Thursday, December 17, 2015


Maggie stands slouched in her usual spot among the vending machines, between a soda machine and a machine filled with dry snacks. She has eaten Cheetos, sucking orange dust off her fingers. She’s heard they have better vending machines in Japan, machines that offer things like breakfast and beer. She could go for both this morning.
     She stands with the machines behind the grubby little motel on Rush Street, a hard-won territory and she’ll cut any bitch who tries to encroach on her claim. It is prime real state there on Rush Street and she won’t give it up without a fight.
     Maggie had been born with a face like an octopus; her bulging black eyes almost on the sides of her pale, bulbous head; a long mustache of tentacles hanging over her mouth-sphincters. She shows off her shapely legs in a short leather skirt. She is waiting for a john to approach. She caters to the blue collar men in the factories who need a quickie before they punch into their dismal jobs. The men are desperate, frantic. They have rough, dirty, calloused hands. She doesn’t hate them yet but she’s getting close.
     Maggie thinks about buying a soda and then dismisses the idea. Carbonated beverages give her gas. Besides, the sun is coming up. Time to go to work.
     Her heart has lost its luster. It has erased any empathy she may have once felt for herself. She hasn’t felt self-pity in years. She misses the way she used to feel sorry for herself. Now she thinks, Well, life is hard.
     A man approaches her with strange delicacy, as if trying to sneak up on her. He is not one of her regulars. He’s a middle-aged man with a gray beard and a stupid hat. She knows the type. He is probably married and figures going to a prostitute doesn’t constitute cheating. She says, “You looking for action?” Her voice is muffled behind the tentacles. The tentacles are sleek and muscled and move with her words.
     He nods and says, “How much?”
    She lays out her prices and he makes a thoughtful face, listening. Finally he says, “Blowjob,” and looks around nervously, as if the word had been broadcast by loudspeaker.
     His skittish behavior is phony, she thinks. Some men have to act intimidated to soften the awkward situation. They act anxious because of her octopus face. She is already bored by the man. He hands her the money and she says, “Follow me,” and leads him into her motel room. She doesn’t turn on the light.
     They stand in the gloomy paneled room and look at each other. His expression betrays no shock as she removes her top, revealing four small breasts.
     “Okay,” she says. “Take it out.” And she drops to her knees.
     What he shows her she’s never seen before. He has a corkscrew penis, like a pig, and three testicles.
     She doesn’t know what to do with it.
     “Come on,” he says, slight aggravation in his tone. “Do it.”
     She leans back and looks up at him. “Look mister, I don’t know about this...” Her voice is tentative for the first time in years.
     “Don’t be afraid. Just treat it normally,” he tells her.
     And so she does and with the intimate contact she feels herself floating outside her body and she drifts toward the ceiling on soft, undulating cushions of air. She feels free. The ceiling grows and expands, breaking apart into atoms of light. And there is a beyond, she realizes for the first time.
     He moans and she looks down and when he finishes she crashes back into her body.
     There was a shift from present tense to past and it seemed to happen instantaneously, in an eyelash of time. He zipped up and said, “Thanks,” and left her alone in the room and she wept, finally feeling sorry for herself again.
     She allowed herself to cry for ten or fifteen minutes, and then went into the bathroom to puke and rinse with Listerine.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015


Once upon a time an aspiring artist named Philip Euphemism discovered a new medium. He’d spent his life struggling with oils, watercolors, charcoal, pen-and-ink and even fingerpaints. Nothing he attempted produced satisfactory results. He’d lived his whole life hoping to become a famous artist, but was met with failure after failure.
     One day, while sitting at his drawing board staring at an empty sheet of paper with vacant frustration, he began to sneeze.
     The sneezes were unlike any sneezes he’d ever sneezed. He could feel them start at the back of his head, pulse forward into his face, and then explode out his nose. He sneezed thirteen times. On the thirteenth sneeze an explosion of dark blood spattered the white paper. Struck with inspiration, he leaned over the drawing board and let his nose drain all over the white sheet.
     Then he got up and went to the bathroom and held a clump of toilet paper to his nose until he stopped bleeding.
     He went back to the drawing board.
     He was astounded by what he saw.
     The blood on the paper had created faces and forms; a red riot of movement. He could see men on horses clashing swords and peasants fleeing. Roiling red storm clouds hovered over the mayhem. He stood back and the figures were still there. He stared at the paper as closely as he could. They were still there. Within the forms, smaller figures writhed with manic energy: dragons threatening screaming multitudes, marching armies...
     He had produced a masterpiece, borne of a nosebleed!
     One masterpiece was good, but could he duplicate the process?
     First, he tried to sneeze, taking short breaths through his nose and clucking his tongue. His nose itched slightly, but no sneeze was forthcoming. He went into the kitchen to get the pepper.
     He shook black pepper into his palm and sucked it up his nose like a pinch of snuff. The pepper burned his sinuses but no sneeze was forthcoming.
     Meanwhile his masterpiece began to dry and turn brown.
     Panicked, he scrutinized the picture, and then leaned back. The forms were still there, nebulous and brown, but still there.
     He decided more dramatic methods of acquiring a nosebleed were indicated.
     He placed a fresh sheet of paper on the board and then punched himself in the nose. But he chickened-out at the last second and didn’t hit himself hard enough to draw blood. He girded himself for a more forceful blow. And when no blood came he struck himself again. And again. Finally, he felt a warmth overtake his nose and fresh blood spattered the paper.
     Once the paper was covered with blood, he ran to the bathroom for more toilet paper. His nose eventually stopped bleeding. He looked at the paper.
     It was just a white sheet with blood all over it. No forms had materialized.  
     Well, he supposed, one masterpiece was better than none.
     And then he felt something gathering at the back of his head. Like a lightning bolt through his face, his nose erupted with sneezes again. Thirteen in all and then came the blood. He quickly placed a new sheet of paper on the drawing board and let his nose drain. Forms materialized. The Madonna with child had coalesced from the glossy blood; a landscape of mountains and clouds in the background.
     He felt another tingle at the back of his head and fresh sneezes exploded from his nose. He quickly moved the Madonna aside and placed another sheet of paper on the board. More blood came. As soon as the paper was soaked, he slid another one before him. More sneezes, more blood.
     By the time he had completed six new bloody masterpieces he grew lightheaded. He produced another masterpiece. He grew dizzier still.
     Philip finished one last work before he slumped over the drawing board, dead from blood loss.
     Two days later his landlord, Larry, discovered the body. They carried Philip out and the next day the landlord (Larry) started cleaning out the apartment. He found the bloody pages scattered around the room and, with dollar signs singing in his head, collected them. He brought them to an art expert, hoping he’d finally found his fortune.
     The art expert studied them carefully and then said, “Eh, they’re okay. Nothing special...”    

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Confessions of a Hallucinating Patient #2

I am sure there are children trapped in a murky dimension just out of reach. I can read the writing on the walls, literally. Childish scrawls plead for help all over the room. They are starving; there is no food in the other dimension. When the nurse asks if I want something to eat, I say “Yes,” even though it’s not true. But I have a mission now. I have to feed the children. I figure I will eat the food and then offer my nutrient-rich blood to them. It seems like the only thing to do.
     I tell the nurse my plan. “There are no children,” she says. "There is no writing on the walls."
     I'll eat my lunch anyway. She can’t fool me. They are all in on it.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

At the Airport

I picked up my granddaughter at the airport yesterday. After two months traveling through Chad I’d hoped she’d come back changed in some way, more evolved, but the same little punk-rock moppet disembarked the plane looking and acting exactly like herself. I figured she’d endure hardships in Africa and would at least stop cutting her arms but she met me with fresh, scabby slices on her left arm. I noticed she had a new nose-piercing and I worried about infectious diseases (my image of Africa is rife with stereotypical clich├ęs of misery, poverty and puddle-water brimming with exotic illnesses). I’ve never been to Chad and have not researched it. As far as I know it’s as cold and antiseptic as Finland (another country I know nothing about except that they have a rather high rate of suicide).
     My granddaughter’s name is Tiana (for some reason) and she’s eighteen and swears like a porn star. I inherited custody after her mother (my daughter) died of a heroin overdose two years ago. Tiana was the one who found her, two days decayed with a needle sticking out of her leg and dried blood crusted around her mouth. The flies had found her. I can’t imagine the kind of roaring psychological disturbance witnessing such a horror would cause, but little (4’11”) Tiana has still not exhibited anger or despair over the loss of her mother (or the hellish tableau that had confronted her). She seemed to greet it with relief. Being raised by a junkie, I don’t know, it must deform you in some invisible, intractable way. She learned to wear emotional chain mail a long time ago. I love Tiana dearly but I worry about her psyche. Maybe she’s just a lot stronger than me.
     Or maybe she’s waiting to explode.
    “So, how was Africa?” I asked her as we made our way across the terminal, lugging her baggage.
     She shrugged. “I don’t know. Okay I guess.”
     Okay I guess? You just spent two months in Africa. Can’t you do any better than that?”
     “What do you want me to say? It was beautiful? It wasn’t. It was intense? It ain’t. I don’t know what you want from me.”
     “A good, precise adjective, please.”
    “It was fucking lame. It was fucking boring.”
     “That’s better,” I said, rolling my eyes. We carried her bags out the automatic doors and walked into the parking lot.
     “Are you hungry?” I asked her. “Want to grab something to eat before we go home?”
     “God yes. The food in Chad was awful. I think I lost twelve pounds.”
     “What was it like?”
     “M-hm. So, what are you in the mood for?”
    “Ramen noodles, Doritos, Slim Jims and grape soda.”
     “Are you kidding me?”
    “I’ve been thinking about eating that meal for weeks.”
     “Okay, kiddo. Whatever you want.”
     And as we made our way to the car I couldn’t help thinking how unlike her mother she was (which is probably a good thing).