Posts Tagged ‘ literature ’

Four Poems

No, no, the blog is not quite dead yet.

Should it be?

Ah, that’s an awfully good question.

I guess I’m being stubborn about it. There are worse things in the world to drag my feet over, and refusing to let this blog keel over probably isn’t going to make the all-time countdown.

I don’t think so, anyway.

I don’t know why I’m doing a post. The odds of this blog ever being anything but an orphanage for misfit short stories and poems are pretty grim at this point. And I’m forever hesitant over sharing those things here to begin with, since they really ought to be put through the paces of being submitted to literary journals and the like. Sharing them here always kind of feels like I’m giving up on them.

Actually, I’ve had the feeling that I’ve given up on writing in general for much of the year.

Granted, we’re only a couple of weeks into the year, but things have already escalated nicely in the departments of self-loathing, intense doubt, and anxiety that wears a cunning disguise of being easily distracted (“Tommy Lee Jones does look like Grumpy Cat! Neat!”). It has not been a great year so far for work, and that’s entirely my fault. I haven’t tried to finish the third novel, I haven’t pushed myself to start on new projects, I haven’t taken any chances, and I haven’t learned the intricacies of naked tap dancing (and that last one is really goddamn important).

I’ve been disappointing myself over and over again, and it’s made worse by the fact that I’m aware of what I’m doing every step of the way.

This isn’t going to end with a declaration to do better, work harder. Obliterate a few more brain cells through the magic of frantic creative work. If you have to call this anything, just think of it as catching up over coffee with something righteous thrown in for good measure. I’m well aware of how far behind I am on everything I want to do, and I’m aware that I’m going to be twenty-eight soon. Seemingly in the same length of time it takes me to breathe in and out slowly and only once.

Things need to change. Saying that to myself over and over again isn’t going to make that happen. Whether it’s in the back of my mind as I try to fall asleep, or in a paragraph of an introduction to a blog post a few people will hopefully read. The only thing I can do is be even more of a bastard to myself than usual.

And what I definitely can’t do is let things like being tired of being single, the frustration of having a tenth of the career I envisioned for myself when I was young(er) and (even more) stupid slow me down. I can’t let my love affair with aspects of the well-worn past (even if that past includes things that happened as recently as five or six months ago) fuck me over again and again. And I sure as hell can’t let the responsibilities that are inherent in living a life that is not allowed to include trying to head-butt the TV at thirty miles per hour run my life forever and ever. I have to commit myself to a mild obsession with moving forward, and I have to maintain that thought at all times.

No matter how many days in a row happen to suck with the glorious style of an aging porn star trying to win Miss Universe.

This isn’t a declaration. I’m just thinking out loud.

There is a difference. At least there is while I type this at 2:30 in the morning.

In short, bring on the wrecking ball, bring on the work that I should be demanding of myself day in and day out, and bring on the deranged optimism for things like the ability to let go of those weird artifacts from the past, and the dream of once again having nothing but thousands of miles and dozens of towns worth of travel to look forward to.

That is not, as far as I can tell, too much to ask for.

And if it is, well, fuck it, man, because I’m asking for it anyway.

**********
Vintage Surreal Gangster Cinema

It wasn’t Halloween.
It wasn’t one of those awful goddamn
costume parties,
where everyone would rather just get stoned
and watch vintage Samurai cinema instead.

A man who got fat reading “War and Peace”
three times in a row just decided to show up
in a Snow White costume that wouldn’t have fit
a man even half his size.

A girl in a leather nurse’s outfit.
She doesn’t really dig on the whole saving lives scene.

Tweedledee was there.
Tweedledum was down to a black veil and wifebeater.

The Devil was Legion. Figures.

A higher power believed in the darkness
being able to pick off the lights in various hallways.

But it was a mansion. Plenty of dusty bulbs
to guide the desperate, lonely and frustrated
to the safety of a commonplace bedroom.

Complete with a commonplace view
of some strip of some kind of paradise.

And all the violent weather a person can eat.
More than enough to make leaves and branches behave like ghosts.
More than enough to think you really can be afraid of everything.

The windows were huge, were put in a century
and a half after the house was built and survived
a baptism, and just didn’t fit the rest of the place at all.

But practically no one cared. Anyone who did
was too nervous to do anything but laugh.

And the house band held everyone together with pins and string.
Mostly Rockabilly. A little John Lee Hooker and Blind Lemon Johnson
for when everybody just needed to calm the hell down.

A handsome kid dressed as a man dressed as an artist
who stays away from coffee, booze
and any wooden track rollercoaster.

He’s swallowed whatever he accidently crushed
in his pocket earlier, and he’s starting to forget
the name of the wife he came with.

She left hours ago. Love just happens like that.

Everyone just felt overdressed and old.

But they woke up when the house band played
something they had never heard before.

**********
Here Comes the Next Birthday

I bring you in for the dip,
because I really can move like Christopher Walken
once in an unholy while,
and down you go. Right into the bathtub gin
that tastes suspiciously
like bathtub vodka.

Let’s not talk what year this is,
your original hair colour or
why you think there’s bruises
in the backs of your eyes.

Both of us fell for people,
who found happiness and emotional clarity,
long after they started writing love songs
for the next one on the line.

The gin wears vodka goggles.
Let’s just put it like that,
because it sounds logical
in this part of the country.

I need some logic
in this cold place of a time
that has no teeth,
but plenty of good upper-body strength
and the best running shoes from 1994.

Someone’s gotta load me into the car,
and hope the driver is a cohort of mine
from last summer.

We can’t trust anyone from further back than that.
I don’t know what I’ve said to other people at other parties.

You take a long drink getting out of the tub,
and I can hear your friends laughing. On all fourteen floors.
I still think someone installed cameras in this miraculous joint,
before you moved in, with the three cats, the knives, recipe books,
snow globes and all the sketches you’re not going to finish.

It’s impossible to make love here,
and not feel like someone somewhere is watching,
talking to others over thirty-cent martinis
about where you went wrong as a child.

I can’t complain.
I’m through complaining.
Through with imagining old loves are still star-struck,
with something I’ve never been able to put my finger on.

Or anything else,
but this isn’t the time, place or sleepy crowd
for dirty jokes that worked beautifully that one beautiful time.

This is the rest of my life,
and I’m just not much of a writer,
actor, entertainer or scoundrel anymore.

I don’t care for cooking.
You can still use a kitchen after it’s burnt down.
My mind is always somewhere else,
and that goes for a lot of things.

It just kind of flies around,
and I leave my thoughts
with nothing but more trivia.

I hate trivia.
There’s a lot of things these days
I’m not fond of.

Your friends.
My friends.
All the people
I wish were here instead.

**********
Dig Your Own Grave And Save

The groom had a bad cough. A really bad cough.
And these eyes that wanted to dress up
as a runaway train.

The bride had buried all of ‘em. Every last doctor
who had ever brought her flowers for every day
they ever loved her for her dangerous temper.

She had to be older than him by fifty,
sixty years. And the wedding reception looked lovely
to me. But I wasn’t driving a car. I wasn’t walking calmly
to the time and place that could have turned out to be
my last night on earth. So I didn’t give a damn
if their wedding made it impossible to drive down Main Street.

I probably could have saved that guy.
This was clearly something he didn’t want to be a part of.

Kept walking instead. I only knew one of the bridesmaids intimately.
I didn’t like the look of those angels with sniper rifles overhead.
Those wings would kill a whole lot of people, if they just decided
to come down the level of mere mortals.

Guess that old lady could call in favors.
The way ordinary people call out the name of the last person
in the history of their lives that would ever rush to be by their bedside.

And I just didn’t want to get involved. I’m still not cautious.
Don’t accuse me of finally playing it safe. Please, please, don’t.

It’s just that I don’t need any more friends.
Not that kind. I’d prefer it if the psychopaths, contract killers
from the class of 2003, and girls who think it’s cute to call themselves
Bang-Shift Betty, all came to me instead.

I don’t have a problem with the people I can love forever,
and only trust three nights out of ten.

I’m just not going out of my way to entertain them anymore.

**********
Baby, You Got a Sick Mentality

Paranoia is realizing
that you’re the only one at the birthday party
who isn’t a doctor,
and then wondering what each of them
might be thinking of you.

I limp,
talk to myself,
add a little more rum to the punch,
cough when I need a cigarette
and fall asleep every time someone tells me
that I’ll be working for their infant son someday.

They could put me away with all that,
and there’s enough of them for me to know
that could happen if I grab the wrong wife’s ass.

Could be for the best.
You know you done screwed up,
when you have to hire a young girl to follow you around
and tell you what you did wrong every morning at 5:15.

And then I’d have to be careful about who I employ.

Last thing I need,
is some kid telling me that I’m living in the past,
and that things are better now than they were twenty years ago.

Shameful or whatever that I don’t really know if that’s true.
I’m scared of hospitals,
and I only ever watch the news
when an upcoming appointment goes missing.

Reading fiction seems to cover everything else,
and I have plenty of friends who balance
keeping me informed with getting over their addiction
to pathological lying.

This is called a compromise.
It’s like settling for finding shelter under a cancerous tree
after the lightning starts to follow you like a cheery bloodhound.

If I turn out to be wrong about something
I can still meet someone who can teach me how to play chess,
and how to play a piano that’s been busted up.
Shipped to more countries than there are winos
making a living by getting people to pay them
not to spray-paint erotica on the sidewalks.

That’s a lot of drunk people with high-school diplomas.

I’ll bet they were just like me, not too long ago.
Probably went to pot when they hit one of those parties
with all those smug doctors and kittenish wives.

Paranoia tells me this,
and it doesn’t even have a voice worth remembering.

You would think otherwise.

**********

Three Poems

I’m procrastinating on all those bold, fantastic new things I want to do for this blog.

I swear I’m going to work on it.

Eventually.

Pinterest, sobbing over a Tumblr of NyQuil, peculiar women and articles about New York in the 1920’s are very, very critical to the work that I do. I hope that just goes without saying.

**********
Women Love Jesus Talk
By Gabriel Ricard

I’m honored to say
that some of the best Shakespeare plays
I’ve ever seen
have been in junkyards,
and loser-takes-all boxing rings.

The girls are ridiculous at those.
A dozen strange head cases just like me
are lined up to kick the old cigarette machine,
and then act like they picked up the limp
chasing them across town in elementary school.

I don’t stand out in these places.
My clothes are not brand-new,
the plain, ordinary coffee has been half-gone for hours
and my footsteps are muffled against all this noise.

For the record
they still carry the stupid hopes
and charming loser ambitions of everyone,
who used to come here,
and secretly wished to one day grow old.

Someone else already broke their neck. They tied a bed sheet
around their neck and tried to fly
out the first-floor window
amidst glorious, heavy metal fanfare.

I was actually there for that.
Would you believe it was also
the one and only night
where I almost got hitched?

Everything was glorious and unreasonable that night.
The band was ready to leave Kansas City behind.
I traveled hundreds of miles,
and almost forgot how much the sun can feel like a Vegas hack
when you go long enough without staring it down.

Yeah,
I deserve to be blind,
or telling people how hard it is love again
on one good leg.

I’m sure the hole in my stomach
could contribute a lot
to a game of basketball.

Sometimes,
I wake up in the night,
remember I’ll never be innocent,
remember no one else is there,
and I suddenly start coughing for no reason.

A spiritual woman told me that’s enough.
Another spiritual woman told me to try harder.

I loved them both,
and you can probably diagnose me
with a phonebook worth of a paper
on that alone

A gang of bright-eyed atheists took me out to lunch.

I swear,
their Cadillac never went slower than one-fifty.

I might have laughed harder in the past,
and I know I’ll laugh harder in the future,
but there was something,
I hate to say it,
but there was something magical
about that night.

I didn’t breathe a word of that to them though.

Can you imagine how that would have gone over?

**********
Friendly Skies
By Gabriel Ricard

I didn’t have a clue
as to where the hell I was,
but that didn’t stop me
from having a couple drinks.

I knew I was somewhere
in the city of San Francisco.

I knew I was in one of those
ugly parts of town that appeals
to artist crowd.

I had that much to go on,
and it was enough in my mind
to let me think that there was
nothing at all wrong with standing
in the middle of a crowded loft
with a cigarette and a drink
I couldn’t immediately identify.

There was some music,
a lot of socially acceptable racist jokes,
some bondage and suburban witchcraft,
and a bunch of alcoholics dressed
in nostalgia acts and talking about the war.

I didn’t know a single person there,
except for some Bettie Page bukkake queen
knock-off who insisted that I knew
how to get back to North Berkeley.

And when I told her I didn’t,
she promised me that I’d feel terrible
when I checked the papers tomorrow morning,

But I didn’t see much of her after that,
so she really wasn’t the problem as much
as somehow making it back home was.

I left the party
around the time I caught two girls
performing a blood oath
with what was left of this guy
I had earlier seen in the company
of a twelve year-old dressed like Sailor Moon.

Even at twenty-two,
younger than half the room,
I was still too old for this sort of thing.

I made it down onto the street,
more than a little drunk,
and lit a cigarette while I tried
to figure out the next moment.

Anticipate,
in a desperate bid for the rush
of a nice change of pace.

But as I was thinking,
a homeless gypsy walked by
and asked me for a dollar.

I gave it over,
in need of a little Vancouver karma,
and she reached out
to take my hand and kiss it.

As she did,
she flipped over to face the palm,
looked it over a second,
then let go and told me not to bother.

I asked her what she meant,
but my timing was bad,
and I caught her just as she was getting
run over while crossing the street.

The driver didn’t stop,
and the gypsy didn’t move.

I sighed and managed to check my watch.

I somehow knew
that I had less than fifteen minutes
to find the BART station and the last ride
back to the safety of Hayward.

There wasn’t much else
to do but stumble across the street
and make a sharp turn at the corner
of a bad feeling and a hell of a long shot.

There wasn’t much else to do but laugh
and laugh and laugh and laugh some more.

All the while waiting for the crowd
above ground and below to get a little nervous.

**********
Kansas Visits Virginia
By Gabriel Ricard

They hit the back roads,
miles and more grassy miles
of hitchhikers decked out in long lost fashions
while they wait for their stories to be told.

He guns the truck to eighty-five
and smacks her hand when she tries
to reach for the radio.

Miles and more underworked miles.
Fields with solitary homes in the distance
where no one wants to be stand still
but can’t leave for fear of those violent rumors
that have been following around the wind that picks up
at eight p.m. every night.

The people are few
and demented in between and seem to know
before anyone when trouble is balling up its fists
for something bad on the horizon.

The three of them in that truck
know all about it. They finished high school
four years ago. A lot of the time it feels like
they’re paying off the student loans
of twenty ambitious icons.

They got married two years ago
and have yet to get any children out of  it. No one can say
they haven’t tried. Not one friend or well-wisher can claim
he hasn’t prayed enough,
or that she hasn’t seen enough kindly southern doctors.

Youngsters love to let hope drift through
their fingers. The two of them are starting
to really hate people like that.

The third person,
the third wheel,
he doesn’t really hate anything. He writes books
or some such thing, tells jokes and borrows
a lot of money from loan sharks who are always
auditioning for one reality show or another.

He sits in the back of the truck
and miraculously gets his cigarette lit
every single time.

The couple in the front hasn’t said much
since leaving the baby shower two hours ago.
She worked out all her crying in the bathroom
at Applebees. He dug his hands into his pockets
as he went inside the gas station to pay twenty dollars
on number five.

They’re getting mean in their old age and
Terrified that they might run out of people
who will put up with it. He never wants to send her
packing into the kitchen floor. She never, ever wants
to disappear at a rest stop during one of their trips to Northern Virginia.

In the back of the truck
the third wheel knows they’re running out of time.

He prays for wisdom regardless of consequence.
He still manages to keep from getting angry
and wishes he was just someone who leapt from
car to car, truck to truck, city to world at large
to do nothing more than observe, nod
and move on.

Cohorts and Collaborators (Pt. 2/2)

There’s not a whole lot else to say about these collaborations, so it makes more sense to just let these last three collaborations speak for themselves.

I suppose the next couple of entries will be movie reviews, as I’m still looking to be finished with that damn challenge by the end of this month.

It’s time to move on, ladies and gentleman. It’s time to see what the hell else is out there. My life has seen better fortunes than usual over the past month. Some momentum is actually coming my way, and it would be nice if I could use it to actually accomplish something a little more substantial. Some risks ought to be taken, and I need try a little harder at keeping and maintaining an open mind.

It’s weird that I actually feel as though those things are possible at the moment. It would be nice if these thoughts hung around long enough for me to do something with them, and I suppose that falls into my arena of control.

Let’s just see what happens, and let’s try to enjoy that good fortune. There are still things that are probably making the tumor in my brain bigger with each passing hour, but right now the good is in better shape than usual to potentially outweigh the bad, and I love that.

I’ll do what I can with it. It helps considerably to have a fantastic woman in my corner, but I won’t embarrass her by naming names. That’s not the only reason why I’ve been feeling better lately, but it’s definitely in the top two or three.

Remember that my contributions to these pieces are still marked with a “-“

*********
Six Steps Back (w/ Ava Blu)
By Gabriel Ricard

-Let’s clean up this mess,
figure out who keeps which books
and who deserves to make it
to the West Coast first.

-We can’t keep a room together long
enough to play chess with our antiques,
so we may have to settle for checkers.

-I don’t know. It’s times like this
when I’m usually very,
very quiet.

We can burn our old bibles to make room.
We can play by candle light
and take a drink every time the open window
blows out the candle.

I’m usually not up for conversations like this.
I’m usually not one to talk
during a game I know I can’t lose.
I need the quiet to be able to feel the heat
grace my cheek.

I need to figure out how to keep you
away from San Francisco.

-Well,
it goes without saying
that I’d love to be there before I’m thirty,
but I always imagined you would be the first
between us to make it with time to kill.

-Those California artist types
will love you first and then themselves,
and some of them can even make it through
the entire morning without taking a drink.

-I’ve always admired that.

They’ll fight over guessing which flavor of tea I prefer
and I’ll somehow seem phased over it.
I’ll wait for my tea to cool while they yell profanities
in languages I’ve yet to learn.

Damn hipsters.

I won’t offer you a place to stay
until you send the book you bought.
I know you use it as leverage to get me to say
I’m ok with you dating a mutual friend;

I’ll never be ok with it.

-That’s fine. I may just wait until the morning
I wake up in some foreign country.

-With nothing to my name but twenty dollars,
a pamphlet promoting good mental health
through spirituality, and a bride that thinks orange juice
gets in the way of vodka,
and already can’t stand the sight of me.

-You’ll be in California,
and I do hope you’ll be happy.

-I don’t have the necessary patience
to be cruel or sarcastic about that thought anymore.

I don’t feel sarcastic anymore either.

I think the day we met to have one last fuck
eluded to how today would go.
I think you should’ve known I
could never not want to bring a knife to bed.

I don’t understand why I can’t be
the bride choking on choices. I
don’t wanna know why you would
settle for a woman who laughs when
you write a line about death over one
who can fuck you sideways and still
make the most delicious eggs
in the morning.

Yeah, I wanna know why you
can’t look at my dark hair, pale skin
and green eyes and say you still love me,
you still miss the way we fit along our spines.

-It’s on my to-do list.
It’s a long assortment of things I plan to do
when my back gets better
and God gives me the go-ahead
to find enough candles in enough churches
to burn this town halfway to the ground.

-The other half might well bring us back
to the good-old days.

-And if it turns out instead
that nothing’s left,
then I guess we’ll live with that as best we can.

-I think we could pull it off.
we’ve lived under more trying circumstances before.

I think the day won’t come soon enough
to salvage the brokenness between us.
Our days became numbered as soon
as we met one last time.

I think the only thing we can pull off now
is the occasional dirty joke about the blood
we’ve shared and how you still hit on
every mutual friend we’ve ever had.

One of these days we’ll realize
the only place we belong
is with each other.

-Let me think about that
and get back to you.

**********
Shorthand Shuffle (w/ Samantha Bagley)
By Gabriel Ricard

-It was a dangerous time to be alive,
but I guess we were pretty good
at knowing and moving along anyway.

-We thought the speed limit
was more of a guideline than an actual law.
We got lost so often as kids
that there was actually a few years
where we thought Cleveland went on forever.

-You used to smile a lot more
back in them days.

Not that either of us know
much about that anymore. It seems
that the days of bad lines about
teeth and daisies are far behind us.

Still, something about notes the solar system makes,
the color red, the sting in our eyes –
I suppose that means that something is there.
Of course, something could be subjective
or subliminal or nothing at all. Your call.

Seems now our hands are bound,
there’s not much left to endless
much less forever.

-When we were kids
you were in the habit of wearing your Halloween costume
in late-September and telling anyone who was half-listening
that your attic was constantly at war
with the basement for which one was the most haunted.

-Somehow
you’ve managed to get old
and apply that idea to every grocery store, church and dance hall
in a world where the population is six million strong
and two million helpless.

-Sometimes
you drink a bottle of wine,
break the same window twice
and chase young men for days at a time.

-I sew steel plates into my leather jacket
and check my watch whenever I cross the street.

It’s still funny how the past is always brought up.
The somehow, the sometimes, but not
the who and when and why. You forget what
a curious creature looks like; we find a habit,
healthy or not and cling like hell as if
it won’t be back with the sunrise tomorrow.

What I’m getting at other than
to tell you to knock it off is that
you never know what you get
when catching the cat’s tongue.
There’s something to be said for caught
versus loose and what that does for ambiguity.

I’m still baffled by the looks we give
as if we could never reach the other,
two feet apart, almost bigger than
the waves, bigger than the tide pools
left in my eyes.

Life has taught us plenty,
enough standing still.

-It sure has,
and I say that with what little sarcasm
as the good Lord provides me with.

-I don’t find humor in everything anymore.
When I laugh it’s either because it was funny
a few hundred times before,
or it’s some kind of terrible I haven’t run into before.

-You could say that more and more now,
I’m holding onto my best. I assume without question
that the grand finale is coming up soon,
and that it might just have the capacity to last two years.

-If not five.

**********
Unrepentant Cigarette Enthusiasts (w/ Meghan Helmich)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I borrow the best music in town,
steal inspiration from shelved classics,
give strange women directions to my friend’s house
and ask everyone to love me unconditionally.

-Asking you for some company
tomorrow afternoon
should be the easiest thing I’ve done all week.

-I could be wrong.
You could be even meaner than I am.

The meanest thing about me?
I fancy myself somewhere between
a spitting vixen and a cautious redhead
with nothing to lose but patience.

And for the record, I’ve been waiting for an invitation
since you opened your trap and baited the damn line.

You’re really not asking too much.

-I ask for a lot eventually.
Money for mean-spirited misadventure
is just the half of it. There was one time
when I borrowed the car of a decent man,
and played the most satisfying game
of Bumper-Cars in history with his garage.

-It wasn’t some effort to sell books later on.
Stress just sometimes makes people do funny things.

-Some of my friends have been around for every last bit of it.
Their patience is the last virtue on Sarasota Street,
and I regret every nice thing they’ve ever done for me.

-I’d be thrilled
if you and I could settle for a cup of coffee
and a sandwich.

We would have to take a long walk
to get to the right cafe —
the one with the Chinese dragons hovering
over the entrance.
I once met the owner’s third cousin
and I’m sure we can get some extra
fortunes for cheap.

They let the customers dip their hands in primary colors
and leave prints on the back wall
so you and I can live forever no matter what the papers tell us.

-Living forever is for hippies and 1930’s suckers.

-I’d rather we walk through Times Square
as though neither one of us
has ever been there before.

-It’s been said that the nine a.m. rush
of humanity is a world different
from what goes down at eight fifty-two.

-That kind of thing has always appealed to me,
but it’s exhausting keeping up with it alone.

Surely someone somewhere once told you
that the Big Apple was scripted for a duet?

I pay no attention to the time since my watch stopped
its shivering march. I just stare at the sun
when I need an itinerary.

Give me your hand.

We can take the subway until the track runs out,
run like fools the last five miles,
And when we arrive out of breath
you can make the sailor’s kiss look like a handshake.

-I’ve been to some of those happenings,
at the point just after those tracks disappear.

-They take beer with their morning coffee,
callously mock the living
and never really had much love or interest
in the likes of me.

-Maybe I just didn’t bring the right cohort along.

**********

Cohorts and Collaborators (Part 1/2)

I started writing poetry around 2001, 2002. I have to credit a couple of people like that, but the biggest credit I have to give is to my longtime friend, Rhea McJames. Rhea and I go back about eleven, twelve years at this point. We’ve never actually met, but that almost doesn’t matter to me at this point. She’s one of the all-time greats. One of those people I would absolutely, completely trust with my life and health (what little of it I pay attention to).

I haven’t the faintest clue why she continues to put up with me, and her poetry is a large reason why I finally made the leap in 2001/2002 and added poetry to the rest of my writing.

A lot of things have come along to influence and mess around with my poetry since then. This includes people, places, travels, bad calls, good decisions, weird circumstances and a whole mess of things I can’t even begin to try and remember now.

There’s no question that the website Pathetic has been a pretty big influence. I joined the site in 2003, and in the years since (almost ten? When the hell did that happen?) I’ve been very, very fortunate to meet a wide range of talented, strange and relentlessly fantastic people. I couldn’t even begin to list them all, and what their work and friendships have meant to me. I won’t try. I’m instead going to focus on one of those most positive things I’ve gotten out of my time there.

Pathetic is big on collaborations. It’s not uncommon for two or even three people to get together and come up with some kind of poetic middle-ground for their respective voices. I’ve had countless chances over the years to work with some of the best writers I’ve ever known. Collaboration in poetry is always intimidating to me. I always feel the struggle to keep up with these extraordinary people. But I suppose that’s a good thing, right? I’ve learned from it, enjoyed every second of it and have never, ever felt as though it was wasted time or motion.

I’ve collaborated on dozens of poems over the last eight or so years. I have them all somewhere, but I’m not going to dig that far into the past. What I’d like to do here is focus on a few of my favorites from the past three years. I won’t get into a lengthy dialog about how I perceive my work, but I will say some of the most significant changes to my poetry have occurred over that stretch of time. A lot of that has come through the day-to-day business of my life, but I also think a lot of it has come from being able to work with such a wide range of writers. With their kind permission I’m going to share some of them with you here.

Laura Doom is usually much too smart for the likes of me, but I’ve loved her work for years, and I’ve loved that I can pitch just about any general concept to her, and have her be completely on board for it. I never know where the hell our poems are going to go, but I trust her judgment on the direction completely.

Vince Blake writes some of the best imagery I’ve ever seen. We’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we could bring a town or two to its knees, and get some great writing out of it in the bargain.

Ava Blu has a knack for the kind of honesty that makes your knees buckle. She and I have come up with some unbelievable narratives.

It has been a pleasure to see the evolution of Johnny Crimson’s work over the past several years. His poetry takes me right into the heart of the absolute, best kind of madness. He’s another one who keeps me on my toes.

Samantha Bagley doesn’t write often, but I’m grateful when she does. I wish she’d give herself a little more credit though. Her voice is considerable.

Meghan Helmich
can devastate me in just one line. She’s that good.

A few people are being left out of this entry. That’s not a slam on them. I’d like to run every collaboration I’ve ever done, because all of them have been brilliant, but I can’t. I hope they believe me (should they read this) when I say that I love them just as much.

And this may well be the longest introduction to date, so let’s stop screwing around, okay?

I could ramble forever, but you’ve probably figured that out by now. I’d say it’s better if we just get this thing off the ground.

And if you write poetry? Get your ass over to Pathetic and sign up. It’s a good place to hang up the hat.

Just watch out for romance.

And note that my stanzas are marked with a “-“

**********
In The Talons of the Nighthawks (w/ Vince Blake)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t have a lot of sympathy
for the people who are too drunk
to stop dancing. The ones who are just insane
are a different story altogether.

-God knows why I’d come here
any old night of the young week
let alone Friday. This is the absolute worst
of the underground cartoon cavalcade, and there’s thousands of rooms
just like this one to have to look through.

-At best I’ll be around thirty before I’m actually ready
to face who I’m looking for.

and at worst, i’ll be wading through the same cesspools
with the rest of the late-night,
bleach-burned,
lounge-singer gestapo
until i catch their disease,
and kill myself as remedy.

but i suppose i’m selling the sin a little short,
and perhaps the merits of being this demented
might warrant more of tonight’s masochism
than i have been so far able to admit.

-Because it’s the entertainment district
you gotta watch out for. Those lounge acts are known
to carry guns, assume every woman is a whore
and wave handfuls of guns around whenever
a cell phone starts to ring.

-The slot machines take cash, wedding rings
and whichever arm you can learn to live without.

-It’s definitely not a good idea to be broke
if you’re in love or have dangerous people looking for you.

-Around here you write that story after they send you
to the morgue in a new suit.

which is not to say that the new outfit
was gonna cost anyone half as much
as the things they’d have bought for themselves
with cash snatched from your pockets
before your body hit the floor on a good night,
or any fraction of the royalty checks
they’ll be banking on that story of yours.

but legends don’t come cheap,
and around here,
they come with asterisks even then.

-They come with cups of coffee,
bad knees and stories about meeting Dean Martin
when he came of entertainment age
during the greatest heartbeats of Atlantic City’s
early days of glamour and corruption.

-I’ve been in these tunnels and rooms for years,
and I’ve carried a sinking feeling for just as long
that no one here has ever met anyone of substance.

-Unless you count acid flashbacks
and dreams that wake you up with more adrenaline
than you can take.

-I’ve got all that going for me,
and I’m pretty sure loved ones are starting to notice
when I magically come back from the dead six days
after I left with good intentions.

but although damnation ain’t exactly in short supply,
giving a damn ain’t hardly the same as “noticing.”
and that’s not even to mention the facts
that iron-clad alibis
have never once matched steel-toed boots
impression for impression,

or that our spines curve for a reason.

**********
Beneath the Oaks (w/ Johnny Crimson)
By Gabriel Ricard

-I don’t want to sound cruel,
but I’ve seen better productions of King Lear
in taxi cabs where the addicts have nothing to lose
but the words to their favorite song.

These were the digital eyelid
imprints of a ten-second release
and she keeps a counter for every
fucked faint intrusion.

-But I guess you learn to live with what
when you give children guns, cough syrup
and a list of every bloodthirsty lawyer in New Orleans.
I guess you learn to live with trading in sincere Catholic candles
for sympathetic ears under long raven hair and a lot of bad ideas.

Trading pixie sticks for blow
and squeezing whatever begs for it
under the dim neon light pouring from the church windows,
they caught an EVP of the sucking sounds and the loose change in his pocket.

-It’s not as bad as it sounds though. In the end it’s just a lot
of weird music from the glory days. You just have to keep your head down
and spend as little time as possible wondering why there’s more
fast food restaurants along the Armageddon boulevard than anywhere
else in town. Don’t stick your hands out the window when you’re best friend
gets desperate and guns the car up to a hundred and eighty.

Plead with us in the backseat
as the brain matter tickles her freckled jaw.
Let us teach you the meaning of eating your nerves.
This is the discontent of a generation,
the fever goes up and we leave the thermometer inside you.

-They take good care of you when you’re sick,
but lots of luck finding smooth hands to bless what’s left
of you when you’re too old to get to the top floor
and finally get the welcome home party you deserve.

We bathe in the unforgiving cake mix
of a hot-glue pasted surprise.
These are merely remnants of what actually happened to you,
the proof has been lost in the tides of Hunter Lake,
yet her skirt still rests atop the flagpole.
With mission complete and cigarette packs in our t-shirts
we flip leather jackets over our shoulders and whistle the walk to school.

-Sometimes there’s too many people wandering around
in bathrobes looking for their loved ones,
so I hitch the first moderately dangerous ride to come along,
use my cell phone as collateral and assume payday
will be in the mailbox by the end of the afternoon.

Shaking tiny slides in front of the light
and bending the plastic between my fingers
I remembered how flexible you once were.
What we did to you was fine and believe me the credit is shared,
but I can’t get the image of you winking me over
to your corner of the boys and girls club out of my mind.

**********
Go Ahead, Talk about Our Son
By Gabriel Ricard (w/ Laura Doom)

-Tuesday is our day of rest,
and I’ll be dammed
if we’re going to let that be ruined
by your faith,
in the notion that one person is not enough
to knock down your fears of sleeping alone.

-Why don’t you just marry the Mormons from 3H?

-Their orgies will top my winning smile
every single time.

And that would be the messianic ‘we’;
the pronoun that pronounces a smile
to frame a portrait in mime?

Did I hear that right?

I can take the myriad of stares
that shift your eyes to eulogize
the vices of love, a shimmer of blind lament
that’s wasted on the virtuous.

But if lust is the chicken that came home
to rut, then love is the egg
that scrambled my faith, and I can’t see
there’s a whole lot riding on the result.

-Well, Hell’s bells,
why didn’t you tell me from the start
that we are nothing but fantastic gestures
of kindness. Terrible motions
that trouble our friends, annoy the spirits
and guarantee we’ll be together for thirty more years.

-I think that’s what you’re trying to tell me.
I’m only half-listening,
because you’re only trying to get the skin
off my back with about half of your usual enthusiasm.

-I’ve also got the TV on,
and I really think George C. Scott
is going to run away with Diana Rigg this time.

-Sweetheart,
it’s not that I’m unhappy.
It’s just that I’d rather see us accept old age
before we actually get there.

-We’re not dramatic teenagers anymore,
and people are starting to stare.

Or maybe they’re busy shooting each other
to pay for the upgrade
from hospital to network;
staring at walls, dancing
round those fatal floors.

Meamwhile, we are gaining morals
and losing morale with every passing option
sold off to the silent majority
screaming democracy and breeding
provincial minorities that roll their eyes
at compromise.

For them it’s just business, as usual
but we can’t afford to buy time, or spend
our Mondays window-smashing. It pains me
to say it, but you are far from cost-effective
and I like to conduct my affairs
with economies of scale in mind.

-I’m cost-effective plenty,
you stupid, half-drunk, all-gorgeous,
all-kinds-of-unhinged broad
from the Island of Transferred Souls.

-I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.

-Blame the old woman in 5G.
She does this non-stop Popeye impression,
and uses it to scream the headlines of the day.

-Who the hell gave her a computer?
Who the hell is even aware she’s alive?

-I ask too many questions. You don’t.

-You assume the water-tower is half-empty,
and that the cops will never figure out
what you said to make that friend of mine cry,
and drive her car right through the only florist I know,
who still has a pure heart.

-You wouldn’t know morals,
if they mounted you from behind
and sang your favorite Leonard Cohen song
in your perfect ears.

-Don’t take that the wrong way.
Sweetheart. Red-light-of-my-life.

You know, when that tongue’s not tied
it sure is spiked — I’ve had death-threats
less intimidating than your back-handed compliments.
Just because you give good tail
there’s no excuse for losing your head.

How many weeks have we been living
one year at a time?

Take it from me, I have answers
to which you’ll never find
incredible questions; the woman in 5G?
Her son stole that laptop from a pole dancer
working the Arctic 24/7 scene. He prefers
to stay out of touch that way, since
the luxury cruise off the coast
of Somalia, and her subsequent
incontinence.

It’s better this way; insomniacs sleep
on a need to be ignorant basis.

If it wasn’t for that arid humour
that has me wetting myself
before you lay a finger on me
I’d be on the next caravan to Carnal City
kicking up a desert storm.

Besides, you are the one eccentric constant
in my otherwise mundane chaos.
And who will be there for you
to take out your frustrations on
once I’m impaled on your prurient pedestal?

-Jane Russell is coming back from the dead,
and assuming Bob Mitchum isn’t right behind her,
I might just give her a ring instead.

-I kid. I love. I drink, watch and reference
the same five movies, no one under forty
cares to remember.

-Remember,
when I fed those stray cats you stole,
While you were out realizing
that women can be just as bad in bed as men?

-I think that speaks volumes,
but I’m notorious for grasping at chewed-up bendy straws,
so it’s your call
and your fantastic, low-cut wardrobe
for all apologetic occasions.

-What can I say?

-It’ll be twenty years at half-mast before long.

-You say it better than I ever could, anyway.

-I don’t mind,
because sometimes it makes me brilliant by default,
and because I firmly believe
that the gashes on the back of my head build character.

-Like shoveling snow for a bloody August dance-a-thon.

TV Movie Crisis

How about one more short story?

Next week, we’ll shoot for a movie review, and something hopefully a little more elaborate than anything else I’ve run so far (still working on ideas—Leave me alone).

I love this story. I like the concept, anyway. I think that’s because most of this really did happen to me. The only thing that’s not true is the confrontation. It never came up, but there really was a pregnant junkie, and I really was willing to lend a hand. I’ve given up about forty thousand miles of my life to Greyhound. The longest run was from Richmond, VA to San Francisco, CA, and I believe the trip getting to San Francisco is where this piece comes from.

Greyhound lends itself well to being a writer, and I’m glad I’ve logged so many miles. It doesn’t have quite the same spirit of adventure as it once did, but it’s still the best way for me to get into trouble in a whole different story.

I can’t speak for the quality of the story. My gut tells me it’s pretty good, but I’ve never been able to find a literary journal for this thing. Hopefully, that’s due to the length of the story (damn near a novella), and not because it’s fundamentally terrible. Obviously, I’ll leave the final call up to you. I was tempted to split this in two, but then I just figured we may as well go for the glory.

What glory?

I don’t know, but it sounded good.

There’s also a short film script for this story, and I’d love to see it filmed someday. I have several full-length scripts in the vault. It would be a high dream realized indeed, to see some of them make it out into the world.

Enough rambling?

Enough rambling.

Enjoy.

**********
TV Movie Crisis
By Gabriel Ricard

“You know,” she said. “If you were here, you’d be home by now.”

Dylan looked up from his book, glancing at her. He wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not. After all, they were only a couple of days into this friendship of theirs. But he thought about what she had just said anyway. “Yeah, well,” he started, thinking carefully. He wanted to be funny here. This had to be along those bitter sarcasm lines he had been working to perfect since around twelve years old. “If I was here in Memphis, I’d also be dead by now, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it to my eighteenth birthday without slashing my wrists.” He went back to his book for a second, for effect. There, he thought. That was good. It wasn’t his best. Not by any stretch of the delirious imagination. But it was still decent. Considering he was on day two of his three-day Greyhound trip back home after two weeks in San Francisco, it was goddamned brilliant. Two days and a little change of sitting in those horrible seats, of eating McDonalds cheeseburgers off the dollar menus, of sitting next to guys in stained pink wife beaters and bunny slippers, who spent six plus hours telling him why The Ultimate Warrior should be the next president of the United States.

Two days of that and a lot more, and anyone’s belief in the essential good of all mankind would suffer serious damage. Let alone their sense of humor.

“It’s a pretty horrible place,” she said, hands resting on the knees of her faded pajama pants with the white and dark blue pattern. “Isn’t it?”

He looked up his from his book again. One of those long tomes from Hunter S. Thompson on why the real world was a lot more terrifying, ugly, and surreal than anything H.P. Lovecraft could have ever come up with. On Greyhound, a book like his was like having the best soundtrack to what a movie about this kind of thing would look like. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s pretty awful. But it was kind of cool to see the old Sun Studios building.”

“Sun Studios?”

He sighed. He had met Olivia in Reno on his way back home and her way back to Florida from L.A. She was beautiful in that bruised and battered angel on the mean streets of America kind of way. She was also pretty good conversation. But by the same token, she was also pretty far from being the sharpest knife in the drawer. He smiled. “Never mind. I’m just babbling.”

“Oh.” She nodded, looked at him for a second longer, and went back to her magazine.

Dylan checked the clock on the wall in front of him. Jesus Christ on a motherfucking bicycle. Another three and a half hours to go. And that was if the bus was on time. It was kind of playing a lottery where you didn’t win enough money to retire on, but maybe, if you were lucky, you got just enough to pay a week’s rent and groceries. On the trip back alone, a three-hour layover in Amarillo, Texas, turned into a ten-hour delay that only ended because of his willingness to take a different bus that promised to get him to his original destination but would add about fourteen hours to the journey. If that were out of the ordinary, it would probably be a little less painful. But as it was pretty much standard operating procedure for these bastards, and it was essentially the inevitable and only way that things went around here. Dylan imagined he had a better chance at being trapped in a David Lynch movie and maintaining his sanity in that than spending another day on the Greyhound way of getting across this bleak, terminally ill country.

He couldn’t help but laugh a little at that. If he thought there was any chance of Olivia getting the joke, he would have had to share that one with her. But he had his doubts. Nothing against her, but she didn’t look like the David Lynch type.

Though maybe she had seen The Elephant Man at some point. At twenty-five, she was old enough. Or Twin Peaks. People still remembered Twin Peaks.

“So,” she said. “What are you going to do when you get home?”

Dylan shrugged, flipping to the next page in his book. He was skimming at this point, but picking up enough words and sentences to keep with the action. “Not much of anything,” he replied. “I guess sit around, write, and maybe decide if I’m going to go to college in the fall.”

“How old are you now?”

“Twenty-one.”

“I wish I was twenty-one again.”

“It’s overrated.”

She laughed and brushed a strand of hair from her eye. It was short, auburn colored, barely going past her ears. “Of course it is. But still,” she paused, glanced at him, and smiled. She had a good smile going for her. It was tired, but it was still there. A couple more years, Dylan imagined it probably wouldn’t be around anymore, a phantom limb of an old personality. For now, she still had it. “It’s a lot better than twenty-five.”

“Probably.”

They read together in silence for a couple of minutes. Olivia was definitely an abnormality of this place, this particular way of getting around. As he thought about it, he realized that this was fourteenth Greyhound trip in six years. New York, Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado. He had seen a lot of the country on these horrible little buses where you couldn’t smoke. You couldn’t smoke, and you couldn’t complain about the way the seats gave you the knees of an eighty-year-old man after about three straight hours down the most boring highway in the United States. He had seen a lot, and he had met a lot of people. More outcasts and low-budget sociopaths than he would ever have imagined could simultaneously co-exist. Some of them were scary as hell, many were good as a sort of car crash entertainment, a rare few were good for actual conversation, and even fewer than that came out to being the kind of people Dylan could envision being friends with outside the necessity of needing someone to talk to and pass the time on these things.

Olivia was very much in that last group.

He checked the clock again, as though time could be willed to magically move several hours forward in the actual space of a couple minutes. Sitting in a place like this really could do that to you; give that sort of science fiction optimism in the most absurdly unrealistic expectations. But of course, only a couple of minutes had gone by, and he was still staring down the barrel of more time in Memphis than he would ever dream of asking for. Three hours and a little under thirty minutes to go. At some point in that, there would have to be some thought of getting something to eat from the little cafeteria they had. Because nothing told you to shut the fuck up and smile while you’re traveling like paying six dollars for an undercooked cheeseburger and four-fifty for a flat soda. It was like knowingly going to a really bad movie.

“Do you want to go out for a smoke?” she asked.

Chain-smoking was another highlight of Greyhound. It had been less than twenty minutes since his last one. And it would probably be less than that before he went out for another after the one he was about to have. “Absolutely,” he said. “God yes.”

She stretched out her slender arms, which didn’t really go well with the two months of pregnancy on her stomach, and cracked her neck from left to right. “Do you think our stuff’s going to be okay?”

Looking around the terminal, Dylan couldn’t see a single person who looked interested in anything but getting the hell on their next bus and getting the hell to wherever it was they had to go. Besides that, he’d be able to see their bags from where they stood to smoke. “It’ll be fine,” he said, trying to sound like he knew what he was talking about. He sort of did, but he kind of wanted to go for more than that. Something war-weary and admirable. “Memphis isn’t as bad as it looks.”

“I don’t think I’d even want to be in Tennessee,” she said. “If it was half as bad as it looks.”

Dylan laughed. Coming out of her, that was actually kind of funny. He walked towards the door nearby that would take them to the little area outside where people were allowed to smoke. It was forbidden damn near everywhere else, including the front of the stupid building. Figure that one out. Olivia moved behind him, taking slow, tired steps until they were through the door and out into the thick of the ugly, stale, humid air. Dylan took out his pack of cheap Virginia cigarettes against Olivia’s Newports. They almost lit them up in sync. “I’m still not sure I’m comfortable smoking with a pregnant woman,” he said, throwing in a smile so it didn’t look like he was going to lecture her or something. He really wasn’t comfortable with it, but he didn’t want to make her feel bad either.

“Better than the stuff I was doing two months ago,” she said.

“Remind me again of what that was?”

She looked up towards the sky for a moment, as though she actually needed to think about it. “Nothing all that exciting, to be honest. Just cocaine, speed, pot, a little bit of heroin.” She smiled, bringing the cigarette to her small, thin lips. “You know, all the things a growing girl really needs.”

“I’ve tried cocaine,” Dylan replied. He wasn’t sure if he had told her this already. “But I didn’t really get it.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I remember you telling me that back in Denver.”

Ah. So he did. “I also did speed a few times. I kind of understood that.” The smoke hit the back of his throat, which almost made him start up a coughing fit. He held it in though. Four years of being a smoker, and he was still doing that. It kind of killed the whole cool factor of being a smoker that admittedly, sadly appealed to him a hell of a lot.

She closed her eyes, as though that it was all it took to be right there again, wherever she had been three months or more ago. A moment, just a single second of peace flashed over her. But then it was gone just as quickly. “God, it’s great, isn’t it? You feel like running to Mexico. Doesn’t matter if you’re in Northern Canada.” She laughed. “You’re totally up for it, you know? You just understand the potential to do…” she paused to take a drag off her cigarette. She was almost done. “Everything.”

Yeah, he thought. She was right about that. It was the idea that you could literally do anything on enthusiasm alone, with the energy and sudden optimism to believe that you could really do it. Of course, coming down from the high was all of that in a terrible reverse, but you had to take the good with the bad. He personally hadn’t touched the stuff since his seventeenth birthday, but of all the drugs he had ever fooled around with, that and pot were the only two he kind of missed. The way you miss a friend who had some strange, incredible quality that always somehow made it occasionally possible to overlook all the horrible parts.  He took one last hit off his cigarette and tossed it to the ground. Inside, beyond the glass wall, he could see their stuff resting in the place they had left it. He turned to her. “You done?”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding and tossing her cigarette to the ground. “I guess we’ll go in and get something to eat.”

Dylan nodded, about to tell her that he was thinking that as well, but he stopped, noticing the homeless guy that was obviously coming up to them. He knew how to handle this. In the scheme of homeless people in America, Memphis was somewhere in the middle. A good mix of bastards, tired saints, drunks, junkies, dedicated lunatics, and guys who managed some combination of all of the above. New Mexico, on the other hand, favored the junkies and psychos. San Francisco was big into the saints and war-weary crazies. Washington D.C. had an overwhelming army of bastards going for them. No matter where you went, it was always a little different.

This guy had the look of either a junkie, a drunk, or a loose combination of both.

“Excuse me,” he said, polite as hell under an ancient shirt with a picture of The Road Warriors on it, a pair of dirty, torn blue jeans, and a thin material Chicago Bulls jacket that was about a size too big for his ruined, undernourished body. The flip-flops on his feet completed the picture nicely. “I really need to be in Nashville by the end of tomorrow, to see my brother’s homosexual lover about a car he wants to sell me, but I ain’t got enough money, you know?” He shrugged and smiled helplessly. “So, I was wondering if you could throw me a couple of bucks.” He smiled again, weakly, knowingly. “Or whatever you want to spare.”

The part about his brother’s homosexual lover was a nice touch. Dylan couldn’t remember hearing it put quite like that before. If he had to rate the story against all the others he had heard, he imagined the score falling somewhere between four or five out of ten. It really wasn’t very creative, wild, or even vaguely interesting. But the bit about his brother’s lover was a weird thing to throw in. It was the only reason why he thought about giving it anything higher than a three. Still, he was in the mood for a random good deed. “I’ve got a couple of bucks I can give you,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He never kept the money he planned to give to the homeless in his wallet. He wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t seem like a particularly smart idea. He took out two singles and handed them over. Generally, the sooner they got the money, the sooner they left.

“I don’t have anything to spare,” Olivia said, smiling apologetically. “Sorry.”

The homeless guy nodded. “It’s all good, baby,” he said, quietly, counting the money. “It’s all good.” He stuffed the money into his own pocket, looked around, and didn’t leave right away, the way Dylan was hoping he would. Instead, they were going to have to sit around and deal with this awkward silence thing that came up sometimes. Where everyone just stood around and looked at each other, as if there was some missing link of conversation that they needed to explore or else risk losing it all. Whatever it all was. That, or they really would have one of those strange, occasionally troubling conversations that sometimes came up as well.

It was on him to wrap things up. “Well, man, listen, we gotta be heading inside.” He had done this speech a few times before. He knew what to say, how to say it, and generally how to avoid any trouble. “So, you take care of yourself and—“

“Do you guys like to get high?” he asked.

Shit. It was one of those guys. Shit, shit, shit. Dylan wanted to roll his eyes. He wanted to punch the guy in the throat and roll him into oncoming traffic. He should have seen this coming. He really should have seen this coming. Now, they were going to have to sit here for the next few minutes and convince him that they did not in fact like to get high. Shit. Goddamnit. It was a huge hassle. One of those deals that sucked the minutes away from life itself and left nothing ventured and absolutely nothing gained. “Not really,” he said, looking to Olivia, hoping she could maintain.

Olivia smiled, looking away slightly. For a moment, it was the smile of a thirteen-year-old girl who had just been asked out by the cutest boy in the class. It was embarrassed, suddenly shy. Scared? It made Dylan incredibly nervous, though he couldn’t immediately say why. “No,” she said, carefully, looking past the window and over to their stuff. “I’m fine, too.”

“You sure?” He glanced around. The few people that were outside were not paying attention to him at all. He leaned in a little. “I got a lot of stuff to get rid of, you know? A lot of different stuff. All appetites, baby. All kinds of bullets. You sure you’re not interested?”

She laughed and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m absolutely sure.”

Dylan looked at her, then at the homeless guy. If he were any good at this, he would be able to see the thoughts that were running through Olivia’s head. He would be able to see that as recently as a couple months ago, she would have told him that she was very interested. All Dylan could do was stand there, wait for this to pass, and hope this guy was a shitty drug dealer. He wasn’t sure how else he could contribute to this and still stay out of trouble. Because that was the key to surviving any Greyhound trip that lasted longer than a day, avoiding trouble like the plague. He looked to think he was pretty good at it. He didn’t think Olivia was though.

The homeless guy shrugged, still glancing around here and there. He had all the time in the world. It was suffocating him, and he knew it. “Well, listen. My name’s Rudy, and if you need anything, just come on out here and look for my ass.” He laughed at that last part. It had to be one of his favorite lines. “I’ll be around.”

Olivia was already halfway to the door back inside, but she still turned, gave him that tired smile she had down so well, the one that was probably adding a decade onto her life of just trying to hold on to it. “Sure thing,” she said, before walking to the door, opening it, and stepping back inside.

Dylan was right behind her, avoiding eye contact with Rudy and not saying a word until the door was closed behind them. When they were back in, he looked at Olivia and half-expected her to finally collapse under the weight of what she had just gone through. But she didn’t. She held herself together. Or at least, she did a really good job of pretending. She smiled at him in that way that she smiled. “That was sure my idea of a good time,” she said, laughing grimly, still moving towards their seats.

They sat down. Dylan was now trying to think of something he could say that might help. Anything he could say that might do her a little bit of good, kill the self-doubt that had to be running through her mind of whether or not she had done the right thing. She had to be kicking that around right now. He wanted to say something about that, something that would make her feel good. But he couldn’t think of a single thing. Yeah, he had done some drugs, but he was pretty sure that his experiences were nothing like hers. Speed and Percocet had taken on small problem status in high school, but it was never anything truly serious. Both of them were gone as soon as it became a pain in the ass to do them. He had never really gone through any kind of addiction thing. It was just a question of stopping something he had kind of gotten used to. And it had been a pain in the ass, but he had done it without too much trouble. Olivia’s decision had obviously been forced on her, and he knew it. Some people liked to exaggerate their drug stories, give them a shine and a sense of brutality that made them sound good over a couple of beers or a cigarette. Olivia was not one of those people. And there was nothing he could say to make her know that he understood that.

She was back on her magazine now. A look of strained comfort was painted on her face. She couldn’t hide that no matter how hard she tried. “I can’t believe we have like three more hours in here,” she said.

“I know.” Maybe, this was the best way to go. Act like it had never happened. “Three hours of smoke breaks, shitty, expensive food, a TV with the mute button on, and all the Pac Man we can possibly stand.”

“And each other,” she added. “Don’t forget we’ve got all that stimulating conversation.”

“Oh yeah.”

She was quiet for a moment. “We’ve done all right, passing the time on that.”

He picked up his book from off of his rolling suitcase and put it in his lap. “Yeah,” he agreed. “We’ve done a pretty good job of surviving.”

“I still don’t think I’m ever going to take Greyhound again,” she said. “I don’t think I have it in me.”

No one did. Dylan had yet to meet someone who actually took the Greyhound by choice and was glad to do it. No one could be that much into the pain and pleasure cocktail, with the emphasis on pain. He wished he could say that he was finished with them, too, but not being able to get a driver’s license kind of made it hard to get picky about how he got around. He couldn’t drive, he couldn’t fly, and hitchhiking anywhere further than a hundred or so miles was just out of the fucking question. Until the green card came through, which was still just an absurd thing to demand of someone who had been born in the great foreign empire of Canada, he was pretty much stuck with Greyhound until further notice. He envied anyone who actually had choices, and was always astonished that people still went with this. Was this really worth the couple of extra bucks you saved? This wasn’t an easy, cheap way to get across the country. This was an arthritis machine that took ten years off your life and forced you to see people as they really were. He wanted to tell her that, but he couldn’t think of a way to make it funny. He just nodded and opened his book to the bookmark. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

There was a long silence between them after that. And it took Dylan a second to figure out that it wasn’t because she was mad at him for being useless or anything like that. It was one of those silences between people who were comfortable enough to just sit there, read, and keep each other company by shutting the fuck up for two whole minutes. Dylan hadn’t realized that their relationship was already at this stage. This shouldn’t have surprised him though. The fact that he was coming around to this conclusion at all had to be some kind of low-rent miracle. Perception was not one of his great skills. It ranked right up there with bowling and oral sex.

“Do you know what I’m going to name the baby?”

Then it was over. No big deal though, because the comfort of knowing that he had at least been able to see it. The thought of it had put him in a strangely good mood–for the moment, anyway. Dylan didn’t look up from his book, as interesting as it was to hear this. “Dylan?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Damn the luck.”

“Warren.”

“Like Warren Zevon?”

“Who’s Warren Zevon?”

Dylan tried not to do his elitist jerk ass sighing thing. “The guy who sang Werewolves of London.”

There was a pause. “Sorry.”

Dylan laughed for a second. He was tempted to sing some of the lyrics. People always picked up on the song after a few lines. “No worries.” He turned to her. “In all seriousness, that’s a really good name.”

She smiled, and it almost looked like something besides tired. That was exactly what she wanted to hear. More so because she had to know he was serious. “You think so?”

“Absolutely.” He glanced at the clock without meaning to. Still entirely too much time left to get through. “Where did you get the name from?”

“I dunno,” she said. “I’ve just always liked it. It just seems like a name that you can’t fuck with.”

It certainly did. Dylan had met a couple of Warrens in his life. They all had this tough, intelligent guy gimmick going for them. A little fucked up, too, but that usually never really hurt anyone. It was a good name. It made him think that it was a hell of a lot better than his own name. “It’s definitely better than my name,” he wound up saying.

“Dylan’s not so bad.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have people over thirty coming up to you and telling you that it’s so great how my mom named me after Bob Dylan.”

There was another pause. “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

This time, he couldn’t resist it. He had to give her that look he did so well. He had to give her the what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you look. He didn’t want to, but there a very real threat of his head exploding into a thousand unrecognizable pieces if he didn’t. It wasn’t that he was mad at her about it. Disbelief was a better word. How could anyone not know who Bob Dylan was? He looked at her. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

Her expression was deadpan, a mixture of confusion and deadpan. And then, it cracked a little. A small smile appeared in the right corner of her mouth. It widened a little, it widened a little more, and then it fell apart into a good ten seconds of laughter. Exhaustion had nothing to do with this. “Maybe.”

Oh. Wow. That was good. That was really, really good. He had always prided himself on being a good bullshit artist, both giving and receiving, but he had to admit that was good. It had been a long time since someone had caught him like that. Middle school? Maybe? In any case, it had been a while. He had to admit it. “You got me,” he said, smiling in spite of his surprise. “Happy?”

She nodded. “Just a little. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way your face scrunches up when I say I don’t know someone that I obviously should know under penalty of death.” She laughed at that, which made Dylan laugh a little, too. “Has anyone ever told you that it’s really fun to screw with your head?”

If he were the kind of guy who turned red, he’d probably be doing it right now. “I’ve heard it once or twice.”

She grinned. “I bet.”

He looked at her. If their ages matched just a little more, if they had met under better circumstances, they might have actually made something out of it besides a really good temporary friendship. The best one he imagined he would ever get out of traveling on Greyhound. Showing her stuff like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits would be half the fun. Whatever happened between now and Richmond, he knew he was going to miss her. Not obsessively or anything like that. But for a good while, she was going to pop into his head now and again. He could see that happening pretty easily.

Keep the conversation going, he thought. It was up to him to say something clever now and keep them moving along the way they were going. Clever was the most ideal, but simply funny could work pretty well, too. Or even just a single serious line to move things forward and keep them going that way would be fine. Just like before though, when it had come around to him to say something encouraging, he was amounting to nothing he could use. His mind was empty, too bruised and battered from being on the bus since Tuesday, from being in wonderful places like Texas and Arkansas. All he had were complaints about the things they had both been complaining about off and on since they had met. There had to be something better than that. It was almost never this difficult to think of something. Even nine times out of ten, he could drag something out of his ass and come out ahead. This had to be the one bad number in the lot. But it didn’t have to be. Even a fucking conversation starter would be fine in the moment like this. It didn’t have to be revolutionary, and it didn’t have to change the course of someone’s life forever. It just had to be something they hadn’t already talked about. There was a lot of stuff like that about. It was around as much and as well as it always was. It was just a question of picking something out, holding onto it.

“Feel like another smoke?” she asked out of nowhere.

He nodded, immediately resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to do better than one more nail in the lung cancer coffin. Maybe, getting back outside would do some good, do some damage against this claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. “Well, if there’s one thing I do well,” he said, “It’s chain smoke.”

“Me too,” she said, getting up. “It’s the only thing I haven’t been able to kick.”

And he had it. The useless bit of trivia, the chunk of conversation that was going to be worthless in memories. But he still finally had it. “It could be worse,” he said. “My mom smoked through my pregnancy and my three brothers and sister, and every last one of us turned out just fine.”

They got to the door, and Olivia held it open for him to walk through. “Really?”

“Oh yeah.” He turned to face her, once he was outside. He already had a cigarette and lighter in his hand. “I mean, my brother Connor, he’s twelve, and he’s got mild asthma. But that’s genetics more than anything else.” He lit the cigarette. “My grandmother had it, and my mom doesn’t. Skips a generation.”

Olivia had a cigarette and lighter in her hand as well. But she wasn’t lighting it. Her focus was on looking around the outside area, where not much had changed since the last time they had stepped out all of fifteen or twenty minutes ago. Everything was cracked, overused, and tired in the worst way possible. The ground was dirty, and the air was stale and apathetic. Nearby, a single tree shrugged its shoulders against the light wind. As if it was saying that it knew what was up, but couldn’t be bothered to care beyond that. “Interesting,” she muttered, distracted.

Dylan looked around as well, trying to see whatever it was that Olivia was looking for. There wasn’t anything going on that was worth hunting down. Buses were around, a handful of people were wandering the small malevolent landscape, looking just as lost, confused, and annoyed by the whole mess as they were. He couldn’t see it, whatever it was, so he went back to looking at her. It was a much better sight, all in all.

“Listen,” she said. She finally lit her cigarette. “I need you to do me a favor.” She was still looking around, but not as much and not as obvious. “It’s really stupid, but it would mean the world to me.”

“Anything,” he said, trying to look casual, even cool about it. He meant the words, too, so that probably helped. “What do you need?”

“Remember that guy that was here before? The one who offered to sell us some shit?”

“Yeah.”

“If he comes back here, I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”

He thought about that for a moment, but it still didn’t make sense. “What?”

She was looking at him now, but she was also trying to keep an eye on the small corner of the world that she could pay attention to. “If he comes over here again, and if he tries to talk to us, I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend and get really, really pissed off at me for even thinking about it.”

He thought about that. As far as he could tell, this wasn’t actually a bad idea. “Thinking about…”

She nodded, because he didn’t actually need to come right out and say it. “I know it’s stupid, but it might help.”

His answer should have been obvious. The really selfish way to look at it was to think that it would also kill some time. The necessity of that was still very much there. But more important than that was the idea that this could work. Performance was one of the few things he was consistently good at. You had to be, to get through things like high school and holding on to the few people who could stand the sight of you. He even had a little bit of acting experience he could draw on, though nothing exactly similar to this. “That’s fine,” he said, still trying to act cool. “But I don’t even see him around.” Which was true. Unless he was around the corner, at the main door, he was nowhere in sight. He didn’t see him coming back either. Guys like him seemed to have a terminal ADHD curse that haunted every stumbling, stuttering revolution that they tried to start on every street corner they could stand the sight of. Staying in one exact place for more than five seconds was a death sentence of a very real kind.

He definitely wasn’t within earshot. That was for sure.

“I know,” she said. “But I was just want to make sure.”

“I know, but you really—“

There he was, Rudy, coming around the corner. His hands were on his pocket, a smile on his face of a guy whose optimism was unwavering, never exhausting or running out of air. The secret to his happiness wasn’t much of a secret at all, but he sure did make it look easy. If he had been on the streets his whole life, it wouldn’t have surprised Dylan a bit. Guys like him could live forever on ten bucks and a good sad story. He glanced at him again, and almost put a hand on Olivia’s arm when he saw that Rudy was looking right towards them, picking up the pace of his walking a little. He almost grabbed her arm, but he managed to maintain. This was going to be easy, he told himself. This wasn’t going to be a big deal.

Olivia’s poker face wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t going to last, but it was good for the moment.

“Sup, guys,” he said, smiling. “Back out here already?” He glanced at the cigarettes, chuckled, actually chuckled, and shook his head slowly. “Man, you know, there’s better shit out there for you than those goddamn things.”

Knowing he was going to have to do most of the talking here, Dylan smiled. “That’s what I’ve heard. But hey, I look cool when I do it, so what can I do?”

Olivia laughed at that. Or she forced herself to. Either way. He couldn’t tell for sure.

“There’s better shit for you,” Rudy repeated. “At a hell of a better price, too.”

The son of a bitch didn’t waste any time. Dylan wondered if glaring was the right way to respond to bullshit as profound as what Rudy had just said. He didn’t want the anger to come out of nowhere and look like something that was tacked on and forced at complete random. He should have been building up to it as soon as their eyes met. It had to look real, which really wasn’t going to be that much of a problem, and it had to look good. Looking good was going to be the tricky one, and he was worried because he was already questioning himself about it. Just going with it was a better idea anyway. “We’re not interested,” he said, shooting for strained polite. “Sorry, but no thanks.”

Rudy just looked at him and didn’t say anything at first. He flashed a creepy, slow smile. “That’s cool, man.” He nodded, perfectly at ease. These were his clothes, his street, and his world. He was confident and not the least bit worried. A little brain damaged, maybe, but not out of his element. Dylan knew he had to keep telling himself that. “But what about your lady?”

Were the proceedings supposed to move so damn fast? He didn’t even look at Olivia. He had an idea of how to move with this, and it didn’t involve any uncertain glances at her. He had to make it look like this was his own problem and his own confrontation. “Excuse me?”

He was still grinning. Like a half-retarded shark, he was still smiling like he was already closing the deal. “Did you ask your lady here if she was interested?”

“I don’t need to,” he said. He shook his head. Amazing, how well this was actually going. He had expected this to be a little rougher, and there was every indication that it could still go that way. For now though, he was doing better than he would have guessed at holding up his end. “She’s not interested either.”

“Did you ask her?”

“I don’t need to ask her,” he said, taking a step closer. Careful with that though, he thought. This couldn’t fall into a fight. That was the last thing he wanted to deal with. For starters, he wasn’t sure he could win against guy who lived in a place like this. Home field advantage wasn’t just a lousy sports cliché. Second, he was starting to wonder if he had been right before about Rudy not packing anything. He still didn’t think so, but paranoia was hovering in the background, making things a little more complicated than they needed to be. “We don’t fucking want anything,” he went on. “Okay? Is that alright?” Careful with that, too. Don’t want to sound too high-pitched or nervous. Confident. Confidence. Those were the big words here. It was the temporary religion he had to pretend he had been used to all his life, rather than trying to make sense of the little bursts of it that made a half-assed attempt at appearing in moments like these.

Rudy took a short step back, but he acted like it was what he wanted to do anyway.  “I think I wanna ask her first, man.” He grinned. “Just so I know for my own sake.”

It dawned on Dylan that in spite of his appearance, Rudy might have very well gotten through high school. Dylan could remember going to his own school with guys just like him, guys who survived on average intelligence and an attitude just like his. Wandering through the thin, claustrophobic hallways with half of one eye open had been a way of life those sad sons of bitches. He was never really good at dealing with them then, and it was becoming more and more obvious, a blinding speed towards realization that got deeper every second, that he should have considered this a good few minutes ago. Now, it was too late to do anything but just try to get through. He was completely incompetent against Rudy’s type. He was just prone to small mistakes he had a hard time covering.

It also dawned on Dylan that Rudy might be messing with him. Most guys would have gotten the hint a good few sentences ago. Rudy was letting this drag out on purpose, like it was all out of boredom, killing a little time until something else came along. That, or he was out of his fucking mind. “I don’t think you need to ask her shit,” he said at last. The real miracle here was that he had yet to trip over a single word. “I think you need to leave us the fuck alone, before I go in there,” he pointed behind them, “And tell the guy behind the counter to call the cops because some drug dealer won’t leave us alone whenever we go out to smoke.”

Rudy was still grinning. The guy was probably a bitch to deal with when he was high. Dylan still hadn’t decided what his drug of choice might be. “That’s how you wanna go, huh?” He shook his head, his eyes darting away ever so slightly, as though he were taking a moment out of this to enjoy a private joke of some kind. He came back to Dylan, but he didn’t stay there. Instead, he went to staring ahead to Olivia, who was looking away from both of them, smoking, looking strong and also as though she could fall apart at any moment. Rudy looked to her, past Dylan, twenty miles past Dylan, and grinned again. “What’re your thoughts on this matter, baby? You looking to get something together?”

At that moment, Dylan decided to make a serious mistake. But he didn’t decide on it until about two seconds after he had actually done it. And then after that, a second or so later, he was wishing he hadn’t. His hand was on Rudy’s arm now. Not gripping it or anything, but still there, brushing against it in a way, as though this would be enough to stop him from taking even one more step closer to her. “That’s enough, man,” he said, conscious of his voice shaking a little. Hopefully, it wasn’t enough to be really obvious. “Just back the fuck off, okay?”

In the time it probably would have taken to take a picture of this scene, the length of the time between pressing the button, the flash of the moment, and the completely different moment that’s left in its place, in that moment of time, Rudy shoved Dylan back so hard that he almost fell into the wall. His eyes, his mouth, his battered face, even the way his body looked under those rags. Everything changed into something that better resembled a serial killer or someone with an extreme bi-polar disorder. “I wouldn’t fucking do that, kid,” he said.

Dylan half-expected him to start foaming at the mouth. He leaned against the wall, needing it for something to lean against, because he wasn’t sure he could keep it together on his own. “I—“

“You don’t fucking touch me,” he said, shouting all of a sudden, drawing stares from the small handful of people that were also outside. Stares, but no effort to get involved or get someone who could do something about this. Not only did that require work of some kind, but it also spoiled a potentially good floorshow. And you just couldn’t have that. In Memphis, it was almost understandable. “You don’t lay one fucking hand on me, ever, fucking ever, do you fucking understand that? Do you fucking get it?” There was a bit of a snarl to every word. It was almost as though he wasn’t speaking to Dylan anymore. There was someone else in front of him, someone who had to be constantly spoken to like this.

Sadly, he was still like a lot of the guys he had known in school.

Rudy was muttering under his breath now, talking to someone else. Dylan wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Rudy wasn’t the first crazy he had ever met, but that didn’t really seem to matter at the moment. It felt as though it may as well be the first crazy he had ever met. And because of that, he wasn’t sure where to go from here, what to do. He was just a spectator now. Rudy had the stage now. He had the stage, and he had a dance partner that had probably been in the ground for twenty years.

“I wanna go back inside,” Olivia said, her voice barely above a whisper.

That would work, too. Immensely grateful for the decision being made for him, he slowly turned his back on Rudy. He worried briefly that he might use the chance to take a shot, but the fear was a moment later, when he was opening the door for Olivia to go back inside. He took a step in, but holding the door open, he looked at Rudy again.

“You goddamn bastard,” Rudy said, shouting again. “You think you’re hot shit? You think you’re something?” He suddenly smacked the wall with his hand. “Well, you’re nothing. You’re not a goddamn thing in the goddamned middle of nowhere.” He took a couple of steps back, and he almost toppled over his own venom. “Stupid motherfucker,” he said, still walking backwards, until he was at the corner. “You don’t ever fucking touch me.” He turned and disappeared around the corner of the building.

Dylan could still hear Rudy talking to himself, even when he was out of his sight.

He went inside, and he felt as though he was breathing for the first in at least five minutes. The rest of the terminal was pretty much the same as it had been before. People sitting around, waiting, glaring at each other and at the TVs hanging from the ceiling, eating terrible food in the dirty cafeteria. Everything was the same as it had been before, and Dylan felt like telling himself that. He wanted to repeat it in his mind until it was concrete.

Olivia was in her chair, one hand on the armrest and the other across her face. She was there, but she was obviously putting her time and energy into something else, some other place. He saw her sitting there, and he wanted to think that she was going to be able to do what had just happened on her own. He really wanted to believe that. He shrugged it off as best he could, which wasn’t very well, and he walked towards and his own seat. “You okay?” he asked, lamely.

She looked up. He had somehow startled her. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine.” She shook her head as though she were pulling herself back into the present. “I’m just tired and a little fucked up, you know?”

He did, as a matter of fact. “Yeah,” he said, as he picked up his book to sit down. “I think I can relate to that a little.” When he was seated, he looked at her again. He wanted her to say something. It was annoying to be right back where they were before they had gone outside. And thinking of that shit to say outside had been difficult enough. He had felt empty before, but now, he was a lot closer to it than to the weary exaggeration from earlier. Barring some magical shot of conversational inspiration, he could see himself being tapped out for the rest of the day. The real problem was that the only thing he could think to do was go to sleep. Not say something funny, or even, somehow, something that would make Olivia believe that she done the right thing. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and arrive at two or three hours later. But it was early afternoon, and he wasn’t even close to pretending he might be tired. The only way he was going to pass the time now was to sit here, live through it, and hope Olivia said something to keep their conversation going. Things could change in a couple hours, but right now, he was absolutely worthless.

Olivia made a move like she was going for something in her bag, but she stopped and leaned back into her chair. She was on the verge of tears. “You know what’s funny?” she asked, brushing a strand of hair aside. “I’m not even sure I want the baby.” She laughed grimly. “I’ve never thought about having kids, and when I found out I was pregnant, my first thought was what I was going to have to do to get rid of it.” She clasped her hands together, put them between her knees, and looked down. “I mean, I’m not big into abortion or anything. I figure it’s a person’s body and all that shit, but it’s not like my one answer to something like this.” She paused. “I’ve never been pregnant before, so I’m not any kind of voice of experience on this.”

Dylan nodded. Say something, he told himself. Say something, you stupid asshole. Even if it’s as simple as just telling her that he agreed with her. This shouldn’t be the driving point of the entire day, but it was quickly turning out like that, and the thought of wasting a day on thoughts like looking cool in front of a girl that was probably going to forget him in a month’s time was horrible. Laughable. Pitiful. All of the above.

“But that was the first thing that popped into my head, getting rid of it.” She moved her hands from between her knees and sat up a little, her eyes moving up to the TV closet to them. There was some news story on about a man walking into a Wal-Mart dressed as Batman, the Adam West version, and opening fire on the place with an AK-47 and .357 Magnum. “It’s not like I love my life or anything, all the shit I do, but I was kinda used to it. I haven’t been happy in years, but I had worked really hard to even get to that point, if that even makes any sense.”

He wanted to tell her that it did make sense, but he didn’t think it would matter one way or another if he said that. So, he didn’t.

“I had a good routine going, and it was weird to suddenly think that I would have to throw it all in the air, if I decided to keep the baby.” She was still staring at the TV, the caption at the bottom about the death toll being somewhere in the forty-seven range. But the alcoholic delivering the story was quick to make it clear that forty-seven was not the final number. “The idea of starting again, having to make all the same mistakes and wonder if it might somehow magically turn out better or different this time, really just didn’t appeal to me at all. It kind of scared me to think that I’d actually have a chance again, especially when I don’t really do all that well with making the right decision.” She turned from the TV to him. There was some kind of forced trust in her eyes. Between the two of them, there was a world of how difficult it was to share all this with anyone, let alone some asshole she had just met the other day. “But then, I dunno, I woke up the morning after some stupid party, and this was like a month ago, and I’m laying on the floor in my underwear, and I could still remember all the ridiculous shit I had done the night before. One of the sad things about me is how I can remember almost everything from the night before, no matter how fucked up I might get.”

He was a second too slow to catch himself, so Dylan wound up laughing at that  without meaning to. It was only funny because he was pretty much the same way. He wondered if he should clarify that or not.

She closed her eyes for a second, smiling strangely. “And I was laying there, thinking about the baby and not really wanting to, and I thought ‘I’m twenty-five years old. Do I really wanna be doing this shit when I’m thirty? Is this really any better than how scary it is to have to start all over again?” She picked up her purse. “I decided that it wasn’t, then I changed my mind, then I changed my mind again.” She laughed a little at that. “And then I changed my mind again, and a couple more times after that, and I guess on the last one I got enough balls together to ask my mom for some money so I could come home.” She sat up a little. “And the funny thing is that I still don’t know if I’m actually doing the right thing. I keep changing my mind.” She laughed yet again. “Isn’t that horrible though? Isn’t that just really fucking stupid?”

He shook his head to make it clear to her that it wasn’t. Most of what he wanted to say right there was kind of pointless to express with words. A simple nod or shaking of the head would work just as well. It wasn’t that he was overcome with emotion. He had heard sad stories before. Some of them were hauntingly similar to Olivia’s. It wasn’t that at all. He just didn’t think it was worth wasting her time with the kind of thing just anyone could say. Maybe, it was the stress of the trip back home. Maybe.  Hours stacked on hours in a rolling sardine can could strip anyone down.

“I couldn’t tell you if I’m going to make it through the week,” she went on. “Without doing something really stupid.”

Why he was so obsessed with this was a really fucking annoying mystery to him. He was forever pulling this shit on people. The older he got, the further he seemed to get from the talkative little kid he used to be. But he still wanted to say something. He felt like he had to. She was sharing the world with him, sharing a lot more than she was used to, in this miserable fucking bus station in the middle of miserable fucking Memphis. And all he could do was nod like an asshole and obsess about how he was looking through all this.

Christ, did yet another cigarette sound really good right about now.

Rudy was gone now. It was probably safe to head out there.

Olivia stood up slowly. “I need to use the restroom,” she said. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

He looked at her and nodded. “Okay,” he managed to say.

She turned to walk off towards the bathroom on the other side of the terminal.

There it was. It hurled against him in a flash of seconds-long inspiration. He grabbed it and immediately began a steady jog. “And hey…”

She turned towards him.

“When you get back, I’ll tell you about how I got kicked out of preschool when I was three years old.” He even somehow gave her a little smile. Goddamnit. Why hadn’t he thought of this one before? Sure, it was the standby to end all standbys, but it was better than nothing. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

He expected her to laugh at that. But instead, she just smiled that tired smile he had seen the first time they had met. She just smiled at him. At him and no one else. “I’d like to hear that,” she said quietly. She glanced behind her. “But I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Okay.”

He watched her go, then glanced up at the TV, having nothing else to do. The story about the McDonalds thing was still running its course. In an hour, some other biblical prophecy would come true, and they’d be talking and over-analyzing that instead. It was like the summer movie season. The movie that pulled in a billion dollars in its first week and opened at number one might drop down to tenth place and take in just a couple of bucks in the second week. And all because of a couple new titles hitting the scene. Far more exciting ones, with better explosions and a more interesting cast of losers, victims, and psychopaths. Unless he absolutely had no choice, he tried to avoid the news as much as humanly possible.

Not much was going on outside, judging by what he could see from where he was sitting. He was partially debating that yet another cigarette, and he was partially looking to see if Rudy was anywhere. In all likelihood, he had found somewhere else to prove to the rest of the locals how committed he was to being the craziest fucking drug dealer this side of Graceland.

Overhead, there was an announcement about possible delays. They didn’t say which buses this applied to, but they advised everyone with earshot to stay tuned for further details.

Fuck it.

He stood up, pushing his small carry-on aside with his foot as he did. Whenever Olivia got back from the bathroom, she could look outside and see him, if he was still out there. Anyway, it was always hard to sit around these places for more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. You could only watch the news and play Pac Man but so many times. He stepped away from the seats and towards the door, pushing it open to take in the stale, humid Memphis air one more time. He had the cigarette and lighter out of his pocket and in his hand before he even took one step into the little outdoor smoking area. One cigarette, maybe even two, and then he would head inside and stay there, God’s truth, for at least an hour or two.

Or until Olivia wanted another smoke herself.

Whenever she got out of the bathroom.

He lit the cigarette and took a long drag that was a lot more satisfying than it should have been. As long as they had Greyhound, the news, and morons, he couldn’t imagine ever giving up cigarettes. Cutting back, maybe, if he magically learned some self-control in the next few years, but not outright quitting. He shook his head. No. Never. It was never going to happen.

He took another drag. The smoke felt good. It felt better than a crappy cheeseburger or a warm soda from one of the broken vending machines. He took another quick drag and wondered when he should call home to check in and make sure everything was okay. He took another quick drag and decided that the story about when he was kicked out of preschool a lifetime and a half ago was a good one. It was a funny story, if he told it right. She’d like it. He could see her getting a kick out of it. Eighteen years of working on that story, it better be one of the better ones in his arsenal.

He took another drag, and he felt something strike the back of his head. An arm or something that was blunt but not too heavy. He didn’t have a lot of time to think it over. Everything went into the sharp focus of going all over the place. Anything but thinking and reacting in fragments wasn’t going to come together. He stumbled forward, half-blind, and turned around just in time to get a kick in the stomach, followed by a series of what felt like forearms to the back of his neck and head. Getting kicked was bad enough, but because the forearm shots, he didn’t have enough time to separate the two. It was all just a series of painful bursts that forced him to fall onto his arms.

“You fucker,” Rudy growled. “You goddamn fucker.”

For a second, he almost felt like saying something to that. But for one thing, he couldn’t say much more than a couple of letters in between gasps for air and a clear line of vision. For another thing, Rudy was on him with another kick in the stomach before he could even think of what it was he wanted to say. That last kick was a good one, too. It sent him rolling over onto his back, where he laid there with his eyes shut and the thought that he could very well die in the next few minutes.

“Goddamn you,” Rudy said. “Fuck you, and fuck you, and fuck you.”

And then he ran away. Just like that. Someone hadn’t beaten him up since the fifth grade, but he couldn’t remember it ever being anything like this. Usually, he was able to do a better job of putting up a fight.

The few other people outside had gone out of their way to avoid getting involved. Which was fine it of itself, because Dylan knew he would have done the same thing. With Rudy gone, they started to circle him like a bunch of compassionate vultures.

A fat guy in an old Chicago Bulls jersey was standing right over him. “Shit, kid, are you okay?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dylan heard himself say. “We were just talking about his homosexual brother’s car. It happens.” He felt like passing out, but he didn’t. He really wanted to just knock off for an hour or two, but he didn’t. He just laid there and decided that if he did die here on the floor of the smoking section of the Memphis Greyhound bus station, which he knew he probably wasn’t going to, then at least he was going to close out with a good line.

Like something out of a good black and white movie. Something with a low budget and good characters you could really see yourself getting into. The characters might get on your nerves a little, but in the end, you’d leave the thing thinking that they were mostly likable and really not so bad. Some of them might not make it, but that part would be open to interpretation.

As a few more people started to gather around, and somehow, it was more than had actually been outside, the one thing he could think about was how much of a shame it was that Olivia hadn’t been around to hear it.

Really, she would have liked that one.

It might have even gotten a good smile going.

Two Poems

I don’t update this nearly as often as I’d like or should, and I hold all of you completely responsible for that.

No, not really, but it’s fun to pretend, I always say.

These two poems strike me as being very different. That makes sense, considering one was written yesterday, and the other was written some four years ago. I was pleased to read the older one (“Garden of Quiet”) for the first time in as many years, and not be completely horrified by it. I think it’s a decent little bit of writing (and I think it came from a line in a Bob Dylan song, but I honestly can’t be sure), and I’d like my poetry to get back to that kind of simplicity. I think I tend to lean a little on the verbose side these days. There’s still some good writing within that, but I’m not as good at “Murdering my darlings” as I ought to be.

Restlessness may well be the spiritual death of me before the end of 2011. I’d like to be on the road, and I find myself dreaming more and more of New York. I suppose that’s because I haven’t been there since Halloween 2009.

Enjoy the poems, and be patient as I work at another movie review for that damn challenge, and as I also try to think of something different to do with this blog. I’m still working out ideas, and nothing has really grabbed me so far (I’m also incredibly lazy—It’s a miracle I accomplish anything at all)

I remain open to suggestions as always. That probably doesn’t need to be repeated over and over again. I’m just grateful people are reading this confounded thing.

**********
Canadian Films about Airports
By Gabriel Ricard

Let’s just say I cut myself shaving,
and that I fell down the stairs,
because I’m clumsy for exactly fifteen minutes
every afternoon.

She put a hand on my arm,
and that was the act of trading youth for perspective
as she asked me if I wanted to hit the last party in town.

I had cabdrivers gunning for the bones in my fingers,
so I was eager to disappear for a while,
and I didn’t give two or even three damns
for what I knew of this young lady’s reputation.

The all-star variety show
goes on a laughingstock summer hiatus.
It’s at the exact moment I realize,
that someone who came very close to being my ex-wife
slept with the three other cats in the getaway car.

Where do I meet these broads?

Don’t answer that.

Don’t answer any questions,
I might ask while looking for the city of Asian angels
through the cracks in the sidewalk.

Don’t ask any questions,
when I’m busy getting half the words right
to a song, that’s not necessarily my favorite,
but will have to do in a pinch.

I’m just stressed out.
It’s been do-or-sort-of-die,
since the day she wore that dress
to the dancehall disaster,
of what I think was either 1958 or 2009.

That doesn’t make sense,
I know,
so let’s just say smokers fear time
differently from the well-adjusted.

Give me the rest of my life
to sort everything out,
and make millions
turning in my old friends
and classic haunts.

Wait for me to come back
from that last party.
Or the kind of police station
where people like me sit quietly,
smoke noisily and read comic books
until the end of time’s version of an Elvis impersonator.

Keep me in your heart,
or just keep me from calling up old girlfriends.

I can’t drive,
and I’ll never be a handsome hero,
so I may need you to drive me to the airport.

I’ll definitely need you to hold my hand,
because I can’t handle the stress and save my money
at the same time.

**********
Garden of Quiet
By Gabriel Ricard

Some of the people
in this garden have been here
longer than the years I’ve spent,
getting old and coming back to youth,
over a hundred thousand days
of nothing but borrowed time.

I pass by them constantly.

Walking on clean grass
past the trees that bend skyward
and keep the world together
on their wisdom alone.

Fresh fruit
with nothing to do
but fall gently to the ground.

Overjoyed flowers in an eternal state
of a spring that goes on forever.

The clouds rarely complain.

They only find the need to weep
when the view can keep up.

I spend most of my time here,
looking for people I might know.

But all I’ve seen so far
are close friends and other strangers.

There are couples everywhere here.

People who know they can hold
for everything but dear life.

Some of them make love
by one of the clear-sky rivers.

Some of them in the presence
of the afternoon frozen in warm sunlight.

But there are also people,
who don’t seem to have anyone.

I see a lot of them, too.

Heartless and shapeless
Spirits stuck with waking eyes
and flesh that looks clean and content
at every hour of the only day.

Listening to whatever
or whoever is crushing the silence
of the trees with their memories.

They never talk.

They just sit there,
and wait for something to change
or someone to keep their appointment.

Destroyed
and knowing it the same way
they know no one’s listening.

I walk past them,
trying to remember
what I was doing when I came here.

Grateful and terrified
in the time it takes me to swear
there’s someone here who knows me.

And that it’s just a matter
of finding them before I get tired.

Two Poems

The general consensus seems to be that people are digging the poetry and fiction a hell of a lot more than the bloated movies reviews, so I’m going to play to my few strengths, and go with that.

I’m determined to finish that movie challenge though, and hope to have something new for that tomorrow. It won’t be easy, but I’m sure we’ll live with it as best we can.

**********
The Randy Savage Jailbait Blues
By Gabriel Ricard

And after they’re gone
there’ll be no one left to be disappointed in me.

I’d like to be twenty miles away
from the pen pal who recognizes me
in the middle of Singapore’s London district
when it goes down. That’s just a Christmas dream
on the twenty-eighth of May,
but I’ve yet to be shamed for being an ambitious dreamer,
so I’m just going to keep on keepin’ on,
in spite of failing Canadian charm school.

I can’t remember if I really was the first guy
to open a marriage request with “Disaster strikes the peculiar”,
or if I stole it from the journal of a comedian friend.
who never got out of Shockabttom,
without paying his weight in January 3rd cigars.

Can’t tell me it’s not a fantastic thing to remark
to the poor preteen foster parent,
who has to double as your parole officer.

My memory is a bully from the Monday Night Raw days,
and it probably would have served me well
to keep flinching through my teenage years.

I probably should have read more books, too,
but it’s a little late to start
when my favorite movies are lined up for life,
at the theater
just past the preschool
that would have turned away the likes of me
at the hallway.

It was a cute way to impress the people,
who turned out to see a three-year-old try to read Pet Cemetary.

It just hasn’t done a whole lot for me lately.

You’d think someone who needs to be carried up the stairs
so often would be protective of the things
that occasionally get him some attention
from the no-nonsense dealer room girls.

You’d think I’d be able to live on the hood of a glass airplane.
to hear me run my kiss-stealin’, wheelin’-dealin’ mouth.

I won’t say you should be ashamed of such ideas,
but I’m also not going to pay for dinner
unless the wolf can pick the lock at our steel front door.

A one-legged song and dance may have to see us through.

**********
The Last Laurel and Hardy Movie
By Gabriel Ricard

I’ve got three pennies to rub together,
so I’m going to throw two away,
and start all over again with just the one,
because it sounds good on paper.

That’s what we’re settling for
these days, okay? The white boys in Raleigh,
North Carolina are getting drunk
at twelve o’clock in the afternoon,
and acting out their college basketball fantasies
with a couple of frozen turkeys.

Far be it for me to judge.
I’ve been known to sweat blood,
by the time I walk across the room,
to tell her that her eyes could turn a poor young man’s heart
into orange construction paper.

I once paid for the damage I had created around me
with a cheque on what was left of the solitary bedroom wall.

The public library and I
have very different ideas
of what those reading tables are for.

You were a gal Friday of wild abandon.
I can’t believe anything bad
ever came out of all those parked cars
we borrowed to get away from the month of June
trying to get rich off the standard cruel winter
in New York City.

October was never up to any damn good either.
I can’t trust a month that sells me out,
every time someone I love moves to San Francisco,
and doesn’t want me any closer than Edgewater, Maryland.

You never really understood what I meant by that,
but you’re a saint double-crossing the music
that’s supposed to carry me home,
and no one will ever make me laugh like you do.

I’m hopeless.
Absolutely hopeless.

I owe you more fragile coffee cups
and counterfeit twenties
than I’ll ever be able to steal
from my cousins-by-marriage,
at one of our many,
unfortunate rescue shelter family reunions.

I’ve been weird, talkative and obnoxious
to a room full of empty  funeral suits.

You’ve managed to live with that,
keep your wits above and beyond our attention
to the details of our unhealthy social graces,
and even care enough to tell me to watch out
for beautiful girls who travel by Greyhound.

You might even be able to accept me
when it gets to the point where nothing surprises you anymore.

I’ve been waiting on that kind of thing
for years, you know.