Saturday, August 22, 2009

My new blog, with Heather Davis, is
Shenandoah Breakdown

Excerpts from The Edge of the World will be continued at some point in the future; and I will, from time to time, post other material here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

P-Funk Reshapes the Landscape of the Redneck Town I Live In and Other Acts of Reformation and Reconstruction

Behind the wheel listening to P-Funk in my new neighborhood
the blank stare of the shirtless Larry the Cable Guy lookalike sharpens
to crystal clarity as his lazy slouch straightens up into a confident
strut and the words Git-R-Done are banished forever from his lips.

The colors start to run on the confederate flag bumper sticker
on the pickup truck ahead of me, its starry X melting like
the Wicked Witch of the West turning into a smelly puddle of scum.
Having freed my mind from the “Our God is an Awesome God” sounds

that limp through the streets from the doorway of the Heaven Sent Shoppe
downtown until it oozes like toxic waste into the Shenandoah River, having
been lifted from the list of endangered species by a bop gun blast,
I am ready to stand tall in my off-white glory and the knowledge that

God does not appreciate those lame-ass Christian pop songs. I step
out of my minivan, open the back door and take my daughter
by the hand. “Who sang that song?” I ask and right away she
answers “P-Funk” because I’m trying to teach her what’s well

and what’s real and we glance at our house, stop and wave to
our neighbors, then together we turn to walk towards the future.

- Jose Padua
The next excerpt from The Edge of the World will be posted next month.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The Light Pours Out of Me: Part II, chapter 14 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

There were always people whose existence I was compelled to ignore. Whose words and actions I tried to shoo away with a wave of my hand as I would a fly. And New York, being the preferred destination for many a traveler, had a generous share of these people. Aspiring actors, aggressive shoe salesmen, harried personnel managers, belligerent street preachers and the insane followers of trends were all in abundance there.

I’d never had any use for these people. Never had the least bit of sympathy for their concerns, their aspirations, their neuroses. As far as I could tell they had never abandoned the ashes from which men are said to have risen, and so, like birds taking dirt baths, they wallowed in their own muck. But, unlike the birds, they could never fly.

Charlie, the vice president at work who was my immediate supervisor, wasn’t among these people—although at first one might presume him to be exactly the sort of person who’d never had an original thought or never felt a sense of disgust with the world that surrounded him. But in his own way Charlie was full of bile and anger. He never simply reacted to the world, nor did he simply accept it. He knew that the work we did there at the marketing company was useless, that it was leading us nowhere. The only thing it did for us was put money in our pockets, and it was doing that (except for Gustave and Mr. Gurnsey) at a very slow pace.

“It’s basically all a scam,” he once told me. “We get this tacky jewelry made in Thailand by child labor. Jewelry that’s really only fit to be sold in dollars stores at half price. Then we get some has-been celebrity that only people who spend way too much time in front of the TV give a fuck about to sponsor it, we jack up the price, and wham! We’re making a goddamn decent living. Although I must say that if these kids weren’t doing sixteen hour days in the plant they’d probably be giving blow jobs in the massage parlors in Bangkok. Our business is actually saving them from that—which by no means puts us in the same category as fucking Mother Theresa. Because while they get a few pennies an hour for it, we get at least a hundred times that amount.”

“Well,” I told him, “that’s the way it always works. Someone has to get screwed so someone else can make it.”

“Yeah, right,” he said, then began impersonating Mr. Gurnsey. “Profit. That’s what it’s all about. Profit.”

Charlie and I were sitting at the bar in Live Bait, the restaurant that was on the other side of Madison Square Park across from our office. We’d been working late and he refused to miss his customary seven p.m. gin and tonic by getting right on the train back to New Jersey.

“You know, I was falling asleep when I first heard him go into that rap about profit,” I said. “I thought he was saying ‘prostitutes.’”

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Charlie said. “The word ‘profit’ doesn’t sound anything like ‘prostitute.’ Except maybe in your sick mind.”

Charlie thought I had a perverse mind—which isn’t to say he didn’t appreciate how I looked at things.

“Everyone’s got a sick mind,” I countered. “It’s just that most people are afraid to admit it. There are timid school girls out there who dot their i’s with little hearts and wear daisies in their hair whose greatest hope is to fall in love with a serial killer. There are priests who get hard-ons when they offer the last rites to the dying, nuns who get wet whenever they smack the school girl with the flower in her hair for her bad penmanship. Then there are the millionaire philanthropists who donate money anonymously who are also secretly hoping that World War III will break out at any minute because what they want more than anything else is the satisfaction of knowing that in the end all their good deeds have made no difference at all.”

“Reel it in, Lemmy. Maybe you should switch from bourbon to something lighter. You can’t deal with the hard stuff like me.”

“Nah,” I said. “Bourbon is actually what calms me down. If only you knew the shit that comes into my head in the morning when I’m completely sober.”

“Spare me,” Charlie mumbled as he finished his drink.

“Hell, Charlie, sometimes it’s best that instead of just sitting back and letting shit happen, you stand up and do what you really want to do. That’s all I’m really saying.”

“Well, what I really want to do right now is order another drink.”

“Shit, man, do it!”

“Bartender!” Charlie shouted out. “Another round over here.”

“Now the next step after giving in to your real impulses is to actively pursue them.” I took a look around the bar and spotted a hot blonde and a cute, dimpled brunette sitting at a table with a pitcher of beer in front of them. They’d apparently been there for a while and were now bored and ready for a little excitement, a little intrigue, and a quick fuck with a total stranger who could make their pussies sing opera. “Now check this out, Charlie,” I said, pointing across the room with my elbow.

Charlie turned his head and raised his eyebrows slightly.

“Now what does that sight make you think of doing?” I asked.

“It makes think I should get a beer when I’m done with this next gin and tonic.”

“Now be honest, man. You’re talking to me.”

“Well, yeah, they look pretty good. Damn good,” Charlie added as the bartender brought over our drinks.

“You’d like to fuck them, wouldn’t you?”

“Well, yeah. But I’m not.”

“Because you’re too old?”

“That’s not it at all,” Charlie insisted. “I’m married, remember?”

“But right now married isn’t what you want to be, am I right?”

“Right now all I want to be is drunk. And I’m getting there.”

“But what are you going to want after you get drunk... once you’ve reached that prerequisite goal? What are the two primary goals of every guy in the world, two things that go together even more than ham and eggs? Coffee and donuts? Apple pie a la fucking mode? I’ll tell you what. Gettin’ drunk. And gettin’ laid.”

“I can go home for that second part, Einstein. Jesus, I could have done that first part at home too.”

“What?” I asked. “And deprive yourself of my stimulating conversation?”

Drinking sometimes turned Charlie into a much older man. A man who had seen enough and done enough. A man who didn’t have the energy to forget the past and everything he’d learned.

I took a big gulp from my drink. “Why don’t you go hit on those girls?” I suggested.

“Why don’t you, Romeo?”

“Charlie, my man. I’m trying to show you a good time. But you gotta work with me a little bit here.”

“Well, call me old if you want to, but it’s enough for me to have a few drinks after work. I don’t need... and don’t really want all that other stuff anymore.”

“Charlie,” I said, as I watched the lines on his forehead deepen. “You’re hopeless.”

I stood up, brushed the hair out of my eyes, and walked down the room, fixing my gaze upon the cute, dimpled brunette who at that moment was wiping a thin coating of beer foam from her lips. As I approached, her eyes widened like those of a school girl who had just been called upon to answer a question by her stern, goateed English teacher.

“Wanna fuck?” I asked.

With her head full of a schoolgirl’s noises, and the distraction of her friend’s excitable nudges, she failed to come up with the right answer to my question.

“How about you?” I said turning to her friend.

“Ah... ah...” the blonde headed girl stuttered. “Ah... no.” She then shook her head repeatedly for emphasis, understanding that in many instances words had no power.

Not being in the mood to scold her, I let her off easy. “Okay,” I said firmly. “Maybe later then.”

“Got shot down, huh, Romeo?” Charlie said when I sat back down at the bar.

“Nah,” I answered. “Just a failure to communicate. A failure on their part.”

“Lemmy, you’re a freak,” Charlie said as he shook his head. Then he laughed. “I’d stick around for more of your freak show, but I gotta get home.” He gulped the rest of his drink and stood up from the bar. “I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he laid a twenty dollar bill on the bar.

It was still early when Charlie left—“early” being a word I use only to place myself in relation to the world at large. Because at this point in my life the word “early” no longer had meaning for me. Time, having ceased its forward progress, had begun to move in a circle of which no part could properly be described as either “early” or “late.”

I quickly left the bar and started walking up Broadway. It was 8:30 on a chilly spring evening, and I walked without any destination in mind. Midtown Manhattan was in the midst of its daily post rush hour hush, when the looming darkness in the skies once again takes dominion over the movements on the ground. I marched ahead confidently towards the glimmering lights of Times Square.

I’d never been in any of the peep shows in New York before. But for some reason, after the drinks I’d had with Charlie, I was feeling like a tourist—one of those odd looking creatures with ill-fitting clothes who looked up at the skyscrapers and gawked, who pointed a finger and followed as if that finger were a policeman commanding them to move.

Circling the block at Times Square, I came to a stop at the glowing blue lights of Eden. It was such an obvious, unclever name for a peep show. A better name would have been the Mackerel Lounge or the Siamese Blue Theater or even Sugar Town, but it was called Eden, and walking in the door I felt that I had reached the end of something. That I was running out of room, out of space in which to stretch my arms, out of a distance into which I could gaze and see nothing but the miles and miles of road that I could walk.
First posted, out of sequence, in March 2006.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Silver Was the Color, Winter Was a Snowbell: Part II, chapter 13 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

Bino started seeing Paula all the time. He was, he told me, “in love.” He fell in love so easily. All it took was for a woman to smile at him half sincerely and he was hooked. He’d even been half in love with Thelma back in Ft. Myers, I found out. Half instead of completely in love because she never possessed even half of a sincere smile. A woman practically had to smack him in the face for him not to feel any affection for her.

Because of his attachment with Paula I began to see much less of Bino. Going out to dinner with her or just staying at her apartment on the Upper West Side watching television, he was always too busy now to hang out at the bars with me. Which meant that, aside from my job, I was pretty much on my own.

I began to take walks in town even more often than I had been before, and on weekends I’d take especially long ones. Taking my van on the ferry and leaving it near Battery Park, I’d set out in the early afternoon with Leon, my favorite dog, and walk the length of Manhattan Island. Through China Town, Central Park and Harlem, I wouldn’t stop until around midnight when I’d reach Inwood Hill Park at the northern tip of Manhattan. Standing there with Leon, I’d gaze across the Hudson River toward Englewood Cliffs, contemplating the land that stretched out towards the West.

I already knew that I’d never see that land, those cities Lily and Leonard had seen and which I told them I’d seen myself during my search for them. West was never where I wanted to be, but it wasn’t until I’d gone to New York that I realized I could resist its pull. And standing there at the edge of the park, gazing towards the West as the cool wind came across the Hudson, was like contemplating a car crash I’d never be part of, a sad tale which would never be mine to tell. My life was heading in another direction altogether, a direction few people had the courage to take.

Walking back down to Battery Park after midnight I was king of midtown Manhattan. Although there were cars passing by—and, here and there, the silhouette of a person in the distance—the streets, in essence, belonged to me. Like at Christmas, I was the man who ruled all the skyscrapers and churches, all the shops and restaurants and hotels. Every neon sign was flashing just for me, every traffic light turned to green so I could proceed uninterrupted with my journey back home. Secure in my domain, I walked tall, with Leon several paces ahead of me pulling tightly on his leash as he sniffed the ground that lay before us. Whenever the moon appeared between the spires of the skyscrapers he would pull his head back to look up and ponder its grayish light. He’d then let out a sound, a howl that was almost human in its mournfulness. I’d look up at the moon with him, feeling as if that howl were coming from me. As if being king had an element of sadness to it.

It was always sunrise by the time we got back to Battery Park. Both Leon and I would be tired, with my clothes full of sweat and grime and Leon’s dark fur matted against his body. I’d put him in the van then drive onto the ferry. Back at my house I’d leave him in the living room, where he’d fall fast asleep, then go into my bedroom where, even though I was just as tired as Leon, I could never fall asleep.

But as it was, my insomnia was a good thing. It prevented me from dreaming, from conjuring up those strange images and situations which would often leave me disturbed for days. Those strange visions which, although they were completely removed from reality, would cast an unshakable sense of doubt upon my waking hours. I was glad to be rid of them. And so it was that one early summer afternoon of that year I began what was to be the happiest time of my life when, after coming back from a walk through the South Bronx, I slept for the very last time.

Friday, October 19, 2007

The Dimension of Stillness: Part II, chapter 12 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

None of the women at the company would fuck me. It seemed that somewhere along the line I'd lost the ablity to seduce budding young business women. Even the receptionist was immune to my charms. I'd often notice her casting a furtive glance at me, but it was never an admiring look she gave me. On the contrary, it was always one of suspicion and fear, as if I might suddenly pounce upon her, dragging her off into a corner so I could have my way with her. Though I must say that that was exactly the sort of thing I had in mind whenever I cast a glance at her. With her meaty Brooklyn girl's ass, she would have been good to take from behind, pumping into her while her pendulous breasts swing like church bells beneath her.

Unfortunately I never got the chance, and after a time I found myself chasing after some of the women in Bino's crowd. It wasn't something I wanted to do at first—I'd spent enough time talking about literature with Lily when I was trying to take her away from Leonard. But since all the women in Bino's crowd were either poets or writers of some sort, it was something I'd have to do again.

I first went after Paula, a cute brunette who worked at the bookstore with Ron.

"Oh... you're the dog man," she said to me when I'd gone to see Bino and his gang at another reading. "I didn't recognize you without your dog."

The reading was in the upstairs room of the Cedar Tavern in the Village and she was standing at the bar, watching the proceedings.

"Well, yeah," I said. "But they wouldn't let me in here with a dog, so I had to leave him at home today."

"I'm a cat person myself."

"So, you have a cat?"

"No," she answered, shaking her head.

I waited a moment for her to explain, but "no" was all she cared to say about it or anything else.

I turned to Richie, the bartender. "A Jack on the rocks," I said, ordering what was to be the first of seven hours worth of drinks. Soon I was sloppy drunk and yelling at whoever was reading, even Bino.

"Read something good for a change," I shouted at him.

"Eat my fuck," he replied. He was never very good with the comebacks.

"Lemmy, maybe you better switch to coffee," Ritchie advised me.

"Shit, man, I'm just trying to have a good time. Work with me here."

I moved over to one of the tables and sat down next to a dark haired woman with bloodshot eyes and huge breasts. Although her face was kind of ugly, I thought I'd give her a try.

"Hey, you know that poem you just read?" I asked.

"Yes," she said, straightening up in her seat so that her breasts stood out and pointed straight out the door and towards my car.

"Well, you know, I heard it and I listened very closely the whole time. And when you were done I must say that I was really moved. Next to your poem, everything else just seems like so much self-indulgent wank."

"Well thanks," she said, looking me in the eyes and smiling."

"So, hey," I continued. "Would you like to come to my place and fuck?"

Before I knew what had happened she had thrown her drink—a scotch and water from what I could tell—in my face as I waited for a "yes" to come from her lips. Letting out a loud grunt, she stood and moved to another table. It was clear that she'd been having a bad night.

I wiped my cheek then went to the downstairs bar. When the reading was over Bino came down, accompanied by Paula. Instead of joining me at the bar, Bino and Paula went directly to a table towards the back of the room without saying a single word to me.

I sat there on my stool for a while, grinning at them as I hummed some old song that had popped into my head. When it was clear they weren't going to look towards me I turned away and stared at my drink, resting my elbow on the bar.

With my eyes open, and the sounds of conversation and the clanking of glasses and bottles all around me, I began to dream. Although I was completely awake, I knew it was a dream and not a waking idea or a product of my conscious imagination. And what I saw in my dream was a world where I was the only human left alive, the only survivor of a species which, after my death, would be extinct.

Aside from myself, and the plants and trees, the only living things in the world were dogs. They were crowding the streets, with hordes of them running down Broadway past Twenty-Third St. in a cityscape that was bereft of both people and cars. It was a noisy scene, but rather than car engines and horns, screeching brakes and squealing tires, the only sounds were those the dogs made. Barking, growling, and howling at the buildings and at the sky, they continued to move down Broadway, past Union Square, past Houston, past Canal street, until they reached the southern tip of Manhattan at Battery Park, where like people gathered around a backyard swimming pool, they jumped into the water. But once in the water, rather than swimming, they sank, sending feeble ripples toward the bank as they drowned there where the East and Hudson Rivers met.

I watched until all the dogs had jumped. Until the air was still and quiet and the ripples in the water had disappeared. Later in the dream I was back on Staten Island, standing underneath the Verrazano Bridge as I watched their bodies floating by. Dalmatians, Greyhounds, Poodles, Collies, Beagles and other breeds of dog, their bodies all bloated, drifted slowly down the Narrows into the Lower Bay. I stood there exhausted, feeling as if I were witnessing the aftermath of a massacre, because although they had jumped into the water on their own, I was sure that something had driven them to this. What it was I had no idea.

By the time I came out of my dream it was three in the morning and I had run up a bar tab I couldn't pay. Bino and Paula were long gone and only two other people were left at the bar. I put down thirty bucks and told Ritchie, who was now downstairs counting the receipts, that I'd pay him the rest, fifty dollars, later in the week. I never went back.
First posted, out of sequence, in May 2006.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Bourbon, Dogs, and Arlene Dahl: Part II, chapter 11 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

At work I was doing the usual things—plugging in numbers, generating new numbers, then generating reports on the new numbers. It went on and on... I'd wake up at six in the morning, get dressed then tend to the dogs. After that I'd take the bus to the ferry—I never drove to work, as parking in town would have cost too much. Getting off the ferry I'd walk over to catch the uptown N train to 23d and Broadway, then walk through Madison Square Park to the vendor on 26th and Madison, where I'd buy a bagel or a donut for breakfast. Then it was up Madison to 28th Street where the company's offices were, into the lobby where I always greeted the doorman with a sneer instead of a "good morning." Up the elevator to the fourteenth floor and to my desk in the front room right next to the receptionist.

It would take me an hour and a half to get there, and most of the time I was late, tired and hungover from whatever I'd done the previous night. I'd been trying to spend less money, since the depletion of what I thought was the ample sum of money I'd taken with me from Florida was what led me to work here until I could get my guard dog business off the ground. Still, I seemed to get more and more in debt. Though in the month after Christmas I saved money by dining on Christmas gifts the company had received. Gifts like a huge basket of cheese from Arlene Dahl, the celebrity sponsor of one of the company's lines of jewelry.

She was a big actress in the fifties, considered to be something of a sex star. A hot redhead with firm tits, she was now a plump old matron, although plastic surgery had spared her some of the more ravaging lines of old age. Arlene came to the office once when I was there. The receptionist was out to lunch at the time—whenever she was out I covered for her. Arlene stepped out of the elevator and looked around. Seeing that there was no one else there, she finally spoke to me.

"I'm looking for Mr. Charles Rivers," she said, holding her head back as if some foul odor had just entered her nostrils. It was entirely possible, because I was hungover at the time and may have been sweating stale bourbon from my pores.

"Just a moment, I'll ring him up," I said, picking up the phone and dialing. "Charlie, Arlene Dahl is here for you."

"I'll be right out."

"He's on the way out," I said to Arlene.

"Thank you," she replied. It was the most insincere thanks I'd ever heard from anyone.

Charlie must have gotten held up for some reason, because it was taking him a while to come out to the front. Not wanting to leave Arlene standing there bored, I said, "Arlene, thanks for the cheese."

She gave me an evil look which seemed to say, "The cheese wasn't for you, you knave." Knowing that I was annoying her, I persisted in my attempts at conversation.

"I really enjoyed it," I added. "I've been eating it for lunch the past two weeks. Making cheese sandwiches or sometimes just slicing it up and eating it plain."

Choosing not to comment on the praise I was lavishing upon her Christmas gift to the company, she asked, "Perhaps you could ring up Mr. Rivers again."

"Oh, don't worry, he's on the way..." I said. I wasn't about to bother dialing his number again. "So, have you been doing any acting lately?"

This last question was apparently more than she could take. She rolled her eyes, then stomped off on her own to look for Charlie.

Our other celebrity sponsor was Jennifer O'Neill. Her Christmas gift to the company was a huge tub of popcorn.

"Thanks a bunch," the note on top of the tub of popcorn said. "It was a great year. Shine on... Love, Jennifer."

Jennifer's fame rested on a single hit movie from the early seventies, The Summer of '42. It was a movie which, like all of Arlene Dahl's movies, I had never seen—though from what I knew, it was about a teenage boy who has some kind of affair with a young war bride, played by her. I remembered seeing the newspaper ads for the movie when it first started showing in the theaters. They featured a shot of her face as she gazed off into the distance, towards the water, perhaps. It was one of those all American faces—apple pie, baseball, and all that other homegrown shit. But even though I was only about ten at the time, the only thing I could think about while looking at her was what that face would look like if she were sucking dick. Not that I found her the least bit alluring. Indeed, Lily was far more beautiful than Jennifer O'Neill was, and back then Lily was the only woman I was interested in. But to see that clean and earnest image of Jennifer O'Neill defiled somehow did interest me. I wanted to see this heavenly beauty brought down to earth, down to the real world where people walk through their own shit and piss and where beauty is nothing more than the most direct route to a hard-on.

With her being one of the company's sponsors, I thought it was my chance to make a childhood dream come true. She lived out in California somewhere, and from time to time Gustave would go out there to see her. Whenever he made the trip the girls in the office would talk, telling stories about him going horseback riding on her ranch and how his going out there was more like a vacation than a business trip. But all the time I was at the company, Jennifer O'Neill never came to the office. Gustave always went to California to see her, dropping any other business at hand whenever he needed to show her some product or get her signature—things which could have been accomplished much more easily through the mail.

Of course Jennifer O'Neill—despite her rather commonplace sort of beauty—was much better looking than Arlene Dahl, who to me was just a dried out has-been actress. On occasion Charlie would ask me for my opinion of the situation.

"Charlie," I'd say, "no one gives a fuck about Arlene Dahl anymore. Most people my age don't even know who the fuck she is."

Charlie was one of the vice presidents in the company. He'd only started there about six months before I had, having left some department store chain that had moved its headquarters out of the New York area. He was one of the few people in the company who had a family to support, including children he was putting through college. Nearly everyone else, including Gustave, was younger than he was, and, being single, they had a lot more money to go out and have a good time with. Like me, Charlie didn't have much money to throw around. But more important was that he was the only person there to whom I could speak my mind without receiving a bewildered stare in response. Since he was new, he felt that he had to prove himself, which meant that he'd take suggestions from anyone, including me.

"If you ask me," I told him, "the company should dump Arlene Dahl, 'cause the only kind of jewelry the people who remember her are wearing are medical alert bracelets, and all their money is spent paying doctor's bills and buying expensive heart medication."

"Well, you're right on target there," Charlie laughed. "And Christ, even I think she looks scary."

"Yeah, you want to get someone much younger. Younger than Jennifer O'Neill even. Hey, have you seen Playboy's Miss April? Now that's the sort of sponsor you need. Tits all the way out to Coney Island and a muff that smells as fresh as the morning dew."

"How can you tell what her muff smells like?" he asked, feigning exasperation.

"Hey, I got an eye for these things."

Charlie gave my advice a try and began to audition new models to use in the company's brochures. The ones he brought in were more to my liking—tall, leggy women with slim waists and big tits, including one I recognized as a Penthouse centerfold from a couple of years back. But Gustave, who had the final say in the matter, didn't like any of them. He wanted to stay with Arlene Dahl, to attract older customers, and Jennifer O'Neil, who'd bring in the middle aged housewives.

"I know our market," I heard Gustave say to Charlie once as I passed his office. Lingering in the hallway, I continued to listen in on the conversation.

"But that market's pretty much a given," Charlie countered. "I think we can expand and attract younger customers. And in fact we should, because it's single young women who are most likely to have a lot of disposable income. And even those who don't are prone to impulse buying, taking out their credit cards to buy something for the sole purpose of keeping up with the latest trends."

"But we're not selling anything trendy. That's not our market. And if we try to attract that market we'll end up alienating our long term customers."

"Well, to put my two cents in," I heard Mr. Gurnsey interrupt, "I didn't like those models you brought in. Frankly, Charlie, they all looked like prostitutes. Straight from Tenth Avenue. Or Eleventh Avenue. Whatever. I remember in my day you always went uptown for that. It was five dollars a pop. Or was it ten dollars? Whatever. It was cheap. And that was what those models looked like. Cheap."

So the company ended up staying with Arlene—the not so grand old lady—and with Jennifer—the middle aged one hit wonder girl. Business remained steady but never grew just as the numbers I plugged in changed but never increased. And although the money I made at the company was enough to survive on, it wasn't enough for me to get my own business going. Which meant that, for the moment, I belonged to them.
First posted, out of sequence, in Febuary 2006.

Disclaimer: This excerpt from
The Edge of the World uses the names of public figures for the purposes of satire. Any other names are invented. The content of this work should in no way be construed as factual. It is a work of fiction.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Beer, Dogs, and Poetry: Part II, chapter 10 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

A month later was when Bino and Ron had their reading. I'd worked that day, after which I went home to feed the dogs, and then to the vet to pick up a dog of mine that had gotten hurt earlier in the week. Since I was running late, I brought the dog with me instead of dropping him off at home.

When I got to the gallery the reading had already started. Ron and Bino were already very drunk.

"Me and Ron have already been on," Bino said when I sat in the chair behind him.

Ron then leaned over and started pouring his beer onto Bino's shoes.

"And now we're waiting for him to finish reading," Ron commented as a cigarette butt hit him on the cheek. "Hey who threw that?"

Rather than look to see who had thrown the cigarette butt, I turned to the front of the gallery. There I saw Phillip Evan Green, standing at the microphone and looking down to the large sheaf of paper he held in his hands. Turning back, I saw that Ron had stood up and was setting his beer bottle down on top of a large metallic sculpture.

Although the readings Ron arranged were never particularly solemn affairs—general drunkenness was always part of any event he orchestrated—this one was more unruly than most. People in the audience were not only guzzling beers, but throwing things at each other, putting cigarette butts out on the gallery floor.

Part of the reason for the unruliness of the audience had to have been Phillip Evan Green. Bino told me that he'd already been reading for fifteen minutes by the time I got there. That, plus the fifteen minutes I'd been there, meant that he'd been reading for half an hour-which was much more than anyone should ever be subjected to his pretentious academic ramblings. Still, it seemed to me that instead of throwing cigarette butts at each other to pass the time, they should have been throwing them at him. I picked one up and threw it towards the front of the room, barely missing the side of his face. Phillip Evan Green, however, was as oblivious to the object I'd tossed at him as he was to the restlessness of the crowd.

Phillip Evan Green was a person no one ever referred to as just "Phillip" or even "Green," because to do so would be to admit some degree of fellowship with him. Calling him by his full name seemed to create what was a necessary distance to him, as even those few people who considered him a friend, or colleague at any rate, never called him "Phillip."

The first time I heard him I began to laugh uncontrollably. I thought it had to be a joke, this fat guy who would read on and on while periodically looking up from his text to make some lame observation—an observation which would inevitably induce in him a childlike fit of giggling. I thought it had to be an act, that no one could be that great a fool.

But it wasn't an act. Phillip Evan Green was such a fool, and when I realized this his "act" ceased to make me laugh and instead horrified me. So while other people, when they'd figured him out, simply got bored and fidgety when he read, I became despondent.

It was a state of mind which, after the initial sense of gloom, always led me to take action. At the gallery I couldn't bear to listen to his whining voice one moment longer, so I stepped outside—but that wasn't nearly enough for me. I had to do something more.

I walked down to my van, attached a lease to the collar of the dog, then went back to the gallery. Since the people who were running the gallery were too busy keeping an eye on the crowd—and making sure that no paintings or sculptures were damaged or destroyed—they didn't notice as I stood right outside the door with the dog. Opening the door slightly, I watched Phillip Evan Green for a moment. His large belly was hanging out over his belt as he leaned toward the microphone. As soon as he looked up from his sheets of paper to make what he believed would be another witty remark, I bent down to the dog, pointed toward the front of the room, and whispered, "Sick 'em."

My dog dashed ahead, dragging his lease behind him, down the aisle between the two sections of chairs. As he forged ahead, people who were paying no attention to Phillip Evan Green suddenly found themselves turning toward the front of the room. With an elegant leap, my dog pounced upon Phillip Evan Green, who let out a horrible scream as the papers he held scattered in the air. He fell to the floor with a loud thud as my dog started tearing at his shirt.

"Holy shit!" someone yelled.

"Help! Help me!" Phillip Evan Green shrieked.

"Good God!" I shouted from the doorway, feigning horror at my dog's seemingly unprovoked attack. As I ran toward the front people began to scatter, backing away from me or else heading for the door. "Heel! Heel!" I yelled, then grabbed the dog's lease.

Bino ran up to me as Phillip Evan Green began to sob. "What the hell happened?" Bino asked.

"Christ. I went outside to check on the dog and he was barking like crazy..." I said, pulling the dog closer to me and shaking my head. "So I took him out, and as soon as I attached the lease to his collar he got spooked again and ran in here before I could catch him. The next thing I knew he was attacking Phillip Evan Green."

A crowd had gathered around Phillip Evan Green, who lay on his back bawling like a five year old. He was more scared than hurt, as this dog had been trained only to scare people, tearing at their clothing without actually mauling them.

But I must admit that while watching Phillip Evan Green writhe on the floor, I wished I'd had one of my more ferocious dogs with me that evening. A dog that would really hurt him, a dog that would have left him still and silent.

As I led the dog outside, the people who hadn't already fled backed away.

"It's all right," I said. "He's under control now."

I brought the dog back to my van, doing my best to suppress my laughter as Bino followed behind me.

From that day on—except when I was just going to work—I always brought one of my dogs with me when I went into town to take a walk. And with my dog I'd venture into any neighborhood I wanted to, no matter how dangerous, at any time of day. Because even more than a knife or a gun even, there's nothing that puts the fear of God in someone like a dog with the devil's eyes. People will run through dark alleys, over broken glass and garbage, to flee such a creature. They'll bang on people's doors in the dead of the night seeking shelter from its fast approach, use friends or lovers as barriers between them and its gaping jaws. Because when confronted this way by an animal, people surrender all their pretensions, all their beliefs in the lofty state of their being as they realize that in the end they too are animals.
First posted, out of sequence, in April 2006.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

White Feather Wings: Part II, chapter 9 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

I spent Christmas eve at home, working with the dogs. On Christmas day I drove into town. After parking near Union Square, I walked around for a few hours. Up Broadway into the hundreds and back again. As I'd expected things were quiet. People were either inside, celebrating Christmas with their families, or else had left town for the holiday—which was what Bino had done. With the streets nearly deserted, I felt as if the entire town were mine. So while other people may have had their families and their Christmas gifts, I had this stretch of land, with all its avenues and skyscrapers. And standing on the ground, looking up to the pinnacles of all the buildings as I approached Times Square, I sensed that somehow I was above it all, gliding like some exotic bird—or a flying reptile perhaps—over a newly dead civilization's abandoned shrines and monuments.

The following day things were back to normal. The streets were filled with people going to stores to exchange or return their gifts or running errands they couldn't run on Christmas because most places had been closed. Suddenly I found myself feeling nostalgic—not for days long gone but for the day that had just passed. But I knew that Christmas would come again in another year, and I hoped that soon the day would come when everyday was like Christmas.