Sable.

 

cover_scan_paint_cropped_CS_04

Her footprints led to the ocean’s edge. She stood where the waves wouldn’t touch, naked toes just out of reach from the sea foam. Wasn’t sure of much anymore, but she sensed that any premature contact, when the moment arrived, would drag her away. Then down into the depths.

The wind whipped at her tiny micro braids, trace strands of grey, tips playing piano keys along her forehead. Large eyes looking out to watercolors that proved the sun was setting somewhere behind her. Her sundress blew in rhythmic swells. Revealed her knees, tickled at her thighs. She glanced down at her arms. Chill bumps sprouted along dark brown skin, particles of sand caught in the hairs. Glistening.

She waited. Frightened. Confident. Certain that the time had rolled around once more.

Sable tilted her head. Listened to the ocean’s echo, a retelling of the night. The night Camilla had taken her out into the eternal. Skinny dip, bare bodies glowing under a full moon. Their saltwater tongues had touched, hands and fingers running the compass, east, west, north south, deep south, to the point where they were locked together so firmly, backs arched, that they resembled a split in the road. Sable’s eyes had gone hemispheric, engulfed her face, and the constellations were renamed, shapes she’d never seen standing out, burning, mysteries revealed, even as Camilla’s hand slid from between her thighs, around Sable’s body, holding her close, riding the waves, ocean current demanding that they rock slowly, rise and fall.

Sable blinked.

Not surprised to find the entire coastline open. Free of people. Not a single surfer, sunbather, hermit with a metal detector. No couples or potential lovers.

Now, ten years later, Sable knew it was time. Woke up that morning alone, with a faraway clarity. Lipstick on the calendar: Anniversary. She had showered. Allowed herself a glass of orange juice before calling the bank, calling in sick. Got into her compact Ford Focus and took 1-40 East, NC-41 N to Topsail Island.

Thought of Camilla’s surprised smile in the night light, the moment she realized they had kissed for the first time, understanding that it was about to accelerate, move so swiftly towards so much more. Two breathless moments, and that second kiss had sealed it…

Sable opened her mouth.

Saw the name drift from her lips, out over the horizon, not at all frightened now as the voice came back to her, tiny lick along her earlobe –

Sable.

She drew in a breath.

Teardrop going for a spontaneous trip.

Once more.

Once more this time, as the tide did its best to retreat. Searched the ocean. Small waves, minor transgressions, and she felt a sob come, go, as the voice came again.

Sable.

And Sable nodded: “Yes.”

She reached down. Took a bundle of flowered fabric, hiked her dress into a skirt, because now was finally the when and where of it all.

Sable took her footsteps one at a time. Never doubting. Remembering Camilla’s eyes, so blue, even at night, two crystal prisons. Dirty blond hair like majestic seaweed, pressed against a wet round face that radiated… what?

This moment, maybe.

Sable went out across the water and, escorted by the sunset, stepped over the first wave. Then the next. The ocean cruised beneath her feet, fluid conveyer belt as she moved.

Sable walked on the surface, following the voice. So delirious from the wind. Several feet below hers, the seashells gathered to observe. From somewhere above, the planets would soon make themselves known.

And Sable walked on water that day.

Kept walking towards the horizon, Camilla’s voice whispering Sable’s name, taking her hand, beyond where they once were forced to stop, one sad, memorable night in mid-July.

###

Smashwords.com

so long and thanks for all the pish.

 

The Revolution Will Be Googled.

juneteenth

If I’m not talking about you, then feel free to move along.

That said, moving right along, for the moment, on the subject of memory.

Please bear with me while I discuss myself for a moment. I’m not presenting for my own sake, and you might think I’m lying, but every lie detector needs control questions, and this is my reply to something everyone should be asking themselves.

Many years ago, North Carolina days, I would drop my girlfriend on UNC’s campus, drive back towards Durham. Then, rather than bother with the full commute both ways, I would stop at the Barnes & Nobel. Get a coffee, wander the aisles. Pick a book. Usually non-fiction, something I might not have been fully informed about. Sit and read for a few hours. When time’s up came around, I would return the book to its place, get in my girlfriend’s car, pick her up, go home, next day, wash, rinse, repeat.

If anyone had asked me what I had been reading as of late, I could go into a litany of detail. Fresh in my mind, much sharper mind back then. I’d go on and on about stories, moments, references, footnotes, but…

The second anyone asked for a title… Name of the book, authors, editors, I would blank. I never felt the need to remember those particulars because, why bother? I remembered where the book was located, which section, shelf, the design of the spine. Context was my memory, my imprint, Dewey Decimal System. To this day, I couldn’t tell you the name of the books I consumed…

…unless I Googled them.

So flash forward with me. Now is now. This country, and this world, is engaged in a battle. Not just against white supremacy, the hideous indignations of colonialism, violence of the state, but also something far more basic. Elemental. And, truth be told, neural.

Beyond the rallies, protests, posts and politics, we are in a battle of inconsistencies.

There are those who are learning things for the first time. There are those who knew, who are astounded to discover there are things they didn’t know. For some, there is now knowing, re-knowing, discovery, uncovering, recovering, hell, the world is shifting and opening up with information, narratives, and hidden history, in ways that send the mind spinning, questioning, wondering just where has reality been all these years?

For some, anyway.

For some, reality is complicated.

Not in the sense that there aren’t some base truths.

Not in the sense that there are two sides to every argument. When it comes to what we are facing, the other side isn’t an argument, it’s an excuse.

Reality and what is remembered is complicated not because of some grand debate, but because of reminders.

As of this writing, we’re just past the calendar date of June 19th. With an unexpected and sudden collective injunction, Juneteenth blew up with the same bravado and superficial brilliance reserved for fireworks on the 4th of July.

I’ve known about June 19th for ages. Couldn’t tell you whether it was information passed down from a friend, something that came to light while drinking with a stranger, couldn’t tell you where I was or what was on the TV screen at the time, not in the same way I will always remember where I was on the morning of September 11th, 2001.

I’m ok with how I absorb information. I’ve always been fine with the fact that I take it in, make it a part of my collective knowledge and use it as fuel to make myself more in tune, aware, part and parcel of how I view reality.

Except…

Then there’s June 19th.

Juneteenth.

The occasion is in imbedded in my brain, as an I-beam, structural information I know has been essential in my construct of the here and now, except…

I honestly don’t think I would have remembered this year without the reminder.

If not for this current climate, a passing reminder of the occasion would very likely have me Googling it.

And, “Oh, yeah,” I would have said. “I knew that.”

Except…

I know something for certain, for true, for real.

Sometimes, when I’m writing on such a subject, I need to Google. Make sure I have my date, specifications, geography correct. A particular speech. Event. Turning point. I want to get it right, and maybe I’m not so sure, and I need to google it. I’m bad with names, bad at spelling. So I post about George Floyd or Breonna Taylor, and I want to make sure I got the names right, so I Google them.

I Google them.

I know them, but I Google them. Yes, I have absorbed the stories and histories. Sure, of course, they share a space in my overall understanding, ruminating, tumbling around, final cycles in a midnight laundromat. But there are people who have said their names, screamed their names, often times alone, on their own, in their homes, rooms, mirrors, out in the middle of nowhere, where it’s ok to scream, not worry about what it must look like to be a crazy person in the eyes of a casual observer, the endless names of black, queer, trans individuals murdered, the history of those who stretch back far into systematically untold reaches, and yes, untold to the point where some of us have to Google, even if we’ve heard it all before, of course, it’s all well and good that we know, but just think about the fact that some of us need a reminder.

If you listen closely, you can hear gums bleed from the mouths who have memorized and repeated, over and over, until it all seems like an endless summersault,

yes, except…

I have no problem with how my memory works.

How I process the information.

I have no problem with the way in which I learn.

But every time I click a new tab on my browser…

Take another look at what I tell myself I already knew…

Don’t get me wrong.

There is no better time to be wrong.

There is no better time to do better, and better has rarely been the best that can be said of this world.

But regardless of what you, me, we – and I cast the net far and wide – think we know, what we believe to remember…

Reminders mean something.

Regardless of memory.

Everyone one of us was born into a world of inconsistency.

There are a lot of people out there, now, more than ever before, who won’t need to be reminded when Juneteenth 2021 rolls around.

Stay aware when you click, why you click, learn, be cognizant of what you think you remember, and imagine what you won’t have to be reminded of when we meet again, one year from today.

###

Be Prepared to Not Be Remembered.

 

be preapared

 

If I’m not talking about you, then feel free to move along. This isn’t a sermon. This isn’t coming from a smug place of superiority – I just had to remember to insert the word “of” in the previous sentence, I’m just that incapable, currently, of properly placing words to match this momentum. I’m not grinning in self-satisfaction, considering myself as anything other than who I am.

We’ve been conditioned, in this country. There is a dangerous take on individualism that pervades this space, one of the many reasons we’ve arrived where we are, that elevates the hero, single slayer, preacher, performer, the unique savior above all else. It’s pop culture, it’s national narrative, it’s the story we tell ourselves, both as ourselves and to each other.

There is a sense that nothing is worth doing for its own sake. That we’re not anyone until we’ve achieved status as a brand, a name anyone can pop off the top of their head, our face on a billboard. The story of one soul. As a society, we are trained to expect our own accolades, statues, multi-volume books based on our existence the one time we accomplished, intervened, showed and proved.

I’m old as hell, and come from a long line of activists. Though the term activist doesn’t even begin to cover it. My parents, older brother, were an integral part of the Democratically elected socialist revolution that took place during the early 70’s in Chile. The movement was massive, it was millions. And it was also brought down, to its knees, by a US funded military coup that brough Augusto Pinochet to power and ushered in an era of murder, torture, rape, and a list of disappeared individuals who many have never heard of.

And I’ve heard it all. Growing up, I sat and listened to these stories. There were no guides, cautionary playbooks, instructional manuals on how to talk to your children about the state of the existence, the gruesome foundation our world was built on, about power without limits, fascism, the absolute evil, and I don’t use the term evil lightly, that pervades our everyday lives.

As a result, I have also heard it all. There is a saying, remolded several times from its original utterance: If you’re not a rebel when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not establishment by the time you’re 35, you have no brain. There is a contingent within this country, an older one to be sure, that we are all familiar with. Yes, it is a generational divide. Whether it’s white people who marched in solidarity during the 60s, or old guard black individuals who are unable to grasp the necessary intersectional respect to truly stand in solidarity with where we find ourselves now, it all comes back to the blight of narrative, the singularity of the singular.

“I didn’t march in the 60’s for THIS.”

I’ve heard it all. In my younger years, I felt the tug of such sentiments, and never had the wherewithal to come back over the top with the obvious flaw. If why you marched in the 60’s has anything to do with you, then the reason you marched in the 60’s was, and remains, only about you.

Many people compare current times to earlier moments of resistance. I have been present at many of the current protests, marches, rallies that have taken place around New Orleans. And I have to say, I am erring on the side of optimism. I don’t consider this to be a repeat, and I hope it isn’t, of a generation that marched in the 60’s and 70’s, voted for Ronald Regan in the 80’s, and then dove head-first into the 90’s under the auspices of stock-market guilt only to present a secondary revolution based on shuffling cards, politeness, and mild niceties over actual change.

I was there, in New Orleans, Duncan Plaza, June 11, 2020, when the rally took a sudden turn. Hundreds of people who were under the impression that maybe this would be business as usual, prevented the arrest of an individual who was cuffed, thrown into the back of a police cruiser, for no other reason than existing within the color of their skin. It worked. It happened. It was a testament to what is possible.

It was also the first time that many people present were present for such an altercation, possibly the first time showing up to wear the mantle of solidarity. I don’t need to be pedantic, explanatory, lay down the details of what it means to be part of such a moment. As the crowd moved away from the de-escalation, returned to the center of Duncan Plaza with the intent of continuing the work, I overheard two individuals, still wild in their hearts from the rush, adrenaline of what just happened, talking.

“We just did something.”

“We did.”

“We literally just stopped an unwarranted arrest.”

“We did that.”

Yes, we did. Whether on the frontlines, or as bodies proving that a community is more powerful than any state-sanctioned police action, yes. We did.

We did.

There is no possibility of transformation within the confines of narcissism. Within any movement, there will always be people who are under the impression that the universe centers around them. I know, am horribly familiar with the disembodiment of the individual who believes this. I grew up with far to many people who took on the persona of savior, self-appointed master, yes, master, of the times. You’ve all seen this person. They probably show up on your social media feed, and while you have no personal contact with them, you can just imagine the gravity with how they consider themselves. Their interest is not change. Flipping the script is not paramount to their existence. Rather, they are willed to act as activists, but only within their own intensity, story, driven to smash, break, destroy in the basest of the sense, to create a history for themselves.

Beyond the tactical, political, the everyday of dismantling an apparatus that has its roots buried so deep in the past that we must often squint to see its origins; beyond that, we, all of us, need to remember. Tell ourselves. This is not abut me. This is not about something as simple as you.

After a group of individuals, acting as whole, managed to de-arrest a person who the police had no business taking to prison, we retreated to the center of Duncan Plaza. We were told, you were told, yes. You should feel good about what you did. You should feel proud. You should feel the power that comes with with the possible. You should sing. You should dance. You should joy. You should kiss your friends once we get through this, it is fine, absolutely necessary. Fall all the fucking way in love with your friends, lovers, the strangers you stand with, march with, protect and respect.

But be prepared to not be remembered.

Be prepared. An entire generation failed this country based on the predication that they were the center of the world. But the world revolves around the sun. We all revolve around each other. Yes, you matter. Yes, your individual bodies, what you bring to the fight, matters. But when people down the road write songs, stories, the history of what is happening, you must be comfortable, aware, you have to absolutely be prepared to be us.

Be prepared to be we.

Be prepared to not be remembered.

The next time you rally, march, hold up a sign, look to your left. Look to your right.

Right now is right now.

They say the only word that cannot be spoken when telling a riddle is the answer to the question. For those of us finding it in themselves to rise up, you are not just part of history, you are the history itself.

Be prepared to not be remembered.

###

welcome to creole nights.

stories_from_a_bar_COVER

 

Open season, another lonely night on the calendar.

February 7, 1999, and three days earlier, Amadou Diallo had been shot.

Twenty-two years, all summarized in a single moment: reaching for his wallet, violently thrust into the next life with the help of nineteen slugs from four officers of NYPD’s Street Crimes Unit. Dead on his own doorstep, as a doornail.

Starting Thursday at  sundown, then all through the weekend, the boroughs ran wild with bad blood. Whether taking to the streets in isolated protests, or secure behind double-barred deadlocks, everyone waited, baited breath, to see whether civil disobedience might undergo some unfortunate antigen shift.

Come Sunday, very little had changed.

Proof that, at the very least, God was most certainly resting.

Perhaps a little too heavily on everyone’s shoulders.

Otherwise, just another lonely night, sure. Even the bottles seemed scarred by neglect. I graced them with a reassuring smile. Caught my reflection in the mirror, barback lights in no mood for sweet talk. Dark hair cut haphazardly short, a few stray tufts sticking up and out. Unseasonable white tee showing off my ribcage beneath a worn, gray leather jacket. Olive skin. Brown eyes cradled by matching baggage, topped with a pair of overly ambitious eyebrows balancing on either side of a sharp, inelegant nose.

A week or so shy of my twentieth birthday.

Not much chance that face would be looking to make improvements.

I lit a cigarette, practiced a few unconvincing sneers.

Still early in the evening. Not one fresh face had ventured down the steps to Creole Nights.

Zephyr, Ayizan , Jacob and a few other Haitians, Jamaicans, Dominicans were huddled at the end of the bar. All the unusual suspects. They spoke in low murmurs, holding their own early mass beneath the red and white seconds of an illuminated Budweiser clock. On occasion, their muddied eyes would venture up to the mounted, twelve inch screen. The floating head of Rudolph Giuliani cast his spectral gleam. Not a hint of reconciliation on the other side of that looking glass, and I kept to my drink.

Laying quiet bets on the end of the world.

Imagining a worst case scenario where it might never take place.

Zephyr wandered over, mixed up a rum and coke.

“Lucky Saurelius…” he said absently, Haitian accent drawing out the vowels along the entire length of the bar. “The man.”

I reached over, plucked a few cocktail napkins. “Let’s not get carried away.”

He nodded. Thick mustache matching trimmed hair, trace amounts of gray in both. Wire-rimmed spectacles perched low. His ordinarily mischievous eyes were opaque with simple, commonplace curiosity. “Where’s your woman tonight?”

“Don’t have a woman.”

“You don’t?”

“Not a one.”

“What about that red-haired girl? Sandra?”

“Over and done with over a year ago, Zephyr.”

“Helena?”

“She ain’t so wild about me right now.”

“Anika?”

“One night stand, it would seem.”

“Then have a drink.” The bottle of Jack seemed to magically emerge from the sleeves of his purple Baja. He laid a pour on me, asked if I’d heard about Amadou Diallo. “Nineteen bullets, all over a goddamn wallet.”

I told him I’d heard. Didn’t mention it was his third time asking.

Thought it best to let that one go.

“Man, it is dead tonight,” he sighed. Wandered off.

I put my pen to the first napkin.

Couldn’t find a match for the occasion.

Took a look around. Neck craned over the back of my seat, one sweeping glance to take in the details of my underground world. Cracks in the wall displaying what must have once been an eggshell white beneath the dulled, tangerine paint job. Lit candles dotting the rickety tables, backed by the soft, orange glow of scattered lamps built into the wall. Row after row of straw hats, stapled upside down against the ceiling . An immense mural had found its home along the entire length of the far wall, wild medley of colors depicting a Caribbean village. To my left and right, empty stools nestled beneath the chipped, unfinished bar, where ghosts of evenings past awaited indefinite departure.

I reached for a cocktail napkin, scribbled a few notes.

An hour passed.

A stream of smooth reggae made its way through the speakers.

Television on mute, closed captions telegraphing the outside world.

I ordered a beer, went to the bathroom. Had a little group hug with the soiled toilet, rusted sink, and plywood walls. Plans to paint over the exposed grain had fallen to the wayside. Time being, countless lines of graffiti bunched together like makeshift poetry, making fun of me and my little ol’ Bobby McGee.

I smiled along.

Sense of humor; some nights, even the walls had it.

Even on the worst of nights.

I walked back to Jack Daniel’s.

Bamyeh had nested himself next my seat.

Aged eyes moist and wandering. Pupils pushing through professorial glasses and past gray dreadlocks. A wool sweater hung over his frame, bathed in the glorious reek of eucalyptus and rum. Split fingertips forgetting the difference between his drink and a flickering candle.

“It’s the young writer,” he greeted me, calloused handshake taking me for a ride. “Don’t forget me when you reach the top, Lucky.”

“I won’t.” I thought about it, “…and I won’t.”

“Where’s your woman tonight?”

“Don’t have one of those.”

“Can I have a cigarette?”

I handed him a Marlboro Red.

Got my change in a dime-store smile and went back to sitting.

Raised  my eyes to the straw hats along the ceiling. Rims sprouting wild, jagged reeds.

Up on the television screen, the mayor’s teeth worked between thin, indignant lips. White block letters at the bottom of the screen, close captions assuring us all that AMADOU DIALLO WAS NO ALTAR BOY.

A chorus of mournful cries rose above the music.

Or maybe that was what he would someday say about Patrick Dorismond. Shot in the chest by an undercover officer in March of 2000. Bled to death all the way to St. Clare’s Hospital. Haitian immigrant, father of two, and once altar boy at the same Catholic School attended by Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

There were times it all bled together, even with one year later still one year away.

But in the now, there was Amadou Diallo.

I flattered my drink with one last kiss, asked for another.

***

It was ‘round about 11:30 when Clarence walked in with that woman.

One inch shy of six foot. A thin composition of fifteen degrees. Cheeks flushed with pure February over a peculiar, gray hue. Chestnut hair. Wrinkled white dress-shirt hanging over black jeans. Eyes leading her face down a dozen different paths, drunk as the day was done.

Trapped in her own world, yet another animal in from the cold.

Clarence was a regular, and in all my hours underground, I had never seen him walk in with a woman. First time, that time in ’99.

Her scuffed flats shuttled her to the end of the bar, got the standard greeting from Zephyr.

“Welcome to Creole Nights.”

A few minutes’ worth of harmless details sailed by. A middle-aged couple, two women in oversized winter coats, asked for their check. One or two tables helped themselves to a fresh round of drinks. Beaks dipping into Hennessey, rum, gin and tonic. All business as usual, before traces of an argument began to float past the cloud of exhaust. I glanced over, down to bar’s end. Cocked my head. Did what I could to casually peek around the pillar that bisected the surface. I grimaced, situation making itself readily available.

That woman, our own pale horse, was locked in a desperate battle against the rest. Words flew from her mouth, covered in pasty spit. Sliced by gleaming incisors. Foaming at the corners, an unrepentant hatred of everything.

Clarence stood by her side, doing what he could to make peace. Hazelnut skin noticeably pale. Sweating beneath his brown leather jacket, cherub face looking for a way out as voices clashed

A few customers pulled the wish out from under him, and made for the door.

Zephyr caught my eye, gave me the long and short: “She doesn’t like Jews.”

I rubbed my eyes. “Ok. Gonna be one of those nights, then.”

The woman caught wind of an extra card in the deck, sent her fury my way. “What of it?”

Before I could answer, Bamyeh slammed his hand on the counter, drawing her back into the fight. “Do not get mad at him! This is not about him!” His gravelly voice rose, cracked. Strained to the limit with three days’ worth of accumulated rage. “Explain yourself! You explain yourself to us, if you plan to continue talking that way!”

“My kike boss fired me today, how many times do I have to repeat it?” Practically talking to herself at this point. “Fucking Jews, all the same.”

“All the same what?”

“And why?” she marveled, answering her own question with more mad rhetoric. “Because I drink? Because I like a fucking DRINK sometimes, every now and then?”

“All the same what?”

“All the same, all the same, you need me to draw you a fucking PICTURE?”

Back and forth, battle of the underground all-stars.

Each reproach louder than the last.

And it might have been alright on any other night.

Zephyr leaned back, crossed his arms. “What do you think, Lucky?”

“What do I think?” Leaned back. Stretched. Made careful use of my words. “I think all you fucking Caribbean motherfuckers can all go fuck yourselves.”

And everyone laughed, thank God, for the first time in days.

Except that woman. If anything, it cut deep into thin skin. Stuck like barbs of chicken wire. Eyes bulging, something desperate struggling to escape as she burst out: “What the FUCK would any of you know about JEWS!?”

Bamyeh stopped laughing. Grabbed her arm, thick lips spread wide with every damning syllable: “I am the ORIGINAL Jew, WOMAN!”

Brimstone words from the lost tribes.

The woman jerked her arm from rooted fingers.

Knocked her seat back with a hopeless shriek, and ran out of our lives.

Out the door and up onto Macdougal Street.

Whether she went left or right was a question well above our pay grade.

Clarence gave chase, but he was up against a running start.

The rest of us stared at the tiny brass bell, shuddering against the wooden frame.

“Can’t believe that fucking woman,” Zephyr muttered. “She should not bring thoughts like that into a place of love…” He raised his voice high over the shadows: “Creole Nights is a place of LOVE! Life is too short for that kind of bullshit.”

“That’s right, Zephyr,” Bamyeh said, too proud to wipe his eyes. “That’s right.”

The door opened, and Clarence walked back in.

Stood in the middle of red brick tiles.

Throat working its way between guilt and honest sorrow.

“I’m sorry I brought her in here, guys,” he managed.

We forgave him.

“I met her in the bar across the street,” he explained, unsatisfied with our readiness to let tides recede. “She looked sad, so I bought her a drink. She told me about her job, and… she said she was going to kill herself. I thought that if I brought her here, introduced her… Let her feel a little warmer, it might cheer her up. I didn’t know…”

“It’s all right, Clarence,” Zephyr assured him. “Sit down. Have a drink, for God’s sake.”

Clarence didn’t move. He turned to me. “Sorry about that, Lucky.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I replied.

“I really am.”

“So am I.” I brushed some ash from my jeans. “It’s cool.”

Beat. “Where’s your woman tonight?”

“Atlantic City,” I told him, and went back to my drink.

Clarence returned to the end of the bar, where the lamps shone their brightest Clementine.

And they all went back to what was now.

What was New York City in those days.

Amadou Diallo, nineteen slugs from NYPD.

I lit a cigarette.

The streets were dangerous with rage that night. You could sense it in the air, and I could taste it in my drink. The evening continued on its sad and steady course.

Zephyr closed early and everyone went home, though I stayed open. Wandered along Macdougal, up Third, all along University Place, down in SoHo town. In and out of bars, clearly not as cool as the weather. Searching for a disjointed conclusion to something conceived on and beyond my own, limited reach.

“There’s a woman out there about to commit suicide,” I slurred, half smiling at the eight foot bartender before me.

“That’s real nice,” he replied, crossed his arms. “But it’s still ten past four, and you still owe me twenty one seventy-five.”

Hope I remembered to tip him.

There’s simply no excuse for that kind of behavior.

###

stories from a bar with no doorknobs is available at smashwords.com

for free. for as long as free is not.

M0J0

stories_from_a_bar_COVER

He wore his sport coat like a cape. Face all the worse for gravity’s ongoing story. Thin red lips stenciled across pancake batter, triplicate chins that spilled over a black bolo tie. Silver shock of greasy hair combed back towards sloping shoulders. Twin thistles arched over eyes with no apparent  iris.

MoJo would hobble into Creole Nights, led by the scent of an empty seat. Find a perch with some difficulty. His massive gut kept him from sliding in, so he would sit with his legs to the side. Light a thin cigarillo. Order a carafe of sake. No reflection to speak of; his head hanging far below the horizon of barback bottles. Couldn’t prove he wasn’t a vampire. No way to prove he was a Navy Seal, either. All I had was his word that he was one of those two, and not a monster.

I never got the lowdown on where he was from. Where he lived. How old he was. Married, divorced, widower. Wasn’t sure of anything other than a single exchange one night in the dog’s asshole of summertime.

MoJo caught me staring past an empty drink.

He motioned for Zephyr to send a little extra heat my way.

I ended up with a helping of sake and that beady stare of his.

“Thanks,” I said.

“You’re welcome.” His voice was raspy. Ludicrously high on the octave, especially for a man his size.

He began to pour into his ochoko.

Hand shaking, giving the bar more than its share.

I took the carafe from his hand and poured.

Set it down, poured my own.

I raised my glass. “Thanks again.”

“Yeah.”

I took the unwelcomed warmth down my throat. Bitter and recriminating. The grateful taste of bad leftovers.

I poured myself another.

Caught MoJo barely sipping on his.

Ripples of a damp August heat had made their way underground. Glistening dewdrops along the foreheads of regulars, clinging to the breasts of irregular women and the necks of dangerous parasites.

MoJo wasn’t sweating. His face one sweeping Saharan wasteland.

I pointed to my carafe. “There’s nothing refreshing about this shit.”

He nodded. “Got a taste for it when I was stationed in Japan for a spell.”

“Be sure and thank it for me.”

We drank for a while. Had another round. I poured both our helpings, lit our smokes.

He began to cough. Hacking away, jaw tearing at the seams.

A nearby table of bachelorettes turned up the volume on their conversation. Shared glances and omigods.

“You all right?” I asked.

He wiped a bit of saliva from his chin. Extracted a pocket square and cleaned his hands. Reached for his drink. “You know, it wasn’t Kennedy that created the Seals.”

“Sorry if you think I ever said so.”

He gulped down his sake. Hands on a more even keel, he poured himself another. “It was the UDTs in Korea that really got it going. They refined their skills. Expanded. Wasn’t just mine demolition anymore. Moved inland. Bridges, tunnels, railroads.”

“Yeah?”

“And all of it started with the Sea Bees. World War II. My father was there. D-Day. Normandy. Omaha Beach. Didn’t luck out like the boys at Utah.”

“Yeah?”

“Got my training back in ’62. Coronado. Me and my buddies set foot in Vietnam before anyone even knew there was going to be a war. Marines can go to hell. First to fight my ass.”

“Yeah.”

“Runs in my blood…” Mojo closed his eyes, gave his enormous head a shake. “Born to kill.”

I didn’t say anything. Had some sake.

“Think it’s not as real as all that?” he asked.

I didn’t answer.

“You want to tell me I did what I had to do…” He couldn’t bring his face to register the accusation. Made do with making his cigarillo sneer a bright red. “Tell me what’s what. What’s right. Help me rationalize. Make it good. Make it acceptable to you and everyone else down here in hell.”

It wasn’t the worst of questions. “Did you do what you had to do?”

“If you’re running a raid on a village. And it’s pitch black. And you round a hut and find yourself face to face with a four-year-old boy who crawled his way out of bed for God knows what reason…” He glanced up at the clock, then back to his drink. “You got less than one second to ask yourself what happens if this kid screams and wakes up the whole goddamn place. Gives us away. Am I going to feel bad? Yes. Am I going to pray that God forgive me? Yes. Am I going to be able to have a drink with my buddies afterwards? You better fucking bet.”

The memories weren’t enough to make him sweat, but his eyes were stuck in the swamps.

I tilted my head.

He took down the last of it. “Still want to thank me for my service?”

“Wasn’t planning to.”

“Thank you.”

But he was right about one thing.

He was right about the rest of us.

Even me.

“So what?” I asked.

“Huh?”

“So you sliced and shot your way through Vietnam.”

“I killed women,” he told me. Beaded raindrops all along his hideous face . “I killed children. Women and children.”

“And now it’s over.”

“It never is,” he said.

“Killing. You must be done.”

“I still do it,” he said.

I took another look at his overweight figure. “You think you do.”

“I train,” he said. “I train others. Young men. Lots of men. I tell them what I did. I tell them what I did wrong. And I teach them how to do it better. So much better than we were, and we were the best… Someday, they will be too. Better than we ever were.”

“Can you really kill better?”

“You can.” He reached out to touch the ashtray. Just touch it with a single, clubbed finger. “Because that’s what I am. It’s what I do.”

He was crying now. Rivers of saline watering his gut. Soaking into his white button-up. His whole face shone like a dying puddle.

I wasted several seconds searching for something else to say.

`“Stop making sense,” he told me. “Don’t make sense, because what comes next won’t. It just won’t bother. Stop making sense.”

“I’m going to have to go to the bathroom first.”

“Go.”

I went.

And when I came back, MoJo was asleep. Still trapped in the same position. Shoulders a little more hunched. Muscle memory assuring he wouldn’t slump over, seek any comfort. On watch, even in his dreams.

It ended the same as any other night for him.

Zephyr made his way over and snubbed his cigarillo. Tapped him on the shoulder a few times. Told him the bar was no place for sleep. Go on home, MoJo. Go home and we’ll see you tomorrow.

MoJo didn’t bother to say goodbye.

Left the way he came in. Retraced his steps back out into the jungle.

Zephyr gave me a look.

I sent it back with a request for a refill.

Our conversation left me with a taste for sake, so I ordered nothing but for well over a month, before Zephyr realized MoJo would never be coming back in.

Soon after, I walked down the stairs and saw the oversized sake warmer had been replaced with an extra seat at the bar.

I sat down. Ordered a Jack Daniel’s, and waited to see who would step in to finish MoJo’s work.

###

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ghost.

ghost

you know the ambivalent stride, path some three sidewalks wide. and while you found yourself fishing, waiting for what if, the rest of us were waylaid by we know, we’re reminded, we live with it now, and that clever little crease against your pillow face is going to stay, rupture, smiles on repeat, reemerging, until those legs carry you past what was so interchangeable, stuck, scissors left to cut away what was left, hair collecting in footfalls, what style will suit this time around, when eyes turn sideways and we tell each other, see?

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gift.

gift

It wasn’t too far from this place that I saw my first coyote, she told her daughter, and I remember because it wasn’t more than a few minutes after that when I saw the river change directions.

She felt her daughter’s eyes staring up from the six year old height of four feet, fingers locked into a belt loop, blind eyes paying lip service, waiting for another story to color in what those ears had been hearing for so long.

With one hand leading the way, she ran streams through her daughter’s dark, finely lit hair. Coyote’s are conical animals, she said. Imagine all the shapes you’ve imagined, all moving towards a spot just beyond where you’re ears reach. When you get too close to the edge of the forest, and you know you’re close because, at any moment, you’ll come into contact with the sound of cars barreling along the highway. Only, you hear them before they happen. Like when a man walks past you on a clear day, and just a bit of rain water falls from his shoulders, onto your forehead, and you know, somewhere, it’s raining, and maybe the storm’s coming your way.

And that’s what this creature was like. Caught him staring at me from across the river. You remember the day, the first time you smiled back at me? That was what I mean by staring, that’s what it looks like to be looked at. The way the warm is sluicing through the leaves, the way it catches your face, this is the kind of day it was. Cooler, though. There was a breeze, the kind you feel in March now, instead of May. And I stopped, and watched him. And he watched me. But more than that. I could tell feel his mind like velvet against mine. Those were the eyes I was dealing with, right about when I was your age, and you were so far away.

Beat.

And then he winked. She took a palm and traced it over her daughter’s face, let her know where this next touch was coming from, and placed a palm over the right eye. There. That’s a wink. And it can mean so many things, so if you ever sense one coming your way, be careful. It can bring you closer to its origin, leave you cold, cheat, deceive, bond, there have been times in my life when a wink has changed the meaning of a conversation to the point where there was no turning back.

She withdrew her hand from her daughter’s face and placed it on a tiny shoulder. Funny I should put it to you like that, those last words. Because soon after, the coyote went scampering into the underbrush, and that was when I saw the river change.

Remember the big storm? You felt it in your tiny little snoot, tasted it before it happened? This was what it was like. Imagine if you woke up and your bed felt like the bath, or your breakfast was suddenly a bowl full of your building blocks. Not the way things are supposed to be, and it wasn’t the way things were supposed to go. But I didn’t have the same sense you do. I didn’t have your gift. I saw the river go from downstream to up stream, and it was the opposite of conical. This felt as though it were falling inwards. When your toes curl up, or you sleep on your side, arms bundled close, legs drawn up. Inverted, is the word. When your sweater tag doesn’t bother you on particular days. And it can be frightening, but it isn’t always bad. So I followed the new direction. Went upstream, the new downstream, thought I would see why this was. Answers to questions.

She sighed. Felt her daughter sigh along, picking up on the social cue, monkey don’t see, monkey do .With only a moment or so to keep that moment going, she kept on: And after a few minutes of following the river, I saw a man. A large man. Feel your arms. Feel mine. Feel the difference. Then make it large. Make it enormous. Make those arms into the time you hugged a tree. Fell asleep against roots, those where his fingers. The bowls that hold your cereal in the morning, those were his eyes. When you feel for the doorway to our home, that was his mouth. He was a giant. Laying down, belly first, and that mouth was open, and he was swallowing the river. You’ve walked across it before, you know how large he must have been, he was swallowing the river. I couldn’t see his teeth. Maybe they weren’t there. But the river kept flowing into his mouth, and when he looked at me, shifted his thoughts, the way you sometimes do, I could hear what he had to tell me, he told me, in my mind:

her name will be Samantha. And I will have something to tell her.

I don’t remember how that moment ended. In the time it takes for your bath to drain, I was suddenly walking alone, back through the woods.

            But now, here we are. At the same spot, where the river ended in a giant, open mouth.

Samantha gave her mother a hug. “And now we wait.”

She nodded. Put the basket down, filled with sandwiches, juice boxes, fresh fruit and a bag of carrot sticks. Reached in and pulled out a red and white checkered blanket. Laid it flat.

That’s right, Samantha’s mother said. And I made us a picnic to pass the hours.

Samantha  smiled.

Listened to the river, and sat down to eat with her mother, as the two of them waited for the time when coyote winked, the water changed course, and the giant man warned of a day when he would return to tell Samantha something important, because only she was capable of listening.

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open to suggestion.

beneath

Uhhhhm…? Could it possibly take place on a train? she asked. Amusement park? Oh, or Ferris wheel. Park bench. Greyhound bus across the northwest states, or maybe the Badlands? Tree house. Rooftop. Maybe a graveyard? Mausoleum? Movie theater, sometimes you get lucky and nobody else shows. Elevator? Dressing room, during a surprise blackout, or…

Then she smiled. Or in the ocean?

I told her I already had a secret about the ocean. Two. No way of knowing it would have been upwards of four by the time it was all over between us. Back then, at the time, I reconsidered under her watchful eye. Thought about how that one, those two others might never see the light of day, let alone anyone willing to read them.

What, would that work? she asked. How would the ocean read?

I scribbled a few rewrites. Had a glass of cheap Champagne. Took a breath and convinced myself this wouldn’t change her opinion about me.

She was on top and it gave me time to gaze, languish, objectify, mystify, and think my way along her body. Same rote patterns, up along her thighs, ass, touch, reconcile, hips, pressed, and thank you, lucky stars, for moving them, for this moment, tips leading the way along her stomach, curvatures, upwards, hair between my fingers, feeling the sting of her roadmaps against my lower back, and I understood we were drowning.

          I couldn’t tell, didn’t want to overthink, snap a synapse that might leave me less than alert or impressionable, but, damn, this sentence was already trying to kill the conclusion, so she was flipped, sideways, thighs switching, hard grind against each other, and again,

          we were drowning

          a simple pair of individuals so intent on saving each other, that every wet moment dragged us further into the abyss, mid-Atlantic rift for those who like a little calm in their eruptions, crushing against the Pacific rim, rip tides, coral against our bodies, blood in the water, and the sharks began to circle, but this time

          Just. To. Watch.

          And i knew my lungs were filled with water, eyes capped with aquamarine sunlight, refracting off the surface, several fathoms above my head, and this time, each consecutive, unrelated afterwards was filled with her, as she came in, dipped to bring her face close to mine, and we couldn’t have rejected contact any more than this story was created just for the sake of a memory and what do you do when she’s sitting right next to you, some several miles away from the shores of imagination.

…She smiled slightly, watched a school bus go by and said, you never wrote any of that.

Never lived it either, I said.

She nodded, tilted her legs up towards the railing, resting her heels.

I gave myself a second or so to reflect

and went about making those changes.

Keeping certain things to myself.

 

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RING DOORBELL.

ring doorbell

 

someone i didn’t know who Kiki knew – typical – was selling a desk.

she lived in the neighborhood, and it was just before 2 p.m., maybe time to venture out into Jazz Fest 2018. i stepped into the jeans i’d found in my first New Orleans apartment, red shirt. slipped shoes over mismatched socks. Kiki slipped into something, typical, that looked perfect on her. she motioned with her head, red hair swaying: “ready?”

only day one, so maybe this was why the shit had yet to meet the show. a few strolling groups, loners, couples. big old man with a blue Hawaiian had set up shop at the edge of our driveway. table a mushroom grove of varied hats. our landlord had warned us about him. currently unable to remember the warning, I had a hit of beer, then took to the streets.

we ambled past the Jazz Fest entrance, down Fortin. winnowed dodges past tourists, residents, noting those who were out selling water, charging for port-a-potties, suggesting tips in exchange for cold domestics.

“shit,” i said. “we forgot to come up with a hustle.”

“there’s time,” Kiki said.

“how about an irony booth? tune the radio to WWOZ and charge ten dollars a pop for hipsters to listen to Jazz Fest live.”

“kissing booth,” she said. “one dollar for a kiss. if we don’t like who’s paying, we just kiss each other. wasn’t that great, we can say?”

“doesn’t happen too often in this world, but win-win.”

we swung right on Gentilly, cars crawling to the whim of drunk pedestrians. more booths, pop ups, clever shills chasing the dollar. crossed over, passed the Seahorse Saloon. i glanced through the windows. saw some actual ass in those seats.

“never seen it crowded,” i said. sipped my beer and lit a cigarette, grated bits of sun sprinkling through enormous leaves. “will there even be room for my memories?”

“yes.”

“the night you, me, Hobbes, Dalia, Cali holed up here after the meeting? you, me, and Dalia after the Star Wars movie, both of you swimming in your sad smiles, talking about Carrie Fisher? Sitting with Tara, blackout drunk with our backs to the building, laughing about come for the music, leave for the music?

“those memories aren’t going anywhere, Lucky.”

“ok.”

we kept walking, turned down a few bottles of water, found strange handprints in the far-away bass. passed a table lined with purses, vendor a woman stretched out over the hood of her car, round lips, large teeth teaming up to present a beautiful smile beneath sunglasses surrounded by oaken skin and studded piercings.

took a right on Castiglione. the world suddenly turned suburban and save for that particular brand of Louisiana heat, i could close my eyes and dream of early mornings after poker games on Long Island.

Kiki guided me up some stairs, pressed her finger beneath a sign instructing us to RING DOORBELL.

brief peek from beyond blinds, and we were let in.

gentleman with a beard, accidental mohawk, and sleeveless shirt. his partner had a round face, friendly smile, and shaking her hand felt guarded and serene.

they led me to the desk.

antique. couldn’t say as to what kind of wood, but the surface was a multiversity of circles, fossilized drinks, and that much made sense to me. i sat down in the chair, included in this decision. sturdy, not a fold up. vinyl-covered cushioning for the seat and the back. i tried out a series of poses. mimicked writing, keyboard and pen. slouched over, head down, thinking of my worst days. absently reached for a bottle of red.

“goddamn,” i said. “are these drawers?”

“yes,” he said.

“for over twenty years i’ve been writing at a card table with fold-out legs. it was easy to carry. always had to keep moving, pack things up when things ended.”

“welcome to storage space,” she said.

i turned my head, just to see how my other cheek would feel as i stared out the window. “don’t worry,” i told them, “not going to sweep imaginary implements off the top and pretend to go to town on someone.”

they laughed. “please don’t.”

i sat back, looked up. gave Kiki the nod.

she paid them. we arranged for the pickup, Monday. after the first weekend of Jazz Fest was put to rest. we shook on it, left the way we came.

Kiki held my hand as we walked down the street. “you have desk now.”

the light grew bright on Gentilly, and i gave a squint. “yeah.”

“you alright?”

“thank you for the desk.”

“you should have one.”

“forgot to check how it works while watching pornography.”

“it’s a little low,” she said. “you might have to pull the chair back.”

“taking that as a compliment.”

“you oughta.”

we walked for a bit more. a water vendor called out, large woman loving her lawnchair, told Kiki, “Girl, you is fine!

i glanced back and smiled, thanked her. she laughed. we knew what we meant.

i went back to my thoughts as the crowd thickened, music thumping, once more.

“baby?” she asked.

“i’ve been writing at a card table for so long,” i said. “i carried it along the streets of New York, took it for rides in the subway. always had someplace else i had to be.”

“it’s ok,” she said, as we passed the Seahorse. “those memories aren’t going anywhere, Lucky.”

so we had looped back around.

weaving in and out, Jazz Fest 2018.

i lit another cigarette and silently hoped this desk would be the one.

hat vendor still outside of our house.

still unable to remember whatever warning our landlord had doled out.

went inside, poured a Jack Daniel’s, and sat down at the card table, fingers working, waiting for Monday to make a manic scene.

###

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at the gates.

at the gates

sat myself outside. red steps. back against a closed door. cigarette. Jack Daniel’s. music still bumping, catching a row of bikes parked against the fairground fence.

and what was on my mind…

6:25, here’s how the air feels on a perfect day, taste of a willow tree. sun at a lower level, some 71 degrees. plane in the sky, coat tailing a banner for Cats Karaoke and the pilot can’t see it, but she’s not paid to care, it’s only me. seagull flying past, wondering who’s going to be looking up at this bird anytime soon. pedestrians with canes. so many limps, so exactly how damaged is everyone in this city? pregnant woman nursing a Diet Coke. stroller for the next cycle, mother and ambulating child both with headphones, passing on wisdom from one ear to the next. gospel kicking around. seven bike riders in a row, and one more without foot traffic, then i get my wish. turns out my hope is too dirty for destiny to allow, so instead a waiter, fresh off his shift at Santa Fe, takes long strides to make it through the pride just a little faster. cat crawls by. stares at me as though i forgot to buy him a drink. but i can’t be bothered, because the blonde trailing two steps behind her boyfriend pauses to send me a smile, causing the sun to dim for just one second; did the world just end? maybe not, because now a pair of gray horses go past, off the beaten track, no numbers or odds, can’t beat the spread, two officers atop, both women, smiling behind tinted rims. a single stoic senior walking along with bulging garbage bags. some kind of story bundled up inside them. and the patrolman leads with his badge. tells the kids slinging ice cold water, only one dollar to beat it from the  streets, points west and east, because, let’s face it, that’s what they do best. then i stare at a pair of compact shorts, bent over, jeans that whisper hello somehow louder than the tattered music of a closing act. and speaking of which, foot traffic is speeding up, survivors with chairs all coiled, slung over sunburned backs. packing it in before the headliners make headlines, making minds invent their excuse, why show when you can’t even prove? and i feel like royalty, because to them living seven steps from Jazz Fest is like Beverly Hills, though next month ain’t necessarily booked and even the mosquitoes won’t bother with what’s already been spent. it’s going to grow quiet soon. this is just a drill. day one winds down like a circular slide, and inside Kiki’s taking a nap from the noise, while our imaginary girlfriend is barely one mile away, barely thinking of us anymore, wondering why a table of tourists can’t stop drinking water, ordering nothing, sharing spreadsheets under the glare of last call.

and all i can think of, as the wind makes plants nod in tempered measures and sends the city into a never always coma, is how tired i am, how stuck i’ve been, pretending to pretend, again and again, that there are people i don’t think about and love when i’m sitting, facing north.

###

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