Thursday, June 30, 2022

Love at the Wreck

Howard loves at the Wreck
A forty pound clear-plastic bag of pasty-white lard
Propped between him and the mahogany bar rail:
His belly, I realize
Belt buckled a notch or two
(too loose)
From its impotent, leathery tip
A fuzzy mound revealed:
Sluggish black bellybutton hair
(it’s an outie)
Trying hard
To rise to the occasion
Ready to go! he announces to no one in particular
Or as ready as he’ll ever be tonight
The mound at his grinning pant line
More like an imperfect hairy rectangle
Now that I think about it
And I’m thinking about it
Can’t help but think about it, God help me
A black forest poking out in all directions
And going
in only one direction
Bulbous, heavy sweat-balls atop each bent hair
Howard’s organic version of Christmas tree stars
Greasy ornaments that guide my eyes
Toward Howard’s Hotdog Paradise
The zipper-grin coming apart
At the seams
Like me, staring now, wide-eyed
Because Howard shifted his bodyweight - I hear the barstool shriek
(too loose)
(too revealing)
(oh my God)
The only thing to do: Look away! Look away! Look away!
But, no, it’s impossible. It’s too late
He’s the accident I can’t turn away from - he
Orders another Coors Light
Gets the bartender’s attention with
Happy, dancing fingers - 10 fat ballerinas, but nimble, so nimble!
Then palms his massive, sweaty head
Elbow colliding with the bar
Catching itself
At the last second - the drunk driver
That somehow made the corner
I watch his biceps jerk and flop like a dying fish
Thinking it would rather be filleted on the coppertop
Than struggle to balance his heavy, unsteady head
Someone shouts, It can’t taste that good!
Howard splatter-laughing back
Don’t matter
Can’t see straight anyway!
And then, a sudden leering
To his left through narrowed eyelids
He introduces himself, a wobbling well hello there little lady
To Chris
Who Ladylike
Raises a skeletal wrist with drooping hand attached
Makes me think of an old pub sign
I saw in Cumbria, England
One side come loose from its mooring
Uncared for, left half-hanging
A sagging wooden flag on a windless day: The Drunken Duck
Dead cigarette clenched in a hot-red smear
Made of mud
Eyes above the edge of her glass
On Howard now
She thinks, squinting, hard
Head wobbling
Like Howard’s introduction
It produces a smudged smile
Seen through cold fingerprinted pint glass
Howard’s heavy hand causing her to
Tense up and gulp
Her Budweiser at the same time
I can’t see straight neither! she snorts
Into her beer
My neighboring forearm drenched in
A laughing, foamy ejaculate, toothless
Showering me
Soaking me
Wetting me
With her Midnight Promise To Howard Tonight
Their Happy Hour long gone weekend
Going nowhere
Howard and Chris
And love at the Wreck
* * * * *
I scribble down their conversation
A thief
A liar
A poet
A drunk
Certain I’m superior
Knowing I’m not

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Strawberry Daiquiri

after the



over and

called me







my glass




Monday, June 27, 2022

Your Royal Hiccup

Having finished the Shiraz, I’m convinced that
your father's wife (not necessarily your mother) 
exposed him (not in the physical sense)
to his wife (your brother’s, not your father’s) 
and if she lied (no, not your mother, her) 
then sinned (yes, yes, what else is transgress) 
against him (not me, not you, you know who) 
then the disadvantage was the man’s 
(which used to mean person, not sex) 
and not the woman’s (or the opposite sex 
as if there were two and no more). 
As for refills, go ahead. Open the Merlot.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Broken Bottle

I stumbled on the footpath in the dark,

made clumsy by my heavy shopping bags.

The concrete’s lifted where I often park;

at night I couldn’t see the warning flags.

I fell onto my knees. The right one’s grazed,

but doesn’t ache at all, not like my wrist

which only steadied me, so I’m amazed

how much it hurts. I wasn’t even pissed,

I’d had one glass with Ruth just down the road

and left that bottle with her, feeling kind.

I’d bought another. Boy, did it explode.

At first I thought it blood, then smelled the wine.

The lesson that I learned that night for free -

I take a glass of wine, or it takes me.

Thursday, June 23, 2022


    I am surrounded by a mosaic of cancerous smoked and fading neon. Dry liquor and spilt ale sticks to the bottom of my boots as I wade through a sea of subculture. The bar serves as a gathering hall for the fashionably bizarre and the chronically lonely. Tribes of self-proclaimed outcasts proudly display their ceremonial garb. I brush up against leather clad alienation and vinyl draped despair. Their hair is tinted in colors that do not exist in nature and metal rings are hooked into orifices both visible and concealed. I flag down a waitress and order some overpriced bourbon that is served to me in short, ornate goblet. I drink it quickly, letting the harsh burn in my throat and the warming pulse rippling through my body exist simultaneously. Moments later a cigar is wedged between my fingers and a tarnished silver lighter waits eagerly to ignite it. My hand is illuminated by fiery ember as I add to the noxious haze in the air.

    The motley misfits make brief eye contact with me as they pass. I am not one of them. My clothing lacks distinction: my attitude is devoid of premeditation. I know their secrets, and I’ve seen their rituals. But whether it be by design or a result of my own inadequacies, I am no more connected to them than to anyone else. The room is stalked by hunters, driven by lust and sport. They frantically gyrate to the loud, obscure rhythms emanating from overhead speakers. An orgy of guitars, drum machines, keyboards, and manic vocals are filtered through a mixing board to produce the soundtrack to the nightly mating dance. The predators bounce and sway to electronic ballads of pain, excess, perversion, and madness as they search for a body to press up against and devour. I do not participate. I try and tell myself that it is because I am better than those who thrive on sexual conquests and confuse satisfaction with purpose. But I know this to be false. The ugly truth is that I secretly admire the seducers who quench their desires with such comfort and ease. I would surely be one of them if I had the skills and the proper bait to catch someone.

    Much to my surprise, a scarlet clad woman moves toward me. Her synthetic dress is the color of Spanish roses. It tightly clings to her shape, as if trying to permeate her skin. She runs a hand through long, glossy, dark hair as she lights up a clove cigarette that smells of cherries and death. She tells me that I stand out from the crowd, and I cannot resist the urge to laugh at the irony. While those around me attempt to draw attention by embracing obscurity, I have become unique by being mundane. After we exchange arbitrary compliments, I’m quick to dip into the wealth of knowledge I’ve accumulated from years of travel in bohemian circles. I speak of underground music and independent film. I quote from out-of-print books with cult followings and reference small press magazines. I spout off new age philosophy and metaphysical wisdom, hoping something I say will lend substance to the illusion of sexual worthiness that I’m trying to project. Her mouth curls into a mischievous grin as she shifts about in her crimson gown. She commands me to buy her a drink, and I ardently comply. A brief trip to the bar yields an azure concoction in a shallow martini glass for the lady and a shot of single malt courage for me.

    My cigar shakes loose chalky cylinder and heat grazes my knuckles. My admirer in red plucks the nub out of my hand and takes a final puff, slow and indulgent, before tossing it to the ground and grinding it dead with the heel of her thigh-high boot. The cerulean elixir stains her lips as she sips it down. I continue my hypocritical banter, but her wanting gaze silences me. She takes a calculated step forward, inviting me to close the distance. I gladly do so, tasting of her tongue and stroking my fingers across her silky garb.

    Awareness that this woman will bring me no contentment is inescapable. I need her to be a harbinger of meaning and direction—perhaps she needs the same of me. But only mirages manifest in this oasis of nothingness. We are all just damaged souls searching for someone to repair us. My instincts tell me such people do not exist, and if they do, they must certainly be wise enough to forsake such dens of hallow pleasures. And yet I proceed, driven by uncaged primal urges that can only be appeased through carnal release. Our passionate caresses intensify as we playfully grasp at moist, exposed flesh. Periodically, I break away to consume large quantities of alcohol which I desperately need in order to maintain my artificially created aura of confidence.

    Unfortunately, I realize the folly of this strategy far too late to prevent my inevitable downfall. The booze hits my system with merciless ferocity. Hot, sticky sweat rolls down my face and the room seems to twist and bend about at sharp angles. My would-be lover gets me some water and speaks words that become gibberish in my mind. I mutter an incoherent response, and even in my heavily inebriated state I can see her interest in me is waning. But I have more immediate problems as reality launches into full spin and my stomach gurgles in objection to the unnatural motion. I awkwardly excuse myself and dash toward the restroom.

    The bar’s facilities are as repulsive as they are non-functional. The olive-green paint is cracking and flaking off the walls. Graffiti covers what smooth surfaces remain. Crass jokes and crude pictures of sex organs overlap in a montage of drunken expression. The sinks are missing chips of porcelain and are all left running. Most of them have soggy wads of paper towels collecting inside, filtering tainted water through obstructed drains. I race to a toilet with no working pipes. Once a useful sanitation device, it has now simply become a receptacle for piss and shit. Regurgitated poison begins to escape out of me before my knees hit the busted floor tiles. I am vaguely aware of shadowy forms glancing at me as I purge the evening’s debauchery from my system. They make no effort to hide their judgement and mockery. Doing my best to ignore the foul residue that stings my esophagus like acid, I force myself into a wobbly standing position. The water I splash on my face almost evaporates on contact and does little to quell the raw heat throbbing inside my temples.

    Staggering back toward the dance floor, wading through the chaos and vice, I search for the object of my erection. But even against the backdrop of blaring music and strobing lights, it takes mere moments to spot her kissing someone else. There is no anger—just an overwhelming sense of disappointment, mainly in myself. The swelling self-pity combined with my physical discomfort proves too much to bear. I unapologetically slice through the crowd and exit the bar without looking back.

    The steamy interior dissolves into a narrow alley and a cloudy night sky. Crisp, cool air rushes at me, providing a temporary respite from my misery. In the distance, towers of glass and steel illuminate the city and make the dirty patch of ground on which I stand feel fruitless and insignificant. Their inhabitants are busy divvying up the world, and all I can do is obsess upon a little viper’s nest and ponder why I’ll be returning tomorrow to begin the game again.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

To the Ex Lover I Ran Into at the Bar

I don’t remember your stomach
hanging over the lip of your jeans
as it does as you lean against counter top.

The smile you toss at the pretty
waitress is all sugar and desperation.
And your posture lacks the presence
it had when you stood by my side.

When we were drunk
making out on the hood of my car,
I didn’t realize I was just another
stop on your list for the night.

or all those honeyed words
had already been
practiced on a hundred
different ears.

All the glory of your charm
has become childish with the
fading of infatuation.

There are some lovers whose image
remains uncharred along the blueprints of my mind.
Former eyes singed an unyielding blue,
firm abdomen inflected with beads of sweat.
I have the tendency to web the bodies of past loves
with the glory of the ancients.

But yours I watch in slow decline,
and wonder if your hips were that slim when
I wrapped my legs around them.

If the frailty which kept arms at your sides,
was the same weakness of tongue
that kept you from answering my call.

It is only fair that you share the same
somber realization as mine.

I wonder when you look at me are you
seeing the scars for the first time,
Has the scent washed from my hair,
the shine from my reflection?

I do not wonder how I transformed under the sobriety
of your gaze. Instead, I think about your hands.

Your fingers, long and graceful, like a woman’s.
There is an undeniable beauty in their elegance,
in the simplicity of manicured nails and subtle skin.

A Blind Date

The bartender says:
‟Your date is already drunk
and looks like trouble.‶

She sighs, ‟coke was great
till it tore a hole in my nose
and my life savings.‶

‟I‵d be halfway through
this twelve step program
but for backward steps.‶

Dating is my form of hell
I get burned more often than
a narcoleptic at the beach.

When she goes to the toilet
I think of escape.

A stranger asks if
I plan to see fifty if
I drink like this.

She returns with more jokes
but between whiskey shots
I notice a cute smile.

The bright red paint
she puts on her lips
should be illegal.
Yet I find myself
almost against my will
being drawn in.

Our conversation
all sidesteps and feints
until we make a deal.

For an extravagant dinner
she says I can take her home
and we can play games

I might win or lose
but she guarantees
I'll remember.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

One for the Road, I Guess

Yeah, that girl, the one with the swaying breasts

in the sequin dress, uh, halter, I dunno,

is that blood splatters across her top, uh no, the glittering of sequins

swaying and jiggling to and fro, God, you’d think

I was drinking liquid acid not Scotch on the rocks,

maybe I’m just overtired, or just tired but I can’t,

I just can’t take my eyes off her swaying salmon pink and blood-splattered top

that cover her enthusiasm so hypnotically. . . .


My heart is both object and verb,

and is lined with the tackiness of tomato-red blood.

Veins and arteries are the construct, my life

is the experience and the nattiness of blood,

and sinew, is taylor-made for pumping

almost casually to the disco-beat of life,

and our love courses through it all,

which is the anecdote and bleeds plot and point,


All I can think of is that

life is a lot of shit

mixed with stardust and blood,

as I continue to try to drink

my bloodlust sullenness away.

Originally published by Yellow Mama magazine, Black Petals Press, February 2020

Saturday, June 18, 2022


I always thought it would be cool
To sit at the bar with the Devil himself herself itself whatever
And hang out with Darkness - face to face with the heart of darkness
Stool to stool, shoulder to shoulder, at the bar
Smoking Lucky Strikes, heads haloed by nicotine stained cigarette swirls
Showing off red-devil tattoos and dark and evil iconic jewelry
Sipping flamed cognac
Drunk on full-on black silk suits or black leather jackets or black whatever
The important point being, the Devil and I? Were dressed in blackblackblack, everything
Even our eyes
Blackblackblack and
So cool-baby-cool, living the
Big, old EPB (Excitement Personified Baby)!
All black and cool and
At first it was like
Wow… here I am, sitting at the bar
With the Devil himself herself itself whatever and
I think Ive cum in my pants, died, and gone to Cool Heaven, babies!”
But then the Devil started talking
About himself herself itself whatever
And talking and talking and talking
About himself herself itself - whatever!
And talking and talking and talking
And after a while I was like, Shut the fuck up, you narcissistic, boring son of a bitch.”
I thought it would be cool
To sit at the bar with the Devil
I’ll pass on the cognac
Give me a New Orleans Holy Water and Jameson’s, straight up

Friday, June 17, 2022

Sitting with the Broken Glass

drunk behind

the abandoned Applebee’s

smoking a cigarette


there’s still a place left

in this town

where I can hide

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Tasks for a Utopian Mongrel

Cochlea rum shots
are spaced best when
in those taught little drums
like fine tuning a boom box
or arranging an invader's meal.
Half digesting
then bringing it all
back up without
the oppressive need
for showmanship.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022


    I shouldn’t mix my drinks, but the Patersons had damned fine wine with the first course, a wonderful Ice Wine with dessert, and the brandy afterwards blew my mind. I should have said no to the Scotch before dinner, but for crying out loud, it was twenty-year-old Lagavulin.

    So, yes, I said something wrong. It wasn’t meant to come out wrong, but Jeannie flew into a rage. She didn’t appreciate that the world through a haze of some really superb alcohol need not make sense. I was just being sociable, and besides Bill raised the topic, whatever it was. I should not have blurted out the first thing that came into my head. It wasn’t funny. It was…I don’t remember.

    All the way home she wouldn’t look at me in the cab. She was biting her lip and looking out the window. If I turned my head to read the name on a shop or catch a better glimpse of someone I thought I knew because everyone looks like someone I know after having a lot to drink, she’d say, “Just shut up!”

    As we turned off the main street into the warren of smaller avenues where we’d just bought a house together, she muttered, “Men are such pigs,” and I replied “Oink,” which I think earned me the lifetime suspension. We hadn’t bought a couch yet. We were going to do that the next day, so I slept on the living room floor. Her last words to me as she went upstairs were, “Don’t you fucking well throw up on the new rug.”

    I didn’t. The problem is that I woke up sore. I couldn’t remember what I’d said and I wanted to apologize, but when I asked her, she just glared at me. “You don’t even remember? Don’t you know your real self comes out when you’re drunk? Deep down, that’s what you’re really thinking, isn’t it? That’s what you’re really thinking, so just shut up.”

    I phoned the Patersons. Mike answered. “What did I say?”

    “You don’ remember?”

    “No, I don’t. Can you give me a hint, a stage prompt or something so I know what I need to ask forgiveness for?”

    “I don’t want you as a friend, anymore,” he said. “Judy says she doesn’t want you around,” and he hung up.

    Alright then. I’ll just shut up. But even after Jeannie had moved out, called the lawyer, and accused me of being the sort of human being who didn’t deserve a decent burial let alone the right to walk the planet alive, I still don’t know what I said, and no one is going to tell me. I feel like a complete pig. They don’t keep track of what they say, and I’m certain they don’t talk, not even if someone trains in what they’re supposed to say.

    Jeannie would get angry at me when I’d just stare straight ahead. She’d say, “What are you thinking?” as if she really cared, and I’d say, “Nothing. I’m not thinking anything. I was enjoying a mental tundra, the space, the wind drifting across a vast nomadic plain without a soul in sight.” Then she’d get angry because she’d say it was insulting that I was in the same room with her and I wasn’t thinking about her and that I needed to get in touch with my feelings. Here’s the truth about men: forty percent of the time we aren’t thinking anything and we enjoy it. Another forty percent of the time we aren’t feeling anything. It’s not like we’re psychotic, it’s just that we turn off the personal observation mechanism and enjoy the bliss. Some people pay good money to take mindfulness courses, but a lot of men just come by it naturally. Jeannie would call me a liar, a liar of the worst kind, a liar of the inner self. I’d tell, the gospel truth, I wasn’t thinking or feeling anything and she’d get angry and wouldn’t speak to me. And I wasn’t going to ask her what she was thinking when she wasn’t speaking to me. I could guess the answer.

    I realize that my role in the world is to refrain from saying anything at all. I hurt people when I am not paying attention to what I say. That’s wrong. There used to be a time when a person could just blurt out whatever and get away with it. That’s past. Gone. Kaput! I remember reading Jane Eyre in university and the author, whatever her name was, raises the point that women are not permitted to express themselves, that they’re all Cinderellas waiting for a fortune in Madeira port to stumble into their lives.

    There are others in the room. They live with what I say. So should I.

    The problem is there aren’t any fairy tales for men. There never have been.

    We had our chances to stop and think about what we were saying and doing and we blew it. Blah, blah, blah. And half the human race are now registered failures at being human. We deserved it. We went on with our merry lives, with friends or so-called friends offering us more, pouring us another glass, uncorking something new and exciting, and, shit, we just went with it.

    And because of that, because we acted like pigs, we can’t say anything. Nothing. Men have said more than they should have said and we came off as idiots. If we have even a remote shot at being human beings, we must wait in silence. It’s our place now, and there’s not even an echo that will put up with us if we’re alone in a deep, dark cavern. The age of men has passed.

    But man, I got to tell you – and just this and then I’ll shut up completely – that wine they opened during dinner, the second one, was amazing. I am going to wrack my brains, though I probably don’t have any according to my ex and my former friends – and see if I can remember the name of it, perhaps go to the liquor store, describe the label to them, and see if they know what I’m talking about or maybe even what it made me say. In vino veritas. The truth has got to come out, and I know it’s in there somewhere.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Bring More Wine! (Conachlonn)

Time makes worlds interweave,

even intertwine.

Wine and pot,

not overdone;

one bottle and a joint.

Pointless to smoke two,

too hard to recall

all the new words,

birds that fly

higher than thought,

caught when my mind

finds where they live -

liver be damned! Bring more wine.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Buying Liquor on a Bible Belt Tuesday

You’re wondering what’s cradled in my arms,

what spirits swaddled in my paper bag.

You put your groceries in a family car,

but watch me as I stride across the lot.

Your hair turns with your head, a fitting frame

to mount your gaze of scorn—or is it envy?

My hair hangs free, with silver I don’t hide.

I walk untroubled to my truck, then smile

and roll by, waving like a pageant queen.

A woman loosed… free and flaunting my sin

Thursday, June 9, 2022

Whiskey Bar Remodeled

How weird boozing in old bars

No longer bars but restaurants


Crème-filled with families and fluorescent

Overhead lighting bright as church


The congregation not my crowd

Booths replaced the sticky oak bar


We leaned against evenings

Headed home from work


No more Cardinals and Harley-Davidson posters

Now No Smoking and unmanageable kids


But at one time bent-billed caps and

Shirts tie-dyed from bleach and sweat and


Concrete thick on boots or mud grease cow shit

Cigarette smoke wandering from lips and ashtrays


Tobacco spit in empty bottles fishing tales true and  

False and salt around the rim of beer cans


Lipstick kiss on a double shot glass the new

Bartender’s number calligraphed on my napkin


Bar phone jangling someone hunting

Someone late for supper dartboards pool tables


And a jukebox worth the money but now

Blond waitresses in sombreros belt out


Happy Birthday for embarrassed clientele 

Yellow trim around windows ferns dangling


Intermittently around a sterile dining room where

Bands once covered the classics back when


Porkchop and I perched on ass-worn stools

Down at the far end of the bar


Killing drinks and time and ourselves

Some might say but not me


I doubt in the future anyone reminisces about these

Orange curtains and Mickey Mouse balloons


No cobwebs coke-whores or buddies in the kitchen

Where is the dust


Sunlit particles orbiting between us and

Those filthy front windows now spotless


Where’s the bastard who still owes me eighty bucks

These people here need to know 


About the scuffle out by the air conditioning unit

That time I got barred


Two blackeyes and kicked the cigarette machine

Porkchop’s chuckle permeates the hallway by a


Long gone payphone like

Menthol cigarettes and the cheap


Cologne of rednecks prowling for action

I can still hear dead musicians


You tonight will never know

Every drink downed and accounted for.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

In Praise of Hendricks

I love you on the rocks.

I love you mixed with orange and bitters.

I will even sip you straight.

Clear as winter runoff in Spring,

clear as small-town tap water

distilled, pure and smelling of mineral—

but you have your own lingering smell

of juniper and herb, shocked by fermentation,

its product measured with proof.

I drink you at the hotel bar for $12 a glass,

I drink you on the sofa in the blinking light of the TV,

in my lawn chair in the yard, or on a friend’s back porch.

At 5pm, you squelch the madness

of another doldrum day and by midnight

you remind me I’m not so young.

Whether served or mixed in my kitchen

there's no contest when presented

with a Pepsi challenge, I choose you

by fragrance alone, no other spirit

will do. Tonight, I reach for ice and bottle,

nod at the clink in my rocks glass

swirl before taking a sip.


Monday, June 6, 2022

The Premonition

I’m not drunk, he said. I’m just feeling tender, like I’m really open and anything might happen.

You ought to be careful saying things like that, she replied.

How so?

If you’re too open you can be climbed into and eaten up.

That’s crazy.

You’ll see.

What do you mean?

Look into my glass: what do you see?



And what?

Look through the glass.

I’m looking.

What do you really see?

I see you.

What do I look like?

You look drunk but interesting, and you look beautiful.

That’s your drink talking.

I see us walking hand in hand up the stairs to my flat.

Now you’re seeing.

You trip on a stair near the front door and I help you up.

You’re very kind.

And I kiss you.

Then I should kiss you back.

Such a sweet kiss!

It’s late, time to go.

Shall we go together?

What do you think?

I think we will.

Saturday, June 4, 2022

The Proposition

If your uncle yammers for hours about alcoholism, and how it fucked up the entire family, you don’t expect him to take you to a dive bar afterward.

Uncle Henry was a crazy, obsessive Scorpio and had the goods on everybody. The previous evening, he’d driven me around my grandmother’s neighborhood, pointing out the hidden skeletons behind every door. Grandmother Mildred lived in the wealthy North Bay section of Racine, Wisconsin. She played bridge with Johnson Wax executives and voted a straight Republican ticket.

Henry pulled up in front of the most expensive house on the block and idled for a full minute. “Real can of worms in this place,” he said, without elaborating.

Mildred seemed happy to go to the bar with us, though she usually drank at home. She’d nursed her second husband through senility until the bitter end and was having a great time without him. I didn’t blame her. Henry Sr., a racist, sleazy dentist, had a bad temper and a poor sense of humor. All of us were better off with him gone.

At 29, I was always glad to visit a bar, even one in Racine. Henry had talked non-stop since I arrived at Mildred’s house two nights beforehand. I’d paid her an impromptu visit, just so I could flee Chicago for the weekend. As soon as I saw Henry, I regretted my decision, but now it was too late.

Aunt Donna had left Henry for another man, so he’d gone home to live with his mother. My uncle’s old bedroom featured zebra skin rugs and African spears. Mildred’s twisted idea of boy’s room décor. She’d picked up these items during transcontinental excursions, when her son was still young and impressionable.

Henry married Donna, his high school sweetheart, a couple of days after graduation. The two of them looked like two mid-1960s caricatures of young adults. Henry sported a stylish crew cut and Donna wore tight capris. They adored each other.

This arrangement sufficed for many years, until the couple’s inevitable midlife crisis. Donna went nuts, drinking and crying and screaming and fucking other men. She had a breakdown and spent a few weeks in a mental hospital.

Henry had already devoted several hours to the task of warning me about the destruction alcohol wreaked upon families. A bar would be a nice change of pace. I climbed in the back of Mildred’s Lincoln Continental and stared out the window.

My uncle fidgeted in the passenger seat. “You sure you want to go?” A weaselly attempt to walk back the invitation and avoid responsibility. Typical Henry behavior.

Mildred smirked. “Of course, or we wouldn’t be here.” She turned the key, and her engine roared to life.

We headed straight downtown and pulled up in front of a dive. Multicolored neon lights shone on the hood of my grandmother’s Lincoln. Mildred killed the engine and climbed from her vehicle, slamming the door. “I’m ready for a drink.”

“Don’t worry, I’m buying.” Henry sidled up to the bar and waved his hands until the bartender came over. The poor man looked ancient. Most likely the owner, but jobs were scarce

in Racine.

“Um, O’Doul’s for me,” Henry said. “Mother?”

“I will have a Manhattan,” Mildred said, in the imperious tone she reserved for drink orders.

The bartender glanced at me, and I deliberated. “You got Point on tap? I’ll take one, please.”

The delicious local brew sold in Madison’s college bars for two bucks a pitcher during happy hour. I didn’t share Mildred’s love of hard liquor, preferring to drink for quantity.

On the other hand, my grandmother could really put it away. She tossed back her Manhattan and signaled for another. The aged bartender picked up a bottle and a glass and began his arduous task of pouring and mixing.

Mildred’s eyes traveled down the bar and came to rest upon a middle-aged man. He sat at the far end, nursing a can of Old Style. Handsome but tired-looking, the fellow appeared to be in his late 50’s. At least 20 years younger than Mildred, who planned to celebrate her 80th birthday in April.

My grandmother already had a new boyfriend named Clay—a millionaire who took her dancing every Friday. Mildred had made no promises of fidelity. She leaned over the bar and squeezed my arm. “He’s cute,” she said in a stage whisper. “Don’t you think so?”

“I guess.” I gazed down at my glass. Henry had revealed that Mildred was almost broke. She’d burned through two million dollars and was down to her last $100,000. It still seemed like a lot of money to me. My college fund had gone into my grandparents’ expensive liquor glasses, a few dollars at a time.

College was bullshit anyway. I took a gulp of beer and stared straight ahead. Harry sat on my left and nursed his can of O’Doul’s. He appeared to be deep in thought. It was a welcome switch from his usual mindless chatter.

Suddenly, Mildred draped her body across the bar’s Formica surface and gestured towards the man. “Hey, handsome,” she slurred.

Looking startled, the man raised his head and slowly rotated in her direction. Mildred flashed him a lascivious grin. “What are your feelings about oral sex?”

My grandmother’s voice was so loud that the bartender almost dropped her Manhattan. Undeterred, Mildred continued to lounge on the counter like an octopus, her long limbs scattered willy-nilly amongst the ashtrays and empty glasses.

The man’s eyes grew huge, and his mouth fell open. After a moment, he composed himself. “It depends.”

Henry burst into laughter. He set down his beer can and covered his mouth with his hands, but the guffaws escaped through his fingers anyway. Rivulets of beer streamed from his nose.

I gaped at Mildred, horrified. The concept of her as a sexual being had never occurred to me. Like a couple in a 1960s sitcom, she and Henry Sr. had shared separate beds for years. I’d often helped my grandmother clean the conjugal bedroom. She’d tried, in vain, to teach me how to construct hospital corners with her crisp, imported sheets.

Mildred shrugged. “I need to visit the ladies’ room. Be right back.” She rose to her feet and staggered towards the rear of the bar.

I leaned towards Henry. “I’m afraid she came on a bit too strong.”

Henry emitted a final snort, then shook his head. “She prefers the direct approach.”

I swiveled on my barstool and turned my back on Mildred’s would-be paramour. Most likely, he didn’t relish the sight of our dysfunctional family—three generations of social misfits, all lined up and staring at him like vultures. The poor guy was entitled to some privacy.

After a moment, Mildred wandered back into the room. She sank into her seat, then rotated in a clockwise direction, hoping to attract the man’s attention again. Feeling apprehensive, I allowed my eyes to travel slowly towards his end of the bar. I didn’t want him to think Mildred’s seduction was a family affair—some sort of unholy foursome, too ghastly to imagine.

His seat was empty. An abandoned can of Old Style remained on the counter, beside a half-drained glass. The man had tucked a couple of dollars underneath an ashtray and wandered off into the winter’s night.

My grandmother sighed. “I guess he got cold feet.” She raised a hand and signaled the bartender. “Another Manhattan, please.”

The bartender scuttled towards the sink for another glass. His face assumed an implacable expression. The man had undoubtedly seen some weird shit during his years behind the bar. “A bit stronger this time,” Mildred snapped. “The last one was weak.”

“I think you scared that poor fellow,” I said.

“Who? The guy at the end of the bar? He wouldn’t know what to do with a real woman.” Mildred accepted her drink from the bartender and took a hearty gulp. “That’s all right. I’ll find someone who will.”

I didn’t doubt it. Mildred always got what she wanted, one way or another. In an hour or so, we’d return to her palatial home. The Lincoln would idle on my grandmother’s pink driveway for a few seconds. Then Mildred would guide her vehicle into the garage and retire to her pink bedroom.

The woman loved pink, and she finally had it all to herself—as soon as Henry Jr. moved into his new apartment. Friday was only a few days away. Clay would come over with a dozen roses and his usual invitation for a steak dinner and ballroom dancing. Meanwhile, in the dark of her bedroom, Mildred might conjure up an image of her fantasy lover. If she even cared or managed to remember.

Friday, June 3, 2022

An Ode to the Forgotten Drunk

you sit upon your barstool

in a haze of shattered dreams

with the crust of nightmares old and new

encaked upon your jeans

with one hand on your whisky glass

and one on your cigar

you vaguely muse on where you've been

and also where you are

the jukebox plays a happy song

picked out by someone else

a fool to you perhaps, but cool, to himself

so who's the winner in this tale

of battles to the death?

a drunk with whisky on his mind,

or whisky on his breath?

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

You Gotta Know When to Hold ‘Em

I knew his most famous songs, but I loved Kenny Rogers for his delicious roasted chicken restaurants. Still, when a friend offered me a free ticket to accompany her to his concert, I didn’t hesitate. She took care of our dinner drinks, two full bottles of wine, so when we arrived early at the venue, I took out my wallet as we spotted the bar.

Kenny was playing at the Las Vegas Hilton, the bar we stumbled upon was known as Quark's bar. "Quark" was a character from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Star Trek experience was an interactive themed attraction, and the bar was a part of it. We each ordered two large booze-filled themed drinks in take-home souvenir glasses.

I’m a lightweight drinker, and if you’re keeping track, I’ve now had a bottle of wine to myself and two mixed drinks. With liquid courage, I shimmied up to a security guard once the venue doors opened.

“What does a girl gotta do to get front row seats?” I smiled.

To my surprise, he told us to find him once the lights went down.


We were in our nosebleed seats as the lights dimmed. It was dark, and the aisle was narrow. I stepped on countless toes while whispering, “sorry,” as I tried to exit my row gracefully. I then fell into the silhouetted lap of an older woman.

I started to laugh so hard that my stomach hurt, and I could not muster up the core strength to immediately remove myself from her lap. Then it happened. A series of bubbly farts. On this horrified stranger. She had to have at least felt them.

I finally stood up and fell out of the aisle. While trying as hard as possible to regain my composure, I told my friend what had occurred. Our security guard was nearby and whisked us away to the third row just as Kenny took the stage. Thank God because I never wanted to see that poor lady again.

Even though my head was spinning, I noticed that my friend and I were the youngest people there. At a concert, you often stand up and sing along. But not at this Kenny Rogers concert. My friend would later tell me that a few people complained to her about the cost of their tickets and asked us to sit down. Kenny didn’t seem to mind. He winked, pointed, and smiled at us a few times.

At some point, the beginning notes to “Lady” started. I yelled, “I’m gonna do it!”

“You totally should!” My friend hollered back.

I lifted my blouse and bra, held my breasts in my hands for a second, then flashed Kenny Rogers with all God had given me. There was Kenny’s wink and smile again! The rest of the concert was a blur. The next thing I remembered was my friend holding my hair back as I started hurling into some toilet at the Las Vegas Hilton.