Sunday, July 31, 2022

The Back of the Drawer

The room is a cluttered nest. The bed surrounded by cartons open and closed, piles of clothes stacked and toppled. Chairs occupied with slouching dresses, skirts, shirts, and pants clinging to hangars. The closets abandoned except for shoes, some boxed others hanging, a broken rainbow of colors. A mess, according to Carol. The price of moving after twenty-five years of accumulation. The worn and unworn awaiting a verdict to be kept or discarded. Good willed to some group with good intentions or packed to continue life as they had known.

Carol hears her husband Mark trudging up the stairs. If he had been born an Indian, they would not have named him Lightfoot. “Mark!” Carol’s exasperation a trumpet call to action. “You need to go through this stuff.”

Mark saunters into the room. “So you’ve said.”

“For the umpteenth time.”

“Please note, I am not deaf, and I am not senile. Yet. I will get to it.”

“Sooner than later, please.”

Mark turns and goes in the bathroom and is greeted by more boxes and his wife’s menagerie of cosmetics, lotions, tweezers, scissors, a sundry of things for her hair and bottles of mystery to him.

“Do you ever empty any of these bottles?”

“Of course.”

“What could you possibly do with all this?”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“It means who needs more than three lipsticks?”

“All women who want to look good. To please the man in their life.”

“Oh. I guess I never knew what it took to please me.” Mark picks up a bottle and reads the label. He puts the bottle down, shakes his head and mumbles, “I’m so pleased.”

“What did you say? I couldn’t hear you.”

“I said the pleasure is mine.”

Carol walks into the bathroom, stops, and puts her hands on her hips. “No you didn’t.”

“I didn’t what?”

“Say the pleasure is mine.”

“Then why did you ask?”

Carol eyes him like a cat watching a mouse absorbed in a piece of cheese. Her finger comes up and she signals follow me. She pivots back to the room and steps through the valley of cartons and clothes. She stops before a tower of t-shirts, turns, and faces Mark.

“These you have kept hidden in the back of the drawer for, oh, more than twenty years. You don’t need any, much less three.”

“These were history in the making.”

“A key word. History. As in the past. Time to let it go.”

“Those who ignore history repeat it.”

“What part of life are you going to repeat without this t-shirt?”

“I’m not going to repeat it. That’s the point.” Mark reaches out and delicately pulls the t-shirt from Carol’s grasp. “That one point in life that stays with you, glued to the underside your skin.”

“What an awful image.” Carol rotates around to the leaning tower of t-shirts and picks one off the top. She snaps the folded shirt open in a flourish. “So. Chances R. If I remember correctly that was a generation ago. A bar. And you worked there. Are you going back there if I throw this out? Going to repeat history? Get drunk at work? Pick up drunk girls?”

“No. Obviously. I kept it so I don’t forget. Don’t forget the one point in life when I was alive. When I actually played the game. Now I sit on the bench. A voyeur.”

“A voyeur? I’m married to a voyeur?”

“You know what I mean.” Mark reaches around Carol attempting to seize more of the shirts, but Carol moves and the tower tumbles into a pile of cloth debris. She reaches down and pulls a bowling shirt from the wreckage.

“Oh. This is something you need. We’ve never bowled. And who the hell is Kahuna?”

“That was me.”

“Kahuna? Who was he?”

“It was a nickname.”

“What kind of a nickname is that? What does it even mean?”

“It was a sign of respect. It meant you had balls. The balls to do things others wouldn’t.”



“They must have been bowling balls. I mean it’s a bowling shirt and yea, I could see you holding a bowling ball in both hands and your buddies saying—hey nice Kahuna.”

“Very funny.” Mark takes the shirt from her and flings it over his shoulder.

“You’re keeping that?”

“It’s a one of a kind.”

“Well I’m sure no one else hung on to theirs. You’re the one of a kind.”

“At last you admit it.”

Carol shakes her head and sits down on the pile. “Mister one of a kind. You realize that doesn’t necessarily equate with good?”

“I’ll settle for unique.” He reaches out his hand. “Get off my past.” Carol shakes her head again and takes his hand. “You realize you’re part of that past.”

“Not that part. I’ve never bowled.”

“That was just an episode. A chapter you didn’t appear in.”

“Oh. So now it’s a book. A book no one wants to read. Borrrring.”

“Maybe to you. But considering the only one reading is me. Exccccciting.”

Carol turns and swoops up as many of the shirts as she can, turns, and shoves them at Mark. “Go through them now or they go in the trash.”

Mark opens his arms as if giving a welcoming benediction and accepts the shirts. “There has to be something from that time you didn’t let go of. I’ll bet you have something lurking somewhere. That souvenir.”

“I do not. Hanging on to the past is a symptom of failure.”

“Failure of what?”

“Failure to move on. Get over it. Let it go. The past is the past.”

“So no t-shirt? No letter? No piece of jewelry? No photograph tucked in the pages of a book? Nothing that symbolizes you were young once? That you did things you won’t do today?”

Carol looks into Mark’s eyes. Then she turns and picks up more of the tattered shirts off the floor and plops them on the pile in Mark’s arms. “No. I didn’t do things I wouldn’t do today.” She tries to squeeze between Mark, the bed, and the boxes.

“Are you sure of that?”

Carol gives him a gentle push. “Positive.” And gets past him.

Mark spreads his arms, letting the clothes fall, and raises them towards the heavens. “Hard to believe. Such perfection. A true gem. Never a diamond in the rough.”

Carol gives him a pat on the butt. “A piece of pure gold.” A smile floods her face, she gives him a quick kiss, then she turns to leave the room.

Mark looks down and gives the pile a sweeping soccer kick. “He shoots! He scores!” Something catches his eye. He stares for a second. Then his hand dives to the pile and talons a t-shirt. He rises quickly, pivoting, and shoots his hand with the prey up in the air.

“Fifth Annual Chances R Wet T-Shirt Contest!” He waves it, a triumphant flag.

Carol looks over her shoulder. “What’s that?”

“Just another t-shirt, my dear.” Mark’s face fills with glory. His arms spring up in a V. “You remember this. Or. Perhaps you don’t?”

Carol comes up next to him and reaches for the shirt. Mark holds it beyond her reach then grasps the sleeves letting the stencil message flutter before her eyes. “Wow. You have that.”

“Yes, my dear. I have that. It. Proof you are iron pyrite. Fool’s gold!” He puts one arm around her and waves the t-shirt like a rally flag at a sporting event. “Let me take you back to that time, that place, when you didn’t do that sort of thing. That event. That chapter in the book you didn’t live. When you went for the story!”

“Going for the story was you, Mister Kahuna, not me.” Carol struggles like a small child to grab the shirt.

“You didn’t have the balls, but you had the mighty D’s!” Mark whips the shirt in the air, basking in the score.

“I was drunk.” Carol lunges for the shirt.

“Yes you were. That’s what happens when you go for the story.”

“Give that to me. It was mine not yours.”

“Ah. So you admit. At least once in your life you did something to remember!”

“I didn’t remember doing it the next day. Much less today.”

“But you did do it.”

“You say I did. I don’t remember.” Carol leaps, leveraging herself against Mark and gets the t-shirt. Mark sits down on the bed. “This. Is going to the trash.” Carol swats Mark with the shirt. “A story that no one but you remembers comes to an end.” Carol turns and heads for the doorway.

Mark watches her victory lap then suddenly jerks as if fighting an unplanned nap. “They took photos. At the end. You were all lined up. You finished second.”

Carol stops and turns. “Only because the winner flashed the crowd.”

“You’ve got that photo. I’ll bet anything. You have it in that old photo album you’ve kept buried in the bottom of the closet.” Mark grabs a box and tears back the tape to open it.

“Don’t do that!” Carol runs over and shoves Mark away from the box. “Don’t make a mess of everything I’ve done.”

“Is that it?”

Carol presses on the tape attempting to reseal the box. “I’ve worked my ass off on this.” She looks at Mark. He is standing, nodding his head.

“That’s it isn’t it? Don’t make a mess of everything I’ve done.”

“What do you mean? I’ve worked hard packing up your life and mine. I don’t want it blown apart.”

“Exactly. Today that story can’t exist. Miss Perfect can’t have a zit.”

“I’m not Miss Perfect.”

“Right. Exactly right. You’re not Miss Perfect. And the photo album proves it. You’ve got it here. Somewhere. You didn’t throw it out. You didn’t let it go. Maybe you haven’t looked at it in twenty years, but you did the other day. Just before you packed it in one of these boxes.” Mark’s hand flutters in a flourish around the room. “It took five shots of tequila courage, but you went for the story. A sixth shot and you would have humbled the winner with a one better flash of your own. D’s versus B’s.”

“Another shot and I would have been puking.”

“You did that later. That’s the part you don’t remember. The day I met you. All I was good for was holding your hair up out of the mess you were making. And now you can’t admit it. It was a great story. The next day you had to ask one of your friends my name. And you admitted you barely remembered me.” Mark’s eyes started searching the room. “Fess up. That album is here somewhere.”

“If I say it’s here, will you let this go? Drop the whole thing?”

Mark straightens up rigid as a totem pole. “Only if you let me see what other memories you have stored away.”

Carol hesitates, sizing up Mark. “After the move.”

“OK. After the move.”

“Grab a box. We’ll pack your t-shirts.”

Mark takes Carol by the shoulders and gently maneuvers her to the bed. He takes her t-shirt from her and smooths it out on the bed. “Hey runner up, let’s go for the story.”

“I’m not flashing you. And no photos.”

“We’ll just hang on to this t-shirt.”

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Drunk in a Hotel Room

On this Saturday night, we might have

curled our toes in sand, tried to catch flies

with chopsticks, counted stars. We might

have found some form of peace,

but we never really learned the fine balance

of precious words on a sober tongue,

or the reprieve offered by sunset

and a breath pulled into lower belly.


Instead, we clean the wax that drools from lips,

chatter like keyboards, unravel our ribbons,

trade jokes with the dead, and

pluck the frayed pages of written confessions out of the fire pit.


The last time we were here

I read Revelations from the Bible

in hotel night stand with preacher precision.

I rattled on about the end of the world

in a quick cadence to distant drumbeats

played for strange faces and arched eyebrows

that pretend to know the secret of mixed drinks.


The past we longed to forget

waits for us to reenact its misdeeds.

The present we longed to ignore

perches on our shoulder blades.

The future we hoped to avoid

bides time on the other side of night.


Some of us got drunk faster than others,

some of us had mango bodies that slurped quick fire,

with spread lips to laugh or fang,

erupting throats to sing or scream.

Some paced like anxious dogs, unstoppable, urgent,

ready for war and revolution.


All of us desperate for the end of the world.

Friday, July 29, 2022

Puckish Life

The worst part of being a loner

is that all the stories you’d tell

to anyone in or out of the bag

who’d lend even half an ear

look like lies when you are

reviewing them in your head

to bore yourself to sleep but

luck will visit no shit and your

tales will take on a new glow

because dreams are nothing

if not barrooms where fancy

bubbles into truth and honesty

passes a jury of bobbling peers

and all bravos are on the house

and what a beautiful hangover

that launches you in the a.m.

to offer your yarns over java

of course beer and shots later

and at the closing of the say

hope that a word or phrase

sticks in ears, capped firmly

on pillows to await dream

shakes of fancy and truth

by a bartender who has

never said no or opened a

register in his puckish life

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Ghost from an Old Haunt

the old boozehound would always come at 11am;

never a minute too early or late.

Jim, the bartender, would get him his draft beer and

I’d greet him with a half-hearted raise of my bourbon.

for two years, we were the only two morning occupants of the bar,

we had hardly ever talked.

the old boozehound would drink 15-16 beers,

then leave at 5pm.

by that time, more had flocked the place

and no one even said goodbye to the old timer.

by 5pm, college students came in for a cheap beer,

signaling the beginning of the hunt.

the mornings were reserved for bourbon, and a few beers,

to eviscerate all the harrowing thoughts and memories

of dead love, of a life that could have been.

until one morning, as I nursed my second bourbon,

I realized the old boozehound hadn’t come.

half an hour later, both Jim and I exchanged a brief worried look.

then, we went back to our routines, thinking he’s sick

or broke.

he never showed up again; he had died peacefully in his sleep,

leaving behind a wife, and three kids, a great big mansion in the suburbs,

two cars, a successful business.

the man who seemingly had it all

was one of us; one of the barflies drinking his days away.

a silent, half-hearted hoist of the glass

to the skies, to the man whose name I never learned.

Monday, July 25, 2022

A Simple Order

    The brightly lit glow of purple summons us in our post-liquored-up state of physical exhaustion from grinding and random make-outs with shadowy strangers on a packed dance floor. After piling into some girl’s beat-up van, in which there was no A/C and the driver’s side window is unable to roll down, we finally arrive at our craving’s terminus. Only to find a long, winding line of other weary passengers awaiting the finale to their taco-tastic night.

    Inching, slowly, torturous moments of impatience, complete with growls from our famished tummies, until finally, we’ve arrived at the pearly bright intercom to make our pleas. One by one, we each crawl over our designated driver. Shouting requests like “one Crunch Wrap Supreme” or “three Dorito’s Locos Tacos.”

    All simple orders. Such amateurs.

    Climbing across the median console, hovering over my friend, my long hair smacks her in the face, as my shouts reach the small opening of the driver’s side door.

    “I’d like three soft tacos. No lettuce. Extra cheese. Oh, and make sure the tortilla is warmed up, but not too hot. Two mild and one hot sauce packets. Extra napkins.”

    As I flop back down onto the seat, I’m confronted with three annoyed, silent faces.


    I look behind at the winding line of other eager drunks, stuck in park until their turn to place a humble request is granted. Sweaty-boob-money is conjured up between us. We pay our toll and proceed to second window, holding our breath until the glass doors open towards us and the orgasmic whiff of spiced meats and melty gooey cheese infiltrates our nostrils. “Have a Baja Blast rest of your night,” the dealer says while passing over our bag of fried goodies.

    Our driver hands out each girl’s meal, except mine, which she leaves in the bag and throws it into my open hands. When I unwrap my delicious presents, I discover a not so “burrito-full” sight. All three of my perfectly crafted tacos contain not only lettuce but lack any cheese whatsoever. The tortilla itself is as hard as a plate, in which I contemplate throwing it like a frisbee back into the window. Upon inspection of the bag, there’s no sign of sauce packets with witty phrases. I stare ahead, dumbfounded, as the girls munch away.

    They quickly fill their stomachs with soft tortillas, which soak up any remaining alcohol in preparation for the sobering drive back home. Jessica, with brown oil dripping down her chin that matches her runny mascara, turns to me. After one last push of the taco into her gaping mouth, she mutters, “whust wheat bit.” I nod, as I too know the language of stuffing one’s mouth with food then speaking. But I can’t bring myself to dive into this pitiful excuse for a taco. After wiping her greasy mouth onto the glittery sleeve of her dress, our driver resumes our journey. All while I sit in the backseat, nauseous from not eating and the disappointment of expecting a delicious late-night meal.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Exchange Poem

alone at the exchange,

the guy next to me exclaims

“i’m drunk!” and clenches his fist


i bump it thinking he’ll turn away and

leave me be, but i’m wrong, so very wrong


he attempts conversation,

asking prying questions

into what i do for a living,

if i enjoy the work 


i answer nothing and

turn the questions 

around on him


he grabs his cigarettes and keys,

slamming them into the bar

before handing the bartender 

a credit card that is declined five times 


“just pay up tomorrow” the bartender says


the drunk says nothing and stumbles away 


a guy across the bar shouts

“i hope he’s not driving!”


i order another round 

and think about

drying lakes

out west.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

Learning to Drink: Barstool Etiquette?

It was late 1952, and even though the lieutenant senior grade was stationed on a submarine out of Norfolk Naval Base, he preferred informality at the officer’s club.

“Whaddya got there, Cush?” asked the bartender, as the young officer strolled through the door. It was obviously a rhetorical question as the barkeep could see the seven-month-old resting in the crook of his customer’s arm.

“Got the son with me today,” he answered, taking a seat on a nearby barstool. Shifting the baby to a semi-sitting position on his thigh, he held the child up with one hand on his back and indicated “one”—for a draft—with the other. Drawing a beer off the tap, the bartender cocked his head toward the pair.

“So, you drew duty call, did you?”

“Yup,” the young Naval officer answered. “Mother wanted to spend the day with some friends, and I figured, why not?”

Before their day started, his wife had written up a schedule for feeding and the food had been prepared. She also gave a quick lesson in changing the cloth diapers, the only option back then. Everything was in place and ready to go. He assured her that their son was in safe hands for the day. “Relax,” he told her. “What could go wrong?”

The rest of the morning went well. The first-time father played with the infant, fed him, changed him, played with him some more. Then, around mid-afternoon, he decided to join in Happy Hour for a drink. Dressing the boy and placing him in the carriage, he departed for the base’s Officer’s club. He chose the bar because the barstools looked similar to the highchair at home. They weren’t the usual flat, round stools found in most drinking establishments. Instead, they each had an upholstered backrest which encircled about half the sitting area of the seat cushion.

Settling in, ready to imbibe, he propped the wobbling child into the stool beside him.

Who knows what was happening there at the time; the boy couldn’t have been too aware although the flashing lights and calliope-like sounds coming from pinball machines off to the side probably captured his attention. Meanwhile, his father got involved in conversation—perhaps with the bartender, perhaps with ant late-arriving fellow patrons. Rapt in his own world of drafts and jokes, he became distracted, which was when—whether because the baby lost his balance or just got overly-excited, he fell, asshole over elbows, crash-landing onto the floor.

A chorus of “holy shit” issued once the adults were reminded of the baby’s presence as the infant slammed on the wood floor, suddenly realized that pain was involved, and began screeching. Scooping the crying child up and fleeing the O-club to try and repair the damage, Lt. Cushing awaited the tirade certain to come from his wife once

she arrived home and saw the bruise that spread across the swelling cheek, closing up one eye.

She didn’t disappoint.

All hell did break loose.

* * * * * *

That was the last time my dad took me to a bar until my 18th birthday, when he took me for my first legal drink. It was while we sat on a pair of barstools in Patrick’s Pub, drinking a couple of Watney’s Red Barrel drafts, that I first heard of this event that marked my introduction to the world of distilled spirits. It might be safe to assume that what happened that day of my first year on earth explains a lot about me.

What was the takeaway from this experience? As far as I can figure, there are two—the first being that my first real injury in life happened in a bar.

After I fell off a barstool.

The second came to me decades later in an inebriated epiphany when I realized I just can’t seem to get it right. For some reason, I continue falling off barstools.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

An Absurdist, an Absurdist, & an Absurdist go Into a Bar

Act One

They sit.

They drink.

They have no memory of how or why they came here,

or of how long they've sat drinking.

Nudge, says Nock

(they know their names, but they forget which one of them is who)

Yes, Nick? says Nudge

Nudge, says Nock, have you ever known a moment's joy, or sense of purpose?

Ah! ah! says Nick. The first of those!

When old Gertie's skirts flew up around her, as she crossed the subway grate!

Ha ha ha, says Nock, yes yes! Those knobbly knees!

Nudge fails to recollect the knees.

He sighs. I wish I'd seen that.

Ah, it was very sad, says Nick.

Those knobbly knees, and how, as she went to clutch her skirts around her,

she tripped, and stumbled against the fire hydrant, and bashed her head.

Ha ha ha ha, says Nock, yes yes!

The blood!

Stage right, a bare slab of blue wall.

The pages of a calendar flutter and settle about the room in flocks.

June 1944!, they sing.

March 2007!

January 1983!

Up left, a tree: its limbs make growth spurts

so that the leaves fall and sprout, fall and sprout, as if doing the wave.

Act Two

Nudge, asks Nick, how long have we sat here drinking?

Since opening time, I imagine, Nudge and Nock answer in unison.

Hey! Nudge and Nock protest in unison, he was asking me!

Yes, they retort in unison, but he thought I was you!

Each plucks something blunt from a branch,

to bash the other one about the head, until the blood is prodigious.

But then a gong sounds!

May 1968! May 1968! tweets the fluttering calendar, all its pages at once.

Revolution! cries Nick. Peace and love! chants Nock.

La mauvaise foi, sneers Nudge, demurring—

until there they are, a guerilla, a hippy, and an existentialist in a bar— as suddenly, beautifully, with the red sky white with mushrooms,

the world goes boom!

Act Three

Silence, for seventeen minutes, or until the last of the audience is gone.

Then, very gradually, in the formless void, up center,

by the light of a red-flashing sign, we see a door.

A BAR. (Darkness.) A BAR. (Darkness.) A BAR.

Will it open? (Darkness.)

Will it open? (Darkness.)

Will it open?

Monday, July 18, 2022


I party hard and dance ‘til three
drink fine champagne as if it’s tea.
I fill my flute and gulp it whole -
may God have mercy on my soul.
I drink to keep the ghosts at bay
or else they’d haunt me night and day.
When you need bread I offer coal -
may God have mercy on my soul.
You know I’m just a piece of shit
with torrent words of stinging wit
and matrimony’s not my goal -
may God have mercy on my soul.

Friday, July 15, 2022

Out of Dodge

Spunkles the clown drove the stolen ‘70 Dodge Charger like it was a rental vehicle; fast, aggressive and with abandon. At stoplights on his way out of town, he squealed the tires and lit them up. On the open highway a couple of times he pushed it to a hundred miles an hour on the flat stretches of Nebraska. Life on the run from his reality was pure adrenaline. For the first time in nearly thirty years he felt alive, clownishly alive, painted-smile-on-his-face alive. He wondered why he’d waited so long to do something this edgy and life-changing. He was headed west with no plan, a half tank of gas and the stolen car of his dreams.

The fields of corn zipped by endlessly on this hot afternoon in June as Spunkles lost himself to the classic rock on the eight-track player. The chump he’d stolen it from had tapes of Elton John, Foghat and even a little Blood Sweat and Tears - to shake it up with a little brass. It was his kind of music, the tunes he grew up with. He let the thoughts roll through his red wig headed cranium as he pushed the Charger’s tachometer to the high end. He sat back in the vinyl seats and enjoyed the music over the purr of the banana yellow muscle car. Man, the owner of this thing was true to spec right down to the music player, he thought.

Two hours and a hundred and fifty miles later, Spunkles felt a growl in his stomach and thought it might be good to get some dinner. He was nearly to the Colorado state line and the sun was still going to give a few hours before it set, so he pulled off the freeway and into the McDonalds drive-thru. No sense in going into the restaurant and risking someone stealing his stolen car. Now that would be ironic, he thought.

He ordered a number three and pulled ahead to the payment window. The cute teenaged clerk turned around from talking to a coworker and jumped with a start at the sight of the clown in the Charger. “Oh, hi! You scared me there for a second. Are you any relation to Ronald?” she asked smugly.

“Nope. Different clown lineage,” Spunkles replied, chuckling with disdain at the clerk’s attempt at a joke. It was a joke he heard a thousand times if he heard it once. People were so unoriginal, not to mention clown-ignorant. Did everyone really have such a simplistic understanding of clown culture that they thought that the whole spectrum consisted of Bozo and Ronald McDonald? Most people are probably oblivious to the big names like Emmet Kelly the popular tramp, or Dink the midget sidekick of Doink, or even Flint Rasmussen the award- winning rodeo clown. The man knew his way into and out of a barrel, that’s for sure. But, no, it was always Ronald and Bozo. What the heck was wrong with people? No appreciation for the true art of clownery.

He passed the clerk a ten, took his change and set the bag of food on the seat. The clerk said, “Nice car, by the way.”

“Thanks, I’ve worked hard for it,” he lied.

Spunkles pulled into traffic and worked his way through town toward the freeway.


A hundred miles past the Colorado state line, Spunkles decided he needed three things, dinner, a drink and bed. He’d been driving for nine hours and was spent. His makeup was starting to crust on his face and he thought he’d best get it off before too much longer. He pulled into a rest area and walked into the men’s room. After a fifteen-minute scrub down with soap, water and a half mile worth of paper towels, he looked human again. He was still wearing his clown costume, but he was too tired to worry much about it right now. Spunkles walked out the door and hit the road.


The parking lot of the Rusty Spur bar was empty except for a couple of cars parked near the door. It was a Tuesday night after all, and he was in the middle of Colorado nowhere. He stepped through the kitschy, creaky cowboy doors and tried to look all tough and John Wayney. Unfortunately, he came off more like John Wayne Gacy, dressed as he was in his polka dot shirt and striped pants. At the bar sat a middle-aged gentleman about the same height and weight as him. The bartender was a good-looking woman, brunette, probably in her mid-thirties.

“Well, hello there, Sparky, can I get you a drink?” she said warmly with just a hint of smug.

“It’s Spunkles. And yes, I’ll take a Whiskey sour.”

“You got it, Sparkles,” she said.

“Hey, it’s Spunkles, alright? Let’s get it right!” he commanded with half a grin. How could people be so discourteous about a name, even if it was his stage name?

“Oops, sorry,” the bartender apologized as she clinked some ice into the rock glass and started her pour.

The gentleman at the far end of the bar pointed at the Charger out the window spoke up, “Nice car. I thought you guys only drove ridiculously small cars.”

Oh, Lord, another snarky stereotype! Don’t people realize that clowns are people too? Maybe this clown just happens to like going real fast, sometimes. That, and the occasional grand theft auto. How about that? Chew on that one.

“Nah, that’s just a stage gag,” Spunkles declared. “That car is my renovation project.” He tried to remain amiable despite his displeasure at all the clown animosity hanging in the air.

“What’s with the Illinois plates? You on a road trip?”

He’d forgotten about the plates tying him to his home state. He quickly fabricated a lie. “Yeah, there’s a national car show in Vegas and I’m in it. Well, I mean, my car’s in it. So I’m taking her out there.”

“I see. And what’s with the clown outfit?”

The bartender set a drink in front of Spunkles and said, “Four dollars.”

Spunkles reached into his oversized clown pocket and pulled out his wallet. He slid a five across the bar and waved signaling for her to keep the change.

The gentleman’s question about what he was wearing caught Spunkles off-guard. It was so much a part of his clown persona, he’d almost forgotten he was wearing it. Why hadn’t he thought this out a little beforehand?

“Uh, I’m also a travelling rodeo clown. I just finished up a gig up north.” There he went again! The lying was becoming almost second nature.

“Huh. That’s quite a life,” the guy replied. “So, I’ve been waiting all evening for someone to drink with. Let me get you a shot. What’ll ya have?”

“Well, I like Whiskey, so how about a Wild Turkey.”

“That’s what I like in a clown, someone who can drink like a man. Make that two, Lulu.”

Spunkles chuckled at the irony of the clown/man analogy and sneaked a peek at the bartender’s figure as she turned to set up the shot glasses.

She poured a couple of heavy-handed shots. The gentleman slapped a ten on the bar and slid Spunkles his shot.

“Hey, I don’t even know your name yet. What’s your name, man?”

“Name’s Ben Murphy, but everyone calls me Murph.”

“Well, then, thanks, Murph.” Spunkles lifted his drink in Murph’s direction and slugged it down while Murph did the same.

“I didn’t catch your real name either?”

“Well, a good clown never reveals his real name, so let’s just keep it at Spunkles.”

“Ha! I get that. Kind of like a magician not revealing his tricks, right?”

“Yeah, a lot like that, actually,” Spunkles replied, happy to have dodged the need to reveal his real name. He was on the run after all and divulging too much information to the wrong person could get him in trouble in a hurry.

The two of them exchanged stories for the next hour and a half. Spunkles was sketchy about giving details and sprinkled lies within his stories freely. While they talked, Murph kept ordering shots. Spunkles waved off every other one.

He said, “I gotta drive, man.”

Murph took it upon himself to forge ahead alone on the hard stuff while Spunkles sipped on his side of seltzer water. He chuckled at the irony that he was drinking seltzer water, the liquid of so many clown gags at parades in his past.

“Yeah, I don’t have that problem anymore. I lost my license about a month ago, so I’m on two wheels.” He pointed to a mountain bike leaning on the front railing outside the bar. “There’s my ride, right there. Got my own little Charger stored in my garage until I get my license back. Nothing classic like yours though, mine’s only a couple years old.”

“Nice bike. And those new Chargers are my dream car. If I had to have a newer car, that would be my choice,” Spunkles said.

“Yeah, that bike there keeps me honest,” Murph said as he raised his latest shot and horked it back with all the experience of a good drunk. Spunkles noticed his newest friend’s eyes were starting to get glassy and when he turned his head, they trailed it by a second or two. The old drunk delay.

This guy drinks like a fish and, man, he’s getting hammered. Time to move on, he thought.

“Well, I gotta get running. I have a rodeo gig coming up tomorrow. You need a ride home, bud?”

Murph looked up from his sudden focus on the intricacies of the bar’s woodgrain and said with a subtle slur to his speech, “Sure, that sounds kinda good ackshally.” He signaled the bartender for one final shot to cap off the night.

“Sorry, I can’t serve ya Murph. You’ll kill yourself on that bike,” she said.

“Well what if I told you I had a ride with Spreckles the clown, here?”

“It’s still Spunkles, man!” Spunkles declared as he looked at the bartender, smiled and winked. She returned his smile, amused by Murph’s slipup.

“Spunkles, Sprockets, what’s the difference, man?”

The bartender poured him one more and put it in front of him. “This is only because you’re not riding tonight.”

“Thank ya, darling” he said.

After he sloshed it back, the two of them stood up to leave. “He’s in good hands,” Spunkles said assuringly. He waved bye to the bartender as he propped open the door for his friend who was walking a zigzag with unannounced lane changes.

It was stiflingly warm and humid, unusual for a Colorado evening. As his skin began to warm from its air-conditioned state, he realized he had no key for the trunk of the stolen Charger to enable him to haul Murph’s bike back home. Murph was so drunk he probably wouldn’t even know, so didn’t say anything as they piled into the Charger.

“Lead the way to your house, partner” Spunkles said.

“Head up this highway about a mile. Flagler. 500 Ouray Drive. Flagler”

“Flagler. Roger that.” Spunkles hit the gas and felt the surge of the Mopar’s big engine. They rode along in silence for a couple of minutes. Then he thought he’d surprise Murph with a little clowning. He took a battery-operated blinking glow-nose out of his pants pocket, turned it on and pinched it on his nose. Next, he pulled a gun out of his coat and pointed it at Murph and pulled the trigger. The gun clicked and a small flag that read “Bang!” unfurled from the barrel of the gun. When Murph didn’t react, Spunkles looked over and saw his passenger was clocked out, dead asleep.

“Aw c’mon, really?”

Was he really this pathetic that he couldn’t even get a laugh from a drunk friend? Lately he’d been questioning his clowning abilities and even his love for the craft, and things like this weren’t helping any. In fact, this was pretty much the nail in the coffin for his clown career as far as he was concerned. Spunkles the clown was about to be involuntarily retired.

He took the nose off, put the gag gun under the seat and pulled out his phone. He clicked open the Google Maps app and typed 500 Ouray, Flagler. The map refreshed and after clicking Get Directions, a pleasant female voice guided him the last couple of miles to Murph’s house. He pulled up in front and looked over at his passed-out friend. He sat back and thought for a moment. He was at another apparent crossroads in his day and needed to decide whether to take the righteous road or continue down the highway to hell that he’d started down back in Illinois.

He breathed deep and after a minute, reached over and carefully put his hand into Murph’s front pants pocket. His keys came out of the pocket with relative ease. He grabbed his phone and clown wig, opened his car door and walked up to the house.

When he got to the front door, he tried the keys until he found the one that opened the deadbolt. He quickly ran through the living room. The place was a pigsty. The food containers and dirty dishes pointed to this guy living alone. He entered the bedroom and went to Murph’s closet. He spied a Denver Broncos Peyton Manning jersey hanging on a hanger and mumbled, “I need that.”  He grabbed a couple more shirts hanging there and went over to Murph’s dresser. He opened the top drawer and grabbed two pair of pants and headed downstairs.

He went out to the garage and what he saw nearly caused him to choke on his stolen pizza. Sitting there was a shiny black Dodge Charger probably a year or two old. It was a thing of beauty. The only vehicle he could think of that he’d rather have than a classic Charger would be a new one. Spunkles hit the key fob on Murph’s key ring and with a flash of the headlights and a chirp of the alarm, he entered his second stolen car of the day. He threw Murph’s stolen clothing in the back seat, hit the garage door opener and backed out of the drive.

When he reached the classic Charger, he got out and took a peek at Murph, still passed out in the passenger seat. Spunkles pulled out one of his gag foam red noses that he gave to kids as part of his act. He pinched it and put it on Murph’s own clownishly red drunkard’s nose. It took everything in him to stifle the laugh that built up in his chest as he gave his friend the nose job he’d never asked for. Only then did it occur to him that Murph would wake up a different person in a different car from a different year than the day before. In a way it was a complete swap. Spunkles had become Murph and Murph had morphed into Drunkles the Clown. It was a Murph morph.

Spunkles climbed back into the idling black beast. He eased the car through the subdivision and out of Flagler onto the freeway. On the entrance ramp he lit up the tires. When he was hauling down the road, he found Murph’s CD collection on the passenger seat and started thumbing through it. He slid Foghat Live into the CD slot and cranked it up. He advanced it to the second song, “Home in my Hand.”

♫ Well I got my home in my hand.

Travelin’ across the land.

Tryin’ to earn a living

Givin’ everything I can. ♫

With the music blaring one of his favorite songs from back in the day, he got to thinking. It occurred to him that he’d done everything the right way until today. He’d gone to school, got a good job with a nice clowning side gig, and a decent apartment. But despite all his successes, he just felt empty. He was tired of playing the game between the lines, painting his life by numbers. He even suspected that the clowning was an attempt to cover up his unhappiness and that maybe the painted-on smile was just a masking of larger issues.

And so this was what it had come down to. Two counts of grand theft auto, one breaking and entering, burglary and probably a DUI mixed in there somewhere for good measure. He had nothing but the clown outfit on his back and a few stolen clothes in the backseat of a stolen car. In a single day, his life had become a comedy of a different sort. With the turn of a key, he switched the paradigm from that of a happy whiteface clown to a homeless frowning tramp. He couldn’t explain why he’d done it and he certainly didn’t have much of a plan beyond the next exit, but for the first time in the last twenty years he felt truly alive – truly free.

The man formerly known as Spunkles the clown hit the gas and headed west.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

By the Pint

Real stars overhead and a cool Burbank heated-heater breeze
A well tended fire smoldering
Right here
But also nearby, in the fireplace
Conversation, wide and long and daredevil deep
And Irish stout poured by the pint
And the Beauty
The real and imagined Beauty telling stories and revealing secrets
Convinced me that they are right:
Guinness is good for you!

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Last Chance In A Dry Town

Another daughter of a judge
asking questions with
two policeman in the room
Drinking coffee who won't
share the time or gossip
that could get me somewhere.
Sinners take all she says
with pickpocket skills
no heart is safe from.
While the cops look
at the menu all askew
the special makes sense.
She asks if I'd like 
a ride on a merry go 
round with her or a
ride to the city limits.
I confess crimes of
the heart I'm half guilty of
her eyes grant me parole.
When I ask for a drink
the two cops take me
away from my last chance
they're armed, I don't argue.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022


I stop at Frank’s Grille,  

full of rednecks but worth  

my long-haired risk since 

the cheap draft beers make 

Nautilus mugs look like shots. 

I imagine the guy in Stamford whose 

driveway I’d helped pave walking in. 

He’d have to be wary in this joint as 

fellow drinkers are likely share the same 

mind as the boss’s douchebag brother  

who performed his limp- 

wrist and lisping routine 

every time the gent who was 

very generous with his Lowenbrau, 

came out to inspect our progress. 

 I don’t recall how it came up but 

the fellow said lacking a high school 

diploma hadn’t held him back. 

He had a big job with an airline. 

U.S. chess champ Bobby Fischer, 

a dropout himself is the news 

competing against a Russian. 

America’s patriots hate Bobby’s 

lack of sportsmanship, doesn’t 

care if he wins or loses.

I need a grand for tuition 

and I’m out of work. 

It’s not just my part in ripping 

out foliage on our next job, 

widening a long driveway 

leading to a ritzy Colonial 

that was supposed to remain 

that got me expelled. 

The Nazi reported me 

for paving while drunk 

instead of the boss’s brother.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

When I Write

i need to establish some kind of routine
when i write
and i’m writing again
at long last
when i’m locked into
a ridiculous never-ending drinking bender
(like the Paris thing)
i don’t write
not properly
i slide around in utter chaos
recording flashes of the bender
in shaky stream of consciousness note form
one moment
and wallow in devastating mind blanks
and sleazy drunken sex hookups
next moment
real work occurs in a kind of way
that is sober and steady
though still unmeasured and unplanned
it has the comforting foundation
of safe and calm
drinking writing never comes under the title
of writing properly
although i got that bizarre piece
about my “appalling behavior” (in Paris)
down on paper
major drinking bender and all
so who the fuck knows

Originally Published in Stephen's chapbook "real and unreal" by ICOE Press Australia (2018).

Also Published by - Rye Whiskey Review (2020).

Thursday, July 7, 2022

Plague Poem for Day Eight Hundred and Twenty-Seven

I remember “hair of the dog” days

The morning after the night before

And all that, I overdid a party or

A bottle by myself and then woke

To this – groggy, a blurred memory

Of what precisely went on after

That all too familiar cutoff point

When things get blurry and I stop

Being careful with what I say or do.

“Hair of the dog day” was what came

Next when I’d start looking for things

I was sure were lost, my wallet, keys

And on some occasions my car. I’d

Begin looking, trying to recall and

Things would get worse and so I’d

Decide on a hair of the dog that bit

Me and soon the day would change.

My readiness and energy would seem

To return and soon I’d be talking to

Myself out loud and be ready to take

On the world. Then a “hair of the dog”

Would turn into the dog gnawing on

Me again. I do remember those days

But how they ended is a bit vague.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Barstool Cowgirl

    She thought she was totally cool, but I found her irresistible. Wild women always attract me. The red dress, and the sensuous way she was poured into it riveted my attention on her. I introduced myself, sitting down on the empty stool to her left, and flexed my tattoo. Insidiously, the booze was working its way to my brain. I said, "Did you see the sky turn scarlet at sunset?" The long slow pull she took of her whiskey put the diamond on her finger in front of my face, long enough for me to take notice. "That's a good one," she replied, "Yeah, I suppose you can sit here."

    This could get ugly, I thought. That ring sent streaks of light flashing on my retinas while she talked. She kept asking questions and watching my reactions. She bought me another pint of stout. I'd been thinking of leaving, just saying good-bye and walking away, but I couldn't refuse. She asked me what I'd read lately, and I had to confess that all I'd read lately were the channel listings in TV Guide. She rattled off the titles of half a dozen books before I recognized one. I don't know why, but I didn't even try to fake it; I admitted I hadn't read it.

    She asked me what I thought about putting a road through the petroglyphs. Did I think the Forest Service should log 600-year-old ponderosa pines in New Mexico? Did I think the new Governor had deliberately exceeded his authority in signing the Indian Gaming Compact? This is the hardest barroom mating ritual I've ever run across, I thought. I asked her if she'd ever watched Babylon-5 on TV, and she didn't know what that was. I tried to explain the show. "Oh," she said, "I don't care for science fiction; it's too predictable."

    Frankie, the bartender and a damn good tattoo artist, put a bowl of pretzels in front of us, and Carmen excused herself to go pee. I grabbed a fistful of pretzels, and watched her walk away, totally absorbed in her walk. There was something elegant in the way she carried herself. Now's my chance to leave, I thought, popping pretzels in my mouth. That diamond ring on her finger mortified me. I thought about jealous husbands and six-foot-plus boyfriends. I thought about knife fights and gunshots, and quietly slipping out of back doors. Did I really want to do this? I gave it all too much thought, because she was already coming back. I heard her boots clicking on the wooden floor, and turned to see her adjusting her red cowboy hat, angling it slightly over one eye. She had the other eye on me. Well, what the hell, I thought, I'm a weak man, I went fishing for compliments from a barstool cowgirl.

    I asked her if she liked my tattoo. "Yeah, I like it," she said, "It reminds me of the one my husband has on his butt." Well, there it was, the code word, husband, for "You're barking up the wrong tree; don't bother me," but she was certainly available. I didn't ask about the husband - perhaps I should have. If she wasn't going to talk about him, then why should I? I wanted to keep my cool, pretend I didn't care about husbands.

    The truth was, I didn't really care about the whole institution of marriage; there was nothing sacred about it to me. I didn't know anyone, including either of my parents, who was still married.

    However, I did remember the tall blond guy in the pickup, demanding to know if I was fucking his wife. I remembered the trucker waiting outside the bowling alley to avenge his dishonor. And I thought about the others, the guys who never knew what their wives or girlfriends did, the ones who fooled around with more than just me.

    The band played a nice high energy electric country. I two-stepped with Carmen. We drank. We danced through two sets, and I asked her if she'd like to come home with me. "No," she said, and, "I have to go," she said, but, "Would you like to come to a party tomorrow night?" she said, finally. I told her I did, so she wrote down the address on the back of a deposit slip from her checkbook. I stashed the address in my wallet, stuck it in between two twenties I knew I wouldn't need right away, and walked her to her car. "Nice car," I said. It was a little green MG, low to the ground, dual carburetors, bucket seats. I was impressed. I kissed her before she got in the car. She wrapped her arms around me, and sucked my lip into her mouth. After just a few minutes of that, she poured herself into the seat. "I'll see you tomorrow night," she said, and the engine roared. She winked at me, and peeled out of the lot.

    The party was rolling by the time I got there. I was late since I'd been at the bar all afternoon. The front door was open and I strolled in. Carmen saw me right away; she must have been watching the door. "Beer's in the fridge," she yelled at me, from the other side of the room. I didn't know who her husband was, or where he was, so I just waved at her, and grabbed a Mickey's Widemouth off the shelf from behind the Jack Daniels. Hmm, cold Jack Daniels, I wonder whose that is? I didn't have to wonder long, because Carmen was there before I could close the door. She grabbed that bottle and took a god-awfully-long swig, and then poured herself a tall glass neat.

    She never said a word to me, just planted her lips, sticky with Jack Daniels, on mine. She tickled the base of my tongue and I forgot to breathe. My lips throbbed with waves of pleasure. My mind took a vacation. She squeezed her left arm under my right, and steered me somewhere. She pulled me into a room along the hallway from the kitchen, and closed the door. She snapped my buckle open, and yanked on my pants. I pulled away from her a moment to unbutton my shirt, and her dress was off - fell off of her like it was made to do that. Well, I won't bore you with the details, but when it was over, I was higher than a Carlsbad bat at sundown.

    It was hard to get dressed after that, what with all the kissing each other’s lips and other parts, but we finally managed it, and as we kissed again, there was a knock on the door. Carmen turned the light out. Man, oh, man, that wasn't a good idea, I was thinking. "Carmen, are you in there?" I heard a man ask. Carmen didn't say anything. "He knows you're in here," I said. She turned the light back on, and the door opened. Sure enough, it was another tall one, blond, Aryan looking, at least six-foot-three. At five-eight, I'm impressed by that. He looked at Carmen, looked at me, spun on his left heel, and walked away. Carmen went after him. I went back to the party.

    I danced with a pretty woman whose boyfriend glowered at me the whole time, and headed back to the kitchen, looking for something to eat. I found Carmen there. "We're leaving," she said. "Are you going to be alright?" I asked, feeling guilty, but admiring the way her clothes accented her body. "Oh, it'll be OK," she said, "We have to go home and talk," and she hurried out of the kitchen. I found a half-eaten enchilada casserole in the fridge, and wolfed that down like I hadn't eaten in days. Actually, I probably hadn't.

    The next night, I went back to the bar. Frankie poured me a Guinness as soon as he saw me. "Well, what happened partner?" he asked, "Did you shack up with that pretty little filly you were with the other night?" "Yeah, I did," I said. "Well, how's come you're here now? You can't be tired of her already?" he asked, winking, as he wiped the bar around my glass. So I told him the whole story, and he asked what I was going to do now.

    "You know, Frankie, I think I'm going to have you ink some clothes onto that Elvis tattoo."

Sunday, July 3, 2022

An Independence Day Toast

As we prepare to celebrate the virtues of living in the land of the free and the home of the brave, and all the ingredients which make this country great, it’s time to raise a glass.

Today we honor not only the courage and vision of those who won our independence, but we should also pause to give thanks and remember those things which bring us happiness and joy.

Here's to our federal government, which gave us a paid vacation day so we might get shitty drunk. Unless a terrible vocational choice has been made, we are spending the day in drunken splendor. Our founding fathers were wise enough to choose a beautiful summer day with us in mind. We barbeque, we bask in the air-conditioned comfort of our homes, huddle together in cool, dark bars, and we blow shit up. Most importantly, we drink. It's our right. We drink as an observation to this right. Hell, it's our duty.

So join me with a lifted glass and celebrate the freedom to drink. And let's also drink a little for those who are no longer around to join us in this toast.

Cheers to all of you. And cheers to America. Nice job.

Saturday, July 2, 2022

It Won't Die

Powerful beverage corporations, let's call them Big Booze, undertook a campaign to introduce an inoffensive way to consume alcohol and solve gender inequality at the same time. "We need a slimmer can." "We need a lower ABV." "We need fruit. Lots of fruit!" "Bubbly! It's got to be bubbly!" Then the soulless bastards unleashed a new category of drink on us that can only be described as a cross between AM radio static and pomegranate juice. Hard seltzer, they called it.

* * *

It's difficult to say exactly when this whole hard seltzer thing got started. Some say as far back as the 1500's in Finland with their honey-fermented sima. Others say you'd have to fast forward all the way to 1993 when Aussie Duncan MacGillivray brewed his first batch of Two Dogs. But for the purposes of explaining the craze that's sweeping bars and pool parties today you can point the finger right squarely at Nick Shields from Westport, Connecticut when he brewed his first batch of SpikedSeltzer in 2013. It was branded with a veneer of health and wellness—gluten free, low carb, and "all natural." Compared to a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos with its 2,000 word ingredient list, maybe it really was all natural. Health conscious consumers grabbed onto it (ignoring that sugar rots your teeth). The Mark Anthony Brewing Group took notice and in 2018 brought out White Claw hard seltzer. White Claw sales exploded and within a year dominated the hard seltzer market. Today it is estimated that White Claw accounts for nearly 50% of all hard seltzer sales, and along with Truly hard seltzer, accounts for 85% of the market.

            Beer brewers took notice. They were losing market share to the above-mentioned health conscious consumers (and to people who identify as sober-curious) and Bud Light came out with its own hard seltzer in 2019. Ricardo Marques, vice president of core and value brands at Anheuser-Busch said in a CNN interview "This is not a fad. This is here to stay." The makers of Zima might roll their eyes at that. They briefly resurrected Zima in 2017 hoping to jump on the bandwagon. It flopped and today you can only find Zima in Japan. Maybe Zima was simply unable to shake its reputation as a drink for effeminate weirdos. Under the lead of White Claw, however, hard seltzer is succeeding in branding itself as a drink any bro would be proud to be seen with.

            "There ain't no laws when you're drinking Claws." This is an in-your-face to the unwritten law that no self-respecting bro would ever be caught drinking a fruity, bubbly drink. Whereas anybody's photo album of past frat and pool parties show only bottles of beer being clinked together by the male attendees, now they happily snap selfies while hoisting their cans of hard seltzer. This attempt to vaccinate hard seltzer from derision is apparently working. White Claw's annual revenue is estimated around $4 billion, and growing at triple digit rates. If it's a fad, it's enjoying a hell of a long run.