Tarn Said

Sunday Photo Fiction this week made me think of Miller’s Crossing, but since I already wrote something very like that I thought I’d take this in another direction. Sort of like if characters from a Faulkner story got pulled into a 1970s dirt bike slasher movie.

Tarn said they had it coming, racing around like that like they was kings of the whole damned woods. And with Miss Lotty laid up too, all night asking what that noise was, what them lights was. They had it coming, Tarn said, and I held with him on that.

It was only clothesline, besides. Not thick enough to stop a body, even. Maybe throw a scare into one of them. Maybe then they wouldn’t come back.

That’s how we started with it, anyway.

Just,  we didn’t get to it right away. We waited two nights more. Maybe that was where the devil got hold of us, because when we was done it wasn’t no clothesline. Four-point Sierra barb wire, 12.75 gauge. And that was just for starters.

You maybe read about the rest of it in the papers, how the wire snagged the first few riders around the neck and knocked ‘em off their dirt bikes. How we had twisted the ends through circular saw blades we brung up from Ryerson’s mill, the ones was leaning rusty against the oil shed all them years. How them blades flew out right at them motorboys, pulled by the wire as fast as you please, them blades tearing them up like the hounds of hell.

To tell it now makes me almost ashamed. Tarn did say they had it coming. And I agreed.



Überhaus Diary: The Knife

November 23rd, 1997


The neighborhood was located in a little triangle formed by the intersection of two major highways. For once, the highway designers had gotten it right, placing the on and off-ramps in such a way that they were both invisible and practically inaudible to the homes of the neighborhood.

My friends Holly and Hugh both worked at Intel and had just purchased the house. They jokingly called it “Mr. Blandings’ Dream House” because of all the money they were having to spend fixing it up. It wasn’t all that bad. A bit outdated, as houses built in the twenties can be, with a bad kitchen and small bathrooms. Holly is a perfectionist and they were planning on being here for a while, so she and Hugh ponied up and it was “This Old House” all over again. My first visit found the place in utter chaos, with walls ripped open, two-by-fours studded with  bent nails , coffee cups with cigarette butts sitting on the floor– a regular workman’s paradise.

I stayed in a hotel.

Several months later I was in town again and they both insisted I come up to stay with them. My job had not been going well and I could ill afford to spend money, so I agreed. I rented a car at the airport and drove out.

As I pulled in to the driveway I saw that the gardeners were hard at work. Bags of mulch and fertilizer, lengths of irrigation pipe and various tools were distributed about the yard, which looked like the French countryside circa 1916. Trenches and dirt piles were everywhere, and racks of bedding plants were stacked under the eaves of the house. I worried about what I’d find inside.

I needn’t have. The place was immaculate. The lighting was soft and warm, coming from gallery lights hanging from the vaulted ceiling. Interior walls had been moved, creating an elegant space with graceful proportions. The furniture was of superb quality, and beautiful Turkish rugs covered the polished floors. The kitchen was a dream with a Wolf stove and granite counters. I could see they spent a bundle.

They made me welcome and even prepared a dinner in my honor. Afterward I did the dishes, duty of a grateful house guest. As I rinsed basil from the blade of their expensive Sabatier chef’s knife, I noticed that it was quite dull. It seemed criminal. The knife was the best you could get. I checked the rest of the set. Same story.

When I was twelve, my grandfather gave me a twenty-dollar buck knife and showed me how to sharpen it. A dull knife, he said, is the worst thing in the world. It was not only dangerous, it was a symbol of deterioration and decay, of laziness and of incompetence. Sharpening a knife, really sharpening it, was an exercise in both patience and skill. It was easy to do wrong and you could ruin a good blade with carelessness. Still, if you weren’t willing to go the trouble of keeping your knife sharp you shouldn’t own one.

He was a hard man, my grandfather, but he and I must be alike in some way because this lesson rubbed off on a me and I can no easier leave a knife unsharpened than a mother can leave a screaming baby.

So I rummaged around in their professional kitchen until I came up with a whetstone and some mineral oil, and I sharpened all their knives as we played Trivial Pursuit. When I finished, every knife could shave hair off my arm. I wanted to show them how to use the steel for honing, but we agreed that we’d all had too much brandy by that point to avoid a trip to the hospital.

The next morning was Monday. Hugh and Holly were out of the house long before I awoke. As my business in town wasn’t until the evening, I decided to give myself the unheard-of luxury of a slacker’s morning of coffee and the newspaper and perhaps even a bath. Holly left a note saying that the workmen might be around out front and to let them in if they needed to use the phone or toilet.

I ran the hot water into their deep, Japanese-style tub. It was the size of a small cattle tank, with high sides of polished granite and nickel fixtures. It gave me pause to think of the kind of money a married couple without kids had available when they both worked high-paying tech jobs.

As I lay back in the hot water I relaxed for the first time in weeks. My mind unhinged and I thought about pleasant things. Hope began to seep back into me, and I felt that things were going to work out in my favor.

The doorbell rang.

But I didn’t have to get it, did I? In fact, I shouldn’t get it. It rang again. I ignored it, feeling delightfully bad. After a few more furtive rings, the caller went away. I lay back, untroubled.

I saw the bathroom door, which was unlatched, begin to move inward. At first I thought it was one of the cats, but the door stopped in mid swing and the head of a Latin man peeped around the corner. When he saw me his eyes nearly popped out of his head. He vanished. It must be one of the workmen, I thought.

But he hadn’t said anything. Surely he would have said something.

Maybe he didn’t know anybody was home. He certainly seemed surprised at seeing me. Then it occurred to me that I hadn’t heard the workmen, no truck, no talking.

I jumped from the tub and wrapped a towel around my waist, running out into the living room.

There, on the coffee table, was a little pile of my friends’ valuables: camera, camcorder, jewelry box, silver urn. My blood ran cold.

Out front there were flashing lights. I saw that beyond the wreck of the yard  a state trooper had pulled a motorist off the highway and was writing out a ticket.  I ran out, towel and all, and told the cop that I had just been burglarized and that the perpetrator might still be inside. He called for backup, and two minutes later a couple of cop cars screamed up, sirens blaring. They went into the house with guns drawn, just like on TV, me standing there in my bare feet on the dirt holding the towel around my waist like an idiot.

The thief had rung the bell, come around back and slit the screen on the kitchen window, slipping in light as a cat. He quickly found the valuables and was making a final sweep when he discovered me in the tub. Just at that moment, the trooper had pulled up out front with his lights flashing to write the ticket. The would-be thief saw the cop car, panicked and bolted out the back door.

On the deck outside the back door lay the fourteen-inch Sabatier chef’s knife which I had turned into a razor the night before. The cops figured the guy had dropped it as he fled.


I’ve always wondered  if the guy grabbed the knife before he saw me in the bathroom, or after.

You Can’t Go Back



Only the pain was real. His daddy standing over him wasn’t, dead years gone, dead of some fool accident  that made this one look minor.

Yeah, minor. He laughed, more of the pain arriving along with the laugh. He wondered again why he didn’t bleed out. There was blood enough, clinging cold on what was left of his pants.

Other side of the tracks, right where he’d been standing, he could still see his shoe. He’d never really seen his shoe before from that angle, at least not with his foot still in it.

He lay back and tried not to move.




For the Citizens of Prinn County

Here’s a new prompt.  I love these things. Beats the seemingly endless cycle of revision, anyway.


Mrs. Maurice was obviously losing her temper.

“Young man, I’ll have you know that there would not even be a Prinn County Museum were it not for the generosity of Mr. Maurice.”

Jared looked past her in the hope that someone, anyone, would come and help him. No such luck. He was cornered.

“Ma’am, I would really like to accept these, and I can. I will. Absolutely. But I can’t guarantee—”

She thumped her umbrella against the desk. “This is an important collection! All fifty states! The people of Prinn County deserve to see these! All fifty states!”

The tip of the umbrella floated an inch from his eyes. Her mouth was tight. Jared noticed the lipstick bleeding into the creases around her lips. He scooted his chair back slightly.

“Mrs. Maurice, I will be glad to take them. I’ll tell the director how important this is to you—”

“To the citizens of Prinn County! I want Mr. Maurice’s hard work to benefit them. I have nothing to do with it, personally.”

He stood and walked around the desk. He picked up the heavy cardboard carton of license plates, hating community service worse than ever.


Überhaus Diary: Passion

A once heard it said that a good diary entry is a letter written to your future self. Using this maxim as a pole star, your can address daily happenings and the emotions they engender with a frankness impossible in, say, a letter to your mom. I keep it in mind when I write in my diary and have sometimes been surprised and pleased when I have read the entries after some intervening span of years has elapsed.

But what of blogging? Usually, blogs are hot topics for a brief time, if ever.  It’s rare for me to find attention paid to old posts, even good ones that had lots of hits and likes and so forth. Saved forever, read never. Private and public. Hide in plain sight (or site, as it happens.)

Part of why I’m digging out my oldest blog posts is to  see if I still agree with my old ideas. The exercise is also a trip down memory lane to glimpse into the mind of the young man I was back then. This entry is a bit of both. I had yet to experience working in a true cube farm when I wrote this (a situation since remedied several times over) but I had had enough experience to see the position on the board.  Lately, too, I have read a few articles about David Graber’s observations on Bullshit Jobs, so it’s fairly topical. I guess it’s old story after all. And like many old stories, it has more than a streak of truth in it. But lord, was I cynical. I guess that’s the prerogative of youth.


November 22, 1999

All these people seem to spend  so much of their lives doing things they’d rather not be doing. Has it always been so? Have the majority of the populace always been forced to do things for which they have no passion?

It seems now that even the word passion has taken on a pejorative quality. It implies imbalance and disobedience. Fit of passion, overcome by passion, passionate love affair. It’s as though passion  has been designated an uncontrollable force, an all-consuming state of mind which endangers stability.

The subtle message is one of danger, and we are educated to avoid dangerous things as much as possible.

This has a blanching effect on daily life, both boring and insidiously demoralizing. White slave owners of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were quick to outlaw drums and dancing among their chattel because the slaves were passionate about these thing. The influx of such energy among the subservient was , shall we say, undesirable.

So now I stand by and watch the spirit drain from the people around me as, day after day,  their lives spool away behind them leaving a trail of tepid, half-hearted action exchanged for money. Doing what? Making  e-commerce shopping carts and actuary tables and sales reports and hours and hours of meeting.

Hobbies are looked at as something extra, and even those who show passion in their extracurricular activities are seen as kooks. The golf freak. The bodybuilder. The man who builds ships in a bottle. Even the hobbies are useless and transient.

What remains of their life force swirls lazily down a bathtub drain as they sit at their desks. They grow wan and even transparent, creatures of habit watching the same shows and eating the same meals, never having a moment of feeling alive, never a moment of epiphany. They are killing time,  and the time they kill is the fabric of their very life.

At yet the passion remains, albeit untapped. It builds like a flood tide surging against a breakwater, rising and rising until the smallest breach appears in the bulwark and it can explode out with disproportionate force. The post-game victory celebration turns into a riot, the peaceable grasshoppers transformed into rapacious locusts overturning cars, setting fires and breaking glass. The mild father has an affair with a woman half his age.  Alcoholism and violence everywhere.

Or the untapped force turns inward, the despair seeping in over years to pool around the ankles, unseen and unnoticed until one day the force is felt in full. The person gets the idea that the only direction to turn this force is at themselves because the realization of a life spent killing time is not necessarily paired with the ability to change it.  It comes with anger and despondency and regret, so the crack in the damn becomes yet another of our modern suicides. All the stored energy becomes an ejector seat.

Maybe all young people feel this way.  Maybe I’m wrong. I hope I am. I really do.

Not For The First Time: Friday Fictioneers

Anther prompt from Rochelle, 100 words based on the picture below.


The foreman  cursed and screamed. Jesús understood little, but he took the meaning.

The foreman eventually lost all composure, taking Jesús up by the straps of his overalls and fairly lifting him off the ground. His reddening face now inches away, flecks of spittle landing on Jesús’ cheeks as he shouted each word, spacing them so they would land like stones tossed into a pond.


Jesús turned in his tools and walked slowly to the trailer.

Not for the first time he wished his English was better. He could explain, then.

Überhaus Diary: {wash}

In the late 90s. Portland experienced a “heroin renaissance”  when a lot of cheap junk saturated the city. It took a toll. I would see junkies nodding in doorways, or sometimes doing the “junkie lean” in the middle of the sidewalk.

Photo by Pine Ear

When high they were ethereal beings. They seemed to dwell on a different plane.  Their edges blurred into a soft focus like Vaseline smeared on a lens.

When the junk wore off they turned cagey and menacing, their feral cat’s eyes gleaming in the headlights, bodies etched against the surrounding darkness.

This entry dates from winter of 1998,  an early attempt to capture a witnessed moment as if in a sketchbook. I think there may have even been a drawing  that went along with it, but that’s long gone now.

I can still picture the young man. He was perhaps twenty. Though we were the only people in the laundromat, there was no communication between us.

He  was washing a single outfit. He took it out of the dryer and put it on while it was still damp. He fled.

After he left I watched the little numbers on the dryer tick down to zero.Untitled-1{wash}


{he shivers} in the laundromat

jockeyshorts, shoes and socks
Maybe the smell
was enough at last
to drive him? or

{he couldn’t score, so}
{he feels sick anyway so}

{he} may as well

fuck it’s good
for mrs america and her mexican kids
to see

{he is dying} smack in the middle
of this nice neighborhood
{since now he}  

hops foot-to-foot
bone-pale reflection
greasy lank hair-whip rebukes
running rashes all
along the sore-breached skin
eager glances through the window

{he never knows} who might come by
with a special surprise

licking cracked lips
{he owns} what
spins in the drum

25cts for 20min.

genuine sickness

{now} the chill nausea crawls  down his spine
{he pictures} his guts writhing
between its fingers
as it squeezes down hard

{he reaches} to slide on
{his second skin} stained
still wet with flower smells
{he is not} held here

{he flies} into darkness
a piece of paper in the fierce cold wind

The End Of The World For Now : Friday Fictioneers

Rochelle  picked a beauty this week for her hundred-word flash fiction prompt. Click the link below the story to see the other entries.


“I’m not going.”

He set his lip in that way he had. The stubborn lip, she called it.

“Chas, that’s nonsense. You love it. Besides, they can’t play Bix without their cornetist. They’re counting on you.”

He shook his head. She stood, came to him. She laid her hand on his cheek.

His eyes pooled, but he wiped them on his cuff before they could spill.

“What’s the point, Gracie? I really don’t see the point anymore.”

“My dear man,” she cooed. “My dear, dear man. The point is to keep on going just as we have been. That’s all.”

Since Because and Since


true strangers, they

since in the city

the dark before the dawn

is lit just the same

as winter evenings

since nobody is fooled

by some little thing

they themselves remember doing

still, once

since lying about an apartment

makes you leave everything

early and alone

to walk in the dark, cursing

since every single morning

the cars are all still

there, moving, full

of them, true strangers

since the will of god

seems always in their mouths

since because and since


Harvey High

Disclaimer: this story is based on real events, but is no way are a journalistic recording of  what actually transpired. Harvey High was a real person and we had this conversation. That’s all I will admit to.

I heard Harvey High died a few months after this story took place, but I might be wrong.

I sure hope I am..


February 1998

“Harvey High is dead. From now on it’s Harvey Golightly.”

He was serious.

I asked if he was still involved in the Scene.
“Look at me!” he said. “Look at my eyes. Do I look like I’m still involved?”

He said he was clean, had been for three months.

I mentally subtracted half of that, but for Harvey it was still pretty good. And I had to admit that he did seem healthy. The skin around his eyes looked less drawn, and though he still was stick-skinny he didn’t have that death’s door vibe so common to him in the old days.

“Look at me!” he kept saying.


Last time I had seen him was around Christmas. He was shaky sick from some bad shit he got from somebody he didn’t know. God only knows what can end up in your spoon when it passes through so many hands. Baking soda, laxative, even drain cleaner. Harvey was never a careful consumer, especially if he was edgy.
My guess was that it was some kind of cleaning product. He said he had scored from a tweaker, and  tweakers have lots of cleaners around so they can scrub the bathroom floor with a nail brush at four in the morning.
Harvey’s skin was yellow then, covered with so many sores it was as though he’d been ravaged by a swampful of mosquitoes and left to scratch all night. He was scratching, too, eyes glazed with that far-off junky look. Mostly he just looked sick.
“You look like shit, Harvey High,” I said as I walked into the living room.
Jae and Fresno were playing  fast rummy, slapping the greasy cards onto a board which lay on the carpet between them. Every so often Jae would yell out a curse as she took a trick, a grin of  gloating triumph across her sallow face, Fres  hissing hatred through his mouthful of scummy teeth.
They had been together longer than anybody. It was a longstanding mystery why. They loathed one another.
“Jae is a rat cunt whore,” Fres would say when she left the room. “Fucking filthy twat bitch cunt.”

Harvey said he was now living on his own.

“I’m making some money playing happy hour at Ted’s joint,” he told me.
He held out his hands, fingers splayed. The nails were clipped and clean, his eyes clear and blue as he talked.
“I was walking out of Hung Far Low on Tuesday and I heard a woman running up, so I turned. She came up and said ‘You don’t know me, but I saw you a bunch of times and I gotta say you look really good, Harvey!’ I mean, she was a stranger. I tell you, that’s some validating shit.”
I nodded, not knowing what to say.
“Harvey High is dead. Harvey Golightly. That’s me.”

He seemed so sure, but I wondered.