The Art of Vibration

I am burnt sand,

unformed and

dropped

on your bed. You amplify

me like a speaker. I shiver

into

almost disastrous

forms

and

angles. Pushed to the e

d

g

e,

I am sure I will break

at first touch. Preparing myself

for the punctuation

of f

a

l
l
i
n
g, I find I have

a better grip, a stronger foundation

than either of us imagined.
© 2014 A.J. Huffman

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Filed under Poetry

OVERCOMING INERTIA

It occurred to me, as I gasped for breath, that there were worse places to die than on a cliff in Acadia National Park (Detroit, for example). I staggered up the steep, rock-strewn path, grabbing every possible branch for support and, just when I thought I could not go on, the sky opened up like a giant blue parachute. With one last heave, I stumbled forward and collapsed. I lay splayed on my back, staring into the wild blue yonder, certain my husband would find me dead. Yet in my stupor, I heard birds twitter in the lofty trees and waves batter Maine’s rocky shoreline. I tasted the salty breeze that teased my curly, sweaty and tangled hair. I heard a tour bus grind its way up the winding mountain road, and smelled the toxic fumes spewed in its wake.

It was surreal.

As it turned out, that June day in 2013 was not my day to die—although, as far as near-death experiences go, I’d give it a solid nine. I’ve read about people who had near-death experiences, and some of them said, “My life flashed before my eyes.” I get that, because as I lay sprawled in the dirt, inhaling the lingering bus exhaust, a slide show of my own life flickered through my head. Regrets rose up like spirits from ancient graves. I should never have married that chef in Minneapolis. I should have finished college or joined the Peace Corps. I should have square-danced more, protested more, risked more. Biggest regret—I should have exercised more. Uncle Joe—God rest his soul—had been right. It’s hell to get old.

I’ve never been fond of exercise, although I love to be outdoors. My life-long theory has been that if I wasn’t overweight, I didn’t need to exercise. My rationale was based on the Federal Government’s height/weight ratio charts, like the ones taped to the wall in the nurse’s office of my junior high school. Accordingly, I’ve never been overweight. The day I confronted Uncle Joe’s truth on that cliff in Maine, however, I was so far removed from my junior high school days that I was staring down eligibility for Social Security benefits. It occurred to me that perhaps my theory was outdated.

As I struggled to breathe, chastising myself for years of inertia, I heard plodding footsteps on the path. I sat up and saw my husband, Michael, trudge into view. He was hunched beneath the burden of a 30-pound camera bag strapped to his back and another one of similar weight slung over his left shoulder. He balanced his tripod, with a camera mount the size of a bowling ball, on his right shoulder. In the tradition of “old masters” of landscape photography, like Ansel Adams and Edward Weston, Michael shoots film with old-school cameras most people have never heard of. I marveled at his ability to tote that load up such a steep incline (he and I are the same age), as well as his dedication to such an archaic art form.

Earlier that morning, I had set up the tripod for him and then hiked on to the summit, leaving him to assemble his equipment and shoot a photo of the coastline. Now I watched him struggle up the path, bent like a boomerang beneath the weight of his gear, and even in my misery, I felt a twinge of guilt—I usually schlepped the tripod. But perhaps it’s just as well I had been unencumbered by the top-heavy tripod on such a steep ascent. Things could have turned out worse. I could be dead.

When at last he reached the summit, Michael eased the tripod and his camera bags to the ground. He sat down beside me, expelled a deep sigh, and pushed his black, George Burns-style glasses back up on his nose. His breathing was labored but steady. He, unlike me, works out at the gym. I, of course, was still gasping.

Observing my distress, he put an arm around my shoulder and said, “Are you okay honey?”

“I…might…need…resuscitation,” I managed to say.

I tried to breathe deeply while Michael looked at me with pity. He knelt behind me and massaged my shoulders.

“You’re trying too hard,” he said. “Relax.”

I leaned into him and closed my eyes. “O…kay. But I don’t…know if…I can…go on.”

“Sure you can,” he said. He gave me a fond little pat on my shoulder and planted a kiss on the top of my head. “We’ll sit here until you’ve recuperated. You’re just a little out of shape. A few more days of this and you’ll be ready to climb Mt. Everest.”

He was so wrong. By the end of our vacation, my body felt like it had been run through the wringer of the old washing machine that used to sit, hobgoblin-like, in a corner of Granny’s back porch. I popped Advil like M&M’s and drank a copious amount of beer, having discovered in the course of our evening pub crawls that beer is an excellent muscle relaxer.

As we sat in a Bar Harbor tavern one night, Michael said, “Promise me you’ll lay off the drugs and alcohol when we get back home.”

“I promise. I’m also going to start an exercise program.”

We clinked our beer bottles together.

When we returned to Savannah, the reality of keeping my promise set in, and I recalled why I had avoided regular exercise in the past—I hate to exercise. Nonetheless, I moved forward with my plan. I joined Curves. The Curves program is an exercise circuit on which the exerciser alternates the use of hydraulic strength training machines with in-place low-impact aerobics. It is not all that strenuous. Curves should have been perfect for me. But after a few weeks I got bored and dropped out.

I contemplated other types of exercise. I confess, my heart was not in it. I still wanted an easy route to better health. I realize there is no such thing, but I had not yet come to terms with that reality. It was not helpful that I have a long history of avoiding physical activity. In fact, my aversion for breaking a sweat goes all the way back to my senior year in high school.

The gym teacher, Mrs. Bute (pronounced “booty,” appropriately, as I recall), caught Betsy Butler and me hiding out in the girls’ locker room during gym class. We were supposed to be outside playing field hockey. I’ll never forget the smirk on her face as she marched us back out to the field where she made us play midfielder positions—the ones that do the most running. Of course all that running ruined our Nancy Sinatra hairdos and, as if that was not punishment enough, she gave us an F on the last report card of our senior year.

I was in dire need of some guidance, so I asked a friend if she could recommend a good form of moderate exercise.

“Try Pilates,” she said. “It doesn’t involve a lot of vigorous movement.” She had heard my field hockey story.

Taking her advice, I found a Pilates studio in my neighborhood and stopped by one day to check it out. I opened the door and found two young women stretched out on mats in impossible positions. Contraptions along one wall resembled guillotines. The women seemed startled by my appearance, as if I had just landed a flying saucer in the parking lot. They gathered their wits, however, and came over to greet me. I told them about my disastrous experience in Maine, and asked them if they could help me get in shape so I could go hiking without the need for a portable oxygen canister. The young women assured me that Pilates would be my salvation.

Everything sounded good until we discussed class times. Classes were either early in the morning (I’m retired, I don’t get up early) or right after work (I don’t go to work, I go to happy hour). I said I would get back to them.

How was a person like me, whose last regular exercise had been in high school gym class, supposed to overcome inertia? I came of age during the Vietnam War, women’s lib, and Woodstock. Exercise was just not part of the ‘60s and ‘70s culture. If I wasn’t protesting something, I was getting high on something. I didn’t know one person in those days who exercised for fun, much less for health benefits. Besides, gym memberships weren’t even invented yet, unless you were into boxing.

By the 1980s, however, a physical fitness craze swept through America, thanks in part to Jane Fonda’s exercise videos. Women were buying leg warmers and exercise outfits and mimicking Jane in front of their TVs every night. I, however, had not forgiven her for her traitorous support of the North Vietnamese at the height of the war, and refused to buy into her reincarnation as a self-proclaimed exercise guru. I continued my indolent ways.

Now, at long last, I’m ready to get healthy so I can go hiking with my husband. I’m not talking about hiking the Appalachian Trail—which is 2,100 miles long—but I am inspired by that notion. I recently read A Walk in the Woods, Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson. I think Bill and I have a lot in common concerning our attitude about exercise, except that he reformed and actually did hike the AT. When giving serious consideration to such an arduous undertaking, he concluded that, “It would get me fit after years of waddlesome sloth.” I knew just how he felt.

Motivated by Bill’s trek through the wilderness, I began walking the 1.5 mile trail around the lake near our house. The trick was to time my walk before the blistering Georgia sun rose too high, and before the odious gnats that plague us here on the coast began to swarm. Walking the lake’s shoreline was tolerable, even enjoyable, but I knew I needed something more—something that would engage more body parts than just my legs—but what?

A true southern gentleman, Michael tried to help. He convinced me to go to the gym with him three mornings a week. Because Michael’s intentions were good, I rose zombie-like at 6 AM, swilled down a cup of coffee, and arrived at the gym by 7 AM, three days a week. It was grueling. I thought perhaps Pilates would have been a better choice. But I love my well-meaning husband, so I persevered—until I injured my shoulder on the weight-lifting equipment.

I won’t lie. It was a relief to have an excuse to quit. I hated the gym, and not just because the workout made me break a sweat, although there was that. My main aversion to the gym was psychological. Savannah is a military town, and the gym was patronized by men and women in the armed forces—and let me just interject—for whom I have the greatest admiration and respect. However, not only were they all military-fit, almost all of them were at least two generations younger than me. I felt like Grandma Moses. I had to start seeing a shrink.

My quest for the perfect exercise continued. In the garage, Michael resurrected the bicycle pump from beneath an avalanche of old garden hoses and fluffy pink insulation and inflated my bicycle tires. I like riding my bike—in cool weather. By this time it was August. In Savannah the heat is as thick as jelly. Michael hoisted my bike back up to its hook on the garage ceiling.

Against my better judgment, I tried Zumba. I didn’t last long. Halfway through the first class, hot stabbing needles of pain shot through my knees and I was sent hobbling to the sidelines—yet another discouraging reminder of Uncle Joe’s proclamation.

Then one day during happy hour, one of our friends, we’ll call him Georgio, said he had recently taken up yoga and had been encouraged to stand on his head in the first class. I was speechless. I had not realized that Georgio was a stand-on-your-head kind of guy. Besides, he isn’t much younger than I am. His wife, we’ll call her Claudia, said she also did yoga and that it had done wonders for her flexibility and strength. I was intrigued, but I was not about to be pressured to stand on my head.

I found a power yoga studio online that advertised “silver” yoga classes which, to me, translated to “senior,” which equated to “easy.” The word “power” puzzled me, but I thought it was a reference to yoga making one feel powerful. Also, the website specified that they did not turn on the heat during silver yoga. It was still August. In hindsight, I should have asked some questions. Instead, I bought myself some yoga pants and headed over for the next silver yoga class.

Indeed, the heat was not on, but neither was the air conditioning, although ceiling fans whirred at top speed. Several young women strolled in, as well as a few “silvers,” and even a couple of men, one of whom, to my amazement, proceeded to stand on his head. I was stoked, but I did say a prayer that a headstand would not be required. I rolled out my mat and psyched myself up for an hour of revitalizing stretching.

I thought I was going to die. Who knew yoga could be so strenuous?

I don’t remember much about that class. It’s all a blur. I do know that it was hard. I had not expected yoga to be hard. Just as I was about to faint, we went into cool-down mode. By then, I felt like I was on life-support. As we lay on our backs breathing deeply, the instructor handed each of us a cold, damp cloth. I could have put an oxygen mask to better use. I lay on my mat, catatonic. Time passed—I might have passed out. At some point I realized that everyone was putting their gear away. I staggered to my feet, rolled up my mat, shoved it onto the shelf, and stumbled outside into the sweltering heat.

In the car I collapsed and turned the air conditioning to the arctic setting. The cold air revived me and, to my surprise, a feeling of triumph crept over me. I had pushed myself through to the end of the class (no headstand), and no one had to call the EMTs. I decided I wasn’t quite ready to give up on yoga. One thing was certain, however—I had to find a yoga studio with air conditioning.

This time I did my research. I found a studio that advertised the “mind, body, and spirit” benefits of yoga. I liked the holistic sound of that. I called the instructor, I’ll call her Jen, and had an informative conversation with her. It went something like this:

“Is your studio air-conditioned?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Do you turn it on?”

“Of course.”

“What’s the temperature?”

“Whatever temperature is comfortable for you.”

“Is it power yoga?”

“No, I teach Eastern yoga.”

“How is that different from power yoga?”

“Let me put it this way, the word ‘power’ has no business being placed next to the word ‘yoga.’ Yoga is not boot camp.”

“So I don’t have to stand on my head?”

“Absolutely not.”

“How large are your classes?”

“I teach private instruction.”

“Sign me up,” I said. If I passed out, she would be the only witness.

Eastern yoga turned out to be just what I needed to complement my nature walks, but it’s not easy. Even so (and I cannot believe I’m saying this), I enjoy pushing myself a little farther each day. I feel stronger and my joints are more limber. I even have more confidence. It also beats playing field hockey.

The other day at the studio I picked up a copy of Light on Yoga by B. K. S. Iyengar. It was like looking at a copy of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. The man demonstrating yoga positions in the photographs was a veritable contortionist.

“There is no way I will ever be able to twist my body into one of those positions,” I said to Jen.

“No, probably not,” she said, “but it’s enough to aspire to that. Yoga is a process.

Indeed. Kind of like writing.

So, with Bill Bryson and the India Rubber Man for inspiration, I’m walking 1.5 miles around the lake several times a week (good for the heart) and practicing yoga (good for everything else). I can now work through a simple yoga routine without collapsing. I am hopeful that my next hiking experience will prove less difficult than the last one. At the very least, I’ll know what my limitations are.

I still work to overcome my aversion for sweating (and gnats). But, who knows? People change—sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, and sometimes change is “a process,” like yoga—and writing. So while this is not a Hollywood story of an underdog’s heroic transformation into a crowd-pleasing winner, like in the movies Rocky and Seabiscuit and Breaking Away, one thing is for sure—my years of waddlesome sloth are behind me.

© 2014 Sharyn Ellison

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Filed under Nonfiction

Backburner

My friend Michael has a theory. Guys always have several burners going at once. Sometimes you’re on high heat up front and sometimes they move you to the back to simmer and bubble up slow. They never focus on just one dish, cooking eggs, bacon, and spaghetti sauce at the same time. Occasionally they gander, stir, and test the temperature but mostly they’re saving you for later. For when they are ready, for when the fry pan up front gets crusty and cools down.

I’m definitely on the backburner. I can feel it. I got shifted up front for a split second. It gave me enough incentive to stay engaged, but it was like the flash of a summer firefly and now I’m back on low behind the large soup tureen. Besides who really wants soup on a hot summer day? It’s just an appetizer before the main course.

I try to sip my Mudslide, but the consistency is so dense that it cakes up the straw. I remove it and take a gulp of the creamy tannish liquid. Chocolate streaks line the glass and it’s chilly and lumpy as it travels down my throat. Mandy convinced me to come to Liars tonight. I wanted to stay home swing on the hammock and feel sorry for myself. But here I am listening to her drunk as hell singing Sheryl Crow.

“Tip your fucking bartender,” she chimes in after she screeches out a lyric. You would think it was a line to the song because she yells it out every other minute.

I have been reduced to Friday night karaoke at a dive bar in Montauk with the legendary local lesbian. We met Mandy last summer at Liars where she insisted that we had hung out the previous year. We didn’t. But she was just nuts enough that we went along. She told me I had great cheekbones and that Harry had a fantastic sense of fashion. She wanted to discuss the Israeli Palestinian conflict.

“Do you follow it,” she asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied.

“Bullshit. Hey you’re pretty handsome. High five.”

She smacked his hand hard, did a shot of bourbon, and went up for more Sheryl Crow.

“Tip your fucking bartender!”

It was like her anthem. The bar smelled like sea salt and beer and the dark wood was scratched up and sticky. There were wall-to-wall people. The summer season had just begun and all the Upper Eastside douche bags had begun to arrive. Well, they don’t usually come to Liars, but still it was quite crowded. Montauk makes me miss the east coast. It’s like the real world with genuine live people. Not shiny, blonde tan humans with bright white teeth. There’s grit, fisherman, loud Brooklyn accents, and beer bellies. You know where you stand. It’s not like swimming in a murky sea of unknown intention and phony sentiment.

It’s nice to sit in the real world, even if it’s only for a few days. I can smell the rain too. Everything is fresh and green and I’m not thinking much about my backburner status. I’m calm, I’m comfy, I’m present.

“Rach, c’mon. Lets do some Go Go’s. If I hear Mandy squeal out one more Sheryl Crow I’m literally going to lose it.”

Elisa was facing away from the bar starring at Mandy and attempting to drink her Mudslide. She’s guzzling it down in thick chunks like it’s ice cream. Mandy moves her hips back and forth and jumps up and down as she screams into the microphone. Her short blonde hair bounces and her acid washed jean jacket looks a tad yellowish underneath the dim lights.

“I mean she’s not even in tune and making up half the lyrics.”

Elisa was right, but Mandy was having a great time. You could see it in the way she danced, and frankly she didn’t give a shit what anyone was thinking. She closed her eyes and smiled. The expression on her face said it all.

I visit Montauk every summer to see my old college roommate Elisa and her boyfriend Harry. They live in Brooklyn but come to Montauk on weekends to escape the sweaty city and scent of rotten hot garbage. It’s different out here. It makes you forget. It’s serene and smells sweet. It reminds me of the Cape. All the cedar shake houses and lilac bushes, lobster rolls, clambakes, and families peddling along on bicycles. It’s quaint and Norman Rockwellish. It’s certainly not Los Angeles. An ocean of traffic jams, smog, and botoxed flakes. The sun always shines like its Groundhog Day. Nothing changes. Montauk makes me feel whole.

“I found ‘we got the beat’.” Elisa says. “I signed us up. There are a million people in front, but who cares.” She slams her empty glass on the bar. It skims the surface and knocks over a saltshaker. Tiny granules sprinkle across the jagged wood like delicate snowflakes.

“Cool.” I nod. Thankfully we’ll never sing. The queue is too long and if I know Elisa and Harry they will get sick of waiting and want to go to 7-11 for late night pizza and hot wings. Mudslides always give her the munchies.

I click my phone. No messages. It’s been a week. I don’t know why I care. Its not like this is the first time I have been shifted to the backburner. I got sucked in with sweet words, promises, and three months of daily messages. We were going to surf Lower Trestles and have fish tacos, go to a Kings of Leon show at the Bowl, and wine taste in Santa Barbara. I wanted to believe because what was the point? Why say it if you don’t mean it? Meanwhile, he likes my vacation photos on Instagram. See backburner.

Finally, we get a break from Sheryl. A tiny preppy red head starts rapidly rhyming Kris Kross “Jump”. She’s actually pretty good. She knows every word by heart and doesn’t even glance at the monitor. The words zoom by so fast I can’t even read them. The Liars crowd cheers and claps noisily. The French couple next to me starts to hug each other tight and do some weird dance where they are tangled and hopping. It looks like a potato sack race. Good thing she fixed her shoe with duct tape five minutes ago. She propped her foot on to the bar and wrapped six large pieces around the tip of her sneaker.

“It fixes anything.” She said and lobs the roll back to the bartender. “Merci.”

Mandy stands to the side bobbing her head, waiting patiently for her next opportunity. The little red head’s rendition is quite catchy and I tap my sandal against the base of the stool. How does she even know the words? It looks like she isn’t old enough to have been born when the song was top of the charts. Besides those Kris Kross kids rhyming was pretty complex and dope.

“Rach, stop checking your phone. Who cares about that guy? Not even worth a second thought.”

“I wasn’t checking.” But she knows me better than that. I dot my pinky finger into several salt snowflakes cleaning up some of the scattered flecks.

She’s right, but the worst feeling in the world is to be ignored, disposed of, replaced. It makes me feel empty and worthless. Hollow like a rotting tree stump. Like something’s wrong. Why didn’t I get chosen? I know its not me, but there is that little voice deep down. That nagging nasty alter ego. The glass half empty me. The one that says yup, it is you. I’m not sad, I’m not heartbroken, but it stings a bit. Almost like a pesky mosquito bite.

“Hey there hot stuff.” Mandy is now pressed up against the bar and has her arm draped around my shoulder. Her face is two inches from mine and I can smell a combination of smoke and cream on her breath.

“Check out the cheek bones on this fox.” Mandy points above my head. “Mudslide for Mandy.” And she bangs a twenty onto the bar.

Elisa has moved on from Mudslides to Coronas and is now sitting on Harry’s lap in the corner. Her legs dangle and don’t quite reach the floor. She’s pretty drunk and incessantly flips her dark hair and giggles. Harry squeezes the back of my neck, shrugs, and then continues to watch the hockey game. He looks pretty worn out after spending all day laying sheet rock in the laundry room. He’s still got smatterings of white dust on the cuffs of his jeans.

Elisa and Harry take care of me and treat me like family. We don’t talk all the time or see each other more then once or twice a year, but when we re-unite it’s like we were never apart. We don’t skip a beat.

“Mands, tell Rachel to forget this west coast asshole and his real housewife girlfriend.”

“Forget em. You got me. Besides who has cheekbones like you? Who could pass that up? What an idiot. I’ll fix you up with a real man. What about that hunk in the lobster shorts.”

Mandy nods her head in the direction of the dock where a tall guy with salt and pepper hair chats with friends. The boys are deeply sunburned under their eyes and wear various pastel shorts with scattered random objects. Crabs, tennis rackets, whales, and strawberries to name a few. Ray Ban pilot glasses top their heads like shiny golden crowns.

“Thanks, but no thanks Mands.” The last thing I needed was Sheryl Crow’s biggest fan to be my wingman.

“Suit yourself. But I got game.”

Elisa and I both glance at each other and try not to laugh out loud. I take a large gulp of my Mudslide. I mean Mandy is the best. You couldn’t make it up if you tried.

“Thanks lady. You sure do.” I clap her on the back. Her jacket feels a bit damp. She flashes me the hang ten sign before heading back up front to bully someone into letting her do more Sheryl.

I think I’ve come to terms with my backburner status. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be? Maybe I’m one of those people who is destined to be alone? To be the rainy day option when it doesn’t work out with the playboy bunny or cheerleader. Fuck that. I’m not waiting around for when he comes to the realization that the shiny new object is insane. I’m good with it, yea. Montauk has fixed me again. Reminded me of who I am. It tugged at me deep down and said.

“Hey, you’re an east coast girl at heart. Embrace it. You’re real, you’ve got spunk, you’ve got me. Remember my pinky orange sunsets, lumpy steep sand dunes, and pebbled rocky shores. My decadent ice cream filled summer and daily Ditch Plains surf sessions.”

I glance at the front and see Mandy trying to convince the little red head to do a duet. She’s selling her everything she’s got. She’s making loud gestures and flashing her best “Mandy smile”. The bar is still loud, but through the muffled chatting and piercing Journey song I can hear a foghorn in the distance. The moon is a tiny golden sliver and the sky is clear enough to see some twinkling stars. It almost time to drive Harry and Elisa home. I can tell she’s close to craving those hot wings.

My phone buzzes and slides across the salty wooden surface.

“Hey Girl! How are you?!?! ;)”

I study the energetic text and silly emoticon for a minute and without hesitation press delete. I take a deep breath, my shoulders relax, and that thick twisted stomach knot loosens. I let out a slight chuckle.

“Hey, can I buy you a cocktail?” Lobster shorts is now standing next to me and smiling. He’s pretty cute, even with his Ray-Ban crown at ten pm. His eyes have tiny creases underneath and his pink shirt is buttoned all lopsided.

“Sure.” I say.

Mandy’s back to Sheryl again. This time she’s playing a little air guitar and has removed the acid washed jean jacket. She stops, points at me, and winks before going back to shouting into the microphone. You would think she was playing Madison Square Garden.

“Cheers” Lobster shorts says.

“Tip your fucking bartender!”

© 2014 Michelle Blair Wilker

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Filed under Fiction

Situation

What do I do in this situation?

It seems like a little thing but it’s not a little thing.

I’m pretty sure it’s not.

Stop and look at it a minute. Be willing to entertain another notion.

This is a decision.

These items are the same price. Within a single cent they are the same price.

That might be important; it might not.

But they cost the same amount.

OK; that’s one thing. And they’d be traveling basically the same distance, no matter which one I choose. It’ll take each one the same amount of time to get here.

And, even if it doesn’t, the length of time is not a factor, for me.

These aren’t pacemakers I’m looking at.

I don’t have to have the thing as soon as possible.

My well-being, my livelihood don’t depend on it. It’s just a thing I want.

It arrives when it arrives.

So that’s another thing.

One’s “in great shape.”

One is “factory sealed.”

But they’re both new. They say so.

So aren’t they both in great shape, too?

Shouldn’t they both be factory sealed?

If one isn’t, does that make it somehow less new?

You can take something out of the box and take all the packaging off of it and it’s still new.

When does the newness end? When you use it?

Ideally, I would want the new-est one, of the two.

Right?

The newest one for the cheapest price. That’s the idea.

“Newest” and “best” are the same thing, here. “Highest quality.”

So if I had some way of knowing which one is the newest. Like, which one was made first.

Which of the two was literally created earlier in the day.

Then that could, potentially, answer my question.

Maybe.

Maybe if they offered pictures.

I could decide based on a picture. I don’t think that would be irresponsible.

But then a picture isn’t the thing. It’s just what the thing looks like.

Say the person who took the picture is a terrible photographer.

His camera’s old.

And then my equipment, on this end, also isn’t state-of-the-art.

Well, that’s foolish. A bad photo isn’t a bad product.

Or a bad person. I can’t punish a guy for taking poor photographs.

What makes it okay for this decision to be meaningless?

I get to sit here and push a button and a thing comes to my house.

In a padded box.

That’s a big deal.

This isn’t lesser than any of the “important” decisions I make.

It shouldn’t be okay for me to decide in such a quick and thoughtless way.

Just because these things cost almost the same amount of money. And have about the same distance to travel.

And are frivolous.

It would be almost reckless, to act like that.

No: I’ll say it. It is reckless. It’s a reckless decision on my part, to not put the right thought into this.

It’s not a huge, overwhelming deal. But, it’s also not no deal.

You can’t just look at it and go “OK–that one.”

Somebody distinguished it for a reason.

And it’s not about the penny either. I’m not sweating the one extra cent.

Well, what about the price difference? It’s so small.

You might not even notice it.

You pay the extra cent one time and it’s no big deal. You do it a few times—you don’t even remember them.

The thing comes in the mail and you go “Oh. I got that last week. Look: it lights up. Isn’t that interesting.”

Instances…do add up, though.

Well. If it doesn’t matter, then it doesn’t matter. But if it does matter, then I don’t want to form a habit.

I don’t think someone’s out there trying to take advantage of stupid me.

Everyone can see the higher price. It’s right there. The seller with the higher price knows his price is higher.

So he must think the difference is negligible, too.

But if a penny is negligible, then why does he have a higher price at all, though?

Doesn’t everyone buy the cheaper item, always? Everything else being equal?

Is it that there isn’t a difference, and it doesn’t matter which one I get; or, is it that you always get the cheaper of the two, even if the difference is just one cent?

If the more expensive thing was a day closer in the mail, I’d get that. Sure. I’d pay a penny for a day.

That seems reasonable enough.

Maybe the seller with the higher price has the superior product. That could be.

It might have hidden features.

These descriptions say they’re identical but maybe the guy selling it is inept. And he doesn’t know about the hidden things he could be advertising.

It could be a Japanese version, or something.

Or maybe the cheaper one just looks cheap to the guy selling it. If he doesn’t know what they’re supposed to look like, he might think his looks wrong.

That’s also a possibility.

Maybe–maybe the cheaper one is being sold by someone with a better heart.

They’re the exact same product, and the person selling for a penny less does it because while he’s still making a profit, he sees no reason to be obscene about it.

That’s not impossible.

How important is a penny?

I don’t know anything about these people. I can’t tell who I’m helping and who I’m not.

All I’m getting is my own enjoyment.

I’m going to be fine. If I never get this thing, my life will continue to be just fine.

So since everything else about these items is almost exactly the same, then why not buy based on who’s a better person?

I think it makes the same amount of sense as any other process.

It could be that the person with the cheaper item really needs the money. Couldn’t it?

He needs a, his aunt is having a kidney transplant, or something.

He’s selling off everything in his house.

But it’s a tight budget. He can’t afford to go any lower. So he’s stuck hoping I’ll trust the sacrifice he’s already made.

Or maybe the cheaper one isn’t being sold by a person at all.

Maybe it’s just a company, and the company runs a program that checks to make sure it has the lowest prices on all its items, and the program adjusts those prices all the time.

That doesn’t sound like that hard a thing to set up. I bet a marginally talented person could do that in an afternoon.

Now, that’s fun.

It would be fun to cheat that program. I would get a big kick out of manipulating it.

I could strike a quiet blow for humanity.

They expect me to buy the cheaper item. But I buy the more expensive one, and thumb my noses at them while doing it.

Wouldn’t that be a self-righteous little thrill.

Maybe I should contact each seller. That couldn’t hurt.

I could ask how they arrive at their prices. How they maintain them.

I could say, “Does anyone in your family have a terminal disease, and is it because of the costly treatment of that disease that you are selling your product at the price you chose?”

As opposed to some other price.

No–they’d think it was a joke.

I wouldn’t know what to say anyway.

This is becoming a little ridiculous. I can admit that.

It might not really matter.

Not much.

Eventually I’ll decide.

Still. I wonder.

It can be hard to get what you want. That much is true.

I don’t want to be so dismissive about what I want. That wouldn’t be good.

To me.

What’s the protocol here?

I’m kind of at a loss, here.

© 2014 John Brown Spiers

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Santa Cruz Beach and Boardwalk

The Trestle

On those sunsoaked summer days
long before cyberspace was invented
we tanned kids would walk gingerly
across massive two by two foot ties
of the old trestle, absorbed by
“Little Deuce Coupe,” “Ahab the Arab”
or some comparable pabulum dialed in
on treasured transistors.

In the early days shortly after
the Boardwalk was built
the Coconut Grove Ballroom
hosted many of the greats.
An oily black diesel train
supplied vitals to the oceanfront.
Its filthy spent fuel
meshed with foggy salt air
as it crossed this trestle.

Long gone by my time, the train
didn’t enter into any equation as we
often had to cope with vertigo,
looking down between the ties.
We’d temporarily lose balance
as we watched the mucky San Lorenzo
push river water into the tide.

You had to be crazy or a football star
to hurry across those ties, counting
each as you went, to honor the rules.

By then iron beams and rivets
of the trestle dangerously corroded.
We couldn’t be bothered by that,
instead focused on the noisy midway
just down the road. We could see
the Mad Mouse ratchet
on steel tracks, riders delirious
as those cars sped unto the undead.
Sunbathers and Volleyballers

The social network grinding overtime,
grist for the daily great escape:
that’s why the sunbathers come here,
avid volleyballers too.
For this is where
continents split, collide and fuse.
It’s difficult to recognize
that Earth ends here
but it does, as evidenced
by the family of blue heron
that form a makeshift V overhead
then wander apart, reunite
as they sail due north
embracing a jagged coastline.
At Stinky Feet

The row of toilet seats
where patrons sit and play
at the Stinky Feet booth
is empty,
no one come to roost at the moment.

The object of this game to shoot
a steady stream of water into balls
of the feet of hand-painted women.
Those faux women holding their noses
as marksmen vie to fill feet and legs.

Standing in front of Stinky Feet
is a brown-skinned boy with an afro.
He gazes up at the Sky Gliders,
sun directly in his eyes.
The Sky Gliders creep along
thick stranded cables:
the passengers’ feet dangle,
passengers awed by the view
out over the ocean, yearning
to touch a curved horizon.

They wouldn’t know if a foot of snow
were to fall on the Mojave
at any given interval.
They’re not gliding high enough,
and not naturally inclined to sense
anything dramatically different
at such a gradual speed. Lovers
snuggle in their little blue gondolas,
wiggle and kiss,
draped by antisemantic joy.
In some cases you’d even think
a cuddly kitten escaped
from cyberspace had joined them.

Lucky Stew, semiretired professional
perhaps from the tomato trade,
suddenly becomes unmired
from invoices, freight, pesticides,
inspections, any such annoyances.
Enamored, he thrusts his date’s head
against his chest so that she can’t help
but inculcate his pounding heart.
For his part this is an impish ruse,
his motive to drive her excitement
and lubricate the expectation
of him planting a juicy one
on those sultry copper lips.

Paused on the Boardwalk

The soul of Coney Island
multiplies and divides
across a permissive sky.
Salt water taffy, candy-coated
chartreuse popcorn
and Gilroy garlic fries
tackle the mustarded corn dawg:
they swamp your gut like a beehive.

Girly girls browse. Arms get tangled
as the crowd mounts
along a palpitating Boardwalk.

Joan in stilettoed high heels,
hot pants rimming her butt,
looped tin earrings bouncy,
remarks how radically cool
the tats on the lad quite burnt
who shines
like a ripe
pomegranate.

Fright Walk

Gargoyles squat on gray brick pedestals
straddling the entrance to this dismal den.

Admission booth shaped like a gaping
shark’s mouth, wide open, horrifying,
sharp blood-stained teeth gnashing.
It’s the only portal through which
to purchase a ticket if you dare.

Before you do you may consider:
once inside, something ghastly
could happen, like the scene you
watched streamed over the web:
a savage Nigerian chops this
porn princess to pieces for lack
of a week’s rent. Unless you help.

You wouldn’t want to revisit that scene
any more than letting the devil’s blood
that runs through the ventilation
inside Fright Walk turn your veins
to sand. Nothing to fret unless
dragons and Gorgons unexpectedly
seize the day, decide to divebomb
and fry your seismic fantasies.

Mostly, beware of gnomes.
They’re notorious for gobbling
skin off of unwary visitors,
gulping it, to regurgitate
into the mouths of soldiers
enlisted in the Argonaut
skeleton army.

Arcade

So easily forgotten in the fog lights
of blanketed history,
the pirate Drake sailed past this beach
en route toward San Francisco bay
where eventually a Barbary Coast
was established, its brothels
and infamous gambling halls
drawing gold seekers en masse.

The arcade jammed with analog games,
no venue for newfangled
digital tomfoolery.
Teenagers playing hooky overwrought
with pleasure as they shove quarters
into slots and run up big scores.

At the far end of this stuffy building
the miniature golf course sits
as it has as long as memory stretches.
The afflated Blackbeard supervises
from the head of a ship orchestrated
by taut pulleys. It rocks,
peering down on diminutive fairways.
Bulbs blink like impromptu galaxies,
circumnavigate to the gait
of thunder blasted from the soundtrack.

Be selective: choose a putter
consistent with your height and weight.
Don’t bank on any divine guidance
to steer your ball into holes
over a course peppered with obstacles.

And when you’ve exceeded par
trying to tap that bright orange ball
through a crocodile’s jaw
past the rain forest waterfall
to the shrieking of one-eyed thieves
who attack the nerves unabashedly
you’ll arrive at the final hole,
a bamboozling mini Kilmanjaro.

The Giant Dipper

If you buy into the dubious wisdom
that nothing explains everything
it follows that something explains nothing
unless you’re living in Tibet. But Tibet
is out of mind here on the Pacific shore
where cyber palaver permeates
ocean, air, even time.

As I ponder my impending escapade
I look upon 327 thousand board feet
of lumber used to assemble
the coaster’s chassis, and notice dry rot.
The quality inspector doesn’t mind,
but I’m a bit concerned:
the coaster is scary enough
without constant apprehension
about potential structural collapse.

I join a parasocial milieu, somewhat
jittery, antsy in the queue.
The line progresses well
since the ride only takes a minute
and 52 seconds. About right
to acquaint one another, click,
advancing up the fancy
carousel walkway.

“It’s a Hollywood set,” says the classy
grandmother with two clean-cut boys.
“Take your picture?” she offers.
I’ve enough of me today, instead
snap one of her and the boys
with a yellow Nikon. And then
we split apart and finally seated
in hard plastic cars.

I take a deep breath, reflect:
millions of citizens
from all over the globe
have sat as I do as if
every nanosecond revealed
a separate destiny.

Sting II, Sudden Impact, Criminal Minds.

No wonder those producers chose this ride
to film unspeakable thrills: we lurch, bolt,
torn at top speed, instantly enter
a tunnel where black stares back, more stark
and wretched than the lowest African slave.

Then immediately emerge to a steep incline
during which I hear chains groan, and a loud
clinking that gives me an inkling the thing
might soon go into overdrive. It does: once
it reaches the summit there is a plunge
that outpaces space itself. Screaming
commences, arms thrown high to prove
how brave you are. No knave,
I’ve been there before. But today
I take a pass. It’s all I can do to
hold on as G forces torture.

I feel as though my genes disperse,
reach out and conduct
every live tentacle in the universe.
The coaster rips, unrelenting,
tosses us without mercy.
It lunges, dives, curving,
rises and dives again.

World without end? Yes, ended,
I unboard with the others, flummoxed.
We each have waiting for us at the exit
a photo capturing
where we’ve come to a halt:
frightened, exalted, transmogrified,
and most certainly not denied
the race of many an incarnation.

© Thomas Piekarski 2014

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Dreams, Sleeping in My Pajamas and Journaling

Dreams, Sleeping in My Pajamas

I am into this vogue look
of highest brow,
highest limb,
branches and arms expanded,
beliefs exposed as nonsense.
I am needle finger pointed
emotions, limited praise.

Canadian winter is a solace
I am a sneaker, a draft dodger
Vietnam War northern pine scent,
pinch of winters spread over the years.

These Edmonton, Alberta temperatures
freeze the roads late at night,
driving past midnight is a squeaker.

I know the young my blur of desires.
I track shifts of young waitresses
travel from one restaurant to another.

Energy increases, then decreases,
flannels keep this body warm.
I am my own fashion designer
You will find me in REM sleep.
There I am the caretaker of creative joy.
There I am the funeral director of my own grief.
Extreme chill, vortex awakens me, my dream ends.

© 2014 Michael Lee Johnson

 
 

Journaling

Breaking news this just in,
1:15 PM December 15, 2013,
I found out labeling theory
has a personality.
It has impact of its own.
I love today because I
found out I have a mental illness.
Formally, diagnosed,
now I am special.
Shrink, Dr. Pennypecker, knows me well.
We visit 15 minutes every 3 months.
I have known him for 9 months.
Simple sentences just make more sense.
Simple sentences make me feel more secure.
After 9 months he says, “I’ve sort of figured
you out, you are a manic depressive, stage 2 hypomania.”
I ask my shrink, “can I cast my vote?”
In this PM news, I gave him permission.
Life is a pilgrimage of pills.
I cast out my net to catch myself,
save myself.
Life is a pilgrimage of prayers.
Note: it could end here.
He does not know the difference
between manias, verses six shots of vodka.
I suffer from a B-12 deficiency.
I need extra thiamine symptoms psychosis.
I place my lid down on forsaken table,
foreskin, I forgive.
A dead shrink, middle of the road.
I crack my knuckles,
pass sleep two next night.
Creativity flows fragmented.
I kick gravesites, up then down.

© 2014 Michael Lee Johnson

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Pieces

She arrived broken, pieces of herself missing – but it wasn’t her fault, really.

The factory sent her that way.

It was a shipping error of sorts, a mistake made somewhere deep in the bowels of the warehousing department, and before any of the fine folks at LifeLike Robotic Industries, Inc. knew something was amiss, parts of her had been scattered across the country, delivered to unsuspecting and very confused consumers.

One beautifully sculpted arm ended up in Indianapolis, Indiana; another in Portland, Maine; a leg somehow found its way to Billings, Montana; and one single, perfect, painfully beautiful eye found itself all alone, blind, in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

And so, she was left to hop along the hallways of her new home, unfinished, an incomplete being, and all the while her new owner thought just how unfair this all really was.

 

© 2014 Dave Novak

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