Tough Lunches of the Twenty-First Century (Victory)

Date: January 31, 2015
Location: USS Chowder Pot, Branford, CT.

Sometime victory is hard to recognize.

I took my baby out for clams, oysters and other aphrodisiacs from the ocean. I remember the smells: the sea and the sizzle and the spices of the gins and tonic. The old crinkle paper of the menus. I remember the grease stains.

My girlfriend Rebecca, (don't call me Becky) she wanted to know why, why was I so insistent on this place- today. I told her it was nothing, just another overcast Thursday, just another lunch, but I was ready to tell my Rebecca (don't call me Becky) that I loved her and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.

Saying it out loud now it sounds insane- you either propose on your knees with a ring in your pocket or you just keep your mouth shut. But back then, back when I could conquer the world, I just had to say it. I had to say it out loud. I just had to tell Rebecca (don’t call me Becky) that I was in love with her.

“Well I’m not in love with you.”

The lobster came & I cracked shell. Melted butter oh my god. I think lobster is the sweetest meat. Of all the meats. In the ocean or the world.

“This is too soon. Way too soon for that. I don’t even know you.”

I took good to the scampi. My face was sunburn red. It’s better when you squeeze a lemon wedge.

 “I think you have issues- serious issues- and I think you’re trying to use me to escape them. I think you’re problematic. I think you’re fatally flawed.”

Oysters they go down so easy. With that saltwater taste? The deliciousness. The deliciousness of the saltwater, the perfume of the maritime air. I wanted to sail someplace far away. The sound of the wind punching the sails.

“I told you this wasn’t exclusive. I told you from the beginning. I’ve been seeing my ex and I’m sure you know we’ve been fucking. But it’s more than that... he gives me something that I don’t think you ever could.”

The crab legs were seagull succulent, the scallions melt in my mouth, and when I took a bite of the clam chowder I could feel the sea spray misting my face from my place off the port bow.

"I think I should get my stuff from your place tonight and give you some time to come down to Earth," said Rebecca (don't call me Becky) and she got up and left, her plate of tilapia untouched, and I don’t think I knew I was crying until the waitress sat down next to me. She was sweet, caring... I looked into her deep brown eyes as she held my hand and made sure I was okay.

I was okay.

It’s not everyday you get a lunch that good, or a waitress like that, like that Jackie, beautiful, my heart held gentle in her hands, her face filet of soul. I squeezed her hand back, just happy to be here, happy to be alive.

We traded numbers and shared a shrimp cocktail.

No Anchovies

Three cheers for the asshole who says “No anchovies” when ordering a pizza, because we all know how often that sneaky pizza parlor man throws them on our pie without permission. Have you ever gotten a pizza with anchovies when you didn’t order them?


I’ll wait.

The “No Anchovies” guy is the same guy who says “no vodka” when he’s ordering a beer.

And what exactly do you people have against anchovies anyway? Did they kill your parents? Do they owe you money? Have you even tried them?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Come closer.


Okay, that’s too close.

The secret is that anchovies are my favorite pizza topping of all time. And the best.

They’re tiny slivers of salty fish whose flavor compliments the cheese of the pizza. Set your mouth ablaze with flavor. Make the pie more juicy with flavor so flavorful you can’t pronounce the word flavor.

Okay, I’ll grant you this: some pizza parlors glop them on in a care-less style, leaving you with chunks of fish too thick to enjoy. I can see someone trying them for the first time at a shitty restaurant and blaming the fish for the comatose cook. But if you specifically ask for them to be spread evenly, or buy a tin in the grocery store to add to your own homemade pizza- or even on a frozen pie- you will become addicted to the anchovy.

You see, I’ve served homemade anchovy pie to dozens and dozens of people, and I don’t tell them they’re eating anchovies. Invariably I hear “Oh my god... this is the best pizza I’ve ever tasted.” I nod and say thank you.

This pizza? The one you’ve been eating just now? There are anchovies on it. Would you like your fourth slice now or should I wrap it up so you can take it home with you?

Smile and nod with me while we enjoy the salty seafood sensation. And we’ll all have a laugh at the “No Anchovies” guy. And remember: you were once afraid of pepperoni too.

Sky Miles (Tender Hooks)

Sleigh bells ring... I’m not listening. We’re delayed at the gate with technical problems, something about GCU’s and repetitive maintenance, or maybe the pilot just had diarrhea. It is, after all, the holiday season, but while most people are making merry in the dark days of the solstice some of us have business to fly to. As we taxi the runway the flight staff pour some old Christmas music through our monitors, and although I refuse to plug in my headphones I can hear the jolly leaking out the earbuds of the other passengers: “You can do the job when you’re in town.” I don’t know which I hate more: work or Christmas. It’s too close to call.

And soon enough, we’re all up in the air, above the land and taken to the holly heavens, flying high and wide, deep and crisp and even.

Twelve Drummers Drumming

The people on the plane with me are mostly travelling to see family, carry-ons of gifts wrapped sparkle-bright and shiny, stray cats heading home for their annual bowl of Christmas cream, and they’re more than happy to share their plans with their seatmates and me. Everybody on board running at the mouth in holiday hush, like the woman beside me, an insurance salesperson, skirt short and sock-puppet personality: “I bought my son the hottest gift this year and I can’t wait to see the look on his face... it’s the iHog and he's gonna love it!"

These things are the wonderful things we remember all through our lives. I smiled politely and poured my eggnog over her head.

Eleven Pipers Piping

Stoner kids hanging in the lobby of the Curtis Denver Hotel, and they’re looking at me and laughing as I check in, as if everything in the universe were some kind of cosmic joke. If they’re right I’m ready for the punchline. With my briefcase in my hand the bellboy grabs my bag and pilots the elevator Up- one of two complicated directional settings it took him weeks to master. Nat King Cole on the speaker overhead spooning sugar into my mouth in complete disregard of my Type 2 diabetes. If it’s been said many times, many ways, why bother saying it again? I gave the bellboy a dollar and punched him in the groin.

Ten Lords A-Leaping

In the conference room the next day the administrative assistants served ginger ale and cinnamon cookies on a tray lined with red felt. The sales numbers were served in red as well: insufficient quotas, failure to make targets, the inevitability of the upcoming audit in the next fiscal year. Jobs lost, holidays bleak. And the reason for our Colorado convening repeated in our open ears: a plea from the executives to salvage these final days, to get out and meet the customers, to beg and hustle and lock in orders for the new year which we could mark as pre-sold. Jose Feliciano kept saying “Feliz Navidad” in a song whose title currently escapes me. I threw up in the corporate urinal.

Nine Ladies Dancing

Ethan of Cheekbone, a fuzzy-faced lounge musician, a manchild who would be beaten to a pulp if he ever left the soft and chilly town of Denver and crossed over the New York State line, was singing groovy Christmas songs on his acoustic guitar at the back of the bar.

He was wearing a turtleneck.

"Holy infant so tender & mild..." he sang half-ass molasses in slo-mo, and I and my fellow salesman drowned him out as the corporate-rented escort girls provided us with drinks and personalized entertainment. They did their job, all squish and jiggle, and as I zipped up I got a piece of tinsel caught in my fly. My company may be dying slow, my business a lost art, but the old boys back at corporate can still throw a party. As I pulverized Ethan’s guitar against the wall I reminded myself to come back to “Phil’s Bar” if I was ever in town again. I wouldn’t be.

Eight Maids A-Milking

Back at the hotel I felt a mystical tingle in my belly, a feeling that comes from the kinship of all mankind at holiday time. Or I else I just had to take an epic holiday dump. Fake Paul provided the soundtrack as I made my daily foul on the toidy. “Simply having a wonderful Christmastime.” Flush.

Seven Swans A-Swimming

Seven year-old kid at the mall pelts me with snowballs as I walk in the toy store to buy gifts for my own monsters at home. The place is a madhouse as Vince Guaraldi pounds out “Linus & Lucy.” There are tiny terrors roaming the aisles all over the place, a sly grin on their face as they point to the most expensive items and sigh to their helpless parents: “I sure do wish SANTA would get that for me…” Wink. Twinkle. Gag. On my way out I threw an icy rock at the seven year-old Cy Young. He went right over but the snow cushioned his fall.

Six Geese A-Laying

I really like that Bruce Springsteen song where he says “Santa Claus is coming to town” about seven thousand times. Slapped my cab driver for his choice in music and for smelling like holiday wine. Yule, baby. Big Yule.

Five Golden Rings

Another meeting, another unhappy customer who doesn’t want me in his office. He doesn’t like sales reps making unannounced calls and he has no time “what with the holidays in full swing.” (I’m guessing that has something to do with the open Victoria’s Secret catalog on his desk, but I’m not sure how.) He gets his revenge on me by serving cheese cubes and blasting the Chipmunks Christmas song, and the high-harmony bores directly to the center of my skull, reverberating in perpetuity for the rest of eternity. He’s in a bright Christmas sweater that obliterates my retinas as he studies my sales spreadsheet with furrowed brow.

"I'm gonna say yes... but not today."

Well-played, you merry motherfucker.

Four Calling Birds

The Denver office holds its Christmas party, which might be fun, except I don’t know any of the assholes in the Denver office. That doesn’t stop the execs and salespeople from making soul boogie to “Holly Jolly Christmas,” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” which is even more pathetic than it sounds. No longer is liquor allowed in the office building so the suits and skirts go down in shifts to the bar across the street, with hired taxis on hand shuttling them the hundred paces and back, getting plaster-flabbergast on Christmas cheer and boilermakers. So it’s some to this.

I have accomplished nothing on this trip except getting away from my wife and kids for a week. It’s been a joy but that still won’t stop me from sighing, looking sad, and telling people how hard it is to be on the road during the most wonderful time of the year, away from the people that I love. Hey, I’m an asshole. In the copy room an administrative aide is gleefully scanning her heinie into a group email with her pantyhose around her ankles. We high-five and she gives me her Santa hat. Kiss her once for me.

Three French Hens

I stopped off at the local Church for a Christmas Eve mass. Because I don’t know why. There’s something exciting about experiencing Christmas alone. And when I say exciting I mean terrifying. Everybody is coupled off on this night, everybody in pairs and trios, quartets and more, even the Wise Men never travelled alone. The stature, the solemn, the scope of the service stirs in me a deep ache in which I feel that something missing, something that’s been missing all along, something everybody else gets, something I’ll never have. Is it soul? Was there Jesus? Am I fool to believe?

The boy’s choir sang Carol of the Bells while the priest moaned and bleated, gloating like a child molester at a Boy Scout picnic. He knows that on this night he is the only show in town, and he parades and preens the stage just like a diva. I want to drown him in the holy water.

As I walked back to my hotel I saw a couple coming out of a liquor store holding bags of Christmas wine and while they smiled I burst into tears.

Two Turtle Doves

Turtles can’t fly you shitfuck.

Back on the plane and headed home again. I’ll get there eventually if these wings hold up. I hate my job. I hate the holidays. I hate Christmas. I hate the noise. I hate the pain. I hate the gifts, the food, the memory of life when it was simple and I was free, the knowledge that I’ll never be back there again. I hate pretending to care about my customers. I hate the meetings. I hate the season, I hate these short days of no sun, but I fought it as I always do: work, kids, the wife, shopping trips, taxicabs, powerpoint, wrapping paper, neck tie, mistletoe, and the smell of potpourri. The shine of Vitamin D. The love you feel for me. The ache of the absentee. The dreams of what might be.

Oh yeah. And a partridge in a pear tree.

Johnny At The Fair

Oh boy! Could it really be? There were big signs on the horizon. Hurrah! It’s the World’s Fair! Little Johnny was straining his neck from the backseat of the station wagon trying to get a look at all the terrific sights. Mr. Henderson was patiently looking for a space in the lot, and Mrs. Henderson was chattering on, something about safety and manners and all that corny jazz.

Wow, there was the Mondosphere, and the Imagination Pavillion, and the Atomic Tent of Tomorrow! It was just like the brochure Johnny stole from the school library- this place must be the most fun place of all the places in the world! Hurry up, Pop, and find a spot already!

It was almost as if Mr. Henderson heard what Johnny was thinking, because he just then pulled the family car into a clean parking space with bright white lines. Mrs. Henderson was gathering her pocketbook and telling Johnny something about “comportment,” (huh?) but by then Johnny had broken out of the car and was already running the length of the gravel lot toward the steel-enforced perimeter gates.

He peered inside the chain link fence. Zowee, there’s clowns and crazy magic inside! And huge buildings, full of mystery and fantastic things! There were scores and scores of happy peoples walking together in their summer clothes and riding trams around the grounds. And the eats! Why, there must be a booth from every country in the world inside, chock full of yum-yum vittles and- Oh, hurry up, Pop, and bring that billfold! It isn’t fair to make a boy wait.

It took Mr. and Mrs. Henderson forever to reach the front gates. Pop told Johnny to quiet down, and he looked so very tired. After admission had been paid and hands had been stamped, Little Johnny was at last inside.

He was speechless. The fairgrounds spread out as far as his eyes could see. He couldn’t read the big sign above him, but boy it was tall and grand and must have been made out of a hundred light bulbs. He pinched Mother’s calf and pointed towards it.

Mrs. Henderson let out a yell- Johnny had pinched too hard- and then crouched down to him. “Why, that sign, Johnny? It says ‘World’s Fair and Science Expo- A Flight To The Future.’”

Johnny didn’t know what all that meant, but he sure was ready to start seeing the sights. Pop had a different plan in mind.

“Stay close and honest, Johnny,” said Pop with a smile, “We’ll take our time and see everything together.”

Oh no, this would never do. Little Johnny could tell that there were a thousand super things to do and Mom and Pop would just slow him down; they were old and weak, and their souls were broken and hollow.

Johnny looked up at Mother. She looked as if she were having another of her headaches. Her face was stretched tight and her eyes were shut and her fingers were on her temples. Too bad, Mom. Then Johnny turned to face Pop. He seemed to be staring at a girl about Johnny’s age. He was looking at her real funny, and then licking his lips. Grownups never have any fun.

What if Johnny could get out on his own? To see the fair for himself without Mom and Pop slowing him down? The idea was so exciting to Johnny that his heart skipped a beat. Then a wonderful idea occurred to him: 'How can I distract Mom and Pop so that I can get away unnoticed?' Johnny took a moment to think, and soon the answer came.

There was a teenage boy with a pushcart selling hot dogs. The boy’s face was funny- all oily and covered in red spots. Maybe it was from selling hot dogs? Mom was still rubbing her head and Pop was still looking at the little girl funny. Johnny saw his chance. He tugged on Pop’s trousers but Pop didn’t notice- he looked like he was in a trance- and it took a few moments before he finally saw Johnny pointing at the cart. Pop shook his head hard and turned.

“You want a beef sausage, do you?"

 Little Johnny nodded. Pop knelt down.

“You know, Johnny, not only do frankfurters taste great, they’re great for you, too. Why, each one is chocked full of supplements and vitaminerals, all the nutritious meat a growing boy needs.”

Mr. Henderson pulled a half-dollar out of his pocket and handed it to Johnny.

“There you are, son. Fill that little belly with everything good and true. ” He beamed at Johnny, his white teeth gleaming in the morning sun, “and add a little mustard for me.”

Pop could be so silly sometimes. Johnny watched his folks take a seat on a bench. Finally, he thought, my chance has come.

Little Johnny ran over to the pushcart. The Vendor straightened his cap and looked down at Johnny.

“Well, hello there young man!” he said in a squeaky voice, “What can I get y-”

Little Johnny punched the Vendor in the groin as hard as he could. The teenager fell forward and clutched his specialness, his cap falling off while his head hit the asphalt. Johnny got a grip on the pushcart and mustered all his might, heaving the wagon top ways. It went over easy, and soon the steaming frankfurter broth was spilling out over the pavement. The frankfurters themselves spilled out too, flopping and quivering like fish on dry land. The crowd nearby was hopping around the mess, trying to avoid the gliding wieners. The Vendor was still bent over, and was screaming funny.

Like a little girl, thought Johnny. But this was not time for laughter- there was work to be done.

Mr. and Mrs. Henderson both rose and came running toward the scene. Mr. Henderson’s face was turning that bright red color it got when he was getting ready to spank Johnny. Mrs. Henderson’s face was stretched tighter than ever; she was trying to pick up wieners as she ran, but they were slippery, and she was having a time of it.

Now for the piece de resistance! Johnny grabbed the change pouch from around the Vendor’s waist and threw it to the ground with a mighty clank.

Spin! Coin! Hooray! There was money everywhere, and greedy fair-goers came rushing in, scooping up all the loose nickels and change and creating quite a stir. Mr. Henderson was trampled in the shuffle and Mrs. Henderson was knocked to her bottom by a Chinaman chasing a dime, but by that time Johnny was gone long-gone.

Oh, the glorious things to see! Little Johnny skipped through the crowd with a light feeling and a song in his heart. Where to first? Straight ahead was the Sports Complex, and Johnny, who was always fond of baseball, ran towards the round building.

“Step right up to the Sports Complex,” said the old man standing out front. He was so old Johnny was surprised that the Lord hadn’t taken him yet. “The games of today and the innovations of tomorrow!”

Johnny wasn’t sure what ‘innervations’ were, but he stood up from his crouch and politely nodded his thanks to the old-timer. “Hello, Junior… please come inside- and try a bottle of our new Pitch Cola,” he handed Johnny a bottle. “Extra caffeine and bonus sugar to give a growing boy all the energy he needs.” Johnny took a sip: his eyeballs fell out their sockets and onto the concrete, where they bounced back up into his head as steam shot out of his ears. Johnny took the rest of the bottle in one swulp and gave the old fellow a thumbs-up!

The old man gave Johnny a smile, turned, and fell flat on his face. His glasses were cracked and his face was cut up something awful by the spiky shards. Little Johnny wondered if this had anything to do with him having tied the man’s shoelaces together, but that was a parable for another day- he had made his way into the Sports Complex.

Inside, Johnny saw a fantastic display of sports inventions, fitness machines, and health equipment that looked like they came out of Captain Video! There was a man riding a stationary bicycle stuck to the ceiling, and a woman with an exercise belt around her waist that was vibrating so hard her giant joombahs were going jibjab.

He started toward the baseball display- there was a new bat that looked like it was made out of metal! He wanted to swing that bat, and maybe hit a home run. Suddenly, Johnny stopped.

A girl about his age picked up the bat and began to play with it. Who was this girl? Her bright blond hair was tied in thick pigtails that hung out over her shoulders. Her little pug nose was jammed up into her face, and she had a pretty smile that showed off her white-

No, no, though Johnny, what am I saying? This is all wrong! That girl is playing with MY bat! I wanted to play with that, thought Johnny.

The girl’s mother walked by and put her hand on the bat. “Now, Kelly,” her Mother said, “you behave while I go find your father. Share, and be kind to everyone you meet.”

“I will,” Kelly grunted, as her Mother walked off.

So, Kelly thinks she is the Queen on the World, hah? Not if Little Johnny had anything to say about it. A plan quickly came to him: If he yanked on her pigtails hard enough, maybe she would cry and drop the bat in confusion. Yes, if he timed it just right-

Johnny was suddenly whisked away. Someone picked him up and oh, the commotion! He didn’t even have any time to bite or wet- he was plunked down on the lap of none other than Joe Striketop, the most famous football player in the USA. Joe smiled and shook Johnny’s hand. What a fix for a young boy! They were on a small podium, surrounded by newspaper photographers taking their pictures and yelling out things that Johnny thought were silly, like “Is that boy your new starting quarterback, Joe?” and “Someone went crazy at the hot dog stand!”

Johnny wanted out. The flashbulbs were beginning to agitate him and he could see himself doing horrible things unless he got away from here. But there was a speech to be heard, and Little Johnny sighed and put his hand to his face as Joe Striketop started to declare.

“Thank you, thank you, one and all. Well, it sure is good to be up here at the World’s Fair, where I can witness the games of today and the innovations of tomorrow! I sure am looking forward to the inaugural season of Frisbee-Ball! But I hope it doesn’t become more popular than good old football!”

People were applauding- what was wrong with them? Joe had more to say.

“Firstly, I would like to thank all of my loyal fans who have stopped by- I will be signing autographs this afternoon in the Hall of Illumination. Second, I would like to invite all of you- young and old- to join me on my Journey To Physical Wonderfulness!”

Johnny looked up. Joe needed a shave… and he smelled like sauerkraut.

Joe gestured to Johnny. “Now, this boy here has already started the journey- he’s one of my biggest fans. His name is Jimmy. And Jimmy knows just what it is that makes Joe Striketop such a winner. Striketop Energy Tonic! Yes, each bottle is brimming with vitality and triumph! Enough to help a boy of Jimmy’s size take on the entire offensive line!”

Again, some of the reporters laughed, but Johnny didn’t know why. Where was this Jimmy person?

“So Jimmy,” said Striketop to Johnny, “if you’re going to start drinking Energy Tonic, can we expect to see you in the Football Championships?”

Now the reporters were looking at Johnny. Who was this Jimmy they kept talking about? There seemed like a hundred microphones and cameras all aimed at Johnny, and it finally got to be too much for a unbalanced lad to take. Johnny whacked his corrective shoe into Striketop’s shin. That got him! Striketop winced, shattering a bottle of Energy Tonic as he bent to clutch his leg. Johnny slipped off the stage and snuck through the crowd. The reporters were shooting even more pictures now, and Joe Striketop was screaming the skunk words that Papa used when Johnny left his roller-skates on the stairs.

Oh well, where to next?

*                *                *

Back at the entrance gate, things were not looking good. One of the officials from the Fair had arrived in a dark suit and was talking to Mr. and Mrs. Henderson in a quiet voice. Mr. Henderson pulled out his checkbook and started writing. Mrs. Henderson helped the Vendor right his pushcart.

When the man from the Fair had gone away, Mrs. Henderson looked around and began to get hysterical. She turned to Mr. Henderson.

“Oh no! Johnny’s gone! Oh, he’s run off again!”

“Quiet!” snapped Mr. Henderson.

“But what will we do? There must be fifty thousand people at this Fair! Little Johnny could have been kidnapped by a villain, or perhaps he’s become acquainted with dynamite!”

“Shut up,” replied Mr. Henderson, “Do you want to burst another blood vessel?”

Mrs. Henderson held her breath to stop the panic, and her face began to turn deep blue.

“We are going to look calmly and patiently for our son. We are going to stay together and stay calm. We are going to keep our dignity. And when I find Johnny, I am going to paddle his bottom to a glowing ‘hot-coal’ red.”

*                *                *

It must have been dark in the Sports Complex, because it sure was bright coming out! It took Little Johnny’s eyes a few moments to adjust to the blinding sun in the clear afternoon sky. Then something caught his eye- another big sign, and Johnny had no time to read it. The building behind it was shaped like a rocket ship, and there was a man out front screaming, “Come to the Space Complex, and behold the wonders of the galaxy!”

Oh boy! Inside there were model rocket ships and deep-space jetpacks and a wax model of an alien from another planet, which kind of looked a little like Nana. A man in a spacesuit was signing autographs next to a sign with letters, which Johnny had no time to read. He pointed at it and punched a gentleman in the knee.

“Why the sign? The sign says ‘Meet Buzz Cracklin, the first astronologist to orbit the Earth in a space capsule.’ He rubbed his aching joint and walked on.

Getting people to read these signs sure is a pain in the neck, thought Johnny. Maybe I should spend more time in my reading primer and less time pulling the girls’ hair.


Buzz Cracklin was preening and parading like he had just won the World Series of Baseball: “By the year 1979 every home will have its own nuclear reactor to power your light switches, blender-sinks, & robo-butlers… and the space-age will bring you some of the most delicious food you’ve ever tasted: food pills, dehydrated milkshakes, & powdered toast. And families will take their Summer vacations on the planet Venus!”

Cracklin pulled a sheet off an easel to reveal a posterboard with a picture of a planet on it.
Everyone in the crowd said, “Ooooh…”

Cracklin pointed to the planet: “This is Venus!”

The audience said, “Ahhhhh….” and then broke out in a round of applause. Were these people from Venus?

Johnny licked his lips- suddenly he wanted another bottle of Pitch Cola- he wasn’t addicted! He snuck up behind Buzz and pulled his pants down.

Mercury! Gravity! Blast off! Buzz Cracklin must have gotten his laundry mixed up with his wife’s, because he was wearing pink girl’s underpants- like a girl! The crowd started to laugh as Cracklin’s face went the color of five volcanoes. Johnny would have to laugh later- there were other sights to see. He slipped out the door as Buzz tried to pull up his garter belt.

*                *                *

Mr. & Mrs. Henderson were searching the Fair Grounds for Johnny.

“Johnny,” his Mother pleaded, “come out, come out, wherever you are.” And then, “Olly olly oxen free.”

Mr. Henderson stopped walking and turned to face her: “What the hell does that mean?”

“Oh, we’ve simply got to find him…”

Mr. Henderson started walking again. “I told you we shouldn’t bring him to the Fair.”

“No,” Mrs. Henderson corrected him, “you said that we should kill him. I said we shouldn’t bring him to the fair.”

*                *                *

Johnny was walking the fairgrounds and enjoying the beautiful day. He couldn’t find the old man who gave him the cola. He was probably dead or busy. The flags of every nation lined the great mall surrounding the Mondosphere- Johnny never knew there were so many places! He wondered if even the President had been to all of them!

Just then a man shouted: “The Hall of Medicide and Pharmasupicals! Come one, come all, and come witness the wonderful world of chemistry!”

The pitch man was standing in front of a wonderful dome-shaped building with a long line of people in front. Johnny didn’t feel like waiting so he cut the line and got inside fast. It was marvelous! There were doctorcologists and scienticians in white lab coats handing out free pills for everyone, and little tubes and a map of the human body (the inside with all the squishy parts) and a wheelchair with fins like a car! ‘I wanna be a quadriplegic when I grow up,’ thought Johnny. He took a bunch of pills from each of the bins and ate them up

There was a large red blob in a glass case. The man looking at it put his arms around his two little boys and said, “That’s a cow’s heart, kids.” Yucko! Who wants to eat that?

A swarm of people was gathering around a small stage. Say, let’s go see the show!

Johnny hustled his way to the front of the crowd just in time. The lights dimmed, and the small curtains parted.

An announcer’s voice came over the loudspeaker. “Welcome ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, to the Wonderful World of Chemistry. What medical marvels await us in the coming years? Doctor Anton Stopzak will tell you.”

A man came out of the curtains, much smaller than the voice had described. He had a black bowl haircut and a little square mustache. He was wearing glasses and a white lab coat, and he talked with a funny accent.

“Hello. My name is Doctor Stopzak. I am a medical doctor and geneticist specializing in the treatment of the neurologically impaired. The symptoms of the mentally-ill are easy to recognize- comas, blackouts, self-gratification… soon we will have a cure for all these ailments. Today we stand at the feet of a giant breakthrough in humanology: one day the average man might live to be sixty-five years old.”

The crowd was cheering, but Johnny didn’t quite get it. Who was this guy, just making things up and talking as if he were so smart? For Johnny, the show was over. This place was boring!

Something snapped inside of Johnny, and he smiled his devious smile. He reached out and yanked the cow’s heart right out of the display- it was mushy- and threw it into the crowd. What a stinker!

Splat! Gush! Organ! There were shouts of surprise and shock from the crowd, and Johnny thought he heard someone going throw-up. That was different! Everyone was screaming things like, “Let me out!” and “Someone went crazy at the hot dog stand!”

Just then, a loud whistle blew.

It was a frightening sound, like a monster makes frightening sounds. Johnny didn’t know much about monsters, except what he had heard from the kids at school. He knew they were big, mostly, and that they liked to eat little children such as himself. He had never seen a monster, except in illustrations, and Johnny was afraid of what might happen if he met up with one.

But this didn’t seem to be a monster. This was a big man at the entrance to the building holding a net on the end of a long pole. He had a lot of muscles, more than even Joe Striketop! He was wearing a white shirt and white short pants, and a white cap. His eyes were covered by a pair of shiny sun spectacles. He looked angry. He blasted his whistle again, and the entire crowd became still, turning to face him. He opened his mouth and the whistle fell to the string around his neck.

No one made a sound.

“Good afternoon, ladies and gentleman. I am sorry to disturb this portion of the World’s Fair. I’m from Behavior Control. We’ve had a few… disturbances today and we’re trying to find the culprit so that we might apprehend him and humiliate him. Are there any children in here unsupervised… that is, any children without their parents?”


“We have reason to believe that some of the mayhem that has occurred here at the Fair today is the direct result of one young child, so I ask again: Are there any children in here without their parents?”

No one spoke.

“Would every child please go and stand by their Mother or Father, please? Orphans and step-children lay face down on the floor.”

There was a great shuffling about in the room, and when it was done, every child was standing close to their parents. Some of them were clutching their folks in fear, afraid of what might happen if the Man took them away.

The man took a few slow steps into the room. He was studying every face in the crowd, looking for something out of place, looking for a child to take with him. His whistle swayed back and forth with every step he took, and none of the children were looking directly at him.

There were many children, but they all seemed to be with parents. Perhaps this wasn’t the place after all.

Little Johnny was almost a half-mile away, having sensed trouble at the sound of the whistle. Oh, what a great adventure this Fair was, he thought, and he took a moment to look at the brand new baseball stadium that had just been built outside the grounds. He wondered if he would ever hit a home run.

*                *                *

Mr. and Mrs. Henderson were trudging through the fairgrounds. It was getting hot, and they were both regretting their choice of flannel. They split up so they could find Johnny faster. No luck. After a while Mrs. Henderson started looking for her husband. Now she couldn’t find him! Oh, what bad luck.

There’s Mr. Henderson! He’s kneeling down talking to a little girl. Mrs. Henderson watched him for a moment. What could they be talking about? Mr. Henderson was making gestures with his hands, but Mrs. Henderson couldn’t tell what they meant. If only she were home watching her stories!

After another minute, she approached Mr. Henderson and the girl.

“Why, that isn’t Johnny!” said Mrs. Henderson.

Mr. Henderson rose, his face bright red. The girl ran off into the crowd so quickly Mrs. Henderson could almost hear the ZOOM!

“I know that wasn’t Johnny,” said Mr. Henderson, “but I thought perhaps she had seen the boy.”

They walked on for a while after that, stopping briefly at the music venue to hear the jazz combo play. “What a swinging group!” Mrs. Henderson said, “Man, that sax was blowing wild!”

“Shut up,” said Mr. Henderson. They continued on, pausing momentarily to have a meal at the Italian Food restaurant. After the meal Mr. Henderson sipped on his cappuccino slowly, wondering what type of mess Johnny had gotten himself into this time.

The boy’s outburst was nothing new. Many an afternoon had Johnny’s parents sat in the schoolhouse, facing a twisted stump of a woman with wooden teeth and a rat-hair wig, who would complain bitterly:

“Little Johnny just isn’t applying himself… he has a head full of bad ideas and a belly full of sweets. God must have been blinking when Little Johnny was born.”

Mrs. Henderson was thinking of Little Johnny, too. Every boy does his fair share of funny business, but Johnny was more than a handful! Throwing rocks at badgers was one thing, but running away from your own Mother… what could she do?

“Boys will be boys,” she said out loud.

“I thought I told you to shut up,” said Mr. Henderson. He smiled at the waitress and motioned for the check.

*                *                *

As Little Johnny wandered he began to get that dizzy feeling he got whenever he was hungry- or maybe those pills were making him gonzo. Say, there’s lots of wonderful eats here- grub from every corner of the globe! But what Johnny really wanted was a hamburger sandwich and some french-fried potatoes! Mmmm… and catsup, too! He still had Pop’s half-dollar, now all he had to do was find the hamburger hut.

Just then Johnny looked up to see the ice cream stand. There were scores of children eating the most delicious flavors! Hawaiian Cherry! Jamocha Butter Fudge Swirl! Blackberry Delight! Blueberry Surprise! Orange Blossom Special! Double scoop! Triple scoop! With shots and jimmies and butterscotch sauce!

Shazbots! This was too good to be true!

That girl Kelly from the Sports Complex was here. She was standing there in front of him with her big double-scoop ice cream cone. Chocolate to boot! Look at those two scoops, shining under the bright sun and looking oh so tasty. Johnny licked his lips. Why did Kelly get to have it? No, doggone it, this just wasn’t right! Johnny wanted it for himself. He began to think of a plan to get her cone, but those pills had made his mind fuzzy.

Before he knew what he was doing, he ran over and slapped Kelly in the face. She was shocked, and turned to look at him angry. Johnny was frozen- he hadn’t planned what to do next because he hadn’t even planned to do this. But before he could do anything else, Kelly reared back and dumped her ice-cream cone right onto Little Johnny’s head.

Splosh! Splat! Dairy! Now he was a mess, a big mess with chocolate dripping down his hair and onto his shirt. What a predicament! Kelly was pointing at him and laughing, and some of the other kids joined in, too- even the colored boy. This wasn’t supposed to have happened! Little Johnny felt his cheeks go red, and he ran off into the crowd so Kelly wouldn’t have the satisfaction of seeing him.

Mope! Shucks! Beggar! Johnny stomped through the crowd rubbing his nose and thinking what a mean kid that Kelly was. So this was the cost of monkeyshines.

Just then he heard the sound of a whistle.

If trouble had a sound, then it was surely the blast of a whistle. He would hear it in school during playtime when he wandered too far off. The neighborhood police officer would sound his whistle whenever Johnny’s fires got out of hand.

Now the Man from Behavior Control was back, this time with a couple of partners in matching white shirts and short pants, and gosh did he look angry. He still had his whistle, and his net, and now he was staring straight at Johnny. Somehow, he must have thought Johnny was responsible for doing something wrong.

Johnny did his best to look innocent, but the Man seemed to see right through Johnny’s pretend.

Yikes! This sure could scare a fella.

The Man seemed smarter than most grownups. Definitely smarter than Mom and Pop. Johnny was spooked good now. He couldn’t remember when he had been more afraid.

At home Johnny’s father always closed the windows at night so that the Boogieman didn’t sneak in and steal Johnny’s goodness. It always gave Johnny the heebie-jeebies, but this was somehow more frightening: he was getting goose pimples. And he couldn’t be so slippery this time- the Man was too close. For the first time, he was afraid. He noticed Kelly in the crowd- she was looking at him and looked frightened, too.

Aww, girls are always a-scared anyway.

There was nothing else for a boy to do but turn and run, run for everything he could. Johnny was going as fast as he could, but he could see the Man over his shoulder, his net outstretched and reaching for him. Oh Mother, why do you make me wear these corrective shoes?

Johnny took a turn into Storytime Barn, a place for the little kids. There were folks dressed as chickens and ducks, and other irritating farm creatures. The floor was covered in hay, just like a real barn. Yippee. There was a family up ahead eating lunch at a picnic table. The Father was lighting a pipe, the kind that Pop often smoked. Johnny ran by, snatched the pipe, threw it to the ground, and continued running.

Crackle! Ignite! Combustion! The floor of the barn went up in an immediate blaze, and even though Johnny was quite a distance away, the heat brought tears to his eyes. ‘I wonder if the family survived,’ he thought, and he ran into the public walkway, where the sidewalks were covered in chalk drawings and a large gathering of pigeons were assembled, pecking at crumbs.

As Johnny ran through the square all the pigeons took off, flapping up in the air in unison. What a tremendous sight! But he couldn’t stop to enjoy it now; he was running for his life. The people behind him started to scream- the pigeons seemed to be dropping something as they flew- but Johnny had no time to enjoy the beauty of nature.

He ran past the Carousel of Tomorrow where a woman was shouting about the wonders of the flying car: “Faster than a heliochopper!” The Man and his assistants were only steps behind. Johnny spotted a fire hydrant with a loose bolt and gave it a swift kick.

Whoosh! Flow! Adjective! The hydrant bent like Dutch metal, and the force of the water was completely out of control. It was gushing everywhere, flooding the street and soaking everybody in its path. Johnny felt the surge of satisfaction, but he had to keep moving. The Man was getting closer.

Little Johnny was cursing his short, stumpy legs as he ran. He looked over his shoulder and spotted the Man closing in. His white wardrobe had been scorched by flame and had holes in it. There were white spots all over his blackened clothes, almost as if someone had been dropping custard from the sky. And to top it all off he was sopping wet. Doesn’t he know he’ll catch cold?

Johnny turned his head back too late- he slammed headfirst into a wastebasket- he fell down to his knees.

Hot! Sting! Damage! All was lost. Johnny lay there in a heap, waiting for the inevitable. The Man from Behavior Control had finally caught him. He blew on his whistle again, and his two partners came over. They surrounded Johnny with what seemed like dozens of pointy poles. There was nowhere to go.

Is this the end of Little Johnny?

*                *                *

Mr. and Mrs. Henderson were scouring the grounds, but they weren’t talking much.

“Maybe we should consider this a blessing in disguise,” said Mr. Henderson.

“What are you talking about?”

“Well, let’s be honest, it was too late for Johnny. Why, with his behavior he’d only grow up to be a thief or an acrobat. He’ll probably be a drunkard… soused on cheap wine and nickel beer. He’d be living under the train tracks and eating dandelion soup. Is that what you want? Is that what you want?!?”

Mrs. Henderson screamed like a wounded mule.

“Quiet!” said Mr. Henderson. “We should leave this place, go back home, and start again. Who knows…?”

Mr. Henderson took a deep breath and licked his lips, “We might even have a little girl.”

Mrs. Henderson grabbed her husband by the lapels and shouted as loud as she could.


*                *                *

Johnny slammed against the chain-link fence again. No give. And it was starting to leave marks on his face. It seemed he was trapped for good in this Lost and Found detainment center, a correctional zoo for unsupervised children. All of the other kids here had been abandoned just like Johnny. And it was no surprise- they were frightful looking and punch drunk, with cuts and bruises on their faces, and messy hair. They all smelled of bad yogurt, and Johnny wanted no part of them. His face was tired, and his eyes were still adjusting to daylight after that bumpy journey in the burlap sack.

‘Well, maybe Mom and Pop don’t love me after all,’ he thought, absentmindedly kicking a small boy who looked hypnotized. ‘Maybe they haven’t even noticed I’d gone off, and maybe they never cared for me.’ There were children packed like poultry into this little pen, and not much to do except play in the dirt or eat some grass, as some of the dimmer children were doing.

Little Johnny began to reason that perhaps he might die here. Yes, he would die here and then Mom and Pop would have to pick up his body and finally they’d realize how horrible they’d been and, oh, they sure would care then, wouldn’t they? Then he would win! But even that seemed sad to Little Johnny, somehow. He sniffled and his face felt hot and, oh no, that wasn’t tears, was it? Not for a big boy Johnny’s age. What would the other kids think? And would he ever see his friends again? And-
Too late. The day had already had its way with Little Johnny. Tears spilled from his eyes like a faucet that had been left running by an absent-minded Mexican woman.

Sob! Weep! Emotion! Here comes everything he’d been keeping inside for so long, and oh, what a bad boy he’d been. Selfish and impatient with his folks who were only trying to show him a good time. Poor Mom and Pop- they worked so hard to make things nice for Johnny, and here he was trying to escape. Oh, why was he such a naughty boy? Why was he so ungrateful? Why couldn’t he treat Mom and Pop like he knew he should? Why couldn’t he be good?

Little Johnny took time out from wiping his eyes to slap an older girl who was standing too close. She must have gotten the message, because she wandered back to the dirt mound. But Little Johnny was still feeling regret. He wiped his nose with his shirtsleeve.

*                *                *

Mrs. Henderson was blushing… her face had broken out in hives from all that she had been through.

Mr. Henderson did not look any happier. He was pulling his wife by the arm through the mobs of fairgoers.

“Hurry up, dear,” he shouted.

“Oh, what is my Mother going to say?” asked Mrs. Henderson.

“She’s not going to hear a word about this. Do you understand? Not a word!”

“Oh, but I mustn’t keep this from her, too. We’ve lost our son!”

“I told you, it’s a blessing. We’re very lucky!”

“Oh, couldn’t we try the lost and found just once more?”

Mr. Henderson took a deep breath and checked his watch. Then he bit his bottom lip and gave an angry look to his wife.

“Alright…,” he said, “one quick look. And if we don’t find him, we never mention his name again.”

*                *                *

It could be worse, Little Johnny thought as he glanced around the yard. There was a broken slide, and even a flat-tire swing. So he would live out his days here, watching the fair from the chain fence, maybe living on chicken bones, or the occasional hamburger sandwich if he behaved. But wait! The fair was only on for three more days! After that they would surely discard the abandoned children.

What then? Would Johnny be sent to the sausage factory and turned into morning links? Would they feed the children to hungry monsters? Or perhaps they would simply fill in the whole pen with cement, burying the youngsters alive in frozen, exaggerated poses of terror, like a juvenile Pompeii or a-

“Little Johnny?” he heard a familiar voice ask.

He spun round and sure enough it was Mom and Pop- looking older, and somehow different than before. Little Johnny had never been so happy to see them in his entire life! They did love him after all! What a swell thing for a little boy to know. Mom was crying, and Little Johnny was so happy he started crying as well. It was silly, but he was only crying so Mom wouldn’t feel bad.

Glad! Rejoice! Freedom! Oh, what a happy ending to such a spectacular day. Mom hugged him tight and Pop lifted him up over his shoulders. Johnny just knew he was better than these other kids, and here was the proof. They left the detention center and headed toward the exit gates as the sun set overhead.

On the way out, Johnny saw a familiar face- the hot dog boy he had teased before. He gestured to Pop.

“I don’t know, Johnny… last time you went to get a frankfurter things got a little out of control.”

“Oh, let him eat, Papa,” said Mom, and Pop gave her such a look!

Pop did let him go, though. He bent down and put Johnny on the ground.

“Alright, son. We all make mistakes, and this is the chance for you to learn a valuable lesson. You go over there to that Vendor, and you apologize for what you did earlier. I’m sure he’ll tell you everything’s swell and give you an extra-long frank. But you’ve got to do it on your own.”

Johnny nodded. What a perfect chance to show Pop everything he had learned!

Pop smiled. “That’s my boy,” he said, and he reached for his billfold to give Johnny money.

But Johnny reached into his own pocket first and pulled out a coin. Surprise, Pop, I still have the half-dollar piece you gave me. This got a proud chuckle from Pop, and even Mom tried to smile.

“Mother’s neuralgia is acting up again, so we’ll head out to the car. Meet you at the front gates in five minutes?”

Little Johnny shook his head yes. He turned to the pushcart.

“Oh and, Johnny,” said Pop, “add a little mustard for me.”

Oh, Pop! Johnny watched Mom and Pop walk out of the big gates and into the parking lot. Grown-ups could be so funny sometimes.

Little Johnny ran over to the hot dog wagon. The Vendor seemed to recognize him, because he jumped a little when Johnny came by. Little Johnny held up his finger- one, please- and the Vendor opened the lid to get the hot dog, looking nervous the whole while. He pulled the steaming frank out of the red-hot broth, put it in a bun and handed it to Johnny. Johnny fixed it up with mustard and relish and took a big bite. Delicious!

The Vendor still looked frightened.

“Uhh… that will be twenty cents, please.” His voice was higher than before, and squeakier, too. Little Johnny took out the fifty-cent piece. Suddenly he felt the tingle of imp. He could hand the coin to the Vendor, or he could make it fun. Oh heck, you’re only young once!

Johnny flipped the coin in the air, directly into the steaming hot broth. Without thinking, the Vendor plunged both hands into the pot after it.

Little Johnny skipped off towards the exit gates as the teen’s raspy, high-pitched squealing echoed over the grounds and his fingers boiled in the hot dog water. The frankfurter was delicious, worth the wait after all. The summer lay in front of Johnny like a wonderful open book, and there were many more adventures to be had in the future… where anything is possible.

What a day to be a young American boy. What a day for the World’s Fair!

Twins with Real Feelings

Do twins really share a mental telepathy? A cosmic understanding? Sick City sat down with four pair to test the theory.

Suki & Pancho-Sosa

Suki: We are like, like...
Pancho-Sosa: Simpatico.
Suki: I was gonna say copacetic.
Pancho-Sosa: You owe me nine dollars.
Suki: At least I don’t have an inverted vagina.
Pancho-Sosa: You are street grease. You are an open sore. You are the sewage that leaks from vermin squeezed.
Suki: Yeah, but I paid you the nine dollars.

Edwild & Louie-Louie

Edwild: My brother and I? We're the good guys. We make the magic happen.
Louie-Louie: If by magic you mean two adult siblings sitting naked in a tepid bathtub of filth and poison bubbles then yeah, we’re Doug fucking Henning.
Edwild: We got the powers. We're a satellite dish. We're a space station. We're intergalactic.
Louie-Louie: You're letting the crazy show.
Edwild: No I didn't. Let's do that nipple thing.
Louie-Louie: We talked about this. We're with the interviewer. He’s writing this down.
Edwild: Good. Let him write it on the internet. Let the world see. Let them taste our foul and hot shame.
Louie-Louie: You’re calling Mom this week. I’m not doing it. You’re calling Mom.

Becwith & Sejmaze

Becwith: We're pretty mellow.
Sejmaze: She's not just my sister, she's my best friend. We love shopping... and going to the movies.
Becwith: And we love robbing banks on mescaline.
Sejmaze: And cheeseburgers. Oh my god when they do that bacon thing on the top of the cheeseburger? That’s the best thing.
Becwith: That and cracking a teller’s skull.
Sejmaze: Well, obviously...

Ten-Speed & McMillan

Ten-Speed: We haven’t been banned by Major League Baseball. If that’s what you’re asking. Because if it is that’s not the case.
McMillan: Not at all. We choose not to go to San Diego Padre games. We always have.
Ten-Speed: He knows, pigshit.
McMillan: He doesn’t know anything.
Ten-Speed: He knows everything. You can tell.
McMillan: You’re paranoid.
Ten-Speed: He knows. Look how he's looking at us.
McMillan: He doesn't know. Be cool.
Ten-Speed: Shaved testicles and the seventh-inning stretch.
McMillan: I hate you.
Ten-Speed: I know.

Coffee With The Queen

I wait for her, she’s late. I ache for her, for the drama that we’ve seen, for the heartbreak that we’ve been through together. I ache for her presence, her wake, through the Tuesdays, through the bodies we have buried in the ground. She’s been there, she’s seen it all, and she wears it like a halo, carries it better than I ever could.

I look around the café, a couple on a first date, wide eyes and smiles full of stories to tell. There’s an older couple, her in her magazine, he on his tablet. There's a man without his wife and child, drinking black coffee, looking free and lost and late for something else. Water stains on the hard-grain wood of the tables, the chair goes creaky as I take my cappuccino. The waitress makes sure I’m okay.

There are no bulbs burning in this coffee shop, just the light of the sun which has slid behind the cloud, leaving us in a dim, sipping our brew from mugs too big. The leaves are gone and the trees are naked, waiting for the holidays, waiting to say “I told you so.” The construction sound is loud across the street. The winter, I know. This winter is gonna leave us cold.

Paper napkins and an empty chair across from me. I can smell her perfume, only anticipation. She will be here soon, pulling out her chair, apologize with her eyes, making sense of the dark, making light of the season, making sane of my crazy, if just for twenty minutes. She will be here.

I will pay for her latte. I will smile as she sweetens with her spoon.

Tough Lunches of the 21st Century (Zen Tokyo)

Date: April 20, 2014
Location: Mucho Sushi

I met for lunch with my best frend Kölū. She's a poet and performance artist and a real pain in the ass. As we munched on octopus appetizers she asked me: "What is the sound of one hand slapping your face?" I pondered this zen koan for a long moment before Kölū slapped my face so hard that blood ran out my nose.

"Brilliant," I said, enlightened.

While we split an avocado roll to its subatomic particles Kölū said, "Look upon the flower and the flower is looking back." While I searched the restaurant for blooms Kölū inserted her finger into my ear and drilled toward my brain. "Well-played," I remarked, as she emptied her glass of wine onto my plate, "you learn me so much"

After tossing a few Kamikaze rolls at an elderly couple in the corner Kölū said, "Hey, let's freak this place out, okay?"

For the next forty-five minutes we put cucumbers down our pants and ate food off of random tables, and if I recall correctly at one point we were both naked on a tabletop snorting wasabi and singing "Love Shack."

The waitstaff politely beat us with chopsticks until we left the premises, and as a result Kölū and I are banned from Pepsi-serving restaurants until 2079.

Tin Roof!