Friday, March 18, 2011

In Her World

It’s Saturday night and the small club is packed. She peers around the small curtain and looks out at the crowd. She knows it’ll be a good night based on the thickness of the smoke cloud floating around the heads of the patrons like a fog. The small circular tables are filled with small glasses containing amber colored liquids in ice.

She lights a cigarette and listens to the conversation booming above the lazy jazz saxophone and piano. The newcomers are excited to be here, feeling as though they’ve been initiated into an underworld society of the true music lovers. They feel accomplished for having found the tiny basement tucked away in a nothing alley of the big city where the only landmarks are the steam vents and bags of garbage marking businesses. Some are working hard to lay the ground work for a late night lay afterward. Some sit quietly and sip their liquor, perfectly happy to be sitting alone in their own misery.

There are some regulars that she knows have come to see her. They talk excitedly about The Blue lady, the cheesy title she’s been given. They call her music soulful, feel captured by the deep echo of the sound she produces. Music critics call her voice “meaty” as if her vocals cords produced something real enough to bite into. They tout her lyrics as heartbreaking, frighteningly real, haunting. They say that the goosebumps linger long after a show has ended.

The piano grows louder, signaling her time to enter. She pushes her cigarette into the ash tray, straightens her black dress. She looks into the tiny broken mirror and gives her face a moment of attention then instantly wishes she hadn’t. Her dark curly hair swells around her head like a chinchilla, drowning out her large hoop earrings in the mass of fluff. The scar on her cheek seems to stand out against the pallor of her skin. Her lack of sleep is all too evident under her eyes. She is lifeless, corpse- like. Fitting that her image would match her disposition, perhaps now the illusion will be complete.

She pushes past the curtains and ignores the applause greeting her. They have come to see her, to hear The Blue Lady Sing. They have come to be kidnapped by the emotion of her voice, to lose themselves in her words. They have come with the delusion of connection, the false belief that they are all joined together by their pain. But she knows better.

She seats herself on the stool, waits for the piano to quiet. All talking stops. Even the bartender stops the clinking of his glasses and liquor slinging. The room itself seems to hold it’s breath. She closes her eyes tight and waits for the breath to fill her. Then she opens her mouth and lets out one long note building in volume and intensity. She leans back, letting her lungs stretch to their full capacity, lets her body be an instrument to be played.

For a moment, just one moment, she is queen. Queen of a realm that no one would want to rule, but ruler she is. For a moment all eyes, all ears, all thoughts are hers to command. But she will never know. She keeps her eyes shut tight and lets the piano join her.

There are already eyes fixated on her throat as the notes come out and form words, phrases, thoughts. Some people lose track of the club around them, purposefully dive into the sound of her voice. Emotions stir as she sings of her demons, people feel that false connection to her world and settle into the feelings that overcome them. To them, she is a goddess. Her voice fills their ears and they are transfixed.

But in her world she is an untouchable. A pariah. Every note is evaluated, measured, found lacking. A better singer, a better voice would carry this song effortlessly as she lumbers through it with imperfect timing and a stiffness that prevents real flow. She stabs herself with a thousand daggers as she sings, not only for lacking quality in her craft but for the thousand mistakes she has made to sing about. The men she has loved and been tossed away by. The world she cannot be a part of. The inability to connect to anyone outside of her own childish short comings.

Tears swell underneath her eyelids but she does not dare to open them. She focuses on the air coming into her instrument, tries to deepen the notes she belts. The deeper the audience falls into her trance the farther from them, and from any human connection she becomes. She fades, allows the piano and saxophone to play their part. Her brethren play their instruments so much more deftly than she ever could. She feels guilty for sharing the stage with them. The saxophone holds one long last note and then diminishes.

When the thunderous applause echoes off the walls and people kick over their chairs to stand and cheer she dares to open her eyes. She sees them down a long, empty corridor. Their cheers sound far away. She smiles weekly for them and then bows to her more talented comrades.

~

As she walks home that night she shivers in her coat. Snow is falling, but nothing sticks to the streets here. She ignores the wind whipping down her back, focuses on keeping one foot in front of the other. Her energy is waning, the 12 hour shift she did earlier taking its toll.

When she turns the key to her small walk up she finds her neighbor asleep on the couch. She puts her keys on the small table, the one wobbly leg threatening to topple the whole thing.

“Hey, I’m back” she whispers, giving the old woman a nudge.

Large, dark eyes open behind thick glasses and focus on her. She is embarrassed that she fell asleep, she straightens herself with blushed cheeks and pulls her knit sweater closer around her shoulders.

“Thanks so much,” she says, handing her a $50. The old woman makes the usual protest, gently pushing the green bill back towards her. She gives her a gentle smile and puts the bill in her palm, then closes her fingers around it. Sweet eyes give her a goodbye better than she deserves and she quietly closes the door behind the soft retreating form.

She tiptoes to the bedroom, finds the baby fast asleep. She doesn’t want to wake her but she can’t help sweeping the wispy hair back from her smooth forehead. She listens to the gentle breath coming in and out, watches the small back rise and fall. A tear drop lands silently on the blue pattern print of cartoonish puppy dogs and she wipes a hand across her face. She knows she must be stronger for her, must be better for her. Knows she deserves so much more than what she is, what she is giving. But then again, that’s all she has. She tells herself that’s enough for now.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Ballad Of Tom N' Jim (VII)

Conversations About…

“Pancakes.”

“Squirrel nuts.”

“Omelets.”

“Barnacle chili.”

“What’re you talking about? Jim asked, interrupting the random words being tossed back and forth like a ping pong ball.

“What we wish they served for breakfast instead of that slop oatmeal,” Tom said, looking up to his towering friend. He glanced back over at his verbal partner who was rocking back and forth as he muttering random word pairs under his breath. “Or at least that’s what I was talking about.”

“Well, ya got some more talking to do-psych wants to see you,” Jim, giving him a hard pat on the back.

“Psych?” Tom asked, looking up at him again.

“Yeah, the doctor,” Jim said with a raised brow.

“Oh, shit- really?” Tom asked, jumping up nervously. “Well, what- what do I say?”

“Just don’t say nothing about the broccoli,” Jim said.

“Right, right- no broccoli. Ok… uh, wish me luck, I guess?”

“Good luck,” Jim said, waving a hand after him as he walked through the doors to the hallway.

Tom walked slowly, ringing his hands and then wiping the sweat on his pants. Why the hell was he so nervous? It was just a doctor. They’d listen to him and know he wasn’t crazy, right? Cause he wasn’t. He didn’t belong with these people, he knew that. The doctor had to know it, too.

He walked to the open door of the office and peered inside. All the usual paraphernalia was there- diplomas on the walls, a large couch, to huge overbearing desk that a small woman with mousy hair and glasses sat behind. He knocked on the door and she looked up from the paper work at him, peering over the tops of her glasses.

“Hi, I’m uh… you wanted to see me?” he asked, stepping in hesitantly.

“yes, yes- come in. Mr…” she said, scanning the papers on her desk, “Combers? Thomas Combers?”

“Yeah, that’s me,” he said, smiling in the most relaxed manner he could manage.

“Come on in, have a seat,” she said, waving him towards he couch.

He sat, crossing his legs then thought twice and uncrossed them. He fiddled with his hands, first folding them, then placing them on the couch to either side, then settling for wiping his palms on his pants again and leaving them there.

“Calm the hell down,” he said to himself.

“So, Mr. Combers, how are you feeling today?” the woman asked, removing her glasses which he now realized were for reading and looking at him.

“Good, good, “ he said. “I mean I’m-uh, I’d like to know when I can get out of here, but otherwise good.”

“Well let’s start by talking about what got you in here before we move to you getting out of here, ok?” she asked, smiling at him. He didn’t trust the smile and some internal mechanism kicked on in him, ready to defend. “Let’s see, now. It says here that you were found in the back of a car which had been observed crashing into an armored truck. You were arrested and when the police questioned you about it you claimed that you’d been at home the whole time.”

“I can explain that,” he said. “I’m not crazy.”

“No one said you were crazy, Mr. Combers,” she said in a tone that made him think she thought he was.

“It’s just that- I was really high and I was so out of it that I really thought I had been at home. I mean- that doesn’t sound right. Let me back up,” he said, stopping to force himself to slow down his speech. He could rationalize this, he just had to think. “I wasn’t sleeping.”

“You just said you thought you were,” she said.

“Well, no- I mean earlier. I hadn’t been sleeping right for a long, long time and I had this courier job so I couldn’t be asleep all day, just wouldn’t work. So I started taking stuff to stay awake. Just over the counter stuff at first, you know?”

“Why couldn’t you sleep?” she asked, interrupting his train of thought.

“Huh?” he looked up at her, confused.
“Why couldn’t you sleep?” she asked again, looking straight at him.

"It’s uh,” he tried to organize his thoughts. It’s just I had so many ideas but I couldn’t do anything about them, you know? Like every night there were more stories I couldn't write, more songs I couldn't compose, more ideas that revolutionize some industry that I couldn't do a thing with."

"You mean dreams?" she asked. Her voice sounded strangely certain.

"Maybe, that's what you call 'em," he said, feeling stupid for thinking it was anything different. “It just… it seemed like more than that. And I couldn’t sleep but I still had to drive so I started taking stuff and… it just sort of went from there.”

“So you decided to drive your car into an armored truck because…?” she asked.

“It seemed like the most logical decision at the time. I mean, I was coked out of my mind.”

“It isn’t the drugs that concern me, it’s the violence of the action. I mean, you very nearly died.”

“I wouldn’t have cared , I think.”

"So you were trying to kill yourself."

"No, I didn't say that. I just said it seemed like the most logical solution at the time."

"Uh-huh. And you’re saying that the cocaine and oxycodone they found in your system led to that conclusion? With no other factors?"

“I wasn’t suicidal, if that’s what you’re thinking.”

“No one said anything about you being suicidal.”

"You're not big an definitions, are you?"

"I'm not big on agreeing with other people's definitions, no.”

“You know, maybe that's what all this is about. The guys that sent me got this definition of crazy I don't agree with."

"I don't think you're crazy, Mr. Combers."

"Really, that your professional opinion?"

"Um, yes, I suppose it is."

"That mean I can get out of here?"

"Soon enough,” she smiled at him.

He was smiling, too. It was the first time he felt like someone had listened to him since he got there.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N' Jim (VI)

Notes On How To Make a Wing Man

It was strange how quickly two strangers could fall into such relaxed, comfortable conversation. Then again, it was a strange setting and the rules of normalcy showed no signs of applying here. Perhaps this was normal in life when people weren’t trying so hard to fit the norm.

"Were you ever a bouncer?" Tom asked. It was an obvious question but one he couldn’t help but ask. When someone is built like a brick wall you can’t help but want the comfort of knowing that they’re using the talent. Cartoonish images of a giant, lumbering form tucked behind a tiny desk in a tiny cubicle depressed Tom and he wanted verification that Jim lived elsewhere in life.

"Maybe in a past life," Jim answered with what might have been a grin.

Tom looked at him for a second, trying to gauge if he was joking. "Oh.. really?”

"Nah, that stuff's crazy," Jim laughed. He was the kind of guy who talked in short words. Words that had been clipped of extra syllables. Not because he was stupid and didn't know they were supposed to be longer, but more because he knew he could get the point across without them. Or at least that's how it seemed.

Tom smiled at him, relieved.

“Then again, crazy fits right in here,” Jim said with a hand to the side of his mouth. Just then, as if to illustrate the point, one of the patients- the one Jim had called ‘Ben’ when he’d handed him his fruit cup- let out a large yelp and jumped up from his chair as if it’d bit him. He then turned to it and began kicking it repeatedly whilst yelling at it in the same nonsensical language Tom had heard him use earlier.

Without a prompt, Jim pointed to the old man in front of the tv with the drool on his check saying, "That Teigs, he's been messed up ever since Vietnam."

"Then he shouldn't he be in a VA hospital?" Tom asked.

"Ah, nah- he wasn't no soldier- he was a conscientious objector," Jim answered, as if that was a perfectly good reason to be screwed in the head.

"That Cheryl,” Jim said, waving a hand towards the woman by the window. “She don't say much. Or anything, really. Just sits there all day, staring out that window."
"Why? Or is that a stupid question?"

"Thinks she's a bird, flying around out there."

Tom looked at her there, her head tilted slightly upward as if trying to get the best view of the sky. It made sense.

"So, got any advice?"Tom asked, ignoring the interruption.

"Yeah, keep to yourself, don't talk too loud and get as much sleep as you can,” Jim rattled off the list as if it were the standard orientation speech he’d prepared earlier. “Oh! And don't eat the broccoli."

"Why?" Tom asked, generally interested in this new advice.

"Why do you think everyone around is here so wonked out?" Jim asked him, eying the inhabitants of the room like they were prisoners in some POW camp.

Tom followed his companion’s eyes around the room, surveying the patients. The outburst from Ben had subsided and he’d returned to sidling along the corridor at a snail’s pace, his lopsided hospital gown hanging almost to his ankles on one side. Tom looked with suspicion now at the drool coming from the corners of lips, the glazed expression on so many frozen faces.

“But… isn’t that just the psych meds?”

“Some of it,” Jim said, still looking out at the patients with a hardened expression as if regretting not being to change what he saw. “But if anyone ever asks you, I didn’t say nothing, ok?” he jumped, looking at Tom with an imploring bend of his lower lip.

“Uh, yeah- sure.” Tom said. He looked at Jim with a new emotion now- curiosity. He was obviously more than just a friendly orderly. He found himself going through the normal mental process of judging- trying to concluded whether or not working in a nut house had, by proxy, made him nuts. But there was something in his face that made him stop. Logical conclusions seemed like something that just weren’t a good idea in a place like this. Besides, who was he to judge?

“So, how, uh… how do I get out of this place?” Tom asked, not wanting to pursue the touchy subject of broccoli any further.

“You gotta convince them you’re not nuts,” Jim said, brushing a piece of lint from his pants.

“How?”

“Talk to the doctor, tell him you did whatever you did cause of something other than being crazy.”

“Uh, huh,” Tom said, letting his voice carry the doubt that it was all that simple. “And when do I get to see the doctor?”

“When’d you get in here?”

“Yester-“ Tom stopped himself. He went over his internal clock and tried to categorize the stops in his journey- the ambulance, the hospital, the cops, this room. As hard as he tried to benchmark his progress based on the few moments that stuck out with clarity he couldn’t formulate a time and date. It all bled together as if he’d been on a bender and blacked out huge amounts of time. “I… I don’t know,” he finally concluded.

“Broccoli,” Jim said, giving him a heavy pat on the back as he stood up from his chair. Then without another word he walked off without so much as a backward glance.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N' Jim (V)

The Tall, Dark Stranger

The sound of large, heavy doors being unlocked distracted him from his maze of disjointed thoughts and he turned his head to look over his shoulder. Through the split doors came a metal cart filled with small, paper cups. The shadows of different colors behind the folded paper made him think they were pills but then he caught the scent of fruit. Fruit cart. The very thought unsettled him further. Then he looked up to see the person pushing the cart and his breath actually caught in his throat.

He was an imposing, giant redwood of a man with skin almost the same color as the giant Oregonian trees. His biceps swelled so large and supported such huge shoulders that his head seemed to be hiding between the two giant stumps of muscles. He looked like the kind-of guy who could pin his entire body down with one arm while yawning and flipping through channels on tv as if bored. It made perfect sense for him to be an orderly. Or a bouncer.

“Fruit time, everybody!” he called out to the room joyfully. “Time for some sweet, tasty fruit,” he sang, more to himself than to anyone else. He wheeled the cart to the corner first, handed the fruit cup to the man who had been yelling in another language. The man stopped his rant instantly and took the cup happily, as if the angry man who’d been yelling was instantly gone, replaced by a 12 year-old happy to have his snack. “There ya go, Ben- I knew you’d feel better once ya got your snack.”

He wheeled the cart over to the crew by the tv and began dispensing cups. “Sally, eat some fruit- gotta get some meat on these ol’ bones,” he said, handing the cup to the frail girl rocking in her seat. She released her grip on her knees and took it from him without looking up to acknowledge him in any way, but stopped rocking just a little and spooned out a large chunk of some soggy, orange mass. “Good girl,” he cooed to her.

“Come on Al, fruit time,” he called to the drooling man. He reached down and took the man’s hand and folded it around the cup. He didn’t respond in any way, his remained on it side, drool coming out like a slowly growing mold.

“Jerry, can’t we don nothing ‘bout this?” he said, straightening up and looking over to the other orderly who’d follow’d him in.

“Wish we could man, but Doc Brown put him on the dose for a reason. It is not for anyone else to question.” Came the answer from a tall, thin man who’d been on the outskirts of the room watching.

The redwood man sighed and the sound of the air coming out his lungs sounded like a strong breeze- the kind that could break off a tree branch during a storm. “Alright, then- can we at least get her upright then,” he said, bending to the double over figure.

The man he’d spoken to earlier, Jerry was the name he’d responded to, came over and knelt before the double frame, trying to see the eyes that must have been looking at the underside of the chair. “Mrs. Corning? Jim has brought you some fruit. You want to have some fruit?” he asked. A small, muffled came from the figure and Jerry reached around them carefully to help them straighten up.

As he straightened her it became apparent that she was, in fact, a woman. And in addition to weighing no more than 80 or so pond she also looked like she was on the later side of 70, perhaps even older. The man straightened her back in the chair with the delicacy of a cook placing the final flourish on a temperamental soufflĂ©, careful not to disturb her in any way. It was no wonder the giant didn’t want to touch her, he’d probably snap her in half is he used any more than a finger worth of pressure.

“Thanks, Jerry,” the giant said as he placed the fruit cup on the arm rest of the chair the woman now sat back in.

“Just doin’ my job,” jerry said over his shoulder as he walked away.

“Oh my goodness, what have we have here?” he boomed jollily as he beheld the newcomer. “What your name, champ?”
He had to think about it for a second before he could answer and that bothered him. “Tom- uh, to-“ he choked on the word as if something were stuck in his throat and coughed to get it out. He hadn’t remembered when his mouth had turned to sand paper.

“Tom- ‘sok. It’ll wear off in a day or two, no worries,” the giant said, wheeling the cart toward him. “Here, have some fruit- it’ll help.”

Tom waved the cup offered away and continued to choke on his own saliva. The coughing worsened and he actually had to straighten his back to keep his lungs filling up with air to continue the coughing fit. A small plastic cup grippe by a giant hand appeared in front of hi and Tom grabbed it without even looked up. He started the down the water like a dying man in a desert.

“Woah, woah- slow down there or you’ll choke even worse,” he said. Tom forced himself to slow and lengthen the next gulp. “There ya go- that’s better. Now sip that slowly and you should feel better.”

“What- was that?” Tom managed to sputter, still trying to get his chest back in order. He tried to clear his throat and struggled.

“Keep sipping. Don’t worry about it- we all come out looking worse for the wear our first day here,” he said, grabbing a chair near him and turning it to Tom. “They give everybody something when they first come in- whether they need it or not. All the heavy duty ones’ll give that mouth rot.”

Tom swallowed gingerly and then looked at the man sitting next to him. “Mouth ‘rot’ you said? What is that?”

“What you got- the dryness and stuff,” he said.

“Oh. Never heard that term before,” Tom said.

“That’s cause I think I made it up- no doctor’d call it that.”

“Oh,” Tom said weakly.

“Don’t worry, it’ll pass. Anyways- Tom. I’m Jim,” he said offered his baseball glove-sized hand to him.

“Hey, Jim,” Tom said, shaking. “I’d say it’s nice to meet but given the circumstances it would seem insincere.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N' Jim (IV)

Sunbeams and Psychotics

He sat in the main ‘livingroom’ surveying the scene. Lacking the hallmark card childhood that you see in so many different commercials he wasn’t used to a homey, comfortable “living area” but even to him this seemed like a stretch.

Cold linoleum floors that reflected the light pouring in through the screened windows, cheap vinyl seats scattered throughout the room, a single clock high up on the wall ticking away the day. If felt like the sort of place you’d go to die- empty, sterile, lifeless.

The inhabitants of the place did nothing to boost his confidence. There was a small, bearded man in the corner yelling loudly and animatedly in a language he couldn’t make out. Every now an again he’d bang his hand on the arms rest of his chair as if to illustrate his point, whatever it might be.

There was a small assortments of outcasts gathered around the television set- a large, monstrous box that looked like it would’ve been the latest technology in home theater viewing back in 1967. All of them were in some stage of comatose excitement.

There was an old man that looked like he hadn’t been bathed or shaven in longer than could be easily deduced sat staring in the general direction of the TV with drool warming his lip and cheek. There was a young woman with her hospital gown draping open in the back, revealing her bare buttocks resting on the chair as she help her knees to her chest and rocked back and forth gently. He couldn’t quite make it out over the sound of the television but she might have been humming to herself. And then there was the slight frame bent over onto itself. He couldn’t figure out from the back if it were a man a woman, how old they were or what other distinguishing characteristic they might have. All of his attention was trapped on the giant bulge of spine popping out of the person’s back, curled over like the remnants of a demolished building. The skin stretched as if the person it belonged to hadn’t eaten food since the last presidential election and he felt himself cringe internally at the thought of how bad the food here must be if they were that diminished.

Of all the inhabitants in the room- those shuffling back and forth in hospital slippers, those yelling or mumbling to themselves (or to people only they could see and hear) and the candy box assortment of half conscious ghosts there was one person who attracted his attention more than any of them. Her platinum blond hair seemed to glow like a white halo around her head, illuminated by the sunlight streaming in from the window in front of her. Her arms showed the scars of a from of self injury he wasn’t familiar with- the cabs might’ve been from an instrument or her finger nails, there was no easy way of telling. She sat as still as a statue, her head tilted upward towards the sky, gaze fixed on something in the distance.

He didn’t know why she attracted his attention so much, she didn’t seem any more in touch than anyone else in the room. But there was something about the way she sat, gaze transfixed and unmoving, that interested him. She didn’t ignore the disturbances of the room like her more comatose brethren, something about her made it seem like she heard it and just chose to ignore it. And her stance wasn’t the relaxed calm of a person too drugged up to experience regular muscle movement- it was the calm, reclined position of someone in a genuine state of relaxation. And perhaps that was what was so odd about her- that she couldn’t be detached in that… normal of a way. It made him wonder what she was looking at.

He observed all of this from the back and sat, wondering what would happen next. It had seemed to him lately that he’d become a second class passenger in own life, watching his life fly by without any control of where it would go next. And although he didn’t know who was in charge, he knew that they had absolutely no interest in making his journey anymore pleasant for him. He should’ve been upset about that, on some level. But he wasn’t. He was only vaguely irked as if it didn’t really matter all that much.

And that reaction, or lack thereof, more than anything else he’d gone through lately made him think that maybe he wasn’t as out of place here as he’d like to think.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N’ Jim (III)

In Transition

Over the next few days he found himself in flux, like a fish caught in a tidal wave. He was vaguely aware of passing through a lot of different locations, sitting in front of a lot of different people, answering a lot of different questions about things that he couldn’t connect to himself or his life. But he couldn’t control it. He was shipped from place to place, person to person like a package no one wanted to open.

He had only vague memories of the hospital, drifting into and out of consciousness to find new tubes sticking out of him, gauze put on and removed from his face, nurses in brightly colored scrubs checking his fluids and attaching new IVs from time to time. He would have thought his recovery was fast, though he had no idea of how much time was passing. It might’ve all been a few hours, it might’ve been days. He was getting more sleep than he’d gotten in longer than he could remember and his mind had lost the skill of making sense of the waking landscape around him.

He almost wished they’d stop drugging him so he could try to get a grip on the reality he was drifting in and out of, but then again he probably wasn’t missing anything that worthwhile. He wasn’t concerned enough to really expend the effort until the same cops he’d seen before showed up and started asking questions about his car, the lot they’d found him in, the drugs they’d found in his blood. Having virtually no idea what they were talking about he had few answers to give. But cops never like it when you don’t answer their questions.

He was discharged into police custody, taken to the station. They wanted to book him on a number of charges, told him he’d be going to jail for attempted robbery, destruction of public property, possession of narcotics. They told him he’d steered his car into an armored truck right after a pick up, thus why his car was totaled. He disagreed with them. They told him he’d had a stash of crack on the back seat of the car where they found him, he said no. They said he’d cost the city thousands of dollars. He accused them of making up stories, said he’d been at home, asleep.

It wasn’t that he was trying to be a smart ass, he wasn’t stupid. It was just that the story they were telling him wasn’t his. He didn’t do stuff like that. Ever. Even in his sleepless, drug-induced haze his mind hadn’t come up with ideas like robbery, and no one was stupid enough to think they’d be able to break into an armored truck by running their Sedan into it. The story they were telling didn’t make sense, and he refused to acknowledge it as reality.

Cops deal with denial, lies, manipulation, and excuses. They sniff those tools of the trade out like hungry dogs, wagging their tails when they smell it. But when a guy comes in refusing to acknowledge reality as reality- not because he’s using those tools but because he honestly doesn’t believe you, they smell something else. And they don’t like that smell. So as soon as some one posed the idea that maybe the guy wasn’t stupid or lying, maybe he really was just crazy, the cops dropped him like a hot pan.

No one told him where he was going, explained why he was no longer being held, told him what the next step in the process would be. As soon as they’d ‘figured him out’ they acted like Americans in front of an illegal alien who doesn’t speak the language- having conversation just out of ear shot which obviously involved him without actually acknowledging his existence.

He found himself in the back of a van watching the urban landscape grow more industrialized and less populated. He would’ve asked where he was being driven but he figured the driver wouldn’t offer any more information than the people in the station had. So instead he sat, watched the concrete give way to gravel, then dirt, then eventually grass and trees. He watched it with the detachment of a person looking out at the landscape of a place they knew they wouldn’t go and didn’t care enough to wonder where he’d end up.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N’ Jim (II)

After the Fall

It wasn't the sirens or the wail of the fire truck or even the idling of his own car that woke him up- it was his snoring. He heard it and wondered who was making that noise with no thought of what it was or concept that it might be coming from his own throat. He went to open his eyes and a wave of pain so sharp and so powerful crashed over his head that he would’ve fallen over if he weren't already reclined.

He managed to pry one eye open and the thick, sticky liquid that had sealed it shut yanked the eyelashes off with a renewed burst of blood. The added red around the blackness framing his vision confused him further and he wondered if he’d fallen into a vat of oil or something. The rest of his shirt was covered in the same, thick liquid and his brain struggled to make sense of it all.

He should’ve of recognized the back seat of his own car, his own pair of legs, his own chest covered in blood with one of his own ribs making an unnatural bump in the expanse. But he didn’t.

And he didn’t recognize the sound of the police sirens as they drew closer to the mechanic’s lot where he’d parked his car among the others waiting for body repairs. Nor did he recognize the paramedics that pulled him out of the vehicle and strapped him to a board while shining small flashlights in eyes and asking questions about who he was, what had happened, if he knew what was going on. He didn’t recognize the look of disgust on the cops faces he saw in his peripheral vision as they watched the paramedics cut off his shirt and survey the damage. He didn’t recognize the street light overhead as his forehead was strapped down and neck secured. And he didn’t recognize any of the words directed at him in the chaos of noise and lights.

No, he was too distracted by one simple, thought in all the madness. That noise he heard- had it been snoring? Had he actually been asleep? ‘I’ll be damned,’ he thought to himself.

Monday, March 7, 2011

The Ballad of Tom N’ Jim (I)

Prelude to a Fall

He hadn’t been sleeping. He didn’t even pretend to call it insomnia anymore because that wasn’t the right word. The moments of confusion between falling asleep and waking up had become so brief and fleeting that they didn’t count anymore. And he’d seen Fight Club way too many times not to wonder what sort-of havoc that might be wreaking on his mental health. But he tried not to think about it.

In general weaving in and out of the lanes of traffic was enough to keep him distracted. In a city of so many languages, technologies, forms of music and just plain noise it seemed like the only universal mode of communication left was the car horn, so he used it frequently. Not that anyone would be able to distinguish his from the mass pollution clogging everyone’s ears, but he didn’t care. He accelerated and honked, braked and honked, swerved in between the cars and trucks and cabs in a sea of traffic as if he were a swimmer in a stream of trout- brushing up against others briefly, but never lingering long enough to do any real damage.

At least, not that he knew. If any of the angry horns were meant for him he was too drugged up to notice. He’d started with No Doze and coffee, the usual tools of the trade. But the bathroom breaks were a nuisance he couldn’t abide. He’d moved up to prescription stimulants he found on the internet- ones that truck drivers used cause the FDA hadn’t discovered them yet. Eventually he settled on crack because it was easy to find and ridiculously cheap, at least in comparison to the other street drugs.

He was a good drug user. He knew it was un-PC to think that, but he did. He paid more attention, got more done and just plain lived more in a minute than most other people did. And sure, he might be a little paranoid- but all that was doing was keeping him alive and getting another delivery under his belt. And, as he like to mutter under his breath, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. It made him smile.

So he sped through the traffic of the city streets, jogged in an out of elevators to make his deliveries, took home the good cash pay of a courier and ignored the activity of his brain, the irregular heartbeat, and the other side effects. Logic would have told him it was only a matter of time, but logic was a mental capacity that’d gone out the window with a good’s night’s sleep a long, long time ago.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Saturday Night's Alright (For Striking)

For the union, the timing made perfect sense- plan the strike for a time when the workers would be most missed, thus forcing the corporation to concede to their demands quickly and get them back to work. But for the restaurants- the ones who were forced to stay open during such a chaotic time, the timing couldn’t have sucked more. Rose inparticular resented it.

She understood that workers needed lunch breaks and couldn’t be scheduled for 12 hour shifts following a closing ending at 3am- but she didn’t understand why her employees had to strike. She’d always given them lunch breaks, was extremely receptive to vacation requests, terribly understanding when illness or other disasters struck and even asked for their input before making up the schedule for the week. She never double booked anyone and if they requested a change, she’d allow so long as the shift was covered. All-in-all, she was almost too understanding for a manger.

But unions were union and when they formed a strike you had to walk out, regardless of whether or not it affected you. To stay would be to disrespect your fellow union members. Bullshit, Rose thought. And the temp agency they hired from bullshit, too.

She appreciated that the advance of technology had made the old-school “superheroes” as they used to be called obsolete and that they still needed work in spite of this. But she found a way to get steady work out of her skills, why the hell couldn’t they? The answer? Ego. She’d seen it a thousand times- they turn down the big, obvious offers and don’t come knocking till they run out of advances from their publicist or whatever. Then they’re lucky to get called in for situations like this. All of it- the strike, corporate telling them they have to stay open, the reject subs- was bullshit. And it was because of this that when she amassed the group in front her that evening before the rush she was in no mood to deal with their special requests or squabbling over what they considered the good jobs.

She sighed loudly as she flipped over the top paper on her clip board to assign the tasks to the ex-heroes in front of her. As a child she’d been a fan of the spectacular saves and theatricality of it all when she saw the news clips. But, she reminded herself, she’d grown up, grown out of it- why they hell couldn’t they?

“Ok, ok- where’s John- uh, the ‘human torch’?” she said without even bothering to look up.

“Here,” came a gruff voice from the back.

She looked up to see a rather tall, rather slender figure hunched over in the back. His head was down as if he’d really rather not bee seen here and he had a bandana covering most of his head. “I assume you know how to cook?” she asked.

“Yeah, yeah,” he said, sounding annoyed.

She didn’t even bother to see if he wanted to volunteer for something else, just told him to get the stoves going. He gave a loud grunt and shuffled off to the back.

“Ok, uh- Garth?”

“Here,” came a rather high-pitched voice. “Uh- I mean, here,” the voice lowered after a clearing cough. “It’s Tempest, if you don’t mind.”

“Ok, Tempest- you’re running the dishwasher.”

“Oh, come on- again? That’s all you people ever give me to do! Oh the water guy- let’s make him clean! Forget about the fact that he can speak with marine life or swim faster than any man-made submarine- just ship him off to do the dishes!” he ranted, letting everyone within ear shot know that he was sick of this particular duty.

Rose was in no mood, and if he insisted on making a scene she was going to let him and everyone else know that it was not ok. “Look, guy- I didn’t make up the list, I’m just trying to run the restaurant. You want to go swimming and talk to fish? You go right ahead- but if you wanna get paid you shut your mouth and do the damned dishes, got it?”

He didn’t want to justify with an answer so instead he grunted and stepped back towards the rear of the kitchen, grumbling under his breath.

“And anyone else here who doesn’t want to do what they’re built to do can just head out right now cause I don’t have time for it!” she said, looking around for someone to protest. There were a few stray coughs and the sounds of people shifting their stances uncomfortably, but no one said anything.

“Ok, then- Wolverine?”

“You can just call me Logan,” came a deep, gravely voice that was surprising close to her.

“Ok, Logan- thanks for the break,” she said without looking up. “I got a whole bunch of cardboard boxes in back that I need broken down to make room for the new shipment tomorrow morning.”

“’M on it” he said over his shoulder as he turned and walked away.

“And Mystique, is it?”

“Yup, that’s me,” came a woman’s voice, sounding tired and not at all interested in a fight.

Rose looked up to see yellow eyes peeking out of a gray hoodie and the unmistakable bump of pregnancy pushing out pocketed hands. “You wanna morph into somebody cute and be my waitress?” she asked.

“How’s this?” the woman asked, peeling down the hoodie to reveal a young girl with wavy strawberry blond hair, sparkling blue eyes and the dimples of a terribly adorable preteen.

Rose blinked at her for a second before she was able to muster “That’ll work.” She watched as the woman retreated to find an apron and had to look back at her pad to regain her focus. Just then a loud clatter erupted from the back as the wall surrounding the rear door cracked and fell forward. A huge, lumbering figure stepped in through the falling dust and Rose had to squint to see the head which was almost hidden between two tree-sized shoulders.

“What’d I miss?” came the booming voice, as if oblivious to the destruction he’d caused just by coming in the door.

Rose put her head in her hand and started to push in at her temples, trying to beat back the headache which threatened to grow. It was going to be a long shift.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mugged

When I was in summer camp the girls in my cabin decided to play a game. It was pretty simple, the object being nothing more than to cause the other person to faint. Thus is was appropriately named “fainting”. You would cross your arms over your chest, put your head between your knees and start hyperventilating, then stand up really quickly so that the blood rushed to your head and exhale. At the same time someone would push on your arms so that no more air could get into your chest. Without any oxygen, you faint. A few second later you wake up on the ground, confused as to how you got there.

Well, when I did it I apparently scared my friend a great deal because as my limp body slid to the ground my eyes stayed open- staring out at nothing. I, of course, don’t remember this. I remember hyperventilating, standing up and then feeling pressure on my chest. The next thing I knew I was looking out at the rolling hills of a cow farms, black and white spots scattered throughout the vast green landscape. When I “came to” my friend was holding my hand and looking at me with the concerned expression normally reserved for your grandmother when she’s having a heart attack. I didn’t understand why she looked so scared, why she was holding my hand in that way, or how I’d gotten to be there.

This, despite everything different, was mostly like that. I couldn’t remember how long I’d been there, how I’d gotten there, or how long the man holding the gun had been shouting for me to hand over my purse. All I knew was that, seemingly out of nowhere, I was looking down the barrel of gun with that black hole spreading out into eternity. I had no concept of my body- whether or not I was even holding a purse, and it seemed to take a while before I realized he was yelling at me. None of my instincts or the things that I had assumed would kick in with the reflex of self preservation allowed me to react. In that moment the entire universe and every single second of my existence ceased to exist.

I wasn’t even aware of my arm throwing the purse at the guy’s feet, and I continued to stare at the space where his gun has been as he picked it up and ran down the alleyway. It wasn’t until several moments- or however long it was- after his footsteps faded from the echoing alleyway that I finally blinked and starting seeing the world around me again. I couldn’t figure out what had just happened. Everything I’d been lead to believe made me think that that sort of event would have sent my life flashing before my eyes or images of my loved ones snapping through my mind. But there was nothing- nothing but blackness and confusion. And just like the fainting game, it took a long time for the white haze around my vision to finally fade from view.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Another 211 in 2011 Update

So, another month, another bunch of posts. Fewer than last month- but there were significantly fewer days in this month so i'm trying not to beat myself up too hard for it. If I can pound out 18 or more this month I should still be in pretty good shape. And given that there should be significant changes coming up the pike this month I should have much to write about, even if it is true.

First off, the puppy is coming. He's coming in only three weeks! I can't beleive it! We visited him this Sunday and- wow. Seriously- WOW. As cute he was when he was a couple weeks old he was a billion times cuter this time around. Seriously- he looks like a teddy bear! And, as if that isn't squeal-worthy enough, he spent the entire time happily chewing on our fingers. (He and his littermates are teething so they're chewing on EVERYTHING right now!) And let me tell those of you who haven't experienced it- there are few things in this world cuter than a puppy that looks like a teddy bear happily noming your fingers. (None that I know of.) So yes, there will be discussion of the unimaganably, life-changing wonderfulness that is the puppy when he comes home.

Secondly, God willing, I will be changing jobs this month. One way or another I have decided that I can't take anymore of this place and i'm handing in my resignation. And if karma and positive energy and significant student loans spent on a rather exstensive education count for anything at all I will get a new job to take it's place. And if I don't? Then i'll probably have even more to write about cause i'll be job searching every single day in preparation for this current job's end. One way or another- something's gonna give. That's gotta send the brain in the direction of some interesting topics.

And, if all else fails I will dig out my old writing books that i first purchased back in high school and start doing the writing prompts. I can't promise that will produce anything worthwhile, but I can promise it will produce something new. And if college couldn't teach me to write badly and just deal with it than forcing myself to pound out 211 entries will! Let the sucking begin! (Or- er- continue.)