Monster Glasses

The church was not welcoming, though it offered something the world couldn’t. Why is it that we turn to God, only when we have exhausted every other option? -Intellectual Shaman

I was there to see Father Jacob. The church was almost completely deserted. It caused me to wonder how a building like this stayed open—the heating costs alone. God must support his church because the world didn’t care. Rainbow light shined through the stained-glass windows, giving the sanctuary magical qualities; however, I would never say this to Father Jacob, as magic was a heretical offense 300 years ago, punishable by burning, and they still didn’t smile on it today. No, I had to be careful when I talked to the Father; I couldn’t mention my strange beliefs or my understanding of the universe.

Now I was completely alone, and I started to feel holy while simultaneously getting creeped out. God was there, I suppose, but he felt enormous—definitely more like the Old Testament God, and not the kinder one of the New Testament. I was less than perfect, so I cowered in His presence.

“Can I help you?”

I nearly jumped out of my skin, thinking it was God. “Father, you startled me.”

“I can tell you have something on your mind; otherwise, you wouldn’t be here.”

“What about the others, I saw earlier?”

“Oh, they’re here every day, hoping to get their dose of God, but I’m not Him. Now tell me, what troubles you?”

“It’s the dating market.”

“They call it a market these days, huh?”

“Yeah; it’s horrible. I’m not entirely sure what my SMV is; maybe you can tell me.”

“SMV?”

“Sexual Marketplace Value.”

“I’m not sure that I want to know what that is.”

“It has to do with your rating from 1 out of 10. I would give myself a 6, so that means I can only date 4s or 5s.”

“Why only 4s or 5s?”

“Because women only date up. They call it hypergamy.”

“Son, I think you might be overthinking this…”

“I don’t know, Father; it’s a different world out there today.”

“Well, what do you want me to do about it?”

“Basically, how can I tell the good ones from the bad ones?”

“Awe, now I understand; a timeless question, and you know what, the church has been able to help young men like yourself for centuries.”

“How?”

“Well, men are primarily visual creatures, so they need a buffer against that. I have a pair of glasses you might like to try on. Just a second; they might be in my office.” He walked away, and left me waiting.

I just stood there; what if the answer to my problem was in the church all along? They didn’t seem hip, but Father Jacob said this was a timeless issue. I’d tried YouTube advice, but I couldn’t reconcile myself to sleep with 300 women in order to find the right one. According to the latest research, almost every woman in America had an STD and was mentally insane, which was definitely something I didn’t want to tangle with. Women are difficult to deal with as it is, but they are a whole different problem to solve when they’ve been damaged, and I didn’t want to be their therapist. The world suggested that a man should stick his appendage into an electric socket to check if there was a charge, and I thought, no thank you.

“Ah, you’re still here,” Father Jacob said.

“Father, I’m not going anywhere, you’re my last stop before Hell.”

“Hush, we don’t say the H word in the halls of God!”

“Sorry Father.”

“Well, as long as you really are sorry. Here are the glasses I told you about.” He handed them to me.

“The last guy who wore them, did so in the 1960s. I guess the free-love movement got him down, and he wanted to be sure the girl he married wasn’t a monster.”

“A monster?”

“Yeah; one of these so-called feminists.”

“Oh, that makes sense.”

Father Jacob fondled the horned-rimmed glasses like a sacred object, like a relic, like something to be cherished and taken care of. “Sorry about the style, it’s a bit out of date.” He dusted off the lenses with his handkerchief and gave them to me.

They were heavy on my face when I put them on, like a burden. The lenses were tinted red.

“The truth weighs heavy on you,” Father Jacob said.

“I’m sorry, I don’t see anything different.”

“That’s because you’re still talking to me. Why don’t you go out on a date, and look at the girl through rose colored glasses?”

“I can’t go out on a date with these. I’ll get rejected before I sit down at the table.”

“You’re probably right. I can alter them. It’s the lenses that matter. What would you like them to look like?”

“James Bond. You know, the sunglasses he wore in Specter.” I didn’t expect him to get the reference, but he smiled.

“I’ll see what I can do. Why don’t you come back tomorrow?”

I had a date that evening. She was smokin’ hot. I wish I could’ve looked at her through the glasses, but by the end of the evening, I didn’t need to. We had the same things in common. She told me that she hated feminism—that all of those ideas about equality were hogwash. She was a conservative, and she only watched Fox news.

When I got to church the following day, I was going to tell Father Jacob to keep his glasses.

“I found the one,” I said.

“Really?”

“Yes. She’s perfect. I’m going to marry her.”

“Don’t you think you should court her, for a while?”

“No; it’s like God is talking to me. I’ve been waiting for her my whole life.”

“Well, I guess you don’t want these?” Father Jacob held up the glasses. They were identical to the ones Daniel Craig wore in the latest Bond movie.

“I’ll take ’em,” I said. “Father, I really appreciate this.”

“Don’t mention it, my son; and be sure to wear them on your date.”

“I will.”

And I did.

She was waiting for me at Baskin Robbins, but there was something different about her. As I got closer, she came into focus. Her eyes were red, like a snake’s, and her smile was a sneer. Her skin was covered in scales, and her breath smelled like a thousand rotting corpses. I cannot put words to my revulsion. It was like looking at Hitler or some demon from the underworld.

“I got to go,” I said.

“But Andy, you just got here; what’s wrong?” Her once angelic voice was the sound of Satan. I didn’t look back until I made it back into church.

“Father Jacob, these glasses are something else. I’m so glad you gave them to me.”

“Just remember, they’re on loan until you find a good girl. I know there are a lot of monsters out there, so it might take you a while.”

“Just out of curiosity, what do the women wear?”

“Oh, Sister Sandra takes care of that, but no one has been to see her in some time. These modern women prefer the bad boys anyway, so if they get a monster, it figures into their plan. They want to tame the beast, if you know what I mean?”

“I’ll never understand women,” I said.

Father Jacob smiled. “Why do you think I’m a Father?”

The End

The Smoking Room

The past is a lit cigar, burning low, and billowing into oblivion. -Intellectual Shaman

Smoke rings were rising into the air, forming clouds on the ceiling. It was anyone’s guess what might rain down. The gentlemen were discussing history, and not very well. They typically shared advice on finance, but today they were arguing about the past.

“The CIA shot Kennedy, as sure as shooting!”

“Why would our own government kill its most popular leader?”

“For that very reason—someone who’s popular is difficult to control. When you have the mob on your side, special interests take a back seat.”

“Might I remind you that Kennedy was not that popular. Much of the South wanted him dead.”

“It was Castro, working with Oswald and the Soviets.”

“Speaking of Castro, how did you get these cigars? They’re Cubans, right?”

“Sure, they’re Cubans—more difficult to smuggle than Cocaine.”

“Well, how did you do it?”

“You need to be connected,” the voice said smugly.

“I can’t see the hand in front of my face. Why doesn’t someone open a window?”

“Where is the window?”

There was some shifting furniture. “Ouch!”

“I tripped over your leg!”

“That was a table leg, you idiot!”

“Who put this room in order?”

“If we can’t open a window, I’m going to suffocate.”

“Hold on, what’s this?”

“That window wasn’t there a moment ago.”

“I’m not sure I should open it.”

“If you don’t, I’ll die. My asthma is acting up again.” Whoosh. The smoke twisted like it was caught in a vortex, and the men in the room went out with the smoke.

To be continued…

Sasquatch Teacher

Learning is difficult if you have disabilities, but I found the perfect teacher, and not many are able to find him. -Intellectual Shaman

Middle School is a time when we figure out there is a hierarchy, and I was at the bottom. I had dyslexia, meaning that I had trouble reading; all the words blended together and I couldn’t sound them out. The assistant worked with me, but even she became frustrated. “Andy, focus!” She said. I did, but the words went up and they went down, like a rollercoaster across the page. I just wasn’t a reader, even though I looked at the pictures and imagined what the story could be. My favorite was, Finding Sasquatch. Some had claimed to have seen Sasquatch, but never to have found ‘im. Others were trying to catch the creature in bear traps, but the Sasquatch was smarter than them. It had lived for hundreds of years, like a legend. It wasn’t all that smart, but it had lots of experience. Maybe I was the same as Sasquatch. I couldn’t read, but if I had a hundred years…

After school, I took these long walks through the woods, and the trees would whisper to me, groaning and complaining, the way old things do. I had my favorite spot where I read the Sasquatch book, or should I say, looked at the pictures. A tree with crooked limbs reminded me of Sasquatch, so I started calling it the Sasquatch Tree. I read there for hours, until the woods turned red for a moment, and then the sun went down.

It was in the month of January when the snow had fallen that I saw my first sign of Sasquatch. It was a footprint twice the size of a man’s or I guess it could’ve belonged to an NBA basketball player. I measured it with my ruler. 25 inches. I looked around. The woods were empty. I told my parents about Sasquatch, and they told me to stop reading that book, but I couldn’t. I believed in him. So, as the winter months turned into spring, I kept my eyes open. I was last in my 7th grade class, and they told me I would have to repeat a grade.

I went to the woods to clear my mind. Middle School was a time I wanted to pass through, but it looked as if I might get stuck. The sun was cutting through the dark trees like a magical flashlight when I saw its outline for the first time. It was big. It was hairy. It was smiling.

“Hi,” I said.

“Ughhhh, hoogha, hello,” it said.

“So, you’re Sasquatch?”

“Yes,” it said shyly.

“And no one has found you before?”

It shook his head. “Been found many times. Just prefer privacy. Make people promise not to say anything about me.”

“How do you know they’ll keep their mouths shut?”

“I just know, from years of experience. Watcha got there?”

“A book, on you, I guess.”

“Oh, on me? Let’s have a look see…”

He walked over. The Sasquatch was at least 10 feet tall. When he got closer, I was surprised I wasn’t afraid. He reminded me of a lovable carpet.

“Oh, these pictures not look like me.” He traced his black finger across the shape. “What does it say?”

“I can’t read,” I said.

“But you’re in middle school?”

“I know, I have a disability.”

“Oh, I had many disabilities. It took me some time to learn how to read.”

“You can read?”

“Yes; it took over a hundred years. Benjamin Franklin taught me.”

“Really?”

“Yeah; maybe I can teach you how to read. I’ve had lots of practice learning because I’m slow.”

That spring Sasquatch helped me learn how to read. I made so much improvement, so quickly, that I was told I could graduate to 8th grade. My teacher did end up retiring though, and there was a vacancy.

“I know someone who is a really good special education teacher,” I said.

“Who?” The principal asked.

“He’s the one who taught me how to read.”

“Well, tell him to come in for an interview.”

I talked to Ben about it. That’s right, Benjamin Franklin named him Ben, after himself. The Sasquatch thought long and hard. He twisted the brown hair under his chin in thought, and when he made up his mind, he rose to his feet.

“Okay,” he smiled.

“There’s just one problem,” I said.

“What’s that?”

“You’re a Sasquatch; they won’t let you into school.”

“Oh, well maybe this won’t work then,” he said.

“You know what, I have an idea. Renton School District is an equal opportunity employer that doesn’t discriminate against race or religion. You are a Sasquatch, so maybe that counts as a race, and you know what?”

“What?”

“You could dress in religious garb that would totally cover you at all times. Then you would meet both statutes, and remain completely hidden from teachers and students.”

“That might work,” Ben said.

Next year, Ben was the best special education teacher the district ever had. The female teachers wanted to know what he looked like. He was 10 feet tall, and a guy above 6 feet is attractive, but Ben was very religious. He refused to take-off his garb.

“I know you’re religious, but it’s picture day,” the photographer said.

“Pictures are against my religion; they steal my spirit,” Ben replied.

He was the invisible man, even though he was enormous. The janitor complained about his hair in the urinal.

“I’ve never seen anything like it!” Who has pubic hair a foot-and-a-half long? Seriously, someone needs to manscape!”

The End

The Ghost Train

Traveling is time consuming, full of anger and discomfort. -Intellectual Shaman

I was going to a private school way out in the woods. I caught the bus in the bus yard, where my mom worked at the elementary. It was the school I had attended for seven years before going to middle school. If you spend enough time in a place, it becomes a part of you. It was an old military base, with razor wire, barracks, and missile test site out back. I was the first one on the bus, and the last one off, so the windows were always iced over. The air was difficult to breathe. Rats were pooping in the heaters, so when the driver turned them on, they really stank. It was a trade-off—feel warm and taste the turds in your mouth, or freeze. The district was losing money due to their religious status and the poor economy, so the only bus they were able to buy was 30 years old. It belonged to a prison. There was a cage separating the driver and the students, which came in handy—middle schoolers are an unruly bunch. Bars went the full-length of the bus where the prisoners were handcuffed. Some say school is a prison—mine actually was.

I had to catch the bus at 5 AM, and I always had a stomach ache from the bacon and eggs and greasy potatoes my dad fed to me for breakfast. I drank milk in the mornings because I thought it was healthy; this was before I learned that I was lactose intolerant. My stomach felt like an explosion, and I had to ride the bus for 90 minutes. On more than one occasion, I ran for the emergency exit near a McDonalds. Once, I didn’t make it. The buzzer would buzz, and then the driver would say, “There goes Andy again.” I discovered that I should stop drinking or eating anything before I got to school, but then I was dehydrated and hungry on a hot bus. I begged my friend for his soda, which he gladly gave me. He laughed, “I drink alcohol now.” He showed me his film canister full of hard liquor. “My parents don’t know,” he said. Damn right they didn’t know; they would have beaten him within an inch of his life. It was a strict religious community, where supposedly, nobody drank.

Sometimes, I went to sleep on my seat and woke up in a puddle of my own drool. There had to be a better way to get to school, but I was just a kid. I couldn’t drive, and I never questioned my parents.

On these long bus rides, I liked to watch the scenery. Rusty train tracks ran parallel to the road, and eventually passed my middle school.

One day, on a foggy October morning, I got to the bus stop early. It was 4 AM, completely dark, and spooky. I was carrying four bags— a gym bag, a trumpet case, a backpack, and an attaché case. In middle school, I was trying everything. I was obsessed with success. That’s probably why I started playing my trumpet in the dark. My lips almost froze to the mouthpiece.

Suddenly, from out of the woods, I heard a far-off whistle. It was a train, but no ordinary train. Trees had grown up around the tracks, so nothing could get through. I kept playing and the apparition broke the fence and stopped in front of me.

“All aboard,” an engineer said. He wore blue coveralls, and his face looked like it was weathered by a thousand years.

“Where does it go?” I asked.

“Wherever you want.”

I believed him and I stepped onto the train. There was a dining car and a sleeper section. The most pristine delights were pushed on a trolly—desserts, espresso, and mushroom omelets. The most interesting people were in the passenger car. Some were dressed in military uniforms from the cold war. Others wore clothes from the 1800s. There were coal miners and cowboys, Indians and presidents.

“This way sir,” the steward said. I followed him and was seated next to a tall man, with an equally tall top hat.

“I can’t get my speech right,” he complained.

“I might be able to help you,” I said.

“Really?”

“How does it start?”

“Four Score and seven years ago…”

“Oh, I know this one… You want to say… Our forefathers set foot on this continent…”

“Brilliant.” He began writing. I helped him to fill in the blanks.

“What’s your name?” He asked.

“Andrew Johnson.”

“A man who can write speeches like you deserves a place in my cabinet. I’m starting a new party.”

“I like parties,” I said. “I’d be happy to join up.”

Later, I was impeached and I wasn’t a very good president, but that doesn’t matter. What does matter is the ghost train. I took it to middle school and to high school. It has always been the best source of transportation. I carry my trumpet with me, always. People think I’m a street musician, but I play for the ghost train, and it shows up, taking me wherever I need to go.

The End

The Lucky Bag

He didn’t have a care in the world. -Intellectual Shaman

I looked at him, at the end of each workday. What did he have that I didn’t have? He had something. And I guess nobody else noticed. The man wore a distinguished white beard, while he emptied my trash cans, and I just kept looking at him.

“What?” He asked.

“What do you have?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“You’re carrying something that most people can’t see.”

“Yeah, I know, Glock 19. Don’t tell anybody, okay; this is a gun-free zone.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“You’re very sure of yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“Few people are; they try to convince themselves that they are, but they’re not.”

“Okay, what is it?”

“You’re pressing pretty hard; you’d better be damn sure you want to know.”

“I want to know.”

“It’s faith. You can laugh or don’t believe me, but I’ve increased my metaphysical mass.”

“What’s that? Sounds philosophical.”

“It is, and it isn’t. Objects in space gravitate towards heavier mass, you learn that in physics, so what I’m about to share with you is more scientific than philosophical.”

“Go on…” I could tell he was really enjoying himself. Few people took an interest.

“Well, let’s just say that how we feel about things actually matters, and over time, those feelings are transferred to objects or persons, flesh and blood get injected with the supernatural.”

“Do you watch Oprah?”

“Every Saturday, but that’s not the point.”

“What is the point?”

“I’m getting to that. You don’t have much patience, do you? That’s a symptom of a lack of faith.”

Normally, I would have been irritated, but our conversation had taken such an unusual turn that his arrogance didn’t bother me. In fact, it was enjoyable.

“You’re just a young man, overeducated, and not able to see the forest through the trees, so to speak, so I’m just going to have to spell everything out for you. Yee of little faith; seeing and not believing.”

If he wasn’t going bald and wearing a maintenance uniform, I might’ve thought he was Jesus.

“Are you paying attention?” He asked.

“Yeah.”

“That’s what you have going for you, imagination. I’m going to give you my bag to prove a point.”

“Your bag?”

“Use it wisely, conservatively, faith works in small doses. Once too much materializes, you don’t need faith, and what little faith you do have, will be lost. Now I’ve got to empty 50 more trash cans, livin’ the dream.”

He left, and I looked at his bicycle messenger bag with the hole in it.

It was worth something, at some time. I slung it over my shoulder, along with my other two bags. It reminded me of middle school, when my mother was worried I would get scoliosis from all the stuff I was carrying. That never happened, but now I was losing my mind. I guess, I just wanted to believe.

Rejection is difficult to take; after a while, the invisible flagellation creates a simpering hopelessness, or an inability to feel, but there is a third option, that some try to take, and few consistently hold onto. It’s a faith in foolish things, superstitions, like a lucky tie to get that dream job, or a smart shirt that makes you smarter than anyone else at the table. I had a holy bag, and I was beginning to have faith in it, but I didn’t yet know its potential.

I was out with friends, and we were all going to lunch, but I forgot my wallet. I could’ve asked for money, but they weren’t those kinds of friends. It was a writer’s hangout at Panera Bread, or should I say aspiring writers… And what that really is, is a bunch of insecure envious snakes with more venom than a nest of cobras. I had to pretend I was on a health kick— some new diet that worked, and I also knew they would ask me about it incessantly. Writers live stationary lives, and their alter obsession is losing weight. Even with an imagination, I wasn’t sure I had enough lies to get through one hour.

That’s when I touched the dollar bill in my pocket. It wasn’t even enough to buy soup, and I don’t know why, but my mind drifted to feeding the 5,000. I put the one-dollar bill in the lucky bag while standing in line. It was an impulse, a test of faith, and when it was my turn to order, I ordered half the menu.

“That’ll be 77.58.”

“I’m buying,” I said.

The writers cheered.

Then I reached into the bag and pulled out the bill. I didn’t even look at it.

“Out of 100,” the cashier said.

I couldn’t believe it. I wasn’t sure if it had been a hundred, or if I had simply passed him the one-dollar bill with total faith, and he accepted it.

Back at the writer’s group, Gregory shared his good news. “I got published,” he said. The envy in the room could kill any soul. I had to get out of there.

“I’ve got a manuscript to drop off,” I said. “I’ve got to go.”

“Best of luck!” They shouted. But it was not good luck they wished on me, but bad. The world was messed up—at least I could write about it. I really had a manuscript to drop off, but it wasn’t for another hour. The best lies are true. I decided to stop-off for an espresso, to feel sorry for myself. Getting published was turning into an impossibility; it was the flagellation I spoke of earlier. You know when a manuscript is good, and you know when it’s wanting, this one wanted more than a 2-year-old, it just didn’t have anything to give, and it wasn’t cute.

But what if the bag could do something for my manuscript? I didn’t have much time. I pulled the 2,500 pages out of my trunk, and squeezed them into the messenger bag. They barely fit. It was the novel that never ended, that could not end, until the nuclear explosion. If you can’t end a novel, there’s always the nuclear option. When I got to the editor’s office, she opened the door.

“I’ve been waiting for you,” she said.

“Sorry.”

“And I don’t mean on your book that’s three months overdue.”

“Just read three pages, and if you don’t like what you read, I’ll give you back the advance.” Her skepticism turned to excitement. I was shocked by my own confidence. When I got home, I laid on the couch, and I opened a depressed beer, to celebrate my lack-luster day. I guess luck has its limits, or so I thought. Then I saw a light beeping in the corner. It was my answering machine.

“Andy, we have decided to publish your manuscript at 10 cents a word, plus royalties. Your work rivals War and Peace.”

The lucky bag was worth more than gold. Wealth can’t give you a win like the bag can, and I thought about all the other things I wanted to stick into the bag—Barbie doll, race car, the possibilities were endless.

The End

Waking Up, Twice

It was warm on stage, and the audience was cold, colder than hell. The best part was that I couldn’t see them, well… 90%. It was so bright where I was, that I couldn’t see myself.

I might say anything…

There was a crowd in the front row, and it wasn’t difficult to imagine who sat behind them. Some were literary types, others wanted to be, a few were imbeciles—most wanted a good show; they needed to see something bleed, or die a social death. I expect it feels this way at public executions. Something happens to humanity; you can look at a person and see the reverse. Like the “good” girl who says the right thing, but laughs with the rotten mouths when she loses herself in the crowd.

There are many things that can kill us, some faster than others. It’s a mystery to find any meaning. On some days I feel alive and on others, I feel dead; the worst is when one dead day rolls into another, like a snowball so big and so cold, it takes the surface of the sun to feel the warm waves again. Sometimes, there isn’t enough energy to inspire life, and the best recovery is to sleep for 3 days, focusing on nothing.

At the end of that time, I am resurrected, but these days, the cold room, and the cold street, and the cold rain are making my insides fight for warmth, like a man trapped in an industrial freezer. There’s a point when the heater dies, and the cold overcomes hope.

Enough of feelings…

I’m reading poetry—not great, not good, just poetry. The walk home is numbing as I pass execution bridge, looking right, looking left, no angels here, jumping into the waves with instant regret; it’s a thousand knives piercing my insides, then a bright light. I’m on stage again.

“Your poetry is very bad,” a voice says.

I know that voice. “God?”

“Yes, my son.”

“Am I dead?”

“Well, sort of.”

“How can I be ‘sort of’ dead?”

“Do you remember when you found your grandfather’s typewriter in the closet and you wrote that story about the leprechaun?”

“Sure.”

“How did you feel?”

“Like I could type anything into existence.”

“Well… I think it’s time that you get that feeling back.”

“Alright?”

“And just one more thing…”

“Yeah?”

“Don’t let the bastards get you down.”

“You’re a good God.”

“Thank you, my son.”

He reminded me of Morgan Freeman.

Then I woke up, and jumped off the operating table.

“Wait, we haven’t sewn your chest shut!”

I looked down. There was a gaping hole there, and I could see my lungs, breathing.

“Well, I never…” And then I feinted.

When I woke up the second time, I knew who I was supposed to be, or how to be. I wasn’t reading my poetry to anonymous cold crowds, anymore. The ocean waves washed through my beautiful feet on a sandy shore. I contemplated the next line, and I wrote it. Then I contemplated the next line, and I wrote that as well. I looked at my toes. Life couldn’t get much better.

The End

The Dog Walkers

Moonlight reveals the character within. -Intellectual Shaman

I was running in the early morning, but you could hardly call it morning, it was pitch black with the stars overhead. The country brushed up against the city, and I ran in the in-between place where the trail connected nature with the constructions of men. Even in my limited years, I’ve learned that the in-between places are full of sorcery and magic, but I wasn’t expecting to find that on the suburban trail.

There was the occasional elk or owl, and a bear prowling trash cans. I didn’t know what to do if I ran across something wild—probably just run away, I thought. It was a windy night, and a wild morning, when I went for my routine run. There were these lights on the trail, the most unusual lights you ever saw. They were like lighthouses, projecting into the night, and the other lights were green ropes floating in mid-air. It was like a cult of light. I soon realized they belonged to runners and their dogs; they always giggled when they passed.

It was difficult to see them, and then one ran under a lonely street light. She walked onto the trail with her golden retriever, then stopped and stared at me. She was perfect. I don’t mean the type of perfect that goes to the gym, although she was fit, but I mean her posture and face and body held a symmetry that is not found in nature. Her energy projected fierce independence, which I found attractive, like gold to a greedy man. I looked at her dog, expecting to see the same, but he looked defeated.

“Morning,” I said.

“Good morning.”

I didn’t know what to say next.

“You keep fit,” she said.

“Thanks, but the Thai food has different plans.”

She laughed, a high-pitched cruel laugh that was sexy.

It was below freezing, and I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes, but I just wanted to keep standing there anyway, staring into her green eyes. I was frozen, and might’ve actually froze if she hadn’t intervened.

“Here’s my number,” she said. “This little guy needs his exercise; I think he’s feeling down. Remember, call me.” And she disappeared into the night. Her dog ran behind her, attached to his green leash. He kept looking over his shoulder at me; it was a pleading look, but I didn’t give him much thought.

My dinner date that afternoon was with a normal woman. It was an online date, and when she sat down, I knew I was in trouble. Her picture was big, but she was even bigger, so much so that I worried I wouldn’t have enough money to pay for her food. Dessert rolled around and she wanted more.

I started drinking.

“You don’t get out much, do you?” She asked.

It was a fair guess; after all, it was an online date.

“Not much,” I said.

“It shows,” she criticized between mouthfuls of vanilla ice-cream.

I was starting to feel sick. I was a writer, and the conversations I had with myself always went better than this. I got the check; it was in the triple digits. She burped.

“So, your place?”

“I think I have some laundry to do,” I lied.

“Suit yourself, but you don’t know what you’re missing.”

I had an imagination, but I did everything to shut it down. Instead, it drifted to the girl I met on the trail, 777-5555. “Strange number,” I muttered.

“Yes.”

“Would you like to go for dessert?”

I was expecting her to say, “It’s short notice.”

But she said, “Yes!”

I picked her up in my truck. She smelled like strawberries, and she wore a green dress with red lipstick. The night was young, and I was feeling much older. She was having an effect on me, every time she spoke, which wasn’t very often.

I dropped her off and she asked me, “Would you like to come up, and have some tea?”

Sure, I wanted some tea.

“Let me go freshen up a bit,” she said.

I waited… I was going to get lucky, but I had no idea.

I looked down at her dog, to give it sympathy, and right when the moon reflected across its face, I saw a man tethered there, to her bed post.

My dinner jumped out of my mouth.

“I don’t know if you’re into dominance and submission, but I have a collar for you to wear,” she said.

I was gone.

I stopped running for a while and going on online dates. I ate Thai food for a month to calm down, but it didn’t work. I was done with witches and women for at least six months.

The End

Feel Everything

flattened by her voice

rolled over by her monotone

following her rules

until she changes them

not many men are free

they think they can become more

by working more hours

or following directions

but they should follow their own direction

before they forget how to

the money won’t be necessary,

although, I cringe when I say that

it’s about living with less

and caring more

some think you can be free if you don’t care

but they are usually aimless

their darkness leads them into more darkness

caring requires suffering

and the more that you can suffer

the more you can feel

don’t pray for reprieve

but for a gut-wrenching toughness

not a thick skin

but a thin one

that feels

everything.

Man Camp

All the so-called men were lining up for things I couldn’t understand. -Intellectual Shaman

I talked to my dad about it. “Why do men go to war?” I asked.

“Because they’re patriots; I wanted to be a marine, but I shot my leg off before I could get to Vietnam.”

“Why do guys want to kill each other? Isn’t there a mutual bond of brotherhood, or something?”

“Naw. When I was younger, I used to read Soldier of Fortune Magazine. It said there was no greater feeling than bleeding another man on your blade.”

I was horrified. “What should I do?”

“You should get a job,” my dad said. And I did. I worked for minimum wage, and didn’t get any respect.

I checked in with my dad, a couple years later. “What should I do now?”

“Well, you graduated high school, so you should go to college; study something useful, like engineering, that’s what I did.”

I tried to do what he did, but I couldn’t understand engineering. It all seemed like a big waste of time.

“Do you have a girlfriend yet?” My dad asked.

“No.”

“Well, it might be time for you to start thinking about getting one. You’ll want to be married soon.”

“Any time I thought about marriage or women or relationships, I felt heavy, like I was 300 pounds and I couldn’t take another step.

I was getting decent grades in community college, but my parents were really worried.

“Andy, there’s this camp I read about in the newspaper. “It’s a man camp where young men like yourself have a chance to make friends.” It was a horror story, and then my mother showed it to my dad.

“That’s it! That’s just what the boy needs!”

“But I’m a grown adult. I stopped going to camp in middle school!”

“You’re under my roof still, so you’re under my rules. You can live here as long as you want, but you must do what I say. If you don’t, you’re on your own.”

I didn’t want to become homeless, so I signed up for man camp.

To be continued…

“You’re so arrogant,” she said.

“You’re so arrogant,” she said.

“I just know what’s important.”

“I bet I know more than you.”

They don’t share my enthusiasm

although they pretend to, at first

at the end of the day, they say “goodbye”

and when I say “Hey, goodbye!” They’ve already lost interest

They notice things about me

and when I show them more

they disapprove

My confidence has been growing

like a robust weed

it doesn’t belong in their garden

with neat rows

of sickly tomatoes

waiting to be harvested

they’ve poisoned me with their sarcasm

and public humiliation

leaving me to die in the dirt

“you’re so bitter, you must hate women.”

“No.”

It’s true, and I marvel at myself

I’m sweet

despite being rooted in the same spot

for so long.

Where does my confidence come from?

It comes from becoming

who I want to be

dismissed and labeled

fenced off and forgotten

I’m okay with that

Most are stunted and half-dead

waiting to be harvested

I have no place

in their garden

and as I keep growing

they wonder what feeds me

it isn’t their opinions, good or bad

it isn’t success, in their eyes

but success, in my own

I don’t need their empowerment

I don’t need anything

and they hate me for that

“You’re so arrogant,” she said.