Home sweet home

is where I’ll be

Elementa and the future that never happened

Ever since she was a small girl Elementa understood she was expected to inherit her mother’s fortune telling business. This was a price she paid for living in the 18th century. Elementa knew damn well that if only she’d been born two or three hundred years later, she could have had the choice to take over her father’s shoe repair business instead, but life in the thick of Slobonia, as she called it, severely resticted her choices.

She had no interest in the fortune telling business. She had heard enough, sitting around the dinner table, about those “stupid fucking morons” who think they’re going to find a pot of gold or some such nonsense, when in fact none of them were ever going to amount to shit. Her mother’s idea of customer service was far from ideal.

Elementa liked to wander around the small dirty city and soak up the raw potential of the place. If only they’d get around to dredging the harbor this century instead of next, the town could have already enjoyed a lot more prosperity. The sawmills could ship directly from there instead of losing out on the opportunity to the neighboring Borschtville. Nobody wanted to listen to a six-year old, even one who was clearly a gifted visionary prophet.

Even her mother told her to shut up at least eight times a day. Elementa often resorted to relating the futures she saw to Zlateh the goat and Melba the sheep. Those two agreed with anything she said as long as they got their necks scratched.

Elementa’s father was not very good at shoe repair, but how could he be? Supplies were limited and expensive. He could have tried the plant-based alternatives she documented for him, but he already had his fill of listening to ‘all that crap about new ways’ and insisted on sticking to the tried and true. Verblatt, her younger brother and heir to the hut, always took his dad’s side. Verblatt was a total pain in the blatt.

Life churned along like the log-clogged river that blocked all local improvements. Nothing changed and yet everything changed every day. She was growing, and so were her powers. Elementa was beset by more and more visions of the future. Some of these were highly entertaining, such as when she intuited wireless radio and adult jazz contemporary music, but one day a new and very specific prophecy entirely broke her spirit. She foresaw the visit to their little town by his awkwardness the Soft Duke Burnt Schmittel, and his subsequent assassination right there along the waterfront. This single act, motivated by a pure and lofty ideology no doubt, led very shortly to the utter and complete extermination of her entire people.

There would be no inheriting of any stupid business. There would be no wireless radio. Elementa was murdered in her sleep on the eve of her seventh birthday. The future never happened.

What can you do when you can’t

Near the end of the movie ‘Drive My Car’, while enacting a performance of Chekhov’s play “Uncle Vanya”, the characters complain (or affirm) that although they have suffered and have nothing to live for themselves, they must still survive and live for others. I’ve been thinking about that.

Living for others. If you have a business, or simply employ people in some capacity, then your continuing to survive helps them as it provides their ongoing paychecks. This case makes sense.

If you are sick but someone close to you is sicker, and you can still take care of them to some extent, this case also makes sense.

If you can provide a service to people who need it – for example, you can drive and own a car or van and can transport people who don’t – this case makes sense.

As long as you can do something, anything really, that can help someone else, you can “live for others”. But what can you do when you can’t?

When you are disabled and housebound? When you are dying and bedridden? When you are old and immobile? When you are tired all the time and can’t get your mind to work properly?

One of my grandmothers was an early narrator of audiobooks on tape for the blind. When she visited us (in the 1960’s) she brought along a large reel-to-reel recorder and would spend hours talking aloud into the machine. She could read and she could speak. These were things she could do. She wasn’t being paid for this.

When you can still listen and hear, and there are people – or even one person – who needs someone to listen, that is something you can do. You can volunteer for a suicide hotline or some such.

If you can call your congress-person, or write letters to them – that is something (albeit pointless) you can do.

If you can think and write, then go right ahead, but what for? What is there that really needs to be thought or written about? Is this a service? Is this living for others? Or is this taking yourself too seriously?

Can you stop a war? Can you end discrimination? Can you heal divisions? If you can, you are a special person indeed.

If there is really nothing you can do for others, must you still survive? This is the unspoken question at the end of the play, or rather, the unimagined question. The play seems to assume that merely by living you are living for others, even if only potentially. Maybe something will come up. Maybe you will come in handy someday, for someone. Maybe your mere presence will have some invisible effect on somebody, an effect which will, in some obscure way, further the mysterious workings of God, though you will never know anything about it.

What do you owe these others anyway, that you are now ostensibly living for? Why can’t they get whatever it is they get from you, from someone else? What makes your contribution so vital? You’re going to die anyway, and at that time your gifts will necessarily be replaced. As they say in sports when a player is injured, next man up.

What do you gain from this so-called living for others? What do you get out of the deal? Are you a saint, whose acts are their own reward? Does it make you feel good about yourself? Do you think you are leaving your mark, accomplishing something, that this way your life has value, that it isn’t all for nothing in the end?

Does it simply give you something to do?

When you can’t, you can’t. And yet there you are, surviving anyway.

No one else is here

Kenji turned on the webcam. She thought she looked okay. The meeting note reported ‘No one else is here’. She was early. Today there were going to be three guests; a Pekingese, an Algonquin, and a Verbonutian. She needed to perform a few minor tweaks to get ready. The Time Aligner needed multiple facets adjusted. The Language Barrier needed some increased resolution. Last but not least, the Vertical and the Horizontal.

The meeting had an agenda. First, introductions. Second, review requests and proposed solutions. Third, action items. She didn’t anticipate any major issues. Each of the guests needed something from one of the others, so it should only be a matter of terms and back stock. 

She fiddled with the dials and was just about ready when the first guest requested entry. This was the Pekingese. Kenji let her in and offered the standard greeting. The dog’s name was Marbel, and was hailing from the Earth year 3525 CE. Marbel was anxious to get the meeting started, but settled down to wait for the others. The Algonquin, name of Apisi, was next, checking in via regenerative hologram from the Earth year 1506 CE. The Verbonutian, calling itself only that, was the final entry. Names were exchanged all around.

[Kenji] As you know, I have facilitated this arrangement according to wishes expressed on the SpaceTime Requests forms you submitted. I believe that among the three of you we can reach satisfactory arrangements all around.

[Marbel] I hope you are referring to the herb sack containing the long lost sacred remedies.

[Apisi] I believe I have all the specimens you require, in sufficient quantities and proportions.

[Kenji] As you know, the arrangements we provide must be mutual and mutually beneficial. The Verbonutian has a very special request.

[The Verbonutian] Yes, yes. I will explain. On my planet there is a critical shortage of bones of the damned. We need, we must have bones of evil creatures in order to pacify the Vermin Goddess. She grows restless already.

[Marbel] I have to say I have no idea what’s going on here.

[Apisi] Maybe some further explanation?

[The Verbonutian] You all have enemies, yes? Enemies you have defeated and whose bones you have buried in certain places, yes? We will take them all.

[Marbel] I’ve got a lot of bones in my back yard, but I don’t know if they’re damned or what.

[Apisi] Um, I’m not sure what this has to do with what I requested. I mean, sure, we’ve got a graveyard for the bones of our enemies and they are certainly expendable, but I was asking for a cure for this invader disease we can’t figure out on our own.

[Marbel] Oh I see. More of our medical marvels, eh? On the one hand, we think we need your ancient, sacred long lost herbs for this gosh darn rash even our best scientists are itching to solve, but sure, we’ve got immunizations for all those early European viruses. Not a problem. 

[The Verbonutian] A rash, you say? We had to fix all sorts of skin issues when our second sun went supernova a couple of thousand of your years ago. I think we might have something that could help you in case the herbal potions don’t do the trick.

[Kenji] Very good, very good. Now it’s only a matter of details. I’m sure we can work this all out to everyone’s advantage. Let’s revisit with concrete proposals – amounts, formulas and so on. You have each other’s contact information in the meantime. Your messages can go through this office where we can route them to the appropriate spatial, temporal, lingual and inter-dimensional locations. Thank you all very much. I’ll be in touch with schedules and reminders.

With that, and the usual semi-formal goodbyes, she adjourned the meeting. Kenji studied herself in the webcam a few more seconds before turning off the switch. Yes, she decided, she did look okay.

Introduction to hospice

2/22/22  (my mother would have been 92 ½ years old today)

Today is my first day in hospice. I’ve cut all ties to Stanford health care, canceled all appointments. It feels odd. On the one hand it’s a relief to climb off the hamster wheel that’s kept me spinning these past five years, the wheel of labs and scans and transfusions and infusions and scanxiety and hope that maybe this time, maybe this treatment. On the other hand, it’s like quitting an addiction. I’ve grown so used to the routines, the people, the blood letting, the suffering. From now on, my medical care comes to me, in my own home.

That’s also a sad sign. I’ve gone downhill like the flagstone path in my backyard, one step and one level at a time, some levels a bit longer or shorter than others, but inexorably down. First the anemia – ok, occasional blood transfusions. I can live with that. Then the cachexia – what is happening? How did I lose 20% of my body mass in only four months? Then the chronic breathlessness – at its worst when I’m standing up, bad when I’m sitting down, only relieved by lying flat. I spent two of the past six weeks almost completely bedridden. Now I have an oxygen machine, which is fine when I’m sitting, but when I get up and walk a few steps, or bend over and straighten up, very soon I’m coughing and wheezing and gasping for air.

The hospice nurse is coming soon with a “starter kit”, including low dose morphine, which should help interrupt those signals to the brain that tell it I’m low on blood oxygen. I’m also low on hemoglobin, and with no more transfusions, I have no idea how low it will go, or what that will feel like.

I probably have some months remaining. Cancer itself isn’t killing me today, but those other things have reduced my world to the main floor of my little house. I can’t go anywhere or do anything. Eating is a chore and an ordeal, as is breathing. I can still take care of my basic functional needs – bathroom and kitchen – and I can even work a few hours every morning. The extreme fatigue brought on by immunotherapy still wipes me out a few times a day. That is now almost expected. I don’t even think about it anymore. What I need is comfort, which is what hospice is for.

Once in a while I can write a short piece of fiction., and I do mean short. Once in a while I can pick up the guitar and play for maybe ten minutes before exhaustion sets in and I need to lie down. I don’t know what the next steps down the path are going to be. I don’t know how close I am to the bottom. All I know is I don’t intend to stick it out all the way. I plan to use California’s Death with Dignity law, and when some currently undetermined line is crossed, I’m going to end this adventure by myself. Maybe it will be when I can’t open the refrigerator door. Maybe it will be some other signal. Maybe I won’t recognize that sign right away but a few days later. My family knows this is my plan and they seem to respect it, just as they respect my decision not to pursue every barbaric treatment my oncologist continued to push until the end.

I just had to let it go.

All the Future Ex-Boyfriends

(lovely new cover courtesy of Shalon Sims)


On Christmas Eve, Charles very conscientiously gathered the trash from the various garbage bins throughout the house, dumped it all into the one main garbage bag from under the kitchen sink, and took that bag out of its wastebasket, tied it up very tight, and carried it out to the container on the street, where the garbage men would be sure to pick it up, whichever day they came in the following week. With the holidays you could never be sure what the garbage men’s schedule was going to be. Back inside, he put a new garbage bag in the wastebasket, and returned it to its home under the sink. Victoria was away somewhere. She’d be pleased he’d remembered to take out the trash.

Charles tried to stay awake for Victoria’s return that night, but eventually got too tired and fell asleep on the living room couch. When he woke up it was early Christmas morning and, as the saying goes, nothing was stirring. Charles performed his morning bathroom routine, then ambled into the kitchen to make his cup of coffee and customary Christmas bowl of Fruit Loops. He was just about to mindlessly dump his coffee machine cartridge into the garbage when he noticed something different. Although he had left a clean trash bag in the wastebasket the previous night, it was no longer empty. Instead, teetering on the top edge of the wastebasket was an opened condom wrapper. Charles hadn’t used a condom in over a decade.

Charles sighed and took a photo of the scene before dumping his coffee machine cartridge after all. Clearly, Victoria wasn’t getting any better at covering her tracks.

(Next) – Remy

Remy was a pâtissier who had spent years honing his craft at the finest culinary schools in the Tupelo area. He was very well known in certain circles and was often called upon for special occasions such as birthday parties and retirements. Although short of stature, balding, and home to an extreme mustache, he was irresistible to the occasional woman, at least until dessert was served. Never the most sparkling conversationalist, Remy tended to over-talk his welcome, sprinkling his chat with words like “moreover” and “Salzburg”. One especially cruel ex-lover had secretly recorded his after-dinner musings and posted them on the now-defunct social media hub Postah, garnering tens of thousands of “guffaws” and “tears sideways” faces.

Remy lived alone in a small two story white brick former mansion on the South end of the Tupelo marsh district. He liked to say he was “one with the tides” because you could watch the sea level rise and fall in real time from his second floor living room. In his youth, Remy had played first clarinet in a semi-professional marching band. Lately he lazily tinkered on the keys of his antique upright piano. He was a living, breathing catalog of all that jazz, and would gladly tell you all about the hard life and unfortunate demise of any of the most obscure artists from any given era.

Remy once had a cat. He had never had a dog.

(Next) – Dawson

Dawson was cool. He really was. Nobody is ever going to tell you different. Tall and tan, he’d not only been everywhere, he was also from everywhere. His mother was from Nicaragua and his father was Scottish, but his father’s parents came from Nigeria and Vietnam, while his mother’s folks hailed from India and New Zealand. Dawson had eyes so grey they were almost green, and his hair so blond it was almost gold.

Even though he’d been everywhere he was not the kind to say trivial shit like “if you go to X then you must see Y”. No, Dawson was cool and everyone was on their own trip. He liked to nod a lot. That’s how he let you know that you were also cool and on your own trip. He was also good at squatting. He could squat for hours around a campfire, chewing on a reed, nodding, digging all the vibes. He could also squat for months at a time in otherwise unoccupied homes. Dawson was himself unoccupied. He had no occupation but he got around, he got by, he was getting through it all.

Often there was a woman near Dawson. His women liked to be close, they liked to be touching his warm skin, his expressive hands, his warm and kind smile. Everyone assumed that Dawson was an artist of some kind, a musician most likely. He wore some unusual beads and had some tattoos worth mentioning. Men also liked to be near Dawson, and they especially enjoyed telling other people that they knew him, they’d hung out with him, they were cool.

When Dawson turned forty, he came into a bunch of money from somewhere. The money changed him a little. He was still cool but he no longer enjoyed the company of others so much, probably because now he knew that they knew that he had some money, and he felt like they wanted it, wanted it from him, wanted the money more than they wanted his simple, easy presence. He wasn’t as happy as he used to be, and there was nowhere in the world he could go where anything would be different.

(Next) – Rodrigo

Born in Mexico and raised in California, Rodrigo was always looking out for injustice. Once, when a speaker asked if anyone in the audience had any questions, and a man on the right side of the room and a woman on the other side both raised their hands, and the speaker noticed the man first, Rodrigo made sure that everyone in attendance was well aware of that. His dark curls and light eyes made him look more European than indigenous, so he often felt like he didn’t get the credit he deserved. The privilege endowed by his appearance belied the history of his people and their struggles.

Rodrigo hated being a type, but on the other hand he had one; slim Southeast Asian women who enjoyed wearing very short skirts when they went out on a date. His Postah pages alternated chronologically between the latest of these women and his big orange cat. He was a lover, not a fighter, but he was also a sort of lazy lover who had a routine, a playlist if you like, that determined the course of his relationships as regularly as the orbit of the moon.

This playlist was a menu, a schedule of dinner dates, beginning with tacos and then progressing through tapas, sushi, cicchetti, banchan, dim sum and eventually zakuski, each of which left his girlfriends hungry for more. Sooner or later they wanted a cheeseburger and fries, and Rodrigo would become disenchanted with them. He told himself they only dumped him because he was Mexican.

(Next) – Bingham

Bingham resurfaced after many, many years. He was not the same kinda creepy guy she remembered from growing up across the street. He still had that overly blond face – somehow his whole face was blond – and a certain largeness defined not only by actual physical size. You knew when Bingham was there. He never talked much, and even when he did you had to strain to hear his soft and calming voice. He was always “Mister Last Word” in every argument. He just fucking ended them, whether you wanted them ended or not. It was like, well, Bingham’s spoken so I guess that’s it.

He was even more graceful now that he was confined full-time to a wheelchair. Even when he was a small child no one would have been surprised at that turn of events. He’d always been slow and deliberate with his movements, an ace on the dance floor, always precise, the goalie on the high school soccer team who stopped nearly every shot. Bingham saw and Bingham knew. The rest of the world seemed like it was moving in slow motion to him, while to the rest of the world he was the slow one.

He always brought appropriate gifts. This made up for his hosts’ reluctance to invite him. There was no one who disliked Bingham, but no one who really liked him either.

(Next) – Ryan

She was certain that Ryan had what she wanted, that he was what she wanted. After all, she had made a checklist and he ticked every box. She was done with dating white boys (she called them boys) and wanted someone of her own color, even darker if possible. He had to be a good dancer, not just enthusiastic or willing. He had to love nature and she’d met him on a docent tour around the lake. Tall, check. Handsome, check. Soothing deep voice, check. And his laugh, that laugh, it made her so wet. 

Adequate in bed, check. She wasn’t asking for miracles, and he did express some interest in her experience, interest if not exactly follow-through. The first day, the first night fulfilled all her expectations, and she wasn’t someone easily fooled. She knew that expectations were the key to everything. Ryan had a college degree in marketing or business  or some such. He had a job at a well-known corporation. He had ambitions, plans, a future – check, check, check.

What he didn’t really have was a personality. Ryan also knew that expectations were the key to everything, and he had learned to tune himself specifically to the roles he had to play in the places he had to play them. He was a gamer, and the game was success. The game included his idea of a girlfriend, and that idea was more of a simulation than an actual person. She realized pretty quickly that if he really was what she wanted, then she was going to have to turn herself into what he wanted. That was fair, but it wasn’t possible.

(Next) – Damien

Damien had so much going on all the time he almost looked like a blur. With his locks constantly in motion, his eyes never resting but always fixed on something with intensity, you felt you were in the presence of raw energy. He lived in a studio not even large enough for one person yet somehow there were at least four or five people at all times, most of them not even staying long enough to qualify for being there, a constant rotation of men, women, children, and you didn’t know who they were.

She tried to hang, she really did. She was okay with the quantity of women coming by, even the beautiful ones. She knew they wouldn’t stay long and didn’t mean anything, but she didn’t know if she meant anything either. When Damien had her in his sights she felt like the most important thing in the universe. He meant every word. Then his laser focus re-focused  onto something or someone else and did he even know she was still there?

His headphones never left his head, not even while sleeping, which he accomplished without anyone being sure of it. His fingers glided over his Ableton Push 2 sequencer and you could see the lights flashing on his laptop but you didn’t know what it sounded like. He only published through his label and they never previewed anything for fear of losing the moment. Damien was always weeks if not months ahead of his listening public.

His relationships were the same. As soon as he met you he’d already moved on.

(Next) – Nico

Nico was a delight. Dashing, charming and full of life, this curly-headed man in his mid-forties seemed at least twenty years younger than that. She had never been to Istanbul and to have Nico as her guide was to see the world with brand new eyes. He knew everything and everyone, where to go and what to do in order to have the best time possible. He was devoted, latched on to her like glue and it was wonderful.

As they wandered through the ancient city, she learned the histories of a thousand sites, churches, mosques, palaces, neighborhoods, conquerors and the defeated. Nights along the Bosporus were enchanting. The six-day, five-night all-inclusive package, which came with its own dedicated tour guide, was worth far more than she had paid. Every moment was a keeper, but unfortunately Nico was not. He was booked for months in advance, one week at a time. She wondered if he slept with all of his charges, or only a high percentage. Well, he was worth it.

Months later she dated a Turkish man, and as she began to share all the knowledge she’d gained from her guide, she discovered that quite a lot of it was wrong, a very high percentage in fact. Nico, this man informed her, was obviously a Greek charlatan who knew almost nothing about Turkey. She reminded herself never to bring up the subject again.

(Next) – Morton

“No, he’s not 90 years old”, she had to tell people when she told them his name. He’s Brazilian. He was kind of old-fashioned, though, she had to admit to herself. Morton insisted on outdated chivalrous gestures, opening doors and such. She pretended to appreciate it when really she felt like kicking him in the shin and shouting “I can open a fucking door, okay?”

Morton had a weakness for the whiskey sour. He liked to wear bow ties. He thought being short and dapper was cool. He had a radiant smile, especially after a couple whiskey sours. He was an excellent dancer and had astounding taste in obscure Afro-Latino music. He worked as a conductor on the Coast Starlight rail line. She really wanted to love this lovable little man.

She liked to imagine his perfect lady friend. It wasn’t her. She didn’t have dimples. She didn’t have patience. If only she could lock herself down and never change. Then the two of them, frozen in amber, would be of great historical interest in the far distant future. 

(Next) – Graf

Graf took charge, and if that was your sort of thing then he was your guy. Taller than his friends by several inches (and she suspected this was part of his calculation as to whether or not you were going to be his friend) and with a dirty blond beard to match his dirty blond hair, Graf could usually be found leading the way. His friends had to strain to keep up (and she suspected that was why he walked so fast). Even when his shortcuts led to a dead end, Graf was unperturbed. He merely took charge once more.

Graf took charge in bed as well. He was a very determined fellow. The situation existed as a showcase for his decisiveness. She did like the way he sort of tossed her around, made her bend this way and that. Sometimes she had to try not to laugh out loud. She thought the situation existed for perhaps other reasons.

Graf taking charge at meal times was a bridge too far. She could be a bean bag when she felt like it, but she also knew what she wanted for breakfast. The he-man diet wasn’t it. Where Graf failed to take charge was with his own mind when grappling with dissent. Other people were apparently more real than he imagined and he didn’t like that.

(Next) – Martin

Martin hand-rolled Gauloise cigarettes. He invariably wore black corduroy pants and cowboy boots. He walked very slowly through crowded downtown streets. His face was like a mountain lake, bright and clear but remote. You could never tell precisely where he was. He didn’t speak much but when he did he had to repeat himself because no one was paying attention. He pronounced his name the French way, and liked to read the newspapers of foreign nations in their own language. It was never clear how many he understood. Martin was born and raised in New Jersey.

His opinions were vague and random. Suddenly over coffee he’d lament a railway strike in Ghana that inconvenienced shopkeepers over a decade ago, or announce that women who wore their hair up in a bun were flirting with moral catastrophe. Some of his friends liked to joke that he was a brain-damaged time traveler. He liked to quote Joyce or Proust or at least he said that’s who he was quoting.

One day he noted on Postah that he’d broken up with her friend Barb. She wanted to be sympathetic but she didn’t even know he was with Barb. She thought he was with her.

(Next) – Daj

Daj was a handsome man. He was fastidious, clean, well-dressed and well-groomed. He only liked to go places where the other people were likewise good-looking and dressed up. This was only one reason why Daj was unbearable. He judged everything according to his aesthetic standards, everything, from food to cities to cars and women to trees and lawns and boulders. Yes, she told her friends, I once caught him giving disapproving looks at a fucking rock. He was a very binary man and he liked living in narrow spaces. His apartment in the city was essentially a hallway. 

He didn’t like to talk about where his money came from, but somehow he had a lot of it. He would go to the symphony or the opera and hired limos with tinted windows so he wouldn’t have to see any grime or unkempt persons. His groceries were delivered by uniformed doormen. He was an excellent cook and specialized in Mediterranean dishes. She tried to look him up but he’d had himself scrubbed from the internet. There was nothing about him online, nothing at all. 

He would have been gay except his artistic sensibilities insisted on everything going in its appropriate place. He knew about love from music and stories but he didn’t seem capable of feeling it. He knew there was an inevitable chaos involved in love. Chaos was not his way.

(Next) – Gregg

He first saw her at a local grocery store and made sure to get in line behind her at checkout. She wasn’t getting much: chocolate covered Macadamia nuts, a bottle of red wine, Havarti cheese, a box of table crackers, and a package of biscotti. Gregg bought himself some chewing gum he didn’t even want. He cautiously followed her home. She lived in an apartment building with a security gate. He had to wait a while before he could sneak in but then there were no names on the mailboxes. He had to get her name another day from an innocuous conversation with a neighbor.

By then he’d already tailed her to work but since he didn’t know her name yet, there was nothing he could do. When he did discover her name, he showed up at the front desk with a red rose, introduced himself as her boyfriend, tried to get in to see her. Security said no. This was a startup with a very strict visitors policy. He didn’t leave a note, but he started taping a red rose to her mailbox every day, no matter how long it took to wait for someone to open the gate so he could sneak in. One time it was even she herself who opened the gate on her way out.

Soon he was also leaving brief notes along with the roses. By this time, she had called the police and the landlord had even handed over the security camera footage. That was a waste of time. He got hold of her phone number and started sending text messages. There was nothing distasteful about these messages except they were unsolicited, unwanted and the whole thing was creepy.

She moved, but that was pointless, since he followed her to her new home from work and resumed the rose delivery service there. She blocked his number, but he got new numbers. She changed her number, and that worked for a time. She knew what he looked like now, so he took more precautions, attempted to disguise himself, even hired a kid to deliver the roses and notes.

She moved again, changed jobs, wishful thinking. Eventually she had to trash her work history, change her name, move to another state, and hold her breath. This motherfucker had never even said hello.

(Next) – Bo9b

Bo9b was the most normal guy she’d ever dated. Sure, he had some peculiarities, but didn’t everyone? She liked the fact that he designed and 3d-printed the shoes he wore. He even designed and printed some for her. She even wore them once or twice to be polite. He could, and did, explain everything in near suffocating detail. So okay he was smart. He was like a nuclear scientist or something and worked at a place that did that sort of thing. It was like being a student again at forty-three.

She thought he’d really hit it off with her friend and especially her friend’s boyfriend, who was also smart and explained things. They didn’t get along. Having everyone over for a barbecue was probably not the best idea. Men get weird about those things. Her friend’s boyfriend was like a fake cowboy and because he said he was from Texas you were supposed to take his word about stuff. Bo9b didn’t take his word.

Bo9b talked about the coming mass extinction as if it were a topic worthy of study. She thought it was rather horrifying. He didn’t have much of a bedside manner, but was always ready with something specific for whatever ailed you. When she got the plague he assured her that some chemical he brewed up was going to fix it. She decided to take advantage of the quarantine rules instead, and never saw him again.

(Next) – Royce

All of Royce’s qualities, both good and bad, came with a quota, an invisible, unknowable fence of limitations. He would buy a round at the bar, but not another, and maybe not another again for months. He would compliment you on your outfit, but not on the next two or three outfits, whether he liked them or not. Every now and then he would let his friends know they were assholes. Whenever he exercised one of these qualities, it would be accompanied by a big old good boy smile. This was to make sure you knew he was up to his antics again.

Royce idolized his father, who’d been a carpenter before leukemia carted him away much too soon. Royce’s dad was a consummate practical joker. He was legendary among the middle-aged and older men that Royce still hung around with. He only dated younger women so of course they couldn’t come to poker night, or darts night, or craps night. They were of course welcome at karaoke night, where all the songs were from previous generations and the older men got to ogle all they wanted. Royce was a winker so you knew that everything was all right.

None of his friends knew much about him. They teased him for driving a Prius, but they’d be surprised to learn he was enrolled in poetry appreciation classes, or that he’d tried his hand at standup comedy once. He drove to the city to live that other life from time to time. He would have made the move permanent, and shed that aw shucks skin once and for all, but the memory of his father prevented him from ever becoming fully himself.

(Next) – Willem

Willem has raised overseas and can speak more than one uncommon language. His dating  profile emphasized his ability to get along with all sorts of people, and this turned out to be true. He had a high tolerance for even the most obnoxious people and was willing to sit and listen to anyone’s nonsense. This led to unwelcome distractions and longer-than-desired conversations. When he wasn’t sacrificing their precious time to the lunacy of strangers, he was a passable  companion. He enjoyed novel experiences,  never complained about anything, and was always ready for adventure. 

Willem didn’t mind getting lost, or being stuck in traffic jams, or going the long way around. This tendency to inefficiency had cost him more than one job, he confessed, but he also didn’t mind getting fired. Willem was not on the fast track to anywhere. He abhorred fast tracks almost on principle. Yes, he had been a slow student. Yes, he didn’t go to college. Yes, he had no actual  career or plans to pursue one. He was born to be a stay-at-home dad.

He was always glad not to pay for dinner, for a movie, or for anything, really. He was skilled at expressing his gratitude. He may have been a freeloader but he was at least a happy one. He was a warm and fuzzy creature, loaded with body hair and one of those long beards that most men are incapable of attaining. His light bright eyes were both an invitation and a warning – here comes nothing.

(Next) – Fritz

Her friends insisted he was really all that. Sure, he was a locally famous surfer, and there’s nothing more cool than a locally famous surfer. They said he had great stories, but most of those seemed to be about the lengths women would go to in order to be with him. He was quite proud of his roster of crazy ex-girlfriends.

Fritz was light as a feather. His eyes almost had no color. He was always waiting for her to make the next move, and he was really good at waiting. Fritz didn’t make decisions. The universe made its intentions clear.

Somehow he never got a parking ticket, even though he parked wherever he felt like. He broadcast the very best vibes. When he wasn’t in the water, he was usually dancing on the beach to music no one else could hear. He had the best life, but there wasn’t much space in it. Fritz wasn’t convinced that other people existed.

(Next) – Serge

Serge was more attractive than a man can possibly be, with his powerfully built chest, massive arms, endless tattoos, and perfect beard. Even worse he was a very nice guy, friendly, kind to strangers and old ladies, popular with both cats and dogs. He was attentive to your needs but never overbearing. You searched in vain for negative qualities.

He was neither rich nor poor, didn’t work too much or could be accused of laziness. His job was both righteous and interesting. His parents were also beautiful and socially worthwhile. Serge was a keeper but couldn’t be kept. It’s not that you disappointed him. He was just too curious, a grazer. Life was too short.

Life was literally too short for Serge. He was only in his thirties. Some kind of lymphoma. No one was allowed to see him or take pictures near the end, but you wanted to remember him as he was anyway, in all his glorious perfection.

(Next) Paulie

Paulie had a rough childhood. Besides polio and bullying, as a scrawny little nine year old he was left in the woods one night by his parents, who promptly changed their names, moved to another state, and were never heard from or seen again. Paulie, who was at heart a survivor, barely made it through foster care. After seven homes in nine years, he was tossed out at the age of eighteen with four hundred dollars and his birth certificate. By this time, Paulie had learned one important skill: he was able to get away with murder.

Paulie employed this talent to profitable effect in the vast urban wasteland around Los Angeles. Sometimes he was paid by others, but usually he just took what he found for himself. By the age of twenty two he was a homeowner, had a golden Mustang, and ran his own private investigator business, modeled along the lines of a seedy massage parlor. You could ask about his “extra” services.

He didn’t keep score. He didn’t boast or swagger. He was still the scrawny, ugly scarred little guy he’d always been. Thing was, though, he knew how to treat a lady. He never skimped or shirked a bill. His girlfriends reaped a profit as well. He was happy to share the spoils. The acne was a bit much, though. Try as they might to ply him with beauty and skin care tips, he deemed his rough red lumpy face as essential to his business. His relationships never lasted long, and that was fine with him. He treated his girlfriends the same was foster care had treated him, as a temporary but necessary nuisance.

Delete! delete!

Tonight I moved a personal journal from Blogger to WordPress, where it can never be accessed by my gmail account. I have my reasons. Anyway, I logged in to Blogger and deleted the blog from there, after the successful migration. I often wrote the rough drafts of my novels on Blogger, so I wasn’t surprised to see them there, but I was surprised to discover (re-discover) two unfinished novels, from 2013 and 2016, that I had completely forgotten about.

The weird, and disappointing thing, is that these two unfinished novels were based on ideas I thought I only recently had for future novels. I’d forgotten that I’d already tried, and failed, with those ideas.

One idea was a dialog between an incoherent, dying man and the ghost of a girl he once loved in middle school – the basic concept was illustrated recently by the wonderful movie “I’m Thinking of Ending Things“. I could never to better than that. I think it was based on a novel, too.

The other idea was a far-future one where the development of artificial intelligence has run its course to the great disappointment of all involved. It never overcame it’s racism, sexism, lack of basic human context or genuine, meaningful purpose. In a final attempt, a computer scientist is charged with developing an algorithm that will be the equivalent of a decent palm reader. If they could only reach that level of artificial emotional intelligence, at least, then maybe they would have achieved something worthwhile after all.

It just shows that my mind runs like a wheel, retreading the same territory over and over again.

Mornings on the Rise (Fragments from Books that Don’t Exist #130)

“Good morning, Thomas,” the alarm clock said. “You have exactly three hours”.

“Three hours,” Thomas Baggerly repeated to himself as he sat up in bed.

Every morning he has three hours until he runs out of time, when he suddenly runs out.  The day is over. Time’s up. During the time he rotates between the things to do. He has a bit of a social life (wife Jessica/Jennifer), a son (Brian/Ryan), work to do (systems engineer, hospital lab receptionist), hobbies (learning to play the piano, watching sports on TV).

In his work he is developing a service to help users learn to use their time wisely, but mostly he has to write components, get feedback, design reviews, code reviews, one delay after another. With his wife they’re asynchronous. She seems to have all the time in the world, is always doing something else. Same with his son. Hours vary. They don’t often see each other. He alternates between equanimity and frustration.

One day the alarm clock tells him he has exactly two hours.

Cumbia bichera

Self-publishing has been a fun and worthwhile sideline, and I’ve been introduced to a number of excellent writers along the way, but one of the biggest things that happened to me through self-publishing was discovering this song through an indie writer (though I can barely remember who it was).

The song led me to discover a whole new world of music through ZZK Records, music I’ve listening to for the past ten or more years since that initial introduction.


The Different Soap (Fragments from Books that don’t Exist #129)

There are more than one kind of nutshell to put things in, so when you say “in a nutshell”, the quantity can be variable. Is it a walnut shell or a filbert shell? A pistachio shell or a peanut shell? Elias couldn’t be the only one who perceived this obvious fact, so why was it that no one was ever more specific about the nutshell they were putting things in?

Danielle couldn’t stop shaking her head. She had married this man. She had married THIS MAN? All day every day he was “perceiving” such “obvious facts”. The one dream she had at this point was that one day he would come home smelling of a different soap. She would damn well fucking perceive that.