I Reckon, It Was My Reckoning

PLEASE NOTE: BnB has 190 posts. I doubt you’re going to rummage around in the basement of my blog, so I’ve decided to bring a handful of posts forward and mention why these are some of my favorites. Like: My Penned Invention of the Pen Invention (because I had fun writing it); or, The Start starring Wile E. Coyote (because this was my first post and of which has received 138 comments); or this one I Reckon, It Was My Reckoning (an early attempt to illustrate a dire consequence when you barter your character for wealth, fame, power and career). I hope you enjoy it and, as always, I invite you to leave comments.

 

It was now, right now, right now as you read this, exactly four years ago, that I stood in front of an old, caged teller’s window and watched The Principle Clerk place the Scales of Character atop an antiquated green-marbled counter.  His craggy index finger moved slowly down a ledger, then stopped; picking up the ledger he walked to the back where small drawers were stacked thirty feet high. Looking near the bottom he opened a drawer, plucked out a box, then returned it, plucked another, returned it, and after five attempts in four different drawers he removed a box, closed the drawer, snapped shut the ledger and returned to the front.  

“That drawer was really packed,” I said to relieve my tension.  

“That drawer is all you,” he said, “You in different lives; there’s quite a bit of you; more is better than less; you didn’t squander character; admirable.”  From the

From the box, he lifted a small parcel and placed it on the counter beneath his barred window. Looking at me above his spectacles he said, “You’ve got to open it and verify that everything’s there; that there’s nothing missing, and that it meets with your satisfaction; once you’re finished, close it, tie the string, and then pass it back to me under the barred window.” Then leaning in, within whispering distance, he looked left and then right to check if anyone was within earshot and whispered, “Almost everyone expects more; don’t be surprised; a bit is withdrawn each time you barter truth to self,” then he turned and went about his busy work.

Hands shaking, I untied the bow, peeled back the paper and gazed upon five brilliant, transparent, and twinkling jewels.  Immediately I felt absorbed or better, renewed; I felt capricious and peculiar; I looked eagerly for paper and pencil so I could describe it; I felt shy and naked; every ploy and deceit and means were displayed. I folded the paper atop the jewels, tied a knot in the string and called for the clerk.  “Everything in order, sir?” he asked.  

“I assume so,” I replied absolutely uncertain as to the truth of my answer.

“Excellent,” he said, “Now, let’s take a look at where you stand,” as he carried my box back to the Scales of Character.

“On the left,” he started to explain, “we place your parcel, that is, what remains of your character,” he says as he delicately places my parcel on the brass tray.  “On the right,” he continued, “we place the whole of your Lifetimes represented by these incremental weights.  The target for which we aim is that the left side, You, outweighs the right side, Lifetime. The objective is that one’s Character can outlast one’s Existence.” 

“And what does it mean if the right outweighs the left?” I asked hesitantly.

“Many things,” he said after taking a deep breath, “and one which you must choose. But before we talk about that, let’s see where you stand,” has said quietly, turning back to the scale. I tried to peer through the closeness of the bars of his window and watched as he carefully selected the right-side weights and placed them delicately in the elevated tray.  With each weights placement, he paused momentarily, allowing the scale to stop moving before he proceeded.  When he placed the second to last weight on the tray the right side sunk significantly but remained higher than the left.  “Not too bad, not too bad at all,” he said over his shoulder, “that weight is what does so many, so so many people in.”

“One weight left. . .” my comment exposing my nervousness.

“Yes,” the Clerk said, “but it represents the last decade,” he said as he placed it on the scale causing the left side to rise above the lowered right side.  

“Out of balance,” I mumbled, defeated.

Turning, he walked to the counter and studied me before speaking.  In a voice resembling that of my conscience, he began to explain, “There are people that stand where you’re standing and their left side hit bottom long before I stacked the weight. They knew what it meant before I started my explanation.  And for those people, there are no options: There’s just one thing to do. But it’s not the thing that’s hard to believe, it’s knowing that they won’t know when. That by overdrawing their Character account they lost the privilege of forethought.  Now they spend their time oblivious to all the choices of life, they’re left behind; indecisiveness caused missed chances, lost opportunities, and the upstarts, the less deserving were handed promotions. And they continued to fall further and further down their chosen ladder. And on his way down all of the trappings associated with bartered success fell too like leaves or thin branches: their wives and children and grandchildren. Here we call that damnation.”  He checked his watch and placed a sign directing people to other windows, walked back to a coat tree, grabbed his hat and coat and stood next to me.

“You stopped by at a good time.  You didn’t wait thinking the ship would right itself. You abandoned the inclination to compromise.  Compromise depletes Character quicker than any other life choice; compromise also happens to be the easiest and most benign.  And yet Character is the most coveted virtue by people besieged by empty character overdrafts and find themselves pleading for, but being denied protection. This persona non grata will happily promise anyone anything to convince the unwitting to give it up; let it go; who cares; nobody will see and who cares if they do; everyone else does it; it’s just for a while; come on we’re friends. And before the new initiates know it, their high-rolling days are over; they’re marginalized; they’re alone at any bar on any street and in that part of town; no wingmen; no gaggles and gaggles of girls gathering and giggling; no brunette with Azurite eyes. Those seeking devotees have already begun to feel that Life is no longer a Miracle but a rubric to be endured for all time. Not celebrated or explored or shared or even predicted.  The damned chides those with Character but those with Character cannot hear their heckles. You see, it’s not that those with Character won’t listen. They have listened. It’s the damned that didn’t listen and sadly they’ll be the only ones that will listen.

“But here’s what’s going to happen to you:  You saw that you’re a wee bit short on Character to last your Lifetime. Maybe you traded it, sold it, or gave it away. So you’re going off-line for a few years; to recharge; to reenergize; to rediscover curiosity and creativity; to stop, take root, sprout and expand; to see not simply look; to listen and understand not just hear and obey; to get back to the business of your life; to be you to the end.  Expect people to identify you as crazy, loony, out-of-your-head and off your noggin, a victim of mental illness; they may even identify you as a kind of nut case; a specific type of lunatic; because, they’ll say, if Crayola can have five different reds and blues and greens, then why can’t the mentally ill be as colorful! Let it be, let it wash ashore like the tide; you’ll survive. That pinch of Character you might need to navigate life will be available and parsed out.  Now, once that door opens and you cross that threshold your entire life will fall apart.  You won’t know why you won’t remember here or me. That is until one day some years from now when it’s time for your turn at the window you’ll recall a sort of Déjà vu clerking behind the window.  And being one of Generous Character you may even tell this story using your own voice which mysteriously fell silent twenty years ago just like mine did twenty years ago. And maybe the middle-aged man standing in front of your window will have more Character than Life remaining. And then both of you can walk out that door over there.” 

“What’s it say?” I asked, careening my neck in order to see. 

“There’s no need knowing now,” he said as one strong hand went to my back and the other hand to the lock. “Besides,” he said turning the knob, “Time just eats you up,” as he nudged me, waited, then with considerably more strength he nudged me again with more purpose, and then he barked loudly and snarled like a teased-to-mean junkyard dog waving that craggy finger at me, “Now, get out!” he snarled, “Twenty more years until I can go through that door marked “To Trains.” Then with great conviction, he pushed me into the street followed by doors slamming and deadbolts being thrown. When I turned back I saw an empty, fenced-in lot among pitiless faces deep within a strange city when my eyes shot open early this morning.

My Penned Invention of the Pen Invention (repost)

 

It would prove to be one of the most remarkable events to fall into the lap of England in   the 1930’s. Even Sir Thomas Cartridge, the infamous historian, essayist, and reputed hawker of odious innuendo was aghast when he said, “Everyone familiar with this tragic and despicable crime certainly expected him to be found guilty. But even judicial scholars were non plus: no one had an inkling that an incidental consequence caused by an accidentally stowed and unfortunately uncapped fountain pen which predictably bleeds if it touches any absorbent material, would influence the most harrowing murder trial in fifty years.   The Daily Telegraph and The Guardian immediately blamed the pen makers asserting through editorials that the fountain pen design had remained literally unchanged since Nicolas Bion first described them in 1807.  The pen makers quickly accused ink firms of altering their inks’ characteristic by employing diluted formulas that produced inks lacking gelatinous properties.  If needed, pen makers would blame their customers, insisting that a consistent discharge of ink by a nib pushed absent-mindedly into textile is an accepted (if destructive) characteristic which sensible owners attempt to avoid.  Therefore, it is my opinion that the barrister’s distraction caused by the importance of his closing argument overshadowed his gentleman’s grooming, without malevolence pocketed the fountain pen which immediately enjoyed a degree of notoriety (and sales) normally bestowed upon articles belonging to aristocracy.  It’s as if he’d dropped a jet plane into his pocket!”
To what was Sir Cartridge referring?  An extravagant and utterly preposterous event of the 1930’s: The common ink pen was borne on the heels of a legal decree: The Royal Courts of Justice abolished the use of fountain pens in every courtroom in Great Britain.  Parliament added that the newly invented practical and leak-proof pen would be the only writing instrument sanctioned for official use in every governmental building of Great Britain.

 

The calamity started just after the lunch recess of an infamous murder trial and the sudden appearance of an embarrassing stain which continued its growth like an algae bloom beneath the front pocket of an expensively tailored white cotton shirt belonging to and draped upon a notorious barrister from London. The barrister who, it is told (in hushed tones lest you be accused of slander), that the verdict of guilt had nothing to do with his impressive (and lengthy) closing argument which meticulously and repeatedly outlined the precise order of events.  The barrister’s timeline was so thorough that whatever doubt lingered in the far corners of the courtroom had been swept away like cobwebs.

 

The shameful guilt could almost be seen atop the plump, rounded shoulders of the torturous, adulterous, and maniacal MP who, it was alleged, kidnapped a prominent debutante from a society ball, trussed her up like a common farm animal ready for slaughter, bludgeoned her to unconsciousness, then drove her to a vermin-infested garret atop a saloon on the East End.  She remained imprisoned for a fortnight and each afternoon the MP would appear in the pub and with gluttonous abandon, he ate and drank himself into a repulsive and monstrous stupor, and dragged himself up the back alley stairs, unlocked the bolt, and repeatedly forced the delicate young woman to participate with or perform for him heinous, bestial, and inhumane acts which included demonic rituals, chanting, and minutes before he strangled her with the sash from his MP gown, he branded the young woman’s breast with a mark which closely, was almost identical to the stain on the barrister’s front pocket.

 

Jury members were quoted after the trials conclusion that the increasing stain resembled an apparition of the brand suffered by the victim, and that it was impossible to ignore, for even a brief time, or explain its appearance as a leaky fountain pen, when the leak didn’t appear until the very moment the barrister mentioned the brutality, causing the MP to leap from his chair.  As police subdued and removed the wailing MP, the barrister turned back to the jury who, at the same time, uttered an audible gasp, followed by a scream, then a shout as a dozen arms flew into the air and pointed at the haunting image displayed upon the barrister’s shirt.  The courtroom quickly dissolved into utter chaos as jurors ran from the courtroom and some incredulous men leapt over the railing and attempted to strip the barrister of his shirt, optimistic that it would fetch a tidy sum from someone indulgent in such macabre items.

 

From that day fountain pens were banned from courtrooms across England and the first stationer able to manufacture a pen whose ink was safely sealed in a chamber and distributed in incremental volume only when in use, was sure to win the patent and the incredible wealth which would quickly follow.

 

As the anniversary of the fountain pen’s exodus approached, rumors began to circulate that the Judiciary acted beyond its dominion when it issued the restriction, and continues to defend its authority successfully whenever a challenge is brought before the High Court.  England’s De La Rue and Conway-Stewart pen companies, as well as France’s Cartier and ST Du Pont, Germany’s Pelikan and Montblanc, and Italy’s Omas and Visconti all concluded that the solution required a combination of distinct and precise components: a cartridge, ink, and a system by which the ink could be laid upon the writing surface at the exact volume to ensure a consistent line.  These accomplished, fastidious and resplendent pen manufacturers were perplexed: never before in the history of handwriting were the makers of pens required to reconsider the importance of ink and its transference to the paper as their conundrum.  Ink had always been considered declasse, pedestrian and hackneyed.  Suddenly they’ve acquired relevance and attention and thusly required the world’s greatest maker’s of pens to invite them to participate in this befuddled exercise.

 

The common and convenient ballpoint pen emerged from an unlikely location, a small town on Cornwall’s North Coast that hugged the jagged cliffs carved by the Celtic Sea.  Citizens of Bawhl Point (between Boscastle and St. Gennys) were stout, good-humored, and straightforward Englishmen.  Hardened by their generational resolve to survive the harrowing conditions of England’s southern tip, an isolated peninsula which stretches three hundred kilometers out to sea, and constantly exposed to the full force of the Atlantic’s prevailing winds.

 

John Gahter IV, the eldest of five brothers and sisters, and assumed heir to the Gahter and Sons Ball, Valve and Pipe Manufacturing Company had recently been contacted by a local chemist, F.H. Inkes.  While conducting his business, Dr. Inkes used a technology which required small, spherical particles to be integrated into an easily replaceable plastic ball-check valve which, while under incredible pressure, would release a steady and predictable volume of fluid onto a row of glass slides placed on a rotating table which turned clockwise every six seconds.  Dr. Inkes wanted to know if Mr. Gahter and his manufacturing company could develop such a valve, and if so, could they manufacture a consistent quantity per month?  Mr. Gahter was intrigued and would discuss its possibility with his engineers and plant manager.  He promised to contact Dr. Inkes within a few days to inform him of his company’s decision. If Mr. Gahter and his employees were absolutely sure they could manufacture the valve then he and Dr. Inkes could further discuss all the business particulars.

 

Dr. Inkes was an analytical chemist whose expertise was well-known throughout England’s small number of chemists who utilized an uncommon technology, High Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) to separate and identify compounds suspended in common liquids.  The information discovered during these tests were extremely useful to chemists, especially those conducting research involving complex and indistinguishable compounds.  Until recently when high-ranking officials at Scotland Yard and a few football executives learned that urine samples subjected to HPLC would separate and identify individual elements (of which may or may not interest them).

It took Mr. Gahter and his company two months to perfect the valve which Dr. Inkes requested.  But in the process, the two men made a startling discovery: fluid can be distributed at a consistent rate when pressure is applied, and the margin between the sphere and outlet must be perfectly calibrated to the viscosity of the ink.  Mr. Gahter and Dr. Inkes were awarded the patent for the steel ink pen and, of course, shocked most of Europe, and as Parliament promised, their ink pen was quickly distributed to all  governmental buildings throughout the Empire.

A reporter from The Guardian reputedly asked Mr. Gahter and Dr. Inkes what name was given to their invention?  Mr. Gahter replied, “It’s called the Bahwl Point Pen,” and Dr. Inkes quickly added, “And the first model is named after my good friend, John Gahter; “the Gahter” pronounced J-A-H-T-E-R.”

 

 

 

. . . later that night . . . (excerpt from “The Other: A Collection of Doubt”)

“So, what did you want to know?” Scott asks placing the bottle of wine on a coaster.

Tom stands, adjusts the flame and walks to the sofa where he sits.  Scott sits cross-legged at the corner.  “Well, how you came to be here.  Not here, in my house per ce, but, I guess, how you came to be period.  I mean, I know about your mom and your dad and how they came from China and about your sister, but I don’t really know anything about you besides you’re an excellent kisser and I love the softness of your skin and blackness of your hair and your smell.  I want to know about you.”

Tom reaches for the bottle and pours himself more wine and refills Scott’s glass all the while struggling with the desire to simply strip him naked and bring them both to a mind-blowing orgasm.  Scott remains steadfastly silent.  “You don’t have to tell me, if you prefer,” Tom adds finally.

“I don’t know how to answer.  I mean, no one has ever asked me that question before.  Has anyone ever asked you to tell them about yourself?  How do you answer that question?  I feel like anything I say will sound grossly trite and insignificant.”

“But those are the things I want to hear.  And I’d rather than hear them now. . .than after.  Maybe I’m afraid that. . .after. . .you won’t feel so compelled to share them with me,” Tom says feeling suddenly embarrassed and insecure.  “I’ve never had anyone over to my house like this,” he admits.

“Like this, like what?” Scott asks.

“Like you,” Tom continues.  “And it’s not like I’m trying to protect the house or even myself for that matter.  It’s just that this is all so unusual.  This morning, this day, tonight, even you.  It’s all very unusual.   I don’t normally behave this way, not that the way I’m behaving is bad, it’s just different.  Different is all.  And I guess I want to understand you.  In a way that’s bigger or deeper or larger than kisses and erections and orgasms,” Tom says sheepishly.

Tom feels that slight sickening feeling of overexposure, that sorrow you feel when you realize you’ve stayed out in the sun too long and you’ve got a fitful night of prickly sunburn ahead of you.  Perhaps he should’ve kept his mouth shut and quickly stripped Scott in the kitchen and wasted no more than ten minutes including the awkward “so long.”  Perhaps by now he’d be in his shower washing away the remnants of weakness.  Simple.  Easy.  Clean.

Tom takes a long swallow of wine and looks at Scott, at the front of Scott’s jeans which no longer suggest his passion, but which now sit folded politely much like his own.  All that remains of their bodies collision against the countertop is an unforgiving stickiness.

“I never knew what I wanted.  Growing up, I never knew what I wanted.  What I wanted to do, wanted to be, or who I wanted to be with.  I knew almost immediately what I didn’t want.  What I didn’t want to do or who I didn’t want to be or who I didn’t want to be with.  And it seemed easier, I guess, to eliminate things than to chase things.  So I’ve spent the better part of my life in a state of subtraction.

“I never gave it much actual thought, you know, the reason for the activity of eliminating things from my life.  I guess I just found it to be an easier way to get by. And somewhere, some time I thought that I’d eventually find something that I’d be interested in enough to actually add to my life.  Something that I’d be willing to pursue.”

Scott takes a long drink and studies the wine as though he were reading tea leaves.  Tom watches Scott’s intense stare into the wine glass.  Leave him alone, Tom thinks.  Maybe all Scott wants is a quickie and you’re trying to make it into something more.  Maybe all this talk will lead to nothing.  Maybe Scott will find you too needy.  Maybe you should simply lean over and kiss him so you can get this over with; but Tom feels that their attraction has waned.

“I can give you a ride home if you’d like,” Tom says quietly, uncertain of Scott’s desire to stay.

“Why?  Did I say something wrong?”

“No, no you didn’t say anything wrong.  I just thought that. . .” Tom adds quickly, trying to allay Scott’s uncomfortableness.

“See?  This is exactly the reason why I never tell people what I’m thinking!  It’s like they think they want to hear it, and then when I’m straight with them they realize that they’re not really interested.  It happens all the time.  So I think it’s just easier to do what we both want and get it over with.  Simple.  Clean.  Easy,” Scott says defensively.

Tom stands up and walks to the fireplace for no reason than to move away from Scott.  He studies the fire and wonders how this day could end this way.  “Well, what is it that you think is so simple, clean and easy?” he says without looking at Scott.

“The same thing you do,” Scott says still studying his wine.

Tom watches the fire immediately realizing that they have reached the fork in the road.  The same divergence he has reached scores of times before: the familiar scenarios play out in his head like a montage: Scott stands and lets himself out; Scott stands up and walks to him, kisses him lightly and leaves; Tom walks to Scott, kisses him and they do indeed play out the inevitable, in exchange for the fifteen awkward minutes when scraps of paper with false phone numbers are exchanged and Tom locks the door securely behind Scott.  They all seem obvious.  They do seem simple and clean and easy.

Tom rubs his face with his hand, “I don’t think so, Scott.  I don’t think I want simple, clean and easy.  Not this time,” he admits finally looking at Scott.  “I think this time I want it difficult, dirty and hard,” he says walking to the sofa.  “And I think it all has to do with you, with you Scott” sitting next to him, “and I think it’s all about me letting someone in and all about you knocking on a door you want to open.  I think it’s all about you and me, here and now.  I think both of us are done, at least right now anyway, with simple, clean and easy.”

Tom reaches a hand to Scott’s face which he tilts upward.  Scott’s eyes meet his.  They both sit in silence for a few moments.  Tom’s thumb gently caresses Scott’s cheek and chin feeling the soft stubble of his beard.  Scott smiles slightly at his tenderness and reaches a hand to Tom’s face which he touches softly.  Tom thinks that this is the tenderness discovered between friends, friends willing to be naked and exposed, friends that share intimacies deeper and darker than just sex.  These are the moments which relationships are built on he thinks as their tender caresses continue.

Scott leans forward and kisses Tom’s cheek, then pulls away slightly, “no one’s ever taken the time to articulate it like that,” he says, “usually they simply dismiss me.  Usually by this time I find myself on the stoop of their house wondering how in the hell I’m going to get home.”

Tom takes Scott’s hand off his cheek and kisses his exposed palm, “but are you up to it, Scott?  Up to the difficult, dirty and hard?  Because I am, I mean, at least I think I am, right now anyways.  If you’re not then I’m not sure I want to complicate this any more,” he admits, again kissing the hand, “and I think that that would be a shame because it seems that we’ve already achieved a certain distance.  Given all the opportunities we’ve had today to simply sprint to an orgasm it would seem odd that you’re not up to the long distance run,” he adds.

Scott lifts himself out of the corner of the sofa and kneels at Tom’s side.  He leans in close and turns Tom’s face to his and kisses him devotedly, closed mouth, without passion but with longing.  “I’ve trained for a run like this all my life,” he says quietly while kissing Tom’s cheek.

Tom stands and places his wine glass on the coffee table.  He moves in front of the fireplace and slowly begins to undress starting with his shirt and opening one button at a time.  His fingers move slowly over the fabric feeling its softness, the stitching of the buttonholes; as he pulls the tails out of his trousers Scott takes a drink from his glass, places it on the coffee table next to Tom’s and walks in front of him.  Scott reaches for the hem of his fleece and in one smooth motion pulls it over his head and drops it on the carpet at his feet.  Tom peels the shirt off his shoulders, pulls his arms out of the sleeves and allows the shirt to slip out of his hand and fall to the floor gathering in a cotton heap.

Scott reaches slowly for the buckle of his belt, pulls on the length of leather which winds its way through loops, tugs at it, and unbuckles the latch.  At the same time Tom undoes his own belt.  They are now in-sync with each other as they both reach for the closures on their pants: Tom’s clasp and Scott’s button.  Both pop open as they grab the metal tab at the top of the zipper and slowly pull down, the metal teeth sliding into a wide-mouthed grin showing the soft fabric of their underwear to each other; Scott’s being steel-gray with Tommy Hilfiger emblazoned in purple on the waistband and Tom’s being simple, white Nautica boxers.  They stand motionless for a moment studying each other.  Tom grabs the edges of his wool trousers and lifting one knee withdraws one leg and then the other from his trousers; Scott simply allows the added weight of keys, cell phone and change to draw his jeans off his hips and down his legs like an anchor being dropped into the ocean and settle at his feet.  He stands watching Tom fold his trousers neatly laying them on top of his shirt.  Scott pulls one foot free from his jeans and then slowly, the other.  He kicks the denim to the side.  They stand three feet apart in only their underwear looking at each other.  Scott moves first, slowly hooking his fingers in the waistband of his shorts and drawing them down his hips, past the curve of his buttocks, out and over his erection and past his thighs releasing his hold on the cotton which folds like meringue at his feet: now naked in front of him.  Tom hooks his own fingers into the waistband of his boxers and pulls them in one swift motion off one leg, then the other finally naked to Scott.

Tom feels the heat of the fire brushing his back as he studies Scotts body: his long, lithe neck meeting the angle of his clavicle dissected by its horizontal bones; shoulders which spread out and bend with muscular caps bow slightly at the junction of his biceps and triceps; the mounds of his chest crest with lean muscles and are topped with two, quarter-sized auburn nipples which are separated by small, sparse hairs; the chest falls onto the ribs which look like pale piano keys and descend into the diamond form of his abdominals which drain into the slightly indented bellybutton centering his core; muscles like hands forming a “V” fan out on either side of his groin, a furrow of muscle rising from his crotch up to his hips and disappearing into the flesh of his buttocks; his hairless thighs give way to bony knees and lithe, muscular calves which have a splattering of stray, black hairs.

Scott studies Tom’s form: the wide chest painted by brown hair which continues down his stomach and empties into the hair surrounding his erection; muscular thighs support the heavy foundation; the most obvious characteristic is the abundance of body hair which Scott finds very sexy; Scott yearns to bury himself in Tom’s masculinity.

“You’re absolutely beautiful,” Tom hears himself whisper, afraid he’s sounding trite and wishing he could summon up words he thinks would be worthy of the apparition.  He wishes he could utter the oohs and aahs reserved for firework displays he enjoys.

“You’re better than I had imagined,” Scott admits while feeling himself pulled by an invisible string into Tom’s embrace.  Better than I imagined, Tom thinks to himself, better than he imagined.  No one has ever said that to him before, and, he wondered, if anyone had ever even thought it.

At the same moment they both take steps towards the other and meet in the middle of the carpet, Tom feeling a cooling of his backside and Scott feeling the warmth of the fire wash over his body.  They stand less than a foot apart, their hands at the same time begin to touch areas of acute attraction; Scott to Tom’s formidable chest hair, Tom to Scott’s slender hips.  At first their touch is tentative, as though they can’t quite believe they have acquired permission, but quickly their caresses gain momentum and purpose.  As they move closer together their hips, pressed tightly together as hands continue to roam, to explore, to touch and discover.  Tom’s hand leaves Scott’s hips and move hastily around to his back then hungrily to his bottom, groping, kneading the soft flesh which tightens as Scott pushes himself against Tom, feeling himself being blanketed by Tom’s abundance of soft yet protective hair, recalling a similar feeling when his mother would pull the blanket to his chin and tuck in the sides; bliss he thought, blissful then and simply bliss tonight.

What Flavor Is Your Mood Disorder?

“What’re you having?” the rakish twenty-something asks.  Still staring into the fluted dish before me, spoon in hand yet inactive, I respond, “I’m not sure exactly.  I asked for a double-scoop of Desire and was handed this.”

The twenty-something turns so his torso, while dissected by the cafe table, is visible to me, “What’s it taste like?”  Turning my head in his direction I realize he’s: 1) That “guy-in-the-tuxedo” from my cousin’s Mystery Date game; and 2) Sans the tux!  I asked myself, why would “Mr.-Mystery-Date-Man” be sitting in a soda fountain, at a table next to mine, wearing only a smile?  My chagrin whips my gaze back to the disappointing confection now taking the shape of a poached egg.  “Well,” I stammer, still shaken by his cheeky immodesty and dismayed by my immediate craving for carnality, carousal, and covetousness, “It hints at Desire, but clearly an inferior attempt; the delicacy of Desire is overwhelmed by the coarse texture and indulgence.”  I decided to shift my chair and face the tempest of his proximity head-on, “What’s that you seem to be enjoying?” I ask, sounding foolish.

“A Raspberry Restraint,” he said as the spoon scraped and clanked against the spotless bowl.  “I have at least one every day.  I could probably eat fifty.  Moderation, that’s what I hear, everything in moderation.  Who’re they trying to kid?  I can spell; and I assure you that there’s no Mania in moderation,” he said as he slid slowly forward in his seat, the heat of his knees gently toasting my flank; “Sounds like they did the switcheroo. . .gave you a two-scooper of Licentious Lingonberry; they do that when they’re out of Desire.”

Flabbergasted, I now understood why I was staring at the freshly filleted fellow, splayed before me like an all-you-can-eat-buffet stocked with preprocessed food.  “But I wanted Desire. . .gentle, demur Desire. . .subtly prurient, hopeful and hungry. . .Desire. . .in general terms!”  Sounding exasperated, I wave my hand indicating his wanton availability, “Licentious Lingonberry?  No wonder it tasted so obviously. . .bitter. . .each spoonful made me thirstier. . .and there you were, the perfect glass of ice-water.”

I pushed my chair back and stood up trying in vain to disguise my arousal, “Sure, you’re lust personified; carnal; and after, I’m right back here; the one place where we can savor those flavors of humanity lost to us; before we go back to our senseless mockery of life,” I said as I began to leave.

“Sounds to me,” Mr.-Mystery-Date-Sans-Tux shouted, “like you ought to have ordered the Passion Fruit!”

Called Life This Morn: Took A Sick Day

It took me much longer than I’d expected to find their number.  Having never actually called before, it took me a while to figure out how to reach them.  Liz, one of my friends who decided to resign all together said that they found her“Oh yeah,” Liz said, “as soon as I took the exit, there they were at the stoplight.  Waiting.  Walked right up, smiled like we’d known each other forever.  I’m thinking, easy-sneezy: this guy’s going to give me directions!  Then he pokes my shoulder and says “You didn’t call this morning,” he said sounding serious, “Why is it, do you think, that people don’t call?”  I said I just wanted to quit.  Figured if I never showed up you’d get the message.  Then we were nose-to-nose, “The only time I get a message is when people don’t call.  Then I’ve got to waste my time to come out here and drag you back. . .”  That’s when I became aware. . .aware of my failure. . .aware of all the facial. . .”

Liz never finishes that story; she always stops right before she describes her consequence, which is evident when you meet her, but of which she just can’t describe.  The best she can do is, “I avoid mirrors.”

Because I couldn’t find the number and when I did, I was still on the fence about calling and just punching in, I greatly increased my chances that someone would answer.  It’s Saturday I thought, maybe they’re off.  Slowly I dialed the number; by the fifth ring I knew I was in the homestretch and could leave a mes. . .  “Department of Human Services, Life speaking,” he said, and then repeated, “Human Services, Life speaking.  Hello?  Hello?”  Uhm, yes. . .Life this is T.M. Mulligan, I said sheepishly.  “Yes Mr. Mulligan, why do I have the pleasure of this call?” he asked.  I told him I was ill and taking a sick day.  “So you’re taking a day away from the human race, Mr. Mulligan?”  His interrogation could be found on any page of a dime-store detective paperback.  Yes, I replied, I’m just not up to the task today; not even the battalion of amphetamines could take command of depressions beachhead; everyone’s at a block party, my spouse made brownie’s, the dog’s been there twice already.  I just can’t go.

“Can’t be part of the party?  Rather be alone?” Life asked.  Today, yes.  Not every day.  Just today, I answered.  “How many people do you think call Time and tell her they’re taking off?  And Birth, do you think those kids call Birth and threaten a sit in?” he asked.  Well, I don’t think they have phones in there. . .  “Or Death?  Death never answers, and they don’t have voice mail; they’ve dumped their phone into a trash can and threw it in the closet.  But Life?  Life’s phone is always answered; even if I personally believe you could act as if you were having fun, you’ve had your share of suffering recently and, except for once in July, 2008 you’ve always managed to drag yourself out of abysmal despair and try to live life.  I’ll mark you down as sick today, and we’ll see you tomorrow?”  Yes, I stammered, yes I’ll definitely be in tomorrow.  “Until tomorrow, then.  By the way, I’ve sent you a little sunshine.  Good-bye, Mr. Mulligan.”

The line went dead and then the doorbell rang.  Cupped in the hands of a delivery person was the essence of Life: A bouquet of sunflowers.

Loosing Elasticity

It seems that my mind is like a farmer’s field: memories, like field stones continue to break ground.  And like the farmer, which stones I remove and which stones remain is largely one of effort: some stones rise wholly like a new moon; others merely crack the surface, their real mass remains solidly rooted; these unearthed boulders are marked like land mines.  But unlike the farmer who can adapt to the obstacle, I am intrigued by the coincidence of its appearance.  So I am willing, on occasion, to recall an incomplete memory: as a writer of a particular age I no longer rely on the creative end of creative writing.  Instead I dip my hand into the cold creek of memory where most recollections lay scattered, scoop up what my numb fingers can manage, and attempt to detail, at best a mosaic of my memory.  For instance:

Not yet school age, one early afternoon I watched my mother organize her ironing station in front of the television in anticipation of the daily broadcasts of her favorite soap opera’s  No more than three minutes into the first program the telephone rang.  My mother, hypnotized by her program, allowed the  phone to ring six times before answering.  I vaguely recall the immediate change in my mother’s telephone voice (from pleasant to pointed) she confirmed leaving a message, and agreed to hold for that department.  Moments later she was complaining to a sales clerk in the lingerie department at Gimpel’s that the bra she’d purchased three months earlier had lost its elasticity, which without, failed to uphold its purpose.

The clerk understood my mother’s tone immediately and transferred the call to a junior manager who was, I gathered, an obstinate, pushy and unapologetic salesman who strongly suggested that my mother purchased the wrong size.  Speechless, my mother put the phone down and stormed to her bedroom.  I picked up the receiver just in time to hear the insolent salesman male suggest to one of his minions that my mother might wish to engage my father’s help in gauging her size, as he (the salesman) was quite certain your husband (my father) was absolutely certain as to the size of her breasts.  At that moment my mother yanked the phone from me: I repeated the salesman’s suggestion: pause: slam!

Ten minutes later my mother was dragging me in one hand and her bra in the other uptown to Gimpel’s.  Never before and never since have I heard my mother use so many words in such a short period of time in such a loud voice which naturally attracted female shoppers, then clerks from other departments, department managers, and finally three men in dark suits that parted the crowd like royalty, and in a vain attempt tried to interject while my mother’s consternation whirred on like the blades of a window fan.

We rode home in the back seat of a large black sedan, just my mother (who actually radiated a self-confidence and fragrance (thanks in-part to a gift from Chanel), and I.  And at our feet were bags and bags and bags of bra’s compliments of the three dark suits; Executive’s, my mother said proudly; Chief Executive’s, the chauffeur added with a little laugh.

The Literature Student (2/10 – “The Other: A Collection of Doubt”)

I slowly struggled with my bags through the compartment quickly losing hope that my usual and coveted southbound window seat was still vacant.  As I approached the familiar row of seats I spied an opening, a seat on the window, but, unfortunately, a hurdle across a studious young lad on the aisle.

The train suddenly lurched forward and frankly I don’t recall which struck the poor lad first; was it my laptop bag, my workout bag, my triple-shot short latte or me.  But all at once I found myself face first splayed across his chest and lap, atop the physics or astronomy or bio-medical text like a filleted tuna.  My arms hung over the back of the seat like a marionette, and my full combined weight crushed his small frame.  Before I could begin to stammer an apology I felt two small hands worm their way between our bodies and onto my chest and push me upright as though I were a multi-colored beach ball.  I felt the muscles of his chest expand as he lifted me to an awkward, semi-straight position.  With this help I was able to tuck my hand under his arm and assist in him in the lift.

He pressed me higher and with a gymnast’s dexterity he leveraged my body between himself and the seat back in front and lowered me into my southbound side window seat next to him as though I were his favorite stuffed animal.  Bags, triple-shot short latte and I landed with a thump which caused my fellow passengers to careen their necks to our side of the train convinced they would witness the deer or elk or moose bounce off the train and back into the brush from whence it came.

I sat rigidly still for a moment afraid to draw in even a single breath for fear of losing any semblance of balance.  When I finally dared to turn my head in his direction, he had already straightened the crushed pages of his book and quietly resumed his private study.  At the same moment the conductor with whom I had become routinely familiar appeared like an aberration soliciting our tickets.  My hands had become bound like a criminal by the numerous straps of my assorted bags and I desperately tried to work them free like a trapped illusionist.  Seeing my predicament, the lad reached across his lap and took swift hold of my triple-shot short latte instantly understanding its critical importance.  Even with his quick help I still could not free my hands and I asked if he would reach into my hip jacket pocket and extract my ticket.  He looked at me, quickly turned to look at the conductor who by now had smelled the blood of a stowaway, and reached his small hand into my hip pocket.

Instantly I wondered what else I had packed into that pocket this morning or last night or nights before.  Instantly I tried to recall when last I had worn this jacket.  When last had I tucked something into this pocket.  The moment his hand touched my hip I felt a very unfamiliar sensation.  A sensation which immediately catapulted me back years: back to a time when ignorant, curious, hurried hands explored my clothed body: back to a time when eager hands explored the various folds, searching for flesh or muscle or hair: back to a time when familiar hands probed, searching for intimacies.

In a moment his fingers plucked the ticket from its warm pocket and presented it to the disappointed conductor.  The conductor quickly scanned its validity and then pivoted and scurried down the aisle.  The lad sat stoically for a moment, my ticket in one hand and my triple-shot shot latte in the other, a frail, youthful, poised representation of myself.  He slowly turned towards me and began to laugh, quietly at first, then louder.  I saw the humor but couldn’t myself laugh.  I was terribly embarrassed and in desperate need of the sudden jolt of caffeine.  With my free hand I reached across and took hold of the triple-shot short latte and in one quick motion threw the cup back and swallowed its entire contents.  By the time I emptied the cup the giddy lad had regained some semblance of composure, turned to look at me, and slowly returned the ticket to its rightful place.  However, this time the hand lad paused a moment on my hip.  It hovered there, on the bone, warmly, slowly moving as the fingers and their tips dug softly into my flesh.  Fingertips kneaded my flesh as though they were kneading sand.

In the meantime I had been able to untie my hands from the baggage straps and quickly moved my hand on top of his, and held his hand for a moment.

“I think we’re okay now,” I said quietly, “I think everything is right where it belongs.”

He slowly withdrew his hand, trailing his thin fingers over my hip, down my thigh, and across the narrow strip of vinyl seat cushion which separated us.  It finally retreated onto the crushed pages of his book.  He continued to look at me, and then slowly returned to his book.

I turned my attention to the window and tried to watch recognize the blur of landscape which flew past.  This was new to me, this embarrassment, this excitement.  It dawned on me as the forest blew by that I was not really embarrassed but titillated.  Had I imagined his hand on my hip?  Had I been projecting some sort of flirtation?  He was a youth, and as a youth he couldn’t be so certain of his motivation as I imagined.  He was a student, buried in his text until I stumbled into him this hurried morning.  What motivation besides accommodation could he possibly have? I was simply an errant traveler in need of assistance.  Wasn’t he simply being a good Samaritan?  Could someone his age be so certain of himself as to actually grope a complete stranger?

I slowly pulled my attention from the window to see him foraging in his backpack.  He withdrew a yellow highlighter and placed it in his mouth.  He continued to dig through his backpack and withdrew a pen which, when he attempted to also place in his mouth.  When he realized that his mouth was already holding the highlighter he looked confused.  I reached across and took hold of the highlighter.  His jaw loosened and I extracted the highlighter remembering a time not long ago, in Rome, when I had taken hold of a newly lit, slightly moistened cigarette from the lips of Antonio.  I held the highlighter as though it were on fire and watched as he deposited the ballpoint in his mouth, smiling slightly.  He slowly stowed his backpack beneath his seat and withdrew the ballpoint.

“Are you studying medicine?” I asked.

“Chaucer” he replied quietly.

“Chaucer?  I wouldn’t have taken you for a lit major” I responded, immediately regretting my profiling.

“You expected me to be studying medicine or physics or astronomy maybe?” he said, acutely aware of my gaff.

“I guess so,” I stammered, feeling caught, “but I guess there’s time for that given your age.”

“Or given I’m interested in it regardless of my age,” he said turning his attention back to his text.

I quietly handed him his highlighter and turned my attention back to the window wishing I had sipped my triple-shot short latte so I’d have something to occupy myself.  Now all I had to think about was how old or silly or short-sighted he must think I am.  What an old fool he must think I am.  I turned back to him.

“Thanks for helping me out there.  I don’t normally behave like that.”

“Neither do I,” he said without looking up.

“Of course not,” I said wondering if he meant being helpful or forward.

“You don’t seem the type,” he said as he was highlighting text “to be so rushed in the morning,” and then looking up from his book “you seem to be the more organized, routine type,” and then turned back to his book.

All this, I thought, from one interaction?  Could he possibly be so perceptive?  Or was I blatantly disheveled?

“You’re right” I admitted, “this morning was terrible.”

“But it’s gotten better, right?” he asked.

“Yes it has, especially now since I’ve had my coffee,” I replied.  “My name is Tom,” I offered and extended my hand.

“Scott,” he said and extended the hand which moments before had found its way into my pocket.   His hand appeared small yet strong.  A confident hand, smooth, marbled with bluish veins which mapped its top.  I studied the crisscrossing veins like a road map thinking they would take me somewhere new.  They converged into one main artery which disappeared into the thick flesh of his forearm.  “It’s nice to meet you.”

“I wish it could’ve been under different circumstances,” I admitted, hoping I didn’t sound too interested.

Going back to Chaucer he said, “under what kind of different circumstance?”

“Well, not so bumbling to start,” I answered, “I’d like to think that first impressions play an important role in how we are perceived.”

“And what’s wrong with being perceived as bumbling?”

“I don’t think bumbling is particularly attractive,” I replied, laughing slightly.

“I think bumbling is very attractive.  It shows that you’re not perfect.  It shows that you need help every now and then,” and then Scott turned to look me straight in the eye, “and I think that that is very attractive.”

“Oh,” I said quietly.  Very attractive he said.  Me, in state of total disarray is something that he finds very attractive.  I turned back towards the window and remembered in painful clarity the number of hours I have primped and preened myself into a dizzying fervor trying to look my absolute best before hitting the bars at night.  Selecting just the right jeans and just the right t-shirt, or just the right tie and suit.  And here Scott finds embarrassment attractive.  “Well, I think helping a teetering stranger says plenty about your character.” I said turning back to him.

“Like what?”

Cornered like a child about to be caught in a lie, Scott pauses for a moment reflecting on how this happenstance began.  Turning in his seat to face Scott he said, “Helping someone in need is an act of kindness.  Kindness is a quality we all share, yet few ever display it and even fewer have the chance to feel it.  Your kindness felt strong, careful, and conscientious; important qualities to share with those close to you.”