When I hear a grown person whining about anything I just want to walk right up to them and slap them silly. That would give them something to really whine about.
I know I can’t do that, but I can dream can’t I?
When I hear a grown person whining about anything I just want to walk right up to them and slap them silly. That would give them something to really whine about.
I know I can’t do that, but I can dream can’t I?
TODAY IS A DAY THAT HAS BECOME WRAPPED IN SADNESS.
I can understand how that can be, but I choose to not give in to that. There is enough sadness in the other 364 days, more than enough to make anything on this date – excuse the expression – overkill.
Instead of spending today in what has become a sort of morose celebration I have made a personal decision to take the memory of the events and aftermath of 2001 and put them all into a long term perspective. A very long term perspective.
Things happen in Time. Time has been going on for quite awhile now – long before you or I showed up on the scene. God willing and the Creek don’t rise, it will continue on for a few years longer. We may not be around until the bitter end of Time, but Time doesn’t care.
NOW…I’M NOT A FUSSY PERSON who lets every little thing get under my skin and bother me… (Pregnant Pause)…OK, that’s not true. I am a fussy person and I do get all worked up by the little things that most people wouldn’t even think twice about. Truthfully, I’m still growling about not getting to see the “Tall Ships” that toured the Great Lakes during the Bicentennial Celebrations. That was in 1976 and I’m still miffed.
I try to keep that under cover and under control because no one wants to see me grumbling and muttering about something the world regards as trivial, but that I hold to be the key to the survival of Western Civilization.
I’ve heard feverish arguments for both The Chicken and for The Egg. I’ve also heard that The Chicken was busy crossing the road and forgot where it left The Egg.
I don’t know. It is 6:18 in the morning. It is still dark outside – much too early for any Philosophical Questions. Even The Chicken and The Egg thing is too demanding. At this hour my brain can barely handle basic body functions: Heartbeat, Vision, Bladder. After that it is Hit and Miss until my coffee kicks in and that could be anytime between 7 AM and 7 PM. Before or after that I am not a responsible human being. Some people have argued that 7 to 7 isn’t all that great for me either.
FOUR DAYS TRAPPED IN A FLASHBACK. Four days back in elementary school with the Little Sisters of the Right Cross. Four days in the same building with a couple hundred nuns. My knuckles are still aching.
We recently attended the Midwest Meeting of Congregational Ministers – my wife, the lovely and divinely inspired, Dawn, and me (Her Arm Candy), all together at a Conference Center run by Dominican Nuns. Lots of Dominican Nuns.
Oh, the memories. Oh, the nightmares. Oh, the scar tissue.
HABITS – THEY ARE LIKE QUICKSAND. Once you find yourself mired in them it can be difficult to get out. Yeah, quicksand, or contracts with a cell phone company or a relationship with someone who sucks the life out of you and eats crackers in bed.
Not all habits are that dramatic. Most habits just kind of sneak up on you and you are perfectly comfortable with them – until someone or something comes along to break into the usual pattern of everyday life.
I had such an intrusion into my life this morning. Nothing big, mind you, or earthshaking, but, darn it – it made me alter my routine – and I like my routine.
Throwback Thursday from February 2016
I WAS WANDERING THROUGH WAL-MART the other day and I was surprised at the number of people in there who looked like Hell warmed over. I’m not talking about the choice of clothing, if you could call it that, but their faces and the look in their eyes.
There is a line from an old Steppenwolf song about a man walking around, “With tombstones in his eyes,” and that’s what I was seeing in the aisles at Wal-Mart.
Maybe it’s a product of the mid-winter blues, or post-holiday letdown, but there were a surprising number of people pushing carts around who looked like they were ten minutes away from either collapsing or going zombie. They looked unfocused and exhausted with a look in their eyes that said, “Why bother.” I found it unsettling.
What caused this, and is this something new or have I just been out of the loop? It all reminded me of a scene from the classic silent film, “Metropolis,” with the legions of human drones slouching off to their next hopeless day.
I know that the economy is struggling. It is tougher here in Terre Haute (That’s French for, “Try again tomorrow.”) than in a lot of places and that can suck the life out of you. Is that it?
Not everyone in the store looked like that. There were a lot of other people there, dressed the same, filling their carts with the same items, who had Life just beaming from them. Seeing them all, side by side, made the contrast even sharper.
The idea that I was seeing a large number of people who were all stoned on drugs did cross my mind, but this was different. The eyes of the drug user have a certain agitated undertone that I wasn’t seeing in these folks. Here in their eyes there was a veiled weariness. I could almost hear a sigh of surrender.
When faced with bad times, personal tragedy, or a flat and empty future on the horizon some people fold up like a road map. I’m not saying that as a criticism of them, just as an observation. Others, faced with the same set of circumstances, find a steel that keeps them upright and moving forward. I think I was seeing both of these being manifested that morning at Wal-Mart.
Wal-Mart is one of those places, like airports, sidewalk cafes, and sporting events, that is great for people watching. Just stay in one spot long enough and all of humanity will walk past. Unconsciously, I think that I was people watching as I walked through the store and I noticed the little differences in my fellow shoppers as they rolled past. Without urgent destinations or activities covering their facades the masks were down and how they were really feeling came to the surface. I got a peek behind the curtain.
What I’ve put down here is my interpretation of what I saw – or think I saw. Of course, however I might interpret what I saw is filtered through my own thoughts and feelings. Who knows what they thought when they looked into my eyes.
Here I am trying to describe what I saw there that day and it is not easy. At its root it’s a case of trying to describe what isn’t there rather than what is.
Paint me a picture of emptiness.
This morning I was in line trying to get my opening blast of coffee at the Chapel of St. Arbucks. If I had been a little quicker I would have been at the head of the line but my old and out of warranty legs didn’t carry me fast enough and I was stuck behind a young woman who was ordering something for everyone in the Western Hemisphere. I wish I’d brought a snack. Because the young lady was ordering everything on the menu I had a lot of time to coyly observe.
The woman in front of me was about an inch or two taller than me. She had long blonde hair that framed a very nice friendly face. She was dressed casually, but neat. She had her look together.
That was about it – until she dropped her credit card. When she stooped over to pick it up off the floor a whole new world opened up in front of me.
When I saw this sign it made me come up with a number of questions – the first of which was, “What is an Angry Chicken?”
I can understand why any individual chicken might be angry at being cooked and eaten, but I’ve never really thought about a chicken’s moods.
I’m retired and I don’t have to get up and go to work anywhere, but my body and soul are reacting like I do. It’s not fair.
I should relate to Mondays like I do to Wednesdays or Saturdays – I think I’ll just roll over and catch a few more winks.
What’s the point of being retired if I respond to Monday mornings by having my stomach clench up like a fist and my brain trying to come up with some good excuses to stay home? Something needs to be done about this – something short of going out, getting a job, and then quitting the job all over again.
Dennis heard Marlee close her front door and a quick peek out of his window confirmed it. He pushed aside the stalks of his large red and white hibiscus to follow her with his eyes as she crossed the street and headed up Haight Street. He needed a few minutes. As he watched her pass the corner market he idly plucked a leaf from the hibiscus and stuffed it into his pants pocket.
Grabbing his keys, Dennis went down the steps two at a time. He stopped outside of number six. Using the key that he had stolen from the previous tenant he silently let himself into Marlee’s apartment.
J.P. Cat was sound asleep inside his cardboard box bed. He never stirred when Dennis walked past him and into the bedroom.
Knowing that he was wasting time and risking discovery, Dennis opted to push his luck. “This is what makes it fun,” he said out loud.
He opened the closet and looked at the clothes. He took the sleeve of a white cotton blouse and put it next to his face, inhaling deeply. He closed his eyes, imagining Marlee in the blouse and then bit off the button from the cuff, swallowing it.
Dennis took a step back from the closet and appraised what he saw. “Cheap, frumpy, knockoff, knockoff, Gap, for God’s sake. My mother had one of these. Oh, Miss Marlee, you need a fashion consultant.”
He took a quick trip through her dresser drawers, running his fingers across the fabric and noting her preference for red.
A glance at her clock radio warned him to curtail his pleasure trip and get down to business.
Dennis walked into the kitchen and pulled a four-inch butterfly knife from his back pocket and the hibiscus leaf from the front. He grabbed Marlee’s cutting board from the shelf over the sink as he flipped open the scalpel sharp knife.
He worked rapidly, cutting the leaf into pieces, chopping and dicing the bits smaller and smaller. Using the flat blade he scraped the wooden board clean of every atom of green. He dropped the green slivers on top of the mound of cat food in the blue plastic bowl. He mixed them into the chicken and tuna until they disappeared.
“Let’s see whose door she knocks on when little ‘Just Plain Cat’ starts to vomit his cute yellow head off tonight. ‘Help me, Dennis. Oh, help me’.”
While Marlee was hearing about Luco being hit by a mysterious “hit and run” driver, Dennis was cleaning up after himself. He replaced the cutting board, walked past the still sleeping cat and plucked a CD of Yo Yo Ma playing the cello from the top of the stack. “Now, where did I set that CD?”
Still laughing, he quickly relocked Marlee’s front door and walked slowly back up the steps to the third floor. The morning sun was streaming through the large window on the landing. Dennis could see the Buena Vista Park steps. There was a drug deal going down. He turned around and ran down the stairs and out of the front door.
Dodging a bus and a motor scooter, Dennis ran across Haight Street.
“Hey, you two animals! What do you think you’re doing?”
“Get out of here mister, unless you want hurt. Do you?” The dealer lifted his shirttail to show Dennis the hilt of a large knife.
“Is that supposed to scare me, you subhuman filth?” The teenaged buyer started to back away, wanting no part of what looked about to erupt. Dennis glared at the boy. “Get out of my neighborhood and don’t come back or your ass is mine.” The kid took off running up the hill, scared and anxious to get back to his suburban home.
Just the two angry men were left, facing each other. The dealer pushed his floppy hat back on his head. He stroked his straggly beard as he took the measure of the blonde haired do-gooder.
“You just cost me a hundred bucks, partner. I think you should reimburse me.” He smiled a gap toothed smile at Dennis and casually reached for his knife.
Dennis whipped his butterfly knife from his pocket and had the blade pointed at the dealer before the buck knife had cleared its leather sheath. Dennis stepped closer, backing the longhaired drug pusher up the steps.
“You know what, you damned piece of garbage?”
“What’s that, Batman?”
“I could kill you right here and probably get a medal from the Mayor.”
“Yeah? If you think you’re such a John Wayne, try me. Right here, right now.” He lifted the silvery knife and waved it at Dennis. Before the street dealer could react, Dennis’ hand flew out and sliced his left nostril.
The dealer let out a soft scream and lashed out with his own knife. Dennis sidestepped it and punched the dealer on the side of his head, knocking him to the ground. A small audience of pedestrians, other would-be drug customers and the passengers on a bus parked in the stop zone twenty-five feet away, watched the lopsided fight. The bus driver picked up his radio and summoned the police.
Dennis stood over the prone, bleeding and frightened dealer. The butterfly knife was digging into the eyelid of the man on the ground. Dennis tossed the buck knife into the bank of zinnias and pansies that lined the sidewalk.
“Pay attention to me. I’m only going to say this once. I could kill you right now, but I won’t. It wouldn’t be any fun and if it’s not fun, why do it. Right? Right, Idiot?”
“So…I’m letting you go…for now.”
He lifted the bloody faced criminal to his feet and, careful to not get any blood on himself, ran the razor sharp edge of his knife in a swift race down the bridge of the dealer’s nose, peeling the flesh away, down to the cartilage. Another scream and more blood were released onto the stone steps. “Now, run for your life.”
The wounded and humiliated drug merchant ran up the grassy hill, into the Park, disappearing and leaving a red trail on the lawn.
Dennis turned around and saw the small assembly that had witnessed it all. His face was red from the anger and the stress of the encounter. He had a headache and an erection.
“What? What are you looking at? Get out of here and don’t come back.” He waved the knife in the air and started down the steps. The people moved out of his way. Nobody wanted anything to do with him.
The police squad car arrived ten minutes later and found nothing but a smear of red on the steps and a trail of more red on the grass leading up “Hippie Hill” deeper into Buena Vista Park.
Dennis stared at his door. He looked around the hallway and rechecked the brass numbers. “This is number eight? She lives in number six.”
He looked at his wristwatch. Twenty minutes had passed, but he had no memory of going into Marlee’s apartment, no memory of going through her clothes, no memory of poisoning the cat food. Dennis sniffed at his fingers. He could smell the hibiscus leaf. “Why am I sweating?”
There was only one beer left in the refrigerator. Dennis took it and plopped down on his sofa. It was hard to tell if the garish ruby lips were spitting him out or about to swallow him whole. He knew the beer was a mistake in light of the Percodan he had just taken dry. He pulled the tab and heard the welcoming rush of air into the can. He wanted it. He needed it and there was a third reason, but it was too faded to make out.
As he drank and the painkiller roared through his bloodstream, the present was disappearing behind a resurgent past. Morning was being painted over by Midnight and San Francisco was becoming the Boston of seven years previous.
His desire had always been to be a man of Science, but, as a 21 year-old, middle of his class graduate in chemistry, his superiors at the University Hospital kept demanding that he stick to his duties as a lab technician. He hated doing the same tests, over and over again, day after day.
“Let somebody else do this. I’m a researcher. I’m out on that cutting edge of discovery. Or I would be if you’d stop demanding that I waste my time doing tox screens on rent-a-cops. Give me the tools and I can cure the world.”
Dennis moved from job to job, sliding from the prestigious and endowed to the threadbare and under-funded, downward to the fraud-ridden Medicare mills. He always had the same complaints and always ended up on the sidewalk ranting at a closed and locked door.
It’s a small world and it didn’t take long for him to gain a reputation as a troublemaker and an all-around pain in the ass. Even the pet hospitals turned him away.
Dennis was a good-sized young man and he was never late for work. That was a ringing endorsement for the Manager at Novicky Moving and Storage.
It wasn’t science, but it paid enough to cover his expenses and there were the unofficial perks: almost unlimited opportunities for petty theft from the customers and very limited dealings with bosses.
Dennis refurnished his apartment with items “lost in transit” from the moving van. The customers had little recourse. They rarely bought the overpriced and worthless insurance coverage.
His prize piece of booty was the sofa stolen from another recent Harvard grad. Somehow, the sofa, shaped like a pair of bright red lips was “lost” during the short drive from Cambridge, across the Charles River, into Boston and to a new condo near the Massachusetts General Hospital complex.
Even though it wasn’t his dream job and there were no likely cures to be discovered in the back of a truck, Dennis did the work and was surprised to find that he enjoyed the companionship of the men in the crew.
Some were ex-cons and drifters who stayed only long enough to get rearrested or scrape up a stake to get to the West Coast. There were others who came from failed academic backgrounds, either alcoholic professors on the skids or men like Dennis – perpetual square pegs.
It was during a job on Gainesborough Street, near Symphony Hall, that Dennis’ life was changed. They were moving a stereo cabinet from a fourth-floor walkup. Coming down off a narrow landing, Dennis slipped. He felt and heard something tear in his back.
Rest didn’t help much. When he tried to lift anything over 25 pounds it felt like someone was driving white hot nails into his lower back.
The other men in the crew liked Dennis. He pulled his weight and bought a round now and then. They decided to help him.
One of the guys, a wiry man known as “Zigzag”, fresh out of Walpole State Prison, gave Dennis a handful of pills. “It’s called ‘O.C’ and it’ll fix you up good, Dude.”
Dennis had been in enough labs to know that “O.C.” was an opium derivative called “Oxycontin”, and addictive as hell, but the pain was keeping him from working. No work, no money…no money, and he’d end up working for guys like Zigzag. He took the pills and kept working.
Dennis thought he could deal with the danger of addiction, but he couldn’t get around the side effects. His growing paranoia made him hard to work with. He thought that the other men were dumping the heavy loads on him, slacking off while he did their work.
Things got worse when Zigzag was arrested for setting up a drug lab in the basement of his apartment building. Dennis had to get his pills off the street and his brain told him that Zigzag was going to implicate him in the lab fiasco. Dennis ran. He left Boston and headed west
It took two years of day labor and five doomed attempts at kicking his addiction before Dennis rode a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was as far as he could run without getting wet.
Still paranoid about Zigzag, he avoided going back to work as a mover. He was living in the sordid “Fogtown Hotel” in the Tenderloin when he saw the ad for “Manly Maids.”
After a year of working 60 hour weeks, saving every spare penny and being mugged six times on the street, Dennis found an apartment in The Haight. Far from being an improvement as he had hoped, the move to 1298 Haight punched his ticket on the express train to Insanity.
The first time…Dennis laid his head down on the sofa as he tried to recall the first time, the first murder. He remembered doing it, but not in any reproducible imagery. It was the feel of his fists hitting soft flesh. It was the sound of his own heavy breathing and the final gasps and silence from the other person. It was the sweaty stench of the man’s crusty jacket and the sweet piquancy of the blood. It was the roaring headache beforehand and the soft tones of restful sleep afterward.
The man Dennis beat to death that first night in the Panhandle was a street dealer who had sold him placebos instead of actual Vicodin. When the pain didn’t go away his rage was triggered and ignited a headache that threatened to “split me open and let the universe see my degradation.”
Dennis went hunting.
After the first, it became easier, and more importantly to Dennis, it became a mission. He was a drug user, yet he saw the path to his salvation lined with dead drug dealers. Save the soul of the user by eliminating the occasion of sin.
When the pain was not relieved and the rage was too much to bear, Dennis would cruise through the streets looking for the young, vulnerable and dealing. He was known to the people on the street as a regular customer, so going into the shadows with him was not considered a risk.
Dennis would lull his targets into the Panhandle, a driveway or a hidden spot in the bushes. When the drugs were presented his knife would appear and, with the surety of the saved, he would plunge the blade into the throat of his prey. Swift, sure and fatal, but not enough to make his message understood. There had to be something more, a warning to the other dealers.
That is why Dennis started his mutilations. To make his point, his final cut was a paring down the bridge of the nose. Destroy the face, he reasoned, and make the world see them as all alike, creating the agony that would drive a decent man like himself to such necessary extremes.
Dennis was sure that, if it were not for the drugs, his life would be pain free and filled with joy and the love of a faithful woman. But the drugs did exist and his life wasn’t pain free and filled with joy and the women weren’t faithful, even Marlee. Didn’t he see her first? Didn’t he bring her gifts? Didn’t he show her that he found her desirable? She, however, had shown her favor for that lowlife coffee puller who thought of her as just another notch on his bedpost. Well, as of last night, Luco Reyes was out of the picture and now he could get back on track to woo and take Marlee for his own.
THE LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENT here in lovely Terre Haute (That’s French for, “There’s a BOGO Special at the Burger King.”) posts on Facebook the pictures and vitals of wanted crooks under the title “Crime Stoppers.” It is not a bad idea. It actually does help catch some truly nasty people. It also helps me keep track on the whereabouts of some old acquaintances.
One thing that I have noticed on the “Crime Stoppers” page is that more and more of the “Persons of Interest” are women. It used to be that it was only men who attained “Most Wanted” status, but now I’m seeing that particular glass ceiling has been shattered. The Terre Haute “Crime Stoppers” page is indeed an equal opportunity site. It gives me a warm and fuzzy egalitarian feeling.
This morning when I logged into Facebook to check in with a few folks I was greeted with a barrage of messages – all saying the same thing: “I couldn’t sleep last night.”
We had a nasty weather night here in Terre Haute (That’s French for “Your feet are cold.”) with lots of rain and falling temperatures. I figured that could be the cause, but those complaints came in from all over the country. Go figure.
Being the Smarty Pants that I have been since birth, (And possibly before according to what my mother told me one day after she had downed a couple glasses of wine.) when I went in to get a Dr. Pepper for Dawn, I had something to say.
Throwback Thursday – June 2015
Most days I have it under tight control. Other days – not so tight.
A lifetime of experience and a number of years when I got paid to be a (Fill in the blank) has taught me that if I’m not fully awake, not feeling well, or someone goes “Boo!” and surprises me, my brain and mouth tend to go off on their own to play. When that happens all bets are off and I’m as upset as anybody else at what happens next.
This morning is a perfect example. I apologize in advance and in retrospect.
It was early, I was still a bit groggy, and my back hurt. This is a dangerous combination. It is comparable to taking part in a Pogo Stick Race while carrying a Thermos filled with Nitroglycerine. Cover your ears and keep your head low.
I had just stumbled into St. Arbucks in desperate need of coffee. I was seated in the corner, minding my own business. I had my Morning Blood Pressure Meds spread out on a Kleenex. My iced coffee was at the ready. It was an idyllic scene at 7:30 AM.
A sip of coffee and my Fish Oil was down my gullet. Another sip – another pill.
I ask you – is that any way to start a conversation? With me? At 7:30 in the morning? Before I’ve had all of my coffee?
Without missing a beat the few brain cells that were awake kicked into Defensive/Offensive Mode. I looked up at her. I smiled. I spoke.
“No, they’re not for cancer. They’re to try to control my unpredictable and violent outbursts that happen when strangers walk up to me in public and ask questions. Do I know you?”
She backed up and exited the store.
I consider my reply to fall into the category of a “Public Service Announcement.” I hope she heard it clearly and will think twice in the future before acting like such a dummy.
What if I had been taking a buffet of meds for cancer? Is that her business – or anybody’s business for that matter?
What a yutz.
Most people who know me find me to be a gentle, even kittycat-like, with my playful and loving demeanor. I may jump around and make noise on occasion, but I don’t claw at the sofa and I am housebroken. All I ask is – please don’t sneak up on me with dumb questions at 7:30 in the morning. Later in the day I can deal with stuff like that in a more civil manner, but anyone who does it before I’ve had my coffee is pushing their luck.
We now return to our regularly scheduled program – in progress.
A fresh batch of tourists were getting off the train and heading for the border. A few walked toward the McDonalds, but saw the yellow crime scene tape and turned back to join the flow to the crossing gate.
Laura flipped off the light switch and closed the Cambio door behind her. They looked up and down the street. Nobody was paying them any attention. Laura took Davis’s arm as they casually crossed the plaza. She idly swung the plastic shopping bag holding $180,000 worth of forged documents and the file folder from Molina’s office. They looked just like a couple of tourists heading home after a day of shopping in Tijuana. They made a beeline for the nearest open door on the waiting red train.
They started to step up into the car when a uniformed San Diego police sergeant started coming down and blocked their way. Laura and the officer made eye contact. After what felt like an hour, the officer stepped back up into the car.
TODAY IS FRIDAY, THE GATEWAY TO REAL LIFE. I sat down this morning to write something brilliant, moving, hilarious, and earth shattering. After about 15 minutes of staring at a blank page I downed half of my coffee in one gulp and started looking through the detritus of links I’d saved on my phone. After another couple of minutes I came across a link that made me down the rest of my coffee.
Chapter 37 Continued
As they passed it, they both looked over into the alcove. The dead man seemed so very small. Davis walked over and pulled the pistol from Lizard Boy’s waistband and started to stick it in his belt. Laura stopped him and held out her hand. He passed it to her. They left the bundle of cash locked in the dead man’s hand.
It was only another fifty feet before they saw a set of steps rising toward a carpet-covered door.
They slowly climbed the steps and listened. They couldn’t hear anything coming from the other side.
“Well, if nothing else, we have the element of surprise,” whispered Davis. He reached for the knob.
“We hope,” said Laura and pulled his hand back from the door. She would go first. The Mexican’s pistol pointed up.
“Let’s go, my dear,” she said. They both took a deep breath of the warm and stale air.
“Things are better at the border. They’re opening up again,” he said to them in his usual staccato style.
A small, stocky man with strong Mayan facial features, held open the door to the shed and motioned them all inside. His face exhibited several prison tattoos. He was bare-chested and wearing a leather vest. His coppery skin showed a number of scars. He had a large knife sheathed on his belt and over his shoulder was slung an AK-47, the Third World’s weapon of choice. In his left hand, he held a fresh caramel Frappuccino.
“I’m glad you liked my coffees,” he said. “Just like I used to make at Starbucks. Good, huh? Well, bien viaje, amigos.”