Fishing Tales



It was dusk overlooking the pond. Paul and I were just sitting and reminiscing about our last short fishing trip, and kicking back with a beer or three. We both knew from experience that the night would grow darker, our vision would begin to fail us, and the size of the day’s catch would expand greatly. “It was this big…” with hands stretched wide, describing a thrown-back perch. Paul was the one who had introduced me to hand fishing, and it became a meditation practice we could both get into.

The idea is similar to tickling trout, which I learned from a rig hand while working on an oil rig in the Rockies. He had me wade into an incredibly cold stream and wait patiently for the fish to return after the shock of a human foot or two invading the realm. When the trout started swimming again, I leaned over and dipped my hands into the water, oh so slowly. As they began to freeze and I felt myself entering hypothermic shock, I would slide my hands under a trout. With fingertips just barely moving, I would stroke the belly of the fish. After hypnotizing the little bugger, I could flip it out of the water and hopefully onto the bank of the stream.

Well, down here on flat land, Paul and I had no ice cold Rocky Mountain trout stream, but we did have this great big shallow pond. Just for a hoot, we would wade out into the shallows and stand there waiting for anything wet to move by us. It was usually a fish, but there was the odd crawdad and the occasional mayfly larva. The rule was, if it moved, it was fair game. Size won out for fish, but weirdness won out for everything else. Today had been perch. Little perch. That made it a good day for beer.

I pulled another one from the cooler, and began to spin a tale of fish fighting back with sucker-laden heads and weight that would pull you under if you were the unbalanced type. At one point, I had beer spraying out of Pauls nose with a story about a fish with green eyes and eyelashes that would blink seductively as I stood in the water over it, hands extended and back bent. “Honest to God,” I said. “She blinked at me with those lashes, and blew me a fish kiss that came out as a bubble that made it to the surface. I think it might have actually been a proto-mermaid. You know, not yet fully evolved. Eyes and lips, yes, but no arms or hair yet. I’ll have to get back there some day to see if she remembers me, or has grown any bigger.”

An empty can came sailing over the space between us, and Paul scored a direct hit on my forehead. “You’re a lying bastard,” he said. “That was no proto-mermaid. You’re daft enough to have stayed right there and tried to seduce a fish if it had blinked up at you and blown you a kiss. There is no way you would have left that there without trying to marry it. It’s probably the only thing that’s blown you a kiss in the last five years.”

Impugning my character and dismissing my manner with the womens was definitely a breach of fishing etiquette. I reached up and over into the cooler for another beer, getting ready to spray my fishing partner with a sacrificial beer, when we heard a distinct plop from the pond. Both of us sat up in our haze and peered into the shallows. There before us was a school of our little perch cuties, mouths working and bubbles bubbling. There must have been a couple of dozen of them, none of them bigger than your hand, but all with the most distinctive green eyes you could possibly imagine. They were lined up, all facing the shore of the pond, as if they had listened to what we were saying.

I looked at Paul, he looked at me, and we both burst out laughing as hard as we could. Tears in eyes and all. It was loud enough to scare our fish away from the edge, and we collapsed back onto the grass. “Okay,” I said, “you can never use this in a story from now on. This one’s done, and you can only top it at the next fishing party.”

Paul agreed to the rule, and so it became our job to outdo each other in the tall tales after fishing. I came up with the sewer gator that I caught on a ten-pound test line, and Paul eventually beat me with a story about using his brand new baby girl as bait in fishing for catfish on the Missouri River. We still stopped by to harass the perch in our favorite pond, but the green-eyed lovelies never reappeared.





After the storm, we all came out of the shelters to assess the damage.  It would have been easier to assess the remains, as there were fewer of those.  All of the adults who had sheltered their families in the ground stood about with sunken eyes and swayed on their feet as though the winds hadn’t finished with them.

I stood next to my neighbor lady and reached out to hold her.  As my fingers touched the back of her hand, she flinched, and a cry came out of her mouth, sounding like a young chick.  That little peep of terror was all that was left of her former life.  She turned her head toward me, mouth agape, and dropped to the ground.  There was a run of aluminum gutter under her, but she didn’t notice.  Her two kids were wandering around, picking at the debris and playing King of the Hill on a pile that looked like it might have been the grocery store from four blocks away.  How it ended up here was fascinating to the kids.

There was a sudden stillness to everything, as though the strength of the storm had used up all of the air, and it was waiting to recover.  A siren wailed in the distance, but someone must have realized how stupid it was to have it running, and it stopped.  We stood, or sat, and waited for the world to come and help us.

Come they did.  First were the neighbors from a couple of blocks over coming to see if everyone else had been wrecked.  They asked if we were okay, and we asked back.  Then came the fire trucks and police and ambulances, but they took a look and went off to where they were needed and could do some good.

I attached myself to the neighbors and we all went trooping off to see if we could do any good.  The stunned neighbor got up and gathered her kids and joined our little mob.  We attracted others who came through in one piece, and we just traipsed around, growing in size.

There were over fifty of us when we came to the empty lot where that grocery store belonged.  It must have been picked up straight by the wind because there were shelves standing up on the floor with goods still stacked on them, all alone in the open air.  The police cars  and ambulances were parked in the parking lot, setting up a command post.  One of us went over and talked to them for a second and then reported back.  They said it would be just a little while before they were ready.  I said to our mob, “Ready for what?”

It was summer, or we would have been in a world of hurt.  We all slept outside on piles of stuff we found and pushed together into beds.  The kids tried bouncing on it, but found the stuff lacking, so they lay down and went to sleep.  The mob mostly sat around talking quietly.

In the morning, FEMA showed up and took over for the cops and fire department.  We all lined up and gave our name and address.  What they would do with that was going to be interesting, seeing as how there wasn’t any such thing as an address left in the town.  They brought along the Red Cross, and those kind folks fed us and set up tents and gave us showers and toilets.  The kids ran around exploring and getting under foot.

One of the FEMA folks came over to the mob and called out some names.  They had papers that we signed, and they gave us checks for money.  I tucked mine in my pocket and went over to the Red Cross to get a cup of coffee.  The nice lady took my name and wrote it down on a clipboard and gave me a paper cup of pretty good coffee and a big cookie.  I thanked her.  My neighbor lady was there getting a big tray of food for herself and the kids.  She still looked like she couldn’t do much more than peep, but she steered herself back to her kids and they all ate a late breakfast.

The rescue folks set up a bus so we could go shopping for stuff we needed or wanted.  There was a mall a couple of towns over that hadn’t been hit, and the mob invaded it.  I took my check up to the window of the bank in the mall and cashed it in.  I asked for small bills, so it took a while.  They brought it to me in a bag, and looked at me a bit funny.  I stopped off at Staples before we got back onto the bus and headed back to the blasted zone.

When the Red Cross Lady came around the next morning, I had been up for a couple of hours already.  She stood for a while, watching me as I rolled up each dollar bill and taped it into a cylinder.  I had connected about a thousand dollars together into sticks using the tape from Staples, and I was well on my way to building myself a new house when the ambulance folks came by to admire my work.  I smiled up at them from where I sat inside the frame of my little house and asked them if they wanted a cup of coffee from the nice Red Cross lady.

Two months after I got out of the hospital, I got a letter in the mail.  I picked it up in the grocery store parking lot where the police and ambulance had set up.  It was a bill from the Red Cross for five dollars and twenty five cents for the coffee and cookie.

Sweet Caroline


The tide was in, so I had to set up above the high tide mark.  Technically, I was trespassing, but there was no one around, and my intentions were honorable.  I had brought along the old wicker hamper to carry everything in style.  There was even a thing to keep the wine chilled.

I had dropped anchor just a hundred yards off shore, and as I said, the tide was in, so there was plenty of water under the keel.  I could enjoy a leisurely steak on the beach cooked over a driftwood fire, and the wine, and a couple of ears of corn I had bought at the farm stand on the way to the boat.  The cove had appeared at the perfect moment and called to me.  “Dinner time.”

The steak had gotten a quick salt and pepper rub, then onto the grill.  I got up to dip the ears of corn in the water of the cove, then wrapped the ears in tin foil and threw them into the fire near the edge.  A big knot in the wood popped and sent sparks flying, then everything settled down and I had time to sit back and relax.  The water was still, and a slight salt breeze was blowing in.

I pulled the bottle out of the chiller and uncorked it.  I was being quite gauche this evening, drinking a white wine with a steak, but it was my favorite, and what was the point of hoarding two cases of wine on board if a bottle didn’t disappear every once in a while.  The smoky tone of the Pouilly-Fumé would go well with the steak.

“You’re trespassing, you know.”

I almost dropped the bottle, which would have been a great shame.  Turning over my shoulder, I saw a woman about my age standing at the edge of the beach grass, not frowning at me but instead looking very confident.

I decided that discretion would help in such a delicate situation.

“In that case, could I offer you a glass of wine, and an explanation?  I have very little else to give.”  I held up a glass in invitation.

She came forward somewhat reluctantly, probably thinking that it was going to be a simple matter of shooing someone off her beach.  She was very nicely dressed, and I hoped that my little beach party hadn’t interrupted her big house party or something.  The long skirt made it awkward for her, but she sat down as I scooted over and made room by the fire.  I handed over the glass.

“My name is Finn”, I said, “and I sailed over in that.”  I pointed to the big boat.  “I came ashore in that.”  I pointed to the dinghy that had been dragged up on the beach.  “I had hoped that this section of the cove would be deserted and I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone.  I thought the tide would cooperate a bit more than it did so that I could remain legal.”

“I’m Caroline”, she said.  “The big house over there is my family’s.  They like to stay the private lot.  I suspect they won’t mind all that much if you have dinner on their sand.”

She took a sip of the wine, raised an eyebrow, and took another.

“Jeeze, that’s good.  What is it?”

I poured myself a glass and handed her the bottle.  “It’s a French white, Pouilly-Fumé from 1987.  I discovered it on a road trip in Pennsylvania, and find it hard to drink anything else now.  It helps that I stocked the boat with it.  Actually, if you’re not going to arrest me, the steak is done.  Do you have time to join me for dinner?”

Caroline looked back over the dunes, and then down at the glass in her hand.  The decision didn’t appear to be a big one.

“They won’t miss me, I guess.  And I am a bit hungry.  Would I be imposing?”

“Not at all.  It’s not often that I get to sit and relax with nice company and enjoy a warm evening on the water.”

I bustled about and did domestic things, then we settled back with steak, corn and wine.  The perfect beach dinner.

She looked out over the water.  “That’s quite the boat you’ve got there.  Don’t you need a crew to handle it?”

“No,” I said.  “She’s a cutter-rigged sloop, a Peterson 44.  I can single-hand a center cockpit boat of any size if it’s set up right.  All of the lines come back to the cockpit winches, right next to the wheel.  I never have to leave the wheel unless it’s to weigh anchor or change sails.  And I’m careful.”

“You sound very confident, and I suppose your presence on my beach means you’re competent also.  I don’t have to be anywhere tonight.  Would you show me the boat?”

My heart soared.  I couldn’t believe she would be so bold.  Then my heart was in my throat.  What condition had I left the boat in?  I hoped for less than slovenly.

Caroline helped me polish off the bottle and pack up the hamper.  We stowed it in the dinghy and doused the fire.  The trip out to the boat took just a few minutes.

I came around to the stern ladder, and tied us off with the painter.  I offered a hand, and Caroline stepped over.

“BOBBIN’?”, she asked.  “That’s a funny name for a boat.”

“It’s an homage.”

I got Caroline settled on a cushion in the cockpit.  Everything was still set up, as I hadn’t planned to sleep over.  Winch handles in place, sails furled.  I started the engine and headed up to the bow.  The anchor was on an electric windlass, and I stepped on the switch to free us.  It spent a minute grinding away before the anchor came up out of the water covered in sulfurous black mud.  I dunked it back in a few times until it was clean, then raised it up into the bow chock.  Back in the cockpit, I put the motor in gear and headed us away from shore.

I wanted to show Caroline the joys of single-handed sailing.

“Watch this,” I said.

I cut the engine.  I cranked on one winch, and the mainsail crawled out of the mast on the roller furling gear.  It caught the wind, which brought it out the rest of the way with a big “whoomp”.  I released the main sheet on another winch so the sail would slacken off.  Then I cranked out the genoa, and it repeated the sound as the wind caught it.  The boat heeled over a bit, and I hauled in the main.  We were going eight knots before we knew it.  Caroline clapped and cheered at my performance.

“That’s quite a trick!”, she said.

“Piece of cake, after twenty years of practice.”  False modesty suited the occasion.

We sailed along in the dusk, a warm breeze carrying us around offshore for the next hour or so.  Caroline ended up next to me behind the big wheel, and she turned out to be quite the sailor herself.  I suspect that she knew more about boats than she had let on.  She was able to keep us pointed into the wind without luffing, and made all of the appropriate sounds whenever we came about.

It was getting late, and we headed back to the little cove.  I winched the genoa in, and shortened the main to a small triangle close to the mast.  Just enough sail to creep ahead.  I headed forward and released the anchor, and it clattered down to hold us.  The little bit of headway brought the bow about, and Bobbin’ was pointed back out to sea.

The trip to shore in the dinghy was subdued.  It had been a wonderful evening, and neither of us seemed to want it to end.  I held Caroline’s hand as she stepped back onto the sand, and reached back into the dinghy.  I turned back to her with a bottle in my hand.

“Thanks for not having me arrested,” I said.  “This is for you.”

She took the bottle of Pouilly-Fumé and smiled.

“Thank you for a wonderful evening.  I had fun.  If you’re ever back in the area, call me.  You can moor at the dock next time.”

She leaned forward, and we kissed.  Just friends.

She turned and headed back to the big house, and I putted back out to my big boat.  With the anchor raised and the sails set, I headed out toward Block Island and away from Hyannis, the moon over my shoulder and a warm breeze brushing my smile.


3-6-14 The prompt: Slow down, breath in, breath out. Relax, and start along the road

Rajinder Singh

     The kicking started in when we were ten miles into the trip from Putney to Chicago. It was me and Joanie in the front, Emma Rose in the back with a friend of Joanie’s and her son, the little fucker.
This was to be an awesome road trip, a “We’re off to see the Wizard” trip to see Master Raji dedicate the new meditation center in Naperville, outside of Chicago, and to get yours-truly initiated. We had all started off smiling and giddy with anticipation. Then the kicking started.

I have since forgotten the name of the little fucker and his mother. I’m not actually very surprised about this. It was traumatic to be traveling with spiritually evolved people who had no concept of what it meant to guide their progeny and teach them the lessons of living in the world while seeking spiritual awakening. The kid had free reign, and he knew it.

We were traveling west into the sunset. I was going to be the main driver, so we were all packed into “Bubbles”, the Ford Festiva that was my first actually new car. It was Katie who named the car, but she wasn’t along on this voyage. I suspect that she was spending spring vacation with Grandma down on Long Island. The lack of memory on occasions like this doesn’t worry me. I’ll just have to resign myself to being a very iffy memoirist.

So I’m in the driver’s seat, and Joanie is beside me up front. Emma Rose got to sit behind her mom, with the little fucker behind me and his mom on the hump in the middle. Her least redeeming feature was the partnership she had decided to form with her son in determining the path of their life together. I had learned years before with Katie that a decision-making partnership with a four year old kid is a bad idea. Mom in the back seat hadn’t received that memo.

We had gotten as far as I-91 South when the unruly tike decided that it would be amusing, for no real reason, to kick the back of the seat in front of him. Not one kick, but that rhythmic hobbyhorse thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk that came with swinging the leg back and forth repeatedly with no end in sight. I made the fateful error of objecting.

“Could you ask your son to stop kicking the back of my seat, please? It’s very annoying.” I was in full diplomatic mode, and practicing politeness so I could model it for the youngsters. It’s always good on a long road trip to model good behavior and teach the children well.

“Are you sure that it’s him?” said mom. What the hell, she was sitting right next to him.

“I’m pretty sure it’s not you, and the bumps in the highway aren’t big enough to feel like that. I’d really appreciate it if you could get him to stop, otherwise it’s going to be a very long trip in this very small car.”

Mom did something subtle with her hand in the back seat, and the kicking stopped for a bit. We cruised on toward our date with bliss.

Joanie was an old hand at this, having been initiated by Master Kirpal Singh in the early eighties. When he died, the mantle was passed down to his son Rajinder, hence the Master Raji moniker. He was the most recent in the lineage of Sikh mystical teachers of this magical meditation that I was learning. Joanie was a good teacher, and there was a great incentive to learn when she told me one day that she couldn’t imagine a relationship with someone who wasn’t a devotee of her master and the path of spirituality. Not wanting to have wasted the past many months of getting to know her and peering forward into a hopeful future, I asked the question.

“Who is this Master Kirpal that you keep mentioning, and what does he do?”

Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. The little fucker had woken up from the car-induced nap that he had been taking, and was back at it. I looked back at his mom in the back seat, reading her book and oblivious to everything around her.

“Uh, could you do to your son what you did before when you got him to stop kicking me in the butt, please?” I was a bit more pointed in my plea with her, and unapologetic. The little fucker kept it up for another two minutes or so, then tapered off. Mom went back to her book.

I had been meditating with Joanie’s group for about a year when she announced the impending opening of the new meditation center outside of Chicago that would serve as the US center for the initiated and their outreach in the States. She declared me ready for initiation, and we had planned the trip together. I had high hopes for the trip, and also for the aftermath.

Thunk-thunk-thunk-thunk. It was going to be a long trip. When we finally got there I sat in meditation with Master Rajinder and the fifty other initiates. When he touched me on the forehead while I sat with my eyes closed and asked me if I heard the Music of the Spheres, I lied.

Hey, Sweetie, Guess What Followed Me Home?


1-16-14  Use the phrase “I never wanted that in the first place.”


I was bound and determined to do it, and Vera was bound and determined that I not.  So it goes.  We survived, but barely.

The first shipment took two weeks to arrive at the post office.  Mary called up to the house and asked that I come down as soon as possible, as the little critters were a bit noisier than the biddies they usually got in the spring, and the locals were getting curious and insistent.

I got down to the post office after supper time, and picked up the five boxes with the air holes in the sides and warning stickers saying “LIVE PRODUCT” on all sides.  As if you couldn’t tell from the sound and smell.  They went into the back of the pickup and all of us headed back over to the farm.  The locals were left in the dust, rubbernecking as a gang on the front sidewalk.

I had everything ready for the brood when I pulled in to the barn.  The cages had feed and water and litter and heat lamps.  It looked professional, alright.  I always said, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth over-doing.

I dragged the first box to the tailgate, and carefully opened it.  Eighteen of the twenty chinchillas had survived the trip.  I felt bad for them having to travel with their dear departed brothers, but I steeled my soul for the commercial venture, and picked the little rodents up and put them down again, four to a cage.  I had to sex the little buggers as I went, which really meant just turning them over and squeezing a bit.  Boys in this cage, girls in that one.  I was hoping for a bumper crop of girls, cause they could have babies and the boys were along just to speed up the process.  As it turned out, the literature was right and I got just about even with the numbers.  Oh, well.

I had ordered a hundred of the little critters, and ended up with ninety two.  Pretty good, I thought.  With their gestation period, I would be okay within a couple of months, and I’d be in full swing by the October harvest season.

I made sure the cages were all secured and headed into the house.  Vera headed me right back out, and I had to shuck off out in the barn and put on the clothes she threw out to me.  She seemed to be in a bit of a pique.  Once formally attired, I took a second stab at it and made it to the laundry.  I didn’t ask permission, just went ahead with it and accepted the consequences.

Over supper, Vera and I discussed the economics of chinchilla farming.  I had memorized the contents of the brochures, and had a shiny blue binder they had sent me from the ad in the back of the magazine.  Vera’s arguments fell like dominos, and yet I had an unsettled feeling that it was all a set-up.  I was sure as I could be that this was the one that was going to put us over the top.  How could you go wrong supplying the furriers of New York with premium pelts?  The Russians had been doing it for decades with minks and sables and all that.  What made them better than me?  Nothing!

Come May, I had my first litter of baby chinchillas.  It was a good thing, too.  I was down to seventy-five of the little guys, and had spent a fortune on fencing off the barn to keep the foxes and fisher cats out.  Who knew?  The babies were little, but there were six of them and I was in business. They brought me back up to eighty one.  All I needed now was a continuous stream of girls chinchillas to give birth, and I’d be rolling in it.  I had the phone number for the furrier tacked up on the wall, just ready for the call.

I headed back into the house, and gave Vera a call at her mother’s.  She insisted she wasn’t coming back until I got a second washer and got a clothes line up.  I heated up a can of Chef Boy-Ar-Dee on the stove and fell asleep in the chair in front of the TV.

July was a hot one.  I lost a bit of the crop to the heat when they ran out of water by accident.  I rigged up a self-watering system for the little bastards, and hoped for another bout of births as soon as possible.  I drew some hope from the fact that I was still ahead of the game.  There were 157 rodents in the barn, and I was getting happy again.

Come October, I crated up the crop and drove them over to the processing center.  I squoze in between two semi trucks and stacked the crates myself.  There weren’t enough for a forklift.  I looked over my shoulder as I left, but just couldn’t get a tear to come to my eye. On the way back, I stopped down to the bank and then over to the mall.

Vera met me at the door when I got back up to the house.  Gee, she looked good.  She sure was surprised with the fox fur coat I got her as a forgive-me present.  “You’re forgiven, but I told you I never wanted that in the first place.  Now take me out to dinner.  There’s nothing in the house but Chef Boy-Ar-Dee.”





1-30-14 “What have I forgotten?”
Use this phrase for the narrator or character.


Target Ball

“Okay, let’s do the checklist. Glasses?”






“Cell phone?”


Why, oh why, did we have to go over this every time I left the house? I was a grown adult, and such attention was demeaning. You’d think that somewhere along the way I had started exhibiting symptoms of early-onset Oldtimer’s Disease. Linda always said it was just to be sure, and didn’t I remember that Thursday seven years ago when I forgot my reading glasses and was in a tizzy for hours? There must be something. What had I forgotten? I accepted it as a sign of her love and affection.

I actually did remember that useless information from seven long years ago, and couldn’t forget it even if I wanted to because it was the sole event that Linda could hit me over the head with to remind me of how feeble I was in my dotage. One of these days I’ll have to Google “dotage” to see if it’s still in the OED and in common use. I’ll also have to do the Vulcan Mind Meld on Linda to see why she thinks I’m still losing it after seven years. Till then, it’s easiest just to go along with it and get out of the house.

It was a quick trip to the mall to get a book and more bedside snacks. Nothing with too many crumbs, mind you. Although it was mid-winter still, crumbs in the bed would drop the temperature in the bedroom forty degrees in a second, and it would take smoochies from yours truly and a good hoovering to get the warmth back that I was used to and so deserved.

I parked the car and headed in to Target for snacks, then a quick browse through Best Buy and a stroll through the mall to see which stores had died recently. By the time I hit Penney’s, I was shopped out and decided to move on to the next big thing. I headed outside from the Penney’s end of the mall and strolled in the chill back to the car.

The car. I parked it near Target. I remember that I drove it here, got out, locked the door and headed in to get provisions. Ipso Fatso, the car is parked in the parking lot. And also following from that, here I stand in the parking lot and I should be seeing my car. Hello? Car?

Now, my car is my pride and joy. I love my car. I would know my car from a thousand yards away. Yet here, standing on the sidewalk by Target, it seems that every resident of Hamster County has decided to go shopping, and spread before me is a sea of multi-hued steel. Big cars, little cars, SUVs, pickups, there was even a Megabus waiting for cheapskates going to New York. So what had they done with my car?

I’m an intellectual. I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable person, with a good education and a balanced world view. This was not a crisis. It was a minor inconvenience. And I most certainly had not forgotten something as simple as where I parked the car. There was a logical answer to this, and a rational method to solve the puzzle.

My first thought was that somehow, God had played Rubiks Cube with all of the cars in the parking lot and I just had to unscramble time and space to get home again. I did that reality check thing first, just to be sure that I was standing in my Universe, and hadn’t been beamed up to the Mother Ship. I did a 360, scanning my environs and confirming that I was on Earth. A quick glance at my watch confirmed the time and date. I had to trust that I had the year correct, because my watch didn’t go that far.

Action plan. There was this big red concrete ball outside the store that lets you know that you’re shopping at the right place. I stood upon the orb and did a slow sweep of the lot. Little car? Are you there?

No little car in sight. I figure I had wasted about forty minutes in my quest, and was ready for action. Being methodical, I started at the farthest reaches of the lot in which I could have possibly parked the car. I thought at first that I should use the spiral method and pick the geometric center of the lot and spiral out toward the edges until I had at last found my little car, but that seemed excessive. A row at a time would be tedious but probably best for all concerned. I started off. Up row one, employing pattern recognition to discover my very unique car. Down row two, up row three. There were a few thousand cars in this frigging lot, and it was my lot to look at them all. Down row four, and I had to back up a few cars because I had spaced out for a sec there and didn’t remember looking at the last four or five. Sue me.

Up row five, and the cars are parked almost all the way to the end of the lot now. Turn and head down row six. I was cruising along, single minded, and thought there was something out of the corner of my eye in the next row, but I was being methodical, and couldn’t stop. All the way down row six, and back up seven.
There! My baby, waiting for me between a pickup and an SUV that were looming over her like giants from Jupiter. Who were the morons who drove these behemoths? Why couldn’t everyone drive a nice sensible car like I did?

With a smile on my face, I headed out and back home. Along the way, I stopped for gas and checked the oil just to let her know that I was thinking of her. I headed back to my other sweetie, the one waiting patiently at home for the most important person in her life to return and complete her. I pulled in to the garage and shut the car off. I sat for a couple of seconds, just reveling in the pleasure of my car’s company.

I turned the key in the lock and walked in to the house. Linda was at the stove, cooking for yours truly. She makes the best black bean stew in the world. I take it as proof that she loves me almost as much as I love her. She turned and smiled at me.

“You must have really had a good time,” she said. “What book did you decide to get?”


The Insider

12-19-13 The prompt:
Three words drawn at random
Elegant, multiplies, suspension, trade one to the person on your right – state of mind

It was Friday evening, and I was wrapping it up at the office. It being the holiday season, I had received an elegant tie from the Director as a thank you for not killing the company in the past year. The last guy in my position had received a suspension for four weeks without pay for being there when three of his minions had swindled the competition out of $500 million through insider knowledge. Take that, said the Director. His minions, including me, were here to do the best for the company by doing their best, not their worst. The state of mind he was looking for was ‘ripening’, not ‘rotting.’ I got the hint with the very nice tie.

I was a salesman at heart, and strove to instill in my minions the essence of customer service. Remember that the person in front of you is a customer just as much as the guy on the other end of the phone with a checkbook in his hand. We’re here to serve, and we get paid a lot of money to do it. I headed downstairs to the waiting car and driver, and thanked the guy as he held the door open for me. The drive up to Westport would take an hour and a half at this time of night, and there was booze waiting for me in the car. The service was a perk for all of the upper minions. The Director would work an hour or two more and get a helicopter from the roof to take him to the East Side. Five minutes from home versus ninety minutes. It’s good to be the king.

I sat back and wondered about it all. We were headed up the East Side Drive, past Harlem, and I looked out at the city going by on the other side of the glass. Did those folks get good customer service today, or was it just another day of shafting the little guy? Competition at my level was $500 million in stolen money. Competition in the projects and tenements was a razor and a crack pipe. What was I doing?

Somewhere in my mind it was all going stale. I was tired of making money. I wanted to make something real. REAL real. Not moving numbers from one account to another because the interest rate was better for thirty seven minutes and I could get an extra ten thousand for it. Not being driven home at the end of a long day and wanting to take a shower just to get the thought of what I was doing out of my body.

I reached into my pocket and pulled out the tie. It was definitely a power tie. A deep royal purple. It said “I don’t care what you think. Whatever it is, it must be wrong.” I pulled off the club tie I wore just because I was lazy and didn’t want to think about what kind of power a tie had. I slid the purple beauty under my collar. It was thin enough at the small end to tie a Double Windsor. I could look like Prince Charles, poor old bastard.

The driver pulled up to the house by eight, after a long introspective drive, and I got out. Elizabeth met me at the door as the car drove off.

“Don’t take anything off,” she said. “We’re invited next door for dinner in five minutes. Great tie. Did it come with a year-end bonus?”

Nice. She knew it did. Elizabeth knew where every penny was, and anticipated even more pennies coming her way through me. I wondered how she would feel if I announced tonight over dinner that I was leaving to start up a non-profit in Budapest, and we were moving overseas next week?

I had a sudden urge to go upstairs and loop my shiny new tie around the upstairs railing and take a swan dive into the foyer. Swinging there as Elizabeth came to fetch me before we were too fashionably late for dinner. It would probably be the most productive thing I did all year.

The Rising of the Moon

It is Halloween, and many of the group members are off with family and kids, doing the trick-or-treat thing.  Writing tonight seems a bit more intimate with just the four of us.  Kathy, our peerless leader, has a special Halloween prompt for us.  The fistful of paper slips are all related to the origins of the holiday in some way.


10-31-13  A slip of paper pulled from many:

“The invasion of Ulster that makes up the main action of the Táin Bó Cύailnge (Cattle Raid of Cooley) begins on Samhain.  As cattle-raiding typically was a summer activity, the invasion during this off-season surprised the Ulstermen.”





Two men huddled up against the hedgerow, deep in the dark of the night.  They had been summoned by signal light and patriotism, and both quivered with the anticipation of the coming action.  Sean, the sheep farmer, had been slowly dying under the occupying Saxons, with an acre lost one year, three the next.  The tax levies of the British were harsh, and designed to drive the farmers off the land.  Sean figured that if he was going to die anyway, why not take an honor guard of British soldiers with him.

Sean’s brother Finn was beside him, Enfield rifle in hand. It was his pride and joy. He was a business man from in town, and lived a life foreign to Sean.  The result of the occupation was the same, however.  Taxes ate up profits, supplies were becoming impossible to import, and there was little left after the Protestant imports took the land and water, trees cut down and cattle exported back to their precious Queen.  Finn had sent his entire family over to America to live with the relatives, and he need not worry that they would be taken in reprisal.  The house would go for taxes any day now, and sitting and watching the bloody Saxons loot it was not in his manner.

A whistle off across the stream brought them alert, and the two gathered their weapons about them and headed out.  Sean had brought the kitchen knives, sharpened the day before on the whetstone, and he had dug up the Webley revolver taken from an officer in an earlier skirmish.  There were scarce few shells for it, but he could shoot what he aimed at, and not a one would be wasted.  One wag had suggested that he save one for himself to deny the Brits a prisoner to be paraded, but if that meant one less dead soldier, then it was a waste and Sean was not having it.

Sean and Finn headed in a crouch across the field to meet up with their cadre.  It was in the middle of the field that they were caught in the sudden glare of headlights.  Shouts made them hesitate, and shots into the earth at their feet brought them to a halt.  The soldiers had been tipped, and the two knew that all they had planned for was to be lost after all.

A British colonel with a smirk and a riding crop swaggered forward, followed closely by ten uniformed soldiers with rifles pointed.  The colonel stopped fifteen feet before the brothers.

“In the name of the Queen, drop your weapons and you will not be harmed!”  The ease with which the colonel lied to their faces did not surprise Finn.  He had seen it all his life.  His beloved Enfield slid from his hand and fell to the grass in front of him.  Sean’s bag with the pistol and knives was slung forward, and thudded to the dirt at the feet of his captor.  The brothers stood mute and raised their hands in defeat.

At that moment the headlights of the truck went out, leaving the whole of the field in a darkness as black as a coal sack.  Sean and Finn fell to the earth and covered their heads with their arms.  The firing of guns from the edge of the field started as a fury, and continued for an eternity that was more likely ten seconds.  There was a scream off to the left of where the brothers lay, and the whip and thud of bullets hitting bodies.  The crashing of soldiers falling in death was sharp for a short while, and then silence let the brothers know it was safe to move.

The headlights came back on, and the truck moved into the field.  It stopped next to the bodies, and Sean watched as Tim Farrell and Tommy Doonan got out to start the collecting of arms.  Bodies were stripped of everything useful, and guns and uniforms filled the back of the truck.

“Can I give yiz a ride across the stream, gents?” said Tim to the brothers.

“Alright with you,” said Finn, “but next time you have to play bait and we get to steal the truck.  This is no way to win a war.”

Dope Slap

The prompt: Describe a non-verbal gesture “Slap your forehead”
Start the piece with “In the dream, you were…”


In the dream, you were slapping your forehead. The stupidity of your friend’s statement had totally thrown you. Somewhere in there was Newt Gingrich, and Fox News, and the idea that it must be true because Bill O’Reilly told him it was a no-spin zone.

You woke in a cold sweat. There are times when dreams can be too real. You expected to see Bill O’Reilly sitting in the corner with that bland blank look on his face, like he was saying “Who, me?” Your buddy would be sitting beside him, nodding to you and pointing sideways at Bill.

You drag yourself out of bed, get a glass of water, pee, go back to bed, and contemplate the last time you ever read of someone peeing in a novel. It just doesn’t happen. You would really appreciate it if some main character, not necessarily the protagonist, said in a conversation, “Excuse me, I have to pee. I’ll be right back.” That leads you off into other things not mentioned in writing, such as picking your nose or sneezing. When was the last time anyone put gas in their car in a novel? Or sat down with a sandwich at their desk?

You drift off, and you are on the set of Dexter, the TV show, and you’re coaching Dexter on how to be psychotic. “Not like that!” you say. “You can be functionally psychotic and still get the job done when you have to go off. Give your girlfriend a kiss. Don’t sweat every time you see a bad guy. Do your job and don’t act like you have something to hide every episode. Keep that up and you’re going to get caught. Hire me, I’ll show you.”

You sleep, and there is no sign of Bill O’Reilly.

In the morning, you roll out of bed, pee (see, if I can do it, you can do it!), take a shower and get dressed for the day. Your buddy is down at the coffee shop waiting for you, and you play it cool. No need to advertise the functionally psychotic thing. The conversation goes toward the government shutdown, and suddenly he’s back in your face blaming the Democrats for not negotiating in good faith. The functionality of your slight disorder heads for the surface, but you just laugh at him and pass it off as a silly statement. Back on track.

Back to work. You’re on top of a ladder, and suddenly Newt Gingrich pops back into your head. Out, out, damned Newt, you think. That paintbrush slips just a little, and you curse all base, brutal and bloody conservatives.

You know, you’re getting pretty tired of this second-person point of view. You wonder, I wonder, if anyone else carried on this long with the farce of writing about yourself to your face. You fool.

I’ll just step out here and let all you in TV land, or reading land, or whatever you call your planet, that this isn’t the easiest thing to do. If you think you can do it better, put down the remote, or the laptop, or manuscript and step over here to show me how it’s done. I’ll gladly surrender the hot seat to ye of little faith. Not you, Newt, sit down and suck on your thumb a little bit. If O’Reilly needs remedial thumb sucking lessons, you’re the one to give them. You old pro, you.

My editor just stuck his head in the door and told me not to talk to the reader. It’s like Batman on TV turning toward the camera and telling you that he knows that this is all a show, and he hopes you’re enjoying yourself. So much for the veil of imagination.

So, here I am now, having deftly changed the point of view, and I realize that I have a hand print on my forehead from slapping myself yesterday. It seems like just twenty minutes ago. I’ll have to go around all day pointing out to people that I am such a deep thinker that I slap myself out of self-realization all the time, and I’m actually thinking of getting a hand print tattooed on my forehead just to avoid the trauma of slapping myself so much.

My friends will understand, but it still seems like everyone is talking about me behind my back. Sometimes my buddy does it in front of my back, and I have to laugh that defensive laugh that I do, you know the one, that nervous one tinged with tears and regret. I’ll get back at him by being right.

Here I sit, and I wonder, what if you’re dreaming and you slap yourself in the forehead. Would you wake up with a hand print on your forehead? Sort of like dreamland stigmata. If you dream of being crucified, would you wake up with holes in your hands and rope burns on your ankles? Jesus, where did that come from?

A Lifetime Fulfilled

9-19-13     The prompt:      “Once in a lifetime, if one is lucky, one so merges with sunlight and air and running water that whole eons, the eons that mountains and deserts know, might pass in a single afternoon.”              Henry David Thoreau


The hillside lay cool under the weight of my body.  I wasn’t too concerned about crushing the blades of grass, but the thought did enter my mind that they may be uncomfortable.  My stare was out across the valley and over the hills opposite.  Beyond the green hills were bluer peaks far off in the distance.  I suspected that they were in another county, and that I would never see them again or climb them.  The hill I lay upon was world enough.  A hawk soared across my view, wheeling about as it sought dinner in the high grass and brush below me.

My purpose here was to stop being purposeful.  I had had enough, and the world was something I was about to leave behind.  The location had been chosen months before, recovered from a memory of love and early passion.  For me, life had begun here, and it was fitting that this would be the last sight.

I had no tears for the position I was in.  It was life that had brought me here, and life flowing through me that kept me still and aware.

I’m not dead yet, and every second is as precious as the one before and the one after.  This was just the tapering off of all the wild expressions of self that had filled the last ninety years.  I have all my teeth, my eyes work well so far, and the body pressed against the ground has served me well.  Surrendering it at the end of my hitch just seems logical.

In the later part of my life, I had the experience of being taught about death.  Not directly, but from folks I knew who had a young daughter who couldn’t live any longer.  Her spirit was willing.  The body refused.  There was no fear in her life.  She hadn’t developed that at her age.  There also wasn’t fear in her parents.  Regret, maybe, but no fear.  “It’s like stepping behind a curtain,” they said.  “You can still hear us, and we can hear you.  We know you’re there; we just can’t see you.  And one day, we’ll come back around the curtain and be with you forever.”

I remembered that deep down in my core for all of my life.  The grace of the gesture was the deepest of gifts.  And here, now, I was about to step behind that curtain and be reunited with all who had gone before.

I was grateful that I had kept quiet and still.  No hysteria would be welcome here, and the world would keep on spinning as I turned the corner.  I was aware of the consequences of sharing.  It would surely lead toward beeping instruments and bright lights, fussing bodies and stark smelling spaces.  No, surely silence is golden.

The hawk sailed across my view once again, still searching for something to make it happy.  A slight breeze picked up, and a blade of grass blew against my ear.  It didn’t tickle.  It comforted and cradled.  I breathed in the scent of the valley blowing up the hill from far down below.  The scent was a deep green, and mixed with the blue and white of the sky.  The colors swirled in the breeze.

I felt the breath flow into my body, and out again.  I had the strength and foresight to turn my head slightly to the right, and was not surprised to see my love lying beside me, gazing into my eyes, and then up into the sky to follow the hawk.  My hand was filled with the warmth of her touch.  I smiled, closed my eyes, and slept forever.