The Nicotine Nightgown

We all know her. She could be a coworker, an ex-wife, a mother. Coffee stained paperwork covers her desk while she quietly swears under her breath “Can you believe this shit?” Another day, another problem in the office. Neither tears, nor complaining are ever far away. She always approaches silently. Like a ghost. Her raspy voice croaks “Can I bother you for a second?” and you agree because you think she is trying to solve an issue you might be having in the office, but then somehow, you are hearing about her life. The words pour out like the coffee from her stained and battered Mr. Coffee. The same Mr. Coffee which has been on for 30 years. Once it was a gleaming bright white, now its a dark cream color, slicked and stained with years of coffee steam and cigarette smoke. It resides on the tan counter, atop brown cabinets, carefully glazed with smoke, soot, and dust. A tiny television in the background sits on a wheeled cart that’s never moved, its volume blaring. Her leathery feet with their yellow toe nails are tucked into small, pink supermarket slippers. She bought them years ago on the same night she got a magazine about Princess Diana’s death and a lottery ticket that will never win. She shuffles across the yellow linoleum floor. Worn so thin by her years of pacing that its begun taking on the features of the plywood below. She hefts the glass pot off the hot plate, sloshing the boiling brown liquid around and fills her mug, yet again. Some of it spills, some of it always spills. The little brown bubbles streak down the side of her ancient mug. They fall onto a greater stain, a stain years in the making, a stain so deep that all of the Comet in all of the world can’t clean it. The ancient mug says something on it like “#1 Mom” or “I may not always be right, but I am never wrong” or “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”, or has a faded picture of a long deceased poodle named Princess. A mug that’s older than kid who sends her repeated nightly calls to voicemail.

“Tommy, Tommy, its Mommy. I think someone is in the house. I heard a noise. Please call me back…Please. I love you. It’s Mommy. Call me back.” she says in a panic. There’s never anyone in the house. It’s the cat, it’s always the cat. Probably named Whiskers. Probably trying escape the house and get away from the ghost that haunts the kitchen, the one in the nicotine nightgown and the caffeine house coat. “Hello…Who’s there?” she calls into the darkness of the living room. No ones there. No one is ever there. No one has been there for years. It’s only her. Her and the cat. She never leaves the doorway, never investigates the sound. She just listens. Nothing. It’s always nothing. In the background, a late-night television host performs his nightly monologue to an empty kitchen the same way she performs her’s to the living room.

She hangs the phone up and returns to her place at the table. Her clicker in hand, bouncing from channel to channel. A slice of half-eaten lemon pound cake sits on a plate. Next to it, a cigarette burns in the ashtray. An ashtray that was probably a gift from an old boss or co-worker returning from vacation when she was a sectary in some plumbing company in a different lifetime. It would have two painted palm trees in the center, saying something clever like “Life’s A Beach”. Caked with ash and crumbs from last night’s cake, the palms are never seen in the ashtray and certainly never in person.

Alerted now by the sensitive sensor light on the back of the house, shes at the window over the sink looking out. One, lone leafless tree bathed in the bright white light looks back at her. “Is someone in the yard?” she mutters. The refrigerator begins to hum and she jumps. “What was that?” She turns to face it. A magnetic picture frame holding her little Tommy on his first day of school, 40-something years ago. The photo, like her, is worn and faded. That’s when the worry beings. “I wonder why he didn’t answer when I called?” she says to the empty room. “Oh God. I hope he’s ok.” Right on schedule, the panic takes hold and she goes to the phone. Calling his work now, she punches in the numbers, which are etched into her mind, but worn off the phone. It rings. That familiar electronic ring of her nightly worried call. Ring. Ring. Ring. Around she goes.

“Oh God..” she groans “Where is he?”

Someone finally picks up. Yes, Tommy is here. Yes, he is fine. Yes, he will tell him she called. Yes, he knows its his mother. Yes, he is sure he is ok. Yes, he understands she had a bad feeling. He always understands her bad feelings because she always calls. With her frayed nerves calmed for the moment, she goes back to the table to wait for his call. He won’t call back tonight, he never does. If he did, she would tell him she was worried sick about him. She would ask him if he ate. She would ask when he could come by. This was their usual dance and they both know all the steps. She gives herself a moments rest before she does another lap on the nervous track. Somewhere in the house, there’s a thud. She bolts up and calls out “Hello. Who’s there?” Of course its just Whiskers. Whiskers the god damn cat. And somewhere he is laughing in his little cat heart.

Open Letter To The Modern World

Dear Modern World,

Thank you for everything. As a human, which is still an animal by the way, we have one basic drive, survival. And, we’ve basically cured it. Hooray. We did it. We no longer have primal fear and purpose. So now what? Oh, you know, just wandering around the planet, which we’re killing by the way, hoping to find a purpose. You know, like the one we cured.

We’ve made medicine to cure every ailment. We’ve invented depression, then invented pills to cure it. Do you know who isn’t depressed? People running for their lives from pterodactyls. We spend our days trying to live our best lives, right? Do you know when we were living our best lives? When we were running from pterodactyls. That, that, was our best life.

You didn’t think about going back to college to get a degree in data science or marketing, no, your second act consisted of waking up and running, yet again, from pterodactyls. Maybe you would eat. Maybe. You bludgeoned a creature to death with a rock, tied to a stick, with the hair of another dead creature. You made it yourself. Then you ate it. You skulked around the plains, or the watering hole. You kept a sharp eye on the sky for pterodactyls, and waited to maybe bludgeon something for dinner. Nowadays, that’s called artisanal and/or farm to table. And, no one can afford any of it. Cheers to oppressive credit card debt.

You lived in mortal fear, constantly in fight or flight mode, until you got eaten by, you guessed it, pterodactyls. But that wasn’t purposeful enough. So, we started making things. Making things like spaceships, televisions, and healthcare coverage. Look at us go. Wow whee.

Now? Now, we take pills to have sex. Do you know who didn’t have to take pills to have sex? The guy running from pterodactyls. Because running from your boss on a Friday, at your boring job, to make Happy Hour, with your other miserable co-workers is not the same as running for your life from pterodactyls.

When you made it into your cave, and didn’t get eaten, your heart was pounding, your senses were firing. Your special cave lady never looked better. And, and, she was happy to see you. And everyone’s sex organs worked just fine because you were alive and celebrating just that.

Speaking of celebrating, the thrill of the hunt is gone. Maybe you’re going to eat, maybe you aren’t. There wasn’t a wealth of artificial food at our fingertips. Contains 5% juice. Cool. Do you know what the diet craze was back then? Eating to survive.

You sent your best tribespeople to hunt. Maybe they’d come back, maybe they wouldn’t. If they came back with food, they were celebrated heroes. There was a feast, everyone danced, ate, and loved each other because you were happy to be alive. Now, we’re not. When you go out to get lunch for everyone, you’re not a hero, you’re just the guy who forgot Trevor’s Coke. Thank you for that.

In closing, our modern, convenient, world is great. It’s so great that I can’t wait to wake up every morning with debilitating, crushing, depression and anxiety. At the same time, mind you, while trying to find a purpose, trying to find a mate, trying to find the feeling of being alive. Thank you for making everything so easy that all I want to do is die. Glad I have pills to numb it.

Yours Truly,

Michael

PS – I liked going to the video store, thanks for taking that away too.

Rise Of The Machines

What cruel and unusual punishment it is trying to avoid contracting diseases from public toilets.

What stands between humanity and an extinction level event is a flimsy paper protector on the seat. Isn’t this the same paper I never put in gifts? If it’s supposed to protect me, why does it immediately fall apart at the first sign of moisture? Anyway, I learned getting this protection in place is only half the battle. After what seemed like an eternity of shifting, sliding, and flapping it up and down. like I’m setting up a blanket for a beach picnic, it’s finally ready. All my efforts are wasted though when I turn to sit. Somewhere between dropping my pants and beginning my final approach, the unthinkable happens. The electronic eye of the automatic flusher, ever watching, strikes. In my vulnerable state, it takes revenge for a lifetime of witnessing horrors. The toilet flushes. Along with the water, my protection, gone. In one deft motion, like a well practiced magician, removing the tablecloth without disturbing the fine china, the seat is exposed.

I’m in mid-fucking descent when I realize what happened. My ass, my precious ass, is about to touch down in a combat zone of germ warfare. The mental alarms blare! My nervous systems roars to life, firing signals to my legs to stop the descent. My heart, pounding, my body tenses, slows and squeaks to a stop, like a freight train. For a moment, I think it’s going to be ok, but it all goes wrong. I contort and twist away, instead of up. My body engages in what I can only imagine looks like an outtake from Weekend At Bernie’s…2. I fall in between the wall and toilet like a rag doll.

My hand plunges into the toilet while my ass, one cheek on the wall, the other on the floor, comes to a streaking halt. Panic takes hold realizing I might be stuck. I’m going to die here. I feel like the guy in the end of Saw, who isn’t Cary Elwes. This is a silly nightmare I think. “Wake up.” I say. But I don’t, because I’m not sleeping. This is real, and it’s all mine.

Girl/Boy Cyber Show

That was a bullet point on a sign, outside of an Adult Entertainment Store. Let me see if I understand this correctly. I can drive to a creepy building, on the side of a highway, to watch internet porn near other people. Then, the expectation is to masturbate to these Girl/Boy Cyber Shows, yes? Sign me up.

I can barely get through the supermarket without being caked in disgust of others, and they’re just buying Ramen. The thought of pushing open greasy doors, and buying a ticket to a Girl/Boy Cyber Show seems completely insane to me. I’m not judging anyone. I assume all of the above, is part of the excitement, which is what we’re looking for anyway, but, it just isn’t for me.

By the way, do you think this is a group setting or a private viewing? If it’s a group setting, is there assigned seating? Or, am I just grabbing any open folding chair? If it’s folding chairs, what if I brought my bingo cushion? Frowned upon? Is masturbation done in sync with everyone, or at your own pace? Is there a community towel, or do you bring your own?

I have so many questions, but I don’t have a fake mustache or beige trench coat to go undercover and find the answers.

The Forest Climb

I’m on the forest floor, standing in high grass. The tips are yellow with green streaking down the blades. There are trees as far as I can see. I’m surrounded by the breeze. It causes the gentle clatter of leaves above, the warm woosh of the grass below. The air is electric with sound. Woodpeckers with their daily drilling, and songbirds with their songs. The scratching of squirrels against tree bark as they chase one another. Somewhere behind me, I hear the sounds of a roaring river. The cacophony of daily life. It’s beautiful, but at times, overwhelming. I begin to walk, careful not to disturb anything, I’m only a visitor here. Rocks and dirt crunch under my boots as I move forward. After a few minutes, I find the path I want. It inclines upward through the trees. Before continuing on, I look around, dust myself off, and take a deep breath. I’m ready. The climb is gentle, but the terrain is rough. Years of weather and being tread upon have left it so. I’m mindful of where I step. Sometimes I’ll trip, and even fall, but I’ll stand up, brush myself off, take another breath, and continue.

As I move further on the path, my gentle determination is rewarded. The sounds of the animals and life on the forest floor fade. The occasional distraction will visit me, but on my quiet journey, they don’t stay long. They’re beyond my control, and I accept them as part of the path, but I can let them go just the same. For now, I want to feel the breeze on my skin and listen to my footsteps. The path ends in a small clearing, on top of the hill, my hill. It looks out to the horizon. I see the green tree tops, they slope downward to the water. The water sprawls out, touching the sky. The sky stretches upwards towards the heavens. It’s adorned by a few clouds, which are kept moving by the breeze. Golden tendrils of the fading sun reach out from beyond the water’s edge, making my sky pink, purple, orange, and blue.

To my right, a small cluster of rocks allow water from higher hills to pool. I rinse my face and run wet hands through my hair. To my left stands a hallowed tree stump. I sit in front of it, take off my boots, stretch out my legs, and lean back. I take in the view, my view. I can’t control what happens on the forest floor or even what happens in the sky above, but I don’t need to. I’m here now, in my retreat, where my only concerns are watching the sky change color, listening to the leaves dance, and watching the trees sway. These moments are all that matter. They’re my reward for completing today’s journey. Sometimes I’ll get distracted by distant noises or thoughts, but I remind myself they’re not my concern, and they pass. Right now, I’m just enjoying the view and being enveloped in the implacable serenity of the moment.

The Mailbox

We’ve all seen mailboxes. Sturdy blue boxes on street corners, common as telephone poles or stop signs. Completely unremarkable in appearance and function. You drop mail in, someone comes to take it away. Simple.

I was passing the mailbox I passed twice a day, nearly every weekday for nine years, and for the first time I noticed it stamped with a city and year. It was 1950-something from somewhere in the mid-west. I assume the when and where of manufacture. Again, nothing special, until I started thinking about it.

Today, most mail is bills or advertisements. The personal or important communications are done digitally, and these unremarkable boxes are becoming obsolete. It’s the way of the world. Take a minute though, to wonder what the life of a mailbox would be like, if it could feel the magnitude of all it held at one time or another. The shear amount of emotion, the written bits of our lives which it gave a temporary home.

This particular mailbox has been standing here for nearly 50 years. All the important pieces of us, our histories, it held for a while. The days of blazing heat, the bitter cold nights, pouring rain, blizzards, and the kitchen sink. This unremarkable, unthought of box held our love letters, our best wishes, our deepest sympathies, our hopes, and our dreams. It helped keep us connected to people worlds away, to stay hopeful you’d see a special someone again. Our college applications, acceptances or, the rejections, news of the loss, news of new life. The manuscript you hope to be your novel, the last birthday card from grandma before she was gone. All of our emotions held in their plain, unthanked iron bellies, because it’s their purpose. The safe keepers of our sentiments; un-judging, trustworthy, and unassuming. These qualities rewarded in people, but never once thought of for this metal box. I know, it’s silly. It’s just a mailbox, but I believe it’s also a little bit more.

That being said, always be grateful for things that find their way to you in your life because you don’t know what sacrifices may have been made by unknown, unremarkable people and things not in your daily life that helped get them to you.

Good Night, Travel Well

When I was young, my father used to hold me and dance to Stepan Grapelli’s Ebb Tide. It’s on his Satin Doll album. He would never understand why I am doing what I’m doing or acting the way I’m acting. But, it’s not in him being around and in being able to understand what I feel right now. Its in me knowing, that he wouldn’t be able to look past these things on the surface, but in how I know our two spirits truly bonded right here and right now. He was a poet and deserved so much more credit than he could ever truly be comfortable with giving himself.

I don’t know if its a memory or something I’m fabricating, but I remember one of these time he held me and we danced. It was later in the afternoon on some unremarkable weekday. Him and I were alone in the apartment where my mother still lives. My room was in the middle, meaning you had to walk through my bedroom to get to theirs or the living room. It had a small window, up high in the wall. It looked out onto the roof of the garages next door. The buildings were side by side and I vaguely remember laying there in a high bed I had as a kid, staring out. I could see all kinds of wonderful things from there, the sun, the sky. The rain, especially when it would pool up in puddles on the light gray, almost white sunbleached tar paper.

I was bigger at the time, but he picked me up and I put my shoulder on his head. I believe the song played on my Fisher Price record player. The only record player I would ever own. It had an orange arm and plate, the center well was a brown plastic thing, with a lille orange knob on top for holding the record in place. The rest of it was maybe beige and brown. It was small and for children, but it worked and thats all that really matters. He would hold me and just sway to the song. I’m sure on whatever day this was, what he had to get me to do to dance like was was probably incredible. And i’m sure I laid against him begrudgingly, like us Colemans do everything. But right, now I am so glad I did. Because if I didn’t I would have never rember this song or the feeling of him. But I do and its something I will be eternally grateful for. The feeling of Les, which is so much more than he knew.

We swayed in the afternoon sun, in a small unremarkable room, in crowded Queens, on an unremarkable day. But, its one of the most beautiful, memories I believe I have. And it was the right day and time coupled with this song to create my own personal formula for time traveling. I can ride the beauiful and sad waves of Grapelli’s violin back to the sandy shores of my own timeline. I can stand in that room, watching a father and son truly bond. A bond forged between two romantic, wandering souls.

We weren’t friends for long, we didn’t share to much in common interests. I always thought he was corny and a pain in the ass, which he was, and in life I took him and his dramatic nature for granted, because I didn’t understand either one of us then. I’ve long been jealous of the relationships friend’s have with their fathers. You went places, you did things. Especially when your older. You can talk about life and love, whatever you want. I didn’t have that. He was to afraid of making sure I didn’t become him to be with him. Which I understand and would love to let him know it was not a moment wasted. We might not have had anything traditional or easy, but I can truly say now, he is exactly who he needed to be for me. Without him, I would never have truly learned anything about the human soul. I will never be able to put it into words because its something you have to feel. A true, once in a lifetime bond between you and the one who came before you. When you can look him in the eyes, no matter how crazy he made you, and say I understand you. I am grateful for you for however long one can be. I love you. Not just as a son loving his dad, but as one soul truly loving another on a cosmic level, like bonds were intended. Wherever you are, whenever you are, as one time traveling soul to another, I felt you more than ever last night and I feel you again tonight. I want you to know I am grateful for everything you did for me. I am grateful for who you were then and for who you are now. I will never stop missing you. I take you everywhere with me. Even to places you would be terrified to go, because you deserve to see the things and feel the things you were afraid too. And don’t worry you will never have to face them on your own. I’m right here with you, just like you’re right here with me. In some other time, in some other place I know you’re writing this letter to me. Good night and travel well, Les.

Summer Sunset In A Sundress Redux

The grass is warm and soft. The breeze eases its way through the trees the way it only can in early summer. The leaves are clapping all around us. I’m laying there staring up at the sky. My right hand behind my head, my left on my chest. She’s laying next to me on her stomach, leaning on her elbows, her legs bent at the knee, feet crossed. She’s swaying them back and forth slowly. I sit up, resting on my elbows and look at her.

It’s the way the sun holds her. Frames her. Shines through her hair giving her a golden halo. She’s beautiful. She looks over at me and makes eye contact. In that instance the only thing that exists is her. Like being hit by lightning.

“What?” she asks.

“Nothing.” I mumble.

How could I even begin to explain that moment without ruining it. But I never take my eyes off of her’s, I want it to last forever.

“You’re weird.” she says smiling and looks away.

“Indeed.”

Summer Sunset In A Sundress

She stands in front of the sink, looking out the big window in the kitchen while the sun is setting. The golden light pours in, and from behind makes it seems like she’s in God’s spotlight. One of his angels, standing in the center of my life. She isn’t aware of me in the door way. I stand, watching her. She’s barefoot on the coarse wooden floor. One foot flat on the ground, the other resting on her toes, heel to the ceiling. The water is running and splashing up from the sink. The mist of it, turned gold from the sun. She is perfect and in this moment, the world knows it too. I watch her brush a few strands of hair from her face as she looks up from the sink and out the window. I take one step forward into the light on the floor, just hoping to share a little bit of her glow. I take another. And another. I’m right behind her. The running water covered my approach and I take advantage of being this close. I take a deep breathe and fill my lungs with her scent. And for a single moment, she’s in my lungs and we’re one. I exhale slowly, returning her to the world. I lean in and kiss the back of her neck.

The Edge

It’s near the end of winter, we’re in a rented house on the beach for the night. It’s late and you can’t see a thing except white sand that ends in the black ocean which stretches to the infinite darkness of the horizon. It feels like standing on the edge of the world, the abyss. It’s terrifying and wonderful, just like standing in front of her.

I’m sitting in the leather arm chair. Worn from years of use, but full of character as a result. I hear the shower turn off down the hall. A few minutes later she’s standing in the doorway. She’s wearing my t-shirt, which just like the chair, is worn thin, but full of character. Traitor.

“What’s that look for?” she asks, moving closer. “You don’t mind I’m wearing this, do you? You left it on the sink.” Of course I did.

“No, I don’t mind.” I answered.

I did mind. The shirt will remind me of her now, standing in that doorway looking at me, looking at her, looking like a dream. Looking more like a dream than anything I ever dreamt, but whatever. I dwell on the end of things. It’s my superpower. It isn’t that I can’t appreciate how amazing she looks right now, in my shirt. It’s just, I can’t help but think what the shirt will look like without her in it. Everything ends except my thinking about everything ending, that of course, endures.

A second later, she’s climbing into the chair behind me. My little leather time capsule, now undergoing a hostile takeover. Wrapping her arms around me, she asks “What were you writing?”

“Nothing.”

Her hair is damp and cool against my back. Her breath is warm, almost hot against my neck. Forever the contradiction. She tucks her legs in around me. She smells like my home and my escape. Again, contradiction. I hope like hell she can’t feel my heart pounding. Worse than the shirt, what’s my life going to look like when she’s not in it?

“Liar.” she says, into my neck.

“Well…” I went one “A formal complaint to the universe, since we’re prying.”

“A formal complaint?” she asks

“Yes. I’d like to know why there’s always too much time, but also not enough of it. Ironic, even. There’s too much of it between the moments when I get to be yours. The perfect ones. The ones where you hold me like this, at the edge of the world. Then, there’s never enough during. The universe is funny that way, its got forever, but I only get a blink. I wait patiently for my time and then it’s gone.” There I go again, worrying about the end. Why can’t I stop talking?

“You’re greedy.” she says, but I can feel her smiling.

“I know, but you don’t understand. You don’t have to worry about losing you, like I do.”

I opened my notebook, and in one motion tore out the page, crumpled and dropped it. I don’t need the letter. It wouldn’t make a difference.

“Honestly, even if the universe gave me forever, I’d still fight for one more second.”

I grinned bitterly and said “You can replace me in a heartbeat, but you’re my one and only.” Stop talking. Oh my god, stop talking.

I stood up, staring out the giant window that overlooks the beach.

“Look out there” I said, “We’re at the edge of the world, and we could fall off any second and then I’ll be robbed of you.”

She got up from the chair and stood in front of me, looking into my eyes. She is my real abyss, I could get lost in her forever.. She took a breath in anticipation of speaking, but I quickly kissed her.

Leaving my forehead against her’s, my hands on the sides of her face I said, “Don’t say anything. You don’t need to promise me anything, this isn’t your problem to solve. I’ve got a history of being terrible, doing everything wrong and leaving things unsaid. Tonight, I’m leaving them said. You’re everything to me. Everything.”

I made love to her that night for the first time as myself. Unmasked, I dove into her. It felt like free falling from outer space. I’d like to imagine our souls touched that night for the first time. Afterwards, I stayed awake. She laid there, wrapped inside my body, in my shirt, which was now forever her’s, just like me. I kept my face buried in the back of her neck, in the jungle of her hair. I spent all night feeling her heart beat inside her, inside of me. I rode her breathing to it’s crest and back over and over. Surfing the love of my life. And in an act of mercy, time finally stood still.