28 April 2011


“Jesus!  Why did you do that?”  With a pronounced sense of dread John tenderly fingers the purpling bruises on his neck reflected in the bathroom mirror.  They were unmistakable, and would probably be so for several days.  “How am I supposed to go out looking like this?”
“Quit your whining and come back to bed.” 
He can see her naked body making exuberant sheet angels on the bed.  John wants to return, knows he can’t, and hates her for it.  “A lesser man would make marks back, you know.”
She laughs.  “Make all that you want, darling, just come back to bed.”
“I can’t,” he stammers, disaster on his mind as he slides into his slacks.  “I’ve stayed too long as it is.”
With an audible sigh she sits up, grabs a cigarette from the night stand and lights it.  “Have you always been so melodramatic?”  She forms a smoke ring or two, a bemused smile on her face as they warble away to wisps of nothing.  “Or were you just born a coward?” she adds with a faint sneer as John hurriedly throws on his spring jacket.  Exiting the apartment with curses on his breath, he can hear her laughing as he trundles down the staircase.  He rubs his neck as he steps out into the chilly mid-October evening.  The leaves had mostly fallen from the trees by now, collecting in damp clumps along the curb and in the windless nooks of buildings.  Winter was fast approaching, and John wishes he’d brought along a warmer coat, or a hat. 
Or a scarf, he thinks to himself bitterly as he hurries up the avenue.  If it had been just one, he might be able to pass it off as a joke, or maybe an injury at work.  But this, this here was a mad assortment of different sized, clearly-defined bite marks on his neck and chest.  This spelled trouble, if not divorce.  Injury at work.  John scoffs at the thought; accountants don’t get injured at work.  That’s why people become accountants.  And bankers, and bureaucrats, and much else that makes do with large amounts of paper.
He checks his watch:  eight-fifteen.  Should have left an hour or so earlier, but then, that’s life?  Putting aside years of responsibility for those hour-long flights of whim?  To this point, John can’t remember life ever being like that.  Life.   Particularly, the life of a certified accountant.  He eats fairly healthily, but without any particular tastes.  He drinks little.  He occasionally goes out with the wife, and seldom with friends.  He watches some television after dinner, catching the stocks on MSNBC.  Golf, five or six times a year.  He is saving for a house somewhere outside of the city someday, something by the sea so he can own a boat.  He lives in a one-bedroom, yet spacious apartment with his wife in a nice part of town.  They don’t have kids, or a dog; he doesn’t know if he loves her enough to, and suspects she feels the same because they’ve never talked about it. 
Life.  Worse maybe than the possibility of divorce, John discovers he hasn’t much of a life to disarrange.  Maybe that’s why he started seeing her.  Or more likely, he didn’t have a reason.  It just sort of ‘happened’ out of convenience.  When he thinks about it, he can’t quite remember how it started.  John can’t even put a name to her; his wife either.  But what’s in a name?  His own name isn’t much by much.  John.  They give that to the unidentified and the anonymous, to bodies and tricks.  But thinking about his life he can’t quite put an essence to himself, either.  Life is so easy, so for-granted; is he actually a born coward, as she had suggested?  What else besides a coward could this man be that trods so sullenly along the pavement, worrying so?
John tries telling himself he is a coward, yet oddly enough he does not feel ashamed or otherwise compelled to change.  It’s just a word, much like a name.  A word that means ‘does not take risks,’ essentially.  It’s his nature, the same that drew him to mathematics in school, the same that funneled him into accountancy among all the other trades.  In fact, the bruises on his neck are the riskiest thing he had ever done, and only for those can he feel ashamed.  It was an act against his nature, a mad act of recklessness.
He comes to a stop beneath the striped plastic awning outside the entrance to his apartment, breathless from having walked so quickly.  He touches his neck again, wondering if he should go up and face things.  Come clean and beg for forgiveness, or maybe fumble through a web of implausible lies?  He unlocks the heavy Plexiglas door and approaches the elevator.  Perhaps she wouldn’t even notice.  Just keep the lights dim and work late the next few days until they fade away.  As he pushes the call button, a sickening chill wells up in John’s insides.  Disaster on his mind and true to form, he heads back out into the mid-October evening to make up his mind some more.

23 April 2011

Gerrymandering, For the Brain

Capitalizing on recent findings[i] that suggest a biologically political predisposition in the human brain, Pfizer has announced a new drug that could help clinch both the Senate and Presidency for the GOP in 2012.  Called Conservatol®, this daily chemical supplement has been shown in clinical studies to enhance the amygdalal region of the brain.  Integral to emotional learning and consolidated memory, the amygdala also contributes to a person’s sensitivity to fear behavior and personal space.  To make room for the improved amygdala Conservatol® makes cutbacks in other, left-leaning parts of the brain, particularly the anterior cingulate cortex[ii].  In its enhanced state, key platform issues such as national security and lower estate taxes trump those more influenced by the ACC, such as socialism and popular science.

Already Republicans are excited for this new pharmaceutical, hoping that it will usher in a new wave of support unseen since the 1994 elections. 

Side effects may include: dry mouth, dizziness, intensified sense of smell, heightened furcht, inability to detect errors and general inattention, difficulty resolving stimulus conflict, bowel trauma, emotional instability, internal bleeding, and in severe cases, akinetic mutism.  Use as directed.

[i] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1342239/Brain-study-reveals-right-wing-conservatives-larger-primitive-amygdala.html
[ii] See illustration A, “Typical Voting Brain.”

19 April 2011

Pork Chop Shout-Out

So I've just tried out the greatest pork chop recipe.  Check out:  http://busycooks.about.com/od/porkentreerecipes/r/applechop.htm

They may well be the best I'd ever had.  So big thanks to Linda!  It goes quite well with skin-on whipped potatoes (try adding finely-diced apples and a bit of horseradish), corn (you know, corn), and fresh-baked corn bread (ideally incorporating bacon grease, and perhaps bits of the aforementioned corn).  Cap off with a nice beer, and prepare to sleep well!

12 April 2011

"Bird Feeder"

            Birds are marvelous things, really.  Colorful and exotic, paying their fast visit over a bite and a song before spiriting away on the next wind.  Theirs is a transitory sort of happiness I can only long for in my dreams.
            I have a busy but fairly fixed schedule, auditing insurance claims at our office in Kansas City.  I’d joined the Couch Surfing network some time ago with every intention of making a trip, but with the inevitable reality that I would only play a host.  Which is just as well, really.  I have a nice apartment, fitted out for dinner parties and the like.  But again, being unmarried and fairly busy I’ve had scant chance to make use of it.
            So it came as a pleasant surprise when I received my first email, asking me to host a cross-country bicyclist from New York.  How thrilling!  He was waiting with his bike on the pavement outside the building when I returned from work.  Over dinner I worked out that what I had before me was a trust-fund Martin, making a southwestern journey to The Valley.  It was an extraordinary conversation for me, listening to tales about similarly kind strangers in far-off lands like Pennsylvania and Indiana; of road-hogging assholes in un-green pickup trucks and having to cope with the constant threat of rain and wind or running out of bottled water.  He crashed on the couch and by morning he was gone, leaving a note on the counter thanking me for my hospitality and apologizing for the loaf of bread he’d taken with him.  Needless!  It was a breath of fresh air for me, a cool breeze with which to temper the stagnant boredom of my hitherto life.
            Subsequent surfers came, sometimes several a week or once in a month.  They often came alone, but would sometimes travel in pairs, trios, and once in septuplicate.  There were all kinds:  thick-kneed coots and lucky ducks, thieving bustards, garrulous self-trumpeters, and unabashed babblers.  There was once a future cardinal, accompanied by a brace of penguins I took to be his toadies.  And I entertained a group of jaegers coming back from shooting deer in Iowa, who expressed an utter contempt for crows once the beer began flowing.  A bit of a conversational albatross, really; like the recovering heron-addict who turned out to be a missionary out for my soul.  But there were hawks and doves parroting their party lines, and a shag or two (to my credit) to pass the night (for larks).  They were plains-wanderers all, and I had the uniquely good fortune to give them a place to rest their travel-wearied bones. 
And every morning when I leave for work, I go with a song on my lips brought to me from afar, perhaps to be never heard again.

06 April 2011

"The Request"

            In all the country there was never a man considered so pious as one Fibonacci.  Even as a young boy was he considered set for priesthood, being so meek and mild and considerate of others.  At fifteen he joined the Benedictine monastery on the hill, called St. Valspar’s.  He could easily have become a proper priest, rising to the status of bishop or even pope, but the young novice loved the manual labor and quiet contemplation the order offered.  So on he stayed, doing the goodly, monkly things one might expect, until he was well advanced in years and had become a sort of living saint to folk in those parts.
            Good deeds rarely go without their reward {so far as these sorts of tales go}, and before long God Himself decided to pay his great servant a visit.  “Fibonacci,” the Almighty thundered good-naturedly.  “Truly art thou my most faithful servant."
            The initially-terrified old man was much humbled by his Creator’s interest, and after several minutes of obeisance[i] meekly asked of Him, “Do you intend to test me then, as your servant Job?”
God assured him this was not the case, this being more akin to his visits with Enoch, when men were wont to talk without the use of sarcasm.  He was mildly surprised then, when Fibonacci uttered a groan of disappointment.  “What doth thy disheartening sounds portend?”
The old man bowed his head, saying “I have lived in your service my entire life, O Holy God Lord.  From my very infancy until the very present.  I have lived and served and submitted and prayed all these years, separated from this world in anticipation of the next to come.”
The Lord cocked a lordly eyebrow at this, having heard many a similar conversational lead-in.  “Dost thou wish to cast off thy brotherly duties for a time, to experience the lay life?”
“Oh, no Lord God Divinest Sir!” the monk cried.  “Heaven forfend!  I cherish this life more than any other.  It’s just…  I fear I will never know the threat of Hell, nor the fear of everlasting damnation.”
God was befuddled.  “Speakest thou what it is thou desirest, and come to the point.”
“When I die, let my soul know your absence in Hell’s pit for thirty years; a decade for each day Christ suffered.”
God hemmed and hawed for a bit as He pondered this rather unprecedented request.  “Verily, thy request is granted.  Go thee in peace until we again meet.”  And with a flash of light and the wispy after-odor of stale methane, the Lord disapparated.  Time came and went as it usually does, and Fibonacci eventually succumbed to the flux, as was then common.  His departing thoughts were of the great, horrific promise given him by God, and he was preparing to say something regarding it when he suddenly expired.  There was great mourning in all the countryside, and thousands travelled tremendous distances to visit his grave at St. Valspar and purchase reputed pieces of his person.
Meanwhile, beyond the tawdry limits of time and space, Fibonacci found {or perhaps ‘finds,’ given that all tenses no longer have any weight} himself at the golden gates of Heaven itself.  “What the hell?” he exclaimed/s.  “Where’s Hell?”  It was/is/ever-shall-be St. Peter[ii] who responded with great joy that Fibonacci is in Heaven, and should be most goodly-glad at his reward.  “But the Lord’s promise!” he wept, and after a brief explanation was referred to the Lord Himself.
“We meetest again, fairest Fibonacci!” the Lord greeted congenially.
“Indeed, Lord, but what became of my thirty years of torment?!”
“Hold thy tongue, and keep thy peace!” the Lord scolded/s.  “I have kept my promise to thee, in accordance with thy off-kilter wishes.  Forsooth! for the agreed passage of time didst thou experience mine absence in its horrifying form, as annihilation of thy very ego.”
Poor Fibonacci could scarcely believe it.  “But Lord, what of Hell, and of the fire and brimstone?  What of torment?”
“Utter fabrication.  Tis Greek!  Now cease thy shrewish whinging and leave thy sarcasm at the gate.  Enjoy thee yon Bridal Feast!”  And upon entering, {St.} Fibonacci enjoyed the company of other saintly souls.  Hobs did they nob for what began to seem an eternity, until at last {St.} Fibonacci began to feel that perhaps he did, in fact, get his wish.

[i] Called ‘groveling’ by laymen.
[ii] That is, St. Peter of Pappacarbone.

"The Holiday Fun"

       “The line gets longer every year,” Frank whispers gloomily to Carol.  They stand, a mittened child in each hand, towards the rear of a thick column of people stretching out from the mall. 
       “The kids like to see him, you know that.  Besides, it’s a holiday tradition.”
       “It wasn’t in my family,” he mutters under his breath.  He should be back home, possibly in bed; someplace warm at the least.  He could only imagine what his old man’d say if he saw this.  “Besides, isn’t it,” and remembering the kids within earshot, brings himself to a whisper, “isn’t it all a bit sacrilegious?”
       “Nonsense!” Carol says with a dismissive gesture.  Playfully, she nudges him in the ribs with her elbow.  “It’s all part of the fun.  Didn’t you have fun as a kid, dear?”
       “I was raised catholic,” he says with feigned reserve, to her amusement.  Actually, church had been a bit of a reprieve from home for little Francis, his father often under the overbearing power of the Spirit.  His mother had envied him, saying simply she would’ve become a nun if God gave mulligans.
       “Well, I’m going to head inside,” Carol tells him insinuatingly.  She instructs her two oldest to stay with daddy, then slips away towards the Target entrance.  After what seems like tedious hours, they reach the door.  They cross the threshold, the probably expensive stale mall heat wafting out at them along with the obscenely light hymnal tunes.  A putridly del-tonic rendition of ‘On Eagles Wings’ is playing, to Frank’s marked distaste.  The children become animated with excitement; they can see the gaudy holiday display far ahead.  “Dad, Dad!  It’s him!  It’s HIM!” could well sum up their enthusiasm.  With some difficulty Frank manages to restrain the four writhing, jiggling, yelling kids, and still maintain a supportive smile.
       “We’ll be there soon,” he tells them, knowing it’ll be yet another half hour or so.  The mall is festooned with gay apparel, with pink and yellow bunting and pastel paper eggs hanging from the raised ceiling.  One step at a time, the line crawls forward to the upbeat sounds of ‘Christ is Risen’ and ‘the Exultet.’  At long last, they approach the velveteen stanchions.  A cardinal in rented red vestments with a terribly affected Italian accent takes Frank’s admittance fee at a mockup pulpit.  The kids are at bursting point, and with a surge of relief Frank lets them loose.  “It’s the POPE!  It’s the POPE!”
       The kindly old man on the gold-painted throne plays a believable pope, though to Frank’s eye the styrofoam mitre is asking a bit much.  One by one, the unruly mass of assembled children are led up by the papal legates and placed on Il Papa’s lap.  “And what would you like in your basket, little boy/girl?” he asks each awestruck enfant, with a “Go in peace” or “Bless you, child” afterwards.  For an additional four dollars a picture can be taken, though admittedly few opt for this.
       One by one, Frank collects his children, still bubbling with excitement.  Only his eldest, Jeremy, seems less-than-enthused.  As they walk back to find Carol at the food court, he asks his father if that was, in fact, the pope himself.
       “Sure, he is,” Frank tells him.  The boy’s only six, he reasons to himself.  The time would soon enough be right to tell him the truth.  But for the now, it’s part of the holiday fun.