The Skeleton in the Taxi

The Division Head in the private school where I taught was very adamant.

“All this stuff has to go, Pat.  Everything you don’t use in a year should be cleaned out.”

I looked around the Middle School lab and began to make mental notes of what needed to be tossed.  The chemicals, of course, had to be disposed of in Hazardous Waste bags.  The old equipment that had been sitting in the cabinets before I came to join the faculty was outdated and clearly obsolete.  Technology had changed the nature of a school science lab in just a few years.  Sure, we would always use test tubes and beakers, but old dusty kits of projects whose educational value was obscure, had to go.

It was then that my eyes fell on Seymour.  He hung, silently, on a metal rack facing the student tables.  I felt sorry for Seymour, he had his own special corner of the lab to himself for decades.  He had to go.  His educational potential was spent.  For years, the students (mostly 8th grade boys) would abuse him.  And, he was helpless to prevent this bullying.  Someone stuck his thin finger into his nose.  Another someone placed his hand over his pubic area.  His toes and feet had suffered being stepped upon by the passing students for years. More than once he was found by me to have something between his teeth that was either obscene or downright goofy.  Sometimes, I thought it was funny, but other times I would just shake my head and return his hands to his original position…by his side, like a doorman of an apartment building of this wealthy part of the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Seymour, you see, was a skeleton.  Not a real skeleton, mind you, but a plastic model colored to look real.

But, he had to go.

I just couldn’t see myself putting Seymour out with the rest of the detritus.  No, I had formed an attachment of sorts with him and I couldn’t put him curbside like so many girlfriends had done to me.  He deserved better.  I went to the Division Head and asked if she would approve the purchase of a new skeleton.  She agreed.  I then popped the question.

“Could I have Seymour?”

“Whatever,” she said, not looking up from her paperwork.

I called my wife and broached the subject.  She asked, rather directly, if I thought we had room in our one bedroom apartment for a life-sized skeleton.  I thought about it.  She was right.  On the one hand, it would be an interesting conversational piece over wine and cheese.  On the other hand, once the conservation ended, having the likeness of a dead person standing quietly in the corner could be a little off-putting.

Now, my son, Brian, lived in Binghamton.  He was in sixth grade and attended a public school.  I knew public schools were always having budget issues and within minutes I had a plan to have Seymour continue to “live” on in upstate New York.

I called Brian and asked him to check with his science teacher to find out if he would appreciate such a donation.  He did and the teacher did so it was a done deal.

Now the problem was to get Seymour out of the school and across town to our apartment for the eventual trip to Binghamton.

I hailed a taxi and told the driver to hold at the front door while I went back into school to fetch the bones.  I came out the front door pulling Seymour like a prom date on an IV drip.  I placed him next to me on the rear seat.  No trunk for Seymour.  That was a little to “mob” like for an educational tool.

The driver kept eyeing me through his rear view mirror.

“So, whose your friend, pal?” he asked with a smirk.

“Seymour,” I said.

“Hey, Seymour,” he said.  “Had a bad day, I see.”

I pushed the plexiglass sliding door closed.  I didn’t want Seymour to have to deal with off-handed remarks from a cabbie from Queens.  Knowing that my boney friend only had a view of the East River and the north tip of Roosevelt Island for many years, I decided to point out some of the interesting sights on the way home.  It’s about time he saw the city.

“Look, guy, there’s the Metropolitan Museum, this is Fifth Avenue.  Remember the song, “On The Avenue, Fifth Avenue?”.

Somewhere halfway across Central Park, he nodded off.

Seymour’s head tilted to my shoulder.  I put my arm around his bony back and held him tight so he would survive the sharp turns of the taxi.

The driver turned his radio volume up.

Harry Nilsson was singing “Everybody’s Talkin’ At Me.”

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A Missing Image But Still A Memory

 

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The photographic frame, measuring 3″x5″ sat on the flat surface of the headstone.

It’s a small quiet Catholic cemetery on the edges of the village of Saranac Lake, New York.  The winter snow was gone but no grass or Spring flowers had the courage, or time, to begin their life again.  Cemeteries are full of living, growing entities.  Flowers bloom.  Green turf covers the ground.  In this cemetery, fallen branches from tall pines, still green, sit on the ground.  There are hundreds of pine cones scattered about.

Amid all this growth and life, there are the mute stones that mark the resting places of people who walked the very streets and paths that I stroll.  Each stone has a name or names of those who lay below.  The dates carved into the stones tell the passer-by how long this man, that woman or this child had spent among the living.

Dead flowers, plastic flowers and potted shrubs adorn the stones.  Sometimes at night solar-powered votive lights glow with a spooky aura in the darkness.  Some enterprising funeral-industry worker thought it would be a good idea ($) to get the grieving family to pay for the small lights.  To some driving by after dark, one can perhaps make out Uncle Tony’s grave by the green light by the tree…just there to the left.  To others, like me, it’s a ghostly reminder of the loneliness graveyards can be when the sun sets.

Some stones have elaborate laser etched photo quality images of the couple, a daughter, a son, a grandparent, a set of golf clubs, a guitar, a pickup truck, a semi, a forest scene or the path leading into a setting sun.

This particular stone had a photo mounted in a frame.  The frame was separated from the backing.  The glass was dulled by abrasion and there was no reflection.  And, there was no picture of the deceased.

Who removed the photo?  A vandal? A parent? A sibling? A fiancé? A child?  Perhaps this was the last image…the only surviving image of the departed one.  I’m thinking is was too personal to leave out in the elements and best kept in a pocket, close to the heart.

Someone had the picture.  Someone carried the photo around with them.  They left only a broken frame.  I looked close and could almost see an after-image on the grey glass.  I couldn’t quite make it out.

But, it was of a person who, for years, had his or her likeness visible to anyone who cared to look.

Now, no one can see who lies six feet below the stone.

Only a name, dates and a block of granite are left.  But I did not miss the picture.  Instead, I thought how lucky this person is…to have something as a proxy.

I thought of the millions of people who lie, unmarked, in the soil of war-torn countries, famine stricken regions, roadsides and river bottoms.

The picture may be gone, but something is there for us to see.  Something for us to lay a flower upon.  Something to touch.  A place to pray.

On a morning, celebrating re-birth, I stand and think of these things.

Too many human beings don’t have such a luxury.

I’ll Be There To Catch Your Soul, Cragen

I’ll be there to catch your soul, Cragen.

If only you love me, Claudia.

There is some truth in the short tale I am about to tell.  If you’re from a particular place in New York State, you will know what the true parts are.  If you love wine, you will be able to offer an informed guess on what is real and what is not.  If you appreciate creativity, art, love, tragedy and a life lived to the fullest, the main player(s) will be apparent to you.

This is a fable of a person who can be honestly described as a Renaissance Man.

Once upon a time, on the hills of the Finger Lakes of New York State, there was a moderate sized vineyard.  The wine that was produced was labelled under a well-known brand name, that of the family that owned and operated the acres of grapes.  It was quite successful.  But, after decades, the passing of the older owners led to a decreased profit margin.  Soon, in order to survive, the family had to sell out to Coke Cola, Inc.  They took charge of the winemaking.  The product quality began to lessen, as things like that do when strangers come in to tend the tender grapes.

The oldest son, Walter, grew dissatisfied and began to complain to the giant beverage company.  Nothing came of his many pleas to improve the quality of the wine that was legally being marketed under Walter’s family name.  A lesser man might have taken a buyout and walked out to start over, perhaps in California.  But Walter, who for some reason was known among his intimate circle of friends as Cragen, loved the rolling hills of the Finger Lakes.  So he did what all sons of the soil do, he bought another vineyard and began to produce his own wine…his own way.

There was a problem, though.  He could not legally use his family name of which he was so proud.  So, in the corner of his labels, he printed his name, but left a black rectangular box where his family name would be.  That was legal.

Which brings us to the labels, his labels.  As I said, Walter (Cragen) was a Renaissance Man, he could do many things and do them well.  He was an artist and he used his talent to put his own illustrations on the label.  Some were wood block prints and some were pastels and some were simple illustrations.

After several years, Walter fell in love with a woman he met at a wine-tasting event.  Her name was Claudia.  To celebrate his love for her, he drew a label depicting a man and woman sitting at a table with glasses of wine, some cheese and some crackers.  The quote at the top of this page was drawn in as speech balloons used in comic strips.

Claudia and Cragen lived a full life of travel and culture.  He bought a second home in Florida so he could ride out the harsh winters of upstate New York.  It was near his winter home that tragedy entered the lives of these two people.

Cragen was involved in a car crash.  It wasn’t minor.  It left him a paraplegic.  This once robust man, full of energy, creativity and life, was not bound to a wheelchair.

Did that show Cragen down?  Well, probably a bit, but he went on to gain enough dexterity to continue to paint his labels for his wine.

Claudia passed away a few years after the accident.  Perhaps it was from a broken heart, brought on by seeing your love…your perfect love not whole, but a little broken.  Cragen mourned his loss…and that is where he began to lose interest in the things they had shared.

One afternoon, while Cragen sat in his wheelchair among the rows of grapes and the harvest was nearly over and the leaves of the trees were gold, red and scarlet, Walter saw Claudia standing some distance away.  She was beckoning him as she stood between the plantings.  Cragen grabbed the arms of his chair and stood.  He began to walk toward Claudia as she held out her arms.

Suddenly he felt himself falling…not to the ground but up and through the air.  He was falling up and then down into her waiting arms.

“I told you I would be there to catch your soul, Cragen.”

“You did love me Claudia, you did love me.”

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The Garden of Earthly Deletes

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Her email: I’m sorry about what happened.  Will you forgive me?  Can you forgive me?  Will you let me come back?

My response: No, after what u said before.  If that’s the way u want things to be then don’t come home..stay with u r mom!!

Her email: Please let’s try to work things out.  I love u.

I thought of her and her broken heart…broken so many times by so many guys.

My response: That sounds like total BS to me…but maybe we can meet at the usual place…just to talk. 

My finger wavered over the SEND key.  I hesitated.  My mind was muddy from the back-and-forth emotions of the last few hours.  I moved my hand toward the DELETE key. I thought about her feelings of remorse for a nano-second and then I punched it like I was squashing a malarial Anopheles mosquito.  I was angry at what she had said to me.  A moment passed.  I wasn’t angry anymore.  I wanted to take back the email and reword it into a plea to stay with me.  But I knew it was too late.  Once that rectangular key is pressed, what was, isn’t anymore.  It was like an erasure of a dry marker on a white board.  This momentary spike of anger I felt had vanished.

Like the final email, I had erased her.  I regretted what I had done.  I failed to stem the bleeding from her soul.  I failed her.

I sat and thought about the situation for an hour.  Then I sat down and wrote a message saying I was sorry I told her to go live with her mom.  I pushed SEND this time.  After getting a cold beer from the fridge, I sat back down at the laptop.  I read in disbelief that the email had bounced back to me.  She had closed her account.  She was unavailable.  She was gone.  I had just deleted her from my life.  She always said it would probably end like this…that I would get her out of my life, that I would erase her.  That I would delete her.  She somehow knew this was coming for a year now.  And I played into her vortex of negativity.

That damn DELETE key.  How does that work, anyway?  How can you delete something?  Where does it go?  I know it exists as pulses of digital bits, but somewhere in the server’s main frame, it must still live.

It’s one of the most basic laws of science: one cannot create or destroy matter.  And, the electrons of the digital bits that make up a simple email message, are made of matter.

So, where is that email now?  Right now at this precise second?  Where are the zillions of deleted messages?

I once read that computers can’t really erase them from existence.  What I read is that in deleting, you simply remove the address.  But the information is still out there…somewhere.  A good hacker could get them back, but I didn’t know any hackers, good or bad.

So I did the only thing I could think of doing.  I took a walk.

I wandered all over the sleeping city until the eastern sky turned pink.  It was then that I spotted the long stone wall.  I had never seen this before.  I walked up to the only door, a great wooden entrance like one would find in a castle.  I looked up.  The sky was turning blue above the twenty-foot wall of grey granite rocks.

I pushed on the door and it opened.  I stepped over the threshold.  All around me was the most amazing and beautiful garden I had ever seen.  How did this place exist without me knowing about it?  I walked along the stone-slab path.  A full minute passed before I realized that there were dozens of words hanging from the branches and flower pedals.  No, not a dozen…hundreds, thousands.  Then it all came into focus in the clear morning air.  Every plant in the garden was festooned with strings of words.  They were not on paper or tape.  They were words that formed sentences held together with some kind of invisible force.  I took one and read it:

So, wat r we doin tmrro nite??? 

I read more.  Each one was full of errors and misspoken sentiments.  Some were meaningless.  Some were pornographic.  Some were declarations of undying love.  And, some were rejections of love.  The messages of sadness and hate and anger hung like dead snakes.  They all hung like that, dead black and serpentine.

I’m not a genius by any means, but I knew that these were deleted messages.  This is where they went to spend eternity.

Everything in the garden was broken.  I could see broken engagements, hearts, marriages, affairs, souls, plans, dreams, nightmares and prayers.  Pleas to God for a healing.  But deleted when the loved one dies anyway.

All those deletes.

The little garden had morphed while my back was turned.  When I looked around, the trees and shrubs now stretched beyond the horizon.  The city had disappeared and I found myself standing in the midst of countless plants, like Dorothy’s field of poppies, that covered one rolling hill after another.  They all were festooned with deleted messages.  Uncountable in number, each message was something not sent to someone over the internet.  Most of them bore the sad, lonely and forlorn aura of a mistake made and then regretted.

But, wouldn’t a simple email correct the mistake?,  you may ask.  Well, I was proof that sometimes that does not happen so easily.  In days of old, if you put a letter into a mailbox and let it drop, it was a done deal and irretrievable.  If you then traveled to the home of the person you had sent the regretful mail, you may be confronted with an empty house.  Or, if you tried to dial-up someone to repair a wound you caused, you could be met with: “I’m sorry, that number is no longer in service”.

It all came down to the same problem.  How could one ever stop a bullet once the trigger was pulled?  How could one run to overtake an arrow that was shot, straight and true, before it struck the target?

I wanted her back and the best hope was here in the garden of deletes.  But, the task was impossible and I knew it.

Or was it?

I noticed a section of the garden where it seemed to be raining, raining new deletes. They fell onto the trees like black strips of strange snow.  If my deleted message were anywhere, wouldn’t it be where the incoming was coming in?

I walked over to that part of the garden.  I began reading the messages.  Some were paragraphs and some were chapters and some were even entire books.  I was looking for only a sentence.  But there was no way I could find it here.  I had to find another way to dress her wound.

I turned around to look for the exit.  I took a step.  There it was, hanging right before my eyes.  Without even thinking, I grabbed it and ran for the garden door.  The vast endless fields had shrunken to the little patch of flowers and trees that I had seen when I first entered.  I crumbled the message into a tight ball and threw it over the wall.  It was a mighty throw but the message made it out.  I squinted as I watched as it hit the top of the wall and bounced out.

I had successfully saved my deleted message from this garden of eternal regrets.

As I walked through the doorway, I found myself on my own street.  I lived nearby.  Putting my hands in my pockets, I walked in the direction of home.

I heard the squeal of rubber tires and the bump of a car as it hit the curb near me and came to an abrupt stop.  I turned.  There she was, clawing at the front door of her car.  She flung it open and ran straight into my arms.

“My email was slow today,” she said.  “I got your reply.  So you’ll give me another chance?  You will, won’t you?  I so love you.”

I put my arm over her shoulder and we walked back to my place, our place, as if nothing had happened.

 

 

 

The Perfect Blog

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I know with absolute certainty that he will find me.  There is no escape anywhere…ever.  And I have no one to blame but myself.

I moved from Antioch, Nebraska to New York City thinking, for a while, that there would be safety in numbers.  A face in a crowd of millions.  How foolish I was.  I should have stayed in Antioch and spent my last hours of life enjoying what I most wanted: fame and all its trappings.  Now, I could descend into the deepest mine shaft on the bloody planet and still be found.  I could spend a zillion dollars to hide at the bottom of a lunar crater…and it would only be a matter of time.  Spend another zillion on total cosmetic surgery to alter, most completely, my outward appearance?  It wouldn’t help to delay matters for a nano-second.  He would see straight into my soul and know me.

So, who do you think I’m running from?  A mafia hit-man?  Nonsense.  A plague?  Ridiculous.  Death?  Good guess, but I’m smart enough to know we all are going to die.  That’s for certain.  But for what I’ve done, mere death is just the prologue of a play that will be staged until the end of time.

All this for violating one of the Cardinal Sins.  Lust? Been there, done that.  Avarice? I’m an expert.  Gluttony?  Not really an issue, I’m fine with my weight, for a man my age.  Greed? Bingo!  Yes indeed, I wanted it all and then some.  But when you play those kind of games, and dance to that kind of music, you have to pay the piper at the end of the night.

I was well on my way with the talent the good Lord gave me.  I’m a blogger, you see, and I wanted to be the best…not just a contender.  I wanted to be the Mick Jagger of blogs.

You may not know this (if you’re not a blogger, yourself) but we are like rock stars.  There are groupies out there reading our blogs and finding ways to get close to us.  Being a super blogger is light-years ahead of that Nobel thing.  The groupies would email me comments and emails with not-so-subtle messages of what they could do for me.  Every man dreams of that kind of attention.  I’ve received emails sent by readers with internet names like KewpieDoll21, DawnOnU22, SmokinChick25 and SuzieUNameIt666.  And when I opened and read their messages, I could smell Jasmine, Pachouli or Rose Water right through the monitor.

I don’t know how much time I have, so I’ll tell my story to you with haste.  No offense, but I may have to leave abruptly.

My mind was working 24/7 on blog ideas.  I experimented with various styles, different voices and unsettling paces of narrative.  I was growing more skillful with each post.  Some of my blogs were extraordinary, if I do say so myself.  And I had the numbers to prove it.  My Twitter followers grew, my Klout score climbed like a bull market graph on Wall Street.  My Facebook friends were getting in line to have me “friend” them.  My stats, as shown in bar graph form on WordPress, looked like the Manhattan skyline.

Some of my blogs became legendary.  My most popular, in no order, were “The Cat Groomer”, “The Chimney Sweeps of Cincinnati”, “Alpha Males of Coney Island”, “The Urban Legends of Dental Floss” and the groundbreaking, “Hemochromatosis: The NASA Coverup”.

I won “Blogger of the Year” award three times.  Hollywood left messages on my smart phone asking for the rights to film some of my posts.  I guess it was a heady time, I wouldn’t know, my head was in the clouds enjoying the view from the top.

But I wanted more.  I wanted, no, needed more followers.  I wanted my Klout score to be higher than Obama and Justin Bieber.  I wanted it to explode and go over 100.

Ideas kept flooding my brain.  I couldn’t stop.

And then it stopped.

I awoke one crisp autumn day and headed to my MacBook Pro.  After four minutes of looking at my reflection on the blue/grey screen, I realized that I had no ideas.  I didn’t panic at first.  I took a walk stopping only once to stare at a dazzling red maple tree.  I headed back to the house, slowing down to smell a fading rose.

Five hours later the ugly truth hit me hard, like the time I asked a bar maid to please open my bottle of Bud Lite with her cleavage.  The bleeding stopped in about six hours and the number of stitches equalled my age.  But I wasn’t facing a serving girl this time.  I was facing something far more serious and harder to control.

I had bloggers block.

After a few days, my Klout scored dropped by ten points, my Twitter followers began to slip away, as did my Facebook friends.  My bar graphs on WordPress began to look less like Manhattan towers and more like a cheap motel in Waco, Texas.

I went to church and lit candles, not for the memory of my long deceased family members, but for ideas.  I sat in a dimly lit booth of a dusty strip club with my pencil and paper and waited for an idea…a grain of something.  All I got from the night was a bill for six Coors and two shots of schnapps (peppermint).

My spirits began to darken.  I grew listless.  I was restless and agitated and depressed and angry.  So I took a walk.

I passed under the last street lamp (there were only three in this town) and walked along the road.  Even in the dark, I could sense the clouds were building.  Then came a blinding flash-bulb of lightning and a clap of thunder that sounded so close that my hair stood up with the static and my ears began to ring.

I reached the crossroads and stopped.  I took a leak behind a small tree and then found a small dirt mound to sit on.  The rain was holding itself in the clouds above my head, but the wind came in short sharp gusts.

Then another flash of lightning, so bright I had to close my eyes.  The thunder nearly deafened me.  When I opened my eyes, I saw that I was not alone.

At the opposite corner stood a man wearing a black rain coat and fedora.  He was staring at me.  I saw no sign of a weapon so I didn’t feel fear for my physical being.  But something dark and dirty was covering my soul like used motor oil.  He nodded to me and began to walk to my side of the road.  I had an overwhelming sense he knew me and could see deep into me.  When he got close enough, I noticed an odd odor about him.  Something familiar.  Something unpleasant.  Something foul.

“Good evening Mr. Blogger,” he said.

“Hey.”

“I hear you have some problems finding words,” he said with a voice that was a mix of Johnny Cash and Richard Burton.

How did he know this?  I told no one about my block.

“Your Klout score will soon be a single digit,” he said, without seeming to mock me. “Need help?”

“I don’t think so,” I said. “Things like this happen once in a while to us bloggers.  Ideas don’t grow like lawn grass, my friend.”

Despite meeting such a strange guy out here at the crossroads,the shock had worn off somewhat.  I felt more confident.

“I can help you,” he said with a certainty that took me aback.

“You want to be on top again, don’t you?” he asked.  I felt he knew the answer.

“I’m not sure what you’re getting at, mister.” I said.

“I’ll make it simple for you, okay? I know you’ve had a long night and you’re tired.  I’m kind of an advisor to people like you, people who need a little boost once in a while.  I provide services and goods, whatever you need, and you need an idea.  You’d like more than one idea, but I can assure you that I can give you the only idea you’ll ever need.  It’s the ultimate idea.  I’m kind of like the genii, granting wishes.  The exception here is that I need to grant only one wish to you.  I can give you what all bloggers seek.  I can save you months of toil and stress.  My friend, I can give you the Perfect Blog.  It will be unequalled.  No one will ever, ever match it.  You will go down forever as the creator of the Most Perfect Blog in History.  But, only you and I know that I was the one who gave it to you.  What do you think?”

“Yeah, well what’s the catch?  What’s your stake in this?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t call it a “catch” really, but there is a fee of sorts.  Nothing is free as you know.  As far as my “stake”, well let’s just say I’m not interested in the fame part of this thing.  I don’t need fame…of that kind.  Interested?”

“So, this ‘perfect blog’, where do I get it and how will I know it’s ‘perfect’?

“I’ll keep it simple, for you, Bailey.  After you publish the piece, I’ll guarantee you 1,000,000 followers on Twitter, they’ll have to reset the algorithms on Klout to accommodate your new standing.

Now, this is the talk I wanted to talk.  All I had to do was find out how I was going to walk the walk.

All this will happen before midnight tomorrow.  When you reach that number on Twitter, I will have fulfilled my end of the deal…and I get my payment.  You did read the fine print, I hope?”

I hadn’t.

“So, if I get you the numbers, I’ll give you about two weeks to enjoy the new position you will hold.  You will be the Greatest Blogger in the World.  Then, sometime soon after that, I’ll come to you to accept your payment.  By the way, I don’t accept American Express or any plastic for that matter.  The cost to you will not be coming from your wallet so don’t worry about being scammed for a few bucks.  That’s not the kind of person I am.  Have a good evening, Bailey.  Oh, I almost forgot, if you don’t get what I promise, our deal is off.  You can keep your numbers to enjoy.  I’ll just move on to someone else.”

“I’m a business man of sorts, so I’ll have to have your signature on this,” he said, holding a yellowed sheet of high-quality bond paper.  “Just here.”

Before I knew it, he had produced a strange-looking quill-like fountain pen.  He did something with the nib and it came to me with a drop of red ink hanging and ready to fall to the ground.

I signed.

“Just go home now and sit with your laptop…it’ll come to you like an erotic dream,” he said as he faded in the drifting mist.  I had failed to notice the fact that we were surrounded by a patch of fog as dense as cotton candy.  As I walked away, the taste in my mouth was anything but spun sugar.

I sat in front of the laptop for two hours and nothing was coming to me.  I began to drift into a neck bending nap.  I must have gone straight to REM because I began to dream.  I was standing on the steps of a great Victorian mansion.  A beautiful woman came out of the dark and climbed the stairs.  Her look, her scent and her eyes all spoke wordlessly to me.  She was inviting me up to her room.  I followed like the lap-dog I had become.  I never realized that her price for her time was to cost me so dearly.  I would wind up gazing through her keyhole while I was down on my knees.

I roused myself.  My fingers were already working away on the key board.  I proceeded to write the “Perfect Blog”.

My instincts told me that it was indeed ‘perfect’.  I put my finger on the PUBLISH button.  I knew that once I hit the key, I would be releasing a million black ravens out of my window.  I would never be able to call them back and re-cage them.

The instant I pushed PUBLISH, the room darkened…just a little, but just enough for me to notice that it was now different.  I felt like I was lying on a beach and a slick of oil from a foul leak in the seabed was washing over me.  No soap existed that was going to cut through this black fetid grease.  I was polluted beyond cleansing.  My head fell back against the leather of my Windsor chair and I fell into a deep dreamless sleep.

I awoke at noon the next day with a neck that felt so painful, I could totally relate to Linda Blair.  I checked my Klout score.  It had risen by sixty points.  I went to Twitter and saw that the number of followers had jumped to well over 900,000.  I had twelve hours until the deadline of midnight, when my deal would be fulfilled.

I went out for a beer and a tuna fish sandwich.  When I returned, my Twitter followers numbered 966,989.  I took a nap just to kill the time.  I went out for several more beers in the early evening and had a light dinner of fries, double cheeseburger and key lime pie.  When I returned to my apartment, I checked my numbers.  Twitter came with 986,666.  An hour later it was 994,567.

Okay, I think it’s time I came clean.  I’m not a stupid man.  I read widely and know a lot of interesting things about the world.  And, I’ve read enough theological books to know something about other worlds, too.  You see, I knew exactly what I was doing all along.  I knew who was offering me the sweet deal and I knew what the cost was going to be.  If you’re not with me here, read Goethe’s Faust.

If I wasn’t so smart, so very clever, I would have been in deep trouble.  But I knew how to outwit the old guy.  I would cancel my post on WordPress a few minutes before midnight thereby stopping the publication and halting the growing numbers.  Hey, over 900,000 Twitter followers?  I’m not greedy.  I’ll take what I got and run with it.  I was in a win-win situation.

So, at 11:55 pm, I clicked delete on the “Perfect Blog”.  I checked Twitter.  I was somewhat impressed to see that the total was now 999,998.  I was cutting it close but I was smarter than Mr. Darkness, himself.  I grabbed my jacket and headed for the door and intended to go out and find me some blogger groupies and get some action.

But, something went very wrong.  At the WordPress office, the guy whose job it was to obey the commands from the bloggers, was, at the stroke of midnight, in the office supply room having his way with the new intern.  By the time he got back to his control panel, it was too late.

Four seconds after I closed my apartment door,  a guy named Sid in Dover, Delaware read my blog.  That was followed by a young graduate student at NYU, named Debi and a teen hacker, who goes by the name GodFree14 from La Mesa, California.  That put me over the 1,000,000 mark.

About 8:00 am, after I closed the door behind Monica, and checked Twitter, I realized that I had lost.

I’ve been on the road for a week now.  I’m trying to find a place to hide from him but I know, in the end, that’s impossible.

He’s been right behind me for all these miles.

I can feel bits of my soul drip away like the end of an icicle’s life in spring.

 

Stourhead

Stourhead

The grounds of Stourhead in Wiltshire, England. This landscaped park includes a small village, a church, graveyard, numerous scrubs and trees of varied species and an Inn. At the far end of the lake is a “gothic” ruin, specially designed to looked many centuries old. You could sit among the ruins and contemplate the brevity of existence.

I Was a Teenage Blogger

DepressedTeen

 

The road to perdition is paved with little things.

My own dark and tragic personal story begins with little pieces of paper.  Not small bits the size of confetti that are thrown out of windows on lower Broadway during “ticker-tape” parades.  No, larger slips white or yellow ripped from notebooks, steno pads and the backsides of shopping lists…once the items are ticked off.  I have even been desperate enough to use flattened toilet paper tubes.  These are hard to use unless you have a dark pen because penciled words are difficult to read on cheap cardboard.

Besides, they don’t use ticker tape machines on Wall Street anymore, haven’t for decades.  They just use baskets of shredded documents that probably contain incriminating evidence of fraud and widespread corruption.  Once, that is used up, say during a parade of returning astronauts from Mars or the unlikely event the Mets ever win the World Series, they probably have a warehouse full of illegal aliens, working for a fraction of the minimum wage, punching out thousands of chads from discarded voter registration forms or racing forms from Hialeah.

What was this insatiable need of mine to possess these small scraps of paper?  In a word…words.  I have this uncontrollable urge to write down my every thought, however mundane, goofy or obscene.  I started by keeping these notes in used large mailing envelopes from places like the Publishers Clearing House or the IRS.  Anything would do.  Old letter envelopes, the contents of which I would toss away, only to get to the blank, whiteness of the backside.  Soon, I had shoe boxes full of these bits of my writing.  When I wrote something really interesting (which, to me, was everything), I would stash the papers under my mattress.  I did this while most boys my age were using that sacred place to hide copies of Playboy or, better yet, National Geographic (the Holy Grail, of which is the much coveted October, 1953 issue with the article “The Native Women of Tongatapu Island”).

This accumulation of my thoughts and ideas began to grow to uncontrollable dimensions.  I was running out of hiding places.

That was when it occurred to me that these gems of wisdom were really not for my eyes only.  No, the world needed to see them.  So, I began to paste these scraps onto the walls of men’s rooms and construction site walls and car repair shops.  When the mechanic was bent over to check my parents oil level, I would attach one or two of my paragraphs to the wall behind the quarts of Quaker State motor oil, close to the STP cans and the Valvoline.  Someone would read them.

I was even bold enough to sign my first name because I was proud of these short articles.

But, it didn’t stop there.  As I grew into an older teenager, I began to tell stories and not just relate my thoughts.  I was actually writing fiction, like Dickens or, later, William F. Buckley.

My fame grew.  I would walk past a bus stop and there would be small groups of people reading one of my written pieces, but that was never enough.  I had to have more.  More attention.  More glory.  More places to paste my posts.

I was getting desperate.  Only the people of the mid-sized city in the mid-west where I lived knew anything about me or the things I felt the urge to share.  Once I was nearly arrested for hanging around the soccer field of an all-female private school and opening my trench coat showing my posts super-glued to my hoodie.  This was during goalie tryouts.

Then, the techno-miracle happened.  The Internet was invented.  K-Marts began carrying personal computers.  The need to own them began to spread like swine-flu virus throughout the world.  I purchased, at no small cost, an IBM desktop.  Social networking companies began to flourish.  I set up an account with AOL and was able to send out my writings to the dozens of friends.  My network grew and soon I had several million followers.  But I was always struggling to comprehend the language of the IBM.  They were calling it a “PC”.

Then, faster than you can say Steve Jobs, an alternate universe opened up for me.  I dropped my PC faster than a high-end prostitute would do once she found out you could only afford to buy her a Miller Lite.  I bought an apple, chewed things over in my mind a few minutes, and ordered a MacIntosh.  Now I was cooking with real olive oil.

Those who understand these things and control them, began calling the posts that people were sending out, “blogs”, which I felt was odd indeed.  The very sound of the term conjured up images of “black” and “fog” or “smog”.  Dark imagery for sure.

But still, I could never get enough.  Sending photographs became possible on something some kid started called Facebook.  I began posting pictures of flower pots and kittens but felt that was going to go out of style before I could grab an audience.  I backed away from dogs and cats in creepy sleeping positions on plastic sofas and started writing more.  (I had a moment of self-doubt when, after I posted a blog that I considered a profound meditation on the eternal struggle of human inequality,  I only got 17 “likes”.  A day later, some woman from Toledo posted a photo of her potted petunia and got 1,355 “likes”.)

That self-doubt began to take over my life.  Was anyone reading my stuff?  My Twitter followers remained at a constant number of 32 for months.  I got desperate and began a long slide down to the gutter, literally.

I pawned my iMac and took a cheap room over the Hi Ho Motel along state route 47 outside of Dayton.  The motel was just across the street from Ron Stokowski’s Girlie Galore Gentlemen’s Club.  The flashing red neon sign below the owner’s name read: HOME OF THE ORIGINAL POLE DANCERS!

Friends, the few I had, would stop by to see if I needed anything.  The kitchen trash was filled with empty bottles of Night Train Express and cheap tequila.  On the little night stand next to my bed was a half-empty fifth of Jim Beam and a crumpled pack of Chesterfield’s.

I had hit rock bottom.  The only lower place for me was the first floor.  That would be the motel lobby.  Outside the lobby was the street…the street of broken dreams…the street of red lights, cheap wine and even cheaper women.  I didn’t have enough money in my pocket to afford a shot of penicillin at the local clinic.

It was raining hard the night I began to think of the railroad trestle about a mile out-of-town.  I put my trench coat on, ready for the short final walk to last stop junction…when Pinkie walked into my room.  I called her Pinkie because she wore hot pink nail polish on the nine fingers of her hands.  The hue matched her lips and eyeshadow (and her hair and tattoo and 6 inch stilettos).

“Look at you,” she said, glancing around.  “Where’s your laptop?”

I pointed to the little table with the steno pad and BIC pen.

“Hey, big guy, Mr. Steinbeck…I’m talkin’ to you.  This ain’t the way its supposed to end.  Not for a guy with talent like you got.”

I stared at her two-inch lashes.

She poured a hefty hit of Jim Beam into a plastic tumbler with a Betty Boop logo on the side, in full color.

“Take this and get a grip.”

I put the mouthful away in one swallow.

“Now, get out there.  Get back into it, big guy.  You can do it.  You got the stuff.  I was down there too, once.  Lower than low. But look at me now.  I’m a regular dancer again.  That’s cause I got the stuff, just like you got the stuff”.

I began to wonder what stuff she was talking about, but I got her drift.  She was right.  I was too young to consider myself a failure…there would be plenty of time for that when I reached my sixties.

It had stopped raining.  There was a heavy fog, like a blanket, covering the suburbs of Dayton.  I stopped under a street lamp with my trench coat draped over my shoulder.  I took off my fedora and waved at Pinkie, who was standing on the balcony of the place I once called home.

I went back to the pawn shop.  The iMac was gone!  So, I took what they had.  I walked out with a Dell.  Life doesn’t get any meaner.  Soon, I was staying in a Ramada in Bayonne, but staring at an empty computer screen.

Maybe I had wasted my youth, my good ideas, my so-called talent too soon.  Too soon and too fast.  They say you were born with only so many blogs in your heart.  My heart was empty.

I walked into the church basement with my head held high.  When my turn came, I calmly walked to the music stand that was being used as a podium.

“Hi, everyone.  My name is Patrick and I’m a blogger.”