If you want to be a better writer, take longer showers. -Intellectual Shaman

Tournament Day

The greats become nobodies and the nobodies become greats. I’ve worked jobs for years and something always gets left behind. I can go back to any of them and punch in, like I never left. Working men just want a cold beer at the end of a hot day. And they avoid manual labor if they can. They adopt a rhythm when doing their work so that smoking and talking mitigate the strain of each moment. Each man is a genius unto himself, sharing their wisdom like sages. Their words transform tired rooms into lively spaces.

Pete lounged in his lazy boy while the boss wrote assignments on the board. “Anybody who’s asleep should wake the fuck up,” the boss shouted.

And Pete cracked his eyelids to give his attention.

“It’s tournament day, so be sure to move fast and avoid mistakes.”

On a Sunday the golf course is full of the ungodly, playing the game like a religion. Men were gathered on the practice greens smoking cigars and discussing the US Open while I changed the pin locations. A truck honked behind me. It was Jordan and his pickup truck was filled with sand.

“The rain washed out the bunker last night and the boss wants me to fill it. I might need your help if you can pick up the speed, dumbass.”

“Sure thing, smartass.” And I met him on hole number 5. He drove onto the green and activated the sand. It slid into the trap where the gravel was exposed. Jordan gunned the engine to pull out of there, but forgot he was still in reverse and his truck slid into the trap. He opened the driver’s side door and looked down. “Oh shit; call Dave and tell him to bring his chain.”

I looked at Jordan from down below and smiled. The golf course had a way of dispensing justice.

“Andy to Dave… Andy to Dave. We need you to bring a tractor and a chain to hole number 5.”

The boss came cruising across the fairway in his Ford Ranger. He got out wearing his cowboy hat. “Jordan, you’re on the poo poo platter. Andy, you’re off. Now get out of the cab very carefully. I don’t want to fill out L and I paperwork.” Jordan shimmied into position and poked his belly out of the truck. He jumped, landing like a rock.

We could hear Dave’s tractor moving at top speed across the bridge. He was dressed in his military uniform from desert storm and he had a look of pissed-off annoyance on his face.

“I just realized that I need to keep changing the pins,” I said. The boss nodded and I drove back to hole number 4. The golfers were hitting into the green and didn’t seem to notice that I was there. After they finished putting, I moved the pin.

“Why didn’t you move the hole closer to my ball?” A golfer asked. “I could’ve birdied.” He thought he was being original, but whenever I changed the pins, golfers always said the same thing.

I looked at what was happening on number 5. Dave hooked the chain to the front bumper and connected it to the tractor wench. The bitch pulled and the city truck came crashing down. Cracked windshield, broken windows, and the boss shouting expletives. I finished my job and punched out. Bacon, eggs, and pancakes were calling my name at the restaurant.


Where do you feel the greediest?

Where do you feel the greediest?

I’ve felt this way on the golf course

hungering for the perfect shot

an expression of style

under pressure

But recently,

it happened

in an old university library

Looking at the shelves




Knowledge at my fingertips


not the cheap stuff you find on the internet

but ideas that take a lifetime of searching




Rows reaching 500

My head starts to spin

I’ll major in chemistry, physics, philosophy, I think

the secrets of the universe must be mine

The librarian sees me

I’m holding 9 books

“Can I help you?”

“I’m just browsing.”

She looks at me like I’m insane.

And I walk back to a private room

passing several students on the way there

Nobody is reading

They’re plugged into Facebook


and Twitter

“I’ve wasted my life,” I whisper.

And I start to eat the words…

A ravenous reader

filling my head

with ideas

that have long been forgotten.

Each year ticks by…

Each year ticks by

There is no longer the time to dream

Only to do

The world will ask you why?

It feeds on your doubts and desires

cutting away all inner insincerity

Until one pure path remains

You must go down it

because if you stray or stop

you deny your destiny

These things are better left unsaid

So that living becomes the lesson

And Why?

is never a question

that enters your head.

Chapter 1 Cat in a Box

Bryce was a confirmed bachelor and he enjoyed living alone, but his family kept trying to hook him up with women in the church. “Honestly Bryce, she has the sweetest personality and a strong relationship with God,” his mother said.

“Uh huh,” Bryce mumbled.

“Why don’t you meet her for coffee?”

He had a thousand reasons not to, but he couldn’t think of one that could cause his mother to stop asking.


“Wonderful. I’ll let her know. You can meet her after church next Sunday.”

Bryce wondered when people would stop treating singleness like a sickness that needed to be cured with their own remedies. They found women for him everywhere. One liked knitting. The other believed she could raise the dead. This may have been true, as she hadn’t showered in three days. She was vegan and totally opposed to modern living.  The last one talked about Satan incessantly. She got louder and louder until her sermon reached full crescendo. People began to stare at her in the coffee shop and then she whispered, “They’re actively cursing me.” In these situations, there was no escape. Bryce’s mother would find out if he left any of them abruptly and she would guilt him for months, telling him he deserved to be single.

His brother-in-law seemed to be the only one who understood. “Honestly, marriage is not that great. When you’re single, you can be selfish; but when you get married, you have to share everything. Have you tried online dating?”

“Yeah; but the women on there just want attention or a one-night-stand.”

“It’s difficult out there, I know. But it only takes one.”

“Thanks Jon.”

“Don’t mention it. Say, in the interim, have you thought about getting a pet. Your sister and I found this cool website that matches animals with your personality and ships them to you. There wasn’t a single animal in the United States that matched my personality.” Jon said this with pride. “The only place that has what I’m looking for is Madagascar and the Congo. I’m getting a monkey named Ralph next week. I hope he’s Ebola free. Don’t tell your mother.”

I thought about how my mother would take the news. She wanted grandchildren and her son-in-law insisted that his three dogs would do. Now Jon was getting a monkey. It would be her fourth grandchild.

“What’s the name of this site?” Bryce asked.


“Okay, I’ll give it a look. Thanks Jon.”

“Don’t mention it.”

Bryce went online that evening and put his personality into the computer: unsociable, introspective, adventurous within limits, kind, intelligent, and the list went on. Three hours later, he was half-asleep. He pushed the MATCH button. It began a super search. Nothing in Washington State. Nothing in the United States. “Jon will be disappointed that he’s not the only one,” Bryce chuckled. Nothing in North America. Nothing in Asia, Australia, or South America. “Wait, the data is doing something different now. Egypt; my pet is in Egypt. A cat; I don’t like cats. Oh well, how much do they want for it?” The price was listed at the bottom. “FREE; an exotic animal for free. How come? It does say I need to pay shipping and handling. I’ll do it. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll hand it off to my mother. She’s been wanting a cat.”

Bryce was excited all week. His co-workers noticed. “Did you get a raise?”


“Is it a new girlfriend?”


“What’s different about you?”

“I’m getting a cat.”

“Man, you’re going to be single forever.”

Bryce shrugged his shoulders and continued checking his email. Not much in his life was different. His own publishing house wouldn’t read the scripts he sent them. He was out of shape and he couldn’t get a normal date. He listened to self-help on the way to work and the way from work, but he just couldn’t get a break. When he got home, there was an enormous crate in front of his apartment door. It read THIS SIDE UP. Bryce entered and then lugged the box over the threshold. It was heavy and he could hear breathing inside.

Voodoo and the Vice Principal

Belief in a higher power will not always protect you against the forces of darkness. -Intellectual Shaman

The vice principal leaned back in his leather armchair, eating his cobb salad. He proudly advertised his cross to the terrified boys who awaited their punishment. He was doing God’s work. Mr. Burt thought that listening and eating made him seem unconcerned with the fate of the guilty. It was important to maintain an aura of intimidation. He was a big man with a gentle soul, but his desire for advancement kept getting him into trouble. He wanted to rule with an iron fist, but the more he tried, the less the children respected him. One of the teachers, and also the worship leader at his church, sent a well-behaved boy to his office.

“What did you do?” He asked.

“Nothing,” said Doohani.

They always said the same thing Mr. Burt thought. He swore he would pardon the next kid who confessed.

“Why do you think you got sent down here?”

“I brought a doll to show and tell.”

“That’s strange for a boy to do. Did the other kids laugh?”


“Well, you won’t do it again, will you?”

“I guess not.”

“Let me see the doll.”

Doohani handed Mr. Burt a female teacher. It looked familiar.

“That’s Miss John,” the vice principal said. “Where did you buy it?”

“I made it.”

“No, really?”


“What for?”

Doohani held out his hand for the doll and pulled a pin from his pocket with the other. Before the vice principal knew what was happening, the pin went into the head.

An all call came from the intercom. “Miss John has a splitting headache. She just fainted.”

The vice principal looked horrified. “Give me that!” He said. He pulled the needle out of the doll and immediately a voice came over the intercom. “Never mind. Miss John is alright.”

Mr. Burt realized he had real power in his hands. It is very tempting for a man who feels like he doesn’t have enough. He put the doll in a temperature-controlled drawer in his desk. He didn’t want Miss John to get heat stroke on the way home from work.

“Does your dad know about this?” Mr. Burt asked.

“No, he’s on a business trip in Haiti. He’s never around.”

“What about your mom?”

“She works three jobs as a seamstress.”

“I guess she taught you about sewing?”


“Well, who taught you about voodoo?”

“My older brother.”

“I need to speak with him the first chance I get,” Mr. Burt said. “Now you can go back to class.”

The vice principal could not stop thinking about the conversation he had had all day. Miss John was a Christian. Maybe she wasn’t in right with the Lord. He would go to confession; that’s what he would do. Technically he was Presbyterian, but he was raised Catholic.

“Father, I want your blessing and protection from the forces of darkness.”

The holy father absolved him of his sins and the vice principal went on his way.

The next day was one of those really bad days everybody has at least once in their career.

“Mr. Burt, get in here!” The vice principal knew he was in trouble. Despite years of being “good”, every time the principal called him into his office, it felt like he was back in middle school again.

“You’ve mismanaged athletic funds. Either you embezzled money or you’re incompetent. I’ll need to bring this to the next board meeting and you’ll probably be fired. Now get out of my office.”

“But I have house payments, car payments, and three boys to put through college,” the vice principal cried.

“You should have thought about that before mismanaging funds.”

Mr. Burt began to sob. Taco Time always made him feel better, so he decided to make a run through the drive-through. What was he to do? His wife might leave him. Then the voodoo doll entered his mind. The next board meeting wasn’t for another three weeks. He still had time.

Mr. Burt went back to his office and looked at his phone. Did he dare? He dialed Miss John’s room. “Send Doohani to my office please.”

The boy showed up with a smile on his face.

“You’re not in trouble,” the vice principal said. “I need a favor.”

The next week went very slowly. Mr. Burt ate Taco Time twice a day and gained ten pounds. On Friday, he found a neatly wrapped rectangular box in his bin. He grabbed it and walked into his office. His fingers shook while tearing the brown paper off. He lifted the lid. It was a perfect likeness of the principal. Did he have the guts? Well, he didn’t have a choice and he walked next door and knocked.

“Yes,” came a curt voice.

“I need you to retire.”

“What did you say? Have you lost your mind?”

The vice principal held up the doll in his right hand. He pulled the needle out of his left pocket.

The principal thought his associate had gone crazy.

“You will retire and never speak about what happened to the athletic funds.”

“To hell I will.”

“Then you leave me no choice.”

The pin pierced the principal’s heart. It felt like a never-ending heart attack.

The vice principal yanked it out and the principal caught his breath.

“You will recommend me to be the next principal.”

“Whatever you say.”

The next school year, Principal Burt greeted Bridgewater Middle School. “We are starting a new tradition in our arts department. Along with picture day, I require each member of staff to sit for one hour in the arts and crafts room. You will soon know why. It might come up in your end of year evaluations.

Later that month, Principal Burt entered his office and closed the door. Bridgewater was the top performing middle school in the State, thanks to his leadership. He looked at his shelf that skirted the ceiling and admired his staff. The dolls stared back at him with fear on their faces while he nervously fingered a needle in his pocket.

Maintaining My Mistress

I remember driving to my art class in Bellevue after working 8 hours on a maintenance crew. My work pants were covered with weed pulp from 20 different kinds of grass. “You don’t get hay fever, do you?” My boss asked.

“Not that I know of,” I said.

“Good; then grab a weed eater and start whacking the tall grass on number 9. I felt like every job I had was a test of my endurance. They afflicted my body and mind until I had to quit and hide from the boss. The golf course was like a woman with every type of body hair and nail growth. Someone had to keep her beautiful; and if she went for just a week without maintenance, things started to get ugly. Roots grew under the sidewalks, trash filled up in the parking lot, bushes climbed chain-link fences, and the grass grew too tall in the wrong places.

I welcomed the long drive to Bellevue. I’d listen to classical music on the radio and try to get the job out of my bones. My hands were still vibrating from the weed eater and I could hear the boss’s voice in my ear. College life was a welcome change of pace. My art history class was taught in a damp dungeon by a skinny man in his mid-forties. I think he was gay, but he didn’t advertise. I liked him because he pronounced words in French with an air of superiority and he liked to talk art. His mother kept calling him in the middle of instruction and he had to step out to reassure her. He’d come back like nothing happened and begin talking about the Native Americans.

Everyone in class wore pristine clothes. Their shoes were without marks. It took effort to be that clean. My clothes looked like a seeded grass lot, watered with sprinklers and mowed by a machine that puked oil. My mother was worried that I was going to choose maintenance as a career. My boss hoped I would. It was difficult to find guys who would wake up at 3 AM to cut grass in the dark.

That morning, Dave instructed me on my career goals. “Join the fuckin military,” he said.

“Don’t listen to him Andy. The closest he got to combat was basic training. He’s just a wannabe jarhead. Hurt his back in a routine training exercise and has been taking disability ever since.” Pete spoke sense and didn’t tell the young guys what to do.

I looked over at Bill. He didn’t say anything. He was 75 years old and reading the National Inquirer with one good eye.

Canary in a Cage

Joe walked the prison grounds like the walls couldn’t hold him. It annoyed the other inmates and made the guards anxious. But he kept counting; he was pacing out the yard.

“Hey you, canary, snitch on this.” A monster of a man grabbed himself and glared at Joe, but the absent-minded accountant just kept walking like he didn’t see him.

“Are you a snitch?”


“We kill snitches in here.”

“I know.”

Satisfied, the inmate walked away. Joe knew it didn’t help that he had a canary tattooed on the back of his neck. The moment word got out that he actually had ratted on the mafia, he was done. It would probably be gasoline in his cell or twenty stab wounds with a toothbrush. He tried not to think about it and he walked over to the bench press to pump iron. He needed to get stronger.

There was a basketball game in the gym. Maybe he could spot the right prisoner for an escape. It would be someone who could jump high and hang on the rim. This left out most of the white guys, which made things more complicated. Prison is mostly segregated by race, but social rules can be bent by a smooth talker.

Joe noticed the sunroof. There was chicken wire stretched across it. He shimmied up the basketball hoop and started to climb the rafters. The brothers saw what he was doing and kept playing. There are some things that bring prisoners together; escape is one of them. Joe grabbed the chicken wire and the staples pulled out. He ran the length of the roof, stopped to grab an old hammer, and looked for the cable that stretched across the razor wire. Joe put the teeth on it and let gravity do the rest. Sparks flew into his eyes.

CRACK. There was the first shot.

CRACK. And the second.

He cleared the fence and dropped to the ground. The trees were only twenty feet away.

He ran ten.


Blood blotched the front of his striped uniform. Joe was only two steps away from freedom and he willed himself to take them. He looked up at the green canopy and smiled. This canary had flown the cage.

Revolutionary Fireworks

It was the 4th of July and the heat was so intense that the birds didn’t sing and the crickets didn’t chirp. I didn’t realize that I was living in a small town until last year and I only learned this fact when my friend and I both got bikes. We turned a right, then we turned a left, and eventually we found the interstate. When your world is small and you don’t step outside of it, you don’t know how small it is.

My friend knocked on my window.

“Andy, I’ve got something to show you.”

I put my clothes on and left without telling my mother goodbye.

“Do you have any cash?” David asked.

“Yeah! I have five dollars.”


David pedaled towards the interstate, but before we got there, we saw a wooden wagon harnessed to a tired looking horse.

A figure had his back to us. He was leaning over until he suddenly stood upright. Then he turned around and my heart nearly jumped out of my chest. His face was gaunt. He smiled at us through wooden teeth. It would have been easier to look at a skeleton.

“Good morning boys. I haven’t quite setup shop yet, but you are welcome to buy any of my fireworks.”

I looked at the sunburnt sign next to the tent. REVOLUTIONARY FIREWORKS was written in drippy blood red.

“Do you have anything for sale under five dollars?” I asked.

“Oh, that isn’t much. Let me see if I have something in the cheap cannon fodder variety. A soldier in the colonial militia is only one dollar.”

I gave him a bill and he handed me the firework. “When you light his head, just be sure to run.”

I didn’t like how he said that.

In the evening, a fog rolled in. We went down to the creek with the rest of the town to escape the heat and avoid setting a fire. David pulled out his lighter and lit the head of the colonial. We waited but nothing happened. The soldier smoked and his uniformed singed down to his boots, but he was empty on the inside.

“I want my money back,” I said. But no sooner had I spoken, than a volley of gunfire rattled through the bushes. Revolutionary soldiers rushed upon us with bayonets fixed. They stab whomever they could. Perry Nelson, a WWII veteran pulled out his German Luger and began shooting the colonial militia like he was back in Normandy. It was impressive to watch, but his bullets didn’t do anything, despite striking the enemy several times. One of the ghosts snuck up behind him and got him through the back. Nobody was safe and the only thing I could think of was to hustle back to the man who sold me the firework. The gaunt pyromaniac was reclining in his rocking chair when I found him again.

“What did you put in that firework?” I asked.

“Souls,” he replied.

“Well, we need something that can kill souls,” I said.

“Okay, I have just the firework for you.” And he handed me another soldier, but this one was British.

“These souls don’t like the colonialists.”

I gave him a skeptical look.

“That will be one thousand dollars,” he said.

“This is extortion!” I cried.

“No, it’s good business.”

“Where am I going to get that type of money?”

“Steal it.”

David and I walked away from the firework stand without hope. Nobody had that type of money in town. But I did have one thought; it went against my moral judgement.

“The church,” I said.

“If we steal from God we are going to hell,” David replied.

“Well, we will be using it to fight the forces of evil. I think God might approve.”

I knew where Father Nelson kept the offering. It was in a pink piggy bank above his desk. He had to buy a new one every year. I broke it open and there was just enough money.

I got the firework from the stand and David lit it. From far away I heard the sounds of the British Grenadiers. Flutes were playing in response to periodic gunshots. Then a volley interrupted the noise and there was silence.

“I think the British wiped out the colonials,” I said.

But then the British army started marching through town. We ran back to the firework stand.

“Now you need something that will get rid of the British. Harry will do the trick,” the seller said. “You will owe me big on this one.”

He gave us an enormous brown firework. “It will only come out during the full moon. You lucked out tonight.” I looked up at the sky and the moon was big and bright.

I lit the firework and heard horrible howling. The night was filled with screams.

The next day, not a single soul was alive, except perhaps the owner of Revolutionary Fireworks, but he wasn’t quite human.

“What do we owe you?” I asked.

“Your lives and every day after it,” he said.

“Bullshit!”  I yelled. And I grabbed a handful of sparklers and lit them, throwing them into the firework stand. The noises of hell and damnation erupted. It went up in flames and the revolutionary war began all over again.

We lost our family and friends that day, not to mention a never-ending lack of peace because of the full moon. But that is the price for battling the forces of evil.

A Lonely Life

A Lonely Life

can be yours

if you choose it

but there will always be those

who know a solitary man when they see him

and they will make it their duty to ensure he is not alone.

I’ve been watching the street from my apartment window

trying to make sense of the traffic down there

It takes great effort to do anything

and most inspiration dies before it is born.

Still, the idea of doing something beyond doing and undoing

captivates me

I’m waiting…

Just waiting

And not avoiding the waiting place

Time runs slow here

I’ve gotten rid of clocks

I listen to the silence and watch the natural light go down

I sleep

I wake

I wait

And the silence is like a symphony

My soul waits for the right sound

And soon I will get things done

But I’m just going to listen a bit longer…