Antony and Cleopatra

Antony and Cleopatra

“How’re you coming along with your contest entry?” asked AB at our weekly tête à tête in Barnum’s, a coffee shop with nice brown paneling, artwork on the walls by local school kids, altogether a friendly place.

“I’ve been writing here at this table,” I said, but what she didn’t know was that I’d racked up a bunch of free coupons. “Have one on me.”

“Free lattes for life?”

“The boss appreciated my business. Been here with a lot of dates.”

“You’re always so generous.” She left to order at the counter. Secretly, I was hoping to avoid her question, for as you know dear reader, I didn’t have a strong handle on where I was headed, wasn’t too sure how to talk about love. Many others before me have tried. Take Antony and Cleopatra, for example, a lovely play by Shakespeare written in 1606 according to Harold Bloom, considered to be a Shakespearian scholar, whereby and wherefore the two lovers, Tony and Cleo, are ready to retire from public life. After all, Antony has waged countless successful military campaigns and Cleopatra has built an Egyptian Empire on her own casting couch; they both have the hots for each other, and figure after all those years, they’re entitled. (Beep. Wrong assumption.) She floats on perfume-scented barges and gets others to research any competition that Octavius throws her way, namely his sister; the two lovers are waylaid by the conflicting demands and jealousies of a world that exists outside their immutable love. Cleopatra finally marries Antony while she’s dying, which is no way, as far as I can see, to start a relationship.

“It’s not fair!” I want to cry out, which is exactly what many adults had tried to tell me growing up. “The world is not fair.” But what does that mean when you are a child, and believe that you are a superhuman superhero who is about to change everything and set the entire world with its conventions and misguided ideas on its head? The kid thinks, just give me enough time to get a driver’s license and figure out a way to buy alcohol before I’m eighteen. The world is not fair is like saying to a young person you have to eat dessert last, which doesn’t make sense, until, that is, the kid, you, me, we get our asses kicked big-time and end up in a variety of places like jail or the hospital, on the street with a sleeping bag to keep us warm at night, which forces us to reconsider everything, especially our approach to love, which can make fools of us all. But there are those, a select group who engineer start-up companies by the time that are eleven years old and have everything going for them, money and power; men who could choose to become Harvey Weinsteins, but don’t because they’ve been raised right, and anyway, their mothers would come after them with rolling pins; women who know, before puberty strikes, exactly who they are and what they want to do, stand up to any loud-mouth who may tell them differently; they fall into a dance pattern that repeats without becoming repetitive—a gentle 3.4 beat toward a loving life.

AB came back with her latte, a tree emblazoned in the foam. She set the coffee on the table and sighed. It wasn’t like her to sigh. Maybe to talk fast, or tell me about a new job, or let me know about the next road trip she and Miriam were planning, but sighing, never!

“What’s up?” I asked. She placed her spoon in the center of the foam and splashed at the tree, tore the tops off two sugar packets, and emptied them into her cup.

“It’s Miriam’s mother,” she said.

I’d already known about Bianca, a Portuguese woman who  had been married to a pottery wholesaler who could afford to buy designer everythings. He also maintained a specialized entourage to plan kinky sex parties throughout Europe. I wasn’t sure how AB knew about the latex details. My guess is that he attended without Bianca. I couldn’t imagine her sharing those intimacies with her daughter, unless she had a good reason. Mine never would, a woman who rarely talked to me about sex, although she did broach the subject once when she found out that I was no longer a virgin, “Who will marry you now, my little flower?” In any case, Bianca was elderly, alone, and without financial resources.

 

KPFA Open Book (hosted by Nina Serrano) November 2017

Getting an Extra Hand (Little Leo Journal) November 2017

From the Lower Depths (New Verse News) August 2017

No Orange for Julius (Eunoia Review)August 2017

Posted in Flash Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Diamond Heister

Her mother’s party dress sparkled red and gold, but not with the same clarity as the stars in the sky. She was a child drawn to bright things like the shine of a silver cup or the two candlesticks that stood on the fireplace mantel with their matching glow. Doris thought that the best game in the world would be to catch the stars inside a silver cup and roll them out again, which is how she resolved to become a jewel thief.

It was easy enough to practice as a child inside cheap variety stores selling heaps of rhinestone rings, easy enough to slip one on her finger, turn it toward the inside of her palm and walk out the door. The trick was never to rush, never to seem like she was in a hurry. Either that or appear bored as though any item was beyond her refinement. She gathered a collection of red and blue glass rings which, if worn long enough, left a green band on her finger. She distributed the rings amongst friends at school, which made her instantly popular. No one believed that a girl in braids with a neatly folded collar and a smile on her face would dare what she did, not Doris, a little black girl. She didn’t see why she couldn’t have beautiful things that would shine a light on her neighborhood of tenements and liquor stores.

By the time she’d graduated from high school, Doris had a lock box filled with diamond bracelets and earrings; she plied her trade at luxury malls dressed in designer shoes and handbags, her hair neatly rolled in a bun. Throughout the course of her career, she stole at least two million dollars in fine jewelry traveling from Paris, Monaco, and Tokyo with an occasional stop in Palm Springs.

Salespeople were particularly kind because they did not want to question her ability to pay, which would’ve been insensitive, even racist, and why would they, this woman who spoke so well, who was so impeccably dressed? She came with a backstory. On some days she was originally from Jamaica where her family owned a highly productive sweet potato farm, on others, her husband was an international business realtor. “Oh, I just dropped that earring on the floor. It must’ve rolled beneath the counter.” Feigning distress at her own clumsiness, she slipped a pair of 24-caret diamonds into her purse as a nice young man got on his hands and knees trying to find the lost jewel.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “I’ll help you look.”

He was terrified. “No, madam, that won’t be necessary.” Management only wanted customers in front of and not beneath a display counter.

By now, she was a woman in her eighties, who had pursued her American dream to the tune of several new houses and a lifetime of travel. The judge asked why a woman of her age stole jewelry. Didn’t she have grandchildren to keep her busy and away from illegal pursuits? “Because I can,” she said, and flashed a smile that shone as brightly as the stars in the sky, and so did the ring on her hand.

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

App Developer Sued for Defamation

face

Labusu derives from the ancient Sumerian word for cloth, originally used to wrap up stuff from the marketplace.  In 2025, electric car manufacturers bundled labusu with self-driving cars as thank you gifts, but as soon as they became available, they zoomed to the top of everyone’s holiday shopping list, morphed from a Sumerian cloth into a flattened smart phone about the size of a baseball card. But that’s not what got me into trouble.

You see, people downloaded AI apps that allowed labusus to transform into dozens of other objects—a virtual pet, for example, to an awesome vibrator with multiple handles. They were cheap. Robotic factories stamped out millions. In short order, the Labusu company went public, but after the initial stock offering, consumers realized they were all identical—personalized maybe with Loïs Mailou Jones patterns, but with the same ten functions. App developers hit a wall, discovered that it would take years to reach the next level of AI programming. At the same time, the company didn’t want to kill its golden goose. That’s where I came in.

I work for J’Athena in Parkinsons, Nebraska, one of many robotic factories that dot the outlying areas of cities and are located close to Amazon distribution centers. Like every manufacturer, their bottom line was slipping as fast as the Arctic was melting, which might have been the only reason they bothered to contact me. I am (or was) a profile developer. My personality types have been employed in countless online games. You probably are familiar with them.

The company got the bright idea to distinguish labusu through their previous owners. Any labusu that had been held by guitarist Joe Bonamassa, for example, even if it only were to wipe his nose, became valuable. The representative for J’Athena who visited my mobile home, told me they needed me to develop celebrity profiles. “We want to make each one different. We want to drive sales through the roof. We want you to help us.”

I knew this was a fraud, but they didn’t give me a choice. J’Athena said that if I leaked a word, they would resort to “action” which in Parkinsons, Nebraska, could only mean one thing. They backed up their claims with the address of my ex and kid who lived in Detroit. I had left after something bad had happened to me. Let’s say I found the job offer compelling.

I combed through databases to identify every like or dislike of hundreds of celebrities—what they ate for breakfast, what books they read, what hair products they used—building new identities for unique labusus that were being traded on the web for thousands.

Instead of just having me profile celebrity artists who’d died from overdoses, they started to include ones who were still alive. Most celebrities were delighted that their names kept lighting up the tabloids until I started to uncover some interesting data about how so-and-so was raped by so-and-so, which started a shitstorm. J’Athena hung me out to dry, claimed that it was a nefarious smear campaign.  I’m in jail now waiting for my hearing and my check. I keep having really bad nightmares.

Upcoming Readings

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 8, Poetry Center, 5th floor, Humanities Building, San Francisco State, 5pm (I’ll read for about 10-15 minutes from my new novel.)

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

December 10, Brit Marie reading series at 1369 Solano Avenue, Albany, 3:30 to 5pm.

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on App Developer Sued for Defamation

Portland in the Alberta District

Only in Portland can the words real estate and karma be conjoined in a single sentence. I listened to two guys who embraced their coffee mugs as they talked about downsizing. Back and forth about fixing a roof and other do-it-yourself projects as one of the guys was getting ready to move into a two-room apartment. One has a long black ponytail roped off every inch or so with a rubber band; the other has a skull ring and tattoos running up his right arm with the name “Patricia” above his elbow. I have two tattoos, a crocodile at the back of my neck, and the other behind my ear, which means that everyone can see them except me.

The coffee is dishwater. I would’ve been better off forgoing the half & half, a real shame since this is the Alberta district where coffee houses abound every two storefronts alternating with bicycle, wine, and herb shops—mostly tinctures, teas, and smudge sticks. I could’ve gotten a better cup two blocks away in a place that roasts its own beans, or that’s what a person sitting next to me on the plane said. I guess that’s something else I messed up.

A few weeks before Halloween and time for Night of the Living Dead reruns. A black cat moans on a paper guitar. I stare at the floor beneath my feet that’s tiled with pennies; some are oxidized, others shiny, which give a nice transitional feeling like the floor is moving beneath my feet. Next time I’ll bring along pliers to take up a collection. People sit at tables and stare into cellphones and consult the oracle. Clothing is black and  paired with velvet capes, leather vests, and corduroy pants. The Mavericks are playing in town, one of Bryan’s favorite bands, a country sound crossed with a salsa beat.

Flew out of Sacramento and didn’t let him know, wonder if he’s waiting for me at the house, not sure what I’m doing sitting here at this table drinking weak coffee and charging my cellphone. Maybe he reported me missing, or frantically called up my friends to see if I stopped after work for drinks and dinner. I’ve been missing for longer than he knows, not sure how to the fill the emptiness, a chasm that opens when I’m not looking even when I’m teaching and standing in front of a room filled with students, hands waving at me as though they’ve found the answer to a puzzle they can’t wait to reveal. Sometimes I wonder if we can see what’s happening to ourselves. These days it feels like everyone is being killed, burned, or washed away in the water.

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

Posted in Flash Fiction | Comments Off on Portland in the Alberta District

Online Dating Contest

Annabelle was my best girlfriend and by that, I mean the one who’s seen me through a divorce, at least two abortions that I’m willing to admit, and the birth of one of my children with shit coming out of my rear end as the nurses tried to get my feet back in the stirrups. Always the voice of calm in the eye of a storm even when I wasn’t sure I’d qualify for unemployment benefits due to some scum bag boss wanting to stab me in the back, and the only person who would return my phone calls within a one-hour’s time frame, no matter what else was happening in her life, even a pile-up, she’d pull over and call because that’s what we did for each other. I won’t bore you with how we first met, but it was in second grade when she tapped me on the shoulder since she had no implements to write with and our teacher, Mrs. Woodcock, was about to dismiss her from the room for coming to school once again hopelessly unprepared, a teacher who delighted in locking her charges in the clothing closet for the smallest infraction. Some would pooh-pooh this as an exaggeration of a deranged mind, but I assure you that is not the case. I saved the day with my offering of a pencil, and inconspicuously threaded my fingers into her palm. To show her appreciation, Annabelle shared with me her peanut butter and jelly sandwich that oddly tasted of Campbell’s Tomato soup, which I greedily ate, since my own mother had prepared a bologna sandwich that had fallen out of my bag and onto the yard during recess, a gravelly mess. Since then, we’ve been BFFs forever, so whenever AB wants to tell me something, I listen.

I’d been languishing after yet another failed relationship, which had gone into a Tomb of Annihilation. I’d found little solace in thumbnails of online daters, all who blended into a generic profile, and after several years of making my way through these pathways of disillusionment and single-handedly keeping several coffee shops in business through a revolving door of prospective daters, I vowed to retire to my queen-sized bed with a good book and my cellphone. “I’m done with it,” I told AB and put down my cup of coffee on the drain board. “Not by a long shot,” she said, and opened up my computer to a site where they were advertising a writing contest for stories about online dating. “Who better, my pet, than you?”

 

September 18, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , | Comments Off on Online Dating Contest

Janis in Port Arthur, Texas

Janis Joplin

Excuse me, sir, but need an assist? I can see that you’re sitting around like a hang-dog watching the water recede from your porch like someone’s pulled the bathtub plug and it’s all going to shit. Pardon my potty mouth. If you didn’t live so far out, maybe one of your neighbors could lend a hand. All I’ve got is an extra cold beer. Take it. Let’s say I have my own private stock. But what I really wish is that I had something stronger to offer. Me? Like to drink whiskey on a couple of unsteady rocks.

See that you’re working in the refineries, got that company logo on a blanket pulled around your shoulders. I always peddled out to Sabine Woods, loved to watch the loons and pelicans away from the sound of those catalytic reformers and desalters. Fuck, this place stinks. Always has. Always will. Curious about what we’re drinking? Curiosity almost killed a cat. Got it from one of those microbrew places in Austin. Glad they didn’t get washed out, and hallelujah to that!

Names for all those machines come to me second nature. My daddy was an engineer at Texaco; mom was a registrar. So much for that.

See you have a few guitars still left standing on your porch.

Back in the day, I stood on stage with a white python wrapped around my neck. Wore sequins; the audience kept clapping. Everyone was stoned out of their minds. No, didn’t come here for some benefit concert. FEMA workers running around with clipboards. Red Cross workers unfolding cots faster than you can say, Open Sesame. Ha! I’m here for your benefit–to the rescue. Let’s drink to that!

You feel me? You play?

Mostly, I wanted to see if that marker in front of my old house got washed away. Curious, I guess. More like a way for the city to rope in tourists. Called me a misfit. Expected me to refine shit.  You got that right. What we got on our hands is a Biblical flood. We need to build the Ark and sail away.

I like what you’re playing. Cool licks. Sounds like the rain and the wind having a hissy fit. Back where I came from, they’re celebrating the Summer of Love, By all accounts, I think it’s the 50th anniversary. Glad I stopped by to cheer you up. Aw, let me give you a kiss. 

A bigger kiss. Take a little piece of my heart now baby.

Upcoming Readings:

September 2, Oakland Beast Crawl, The Good Hop, 2421 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

September 9, San Francisco, Quiet Lightning, Candlestick Point SRA, 10am to 5pm: Literary mixtape readings by: Gracia Mwamba, Rich Baiocco, Lisa Piazza, Kimberly Gomes, Raina J. Leòn, Linda Michel-Cassidy, Tomas Moniz, Peter Kline, William Vlach, Lenore Weiss, Abbie Jeanne Amadio, Yael Hacohen, and Jill Bronfman!

September 16, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on Janis in Port Arthur, Texas

The Divorce Papers

They’d been married for more than 20 years but hadn’t lived together for most of that time, she firmly fastened like a paper clip to one side of the country, and he to the other, collecting frequent flyer miles in the space between. She made sure their children had a stable home, a decent school, a good group of friends. We understood those things, how parents defer their personal happiness so that their kids can get ahead, which was the supposed reason she continued to stay while Michael accepted federal appointments that kept him based in Washington D.C.,  so when Kathy made her final announcement, all her friends including myself, expected to hear the d-word. All those years, we’d wondered how on earth they’d managed to hold a marriage together, questioned their faces when they did appear together at annual July Fourth parties holding hands to plaster the cracks. “How are you guys doing?” we asked. It goes without saying that we applauded their successes: Kathy as a mom who had built her daughter’s bulimia into a national campaign, and Michael for having the ear of the Capitol’s environmental policy makers. Most of our marriages had busted up for far less reason–boredom leading to infidelity. If she’d said they were getting divorced, we would’ve been relieved. Why keep up the strain? As friends, we got it. We’d be there for both of them. But when Kathy called her inner circle to say that she planned to move in with Michael, and that they would consolidate households, cut down on expenses, and were considering taking a real vacation for the first time in that many years, the top blew off, everything in disarray.

I called her. “Kathy, honey. Are you sure you’re doing the right thing?”

Upcoming Readings:

September 2, Oakland Beast Crawl, The Good Hop, 2421 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland

September 9, San Francisco, Quiet Lightning, Candlestick Point SRA, 10am to 5pm: Literary mixtape readings by: Gracia Mwamba, Rich Baiocco, Lisa Piazza, Kimberly Gomes, Raina J. Leòn, Linda Michel-Cassidy, Tomas Moniz, Peter Kline, William Vlach, Lenore Weiss, Abbie Jeanne Amadio, Yael Hacohen, and Jill Bronfman!

September 16, Berkeley, Poetry Express, 1585 University Avenue, 7-9pm, Open Mic

October 14, Alameda, Frank Bette Art Center, 1601 Paru Street, with Nina Serrano, 7-9pm, Open Mic,

November 1, Osher Marin JCC, San Rafael, 200 N. San Pedro Road, with Rose Black and Andrena Zawinski, 1-3pm

November 12, Jewish Community Library, San Francisco, 1835 Ellis Street, 1:30pm

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

Posted in Flash Fiction | Tagged , | Comments Off on The Divorce Papers

Gus Bigman, the Giant

There once lived a giant, not your ordinary run-of-the-mill giant. Spiders and beetles fought each other for a place to room in his greasy hair. He never brushed his teeth. They were greenish-yellow. Some people who lived in the next state over said they could easily pass out if they got downwind of his breath. Clearly, he knew nothing about mouthwash, let alone toothpaste.

His hands were so large that ten basketballs could fit inside a single palm. He used his nails to plow the earth for corn and soy beans. Unfortunately, Gus got boulders stuck beneath his fingernails and cried out when he used a stick to pry them loose, bleeding everywhere and making the rivers run red.

I know you’re wondering about his feet. There wasn’t a shoe big enough to fit his horny toes. Gus was so big that the country where he lived named a state after him. It was called DeGus State, the de someone’s idea of French to make it sound fancy, as though that would help. Anyone who was crazy enough to cross into his state, found a big gold post with a huge sign, also gold, that said: Keep Out. Most people were glad to turn around and go home, except for those thrill seekers who wanted to have an exciting story to tell their grandkids. That wasn’t easy. DeGus State was surrounded by an electrified fence. The country of Gratis Land was happy to pay the bill to keep their families safe.

Gus was a loner. He was happy to grow corn and soy beans and to be as dirty as he pleased. But he began to get agitated. You see, there was a mountain in his state that was taller than Gus. He couldn’t stand how it cast a shadow on his fields. He wanted to be the only thing tall enough to cast a shadow. Mountain! You’ve got to go! The mountain was stubborn. It had been in the same spot for generations. The mountain dug its feet deep into the earth and stuck a bunch of trees up his nose and down his throat. Gus got so angry, he scooped it up with his two hands and tossed the mountain outside his state, which killed hundreds of people and caused an earthquake. Everyone hoped this would be the end of it. Things were quiet for several months until Gus realized that the sun was his real problem. It had nothing to do with the mountain. He was embarrassed to admit that to himself, but oh well. How could he have known? So Gus looked up at the sun and said, Grand stander! Get your shadow off my land! I’m the only one to cast a shadow!

The sun laughed as he shook his fist in the air. You’re just a silly little man, it said, and whispered to the moon. The moon smiled. Gus was trying to find something to climb so he could pull that imbecile sun off its pedestal. He’d show him who was boss! But Gus already had destroyed the mountain. And just then, the moon crossed in front of the sun. Slowly, the sky became dark and day turned to night. For the first time in Gus’ miserable life, he became very very scared.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Gus Bigman, the Giant

Hit the Road, Jack

A family of quail scurry out from stage left and stage right and plow into each other. All of them look like drama queens. I tell her, “Watch out. You don’t want to be downwind from a port-a-potty.” She waves me off the set. Turns toward the quail that are looking like Isadora Duncan on a bad day. Murderous. (Whose idea were those freaking purple feathers stuck in their hats?). “You stink,” she says, “All of you freaking stink.” They run outside to check a smoke, mumbling curse words. “Good riddance,” she says. “And don’t come back no more.”

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

Posted in Flash Fiction | Comments Off on Hit the Road, Jack

Zumba Class

zumba dancers

We started going at the same time, angling to get a spot not too close to the front of the mirror, but not too far in the back either. One day Jan and I both showed up wearing identical black and white-patterned leggings.

“We could be twins,” she said. Not quite. I was older and thirty pounds heavier, which is why I had signed up for zumba in the first place. High blood pressure. She’s this little thing, a ponytail pulled so tight, I thought her eyes were going to pop out of her head. I found out she’s the chatty type, small and chatty. Next class, she told me a story about her aunt who’d raised two sets of twins.  Every week she had another update in five-minute segments before zumba started, the story about a neighbor who sold an ice-cream truck route for $100,000, or  someone with two tiny uteruses who was going to be interviewed by People magazine.

“Is that the aunt who had two sets of twins?” She didn’t know what I was talking about.

Months later she whispered right before a Wednesday class, “I’m leaving him.”

“Leaving who?”

“That bastard.”

I’m on the elliptical and feeling like a Clydesdale horse. Clop. Clop. Clop. The doctor said I have a heart murmur. No more zumba. I never saw her again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | Comments Off on Zumba Class