Walking a Mile in Her Shoes

There’s nothing funny about domestic violence. Especially in and around my adopted hometown.
  • During 1999-2001, the average calls for child abuse referrals in Shasta County was 4723 calls per year; 70 percent higher than California. The most reported type of abuse was general neglect (37.8 percent).
  • Between 1997-2000, Shasta County averaged 1,298 domestic violence calls per year; 30 percent higher than California.
  • During 1999-2001, an average of 495 children under 18 years of age were in foster care in Shasta County; 9 percent higher than California.

Sobering statistics. That’s why I’ve signed up to Walk a Mile in Her Shoes at 10 a.m. on Saturday in Caldwell Park in Redding.
I’ll be wearing the shoes your see there on the right.
OK, that’s funny. If you want to see me wobble 5,280 feet in these things (which I got online from a ‘Diva’ Web site), by all means come out and put down some cash.
And if you want to donate from far away, email me (on my profile) and I can shoot you my address.

Thanks.

Sunday Scibblings: Out of This World

Insignificance
Unaccompanied along an endless stretch of plains, he pulls aside. He’s seen no one for miles, doesn’t expect anyone. He douses the lights, adjusts to the darkness.
The winter evening’s chill electrifies a moonless sky resplendent with radiant pin-pricks. His heart quickens with a thought: A sky so brilliant would be a waste for the Human Race alone.

A Saturday Fiction in 58

Latent prints
The glass tabletop is web of fingerprints.
The same goes for the red wine stemware. The flatware. The after-dinner coffee cups. Prints everywhere.
She’s gone to the ladies room, and he scans the evidence with an earnest eye.
They’ve been there, in public, their liaison now open.
He watches as she walks back to their table, wholly satisfied.

Thursday's 3 Word Wednesday

The prompts over at 3 Word Wednesday are glass, question and token. I even like this one:

Side Affects May Include, But Not Limited To…

I blast out the front door, the screen slams (even though I’ve been warned about that a bazillion times) and skid to a stop.
My dad is sprawled in mother’s swath of wax begonias; her victories, the pizzazz series, the ambassadors, even the challengers. He’s got a tall glass of iced tea balanced precariously on his chest; sweat droplets collect on his bare skin, cling to his going-gray hair.
His feet are muddy; creamy dirt has squished through his toes and the air is heavy with the smell of soil, water, broken petals. He’s wearing a pair of tortoiseshell Wayfarers and that dreamy smile he sometimes gets when the bottle of special tequila is allowed out of the freezer.
His tan chinos are rolled to the knees; muddy handprints dot the thighs, bizarre camouflage amidst the broke and bending begonias. Bits of decorative bark cling to what’s left of the clippered hair above his ears.
“Dude, what the hell,” I say, more a question than a statement. “Mom is seriously going to pitch a fit.”
He bends his head forward and tries to take a long pull of the iced tea; ice and tea make twin streams around his chin and pool in the hollow of his Adam’s apple. He snorts, laughs and wipes a hand across his face that leaves a smear, like sludge lipstick.
The Wayfarers are cocked awkwardly on his face; he sticks his tongue out at me. He smiles, yawns.
“Hey, oh, I’ve got something for you,” he says and waves a drunken hand from a drunken wrist.
He shakes a bit and the small, waxed canister falls from his front pocket.
A token of youth.
A can of red-capped Play-Doh.
“Take a whiff,” he says. “You will seriously not be disappointed.”

Six Questions of What

What makes you impassioned?
What gets to you so bad that it makes your heart rate to rise, sweat to glow slick on your forehead?
What does it take to get you to care?
What do you want out of this life?
What would you do if you could do it all over again?
What does it all mean, really?


So check it out: My first contribution to Six Sentences is up; my second contribution will post on Friday.

Tuesdays are made for Fiction in 58

He’ll have what she’s having
He invites her to coffee, but knows she’ll order tea.
He’s over-caffeinated, edgy. He falls for impulse purchases at convenience stores, pills with names like Vigor-X and Buzzy Bees.
He downs energy drinks with warning labels for pregnant and nursing women.
He’ll have the tea.
And forget to mention the pot of espresso roast he mainlined at home.

Experiencing The Green Fairy

I didn’t know what to expect, frankly.
I’ve just always wanted to try it.
Absinthe.
For years, the anise-flavored spirit was banned in the United States. The spirit, which is made from herbs – most notably the flowers and stems of the wormwood plant – originated in Switzerland.
It gained its reputation in the late-19th Century and early 20th Century France with the bohemian culture (watch Moulin Rouge! sometime; the drink is at the heart of that film). The spirit in its natural state is this funky amethyst green.
Absinthe contains small amounts of the chemical thujone, which apparently is a powerful psychotropic drug. But there’s not enough thujone in Absinthe to do any harm.
The cool thing is there’s a ritual to drink it. Start with an “appropriate glass” (we used Martini glasses) and pour 1.5 ounces of Absinthe into the glass. Next, take a slotted spoon (we used an egg slicer) and put a cube of sugar on it and rest it on the rim of the glass. Next, drip 4-5 ounces of cold water over the sugar cube and into the Absinthe.
When the water and sugar meets the spirit, its clouds up, or “louches” and makes the drink blossom. There are other flavors that come out that supposedly are over-powered by the prevailing anise flavor.
OK, so I had three (I was drinking diet 7Up up to that point) and can report that I did not go schizo.
But I didn’t feel like writing the Great American Novel, either (sadly).
It was an interesting taste, probably an acquired taste, but interesting nonetheless.
Some who tried it with me reported Sunday that they were tired – I know I was – but no ill affects were reported.
All-in-all, it is a fun alternative drink.
And I still have a whole, un-opened bottle with which to experiment.

Sunday Scribblings: "I Just Don't Get It..."

I just don’t get my mind, on occasion.

The Thing About Trains

At first sight of the flashing red of the railroad crossing lights, my mother guns the Buick as if red suddenly meant haul ass instead of halt.
She grips the steering wheel, fingers in all the grooves and she’s holding on tight. So tight, that her cuticles under the French manicure are drained, white as bone. She leans into the wheel, licks her lips and huffs breaths through flared nostrils.
We’re barreling toward the intersection – I put a dampish hand on the dashboard as fear tingles up my spine - when the white-and-red crossbars drop and mom is forced to break hard. The Buick stops short, the brakes sending the hulk into waves, standing still.
She throws herself into the seat, lets out a whistle and releases herself from the seatbelt. She adjusts the cream cardigan sweater, picks off a fuzz ball, smoothes the fabric over her shoulders and turns to me and smiles, weakly.
The whistles from the diesel locomotive pierces the air; there’s pressure, a downdraft as the four-engine head of the freight train begins its rhythmic rumble past us. I look up and the conductor gives me a wave, hits the whistle again, three short bursts, one long.
I turn back to my mother, who is busy transmogrifying.
Her button nose has elongated into a mash of scarred cartilage and ropy snot hangs from it, collects in the heavy mustache and beard that’s she’s developed. Her shiny black hair has fallen from where she tucks it behind her ears and it hangs gray and stiff. Her hands, once so delicate and white as to highlight the blue of her veins, still clutch the steering wheel. They’ve gone mannish, rough; tanned wrinkled digits, like grilled sausages. Her cracked nails are packed with dirt and grease and bushy hairs sprout from each knuckle. Her breasts are gone; the cardigan stretches over a gut that’s being pressured by bottom half of the steering wheel.
The train rushes past, the engine’s whistle begins to wane in the distance. The click of steel wheels on steel track hums in my ears; the heat is unbearable. My mother’s scent of baby powder and lavender hand cream has been replaced by an oily odor of cooking fires, grain alcohol, hand-rolled cigarettes and the remains, the faint memory, of long-gone-past filling station soap-and-water bath.
I open my mouth, but the gag reflex is overwhelming; all I can mutter are gasping gacks that rack my shoulders.
“Oh, would you please relax?” she says, her sweet, lithe voice overlaid with that of a gravelly-voiced old man. “Be patient dear, this shall pass.
“Besides, that train’s going way to fast to hop, anyway.”

My heart is full

"It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s late, it’s early and I’ve just gotten home from my 45th birthday party. I smell of wood smoke from a charming fire pit (some designer, please bottle this scent just for me) and I am humbled.
For I have friends. True. Friends.
It is like a surprise, this feeling I have. Like I don’t really deserve the events of the evening, which unfolded so lusciously as to catch a breath in your chest until it hurts, aches and sends sweat clammy upon your chest.
I try and find the words for what I feel, and I can only come up with platitudes.
I am blessed.
And sitting in a room full of people who love me for who I am, teasing and joking and winking, makes me want to be the man I want to be. Loyal to a fault. Joyous song in my heart. Humbled beyond humble when the arms reach around, the breath hot in my ear and that person wishes the best of the best for me.
I did not cry then, but I do now.
My heart is full.
Thank you, one and all, for making one hell of an evening happen.

How not to sell your house

Mobile rings at 10 a.m. with a real estate agent asking if he can show the hacienda off between 3-4 p.m. Fine, no problem, I think. I was going to enjoy this gorgeous upstate California day, take a hike, play with the girls, but I could stay close, clean the house. Get the roomie up at a designated time, without ruining his day.
I told the guy to call when he was about five minutes out and I'd take the dogs and go for a walk.
I went to the library, I went to the grocery, I got cleaning supplies and flowers and a package of Toll House cookies to fill the house with warm, gooey goodness. I was even going to download and print a picture of St. Joseph and bury it in my front flower bed (hey, in a pinch, you do what you have to do).
I cleaned top to bottom (spring cleaning) and had my hands deep inside roomie's bathroom stool when he walked up and asked what was up.
"House showing, between 3 and 4," I said.
"I'll get out of your way."
I emptied the trash and recycling, swept the driveway, closed the garage door, let the girls out in the front yard and prepared to sweep and mop the floor.
In the CD changer, playing loud: Bash & Pop, Slim Dunlap, The Hold Steady, the Queen's mixtape and The Specials.
The kitchen chairs are up, the roomie is in the shower and I hear the girls start barking.
Real estate agent is pulling into the driveway and the girls completely have forgoten their training and mob the occupants as they emerge from the Chevy Tahoe.
I look at my watch. It's 1:38 p.m.
"We're a little early."
Fuck, you think?
"Uhh, my roommate is in the back bathroom getting ready for work. I was just getting ready to mop the floor. You caught me a little off-guard."
They troop into my house, a young couple with a boy of about 8 and playing on the stereo is Suburban Lawns "Janitor." Right at the point where singer Su Tissue is singing the chorus, "I'm a janitor, oh my genitals, I'm a janitor, oh my genitals, oh my genitals, I'm a janitor."
Needless to say, they stayed in the house for maybe five minutes.
"So much for first impressions," roomie said. "Especially with me trooping through the house from the shower."
Oh, well.
I'm headed out to a buddy's for National Corn Dog Day, then to the Queen's for my birthday party, where I'm going to try Absinthe (and hope I don't go skitzo).
I didn't really want to sell my house Saturday anyway.

If only the world smelled of Smarties

I swear, the air Tuesday night smelled this sweet. I based a Fiction in 58 on it.

Sweets
Teeth clenched, he leaves work, rips off the tie that’s choked him all day and casts an evil-brow glance at the setting sun.
He feels like hitting; he kicks a dented aluminum can, sends it skittering. Rage raises pin-pricks in his stomach.
He breathes deep; the air smells of Smarties, fruity, sweet.
He breathes again, tastes, smiles.

Please enjoy this Fiction in 58

Gestures Not Made
Hair cascades down fingers that cover her sleeping face; crumpled covers she’s kicked free bunch at her hips.
He watches. The soft rise and fall of her ribs; the freckles, the birthmark he liked to kiss.
They’d argued.
He reaches out to her but she rolls, mews a whisper.
His hand hovers; in that instant, he pulls back.

A scheduled update on the health of my soul

“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”
- Pericles

So I took a long hike on a dusty trail Sunday, not so much to look for change or to seek answers, but to reconnect with wild places that soothe my soul.
There’s a lot going on inside me and I thank all the people who read The Tension, but have to ask how I’m doing, since they can’t seem to gauge from what I write. Not the literary stuff, anyway.
I’m doing OK, considering.
Considering that stress, uncertainty and doubt are taking a toll on my mind and my body. It takes three ibuprophin to get going most mornings and I am forever using my mantra, “That’s enough now,” when I want to dry-heave into the toilet in the darkness before normal people are awake.
And I’m locked in a cycle of insomnia that’s crushing, debilitating.
Again, all of my making.
I have a friend who leaped on faith and quit his job; he’s more than 20 days from the race of rats and I’ve never seen him happier. And while there certainly is some envy there, I could not do what he has done to fix his own path.
There are things you need to do and things you want to do; I need to stay employed to find what is next on my particular path.
A friend and I discussed a lot of things last night; we’re both 40-something men dissatisfied with aspects of our lives, our futures. We said – out loud – that we didn’t really want to be where we’re at in a year from now. And that fairies on toadstools were not going to powder us with fairy dust and make everything better. It was up to us to enact change.
Again, I really like the person I’ve become (those who know me can dispute that, but I know intimately) and like the potential within me. And there are good things in my life, good people who enter and are able to teach me things, make me smile.
And I will be OK, as long as I can keep everything in focus:
Life isn’t a race, it is a journey; and every experience builds onto the next. It’s the legacy you leave behind in the hearts of the lives you’ve managed to touch along the way.

Sunday Scribblings: Skin

The prompt over at Sunday Scribblings is smorgasbord; however, this being the 101st prompt, Meg and Laini collected and opened invited people to choose from the list.
This is my 13th Sunday Scribbling, by the way. Cool.

Touch, Skin, Flesh
The room is darkly lit, smoky. The jazz band is in its second set and pressed body heat gives the place a feeling of sensuality; the warmth wraps itself to exposed skin and elicits every pore to give up a sheen of perspiration.
Small, round elevated tables ring the band, the premium seats and in the direct center sits a couple who at a glance seem out of place. Older, they are dressed simply – he in a T-shirt and khakis, she in a pale peasant blouse and billowy skirt. They keep time with the music with slight nods.
An unremarkable couple in every sense, until you watch their hands. She’s sitting ahead on the curve of the table her right shoulder in line with his left. She reaches behind and strokes his thigh; he reaches forward, clears her gray/brown curls to her shoulder and tracks the pads of his fingers across her back.
She turns, smiles. He gives her a look that says he wishes for talons to pierce the fabric of her blouse, to give his fingers access to her olive skin.
She understands, twists her torso and meets his gaze; she puts a thumb to his lips, which he kisses.
And in that instant, the color of pink roses taints their flesh; their skin warm, flush. They give each other a nod, stand and he splays a palm at the base of her neck as his fingers cares the back of her skull and guides her to the exit.

Dog is God spelled backwards

The grand experiment came to a close Friday in a choking horror of smell, piles of vomit, puddles of diarrhea.

I have been reading “Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog” by Ted Karasote. It’s a wonderful book and I highly recommend it. It tells of Kerasote’s life with Merle, a hound/retriever cross. And the lessons he learned about living with a dog, not just owning a dog.
It struck a cord. I’d read a chapter, and end up loving on the girls. I started looking at them (again) as my partners in life, not just a possession. We started exploring together, we rough-housed (Scully would have nothing of that, as she’s too dignified; she does, however, like to be picked up and held); we sat and I let them rest their heads on me.
We were a clan again, a pack.
They got new dog beds out of it (it took Trinity two days before she’d lay on hers; mostly, she’d put two paws on the bed and rest her ass on the floor) and started getting bones for their teeth.

The big experiment came last week, when I decided to switch them to a bones and raw food diet.
They were puzzled, confused. But went along with it, nibbling at first (Trinity would pick up a chicken heart and spit it out across the floor).
I’d feed them, then we’d go explore the field. I’d wait until they did their bidness, then check it out. Everything was going along famously.
Until Friday.
I opened the door to the most putrid, overpowering stench. I thought it was the cat box. I scooped it.
And realized that this wasn’t the cat box.
I opened the door to the girls’ bedroom and they couldn’t wait to escape the carnage.
They both looked hurt and confused.
I gathered them both up, roughed up their fur, spoke in soft tones. I told them that it was OK and that I was the one in trouble. That it was me who fucked up. Still, Scully (who made the mess) felt so bad. She hung her head in shame ad wouldn’t look me in the eye.
I let them out, grabbed the cleaning supplies (two rolls of paper towels) and put on rubber gloves and went to work.
Luckily, she managed to keep everything on an old area rug. I rolled it up and trashed it.
I opened up the house, turned on the house fan, lit candles, showered with hot water.

And I got down on the floor and gathered them up again and reassured them that it was OK.
We’re still a pack, but one that dishes out the kibble.

Thursday's 3 Word Wednesday

The word prompts over at 3WW are apartment, began and numb. Bone is starting something here that can’t be stopped; if you’re reading, check out the links and write. Creation is a beautiful thing. And yes, I am in a dark mood, thank you.

Indentured Servitude

The hall was painted in that Industrial Revolution green, sort of a lime Jell-o feel, slimy and wiggly. Bank upon bank of buzzing fluorescent lights, desiccated bug husks trapped behind greasy acrylic panels, ran down the length of the main hall.
Halfway up the walls ran a wainscot of steel, like this was going to stop anyone from punching and kicking those walls with misguided rage, where gang graffiti gave out complicated warnings in Braille that everyone had to look at, but a few could comprehend.
The building rented its apartments by the hour, the week, the month. Six floors of misery, green paint, broken dreams, off-colored water that always tasted faintly metallic, like blood.
She bumped back and forth between the walls, a petite pinball in a schoolgirl’s pleated skirt in red plaid, a fuzzy white sweater torn at the shoulder, white socks to her knees and black patent-leather shoes that had lost all their original sheen.
Her pale skin was made even more anemic in the harsh fluorescent light; her hair, once the color of wild rabbits, was home-bottle-dyed platinum. Her roots showed.
She banged the wall again and sank to a sitting position, numb. Legs askew, where anyone could see her cotton panties and she didn’t care anymore.
Mascara smeared in a mix of tears and sweat; hardly a trace of the special lipstick he liked, the one the color of pink cotton candy, registered on her lips.
She rests her head in her hands, each nail on each finger painted in the same cotton-candy hue, two coats to smooth the ends she constantly gnawed.
She shudders and the tears started anew.
Welts rise on her arms where tomorrow bruises would blossom. She puts two fingers between her lips, feels again the two teeth that are loose. The fingers come away slick with saliva, tinged red with blood.
He’d beat her up good this time. Her man with the money and the cute little plastic baggies that zipped shut, filled with satisfaction, the drug that kept her nightmares at bay.
She stares at her fingers and anger spreads through her, it courses electric, a surge and she beats her fists on the chipped tile until her forearms ache.
“Enough,” she whispered. “Enough.”
She pushes herself, renewed determination, to a wobbly standing position; a hip on the wall steadies her and she thinks to when it all began. Tears well in her eyes, track dark down her cheeks.
She thinks it’s time to go back to junior college, clean up, let her parents know she’s alive. Connect with friends who would pass her on the street now with downcast looks of disapproval.
But the sickness in her stomach rumbles and radiates heat through her. Cramps of desire rise, like the bile in her throat, and she jerks itchy.
She fingers the little pieces of rock crack through the plastic. She rolls them between her fingers and wet saliva of craving chases away the bile, the tears.
Still, she makes herself promise that this baggie will be her last.

Things I need to remember, keep in focus

“Your success and happiness lies in you. Resolve to keep happy, and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.”
- Helen Keller

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers.”
- M. Scott Peck

A loincloth will be next

Suburban Man
Paused on a hillock, the man rests his hand on his hip, the other shades the harsh, setting sun from his brow. From this vantage, he scans the wide expanse of grass that is green, rich, with spring rains. The slight wind smells green.
His dogs lie and watch as well; one next to him on the hill, stretched on her haunches, alert, the other a few feet ahead, her mouth open in a head-bob of scent-gathering.
Game moves in the distance. He picks up his staff, blows a near-silent command to the dogs and begins the stalk.
Heads down, muscles compacted, the dogs slink through the tall grass. The man follows, crouched. He clucks and with a wave of two fingers on his left hand, sends the dogs into a rapture of slick power, a hunter’s run.
The gray squirrel chatters its displeasure as it jumps from the ground and ascends higher into the oak. The dogs circle the trunk in opposite orbits, one whining, the other looks up hopeful the squirrel will lose its purchase and fall.
The man laughs, falls on all fours, gathers one dog, the other in his grasp. He roughs the fur on their neck, lets his fingers work into the muscles along their spine.
He puts his back to the trunk and wipes his eyes. The suburban landscape returns, the new asphalt streets, the gray-white of the new concrete gutters and sidewalks. The four model homes in four stages of construction. He looks to his own home, the lawn green with spring; he registers the chipped paint on the eves from winter storms.
He longs for simpler times he’s never experienced; time locked into his reptilian brain.
The wristwatch chimes the hour and he stands and sighs, brushes of duff from his jeans, thinks about dinner. He spies the stick he has been carrying.
Somewhere on the walk, he’s absentmindedly sharpened it to a fine point; a hunter’s point

The Revolution might be televised

Like Postcards, from Anarchists
She decided that the Revolution was now, and she would be that instrument of change.
She rabbled her fellow rousers, the disenfranchised youth of broken families and too much free time and disposable income guilty parents showered on them. The elderly, whom she called The Knowledgeable Ones, even the ones who took their teeth out at the Hometown Buffet and rinsed them off in the chipped plastic water glasses the color of raw sewage. The 40somethings like herself, the latchkey kids generation for whom Big Business kept sticking particularly hard with calls for obscenely easy credit with a ridiculously low-introductory APR.
She promised no regularly scheduled meetings; rather gatherings would be clandestine and full of excitement and mystery and made by messenger and through the people, the network.
There’d be no by-laws, Roberts Rules of Order, agendas, bake sale fundraisers, handouts, Power Point presentations or share time.
No mission statement.
Then the emails began.
Frenzy whipped missives to be sure, but to leave an electronic trail, inboxes of breadcrumbs across the Internet?
Meetings were held, by-laws drawn, officers elected. Officers for the Revolution? Recording secretary?
Then came the mission statement, or what she called the manifesto. Full of talk, promise, action. It was available for download, free, generously underwritten by Starbucks.
He had had quite enough.
He configured the spam filter.
And promised himself that the Revolution would continue, without corporate sponsorship.

A little fear is a good thing


OK, it doesn't look like it here, but there were Class 3 rapids on this run. I know, I ran them.
We did upper Clear Creek, from the little town of French Gulch to Whiskeytown Lake.
(All the rapids pictures I took with my underwater film camera and no, there is no instant joy with film.)
I forgot how much fun whitewater kayaking is. There's an element of danger, slicing through a rapid, getting bounced by a rock, ducking brush; it's all good. Then there's those flat sections where you float, shoot the shit with your buddies, rest up for the next set of rapids.

On this run, there's like six Class 3 rapids (Rapids are moderate with irregular waves which are difficult to avoid. Complex manuevering is required to avoid capsizing. Most danger can be avoided by experienced paddlers. Large waves and/or strainers may appear. Strong currents can make self-rescue difficult. Scouting is advised for inexperienced paddlers). Enough to keep your wits about you.

I did not dump (inflatables are very forgiving); and I feel very much alive.

And ready to go again...

Thursday's 3 Word Wednesday

The prompt words over at 3WW are rest, sidewalk and twice.
I decided to dictate a bit of Fiction in 58.

Summertime
The boy, at rest, was bundled energy; muscles tucked into shorts and grimy T-shirt quivered, rippled against containment.
At play, he was maniacal, a wave of motion; his hair bore the style of wind-blown shock.
Bare feet, soles thick as shoe leather, slap against the sidewalk in midday heat.
Twice, he snuck cool sips from a garden hose.

A tale of a young man about town

The Wanderlust
Evan Destimonte first got the wanderlust when he was 41/2 years old.
Lest you think it’s just something little boys get into, like BB guns or Erector sets or model airplane building (and not just for those few glorious sniffs of Testor's modeling glue before someone notices), it is a recessive gene on the mother’s side. An anomaly of code, a nick of DNA that leads one to wander.
And Evan had it bad for months in the late spring and early summer of 1968.
There was the jaunt to Breslin’s Super Valu, across a state highway (there was a crosswalk) and two other major thoroughfares one evening when his mother was at a PTA meeting and his dad was watching the youngster. Supposedly the child was in the bathtub (Evan did start there) while his father watched rapt a new episode of Star Trek.
So it was something of a surprise when the black-and-white pulled into the driveway with Evan in the backseat, his parents arguing in the front lawn, a flurry of hand gestures.
While he made it fine to the Super Valu, this first foray into wanderlust left him a bit dazed upon walking into the parking lot for the return trip – he had pilfered a chocolate Easter bunny for a bit of sustenance – and an old guy in a tan fedora with a single brown grocery bag, took pity on the sticky, crying child and called the cops from the payphone near the cart return.
Yet once in the car, Evan was able to direct the officers to his home, two-and-a-half miles away, with efficient clarity.
There was some explaining that needed to be done, and the bemused cops watched as Evan’s dad haplessly try and talk his way out of out of this one.
“I swear, he was in the bathtub!”
“First, when do you leave a 4-year-old in a bathtub alone? Second, you know what we’re dealing with here. Christ, Francis, I need to know you’ll watch him when I’m not around.”
Evan, for his part, sat on the hood of the old Chevy squad car and asked the cops if he could run the siren one last time.
Twice he made it to Preston’s Drugstore, with its wide penny candy aisle, pet department (complete with exotic tropical fish, rodents and parakeets) and its marble soda counter, where once he ponied up for a dish of vanilla ice cream with sprinkles (which ended up being on the house, a 4-year-old’s version of the dine-and-dash when he simply slipped from the counter undetected).
“Hey, Evan, where’s your mom?” a friend of the family, Camille, asked on his second trip downtown. The boy was lining up Super Balls on Preston’s well-worn taffy-colored tile floor for one giant bounce-off.
“I dunno, home I guess.”
“Are you here with your dad?”
“Nope. Came by myself.”
She delivered the boy home, and the story took on legendary status in the ladies’ bridge circles and the Catholic Alter Society for a solid month.
Trips continued. Once to the mall, hidden in the backseat well of his mother’s bright red Plymouth Valiant, with its push-button start and decorative chrome grill, when he was deemed to be too dirty and de-clothed to make the trip.
Once to his aunt and uncle’s farm on the edge of town (a trip of nearly 12 miles, but he hitched a ride on a combine of a neighbor who knew the boy from the annual Fourth of July picnic).
A few times to his grandparents, where he ate spongy oatmeal raisin cookies while he waited for his parents to come get him (grandma didn’t drive) and watched as his granddad chain-smoked Camel no-filters and read books in the queen-sized bed he rarely left until his death, several years later.
The last wander is something of conjecture, a judgment call.
With his parents out for a Saturday evening among grownups, Evan was left to the care of his older sister, whom he loved, but was slightly afraid. There was a dust-up, an argument over bedtime and she had become frustrated.
“When you fall asleep, I’m going to stab you with a kitchen knife,” she whispered into his ear.
The boy slipped out of the house and in the dark couldn’t think of one place he’d like to go. So he huddled in the honeysuckle and watched as the evening unfolded into a serious search & rescue party. Only when his dad began to back the Chrysler out of the garage did he emerge from the brush that framed part of the family’s wide porch.
Tucked into sheets with tears still shiny on his face, his mother decided that the boy’s wanderlust had run its course.
“The next time you take off and we can’t find you, you’ll just have to live with another family,” she said. “If that’s OK with you, that’s OK with us. I just hope that’s not the case.”
The words grounded Evan for the next 40 years.
Oh there were job changes, U-Haul vans, Interstate highway travel, new towns. Vacations to both Mexico and Canada. But the lustful gene remained quiet, sedate.
Until the one morning when Evan awoke with a start before the dawn, lips parched and his heart pounding. A singular thought coursed through the soup of brain chemicals, seductive wet-firing synapses of wandering desire:
Morocco.

The Insomniac's Walk

The Insomniac’s Walk
Overcast skies make the moon’s illumination a milky cataract; his jacket collar is pinched to his throat to fend off the chill.
He wanders the field at night, when sleep won’t come. When the mind is filled with questions unanswered and he needs the expanse of night just to cope. Focus.
He stops to admire the old oak in winter strip, which is black against the spray of clouds. He thinks it looks like and arteriogram, dark limbs and branches the veins and capillaries, the sturdy trunk an aorta.
Life flows here, courses in the silence. He spins, wraps his arms around himself, stops.
And raises tear-streaked cheeks to the gloom.

Humans and their condition

Cornered
There is lonely and there is alone; one’s a choice, the other a condition.
She flows through life like a seasonal stream. She hides behind voluminous, neutral-colored clothing and mousy hair that hangs like drapes.
She speaks when spoken to; eats in corners from brown bags, reads dog-eared paperbacks.
The note he drops scares her immensely.