Thursday, February 13, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

It was 1998. 99% sure. That was a qualitative time. I am done with numbers.

I was in London, because my folks lived there, but it was coming up on New Years. I had amused myself whilst in London by strolling up the street to the pub, drinking whiskey, and then going to home to eat a sandwich and pass out. It was grand times.

The first time I went into that pub, I walked up and ordered a bourbon and the barkeep (pubkeep?) got all stoked and said, "Alright! Cowboy!" Then, he did that every time I walked in. Sometimes, I just wanted a pint. But I felt obligated. We had this thing. It was cultural coercion. It was damn near subversion. He was teaching the yank a lesson, and the lesson was: drink son. You're not in Kansas anymore. Or whatever.

A few days after Christmas I hear that an acquaintance of mine is going to be in London, playing a gig. Only met the guy once and it was a wine-drunk, hash-tossed hippie jam; I didn't remember him that well, but I knew we were on the same wavelength and that we would have a ball in London. I went back to the pub, then to Newcastles in my Mum's kitchen. Ad infinitum.

This dude whose name I can't remember (I might not have known it at the time!) comes over to my parents' house. I hated coffee due to many, many hours as the neighborhood yuppie crank dealer. Many stories in there, FYI. Anyway, no one hated kids enough to invent energy drinks then, so I made a pot of tea with like thirty tea bags and added milk and sugar and we got twisted. And we hit the streets.

And every. Single. Goddamn Bar. Was reserved seating only. Everywhere.

Now, knowing me at 19, we didn't leave the house until we were both a little drunk, and I think I'd purchased some good hash on the streets of Merry Ol' as was my wont. Usually from a hooker. Preferably a transsexual hooker. Always figured they were a little more honest.

Now, the streets of London on New Years Eve was the biggest drunken debauchery I had ever seen or been a part of. It was fantastic. Within minutes, we'd been passed bottles of champagne, scotch, gin, beer. It smelled like a reggae festival. Good vibes and all. There was one Indian man who asked me if I wanted to buy a woman. I thought he was joking. He looked real serious and intense about it, though. But we said thanks anyway, and rolled on.

So, we're bouncing drunkenly through the firecrackers and hooligan shouts. I'm hoping it stays positive and no one starts brawling or raping or colonizing or any of the other shit you can expect across the pond. We stop at every club, pub, and restaurant and I do my cute southern boy routine and they do NOT give a fuck. They laugh. All the fancy people in all the fancy clubs and pubs and bars? They're just laughing. But we don't even care; we're just laughing, too, having a ball.

Midnight comes and goes. We're stumbling, when we sea a goddamn oasis in the cold, drizzly night. There is a canopy entrance with a bouncer, yellow light and warmth spilling out of the doorway. Gotta figure that's a hallucination, but there it is. Neither of us know where we are. Not at all. England. Safe to say we're still in England. There is nothing else on this soaking, deserted street except this fucking magical oasis. You do what you do.

We step into this place and there is a full wooden bar along the back wall. The side wall on the right has a full cheese and crackers and probably mutilated goose parts spread. Grapes. That kind of scene. And. And fucking AND. EVERYONE in the place is either a big dude in a fancy suit, or a gorgeous twenty three year old eastern European beauty in a slinky dress. Not bad. I swing up to the bar and order two bloody Mary's and it's like thirty pounds, which breaks me, but I hadn't spent any money yet, so rock on. I bring the drinks back and we're sipping, smoking, watching the barlights and bottles do that blinky dance they do when the liquor finally catches up with the smoke.

My friend, whose name I don't remember, but whom I have fond memories of... He starts to walk toward the food. IMMEDIATELY, a big dude gets between him and the food and says, "This is not for you!" Fair. We reconvene, and I start looking past the blinky lights. Homie is swaying a little. I am starting to think we came into the wrong place. Or the right place? We came into a place, no doubt. And it was time to leave. They are definitely starting to stare at us. All of them. Especially the women. The women are fucking pissed.

I want to leave, and homie agrees. He just has to hit the bathroom. So, he goes to the bathroom and it's just me and the remnants of my shitty drink. And a million eyes, half of which I want to have sex with, but none of whom I trust. I light a cigarette because Jesus, you need to light a cigarette. I would have turned into a cigarette if I could have. And my boy is lagging. I'm smoking and the bar is staring daggers and I'm done, so I turn to follow my buddy into the bathroom. I push the door, and there's resistance. Shoulder in, I can see that the two sinks are filled with vomit. Nice. I shove the door all the way open and the floor is COVERED in blood. Thick; like half an inch thick and making small waves from where the door opened. And there's my buddy, whose name I can't remember, standing in the middle of the bathroom, white as a ghost and frozen.

I'm pretty slow on the uptake, but I took this in real fast. I grabbed the homie and pushed him in front of me through the door. The men were congregating, but not fast enough that I couldn't football by them, using my boy as a battering ram. Into the street, where it's run, fucking run. And we have that burned into us, there's no need for conscious thought any more. Just fucking run, man.

I have no idea when we parted ways that night, and I never talked to the homie again, but I swear to fucking Christ he was alive and well when I left him.

And he still owes me a drink.

26 comments:

  1. Wow... what a story! and well told... "Usually from a hooker. Preferably a transsexual hooker. Always figured they were a little more honest." Love that, and love that you've actually given your homie a name by calling him "whose name I can't remember." AFter the big build-up, the last two paragraphs are perfect resolution.

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    1. Couple of things on re-read. I wonder if "toilet" might sound more authentic than "bathroom"? Love the commentary on energy drinks. And "brawling or raping or colonizing" made me laugh out loud.

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    2. LOVE this. Laughed at the energy drink commentary. And the set up, and the quest, and how they react to the scene inside. And this: I light a cigarette because Jesus, you need to light a cigarette. I would have turned into a cigarette if I could have.

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    3. I love to read whatever you write, Dan. Although I'm not a regular visitor to London myself, I can recognise some of those pubs and their reluctant barmen (and women). And yes, the atmosphere and exclusivity (in a bad way) are all too real. Unfortunately, this could easily be based on a true story, I'm afraid.

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    4. Struggling to say something different from what everyone else said, but one thing is how damn readable this is. It's told in a voice you want to be friends with. It's vivid too.

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  2. The moon rises full and red. An owl questions who, a coyote sings solo, and a hermit listens.

    His heartbeat provides a syncopated rhythm to the winter symphony. Arrhythmia. Such a lovely word.

    There is Venus, once called Lucifer. And there, Mars. The Greeks and Romans named the stars for gods. Planets. But they thought them stars.

    In our time, we assign them numbers. Perhaps romance really is dead. Or perhaps we see too far, and there are too many stars to assign proper names.

    He walks, alternately looking at the sky and his feet. The ice is slick, and if he falls, there is no one to catch him.

    The metaphor is not lost on him as he walks toward the moon. Have a goal to guide your way, but take each step one at a time.

    The moon is silver now. The snow sparkles. The bare trees are shadows against the Prussian blue sky.

    Some dozen miles away, a train makes its plaintive call. He could be on that train, flying through the night, but he is here instead.

    Haunted by memories of what was, by possibilities of what might have been. He arrives at his destination. A tree. Twisted by wind and storm and fire.

    The owl is silent. The coyote too. Together they wait for spirits and answers and questions. When they come, he weeps.

    Sirius, the Dog Star, looks down on him with sorrow. The man does not see the star tail wag, for his eyes are on the ground, and he forgets to look at the sky.

    The owl sees a rabbit. The coyote runs after a deer. Stomachs are filled, but a soul remains hungry.

    When the sun rises tomorrow, there will be another chance. If he is lucky.

    When he finds home again, he lights a candle. For all that was, for all that will be. For what is.

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    1. This is lovely, with great detail, and has a fable-like quality. Some of my favorites: "In our time, we assign them numbers. Perhaps romance really is dead. Or perhaps we see too far, and there are too many stars to assign proper names." and "The man does not see the star tail wag, for his eyes are on the ground, and he forgets to look at the sky."

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    2. You're a wise man and a poet, Leland. I'd love to be able to take you by the hand and take a walk with you, but this is probably as close as I'll ever get. It's still wonderful and it's a privilege to be able to read your words.

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    3. I always loved that Venus->Morningstar->Lightbearer->Lucifer connection. This contemplative piece is pure lyricism, my friend.

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  3. Bzzzz bzzzz. The door buzzer.

    “I’m coming.”

    She struggled with her robe. She struggled with getting down the hall.

    Bzzz bzzz bzzz.

    “All right already!”

    Bzzz bzz bz bzzzz bz bzzz bzzz. Shave and a hair two bits, just like Daniel used to do when he’d forgotten his keys. A smile crossed her face.

    By the time she made it to the entryway, the buzzer was silent. She opened the door, chain still in place, and there was no one there.

    “Kids,” she thought to herself. And then she looked down.

    A box. Long, white, with a red ribbon.

    She closed the door enough to loosen the chain, and reached down to retrieve the box.

    A small sticker on the corner. Fifth Avenue Florist, it read.

    Flowers? Who on earth would send her flowers on Valentine’s Day.

    She closed and locked the door, and leaned back against it. There had been a time when she had flowers every February 14th. And then Daniel had died. Slowly. Painfully.

    She wiped away a tear, and began the walk to the kitchen of her tiny apartment. She wondered if she still had a vase, after all the decluttering her daughter had done.

    The kitchen was yellow. She’d always believed that yellow kitchens warmed the entire home. She put the white box on the table.

    Her gnarled hands pulled at the ribbon’s ends. She knew from the scent that the box held roses. When she lifted the lid from the box, her breath was taken away.

    Yellow roses. Her favorite. No one but Daniel had ever sent her yellow roses. She closed her eyes and remembered when he’d sent them the morning after their first date. He’d never asked her what kind of roses she liked. He’d just known.

    She untucked the flap from the card, afraid to read it.

    “My one true love,” it read. And it was signed, “Daniel.”

    But there was something else in the small envelope. A ring. She clasped her heart. It was identical to the ring she wore since he’d proposed to her some forty years ago.

    She clasped her bony hand to her racing heart. Who would do such a thing?

    Bzzzzzzz, her alarm clock called. Bzzzzzzzzz. And it buzzed for an hour, before her daughter came to find her, asleep for eternity, under the quilt she had once shared with Daniel.

    The bedroom smelled of roses.

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    1. Aw, what a lovely last dream, for all eternity, with a bit of magical realism. Thank you.

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    2. I can feel both truth and honesty in this brief but heartwarming scene. You've a deft but sure touch and even though you write with humility, you always manage to hit home.

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    3. Yes, this is perfectly balanced on that same precarious ridge you often walk. It's touching and filled with the warmth of genuine love.

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  4. Jonah runs, his footfalls landing soft over the rocks, the lumpy earth, the compacted vegetation of the forest floor. He doesn’t think of twisted ankles, of wild animals, of being found. Only the feel of his breath, in and out, in and out. The wind against his face. The burning in his thighs. His heart pounding against his ribs. He never had much reason to run. Hiking was good enough for him, slow yet strenuous, and it allowed him to appreciate and merge into his surroundings. It had been a spontaneous reaction, this run. A reaction to a lightning-fast thought that the university police were coming for him. Like a starter’s pistol, he’d taken off, lifting his knees and propelling him forward, across the park and into the woods.

    A stitch knifes his ribs and he slows to catch his breath. Then he stops. He glances all around him. He can see nothing that resembles humankind. A chipmunk skitters across a fallen branch. A hawk floats overhead. He watches it for a while, snatching back his wild thoughts, breathing slowly until he feels more at peace. Which is a relative thing, lately. His pulse still hammers in his ears, nerves fire sharp into his fingertips like electricity. But slowly, he calms. Then smiles.

    No one knows where I am, he thinks, and savors that thought. When he was younger he enjoyed disappearing, at least for short stretches, like he was playing a game of keepaway with humanity. If no one can find him, no one can do him harm. If no one can find him, no one can tell him bad news. And that, in its invincible deniability, makes him feel secure. At least for a while, which was often enough to clear the day’s lunacy out of his mind and clarify his thoughts.

    It’s working now, but not well enough. He’s still troubled by thoughts of what if. What if someone had seen him leaving the lab? What if they notice he isn’t where he’s supposed to be? Long ago, when his father was still on this side of the earth, he said that you could get away with damn near anything if you just go about your business and act as if you belong.

    Jonah had done that. He thought. Slipped the samples into a coat pocket, all in the line of duty, while cleaning his work station, then exited the building, no fuss, no drama. But did his eyelid flicker? Did his pupils dilate, his mouth twitch, his hand clench too hard on his keys? Something that would cue the security cameras that something was amiss?

    But he can’t think about that now. He’d made a promise to get the samples somewhere safe, somewhere they could continue their research. He puts his head down and runs.

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    1. You are a master at setting a scene and defining characters in only a few sentences. Already I know Jonah is a hero, even if he doesn't know it. I always learn so much from reading your writing. Thank you.

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    2. This is breathtakingly real, Laurie. I can almost feel the trail twisting beneath my feet and my heart thudding in my chest here. Fabulous.

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    3. Great viscerally descriptive writing. The small flashback to a childhood memory anchors it well, adds to our empathy and the sense of ominous things out there threatening to do harm.

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  5. Darkened once-golden evening. The sundown edge of suburbia. Almost town. Arteries not veins. Two men, fortysomething, exiting vehicles and embracing.

    “Glad you’re back. Been awhile.”

    “Yeah. Gone through some shit.”

    “I heard.”

    Corvids vying with traffic sound. The fractured hum of life. Someone’s radio, in and out.

    “You look banged up.”

    “Yeah, well. Got in a fist fight.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Uh, yeah.”

    “It ain’t a fist fight if whatever you’re fighting don’t have fists.”

    “Huh?”

    Something big and loud grinding through its gears as it passes. A wrapper helixing in its wake.

    “You got issues with readin’ comprehension, Johnno?”

    “Nah, you fuckin’ said it, G. You didn’t write it.”

    Neighbor’s charcoal pit cross taking exception to some damn thing, loud and hoarse and obdurate behind chain link. Eyes rimmed pink as a skeptic.

    “What? What the fuck you saying right now? I can’t barely hear nothing.”

    “All I meant was, I got in a fist fight and everything went bad.”

    “And all I’m sayin’ is, it weren’t no fist fight.”

    “You’re arguin’ a technicality. Lookit.” Showing his forearms. “My fists got scars and blood and shit.”

    “I don’t see no shit.”

    “Har dee fuckin har har.”

    “You ain’t grasping my point, brother.”

    “Oh, I grasp it. You’re belaborin’ it.”

    “I really ain’t.”

    “Guess we’re at an impasse then.”

    Since the predawn birth of this, our ink-blue century, no one on this wild unruly earth can hear without alarm an airliner whine and roar its public distress below a certain level in the sky. A passenger jet screaming and gathering its drifts of air like skin folds. You almost imagine the faces, O-gaped at portholes, desolate, foreseeing their own doom and ours.

    “A’right.” Sighing. “I don’t quite follow you. But I swear to you I got into some kinda altercation, and I think it’ll have its consequences.”

    “Not a fist fight, then.”

    “You’re right. Fuck it. You’re right. Whatever. She never raised her fists. Not even once. I paid her back for every time she made me feel like less than a man.”

    “It’s what I thought. Just needed to hear it. Let it out, brother. You did right. We’re good.”

    The murderous honest skies, the roadkill smears, the untamed dogs, ruined ungainly wives, the dubious cries of earmarked passersby, all of it blurred by permissions and always justified.

    But please, amigos, mi compañeros, hear this, my only protest: not everything has fists, and such an atrocity’s only the slightest of starts.

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    1. Oh. What a gut-punch. And as always, such tasty details: ink-blue century is one of my favorites. Often I stand still in nature and try to imagine a time when there wasn't the background humming of highways and planes rumbling overhead.

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    2. Exquisite colors painted by perfect words, terrifying in their relentless march toward the sad conclusion. My favorite phrases, well, among them--I'd be listing the whole story if I listed all of them-- "arteries not veins", "ink-blue century", "eyes rimmed pink as a skeptic". Sometimes I think your writings deserve as much to be in a gallery as in a book. Thank you.

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    3. Even when you're being taut and spare, you still manage to fill your narratives with a wealth of detail. You're more of a poet than a writer here, but you wear a different hat every time you write.

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    4. Just to give a little background—and thanks for the kind comments!—I couldn't get the title of that short story collection by David Foster Wallace out of my head: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, so I thought I'd just write a story about two hideous men talking, almost like an interview, and two men who probably don't even recognize their hideousness.

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  6. The gloves were the beginning; she changed when she put them on. She could be freshly back from dropping off the children - Maddox; 5, and Beatrice; 2 - but when the gloves came out, their 'mother' was no more. For some people, it had to be shoes, but her drug of choice was much closer to hand. The same Italian leather perhaps, but spread more thinly, encasing her hands in the glove-makers' art.

    She'd tried everything at one time. She'd drank wine in Provence, eaten Michelin in France, worn Ferragamo on the high street in Florence. But none of them had given her the same thrill as these, these elegantly stitched tanned hide bindings fitting closer than the skin beneath. She supposed they brought the worst in her out, calling the demons out from the darkest niches hidden deep within her soul. All she knew was that her usually whispering dark voices were suddenly given free rein and allowed to run amok.

    And it was delicious.

    Even now, with just the one glove in place, she could hear them calling, breathless and greedy and impatient. Smoothing the hide - could anything be more carnal - along her fingers, she could feel the sinews in her hand tightening, knuckles flexing, already reaching out to grasp at whatever it was they desired. The second glove always seemed to put itself on, the first hand no longer a part of her, but the two of them together were much more powerful, surer of themselves.

    She could only sit back and watch as they revelled in their freedom. Enjoying the show, for must be that; a performance choreographed strictly for her amusement. A passion play, written with an emphasis on hedonism and cruelty, the players taking delight from their roles. They could grip and pull and tear and maim, nothing ever too outrageous to please them. It was a rush she enjoyed, and it was damnably addictive.

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    1. So sensuous with just the right amount of darkness. Well done!

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    2. Somehow, naming the children and giving them ages is key to this piece. A moment of almost mundane workaday specificity to offset her perversity.

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    3. Reading this back, David, I've a new insight into what I wrote. I'd originally thought that relating their names and ages like that showed that she'd become dispassionate and had lost her maternal instinct after putting on the gloves. However, it might read as though they've become victims in an incident and I've begun to wonder how safe they now are.

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