Maltese Reflex

 

“Archer Investigations. How may I direct your call?” She nods a few times then places her hand over the receiver mouthing, “work.” She hands the phone to him then assumes repose against the desk.

“I see…when did this happen? Got’cha. Yup, can do. Cash only. I’ll take a look.” He writes something on the back of an opened envelope, hangs up and wags his head. “Jag-off.” He sits in a swivel chair behind the age stained wooden desk, bends to open the bottom drawer fumbling in its depths for a moment. He switches on the desk lamp. It’s twilight.

“Yeah. You tell um…” Whispering dreamy, distracted, her voice; youthful smoke and old whiskey. Crystalline eyes dart to the man reflecting their strange, and for the time being, satisfying office romance, “Jag-off.” She giggles.

Reaching inside the drawer he withdraws a Smith and Wesson .38. He clicks it open, spins the cylinder; it’s loaded. He places the gun on the desktop; blued steel, wooden grips, short barrel, six shots, good for tight work. If you can’t get it done in six shots you need more than a handgun, you need medical assistance.

“Sorry, but that thing creeps me out.” She says pushing away from the desk.

“Listen Doll, I’d rather be caught with it than caught without it.”

“Men.” She says dismissive in the way of a loving aunt or a temporary girlfriend. “Get us some work?”

He cocks an eye. “Possible. Missing persons… Dude lost all his friends on facebook.”

“That’s funny,” she says.

“No, serious. Wants me to find his one-thousand-something “friends.” No one has a thousand friends.”

She smiles. “You have me.”

“That’s all I need Effie.”

He returns the pistol to the drawer covering it with the wine stained map of Vietnam. “Missing persons…” He unearths a tattered MUNI map of San Francisco. The small office is overcrowded. The desk a wrecking yard; partially digested mail, a souped up Mac G4, the phone, working ashtrays and two rocks glasses, a lipstick smudge on one. Effie reclines in one of the two leather upholstered chairs that front the desk. Sagging bookcases flank the walls. He scans the room for an open space, shrugs, then flutters the map to the floor following it down resting on his hands and knees.

“What are you looking for?” she says.

“Something’s missing. Missing things.” He turns the desk lamp.

She reaches for her smartphone, “Here, let me find it.”

“Effie, that box doesn’t know everything. Lookie here doll.” She kneels beside him on the Persian carpet. Using a pencil, he points to the lower left hand corner of the map, “MUNI basic fare; fifty cents.”

“That for real?” Her voice rises a notch.

“You bet’cha Doll. Haf’a buck.”

“Treasure map?”

“Sorta, but the ‘X’ is gone.”

She brightens. “Probably faded.”                     

“Faded sure, but things are missing.” He directs the pencil point to the Tenderloin. “Frenchy’s has disappeared.”

“Frenchy’s?”

“Bookstore of the, um…exotic. I’ve been told, one could walk anonymously into Frenchy’s and though a virus was possible, no cookies trailed after you.” The pencil stops near the waterfront. “Bouncers Bar – vanished. Bouncers was like the bar in Star Wars where all worlds connect. Cheap beer. Prizefighter bartender. Longshoremen, secretaries, bikers, bankers, butchers, bricklayers, teamsters, nurses, priests, politicians, and whores drank, and conversed in mutual recognition and selfsame anonymity. Deals were struck. Contraband was not. Bouncers served vice without judgment. Impossible today, cell phone cameras and social media make everyone a potential snitch.”

Effie grins wistfully returning to the chair.

“Say foreigners in military vehicles drove through American cities taking pictures of everything would Americans be upset? We’d shoot’um up worse than Clyde Barrow’s getaway car but since it’s Google, well then, that’s okay, ‘do no harm.’ My ass.”’

Before she went to work for Miles Archer, Google cars seemed innocuous and oddly cute.

With a grunt he sits beside her. “I’m a boomer, Free Range.” He arches his eyebrows, “Parents wanted us kids out the house, rain or snow, weather be damned. No, really. Was okay by us. See, once out the door we could have been on Mars. Parents couldn’t find us. We came home when the streetlights came on. There was no adult supervision…ever.” He pauses. “Now, I open my goddamn computer and some unseen dickhead watches me closer than my mom ever did. It’s creepy.”

She’s slightly deflated, “My world is connected; wired, cell phone, computers, web. For emergencies they said, but my mom texted me all the time checking on me, who was I with, where I was, blah-blah-blah. She still does. Moms anxiety scared the shit out of me – child abduction this, rape that, never ending hell. If I’m honest, I don’t fear the boogeyman as much as being disconnected. Being off leash. I don’t know any other way…” she’s staring out the window. “Wasn’t it, you know, scary, being out in the world like that?”

“Tell ya what, sometimes your twenty-first century feels like being locked inside a house, filled with adults, on a summer day, with a furnace blasting. Makes it hard to breathe.” He blanches. “GPS tracking, NSA phone tapping, ATM’s and direct deposit track every fucking dime, state camera’s, private camera’s, there’s a camera fits up your ass. The watchers never sleep.”

Noting her furtive smile, his face softens. The sun has set completely. Effie steps to her watercolor reflection in the window and places the palm of her hand against the cool pane. “Free range?” She echoes. “Sounds like… paradise.”

The scotch-taped map on the floor holds his attention. “Miles?” He looks. She kisses him on the cheek. “You need a shave honey.”

She kneels beside him, “Hey…,” her finger tip traces ‘X’ over a small alley above the Stockton tunnel; their stake in his map, “you found me without GPS.” She stands, smoothes her skirt, turns off her phone and unplugs the landline. Miles bears a transcendent smile as she begins to close the shades.

 

* this is a take off on Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon a book that every single resident of San Francisco should read.                                               

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Equinox

India ink hair spills across the pillow, jet eyes, unfocused, stare at the popcorn ceiling. She is almost silent but for the rhythmic sound of breathing. We have the sheen of hard exercise. The early evenings half-light is devoured slowly like an object on the edge of a black hole. I lay my hand on her hard, flat belly feeling the rise and fall – exhilaration and exhaustion. I’ve never been able to grasp the concept of eternity but I’m now old enough to appreciate time’s corrosive, inexorable gravity and the little jokes it plays.

 Serendipity brought me to the Arizona Meteor Crater’s visitor center in 1976. With the docent and custodian distracted in conversation, I the tried to lift the pocked nickel-iron blob recovered from the bottom of the impact site. Though it was smaller than the engine block from that year’s Honda Civic I couldn’t budge the meteor. Sometimes stories streak across our unconscious, a fireball of unknown origin that crashes in a remote location. Later, usually by accident, we discover a crater then dig for the missile that made such an impact and analyze its density. Vaguely giddy, I contemplate this perfect form with me now. Later I’ll try to understand.

I come from way upstate New York, where inspiration churns slowly like the drive wheels of  an old Massy-Ferguson tractor in slick autumn mud. The slowness of time in the grey days of winter lends one to believe that maybe the earth has froze solid on its axis. Long north east winters can do a number on sensitive humans. Winter pushes down with the constricted twitchy feeling that maybe oxygen is running low or that skin stretched tight over desperate bones may rip without warning. Cabin fever.  It got worse as spring approached, I feared I might not survive. I’d die from a busted vein in the brain, with a note no more pronounced than a girlish fart, or the ominous pop of cracking lake ice.

With the most sincere intention I petitioned any god that would listen, for specific, unambiguous, laser-like guidance. On my own I tend to drift. I’d petition the gods during our dark time, our winter solstice – the time of big snow. One blizzardy night alone in the unfurnished flat I ate a hit of LSD to help pass time. This could be the moment when an amorphous idea of life, if not in the center, at least, on the edge of brilliance, began its dull ache like a tooth going bad.

She watches me with dull amusement as I shut the window and roll the shade against the waning sunlight and chill. “What is that?”

I look down.

“You want it again?” Crazily I consult my cock for a second opinion then nod. Though incredulous, she smiles dreamily. As if I have opportunities like this every day. As if I can waste this moment. As if the earth can wait, as if our planet will slow its spin allowing this one evening to last for a month. As if. Slowly she rolls to her belly arms outstretched like a languid Jesus on the cross. I caress the mad lustrous length of her marveling at the serpentine contours and heat. With great deliberation I try anchoring in this glorious moment, a foolhardy task similar to halting time.

It’s not an exact science, this business of living. Astrophysicists calculate celestial movements of our planet and its siblings and our Sun with surprising accuracy. They predict huge elliptical movements of massive bodies unbelievable distances apart, but calculations will only get you so far. According to Wikipedia,“[T]he sun’s ecliptic latitude isn’t exactly above the equator at the moment of the equinox [but] the two events occur less than 30 seconds apart.” Thirty seconds. Predictable but not exact. As part of the universe, I live in not exact. My celestial behavior resembles a catfight.

I incline to the Sun but don’t study its travels in minute detail. You could say,  me and my star – we’re familiar. You could even say we travel in the same circles. I’ll credit celestial disorder; gathering nebula, super novas, whirling comets, elliptical deviations, gravitational pull, magnetic attraction and a red giant, for the woman on the bed and these clothes strewn across the floor like debris from a meteor strike. Dreamily, I wonder if Stephen Hawking could have predicted this solar event.

In the cycle of things I’ll ride my bike into winter as rain smacks me in the face. In the season of blossoming my friends will suffer runny eyes and sneezing. In a solar and coffee thrall I’ll observe wandering shadows cast long on the sidewalk in front of the café. It’s the way of seasons and their passing, like roiling boxcars on the old New York Central line, impossible to count in their mad rush and graying cacophony.

Occasionally if I want to feel shitty, I’ll contemplate the dull, immovable past. But not now. Now I lie abed, in awe, tantalized by the flexing muscles of her smooth long legs as she swings from the bed and glides, slightly duck footed, into the bathroom to pee. Her distracted reflection in the door mirror is intoxicating, sublime in form, and ultimately incomprehensible. If there is a god, please don’t let me tire of this. To imagine the incredible as expected or deserved is the act of a fool, but surprising things do happen like the eventual, almost perfect, balance between night and day.

*Read at Bang Out reading series

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June 7, 2013 · 6:14 pm

One of the many things I wish I’d put to page.

Opening monologue from Blood Simple

The world is full o’ complainers. An’ the fact is, nothin’ comes with a guarantee. Now I don’t care if you’re the pope of Rome, President of the United States or Man of the Year; somethin’ can all go wrong. Now go on ahead, y’know, complain, tell your problems to your neighbor, ask for help, ‘n watch him fly. Now, in Russia, they got it mapped out so that everyone pulls for everyone else… that’s the theory, anyway. But what I know about is Texas, an’ down here… you’re on your own.

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Old Man’s Friend

Old Mans Friend

May 28 / 2012.

The power saw shrieks this warning; “If you stay here you will die.” Lethargic, feverish, futonridden, unable to summon help. Like a fart bubble in a bathtub, dull edged fear rises sleep eyed, bursting awful. Unsteady I boost myself  upright where pendulum head hangs dumbly between knee resting elbows and hair bunched in  jittering, hands is matted like the wiry stuffing of an old truck seat. Well wrought ideas, hard to come by even on good days, have no purchase whatsoever.

First vision.

Black and white shop drawings of a Skil Saw model 77. Wound armature motor, pot steel body, housings, worm gear set, switch, carbon brushes, nuts, bolts, washers, the o ring seal for the oil tank. The metallic scream of a working model 77 Skil Saw rips through time and fever the awful noise shoves me from the couch shuddering. Now I’m upright, very unsteady, almost human. My hand clutches the wall, the sink, a glass of water, the telephone book. My thoughts are DuPont Red. A fevered red its black tint soaks sheets and bedclothes; applied with a heavy hand it drips and runs, the gold trim is fucked up too, dulled as if the damp paint were touched before the enamel dried.

Profuse sweat, deep ocean green charged and flaming, viscous sticky, oozes from  multitudinous sources and smells like I’d been dipped in a chroming vat. I’m not organic.

Curious dreams bathed in hot-rod irradiance; tangerine-gold and flamingo-red accented in copper pin striping, Sea Isle Green spiderwebbed in silver, and cobalt blue with an extra lick of fire like fingernail polish on a subtly beautiful woman. I don’t understand being sick. My guess is that I’ve got a flu, that it will pass. I wait a few days for this to depart. I almost wait too many. The power tool screams at me. I call a taxi.

Urgent Care; these people know sickness, know disease. Professional fixers. On cursory evaluation I’m attached to my very first IV bag ever, then they hit me again.

“How long has it been since your last drink of alcohol.” The girl doctor asks.

“Twenty-four years,”

Arched, dubious eyebrows. Although I’ve never been the poster boy for sobriety, I don’t drink. Wait until she gets the tests back, she’ll marvel my sober organs. But she disregards the charts and my sober organs. Sincerely she asks again, “When did you drink last?”

“Nineteen-eighty-seven.” She gives me one of those side angle glances. Is this a trick? Should I say I’ve been out drinking, will that make her happy? By late afternoon she’s had enough of me for the day. The nurse tells me to return tomorrow for results. But wait.

I’d left the emergency contact space blank on their paperwork, I always do, I’m a grown ass man, I can take care of myself. The nurse being thorough points to the blank space on the form. I shrug. She regards me with sad, sad eyes. I shrug again. “You can’t leave here without contact information.” I feel like telling her, “I’m a grown ass man,” but the thought passes. The dilemma is that I’ve just begun this romance, I’m afraid a call like this will scare her. The nurse being a nurse, won’t budge. She hands me the form.

“Fuck it.”

“Pardon me?”

Reluctantly I write down the number. The nurse snatches up the hospital phone dials the number and leaves a message for the girl who said she loved me.

I’m thinking, “Well this is fucked.”

The next morning I tell the cabbie to take me to Urgent Care, warily he asks if I’m okay. Too weak to fight or drive, too broke to pay for parking, I ignore the question. I’m facing another day of waiting, tests, and god knows what. Finally the frustrated doctor sends me to x-ray which gives her an answer; Pneumonia. Urgent Care has done its job, retiring outside to the sunny sit place on the terrazzo entry stairs, I clutch another taxi voucher and a prescription.

I’m very sick.

Mornings tend toward cool aqua and orange with just a hint of electricity melding blue during the course of the sun’s arc. After a few days of antibiotics fever spikes are less frequent, sweat lessens although I swim through waking dreams resting on the sharp edge of line drawn images. An auto shop manual, every piece exactly drawn, every nut, bolt, keeper and washer, every sheer pin and split ring. Pistons; four in the motor conjured, a manifold, fuel injectors, piston rings, connecting rods, full drawn crank and overhead camshaft, bearings, bushings, the drawing indicates timing marks and assembly paths. The drawn parts traverse space, transcend greasy fingers following precise lines and nest within the tight confines of the virgin engine block.

Fever delivers this exquisitely illustrated world as efficiently as the US Postal Service, images float in clean white space. Everything, every motor part, is exact and framed and highlighted in hot-rod House of Kolor, Shimrin metal flake and pearl.

Though visions are perfect, nothing in the apartment stays put. The bathroom plays peek-a-boo sliding the toilet forward a half inch, then to the right, now to the left, subtle enough so my visitors don’t notice, but I do. I’m jade green in the mirrors reflection; I know it lies. The sink and faucet shimmer in pinkish Martian light.  The kitchen isn’t as sneaky as the bathroom although not beyond shape shifting too. Food shelves are now pea green and appear to be humping the old Frigidaire that glows like the luminous hands of a watch. My land line phone is just plain ridiculous; buttons bunch in one corner of the handset like buffalo huddled against a blizzard. Besides grouped confusion, the number buttons are blue pearl, and as cold as deep space.

Statistics drawn from hospital records and shaky remembrance of the nurses conversations reveal this; previous to visiting Urgent Care I’d had no food and little drink for five days, where I shivered, ached, and sweat with a low grade fever that would spike super hot. I sweat through clothes, bedding, and my grip on humanity here I gazed deep into a dark candy tangerine abyss, under a dome of blue, like the desert sun setting in an electric sky.

Rent supersedes death and taxes. I’m astonished that I have lost the ability to write a rent check. I’m unable to hold a pen, can’t form letters, my handwriting indecipherable, foreign. I’m writing in another person’s hand. A person I’d never met. Hovering above me, my girlfriend is not amused.

Behold the last vision. York concrete pump; ball valve, manifold cap, hydraulic cylinder, breather plug, gland bushings, crosshead wedge, and backup ring. The pump is framed in cobalt blue with bronze pin striping. Exhausted I collapse on the pumps sharp angles finding that though it sounds unforgiving, cobalt blue is softer than goose down.

Though fever spikes less frequently and sweat dissipates I’m still waking from neon colored dreams with forgotten awe, clammy, sticky sweaty, with a stink that clings like dust motes in amber.

If it weren’t for hard core, dumb-assed luck, I could have stayed in the mauve space with the copper trim until I expired. It wouldn’t take but a few more days. Luck hit the trigger of the possibly imagined Skil-Saw. It’s scream ripped through lethargy’s blackness when all I wanted to do was lie on the couch sweat and shiver. The end would have been as easy as doing nothing at all, as easy as forgetting to inhale.

All good things come to pass and so it is with fever. The hot rod colors diminish and electrical sparks soften. Antibiotics percolate. Eventually I begin to smell like me. Close friends tell me I’m almost coherent. The others don’t say a thing. I write in my own hand once again. Removed from fever, I receive a dizzying kiss from the girlfriend without becoming dizzy.  Headspace for the mechanical drawings becomes palimpsest for other, more grounded thoughts. The sickness stuff, the visions and their hotrod hues are now a  queer, distant, and disjointed phenomena. In time, like a photograph laying in the desert, this experience fades. Is there meaning in this? I doubt it. The whys of pneumonia; of chromium dip sweat,  of pinstripes and candy apple paint, of mechanical schematics, have no meaning. You see, all of this appeared in a fever.

 

*Appeared in Lip Service West

 

 

 

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It began as a mistake.

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May 30, 2013 · 5:16 pm

Note from a Dirty Old Man

“… and the magic-horse violence of me, of it, of everything obsessed me. I poked and rammed and jammed, and everything was pure.

“Then in the excitement the blanket fell back. I saw more clearly the head. The back of the head and shoulders – it was one Baldy M. American MALE! All went limp. I fell back in indecent horror. I fell back sick, staring at the ceiling, and not a drink in the place.”

Oh sure most anyone goes on about Humber Humber and possibly the hottest scene never seen. But really, how many people live in Vladimir’s thoughtful crazy intellectual world? At the time I didn’t know anyone like Nabokov, face it, I’ll never know anyone like Nabokov.  But I  know a whole lot of guys like my favorite Dirty Old Man. It was probably thirty-two years ago when I first read the above paragraphs.

In the middle of everything I’d quit my job building a high-rise during the downtown building boom. Told the boss, “I’m not feeling it today.”

“What?”

“I’m not feeling it today, I’m leaving.”

“You sick? Hung over? Got the flu?” He removes his hardhat then tucks it under his arm sort of in a headlock. It was clear that he’d never heard such a request before. After all, it was only ten o’clock in the morning.

“Naah, I’m done that’s all.”

The seeming insanity of this, of me, fries his wires. His face turns red. “You can’t do that.”

“Oh, I can. Keep the hat.” I hand him my hardhat and skip off. On the walk home I pick up a sixer of Rainer Ale tallboys then blossom upon the rooftop sanctuary of my apartment house aided by Green Death, reefer, and “Notes of a Dirty Old Man.”

When I first read Bukowski I thought, I could do that. I already drink, I can learn to write. Yeah.

Bukowski drinks. Things happen when you drink. Unintended things. Like taking advantage of an unguarded keaster residing in your bed. He can’t see consequences because he’s long in the no-trim desert and sunblind. Out there, shimmering on the horizon is the oasis, a “bulging snoring immaculate backside.” Buk simply can not help himself. Drinkers understand that the odds are with the house and you’ll never be the house. Sure, once in a while you win, mostly to hold faith, but mostly you bust. Funny thing is, drunk, you never ever expect to loose. Drunk, you expect the shimmery headed girl in your bed to be there, or available, sort of, and to keep pretending to be asleep while you poke and jam and ram. When the deal starts to go bad, you figure it’s a bluff and add to the pot. Desperately show you cards, and you’re deep into a MALE! How did this happen?

Seven years later I’d had enough, I’d quit drinking because no matter how drunk I got I’d remember this Note from a Dirty Old Man. The way I drank I could never relax for fear that I’d find myself  in bed channeling Bukowski. At some point it would be me in that bed and the blanket falling back revealing every drunks nightmare. “In the morning we awakened and nothing was mentioned.”

 

*Appeared in Red Room

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