10/18/89

Zeno could not get a flight to any Bay Area airport. Not Oakland, not SFX, no way San Jose. Telephone service was down and electricity out all over Santa Cruz County. No buses, no trains. Bridges required support and tunnels testing. Landslides blocked Highway 17 over the Santa Cruz Mountains. Likewise Hecker Pass to the south. No dice on Highway One along the rocky northern coast. A tsunami warning had been issued for Monterey Bay. Deputy Sheriffs from three counties had been deployed in full riot gear to maintain order. No place to run wild and no place to hide out. Debris filled the streets of Santa Cruz and Watsonville and dust fanned flames that were rising with the moon along a key stretch of Freedom Blvd. No place to come home to. Stay the fuck away.

A tidy man in a loose suit lied, “It’s for your own good.”

Zeno heard the words differently. He heard them spoken in the voice of Joe Avergan. What means you to you does not mean me to me. Not as long as I do my own choosing. Don’t ever forget, kid, it’s not what you say, but what you do.

As an American born in the heat of July, Zeno did not waver. He maintained his unsteady and erratic pace at full tilt and speed. All of his mistakes came entangled in a tidy package with unintended consequences. As a requisite, he stopped only for banging into walls. It required a heavy hand and a light touch. He rated his ability to twitch and overcome resistance as top notch. What’s more modern and American than trendy high self-esteem in service of a soft, ripened ego? Even if fake and highly overrated. He stuffed some loose crap into his small bag and flew like a moth because he was so familiar with flames.

He followed the dusty trail north by northwest in a rented car that was less than second best but would have to do. A creased map covered his lap. He was aiming to tiptoe around the edge of Western Civilization without tipping over the edge. No contradictions would pause for crossing. The goons on his tail were on their own.

One goon conjectured wisely, “What’s the big deal?”

“We could take it easy and still be there.”

“Or say we did.”

“Who’s to know, Mr. Whazahootchie with the false face and hair?”

“Only we know.”

“Silly putty and powder.”

“Write it down.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Done.

“Fuggedaboudit.”

There was no doubt in Zeno’s right mind that he was heading in the right direction. Even when that right mind was facing left. Either way, the destination was the same. Even goons employed by a clown knew that much.

He followed a trail of garlic in bloom that led as far as Gilroy. Then roadblocks, smoke, dust, fumes, vapors. A dam below Coyote Reservoir had broken out in blotchy red bumps and there was fear of contagion. Humans are such easy touches like that, susceptible to bruising. Meanwhile, a toppled electric pole was smoking in a dyspeptic zone. The siren emanating from a fire truck with two flat tires repeated like a scratched record. He skirted Hollister and San Juan Batista where another steeple had toppled. Cracked pumpkins fallen off of hay wagons seemed to be grinning back at him with jagged teeth. Gulleys grew overnight into bold canyons. Boulders were brought to their knees like pebbles. Ancient spores escaped solitary confinement. Brave dandelions stood tall.

Zeno paused in respect and listened to the roar as he recklessly approached an unstable edge. Monterey Bay was flexing cocky like a hoodlum in front of a corner liquor store. Ten foot waves steamed into Pleasure Point like locomotives. An excited symphony of humpback whales was tooting riffs from a hot spot above a deep pool at 36.704 N. They had arrived to check out the commotion caused by crumbling, superficial cliffs. At depth it was still trending cool and bubbly, consciousness mightily expanding. One standout trumpet reminded Zeno of Freddie Hubbard before his discovery of electricity. The whales were patiently waiting for the purity of water to rise and more cliffs to to crumble. Grey whales, too. What elevated creature with a vast memory to fill would not welcome a little extra head room to spread out and think whale sized thoughts?

But humans sadly were going to be left behind in the lurch. Deep thoughts were not what Zeno had in mind. He eyed the line of cars squeezed like anchovies into slots on Highway One with dismay. Overheating engines were backing up to the artichoke fields of Castroville. Deputy Sheriffs from Monterey County had blocked the road at Moss Landing. Chain link fences protected the power plant from intrusive teenagers and rodents performing sex acts. Deputy Sheriffs from Santa Cruz County were patrolling Watsonville on the other side of the river. Word was out. Forget all impure thoughts and desires. No crossing, gringo. Go back to where you came from.

Zeno turned and backtracked east into gilt hills hugging croplands surrounding Aromas. Strawberry Rd. to Hidden Valley to San Miguel Canyon. Lettuce, cukes, broccoli, beans, squash. No few cracks in the earth had the power to unsettle roots. He found his idyllic spot at the end of a dirt road leading to a pitted rut of mud where he parked under a sickly weeping willow. By then the professional goons were enjoying a delectable mulch derived from eggy substitutes at a Denny’s in Hollister. Zeno left the keys in the unlocked car and plunged down a sandy bank at Murphy’s Crossing. The aroma of sulfur beckoned. He matched digits and limbs with an unwelcoming committee of burrs, barbs, bristles, and thorns, and came out the loser, cut, slashed, gashed, bruised. Then he encountered their identical mates on the other side. Interlopers deserved no warnings in advance of attack and he received all he deserved. Bones, blood, deliverance. The river was shallow but the mud deep. He hopped a fence, took a fall, shed some skin. Rats were catching mice on the levee. The regular homeless encampment at Salsipuedes Creek had grown tenfold. What better guise to blur intentions that mud? Expectations continued apace.

On East Lake Ave. in Watsonville he passed families from Oaxaca and Michoacan huddled under tribal blankets salvaged from former homes leaning obtusely west. The National Guard patrolled the river levee at Lincoln St. and practiced marching on the oval high school track. The football field was newly trimmed. None of the windows in the laundromat with extra large dryers had made it out alive. The dryers had tumbled to the mat, went down for the count. The Quik Mart was boarded up, and plastered with help wanted signs. A mixed pair of B.F. Goodrich tires that had escaped the tyranny of retail enclosures bounced like lunatics on the crooked byways. The cheap Baptist church that owed back rent to the grubby landlord had been transformed miraculously into rubble. The sharp nails of the one God’s mightily calloused hands appeared to be in dire need of a fair and just clipping.

Zeno, however, proceeded undeterred, immutable, obsessive. His relocated mountain remained roughly indivisible above a haze that evaporated at the end of flattened Freedom Blvd. Four lanes had become a junkyard and required skills in hopscotch and long jumping to traverse. Schools, churches, banks, bars, had jumped ship. A Motel 6 pancaked on top of a franchised IHOP and the U-Do Self-Wipe car wash behind sagged. The Super Taqueria 8 stood not tall on the corner, but stood. Taxco Ornamental Iron and Rojas Sheet Metal were closed but the Four Star Plumbing Supply outlet was selling sheets of plywood that mysteriously fell from a truck primed for unloading at a Home Depot in Salinas.

Zeno chanted for sustenance in the authentic contralto of a Leni-Lenape rattle shaker, “Huyuyuyuhuyuhuy-huyuyuyuhuyuhuy,” and naturally, like duh, repeated. It was, after all, a chant. Rattle shakers can’t dance. They would if they could. The dancers get to spin. All he was able to do was shake.

He did not connect the strange looks he received from his fellow travelers to any wayward behavior that had any meaningful connection to his until a 2nd concerned citizen stopped him, and along with a helping hand, offered, “You really need to go to the hospital.”

He said, “Huh?”

He heard,”That’s a lot of blood to lose.”

He said, “Are you talking to me?”

He heard, “Not to mention the danger of infection.”

He wasn’t in the mood to argue metaphysics with a stranger who was obviously suffering classic symptoms of anxiety and distress. There were no lofty tautological pinpoints that occurred to him on the surface to be contested and proved in a European clash of ideas. But Freedom Hospital was in fact empirically located right on his way home to the Santa Cruz Mountains where Freedom Blvd. begins to become hilly and he couldn’t miss it. The wobbly neon sign was knocked askew as if gorged on loco weed from the Sonora Desert and the light fixtures and telephone poles were bob and weaving like the icing on hot cross buns. And business was booming.

There was a lot of commotion in front, sirens, lights, hysterical reactions. In the rear, too. It used to be the imposing red brick building south of Airport Blvd. now missing a pair of chimneys, electrical power, a parking structure, and a recently renovated maternity wing generously funded by donations spearheaded at St. Patrick’s Church on Main St, which had also been reduced to rubble. Holy smoke was rising from dust and ashes. Maybe, Zeno conjectured, they will give me a medicinal booster of some juju juice to assist me in the climb.

Wisely, he concluded, what the fuck? It was not a question. The question he asked was, “How can it hurt?”

He stopped in uninvited to inquire about the likelihood of a quickie. That set off a cacophony in which he was manhandled, mauled, rotated, and jerked. He was pushed by a volunteer in a wheelchair to the head of the line. All that blood apparently carried a lot of clout, though the volunteer was wary. There appeared to be an unmistakable aura of pathogens in the proximal air. Then a contingent of mothers attached to newborn babies were wheeled out of the newly renovated maternity wing and moved ahead of him in line.

A frantic voice carrying on undeterred from close quarters demanded, “ What happened to the doctor? This cervix is fully dilated. We need to rush.”

Zeno politely stepped aside and swooned. He’d encountered the word of course, because what experience manly man hasn’t, as well as evidence of vital fluids leaking, sort of, but could not exactly define what in fact a cervix was or did or where or how it was done, and to whom. But it appeared to be important. He leaned on a strategic wall for support.

A roving explorer carrying a clipboard on a mission jabbed at him with a pencil and snapped, “Name, address, date of birth, social security number. Blue Cross or Blue Shield if you have it.”

He said, “Give me a minute.”

It would take more than a minute but he did not let on. The revelation of bare, broken skin was enough exposure for him. The clipboard provided a steadying platform for reams of punched paper forms in pastel colors and parts that would become feed for voracious machines dedicated to harsh and total rule by the dictates of unfeeling automatons. He considered all of the complex alternatives, real, in kind, in trade, outright pseudo, and utterly concocted, and then opted to fill the void with a standard version of the truth as he knew it.

“Zeno Sol. That much I know for sure. As for the rest of the unknown, any address and numbers remain still to be determined.”

In the awkward pause he required to add additional dates, facts, digits, data, a nearby nurse trilled, “Oh you must be the father. No wonder you didn’t show up. Look at you.”

“Are you still talking to me?”

“You may look like a mess now but we’ll get you fixed up.”

“I’m not the one you’re looking for.”

“We’ll do a thorough examination to search for a head injury.”

“Don’t you think I’d know?”

“How many other men with the name Zeno Sol do you think reside in Santa Cruz County?”

“That’s what I’d like to know.”

It seemed like a good idea at the time, and it was. To find out, that is, to find out what it is, where, why, and who. If not, what else is? He was never trying to fake his identity on purpose. That was for sure. And forget how. How was always least likely. Sort of. But he knew like no one else that he could be no known or unknown father under current conditions. Though he also knew it’s not easy to be real. For that, he’d have to find the missing person impersonating an unknown self. And then become what had never been. No pantomimes, no impersonations, no dramatizations, no hieroglyphics, no falsies, no apologies, no regrets.

It would take a long time to find out, but he did, and when he did, he would finally become the last to know.

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Muy Caliente

The flight across the Florida Straits took less than an hour in the spanking new DC-7. The fuselage, which was partly constructed from a tinny new light weight material invented to maximize profits, shook like the roller coaster at Million Dollar Pier. The Kid refused to touch the gloppy mess they tried to pass off as authentic hot food, but he enjoyed his bouncy view of the sheer water from a window seat, next to Henry, who wasn’t looking so good.

Welcome to Havana, senor.”

Henry was wearing a white seersucker suit, a yellow silk shirt, and a jaunty straw Panama hat. He had been attempting to copy the look of a suave backup singer in Ricky Ricardo’s band but something wasn’t hanging right. Maybe it was the extra hundred pounds he packed. He was drenched with sweat the instant the plane touched ground.

Welcome to Havana, senor.”

Joe was wearing an elegant cream colored jacket, with interwoven strands of amber wheat that were nearly golden, and custom tailored white linen trousers that looked as if they had been rolled up into a ball, and shrank, but no hat, a mistake he realized as soon as they descended the stairs from the airplane into the grip of the ferocious sun. He tapped the pack of Camels in his shirt pocket to feel safe.

Welcome to Havana, senor.

The kid was wearing a red and blue madras shirt, white Bermuda shorts, and blue knee socks. His hair was full of stuff that made it stiff. It stayed stiff under his Phillies cap. He’d rub it off as soon as he jumped into the pool.

Joe asked earlier, “So what’s it gonna be this week?”

Just call me Kid.”

That’s what I usually call you.”

That makes it easy.”

What happened to the name, Peanuts?”

It was okay for a while but never for always.”

Or Chico.”

Nah.”

You could keep going like that and try for the whole Phillies infield.”

That only leaves Ed and Puddinhead to go. I could never stand to be called Ed.”

I don’t blame you.”

I’ll figure it out.”

So, that’s it?”

For now.”

No way was the Kid going to wear the goofy hat his mother picked out for him. It wasn’t her head. What was he supposed to look like, a jockey? The stretchy socks were as far as he would go. He never asked to look like a little gentleman either. But he wasn’t going to spoil his best birthday ever by far. On a need to know basis, his mother would never know.

Give and take,” Joe Avergan advised. “Understand that, and you’ll do okay.”

I’m not the only one who needs to understand.”

Not everyone can.”

But anyone can.”

Was it gave and take that stuck him with this affliction of a name that was stuck right there on his passport picture sticking out of his back pocket? What a dumb law it was that would not allow him to choose his own name on his own passport. Wasn’t it enough he had to suffer from the taunts at school? His mother had to add up to no less than a co-conspirator in that. Even if she did throw up her arms in surrender as if she was the victim of a sad story in which she had no starring role. And even if that push was pull. Or amounted to as much as war and peace.

Don’t bet on it,” Joe replied.

It was less a name than a curse to be overcome, every day. It smelled as rotten and stinky as the smoke of a Red Auerbach cigar after a win by those cheating Celtics over Wilt and the Warriors. No matter how it was spelled out or explained, it was a girls name. Who cares how many a’s or e’s i’s or l’s it takes in an unfair sentence where he was the one to end up rotting in jail. He wasn’t having any of this creepy Merle person sticking anywhere close to him. No law abiding parent, yet alone a shameless pair of abettors, should be able to inflict a wound like that due to some dumb reason that had something to do with some dead guy and some bet on some bed that had nothing to do with him.

You can be a stubborn kid.”

When I’m right.”

You think you’re always right.”

What’s so wrong with that?”

You’re a kid.”

But still.”

The Kid might need to employ a well positioned lie or two at times in order to assure safe passage through a tough day in a tough town, or a juke or a feint or a bit of chicanery, especially to cover up and protect from the tyranny of a pair of parents who did not care to understand the concept of free will, or he might plot and connive, and certainly he would sneak around by any means necessary and hide to get out of doing what he did not want done, but not from his grandpop.

Part of any kid is nothing but a wild savage, you know.”

So.”

Just as long as you understand the difference.”

Parts fit into other parts to make a whole. Yeah, I know”

Remember what part is what.”

What if I’m not doing anything?”

Just don’t get caught.”

Don’t you think I know that?”

The Kid was sitting on top of a suitcase in the front seat of the big ’57 DeSoto to get the best view of the wide boulevards of Havana The DeSoto had his favorite fins of all the ’57 models on the road. The kid was looking forward to the ’58 models that would be rolling out in another month, but he hoped the fins would stay.

Can’t change a dead horse,” Henry contributed.

That’s beat,” Joe corrected.

Who said anything about beating?”

Beat a dead horse.”

Who’s kidding who here? No dead horse is ever gonna be in the running.”

Henry blew an alto instrument out of his mouth that registered less in decibels than in booms. He had once been accused while holding neighborhood court on the corner of 6th and Pine in Society Hill of impersonating a chainsaw. At the time, he’d been sitting regally in his beach chair at a wobbly round table, making an important point about leftover dog shit on the curb. Why didn’t some son of a bitch just kick it into the street? As a proud survivor of massive gassing in WWI, the war to end all wars, Henry received an annual pittance as compensation. He strolled the few blocks down 6th St. to Old Original Levis and celebrated each check with a hot dog, lots of onions and relish, and a cherry soda.

Just don’t encourage the kid,” Joe scolded.

Look who’s talking,” Henry jabbed.

Joe had never known the exact year when he was born, or precisely where, but he was too young for WWI and too old for WWII. If he was still back somewhere backward like Russia or Prussia, he’d be dead. When he questioned his plain dumb luck, as he often did when he was sure he was getting a bum deal, just like the one he had come to try to spin into gold and rescue here in Havana, he thought of that, and usually settled.

Yet, he concluded, “Feh.”

The Kid had already tuned out the back and forth in the back seat and was trying hard to figure out what the signs in a foreign language were telling him. He knew what a bakery looked like all right so that had to be a panaderia. It was frustrating to be unable to read. Then he started to get excited, as he sometimes did for no apparent cause, often with questionable effect, and flail his arms and point. He finally sputtered, “Stop.”

Sometimes Joe couldn’t help but think the Kid had to be at least a little bit meshugeneh, but he learned to keep most of his unpopular decisions to himself, or face the barb of his wife Yetta who would snap back, “Bite your tongue,” and show she meant it.

What now?”

Over there. That.”

You’ll give me my next heart attack.”

He flicked the ashes from his unfiltered Camel out of the window. The Kid was pointing to a folding table set up on a busy street corner, but it was difficult for Joe to pay precise attention. He was assessing and reassessing the sticky situation coming up ahead with the man he was in Havana to meet who had only agreed to meet him here and now in a foreign country. How much justice was that jurisdiction likely to turn out? The outdoor table was piled high with an array of strange fruits like none the kid had ever seen. A trio of local kids about his age were sucking thick white milky goo from what looked like a bright green prickly cactus the size of a football. They were all smiles. One of the kids was wearing Mickey Mouse ears.

Guanabana, senor.”

The Kid laughed and said, “Say that again.”

The driver pulled contentedly to the curb. The meter ran smoothly. Henry continued to sweat. Joe lit another Camel from the stub of the one still burning.

The Kid turned into all smiles, too, with the first sweet slurp that enveloped him. It wasn’t easy to pull off the skin, because the small thorns sticking out jabbed his thumbs, but the seeds, the milk, the pulp, the sinew, the meat from the guanabana, all soon dripped from his face down his madras shirt into his shorts and socks. The red and blue dye in the madras shirt started to bleed and blend into a washed out version of the color purple. With sticky fingers, he grabbed a moist gringo dollar from his pocket and picked out a mango, a guava, and a papaya from the table. Even if that purple was mere puce. The kid with the Mickey Mouse ears took note and pulled out a red bill and a yellow bill of his own, each a fine crumpled example of dinero de Cuba, and offered to trade both for a lone green yankee dollar. The Kid was considering the odds until the cab driver started to rant and yell and chased the opportunistic rodent with the big ears away.

Joe scolded, “Whatsa matter with you? Don’t you know any better than that?”

I was only thinking it over.”

Oy.”

It was a good thing that Yetta Avergan was not there to witness the disgraceful mess made of her grandson in the care of her irresponsible husband as they checked into the Havana Hilton, even though no one paid any attention to her grandson in a big hotel like a Hilton, who after all was only a kid, for whom allowances are created, and an ever better thing for the unreliable husband, who could never win.

Henry plopped into a comfortable seat in the lobby as Joe counted out cash, and loud enough for numerous heads to turn, although not that loud for him, surveyed the scene and proclaimed, “Swanky.”

Joe handed him a key to the room and said, “I’ll be back later.”

Henry said, “You better be.”

The Kid complained, “I need a key of my own.”

The Kid was soon performing jack knifes and swan dives into the Olympic sized pool on the roof that was open to the spectacle of puffy clouds shooting past Havana like cue balls with spin. At the same time, Joe was getting his knife stuck squarely in the back, sitting on the edge of a spindly wicker chair on the terrace of a private suite on an upper floor of private suites where no small key in a pocket guaranteed entry. The man who spoke to him as if he was a nobody was not alone. That prick Fred Drumpf was there with his usual smirk on his face, not saying a word. As if he was too important to waste a precious breath on a nobody. How was Joe supposed to give it all away to a cheating son of a bitch like that? The man dyed his hair black, for Crissake. It was no big surprise, though, not even to him.

You’re not our kind of team player.”

I’ve been doing more than okay for a long time.”

Not on our team.”

You know what I can do.”

You might just be another Communist spy for all I know.”

C’mon, who’s kidding who here?”

Isn’t it a fact most of you Jews are Communists?”

Okay, now I get it all right.”

There’s no one to blame but yourself. When you’re not good enough, you’re not good enough.”

But good enough to get cheated out of what I made on my own.”

You know the way out.”

Don’t think this is the end of this,” Joe ventured, though he knew better. Who’s kidding whom here is right.

Once the door closed behind him, he muttered, “Feh.”

The Kid was treading water in the deep end by the time Joe returned to the empty room, thinking of trying a back flip again because swan dives and jack knifes were getting too easy. The pool contained too much chlorine in the mix and burned his eyes but he wasn’t going to stop. He had conquered a small measure of fear earlier in the Summer and pulled off a few back flips at the Ritz in Atlantic City, but then clipped his head on the diving board visiting Henry at the La Concha, only a little, no tears, a small bump, no big deal. But, still.

He was considering the evidence and the circumstances required of courage at the edge of a three meter diving board when his attention was diverted by the loud spectacle of another kid marching into the pool area. This unbelievable dipshit kid was wearing the drab gray uniform of the Valley Forge Military Academy. It was painstakingly modeled after the drab gray uniforms worn by gung-ho cadets at West Point. It was sewn from that kind of thick itchy wool woven with no regard for the skin suffering underneath.

The Kid thought to himself, “Who does this dipshit bozo think he is?”

The afternoon in sunny Havana, Cuba had turned out to be seasonably hot and sultry. There were graceful palm trees that provided no shade as the fronds rippled in sunny Havana, Cuba. White birds were diving for silver fish in the aqua sea. Green and blue parrots squawked in the branches of flowering Cuban magnolias. And this dipshit kid was marching like a toy soldier, not pretending, next to a swimming pool. He was supporting a lethal weapon on his thin shoulders. The Kid could not understand. A large hairy man in a tight teeny bathing suit was barking at this dipshit kid in a foreign language, following closely from behind. He was counting out a cadence in words and numbers that added up to no more than beans to the Kid. It wasn’t Italian, Yiddish, British, or Jamaican, languages he recognized best. The Kid could see this man’s hairy foreign balls hanging out of his teeny bathing suit. It looked like one of those teeny bathing suits worn by champions standing atop a pedestal, and televised on Saturdays by ABC Wide World of Sports. Why come to a swimming pool under a buoyant afternoon sky to hang out and march? This dipshit kid was turning pink like a piglet and sweating his hairless balls off as he marched. He marched back to where he came from and started doing it again. What was this, some kind of test? Isn’t every dumb kid taught that it’s a mistake to keep going on and on after enough is enough? His drill instructor was stern, stout, loud. Unlike a perfect little gentleman the Kid started to laugh. He laughed until it began to hurt. Before too long, snot was coming out of his nose. That’s always funny. His ass not only laughed, but felt compelled to fart in short, staccato bursts. The Kid could not help but fall laughing into the pool at an odd angle, no jack knife, swan dive, or flip. Bubbles from his ass continued to laugh seven feet beneath the surface.

Henry meanwhile was getting burned up top not only by the sun. Who knew that such a cloying froth like a Mojito could pack such a punch? He had devolved deep into a sleek lounge chair from which he would need to be rescued before long. But first his skin had more superficial burning to do. How else does a big rugged guy get his manly tan?

When the time came, as it always does, and always will, and Henry needed a strong helping hand, the hairy drill instructor made an enthusiastic dash to the spot. He assumed the ideologically correct position and snatched, grabbed, and lifted, just as he had in the 82.5 kg weightlifting event at the glorious 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, the first historic participation by the Soviet Union in the Olympic Games.

Henry yowled like a refugee. Pale skin that once had been useful slipped away into unplanned obsolescence. A red sea of pain and suffering parted and spread in the desert under his white hair. Bats were shaken in belfries. Ancient sea birds took flight in fear.

Once Henry was on his feet, though, the Kid was satisfied that he had seen it all before. No harm, no foul, rub a little dirt on it. He returned to those iffy thoughts of a back flip. Henry accepted a free drink from management as recompense. The good Russian Samaritan, a moderately promising KGB agent assigned to monitor comrades of Fidel preparing the city for the soon to come triumph, accepted the offer to join him. It felt like good old times. Happy days were here again.

The dipshit kid was at first flummoxed by the interruption, and sputtered and stalled. He stood awkwardly on the sidelines at what passed for a militaristic at ease, awaiting further commands. The evidence of mere human pain and suffering in front of his eyes proved insufficient to move him. There were those to count and others to discount. Everyone knew that. He’d been taught by professionals that the weak get no less than what they must deserve. So what’s the big deal?

But, still.

He called out, “Hey kid.”

The Kid languidly turned, and looked this dipshit up and down in the street wise manner of his municipal birthright. The Kid knew what was coming because he had been there and doing that since he was six years old. This dipshit kid was a few years older, a few inches taller, heavier for sure, though clearly not smarter. And he looked marshmallow soft. There was hardly any need to state the obvious, but he did anyway, because just because.

Who’re you?”

There is a particular accent and attitude learned and enforced at an early age in all neighborhoods of Philadelphia, which by popular mandate celebrates the declaration of independence in all of those neighborhoods, with exuberance if not more so, under severe penalty of schoolyard law. It is accompanied by a matching glare that fits intricately beside the brief yet complex message of those words like a pair of steel balls crammed into a single tight pocket. “Who’re you?” is distinctively not a question in the City of Brotherly Love. You get it or you don’t. Who’s kidding who here?

I just want to show you something.”

Yeah?”

Yeah.”

There was a lot of stuff the Kid was sure he knew well, and not just for an eight year old, and a lot of things he knew how to do. He knew the daily line-up of the Phillies and the standings of all eight teams in the National League as they changed each day. He knew how to choose the right peach from a basket and climb on one roof in order to jump to another. He knew the Top 10 hits on Dick Clark’s American Bandstand that changed every week and the new songs that changed every night on WIBG. He knew where and how to transfer to the Broad St. Subway from the S bus on Olney Ave. and go downtown to mess around. He knew that Nixon was lying when he spoke sincerely into the camera on the Huntley-Brinkley Report on NBC. He knew his father was wrong about that, too. He knew to be wary of grownups. Grownups did not change every day or every week. Some were plain and simple scary at all times. And he knew how to block a right hand punch from an older and taller dipshit with his left forearm and how to hit back hard into an unguarded stomach. His estimation of softness proved to be correct. He knew it.

The dipshit kid in his heavy wool uniform ended up in the deep end of the swimming pool because it seemed like a good idea to the Kid at the time. Sure, the Kid had to admit under pressure from a hotel detective that it wasn’t absolutely necessary for him to push another kid who was already gasping for breath into the swimming pool. But, how was he supposed to know that the wool was heavy enough to drag the dipshit under? And the dipshit did not drown, not even close. So why such a fuss?

The Kid refused to say he was sorry. It was worth it.

I didn’t start it.”

That’s not what he says.”

He’s lying.”

If I ask him, he’ll say you’re lying.”

Don’t you know how to tell the difference?”

Later, over a juicy plate of tref in the swanky dining room that wasn’t half bad, Joe Avergan tried to provide the proper direction that every stubborn savage kid needs to follow as a beacon in the course of life and life only. Sort of.

Kid, here’s a lesson you will need to learn and learn good and never forget. And you might as well start remembering here and now.”

I’m listening.”

You see, that kid was Drumpf, Jr.”

So, who’s he?”

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Blood Transfusion

Zeno lost the tip of his left pinky in a collision with an entitled birth mother ramming a high end Aprica stroller through a lovely park in Beverly Hills. He skinned his knee too but that’s no big deal. She was wearing a sharp push-up bra with detachable wires for optimal support. The wires may have been picking up signals from sub-orbit. Respectable opinions differ. Whatever forgettable t-shirt and pair of jeans Zeno was wearing was strictly second rate in comparison. The sleek Aprica stroller, the first time mother’s first, came with aggressive gears that required shifting, and thingamajigs standard. Top of the line to the max. She had every right to push hard at high speed. If you don’t push in Beverly Hills, you’re done.

“I’m bleeding.”

“Don’t you dare point that finger near me.”

Zeno would admit to feelings of ambivalence about mothers. Fathers, too. And entitlements. He had been visiting the park to witness a live demonstration of aqua glass blowing and meander on a crowded path among masterful consumers before returning north. Nancy Reagan would have felt right at home wearing red in the setting. It was a sticky Saturday in July. Who knew that AIDS was lurking in blood nearby? No one yet, that’s who.

“This man needs help.”

“Where’s a cop when you need one?”

“There are innocent children watching.”

“Someone help him up.”

“It’s only a little blood.”

“It looks like a lot of blood to me.”

“Someone get him out of here.”

“It’s just a finger. Why can’t he walk?”

The pushy mother, who refused to reveal her true identity, had come out to strut her revealing stuff in a gauzy lycra blend camisole with accessories purchased at the fabulous Jane Fonda Workout on Robertson Boulevard. Working out at a fast and furious pace paid off big time in pounds shed, six gone in only sixteen days. She had gained twenty four pounds during pregnancy, her first to fruition, better than average, but she still had twelve pounds to lose. Average would never do. Everybody knows that. The latest facsimile of Jane Fonda preached a positive outlook along with high kicks, rhythmic lunges, and heavy breathing. It was tres au courant among those in the know on the Westside. Her accessories also included an opal pendant, silver bracelet, and her short husband, an up and comer of a talent agent at William Morris. He did his best to maintain a distance from the commotion.

In the end, which took not much more than an hour to reach, Zeno was informed in the emergency room at Cedars-Sinai Hospital that a tiny bit of finger could not be helped or saved. It had become caught and occluded in the cogs between spinning wheels, craft, and commerce. A doctor defined an occlusion for him in medical terms. That explained it all. Then he was late in checking out of his hotel in West Hollywood and incurred additional charges.

Zeno understood later he had no business to be there on a Saturday. His business in L.A. was done. Several known jerk-offs said they’d get back to him. Yeah, right. Opportunists, parasites, and scavengers hunting prey. He blamed the recession on the idiot Reagan following the idiot Carter. How did they manage to pull off a recession alongside inflation rates of 18%?

By the time he returned almost whole to the Santa Cruz Mountains, it was nearly dark. His arrival elicited no joy among the natives. A young red tailed hawk was crying from the top of a redwood tree. An irate blue jay chased an interloper from the seed of a pear. He smelled skunk. It was what it is. There were lots of other seeds to share in the dirt but there was no one at a higher level to greet Zeno with empathy or a hug.

The most recent woman who used to greet him with plenty of empathy recently claimed he did not listen. The woman before that said pretty much the same thing. Then, there were words. But, how could that be? He listened all right. He heard a whirring noise like a buzz saw. But then what? Was he supposed to jerk a knee and goose step into line? What was so great about worldwide procreation anyway? How did that help to mix and stir a bowl without spilling regrets?

Zeno proved to be a tireless provider of the same incorrect answer to the question. A bowl has limits, any bowl, he reasoned. According to basic logic too much is neither necessary nor sufficient. It’s not just an urban myth that disposable diapers cause clogs in pipes. Am I right or am I right? Which is why he found himself later that night enduring the taunts of a pseudo-blues band with unfortunate disco tendencies at a redneck bar overlooking Rio Del Mar Beach. He was sipping Hornitos reposado, because what kind of tastelss cretin gulps Hornitos, and diligently taking his yellowish pills according to prescribed directions, sort of, for his severely moderate pain. The beer after beer he was drinking merely served to quench his advanced case of dry mouth, a side-effect, no more than that.

He said, “Keep ’em coming.”

Sadly, what kept coming included a mind numbing version of Disco Duck. Isn’t that what led to violence at Comiskey Park? Zeno was shaky on the details. The consideration of that quandary led naturally enough to more beer. What goes around, came. It takes practice to learn how to perform with aplomb. His vision, however, was clear. He observed a pair of white men who did not dance to the music object to a trio of black men who did. There was a little tit for tat back and forth. Several white women also became involved, swaying to and fro along with the incendiary beat. At first, Zeno thought nothing of it. This was a classic redneck bar, after all, in the unenlightened year of 1982. The tide ebbing in Monterey Bay was unfazed. Soap operas like Dallas on CBS still topped the Nielsen ratings. Loony Moonies were getting married en masse. Then Huey P. Newton punched a redneck smart alack in the fucking mouth. Then the huge bodyguard of Huey P. Newton started to kick the shit out of a different, dumber redneck. The bodyguard of Huey P. Newton appeared to be eleven feet tall and weighed a minimum of two trillion tons. The dumber redneck had no fucking chance. When he got up he staggered, both drunk and punchy. Then he was knocked down again. Then he started to crawl before he could walk or run. Then Huey P. Newton pulled out a gun. Then nearly everybody followed an invisible leader and started to lam the fuck out of there. But not Zeno. Zeno continued to observe with wide eyes from his prone position on the floor. Huey P. Newton at the time was a Ph.D candidate at the nearby University of California in Santa Cruz. He was charged later that night with attempted murder. He’d previously been there and done that. What a crock of fucking shit. All he aimed to shoot according to the evidence was a ceiling. Zeno did not need to be told to hit the deck right from the get-go. Which is why his wee frail pinkie started to bleed all over again. And then some.

When the smoke cleared, he opted to visit a second emergency room in a second hospital in a second city on the same day, a first. It made its own sense. But, the joint was jumping on a Saturday night in July. Gang bangers had converged on the Santa Cruz Boardwalk to exchange trinkets without values. Tourist season was peaking under a jaundiced moon. There were puddles of red blood and blue blood all mixed up that looked the same. He was forced to wait his turn. The plastic seat started to become molded to his ass.

Once one day has turned seamlessly into the next, there ain’t no stopping how it is what is is. And here and now. No logic or reason reigns. Hearts were attacked and broken. Babies were born and spit out gobs of goo. Victims of gravity staggered under heavy loads. A small pinkie finger was all Zeno had to offer. It wasn’t much.

He considered his options as the blood slowed to a trickle but stayed put. A reduction in speed may be no less of a hidden trap. Who says inertia has nothing uplifting to offer? Otherwise, the heat would rise, as it does, to frigid heights, as is does, too.

It was not until his tender finger became tended to by a nurse who turned out to possess an abundance of empathy to spare that one finger became enough. Enough trumps too much, too. He not only possessed the right stuff, but at the right time. This, he concluded, must be the place.

One thing led as it does to another. Nursing took no molded back seat to any higher calling. Logic won by a fucking TKO. Necessary and sufficient.

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A Tasteful Song and Dance

Little Michael Jackson all grown up was making a cameo appearance in the spotlight back home where he used to get a good whipping on his behind. He waved his white glove in a graceful arc above his conked head and faked walking backwards into thinner air. He never did quite get who was kidding whom, and where and why, but immersed in the here and now he was all about the yin and yang of in and out and out again. A big bed at Neverland Ranch awaited his naked ass near the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, not far from Lompoc, California. He briefly smiled and bowed, and he twisted like a whiz kid, and slipped, shuffled, swiveled, and swayed, before passing a sequined torch to bigger Stevie Wonder and lammed the fuck out of there. Stevie Wonder showed up every year to wave at the fabulous opening of the Detroit Auto Show and repay perpetual dues. Why would 1986 be any different?

“Sup.”

“Splittin’.”

“Dig it.”

Interested parties from many major continents showed up to wheel and deal in all the bountiful steel and flesh that Detroit had to offer. American autos remained big news in 1986, heavy duty. Nancy Reagan was also there in red just saying no, no, no. She was busy, busy, busy. She said it in the morning, she said it in the evening, and she said it at suppertime. Her red was not just any old red, either. It represented American values somewhere in the untarnished neighborhood between ruby and sapphire. Detroit was an important area to lift up by bootstraps with profits in capital gains and Republican contributors needed help to maintain sway in an important congressional election year amid such squalor. Detroit still looked as if it had been disassembled by a dud of a fragmentation bomb left over from Ho Chi Minh City. Famously, it smelled like a living hell, the real one.

The one and only First Lady in the present tense took a bow and a curtsy as an encore. She was doing a swell bang-up job. Progress was inevitable. Look how far Ronnie had come since starring in Death Valley Days. No one played better in Peoria than Ronnie. Reviews were glowing. The wunderkinds all knew it. To just say no was only a beginning for Nancy. She knew it better than anyone. A late supper was going to include poulet rouge in a juicy avuncular reduction created by the White House chef to coordinate with the shade of chosen lipstick on any given night. It was largely an alcohol free concoction, enabling her to stay on message while flying above it all on Air Force One, and served to feed the starving children as well. She would only need to taste a little while posing for the press corps in order to maintain her girlish stick figure.

She commanded, “Don’t forget a flattering shot in profile.”

If you weren’t bouncing on a glittery go-go stick and making a big splash during the Reagan Boom years, what was wrong with you? Something, that’s what, no matter who you falsely believed you could become by trying out new tricks. Nothing was wrong with Nancy Reagan, that’s for damn sure. She knew Stevie Wonder from way back in the Hollywood Hills when he was still Little Stevie Wonder and a spitting image who reminded her of Sammy Davis Jr., though without the benefit of at least one good seeing eye. But did that stop him from dancing? Fuck, no. Nothing wrong with that. Inflation at 11% was unbeatable. Nor was there anything wrong with the all new 1986 Pontiac Firebird that for the fifth consecutive year had the same unchanged factory fuel injection and four speed automatic transmission as the all new Chevy Camaro. Plus, it could be had for a song. No dancing required.

The insightful First Lady continued to pose in stillness for the slowpokes who needed time to focus and then she too was out of there.

Not for the first time, Zeno never had a fair chance to get close enough to speak with her and self-righteously demand an explanation for her failure to ameliorate his sentence of incarceration at the U.S. federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. Not one of his several hundred letters had been answered, not even with a formulaic thank-you note that would have falsely appeared in mixed company to be merely polite. Members of the Secret Service had memorized time-lapsed simulated snapshots of how he used to wear his face in order to stand like studs in his way.

Zeno was coincidentally attending the 1986 Detroit Auto Show because Steve Jobs had temporarily succumbed to a bad bipolar snit after his excision from the yearly list of top American billionaires. The list was overseered by slippery Texas oil men with rancid tubs of guts spilling out of extra large sharkskin and alligator suits, many of whom only appeared due to issues of marriage, divorce, inheritance, and fratricide. They just did not get how important Steve meant to become. In order to make ends meet in Detroit he required a constant supply of fresh baked cookies much like those for which Zeno had been unjustly jailed at the federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. The THC content was higher than any daily requirement but Steve Jobs could take a licking and keep on ticking. He was no fucking wuss. He never got paranoid. If you believe falsely in the existence of coincidence, that is, which is certifiably incorrect. Zeno wasn’t fooled by that malarkey, however. He wasn’t just born yesterday. He knew he was only in Detroit with Steve Jobs for the money. He’d been there before, though never in Detroit.

In what arcane world did it matter that he had no idea what Steve Jobs was supposed to be doing at an auto show rubbing obsolescent wax into fake veneers surrounded by relics? Zen felt strongly like just another punchy working stiff on the clock. He knew how to assume the position and featherbed his nest as well as the best of them. He was unashamed to marvel at the raw marketing skills of grumpy codgers accompanied by leggy models at General Motors. And there was plenty of fossilized beef on the hoof for gawking. They did it on the road every day. That wasted lots of billable hours. He had no reason to question the reason why. It was freezing outside in desolate Detroit and he had nowhere else to run. The seat back to California on a shiny new Apple corporate jet would be cushy. And he was confident the check would not bounce. The sun would come out tomorrow and croon like the round pizza man in the moon. He would be able to start all over again from scratch with yeast and crust. His oven would smoke no less than Michael Jackson with the heat from his flaky pies.

If that did not make him proud to be an American entrepreneur, what would? Nothing, that’s what. By reduction, he would end up a hopeless case. Who wants that?

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The Seating Chart

Steve was wearing his hair slicked back and a bashful bow-tie, but trying to be cocky yet vulnerable. The main event was still fourteen minutes away according to the imposing atomic clock on the table and he was jumpy. No perilous balancing act is ever simple. He might as easily start to choke up as smile. Zeno was reminded of Don Dunphy circa 1964 announcing a fifteen rounder from ringside at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, Sonny Liston and an unnamed loser, an instant Boardwalk classic. The atmosphere backstage at the Flint Center was slightly different however, somewhat tense and quasi-subdued. But who wears a bow-tie in 1984? Oh yeah, that’s right. An amalgamated conglom of nerds was sitting up alertly in assigned seats. The bow-tie of the boss did not stand out alone. A definitive ode to joy was building up from a mere murmur. Anticipation cloyed like a pink packet of saccharine. If that was not electric, then what?

Zeno said “Spiffy bow-tie, Steve.”

“I’m trying hard to make a difference here.”

“And looking good while hard at it.”

“And to rise above.”

“Does that mean, scram?”

“I need my space.”

Assigned seating capacity at the Flint Center was 2405. Seats were filling up fast. Simulated theme music from current East Bay faves, the Pointer Sisters, declared in stylized muzak, “I’m So Excited.” A version of Prince proclaiming, “Let’s Go Crazy,” had been seriously considered by the social committee but ultimately rejected for flouting of rules. 1984 was just getting started. Rules had come this far for a reason.

Zeno had the seating chart crumpled in his pocket. His waiters had been instructed to wait for quiet if not calm before delivering a custom cupcake to each assigned seat. Then a wine spritzer. Not all cupcakes contained spiced apples with bruised cloves, but most. Zeno did not reveal he refused to bake with mushy mcintosh apples and had switched to soulful pippens. Who was going to know?

The calculating gizmo still in the bag had made it all possible by delineating known tendencies. The bag remained covered up on stage. The cupcakes were color coordinated according to a complex code. The number of cupcakes containing cannabis butter had been divided by pi. Most contained the color green. Someone asked, why? Someone said, don’t ask. Someone said, don’t tell. On a need to know basis, Zeno was not one who knew.

Zeno had previously inquired, “What if someone wants to sits next to a good friend and switches seats?”

“These are engineers. Engineers follow rules.”

“But, what if?”

“It won’t happen.”

As it turned out, events would confirm the main man was right as usual. Once he uncovered the bag, the crowd stood and cheered like beasts shedding burdens. The decibel level nearly stretched to a rowdy definition of lewdness. Backs were slapped and pinkies grabbed. After that, what could go wrong? Of course Steve knew. Woz too, probably. If anything went wrong, Zeno would be blamed.

Then Zeno turned the waiters loose with a silly grin and a wave. He read about it next morning in the Santa Cruz Mountains when his newspaper was delivered in the rain.

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The Pen Is Not Mightier

Zeno had a vision in primary colors, not a dream. It occurred a few days before he was due to be sentenced to the minimum security federal penitentiary at Lompoc, California. The horse trading had concluded and the deal was done. He whinnied like a lame also-ran. The government took everything he owned and sent him to jail for baking delicious cookies, cupcakes, and all-natural granola. Not even his collection of lucky pennies inherited from Joe Avirgan was spared. The judge with the porky snout explained how fortunate he was to get such a good deal. Reliable waves from the Pacific Ocean he would never get to hear or feel for the duration were only a mile away. In a Texas prison, he’d be serving twenty years with scorpions. His coupled lawyers made out like bandits as they heartily shook his hand and slipped him dead skin. The dream was different. In the dream there were mothers and sons running. He ran alongside on the left. His head was aiming for the right. South and north had flipped. The nightmare came later. There were Cossacks in a dark forest hunting for sport, and wolves for game.

Later in the same dream, a different mother and son were waiting on his front step, but not for him. He invited them inside out of the frost. The wolves continued to howl. He noticed an indigenous rug had been single-handedly turned upside down and the dyed wool on the geometric sofa had been brushed with wires to face the wrong direction. Plus, the primitive blue in the nappy rug clashed with the front lines in the closed curtains that refused to concede artrificial turf. Compromised circuits could not handle the load. Sirens blew chunks and wads. The primary red was stained with mixed blood and used topsoil.

It was in the vision where he was caught in a transparent web, and clearly surrendered to the surveillance camera, arms up, head down. The focus and exposure were too explicit to deny. There were shiny new chains draped on the backs of stylish steel chairs. His chafed red hands were cuffed. He sat until the itch in his ass began to evolve.

The nightmare as it turned out was closest to the truth, a nebulous shade of black and white that merged into pale gray as it swirled. Time off to suck hard for good behavior moved like glaciers in inches. He still had three more months of stirring drab to serve.

He sat on his semi-detached bunk as he listened for the first clash of metal in the morning, modern locks and keys requiring advanced lubrication. It was time to rise above. He never forgot he was still running hard.

Right off, the guard wanted to know, “What’s on the menu for this morning?”

“Shit on a shingle for a select group of 1250.”

“Man, I love that stuff.”

“I won’t spit in yours.”

“I hope you never get out.”

“You’ll get fatter and your wife will get fed up.”

“I can live with that.”

Zeno was released on a sunny day in February that felt as if Spring had popped a stone fruit, a cherry or a plum. A small envelope discreetly padded with bits of cash was waiting for him in a locker at the Greyhound station. He walked a mile to the sand dunes on the other side of the Pacific Coast Highway that had not rolled over to play dead. Ebb tide still flowed. Cossacks had not chopped off any heads in the vicinity. Rats still picked like pros though piles of human trash. Lying pols kissed, told, and kept score. Nancy Reagan had never responded to his letters from jail. Ronald Reagan was still acting glib.

He crossed his fingers when crossing the road. A gull nearly shit smartly on his head, but missed. Sand still slipped through cracks. He still did not lie to himself.

He bought a tri-tip sandwich simmered slowly with lots of cumin in the dry rub and a six pack of Anchor Steam beer at a bodega in Santa Maria, and a 1976 Datsun with less than 90000 miles on the odometer from a humiliated beauty queen filling in for her insensitive father at the family friendly used car lot on the corner. He picked at pieces of meat that fell into his lap as he drove. The dry rub had seeped through the skin overnight. He followed the San Andreas fault north by northwest. Unsettled rocks lurked on the precipice of a fractured edge. Traffic seemed to shrink behind him. There went one of the California Missions. There went another used car lot. There went another church. There went another prison. Who knew a crappy Datsun had such oomph? The itch in his ass began to devolve as the sun began to dip into healing waters beyond Big Sur.

He did not stop until he reached the Santa Cruz Mountains and finished climbing. No longer a beginning, but nowhere near an end.

The man of the house was there to open the front door before he had a chance to knock. Woz had gained a lot of weight but not as much as he would soon. Some men eat when stressed while others starve.

Woz said, “I recognized the rumble. I used to drive a Datsun. What a piece of crap.”

First, they finished drinking all of the beer that Zeno had brought. Next, out came more.

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Reason Enough

in out   The best waves in weeks were head high and pumping at Pleasure Point, reason enough for a pair of his somewhat more reliable workers to be hours late. It was a common enough occurrence in an environment where no reasonable explanation was to be expected, not from a dedicated Santa Cruz surfer. Landlocked expectations do not technically adhere to moving surfboards when thrashed by sets of gnarly waves originating in the Sea of Japan. Zeno could only hope that at least one of them would show up at some point. No guarantees, though. Even if Zeno’s Rolled and Twisted Dough did have an important deadline to meet by order of prickly Steve Jobs. No one of sound mind or body wanted to be on the wrong end of that spontaneous combustion.

Apple, now a corporation, was celebrating, and Steve Jobs wanted a big cake. Woz too. The company had hit one million dollars in sales for the first time, and it was still only May. They wanted more than enough cake for all comers. They were up to fifteen employees. Plus guests. Plus hangers-on. Plus strays from streets and nearby bars and alleys. They’d all want cake. And an extra piece to take home as a souvenir. The tolerable Steve Jobs would get stoned and smile at his own beneficence. Unlike the prickly Steve Jobs who did not tolerate excuses from the lame and bereft.

But what about those stalwarts Zeno could depend upon to help out in a pinch? Oh yeah, that’s right. There were none.

His predicament therefore called for quick and decisive decision action on the wing and the fly, hardly ever a good idea in astronomy or physics.

He repeated an unoriginal mantra, “I can do this.”

Zeno had no problem with any dire implications of talking to himself. He did not believe he was any more crazy than any other subnormal specimen of an unevolved species. Evolution was an imperfect process, after all, that took lots of time. Mistakes needed lots of time to be made. He was desperate because lots of time was what he lacked.

He added, “If not now, when?”

Not very deep below the surface, however, and wobbly atop it on spanking new crutches tethered to a short lease, Zeno knew he should never have attempted to slither down the steep, rocky grade in the Santa Cruz Mountains to reach his patch of blooming weed near the bottom. Where else was he going to end up other than topsy-turvy in a gully with thorns stuck to his tender ass and stubbled cheeks? He failed to recall a number of important lessons absorbed and passed on by his ancestors in escaping from slavery in Egypt. Follow a path, maintain a pace, hold tight to limbs. Don’t think too fast around sharp objects. Don’t push too hard, or too far, too near a thorny edge. And don’t be stupid and forget about the crutches. Because scuttling down a ridge on a tender ass does not qualify as climbing higher. And stupid always is and does what it is and will be.

The audible shards devoid of all wisdom that rushed like an ill wind out of his mouth while in the act of tumbling, though loud, were hard to understand. What good are cheap words after all the profits in an exchange have been swept up by numbers and pictures? Nothing intelligible he could say was going to be any match for the depths of ancient graves. He gasped from the pain in his sprained and swollen ankle. That was the result of another regrettable mistake in a bar at closing time. Like duh.

But he had plenty of time to scrub his wounds with dirt and revisit his misadventures at the chilly bottom when he could not get up. High noon passed without a smoking gun. He was left with one crutch. He crawled into a ray of sunshine that split the redwood trees. He plotted a comeback. He pulled thorns. He assessed wounds. He licked blood. Periodically, he trumpeted a weak call for assistance.

Maybe Woz would be able to persuade prickly Steve Jobs to calm down. Maybe he worried too much. Maybe it would all turn out for the best. Maybe admission to an intensive care unit under general anesthesia would induce some human kindness. Maybe one crutch was enough. Maybe if he nodded off for a spell. Maybe he’d feel better when he woke up.

Then he was shaken awake. He did not feel better. He started to abruptly feel worse. A sharp toe was attached to a cute boot. It was not tickling him.

He said, “Ow.”

“Wake up.”

“I’m up.”

“It doesn’t look like it to me.”

She kicked him again. She was grinning. She seemed to think there was something about kicking a good man when he was down that was funny. The man must have missed the joke.

“That hurt.”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“What’s wrong with you?”

“I’m the one standing on my own two feet.”

“Everything hurts.”

“What kind of lame answer is that?”

“Is that a sword in your hand?”

“What does it look like?”

“A sword.”

“Hah.”

“It looks like it’s sharp.”

“It’s a machete.”

“Very sharp.”

“I asked you a simple question?”

“Which one?”

“You’re on my property.”

“I fell.”

“You’re still on my property.”

“I didn’t start out here.”

“No one ever does.”

“What’s the machete for?”

“Cutting.”

“Is that really necessary?”

“You’re still on my property.”

“If you’ll help me up, I’ll just be on my way.”

The vast tract of property owned by her family for more than one hundred years surrounded his measly plot of loose dirt that straddled the San Andreas Fault. Her family had grown apples in the Pajaro Valley below the Santa Cruz Mountains for three generations. She had never heard of Steve Jobs or his newfangled computer. She was not impressed with the explanation. The only apples she knew or cared about were sweet and sour and delicious. Her ancestors from Croatia used to hunt the fleeing ancestors of Zeno for the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. They carried swords, not machetes, also for the purpose of cutting. But she reluctantly agreed to help him up and out as long as he enthusiastically agreed to be on his questionable way. He had to promise he would never come back. No problem there. He had just enough time to simmer the weed in the butter for only an hour less than optimal before baking all night. There was plenty of cake.

What a happy Steve Jobs never knew never hurt him.

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Coming In From The Cold

collision3  The Kid was trying to emerge out of static but found only fuzz, buzz, crackle, whir. No matter how he twisted and leaned, the shifty pirate radio station located somewhere near Ukiah that played all night music from the African diaspora eluded his fingers on the shitty radio dial in the shitty sedan from Rent-A-Wreck. It was Spring amid the rocky terrain of Northern California where the only two seasons that mattered were wet and dry, and the slick road lurched through the green hills and gulches of Mendocino. Was it light rain, low clouds, a heavy mist, a patch of fog? The rotation of a minor planet neglected to flex and accommodate changing tastes under a cold, opaque sky. But, how else is a single soul supposed to get properly attuned to a multiverse in motion without jazz after midnight? Where there is no beginning and no end, as there is, awareness in the course of meandering becomes vital to humdrum health and welfare. Even if he was trying foolishly harder than bleary eyes allowed to get back to an empty bed still no less than four hours away. It was his fault the bed would be empty, but still. Contradictions abound despite frail compensations. Unless it was gravity that was once again dropping the ball. Either way, among the many ways to go, it became more than prudent to stay on his side of the flitting white line down the middle. The trunk of the shitty sedan was amply crammed with garbage bags filled with aromatic cannabis sativa to provide extra incentive. It should have been easy to do the right thing. Yeah, right.

Then, amid the blizzard of aural snow, he clearly heard the announcement from colonial Washington

that their endless war in Viet Nam had ended for real, no bullshit this time. The ironic news was recited with requisite bitterness by the on-air deejay, a scathed veteran, who liberally sprinkled John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf into his mix alongside Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. Wake up Mendocino County. Read all about it. The emperor after taking a deep dive into chill waters has proven once again to be able to whip it out and show off that small dick to all comers. More like the olds than news, thought The Kid. Next, they’ll claim it was the cold that caused the dick to shrivel, all the dicks. Bite me, he spit.

Tribute paid to the grand wazoo, he mused, never ends. The Man wants your back torqued like a rusty Slinky falling down rickety stairs and those jerky knees scabbed over and gnarled from all the kneeling. But I ain’t marching anymore.

He was too busy assessing the cost of another oven installed in his cramped storefront on Cortland Ave. and how much leafy weed to simmer for how many hours in what relationship to peanut oil for piquant cookies with cinnamon and cardamom. But why stop there? Cardamom and turmeric in banana cupcakes would be something to live for. If that’s not all about balance, what is? Their war was never his war. His war was never meant to end. No more than his desire to lean back and hear Coltrane blow. But, rent was going up on Cortland Ave. Why not move to a larger warehouse on Bayshore Boulevard and sell wholesale exclusively? Who needs the headache of heavy foot traffic? Woz was ordering ten dozen cupcakes for The Homebrew Computing Club each week. The dweebs and geeks at Atari consumed that many moist muffins per day. The word of mouth from the chubby cheeks of Woz was pure gold, straight, no chaser. And not only the moist muffins, but the nutty granola was becoming popular in health food stores in Berkeley, Mill Valley, and Santa Cruz. The Kid was so busy he bought one of those long telephone cords that allowed him to talk while mixing dough on the other side of the room . That was how be became turned around with creamed corn caught between his sticky vanilla fingers the first time he heard from Rock Scully. Plus he had a sick desire to scratch a floury itch on his nose. What a no-no.

Rock Sully asked, “Do you know who this is?”

The Kid explained, “Not yet. It’s your job to tell me.”

“What if I tell you I’m just playing in the band?”

“Do you know you’ve called a bakery?”

“I’m the one who called, didn’t I?”

“A very busy bakery.”

“That’s why I’m calling.”

“This will only be a start if we end up getting somewhere.”

“This is Rock Scully.”

“I like the name, Rock.”

“You still don’t know.”

“You still haven’t told me.”

How was The Kid supposed to know that Rock Scully, the manager of the Grateful Dead, was a big fan of cannabis indica in his cheesy cornbread with jalapenos after a show? Plus, he ordered a large assortment of cookies to last for the duration of a European tour, eleven countries in twenty-one days. And moist muffins for the band and entourage, too. Bob Weir as it turned out was nutty for the granola. Jerry enjoyed carrot cake by the slab.

Plus, Rock Scully backed up his talk with proof in the form of a certified check that walked the walk.

Why else, pondered The Kid, would I be traveling in Mendocino after midnight? Not even the moon has the courtesy to shine. Plus, finessing cardamom is always tricky.

A clue would only occur to him later, after it was too late, and not for the first time, when the proverbial final anti-social straw leading to collapse struck like lightning because material circumstances were past due for a screwing. Gripping a moist wheel with such a loose moral structure during meandering in any evolving multiverse is bound to suck on a wet and winding road. All it takes is one damnable bump to bruise, violate, penetrate, and upset the old apple cart. Everybody knows that. You can’t trust a decent proverb anymore to deliver the goods.

The Kid declared, emphatically, “Fuck me.”

In straying from the straight and narrow, he found all four unaligned headlights fixated on the shoulder of a rocky patch, victimized by a crushed bottle in a paper bag. The multiversal nature of consciousness is such that it only takes a teeny bit of it to trigger an explosive megaton or two of damage. A formerly serviceable rear tire was punctured. He braked to a floppy stop in rimed mud under a drippy manzanita tree. There was justice, no peace.

The Kid added, “Fuck you, too.”

Because The Kid had proved sufficiently prescient, however, to pay top daily dollar for his 1969 Buick Special Deluxe 4-Door Sedan with optional faux gold and chrome, though faded, he discovered a shitty jack where it certifiably belonged, also in the rear. And a shitty spare tire to boot. The path ahead was clearly marked by crumbs. The mud that was going to stay stuck to him no matter what provided the ideal stage for his performance. Best to plunge knee deep without scruples in order to begin. Not even the shitty war in Viet Nam that ruined everything got any deeper than that.

And the big fool said, “Push on.”

As it might be expected, results under less than ideal conditions tend to suck hard. He was sodden, shriveled, shivering, bleeding by the time the last lug nut claimed the last skin on a bare knuckle. Right from the bruising start it was never going to be a fair fight. He kicked dirt and screeched and growled and caused an unholy ruckus. Not even the non-stop static spewing from the speakers could compete. Bare knuckle brawls are never fair to a loser. It only looks that way. That was not shit on the seat of his pants. It only looked that way. It made no sense to allow facts to soil a lofty view.

Still undefeated in his own mind, he snapped, “Outa my fucking way.”

He believed he had nearly finished reversing the direction of his spiritual jacking, even if only on the obtuse material plane, when he heard the eight suspicious cylinders of a domesticated Chevy rounding a curve. It sounded like a full load of gravel dropping into the pit of a parched throat. Only a clunker of a cop car resounded with menace like that.

The Kid glimpsed the flashing lights in plenty of time to do something, as if there was something better than nothing to do. Instead, he squeezed tight like an icicle and dripped. The same sad psychodrama continued to play out with the same pair of shaved legs sported by a fabled soap opera star, one of those underhanded vixens who steal the show. Meanwhile, the lingering smell wafting from the trunk posed a metaphysical dilemma. No mere huffing and puffing was going to rise up and blow away a spiraling tornado. The Kid conjured streaks of red and blue and yellow and green to dwell upon. Anything but the ashen gray of iron bars.

He reiterated, “Fuck me.”

Who was it who proved that base fear and stupidity roil the material plane and tend to ruin the two top dimensions with lids? Oh yeah, it was Einstein. Roil is a law of nature. It figures, as The Kid recalled. I’m fucked.

But, did he dwell some more on the profoundly negative? Why not? What else was he equipped to do while uncontrollably shivering? Until, that is, a glimmer of hope appeared just a few feet away. He discovered he was not alone in suffering. It is often comforting to share misery with mixed company. A fuzzy apparition in black and white appeared in the refracted light. Unless that aura was a halo. An irate skunk reared up higher than the average dancing bear to register a complaint. Was that a final straw of her own she was grasping? Mama skunks do get that way around intruders. What mama wants to put up with a lot of loud noise from a troublemaker that awakens fussy babies? Mamas need their rest, too.

A skunk is accustomed to having its own way. No sly fox will mess with a skunk. No wily coyote, cougar, or big buck. Not even a dancing bear. Any everyday ordinary skunk is able to saturate a moving bulls-eye out of either of two equal assholes without blinking. No biggie. Just aim and let loose. No motion wasted. After forty million years of practice, it’s hard to miss.

But, did The Kid possess the wisdom learned by his more experienced betters? Fuck, no.

As a member of a superior species known to be great self appointed thinkers he acknowledged no betters. So he thought it over in a flash. He and his impulsive kind had been around for a whole hundred thousand years. Did a whole shit load of heavy thinking right from the start. He believed what he did next was bound to be for the best. Ain’t no stopping a hefty human brain in action. This was war. He stood tall and kicked mud in the face of a skunk.

If that’s not a learning experience, what could it be?

And then, when what it is turned sour, and fast, and he began to suffer like an infidel for his ungodly beliefs, because who deserved it more, he started to cry. He knew for sure he was eternally damned. That shit that stinks also burns. It leaves a marked, rancid trail. He tried to abandon the clothes on his back. He would need to cut off all of his long hair. A hole for burying would come in handy. He would need to grow new and improved skin. Maybe a heart and lungs. He puked on his pants and dropped trou and stepped away from his tighty whities. Gross.

Which was the initial image witnessed by the sharp eyes of Mendocino County Deputy Sheriff Rod McDonald as he pulled up to the scene. It appeared at first to be no more than a filthy hippie dancing naked in mud, probably another lunatic on LSD. Hardly worth the paperwork. Rod McDonald patrolled a regular route from Willits to the Sonoma County line at 2 AM most mornings. But it was not a regular night for Rod McDonald. He was born in Boonville and had lived in Mendocino County for all of his twenty seven years. Except for one gung-ho year in Viet Nam. The words still made him gag. He did not need to be reminded. He had no problem with working the late night shift. He did not go out of his way looking for trouble but he knew what to do when he found it.

But when he opened his door, he gagged again. Uh-uh, he decided. Not me, not tonight. This is one filthy hippie who is on his own.

Rod McDonald left the scene, no crime.

Chalk up another victory for Ho Chi Minh. And The Kid.

Maybe he won’t turn out to be as dumb as he looks after all.

.

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Hot and Cold Running

mirage      Impresario Steve Wynn was not easy to satisfy. Big leading to bigger was only a beginning between more to come. But, he was temporarily satisfied so far. The view from the penthouse suite atop his ground-breaking Mirage Hotel sparkled with the astonishing light of his desert. It was his, not hers, or theirs, or yours, because who else would turn nothing into something like that? Add some ultra-hyped zing and some zest, a slew of pyrotechnical gizmos and doodads, jokes, jokers, and royal flushers, a waterfall, a moat, a castle, a clown, and a barrel spilling over the top with scads of monkeys performing razzmatazz with pizzazz, and what do you get? Astounding profit, that’s what, sharp, keen, and straight to the astonishing roundabout point.

“You know me. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”

He poured more champagne and toasted his shrewd guest, Michael Milken. He offered a plate of colorful cookies with oddly spiced cranberry chips as they each pondered the vast potential of growth in endless stocks of shifting sand, and took another cookie for himself. Good, smart cookies were easy to come by, but Michael Milken was a lot smarter then an ordinary smart cookie. He was not afraid to get his hands dirty doing the hard dirty work. He knew how to shake and harvest greenback dollars from neglected trees stripped of bark and leaves. Sticks, and stones, and bones, too, it seemed. How would the grandeur of The Mirage have ever been able to appear out of nowhere without Michael Milken and his glorious junk bonds? Steve Wynn knew how to pick a winner, all right. Less than two months until opening day. He lifted a crystal flute in salute.

Michael Milken admired the view as well, the long view. That, and the champagne, the short view. He knew he was going to prison soon, served up as a scapegoat by jealous competitors and crooked politicians, but he could take it. And he never forgot names and faces. And he knew he would get out, and come out, ahead.

He listened with half an ear as Steve Wynn dispatched a nuisance call with wit and aplomb. Who doesn’t understand what that’s like? You can tell a lot about a man by how he refuses to play nice in a sandbox with others.

Steve Wynn griped, “I need to come up with a better strategy to get rid of this pest Trump who keeps trying to horn in on my action out here.”

“Pest is a nice way to put putz.”

“You know him?”

“Everyone knows him, but no one wants to.”

“He’s got nothing but balls to offer.”

“Half of nothing.”

“Wisdom like Moses there.”

“You probably mean Solomon.”

“Another heavy hitter.”

The Mirage was going to be the biggest, the best, no whining. High rollers needed a lot of room to spread out and flex and shoot off wads. Trump was peanuts back east in Flushing on streets filled with dog shit atop piles of real snow. A faux volcano was going to erupt four times every hour in front of the Mirage when the lights were turned on. Not just any lights but lights the equal to stars. White tigers and straws with top hats to stir the drinks, too. Tap dancing Mr. Peanut Trump was never going to get anywhere close in the long run.

“I only admire persistence to a point.”

“When it’s yours.”

“Or will be.”

“It has to make some sense.”

“I’ve got gnats flitting all over me. You know how parasites are attracted to pure wholesome protein. We’re not even open yet and anyone with the vision to think straight can see from close up Vegas is where it’s going to be at, baby. Who doesn’t want a piece of that? Anybodies and nobodies, too. I got this guy camped out in my waiting room who bakes these cookies and thinks he’s going to get to see me because he knows somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody.”

“Who’s supposed to know something about something you can’t live without.”

“As if I’m ever going to have time to see him”

“Good cookies, though.’

“Good, but not great.”

El Kid knew his cookies were not great. He was still trying to reach far and wide enough to get there. High, too. He knew how to mix, and stir, and blend, and often whir, and how to taste more than a bit of bittersweetness, but not always how to let it be. He was constantly tinkering with his spices, never right, never exactly wrong, as if spices represented the vortex by which gravity pulled the cockeyed earth.

For the lucky seventh time, he approached the receptionist who bubbled behind the gilt desk, and offered, “Have another cookie.”

Who of sound mind was going say no to a pure and natural cookie right out of the box with no strings attached?

She said, “Maybe just one more.”

“Nothing wrong with pure and natural ingredients.”

“It’s tingling my tongue.”

El Kid knew a little bit about how to bite, and scratch, and claw, too. And fake an authentic smile. He was lucky enough to learn that early in a tough town. He thought he was going to succeed in getting to see Steve Wynn not only because he knew Sweet Lady Jane, who had already won unanimous approval for her chocolate tacos, mocha cupcakes, and cinnamon bobka from Steve Wynn, the only vote to count, and not only because Sweet Lady Jane knew Thom Roger, the lead interior designer for The Mirage, who used to have an office on Melrose Ave. next door to her great bakery in West Hollywood, and not only because Thom Roger knew Steve Wynn who had known Roger’s father in Las Vegas for many years, but mostly because he wasn’t going to give up. He had refused to quit while staying put, and he had endured humiliation lots of shitty times before.

“Tingling is good You can put in a good word for tingling with your boss.”

“I’ll do my best.”

She politely kicked him out of her office at five o’clock, though, with the unfortunate message that Mr. Wynn had been mysteriously called away and was gone for the day, which was in fact not a lie, a first.

El Kid might have let slip out at the next opportunity when inside the next elevator going miserably down alone, which was not a question, “What the fuck.”

He crossed The Strip on foot revisiting the eternal loop that skipped in his head, do I stay or do I go? A bus beeped and a minivan blew a warning, beware. He pushed against the nearest revolving door and followed a crooked highway into the bowels of a casino. Speak up, no shirking, you dope. Murderous expectations for tomorrow, about the same. Unintended consequences unaccountable. You won’t find out until the last second before you’re dead. Pick a number, any number. Don’t pretend not to peek.

He was too hot, too dry, too flattened to come up with a convincing response to a nolo contendere plea. Fake trickle down is grueling to harvest when baked on brick pavement by a desert fighting back by any means necessary. He tried not to forget it is what it is.

He took a seat at the sports book at Harrah’s, where seats were many and asses in them few, and perused the odds on the neon board. The pivotal third game of the 1989 World Series was about to begin on an array of screens populating the amphitheater, A’s versus Giants, two sides of the San Francisco Bay. As a recently confirmed resident of the Santa Cruz Mountains, El Kid was a fan of both. South Bay, too. He gulped a free beer that was worth it, and mused, why not a better beer? Why not add spices? The shifting numbers on the board seemed to be slanted at an obtuse dialogue. Unless that was only Socrates getting the shaft again. Lucky for El Kid he wasn’t playing odds.

Baseball is a complex game of decision making in tight situations where simultaneous variables travel at high speed to impact at junctures that hurt. Simple enough. Who hasn’t been spiked, beaned, battered, bruised, broken? Or whiffed on a deceptive pitch and struck out?

El Kid arose from his comfortable seat to place his bet in memory of Joe Avirgan, a man who worshiped at the altar of a home run in the bottom of the ninth. He was betting on not only power but speed. No odds were able to stand up to that.

And then the Bay Bridge fell down on the big screen in front of his wide eyes that would never be able to close in the same way again.

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Kant Say

fib3     The Kid was hoofing it back to his car through a concrete tunnel that smelled like dog shit, cat piss, rancid cooking oil, and the original adobe bricks pitched as weapons against the carbine carrying conquistadors. He was wearing his expensive Italian shoes that hurt his feet, and pleated, itchy wool pants stitched in Bangladesh. He was only partially distracted by calculating the big numbers in his small head from a big day in sales when he experienced a brief unsettling episode of a recurring event, often mistaken for a deep thought, asking where am I? Some recurring questions are perennially hard to answer on a satisfying, ongoing basis. Why wool pants on a hot day in August? It was a highly meaningful personal question worthy of an imperative answer with its derivation deep in the metaphysics of his sweaty balls, but was it universal as well? Or just another contradiction. The cooking oil he smelled was the deadly, hydrogenated kind that clogs arteries, grows nodes, and corrodes bones, the wily cats descendants of mutant coyotes. But, that wasn’t it either. Wool and L.A. are almost never a good combination. He already knew that categorically, which is why he did not recklessly ask why more often than absolutely necessary. It was just as easy and satisfying to blame the heat and smog rising. Sort of.

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