Sometime around 2004, i went to a pal’s wedding in Connecticut – knowing i would see some old pals from Utah, unseen for many years, i assembled a run of (whopping) 4 copies of (an obviously handcrafted/bound) chapbook.
This little tome called “Shoebox” contained stories written while living in Utah alongside some of these lads in hopes of sparking memories and giving a little something of myself in thanks for their inspiration and friendship.
Cover photo is a thistle growing inexplicably from the red rocks of the Grand Canyon’s north rim on a wander i did with the groom of the aforementioned wedding.
As it goes, i never heard anything about the booklet, and forgot about the project until again Utah (autumn 2018) and buddy Dane’s copy surfaced during a move. I dutifully snapped a few lousy pictures for documentary evidence of creation.
The stories were written mostly in the “sudden fiction” style i’d experimented with after encouragement from James Thomas and Francois Camoin.
I’m lying in bed and my wife is stabbing me in the forehead. My skull is hard and bony so she uses a rigid dagger and a mallet to chisel it through. This is a peculiar way to die but I am coming to grips with it. I figure it’s good to accept and come to grips with things, so I am focusing and channeling my energy.
I yelled at first but now I am into steps three and four, repression and denial. I don’t think I’ll make it to overt anguish, I hope not anyhow.
With my right hand, I gripped on to the side of the cliff. There wasn’t much to grab on to. The rock was red and sandy. I was perched on the tiniest of ledges which is sleek with the fresh rainfall. Below me was a waterfall that dropped off 12 feet or so. Down below, Marty was bobbing up and down in the swirling pool.
The rain had picked up now. Large branches and small trees that we’ve passed hiking just a day or so ago were now shooting off the ends of the waterfall — torpedoing, javelining their way towards Marty.
He tells me to throw down the second pack. I’m grasping it with my left hand. As I hang out over trying to lean to get enough leverage to throw it over the lip of the waterfall — so it doesn’t get caught right underneath in the froth. Instead makes it out to the pool where Marty can grab it before it rockets down the river and meets the torrents of water. I gripped hard. The harder I grip the less there is to grip. I heave and I tried to swing with my left arm through the strap at the top of the backpack and, he bend over.
The backpack floats forward a scant few feet but far enough where Marty can scramble after it. He’s already holding the first backpack which is only floating because of foam mattress lashed to the outside.
Note: This story uses several lines from the fine Canadian band, Blue Rodeo’s album “Diamond Mine” which served as a departure point so to speak. Cheers to them ‘eh.
Mostly now, I just masturbate. I’m not particularly attracted to my own sexuality or body, but a questionnaire I filled out in Cosmopolitan magazine said it would be both beneficial, and enjoyable. In this day and age, it’s not unclean or unruly, they said. There were also suggestion tips.
This fondling is mostly on account of my man being back in Florida. I do keep it under control however, I certainly don’t want to prefer it. I haven’t ever used foreign objects in my arousals, I’ve heard too many stories about women having problems. I would prefer to keep my private parts clean and in fine working order. Barry would agree, him being my man and all, and an arousing one at that.
“Where you going?” His first question. A little vague.
Well I’ll tell you. That’s a toughie. I wish I knew. Finish school, get a job, wife, kids, that sort of thing. Or maybe not. You know how it goes. It was just a thought. A logical answer to his question.
“Utah.” The reply.
“Where you been?” Another question. A thinking man’s question at that.
A whole load of places, Disneyland even. Remind me to tell you about this great little diner in Nebraska sometime. How about you? Religiously speaking, however, I couldn’t tell exactly. Too deep for me. Just another thought.
“Just up skiing in Banff.”
“How long were you out of the country?”
Long enough to spend every bit of our money, see the sights, take advantage of the 18 year old drinking age, lock the keys in the car, get three flat tires, get ripped off, be savagely humiliated, not to mention the headaches and general frustration.
Kind of a hellish trip all in all.
“Oh, about four or five days.”
“Four or five?”
Well, sorry, Mr. Picky. You writing a book? “Since Wednesday night.”
“What’s your purpose?”
Ah! There we go, the eternal question. Why the heck are we on this sphere anyhow? Tell you one thing though, I’m pretty damn sure my purpose isn’t the same as yours.
“Just four college boys taking off for Thanksgiving to go dig some scenery.”
I see the sun. For some reason I didn’t think they had the sun here in the daytime. Just at night. Neon night. I stumble towards doors but stop in the lobby. “How’s the luck treating ya?” An old man with a cigarette and a green suit slumped on a stool praying to a box. The lights, whistles, levers and chrome looked washed out and bland in the light. Not designed for daytime.
“On and off. Long night.” He swallowed a large amount of drink. “Me and the wife just came up from Kansas City, Missouri.” Winnebago Warriors, true yankee pioneers. He satisfied the machine, shoving silver biscuits down it’s starving mouth. “Can’t beat it, coming here,” thousands of bad cliches, “Viva Las Vega$. Ha, ha, ha.” Cough, cough, hack, cough. On the back of a poster board, I made a sign.
WARNING!!! LAS VEGA$ MAY BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH BE WISE, LIGHT A BOMB
Eight o’clock A.M. I wander through the aftermath of last night, or a thousand-million last nights. Halls of slot machines topped with pyramids of martini glasses, roulette tables, overflowing ash trays and skanky chicks in mini-skirts vacuuming away the revelry, frustration, depression, elation and popcorn and pretzels. It depressed me. Shouldn’t have though. Everyone loved it. Better than life itself. Maybe that explained things. But I felt wrong. I could leave the glamour sluts alone to their city of tastelessness, none of my affair to decide how THEY would live. To them, the long haired, granola head was the freak. But I wasn’t dammit. I would blow the whole fucking place to hell (no big change) but no one understood my logic, my philosophy, the way it SHOULD be. I made a list, kind of. “Things I hate about Las Vega$”
A list of tasteless things. Gold chains, polyester clothes, 69 cent shrimp cocktail (almost a plus if somewhere far away) lounge singers, sequins, Don Rickles, Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, smoke, neon lights, wedding chapels, the word “classy”, heart shaped beds, limousines and people who dig them, sexy senior citizens, bumper stickers, hair grease and people who have fun in this den of squalor and filth. An extremely long list. What kind of justification was that? They could all write lists about me. So what! I tried a new list, “Good things to do instead of Las Vega$.” A good list, I figured. With less clout, however, than the previous one. A new viewpoint was needed. Socio-political maybe? No good. Gamblers generate tax dollars and all that. Environmental. Waste of power, cause for building damn dams, etc. A personal sore spot. I liked it. Sort of, almost, maybe effective. A good start but not enough.
What do I care about anyway? Let all the fools dwindle in the abyss. I don’t like it just because I don’t like it, goddamitalltohell. In fact, I’m in favor of making it better for them. They need a huge opaque dome placed over the whole city. Paint it black inside, with neon stars, spaceships and with a few more of those huge cowboys with waving arms. Hey, what a sexy place that would be. Distribute free “I ♥ Las Vega$” or “Gamblers Do It By Chance!” bumper stickers and multi-colored condoms with sequins and glitter glued on. Change the name to VEGA$, not las vegas. No one classy calls it that. The inhabitants of this new garden of eden could create a race of perfect humans. Humans born with hairy chests, gold chains, pencil mustaches, bloodshot eyes, bad singing voices, facelifts that put their eyebrows up by the hairline, silicon tits, leopard spotted bikini briefs, tubes tied and the vital lucky touch and the never-fail system. The dome would provide perpetual nighttime. No one would have to sleep, just “go to bed” (hint, hint, wink, wink). Everything looks too washed out and bland in the daytime anyhow, too damn natural, no one much sees it though.
No more “morning afters,” just the perennial last night. Infinite nights to use your best pick up lines on the nasty cocktail girls. Baby, baby, ain’t it the life. Even if you ran out of speed you wouldn’t have to sleep a minute of the day. Too much to do. Viva Vega$. They could clone Wayne Newton, twice, three times, make a million. Of Barry Manilow too. Resurrect Elvis. Breed little Elvis’ and bronze Telly Savalas’ testicles. I’d support the idea if they all promised never to leave. To remain, not prisoners, but special V.I.P. guests in this hell for life. Do it all. I don’t hate it here, I love it.
But I’m going to nuke this fucking pit sky high anyway. Either that or just take a long nap after my three dollar buffet.
I knew I was completely in love with her the night she made the bean soup. Fourteen kinds of beans in a crock-pot like a suburban housewife would have done. She blushed like she meant it and I told her I loved her, and it still sounded inadequate, as sincere as a postcard. I felt stupid afterwards like she always made me feel, not stupid like regrettable but more adolescent like I should be awkward and nervous and gangly.
But I’m not sure I was because she seemed to think was witty and occasionally brilliant and she kissed me. She kissed me often and she was gentle and fluid and involved and right. Not like she had had a lot of practice (nor did I ask, undignified I thought) but she kissed with the reckless precision that would humble you if you let it. Like someone carefully destroying you in a friendly game of pool without you noticing, like it would be a waste of their time if they weren’t fully involved.
This is good, I said and sometimes I thought she thought at least the same about me, she was more vocal and always aroused.
I liked this, all of it. Especially when we were in the desert in the spring or when she would tell me stories about Spain or when she would see me on the street and follow me for blocks before she would yell to me or when she told me about her sister and herself and how would gently touch the brashest of my artifacts or when she would eat with her fingers out of the jar and how she would lie on the bed and watch everything I did. Watch me fold my socks and brush my teeth and when I twirled a pencil like a drumstick when I would write a letter. She looked and watched and stared with the eyes of a statue or a madman staring at the sun knowing that he couldn’t really go blind. Unnerving at first then only lovely and the thing that has made me cry the most in my life. Cry big, sloppy silver tears.
I would have watched her too but my clumsiness and uneasy eye could never have done the same for her. I could never do anything that flowing and pure. Instead I wrote her poems, poems borrowed for here and there at first and later more self-conscious and bewildered and I would present them to her like a genius waiting for a world in return. She never said a thing, just one pressing, random kiss. I think she put them carefully in a box, probably with a ribbon on it, but I never did see one and I never did ask. I stopped looking the day she told me she thought I was destined for greatness. An astrologer told me the same thing since my birthday fell on the day four planets lined up and the end of the world was supposed to come or at least Niagara Falls was going to start going backwards or upside-down. I took this and used it for an alibi and told anyone who’d believe it.
I was a great hockey player until I was fourteen and gave up trying to skate backwards and I was a great liar and storyteller and kids loved me sometimes and I read a Kafka book and James Joyce’s Ulysses to the end which is almost a great thing to do. I had been to some great places and met some people who were pretty and great and now I’m only great at cooking Ukrainian food, filling out forms, juggling any three objects and changing the oil on my car. I remain a good liar when necessity dictates and I do eat healthy and I do plan on being a great uncle if any of my brothers could convince a woman to conceive.
Aside from the justifications, I waited for the destined part she meant and watched the seconds and weeks tick by in the corner of her patient eye. I would touch her eyelid; she would close her eyes, smile and blow the bangs from her face — it was then that I would remember to thank all the prophets and gods I could think of.
She listened to me carefully when I was spoke on the phone with someone, and always knew where I was. The canvasses, she painted me on were always five foot, always body length portraits and hazy backgrounds. I was usually dark purples, gray or brown and always in broad, abrupt brushstrokes. Sometimes with a beard and my hair down and tangled. The eyes were always looking straight on. They almost followed me around the room. She was deliberate and calculating in her work. I wasn’t that thin in real life either. My skin wasn’t stretched over high cheekbones and I wasn’t pasty and gaunt and emaciated like that. She smiled when I sat still so she could set the lights right.
Sometimes on the nights when we sat on her brass bed and listened to scratchy Patsy Cline or Robert Johnson records, she would tell her dreams and nightmares about me finally finding peace of mind or something as blissfully confusing and intangible and she meant it. I said sometimes I felt that I would find all the comforts and joys if things were more predictable and I knew one morning I would wake up and my hair would be silvery white or that I would be getting something great in the mail every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the rest of my life or that she would have the same glorious, vivid expression on her face every morning or that I knew the sun wouldn’t go down some days and I could go mow the lawn at three in the morning like they do in Alaska.
Only then could I worry contently about important things. About walking around like a chosen one, being as brilliant as a great idea or as enlightening as a car burning on the side of the road. I would go kissing all the babies and telling jokes and stories before I had to shatter and fall and get around to dying.
And my love would be there, sitting in the other corner of the room on the footstool, hands between her knees, looking. Looking and watching. Deliberate and aware, looking exactly like she was exactly now, her eyes filled with metaphors, something about infatuation and control, the spirit glinting and winking in the corner.
And me, sitting across from her, not being able to talk or say anything, and I couldn’t even look back at her, because I just couldn’t, or shouldn’t, or I didn’t know how to look at her when she was right in front of me, waiting.
Note: Thanks to the long defunct Provo band, “Trees” for the title and the also defunct newspaper “the Stinking Desert Gazette” for inspiration for this tale.
The Devil lives in Moab
He owns a small convenience store
From which he peddles hotdogs
The Trees, Provo Zion
Satan lives in Moab, he owns and operates a small convenience store. That is where I first met him. He was selling hot dogs and six-packs to lycra-dipped, granola-yuppie types. I asked him for a job to support my sorry, misguided ass in the stinking desert.
“Bob,” said Satan, “Bob, Bob, Bob….”
I first came to Moab, Utah to re-align my cosmic psyche by way of crystals, incense, Taoism, Buddhism, mysticism, jism, potions and lotions, and a bundle of printed matter all smelling of patchouli oil. Really an amazingly curious, new-agey thing that ran its course like a cold-sore. That ambition gracefully lost itself in time, my senses returned with the assistance of longtime residents, Jack Daniels and Jim Beam. Now it was mostly Buckhorn beer and the noble, greasy camaraderie of the local poets, prophets, polygamists, tour guides, lynchers, rednecks, miscellaneous madmen and uranium miners. Several of them were acquainted with Satan; I was introduced the night the Poplar Place burned down. Things burn in Moab a lot. Things burn and grocery stores close down.
First off, Satan is not red, fuming, flaming or have goat horns. Still, he is not a particularly attractive man; balding, pasty skinned, overweight and what appeared to be an acute case of lip cancer or maybe just a horrible cold sore. Most days he wore a blue velour sweat suit and expensive, high performance running shoes, “I have bad arches,” he justified. He took the time to mention the hi-tech specifications and features three times daily. I told him they made him look younger the day I asked him for a job. His shoes were usually blue to match the suit, the coloured highlights varied with the pair.
“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he mumbled, “a job, a job, a job.”
We were sitting in the back of his store. I was perched between large crates of waxy drink cups with catchy, trademarked names distinguishing them from other drink cups. The air conditioner crooned and rattled, Satan went from his particleboard desk to turn on the sink. He placed his veiny scalp under the running water for several minutes while we talked. He patted it dry with a stiff paper towel.
I felt uncomfortable and out of my element, as I often do, and thought of trying to make intelligent conversation but stopped on account of it being impossible. Instead, I listened to the running water splash and bang on the bottom of the deep stainless sink. He held another paper towel under the stiff stream of water then tucked it under his armpits, dragging the sweat out. Undignified, but useful I figured. He stuck his thighs back on his Naugahyde and duct-tape chair and spun it around on the rollers.
“I can’t pay you a lot of cash, but . . ., but there are perks.”
Today, like yesterday, it was hot out. I sat in front of the store sipping sticky, orange soda from my coffee mug. Being summer, I took off my shirt to work on my burn. Like always, between 11 and 3 o’clock, there wasn’t a customer to save my life. I read a wrestling magazine that became a mess from sweat and soda-pop.
Satan rode up on his bicycle — huffing, seething and smelling of freshly killed meat. There was a large circle of perspiration sticking his shirt to his flaccid chest. He dumped his bike and walked directly into his store, the little bells tinkled and the door wheezed shut on its compression device.
Satan used to drive his 1963 Buick hardtop everyday, now he usually rode a bicycle the three blocks to work. A lot of bicycles in town these days. “I think the ladies will notice me more,” Satan said a while back.
“Sure, that should gain favour with the women,” I said. That’s what started that.
He reappeared shortly, scalp gleaming and holding a hot dog and a quart of milk. “Cow juice and cow guts,” he told me, holding them up for display. He did this most days. There was a thick line of mayonnaise sliding towards his elastic waistband.
His breath was gaseous from eating pickled hard-boiled eggs from a large glass jar by the cash register. He also ate goldfish — he won one hundred of them at the ring toss at the Grand County fair. They came in plastic bowls filled with colored water. He ate them on crackers.
“Bob,” he said munching, “what’s your bit.”
“What?” I said.
Eventually, we had an animated conversation about hopes, dreams, ambitions, plans, etc. His were mostly very different from mine. Then we reorganized the Twinkies, Ho-Hos and Ding-Dongs.
By October, the air usually cools off some. This year, however, things kept burning. It was mostly cars overheating on the road and the occasional flaming house in Castle Valley.
The big mountain biker Halloween party in the old City Market building was the last time I saw him. It was actually on the 30th. I dressed as Tarzan, Lord of the Apes, and he went as a construction worker. The band was good and I won a pair of boots for a door prize. He won ski racks.
After he was gone, I found the manila envelope he left amongst the burnt rubble of the store. The fire hadn’t been terrible, although he was uninsured.
He said in the letter, that I was right about employment losing its novelty quickly when it wasn’t essential, as was his situation. Included were several riddles, clipped comic strips and three moist goldfish although no sign of his whereabouts. He did say how much he enjoyed Moab, it being the center of the universe and all. Landscape Arch was his favourite, until the three-ton chunk of rock fell from the center; oddly he stopped going after that.
He went on to say he had left a gift for me in a town called Fruita; it was just across the Colorado border. I had just enough money for my gas and oil, so I drove out in my pick-up truck to investigate.
A large real estate sign with “SOLD” scrawled across in bright red paint in front of fifteen acres of sagebrush. Certainly not prime real estate, but adequate. There were fourteen, healthy black and white Holsteins, a well-charred fire pit, and a mailbox with my name on it. I grinned, and went to meet the neighbours and get cable T.V. hooked up.
Months later, after I had skipped bail, I received a letter in Whitefish, Montana. Satan said how surprised he was when he heard about what I did with my ranch. He said he had pictured me living comfortably, raising my herd of cows, driving to the Spic n’ Span Cafe and pinching the polyester bums of the waitresses. Maybe even selling pumpkins on the side of the road come next Halloween.
With the benefit of hindsight, it probably had been extreme, though naturalistic. I had left after torching my aluminum tool shed and stampeding my brand-covered cows (eight sunshines apiece, no mistaking) throughout the county with a very large shotgun. It was my first real weapon, a mighty beast I bought at a pawnshop in Grand Junction. I sawed the bitch off like the Road Warrior and drank more so I’d more bottles to shoot at. Feeling so primal and hedonistic was new, interesting and somewhat unexplainable at times. I handcuffed the sheep to the dog kennel and drove off, lobbing homemade Molotovs at the billboards. It had made for an interesting sight.
Satan wrote that he certainly understood the potentials of innate human responses, which often produce extreme behaviour. He had dealt with this on several occasions so he wasn’t particularly surprised.
“Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob,” he wrote, “that was, however, very poignant of you.”
I’m quite sure he didn’t know what that meant either.