Monday, November 27, 2006

The Big Green Bird

This is the first story with my character, Buck Crimmins. As with the previous post, Avast, there wasn't a place for it in the novel so I thought I'd share it here.
Not a lot of places publish humorous short stories. Maybe I should have marketed it as quasi-zen, existential, magical realism.


I sipped and waited while the beer bubbles broke on the roof of my mouth, then I swallowed. The five o'clock evening new break was a tinny din on the cheap radio. I sat tilted back on the cheap lawn chair and watched the cheap weeds wilt. I heard the five oh five drive time traffic 'copter report begin, "Things are very, very nasty out here this afternoon, and it looks like a lot of you are going to be getting a late start on your weekends. The north bound I-75 at Crooks Road: an accident has traffic backed up to Adams. At Pembroke, the John C. Lodge Freeway is stalled in both directions with concrete falling from the overpass. South bound Southfield at Warren, a steel hauler has dropped its load, and east bound I-94 at Twelve Mile Road, a large bird on the embankment has caused a gawkers slowdown backing traffic up to Harper."

I didn't decide to go; I just went. The old Chevy ground and choked and started. Blue smoke obscured three directions and then trailed behind me as I turned down Russo Highway and left onto the I-94 service drive. I caught three red lights and ran them all. In a car like mine you don't stop unless you have to and red lights don't count as "have to." Near where I reckoned the bird was I slowed to under twenty-five. It was a good thing I guessed right because the car bucked twice, clanked one last time and stopped. I left it where it died and hopped the chain link fence to the embankment.

As far as I could see to my left traffic was oozing by at no more than five miles an hour until they got past the spot where the bird was and then they sped up. I scuttled down the grassy grade until I was level with the bird and turned towards him. He was fifty feet away. I stood real still for a few minutes until I was pretty sure I wouldn't spook him. I closed until I was within twenty-five feet and stopped. I scrunched down on my haunches and squinted against the sunset. He was green and very large-maybe over three feet from claw to crest with long skinny legs-a kind of stork, I thought. He looked at me while I smoked a cigarette and when I flicked it away he turned and pecked the grass at his feet. He didn't snare any bugs but he didn't seem to mind. He looked at me again. A guy riding shotgun in an old Ford pickup chucked a spark plug at him and missed. I waited for the bird to fly but he didn't. He took one step and pecked again. Then he didn't peck any more and just stood still. My knees ached so I plumped down on my butt and crossed my legs. I lit another smoke and we watched commuters for a long time. My last beer was ready to be recycled so I told the bird to wait a minute. I strolled over, darkened the concrete on the nearest overpass and came back to the bird. I sat down and lit one more. I found four corn nuts in my pants pocket, ate three and tossed one to the bird which he ignored.

I looked left which was upstream for the east-bound lanes. Upstream. I understood why people talked of traffic flow and the stream of cars. The road was like a river and the moving cars were like water, sluicing and slowing around curves, then faster in the straight places. And stalled cars were like rocks and rapids, the surge balking and swirling then swooshing on. There were overpasses for the freeway and bridges for a river. I was just starting to reason out the place of semi-trucks and busses in this scheme when the bird brought me up short.

He said, "Bullshit." He made me know that this was, indeed, a road. It might remind me of a river or a herd of wildebeests or love in the afternoon, but it was a road. I was chastened and decided not to mention my last thought on where motorcycles fit in.

Traffic was thinning out but now people were lined along the chain link on either side of the freeway watching the bird; watching both of us, I guessed. TV news trucks never showed up and that was a good thing because I didn't want to attract any loonies who might scare him away. I was a loony who had been attracted here but I wasn't scaring him. I did ask him, though, if he was a sign or a portent or something. He didn't answer very directly so I looked for signs of him being a sign. I didn't know quite what I was looking for since I had never looked for omens previously and wasn't sure what to expect. But there were no patterns in the grass and the face of Jesus didn't reveal itself among his feathers.

Around seven-thirty he left. He ruffed his feathers and stretched his wings one time and with a leg hop and a wing stroke he flew. He flapped mightily and made a great rising circle over the freeway. He headed out generally west and in a straight line. I watched him until he disappeared over the horizon of the Shell gas station roof.

I stayed on for a while, uninteresting to chain link fence gawkers and freeway drivers. I pissed one more time and smoked my last two cigarettes. I didn't decide to leave, I just left. The Chevy had forgotten it was dead and fired to a clanking start. It got me home.

Back home I couldn't find any point to it all. Really, it's not even hardly a story somebody would buy you a beer to hear about. But not every tale has a story, and not every story has a moral, and many, many things in this life have no point beyond the obvious. Like, don't look for Jesus in a big green bird.

Monday, November 13, 2006


Stewart's assignment: Seduction in less than a thousand words. How about in less than three hundred?

Second Date

We walk up a short rise, aspens at the crest, a few boulders. A wildlife preserve she says. A favorite place. Even in November.

She steps ahead of me, her full long peasant skirt luffing in the wind. She knows the trail and reaches back to haul me up. From there and along the ridge crest we hold hands.
Last Thursday night we saw a film, foreign and with subtitles. She said she liked it. Hard to tell. We kissed at her door. She said next time we’d go to a place of hers. There would be a next time? We kissed again, briefly, smiling.

We walk for forty minutes seeing only one other person.

“This is one of your favorite things?” I ask.

“It is,” she says.

Through a ravine. Autumn colors are long gone but there is a certain beauty here. On a flat black rock we sit and talk and muse and are, for a time, quiet. It’s a good quiet with no straining need to fill the silence.

“A bit further,” she says.

We enter and exit an acre of woods and find a stand of aspens, growing but bent into half-hoops from root to ground; a little wooded cavern. We bend to enter and sit beneath sparse cover as the wind shifts. Thirty minutes later a light snow starts. The flakes feel fresh and good on my naked back.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Warning: NC 17 Ahead

The assignment from Stu's blog, has to do with seduction. I'm going to post a nice little story in a few days that I think will qualify. But I have something a little more NC 17 on the subject. I'm not going to post it here, but if you would like to see it, drop me a line at
I'll send the story to you. (And for my local friends, the story is Stranded in the Snow. You may have already seen it, but I'll send it again if you like.)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Love Poem

It had to happen sooner or later...a poem. I'll keep it brief for those of you who can't tolerate the stuff. Comment if you will.

A Love Poem

It is an incandescent love,
Brighter than a burning angel,
Brighter than the eye of God.
And with that light comes heat;
More than enough to melt the stars,
and fire the frozen moon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Avast: A Snippet

Okay, here's the deal. My second novel, Buck and Tangee; Things that Happened, is complete but I can't post much of it here without messing with future publication rights. But I want to share something of the flavor of the book, so here's the solution: The following post is from a section of the original book that didn't quite fit. It's a snippet from the editing room floor.

Now, here's the other thing. Most of my posts are only a few hundred words. This one is about 2200. I hope you think it's worth it. Let me know, okay?

(And my appologies for lack of paragraph indentation...I just can't figure out how to do that!)


For the first half of summer last year, Rusty had a boat. He won it in a poker game in early May and lost it in a poker game in mid-July. But that wasn’t so bad, because the weather kind of cooled off by then.

“Avast!” yelled Rusty.

“Avast?” I said.

“Yeah, avast. Come on, Buck, avast will you?”

The boat was pitching a bit in the chop. The wind had picked up and a cool mist was blowing across Anchor Bay. My tee shirt was feeling like a chilly, damp second skin and I wasn’t in any mood to play pirate.

“What is it you want?” I asked.

“Avast. It’s boater’s talk. It means get your head out of your ass and pay attention. Pull up the anchor. We’re heading in. I don’t like the looks of those clouds.”

After three weeks of boat ownership Rusty had not only become a full-fledged yachtsman, but he’d also gotten infinitely wise in the ways of weather. I pulled up the anchor. The clouds did look nasty.

Rusty’s yacht was a twenty-four foot pontoon boat that he’d won in a poker game in early May. He stripped the camper cap off the back of his totaled out pickup and welded that to the deck. His measurements had been a bit off so the boat’s pitch was actually more of a dip to the left followed by a swoop to the right. He called it a list to starboard.

I waved when I had the anchor on board, and from his perch on top of the camper, Rusty turned the ignition key. Nothing happened. The antique Evenrude outboard motor stayed quiet. He turned the key again and when that didn’t work, he jiggled a few wires. The steering wheel and ignition had also come from the pickup, which accounted for the fact that the boat was also equipped with a transmission lever and turn signals. Rusty cussed. Then he yelled, “The motor...yank the rope.”

I yelled back, “Don’t you mean, ‘Batten the hawser’, or something like that?”
“Yank the damn rope,” he yelled. I yanked the rope.

There was a brief chuff from the engine and a small cloud of kerosene smelling smoke tore away in the growing wind. I pulled again. Chuff. Then chuff, chuff. Then finally chuff, chuff, braaak, and the prop started spinning.

In peaceful, calm weather, one horsepower per foot of boat length is probably adequate. It had at least been enough to get us a mile into the bay. But with the wind coming from shore and the boat having the aerodynamics of a bull dog’s face, we weren’t making much headway going in. It’s hard to measure speeds that slow on the water, but it took over a minute for to almost pass a chunk of seaweed.

“Buck, grab an oar…I’ll steer.” Miles across the bay the low dark clouds flashed.

“Just tie off the wheel with a bungee and you grab an oar too,” I yelled. Within two minutes we were both paddling in a semi-coordinated effort and had left the seaweed several feet behind.
It seemed odd that the flashing clouds across the bay behind us were getting closer because the wind was still in our face from the shore. I wondered if that was some sort of clue about tornados. Or hurricanes. The flags were snapping.

Rusty had screwed a flagpole to the deck. It was topped with the stars and stripes and below that were two pennants, one red with a white martini glass stitched on it and the other was black with the reclining figure of a large breasted woman in yellow. Rusty said they were party flags and would show he was a good time guy and that women were welcome. I thought all they showed was that the boat operator was a red-neck. The martini glass flag was getting frayed. The seaweed passed us going the other way. We were being blown slowly backwards. Then the Evenrude died.

We paddled like crazy, the wind shifted to our backs and the brick-like shape of the camper-cap acted like a sail. I guessed we were making close to one mile per hour. The storm was coming in at about thirty miles an hour. I had vision of us on the six o’clock news, hanging by a rope from a Coast Guard rescue chopper. If we were lucky. And I didn’t feel lucky. Rusty quit paddling and swayed over to the flag pole.

“What are you doing?” I yelled.

“The flag,” he said. “I’m going to hang the flag upside down. It’s a universal distress signal. Anybody who sees that will come and help.”

I yelled back, “Anybody who is close enough to see an upside down flag will also be close enough to see two guys rowing a barge with no motor in the middle of a typhoon. Come back and row.”
Despite my good advice Rusty took the time to lower and unclip the flag, reclip it and hoist it up again. Then he came back and paddled some more. Ten minutes later the boat was rolling so bad that my oar only reached the water between the crests of the waves. Then we had company.

From our left, about a hundred yards out, a personal watercraft with one person aboard was jetting across the waves. It had to be going at least forty miles an hour and seemed to be completely air-borne after topping the biggest waves. We waved but it kept on going. I figured it was too small to take on passengers and the driver was heading to shore to get us help. Then, suddenly it carved a wide U-turn arc in the water and turned back to us. Within seconds it was idling just off our left side. I could see Rusty grin; the driver was a woman. Rusty always grins at women. She was wearing a black wet-suit trimmed in yellow. Scuba gear was lashed to the back of her boat. She yelled, “Throw me a line.”

Rusty ducked into the camper-cap and came out with a length of white nylon rope. He tossed the coil to her while holding on to the end. Then he looked around for a likely place to tie it off. He settled on the flagpole. She whipped her end around a cleat at the back of her boat and then settled back behind the steering bars.

Spray from her jet washed back over our deck and we started to pull ahead. Twenty minutes later we were at the dock. Our right pontoon had burst at a seam and grounded in the sand while the left pontoon bobbed furiously. We scrambled off and into the waist deep water. The jet-ski woman cast off her end of the line and zoomed away and out of sight. We waded to the dock and Rusty tied a neat bow to fix the pontoon boat to a piling. We made it to the beach and fell on the wet sand. My pickup truck sat alone in the parking lot. We staggered to it and collapsed into the seat. I fired up the engine and we sat, staring through the windshield as the heater warmed up. My cigarettes were soaked but I found a couple of fairly long butts in the ashtray.

Rusty said, “I guess we’ll have to wait until after the storm to haul the boat out.”

“I don’t think that’s going to be an issue,” I said and nodded towards the end of the dock. Rusty’s bow had held and the line hadn’t broken and was still tied to the flagpole. It was just that the flagpole wasn’t attached to the boat, which was drifting further out with every wave. By the time we had smoked the shortest of the cigarette butts the boat was gone. In a moment of calm Rusty ran out on the dock and pulled in the flagpole which we stowed in the back of my truck.

I dropped Rusty off at his house, bought a dry pack of cigarettes and went home.

I took a hot shower, put on dry clothes and sat on the couch wrapped in an afghan, sipping whisky, straight.

Tangee made me a grilled cheese sandwich and snuggled up next to me. She said, “You guys have all the fun. We need a boat.”

The funny thing was that after a month or so I started thinking we needed a boat, too. The only problem I had with boats was that they go in water and I’d had enough water for a long time. I made a list of the good things and bad things about owning a boat.

A boat. Why not? Well, the first why not has to do with all the scrubbing my neighbor, Vince, does on the hull of his twenty-four foot inboard cruiser. He starts scrubbing in early April, right after the last of the ice melts, and he keeps on scrubbing until Memorial Day when he puts the boat in the water. Scrubbing is not recreation. Neither is spending money, although Tangee would disagree with that one. Boats don’t run on gasoline or diesel fuel or wind power. Money is what makes boats run, and they don’t get many miles per dollar. The third thing wrong with boats is that they go in water. Water is nice for swimming if you have a pool or if you’re at the beach. Water is not nice for swimming if your boat springs a leak and falls over and you have to swim to save your life.

But still, for some reason, boats are cool. You can be a mile out in the bay and therefore be a mile away from anybody you don’t want to be around. Nobody just stops by to visit you in your boat a mile out in the bay. And you can fish. That’s a good thing. Boats aren’t completely evil. So I decided to build a boat and just skip the part about the water.

I went to the junk yard and found an eighteen year old Chevy pickup truck in ruined condition. The motor ran but the manual transmission only worked in first gear and reverse, but I figured that was plenty for what I had in mind. The sheet metal was rusted through and banged up so bad that even duct tape wouldn’t hold it together, but that was okay too. I towed it home and parked it in my driveway. Then I tore off all of the sheet metal. I laid planks down on the bare truck bed and around the seat, dashboard and steering wheel which were still pretty much in tact. That’s what a boat is; a deck and some chairs. I stained the wooden deck and bought some folding aluminum yard chairs and a wicker chaise lounge at a garage sale. A proper boat also needs a cooler because in addition to money, the other thing boats run on is beer. But a cooler is only about two cubic feet and if you put some sandwiches in there with the beer, they get soggy when the ice melts. I bought a used Norge refrigerator and wrestled it aboard. The whole operation took less than one weekend and by Sunday evening I was sitting in my driveway on the deck of my new boat in my wicker chaise lounge, sipping a beer and eating an unsoggy sandwich. The only part I was missing was the being a mile away from everybody, so when Rusty pulled up in the driveway, I couldn’t hardly ignore him.

He yelled, “Hi.”

I yelled, “Ahoy.”

After he had scrambled aboard and helped himself to a beer and pulled up a folding chair he said, “This is the stupidest goddamn thing I’ve ever seen.”

“No,” I said, “the stupidest goddamn thing you’ve ever seen was your pontoon boat sinking like a stone in that hurricane we got caught in last month. This boat won’t sink.”

“This is not a boat. This is...I don’t know...a porch. You’ve got a porch sitting in your driveway.”

“Hah!” I said. I moved from my wicker chaise lounge to the seat behind the steering wheel. I tuned the key and the motor fired up. It coughed and choked and smoked and sputtered. Just like a boat. Then I put it in first and idled forward ten feet or so.

“What the hell are you doing?” Rusty asked.

“Just moving in a bit toward the dock,” I said.

“That’s your garage.”

“For my car it’s a garage. For my boat, it’s the dock.”

Here the story merged back into the main part of the novel, so as I said...this is less a short story than a true excerpt. I hope you’ll find time to comment.

Friday, November 03, 2006

The Green Room

If you've been over to that superior blog,
(and if you haven't been, you must go), you'll know that he's very keen on giving writing assignments. He established that the work this time would be less than a thousand words, take the form of a two character one act play, and reflect a conversation that follows a tragedy.

What follows is my effort.

The Green Room

The curtain opens to a spare room, walls of Paris Green, curtains of ivory satin. There are two chairs facing each other. They are straight backed and severe. Between the chairs is a matching coffee table, bare but for a Bible and a box of Kleenex.

Two men are seated there, both in suits, both in their late forties or early fifties. They are Pastor Pollard and Pastor Kartch. Kartch is slumped forward with his elbows on his knees. He has obviously been crying. It is a cry of despair.

Pollard: Another Kleenex?

Kartch: I should have done it myself, shouldn’t I?

P: No. It was right the way it was. And at the end you led us in the Twenty-third Psalm.

K: Not enough. It wasn’t enough. She is my wife. I should have led the whole service. Shouldn’t I?

P: Honestly, Karl, I don’t think so. I mean you weren’t in much shape to go through with it.

K: Not a very good example for my congregation, was I?

P: Because you cried at your wife’s funeral? You forget, I cried when Jill died. Even though she was only three days old, I cried. Bill Kinney from Faith Temple had to do the service for us.

K: I was here last night. After everybody left. After the visitation. I called and they let me in. Must have been after midnight. I prayed.

P: Of course you did.

K: No. I prayed for her to come back. I prayed to Jesus to raise her from the dead. To sit up in that damn casket and turn her head to me and smile. I could here her little laugh and her asking, “What happened?” I offered every sacrifice I could think of. He could have done it you know. Why wouldn’t He? Why didn’t Becky deserve it as much as Lazarus?

P: I’ve been asked that by parishioners many times, and so have you. What did you tell them?

K: I told them it was an example of His love. I told them it was like giving someone you love a great gift…you don’t need to give the gift every day; you give it and it’s remembered.

P: I like that. A wonderful analogy. Doesn’t it work for you now? Can’t you accept that it isn’t something we can expect every day, or ever at all any more?
K: No. Frankly I can’t. Now I see it as more like somebody standing by while you choke and withholding CPR. I see it as cruel and mean to have once shown us that He could do it and now standing by and refusing. I want Him to do what He can do. He’s done it before. I want it now. I want for my wife what He gave to Lazarus.

P: What did He give to Lazarus, Karl?

K: He gave him life!

P: And then? What happened then? He gave him life and he lived again, and then he died. He died, Karl. He may have lived again for a while, but then he died a second death. And where was Jesus then? Lazarus died, Karl. That’s the lesson. He died and nothing Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit could do would change that. The pain of death, twice. The grief of his wife and daughters, twice. The mourning and the tears and the suffering…twice. And that’s the lesson of Lazarus; not that he lived twice, but that even with divine intervention…Lazarus died.

The two men sit in their straight backed chairs. Pastor Pollard is thumbing through the Bible. Pastor Kartch is crying again. But it’s a cry of resignation.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Daschound Migration

Shooting and murder and sickness and vampires and death...enough, already!

At least half of the fiction I write is humor. Kind of like this...

Daschound Migration

(Voice-over from a Science Channel program that hasn’t aired yet.)

It’s fall and the dashounds are migrating. They gather in pairs and threes, often under shrubs, waiting for the sun at dusk to guide them. They’re heading south, roughly following I-69 until it crosses route sixty-six. Then they head west. The faint scent of guacamole, which is heavier than air, hugs the ground. And the daschounds hug the ground, displaying once again the marvels of adaptive evolution. West and south they go as they do every year, to winter near the groves of their beloved avocado.

The short hairs leave first. They must conserve heat and their tolerance for lack of avocado is much lower than the long hairs’. And too, the short hairs prefer to travel in company and their herds can number in the hundreds. Long hairs are more clannish and stick to smaller family groups.

As far back as the earliest days of the opening of the old west, pioneers reported their wagon trains being held up for hours, even days, as the doxies spread in a wide, furry river from horizon to horizon. It was said that after their passing nothing would grow on the land for seven years. Except for maybe avocado.