3WW CCLVI, "Sequestered"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are drag, mumble and penetrate.

I don’t yet have Interwebs in Wyoming, meaning I’m using my phone as a personal hot-spot. Reading contributions, for me, will be difficult.


She worries about her skin, the health of it, and what the lack of sunlight is doing to it. She knows this for sure, the creeping blackness is sapping all of the vital nutrients and minerals and vitamins right out through her pores.

The cold penetrates her, much more so than the darkness, and she stands against a corner and hugs her chest with spindly arms, feeling her elbows rise and fall with her breath. She’s sure that if it were light enough, she would be able to see her breath come out like smoke.

It was time again to pace, she knew it. Movement meant activity and that made time more faster. The pit, its slate walls smooth to the touch, was three paces by five paces by three paces by five. She kept her left shoulder pressed to the cold tile and even though she couldn’t see the edges, time had engrained into her movements that she stopped, turned right and kept right on going.

She paces. She doesn’t count turns or steps. She doesn’t count to 60. Counting means time and when you’re all alone in the dark, you don’t need to know time. It’s an enemy that drags thoughts to madness, if you think about it too much. She was getting so very good at going blank when pacing.

The last trick, when she got a bit dizzy from the shuffling steps, lap after lap, right turn after right turn, was to turn and face a corner, then step backward until her shoulder blades touched tile in the opposite corner. Her “home” corner.

Then she mumbles her prayers, what she remembers anyway from Wednesday night confirmation classes. She knows bits and pieces and strings them together like the quilt her mother had made her with old T-shirts she’d outgrown.

Prayers done, she hugs herself some more, worries again about her skin, the loss of all those vitamins and minerals. When she worries too much, she calms herself by doing an inventory of her body. She run her hands slowly over her body, touching moles and blemishes, remembering what she looked like with clothing. Had it been so long ago? She dare not think about it, because that kind of thinking led to time and time wasn’t her friend any longer.

She ran her hands across her belly and felt again the bump. It was bigger now than it was the last time she’d checked, she was sure of it. She knows what means, but not the consequences.

She worries that the thing growing inside of her is sapping her of everything - fluids, minerals, vital nutrients – that she needs to survive.

Mostly, she worries what he’ll do, once he sees the bump and puts it all together. And she frets, causing tears to fall, that her usefulness will have expired.

3WW CCLIV, "Randy"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are gasp, mute and viable.

They both dreaded dinner and drinks, not because there was any animosity between them, not really. Fact was, they were nearly complete and total strangers – except they shared a commonality, a common thread, and that was Randy.

And that, in and of itself, was enough for harsh feelings toward a bit of liquor and the amusing, if over-priced dinner special menu printed out on fancy paper with threads of real linen in it.

“Here’s my mobile,” he shot out in a text. “Just in case you get hung up or something.”

He hoped that it would be the case, that she’d come up with an out and he would be spared two or three agonizing hours of talking about Randy. That total fuck-up. Friend or no friend, he wished he could put Randy on mute most days. It would certainly save the hassle of having to keep conversing on the dipshit’s various comings and goings, breakups, hookups, suicide attempts (bogus threats, of course) and tales of work and woe. Fucking drama queen.

She was coming in to the city on the Long Island Railroad, good old LIRR, from some suburban landscaped utopia he always forgot the name of, since it wasn’t really important for him to remember. He lived on the Upper West Side, good old UWS, and he told her he’d meet her in front of the Duane Reade in Penn Station, near the stairs and escalators that regurgitated a seemingly unending stream of tourists onto Seventh Avenue. He supposed it was hard to blame Macy’s, or Madison Square Garden for the congestion, but he couldn’t help but think that it didn’t pay to come into Herald Square at this hour and figure out somewhere to eat and drink at a place that didn’t have plastic-covered menus, paper napkins or drinks served in sappy plastic cups with corporate logos sprayed across them.

He was searching possible places on his phone – among them a few Irish pubs the area was known for and certainly were not that bad an option – when she walked up. Forty minutes late.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, kissing his cheek and squeezing an appropriate amount to his hug-and-squeeze-and-kiss. “I got a late start. Work.”

“No worries,” he said, pocketing the mobile into his suit jacket. “I was a little late myself. Some medical emergency on one of the platforms. Had the 2 and 3 trains screwed up really good. Irish pub sound good?”

“Fine by me.”

The walked up Seventh, like salmon fighting a current of swirling tourists, and made as much small-talk as was appropriate.

“We haven’t done this in months,” she said. “God, the last time I was in the city was for my daughter’s field trip to The Met.”

“I haven’t been down here in months, but it was to go to this place,” he said. “As I remember, the food is pretty good. At least they’ve got Guinness on tap – and shots of Jameson are more than reasonable.”

They walked into the pub, tried to let their eyes adjust to the low-light conditions of the place (dusk was beginning to fall, the sun leaving a last-gasp of light on the windowed canyons) and he scoped out a great place at the bar and hoped she’d follow. The hostess intervened and asked if they wanted to eat and she said she could go for a little something so yeah, let’s grab a table. He was about to say they could certainly eat at the bar, he felt more comfortable there leaning against the wood, so close to the bottles and beer taps, but ended up following the procession to a cramped two-top, chair on one side, cushioned booth against the wall, and squeezed in between a table of Taiwanese businesswomen and a couple of German tourists glued to an overhead flat screen television that was playing a proper game of football. She took, as always, the seat he wanted, the one where he could put a back against the wall and have a commanding view of the entire place. He smiled.

“What are you drinking?’

“Gin-and-tonic? Yeah, gin-and-tonic.”

“Guinness and a Jameson, neat, for me,” he told the waitress. “And a gin-and-tonic.”

They took a collective several seconds to survey the surroundings, conscious not to look at one-another during that time. She touched up her lips with a slash of gloss; he checked his watch.

The drinks came and they ordered, shepherd’s pie for him and penne with vegetables for her, and continued the banal small-talk, safe areas in their sea of Randy, like work and weather. The meal came and they refrained from talk, glad for the respite, yet knowing it was the quiet before a storm.

Both sat stiffly, picked at the last scraps of food with their forks, and thought of the proper way to bring up why they were there. In their minds, they practiced their opening Randy lines, ran them through, trying to find the most viable options.

Plates were collected, fresh drinks delivered. They took turned going to the bathroom. They looked at the other patrons. She re-glossed her lips.

He coughed.

“So, Randy calls me last week from Bellevue and says he sitting in admissions to the psych ward, another three-day observation thing, and he wants me to listen to a song that’s playing. It’s Muzak, or some other piped-in music. It’s pretty loud, well loud for a hospital waiting room, and it’s this jazzy version of a song I can’t place. I know it, it’s like crazy popular. Randy gets back on the phone and says, ‘Hear that? It’s the fucking theme song to M*A*S*H. Suicide is Painless. Fuck me. A little depressing for a hospital waiting room, don’t you think? I’ve already complained to the admitting nurse, but she just looked at me like I was crazy.’”

At that, she burst into a fit of laughter. And continued. Until the tears flowed.

3WW CCLIII, "Movements"

The words over at Three WordWednesday are drench, immune and radiate.

We pulled the mattress off the bed, the expensive one that was purchased in a previous life with a previous partner, and drug in into the backyard through French doors. The weather had turned cool and the dew from the grass drenched our feet as we maneuvered the bulk of cloth, springs, wood onto the lawn.

We removed a good section of sod from the manicured green, dug a hole and lined it with river rock we found piled in an empty lot in a newly-growing subdivision. We pulled up to the lot in her silver Audi, popped the trunk and started dumping rocks into the pristine trunk, feeling giddy and a little suspect, hoping all at once that people wouldn’t call the cops on us – and laughing if they did.

Sticks were stacked carefully into a pyramid shape around wads of crumpled newspapers. One wooden kitchen match and the structure burst into life and light, golds and oranges. We piled on the kindling, each of us in huge handfuls, then chunks of oak pilfered from a neighbor’s woodpile. Each new batch of fuel steered flames toward the sky, the blue growing increasingly dark as dusk began to exert itself. The light threw cheer in a wide circle. The heat radiated. She bounced on the bed, legs locked Indian-style. She smiled, wrinkled her nose.

Every once and again, the breeze blew embers onto the bare mattress, singing tiny pin-pricks into the expensive pillowtop. Each time, she raised her eyebrows, Groucho Marx-style and I laughed toward the sky, braced on outstretched arms.

The fire died to embers and still we sat, Indian-style, draped by a single comforter. We sipped good Tequila out of Mason jars, as most of the glassware was already packed up in dung-colored cardboard boxes. Crickets chirped.

We said not a word.

Our hands intertwined. Darkness came and the sky filled with stars. We sank into the bed in embrace. She removed my shirt and I wriggled off her shorts, the comforter undulating with our maneuvers.

We were not immune. Time was our adversary now.

Go West, Young Man

Never say never.
Nearly a year ago, this reporter said he'd unlikely ever again show his face in a newsroom. That it would have to be the right situation, one free of Corporate Overlords that squeeze and squeeze and squeeze the help, then let them go in mass layoffs while they themselves take obscene bonuses.
OK, yeah, well, I found that one good situation.
Sorta by accident.
Yes, I said I was re-igniting the sabbatical after "convincing" Crazy Train, the roommate from Hell, to leave the premises. Yes, that time off work would have taken me to March 2011, completely depleting pop's "Do Something That's You With My Money" slush fund.
But things happen.
I was cruising a journalism website (hey, I'm a journalist, it is what I know, what I'm good at - what I wanted to do since before third grade) and read an ad that kind of sounded like it was written just for me:
"Good newspaper seeks creative writer/editor who isn't afraid to roll up their sleeves and take it to the next level, mentoring a young, talented staff in an outdoors wonderland. We like to have fun around here and we also give our reporters the freedom to find their own voice."
I applied, basically.

The next day, I got an email from the owner (it's a husband/wife operation) saying that out of more than 80 applicants, I'd made the list of eight finalists.
"Please give us more information on why you'd be best fit for our editor position and please include supporting clips and writing samples."
OK, I had fun with the letter. I told of my first foray into community journalism, as a 20-year-old who had just completed his sophomore year in college. That the interview took place in a strip joint. That I was told by my professors that the publisher needed a flunky for the summer, then being informed - with half-naked dancers twirling about me - that the publisher needed an editor for the summer.

I made the final four. Two telephone interviews, conversations with both owners.
I made the Big Dance. It was down to me and a guy who won a Pulitzer Prize at an Upper Midwest newspaper and now was an adjunct professor.
We both would make the trek to Wyoming for face-to-face interviews.
I chose to approach the interview like I always do - I've got a good gig, but keep an open mind and listen to the gut and the heart. I toured the community, met with the publisher. Met the staff. Drove around in the mountains. Had dinner with the owners.
One red flag. One conversation with the owner. Another dinner, where the red flag was put to rest. Drinks with the publisher.
The whispers of "If offered, take it" began to build.

In offering the position, the owner said two things:
"You fit in this community, in this newsroom. Never once did this feel like an interview, just friends getting together."
"I've not met another person who is so comfortable in his own skin."
Fifteen days from when this posts, I will watch my belongings loaded into a moving truck. I will take one last, long walk in the city - probably drink some bourbon and eat a fine meal - put Trinity into the back of my 4Runner (thanks, HeidiHo, for bringing it back to the East Coast) and drive some 1,700 miles to Buffalo, Wyoming.
I start work on Sept. 1.

Recently I was talking with a NYC friend (of course, as I'm leaving I've formed friendships with some incredible people) and she said, "Gosh, you've had so many lives."
That's a complement, and I'll take it.
Ever since this time-out, this sabbatical, was about doing something for my father that was really about me.
"Be the fearless kid you used to be," he said.
In NYC, the scabs  from several years of wounds and woes fell off. I've reflected on this life and feel good about the many lives I've led.
Now, another new adventure awaits in Wyoming.

Whether roots begin to form or in a few years I take off for another life, well, that's yet to be seen.
But I'm now - and forever - willing to step off the curb and see where my heart and gut take me next.

Photo Friday, Burlesque

Alas, this is my last attempt at photographing burlesque in NYC. It was a great show, as three of the performers were first-timers. The energy was great.
Here's a glimpse of the shoot (for the rest, follow this link to my Tumblr blog):

3WW CCLII "Individuality"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are appear, dose and pierce.

The boy’s mother thinks the black eye shadow will directly lead to his becoming the most infamous school shooter in U.S. history.

She fears her shame, mostly. What it’ll do to her standing in the community, those various service organizations she belongs to. How it’ll appear at church, the popular one with the rock music and young, dynamic pastor who preaches in earnest, exactly like a used car salesman pushes a late-model beauty. The same service she bitches about before and after, since it takes up two hours of her Sunday.

The kid? Mostly an afterthought. She’s hoping to dose him to the gills with Adderall, Wellbutrin and possibly Zoloft. The quiet fog a blessing, a treat. She’s tired of the back-talk, the questions.

He’s just trying to find his own path. Black T-shirts, silver guitar belt buckle, black Doc Martens – the maroon knit beanie pulled tight over unruly hair. The nipple piercing, too, since it’s one he can hide from her prying eyes.

He’s torn between fitting in and finding his own self.

Mostly he fears the voice, the one that demands he be ordinary.

It’s a voice, low and gravelly, that keeps whispering, “Suicide.”