Tuesday, January 14, 2014

THE FLIGHT OF THE BIRDHOUSE - flash fiction challenge

Author Chuck Wendig posted a flash fiction challenge at his blog Terrible Minds.  Using a random number generator or a d20 ( a twenty sided dice - didn't know what that was, my geek titer is now on the rise, as is yours) you are assigned one word/phrase from list #1 and one from #2 as the title for your 1000 word or less piece of flash fiction.

I got 17-Flight of the & 11 Birdhouse.



     "If you don't want to talk about your problems," Dr. Brewer said, "then why are you here?"

    I dug my nails into my thighs. Someone needed to tell this jackass that wire-rimmed glasses, a combover, and a tweed jacket with suede arm patches made him therapist cliché extraordinaire. "Floating isn't the problem. My wife cheating on me is the problem. I know what she told you, but she's distracting you from the real issue."

     Dr. Brewer's expression was easy to read. You're a nut job, and she should run. "So, Jack," he said, "Keeping your pockets weighted down with fistfuls of nickels so you don't float away isn't a problem?"

     "It is a problem," I said, "but it's not the problem." Douchewater.

    I'd lived with weightlessness since I was kid. Back then, my pockets were so full they hung below my cutoffs. Shorts were way too short in the 70s. I wasn't nickle rich, so it was mostly nuts and bolts from the mason jars in the garage. 'Jack Richards,' my mom would say, 'You go empty your pockets right this minute. You are not going to float away. Keep eating ice cream the way you do, and it'll take a tornado to lift your big ass off the ground.'

    Staring at me to get me to talk wasn't going to work. My last psychiatrist had worn that trick out. Dr. Brewer gave in to the silence. "What makes you think Gloria's cheating on you?" 
     Think? I knew. "All the sudden, her phone's locked. She's never had any after work meetings, ever. Now there are two or three a week?"

     "Did you ask her about it?"

     "She said she locked it because she'd been pocket dialing people."

     "Sounds reasonable."

     Yeah, right. "She takes an Ambien every night around ten. I'm up 'til  at least midnight. Passcode's only four digits. I had a solid hour-and-a-half to work on it while she slept. Started at 0000 and planed to work my way up to 9999. Hit it on night four. 2345. Original."

    "Do you see that as violation of trust?"

     Kiss my ass. Violation of trust. "His name is Pablo," I said. "What kind of romance-novel asshole has a name like Pablo."

    "Has your … flying been stressful for Gloria."

    "I didn't say I could fly. That would imply I have some kind of control over it. I don't. Being able to fly wouldn't fuck me up like all-of-the-sudden-floating-away does." The old me would've choked him. I took a slow deep breath. "I'm not a fucking bird zipping around from point to point." 

     He held his hands up. "Don't get angry."

     "Angry? Last week I got tangled in an elm at the corner of Boylston and Twelfth. When it happens, it's like ... I'm frozen in space and things are moving around me. The ground, the floor, it leaves me. It's not the bird that's flying, it's the birdhouse."

     He scribbled on his note pad, then flipped back to older pages. "You've been off your medication for how long?"

     He hadn't believed anything I'd said. "A month. They make me sluggish. I only stayed on them for Gloria. What's the point now?"

     "And when did the floating start?"

     "I told you, It started when I was a kid. I had it under control for a while, until the last couple of weeks."

     "Do you see a connection?"

     "It's not the lack of medication. It's stress. You don't even believe it's happening, so why do I need medication?"

     "OK, Prove me wrong. Empty the nickles from your pockets. I promise, you'll be fine. The ceilings are only nine feet. If you float up, I'll pull you back down."

     I'd never had a psychiatrist be so confrontational. My second visit with Dr. Prick Brewer would be my last. "It won't happen if I'm nervous or consciously thinking about it."

    "That's pretty convenient."

     "No," I stood to leave. "It's most inconvenient. As soon as my mind wanders, it's up, up, and fucking away."

     "I understand your frustration. I believe you believe it's real. And I get it — I'm just some new guy you don't trust. But please, If you'll just start back on your medications. It'll help. It certainly isn't going to hurt … Let's talk again Tuesday."

     "Mmhhmm." Tuesday my ass. "We're done."


     I pulled my hood up for the trek home, tucked my head, and walked into the rain. Gloria was waiting when I opened the door to our fourth-floor walk-up.

     "Hey baby," she said, and kissed me as I took off my raincoat. "I'm almost ready, just need a sec in the bathroom." 

     We always went for Vietnamese noodle soup on Mondays — perfect for the cold drizzly night. Maybe it had been in my head. Everything seemed right, normal. She turned back, grabbed her phone from the table, and headed towards the bathroom.

     "Why are you taking your phone to the bathroom?"

     "I'm going to read my email on the toilet. Is that OK?"

     Ten minutes later she emerged. 'Shit was hitting the fan at work. She needed to go back for a couple of hours. We'd do Vietnamese tomorrow.'

    "I'll walk out with you," I said. "I'm going to the roof to smoke." I lit up in the stairwell and walked the flight up.

     Perched on the roof's edge, I waited. Streetlights reflected off wet concrete. Phone to ear, Gloria emerged and started down the sidewalk. I unclenched my fist and let the nickels rain down. She was six steps from the entryway when the coins crashed into the sidewalk.

     She jumped forward, then spun around as the second pocketful hit the ground. Hand to chest, she looked down at the nickels, some still in motion. Her head jerked skyward.

    I closed my eyes, bone and muscle turned to balsa wood, blood became helium. I leaned into the wind, and floated away. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013



      Every year, I'd circle hundreds of items in the Sears and JCPenny catalogues — circle first, then go through a second time, add a check to the things I really needed, and, on third time through, star the items that were essential for life — easy peasy for your shopping convenience. But my needs went unfulfilled, it was as if my parents didn't understand the meaning of Christmas.

      December 1977, top of the list — pocket knife. Testosterone had finally kicked in. It was going to be A Very, Very, Butch Christmas Special. A knife and an eight-year-old boy — what could possibly go wrong?

 "No," Mom said, in a sporadic moment of parental clarity. "It's not happening, no knives." Some version the following conversation played out through the month of December.

 Mom — He's going to cut himself.
Me — No, I'm not.
Dad — Loretta, quit babying him.

      I could tell from the way Dad looked at me, brow furrowed and head cocked, he too thought it was a bad idea. But honestly, I think he was just thrilled it wasn't an EZ-Bake oven like last year.

      Christmas 1976 I asked for an EZ-Bake Oven. Perfect, right? Cakes. Who doesn't want cake on demand? Sorry, while you schmucks spend your time choking down Mother's cabbage rolls at the dinner table, I'll be in my room having a freshly baked cake. Ah freedom, it smelled like cream-cheese frosting.

     My mom, the answer — “EZ bake oven? No. That’s a girl’s toy.”

      Toy? It wasn't a toy. It was a means to end. Are you really going to refuse me piping-hot chocolate cake in the privacy of my room to satisfy your own heterosexual agenda, hateful,wicked, cake-depriving woman?

     Apparently, yes, she was. She was determined to mold me into the man she wanted me to be. That man was not a pastry chef, a gymnast, or a tap dancer. No. No. No.

     So, I didn’t get the oven, but it was a mixed-message Christmas miracle. Without even having asked for him, I got Stretch Armstrong. Stretch in all his muscly glory and blue Speedo was crazy hot. So, I took the perfectly smooth, tan-skinned doll and begged my sister to use her oven. I had my eye on the devil's food cake. How exotic, food from the devil, one of Satan’s tasty little treats right there in my sister’s closet.

      She, of course, power hungry and cake stingy, declined. She said it was too much trouble to get the oven out of the box — lazy, just plain lazy. But the chocolate devil tempted me and I devised a plan to sneak into her room, take the oven back to mine, and bake the cake.

     I'd definitely have to sneak as I'd been banned from going into her room when she wasn't in it. The week before I'd cut Barbie's hair — Dorothy Hamil Wedge, the latest style. Under her bed, hidden away, all Anne Frank-like, was a box overflowing with Barbies. The wedge was not as easy of cut as you might imagine, especially given Barbie's over-processed hair. But by the time I'd gotten to the last Barbie, I was pretty good at it. Do you think my sister was grateful? No, she was not.

      Sensing I was up to no good, she lingered in her room, and I was unable to get to the oven. Perhaps I'd stared too longingly at the closet doors that hid the EZ- Bake. Satan's delicious treatsies and Christmas — a combination that wasn't meant to be. After the previous year's girl-centric toy obsession,

     Surely, Christmas 1977 would be different. There was a good chance I would get the macho, tough-guy, present I'd asked for. You would've thought my parents would be fumbling over themselves to buy me a pocket knife - a knife, a hand grenade, a hooker, anything that screamed, "Yes, my son is a heterosexual. Thank you for noticing."

     "Why do you want a pocket knife?" Mom asked.

     Why? Why was hard to explain, other than to whittle. That's what Jed did, and he was millionaire living in Beverly Hills. And that's what I wanted — to sit in front of my mansion whittling with Jethro and Granny.

     "I plan to carve a wooden flute."

     Mommy's face soured. Flutes apparently were not macho. Fortunately, I saved her from having an outright stroke. I didn't tell her the master plan was to eventually carve a French horn, perhaps the gayest instrument of all time.

     December 24 came. The presents were neatly packed beneath the tree. I rifled through them. None were small enough to be a pocket knife. The stores closed early on Christmas Eve. There was precious little time for Mom and Dad to fulfill their parental obligations.

     "Walmart is open until five, maybe six. You better leave now, just to be safe. I'm sure they have pocket knives."

     "Bill, I told you, you're too young. Maybe next year."

     "How old do you have to be to actually start getting stuff you want?"
     "You get more than you need. Don't be greedy."

     Here's the thing — It's not greed if you really want it. And I wanted it. But she didn't understand eight-year-old-boy logic. Christmas-Eve sleep was always fitful, but especially so when you know you're doomed to stay unarmed for eternity. But that morning, in my stocking was a crudely wrapped package. Twisted red paper and enough tape to restrain a small dog — It had been dad-wrapped.
     The size, the weight, the shape — all were perfect for a pocket knife. It was a Christmas conundrum. The pocket knife was in my hand, but it would take a pocket knife to get through the Fort Knox wrapping. Like a wolf trying to free its leg from a trap, I gnawed at the tape until it gave way.

      Pocket knife! Thank you, baby Jesus.

     With my weak girly arms I was unable to spring the blade from the handle, a defeat I didn't see coming. When Dad finally opened it for me, it smelled of WD-40 and danger. Closing it was easier, and I assume, since I was unable to reopen it, Mom and Dad figured there would be no blood spilled Christmas morning.

     However, once in the safety of my room, using my teeth and every bit of strength in my neck, I freed the blade from its prison. I had a block of wood from The Cub Scout Pinewood Derby still in its original, uncarved, rectangular shape. That was about to change. It was time to commence a'whittling.

     The blade felt cold as it sliced through my flesh, not at all what I would've thought. Less then a minute after opening the knife, I got to see what the tendons in my thumb look like — white with a bit of clear fluid. The key to whittling is to whittle away from the hand holding the wood, not towards. Who knew a lesson awaited on Christmas morn.

      It was the longest, deepest cut anyone, anywhere, had ever, ever had. Yet, there was surprisingly little blood. I assume it was because my heart stopped the minute I cut myself.

     Mom — He's going to cut himself.
     Me — No, I'm not.

      I couldn't risk putting a Band Aid on my thumb and letting Mom know she'd been right. That would be a bad precedent to set. If I kept my thumb hyperextended the edges of the cut stayed approximated and there was no bleeding. So, I spent Christmas Day pretending I was Arthur Fonzerelli. "Ay!"

     They never found out.
     And I never whittled a flute.
     That's not a euphemism. Get your mind out of the gutter.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Puilly Fuisse . . . gesundheit

Puilly Fuisse . . . gesundheit 

If I see no more of France than La Source des Fées, my body found in Fuisse, one hand clutching the cow-sheep cheese hybrid, the other my cholesterol medication, it will have been worth it. Two-and-a-half-euros buys us a good sized puck of local cheese. The interior of which looks like yellow cake batter and tastes even better. The cheese crumbles under the knife like I imagine yellow uranium cake would and it attacks my vasculature in much the same way.

I form a mental image of the pungently delicious cheese going directly from my stomach to my bloodstream, plastering itself along my coronary arteries.For around thirteen euros we got a bottle of a local red. I take large medicinal gulps, downing the delicious antioxidants by the mouthful, imagining it scrubbing away at the cholesterol plaques like varnish attacks lacquer (or, if you grew up in the 70s, like scrubbing bubbles on a dirty tub).

Our suite (we were given a free upgrade as the regular rooms were booked) is the original section of the establishment, built in the fourteenth century, not in the new addition (1656 new).

When Chris Columbus was  Jetting across the pacific on his Yacht in search of new digs, our room at  La source Des Fées had been occupied for over a hundred years. Someone likely having built it, lived in it, and died there before Chris even fired up the engine of the Nina, Pinta, or St. Maria. 

If you have a chance visit Fuisse (preferably in warmer weather), stay at the magnificent La Source Des Fees.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


Our stint in Italy starts in Rome. Anyone who knows me, knows I be lovin' me some art. We've hit the jackpot — a Vermeer exhibit and the Villa Borghese. The Borghese is like the TJ Max of the Renaissance. There is crap everywhere. Everything is so good in the end it all seems the same. After all the perfection, I find I'm most drawn to the Leprosy Wing exit hall which holds statues that didn't make the cut for the main museum — missing toes, fingers, and noses (as well as other delicates).

A lot of the Art in Rome is found in the churches. Here is the ceiling at Cathedral de Liberace.

If you can't make it to Rome, head to Las Vegas. I image the ceiling above Sigfried and Roy's bed is very similar to this.
We make our way to a smaller, less known church that is purported to house a Carvaggio.
And voila there it is in all it chiaroscuro glory. It is magnificent —

but my gaze is diverted by the condom machine in the corner.

Why is there a condom machine in a church? A Catholic Church no less! A post-postmenopausal woman, whose grey hose gathered at her ankles matches her grey orthopedic shoes and grey legs, approaches with euro in hand? The plot thickens. What's the randy old bird up to? Clink, the coin drops and a light shines from the heavens. I take it as sign of approval for contraception, but the condom never materializes. The light dims. Another person, another euro, more light, still no rubber.  Doink!  Coin operated light.

We head to Arezzo for a half marathon.
I love this Arezzo cat. 

The poster, I'm sure, says lost. This cat isn't lost. Look at his face.

 This cat hates his owner and has hauled ass. (This by the way is how I imagine all cats feel about people. Sorry, cat lovers.)

Next stop Pompeii. The weather is bad, it's off season, and we're arrive early, so there are no crowds. 

This is a replica of a statue that was in Pompeii, but now is in a museum in Naples.

Come visit Pompei. We moved all the cool shit to a museum in Naples. No, the twelve euros you paid here doesn't cover admission, but you can cram back on to the rickety subway, be there in another hour, and fork over another 12 euros. Grazie.

We are on to the Pompeii shell game. So, with olives in tow (Dan's right hand),

we decide to move on to the most beautiful place on earth — Positano.


We run the Path of the Gods.

Positano to Bologna and Bologna to Verona.
In the hills outside of Verona we find and we find gold — un ristorante privato (we had to fill out paperwork to eat there) that specializes in pesce. Our gift from the kitchen is fried fish, the name of which doesn't translate. It only swims in the Baltic. It is the best fish I've ever had.  They'd anticipated that our main course would not be enough fish for two.

The meal is magical. And by magical, I mean both delicious and having supernatural qualities. As you can see, after having the Branzino, I grew to gigantic proportions, dwarfing cars and terrorizng the sleepy agriculture village of San Mattia. 

Run! E 'il gigante Americano.

The hot spiced wine causes my brain to swell to the point where it's trying to escape out through my eye sockets. But I have a moment and am able to head to downtown Verona. Moment is the italian brand name for Ibuprofen ( it has a delicious hard candy shell)

 First stop — Casa di Guileta. I guess Romeo and Juliet, were actual people, spinning a whole new light on the play for me. Romeo an Juliet weren't just characters in the most famous play ever written, they were some poor Italian's unruly teenagers.

No, Julliet. The Montagues are thugs.
But Mom, I love him.
You zip your mouth, young lady and go to your room.
I hate you. I'm going to kill myself.
You're going to wish you were dead, if you don't start marching.

Dozens of people fill Juliette's courtyard (that's not a euphemism, there's and actual courtyard) and line up to have photo wiht her bronze statue. Touching her right breast is reported to cure syphilis bring about love. The walls are graffitied with love notes from lascivious pervs hoping to get a piece hopeful love birds.

Casa di Romeo — nada. A simple sign, some brick walls, no drama, no crowd, likely just some dude inside, a modern day Romeo,  playing his X-box.


In the bathroom of our restaurant privato — a stereo, a jambox and some left over cooking utensils (hopefully not still being used)

two bastards in love

Italian signage —

 Come to Italy where people are busy shoveling shit

stealing stuff and sneaking away with it

& humping automated doors.



PS —
I don't want to give the wrong impression of Italy. I like it. I'll definitely come back, at least in 2029 to see Madge in Bologna.

 How could I not with her genitals all-aglow, restrained only by her arthritic fingers and cotton-poly blend, granny-panty couture. Madge. When did Madonna become Madge? I want to met the gay who was the first person to start calling her Madge (you know it was a gay)

We leave Italy and just in time. My pasta receptors are saturated. If I see one more pizza margheritaaaaa or one more Roman ruin, my heads going to explode. Explode! I tell you. Next stop Locarno, Switzerland for half marathon number three.

Saturday, October 27, 2012


     Exit Dublin and on to Dubrovnik. 

     We board our flight by groups. Fairly simple — A then B then C then — you get the point. Normally, I wouldn't bother to explain something that is so self-explanatory, but for the passengers on Aer Lingus 446 it was like teaching calculus to Alzheimer patients who've had a melatonin and barbiturate cocktail — impossible. The boarding agent had to leave her post at the jet bridge and ask each individual passenger if they were group A. The passenger would look at their ticket, whimper, then present it to the woman.
     "Yes, this is an A you go now" or "No, this not an A. No yet for you. Later. You B. Wait here." A portly grey-haired man in front of me blurted out, no less than four times, "What about D?" 
    The good news — when she finally says boarding all rows all groups, the crowd just stands and stares. Unimpeded, I casually stroll onto the plane.
     In the Dubrovnik airport, a burly man in military uniform notices the cardboard tube sticking out of Dan's backpack and pulls us aside.
   "What is tube?"
    "A map?"
    "Is new map or antique?"
    "Seventeenth century."
    "Show me."
     Like a seventeenth-century maiden asked by a suitor to see her ankles, Dan gingerly pulls back the lid giving him the just the slightest peeksy of the map's edge. Like a red cape, the sliver of map causes the bull's officer's nostrils to flare. He snorts and adjusts his gun belt. After some coaxing. Dan is forced to reveal the goods.

     Unwashed hands besmudge the haul. "Careful please," Dan says, confused as to who is in charge.
     "I AM CROATIAN CUSTOM'S OFFICER," says Mr. Croatia 1976, pounding his chest like King Kong. "YOU BREAK LAW, DO NOT DECLARE MAP, AND I AM THE ONE TO BE CAREFUL." At this point I'm excused from the airport, so Dan and his new friend can have some alone time for the prostate exam  group-hug portion of the interrogation Croatian welcome.
      Having refused to pay a bribe, Dan and I limp from the airport to beautiful Old Town.  On the wall that encircles the city, we lick our wounds and take in the view. 

     Two kilometers outside the wall is the bombed out remains of Hotel Belvedere.

     We walk through the mortar-blasted grounds, down ten flights of stairs carved into the Dalmatian coastline, and jump in the Adriatic. 

     It's mid-October and we're swimming in the clear turquoise water. The dichotomy of this site is much like the contrast in the people — War torn /angst ridden and overwhelming beauty/kindness. 
     Hvala is Croatian for thank you. We said it often. The citizens of Croatia fall into one of two categories — the most friendly, gracious people in the world or brutish, ready-to-extort-money, one-rubber-glove-on cavity searchers. The concierge at our Hotel in Split, our apartment manager in Dubrovnik, and the staff manning the wall in Mali Stone fall in to the former. 
     I think the Croatian Civil War of the early nineties must have left some of the residents scarred, their residual hostility a side effect of war. But three days later while in our Dubrovnik apartment, I come to understand the true orgin of the citizen's irritability. It isn't the 1991 war. It's chaffed buttocks. 

     I haven't seen peach-colored toilet paper since the early 1980's when my friends and I would toss it into trees during our midnight house rollings. At first I thought the emblem on the paper was a feather, but now have come to recognize it as the Croatian pine cone. The toilet paper, made from a mixture of coarsely ground cones and sand is held together with communist-era, Eastern-European, textile adhesives. With just one sturdy square of paper, you can easily remove your intended target along with several layers of skin.


Highlight - the beautiful scenery and weather.

LOW POINT- second hand smoke
In Split the cigarette reigns supreme. 300 AD relics are so common they're relegated to ashtray status.