Nice to Meet You

Jackson bypassed sign-in and the new intern receptionist at 1700, walked the length of the hall to the PR office, let himself in. With a hand on either jamb no beard, old jeans, blue and white squares thrift store bowling shirt Jackson leaned in the doorway of Paula Whittier’s graphic design office.

“You’re Paula, huh? Nice earrings. Nicer crib. You rate a Double-Wide?”

“Yes. I had them knock out a wall for me because I work big. They also installed a big can under my desk marked ‘shit’, specifically for jive-ass salesmen’s compliments.” She continued to peer through a magnifying glass at photos scattered on a light desk the size of a ping pong table. “And it’s Ms. Whittier to vendors, please, and thank you. I don’t remember any appointments, so,” she switched off her light table and spun towards the door. “Whoa. Who let you in? I heard heaven starts on nineteen.”

“You kissed a frog once. Here I am.”

“Permission to vomit. I was six. Prince?”

“Jackson. That’s it, either way. Story or you can leave it.”

“Studley! You’re not just a voice on the phone! Um…They told me this one. Yvonne. Paula Yvonne when my mom was mad. Your name game? Yawn. Something this side of disco?”

“Permission to fold under trendsetter pressure. Paula and Yvonne, that’s extra Fifties. Bobby sox, girl bands, bad TV, worse movies. Mom made out by the jukebox with greasers, married penny loafers?”

“Smart and decent arm candy.”

“Same to you but way more of it.”

“Uh-oh, swoon attack. Marry me?”

“Sure. Lunch first?”

“You are a God.”

“First miracle. Cleavage Trace, on your blue Batgirl phone. Today.”

“Not in this dimension. Tell me another one ‘cause they’re so pretty?”

“Straight up. Ringing before lunch farts rumble.”

“Very wrong. Ethics forbid a blowjob, even if true.”

“Forbidden fruit is sweetest, but on legal authority? Blow is a figure of speech.”

“Not a Puffer fan?”

“Sick can’t be unseen. For real, Trace needs help. Concept, cover, merchandise. Work him.”

“’For real’ is so stale. Say it’s true. What should I wear to his party?”

“You is perfect. Listen, jam, take it where it needs to go. Spool it, print it, call a courier.”

“Talk the talk, bad boy. He’ll love me just the way I are?”

“Don’t go shavin’. I heard wedding bells and lunch. I do requests at the top of every hour.”

“Extreme burgers and onion rings I’ve never seen. Elmore’s? In a dark booth.”

“Whoa, demanding with a touch of bitch. Same-side dark booth romantic?”

“Down boy. Elbow room required. Fact on bitch, I own it.”

“Dreams do come true. I’m cab bait. You’re driving.”

“I’m not locally grown. Homes of the Rich and Famous tour?”

“Jesus. What have you done for me tomorrow?”

“My stereo is brain damage. Manilow’s Greatest-Live in Ecuador. Bootleg.”

“An all-day repeater. Up for a trade? Various Artists, Pan Flute Christmas.

“All over it. No ‘Sleigh Bells’ equals deal-breaker.”

“Track three.” He opened the PR office door, held it for her. “Ladies first.”

Context Example 1

Trying to start a conversation with an unwilling participant. In semi-context – 1970s. In this excerpt I was trying to connect two people, both strangers in a strange land. The male hasn’t got a lot of baggage except for some heartbreak and confusion and being inadvertently waylaid by hallucinogens in New Mexico on his way to USC. He’s the piano bar background. The female character is supposed to unfold as the chapter progresses and her issues send him on a short quest to find her help. Here’s how he breaks the ice. Does it work?

 

Jackson stepped out the back door of the hotel kitchen after lunch shift with a couple of waiters, one male, one female, to burn one, post lunch rush.

The girl, Missy, was close to his age. Everyone called the guy Five-Oh because he dyed his hair, combed two-thirds of it back in a duck’s butt to cover the tanned or spray painted bald spot, left the front hanging greasy like Jack Lord from Hawaii Five-O. He was weird, too thin and nervous, probably a speed freak. But he knew somebody who grew killer, lime green hydroponic weed and he was loose with it.

Missy was too thin herself, wouldn’t talk to anyone but her customers. After her shift she changed into the same long, hippie-print tapestry skirt and a white, cap sleeve t-shirt, hit the joint with them and headed west on foot. After a week of everything he said to her hitting a wall Jackson followed her. It looked like she was going to walk to where the west side met the desert if he didn’t stop her.

He caught up at a light, pulled out the first conversation starter he could find. “Nice bracelet. Indian?”

“I knew you were back there, space man. I missed the ‘walk’ light on purpose and waited up so we could bale this and stack it in the barn. I don’t need a boyfriend or a new savior or a better job or a better way or better sex or Avon or Amway or the New York City Sunday paper or anything you’re selling. Leave me alone.”

“I asked about the bracelet.” It was thin leather covered in beads and more of a cuff, almost like Indian biker wear, and laced on with orange yarn.

“Indian, yeah. I don’t know what kind. It was wide enough for what I needed, and the bead pattern was cool.” He thought she was going to bite a hole in her lip. “I lace it on and forget it. Thanks. Gotta go.” She took off across the street without the walk light, dodged a couple of cars and kept on west. He watched for a minute, jogged in the heat all the way back to his car and drove west on Flamingo. He crossed under the interstate, saw her a quarter mile ahead, rolled up in front of her, stopped and got out.

“This is stupid. Missy’s not your name, nobody’s really named Missy and nobody in Vegas nicked you with it.”

“I’m not from Vegas and it’s not your problem, is it?”

“I’m from bale it and put in the barn country myself, you don’t talk through your nose, and Missy is still bullshit.” He could see her frustration with him ramping up.

“Do you get away with this, wherever you’re from, talking to girls like we need to talk back and telling us it’s bullshit if we don’t? I told you —”

“You didn’t tell me anything, it’s hot as hell and you aren’t walking like you’re going anywhere. You can ride in the back with the tire iron like the last girl that got in my car, but get off your feet and outta the heat, tell me where you need to go.” They stared at each other for a few seconds, he drummed his fingers on the top of his car while she fidgeted with the leather cuff. “Hey, I liked that one. Feet, heat.” She still wasn’t sold, but she let a quick, small smile get out. He was gaining ground.

“What, now you’re some kind of prairie poet or something? I heard twang. Texas? Not tin can enough to be Okie.”

“Okie born and raised. But I’ve spent a lot of time getting it out of my nose and down into a drawl.”

“You’re not there yet. Maybe North Texas?” She gave up a very small grin, crawled into the back seat. “Wow, baa-ad. The air conditioner even works!”

He pulled away from the curb, had no choice but silence since his radio had been stolen, idled them out Flamingo in third.

“Nice hole you have in your dash.” She cradled the lug wrench across her lap, opened his back window a crack, lit a long, white filtered cigarette and blew “Kansas” out with the smoke.

“No Kansas without a tape player.”

“Me, you Okie clown. I’m from Kansas. I could almost throw a rock and hit Oklahoma if I wanted, where I lived.”

In the mirror he watched her make a face while she leaned, twisted, pulled a seatbelt buckle out from under her backside. “Now I’m living across town the other way in a runaway shelter so you aren’t taking me ‘home’ anywhere around here, if that was your big ‘help Missy out’ idea.”

Nuts

She waved her hand in a wide but unobtrusive arc, more wrist than arm. “Every time I see these things I think about John’s nuts.”

Here we go. “Yeah? What things?”

“All these big green egg things. They remind me of John’s nuts, that’s all.”

Big green egg shaped things and John somebody’s nuts.

“He’s dead, now.” She let that hang a moment. “He was at work one day, all chirpy, saying he was okay, and he was gone the next day. It was all kind of sad.”

Okay, maybe this John guy had big green nuts and that’s what killed him. Big green nuts would do that, kill a guy if he didn’t get them checked out. If I woke up with big green nuts I would sure as hell beat it to the Doc’s.

“We all ate his nuts for like three months.”

Hold on. “You all ate John’s nuts?”

“So did we, you and I. You remember, from the Christmas party a few years ago? Taller, kind of poinky. Gray hair. He was gay and a really nice man. We saw him that time at the store and I introduced you?”

“Oh yeah, right. Him. You worked with him for a while?” The only person I remembered from the Christmas parties was a black dude trumpet player who taught music and was fun, and a sparkly older lady whose daddy had been a senator or governor or something from Louisiana. She held the patent on the old school Southern Belle thing and was sharper than a barber’s razor. Otherwise, like most work Christmas parties, there was never a lack of shortish or tallish, poinky-ish, gray haired, maybe gay people around.

“Yes. He’s dead now.”

“You said that.” Okay. Deep breath. “He didn’t die of giant green egg shaped nuts, did he?”

“No…” She was off somewhere remembering poinky gray gay John, missing his presence at work. Hopefully not his nuts. “It was cancer. They told him he had five or six years after his first round with it, and like clockwork, in four and a half years it was back with a vengeance. He was gone in six months. Anyway, he gave us all a big bag of his roasted nuts for Christmas that year and we ate them for a couple of months.”

“He didn’t like give us chunks of his big green egg shaped nuts that he roasted, right?”

“No. Listen, and don’t be goofy. He roasted his own nuts in one of these green egg griller-roaster things. And gave them to us in a big bag with a ribbon around the top. When I see all these green egg things it reminds me of him and his nuts. Like when I see those beat up cooking pots, you know, the big ones? I think of my grandpa’s boiled peanuts.”

“Boiled what?”

“Peanuts. Big ol’ green egg things and big ol’ beat up cook pots making me think about John’s and grampa’s nuts. I guess I’m weird, huh?”

I raised my eyebrows.

“Oh, you. Stop it. Talk about weird, Mister Weird-o. Did you get those screw-on nipple things you wanted so we can leave?”

nipples

Gone

What if where you were
When you were who you were, before
Who you are now
Was gone

My father grew up here
So did I. There were signs black and bold
The family name,
What else was sold

I painted them one summer
I was eight, it was hot as hell, alive
With beat up trucks
Colorful men

Grampa built this, no one now would know,
Looking you’d think the name was “closed”
In pen on yellow paper
Audible emptiness

Flowers grew where dead grass
Tries behind railroad ties and on gravel
Where memories of dead men once
Parked cars

If where I was
In all those yesterdays
Is full of weeds and emptiness, did I ever
Even belong

Or with the signs am I, too,
Gone

Keep the Tip

She put her hand up under my arm, squeezed, leaned into me a little and whispered conspiratorially as we walked out of Lowe’s, “God, that man’s giant weinie smells scrumptious, doesn’t it?”

“Say what?”

“That man’s weinie.” She squeezes a little more. “It looks so-o good and smells out of this world.” The grip starts to relax.

“What man?” The squeeze is back, full on, with a tug.

That man in the red shirt putting stuff on his weinie. Right there.” She glanced to her right, I started to turn. “Don’t look.”

“What, some guy has his weinie out and I–”

“Not that kind of weinie. The ones with grilled onions. And, ” she glanced again, “oh my God, some are even wrapped in bacon!”

“Ohhh….” I slow down, trying to be nice. “I think the guy selling them has Turkey dogs. You want one?”

“No, no. Keep going. I’m not really hungry, and I don’t like gross old weiners.”

I choke the laugh on that one. “Now you tell me.”

“Shut UP!” I can feel her nails in my inner elbow as I’m pulled through the parking lot. “I can’t go anywhere with you, can I?”

I know there’s a squeeze bruise on the inside of my arm, but man…It was worth it.

 

37

When, and how, to say “No” to your wife.

She pushed the pocket door on her side of the bathroom open with her foot and the room started to smell as exotic as her shower always did. “Thursday is our anniversary,” wafted out with the fragrant girl smells.

“I know.” She was cute in her wrapped around, covers everything just barely towel and big hot-roller curlers.

“I know you know. Our daughter told me you texted her about it. We can’t do anything, though, because we’re still helping them out with the kids. I thought I’d pick up a cake, or make something. Or we can wait until the weekend.”

Please, God, don’t bake. “I can pick something up and –”

“I said I’ll do it. Do you know how long?”

I’d wait until the mascara was whipped on, the only real makeup she wore besides lipstick, just to tug on her patience threshold.

“How long what? To get the cake or until we’re off grandkid duty or –”

“How long we’ve been married, maybe?” She was doing that corner of the eye in the mirror thing that gave her eyes in the back of her head.

“Thirty-seven. This year for sure. I used a calculator. And then all my fingers and toes almost twice to be sure.”

“That’s what you said last year when it was thirty-seven years.”

“Last year fifteen minus nine was seven.”

“For you, Mister Man. Ow!” She pulled and palmed one of the hot curlers. “These things are hot.”

I started to say something about that’s why they’re called hot curlers, knew better.

“Thirty-seven years,” she said. “We’re old married people. Boy, that’s a long time, huh?”

“No, it seems like yesterday and I’d do it all again because you were so cute in that purple robe I couldn’t stand it. And you let me bring my waterbed.”

“That thing,” she made a face and banged a drawer closed with her hip. “Last year, did it really feel like thirty-seven years?”

“That’s two trick questions on one cup of coffee.”

“Well?”

I let that one hang like the last drop of honey in one of those little plastic bears she uses for tea and to keep a sticky spot going on the kitchen counter.

“No…”

She checked his grin with the sideways mirror eyes. “You. Don’t be funny. I need some privacy, please. I need to get dressed.” The door closed with the same foot that had opened it. She raised her voice a touch. “You don’t have to get me anything, as long as you remembered when and how long.”

“Right. No card or wine or even a token gift is how I made it this long.”

“What? I couldn’t hear you, the door’s closed. Are you still in here?”

“Leaving. Just talking to the dogs.”

I may be old and math challenged but I’ve been married thirty-seven really-I-checked-this-time years. And I’m not stupid.

 

 

Fathers Day

If you’re a father you know how this goes. “Happy Father’s Day!” Maybe it’s wrapped, probably not. Then you go out to eat. You’ve gone out to eat somewhere kid or grand kid friendly for as long as you can remember, you get the check. Or someone with joint account privileges makes a nice gesture.

I got this one yesterday, Father’s Day Eve, which was okay because everybody is busy and “Dad doesn’t mind.” I tipped this guy the max. Twenty percent. In a Taco place with Formica tables and grand kid proof tile floors. Because you never know. I almost put the receipt in the charitable donations file because I’m still not sure if it was a tip, or a tithe. The scary thing? He kinda looked the part.

And that really got me to wondering. You know, what does that guy give his dad for Father’s Day? Did he wrap it?

Dying in Your Window

The flowers I brought you
Are in your window dying
I hope they say, “He thought of you!”
One more time
Before they gasp their last

In my hand they stood tall, proud
Radiant in their best yellows and greens
They brightened your day
“Aren’t they lovely,” received with a kiss
They told you I thought of you
When I had nothing to say

Now they are dying in your window

I could have let them be
Left enthusiasm to float
With the pollen on the spring breeze
Spared their lives, sneezed
Found something to say to you
That’s never there when I need it

Instead I killed some flowers
To brighten your day
To let you know I thought of you
When I couldn’t find the words
To tell you how I feel

And now they are dying in your window

And Godammit, I’d do it again
Flower Murderer that I am
To brighten your day
And let you know I thought of you
When how I felt was bigger
Than all the words I couldn’t find

That often can be found dying in your window

Photograph by Alex Markovich
Find his work here https://photo-art.me/

For Elizabeth, the constant muse

Old Friends

The cat turned away, in a ripple it shook from head to tail
In an effort to ignore the feather in its face, to no avail.
Said the cat to the man with the feather in his hand
I may eat junk from a can and poop in the sand
But there is one thing I do understand;
Clever is clever and fun is fun
However when the feather
At either end
Grows weary of the game?
It’s done.