31 January 2012

Axial Shift

She missed the solstice,
days growing long, blue to gold,
Winter stays her heart

30 January 2012

Voice Found

28 January 2012, 8:43 PM.  A cool night, but pleasant enough to have the window open just so.  A dog is barking.

What is this they say about finding your voice? How is this done in a world full of clamor, a world that demands clamor?  This is not right. The voice, the voice I can only hear best if others fall away.  No, no, I need to rephrase the assertion.  I can hear my voice when surrounded by the din and clatter of others.  It is  not easy, nor is it ideal.  Ideal, that is, for me.

I cannot speak for others.

I considered this today as I walked along the tracks between a motionless line of rail cars and a steep hillside.  The cars were full of coal that twinkled in the sun like black diamonds.  Leaves like scraps of parchment cartwheeled down the ties as a wind swept down the river valley.  They scraped and skittered, and I reveled in the sound of them.  It was impossible for me to not smile as I witnessed such a lovely moment.

I wasn't talking to myself.  Not out loud.  I didn't want to spoil the whispery quiet there along the river.  Around here it is exceeding difficult to find a place free of noise from man and his machines.  That I managed the trick while following a railroad line is doubly special.  Aside from a faint whine from some device on the last rail car, the only sounds were leaves, wind, water, and the scuff of my shoes on timber and gravel.  These noises punctuated by the faint caw of crows.  Once, I heard the screech of a hawk.  I stopped on the tracks, turning my face skyward to look overhead and in the trees.  I heard the screech again, but could not find the creature that produced it.

The sun felt good on my face.  The sky was beautiful in the early afternoon light.  I wondered, was it azure? Lapis lazuli? Cerulean?  No matter.  It was sufficient that it was blue and that I was fortunate to witness it.

A third screech from the hawk startled me.  A small epiphany, if I may be so bold as to call it.  That screech was some creature's voice.  It had its voice.  And now, so do I.  My voice is the voice of solitude.  I stopped walking.  The conceit of the idea forced a grin and a chuckle.  Me, the voice of solitude?  Is that what I have been pursuing all these years?  The notion had a strong pull even if it seemed a bit...pompous.

I immediately set aside the concerns over pomposity.  After all, no one was there to witness it, and the thought was strictly my own.  So much seemed clearer in that moment of January sunshine.  I could see the core of truth in it.  My voice, the one I have been chasing, manifests so much clearer when I can take myself out of the clamor so often swirling about.  It isn't that I cannot or do not want to listen.  I do. But it finally crystallized in my head that being in solitude upon occasion is good for my voice.

Today, I found my voice there in the cool breeze and leaf-whisper.  It trembles like a newborn foal, struggling upright and shaking as it rises.  I cannot predict what this voice will say.  I need time to practice with it, make it stronger.  But now I understand more about my voice; I will learn to speak clear and true.

29 January 2012

Sunday Meditation #14: On Discarding the Noise of the World

How to walk in the woods without being in the woods?  This is the dilemma before me this day, a fine winter Saturday in this January.  I am feeling under the weather, and it has tempered my plan to walk down by the river to restore some balance to my inner self.  Perhaps I am a reverse Muhammad, seeking to have the 'mountain' come to me, just this once. In my current state, I may not have the energy to go to the mountain.

In the pursuit of balance, this walk may be necessary.  The noise of the world has been heavy on my mind in recent days.  The fault lies entirely within myself.  I opened the spigot far too much, as it were.  A strange intersection of necessity and idleness led me astray into the wilds of social media and Internet.  Useful tools and conduits I'm sure you would agree.  But shiny and seductive in ways that are not always good for us.

Paraphrasing a friend of mine, who was actually referring to F**eb**k, the Internet is like one long conversation that never ends.  So many thoughts, observations, quotations flying back and forth.  And like any medium of communication, besmirched with a lot of ignorance, misinformation, and wrongheadedness.  This environment can be mental quicksand for those inclined to tilt at windmills.

Those people such as this author.  Harrumph.

I have allowed myself too much traipsing about in the wastelands of social commentary.  I have allowed myself to be entangled far too deeply in the small-mindedness of consumer culture and politics.  Politics in particular.  Election years in specific tend to be time-sumps, and with the "facilitator of dreams" that is electronic media, the sump is in danger of becoming all-consuming.

Another wise friend of mine had advised me some weeks ago forgo tilting at windmills, and she was spot on in that advice.  This is a time now that I should let go, back up, and leave the windmills to their own devices.  I am only one man.  I have only one voice. That voice cannot sustain infinite conversation and fruitless dissipation.  that way lies weariness and stress. It behooves me to temper myself, my leaps into the din and clatter.

It is time to reacquaint myself with my center.  It is time for a walk in the woods, whether they come to me or I go to them, so I may discard the noise of the world and hear my own voice again.

28 January 2012

Walking Under Black Pines With Thomas

I'm reading Thomas Merton on a regular basis these days.  A spiritual man who makes me think, in good ways.  His writing has a knack for stunning me with a thought, a phrase, a turn of mind.  Earlier this month, this leapt off the page at me:
I drank a glass of dry sherry and warm! Lovely morning! How lovely life can be!
It was winter, and he had just returned to his hermitage from an early morning recitation of psalms and a rosary.  Settling in by a gas fire, he takes such uncomplicated delight in the actions of the morning finished off with a glass of sherry.

I read that, and knew envy. To know such unfettered joy...

Even without the benefit of gainful employment life has often not held that simplicity for me.  Anxieties, searching, the omnipresent specter of diminishing resources have obscured my inner vision.  I come in from the cold, and instead of the treat of a glass of sherry I find myself supping on worry.

That is not to say I have not had joy and relief.  To the contrary.  I have experienced some wonderful periods of togetherness and love; the difficulty is that the proportions of joy to anxiety are too far weighted to anxiety.  I am working to change them to the good.

Still, I cherish that with which I have been blessed.  Thomas Merton reminded me of that in a simple sentence of three phrases.  Walking with him on a cold winter morning, in the counsel of black pines, I reawakened to the simple joys to be had in this life.  I sit at the dining table, washed in the pearly winter light, and vow to myself to always remember what he had to teach me.

Quotation is from "A Year with Thomas Merton: Daily Meditations from His Journals", in the essay for January 6 entitled 'Winter Hermitage Under Black Pines'. This particular excerpt was written by Fr. Merton on January 5, 1968. I am still pondering what it really means to me. I do know that it brings with it a sense of peace.

27 January 2012

Winter Whispers

Your face in ripples,
liquid ice sweeps you away
Crow caws in my heart

24 January 2012

Travelling Riverside (Un)Blues: Meditation

"God expects spiritual fruit, not religious nuts."
-Church sign, Highway 17, somewhere near Tappahannock, Virginia
Heading north on Highway 17, through the Middle Neck region of the state of my birth.  It is a gray day, fog and mist making the world seem like the inside of a back lit oyster shell.  The Wee Lass and I are on our way back to my adopted state of Maryland after a long weekend visiting with her grandparents in the southeast part of Virginia.  She was sleeping when I drove past the sign with that quote on it.  My chuckle didn't wake her up.

I was dreaming, too, but wide awake and on matters entirely different from hers.

The gray gauze that wrapped the countryside made it a day fit for dreaming.  The road was sparsely populated, and the car seemed a cocoon and not a machine.  Long stretches of nacreous light with trees fading into view like ents or spirits. The quiet in the car led me to a long meditation on blood ties, family, God and what it means.  We seemed less on the road than in space somewhere between the stars.

The road out there plays a bit of a sine wave with the Rappahannock River.  It veers away, then close, but for a while you can always tell it is there. There are subtle shifts in light and vegetation that let you know the river exists.  There is a presence of this long silver rope that has touched so many, given some a way of life, and many sustenance.  The river exists and we flow along with it.

In my mind the river and my family were merging, becoming blurry, as I glanced in the rear view at my daughter sleeping; this visit was particularly important because my blessed mother has been ailing quite a bit in the past couple of months.  There was scary episode (scary because it was life-threatening) last month, and there are complications because it happened on the heels of another serious condition which is still causing trouble.  It has been the sort of trying times that would make anyone reach out and want to have close as much love as possible, because love is what keeps us afloat, sometimes, on this river we call life.

In that gray blanket of fog and humming tires I recalled the laughter of my daughter and my mother as they played together in the living room of the home of my youth.  That laughter, and the banter, I could hear it as I was in the kitchen on Sunday making dinner for us.  That laughter was a tonic, a salve to make a sore heart a soaring heart.  It pushed back the great gray wall of melancholy that hovered just outside the limits of direct perception.  I could hear the life that was flooding back into my mother's weary voice, see the smile on her face and know that the life I helped bring into this world would not have been possible without the life that brought me into this world.

The tires hummed.  The mist swirled.  My daughter slept, her angel face pressed up against the side of the booster seat. She may not have known, maybe did not understand the vitality she brought to her grandmother.  But I did. I saw my future and my past come together in a brilliant Now, one that made my heart sing and throb to know that my family was blessed to be together, right then.

The gray sky and dripping trees passed by in a dreamy blur.  I swallowed some tears and smiled.  I had looked at my daughter and my mother, seeing joy on the faces of youth and wisdom.  The taste of bittersweet candy rolled around in my mouth. There was a lightening of the sky as I came to understand that stories begin and stories end, but we are blessed to have stories to tell.  This is a story, written in joy with the ink of Love upon our hearts. I looked out the window at the river just through the trees. I was convinced then that the world is not so gray a place as had I let myself believe, by the mighty silver river of love flowing through my heart.

20 January 2012

Human, Kind

In over three months of unemployment, I have spent a majority fraction of my waking hours thinking about, looking for, and worrying over finding a job.  This we know, as I have beat that particular horse too often in the annals of Irish Gumbo.  This week was no different.

Right now, dear ones, I don't want to dissect the job hunt.  I want to get something different out of my head.  Something that has been incubating in there for weeks, and that I finally put my finger on today.

In my time that has not been spent on job searching activities, I have had the opportunity for steady engagement with current events.  Not always to my benefit, either, as I tend to mouth off at the computer or the television when perusing or watching the news.  I have had many opportunities to indulge my love of reading and research in following threads on a wide range of topics.  When something catches my interest I savor the opportunity to follow it until I decide I have learned enough, not when the dictates of the outside world say I am done.

In an election year this carries noticeable risk.  Especially when one has strong feelings and opinions about many things involving the human condition.  This year it has been especially acute given all the attention lavished on the issues of what constitutes marriage, families, gender politics and equality.  When this is mashed up with regressive social thinking, bigotry, hatred and exclusion, it becomes a big thought bomb.  Today it blew up in my face.

A lot of wind has blown from the mouths of conservative, right-wing, supposedly religious people in the past few months.  A lot of foul, obnoxious wind.  Much talk has been aimed at the supposed damage that has been done to "God, America and Family" by those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people.  We have presidential candidates signing pledges vowing to be faithful to their spouses and to uphold the U.S. Constitution, and opposing same-sex marriages, while continuing to maintain the false premise that homosexuality is merely a "choice".  We have politicians who have been divorced multiple times (including cheating on a spouse while trying to divorce them) telling us our morals are corrupt and "America has lost its way".

There are people who call themselves serious contenders for the office of President of the United States, and seem to think nothing of condemning lives they obviously don't understand. They claim to stand for the ideals of a country founded on the principles of life and liberty written into the U.S. Constitution.  It is a poor joke to claim one stands for individual freedom while ostracizing and attempting to legally exclude whole groups of people from the benefits and protections of the law.  It is abhorrent to use hate and ignorance to tell anyone, not just Americans, you don't deserve to be treated as an equal human being because you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender person.

What that amounts to is saying: you are not human.

It is a classic sign of a fascist mindset to designate a class of people as The Others, The Different, The Outsiders, in order to galvanize the remaining people with fear and hate, as a method of exerting political control.  Look at the governments of Nazi Germany, Mussolini's Italy, the Soviet Union of Stalin.  Look at McCarthyism in the 1950's. The thread continues into today.  Look at the idiocy that spews from the organizations supporting Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum, Rick Perry, any of them.  Better yet, look at the statements and actions of the people themselves.  Signing ridiculous pledges.  Claiming that the morals of the country are being destroyed by people who don't marry, or want to marry a person of the same gender; that ruin lies down the path of acknowledging someone who was born one gender realizes they are really another.

You know who else makes hateful, ignorant, repellent statements like that? Groups like the Taliban, and other religious fundamentalists.  Groups who want to control what you feel, who you love, what life you want to live.  It is terribly insulting to me, and incredibly dangerous to others, to be told that my morals are corrupt...because I don't think the way they do.

My morals are just fine, thank you.  I don't need some ignorant, power-hungry buffoons deciding for me what is right or proper, especially when their definition of right and proper is based on taking away freedoms and arbitrarily designating some people as not worthy of love, respect or protection under the law.

To sit and listen to someone slander tens of thousands of their fellow citizens, to hear the hypocrisy behind asking for their votes while working to deny them basic rights, is abhorrent beyond endurance.  They cannot claim to know what is best for all citizens, because they have demonstrated they do not have empathy for or understanding of all those citizens.  Anyone who cannot see the crippling inconsistencies in their ideology, and expects me to ignore those inconsistencies, has no business running the country.

I am not a lesbian.  I am not gay.  I am not bisexual.  I am not transgender.  I am a heterosexual male. Most important of all, I am a human being, as is anyone who identifies as LGBT.

To condemn people to the status of sub-human, not equal, because of their inherent identity is probably the most revolting perversion of the American ideal I have witnessed in my lifetime.  The claim that we are a compassionate, humane and free society will remain a joke if intolerance and hate become the rule of law.

We all deserve love and respect based on who we are, not on someones ignorant and hateful definition of who they think we are.  I cannot accept, will not accept, will not support any political hopeful who wants to exclude human beings from society based on lives different than their own. Different does not equate with wrong.

Heterosexual. Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Transgender.  We all identify as one of those.  The common thread is that we are all human beings.  It saddens me to think there are forces out there that want to deny many of us our humanity.  Those forces must be opposed.

19 January 2012

Forks, Branches and Right Path: The Search

“If you only write when inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you'll never be a novelist.”
Neil Gaiman
Thanks, Neil.  Like I really need the reminder that I may be a decent poet (but I can't be objective about that), and that I may never be a novelist. (sigh).  These days, I'm far from inspired.

I have been chewing on this bon mot for a few days.  There has been much going on in the alternate universe that is Gumbo's Brain, much of it fueled by the relentless pressure of the Job Hunt.  As the saying goes, looking for a job is a full-time job. It isn't physically strenuous, but mentally, it can really abrade the contact surfaces, you dig?  On the good days, it is a faint fatigue on the soul.  On the bad days...well, then it is like a big bag of wet cement laid across the head and shoulders.  It is heavy, and it presses you into the floor.  A big bucket o' suck, it is.

So what does that have to do with being a novelist?  Nothing and everything, I suppose.  My current job search has to play to my resume in order to have the most chance of success.  The search has to cleave closely to my documentable (i.e., 'paid and credentialed'), and that is nowhere near the territory of a novelist.  So there is the Nothing.

Tantalizingly, there are a number of conceptual parallels between writing and architecture.  There are also many direct intersections.  A lot of what I do (did) as an architect involved writing.  Writing notes, reports, specifications, proposals, estimates, you name it.  A careful describing of all sorts of things, written in dense paragraphs and splashed across brochures, coded into permit applications and construction cost spreadsheets.  There is a certain need for attention to detail and language and craft, even if much of it was technical and not truly creative.

"Being A Writer" is my big idea, an alternate path to gainful use of my time; becoming a Novelist would be the culmination of a dream-seed that has been germinating in my head for some years now.  I hadn't considered it as a full-time pursuit, because of the necessity of the real-life job.

A job that went away last October.  Leaving me in a free-fall of which I am still not in control.

This leads back to the Everything I mentioned above.  I am now at a crossroads.  I have been searching for a job in the field in which I have training and credentials; as a matter of common sense and necessity, I am obligated for it.

As a matter of survival and adaptability, however, it is becoming increasingly clear that I have to make a transition from writer to Writer, if I want to keep the wheels turning.  I must consider blazing a new trail, climbing a new cliff.  It is a new world order, and I cannot keep going back to the same things, performing the same actions, and expecting a different result. 

I'm weary, dear friends.  The drain of my predicament (but make no mistake, I know it could be worse, and I'm glad it is not) has me at an impasse.  I am in a creative slump, I am horribly unsure of which way to go, there are threads I cannot grasp.  I know what I have done, and could continue to do; I cannot abandon the field but it is mostly barren at the moment.  I know now what I could do, if only I had the energy, fortitude and most important of all, the imagination to forge a path into pastures new.  Alas, my imagination is choking on the splinters of the present.

This is maddening.  There has to be a way forward, there just has to be.  If only I could find the right path. If only I could write the novel that fuels my dreams.

12 January 2012

Momma Ain't In The Big House

Today was a ridiculous cliche, couldn't look out the window or listen to the sounds of the day without feeling like I was stuck in the middle of an old-school country song.  If my mom had gotten thrown in prison, I believe the day would have come full circle.

I had woken up with a bad headache, feeling a bit sickly with a stuffy nose and that washed out lethargy that often precedes a cold.  The little bit of sunshine we had around here disappeared before the morning was half over.  The sky turned the color of a old ash pail.  My house turned chill and grey.  Admittedly, part of that is due to my stubbornness at not cranking the heat so as to enable making it through winter on only one tankful of heating oil.  Even with an undershirt, a shirt and sweater, jeans and socks, it was still cold. A dampish, steely feeling that worked itself into my bones.

The rain that had been predicted for later in the afternoon started before noon, something I did not pick up on until I finally snapped out of the fog I was in, staring out the window at my neighbor's house.  The little dots I was seeing? Hey, those are raindrops!  Yeah, I'm observant like that.

The morning was full of sighs and ennui, Internet time wasting, and some half-hearted soul searching.  I listened to the rain, drummed my fingers on the table.  I went off the rails a bit, not really sure of what to do next, what obstacles I should try to remove.  It then hit me hard: it was now just over three months since I was let go from my job.  Three. Months. And no prospects, yet, for a new one.

Three. Goddamn. Months.

I put my head in my head in my hands to keep it from hitting the table.  That was when I began to hear the faint strains of a mournful steel guitar in the back of my mind.  I chuckled, a bitter laugh, when I thought about the fact that I don't have a dog, either.  So I could say it was missing.

To ice that particular cake, as I sat there writing the country soundtrack to my life, I heard from across the river valley the plaintive sound of (you guessed it) a train horn. "Really?" I said to myself, looking up at the ceiling, "I'm sitting here feeling sorry for myself, and there's a frickin' TRAIN out there?"

It was at that point I had to laugh at the absurdity of it all.  Here I was feeling ill on a cold, rainy day, lonely and jobless and without a dog or a truck, listening to the train fade away in the distance.  If Hank Williams or Johnny Cash had come on the radio about then, I probably would have wet myself.

As it was, though, I sat there and quietly stepped away from the edge of the darkness, smiling and thankful that my mom was at home and not in prison.

09 January 2012

Shoulda Kept 'Em Up

Rob Wellner was satisfied, even smug, about his life until the day God reached down and plucked the back of his head.  That hurts, especially when the middle finger that does it is backed by divine force.  As the tile floor rushed up to meet his face, he shouted but the words sounded like gibberish to his ears.


Detective Len Muller stepped carefully into the hotel room, nodding to the corporal standing guard next to the door. "The victim is just inside, lieutenant," the youngish looking officer said, "and we have his, uh, companion in the next room down. She said she was just keeping him company."

Muller allowed himself a twitch of a grin. "Thanks, Smitty" he replied.  The lieutenant reckoned she had been keeping Wellner company.  That, and the stack of bills the detective could see on the dresser further back into the room.  It was a the typical high-end corporate suite, all gloss and dark wood without being freaky flashy.  Muller figured that Wellner wouldn't have been that type even in his indiscretions.

The television was on, the volume low.  Even without looking, the lieutenant could tell it must have been some rent-a-porno from the hotel services.  He glanced over just in time to see some heavy-breasted woman wearing a gold thong rubbing oil all over a soft-looking, slightly flabby man handcuffed to a bed.  Oh, hell, Muller thought, yet again with the porn.

The detective took two steps forward, looking down and through the bathroom door.  Wellner's left hand was down on the carpet, at the end of his outstretched arm jutting from the bathroom. He was laying face down on the tile, his right arm pointing towards the toilet, his torso twisted and legs splayed as much as his stained slacks would allow.  The hair, Muller noted, was still perfect.  He stifled a laugh; the position the dead man was laying in reminded Muller of John Travolta in those posters for Saturday Night Fever, a notion he couldn't shake given the white pants Wellner was wearing.

There was a faint scent of urine on the air, and without stepping into the bathroom Muller could see the puddle of liquid at the man's waist.  The dead man's pale buttocks stood out in sharp contrast to the mottled beige of the ceramic. The white pants were bunched around his feet.  Muller saw he was wearing black wool socks, one of which had a small hole in the big toe.  He noted, too, the small blot of blood pooled in front of Wellner's mouth.  Muller sucked air through his teeth and stepped back out into the hall.  Turning to the corporal, he asked "Smitty, has his staff been alerted?"

The corporal said "Yes, sir. They said someone would be here soon.  Coroner's on his way, too, should be here in five."

"Thanks.  I'm going to talk to the woman, what's her name?" Muller said.
"Imelda, she said.  Wasn't carrying any ID, and she didn't tell us much except she didn't do anything."

Muller considered that, then strode to the suite door just down the hall.  He knocked. "Detective Muller, coming in," announcing his presence as he opened the door, nearly hitting the officer who had come to open it.  It was someone Muller didn't recognize, but he smiled and said "Thanks" by way of introduction.  Beyond him, sitting in the chair at a small desk up against the wall, was a voluptuous woman dressed in a carmine-colored evening dress.  She was pretty in a feline way, chestnut hair piled high over a heart shaped face.  Muller noticed that her dress was slit up the sides, and she appeared nervous.

"Officer, would you excuse us for a moment?  If you could wait outside the door?  And if any of his staff or the coroner should show up, please keep them in the hall, and let me know. Okay?"  The officer said yes and stepped into the hall, closing the door behind himself. Muller turned to the woman.  She stared back at him, trembling slightly but with a "Fuck you" gaze won of many nights deflecting strangers advances until the money hit the hand.  Muller conjured up his best friendly smile and said "Good evening, ma'am. I'm Lieutenant Muller.  May I ask you a few questions?"

She sighed, boredom and nervousness quavering out through her nostrils. "Sure," clipping the word.

"What's your name?"


"Imelda...?" Muller let the question hang.

She rolled her eyes. "Just Imelda.  Like Cher, she only has one name?"

Muller nodded, writing in his notebook. "What do you do, Imelda?"

She sighed again, shifting her legs.  The dress fell open some, and he struggled to not notice the expanse of calf and thigh that was shining against the deep red fabric.  "I keep people company."

The detective looked up from his notes.  "Keep people company? What, like a professional friend?"  He was being deliberately thick, and by the look of her raised eyebrows, she knew he was being thick. Her eyes narrowed a bit, and she said through slightly gritted teeth, "I'm an escort, detective."

"Escort? To where were you escorting the senator this evening, if I may ask?" he said.

Upon hearing the word 'senator', Imelda's eyes widened and she started up off the chair.  She blinked rapidly at the detective, swallowing hard. Her long lashes fluttered like a trapped moth.

"S-s-senator?" she stammered.  "I didn't know he was a senator!"

Muller was about to reply, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Come in!" he barked.  Corporal Smith poked his head into the room.  "Lebowski from the examiner's office is here, looking at the deceased. You want to talk to him?" the officer said.

"Not at the moment, Smitty. Let him know I'll be there in a minute or two." Smitty nodded assent and shut the door.  Muller turned back to Imelda. "Yes, Senator Wellner.  What were you two doing, where were you going?" he asked.

Imelda hesitated, still a little stunned by what she had heard. "I didn't know he was a senator," she began, "he never really said what he was.  We were downstairs in the ballroom, some convention thing or fundraiser, I don't know.  He did seem to know a lot of people.  Me and the other...escorts...we were doing the usual look pretty and smile for the guys in the silk suits routine.  Mark asked me..."

Muller held up a hand. "Mark? Who is Mark?"  Imelda looked puzzled for an instant.

"The...senator.  He told me his name was Mark," she said.  The lieutenant raised an eyebrow, was about to tell her Rob's real name, then waved her on to continue.

"We had drinks, then dinner and some boring speeches.  He kept looking at me the entire time, and finally he leaned over and asked me if I would watch a movie with him.  I said sure, because its part of the contract to go along if it isn't something bad.  So he told me he was going to go to the restroom for me, and for me to wait about five minutes, then come up to his room.  He gave me a key."  Imelda was talking faster, and a flush was creeping up her graceful neck.  Muller could tell she was really nervous now.  He remained silent in hopes of keeping her talking.  Imelda gulped and started in again.  "So he left.  I sat there a while longer, then got up and went straight to his room.  I let myself in and he was there messing with the television, and he told me to lock the door."  She put her head into her hands, breathing slow.

"He asked me to sit on the bed, he was going to go to the toilet, he'd be right back..."

"You touch him in any way, give him anything?" Muller asked.

"N-n-oo, no way! I wasn't paid to do anything!"  Imelda slapped a hand to her mouth, turning bright red.  "I sat down, he went to the bathroom, and the next thing I hear is him yelling 'I better pull up my pants!'.  It was then I heard a thump and he sounded like he was gargling or something."  She was on the verge of tears. "That's when the door opened and I saw his arm on the floor.  I ran over, he was on the floor, and he pissed himself, and I was shaking him, but I got nothing!" Muller scratched his head, wondering how to calm her down, when there was another knock on the door.  He sighed, reached into his pocket for a tissue and handed it to Imelda.  She snuffled into it as Muller went to the door.

It was Stan Lebowski, from the medical examiner's office.  He looked bored as he always did, but slightly amused.  He was looking past Muller, eyeballing Imelda in a way that was not quite professional.  Muller cleared his throat.  "Stan, good to see you.  What's up, what do we know so far?" he said softly, trying not to disturb Imelda.

Stan tore his eyes off the escort, grinning at Muller. "Never a dull moment, eh, Len?" said Stan, "Man, must be the busy season for the pols.  Wellner is the third one this summer to kick off!"

Muller sighed.  "I know, Stan, but what can you tell me about the why and the how?  She says she didn't do anything, I didn't see anything weird, so what's your take?  Poison? Falling and breaking something, what?"  He nodded significantly behind him, towards Imelda.

She continued to cry quietly.  Stan softened his look, raised his eyebrows in an 'aha' moment, then said "Oh, man, no, nothing exotic.  We'll have to get him back to the morgue to be sure, but as near as I can tell, the poor bastard had a stroke or something like it."  Muller blinked slow, as if he wasn't sure he had heard the coroner correctly.

"So no evidence of needles or knife marks or any of that shit?  No drugs or anything?" he asked Stan.

"Nope.  None that I could see. You want to take another look before we move the sti---,er, deceased?"

Muller shook his head. "No, just make sure we got all the images we need."  Stan nodded and turned down the hall.  Muller leaned against the door frame, looking at the poor woman crying in the chair.  If what Stan said was true, then this was probably Imelda's lucky day.  He shook his head, moving over to give her the news that she was probably home free.  Just another day on the job, he thought, tidying up after another chump with his pants down around his ankles.

By Irish Gumbo

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Amanda challenged me with "His pants were down around his ankles" and I challenged jamelah with "I whispered prayers to you, on my tongue the mineral tang of salt and sea and the currents that carried you away."

08 January 2012

Sunday Meditation #13: A Mind Divided in the Land of the Free

A day such as this gorgeous Saturday in January begs for communion with the breeze and sunlight.  The temperatures nudging 60 degrees and sunny, feeling more like spring.  My daughter and I, feeling much like the cardinals frolicking beyond my kitchen window, decide on a trip to the lake.  I grab my film camera with trusty black and white, and we head to the lake.

Parked the car by the boat ramp.  Dogs, people abound, and we delight in the canines gamboling about on the pathways.  My daughter keeps up a cheery banter, expansive as young children tend to be when they brim with energy and have their innocence about them.  This is as it should be.

Me, the adult, I am not so lucky.  The walk started off well.  We ambled slowly to take in the fresh air with no agenda.  Geese and gulls on the lake, along with a small flotilla of waterfowl which I could not identify.  I speculated they might be scoters or buffleheads, the sounding out of which provoked a fit of giggles in her.

The walk resumed.  Conversation, and then a small cloud of distraction dimmed the light. I abruptly fixated on a troubling observation, set free from my subconscious; the statement framed itself in my mind thusly:
In America as I know it, I have never seen so many espouse the idea of independent thinking while at the same time so eager to join groups, and be so chauvinistic about their affiliations.
This rumination was sparked by the sheer number of people I saw wearing clothing or accessories on which one cannot fail to notice all sorts of logos, brands, symbols, and statements which presumably signify the allegiances of the wearer.  From the brand of water one drinks to the American flag, from which sports team one follows to what corporate clothing chain at which one prefers to shop, I was depressed by the widespread group think I saw emblazoned on almost everyone.

Never having been a "joiner", and never having felt it important to be a walking advertisement for a brand, I have encountered everything from polite puzzlement to outright hostility from others when discussing this subject.  As if by choosing not to engage in the cognitive dissonance of declaring my individuality by wearing/buying/driving/eating the same clothes/goods/car/fast food that thousands of others do, I am an alien, an auslander, a non-consumer.  In this culture, consumerism equates with normal.

And I am not normal, I suppose.  For pete's sake, real football, i.e. soccer, is my favorite sport.  In many area of this country, that is almost un-American in the minds of some.

So there I was, out for a walk with my beautiful daughter on a lovely sunny day, and all wrapped up in uneasiness about my 'square peg, round hole' self-image.  I felt discombobulated.  On a day such as this, being divided about myself should have never occurred. In my mind's eye, I saw the transformation from human to sheep in progress.  I sighed.

As is very often the case, it was the unintentional ministrations of my daughter that pulled me out of my funk.  Her laughter and cheerfulness, to be exact.  She was asking me questions, and making observations about the geese and the dogs and the rocks on the water's edge.  She giggled and held my hand.  She spoke to me of many things that matter to the mind and heart of a child.  She made jokes, and laughed.

We rounded the east end of the lake.  The sun began dipping behind the clouds, slow strobes of white gold light painting the dry grass in the meadow and her cherubic countenance.  It was then I took a few deep breaths to fill my lungs with the cool air wafting across the water.  I held them. My mind reset itself as I watched her make her way down the berm of rocks alongside the path.  I shook off the funk.

I knew clearly that to be the best father I can be for my daughter, I must honor my true self.  I may always be a square peg, but that peg is a worthy soul that is deserving of respect...especially from myself.  I meditated on that as we returned to the car, watching my daughter and stitching my mind back together.

07 January 2012

The Captain and the Adder

"Tell me your life story, I tell you your fortune," said the grey lump of rags hunched against the wall, "Cheap, for you." The lump extended what the Captain thought was a claw wrapped in bandages, but resolved itself into a filthy hand outstretched.  The pinky finger was missing and the ring finger short by a knuckle.  The Old Man started backwards to realize it was a human there at his feet.  A human, looking for alms.

The Captain couldn't place the accent.  It was English, he speculated, that may have once known its way around Spanish or something like it.  He looked around the souk to see if anyone else had noticed.  Aside from the bored stare of the coffee vendor, slumped next to his pots, no one was paying attention.  The Captain looked back down, into a pair of obsidian eyes peering out from a headwrap that made mummy's linen look positively fresh.  A hot breeze swept across the plaza, stinging the nostrils with Saharan grit and the pungent aroma of spice.  The Captain coughed.  The lump stirred not a bit, its arm still outstretched.

"My story would bore you," the Captain replied, "and I have no silver to spare."

The lump shifted slightly, saying nothing.  The eyes blinked.  The rags across its face split to reveal the ruins of a mouth, the three remaining teeth like ghostly palings in a fence destroyed by an angry sirocco.  The grin, or what passed for it, sent a pulse of ice water through the Captain's heart.  The hand spread open its fingers, jagged nails shining like claws in the heat.  The Captain's vision blurred, and for an instant the hand was replaced by the head of a puff adder.  He recoiled, pulling away, but the hand/snake struck out to grasp the Captain's wrist.  It squeezed, and the Captain winced.  He thought he had been bitten.  The lump spoke, its words hissing like dry sand over stones.

"Then I shall give it to you free," it said.  There was a pause.  The obsidian eyes rolled up, and the Captain saw the lozenge shape irises open.  The blackness was flecked by gold.  The trapped man attempted to pull free, but the hand was holding his wrist in a crushing grip.  The rags parted again.

"You came from rain, from cold, O man.  You shall die in sand and heat."  A sibilant laugh rasped from between the blackened rims of the mouth.  The hand let go, causing the Captain to stagger back on trembling legs.  He stifled the urge to run, glaring at the rags and nursing his bruised wrist.

The rags leaned back against the stone wall, the hand disappearing back into the filthy fabric.  The laughing died away. The Captain felt his bowels turn to liquid, and he turned and ran.  The voice followed him past the spice vendor's stall.

"Your blood shall stain the sand, foreigner, and the sun will erase your memory."

The Captain scarcely heard, running blindly into the heat, to collapse outside the walls of the kasbah.  The heat shimmered and danced while two drops of blood welled on his wrist, shining like the eyes of a spider.  They found him there in the morning, his wrist in his mouth.  The teeth were in deep.

06 January 2012

The Shakes

Bobby Sack grunted, reaching for the bucket by the side of the bed just in time to catch the foulness gushing from his mouth.  He coughed like a geyser, trying hard not to puke on the bed again.  His head hung weakly over the edge of the bed, his sweating face inches away from the sick.  Even in his nauseated haze, that offended his sensibilities.  Flashbacks to some of the worst he endured in the infantry, back in the Burmese jungle, and he realized he just couldn't take it anymore.

Peeling leeches the size of pencils off my legs was nothing compared to this, he thought.  Time for it to be over.  In his line of work, booze made for bad business.

Two dry heaves later, Bobby rolls over on his back, the bucket like a vile bell dangling from his fingers.  He set it down gently so as not to spill it.  The ground-down carpet was in bad shape, he considered, but adding the contents of his stomach to the filth would just be insult on injury.  Bobby blinked slow, a lizard in the heat.  His stomach cramped and he winced.  The flies, goddamn flies, why they gotta be so loud? he thought.

Heat. The room reeked of hot sick and sweat.  The ceiling fan was moving but the air was so thick the fan seemed like a joke.  Bobby slapped at the bedside table, desperate for a smoke.  The cellophane of the packet crackled like static, bringing a momentary recall of combat radios and call signs.  "Fuck me," Bobby rasped up at the dusty plaster on the ceiling.  One day to the next job, and he was a hot mess.  He brought a cigarette up to his lips, hands trembling like palm fronds in rotor wash.  He cursed as he singed the tip of his nose.  It was a minor miracle that the damage wasn't worse.

Bobby looked at his hands.  The shaking was worse, much worse, this time.  The last job he had nearly ditched on because of the shakes. The voice started up in his head, another diatribe waiting to happen. Can't.  Can't do it this time, either, the words tracking neon-like across his mind. But what choice do I have?

Outside in the street, a screech of tires followed by the brassy blare of horns.  The sound wave pierced the thin wall of the cottage, driving a subzero spike of pain through  Bobby's head.  A wave of nausea wracked his body as he clutched his temples hard to keep himself from puking again.  The throbbing nearly drowned out the argument going on.  Bobby could not make out what they were fighting about; it sounded like Thai but his fluency was just enough for him to order a beer and politely turn down a hooker's come-on.

The trembling in his pain-wracked, wiry frame subsided.  The noise faded away as the dispute seemed to be resolved.  Bobby took another drag, coughed on the harshness of the Vietnamese tobacco, and slowly sat up.  His feet bracketed the bucket.  The surface of the vile liquid shimmered slightly under the influence of some small tremor Bobby couldn't feel.

Standing up slowly, he picked up the bucket, holding it gingerly as he padded slowly to the small closet under the steps that held a toilet and a sink.  On the way there, his glance caught the glint of sunlight on the battered aluminum gun case he had set down beside the antique wicker cabinet holding the few clothes he kept.  His steps faltered, briefly, and one hand reflexively grasped at his sunken belly.

Bobby shook his head to clear it.  The bucket shook, a thick slopping sound rising to his ears.  He started to cry and continued on to the toilet, emptying the bucket.  Flushing the ancient bowl, he watched the foulness swirl away to nothing.  The bucket he rinsed as best he could, in the sink, while he sobbed.  He felt a dark kinship with the bucket, it not being lost on him that they were both battered, dirty vessels, never quite clean.

As he swabbed out the bucket with a dirty rag, Bobby told himself that maybe, just maybe, this could be the last job he ever had to do.  And when he was done, he would never have the shakes again.

04 January 2012

Million In Me

Million different people
from one day to the next
is me in winter

inspired by The Verve
Thanks, you guys...

01 January 2012

Deep Blue (IndieInk Writing Challenge)

Esteban awoke to the wet slap of water against the wood. Again. Hot as hell, it felt like, and his lips cracked as he laughed sourly."Am I blue?" he sang to himself. "I sure as hell feel like it out here!" he near as yelled out over the ultramarine landscape.

Blue. Goddamn it, he hated blue. That he had spent this much time out on the water only to realize after decades that he hated the color blue was nearly too much to bear. Why have I never noticed this before? the old fisherman wondered. His only audience was the swiftly-drying carcasses of a pair of flying fish stuck to the bench not far from his head. Esteban stared at them, wishing that instead of them a pair of nice, fat bluefins had sacrificed themselves to his boat.

But he knew better. Deep blue didn't work that way.

The fisherman shifted his legs. His back had never been the same since the great wave that had lifted him up and slammed his sun-dried body hard against the gunwales of his barco, those many seasons ago. It had been a bright, hot, and blue day then, he recalled. The rogue wave came without warning and left without trace. No trace except scars on my back and ache within my bones, Esteban thought.

His eyes began to droop shut. He squeezed them tightly, then opened them wide like a bigeye tuna in an effort to revive. Stars danced before his eye, and he considered the sheer amount of hardship involved watching the blood in one's veins be slowly replaced with salt water. Water the color of sapphires and cobalt. Even the sky taunted him, clear and unmarred without even the apostrophe of a seabird to mar the vast cerulean pages unfolding overhead. The argentine disk of the sun was just past sext, although Esteban had no prayers of his own to cast out into the azure cathedral surrounding the barco.

Weariness crept back in, little feathers caressing his muscles and aching back. His head spun in dizziness. The thought occurred to him that the blueness was invading his body, supplanting the air in his lungs and blood in his veins with gelatinous shades of lapis and turquoise. Never in all his years on the sea had such a thing happened, and the old fisherman began to panic. "This heat, it is roasting my brain," he croaked. The flying fish continued their slow desiccative journey, offering no counsel of their own.

Esteban's hands fluttered, grasping for the gaff and the net. He was worried that he had no success this day. A flaccid net and empty live well bode ill for his return. Esteban decided he would rest a while longer. Patience was his virtue, and no fisherman was going to prosper without it. He closed his one good eye.

The sun burned its way slowly down the sky. The azure bowl began to darken around the low eastern edges. Esteban opened his eye a crack to see it, and to pass the time he amused himself by recalling all the shades of blue he had ever seen.

The azure of the Galician sky of his boyhood. The deep, arid cerulean he witnessed in an early spring in Madrid. The lapis and turquoise of an early morning sky off the coast, making the dawn run with his uncle in search of anchovies. Deep indigo nights and days of liquid ultramarine as he grew into manhood more on the water than he did back in Vigo. He remembered a sapphire-colored scallop shell his uncle had kept on his own boat.

Esteban coughed, his head suddenly split apart in a flash of cobalt-infused silver. The headaches seemed particularly tricky, now. The pain made his head so heavy he could not lift it off the deck. In spite of the pain, he laughed again as he thought of that scallop shell. "You and me both, St. James, have lost our heads," he whispered, "and I shall sup tonight on the blue that has come to kill me." The fisherman closed his eye again, the stinging of salt water becoming too much for even his sea-stained eyes to handle.

The flying fish remained deaf, deep blue saw fit to hold its tongue, and the waves continued their slow march over the remains of the barco slipping into the water. The carcasses of the flying fish came unstuck from the wood, drifting languidly away from Esteban on water the color of indigo spattered with azure. Behind the fisherman, his boat came undone in a swirl of splintered planks, while his body gave itself up to the deep blue sea.

By Irish Gumbo

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Bewildered Bug challenged me with "The lone fisherman floating on the deep blue sea" and I challenged Sherree with "The past was where it was, up to its hubs in rocks and mud, and there was no going back to try a different road."