Friday, August 16, 2013

Reading Ripples

The bottle you have chosen is a precocious little number that hints of vinyl car-seat leg sweat infused with the subtle nuances of Frito crumbs. The floor-al bouquet with notes of hippie sandal and paste wax may bring a tear to the eye. It pairs nicely with chicken or fish and is perfect partnered with ham that smells like fish. Drink romantically from a paramour’s shoe of this grape never stomped. Make Jello-shots or pour it on your cornflakes. Seriously it's yours now, we don't care if you brush your teeth with it or pour it in your radiator.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Good Morning Six

I see the guitar that my cousin played in prison, is floating with the tv in the swimming pool. A topless girl is sleeping sunny side down on the picnic table, her hands tucked prayerfully under one sweaty cheek, her face innocent as a three year old sleeping off a big day at the carnival. The girl must have called it a night early because every surface of the table she does not occupy, is covered with empty bottles and cans. If lifted away carefully, a constellation of her would remain.

Duke trots over to where Joey has passed out on the lawn, drops a slobbery tennis ball in his face and I hear from inside, others beginning to grumble and groan awake.

I zip up after the longest whizz of my life, spot a half full Corona on the girl’s table, tilt the cigarette butt out along with the lime and drink a toast to another fine Saturday morning.


This Six was a response to a challenge Gita Smith threw down on the now defunkt Six Sentences site. Her challenge was to write a Six using the first line of a song for the first sentence. I chose Jim White's, Handcuffed To A Fence In Mississippi but used the line I like best rather than the very first.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Elvis Lives

Elvis lay on his bunk listening to the stuttering rooster. The Rhode Island Red has taken its customary pre-dawn perch on the rail fence outside his window and as usual, struggles to bring his morning announcement to a conclusion.  “Urrrr-urr urrr-URRRr, Urrrr-urr urrr-URRRrr.” It’s a starter grinding on a weak battery. No fuel. No spark. No vroom. “Urrrr-urr urrr-URRRrr.” When Elvis can stand it no longer, he gets up, throws open the camper trailer window and yells, “Hot-Aw-Mighty-Damn, Son; it’s ROO! Urrrr-urr urrr-urr-ROO!” The rooster rustles down from his post deflated by his failure and the defeat and hurt visible in his one good eye shames Elvis. “Aw shoot, I’m sorry Rusty,” he calls after the yard-bird as it sulks away. But the damage is done. Way to start the day.

It had been Elvis’ intervention that kept the Colonel from shooting the rooster that Saturday morning he showed up bloodied from comb to claw with a shiny metal talon skewered through his neck. He was obviously a refugee from the Friday night cock fights held across the border. Less clear was whether he had won or lost. The Colonel told Elvis, “OK, but he’s your problem now, son. Clean him up if you want but if you aim to keep him out of the soup pot I wouldn’t try pulling that sticker out of his neck.”  There had been no danger of that as the mean little banty bastard would not allow Elvis to come near. He did however eat the feed and drink the water Elvis put down for him daily and he took up residence in the abandoned Karmann Ghia behind the main barn.

The rooster survived without doctoring and little by little the steel talon that still cursed his cock-a-doodling eroded away leaving only Frankenstein bolts on either side of his neck. His breast feathers, once white, were stained red with rust. Rusty Suspenders, (just Rusty for short) was the natural name for the newest member of the family. 

Elvis ran hot tap water and spooned instant coffee into a cup. He felt bad about losing his temper with the bird. It wasn’t Rusty’s stuttering that was bugging him, he couldn’t help that. No, he wasn’t mad at Rusty. In fact, Elvis maybe more than anyone could empathize with Rusty’s uneasy adjustment from fighting cock to alarm clock. He’d had more than a moment in the spotlight himself after all. To wind up living in a 60 year old Airstream trailer on Colonel Parker’s dirt farm, 300 yards from the Calexico border with a stuttering rooster for a best friend qualified as a flabbergasting fall from grace.


The late seventies had been a tough time for The King. Some racket called Disco was gaining favor and only country stations were playing the king of rock and roll’s singles. An English band called the Bee Gees was wearing jumpsuits and another dweeby Brit was performing something called punk and calling himself Elvis. The King was pretty certain this was not homage. His appetite had grown with his depression and his own jumpsuits no longer zipped.

He talked to the Colonel, told him he wanted to grow his hair and wear flannel. He wanted to write songs fueled by his feelings of helplessness and angst. The Colonel told him that weepy shit would never fly, and besides, he had a plan. It was to be an absence makes the heart grow fonder scheme like when the Beatles killed off Paul. They would announce: The King Is Dead.

After a reasonable period of world-wide grieving, during which time Elvis archives would sell out and have to be re-pressed, Elvis was to be whipped into shape at the Colonel’s Cancun complex. Personal trainers and a nutritionist would mold him back into shape and restore him to all his hip swiveling glory. Then, he would rise like a phoenix, maybe even in a new sequined phoenix jumpsuit. The Colonel would pronounce The King’s resurrection, announce his new album and launch a worldwide tour. The best laid plans.


Elvis found Rusty sunning on the bonnet of the Karmann Ghia. He’d saved his last powdered donut and he balanced it on a fender. Rusty could not hold a grudge. While the bird pecked his breakfast down Elvis took the canvas sack from the peg hook on the side of the barn and slung it over his shoulder. He felt the weight of the pistol and remembered to check for bullets. Three left.


The Colonel’s plan was working. The world wore black. Every single Elvis recording or piece of related memorabilia sold out. Fans overwhelmed with mourning made pilgrimages to Memphis Tennessee to see the mansion Elvis named Graceland. Down south things were not going quite as well. Elvis was not used to having folks (other than Colonel Parker) tell him what to do. When the spunky aerobics instructor (pogo-ing in her Olivia Newton John leg warmers and headband) tossed his covers back one morning and told him it was time to get up and get physical, physical, The King introduced her to the Prince of Morningwood and physical they got.


Elvis started off down the dirt drive and Rusty abandoned his donut crumbs to trail behind. It was his routine to walk the 2 miles to the mercado and along the way pick up aluminum cans. Rusty would snatch up any bugs that scattered from under the cans. Theirs was a symbiotic relationship. The pistol was in case he spotted rattlesnakes or coyotes. The rattlesnakes posed no threat but would fetch $500 pesos for a large one, enough for a case of Sol cerveza. The coyotes, the two legged ones, they were trickier to turn a profit on.


The staff at The Colonel’s Cancun Casa all fell in love with Elvis. He got high with his nutritionist Barry and talked him into making pot brownies every day. He was sleeping with Kelly his spritely aerobics instructor and teaching her transcendental meditation to help curb her hyperactivity. The weight trainer, Jordan, resisted at first but after finding out Elvis’ black belt was not honorary, (for a fat guy Elvis had a mean roundhouse kick) he decided to just join the party and work on his novel. Years later it would be released anonymously with the title Primary Colors. Many would mistakenly believe the central character to be loosely based on President Bill Clinton, himself a rather charming fellow loosely based on Elvis.

While Elvis’ metamorphosis remained stuck in the chrysalis stage, the other side of Colonel Parker’s plan was surpassing expectations. People were just not prepared to live in a world without Elvis and they did not intend to. Long Live The King. 45s of Hound Dog  were selling for hundreds of dollars. Legions of Elvis impersonators sprung from every corner in every shape, color and size. Graceland with its deep pile shag and velvet furniture became a Mecca of sorts to a clan known collectively today as Walmart shoppers, and to Parker’s delight, the central hub of a billion dollar industry. Long Live The King!

It became clear to Colonel Parker that Elvis was worth more dead than alive. The only problem was Elvis got restless being cooped up in the Cancun compound. The staff couldn’t keep him on the complex and every time he escaped he was sighted. These sightings took on a cultish aspect of their own and folks either bought into them whole heartedly or made them up for amusement. Either way, the Colonel knew there was no such thing as bad press. He just needed to keep it speculative. He couldn’t risk the truth being exposed definitively. Elvis would need to be kept hidden. He was too well known for Cancun and even Cabo was not secluded enough for one of the most recognizable men who ever walked the planet to go unnoticed.


This story has been stalled for too long so I finally decided to just post it as is and move on.

Monday, January 28, 2013


Francisco poured milk into his coffee to match the North Fork of the Gunnison. Café con leche, he thought as he watched the river roiling thirty yards outside his window. He’d come as he did each year to fish the spring run-off and feel the river's pull as it made its journey South. He fished the morning, catching and releasing early season cut-throat and rainbow trout until the cold drove him into Nadine’s for coffee and a seat by the wood stove.

Nobody named Nadine had ever worked a shift during the forty three years that Nadine’s had stood sandwiched between Colorado 92 and this bend of the Gunnison River. Sarah however, had poured thousands of cups of coffee and slid countless cheeseburgers, BLTs, and Today’s Specials across the Formica counter-top to a proportionate number of shivering fishermen. Today, like any other, as she warmed Francisco’s coffee she asked one of the two things she would always ask of patrons, “Cold enough for you?”

"Mas frio que la teta de una bruja!" Francisco blurted. Then quickly, "Oh perdona, I, I mean...I’m so sorry.” Sarah laughed, “Don’t worry about it amigo. Some of the boys that come in here have said a lot worse without ever asking me to pardon their French. I suppose I can forgive you your Spanish this once. Tell me, just exactly how would you know if it’s colder than a witch’s tit out there anyway?”  It was Francisco’s turn to laugh, a shade redder. Amused by Francisco’s embarrassment and touched by the sincerity of his apology, Sarah smiled and asked the other question she would always ask, “Catchin’ any?”

Knowing better than to continue pleading his case once the charges have been dismissed, Francisco launched into his account of the morning's fishing. He recounted each fish, the kind of fly he had tied, and which rock or eddy it had struck near. Sarah listened attentively (though she’d heard it all before) and when Francisco finished said only, “We’ve got peach pie today.” Then she winked with what Francisco noticed to be one of a pair of lovely brown eyes. She turned, walked half the length of the counter to the old circular glass pie safe, withdrew a wedge of pie and returning, set the plate on the counter in front of Francisco.

Before Francisco could speak, the door burst open with a blast of cold air and a new pair of anglers entered, batting arms against coats and scrubbing the boots of their waders on the doormat. Sarah gave them a wave, patted Francisco’s hand and pulling her order pad from her apron, moved towards her new customers, asking, “Cold enough for you?”

Francisco studied the waitress with newfound interest as she walked away and decided he liked her both coming and going. He forked some of the pie into his mouth and once again looked out at the river that would soon mingle with the Colorado and flow southward through the Grand Canyon. Farther along it would separate Arizona from California, on the way to the Mexican border. Most of the river would be siphoned off to irrigate a thirsty Southern California. Some though, would dampen the border along Baja before emptying into the Sea of Cortez. Only a trickle perhaps, but standing in the river’s icy flow, Francisco could feel the connection.

He finished his pie and was warm enough. He tucked four dollar bills under his coffee cup and on his way out, tipped his hat to the pretty waitress with the name tag that read Sarah.

Outside the sun had risen well above the ridge of Snow-capped peaks. The air was still brisk, but the sun was now warm on his shoulders as he hiked the short path to his pickup, retrieved his fly rod and then continued on to the river’s edge.

Anglers he passed along the way invariably inquired, “Catchin’ any?” At first, it had puzzled Francisco that so many would pose such a question without so much as slowing their pace for a response. Gradually, Francisco had come to understand this to be more pleasantry than inquiry, so he now replied a concise “some” or “a few” without slowing his own. Heard one, heard them all, he thought. This made him wonder if his story had bored the waitress, Sarah. She had no doubt heard her share of fish stories. Note to self: Be more interesting.

Wading into the river, being careful not to slip on the ice that still skirted its banks, he began casting. He whipped the line overhead before laying it flat on the surface and then twitching it ever so slightly to animate the nymph he’d tied to the leader. Standing in the current, sunlight bright on snow he knew would not melt away completely for weeks, Francisco thought of how far removed this was from the fishing he’d done as a boy in Mexico.

He remembered his father, Octavio, taking him fishing in the big, brightly colored panga boats. Francisco could almost smell the thick oily paint they would slather from bow to stern in preparation each summer. Octavio, would use whatever color paint he could procure, but he preferred a brilliant red, blue or green. His thinking was the fish would be first attracted to the boat and then to the bait. Nobody could question Octavio’s logic as he was widely regarded as the best fisherman in the village.

They fished the Pacific Ocean out of Bahia de San Quintin catching every manner of fish. In the summer they'd out muscle albacore tuna, dorado, marlin, or swordfish. In the winter they wound up rock cod and grouper from depths so great the fishes’ eyeballs bulged from the rapid change in pressure and sank their chicken wire traps outside of the kelp line for lobster. It was a fisherman’s paradise two hundred miles south of the border. The fish he caught today were smaller than the mackerel he used to catch for bait, he thought as he tossed his fly expertly into a small eddy created by the fresh erosion.

The fly only touched the surface, and the water exploded. The rod bent with such ferocity that Francisco stumbled forward several steps before regaining his footing. Line tore from the reel’s spool, blistering the pad of Francisco’s thumb. He needed to loosen his grip; he needed to give this fish line. He knew these things as surely as he knew he was standing hip-deep in the North Fork of the Gunnison fishing for trout. That, was the reason for his lapse. Had he been on his father’s panga, his reaction would have been automatic. Set the hook. Set it again. Loosen the drag. Use the rod to tire the fish. He’d done it a hundred times before when an albacore tuna inhaled a sardine and broke for the ocean floor. But this was too disorienting. His mind told him it was impossible; albacore tuna do not swim in the Gunnison River. His thumb, however, hotly disagreed. So, regaining his wits, he released it, adjusted his drag, and began advancing on the fish.

Line paid out at a rate Francisco could ill afford. At least the fish cannot dive, he thought, as he shambled over the cobbles to lessen the deficit. He angled towards the bank, every muscle straining, balancing and counter-balancing to remain upright. If he could reach the bank and scramble out of the river without losing the fish, he might stand a chance. He would need the advantage as his tackle was far too light for a fish like this. If he could just move in front of it...

...but his thought trailed off as forty yards upstream a silver missile with long, black, pectoral wings pierced the muddy surface and launched six feet into the air. The image would have been no more incomprehensible had the fish flapped those wings and flown into the sun. It was a Pacific albacore tuna, thirty pounds or better, twelve hundred miles up river.

Francisco was still trying to wrap his mind around this new development when one of the large, round, river stones he’d sought purchase upon rolled sending him to one knee. He struggled to right himself, but the icy water filled his waders. He was now part of the current. He remained focused as he was swept down-stream, despite the excruciating cold. His reel, which by all rights should be bankrupt, was no longer surrendering line. The fish had turned.

Maintaining his grip on the fly rod with his right hand, Francisco urged the dumb, frigid, digits of his left to unbuckle the shoulder straps of his waders. He poked and clawed in the vicinity of the clasps, his dexterity for the task oddly reminding him of clumsy backseat grappling and groping with his high school sweetheart’s bra hooks. Carmen Candamio, what a beauty she was. He hadn’t thought of her in years, and, given his current current circumstances, it seemed a poor time for reminiscing. Still,it made him smile to remember, and, with determination nearly as urgent, he was able to coax the clasp’s submission more easily than he ever had Carmen’s.

This at last accomplished, he held the bib of the waders agape, allowing the river to steal them. Free now, he rolled on his back and kicked towards the bank, reeling in the slack line as he went.

The water no longer felt cold to him, which should’ve been alarming. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he knew the signs of hypothermia. Gazing up at the cloudless blue sky though, he felt serene and even warm. He thought of the waitress, Sarah. She would be warm, he thought. She would be sweet like her peach pie too. Mmmm pie, he thought. He was drifting, almost dreaming. Maybe he'd close his eyes. Just for a few seconds. He dreamed he was floating, which wasn't really a dream. He dreamed he was floating in the warm sunshine holding Sarah’s hand. He dreamed of a pelican against the stark blue sky. He watched the elegant bird gliding on the thermal without beating a wing. When the pelican crossed in front of the sun its shadow fell upon them blocking out the warm sunshine. This chilled Francisco to the bone. He jerked his eyes wide open and resumed his kicking, aided this time by the twin engines of panic and adrenalin.

Teeth chattering, Francisco reached the river’s edge. He grabbed an exposed root with his free hand and dragged himself to his feet. He was out of breath. The fish, improbably, was still on his line. He reeled furiously, the line spooling on with almost no resistance.

Francisco regained all but perhaps twenty feet of his line. He could see the fish now, swimming only to maintain its place in the current. He wondered briefly why the fish still fought the current. Then with a rush of panic, it occurred to him that he had no gaff. The small net he used for scooping trout from the river was not only sorely inadequate, but had been jettisoned along with his waders.

For a stark moment, neither fish nor fisherman struggled. In that moment Francisco saw the deep lines of his father’s face. He saw the bright pangas, the blue water and the brown earth of Mexico. Then the water around the fish exploded once more and Francisco watched helplessly as the fish swam, at first with no urgency, and then as a streak, downstream.

Francisco staggered across the ice and collapsed on the bank. His head throbbed, and his heart felt the sorrow of a lover’s departure. His mind worked desperately to place order to this surreal turn of events. Had he hit his head in the river? Could it all have been a dream? Surely he was losing his mind because albacore tuna do not swim in the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

The sun was setting as Francisco laid the sections of the fly rod in the bed of his pickup. He walked down the path and up the steps to Nadine’s. Opening the door, he saw Sarah sitting on a stool by the cash register counting her tips. She looked up from behind a wall of ketchup bottles upended one upon another, smiled and asked, “Catchin any?” It was perhaps the prettiest smile Francisco had ever seen. “Pour us some coffee and let me tell you about the one that got away,” he said. Pulling the door closed behind him, Francisco felt the sharp sting of a fresh blister on his thumb.

Now knit something with that yarn!