Thursday, December 19, 2019

2 Minutes. Go!

Back to 1997. I'm living in a small town in rural Pennsylvania. I'm way out of place, but the hippies have befriended me. I'm like a freakshow that tells good stories and likes to complain about the liquor laws. I am missing California like you would not believe. Then, the ring my friend Katie gave me broke. I broke. I decided a tattoo would have to suffice and went to the shitty biker tattoo shop with a broken ring and $200. I lucked out. The tattoo took three hours, but the guy was good. Really good. It was by far my best tattoo at the time.

I'm there with a hippie chick and probably someone else, but I only remember the chick because she got her tongue pierced, too. So, three hours in the chair and my nerves are scraped and electric and I'm happy. Tattoo dude tells us he's getting into piercing and will do both our tongues for free including jewelry because he's learning. Well, what the fuck, eh? What the fuck.

So, we both say that we're in. She goes first and it's fucking brutal to watch. When the clamp is put on her tongue, she starts sweating. When the needle goes through, her body goes rigid like she's been fucking electrocuted. Awesome. I don't care too much because I'm drunk and high and spun off tattoo pain. Still, Jesus. Foreshadow much?

So, he sits my scrawny ass in a chair and pulls out the clamp. The clamp looks a lot like barbecue tongs. Dude is shaved head and lots of ink and probably tastes like Meth is you lick his face. I don't know for sure. Neither of us licked his face. Not that I remember. Anyway, this dude clamps my tongue and pulls it tight. He takes the needle and SHOVES it right through the middle of the clamp. My body goes electric and my eyes are tearing up. Dude puts the barbell in and starts to screw the ball on the bottom and drops the ball. Literally.

As he realizes that he dropped the ball, he lets go of the barbell and it shoots up out of my tongue. No Bueno. Blood is pouring down my chin and chest, and he's asking me why the blood is so thin and I'm thinking, yo, my blood is like half vodka. It is what it is. He's apologizing and offering to do it again and it's so socially awkward I can't think of how to say no. He picks a spot a little farther up and shoves the needle through again. Puts the barbell through. Starts to screw it and DROPS THE MOTHERFUCKING BALL AGAIN! Barbell pops out. For the first time in my life I contemplate killing someone other than myself.

More blood. What. The. Fuck.

Guy is clearly geeking out now and my tongue is straight fire. He pulls it out to look at it and instantly assures me that he won't have to pierce my tongue again because he can, "see the hole this time" so he'll just use the spacer. Dumbass me doesn't realize that the spacer is just a blunt needle that will hurt just as bad. I let him violate my tongue a third and final time. This time the barbell works and I am officially tongue pierced. Out into the cold evening, I follow a chain of cigarettes home. Gargle with Listerine. Sleep

The tattoo dude told us eating would be rough for a day or two. Listerine. No worries. I'm checking in with the hippie chick and we're both complaining about the pain and not eating. Solidarity. Tongue is jacked, but I expected that. All is well in the cosmos until the third day when I see hippie chick eating onion rings. Crunchy as all hell. I can barely take sips of water. Suddenly I realize that I'm really fucking hot, and I realize something is wrong. Hippie chick munches on.

So, I go back home and drink a few stiff drinks and then take a handful of Advil and a handful of Unisom because that's how I dealt with my problems in those days. Sleep will fix it; I just have to knock myself the fuck out for long enough that sleep can work its magic. I smoke a cigarette and lay down.

(You've been very patient; here is where the story gets good.)

When I wake up it's probably about three in the morning. I sit bolt upright in bed and everything comes into crystal focus because I CANNOT BREATHE. My perennially stuffed up nose is barely pulling air and I can't take a breath through my mouth. Holy shit. I run down the hall and into the bathroom. The bright lights are a goddamn assault. My heart is pounding and my vision is getting fuzzy at the edges; I look into the mirror and my tongue is so swollen that my jaw is maxed out. It's like I've got a tennis ball in my mouth. I try to pull my tongue out, but the barbell is nowhere to be seen because the swelling has expanded beyond the barbell. Swallowed it. Now, I'm starting to panic, the light is too bright. I'm gonna die in the fucking bathroom.

My mouth is a mess of spit and blood, and I can't get a hold on it. Struggling, I finally manage to twist my tongue enough that I can see metal, but I can't get a grip. Blood EXPLODES all over the mirror when I squeeze, but I cannot get a grip and my fingers are slippery and I'm starting to see sparklers and now it is pretty evident that I am going to fucking die in the bathroom in the middle of the night because I'm a fucking idiot. And it already looks like a murder scene.

As my head starts to nod, I realize that I have one more chance. I dry my hands on my boxers as best I can, wrench my tongue out of my mouth, and squeeze. The balls pop out. I squeeze them harder than I have ever squeezed anything in my entire life and, finally, one turns. I keep turning until the pressure from the swelling meets the last thread of the barbell and my body EJECTS the barbell along with another splash of nice, thin blood. I grab the sink and sink to the floor, gasping. Bleeding. NOT laughing. Not even smiling. I make it back to the bed and pass out for another 7 hours, covered in blood. My roommates ask me no questions.

The next day, I called the tattoo parlor and I don't remember a thing I said. My tongue was back to normal size. I know I was super pissed. I might have told him I'd come down there. I don't know. Something stupid. He was just another jackass like me. A sorry jackass. And then:

"Man, I really am sorry. Tell you what. Come on back down here in a few days and I'll do it again."


  1. Oh good God!!! This really hurt to read! You are way too good at details. I thought my navel piercing was traumatic. Nope, nope, nopity nope.

    1. OMG. I think my tongue started swelling up while I was reading this. Two holes in each ear is enough for me!

    2. Uhhh, I'm not sure I got anything after this Dan...My tales are all so tame...

    3. This just gets better as it gets grosser. And it's genuinely scary. And darkly funny. All of which probably say bad things about me. So yes, more stories from life. I'm genuinely torn on whether you should use your normal speaking voice or your fiction voice. Maybe try the fiction voice and see?

  2. Cheap. It was all so cheap these days.

    “May I help you find something, ma’am?”

    She let go of the blouse she’d just touched as if it had burned her and focused on the impossibly slim saleswoman—a girl, really—shrink-wrapped into a short sweater dress. “Perhaps. You can start by not calling me ‘ma’am.’”

    “I’m sorry. I’m from Georgia. That’s what we were taught to say.”

    “Bless your heart. But please, stop. On behalf of all of us old enough to be your mother.”

    “Okay. What would you prefer I call you?”

    “Elizabeth will be fine. Thank you.” The scrutiny in the girl’s doe-brown eyes stopped her. Why on God’s earth were girls her age doing such horrific things to their eyebrows? “What?”

    “It’s just that…you don’t strike me as an Elizabeth?”
    “Is that a question”—Elizabeth’s gaze dropped to the gilt-edged name tag—“Kayla?”


    She aimed a smile over Kayla’s right shoulder. “You’re adorable. You young things today. But you’d command more respect if you didn’t lift your voice at the end your sentences. If your mother or teachers haven’t told you that, they’ve been remiss.”

    “You’re sounding more like an Elizabeth.”

    “I’m sorry, what was that?”

    “Nothing.” Kayla brightened. “May I help you find something? Elizabeth.”

    “Yes. You may. I’m looking for a gift that needs to deliver a very specific message.”

    “Oh, good! I love a chance to practice. I’ve been getting kind of good at this. What message would you like the gift to deliver?”

    “Stop screwing my husband.” The blush was predictable. “Oh, come now. You’re not that young. Surely it’s not the first time you’ve had to cater to such a request.”

    “Um. No. But…” A corner of Kayla’s mouth quivered before she got her expression under control. “How ‘bout a scarf? We have some really nice scarves. It could say”--she waved her hands about-- “nice throat. It’d be a shame to strangle it.”

    Elizabeth laughed. Then didn’t. She plucked an expensive-looking wallet out of her designer purse and pressed two twenties to the glass counter. “You’ve sold me, Kayla dear. Choose whichever one appeals to you. And wear it in good health.”

    1. This is so assured. I liked the "ok boomer" aspect of the older woman's haughty dismissal of the younger woman's eyebrows and even her speech patterns. Excellent verisimilitude.

  3. Oh, Frozen Night

    Last night, I sat and torpidly watched
    from my window the advent of deep winter
    settle in well before Christmas this year.
    I recall going out with the dog
    on nights like this,
    when what few sounds you could hear
    seemed brittle upon arrival.
    It was so still the cadenced report
    of your feet on the snow was
    something between a crunch and a squeak.
    Each breath left the taste of steel
    and blood on the back of your throat.
    The air about you smelled so clean
    as it chicaned its way through
    the warming chambers lying
    behind your frozen face, upon which,
    if you cracked a smile,
    you might indeed do just that.
    Then you’d feel the tug of the leash
    as a simple animal felt it necessary
    to remind this dreamer that his dreams
    were best accomplished under warm blankets
    rather than beneath ice-crystal stars,
    a haloed moon and a need to freeze
    if only just to feel.

    1. Joe, this is beautiful. So many haunting images.

    2. I agree. I especially love how the final seven lines are all one gorgeously rhythmic, lyrical sentence.

  4. Rodriguez pulled out her padlet and began to read.

    “The victim’s last recorded contact was with his wife. He tried to place a call with her at 23:17 hours but left no message.”

    Walker raised his hand, halting her testimony.” You said that he called her. Is there any proof it was him? If he didn’t leave a message it could have been anyone. If the phone records identified the caller’s phone as being his, it could still have been used by someone else. We should never assume anything to be a fact without indisputable evidence to corroborate our conclusions.”

    Rodriquez nodded, granting him his point. She continued with her report, her face impassive.

    “His wife found his body eight hours later. Her first call was to his brother, the twin. He wasn’t available either, but she sent him a text. The text read ‘Why didn’t he contact me?’. Nothing more. She then reported his death, calling it in at 9:42 hrs. She was mostly incoherent, claiming his death was due to supernatural causes.”

    The victim said nothing. If it could be proved he’d made that call, there was no evidence to suggest when he’d died, although the condition of the body they’d found could have given rise to the wildest speculation. In fact, based on the degree of desiccation of its flesh, he could have been dead for a hundred years or more. It was only because of his dental records that they were sure it was him.

  5. There was nothing special about him. Not one thing. If he'd ever had a talent it would have been his ability to go about unseen. Not he was really invisible, of course, but still...he was just immediately forgettable.

    It made most things difficult. You might think it'd be a boon to someone to be able to tune him or herself out from someone else's attention. You could imagine them taking up a career in crime, slipping into a person's house when its owner opened the door and then wandering about unchallenged, picking up items as they pleased. No-one would appear to care as their phones disappeared, their eyes sliding past, suddenly attracted by a book they'd left open half-read or a portrait which had never emotionally moved them before. It was as though he was able to wrap himself up in the tedium which surrounds us all, donning a camouflage he'd fashioned from the mundane.

    1. This is an interesting premise. But I wonder exactly why it is he can't use this for nefarious purposes. He's almost invisible but not invisible enough?

  6. He was security. He was the anchor she used, never roaming far away, the knowledge of him always pulling her back into his arms. He was the solidity she required all the time, the firmness of his chest the safe place she dreamed of when they were apart. He was her warmth and her protection from the rest of the world. Just him. Him and no other man in the world. He was all that she needed.

    And yet, he was happy too. It confused her. How she could ever be enough for him, giving him all that she did. He was always complimentary, telling her how he only breathed for her, that each second of his life was empty if wasn’t one shared with her. She believed him, of course. She knew he would never lie. He was perfect in every way and he needed her too. They had been born to be with one another, it seemed, and the gods were on their side. They would have an eternal love and would share infinity with one another. There was nobody else but them; everyone else was just an illusion, daydreams manufactured to keep them amused while they were apart. The world was a toy to them. Their reality was small; small enough for them to enclose it with one another’s arms, the gravity they created drawing them closer until they merged as one. Alpha and Omega. Ouroboros eating its tail.

    1. I like your vignettes. They're like sketches, yet they also feel ripe with potential, each one indicating a possible direction for a longer tale.

  7. You laughed when you heard my hoarded tunes, at Mayhem and T-Swift, Balearic and Fairport and Erik B. and Rakim. I never got the joke, though now I have an inkling: you thought I was being showily eclectic and I just thought I was loving music. How right you were when you called me naïve.

    I saw the last shadow of you disappear on the blasted concrete of the Bellwether, by the fractal Pleiades diamonds of the glittering bay, a pitiless sun lasering all and everything. You were humming a Kate Bush song, which trailed in your wake like a muted rainbow, and I remembered at that moment how your fingers often fought each other and your voice was always raw until you gargled lukewarm genmaicha and lemon, which first you bought then you looted from Trader Joe’s. You were gloriously high maintenance before the illusion subsided, and I still loved you after that.

    Then you were gone, in the wake of some awful reckoning, that joyless penumbra blanketing all of what was and most of what now is. A dimension dissolved, a trance undreamed.

    Walmart and Costco are convulsed nuclei clustered within the membranes of their vast deserted lots, cars no longer parked in their hardscrabble orbits, other than the burned-out kind.

    The last time we saw a train pass through, Galbraith was still young. Galbraith, who tattooed Let It Bleed on the inside of her upper arm like Courtney. Hard to reconcile the chromium crone we see now with the aching maiden so many knew back then.

    We all have our talents. Mine is debatable. Scavenging cells to make this ancient iPod work. For some, it seems to count, but whatever. I get it’s hardly wringing nutrients from topsoil, but you’d think music would matter all the same.

    “Don’t tell me the story of your dream. But tell me how it felt.”

    “Um. It felt like walking into an aftermath, the battlefield still smoking and reeking of viscera, and finding a kitten, a very pissed off kitten, outraged at all these shenanigans, and I heard a train moan far off.”

    “Now that’s a dream I wish I had.”

    “You could have it. I’ll write it down.”

    “Nah, you’re hungry, and I need to find us some food. And you have chores of your own. We can’t take pauses like we once could. But tell me about a song when I come home, yes? Something new and full of things.”

    Fuck. I miss you, girl.

    1. *crickets* To be fair, I think I made the end a littlebetter on my blog, where I tried to tweak some of it, make it more coherent.


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