Friday, June 5, 2020

2 Minutes. Go!

We can't let the dust settle, whip it up; stir that shit to a frothy loam, ignore the slack-suited simpletons slinging side-street sermons.

Don't let yourself be soothed. Don't let them blow smoke on the bruises, the cuts, the indignity.

Put your fucking flag away!

Goddamn it, put your flag away; nobody is attacking nothing. We're trying to make it mean what it is supposed to mean.

Don't look into their eyes. Don't look into the blinking cyclops eye in your living room. Don't turn your head. Don't drink it away or try to excuse it.

Listen to your kids. Your kids are mad, and they have a right to be. They've figured out there is a big world beyond the trailer park. Beyond the gated subdivision. Beyond your closed mind.

Believe none of what you hear until you have chewed on it, digested it.

If your neighbors avert their eyes, you're probably making headway. If your neighbors smile grim greetings and shake their heads, congratulations, you found a relatively nice place to live.

Why aren't you mad? Why are you so mad and directing your anger in the wrong direction? Man, anger is a magnifying lens. It focuses. Take the warmth of the sun, and turn it into fire.

You know that hot rush of clarity you get when you're angry? That's truth and justice, and it's beautiful. Stoke it carefully, share it with your community, and we can make our communities places we want to hang out in. I promise. You just have to stare into the heat without blinking.

Without turning away.


  1. Those last two paragraphs are haunting and true. Well written rage, my friend.

    1. Also: "Don't let yourself be soothed." And: "We're trying to make it mean what it is supposed to mean." And: "You just have to stare into the heat without blinking." I could quote almost all of it; it's a manifesto.

    2. Definitely true. Anger reveals what we really care about.

  2. Before the internet, before hashtags, before I’d ever heard the phrase “white privilege,” I knew something was wrong.

    The early 1980s were a delightful yet confusing time for a Nebraska farmboy who’d just come out of the closet. It wasn’t illegal to be gay any more, but there were no legal protections either.

    I remember one night, in Denver, before AIDS or HIV, my friend Charlie invited me to a gay bar in Denver that I’d never heard of. The name escapes me now.

    I knew it was going to be a fascinating evening the minute the bouncer checked my ID. “We don’t get many like you here,” he said. I threw a questioning look at Charlie, but he just grinned back.

    When we got inside, I knew what he meant. There were gorgeous men everywhere, and a few drag queens, and they were, every one of them, black and beautiful. I stood out like the skinny white boy I was, and for the first time in memory, that was an advantage. I’d never before nor after been asked to dance so many times in one night, nor had so many drinks bought for me.

    The night passed quickly, and soon it was last call, around 1:30 in those days.

    As we moved toward the door, the bouncer was there and whispered something to the first folks at the door, and the next. It seemed that Denver’s finest had a patrol car in the parking lot.

    It was not unusual in those days for the police to wait outside gay bars, sometimes throwing insults, sometimes waiting till someone looked a little tipsy got behind the wheel, and sometimes, we’d heard, they liked to rough up the patrons.

    The bouncer knew one of the cops that night was of the roughing up sort. They’d had run-ins before, and he apparently liked to take out his frustrations on gay black men and drag queens.

    I was outraged. Filled with the idealism and naïveté that only a newly liberated gay farmboy could feel, I wanted to confront the cops. The bouncer convinced me that that was a bad idea, and then he told me if I really wanted to make a difference, I’d help him walk the other patrons to their cars. Not because I was muscular or could fight, but because the cop would be less likely to beat me, because I was white.

    And so we did walk every single person in the bar to a car, staring daggers at the patrol car. Some of the folks hitched a ride home with strangers, even if they’d walked to the bar, just so they wouldn’t be vulnerable to a racist homophobic man.

    Charlie never asked me back to that bar, and I somehow knew it wouldn’t be right for me to go there on my own. I’m not sure if he was embarrassed, or what. I know that I was embarrassed, for being the same skin color as the man who’d inspired such terror in so many kind and generous people.

    My eyes were opened that night. I didn’t think I had a racist bone in my body, but I didn’t have to be a racist. I was the beneficiary of a whole system that granted a skinny white boy more power, more authority than just about anyone else in that bar that night. Enough power to scare even a bully of a cop.

    1. Everything about this feels as real as the smell of gasoline and exhaust on a summer evening and the cry of injustice, which comes in many forms.

    2. It doesn't get much realer than this. Thank you

    3. Thank you... sometimes non-fiction is as hot as fiction. I appreciate your comments.

  3. "Stare into the heat without blinking. Without turning away." You know, looking the other way, society-wise, has been the toxin in our veins...the fury you write of. What children see, is unmarred by the cynical defeatism of adults. Being a father, I have no doubt that you are very aware of the world your own children envisage, and just how far our world is falling, from those expectations. As ever, JD, your writing compels a dust-up of thinking.

  4. Her name was Jazz and she was sixteen. Indigenous. Although she would’ve told you she was an Indian. There are few niceties on the streets, though plenty of rules, most subtle and essential. The silent nod. The proper handshake. The right amount of eye contact.

    The arcade was a bevy of light and sound awake to the night moths, the local and the lost, all children even in their six feet frames and coyote lopes. Jazz came outside to talk to me and bum a smoke. I worked those streets like a pale ghost, and the kids called me England after the faraway place they’d heard mostly bad things about, the source of the calamity visited on their families. Yet somehow, they had room in their hearts for me, and many of them had ample hearts in the face of daily insult.

    The cop came out of the shadows. I recognized him. I don’t think that was reciprocal. He wasn’t liked. I could name him, but this was long ago, and is it worth it? Maybe it is? I’ll chew on that. He looked at Jazz blowing grey cloud streamers into the red hawk night, silhouetted against the bright window, the bells and electronic purrs and blurts of the ranks of machines slipping tinny through the door.

    Mortal Kombat. Finish him, indeed.

    “How old are you?” he asked.

    “Eighteen,” Jazz lied, and I bit down on a smile, pretended to watch the late-night traffic crawl by on Main Street.

    “You know it’s illegal to buy tobacco if you’re under nineteen?”

    “Yeah, I didn’t buy it. It’s not illegal to smoke it.”

    Still biting my tongue; Jazz was doing fine.

    Cop tried a new tack, pointed at something in the window of the arcade.

    “What does that say? Can you even read?”

    Yeah, he said that, to a sixteen-year-old Indigenous girl who was bothering no one, a girl who watched out for her brothers and sisters on the street every day with the calm eyes and caring of a young den mother.

    She didn’t flinch. “It says ‘No Loitering.’”

    “It does, doesn’t it? That’s an arrestable offence, smartass kid.”

    He’d never even so much as glanced my way this whole time, just another fellow white guy, an ally on his humdrum periphery. But I’d had enough. I stepped out of the shadows and offered my wrists, joined ready for the cuffs.

    “What are you doing?” he asked.

    “I’m loitering,” I said and nodded toward the sign. “Arrest me.”

    He hesitated, did a double take as if it had dawned on him who I was, and Jazz laughed. I thought that might doom us, but something stopped him, and he swallowed whatever impulse had rippled for a second across his belligerent face—the urge to bully someone, his default—then scowled and displayed the angriest red neck I’ve ever seen, and returned to the shadows beyond that chiming bright oasis in the white-sand desert of a pugnacious town.

    Same cop was later rumoured to rear end a car of joyriding teens, stopped at a light, shoving it into the path of a young single mom, who died in the wreck.

    This was a lone moth among hundreds of other moths, spiralling round a lone light, and there are many thousands of lights and many millions of moths, all spiralling and spinning, right now, out there in the nights painted by neon, smeared by blood, shunned by most, lost by memory.

    1. You broke my heart. And your courage healed it back up again. The last paragraph is absolute poetry.

    2. Thank you! I had a weird kind of Kerouac moment while writing this story, which helped me frame it as pseudo-fiction, wrapped in his kind of language around the urban night. Most of it is true, of course.

    3. When life gets all to real, it demands the same of us, doesn't it? Our stories, recollections, experience, even our fictions get realer in response. Well done!

  5. And something funny...

    Hey, Mr Critical

    Hey, Mr Critical,
    Come and criticise it all,
    Pick lots of tiny holes
    In everybody’s goals.

    You think you’re so brilliant
    And everyone else is small,
    That no one has real talent
    Cos you’ve just grabbed it all.

    Hey, Mr Critical,
    Come and criticise it all.
    Go and laugh at everyone
    Until you’re feeling done.

    Say all their work is crap,
    How you could easily do that,
    Cos you’ve got balls of steel
    And a never-bending will.

    Hey, Mr Critical,
    Careful not to trip over your cock
    Cos it’s the biggest stumbling block
    To you being nice at all.

    1. brilliant... and all too often, true.

    2. The shift in rhyme scheme with that last stanza is what makes it. Funny and astute. I love how it switches the emphasis at the end.

  6. goodbye is a shadow, cast without light
    it's a dream without sleeping or rest.
    it's an absence without a presence,
    it's a glove without a hand
    it's a rose with only petals, no scent
    what is it we lose when we turn our face away
    not knowing if we'll ever talk again
    that's the question we ask ourselves
    in the emptiness of night
    when we lie awake alone, without a friend
    I can only cling to memories
    and hope they'll never fade
    please tell me you'll remember me also
    and then I'll lean in a little closer
    while we're embracing, extra tight
    knowing I'll never ever want to let you go.

    1. Melancholy and hopeful, bittersweet.I like the contrasts a lot

    2. you rarely go wistful, but when you do? You get it right!

  7. Better a Pocketful of Respect Than a Fistful of Lightning (Part 1)

    Tuesday was a red glowing promise on the eastern horizon as I blinked the tobacco smoke and whiskey from my eyes. That’s when young Jesse Fountain ran up behind me as I stepped outside the gambling house.

    “Do you want to see?” he said. He was pretty lucky I was so tired and my hand was a second slow behind my eyes opening and head recognizing.

    “See what? Can’t we talk after I get a few hours sleep?” I said.

    “This can’t wait. Do you want to see the piece I bought?” he said, leading me down the alley behind The Grand and Mrs Pynchon’s house of horizontal delights.

    “Piece of what?”

    “A gun, Daniel. I bought me a gun.” Jesse said. He reached down and pulled back the long canvas coat he received from the effects of his brother Matthew, a sometime deputy, other times cheating gambler. When his hand came out of its folds, it held a nickel-plated pistol. Jesse pointed its business end directly at my chest, where a triphammer suddenly started banging.

    “Jesus Christ, Jesse. Be careful with that thing” I said, as I pushed the muzzle down and away from my chest. If you don’t know, let me tell you, any gun pointed at your vitals has a way of waking you up no matter how sleepy you might be.

    “Sorry, Daniel. Isn’t she a beauty?”

    “I have two questions. First: Why do you want a gun like that? Second: Who in the world would sell you a gun like that?”

    “I want it for protection. And Dutch Van Dorn sold it to me. Actually, I traded my horse for it, now that I have Matt’s.”

    “If Van Dorn’s involved, I’d be careful squeezing off any rounds lest the damn thing blow your own hand off. But again, why? And put that away.”

    “You know. I want it for…protection.”

    “Jesse, having a gun don’t mean you can use it. For protection or anything else. That thing was made for one purpose.”

    “Yeah, to show everyone I’m not to be trifled with.”

    “No, a double-action Colt Lightning is made to kill other men.”


    “See what?”

    “Ain’t nobody, not from around here or some yahoo up from Texas, gonna mess with a man who can pull his iron and get off six shots without once slowin’ down to cock the hammer,” Jesse said, once more pulling out his eight-year-old roan’s worth of backbone.

    “I’m not gonna tell you again, Jesse. Put that thing away. If a lawman sees you waving that around at me in an alleyway, he’s likely to get the wrong idea and drop you like a sack of corn.”

    “I’d like to see him try.”

    What is it they used to say? “God created all men, but Samuel Colt made them equal.”? In my times lawing in some cowtowns in Kansas and Colorado, I met too many young fellas bought into that bullshit. Some, either touched in the head by going too long without liquor or women or getting too much of either too quickly. Or maybe just plain touched. They believed a gun made them more than equal. Jesse was one of those sad cases that qualified on all counts.

    “Shot it yet?” I asked.

    “Yep, yesterday afternoon behind the stable. Pretty good shot if I do say so.”

    “That’s nice. Loud, wasn’t it? What you shoot at, cans or bottles?”

    “Cans…and a chicken”

    “I’ve yet to meet any cans — or chickens — that can draw a pistol and return fire with mortal intent. But congratulations, I’m sure you showed those horses who’s boss.”

    “Stop it, Daniel. Told you, I won’t be disrespected no more.”

  8. (Part 2)

    “Jesse, I want you to listen close. I’m telling you this for your own good. A gun — even a wonder weapon like your Lightning — won’t earn you any extra respect. In fact, I can attest to the fact it can get you less. Or killed.”

    “I told you, I’m a dead-eyed shot, Daniel.” Jesse’s tone changed. I’d heard it maybe a hundred or two times before and I was ready.

    “And I’m telling you that will not be enough to change how people regard you. I don’t want to see you turn out like Matthew, s’all. Listen, you’ve always been a good boy…”

    “Don’t you call me that. I’m not a boy.”

    “No, not really anymore. But you’ll always be a kid to me, Jesse.”

    “What do you mean?” I knew I was taking a chance, but I needed to prove something to him.

    “I mean I’ll always think of you as Matt’s little brother, tagging along and watching him swagger into a room, gun slung low, eye’s cold, looking for some mark he could spook while he bottom-dealt…”

    “Take that back, Daniel, or I’ll…”

    “You’ll what?” I had him.

    Jesse reached for his Colt, but he had to pull his coat out of the way. As he looked down, I pulled my pistol and cold cocked him a good one with the barrel. I flagged down Deputy Charlie Bassett, who was making his rounds, and we hauled away young Jesse and, minus his Colt of course, stuffed him into the calaboose.

    “Charlie, see if you can hold onto that Lightning, will ya? The kid is in no way one to own a piece like that. Same damn gun the likes of Hardin carries, for Christ’s sake. Maybe you can talk some sense into Jesse before…”

    “I know. Maybe you taught him a lesson, though, Dan.”

    I left Dodge that day and headed over to Trinidad, Colorado for a couple of weeks. When I got back, Charlie met me and told me the story over a couple of beers.

    Seems after his two of nights in jail, Jesse and his gun left the safety of Charlie’s hospitality and right off he walked into the Long Branch and tried big-footing some Texas cowboy. They told Charlie Jesse reached first, but he fumbled his draw. The cowboy didn’t.

    “Caught his hand in his coat pocket,” Charlie Bassett told me. “Lying there, four fingers of his right hand tucked inside his pocket and thumb hooked outside. With the exception of a .44 caliber hole in his head, I thought he looked rather respectable that way.”

    I nodded.

    “Good, good. That’s all the boy was ever looking for. Respect.”

    1. A good western is always a welcome read, and this is good. Justice and respectability.

    2. Vivid and rich in irony, a lesson for us all, I think

  9. I Fell Again Today

    I fell again today.
    Not a little trip or slip,
    but a real live death spiral.
    I didn’t even bother to look
    behind me to see the long trail
    of smoke, tight where I was,
    expanding to blot out the sun
    the further I fell.
    And I thought of you.
    I thought of reaching out to you
    to say, “Here, I’m falling, too.”

    But I was already a few feet
    from bottom, so I stayed silent again.
    Besides, you don’t need any
    of my woe, though you understand
    the passion, the anger, the sorrow,
    the heat, the chill, the vacant,
    and the jagged in your gut as well—
    or is it as badly? — as anyone I’ve known.
    We make that same trip every day,
    just with different landmarks
    and memories and questions and regrets
    and shame and here and there some pride.

    And yeah, it’s like seeing your life
    on a slow motion loop as death,
    or worse, comes closer all the time
    as you fall,
    and you fall,
    and you fall,
    but you never get all
    the way to the bottom
    because that’d be too easy
    and life has a thing about
    never being easy. You understand.
    I understand. And we’re not ready
    to give up and just shut our eyes
    and let the bottom have us.

    We’ll probably drop again tomorrow
    and maybe the day after and after that.
    But a few things keep me getting
    back up to take that long fall,
    dangling like a spider under that
    smoky pall, again and again.
    I remember when you and I,
    apart and together, would listen
    to the music as the wind rushed past
    and, for who knows how long,
    we’d fly.

  10. All These Questions Behind Our Masks

    If you could hear my voice,
    would you know who I am?
    If you could see only my eyes,
    would you just shrug and move on?
    You, who notice so much, how would
    I stand or walk or scratch
    my nose that’d signal I’m
    the one standing before you?

    I only ask because years and tears
    take their tolls, and to chase life,
    we now wear masks to jump the stiles.
    Would I recognize you, if you
    covered half your face?
    Your smile, once so infectious,
    would retain some anonymity
    and protection from me, though
    your laugh might break through
    as if shrouded only by Salome’s
    diaphanous veils.

    Would I recognize those pools
    of sadness or of anger cascading
    over your protective wall, as well
    as your mask? It doesn’t matter.
    Apart is our part in how life goes on,
    and happy face to face need only
    happen where there are no masks
    and distance is dissolved in time
    and the dark mask-drop of dreams.

  11. Can you handle a world where we’re all made equal?
    Can you put down your guns, surrender your slogans
    Stop looking for something to happen--again?
    Can you just take a second and imagine your brother, blind to the color of his skin?
    Can you look at your sisters and feel their pride
    Without finding victims or some way to shame?
    Can you see a world where making a buck,
    Is just as good as making art?
    A world where setting the world on fire
    Is not the same as making change
    Can you set aside your differences
    And still go after your dreams
    When the earthquake is shaking you, making you think it’s all coming apart at the seams?
    There’s no more need to keep up with the Joneses
    They moved out a long time ago
    So what if you could see
    That what you’re worth
    Is not about your money
    Or precious property
    What if it’s about your kids
    The old folks, the forgotten
    And your responsibility

    Equal don’t mean that we’re all the same, or look the same or want the same; it ain’t about the past
    It ain’t about security
    Don’t come with any guarantee, apology, or taking up the slack
    It only means we all got a voice
    A chance to chase our happiness
    A given chance to make our choice.
    Nobody can steal our dream if we claim it
    Can’t kill us in the street
    No one needs to celebrate our saints and martyrs
    If we claim our own authority

    But can you handle being equal, really equal, in the end?
    Can you honestly declare,
    Your life is more that what you make,
    Your money in the bank
    What you eat, where you live, or what you wear?
    Do you know nobody can steal your dream
    But dreams need work to come true?
    Think about that hard, my friend
    Can you call yourself equal
    And not better than?
    Can you give up your rage and turn that page?
    Can you work for a future we cannot see?
    Can you open your hearts
    And arms and minds?
    Because if you can’t, you can’t stand with me…


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