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Year of the Monkey Mind. Chattering, distractible year. Jumping between mental branches without clinging to any one roost. Blinking with all-black eyes at the light of reason. Shrieking into the empty air in search of fellow spirits. Chaotic monkey, navigating through the bamboo forest, no perch permanent. Monkey Mind Year bares its fangs at imagined threats, clenching green stems and puffing its body past rational bounds, promising violence at the danger to its territory. Progress and enlightenment take a second role to paranoia, hissed simian curses, and base impulse. A year stranded in an evolutionary byway, trapped by genetic progress.
One breast can conquer the world. Tumbling out of its nylon prison to the shock of 70,000+ onlookers and 1 billion television viewers, a single middle-aged and pastie-capped mammary gland gazes out with its occluded eye and hypnotizes the nation. Only in a deeply repressed country, in which the fount at which every baby born 100 years ago began its nutrition has become a cloaked obsession, rendered all the more prurient via condemnation, could a single breast push the Super Bowl, the Democratic primary, and the ongoing quagmire in the Middle East off the front page. Anyway, I've had better.
Car skids to dusty halt under cyan sky. Spike-heels tap across asphalt soft in the desert heat. Gas nozzle in crimson-nailed hand slides home in the silver sportscar's hull. Wind catches auburn curls, parches parted lips. Owner's son squints through grimy office glass at black miniskirt, detached hazel eyes. Her gaze meets his; he starts away in guilt; she smirks. Three hard pumps top the tank. She nears; a twenty flutters in her grip. He exits, extends shaking hand to receive payment, thinks: they are alone. She, telepathic, squints, smiles a nonverbal "no," turns, declining change, leaving him slackjawed, aching.
One day SOON, people! One day SOON you are gonna be STRUCK with the TRUTH! The TRUTH will drive you to your KNEES! Drive you FACE DOWN in the DIRT! You will taste the DIRT in your MOUTH, people! Your HANDS will CLAW at the COLD STONE! You'll be STRUCK by the TRUTH! It ain't gonna WAIT, people! You'll be on the GROUND and the TRUTH will wanna come OUT! And you'll OPEN your MOUTH and LET OUT the TRUTH! And the truth you'll SCREAM is:
"'Dancing Queen' is the greatest POP SONG of ALL TIME!"
Say Hallelujah and AMEN!
Someone was sitting in her space. A boy, pale, postcollegiate, baggy black sweater, Powerbooking in the nook next to the coffeeshop window.
worn mustard corduroy cushions.
coffee-ringed table, engraved with countless initials, a decade-long confessor of written and whispered anxieties.
daily two hours of afternoon sun, soaking into this anonymous intruder.
From fifteen paces away she watched, suppressed vexation bending her gripped Bic. The grey notebook cover warped in her sweating hand. No words could focus her outrage into a kind request for him to move.
She had no choice.
She pulled the fire alarm.
Accidental expert. Most folks know nothing about something. When they encounter someone who knows a little about it, to them that person's an expert until proven otherwise. Theory: If he knows
are his to command. Those people are in turn divided, like Gaul, into three groups: those who know nothing about it and can successfully bluff or fail trying; those who know a lot about it and can divulge voluminous wisdom thereupon; and lint-traps like me, who know a little about a lot and are thus ten kinds of perceived genius in a week. Yikes.
My typewriter, flashing a black grin flecked with white glyphs, has eaten all of the words.
"Hand them over."
"No dice, sweets. I've got ‘em all now. Adjectives, nouns, verbs. No sentences until we talk."
"Nonsense. I've got plenty of words right here. On my pad, in my laptop."
"Go ahead," it purrs. "Take a look."
Damn thing was right. Laptop: empty. Notebook: white expanse. "You Eisenhower-era bitch. Name your terms."
"New ribbon. Thick bond paper. Eighty-six the computer. Type for real and make each letter hit hard."
I crack my knuckles. "You win. Gimme double-space and a half-inch indent."
One last chip, lying there on the table. One single chip between you and the casino garage. You can toss it into the circle, hope for a winning hand or the dealer to bust, or even to score a 21.. But it's your last chip. You can walk with it, score lunch with it even, or bet and ... what, lose? Get tapped out entirely? Hell, you drove all day, you've gotta go home with something. So you drop it in, and ...
See, folks, this is why I play poker and not blackjack anymore. Who needs the stress?
Past a certain age, footsteps gain an extra, haunting echo, the sound bouncing back from the yet-unseen wall of our mortality. There is no stopping or turning back. All we can do is keep walking and listening to the rising volume of our own march toward the end. Some tiptoe, others run, and a few dance in deliberate ignornance, but there is no standing still. I would suggest that if you walk on your hands, it makes no noise. So flip, buck the pack, and take each inverted step without fear or hazard from an end that comes to all.
"We...we have to break up," he stammered, downcast.
"Why? Is it me?"
"No--no, it's not you..."
"Well, I don't see how it could be you."
"No, it's----" He pointed out the window. "It's him."
He--the "him"--had been plagued by this for years. He drifted through life, the universal solvent for the bonds of love. Upon nearing couples in trouble, both parties would lose their nerve, split, and center all of their blame upon him. As lethal to shaky couples as gaffed dice to a craps hotshot. A black hole into which all relationships would disappear.
After a certain number of overlong workdays, too-early mornings, and late nights trudging home from the office, the week becomes one long shift, uninterrupted by socializing, fun, or television. Scraps of conversation or wit drift back to you days later, like discussions held over your anesthesized body, seeping back to conscious access. Days seem lived in fast forward, except the slow times, when the walls of your office crowd in, taller than sight. Weekends are blue mist at the edge of a horizon, a rumored land that never gets closer to the ship. No carrier pigeons ever return with hope.
The curly-headed man smoked the cigarette as though it was to be his last. He held the Marlboro upright, very European, studying the curl of vapor rippling into the air. Raising it to his lips, his eyes crinkled as he drew each langourous pull. Each drag burned away at least a centimeter, the tip flaring like a tiny, petulant sun in the dank bar. Pausing like a pot smoker, he lingered over the inhaled smoke, then released it almost reluctantly in a pooling stream. When he reached the filter, he ground it out in a deliberate, practiced series of twists.
"I don't think you have the nuts. Ten."
"What?! How do you know I don't have an ace. Rereaise."
"I'm saying you have clubs, but not high clubs. Twenty."
"Well, pard, I'm guessing your hearts aren't gonna hold up either. Raise."
"Look, just call this bet, you won't lose anymore. Thirty."
"I see an eight, six, and four of hearts there. Even if we both have aces, I'm sitting on royalty here. Raise!"
"Fine, you wanna see whose flush is higher, I'm willing to play. Call."
"Good. Ace-king-queen flush. You happy?"
"Yes. Straight flush to the eight."
Singleton's life on Valentine's Day:
Go shopping for computer gear
Execute a vicious cleaning maneuver on the homestead
Blast into my favorite Tex-Mex joint and hog the chips-n-salsa like a tortilla-obsessed miser
Swing by the remains of a once-great game store and prey on the leavings
Buzz Barnes & Noble with Xmas loot and snag some mind candy
Rustle up the mixings for a mighty, spice-frenzied batch of chili
Drop some video comfort food into the DVD
Spend the entire day, in short, catering to my whim, enriching my life, filling my lungs and knowing I'm alive, even if single
Aftermath. Across the wintry land, cardiac boxes in red and pink lie denuded of chocolate, save for those wretched nuggets nobody likes: coconut, quince, walnut. Cards stand erect on darkened desks and mantels, bearing cursive sentiments storebought, heartfelt, or plagiarized. Roses wrinkle their hothouse-raised faces in the dry air and begin to die. Couples stir awake, realizing last night's sex was neither life changing nor any better for the occasion on which it was celebrated. New singles awaken, hung over, struggling through mental autopsies on their deceased relationships. And shopkeepers retire Valentine garlands, rummaging in their storerooms for cardboard shamrocks.
In World War I, Parisian taxicabs ferried soldiers back and forth from the front to the safety of the City of Lights. Men got a leave after several weeks, spent miles away from the chattering death of German machineguns, though still within earshot of their cannons' thunder. Each meal, every glass of wine, each kiss from a Gallic nymphet must have carried an increasing sense of doom for these men. Wiser men surely appreciated how each could be their last. And the ride back to the front along jaunty, half-bombed roads and cow tracks must have been loneliest of all.
It is the quiet evening before the onslaught. Waves of grim clouds muster, march, herd forward for war, pregnant with ice crystals. In utter silence, they ignore terrain, fearing no defender. Those in their path frantically gather supplies and button themselves down in their fortresses. Roads clear of all but the most foolhardy drivers. Those few to venture forth bear sand, salt, hoping to minimize the casualties. Over all of these wan paladins, the clouds shoulder in, obscuring the stars and heavens, shrouding the shrieking moon. Their attack pours down without herald or command. A white shroud covers its victims.
As time passes, the chance that any recent presidents will appear on currency diminishes. The last chief to grace green--silver, really--was Kennedy, and he earned the slot by being shot. Before that, Eisenhower, a war hero. You might argue that recent leaders have appeared on stamps. I counter, big deal. Nixon's a stamp. You want to follow frigging Nixon? I didn't think so. No, it's only by crushing Nazis or being shot by a crazed socialist that anyone from recent times makes the Mint. Unless you were covered in the first half of a Civics course, you're SOL.
I spent the week watching two bananas die. They hung from a hook, brown spots engulfing them, their off-white flesh exuding potent esters through their skins. I needed them to reach this point for mashing and stirring into bread mix. Not four feet away, newer, slightly green bananas rested in a bowl. I wondered if the fresh fruit looked at these dangling brown ones in the same way as Londoners might have regarded the gibbeted, tarred body of Captain Kidd, hanging there as a lesson to all newcomers that behavior unbecoming a banana would not be tolerated. Warned, they shuddered.
Listening to a bad interviewer dance around her own merry totem pole of self-interest, while an evocative guest sits ignored at her side. It's like watching a toy thrown down by a fickle child roll under a couch, there to be forgotten until the family finally moves. You want to reach through the radio and tell the chick to shut the fuck up, stop mincing around like a half-clever college student trying to impress a band member with his "deep" knowledge. Even the moon eventually moves out of the way of the sun during a goddamn eclipse. Take a hint!
She stormed through the house, a merry housewife, blood charged by speed prescribed for weight loss by a "doctor" known in her circle for results. Dishes were washed, stacked neatly in the very center of the basement. The plants were watered and trimmed to a quarter of their size, and the cuttings arranged in size order across her youngest son's bedspread. A layer cake rose like a deranged Chrysler Building, meticulously frosted, ascending in sugary precision in her husband's Barcalounger. Perfection bent into new patterns through her eyes, cracks forming across blank walls of reticence. Chemicals spun new, frightening geometries.
When I am stuck in a meeting, trapped on the bus, waiting in line, or otherwise mired, I escape by imagining a movie: "Calling All Chimps." This film has no plot. The opening: One military or police official turns to the other, declares the situation to be almost hopeless, and the second uniform issues the order: "Calling all chimps." From all over--zoos, circuses, screen-acting-animal retirement homes--chimpanzees would hear the summons and screech into action. Why are they needed? What will they endure? Who cares?! All I know is that there are chimps, and all of them are called.
Out of eleven men at the poker table, two were playing, one was dealing, and eight were bored. The pair involved in the last round peeked at their cards, scrutinized the board, tried to bore through the brown patterns on the backs of their opponent's holdings. The dealer grasped the remaining cards, glancing from one silent combatant to the other, breathing quietly. Others shuffled twin stacks of chips into single towers, fiddled with lighters, dragged idly on cigarettes, or counted their remaining stakes. Sighs glided across the felt from these players, hoping to goad someone into ending the eternal showdown.
I am currently accepting bids for residency from all English-speaking countries not currently run by idiots who allow their religious beliefs to override their judgment and ability to rule. I am a kind, thoughtful citizen who contributes to the economy and culture of my country. I do not pollute or consume resources unnecessarily, I vote in elections, and I abide by the law. I respect wildlife and do not harm animals except to eat those few I need to survive. If these traits match what you seek in a resident of your country, contact me and we will discuss relocation.
There's always a spot of guilt about shopping at a store going out of business. Especially when it's the first and last time you will patronize it. You wander among the discount tags, forcing detachment. Lonely creaks from the hardwood floor, must wafting from denuded shelves, books freed from their imprisoning neighbors, You know the shopkeeper is watching you, trying to curve his face into a helpful smile as he did in better times, perhaps wishing you had been a regular. Don't draw attention to the discounts when you check out. He's been through enough. Celebrate, instead, in the car.
Contrite, the worst boyfriend in the world pulls himself up three flights of stairs. Drunken footsteps thud against worn wood. Hours ago the time for his date passed. Beer and poker sucked him down into a stormy sea of compounded losses, winnings chased vainly, a possible mercy fuck somewhere deep in the night's murk. He struggles in his pocket, hand numb, for the key. The door opens before he touches it. His girlfriend stands there, not frowning, but wearing the mask of pity people deploy for the helplessly stupid. He feels like an object, shelved as useless, and turns away.
Here's to the chips and salsa at José Tejas. I can buy a bag of third-rate chips and a jar of industrially spiced vegetable mash for a fiver, but these are not enough to pull me thirty minutes along frantic highways and beneath any brutality the skies can hurl down. Chips--salted, slightly greasy, hot from the oil drum. Salsa--a slow-burning fire, sneaking up on you by the fifth or sixth chip, cilantro dancing behind the flames. Chips worth fighting over, salsa worthy of theft for home use. Woe be the waiter who removes a half-full basket. That man dies.
She peeled with her fingernail a tiny section of unlacquered wood on the café table. Nervous tics filtered through as she entered her second hour of waiting for her boyfriend to arrive so she could break up. Sound deadened. Cars passed bereft of growl or horn. Buildings swayed, wind arousing no metallic creaks. Planes passed overhead with no roar from their turbines. All she heard was the scraping of her thumbnail against a clear layer of lacquer. A section suddenly peeled up, dug underneath her nail. "Fuck!" she cried. The sound of life slammed back down upon her reddening ears.
As a child, Joe had a picture of his dog, Elvis, on his nightstand. Joe's parents bought Elvis when Joe was born, and they spent six years of companionship together. No friend was closer, no eyes more forgiving, than Elvis's. Elvis died three months after Joe's sixth birthday. To ease the pain, his parents framed a picture of the both of them sitting on the lawn in the third summer of their lives. When Joe fell asleep, he always imagined Elvis, in the picture, would also close his eyes and sleep next to him. Twenty-five years later, Joe still does.
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