Category Archives: shards

seppuku

Seppuku

 

When I was a boy of 12, two Japanese warriors surrendered to my school bus. It was 1950, on the island of Guam. The warriors had been living in the jungle on papayas and snails for five years. They didn’t know the war had ended. The war had turned to dream for them. The school bus was a dream too, a dream packed with screaming devil children and a driver leaning on the horn.

I came out the front door of my house and before anyone could stop me, walked up and crouched in front of the warriors where they sat Buddha-like in front of the bus–two scarecrows in mismatched clothes stolen from Guamanian clotheslines. One warrior remained stolid and stared straight ahead, but the other bowed slightly in my direction. I returned the bow.

They whisked me out of there in an unmarked car and plied me with questions. “Collaboration with the enemy is tantamount to treason,” they said, but I didn’t break, and they turned me loose in time for gym class.

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beam me up scotty

Beam Me Up Scotty

 

Recently I read my novel Tire Grabbers into an audio format in a sound studio. It took weeks.

“We’ll produce it as an MP3,” the Studio Director said. “Less expensive.”

“Good idea,” I said.

“It will be one disc instead of seventeen,” he said.

“Excellent,” I said.

He gave me an MP3 disc to take home and audio proof, and when I stuck it in my CD player, nothing happened.

“It doesn’t work,” I told him over the phone.

“What do you mean?” he said.

“It doesn’t play,” I said.

“It should.”

“Well, I put it in my CD player and nothing happened.”

“That’s because it’s not a CD,” he said.

“What?” I said.

“It’s an MP3 disc. You need an MP3 player.”

“It looks like a CD to me,” I said.

“Listen,” he said. “Put it in your computer and download it into iTunes.”

“What?” I said.

“Then you can play it,” he said.

I did what he told me and fifty files popped up. I had to play them one at a time, so there was no way to test for continuity. Seventeen CDs was beginning to sound like the way to go, and I called the Studio Director and told him so.

“No, no,” he said. “You just need an MP3 player. I’ll loan you mine, come by the studio in the morning.”

***

He was in the control booth when I arrived, and he signaled thru the glass that he’d be with me in a minute. He was all smiles when he came out.

“Sorry about the confusion,” he said.

“No problem,” I said.

“Here,” he said, and took something out of his shirt pocket the size of a candy bar. “I’ve got earphones, too,” he said.

“What’s that?” I said.

“My MP3 player,” he said.

“Is this some sort of joke?” I said

“What?” he said.

“You can’t get a disc in that,” I said.

“What’s wrong with you?” he said.

“What’s wrong with you?” I said.

We stared at each other across a yawning chasm of technology, his face a mix of impatience and alarm.

“Trust me,” he said. “Remember how I told you to download the disc into your computer?”

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, now you download what’s on your computer into the MP3 player. The tracks will cue each other, it will play with continuity. That’s how it works.”

“How can someone play it in their car then?” I said. “That’s where people listen to audiobooks, in their cars. On their CD players.”

“They burn CDs from the files on their computers,” he said.

“Burn CDs?” I said.

“Yes.”

“It’s too complicated,” I said. “No one’s going to go thru all that.”

“You’re wrong,” he said. “People do it all the time.”

***

I walked around for a week with plugs in my ears and the MP3 player in my shirt pocket and listened to my fantasy novel about an inhospitable future on a device from that future, and when I was done I sat in the dark smoking and staring out the window at the moon.

“Beam me up, Scotty,” I whispered, and wondered how long it would be before that would be possible.

Tire Grabbers is available here…

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rough childhood

Rough Childhood

 

Whack, whack. Time after time. Child abuse begins early and ends late. Only the good die young. The rest wreak havoc on parked cars and each other. On old women with a purse full of food stamps. On those who were pampered with love. They serve time, pick up new tricks, join the army (kill, kill, kill), hide their wounded hearts behind a chest full of medals–for valor, for battle scars, for serving the Commander in Chief, strutting around in his seersucker suit.

My country tis of thee–it wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll that slaughtered innocence, it was Ronald MacDonald and his corporate minions. It was supply and demand with impossible price tags.

The grocery store, jam-packed with sugar and pesticides. Chemicals with names no one can pronounce. What ever happened to steak and potatoes, fresh greens? Monsanto fills out the forms and lays claim to the seed kingdom, as legal as genocide.

There’s not yet a law against the likes of me, but there soon will be, and then everyone can get serious about ripping the souls from the breasts of young children and feeding them into Moloch’s furnace.

What’s Moloch? Be patient, little citizens. There’ll soon be a pilot TV show, a replacement for Superman, Wyatt Earp, Charlie Chaplin and God.

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saturating bombing

Saturation Bombing

 

I come closer each day to rushing out of the bomb shelter.

My allies hold their breath, and my enemies prod me on:

“What’s a little saturation bombing to a stud like you?” they say. “If God loves you, you’ll survive. If you don’t look up, the bombers won’t see you.”

It occurs to me that my enemies send more energy my way than my allies.

Each day there’s less oxygen. The heat from the bombing sucks it straight out of the ground. But I’m the only one down here who needs to breathe.

What sort of allies don’t need air?

What sort of enemies?

I stop threatening to throw open the hatch. My allies and my enemies continue going about their business. They shore up timber and write in their diaries, and somewhere in the distance, a violin plays Stravinsky.

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running a marathon

Running a Marathon

 

Running on empty. Running to beat the band, the wild-eyed posse, the lean hounds of hell. Running up the down staircase. Running into a wall, an old friend, a bloated predicament. Running the flag up the pole, running into trouble, debt, the Phantom of the Opera on a park bench in broad daylight. Running the San Francisco Marathon.

That was back in the days when I hustled college kids in bars, got them out on the track at midnight for a three or four mile race on a $50 wager. I was in my 40s and living life in the fast lane.

When I first started running my hair was coming out in clumps and my heart was beating so hard I could see the sheet jumping when it woke me up at night. I needed to get in shape.

The first day I ran from my front door to the corner and passed out.

The second day I collapsed at the corner but stayed conscious.

In a week I was up to a mile and after a month I ran my first 10-K and finished neck-and-neck with a 70-year-old woman.

Within a year I was placing first in my age group and that’s when I started hustling college kids. I kept right on drinking.

I’d never run more than ten miles when the San Francisco Marathon bets went down. I was sitting at a table full of crazies in the Cornerstone Tavern and Big Billy asked me if I’d ever run a marathon.

“No money in it,” I said.

I’ll bet you can’t do it,” said Big Billy.

“What?” I said. “Finish a marathon?”

“Yeah,” said Big Billy.

“How much?” I said.

“How much?” said Big Billy.

“Yeah. How much do you want to bet?”

“I don’t mean for money,” said Big Billy.

“Fuck, Billy,” said Tall Ed, who was just out of an Idaho prison. “Of course he can finish. You gotta bet him on how long it will take him.”

“An hour,” said Big Billy. “I’ll bet you five bucks you can’t do it in an hour.”

Everyone laughed.

“Big Billy,” said Tall Ed. “How the fuck have you managed to survive this long?”

I did some rough math in my head. “Three hours, fifteen minutes,” I said. “I’ll run it under three hours and fifteen minutes.”

“You know how long a marathon is?” said Cantrell. “It’s 26 fucking miles, man.”

“Twenty-six point two miles,” I said.

“When?” said Cantrell.

“In three weeks,” I said. “In San Francisco. I’ll run the San Francisco Marathon in under three hours and fifteen minutes.”

“I’ll take $50 worth of that,” said Sweetness, and then everyone at the table began putting their initials next to dollar amounts on beer coasters.

I woke up the next morning on the floor in front of the wood stove, fully dressed. I had no idea how I got home. I threw some cold water on my face, changed into sweats and running shoes, and went out the door to begin training.

I did the marathon in three hours fourteen minutes and nine seconds, and a week later my wife left me.

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real men don’t cry

Real Men Don’t Cry

 

What’s that green slime oozing out of your ears? Don’t you think you should do something about it? Sponge it off before it runs down your neck? Stick plugs in your ears? See a doctor or hook up with a fortune teller? Move to Prague and take part in the uprising?

Maybe these aren’t helpful suggestions, but I can’t just stand here and say nothing, I wasn’t raised that way.

Maybe your liver is crapping out. Maybe you’re being eaten alive by envy. Maybe you’re Irish.

Go ahead, say something cute about the orange tears running down my cheeks, but it’s not the same thing.

And what will you do when the bus gets here? Do you have tokens? I’ll bet you’re one of those no-counts who ride around the free-ride zone all day because they have nothing better to do. Me, I’m loaded down with destinations, and I’ve got a wallet stuffed with twenties to prove it.

So why don’t I take a cab if I’m so flush, is that what you’re thinking? Can you see a cabby pulling over for a guy with orange tears running down his face?

I don’t know when they turned orange, the tears. It’s not like I cry all the time. Real men don’t cry. They could have turned orange and been sloshing around in my tear ducts since I was a kid. What took me by surprise wasn’t so much that they were orange when they finally spilled out, but that they were tears. There I stood with a towel wrapped around me after a hot shower, gawking into the mirror at orange tears running down a face lathered with shaving cream.

“Are you alright in there, dear?” my wife called in to me, and then she tapped on the door.

“Of course I’m alright!” I barked, but the tears kept coming.

This could turn into a delicate situation. You’re the first person to witness the tears. But don’t go thinking it’s the same thing as that green slime oozing out of your ears. It’s not. Not at all.

Listen, I’ll ride around the free zone with you for awhile, but then I’m going to transfer and head home where my wife will have supper on the stove. You could have a life like mine too, if you’d just get a grip and learn how to control the green slime.

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