Category Archives: shards

mel’s diner

Mel’s Diner

Out of boredom I leveled a blast at editors who reject poems if they use the ampersand for “and” and in the process I spelled ampersand ampersant, which information these editors delighted in sharing with me.

But, in my defense, there is such a word as ampersant, it’s a kind of knot, and knots are what I’m rapidly tying myself in here. But hey, watch this: presto! With one well-practiced gyration I slip all the knots and stroke for the surface of this water-filled tank in which I’ve been submerged and in which a rapt gathering of grammatically correct onlookers was hoping I’d drown.


And now, fanatasies by the wayside, here I sit, writing this in the blue-collar bustle of Mel’s Diner in Yakima after a visit to the V.A. medical facility, an annual ritual that began years ago when I first plugged into my V.A. benefits after my body started unravelling.

Mel’s is the kind of place my roots are sunk in – a dirt-poor childhood on Long Island sandlots, teen years in Cheyenne picking potatoes by day and setting pins in a bowling alleys at night, factory and construcution work in Connecticut after that, followed by three years in the army, and then tending bar in a string of honky-tonk bars in New Orleans and San Francisco. Here and there I made a stab at “higher education” until I threw in the towel on that pipe dream too and locked in on finishing my days as a window cleaner.

Mel’s is where I land after the agent-orange waiting room at the V.A., and since I’ve been sitting here I’ve been called hon 12 times by three different waitresses and my coffee cup hasn’t once gone empty. It’s a good place to chow down on pancakes and sausage after the prying and probing, a good place to say fuck cholesterol and ampersands, blood pressure, Dacron arteries and a fast-shrinking longevity. Mel’s is a good place to give the finger to a world turning robotic.

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manifesto for books to be written from the last stronghold of sanity

Manifesto for Books to be Written from the Last Stronghold of Sanity


It’s important that the books be written. It’s important that they be printed within a tight inner circle and distributed hand-to-hand, disconnected from the Internet.

We’ve entered the post-Orwellian era, prelude to the last breath of beauty.

It’s now or never that the true prophets must rise up.

Children of a distant star, light the sky.

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melt speak

Melt Speak


Key words melted out of Norb’s vocabulary in mid-sentence. He’d say things like, “Go to before sees you!” And, “I you because help myself.” It made him socially awkward, and he was like that when he married June.

“Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?” the minister asked, and Norb said, “Do.” He said do all the way thru until it came to “until death do you part?” and then he said, “I.” Then he kissed the bride, the organ started in, and they marched back down the aisle arm-in-arm.

June learned to speak Norb’s language. “Go tonight sitter,” she’d say, and off they went to the movies after the baby sitter arrived. June was bilingual.

Their son Johnny was bilingual too, but under stress his Melt Speak deteriorated. Melt Speak was the name June cooked up for Norb’s linguistic oddity to lend it legitimacy. Things went along passably well until one night during a high-school championship playoff game, with three seconds left on the clock, Johnny began waving his arms in the air and yelling, “Ass the all! Ass the all!” The next day Norb and June were called to the principal’s office.

“You’re telling me your son’s yelling ‘Ass the all!’ in a packed auditorium has to do with a a speech disorder?” said the principal.

“Yes,” said June.

“True!” said Norb.

“So you concur?” the principal asked Norb.

True!” said Norb, with added emphasis. He didn’t consider Melt Speak a speech disorder.

“He means not true,” said June.

“Right!” said Norb, saying for once exactly what he meant.

“Which is it?” asked the principal. “True or not true?”

“You what how!” said Norb.

“This is absurd!” said the principal. “Your son using profanity in a loud voice while playing in a championship basketball game is the issue here, not some speech impediment!”

“Did! Now! Thing!” said Norb, and he got to his feet.

He was a big man. He’d been a 260-lb. lineman for the Dallas Cowboy’s when he met June, then his knees gave out and now he was a 310-lb. bread-truck driver.

“Is that a threat?” asked the principal.

“He said you just did the same thing,” said June. “Used profanity. Not a threat, sir, a statement of fact.” June had given up studying law to marry Norb.

“Actions speak louder than words!” said the principal, and scooted his chair back a ways to put some distance between him and Norb.

“Let’s here,” Norb said to June.

June stood up and placed her hand gently on Norb’s massive arm. “Wait hall,” she said. “Let to him alone. Please.”

Norb stormed out of the office, slamming the door behind him so hard a plaque fell off the wall.

“It’s hereditary,” June said after Norb had left the office.



Alone in the empty hall, Norb stared out a window at the high-school football field where he’d shown so much early promise so many years ago and wondered where he’d gone wrong. He never spoke about it to June, but it alarmed him that Johnny’s Melt Speak had advanced to the point that letters and syllables were vanishing out of words, not just words out of sentences.

Standing there reliving games from his past, Norb got rushed by anger and then dropped to the turf by a blind-side tackle from an emotion that was new to him, and he realized for the first time how alone he was in life.

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making a list, checking it twice

Making a List, Checking It Twice


Yesterday I wrote down dreams. The day before I made a shopping list. The day before that a wish list. I took the wish list into a bank and slid it across to the teller. I had a woman’s nylon stocking stretched over my head.

The teller smiled the way tellers smile at old people. “Oh, Mr. Whitman,” she said, using my real name, much to my alarm. “You silly,” she said, sliding the list back at me and craning her neck to look over my shoulder. “Next,” she said.

I stood outside the bank in the whale-gray light, people brushing by me in the swirling snow. I struggled to get the nylon stocking off my head. Once it was off, I folded it neatly and put it in my coat pocket, where I discovered the shopping list from the day before. I transfered the shopping list to the opposite coat pocket where I’d put the wish list after the teller shoved it back at me.

I kept my hands in my coat pockets as I walked. I didn’t have gloves. Gloves were on my shopping list. They were on my wish list, too, along with a request for love and understanding and all the money in the till. I didn’t want to leave fingerprints, that’s why I needed the gloves.

I took my left hand out of the pocket where the nylon stocking was. The nylon’s soft warmth was arousing me. People hadn’t paid any attention to the nylon when it was over my head, but you can bet I would have raised a few eyebrows if I’d gotten fully aroused. I stuck the hand in my pants pocket. It was a bitter cold day.

My fingers began examining the coins in my pocket. Was there enough for coffee? It wouldn’t do to sit at the counter at Ranchero’s drinking coffee without enough money to pay. The week before I went through six refills and couldn’t pay. The waitress looked at me like waitresses look at men they wouldn’t go to bed with to save their lives, even if they were drunk. She whisked the cup, napkin and spoon into the tray under the counter and wiped the counter top in front of me with a damp white towel, the way a sexually frustrated mother wipes at a smudge on a small child’s face.

I couldn’t chance coming up short. I took the coins from my pocket and sat down on a public bench that was bolted into the concrete. I lined the coins up in numerical order on the frayed wool of my trouser leg, quarters up high, pennies down around the knee. There was a hole in the knee, and a nub of shiny white flesh showed through. I had 97 cents.

I looked up from the coins. Across the street a Salvation Army man was ringing a tiny bell over a red bucket hanging from a hook on a pole stuck in a large circular metal base. I stood up abruptly, and the coins fell from my leg, puncturing the snow like bullets.

I sat down again and stared at the holes my coins had made in the snow. I took both lists from my coat pocket and smoothed them out. I put the shopping list on my left leg and the wish list on my right. I needed a pen. Or a pencil. Something to write with. Something to circle some items and cross others out. Something with which to make asterisks for cross references. At one time 97 cents would have bought a cup of coffee and a hamburger with change to spare.

It began to get dark. The streetlights came on. I pulled my feet up on the bench and hugged my knees.

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life slips away


The old lamp lighter. The telegraph machine. The dial telephone. Two-lane blacktop. Pitchforks and hay stacks. A harvest moon.


Children of the Industrial Revolution. Suicide-clutch Harleys. An inbred girl from the mountains of Vermont, what was it she was looking for when she took you into her room and while the springs squeaked furiously through the thin wall while her mill-working father fucked her child-bearing mother, slipped off her blouse and unhooked her bra?

You took one of those full young breasts in your mouth as she unzipped your fly and wrapped her hand around your cock. You came all over the dirty wood floor.

The springs stopped squeaking. She sat back on her bed and lit a cigarette. You were both fourteen.

Four years later she was the mother of two and had moved back to Vermont, and you were in a seminary.

Most of your life things happened to you that you did not understand, until much later, if at all.

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locked down in surprise

Locked Down in Surprise


The lights come on when you walk thru the door and there’s a room full of people with tears of laughter in their eyes, slapping their thighs, beside themselves with merriment.

What could the occasion be? It’s not your birthday, and you divorced years ago and never remarried, so it’s not your wedding anniversary. You haven’t had a job promotion in ages, so it’s not that. And your novel hasn’t been published. Actually, no one knows about your novel, no one close anyway, no one who would organize a surprise party even if it had been published. And that’s what they yell out in robust unison: “Surprise!”

Then they go back to laughing.

You stand there like an idiot clutching your briefcase to your chest, wondering how they got in, wondering who they are. There’s not one familiar face in the room.

You’re alarmed by the laughter, it’s not subsiding, in fact it’s escalating, and some of them have dropped out of their chairs and are rolling around on the living room rug, their knees pulled up, even women in short skirts.

And where did all the chairs come from? A good thirty of them, identical folding chairs, the kind you rent.

They’ve arranged themselves in such a way that you can’t go further into your apartment without working your way thru the chairs, and you’re hesitant to do this.

A grin spreads over your face, as if this were a legitimate surprise party. Then the laughter stops abruptly and they stare at you, some of them still in their chairs, but most of them on the floor.

One by one they get up, brush themselves off, and slip past you out the apartment door, which is still open.

The last to leave is a thin man in a rumpled suit with a string tie and bad breath. He cups his hands to your ear and whispers something, but you can’t make out what it is. It’s as if he’s whispering into someone else’s ear. And then he is gone too.

Their footsteps echo down the five flights of hallway stairs, and then the front door slams shut behind them.

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