Friday, February 23, 2007

Dreadnaut Episode #6


Dreadnaut Episode #6, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

Where's this story going? Keep tuned in!

Dreadnaut Episode #5


Dreadnaut Episode #5, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

Oh man! Five total COMIX!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The History of Music as Told to Beth Hanson Over Dinner

"You see, Beth, it started with just cavemen thunking on logs. Drums! Brilliant, right? Oh, you gotta try this garlic bread. I know it's just garlic bread, but godDAMN it's amazing. So drum logs. Some caveman in a bear skin just started jamming one day, keeping time with the rhythm of his own heart. Never changing or faltering, just thump-ump-bump-ump thump-ump-bump-ump and one day another caveman came up to him and just started howling. Wailing, really. And he invented singing. Four years later and after the invention of electricity, the cavemen dug up a bass guitar. It was ancient and fossilized, brought down to earth by aliens and left behind. Well, they were able to chisel out a body and neck from a tree, and then they developed the forge and made steel strings for it. Amplifier technology had been available for ten years.

"Oh, this MOTHERFUCKIN' spaghetti! Oh CHRISTBITCH! No, I'm not talking about you. Just an expression, Beth dear. So they had drums and singing and a bass, so the singer took up the new instrument, plunking down only basic jazz chords and walking bass lines at first. They figured they'd be a jazz duo, 'cause the drummer caveman found some bushes that he turned into brushes. And while they were casting strings, they cast some cymbals too or some shit. I don't remember. I'm so stoned right now.

"But then the aliens visited again, and gave them a fuckin' NEW invention, the electric guitar! Spacetime and lightspeed travel had allowed them to develop SIX string technology. And the aliens gave them Iggy fuckin' Stooge and the band became the STOOGES and they fuckin' ROCKED YOUR SHIT. SO DON'T COME TO ME ALL LIKE 'OH, MR. RECORD EXEC PLEASE SIGN MY ROCK 'N ROLL BAND' 'CAUSE YOUR LITTLE 'BAND' AIN'T ROCK 'N ROLL YOU SHIT BITCH. ROCK 'N ROLL IS MADE BY FUCKING CAVEMEN AND OUTERSPACE ALIENS. DID YOU DEVELOP THE FORGE AND THEN CAST YOUR OWN STRINGS? NO? MY POINT EXACTLY. Oh shit, this mescaline is wearing off. Be a dear now and give me a good bit of a rubdown. That's a darling, now let's talk singles."

Dreadnaut Episode #4


Dreadnaut Episode #4, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

Holy Comix!

Dreadnaut Episode #3


Dreadnaut Episode #3, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

Wow! Comix!

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Dreadnaut Episode #2


Dreadnaut Episode #2, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

Comix updated NOW!

Oh, you missed it.

Dreadnaut Episode #1


Dreadnaut Episode #1, originally uploaded by Dreadnaut Comix.

New comix whenever.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Teenage Kicks

"Shit," he said.

"Turn it up."

"Nah, it's fucked."

"What do you mean fucked?"

"I mean, it's FUCKED. Doneski."

"Aw, hell no," Darren cried, dropping his head back. "I paid two hunnered for that stereo last week."

"S'fucked. No... wait, oh, I got it!"

Caroyln hollered, raised her fist. Darren sighed and then glared at Steve, fiddling with the stereo. Rebecca was sitting on the couch with Dougie and Chris.

"Play that one!" Rebecca shouted from the couch.

"Which one?" Steve shouted back.

"The dance-one! I wanna dance!"

Smoke bounced against the ceiling of the basement, Steve pulled his cigarette from his mouth, exhaled from the side of his mouth and put it back, clinching it tight with his lips as he pulled a black 7" from its sleeve and shimmied it onto on the record player. Everyone leaned in towards the two three foot tall speakers against the corner of the dark basement. Two loud snare hits and then some guitars ripped out of the speakers. The Undertones, "Teenage Kicks."

"Woooo!" Rebecca shouted and she jumped up, grabbing Kris from the other side of Dougie. She and Kris were both wearing skirts and boots and slashed up t-shirts. They both had short died black hair and lots of studs and necklaces. Rebecca was taller though, longer legs. Kris was petite.

Carolyn swaggered up behind Steve and spun him around by his hips. Carolyn wore tight jeans and shaved her head. Steve had on black work pants and Chuck Taylors and a black sleeveless t-shirt. He shaved his head too. He grabbed Carolyn's hips and picked her up and swung her around. He was taller than Rebecca. Dougie sat stoned out of his mind on the couch. He had a huge beard and always wore a thick red and black flannel and one of those black watchmen's caps over his long hair. He was wondering what Chris saw in that tall dyke. If he wasn't so catatonic he would have been wishing that Chris was backing up, flipping her skirt at him as she sat down on his lap and starting grinding out a provocative display instead of shaking her head side to side and sliding around on the concrete dance floor with Rebecca. Darren danced by himself, sort of like Snoopy in those Peanuts cartoons. A lot of foot kicking, and then shaking yer head towards the ceiling, then shaking your head towards the floor while your arms stay still.

"I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get teenage kicks right through the night, all right!" the stereo blurted. Carolyn spun her back to Steve and shimmied up against him. Rebecca and Chris twirled each other around, their skinny arms tangling as they twirled themselves around Darren, who continued dancing in his own way in between the two girls' arms.

"I'm gonna call her on the telephone, have her over 'cause I'm all alone."

Steve puffed on his cigarette and the cherry glowed. Dougie's head rolled back and he stared at the bouncing smoke next to the single 40 watt light bulb illuminating just a small cone of the basement.

"I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get teenage kicks right through the night, all right!"

The guitars and drums prattled out the ending and everyone hollered. Two and half minutes of dancing, two and a half minutes of power and glory. Two and a half minutes of forgetting work the next morning, forgetting the destructive effects Steve's smoking will have on his lungs, forgetting their shitty apartments and the war over in the Middle East. Two and a half minutes of freedom.

"Put it on again," Chris shouted.

"Nah, it's too short, we'll have to just keep flipping it."

"Well, what else do we have to listen to?"

"Ramones, DEVO, shit, um, not too much good for dancing."

"Hold on," Steve said. "I've got the perfect record."

He flicked his cigarette butt into the ashtray on the coffee table. He stepped and leaned over the turntable, flipped some records, then dropped the needle again. The silent room waited, then two snare hits and the guitars kick in.

"Wooooooooo!" Dougie shouted, rising from the couch. "I love this shit, man!"

Rebecca and Chris shouted and each one grabbed one of Dougie's arms, and even though he was baked, he spun them around as The Undertones jammed "Teenage Kicks" again. Darren still danced his own way in his spot. Carolyn and Steve were doing their own version of the Twist, shaking their knees and twisting their hips, and the smoke from Steve's dead cigarette twisted upward from the ashtray on the coffee table, through the single cone of light in the dark basement, pluming out as it hit the basement ceiling.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Things that Go Bump On My Head

The brick landed hard.

At first I didn't feel anything, just the thump and the jerk in my neck. But then the pain receptors kicked it and it started stinging hard, and I could feel the warm, wet, sticky blood beginning to pool in my hair. My eyesight fuzzed out, and then all the dumpsters and fire escapes in the brick alley started swirling.

"Ah, FUCK!"

I didn't know who could've assaulted me. Or who would. Some gang bangers around the corner? Some assholes with a club? Oh shit, I thought. This is it. Mom told me I shouldn't have moved to Chicago.

My head twisted around, darting this way and that, looking all over for anyone. Was that a shadow of a cat or a thug with a nine? Is that a group of skinheads with pipes? But there was nothing. Nobody. Bright, sunny Chicago summer. Cool and shaded alley. Me and a bleeding head. So I looked up at the tenement building I was walking past. What did I see?

About six or seven crumbling loose bricks about three stories up at the edge of the roof.

"Fucking rotting city."

So I pulled out my handkerchief and dabbed the back of my head with it, turned around and went back to my shithole apartment. Fuck class, fuck college, fuck Chicago.

Fuck, my mom was right. I shouldn't have moved out here.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

A Stimulating Conversation Carried Out During the Completion of a New York Times Crossword Puzzle

"Baseboard."

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, eight letters."

"Baseboard is nine."

"Oh."

"By the way, darling, have you tried this coffee yet?"

"No, I haven't sipped it."

"It's divine."

"Well, I'm sure, you were behind the preparation."

"That's very well not what I meant. Thirty seven, catacombs? It's just a good roast."

"Guatamalan."

"Where, twenty-two up?"

"No, that's the roast. Guatamalan."

"Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were talking about... oh, Garland. Twelve down is Garland. And Guatamalan is the country of origin, not the roast. The roast describes how long it was roasted for, you know."

"Oh."

"I know it's Guatamalan. But the roast is interesting, it's a tad bit lighter than usual."

"Really."

"Yes, really."

"No, ten down is really."

"Aha! Wonderful, darling."

"You're right about the coffee, it is nice."

"Hmmm..."

"Do you think... ten up?"

"Baroque."

"Excellent."

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Horrible Noise That The Tree Made When I Backed My Car Up Into It

It yelped.

Trees don't yelp.

I mean, I know trees are living. Plants are living. Algae is living. Fungus is living. All that stuff has life; I know this. I learned this in seventh grade. But plants don't yelp. Algae doesn't yelp, fungus doesn't yelp. Trees don't yelp.

But the tree yelped.

I can summarize the noises made. I turned the key; clink. The car started; vrrrroooom. I shifted into reverse; thup. The car rolled backward over the gravel driveway; krrrchkrrrchkrrcchh. It slipped off the side of the driveway; vrrgrrgghhhrghuppuppuppupp.
I hit the tree. It should have gone WHUMP. But it didn't. It went yelp.

Trees don't yelp.

Dogs yelp. Wives yelp. Daughters can yelp, and so can sons.

But not trees.

Trees don't yelp.

Unless...

Well.

Last night I read a story to the boy before he went to bed. In the story, the trees came to life to help a little lost boy in the woods. Those trees could talk. Those trees very well could yelp.

Problem solved.

I am just currently stuck in that story. But no yelping tree will make me late for work. And my wife and son agree. I see them in the window of the house. They have a horrified look on their faces. They must be worried that I hurt myself when I backed into that yelping tree. It's okay, I wave to them. I smile, and I pull forward. I turn around and pull out of the driveway. Silly wife, silly son. All worried about me. But no yelping tree in a story world that I'm stuck in is going to make me late for work. I'll just stop by the shop on the way home, and they'll check it all out for me. Fix the bumper.

Wait a minute.

Trees don't yelp.

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part VI

After breakfast I moved my bags into the upstairs loft. Like the basement, the upstairs was just one big room that revolved around the open staircase. This room served as my parent’s bedroom for all the years that I lived and grew up in this house. There was one plain wooden dresser along one wall, and a kind size bed along the other, the stairwell splitting the room in two between them. The ceiling was pitched, since this room was more of an attic than an actual bedroom. But my favorite part (besides the burgundy carpet) was the old desk along the third wall, set right underneath the big octagonal window. It was large and rectangular, moreso just one large maple slab that was sanded down and re-stained and set atop four rectangular posts. It weighed a couple hundred pounds and was the first thing my father ever built himself. The second, of course, being this house and all the cabinetry and bookcases inside it. But it was at this desk where my father wrote all his revolutionary works. A living legend’s workspace, the birthplace of The Ice King and Solomon’s Burden.

Sometimes my father would sit me on his knee as he penned those pages in longhand, flipping the looseleaf sheets slowly and deliberately, placing them facedown upon their predecessor. As a kid, even sitting on my father’s knee, I was still only eye level with the desktop and couldn’t quite see the words that were penned. All I could see was my father’s forearm reaching around from behind my head and his hand flying over the paper, the pen delicately pinched between his thumb and forefinger. When he flipped the pages, I always thought they looked like sails on a big ship set to sea, billowing in the wind. When I was younger I imagined my father writing stories of pirates and sea battles, and I suppose it was from those sheets flipping at my eye level.

I emptied my one suitcase into the dresser, t-shirts and socks and pairs of jeans and long sleeved flannel shirts. I packed warm and comfortable clothes to prepare me for the winter. I was still wearing khakis and my blue shirt and red tie from the office. I hadn’t changed since the morning before when I left for the office of the magazine that I worked on. I filed for leave, citing time to concentrate on writing my first novel, and they graciously granted me until June of the next year. I didn’t tell them that really, honestly, the reason I left was because I was afraid bombs and poison gas in the subways. Biological warfare released on the streets from strafing jet planes.

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part V

We were all scared. The whole damn nation was shuddering and wringing their palms like the socially challenged villain in a movie. The first few bombs were a direct hit. We watched the city erupt into pockets of flame on live television. Public approval was low, and there was only one word on everyone’s mine: retaliation. Not since September 11th, not since Pearl Harbor – America has been free of rampant warfare, of invading forces and massive bombing campaigns. But we all watched, hunkered close to our televisions as the first bombs dropped and leveled that city. Only none of us knew if the war was over or if it just begun.

The same morning that I woke up rubbing the lump on the back of my head was the same morning that the town began sandbagging the two roads that go through it. As I was crawling up onto my knees, the townspeople were stacking sandbags on the asphalt. As I started my way up the stairs to the smell of bacon, Fat Joseph, the butcher, was standing with his hands on his hips in his white apron, overseeing two high schoolers named Ted and Josh. While my eyes were adjusting to the bright light of the kitchen, Mrs. Saunders, the music teacher at school who gave piano lessons on the side, was sitting in folding chair, watching the event like it was on television.

Ira was at the stove, stirring the bacon as it bubbled in the greasy pan. He was still wearing the same white t-shirt and khakis, although he might have taken them off before he went to sleep. Then again, he might not have.

“You’re up,” he said, facing the stove.

“Yeah,” I said back to him.

“Bacon. Put some meat on your bones.”

Ira was referencing the fact that he was always a bit huskier than I was. Growing up, I was sort of scrawny, and the fact that I turned vegetarian later on in life didn’t help me “bulk up” the way that Ira always wanted me to. Ira belongs to a certain mindset where being a man is important, and there are certain ways a man should act and look. Certain feelings that are pre-destined. My father prescribed to the same philosophy, the Hemingway Syndrome I called it when I was growing up. I never understood why a man had to be a man if he was just going to sit at a typewriter and talk about his feelings.

“I’m a vegetarian, you know,” I said to Ira.

Ira ignored me and flipped each piece of marbled bacon over with the tongs.

“Ah, my boys,” my father said from behind me, wheeling himself out of his bedroom.

In his wheelchair, he looked sick. All those years of pan fried bacon and hefty steaks and cholesterol left his heart weak and small. I could almost feel it struggling to beat through his wrinkled grey skin, undershirt, and grey woolen sweater.

“Dad,” Ira said from the stove. “Did you know that one of your sons is a vegetarian?”

Dad looked up at me, winked and smiled, and said, “Well why are you making bacon if you’re not going to eat any?”

“No, not me,” Ira said as he whipped around, tongs in hand. “I was talking about…”

He stopped when he saw the smile on our father’s face.

“Oh, real funny.”

“Make Lee some oatmeal, he can have oatmeal can’t he?” Dad said to Ira, wheeling himself past me through the kitchen towards the dining room. “I should be having some oatmeal too, anyway, you know, with this bum ticker of mine.”

“Dad, I can make oatmeal for us,” I said.

“With a bruise like that on your cheek,” my father said, “I think Ira owes you a meal.”

And then he disappeared into the dining room.

“Sorry I hit you,” Ira said.

“Sorry I called you a mess.”

The bacon hissed and popped.

“We’re all just wired, you know? On edge. I guess we’re all just scared.”

“Well, you don’t have to worry, nothing’s going to happen.”

“If you’re so sure, then why’d you leave the city?”

I opened my mouth to speak but then let my jaw shut slowly when I realized I had no good answer. Ira folded his arms letting the tongs hang down from his right hand, leaving grease spots on the left side of his shirt.

“Like I said, we’re all scared. That’s why they’re sandbagging the roads.”

He pointed with the tongs in his right hand to the window over the sink, and I walked over to the sink and peered out the window. It was a bright morning, and down the hill in the distance I could see small figures laying sandbags out, forming little walls so that cars would have to zig-zag around them in order to enter town.

“Go sit down with Dad,” Ira said. “I’ll make you both some oatmeal.”

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part IV

After dinner, Dad turned the TV off, and Ira pushed him back into his bedroom, leaving me with the dirty bowls on the TV trays. The living room was dark but Ira flipped on a bedside lamp when he wheeled Dad into his room. From across the living room, I looked through the doorway at Ira leaning over and scooping his hands under Dad’s armpits and hoisting him up out of his chair and laying him down in his bed. It was like watching the scene through a window from outside of the house. It felt like it would even be warmer in there than it was in the living room. I picked up the bowls and walked through the dining room to the kitchen, and set them in the sink. I turned on the water when I heard, “Hey,” from behind me.

It was Ira, in a half whisper, pulling the door to the study shut behind him as he stepped into the kitchen. He looked tired. Not just the bags under his eyes, but the lack of color in his cheeks. He didn’t look well.

“Just save those for the morning,” Ira said, stuffing his hands down into his pants pockets. “The old man’s asleep, you know?”

I turned towards him and nodded. Ira nodded his head to the left, at the stairs down, a signal to follow him. He turned and trotted down them, and I followed. The stairs creaked loudly each time my shoes pressed on to them.

The basement was just how I left it when I moved out to go to boarding school when I was twelve. It was just a big square room with cinder blocks for walls and concrete for a floor. It was covered by black fake bear skin rugs, and the other twin bed – Ira’s bed - was shoved into the back left corner. Other than that there were a couple of those striped canvas folding chairs and a foldable card table in the center of the room, and there was Ira’s old army surplus duffel bag spilling it’s guts out onto the bear skin rug by his bed.

“Dad’s sick, you know,” Ira said over his shoulder, walking towards his bed.

“I know,” I said back quietly.

“What?” he asked, spinning on his heel and staring me down.

“I said, ‘I know,’” I barked back at him.

“Then where have you been?” he growled, taking a step towards me.

I didn’t have an excuse or a good response so I took a step forward. This was the wrong thing to do. Ira was like a snarling dog. If you moved towards the dog, it will spring on you and attack, and if you retreat it’ll take off and chase you down, but if you square off against a dog, it won’t lunge. I took another step forward. Part of me just wanted to get punched in the mouth.

“HUNH?” he shouted. “What the fuck, Lee? WHAT the fuck.”

His head was tilted sideways and he was staring at the ground. A bad sign. Crazy people don’t look you in the eye, and I wasn’t sure what mental state Ira was in. I took another step forward, and now he was in arms length.

“Look,” I started putting my hands up to show I was unarmed, “Look, let’s just…”
And then I was on the floor. I didn’t even see him raise his arm. My left cheek started to throb and my vision was blurry. Fuck, I thought. That didn’t work.

“Aw, shit, aw God – Goddamnit!”

I angled my head up a bit and Ira was pacing back and forth at my feet.

“I’m…look – here, I’m sorry,” he grumbled, then leaned over me and held out his hand. I took it, and he pulled me up to my feet and brushed off the shoulders of my shirt.

“I’m a little on edge, you know? Since mom died. Drugs, man, I’ve – look, I’ve been taking a lot of pills since I’ve been home, so…uh, sorry.”

“You’re a mess,” I said. It was the wrong thing to say but I said it.

“Man, FUCK you!” he shouted.

His arms flew up and shoved me in my chest, sending me reeling three steps until I tripped on the edge of one of the fake bear skin rugs and fell backwards – just at the bottom of the stairs, my head whipping back and nailing the concrete so hard that when I opened my eyes, it was already morning.

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part III

The house itself was a cavern. Inside it was always dark, damp. When I walked into the front door, right in front of me was the large wooden staircase that goes straight up. To the left was the dining room, with a big rectangular oak table over a red patterned rug. Here is where my father kept large cabinets full of my mother’s china. These cabinets were lined up along the walls, like watchful sentries guarding the dining room table. Through the dining room led to the kitchen in the back, with black and white tile and standard counters that ran the length of the wall. Off the kitchen and directly below the staircase upward were the stairs that led to the basement. This is where Ira had made his dwelling. Next to the stairs down was the bathroom, long and skinny, it made up the rest of the middle of the house with the staircases. Through the side of the kitchen was the den that was converted into my father’s bedroom when he got sickly. The carpet was thick and a dirty brown, and bookcases lined most of the walls, though most of the books were gone. Dad had regarded himself a scholar and a collector of old books, but he had started selling them on the Internet one by one so mom wouldn’t have to work and could devote her time to taking care of Dad. In the middle of the room was my old twin bed from when I was younger. Ira and I used to share the entire basement as one bedroom, and the master bedroom was upstairs. Through the den was the living room, complete with television and couch, which currently held Ira hunched over a TV tray and Dad’s easy chair where he had a napkin tucked into his shirt collar. The living room completes the walkthrough, because it connects back to the front hall.

“Get yours and Dad’s food from the kitchen,” Ira said hunched over his tray and a bowl. “It’s all on the counter. I made red beans and rice, ‘cause we need more groceries.”

I nodded and walked back through Dad’s bedroom, the den, to the kitchen, but my curiosity got the best of me. As a kid, I was mesmerized by Dad’s book collection. Large leather and cloth bound volumes, green and red and orderly standing tall on the bookshelves. It was these books that made me decide that I needed to be a writer when I grew up. I would pull them down from the bookshelves and lay them in my lap, flipping the thick pages one by one as I sat in the reading chair in the den. I wasn’t able to read them, and even if I was, I wouldn’t be able to understand them. Crime and Punishment, Moby Dick – these are books I’ve never read but pored over day by day. I became obsessed with the words, not what they said or what they meant, but just the look of them. Tracing my chubby index finger across them line by line. And now they were gone. All that was left was a ratty copy of The Great Gatsby and a few nameless volumes that speckled the shelves – original pressings of his own works. I shook my head as I turned on my heel towards the kitchen, where I saw a pot of the stove and two bowls with spoons on the counter next to them.

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part II

My brother told me that the funeral was pretty standard. Relatives showed up in black and gray and some in white, stood around in dresses and suits, some cried, they lowered the casket, and then my brother drove my Dad up the hill to the old house. It was wood paneled with a low sloping roof and square windows. As kids my brother and I used to pretend it was a fort. Our little hill gave us such a solid vantage point over the rest of the town. You could see everything from that hill – all the little houses in the valley snaked together tightly by little town streets. And the row of rectangular stores lining main street. And all the people. My brother said that on that day, after he helped Dad into the house, he looked down at all the houses in the valley. Everything looked grey and cold. All the people were just slowly moving lines of color along main street. All the cars were floating by. And above the drug store, the American flag flapped loosely in the wind.

He called me the day of the funeral, which was the day after he drove home. He told me the situation, about how mom had died in a car accident, and probably shouldn’t have been driving at her age anyway, but she went out for Dad’s medication and her car went skidding through an intersection, got T-boned by a high schooler in a Ford, and how she was just gone in an instant. People said that my father’s sickness had run her so ragged that she was just like a rubber band stretched too tight. Pluck it too hard and it just snaps and ceases to function as what it was created for. A rubber band was created to hold things together. My mother was created to hold my father together. And my brother, being the more responsible one, being the one closest to home, was called upon to take our mother’s place in caring for our father.

I left the day after the day that the first bombs dropped. Within a day of the war starting, my apartment in the city didn’t feel like a very safe place anymore, so I packed up my old minivan with a couple of duffel bags, shut the hatch tight, and left the big city for home.

Dad and Ira were waiting for me on the porch with the front door open as my minivan wound up the long gravel driveway up the hill and settled next to Ira’s old Pontiac. Ira was standing with his hand on Dad’s shoulder, Dad sitting in the wheelchair with his hands politely on his lap. Both had a day’s worth of scruff on their faces, Ira’s nearly black and Dad’s nearly white, but both had the same sharp nose and warm brown eyes.

“They’re dropping bombs,” my father called to me from the front porch.

“I know,” I called back, as I circled around the van to the back hatch. My shoes crunched on the gravel and my red tie blew loosely in the wind.

“We’re not in the city any more,” my Dad called to me. “Why don’t you loosen that noose a bit.”

I circled the knot on my tie with my fist and grasped it tight, gave it two tugs, and it slid down an inch. I unbuttoned the top button on my shirt and with the release I took my first clear breath of Small Town air. Not entirely pure and clean, but crisp and warm, even in autumn.

Ira stepped down from the porch and made his way towards the minivan. He was wearing a white v-neck t-shirt and slim khakis with running shoes. His hair was long and dark an unruly – I don’t think he’d had a haircut in the last three months that we had lived there.

“It’s good to see you,” he said, smiling. He held his wide arms outwards and enveloped me.

I smiled back, and accepted his embrace, our arms encircling the other diagonally. He seemed to be twice my size. He squeezed me tight, patted my back three times and said again right into my ear, “Damn good to see you.”

“Same,” I muttered.

We each grabbed a duffel bag from the back of the van and crunched up the gravel driveway towards my father on the front porch. He was smiling, his teeth yellowed and aged, the liver spots on his face wrinkling in the corners.

“My boys, my sons! Wonderful! Now let’s get some dinner, and start discussing emergency plans. When they start bombing us, I want to turn this place into a fort.”

He spun his chair around and Ira followed him as he wheeled himself into the front door. I turned around after stepping up onto the wooden porch, and turned back towards the town and looked down at all the old buildings and houses below us in the valley. Peaked roofs and shingles, chimneys with small clouds of smoke drafting out of them, and I thought of the way Dad said the word “fort” and thought of the old days, when Ira and I would stand on the hill and look down at the town.

Part of an Ongoing Piece, Part I

Ira got the call first. As my older brother, and the firstborn, it just sort of fit as part of his duties. He packed an old army surplus satchel full of sweatshirts and socks and through it in the back of an old Pontiac he bought for a thousand and drove all night down to our parent’s house.

Ira told me that when he got home, all the lights were on in the house, and you could see it glowing up on the hill in the foggy early morning, sitting just higher above the rest of the town like a beacon, or a lighthouse on the edge of a foggy moor. He pulled the Pontiac up the drive, parked it on the gravel, and crunched his way up the front porch steps with the army satchel slung over his shoulder.

He said that when he opened the front door, Dad was sitting in his old easy chair. It was moved from the living room to the end of the front hallway, so when Ira opened the door, Dad was looking right at him, his hair graying and wavy, thick and combed over. His face, Ira told me, looked rigid; grayed and cracked stone. He had a .38 pistol held up to his side temple and he was wearing a red V-neck sweater.

“Your mother was a saint,” Dad said, “Don’t worry, it’s not loaded.”

Ira said that Dad pulled the trigger and the hammer snapped back and the chamber rotated and the hammer came back down with a snap. Nothing happened. The gun wasn’t loaded, just as Dad had said.

“I’m glad you’re home,” Dad said to Ira, “Now let’s bury your mother’s body.”

In Which our Hero Examines the Consequences of Cocaine Abuse in a Futuristic Club where A Reggae Band is Playing at 4:30 in the Morning

"Fuck," she said, wide eyed and bloodshot, whipping her head back with her finger pressed to her nostril. She snorted two more times to suck up the remaining residue, then switched nostrils, and snorted again.

David looked on at the group of them huddled over to one side of the C shaped booth from the other side. Suddenly, his Heineken seemed un-exotic. His weekly four dollar splurge on German (is it German?) beer didn't measure up to $1,000 of white powder dusting around the air like a blizzard. Marcia cut another line with a razor blade, and Jimmy rolled up another Benjamin Franklin into a nose straw while Suzie and Herbert stared on with glassy, excited eyes. They were all wearing see-thru, neon colored polyurethane suits, 'cause, um, this was a future club. And some of those Max Headroom sunglasses.

David felt lonely in his wool and polyester black suit with white oxford shirt and skinny black tie and normal black sunglasses. Actually, he felt like he played trombone in a ska band - the look he was really going for was "mobster," but he failed at that too.

The club was dark and smoky, a combination of marijuana, cigarette, cigar, and smoke machine clogging up all the air filters. Through a shadowy mass of white people writhing in the bare illumination of a flashing strobe light, David saw the only other black guys in the club - the band on stage, even though he could only see their top-halfs because of all the silhouetted heads of rich, fancy club goers. The stage was lit up like a Hydrogen bomb - searing white light shining down on the ten to twelve black guys wearing ragged layers of scarves, dreadlocks, sunglasses (is everyone wearing sunglasses in this stupid story?) army jackets and soccer shoes and khaki slacks. There were two drummers, two bass players; a saxophone, trombone and trumpet; some keys and guitars and guys on soundboards and microphones. The tiny stage was awash with band members. The crew wanted to come because they heard a reggae band was playing, but David knew this wasn't just "reggae." This was some heavy dub music - dark repetitive pounding bass rhythms with heavy low drum beats and guys mixing the soundboards to make it all sound like one horrific nightmarish wall of upstroke sound.

"This shit sucks," Marcia said as Jimmy leaned over and snorted the line on the mirror in front of him.

"I dunno, I kinda like it," David said.

"You WOULD," Suzie cracked, her head wagging and tilting. She started leaning to the right, and then she capsized like the Titanic, falling straight out of the step-up booth onto her coked out little head.

"Whoa, shit," Jimmy said, twisting his neck to the left with a satisfying crack. Herbert tried to lean out of the booth to help Suzie up, but she was waggling in a semi-seizure with blood dripping out of her nose.

The song ended, and the entire crowd thew up a big cheer. One of the guys went up to the microphone, the one with the huge beard and military looking cap and spouted off some echoed Jamaican accented words that no one understood, and then a new song started up.

David took the last sip from his beer and set the green glass back down on the table. He stood up from the table but no one noticed and stepped over bleeding Suzie to push his way through the flashing crowd up to the front of the stage. The PA was blaring was booming and the lights were Atomically bright, but everyone was wearing sunglasses anyway. The heavy dub rhythms vibrated David down to the core, and then the bearded guy took a break from shouting something about Zion and revolution and held his arms out like a messiah. David nodded his head, and when a guy with a clean shaved face stepped forward the guy with the beard stepped back and looked down at David and pointed at him with his left, dragging the microphone cord on the ground with his right. David nodded, and the bearded guy smiled.

Then back at the table Jimmy threw up on Herbert's lap. Marcia's eyes rolled back into her head, and when she fell forward onto the table, her arm knocked over the tiny candle and the little flame spilled out over the melted wax and started a corner of the paper "Reserved" sign on fire.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Dancing in the Dark

I pushed the door shut behind me. My apartment was a mess. There were white t-shirts left where they were dropped, like little dirty piles of snow. My couch was rotten and old and mustard colored and there were white bowls stacked on the coffee table left over from last night's breakfast. The early morning sun was burning through the thin green curtains so I tried to rub the headache from my temples as I stripped off my t-shirt, letting it drop on the chair by the door. The bedroom was cool and dark, and my limps were limp from stamping steel all night, so without even washing up, I slid myself into the sheets, and dreamed of clanging metal and flying sparks in the dark.

When I woke up, it was dark again. My red LED alarm clock buzzed and it was 9:00, so I rolled out of bed. No words in my mouth. But I look over to the top of my dresser, and I see the napkin with "Kayla Room 325 Holiday Inn" scrawled on it and sigh as I head into the kitchen for another bowl of cereal.