31 May 2009

Unmaking The Tool

Jason McKenna stared at the faint outline of the man in the glass before him, the slow burn of bitter coffee cooling in his throat. The outline stared back, impassive, unblinking. Behind the outline a ceaseless stream of people passed by on the side walk, hurriedly on their way to anonymous jobs or pressing errands. Jason’s upper body hunched against the narrow counter along the glass, and he shivered in a spasm of dread, unsettled by the thought that the people passing by were walking through him, like he wasn’t there.

Like a ghost.

Jason’s hands tightened around the slowly cooling coffee cup, clenched in his palms. His breath grew shallow and his throat tightened. He found himself having difficulty breathing. The smooth hardness of the porcelain rolled between his fingers. He clutched at the indifferent cup like it was a talisman, an anchor that kept his body from floating away. Briefly, Jason panicked at the thought of drifting up, up, up to be sucked into an air vent. Or battered to pieces by the whirling blades of one of the dusty ceiling fans that hung overhead. A fitting end, he mused, to a life lived in the folds of indifference. Eyes unfocused, staring to some point on a horizon he could not see, Jason didn’t see Bobby Sack come creeping up the sidewalk; Bobby’s eyes were fixed on Jason and his grossly chapped lips cracked into a grotesque grin of black holes and the distant memory of a dentist’s care. He hastened up the sidewalk and smacked a grime coated hand on the glass, just inches from Jason’s face.

“Hey, Jakesy!” he shouted, his voice muffled by the glass, “gotta dollar, or smokes?”

The impact of Bobby’s hand cracked like a low gunshot, startling Jason out of his desperation-filled daydream. Jerking spasmodically, he flinched and hot coffee slopped over the rim of the cup to pool at the base of his right thumb. Jason swore softly at the burn and stuck the tender flesh in his mouth. The younger truck driver sitting next to Jason suppressed a grin and asked “Buddy of yours?” He gestured with his chin at the dreadlocked apparition waiting expectantly on the sidewalk.

Jason sighed. “Not a buddy, exactly. I don’t know why he likes me, except I’m one of the few people that doesn’t tell him to fuck off and go away most days.” Jason glanced over quickly at the driver: standard issue urban delivery man boots, trousers and shirt. He had a slight stubble and his brown driver’s hat hung back at an angle that Jason found irritatingly jaunty.

Truck Driver grunted and brushed crumbs from his chest, a toasted snowfall from the half-eaten club sandwich on the plate in front of him. He grinned and said “Like a puppy, man. Maybe you ought to throw him a bone.” He turned his attention back to the sandwich, chewing noisily and squinting at the newspaper at his elbow.

For some reason, Truck Driver annoyed him. Bobby Sack maybe was scary looking and possibly insane, but he wasn’t a dog. His annoyance increased looking through the window to see Bobby standing there grinning, waiting patiently and expectantly for Jason to respond. Like an eager puppy waiting for a treat, Jason thought. Damnit. The image filled Jason with shame and faint anger. He didn’t really want to go outside to give Bobby the two quarters that lay on the counter, shielded from Bobby’s view by Jason’s hands. And Kemal, the surly owner of the coffee shop, sure as hell wouldn’t allow Bobby inside. In fact, Jason was pretty sure he could feel the daggers of Kemal’s stare whisking past his head, as if the very pressure of the gaze would keep out the “feelth”, as Kemal was fond of saying. Jason thought about telling Kemal to piss off, but didn’t want the hassle today. Kemal’s nickname was “Mad Turk” for a reason.

He sighed again. Bobby was the only person in the word that called him “Jakesy”, and Jason still had no idea why. They had exchanged names months ago, the first time Jason had given Bobby a bag of leftovers and a cup of coffee. Bobby had looked back at him with those rheumy eyes and said “Nice ta meecha, Jakesy” then laughed as if that were the funniest joke ever. Jason had given trying to correct him after the first five or six tries. Bobby Sack was just not going to get it through his head.

Looking up at Bobby, Jason shrugged extravagantly and mouthed the words ‘Sorry, bro, no dollar. No smokes.” He shook his head broadly to emphasize the point. The effect was instantaneous. Bobby’s face collapsed into a small mural of disappointment, and he dropped his head. He looked up briefly, hopefully, but Jason shook his head again. Bobby slumped away slowly, drifting down the sidewalk and disappearing into the steam rising up from the grates, for all the world like a barge fading into fog.

Jason waited until Bobby was gone from sight, invisible in the gray background of the city block outside the coffee shop window, and then took another swallow of the increasingly harsh coffee. There was a pang in his heart, a brief stab of pity he felt for a life lived invisible as Bobby seemed to have done forever. Who could live like that? Who could spend their days scraping by, near begging for attention, or at least for some change and a cigarette?

Who could stand being constantly passed by, nearly walked on and through, like a human-shaped cloud of mist? Jason wasn’t sure Bobby was aware of the gaze of judgment that washed over him. The polished stockbrokers, the well-scrubbed moneymen, the self-satisfied arrogance of the well-fed. The polished marble of their eyes dismissive of those that offended the aesthetics of the clean and neatly dressed. Jason swallowed hard on a curious mix of guilt and relief when he thought back to how he had been callous at first and then thankful that he, Jason McKenna, one of the smartest guys in the room, did not have to live that way to earn his daily bread.

No, Jason said to himself, at least I’m not invisible. His mouth turned up in a faint grin of self-satisfaction. The white porcelain turned in his hand as he lifted it to drink. Over the rim of the cup, he looked out the window through a wan pair of eyes staring straight back at him. It startled him. There was a heaving sensation in his chest, cold and liquid. He gasped, thinking of dark, cold slimy things rolling over in the mud at the bottom of the ocean. The coffee burned as he struggled to choke it down. Placing a hand over his mouth, Jason writhed discreetly, squirming on the stool. He lowered his head in an effort to control the spasm and the dizziness.

Below him on the counter, the quarters shone greasily in the yellow light of the overhead lamps.

Jason coughed and sputtered as the full force of his ignorance and denial burst over him, the dam breaking and sweeping him away in a torrent of caustic realization. He choked. Tears flooded his eyes, tears of pain and shame and self-loathing. It finally came clear, the denial and avoidance that had been his life. “I’m not one of the smartest guys in the room, Jason muttered, “I’m a tool. A huge, stupid tool.”

Who could stand being constantly passed by, nearly walked on and through, like a human-shaped cloud of mist?


A stifled sob of shame, and Jason’s cheeks flared bright red. The awful reality of the sham that was his life was clear and scalpel sharp as it tore at his heart. My god, he thought, I have been invisible. I told myself it was normal, that it would pass, to be patient. And I was dead wrong.

The studied indifference of his bosses. The coworkers who always seemed to forget he was in the office. The rare and late promotions, the small raises when they came at all. The trouble people had remembering his name. The feeling that in the Organizational Chart of Life the box where his name should be would just be a blank. Or worse, just a question mark. Because he was invisible, and he let people treat him that way.

Jason finally saw it for what it was. He had been nice to Bobby Sack because Jason had recognized a kindred soul. A person who was treated like vapor, like smoke, to be avoided or ignored, and had given up on anything being any different. Jason was simply acting like he wished others would act towards himself.

Jason propped his elbows on the counter and put his head in his hands. He knew it had happened because he had let it happen out of timidity. And the universe had obliged. The bulge in his throat tasted like bile and felt like shame. Through his fingers, the quarters burned like the eyes of a damnation preacher demanding Jason repent or burn.

Repent or burn. Repent or burn.

It was time for this indifference to end. A deep breath cleared his head as he scooped the quarters off the counter. Jason looked up, leaned forward and struggled to see if Bobby was anywhere in sight. No luck.

Jason grabbed his hat, stood up quickly and bolted for the door. Maybe, maybe, he could find Bobby before he got too far away. Jason ran down the sidewalk, a grin crooking his lips while he pushed his way through the uncaring field of people crowding the concrete. Salvation jingled softly in his pocket, drowning out the background roar from a city full of sinners.

30 May 2009

ImLateImLateImLate...and a tad lazy

Shame on me.

I am a sinner. It's true, I can't deny it.

I have been inattentive and lazy. Which I guess would be sloth(?). Certainly not gluttony or anger.

More folks have been kind to me, and I got so wrapped up in other earthly concerns, I neglected to say thank you to those fine folks.

I know, I know, my little lambs, I have strayed from the flock. But I lay myself down in front of you all to ask to return to the fold. I'm here to 'fess up. My penance begins now:

I have been awardamacated again, and I am most grateful. The lovely and intrepid Kat over at 3 Bedroom Bungalow To Let In Crazytown was kind enough to bestow upon me a "Most Wonderful Favorite" award last week, in THIS POST. Her writeup left me with my jaw on the table and a tear in my eye. Please stop by and give her a read and some comment luv. Her take on living the military family life is sharp, clear, wry and just plain funny. Tell her I sent you.


I regret that I haven't been able to talk to my friend Mama Dawg over at Two Dogs Running as much as I would like, as of late. She's always sweet, charming and a real hoot (plus has an adorable daughter and a blind cat), and I make it a point to read her blog whenever I can get the colander I call my brain to think. So it was a bit of a surprise when I finally saw HER POST on friendship. In that post, she said this:

"To Irish Gumbo: Thank you. Thank you for listening. Thank you for trusting me with your stories. Thank you for being there. I mean for really being there."

Gulp. Sniff. I was speechless. What a lovely thing to say.

In my frenzy to get through life, make it to the end of the day with sanity reasonably intact, sometimes my blinders are too big. I forget that there are a lot of lovely people out there who are helping me stay in the race. And I will do well to take more time to realize that, and give thanks.

To Kat and Mama Dawg, you have my heartfelt thanks for keeping me grounded.

28 May 2009

Challenger Deep of the Soul

Night, coagulated.

Solid cold blackness bearing down with pressures in the tons per square inch. Forget breathing, the real hope is to survive long enough to avoid being crushed. The pressure turning the body into a reddish smear. Reddish, if there was enough light to see it.

No, that couldn’t happen, could it? The pressure is all around; the body is fully enveloped, so the tons per square inch come from all directions. There would be no place for the red cloud to go. So what happens? Perhaps the body would simply compress into a dense jelly. The cells ruptured and forced into each other, no boundaries anymore, no discrete borders as the contents are squeezed by pressure into something new. Diamonds, perhaps, if the body was coal.

But it’s not coal. It’s flesh. A frail container for the soul.

The Mariana Trench is in the Pacific Ocean, near Japan and just east of the Mariana Islands that give the trench its name. The Trench is in the deepest part of the Earth’s oceans. It also contains the deepest spot on the planet: the Challenger Deep. The depth has been measured at 35,797 or 36,201 feet. That’s fuck-all deep.

Flesh, battered.

There are times when the container of the soul falls overboard from the ship that is life. This even after preparations are made, to weather the storms seen rumbling in over the horizon like a stampede of enormous angry cattle. One minute, lashed to the deck, swaying and rolling in heavy seas. The next minute, the loud twaannnng as cables break and the containers tumble over one another to plummet into the roiling sea. The shock is overwhelming, the water too thick and heavy. First order of business is to find which way is up: try following the bubbles, leading to the air. But what if up cannot be found?

Challenger Deep was named after a British Royal Navy survey ship, the HMS Challenger II, which located and surveyed the Mariana Trench in 1951. At that time, the navy survey measured the depth at 35,760 feet. In 1960, the United States Navy sent the bathyscaphe “Trieste” on a dive into the trench. The submersible made it to a depth of about 35,813 feet. The dive itself took nearly five hours. Five hours of slow free fall in water heavy, cold and black.

Mind, panicked.

In the icy metallic grip of fear the mind can become unglued. It loses it bearings, its ability to hold itself together on center. Lights fade into shadows and shadows morph into monsters. Nameless, faceless and in pursuit. The mind shrieks and flails to send the body into spasms. The limbs jerk with minimal control, just enough to keep the body moving. Motion is the key. At least motion gives a sense of being in control even when not knowing the destination. The motivation is strong to look for escape, so the body swims hard. Sometimes pointing down.

Usually when we think of extreme measurements, we think of height above us, not depth below us. Rarely do we hear something compared to the Grand Canyon; most often we think of Mount Everest. By comparison, though, Mount Everest has some growing to do. Put Everest in the Challenger Deep and the Roof of the World has over a mile of water over the top. So if extreme dimension is the criteria for hyperbole, why don’t we say “As deep as the Mariana Trench” instead of “As tall as Mount Everest?”

Swimming, downward.

Confusion reigns and the body goes deeper, deeper into the dark. The mind realizes its mistake, sometimes too late. In the blackness we grope and flail as panic takes over again. The pressure increases to the point where we can barely move except to keep sinking. The eyes are open but see nothing, except for possibly phosphorescence so faint as to be nearly undetectable. The mouth opens to scream or cry, but fills rapidly with water like cold metallic syrup. It is then the mind realizes it is going to die, unless a miracle happens. It shrieks soundlessly, limbs twitching like a bizarre clockwork toy made of flesh, winding down. If fortune smiles, the mind goes black before the heart stops.

The rag doll ceases to move, gliding inexorably down, a forlorn kite lost to the inky black. Somewhere below lies the ocean floor, and surely death.

We shy away from depth because it frightens us. We are conditioned to believe that impurity and evil dwell in the depths, and that goodness and light inhabit the heights. Hell versus Heaven. Dirt versus Air. The depths contain corruption. You cannot breathe dirt. Or water. But remember that the heights have their own dangers. Cold. Ultraviolet overexposure. And not enough oxygen to make breathe comfortably. Keep climbing and you will reach vacuum. So which is the greater danger, if either will eventually kill you? Suffocate or implode?

Face down in the inky black ooze, lost somewhere at the bottom of the trench. Immobile and freezing, no objective observer could believe that life has not fled this poor body. Pressure from a water column of almost incomprehensible force will surely drive out the last vestiges of life.

One of the surprises that researchers encountered in all this picking and probing at the Mariana Trench was that there is indeed life at these depths of the ocean. Some fish and shrimp have been spotted. There are species of crabs that are adapted to living around hydrothermal vent in the ocean floor. Numerous soft-shelled organisms have been found in the deepest parts, living in the ooze. These are not life as we are accustomed to, but life nonetheless. Observe closely, and perhaps learn some keys to survival.

Pressure. We all feel it, in varying amounts and intensities. Sometimes, the pressure increases faster than we can counteract it. We swim as hard as we can but the pounds per square inch turns into tons per square inch, grinding us into the mud. Life seems impossible so we slowly collapse in on ourselves, believing we cannot go on.

But…there is life in the mud. We have to believe in that to recover ourselves. Bring the mud into your core, filter out the tiny things that burrow and squirm, and learn from them. Learn to breathe and eat and live as they do. Of course it won’t be the life we knew, but it is living.

Embrace the cold, the dark, the mud. In the Challenger Deep of the soul, learn to live.

16 May 2009

Spice Boy Chronicles, No. 1: Vanilla Sugar

I was rooting around in my tacklebox* full of spices and seasonings the other day, looking for something what I can’t remember, and I rediscovered an old favorite:

Ah, vanilla sugar. I shook the jar to break up the clumps, and opened it to get a big snootful of what I consider to be one of the most delightful aromas in the universe. Standing there, in the kitchen, eyes crossing and head swimming in the scent wafting up from the sugar, I had a song begin to play in my head:

You still come to me in dreams
This little bed can barely hold
The dark beauty of your eyes
Burn like a fire in the cold**

Yeah, it’s like that.

The vanilla I’m rhapsodizing about is not vanillin nor is it vanilla extract. Vanillin is only the main aromatic compound in the mix of more than 200 different volatiles that are found in vanilla beans***. Vanillin alone cannot give enough depth to it. Vanillin can be synthesized from a variety of sources, mostly industrial by-products like wood lignin and (get this) coal tar extracts. I don’t know about you, but coal tar doesn’t exactly make my taste buds want to sit up and beg.

Vanilla extract certainly has its uses and I like it. But it is best when you need more the taste than both taste and smell. Cooking and baking has the side effect of volatilizing many of the delicate compounds that make up the scent. Extract certainly can give you the sense of it, but for me the heavy alcohol smell is too cloying and covers up some of the other entrancing facets of vanilla-ness.

No, what I am talking about is the vanilla bean itself. Long, thin, deep mahogany, like a French green bean mummified by the sun. If you are lucky you might even get one or two that have vanillin and glucose crystallized on the surface. Sort of like a long-legged supermodel wearing a diamond-encrusted bikini.

The taste of vanilla I adore. When I used to drink coffee, I liked to put some vanilla sugar in it now and then. Kee-rist, that was good. I still sprinkle it on my cereal sometimes. I also discovered that it is awesomesauce to put it on some peanut butter toast dotted with melted chocolate chips. Yeah, man, a sure fire way to get the day started off right.

Nothing, but nothing smells quite like a fresh vanilla bean. Many of you probably already know that if you take a vanilla bean and bury it in an airtight container of sugar, the aroma and flavor will permeate the sugar in about a week or so****. Refined sugar for me is…meh. Vanilla sugar, on the other hand, is ohmygawdgetmyfaceoutofthesugarbowlbeforeIsuffocate. Few scents have quite the effect on me that vanilla does. I have always been drawn to the aroma, even before I learned to enjoy the taste. Aromatic exotica, I like to think of it. It smells spicy-warm-sweet-caramel-honey-flowers, if that makes sense. To this day I cannot come up with words that adequately describe the aroma, without breaking it down into dry, terse descriptions that do not convey the “vanilla-ness” of vanilla.

The smell of vanilla conjures up a lot of things, from a sense of hominess (grandma baking cookies) to faraway lands (Madagascar, Indonesia) to sensual adventures (I smell vanilla:I think boudoir). The aroma of vanilla is a delicious paradox, combining the pleasures of the known and the mysteries of the unknown in one deep, complex scent. This scent hits the pleasure buttons of the boy I used to be and the man I became. Not often one can find something that reminds of grandma, and things that one probably would be embarrassed to discuss with grandma!

So it was that cookies and lust were simmering in the kitchen of my mind. I was amusing myself with the notion that a flower, an orchid from places so far away could excite me emotionally and physically, could make me feel good and relaxed. I was also curious, so I did what any self respecting food nerd would do: research.

What I found was all sorts of information relating to the therapeutic, medicinal, stimulative and calmative (paradoxical, but there it is) benefits of vanilla. Many of these have been posited over the course of thousands of years, and have begun to attract attention from modern science. It is possible that vanilla, or its scent, can have positive effects on a variety of ailments and conditions. Things like respiratory conditions, digestion and heart problems, claustrophobia and anxiety, even mild erectile problems*****.

Goes a hell of a lot further than just flavoring ice cream, doesn’t it?

However, the one bit of information that really made my jaw drop, laugh out loud and turn on that little light bulb in my head was thoroughly unexpected. It had to do with the name ‘vanilla’. According to my information, it was the Spanish that were the first Europeans to have the privilege of tasting vanilla. As with so many things in history, them what are first get to slap a name on it. In this case, the Spanish named it vainilla, which is the diminutive term for ‘sheath’ or ‘husk’. As is often the case, vainilla was a word derived from a Latin word which literally meant ‘sheath’ or ‘scabbard’. That Latin word?


Well, then. Vanilla: smells good, tastes good, good for what ails you. I knew there was a reason I liked vanilla so much.

*That’s right, tackle box. What? Did you think I would keep them in a purse, or satin lined bag? Hell, no. My tools belong in proper boxes, dammit.
**From “I Dream An Old Lover” by Jeffrey Foucault, on the album ‘Ghost Repeater’. Great song.
***The geek confesses: I have on my bookshelf not 1 but 2 copies of “On Food and Cooking” by Harold McGee. All thanks to his work that I can spout food trivia like the 200 compounds bit. I have 2 different editions because I wanted to compare the updated version with the original. See? I’m a geek.
****Take a vanilla bean, split it or leave it whole – your choice – and bury it in a canister full of white sugar. Leave it for a week and then give it a sniff. You can take the bean out and use it for something else, or leave it in for a stronger hit. I was reminded of this while perusing the Penzeys Spices catalog. Jay-zus, I’m a geek.
*****There is recorded evidence that the scent of vanilla can improve ‘blood circulation to the male member’ i.e. it puts lead in yer pencil. I think I read that the same study showed a combination of black licorice and doughnut worked even better. Twizzlers and Krispy Kremes, anyone?
******I am not making this up.

12 May 2009

Desert Bloom Got Rolled

Coyote did not often trouble himself by meddling in the affairs of men, but this night was different. He could sense it, a dull tang in the air like watered rust, ozone before the storm. A sense of anxiousness clung to him, and he was unable to chase it away by his usual habit of running through the scrub to scare up jackrabbits, just for fun. The rabbits seemed particularly skittish tonight, and Coyote took no real pleasure in making them run. Something was in air, and Coyote was sorely vexed to out a name on it. After a few halfhearted runs up the draw, he gave up and made his way to the top of the ridge that looked out over the distant city belonging to man. The glow of the lights made a pearly smudge on the underside of a thin, mottled layer of clouds scudding across the sky. A nacreous sliver of moon peeked through now and then, augmenting the silvery wash of starlight over the desert. The wan light made it possible for Coyote to see the faint track of a gravelly path snaking through the brush down below. He knew it well, having learned that men with guns often used it to drive their trucks over, looking for antelope, ocelots…and sometimes coyotes. Coyote slowly eased his furry haunches to the cool rock ledge, settling down to wait. He breathed deep, the night air heavy with the scent of saguaro blossoms.

A faint rustling and whirring rose from the desert floor. Long-nosed bats were feeding heavy on the saguaros. Coyote could catch glimpses of them occasionally, flitting swiftly about and perching delicately on the cacti to sup on the sweet nectar in the flowers. He did not think often of the bats because he never troubled himself to wonder what they might taste like. Voles, mice and rabbits were much more to his taste. Sometimes Coyote would eat crickets or berries if the pickings were otherwise slim. Tonight, though, he watched the bats intently, finding their aerobatics fascinating for some unfathomable reason. It was during this study that he became aware of a new sound coming from farther off. It was a crackling, crunchy sound not unlike the snapping of tiny bones between his jaws. Coyote’s ears perked up and he raised his head to look further out for the source of the sound.

It was then that he saw it: a faint glow approaching through the scrub farther out toward the city. The glow was moving closer, and Coyote could tell the noise was connected to the glow. He stood up, pupils dilating and sniffing the breeze. His fur rose reflexively, part fear and part curiosity. Abruptly the glow cut out, but the noise continued growing louder. Coyote saw a faint plume of dust trailing out behind a bulky, black object rolling along the track below. The noise changed to a growl and the big van (for that is what it was, although Coyote had no name for the thing) accelerated into a bend in the track. He reckoned it was some humans out hunting or maybe looking for a saguaro to carry off, as they sometimes did.

The van did not stop this time. As it rounded the curve, Coyote saw it speed up. There was a low booming sound as a gaping hole opened up in the side of the vehicle. Coyote could see the faint outlines of two humans standing in the middle of the van. Between them they held something that looked like a sack, or a loose bundle of something. Coyote peered harder and recognized the shapes as humans, two standing and holding a third by its arms. The middle human flopped to and fro as the van lurched over the track. The two standing humans swung the third by the arms and hurled it out of the side of the van. There was a faint sound of coarse laughter, and the door in the side rolled swiftly shut with a thud, loud in the desert night. Coyote watched as the body tumbled a short distance to come to rest face down in the undergrowth. He waited a few minutes, but the human did not move. Overcome by curiosity, Coyote glided down the slope to investigate.

The van slewed around the curve, the driver barely steering out of a skid that would have taken the vehicle off the track and into the scrub. The two men standing in the back cursed loudly as they struggled to keep their balance, hands smacking into the warm metal of the sides. One let loose with an oath as he cut himself on an unprotected edge near the door frame. The second man hurled invectives at the driver, calling into question his maternal ancestry and general lack of intelligence. The driver just laughed and flipped them the bird over his shoulder. He told the two passengers to hurry up with the task, get rid of the “cargo”, and the quotation marks were nearly visible in the close air inside the van. The two looked down at the battered heap laying on the floor between them. Closer inspection revealed it to be a person, unconscious or dead maybe only a physician could tell. The two men grabbed the body roughly by the arms as the taller of the two swiftly drew the door open, slamming it wide open. With grunts almost in unison, they lifted the body and swung it once, twice and then hurled it out the door into the desert. The shorter of the two laughed loudly as the body hit the gravelly shoulder and bounced before rolling into the brush. The door slammed shut as the van accelerated up the track to turn towards the city. A spray of rocks and sand blew over the body, adding insult to already significant injury. The growl of the engine grew faint as the van made its way back to the nearby road, its lights springing to life as it turned onto the pavement. The body did not move, and the desert sounds slowly drew in around it.

Coyote made his way down the hill. The bats cheeped and whirred over his head as he paused to make sure the other humans were not coming back. Several minutes later, he resumed his progress, sniffing the human on the breeze. Coyote could see the sky beginning to lighten faintly. Sunrise was not far away.

Shock. Impact. The body rolled to a heavy stop, a loose sack of potatoes thudding into the sagebrush and creosote bushes. It was badly beaten, patches of blood on the torn undershirt and blue jeans that clung to the battered frame. Its limbs lay loosely in that posture peculiar to the deep sleeper…or the dead. Which was this was still uncertain. The dust from the passing of the van slowly settled over the body. It did not move. A slow, thin trickle of blood seeped out of its mouth to coagulate the sand under its cheek, heavy blood pearls beading on the desert floor.

There was no watch on its wrists, or rings on its fingers. The undershirt was untucked and the outlines of scrapes and deep bruises could be seen mottling the flesh of the torso. Closer inspection also would reveal that only the left foot still carried a shoe, a scuffed and badly worn brown leather shoe. The right was clad only in a torn and dirty white crew sock. The sock was heavily spotted with blood. The legs were crossed at the ankles, a comic result of the body rolling that made it look as if dancing a jig.

Coyote stepped from the underbrush just a few feet from the body. He sniffed cautiously trying to tell if there was any life there. No movement, but Coyote thought he could sense a faint heat. He crept forward, pausing every so often. Just as he came within touching distance, the body abruptly moved and began making loud, booming noises. Coyote backpedaled furiously, turning swiftly to dive into a nearby clump of brush. The body shook, the arms and hands twitching as Coyote watched it struggle to lift itself out of the dirt.

Pain. Near-blinding throb in his jaw. The man groaned loudly as he forced himself up. A thick stream of spittle and blood cascaded out of his mouth. He was in so much pain he could not close his mouth. Slow torture as he sat upright, rocking slightly from the waves of agony coursing through him. He eased his eyes open, blinking away a film of blood, sweat and dust. Sweet relief as the stars and clouds swam into focus. I can see, he whispered through a mouth that felt filled with mush, I can see.

I’m not dead.

He laughed, or tried to laugh as the action wracked him with pain.

I’m not dead. They didn’t kill me. Ha. Fuck them.

The man stayed in that position for some minutes. His breathing slowly settled into a steady rhythm, becoming less ragged as he focused himself. The pain began to ebb as the sky began to lighten. When he felt strong enough, the man pulled his feet under him and attempted to stand. His first try failed, nearly fainting from pain and dizziness. A few deep breaths and he made it to his feet on the second attempt. He stood, swaying slightly, and slowly scanned the horizon to get his bearings. He spied the city far off and a crooked grin creased his face. The pain in his jaw was intense.

Coyote watched intently, wondering if the man had seen him. So far, there was no indication that the human had discovered the hiding place. Coyote watched as the man slowly patted himself down, hands searching the pockets.

The man steadied himself and took a slow inventory. No watch. Ring and jacket gone. Belt and one shoe missing. Sock bloody and looking more like a hole than a piece of cloth. He felt a lump in his left pocket, and he discovered a wad of crumpled bills, tens and twenties, in the right. The lump turned out to be his cell phone. Amazingly, it still worked. The faint LED glow lit up the man’s face as he grinned.

Sonofabitch. They forgot the phone.

He sighed and then gasped as a sharp lashing of pain lanced through his jaw. He thought some teeth were missing, and a gentle probing of his tongue confirmed it.

Damn. Well, I still have some money, and I ain’t dead, either.

He looked up again towards the city and it was then he saw Coyote watching him from the brush. Another big grin, and he beckoned to the animal.

Come on out, Trickster. I ain’t gonna hurt you.

Coyote found himself walking slowly, tentatively towards the man, their eyes locked on one another, a hand outstretched. Coyote extended his snout out sniffing gently at the fingertips.

Stay with me, Trickster. I could use the company to help me get back over yonder, the man gestured with his chin towards the distant city, and I reckon you and me could be fine friends.

The man began to hobble painfully towards the far road and erstwhile civilization. Coyote hung back while trying to make up his mind to follow or stay. The man shuffled to a halt. He turned back to Coyote, the man’s face a grotesque mask of contusions in the early dawn light.

Come, my friend, we have work to do. The mask split into a feral grin. Coyote felt his heart open and he understood the man, knowing they were brothers of a sort. He leapt to his feet, and the two made their slow, uncertain way across the desert floor.

Behind them, against the rosy sky, the saguaro blossoms began to close and the bats returned to their places of mystery, to await the fall of night and the hunt for nectar.

09 May 2009

Konichiwa and Irasshaimase, All My Lovely Gaijin! Blessed with Another Award

Greetings one and all, happy Saturday!

The train slowed down just long enough for me to hop off, catch a breath and get a gander of the local surroundings, and I must say, I'm a little shocked. The terrain is very different. I wonder just how fast was I going? Too fast, the scenery was nothing but a blur. Another round of catch-up to play. I am just a tad embarrassed, because in my absence, someone was nice to me and I...uh...well, I forgot to check up. So it is with bowed head and humility in my heart that I am honored to say that the lovely Jan at Jan's Sushi Bar laid upon me an award of her crafting. For your edification and delight:

(sniff)(whonkkkk!) I was truly delighted by this award, Jan gracefully created it and it incorporates one of my favorite all-time epicurean delights: SUSHI! Please stop by the Bar if you haven't already. I was amazed and grateful to be included in Jan's list of awardees, and I'll tell you why.

I likes the sushi, but it's more than just a tasty belly filler. When sushi is artfully made by masters of the craft, it is a pleaseure to watch it being made as well as to eat. It speaks to craft, care and attention. It speaks to doing something very well, taking pride in your work. It is the joy of doing one's best for the sake of it, and sharing that creation with others.

Doing one's best for the sake of it. A fine way to approach any endeavor. Many thanks to Jan, and I am delighted to be included among the awardees. Salut!