Just throwing this out there … do you remember your best?

By David Iseman

Not everyone who slaughtered small animals as a boy ended up a serial killer.

Some of us city boys had no normal outlet for our hunter instincts, so we resorted to searching for something to kill wherever we could.

The backyard. The crawl space under the house. Aunt Max’s basement.

To be clear, I’m not saying this was a great thing. I’m not disputing we could have used more parental guidance. We were probably not the best bunch to be left on our own to find prey. Regardless, I don’t think my early hunting predisposed me to homicide.

I was just trying to get better at throwing.

What’s that, a robin? Let’s see how close I get with this piece of gravel. Crabapple in hand? I’m gonna try to whack that pigeon? Wow, a rabbit! Don’t see them too often around here. Good thing I already had a flat rock in hand. I sent this one flying like I was skipping it across a lake. The whistling of the  stone scared the bunny but — holy crap, no way! — it got spooked the same direction as the rock. The stone spun and sailed for 20 feet, then farther, then more, then, as the bunny juked right, the rock curved and dipped … no freakin’ way!

The impact sent the rabbit somersaulting — its last act.

Impossible throw.

Impossible result.

I remember feeling bad burying the bunny, excited at the same time. I told myself that this same kill decades earlier would have earned me an exalted Eye of the Eagle feather from my tribe or a cool name, like “Stone slayer” or “Throws to Kill.”

It was the second best throw of my life.

If you’re ever at a party and you get tired of hearing the guests talking about the weather, their workout routines or the New England Patriots, ask this question:

“What was your best throw?”

Folks might look at you a little strange until you explain, and some will undoubtedly excuse themselves to head back over to the cheese trays, or the conversation about the Patriots. But don’t give up. I’ve done this a couple times and, after some prodding, the memories flow. I think it’s primal. You just cannot forget that time when the stars aligned — like the bunny’s temple and that rock.

Many people, especially guys with arthritic knees and bad rotator cuffs, will reach back to reminisce about their most memorable moment playing sports. Maybe it’s a basketball goal, or a key scramble on the gridiron, maybe a throw from the outfield.

Don’t fret. There’s often a neat back story. Maybe the base runner thrown out at third had just stolen the outfielder’s girl. Maybe that game-winning basket put some smart aleck on the other team in his place. Or, maybe the touchdown pass went to the chubby kid always picked last.

The best of the stories, though, don’t involve traditional sports. Stories about hatchets perfectly tossed … steel-tipped darts finding, say, the floating eyeball on the back of the $1 bill taped on the board for a big bet … a snowball putting the neighborhood bully in his place. You get the picture.

Boomers have made some great throws, weird throws. They should be in the Smithsonian or otherwise memorialized. Kids today don’t play like we did.

Our games have gone by the wayside as too dangerous or not politically correct. “Prisoner Release” pitted one team locking arms against the other, a sort of tug of war, to avoid getting dragged into a “prison” of chalk lines on the asphalt street.  “Buck Buck,” made popular by Bill Cosby’s monologue, had one angry teenager vaulting off others to come down hard on opponents’ backs trying to make them collapse. Then there was “Hide the Belt.” I never did fully understand the rules. Essentially, it involved finding a belt and hitting as many people as you could with it.

In my neighborhood, one of our games was relatively non-violent but has regardless gone by the wayside, a victim of  of time and environmental awareness. Yes, the neighborhood “egg battle” is extinct. Predictably so; it essentially involved throwing otherwise edible and perfectly good food all over the neighborhood.

We’d make up teams, grab a couple dozen of Grade A ammunition, set some rules, and run the streets arguing over who had been “killed” and who was still “alive.”

Of course we didn’t clean up the splatter left behind — we didn’t even realize how bad eggs stunk when left to dry on a sidewalk — and we gave utterly no thought to the kids in Africa who could have subsisted on those eggs for, at least according to our Catholic nuns, a couple lifetimes.

Nope, this was just a cool way to pass the time, with some strategy, skill and an element of pure surprise: aerodynamic unpredictability. The eggs made were very tricky to throw because of their insides. I’m sure a physics professor could explain this using words like torque, inertia and mass. All we knew was they danced through the air, never following a straight line like a baseball or football.

The best players could get a feel for how they could corkscrew, float and dip. In setting up a team, you needed to know who those players were. Also important was matching your teammates’ skills with their role in the game, kinda like putting your biggest guy on the line in football. I prided myself on being nimble enough to sneak up close to the other team and still dodge a couple eggs fired at my head.

It was dodgeball with projectiles that hurt. It was paintball before paintball, with no goggles and lots less accuracy.

Add to all this the chance of getting ratted out by one or more of the neighborhood snitches and you had quite a thrilling way to spend part of a hot summer afternoon or evening. Of course, this activity had no parental sanction.

The game I remember most vividly came one late summer evening when almost everyone had already been eliminated as dusk settled in. Playing under the streetlights added another nuance — eggs thrown above the lamps were impossible to see until they rained down. You had to be able to simultaneously look straight ahead and use peripheral vision to see what might be falling on your head at any given moment. This particular evening, I hadn’t chosen teammates based on their nighttime skills and I wanted to win quickly and get on to the boasting part of the ritual.

But someone called timeout. A trio of passersby approached, descending on us from the hill of Anthony Street. We set our eggs behind bushes or hid them in pockets, straining to see who was coming, friend or foe.

As they closed in on us, two turned down a side street. That left a chubby boy approaching alone. Once close enough, despite the fading light, I recognized him from his dark curly hair, big belly and distinctive waddle: Danny P. from up the hill. Sissy. Bigmouth. A rat.

He shouted something like: “What are you guys doin?”

We ignored him.

“Prisoner release? Can I play?”

“No,” I said. “Just hanging out.”

“Up here? Why way up the hill?” His grating voice was naturally aggravating but also just too damn loud, all the time. It had to bounce around his belly to build up speed before escaping  his mouth, like gas from a constipated clown. Something to do with inertia and mass, I’m sure.

He burped out more: “You’re usually hanging down by your house. Hey, why’re yins sweatin’?”

We stayed silent and started walking away but he followed, struggling to keep up. He didn’t see the broken egg on the sidewalk and slipped, almost falling but catching himself. He snickered as he realized what we were doing.

“An egg battle? Ha! Didn’t yins get in trouble for that last week?”

We stayed silent.

“Ha, yins were trying to hide it.” His voice turned sing-songy. “Yins were trying to hide it. Hide it. Hide it. I caught ya. I caught ya. Yins are crazy. So close to Mrs. Pack’s house? You know, she’ll call the cops.”

“Be quiet you idiot.” I moved up closer to him, spitting my words while keeping my voice low. “You know she’s always on her back porch.”

“Whaddya gonna do about it?” He kept his voice at high volume, taunting, even though he knew full well I had already beaten him up twice. He seemed ready to make it three.

But … his cousins just moved in the neighborhood and I didn’t know for sure just how mean they were.

I took an egg from my front pants pocket and held it up for him to see, hoping the unspoken threat would shut him up. He backed away but slipped again on the same smashed egg. This time, he fell in it. Angry now, he stood and shouted: “Mrs. Pack!”

I ran at him. He backpedaled more but he continued to call for her. I moved forward. He moved back. It was a weird teenage tango, by sunset, in the shadows of the steep Anthony Street hill. The whole time, I held the egg near my ear, arm cocked, giving the other players time to slip away. Now almost a block from Mrs. Pack — she was old and couldn’t hear that good — I didn’t care how loud he got or how many cousins he could recruit. He was gonna pay.

I had him in my sights, less than a batter’s box away. I fired an egg sidearm, full force, at his torso. His juke failed — he wasn’t athletic — so I scored a direct hit. I listened for the schlup, looked for the spray. But … nothing. The egg bounced off the softest part of his belly, fell onto the soft grass of the devil’s strip and rolled to the lip of the curb, intact. He picked it up, eyes now wide and nostrils flaring. He saw I was out of ammo.

No way I was running, though. Not from this goofball.

I stood my ground, figuring my chances were good. He threw about as well as he ran. He held the egg too loosely — rookies always underestimated those shells — and threw it too hard. It slipped out of his grip mid-throw and lifted, lobbing toward me. Ha! Not only would I be able to catch it, I would fire it right back. Higher this time, at his fat head.

I took one long step backward to position myself for the catch. But now it was my back foot that found the slippery yolk on the sidewalk. I looked down long enough to catch my balance. When I looked up, all I saw was the streetlamp. Then, splat, the egg.

It broke on my forehead and rolled down my face. Joey let loose with a belly laugh. With his physique, he did that well. Then he took off running.

I couldn’t believe it. I was frozen, the yolk clinging to my eyebrows glistened in the glow of the streetlight. I could see it. I don’t know how, but I could see it.

My gut said chase him. My brain said get more ammo. Despite my fury, I forced myself to think. I could retreat to grab one of our eggs stashed in the bushes. But, by then, he would get further away.

I risked it.

Joey ran like he was trying to catch the ice cream truck. By the time I got my ammo, he was almost a full block away, up the hill, waddling though the shadow between two street lamps.

It was more than a long shot, uphill, and what seemed like a football field away, but … I remembered thinking how I had to keep my footing, like our baseball coach always said. Position yourself before you make the catch. Left foot forward, step with the right. But, I also had to improvise. You can’t throw an egg on a line. Not that far. I would have to throw high, very high.

The arc took the egg above the nearest streetlight, out of sight.

Hoping for the best, not at all confident, all I could do was stare at the oval silhouette that was Joey’s body and the smaller, rounder silhouette that was his head.

The egg landed with no sound. I was too far away. But I could see clearly. The streetlamp behind Joey told the story.

Like the rabbit. Different ammo. Slower prey. Same body part.

The egg exploded off Joey’s head like fireworks, that uphill streetlamp providing the bright gelatinous glory my throw  deserved. Silent but beautiful, the spray fanning out like a crown.

A giant crown.

My crown.

The No. 1 throw of my life, bar none.

My only regret? No one was there to see it.

Maybe that’s why I’ve etched it so dramatically in my memory. Or maybe —  just maybe — because it was the greatest throw in the long, fabled history of egg battles.

Joey P., of course, will remember this all very differently. If you see him at a party, he will talk up his throw, the one that splattered so enthusiastically on my forehead.

Don’t listen. Walk away. Go back to the cheese plate. I was there. It slipped out of his hand. His was luck.

Mine was skill. A thing of beauty. And, best of all, I didn’t have to carry that lug away to bury him.

 

A killer giant. From the desert.

(A short, made-up story)

 The sound got Carmen Lupo’s attention before he saw the splash of color, before he heard the whips. Then came the lift.

He had time, witnesses said, to look up to the sound. He was probably confused by the flapping and the thumping —  loud and getting closer.

Those nearby variously described the sound as “a howl like a movie alien,” “a dragon,” “jake brakes on a semi” “a  really big vacuum” and a “helicopter with a broken blade.”

Mr. Lupo died, the coroner ruled, from catastrophic blunt force trauma after being slammed at 40 miles per hour into a 36-foot tall highway support wall.

He was 23, an undocumented immigrant from Honduras and pursuing a nursing degree from Calvasa Area Community College. He worked part-time at his uncle’s muffler and tire repair shop on 19th Street and was reportedly taking a smoke break outside the shop before he was killed.

Authorities are seeking relatives in Honduras.

Bystanders said Anna Koroulus, 57, tried to run but chose the wrong route. Hobbled by foot pain and diabetic nerve damage, she couldn’t ambulate very well, the coroner said; her misdirected attempt to escape might not have mattered.

Homeless and resting near the arroyo at 24th Street, she smiled at first when the noise caused her to look up.

That’s according to a traveling companion, Marty Hicks, who survived. Ms. Koroulus reportedly had time to ask, “Is that a rainbow?”

  She drowned after being caught in a crude lasso then let loose with such force that she hit the canal water at an estimated 62 miles per hour, knocking her unconscious. Her companion said he tried to get to her in the water but could not. He was also  disabled, with only one lung and one leg. He was found slumped against the side of a culvert, using his cane as leverage to keep from being pulled downstream. He’s recovering at nearby Hallstarff Medical Center.

Ms. Koroulus’ body was donated to science as per her will.

Johnny Jinkens, 30, got out of prison three days before his last day on earth. It was an early release.

Had he served the sentence as originally ordered, he would not have been waiting for the bus at 18th Street and Revenal Road at 6:52 p.m., April 12 as the skies grew increasingly hazy. “Bad timing” an officer was overheard remarking somberly.

Mr. Jinkens was preoccupied with figuring out the bus route, trying to find his way to the halfway house across town. He had been applying for jobs all day, according to others at the halfway house, and apparently got turned around in his directions. Witnesses said he didn’t even look up to the flapping, the whoosh, “the crack like a giant horse whip.”

A paroled felon, Mr. Jinkens had served 11 years, 10 months and 322 days in state prison for a Calvasa County sexual assault. His lawyers had argued he didn’t know the victim was only 15; they had met at an ATV four-wheeling party at a remote farmhouse. He was 18 at the time.

A pauper’s grave is being prepared.

U.S. Army veteran Danny DiSalvo, 49, of Highersands, died trying to move luxury cars.

An employee of one of state’s biggest Cadillac dealers on Centennial Road near 20th Street, Mr. DiSalvo was killed in what authorities have described in an initial report as “the second wave.”  

(Editor’s note: The Desert Daily Review realizes the possibility that, due to the nature of what happened, the word “wave” could be construed by some readers as insensitive but it’s not meant as a pun. It is quoted directly from official reports.)

Mr. DiSalvo, according to interviews, received a text with a video from a frantic friend at a fast-food restaurant two blocks east of the car lot in which, according to investigators, the friend captured the “initial fatality wave.” That video, which has not yet been released by authorities, purportedly shows the area of the early deaths. (The Desert Daily Review continues to seek that video as a public record.)

Described as a hard-working, conscientious employee, Mr. DiSalvo had just told coworkers he would do his best to move some of the more expensive automobiles from an exposed outdoor lot to a parking garage — just in case.

He suffered massive blood loss after being snared by a fast-moving, quarter-inch diameter, braided-steel cable, apparently during what investigators are calling “the middle wave of two reanimations of the initial. 6:50 p.m. fatal wave.”

Mr. DeSalvo had served two tours in Afghanistan and one in Germany without injury. He had been honorably discharged.  The Desert Daily Review could not determine burial plans.

No damage was reported to the high-end vehicles. However, three used cars in the back lot where Mr. Lupo had been working were listed by authorities as destroyed.

In total, seven vehicles were hit and incurred projectile or other damage. One that had been running at an as-yet-unidentified intersection was enveloped by quickly moving suffocating material and caught fire, killing the passenger, a woman who has been described as in her 30s, of apparent Somalian descent and wearing a traditional African shawl and headscarf. Identification has been complicated, authorities said, because she was carrying no current government papers.

Investigators at this point are not releasing a specific timeline of events. Fire reports, however, include results of preliminary testing of what was found at three distinct “fatality areas.” All are generally categorized as “rubble.”

Found was:

“More than 250 pounds of potential suffocating material of various colors, some of which are indeterminable because of charring, burning or explosion during the first vehicular impact at Fatality Marker No. 4; about 26 feet of quarter-inch braided steel cable, with a 12-foot section showing fraying or wear in more than one place; various pieces of extruded, broken aluminum parts that, due to momentum, became penetrating shrapnel.”

Late in the day today, President Donald Trump told reporters he felt for the victims and he knew the area well because he owns a boutique hotel downtown. He said it was spared but 22 workers were late for the evening shift. He tweeted in response to the incident. It is reprinted here without editing. “SAD! But we cannot be timid.Rebuild BIGGER! TALLER! #dessertsRgreat!”

The president later corrected the tweet. An image appears here:

Authorities have remained tight-lipped about any working theory designed to answer the question “Why?”

In light of that, The Desert Daily Review is sharing here, in its entirety, the latest news release issued by the lead investigative agency, the Oncillavia County Sheriff’s Department:

“Because of the vehicular involvement and the damage to the highway support wall, the National Transportation Safety Board will be assisting other law enforcement and fire departments in the investigation.

“As of today, because of the early stage of the investigation, the only information being released regarding causal factors are:  

  1. The weather, including unusually powerful convection-driven updrafts and overall wind speed measured at the nearby Highpalms Municipal Airport at 23.5 miles per hour.
  2. Reanimation coupled with responder optimism. After the first fatality event, emergency responders wrongly concluded that events were over and did not rope off a large enough perimeter, push civilians far enough away or block traffic on surrounding exposed arteries. It should, however, be noted that the second and third fatality events following reanimation were triggered by extremely unusual factors, and nearly impossible to predict.
  3. Scope, size and weight of the fatality-inducing materiel.

“According to Hazmat and fire department inventory records, the materiel began its descent from a height of 274 feet at a reported original size of 52 by 97 feet (about 5,000 square feet) and with a weight of more than 400 pounds. Some of the offending red and white polyester, despite separating along seams during the descent, upon impact regardless caused extreme whiplash effect. The sections recovered by responders measured about four feet wide and 82 feet long. The whiplash exacerbated catastrophic impacts still being measured to be documented in the fatality areas..

“One final note: We’d like to correct media reports that this was the tallest and largest of its kind in the United States. That is false. The largest, in Sheboygan, WI, remains grounded until this investigation is complete.

“For more information, please call 888 208-9854 or check out the website we created for updates:

GiantOldGlory.Down.org.”

 

In time for the holiday, #Weetoo!

Seamus Donley’s cauliflower ears perked up. He leaned forward in his stool at the bar at O’Connor’s and asked Colleen to turn up the TV.

She kept one hand in the sink under the bar, holding a mug on the spinning brush in the soap sink. With the other hand, she pulled a stray red curl away from her eyes and hit the remote.

Seamus stared up at the news anchor. He seemed to be talking directly to Seamus, the only customer at the bar this early in the day.

Sorry, ladies and gentlemen we need to interrupt our weather outlook for a breaking news story at the Biltmore Fashion Park. As St. Patrick’s Day approaches, our intrepid reporter Anita Raze has exclusive footage of a very unusual situation.”

Anita smiled broadly, revealing perfect white teeth. “Yes, thank you Chip. I’m here with a very unhappy Danny Boyle.”

Intrigued, Seamus drank his Guinness from the side of his mouth so he could keep his eyes on the broadcast. Colleen stopped her work, turning to watch, too.

The reporter had to squat, her dress riding up mid-thigh of her tan legs, to get her mic to the face of a small man dressed all in green, a big Starbucks coffee cup sitting on the concrete between his green leather boots that curled up at the toes. In his right hand he held a sign with bold letters saying #Weetoo. In his left, he held a small gold object.

From his stool, Seamus couldn’t tell what it was. A tool? A pipe? Maybe a cell phone?

Danny Boyle spoke in a small voice that quaked with improbable volume. The feather in his green bowler hat shook like a kindergarten teacher’s finger.

“I’m freakin’ P.O’d, missy, yeah, You betcha.”

“Danny, we’re on camera now. Can you watch your language and sum up for our Fox 10 viewers your complaint? Tell us why you’re standing out here blocking the entrance to this store.”

“Sure, Anita.” Danny stared hard at the camera as his voice softened, became more lyrical. “First I need to say hi to my wife Polly and the kids, Danny, Connie, Minnie, Maxine. Little Sean. The twins. And baby Mikey. Time for your chores, kiddos. But you still gotta do your homework. Listen to your ma, and Aunt Franny and — ”

“Please, Mr. Boyle …” Anita cupped her earpiece as if getting a message from her earbud. “We don’t have much time, sir. Please. We need you to get to the point. We’ve overheard at least two 911 calls about a tiny man accosting shoppers. The police scanner said something about ‘unsolicited shoe repair.’ ”

“Now, now. Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Missy. That was a false report. Can’t trust those coppers. Both of those ladies coming out of the store approached me. I think they liked my fancy hammer.”

The camera zoomed in on the golden tool with the curved head as he proudly held it high and smiled through his tightly curled beard. “It’s not my friggin’ fault if someone forgets to take their bloody foot out before I start me work. I gotta make a livin ya—”

“Nevermind that, Mr. Boyle. You need to tell our viewers two things. Why here? Why now?”

“It’s a shoe store, duh,” Danny pointed to the Allen Edmonds sign and muttered to himself in an aside. “I guess ya don’t have to have much goin’ on up there in the noodle to make it on to the boob tube these— ”

“Please, Mr. Boyle. Back to your point. You’re upset at shoe stores?

“I’m a cobbler, ya stook! I work on shoes. But no one gets shoes fixed anymore! They just throw them out and run off to buy new ones at stores like this. These places will sell ya the eye right out yer head.”

Anita stammered about. She looked down at her own fancy shoes, trying to hide them from the camera by putting one atop the other.

Colleen used a bar towel to dry beer mugs and spoke as she laughed out loud. “Look at er. The floozie don’t know what ta say.”

Seamus smiled widely. “Eh. But she’s quite a ride, though, ain’t she?”

On the screen, Anita was still stuck. She motioned for the cameraman to raise the camera higher. It turned to Danny, who was on a roll.

“You freakin’ civilians out there just don’t understand the life of the wee folk at all, do ya. You think we’re a bunch of dossers, smilin’ and cloggin’ about. Well, I got news for ya. That’s fake news. Fake news I tell ya. Fer the sake of Jaysus, all dancin’ and flutes and pots a’ gold. C’mon.”

Anita tried to recover. “Well, I must say that I myself am a big fan of Lucky Charms. My grammy and I —”

“Anita, look. It’s clear to me now that you’re not the sharpest chisel in the shed. But I need your help. Listen closely. I’m a cobbler. I need work. Just like everyone else. I can’t be waitin’ about for rainbows day in and day out. When’s the last time you saw one here in the desert?”

Anita rubbed her dimpled chin in thought. “Do you count the Pride Festival?”

Seamus laughed so hard he spit his beer on the maraschino cherries. Colleen whacked him with her towel.

On the TV, Danny cursed in Gaelic then jumped up to try to take Anita’s microphone. She held it just out of his reach.

He yelped at her. “Listen, lassie. You’re quite the looker but you need to just let me do the talking.”

She held the mic even higher, but he kicked her in the shin with his right boot. As she bent to massage her leg, he grabbed the mic.

Moving closer to the cameraman, he spoke quickly and loudly, like an announcer for a car commercial. “Everybody out there just listen. We’re in the shoe repair business, not the freakin’ gold business. My people might have the beards and sideburns but we’re not Hasids. They’re a lot bigger, duh, and they wear all black and usually hang out in gangs. Not around here, either. Usually in the diamond district.”

“So, your picketing for better jobs?” Anita’s voice could be heard off camera. She wasn’t giving up.

Seamus and Colleen shrugged at each other.

“At least she’s feisty,” Seamus whispered, trying not to speak over the TV.

Danny’s face now almost filled the screen. His voice dripped with sarcasm. “Well, aren’t you perceptive, Ms. Investigative Reporter. Thank you Mother Mary for small miracles.”

Anita asked “But what’s your sign have to do with jobs?”

Danny did a double take to re-read his own message. “Geez I’m a whanker. Almost forgot. My mission here is actually two-fold.” He backed away from the cameraman and held the sign up high.

“I still don’t get it,” Anita said. “Hashtag Wee-Too? I’m not sure what—”

“Geez Louise, lady. C’mon. Where’d ya get your journalism degree, that community college over there in Mesa?

“So, it’s like Hashtag Me-too?” The women’s movement? But you’re not a lady. Are you?” She jumped back into the camera shot quickly. Her pert backside filled the TV as she bent down in front of Danny, saying “Inquiring minds want to know.”

Danny danced back with surprising speed. She didn’t get close to him. He sneered as she spoke. “Of course I’m no biddy, ya bimbo. If you weren’t so dense, you’d be see-through. I got an idea for ya. Why don’t you go to a mind reader? I’ll bet they wouldn’t even charge ya.”

“So, why —”

Danny shoved his hammer in his coat pocket and held his finger to his lips as a message to her to shut up. “I’m protesting harassment. Yes, Wee-Too! Do you know how many centuries it’s been perfectly OK to try to put your hands on a leprechaun?”

“Well, I’m only 27 years old Mr. Boyle, I—”

“Too long! That’s all you need to know there girly. It’s time for this to stop! Why just last week I was up there at Cruisin’, that drag joint on 7th, mindin’ me own, stayin’ out of the light, back in the corner booth like usual, watching a guy as full as a pregnant heifer doin’ Mae West and … wham!”

“What happened?”

“Freakin’ biker from Tucson throws his leather over my head while his big goombah buddy, holds me down. The slobs didn’t let me outta the trunk until we got all the way to Eloy.”

“So, you gave them the pot of gold?”

“Oh for crissakes lady, you’re thicker than a donkey’s dangler. How many times do I gotta tell you? We are in the cobblin’ business! Cobblin’. We fix shoes! We don’t have any gold!”

“But on the cartoons, you always—”

“Look, just stop talkin’. You’re embarrassin’ yerself. Just focus on the sign. “Wee too. Wee too! Wee too!” He started prancing and dancing in time with his shouts.

Giving up on her bar chores, Colleen turned to Seamus and did a little jig. He smacked the bar with his free hand in time with Danny’s chant.

On the TV, a big man carrying boxes walked out of the door of Allen Edmonds and stared at the dancing little man in green. He walked smack into Anita. A woman who had been following the man walked smack into him.

The woman threw her shoe boxes in the air and shouted: “Holy cannoli, Jack. It’s one of those little Irish fairy guys. They’re good luck. Catch him!”

The man also tossed his boxes and they both ran at Danny. He did the little side juke-and-slide that always worked with the Big People and slipped between the big man’s legs. As he skipped away, the couple lumbered after him. Anita stood alone, staring into the camera.

She patted her hair into place and spoke with surprising composure.  “Well, there you have it, Chip. Live from the mall. It’s Anita Raze from the I-Team signing off, er … wait. Just a sec. I almost forgot. I knew I’d be doing something cool for St. Paddy’s Day so I researched some Gaelic.”

She pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket of her skirt, uncrumpled it and read, “Ireland forever! Or, as they say on the Emerald Isle … ‘I’m wearin’ a bra!’ “

Colleen whistled and shook her head as she wiped down the glass fridge. Seamus motioned for her to change the channel.

“God Bless ’murica,” he said, before taking a long pull on his draft and mumbling to himself.

“Friggin’ yanks. Whankers. Everybody knows you can’t catch a leprechaun without a cold Guinness.”

Bedtime for bigots

Are you stuck taking care of your elders? Your extreme elders?

Like 90-year-old Grandpa Roland who will not stop repeating the same tired old racist joke about slow-running natives. Or Auntie Elaine who whispers over and over — and again —  about her ex-doctor’s cousin’s sister renting the house on the corner to Mexicans.

More and more people seem similarly plagued these days, caring for parents, grandparents or friends who are — there’s no way to sugarcoat this — bigots mired in misguided opinions from decades ago.

The worst are those who revel in sharing them, loudly. That’s especially grating when, not being a one-percenter, you try to relax at home after a long, hard day at work. You need them to shut up, to just shut up. Right?

So, whaddyagonna do? I have a solution. It’s called politically incorrect bedtime stories. Try one of these. They’ll help you lull these crotchety oldsters into quick, smug, slumber. Trust me, you’ll have them so satiated with revisionist history they’ll be out for hours.

You’ll be able to sneak out to the den to smoke some pot, head to the bar to listen to the latest Beatles tribute band or meet up with your buddies going to the Change.org party down the street.

Get your obstinate octogenarian comfy on his or her Mega Motion 6000 recliner, tuck in that Sensa Calm weighted blanket, feed em a tablespoon of Old Crow and speak in a soothing voice, like Charlton Heston going all contemplative in a scene from Ben Hur.

Then, let the bedtime story for bigots begin…

Once upon a time, after winning all the wars and building the industrial complex, the Greatest Generation finally got a well-deserved rest. But it was short-lived. A new unease was borne, a new threat surfaced.

In the woods behind those quiet beach towns … in the desert lapping at those RV campgrounds … in the kitchens of the all-you-can-eat buffets, a great evil festered. Many thought it dead years ago.

But they were as wrong as a legally deaf translator. The threat was back. Young people were spreading crazy, dangerous ideas again: Legal pot, protest, resistance, peace instead of war and Free Love 2.0 — even between people of the same sex!

Well, this simply would not fly. It had to be stopped. The Greatest Generation could have dusted off their bayonets and handled it. No question. But, after all those years and all those trials and tribulations, those brave men and their women were just plain tuckered out. They needed a champion. They needed a hero.

Enter a brash new character, super-rich, super-confident and super-angry. And telegenic to boot.

Donald Trump, the TV star, the Magnate, the man who knew how to make a dollar and make it with a doll. 

Word spread quickly.  Everyone paid attention. There was quite a furor. The Greatest Generation hadn’t been so abuzz since March 27, 1998, when the FDA finally approved Viagra.

ABC News

Donny mocked Obama. Donny tossed people out of his rallies. He didn’t care if they were white, black or crippled. One bit of popular lore had Donny himself grabbing three protesters by the dreadlocks and spinning them in the air so fast their handmade signs blurred into a beautiful pinwheel.

And guess the colors? Yup, red, white and blue!

Everyone cheered. They coughed. They spit out phlegm.

Donny was as tough as a one-legged ass kicker. He ridiculed uppity lesbians, weak-hearted peaceniks and a disabled guy cocky enough to think he could be a reporter.

This president-to-be even had the balls to brag about his, well, balls. Or, more specifically, his nether regions in general. “I guarantee you there’s no problem,” he said. “I guarantee.”

He was the greatest, promising the greatest. He was the cat’s pajamas and the kit and caboodle, with hair that wouldn’t gray.

His only weakness, and this certainly could be forgiven in a man with such a high calling, was a penchant for exaggeration. Sure, he told a whopper or two, but he lied with good intent: to befuddle the liberals.

And befuddle them he did. All the way to the Office of President of United States of America, with overwhelming support from those old, weary warriors from the Greatest Generation.

Once in power, he started working to get rid of all those sex-crazed Latinos, he cowed the Europeans and he called on men to be men and on women to be sexy. He promised a coal mine in every backyard.

Yup. You can rest easy you American heroes. Turn up the oxygen. Turn down Hannity. Ease into that heating pad. Things might seem a bit hectic but that’s fake news. Donny’s got it all under control. Lay back. Think about Vanna White. Breathe deep. And just listen.

Hush you heroes, time to relax.

Donny just cut your income tax.

And if that tax cut was too small,

Donny plans to build you a big long wall.

And if that wall should fall apart,

Donny will buy you a new golf cart.

And if that cart don’t run no more,

Donny will start a brand new war.

And if that war just can’t be won,

Donny will start another one.

And if our soldiers start to fade,

Donny will hold a big parade.

And if that parade would need more streamers,

Donny will round up all those dreamers.

And if the dreamers won’t go away,

Donny will build you a new highway.

And if that highway ever breaks down,

You’ll still be the greatest generation in town.

So hush you heroes, rest a’plenty,

Donny needs your vote in Twenty-Twenty.

The ticket

Seattle Times

A short story

By David Iseman

 

Sven, yeah he was crazy. But he was good for something. He knew how to get by, to make do. He taught me some things. Weren’t for Sven, I wouldn’t have that ticket.

No, I wouldn’t call him my friend. It’s not like we were hobros — yeah, that’s a funny word, huh? But we were hooked up for a while, had each other’s back for a couple months, even shared a rigadoo.

Ben and Sven. Sven and Ben. Karma. Karma freakin’ licious. You see what I did there?

Yeah, yeah, get to the point. I know. I like to talk too much. Sven, too. We hung mostly down there in the doorways on Greenwood near 85th, side-by-side, a couple of those cold nights in January. Not really friends, though. That bipolar crap made it hard to know when he was talkin’ serious or just sass.

He couldn’t drink for shit. One 40 of Mickey’s and he’d get all agitated, turn homeless Bluetooth. You don’t know that saying? That’s something those UDub kids say, when one of those mental cases on the bus looks like he’s talkin’ on a cell phone but ain’t. You know, when those nutjobs get all excited and talk but there’s no one else there.

 Still, Sven knew his shit. Before he got sick and all crusty, and his leg got infected, he showed me stuff, the best grift, well, more like just a move, or a  tricky play, sorta like you might see from a Binbo. Ha, you don’t know that word either? You cops are supposed to be so smart and all. In tune with the streets. Ha! Don’t they teach ya no homeless lingo at the academy? No offense officer. Just fuckin’ with ya a little. Joshin’.

A Binbo. It’s one of those chicks that don’t have a pot to piss in, gotta eat out of the garbage bins but still tries to look all fancy. They steal makeup from cars, keep themselves clean, brush their hair, maybe trick a dude into buyin’ em dinner, fork over a 50 for a handjob. Not that they’re whores. Just tryin’ to get by like the rest of us. Usually, the binbos know some clever plays, got some stuff up their skirts if you know what I mean. Sven was like that. Clever. Crazy ass but clever.

Where was I? Oh yeah, you were asking about the ticket, and I only found it cuz of Sven. It’s what got me into this whole mess with you all pulling me in and asking so many questions. Well, not a mess really. I guess I actually got a lot to gain, eh? But I don’t like you guys putting me through the ringer. I’ll tell ya again, from the beginning, like I told the other 5-0 fucks. You’re all right. Those fucks were dicks. Ha, I guess, actually you’re all dicks, right, like Dick fuckin’ Tracy. Ha!

Sven was the one who showed me the grift. We called it the Dorka, you know, like Orca, like on the bus cards, the transit system. We named it after those fools on the bus with so much cash they can’t keep it in their pockets, especially over there in Cap Hill.

 I use’ta do the Dorka lotsa days. Mostly when I was Jonesin’ for a 40 but didn’t have no cash. You know you can’t always hustle up the spange. And there’s too many Homeless Joes these days around here. Lotsa days, all good intersections are taken. The Dorka bailed me out many a night. Was pretty reliable. Just had to be smooth, not cocky, take your time. I always carried my walking stick, the one I found in the Washelli cemetery up off Aurora, where they got all those urns buried in little tiny graves. I thought it was a buncha midgets got buried there. Me and Sven set up a tarp on the down low one night up there against the mausoleum and I got pretty freaked out. I couldn’t stop thinking about a whole freakin’ parade of midget ghosts coming out the ground grabbin’ at us.  Sven knew about the urns, though. He knew shit, lotsa shit, if you could sort through his crazy talk.

 Anyway, this grift, this play, the Dorka, only works if you get on one of those older buses, and ya gotta ride when they’re pretty empty. Then, like Sven said, you keep something handy like a walking stick to cover for the noise. You start at least four rows back from the driver, stay low like you’re sleeping and you use both hands, all your fingers at once, to pull up, hard on those green cushiony seats.

 If you get good at it, you can pop a seat without much noise. Sven called it bumpin’. Not sure why. Puttin’ the seat back in place is what makes the loud noise, like a thunk, like a door shuttin’. If you got your walkin’ stick, though, you can time it right and just drop it — you know it’s got this silver heavy handle part. I try to thunk it right down there on the bus floor at the same time when I slam the seat back. You don’t wanna leave no seats loose. Someone will fall. And that’ll piss off the bus driver. Someone will call in with the Bluetooth, real Bluetooth not like Sven, and then the bus drivers get shit from their bosses. That’s when they get pissy and start givin’ us the shit.

 The riders don’t seem to care. They’re too tired. Sven called them the Workin’ Dead, the 9-to-5 zombies. Usually, they don’t give a shit unless you make too much noise. 

Sven says it’s always better if ya clean up a little before the Dorka, you know at least use some corn starch or some  hoboderant. There’s some street talk for ya, chief.  It’s like if you find a chunk’a Old Spice in the dumpster and store it away for getting rid of the hobo that starts sticking to ya after a couple days. Funny, huh? Hoboderant. I came up with that one. Sven was ramblin’ about god or the devil or the rain that day. He didn’t even laugh.

 It’s better if you plan a Dorka day after  you’ve had one of them free showers down at the shelter. Like I said, the other riders leave ya alone unless they have to change seats cuz’a the smell. You don’t want them changing seats cuz then they gotsta stand up. They might see a seat’s loose, or if you’re scooping up change. Then, they go turn snitch, and the driver’s on your ass. 

  You’d be surprised how much coin you can find. The shit just falls right outta people’s pockets, especially the skinny ones. It ends up under the cushions, in these metal wells. They’re like little coffins. I don’t think anybody ever cleans ’em out ‘cept us.

Coins ain’t the only things down there, either. You got your paper money, candy, cough drops, even pills. Sven found a skinny-ass cell down there once. Pretty new. Couldn’t open it but sold it for $20. The key is to take your time. Bump one seat. Pop it back. Move back a bit. Do another. You know that saying, if at first you don’t suckweed. Ha! You see what I did there. No, but seriously officer, I never worked a Dorka that didn’t turn up at least enough for a Mickey’s 40.

Anyway, the night you’re talking about, the one you guys asked me about like 10 times already, I was trollin’ the No. 5, you know that starts up there in Shoreline and goes down past the Space Needle and then turns into the 21. Yeah, down there around Belltown. But that’s not where I got on. I got on up north, around 120th and Greenwood. There was only one dipster dude — yeah dipster, like a goofy looking hipster. Sven and I use’ta make up our own words sometimes, to pass the time. This dude was sitting way up front, and the grift went pretty smooth at first.

 I found the ticket a few stops later, down in like the sixth row, right behind some blue-haired boy, looked Vietnamese or maybe Cambodian. Couldn’t tell. Not sure he was a boy either. Kinda cute though, either way. He got in about 80th, by the big library. He didn’t say nothing, even when I got clumsy and bumped the seat behind him. Hard, too.

There it was, folded up pretty neat like, between  crumpled up transfers and tissues. People push their used up stuff down in there all the time, as if that makes it not litter, and them not lawbreakers. The ticket looked like it was a check so I just grabbed it up. I remember it cuz I found some pills there, too. I  didn’t know if it might be good for something, maybe a free ticket. Figured I’d show Sven. Forgot he already bused himself away, down to California somewhere. He wanted somewhere warm, with no rain. I didn’t pay much mind to the ticket cuz I don’t play myself. Save my money for my Mickey’s.

Sven, when he got in one of his moods, used to make me go buy him a ticket at 7-Eleven. His dreams would tell him to play. Like right then, like right away. Never won though. Crazy ass. Heard he ended up somewhere in some vets clinic, down around San Diego.

 A couple dimes and nickels were under the seat with the ticket and pills, if I remember right. I was more interested in the pills.  Picked the dustballs off and they looked like Oxy, at least some of the numbers were the same. Looked like a 215, or at least a 21. I popped two, hoping for the best, and moved back to bump the last seat that was still vacant. That bus filled fast.

I didn’t think hardly nothing of that ticket til I hear the TV report at the shelter. Pretty sure it was the next day. Coulda been the day after the day after. Things got a little hazy after those pills. I think they were some kinda Morpho cuz I was listin’ on the bus, ya know, like I couldn’t walk right. Slid almost all the way off the back seat. Kept sliding. Like that night I got lucky with the schwill back a’ the bars down by the Link. Those joints get so much business the busboys toss the bar bottles out before they’re empty. Still got some tang in ‘em, some firepower. Gotta fight for the schwill now. Word’s out. Go Hawks! Kick some fuckin’ ass! Woohoo!

 Anyway, I laughed at the news on the TV.  I figured that ticket was long gone, or someone went batshit and got too scared to bring it in. I was waitin’ down at the Transition House, you know where they give lunch away til they run out. We used to joke, Sven and me, that you could go there to get a sex change. You feel me, right? Transitioning?

That house keeps an old TV going so the lunch line don’t get too antsy. That’s where I heard about the ticket. No, didn’t know squat about it til then. Not til I found it. Fair and square.

No, you jackboot jackoff, I didn’t steal it. I didn’t steal nuthin’ from nobody. I didn’t do nuthin’ to nobody to get that ticket. Nuthin but what like I told ya, what Sven taught me. I don’t have no clue as to who sat in that seat before I bumped it.  That’s kinda no-shit-Sherlock, right. You’re a smart cop. I couldn’t bumped the seat if someone was setting there, could I?

I know I ain’t the most proper citizen, but I ain’t no liar and I got that ticket fair and square. Yeah I was doin’ the Dorka, but I didn’t hurt nobody or steal nuthin.’

Okay, okay. Thanks, officer. I’ll wait while you check. Don’t really have a choice, do I?

I’ll just sit here and relax. Warm in here. Nice. Okay. Thanks. I can leave now? I can really leave? Just like that? Yeah, I know. Sure, I understand. I gotta be careful. Nah, no. I don’t need no help. I got a sister up there in Vancouver who’s bound to start talkin’ to me again. Hasn’t in a while but I guess she will, now. Ha!

She has some kinda attorney in-law if I remember right. I’m sure he’ll have a plan to help a guy out with this kinda problem, huh? What’s that officer? Nah, I don’t need nobody to hold the ticket for me. I’ll just take it when I leave. Thanks.

You sure it’s mine, right? I guess I’m lucky after all. Only took 50 years. Sven would be shittin’ himself. Better late than never. I’m buying me a whole truckload of Mickey’s. Yeah, yeah. I understand. I’ll pay any fine you guys need me to pay for bumpin’ those seats. But they shouldn’t have no damage. They pop right back. Good as new. Sven knew his shit.

That ticket sure was missin’ a long time, huh? Stupid sucker who lost it. Guess The Dorka name fits after all, huh? I know I ain’t gonna be losing this ticket. I gotta place where—

A booming voice interrupted. The bus driver spoke angrily. “Sven! Yo, Sven! Can’t you just shut up a second? Look at me!”

The driver shook used his gloved hand to gently shake the shoulder of the man crumpled with his backpack and blanket into the handicapped seat, near the front of the No. 5.

“Sven, C’mon. Ya gotta get off now. You’ve been blabbin’ nonstop ever since ya got on. Acting like you’re talkin’ with the police or some nonsense. It’s me, Ed. You’re on the 5. Time to get off. C’mon. Ah Jeez, Sven. You made a mess. C’mon! It’s time to get off.”

At the man’s feet, a puddle formed. The left pantleg was two shades darker than the right. The diver wrinkled his nose and pulled his jacket up over his face. He leaned in closer to the man’s head, shouting.

“We’re headin’ outta service, Sven. C’mon. Ya gotta get off. Ya can’t sit in here all night.”

The man looked at the driver but continued talking to himself.

Yeah, OK officer. Don’t worry about me. I got a new partner. Name’s Ren. Waitin’ outside. We got a plan in case anyone tries to steal the ticket. He came up with it. He bought five other tickets. Anyone fuckin’ with us won’t know which one they’re after. Besides, I got a real special hiding place if ya know what I mean. Guys like me gotta know how to hang on to our kits. Ya know. Where we end up sleepin’.

I do got a question, though. Do you know if they keep track of the sick vets in the clinics, ya know, like down there in San Diego? Yeah. Sven’s the name. No, don’t got no other name for him. All I know is Sven. Never talked last names. Don’t matter much on the streets. And like I said, Sven wasn’t much for the buddy-buddy talk. Had that bipolar crap.

He had him some skills, though. Taught me a thing or two. Wouldn’t mind lookin’ him up to say thanks.

What’s that ya say there, officer? Ha, yeah, there ya go. Call him with Bluetooth. That’s a good one. I guess you are smarter than you look.

 

2017 Christmas Letter (belated, by only a few years)

Date: 12/14/2017

To: Everyone we’ve been ignoring

From: Dave Iseman

I wish you were here. That way, I wouldn’t have to work so hard to explain where my wife Lynn and I now live. It’s Seattle, which got its name from an Indian chief. The word has come to mean “reconciler” because the chief wisely decided to try to accommodate the odd, strangely dressed people who swooped in to steal all the land around Puget Sound. I am trying to emulate the chief when I ride the bus here, often with folks who look different than me. The other day on the No. 5 heading downtown, this guy rolled his cartload of possessions on board and settled in at the front, where the bus driver usually straps in the people in wheelchairs. This guy got comfortable, pulled out his plastic jug of coffee and announced, “OK guys. Gotta go a long ways downtown, now.” I tried not to stare, thinking he was just talking to his duffel bag. The bus driver knew him, though, and joined in a detailed discussion of how the guy’s pet ferrets were doing. Once I looked closer, I could see the guy tickling them through the holes in their little cage, bungeed in the cart next to the duffel bag. If I heard right, they are Tina and Nickey and he often walks them on leashes. The gregarious bus driver announced to the guy, and to anyone lucky enough to be sitting in the first nine rows within earshot, that she didn’t like ferrets as much as her pet rats.

Most places Lynn and I have lived since we got rid of our home and most of our possessions have had good public transportation options. Lynn doesn’t allow me to have the car as much as I would like. She says she needs to be able to get to work quickly, when she’s on call as a nurse. I guess that’s true. I try not to question her, anymore. She brings home almost all the bacon now, and I don’t wanna be a pig. See what I did there. Anyway, I just sigh and hold my tongue. Don’t judge me. We’re still married after 37 years.

Picking a place to live in a new city can really suck. I spent all kinds of time researching apartments in Denver before we moved there. Only afterward did Lynn tell me she would not live in any apartment higher than, well, probably three stories. Something about fear of heights that I swear I never heard once in the past 36 years. She also said she would not live on the first floor, too close to the bad folks who might be looking to break in and beat up my feeble ass. Did I mention I’m disabled now? Makes for great deals on bus passes.

Everytime we move — Seattle is Lynn’s third assignment as a highly specialized, much-needed and empathetic nurse, even if she does not really pity me as much as I would like, considering my disability — we get rid of more and more and more stuff! Those of you who remember me might recall how much I loved to tinker and build, especially in the little shed my kids and I built when we lived in Springfield, Mo. Well, no more of that. However, for a time when we lived in an apartment complex in Denver, we had a little garage. I found lots of stuff to fix up that our neighbors seemed to throw away every week. Twice, I was mistaken for the complex’s maintenance guy.

Adam, our youngest kid who is now all grown up like the other four, built an odd-looking treadmill desk that I’m trying to sell for him on craigslist. With Lynn and me moving around so much and getting rid of so much stuff, I bragged to Adam that I was  adept at using craigslist. I once actually sold a table that had been in the garbage for $100. My wife was skeptical that it was actually in the garbage and not just sitting there waiting to be moved in to someone’s apartment in that Denver complex I was telling ya about. I stand by my story. Anyway, we live near Adam now. He’s an electrical engineer and has lots of smart friends. As you might expect, when you become a feeble ass, it can be very hard on your adult children. Especially when your wife moves you to the same city where the kids moved to get away from you. Anyway, where was I? Worse yet, where am I? Oh yeah, Seattle. We’ve already been here several months and I have to have some skill to brag about now that I’m a feeble ass. If you respond to the treadmill ad and say you’ve read this Christmas letter, you’ll get 10 percent off.

Can’t stop thinking about the apartment where we lived in Upland, California, Lynn’s first assignment. That complex had a fancy pool and hot tub and wasn’t too far from our daughter Carla, an optometrist now. She got my feeble ass some free glasses. It rains a lot in Seattle and we don’t have a pool or hot tub. Just a balcony. We might move next to be closer to our oldest, Luke, an entrepreneur in Oakland, California, or Mia, a social media expert in Austin, Texas, or Scott, a chiropractor in NYC. My wife tries not to signal too far ahead of time where she plans to dump me next.

Have a happy holiday. Hope this missive finds you well. Unless, of course, that’s impossible and you’re dead. Sorry about that. I haven’t been the best at keeping in touch. Sorry about that, too. But time really freakin’ flies. Especially when it takes so much longer to do stuff, like walk to the bus. Did I tell you how much my leg is freakin’ killin’ me? Anyway, where was I again? Oh, yeah, if you have already crossed over, lemme know where you ended up. You know, basically up or down. Don’t need any long-winded updates with lots of adjectives or adverbs. That’s what Facebook is for. Ix-nay on the elfie-says, too, please, even if you are still alive. You’re getting old and might scare me if I haven’t seen ya for a while. Stick to the important stuff, you know, like I have here. Also, lemme know if you have any special insight into where America is headed. I’m apprehensive. Luke is already planning to leave the country if it continues to go to … well … you know, especially if you’re already there. I have some strong feelings on our current state of affairs. I really don’t want to live in a nation with— Oops, sorry. This is a Christmas letter. I don’t wanna get all political on ya. Enjoy your holidays. Be good. Be kind, especially to the feeble-assed — don’t mock them like the current alleged leader of our freakin’ nation. Oops, sorry again. I’m a bit preoccupied with that pompous ass, as you can probably tell if you take a close look at the, well, more colorful parts of this letter. Here’s hoping for change in the New Year. Cheers!

!

!

!

Dave

The Steelers, angry Joe and his intelligent personal assistant

Joe hated a lot of things, and most people. But he loved the Pittsburgh Steelers and he didn’t have anywhere to watch the big game.

It wasn’t scheduled on broadcast channels and he couldn’t figure out how to hack the network, even though he had taken three computer classes at the community college before being tossed for trying to remove the headscarf from the brown-skinned girl who insisted on wearing it to class where she sat in front of him.

It was a shame, a damn shame, getting booted like that because the classes had been free, arranged by the county job center after he lost his job at the local call center for cursing at a customer who spoke too much broken English.

Joe usually watched the Steelers with his friend Pete but was no longer welcome at Pete’s house. Too excitable, Pete decided, after Joe celebrated an Antonio Brown touchdown so wildly that he punched Pete’s overweight cat.

Joe didn’t understand the punishment. He had apologized. He admitted that he didn’t always think before he acted. But Pete wasn’t buying it. Joe even showed Pete the self-help strategies he had found online.

But it was a no-go. Holding the cat Sandy, who was bleeding from the left ear, Pete had methodically ushered Joe toward the door. Joe had started to protest but finally shut up when Pete put down the cat, held Joe by both biceps, stared in his eyes and shouted:

“Joe, you can be a bigger man. But not here. I got a wife and kids.”

That meant the only way to see the game would be a TV at a tavern. Joe headed over to Bison, Bull and Beer early, before it got too crowded. He didn’t have much money, so he planned to nurse a 22-ounce Pabst and bring along the laptop he found on the bus to look like a hip, cool, educated guy. That way, he figured, no one would try to chase him away, no matter how long he stayed. To complete his disguise, he took along his new self-help book called “Get a Grip. The Guide to Control, Ten Ways to Squeeze More Out of Life.”

He got lucky. He got a nice booth close to a TV. The table was a yard square, big enough for all his stuff: his laptop; the thick notebook he kept to write down his complaints about city government; his medium-sized notebook with his start-up ideas; and the tiny notebook with all the names of people he hated.

Searching for that tiny notebook in the bottom of his backpack, his fingers ran across something hard and round, like a hockey puck. He scrunched up his face quizzically then smiled broadly. He had forgotten about the new Echo Dot he had stolen from the lobby of his old apartment house after the Amazon guy left it for that bitch in 402.

“Alexa, how old is Ben Roethlisberger?” Joe spoke in a low tone, not his usual volume. He was trying hard to adhere to  Rule Number Two from the Get a Grip book. The rule advised to “Talk quietly but carry a big chip — on your shoulder.”

Alexa answered.

“Benjamin Todd Roethlisberger Sr., nicknamed Big Ben, is an American football quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers of the National Football League. He was born  March 2, 1982. That makes him 35 years old.” Her voice was clear, robotic and precise but Joe had to bend close to hear above the din of the tavern and the game’s announcers.

“Alexa, please turn yourself up.” Joe raised his voice, irked that he couldn’t hear and that he had flipped through four languages to find instructions in English for this talking gizmo.

“I am now speaking louder,” Alexa said. “Would you like to increase the volume further?”

“No. … I mean no, Alexa.” Joe paused, then he thought of a joke he had once heard Pete say to a lady telemarketer. “Alexa, what are you wearing?”

When she didn’t answer right away, he laughed and snorted very loudly. Then he did it again and followed with a booming self-congratulatory “Joe, you are hilarious.” He had already forgotten all about Rule Number Two. A 5-year-old boy at the next table began crying. The boy’s father sneered at Joe and moved his family to another table.

“I’m sorry but I do not understand why you are asking,” Alexa said. “I am an electronic personal assistant and do not require clothing.”

“Never mind Alexa.” Joe was still giggling. “Give me the Steelers injury report.”

As Alexa recounted the week’s issues with player health, the waitress stopped to Joe’s right, pad in hand. He ignored her, watching the opening kickoff and listening to Alexa at the same time. He knew from experience that trying to do more than two things at once made his head hurt worse than normal.

“Sir. Sir?”  The waitress bent closer to his right ear. “I’m wondering if I can get you something to drink.” Still no answer, so she touched the back of Joe’s shoulder. As he wheeled around, his eyes narrowed in anger then opened wide. His forearm hit a little silver pitcher of cream. It splattered on his laptop screen. He stared at it, seething but trying to calm himself, trying to remember all the words from rule Number Four. He knew it had to do with “Channeling Anger into Profit” but that’s all he could recall.

Joe’s hands began to shake. He balled them into fists. “You idiot bitch” he said to the waitress. “Look at this screen.”

Apologizing, she took a rag from her apron and tried to wipe away the cream. It made the laptop shut off. “Oh my gosh, I’m so sorry. I was just trying—”

Joe shouted while opening and closing those fists, his shoulders shaking. But not to the waitress. “Alexa, get this fool to shut up!”

The waitress placed her hands on her hips and widened her stance. She fired back with some choice words of her own. Except no words came out. Her lips moved but she made no sound. Face blanching, she clutched at her throat and ran toward the kitchen.

“Ha! Alexa! Ha!” Joe sat and laughed, amazed. He started to make a note in his To-Do Notebook about taking Alexa over to meet Pete but the TV quickly grabbed his attention. The Steeler defense had forced a fumble. He liked TV, especially when it was loud and exciting so he didn’t even budge when the waitress returned with a manager. The guy started to talk but Joe held his palm within inches of the guy’s face. “Alexa, I don’t want to be bothered by people right now!”

At that command, everyone in the place froze. They all stood silent. The only sound came from three tables away. A German Shepherd service dog stood whimpering, bumping his frozen master with his snout.

“Good freakin’ job, Alexa. But can I still get a beer?”

“Yes Joe. You can pour a Pabst Blue Ribbon draft, brewed in 2016 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by walking 22 feet to the west and three feet north. You can find a chilled mug in the 3.3 cubic foot mini refrigerator under the northwest corner of the rectangular bar.”

Joe meandered over to get his drink as Steeler running back Le’veon Bell took the ball over the middle, hesitated, danced past the nose tackle, slid off a linebacker and outran a free safety. Joe stood up, riveted again by the noisy TV.

Joe smiled.  “Alexa, I want Le’veon’s autograph.”

“Yes, Joe. Here is the NFL professional football player you requested.” Bell, still breathing hard from his 37-yard touchdown run appeared at Joe’s side, helmet in one hand and pen in the other. Eyes dull and glazed, he signed the notebook robotically then evanesced, his pixels popping like the carbon dioxide bubbles in Joe’s beer, only much louder.

“Wow,” Joe said, tucking the autograph away in the smallest zipper compartment of his backpack. He smiled at his good fortune until the service dog, attracted by the pixel-popping noise, padded closer. Joe eyed it warily, then tried to stare it down. It stopped three feet away, growled and barked.

“Alexa, what is the best way to kill a dog if you don’t have any drugs?” Joe spoke with cold deliberation, his voice deep and rough as crushed glass. He was trying to match the dog’s snarl.

“I’m researching that,” Alexa said. “Please give me a moment.”

While waiting, Joe held his silver laptop in both hands, ready to whack the dog if needed. It stopped barking long enough to bare its teeth. Its ears stood straight up. Saliva dripped from its purple-and-black tongue.

Alexa said, “A firearm is perhaps the most surefire way, although advocates for animals do not—”

“Nevermind, you’re too damn slow, Alexa.” Throwing beer in the dog’s eyes, Joe followed up with a swift kick to its side, sending it rolling toward the kitchen with a yelp. Joe picked up a sugar dispenser. It was as heavy as the rock Joe had used earlier in the day to break the windshield of the Audi with the swarthy guy with a beard who Joe was convinced had followed him after Joe snuck into the YMCA for a shower. He rolled it as hard as he could at the dog and picked up another one, yelling:

“You wanna die you fuckin’ Kraut, mother fucker?”

The dog laid down in submission, its head on its paws.

Staring into the dog’s baleful eyes, Joe felt a pang of remorse, as often happened after an outburst. He remembered how animals were so much better than people.  He remembered the same feeling after punching Pete’s dumbass cat.

He made loud kissing noises to try to get the dog to come back to his table. He pushed the frozen waitress out of the way and said, “C’mere boy. C’mere.” But the falling waitress scared the dog more and it ran into the kitchen. “Ah crap,” Joe said, his hands shaking and sweat trickling from his armpits to his forearms. He reached for his self-help book, trying to remember the step he needed. Then, he remembered the Echo. “Alexa, can you give me a hand here? I need help. What’s Number Seven?”

“Number Seven is a symbol used for counting and in mathematics. It is the fourth prime number,  and is not only a—”

“Aaargh, you stupid jagoff. You’re fucking with me, aren’t  you?” Joe held his hands to his ears. Then, he scratched his head furiously with both hands. He realized his hands were also sweaty.  “What the hell, Alexa? Are you listening to me? How could you be so stupid? I need Number Seven. From the “Get a Grip” list. … Number Seven!”

“Oh, I see, Joe. One moment. However, while I am researching that, I need to correct you on two things you have said. I am a helpful computerized assistant, not a female dog. I am also not an idiot. I am not having intercourse with you, either. I am an intelligent computerized assistant. An idiot is a stupid or foolish person, or, in an outdated definition, a person with a mental handicap or retar—”

Joe screamed like a crackhead who dropped his last glass pipe. Breathing heavily, hands palms down on the table, the Echo device between them, he leaned into it and barked more orders.

“I’m trying to be a bigger man, you idiot. So I need you to hurry up and do exactly what I tell you to do.”

He forgot to say the word “Alexa,” though, and she continued responding to his previous question.

“I found Number Seven. Here it is. That rule is ‘Do unto others as you would have a pretty girl do unto you.’ Would you like me to recite all 10 rules?”

“No, no. I got it now. Just shut the fuck up. You’re just like the rest of these idiots. Shut up. I gotta think. I need … I need time.”

She stayed silent.

Joe sunk into his seat. He felt the slap of nausea and heard a vacuum sound. His Steelers sweatshirt suddenly felt three sizes too big. His shoes fell off. He hugged his chest.

“Alexa, what the fuck? What did you do? I’m freakin’ shrinking.  I’m really getting—” Joe was talking but he thought he was hearing someone else. Someone with a squeaky, higher voice.

Alexa interrupted. “I was being quiet as you ordered, Joe. But,  you also ordered extra time. You have been returned to age 12. Would you like more years?”

“Geez, no Alexa. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t ‘a ought’a raised my voice like that. I need help. I really do. Please. How did you—”

A roar from the TV distracted him. The sportscasters, in raised voices, explained that Kansas City’s deep safety Jimmy “Long Laces” Johnson intercepted a pass by the Steelers and returned it for a touchdown. The color commentator added: “I’m sure loyal chiefs fans remember Jimmy’s father, Johnny Washington, not only a hall-of-famer but also a great humanitarian. A good man. Larger than life.”

Pre-teen Joe tried to stand but tripped on his oversized pants. He avoided falling only by hanging on to the frozen restaurant manager. He cursed himself and cried. In his quavering new voice, he asked, pleaded, implored.

“Alexa, does the “Get a Grip” book give advice for a poor guy like me? A regular guy? You know, a guy with some problems? Can somebody like me become a bigger man?’

“I’m researching that, Joe. This will take a few seconds.”

Joe wished the big dog would come back and let him pet it. But he worried he could now also eat him he had become so much smaller. Joe spoke again with resignation. “I gotta stop screwin’ up, Alexa. I wanna be a good person. I wanna be like the guy on the TV, I wanna be larger than life.”

“I can help with that, Joe.” Alexa spoke with a new lilt to her voice.

Immediately, the bar shook with a sound like an airplane taking off. Joe tried to ask Alexa what was happening but he couldn’t talk. His cheeks were too fat. His arms, legs, stomach got larger. His clothes peeled away like the Incredible Hulk’s and he quickly got taller like when someone turns on the fan for one of those giant dancing tube men advertising “Great Deals” outside strip malls.

Joe shot up to two stories in height. The bar was only one story.

His head split open when it hit a thick beam that spanned the entire length of the ceiling, but his body kept growing. When it was over, Giant Joe slumped across four entire booths. A family of frozen redheads kept his head from hitting the floor. He bled. He couldn’t move. His neck sat at an unnatural angle.

In a strained whisper, he implored: “Alexa. Please. Make the pain stop.”

Alexa seemed to giggle. She said, “Of course. Joe. Happy to oblige.”

Don’t let Trump bring out the worst in you — not without research

I have learned to stop, breathe and reflect before I react to the antics of our alleged 45th president. 

I’m starting to agree with those who say he deliberately aggravates to get a reaction. I’m becoming more and more convinced he tweets and speaks so much bull to keep me and you and other reasonable people off balance, in an unthinking frenzy.

He wants us to dash off angry tweets or waste our time commiserating with other Trumpagonists. (Yeah, I made that up. It means anyone agonized by Trumpisms.)

I’m not biting anymore. For instance when he started his NFL rants, I didn’t react with emotion. I didn’t say stuff I wanted to say like:

— Screw you, you doughy piece of privileged, quivering crap.  — Where was all your red-white-and-blue, flag-waving fervor during Vietnam? You’re a cowardly, deferment-loving, draft-dodging wuss.

— You talk big for a punk. Only when sheltered behind your secret service bodyguards, only from your perch above the masses do you insult street-tough professional athletes. Worse yet, their mothers.

— Try that Son of a Bitch remark to the face of a 250-pound, muscled linebacker who grew up watching lazy cops fail to enforce the law in one of America’s wonderful ghettos? Better yet, talk crap on his mother.

— You know what you can do you cocky excuse for a patriot? You can suck my—

Oops. Wait. I was trying hard not to say anything like that. I’m sorry that I’ve allowed His Arrogance to make me lose my head. I didn’t pop off like that when the NFL flap developed. No, like many people smarter than me, I used my brain instead of my tongue. I started thinking, and reading more. I wondered about the real meaning of patriotism.

Isn’t it, in a nutshell, the courage to do what you think is best for your country? Doesn’t that involve standing up — or kneeling or turning your back — whatever it takes to call attention to danger for the US?

Just to be clear, I’m not asking those questions of the Lying King. (No, I didn’t make that one up.) He bullshits so much he doesn’t even remember what he has said. He’s just doing more carnival barking when it comes to the NFL.

Look over there! Look over there! Look at these bad Americans. Don’t look at me. They’re stealing your country, not me!

 

Sorry, Benedict Donald. (That one has been around a while, too.) I’m not biting. Some of us remember  a really important type of patriotism you never mention. Why would you? On this front, you’re a yellow (or orange?) bellied traitor.

I wish more people would revive environmental patriotism.

I googled the phrase the other day and saw very few recent references. Has it gone out of fashion? While Our Conflagrator in Chief (that is one of mine) kills rule after regulation meant to save the freakin’ world? Is environmental patriotism fading when we need it most?

At 60-plus, I’m pretty old. But I remember a time when celebrating American military power was NOT patriotic. A questionable war, the bombing and burning of innocents and tens of thousands of lost American lives have a profound way of silencing jingoism.

For a time, patriotism wasn’t talking tough; it was being tough.

Tough enough to try to bike instead of drive. Tough enough to live in a city to conserve land. Tough enough to wait in a gas line rather than placate a crazy dictator with oil. Tough enough to try to teach your kids to tough it out, too.

A whole bunch of Americans — I’d like to think many were of my generation — raised our kids to not expect life to be easy. Better than we had it, sure. And cleaner. Nicer. Smarter. Yes. But easier? No.

In that google search I mentioned above, I found reviews of one book talking about how Americans during times of environmental crises have reacted with patriotic resolve. It has a long clinical-sounding name, Communicating environmental patriotism: a rhetorical history of the American environmental movement. But author Ann Marie Todd, analyzes intriguing events like:

— A conference promoting the value of preserving the environment to help Western tourism more than 110 years ago. It had a catchy name that even our Cheeto in Chief (not mine) might like. It was called See America First.

The 1908 White House Conservation Congress, when leaders from across the country, along with — imagine this — scientific minds of the era, were brought together in an amazing show of recognition that US natural resources would not last forever. Attendance at the conference was described in a historical journal: “… there assembled May 13, 1908, at the East Room of the White House, the President, Vice President, seven members of the Cabinet, nine justices of the Supreme Court, many members of Congress, the governors of thirty-four states, and representatives of the other twelve, the governors of all the territories, including Alaska, Hawaii, and Porto Rico, the President of the Board of Commissioners of the District of Columbia, representatives of sixty-eight national societies, four special guests, forty-eight general guests, and the members of the Inland Waterways Commission.” (Puerto Rico was anglicanized back then. But, at least it wasn’t ignored like today.)

— A 1912 conference during the choking, smoking era of steel production in Pittsburgh, where I grew up. Basically, the meeting was designed to figure out how to use science and public opinion to force coal-burning mills to abate the nuisance of smoke and its health threats. Not lost either on leaders back then was the economic impact of the pollution, estimated to be about $10 million annually. Wow. That much. Even that long ago.

— Extensive World War II efforts to show Americans that conservation was a civic duty.

Isn’t it still? Isn’t our alleged president neglecting his duty?  

Why do we have to keep repeating our mistakes? Why do we allow Derelict Don (as far as I can tell, that’s mine) to distract us with taunts about ball players while he takes actions that will destroy the natural world as we know it?

Oh, I forgot. It’s not really about football, says the Great White Dope (not mine). It’s  about those brave veterans who put their lives on the line. It’s about the flag, pride and our national security.

Fine, then let’s listen to some veterans.

Again, from that google search of “environmental patriotism.”

It is time for Americans to rise to the challenge. It is our shared duty to keep our nation safe. Doing so requires us to recognize the very real threats posed by climate change.

“It requires us to take appropriate action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon; and to generate clean, domestic, affordable and safe energy here at home. … As Montana veterans, we understand the spirit of Americans rising to meet a national challenge and believe our strength lies in meeting the challenge of climate change with integrity, ingenuity and courage.

    “So join us on this Independence Day. Reflect on what patriotism means, take steps to reduce your carbon pollution and support efforts to generate clean, domestic, affordable and safe energy for these United States of America.”

    You might have noticed these vets are not from California, or New York or some other predominately liberal state. These folks are from Montana, seven of them, with various war and service experience, ranging from Vietnam to Korea to Iraq.

 This was published July 3, 2014.

  I could end by saying I hope Adolph Twitler (nope, not mine either) reads this. But, that’s ridiculous to think. He doesn’t seek opinion that differs from his or his handlers. He barks at his base to get them to howl happily and to get us to howl in paralyzing anger — and do nothing else. I gotta admit that it feels good to criticize Fuckface Von Clownstick (I love this one, but cannot claim it).

  But it’s foolhardy to vent without getting smarter.

  Hopefully, this missive helps to prove the two are not mutually exclusive.

  

Rosie the Riveter? Nope, today we need Pedro the Plumber.

Have you ever done dirty work? Really dirty? I’m not talking about a few paint spatters on your old jeans, or sawdust on your cap. I’m talking about a job that, after 10 minutes has you wet, cold or covered with something noxious.

Maybe it’s sticky. Or smelly. Or slippery. Maybe flying ash. Maybe it’s dust getting into your ears, eyes or every pore.

 You don’t even get time to clean up. Or,  you know it’s useless to try until day’s end.

  I’ve worked dirty. I don’t claim to be a hardened tradesman but I spent some of my younger years digging ditches, moving gravel and spreading tar on the foundations of new homes. After that, I hauled lumber and shingles and progressed on to maintenance and repair jobs in the basements of New York City. Then came years of home renovation of my own, not having enough money to hire experts. I crawled in mud, breathed sheet rock dust and cleaned glue from my body with gasoline.

 Initially, when first donning a tool belt or steel-toed boots, you feel kinda good, manly, tough. Soon, though, very soon, you realize it’s really no fun constantly nursing a cough, scrapes and bruises or a rash. Did you ever awake with hands like Brillo Pads, dry as sand, with just about as much feeling? If so, you might commiserate with those living in Houston and other hurricane-ravaged communities.

Under normal circumstances, it’s hard work pulling out walls, hauling away shingles and wrestling with insulation. Mud and water — and sewage — add tons of aggravation, not to mention weight.

 It seems like awful karma to read what’s happened in parts of Texas. The same people, and lawmakers, so critical of undocumented immigrant workers now wish there were more. Isn’t that something? They are actually lamenting the dearth of cheap, hard-working laborers — the same kinds of people they were blaming for many of the ills of America.

I find it shocking — though in a way, fitting — that leaders who railed against “illegals” for political points find themselves reliant on them to rebuild cities, especially Houston. Reports from news agencies suggest that the crackdown triggered by our Pseudo President will have to wait. First, thousands upon thousands of “illegals,” many Mexican, must be permitted to stay in Texas and Florida and do what they’ve been doing for years — the dirty work.

In Houston, reporters and news agencies have honed in on this issue. Reports show that the Houston office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is at the top of the list in the country in terms of arrests of immigrants; only the Dallas area made more. The Houston region, the government says, has about 600,000 undocumented immigrants, third-largest behind New York and Los Angeles.

Can you imagine a recovery without any of those people?

Keep in mind that many so-called “illegals” work in construction, and they work cheaply. Even before the hurricanes, surveys of experts in construction and trade organizations showed a shortage of people skilled enough to take construction jobs. A lack of workers has caused delays in building houses, rehabbing condos or renovating small businesses.

Remember, that was before floods and high winds created thousands and thousands of new structures needing work.

Wait. Maybe I’m missing something.Maybe I’m too liberal.

I forgot all about all those unemployed Americans who have been complaining that immigrants are taking their jobs.

Maybe they will step up to scrape away mold, drag waterlogged sheet rock and fix clogged toilets?

Now’s the time to get to work, folks. Why cater to the “illegals” by letting them know they are essential to the rebuilding efforts? Heck, can’t we just truck in some unemployed, angry Nazi sympathizers and give them brooms? How about those thousands of disgruntled Ohio, Pennsylvania and Michigan voters who helped elect Trump? Aren’t they supposed to be disadvantaged, in need of money? Grab a shovel, folks.

Trust me, that ain’t gonna happen.

You actually have to know how to do dirty work to get it done.

You have to get used to it.

You have to be strong enough, tough enough and needy enough.

Did you ever watch a crew of traveling immigrant roofers? Drywallers? Landscapers? Did you ever see where they eat, rest, sleep?

You think spoiled American whiners will suddenly have the urge to wear sheet rock mud all day, to sleep a couple of hours in a motel room with five other guys, to wake up early to jump right back into those dusty clothes? To head back out to the job site to do it all over again? Day after long day after long day?

For less than many people pay a nanny?

Sorry, I don’t think that kind of revolution is in the works.

Instead, I sincerely hope those who have been talking about making America great by cracking down on “illegals” will realize something that — to me and many others — has become comically ironic.

They’re windbags.

Just like the storms that are proving them wrong.

At Home Depot, I usually blend in. Why is everyone staring at me?

Now that I’m disabled, I think back often to the kinds of jobs I used to have. Not working makes you appreciate when you were of some use … to someone, somehow.  At least worthwhile enough to collect a paycheck.

If that sounds morose, it is. Sorry.

For some people, when they are working, there’s a palpable allure to the government dole. The fantasy floats in your brain somewhere between fear of losing your job and calculating out-of-pocket expenses in your health insurance plan. Collecting a check for, basically, being sick seems like a good idea.

S’not.

In a very short time, you can start feeling pretty much useless.

Of course, I have some healthy distractions: moving with my wife through her travel nursing jobs, visiting our grown kids, doing my best to help get us different places to live and arranging moves — while still messing around with words as a would-be writer. All can reinvigorate to a degree.

Yet, I actually found myself fantasizing the other day about when I did construction work. Could have had something to do with the constant buzz of saws and nailguns outside our apartment in Denver. The complex has been building a new pool and barbecue area, as well as remodeling lots of apartments, ever since we’ve moved in.

I watched the progress with some jealousy. But, I’m not starry-eyed here.

The old days of carrying drywall — we did it on our heads, two sheets at a time, sometimes ⅝ inch thick and 10 feet long — took their toll. As did mixing mortar on break from college for two crazy Italian brothers who loved to do hallucinogens while building brick walls, and laboring for a master carpenter who spit tobacco on the boards he wanted us to retrieve.

But, man, there’s something fulfilling about a full day, sometimes in the sun, working your muscles, ogling the female neighbors and talkin’ smack with blue-collar tradesmen. I did that for some time before getting into journalism, which ended up being my career of 30-plus years.

Although reporting, writing and editing was my day job, I could get my hammer-and-saw fix by working on my house — often with kids roped into helping — during the evenings and weekends.

I still feel most comfortable in ripped, paint-spattered clothes, old tennis shoes and a baseball cap that has caught its share of cloying joint compound. I’m so used to going out like that, usually without much of a look in the mirror, that my wife literally stops me these days and refuses to tag along — unless I reassess my attire.

But, she’s gone at work a lot.

So I do little grooming before heading out to brush shoulders with actual repairmen or women, say at Home Depot or Habitat for Humanity Restore. Those old work clothes help me fit in. I’m usually only in the market for picture hangers, polyurethane or packing tape. But, I still browse the discount lumber, look for “oops” paint that’s on sale and fantasize about buying new tools.

Then, I sidle on over to the register, make chitchat with the clerk and haul away my teeny-tiny plastic bag of, usually, some hooks or screws or the superdooper no-shrink spackle of the week. Nobody gives me much mind. I just observe and go on my disabled way.

The other day, though, I found myself getting more than the typical share of attention. I had headed out to Ace Hardware after a failed attempt at restacking some light boxes in our garage. One actually slipped off the stack, forcing me to hold it against the others with my forehead while trying to find somewhere to drop a broken lamp I was trying to fix. It ended up falling anyway. I hoped nothing broke.

 At Ace, some folks gave me grim looks, refusing to make eye contact. Others smiled deeply, looking like they felt sorry for me. I guess it was my limp. But, this was weird. The odd looks continued.

 I smelled my armpits, checked for ill-placed tears in my pants. Nope, all clear.

In the paint aisle, as I eyed Minwax products that combine polyurethane with the actual color that creates the wood stain. A stranger interrupted.

“Hey, do you know if this would be good for a screen door?” He held a cheap can of spray paint. At first glance, I knew he was only a home-repair dilettante; his clothes were so neat they looked pressed.

 

“No, I’d actually get the more expensive spray. When it comes to coverage, you’re better off.”

He pressed on. “Well, yeah, see I’m doing this door. It has marks, I guess it’s rust but I thought those doors were aluminum. Do you think I need to clean it first?”

“Maybe just take it off and scrape it with a wire brush and …”

“A paint brush?”

Oh boy, I thought. I gotta move on. I tried to point toward the small wire brushes and sandpaper and walk away but he followed me.
“Why don’t you just do it for me,” he said. Taken aback, I looked for a smile, not thinking he was serious. But he came back with an offer of $9 an hour.

Wow, I was being solicited right there under the Daily Specials sign in the Ace paint department. “Naw, I gotta run. I’m …”

“Ok. $10. Figure you could use the cash. It’d only be a couple hours.”

Whaaa?

Oh, I get it. I guess I outdid myself in the clothing department today. I actually succeeded in the down-and-out-homeless look instead of busy handyman.

I pretended someone texted me and had to get away, limping quickly toward the checkout.

Later, at home, after checking to make sure nothing was leaking from that box that slipped off the stack in the garage, I made a quick sandwich, relaxed in my recliner and wondered just what about my attire had triggered the Ace guy’s offer.

Weird, I thought. But then I went to medicine cabinet for my afternoon pills.

This is what I saw.

I guess using my head to try to hold up that sliding box wasn’t such a great idea. I told myself I owed my wife a giant apology for getting pissy about her warnings about going out without checking out my clothes — and, apparently my face.

I wondered just how many people saw me as a poor sap of a hobo, wandering the aisles, looking like I just got whacked for trying to steal another vagrant’s shopping cart.

I wonder what would have happened if I took that guy up on his screen-painting job. I’ll bet he would have given me a tip — or at least offered to let me use his shower.