The Machine Man in the Wheat

It was on a Tuesday when the sun became different.

I remember it clearly because Tuesdays I visit with the doctor because I have a hard time walking in a straight line.

“You’re difficult to conform,” he says.

He also thinks he is smarter than me, but I know better. The questions he asks don’t seem very bright to me. He lacks, say, electricity. So like I was saying, as far as the sun goes, I had come home and went to the back of the house and drew the long green drapes away from the large window there. I looked out and there was a bright spot on the fence where the sun was shining and it drew me in, the color of it, like golden metal pressed up tight. It was a cold color, flat, indecent yet proper. And so I looked up and even the whole sky itself looked different. There was a deeper blue confusion about it. The clouds seemed edgy. There was turmoil in the air amid the subtle change.

The house is hidden in the hills surrounding a city. It’s an urban estate of modern aesthetics – tall glass, sharp edges, white and clean as snow and just as cold and empty and lonely, especially in the shadows. The furniture sits rigid and straight. Everything is strictly kept in its place. My home looks as if it has never been lived in.

I have seven bedrooms and don’t sleep in any of them. I have four bathrooms and use only one. My kitchen is always clean. It hums in the dead of day, the big metal appliances stewing in their pipes and electrical cords. There is a window over the sink and I can look out into my yard – a trapezoidal patch of bright green grass surrounded by jungle. A small pool sits empty. There’s some lawn furniture but it’s all scattered about now because of the strong breezes we’ve had lately. The yard is as deserted as my home.


I sat a drink down on a glass end table and the subtle sound of it echoed through the room. Then the telephone rang. It was Fred. I knew this because he was the only one whoever called.


“I’m always amazed that the telephones still work.”

“I’m glad for it. At least I can call my doctor.”

“Not feeling very well? Is it the crooked walking again?”

“Yes. He doesn’t know what to do about it.”

“I’m sure it’s nothing … would you like me to come by tonight?”

“No. I’m just going to stand here and not move for a while.”

I hung up. Fred hung up. I knew this because he was the only one whoever hung up on me. Fred used to be an accountant of some sort, maybe a lawyer too. But not anymore. I used to be a geology professor. But not anymore. There are many things that are no longer the same. I used to have a wife and twin daughters. But not anymore. I used to park a car in my garage. But not anymore. Walking is all we can do now. If I need something from the city, I have to walk. I walk to the doctor, the grocery, the bar. I even walk to the post office and occasionally send a letter to someone I don’t even know – but no one gets mail anymore.

Sometimes I walk to the city with Fred. I really don’t want to because I don’t like him that much. I would even say he is kind of boring, but not boring in the way of going to sleep, rather, boring in a way that gives me a headache and I can’t stand headaches. It almost makes my stomach hurt when he starts in on how poorly the sidewalks were made.

“Just look it all the cracks,” he always points out, his long arm nearly touching the ground.

“There have been a lot of earthquakes.”

“Even so, they should make better sidewalks.”

“They did their best,” I remind him. “The world was a mess.”

Fred picked up a small stone and threw it. It hit a light post. The sound echoed down the street.

“It’s still a mess, Frank. C’mon, you’re hip to it. You know it will never get better than this.”

I stopped and looked at him. I blew into my hands to warm them.

“Damn it’s cold. I thought we lived in California.”


There weren’t too many people at the grocery. There were never too many people anywhere. I liked it like that. The world wasn’t that great before anyways. Fred strolled off to the produce department, but there wasn’t much there. The stores are never stocked that well anymore. I followed him over and together we looked at a handful of oranges.

“They don’t look very fresh, do they?” Fred said, cocking his head and studying the fruit with a bent eye.

“They never are … anymore. I’m going over to the pharmacy.”

“More pills?”

“Yes, more pills.”

“All right then, I’m going over to the meat department. I want to look at a piece of chicken.”

I walked down the main aisle in the front toward the pharmacy. I knocked on the glass.

“Hey. I need to get my pills.”

Someone was fidgeting around in the back. I had to wait. We still always have to wait.

“Your name?” he asked when he came to the window – a little man in a white lab coat all alone with the medicine and a broken heart.

“Frank Buck. Why do you always have to ask? You know who I am.”

He blinked his eyes and barely smiled.

“It’s just procedure sir. It’s company policy. It’s a corporate rule and I cannot break it under any circumstances.”

The corporations still have all the power.

“All right. I guess you can’t break the rules. I understand. You need this job. Not everyone has a job anymore.”

“Did you know that being a pharmacist is the best job a person can have these days?”

“I believe it. You’ve got three bottles for me, right?”

“Yes. Any questions?”

“Do I ever have any questions?”

“Sorry. I have to ask. They’re watching me. They’re listening to me, too.”

“Sounds like you’re trapped.”

“I am,” he tried to whisper through the glass, and I only turned once to look back at him as I walked away.


“Do you think we should buy that last piece of chicken?” Fred asked me. “We could have a fry out.”

I peered into the glass case at the lone piece of raw chicken breast sitting in a tray beneath a bluish-green light. I stepped behind the counter and slid a door open and flipped the piece of chicken over.

“It doesn’t look too pale,” I said.

Fred was hungry and wanted the chicken.

“Go ahead and wrap it up. I’ll pay for it.”

I wrapped up the hunk of chicken and we made our way toward the front of the store and through the sliding doors. Something scanned us from above as we walked out.

“When they come for the money, we’ll tell them the chicken was mine.”



The chicken sizzled on the charcoal grill I had out back. Fred and I went to the yard and grabbed two chairs. We set them up on the patio. We lit some torches. I poured Fred a strong drink. He watched me suspiciously as I withdrew a cigarette from my pack and stuck it in my mouth.

“I thought you quit those damn things.”

“I did … but why now?”

“I suppose you’re right. Not much to live for anymore is there?”

“I don’t like to talk about it. Why is it we always end up talking about it?”

“I don’t know. What else is there to talk about?”

“Tell me about your dreams.”

Fred thought for a moment.

“I don’t dream anymore.”

“I know. I don’t either. Why is that?”

“I suppose it has something to do with that brain evolution stuff they’re all talking about. You know … what they say about us being able to survive when the others didn’t. They say we don’t need dreams anymore.”

“Leaves the night awfully blank though, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” Fred moaned with a downcast stare and a slight nod of his head. “I don’t sleep as much as I used to … Wait; I think the chicken is burning. Flip it over.”

I flipped the meat and there were deep dark burn marks on the side already cooked.

“It might be a bit well done by the time I’m finished with it,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Fred said with a quick laugh. “Chicken is chicken and I’ll take it any way I can.”

The doorbell rang. I opened the door and there stood the two officers from the Debt Police who had come to collect the money for the chicken and the pills.

“Wow,” I said. “It’s been only two hours or so and you’re already here. I swear, it seems you guys get here faster and faster every time.”

“Just give us the money, sir,” one of the officers said.

I stuck my hands in my pockets and dug around.

“Is there a problem, sir?” the other office asked as he stepped forward a bit. “Do you have the money? Yes or no?”

“I know I have it somewhere,” I said as I began to panic. “It’s in the house somewhere. But look here, that man outside, he has the money. The chicken was his idea. It was all HIS idea.”

The officers pushed beside me and well into the house. They went out onto the patio and Fred quickly stood up. I went to help him.

“This guy says the chicken was all your idea. Is it your chicken?”

Fred shakily adjusted the eyeglasses on his face.

“Yes. I was the one who wanted the chicken. He just walked to the store with me to get his medicine. I told him I’d pay for the chicken.”

“Then give us the money.”

Fred nervously dug into his front pants pocket and pulled out some dirty cash. He flipped through the bills with his fingers.

“How much is it again?”

“Twenty-five dollars for the chicken and ninety for the pills,” one of the officers snapped.

Fred handed them three fifty dollar bills.

“The rest is your tip,” Fred said.

“Thanks. We’ll be going now. Make sure to lock all your doors and windows. There are lots of creeps out there milling about in the night.”

We watched as the officers quickly moved back through the house and out the front door. I sank down in my patio chair, sighed and looked at Fred.

“Where do you get all that money?” I asked him. “You’re not a pharmacist or a cop.”

“I saved my money,” Fred said. “As I worked and lived my life I also saved money … for the times like these that I always knew were coming. I funded my survival.”

“Do you have a lot left?”

“No. The Men of the Wars took most of it.”

I glanced inside at the banner on the wall. It was the banner we all had now – and in big capital letters of red, white and blue, it read: Patriotism Has a Price Tag – and there was a big green Uncle Sam with devil eyes on the banner, and he had his big fists in the air and he was clutching money in one and a pair of women’s high-heeled shoes in the other. And in smaller capital letters near the bottom it read: In Greed We Trust and In God We Don’t.

I didn’t really like the banner, but we didn’t have a choice anymore.


After the chicken, some more drinks and a cold handshake, I said goodnight to Fred and closed the door behind him. I locked it just as the officer advised. It was a big cold deadbolt and it made me feel safer even though I knew deep down inside it didn’t really matter … anymore.

I walked crooked through the rest of the house turning down lights and making sure the other doors and windows were all locked up tight. I went to the bathroom and brushed my teeth. I looked in the mirror and my face looked old. I ran some water in a glass and washed down a handful of pills. I flicked off the light and quietly closed the door. I turned on the ceiling fan that runs right over my bed and sat in a chair by the window. I knew I wouldn’t sleep. What good is sleep without dreams? I looked out the window but all I saw was dark. It was my jungle surrounding me. I liked it like that. I didn’t want to know anything about the world on fire out there.

The Last Cutting of the Season

A house on Oakley Street nearly burned to the ground early this morning. They say no one was inside the home at the time of the fire – 1 a.m.

“Well, that’s kind of suspicious,” I thought aloud to myself while crawling by in my car.

The house was bursting with blackness. The garage door was melted and curled. Black and sooty streaks lurched out of broken window openings and sang mad songs to the sun-drenched day. The place was surrounded by yellow caution tape. A big ol’ fire truck idled like a rabid purr in the street and men in uniforms sternly addressed the scene.

They said the blaze began in the garage … How? What was the point of ignition and who pulled the trigger?

1 a.m. and no one was home.

Sounds a bit fishy to me.

Maybe I should watch the news because there was a cameraman and a reporter on scene giving us all the ugly details … a laugh, a smile, a pocketful of poison.

Could it have been a case of someone out to get some insurance money? Maybe someone lost a job and the bills started piling up. And there it goes – worry turns to frustration and frustration turns to a desperate act.

It’s even more suspicious to me because the house is fairly new. Probably not more than three years old and so I think to myself, logically, that a new house like that shouldn’t have any bad wiring or an old furnace set to blow its guts. No … everything should be just right … but yet, a fire …

And so it goes, and I don’t know the whole story as of yet because obviously not enough time has flown by. But as I sit here kind of thinking about it and worrying about the safety of my home, I wonder about their lives now. Did they go and lodge in a hotel? Do they have any fun family to stay with and hang out with and have a good time with? Are they together? Are they crying? Are they a huddled and shivering mash of ash-covered lumpkins weeping beneath the boughs of some old stone bridge?

God … it must be stressful. Yes, the world has unsheathed its sword of stress once again and wielded it against some fine family of pure innocence. But how pure? How innocent, really?

I guess I can’t really say. I suppose I will have to wait for the news to lie about it.

But then again, I never watch the news. I can’t stomach it anymore. And the presentation is just so horrible. A suit and tie is just a suit and tie. The anchor looks so polished and honest and so people believe him like he was News God and follow along with the flock all the way to the edge and off the White Cliffs of Common Sense.

I’ll stick with what I know – getting my info from the dynamic duo at Neighborhood Watch News, right next door. To protect their identity I’ll call them Hansel and Gretel. Just imagine Hansel and Gretel as gray and not so full of youthful vinegar.

I was out doing the last cutting of the season when Gretel strolled over holding a steaming cup of chai and that’s when she dropped the scoop on the house fire.

“I came outside at 1 a.m. and the whole sky was just full of smoke,” she reported. “You should go by and take a look at it. Yeah, it’s pretty bad.”

Hansel yelled out from the front porch.

“Do we still have any of those fresh strawberries in the refrigerator!?”

Gretel sighed and snapped her head in his direction.

“Well, why don’t you go look for yourself then!? You do know where the refrigerator is? Don’t ya?”

She turned back to me with an exasperated look on her face.

“I swear … that man! Sometimes I could just slit his throat!”

I agreed with her of course because, frankly, Hansel can sometimes be a pain in the ass.

“Maybe you should,” I said to her.

There was a brief silence and then we both suddenly laughed.

“I suppose after 48 years of marriage I can put up with his old ass for a while longer,” Gretel said, feigning joy.

I stared at the grass because I was beginning to get bored. It was a shiny green color.

“I never see your wife. Why?” Gretel asked.

My eyes knocked back and forth in my head and then slowed upon the red tips of her wooden shoes. I looked up at her and sorta smiled.

“I’ve already been married – five times. I guess it’s not for me.”

“Five times!? That’s terrible. How can you treat the sanctity of marriage with such a throw-away attitude?” she steamed.

“A few minutes ago you were ready to slit your husband’s throat.”

“Well … I would never really do it. I just like to think about it,” she said, closing her eyes and pretending to pray.

“Neither one of us is a saint, Gretel. I don’t bathe in holy water and neither do you,” I said.

She looked up at the periwinkle sky – the clouds collapsed there like sleepy children.

“It’s supposed to rain some more,” she said, and she walked off without saying goodbye and disappeared beyond her front door.

I went back to clipping my edges. It was warm. The street was fairly quiet save for a few trailing screams bursting from the kids down the way. A big airplane moaned above me and I watched it until it disappeared. I looked at my watch.

“Must be the 11:30 from Denver,” I said aloud to myself.

And where was I?

I was alone, on my knees in the lawn, and everything felt the same except that everything was different. I finally went inside, locked all the doors, and boiled some corn.


Happiness is the road

Happiness is her in my heart

The dawn of each new day

She is my sun

All the way running to the night

Where everything she is

Is cast wild across the stars

To land in the places we will go

In this world or that

End to end

Where the ocean beckons a little rough

Across the rocks painted by some hysterical wand

Her portrait

From one point of out there

To another point of here and now

She is everywhere and all over it

A stellar angel chick

Shocked me like socket sex

And then just as quickly

Pulling me into the trees that rain

To give life to a living

That never was

The Carrying Place

At W. Quoddy Head, Maine.

At W. Quoddy Head, Maine.

There’s a place we all take our burdens but never quite shake them off. It’s some pastoral place for me, somewhere else and far away, a mad and natural joint where noise doesn’t take over and drown out every thought, every emotion, every sense of human decency. And then I come back to the wild lands and the bucolic turns sterile like some hospital row of plastic and formed stone and the cars going blurp blurp at every traffic light that ticks and tocks like some dead man’s heart on a stick. I went from peace to the land of Prickly Pete and his army of Prick People and every set of annoyances that come with … but I saw many gray-stained cedar clapboard cottages framed by blossoms of sun and sky and moon and green peaceful lawns and periwinkle doors leading to maybe damage but most likely light – light at the back door, stepping out to the sway and yawn of the tall golden grasses just before the world dips down into some cranberry-colored bog and then sapphire-blue waters and then the road that bends and curves around the whole little village sweeps me off to cliff side and the thunder calm blue bruised straits of some American Gibraltar and I step onto the trail running off from the front yard of the candy-striped lighthouse made of the brick and blood from over 150 years ago and the cliff trail takes me along the edge at the end of the country and it’s all Sonic Ocean Water blue and peace and breeze and the quiet comfort of nothingness yet everything the way it should be and it was the carrying place of all my burdens collected like love in a bowl and I sat still in the soft grass atop one of the quiet cliffs and the world roared softly mad all around me and I looked out merely to disappear, the great blue watery window giving me a clear shot of maybe Heaven or the other side of Eden Street or Buddha’s Palace under the sun and thinking about the still standing after all the kicks in the junk and making it to the edge of the world for me it was, the edge of the world – The End of The Country – and I did it all without knowing, just stepped out to the end of the board and fell off – then the walking alternating from high cliffs to the magical forest where the sun broke in and pulled apart the curtains just a bit and shined its candlelight-like light all over the leaves and leftover night, swirling the wild blueberries like carnival rides in the green of some summer long gone now – and my soul still not melted, still walking away with burden in the heart and maybe some things can never be washed away

The cairn at W. Quoddy Head

The cairn at W. Quoddy Head

… and I built a sloppy little cairn among the others out there on the edge where a man cannot walk anymore and I sat in the golden lawn and on the flat stones trying to make sense of it all as the waves crashed in below and then lullabied the tide pools to swaying sleep and it was all a real good place to go and I felt pretty well about it all and then the calm was suddenly sullied by some loudmouths from the cities down below and I ached again a little bit and got up and walked across that golden lawn of late August in the Land of Maine and I didn’t even look back at the people puttering around like the loud fools they were; no, I didn’t even look back because I was nothing like them and they will not destroy what I can remember.

The Swordfish of New York

People gather to watch the water rage and splash up into a cloud of mist at Niagara Falls, NY.

People gather to watch the water rage and splash up into a cloud of mist at Niagara Falls, NY.

I shuffled out of Buffalo, NY, my heart kind of in a corroded tin can, burning and rattling around some, sort of like my nerves have been the past couple of days. I made a last ditch decision to turn ever farther north and go to that place of wild water, that Niagara Falls, where the Niagara River, I guess it is, cuts right through the land between Amorika and Canada and then spills down in some mad wonder splash and the people they come from all over the world to see it and the people were pressed in tight at the rails, like trigger happy sardines quick with the cameras, faces stuck in smartphones, really missing the show. The mist and the roars kicked in up high in the sky and I walked a lot, tired feet a lot, but I took it all in like any good tourist would except I didn’t buy into the paid tour scams they shovel at every port between Erie and Buffalo. I can walk on my own. A self-guided tour it was and it was fine. But after a while the mad press of people got to me and everywhere I stepped someone else was stepping too. The hotel was crawling with people. The elevators were crammed full and I could barely breathe. It was a nice place to see for sure, but there were too many damn people. It seemed like the whole lot of the world was there pounding the pavement and swelling souvenir shops with their sweat and their stink and their foreign ink. It was a good place to go but then I got out and headed deeper east through the whole of the Upstate and it was real heavy pastoral and the wheels roared and the traffic roared and I roared whenever some squat did something wrong on the road. The east has much slower speed limits than the west, but people drive faster. No one pays attention to the rules of the road. I saw one cop, two cops, three cops but no one got pulled over – people blowing by me like a circus train on crack. I saw a wreck east of Utica – four cars all to the side and smashed to hell, a semi too and pieces of tire all over the place, cops all laughing and tow trucks all pulling into the scene. Madness on wheels it is. Madness. Hurtling ourselves down long strips of pavement at deadly speeds and then mocking those that jump out of aeroplanes.    

I ate teriyaki swordfish and baby carrots in the hotel restaurant where I stopped for the night and thought about Jack DeLarge and wondering if I should pay him a surprise visit but thinking he may have escaped to the city instead. I looked around the joint and for once in a long while I was not the only one eating dinner alone. It was more of a hip business hotel with gray-haired sophistos washing down the hate of their day with a good steak and maybe a glass of gay wine. I tried to eat slow but it’s hard for me.  My whole life has been rushed and now that I have the time to slow down, relax, be super fresh … seems I just can’t do it. I’m pressed for nothing, yet I swirl like a man in a cape. Breathe. Relax. Be still. It’s so hard. It’s gulping life – gulping the life that has been force-fed to me by the ills of society. Yes, because of society. Shut up. Don’t complain. You got it made …

I let the teriyaki swordfish melt on my tongue and in the lounge they had the lousy TV on to some news channel. None of it’s good. I can’t stand to watch the news anymore. Maybe I mentioned it before, but I don’t want to hear about it. I just want to swim like a goldfish under the sun, in a real calm and peaceful world. But man, beyond the glass bowl, it’s nothing but chaos – just tonight: riots, wars, beheadings, Taylor Swift going Pop. It’s a screwed up world and it’s getting more screwed up every day. It weighs in the back of my mind and a few times I’ve told myself when filled with some self doubt: “So what? The world is going to end.”

Beard in the Buffet at Big Boy

Big Boy holds up a hamburger outside a Big Boy restaurant in the UP of Michigan.

Big Boy holds up a hamburger outside a Big Boy restaurant in the UP of Michigan.

And there he was, hoisting his hamburger high in the air right off Hwy. 2 in Manistique – Big Boy – and I don’t know if his name was Bob or Marc or Tom or Jiggle the Handle Jim – but he stood tall and proud and with a goofy grin on his plastic face and he beckoned me in with a promise of tempting treats.

The place was buzzing with waitress wazoos dressed in bright yellow tops and one dude too who was studying to be an engineer and he stuck me way in the back like they always do with the onesies, the loners, the fools who dine alone, the ones who shy away from society, and why not? It’s all pointless drivel.

I ordered a fish sandwich and a salad and I specially asked for no tomatoes but forgot to say NO ONIONS, too. But who puts chopped up onions on top of a salad? BIG BOY does! Bleh.  Strike one. I pushed the crappy onions to the edge of the plate as best I could but still ended up chewing on a few nasty bits and it pretty much turned me off the salad.

I was seated pretty close to the buffet and I took a look earlier just to see what it was all about – steaming pans of meat and fish and spuds and corn and mushy macaroni and cheese. I didn’t know how long it had been sitting there, but considering it was about 3 p.m. when I strolled in, I figured it had been a while. Strike two.

As I sat munchy wunching my fish sandwich and looking around the joint, I watched as one big bubba after another stepped up to the buffet and loaded their plates way beyond capacity. I’m talking mountains of food that made me gag. One big fella loaded one plate, set it down at his table, and then filled another with all kinds of dripping salad bar slaw and sauces. Pig people. Big, friendly pig people.

Then he came in – slovenly, skull cap and leather, dark sunglasses, a belly as big as a whale, and a bodacious beard. It was a ZZ Top beard that hung down off his face like a shower curtain. It swayed as he walked and I knew things were going to be bad, real bad, when he scooped up a plate and bent forward into the food. Yeah, they had those plastic sneeze guards up part way over the food, but it was no BEARD GUARD. It was pure entertainment watching him dip his chin down and seeing the bottom fringes of his beard glide across the messy tops of the salad dressing crocks, scrape across the toppings – like black olives, egg pieces and imitation bacon bits – and then bounce into the heaping bowl of fresh lettuce. But it was the mashed potatoes and gravy that were the worst. He got those whiskers in their real down and deep and when he came up I could see the drippings clinging to life from the ends of his masculine hair mask. Strike three, you’re out. 

When he sat down at his table the beard ends continued to dangle in his food as he ate and his hard-luck woman even pointed it out.

“You got food in your beard,” she said pretty loudly.

Some rambunctious kid of about 7 or 8, and who probably had mental problems, kept running around the joint and playing with the tongs and spoons at the buffet and his Ma and Pa kept yelling at him from across the restaurant – instead of actually getting up and going over and straightening him out. The kid suddenly caught a glimpse of the bearded gobble gobbler and went over to his table, stood at the edge of it and just stared at him.

“I like your beard,” he finally said.

“Thanks kid. I like my beard, too. Now why don’t you stop acting like a wild Indian. It’s really getting on my nerves.”

The American Sand Castle

by AR Walther

A sand castle with two American flags sits on the shore of Lake Michigan in Sheboygan, Wis.

This is Chokeboygan and the child is missing here. The childhood leaves but a trace smell like burnt toast in a dead apartment. My time here is now but a small speckle of history sketched in the clouds above that do not move. Some things are the same, strong-rooted and relentless, like the tall trees and the old buildings of yellow brick or peeling painted brick. My time here has been churned with a great stick of progress or maybe more like retreat. The corporate twats have pushed in and have covered the bed of my homeland with their quilts made of mundane thread. Where once stood the backbone of American Mom and Popism, is now the cookie-cutter commercialism that litters any old ordinary place. Memories are being eroded by bulldozers and replaced by plastic and electric money machines.

But it’s not just the infrastructure that I sense change in; it’s the people too. The youth sprung forth from the loins of my childhood comrades run wild in the streets – cursing, yelling, flippant and malevolent they seem, dark bastards of the night. They ride bikes like maniacs and play with rainbow-colored Hoola-Hoops and guns mad and loud on the stage of the bandstand shell as the Hmong people push their garden goodies beneath colored canopies in the park I used to play in – running among the bums and the derelicts, chasing baseballs – and that creepy kid Barry, who looked like an eight-year-old Christopher Walken, showing the gang his Pa’s nudie magazines and explaining to us the wonders of human anatomy with a lisp.

There are plenty of beer bellies bouncing and big bottoms booming, too. As I walk the streets of Childhood Land some turn away with a scowl and say nothing. Some just nod hello. Others still utter an audible “hello” or “good morning.” Good morning Chokeboygan. I guess it is like anywhere else, some people are assholes, and others are pretty decent. Every place, it seems, becomes like anywhere else. There is the good, the bad, the ugly, the beautiful, in all places a man walks or rides or just sits and looks out. The decay is showing at the same time the stars are raving mad in some luscious summer sky. It’s a world of love, it’s a world of hate, it’s a world of give and take.

I went into the old newsstand store today, one of the few places that hasn’t changed or gone vacant in the decades that have passed. It was the place I used to go to buy some candy and the man there that owned it had a fake hand and I can still hear the “clunk” sound it made when he set it up on the counter. He’s long gone ding-dong dead now. I went by the old place where my Pa had his very first flower shoppe joint – vacant now. I looked in the dirty windows and there he was working like a madman in the back just trying to make a buck. I used to go in and hang out once in a while. I sat on a green, wooden stool and messed around as he worked. I once punctured my finger with a stapler and it hurt like hell. The flower shoppe was right across from the funeral home and just beyond that, past the alley and a backyard or two, was the very first place I remember living in. It was a nice place, a big old house cut in two and we lived on one side and some old dude lived on the other. It had a basement and a main floor and then an upstairs. The kitchen floor was painted orange and I remember my Pa sitting at the breakfast table in a white T-shirt smoking Kent cigarettes before going off to work. Mom helped out at the shoppe once in a while but mostly stayed home and took care of the house and me and my kid brother. It’s tough thinking about how they are all dead now and here I am reminiscing and walking the paths of my younger days and thinking about how it all just goes on and on and on and you can’t just stop the bus and get off and breathe for a moment. There aren’t any brakes in this living thing and I guess we are all on a collision course with THE END …

I went to the cemetery too where my Pa’s parents and his grandparents are all tucked neatly in the ground. I walked around on top of their bones for a little while, read the gravestones and felt pretty alone. It was a real pretty day though. The sun was out and not too hot and even though I was in a great field of the one’s not alive, I felt at peace anyways and drove out of the cemetery and back down along the lake shore again where I had been earlier in the day – my morning walk before the people came up to the sun and started to move around.

It was a great walk filled with quiet, tree-lined streets and big ol’ houses booming toward the sky all quaint and majestic at the same time. I hit the high hill overlooking the water and went down and onto the beach where the seagulls gathered and planned out their day. The sand was soft and moist and brown and crushed in with footprints of the previous day’s play. The water was a great shining sheet of sparkling glass and the waves rolled in all soft and listless and the fresh sunlight streamed down through cracks in the white and periwinkle clouds. I loved the look of it all, the sound of it all, the memory of it all.

Someone had built a sand castle and stuck two little American flags in the top of it. It looked sadly hopeful sparkling in the sun like it did. It was a reminder of how quickly this American dream could be washed away. Yeah, it was fragile. It will crumble. Someone will eventually come along and kick it to pieces. What will we become? What have we become? Man, a world of wars and all the bad shit I just can’t stomach anymore when the information fires up every morning and comes in like a laundry list of the devil’s wishes. I have to turn away at some point. All the bad shit is still happening but I don’t want to look. I just want to see and do the good stuff right up to the very end. Time is running out and so I am running too, above the road, across the land, maybe one final sweep of the highway before the madmen bury it all out of greed and hate. One last raunchy romp to the other side of the American sand castle before it all washes away.

The Road Heart Named Jen

If Robin Williams can snuff it, why don’t I? The love of no ordinary woman … Jennifer is my heart. She keeps it pumping even when I do not want to move. My tears are her tears. My aches she carries. She is stronger than me. That woman is like Christ. Love knows no boundaries with her. I am in Wonderland at her touch, her heart, the way she sleeps beside me so still and caring. I miss her now, ten thousand miles away in American outer space. She sails above ten thousand heartbeats and is every breath I remember. I don’t tell her enough … love is not the right word, for it is beyond that. Gift. Future. Prophecy. Celestial intervention. Bit O Honey times one thousand plus. So sweet to touch and taste. And I am alone out here in the physical realm. But she guides me like a sail made of heart thread. She is my wife undocumented. She is the good and the strong in the places I am not. She is my memory of water, my breath undusted, my fear cradled and replaced with the sweet scent of hope upon her lips. And even now, as I am alone and unfamiliar, I go to sleep knowing her soul and touch are never more than a breathless moment away.

The Temple of Celestial Urination

I floated above the road from out of LipLock, Tejas earlier in the day and headed north, then east. I rumbled along with the roar of it all past that Tulia place again, into the belly of the Yellow city and then back out again like a screaming colon blow. There was a place further down the road there that looked like some Mormon temple minus Moroni but turned out to be a rest stop – a sort of place for celestial urination I suppose. It was a high-tech joint with sliding doors, acid-high neon and brightly buffed tiles. The walls were decorated with all sorts of Americana logos and pop posters made to look like they sprang right out from the 1950s – they were going for the whole Route 66 celebratory theme, but a toilet is still a toilet and piss is still piss. I guess it was comforting enough for weary travelers and indeed kept very clean. I saw an immigrant from Nicaragua wildly mopping the floor with mad vigor and I sort of shook my head and laughed at the fact that Texas rest stops are kept better looking than most of the towns and the cities – and I guess immigrants are fine in our country as long as they are cleaning up after us.

I stopped for the night in the town of El Torino, OK and there was a dirty steak place just down the road from my hotel and I went there for some supper, as Ms. Tinkachook says.

The hostess was a sad and desperate-looking white-skinned soul who didn’t smile much and merely mumbled. I followed her and she seated me in the section for all the lonely people who ate by themselves. The joint had been kicked around in the crotch a few times it seemed – a greasy sort of place with smudged windows and a smell more fit for a bowling alley than a restaurant. I felt the need for the animalistic Rev. Jim to be there with a big ol’ bottle of hand sanitizer to baptize me in, but like most men of Bog, he must have had his hands tied by other spiritual and cleansing emergencies.

The waitress chick was a spotted-owl kind of gal reeking of sad spirit and boredom. She strolled about the place with little sense of purpose and recited to all her tables the same rehearsed speech that lacked any sense of genuine care for her work, but I understood her malaise completely.

I ordered an 8 oz. top sirloin that looked pale and beaten but tasted good nonetheless when slathered with some sauce. I got fries too, a salad and some warm bread with cinnamon butter. The food was decent enough for what it was and anyways I was never one to complain in a restaurant. I never thought it wise to piss someone off who was handling my food. There was a table across the way from me with a couple of moms and their dirty kids plus a husband or boyfriend or two. They bitched at the waitress about their steaks not being cooked as they wanted and they passed their plates back to her and she humped off to the kitchen to turn them back in. I could imagine the cook growling and spitting on the meat or shoving it down his pants and jiggling around a bit to add some of his own spice and sizzle.

My steak was good and I scarfed it down quickly. And that’s all I said: “It’s good. Thank you. Thank you.” She smiled halfheartedly and I knew she had better problems than me.

But I had been there before too. I had my time – those days so completely overtaken by life’s strife that I could hardly move or utter a word. Those days hurt – like a hatchet buried in my skull cap and someone cranking on the handle. There is a laundry list of agonies I have endured that I really don’t want to talk about now except to say it was all about busted up hearts and people dying in real bad ways and there were plenty of times I just wanted to snuff it. Lights out like a hammer to a lightbulb. No more pawing and panting at the stars like some broken bird who felt like he would never ever fly again. Hopefully I’ve come around to the other side of those ills and I will press on, for there is nothing left to do.

Cracker Barrel on Crack

The ebb and flow of the Jesus crowd washed nostalgic candies into the streets of LipLock, Tejas on a sweltering Sunday school day gone mad. The bacon was loaded. Mosaic scrawlings of jelly looked like sparkling guts on the sourdough. Coffee was but swirling blood fueled by cream and sugar. The roar of the hungry throng was like Madagascar jungle traffic. Everyone was full of the holy spearmint and everyone was hungry for a hot breakfast at the very same time.

So we swirled through the stuffed parking lot looking for a space and I just knew it was gonna be bad. The porch swings out front cradled the starved corpses of those who had to wait too long. The list of names at the front podium was a mile high and the hostess chick was losing her mind as people moaned and bitched. We held our ground in the lobby, but it was tough. I tried to examine a sack of maple nut goodies but dames and dudes with urinary urges kept bumping into me.

“Excuse me, excuse me, excuse me …”

How it dinged and donged in my throbbing head. It was like riding a stream train by clinging to the under belly. Too many people. Not enough space.

And that is what it is like down here in LipLock, Texas. The infrastructure is flawed. The streets are designed to encourage collisions. It’s a great bulging bubble all steaming and hot and there’s nothing to do but eat, eat, eat … at Cracker Barrel, on a Sunday morn after worshipping super fresh Bog and all his hip angels. I had never seen a crowd like that squeezed into such a mediocre joint. How could anyone expect a fine dining experience in the midst of so much chaos? Shove them in. Take their money. Clear them out.

Our one-star waiter was a lanky and shaky fellow who could barely keep up with the maddening buzz all around him. He managed to pour a few cups of decent joe but brought us limp bacon and not enough coffee cream and no jelly for the biscuits and I felt bad for the dude as we piled more and more demands upon him, but hell, it was his job. But did he deserve to have to eke out some paltry living this way? Does anyone? It all seems so futile and petty and yet Big Biz tries to fake us out with the corporate propaganda and the sterile smiles of robotic clerkies in glossy advertisements. It’s not real. None of it’s real. Yet we buy it and we pay for it time and time and time again until our lives are completely absorbed and then wrung out by the pretty-polly machine. And it’s accepted as the social norm by the big bugged-out mass audience riding around in bumper cars, staring at smart phones, listening to factory-farmed crap music. It’s brain stew with no meat and no hearty gravy. We live in a watered-down world where the stooges flock like fire ants to pay for the privilege of emptiness in a vacuum of noise.

The pumping, screaming arteries of the static cling are unnatural. I think I would prefer to dine in the pines with only the sounds of the wind and the water and the wine, sans the flaring of the human crack pipe.