OneWord, "Past"

OneWord is a quick-and-dirty writer's prompt that gives you a word - and 60 seconds to write something. It's a great way to jump-start your day. 

Here's my OneWord for Nov. 29, 2012:

We all have a past. And a present. And a future.

It’s the past that defines us, binds up. Trips us up, really.

We live in the past, wearing hurt and failure like bulky jackets.

We try to stay in the present, but the past keeps bubbling up.

So we dream of the future, which is still going to be littered with past misery. 

Thursday's 3WW, "Wall Flower"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are compromise, decision and forward. It’s about time I get back to this writing thing.

His forward motion feels good; the night is gray, overcast and a heavy snow falls, the kind of snow that sticks to everything like powdered sugar. He walks gingerly, not because of the tequila shots and the beers, but he’s wearing slip-on dress shoes that are most inappropriate for this kind of weather.

Still, he walks. With purpose. His breath comes out like a steam whistle, all hot and cloudy, full of determination alright. He’s chugging home, or at least to his truck, which he ditched at the last bar, convinced by his buddies that this club would be different. Better. A “target-rich environment” they all said.

It’s a decision that’s left him with this rather long slog. Time to ponder, he thinks, maybe sort some things out. And sober up a little.

He cuts across Broadway in the middle of the block, so he can be on the same side of the street where his truck is parked. Even though there’s plenty of time before he gets there.

Some 17 glorious blocks to go.

The night is quiet and there’s no wind. The snow falls silent, in straight lines. He passes a sign he finds funny and pulls out his mobile to snap a picture, which he uploads to a few social media sites he favors. His feet are cold. He’s not wearing socks. An oversight, he thinks, considering the change in the weather.

He comes to the creek that cuts the town in half; where he crosses it’s been concreted in, a glorified ditch with little patchy islands of dead and dying grass humps, now covered in snow. He stops, hooks the heel of his shoe onto the metal railing, causing an extra snow squall to hit the weak-flowing water.

He grips the top rail, feels the cold, like a burn, spread across his palms. He smiles, sighs. He puts his palms to his face and the cold is sharp, sweet. His eyebrows curl into arches and his eyes bulge out a little. He brings his hands forward and touches his fingertips to his chapped lips. He shoots a hand to his jeans, feels again for the tube of lip balm that he already knows is still in his truck.

He could have asked her for some, he thinks.

Maybe not.

What’s the protocol for that, anyway?

He shakes his head, turns from the stream and stuffs clenched fists into his pockets. The snow gathers on his jacket, a wool sports coat, and he thinks he smells a little bit like wet lamb. It could be worse, he thinks. He could have ditched the jacket in the truck too, like the lip balm. He shrugs his shoulders rapidly, hoping the motion will knock some of the snow free, maybe warm him up a little.

Time - and a little distance from that last tequila shot – has brought the evening into piercing focus. Maybe it’s the cold, too, he thinks. You never know. He replays the night in his head again, pulls a hand from his pants pocket and scratches the stubble across his chin.

It did happen.

Happened exactly as he remembers it, too. No embellishments needed.

One minute he’s hugging the wall, watching everyone else dancing, a longneck hooked in the fingers of his left hand, his thumb hooked in a belt loop. He got a shoulder to the wall and slumps a little.

She grazes past him, even though there’s plenty of room to move, and sloshes a little of the tequila out of the two shot glasses she’s carrying in each hand.

“Hey,” she says, and turns to him. “Drink this. I can’t find the bitch I bought it for.”

He transfers the beer to his right hand and takes the shot. She clicks glasses and they shoot the tequila together, making all the contorted faces people make when they shoot tequila.

“Tessa,” she says, rubbing a thumb across her lips.

“Jon,” he yells, a little too loud, trying to compensate for the shitty techno that’s leaking form the dance floor.

“Uh, huh,” she says. “You need another shot there, slugger.”

And before he can refuse, she wades into the crowd and is gone.

He takes a pull from the longneck and ponders his options, which, at this point, are disappear, or stay and see if she comes back.

He taps an index finger rapidly across his lips. And stays put, watching the exact spot where she melded into the crowd.

“Whatcha looking at?” she asks, coming up from behind with two more shots in one hand, two fresh beers in the other.

“Thought I knew that guy,” he says. “Wasn’t who I thought it was.”

“Here, handsome,” she says, winks, and they down the tequila, make the faces, then each takes a pull on the beers she’s brought.

He can see the truck up the block, maybe two, so he condenses the evening into quick snippets in his mind; it’s like he’s drawn one of those flip comics on the edge of a pad of paper and now he’s filing through them rapidly toward the end. There was dancing, awkward at first, better as the shots flowed.

Then she grazed his lips with hers, off the dance floor, and only for the briefest of moments, her warm hands resting inside his jacket, gripping his chest.

It takes his breath away.

She doesn’t notice this.

She clasps his hand in hers, nudges her head toward the bathrooms.

There’s kissing, then several intimate, compromising positions in a narrow stall that smells vaguely of pee and perfume.

Clumsy goodbyes are said. She returns to her group, turns, winks and waves.

He empties into the street, deciding to walk. He texts his friends, turns and takes his first few wobbly steps back toward downtown.

He reaches the truck, and with a hand tucked into his jacket sleeve, wipes away the snow from his windshield, the back window, the driver’s side door handle.

He fishes cold fingers into his pocket, trying to hook his keys and instead pulls out the white cotton boy shorts he’s removed from her. The very ones he slid down with both hands, starting with one flat against her taut stomach, the other resting on her lower back. She gasped when he did so; then she hooked a thumb into the waistband and slithered expertly out of them.

Slowly, he stretches the panties out between his hands. And lip-reads the seven digits she’s scrawled in purplish lip gloss.

And thrusts his arms into the air, screaming hot vapor, victory, into the frigid darkness. 

Uncle E Is At It (Again)

Yes, friends, Uncle E, because apparently he's got a lot of free time, has started a new Wordpress blog:

500 Reasons Why The 80's Didn't Suck. 

"Let’s for a moment forget about the poofy hair, Reagan and Thatcher and the threat of nuclear annihilation, parachute pants and Eddie Murphy movies. This blog will concern itself with the music of the decade, much of which was wonderful and groundbreaking, as opposed to popular thought, which has skewed opinion to remember the 80’s as the worst decade EVER of popular music."

OK, sure, there was a lot that was wrong with the 80s, where music is concerned. Starship. Rick Astley. Milli Vanilli, fer Chrissakes. 

But the 80s also spawned some hellaciously great music. Uncle E and I both lived through the decade, hell, we were still young and impressionable. We know what we're talking about.

E says he's going to focus on 500 reasons why the 80s didn't suck by introducing the world to highlight "those albums and bands that were played at underground clubs, the forgotten gems that took research and word of mouth to discover."

Go check him out. He's a knowledgeable guy - and he's got wit. 

Oh, and here's one of my very own reasons why the 80s didn't suck:

Pixies, "Debaser" (surprised, E?)

Real Stories, Real Life, Real Pain

I do like the look on people's faces.
My right arm is in a sling, wrapped in layers of Ace bandage, a hard plastic brace and 3M Coban tape. The end result of a two-hour surgical procedure recently to reattach my right bicep muscle to the radius bone, were it belongs.
I ruptured the tendon. Completely tore it from the bone.
Salsa dancing.
"Is that dangerous?" the orthopedic surgeon asked.
It can be.

The historic hotel in town offers free dance lessons on Tuesday nights. Normally, there are substantially more women who show up than men. Meaning the women cycle through the men who happen to be present.
If you love women, it's a no-brainer proposition.
Everything was going well. I like to dance - remember my foray into charity dancing - and I was there with friends.
The move that has changed my life slightly involved throwing my partner forward and holding her arms while she leans forward (think Kate Winslett on the bow of the Titanic); she then leans back into a dip, moving her arms into mine like a bicep curl. Only her right arm moved the opposite direction.

"What was that?" she asked as we completed the move and went back into the salsa's three steps on a four-beat measure.
"Slight muscle tear, no big thing. Totally fine."
I went to fetch my drink, stood off in the corner to look at the damage.
A hole in the crook of my elbow, where my bicep was supposed to be.
And the bicep, rolled up like a busted shutter, at the top of my arm.
OK, I went a little white.
"Are you OK?" my friend - and favorite dance partner - asked.
"Not so much," as I showed her the arm.

Pleas were made to take me to the ER. I declined, on the grounds that the ER could do nothing for me. I went home, grabbed an ice pack and waited to get a surgical opinion. 
"Lets get that fixed, shall we?" 

I do like, when people ask about my arm being in a sling and my dance-partner-in-crime is present, to say I injured myself salsa dancing.
All eyes turn to her.
"It wasn't me!" she protests, and I smile.
Life is rough-and-tumble and no one escapes unscathed. 
And the best stories come from real life.

Addendum; as I typed this with one hand - and I am limited to wearing snap-button shirts, warmup pants and sandals for the next six weeks - it might be a bit quiet on The Tension. Not for a lack of material, just a lack of arms.

OneWord, "Secret"

The OneWord prompt - a website that gives writers a word and 60 seconds to scribble something - is secret. A good word, secret, since we all have them. 

Life In Real Time

Carrying its weight feels, at times, like I’m drowning. 

Well, not drowning, really. More like a slow grind, maybe like geology, where I, in time, will become just bits and pieces, dust. 

I figure that’s OK by me. Penance for my sins. 

Keeping this secret. 

Holding it tight.

Knowing we’ll never be able to come out of its inky shadow. 


The words over at Three Word Wednesday are emotion, falter and touch. 

We lead separate lives, you and I.

Separate and separated.

I see you walk through life, unaware of me, doing the most mundane things and I can’t help but love you. 

Secretly squeezing the tomatoes a little to hard in the grocery, then popping grapes in your mouth while no one’s looking. 

The way you flirt with the barista at the coffee shop, he’s what, 17? His cheeks are ruddy by the time you turn and bounce away, carrying away your tall latte. 

The way you greet friends at lunch, it takes my breath away. The hug is real, no air-kisses. You plant one on the cheek – and it’s beautiful and wonderful and makes me love you even more. 

You looked at me once, and the emotions crackled through my being like electricity. Thank you. You’re beautiful. 

You were out to dinner with your family, and I was at a table alone and I played a game where your conversation was our conversation, but it was sad, harsh words between you and him and I faltered and spent nearly the rest of the evening getting drunk and punching a hole in the sheet rock of the garage.

I’m fine, really. No need to worry. 

 The stitches come out next week. 

Thursday's 3WW, "Sins of the Flesh"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are cut, endanger and hazard.

Sins of the Flesh
Sanders was drinking coffee from his I (HEART) Schipperke mug and I knew that shit was going to cost me at least 12 pokes, but then I remembered that it was well after 8 a.m. and the ratio of cheap vodka to coffee was probably 3 to 1, so I back off six pokes for destructive behavior. 

And before you get into a fucking twist, I am not a cutter. Way too OCD for that. 

I poke. 

Take one large paper clip, straighten completely, then wind snugly around one’s index finger (between the first and second knuckle) and bend, leaving a half-inch of metal. Sharpen the end into a spike. 

And press it into your skin in a tightly-packed grid system on one’s flesh. 
Occupation hazard, I suppose. Making up for everyone else’s fucked-up lives. It’s a burden I bear without complaint. 

The fat-assed secretary with the bad dye job (making her look 10 years older than she intended) who told me to have a nice day Monday? A dozen pokes.

The ex-jock in sales who keeps pinching the skinny, introverted intern on her boney ass – even after a supervisor’s intervention and sexual harassment threat? Eighty-six pokes. 

My boss, the prick, who uses the phone at my desk to set up lunchtime trysts with young fags he finds in the classifieds of the alt-weekly – endangering his new bride of eight weeks with all sorts of nasty he trails home? Two hundred pokes, easy. 

I have, at this very moment, 2,486 festering holes in my flesh.

Mind you, I’m fairly new to this. 

I was on the bus when it hit me, my life’s work. Watching two Hispanic kids mauling one another, all the while encroaching onto the lap of a sweet little – and very jittery - Jewish woman with a paisley-colored walking cane and a Macy’s bag filled with flowers and produce.

I got to the office, found a paper clip, and went into the bathroom to give myself the first 24 in a much longer line of pokes. 

It may not make you feel better – hell it probably sickens you to death – but I know what I’m doing, OK? 

What bothers me now is the leakage. A few grids are really starting to fester, sending a domino-dot pattern seeping into the crisp fabric of my dress shirts. The one’s I keep buttoned-down, even after 5 p.m., when nearly every other guy in the office has rolled up their sleeves, loosened their ties and unbuttoned the top one or two buttons of their classic Oxfords. 

Yellow puss, which means no more white shirts, I guess. And until things start to get a lot better – and people stop being such assholes – no ointments or anti-biotics.

I do it all for you, you know. 

I suffer your sins. With my flesh. 

No thank you required. 

Just stop being such fuckups, won't you?

3WW, "Play Dates"

The words over at Three Word Wednesday are feel, shade and tangle.

I’m back, kids. A bit rusty, but back. 

Play Dates
Tangles of mouse-colored hair lay across her sleeping face and amid the mess, two hands work kinky strands into a tiny braid.

Sunlight seeps through the shades, threatening to put a quick and inevitable end to their encounter. 

The kids will be up soon, anyway. 

There’s a pull on the braid and she stirs, smiles. She stretches, cat-like, and the sheets fall from her breasts and her skin rises instantly in gooseflesh. 

Eyes watch the transformation from sleep to consciousness; lips are wetted with a sweep of the tongue – and desire. 

She slumps against the warm body coiled next to her and with a long exhale, sighs. 

She tucks her head into the warmth, removes a few stray strands of hair from her mouth, wrinkles her nose, aimlessly scratches her temple.

The gestures bring a smile. 

She looks up, runs a hand through her curls.

And in her eyes, a gathering storm. 

“We can’t do this anymore,” she says. “It’s…it doesn’t feel right.”

Delicate hands reach out for her face, but she turns, buries her head in the sheets.

“Baby, it’s right. So incredibly right. And you feel so good.”

She buries herself further into the bedding, shakes her head. 

There’s a thump of heels on the cool hardwood floor. Loose clothing is picked up, tossed. Until she finds her own bra, sundress and sandals.

She slips into the bra, shimmies the dress over her hips and goes to raise the blinds. 

And turns back toward the bed. 

“The kids will be up soon,” she says to a quivering heap in the bed. “And I brought popsicles for treats.”

She walks past the bed, rakes her nails over her reluctant lover’s exposed foot, the toenails painted in a muted fuchsia. The tight ball of flesh releases a small squeak, then a giggle. 

There’s a swipe of a manicured finger across the screen of a smartphone. Lipstick-smeared lips pucker in concentration.

“What do you think, does Friday afternoon work for you?”

On the Move, Again

I am leaving journalism.

Probably not for good – it’s what I know and newsrooms are like crack – but I’ve accepted a position in the nonprofit sector.
I will be a prevention specialist in Wyoming, working toward awareness and action in suicide prevention, as well as drug, alcohol and tobacco suppression.
Go ahead and laugh, those who know me all too well.
But I think you’ve got to have experience to fight a good fight.
And I’ve got street-smarts. In spades.
I will use my communication skills to a new advantage – public speaking and setting up coalitions. Being an active participant in a community to enact change. It's exciting work, worthy work. 
Besides, it’s a 40-hour-a-week gig, with a huge raise.
Meaning I will have time to write again.
Yes, write fiction.
Finally get that e-book of short stories out.
Get my life back.

At some point, I will move to Sheridan Wyo., where I will be based. I’ve already found a couple of lofts that look promising.
And I will be able to be a part of two communities, without being an interloper, a journalist looking from the outside in. I will be able to volunteer, have friends, without feeling like I can’t. Because when you’re a journalist, you are never really off. People are forever telling you conversations are off-the-record – even when you’re sitting at a bar.
And there’s always the chance you’ll have to write about someone. That limits the friendships you can forge.
A buddy of mine said a very nice thing recenty: “If guys like you leave journalism, we’re going to die.”
I need a break.

I still think community journalism will save the craft, the profession.
I just couldn’t make the current situation work. I, in my opinion, was never set up to succeed. Too many impediments to being truly great.
(And I love and adore my staff; we kicked ass – and took names.)
So I did something for myself.
The nonprofit gig is a one-year state contract, with no guarantee that I will get a second year. And that’s OK by me.
We’ll see how it goes.
And adjust later. 

An Honest Assessment of an Interesting Question

This e-mail came in from a friend:

“You are not blogging much and you sound massively discontent. I always come back to the old cliché question: What would you do if you didn't have to worry about money? What really makes you happy? Anyway -- I've found that simply seeking an answer usually produces one... even if it is unexpected.”

I’ve responded to her personally, but it does beg a blog post. 

I am massively discontent – about 21 hours a day. There are times where I am content. Happy, even. It ebbs and flows and last seconds to even more than an hour. 

There are issues, personally and professionally. My health is suffering. 

But my heart suffers more. 

I realized – especially during my recent roadtrip through the Midwest – that what I am most lacking in is human contact. Sure, I have acquaintances  here, but I need more. 

And I need to write again – for myself. I need the balance between putting out a newspaper each week where every inch of copy crosses past my eyes and writing what’s in my heart, my head. 

Easier said than done. 

Plans have been formulated. Things I need to bring to fruition. 

And that’s the challenge. 

Life, as I know it (now).

Something interesting has happened. 
Community leaders have been reaching out the past few days to seek out my opinion/input on a situation that has, for better or worse, polarized the small burb where I’ve find myself.
I’d be a liar if I said the attention has gone unnoticed. 
Since I have a solution that is fair to all parties. One that is so simple, yet so hard to implement. 
Here lies a turning point; a place where the community sought out the editor of the community newspaper for his opinion, council. It is a point of acceptance in what is altogether a close-knit community that counts history above all carpetbaggers. 
I have been accepted as a voice of reason within the community. 
Someone to seek out.
It is what I have wanted since I came here. 
And it is what has me so confused. 
I am still fraught with what to do in my life. As The Clash so eloquently said, “Should I stay, or should I go?”
Misery dogs me.
True misery.
The feeling of going home and pulling the covers up over your head and watching your dog stick her face into yours, her eyes pleading, “I can help, pet me.” 
To love this land, those people so close to me and the community who have accepted an outsider as a voice of reason.
It is hard to simply walk away from in the absolute.
It gives one a sense of false hope.
The situation is far from ideal. No place is. 
While talking to First Sister recently, I said, “I have a hard time with having people telling me what to do. Basically since birth.”
“Everywhere you go, everything you do, there will be someone who tells you what to do. That’s a given. You’ve got to get over it. Even I have to do what others tell me to do.”
I do not consider this a fault. To question those “in charge” is to seek new ideas. But sometimes, no one is listening. 
And that’s the dilemma. 
I am the consummate community newspaper editor.
(Bold? Fuck yes. I am beyond good in what I do. I’m fucking built for this.)
Can I reach my potential here?
That feels like a no.
There is so much to love about this place, this time. I am great at what I do. The staff responds in a way that any editor would hope – they learn, adapt and strive.
I have impediments in front of me that make it difficult to move forward in a way that satisfies myself – and the rest of the world. 
I wish it were not so. 
No situation is truly perfect. 
And fight as I might, the only logical solution is to wander forward. 
Seek another adventure. 
And try and find my place in this world. 

OneWord, Belief

Something I just penned for OneWord, where you get 60 seconds to create. I hope you like it. 

His beliefs were built on dreams. Long-ago thoughts of love and happiness, dripping with friendships and interesting, fulfilling work. 
Never did he see real life come creeping. He was overtaken, shaken. His beliefs just thought balloons in a nightmarish cartoon. 
He wants to wake up. 
Believe again. 

Lost in America

I went to bed somewhat hopeful, having had a conversation with a friend and co-worker who was distraught and agitated. 
It was late, but I invited him over for a beer. We talked a bit. I listened. 
And told him I was committed. I was here for him – for everyone – until September. 
The decision has been made – I felt good about it – and I repeated it: I’d give Wyoming a year. That’s fair. Anyone can do anything for a year.
A night of tossing and turning, bad dreams, fears revisited and I woke up lost. And alone. 
There are no crossroads, it seems. As I write this (and that is a big disclaimer), I feel no forward momentum. 
Just lost. 
It’s not supposed to be like this. This isn’t the life I envisioned for myself. 
And before I spiral into more darkness and self-doubt and loathing, I needed to say this. All of this. Get it out. 
Feels whiny. 
And looking around, yeah, I have it pretty good. Better than most. 
The view from the darkness is painful.

OneWord, 'Orbit'

The word over at OneWord is "orbit." Sixty seconds. Here you go:

His orbit was in a steady decay and there was no bailing out. He’d have to ride it out, ride right through her atmosphere, praying that his shielding remained intact. It was going to be a bumpy ride. Sweat beaded on his brow. He took a bandana out of his back pocket to mop, she intercepted his hand, squeezed and swiped the red swath of cloth.
“The contractions are like 10 minutes apart,” she said “Focus.”