Featured“Telephone”

“Telephone”

(New work – 5/22/2017. Yet another attempt at a short story. This is coming in off the cuff, so please “excuse the mess” of a work in progress.)

“You didn’t, did you?”
Sheila stopped in mid-walk towards the sink.

“You did.”

She turned around a faced him with a look of slight dismay sprinkled with admiration and giddiness.

“I couldn’t help it.”

Mark lifted his hands, accompanied by ‘brows, in the air (both literally and figuratively).

“It’s the only thing keeping me sane right now. It’s my test to see whether or not I’m going crazy. Unfortunately, I find out, most of the time through these tests, that I am NOT going crazy. That this shit really is happening.”

Sheila’s flirty-smirk went away.

“But ‘Telephone’, Mark,” she said in a slight grumbly voice. “You are testing your theories through a kids’ game?”

Mark put his finger up, respectively, trying to avoid the rise of emotion that preceded most of their arguments. He always leaned towards logic and attempt to proceed devoid of emotion, but it never seemed to work out that way. And it wasn’t always her fault. She played emotions in broad strokes: good and bad. Frequently, his attempt at the “logical approach” led him to more of an emotional spike than her, which never was a good mix.

“I know, I know, I know what you’re thinking, but hear me out, please. The game ‘Telephone’ is my answer to the facade of humanity in my world. I am so real most of the time, but being real is so lonely. It’s weird. And…I can’t fake it most of the time, so I feel even more lonely when put into situations that most normal people, whatever the fuck that means…”

Sheila had heard the same intro in some variation many times throughout their relationship. At times it was very frustrating, yet it was endearing also. She felt a different type of love for this raw quality of personality that he hid most days.

“I understand that people are fake, Mark,” she said, “but what the fuck are you going to do about that? People are people. You don’t have to like every one of them, and you don’t have to fake liking them. At least they will pretty much figure it out. And if they don’t, they are stupid. And if they do, who cares? It makes it pretty easy to avoid them. They are probably going to talk shit on you regardless, right? You may as well give them a reason. Otherwise, they won’t have anything on you because you are a good guy, and you know that. And I know that. And your best friends know that.”

Mark always loved, what he liked to call, her “preach”. She would go into “preach” from time to time, and usually at the times most necessary for his mental health.

“I know,” he said with a slight sneer-smile of enjoyment and guilt. “It’s childish, but it works.”

Sheila walked slowly towards the table.

“And all you wanted to do was make sure that the gossip would get back to you in passive-aggressive form?”

“Yes.”

“And did it prove, yet again, that you work around a bunch of gossipers that helped support your theory?”

“Yes.”

“And, now what?”

For a few seconds, Mark looked directly into Sheila’s eyes. He couldn’t really get anything past her. He really didn’t want her to agree with him most of the time because he loved her character when it came to debating most things. It was the same independent character that he was attracted to from the first date.

“Proof, I guess,” he voice turned slightly somber. “And sadness.”

Sheila sat down and touched his hand.

“Hey,” she softened a bit. “Hey. Talk to me. Don’t retreat into your head yet. Why ‘sadness’? You can walk away from it, you know. You don’t have to subject yourself to misery, even though you know you are good at it.”

Mark felt her index finger softly rub his pinky and palm. He sat down and looked into her eyes again. He knew it was better to talk about it, but his mind always beat him up for days after.

“I’m sad because it’s all such bullshit,” he sighed. “I feel the need to remind myself that this isn’t just a bad dream. I need to be reminded that I am really participating in this world of virtue-signaling and backstabbing and fucking, goddamn ‘TRIGGERING’…”

He paused. Refocus. Don’t let your emotions get in the way of your sanity. 

His mind digressed to his old sponsor, JR. “You want to be right or do you want to be happy? You can’t have both, goddamnit!

“Breathe,” Sheila’s voice arrested the daydream.

 

(To be continued…)

————————————————————————–

The Claw

FeaturedThe Claw

The story begins with Grip, a young boy who inherited the name from his small-town bar ownin’, air-hockey playin’, dollar bill flingin’ uncle.

Grip’s dad died when Grip was a young man. Grip was adopted by his uncle, Grip Sr. Uncle Grip didn’t want his nephew / adopted son raised babysitters, so he purchased the local tavern (“Luke’s Bar and Grill and Karoake Haven”) where he slung mash for fifteen years, and converted the bar into both an arcade and a bar based on the idea from the chain, Dave and Buster’s. He fashioned the “Uncle Grip’s” (the bar/arcade/Saturday night after-hours strip club) after a dream he had involving this bar, some strippers, and a cheetah.

His business decisions were the difference between a Master’s and being a master. Since Grip didn’t give a fuck about school, he chose the path of least resistance. He knew what he knew. “I know what I know,” Grip would yell while flinging grimy, oil smudged dollar bills at the strippers.

Since the Uncle Grip’s place was in a small town full of tab-setters and cheapskates, he could only afford the discount games for his arcade. When a game achieves discount status, such as Tapper — a game where sole object is to sling as many beers down a bar as possible, and hope to catch all the empties slung back at you — Uncle Grip would “grip ’em up,” and add them to the collections. The walls of Uncle Grip’s bar were lined with such classic, and discounted, games, like Pop-a-Shot, Galaga, Whack-a-Mole, etc.

Lil’ Grip, as his family like to call him, was a bit of a local phenom. While Uncle Grip got his name from arm rasslin’, Lil’ Grip was into “The Claw.” Uncle Grip made sure that “The Claw” was one of his bar’s mainstays. It rarely got any looks after the novelty wore off  a month into its residency. However, Lil’ Grip took to it like “white on rice” – a phrase his entire family used all too frequently.

Lil’ Grip had a technique that rarely missed.

Uncle Grip went through hundreds of crappy stuffed animals, plastic watches, miscellaneous large-sized action figures, sunglasses, and a wide variety of other trinkets, that he had to force his nephew to employ the “catch and release” strategy. Uncle Grip didn’t have the time or money to refill the machine every week.

———————————-

Stan was not a friend to Grip, but he never saw himself as an enemy. Most seven-year-old hotshots have a “frenemy” or two, but those hotshots tend to recognize when they are being dickheads. Stan was not the perceptive type. Not only was Stan a “Claw” savant, much like LG, but Stan’s uncle was Big Steve Mulligan, the undeniable champion of Nintendo’s Tecmo Football within the 3 neighborhood radius. Under Big Steve’s tutelage, Stan became a student of the game. Although most seven-year-olds are playing much more advanced and updated versions of football on their PlayStations, Stan takes his level of Tecmo Bowl bravado to the level his uncle once had. Stan rarely talks about anything but his team. When he is playing, Stan speaks to his team as if the players are in front of him on the sideline.


“MartAAAYYY!!!”

The already small crowd hushed when Danny yelled his patented “MarTAY Moon Call”. It was each bro would holler when looking for the other bro at Grip’s. Danny’s was…obviously…”DanNAY!!!”

A douchebag douching call.

Marty was already elbow-deep into his conversation with Eddie, Marc, and a few other daytime drunkards. He raised left arm — middle phalanx at full mast — and kept on talking. He was doing, what some locals called, “Lighthousin'”: the term for presenting ones middle finger at full mast while completely extending arm at the shoulder, preferably when facing in the complete opposite of finger’s direction.

“Bullshit, I told him,” Marty says. “I called his bullshit. What did he really know? I personally know there is a total fucking difference between Seagal and Van Damme. And don’t even get me started on this whole, “Vin Diesel could kick his ass nowadays,” or “The Rock would fuck his world up in today’s world. Yeah! No shit! Duh-uh. I know, dude. Seagal is fucking old now. They don’t want to reverse time lines and look at how they would do when he – Seagal – was in his prime. Then what? Huh? I…Don’t… THINK…so! Unh Uh. Nope.


 

Inspire you?

Grip’s grandpa spoke to him from time to time. Herman died when Grip was 8, but Grip’s memories of his grandpa still popped up in random, real-moment experiences now — 15 years after.

I can’t inspire you, kid, Gramps rasped. You need to get out in the world and inspire yourself. Don’t make your life dependent upon what others say or think. Inspiration can be gathered from a buncha places, but inspiration don’t mean shit if it ain’t put into action. Inspire yourself, kid. Then inspire a buncha other folks down the line.

Grip looked into the latest additions in the pit. As usual, most of them sucked. There had to be bigger, better prizes to be clawed for outside of this dump.

Accept the past, Gramps interrupted. Embrace the present. Deal with the future then…not now. Now is already gone, kid. Make a goddamn choice.

———————————————————————————————————–

(convo between late-teens/early-twenties Grip and Lindsay – a girl he was attracted to as a kid even though she was a bit of a tomboy. She was even more attractive into adulthood.)

Grip walked into Manny’s with two boxes of vending refills. Sweat slid down the side of Grip’s neck. Obviously, Manny was still saving on electricity during the hottest fucking part of the afternoon.

“GRIPPPPPAAAHHHHH!”

Manny came from behind his unpainted, yet stained with various fluids, some from the bottle and others from places most would not want to know.

“Hey, Manny,” Grip’s voice scratchy from all his body’s hydration seeping from his pores. He cough-cleared his voice. “Is this how you can afford to make me doubles everytime?”

“What you mean, Grippa?,” Manny asked. “What you mean?”

Grip laid the box labeled “Hot Tamales / Mike & Ike” down on one of the pub tables. He put the “M&Ms” box in one of its companion stools.

“It’s goddamn hot in here, Manny,” Grip said, checking the his right rotator cuff and windmilling it around slowly in the air.

“Hot? This ain’t hot, my friend,” Manny laughed. “You come down to Mexico and I show you where it’s real hot. Hot? This ain’t fucking hot.”

Manny laughed and walked back behind the bar. “Here,” he said. “Come sit down for a second and tell me the latest news. You never come in here on Wendzdeez anymore. What gives, Grippa? Why you never come in here on Wendzdeez no more?”

 

Lindsay: Hey…Why didn’t you say hi to me the other day when we ran into each other.

Grip: Well, you didn’t seem to try that hard yourself. You are the one asking me about it. It obviously weighed more on your mind than mine.

Lindsay: Well, you were the one who seem to recognize me before I recognized you. Isn’t there a rule or something about that?

Grip: Sorry. How have you been? It’s been a long time, and you know how awkward it is when you see…Hold on…let me rephrase: I feel it is always awkward running into old acquaintances because the same shit is always asked and the atmosphere is usually weird and they always ask me about what I have been ‘UP’ to, and do I have any ‘KIDS’, and blah blah blah

Lindsay: I get it. So…what have you been UP to? (smile/smirk)

Grip: Not much (rubs his eyes with his right hand) as you can see. Delivering “Hot Tamales” to a goddamn Mexican every week.

Manny: I HEEEEERRD that, you son of bitch.

Manny flipped Grip off while still paying complete attention to the bar top poker game.

Grip: I’m sorry for not saying hi. It’s one of those things where I feel damned either way. It’s even more awkward to walk away and then to run down and apologize for not doing it in the first place, only to say the same stupid shit that every other one of these awkward…

Lindsay: Slow down, Quarterboy. Nothing to get worked up over. How you been?

Grip: Weird. But good.

Lindsay: Weird?

Grip: Still hung up on the first topic of discussion. Let’s put it to rest by just agreeing that I am weird.

Lindsay: Ok. Cool. And do you accept it? Embrace it?

Grip: Is acceptance the same as admittance?

Lindsay: Not really, but close. Baby steps .

 

(Work in progress)

Question Mark?

Question Mark?

Is it really necessary?

 

I get it: life sucks.

And it does.

You gotta make it NOT suck.

It isn’t easy sometimes.

I get it.

But look around you.

Away with ye, wasted virtual world!

Get out of your head for a bit.

There’s somebody out there needing help;

somebody less fortunate than you.

It’s not necessary to signal virtue:

Just fucking do it and don’t say anything.

Pageantry is such bullshit.

In order to feel good,

You have to work for it.

 

Is what necessary?

The work?

What do you think?

Mistakes

Mistakes

Do not mistake my silence for stupidity.

You are correct: it is not the norm.

It may be the point.

The one who speaks without considering the possibilities,

or differing points of view,

usually loses in the end.

Who really wins?

What does the winner win in the end?

Does any of it really matter?

Yes.

Unfortunately, the words spoken most frequently –

emotion without logic –

are blind and hateful towards those

who do not participate in the foolish laughter.

Do not mistake my silence for stupidity.

 

 

 

 

Only One

Only One

(I don’t know when this was written, but I can guesstimate it’s existence somewhere between ’95 and ’99 because of the print and paper stock. It was the old Brother word processor, which was owned, and used frequently, during those years. It’s not great, but the mind in charge must have been exposed to some decent wisdom at that time.

 

You aren’t the one and only.

The one.   The only.

It just seems that way sometimes.

Heed this word of advice:

Longevity of success is dependent upon failure.

Blissful solace

Blissful solace

(First revisions of  a piece from 6/26/97)

“I don’t know which is worse,” Bill rasped, cigarette hanging limply from the corner of his mouth. “Don’t get me wrong: being off the booze for six months has been the most responsible thing that I have done, and probably ever will do, in my lifetime. The only problem is, now, I smoke like a fiend. I can’t, and don’t even wanna, imagine how hard this sumbitchin’ habit is gonna be when I’m ready to quit.”

Bill took a long drag, held it in, and then, like a dragon, forcefully expressed clouds through his nostrils.

Two soft-packs – one slightly crinkled, the other unwrapped – sat nondescriptly next to Bill’s left hand as slumped atop one of Genie’s barstools.

                                Genie’s: A Neighborhood Joint

Bill meandered into the “regulars'” crowd most days. Close to home. He could, and usually would, get hammered at any time of day, Genie’s normal business hours permitting, and hobble his way home. No driving required.

Bill frequently pondered what he would do if he could travel back in time. Those were the fun days. Foggy days.  Friends – no friends. Bottle – no friends. Bottle becomes friend.

Blissful solace.

In actuality, in hindsight, in reexamining the situation from a “normal” person’s perspective, shit really wasn’t that good. However, life shifts according to one’s habits.

According to some “scientists” somewhere — and there is quite a bit of — in some headline — logic to this information —  found on social media, —  considering all forms of repetition — a habit takes around 21 days (?) — lead to some form of growth — to embed itself into one’s day to day routines.

Musty, dingy, sour smelling room, why do people seek you out? Society’s petri dish. Place the spores in dark, damp location. Allow to multiply overnight. Like sea monkeys. Or shit.

Bill found striking up a conversation with a 70-something “slumper,” with nothing better to do with his time and his “10 spot” than to sit around and bitch about politics and how things used to be, very relaxing.  Ten dollars worth of booze and fellowship. All a waning man needs sometimes.

Nick wasn’t 75 years old, but he was turning 60 in two weeks, and had enough stories of drunken debauch and blatant insanity to place his “spiritual age” at roughly around 92. As he shouldered up against the far end of the bar, the well-oiled loner’s stories echoed throughout the slightly cavernous setting

“…when it was safe to walk ANY…where,” he slurred.

Nick slurped Cold Gold from a schooner.

“I quit smokin’ when I turned fitty,” Nick said with a gurgle cough. “Then, when I turned fitty-fye, I started smokin’ like a goddamn chimney. We tied one on somethin’ fierce on my 55th, so there wasn’t a better time to start again. Now I can’t go a goddamn day without driving to the Quick Station to pick up another pack.”

Nick took a long gulp from the chalice of perpetual sadness and followed suit with a long, overexaggerated “AAAAHHHH!”

There were only a few things Bill missed about it. Dropping a satisfied ‘AAAHHHH’ at the end of a long draw of beer one of those things. This can’t be done with a whiskey or tequila shot. The only thing that follows a whiskey or tequila shot, at least the whiskey and tequila brands doled out at Genie’s, is the transformation of the imbiber’s face to Melponeme (aka the tragedy face of the two drama masks).

“AAAAHHHH,” trumps drama mask.

“It’s all in the head,” Bill said to his buddy, Paul, two months ago. “If you really want to do something, you have to do it in the mind first. THEN, and only then, will the pieces fall into place.”

It had worked this long; why not keep it going? Bill was feeling the kind of co0l that had actually been a result of his decision to abstain the past six months.

Bill knew bars weren’t the safest place for him to be. (The bars aren’t the goddamn trigger!) In fact, most of his destructive drinking took place in his basement. However, there was something nostalgic about being back at Genie’s. It felt comfortable. It felt relapse-worthy. It really wouldn’t be that big a deal. Just a shot and a beer back to ease the pain.

It can wait a bit. Relapse isn’t a pool that needs to be cannonballed into right away. Wade into it. 

“I wish I could do something to help you with your smoking habit,” Nick said while lighting a second Camel, “but I got nothin’. But you are doing a great job going cold turkey on the booze.”

Nick belched deep congestion from the pits of his stomach.

“Once you get to the mastery stage, THEN, and only then, should you attempt to quit smokin’,” Nick followed his comment with a swig of beer. “You’re a young guy, you got to have some kinda crutch. I know if I was still your age, my crutch would be all up in that young tang out there.”

Bill chuckled. Nick stood up.

“These days, my looks have left me, mainly at the hands of my favorite vices, but gone nonetheless,” Nick spoke with slight slur. “However, my poetry has not.”

Nick walked to the end of the bar and stepped upon the bench of a single booth left from the early days of Genie’s. He cleared his gravelly throat, popped his neck, and leaned towards the bartender.

“Wallace, my boy. Will you hand a man a drink to prime his performance?”

Wally poured Old Granddad 3/4 deep into Nick’s glass; two ice cubes and a splash of coke followed. Nick reached his trembly, vein-mapped hand out for his potion.

“Thank you, my friend. I knew your daddy, Wallace. Great man.”

Nick took a slug off his glass; Wally rolled his eyes and wiped down the bar.

“Wallace,” Nick swayed slowly from one foot to the other as he spoke, his mind seeming to drift back in time while he was reminiscing verbally, “your father was one HELLUVA man. He used to tear some shit up every now and then, don’t get me wrong.”

He belched liquid fire, coughed, then followed it up with another slug,.

“He was a good musician also. Talented sumbitch he was. I wrote all kindsa poems and shit, but we could never get together on an idea that worked. I didn’t have any musical talent. So I just performed, what would now be called…”

He paused and tried to gather his thoughts.

“What the hell is that called? It’s not stand-up…”

A cackle from Maggie, the token bar hag, pierced through the smoke of the bar.

“Spoken WERRD,” she screeched.

“Spoken word, that’s it,” Nick pointed at her. “Wallace, get Maggie a drink. And, Maggie, listen closely to my words, deary. You may decide the ugly mug is worth a romp after my performance art.”

She cackled at a higher pitch than before, then yelled, “I got nothin’ else to do, stud.”

Nick raised his left hand, put his right, glassed hand to his lips, sipped, gasped, and paused.

“And now, my friends, a nugget a wisdom in poem form.”

Bell Rings outside.

The closet door wide open; 

No one looks inside except those who desire; those who do not fear!

Those who are alone —

Forgotten —

Content.”

Bill looked around the room while Nick rambled his poem aloud. Most were listening without looking. An occasional cough or a “clinkle” of glass disrupted an otherwise silent crowd. Although Nick was a nobody outside of Genie’s, he was a somebody in front of the day crowd.

“A bell rings outside,

and those who know will hear it. 

Already the time has come to a point

and passed.

The hangers on see

The hangers on do

what they do not want to happen.”

——— (Intermission) ———

“You show me one person…” Nick pronounced with bravado enough to draw the attention of a few patrons, “Just ONE…who doesn’t have something bringin’ ’em down. Some albatross hangin’ ’round his neck. Show ME ONE!!”

Nick blinked his eyes. His mouth: rice cakes. His lips glued to his tongue as it attempted to deliver a moisture-less swipe across them. Wipers across a dry windshield.

Lipers.

“You can’t! Nobody is a clean fucking slate!”

Nick looked to the ceiling, a bit off kilter with inebriation. A drunken demon yell followed.

“Aint a fuckin’ God…Damn,” Nick slur-belched, “…one of ’em!”

As his right knee buckled enough to put him off balance, Nick placed his hand upon a ledge housing the base of the “Daily Specials and Other News” chalkboard — the one that had not been changed in at least 20 years; the one that has not been cleaned in at least 20 years; the one that has fallen upon many drunken soldiers over the past, at least, 20 years — and tremored his body back to a semi-steady stance. As he brought himself to a slow, slightly circular sway, Nick grasped a paper “Coke” cup from the bar. He held the open end of the cup to his right eye and bounce-shifted his head towards the nearest light, as if he were looking through a kaleidoscope.

A few of the regulars chuckled at the awkward, yet fairly normal, behavior. Bill occasionally scanned peripheral for any negative harbingers of sloppy, non-choreographed violence. Fortunately, the day drinkers were usually too intoxicated to act upon threats of physical harm cast upon each other. The arguments, albeit frequently illogical and melodramatic, would get heated enough to raise voices, invoke profane-infused threats, and cause the occasional attempts of standing to fight, only to be followed by gravity-induced falls backwards (or sideways, depending upon the level of intoxication) into booths, chairs, and floor tiles.

The clunk of a heavy bottomed scooner resonated through the bar’s wood.

Meet Terry.

“Helllll, NO, I ain’t racist if I laugh at a cultural difference,” Terry bellow-burped. “See…gAWD Damnit…this is what I don’t get about this so-called ‘advanced’ generation with all your gAWd Damn gadgets and your gAWWWD Damn stupid mustaches and shit.”

Meet Max: a 20-something, hipster wannabe, trust-fund baby wasting his parents’ hard-earned life savings in the same run-down, sour-smelling dive bar most weekday afternoons.

“Well, my wise sage, what is your definition of racism then?”

Bill couldn’t avoid eavesdropping. It was a blessing and a curse. The daydreaming and the eavesdropping kept him sane and insane at the same time. It was some weird plane of existence that made life so great and confusing and bearable.

Most days.

“Firsss,” Terry stutter-spat, “your sarcasm is as poorly executed as your stupid gAWD damn beard. I ain’t a racist if I laugh at a cultural difference because I am not making fun of the culture altogether. You kids can be so gAWD damn ignorant sometimes.”

Max raised his eyebrows mockingly and pursed his lips. It was a learned strategy from all his time wasted watching The Daily Show and other virtue-signaling, pseudo tongue-in-cheek, “look at how important we all our” brainwashing. He saw his opportunity to preach.

“According to my Sociology professor,” Max quipped, “you would be labeled a racist of the subconscious kind.”

Terry, mid-sip, spat beer onto Max’s suede-elbowed jacket.

“What the fuckka you talkin’ about? Sociology professors don’t know a thing these days. They may as well be called “Anti-Sociology” professors. You bring your gAWD damn Sociology professor in here and I’ll kick his gAWD damn ass, both physically and mentally.”

Terry took another gulp from his schooner and slammed it back on the bar.

“It ain’t a gAWD damn racist act to laugh at something different that your own experience. Its laughing at life in general, you smug idiot.”

Max subtly shuffled in his seat.

“When I laugh at the way a black guy…”

“African-American?”

“What I laugh at the way a BLACK guy… or a BROWN guy, or a gAWD damn GREEN, YELLA, or MAROON motherfucker tells a funny story about something that happened in his life, I ain’t laughing because I’m racist. I’m laughing because it sounds funny in my brain. I can’t apologize for that. I can’t say I’m a racist for that.”

Terry paused, closed his mouth while holding a fist up to lightly pound his chest, and belched.

“I laugh at mannerisms, sayings, fashion choices, and gAWD damn food preferences because it’s different than me. Maybe I’m making fun of myself for not being that funny or worldly or whateverthefuck? You ever think of that, smart boy?”

Max smirked and sipped his scotch.

————————————————————-

Bill scanned the room, looking for a reason to convince his brain of the camaraderie he was missing out on. His eyes scanned the booths, barstools, and back room wall sliders, but nothing pulled his eyes to a stop. As he brought his eyes back to the attention of the Jaegermeister cooler, his ears tuned to eavesdrop mode. Behind him, a 20-something hipster wannabe trust-fund baby wasting his parents’ hard-earned money in a dive bar at 2 in the afternoon, was talking on his cell phone.

“…and that’s just the point I’m trying to convey to you,” he said in a raised ‘attempt at a whisper’ voice, “I won’t put up a fight for Misty because I know exactly what is going to happen – one of two things. The first is part of what has already begun. She will go right back to him and it will last. He will be a new man and will really love her. He may have realized that a girl who has that much love for him is worth holding onto. Whether he loves her or feels insecure without her really may not matter because either way this could be good for his love life and/or self-confidence.”

Pause.

“The second option is probably less desirable for all parties involved. She will change her mind after a couple of weeks or a couple of shots, whichever comes first. Then, she will text me.”

Ding.

“What the fuck,” he said. “It’s already happening. I gotta call you back, dude. Uh, huh. Yeah. Ok. I’ll call you back.”

Kids are so stupid, Bill thought, while sliding another cigarette from the pack.

Chapter 2: Sam’s Shanty

A musty, broken down bar in the middle of the city. It is around the middle of March in southeast Chicago. It is a little after dark, with the darkness barely dimming outside the rectangular windows, but dark enough to welcome the warm glow of the street lights. The window overlooks the rain dampened streets. “Sam’s Shanty” is written in red lettering with black outline. A bulky, red Budweiser sign lights up the window. The bar is not too inconvenient for business persons working the area and, regardless of its appearance, the “Shanty” tends to pack them in on Friday and Saturday nights.

A man walks by the window, as the camera follows him backwards in through the door to a seat at the bar. Presently, there are only five people in the bar:

Sam: the bartender / owner, a fat man, standing about five foot ten, with a girthy 250 pounds resting upon his bones. Sam sported a Rollie Fingers ‘stache and sweat stains peeking out of his red Budweiser t-shirt

Heather: semi-attractive, thirty-something barfly who seems to permanently affix herself to the “Shanty.” Eighties-style blonde hair – bleached, poofed up, black roots — fell slightly upon the straps of a revealing, yet slightly soiled, party dress. She was smoking Misty cigarettes and drinking a vodka and (smuggled in due to her picky tastes) her own grapefruit juice. 

King Dong: our protagonist in this chapter. Dong refuses to answer to his birth name (Nicholas). He’s a semi-pro wrestler by night (every other Saturday at the Arab Shrine Temple), a personal trainer by trade (for now), and a wannabe pornstar. He sits at the bar, asks for a beer and a shot of bourbon with honey and lemon, all the while wearing sunglasses even though the darkness closes in on the bar. Dong’s faded NAVY  sweatshirt and black stocking cap paint him the stereotypical image of a Rocky wannabe. He is a fairly big guy. He’s not fat, but not overly muscular either. His athletic build and short, almost buzzed, black hair give Dong the look of a rough dude, but his easygoing nature, especially when one gets to know him, make him one of the barroom favorites among all sots, suits, slobs, and sluts walking through the door  of the “Shanty”. 

Two otter people dwell in a red booth towards the back of the bar. Their idle chatter provides a slight buzz for background noise.

Dong has a black left eye and a few “scratches” (mat or rug burns) on his cheek

(Music in the background is “Low Down Man” by Squirrel Nut Zippers)

Sam: Whatta need, guy?

Dong: Got Schmidt’s? (He takes off his stocking cap)

Sam: Nope.

Dong: Pabst?

Sam: Nope.

Dong: Hamm’s?

Sam: Enh-Enh (shaking his head side to side)

Chapter 3: Gina n’ Bill

“What’s wrong?”

Gina rolled onto Bill’s left arm, grasped his right hand and started slapping him in the face with it.

“Quick slapping yourself,” she talk-laughed in a baby voice. “Hey…quit slapping yourself.”

Bill stayed deadpan, looking up at the popcorn ceiling. In certain light, the ceiling sparkled randomly. He leaned his head to the left and noticed a different set of sparkles each twist of his neck. He could close one eye while leaving the other closed, then reverse eyes. Each time, a different gleam of hope. Or not.

“Hey,” Gina said, puffing her lips into a pouty face. “What is wrong?”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know…you just seem kind of…distant tonight,” Gina sighed. “You didn’t really say much at dinner, you didn’t talk much on the way home, and now you don’t even seem interested in sexing me up.”

Gina was adorned in a loose, red t-shirt and boxers. His boxers. His Darth Vader boxers. Bill loved when she dressed like this. Slutty Vader-kitten. It always made him horny, yet very self-conscious of his closet “Darkside”.

Not tonight though. He didn’t know. He just didn’t feel aroused. He didn’t really feel anything at all.

Strange.

“Bill…,” Gina began lightly rubbing his forearm, “will you at least talk to me? Now?”

“I’m sorry, ” Bill said. “I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me, baby. I just feel…I don’t really know how I feel. It’s hard to explain, but it isn’t you, Gina. It’s me.”

Chapter 4: Wedding Vapors

“Let me make dinner for you,” Brian exhaled within a cloud of smoke.

The water pipe he had been smoking on was smooth. One rarely realized the copious amounts of smoke wafting into his/her lungs until the exhale.

He held out the glass for Carrie, who was sitting across from him with a puzzled look on her face.

“I don’t know, Brian,” she said, followed by a slight pitch variation that was barely noticeable unless you really knew Carrie.

“What do you mean, ‘I don’t know,” Brian asked her. “All I’m asking is to make dinner for you. It isn’t like I am asking you to marry me. I just haven’t seen you in a while and would like to make some food to go along with our convo. You do eat, do you not?”

Bill stood with hand still prominently projecting the water pipe into her direction, eye brows raise with a slight turn of the head. A boyish gesture. The same gesture that always got her back in their younger days.

Remaining composed and as deadpan as she could muster, Carrie snatched the glass aways from Bill, pulled her favorite blue lighter — the one with two astronauts standing on the moon  — and lit the bowl with the determination of one who may never inhale again.

It was her nerves. They always tied themselves in knots when she felt trapped.

The flame erupted violently from its metal encasement, then slowly bowed to the bowl, as if it were bidding its audience “adieu”.

She quickly pulled her mouth away from the cylinder, holding the smoke in her lungs, while light puffs rolled slowly from her nostrils.

Brian made the face of a bulldog, protruding his bottom teeth, saliva gathering at the corners of his mouth.

Smoke billowed from her nose and open mouth followed by a fit of coughing, gasping for breath, and laughing hysterically.

He still knew how to make her laugh. Make her smile. No matter how bad her mood, when he was around she lit up. It sometimes took longer than other times, but it happened nonetheless. Her brown eyes would clinch to slits. She never seemed to blush, which was a quality that many guys would shy away from. It was a form of poker-face that made men slightly insecure. Instead of the traditional reddening of the cheeks and/or flushing of the neck and “Breastal area” (Brian had a knack for renaming anatomy), Carrie would radiate like the glow of a sunset. The whites of her eyes would peek through clouds: two suns simultaneously breaking the storm.

(This is not the end. This is a piece that will be revised and added to over time.)

Top 10 Movies of 2016, according to me.

Top 10 Movies of 2016, according to me.

For the past few years, I have been telling myself not to fall into the “Oscar bait” trap of years passed. Every year, the same half-assed attempt to stop caring about the marketing of a movie, and to only make sound movie choices based on what looks / sounds good isn’t really as easy as it seems sometimes.

Who cares what the critics say?Who cares whether or not he or she has been in an “Academy Award Nominated” role or film?

Focus on the task at hand: moviegoing.

As 2016 comes to a close, I ponder all the poor moviegoing choices and wasted money. As a summer moviegoer, the choices were exceptionally thin. Even the “critically-acclaimed” (which says very little for most summer movie schedules) reviews on RottenTomatoes were full of falsities.

However, through much trial and error, I found many gems to love in 2016. Oddly enough, they were spaced across the 12-month continuum in a fairly balanced manner albeit most of March to April and June through July sucked… with extreme prejudice. As with all personal Top 10 movie lists I have made over the years, my choices are not EXACTLY as I order them all the time. Mood can rise a movie up, or mood can tear a movie down. Mood: it’s a bitch sometimes.

It really doesn’t matter.

The movies listed made my Top Ten of the year.

I do need to mention that, when this list was published, two more of my highly anticipated  “need-to-see” movies,  Fences or Silence, have yet to be seen.  My expectations are high for both. 

There were also a few close “post-10” choices that may have ranked higher on other polls. Just remember this: I don’t really care about other Top 10 lists. I know that I could have interchanged the 9 and 10 spots with a couple of other choices, but it didn’t happen this time. Get over it.

If I am diligent enough to follow through with one of my New Year’s resolutions of writing each day, you will probably notice that edits have been made. If you are actually wasting your time reading this makeshift movie review page, then I appreciate you.

Top Ten Movies of 2016 (according to me)

10. Hacksaw Ridge (Dir. Mel Gibson)

  • The war scenes make Saving Private Ryan look Disney-esque. This is a great comeback film for Mel Gibson. He is such a good director; it is unfortunate that he had to take a few steps backwards and out of Hollywood for a while.

 

9. The Nice Guys (Dir. Shane Black)

  • Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe have a good buddy-movie presence together. Crowe’s performance is his best since L.A. Confidential. Although Gosling’s acting is not much different than many of his other roles, he provides some pretty funny scenes.

 

8. Hell or High Water (Dir. David Mackenzie)

  •  This great, “Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque” modern-day Western (of sorts) is so good. Unless I am mistaken, Ben Foster’s performance in this movie went completely unrecognized in the Golden Globes Supporting Actor list. He is the glue in this story. Give him some props, award givers!

 

7. Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Dir. Taika Waititi)

  • This was a fun, heartwarming tale told in Wes Anderson-y fashion. I am normally not a big Sam Neill fan, but he played this role to a ‘T’.

 

6. Deadpool (Dir. Tim Miller)

  • Ryan Reynolds has finally proven his star power with this Marvel antihero. I saw it 3 times in the theaters and enjoyed it a little more with each viewing.

 

5. Moonlight (Dir. Barry Jenkins)

  • This movie flew under my radar for a little while before I broke down and saw it. This story of finding one’s identity with very little positive guidance from others is beautifully shot and acted. This smaller film could reap big success when the awards are doled out.

 

4. Neon Demon (Dir. Nicolas Winding Refn)

  • Many disagree with my love of this surreal and eerie look at the seedy underbelly of fame achieved through high-end modeling. If you can overlook some of the less-than-mediocre acting, you will be in for a mind-bending kaleidoscopic journey of one’s rapid rise and fall in this world.

 

3. Captain America: Civil War (Dir. Anthony and Joe Russo)

  • As a Marvel film, this guy reigns supreme right now. Under the direction of the talented Russo brothers, Captain America: Civil War has all the qualities of a great action film, let alone a crucial piece to the Avengers storyline. I saw it four times in theaters. Great fun!

 

2. La La Land (Dir. Damien Chazelle)

  • I actually went into this one with mixed expectations. I loved Chazelle’s film debut, Whiplash, but I am normally not a big fan of movie musicals. To be totally honest, I had very low expectations after the first 5 minute musical number, but the film redeemed itself and exceeded expectations considerably by the end. La La Land will probably win Best Picture accolades in at least one of the major awards ceremonies in January and/or February. Emma Stone should dominate the Best Actress category for her performance in the sappy fun homage to old Hollywood and the good ol’ fashioned love story.

 

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Dir. Gareth Edwards)

  • I can’t say enough good about this movie. I know that I am a Star Wars fan, which means that I may be slightly bias.  However, this movie really rejuvenates a brand that didn’t really need rejuvenation. It’s a side story. The kind of story that my friends and I would have aspired to create when we were playing with our Star Wars action figures of the early ’80s. The space battle sequences are absolutely fantastic. I can’t give anymore away EXCEPT the fact that I have seen this movie four times since it’s release on December 16. Actually, my first viewing was on December 15. It is now December 30. Just go see it…multiple times.