Catharsis – Or 15 Ways to Know You Weren’t a Dork

But really were…

It’s rare to see a picture of yourself at the very moment of extreme catharsis. But there it is. Have you ever seen a person so disillusioned, looking so hard for the door? That photo is of the 1971 pledge class of I Felta Thi at the University of Oklahoma. Just before I put a series of events and beliefs in the social blender and pulled out my middle finger on all of it.

Catharsis is a great word. Way better than epiphany. The third definition of catharsis from Collins is Greek for a purge, particularly of the bowel. Amen. This is a photo of what the egregious Greek dump looked like about two days prior to blowing up the plumbing of 18 years of my life.

I write this because I read a lot of “I was an ugly duckling” humor, therapy and anger in blogs. Dorks, broke, ignored, how tough it is to become someone. Courage. Fear. Solitude. Look up there. That guy? He had nothing to complain about (except a long weekend without a blow dryer) until he discovered the racism, misogyny, and heartbreak involved in the realization of who people really were at the core of the American caste system. All in about six weeks. BAM. No place to be broke down, son. Move on.

How do you know you weren’t a dork in High School, based on the “was a dork” equations I’ve read? You weren’t if some of these apply.

  1. You have a reasonably new, cool, or acceptably cool looking car with a “get in trouble” loud stereo.
  2. There is no such thing as a dateless weekend after your sophomore year (when you got your driver’s license).
  3. You have two of those “drop” necklaces with your initials working at two high schools. At the same time. And a girlfriend in the shadows at another. But her father is a crazed ex-Marine who hates your hair, but she likes it. And likes you. So you get to meet Sunday afternoons in a parking lot somewhere which is cool if you know where to go after you hook up.
  4. You also have a backup of after-hours girls from Bishop McGuiness High School, that you discover 45 years later a friend of yours was also down with. We kept secrets well back then. Even ones we should have shared. Nah. Non-dorks are selfish.
  5. You have brownies from one of those girls, a birthday card from another and panties you don’t remember where they came from under the front seat, two unexplainable, stolen from a motel blankets in the trunk and a roach in the ashtray of your car when your dad suddenly decides to borrow it. So you take his station wagon and get love funk all over your dad’s outgoing mail because you didn’t move it before you took advantage of the big-assed front seat. You tell him your date “spilled a milk shake, sorry.” And he makes a face but mails it! And tells you out of earshot of your mother to give the panties back to “the girl whose father I know is going to call me.”
  6. You make decent grades (3.6 to 3.75 out of 4.0) without busting a lot of ass or wasting time studying. The teachers that don’t like you are disliked by the teachers who do, and yours can kick their asses. As a result you rarely get hit up for “where’s your hall pass?” Plus, you know a female office aide every period who will pull your absentee slip before it gets logged if you decide to walk a class.
  7. You know where the right restaurants are, spread out all over town, to stay out of eye and ear shot keeping that girl business all together like the plate spinner on Ed Sullivan.
  8. You go to three proms. Well, only two your junior year. And you can’t think of what to do with who you go out with on New Year’s because everyone is everywhere so you bounce from dance to dance and go make out and wait to take them home so you can go burn one and party with the party people later.
  9. Christmas gifts for maintaining your “player” status eats up all the gift money you get from relatives before Christmas.
  10. You get rushed by half a dozen fraternities, only one of which is down to the brother of one of those girlfriends, and you pick the wrong one anyway, which wouldn’t have mattered in the long run, as you will see.ph-dirty-football
  11. You start either way when you play football, even if you don’t really care, and get suspended for a game because it was more important to help a girl get sobered up before she went home and her father beat her for being high than it was to narc her out and save face for missing practice.
  12. You take the console out of your Camaro because dates fit better between the seats with it gone and that’s more important than cosmetic appeal and a place to stash your occasional Marlboro and a joint.
  13. You have a custom eight track full of “chick” music for parking that you keep hidden under the seat so your friends don’t catch you listening to The Association or Joni Mitchell.
  14. You take two English classes at once and ace them both, get your pen and ink displayed with a ribbon at a city-wide art show and the 4 x 8 panel of plywood you paint to help the city cover up the construction fence for Urban Renewal makes both papers because it’s “controversial.” But they hang it anyway. You suck at math, but hell, you can always hire an accountant. And Geometry makes perfect sense, even if you cut class all the time to fly kites with a hippie chick, because you play music and that’s ALL geometry. At least to a space case.
  15. After 45 years, your old friends, the ones that will speak to you more than once, still find you mildly dangerous, or at least nuts, because of what you did after you weren’t a non-dork and weren’t like them anymore. They remember that transition time before you pulled out your middle finger at an entire state and decided to rock. Weirdo.

Dork is a state of mind, not a social reflection

So the non-dork who coasted socially and academically through the zit phase and too skinny for a swimsuit phase and long weekend bad hair phase took a girl whose brother’s frat I shouldn’t have pledged to a dance at said frat house. One of my future “brothers” spent the whole night talking about my date’s tits and telling me how proud he was of me and why hadn’t her brother hipped him to that little number? After that, and a confluence of other things, including bouts with over the top misogyny, I bailed. (The floor of her brother’s room was two waterbeds blobbed together with the equivalent of notches kept on the wall of their closet by him and his roommate to keep track of the girls they’d bagged in there.) My handler was sad to see me go because of all that plate spinning and picking up girls out from under them at bars during rush get-togethers and my bullshit artistry, but the hard sell to keep the book of secret handshakes, legends and myths didn’t work. And I immediately became a dork. I gave up most of my “friends” and a lot of that gratuitous freshman year inter-Greek sex for three months until I found my indie legs again. Poor me. There are still songs I can’t listen to because they played constantly in the Union and a bar I frequented feeling sorry for myself. Most of them are by Jim Croce, so I guess it doesn’t matter too much. Hello, operator?

Look, all of you “I was a dork” people, I asked for my social outcast beating. I asked to be marginalized, to be ostracized, to be outside looking in. Why? Because to me what was inside was an insidious fallacy, a giant lie being played out by the members of the club who smiled but shut the door on ethnicity, who bragged about taking advantage of and bopping chicks too wasted to remember, who placed “brotherhood” above self-respect and the respect of others, even family members. People who niched themselves with exclusionary visions. Girls who were attention whores and social climbers and would steal and screw their way into whatever they wanted to be, guys who would even pimp their sisters but fail to call it that to make a life-long “brother” whose true value might be to show up broke to sleep on their couch and hit on their wife. No thanks.

Whether you came by it naturally or had to ask for dork, celebrate it. Different? Celebrate it. Think the cool guys or the cool girls had it made? Forget it. I was even one for a while. Maybe some of them did have it made. Maybe some of them still do have it made. But at what price? We all play the game we’re destined to play, even if it kicks our ass, or we ask to have it kicked. Know this, dork brothers and sisters. Dork comes with the self-respect of knowing you didn’t leave too much shit on any innocent shoes after you got it figured, and who you are is you, not a photo-shopped picture of one of your retired millionaire “brothers” selling million-dollar real estate in the Town and Country sitting on some should be shame riddled sister pimp’s coffee table.

If It Itches…

“You never know where you’ll get a rash…”

She thought about stopping the elevator door with her foot so she could escape, but she had on new shoes and the balls of her feet were already killing her. And she’d have to spin around with her pharma-rep briefcase on wheels, the laptop case not strapped to the handle…Shit. She checked him for the telltale white wire dripping from his ears, or a Bluetooth locust on one of them. Even for drool or a wet spot on his slacks. Nothing. She put on what she thought was an appropriate amount of business woman attitude.

“Your comment was directed at me?”

“Not really.” Lamar was tapping his fingers on the brushed aluminum handrail that ran around three sides of the car, glad the elevator had stopped, and someone had actually gotten on because it stopped pretty often for no reason. “Just saying. But you know, rashes are weird. And you never know where you’ll get one.” He lifted his right foot and put it on the rail. “My name’s Lamar.”

“Greta. Nice to meet you, Lamar.” She knew that right here it could go from strange, to bad, to worse, depending on what he did with his hands. Goddam, why the new shoes today? She could have been so out of here in the black boots. But the boots chafed her calf and –

“Like lately when it’s been dry, and cold, and everyone is running their heaters?” He pulled his pants leg up a touch, scratched just behind his ankle bone. “I get these red patches in places that you wouldn’t think would be sensitive. My shins, too. And cowboy boots? Forget that. Ring around the calf. I spend all day on one foot scratchin’ my leg with the other one.”

Thank God. He was just a talker and left his pants alone. Her boots did the same thing, kind of, but —

“Just weird, where you get a rash this time of year. Happens to you, too.”

“What? No, it doesn’t. I don’t have rash issues. And it’s none of –”

“Then why are doing that with your finger right along the top of your skirt, in the back?”

“I was checking my blouse. This jacket hits right at my waist, and I can’t walk around looking like a box of Kleenex from the…” She caught a glimpse of his “bullshit” grin in the mirrored button panel, turned back his way. “Okay. You’re right. It just itches, though. It’s not a rash.”

Lamar raised his eyebrows.

“I have a tattoo back there. It’s a rose, in the middle of an oval, like a cameo. And curly vines going out on both sides.”

“Those all look like the new Chrysler badge to me. But it itches, and you can’t see back there, so how do you know it’s not a rash? You put something on it?”

“I use a moisturizer, but it still…And anyway, because I know, that’s why. I don’t have rashes. Anywhere. It’s the tattoo. I never had this itching thing back there until I got it. It dried out my skin or something.”

“Maybe. But with rashes this time of year? You never know if it’s an allergy or dry skin or what. The air dries out and BAM. It could be dry-cleaning fluid or detergent or fabric softener. Rashes places where you wouldn’t think. Underneath socks, behind your knees. He reached inside his jacket, about halfway down his ribcage on the side. “Even here.” He rubbed his hips and then the top of his butt cheeks. “And here. Women and all of your itchy, under-the-hood things, and those clingy yoga pants –”

“They’re tights.”

“There’s a difference?”

“Yes. Yoga pants are…Well, they’re for Yoga. And shorter, and made out of a different, athletic type fabric.” And waaay more expensive. God almighty, fucking drop the rashes.

“So, tights don’t itch? Like behind your knees or where they grab you by the ankles?”

“Yes, they itch. Sometimes. And they stretch out and sag no matter how cold it is if you get up and down a lot, but I get out of my car and walk these office towers all day. They make me sweat, but where they make me sweat? We aren’t going there.” She tried to glare, but he was one of those older guys who seemed impervious.

“Sweat is a whole other thing,” Lamar said. “You know where a summer rash is going to hit you.” He stuck a hand in the opposite arm pit. “Here.” He ran his hands around the edges of his groin at the tops of his thighs. “And here. Heat and underwear do that one. But not here,” and he grabbed a handful of his junk. “Maybe a little, but no one wants a rash there. It’s different for women. My wife used to hate it when pantyhose were the uniform of choice. She always got the ones with the cotton crotch because if she didn’t –”

“I get it, Lamar.”

“In the summer, I have to run a trim down there because that old saying about having a wild hair? Well, I get them, and along with that undies rash I’ll spend half my time not mowin’ the yard and unhookin’ sweaty Velcro business if I don’t knock it back.”

“I’m certain that can’t be any fun for you. And I can sympathize with your wife. Back when we could let our bikini line go over the winter —”

“Road Kill. When we were teenagers and looking for that kind of thing? We called that one ‘pantyhose road kill.’ You know, all smashed out, and being trapped in there all day.”

“That is the most disgusting thing you’ve said yet. Road kill?”

“We were fourteen, fifteen. Maybe a little older, but we quit looking when we started trying. Did you wear panties with your pantyhose? Some girls did. Seemed redundant. And girdles. Why wear one of those things with pantyhose? Who invented girdles, anway?”

“A man, I’m sure.” What happened to her floor?

“One summer I went out with this girl, she was no bigger around than this handrail. And she had on pantyhose and a girdle.”

“Self Defense tactic. Back then the harder it was and the longer it took, the more likely you were to let up or give up, or curfew started knocking harder than you. Or her mother made her.”

“You know some secret about mothers and girdles?”

“Mine made me wear one and pinched my butt on the way out the door to be sure, but it ended up in my purse by the first stop sign.”

“I always wondered, the way they were like Lycra and elastic chastity belts, did girdles give you a rash if you got, you know ‘wound up’ or it was summer? I mean talk about something that didn’t breathe.”

“NO. I don’t know about any other girls, but they never gave me a rash because I pulled mine…And, well, they did give me a rash, that’s why I…What’s really giving me a rash is –”

The elevator dinged, and the female robot voice intoned “Basement Level. Threshold Tavern and Parking, Level A.”

“Best of the rest on your day, Greta. Great story. Good luck with the doctor’s office managers.” Lamar stepped out, held the door for a younger guy and a forty something woman just like the one who’d ridden the elevator with him right past where she needed to go, rolling briefcase and all.

Greta watched Lamar turn toward the bar, waited for the door to close before she checked out her car mates. The guy ran his finger around the back of his collar, the woman pulled her foot out of her shoe and rubbed her calf with it. Greta landed on the button mirror, acted like she was checking her lipstick.

“You never know where you’ll get a rash…”

 

Thanks to Brian Lageose at Bonnywood Manor

30 Fun Things to Say to a Complete Stranger on an Elevator

 

Merry Christmas

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

— Mother Teresa —

Make all the difference you possibly can in 2017, everybody.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas Liszt

People are starting to panic. “Oh my God, did I get little whozit or big whozit or old whozit or the child whozit a Christmas present worthy of the sampled celestial choir going ‘AHHHHHHHH’ like baby Jesus just dropped in for brunch?” And then the tag. “You won’t tell me what you want so I’ll just go buy you some stuff.”

Please. I don’t want stuff. No more tools, I have enough to do any job around the house four different ways. I have shirts. And shoes and pants and sleep pants and no more jackets and I don’t wear ties. I might like a replacement for the bedroom Logitech remote that I want to throw against the wall as hard as I can. But I’ll do that off-holiday time. No more stuff. Nothing cute or warm or functional or useful or even fun. What I want for Christmas isn’t on Amazon or Jet or L.L Bean’s or Neiman’s (that’s a joke for all the rich people who troll this blog). Nope. Because what I want for Christmas? I want me some of that Rock Star Hair!

Really! I mean look around. Regular dudes, where does our hair go? Some guys get to keep theirs, but most of us? Adios. This year I want to replace all the fa-la-la-la-las with follicle-la-la-las. Now there are some considerations, and a gazillion choices. Take the Pekingese on Sir Elton John’s head. No way. The Keith Richards look I can get in a day after Halloween half-price sale in the Frankenstein costume bag. The same with Alice Cooper. The other day I saw an interview with Robbie Robertson of The Band fame and I swear I could have taken that Teflon thing off his head and cleaned a nasty three-day old college dorm room sloppy joes skillet with it. That may be Dylan’s hair, but still. When rigor sets in I’ll see if I can borrow him to clean my chimney. I was driving down the tollway the other day, big ol’ billboard for Styx at a casino. Look at all that hair! And the color! How does a guy get a gray goatee and oxblood shoe polish color hair? And lots of it? One of them, his hair is the exact same style and color not found in nature as this woman I know who is a “spunky” seventy. Which is about right for Styx. Because they had greatest hits records out when I was twenty and I’m, well, old enough to remember “Light Up” and what they were talking about.

Most of the country guys all get hats until the plugs grow in and to keep the weaves in line. Probably a good idea, because that unnatural hairline looks a lot like a green onion garden. I remember seeing Al Di Meola right after some plug work and he kept that hat on until he started talking about it. Springsteen was working my skin skull cap back in the Nineties, and all of a sudden after a year of hats, hair! And Opie still wears a ball cap. Check out Franz’s hair in the header picture. Some kind of unnatural symmetry in that hairline.

Some don’t even bother to make sure their hair matches the graying stuff around their ears, like Billy Ray Cyrus and that earlier deal with Robertson. I mean you’d think Hanna Montana’s dad would do her proud, right?

I am a seriously big Jeff Beck fan. The guy’s guitar playing and support of female artists and causes makes all old guys look good. But the same hair since ’65? It’s starting to look like a furry hipster’s beanie.

Others go full on black like Gene Simmons or some other solid color like Chuck Norris. But that’s one guy I will never tell how messed up his hair is. Because an episode of “Walker, Texas Ranger” changed my life. Not really. Because Chuck may be old and his hair maybe looks stupid, but he’s a badass. I won’t give Paul McCartney any grief, either, but not because I’m scared of him. My wife still remembers him fondly as the “cute” Beatle. Which goes right to Ringo. All that jet-black hair and beard. The guy is how old? And Steven Tyler? Jeez. What sort of system is that? Do the feather ear rings come with the weave or help anchor it? Does he wear it to the grocery store? With the spandex and leather? All he needs is an overcoat and he’s the cover of Aqualung.

The TV and movie guys really have it wired. Probably because they have a line on the make-up and prop people. Captain Kirk has been wearing nylon hair and man Spanx since the first Star Trek TV show so I won’t go into Affleck and Travolta and Sheen ad nauseum. And women complain about airbrushed cellulite and the photoshop squeeze and facial close-ups that would made a fresh peach feel ugly. Hey! Dudes get dissed everyday for not having underwear model abs and hair that would rival Daniel Boone’s coonskin cap.

hair-rentalHow can I be old and old rock star cool without the hair? Not that it would make me cooler or thinner or hit the Bowflex to get old guy buff more often, but I’d have it. Hair! No funny color, just what is, only more of it.

Well, that’s a lie. When I really get down to it and take a long, hard look I realize the truth that Patti Smith and Grace Slick have shown us all. When you still have a lot of your own hair and are over a certain age, regardless of gender, we all start to look like Jerry Garcia. I mean before he was dead. Or was Gratefully Dead, but not…Anyway.

I think if I can’t get Rock Star Hair for Christmas and grow old with a big ol’ stash of vanity, I’ll have to admire the cats like Billy Joel and Garth Brooks and Sting and James Taylor and the others who just give it up and shave it or live with it like it is. Be one of the ones who “Let It Be.” And you know, it’s still cool if it’s gone, I guess. Because sexist cliché persona that he is, Dapper Dancin’ Fool Dave is one smooth, horse smiling, Vaudeville grade, old school rockin’ dude. Forget the screams and high notes (they’re long gone), forget the old hair (because it’s gone) and the fur coats. Now it might be the wrong color, but with what’s left of his own hair, let DLR and some rock stars with (maybe) their own gray hair hook you up with those Christmas sugar plum fairies in your head and “Dance the Night Away.”

 

Who needs hair or your old voice when you know a good guitar player? Nose Band Aids optional. Gift cards for rock star hair are now being accepted.

If amidst all this recent mandolin driven melancholy Emo lyric Americana and children pretending to play retro psychedelia you’ve forgotten what electric guitar sounds like?

Merry Christmas. And for the New Year? Turn it up to 11 whether you can dance or Santa brings you rock star hair or not. And all you old guys, remember; even rock stars are smart enough to wear pants with a skosh more room.

 

 

 

Now Where

Tulsa, Early January 1979

Harper stepped over the icy patch on the single step down from the peeling, whitewashed veranda porch, turned right into refrozen, crunchy wheat-colored dead grass and stopped at his van parked in the gravel driveway. Shit. Locked. He shoved the box against the side, held it with his hip while he fumbled with the frozen sliding door latch. She tried to reach around him to get the van door and got elbowed off. The door slid back and when he bent to set the box inside she leaned in, looked over his shoulder.

“Where’re all your cases, Harper?” She was freezing, holding her arms across her body. No cases meant he wasn’t staying.

“In Lando’s garage. Lando’s girlfriend’s garage, down in the city.”

“He better not get in another fight with her.” She smiled. She was trying.

“I thought about that.” His patience was too far gone for any of her commentary on the complexity of living the way she’d set him up. “I asked her not to connect us if she threw his shit in the yard again. You know, as a favor to the homeless.”

He set the not much bigger than a banker’s storage box full of crap on the floor where the middle seat never was, and the keyboards coffin lived. Pathetic. Fucking pathetic. The woodgrain alarm clock with the blown speaker, a couple of pairs of socks, the Avon cologne his mom gave him that he never wore, a small orange ceramic pistol-grip bong he didn’t want. A couple of no reason empty picture frames, his dresser top cookie tin full of single cufflinks and dead watches and mismatched collar stays and guy junk he rarely had a use for. A couple pairs of not too ratty paisley boxers. And the used twice Mr. Coffee that he’d asked for, that his mother had shipped to him in Houston as an early birthday present. It had arrived two days before he found out he had to pack a one bedroom apartment in his van and figure out where he was going to live in twenty-four hours. In Houston. On Halloween weekend. The day after his ex-girlfriend Becca had vanished back to Tulsa with the rent money and thrown it all at three month’s rent on a cheap, refurbed duplex next door to a friend and down the street from crackville.

“You’re not mad, are you, Harper? I just asked about your cases. I thought you might stay for a couple of days. You never brought the rest of your stuff up from Lando’s, so I didn’t know what –”

“Shut up, Becca. Just…Fuck me. Where my cases are is the wrong question. Where all the shit is that should be going where they usually are is the question.” He stared at the box surrounded by beige carpeted emptiness, dropped his head. “So this is Becca’s vision of ‘I’ll keep your stuff safe?’ Where are my Cobra loaded monitors? Where the fuck are my Vega bookshelfs? No shit, really where’s my amp rack?”

“Archie came over right after you left the first time and took the blue case on wheels. It’s in his living room.” She shivered, looked at him like he should have a hug or a coat she could borrow but all he had on was a flannel shirt and jeans. And the small box of junk had left any remaining hugs out in the cold, just like her. “Tommy.” She stalled. “I gave the monitors, if you mean those big black speakers I guess, I gave them to Tommy. You know, um, he’s –”

“He’s the guy you fucked for the bong I didn’t need that you gave me for my birthday. I know who Bong Builder Tommy is.” He wondered if the fog from his breath was the weather or if he was on fire. He felt like he was. “How does that cretin end up with my monitors?”

“I don’t think he has them anymore. He traded them for…Something. You know…Something. I felt sorry him, and —”

“Sorry? He gets my monitors because you felt sorry for him? You fucked him for a bong last time, what’s that whiny little fuck got going on he gets seven-hundred dollars-worth of monitors I know he traded on down the road for some blow that’s already up both your noses?”

“I didn’t do it for the bong. Tommy has MS, okay, and he’s sick. And that’s why I felt sorry for him the first time, and he just gave me the bong after because he felt sorry for me because he knew you weren’t coming back and I was sad and I…And I gave it to you because…I don’t know…”

“Because it was my birthday? Because I drove back here from Little Rock in the middle of the night so we could figure something out for you because no shit I’m not coming back here to live. Because I got out of the van and the first thing Archie tells me is about you and fucking gap-tooth Ronnie.” He wanted to shove his finger right through her chest. “And then he told me what part of you got stuck between Ronnie’s front teeth in the back bedroom and about you screaming their house down. So, after a midnight run across Arkansas behind a gig I get ‘Oh, we can’t talk or fuck on your birthday because something happened down there and I’m numbed out on Percs. Sorry. Here’s a bong?’” He saw his hands in front of him like he was holding a giant basketball and wished they were shaking the shit out of her, maybe strangling her. “Aww shit, Becca. Jesus.” His hands turned into fists that landed on the top of the van before he turned back and they were face to face again, inches away.

“He felt sorry for you? Why? Because he couldn’t believe you were stupid enough to drop a pity fuck on a seriously wrong line of shit from a guy with a dick, according to you, that was like a rubber fishing worm? For a second time? And MS? Come on. That’s for Master Shitweaver. He’s not sick, he sniffs paint stripper and bong glue all day. You didn’t see that coming? He asked you about my gear, Bec, he didn’t ask you to come back over because he felt sorry for you. And you couldn’t tell me ‘Oh, maybe Tommy has his eye on your shit and he’s trying to work his way through my pussy to get to it? Goddammit, Becca. So they’re gone. Gone, gone. Seven, eight-hundred bucks. Gone.” He flashed his fingers open, opened his hands to the giant basketball again, leaned into her face. “Fucking poof, Becca. Vapor.” He backed off, put his hands in his jean’s pockets to control them. “My Vega bookshelfs?”

She leaned into him, full front, and he backed up more. “I gave them to Rick, B.D.’s brother? Because he wanted to play guitar in the house with the baby, but that big green amp he has set them on fire and that set off the sprinklers and the fire alarm. And then the firemen took what was left outside with them.”

“Rick and a fucking rock take an I.Q. test together and they score a minus two between them. Those were studio monitors, Bec, not guitar cabs. You know better. You didn’t spot that one, either?” He put his arms around her, loosely, felt her shaking. “Is this whole town in some sort of stoned-stupid time warp or is it just around these two houses and anybody who gets near them?” She was probably close to hypothermia. Thirty-one degrees in some new guy’s baggy cutoffs he’d never seen and a yellow tank top. No bra, probably no panties.

“Go inside, Bec. Get warm. Ask Archie for a loan, or find somebody who likes what you’re giving away enough to pay the rent on the first. I can’t help you this time. If you’d watched my gear we could have worked out another month until you got something going on. You could have fucked Tulsa down and moved on to Broken Arrow for all I care and we’d be square. But that didn’t happen. I already picked up three months here I didn’t want off the one month you pocketed in Houston. That routine left me in the slush in Pasadena on New Year’s with a dead van and no options, and now I’m the homeless dude on the couch again. You’re gone, all the real shit I left with you is gone…So am I.”

“I told you Archie has your blue case next door.”

“I’ll go roll that when you go inside or freeze to death standing here.” He dropped his arms, gave her a light shoulder spin back towards the duplex.

She shook him off and turned back. “Is that it? ‘Done’ and that’s it?”

“Becca, before we took off the first time you said, “Done is done. Now is now” There it is. George Riner told me the day I met you not to get caught up with you to the point of getting hurt ‘cause sooner or later you’d get bored for fifteen minutes and be history and off sport fucking again. We had a no strings deal, Becca. We split it and dealt with it. I figured sooner or later you’d fuck me over with someone else and split. But I never saw you fucking me this hard.”

“You’re going to say all that shit about me fucking everybody after I pulled your ‘I’m Harper, and I’m bummed out, so I’m just here to fuck ‘em and forget ‘em’ ass out of here in my car? And I took our money, not just yours, to rent this place so we could get out of that humid hell hole and away from all those crazy, queer, plastic bitches I worked with and back to people we know. You can fuck yourself and your money sermon on that one because I was tired of it. Tired of you and all your too cool, leave me at home alone while you played bullshit. Maybe I gave your shit away, or maybe I sold it, and I did stick it up my nose, but you left it here like you left me. Just another case full of your shit. And now that’s it? That’s all you have to say to me, after two years, ‘I’m done. Go in the house Becca, warm up so you can fuck somebody for your rent?”

He wanted to correct her down to the actual year and five months it had been, and back to people she knew, watched her shiver and try to glare through whatever she was feeling and decided against it.

“‘Thanks, Becca.’ How about that?”

“Thanks? That’s shitty. What for?”

“Thanks for not being, or knowing, a coffee drinker. Wherever I finally end up, I’ll have good coffee and a new waterbed. Because when you went bitch and stuck a fork in the old one? Wiggins got me a new one, in the box, under warranty. I may not be able to piss off the neighbors without my monitors, but I’ll get a good night’s sleep and wake up to a decent cup of coffee. So, ‘Thanks, Becca.’ If I’m ever off somebody’s couch long enough to use either one I’ll be sure and blow a kiss in the direction of your ass.”

“Well, you can forget the direction of my ass now, Harper. Today. ‘I’m Done. Go fuck somebody.’ You sorry asshole. I hope you wake up alone, freezing your horny ass off on your fucking blob of Jell-O bed, by yourself, for-EVER!”

“After you and all this shit that’s gone down right here? I’d call that a gift.” He watched her shivering self-hug take its long-legged stride back into the little yellow 1920’s duplex and slam the door.

He walked next door, wrestled his amp rack down the steps, rolled it across more crusty dead grass and into the van. Becca’s best friend’s husband had seen the “if it pees standing up fuck it and give it presents” train wreck coming and salvaged the most expensive part of Harper’s live rig for him. That had been a cool gesture. But all the rest of them next door…The ones playing pool or on the couch hitting the big bong. The ones in the kitchen debating the way a bag of weed looked as opposed to what the scale said, laughing at each other’s choices of records to play. They hardly looked at him. All of them, they’d been part of the crowd to have seen this shit coming before it got off the ground, and none of them had said a word to him. Maybe they saw him as the big city guy again. Maybe it was out of some hope they had for her that had kept them silent. He’d stepped into their world, briefly, through her, and now he was out again. So, it was hope for her, not hate for him. It had to be. He’d have to believe that because it was the only humane way for him to leave it.

Harper looked over the little yellow duplex while he rubbed his hands together and waited for the van’s heater to come back to life. It was cute. Girly, if a house could be that way. The woman who owned it had done some work when she heard who was moving in. She’d updated the kitchen with a new fridge, put down new vinyl, cleaned up the bathroom. She’d even put lacy curtains in the windows. He could see Bec liking it for what it was, not because of where it was. Could see her making fried egg sandwiches for every guy who stood in her kitchen in his underwear. Becca’s kitchen. The one place in her world where free range man business wasn’t allowed.

Man. Godammit. He hadn’t wanted to be an asshole. He’d expected to load his gear, maybe buy her dinner, drive over and pay her cheap rent for another month so she could get her shit headed for together. She was a nice girl when proximity to staying stoned and guys who would keep her that way for a piece of her weren’t in the mix. She deserved whatever it was going to take to make her happy because she had been right about one thing. She had helped get him gone the first time and had played it straight with him until she broke. As fucked up as it looked from the outside, he was still way better off than he had been.

He looked up, watched the smoke curl from her chimney for a few, knew she was sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace. The van heater finally kicked in, he took a deep breath and tried to let it all go. Seeing the smoke from her fireplace, feeling the heat in the van. He felt a little better for both of them because that was all he could do.

There wasn’t a damn thing he could do about her getting played like a hand crank Mousegetar that had gotten them both ripped off. By a weasely, greasy haired, coke snorting, glue sniffing antique refinishing, bong building half-assed wannabe slick who knew Harper wasn’t going to be there to stop it or do shit about it once it was done. Gone. No trail, never happened, just gone. The little fuck was sniffing bong building glue, banging his old girlfriend, stealing his gear and thumbing his nose at him while he stood in the slush in Pasadena. Happy New Year. He put the van in reverse, checked the mirror, wished life had a gear like that sometimes.

The rusty silver Chevy Luv pickup that slid into the curb as he was pulling away looked like the rent showing up. Or a fried egg sandwich. Either way, she’d be warm and distracted soon enough. Harper grinned, hoped for her sake the guy had grown up knowing a dentist.

He pulled into a U-Totem by the freeway for gas and a travel Pepsi where he chunked the cologne, the woodgrain alarm clock and the pistol grip bong in the big can between the pumps and adjusted the paisley underwear to keep the coffee pot from rattling. He climbed back into the driver’s seat, sat with his face in his hands, listened to the muffled sounds of life going on around him, and waited for the pump to signal it was done. It was starting to snow again. Like it meant it this time. Damn. He hoped it was blowing in from the north. Almost two hours south to Lando’s place and another night on the floor in a nylon sleeping bag that made him sweat, and then freeze, and sweat again. The homeless Okie freeze and thaw cycle. He rubbed his eyes a few times, pulled down on his cheeks to open them wide, looked at his distorted face in the rearview and scared a couple of high school girls in plaid skirts standing in front of the store checking him out through the windshield.

“Now what? Huh? It just keeps getting crazier, doesn’t it? Crazier by the fucking day.” He let his face go, gave it a few seconds to normalize. “What’s next, huh Harp? Where you gonna go now, bud? Huh?”

He unhooked from the pump, turned the key and let the van roll up in front of the store. He winked at the high schoolers on his way in to buy his Pepsi. They were gone when he came back out. He flipped the switch, knocked the snow back with the wipers, checked himself in the rearview again, lingered for a moment.

“So…Mirror mirror on the glass, tell me. What the hell does start over look like this time?”

Leftovers

She cringed when everything disappeared for a second while we passed the truck. The windshield wipers brought the wet freeway back into shiny night time soft-focus and she opened her eyes.

“At least we don’t have to think about dinner when we get home. That’s the nice thing about Chipotle leftovers.” The only nice thing about Chipotle leftovers is that, like red beans and rice, it’s better on day two and she was trying to distract herself from the rain and the freeway and my driving by talking. And distracting me. “We have cheese, too. Leftover from Thanksgiving, but it’s probably still good.”

“Is it possible for Velveeta to go bad? I mean it’s yellow candle wax.”

“It was kind of stiff. You need to get over a lane sometime.”

“Thank you. I’m trapped till the white Caddy gets off my ass. Our daughter liked it. She nuked it until it screamed and put it all over her broccoli.”

“She did? I didn’t notice. Well, I like it better when it has Rotel or something in it. We should have done that.”

“Yeah. Velveeta on its own is pretty disgusting. It’s too thick unless you cut it with something. Probably why we don’t ever buy it.”

“Maybe. There might be another reason.” She was smiling now, a twinkle in her eye, the exit in sight.

“Yeah, maybe?”

“Yeah.” She put her hand on my arm. “Maybe we don’t buy it because all we need around the house is another excuse for you to cut the cheese.”

Life Sentence

The woman in the wrinkled gray dress, wide red elastic belt and safety lime green running shoes dropped on the stool Lamar had been saving for Neeko. She didn’t look at him, started talking the second her butt hit vinyl.

“Buddy, if you’re gonna shoot someone in Texas, make sure they’re dead. ‘Cause if they’re not? What a pain in the fuckin’ ass that is.” She started to light a cigarette.

“I don’t think…” Lamar wasn’t sure how the next part should go.

“What? You’re not some overgrown, shoulda been a preacher smoke sensitive momma’s boy –”

“No, no. I smoked forever, quit seven years ago. I’m no anti-cig Nazi. It’s illegal in bars unless they have a ‘smoke here’ section. Or a patio. This one being in the basement of a bank tower…See the eye you’re getting from the lady in the white shirt with the towel? Not a good idea to flick that BIC. Not in here.”

“Goddamn, I go to prison, and while I’m gone they manage to screw everything up. A girl can’t buy herself a drink and have a smoke without some old fart says it’s against the law?”

“Old and fart taken. Just trying to save you some grief.”

“Aw, shit, fella. Sorry. Maybe wasn’t you who farted. Coulda been me!” She put the cigarette and lighter into a well-worn reusable shopping bag with scenes from Downton Abbey silk-screened on both sides. “I like this bag, don’t you? I think there’s a fine line between castles and prisons that only the people who’ve lived in either one can see.” She got a faraway look in her eye that made her much younger, and much older in the same moment. She slapped the bar with an open hand.

“So, old fart buddy, let me tell you they were getting like that inside, too. Don’t smoke, eat right, exercise. Goddammit, you know? ‘Fold the sheets and be a good girl, Kara. Nobody wants sheets that smell like an ashtray. You get a break, go outside and smoke.’ I thought I was out of all that, could smoke where I wanted. Big old black man drivin’ the bus told me the same thing. I called him an old fart, too, but it was me who left him a little gift when I got off.”

“You were in prison?”

“Yeah. Well, I screwed up, coulda played it smart and stayed out. Not me. I never was the smart one. I was, but who knew? I got a psych degree from U.T. down in Austin. Where I met that hat size too small son-of-a-bitch husband of mine.”

“He the one you tried to shoot?”

“Tried hell, honey,” she snarkled a laugh. “I shot that motherfucker, no farther away than I am from you. Didn’t kill the bastard. If I had, I’d have been free and clear. Nobody to see, my people would have said I was in another county after they gave me a Clorox bath. She a friend of yours? The towel girl with the tight shirt and tits?”

“More like family. You need a drink or something?”

“Hell, I’m dry, old timer. In more ways than one. Sure, if you can arrange to get me one seein’ as how they’re all bein’ pretty for each other down there and blowin’ off payin’ customers. Waitresses and bartenders used to be able to smell money. People forget how to work and smoke while I was gone?”

“Depends on how long you’ve been gone.”

“Six. I did two and a half hard, three and a half in anger management. That means more light and fewer crazy bitches and no hardened criminals. Just a house full of ‘scrip dope made me write hot checks and run over my husband’ girls, not cut your throat bitches. I was the worst one in my unit, the only gunner. But…” Reagan showed up with a Coke in a bourbon glass. “Aw, thank you, sweetie.”

“You’re welcome. I like to check in with my customers sooner but it’s just me and those two, and I had to chew some ass. I will never again run a two person short staff that’s mixed gender.”

“Makin’ out in the stalls or the walk-in?” The gray dress woman downed the Coke, wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Walk-in was my favorite. Didn’t smell as bad and a man had to heat up or give up, you know?”

“I have a bigger than it needs to be linen, silver and service closet. I sent them back for table cloths, and they can’t keep their hands off each other for two minutes and set a couple of tables.”

Lamar’s visitor poked him on the shoulder. “See that right there? That’s exactly why I shot the motherfucker. My best friend and neighbor, they get off in the trees or somewhere together and he knocked her up, says that’s his new family, adios. And her husband was such a limp-dicked pansy about it all. Sorry, I mean –”

“I’m not a virgin,” Reagan said, leaning in to the bar with both hands. “Go on.”

“But you have such a sweet face, like my daughter’s…Anyway, her husband empties the bank, ups and moves to Bossier or someplace, glad to be rid of her cheatin’ ass. She doesn’t complain, she’s got my husband, and his job and I have a couple of teenagers, no job and an anti-depressant and Oxy habit from some dental shit gone all haywire. So all I could think of to do was shoot him. Sorry, weenie wavin’ sonofabitch that he was.”

“Good for you.”

“Damn, Reagan. Really?”

“Stay out of this Lamar, you’ve never been there.” She reloaded the bourbon glass with another round of Coke, set it on the bar. “So what happened, Kara?”

“So honey, what I was tellin’ this man,” the Coke vanished in another single swallow. “I could have waited for the cops, plead momentary insanity. My people had money. A good lawyer, I’m getting some help, some probation. No. I stole this book, ‘101 Ways to Ruin Someone’s Day’ and I started on page one. Buckshot in her tailpipe, all that shit. I was on about page sixty-something when I was tired of running and out of my ‘scrips and sick and turned myself in. After all those ruined days for her and my wounded ex the D.A. said it was obvious I wasn’t crazy, and it was all premeditated. So now I’m down for attempted murder, not diminished capacity attempted manslaughter.”

“That’s all kinds of messed up and wrong, Kara.”

“No, messed up and wrong is I got ten years for my husband knockin’ up my best friend and taking a walk next door.”

“Ten years? Who was on the jury, men?”

“Mostly. I told this old guy sittin’ here I didn’t do it all. My family got me some woman lawyer out of Odessa, or out that way, and she got me into anger management therapy. Turns out she knew this judge who would get me out and into the anger management, for a fee. All it took to get me out was her knowing somebody and twenty-five grand. Shoulda met her on the front end of the whole Goddamn episode. Judge was gettin’ paid by convicts and for referrals from the outsourced anger manager people to fill their beds. How do you like that? Fuckin’ kickbacks for ‘justice.’ I did three and a half in there like I said. That was only because they couldn’t get my brain chemistry right and I kept goin’ off or goin’ catatonic, never no middle ground. You figure it’s safe for me to go pee, those kids won’t be gropin’ out in the Ladies?”

“Better not be.” Lamar and Reagan, from their respective sides of the bar, watched her determined walk toward the restroom. Reagan pulled her phone from her hip pocket.

“Who’re you calling?”

“Texting. Her daughter. Hold on.” Reagan tapped her phone faster than Lamar thought was possible without half of it being typos. “Lilly only comes in here when her serotonin levels are off. Alcohol just makes it worse, why I brought her Coke in a bourbon glass. She can’t tell the difference. Wet and brown in a short glass.”

“She said her name was Kara.”

“What I said about her meds.”

“She’s not gonna come out shootin’ is she?”

“No. I was told she’s been out over ten years, has a job, does okay except when she stops her meds. They all stop their meds sometime. It’s a control issue, like the only thing in her life she can control is taking her medication. Those meds are her real life sentence, and not taking them is like breaking out of prison.” Reagan checked the flash on her phone, stayed expressionless and put it back in her pocket. “Help is on the way. Didn’t mean to snap at you earlier, I just know how to talk her down. She has bladder issues, so if she drinks something I know she’ll go pee, and I can connect with her daughter.”

“I was worried there for a minute, thought you had someone in mind to shoot or had a body stashed somewhere.”

“I had someone in mind to shoot one time. The problem was he must have seen it coming because he left in the middle of the night and I never heard a peep out of him again.”

“I guess he was lucky.”

“I guess. You know, sometimes we figure all of you guys are dumber than cows, getting pulled around through life by your man junk. Then by some miracle you pick up on the fact that one of us would like to put a bullet in you and you’re gone.”

“Maybe we’re enlightened, you know, in a cosmic sort of way. We see it coming on some level and self-preservation kicks in.”

“And maybe you’re full of shit and happened to notice the open box of .44 cartridges on the kitchen table in the middle of one of your on the way to the fridge for a Bud Light, ‘it’s half-time, honey, got a BJ for me?’ moments. What do you think about that sort of intuition?”

“Think I’m glad I don’t drink beer very often and stopped watching football.”