Posts tagged ‘thinking ten’


Heading Him Off

by mdjb

I turned the key and nothing happened. They must have changed the locks again. At the depot, they were always doing things like that—too many boxes broken into—but it was Sunday, and what I had to deposit could not wait for another day. I was torn between a terrible sense of depravity and a feeling of accomplishment. Cosmos’ head, inside the tan paper bag was starting to weigh heavy. I had met him coming from church and tried explaining to him the sad fact that we must pay our debtors, in full, and on time, or face the awful consequences, and after cutting him off, I extracted his lock box key from the pocket of his Yankees jacket. It being early afternoon, I had thought it fortunate he would have the rest of the sabbath to sit in a small dark space and contemplate his broken luck before anyone else could put the pieces together, but my intentions were moot at this point.


Philip Comes of Age

by mdjb

There were less than two months until Philip’s thirtieth birthday, and all his hinting to Tony about the thing he wanted most seemed to be aimed at deaf ears. Big Mama had given him one hundred dollars so he could get a tattoo saying “Mom” on one of his shoulders, preferably the arm of the hand he wrote with, but she could not remember which one that was. He had opted instead for a charm on the back of which he had had inscribed All my love, Big Mama, and made up the difference to purchase the gold chain he would wear around his neck and from which the MOM would dangle. He could not fathom why she had suggested a tattoo this time, but was fairly certain she would appreciate the charm just as much.
In front of the monument on Barrow, he stood waiting for Tony, his oldest friend, and if anyone should remind an old-timer of the role John Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever, it was he. Other acquaintances remarked on Tony’s brown teeth, but Philip paid them no mind. To him, Anthony Manzana in his leisure suit was a vision. So, he couldn’t see how he was trailed after by the younger boy as if by some large forlorn puppy—no sorrow there. Shit, he thought, in two months I won’t be a boy anymore.
Big Mama, whose Christian name was Bunny, though nobody called her that since she had put on all the weight, was going to make a party for Philip’s thirtieth, and it was going to be a blow-out. She had told him to invite all his friends, and checked with him every Friday for updates on the guest list. He had invited many people, but in the end the only one he was counting on was Tony. Ray, whom the B.M. liked to refer to as Big Daddy, even though he was not Philip’s father, and wasn’t even big, really, would borrow the neighbor’s karaoke machine in return for a few beers and some of the B.M.’s special lasagna, and the two of them would get bombed sitting, watching from a corner, and there would probably be a few kids whom no one knew in attendance, but hey, good times don’t come cheap.
He looked at his tiny watch and started fretting a bit. Tony was late, and Walmart was going to close. He asked himself why he was always the one waiting, but as he knew the answer, he did not dwell on it. “Never any benefit from fretting,” Big Mama was wont to say, “All things come with time.” And she was right of course. In any case, here came Tony, ambling down the street. God, he was still wearing the clothes he’d worn last night to the bar! And who was the ugly, skinny number walking beside him?
“Hey, Curly Joe,” Tony said, “Here you have me. Let’s go shopping.”
Philip wanted to fret despite his philosophy, wanted to glance at his watch and glare at the other, wanted to shout, “You always do this. It’s too late, now,” but said nothing. Instead, he eyed Tony’s friend and nodded.
“Oh, this is Ralph,” Tony said, “He’s a dental assistant and helped me with your birthday gift in return for a little, er, personal attention. Look,” and he smiled widely, showing off his mouthful of newly whitened teeth.
The insufferable…it was too much! Philip gave in to his base instincts. “And where is my gift?” he asked.
Quick-thinking Tony went for a save. He leaned close and whispered, “ I figured I’d grant your greatest wish, later, after we ditch Ralph.”
“What is that, sloppy seconds?” Not whispered, causing Ralph to look up from his nails.
“Not sloppy at all, my dear, and I’ll be beaming down at you with my new pearly whites.” Tony grinned broadly.
“You have no clue what I’ve always wanted.”
“Don’t be like that. That’s not very friendly. Have you heard from your parents? Are you in a bad mood?”
Suddenly, synapses sparked, and like a rose coming into bloom out of season, a measure of understanding that had never visited him before, passed through Philip’s mind. He would never be able to deal with those teeth. And he hated karaoke, and leisure suits.
“I was,” he said, “But not anymore. Ray is not my father. I have only one parent I take after, and no friends that I can see.”
With that, he waddled away feeling for all the world like a gentleman, tall,  dignified, and righteous.


Forgive Me, Conrad Aiken

by mdjb

Could I really not find the time to call her and meet up for a shot or two and a little conversation? What kind of fifty-year-old has more fun playing in the snow with a young drinking buddy than spending time with an attractive serious writer of a certain age? It did not even cross my mind at the time that there might be serious social consequences, but some people do not take lightly half-hearted appointments made in momentary enthusiasm. I had played at the game before to be sure, but it never amounted to much, and this time around I still felt like a neophyte. I was only in Denver for two days and the snow was deep, but in saying that now, I realize I am making excuses. I was too shy. Or too self-centered, too pseudo-something to think beyond my itinerary. She took me to task for that, and I well deserved it.
But it was the way she went about it that made me think either she or I, or both of us, were just a bit mad. She went through a week of being nice and responding in simple tones, and then one night in an explosive e-mail she brought me up short. Tried to make me feel guilty for having let her down, even after having told me she most likely would not have shown. “I’m really a shy person,” she had remarked at first, “And not good with people.” Her words that night, a week later, alerted me to the fact that she was good at many other things, putting social skills aside.
When we met in New York, for the first time in the flesh, not long afterwards, we both apologized for having erred in a new friendship. We met inches from the spot where Dylan Thomas supposedly drank himself into oblivion, and then choked on a bottle cap or some such fabled nonsense. I think old Dylan’s spirit was there with us that night. The two of us were expressing such writerly thoughts, sharing cigarettes and big city dreams. Too big for a place like Denver to contain. Mine remained dreams. I had lived most of my life in New York City, and opted to return to my casita in southern Mexico. Shortly after our meeting, she gave hers a shot, left Denver and returned to New York for a second go at life there. The last I heard, she was still working it, but not as satisfactorily as she had foreseen.
Occasionally, her name pops up or I come across some marvelous piece she’s written, and remember how I screwed up a potential friendship that could not be healed by some brief conversation, however brilliant, and a few shared smokes. We both have moved a fair distance from the locus of our original connection, but the one thing that stays strong in my mind when I do hear her name, the thing I recall with an uncustomary clarity is how white the city of Denver was on that weekend in November, like a tabula rasa, silent and secret.


Like Static from Woolen Socks

by mdjb

Can you hear it? It’s me calling to you in your sleep. I’m calling you to come and be with me. I need you, not just daily but when I’m sleeping too.
You said you had intentions of stealing words from me. Well, I say do it. I’ve filled my work with a tincture of love and if you use those words you will not be able to resist my pull. You will see me in your dreams because I’m broadcasting on that frequency. Your sleeping partner will be oblivious to the program you are hearing. I told you once my attraction would not be a problem. I lied. Or rather, then I told the truth as I saw it, but I have since found out differently. The problem is I cannot stop thinking about you, thus the imperative of my radar.
You will feel it, and you will see it, the unexpected static from a pair of woolen socks when sparks occur as with lightning bugs, fully charged, passing through a darkened room. Passing, if I am lucky, in this room.
I am nothing if not patient. Years may pass and I will hold to this resolve. Will you change? I’m afraid you will. Will it matter to me? I think perhaps. There is something edgy about the dynamics of the two of us in a room together. You told me nothing can happen but I believe it’s happening already. There are moments when I think I’ve overreached. Moments when I feel arch. Times when I want to smack your face just to see your cheeks redden, to get you aroused enough to smack me back. I think if this happened we would soon have our clothing off. So, we both back away.
Did you feel that?
Fre-quen-cy mod-u-la-tion. aMpLiTuDe mOdUlAtIoN.
In a house that knows no music, an overture will invade. When the doors open, a symphony will erupt. Already through the windows, the instruments can be heard tuning up. Are you prepared to share with me a sum greater than its parts? Touch me anywhere. I’m electric without even trying. If I cry, I will short circuit, thus I cannot allow tears. This is not a sad song, in any case. It begins and ends with Hallelujah.
Someone is calling your name.
Call me when you hear it. Call to me across the night air. This is right. This was meant to be. It may take adjusting but we have all the time in the world. Now.


Bits and Pieces Reworked

by mdjb

The most important piece of the puzzle for me was still missing—the starter. I mean, that’s what usually gets me going, and much as I enjoy Sal’s brand of humor, that bin Laden comment did not suggest anything to me at first glance. Million dollar compound, indeed! The great leader’s fortress had nothing over any of the myriad shelters in Pakistan. I stood behind a door, the green one, listening to learn how things were moving along. That those first photos offered as evidence turned out to be doctored was a big letdown. If one could not believe in the details, how was one to take heart in the news which followed? A promise had been made which had not been broken for little more than a year. If one got there early and gathered the information, the business was in his pocket, but if one hesitated and everything current moved off the front screen, one could stand there with blood gushing out of his heart and nobody in the triage unit would take notice until an insurance card was produced. Had the infamous leader already died from his lung disease a year ago, leaving our side to have to relinquish satisfactory vindication to blind Nature? The key worked if you whispered the magic word, but god forbid you put the stress on the wrong syllable, for right then and there you were bound to produce faces wearing that lost look. “Are you speaking Greek or what all? Because it sounds like Greek to me. No offense meant, as Greek is a beautiful language, but it doesn’t work in all situations. Nah, nah, nah. Before the video is to be released, and without its original audio, I might add, to preclude the dissemination of any incipient message that might have lingered beyond death, we are being given the psychology behind a sad, vain old man’s actions. “Look at me on Aljezeera (or a video capture of same), nudge, nudge, LOL! Would the man who dyed his beard to appear in public truly want to be seen in this light, admiring his own performance from at home, under a blanket, gray hair clearly visible? This scene was shot maybe eight months earlier, when the compound stood unblistered by incendiaries, with wives perhaps busy in the kitchen, and some trusted PR man alone in the television room with the old man, who may have already died. That chronology is unsettling. Still, you need the magic word, the prompt in the Universal Tongue. “This is how you are supposed to view this. This is what you are supposed to see.” Incidentally, I doubt if bin Laden knew how pizza tastes, or ever let a delivery person into the compound without a shakedown, though he would have worked perfectly in a triage unit watching prospective patients bleed to death, while he had that, “Who me? I don’t know what you’re talking about,” look on his face. We shouldn’t really make jokes about the man now that he’s dead. May he rest in pieces, bite-sized pieces, so old sharks may feast as well. Everything on your plate is easier to consume when it’s already been cut up for you. It helps with the digestion.



by mdjb

“Something is definitely wrong here,” János said. He was sitting on the edge of the loveseat. Margit returning with a filled tray from the kitchen wanted to know what was bothering him.
“It is this photo,” he said. “It is different from the others I snapped a few days ago.”
After putting the tray on the table in front of him, Margit took the photograph from him and examined it. “How did you shoot this?” she asked. “Were you standing on the path directly in front of the cyclists? How did you manage to avoid being run down?”
“That’s just it, you see. I was taking a picture of the empty street. Those children weren’t riding there on Wednesday.”
His wife looked intently for a moment, at the photo, and then at János. “You must have confused yourself, dear,” she said. “You’ve captured a moment out of time, and from a very difficult angle it seems. You know you become forgetful when you’re getting the flu. That must be it. You were not careful in covering yourself when you slept, and another cold night let it happen again.”
“I’m not getting sick, and I’m not senile,” he stated flatly. “I tell you those children weren’t there when I took the rest of these pictures. Look, however, at the youth in the center. Does he not look familiar to you?”
“He does resemble you a bit when you were younger. I recall you used to cycle to and from the school where we met. For that matter, the young man on the right looks a bit like my old friend György who introduced us to each other.  It’s a coincidence that has upset you.”
“I remember the little blond girl, too. She was the daughter of our neighbor Lázsló, the pharmacist. She died of consumption before her thirteenth birthday.”
“Then this is an old photograph taken by someone else, and it is you on the bicycle.”
“It is not,” János said, “It came back with the others. I have the negatives here. You may look at them in sequence. Hold them up to the light. You will see several pictures of the street, but you won’t find those children in the rest of the set. I haven’t pulled the old albums out of the closet yet, but I feel compelled to uncover an answer to this mystery.”
“My love, you haven’t had your breakfast. Why don’t you eat something before you go trudging off to look at old photographs?” Margit was looking at the negatives and did not see young people in any of them. She heard the sound of the postman outside on the walk. Birdsong filled the air. She could barely detect the scent of almonds in the room and wondered if János were aware of these. She had been hoping on what would have been an otherwise perfect morning her resolution could have been carried out more smoothly. She had been hoping her husband of too many years would have drunk his morning coffee as he did every day, not noticing today’s had been specially prepared to ease him on his way. Now, this photo business was intervening. Yet, it might be serendipitous. This was what she would remember about the day. János smiling, carefree on a bicycle, going home. She sighed, and turned from the sunny window intending to urge him further, and just like that he was gone.


Something in the Way He Smiled

by mdjb

Imagine yourself sharing a rather large house with two very close friends. You’re walking up the path, smiling, until you arrive at the black door, and you remember these two were not even acquaintances until you answered the ad for a summer share in the Free News. The tall one seriously offered to give you head in exchange for your cooperation with the food bill, and the other is still inside the closet. You had been saving to go to Germany or Austria, but your fear of flying prevented you from investing in a real vacation. It’s only June thirtieth, and you think you’ve already shared enough time with two wankers who want to play strip poker every other night and cannot get their fill of sunbathing on the nude beach.
Imagine sharing this rather large house with two total strangers, whose names you will always remember without ever entering them in your little black book, and how guilty you will feel signing out of Facebook whenever you see one of those names pop up in the chat box, although you just cannot bring yourself to unfriending either of them.
Imagine how you will respond when you get that call in November and Derek tells you he’s going to be in your neck of the woods, and would like to pop in for coffee and to talk about the good times. You will recall his smile so like a piano keyboard with all those perfectly capped big teeth. Derek and Bob. Bob and Derek. You know you’re on a mission, and the flying thing was only incidental.
You wonder what’s for dinner, and are reminded that you haven’t eaten this well in years as you imagine yourself sitting alone in your small apartment in Pittsburg.
Now, if you could only figure out a way to dissuade them from playing cards for the evening, so you could avoid that self-conscious feeling you always get upon losing, perhaps you could enjoy watching one beautiful sunset while gazing out on the western shore instead of staring at the modern art piece whose eyes follow you around the deck.


Like Clockwork

by mdjb

“This place will swallow you up,” said my friend when we stopped off at the school where he works. He asked me to wait while some photos were taken for the yearbook. They had hired a professional photographer, and the guy was munching handfuls of cereal out of a box he kept putting down beside his tripod. He was keeping each of the attractive young women up on the little stage for much longer than seemed necessary while they tossed their hair and bent seductively over a stool or raised shoulders to impossible heights, and turned their heads as if caught off guard.
Sitting next to me, Alvaro was getting fidgety. “I don’t know if I’m up for all this business,” he said, “Let’s go get something to eat.” There was an awful smell in the air, wafting up to us from the back of the room, and I was no longer hungry.
I said, “No. Let’s wait for your turn. You’re gonna have to have pictures taken, anyway, and we’re here already.” He was sending messages to friends with his Blackberry and I was thinking. I didn’t mind waiting, using the time to ponder the week’s prompts on T10, trying to come up with a way to tie disparate phrases together, and wondering why there was no Canvas image this time.
I get up a rhythm when I attach myself to assignments, self-imposed or suggested, and when there are late breaking changes, it upsets my train of thought. For almost a year, I had been producing some of my best stuff once a week on the site. Now, everything was being taken “to another level.” I did not feel I had fallen into a rut, actually  looking forward every Saturday to gathering the five prompts and the graphic, weaving them into a tale I would never have thought of on my own. Five prompts and a graphic, like clockwork they would turn into stories for me. Now, I felt my impetus had been taken away.
As the photographer motioned to Alvaro to come up on stage, and he reluctantly shuffled forward, I had a moment of commiseration. Of course, he’d wind up with a good shot in the yearbook, but he never dreamed he would have to play fashion model to get there. He would have been happy enough to pop into one of those passport photo shops and be done with the whole thing in ten minutes.
But then, he was not an attractive young female, so the artist finished with him in ten or twelve minutes anyway. It appeared to be six of one, half a dozen of the other.
On the way out, we did not stop for the free coffee and doughnuts. “Mmm,” I said, “Just like Grandma used to make, only she’s been dead for forty years, and I think they’re from her time.”
“Let’s get out of here, and go to Bonampak,” Alvaro said, “I’m hungry for some real food.”


Frank Xavier

by mdjb

He’s older now; the lines on his face give his age away, and they call him Frank, if they call him at all, but when he was still known as Francis, he was the odd boy out. Sitting beside him on the front steps of our dilapidated apartment building in Brooklyn, on days when I didn’t have to go to school, I thought he was the coolest guy walking. Francis never went to school. I mean, he was supposed to, just like the rest of us, but somehow he got away with playing truant day after day, and that did not stop him from being smart. We all thought.
He never got involved in fights, though they always seemed to be occurring in his vicinity. He would just sit and watch. He had a handsome face with a clear complexion while the rest of us battled with zits, and I guess that was one of the reasons he never fought. He didn’t want to damage his good looks even a little, but his constant steering clear also put him in the position of playing judge, and selecting the winner. I think he enjoyed that part of it more.
Life is funny though, the attitudes of one’s youth that make us winners, can also make us losers in our dotage.
When two kids fight, they soon make amends, and differences of opinion grow into lasting friendships. Everyone curried Francis’s favor when he sat on the steps so stolid and handsome, but none of the guys ever became his friend. I tried to like him. I tried to be like him, but could never break through the veneer of indifference. You cannot buy into a friendship with someone like that. There’s not enough money to cover the cost.
When he grew into middle-age, still a bachelor, and later, when his beauty faded, many assumed he wasn’t right in the head. Little kids used to taunt him when he would walk down the streets with his shopping bags, “Wuccha got in the bags, Crazy Frank?” Then, he would hand out shiny nickels and the kids would run off to buy something. That was probably what they were aiming at in the first place rather than tormenting a lonely old man.
We thought he had a girlfriend for a while, when we saw him with Sally, but when we stopped to consider her druggy past, and figured she had probably never kicked as she had claimed, we realized she, too, was most likely looking for a little money.
Those of us who are left from the original crowd are quite aged now, and we never fight with each other. One miscalculated punch could do any one of us in.
I still think Frank was pretty cool when I sit and reflect, but it’s easy to see how he ended up the way he is, given his lack of confrontation. He would still be the most striking of any of us, too, if it weren’t for the lines on his face.


An Accident Waiting to Happen

by mdjb

They say it was an accident, but I know better. I didn’t use it when it first came up, and now I see it was fate because it comes in handy when the well runs dry. Reminds me of an old favorite I also “didn’t get” the first time around.
Ever watch one of those Women Behind Bars movies? You know the one where a woman with delusions of grandeur, through some unfortunate misstep winds up thrown in amongst the lower orders? Though they pretend to offer serious commentary on the wretched abuses being meted out on poor misguided women everywhere, they are actually produced with a sense of high camp focusing on a few stereotypical types. Eleanor Parker made me laugh while I watched Caged rather than forcing me to examine my conscience. With that sullen look on her face carried all the way through to the end when supposedly she has been toughened by her experience, she strikes one as a whiner who can’t see the camp for the trees. Hope Emerson as the mean guard, you have to watch in action to believe. Barely a nuance in her whole performance, she is still one of the most memorable screen villains ever.
In this age of cyber spying bombers using plastic explosives and high technology while searching for their true identities, watching an old chestnut like Caged should provide some comedy relief along with the “Yeah, get ‘em,” moments.
When Agnes Moorehead’s warden watches through a window and says, “She’ll be back,” you wonder what she knows.
There aren’t any weapons in the basement, nor Reds in the closet, but there is a distinct atmosphere of Fifties noir that makes this film an enjoyable Saturday afternoon entertainment for all the wrong reasons.
Like anything worthwhile, it’s there when you need it.