When in April, and it hasn’t yet rained,
And the drought of March has again sustained
Another year of our eternal spring;
Then old Santa Ana begins to sing
That fiery yet most familiar tune
How Los Angeles always feels like June:
Smoggy skies in this endless summer day;
Our seasons change by the sports that we play
(The boys of summer always dodge the fall,
So it’s a good thing we have basketball,
Because our Rams and Raiders sneaked away,
And the Kings make our winters cold and gray
Till the madness marches throughout the spring
And the Bruins and Trojans do their thing.)
Not that we all pay attention too much.
In L.A. we’re pretty well out of touch
From one community to the other:
Neighbors are strangers to one another!
The Westside is busy running the store,
And the Eastside is the Westside’s eyesore;
The South is the center of civil war ‘Tween the L.A. cops and the gangland poor;
The North is a place I can’t say much about;
Whenever I go there I get kicked out…
But none of this serves the matter at hand.
This prologue’s more what the scholars demand:
Setting the meter and framing the poem;
This part is not for you readers at home.
That having been said, I’ll really begin
With names and descriptions of all the men
And the one woman involved in this tale;
And I’ll start with Leo, the oldest male.
But first I should probably set the scene:
The seven of us, uniformed in green,
All worked at the Downtown Holiday Inn
On the graveyard shift (which started at ten
And ended at eight the following day:
Eight bucks an hour ((no overtime pay!))
From that cheap bastard Donald Brubury
Of Brubury Sons’ Security).
Leo Kapitanski, a Russian Jew,
Was in charge of our security crew.
A handsome man, for his age, I suppose,
Despite his large, disproportionate nose.
His jaw chiseled sharp, like some crime noir dick;
His muscular body, solid and thick,
Combined to create a masculine air,
Virile and strong as his full head of hair.
But Leo had hands like a woman might:
Small fingers, thin, with skin as smooth and tight
As the hide of a bongo drum from Spain.
Perhaps his hands had been shrunk by the rain
That slipped like tears from Red Mother’s sockets,
Years spent patrolling, hands in his pockets,
Smoking and drinking to try and stay warm.
Eight years in the army with little harm,
Thank God, because he was the best of men.
May I never see my mother again
If, indeed, I am not telling the truth.
So what if he cheated on his wife Ruth?
After all, none of us is without sin.
(If I’m wrong let the rock-throwing begin!)
And Leo’s no different in that regard,
But he was one fine security guard.
Second in command was Alex Loma
Who spent his shifts in a sort of coma,
Sleeping from midnight ’til seven thirty,
Snoring and drooling, it wasn’t pretty.
But he had another job on the side,
Which is why most of us just let it slide
And never complained or molested him.
Besides, most of the guys detested him
And preferred that he spent his time asleep:
Alex Loma was a huge macho creep!
An ounce of steak to a pound of pure fat,
And that’s all I’m going to speak of that.
John Shamburger’s next, a man without shame.
Shamburger, he said, was just a slave name
Imposed upon his shackled ancestors
By white American Dream investors
Who killed the Natives and enslaved the blacks
And then built this country upon their backs.
Shamburger had taken classes at school
That spoke of the acres and of the mule
Promised to families allegedly freed
When Northern guilt beat out Southern greed.
Bitterness bubbled and shot through his veins
And started to eat away at his brain: “It’s because I’m black,” his favorite phrase,
He’d pull the race card at every phase
Of an argument that he was losing.
His credibility took a bruising
With all of the time and energy spent
On trying to prove O.J. innocent.
We argued for so many months on end,
And not even once did he break or bend.
But, I must admit, I admired him.
The fire inside that inspired him
Made him always look outside of the box.
And although he seemed stubborn, made of rocks,
He’s one of the best men I ever knew.
Over the years I watched him as he grew.
He’s a volunteer mentor in the hood,
In Hawthorne, and Compton and Inglewood;
He doesn’t drink, smoke or use any drugs;
He preaches to pimps and dealers and thugs
The word of the book he keeps by his bed.
John promised me that before he was dead
He will have made the world a better place,
And I watched as a tear slipped down his face
And I knew right then he already had.
But, before this tale gets too sappy or sad
I’ll get back to John Shamburger later
And move things ahead to Joseph Dator,
The next of our group in seniority
(Not that rank is a real priority,
It’s more a practical way to proceed);
And Joe Dator was practical indeed.
Economic with words and with feeling,
Oft he’d sit and stare up at the ceiling,
Leaning way back in the chair provided.
Rarely ever did he get excited.
Born near Manila circa ’63,
Joseph dreamed of the land of liberty;
But, now, apparently, he was content:
He had enough money to pay the rent,
He had a car and a nice place to live,
And a li’l something leftover to give
To his local church, once in a while.
(A gift he gave with a wink and a smile.)
Joe once was a serious Catholic,
Right up to the day his father got sick
And died slowly of cystic fibrosis.
Joe’s faith suffered his father’s prognosis,
And like many now, he questioned a God
Who unsparingly failed to spare the rod
On the good and loyal sheep of the flock,
While the black sheep’s profits, barrel and stock,
Piled up like the Amuvoa Mountain.
For Joe it was more coins tossed in a fountain,
A deposit for a seat in Heaven.
Joe’s wife worked at the 7-11
Part-time, on the weekends, to make ends meet,
Pretty, young, and apparently sweet.
She cooked like his mom back in Malolos
She spoke English, Spanish and Tegalog.
She let Joe get his sleep, during the day,
And Joe rarely had anything mean to say
Of his wife or of their life together.
For Joe’s life was the smoothest of weather.
But Joe did have kind of a darker side.
He once beat a man near death who had tried
To proposition him in a sexual way.
Joe knew some Judo and some karate
And used all that he could to clock the man.
If there was a God, then it wasn’t His plan,
Joe felt, to create “that type” of creature.
This, by far, was his ugliest feature,
Which I’ve included for your benefit
With all the details I feel best befit
A fair and worthy portrait of my friends.
(The means, if you will, justify the ends).
My loyalty to them does not affect
How I describe them now in retrospect,
Which is how I must describe myself next.
It’s only fair, as I’m part of this text.
J.T. is the name, and though I’m the bard,
I’m suddenly finding it very hard
To speak of myself as I did my peers.
Perhaps if I had a couple of beers
I might be able to figure things out.
Not that alcohol’s what I’m all about,
It’s just that I’ve put myself in a jam,
For now, it seems, I don’t know who I am.
All in all, I’d say I’m a decent guy.
Although, I have been known to tell a lie
Or two (to the ladies) from time to time.
But is that an unforgivable crime?
It’s not like these girls just give it away,
Hell, most won’t give me the time of the day. …One must work to catch the girl of his
When he’s short and round like a Krispy Kreme’s.
Girls have said I don’t communicate well,
That I lock things inside and never tell
Them the things that they need (or want) to hear.
“Waitress! Come on! Hurry up with that beer!”
But is that my failure or is it theirs?
By trying to change circles into squares,
Aren’t they being a little unfair?
(As if their shapes are beyond all repair!)
I should probably mention my family.
After all, they are a huge part of me.
At least once a week we get together
And over lunch we discuss if whether
Or not the films we’d watched had done their jobs.
One might say we’re a family of snobs
By the intense way we dissect a work,
But this freedom we share is the best perk
Of our weekly Family Day routine
In which any censorship is obscene.
But, is it unnatural, to these ends,
To have one’s parents as his best friends?
I’ll leave that question to another bard,
And return to my own L.A. backyard
Where, for years, I’ve been a security guard.
UCLA full-time is really hard
When you work the graveyard from ten to eight,
But I wasn’t the only of this fate.
Rolla Amin, was also a student
From Iraq, no less, where it wasn’t prudent
For a woman to be educated.
This out-dated practice proved ill-fated
When Rolla, accepted to USC,
Would pursue a Women’s Studies Degree.
I first met Rolla on a Downtown train
(Because my car was in the shop again.)
The train car was empty, and I was beat,
And, instead of choosing an empty seat,
She walked over and sat down next to me.
“Excuse you,” I said, and I turned to see
This beautiful girl in a burgundy
And yellow colored (Trojan) V-neck Tee.
“I’m Rolla,” she sang, in lyrical prose,
And, normally, I’d have turned up my nose
At the sight of such obvious bad taste,
— After all, SC is for pantywaist.
But Rolla was different, she smelled so good,
Like chocolate, jasmine and sandalwood,
So I apologized and looked away.
She spoke after that, but I couldn’t say
Exactly what it was she spoke about.
She gave me her number, and we went out
A couple times but, before I knew it,
Too scared to kiss her, I really blew it,
Winding up in the “friend” category
— Which wasn’t the worst part of the story —
Because, like some schmo, I played the friend part
And gave her college career a jumpstart
By getting her a job at the hotel.
And, sure, working the graveyard shift is hell,
But it also offers time to study,
Hours of quiet time with her buddy:
Me, J.T. Glass, the pathetic coward.
It wasn’t long before my feelings soured
For pretty Rolla, my platonic friend
— Which finally brings this list near the end
As there is one last guard for you to meet,
A funny little dude nicknamed “The Feet”.
His mother named him Darrin Arita
Born in a taxi cab in Reseda
On her way to the hospital that day.
As a child The Feet had started to play
The piano, he said, when he was three:
The Feet swore that he was a prodigy.
He allegedly went to special schools
Which maximized all the God-given tools
That constructed his superior mind.
A bigger liar would be tough to find
Than my good friend and coworker The Feet,
But a nicer guy you may never meet.
Both the youngest and shortest of our group,
The Feet was often left out of the loop
Like an annoying-little-brother type.
Often he’d brag about laying the pipe
To a few of the hot cleaning ladies
(Hispanic women he called his “babies”
Who he had never even spoken to).
His raunchy stories were vivid and blue,
— Obvious lies, but so entertaining —
Which only Rolla was left complaining
About the unlikelihood of it all.
She deemed these story sessions: “Sausage Ball”
In which gleeful yahoos, awash in muck,
Threw crap on the wall to see if it stuck.
But, I couldn’t blame The Feet for trying.
His ticket in, was his gift for lying.
Without it, The Feet was simply ignored,
Except when the guys, rolling on the floor,
Would laugh and tease him about his huge feet,
Which resembled two ham hocks, fat with meat
— A feature which highly colored his lies,
As such was a trait that caught women’s eyes.
But The Feet was plain old Darrin to me.
Often, on patrols, he would let me see
All of his colors, and not just the blue
He seemed to paint for the rest of the crew.
Life was a struggle which would never ease
Being unsuccessfully Japanese:
He was a runt with big ole hooves for feet.
He slurred his race in ways I won’t repeat.
His culture, ingrained with honor and pride,
Made failure’s only virtue suicide;
Thoughts (seemingly haunting him every day)
Of just giving up and slipping away.
We were kindred spirits — I know this now,
Though I’m not sure why and I’m not sure how.
He just wanted to know that he’d be fine;
He showed me his scars, and I showed him mine.
But, no more of this sad and sorry stuff.
Of these descriptions I have said enough
For a common portrait of those akin
To the tale of which, at last, I’ll begin.

The Brubury Tales is your first book. What’s it about?

The Brubury Tales is a modern version of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales set in Los Angeles just after the riots. Instead of pilgrims, The Brubury Tales follows 7 security guards on the graveyard shift, who agree to have a storytelling competition to determine vacation time. That is, whoever tells the best story receives the best vacation days, the week from Christmas to New Year’s Eve.

The judge of the competition is the narrator, J.T. Glass, an English major at UCLA who describes the events and some 13 stories (“word for word” ) that are told throughout the night. The stories themselves (based on classic writers’ works) are funny, sad, serious, political, romantic, religious, literary, satirical and downright dirty pieces that explore family, love, religion, race, marriage, government, education, sex and most importantly, friendship and our responsibilities to one another.

Why did it take so long to write?

I never expected or even planned to write a book like The Brubury Tales, and I never imagined that would take almost 8 years to complete. The whole thing started as a personal challenge. I only wanted to write the General Prologue as a kind of homage to Chaucer and his classic work. But my General Prologue won some awards, was published by Indiana University and started to get some serious attention. So I ended working with a Chaucer expert at UCLA on a special class designed just for this project. At the same time I was also working with Carolyn See, my mentor, who encouraged me to finish the book.

But still. Why did it take so long to finish it?

Well, The Brubury Tales, like The Canterbury Tales, is written entirely in rhyming verse. That’s 233 pages or 65,000 words (8,000 lines) – a full-length novel written entirely in rhyming poetry. I also paid special attention to make the poetry fun and accessible, just like Chaucer’s. If I was going to ask readers to read 233 pages, I wanted to make sure the poetry (while challenging thematically) was easily understood and enjoyed – unlike a lot of today’s poetry, which can be challenging and difficult to understand without the help of a professor or expert.

What if the readers have never read or even heard of Chaucer or The Canterbury Tales?

Since this is a modern version of Chaucer’s story, readers do not need to have read the original to enjoy The Brubury Tales. For those who have, however, there are hundreds of references in the Brubury Tales that you may enjoy discovering throughout the text that link back to the original and other classic works. Hopefully, my book will inspire readers to return to or check out Chaucer for the first time.

Where is your book available?

The Brubury Tales is available in paperback and eBook at Amazon, Barnes & Noble.com, Borders.com.

Besides Chaucer, who are some of your favorite writers?

My top ten right now would probably be: John Fante, Charles Bukowski, Carolyn See, Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, Knut Hamsun, Dostoevsky, Dickens, Pushkin, Salinger.

What new projects are you working on?

My next book will be a collection of the short stories I’ve had published over the years while writing The Brubury Tales.

What else do you do when you’re not writing poetry or short stories?

I’m a technical writer (financial writing), and I’ve been a book reviewer and author interviewer for many years. I guess most of my time is spent writing, reading or writing about what I’ve read.

Really? Who are some of the authors you have interviewed?

Some of my favorite author interviews are: T.C. Boyle, Lev Grossman, Lisa See, Charlaine Harris, Elif Shafak, Cristina Garcia, Paul Levine, Rafe Esquith, Robert Dugoni, Seth Harwood and Gint Aras.

What authors would you like to interview?

Right now, I’d say the top five are Junot Diaz, Terry McMillan, Christopher Moore, Cormac McCarthy and President Obama.