Bear Necessities

Bear Necessities

They pulled into West Yellowstone to re-fuel. One more day, he thought. She’s driving me nuts. Her incessant babbling, gossipy nature, the way she needed him to validate every little thing she said. Ugh! So much for vacation. Oh well, live and learn. Chalk it up to experience. He turned onto the highway and said nothing. It was just easier to let the differences lie until they got back to Oceanside. The Explorer rental was filled with gas, ready to continue their adventure through Yellowstone National Park. The early morning’s chilly temperatures created vaporous wisps that hovered close to the ground. “You know, saying nothing is really saying something,” Lynne said. He rolled his eyes. “I knew you’d say that.” She didn’t used to be predictable, not during their fling last summer.  Then she seemed spontaneous, goofy, a little reckless even. But since they’d started lifeguarding together at Jones Beach in May, she’d become a huge pain in the ass. “Our problem is that you want to keep us secret. Like I’m your mistress.” She popped a piece of Juicy Fruit gum in her mouth, fluffed her bangs with her fingers. She slid down in her seat, propping her feet on the dashboard. “Your problem is that you want the world to know the last time we…” He was looking in the rear view mirror, slowed the car, stopped. “What? Why are we stopping, Frank?” “Look!” He pointed behind him. “A grizzly!” They turned, looked out the back window of the car. The bear lumbered across the road, twenty yards away. “Wow, it’s huge,” she said, holding her breath, eyes bulging. “We probably shouldn’t stop here, you think?” she whispered. He wondered what food they had to coax the bear closer. It stopped on the opposite shoulder, turned to face the SUV. Stood on its hind feet. “Frank,” she jabbed him,  “did you hear me?” He ignored her. Looked out his rear view mirror, then opened his door. “Frank? What the f…?”]]>

My Baby

My Baby

It’s all I ever hear from most of my friends. “My baby this, my baby that.” “My baby is so beautiful!” Great. “My baby is so precious!” Uh-huh. So when they told me I was pregnant, I thought, so what. No big deal. I still had two years to finish high school and everything. I could go back. Well, my baby has spina bifida. Never heard of it? I hadn’t. Not where I live. Nah, this is coal country. Here it’s full of good Christian folks, soldiers, workers at the glass factory in Matewan. Or what’s left of em. No other person I know with what my baby has. I thought maybe that Sarah Palin lady. My friend, Jasmine, told me Sarah was on Oprah blabbing about her baby. But then Jasmine says it’s some other illness, and I asked, how do you know? And she says because I was listening real hard for the name. Besides, Jasmine says that lady is a gazillionaire. And I’m broke. I see a doctor at the free clinic in Huntington. My boyfriend split. What a jerk. Couldn’t take it. Guilt, I guess. Gave it to me. My momma says it’s my fault. Says it happened cause I stopped going to church. Says it’s all part of god’s plan. Well, that’s not my god. What kind of god gives a baby spina bifida? So, what do I do?]]>

Her Smile

Her Smile

There are days when I go to church just for the chance to see her smile at me. The funny thing, no one knows this. Surely not my husband. Barney thinks I’m agnostic at best. Of course I use the expression, “Oh my god!” Who doesn’t? And occasionally I’ll mention Jesus Christ when I’m angry or frustrated with Barney. Then, before the holidays I wandered into St. James Catholic Church in the West Village. I was trying to get away from a homeless guy pestering me for a smoke. I’d no clue that I’d feel so…what? Safe? Protected? I realized that I’d never been in a church alone. Walking around the dank church I stared at the stained-glass windows, mesmerized by the depictions of saints and their various lives. The burning incense tickled my nostrils. I lost track of time. And that’s when she walked up. “May I help you?” I turned around. She was wearing a habit, and I thought of Sally Fields in the Flying Nun. I stifled a laugh, and noticed she was grinning back at me. I shrugged. “I’m not sure why I’m here,” I said, realizing I’d forgotten lipstick. “That’s a great place to start!” Her smile was dazzling. I looked around, clueless. “It is?” Suddenly, I felt sadness welling. She nodded. “Self-inquiry is the crux of all growth.” Huh? The smile, just focus on that smile.]]>

Mexican Spa Experience

Mexican Spa Experience

The Mexican Spa ladies, Yolanda and Josie, sat outside on the back steps smoking. “They sure have a lot of holidays,” Josie said, rubbing her hands together. “What’s this one?” Yolanda asked. “Ballyntyne’s Day?” “Who knows?” Josie chuckled, flicked her long ashes onto the sand. “I think it’s Martin Leather King somebody.” Yolanda scrunched her eyes. “Who?” “Maybe Benjamin Franklin Day.” They stared at the ocean. The sizzling noon sun baked them in their smocks. “I can’t take this anymore.” “Me either.” Yolanda ran her hand through coarse, wavy hair. “I’m over this,” she said. “Working on fat, fucked up American women.” Josie took a long drag on her cigarette. “Fatter, fattest,” she said, puffing her cheeks out like a blowfish. They giggled, then had fits of laughter that seemed endless. “Hey, Josie, your next client is here,” the manager called out the window. Josie threw her unfinished butt into the ocean. “You mean, my next whale?” she said over her shoulder, popping in a mint. Yolanda laughed so hard she farted.]]>

Harley Heaven

Harley Heaven

In 7th grade, Tom Tavermina moved across the street. He was in high school. My parents didn’t like him. Mom said he was a bad boy, never said why. That made him even more intriguing. One spring day, we were hanging out in my barn.  I thought his motorcycle jacket was hip. It was black, worn, fit him like a glove. He lit a Marlboro. I wanted to say something about safety, all the hay and stuff, but that would’ve been uncool. I could hear the chickens clucking in their pen. A baby calf mooed. He said, “Wanna hit?” His dark, wavy hair hung over his forehead. I nodded, took the lit cigarette. My fingers shook. I drew in a breath, trying not to grimace. Wondered what would happen if mom walked in on us. Blew out the smoke. “Nah, that’s not right, man. You didn’t inhale.” He showed me what I did, then how to do it. I understood the importance of getting this down. The first few times it burned and I coughed. My lungs screamed. “Try again,” he coaxed. Stone cold expression. Finally, it worked. “I did it!” He patted me on the shoulder, I could smell the leather. I felt like a million bucks. After the cigarette, he said, “Let’s go for a ride on my bike. Wanna?” We slipped across the street through a copse of trees on the edge of our property. He had a Harley Chopper. The license plate was missing, but it was all back roads. He rolled it out of the garage. “Get on,” he ordered, and I hopped on the shiny chrome machine behind him. He rolled his head toward me as the engine growled. “Hang on tight.” He revved the motor. I gripped the sides of Tom’s leather coat, feeling the power beneath my legs. We peeled out of his driveway, asphalt flying. I was in heaven.]]>

Time for Dessert

Time for Dessert

The couple sits on their front porch every summer night. Although the view remains the same, they never tire of it. He says, “Feels warmer this evening.” She nods, pulls the sleeves down on her sweater. She can never get warm enough. “Look at the size of that ship.” She points. “Gosh, I didn’t think they let ships that large on the St. Lawrence.” It’s the primary reason why they moved to such a remote location. He loved boats, water, and all the outdoor activities associated with them. Well, he’d also burned through most of their friends by retirement age. They sit and watch activity on the river. A bee buzzes at the screened door. “Are you ready for dessert?” she asks. “Fresh peach pie.” “Yup.” She goes inside and he stares at her rocker’s motion, hypnotized. He sets it to an old favorite melody. From the kitchen he hears the familiar sound of plates clinking, the microwave beeps. He sees a fancy motorboat toting a teenaged skier. Tomorrow, he thinks, I’m going to get up early and go fishing. All by myself.]]>

The Answer

The Answer

In my own marriage, sometimes I feel like I’m in unfamiliar territory. My wife, a corporate planner, applies that same work ethic to our relationship. She exceeds efficiency, every day is orderly beyond calendar means and there seems to be a plan when chaos or disorder evolves. She scrawls detailed lists in her business organizer, crossing items off vigorously, even on weekends. And it’s only gotten worse. Last Sunday, I suggested a drive to the Kettle Moraine just to see the leaves changing color. She looked at me as if I’d requested we ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel. I’m the complete opposite: a disaster waiting to happen. I’m chronically late, which drives Tabitha insane. I’m sloppy, despite her pleas for self-grooming, or pre-made appointments for endless services that I avoid: hair, nails, massage; there’s a whole world of them. I slouch, no matter how hard I try to stand up straight. And I’m fairly inept, socially. Would rather just stand in a corner and drink. I was late for our wedding. It wasn’t entirely my fault. Is it ever? This time I’d depended upon my best man, Carlos, for a ride to the chapel. Yeah, it was Tabitha’s idea to get married in a freaking chapel, and not just any random one. The Frank Lloyd Wright Chapel in Palos Verdes. Cost a fucking fortune. We paid for most of it with family money. Um, her family money. Okay, there’s the biggest difference. She makes two bills a year. That’s 200 thou. I’m a school teacher. Spanish. I barely know the language. It’s been so long since I’ve read anything in Spanish other than our required text book, I can’t remember when I did. Pathetic. And Carlos Castenada doesn’t count, Carlos tells me. Even the sex, which used to be good (was it? Maybe more frequent) has become perfunctory. I wonder if she’s keeping records of this, too. Would she categorize notes by position? Duration? Success? Often, I wonder, how did we end up together? The unsolvable question. She’d have the answer, no doubt. Yup, she’d know.]]>

Allie Oops

Allie Oops

One evening, Allie worked in her front yard. A couple wandered up and stopped.

Allie saw them out of the corner of her eye, and when they slowed, she grew suspicious. There wasn’t a reason to be, but there were some sketchy characters that passed by on occasion. She probably watched too much CNN. “We’re your new neighbors,” the woman said. She was dressed nicely and had a tan coat on. “Oh,” Allie said. She’d never met any of her neighbors. She lived in Riverwest, a neighborhood her real estate agent referred to as “transitional.” Like the rest of my life, Allie thought at the time. And it did suit her, the mixed ethnicities, the eclectic coffee shops and dive bars. “I’m Bart,” the man said. He was pasty white like most folks from Milwaukee, with a slightly protruding beer belly. Allie noticed his groomed beard, reddish with emerging hints of gray. “And I’m Denise.” The woman smiled, revealing perfect caps on her front teeth. “I’m Allie,” she said, thinking I should have worn a bra. People never stopped. Or maybe she’d never worked on her lawn. No, she never really paid attention at all. “Which house is yours?” Allie asked. She assumed it wasn’t the crack house to her immediate left. Or the Asian family who lived to her right. In the heat, the simmering smell of Szechuan cooking hovered between houses. “We live in that house,” Denise said, pointing down the street at a blue two-story. The one house on her block Allie never even noticed. Maybe because ever since she’d moved there two years prior, the house remained vacant.  “Well, welcome to the neighborhood,” Allie said. She felt self-conscious, the way she felt around her family. Although familiar, it made her to want to go inside. Hide. “Nice to meet you both,” she forced out. “I’ve got to start dinner.” She turned to go. “Allie,” Denise said. She turned slowly around. The woman was holding a gun. It was pointed directly at her.]]>

Jesus Votives

Jesus Votives

We’d met during the 4:40 showing of ‘Something About Mary.’ I was feeling really low at work, so I left early, ducking into the closest theater. There were only six other people in the Quad Cinema on 13th Street and she sat in the row directly behind me. When it got to the part where Cameron Diaz introduces her “special” brother to Matt Dillon, I heard her say, “Ohmigod! Goofy bastard!” And even though I was a little appalled, she leaned closer, and whispered in my left ear, “He looks just like my boss,” which raised my curiosity. I tried to figure out if she worked with special people, or meant Matt Dillon. When the movie ended, she stood, held out her hand and said, “I’m Karla. I’m going to El Rey Del Sol for margaritas, wanna come?’ Without waiting for an answer, she turned and walked away. I really didn’t make a choice, not then. I just followed until we were standing outside the theater. She lit a cigarette. Her thick, blonde hair glistened in the setting sun, that slanting kind of autumn light that reminded me of bales of straw. “So, whaddya think?” She took a long drag and blew the smoke out of the corner of her mouth. I shrugged. I often go to movies alone. I wasn’t used to discussing them. “It was a little, well…” I had trouble finding even one word to summarize it all. “Goofy?” she asked, smiling a grin that made me smile back. “C’mon,” she said, linking her arm through mine. The impact of her movement carried us both forward, and I was swept toward 14th Street and El Rey Del Sol. “Ever been here before?” Karla asked as we were led through the tiny restaurant to an even smaller patio in an alley behind the kitchen. We sat, and I looked up at the various apartment buildings looming around us. “No, I live across town.” “Brooklyn?” she said, with a faint air of disdain, like I was some piece of shit if I lived over a bridge or through a tunnel. “No, the East Village.” “Hmm.” She gave me a once over. “You don’t look the type.” I sort of half-smiled. I’d heard this many times before: one version of it or another. You look like a Kennedy. Or, do you come from money? Women often tried to carve some myth out of my location. And who cares, right? I say let them! Karla lit up again. “I like this place ’cause you can smoke. Even wacky weed. And the drinks come in these Jesus candles.” She demonstrated with her hands, but I was clueless.  “Ya don’t know Jesus candles?” She started listing off the most common margarita flavors. “Usually they’ve got cantaloupe, banana, pineapple, and coconut. Then there’s a flavor-of-the-day. What day is it, Thursday? Might be kiwi!” I have to admit, her childish enthusiasm was amusing. Before our kiwi margarita’s had even arrived, I knew I was gonna get laid. I told her I was an accountant, to which she added, “What a hoot!” I was somewhat afraid to ask what she did for work. When I did, she replied, “I book clowns.” The drinks arrived. “You…what?” I’d never heard of that before. “Yeah, clowns, like Ronald McDonald? We have several professional clowns who do everything- entertain people at carnivals,  act on TV commercials, go to birthday parties. We keep them pretty busy.” She sipped her margarita. Well, more like gulped. “And you’re their booker?” She nodded. “It’s a cake job. I’ve been with the company since college. Just can’t leave. I’m too attached to those clowns.” She laughed, so I did, too. “I know, crazy isn’t it?” “No.” I shook my head emphatically, trying not to think about my wife who’d left six months earlier. Karla’s inability to leave her clowns suddenly made her look like a prize to me. I smiled a big grin at this clown booker. “You have any siblings?” I asked, wiping a dribble of kiwi juice from my mouth. “Yeah, my older brother’s HIV positive. He owns a tattoo shop in the Mission.” Her voice got smaller. “San Francisco. That’s where we grew up.” “I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what to else to say so I looked at my feet and wished I’d worn something other than my tasseled Cole-Haan loafers. “Hey, man, no sweat. He’s a survivor. It’s been something like ten years since he was diagnosed.” She paused. “My little brother’s in the clinker.” She narrowed her already slanting eyes. “I know,” she snorted, “ya gotta wonder which is worse, huh?” “Really? Gosh, Karla, I’m…” “He fucked up. He got caught doing what lots of executives and presidents and all sorts of hoity- toity people do.” I wondered what his crime was- murder? “What’s he in for?” “He was working for the mob. An inside job. And they made him the fall guy, or at least that’s what he says. He wasn’t willing to blow the whistle on his loser buddies, so he got twenty years, booked for armed robbery with attempted murder.” She lit a cigarette, blew out the match. “Enough about me, how about you?” I was reluctant to disclose any details about my family after that. “Well, I’ve only got one younger sister. She’s working on her master’s at Columbia. Journalism.” “Wow, she must be smart. Smarter than you, I’ll bet!” she joked, and the pressure drained away. “Listen, you wanna get out of here?” She’d already pounded her entire margarita, and I was only half finished with mine. But I had reason to think that something better was coming, so I said, “Sure.”]]>

When will you Believe?

When will you Believe?

The sun streams into my bedroom. We lay entwined, spent, basking in the aftermath of  release.  Outside, a bus churns by on 14th Street. The scent of curry

floats up from the Indian restaurant. My stomach growls.

You say: It’s a trust thing. I say: When will you believe? You say: What if I never do? I say: When there’s a will, there’s a way. You say: I’ve been hurt before. I say: Who the hell hasn’t been? You say: I don’t know if I can do this. I say: But you are, you already are. You say: I have my own life to consider. I say: Oh yeah, thanks for reminding me.]]>