Recent Work By Ducky Wilson

“I want to rule out cancer,” the hippie doctor with bad coffee breath tells me as I sit exposed on a cracked vinyl examining table in a run-down clinic downtown. My mind starts racing as my fingers probe the canyons in the vinyl, picking at the foam core.

Cancer. I’m so young.

“We’ll run some tests,” he quips as he scratches notes in my file, my life unworthy of neat penmanship. He snaps it shut, sets it down, far away from my eyes, as though my illness should be kept secret from me.

Feeling my neck with his fingers in little circular motions, he mumbles to himself, uh-huh-uh-huh-uh-huh, another secret he keeps from me.

“Is it bad?” I stammer, trying not to cry in front of this man who looks like he lives in his car, the byproduct of me not having insurance, which is also racing through my mind. Health is a privilege in this country. You have no right to it, no entitlement, and I have learned not to expect it.

But I never expected cancer.

I eat right, organic for the most part, and I exercise every day. I quit smoking cigarettes years ago, and though I occasionally enjoy a joint now and then, I seldom drink, though I’m told a glass of wine now and then is good for you. I control my sugar intake, watch the red meat, skip anything with hydrogenated anything in it or bleached four or high fructose corn syrup, which is now being relabeled as just corn syrup because consumers have caught of to the food conspiracy.

How did this happen to me?

“I’ll know more when I get the results,” he says already on his way out.

“Ok,” I barely utter as the door closes.

And then I am left alone. Alone under the stale fluorescent lights. Alone with the cracked vinyl and wooden tongue depressors and blood pressure machine.

I think about the first time I died, when my sister jumped on my head in Lisa Buell’s pool and knocked me out. Lisa’s dad had to give me mouth to mouth, and I remember the taste of cheap beer, probably Coors Light. Dying then had been peaceful, as I wasn’t conscious to struggle against the water that came crashing through my lungs. It was coming back to life that was violent, and I’ve often wondered if that was a mistake, if I wasn’t supposed to die there on the Spanish tile by the side of the pool.

I think about all the people I’ve wronged. Make a mental list of everyone who deserves an apology from me, including Debbie Gordon, the girl I beat up in eighth grade for spreading rumors about me. She might have deserved it, but violence never solves anything. I know this now. I’m sorry, Debbie.

I think of my Mom, of how her face will crack and spill onto the floor when I tell her I might have cancer. I watch her heart fall from her chest and crash onto the floor and shatter into a million jagged pieces.

I hear my sister cry in her bathroom, shut away from the ears of her six children, my beautiful nieces and nephews, who listen at the other side of the door unbeknown to her. I see their confused and conflicted faces as I wipe the tears away from my own eyes.

Then I see my brother cry, and that undoes me. The tears fall, and I don’t care if the homeless doctor sees them.

Forty five minutes and a box of Kleenex after I’ve been handed a bomb to hold, a nurse finally enters with a yellow tackle box of needles and vials. She rolls up my sleeves and taps at my veins. “Oh, you’ve got great veins,” she says, smiling. She’s too excited by them, and I wonder if she’s a junky. I try to examine her teeth, but she’s looking down, down at my blue veins that may or may not be pumping cancer through my body.

“That’s all there is to it,” she says, snapping off her latex gloves and tossing them into the trashcan. “We’ll call to schedule the biopsy. You’ll need to pay at the desk on the right on your way out.” Then she leaves without any fanfare, and I’m left wondering if this is how it all ends, in a dimestore clinic with buzzing overhead lights on a cracked vinyl examining table in the middle of winter.

Death be not proud.

And neither should the dying.

 

Downward Dog

By Ducky Wilson

Essay

My appointment runs late, so by the time I get home the sun has already set. Only the afterglow remains to backlight the trees, transmogrifying them into shadows of crooked old men frozen against the horizon. Though the incoming storm darkens the sky the color of blueberries, I know I have time for a quick walk.

As the police car turns into the driveway, I notice the station looks like my elementary school without windows. The concrete has been freshly painted a two-tone brown, tan on top and chocolate on the bottom, just like Uncle Kevin’s van.

I wish someone would come and spray paint a sunset on the building and make things all better, but I know once we drive through a gate with razors along the top that I’m fucked.

I check the doors and wonder if I can roll out like Steve McQueen, but there aren’t any handles. Probably a good thing. Flying down LBJ Freeway during midday traffic, I feel pretty sure my head would get squashed like a watermelon on a hot day, my seeds sizzling on the asphalt.

It’d be cool if Sam Fuller was around. He could shoot it with his 16mm camera.

I sink into the shredded leather seat. I’ll be a watermelon anyway when my dad finds out I’ve been arrested. He’ll probably drop kick me into the creek behind the house. The kids who smoke pot down there will find my body and flick cigarettes at me while they jack off to Black Sabbath.

At least I’ll be listening to killer music.

A girl cop with enormous cock-eyed boobs waves to our car as we park in a loading dock. I wonder if she knows how retarded she looks.

She winks at me.

“Whatcha got? A couple of girrrrrrrrls?” she asks, stretching out the word the way I know she wants spread my legs.

“I’m not a lesbian hooker, that’s for sure,” I snap as I get out from the back seat, though maybe I should have rethought the fishnets that morning.

“Just a couple of juvi’s,” the cop who drove says, slamming the door.

“Look like pros to me,” Old Cock Eye says with a shrug as she presses a buzzer that opens a metal door.

The police station smells like drywall and tuna fish sandwiches, but no one’s eating lunch. The place is a classroom in summer though all the empty desks have mile high stacks of papers on them. A cop near the window opens a filing cabinet. The squeal of it opening rips a hole through the unexpected quiet.

They must all be out chasing bad guys.

No hookers or pimps, either.

I’m a little disappointed. I was secretly hoping for a carnival of sinners and lunatics.

“Is Kerry Von Erich here?” I ask, hoping that his recent coke bust brought him here.

No one answers me.

I wonder if I’m supposed to be quiet now since I’m going to prison. Paul Newman didn’t say too much in Cool Hand Luke. Of course, Paul Newman doesn’t need to say too much. Coolness doesn’t need language.

I wonder if I’ll have to work a chain gang the way he did, and I wonder if they’ll give me nail polish to fix my nails when I get a chip in them, and I wonder if I can listen to The Pretenders while I hammer.

Probably not.

Probably, I’ll have to wear stupid striped pajamas.

Probably, I’ll get fist fucked by a girl with bad acne.

The handcuffs hurt. I try to wiggle my wrists, but they slice into me like cat claws no matter what I do. I surrender to the pain and shuffle alongside my sister, Michele, who was arrested with me for stealing a felony’s worth of clothes from the Joskes Junior section.

Since we weren’t even smart enough to take the clothes off the hangers before we shoved them into giant paper sacks we snaked from an unattended register, I figure we’re looking at some hard time.

Michele’s mohawk starts to wilt. Mascara tracks splatter her face, and I can’t help but laugh, thinking she looks like a sad stegosaurus. If only she would get really pissed off the way she does on the school playground and bulldoze our way out of this place.

We might stand a chance.

One of the cops gives me the devil eye for laughing, so I shut my hole. No sense starting trouble with The Boss. I might need cigarettes later, even though I don’t smoke.

The fingerprint ink stinks like licorice. I have a marker at home that smells the same way and sometimes I sniff it for so long my head gets all spinny. Sometimes I get ink on my nose. I wonder if the ink on my fingers will be as hard to come off.

Probably.

Michele starts to cry when they separate us. I guess they don’t want us planning a big escape or anything. Probably smart since Michele and I tend to bring out the crafty in each other. We both like action movies, and sometimes we practice being Bruce Lee.

(Usually though, we just throw stars against the garage door.)

We might need more practice if we’re going to prison.

“Don’t be scared,” I say to Michele as they take her into a room that looks like a normal office.

But I can tell she is:

Scared.

I’m scared, too.

I don’t want to get fist fucked by a girl with bad acne or cock-eyed boobs.

“I have a Milky Way in my purse,” I say to the cop who takes me into a small room. I hold my breath, hoping she’ll take my bribe, but she opens a notepad instead, clicking her pen a hundred times.

“I don’t feel so good,” I say listening to the dizzy rhythm of her Bic.

She leaves and comes back with a Dixie cup of water. I drink it in one gulp, but the fire in my throat rages. I wonder if she’s slipped me a mickey, even though I don’t know what a mickey is, but since I heard it on TV, I wonder anyway.

I think about asking, but I catch her staring at me.

I stare back.

Staring always works in movies.

Clint Eastwood has the best stare. I channel him.

A year passes before she says anything. She gets uglier by the day. My blood starts to curdle. Fear morphs into contempt. I’m sick of grown-ups who play games.

“How old are you?” she finally asks.

“I already told you,” I snap, slipping into the role of prisoner without an understudy.

“What’s your name?”

“You already know. You have my paycheck.” One of the many things she confiscated after she took me down, including my Bonne Bell lip-gloss, which I want back. It’s hard to find in root beer.

She asks for my phone number.

I hesitate.

“Which one?” I ask.

“Whichever one you want me to call so I can explain this mess.”

“My mom,” I blurt. “Call my mom.”

I give her my mom’s phone number. She stands. I’m so relieved she’s calling my mom that I don’t realize I’m smiling.

“You’re a disgrace,” she says. “Look at you. Guess you feel pretty proud of yourself.”

I examine myself. From my patent leather go-go boots to the fishnets ripped during the big chase sequence through the mall to my snakeskin miniskirt. I felt like a rock star this morning, but now I just feel like a sad old country song.

“Am I going to prison?” I ask.

She laughs then leaves me to worry about my future.

I think about all the prison movies I’ve seen.

My hands get cold. I stick them under my arms, but I start shivering allover nonetheless. I think about all the fucked up things Billy Hayes suffered in Midnight Express. I remember how scared I was just watching the movie. Could I survive such brutality?

My feet fall asleep and my teeth start chattering. I wonder how I’ll ever be able to defend myself from a fist fucker if I can’t even feel my hands and feet.

Why am I so cold?

I keep thinking about what the cop said. Her words boom in my head like a bass drum.

Disgrace. Disgrace. Disgrace. Da-dumph.

Disgrace. Disgrace. Disgrace. Da-dumph.

I write a quick rock song in my head before my thoughts turn to my mom.

Her words will gut me.

“I’m disappointed in you,” she’ll say as she leans back in our yellow velvet couch. I’ll stare at the cranes in the Chinese screen above her head in order to avoid looking at her face.

Anything to avoid that face.

It’s a face that means what it says. A face that never lies. A face that can tell your fortune and bless you on your journey in life. A face that can cure loneliness and slow time. A face that will rain an ice age because of what I’ve done and crack every time it remembers until there’s nothing but canyons of grief and rivers of disillusion.

The Japanese believe suicide is a virtue.

I think about Seppuku, the sword plunging into my stomach with a quick jab. No hesitation. No regrets. I think about the back and forth slicing motion of the blade. I wonder if it hurts.

Of course, it hurts.

I think about downing a bottle of St. Joseph’s aspirin (they’re so good), and sitting in the garage with the car on. (I got this idea from an after school special.)

I think about putting a nail gun to my head and chewing on Oleander leaves.

Cliff diving. Bull fights. And San Antonio enchiladas.

After forty-five minutes of sweating out the shivers and daydreaming about death (and occasionally food), the cop finally returns.

“Is it too late for you to call my dad instead?” I ask as she walks through the door. I’d rather take a beating than endure my mother’s broken face.

“You’re Mom’s already here,” she replies.

My heart quickens as we walk down a long hallway drenched in sour apple light. I can see Michele standing with my Mom’s boyfriend, Larry, a fireman we really like because he convinced my mom to let us go see The Rocky Horror Picture Show every Friday night (probably just so he could make out with her on the yellow couch, but it was still cool of him.)

I’m guessing my Rocky Horror days are over, and as soon as I see my mom, I know I’m right. There won’t be birthdays or camping trips or sleepovers or television for fifty thousand years.

If I live that long.

She doesn’t utter a word.

Instead, she watches me approach.

Dead Man Walking.

Her face burns a hole in me,

and I am reformed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

She looks just like you
my waitress at Sonic.
With her skinny long legs
and the bashful way she waits
for the tip she knows is coming.

I hand her a dollar and she smiles.
“Thank you.”
She curls her u like dew
and it is a divine melody
to my homesick ears.

A barn swallow flitters past
knocking her off balance
and we giggle together.
Her eyes are blue, unlike yours,
but they are as deep as the ocean,
the way yours are as deep as the earth.

“Have a nice day,”
I say
and mean it.

She turns then walks away
and I cry because she is not you.

“Run!” I scream to my sister Michele as I shove a cop with a broken arm into a display of folded t-shirts. Michele bolts, darting around the Joskes Juniors section like a squirrel on speed, scrambling for an exit route. I shuffle back and forth in front of my cop, blocking, while her partner, a barrel-bellied bully, gives chase to Michele.

“Hold it right there, little girl,” he booms, which stops my sister in her tracks. Behind a table of tank tops, she glares at the cop, narrowing her eyes and puckering her mouth the way she does when she’s really pissed. No one calls her little, even though she is, and for a moment, I think she might jump the cop just like she does the boys at school when they tease her, a battle she always wins, but the cop lunges, sending her back into a tailspin of escape.

The weekday crowd watches without interference, their drama deprived faces grateful for an injection of excitement. A woman in a pink polyester tracksuit removes a bag of cashews from her purse and begins to snack.

“How do I get out of here?” Michele hollers as she knocks over a mannequin wearing a patent leather raincoat and hot pink galoshes.

“Through cosmetics,” I shout as my broken-armed cop whacks me with her cast, which catches me off guard and makes me wobble on my stilettos. She pushes me back, spins me around, then slams my arm up to my shoulder blade, just like Chuck Norris might, which normally I would think is way cool, but since I’m the one getting slam-armed, I’m not so impressed.

My snakeskin mini-skirt rides up my ass and my spiky studded belt pinches my belly against the table of Jordache jeans. “You’re hurting me,” I whine to the cop.

“Too bad,” she quips as she cuffs me.

Out of the corner of my eye, I can see my sister skittering around a rack of sundresses, her Mohawk a fin of stalagmites, while the bully cop hikes his waistline rounding a corner. Michele races past a stroller mom then disappears into the cosmetics department.

“She won’t get away,” my broken-armed cop says as she snaps the cuffs around my wrists.

“Yes, she will. My sister’s a really fast runner,” I insist as I turn back around to face my captor. She’s much older than I expect. Too tan for a cop. And for a split second I notice that she looks like my friend’s mother, and my mouth waters anticipating the snickerdoodle cookies she always makes when I come over.

“We’ll see about that,” she says, snatching me away from my snickerdoodle dream.

Just this morning, Michele and I start out like any other day. We eat Cheerios watching Scooby Doo, we argue with our step-mother Juanita about laundry (we never do it right), we practice our cartwheels in the back yard, we wreck the moped again, we hide from dad, we practice throwing our stars and stilettos against the garage door, Bruce Lee style, and we flat-iron our hair, all before 9am when we all leave for the day.

Dad drives a red Nissan sports car – one of those turbo-injected things that makes people drive like assholes. We’re not even two blocks out from the house and he’s already cussing some old man for driving too slow. I wonder if the old guy is on his way to the hospital, dying of some incurable disease. Or maybe to visit his cancer riddled wife. Or his daughter, dying from ebola. Or his son, back from some unholy place.

Dad swerves around the old man, flipping him the bird, and despite being labeled blind by the courts, a “disability” that only seems to flair when he doesn’t want his child support upped, it doesn’t hamper his driving, his dancing, or his ability to run three businesses. He also chainsmokes Virginia Slims, and I often think that if he didn’t smoke so much, maybe he might see better.

“Can we have ten dollars?” I ask him as we pull up to the mall.

He fingers a ten from his money clip and hands it to me. Michele and I worm out of the backseat. “I’ll pick you up at 8.”

“Ok,” I say looking at my Snoopy watch, crunching the numbers. Eleven hours to kill.

“What do ya want to do?” I ask Michele as we walk up to the mall.

She takes a pack of Marlboros out of her purse and lights one. “I don’t care. Grease?” she asks, exhaling.

I shrug as we walk inside the mall and head towards the dollar theater.

Sometimes, we spend all day in the theater watching movies. No one ever checks between showings, so we only ever pay once. It’s an easy way to kill time, and since Dad regularly drops us at the mall (he figures this is better than leaving us at home to our own devices), we always have a lot of time to kill.

Grease is our favorite movie of all time. We’ve seen it a gajillion times, and we can never understand why our brother likes Star Wars better, even though Hans Solo is a badass hottie.

After two viewings of watching Sandy become Apollonia, another one of our heroes whom we both model our fashion sense after, Michele tells me she’s hungry, so we head out.

The food court provides little entertainment. Only overweight taxpayers who color inside the lines. Michele orders some French fries and I get a Dr. Pepper.

“Now what to do you wanna do?” I ask Michele.

She rolls her French fry in ketchup, considering. “I’m bored.”

“Me, too.”

Six hours left to kill.

Author Ellen Parr once said, “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

I contend that curiosity will land you in jail with a hooker from Pecos City and a donut lady who killed her good-for-nothing husband with a frying pan.

“You think anyone would notice if I take this?” I ask Michele as we peruse the clothing in Joskes. It’s a leopard print shirt that matches my favorite parachute pants.

Michele scans the perimeter. “Nah. No one’s looking.”

I snatch a large plastic shopping bag from behind an unattended register and shove the shirt, still on the hanger, into it.

Michele hands me a belt.

“Cute,” I reply, then stick it in the bag.

By the time we’re done, we have two bags full of clothes still on hangers, and we head towards the exit to conquer another store. As soon as we step foot outside the threshold, the cops jump out as us, sending us running back into the store.

My cop, the one with the broken arm, catches me immediately. Michele manages to make it all the way across the mall before the bully snags her.

“How old are you?” My cop asks as she rifles through our purses.

“Fourteen,” I sniffle. “She’s twelve.”

The bully cop laughs. “Sure you are.”

My broken cop pulls a paycheck stub from my purse. “Gotta be sixteen to work. Let’s take em in.”

“But I promise, I’m fourteen. Please, we won’t do it again. Don’t take us to jail.”

“Honey, you girls shoulda thought about that before you crammed a thousand dollars worth of stuff into those bags. Anything over a thousand is a felony.”

My face drops. A felony. I’m a felon. Will they give me the needle? The chair? Will I be forced to eat eggs like Cool Hand Luke? Or work the chain gang in these stilettos?

Cuffed and crying, the cops parade us through the store, an example for all the preteen bystanders, and escort us into a police car that smells like hamburgers.

“What will mom think,” I whimper to Michele as we head out of the parking lot, the mall becoming a shadow behind us.

Michele erupts, a volcano of sorrow and snot. “What will Jenny think?”

Jenny is our dog.

I wind my finger around hers, a gesture that provides little comfort on a day that started out like any other day.


A bead of sweat pools on the tip of my nose. I want to wipe it, but I can’t move. Light pinwheels around my eyes like a kaleidoscope at a carnival. I hear my breath quickening, but I don’t know why. Other sounds morph into a distant drone punctuated by organ interludes.

Am I in church?

Yes.

Through pinholes in my delirium, I can see Father Tassio talking behind the pulpit, his hands working the sermon like a potter would clay on a wheel. Behind him, I can see the cross where Jesus bleeds, the holes in his hands pulsing dark tunnels to another dimension. I look away so I’m not sucked into them.

Amanda Wingo draws in her bible. Her pencil scratches into the onion thin paper. I want to be that paper. Want to feel that important to someone.

The organ explodes and my head reels.

Everything fast forwards. The ironwork on the ceiling spins like the inner workings of a Swiss clock racing to get away from time. The stained glass windows shoot daggers of colors that ricochet off pews that are lined up like dominoes. I want to knock them over and watch them tumble, but my hands are too heavy.

I can’t lift my head, either. I am stone – just another Parian figure in the church, albeit one with penny loafers and a navy jumper.

Father Tassio’s words turn to tongues, a belligerent rant that pummels my head like shrapnel. “Shut up,” my mind screams over and over as each word bullet zings me. “Shut up! Shut up!”

Will I go to Hell for my blasphemy? It has to be a pretty big sin to scream shut up at your priest. I don’t care, though. And I wonder what is wrong with me that I don’t care.

Perhaps this is demonic possession. Shelly Meyers, a sixth grader with hair that reminds me of Christmas tinsel, missed three weeks of school one time when she was possessed. I overheard her telling the Barrow sisters all about it in the cafeteria during lunch, though I didn’t understand why the devil would want to make you do things with boys.

I recall a scene from The Exorcist, a movie I’ve watched on cable far too many times. Not the best choice for a second grader, but television is never monitored at either of my homes. Maybe Captain Howdy needs a new little girl and has come for me.

Oh, please, oh, please, don’t let my head spin around like that.

I look over at Jesus. His holes expand and unfold into a blanket of space that covers me.

I knew he’d get me eventually.

I hear a thud,

then black.

I have no consciousness.

No awareness.

Am I dead?

No. 

Not yet. That would come later.

For now, I am simply nothing.

When I begin to come back, I hear water running. Then I feel something warm and wet on my cheek. A washrag. Steaming terrycloth.

“Are you all right, dear?” she asks with a voice soft as baby powder.

I can’t talk. There’s a boulder in my throat. But I can hear and I can see, though the light of the room makes me squint and washes everything out like an overexposed photograph.

“Breathe,” she says, and I do as I’m told. But my chest expands too quickly. It won’t stop, and I can feel an earthquake somewhere at my core. A chill skitters up my legs to my stomach somehow setting flame to something that erupts.

I vomit on her, but she doesn’t seem to mind. “Don’t you worry about that one bit,” she says, cleaning her skirt.

Mrs. Tassio. I see her clearly now. I’ve thrown up on the priest’s wife.

“Are you all right?” she asks again.

I sit up too fast and almost hurl another, but somehow I will the tsunami in my stomach to recede. Mrs. Tassio puts a cup of water to my mouth and I drink. “Your mother’s on her way,” she informs me. “Is there anything else I can do for you?”

She curls a strand of my hair behind my ear and I feel better, but then the weight of what I’ve done drags me back under. I’ve desecrated the priest’s wife. I don’t know where that ranks in the hierarchy of sins, but I’m sure it must be a doozey. Maybe even worse than telling a priest to shut up, even if I did only say it in my mind.

I start to cry.

“Father Tassio,” I whimper. “I need Father Tassio.”

Mrs. Tassio motions to a girl behind her. The girl approaches and I can see the burn scar that runs along her jaw. I want to touch it; I want to know what the puffy skin feels like. There’s something beautiful about the way it coils from her ear to her chin like a rivulet of secrets. I catch her eyes, and I can tell she misunderstands what I’m thinking because her mouth tightens into an asterisk of anger.

Mrs. Tassio dunks the washrag in a basin of steaming water. “Go get Father Tassio. If he’s not in the church, look in his office. 

The girl obeys, throwing me a look on her way out, a look I’d come to know too well over the forthcoming years.

Moments later, Father Tassio returns without the girl. I can’t decide if I’m more relieved that he’s here or that she isn’t. My stomach moans and I roll over on my side. He kneels next to me

“You sent for me?” he whispers, taking my hand. His skin is too soft, it reminds me of someone, and I almost recoil, but then I remember. Father Tassio. My priest.

I squeeze his hand. “I need to confess my sins,” I say.

“What sins could you possibly have, little one?” he asks.

I run down the list, admitting all my indecencies: the time I said shit when I stubbed my toe on the refrigerator, the time I blamed our dog Jenny for breaking my mom’s porcelain vase, the time I gave Milton Hewitt the finger when he splashed me on purpose with his bike.

By the time I get to today’s transgressions, about how I told him to shut up with my mind and how I vomited all over his wife, I hear funny sounds coming from Father Tassio. He sounds like the squeaky gate to the playground. At first I think he’s crying, ever so disappointed in me, but then I notice he’s holding his stomach.

Is possession contagious? Have I contaminated my own priest on top of everything else?

Father Tassio snorts, taking such deep breaths that his nostrils flutter like an accordion.

Mrs. Tassio steps over with a thermometer, but I wave her off.

“My penance. I need my penance.”

Father Tassio can’t talk. He turns completely around in his chair. His belly heaves like a bellow, and he wheezes like my Uncle Ernie’s mule. I look at the ceiling to see if there are any long spears that might fall from the sky, but I only see a brown water ring.

God, if his head spins around, I swear I’ll throw up again.

“Five Our Father’s and five Hail Mary’s,” he finally gets out.

Mrs. Tassio sticks the thermometer in my mouth. “And how many for the priest?” she asks, then thumps him on his head.

 


“Someone lost his mind in there,” I tell my dog Tonya as we walk up the sidewalk to the abandoned Pizza Hut. I want to see inside.

Tonya yips at me as we approach the building then cocks her head low the way she does when she’s nervous about something.

“It’s ok,” I tell her, but I can feel it, too. The air turns heavy as we walk past a shrine for the people who died that September night. I realize that today is September and a chill skitters over me. Tonya gets one, too, for when I look down at her, the hair on the scruff of her neck bristles like a mane.

Since Tonya can’t read, I wonder how she knows. Then, I remember her nose.

Tonya’s nose can smell anything, even anthills, which she always skirts. Not like my mom’s mutts or my sister’s Great Pyrenees, who all trample through the mounds then howl like Tarzan when they get bit by the fiery beasts.

Tonya’s nose can smell coyotes, and when one is around, she hops from foot to foot, a move danced at no other time and for no other beast. When bobcats are around, she growls into her front paws.

When snakes are around, she stops dead in her tracks and tucks in her chin, as if she’s protecting her jugular.

And when alpacas are nearby, she smiles. She loves alpacas, and when we find them, she’ll gaze into their curious faces for several minutes. Then she’ll look back at me and smile. Then she’ll stare at them some more. Then swipe a smile. She will repeat this for many hours if I let her.

Sometimes, I do.

When humans are close, her eyes narrow like a gunslinger’s. She’s cautious with humans. Doesn’t trust them.

She shouldn’t.

Walking past the cardstock faces of the victims, Tonya starts growling. It’s not so much a growl as it is a low-pitched hum floating in air bubbles. I’ve never heard this sound before, and I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t her reaction to carnage. Though the massacre was two years ago, is it possible that she can still smell the blood?

The Pizza Hut has been abandoned since the night a man walked into it and opened fire, but I get a sense I’m not alone. “Is someone watching us, girl?” I ask Tonya as I check over both shoulders.

A truck pulling a horse trailer drives by blasting Merle Haggard’s Rainbow Stew, an odd but appropriate nod from the universe.

Eatin’ rainbow stew with a silver spoon underneath a sky of blue…

So the song goes, and in that moment I hope that there is a heaven for these people, though I know in my heart that there isn’t.

I peer inside the dirty window. It’s just as it should be. Booths along the walls. Ovens in the back. A counter. A clock. A jukebox.

I wonder what was playing that night. What song the universe picked for their dying. I hope it was something good. Like Dylan or Willie or Bach. Probably not Bach in this small town, but I note how wonderful that would be. To die while a perfect Bach invention plays in the background. Simple. Pure. A clean death.

No. There was nothing clean about these deaths. No Bach for the slain here. Theirs was messy and brutal and wild.

Beatles, Helter Skelter.

I notice the skeleton of an umbrella in the corner. “It must have been raining that night,” I say to Tonya. She blinks at me with her caramel coated eyes, then scoots closer to me.

I scan the room for blood, but there isn’t any. No signs of a struggle. Nothing to indicate the brutality of that night.

Tonya barks, and I turn around.

“Can I hh-help you?” he asks with his dentures so loose they jiggle his words.

“No thanks,” I say. “Just walking my girl.”

“Mm-hmm,” he replies.

I turn to leave, but in the corner of my eye I catch another glimpse of that night. Inside, behind the counter, a single ticket hangs from the heat lamps. The last order of that night.

“Bet it was pepperoni,” I say louder than I mean to, forgetting we’re not alone.

The man with the floppy teeth lights a candle at the shrine. I pray he doesn’t hear me, then turn to head home.

“Sausage,” I hear from behind me.

I turn.

The old man’s face is soft, not full of misery and despair like I expect. It’s a face that has seen much heartache yet has chosen not to be heartbroken.

“It was sausage and onions,” he says without a smile.

“Oh,” I reply, embarrassed he heard me. “Sorry for your loss,” I add. What else is there to say?

He nods, then returns to his praying, so I head off with Tonya. We cross the busy highway that cuts the town in half. On the other side, Tonya gets tangled in her leash, so I stop to adjust it. When I reach down, she barks in my face.

“What’s up, girl?” I ask then glance across the street. Tonya barks again. I scan the highway but I don’t see the old man.

A chill rushes over me, making me sneeze. He was there wasn’t he?

Tonya nuzzles her nose into the palm of my hand the way she does when I’m crying 

“It’s ok, girl. I’m not crying.” I reassure her with a pat on the head.

Then I see him. The old man. He’s leaning against the ivy covered brick wall on the west side of the Pizza Hut. For a minute I wonder if he’s having a heart attack, for he has hand clenched to his heart. Then, I realize he’s crying.

Tonya nuzzles my hand again, so I stroke her head. “I know, girl.”

For a minute I watch the old man, suspended in indecision. I want to comfort him. I want to run over and tell him that things will be ok. That time heals everything. All those bullshit clichés we cling to during hard times.

Instead, I turn away.

I don’t feel like lying today.

 


As soon as I enter the room I want to fuck someone. A kaleidoscope of colors and words assaults me.

While other students filter to their seats, I’m bewitched by a canopy of poetry scribbled in bad penmanship on all the walls and ceiling. A banner of Blake reads:

The unfolding of the imagination is the only true education.

The bell rings and a buck-toothed dancer in pink tights and high-waisted tweed shorts brushes past me hurrying to her desk. I scan the room for a seat and find one near the back corner underneath a verse of Poe.

While I’m reading the wall, Tom Dillon walks through the door in a white t-shirt, ripped Levi’s and clunky motorcycle boots, duct tape holding the soles and buckles digging canyons into the leather.

 

We make eye contact and time goes all gooey while he walks to his desk, a desk I long to mount. Instead, he climbs atop, the desk, not me, unfortunately, and roars, “I sound my barbaric YAWP over the roofs of the world.”

Ok, maybe I don’t want to fuck him. Maybe he’s just a dork who watched Rebel Without a Cause orEasy Rider one too many times. Maybe he won those boots off an East Side Rider in a back-alley gambling ring. My dad once won a 1969 Jose Ramirez classical guitar in a poker game.

Mr. Dillon pounds his chest, another yawp I presume, but I’m not really sure because I’m no longer listening. I’m watching his mouth, the way it puckers when he comes to the end of a phrase.

He reminds me of a rooster my grandparents once had who used to chase the dogs with his chest puffed out.

“Full of hot air,” my Grandpa used to say before the IRS killed him.

I look around to see if any of the other kids in my class are buying what Mr. Dillon’s selling. Three inky-haired goth girls wiggle their asses in their seats, and the boy next to me wearing a shredded Day-Glo jacket and oversized rhinestone earrings checks out Mr. Dillon’s package.

It is a nice package, I note. Nothing like a dick in Levi’s. I can imagine the boxers underneath. Probably light blue. Maybe striped. I sneak my hand into the cotton hole; feel the steamy warmth, the flesh of the balls, warm and soft, like fresh baked dinner rolls.

“Stop staring,” the boy next to me snaps.

“You’re the one who was staring. I was just trying to figure out what you were staring at.”

He scoots closer. “He’s fucking hot, don’t you think?”

I glance over at Mr. Dillon possessed by the Whitman rant.

“His teeth are kinda small,” I break. I don’t want to be one more groupie.

“You’re fucking crazy,” my Day-Glo pal snipes. “You can’t tell me you’d kick him out of bed.”

“Eh,” I reply, shrugging my shoulders like he’s no big deal.

Mr. Dillon seems enraptured by the poem, but I can’t help wondering what the big fucking deal is with Whitman and why Mr. Dillon seems so moved by him.

Or is he? Maybe he’s just another poser sycophant teacher who wants to ride the clock and fuck all the little girls. He keeps reading:

I think I could turn and live with animals,

They’re so placid and self contain’d,

I stand and look at them long and long

They do not sweat and whine about their condition,

They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins,

They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God…

Though I don’t want to, I love him. His small teeth. His big feet. The way he colors his world with bright hues. The way he smirks when he gets to the end of a stanza.

I’d never loved a teacher before. Some of the girls in junior high were crazy about Mr. Nuggins, but I thought he had a big butt. There were also rumors at my last high school that Mr. Millie raped a student, but then that student was expelled, so I gathered it was all bullshit.

My earliest teachers were nuns with nose hairs and halitosis. Not very fuckable nuns. Not like Julie Andrews or anything. Except Sister Brigettte; she was pretty, even if she didn’t wash her hands all the time. They always smelled of cigars and shrimp.

When I switched to public school after my parents divorced, I spent most of my time practicing my super powers to turn invisible, so I didn’t pay too much attention to my teachers, which worked out great because they didn’t pay too much attention to me, either.

“I heard he’s fucking Amy Wattingen,” my new friend purrs, pulling me out of myself.

“Who’s Amy Wattingen?” I ask, scanning the room of fluttering eyelashes.

Day-Glo examines his navy blue nails for chips. “Oh, she’s in regular English,” whispering the word like it was pedophilia or cancer.

“Is she pretty?” I ask, regretting it immediately. I sound jealous.

I am jealous.

“She’s tall and thin,” he laments, sucking in his cheeks like a New York junkie. “Go ahead and hate her. I do.”

I turn to my book, ashamed of myself. Ashamed that I’m jealous of a girl I don’t know. Ashamed that I love a man I don’t know. Ashamed that at the end of the day I’m just like everyone else, falling for some scruffy boots and a line of poetry. Not like he wrote the goddamned poem. 

I didn’t want to be like everyone else, so I vowed to fall out of love with Mr. Dillon immediately. Love was a choice, and I would simply make another. But as he climbed off his desk, I noticed a small hole in the crotch of his jeans. Though but a fleeting glance, what I saw made time stop and go all gooey again. 

Mr. Dillon wasn’t wearing underwear. No boxers. No briefs. No tighty whities.

Blake me now.

 


While an Asian pro with a rhinestone ass wiggles next to a pot-bellied shooter sporting a runaway moustache at the Bellagio craps table, I wonder what the percentage of self-deluded people there are in the world.

Probably pretty fucking high, I think as I scan the room. At the video poker bar, a bachelorette pops a caplet of X into her mouth as her friends cheer her on. “Scooby Dooby Doo,” she howls at a passing geriatric, then preps a line of coke on her wrist to rev her high.

She catches me watching and smiles. “You wanna line, sugar?”

Mississippi. Maybe Alabama. “No thanks.”

“Delusion is the cornerstone of happiness,” she offers with a snort. “You sure you don’t need a little help? You look too grounded.”

“Thanks. Clean living,” I lie before turning my attention back to the Asian ass wiggler. She turns around and I can see her ridiculous tits falling out of her see-thru lace tank top. Her areolas are the size of eggplants, and I can’t stop staring.

If her tits were planets they’d have their own solar system. A universe of silicone leaching into her bloodstream and killing her that very moment.

“Long as you look good dying,” I imagine her saying between sucks off the pot-bellied shooter’s dick.

The shooter rolls the dice, and I turn away to chase a waitress for a drink. I order a bottle of Fiji water and then mosey over to the craps table to get a better look at those tits. If I can get a peek into that cleavage, maybe I can discern my fate. Like reading tea leaves or chicken bones.

Or crystal balls.

“Yo, yo, yo,” the shooter calls to the dice, but it’s a big zilch for him.

“That all right, Daddy. I fuck you good no how,” Tits says as she smacks him on the ass.

I inch closer to her as a Hadda Brooks song plays: “Need a Little Sugar in my Bowl.” One of my favorites. I squeeze up to the table and make a pass line bet, hoping for a seven or eleven. I had a lot riding on today. More than just a few chips. But it was six o’clock already and the call still hadn’t come.

“Now would be a good time for an eleven,” The Shooter begs as he hops from one foot to another, shaking the dice in his fist. He rolls a twelve. Craps. 

“Come on, baby. Let’s go fuck,” she says, as if she’s asking to go to the store or get an oil change. Well, maybe an oil change is indeed what she’s after.

The Shooter brushes her away. “I’m down 5 g’s, and I ain’t goin nowhere til I get it back.”

The Tits heave a sigh. She knows in the hierarchy of addictions, The Game trumps The Hump. She steps back. She knows her place.

“Mentos?” I ask taking my opportunity.

“Thank you, baby,” she replies as she pops it into her Restylane-riddled mouth.

“Maybe I bad luck,” she worries as she watches The Shooter lose another round.

“I don’t believe in luck,” I offer as I lay a few chips down for another pass line bet.

“Why you in Vegas if you no believe in luck?”

“Because I believe in strategy,” I reply.

“You a player?” she wonders, examining my shoes.

“Nah. I’m here to drive a car back to Texas.”

“You drive cars?” she asks, scratching a mole on her left tit.

She catches me watching again but doesn’t seem to mind.

“Not really.”

“What kind of cars you drive?”

I try to explain, but she cuts me off.

“Ooh,” she coos. “You take me for drive, I fuck you good.”

“Yo, yo, yo,” The Shooter calls as he rolls a two. I double my money.

“Ah, thanks, but I’m straight,” I say.

“Then why you look at my tits? They nice, yes?”

“Yeah. They are,” I reply as I place another bet. “Didn’t mean any disrespect. I just like looking at tits. And well, yours are kinda hard to miss.”

She tosses her head back and laughs, squealing like the first three or four seconds of a tornado siren.

“Long as he losing, no fuck for me. Come on. You buy me ice cream, I show you tits.”

I take my chips off the table. “Ok.”

Thirty minutes later we’re in the bathroom out by the pools and she’s got her shirt raised. A maid changes the garbage, paying us no mind. A drunk tourist washes her face.

“I pay top dollar, yet still small scars. See?” She heaves up her tits to expose two minute scars.Maybe fake tits are part of mankind’s evolutionary process. Maybe these scars become fins and we need the silicone for buoyancy, I wonder as I notice a long hair curling out of her nipple.

“Do you float any better?” I ask as she drops her tits.

They’re denser, I notice when they fail to bounce.

“I no swim,” she says. “Extensions,” she offers, curling a lock around her finger.

I examine her tits for a few minutes longer, but I can’t help feeling disappointed. Nothing had changed. I was the same person. With the same problems. And the same questions. And the phone call still hadn’t come.

“Thanks,” I say as I hand over her ice cream cone. She lowers her shirt and takes the cone. The Vegas wind blows hard, and it reminds me of my dog’s breath after a midday run.

“You wanna go for a ride?” I ask, not really knowing why. Maybe I thought if I preoccupied myself, I wouldn’t notice that the call hadn’t come.

“Ok. Daddy be in there all day.”

She grabs a paper towel and tucks it in her purse.

“We be back by 5?” she asks. “I dress for Noodles tonight.”

Noodles was my favorite restaurant in the hotel. I had planned to eat there tonight as well, but decided to nix that idea. I didn’t want her to think I was some kind of weirdo. Not that it mattered. So why did it?

“No problem,” I reply as we head towards the garage.

I hand the valet my card, and within a few minutes, he returns with my boss’s car, a yellow convertible Maserati Bora.

“Nice car,” she says, and it’s only then that I realize I don’t know her name. But I don’t ask. Somehow, I feel everything will be spoiled if I know her name.

“Where are you from?” I ask instead.

“Phnom Penh. You know?” She gets in the car. 

“Thailand?” I guess.

“Cambodia. But I grew up in Sa Kaew refugee camp.”

I don’t feel like getting heavy, so I just say, “Heavy.”

We make a left out of the garage onto Las Vegas Boulevard into a sea of tourists. I’d like to hit a few with my car, particularly the ones with the blinking margarita glasses, but I decide against it. Not in the mood. Not today. Plus my boss would kill me if I put a scratch on his car.

Tits fondles the radio and finds Usher. Dancing in her seat, she sings, “She said baby let’s go…”

…so I turbo charge the Maserati, almost hitting a Honda on my right.

“Yeah!” she sings over the purr of the engine.

We make our way out of the city and into the quiet of the desert. “Where we go, baby?” she asks, wiggling her ass in the seat, probably scratching the leather with those rhinestones.

“Ever been to Red Rock Canyon?” I ask.

“You sure you no wanna fuck instead?” she asks.

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

My phone rings.

It’s the call.

I smile and let it go to voicemail. Then I grab a celebratory CD from the visor and pop it in the stereo.

Ramones.

Singing, I blast the radio.

“She went away for a holiday

Said she’s going to L.A.

But she never got there

She never got there

She never got there

They say…”

Surprisingly, my Cambodian hooker joins in.

“The KKK took my baby away,

They took my baby away.”

 I turn into Red Rock, and while Joey Ramone laments about his girlfriend, an eagle shoots across the sky.

 “They good luck,” she says, pointing to the sky.

 “Yes. They are.”

As I look across the mojave, it twinkles like my future. 


I’m driving a ’57 Chevy through Brooklyn at four o’clock in the afternoon. The sun beats bullets on the asphalt that pool into mini metal ponds on the horizon. I smell coconut toasting, probably from a sweaty vendor on Flatbush, and I hear a sermon in Spanish coming from a loudspeaker on the sidewalk.

Suddenly, Al Pacino steps into the street. He’s wearing a plaid trench coat, which he opens to remove two machine guns.

He aims at me, so I gun the Chevy. It roars like a steel-toed boot.

I have no choice but to run him over.

So I do.

I can feel the snap of his neck as it smashes into the windshield, then the tha-thud thud thud of his body as it rolls over the roof of my car.

Ssssssssss.

Air deflates somewhere.

I look back. He’s dead. So I drive off.

I go home and burn my robe.

It’s plaid.

I wake up crying. Diane Keaton is on my mind. She loved him so.

Did he love her?

I want to know.

So I go back to sleep.


I decided I was mentally ill when I was seven years old. I had just seen Sally Field in Sybil, and I agreed:

It was all green. And the people!

[Later, when I performed this scene for my acting class at the performing arts high school I attended, much to the chagrin of the real actors there, my teacher, Heloise Jones, insisted I reached octaves only discernable by dogs.]

Everyone always said my dad was crazy, so I assumed that I was, too. Figured it was like inheriting his brown eyes and Cherokee skin. 

With a loco padre lurking around the hacienda, I learned pretty early to hide as much as possible, so I used to spend a lot of time watching television in my dad’s room. Dad had converted the garage into a dance studio, so he spent most of his time out there teaching lonely old women how to foxtrot.

His bedroom was a ghost town during the day, so I’d hide on the floor in between the bed and the wall and watch cable all day, sometimes with the sound off, just to be sure no one would find me.

[It’s no surprise to anyone in my family that I turned out to be a filmmaker.]

Dad got cable before anyone else in our neighborhood. He loved technology and always had to have the biggest and best of everything, whether he could afford it or not.

Usually not.

Sybil was on cable all the time, and it was one of my favorite movies. It was the most honest thing I had ever seen on television. Kermit and Miss Piggy had nothing on Sybil, and Sesame Street was for babies. I was seven, and I was already grown up.

I didn’t feel especially crazy. I didn’t hallucinate or hear voices or scratch myself all over. I didn’t drool or stutter or even fart all that much. But I knew I was crazy nevertheless. Like how people know when they’re poor (which we were, too.)

Problem was, I didn’t know how I was crazy.

Crazy people have designated crazy skills. Sort of like superheroes. Batman has all the cool gadgets. Wonder Woman has the Invisible Plane and Lasso of Truth. Aquaman has badass underwater chops. These skills are specific to the superhero.

It’s like that for crazy people, too. Berkowitz had voices; Frances Farmer had psychotic rage, Woody Allen has…well, he has a lot of things.

My sister’s crazy was a little red diablo named Rage. She used to chase my brother around the kitchen table with a butcher knife when he wouldn’t get up from the piano fast enough so she could practice The Theme from E.T. before her next piano class. My brother tended to hog the piano, and he didn’t take either of us girls very seriously, which further infuriated Sister.

The first night she broke out the butcher knife, I let her off the hook and didn’t tell Mom. After all, no blood was shed. By the third time, I told Mom I thought Sister should be put in an insane asylum. I knew it was only a matter of time before someone lost a limb. Probably my brother. Mom thought I was being funny.

I wasn’t.

In elementary school, the principal could always discern the fighting climate by the placement of my sister’s shirtsleeves. Rolled up: there was big trouble brewing. Rolled down: smooth waters.

My brother’s crazy was pretty easy to identify, too. He played the piano for monster stretches at a time. On the weekends, he practiced up to eight or ten hours at a time; hence my sister’s predilection for butcher knives.

My brother had the piano, and my sister had her knives.

What about me?

Sometimes, I’d feel like that little bird from that kid’s book, “Are You My Mother?”

“Are you my crazy? What about you? How bout you?”  I’d wonder as I ate my meals one section at a time, hopped over sidewalk cracks, or reorganized the kitchen cupboards at midnight.

Soon however, the anxiety over finding my brand of crazy was usurped by the fear of getting my ass kicked by one of the neighborhood girls, usually Cora Rodriguez.

Cora and the rest of the girls hated me because one night, I made out with Cora’s older brother Max behind the skating rink. Apparently, he had a girlfriend he forgot to disclose.

When all the other guys at school were wearing skintight Jordache jeans or those ridiculous parachute pants, Max wore baggy Levi’s with holes in the knees. He drove a 1969 Plymouth Barracuda, and he smelled like bacon, maple syrup and marijuana, an intoxicating combination, I assure you.

If we had been making out in his car, I’m sure I would have given him my virginity. To this day, I spread for Mopar. But on that particular evening, his car was in the shop getting new brake pads, so he had to settle for third base.

(I did eventually lose my virginity in a 67 Camaro to Max’s good friend Diego.)

But on that pivotal evening, behind that broken down skating rink, underneath a sycamore tree that flanked a field of fertile corn, I made out with the most popular, most beautiful, most badass guy at the high school. It was all too Sixteen Candles.

And just as all movies come to an end, so did my affair with Max. By the next morning, it was all over my junior high school as well as the high school. I was officially branded a slut, and therefore guaranteed an ass whipping.

As I played pick-up sticks by the flagpole, trying to pretend I didn’t hear the whispers, Cora and her minions jumped me. They jumped me again at morning recess, stole my lunch, followed me home, whipped me in my own yard, and then scattered like chickens when my little sister came to the door.

This was my routine for the next three months.

Then one night, I sat down at the piano to practice Bach. I had a concert coming up, and I was working on Invention #13. It wasn’t coming along. In fact, had Heloise Jones heard my rendition, it would have hurt her ears, too. My fingers stumbled for the notes. Tripped on the tones. I’m sure our dogs were barking.

Brother dashed into the room. Sister gave chase, waving a butcher knife over her head.

“Don’t think I won’t do it,” Sister yelled.

“I know you will!” Brother replied as he darted through the swinging door then dodged into the den.

“Just stop it,” I screamed. “Just stop it!” Neither of them gave pause to notice me. Around and around they went like Tom and Jerry.

And that’s when it hit me like a golf bag full of lightning bolts. Sitting there at the piano, screaming as loudly as possible for the madness to stop and banging on the keys like a lunatic toddler, I realized they couldn’t see me, hear me or even smell me. I was invisible. And I thought that was way cooler than being crazy.

I figured it must somehow be related to Evolution, like I had learned about on cable. According to this program, over time, the more an animal needs a certain trait to survive, the more likely it is that Evolution will grant the request. Like a fairy godmother, Evolution had bestowed upon me a special power, not unlike that of the cuttlefish. To protect against predators, cuttlefish can alter their skin color at will. Because of this evolutionary gift, it has survived for eons.

Maybe I could be like that. Like the cuttlefish – an ever-changing ebb and flow of translucent colors. Maybe if I practiced being invisible and got really good at it, I could survive junior high school and Cora Rodriguez. 

Maybe I could survive Dad, too.

It would mean hours of dedicated practice. I’d hide in my room or by the side of my dad’s bed and work on it for hours, usually while Sybil was playing. I’d get super quiet, and I’d close my eyes and imagine the cuttlefish, its shifting colors, its three hearts pumping turquoise blood to its nether corners, willing a disappearance.

I knew there were Buddhist monks who could change their body temperature through meditation, so I’d practice all the time. I just knew if I trained hard enough, I could harness my power and use it to protect myself.

My training ended one spring morning when Cora Rodriguez and her cohorts ambushed me in an alley of blooming dogwood trees on my way to school. Cora pushed me to the ground. I fell into a pool of pink petals. For a few suspended moments, I watched her laughing, until I remembered my special power.

I’d show her.

I closed my eyes, centered my breathing, and summoned the cuttlefish.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp bite, like a cold snake snapping his fangs into me. It was working! The transformation was painful, but it was working!

When I opened my eyes, Cora stood with a knife in her hand, blood dripping onto the spent dogwood blooms. It took me a few moments to realize that the blood was mine. I reached down to the side of my belly where I felt the wind cooling my insides. My shirt was ripped. I lifted it and saw the wound, milky blood and bones.

“Hey!” I said, then burst into tears, probably because I couldn’t think of anything clever to say.

Cora and her friends howled then scampered off when a burgundy Crown Victoria turned into the alley. I stumbled to my feet, and I noticed it was Mr. Ruper, the retired mechanic who lived on the corner with five Chihuahuas. Sometimes I took him extra blackberries when we came back from the country. I inched a step towards him, my bloody palm held up.

But Mr. Ruper didn’t stop. He didn’t even wave.

Mr. Ruper hadn’t even seen me.

“Fine time for my special power to work,” I thought, then stumbled home, cleaned my wound with mercurochrome, and taped my stomach back together with a box of Scooby Doo band aides.

That night, Brother and Sister played Scrabble while I watched “Love Boat.”

The following weekend, I moved in with my grandparents on the other side of the lake, though that was not the last time I would tangle with Cora Rodriguez or turn invisible.

But it was the last time I ever saw Max.

 


 

If Mom were a superhero, she would be The Piddler.

When she needs to wash her hands, she’ll look through coupons first. If she needs to pick up the dry cleaning, she’ll stop at the antique store on the way. And when she needs to go to work, she’ll watch a rerun of Ab Fab, then show up half an hour late claiming, “Traffic was just awful today,” which, turns out, is every day.

I’d like to say that old age is responsible for this poking trait, but Mom’s always been a world class stoner without the weed.

When I was a Sid-and-Marty-Kroft kid, we’d always roll into church during the second hymn. I can still recall Birdie Cullen’s glass eye popping over to sneer at us as we inched down the red carpet to an open pew in the front (always in the front!) while the congregation sang “Holy, Holy, Holy” completely off key.

[Church was where I first realized that God hated me, but we’ll get to that later.]

My sister, clever mother of five beautiful children whom she manages with aplomb via color coated folders and spreadsheets, often gives my mom the incorrect time for family functions so that mom is sure to arrive on time.

“I gave her an extra hour,” my sister huffs as she opens the door for Mom who is now thirty minutes late for the event (an hour and a half if you go by the time she was told to be there.)

My brother, a staunch Libertarian who spends most of his Saturdays cooking tenderloin on his Smith and Hawken grill while wearing his sherpa-lined Crocs, bellows to his Belarusian wife, “Expecting her to be on time is like expecting Bill Maher not to cuss. Ain’t gonna fucking happen. Have a radish, monkey?”

“Thank you, Puffin,” she coos before turning to adjust a place setting, most likely from Williams-Sonoma.

They make me sick with their love.

But I’m happy for him.

Really.

One time, The Piddler made us late for a funeral.

Somebody’s uncle had died, and we never missed a funeral. They served bar-b-q beenie weenies afterwards, usually with cellophane toothpicks.

On this occasion, we made our way down the red carpet to a pew near the front (of course), right behind the weeping mistress who outed herself that day.

She was the widow’s best friend.

There was a slapping fight in the lobby afterwards. The wife lost her wig. The mistress lost her dignity. I permanently lost my appetite for beanie weenies.

[Why do friends fuck each other’s husbands?]

[Why do Protestant churches all seem to have red carpet? Isn’t red the color of Satan? And whores? And fire? I contend there is evil envy in the church, but we’ll get to that later, too.]

(So many questions, so few acid trips.)

Once again we had to pass Birdie Cullen, always a fixture at any church function, which included funerals, weddings, baptisms and bingo.

Birdie’s face never moved whenever we passed her. She would be transfixed on the pulpit, seemingly entrenched in the pastor’s words, but then that glass eye would whip around to find us, like the Weirding Way fighter training module in David Lynch’s Dune; and boy, could that eye shoot daggers faster than a pissed off carnie.

It was just a matter of time before Birdie’s eye started killing. Of this I was sure.

“Don’t stare,” The Piddler reprimanded, then waved to the church organist, Randy Butterman, the first closeted gay man I ever met.

(Mom and Dad were professional dancers, so I only knew the braggart kind.)

Incidentally, we were late for the funeral because The Piddler wanted to deadhead her geraniums.

Another time, The Piddler made me late for a concert I was supposed to play in high school. I was fourteen, an especially sensitive age.

We arrived at the auditorium fifteen minutes late (in retrospect, not too bad for The Piddler) because Mom wanted to make a quick stop at the drug store to get a new pair of pantyhose since the ones she had on had a run. Unfortunately, it was Sunday and The Blue Law forbade her from buying pantyhose on Sunday.

[You were also forbidden from buying washing machines or frying pans, which I found ironic since most religions like to keep their women cooking and cleaning, preferably barefoot where I’m from. The Blue Law seemed counterproductive. But life is full of these wonderful paradoxes.]

Though Mom was a practicing Presbyterian, she didn’t conform to a lot of religious hoopla, especially if it meant she had to go anywhere with a run in her stockings. After a meaningless but heated conversation with the pimple-faced clerk, she left without a new pair of nylons but did manage to procure a new romance novel, which she read at all the stoplights on the way to the concert, much to the chagrin of neighboring drivers.

When we finally arrived at the concert hall, the orchestra was already deep into the Summermovement of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, and I had to creep through the violas during the simulated thunderstorm.

To add fuel to the fire, The Piddler kept snapping my picture as Sammy Black, my super duper badass crush, watched me stumble with my cello through a maze of moving elbows. Flash after flare, The Piddler seemed to capture every nanosecond of this bright red moment. At least the flash was in time with the music, and it did add to the stormy atmosphere of the movement.

When I finally arrived at my chair, my nemesis, Sandy Ween, grumbled, “Figures.”

I jabbed her in the head with my bow.

The Piddler snapped a picture.

Later that evening, I asked The Piddler, “When will you develop the film?” I wanted to relive my magnum opus with Sandy Ween over again.

“You know what’s funny?”

“What?” I replied.

“I completely forgot to put film in the camera.”

Figures.