Monday, January 26, 2004


Wes ran awkwardly. His boots were made for walking, not running. He slipped and skittered along the narrow maintenance walkway, windmillling his arms and flailing his elbows as he accelerated and disappeared around a bend.

“He’s going to fall and get run over,” I said. “Then they’ll stop the traffic for real and we’ll never make the show.”

“He’ll be fine,” JJ said. “You worry too much.”

“Actually, I don’t even care if we make it,” I said. “The new album is terrible and I hear the shows have been out of control. No good at all.”

“Let’s go,” JJ said. “Look like it’s clear all the way through.”


“Don’t look now,” I said. “But, over there, it’s Sarah Miles and some guy in an Andy Warhol fright wig.”

JJ grimaced and shook his head. “That’s Sylvia Miles, and…. Never mind.”

“Let’s sit over there,” JJ said. He was pointing at one of the tables in front that ran right up to the stage.

“I was sort of hoping to be in the back, out of the line of fire,” I said.

“Come on,” JJ said.

By the second song, The Patti Smith Group was in full demonic mode. The Poet herself spinning around the stage, chanting nonsense syllables at the top of her lungs. As the band cranked up she took a tentative step from the stage to our table, then began to dance on it. She took dead aim and kicked a mug of beer, sending it flying across the table and onto the floor.

I had a hamburger, a plate of fries and a beer. “If she kicks over my stuff, I’m going to ask for my money back,” I said to JJ.

“I don’t think they give refunds here,” he said.

I looked up. The Poet locked eyes with me. She looked at my food. The perfect target. She gave me a little smile and began to work her way down the table, advancing on me. The band was getting louder, the song moving to a fever pitch. No matter how I tried to shield my food and drink, I couldn’t protect it all. She danced a little closer. I spread my arms around my plate and beer mug and ducked my head down, waiting to be blasted.

Just then a disturbance broke out at the door. A scrum had developed. People pushing and shoving. The band continued playing, but The Poet stopped singing and dancing, her attention drawn to the commotion.

Suddenly, Wes burst through the tangle of bouncers and moved toward center of the room. He looked up and waved, “Patti! Patti! You Hoo, Patti!”

The Poet began to retreat toward the safety of the stage. She backtracked carefully, never taking her eyes off Wes. Even though the band was still playing, the club seemed to have gotten very quiet. It was one of those time stood still frozen moments.

Wes broke the ice. He reached into his bag, grabbed the book he’d brought and flung it. It hit our table, slid across and landed on an empty chair at the foot of the stage. The Poet ducked instinctively, then looked back to where the book had landed. When she saw what it was here eyes widened. She leaned over the table and hovered, almost suspended in mid air for a millisecond. Just when it looked certain that she would fall, she snatched the book and righted herself in one quick motion.

She held it up and waved back at Wes. “Hey, thanks,” she yelled. “Thanks a lot.”

The big smile on Wes’s face disappeared, to be replaced by a stricken look of pure panic. He’d just realized that he’d given his prize possession away. He started moving to the stage. “But, but,” he yelled. It was obvious that he intended to go up and explain the situation, but the bouncers were upon him once again. Wes swung his long skinny arms, and squirmed mightily, but this time they didn’t let go until he was safely hustled away and removed from the premises.

“Well, that was something,” I said to JJ.

“What’s the big deal?” he said.

“The yoo hoo,” I said. “That was a nice touch.”

“What are you talking about?” asked JJ.

“Never mind,” I said. “It’s already like I imagined the whole thing.”

“Really,” JJ said later. “You have to admit that was fun.”

“I do admit that,” I said. “But I don’t think it’s the kind of fun I like to have.”


After that fiasco I decided I’d have to start looking elsewhere to fill whatever void in my life had led me to such nights. I began a gradual weaning process that continues to this day. It has been a slow process, however. I thought I’d been totally cured when I turned down a chance to go to a Sex Pistols reunion concert last summer without thinking twice. But the night before last, I found myself playing a Strokes cd, and sneaking looks at the Things, trying to see if they were picking up on it. The struggle continues.

Patti Smith eventually did fall, a few months later, from a stage in Florida.

JJ and I drifted apart. He married and raised a family of earnest liberals. His daughter writes letters to the editor on the importance of voting and good government. His son saves cats.

Wes dropped out of sight. I assumed he was dead, or arrested. I didn’t think about him that much. Then, about ten years later, I saw him selling knock-off Indian jewelry at a roadside flea market. His brown hair had turned a steel gray, but he still wore it down to his waist. There was a flash of recognition, then nothing. He looked at me. He looked right through me. I kept walking.

Thursday, January 15, 2004



Last spring, Thing One slipped and crashed down the stairs head over heels. She flipped once, slid to an almost upright position, then spiked headfirst to the bottom. I thought she'd come down directly on her head, but her shoulder took the hit. She escaped with only a broken collarbone.

The fall's been on my mind ever since. I was close enough to see it in horrifying detail, but not close enough to do anything to prevent or minimize it.

I started thinking about falling more and more.

I know old people who worry about falling. They know if that fall, they will break their hips and decline and die precipitously soon thereafter. But I know that what they know is out of sequence. It's the hip breaking that makes them fall, not vice versa. Nothing to be done, no need to worry. But I don't tell them. I doubt if it would be much of a comfort.

I heard of a friend and of a friend of a friend who had fallen, one from a roof, the other from a ladder. Serious injuries all around.

I got some roof patching to do myself, but I keep putting it off.

In the interim, Thing Two has taken to spinning. Head back, arms out, she's a little dervish, a whirling top, until she collapses, falls down, into a dizzy, laughing heap.

The conflation of spinning and falling, of falling on purpose, of purposeful derangement, of falling unexpectedly, of close escapes and serious injuries, disturbs me, intrudes upon me, reminds me, and finally sends me back to another time and place, to another unsettling series of events that I'd almost, but not quite, forgotten.


What I knew about Wes: That was his real name, but we were supposed to call him Jim. He was going by an alias as he was wanted by some authorities. We didn't know by whom or for what, but we had to play along. It was assumed, but never stated, that drugs were involved, not real criminal behavior. So it was OK. He was a real hippie, come from here, gone to San Francisco by way of New York, then landed back here some years later.

He was older than us, an authentic old hippie, a living remnant of a historic time and a place who had come back and insinuated himself into the regular world.

I worked with JJ. He had grown up with across the street from Wes. "I knew him before his hair was long," JJ said. "But he always had that gleam in his eye. Like he knew stuff that we didn’t. Didn't come out much, though. Stayed in his room listening to music and getting high."

"I don't have anything against him," I said. "But still, I've got no use for him. He's got that strange boyfriend who follows him around like he's on a leash. Who showed up the other day with a black eye and bruises on his neck and says he fell down."

"I never knew you were so judgmental," JJ said.

"He also carries a hunting knife in his boot," I said. "What kind of hippie goes around with weapons and beats people?"

"Your problem," said JJ "is that you're inflexible. You can only accept a hippie if he acts in a circumscribed hippie way. Wes is an individual, that's what bothers you. You think you’re liberal, but you’re not. You’ve got all these preconceived ideas about how people should act.”

“And by the way, why do we have to play cops and robbers whenever he’s around?” I asked. “He’s the most recognizable guy in the state. What is calling him by a fake name supposed to accomplish?”

“And by the way,” parroted JJ, “we’re taking him with us Saturday night. I told him we’d pick him up. So come by a little early.”

“Why would a guy like Wes want to go see Patti Smith?’ I asked. I thought he was into Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Spirit and all that hippie San Francisco stuff.”

“You think you’re so smart,” JJ said. “But there’s a lot going on that you have no idea about. Wes was in New York in the early 60’s. He used to hang around with The Holy Modal Rounders; that’s the connection. From them to Sam Shepard to Patti Smith, a straight line. Wes has the credentials. He probably wonders why someone like you is going.”

“I guess it doesn’t bother him so much that he’d take the train,” I said. "And what do you mean, someone like me?"


It had been a relatively easy ride, but now we were stopped dead, midway through The Holland Tunnel.

I turned around and looked at Wes, then looked down at the brown paper bag he’d been clutching. "What do you have in the bag?" I asked.

"A turkey sandwich and a Rimbaud book," he said.

"Leftover turkey or fresh?"

"Leftover, what of it?"

”Nothing," I said. "I just didn't picture you as a Thanksgiving dinner family kind of guy."

"For your information, I was at my sister's for Thanksgiving," Wes said.

"When do you plan on eating it?" I asked.

"I'm saving it for later," Wes said. "I'll eat at the club."

I looked over at JJ. He was staring straight ahead, trying not to laugh.

Wes was getting a little agitated. "Something funny?' he asked.

”Not really," I said. "It's just that they sell food there. I don't think you're supposed to bring in your own."

"I always do it," Wes said. "I do whatever I want."

"Were you going to read during the show as well?" I asked. JJ snorted.

Wes's tone turned icy. "This is a very rare edition. I'm going to have Patti sign it for me."

I looked over at JJ. He shrugged his shoulders.

"I saw that," Wes shouted. "I've about had it with the two of you. I know what you're up to. You think you can just drive around like this and make fun of me? I won't put up with it!"

JJ turned around and motioned at Wes. "Calm down, nobody's making fun of anyone."

"You're just as bad as he is," Wes yelled at JJ. "You used to be all right, now you're hanging around with guys like him, and plotting against me. Things sure have changed."

"What do you mean, guys like me?" I asked. Then, belatedly noticing that Wes's eyes were spinning like pinwheels, I had an insight. "Wes, are you on anything? Are you messed up?"

"No, not really," Wes said. But then, with that twisted sense of pride and accomplishment that serious druggies and drinkers possess, he began to clarify what not really really meant.

"Because of the long weekend, I dropped some acid Thursday before I went to my sister's. Then after dinner, I got high with my niece when my sister was cleaning up. I dropped some more acid yesterday morning, but it was shit, so I took a little mescaline to smooth myself out. Since then, nothing, except I've been speeding since last night."

Wes relaxed. He sat back in his seat, and a dreamy smile came over his face as he contemplated the excesses of the last few days.

JJ was starting to look a little nervous.

Traffic started moving, then stopped again. I gestured at the line of cars in front of us. "I can't believe it; we'll never get out of this tunnel."

Wes lurched forward and grabbed my shoulder. "I know what you're up to now. I've seen narcs before, plenty of times. Well you're not going to keep me in here, no matter what."

With that he opened the door, scrambled out, and started running through the tunnel, heading for New York.

JJ stuck his head out the window. "Wes, come back. Everything's cool."

"Let him go," I said. "By rights, he shouldn't even have been in here; he never even chipped in."


Thursday, January 08, 2004


Things I Have Experienced, Heard, Read, Or Garnered About Andy (Ex Letter Carrier, Rogue DJ, Drummer/Singer, Sex Offender, Mother’s Boy), Over The Last Twenty Some Odd Years

They told me he was a DJ who played good music, (a novelty where we came
from, especially in that time).

I was prevailed on to go see him. I prevailed on FW to accompany me.

"They say he plays good music," I said.

FW didn't care. "Who goes out to see a DJ?" she asked. (It seemed like an odd notion at that time.)

"We've heard a lot of bad music when we've been out," I said. "Could good music be any worse?"
We went.

"He did play good music," I said on the way home.

"Music's not everything," FW said. "With that white skin and that red hair and that big blotchy head, he looked parboiled."

"I'm not sure I would have used that term," I said. "And anyway, looks aren't everything."

"I'm not going there anymore," FW said. "I don't need it. If you want to hear good music you'll have to go without me."

And I did, sporadically, over the next couple of months. Then I lost interest myself and stopped going. But I still got reports.

Andy's gotten a big head, they told me. He's going to quit his job as a mailman and be a full-time DJ. He’s going to change his name from Andy Thomas to Andy Tomorrow, because he thinks it's cool.

I could have made a joke about the preexisting size of Andy's head, but I didn't.

Then he quit his job and became a full-time DJ and as it often does, it soured.

The club scene cooled down a bit. Andy's been having to take DJ jobs where he has to play what they tell him, instead of good music, I heard. He's even working weddings, they told me. He's a little bitter.

I saw him at a club. He was stuffed into a black suit, white shirt, and had a porkpie hat perched on his head. "I thought there'd be more rude boys here," he said, gesturing out at a sea of blue jeans and black t-shirts. He seemed puzzled and a bit angry.

Then in an attempt to cash in on his local DJ popularity, Andy formed a band. He was the drummer and the lead singer.

"Don't even ask me," FW said.

I didn't.

It didn't go too well for The Andy Band. Apparently, actually playing good music was harder than playing good music. After the novelty wore off, The Andy Band stopped drawing crowds, and appropriately, they disbanded.

I ran into Andy at a party. "Have you heard the latest by The Dead Milkmen?" he asked me. "How about The Meat Puppets?"

I hadn't.

”You don't keep up at all, do you?" he asked, in a disgusted tone.

Later someone told me that Andy had said he had no use for me, or for FW.

I was a little surprised, but tried not to react.

Andy's getting real bitter, they told me. He's jealous of his brothers, for one thing.

"I didn't even know there were brothers,” I said.

Oh yes, they told me, two. His older brother is a successful lounge singer. And his younger brother is in a good band.

"Where?" I asked. "Around here?"

The older brother, he's gay. He moved to New York. This was told to me as if it were the natural order of things, the way that someone is said to have retired and moved to Florida, or gone to Arizona for the dry air.

The younger brother, he joined a band and now they're in Austin. They'll be signed by early next year at the latest. Andy can't take it.

Then, Andy turned from bitter to mean. He snarled at people. He abused his old friends. He stopped playing requests. I heard he beat his girlfriend one too many times and she finally left

She had elephant man's disease, but only a mild case.

She then married a man with an uncommon resemblance to Andy.

He eventually divorced her over her internet addictions.

He now rents out two rooms in his house to illegal Irish immigrants.

He met them while playing darts in an Irish bar.

They are rumored to be on the run because of their IRA connections.

She hasn't been heard of in a while.

But that's another story, or two.

Some time thereafter, I found myself single again, eating pizza in a neighborhood bar, when Andy, accompanied by an entourage of a half-dozenor so young people, mostly female, walked in.

"What's with that?” I asked.

It's Andy and his people, my friends said.

"How does someone like Andy get people?" I asked.

They shrugged their shoulders. It was just a fact.

On the way to the bathroom, I gave Andy a nod. He waved me over to his
table. "What's new?" he asked.

"My car just died," I said. "I have to buy another."

"I had a Civic," Andy said, "but I hated it. I traded it in for a Neon. The Neon I love."

"I wouldn't have thought," I said.

Andy looked to his group. Six eager young heads bobbed in agreement. The Neon they loved.

Andy had made quite a comeback, albeit with a new cohort.

But the love was not all around. One of the female entouragees parent's had taken exception to Andy's interest in his young daughter. Escorting her, underage, into bars and clubs, was apparently the least of Andy's offenses. His prurient interest in her, and activities with her, were
brought to the attention of the authorities. There was an investigation, and eventually, a prosecution.

LW was holding up the local tabloid and pointing to a lurid headline: DJ NAILED FOR TEENY BOPPING. “Don’t you know this guy?” she asked.

"Vaguely," I said. "He used to play good music, a long time ago."

The image of Andy, parboiled in prison stripes, sequestered in the sex offender's wing of some forbidding prison, was one that I found oddly satisfying.

If this were a story, I’d end with that image.

But I left it like that for too long and the narrative lurched forward again.

Last year, at a banquet in a banquet hall, honoring a milestone of a friend of a friend, I saw someone I recognized as an old friend of Andy's. I couldn't remember his name, if I ever knew it. I could only remember him as The Hamburger Man.

"My buddy," I said. "How's it going?"

"Just saw Andy," he said. "He's doing well. He's out of the halfway house and back home with his mother. He has a paper route now, actually two. The kind where you drive around. He’s making pretty good money."

"That is good news," I said. "Give him my regards."

"I was talking to that guy about Andy. Says he has a paper route now," I told LW.

"Maybe from being a mailman he remembers all the addresses," she said.

"Could be."

And then, just the other night, I spoke with Andy himself. He was leaving the local grocery store, leading a very old woman by the arm. I stopped short, unable to get by unobserved.

"It's you," he said to me.

"It is," I said.

Then, "Mother, you know who this is. He lives in the old place right in the middle of the old town."

"I know the place," she said. "Seen the children playing in the yard. Knew you were living there. We drive by there every Sunday."

Andy gave her a sharp look. "We've got to go now," he said. And he half hustled, half dragged her into the darkening parking lot.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004


Unaware that I was being observed, I grabbed a jug of green tea from the refrigerator and took a big swig.

In walked Thing One. “Daddy, you’re not supposed to do that. It spreads germs.”

“You’re right, One, but I’ve made an exception in this case.”

“Why, daddy?”

“I’m the only one who drinks this drink, so I don’t have to worry about spreading germs.”

“I say it is disgusting.”

“Well, it’s not really for children. It’s a drink grownups drink.”

“When I am grown up, I will still say it’s disgusting.”

“That’s fine.”

About a week later I got to thinking. “Thing,” I said. “Do you remember when we had the talk about the green tea?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“You said it was disgusting, didn’t you?”

“Yes, daddy.”

“Did you mean it was disgusting that I drank from the container, or that the drink was disgusting?”

“Yes, daddy.”

But how did you know the drink was disgusting?”

“Not that time, but before, when you were walking the dog, there was some in a cup on the counter and I sipped it, but it was disgusting”

“You know you're not supposed to drink grownup drinks from the counter, don’t you?”

“Yes, daddy. Grownup drinks are disgusting. And you can get germs from drinking from the container.”

In walked LW. “Have you been drinking right from the container again?" she scolded. "How can we ever expect these Things to act properly when you constantly carry on like this? It’s disgusting.”

“I know,” I said. “I’ve been informed.”

Sunday, January 04, 2004


"It's me again."

"This is getting to be a regular thing," I said.

"Have you thought about what I said?" F asked.

"Yes, I have," I said. "And you are entirely right. I'm going to change
the whole thing. Your name is G now, Young Saint G. And instead of a
strip club in Florida we went to a Bible Camp in Texas and instead of doing
what you did to that college kid, you saved a poor crippled boy who had
fallen into a retaining pond."

"You always were a sarcastic bastard," F said. "That's why you never got
anywhere. Wasting your time making fun of people instead of accomplishing

"By accomplishing, do you mean getting them to trust you and then taking
advantage of them?" I asked.

"I'm a healer," F said. "Remember that. A healer and a professional. And
I'm well respected in the community."

"Is that the community of people who didn't see your name in that reference
book of questionable doctors and their dubious practices?" I asked.

"The mention," F said, "was a libel and a mistake. There was a retraction."

"I must have missed that," I said.

"I see so far you've taken my advice," F said.

"Excuse me?"

"You haven't written anything else in that one narrative of yours."

"I've been busy," I said. "That's all. Besides, I've been distracted.
I've been getting these fragmentary memories of another night in a
medium-sized decaying industrial type town. There was some sort of an
encounter with some sort of people of the night. I've been trying to get it
all clear in my mind before I write the definitive version."

"That wasn't me," F said. "I was out of the country when that happened."

"You know, the more we talk, the more it comes back to me," I said.

"Gotta go," F said. "But I'll be in touch."

"Sure," I said. "No problem."


“Can I ask you a question?” I asked LW.

“What is it?”

“Do you know what a retaining pond is?”

“Yes, I do. It’s something called a retention pond.”

“Do you think they have them in Texas?”

“I haven’t a clue.”

“That’s the problem in a nutshell,” I said. “The minute I
start making things up, the whole story goes to hell. I’m
going to have to stick to the facts, no matter what.”

“You do that,” said LW.

“Oh, one more thing. Would you mind if I called you Lupe,
instead of LW? I think it would be better for both of us
in the long run.”

Thursday, January 01, 2004


We were at the Norwegian Buffet. LW had taken Two to the bathroom. OB was waiting on a bench outside. One and I were waiting for the check. The table was cluttered with piles of dishes. Young server Lars approached us, gave the table a long cool look, and in a sarcastic tone asked: “Can I get you anything else?”

It took me a second or so to realize I was being insulted. First, there was the implication that One and I had been the sole eaters. Second was the fact that we were at a self serve buffet. The tousled young fellow hadn’t brought anything to the table. We’d done all the hauling ourselves. All he was really doing was pointing out the inefficiency of the staff in clearing the table.

I was about to explain this to Lars, but held myself in check as I envisioned LW’s reaction were she to return to the table and find me in yet another service related imbroglio.

One saved the day.

“Bring mar food! Bring cake!” she directed Lars.

Lars was taken aback. He half smiled and looked to me.

“You heard the lady,” I said. “Bring cake.”

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