For the Citizens of Prinn County

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

335

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.

cubicle_farm

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.

lauren-moscato

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.

YOU GO NOW TO SEE THE BOSS.

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.

6833498264_14b915ca09_h
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
drying
{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.

bandstand

“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

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..

harvey

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.

 

 

Isn’t It Odd? – Friday Fictioneers

Friends, it’s the Friday Fictioneers flash fiction– following the featured photo.

Photo by Rachel Bjerke
Photo by Rachel Bjerke

“What’s back there? Behind the house?”

Watching her face, I could see what Clifton meant when he said she was shifty. For the tiniest second she scowled at us, then smoothed it away in that realtor’s smile.

“I think it was a barbecue the former owners installed.”

“It’s covered in moss,” said Clifton. “I think it’s a lot older than the house. And isn’t it odd the fountain would be so close?”

The realtor made a fuss of leafing through the listing. “Well, there’s nothing in here about the fountain.”

Little Jordy slipped my hand and ran out to look.

 

Überhaus Diary: Last Thursday

100-0058_IMGz1In the late nineties, I had the good fortune to be the director of Überhaus, the last bandit loft in southwest Portland. We had an anti-art event called Last Thursday that started as a protest against Portland’s famous First Thursday gallery walk and soon became its own thing. We would feature  a show of  work curated by Sugar from the Bone, an east side gallery representing artists who didn’t have a prayer of getting hung anywhere trendy. We would feature a different artist every month.

There was live jazz provided by the superlative guitarist Jason Seed and his trio/quartet (depending on who showed up.) Jason, who is now a noted composer and performer in Chicago, worked at the bookstore below the Überhaus and moonlighted as a gigging musician. He was and is an astonishing player who would range from Wes Montgomery to Jimmy Page without moving his hands all that much. His combo was always top-notch and played their asses off for tips and free drinks. Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Monk and other standards, but also cool arrangements of other artists. Nirvana, the Beatles. Sometimes we also had a Tom Waits cover band called Freight Train Casanova. Once we had a bunch of hip hop DJs haul up turntables and the party went on for two days.

The drinks were on me…or rather, on my employer. I was a liquor salesman in a state that forbid anyone but an officially licensed agent to sell liquor. Oregon is a “control state,” so all the booze is state-owned and sold directly to the consumer through state-owned stores. I guess compared to prohibition it seems pretty liberal, but stacked against a wide-open market like California the rules were draconian, the entire multi-million dollar market tightly regulated by a twelve-member commission made up of geriatric conservative men and women from rural Oregon.e  The giant liquor companies needed representation with these geezers in order to promote their brands, so Oregon employed  brokers who would arrange for the sale of, say, several thousand cases of Jack Daniel’s at such-and-such a price. They knew the commissioners by first name and would wheedle and deal until they had an agreement. Then they’d bring in the brand manager. This guy would  walk in wearing a three-thousand dollar suit to make his case to the panel of sour old people that Watermelon Rum was a product Oregon consumers demanded to drink. If the commission said yes, it was a huge victory with thousands of cases sold in an instant. The broker would lop off his cut and they’d go away smiling.

But if the commission said no, it was egg on the face time. The broker and the brand manager would scheme and plan about how to get their stupid swill into the state stores. Whether any money changed hands between the liquor companies and the commissioners I never knew, but products like CC Citrus, which looked like a bum’s urine and tasted like whiskey sprayed with Lemon Pledge, made it onto the shelf.

march thursday

I was the low man on the totem pole of this organization, a peon sales rep who was forbidden to sell anything. That left promotion, but it was almost impossible to do promote booze because there were so many rules (no Jäger girls, no shot machines, no big displays in liquor stores, etc).  What I mostly did was set up case displays in stores and take polaroids of them. It was boring, but it took me out into the glorious Oregon countryside with no supervision whatsoever. I became familiar with Tualitin, Wilsonville, Hillsdale, Forest Grove, Yamhill and a hundred other whistle stops

My real job was to take Barcardi or Jack Daniel’s or Remy Martin regional brand managers around to the bars  to “check on accounts.” That meant showing them the town and staying drink for drink with them. It was a dangerous job for a nascent alcoholic, all the more because of distillery claims.

Distillery claims were what happened when a bottle was damaged in some way as to make it unsalable.  Cracked caps, peeling labels, breakage. All these were ways the state could claim  a refund for defective material. The liquor companies were happy to comply because it bought them goodwill the flannel-clad Greatest Generation who could, with a few stroke of a pen. affect their bonus by a few grand.

So I would collect these claims, mostly half-gallons of bottom shelf gin, rum and vodka. Occasionally there would be a bottle or two of something good like Maker’s Mark, and  we could always create a claim by twisting a cap, if necessary.

It was almost never necessary. Each week left me with one or two cases of shitty booze with bad labels or caps. I didn’t even need to write them  up. The agents just wanted me to take them away. I was happy to oblige, because it fueled the best party in town.

The booze was wretched, so I would make it into cocktails. Mojitos (a new thing then), Gimlets, even rusty nails. I’d mix the cocktails in three-gallon infusion jars and dye them strange colors to confuse people. No food was served, nor was beer or wine. Hard liquor only. People got drunk. It was a pretty amazing time, although the debauchery occasionally got out of hand.

In order to promote it, I wrote a faux review I put on the Überhaus website. I wrote it from the point of view of a girl I talked to at a one of the parties. She was with a guy I think was named Seth. However, she was so drunk that it came out “Siff” so that’s the name I used in the story.

Without further ado, Überhaus Diary from May 10th, 1998, a couple months before we called the whole thing quits.

uberparty3
Uberhaus 1998. Photo by Radames Pera (he played Grasshopper on Kung Fu)

 

Siff called to let me know about this party on the last Thursday of the month. “Party?” I said, which is for me an action verb. I am a party maniac, known to hit multiple parties on any given night, especially drinkin’ holidays. I’ve been to all kinds: Bar Mitzvahs (lame usually, but sometimes with gorgeous men), Greek Orthodox weddings (fun, but too long and way too much bizarre alcohol…Ouzo, Metaxa and plum wine make a girl very pale in the morning) april thursand good ol’ fashioned keggers (a lot of guys in ball caps standing around the keg as though it might go away), so I know a lame party by the way the door looks on the way in. Not looks so much as feels…you get a good vibe from some parties.

It takes experience, but that’s easy to come by.

I figured what the hell, I’ll go. Thursday is practically Friday where I work, and the last Friday of the month is a dead loss anyway because usually it’s payday and you’re mentally in a bar by noon. Siff told me to doll up because these were real people and this was a real party. I took heed and was glad I did.

First off, we couldn’t find the place.

Siff had an invitation with the address, so I’m clanking around behind him in my Ferragamos and tight skirt trying to read numbers off the sidewalk. Turns out we were on the wrong street because when we hit 13th there was this icky spray-painted door with “Uber Haus” scrawled across it. Music was blaring from upstairs, so we made our way up. The place was packed and the band was blasting out a Monk tune. Then I noticed the building.

grl

I’m not easily impressed because I was raised in a big city, but this place was cool…a real Soho-style art loft right in the heart of downtown’s glamour district (you might call it “boys’ town,” if you get me). High ceilings, fans and pillars. On the walls were giant disturbing paintings.

Best of all, on a table in the middle of the room were jars of colored liquid and a stack of cocktail glasses (which you hardly ever see at parties these days). I went over. The drinks were unnaturally colored and nobody seemed to know what they were. I tried one which was a hideous red color. It tasted like a gimlet. Delicious. I tried the blue next. It was a kamikaze and went down so smoothly I had another. Then onto the green, which turned out to be a mojito, a sort of a rum julep. That was great.

try4small

I was feeling good by this point. Siff was nowhere to be seen, so I started talking to some of the beautiful people. Amazingly enough, they were interesting. I talked about why Faulkner was a drunk with a young guy who asserted, “Faulkner is a piece of shit and I’ll take that to my grave.” I talked  with this absolute babe of a chick about girls who have ugly tits. I met the director of Uberhaus and complimented him on the cocktails. I  listened to the band and looked at the art. I stayed and stayed.

The dynamic of the party would surge like a tide as people would come, leave and come again. The band played on…

At this party there was an element of the grotesque that made it all the more memorable. All of our tongues and lips were stained with the dye from the cocktails. Everyone there had a black tongue as though suffering from some hideous affliction. Death, maybe.

I hear that this party goes on every month. If that’s true you can bet your sweet ass I’ll be there.

Crossing the Bridge: Friday Fictioneers

Time again for Rochelle’s  weekly 100-word flash fiction prompt based on a photo prompt. frost-on-a-stump-sandra-crook “You ain’t gotta do this. He knows it wasn’t me. Why you gotta do this?”

I hate when they get like this. Tell me what I don’t gotta do. This was worse because she was right. He knew it wasn’t her. He even had proof.

“I’m just the wife, for God’s sake. And not even that. The ex-wife.”

Crossing the bridge it seemed like she might be thinking about bolting. I tightened my grip. Even if she got away, where could she go?  But she probably stopped thinking clearly a long time ago.

“I’m innocent.”

Now she was just lying.