Thursday, February 15, 2018

Valentines Day

Old Love

Hidden under bright bows of
youth, starry-eyed crepe, faces
flush with ribbons of desire,
our love came old
right out of the box, waiting
patiently for nightfall to send
those moony kids to bed, hungry
for the dovetail of old, familiar
ground, swale rising
to swell, kiss of sleep turning

us back into children.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

revision

The Bad Dream


“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works”, said Donald.  The playground monitor stared at him, then moved away.

Kim stuck out his tongue. 

Donald was having another bad dream.  Per their pre-nup, Melania slept elsewhere; had since Barron’s conception.  He tossed and turned in silk pajamas, POTUS embroidered across the back in mother-of-pearl, fabric straining at the seams, fly agape.  Perhaps a second piece of Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake washed down with Diet Coke hadn’t been such a good idea. 

Kim and Donald faced off across the expanse of sandbox.  Kim wore a corduroy jumper.  Jelly covered his chin.  Donald had on sherbet colored golf pants, golden pull-ups peeking out over the waist band.  A red tie trailed down between his legs, spilled out over the sand. 

Donald studied Kim’s hair, a meringue the color of circus peanut candy ending in a duck’s ass flip.  He touched his own hair, called to General Kelly to bring a mirror.  Aghast, he saw that a jet black flat top topped his own noggin, wide white side walls glaring above jug ears.  Cats eye glasses perched on his nose.  General Kelly turned into a turkey vulture resplendent with beady red eyes and funereally black feathers.  He rose into the sky and began circling the sandbox. 

Kim picked up a toy ICBM and brought it down hard on Donald’s head. 

“That was so unfair”, Donald said.  He reached for his i Phone, intending to answer the assault with an angry Tweet.  Roy Cohn, his old attorney, had taught him to hit back, hit back hard.  The device lit up and emitted musical bleats.  There was no screen, only big fat colored buttons.   Blood trickled down his brow. 

Kim moved to bring the nuke down on his head again.  “Mad Dog, Mad Dog”, Donald screamed.  General Mad Dog Mattis, doing one-handed push-ups by the monkey bars, ignored him.  Kim flattened Donald’s nose.  The blow made a sickening crunch. 

Little Stevie Mnuchin and Gary Cohn were busy playing Goldman Sachs, taking turns stuffing cash down each other’s pants.  Mikey Pence was giggling in the bushes with Roy Cohn.  Pauly Ryan, who never went to recess, was at his desk reading Atlas Shrugged and scheming to take benefits away from poor people and hungry children.  Stevie Bannon, his very best pal, had been expelled for shitting in Mitch McConnell’s lunch box. 

“Who’s going to save Trump”, Donald said.  Suddenly, the sandbox was surrounded by a gathering crowd.  Donald noticed many black and brown faces, and lots of women in pink pussy hats.  The disabled, Muslims, transgendered and gay people mingled with journalists and Mr. and Mrs. Kizer Khan.  Mr. Khan was waving a copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Was that Bobby Three Sticks?  Coal miners and steel workers flocked, brandishing lead pipes.  A group of very formidable looking women flanked by lawyers glowered at him.  They were pressing in, jeering.  General Kelly circled, joined by more vultures.  General Flynn?  That Papadopolis kid? 

The crowd parted.  Up walked Fred Trump.  Donald raised his arms.  “Up, up.” 

“Look at you.  You’re nothing but a fucking loser”, said Fred.  He laughed at Donald and exhorted the crowd to join him. 

“Loser, loser, loser”, the crowd yelled, laughing and pointing.  Kim stood up, dropped his pants, and waggled his bare behind in Donald’s face.  Donald wet his pants and wept loudly. 

He woke with a start, drenched in cold sweat.  His pajama bottoms bundled and reeking.  Only a dream.  He reached for his i Phone.  It worked.  Thank God, it worked. 

“My button is So much Bigger”, he Tweeted.  “Big and Beautiful.”

Eduardo, his illegal Mexican valet, swept into the bedroom with a silver tray bearing the television remote and the first of the day’s dozen Diet Cokes.  “Trump is back”, said Donald.  Another day of winning commenced. 


The End





Wednesday, January 3, 2018

All I Gotta Do Is Dream

The Bad Dream


“I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works”, said Donald.  The playground monitor stared at him, then moved away.

Kim stuck out his tongue.   

Donald was having another bad dream.  Per their pre-nup, Melania slept elsewhere, had since Barron’s conception.  He tossed and turned in silk pajamas, POTUS embroidered across the back in mother-of-pearl, fabric straining at the seams, fly agape.  Perhaps a second piece of Mar-a-Lago chocolate cake washed down with Diet Coke hadn’t been such a good idea. 

Kim and Donald faced off across the expanse of sandbox.  Kim wore a corduroy jumper.  Jelly covered his chin.  Donald had on sherbet colored golf pants, gold pull-ups peeking out over the waist band.  A red tie trailed down between his legs, spilled out over the sand. 

Donald studied Kim’s hair, a meringue the color of circus peanut candy ending in a duck’s ass flip.  He touched his own hair, called to General Kelly to bring a mirror.  Aghast, he saw that a jet black flat top topped his own noggin, wide white side walls glaring above jug ears.  Cats eye glasses perched on his nose.  General Kelly turned into a turkey vulture resplendent with beady red eyes and funereally black feathers.  He rose into the sky and began circling the sandbox. 

Kim picked up a toy ICBM and brought it down hard on Donald’s head. 

“That was so unfair”, Donald said.  He reached for his i Phone, intending to answer the assault with an angry Tweet.  Roy Cohn, his old attorney, had taught him to hit back, hit back hard.  The device lit up and emitted musical bleats.  There was no screen, only big fat colored buttons.   Blood trickled down his brow. 

Kim moved to bring the nuke down on his head again.  “Mad Dog, Mad Dog”, Donald screamed.  General Mad Dog Mattis, who was doing one-handed push-ups by the monkey bars, ignored him.  Kim flattened Donald’s nose.  The blow made a sickening crunch. 

Little Stevie Mnuchin and Gary Cohn were busy playing in a pile of hundred dollar bills, taking turns stuffing cash down each other’s pants.  Mikey Pence was giggling in the bushes with Roy Cohn.  Pauly Ryan, who never went to recess, was at his desk reading Atlas Shrugged and scheming to take benefits away from poor people and hungry children.  Stevie Bannon, his very best pal, had been expelled for shitting in Mitch McConnell’s lunch box. 

“Who’s going to save Trump”, Donald said.  Suddenly, the sandbox was surrounded by a gathering crowd.  Donald noticed many black and brown faces, and lots of women in pink pussy hats.  The disabled, Muslims, transgendered and gay people mingled with journalists and Mr. and Mrs. Kizer Khan, him waving a copy of the U.S. Constitution.  Was that Bobby Three Sticks?  Coal miners and steel workers flocked, brandishing lead pipes.  A group of very formidable looking women flanked by lawyers glowered at him.  They were pressing in, jeering.  General Kelly circled, joined by more vultures.  General Flynn?  That Papadopolis kid? 

The crowd parted.  Up walked Fred Trump. 

“Look at you.  You’re nothing but a fucking loser”, said Fred.  He laughed at Donald and exhorted the crowd to join him. 

“Loser, loser, loser”, the crowd yelled, laughing and pointing.  Kim stood up, dropped his pants, and waggled his bare behind in Donald’s face.  Donald wet pants and wept loudly. 

He woke with a start, drenched in cold sweat.  His pajama bottoms bundled and reeking.  He reached for his i Phone.  It worked.  Thank God, it worked. 

“My button is So much Bigger”, he Tweeted.  “Big and Beautiful.”

Eduardo, his illegal Mexican valet, swept into the bedroom with a silver tray bearing the television remote and the first of the day’s dozen Diet Cokes.  “Trump is back”, said Donald. 






Tuesday, January 2, 2018

excerpt


Standpipe


Have a blessed day, they tell me.  Many times over.  I’ve never felt so blessed.  The people who say this seem too bereft of excess blessing to justify such lavish generosity.  I’m grateful, but my gratitude is leavened with a liberal dash of liberal guilt. 


I return to Tennessee in April, 2014 to visit my mother.  She lives with a companion who keeps her safe around-the-clock.  Television, the bright bulb around which they batt morning, noon and night.  Two months have passed since my brother and I forced her to leave her condo because she could no longer care for herself.  The health of the other woman is only marginally better than mothers.  I drive forward in time to where dogwoods blossom, tilted snow caps languish on the highest peaks of the mountains, and morning mist lingers in the hollows.  For the record, I am here to nose around her care, drive her to the local Veterans Administration branch office to file a benefit application, shampoo the carpet in her empty condo, newly listed.  Left unspoken is the mighty tug of our long untended love for each other.  If not precisely estranged, we have held each other at arms-length for years for reasons I won’t begin to understand until after her death.  At fifty-eight I am gripped by yearning sudden and urgent as the throb of a dead limb returning to life.  Astonished moth drawn to the mystery of flame.  In the morning I wake to my own echo in the empty condo.  A dun colored halo on the carpet recalls the table where once we sat morning long drinking coffee, gazing out on the feeders, recoiling from the bare hot wire of the past.  I drive to Lowes for cleaning supplies.  Seven hundred miles north water department employees in Flint perform the engineering operations necessary to begin drawing water from the Flint River.  On April 25th, 2014 someone pushes a button and river water surges through the pipes for the first time in almost fifty years. 
May 24, 2016I like a sucker.  A simple declaration I try and fail to understand in the silent moment that follows.  I certainly don’t interpret it as a request, which it certainly is.  Part of the problem, the speaker, a boy of seven or eight, is almost inaudible to me, a man with moderate hearing loss.  The other element contributing to our impasse is the distraction of a State Police cruiser three doors down, lights ablaze, the first moments of a traffic stop in progress.  Three boys sit on a low wall in front of a house next door to the home of the family we’ve come to service.  Neighbors on porches escaping the heat observe the drama unfolding between the trooper and the occupant of the suspect vehicle.   My partner, a retired nurse, signals to me from the front porch the amount of water needed by the people living there.  We dispatch our duty quickly and efficiently.  The boys, faces alive with equal measure sweetness and mischief like the covers of rotating baseballs, watch us return to the ERV, slam the doors shut.  Here it is again.  I like a sucker, only this time it’s directed to my female counterpart.   Oh my goodness I’m so sorry sweetheart.  I haven’t got a sucker for you today.  Even I hear him clearly this time.  Carefully I pull away from the curb, ease the ERV around the tableau of pulsating cruiser and dusty sedan.  All four doors open wide, the sweating trooper, beefy hands encased in gelatin green surgical gloves, rifles the contents of the front compartment.   The driver, a slight woman in her early twenties stands handcuffed in front of the car, levels a glare as we pass.  Suckers.  Colorful nuggets of sugar on a stick done up in a party twist; enduring, simple pleasures, moments a patient child can extend into sweet eternity.
June 29, 2016.  The Garmin funnels us down this street for the third time in fifteen minutes.   Four addresses all within stone’s throw of each other, but displayed non-sequentially.  I have little use for GPS, preferring the crisp snap of a back folded map.  Delivering water in Flint is feasible only with GPS, but the satellite-dependent tool is only good as the input of the user.  Today is blistering hot and sunny.  People are out and about sitting on porches, walking to or from the moribund commercial strip on Saginaw.  Liquor stores, cellular phone kiosks, store front churches, check cashing windows, hair shops.  We make small talk with a man who looks a qualified seventy.  His small house neat as a pin, yard tidy and trimmed.  He retains the bearing of someone accustomed to people moving quickly to the other side of the street for him.  He’s grateful for the water.  Take away the long braided pony tail, web of tattoos, and leathery face he could pass for a retired University of Michigan economics professor who keeps his hand in a long running weekly game of squash.  We make profane jokes at the expense of the governor, shake hands and wish each other a great holiday weekend.  I ease the ERV away from the curb while my partner records the required logistical data.  Someone yells from my side of the truck.  Hey!  Hey, I need some disaster relief!  I glance back and fix the source.  Hey!  Could use me some disaster relief, too!  We saw him on our second pass down this street.  Thin, bandy-legged, ropey-armed, walking a swollen pit bull on a too-thin lead.  Dog and owner bask on the front steps of a small bungalow.  I slow, reverse, back up beeping five or six houses, park, and exit the truck.  Dog okay, I ask?  Nah, she won’t do nuthin’.  What do you need?  Ain’t got no food, no water, no money.  His darting eyes charged with current like a Tesla coil.  I open the doors at the rear of the truck, pull down four cases of water.  Now, where did he get to?  The pit is somehow up in the driver’s seat of the ERV crowding my partner for space, pinning him against the passenger door.  The engine idles.  I pray the dog doesn’t step on the gear shift and engage the transmission.  Finally, man and dog retreat to the porch where I’ve stacked their water.  I wish them a good Fourth of July weekend and we’re off.  As we pull away I notice he has donned a pair of glittering, outsized USA! opera glasses on a plastic wand.  He’s mugging and waving like an unhinged Uncle Sam.  Stars and Stripes Forever booming from a bunting covered gazebo materialized suddenly amid the blight and ruin wouldn’t surprise me in the least. 
By March 2016, I complete my training and satisfy requirements to become a Red Cross Disaster Relief Volunteer (DRV) behind the wheel of an Emergency Response Vehicle (ERV), cousin to the boxy ambulances driven by Emergency Medical Service Technicians.  I deploy to Flint, city long on the wane, lately devastated by a municipal water supply poisoned with lead and biological contaminants.  The DRV’s I meet seem very nice, most of them retired, some ex-military, all veterans of Katrina or Sandy or flooding across the Mid-Atlantic, Midwest and the Ozarks.  They sport Red Cross wear proudly festooned with service pins, wait for the late night call, deploy for weeks at a time.  I begin work on a snowy Friday, first day of a five month deployment at a leisurely pace of one day a week.  Most DRV’s in Flint deploy five days week as do a rotating group of AmeriCorp volunteers.  They live dormitory style on stipend meals, drink bottled water, endure two-minute contaminated showers like everyone else in town.  Five days a week, week in, week out.  My Disaster Relief vest helps dispel the nagging guilt of the dilettante, but only a little.
May 11, 2016.  According to the Garmin the next address is immediately on our left.  The yard surrounding the adjacent boarded up shell trails off into what looks to be a vine and bramble choked vacant lot, but wait a minute.  Folded into the gloom at the back of the lot stands a low building that looks to have once served the lesser needs of timber and rail interests.  Posted on a planked shed in the middle distance is a warning BEWARE OF DOG.  The woman who presumably made the emergency water call stands in the dooryard.  She must see the ERV, surely hears the friendly double toot of the horn.  Fifty feet from the truck, approaching the dwelling, I ask after her dog.  The woman turns on her walker, makes for the open door, upper body supporting most of her weight, toes trailing feint calligraphy in the dust.  She says something I can’t hear.  Her hair is a child’s scribble done in fat, violet crayon, arms fleshy and tattooed.  We’ve surprised her policing up her yard in the early afternoon.  An empty water bottle tucked into her waist band, another gripped in her mouth.  I think of a vaudevillian bugler.  There is no dog.  Minutes later we’re all inside a stark, gloomy room:  sink, table, two chairs, vintage appliances, metal shelving unit, tacked on, brightly lit bedroom separated by a beaded curtain.  The walls are hung with dozens of tiny hand twisted gewgaws, miniature icons, candles everywhere, 19th century occult trappings balanced against stacked cases of water.  She wants thirteen more.  May 13th is her birthday and, of course, her lucky number.  You’ve got a pretty good supply on hand, I say.  Advise her about weight distribution.  Eight cases hold you until next week?  She shrugs, averts her eyes, smile like the Mona Lisa.  We distribute eight cases around the room, the most we can bring in one trip, prepare to leave.  You left me thirteen, right?  Reminds us of her birthdate.  Sure thing ma’am, thirteen.  Securing the hand truck in the rear of the ERV, a car approaches, slows, stops.  The passenger, a man of indeterminate age, a character out of Tolkien, long grey pony tail, sharp features, leans out the window.  She okay? Meaning, just what in the hell are you doing here?  A cottage deep in a wood, an old woman branded by village rumor, wolves on the prowl and the woodcutter, true of heart, ax in hand, keeping an eye on things.
February 26, 2016.  First day ride-along but I’m the one behind the wheel of a Penske box truck.  The woman training me, this is her seventy-second consecutive day of Red Cross disaster deployment in Flint.  Winter long and cold, she recalls slippery stairs, sopping feet, ice covered sidewalks, unrelenting demand.  It’s snowing now, spring still weeks away.  In back, three layers of bottled water ride upended like old seabed thrust up by plate tectonics, cases heaped atop the wheel well.  I dumped the pallet on the first turn leaving the warehouse.  Look at that place, I say, nodding toward a ramshackle mobile home park.  A shifting landscape of colorless trailers hunkered down among black skeletal trees, branches utterly convincing as the dead fingers of a lost race of giants.  The woman doesn’t suffer fools.  Says her aunt used to live here.  Not a bad park compared to some, she says.  Hours later, water gone, delivery list checked off, we’re headed back to the warehouse.  It’s snowing big wet flakes, sunset bullied into submission by shouldering clouds.  Now this park is really bad, the woman says.  A low place, scrub trees, dark forms dissolving into twilight.  The trailers nearest the road look like gaping skulls, black holes once fitted with windows and doors.  Aluminum long since stripped, insulation exposed, they appear in twilight as huge bales of gray cotton.  No lights are visible.  Oncoming darkness, damp, encroaching woods have rubbed away what’s left of this place, left holes in the newsprint obliterating what amounts to the drawing of an amoral two year old.  The woman says there are squatters.  I peer into the gloom for cooking fires.  Oncoming headlights on the road ahead, torches of the Kings men bearing news of plague, braving a shortcut, black woods closing in from all sides.  Collar soaked, shoes turned to sponges, I shudder from the cold.  Only the cold and nothing more.   
2015 begins with a public meeting in Flint to address emerging water quality concerns of the citizens.  One after another they approach the microphone, brandish bottles of discolored water, register foul odor, the rancid taste.  State and local officials dismiss a growing chorus calling for a return to the Detroit water system.  Community activists arrange for independent testing by scientists from the University of Virginia.  A local pediatrician documents high lead levels in her young patients.   Journalists come nosing around.  The state stonewalls, key players already orchestrating the covering of their privileged asses, fudging data, pointing fingers.  With events in Flint unfolding, I’m on my way back to Tennessee, animated with urgency.  I received a dreaded late night call from a no-nonsense surgeon, heard myself authorize emergency surgery.  My mother is bleeding internally, some kind of intestinal blockage.  I stop only for gas and bathroom breaks, keen to arrive in time to greet the surgeon as he emerges cap and gowned from the chill of the operating theater into the humorless light of the timeless waiting room.
April 27, 2016.  Traffic is brisk in front of a church where volunteers hand out free cases of water.  Eight or ten people are standing on the sidewalk spilling into the street as I ease past in the lumbering ERV.  Coming even with the gleaming blue and white cube, an old man yells, asks, you all need you some water?  He arches his eyebrows theatrically, peers over the top of fat wrap-around shades.  He waits a beat or two, then explodes into knee slapping laughter, mouth yawning and toothless.  I shake my head, give him a lazy wave laughing all the way to the corner.  In the side mirror he has resumed business, our moment together drained of color, forgotten.  
I recall being in Flint on only three occasions before volunteering with Red Cross Disaster Relief.  About twenty years ago we attended a Jeff Daniels concert at the Whiting Auditorium.  It was a good show.  I remember his sweet, wistful version of Michigan, My Michigan.  Years later, I watched my wife finish the Crim Festival of Races half-marathon run through rolling hills and leafy streets of some of the city’s better neighborhoods.  My first visit was over forty years ago to attend a summer backyard barbecue at the home of a coworker.  I recall driving past mammoth Buick City wearing pastel clam diggers cinched with a jaunty nautical rope belt.  I got drunk as a lord in my jackass pants then drove home looking like a Picasso harlequin imagined by Jules Feiffer.  Flint, when I thought about the city at all, was “Roger and Me”, cautionary rust belt tale a few freeway exits south of the faux-gemütlich hokum of Frankenmuth, the place where heavy southbound traffic on I-75 was relieved by the US-23 split siphoning cars off to Ann Arbor, easing my drive home from many an idyllic northern vacation. 
She’s been gone nearly a year. Time enough to align rage and grief unleashed by her slow decline and death with righteous anger over the agonizing descent of Flint, a once vibrant river city reeling from a steady progression of insults and death blows. The tragedy of Flint sparked the combustible undergrowth of unfinished business between my mother and me.  Personal grief and impotent rage fueled my naïve determination to right a wrong in Flint, its citizen’s mere urban abstraction, a city in which I had no personal stake.  My mother had lived in Michigan over forty years without once setting foot in Flint as far as I know. It’s hard to imagine a more unlikely confluence of tangled emotions.  As profound a personal loss as I had suffered, it was a trifle in magnitude compared with the daily suffering of the people I met in Flint.
May 18, 2016.  My latest partner in the ERV speaks with a Dixie drawl.  Val is not her real name.  Born in Missouri, reared in Flint, she has lived here for over forty years.  In her late fifties or early sixties she’s a former nurse who reminds me of my aunt Doris; the cigarettes, dry barking laugh, dip of the chin, the lidded eyes suggesting flirtation, conspiracy, or both.  She is among the first city residents hired by the state to keep Flint supplied with potable water. Standpipes I call them, a means of bypassing compromised plumbing to convey the most basic of human needs the final leg into the beleaguered homes of Flint.  Up until last week she passed out water at a drive-up distribution center.  I’m training her to deliver water to people who can’t get it for themselves.  She considers this a promotion.  Soon she and others like her will replace Red Cross volunteers, putting me out of the water delivery business for good.  I welcome them with open arms.  Someone should benefit, however inconsequential financially, from this sublime debacle.  The job pays eleven dollars an hour, forty hours a week guaranteed for at least a year.  A real talker, accent flaring and fading, by lunch Val has confided many intimate, harrowing details of her life.  A nine year old son lost to cancer, another debilitated by a head injury inflicted during an assault, a probable hate crime, dark stretches of despair, other sorrowful things.  Val calls me sweetie, calls everyone we meet sweetie or child.  Hugs for all the women, a hand on the arm or back for the men, a ready smile for all.  Well aren’t you just the sweetest thing!  You take care now this heats just plain awful, innit?  What you need darlin’?  I have nothing to teach her about this job, absolutely nothing at all.  Not one goddamn thing.  She arrives fully prepared to do the real work of delivering water in Flint.


The End





Sunday, December 31, 2017

Short fiction

Fervently Do We Pray

            The lobby of the Hyatt Place was quiet, nearly deserted at half past nine.  A half-life of radiant urgency lingered around the complementary coffee station laid waste.  Tom tried the carafes; Starbucks Blonde, Dark and Breakfast Blend, bled dry.  A chocolate chip cookie lay forlorn beneath a clear plastic dome.  Through an arrangement of hushed sliding doors a family of five were framed, huddled at the curb waiting for the parking valet.  The mother elegant in some hybrid of contemporary Western fashion and traditional Indian dress.  Kids in Nike sandals and high performance sportswear.  Father trim in eggplant colored Polo and linen ecru slacks.  All of them fingering plus-size smart phones. 
            Tom stepped into the mounting heat of a September day, ushered out on a great palm of cold lobby air.  He smiled at one of the kids, a teenage girl, the only one to look up from her screen.  His sudden corporeal presence seemed to confound.  Her gaze plunged quickly back into the luminous pool of her device.  Tom angled into a breach in oncoming traffic, made the opposite curb licking the last bit of gooey chocolate chip from his thumb.  The refrigerated conference rooms of the hotel receding with every step, he strolled off bound for parts unknown.    
            Bridging The Chasm, a big three day educational conference, was in its second day.  A keynote speaker had kicked things off the previous morning, prowling the stage in a suit resplendent with patterned color.  The effect was jarring for that delicate hour.  Writer of books on revolutionary educational change, self-described “disrupter”, he had exhorted six thousand delegates to seize the levers of learning from a stultified old guard.  As he warmed to his message, a rhythmic cadence set in, punctuated by a bushy beard, trilby hat, and elaborate hand gestures.  His projected image loomed behind him, nose glazed by a sheen of perspiration.  Che meets Tupac by way of artisan urban pickle maker, Tom had thought.  He restrained himself from sharing this with a woman to his left who appeared in thrall to the performance piece. 
            What had followed was a long day of breakouts, make and takes, and round tables.  Technology playgrounds and tech hangouts radiated out from a humming vendor fair.  An onslaught of lunch options from gluten free to halal to vegan to non-GMO to tuna on rye tested delegates’ strained capacity to choose.  Battalions of icy tubs of soft drinks, coffee, tea, warm bottled water, and assorted cookies deployed to combat flagging late afternoon spirits.  Tom had gamely soldiered on, conference tote bag digging deep into the fingers of his left hand by the time he probed the card reader and gained entry to his room, green-lighted on the third try.     
            He had last visited Washington, D.C. to protest the invasion of Iraq.  He and his then wife, Denise, had boarded a packed charter bus for the ten hour overnight trip, arriving in College Park, Maryland, dawn breaking over the Chesapeake.  A short train ride later they joined a throng of people streaming from Union Station toward the Ellipse.  A carnival atmosphere had prevailed.  Rain threatened but never fell.  War had ensued nonetheless, wildfires of unintended consequences engulfing East and West for a generation.   The two of them had limped along for another two years.  The split was amicable, anticlimactic, like leaving the Church long after having given up on Mass.     
            Today promised sunshine and blue skies.  Tom walked west on K Street to Washington Circle, executing a full circumnavigation.  He wandered up New Hampshire N.W. to Dupont Circle, took an outdoor table at Le Pain Quotidian.  Neighboring tables turned over times three, clocking shadows in full retreat toward noon.  Tom paid the bill, and crossed P Street to browse the sidewalk carrels at Second Story Books.  He considered a dust jacketed Dalva, the fine novel by Jim Harrison, uncertain whether he already owned the paperback.   
Larry Donovan, Tom’s principal, had authorized his conference request months ago on the strength of a budget flush with school improvement funds. Tom and Larry went way back, over twenty years.  Larry had been elevated to his current position six years ago.  Tom had shepherded Larry through his own divorce a few years after he and Denise split.  They played golf on weekends Larry didn’t have visitation with his youngest daughter.  Both of them contemplated retirement.  The conference was, perhaps, a token of friendship, the gift of a last hurrah. 
            “You’re okay doing a twenty minute dog and pony at October school improvement,” Larry said as he signed the request. 
            “A small price to pay”, Tom said. 
            “I should go with you.  Great links course near Tysons Corner.”
            The rarified delights of Georgetown, a pleasant walk out P Street, were momentarily entertained.  Steep streets, glimpses of the river, grand antebellum architecture, he could explore for a couple of hours, find an outdoor place for a quiet beer.  Last evening he had sat in the hotel bar looking over today’s schedule with a trio from upstate New York, two language arts specialists and a school social worker.  The menu of offerings struck him as esoteric nonsense or old wine in new bottles.  He woke this morning to discover the day’s possibilities had flowered overnight into something altogether new and unexpected.  He took a long shower, aware midway that he was actually whistling.   He had set off then, conference badge left hanging from the desk lamp.  
            Tom commanded the classroom with soft spoken ease the way a veteran saloon singer claims and holds the room night after night.  His repertoire, the standards, delivered convincingly to an audience forever in need of selling.  He could still make it swing.  But these last few years, singing behind the beat fell increasingly flat on the ears of the note for note crowd. 
Tom’s step lightened with every block he put between himself and the conference center.  Terms like core competency, deep dive and synergistic were, he was willing to wager, being uttered into neck mics.  Earnest, well-meaning people were doubtless urging audiences to embrace the bleeding edge, spoken, pinged in the parlance, from their various wheelhouses.   One of the language arts specialists had seemed very keen on a two hour presentation on the disruptive possibilities of holographic interactive mimes in urban ESL classrooms. 
            High noon a distant memory, Tom waited for the light at 19th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, trying to remember having crossed K.  George Washington University off to his right, White House blocks away on his left, his eyes searched high for the spire of the Washington Monument. 
Denise had remarried.  A Ford salesman who had sold her a new Explorer, loaded, a tick above sticker.  Dennis.  Denny and Denise.  Tom liked him, had even considered buying a new F-150 from the man.  Owen, the couple’s six year old son, had his mother’s eyes, her crooked smile.  Tom knew better, but on those rare occasions when they were in each other’s company, he would gaze at the boy searching for a betraying glimpse of himself. 
            Tom, as a young man, had missed the draft by a couple of years.  Years later he had taught with guys who spoke passionately of deferments, protests and high stakes lottery.  One guy, a business teacher, had been up north at a Marine firebase near the DMZ.  Memories of unrelenting squalor, fear, and rage sometimes slipped through perimeter wire weakened by Friday after work drinks.   Once, Tom had found the man weeping alone at his desk during planning period, lights off, door ajar.  He had quietly stepped back into the hall having decided he could make do without an overhead projector.  
Looking back, Tom would allow that perhaps the day’s circuitous route had been determined by the workings of some celestial clockworks.  The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, The Wall, that understated glyph carved into the earth just beyond the Reflecting Pool, ambushed him.  Tom had wandered onto a meander off Constitution Avenue NW.  A column of silvery tour busses, appearing coupled like train cars, lined the street.  Clots of tourists narrowed the veins of winding pathway.   He entered the memorial from the east, descending into a silent congregation set apart.  Treachery, vanity and hubris flocked overhead, the native fauna frustrated, unable to penetrate the veil.    
The man was standing near the apex, the panels there towering over the heads of those filing past.  He was stooped, a bit thick in the middle, dressed in a light jacket open over a blue button down shirt, hands burrowed deep in the pockets of his chinos.  He wore rimless spectacles, his grey hair combed straight back brushing the back of his collar.  Thin wisps on top lifting in the breeze were the only thing animating him.  Here and there people extended arms, pressed hands or fingers to the black marble.  A boy riding high on the shoulders of a tall man refused entreaties to look, arms twining and re-twining around a tow head, his malleable features at play.           
Tom found himself carried along, the man an immovable object parting the river of humanity.  He seemed not to register a presence at first, Tom fetched up behind him, snagged on some superseding contingency.  Tom was at a loss to discern what came next.  He studied the panel before him trying to divine which name had drawn the man, and from where, and why.  Letters seemed to float to the surface, shimmering into focus from the bottom of a very deep well.  In turn, the man studied Tom who stood a full head taller reflected in the polished surface.  Names of the dead overlaid their combined daguerreotype image.  The man’s moist eyes captured Tom’s own and held them for interminable minutes.  Something rare, wrenching, yet rendered dear with hard won grace, passed between them, or so it seemed to Tom.  Pinned there, specimen in some forlorn display, he gradually became aware of his now solitary reflection. Tourists and pilgrims streamed past in counter flow, the old man having slipped back into time, resumed.  Vanished, or had he only imagined him, Tom wondered.   
The nearby Lincoln Memorial promised a stolidity that Tom desperately craved, fixed as it is in the firmament.  How many steps?  He tried counting them, tried to recall whether their sum total symbolized some historical significance.  By now, the conference would be done for the day, presenters and delegates retired to their rooms, hotel bar, or regrouping for evening hijinks along U Street.  The Great Emancipator, having just eased himself down, it seemed to Tom, seemed to contemplate shedding those enormous boots before closing his weary eyes.   
Tom read the Second Inaugural Address a second time.  Sunlight chrome plated the Reflecting Pool.  A broad color palette of visitors struck selfie poses, wandered in thrall to screens.  “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right….”  So fortified, Tom nodded farewell to the President and made his way back to the hotel.  He had, at the very least, undertaken an extraordinary journey today, of that he felt certain.  If underlying intention was belatedly revealed, deeper revelation, if such a thing were even available to him, stubbornly demurred. 
The Indian family milled in the hotel lobby as Tom made his way to the bank of elevators.  Exhausted looking parents laden with shopping bags, the children whispering, laughing among themselves.  The girl Tom had greeted earlier that morning was absently dancing in place, her head bobbing, small glossy bag swinging at the end of her extended arm.  They exchanged glances as Tom skirted the throng.  The girl smiled shyly, then lost herself again in silent music, a melody Tom strained to hear, faint but gathering.       

The End

           
           
           
           
           
           
           




Thursday, December 21, 2017

Happy Holidays

Christmas Gift To A Nation

Merry Christmas to Wall Street and flush CEO’s,
real estate moguls, private equity ‘ho’s,
pass-through scammers, evangelical preachers,
enriching themselves on the backs of our teachers,
families too poor to afford decent health care,
while white fat cat donors warn “Mitch, best beware,
the tap will run dry if you leave us any less rich”,
Paul Ryan heart throb, Ayn Rand, crazy bitch,
lights up a turd in hell with Roger Ailes and J.P. Morgan,
a big fat win for the wealthy, the conclusion is foregone,
Trumps spawn will profit mightily, the lot of them a blight,
while other folks’ kids go hungry, black, brown and white.
Mnuchin’s giddy as a school girl, lost in trickle down reverie,
doing blow through a C note off his trophy wife’s derriere,
gold plated toilet seats down in good old Mar a lago,
feel warmer to the touch these days when POTUS dumps his cargo,
Merry Christmas to workers, imams, the transgendered,
women, democracy, Klan scapegoats, the verdict is rendered,
children on CHIP, the disabled on Medicaid, grandmas on Medicare,
polar bears too, you can all go f—k yourselves, for all the R’s care.
The swamp’s been drained dry of decency, morality and compassion,
but outrage and demographics will soon give the thugs a good thrashing.