…to whom I have been married for 15 years as of today, and who lived and inspired this story and so many others in my heart’s yet unwritten library.
The old timers had been going there for over one hundred years, and I was finally back after more than twenty.
It was Kamiya Bar, in the Asakusa part of Tokyo, and in 2008 it was the oldest western-style bar in the city. Western as in high ceilings, with wood-veneer wall panels, chrome light fixtures and those patterned tin ceiling tiles you see in old saloons in Tombstone, Arizona or Virginia City, Nevada.
But I don’t mean it also had brass spittoons and buffalo horns on the walls.
My brother pushes me through set after grueling set of crunches. He has a six-pack; he should be an underwear model. He runs with celebrities. Me, I’m surrounded by brown recluse egg sacs, and so many mixed emotions.
I’m hungry. I’m wearing yoga pants and moving heavy things. I’m a lot stronger than I look. My back is moon-burned. I don’t want to be a vampire who lives forever. I just want this U-Haul not to break down, and a big bowl of Oreo ice cream.
She spoke with a beautiful Spanish accent. “You like a drink?”
As Martin Watson zipped up his jeans, he noticed his beer-belly then glanced at his temporary host. She was precisely his type. Prague, Vegas, or here in Spain, he always chose the same. Curly red hair with freckles on the skin if possible. Full, juicy lips. And when it came to the body, Martin liked big. Big ass, big breasts. He was rather specific but believed he should always get his money’s worth. And, in Martin’s experience, the big redheads always delivered.
They weren’t always easy to find though. Dublin’s never too difficult but try finding a redhead in Mumbai. Even here, in the Spanish town of San Javier, it was tricky. Spain wasn’t known for its ginger girls. Martin, however, had been here eighteen years ago and, although the place had changed, he knew where to look. He’d successfully found a ginger Spaniard before and he’d found one again tonight. Continue reading →
There on the coffee table was the colorful stack of lottery Scratcher tickets. I leaned forward at the edge of the couch, the adrenaline from the gamble swirling through me. I had coin-scraped their surfaces in jagged angles, though some Scratchers, the ones at the beginning of the session, had been scored in perfect shapes – ovals, circles, or rectangles.
That was when the fever had just begun.
Now I saw the pile of lottery tickets and their frayed bits of grey-black residue and was aching for more. It filled me with memories and sadness. It went beyond money and entertainment. Continue reading →
It was just after seven. Dianna Reynolds sat in the front seat of a faded green Mercury Sable with half a bottle of vodka held tightly between her legs. She lit a cigarette with a pack of matches off the dashboard and blew smoke out the open window. Randy Whitehead leaned against the hood of the car eating spaghetti and meatballs out of a can with a plastic fork. The gentle sound of the river and a smell of fish filled the evening air. Randy Whitehead finished the spaghetti and threw the empty can into the trees. He licked off the plastic fork and put it in his shirt pocket. Then he walked to the side of the car and stuck his head inside.
“Give me a beer, Dianna,” he said holding out his hand. She reached into a red ice chest and handed him a can.
“Here,” she said indifferently.
Randy Whitehead glanced at the bottle of vodka. “You better slow down on that shit if you want it to last you.” Continue reading →
Strength of will got me to Brooklyn on a drizzling Saturday afternoon. Dreadlocked kids in torn, paint-spattered jeans lugged crates of art supplies, rolls of butcher paper and large blank canvases through the oilslicked puddles on the sidewalks between their dorm buildings and their parents’ SUVs. Dutifully following behind, parents carried more practical items: lamps, bundles of shiny plastic hangers, extra long sheet sets and grocery sacks full of enough snack crackers and cereal to last several weeks. Traveling light, I had only a large duffel bursting with clothes, some books, my journal and my laptop. Anything to get away from home as quickly as possible.
When my mom called the following Monday, I told her I had found my people, my place, which wasn’t entirely a lie. I felt more at home amongst these tattooed, tortured artists than I ever did in the cultural wasteland of cow-country western Pennsylvania where I grew up, but still, I knew I didn’t belong here. As a writer at an art school, just like at home, I was an outcast. Continue reading →
Don’t get too close to Nut Case, you can hear him ticking – clicking down to another big explosion. And you certainly don’t want to be near him when it occurs.
Nut Case carries a handgun, some small-caliber thingamajig that he keeps in his pocket. It’s a concealed weapon; I guess that’s the “legal” name for it, but actually, its only function is to put holes through people. And even though it’s a small caliber, don’t think it can’t kill someone. It’s ready made for fatalities, alright. Yep, that gun is very well concealed on his person. I don’t know if I actually consider Nut Case a person, though, since I see him more as a monster – but that’s the legal name for the way he carries that gun – `on his person’. Continue reading →
Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading →
The exit wound is always larger than the entrance. Well, not always- bullets don’t obey rules but in my case this isn’t a bullet we’re talking about. This is tens of thousands of bullets. This is tons of ordnance dropped from the sky and buried along roadsides waiting mute and blind and seething for a convoy to roll past. My wound is a tiny white crescent moon on the web of my right hand. The white crescent of Islam, a symbol more powerful and holy and frightening than anything I could wrap my homogenized and X-Boxed American head around. It was a hot shell casing from the breech of the man’s rifle next to me. A Major assigned to train the Afghan police; he emptied all 7 of his magazines within minutes of the engagement beginning. That’s how I came to be out of the truck and in the midst of the dust and chaos of my first firefight. The Major and our squad leader next to him had gotten trigger-happy and were now calling out for fresh mags. I grabbed a bandolier off the back of the seat in front of me and ducked out the armored door of the humvee, hustling the ammo one truck length ahead to them, “exposing myself repeatedly to intense small-arms fire” as the report would later word so eloquently. I joined these two and gave them some covering fire as they reloaded, popping off about 20 rounds. At this point the searing hot brass landed right in the web of my firing hand and I yelled and shook it violently, dislodging the cursed thing, then went back to shooting up the hillside across the narrow valley. Continue reading →
Mi madre says they have expression back in Mexico, Otro día, la misma mierda. I laugh and tell her they have the same expression here in América, “different day, same shit.”
Mi madre says it sounds better in español. With that I have to agree. There is something bland about the translation en inglés, as mi madre calls it, not just with the pronunciation, but in the way it reflects so well the way the Americanos live, like they have lost the ability to perceive the poignancy of their lives.
It is mi-madre’s way of telling me it has been a difficult journey, coming to this country. I wouldn’t know. I was just a baby. Hiding and staying one step ahead of the authorities is all I’ve ever known. It doesn’t seem all that difficult to me, not when living in the shadows has become a way of life. Continue reading →
“ERES UNA PUTA!” Alejandro Judaz waved the gun like a child waving a flag at a parade. Marela would’ve laughed at the melodramatics on the TV screen if Miguel hadn’t been shrieking so loudly. Why did his grandmother have to be at jury duty today?
“SHUT UP BRAGUILLAS!”
Marela slammed the front door of the two-family house behind her and marched into the frigid February air. She fastened her pink scarf around her head and across her lips. She heaved a five second breath into the cloth, which caught her warm breath and kept her lower face from freezing. Her fingers clenched in and out, in and out, keeping her blood flowing through her hands.
Marela didn’t mind cold weather. She made sure to mention this when she applied to be a waver at the Freedom Tax office three weeks before. Sharon, the woman who ran the office, responded with “It’s a good thing you don’t mind the cold, especially with this cold snap they’re saying is coming on the Weather Channel.”
When Sharon finished looking over the application, she glanced Marela up and down. “OK, so if you’ll just come over here, so you can see the screen…” Marela walked to the other side of the desk. “I’m just going to show you a little video of what a waver does.” When Sharon pressed the “Play” button, she unleashed a blaring beat proclaiming “I’m sexy and I know it” and spectacular sights of hyper people in turquoise cloths and foam Lady Liberty Crowns spinning “Get $50 Now!” signs and doing cartwheels, backflips, kick-lines, and… was that waver twerking?Continue reading →
I’d hit it fairly hard the previous night. My eyes were pinched, and the damn headache was piercing a tiny hole at the back of my skull. The pain toyed with me, back and forth, disappearing a few minutes but then returning sharply. I was exhausted. Normally, I wouldn’t leave the apartment before noon. At most I would sit on my front deck behind thick sunglasses, a drink in hand, watching passersby down at street level.
But today was my birthday, and my brother Teddy’s too.
My mother and brother had goaded me until I agreed to meet them for breakfast. They were first to arrive at the diner. They were tight as mother and son. And I was the outcast, though I didn’t mind. They were always talking deeply to one another, prodding and interrogating, and then listening and empathizing. They loved their white wine. They loved emotional baggage. Continue reading →
It was a fateful decision we took on that morning to make love. I slumped in ecstasy on her body, her chiffon magenta saree raised above for my convenience. But something wasn’t right.
“You didn’t come?”
She opened her shaded lids and smiled. “It’s all right. I’ll be late, Zafar.”
“Give me a minute.” I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving Shanta unsatisfied. I slid down her gleaming white thighs, and buried my tongue deep inside. It began to fork up and down. And soon she was bucking under me and moaning. The final moment arrived. Her breasts were heaving through her brocade blouse and her mascara was tinged with tears. She smiled, contented.
Shanta looked at her watch and her eyes widened with horror.
“O my God, I’ll be late! Get off me!”
She pulled on her undies, and rearranged her chiffon saree, her black and brown hair, her smoky eyes. She blew me a kiss through her magenta lipstick, and left the flat, clattering on her heels.
I loved lying naked on the bed after making love. I loved the sunlight on my body through the damask curtains; the chatter of magpies outside the window; the odour of her perfume pervading the bedroom; the taste of her lips or vagina….
It had been a perilous quickie. Obviously, she had been tense. She was on her way to a civil service viva voce. She wanted to be a public servant and give up her job as a journalist. She wanted to make a difference to the lawlessness in her country. I had remonstrated with her at first, but then decided to let her find out for herself. I chuckled…and must have fallen asleep. Continue reading →
The obedient dancer enters, on pointe. A sacrifice of white, she does not realize she is already a ghost of the star she should have become.
Her veil flies behind her, wing to fuel her leaps. Her eyes, already lost to the clouds, do not notice the pews are empty as she clears them, tiny hurdles easily managed. The altar is her final goal.
She arrives, still spinning, a human blur, a top. She turns and turns, skirts flaring, but respectfully never rising higher than lone bent knee. Dizzy with belief that she belongs only to the graceful embrace of heaven, she stops, holds position a moment longer. Continue reading →
All four of them got the summons at the same time. Annabel was working an art event in Chelsea, waiting for Sebastian to whisk her away. Elliot claimed to be at work, but no one believed him. And Izzy? She was in Sebastian’s bed.
A flurry of messages swept around London and before long a freshly-showered Sebastian picked up Annabel and made the Wickham-Holbury train. Izzy went home, changed into jeans, and canceled the date she had lined up. She missed the train, as intended—she wasn’t in the mood for Annabel’s self-satisfied wisdom. Instead she caught a fast train to Oxford, taking a cab through the drenching rain to the manor. She met Elliot on the train, who proceeded to talk manically for the whole journey about trades, his job in the city, and, inevitably, drugs.
The storm was in full pelt as she reached Henry’s manor. He’d inherited it four years ago, in his mid-twenties, when his parents were killed in a private jet crash off the Bahamas. It remained unchanged, the decaying grandeur of his forebears, Henry animating it with parties and dogs and hunts and hedonism. Tonight it looked familiar yet shadowy and distant in the churn of the wind, an owl screeching from an outhouse, the shutters battering with intent. Continue reading →
There is a capability within. Knowing how to stop. I know how to stop. In fact, it’s very few and far between when I need to, because I know how to gauge my line. I can drink a glass of water instead, and then another. There is a span of time that wavers before it passes. It is self-loathing. But pride stops it in its tracks, and before it has a chance to progress it is wiped from the mind.
It has disappeared, that thing, and it’s neither wonderful nor painful because it is numbness. It is gone. Yet while I toil thinking about trivialities like food and warmth and where I am and for how long, it silently creeps back, staying just out of sight, waiting in the closet where the door is ajar and I can feel the desperate eyes on me like those of a starving child.
In terms of art and artistry, culture and the intricate moving multitudes of its respective parts, the 1960’s in America dissected almost every aspect of popular culture and reimagined it into the future. It was a revolution, in the most basic sense of the word–a rotation from the old into something novel and remarkable, the past winding the gears onward. The music of the era tended to be the best representation of this new experiment of interpreting one’s place in a cultural reality; this new imagining, this great experiment, was the philosophy of psychedelia and psychedelic music. For music to be psychedelic, it must rip apart the binding structures of the status quo and rearrange them for a better, more complex view. Many artists were taking old traditions of music and creating sounds never before heard out of their essence; Jimi Hendrix played the blues through a buzzing cloud of electricity and noise; the Grateful Dead took American folk and melted it down into abstract explorations; and bands like the Beatles looked toward the folk traditions of the east to guide rock into another abyss. But as the excitement of the new took hold, as freedom became the modus operandi, the past seemed to be buried, or at least looked upon as simple and out of fashion. Dylan, who seemed to lead the charge out of the shackles of the old world, warned those of the past to “get out of the new way if you can’t lend a hand.” The Who sang of their generation and hopes to “die before [they] got old.” Continue reading →
Ji-li stood in the small dark room, studying her reflection in the cloudy mirror. Barely blinking, she watched herself fold a worn shirt and slip it into her large, right pants pocket. Then she pulled the shirt out and practiced sliding it in again.
Moments later, she stepped outside and walked her bike to the front of the house. Fog blended with soot, causing flat gray clouds to swallow the sky.
A crowd of bike riders passed Ji-li, headed for the factory. Ji-li steered her bicycle onto the street and joined the throng. Unlike mornings when she passed the ride imagining the day her son Liu would make his fortune in America, she kept her thoughts focused on the steps needed to pull the plan off.
Anxious one moment, brimming with hope the next, Ji-li arrived at the factory, without realizing she had ridden that far. Continue reading →