Closing up shop…

It was an ordinary-looking house. A post war Kleenex box with a roof. It looked like every other one on the street.
I pulled to a stop in the driveway. I could feel it coming on me already. I knew that this was going to be a bad one.
My job is to visit foreclosed homes before they are auctioned off. I assess the property for the mortgage company so they can report accurate conditions to the bidders. I walk the floors and check for carpet wear. I flush toilets, run faucets and crank up the air conditioner to see if it works. My boss calls it “closing up the shop.”
But I am cursed…cursed with the ability to see the lives and feel the emotions of those that lived there. I’ve seen love and heartbreak, sadness and tragedy, joy and celebration.
Most houses have a pretty even balance. This one felt a lot different.
Not in a bad or menacing way, and I didn’t expect a hockey-masked psycho to jump out of the linen closet at me.
But this felt different. And the house looked different.
When I stepped across the threshold, I saw something that I rarely see.
No dirt. No dust or cobwebs. Not a cracked windowpane. The carpeting still had the tidy lines left in it from it from its last vacuuming.
And then I saw her. She was slightly out of focus, like a hazy VHS tape that has been watched too many times. She walked worriedly through the living room, stooping to pick up a speck of lint. Worry lines furrowed her face. Pure sadness was in her eyes. She studied the countertops in the kitchen. I followed her. She took something from a white bottle that was under the sink and scrubbed a spot. She shook her head and dropped the rag and headed to the basement. She did not want to have the new owners think ill of them.
I decided not to follow her down. I walked back into the tidy living room to see a boy of about 7 playing with Legos on the floor. He hummed to himself as he lay on his belly, constructing impossible combinations of pirate ships and interstellar cruisers. He held up one creation proudly to his dad, who sat on the couch holding an infant girl, feeding her a bottle. The dad smiled and nodded encouragingly, but the boy noticed something in his dad’s eyes. He saw fear and worry. It made the boy’s stomach flutter. He did not like to see his daddy scared.
I turned away and went down the hallway to the bedrooms. I peeked in the first one on the right and saw the dad years earlier, holding the boy as a baby as he rocked him to sleep. The father’s face was pure contentment. The baby was asleep, but it felt so wonderful to hold his first child in his arms that he just wanted to keep rocking that baby forever here, in this beautiful house that they had just bought and moved into.
I felt this pain inside me. The father’s pain. Grief and a sense of failure. I walked into the parents’ bedroom and walked over to the window. I needed a break. I had hoped to see a bird or squirrel, something to change what I was feeling.
Instead I saw the father again. This time pushing the lawn mower. His back was slumped. Defeated. He was mowing the yard one last time before they left. He trimmed the edges carefully. He pulled stray weeds from his flower beds. He didn’t know what else to do. They were taking his house from him, but he was doing it his way. He sat on the back steps of the house, surveying his yard. Then he put his head down and wept. Big, racking sobs where he knew his family couldn’t see him.
I turned away from the window, eyes wet.
I was met by scene that I was never meant to see. The mother and father making furtive love, trying to be quiet and not wake their sleeping children. Passionate kisses. Bodies with a fine sheen of sweat. She stopped him mid-thrust, putting her index finger on his lips as they paused, listening intently for the stirring sounds of a baby. He giggled and she shushed him, smiling. Passion resumed, quietly intense.
I left their room, with a blush that they never would have imagined.
In the last bedroom, I saw the girl at 5, carefully and gently laying her dolls in a white banker’s box. She wasn’t sure why they were leaving this comfy house, it made her sad. Mommy and daddy had tried to smile and tell them that it was an adventure. They were moving to a new neighborhood with a new school for the fall. It sounded fun, but was scary at the same time.
I spun and walked back down the hall towards the front door.
I could take no more, it was time to close up this shop.
I put the key in and locked it. As I walked to my car I saw the family carrying their belongings, arms loaded with boxes, heads swiveling from side to side to see if neighbors were watching their walk of shame.
I slid into the driver’s seat and keyed the engine. The sun was setting over the roofline. I turned on the radio and hit the scan button, hoping for relief. The second station it landed on was a country station playing “There’s No Place like Home.”
No. There would be no relief tonight.

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High Anxiety (Blogger advisory ~ lots of vulgarity in this post)

Well, it happened.

I sent the kids off to the bus stop.  Alone.  For the first time.  To their second day at a new school.  Did I mention that they were alone?  AND they will have to walk home (1/3 of a mile) from the bus stop and let themselves in the house.  For the first time.  Alone.

And I was/am a damned wreck.  It was everything that I could do to not park somewhere and watch them while they waited.

The DadStalker.

You see kids, I suffer from anxiety.

Most days it’s manageable.  Some days, it’s paralyzing.

Lately, it’s been a fresh hell.

Aside from everyday life stresses and my crazy, fucked up occupation, I’ve been compounded by a move to a new house, worrying about my dad (with whom we spent 9 months living after the death of his wife), the kids & their new school, money (can I really afford this freakin’ house?), et cetera…

Oh, and I turned 45 a couple of weeks ago.  Birthdays almost always jack up my anxiety as I analyze my life over the previous year(s) and try to decide if I am keeping my shit together in a manner befitting someone of my age and station in life.

The answer this year was an echoing “hellz noooooooooo.”

And I am trying to decide if that is a good thing/bad thing.  My writing friends Hemingway, Thompson, Bukowski and good ol’ Hank Moody are all varying degrees of trainwreck.

Is this something inherent in my animal?  Literary DNA?

I wish I knew.  The past few months my hands shake noticeably.  Now the legs have picked up the beat as well.  If I stop typing, my hands will involuntarily tap the keyboard.

ajjdhohehoieh  (See what I mean?)

At least, I hope it’s anxiety.  A little voice in the back office of my brain’s Health Concerns Department keeps whispering “Parkinson’s” over and over again.

And to answer all three of you that read this blog, no.  I don’t take anxiety meds or have any treatment other than smoking and the occasional indulgence in drink.

I am a fan of self-medication.  An enthusiast, really.

But lately, neither tobacco nor fermentation has been working particularly well.

What to do, what to do.

As I write this, I get a text from the girl telling me that they are home from school.

The weight lifts ever so slightly.

My apologies for the lack of entertainment value in this post.  It was therapy for me to put this out there.

Thanks for reading.

Will you celebrate with me?

Tomorrow is a momentous day… for me at least.

One year ago tomorrow, I launched this blog, with the purpose of amazing, entertaining and astounding you.

I may have fallen a little short. I re-read some of those early posts, full of the green sap of hope and enthusiasm. I even placed an expectation of “3 writings a week” in one of them.

Can you hear the manic laughter? That’s my Muse. Saying something along the lines of “Bitch, please.”

But I stuck with it, submitting 30 or so writings for consumption (and/or regurgitation).

Some obviously resonated more than others. I saw lots of hits at first, then slowly tapering off to the occasional hiccup bump. My band member friends call empty rooms “playing to the crickets.” It seems as though I’ve been writing for the crickets.

Hey, I get it. Life gets in the way. Many things vie for our attention these days, especially things like assertive offspring who somehow feel entitled to my free time.

Who am I kidding? I have very little “free time” and even less time to write.

But I feel like a success. I maintained some steady output of words despite long separations from the Muse. Sometimes, I wrung the words out of whatever life happened to be handing me at that moment.

And some of you read them. A few of you even read them all. Fewer still were exceptionally kind enough to comment, like or share them via Facebook, et al.

For that, you have my undying gratitude. I got just enough feedback to keep me going during those barren days at the keyboard.

One year. 30-odd posts. Hundreds of views. Thousands of words.

Finally, those gibbering spirits of my long-dead writing coaches (Bukowski, Papa Hemingway, the good Dr. Thompson) have abated some. And I can look in the mirror with confidence and say,

I am a writer. A writer who stuck to something for an entire year.

So I will celebrate Bloggerelstl’s birthday tomorrow. With a toast, and perhaps a cigarette or three.

And I will celebrate all of you, who continue to stick with me.

I thank you. I. Thank. You!

Musings on Scooters and Frogs…

Years ago, I can remember the young, stupid, single & childless me boring some poor soul with ruminations of my ambivalence towards children and fatherhood.
But secretly, I was/am a baby FREAK.
My wife calls me out when she catches me mugging silly faces to coax a smile from an infant. Calls me a baby creeper.
My stepsister gave me the honorable moniker of “The Baby Whisperer.”

I do love me the little ones.

When my daughter (now a presumptuous 12 year old) was born, I made a quick run to buy a warmer for her diaper wipes. I was mocked by the wife, who asked if my daughter was too fragile for cold diaper wipes.
And she was.

I loved every diaper change. Every bottle. Every bath. Every Baby Einstein video. Every 2 am session in the rocking chair to put her back to sleep.

Her bright eyes and easy smile made her a dream baby. I would give her the bedtime bottle and rock away hours with her asleep on my ample belly, listening to Delilah on the radio, a silly smile on my face.
My Scooter. We wanted to be surprised, so we made everyone’s baby shower shopping a unisex pain in the ass. My father-in-law dubbed the baby in utero as “Scooter.”

It stuck. I still call her Scooter on those increasingly rare occasions that she wants me to hold her.
Scooter is now 5’7. Not quite as easy as when she was born (9lbs 5oz and 21 1/2 inches).
I never imagined that I would feel the love that I felt for her. I now know what some older guy meant when he said “I would hurt someone for my wife, but I would kill for my kids.”

A beautiful girl. A natural athlete. Neither of which she got from her old man.

Nineteen months after Scooter made the scene, a giggly baby boy showed up. Judging solely from his date of birth, my best guess is that he was a birthday present that I gave the wife. Yeah baby, the best gifts don’t cost money.

He was a surprise.
Actually, he was a gift. The souls of Chris Farley & Carl Sagan in a tiny package. He would walk into wall on purpose and just laugh.

He picked his own name. I wanted to name him Grant Preston. Wife wanted Samuel Joseph. We argued good naturedly for several months prior and several hours after his arrival. Finally I walked over to the hospital bassinet where he was chilling out and said, “OK pal, are you Grant Preston or are you Samuel Joseph?”
When I said “Samuel Joseph” he turned and looked at me. I shrugged my shoulders and told the wife that she won.

I love that little guy. We do guy stuff, and some of the best days of my life have been spent riding trains, building campfires, and philosophizing with this tender-hearted little oddball Buddha.

But that boy also has a pretty wide ornery streak in him. There were times during his toddler years that he would be so infuriatingly stubborn. I’d get so mad I would yell “You little FROG!”

It was strangely satisfying. All the benefits of cursing and none of the guilt. For those of you with kids, I highly recommend this method.

Except when he was learning to talk. I asked him what his name was. He looked up at me proudly and said “FROG!”

I scaled back my amphibious invective after that.

I fear the kind of world they are growing up in and especially the world that they will face alone as adults. It seems that every day, people invest immense energy to find new and better ways to be ugly and vile to each other. My heaviest burden is trying to teach them to love and respect others when “others” seem to be unresponsive or unworthy of it.

And, as one might imagine, I think of another child of mine. One that I never got to hold. One who died before he was born. Buried in a lonely grave in the shadows of the mountains that captured my heart and soul many years ago.
A little part of me died with him. He would have been 25 this October.

On this Father’s Day, I hope to forgo ugly ties and “World’s Best Dad” coffee mugs for some moments. Moments that I will carry along in the magical wagon that holds the jumbled up memories of their whirlwind infancy, toddlerdom, and early childhood.

My Scooter. My Frog. One girl. One boy.

One proud, worried and occasionally cranky dad. Looking to grab all of the moments that I can.

Happy Father’s Day to all of you dads out there.

Waking Annie ~ Curate of Souls – continued…

“Wake, child.”

The witch stirred uneasily.  She had been down for a long time in the Silence when the soft voice called her.

“Wake.  You are needed.  It is time.”

She resisted.  Her slumber of centuries should not be interrupted.

The voice grew insistent.

“Annie.  Now is the time.”

Memories began to flood her mind.  Angry, violent memories.  Warm, carnal memories.  Memories of the life she led so long ago.  Palm trees.  Breezes of the Caribbean.  Sharp-edged blades meant for cutting sugar cane.  The taste of blood on her lips.  Heart-pounding.  Fear.  The salty air as the wooden walkway creaked beneath her feet.  Panic. Escape. Rhythmic pounding of drums.  The gurgling hiss of her husband’s throat as she cut.  The taste of the dark skin of her lover as lovemaking kept time with the drums outside.

And  then she could see.  Grass.  Trees.  A hazy figure standing over her.

She was not in the Caribbean.  She did not feel alive, but she was aware.  Angry, mournful and confused.  What was happening?  Why are all these images in her head?  Why was she back in this godawful place that she had freed herself from with swigs from the amber bottle so many, many years ago.

Her vision cleared.  The figure standing over her was a woman.

“It is time.  Come with me.”  Annie heard the words, but saw no movement of the woman’s mouth.

Annie felt herself moving in the direction of the figure, but without actually walking.  It was as if she was magnetized, getting pulled along without effort.

“Come, child.  I need you to do what you excel at.”

“And what is that?”

“Seduce a man.  Seduce…and kill.”

“Who is this man?”  She didn’t need to ask why.  She never needed a reason before.  It amused her.  Men were drawn to her in life, drawn to her beauty and her body.  She knew this.  She loved the thrill of enticing…letting her dress slip off her shoulder.  Letting a little too much cleavage show.  Men were easy to draw close when you let your hips sway and undulate a little. So easy to predict.  Fumbling, shaking hands groping, and she loved to let them.  She loved to let them think that they had the power, right up until the moment they felt the clean, sharp sting of the steel on their neck.

10 Movies That Don’t Have Enough John Goodman

Word.

Putting It Into Perspective

We all need a little John Goodman every now and again. The only thing better than a little John Goodman is a lot of John Goodman. The man is an extremely talented actor, and frankly, a living legend in the entertainment business. He never fails to paint smiles on every audience member’s face in the movie theater, which is why I will go as far as to call him an artist. Also, he kills it whenever he makes a television appearance (whether it be as a recurring character or guest star); case in point: Roseanne.

So, to honor a man who is always honest with his acting and his interviews, I’ve compiled a list of ten movies that just don’t seem to contain enough John Goodman in them. [WARNING: Some spoilers ahead…]

1. Coyote Ugly

Explanation: In a movie Mr. Goodman admittedly did solely “for the money,” one would expect…

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The Bronze Goddess

I owe you words.  I am keenly aware of this.  I have not been living up to my end of the bargain.

So I prostrate myself before you:  grovelling.  Eyes big and wide and deep.  Asking for forgiveness.

A temporary creative lull has forced me into writer’s limbo.  I am grasping at straws here, folks.  I even broke down and looked into the writing prompts that WordPress serves up occasionally.

And then I remembered the Bronze Goddess…

You all have a Bronze Goddess in your background.  The minute you found her, your life changed forever.

She was freedom.  She was happiness.  She was your ticket out, to anywhere.  She was your future.

Will you indulge me a bit to tell you about mine?

It was a warm fall afternoon all blue sky and golden leaves.

When I first laid eyes on her, she was ugly.  So ugly that she was beautiful.

She smelled kind of funky.  Earthy.

She was 10 years old, but in my defense she looked much older than that.

My hands caressed her lovingly even though my touch was uninvited.

I got no response.  I might as well have been touching a corpse.

I gave her a slap on the flank.  Again, nothing.  Just the hollow sound of my handsmack.

But I was in love.  Like I never had been before…like I never would be again.

I slid inside her.  An exquisite feeling.  Indescribable.  My heart was cranking out some serious thumps.  I knew I was headed for serious trouble this time.  There was no going back now.

I did everything I was supposed to do to turn her on, but she was slow to respond.

Finally, I pushed things just a little further, and she came alive…trembling beneath me.

My Bronze Goddess.

A 1977 Plymouth Volare Premier station wagon.

Spanish Gold Metallic.  With woodgrain sides.  And a luggage rack.

Just a whisper over 22,000 original miles on her odometer.

I was a virgin until I was twenty.  Oddly enough, I got rid of this car just before my 20th birthday.

Merely a coincidence, I’m sure.  But I digress.

A 318 V-8.  Torqueflite 727 3-speed automatic transmission.

Vinyl seats.  AM radio.  Conditioned air.  Yep, that’s how I roll.

And yet, I loved her.  By rights, the way I drove her I shouldn’t be alive to write these words.

She was a bad joke at first glance.  Faded paint.  Rust in all the right places.  Milky windows.  Dust and moldy funk inside.

In other words, a very typical ’70s Chrysler product.

I was the laughingstock of the parking lot at school, just like Arnie Cunningham in “Christine.”

And I was just as enchanted by my petroleum succubus as he was with his.

I dubbed her the Bronze Goddess.  I actually stole the name from another student at my high school who had named HIS car that, but his car was something dirt common and unworthy of the moniker.

I drove.  I loved to polish and wax her for hours, buffing with a old cloth diaper until you were blinded by the diamond glint of her metallic flake. I tinkered with her.  I spent money.

Oh boy, did I ever spend money.  Stupid money.  I bought every snake-oil elixir that Autozone sold trying to fine-tune her engine performance.  And I drove.  And drove.  And drove.

Thousands and thousands of miles.  To Hell and back.

And the memories.  I never christened her (as some of my friends suggested) by gaining carnal knowledge of some lithe female in the back part of the wagon.  Mainly because I didn’t have any willing partners.  But alas, I had plenty of fun: my first makeout session, my first copped feel.  Wind in my face.  The sweet future lay ahead as smooth as freshly pressed asphalt.

My first cross-country solo journey.  She was my chariot to my personal Heaven on earth, the great state of Colorado.

And Colorado was where she met her end.

When I got my first real job and started making money, I decided that I was too good for her.  I needed something nicer. Faster.  Something to turn a lady’s head and catch her glance.

So I sold her off to a co-worker with still less than 50,000 original miles.  She ran so smooth and true that I had that instant feeling of “Shit, I shouldn’t have done that.”

A few months later, in kind of dark that you only can find out in the country (well away from city lights), my co-worker hit a Blank Angus steer that had wandered onto the highway.

Not even the immortal Goddess could have survived.

He was fine, walked away with seat belt burn and bruises.

The Goddess was trucked away to fade into the weedy landscape of the local salvage yard.

I still think of her.  Sepia-toned memories of rest-stops in Kansas, White Castle drive-thrus and the crisp, bracing air of the Western Slope.

You can only have one first car.  Damn, she was the best.

A love letter to Brazil (or Una carta de amor a Brasil)!

For some reason, the country with the most people viewing my blog is Brazil.  I’m sure that it is due to some improper link or something even more nefarious, but I feel compelled to address those beautiful, coffee-skinned visitors.  So apologies to all of my English speaking friends, this one is strictly for the la gente de habla hispana.

Queridos amigos,
No sé lo que te trajo a mi blog, pero yo quería tomar un momento para darle las gracias por estar aquí. Estoy seguro de que usted estaba buscando algo más, pero si usted puede leer Inglés, los invito a pasar unos minutos leyendo estos mensajes. Si tiene alguna buenas palabras para dejar atrás, por favor hágalo.
PS – las mujeres brasileñas son algunas de las mujeres más calientes del planeta!
Muchas gracias!
Dan

The Best of Me

katzpyjamas

You are still here
A delicate amorous thread
Woven within the lines
Bringing life to blackened pages
Allowing me to breathe again
To feel again
Rather than this half dead life
A half written story
Of now dead dreams…
And so I pen these words
To remember
The best of me

M.B.Stephens @mnm67
10April 2015

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Stand By Me…

I was fifteen years old when I saw my first dead human being… outside of the sterile environment of a funeral home casket, that is. Just like the slightly younger main character of the movie Stand By Me, which was based on a story by Stephen King.

Due to my profession, I have not only seen but handled hundreds of dead bodies. Young and old. Male and female. Rich and dirt poor. Clean, warm deaths in beds at home with family close and medicated comfort. Cold, nasty deaths with no warning on dirty pavement and fluttering yellow police tape.

In short, I’ve seen a lot.

But you never forget the first. I remember the sights, the smells, the temperature. Everything.

A bit of backstory: As a teen, I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol, which is the civilian branch of the Air Force. One of CAP’s main missions is search and rescue. In fact, they run about 90% of domestic aircraft search and rescue operations in the country.

Several times during my time in, I was called away from home in the middle of the night to go find an aircraft that went missing, or chase the ghost of a distress signal from an aircraft’s ELT (emergency locator transmitter).

On my first time out, we found a plane. And a body.

I got the call around 8pm. Our team picked me up and off we went into the hills of Southern Missouri.

We drove up and down backcountry washboard roads chasing the ELT signal with our equipment.

But the damn signals bounce off the hills, diverting us off on several wild ghost hunts.

We drove and searched for about 10 hours, listening carefully for the signal to get stronger or weaker. I had the harsh smell of our search vehicle’s burning clutch stuck in my nose all night.

Just as we thought we might have triangulated the location, the signal would get weak or disappear completely.

You always have the hope that the planes occupants might just be sitting on the ground waiting for you to show up, maybe a little beat up or hurt. I could almost see the relieved look on their faces when they see us walking up.

As we bounced through the dark backroads and one hour vanished into the next, my hope faded.

Just after sunrise, the State Highway Patrol sent up a helicopter to the area that our signals were the strongest. Within an hour, they had located possible debris on a hillside a short distance from where we were searching. The chopper pilot had radioed in the location of a dirt road that would get us to within 100 yards of the site.

We flew down the highway until we found the road. A battered metal trash can lay discarded along the highway. We stopped so we could mark the road for the other teams and rescue personnel. I righted the can and tied my orange safety vest to it. I wasn’t moving as fast as I should have, dreading what was waiting for us down the road. A fellow team member hollered from the vehicle for me to hurry up, that people could be dying.

But I knew, somehow, that there was no grateful pilot waiting for us. I just knew it, but I can’t explain how.

We pulled down as far as we could. We humped our packs down to a clearing and started seeing pieces of metal. Not big pieces, but suitcase-sized.

And then I saw the fuselage with the full accordion treatment. I glanced up at the trees. There was no swath of broken branches or decapitated trees in any direction. So the plane didn’t glide into the trees, it nosedived right into the hillside.

My eyes scoured the terrain, looking for a victim. But I noticed that no one else was looking.

“Does anyone have eyes on the pilot?” I asked.

He’s about three feet to your left, under the fuselage, came the reply.

I had almost kicked him while I was walking past the wreckage. I knelt down in the dirt to look closer.

The impact had folded him up and driven him into the dirt. Only the back of his light blue nylon warmup jacket was visible. And the back of his head and neck. A single dried rivulet of blood had made its way from his hairline down to the jacket.

An instant death for a young pilot, 18 years old, with a freshly-minted pilot’s license that was doubtless somewhere in the mangled mess.

No matter how quickly we would have found him, the end result would have been the same.

And just like that, a life snuffed out like a candle. No more Christmas. No more birthdays. No more dreaming of the love of his life. No more hope for the future.

I was thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.

The next day, I was sitting at the dinner table with my parents, eating and watching the local evening news.

The pilot’s parents were being interviewed. They expressed their disgust at the length of time that it took to find their son’s body. Why wasn’t he found sooner, the mother asked.

I felt both of my parents looking at me, wide-eyed and silent.

I snapped the television knob to off and growled something about them not knowing what the hell they were talking about and how it wouldn’t have made a goddam bit of difference when he was found.

Strong language that I rarely if ever would have used in the presence of my folks.

They said nothing.

I stewed on it for a couple of days and then thankfully, my mind let the anger go.

But the memory remains.

And I am still thankful that I didn’t have to see his face.