Insomnia on Amsterdam Avenue

The lights are all gone now, they are extinguished, lost like a smile in the rush of a busy day, muted like praise or the touch too affectionate. Muted like those three shitty words.

Yeah, the lights in this little city are all extinguished now, all gone, except really they're not. It's the middle of the night but I can still see them. I stand at the window, awake alone, while the rest of the world sleeps, listening to the cars racing by, the wheels unrolling reels in the middle of their independent movies: cars deep into drug deals or romantic misadventures, cars into grand theft auto and late-night revenge, cars making the midnight run for a supersweet Honeybun and Jolt cola before the variety stores close.

The theme from Dynasty echoes in my ear.

I'm young and I know it, naive and raw, aching and bleeding in juvenile minors. I understand enough to know that I couldn't possibly understand. I promise myself that I'll forget these moments, that life will only get better, that it is possible to fight off the Alone. Except I know that someday I'll be looking back on this pitiful moment, the rumble in my stomach, the mysteries in my head. I know that some day I will look back and take some comfort in the fact that at one time I could never fall asleep, because even now, even at this early age, I know that someday I will. Someday I will fall asleep without trying. And that scares me more than anything.

Grace and Joe and my brother sound asleep, and me at the window, seeking out the lights still lit, warm with dimmer switch and softer tones, with light ambient and sentient, across the street & triangle, lights still lit above the video store, softer now, romantic encounters aglow by pole lamps bouncing off of apartment eggshell white... lost souls sat in their easy chairs, watching old movies all night. I absorb them all: lonely and the loved, the lost and the lobotomized, the logical and the loco, the lords and the low-lives... and I'm just glad to be one of them.

So here I am, in my borrowed pajamas, tops and bottoms, escaping from strange blankets, full on Falcon Crest and Pepperidge Farm, and I'm up all night looking out the window, at the people in this strange city, at the cars driving by, and although I haven't met you yet...

I am praying that you're out there.

Tough Lunches of the 21st Century (Diagnosis)

Date: July 3, 2007
Location: Clitoria’s Trattoria

I should have known something was up when I called my doctor for my X-Ray results and he told me that he’d like to take me to lunch.

Still, I showed up at the restaurant early and Dr. Reddy was already there. He spat out his white wine spritzer when he saw me, his face a colorless pall. “We need to talk,” he said as I sat down, “this is serious.” I ordered the ‘Tato Skins to start.

“You have soul cancer. Stage 7. The fact that every molecule in your body has not already imploded in on itself is a mystery of modern science. You only have hours to live- at most.”

The ‘Tato Skins were too salty but I hate complaining to the waitress.

“There is no surgery that can cure you, no treatment to delay the inevitable, there is no answer but for you to make peace, immediate, with everyone you know and love.”

I should have ordered the waffle fries.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this. Please accept my condolences. I’m billing this as an office visit.”

I love Dr. Reddy but sometimes he can be overly dramatic. He’ll exaggerate to make a point, but really I think

The Hitcher

It's fun to drive with a gun in your abdomen. It feels good. It’s welcome, and I like it. It feels like the answer to a prayer. It improves my driving: every turn I make is geometrically perfect, every surge of the brake is easy and metered. I’ve never driven so good in all my days. It’s a natural now, what with the bullet waiting at the gate. The gun is fused to my body & my body is fused to the car. It's an extension of my hands and my feet: my extremities are wide awake but I don’t have to think or decide anymore. The barrel of the gun is in the soft of my belly, and the sensation is amazing. It's a good thing. I like this now. It’s nutritious. It's better than coffee.

I like driving for JD, this strange man with the fish breath in the front seat. I like my job: I like being told what to do.

I’m a salesman, I work out of Rio Rancho, and I picked up this guy on Thursday night. He was standing by the side of the road in his dark hat and crack leather jacket, smoke hanging from his thin lips. I asked him where he was going and he just said “Drive.” I tried to talk about baseball but this JD, he was having none of it: he made some small talk, got to know about my wife and boys back East. I think that made it easier for him to bash my temple with the butt of his gun, take my wallet and force me to take him where he wanted to go. It’s okay. I never minded the taste of blood.

We’ve stopped at liquor stores and general stores and filling stations and saloons and greasy spoons. All the places I’ve wanted to go but never had time to. I made eyes at a pretty young waitress while JD was emptying the cash register and pulverizing the cook. He’s not going back there. Now he pushes the gun into the side of my stomach and tells me to drive, so I do. It's a good time now. I like him. I think it’s Saturday. I like this guy.

And now we're at the Arizona border, getting closer to JD’s destination and the end of my ride. I know what's coming. I don't mind it. I think I deserve it. If you see my wife tell her I'm alright. I’m ready for it. I'm happy.

Just between you and me, I wish there had been a gun in my abdomen the whole time.

January Fades

He turned the postcard over in his hand, her perfume on the pen. He had to read it again twice to be sure, to get the feeling right:

Pineapples ripe
Coconut full with milk
The sun is sizzling my skin and now I’m hot to the touch
When are you coming?
PS- Bring a spoon

He dropped the other envelopes and went to the closet for his suitcase.

Halfway To Fabulous

“So you think you can drive an automobile sour?”

Ksenia, the teenage girl sitting in the kitchen chair, gulped and swallowed. Hard. She knew what was coming.

“Tell me Mrs. Big Shot, Mrs. Steel Wheels, Princess NASCAR… you’re the master of the American highway system. Do you think you have what it takes to drive a car drunk?”

Ksenia clutched her learner’s permit and tried to think about clouds.

“Hope you got the moxie, sweetness.” Papa paced the tiny kitchen and turned suddenly, a bottle of Bluebeard’s Black Rum in his hand.

“This is strong stuff,” he gestured to the bottle. “Nobody fucks with this gentleman.”

Daddy shook the bottle and the liquid inside moved slow- dark as night, thick as molasses, unwilling to ripple. There on the label was the menacing corporate logo of Bluebeard, a bloodthirsty pirate, his sword drawn and the moon in his eyes.

“I hope you had a good breakfast because you’re going to drink the entire thing.”

Ksenia made whimper and whine, but it wasn’t doing any good. Papa yanked her ponytail back and her face straight up. He held her nose until she had to open her mouth, pouring the black rum in her mouth, cane waterfall slow like honey down her throat. She swallowed most of what he poured, even when she tried not to take a breath. By the time Papa led her out to the yard- hot dry hand on the back of her neck- Ksenia was halfway to fabulous.

She took a stagger step, stammering mumble consonants and seeing blurry doubles of everything nearby… it was all she could do not to upchuck. The orange sun scorched the Great Plains and Ksenia’s retinas.

“This is gonna be a lesson special!”

Papa pushed her across the dusty driveway, her sneakers scuff the red dirt, pulled her past the stack of flat tires, past the chain-link fence, and threw open the door to the Firebird.

“Get in there!” he pushed Ksenia down behind the wheel. Her head bob slow as she tried to orient herself.

“Turn the key, Ksenia! Now!”

Then the car was started, and Ksenia was driving, somehow. She was down the road about one hundred yards when she suddenly realized that she was down the road about one hundred yards. That’s when things got kooky.

The car veered sharply to the left, apparently of its own accord, and Ksenia forgot what brakes were. She hit Othar, the neighbor’s dog, broadside. The poor beast let out a howl to make ears bleed, and he quickly scampered off to lick his wounds and die.

Ksenia’s three and a half driving lessons were quickly forgotten as she tried to remember her name. She spit up a few ounces of black rum and silently cursed that vicious bastard Bluebeard. The car was still cruising, and Ksenia thought this might be a good time to adjust her rear-view mirror. Her hands left the steering wheel as she reached above her head. The car skid, the back tires shooting gravel like bullets. Othar, the wounded dog, was hit in the eye by one of the pieces of projectile gravel. He was instantly blinded and concluded that today must not be his day.

The Firebird slammed the telephone pole, and it popped from the ground easy, interrupting thousands of people screening their calls. Ksenia ramped the car over the pole and landed with a TUNK- still in motion. She cranked the steering wheel, pulling the car into a complete U-turn.

She lurched forward, gathering speed, and saw she was headed for the brick wall of the parts shed. Othar, sightless, knew something was coming, but didn’t move in time to avoid being crushed by the low steel bumper of the Firebird as it pressed against the wall of the shed.

The dog’s last thought was of being in love.

The parts shed rocked, rumbled, said, “Mmmmm….. I don’t know…. well maybes… okay, here I go,” and finally crumbled like a cookie, brick slip like chocolate chip.

Ksenia, stupefied, threw the car in reverse and slammed the gas. The car fired backward like an arrow, bundle full-speed reverse over the dusty plains.

It sped quick and quiet, like a gazelle getting a midnight snack, and just as quick and quiet the car slipped off the cliff, falling down the 70 foot drop.

The car was spanked by a boulder as it rolled, its top bashed in, trunk pop wide open, and after the bounce finally made landing with the grace of an epileptic seizure.

Papa, squinting, sensed trouble. He ran over as fast as his stubby legs could carry him. He froze at the cliff, surveying the wreckage below.

‘Body work,’ he thought as he watched the upside-down car’s wheels spinning.

“Ay! Ay!” he called out, curious, “Ksenia!”

There was quiet.


Papa heard the call of a non-indigenous bird. Maybe a white-tailed hawk.


The car burst into flames then, the window glass exploding outward, the upholstery kindling. The snap, crackle and pop of the fire was audible from the rocks above.

Papa held up the empty bottle of rum. There was Bluebeard, flashing his manic grin through a black matted beard.

“You see?” Papa told him, “I told you she couldn’t drive an automobile sour!”

Bluebeard winked back at him, smiling: "Damn straight."

Tough Lunches of the 21st Century (Heartbreaker)

Date: April 14, 2006
Location: Branigan’s Beefbarn

This was when my first wife dropped the bomb on me. We had gone out that day for the Steak & Nearly-Nonstop Salad Bar Special, but my wife didn’t even let me finish my plate of Spicy Jalapeno Poplets before she made with the mouth-foul.

“I find you simple and unfunny,” she said, but there was something about the tone in her voice that made me feel like she meant it this time.

“Consider this your two-week notice,” she said, “I’m going to Mexico and not coming back. Our marriage is over and you are sexually inadequate.”

I took it like a man, sobbing in hysterics and emptying my water glass over my head. She kept her word about the Mexico thing and gaining custody of all my possessions, and we haven’t spoken since she had me arrested for stealing her mail.

Oh and by the way, "Poplets" is Spanish for explosive diarrhea.

Get Out The Pool

“Get out of the pool, Piper!” This was Ramsey, poolside, fifty-something, cigarette fingers, hands cupped to his mouth, and not just for the megaphonics. The beard stubble grow slow around his mouth beset by deep crevice. His eyes were grey with over-chlorination. “Get out! Get out of the goddamn pool!”

Piper, moist & puckered, bobbing like an apple in her lemon-white one piece, powder blue skin cap squeezing her skull, goggle and nose plugs just in case of piranha, emerge to the surface with a mouthful of water “Ulllllggghh...”

“Get out of the goddamn pool, Piper! Get out of the motherfucking pool!” Ramsey, dissatisfied, in his short shorts, Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to show the grey hair of his softened chest, “get your ass out of the pool. I'm telling you for the last time! Get out of the goddamn pool!”

Piper turn away and stroke, doggy paddle like a kitten drowning confident. “Nope,” and then, after careful aquatic reflection: “I don't wanna.”

“Get out the pool, Piper. Get out of the goddamn pool. Get out of there or I'll shoot you dead and watch you drown. It's not painless, you know.”

Piper submerge into the blue, kicking up her heels.

“Do you know how much time you spend in the pool, Piper? So much time you don't have any time to eat. Have some breakfast, Piper!”

Ramsey toss a bagel in the pool. It landed to Piper’s left and her eyes found it when she came up for air. Her mouth fell open in shock.

“Have the whole dozen of them!” Ramsey, tossing the bag of bagels in the pool one by one. Piper make dodge like it was Olympic event.

The onion and the sesame. Cinnamon-raisin & garlic. Then the Everything. Then the brown paper bag.

“What do you-?” Piper, brow furrowed, raw fury in the shallow end.

“Have a drink, too... you never get out to drink. Have a son of a bitching drink!” Ramsey tossing in bottles of liquor- wine, scotch, rum, and then the inevitable beer cans. Piper pop up and down in the water avoiding aluminum.


“Get out the goddamn pool, Piper... get out the goddamn pool! You spend your life in the goddamn pool. When was the last time you read a book?”

Ramsey toss in the Daily News, New York Times, the Liberty to Menstruation volume of Encylopedia Atlantica, the novels of Stephen King, the sonnets of William Shakespeare… paperbacks for good measure.

“Get out the pool, Piper! Read a book! Get out the fucking pool!”

Piper, frightened, making urine in the water, because she could, because the liquid limbo was hers and hers alone. It felt good to make spree.

“Shit or get off the pot you fucking coward,” Ramsey, off the deep end, out of his mind, tossing in everything he could manually obtain: laptop computers, bouquets of roses, toaster ovens, birthday cakes, stereos, newborn babies...

“Make up your fucking mind, Piper...” Ramsey's face red now with rage, “pick a lane... put up or shut up... fish or cut bait! Get out the fucking pool!!!!”

Into the pool splashed waffle irons and cell phones, hi-def TV's and air conditioners, concrete blocks and miniature Dalmatians... Ramsey running back and forth poolside while screaming in unintelligent babbles... he stepped behind the fence... and was gone.

“Mmmmmm!!!” Piper's confused grunt echoed against the concrete, reverberating throughout the water as a testament to single-mindedness. Or the lack thereof.

That's when Ramsey's SUV exploded through the brown picket fence, going airborne before crashing down into the pool, sending a tsunami in four corresponding directions, forcing Piper to leap up onto the pavement, her eyes wide at the site of the vehicle sinking slow.

And before Ramsey inhaled the water that would saturate his lungs and seize his respiratory system, the neighbors could hear him cry out, joyously, “Thank you, Piper. Thank you for getting out of the pool.”

Tough Lunches of the 21st Century (Cooperation)

Date: March 4, 2013
Location: Ferramoni’s Pasta Dome

I took my best friend Amanda “Bones” Mobley to lunch and we started off with appetizers. I had the calamari which I did not like and Amanda had a double order of mozzarella sticks. I asked her if I could try some. Amanda said no.

We each ordered cocktails. I had the Singapore Sling which was delicious. Unfortunately I spilled it after only one sip. I asked Amanda if I could have a sip of her Zombie. Amanda said no.

I totally forgot I was allergic to seafood until the waiter brought my lobster ravioli with clam sauce and oyster parts. Amanda had ordered the penne pesto and I asked her if I could have a bite. Amanda said no.

I asked Amanda if she would please, please, please stop fucking my husband. Amanda said: “I’ll think about it.” Then she laughed and said “Just kidding.”

Also the waiter was kinda rude.