The Seeker

A Meta-Cognitive Journal About Writing… Plus Other Stuff

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.3)

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…continued from yesterday…

Tracy woke to the sound of Linda tearing open packs of plastic plates and cups.  She’d found napkins and plastic knives, forks, and spoons, too. “Why don’t you join us, honey?” she asked Tracy as she set the table.

Tracy wasn’t sure what to say.  Her phone rang. The caller ID read “Mom”.  “I’m not really hungry,” she told Linda as she pressed “ignore” on the screen.

“Nonsense,” she said.  “Have you even eaten today?”

“Yes,” she lied.

Linda walked away and returned a few minutes later with a half-dozen packaged turkey sandwiches that she opened, cut into pieces, and arranged on one of the plastic plates she had set out.  She opened several bottles of water and filled the plastic cups. She then produced a large bag of snack mix and filled several bowls. She had found a few votive candles, too, and lit those with her cigarette lighter.  When she appeared finished with setting up the table, she looked at Tracy and said, “Wait until you see dessert!” She scooted back into the booth, rubbed her hands together, and smiled.

Cuddy reappeared a few minutes later.  His eyes gleamed. He spread his arms out and presented himself.  He beamed widely, and his face was almost like a star on top of a Christmas tree decorated entirely with trucker clothing.  You can actually see his face, Tracy thought. He’d combed his hair and shaved. The scar was like a faint purple line someone drew on his face with a marker.  Linda looked him up and down, winked at Tracy across the table, and asked, “Hey, mister—have you seen our friend? Grubby-looking old scamp. You’d smell him before you saw him.”

A smile cut across Cuddy’s face, and he said to Linda, “I’m sorry, miss, but I think that old scamp is dead or something!”  

“There’s only one thing missing,” Linda said.  She pulled a red Santa hat out from her bag of table settings, scooted out of the booth, and tugged it onto the old man’s head.

The old man felt the white ball on top, and then flicked it with his fingers.  “Let’s eat,” he announced. He sat down next to Linda and across from Tracy. “This looks great, Linda,” he declared.  “And miss,” he said, looking at Tracy, “we’re glad to have you at our Christmas dinner.”

“Oh hush, Cuddy,” Linda told him.  “She ain’t even hungry.”

“I bet she’ll eat,” Cuddy said.

He was right.  Tracy gave in and reached across the table for a piece of sandwich.  Once she got started, she couldn’t believe how hungry she was. The three of them ate in silence until their cache of food was almost gone.  Cuddy finally leaned back in the booth and exhaled. The white ball on top of his Santa hat had sagged forward while they were eating, so he flicked it back over his head again.  He looked at Tracy, searching for something on her face or in her eyes. Tracy felt her face get hot again and looked down at the table. She poured herself more water, and quietly said, “Thank you, mister.”

When she looked up, Cuddy was still looking at her.  He was running his finger along his scar again. Linda looked at the two of them and finally broke the silence.  “Dessert?”

“Yes,” Cuddy said.  “I’ll get coffee.”

Linda came back with a pint of ice cream and a box of chocolates; the old man with three coffees.  He sat down, dug in a pocket in his new jacket, and pulled out a small bottle of whiskey. He poured some of it into his coffee, and then returned the bottle to his pocket.  The three of them ate again in silence until all that was left was their coffee to sip. “That was nice,” the old man said.

“Sure was,” Linda added.  She pointed out the window and said, “Looky there.  Here comes a plow.”

Tracy and Cuddy turned to look and saw a white strobe light flashing on top of a red dump truck.  Snow sprayed out into the shoulder of the road as it rumbled past. It left a trail of salt in its wake.

“I think that means it’s safe to head out,” Cuddy said.

“Sure does,” Linda added.  “I’m going home.”

“I’m supposed to be at my son’s anyhow,” the old man said.  “Guess I can bring some presents, too. They have some nice looking toy trucks on the shelves here.  Think I’ll check them out.”

Tracy felt her face get hot again, hotter than it had been since she arrived.  She reached for her cigarettes and tapped one out of the pack. She got up without saying a word and walked briskly out the front door and around back.  She smoked a cigarette, and then another as she watched snow blow off the roof of the truck stop. It was quiet except for the sound of her heartbeat in her ears.  She looked at her phone again and thought about calling her mother back, but what good would that do? The sun would rise on Christmas morning, and she’d still be at Fuel Town.  She ran her fingernail along her thumb again until she felt the groove she’d worn into the flesh. The spot was still tender to the touch, but she dug her nail in anyhow and worked it until she felt blood on her fingertip.  She allowed herself to cry, finally, and felt hot tears chill on her cheeks in the winter air. Before long, her nose was running.

She heard snow crunching around the corner of the building, and a few seconds later Linda appeared.  She approached Tracy, took her chin in her hand, and said, “There’s a cab here, dear.”

“You’re leaving?” Tracy asked.

“We’re leaving,” Linda said.  She registered the confused look on Tracy’s face, and explained.  “Cuddy left money for us to get where we need to be. That’s just a few blocks for me.  It’ll be longer for you, of course.”

She took Tracy’s hand and walked her back into the truck stop and to the bathrooms.  She ran the water in a sink until it was hot, wet some paper towels, and gently dabbed Tracy’s face.  “I’m just gonna wipe the stress off, dear. You’ll feel better. You’ll look better.”

Tracy stood still and closed her eyes, trying to remember the last time someone took care of her.  The memory didn’t come, but she let her mind go blank. The water was warm on her face; Linda’s touch gentle.  When she opened her eyes, Linda was smiling at her. She smiled back.

“I knew you had one of those,” Linda said.  “It looks beautiful.”

“Thank you,” Tracy said.  She took Linda’s hands in hers and squeezed them.

“Are you ready to leave?” Linda asked.

“I am,” Tracy said and let Linda lead her to the cab.

They walked through the truck stop and past the cashier, told him good night and Merry Christmas, and made it to the cab.  As soon as they closed the door, the driver pulled away from Fuel Town. When they reached the highway, another snow plow sped past.  Tracy watched the red brake lights trail into the distance.

They rode a half mile up the street and dropped Linda off.  She hugged Tracy sideways as the moved to get out of the vehicle.  “Merry Christmas,” she said. “And good luck.” She was a large woman, but soft and warm to the touch.

The cab pulled back onto the highway.  The snow made it hard to see the houses they were passing, but red and green and white lights twinkling through the snow gave each one away.  Tracy thought about the families sleeping inside them and kids who couldn’t wait for morning.

The cab slowed almost to a stop as they approached an intersection where a blinking yellow light hung over the road.  Tracy glimpsed down the intersecting road and saw a flash of reflective yellow. It was Cuddy tromping through the snow with a bag over his shoulder and the red cap on his head.   He raised his arm, somehow knowing it was her passing by. He couldn’t have seen her. Not with all the snow. And he was too far away. Tracy raised her hand in the window nonetheless and imagined a gleam in the old man’s far-away eyes as the cab picked up speed and continued south down the highway.

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Written by seeker70

December 16, 2018 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.2)

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…continued from yesterday…

She turned and looked at the fat lady and the old man, who were feeding the machines like they didn’t care about money.  It was stupid entertainment. They fed bills in, the machines lit up and whirred, and they hit buttons. The old man kept running his finger up and down the scar on his face while he played, like it was itching him.

The fat lady said, “Why are you here tonight, Cuddy?”

“On my way to my son’s,” he told her.  “‘Sposed to be there right now, matter of fact.”

“Bullshit,” the fat lady coughed. She glanced over at the cashier real quick.  “You ain’t going like that. Look at you.”

“What?” the old man said.  “Don’t matter. He’ll give me hell anyhow.”

“I would, too,” the fat lady said.  “Show up like you were working in a barn all day.  Why are you here?”

“Tryin’ my luck,” the old man told her.  “Same as you.”

“Yeah.  We’re a lucky pair, ain’t we?”  The fat lady laughed until she coughed.

An idea came to Tracy.  She walked over to the pair and asked if either of them had a phone charger.  The old man didn’t respond. The fat lady said she had a flip phone. Did that help?

“No,” Tracy said.  “It doesn’t help at all.”  She pulled her phone out and held it in front of the fat lady.  “Mine is newer.”

The fat lady looked at it and said,  “I don’t know what kind that is. But look around.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Tracy replied.  “I got no money. That asshole that took off stole it.”

“Don’t worry about that, honey,” the fat lady told her.  “Look around.”

Figuring it would at least give her something to do, Tracy walked up and down the aisles in the truckstop and found what she guessed was a typical setup for truckers.  Shirts and pants. Cowboy hats. Porno magazines. Knives under a glass case. Bandanas. Rubbers. Zippo lighters. Blankets. Fake leather vests. Any kind of crap truckers would buy if they needed it or wanted to blow some money.  They did have a charger for her phone, though. The fat lady waddled down the aisle and saw Tracy holding it as she checked the package. “Is that it?” she asked.

“Thirty-five dollars for the damn thing,” Tracy told her.  

The fat lady shoved a pair of $20 bills into her hand.  “My dead husband’s pension,” she said. “Might as well put it on a sure bet.”

A minute later, Tracy waited as her phone charged at an outlet by the booth where she had sat earlier.  Linda and the old man kept feeding the machines. The cashier sat behind the counter and stared out the window at the parking lot, where nothing moved but snow falling from the sky.

Once the battery was at a decent level, Tracy dialed her parents.  Her mother’s rough voice came to her ear after the third ring. “Hello?”

“It’s me, mom,” Tracy said.

“Tracy?” she said.  “Honey, it’s almost nine o’clock.  You and Roy were supposed to be here.”

“I know.  I left a message earlier.”

“Is something wrong?”

“Yeah, mom,” she said.  She felt her face get hot again and dug a fingernail into her thumb to distract herself.  “Yeah. There’s a lot wrong. I’m at a truck stop near the state line.”

“What?” her mother said.  “Tracy, what’s going on? Is Roy there?  I tried to call you at home. He hung up on me.”  Tracy could hear the strain in her mother’s voice, like she wanted to get mad but didn’t dare.

“Roy’s not coming, and I don’t know how I’m going to get there.”  She paused to breath, surprised that for some reason she was out of breath.  “He was drunk when I got home. Said we’re not coming down. He wanted to fight, so I got out of there as fast as I could.”

There was a long pause on the other end.  “Did he hit you again?”

Tracy paused and clenched her jaw.  After a few seconds, she said, “I told you he’s off that.”

“You told me he’s off the booze, too, Tracy.”  Merry Goddamn Christmas, Tracy thought again.

“Okay.  It doesn’t matter,” Tracy said.  “I left. I got a ride this far. Hang on a sec.”  She brought the maps up on her phone and put in her parents’ address.  “Blue Island is like seventy miles. Can you come get me?”

“What?” her mother said.  “Have you looked outside? We went to the bar after your father got home from his shift.  He’s asleep on the couch.”

“Well what am I going to do?”

It was quiet on the phone, and Tracy thought for a moment that the call had dropped.  Her mother’s voice returned. “I don’t know, dear.”

Tracy felt her face getting hot again, but her thumb hurt too much to keep digging her nail into it.  She said, “Look. I’ll call you back.” She hung up without saying when.

She noticed the video machines were quiet when she hung up.  She looked over, and Linda and the old man were looking at her.

She looked away and thought to answer a call on her phone so she’d look occupied.  She pretended to talk until the eavesdroppers were back dumping money in the machines and there was electronic noise instead of silence.  She wrapped up the fake conversation, and that’s when it happened.

The first thing she heard was, “Goddammit!  Goddammit! Look at that!” It was the old man.  He was dancing in front of the machine he’d been playing.  Lights flashed, a siren whirred, and the sound of coins clinking in a bucket blared from the speakers on the game console.  “Good God! I did it!” the old man yelled.

Linda stood up, looked at his machine, and said, “My god, Cuddy!  Merry Christmas!” She looked over at Tracy and said, “Two thousand dollars!”

“Goddammit!” the old man yelled again.  “Goddammit! I won! I won! I won!”

The cashier walked over from behind the counter.  He looked at the machine and said, “Congratulations, Cuddy.  Cash out if you want.” He gestured to a machine next to the game machines.  Cuddy stood up, snatched a slip of paper that came out of the machine he was playing, and slipped it into the other machine.  The cashier watched him, and once the cash came out, told him, “I’m happy for you, but can you stop swearing so much?”

Tracy could see the old man’s gray-blue eyes gleaming.  Tears streamed down his cheeks. Linda came over and sat down across from her in the booth.  “Can you believe that?” she asked.

She couldn’t.  Dumb luck. Tracy had hers that got her to Fuel Town, and the old man got an entirely different kind.  “I wonder what he’s going to do with it,” Linda said.

“I know what I’d do,” Tracy said.  She looked back out the window at the snow falling and covering everything.  It was kind of peaceful the way snow had of covering up all the ugly stuff a person would usually see.  She didn’t know what the place looked like in the daylight, but it didn’t look bad with the snow covering it.  There were still no cars, and she could barely see the other side of the highway. She looked and looked for a long time because it was better than seeing that old man jump around.  Linda sat there next to her. Tracy could hear her breathing. The old man came up to the booth and announced, “Hot damn!”

Tracy turned to look at him.  “Look at what I got,” he said.  He had a load of stuff in his arms that he laid on the table.  A pair of dark gray Carhart pants, packs of undershirts and underpants, and a red flannel shirt.  He also laid down a little bottle of shampoo, a bar of soap, a small bottle of shaving cream, a razor, and a comb.  “That ain’t even all of it,” he said. He skipped over to the counter and came back with a pack of socks, a pair of insulated boots, and a heavy brown Carhart coat with a hood.  He ran his finger up and down the scar from his cheek to his throat as he grinned enormously.

Linda laughed out loud.  “Damn, Cuddy,” she said. “This is probably the best stuff you could buy!”

“Tell you what I’m gonna do,” the old man said.  “I’m gonna get me one of those showers back there–” he stopped for a minute and yelled over to the counter.  “How much are those showers?”

“You can have a free one,” the cashier called back.  “You just spent all that money.”

“You sure as hell need it,” Linda said.  She laughed until she coughed. She looked at his pile of stuff and asked, “Why don’t you get yourself one of those reflective yellow coats instead?”

The old man thought for a minute.  He walked over and swapped the brown coat for the kind Linda described.  He came back and said again that he’s gonna get a shower. “A nice, long, hot one, too,” he said.  He looked around, taking in the entire truck stop, and then his eyes came back to the table at the booth.  “How ‘bout Christmas dinner?” he asked.

“Ain’t no place open, you old fool!” Linda said as she coughed again.

“I know,” the old man said.  “There’s food around here.” He pressed some money into her hand.

“Alright, Cuddy,” she said.  “Go shower so you’re nice for dinner.”  Linda scooted out of the booth and the old man disappeared down the hall past where Tracy had found the bathrooms earlier.  Her face felt hot again, so she rested her head on her arms on the table and closed her eyes. She felt a dull thumping in her temples.

continued…

Written by seeker70

December 15, 2018 at 8:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Fuel Town Christmas (pt.1)

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Note:  I somehow cranked this story out in the midst of the PAD Challenge last year.  It kinda hit me around this time when I stopped in a local gas station and noticed the gamblers trying their luck on the machines that seem to be everywhere these days.  I never did much trying to publish it, but it is Christmas-themed, so it’s good to post here.

Fuel Town Christmas

Tracy had already told Mick three times to take his hand off her thigh, and they were only twenty miles out from the truck stop in Racine.  She tried to move over in the cab of his semi, but each time he dug his fingers into her leg and pulled her back towards him. His fingers had found a hole in her jeans, and she could feel his rough skin on her.

“Look,” she said.  “Thank you for the ride.  I have a little money bit of money I can give you, but that’s it.”

He shot her a quick look.  “Don’t make up your mind so fast,” he said.  “Look at how it’s snowing. Who else is going to pick you up?”  He was right. Fat flakes of snow were slanting through the night sky almost like rain.

She had tried at the truck stop in vain for over an hour, asking anybody who looked safe.  The place had been busy with vehicles heading south, each one full of kids and presents and pets.  Nobody had room, though, even if it was just her with no bags or anything. Mick had overheard her and approached.  He had adjusted a black stocking cap on his head like he was making some kind of greeting and told her his name. “I’m heading to South Bend,” he added.  “Gotta go south before I can go east. I can drop you at Blue Island.” He seemed safe, and with the snow coming down like it was and the day creeping into evening, he looked like her only chance.

He was right, but in her mind that didn’t mean she had to give him anything but money for the ride.  “Just stop it, okay?” Tracy said. “Please.” She pulled his hand off her thigh and pushed it back towards him.

Mick sighed heavily and muttered something about Christmas that Tracy couldn’t fully hear.  A minute later, he pointed off to the west at a yellow glow that Tracy could barely see. “Fuel Town,” he said.  “I gotta top off so I can make South Bend without stopping. Except to drop you off.”

They drove past someone walking on the shoulder as they slowed down to turn in to Fuel Town.  Tracy had barely seen the person and wasn’t sure if Mick had since he was downshifting and maneuvering the steering wheel.  Once they were under the canopy at a pump, he told her, “Use the potty if you need to. Grab a snack.”

Tracy dug for a moment in her purse and pulled out a ten dollar bill and two wrinkled fives.  She held it across the cab to him. “It’s all I have.” Mick took the bills and stuck them in his pocket.

They both got out, and Tracy walked toward the station.  Whoever they’d just seen along the shoulder had made it to the parking lot.  It was a man walking out of the thick snow like some mystery figure.

Mick yelled out from over by the pumps.  “Hey! You’ll get your ass run over!”

The man waved his arm.  He got to the door before Tracy and held it open.  She knew she was under-dressed for the weather, but didn’t have a word for what he was.  She could see his socks through holes in his beat-up work boots. His jeans were ripped out at the knees, and forget about a coat—he wore a green flannel shirt and a pair of hoodies.  His splotchy beard did very little to hide the scar that ran from his left cheek down to his throat. She couldn’t tell if his hair was wet from the snow or greasy, but nevermind because he needed to run a comb through it.  He pulled an empty whiskey bottle out of one of his pockets, threw it in the trash barrel next to the door, and said, “Merry Christmas.”

Tracy told him thank you and tried to hold her breath as she walked past him.

The cashier saw both of them and called out, “Happy Holidays!”  He looked at the old man and said, “Cuddy, you old cuss! Merry Christmas!”

The old man grunted something and walked over towards the video poker machines while he dug his hand into one of his pockets.  Tracy walked back to the restrooms, where the smell of bleach was strong enough to come under the door. She came out a few minutes later, glad to breath air that didn’t burn her nose.  The old man had settled into a stool at the video machines. A fat lady sat next to him.

Tracy thought to get some cookies and juice, but remembered Mick had the rest of her money.  She walked to the door and looked out across the parking lot under the canopy. There was nothing except big fat snowflakes falling on everything.

“Holy fuck,” she said.  The cashier shot her a look.  She approached him at the counter.  He looked up at her behind a pair of glasses that had slid down his nose.  “Where did that semi go that was out there?”

The cashier looked outside.  “I don’t know.”

“Do you know the son of a bitch who was driving it?”

“Probably not,” he said.  “I didn’t see him.”

“You didn’t see him?  You don’t know him? All you Fuel Town people don’t know each other?”

“No, m’am,” he said.  “He left. He didn’t even buy gas.”

“Call the cops,” Tracy said.  “And tell them he stole my money.”

“I could, m’am, but it’d be best to wait a bit,” the cashier said.  He pushed his glasses up his nose and pointed to a radio next to him on the counter.  “They’re busy. Accident at the state line. It’s on the scanner. You just missed it.  Lucky.”

Tracy gave him a hard look, but he didn’t notice.  He pointed at a set of small monitors and said that he could check the cameras when the owner comes by in the morning.

“Good.  I can tell him about the excellent customer service here at Fuel Town,” Tracy said.  “It looks like I’m going to be here anyhow.” She gave him a hard look again, and then said, “Forget it.  I’ll call the goddamn cops.”

“You’re welcome to do that,” he said.  “But could you do it outside so we don’t have to hear all your cussing?”

Tracy stepped outside and pulled her phone out of her coat pocket, but couldn’t turn it on.  She checked her purse for the charger, but stopped when she remembered she had left it on her nightstand when she rushed out of the house in mid-afternoon.  There she was at Fuel Town with no money, a dead phone, and no charger. She reached into another pocket and felt for her cigarettes. Half a pack. Merry Goddamn Christmas.

She lit a cigarette and stood there watching the snow fall so thick she could barely see the tracks where Mick had pulled in.  There was a pounding sound on the window behind her, and then the cashier’s voice yelling to go around back to smoke.

Tracy walked around to the back of the station.  Snow crunched beneath her feet with each step, and she felt wetness seep through her shoes.  When she turned the corner, the fat lady who had been playing video poker next to the old man was standing there puffing on a cigarette.  She was so fat that she couldn’t even zip her coat, so she stood there with it hanging open. The place smelled like grease and rotten food, and Tracy was grateful for the stench of tobacco smoke.

“Merry Christmas,” the fat lady said.

“Yeah,” Tracy said.  “If that’s what you call this.”

Tracy could feel the fat lady’s eyes on her, like they were glued to her as if she was some kind of Fuel Town freakshow.  Was the poor little abandoned girl the evening’s entertainment? She purposely looked away from the fat lady, and even pretended to check her phone.  She finally decided distance was the best option, and took several steps away. The fat lady was unshakable, though, and kept drilling Tracy with her eyes.  Finally, she broke the silence. “Are you in some kind of trouble, honey?”

Without looking at her, Tracy replied,  “Don’t concern yourself.” She let silence fall between them again, and then turned back to the fat lady.  “Got a car?”

“Can’t help you there,” the fat lady said and coughed into her hand.  She dropped her cigarette and ground it out with her foot. She brushed some of the snow out of her blonde brush-cut hair.  “My name is Linda,” she said. “If I can help you, just ask.” She went back into the station. Tracy stood there alone and thought back on all that happened since she came home from work in the middle of the afternoon.  Her face felt hot, but she was determined not to give in to her emotions.

She finished her smoke, went back inside, and sat down in a booth near the video machines.  She needed to call her parents. It probably wouldn’t help, but they’d be worried by now. And how was she going to call them?  Their damn number was on her phone.

continued…

Written by seeker70

December 14, 2018 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Plan B / The Last Hurrah (repost)

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Note:  This story originally appeared as a two-parter way back in 2010, shortly after the events that inspired my writing.  My good friend Joel Hutson is featured prominently in the action; unfortunately, I received word two weeks ago of Joel’s unfortunate passing.  Today is his memorial, so I thought it would be a good chance to repost this and remember my friend in the way I would like everybody to remember him.  Godspeed, Joel.  I miss you.

Monday, August 9, 2010

11:10am – New Buffalo, MI (approximately)

I’m sitting in the passenger seat of my silver 2002 Saturn SL.  Joel Hutson is driving.  We just switched places, and he’ll drive until we get to Detroit.  Signage indicates we are 240 miles away and closing.

When Joel drives, he sits closer to the wheel than anybody I ever met.  I’m not sure why.  He sits straight up, too, but I do know why:  He’s had back problems the last few years, and sitting like that helps his back.  He looks rather intense as he’s driving, even though he’s pretty laid back right now.

 

I drove out of Libertyville this morning starting at 9am, until we hit Michigan and stopped to refuel.  We’re heading to Detroit for the ballgame tonight, and we’ll head back to Chicago afterwards.  It’s a ways to go to see a sub-.500 team (almost 700 miles round trip), but this is what you do when summer is packing in its tents in a mere two weeks and you’re heading back to school (in my case), or when your wife and daughter head to Minnesota to visit family for the week and you’re left with nothing to do but hit the gym and study for the GRE (in Joel’s case).

Joel is from Michigan and has never been to Comerica Park, even though he’s a lifelong Tigers fan.  I’ve sold him on the idea that it is the best park in baseball, and we need to make the trip to see it.  This will be my fourth time.

12:12pm – Comstock Township

Joel wants salsa with the chips we’ve opened and put on the dash.  I can’t find a good place for the jar, so I tell him to put it between his legs.  He hesitates, “Is the jar cold?”

“Why does it matter?  Are you planning on having kids and you gotta keep your nuts within range of some mean temperature?”

He holds the jar in one hand and dips his chips with the other.  As he drives.  In the rain.

We’re listening to Feelin’ Alright:  The Very Best of Traffic on the stereo.  I’m lost in taking some notes on what we’re doing.  A few songs play, and then Joel comments, “It’s always good to reach climax.”  I look up from my journal and see him smirking.  He points to a road sign, and I see that we’re passing the exit for Climax, MI.  He’s amused with himself.  I don’t feel anything.

12:22pm

It’s raining hard.  I’m worried that the game might get rained out.  I’ve been to over 75 baseball games and never had a rainout.  I wonder if luck is catching up to me.

Joel and I used to work together.  He used to teach Science at ZBTHS, where I’m still a Reading Specialist.  We’ve been friends since 2004, at least.  My first memory of our friendship is him showing up at the pub crawl I host.  My second memory is the first time we went to a ballgame.  The Brewers were hosting the Mariners.  Ichiro went on to break George Sisler’s single-season hits record that year.  It was easy to see how he did it:  He laid down a bunt in the 7th inning, and was half way to first before the ball hit the ground.

I can’t remember how or why Joel and I became friends.  My best guess is that when he started teaching, we got into a conversation about something; saw each other around school a bunch of times.  Maybe we were with a bunch of other teachers for drinks after work and started palling around.  Most of my work friendships start that way.

12:45pm – east of Battle Creek

We make a pit stop at a Love’s gas station / convenience store.  I see a Lindt Black Currant chocolate bar, which I’ve never seen before.  I buy it.  It’s pretty damn good.

We’ll arrive in Detroit far ahead of the 7pm game time, which means we can walk around the stadium and Joel can take it all in.  I keep telling him that he’s going to be stunned when he witnesses the awesomeness of Comerica.  I guarantee it.  We can also watch batting practice, which I haven’t done for I don’t know how long.

Each summer, Plan A is always to take in a good deal of ballgames in Milwaukee and Chicago.  I usually manage 8-10, but those numbers have fallen since I’ve been saddled with a  mortgage the last four years.  Plan A is still in effect, but I’m feeling stale.  I haven’t made it to Wrigley yet this year, and I may well not given how god-awful the Cubs are playing.  I refuse to patronize the park, though if tickets happen my way, I’ll probably take them.  As for Milwaukee, I’ve just burned out.  They still have a hearbeat this season, but I’ve been to Miller Park five times already and need a change of pace.  So why not coax one of my buds into making a roadtrip to Detroit?  I call it Plan B.

Since we’ll get to Detroit so early, I think it will be a good idea to hit the casino.  Some winnings might pay for our tickets and more.  Otherwise, we’ll scalp some tickets.  If the game is cancelled because of rain, we hope that tomorrow is a double-header.  We’ll get a hotel room for tonight and go to both games tomorrow.

4:30pm – MGM Grand Casino, downtown Detroit

It takes me a half hour to lose $60 playing penny slots.

6:30pm – between Hockeytown Cafe and Comerica Park

I’ve done little more than aggravate most of the scalpers around the ballpark for the past ninety minutes.  They’re looking for more tickets, and we’re looking for any tickets.  We try to stay ahead of them as we walk around and see who has anything they want to get rid of.  They keep soliciting me; I keep waving them off.  One scalper offers us some super-cheap seats, “just so you’ll get outta my way,” he grumbles, but I refuse his deal when he changes his price as I reach for some cash.  Eventually, we settle for a pair of cheap seats in the 300s.

7:30pm – section 337, row 12, seats 3 and 4, Comerica Park

Joel just finished an entire 14” cheese pizza, minus one piece I ate.  I am never short of amazed at how dude can pack away the food.  I had to tempt him to even try the chocolate—“I don’t eat sweets”—but he inhales an entire pizza?

It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Joel’s power-eating skills.  If you ever make it to my Casmir Pulaski Memorial Poker Game, be sure you eat some chili first thing, because once Joel starts on it, it will be disappear like water down a drain.  A few years ago, Joel busted early in one round and went for some food.  When I walked into the kitchen a little later, he was licking chili off the insides of the crock pot.  He looked up when he heard me enter.  His eyes were glazed.  Bits of tomato and onion were stuck to his face.  Beef juice ran down his neck.  I told him I had a snorkel he could use if he thought it would help him.

Since then, he has never stopped obsessing about that chili.  His wife says he brings it up at least every week.  His other obsessions include Mars Cheese Castle and digging up dinosaur bones.  You might say he’s a bit unusual, but that doesn’t get in the way of him being a good friend.

What continues to amaze me about Joel is that he is the most physically fit person I know– he’s 5’9”, 150 lbs, and has a chiseled six pack; even the most hulking muscle heads at the gym eye him with envy.  He still wears clothes he bought when he was in high school.  Yet he inhales food in a way that most of us would regret if we tried it.

9:45pm – bottom of the 8th inning

Jeff Frazier cranks a homer over the left field wall.  It’s enough to pull the Tigers within one run of the Rays and for us to hope we’ll be in for an exciting finish to what has been a pretty decent game.

10:05pm – top of the 9th inning

The Rays score two runs on four straight hits.  The game is now out of the Tigers’ reach.  They fall 6-3.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

12:30am – 15 miles east of Benton Harbor, MI

I think my Saturn can go 400 miles on the tank of gas we bought yesterday morning near New Buffalo.  I’m not sure, but I’m interested in trying because I like to test limits.  Joel isn’t as excited about this as I am.  He suggests several places to stop and refuel.  I ignore him.

The odometer reads 394 when a Michigan state trooper pulls us over.  As he approaches the car, Joel quickly informs me, “He can’t search your car unless he has a warrant or if you give him permission.  Don’t let him tell you he’s going to search it; he doesn’t have that right.”

The trooper taps on my window with his flashlight.  I roll it down a few inches.  He stoops, makes eye contact, and asks, “Are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”

“No.”

“Do you know what the speed limit is?”

“Yes.”

“What is it?”

“75.”

“It’s 70.  It’s not 91.”  I don’t react.  He’s waiting for me to comment or agree or apologize or I don’t know what.  This is true to cop form when they nail you for speeding–  they try to get you to incriminate yourself.  He wants an angle or an excuse or something more that he can act on, but I don’t budge.

He takes my license and registration back to his car.  I tell Joel I’m probably going to get a ticket since I’m out of state.  Joel suggests that I roll my window down all the way because not doing so is disrespectful and is pissing off the cop.  I don’t think the cop is particularly pissed; nor would I say he is happy.  I don’t move the window.

The cop returns.  “Have you guys been drinking tonight?”  His tone of voice tells me he’s mastered what I suppose is a critical skill for a cop– making an accusation sound like a question.

“No.”

“Roll your window down some more.”  I roll it down more than half way.  “Are you trying to hide something?”  Again, an accusation.

“No.  Nothing to hide.”

He hands me my license and registration.  “Let’s slow it down.”

“Sure thing.”

We stop six miles later and fill up.  There was still a gallon and a half of gas in the tank.  We could have gone 450.  I smile and laugh, “I just got out of a huge speeding ticket!”

A flat smile breaks across Joel’s face.  He shakes his head, turns the engine over, and we start the final leg of the trip.

Before we got pulled over, we had spent an hour and a half talking about relationships, responsibilities, missed opportunities, and rare but satisfying victories.  Those conversations are half the purpose behind these trips; the other half is to experience the freedoms of life that sometimes fall in our laps.  Our karma gets jacked up, and sometimes crazy good things happen.  We’ll remember what we did as much as what we said within in the confines of my Saturn.  This is how men do it; not with cosmos while watching Steel Magnolias or while sipping a latte at Starbucks after a day of shopping, but in the wee hours on a dark highway after we’ve gnawed off a big raw hunk of life, while our hands are grimy and the juices are still running down our chins.

3:15am – Gurnee, IL

I collapse on my bed, no worse for the wear of the day other than being extraordinarily tired.  My cat nuzzles me and purrs.  It’s nice to know I was missed.

The deed is done.  Joel and I will still talk about this in ten years.  He’ll add it to his list of obsessions, below the chili and Mars Cheese Castle—his cerebral experiences will never outrank the physical sensations of food in his mind.  He’s a bit unusual, but a good friend.  As for me, I can wrap up summer and head back to school confident that I scored a substantive last hurrah.  Right now, I need sleep.

Written by seeker70

November 18, 2018 at 6:00 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Protocol

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It’s that wonderful time of year again when I join hundreds, even thousands, of other poets and undertake the Poem-A-Day Challenge.  This round puts me in the five-timers club, and as usual it’s a strenuous yet rewarding experience.

images

One prompt last week was “Burn ________.”  We were to fill in the blank and then use the phrase as the title of the poem.  I came up with “Burn Notice,” but it wasn’t quite fitting the writing I was working on that day, which somehow because about the ways in which the Catholic church has handled the sexual abuse scandals that have caught up with them since they were perpetrated over the last several decades (or is it centuries?).  I got to thinking about the internal paperwork that could result from a localized scandal, and pretty soon a voice came to me as I was writing.  Thus, this ended up being a persona poem.  That’s not a form I use with any regularity, but I was feeling the voice quite a bit and having fun writing, so I let ‘er rip (side note:  “let ‘er rip” is huge in the PAD Challenge…  if you can’t get used to that, you’re going to be overwhelmed and fall behind).

Still, I  couldn’t use the title “Burn Notice” because it was inapt in that the term is idiosyncratic to intelligence agencies.  Did that disqualify my poem for the day?  Not exactly.  The prompt from the previous day was “write a poem that hints at something.”  Nothing worthwhile came to me that day, but the soon-to-be-renamed “Burn Notice” was hinting quite strongly at something.  I ended up letting that poem stand in where I had faltered the day before.  I was in need of a new title, though.  I ended up letting the issue simmer in my mind while I went about my daily business today, and pretty soon the proper title came to  me.

Protocol

In light of recent
circumstances, this
is to advise you
of your relocation.

The power inherent in
my office grants me
authority to absolve
you of these actions;

still, take caution to
not speak of this
outside the sanctity
of the church.

This matter is closed.
Neither local authorities
nor our parishioners are
likely to pursue the issue.

It is best now that you
are placed elsewhere to
allow for reflection and
the chance to start anew.

Written by seeker70

November 13, 2018 at 5:01 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

The Prose Poem That Wasn’t

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Third Wednesday arrived two weeks ago.  This is the third time I’ve said this in the past few years.  Seems that the editors over there “get me,” which is an egotistical writer’s way of saying I’ve found a literary publication that deems my work publishable, enough so to put me up for a third time.  Yay me! Every writer has to find their audience. I guess Third Wednesday and their readership is my audience.  Or maybe it’s more the case that they’re saying my writing is their flavor.  I appreciate that. I see TW as a grass-roots, blue-collar poet’s venue, and I’d team up with such folks any time.

The only thing is that I sort of backward-assed my way into TW both last year and this year.  As I described herein, I landed second place in their George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction contest last year.  I did it with what was essentially a prose poem and had always been a prose poem, but it had a narrative element to it and had never really happened in my life.  No problem. Call it flash fiction. I’ll take what recognition I can get. I entered the same contest this year with “Thinking of You,” but no dice for recognition.  It came to me as a poem I’d worked on two years ago but that I couldn’t get to go anywhere, so I converted it into a prose poem thinking that it might work well for the flash fiction contest and ol’ Jeff Burd could walk away with another prize.

Nope.  Instead, one of the editors got back to me and said, “Nuh-uh.  But we like this as a prose poem. Can we publish it like that?”  Hells yeah, bro! I’m not going to pass up the chance to get published!

The problem with “Thinking of You” being a poem in the first place was that maybe it wasn’t “refined” enough.  Puke. Or maybe it didn’t do enough “poetic things” like subvert expectations. There wasn’t enough eloquent sound devices evident (prosody, dontcha know?).  Perhaps it didn’t make deft use of metaphor.  It didn’t change the way the reader views something.  I’ll argue with you on at least two of those counts. I think I’ve got a helluva extended metaphor operating here, and some good sound devices at the start and in the “climax.”  You tell me. Here’s what it used to look like.

Thinking of You
The surface of the silent pond
in the middle of the pines mirrors
the blue sky but for mayflies jetting
back and forth.  Algae breathes
in the shallows along the banks.
A drake unfolds a shimmering caret
behind himself as he skims across
the idyllic pool.  He arcs to his left,
and then his honk like a trumpet blast
rips across the water.  He flaps and flails
as he lurches skyward, but a snapper
locked on his leg pulls him down.
Shrieks born of mortal combat echo
off the trees until the drake goes down
in a flurry of splashes and bubbles.

One thing that was wrong with it, as pointed out by poetic partner extraordinaire Barbara Bennett, is that it wasn’t obvious who the narrator is.  What side is he on? Is he the drake or the snapper? Seems like an odd existential query, and one I’ll wager Camus never posed. Or Sartre, that lazy bastard.  I’ve never considered myself to be neither a drake nor a snapper. Maybe that surprises you because my last name is Burd and obviously I’d be the drake (duh). But maybe you’re just a wiseass like me who likes to pun upon his own last name.  And maybe I’m not the narrator and maybe this isn’t a lyric poem. But maybe it is.

No matter.  I put the poem away for a while because I was tired of working on it.  Also, I remembered a hard lesson I learned long ago: You don’t have to squeeze blood out of every turnip.  For fuck sake, just practice writing sometimes and let it be. In the least, you’ll be better off for the practice.  But then I stumbled upon it ‘round ‘bout the time Third Wednesday announced their flash fiction contest again last spring.  I decided to get it out and rework it, especially bearing in mind what Barbara said.  Taking the line breaks out made it a prose poem, and possibly a flash fiction according to how TW views the concept.  Whatever I did must have worked in one way or another because I have another published piece that I’m happy with.  Wanna see the final piece? Private Message me on Facebook or reply with a comment to this post, and I’ll get you your own copy of it. Otherwise, I’d be undercutting TW by putting it up here, and I don’t want to do that because they like me.  They really like me!

This is all getting to a discussion of genre.  Does it matter if a piece is a play, an essay, a piece of fiction, a poem?  Yes. Without doubt it matters. But it doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as some high-minded elbow-patch academic will tell you it does as he looks at you over the tops of his reading frames and through a cloud of Captain Black.  Hell, a lot of them would tell you there’s no such thing as a prose poem. A piece is either prose or it’s verse. There is no hybridization of the two. Bullshit there isn’t. A lot of those same people probably believe in eugenics, too. Just know that poetry dominates everything.  As an Advanced Placement teacher friend of mine told me years ago, once you get poetry, you get everything in writing. Furthermore, it’s a good idea that whatever you write, write it as if it’s poetry. Make use of all those elements. Combine that with some other advice from last year’s George Dila Memorial Flash Fiction Contest judge Philip Sterling, and you could be onto something.  He said:  Just concern yourself with the integrity of the individual work.

Finally, I almost forgot to mention.  This issue of Third Wednesday also features a poem by Ted Kooser.  Good job, Ted! It’s nice for you to get some recognition and for others to realize your poems are good enough to appear alongside mine!  Many of us have been watching your career unfold for some time now, and have been hoping you’d come along. We’re so proud of your development.  Keep it up, old sport.

 

Written by seeker70

October 17, 2018 at 6:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

I Can Fix the Cubs

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So why does a team that won 95 games this season need to be fixed, anyhow?  Simple.  They didn’t play to their potential.  They have one of the most talented lineups in baseball, and should be lacing ’em up as I write this.  Instead, we’re watching other teams in the playoffs.  Or even other sports.  Welcome to new expectations, Cubs fans.  “Wait ’til next year” is no longer the optimistic rallying cry, and it shouldn’t be with the salary numbers the Cubs are posting and the potential that exists in their lineup.  “You’d better win it next year” is far more realistic, and should continue to be the expectation for at least the next 3-4 years.

Remember… way back in the day?

I’m more than familiar with what the Cubs faced this season.  A top-tier pitcher who went 1-3 in eight starts and didn’t pitch at all after May 20.  A former MVP and perennial candidate who only played 102 games and never found his power.  A top-tier closer who saved 22 games but none after July 18 due to injury.  But still, Joe Maddon pulled through.  “Smoke and mirrors,” they said.  And it’s true.  It takes a high degree of talent and genius to take any team with those problems as far as they went.  But smoke and mirrors doesn’t work in the playoffs.  Power pitching shatters the glass; timely hitting and the ability to manufacture runs aerates most ballparks, home or away.  Unfortunately, the Cubs were still playing “smoke and mirrors” when they needed to change the game plan.  But you can’t change into a new mode you never really utilized throughout the season.

First, we need a full-time lead-off hitter.  I’m hoping that Daniel Murphy wasn’t a summer rental.  He hit .297 for the Cubs, a lot of that coming from the lead-off spot.  But you know Joe Maddon, the “mad scientist.”  He’d rather use the “lead-off by committee” approach.  I don’t think anybody knew who was leading off most days until they showed up at the ballpark.  And while it’s been fun to watch Anthony Rizzo dig in to start games, it’s little more than a gimmick.  Management backs Maddon on this.  The days of Dexter Fowler are long gone, but we need them back.  So if Murphy hits lead off and plays second base (his natural position), what becomes of Javier Baez?  He moves to shortstop.  But what becomes of Addison Russell?  Goodbye.  The club needs to maintain integrity, and being so closely linked to a second player who has faced (and and continues to face) domestic abuse charges is too much for the Cubs to maintain respect across their entire fan base.  Character counts, not just for individuals, but also for franchises.

Speaking of “mad scientist” Joe, it’s also time to give Ben Zobrist a firm handshake and slap on the back and say thanks, but goodbye.  I like the guy plenty, but he’s a reason why Joe is so experimental.  The guy can play so many positions that it’s tempting to put him in wherever on any given day.  But Zo is past his years and can no longer excel at a single position day in and day out while still producing at the plate.  He’s getting in the way of several players making it to the club from the minors and having a decent stay to see how they’ll work out, and that’s a helluva good reason to let Zo go.

Kyle Schwarber?  Gone.  I like that guy plenty, too, but he’s a career-ending injury waiting to happen so long as he has to endure the grind of NL play.  He can’t do it with his frame, even with his tremendous weight loss last off season.  Get him to an AL club, and he’s got years and years left in him as a quality DH.  Certainly other clubs see this and somebody out there is willing to part with a top-tier starting pitcher.

What?  Another top-tier starting pitcher?  Yes.  I hope like crazy that Darvish rehabs and comes back to live up to his salary.  But we’ll need more than Darvish.  Jon Lester is on the backside of his career.  He’s hopefully got two more years as a top-tier starter.  Outside Kyle Hendricks, who improved later in the season, the rest of the staff includes a trio of innings-eaters in Cole Hamels, Mike Montgomery, and Jose Quintana.  That’s great.  Every team needs a few hurlers who are a cinch for 6-8 innings every time out.  The bats will pick up for them so long as they keep the team in the game.  Hamels plans on retiring after next year, so there’s need for help now, or at least the ability to develop potential help.  So, more dominant pitching, please.

Bullpens fluctuate a lot year to year on most teams, so I don’t see the Cubs struggles there as fatal flaws.  We have some solid middle relievers.  Morrow will be back next season to close out games with authority.  Bench players like David Bote and Albert Almora, Jr., and Ian Happ are great and should stick around, as should Tommy LaStella.  But how about a solid, everyday batting order?  Beyond having a consistent lead-off hitter, power in the power positions every day would be a refreshing change, wouldn’t it?  Rizzo and Bryant in the three and four slots would look downright traditional.  And I guess that’s what I’m getting at.  Traditional practices in baseball are traditional for a reason—because they work.  A lot of people will say, “But no, that’s not how Joe Maddon works.  That’s not why the Cubs hired him.”  I see that.  He’s a great manager, despite his meddling almost costing the Cubs the World Series in ’16.  But there’s no need for so much experimentation.  It ends up getting in the way of traditional practices when those are most needed (i.e. the playoffs).  Take the pieces you have, which top to bottom are among the tops in baseball, learn and use much, much more classic baseball strategy, and watch the Cubs return to glory next year.  If Joe can’t or won’t do that, then goodbye, Joe.

 

Written by seeker70

October 8, 2018 at 8:39 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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