Thursday, October 5, 2017

Thicket knows nature doesn't have a mother. Or a father. There is, however, an unruly flock of angels that seems to be in charge: quick tempered, spiteful, and straight-up nasty during a molt. One in particular torments Thicket to no end. Delta. She breaks promises. Gently rustles him one day, and strips him bare the next. Sometimes she plants herself next to Thicket until they become entwined, then disappears for days and years. When she's away, Thicket dreams her return, her voice the hiss of surf across a black agate beach, whispering to the others: Sisters, sisters, let him fall.

Friday, September 1, 2017


Thicket Considers Solutions 

One day, with nothing blooming, Thicket decided to walk down to Edge for a chat and some reflecting. He'd been feeling dormant and was hoping for new perspective. Before he could see the water, he smelled it. Thicket liked anticipation. He imagined smiling. Suddenly, the sound of snapping branches surrounded him and something tremendous blocked his path. It seethed. It smoldered. It flexed: Shadow. Smoke. Lightning crack. Thicket was terrified — yet drawn. Unable to resist the umbilical tug, he ran straight for it, not sure if he would be devoured or reconnected, but delighted, at long last, to be underway.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017


Johnny Sits next to a Pretty Girl:
Truth Be Told

A liar? I don’t think you really mean that, do you? I mean, you can call me a liar if it makes you feel better. If it gives you a sense of order to slap a label on things then go ahead. Call me a liar. But understand, I believe the label to be unjust. I am lazy. I'm ethically and, perhaps, morally flexible. I’m certainly flawed. But to say that I’m a liar, in the strict sense of the word, just won’t do. Here’s the thing. When I do participate in what you and others feel justified in labeling as lies, they feel to me very much like truth. That is to say, they come about in an organic way. Nothing premeditated. Very in the moment. Fictions of necessity, so to speak. And when you think about it, a reality shaped by fiction is no less real. A man that jumps off a high-rise because he believes a heartbreaking lie reaches terminal velocity in exactly the same amount of time as a man that jumps for heartbreaking reasons that are true. Right? Take, for example, our relationship. When we were at Catfish Roundup last weekend and you called the fritter-girl back because you knew, just by the look in my eye, that I wanted another apple fritter even though I had just said, “if I put one more goddamn fritter in my mouth, I will fucking explode”—you knew. I felt such love for you while I ate that fritter. You felt it, too. Be honest. Now, fritters aside, have we ever been to the Catfish Roundup restaurant together? No. Does the place even exist? I have no idea. But the point is, until we reach your stop, and I’m guessing midtown so we’ve got some time, we are in a relationship. Is it a long-term relationship? No. Is it going well? Nope. Fucked up as a soup sandwich. But that alone doesn’t disqualify it as a relationship. So look, let’s just agree to disagree: I still think you have beautiful eyes and you still think you don’t. Let’s leave it at that. Truth be told, I’m on the wrong bus anyway.

Monday, May 29, 2017


Johnny Sits next to a Good Listener on the Crosstown Express

I'm what you'd call a no-hit wonder. No one is ever going to know my name. No one. My anonymity is legendary. Sure, it used to get me down. But to be honest, I don't actually do anything that merits fame or notoriety. Still, look around. That fact alone doesn't seem like it should exclude anyone from the limelight. My particular skill set is subtle. I am, for example, masterful at going to unusual bars. If they handed out belts for sitting on stools surrounded by sketchy strangers, mine would be black. It would also be off my pants and wound tightly around my left fist, just in case. As you can see, I'm slight of frame and uniquely annoying. I have to think ahead. Look, I can tell you aren't buying any of this and why should you? You don't know me (which incidentally, proves my original premise) and clearly you have little interest in taking an active role in this interaction. Fine. You're a good listener. That's your thing. But consider this: We are on the crosstown express. Traffic is glacial. There isn't another empty seat or hanging strap to be had. We're in this for the foreseeable future.

See that guy crossing against traffic, flapping and yelling like his tits are on fire? I get that guy. Sure, he's homeless as shit. Look at him. But he's not jaywalking and snarling at traffic just because he's homeless or nuts. He wants to have an impact. At this point, if he makes his mark on the world or the hood of a Kia it makes no difference to him. Get it? It's a win-win. If they swerve, he exists. If they hit him, he exists. He wants to alter someone's path, to impress his will, to be an agent of change. That need doesn't go away: rich, poor, crazy, sane. See, that's why I'm so special. I've killed it.

Thursday, April 27, 2017


Like Very Tall Trees in High Wind

You have beautiful teeth, she said, for a man. The hygienist resumed scraping at Howard's top molars while he tried to make a sound that would convey thanks despite the fact that he didn't feel particularly thankful. Howard studied his open mouth, ghosted in the hygienist's glasses. He was, he supposed, proud of the fact that well into middle age his mouth was still cavity-free. The trouble was that now, each trip to the dentist felt precarious—another opportunity for failure.

Most men don't take very good care of their teeth, the hygienist continued. Why she was so intent on discussing oral hygiene in terms of gender confused Howard, but he decided not to give it much thought. He was tired of always trying to understand. So he had stopped. Considering perspectives, context, word choice, body language, had all become a bother. The truth was, in all his years of considering, he had rarely been able grasp why things happened the way that they did.

Howard did not like unknowns. As a young man, an unidentified sound or odor would have him up for hours in the night, moving silently from room to room, careful not to wake his wife and children. His search for answers, for the source, was more often than not unsuccessful and Howard would spend a sleepless night disquieted, imagining possibilities: Raccoon at the trash cans? Furnace clicking as it cooled? Unstruck matches vibrating with potential, forgotten, in the back of the kitchen junk drawer?

Howard followed rules. He followed directions: speed limits, medication dosages, assembly instructions. They were, Howard believed, there for a reason. Why "heat for 90 seconds on high" if the number is arbitrary? This strict adherence had not been passed along to his children. His son and daughter had both left for college with modest but notable lists of ethical and legal infractions that Howard decided to accept as signs of vigor and creativity. His wife, it turned out, was not a strict rule follower either, especially in terms of monogamy. Howard supposed that her infractions and eventual departure were, among other things, also indications of vigor and creativity.

You're finished, the hygienist said as she raised Howard's chair into a sitting position. Yes, Howard agreed, I guess I am. He stood and retrieved his coat from a hook near the door. Big plans for the weekend? she asked. Yes, said Howard, unsure why he had lied. I'm going to the beach.

Lately, Howard had been feeling movement. He described it to his doctor as not exactly dizziness, but rather the motion of very tall trees in high wind, or a series of dark swells making it difficult for him to sleep. The doctor did not seem to find these figurative descriptions helpful and asked Howard if he could describe his condition in more concrete terms. No, Howard said, I cannot. The doctor sent Howard home with some pills and instructions. Howard put the pills on the nightstand and considered the translucent orange bottle and the white cap that he was quite certain would be difficult to open. The color combination made him think of Creamsicles. He couldn't recall the taste. Howard made a mental note to buy some.

Howard couldn't sleep. He was not hungry, but he got out of bed and ate a banana so he could take the pills as instructed, with food. To Howard's surprise, the bottle opened easily. To his disappointment, the pills did nothing. At 3:00 AM, Howard rose, dressed, and drove to the beach. He stood facing the sea. The sea was calm. Howard was aware of the tide but didn't care if it was coming or going. He knew the moon was above him playing its part, and the useless stars, but he didn't look. His wish for a foggy night had gone unanswered. Not far off shore, something large broke the surface and vanished and for a moment Howard lost his breath. Ignited, his imagination burned through the night. He watched as day broke, the sky and the sea shifting hues until they both became so hopelessly blue that it was impossible to tell where one began and the other ended.



Sunday, April 2, 2017


Johnny Gets Out of Line

I played with matches. There. I admit it. If that makes you feel superior, then great. I really don’t give a good-goddamn. I also ate paste and often ran with scissors. And yet, here we are, standing in the same slow-ass line: a glue-mouthed firebug and you, the scissor-walking golden-boy of Upper Lake. You’re turning your back on me? Really? That’s fine. I don’t mind if you turn your back on me. I’m just digging the proximity. I mean, we both know you’re not going anywhere, and I’m sure as hell not getting out of line. So whether I’m talking to your back or your front, it makes no difference. The fact of the matter is, unless you plan on shoving those nicely manicured fingers in your ears and singing “God Bless America” over and over and over at the top of your lungs, you’re going to have to listen. Front or back, my friend. Front or back. Makes no difference to me. Plus, that’s my cousin, Steve, behind you. He’s the one that taught me how to play with matches in the first place. So don’t expect a better class of conversation from him. Okay? Hi, Steve.

Look. I think we got off on the wrong foot. All I’m saying is it’s hot out here, this line hasn’t moved in hours, and I resent the shit out of you. That’s all I’m saying. I was about to say it’s nothing personal, but even a paste-eater like me knows that’s not true. It’s one hundred percent personal. I’m a person. You’re a person. And you irritate the hell out of me. So I guess it doesn’t get any more personal than that, right? Hey. Relax. I see that fight-or-flight look in your eye. I’m not going to get violent. We’re just having a conversation here, just two adults talking through their differences. That said, if you had a bottle of water I’d probably take it from you. You’re a pretty big dude, sure. But don’t forget about Steve. Yeah. I’d totally steal your water. But hey, look. That’s neither here nor there because you don’t have any water anyway, right? I’m just glad we can talk like this and kind of clear the air, you know? Strive to reach some common ground, et cetera, et cetera.

Hey, do you hear that? Are those sirens? Bells? Is that the ice-cream truck? I bet it’s just up on the next block. Steve, do you want some ice cream? You’re goddamn right you do. Let’s go. This line’s not going anywhere, anyway.

Sunday, March 26, 2017


Garbage, Day, Break

Howard picked up the last trash bag, grabbed his can of WD-40 and headed out the door. He'd discovered that spraying the bags kept them from getting stuck in the bottom of the can, which he knew was the result of overstuffing. But what could he do? They generated a great deal of trash. Perhaps, Howard thought, an inordinate amount. His neighbors never had bags poking out the tops of their cans. Raccoons never tore into their trash, strewing food wrappers, feminine hygiene products, and tissues across their lawns.  Howard used to wonder how they did it, how they kept it all contained, but then he stopped.

At the curb, Howard set the black bag next to the others, retied his robe against the cool pre-dawn air, and surveyed his quiet street. The elms, not yet winter-thinned, seemed, he thought, to know what was coming. He watched his neighbor, Max, back out, hoping to beat the commute traffic. As the SUV's headlights illuminated Howard and his well-lubed bags, Max honked and gave Howard the thumbs up before speeding off. Howard watched the taillights recede. When the car reached the end of the block, Howard slowly raised his arm and gave Max the finger, holding his hand aloft until the vehicle turned out of sight.

The sound of impact was unmistakable, contact steel on steel. A few neighborhood dogs barked and then fell quiet leaving only the stillness that follows any violent event. It's there after the metallic twist of a car crash, but also, Howard knew, after smaller impacts—a dropped dinner plate, or knuckles against the bathroom stall door at work. Howard shoved the bags into the can and turned back toward his house. High above, much too high to hear, a jet heading east left a contrail, just visible in the brightening sky. Howard followed its path for a moment, considering destinations, arrivals, possibilities, and then he stopped.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017


Context Unabridged

When Howard threw his dictionary out the driver-side window, he noted three things:

1) It was definitely a two-hander. (He had to steer with his knees.)

2) The flapping pages were much louder than expected. (He had    
   held the book momentarily aloft, like an offering, before    
   releasing it into the roaring night.)

3) It felt right. Not good. Not bad. (Necessary, Howard thought.)

After he rolled up the window, Howard considered the amplified silence. The absence of wind-wild pages and rushing night air made Howard feel what he 
thought might be a twinge of something, but it passed.

Howard drove for some time. He tried to tune the radio, but he'd lost reception miles ago. He settled on a station with faint conversation, an interview perhaps, behind the static hiss. When he reached the top of Ryan Slough Hill, Howard turned around and headed back toward town. On the long straight stretch where he'd let go, he started seeing pages, exotic in the headlights, here and there on both sides of the broken yellow line. Howard closed his eyes. He imagined pages spreading for miles and miles over days and months, farther and farther along the road and out into pastures and woods. Pages lining hawk nests and raccoon dens in hollow fallen trunks. Page 729 (ekphrastic, Elamite, élanyears of penciled notes) caught in an eddy along some secret, rain-swollen creek.

Sunday, March 12, 2017


Howard Has a Second Cup and Takes the Day

Howard wondered how long the rhinoceros had been there. Had it come in the night? A cold drizzle began to fall, and he wondered if the animal felt the chill. Howard glanced at the clock on the coffeemaker. He knew he'd be late for work. He also knew nobody cared, himself least of all. His tardiness had become something, like weather or the price of gas, noted out of habit and not because there was anything to be done about it. He set his breakfast dishes in the sink, took three steps toward their bedroom and froze. He recovered the distance walking backwards until he was centered in front of the window above the kitchen sink. A rhino in one's yard, Howard thought, shouldn't go unsupervised. Separating the blinds farther to get a better view, he watched it shifting its tremendous weight. He considered calling out to the kids, or to Janet. But they were already gone. Out of the house on time, as usual.

Howard knew there wasn't a rhino-holding zoo for hundreds of miles, ruling out an escape scenario. He was also quite certain that rhinos were not native to northern California, ruling out everything else. The rhino raised its enormous gray head and stared in Howard's direction. For a moment, he hoped it would charge. He figured that the animal's tonnage could easily propel it through the wall and send him sprawled and broken into the next room. That, he thought, would be something. But before Howard could begin to contemplate the obituary that would run in the local paper, the rhino dropped its head and began to graze. Janet had been nagging him to mow the lawn. Now, perhaps, he wouldn't have to. As he watched the beast munching the overgrown grass, he thought about a recent conversation with his daughter. She was conducting interviews for a class project. When she asked him his favorite color he lied and said, blue. The lie pleased his daughter. Me, too! she said. Howard no longer had favorites. But when she asked him his favorite animal he said, without hesitating, rhino. Much to Howard's surprise, it was true. Rhinos are weird, Dad. Interview over.

Howard poured himself another cup of coffee and went out the sliding glass door onto the deck. He had neglected to close his robe, and the drizzle stung his bare legs. As he walked slowly toward the rhinoceros, he recalled seeing one in a zoo as a child. He remembered that something had excited the animal and it began loping around the enclosure. The ground shook with each hoof-fall. Howard grabbed onto his mother's leg but when she asked him if he wanted to go he shook his head, no. For a long time after, Howard could feel the animal's thumping strides in his small chest. All that summer, when no one was looking, he would jump and land as hard as he could, but nothing ever moved.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016


Johnny Considers the Classics

The tallest building in my hometown is the jail. At five stories it offers premium views across the bay to the roiling Pacific for those of us nabbed breaking our societal contracts. I won't bore you with the specifics of my infractions. The truth is, once you're in, the details are unimportant. Much like a rose is a rose, time is time.

Fact: I only read inside. I just don't have much use for it when I'm out. I prefer to spend my days doing. One needs to hustle. I hustle. That said, I'll peruse the Racing Form or skim the headlines if given the chance, but I'm not going to tuck in with the Classics or explore, as my pal Frank once said, what the poets in Ghana are doing these days. Honestly, when I'm out, I don't give a good-goddamn. Incidentally, Frank was killed by a dune buggy. Ran him over. A truly unique death--something we should all aspire to. Unlike a rose is a rose or time is time, the end, my friend, is not the end. Endings merit special consideration. What the curtain falls on matters, and you're a fool if you think it doesn't. It's our last and most significant mic drop. If a book or movie has a weak ending you tell your boys, Don't bother. You don't want to seize up and quit while lying in bed staring into the abyss. Aspire to an end folks will talk about. Even better, a death that crosses over from the realm of fact to fiction: a death that becomes more fantastic with time, that they talk about down at Jimmy Dunn's for generations. Be open to immortality if the opportunity presents itself. Fall into the drum debarker at the mill and be rolled with a thousand tons of redwood trunks. Let your waders fill up with the Eel River, drag you under and out to sea. Drive your truck far out onto the south jetty and wait for a sleeper wave to wash you off. If you're lucky, it'll come.