Locator

A white gob on my truck’s glossy black hood. Bird shit. Crow shit. Hear him cawing at me from the tall pine trees behind my driveway—

While turkey hunting I’ve blown a crow call hoping for shock gobbles, hoping to force some big old tom into giving himself away. Rarely happens. Old turkeys and old bucks didn’t get that way by being conspicuous. That’s what the young are for.

Crow. Peckerwood. Owl. Coyote. Another turkey’s gobble. These are locator calls and they sometimes work.

Except with crows. Blow a crow call, it’s usually just crows that answer. Wild turkeys don’t read hunting magazines—

I hose off my hood, wipe the white shit away with a shop towel then go for my .22, the old Ruger I’ve had since I was twelve, knowing the crow will be quiet when I return.

He’ll see me but I won’t see him.

###

Thirteen Ways of Looking at Your Job Through Your Employer’s Video Surveillance Equipment

(with apologies to Wallace Stevens)

I
Among twenty gray cubicles
The only moving thing
Was the ceiling-mounted camera.

II
I saw three cameras
But more importantly
They saw me.

III
A camera whirred high up in the corner of the ceiling.
It was not conspicuous.

IV
A male co-worker and a female co-worker
Become one.
A male co-worker and a female co-worker and a video camera
Become one big HR problem.

V
I can’t decide what’s better,
The beauty of the double-entendre
Or the beauty of my intern’s fun bags,
The video camera’s rusty hinge squeaking
Or knowing it’s going to squeak.

VI
A small bird flew into the round window
And left a bloody smear.
The shadow of the video camera
Swept the window, back and forth.
The mood
Of the office:
The exhaustion of doom.

VII
O husky Harpies of HR,
How do you imagine your golden years?
Do you not see how the video camera
Whirls above the heads
Of the men who ignore you?

VIII
I hear lofty pronouncements
Of interpersonal cautions at regular intervals;
But I also hear
The ceiling-mounted camera
Turning towards me.

IX
When the southwest camera was removed for repair,
It marked anonymity
In one office quadrant.

X
At the sight of surveillance cameras
Covering all public spaces,
Even the prophets of misandry
Would spontanesouly combust.

XI
He banged a chick in Connecticut
In the back of his Trans-Am.
At one point, he worried
That he mistook her large clitoris
For a penis,
And the shadow of flying blackbirds
For video cameras catching it all.

XII
The people are working.
The video cameras must be working.

XIII
It was a long day
The longest,
All day long
And no one was leaving early.
The video cameras hung
From every corner.

Manifold Density

The old limits are gone. Even the spectrum is magic the first time. Then it’s science and all sinks in. You can reinvent the wheel, but light is light.

You can tell a better story, but history happened. It passes through. Lingers. Manifests.

Window. Lens. Prism.

But what of the pier glass?

Put the top down and hang a right. Catch your destiny in the windshield or the rear view. Drive until you see cactus. Then keep driving.

###

Suicide Knob

The Oldsmobile’s been tarped a while. Never did paint it.

Sometimes I flip that tarp and get in her, one leg out the door and my foot on the dirt, racing my after-dinner beers to that jumpy line between one more and too many while she puts the baby down.

The baby. My little girl. The baby smell of her puts a shiver down my spine. She’s like the beginning or the end of the world. I know I would do anything for her or for the sake of her but when she cries or even looks at me I’m like a screen door slapping on a rusty hinge and I’m already crushed by all the ways she will hurt.

I lift the can and drink while it’s still almost cool. Moonlight paints the hood and shines on the suicide knob, that flaking chrome skull with the Dirty Harry grin, flecks of dried teenage blood still in one eye socket from the year I got rear-ended and broke a tooth one night after I dropped her off on my way to see a different girl. One of a thousand things I never told her.

She shows up in dollar store flip-flops wearing my undershirt like a dress and pinching the baby monitor by the antenna like she might take off any second and just drop 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—some kind of shortcut way of saying the night is young. It gets me hard but we’re tired so we just sit there hearing crickets and frogs and those small breaths on that baby speaker all together like a roomful of ticking clocks.

“Dishwasher’s broke I think,” she says in that staring across the lake voice but instead of really listening I’m telling myself to swallow the last of this not cold beer and bounce her on my dick real good, and then to paint this old vehicle someday before I have to take my little girl down some aisle somewhere, but I don’t move and she don’t move and it’s only a beer can rubbing between my legs.

I told her once I thought love and time only meet to kill the other off, or some shit like that, but we were kids then and this ain’t bad. She cooks good and never tells me no.

A Mexican standoff with tits and ass

At twelve years old I saw my first tit in the flesh. It belonged to the the thirteen year old babysitter of a friend’s infant sister. It was 1979 and she came in hot with a full bush she showed us, too. Of course we pulled our pants down. We were Southern gentlemen in progress.

Facing each other, frozen, unclear protocols and how to get there from here.

Then she quickly fixed her top, pulled up her jeans and left the room. The baby was crying. I covered back up quickly, too, and ran home.

We all had bikes then but didn’t ride them. We walked everywhere but with energy to burn we ran while we could. Ran everywhere. Walked only when we tired from running.

###

American Romance

We threw darts until our shoulders hurt, drank until our livers lagged behind one long night of vomit and piss. I didn’t hold your hair. You didn’t call me “Sugar.”

I might have got you pregnant but I didn’t get you off. It was awkward. We reconnected over breakfast.

I barely noticed your lazy eye, didn’t even mind that you were almost blonde.

###

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.