #31 – Vieques part 3

It was near the end of my two week stay on the island, but two more of our Brooklynite friends had just arrived. It was night time and we greeted them at the ferry port with a couple of beers and a sky milky with stars and drove them over to Esperanza.

Esperanza is great. It’s a little strip of hotels overlooking a sea wall with steps down to a short sandy beach. One hotel in particular has an open air bar and we just happened to know the bartender, so the cocktails flowed freely to welcome our friends to the island.

Pete and Petra were a remarkable couple and barrels of fun. They both had a few tattoos but weren’t interested in the fad of tattoos, they just got a couple for fun that reminded them of fun things that happened in their lives. Pete was a gentle giant type with rosy cheeks and an easy smile. Petra was a little firecracker. She could drink you under the table while she danced on top of it.

We all got fairly sloshed and Pete and Petra decided it was time for a dip. Maybe the alcohol decided, but they offered no objection. Either way, I thought it was a good idea too so we all walked across the street and down the crumbling stairs to the lapping surf of an otherwise calm ocean.

And we jumped in clothes and all! It was a genius move!

I wanted to give them some space to be romantic, so I floated away a bit and just enjoyed the warm water and the starry sky.

At some point Darnell, who was Brownie’s best friend and the reason we all had a place to stay, decided it was time to go home. Unfortunately for him, we had not also arrived at that decision. There was yet more night swimming to do. The water was perfect and we were perfectly drunk!

But Darnell really wanted to go home. He began pacing up on the sea wall and yelling at us like we were disobedient children.

“I’m tired and it’s my Jeep so if you don’t wanna be stuck here all night, you better get out of the water. Come on guys! Get the fuck out of the water! Let’s go!”

Or something to that end. His voice was getting shrill and I wasn’t trying to feel that vibe. We just kept floating and splashing and carrying on like drunk sea otters.

I think he was just super drunk and maybe jealous that we had the foresight to combine our drunkenness with a little night swim and hadn’t thought to include him. Either way, his diatribe rose in pitch and amplitude so that he sounded like a crying baby.

“Come on guys! I said let’s go! It’s time to go! Get out of the water!” He stomped his feet and smashed his bottle in the street which was a pretty stupid thing to do when you’re a guest in a foreign land.

So that’s when some local kid ran up behind him and punched him in the head!

And when he turned to defend himself, another kid ran up and punched him from the other side.

They both ran off before anything happened. It was a far cry from a brawl, more like some locals smacking a guy for raising a racket like a baby who dropped his pacifier.

This was, however, enough motivation to get out of the ocean and go to make sure that he was alright. Which he was. He demonstrated it by stomping off to the Jeep before any of us could even get to him to ask him how he was. And when we all were in the Jeep, he was furious. He flared his nostrils and rubbed the lumps on his head.

“Why didn’t you guys help me?” He whined. “I thought you were my homies! Some friends you are.”

Only there was no way we could have helped him. There wasn’t a fight. It was just a spanking that he probably deserved.

It was us, however, who sat in silence as he scolded us for the entire ride home.

I was glad to be leaving the next day. Pete and Petra would be the ones to help clean up the broken glass.

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Story #30 – Vieques part 2

On Vieques there are beaches for every mood. There is a beach for lounging and sunbathing, there is a beach for surfing and snorkeling, there is a beach with a cliff you can climb and a little island you can swim to. Drinking is a sport common to all of them. When the sun goes down, the sport is continued in one of the many bars and restaurants on the main strip.

Most tourists never make it past the beaches. They miss out on the magic of the bio-bay where the water glows bright with phosphorescent algae when you swim at night. They never explore the abandoned arena completely overgrown with weeds and vines, a harbinger of a quiet apocalypse that’s snuck up on and devastated an unlucky few. They never leap off the dilapidated pier into an ocean reflecting a purple sunset to cavort with a giant sea turtle. They don’t even visit the three-hundred year old Ceilba tree.

It’s probably for the best. Most tourists don’t know what to do with that type of magic.

The giant Ceilba tree looks beautiful from a distance, but is covered in thorns. If it were not covered in thorns it would never have lasted three hundred years. The tourists brought to it would have climbed it, and swung from its branches, and otherwise treated it as their play thing and it would have gotten sad and died.

This is the problem with most tourists. They seldom treat their travel as a conversation with the local culture. Instead, they treat the local culture as something novel and temporary and subject to their precociousness. They talk loudly when they should be listening and they tumble over sacred sites as if they were made of plastic and have no past or future outside of the interloper’s selfish indulgence. You show someone something wonderous and secret and they immediately believe that they own it, that it has always been theirs.

This is why, even as a tourist, I stay away from tourists. I keep my ears open and walk down whatever road speaks to me. This is how I learn magic.

One day near the end of my stay, I leave my friends to their sunburns and coolers full of beer and walk around the town of Esperanza which means “Hope” in Spanish. I stop at a bar and sit next to a dog on a bar stool who displays a great deal of patience in awaiting his drink. I mirror his meditation and wait until he gets his drink before I order my own. The dog watches a baseball game on a TV hung in the corner and I turn to watch the street that brought me here.

There is a man on the street dressed in dirty clothes. He is drunk and doing a strange dance. He throws his hands to the sky and shakes them and then he bows and backs up several feet. He repeats this several times, mumbling into the wind. He does some pirouettes. The dog on the bar stool takes no notice; on the TV the bases are loaded.

A man at the bar sees me watching the dancer guy and tells me, “That’s the Wizard of Weather. He dances to control the wind and waves. He’s done it for years. It’s to keep us safe from hurricanes.”

“Does it work?” I ask.

“Sometimes.” He says.

The dog looks between us then over at dancer guy before returning his attention to the game.

A few dance moves later, the wind dies down and, apparently sated, the Wizard of Weather ceases his choreography. He grabs a small bag and a bed roll and jogs down the road out of sight.

My beer arrives and I sip it and wait for the next episode.

Later that day I wander through a graveyard admiring the tombstones. Time has had its way with them. Many are old and broken. Funny how even a grave marker carved of stone will mirror the life of the soul it memorializes. As Vonnegut says, “So it goes.”

At the far end of the graveyard, I pass through a faded pink arch and wander down a hill to a beach that sparkles with every color of the rainbow. I’ve heard of this beach. The sand is made up mostly of beach glass, which I imagine is the shards of all the bottles people have chucked into the ocean over the years with wishes and secrets and letters curled up inside. As these bottles traveled across the oceans and broke into hundreds of pieces and the oceans swallowed up their words like dreams, the little sharp pieces of glass got worn down and polished so that by the time they reached this beach, they were no longer dangerous for fat fleshy feet. They were like soft little emeralds, rubies, diamonds, onyx, topaz, and amethyst.

I look up from the glimmering between my toes and see the Wizard of Weather out in the ocean. He is fully clothed and waist-deep and is undulating his body and arms towards a severe swath of black clouds unfolding from the horizon.

I wonder if he comes from a lineage of island wizards. Indeed members of his bloodline inhabit every Caribbean island where their dance moves act as a force field against the devastation of weather patterns. I wonder if climate change has made his job harder. I wonder if he is not drunk, but just exhausted from trying to fix the mess we’ve made for ourselves and hm.

I wonder if the ocean treats his wishes with greater delicacy than the ones chucked away in bottles.

The wind is picking up and the dark clouds show no signs of abatement, so I take off my shoes and shirt and wade into the water where I attempt to learn and mirror some of this Wizard’s dance moves.

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