The Disappointed Telecaster

I bought a brown-and-white Telecaster in 1993 while digging
Lindsey Buckingham arpeggios
Keith Richards rock harpsichord
Joe Strummer musical chainsaw
Andy Summers stabby string reggae-rake echo flutter
Albert Collins bent-over blues
Steve the Colonel white soul twelve bar backup
Mark Knopfler twangy clean walking country Brit boogie

Eventually the strings started
pushing back and my rent was late

Doused in envy
with a streak of sulfur
burning brightly
in brown and white
but not as bright
as I thought it would
cash in hand,
on the pawn shop counter

Benny

Benny Lundgren could not believe it was 2019 already. “Ten years of marriage,” he thought while changing the oil in his wife Joanie’s new Mercedes, “and I still get horny whenever I see her. Hell, whenever I even think of her. The anti-marriage guys just don’t know what they’re missing.”

Just thinking about the look on her face when he had surprised her on Mother’s Day with the car made him smile.

“What is THAT?” she had asked, looking past the Mercedes at the beat-up Corolla in the garage.

“I had to trade in my truck,” he had told her, ” and that is all I could afford. I had to roll the truck balance into the loan for the Mercedes.”

He could feel himself growing hard imagining the rush of love she must have been feeling about his sacrifices for her.

“Aww, aren’t you sweet?” she had said as she gave him a light peck on the forehead. “But keep it in the garage. Don’t ever park it on the street or in the driveway.”

“Of course,” he had said, then encircled her waist with his arm as he pressed his growing hard-on into her ass. He loved it when she wore her lululemons. “If you follow me upstairs, I have another present for you.”

She pressed the lock on the key fob and slipped free of his arm. “Oh, not now. I’m going to be late for Pure Barre.”

“Oh,” he had said.

“Now don’t be sad, sweet boy,” she lightly scolded. “Don’t you want mommy to show off her new present to all the girls at yoga class? Show them what a wonderful husband she has? Let’s turn that frown upside down.” She had laid her hand on his cheek for emphasis.

He grinned a little. “Yeah I am pretty awesome.”

“I’ll say,” she had said as she turned and skipped into the house.

He remembered it like it was yesterday because that night they fought about sex.

“It just seems like you would want to, you know, be intimate with your husband, especially after all the trouble I’ve gone through to buy you your dream car.

Upon hearing this her anger matured from hate to rage. “Oh so I’m just supposed to fuck you because you spent some money on me? Is that how this works? I’m just some kind of domesticated whore?”

“Well, no, I–”

“Sure sounds that way to me,” Joanie said as the she ripped her bathrobe open to reveal her naked body and lay back on the bed, spreading her legs. “Have at it, big boy. Come fuck me like the whore I am.”

He just stood there with a rock-hard erection. “I…come on, don’t talk like that,” he said. “That’s not it. Not what I meant at all. I–” But he had not seen her naked in three months and it was more than he could stand. He pushed his sweatpants down and stepped toward the bed.

“OH MY GOD!” she screamed. “This is really what you want? What kind of sick fucking rapist are you, anyway?”

“What, no, I’m not. What?” he stammered.

Joanie jumped up and pulled her robe shut. “Asshole!” she yelled, then ran into the bathroom and slammed the door. When he heard the lock click, he went downstairs to make a sandwich which he wrapped in a paper towel and took to his man cave, the small storage closet off the garage that had just enough space for a small recliner, a dorm room refrigerator that pulled double-duty as a side table for the chair, and a small television set. He sat in the chair and opened the fridge. “At least I have plenty of beer,” he thought.

***

When Joanie shook him the next morning, he awoke with a headache and a hard-on. The smell of her perfume and her soft hand on the back of his head only made him harder. He looked around. He was still in his chair in the closet.

“I guess you’re not going to make it to church. Again,” she said.

“Sorry, yeah, no,” he said. “Not feeling it today.”

Joanie said nothing and walked out. He listened to her heels clicking on the smooth concrete floor and didn’t get up until she was backing down the driveway.

He went inside and saw that she’d turned the coffee maker off even though the pot was still half-full. He poured a cup of lukewarm coffee and heated it in the microwave, then put some Pop Tarts in the toaster. While the Pop Tarts were toasting he fed the dog and walked outside to get the paper down at the end of the driveway. On his way back up to the house he looked up and down the street, wondering what it would be like to live three houses down, at 1434 where Jackson’s wife was plump but seemed happy driving a minivan and sometimes cut the grass. Or 1401 on the other side, at the end of the street, where Liebler’s wife was older than him and wore long skirts and long-sleeved, high-necked blouses that were a little too tight and was always waiting on the porch for him and seemed happy to see him when he got home from work.

Back in the kitchen, he saw that his Pop Tarts had popped. He wrapped them in a paper towel and grabbed his coffee and walked back out to his man cave. He felt better out there than in the living room. He would probably drop some Pop Tart crumbs on the couch or inadvertently leave a ring on the coffee table and didn’t want to upset her.

He settled into his recliner and switched the television on to The Joan Lundgren Hour of Ministry. She wore a tight-fitting white business shirt and navy slacks that were thin and stretchy just like her yoga pants. He grew hard, and harder, watching her prance on stage, her heels adding prominence to her ass. His heart sank at the shame washing over him as he imagined fucking her doggystyle in the elevated baptismal tub while congregation packed in the pews gasped but watched anyway.

“Do you really want to burn in Hell?” his wife asked as she walked back and forth across the thick maroon carpet like a panther prowling in front of a cave that contained her next meal. “For eternity?” she continued. “E-Ter-Ni-Ty? Cause that’s a mighty long time.”

The congregation laughed. Benny sat entranced, ignoring the crumbs on his shirt, the erection straining at his sweatpants.

“I can feel many of you watching out there, can feel your pain and your sin and the self-imposed hell you’re in right now! You’re in prison! Prisons of lust! Prisons of greed! Prisons of selfishness. Self-centeredness! But you don’t have to remain a pathetic wretch! If you’ve been helped by our ministry and want to demonstrate your support with a financial contribution, or if you just need someone to talk to, our phone lines are open…”

Benny picked up his phone and dialed.

###

 

 

 

 

Best Customer

That stupid toy Prius with the food delivery sign on the roof done circled the block twice and is now on its third lap. I can see it on my front door surveillance cams, eight neat squares with different views on my laptop screen. I could go out there and flag down the bastard but I refuse to. I’m paying for this. How hard is it to fetch Kung Pao to an address that’s been around as long as I have? My house was here thirty years before I bought it. Hell, my ex’s fuckboy’s truck still shows up in my driveway on Google Maps from three years ago. Every time someone uses street view they ask me about my red truck. My failed marriage is right there on Google if you know what you’re looking at. Google keeping one of how many adulterous fuck sessions at my house frozen in time for public consumption. I went to a counselor for one visit and asked him how you get over something like that. He said who the fuck knows. Use a different map. I never went back because that’s the same thing my brother and my cousin said, but that’s the problem living in a hidden corner of the South and that Google car is a long time coming back. That’s why I busted them. I was on the internet to see if Google had a street view of my house yet and there’s this red truck in my driveway. Dodge. Had to be a Dodge, damn Mopar-driving motherfucker. That Google car rolled by while I was on the road and it caught them, just red-handed. So I know Google’s map knows where I live except tell that to this driver, this Maude or Julio or Zanzibar, this delivery driver every bit in his own little world like one of those Jap soldiers in the Philipines after the second big one and all the while my Kung Pao getting colder. 

These delivery people don’t know I’m watching them, but I am. Cameras all hidden around the house in bird feeders. Porch plants. The weathered cypress trellis covered in ivy that I made out of old boathouse wood for our fifth wedding anniversary. The wood anniversary. She got plenty of wood alright. From me. From him. Them? Remote web cams weren’t much around then like now but I’ll never get blindsided again. Once, a pizza guy snapped a picture to confirm my food was delivered then he stepped in extra and snapped again. The security cams made it clear the second time he was scoping the front door lock. I grabbed a screenshot of that from three angles and sent it to his employer with the caption, “This house protected by a crazy old man with nothing to lose.” 

I’m not, but they don’t know that and won’t deliver here no more.

* * *

When the lockdowns became the norm, I tucked myself in fine and I’ve been strictly obeying every tiny instruction from the universe as best I can. I was never the kind what needed a whole lot of structure, and after a while it became clear that fortune cookies provided the right amount of bang for the buck. The only problem is when I get no cookie or more than one. I once got five. Five, on a single order. It warranted a phone call.

“Thank you for calling China Bee what you order?” It was the owners wife. Or daughter maybe. They both talked fast in a high-pitched voice but the daughter’s Chenglish was usually better.

“I have five fortune cookies in my delivery sack,” I said. “Five.”

“Very so sorry,” she said. 

“This is racism, practically.” I shouldn’t even have to point this out.

“We happy to send more over. You are best customer. How many you need?”

“More? No, not more. Just look at the ticket. I clearly specified one fortune cookie only. Did Jesus have all the apostles preaching at the same time as him? Did Buddha have to talk over anyone? Or that Mohammed? The universe doesn’t speak all roughshod scattergun, does it?”

After a long silence she said, “Rum shot coffee? Shack her down?”

“Are you even listening? How about Confucius. Would he approve of throwing all this cookie scripture into people’s to go sacks like that? Did he ever have diarrhea of the mouth? And what about your overhead? And who needs a handful of fortunes?”

More silence and some muffled back-and-forth at the other end of the line, then the husband’s voice said, “Very sorry, sir. Next time only one. I tell everyone here.”

“Much appreciated but do you have any idea what this is putting me through? I know she’s your wife or daughter or something, but think about it, bubba.”

“Yes, I’m thinking. Again, very sorry. How about free egg roll next time?”

He wasn’t getting it but it wasn’t his fault. He had probably been back in an office running an adding machine the whole time and wearing some kind of visor. I didn’t even call the time I got the fortune cookie that had no fortune in it, and that had given rise to the kind of spiritual crisis that at one time involved vultures and hairshirts.

“How about free egg roll next two times,” I suggested. The universe helps those who help themselves.

“Ok,” the woman said. The man must’ve given her the phone and gone back to his closet. “Free egg roll next two time.”

“Yes. Thank you,” I said. “Pork.”

I bet that tiny office was full of steam from the kitchen and he wore one of those old-timey green visors to keep it out of his eyes.

“Okay thank you for calling bye-bye,” she said in her fast voice and hung up before I could answer.

I felt a little bad. Just last December when I was going in there three, four times a week she gave me a 2020 calender for being “best customer, and nice.” I’d gladly give that screwy calendar back for some fucking religious tolerance. I know they’re all godless communists over there but this is America and how hard is it to just drop one single fucking cookie in the bag?

* * *

Third time turned out to be the charm and I watched my eight views of the Prius stopping at the end of the driveway, watched the girl walk up to the house, drop the food on the doorstep from knee-height, ring the doorbell, and head back for her car, all the while talking on the phone. Fucking soup container had a hairline crack so I left it in the bag. I was going to call them about the soup when I finished eating but the fortune distracted me.

“Listen to a voice from your past,” I read on the small strip of paper while I chewed crunchy orange-flavored weirdness. There was energy in that admonishment. I sensed something major incoming and I was right. Not two days later, a girl I dated in high school who was now a divorced real estate agent sent me a magnetic calendar for my refrigerator, so I obeyed the universe and went to her office. She was in a cubicle playing solitaire on the computer. She had a bit of double chin now and short hair and kind of shapeless in the body but not fat at all. Just kind of straight and slim and soft. Her name was June Verser but I always called her “Junie Bug” not knowing much back then but now I could see it. Junie Verser. Junieverse. Was this what it was all about? So much that is hidden will eventually be made known if you trust the plan, if you have enough wits about you to read direct mail from the universe.

“I got your note,” I said after pleasantries. She seemed confused. “The calendar,” I added.

“Honey, I sent those to everyone in y’all’s zip code. That’s why they’re marked ‘Res-i-dent’.”

“Fortune cookies don’t lie, girl,” I told her. “I’ll pick you up at seven.”

She seemed hesitant at first and got quiet thinking on it, so I passed the time looking around her cubicle to get eyes off her and make her more comfortable. She had a few pictures scattered about. Mostly pets, it looked like. One old, fuzzy computer paper photo of her on a cruise with her parents was tacked up on the gray fabric wall above a row of binders kept standing by two large ceramic cat bookends on her desktop. She was tapping the rim of her coffee cup while she thought about my invite. Her nails were painted black except the index on both hands was zebra-striped. Then she put her hands together like she was praying.

“Yeah I reckon,” she said in her Junieverse voice. She was also staring at the bookends. “It would be good to catch up.”

* * *

I showed up fashionably late with flowers I picked up from a street vendor. I had to drive some thirty-seven miles out of my way until I found one because one of my fortunes from a long time ago read, “The longer the distance, the more precious the gift,” and I had yet to make good on that one but with Junie the universe had finally made it all clear. Good thing I’d found it in my wallet even thought it was stained with soy sauce and hard to read. 

She smelled the flowers, then held them out for me to smell.

“Nice,” I said.

“I haven’t had flowers in a long time.”

“Hungry then?”

“Starved,” she said.

“Where to?” I asked.

“Oh I just love Chinese food.”

Chinese food. Of course! This was it. All paths led here. I wouldn’t rush it though. I won’t pop the question until the third or fourth date.

“How about Empress of China?” she said.

Empress. Of China. That Cantonese whorehouse! “What’re you trying to do, seduce and convert me?”

“Convert?” she said. “To what?”

“Who sent you?”

“You did,” she said. “When you came to my office.”

“The Empress is a false prophet,” I said.

“I don’t know about that. I love their sweet and sour pork,” she said.

“Sweet and sour is an abomination. I only eat Kung Pao.”

“They have that too,” she said excitedly, almost giggling.

“Apostasy. They water down their menus to collect false profits.”

“Calm down, man,” she said. “It’s just food.”

“And you’re just the whore of Babylon,” I said. I snatched the flowers back and threw them in the storm sewer. The universe doesn’t promise easy answers. If I drove fast I could just make it to China Bee before they closed. I needed direction. Guidance, and I’m their best customer. They said so. When I left the parking lot and turned onto Main Street, I could see her in the rear view mirror staring at her palm and swiping with that hideous zebra finger. 

These whores and their phones. 

###

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The Misfit caught up with the grandmother on a dirt road in South Georgia.

The only real difference between “A Good Man is Hard to Find” and National Lampoon’s “Vacation” is the illusory theme park ending and maybe Christie Brinkley. The reality is that John Candy killed the Griswolds, killed them all, then drank their blood and curled up for a nap in a rollercoaster car. He gets a life sentence being studied by frauds who pretend his brain is some kind of worm farm so they don’t have to work for a living which turns us round back to the actual reason why the Misfit killed the grandmother in the first place.

She would have been a good woman if it had been someone there to shoot her for Instagram every minute of her life.

Parking Lot

Around the edges toward the back is where divorcees and never-marrieds change diapers on the tailgate while exchanging kids for the week.

Arguments over weekend schedules and car-seat ownership bloom from empty baby wipe packages but the grocery is right there

where it all started. Rushed window fog undressing. Rent-a-cop scooter headlights while sweat dripped on ripped upholstery.

It was the best sex they ever had.

The Samurai: Race Riot Retribution

Note: This is a preview of The Samurai’s return. Going forward his exploits and adventures will be exclusive to The PunchRiot Magazine.

“Death to fascists! Death to fascists!” chanted the youngsters wearing hoods and marching with raised fists down Main Street. They flooded into the intersection at First Avenue where a wall of law enforcement officers in full riot gear stood alongside an armored vehicle with a loudspeaker announcing that the event had been declared a riot and ordering the crowd to disperse. The effect of the combined noise of the crowd and the police only made the rioting teens and twenty-somethings raise their voices and shout louder. This drowned out the high-pitched scream of the Kawasaki and its helmeted rider speeding up Main Street from the opposite direction, his relaxed silhouette dark against a low, full moon on the rise and the flames of burning storefronts far behind him.

Nobody heard or saw The Samurai before he was upon them.

The crowd of rioting youths parted as The Samurai reached back over his shoulder and smoothly drew his hickory katana from the scabbard on his back. He maintained speed as he raised the sword with one hand and guided the screaming Kawasaki through the crowd with the other. The distracted and those with slow reflexes suffered the most and would later be treated for bruises, cuts, scrapes where they were caught by a wheel or a boot or an elbow. An unlucky social justice warrior lighting a molotov cocktail near the rear of the crowd cocked his arm to throw the bottle with the flaming wick when The Samurai sped by and expertly flicked the katana against the improvised firebomb.

“FIRE BAD!” yelled The Samurai as his wooden sword knocked it loose. The bottle tumbled from the man’s hand and burst on the ground engulfing the man in flames. He was last seen running in the direction of the police with his hair and ass on fire.

“JUSTICE IS DISH BEST SERVED HOT” yelled The Samurai. Executing a near-perfect kick turn once he was clear of the crowd, he spun back toward the riot where the crowd armed with bottles and bricks advanced on the cops whose backs were turned to them as they put out the molotov specialist’s ass and hair.

“KNOW JUSTICE!” The Samurai shouted as the outstretched katana broke the wrists of several rioters holding blunt force weapons as he sped by. “KNOW PEACE!” The rioting crowd on that side of the street were scattering now, running, looking from right to left and behind for the source of their terror.

Two masked men pulled a thin rope between them in an attempt to clothesline The Samurai, but the rope was yellow and he spotted it immediately. Leaning to his right he turned directly into the unlucky rioter who happened to be on that side, knocking him down. The Samurai stood slightly as he drove over the rioter, breaking his leg and dislocating a shoulder. Once clear of his victim’s head, he spun again in time to see his partner drop the rope and, interestingly, most of his index finger. The unfortunate lad had wound the yellow cord around the finger which had detached from his hand when The Samurai’s handlebars caught the loose end dropped by the rioter he ran over as he spun the motorcycle back toward the crowd.

The man with the severed finger knelt in the street weeping as some of his compatriots shouted curses at the mystery rider from behind a flaming dumpster. Oblivious, or perhaps ignoring them, The Samurai gunned the Kawasaki and the front wheel popped high. He rode the wheelie for half a block before dropping it and speeding past a group of citizens demonstrating their interest in civil rights by looting a drug store on the corner.

Within minutes some video of the incident appeared on various social media sites. Some posts hailed The Samurai as the vigilante “we need right now” while others called him an enemy of the people and a servant of oligarchs and capitalists. The debate on some sites escalated into death threats and one older gent from the southern United States challenging “commie pieces of shit” while invoking Code Duello in the Southern tradition, but nothing ever came of it. In the following days it was widely reported that some young rioters had been treated for serious burns and severed digits. A few charges were even filed, but the matter was soon forgotten and The Samurai was never seen in that jurisdiction again.

Suicide Knob, 1984 – 2024

Suicide Knob, 1984
Gray bondo 442
windows down
loose paper swirling in the back seat
night air
honeysuckle and smokestacks
a second skin
Still thirty minutes away from
her tidy brick ranch with
sagging gutters and cracked roof tiles–
well past curfew

the chainsmoker

hair in curlers
watching the street
while slender cheesecake thighs
peel away from my black vinyl seats
and she crushes tight against my shoulder
at fifty-seven miles per hour
like I’m the strongest magnet
like I’m a superhero
that will keep her safe at any speed

Who knows the lost glory

of wide-open bench seat handjobs
on an open road at night
“Eruption” live bootleg in the speakers
glass pack percussion–
I listen to the music but not to her

One sweaty hand high up her thigh,

one on that silver skull, that suicide knob
fingering both
figuring both out

We see the other more clearly than we see ourselves

Suicide Knob, 1994

The Olds has been tarped a while. Never did paint it.

Sometimes I flip that tarp and get behind the wheel, one leg out the door and my foot on the dirt, and I race my after-dinner beers to that line between cold and warm while she puts the baby down.

The baby. That smell is a shiver down my spine. She’s a brand new start like the beginning or the end of the world. I know I would do anything for her or even for the sake of her but when she looks up at me I hear a loose screen door slapping its frame and I’m already crushed by all the ways she will hurt.

I lift that can and swallow more beer while it’s still cooler than it’s fixing to be. Moonlight paints the hood to where I peeled the tarp back and shines on the suicide knob, that flaking chrome skull grinning like Dirty Harry, flecks of dried teenage blood still in one eye socket from way back when I got rear-ended and broke a tooth one night after I dropped her off on my way to see a different girl.

She shows up in one of my undershirts and her flip-flops holding the baby monitor by the antenna like she might take off any second and leave it in the dirt. She sits on my outside leg, that shirt high up her thighs and puts her head on my shoulder, drops the monitor on the seat, squirms on my leg as a kind of shortcut way of saying the night is young and so are we for a little while longer. Her nipples are hard and so am I but we just sit there hearing crickets and frogs and those small breaths on the monitor all together like a roomful of ticking clocks.

“Dishwasher’s broke,” she says in her staring across the lake voice just as I’m telling myself I’m gonna swallow the last of this hot beer and fuck her good and paint this vehicle soon and see my little girl down the aisle one day, but I don’t move and she don’t move and it’s only that beer can between my legs. I told her once that love and time only meet to kill the other off but we were kids then and this ain’t bad.

She cooks good and never tells me no.

Suicide Knob, 2004

The boy pushes the wrench to me. I tell him to quit scraping it on the concrete and I reach out from under the 442 to take it. It’s the wrong one, but he’s eight. I say “thanks, buddy” and make like I’m using it for something important then push it back out. I turn my head and see him crouch down to pick it up then a loud clank as he drops it in the toolbox. Someday when this car is his I’ll tell him he was made in the back seat on a moonlit night while his sister slept in the house and I thought about running off. Thought seriously about it. I’ll leave out the part where we were listening to her on the baby monitor while we did it. Maybe I’ll leave out everything except the fact of it.

His sister is eleven now and can’t decide whether she wants to work on cars with me or trade manicures with her mom. She’s been sticking with mom more lately. Her brother tells her girls aren’t supposed to work on cars as if he was born knowing how to rile her and she was born needing to be riled.

I keep it to myself but I feel better when she chooses manicures. There’s been something off with her mom so at least I know when the girl is with her I figure she can’t be up to no good. I think that. My cousin’s wife used to carry their kids up to church and sign them in to mother’s day out then go fuck the music minister at a motel by the interstate. But I don’t fixate. Too many bills to pay for me to worry and it’s not like I haven’t had side pieces. Who has time and energy for one woman much less others you have to keep happy and secret and remember who you’re with when you wake up and it’s dark. There’s always that one-bang waitress for the twentieth time. You never have to call her and she’s always there.

“We should paint the car blue,” the boy says. I can hear him spinning the ratchet. I can’t see him but one of his favorite weekend habits is snapping on a deep plug socket and then spinning the handle as fast as he can. Once he wasn’t paying attention and the handle popped him on the cheekbone right after he said “I’m a helicopter.” He looked stunned and cried a little until I laughed and said I’d done that too. He did his best to turn that cry into a laugh and I sent him inside to get me a fresh beer but he never came out with the beer. Mama saw his swelled up cheek and kept him. Later on I told her to cut that shit out knowing there’s no way she ever would.

Blue would work. Or black. Maybe silver or gray. Saw in the paper where General Motors is shutting down Oldsmobile this month after a hundred something years, put out of business by imports and younger generations who think V8 is a shitty drink in a can. Never seen a bench seat or heard an honest-to-god four barrel carburetor open up. Dipshits who think they’re saving the planet by a lawn mower without a blade. Now I’m the one who doesn’t belong, just an old fuck with an old car.

Once I got her out from under the tarp and running proper again I took her down the highway and opened her up good out in the county. Sure blew out some carbon that day. Made those glasspacks roar like Godzilla in a shape note choir.

Sheriff passed me going the other way and never even turned. Probably glad to hear a real motor for a change. Damn good for me too cause I had beer in the cooler and one between my legs. Got to love county mounties. State cop would’ve nailed my ass.

I slide out. The boy is waiting by the driver’s door. When he was five he tried to climb up into the car while it was up on ramps and I was still underneath. I got mighty hot with him over that, more than I should’ve but I didn’t want him to have to live with that. Getting crushed or my arm torn off would’ve been bad, too.

“Can I race now, daddy?” I look over and nod and he climbs in, sits forward as far as he can, one hand tight on the Hurst shifter, the other on the suicide knob. The boy gets that serious look on his face and I smile at him. He sees me and grins back and so does that old silver skull.

Sometimes I catch him picking at the flaking chrome.

Suicide Knob, 2014

My daughter’s bare feet rest on the seat back between my son who’s driving and me riding shotgun. It’s a Tuesday in early Fall and the interstate south of Montgomery is wide open, practically deserted. I sip my water and watch the trees along the roadway reflect in the glossy clear coat on the midnight blue hood of the 442. Finally painted her after almost thirty years when my son turned sixteen. Everything’s cherry now except that old, chipped suicide knob. The boy drove it for eighteen months and never took it off. Then once he’d saved enough at his various jobs, he bought the truck he’d always wanted. He’s headed for basic training in a few weeks so he wanted to be the one driving down to the Gulf one more time for this long weekend before he has to report. The girl never wanted to drive it but made me teach her then just complained about how the Hurst shifter works but she was talking to me so I never cared. She comes back to me more now.

“I want to drive for a while,” she says.

“No one wants to hear you complain about the shift,” my son says.

“I still need to be able to drive it,” she says. “Just in case.”

“In case of what?” he asks, laughing. “You just want to be the cool girl who knows how to do everything.”

But she never cared about how it worked or about being the cool girl. She just wanted to know me, and to understand how my son knows me.

We cut the music off and put the windows down to catch some airflow. It’s still just warm enough and the air whips through making talking difficult which is fine by me. We said most of what we had to say the first hour and a half. Talked ourselves out. My phone beeps and I check it. Email. Wife’s lawyer finally sending the papers. My son hits my shoulder and I look up. I’m pushing this down. Deep.

“Read that shit later,” he said. “We got nothing but time.”

Can he see it in my fucking posture?

My heart is broken for these kids. They’d made it through some bad years and assumed nothing but blue skies ahead. But the world doesn’t quit spinning out of spite or pity. It keeps pushing the future at you. If my daughter sees me the least bit shaky, she cries or gets angry.

When I wake up the air is salty and see we are winding down the peninsula to our neighbor’s beach house. That neighbor couple is older than me. The boy and I have always helped them out with their vehicles and big projects, and they’ve always given us some time at the beach in their old shack. We’ve helped keep that up, too.

We keep fishing gear there and the gulf always feeds us. Whiting. Redfish. Pompano. The occasional flounder. We’ve been coming here near twenty years but were never just three before. I wonder if my wife knows what she’s missing or what she’s giving up.

“Home sweet home away from home,” my son says right on cue. He parks in the shade under the house and pops the trunk. We get out and I stretch. The gulf tide laps the shore forty yards away and I can see the setting sun on the dark shiny trunk lid.

Suicide Knob, 2024

I left town after the divorce, intending to make it back one day, but the boy stayed deployed most of the year, every year, and the girl married her college boyfriend right after graduation. He is a successful college basketball coach and they moved every few years as he kept winning and better job offers came in. So the 442 and I got to see most of the country together and alone.

It wasn’t my first choice for this part of my life, but it sure as hell hasn’t been a bad second choice. Use your imagination.

I’m meeting the boy in Atlanta, at the airport. He’s done contracting, done operating. We’re going to spend the night then road trip up to Boston where my daughter and son-in-law just brought my third grandson into the world. My ex moved there so I might run into her. Haven’t seen her since the last birth. She started gaining weight and I think drinking a lot after the divorce and probably hasn’t stopped. It’s impossible not to care at all, but I don’t care much. Besides, I’ve got a year left, maybe two. The kids don’t know but I will tell them this week. I’ve been putting it off since the first tests came back positive four months ago. I’ve been waiting for the right time but there isn’t one. When we were teenagers everything was about pushing through today to get to what’s next. There was always something else down the road and getting there took forever. Now there’s just Forever. Capital F.

People are pouring off that steep escalator between the two baggage claims but I see him immediately. He walks with purpose and no presumption and the crowd just parts for him. The truth is that I’m just glad he’s alive because he and his sister are my favorite people.

We hug and walk to the parking deck. I pull the key fob and hit the unlock button, and the car beeps. My son smiles, pulls that old suicide knob out of his pocket and holds it up.

“This thing has seen four continents,” he says.

I laugh. “Can’t believe you didn’t lose it in the sandbox.”

He hands it to me.

“No,” I say. “It’s yours. Do what you want with it.”

He says, “Are you sure?” I say I definitely am and he closes it in his fist, shoves it in his pocket. He’s looking around for the 442.

“Here,” I say as I point my key gadget at a shiny black Yukon and take his bag as the locks pop.

“What the fuck?” he asks. “Where’s the Olds?”

“In your pocket,” I tell him and toss his bag in. “Sold the rest last year. A doctor who had one when he was sixteen.”

“Well…shit,” he says.

Two days later we stop off in the District of Columbia for a couple days to take a driving break and to see some of his operator buddies. On our last night there we go for dinner at a crab house on the water in Maryland. We wait for our table out on the old deck, standing at the railing and looking out over the water and watching the sun set.

The boy pulls the suicide knob from his pocket.

“You don’t want this back?” he asks. “You’re sure.”

“It’s all yours.”

Without saying a word he cocks his arm back and throws it far and high over the water. I watch the long arc it makes. I remember how heavy it was and how I raised a blood blister with the pliers when I first clamped it on the wheel of the Olds. I remember the half-grin, half grimace and how she thought it was cool and used to call it The Terminator.  I remember how my mom hated it and my dad never said anything about it at all. I remember how it fascinated my son every time he got in the car. I remember because I taught him to drive. I remember and so does he.

The Manchurian Feminist

Bob Hogewood greeted his daughter’s future in-laws then eased into the empty leather chair next to the one his wife occupied. Jane Hogewood shot her husband a disapproving look.

“Well it certainly looks as if we might enjoy very tall grandchildren!” Glenn Baker said as he sized-up Bob and smiled broadly. “You must be six-foot-two.”

“Six-four, actually,” Bob said. “But please, don’t let my lateness interrupt the festivities.”

“As I was saying, Molly was raised to be a very traditional girl,” Jane explained to Glenn, his wife Millicent, and their son, Breck, who was sitting odd-man-out on the love seat watching the older couples interact. “Yes, we are a very traditional family,” Jane continued. She raised her hand slightly keeping it close to her shoulder. “Guilty as charged, haha. Very traditional. Some in the community have had a problem with that. Even some from our church. As a very active real estate agent and member of the Million Dollar Club, I end up hearing simply everything through the grapevine. You’d be surprised.”

“Yes, well, I’m not at all surprised,” said Glenn as he clapped his son on the back. “Times have certainly changed and Breck, well, let’s just say he has not always been so circumspect in his choice of female companions. Have you Old Sport? In this case, however, we could not be more delighted by his choice. Molly is a wonderful girl and we just think the world of her.”

“Thank you, Glenn. That means a lot,” said Bob just as Molly returned and began handing out glasses of iced tea and small napkins to help them hold the sweating glasses.

“Oh my aren’t these just lovely,” Millicent said. “Crystal?”

“Yes,” said Jane. “Antique. Passed down three generations of Bob’s family. We are the fourth, and Molly’s family will become the fifth.”

“Someday,” Bob said.

Brief chuckles all around.

“The etching is beautiful,” said Millicent. “Just lovely. We’ve traveled, and I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Thank you, Millicent,” said Bob. “All of my brothers and sisters wanted it, but since I was the oldest sibling, it passed directly to Jane and I.”

“What a great story,” Millicent said. “And please, call me Millie.”

Bob smiled and raised his glass. “Well then, cheers Millie.”

“So what did I miss while I was in the kitchen?” Molly asked.

“Just that your prospective in-laws think very highly of you, as we do of their son,” said Bob.

Molly beamed. “The feeling is quite mutual.”

“You know,” said Jane, “since Molly is our only child we have always supported her dreams and fancies, and were thrilled when she said she intended to go to medical school and work with missionaries and Doctors Without Datelines. We felt it is such a noble calling.”

“We have decided that plan is not consistent with what we envision going forward,” Breck said. “We both think that Molly is of far more value to our domestic future. She will be a fine wife and great mother for me and our children.”

“Children, eventually, right,” Bob said. “Surely you’re going to give it time. Make sure you’re stable financially. Make sure things, well, work out.”

“We understand your concern,” Breck said. “But we believe in each other.”

Bob looked at them and paused noticeably before replying. “Molly’s mother and I are a bit surprised thought that things seem to be moving along so fast. Won’t things be a bit challenging with both of you having almost two years of college to finish?”

“Oh, that won’t be an issue, sir,” Breck said. “College was never for me. I never matriculated and Molly will be quitting in order to get the homestead in order.”

Jane Hogewood perked up at this. “Homestead?” she asked. “But what about your degree, dear? And we were under the impression that you both were in school pursuing degrees.”

“No ma’am. Molly will be putting what she’s learned to good use managing the kitchen and the garden,” Breck said as Molly crossed the room and sat next to him on the loveseat.

Jane’s face brightened. “You could always join me in the real estate biz,” she said. “I’ll teach you everything I know.”

“Mama, I don’t think you understand–“

“We appreciate that offer, Mrs. Hogewood,” Breck said. “We will let you know if that becomes a favorable option for us.”

Bob gazed at Breck as though he were an animal he’d never seen before. He shook himself as Glenn began to speak.

“Well it certainly sounds like you kids have this all figured out,” Glenn said. “We wish you all the best. Just all the best.” He turned and saluted Bob with his highball glass. “Don’t we, old man?”

“We certainly do,” Bob said, “But I do have some questions. We’ve already invested two years in Molly’s degree. We have always viewed this as an important investment in Molly’s future so that she’s not too dependent on a husband. I mean, we’re thrilled at her choice, but life being what it is…And don’t you think it would be wise for someone in the family to finish college?”

“Now see here,” Glenn Baker said. He began rising slightly until Millicent put her hand on his thigh.

Breck smiled. “Please, Dad, allow me to address this. I will take good care of your daughter, sir,” he said. “Like no one ever has or will.”

“I’m sure you fully intend to, young man. But…” Bob said, his face becoming blotchy, flushed. Jane slipped her hand on the back of his neck and stroked it with her fingers as Bob addressed his daughter. “Is this really what you want, sweetheart?”

“I defer to Breck,” she said.

Everyone shifted in their seats and reached for their sweating tea glasses. Everyone except Breck. “I have more to say to the family,” he said, “whilst you all drink this magnificent tea, lovingly prepared.”

Bob perked up at this and said, “You’ve set a date already, haven’t you. Haven’t you.”

Breck smiled. “No sir. Not exactly,” he said with what appeared to be genuine warmth. He then stood and addressed the group with his back very straight, his head very high. “We’ve married. Several weeks ago. Allow me to present the beautiful Mrs. Breck Baker. My forever wife, and, I’m delighted to finally announce, soon-to-be mother of the first child in our families’ continuing lineage.”

Molly turned to each set of parents, smiling. “I’m so proud to finally tell you,” she said.

“We understand this is sudden,” Breck continued. “But my little kitten here and I just, well, decided it was time.”

All four parents went somewhat stiff at this. Their eyes darted back and forth among their respective child’s prospective in-laws and each other. Jane wept openly. Millicent took deep breaths. Bob slumped against the sofa back with a sunken chest.

Glenn broke the silence. “So, when is this little blessing due?” he asked.

“Seven months,” Breck said. “And no, so far we don’t want to know what it is. We’re just happy to be blessed with the first of seven or eight children, and to be able to get started right away.”

Preoccupied as they all were, no one noticed Bob’s red face, the twitch in his eye, the prominent veins on his neck like steel cables binding cord wood under tension.

Bob looked down and shook his head. “This is not the plan,” he said under his breath. “This was never the plan. It’s not too late to–to do something about it!”

The Bakers turned towards Bob, their eyes wide in horror.

“Daddy!” shouted Molly.

No one noticed that his large hand, wrapped around the glass of tea, was shaking. Before anyone addressed his comment, Bob yelled “Motherfucker!” and leapt to his feet. In one smooth, violent gesture, his left arm whipped forward sending one antique fourth-generation crystal highball glass against the stone fireplace where it exploded in a shower of jagged shards and bursts of sweet tea. Shocked out of their respective reveries, everyone’s eyes widened as Bob launched himself across the coffee table. “Motherfucker!” he yelled again as he fell against Breck knocking him back onto the loveseat as Molly scrambled out of the way. Then Bob Hogewood, father of Molly, husband of Jane, deacon of his church and five-time salesman of the year began swinging his massive fists in loose, wide arcs like an enraged lesser primate at his son-in-law’s head.

Glenn pounced on Bob and attempted to pry the much bigger man off of his boy whose right eye was already swelling shut above the flap of skin that had been opened just below his cheekbone. Blood gushed first from Breck’s cheek and eventually from his swollen, broken nose.

“Daddy!” Molly shouted as the three men fell across the coffee table and she kicked at their legs to try and separate them as Millie Baker ran from the room. “Mother!”

Jane held a highball glass loosely in each hand as she stared at the shimmering destruction about the fireplace.

“They really are such lovely glasses,” she said.

###

Insomnia

If I gave you chlamydia
Would you give me your heart
Would you do all my laundry
And cook for me sometimes

If it turned out to be syphillis
Could you ever forgive me
Could you still wash my car
And tell your sister I’m sorry

If you give me Corona
Should I ask how you got it
Should I ask where your mask is
And if your stepmom has herpes

The Clit Cam

Callie spread her legs and lay back in the chair watching the widescreen monitor high on the opposite wall. When the doctor said “Voila” from somewhere beneath the canopy of her exam gown stretched over her knees, the empty screen on the wall filled with random pulsating pixels until the face of Dr. Goncalves, squatting between her thighs, smiled and waved at her from the screen across the room.

She shivered as his thumb brushed her clitoris.

“Sorry about that,” came the muffled voice below the gown and between her legs. “Need a few more drops of silicone on your eye. Er, camera eye.”

Callie could see by his concerned expression as he stood up and stretched that the doctor was sincere.

“Some awkwardness is the price of progress,” Goncalves said.

“No pain, no gain,” Callie said. “I understand.”

Goncalves produced a small, thin device and handed it to Callie.

“This is your remote,” he said, “and there’s a duplicate in your information packet. The battery life of the bio-mechanical implant is about five years. As discussed, this device actually recharges from energy generated by your body. Eventually, though, you will have to come in for a full recharge or replacement.”

“How will I know that the battery is going out?”

“An excellent question, to be sure. The battery light on the face of that remote will light up. That means that with minimal use, you have about three weeks before it dies. But as I said, it’s all very imprecise when it comes to batteries and how the device harnesses energy from the body to maintain the charge. And I’m just a lowly surgeon, not a technology geek,” he said.

They chuckled together as equals.

“What kind of mobile device do you own?” the doctor asked.

“Apple,” she said. “iPhone.”

“The manufacturer does offer an app that you can download which will also control the unit and make it easier to send pictures or video directly to you phone. But again–“

“You’re not a nerd! I get it,” Callie said. “How about the camera? Anything special I should know?”

“Not really,” Goncalves said. “It’s some kind of wide view fiber optic that protrudes just under your clitoral hood.”

“Will men–will my boyfriend feel it when he penetrates me?”

“It is certainly possible,” the doctor said. “And I am unfamiliar with the laws of your country so you must investigate if recording someone during such activities is against your laws.”

“I think I’m well within my rights. A girl can’t be too careful these days. And besides, I’ll just tell th–him that it’s a new piercing.”

“Yes, well, we must certainly crack some eggs if we are to make the omelette, no?”

“What about my eggs?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing at all.”

She then looked up at Dr. Goncalves the way she looked at every man she wanted something from. “Well I sure do wish my boyfriend had come with me,” she said. “I’m dying to give this a try, even if it were just with his finger.”

“That is truly, truly a shame,” the doctor said as he felt an erection coming on. “Please check with our business office about final payment, and accept my warmest wishes for safe travels back to America.”

He left the room so fast it was as though he’d never been there.

***

Months later, Dr. Goncalves sat in a conference room with his business partners drinking coffee and smoking Cohibas. A monitor on the wall was tuned to an American news channel where his former patient Callie announced she was bringing suit against a South American healthcare electronics company, and investigating a classmate. “He hacked my clit’s live feed and streamed it to a website called CalliesClitCam.us” where the engorged penises of at least twenty different men were all timestamped entering her within a six week span.

“Are we vulnerable on this, Raul?” a gray-haired man standing near the monitor asked.

“Not at all,” Raul said. “Not even if they find the kid who did this and figure it all out. Our tech is solid. No tech is, shall we say…impenetrable.”

The men laughed.

“You said you had a promising startup seeking investment or acquisition,” the gray-haired man said. “What of that?”

“His name is Anderssen. A Mr. Tomas Anderssen,” Raul said. “He claims to have developed a condom with a tiny fiber optic camera in the base which can be paired with mobile devices to record simultaneous audio. He assures us it will greatly reduce false rape accusations and will revolutionize the industry.

“Yes,” Goncalves said, clearly impressed. “That would sell billions of units. Market penetration would be…deep. Very deep.”

They all laughed again as Goncalves opened a decanter of scotch.

###