A novel in verse

by David CC Erickson

The car screams.
Low on oil
Lurching for the off ramp
Cars zoom by, honking
There it is, the exit.
And an arrow.

The main attraction will be my dead car.
The trip is over and done.
No job in Milwaukee for me, if I can’t get there.
With no money and no car.

Exit 38
The engine dies as we slide down the off ramp
Car now a corpse, a husk.

Hauling the wheel over hard.
Parked it.
Sort of.
Walk away, walk away
No more go go go

Cars backed up for miles
Miles of Attractions
And hotels
And fast food
And tourist traps
T-Shirt stands
The bearded lady
Water park

People walking alongside the road
Workers heading home
and hitchhikers
and locals

Afternoon humidity
Promise of evening cool
Every step my foot sticks
Sugary slime
Snow cones
Spilled coke

I see a food joint
I’m hungry
or something
I have three bucks
Not enough for bottled water
Much less food
Can’t see it

Behind the building
The stench
I hold my breath
Lift the lid
Some sort of Middle East dish
Who cares
It’s food
Fill’er up

Getting full
Ready for action
this is truly nirvana
gulp it down
Some kid comes out
Employee emptying
The trash
He sees me
Couldn’t care less
Good man
I nod
He goes back inside
No compassion
Out pops management
Back away, wave him off
He only has so much
time to waste on me
Back inside, sell food
Make money

I’m off down the street
Yum yum
Things are looking up
In spite of
No car
No job
In the prime of my life
Out comes the thumb
Time to move on
Some kid tells me it’s illegal
To hitch
But not to bother strangers

She’s glued to her phone
Tweener done up like
Arm candy on a rap star

“Cops ‘ill get ya.”
I suppose
She’d probably take
a video of it
Get a million likes
Dream on, sister

She wanders off
I carry on
Right on cue
The cops

I pocket the thumb
They cruise by
Getting the evil eye
They roll on
Happy days

Maybe I’ll just hoof it
How many days ’till Milwaukee on foot?
They have other candidates
Other men of good standing
Not some desperate
Loser with a dead car
Shift manager
Big deal
Money at least
some kind of life

Yet here we are
It’s holiday land
whole families
fall out of minivans
Who’s got the diaper bag?
Who’s got the phone charger?
Who’s got a grip on reality?
The ever-moving target
Who ever did?

I’ll walk
I’ll smell the smells
More than anything
Everything reeks
Especially of Chlorine
Clusters of water parks
High season for splish splash
Whole tribes of red-eyed
prune fingered

Who would come here
for any other reason?
Dead car
Dead future
If not here, where?
If not now, when?
And who better than
I offer myself
for sacrifice to
the gods of ill fortune
Take me
Spare them
They know not what they do
And it’s okay
Neither do I

A motel with “Color Tv”
A sign from better times
Now it’s all color tv
Inside and out
Packed parking lot
I envy them their beds

I walk among them
It’s good to fit in
Fitting in
makes you invisible
And that’s what I want

Nods from other men
Yes, here we are
All together
Suffering the little children
Suffering the wife
Suffering the mere
fact of being
We’re here, I nod
Yes we are, he nods back

And there I go
I’d ask for spare change
A smoke
A hershey bar
Not yet
desperation is not
my current state
of mind
Maybe later
Maybe never

When you have nothing
You have nothing – how does that go?
When you have nothing
You have nothing
And there you are

It’s sad
I’m sad
I leave the happy community
of Motel dwellers
My feet are starting to hurt
No place to sit down, except what
you paid for
And that’s a lot
for a simple sit down

The go karts are revving up
The boys, giddy with excitement
Dad idly taps the wheel
Longs for what?
Anything a man might want
Mom takes pictures
Secretly yearns for the years to pass
These boys become men
Then she can leave

But there’s now, and they’re
Living in the now
Whether they like it
or not

A smoker
This I can ask for
One smoker to another
But I don’t smoke
But now I will
Anything to give me
A smoke
Is a delight for the
hands and mouth
a process
Work to do

She is friendly
Sure, she says
Offers the pack
And I pick my poison
Offers a light
And for a moment
We share the intimacy of
one providing heat to
the other
Offering the flame
to one who craves it
Craves anything
A job as shift manager
Maybe not that

We stand and smoke
I am not charming
but at least personable
She understands
We perform the ritual
of smoking
and understanding
And watching the go-karts travel round and round
It’s futile, they go nowhere
But there’s nowhere to go
So it’s alright

I cradle the cigarette
Nurture it
Please god, make it last
She understands
She senses my dilemma
I confess all my sins
She chuckles
A friendly bird sound
“Well hell on you, I must say.”
Yes, it’s hell
but I don’t mind

She points me at the
only gas station on the strip
can I operate a register?
I lie, say “yes”
She smiles
She knows the truth
She’s fine with that
The name of the man is
He’s the guy I must impress
I can’t imagine he needs much impressing
I thank her, I am grateful
It’s nothing, she says
I know it’s nothing
She knows it’s nothing
We know it’s nothing
Everything being nothing
It’s still good to be here
And be nothing together

The race has ended
The winner rejoices
Then forgets, on to
the next attraction


I thank her for the connection
Dave is who I’m angling for
“Carol” – she works in some hotel office
I forget the name as soon as she says it
I can’t form memories
Not anymore
Nothing memorable
Maybe I’ll remember Carol
Maybe not

Anyway I’m off,
gifted another cigarette
I dodge my way among the cars
There’s the gas station
I hope she’s not watching me
I fail to check
She might be
I just want to move on
I need money
Maybe if I just started walking
At my age?
Wouldn’t get too far

Dave’s mopping up puke
He gives me an anxious look
Someone needs cigarettes NOW?
Not me
He continues
Um, Carol
He gets it
Slightly relieved
Doesn’t care about the register
Now I’m the one mopping the puke
Reloading cigarettes
Emptying the trash
Ejecting drunks
Steady rhythm
Easy work
In town three hours
I’m working
Could’ve begged
No cardboard
no marker

But now
I’m entangled
now Dave
Maybe health
and vacation
What a laugh
Shift Manager in
I’m in
Home sweet home

Could be back in La Crosse
Oh dear god
day jobs
drifting among positions
assuming positions
holding positions
for mere moments
before the next
I could feel slow death
filling me up
like concrete

I stroll out back
gifted a pack of Marlboros
by Dave, my new pal
at this rate lung cancer
will be high on my bucket list

Something for my hands to do
Can’t play clarinet
or crochet pot holders
I look at them
Mature, meaty hooks
What use are you?

wind changes direction
I catch a whiff of chlorine
No one gets sick around here
Bugs can’t survive the heady scent
Spewing from the water parks

Spewing the screams of children
high-pitched bark of unformed youth
What’s to become of them?
inhale a leisurely dose of
what will surely kill me

Dave’s got his regular shift person
coming in.
No more work
Cash and a thanks
for the help

I shake his hand
He is a prince
among men
Though he doesn’t know it
Princes among men seldom do

complimentary Hershey bar
truly making
the scene

Jesus I got to get out of here
This place is gonna eat me alive

Legs ache
How long can I wander?
Sitting is a luxury
For those who’ve paid for the privilege
only bus stop on the strip
I park it
Mmm, perfect
vantage point

Look at them shuffle along
Moments ago
That was me
But I don’t wear sunblock
or shades
or a Wisconsin Dells

Who am I
to judge
They have ersatz
It’s something
to swear by
God love ’em
Every one

The bus roars up
An attractions shuttle?
What is this?
It’s five bucks
so on or off, buddy?
Hell why not
Live large

Sullen tourist
dead eyes
except for kids
and twenty-something
still excited
about the future

I want to tell them
“Stay here. Stay here
forever. Disappointment will arrive
soon enough.”
Swim in small glories
I want to say
But advising
ecstatic revelers
coming of age?
Might as well
scream into
a hurricane

Instead I claim my prize
An empty seat
We bounce along
The driver cranks the tunes
’70s adult contemporary
The sound of the ’60s
slowly dying

I jealously eye
some kid’s slushee
Maybe my $5
would have been better spent elsewhere
Maybe the last few years of my life
Better spent elsewhere

But this is a place
to be
Even the most sullen
look up and are momentarily
Light returns to dull eyes
as lasers brighten the skies
And the evening shows begin

No more waterpark
Now it’s live entertainment

I hop off at the north(?) end of the strip
Hey honey, I’m home
No one there to greet me
A couple porta-johns
And a caramel corn stand
Planted next to the first houses beyond the entertainment complex
I eye the caramel corn
sure smells good
in a rancid sort of way

I exchange glances with
some tattooed gomer
smoking on the stoop
of an Aquamarine chicken coop
and/or house.
Maybe he lives with the chickens
Or the chickens with him
Cheap lodgings, anyway

I guess he’s minding the caramel corn stand
Guess I don’t want any
He doesn’t care, looks away

Defeated, I turn back to where I came from.
Five bucks to go a mile
Coulda legged it in 15 minutes
Maybe less
Easy come, easy go

Milwaukee is like a dream
I muse over the possibilities
As I stroll the asphalt
And inhale the chlorine

What was it?
Shift Manager?
Which shift?
All shifts?

Shifts of what?
Corn chip cooks?
Ball bearing packers?
Boxing Kangaroos?

I must have something somewhere
Ah, I remember
Trunk of the car
Things seem more urgent now

The car
The failed car
My suitcase still in its trunk
Where I keep all my failings
Next to the jumper cables
And the leaky tube of sunblock

And now it’s night
And the car is dead
And there’s no sun

I squint and I can see it
the car
Next to the ramp, inert
But at some point its presence will be known
To the people in charge
Questions will be asked
Pointed questions
To persons of interest

Could they tell it belonged to me?

The dregs of my girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend’s life
He with the perpetually sour glare
Everything was so distasteful to him
Surely there was something I missed, he
seemed to say
Surely there are better ways to live, he
seemed to ask
So he permanently loaned me the car
He couldn’t sell it
He didn’t know where the title was
He had to go meet someone, do something
He handed over the keys, “Whatever”, he said
“Whatever”, she said. “Fine”, I said.
We left it at that.
And here I am

I achieve the reunion with the car
Pop the trunk
There’s the suitcase
The rolling nightmare
Am I really thinking of

Of this?
I propose to become
a person rolling luggage
down a sidewalk?

I have so studiously
Avoided any such affectation

Will I be perceived as
A railroad tramp?
A temporarily inconvenienced traveler (preferred)?
A de-housed spouse out of favor?
A man with a suitcase possibly full of woe?
The possibilities are overwhelming
The prospect daunting

I cast about desperately,
There must be

I see my old friend, the “Color TV” sign
Yearn for shelter, for comfort
A place to enshrine my suitcase
See, it will say to the other
suitcases. I am ONE OF YOU

Not enough cash.
Where are Carol and Dave
They held me in such high regard and now?

I’d abandon the suitcase to the car, which itself
now has no real value, but there’s clothes
a phone charger (I’ve called no one, who would I?)
stuff and things, stuff and things
We must have our stuff and things

The wheels don’t make too much noise
As I trudge along
Chastened by my needs preempting
my wants
Once again

Oh Jesus
A herd of shrieking kids
nowhere to hide
I turn to stone as they swarm past
Followed by sullen adults
Sloppy with their birth control
And now they pay the price

And I should talk
one abortion
and many tears later

No one to blame
Is what we tell ourselves
We make ourselves believe
Moving on
Making a pact never
to meet again

Once more forward
My squeaky wheels
Chew up the miles

It strikes me
What do I possess
That I cling to
Embarrassing step after embarrassing
A magazine
for the spare moments?

I liberate myself
I lift my hand
Step away
Like jumping off a cliff

Now I have nothing
I leave the rolling luggage
Sitting in the middle of the sidewalk

Pedestrians sidle around
Oblivious to the fact
that all I own in this world
Is now easily taken in hand
And can be yours
for the popular price
of nothing

The bliss of absolute freedom
grows thin
dies down
I am once again
sorry, silly me

Under a drooping
party canopy
A caricaturist
Packing up his kit

Look at the
sketches of
Their faces
their best features
blown up like balloons
Teeth like
Mahjong tiles

He eyes me
I turn to him,
well, that’s about it
The smallest
social transaction
that can be performed
executed flawlessly

But he waves me over
“Have a seat”

I’m startled

“Have a seat. I’ll do you for free”
He’ll do me for free?
Do me over?
Do me under?

I sit.

He pulls out a tablet, perches it on his lap

I grow interested
It’s a new me
captured in the biggest
form of portraiture
known to man
a caricature

I will be reborn
I’m flush with excitement
I smile

“No, don’t smile.
Just like you are. For real.”

For real
I would prefer not
My watery, dismal eyes
Hollow, bristled cheeks
I was planning to shave
Before the big interview
in milwaukee
Now I’m an unshaven wreck
And this guy’s drawing me
Drawing out my aimless machine
of being

Here he is, folks
Warts and all
Malignancies and deficiencies

How will it look?
A caricature of my hostile
Sit and you will be rendered
In pencil and crayon
Weighed and measured

What else is going on?
He scratches away
With an intensity
lacking in his performance
for the rubes
who are void of the self-assured charisma
they see on tv
and pay him to
deliver such to them
for $30?

I’m growing restless
How long does this take?
His eyes crack with good humor
“Not long now”

I try
to cut him some slack
He’s an artist, after all
plying the least of his trade
hour after hour
beneath a canopy
beneath a hot sun
that can not burn away
the gleeful and glowery
mass of humanity
gathered and seething
among the attractions

He cartoons for hours
Does he do anything else?
And now he scratches and shades
And vigorously erases
Such industry
Such enthusiasm
After no doubt a long day
I have brought him to life
WIth my slouching weariness
Which I’m afraid he’s affixing to page
With his hard-used pencil

He grinds the tip sharp
Assumes I’m impatient
“Almost there.”
I utter my first sound since arriving.

It’s okay
Where the hell am I going?
This is a lark, a gag, an adventure
Under the darkening sky
I am free as a bird
But I can’t fly
The analogy isn’t
lost on me

Yearning to be free
while already free
yearning to be caged?
Fed seed and tepid water
grasping my perch
and spastically nodding my head
grateful for the defining pressure
Of imprisonment
An inmate content with his fate
Because it defines him
When he can’t define himself

Behind bars
or in the open, endless air
Nowhere is home

And he is done
He grins
“Wanna see?”
Of course I “wanna see”
I wanna see what he sees
What anyone would see
Taking me in
Assessing me
What could possibly be seen
I am invisible
Especially to myself

He flips his pad around
Holds his breath

It is a monkey
I am a monkey

My shirt has been
flawlessly rendered
But I am a monkey

I can see me

there’s my chin
my mouth
my eyes

I’m there, no doubt
And I’m a monkey

His eyes go wide
What do I think?
He doesn’t want
to sully the moment
with gabbing
But man he wants to know

What do I think?

What I see most is in the
entirety of it
I see a man so dismally
lost that it doesn’t matter
If he’s a monkey
Or a man
Or a paper airplane
stuck on a roof

I’m defeated
He has defeated me

He sticks out his hand
“Chet Barber”
I take his assured, vise-like grip
He chuckles
“Claude. Now that’s a name.”
He releases me from his grasp

I am free
I may now float away
into the blissful terror
because I am nothing
and everything
and it doesn’t even matter

He industriously
Gathers his equipment
Easel, markers, money box
He empties a can of pop
Onto the long suffering grass
Battered and beaten down

He stuffs it into one of his bags
Grins some more

I nod. He’s one happy son-of-a-bitch
But he reveals an only too human need
“Jesus I could use a drink”

Holy Mary, mother of god
so could I


He shoves his gear into the back seat of
A not pathetic old BMW
Shit, stop it already

“Got a deal on her”
He assigned his car a gender
I’m falling into an abyss of indifference

He smartly closes the door, clicks the fob

Beep. Beep.

You’d think that one beep would be enough.

He wanders up the street toward
One of the sadder motels

This is taking a strange turn
A drink in his room?
Some sort of bizarre assignation?
That could possibly explain
the whole
“draw a stranger as a zoo animal”
Some kind of fetish
Best to leave now

He nods towards a hole in the wall bar
I relax
A drink
Simple enough
But who’s buying
I try to make it casual
Hoping against hope

“I …”
I shrug
Pull at my empty pockets

He chuckles
I get it
He’s no freak
He’s a genuinely nice human being
Rare as hen’s teeth
Don’t know if I can take it

He waves me off
“No sweat, Claude. I gotcha covered”
He’s a fuckin’ saint
Screw Milwaukee
I got my own personal Jesus

He calls the bartender by name
She smiles warmly
at him
At me she’s wary
I grimace and nod
I lost the faculty of smiling
A long time ago

Thanks, Dad

We grab a booth
My bones detach
At the shoulder
My muscles
give way to gravity
Now this is living
With air conditioning, no less

He raises his Long Island Ice Tea
I raise my Budweiser

“To the shits and the little shits.”
Wow, this guy is full of surprises
“God love’em, look over them, all that crap.”

We drink

Now the part I dread
He squints at me
“So, what’s your story?”
I shrug, my head wobbles
Where to start, when it’s already over?

He seems okay with my reticence
“Did you like my monkey?”

I nod
“Yeah, sure.”

“Kind of unexpected, right?”

The bartender laughs, “I’m a puma. See he drew me too.”

This guy’s a celebrity. He gets around in small circles.

“Took you by surprise, right?”
He’s waiting for the pay off,
my acknowledgement of his
singular originality

I’d think less of him
But he nailed it
Shoved the pointy end
RIght through my guts
Into the nexus of my being
The meaty interior of my
existential mediocrity

Or something like
Maybe my squandered I.Q.
Is showing

Is it, gentle reader?

So I don’t think ill of this clownish Dalai Lama

I’m clearly out of my element here
I see myself back on the main drag in no time
Thank you very much, I must be on my way

Can’t get chummy
Can’t take the camaraderie
Fuck’s wrong with me

Chet grins
“Hey, no sweat. But you are a monkey. You know that, right?”
I meekly acknowledge this
Yes I am
a monkey
Squeak squeak
Where’s my banana?

I belch out some words. He’s getting to me.

He laughs. The monkey speaks.

“Wha – ?”

“Milwaukee. A job. Car broke down.”


I point a thumb.

“At the exit ramp.”


“Coasted to the bottom, pulled it over on the main drag. Dead.”

Chet laughs.

“Dead. Just like that.”


I think that’s all the recitation I can handle.
I take a gulp of the beer. Budweiser. What was I thinking?

I surprise myself.
“Can I have a scotch?”
Chet doesn’t miss a beat.
“Hell, yeah.”

The bartender doesn’t either.
“Comin’ right up.”

I feel I’ve died and gone to heaven.
Or perhaps a better place than that.

I wonder how I can make this last
This wondrous conflagration of we
We happy few

“Yeah … ” Chet intones.
Here comes the story
Inwardly, I sigh
Outwardly, I perk up
I urge him speak

“Wife died and I picked up this … “
He motions vaguely
” … work. Gets me out of the house.”
Small, hollow laugh
“You’re an artist?”
What was that? Of course not.

He gives me one of those
sad, forgiving looks
I have stumbled upon his
sacred place
where he stores all his pain
in little, carefully labeled boxes
But all the labels have his
true love’s name on them
and the boxes are empty

“She was. I was always a hack.”

The bartender admonishes him.
“Aw, come on, Chet.”
She nods towards a respectable
Painting of the outside
The beaten down bar
The jungle of the motel
parking lot
Looks like early morning
Because the sun shines
At a low angle
And the decrepit
and the dissolute
families and truckers
coming and going
glow with a loving light

Oh, we are so broken
but we are cherished
held in the palm of the creator
waiting to be obliterated
at the closing of his palm
and formation of a fist
of flattened humanity

I nod. Impressed.
I toast my benefactor
More than a cartoonist

“It’s great.”
All I can manage is “great”
Something he’s no doubt heard before

He smiles a tiny smile.

I study it some more
I cannot find an
easy interpretation
I cannot
find a flaw
And it is such a relief
A miracle can happen

I finish my scotch
The rapture is over
I’ve come to Jesus
and now it’s time to
go home

I stand
“Thanks for the drinks. I gotta … “
Chet cocks his head.
“Ya goin’?”
“Yeah, I gotta.”
“Go get your car fixed?”
I’m making a poor imitation of
A man with a plan
and a future.
Neither is true.

Jesus it’s awkward
They both watch me
I can’t make my exit
Why doesn’t someone
Say goodbye?

“Well …”
I urp.

“It’s Saturday night.”
Alvin delivers this prosaic observation
without irony.
“No mechanics. Probably no tows either.”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

They continue to stare at me.
What, what, what?

The bartender says, without affect,
“You could crash on the couch in back.”
I’m prepared to entertain this notion
When Alvin chuckles
“Screw that noise, Barbara.”

Her name is Barbara.

They banter good-naturedly
“He can come over to my place.”

“Are you kidding? What will your dog think?”

“Better than a couch in the back of your dive.”

“Are you calling my establishment a dive?”

It finally occurs to me. Where is everybody?
Why are there no other customers?
I decide not to ask
I sense a darker side to these
Perhaps I’m being set up as
a potential dish in a
cannibalistic soiree
Or not

Barbara acquiesces
“:Why don’t we ask the man himself?”
She leans over the bar.
“What do you think, Claude? Couch
or … “

Alvin makes his pitch
“Bed, or bed, or bed. Also, there’s
a hammock in the backyard
if you’re one of those back
to nature types.”

I don’t really care.
Don’t want to foment a riot.
They seem happy to
entertain any option
other than my exiting into the night

I give Barbara an apologetic look
She gets it, winks.
“Gotcha, probably the smart move.”

Alvin raises his glass
“Be it ever so humble.”


Alvin’s beemer smells like air freshener
What does that mean?
He doesn’t seem particularly fastidious
Perhaps it’s a car thing
Some people are
inordinately tidy

He drives like a maniac
Blasting out of the
parking lot
like a man on a mission

He’s a bit drunk
But so am I
Perhaps we should’ve sobered up
Too late now

at the sudden
change of the traffic light

Kids, parents, slog by
End of the day
Back to the hotel
for Kentucky Fried
And a violent
Celebration of American
values, as depicted in
a pay-per-view blockbuster
that plays at twice the volume
of Death Metal.
I try to remember the last
time I heard Death Metal.

They shiver, exhausted and
turning blue from the cold
Ready to shower off
the chlorine and
get in the jammies
Crowd onto the bed nearest the tv
I feel very left out

Alvin fishtails into a dirt road past the overpass where my car died.
I spot it as we zoom by
One of the doors is hanging open
some clothes, a deflated volleyball, paper bag full of trash strewn out
Rifled by bored teenagers

We zoom down the dirt road
For what seems like forever
Then there it is
A big white, all American
Dream home from the early 1900s
I know because I grew up in one
And here’s another one.

I can see the decrepitude
Peeling paint
Weeds in the flower beds
Sagging porch

Alvin skids to a halt
Turns into the drive
“It’s kind of seen better days.”
“Nice old house”, I offer
“Hm”, he agrees
Or he’s just being polite

Alvin leaps out
With the focused energy
Not of a man who’s downed
Three Long Island Ice teas
And a Heineken
Liquor before beer

“My daughter and my mom live here”
He places his forefinger on his lips

He finds me a spot in the living room
A dank couch with springs that creak
and smells
and an eternity
of lives
here, then and now
It’s so dark outside
the moon sends beams
dancing on the wall
I hear a conversation
The kitchen
A mild disagreement
Then quiet
Apparently I’m not
the first lost soul
Alvin’s collected
He sticks his head in the doorway
I breath
He breaths
the Earth breaths
and the stars
and the Universe

On this you
may rely

My life is
a memory
My present
is undetermined

My car is dead
at the gateway
to a different place
a planetoid
of weird and wonderful
and sad anomalous

The families
With plastic bags
and wet towels
Heading for the hotel

The barkers
throw the dart
pop the balloon
ride the go karts

Anyone behind a counter looks so tired
Seen everything
aching for a surprise
a delight
something magical
looking for it on their

scrolling for dollars
What a world
who’d a thunk it

the shadow in the corner, rises
becomes a dog
settles down a few feet away
finds the next perfect spot
for a moment the moon glints
off its wise eyes
as it wonders what the hell
I’m up to
the moment of concern passes
off to puppy nirvana
plenty of sticks to fetch
and treats to catch in the air

I have no dreams
caught in space
I can’t see the floor
will there be coffee?

His mother, no doubt
She looks relatively benign

I stand there like an idiot
How do you acknowledge
the wisdom of age
and be sure of your
own competence

She pours me
a cup of coffee
I am now free to sit down
I have been vetted
by the authorities
found satisfactory

She goes beyond the call
of hosting

“So Alvin says you
were in a car accident”

“Broke down, right by the exit

“Is Alvin giving you money?”

Perhaps A has been too generous
to strangers

Seems likely
Enjoys ensnaring
stray dogs

I feel more and more adrift

But not too concerned so far

I admit it,
no. No money.

She studies me, am I lying?

Just a couple scotches, and a beer
She seems relieved
Harmless vice.
I’m growing more fearful
Where’s Alvin, my benefactor?
She seems unconcerned
Around here, somewhere

A young girl darts in, darts out
Grandma smiles
His daughter, Annie
Shows no signs of going to school

As if reading my thoughts
“Home schooled”
And a wink

Apparently Annie
goes to school when
she feels like it

Today she doesn’t
feel like it

Would that I were
given such license
in my youth

But she is
obviously exceptional
And I was not

She darts back in
Irritably addresses
Grandma (in

Grandma laughs
Annie cracks up

I affect an interest
In the high ceiling
Studying the cornices
while they ignore me

Chatting away
in the privileged tongue
of the educated

Home schooled

I’m strategizing
how to best
take my leave,
Alvin finally appears,
large cardboard box
hoisted on his shoulder
like a waiter transporting
through a crowded

in France

They gabber at him
in French
He replies accordingly

These are not Francophiles
They are an entirely
different race altogether

I am wearily at sea
The prospect of a job
in Milwaukee now
Seems absurd

I am indoctrinated
enslaved by these

I should be nowhere else but here

It’s Alvin’s

  • Thing Box –
    In which he keeps his “things”
    Grandma and Annie are
    Where is the mother?
    Where is the wife?
    I decide it would be indelicate to query them

Thinking it best
to be delicate

having the distinct feeling
that at any moment Alvin
or Annie or Grandma


Or rise up in the air

Or grow auxiliary heads
that provide translation
of whatever language
they are not speaking

The thought strikes
me as so funny
I laugh

They abruptly cease
fussing about
And fix me with
puzzled gazes

Oh my god
here it comes

I’ve committed
my faux pas
and now death
or at the very least




The currency
of my upbringing

They grin
They laugh too

It’s spooky

Alvin pulls out
a peculiar device
the purpose of
I fail to discern

My education wasted
my schooling a fraud


It is his father’s cigar cutter

And there are baseball cards

A worn jackknife
carried in a boy’s crowded pocket
granting special powers

His slide-rule
As if there was such a thing

Of course there was

Also Alvin’s wife’s favorite scissors
For hair
Another for fabric
Mommy’s “pinking shears”

Annie laughs at “pinking shears”

My heart breaks for her because there are also mommy’s rings
Which mommy no longer wears
Alvin lines them up
They each have special meanings

I want to leave

Grandma catches my eye
a tight smile
then down at her cup

It’s a ritual
They remember the dead
by what they left behind

Grandma doesn’t much care for it
Neither do I

My memory’s just fine, thanks

My pain is private

And now here’s the ashes of Whiskers
and her kitty collar

Bring out the dead

Annie cries
Alvin holds her
They smile
And go to put the box away

They ascend the creaky stairs from the kitchen

Grandma whispers
“every day”

re the job

The friend
of my friend’s
sulks and snarls

Some guy now in Milwaukee
Doesn’t understand
why I’m not
the arrangement

the agreement

I drop bits of information
on him, between his bombardments
of derision and irritation
Broke down
No money
Just Attractions
and Caricaturists
and Granddad’s slide rule
that reveals the truth in arcane ways
now supplanted by
microchips and unblinking LCDs

He’s not into it

So he tells me to forget it, no excuses
And he takes great pains to indicate
that it is I
I alone,
I who have caused him to feel this
As though I were the master
and defender of his feelings
for him

As if I could provide him with
all the satisfaction he so wholeheartedly
deserves in his exemplary life
if I wasn’t so terribly short-handed
in the giving-a-fuck department

I wait for him to get mad enough
to hang up. But he doesn’t.
So I get bored with all the
Amateur Theatrics and
poorly presented pontificating
about meeting your responsibilities
and keeping your word and
I hang up first.

Soooooooo long, Milwaukee

Alvin wants me to
“come along”
to a get-together
cagey about it
I’m too polite to pry

After dinner we head out the door
Alvin swings his jacket on
Grandma seems to be stifling a laugh
Hard to tell
She’s wielding a crochet hook
like a switchblade knife
Annie hauls in a bushel of yarn
impaled by multiple knitting needles
Looks like they’re making an evening of it

Alvin hunkers over the wheel
like he’s dive bombing Tokyo
eyeballs dead ahead
as we speed through the streets

high alert
things are afoot

I guess

I have an uneasy
gnawing in my gut

Perhaps it was the second helping
at dinner

My usual laissez-faire
breezy nonchalance wears thin

I imagine Neo-Nazis
Aryan enthusiasts

perhaps it’s just stamp-collecting
or round-robin memoir recitations

What it is
a party room at the PIZZA PALACE

Several grown men
Bob-this, Carl-that
I shake hands
forget names as soon as I’m told them

They are all affable and dead serious
A woman named Cynthia hands me an “agenda”

- Review of minutes
 - Review of schedule
- Discussion of supply channels
- Local authorities
- New business

A conspiracy
against conspiracies

I sip a Coke
and sit upright
stiff smile
frozen grin

Alvin formally introduces me
Though he doesn’t really know me

Jack-somebody asks me what I’m

I turn to Alvin
Perhaps he could enlighten us both

“He is our test subject”

I don’t like the sound of that.

“If we can get him in line with our way of thinking, the project should be possible on a larger scale”

I’m eyeing the exit. A good thirty feet away.

Cynthia scrutinizes me. Fuck her, I’m outta here.

I stand up, not sure what comes next.

Cynthia “Has Alvin laid out the plan?”

No, Alvin has not laid out the plan
Alvin has plied me with drinks
and down-home hospitality
and now here I am

Life’s sure peculiar, ain’t it?

Alvin smiles sweetly
“It’s okay, harmless really”

Cynthia appears to bristle at the
idea of this great enterprise, whatever
it is, as being “harmless”.

“We’re just assessing your
take on a few new ideas.”

Interesting. No one’s ever
assessed my take on anything.
My opinion has generally counted
for diddly-squat