Monday, December 31, 2007

Shameless Plug #5417 (Subset B-1)

The January issue of Word Catalyst magazine is up and it's great. I highly recommend you go see it immediately before a major power glitch hits the U.S. and we're instantaneously thrust back into the Bronze Age. The graphics are stunning, the photography is amazing, the poetry is magnificent and I've got a short story in this issue. Please check it out, a lot of enterprising people have invested a lot of work in it... did I mention that I have a story, too? As free entertainment goes, it's as good as you have any right to expect... and I have a story in there, too. Just click on the blue "Word Catalyst magazine" above and I'm led to believe it will open up the magazine for you. Isn't magic wonderful?

Oh, yea, almost forgot... check out the graphic on the masthead... I can attest to the fact that it looks great on a t-shirt. Ask me, and I'll show you how to get one. You'd look great in it, too... while you're sitting at your computer reading my story in this month's edition of Word Catalyst Magazine.


I don't know why I'm trying this, but like the tag-along little brother, I thought I'd give it a try. It's called a Parallelismus Membrorum (?) (yea, me, too), and that's all I know about it-- until yesterday, I didn't even know that! Live and learn, right? Does this thing come with instructions? Anyway, here's another example of why I don't write much poetry:

A Parallelismus Membrorum (I think...)

The sun has set upon me,
And my moon came out;
I am cyclone’s plunder
Under gentle breeze;
Though you would forget them,
memories linger on;
Make-believe gifts to open
Where real ones once lay.

Sayonara, 007...

Well, it would appear that most of us are going to make it through 2007 unscathed, or, at least, relatively so. Few among us can claim a pristine countenance devoid of scars and warts (except Donald Trump, of course), and it is my concerted opinion that we are all the better for it.

I did a little boxing as a young man, and there are more reasons than I can list why I didn’t pursue it on a professional basis, but suffice to say that on more than one occasion, I left the squared circle battered, beaten and humbled. But as I sat alone in the locker room with eyes nearly swollen shut and tried to figure out what went wrong, I recalled my trainer’s words… “Son, the sun don’t shine on the same dog’s ass all the time. It just wasn’t your fight to win tonight.”

Life’s like that, I think. We keep putting one foot in front of the other, maybe running for a little while, or just taking a stroll while we rest up and listen to the birds in anticipation of yet another sprint. So we might as well enjoy the scenery along the way. I’d like to thank all of you for helping me train. I realize I can’t possibly win my last big fight, none of us can, but with your help, I’ll keep punching.

As Robert Burns said:

"Shid ald akwentans bee firgot, an nivir brocht ti mynd? Shid ald akwentans bee firgot,an ald lang syn?"

At times like this, I wish I spoke Scottish! No matter...
Happy New Year, everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Your Sunday Comeuppance

For reasons that shall remain undivulged (he said, realizing full well that undivulged isn’t really a word, but exhibiting absolutely no remorse in its use), I’m feeling semi-stuporous. I have a bad case of the whiffles, a malurine malady capable of bringing on hopperburn if not immediately treated with a dapple of scopolamine in the ol’ sealskin bedsock. That ought to keep the wrigglers ventose until they dry up enough to excise. With any luck at all, I won’t be required to consider corybantiasm. It’s a last resort, I assure you.

So what, pray tell, does any of this have to do with anything? Nothing, perhaps; I only mention it as a lead-in to my real reason for writing. You see, ladies and gentlemen, this morning I witnessed a non-event worthy of comment (that I firmly believe, but cannot prove beyond a scientific doubt, brought on the accursed whiffles mentioned earlier).

An older woman, who was late for services at St. Bubba the Least Catholic Church, encountered a homeless man sitting on a bench as she bustled up the steps. Hearing church bells start to chime, she inquired of him, "Oh my God, is Mass out?"

"No", he replied, a grin escaping from his lips, "but your hat's a little cocked to one side."

(Insert rimshot here)

And that, ladies and germs, concludes the entertainment portion of the program. Please make sure your seats are upright and don’t forget to remove any carry-on luggage from the overhead storage bins. Thank you for coming and I hope to see you all again real soon!

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Hemingway and Foxes

I’m sitting here this morning, bemoaning my dual shortfalls of inspiration and industry. Actually, I’m not even sure why I feel it necessary to include the time of day as a necessary pronouncement; it matters little, all things considered. It could just as easily be midday, evening’s prime time or perhaps those heavy, dark hours of late night, those erstwhile wellsprings of all things creative, those portals through which enter the monsters and fairies, the demons and the angels, and all the greater and lesser tools of innovation once offered by a mind troubled with humankind’s vagaries and nature’s duality of cruelty and majesty.

Similarly, it’s immaterial that I’m sitting. The fact that I reference my body position at all exemplifies the egocentricity and futility of my efforts. Were I suspended upside down in a tank of sea water at a depth of 50 fathoms, with a great white shark lurking in the shadows, the words would be no more or no less important. Regardless of the importance some would place upon their endeavors, writing is not a spectator sport. Even if, in retrospect, we found out that Hemingway wrote A Sun Also Rises in blood, with a cactus quill, in twenty minutes, while gorked on wine and heroine, we wouldn’t place one whit of interest whether he was sitting, standing or simultaneously engaged in acts of banality with a syphilitic Spanish cabana boy. It’s all about the words.

And the words don’t come. All the while, the clock ticks and the world turns and others make love to each other, kill each other, make love then kill each other, and somewhere a kit fox watches the snow fall from inside her den, never once considering the ramifications of any actions other than those immediately surrounding her. But you won’t hear about it from me, much as I may desire to tell you about loving, killing or foxes.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Exfoliation? We don't need no stinkin' exfoliation!

It is not my normal M.O. to discuss ‘taste’… for reasons that, by now, should be obvious. I read and hear on-going assessments and pontifications about others’ taste (or lack thereof) and I’ve come to the conclusion that anything varying more than about 2 degrees from our own personal moral compass setting is distasteful.

Take the photo I posted above as Exhibit One. There can be little doubt that some of you will find it distasteful. No? Oh, come on… I see you wrinkling up your nose, lady. But think of it this way: Who’s hurt by it? Certainly not the tattoo artist who painstakingly applied his/her myriad talents in its application… and not the subject’s buddies who snickered and laughed the entire time it was being inked, although I suppose it could be argued that ponying up the money might have been distasteful…

No, the only person who should have any problems with this whatsoever is the canvas himself. Look, he has to sober up soon… and then there will be decisions to be made.
Will I tire of signing autographs when I go shirtless at the beach? Do I keep it and blindfold my wife every time I desire a little oral gratification? Is it cheaper to have it removed or hire a good divorce attorney?

So, let’s forget all the ‘tasteless’ talk, shall we? Unless you’re talking about smearing strawberry jam all over his navel and diving in, I don’t think you’re qualified.

Who is this man and why is he... ummm... ummm

Woo-hoo! I made it through another Christmas! The house is still standing, most of my relatives (with notable exceptions) are still speaking to me and Life Flight crews in this part of the state are breathing a little easier, having been spared 'the Church Experience', although a few of the less experienced among them expressed annoyance that they didn't get any hazardous duty training. No shootings, only one stabbing (and we think that may have been unintentional, the result of an unfortunate and ill-advised wager about who could skin a catfish the quickest), and other than a couple of minor skirmishes among various warring factions on my wife's side of the family, the day was a non-disaster for the most part, and by Church standards, that is about as good as can be reasonably expected.

There were a few expressions of joy that might have been considered inappropriate, but Uncle Jamie always gets a little frisky after his first quart of Wild Turkey. Honestly, Jolene has to share a little of the blame, too. It's nice that she's finally found a job she likes, but her exhibition of pole-dancing skills was a bit much. We probably could have survived quite well without the second hour or the lap dances, even if Jolene did say the dollar
bills would all be donated to charity. Somehow, I'm not convinced that the Salvation Army would approve.

I'm also happy to report that the damage to the garage isn't as extensive as we first
thought, either. Parents, let me pass along a little hint that apparently got past my brother-in-law: A grenade-launcher isn't age-appropriate for ten-year-olds, I don't care if they have been subscribing to Soldier Of Fortune for the past two years.

Lots of babies to kiss and kids running around, the sounds of laughter and pure joy filling the rooms... not a terrible way to spend a few hours, all in all. As I looked around the room, I couldn't help but wonder who I might be talking to for the last time. There is comfort in not knowing, I think.

Oh, and whoever fed my dog the chocolate pie? You better hope that God takes you before I find out who you are.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Dissonant Resolutions

I learned a valuable life lesson yesterday when a homeless street urchin burst out from between two parked cars, grabbed my jacket lapels and informed me (and about two dozen other shoppers milling about their vehicles) that when joining two independent clauses, I should “be goddamned sure to use a comma followed by a conjunction, a semicolon alone, or a semicolon followed by a freakin’ sentence modifier!”

Should I get the opportunity to re-visit high school, I think I'll endeavor to pay a little closer attention in English class.

Monday, December 24, 2007

A Christmas Quarrel

“Alms for the poor! Alms for the poor…”

A fingertip poked out of his threadbare green glove as his pronated palm violated my personal space. I stopped, wondering if the other hand held a pistol or club inside the pocket of his filthy trench coat. His face, however, glowed in the half-scowl, half-grin that homeless men characterize when begging.

“Alms for the poor? Who the hell do I look like, Charles Dickens? We’re in Denver, dude, not London, and I hate to be the one to break it to you, but this damn sure isn’t the Eighteenth Century. I’m sorry, but if you expect me to give you some money, you’re going to have to be a little more original than that.”

The look on his face surprised me. I’d had many confrontations with beggars on my way to my office on 16th and Welton, but when first rebuffed, most would offer up a new ‘shtick’; something unique and usually accompanied by a streetwise mea culpa grin. Not this guy, he merely turned and started to walk away. This amazed me and left me feeling a little cheated. During the last ten years, I’d come to expect a little more from my morning walk to work.

“That’s right…” I taunted, “Walk away like the pussy you are. No wonder you couldn’t make it in the straight world. You give beggars a bad name! You’ll never be King of Wel—”

The force of his head hitting me in the solar plexus knocked me down and took my breath away. As I lay writhing on the sidewalk trying to remember how to breathe, he bent over me and I felt his fingers extracting my wallet from my pants pocket.

With his head very close to mine, he showed me a twenty-dollar bill and said, “I’m only taking this one, and you can be sure that while you’re up in your cozy little cubicle coming up with new ways to legally rob people, I’m doing it the old-fashioned way. Just remember that we’re the same, you and me, you just can’t admit it.”

Standing up straight, he threw my wallet back down on my chest and smiled. “Here, Mr. Scrooge…” he added, a proper British accent now flowing from somewhere deep within, “I’m off for a spot o’ tea and a proper scone, I am. It wouldn’t hurt you to appreciate the Classics a bit, now would it? Give my regards to the Missus.”

And he disappeared. I suppose there’s a little Dickens in all of us, especially around Christmas time.

Bob Church©12/6/06

Friday, December 21, 2007

Ray Charles Leon Russell Willie Nelson - A Song For You

Lest We Forget... To all of you who have lost someone, three masters are 'Singing A Song For You'. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Altared States

“O my Jesus, have mercy on us, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell. Take all souls to heaven, especially those most in need of thy mercy. Amen.”

I didn’t arrive in time to say The Rosary, but I assuaged my guilt by mouthing the words silently along with the parishioners kneeling in the pews in front of me. The Holy Water fonts were as I remembered them, full and cool; delicately, I touched my fingers to the water’s surface and felt the tingle. “Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope.” Placed first on my forehead, then my heart and my left and right shoulders, my fingers retraced the paths of my youth; memories streamed into my mind, a kaleidoscopic frenzy. “To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.” The carpet appeared new. I don’t know why this surprised me; things change over the course of the thirty-five years that elapsed since I’d last come here. However, luxury wasn’t a quality that immediately came to mind as I recalled the St. Bartholomew’s of my boyhood. The Dominicans who looked after the parish saw to it that frugality became the virtue by which we were judged. I hadn’t stepped inside the vestibule since—well, since Tommy’s funeral.

Today, I would sit somewhere other than the front tier of pews, somewhere in the back and on the outside aisle. Momma could no longer decide where I might choose to rest. “Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us and after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” Genuflecting in obedience and respect to the Altar, again I made The Sign of The Cross and sat down near the end of the bench. Earlier than the majority of the worshipers yet to arrive, I pulled the kneeler down and winced as my knees yipped at the sudden weight. Recollections of VA physical therapists danced through my mind, images of faceless white tunics forcing my knee to bend. Well, one thing hasn’t changed... the kneelers are still as hard as ever.

“O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.” I folded my hands over the pew in front of me, elbows resting on top. The cantor left the dais and pews throughout the church creaked as worshipers sat down on the wooden seats. Mothers scolded noisy children and families slowly filled the rows. Muted conversations confused my efforts at prayer. Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto…then what? It’s no good, I don’t remember my Latin any more… Glory Be to the Father, and… how’s it go? Damn… forgive us our sins as we forgive our… no, that’s not right, either.

The organ softly played a background hymn that I remembered from my childhood, although none of the words would come. An unexplainable chill passed through me; suddenly I envisioned Tom Pryor’s casket. Tom was my best friend in high school/door-gunner in HMS-163, killed in a firefight while loading body bags in Quang Tri Province, RVN. We’d enlisted together; ‘The Buddy System’ they called it. Yea… the buddy system… sign up now and we’ll do everything humanly possible to see that you and your buddy get a free pine box, courtesy of the U.S. government. The organ music alone caused the funeral scenes to replay every time I heard it, so I quit going to church shortly thereafter. All the mumbo-jumbo and hocus-pocus in the world couldn't bring Tommy back to life, or me back to church. Yet here I sit. Why am I here, God? This is a mistake, I shouldn't have come. I don't know a soul here. You’ve let me wander for thirty-five years, why am I here now?

Silently, I moved my weight a little to accommodate my now howling left knee, the one with the plastic kneecap. Come on, let’s get this show on the road. A young mother sat down in the pew in front of me, dressed elegantly in a blue two-piece skirt and jacket combination with a white silk blouse underneath. Her daughter toddled along beside her, a cute little blonde girl whom I assessed to be about three years old. The kid stared contemptuously at me as she sat down. Precocious. The intimacy of kneeling behind another person’s seat left little room for establishing a buffer zone. Relax, sweetie, I won’t hurt you. Mom sat down, smiling at me as she sat the bundle of blankets she’d been carrying on the seat next to her and found her own kneeler. Sweetie continued to stare unrepentantly at me, her expression now a wary, unblinking mask.

Without thinking, I hooked my thumbs in the corners of my mouth, pulling outward to open my mouth as wide as humanly possible and wiggled my tongue grotesquely as I crossed my eyes. Instantly, the child screamed and crawled onto her mother’s lap, hiding her head and pointing directly at me. When Mom shot a nasty glance towards me, I raised both my hands in my best mea culpa surrender. No offense, ma’am, I love kids, I really do… especially, medium rare with a nice Merlot or Chianti. Just kiddin’, honey, relax… we’re in church, for God’s sake. I won't steal her, I don’t even like the kid! Turn around and stare at the Missal or something, dear, I’ve got some serious praying to do. I folded my hands in front of my face and closed my eyes. Well, there's one less candidate for The Sign of Peace… Note to Bob: Check into that cult of Madeline Murray O’Hare-followers downtown—find out if they allow children at their meetings.

The procession of altar boys and deacons filed down the aisles, followed by the priest and servers who would assist at Mass. I didn’t immediately recognize the hymn being sung, but it didn’t matter because singing simply wasn't an option. Early on, I learned God had blessed me with a voice capable only of enticing wandering dogs to my side. At the tender age of nine, I gained the distinction of becoming the only boy ever removed from the choir for singing. People sitting close to me were known to cover their ears while staring incredulously. ‘Good God, Henrietta, is that him screeching? I didn’t realize a human could produce sounds like that.’ No, singing wasn’t for me, although occasionally I did chant the responses along with the cantor, if they included no more than three notes, sounded even marginally monastic and were situated in a part of the octave scale that would accommodate my limited range.

Once again, I tried to pray and to recall exactly why I’d come today, but the reasons suddenly melded into the pomp and ceremony. Ritual… pure ritual. The priest, a huge black man, elegant in his brocaded robe, marched solemnly by, his white collar contrasting starkly with his skin. As he progressed through the Introductory Rites, I noticed that even though the man’s English was obviously a second language, his words were clear and resonant and he worked without the aid of a microphone. I’ve heard we had a priest shortage, but I didn’t realize we were recruiting in Africa… Which part of the Belgian Congo is the current hotbed for Catholic seminarians, that village over on the east side of the river that ate Albert Schweitzer or the colony of reformed elephant poachers trying to find a way to keep from starving to death since Greenpeace went militant? One thing is sure… this guy is definitely not a Pygmy!

Eloquence flowed over the Mass today. The Penitential Rite gave way to the Gloria and The Liturgy of The Word; and the man-mountain performed without a glitch, stutter or cough. He shared with us a story from his youth, a parable of sorts, accounting for his own lack of faith in times without strife and his propensity to call upon God only when being chased by a wild beast or searching for food when it was scarce. Then, he patiently asked each of us to examine our conscience and bring our faith to test, to rely upon it when charting our course and determining our worldly goals. Even the jackals and hyena understood their purpose. His homily was short (a redeeming quality in my estimation, since he spoke broken English), and the service seemed to progress ahead of schedule.

“May the Lord accept this sacrifice at your hands, for the praise and glory of His name, for our good and the good of all His Church.” Sacrifice? What do we know of sacrifice? Just because you dump a few bucks into a basket, it doesn’t necessarily make it sacrifice. How many of these people are late on their BMW payment because of this ‘sacrifice’? When was the last time that any of us missed a meal because of our devotion to God? Please… give me a break, here. We know little if anything of sacrifice. But, go on with what you’re doing. Two thousand years of tradition can’t be broken simply because the faithful don’t get it…

The sound of parishioners dropping to their knees flooded the otherwise silent church. “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed.” Man, you’ve got that right! Finally, something I can take with me! On the Christ-Worthiness Scale, my rating would probably fall somewhere between Judas Iscariot and the Culbertson’s, my neighbors down the street who sent their pedophile son to seminary hoping it would make him see the error of his ways... it didn’t. If this were the Olympics, I wouldn’t get past the Preliminaries in Mankind's Worthiness Decathlon; not a snowball’s chance in Hell to medal. Actually, upon second thought, maybe the snowball is appropriate. Long ago, my heart had turned cold to all but the basest of needs. Who could trust a God who’d take the deserving and spare me? Worthy I am not.

The line formed to receive Communion. I knew it was inappropriate for me to take Communion because I wasn’t in a state of grace, carrying the knowledge of un-atoned personal sin. I hadn’t bothered to go to attend Reconciliation, and truthfully, I wasn’t sure if I showed a contrite heart. Honestly, I got up because I didn’t want to inconvenience the other people who would have to step around me. Plus, my arrogance wouldn’t allow me to stay seated, feeling the eyes upon me, wondering why I wasn’t joining them. I grudgingly took my place, suddenly aware of the absence of pushing and shoving. Not a single person in front of me craned his neck to see why the line was moving so slowly. Was this some sort of trick? Americans just don’t allow themselves the luxury of patience.

The bas-relief Stations of the Cross lining the outside walls took on new meaning today. Why is Mary Magdalene staring at me? And why was the ‘tingle’ starting to run through me again as I neared the Altar rail? A faint breeze wandered across my face as I stepped up to the waiting priest.

“The Body of Christ…” It had been so long since I’d been inside a church, I didn’t realize that most people no longer accepted The Eucharist by mouth. The priest held the wafer out to me. How can a man’s eyes be dark as coal yet warm as a tropical breeze? What's happening to me? After pausing momentarily in acknowledgement of my fear, I looked into the eyes of Jesus. Although he’d never met me, he knew everything about me. Don’t be afraid, his eyes implored me. This special man, so unlike any other I'd encountered, with four short words offered me such sustenance and forgiveness that my inadequacies no longer seemed important. His eyes compelled me to open my mouth and my heart, and for a few seconds, nothing else existed.

“Amen”, I whispered softly as the wafer touched my tongue. Now, the eyes smiled. A rush of emotion unlike any before engulfed and transformed me; promising me riches I’d never hoped for, joy not yet realized and purpose previously unidentified. Charismatic images of this priest walking with Tommy flooded my mind. After thirty-five years of burden I couldn't comprehend, I released Tommy's casket and embarked upon my own journey of faith, blessed with freedom and understanding. Still not knowing whether I was lion, hyena or jackal, at least I knew I was again free to roam the savannahs. Thank you, Jesus.

Bob Church©2004

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ben Casey Would Approve

She might have looked lovely, had it not been for all the tubes stuck in her nose and mouth. With her eyes shut like this, he envisioned the angels flying around inside her head, helping her withstand the pain and whatever concerns she might be experiencing on what promised to be the last few hours or minutes of her life. He felt very little return of the caress he gave her hand with his own, although he continued to rub the top with his fingers in his fading hope that she felt his touch.

“Mother, can you hear me?” he whispered, his voice matching the solemnity of a room cloaked in the faint light of the lone bedside lamp. The occasional semi-rhythmic beeps of the heart monitor both assured him she clung to life and reminded him that the gift could be reclaimed at any moment.

She did nothing immediately, causing him to assume she did not. He’d sat in the wooden bedside chair for a number of hours and his muscles ached from lack of movement. Disengaging his fingers from her hand, he allowed it to fall softly onto the bed.

As he started to stand, her eyes opened and in a voice suddenly invigorated, she remarked, “That’s right, leave me alone to die here, I guess I deserve no more. You spend forty years caring for someone, fixing his meals, wiping his tushie, kissing his boo-boos, listening to him piss and moan about not making Law Review and he can’t spend a couple of hours of his busy day comforting his mother on her last day on earth. That’s gratitude, for you…”

Quickly re-assuming his grip on his mother’s hand, he said, “Shhhh… don’t worry, Mother, I won’t leave you.”

“There’s a good boy,” she said laconically, a smile emerging from between the tubes, “in this light, you look just like your father—God rest his soul—with the thinning hair and beady eyes and that nose… not a handsome man, really, but he had his good points, I suppose.”

Well, saints be praised for that, you hideous old crone. “Yes, mother, I’m sure he did… but let’s not worry about that right now. Is there anything I can get you?”

“Well, you know how I hate to be a bother, but could you walk out into the hall and find a doctor who knows what the hell he’s doing and have him come in here and save my ass?”
Immediately, her eyes widened and she ripped the tubes out of her nose. Sitting up in bed, she fluffed her pillow and remarked, “There… I feel better already. How about opening up that window over there and letting some sunlight in here? This ain’t the friggin’ funeral home… yet.”

Katherine Mary Fitzgerald-O’Connell located the small microphone located at the head of her bed and pushed the button. “Nurse, come quick! I need you!” she screamed in a voice packed with emotion. Leaning toward her son, she grinned and whispered, “That ought to get her fat ass in motion. There’ll be so much friction created from her thighs rubbing together, I guarantee you we’ll smell bacon cooking by the time she waddles through that door.”

The international standard for determination of the ‘ten second interval’ is the amount of time required for a charge nurse to summon assistance, find a crash cart and enter the room of a dying patient. The look on her face, upon assessing the scene, could only be described as disappointment. Picking up the nasal cannula from the bed she overcame her shock long enough to attempt to re-seat it in her nostrils. “Mrs. O’Connell, you have to leave this in.”

“Who says I gotta leave it in? I’m the one who’s dying here, why can’t I die without it?”

“We have rules, and I have to obey them. The doctor would not approve, I assure you.” Patiently, she once again picked up the tube and neared her patient’s nose.

Katherine Mary Fitzgerald-O’Connell’s hand grabbed the nurse’s wrist in mid-lunge, causing a resounding ‘thwack’ to fill the room. “Tell Sawbones he can kiss my ass”, she snarled, “what’s he going to do about it, throw me out? Tell him to get crackin’, I’ve been thrown out of better hospitals than this one! Now, move! Get your lazy pill-pushin’, bedpan-scrapin’ ass out of my sight!”

When the astonished nurse’s ‘ass’ was, indeed, out of sight, Katherine Mary Fitzgerald-O’Connell once again smiled at her son and patted the bed next to her. “Come over here, child, we need to talk.”

Still trying to figure out exactly what he was witnessing, he slowly approached her bedside and sat down in the straight-back chair.

Once again she grabbed his hand and smiled, saying, “Son, this may be the last chance we ever get to talk. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?”

Sheepishly, he forced his gaze to the window, then into his lap. Then, feeling her hands kneading his pleadingly, he opened his mouth. “I— I— I guess there are a lot of things, but one thing I’ve always wondered is, why did you name me Shlomo?”

“What, you don’t like it?” For the first time, vulnerability frosted with hurt shone on her cheeks.

“No, it’s not that I don’t like it… necessarily, but, Mother, we’re Irish Catholics and you gave me a Jewish name.”

“Mrs. Carver named her son George Washington, too, and I don’t remember hearing of him complaining about it. Did I raise an anti-Semite? You should be grateful that I’d give you such a name. I’m appalled, not to mention extremely disappointed in you.”

Yea, like that’s a shock. “Never mind… I’m sorry. Let’s drop the subject.”

“You know, smart people, those Jews. Did you ever hear of a Jew who didn’t make his mother very proud by becoming a doctor or lawyer or rabbi or diamond merchant? They even had a good baseball pitcher, that Brooklyn Dodger player, what was his name? Give me a second, I’ll think of it… yea, Sandy Koufax. Do you know he was such a good Jew that he wouldn’t pitch on the Sabbath? That was a good boy, that Sandy, I’m sure his mother was very proud.”

As opposed to me, that is. “It’s not impor—”

“And another thing,” she interrupted, “the mayor of Dublin in the ‘60s was a Jew. I remember watching President Kennedy—God rest his soul—standing on the podium with him when he visited Ireland. The press made a big deal out of it. So instead of asking your mother why she gave you a Jewish name, maybe you should get down on your knees and thank her, while you still can, for preparing you for life with a name that meant something.”

Oh, yea? Watch this: “Exactly what does ‘Shlomo’ mean, Mother?”

“How the hell should I know, I heard it used on Ben Casey. Now, there was a doctor! He cured ailments that hadn’t even been invented yet. Not half bad on the eyes, either, I could have fallen for him like a ton of bricks. You got anything else you want to know?”

Shlomo O’Connell didn’t hesitate for a second. “No, that’s about it, I guess.”

She shrugged her shoulders and laid her head upon the pillow. “That being the case, I guess I should get this show on the road and die. Tell you what, Shlomo, how about you count to ten. By the time you finish, I promise I’ll be dead.”

And she was.

Shlomo O’Connell pushed the button on the bedside microphone and calmly asked the nurse to return—and not to rush. Shlomo kissed his mother on the cheek and asked God to claim her soul. He was grateful that his mother hadn’t suffered while passing but he was even more grateful that she hadn’t watched Bonanza immediately before naming him. The idea of spending his life as Hoss or Little Joe was a little more than he could have withstood.
Bob Church©2007

Friday, December 14, 2007

Nearly-Christmas Admonitions

The Thought For The Day:

Fighting for peace is sorta like humping for chastity; the difference being, of course, the body count at the end.

There's something about a boat ride that just sorta calms me down. I just wish some of my enthusiasm would rub off on the Missus.
Well, it's that time of year again. The calm before the storm. The last few moments of sanity before we all get together and see how many of us we can kill on the highways. No lecture this year about designated drivers, I'll just say it's been nice knowing you and I hope your family has good insurance.

Speaking of sanity, or the lack thereof, the Randolph County Chamber of Commerce, in their never-ending quest to alienate everyone on the planet, has published their list of luminaries who have distinguished themselves in one way or another throughout the year. I'm not exactly sure who votes on such things, but the list always seems to find its way onto newsprint so it must be important.

So as not to spoil the suspense, I'll give you some of the less important first. It was, by all indications, a fine year for entering contests. There were over 5,000 entries in the seventeen categories being judged. I'm not sure what this says about our county, but if I were to speculate, it might not be pretty:

Tastiest Turnips- Martha Clevinger was the only entrant here, but I'm told the mission kitchen personnel raved about the quality of her fine tuberous donations. Diners declined comment.

Fungus Most Closely Resembling The Figure Of Christ- This distinctive honor was taken home by Akhmed Mohubandi, the only known Muslim residing in Randolph County. Rumor has it that several councilmen tried to have his entry disqualified, accusing Mr. Mohubandi of using a mold. Once again, irony reigns supreme.

Most Believable Alien Abduction Story- This trophy is being retired this year. Wanda and Terrance Harpy registered only 116 accounts this year, down from last year's whopping 282. It's a shame, too. It was comforting, somehow, to think somebody was interested in us...

Topping the list this year, Miss Rotund of Randolph County was Mayor Krapping's daughter, Imelda. The buxom 41-year-old beauty is a four-time winner, reclaiming her crown after having been nosed out last year by Earl Diggs' mobile home.

I could go on and on, but some of the others are less noteworthy, and I wouldn't want to bore my readers. I know you've come to expect only the finest in literary achievement over the years, and I'd never usurp that trust. I've even learned to use Spell-Check, although I must say, upon occasion I disagree with its opinions.

As years go, this one has been memorable, even if the memories were, for the most part, associated with pain and loss. We don't get to pick what happens. We do get to choose how we adjust to it. That makes all the difference, in my opinion. I wish you well.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Any life of significant duration, no matter how publicly insipid, is apt to include a few gems of private redemption, even if only compared with our worst shortcomings. I know this as fact because one particular Tuesday I bore witness to just such an example. I remember it as Tuesday because every Tuesday finds me at Jimmy’s, a local tavern in my community placed conveniently contiguous to downtown. Jimmy’s is remarkable only by its clientele and their ability to continually amaze me. Tuesday is the hidden gem in Jimmy’s week because historically nothing of importance occurs then, excluding the second week in November every fourth year and the occasional Columbus Day or Fourth of July that might happen to fall on Tuesday, the victim of random chance. Were I a statistician inclined to crunch such data, I doubt it would be significant enough to skew my model.

The mere fact that I call Jimmy’s home every Tuesday gives yet more credence to my assertions, because outside my family and limited group of friends and/or acquaintances, I am statistically insignificant. Actually, if you’re a newcomer to Jimmy’s, I’d bet even money that past a casual visual scan of the room, you’d be likely to miss me completely and even if you did notice me, you’d ignore me as part of the furniture, a mere misplaced, ugly plant resting in the third booth from the back; a promontory of sorts that allows me to view the room’s theater without metaphorically purchasing a SAG card. It’s a ‘tweener’ seat, neither the one-dollar-special nosebleed ducat nor the more expensive field-box seat one row behind the first base dugout.

I’ve spent so many Tuesdays here that the seat cushion now forms a permanent indentation in the shape of my butt. If I scoot into the booth and miss it slightly, the ridges poke my ass until I move, an unpleasant welcome of sorts. Once in the groove, I perform the same pre-flight checks as any good pilot would, sliding my beer mug to just the right position (handle towards me and centered on the coaster), making sure the filthy ashtray isn’t close enough to stink, and moving the ketchup and mustard away from the position where I rest my arm; Roger, El Toro Ground Control, Marine Quebec Foxtrot one-four-niner is five by five and square, squawking IFF one-two-one-three and requesting clearance for takeoff on runway three-five-left. Suddenly, I wonder how the astronauts feel while waiting for the three tons of liquid propellant attached to their asses to blast them to God-knows-where, betting their lives that some civil service engineers working for government wages haven’t got an axe to grind with their superiors. Tuesday… my metaphysical connection with eternity, my dreams and hopes reduced to their lowest common denominator.

“Can I buy you a drink?”

Standing before me, blocking my view of the pool table stood ‘Arnie’, a quiet man I’d seen many times at Jimmy’s. Until now, I’d assumed he quite possibly could be mute.

“Would it require that you have one with me?” Yes, I’m rude when confronted unexpectedly; it’s a character fault I’ve long detested, especially in others.

“I’m afraid it would, yes.”

Well, at least he’s honest. What the hell, I could use a little entertainment. “Sure, sit down… but I’ll warn you in advance, I’m not gay, not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I don’t have any money to lend you.”

His face warmed slightly and a hint of a grin appeared as he slid into the booth on the opposite side of the table from me. He raised his hand and twirled his finger to alert Isabel that he needed some service. Isabel, bless her heart, signaled back and soon brought two mugs of tap beer. Isabel would never again see seventy and the arthritic knuckles on her hands bore testimony to it, but she wasn’t chatty, so I appreciated her general elegance and never failed to reward her for her professionalism. I honestly believe that one of the truest marks of a man’s character is reflected in the manner by which he treats a server.

“I’m Arnie.”

“Yes, I know.”

“I don’t know your name.”

“Yes, I know that, too.”

Arnie stared at me for a few seconds, both hands wrapped around his mug. Then, I saw the light leave his eyes as he looked away. “Okay” was all he muttered, already arising from his seat and I reached across the table and grabbed his arm.

“Hold on, man, I was just fuckin’ with you a little. My name is Earl. I’m just not used to anyone offering to buy me a beer without a motive.”

Once again he made eye contact with me, a bit more insistent now. “Who said I didn’t have a motive… Earl?”

Damn, dude… turn off the high beams! I saw passion in the man’s demeanor, not the lustful come-on approach of a stud in heat, but the deeper intensity of emotional distress. For reasons I didn’t fully understand, I offered, “Aha! Honesty… a fine trait exhibited by any man. What can I do for you, Arnie?”

Without blinking or losing eye contact, he whispered, “Kill me.”

A thousand horses pulling my arms in either direction could not have prevented me from smiling at this point. Fortunately, my mug sat harmlessly on the table instead of perched upon my lips, waiting for me to spit beer everywhere. “Geez, pal, I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me to do that. I’d like to accommodate you, but I’m afraid my dance card is pretty full right now, I’ve been volunteering at the Suicide Prevention Clinic at St. Jude’s. As soon as I leave here, there’s a fifteen-year-old girl with a personality disorder that insists she’s not worthy to make it through the night. Nice of you to think of me, though— it’s gratifying to know that you consider a total stranger the perfect choice for your executioner. It’s nothing personal you understand, I’m sure you’re worthy of a gruesome beating, but I usually tend to delay that sort of thing until after the second date.”

Again his eyes lowered and a long pause ensued. My words cut deep into some hidden tissue not meant for exposure to insult. Languorously he rubbed the inside of his palm with a thumb. Without looking up, he mouthed “It’s okay, over the years I’ve become hardened to smugness. The premise is nothing if not stark. If it’s any comfort to you, I actually expected your reaction, but I’d like to ask you a question. What would you do if you knew that every breath you took caused pain for someone you love?”

Well, he had me there. I’ve lived alone for the past fifteen years, so the concept of loved ones being hurt by my actions seemed foreign as falafel or the Noble Eightfold Path. Any dilemmas stemming from emotional bonds to a lover or mate haven’t arisen since the ugliness in Sacramento in the early ‘90’s. At one time I’d have crawled across Hell without sunscreen for my loved ones, but now…

“Okay, I get it, but, Arnie, how does someone—anyone for that matter—get up in the morning and decide ‘Well, things aren’t any better, I think I’ll walk down to the nearest beer joint and ask some slug to end it all for me’? Honestly, if it’s that bad, aren’t there legitimate agencies somewhere in the city that are supposed to deal with this sort of thing?”

Now Arnie’s face scrunched into a grimace and he placed his fingertips across his face to support his head’s weight as shoulders shook and a chortling, rhythmic series of short gasps broke the silence. I couldn’t tell whether he was laughing or crying. Then, as quickly as it started, the outburst ceased. Arnie regained his composure and wiped his eyes with a napkin hastily grabbed from the dispenser. “Sorry… the words ‘legitimate agencies’ used together may be the ultimate expression of oxymoron. I couldn’t help but laugh.”

So much for reason… “Yea, well, tell me, Arnie, how much you had to drink today? Think it might be a good idea to go home and sober up a bit before you hurt yourself… or me? I admit, our social institutions leave much to be desired, but any sort of help is better than nothing, don’t you think?”

“Earl—do you mind if I call you Earl? You see, Earl, I’ve been to every ‘social institution’ in the state. I’ve been poked and prodded so much that I could teach hematology to lab technicians. I’ve been observed, counseled, preached to and analyzed by every psychiatrist, analyst, counselor, therapist, minister and psychologist with a diploma hanging on an office wall in the tri-state area. Don’t you see, Earl, there’s simply nothing that can be done for me. I’m not drunk, I’m terminal!”

My turn to inhale deeply came and went before anyone said anything. He didn’t stutter on a single word and I saw no evident signs of delusion or other symptoms of advanced alcoholism, so I took him at his word. Terminal… the word itself is stark and sobering. Walk into a doctor’s office one day with hopes of a long life and one word walks up behind you and smacks you in the back of the head with a two-by-four. Terminal.

“Sorry…” Well, that was brilliant… such a way with words I have. If he’s looking for hope or consolation, Arnie couldn’t possibly have picked a worse companion. But, he did get my attention. “Could you share with me what’s wrong?”

“I have Alzheimer’s.”

Missing from his pronouncement was the ‘pow’ or ‘zap’ that I anticipated. Is that all? This guy is cheating me out of AIDS or liver cancer or any one of many other dread diseases that afflict human beings. “Well, correct me if I’m wrong, but can’t a person live a pretty long life with Alzheimer’s?”

Nervously scratching his out-stretched neck with his finger, he grinned and resigned himself to answer, “Yes, and therein lays the problem. My bodily functions will continue as before without the aid of conscious contribution from my mind, my humanity. Every passing day carries me further away from family and loved ones. Meanwhile, they stand and watch helplessly as all their resources are invested in my lost cause. I equate it to caring for the aging family dog that the vet can’t treat and you refuse to put down. You make him as comfortable as possible, smile and pat him on the head, and watch as he eats less and less every day, all the while looking up at you with those loyal, trusting eyes, asking you to end his misery. What do you do? You can’t save him from his fate, but he’s in no immediate danger, so you ask yourself, ‘Who am I to play God?’ and you walk away. Eventually, through the anguish he suffers, he finally gives up the ghost and mercy takes him to another plane of existence. Here, in a stuporous state of limbo poised between life and death, he spends his time until his heart finally stops beating. No, you didn’t play God. You mollified your ego, you appeased your conscience, you placated your sense of right and wrong by forcing the animal to suffer from your inertia. You’re not mean, in the societal sense, who could blame you for prolonging the life of the family pet? Yet, suffer he did… and for much longer than necessary. Then, after all is said and done, if you have a conscience, it’ll start asking why you didn’t have the stones to make the right decision.”

Arnie paused, as though suddenly exhausted by his words. “Please help me. I am that dog.”

I didn’t know what to say. The man showed no signs of inebriation, and I held no doubt that his words were sincere. “I still don’t understand why you picked me. I’ve given you no reason to think you could trust me whatsoever. You walk over here, buy me a beer and ask me to commit murder? In what world does sitting by one’s self in a booth near the rear door of a beer joint qualify someone as an assassin? Is there some deep truth revealed only to you by the way I don’t say too much? You have to admit, Arnie, this is quite a bit to lay on a guy. I feel like I’ve been dropped into an episode of The Twilight Zone! If I didn’t know that Rod Serling is already dead, I might suspect that you’re sizing me up as a test-market stooge.”

“Bizarre, indeed… but why not you, Earl? I admit that I’m losing stretches of time, so I don’t really know how long you’ve been coming in here, but I don’t recall ever hearing you say more than a few words to anyone. The fact that you keep to yourself makes you an attractive candidate for the job I want done. I merely assumed that since you keep your own counsel, you’re intelligent enough to understand why I want you to end my life and the importance of silence once it’s done. But there are other considerations that make it necessary for me to act swiftly.”

“And what considerations might those be?”

“I’m married, Earl, and have a family whom I love with all my heart. Therefore, I also have some insurance on my life. However, since I’m not wealthy, I opted for a policy that won’t pay under certain circumstances, among them being suicide, death while on a private or commercial conveyance, etc. Instead, I bought a rider that pays double indemnity should I meet my maker as a result of unprovoked felonious assault. I’ve already had one stroke and I could have another at any time. If that happens, my family loses $150,000.”

“Aha! Insurance fraud! And I get to do twenty-five-to-life so that you don’t have to.”

“Assuming that you get caught, I suppose that would be a possible consequence, yes.”

“Yea, well, listen, Arnie, it’s getting late. I enjoyed our little heart-to-heart talk here, and it was damned nice of you to buy me a beer before you asked me to, uh, help you out, but I think I’m going to pass. As I said before, it’s not personal, but I usually try to avoid killing people, even if they ask me nicely. I wouldn’t want your problem, that’s true enough. In fact, I wouldn’t wish your circumstances on my worst enemy. That being said, truth be known, I don’t have the stones, as you so eloquently pointed out a little earlier. However, if you’re really serious, perhaps you could get a pistol and grab a hostage, maybe a cute little blonde girl walking home from school. Then, call the cops and tell them that if they don’t come to your house immediately, you’ll kill her. Within minutes they’ll form a perimeter around your house and start negotiations. At that point, you can put your pistol in your waistband and open your front door. I’ll personally guarantee you that as soon as you reach for that pistol, they’ll happily fulfill your most fervent desire and blow your ass away. Suicide by cop... get it? Nobody will get hurt, except you, of course, and that won’t be for very long. Problem solved; your wife gets her money and I don’t have to go to prison.”

“That’s a dandy scenario, Earl, one that I realized early on. Only one problem— the felonious assault rider wouldn’t kick in for the double indemnity payment since the police would be well within their rights and duty. An attorney assured me that the language is very specific and enforceable. I’m afraid I’m going to have to decline, but I appreciate the effort.”

With that, Arnie got up, shook my hand and walked out the back door. I spent the better part of the next hour sitting in that booth, drinking several more beers and contemplating the situation. At one point, Isabel came back and asked me if I was okay. I allowed as how I was, thank you very much.

Isabel placed both hands on the table palm down, leaned over and moved her head a little closer to me than I deemed comfortable and asked, “Did he ask you to kill him?”

“What? Naaaa…” I lied, not wishing any further complicity in this sordid business. “He just wanted to, uh, borrow some money.”

Isabel gave me her Okay, liar… have it your way glare and walked away. I wondered how many times she’d had that conversation with other patrons. Then it occurred to me how terrible it must be to spend the last years of one’s life not knowing whether you’re coming or going… or neither. Suddenly, the beer tasted flat and warm; time for me to go home.

The short walk to my car in the back parking lot started out like any other. The dimly lit area offered haven to the occasional itinerant enjoying a flask of cheap Sangria while propped against the building, so when my car lights flashed on the human form lying against the concrete abutment forming the curb, I almost didn’t stop. But I recognized the coat—it was Arnie’s coat. After shutting the car off, I took my flashlight out of the glove compartment and walked over to the unmoving hulk. Carefully rolling the shoulders around so that I could see the face, I realized that it was Arnie. A quick check of his carotid revealed no pulse or signs of a struggle, so I sighed and looked around. Damn you, Arnie, this is hitting below the belt! How dare you stroke out on me? I walked back over to the car, took my gloves out off the seat and put them on, and unhooked my tire iron from its holder in the trunk.

Walking back to the body, I rehashed our one and only conversation. Finally, satisfied that I was doing what Arnie would have wanted, I swung the tire iron as hard as I could and felt the thud as it made contact with Arnie’s head. Then, I took his wallet from his pants pocket, removed the seventeen dollars inside and threw the leather holder next to the corpse.

Double indemnity… I’m sure Arnie would have considered the seventeen dollars small enough payment to insure his legacy. It could only have happened on a Tuesday.

Bob Church©2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Camels Moo And So Can You

Camels Moo And So Can You
by Bob Church

Well, I've been busy since we last got together here. Instead of writing (I think you'd agree that I've pretty much mastered that), I decided I'd take up art as my next field of endeavor. Above, you can see my very first creation. No, that's okay, you don't have to just start sending me money, I'm only too happy to be able to create it. Of course, when the American Society of Fine Art calls and asks me to sell it to them for millons of dollars, I suppose I'll cave in and, despite my most dogged efforts to retain my amateur standing, sell it to them... but only because I want the entire world to be able to experience it when it hangs next to other works by the great masters.

And I owe it all to a highly-technical and sophisticated computer program called 'Paint' that I found in my 'Accessories' pull-down box. I'm sure it was Microsoft's error, that they couldn't possibly mean to offer something so absolutely 'cutting-edge' to everyone. Truth is, I'd never noticed it before, and if I had, there'd probably already be hundreds of irreplaceable works of art that my genius mind engendered.

Well, enjoy it now, everyone... because someday you'll have to pay to see it in the Louvre. I must admit, though... it doesn't look as good on the side of my house as it does here.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Yes, But Is It Art?

If only I’d listened to my inner voice, chances are I wouldn’t have sat down across from the man. Inexperience with train voyages left me vulnerable to the whims of travelers. Perhaps if I’d been more worldly, I’d have found another seat across from the old lady with the support hose rolled down below her knees or even sat next to the kid in Tommy Hilfiger gear currently stretched out across two seats.

Thinking back on it, I recall speculating that this man’s presence on the 9:13 a.m. train to Sheboygan, the commuter Day-Tripper, was an augury of malevolence—an omen of villainous treachery. Heavily jowled and dressed in a plain black suit, he personified evil incarnate. I envisioned scenarios of intrigue and danger perched just below the surface of his scowling demeanor waiting to pounce at precisely the right moment; his hypnotic gaze, perched just behind Peter Lorre eyes, invited the unwary victim to step into the parlor and enjoy a cool lemonade and perhaps one of his Aunt Martha’s delicious oatmeal cookies.

Eyes may be the windows unto the soul, but even though an immovable concrete stare greeted me as I placed my bag beneath the seat, I associated only emptiness with his vacuous gaze. Any presence of grace remained hidden in some poorly evolved recess of his psyche, protected by that stare. Worse, he appeared to suffer from some visual anomaly that caused his eyes to seek different focal points, the right focused on me while the left peered at one of the ads prominently displayed above the window.

“Hello.” I offered, still fumbling nervously with my satchel, smiling briefly and nodding in his direction.
“You’re very brave, most people won’t sit across from me.”

“Really… why is that?”

He said nothing for a few seconds. Then, after shifting his weight slightly and jerking his head away from me momentarily, “I suffer from a yeast problem in my groin area that emits a perceivable odor evident upon venturing a little too close.”

A little more information than I might have expected, to be sure. Still, I found his honesty refreshing, if a bit troubling on several different levels. “Well, I’ll keep that in mind, thank you for alerting me. I hope you won’t be insulted if I move, should I find it intolerable.”

“I’m a farmer.” Again, the stare/gaze overtook me.

“Is that so? I might have missed that.”

“Yes, I raise Altoids.”

My turn to stare. “Really? I guess that would explain the yeast problem.”


He seemed genuinely taken aback by my comment and offered nothing by way of counterpoint for several seconds, choosing instead to make uncomfortable eye contact with me while removing some nose material and flicking it onto the floor.

“Never mind…" I said calmly, pausing to rub my hand on my shirt in some sort of sympathy-wipe, hoping he'd take the hint, "I was just making conversation.”

The remainder of the trip developed along those lines. By the time we reached our destination, against my will I learned that sextants have nothing whatsoever to do with physical intimacy, cumulonimbus clouds were a major factor in the scourge of scurvy during the seventeenth century, the inventor of the extended warranty died at the age of forty-seven and his wife received a replacement husband within thirty days, lap dances are deductible as entertainment expenses, and that it is illegal to shout “theater!” in a crowded fire. It's amazing what passes for intrigue these days.

As the train pulled into the station, I got up and grabbed my bag. I started to walk past him, and he stuck his hand out into the aisle. With eyes imploring me to grab it, he said, "Nice talking with you."

"No offense," I said, "but, I don't shake hands."
Then, feeling the necessity to offer some sort of explanation for my violation of social etiquette, I stammered, "I'm... I'm allergic to Altoids."

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Nitrogen Narcosis at Sea Level

Nitrogen Narcosis at Sea Level

I’ve long since given up any hopes I might once have held for becoming a neurosurgeon. Neither does destiny favor my opportunities for a career as a professional baseball player, porn star or circuit judge in anyone’s district court system, although I once considered it a distinct possibility that any one of these vocations would suit me just fine.

Unfortunately, as it turns out, I’m physically unqualified for several of these occupations and scholastically excluded from the others. Evidently, enthusiasm for a particular subject can only carry a person so far; then, actual qualifications and/or credentials have to be produced.

Besides, who would hire someone as an apprentice jurist who’d nearly reached mandatory retirement age? I can’t prove it but I suspect that a movie producer might quickly become annoyed with his new adult movie star who could only perform once a week.

Now, some might find these realities a total waste of time, a disservice, really… but for those of us who’ve lived vicariously through our associations with people who make their livings as ball players, et al, much satisfaction is derived from the effort. The trick is to keep adding to your available supply of worthy subjects.

So I decided to take a walk. Surely, if I looked around a little, I could find someone worthy of emulation from afar.

It's a fairly nice day where I live, one of those days that remind you why you're here, one of those days when you feel like you're a part of something bigger, something important, like you’re plugged into some massive generator; like you are an essential part of a machine that never stops churning. It's one of those days when the sidewalks feel like they're vibrating underneath you as you walk. Or maybe I’m just about to stroke out… I’ll know pretty soon, one way or the other.

Almost immediately after I stepped out onto Morley Street, the main drag through our burgh, some lady with two strollers plowed into me. Not only was she pushing two strollers, she was carrying four bags of groceries, wrapped around each of her arms like a straitjacket. She was so harried that she not only didn't apologize when she almost knocked me over, I'm not sure she even noticed. One of her babies was wailing; the other was playing with a bag of frozen peas. The woman wasn't being chased by anyone, but she might as well have been; she was so caught up in what was assuredly a stressful journey home, so single-minded in her attempt to get home as quickly as humanly possible, that if I hadn’t been wearing pants, I doubt she’d have noticed. And even more troubling, this seemed to be a regular thing for her… this pushing of children, this carrying of bags, this nonstop journey from point A to point B. As I quickly assessed her qualifications for vicarious selection, I wondered how long her life had been like this. She was young; I bet it wasn't more than five years ago that her friends held her hair back as she threw up in the back of some shithole apartment, doing jello shots and smoking reefer while Nirvana’s In Utero droned in the background. When did it switch for her? When did the tide turn? It was probably a gradual thing. She felt she was getting older, that the world was starting to close in on her, she met a nice guy, she settled down, she had children (twins!), and before she knew it, she was carting the sum of her existence down a nondescript street in Moberly freaking Missouri, aware of nothing but this. She had the look of someone who had not thought about herself in a long, long time.

No, I’d have to look further.

Two kids are hanging out in front of the Dollar Store. They're always here, whether the store is open or not. They're black kids, and they're always passing their headphones back and forth. They're obviously very bored. They always comment when someone comes into the store; when I went in to buy toilet paper the other day, they saw my bald head and said "Hey, here comes Chrome Dome." They laughed and so did I, trying to show that I get it, I'm hip, and they scoffed at me, told me to "laugh it up, Baldy, maybe tomorrow I'll pop a cap in your ass." Sometimes a third kid joins them, but I don't think they like him very much, even though he clearly likes them, or at least wants their approval. He'll stand there, next to them, talking more than they are, and they treat him like he's not there. Occasionally I'll see him standing there by himself, waiting for them to show up. I suspect he'll wait a very long time, if necessary. I wonder if he considers them his best friends. I bet he does… maybe I should talk to him about living vicariously.

I continue down Morley. There's a bar called Murphy’s less than two blocks from my house which, every time I look in there, seems to have the same five people in it. They're the retired types who come in around ten in the morning, set a stack of bills in front of them and just let the bartenders refill their drinks and take from the stack at their leisure. They don't seem sad, or happy; they barely talk. The bar has a TV, tuned to CNN. They just stare straight ahead, sipping their drink… tired of the world, I think. I wonder how they got this way, too. I wonder what their home is like. I imagine it is spare and dark. If the bar didn't close, they'd never go home. I sometimes go to Murphy’s myself, when I want the same experience of solitude among strangers. I've never talked to any of them and none of them have ever talked to me. It's a comfort.

In front of me, a couple is fighting, desperately trying to disguise their argument from the world… and failing miserably. I can't make out the specifics of their tiff, but apparently there's something that he always does that drives her crazy, something that makes her feel she is making a mistake by continuing to be with him, and that he has little desire to stop doing it. She is saying, "I don't know why you always do this," and he is trying to ignore her, walking faster and looking away, but she is right behind him and she is speeding up, trying unsuccessfully to catch him and walk beside him. So, I speed up, too, to stay with them, and she is starting to yell now, and what had been his mutterings a few seconds earlier are starting to become shouts. He is now waving his arms in a robotic manner, as if this is a conversation he has had too many times already and lacks the energy to give even the most feeble resistance. He says something to her that I can't make out, and she stops and begins to cry. He tries to keep walking, wants desperately to keep walking, but he can't now, and he turns to come back to her, looking sympathetic and guilty, and I speed past the both of them and know exactly how they both feel. Momentarily, I considered stopping and asking them if they’d like a new apprentice friend, but thought better of it. Usually, times like this are not conducive to the success of fledgling relationships.

Because it's such a nice day, two women are having brunch outside of a fancy French bistro. The place screams pretentiousness. I haven’t personally visited this bistro before, but one of my friends assures me it’s exactly what you'd suspect: shitty service, rude wait staff, overrated food, and way too expensive. Places like this are always crowded for reasons that escape me. The two women, probably in their late twenties, are dressed in business suits and have leather handbags next to them. They are wearing a lot of makeup. They both went on dates last night, and they're deconstructing the dates, evidently the most fun part of the entire experience, judging from their laughter. One was going on and on about her date's face; I guess he had a bad acne problem in high school and still carries the scars. He's a lawyer, it seems, and he tried to kiss her good night, and she was kinda grossed out but kissed him anyway, and if he calls, she'll go out with him again… sure, why not. The waiter comes by, and the two women scowl and complain to him about something. He looks apologetic but probably isn't, he probably hates them… probably hates all of them.

Suddenly, I crave a mint, so I walk into a Rite-Aid and stand in line behind a man who is having trouble with his credit card. He is saying that this is impossible, that his card works just fine, and why can't they just run it again? The woman behind the counter doesn't really care and just wants to go home; she runs the card again, and then another card, and then another… and none of them are working, so the guy starts to yell and the woman never changes her apathetic expression. He throws his hands in the air, curses, and storms toward the exit. He is moving too fast, though, and he smacks right into the automatic doors. The woman behind the counter smirks, gives me and my mints the once-over, shakes her head sadly and says, "Okay, you’re next, Rockefeller".

It's starting to get dark, so it’s time to go home. I buy some Diet Pepsi and some batteries for my mouse. My wife isn't home from work yet, so I shut off all the lights in my house, sit down at my computer and begin to type. It is so simple here, so peaceful. I see so many people out there, who don't know what they're doing in this world, who are just like me. I wonder where they find their peace. I wonder where they go to slow everything down, to try to make some sense out of the chaos, to try to strip out some meaning from a planet that is doggedly determined not to provide it. I wonder where they step outside of themselves and relax, and think, and just be. This is where I find it. Alone, in a dark room, listening to the screams of Nirvana, the sound of helplessness. This is the only place I know to go. I fear that I might be lost without it. Sometimes I feel it is all that I have. What else can I do? I’m too old to become a neurosurgeon.

Bob Church©2007

Friday, December 07, 2007

Doing The Hopi-Dope

*** Note: This is an excerpt from Harley Leathers, Man of Distinction

No one knew Harley's politics. For that matter, neither did Harley, most of the time. If you caught him on one of those rare lucid moments before he started force-feeding Grand Marnier, he might give you a glimpse into his psyche if the sudden dyspeptic effect of the liqueur didn't bring on a spasm of projectile vomiting and all of the unpleasantness associated with it. More than likely, though, at some point, it would become a rambling diatribe of clich├ęs, designed to show you that he had enough short term memory to recall Rush Limbaugh's most recent spate of verbal diarrhea; and he felt no compunction whatsoever about arguing both sides of a political debate, often simultaneously.

Although he would have been the last to admit it, Harley Leathers was a drunk, or at least a quasi-drunk. His habit had started innocently enough, while he was still in grade school. Mom hadn't been in the picture for most of Harley's young life. Harley’s after-school routine consisted of fixing the meals, taking care of any chores that simply had to be done, and short of the bedroom, generally serving as a surrogate mother to his father and siblings. He and his father would share a glass of wine at dinner, and after the old man passed out, Harley would grab the remainder of the hooch and head for his tree. On more than one occasion the police had rudely awakened Harley’s father after a concerned neighbor had called and told the officers they’d heard a loud thunk and a moan outside. Dad would then accompany the policemen to the back yard, where they would invariably find young Harley laying under that big oak tree, sleeping like a baby. Usually, if there were no broken bones, they'd just carry the sleeping lad up to his room, where he would remain until he woke up, sometimes even in time for school the next morning. If the authorities had ever gotten suspicious and run a blood alcohol test on the boy, poor Harley would likely have become an orphan for all intents and purposes, as he spent his weekdays in foster care and his Saturdays visiting his father at the State Penitentiary.

Daddy passed away shortly after Harley’s seventeenth birthday, leaving no will, no insurance and no hope for Harley to ever develop a sense of family. After a makeshift funeral of sorts held at the mausoleum where Harley had Daddy cremated, the local mechanic who worked on Daddy's car showed up, proclaiming that Daddy owed him for a short-block overhaul he'd done about two or three years earlier, and would Harley mind if he took said car in payment of the debt. There was not any real decision that Harley could have made, other than to say yes, considering that the mechanic was a brother-in-law to the mausoleum proprietor who had agreed to torch Daddy in return for the Browning 12-gauge pump shotgun he’d borrowed several years earlier and forgot to return, but the gold plated brass urn would be another fifty dollars, of course. Harley had opted for the economy model, a plain brown lunch bag. After the "service" he had carried the sack down to Hack’s Pond, where he dumped Daddy off the dock. Harley kept the bag as a keepsake.

A hard rain battered the building’s tin roof, providing a staccato cadence and intensifying the muted drumming of the droplets upon the pavement. As usual, the front door to the Plainsman remained open; April weather in Colorado, neither hot nor humid this year, demanded no air conditioning. The shower served two purposes. First, the wind blew all the notices off the bulletin board posted by the front door. Second, the thunder woke up Harley Leathers about an hour before he usually got up from his afternoon nap. When Ruth, owner of the Plainsman and Harley's faithful bartender/friend saw him stir, she thought to herself, 'oh, shit'... If he became aware that it was raining outside, she knew it would be difficult to stop him from stripping buck-naked and doing his Hopi Fertility Dance in the parking lot. This had been a ritual Harley started about six or seven years previous. Harley had been romancing Quickie Delgado, the AT&T operator/escort entrepreneur and both of them were getting pretty wasted. Ruth disappeared into the walk-in to check a beer keg and returned to find the fifteen or so patrons standing around the front door, and a quick glance showed Harley's stool holding nothing but an untidy stack of clothing. Judging from the war whoops of encouragement offered by the appreciative onlookers, Ruth knew that it wouldn't be long before the police arrived, so she stomped outside and attempted to retrieve the amorous duo before they got so far out of hand that she'd have to bail them both out of the hoosegow.

"For Christ sakes, Harley, act your age! Good God, look at you! Who the hell you trying to impress? Quickie has seen your ass more times than your proctologist, you damned fool!" she screamed out the door. The frolicking couple continued to bunny-hop across the parking lot, trying to jump in the middle of any puddles formed in the potholes. Once in a while, they'd look up, see Ruth, and wave and smile. Soon, watching those two lunatics doing the hokey-pokey in the rain, even Ruth was laughing out loud, hiding her face in Charley Connerly's shirt every time Quickies's boobs bounced.

"Oh, to hell with both of you, get your ass thrown in jail, see if I care!" she muttered, walking back inside and shaking her head in disbelief. Ruth looked up at Charley and asked, "Charley, if you saw any serious signs that I was going off my rocker, you'd say something, wouldn't you?"

Charley grinned and replied, "And just exactly how the hell would I be able to tell?" Both friends laughed as she walked behind the bar and poured him another beer. It was going to be a long night...

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Bubba and His One-Hit Wonders

Hiya, kids... it's "Two-fer Thursday" at Bubba's Theater Of and For the Bizarre. In my previous post I offered to make you a movie, so now I'll take you into a scene. Relax... I'll even buy the popcorn:

" It's something unpredictable, but in the end it's right, I hope you have the time of your life..."

The faint words emanated from the song being broadcast by the FM station Forrest had selected the previous evening. He didn't know who wrote the words, but they mirrored his own sentiments as he gazed at the lovely creature sleeping so naturally in his bed. The night had provided splendors he’d only rarely experienced. He wanted to— check that—had to know more about her. This was no ordinary woman, by any assessment. She seemed to know what was in his mind at every juncture and played him like a Stradivarius. Every sensuous move choreographed as if by some instinctive gene bonded to a site deep within his psyche, controlled his thoughts and movements. She brought him close to ecstasy again and again, knowing precisely when to back off, when to tease, when to become the kitten of his dreams; ultimately she willed him to her every whim, leaving him spent, yet wanting more.

Always leave them wanting more. Wasn't it P.T. Barnum who had said that? Maybe not, but it fit. The entire night became his personal three-ring circus, and his multi-tasking roles became lion tamer, strong man, and yes, even clown. But her acrobatic high-wire act ultimately resulted in her becoming ringmaster. Never had he been so dominated in bed, so out of control. He both loved and despised her for it. The exhilaration, magnificent as it was, could bring complications in its aftermath. Wasn't it also P.T. Barnum who said there was a sucker born every minute?

Please Make A Movie About Me

I was thinking the other day, and I know it probably sounds, you know, just crazy, but I thought to myself, ‘you know, as irrational and dysfunctional as I am, I'll bet that, if the right filmmaker got involved, maybe somebody could make a movie dramatizing various aspects of my life’. Now, just hear me out, I think I'm onto something here.

There's a lot about me that audiences would find very amusing, I think. I’m an arguably intelligent, only-somewhat self-hating ex-Catholic who's obsessed with sex, whose many and sundry neuroses and insecurities could lead to any number of mixups and character complications that would leave the audience grateful that they aren’t me. There have been some pretty funny things that have happened in my life, too. You could probably fictionalize some of it if you wanted to… that might work. Either way, I think there's a lot of good material contained within my roughly sixty years spent sucking up precious oxygen that could be utilized more effectively by a more productive member of society.

I'm talking kind of an overall "triumphs and tribulations of the daily routines of various Midwestern pseudointellectuals and/or Wal-Mart shoppers as they go about their daily lives" kind of a thing. I've thought of a title (it's a little self-indulgent, I realize that, please don’t hate me for being clever, I’m not forcing you to use it if you don't like it, it’s merely a suggestion). It's Bubba: Bonkers. Think of it as Citizen Kane meets Porky’s.

I live in rural Missouri, so any film about my life could feature beautiful shots of brown winter corn fields (at least I think they're corn fields), Flink’s Fun Palace, VFW Post # 214, and, yes, even Moberly State Prison. I know many great locations and would be happy to jot them down if you're interested.

The movie could open in a totally red room, and let's say Lucifer and I are verbally jousting, you know, just trying to assert our dominance. Lucifer asks me, "Do you think you’re worthy of admission into Hell, or should I send you to a boring eternity in Heaven?" And I’d tell him, "I'll go wherever you want as long as I’m not stuck behind the farmer driving his combine on County Road DD."

This scene, as well as many others I could probably think of, expresses my pre-occupation with death, and shows that our time on Earth is totally meaningless… and isn’t that the central theme of all great dramatic stories?

Then you could cut to an older me (played by myself, of course), having a dispute with the younger me (played by Brad Pitt or me), about whether or not I should engage in sexual intercourse with a beautiful young student enrolled at the local beauty academy. Eventually, I’d decide to go ahead and sleep with her because she reminds me, in the heat of the moment, that if I don't "get on with it already" I'll be late for my appointment with the proctologist.

Also, it could be interesting to show audiences from whence my insecurities and neuroses stem. A scene depicting me as a young boy being harangued by my strict, no-nonsense parents around the dinner table could be played for great comic effect. Or, you could flashback to my first Communion. I'm on my knees at the altar rail with all the other kids (this was before Vatican ll), trying to look like I really gave a damn about what was going on, and suddenly my mother runs out of the church crying because I spit out the Host (it tasted really funky). I look over to the priest for comfort, but he's been replaced by Brian Dennehy, who in his overly-dramatic, pink, overtly-Irish demeanor, speaking directly to the camera, announces to everyone in the parish that my Communion doesn’t count and that I’m, in all likelihood, going straight to Hell… and that in gym class last week I had been unable do a single pull-up.

Now, I'm just throwing this out there, but a good framing device for this picture could be my various meetings with my shrink. This would really illustrate to audiences that I have, you know, inner doubts and problems with human contact. So, I meet my therapist, Dr. Penick—a strict Freudian—at a local bar/deli/coffeehouse that only three people know about: me, Penick, and a drop-dead gorgeous, sexy college co-ed, who is only made sexier by her hankering for sausage.

These are just a few ideas. There are all sorts of themes from my life that could be utilized as cinematic material. Play it straight like Bergman or immortalize the slapstick efforts of Fellini (to the dismay of his fair-weather fans, sadly) my life offers a series of comic, yet deeply poignant insecurities about the meaning of life as an artist— a rich thematic vein, if I do say so myself, a film structured around that sort of inner dilemma. Or, if you wanted, you could just exemplify the whole "What is the role of the artist in an age when mediocrity is rewarded by the mainstream" question.

Actually, there's probably enough material to make more than one movie about my life, but, good God, look at me… let's not get all, you know, optimistic or overly enthusiastic.

Either way, there could be a film in this, and a funny one at that. It's a mixture of character humor and some solid ‘God, is this guy lame’ gags. I admit, it might not break any box-office records with some of today's audiences in big cities like Davenport and Peoria (they’re all absolute philistines), but I have a feeling it would do respectable business in Randolph County, and possibly in Calcutta or Poland.

Oh, and I would be willing to appear in such a movie… you know, if you needed a super-star actor or something to that effect. I'm just saying...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Oh, Blasphemous Tuesday

I wish I’d written the Bible… then, I’d be famous instead of a bunch of long-dead prophets and such. I could have done it, too. I’m pretty good at pointing out other folks’ weaknesses, transgressions, sins, shortcomings, foibles and the like… and I get a big kick out of using pronouns such as thy, thou and thee. Honestly, I think that in a former life, I just may have been Bill Shakespeare, except I’m sure I wouldn’t have written the play about the dude who’s getting it on with his mama. That’s a little freaky, wouldst thou not agree?

As far as that goes, I think old Bill would have been a pretty fair Bible author in his own right. He seemed to have a pretty clear-cut idea about right and wrong and he sure had a way of dealing with royalty. He’d have straightened ol’ Pilate out before he had a chance to do his dirty work. He’d have merely pointed out that "They say best men are moulded out of faults." That would have sent Pilate scurrying to a merchant in Venice or Rome or Judea or wherever he was at the time…

"Words are easy, like the wind; Faithful friends are hard to find." Makes sense, and the editors at the Bible publishing house would have loved it, but poor Bill wasn’t much of a poet… he didn’t even make his phrases rhyme. Why didn’t he say something like “Eat a watermelon rind; Faithful friends are hard to find.” Now that’s poetry… I just wish I’d been there to help the poor guy.

Old King Lear was a jolly old quee
— wait, that ain’t right… that wasn’t Shakespeare, was it? Anyway, you get the point. He used all that flowery language just like they did in the Bible, while at the same time making sense...sorta. He could even written some dialogue for Jesus or maybe even God:

"I do love nothing in the world so well as you: is not that strange?"

"The hand that made you fair hath made you good."

"Blessed are the peacemakers on earth."

Yea… that works for me. William, my man, thou art cool.