Flipping Houses

flipped housePackages arrived at his house weekly. He’d tell you it was his hobby, something no one had thought of doing before. It might lead to a book deal or to a talk show. Crazier things had happened.

At home, he had a few beers but lost count; he was a widower. His boss had asked him once again if he was planning to retire before the end of the fiscal year and didn’t hide his disappointment when Henry said he wasn’t really sure.  He began his real job, the one he was creating so he could jump ship after forty years of going to the same cubicle on the second floor in the planning department of a transportation company where the idea was to keep the buses running on less money every year. He leaned back on his leather recliner and held a cellphone and credit card. All the tools of the trade in one hand. Sweet.

Tuned into the shopping channel to check the action. There was an infomercial about a love meatball machine, something like an ice cream scoop giving birth to identical meatballs, twenty to the pound. A woman dressed in a skirt and a red top, low enough to reveal some popping cleavage, kept repeating, “These meatballs are made with love.” The meatballs were guaranteed to cook more evenly than the ones you made by hand. Might appeal to the homemaker or to the would-be chef. He ordered it. Next.

Something special for the car, a license plate holder that was machine-studded and hooked up to a car’s bluetooth and wi-fi network allowing the driver to broadcast several messages, one to tailgaters that warned, “Get Back,” another with a more insipid  “Have a Nice Day.” A third one you could customize. He knew exactly what he’d say. By eleven, Henry thought he should get to bed when a  stocky man with a mustache appeared on TV talking about a package deal  for “flipping houses,” the same thing  his co-workers talked about over and over again, short hand for making a shitpot load of money. He ordered the product and turned off the TV. He was glad his evening had been productive.

Once he’d receive the boxes, Henry deposited their styrofoam and plastic pillows outside in his recycling bin, then proceeded to his kitchen table where he tested each item. wrote reviews on his blog, and rated each one according to a system of caterpillars. More caterpillars meant more butterflies, therefore, more potential to fly.  Henry reviewed everything on his blog and posted pictures.  Afterward, he stored the stuff  in his garage,  a ready-made treasure trove of Christmas presents for those imbecile “Secret Santa” parties. He tracked the numbers of hits on his blog. Any day now he’d get the call. It had to happen.

In several weeks, the house kit arrived. He emptied it on the table. Out flew a set of papers, a playing board, and a set of little houses. He didn’t understand, arranged roof pieces, doors, and windows. There were instructions to call an 800 number. He did. A man introduced himself as Flip Johnson and congratulated Henry for playing Flip This House. Then he realized. It was a fucking board game. Flipping houses the same way you’d flip cows in that tube of bovines popularized several years ago by bored students on spring break. He’d rate this so-called deal with  one rip-off caterpillar and dumped the gizzards into his recycling bin. False advertising. But when he opened the door, he didn’t see his shed; instead he only saw the sky. Henry couldn’t wait to write his review. This could be it!

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Black is the Color of Marlon Brando’s Motorcycle Jacket

Black is the color of my true love’s hair
and Marlon Brando’s motorcycle jacket,
each tooth a silver zipper.

Black is the color of roadies
drinking beer down the street
at the Big Dipper.

Black is the color of Johnny Cash
who kept praying for ‘Nam
to be over in a flicker.

Black is the color of T-shirts
of high-tech workers
designing glass slippers.

Black is the color of a woman
stoned on a red carpet
because a veil didn’t fit her.

Black is the color of people who fade
behind the sidelines of center stage.
Black is the color of our grueling age.

Chorus:
And sorry, I drive a Ferrari.
Bob Dylan (or insert another name)
didn’t wear black to the Grammys.
He wore gold.

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The First Flying Woman

The old woman who lived in the bottom apartment called me. Her name was Basuma. Freckles covered her hands and arms and made her look like a ripe banana.

She pointed to a tree in our backyard. “Look! The momma bird is feeding the baby bird,” she said. “Daddy’s watching for cats. When he sees a cat scrunch itself up into a waiting rock beneath the tree with its mouth open and its tail ticking,” she continued, “he flies to the branch and warns its family to fly far away.”

I thought about that. “But how does a bird learn how to fly?”

She pulled out a brown and white feather from her grey hair and began to fan herself. “By watching the momma bird.” Sweat was beading off her forehead. “Sheesh, child, it’s too warm. Let’s go to the basement. I’ll tell you there.”

We climbed the winding wooden stairs to her small room. Basuma sat in a rocker. I sat on a blue rug and leaned my head against her bed. “Go on,” I patted her leg.
“Once there was a Bird Woman named Liana,” began Basuma.

“Liana!” I said. “That’s my name!”

She nodded. “She was nobody’s child and everybody’s child. Liana was an orphan who had been brought to the village as an infant. All the families in the village helped to raise her. She grew up learning something from everyone.

“One family taught her how to listen. She could hear ants digging inside their homes. Another family taught Liana how to sing. “If you know how to sing,” they told her,” you can move rocks from your heart.”

“But why are your eyes sliding off your face?” asked a sparrow who had made a trek down the bark of the tree to talk with her.

“I receive gifts from all the families in the village,” said Liana. “But I have nothing to give.”

The sparrow scratched her head. As small as she was, she knew many things. “I’ll give you a feather. Then you will have a gift.” With a tug from her beak, the little sparrow plucked a feather from her wing. “Here,” she said, and flew away.

Liana lived near a river that overlooked a thick stand of tall pine trees with Malley and her little brother Joosh. Liana was the oldest. Malley and Joosh’s parents were away collecting summer berries, but knew the other families would take care of them.

“The next morning Liana opened her eyes and saw that the moon had not yet disappeared. She held the feather inside her palm. It was speckled brown and white. Who would want a small feather that was no bigger than her nose? She tucked it inside a small gold locket that she wore around her neck, the only thing she’d brought when she’d first came to the village.

“What’s wrong?” asked Malley, who stirred inside her bed of soft fresh leaves. “Why are you up so early?”

“Now little Joosh always slept next to the fire to stay warm. He never wanted to miss anything. He was in such a hurry, he accidentally tossed the edge of his leaf bark blanket into the fire, which began to blaze.

“Oh, Joosh, you’re so dumb,” said Malley. The boy stuck out his tongue.

The girls tried to put out the fire, but it spread. They had nothing except a rusted can to carry water from the river. Joosh kept filling up the can. But why did Malley try to smother the fire with a deerskin? And why did Liana throw rocks, which only created sparks that flew everywhere in the dry weather? The pine trees caught fire.

Liana remembered the sparrow’s feather. She took it out and rubbed it on her chest. Her back grew thick with feathers. The wind parted her dark hair down the middle of her neck, which spread over her arms into two wings. Liana moved so quietly through the air, she didn’t even disturb the wind. She grabbed the two children and flew to the other side of the river where she placed them on safely the ground. The Bird Woman flew away. From high in the air, she saw how everything was connected to everything else, how the rivers flowed into the oceans, how the mountains sloped into the valleys. She called to Malley and Joosh good-bye. Her voice turned into a beautiful song.”

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from Persons of Interest

…from my new writing project…here’s a See’s chocolate sample.

faceAnnabelle 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 calls within one-hour’s time.

I won’t bore you with how we met, but it was 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. Annabelle shared her peanut butter and jelly sandwich that oddly tasted of Campbell’s Tomato soup. Since then, we’ve been BFFs, so whenever AB wants to tell me something, I listen, a forty-five or so year-old woman divorced twice, mother of two kids. Those are my stats, and like a rap artist once said: “to right my wrongs, I have to write them down.”

I’d been languishing after yet another failed relationship and found little solace in the thumbnails of online daters, all of whom blended into one generic line-up wearing dark sunglasses. What about eyes being the portals to the soul? After several years of making my way through these pathways of disillusionment, single-handedly keeping one coffee shop in business through a revolving door of prospective lovers, I vowed to retire to my queen-sized bed with Felix the cat purring nearby, a striped grey tabby that I’d rescued from the ASPCA. He had scratched everything in my condo to pieces, but I didn’t care.

“I’m done with it,” I told AB. I’d just finished a texting conversation with an online dater who wanted to know what I did for fun. I coughed up a few bullet points. He wrote back and shared his distraught about how his dates only wanted one thing. And exactly what was that thing?

“Casual sex.”

Bite me! Now that the possibility of pregnancy has disappeared into the hot flashes of menopause, and women don’t require pharmaceutical assistance to enhance their sexual performance, we get censored for casual sex? Give me a break. Or maybe I’d missed the point altogether, and what he really expected, was for me to reassure him that I only wanted that one thing, Lauryn Hill please take note.

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

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Listening to an MLK Speech From the Sixties in my 60’s

Less than a week after Trump’s
shithole comments about El Salvador, Haiti, and Africa
oh you racist insufferable man
from the water closets of vipers
who looks at a piece of land
and sees dollars

our contractor-in-chief
in the Oval Office
a big-time operator
working for the oil, coal, and gas industries
thinking he can talk shit
and get away with it       taking out  a contract
out on all of us.         Resist!

I sit this morning
parked at the 24-Hour Fitness
listening to the King of Love
deliver a speech
three days before he’d received
the Nobel Peace Prize

remembering when I was sixteen
living in the same world as this man
who talked of equality and justice
he touched
my child’s heart with the truth
and it’s here   in this body
our community       giving us breath.

Octopus Salon reading (Pandemonium Press) January 4, 2018

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

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The Amazonian

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Ladies, Never Grow up to Date a Lawyer

Seeing black and red

I did enjoy making love in his bed, definitely 1000 plus thread count sheets, and satiny pillows in a house that featured a fireplace off the kitchen and a working slot machine from one of his clients. His house had a three-tiered garden filled with olive, lemon, and pear trees. He didn’t believe in flowers. “They take too much work.” During Christmas, he had three mangers arranged on the top of antique dressers including one that he’d bought on a cruise to Fairbanks, Alaska. The manger featured an igloo with baby Jesus awaiting a visit from the Three Kings who were being escorted by a white polar bear. It was lovely. He talked. He never stopped talking, told me about an elderly woman with flaming red hair who over the years had enlisted his services to keep from being evicted. “We were good friends.” Time after time, he’d rescued her and pulled the necessary legal strings to keep her in her house, but this last time, she’d ended up in an assisted living facility with her dog Gretchen, who’d been her only companion. One evening, the lawyer had received a call from a nurse to come quickly. She was dying. He appeared at her bedside, which was rancid with sweat and pee. He insisted, “Why didn’t you tell me you couldn’t pay your rent this last time? I would’ve filed a stay.”

She didn’t want to hear his legal arguments, just to extract the promise that when she died, he’d take care of Gretchen. He promised. She died.

I was impressed by his dedication to his clients. I also learned that red hair had played an important role in the lawyer’s life. An artist with red locks had lived at his compound for three years but had departed with another man. Another woman, (and he did not disclose the color of her hair), chose to live with him for eighteen years, and then left. I had entered his life some time after the second woman had joined her son and grandchildren in another state. He muttered curses about the inconsistency of women, lit a fire for me in the pit adjoining the kitchen and poured champagne in proper fluted glasses, as well as shared his knowledge of walnuts (I had assumed only one kind that appeared around Thanksgiving), but added the Hinds Black Walnut variety plus the Livermore Red. He could quote lyrics to songs going back to the forties and wore an Elvis bowling shirt whenever he had a day off, which was infrequently. The lawyer shared stories about his nieces and nephews and how one godchild had vaulted her way to a scholarship. He talked a lot about himself, but on the other hand, I am a good listener.

He never had time to see me, although as a Catholic boy, vowed that he absolutely did. Several weeks went by. He boorishly didn’t call after we made love. He was busy; he was a lawyer. He would be taking the holidays with family on the upper deck. We couldn’t see each other over Christmas, or at least, made no mention of that happening. Text messaged me every day with good mornings and good evenings and nothing else. When I replied, I received autoresponder messages that he was driving. New Years Eve was out of the question; he was attending a birthday party for a godchild. He always answered my questions with cryptic responses. “But that’s not what I asked you!” Why had I assumed that lawyers were good communicators?  When I asked the reason for letting me know that he’d actually been alone on Christmas and not with his family, he replied, “Because you are wise and thoughtful.”

Counselor, I agree.

Which leaves me to ponder that old philosophical adage: I date, therefore I am, (avec sors, donc je suit). Did I need go out on dates to feel alive? Rather than introducing  positive energy into my life, I saw how the fires of love were becoming besmirched with thick layers of soot that took entire weeks  to wash off with continuous applications of aloe vera. Perhaps I was like Elisa, a mute janitor in The Shape of Water, drawn to a mysterious aquatic creature, gills growing from my voice box, a reverse Little Mermaid who leaves the world of men, men who stick their fingers down other peoples’ throats and back stab each other, which is one possibility, another being that I stop caring,  to move past the notion that I cared about my dates at all.  🙁

Instead, I hoped for an intelligent aquatic creature to show up in my bathtub. I’ll bring the kosher salt. 🙂

Octopus Salon reading (Pandemonium Press) January 4, 2018

The Blood Donor’s Flash of Fiction

Buy my book, The Golem

Links to my work

The Amazonian

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Wondering…

Dallas, thanks for being a dedicated reader. I would enjoy getting a comment, if so inclined.

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The Clock Was My Movies

An hour-and-a-half ride on the subway from east side to west. Always waiting, finding a place between riveted posts, a light in the tunnel, I hope it’s a train, hot air on my face from the IRT, a seat if I were lucky, just my luck, holding the handles, reading posters, this month’s Miss Subway, Rhonda Rodriguez, her photo never came down, transferred at 42nd Street, one train, two-ways, back and forth, some people rode all day and took up three seats, reading Howard Zinn on the sway, People’s History, New York City and the Ladies Garment Workers Union, the United Federation of Teachers and Albert Shanker, past Hell’s Kitchen, stretches of cement, smell of coffee, Greek restaurants, meatballs staining hero sandwiches orange, walking fast, but always late, stairs to elevators, fifth floor, Van Nostrand Reinhold, a publishing house bought out by Litton Industries, first to market the microwave, press the button, at my desk, Mr. Epley in his office who’d served in the Navy, I’m his secretary, Lina from the Peace Corps wore a bracelet of masking tape, I typed and made mistakes, white-out coated my fingerprints, went for walks during lunch, wanted to find the Chelsea Hotel, home to Brendan Behan, the clock was my movies, I watched it all day, after work, went back down the elevator, caught a different train, a bus to Long Island Jewish, hospital never came

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Dog-walking

I was taking a long walk, the first day I had stepped out of the house in an unmarked direction, just a squiggly line on a trail map. I wanted to lose myself. My son had died a month ago from an advanced form of cancer.

A distant figure with an assortment of dogs.

Poodles and pit bulls. They had jumped out of a grey SUV, abandoned in the stream, rusted and dented, a nondescript grey paint sprayed unevenly over the body. She stood in the water and collected fish inside a bucket. It was red and

swimming toward her.

The dogs waited, but only after she had dropped a fish between the paws of each supine animal, did they begin to eat. They were bandaged and limped badly. I thought that maybe she was from a special branch of the ASPCA that cared for abused animals.  Sat down on a fallen tree trunk and watched. Buckeye trees blazed with blossoms of white candelabra. Stinging nettles lined the stream.

An opera house of clouds formed in the sky, billowing. Grey.

Everyone had told me that time heals all, but I wasn’t sure that I would ever feel whole again. He’d been nine years old. We’d buried him with his toys.  The stuffed doggie with floppy ears. I approached, wanted to ask whether the path doubled back to the canyon. I’d been walking all morning. I was feeling tired and hungry. Something. When she saw me, she barred my approach.

The dogs started to bark. Are they dangerous? She said her dogs didn’t like strangers. How did the animals get hurt?  She shook her head and told me I was making the dogs skittish, a thin woman dressed in a torn black sweatshirt and pants. Her arms were scarred. She became frantic and told me to go away. I said I needed help, but as I spoke, the dogs began to whine and rolled on the ground.

The animals turned into children, the poodles were the youngest, and the pit bulls more like twelve year olds, stood near the stream with their rotten bandages and stink. It happened gradually, a hand appearing where there had been a paw, a tail dropped away. All of them licked at their wounds with pink tongues and began to howl, not sure if they were humans or still dogs. Even more unsettling, I recognized in the dog-walker’s eyes

the vacant stare of a mother who had been unable to protect her children.

Review of The Golem

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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.

Review of The Golem

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

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