Matthew Licht

A Hard Case (Part 2)

Doris Frawley was my kind of case. In one of my client’s home photos she was being measured for a new brassiere:

DD2 girl-tape-hst

Frawley wrung his gnarled hands. She’d left him with barely a dime, he said. He still had to make payments on the car she’d driven off in, still had to pay the rent, and take care of his elderly mother. I scribbled down where his wife went shopping, who her friends were, etc.

“Did she have a job?”

“Part-time stuff—waitressing, usually. She made good tips.”

“How much did she take? Is it possible she has a bank account you don’t know about?”

He shook his head. “She has no head for finance. And less than a thousand, I’d say. But it’s all I had.”

“When did she leave?”

“Two days ago. I kept thinking she’d be back.” His eyes welled up.

“This doesn’t look good,” I said, and spelled it out for him. His runaway wife had a car and plenty of gas money. Frawley had waited over 48 hours before he took action. She could be almost anywhere in the USA.

I told him to go home, and I’d do what I could.

“Leave the pictures of your wife.”

From my second-floor office window, I watched him walk away, eyes on the pavement, shoulders hunched, hands in his empty pockets. I felt bad for the guy.

As soon as he was out of sight, I spread the pictures of Doris Frawley across my desk and did what I could.

Wayne F. Burke

Pistol

He woke fully dressed, lying on his bed, arms outstretched like a man crucified. A window shade beside the bed rose on a breeze, crinkled and flapped like a big tongue tasting the air. He winced at the sound. The daylight hurt his eyes; he swung his thin legs off the bed and sat up. Whoa! The room turned: a clockwise motion then back again, as if adjusting itself. He shut his eyes, bracing himself with hands on the mattress.

The door of the room flew open.

“Louis!!”

His mother, wearing a terrycloth bathrobe, red, like a campfire. “WHERE IS THE CAR?” she shouted.

“Jesus Christ,” he said, rubbing his forehead, “in the drive.”

“It is NOT in the drive!”

He listened to his mother’s feet beat across the floor like drums.

Louie stared at a crack in the linoleum. The car? He heard footsteps approaching like an army on the march…

Louie teetered to his feet. His father and mother stood in the doorway. His father wore a white t-shirt; his face blue with stubble, nose red, and a vein in the middle of his forehead swollen like a night-crawler…“What you do with the car?’ he screamed. “YOU CRACK IT UP? ANSWER ME!”

Louie blinked. Shrugged his shoulders.

The fucking car.

Louie’s father stepped across the floor; he threw a punch: a Rocky Marciano right-hook.

Louie ducked and the room ducked with him up and down. He ran to the door and out, past his mother, who rabbit-punched him in the ear as he ran past.

“GODDAMN DRUNK!” his father screamed.

The cool morning air burnt Louie’s throat. He sucked air for breath. “Oh my Christ,” he said…He walked along the sidewalk and over a truck-long bridge, spanning a river in the trough of cement retaining walls. The river giggled. It thought he was funny, Louie told himself.

The smell of grease and fried chicken assailed his big nose. Three cars in the lot of KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN across the street. A seagull flew over the roof of the joint; a french fry like fangs in its mouth…In the park beside the river trees stood, bare, branches raised like arms in some kind of beseeching action. When did the trees lose their leaves, Louie wondered. He gazed at cars in Goldman’s Super-Duper Market parking lot. Traffic noise revved like an engine inside his head. FIND THE CAR, he told himself. The goddamn car. A cat-sized crow stood in the sidewalk, looking pissed-off and as if daring Louie to pass. He kicked at the bird, wondering if the thing would attack him. The crow flew off, croaking “ut oh! Ut oh!”

Louie’s mouth felt dry, like a desert. Should have grabbed a quart of milk from the frig before he booked, he thought. He searched his pockets for his money. SHIT! where did his money go? He must have been robbed! Or did he lose it? He leaned against a telephone pole and watched cars pass. Too bad he did not have a cigarette, he thought. Or a joint. The pole smelled like tar and resin.

A vague memory, distant, like the First World War, came into his mind. A booth in CHICK’S Lounge and two girls sitting across from him. A blonde and a red-head. The blonde had big knockers. The red-head pretty and with a silver nose ring. He recalled the feel of the redhead’s lips, the smell of shampoo in her hair…She was married, he remembered her saying. Married! And had kids…Three or four or…The memory faded…

A truck ground a couple pounds worth of gears. The truck driver had a mountain-man beard and a tortured-looking face, angry eyes in his melon-sized head. The eyes looked down onto Louie, who flinched. The red-head’s husband, he told himself. Holy shit! Drops of sweat sprouted on his scalp and rolled down his back like rain. It could not be, he thought. Or, could it?

He walked away hurriedly, looked back once before stopping on the corner. Run like a bastard, he told himself—if the guy came for him. Could he run like a bastard, he wondered? His feet felt as if someone had pounded nails into his soles.

An old lady driving past in a Cadillac gave him a fish-eyed look. Louie wondered what her problem was: lose her false teeth?

Behind the Caddy a pick-up truck: the guy driving pointed his index finger like a gun out the window. Louie cringed. Chooch Rondini–who tended bar at CHICK’s—stuck his peanut-shaped head out the truck window: “PISTOL!” he shouted.

Louie hated the name. John the bartender at the American Legion tagged him with it and it had stuck. He did not want to be “Pistol,” but he was…Maybe the car is at the Legion, he told himself; he crossed the street as a guy with a sun-burnt face and pointy van Dyke beard walked out of AL’S Hardware carrying a pitchfork. Louie moved aside quickly: for some reason he could not explain, the guy gave him, Louie, the creeps.

Church bells tolled Bong Bong Bong Bong BONG BONG

“Jesus!” Louie said, cupping his ears.

Birds like ashes fluttered around the steeple of the church. Sky above smoky gray.

A whale-sized fire truck rolled out of the fire station and wallowed in the street, lights flashing red and yellow, siren wailing like a signal for the end of the world.

“Bastard!” Louie shouted.

The truck took its sweet time going to douse the flames.

Louie read the marquee above the movie theater entrance: LOST IN SPACE A Romantical Comedy Out of This World Starring Tipsy Hedron and Nipsy Russell.

He nearly walked into a bow-legged man wearing a homburg and carrying a big fish. The fishes mouth flapped open and closed, as if it were trying to speak. The distant siren of the fire truck wailed.

The black eyes of a red brick tenement building across the street stared down at Louie who became self-conscious under the scrutiny. He studied the cracks in the cement sidewalk; got a whiff of the odor of burning meat and glanced into the window of the Miss Brighton Diner. An old crone gnawed a chunk of bloody meat that looked, to Louie, like a baby’s arm. He shivered and looked away; noticed a big basket of bread loaves in the window of SCHWARTZ Sporting Goods Store; wondered since when did Schwartzie start selling bread? A sign on the door of PETE’S Market read BUY FISH…Fuck fish, Louie thought. He wanted something to drink, like a Pepsi, or a can of Budweiser.

He heard the puth puth puth of a car engine and then the squeal of brakes. He glanced at his brother’s black Volkswagen Beetle, nose to the curbside. His brother jumped from the car. He wore gray sweat pants and sweat shirt. A red bandanna tied around his head. “Where is Dad’s car?” he shouted. Louie backed away, trying to escape the aroma of bad breath as his brother’s eagle-eyes bore into his. “Hey, why don’t you go run some laps or something?” Louie said. His brother’s fist felt like a blunt end of a stick hitting his, Louie’s, face. Louie sat on the cold sidewalk and watched his brother walk away.

The car made farting noises as it sped off. Louie touched his lip, swollen like a rubber inner tube. He stood and walked to the curbside. Watched cars pass. Threw a hand up at a Chevy Explorer Wagon in the lane opposite. The driver of the Chevy nodded. Louie stepped into the street, over a dead fish, silver with glossy pink and turquoise sheen, lying in the gutter. A car passed in front of him like a hot breeze. Louie wiped sweat from his face with his shirt sleeve.

The Chevy idled at curbside, the driver’s head level with the car’s dashboard; silky hair capped the head like an overturned bowl.

“Mouse!” Louie called, approaching. “What are you doing, Mouse?”

Mouse shrugged. “Nothin’,” he said like a complaint.

Louie dodged a tractor trailer rig loaded with cars.

“What happened to your lip?” Mouse asked, staring.

“My brother punched me.”

“Is that right?” Mouse looked amused.

“Can you help me, Mouse?” Louie pleaded.

“With what?”

“Help me look for my father’s car? I lost it.”

Mouse’s big square teeth gleamed in his kid-sized face. “What do you mean, ‘lost it’?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? I can’t find it!”

“No shit,” Mouse said.

“No shit.”

Mouse glanced at a passing car. “Sixty-seven Mustang,” he said.

“Help me look, will you?” Louie begged.

“The silver ElDorado,” Mouse said.

Yeah.”

Mouse went into deep into thought as he watched cars. Louie waited. The mountain side rose like a vast brown wall behind the church. Something half-way up the church steeple caught his eye: a golden cherubim, swaddled in cloths, and clinging to the spire of the steeple. The cherubim waved a chubby hand in Louie’s direction.

“Hop in,” Mouse said, decisively.

Louie sat. Mouse fiddled with the radio, tuning-in The Righteous Brothers, who sang, “you lost that loving feeling.”

Mouse stared ahead over the dashboard as the car moved down the street.

“Whoa oh oh oh,” Mouse sang, “whoa oh oh oh.”

Louie looked at the parked cars.

Did he really just see an angel wave to him, Louie wondered. An angel on the church steeple…Waving??

“Hey!” said Mouse, looking in the rear view mirror, “I think your father’s car just went by!”

Louie swiveled his head to the Chevy’s rear window.

“I’m pretty sure,” Mouse said. “Some girl driving.”

“A red-head?” Louie asked.

J.J. Campbell

this red death

if my pain is
supposed to
be a white ball
of healing light,

then what is this
red death i taste
upon my tongue

i gave up on god
when god gave
up on me

the fools will look
at me and wonder
while some sage
will stumble by,
drinking out of a
brown paper bag,
giving me the look
that he understands
completely

and the laughing
man will dance
in a thunderstorm
asking for the
lightning to strike
once again

tempt fate young
man

learn to play the
saxophone and
let that lonely tune
drift into the ether

soon a strange woman
will saunter into your
life and you’ll understand
pain, love and why lawyers
make so much damn money
on divorce cases

 

James Diaz

The Way We Breathe in The Night

“You’ll start looking for answers,
You’ll start looking where you hurt.” 

-Matthew Ryan

How many times I’ve felt that way too
my dear, like there is almost no crossing
the river this time around, not enough hope
to go into town with

These eyes burning from
who knows where I’ve been, to some glorious star
you once heard dreams were made on
when you were young, but you’re not exactly
that anymore, are you

Still listening to the sound
of the bullshit from down the hall?

Don’t you know that you don’t have to have built it
to take it apart, that voice that won’t let you forget—
the loud ache(rs) who lit into you like a heavy prize fighter
kicking in doors cause no one ever taught them how to love

Forgiveness isn’t that pretty, it’s no high-shelf stuff
Who can even reach it at this time of night,
who can help but try?

 

Benjamin Blake

IMG_6510

The Night I Drank with Charles Bukowski’s Ghost

I stepped into the bar.

It was dark, cave-like. Barflies lined the wooden counter, hunched over cans of beer and glasses of whiskey.

I walked over to the bar. “Scotch and water.”

The bartender, a tall man from what looked like Arab origin, fixed my drink and took my cash. On my left was a rotund black man, balding and mustached. To my right, was a pair of elderly men, white of hair and pale of skin. Off in the shadows sat a cagey negress, her once jet-black hair streaked with gray.

I sipped my drink. The fellow to my left spoke.

“Hey, brother! I’m Pancake!” He extended a hand, which I shook.

“Ben.”

“Hey, Ben. Pleased to meet you! We’re all musicians here! Do you play?”

“Yeah, a little guitar and bass.”

“What you riff on, man?”

“Huh?”

“Fender, Gretsch, Gibson, Epiphone?”

“Epiphone. I have a real nice acoustic I got for cheap.”

“Alright! Let me see you play that bass, Ben!”

I took a sip of whiskey, and started playing air guitar along to the bluesy track coming over the speakers. Pancake near shit himself with excitement.

“Yeah, Ben! Rock that bass, man! Ooooh, yeah, brother!”

The place came to life from that moment on. The patrons started chatting, people introduced themselves to me, the bartender was all smiles and efficiency. It was like I had passed some alcoholic test and was welcomed into the ranks of the booze-pickled regulars.

The bar was The King Eddy. Situated on the edge of Skid Row in Downtown Los Angeles. Infamous former watering hole of Charles Bukowski, John Fante, and Tom Waits. I was in the City of Fallen Angels for one night only – I had a flight to catch from LAX the next day, so what better way to kill the time than downing drinks in a dive bar.

Despite its initial apparent seediness, The King Eddy was a friendly place. It felt like home. I was welcomed like family and everyone was friends. Conversation burst and bloomed amidst laughter and endless drinks.

“You chose a good day to come here,” Joel, the bartender stated once I finished my first drink. “Second round is free on Tuesdays.”

The King Eddy swiftly became my favorite bar.

I reached into my messenger bag and pulled out a paperback copy of Bukowski’s Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook.

I turned to Pancake, handed him the book. “You ever heard of this guy. He used to drink here.”

Pancake looked at the cover, smiled. “Yeah! Bukowski! He’s here, man. I knew it when you walked in. He’s here with you, man.”

Shit. This was really something. A strangely wonderful moment.

I drank up.

Pancake and the old guys left. Joel and I started talking about the history of the place. How it was a speakeasy during prohibition (there’s still a tunnel beneath the building that was used to smuggle liquor into the basement), and how one of the old guys who was there before had remembered Bukowski drinking there. He was handed a photograph, and after staring at it, had said: “Yeah, I remember him. He sat at the far end of the bar and wouldn’t talk to anyone. No one liked him.”

The one woman in the bar had moved from out of the half-light and taken a stool next to me. She introduced herself. Her name was Joyce. Her voice was like silk. Soft and smooth and demure. It was incredible. I’d never heard anything like it. I was taken aback by the absolute tenderness of this woman. At first glance, she had seemed callous and standoffish. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

A Hispanic guy walked in, took the stool on my left. He ordered a beer, sipped from the can, and sighed.

“I came right from the coroner’s office. My little brother was hit.”

I turned to him. “Shit. Like he got shot?” I asked, indelicately making a gesture of a pistol being fired several times from a jaunty angle.

“Nah, man. He ain’t no gangbanger – well, not anymore – it was a hit and run.”

“I’m sorry, man. That sucks.”

“I can’t go home. I couldn’t handle it. Here, no one gives a shit about me. It’s good.”

Manny – the brother still shuffling around this mortal coil, quickly started a game of sorts. Favorite movies, favorite bands, etc., etc. You could tell he was trying to take his mind off what had happened.

We all drank on.

The drinks were interspersed with sidewalk cigarettes. I smoke like a goddamn train when sober, so when drunk I’m a veritable fiend. Joyce joined me. She bummed a cigarette and I lit it for her with a match from a book Joel had given me.

“You know,” I said, leaning against the outer brick wall, “you have the sweetest voice I think I’ve ever heard.”

She smiled. I kissed her. I had escaped from the clawed clutches of an ex-girlfriend that morning. Came down on the train from the Central Coast.

I was making the most of my newfound freedom.

A young Mexican girl walked into the bar, took a stool and ordered a drink. She kept to herself, enjoying her can of PBR.

Joel said his relief was due soon, and ten or so minutes later a black guy strutted in, went behind the bar and started messing around with something. Joel’s back was turned as he leant on the bar, talking to a regular.

“Hey, Joel,” I said. “Is that your relief?” I nodded to the black guy.

“Yeah, man.”

“Alright. Just checking.”

All sorts of down and out types had come in during the evening. Tweakers, bums, crazed women, middle-aged men searching for Percocets. I had already bought an 1801 silver dollar off a crack head for three bucks (unfortunately, it was a counterfeit). So I was already pretty wary of new patrons. I had formed a swift kinship with the place, already feeling somewhat responsible for it. As it turned out, the guy wasJoel’s relief. I think the black guy wasn’t terribly fond of the fact that I had considered otherwise.

How the hell did I know.

Someone mentioned that is was an open mic night that night. I was drunk enough to want to participate. On a whim, I decided to approach the Mexican girl.

“Do you write poetry, by any chance?” Of all the fucking lines in the world.

Surprisingly, she said she did.

We checked out each other’s work, and were relatively impressed. I tried to convince her to read later. She said she was too shy to do that.

I told her to drink up.

It neared 10 p.m. I was only planning to stay for a couple drinks. Initially, I was supposed to be meeting an old friend of mine at 5. A Filipino guy named Joe. Joe never showed and I never left.

The problem was, that I had checked my suitcase at the Amtrak luggage storage at Union Station, and had to collect it by 10. So I walked the several blocks to Union with Joyce, and got to the luggage check kiosk just as they were locking up for the night. Talk about good timing.

We took a cab back to the King Eddy.

The place had changed with the shift in shift, and not for the better. By the time Joyce and I had gotten back, the vibe was oppressive.

The relief bartender said something about thinking I had left. I told him I had only gone to get my shit. He was a weird son-of-a-bitch.

I had a feeling he had it in for me.

Joyce stared at me from across the bar. I smiled, an arm around the Mexican girl. What a fucking guy. One woman wasn’t good enough for old Ben, oh no. He had to have two! He had to pick up every female in the fucking place.

The bartender turned and told me he was cutting me off. I asked him why the hell would he do a thing that.

“You’re too drunk.”

“How am I too drunk? I’m not slurring, or stumbling around, or spilling my goddamn drink all over the place.”

“You’re holding on to the bar.”

“I’m fucking exhausted. I just walked to Union.” The truth was I was leaning against the bar because I had an arm around the Mexican girl’s un-clothed midriff, but I wasn’t about to tell him that.

“Alright. One more drink. But that’s it. You go after.” He poured my Jack & Coke, slid it over to me.

I took my time drinking it, more interested in that moment, in wooing my little Mexican Princess. A couple minutes later, he noticed I’d hardly sipped from my glass. He was incredulous. I guess the fucker wasn’t used to anyone standing up to him and arguing his point. He lost his shit. Snatched my drink, tossed it in the overflow bucket, strode out from behind the bar and grabbed me by the back of the shirt.

“I fucking told you to leave.”

“Hey, man. What the fuck are you doing?”

He dragged me to the door and threw my ass out on the sidewalk.

My suitcase swiftly followed behind.

Guess they didn’t like me either.

IMG_6505

Johnny Scarlotti

Untitled 6/17/11

i operate the weight machine
at the gym
i watch the veins
come out of my arms

i am magnificent

i look at myself in the mirror
i lift my shirt
and see my ripped up abs
i smile real big

then the arms of the machine come to life
and i’m tackled to the ground
and all of my clothes get torn off
and the machine has sex with me
woah
a nice thick handlebar into my asshole

i breathe hard into the mirror
as it’s happening – i draw with my finger into the fog
HELP

ah
ah
ah
stop

and take pictures
then i post them on instagram
caption: help i’m being raped

then i’m being dragged out of the gym
by a group of meatheads
i’m told i am banned for life
and the police are coming
they say i’m in a lot of trouble

what the freaking heck!? i was the victim!!!
your machines are rapists!!!
they say it was the other way around
they got it all on camera

i’m being set up!!!
i escape their grips and outrun them
they are slow because their muscles are so large
i get in my car

two of them get into a car and try to follow
but i’ve seen Drive with Ryan Gosling like 10 times
i lose them easily

all my clothes were left at the gym in tatters
and i don’t have any in my car
just a couple mcdonald’s bags
and some tape
i make it work

i pull up to my apartment
as i’m walking up the steps
some kids across the street scream “freeeeaaaaaaak”

but nobody fucking disrespects me
and gets away with it

REEEEEEEE!!! i scream and charge

but my mcdonald’s bags fly off
and my dick and balls are flopping around
the kids shriek and flee
ahhhh my nuts
i gotta hold them so they stop banging against my legs

CHICKENS!!! i scream after them

i feel good
i won the fight!
real good
i sprint back home

my key isn’t working again
so i break in through a window again

my girlfriend’s on the couch, she gets up
runs and screams down the hallway
‘HE’S BACK, THE CREEP IS BACK!’

‘NO ROSE, IT’S ME!’ i scream after her
‘IT’S ME, JACK’

a door opens
i freeze
a man holding a shotgun
walks toward me
and blasts

***

From: It’s Getting Harder and Harder To Tell the Two of You Apart

 

Thumper Devotchka

ADHMe

Disability medical assessment
Momentarily degrading
Hopefully lucrative
I’ve given away more
for much less

I keep thinking about going out
especially after meetings
Is that a disease or just
hyperactivity paused

I used to be in fast forward
I used to be important
or at least
noticeable

Attention is still attention
even for the wrong
reasons

Chaos is alive
but I’m asleep now all the time
This is what they wanted:
mouth shut, legs shut
kept quiet

Life is a headache
worse than any hangover
Maybe I am just glamorising
dying in a ditch

Arturo Desimone

The Conversation of Angels

I was unstoppable in my truck. My heart was a cylinder and turbine engine; petrol and caffeine and amphetamines ran through my blood. I would have liked to run over funny people. I wanted to. I had run over dogs and cats and crates. My truck trampled them like a bull trampling over a slow Spaniard in the running of the bulls. Not that I would last in the running of the bulls. I’m too fat.

I remembered my father and one of the fights I had with him. I ducked from his punch and his fist broke through the door.

Boy would I like to run him over.

I sped my truck across an old industrial landscape in the Ukrainian countryside, this stretch now reduced to a goddamned wasteland. The factories ate up all nature here like a centipede eats up the inside of a toadstool. Miles and miles of black dust and ghostly abandoned factories with little cracked dust-darkened windows.

I had a hole drilled through the partition of my truck into the cargo compartment. When I was parked or stuck in traffic I could look through the hole and see the whores or whores-to-be that I often smuggled. Sometimes I would masturbate. Often they were nice-looking with torpedo-tits and thick lips. Hungarian harlots, Rumanian whores, and of course, my favorite, the Russian ladies of the White Night. (I call them Ladies of the White Night because of the White Night in St. Petersburg during the summer. Isn’t that clever?)

But today I wasn’t transporting tarts, instead just a bunch of stinking Rumanian immigrants. I tried not to think of the chore of emptying the bucket and hosing off the cargo-hold. I looked through the hole and saw thick-browed Rumanians, one of them an older man with a fuzzy broom-like mustache and an accordion hanging from his neck. There was a gypsy woman who made me think of soothsayers—not because she looked like gypsies in the old movies, she just looked like a middle-aged brown woman, sweating and scared shitless like every other immigrant I ever hauled. There was also a gypsy boy, with amber eyes. He spat in the bucket. I don’t know why but he got my attention. I could easily imagine the little bastard with a switchblade in his hand. Something dangerous slithered like a garden snake under his young surface. While staring at him I felt a sensation pass through my testicles, like a little shooting star.

I rolled a shag with one hand, while with my other hand I dipped a key into a baggie of speed on my right knee and snorted the speed off the key while I drove with my left knee. An hour after crossing borders I met the Croats with their vans on the side of the road by a meadow at night. The whispering wind blew through and in some places parted the tall grass, making the field resemble a roiling nocturnal sea.

Bok,” I said.

Bok,” one of the Croats answered.

I unloaded the trash and indicated to the Croats where I had hid the pack of Russian acid papers. They looked like stamps; they depicted a cartoon man on a bicycle flying through space. I prefer smuggling psychedelics, which are only attractive to smelly, lazy, pathetic hippies (we get a lot of those in Amsterdam)—if I smuggled the good stuff, the speed and Russian coke, I might be tempted to dip into it myself, which would mean lousy business prospects.

One of the Croats, Fran, a bald ape (whom I called Ape-face) ripped the old Rumanian’s accordion from his stubby little hands and smote it onto the ground. Ape-face stamped on the accordion with his steel-toed work-booted foot, making a foot-sized hole in it. I chuckled. The Rumanian folded his hands without raising his head. The Croats herded the immigrants into their vans, paid me, shook my hand—which I then wiped off on my jeans—and it was done.

A few nights later I was in Amsterdam and my mother, Renske Kiegote, was taking me to bible study. I didn’t want to go to church on my off-day. I wanted to stay home and read Stephen King. He should win the Nobel Prize, or be president of America, because he’s a genius, a great man. I remember this movie called “Trucks”—I don’t know if he wrote it or if it was based on one of his books—about trucks that have a mind of their own and terrorize a town of American rednecks. A masterpiece. Or I could eat chips while watching Renegade on TV and roll a joint of Dutch Passion, and my mother could join me. But no, I have to go to that stinking congregation with the moaning retards and the wheelchair-vegetables and the old ladies. Who the hell ever heard of Dutch people being religious?

I have three words for my mother: absolutely fucking insane. She was a messianic Jew for a year, even though she didn’t have a single drop of Jewish blood in the family. She was a Jehovah’s Witness too for some time, always talking about how Satan is the ruler of the world (I think Stephen King should be the ruler of the world) and how the Roman Catholic Church is the Whore of Babylon. (I know the Whore of Babylon, this Thai whore I poked in Amsterdam. “You ouch me,” she said. For forty euros I damn well better ouch you, you saucy kutwijf.)

She was even New Age for a while, Feng-Shui’ing everything she could get her hands on, doing yoga with these damn crystals and making me hold them to feel their energy—all I could really do was look at them and imagine they were cocaine-hydrochloride crystal. Talking about angels; hugging me and telling me I was a caterpillar who would one day metamorphose into a beautiful butterfly—and the stink of that incense.

I wore a tie with little carrots on it and walked with my mother along the canal. I hadn’t slept for forty hours but that was OK because the speed was keeping me up. With her permed, puffed-up red-dyed hair and her long, thin pasty white body and long dress she resembled a toadstool—for some reason I imagined a centipede eating her from the inside. I decided to walk because I had just sniffed so I had a walking kick and besides my mother claimed her bone problems made it difficult to climb into my truck. I observed the patterns of the cobblestone and enjoyed tracing them with my eyes—I liked doing that after sniffing—as my mother yakked away about God. We took a tram at De Pijp. The tram wriggled like a great steel millipede along the rails on the cobblestone streets. We got off the tram, walked into a side street, wormed through crowds of young stoned tourists smelling of diverse breeds of marijuana, and got into the church. The retards, the vegetables, and the old ladies were there as usual. My mother took out her white-jacketed bible from her handbag and we shared it the way schoolchildren do when one of them has forgotten his textbook.

“Today we are going to discuss the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah,” the discussion-leader said. His eyes were bloodshot. “Two angels came to Sodom in the evening; and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom. When Lot saw them, he rose to meet them, and bowed himself with his face to the earth and said: My Lords, turn aside, I pray you, to your servant’s house and spend the night….”

Basically the angels wanted to spend the night in the street, but Lot convinced them to stay at his house for a game of dominoes or whatnot. “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house, and they called to Lot: Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may have intercourse with them.”

I imagined these rapacious homosexuals dressed in S&M gear, and one of them carrying a stereo playing the techno music and popping designer drugs. “I want to have intercourse with them”—that’s a good one. Don’t waste any time.

“Lot went out of the door to the men, shut the door after him, and said: I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two virgin daughters, let me bring them to you, and do to them as you please….”

This business was finally getting interesting.

“….only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof. But they said: ‘Stand back!’ And they said, ‘This fellow came to sojourn, and he would play the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.’ Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door.”

The preacher went on about how the angels struck the Sodomites with blindness and told Lot to flee from the city because the angels were going to destroy it. Lot and his family ran away from the city; it went up in a mushroom cloud under a rain of fire from the sky, and I imagined the angels in an invisible jet like Wonder-Woman’s napalming the city flat. Lot’s wife looked back at the city and turned into a pillar of salt. Then Lot and his daughters found shelter in a cave, Lot got drunk and impregnated them. The end.

Preacher-man looked up from his bible at the spectators.

“Sodomy is an abomination! A gross sin, worthy of death!” he screamed. The retards and old whores nodded their heads; the veggies moved whatever they could to show how excited they were.

“Today’s sodomites will be cast into the Lake of Fire on Judgment Day!”

My mother nodded. The amphetamines, shag, and coffee were affecting my stomach, and I abruptly farted. At this the discussion-leader had a puzzled expression on his bearded face and looked about with shifty blue eyes.

“That concludes our Bible study tonight,” he said nervously, perhaps sensing my intestinal emanations violating his sacred space. “Thank you all for coming.”

I walked out of there with my brain turned upside-down in my head, like a tortoise fallen on its back and squirming to get back on its legs. All I could think about was homosexuals. Gays. Roman Catholic priests are gay. That discussion leader is probably gay. Pim Fortuyn is gay. Everybody’s fuckin gay these days.

My mother and I took the tram back to her neighborhood. Sitting in the tram, stuck in this metal caterpillar, made me think of prison. Every prison is a goddamn Sodom City. If some good-looking angelic males went there, they’d have a conga-line of fruits lining up for a piece of ass.

We got to Mama’s house. I rolled a shag on the kitchen table while talking to her.

“Mama, ever since my father died you’ve been obsessing with this religion crap. It’s starting to scare me.”

“Why do you always say “my father”? Why don’t you say “Papa”?”

“He never deserved to be called that. The man was a pig.”

“He was an angel!” my mother yelled. “He was an angel on earth. He smuggled immigrants from the Soviet Union into Western Europe. He saved people from Godless communists!”

“He was a bitter old drunk.”

“At least he wasn’t a drug addict like you! Don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about, I can tell when you’re high, and can see your pupils dilated. I know! I don’t know how you could make all that money, how you could afford a Harvey Johnson motorcycle—”

“Harley Davidson,” I corrected her, as I finished rolling the cigarette.

“I know you’re doing something wicked to make all that money.”

I support you with it, so stop complaining. Without me, you would be on welfare. support you, not Papa,” I spat out the last word with vicious bitterness.

“He was an angel—and you used to be like him in so many ways, when you were young….” her voice quieted down and she stared blankly at the table, lost in her nostalgic state, like a seer gazing into a fire. “You, Donald, you are a fallen angel….”

I walked out of her apartment and down the narrow, steep staircase with the shag still burning between my fingers, occasionally taking a drag. I felt enormous stress, memories of my father, the conversation with my mother, not having slept for days, worries about my health, my hatred for my father, the white noise of the bible sermon, all these were scorpions stinging me from the inside. My father, he used to tell me, “You’re not my son! You’re The Devil’s son!”

My heart was beating fast.

I threw the shag into the canal and suddenly I saw the canal turn red. It was blood. I felt sick. I saw penises wriggling like caterpillars on the sidewalk. I began to run. People in the street were staring at me. I wondered if they saw the blood. I saw a young Moroccan with the sides of his head shaved, his hair cropped on top and long in the back. I tried to talk to him.

“What color is the canal?” I asked him. He ignored me and kept on walking.

I looked at the canal and it was no longer red.

I walked home, anxiety under my frigid necklace. Once I got to my apartment I watched TV for a few hours—the blur of images, leaving their tracks on my brain like the tail-lights of a speeding motorcycle leaves a trail of light in the eye—and finally managed to fall asleep.

Some days later I got a call from Mama.

“Don, I’m calling you to announce that I am no longer a Christian.”

“What? That’s great! I’m so glad to hear that you finally—”

“I’m a Muslim now, I’ve become a Shiite Muslim. I go to the mosque and the Imam and the other Muslims are so understanding. We sing suras.”

Imam. I got yer Imam right here, lady.

“I read the qur’an,” she said. “Did you know that before the coming of Mohammed—peace be upon him—” she added with motor-warm relish, “his coming was prophesied by soothsayers. Soothsayers obtained this knowledge from demons who had overheard it by spying on the conversations of angels. Islam has been so misunderstood by the West, you know.”

While I was on the phone, I cut myself a line of speed with my other hand and started sniffing through a rolled-up 10-euro bill. I needed this now. In my coke-mirror I saw reflected a sparkling shooting star, a comet of Sodom-incineration, I looked up at the skylight over my head but the stars were not visible.

“But it is really a wonderful religion,” she went on. “Did you know—”

I hung up.

The Turks are muslim. They stand on street corners, smoking and spitting, singing suras or whatever and trying to get into Dutch people’s nightclubs. John Walker’s muslim, Middle East is muslim, Indonesia is muslim, my mother is muslim. Everybody’s fuckin muslim these days.

A week had passed since my mother called me. I was driving a human cargo of Turkish illegal immigrants from the Croatian coast into Germany when I began to see spots, little squiggles in my field of vision like the dangling hair that comes on the screen of an old cartoon. I was seeing small, black creatures darting around: horseflies or something like that. It went on for five minutes. I felt I couldn’t drive like this.

I parked in the back of a gas-station, closed my eyes for a moment or two and looked through the hole in the headboard. Some young men sat on the floor, staring at the metal walls with their beetle-black eyes. The older men were praying. There were some women as well who wore headscarves. One of them had bright blue eyes—which I thought was rare among Turks—and full lips. The other one had high cheekbones, and teeth that were dun like a flock of sheep. The two women spoke to each other in Turkish. I took a hit of speed. I had been up for thirty hours.Then it occurred to me that the women were not speaking Turkish but rather some angelic language.

“He is a fallen angel. He is a demon,” I heard them say.

“God will give him one last chance. God will entrust him with His angel.”

I rushed out of the cab and walked around the truck, my steps scraping against the gravel, opened the storage compartment and climbed in. The smell was that of a circus elephant stable. I walked up to the two angelic girls, shoe-soles scraping against the pebbles and making the metal floor clang.

“Are you angels?” I asked them. I imagined haloes pin-tucked under their larval cocoon headscarves.

They stared at me. They somehow reminded me of the female martyrs depicted in statues I had seen in German cathedrals. I looked in the blue eyes, irises with a hue I had never seen on Dutch or Germanic people, they were of such a beautiful color that one would try to guard them with sunglasses lest some cruel thief try to steal them and sell them. Her eye-color conveyed some kind of tranquility, the way the melting, sunset clouds must have looked before they rained manna over the desert in the verses the Bible Study lector recited described, serene, no cokehead hurry or impatience, no childish struggle or hysteria or resistance, like clouds as they accept the fading sunlight and pollution which adorn them with psychedelic tie-dye streaks of color. I saw heaven in their eyes,and I cried, because I knew that what I saw was so far away from me: for I was in hell, driving on the winding freeways of the bottomless pit and the highways of Babylon.

They said nothing and I left the storage compartment and went back to the steering wheel.

“What should I do?” I thought.

It is not time yet,” I heard them say, and I started the engine, which roared to mechanical life.

A few nights after smuggling the Turks and the two veiled women who I believed were angels, I called my mother.

“Mama, something is happening to me.”

“What is happening to you, Donald?”

“I’m like Alice in fucking wonderland here. I’m hearing beings speak to me.”

She paused as if to reflect serenely, like some patient bhuddist. Then she said,

“Mohammed, Peace be Upon Him, heard the voice of the angel Jibril.”

“But I’m not Mohammed,” I blurted, my voice breaking, almost crying. I felt ashamed that she could hear my anxiety.

“Are you lost, Don?” She sounded empathic, but there was something odd about her empathy, it was like a mechanical wind-up animal.

Yes, I am lost, godverdomme.”

“Let God be your barometer in the black forest you have blindly wandered into. Let His Word steer you towards fulfilling his mandate. He put you in my womb to perform a mission for him.”

In the past I would have been annoyed at her chatter about God or Allah, but now I thought that perhaps Mama was communicating to me on some more profound wavelength or level of consciousness she had attained while meditating and singing suras from the Koran. My heart and jugular veins raced and my palm sweated against the telephone’s plastic. I nodded, thinking perhaps she was speaking to me from some mystical plane of wisdom and insight, some windy afterlife field where she’d stroll amongst the flowers and singing nightingales.

This last sentence of hers echoed in my brain. I decided I must perform my mission.

I had my car parked on the side of an East European highway by a ghost-town of abandoned factories while some men who worked with the Croats filled up the haul with a new bunch of migrant aspiring prostitutes. When they finished loading the truck one of the men gave me the thumbs up sign and I drove off.

There was a storm brewing. The gray clouds rumbled like the stomach of Leviathan from the litanies of the reverend at Mama’s former church.

I drove past the wasteland, the black dust like gunpowder residue of countless forgotten wars. After a few hours of driving, I parked my truck on the roadside and looked through the headboard hole. There were mostly women, but there was a boy of about fifteen among them—he had dirty blond curls and blue eyes. When I looked at him I felt something in my testicles but didn’t know why. He reminded me of the gypsy boy I had smuggled some weeks before. All I knew was that this boy was an angel, and that Fran and the other Croats wanted me to drop the boy off near the Rumanian border from where they would take him to a Western European city, probably Berlin, and Berlin was Sodom, the Berliners were Sodomites and they wanted to rape this angel just like the Sodomites the preacher spoke of.

I knew that this was the test: if I protected this angel I would no longer be a demon but an angel, or at least a man like Lot, chosen by God.

I turned up the metal music on my radio, blazing guitars and thundering drums. (I knew Stephen King had listened to such music while penning his magnum opus, about trucks with a will of their own, a work written in blood.) I saw Fran’s men signaling me on the side of the road.

I stomped on the gas, sped past them with all my might. I had a sensation that with being propelled so fast in my truck my eyes turned into sparkling flames like meteors hurled through the atmosphere, blazing with energy of Sodom-incineration: this was the final stage of my becoming a warrior of the light. The corroded shell of my past was cast into the dark sea of the bottomless pit to sink forever. Gunshots went off.

Lightning began to strike—fire from the sky. I couldn’t see the Croats in my rear-view mirror anymore. I saw some hitchhikers standing by the road. I rammed the breaks, making the tires squeal like swine to the slaughter, and pulled over. It was a young couple, both of them carrying backpacks. Adam and Eve cast out of Eden.

“Which way is the Holy Land?” I asked them.

“What?” Their faces were scared, sweaty and wide-eyed.

“The Holy Land! Jerusalem!” I said.

They looked at each other and then they pointed southeast.

I turned my truck around and sped southeast, the opposite direction of where I had come from. I was going well past two hundred and fifty kilometers per hour. I saw one of Fran’s men standing outside of a van. I didn’t stop. For a moment a fear scurried through me, an electric wave of anxiety in my solar plexus as I knew I would likely end up in a foreign prison, a walled-in city of corrupted men who grunted and leered hyena-like in the filthy night, their neurons numb from white powder and tainted with the wine of forced love –my Sodom, my Gomorrah.

Soon I was driving by a mountain range. Lightning struck again over the hills and for a second all I could see was white light. I saw a barricade of police cars blocking my way. I realized these were corrupt cops in cahoots with the smugglers. Fran must have contacted them to stop me. But they were operating on short notice and therefore were only a few. Their sirens blinked blue and red.

I hated cops.

I imagined my truck as a doom machine with huge gnashing metal teeth in front, breathing fire and red burning eyes emanating smoke.

A bullet shot through my window but it didn’t touch me. I hit the gas with all my strength and sped on, smashing through the patrol cars, a fat policeman frantically waving a sign reading “Uwaga!” as he tried to get out of the way, like a slow Spaniard in the running of the bulls.

 

Kristopher William Locke

INNER INQUIRIES

OPTION 1:

We discuss

fourth chakra primaries

Where the Maybes

meet the Possiblies

Greetings on the same side

of the—sand line—

Minus the me / hers / his

my / mines

Ideas clacking like hooves

at some bourboned derby

Halos of the ultimate spinning

like holy frisbees

Positivity streams

rushing through

the streets of our

inner cities

Sweetening the bitters with a litter of letters

peeling back the circused layers

Until all that is left are citrused sun-kissed pinky swears

OPTION 2:

I take a hammer to it all

Alan Catlin

The Other Side of Nowhere New York

She spent her time between
Long Island and Paradise and
he divided his between New York
and Never Never Land, their primary
functions in life: clubbing, texting,
doping and screwing, often all at
the same time, like performers in
a new kind of Wild Wild West Show
on the Lower East Side of a depleted
ozone layer in their brains curdling like
milk left in the sun so long the smell
was just this side of Johnny Rotten three
days dead and unattended, a rankness
that went unnoticed by everyone that
they came in contact with, all suffering,
as they were, from the same kind of disease
of inattention and excess, all claiming
to know the real story of what happened
with Syd and Nancy, how the body double
died and the happy couple escaped upstate
to do time in the foothills of the Adirondacks
and the Twilight Zone.