Dice Cup

29 Sep

hidbehind345

Sitting in the park in Santo Domingo in front of the oldest Cathedral in the New World. Out of a hundred Dominicans around me not one reads a book or newspaper. You’d think they’d all be on their cell phones, but hardly anyone has a phone pressed to their ear. It’s refreshing. Most seem content to watch the flow of people.

While I’m thinking this, an attractive woman in a short skirt walks towards my bench. She’s showing fine legs. She slows down as she passes and then sits next to me. She’s not young – maybe in her 40s. I looked down and notice the heels of her shoes are splashed with mud. I knew something was about to begin and in a minute or so she started talking to me in Spanish. I made a point of showing her my wedding ring and telling her I had a novia. This didn’t slow her down much and she gave me her cell phone number and then asked me to take her to Juan Dolio, a resort town about 30 miles away. The look on her face when she said Juan Dolio was sad; she knew I wasn’t going to take her there.

She then asked me to buy her an ice cream.

I think the old Mark Rogers would have brought her back to his hotel; this year’s model gave her two dollars for ice cream and walked away.

 

Mussel Man

14 Aug

 

UnderwaterMuseumLostCorrespondent

Sophy and I and our grandkids were harvesting mussels in the ocean, a few miles from our house. We chose the spot because of the half dozen roadside shacks selling chorros – mussels. We parked and made our way down a dirt slope to a wide beach. I’d done a little research and knew we had to gather mussels during low tide, when they briefly came into view.

When we got to the beach there was a scattering of Mexicans searching among the rocks. My research on the internet advised wearing gloves, bringing a sturdy bucket and equipping yourself with a screwdriver or garden trowel to pry off the mussels. The Mexicans clambered over the rocks with nothing more than flimsy plastic bags recycled from the supermarket.

I found a bed of smallish-size mussels and was content with that until Sophy pointed and said, “Look at them. Out there. They’re finding huge ones.”

I figured if the Mexicans were doing well further out, I’d go out even further. Beyond the field of black rocks was a single misshapen boulder surrounded by water. I headed out to it, wading knee deep through the low tide. When I got to the rock I saw it was studded with row upon row of barnacle-encrusted mussels. It made me think that this huge sea rock at low tide was like a fruit tree. I set to work, filling my bucket, twisting the mussels free from the rock as though they were recalcitrant oranges. The surf was breaking forty yards away and the waves were swirling around the rock in mounting sets. It didn’t occur to me then, but later I would wonder about this 61 year old guy further out than anyone, hanging onto a rock, filling a spackle bucket with dinner.

The night before, I’d lain awake in the middle of the night, having premonitions that as we searched for mussels, one of my grandkids or maybe Sophy or me would get their foot stuck between two rocks. We’d pull and pull and we wouldn’t be able to get the foot free. In my imaginings we’d gone out in low tide the way my research had advised and now the tide was coming in high. In the middle of the night, in my mind, we all drowned one by one, in slow motion as the tide rose.

With my bucket filled, I was careful making my way back towards shore, careful where I stepped, not wanting to tempt fate by ignoring a premonition.

Back home, Sophy and I had a romantic dinner. She ate the mussels with lime and hot sauce; I ate mine with drawn garlic butter. The dinner wasn’t romantic because of music or candlelight; it was romantic because we enjoyed talking with each other.

Frogs

6 Aug

 

frog

 

Driving down the freeway with my wife Sophy, she began telling me about her fear of frogs, and her guilt feelings – positive that her fear had caused a family tragedy.

When Sophy was a small child, her father and mother were so broke that they sent her to live with an aunt. It was bad enough that while the aunt’s children feasted on mangoes and oranges, Sophy was only given one egg and one tortilla a day; Sophy was also forced to sleep on a cement floor that was open to the backyard. During the night, scores of frogs would hop across the yard, drawn towards the damp cement floor. Sophy would scream and scream, terrified of the frogs hopping on her body.

Things weren’t much better when Sophy was reunited with her sisters and mother. Sophy’s sisters learned about her fear. They cornered her in the backyard and thrust a frog into her face. Sophy ran in a panic and took refuge in her mother’s bed, burrowing under the covers, holding onto her mother – who was pregnant – kicking and screaming for her mother to save her from the frog. Sophy was so out of control she repeatedly kicked her mother in the belly. Whether or not it was true, when her mother miscarried a week later, it was Sophy who was blamed.

As a kid, I had my own frogs to deal with. I grew up in the suburban woods of Virginia. One of my earliest memories is seeing a frog feebly swimming in a stream, its legs in bloody shreds from a predator’s attack. I also remember catching a bucket of frogs and bringing them back to our house. I set the bucket in the shade of the house and went in to have lunch. Hours later, when I came back to my frogs, they were floating dead in the bucket. I dipped a finger in the water – it was hot. During lunch the sun had passed over the house and boiled the frogs to death. I don’t remember what I did next. Did I dump them in the grass? Put them in a garbage can?

A later event when I was six years old was more mystical and strange. It was early evening and I was at a neighbor’s house, lying on my back in the grass, looking up at the sky. I saw a vision of ballerinas dancing in the sky. Then, from behind a cloud, came a frog dressed in a harness, like something a gladiator would wear. The frog flicked out its tongue and swallowed the ballerinas. The vision was so strong, that the next day, when I saw a huge overturned tree on a sandbar in a creek, I was convinced that the frog lived in the dark space created by the tree’s tangled roots. I found a pointed stick and crept towards the tree, getting down on my knees, and crawled into the shadows, attacking and stabbing the earth clinging to the roots. It was a weird thing to do – I was alone at the creek – there was no false bravado or conscious fantasy.

Years later, when I was a teenager at the edge of a lake, I remember the repellent feeling of trying to lift a huge bullfrog in my hands. The smooth weight, the squirming – I could only hold it for a second.

When Sophy and I met, when I was 57 and she was 48, we were in Maui. We’d only been together a couple of months. I was writing an article for a luxury magazine and they were pulling out all the stops to impress us. They set up a private dinner on the lawn, under palm trees, with a view of the ocean. We had our own sommelier. The chef was sending over special dishes. It was very romantic and as the sun went down we were both aware of how lucky we were to have found each other. It’s easy to picture: palm trees in silhouette, the sound of surf, candles lighting up the floral bouquet on the table. Then we both began to notice shapes in the darkness, moving on the grass. They were roughly the size of a loaf of bread. More and more appeared, until they surrounded our table – huge frogs. Sophy managed not to scream, but I had to cover her eyes and walk her away, until we got we got enough distance between us and the frogs for Sophy to begin laughing.

With frog trauma such as this, it’s hard to explain the Saturday afternoon when Sophy received a package of food from Sonora.

I was on the phone with my father.

Sophy came up to the phone with a fork in her hand saying, “Try it. It’s good. Frog legs.”

I said to my dad, “Sophy’s trying to feed me frog legs.”

“Better you than me,” he said.

When you love somebody, you have to go for it, and I did. Not bad. Tasted just like…

Fatal Flaw

2 Jul

stray-cats-dogs-tourism

Around sundown there was a commotion outside our door in the dirt street – a bedraggled kitten was hissing at our three dogs. The kitten was soaking wet and its tail was solid mud.

I scooped up the kitten and calmed down the dogs.

Sophy said, “Poor thing. Someone must have thrown water on her.”

I said, “Maybe someone tried to drown her.”

I sat the kitten down on top of a trash can and used a rag to wash the mud off her. Maybe our dogs would have killed the kitten, maybe not. We decided to adopt her on the spot. I was pretty sure that once the dogs realized the kitten was part of our family, they’d leave her be.

We gave her a flea bath – she was infested with fleas.

Sophy named her Bella. The kitten spent the evening sitting on my lap as I binge watched Homeland. We made a box for her and she slept peacefully through the night; not in the box, but in my office chair.

I love cats and said to Sophy, “This is how it should be, adopting a cat – saving it from being killed. I don’t think it would’ve lasted another night on the streets.”

In the morning Sophy and I drove out to buy cat food and kitty litter. I was filling the kitty litter box when Sophy came in and said, “Bella has an owner.”

When it comes to animals, Mexico is a very strange place. It turns out Bella the kitten belongs to our neighbors across the street. We returned the kitten and our neighbors told us they had given the kitten a bath. When it ran away across the street and was cornered by our dogs, the neighbors figured my dogs had killed the kitten.

They didn’t bother crossing the street to find out for sure.

There’s fatalism in Mexico that applies to animals.

There are three feral dogs that run around our property where we’re building our house. They’re covered with fleas and they like to sleep under the house’s foundation. We tried to give them flea shots but they run away when we approach. They belong to our neighbors, but even they can’t catch the dogs. They put out scraps of food for them but if they get too close the dogs run for the hills. The three dogs are small and ugly and run barking after our car when we drive off.

Our contractor Antonio said, “I can shoot them for you if you want.”

Never mind that they aren’t our dogs.

I wonder if this Mexican fatalism about animals extends to people. Antonio says, “I really want to be a father. I want to have children to fill my life.”

Later he reveals he has four children by four different women; four children he’s never seen and doesn’t support.

Naked Under the Sun

18 Jun

machete

The money is flowing into Culiacan, Mexico. BMW and Mercedes dealerships line the streets. Our hosts nonchalantly tells us about the narco mansion on the corner, the one that takes up a whole block. When I first saw it I thought it was a school, it was that big.

Our host says, “Last week, seven people were killed there.”

We’re told that the stretch of Highway 15 between Mochis and Navajodad is dangerous at night. Narcos often choose their targets from travelers stopping into a PEMEX. If the travelers look well-heeled, the narcos radio ahead with a description of the car. Roadblocks are thrown up and when the travelers stop they’re pulled from the car and everything they’re carrying is stolen.

I remember one story I heard about an elderly gringo couple who lost their way driving through the back streets of Tijuana, getting so lost that they finally stopped and asked for directions. That’s when they were stripped of everything they had. They were left naked standing in the middle of the street. I think of those two—probably at the stage of their loves where they undress with the lights off—now staring at each other naked under the sun. I hope they laughed and hugged each other. Maybe the old dude grabbed his cock and brandished it angrily at the doors and windows surrounding him. I have a feeling it was probably a lot worse than that, with tears and trembling and deep humiliation.

FREE TODAY: Are You Cute? A Visit with Allen Ginsberg

26 Apr

ARE YOU CUTE Cover

 

Today (Sat. April 26, 2014) is the final FREE day for Are You Cute? A Visit with Allen Ginsberg, an e-book by John Langsdorf.

“Yeah! You remember me then?”

“Yes, I do remember you,” said Allen. “And I didn’t help you get anything published: you helped yourself.”

“Right. I just meant –“

“Don’t apologize for apologizing. Saps the moral fiber. Now, why haven’t you come around sooner, like I told you?”

In one of his letters Allen told me to drop in and “introduce your sweet twenty-one year old self.”

I changed the subject. “You really have a great voice.”

“Must not all poets?”

Sure, Al, I thought; but the comics don’t carry that ad anymore describing how for a few dollars a fellow could develop his very own Voice of Rock. “A poet’s voice should be,” I bullshitted, “one of his most potent charms – as in magical charms.”

“That’s right,” said Allen. “The Word-Sword. But where have you been?”

“I wanted to come visit you, uh – I’d like to visit today.”

“Where are you?”

“Near your place. I just came over from Jersey.”

“Then come on over. Now.”

“Great. You know, I was at that church you run, St. Mark’s Church –“

“I don’t run it!” he laughed.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Are-You-Cute-Visit-Ginsberg-ebook/dp/B00JNZ3546/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398438426&sr=1-JL Guitar JPG 21&keywords=Are+You+Cute%3F+John+Langsdorf

Sophy & the Jehovah Witnesses

9 Apr

light-bulb

When Sophy was down on her luck in Sonora, with a bunch of young kids and a sad sack husband, she received weekly visits from a trio of Jehovah Witnesses. Sophy was raised a Catholic. At first she welcomed these visits; they broke up the day and introduced topics of a spiritual nature. Sophy and the Witnesses came to an impasse over the existence of the soul. Sophy was convinced the soul continued after the body dies. The Jehovah Witnesses held an opposing view – they believe in the rapture where on some fateful day in the future their bodies will ascend to Heaven while the rest of us suffer a Hell on earth.

During one visit they were sitting on the couch in Sophy’s living room. One of the JWs pointed to the light bulb screwed into the ceiling. “See that light bulb? The light is the soul and the bulb is the body. If I unscrew the bulb it won’t provide light – its soul will be gone.”

The JWs left soon after making their point about the nonexistence of the soul without the body.

When the Jehovah Witnesses came back a week later to discuss the Bible further, Sophy sat them on the couch and switched on the overhead light. She got a chair from the kitchen and climbed up onto it and unscrewed the light bulb. She got back down and handed the light bulb – the body – to one of the JWs and then said, “Which one of you wants to climb up there and put your finger in the socket?”

The Jehovah’s Witnesses filed out, never to return.

 

from Pissing on my Pistols

Guest

25 Feb

mexican-negrito-mask-a

It was around 10:00 pm. I was in my home office watching a movie on my computer. All of a sudden Sophy came in and said, “Someone’s knocking on the door – I can’t get it – I’m half undressed.”

I figured it was our neighbor Sun bringing over one of her Korean dishes. I opened the door and a middle-aged homeless woman stood on the step.

“First of all, I don’t have a black eye,” she said. “This is not because of a black eye.”

I looked at her right eye and saw that it was watering. In general, she looked roughed up – almost in shock. She had that look a lot of homeless people have, of being burrowed down deep inside their clothes. As she spoke, she created a weird persona, half angry and half apologetic.

“I was staying in the house up the street, the one listed for a short sale. I have only been homeless one day. I am not a problem. They came and put me out on the street – took all my things onto the street. I have nowhere to go.”

I stepped outside and closed the door behind me. I think my subconscious was making the decision for me, that she wasn’t coming in the house.

She told me more of her jumbled story – something about Newport Beach, a famous doctor – it wasn’t making any sense.

I told her, “This isn’t my house – I’m a renter. Also, I have a wife to protect, so I can’t have you staying here.”

“Oh, of course, I understand.”

Earlier that day it had been going through my mind that I had used really bad judgment in allowing Sophy to be put at risk at the border. I’d told myself, never again and it was easy for me to reject having a potentially unbalanced person sleep in our apartment. I had no proof she wouldn’t wake up delusional and begin stalking us with a butcher knife.

The night was cool and damp. I asked, “Do you have any place to go?”

“No. I have a sleeping bag. Let me ask you a question. Do you know Hector Vasquez?”

“No, I don’t. This is what I can do. There’s a covered area out back, with a couch. You can stay there for one night.”

I took her around to the carport, where we were storing a sofa that was too big to get inside the apartment. “You can sleep here. I’ll be back in a minute.”

I went back inside and told Sophy what was up. Her first impulse was to allow the woman to sleep inside. I told her, “No – there’s no way of knowing how rational she is, for all we know she could open the door and let other people in.”

I made the homeless woman a mug of chamomile tea, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich and grabbed an apple out of the fridge.

By the time I got back outside, she was already in her sleeping bag. When I showed her the food, she looked at me like she didn’t know me. Then it all came back to her and she thanked me.

The apple rolled off the plate across the concrete and she said, “Apples will do that.”

She asked me if she could leave her things with me tomorrow while she went to the bank. Agreeing would have been the first step to being entwined with this woman and I told her, “No, you can’t leave your stuff here.”

“But if I bring it to the bank they’ll steal it.’

“No, you have to take everything with you in the morning.”

She looked pissed as I said goodnight and walked back in the house.

Throughout the night, Sophy and I felt strange, sleeping in our warm marriage bed while a homeless woman slept outside our bedroom window.

We woke in the morning to the woman gathering her things.

I could see her form through the cracked Venetian blinds as she sputtered, “Fuck them… Fuck them.”

(2012)

Hans, Hedgehog – Free E-book for next Two Days

7 Feb

Hans Hedgehog Cover jpgMy e-book Hans, Hedgehog is free today and tomorrow on Amazon. A few years ago I was approached to delve deeper into the classic story by the Brother’s Grimm. A project like this is perfect for an e-book (or e-story). I designed the cover using a 1930s woodcut by one of my favorite artists, Charles Burchfield.

Like I said – it’s a free download for two days.

Hope you enjoy.http://www.amazon.com/Hans-Hedgehog-Classic-Brothers-Grimm-ebook/dp/B00I9HMEXW/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1391790391&sr=1-2&keywords=Hans%2C+Hedgehog

Pit Bull Puppy – Sukey

25 Dec

dirt1

Christmas Eve day. I was sitting on the concrete driveway of our house, trying to get some sun, when I saw a stray puppy walking by. It didn’t take but a second or two to see it was either abandoned or lost. I picked it up – a two month old female pit bull. It was a pretty color, a mix of soft grays and browns. The puppy was friendly and obviously relieved at getting some affection.

I walked across the street to my cab driver neighbor and asked him if he knew whose puppy it was. He shook his head no and I said if anyone is looking for her, to send them my way.

I fed her some dry dog food with a couple of eggs cracked into it and she scrabbled in the bowl, making the food disappear. I noticed her belly was swollen, which was probably a result of eating all kinds of awful things by the side of the road. I was going to have to get some parasite medicine.

I watched as one flea after another poked its head up out of her fur and then burrowed back down to her skin. I got a bucket of warm water and a bar of flea soap and dipped her in and scrubbed her down. The soap is strong and all of the fleas high-tailed it to hide under the hollows where her legs met her body. I hit them with an extra dose and probably killed a hundred fleas by the time I was done.

The afternoon wore on. She slept with her head on my shoe and I named her Sukey.

I put Sukey on the porch when Sophy and I had to run an errand. By the time we got back it was dark and we learned Sukey had either been let out by one of the kids or she’d wandered off. I figured if she truly chose to wander off that was just the way things go sometimes. But if she was confused or nearby I wanted to give her a choice to come back.

I walked up the dark street. Fifty feet way I saw a man with a child perched on his shoulders. It looked like he was playing with his Chihuahua or similar small dog, which seemed to be scampering back and forth around the man’s legs.

I got closer and saw that the man was kicking dirt in Sukey’s face. When she’d try to run in the other direction he’d step in front of her and kick another mess of dirt in the puppy’s face.

I walked over and picked up Sukey. I was happy to have found her and I just stood there for a few seconds. I hadn’t said anything to the man, who I recognized as the ultra-religious truck driver from across the street.

I said, “This is my dog.”

He smiled and said something I didn’t catch – something that sounded like an attempt to smooth things over.

I walked away, wondering about people. Why a man would take joy in kicking dirt in a puppy’s face. Especially with his daughter perched on his shoulders.