A voyeuristic view of life inside a small American town, one household at a time. Free today. Amazon.
Baseball season is upon us so I felt it appropriate to post this snippet today. I remember well my brother playing baseball May through August, and me, sitting in the stands with my mother who wore a bright yellow t-shirt reading: I’M POOR AND LIVE IN JOHNSON COUNTY. An in-joke, if you know how affluent our zip code happens to be. And us, scrapping every week, barely making it on government cheese and powdered milk. But alas, there’s always baseball to carry one away from life’s little miseries. This story, from a book of interconnected tales amid a fictional Midwestern town, concerns two brothers, Saul and Pete. Saul is angsty and wants to escape before anyone else makes a grab for his dignity, and Pete, older and wiser, is helplessly tied to the surroundings via Vera, an amazonian sex-starved pistol wielding girlfriend. A missing Mickey Mantle card might be the ticket away from all this chaos, but who’s willing to sell the remnants of their soul to get it?
From ‘Woodsocket, U.S.A.’ Free for download for the next two days. As always , thanks for reading!
The Mickey Mantle
“Bases are loaded,” Saul announced, loaf of French bread raised to an angle. “I’m gonna hit this sucker into the meat department and have myself a home run. You got that, Pete?”
Pete shook his head real slow. He drew his arm back for the pitch then spun forward, releasing a tangerine bullet. Saul’s eyes locked onto the citrus. He took a swing and stumbled. The two of them watched it fly over their heads in a perfect arch. It could get real quiet in the IGA at eight a.m.
In the next aisle a painful cry rang out.
Pete and Saul ran to see.
Mrs. Kuhn stood in a green moo-moo rubbing a hand at the back of her neck.
“You all right, Mrs. Kuhn?” Saul was trying so hard not to laugh.
“I don’t actually know. Something hit me. Out of nowhere. I—I was just reachin’ for a can of tuna.”
There was a red mark the size of a baseball on her neck, and a juicy tangerine at her feet. Saul watched Pete’s boot tip punt the thing so it disappeared under a nearby shelf. “Maybe something fell off a row here, Mrs. Kuhn. You should be more careful.” Pete grabbed some Fish of the Sea and put it in her cart. “Tell the girls up front that this is free, okay?”
Her eyes darted back and forth between the two brothers. “That’s nice of you. How you two boys doing? Your father is sorely missed in this town.”
Pete got real shy when folks mentioned Dad. Saul just felt like smashing stuff.
“We’re just fine, Mrs. Kuhn. Don’t forget to tell ‘em it’s free.” Pete shooed her off and the two of them stood in the aisle for a moment.
Saul hauled up and hit his older brother in the shoulder. “You think we can go to the Pit Stop tonight instead of eating that hamburger you left in the fridge?”
“No. It’s goin’ rotten and we gotta use it up. We can go to the Pit some other time. I don’t wanna be hanging out there anyway, not with Vera coming around with that pistol of hers. She didn’t take so well to me and her breaking up the other night.”
“Well, maybe I’ll go and you can stay home.” Saul really wanted to go to the Pit Stop. He didn’t enjoy hanging around the house every night watching the boob tube. Living with your brother was supposed to be fun, not like being married.
“Go on then, if you dare, but she said she might take aim at you as well. She’s plenty pissed.”
Saul started to rethink his plans. Vera, when vengeful, would torture a man until he’d beg for a kick to the crotch, just for mercy. Just then he heard a shuffle coming from the next aisle. Sharon Wilke turned the corner in heavy white sneakers and pants too tight for someone to be wearing with a rear end like hers. Sharon was the direct opposite of someone like Vera, and was as soft and malleable as veal. He loved to tease her.
“Wallomp, wallomp,” Saul chanted.
She stopped in place and turned around real slow. She raised a nervous hand to her neck. “Good morning, Saulie.”
“You’re too fat for those pants. I can see your underwear.”
Her bottom lip trembled. Saul pretended not to see the starving way she looked at him in his jeans. He threw a fist into his other palm, like an invisible mitt was there. “Don’t ya got anything insulting to say back to me today, huh Sharon?”
She sniffed a second, then threw a hip out and reached inside her shirt. “Yeah. Look what I got, a Willie Mays. A real, honest Willie Mays. Got it in the mail yesterday. Pretty, ain’t it?”
“Ah hell, everybody’s got a stupid Mays. Show me a Mickey Mantle and I’ll get excited.”
“Maybe I have one of those too. Maybe there’s one in my house right now, you never know.”
“I’ll bet there ain’t.” Then he called her something terrible. The worst word of all.
She looked about to cry. “Well, there might be.”
“Might or is?” He was a little worried she might get him fired for using a word like that, but he was almost past caring. She hadn’t earned that manager job, she’d been born into it just because her uncle owned the store.
She stuffed Willie Mays back into her bra and stopped pouting. “You’re right. I don’t have a Mantle. I was just bullshitting you for fun and you almost fell for it. Guess I’d better go open those front registers.” She shuffled off, shoes leaving a squeak with every step.
Saul emptied two boxes of legumes before he said anything to Pete. “I bet she doesn’t have it.”
“Bet you’re right.”
“‘Cause if she did, she’d be waving it in my face.”
“Mmhmm.” Pete was probably thinking about the hamburgers and how he could dress them up with red onions, Vidalias, like they’d put out the day before.
“But if she does have a Mantle, why, I might go have a look in her house just to see. What do you think?”
Pete shifted his legs. “I think you’re crazy.”
Holy shit, am I nervous. This feels like a door I’m walking through, one that’ll change the entire world. When I drive by twice without stopping, I get the feeling I might not ever do it at all, so I pull in with a screech of tires and yank up the brake.
I’m not wearing anything special, just a pair of cut off shorts, and a t-shirt with a faded picture of Mick Jagger across the front. Daddy would say it wasn’t enough clothing, but it feels fine to me. I like the way the shorts make my legs look longer. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn them. Maybe I should have put on some jeans instead. I look at my face in the Ford’s rearview mirror and waste a minute or two putting on lipstick and smoking a cigarette in the parking lot because it calms me down. I figure I’m being as yellow as a chicken, so I grab my keys and purse, and head straight to his door and knock three times, sort of quiet.
He answers without saying a word; his whole body just sort of shifts to the side to allow me in.
“Thought you wouldn’t show,” he says as I walk past.
“Then you were wrong.”
He’s rented a single occupancy. One bed. It’s tiny and there’s a suitcase on top. The windows seem to be calling me to come over, so I do. “I’ve always wanted to see what the highway looks like from this section of town,” I say looking through smudged glass. “It’s not very impressive is it? Just a big, ugly stripe of black and little cars going by. It used to be a one-lane, but after a tornado came through and knocked the bridge off, we cut up another lane and paved it with stinky asphalt. I guess that makes us a real town.”
“I guess it does,” he says from behind.
“President Kennedy stayed here once, perhaps in this very room. And Elvis too.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” I say, watching a big-rig race by with the words PURE MILK on it. “Any reason. But they only stopped for one night each. We’re a one-night town, I guess.”
I turn and there’s almost nothing to look at but his shoulder, but I look anyway. “Is there something I can sit on besides the bed?”
He walks over and lifts a dark blue suit off the only chair in the room. Its pea-green upholstery almost matches the curtains. I sit. It’s cold near the air conditioning unit and the mist has a musty smell. The straps on my sandals are cutting into my ankles and I’d like to take them off, but the carpet looks stained.
“Would you like something to drink?” he asks, draping the suit over the bathroom door.
I’m about to say no, but a drink would do me good.
“What do you have?”
“Nothing special.” He pulls a bottle of Jim Beam from a paper sack. “I bought it today,” he says and pours us both a glass. Before I can grab mine, he holds it away. “Sure you’re old enough?”
“Of course I am. Don’t I look it?”
“Sometimes you do. But most of the time, you don’t.”
“Well, I am.” I wait for the drink, and when he gives it to me I show off by knocking it down in lightning speed.
“Have you ever let someone take your picture before?” He sits on the edge of the bed, right near me. Like, I can smell his breath. He’s not wearing any shoes. Everything about him is fresh with another white t-shirt and jeans that aren’t faded. He’s washed his hair, or put gel in it or something.
“I’m not here to have my picture taken,” I say.
“Then what are you here for.”
“Just to see what you do. I mean, I want to see the pictures. I don’t want to be in them, just see them.” But that’s a lie, because I do want to be in them. Just not the way he thinks.
“What a shame. You’d be real good, though you don’t have the model look, you have more of a natural look.”
“You make me sound like a raccoon.”
“It’s not a bad thing.”
“Am I ever going to see those pictures?”
He sips on his drink. Just when I think I might as well leave because he’s taking too much time, he gets up and starts searching through a suitcase for something. He pulls out a folder. I may be off on the numbers, but there’s a hundred or something, there’s a lot. With a grunt he hands it to me.
“I like to call it, ‘Tits Across America.’ Don’t get ‘em out of their plastic.”
Sexy girls, women, in clothes, some not in clothes. The ones not in clothes are covered with a shit-ton on makeup. He watches the entire time—to see if I’m shocked, at least it seems. But I’m not. I’ve picked through a Playboy or two before, and these aren’t even close to being as raunchy as that.
“They’re nice,” I say, even though they’re gross. Can’t believe I came here. Can’t believe I’m in the Blue Moon and nobody knows, not even my best friend. If someone saw my truck they could come save me, but then it’s not like I want anyone to see. If they did, I’d say I was here to ask for a job.
I hand him the folder and get up to leave. I got what I wanted. He does take nude pictures, lots of them. I knew he did, and now the fun is over. I didn’t see too many movie star-type girls in there, so I know he’s a liar about working in the film industry.
“Aren’t you going to stick around?” he asks.
“Not really. I just wanted to look.”
“Well, I’ll be damned, is that really all you came for?”
“Yes.” I grab my purse.
“Then, shit.” He tosses the folder across the mattress and comes around to confront me. “I feel cheated.” His hands clamp down on my shoulders. “I stayed in this shit town for you, and now you’re gonna leave. I shoulda known. Some country girl who’s too scared to have her picture taken, is that what it is? I saw you shaking when you came in. I even saw you pass by on the road twice. And I saw you smoking that cigarette out there, just to kill time. And now you’re going to act like all you came for was to look at those pictures.” He grabs the bottle of whiskey and takes a good swig. “Then get out of here, chicken. You aren’t all that pretty.”
Oh how I hate being called a coward, and he’s wrong, I am that pretty. I know, because I look just like my mother. But he’s making it sound like I did him a disservice, like I’m nothing.
I show him the middle finger and start to leave but he kicks me in the rear end toward the door, not hard, but it’s definitely his foot on my ass, and he says, “Chicken. Hick. Hillbilly baby.”
It shocks me, and I almost hate him so much that I want to turn around and serve his face with a good hit. But I don’t, I leave the motel room and head straight across to my truck and rip open the driver’s side door. Too angry to talk. He’s still chanting, and now he’s even laughing at me from the door. “Nothing but a hick chicken. I’ll be glad to leave this town.”
I’m holding onto my truck’s door handle and all I can think of is the picture I was going to give Keith, to make him love me again, and this was the only way to do it. But I’m too scared, that’s the real reason I left after looking through that book. I am chicken, just like this guy says. I’ve never been scared of anything before, not like this, and now I even hate myself.
This guy, Gerald, stands there and watches me cry. He’s still laughing but then after a few he comes to the truck and puts an arm around my shoulders. “It’s okay, honey, I was only teasing. I wanted to rile you up a little because I thought you could take it.”
“Get off me.”
Cars pass by on the road and far past on the interstate. Every car is a set of eyes.
He starts laughing. “Didn’t you know I was kidding?”
“I’m just fine.”
“Sure you are. You’re fine.” He rubs my arm and stands there until I’ve stopped being a pansy-ass crybaby. “I didn’t mean all that. I was just teasing you. Jesus. Some people can’t take a joke, and that’s what it was, only a joke.
“But you meant it,” I say.
“Oh, maybe only a little, but not really. I was mad. You jipped me and all, and listen, do you want to come back in? I don’t want to pressure you. But, honey, you really should think about having your picture done. Just for posterity. I wouldn’t even do anything with it. Just keep it.”
I look at the road, the interstate beyond, and think good and hard. I want my picture taken. But what does it mean if I do? I know what it means, and finally I decide that I don’t care. If it gets me what I want, there’s no reason to care. So we go back inside his motel room, and this time I don’t need a glass for the whiskey, I drink straight out of the bottle. “You were lying when you said I wasn’t all that pretty,” I say, placing the bottle on top of the TV set. I push the ON button because I want to see if I’ve missed any afternoon shows, but he reaches over to turn it off.
“Just like you lied to me about your age, so we’re even. Liars, both of us.”
It’s free for the next few days. Amazon link.
This book is about MEN. The seekers, dreamers, artists, scam artists, construction workers, radio DJs, and even one lucky cadaver.
In Cimarron Man, a nomad photographer named Jack spends one night in the Badlands with a young hitchhiker amid a group of traveling misfits. In The Secret Life of Johnny Cool, a washed-up rock DJ, once part-time lover to Janis Joplin, ponders life in Joshua Tree amid an all-female cult. In Tales of Cyrus, construction worker Cyrus Kennedy battles alcoholism and rage after the suspicious death of his wife and unborn child.
Also included are flash shorts pondering some of the more quirky aspects of the human experience. A young couple is on the verge of a love-breakdown because one lives in a space world and the other in hard, cold reality. Dante is a bar hopper looking for companionship, and escape. After the death of his favorite uncle he meets a girl with a star tattoo who equates love and death with gamma ray explosions and cuttlefish. Saul is the owner of a strange contraption, The Life Wall. It gives him anything he asks for, but to keep it running he must do some downright dirty deeds.
Cimarron Man and other stories is a book about men, all kinds of men. And women. But mostly it’s about life in a sometimes crazy, always changing, world.
When I wrote The Moonflowers I never imagined there would be a second book much less a third, but each character that came out of that novel burrowed itself in me, each one’s spur pricklier than the last. Jane Day was a slow, happy fire. I felt compelled to recount what it would be like to exist as a housewife circa 1970-ish middle America, and I have to admit, writing what was basically marital rape made me depressed; a scene like went beyond my emotional levels. Despite that, I loved the progression of Jane’s tenacity: throughout the novel she managed to kick her husband out, find a job and a lover. Indeed, the summer I wrote The Moonflowers was incredible and fun–the novel itself set in the Bicentennial. And after its completion I thought, hmm, isn’t there something else here?
So then came Keith. His voice jumped out of my brain like a shark; his fire was a mad teenage urgency with zits and burning sexuality. I became Keith, and loved every minute of it. Perhaps I’ve always wanted to be a boy. It sure felt good. But it also felt wild and messy and suffocating. As I slipped away and this primal kid took over, everything became smoking, swearing, guitars, chicks, and trouble (not for me literally, but the essence of understanding was there). Being a domesticated refugee, that was a bit difficult to grip. So I wrote the book quick and brushed my palms together in relief.
And then came Sally. The most urgent of all. The most unwilling, bitchy, bored, cussing, fireball of womanhood in teenage form you’d ever come across. Still exhausted from the last novel, I took her in stride and kept her there in good measure. In intervals I wrote, quieting down the chaos in between. Most surprising was Gerald, the Texas conman with a camera to lure innocents in. Well, Sally wasn’t so innocent, and she went willingly. What got to me was their conversations. A high school senior and an aging divorcee shouldn’t have such compelling banter, but they did. It touched me. In the eyes of the world, both of them were social misfits, outcasts, and perhaps that’s what drew them together.
So, in this last book, perhaps my last in a good long while as I’ve decided to take a sabbatical from writing, I hope you enjoy Sally and Gerald’s conversations. Love and Lust at the Dairy Stop Café is now available on Amazon in ebook form. I hope you enjoy it, and thank you for the love.
Ooooh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Shalalalala. I mean, really. How do they?
I don’t know what I’m talking about, only, that song was on my playlist, so . . .
Where have I been? Contemplating so much, thinking, thinking, doing, being. Not writing, unfortunately. But listen, I wrote a freakin’ ton the last few years and I guess it was time to take a break or something. Kind of disconcerting to wake up every day and not do the one thing you’ve done for years straight. The good news is I had a fabulous Christmas and New Years with my kids and no longer feel I have to make myself do something to be a valuable person on this planet. If I wanna write, I’ll write. If I don’t, I won’t. No worries.
Ahhh . . .
And, I mean, the world could end tomorrow so . . . hand me a margarita.
One thing I did for pleasure (is there such a thing?) is watch old episodes of One Day at a Time. Now listen, I know it’s cheesy, I don’t get into soap operas, or any TV show, but man that wacky mother and her two crazy teenage daughters sucked me in. McKenzie Phillips was everything in that show. So, yeah, I cleaned the kitchen, ate chocolate, and watched ODAAT. And Maude. Oh, fuck. Yes, I watched Maude. Anyway, notice how sexy her daughter is in that show? Holy shit. I don’t really swing that way, but I would. Oh yeah, one time on Facebook there was a quiz called: How Gay are You? And I took it. And it said I was 100% not gay. But see, I’m pretty sure there’s a little bit in there. Aren’t we all?
What else did I do? Yoga. Read. Listened to Janis Joplin and Arcade Fire and The Rolling Stones. Meditated.
That’s not a lot. But it’s a lot.
How about you? What’s your MO?
Thanks for stopping by.
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By 1967, Janis Joplin had left Texas twice, survived a toxic relationship and debilitating addiction, and discovered a ‘voice’ unlike any other. But still, the past held on, inflicting wounds and scars from the words of her contemporaries. She was ugly, strange, wild. Her ingenuity, her looks, even her femininity were criticized. It forged her into a steel-hard singer and leader of a cultural shift. Her long hair, marred skin, bra-less repose and open mouthed antagonism, all with a longing for acceptance, opened wide a new world. The beads around her neck, those beads of the past, those invisible chords of attachment, swung as she banged on an invisible door. Release, release, joyful release. Euphoria in this bottom of the barrel gluttony. I survived, you survived. We’re all gonna make it. Hey, baby, are you as angry as me? Are you as happy as me? You been through this shit too? Then, come on, baby. Dance. Those chords, those beads. One strand breaks and falls to her feet. A crowd cheers. She bends over and picks it up. The past has been severed. Ain’t never goin’ back to Texas again. I’m free.
You know the story. Janis became famous with Big Brother and the Holding Company, quit, formed two other bands, and then died on October 4, 1970 in a California hotel room, alone. Drug paraphernalia lay hidden inside a bedside table. Damn you, insecurity. Damn you, death.
She was a child. She was timeless. She sang about a world that was hers and welcome to it. She was the 60s and the 70s. And beyond. Her sound, her voice, those mannerisms, they were real and irreplaceable. There will never be another Janis.
Gone, but never forgotten. Love you always.
In honor of her life (and death) Cimarron Man and other stories is free today.
Have a beautiful day. Enjoy your beautiful life.