Poem: Time Seducer

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My 4 year-old son was visiting me here in Florida from the 18th to the 28th, and in that time I managed to teach him how to swim, watched him become obsessed with drawing, and did much else, but had no time to write anything, which only moderately killed me. I’ll be back to my normal routine next week. In the meantime, Erica’s here from Berlin till Monday, and we’re on our way to one of my favorite cities for the night: The Isle of Bones. The Conch Republic. Key West. I’ll be back with some stories. Here’s a poem until then:

Time Seducer

i’m not a very social creature.
i’m really just a mouse.
fear-prone, too sensitive to sound.
but i can bring
you things.

i can bring you sunrise in a bottle
of French
wine, the yon lovely
light
lucerne.

i can conjure
you
up a rainforest from an apricot tree,
surprise
you
with red beryl and parsley
sprigs.

i can seduce your time
quite
unwisely (for a
mouse).

just don’t ask me to how
to
balance
your checking account,
(or mine).

don’t expect me
to remember the best road
home
alone

or greet you at the door
when you get
home.

the things i can bring you
are only
of the night

and mostly imaginary.
an Eternity

you won’t soon fall out of favor
with.

the smallest
portion
of nibbled-on
brie

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Afterhours Call Center

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Saturday morning, and I step into the bathroom,
unzip. The phone rings. It always seems to ring
at just the wrong time.
They must know.
They must have a sixth sense for it.
And the sound of the phone is jarring.
It’s like having a big gila monster
pouncing on your head.
I pick it up.

“Do you rent baby
buggies?” the voice says.
“No, just construction equipment,” I tell her.
“Oh.
Well, do you know where I can rent a baby buggy?”
“You could try XYZ Rentals.”
“Are they open today?” she asks.
“I don’t know.”
“Do you have their number?”
“I’m sorry,” I say. “I don’t.”
And hang up before she can ask anything else.
I relieve my bladder.

Later, I am getting into the swimming pool.
I wade very slowly into the cool green water
and go under for the first time.
When I come up for air,
the gila monster’s leaping on my head again.
I get out in a rush, half-dry with the towel,
pick up the phone.

“Yeah, it’s Michael Squingilli here, huh?
I rented a pressuh wershuh yestuday
and I can’t get dis DAMN
TING stah-ted.
I need youse guys to come outs here and replace dis
piece of shit.”

I tell him we can’t,
we are closed today
and I’m just answering the phones,
but I can troubleshoot.

I ask him if he turned on the little red switch.
I ask about the direction of the choke lever.
I tell him about the fuel lever.

“I knows how ta use da ting,” he snaps.
“I only been pressuh wershin
fer twenty years. I’m tellin youse, it doesn’t work.
IT’S JUNK, like I says!”

I ask him if it has gas in it.
He checks.
It doesn’t.

(Insert stubby New Jersey
tail between his legs).

“Alright,” he says.
“I’ll call youse if I haves mo problems.”
He hangs up.

I put the phone down and dive in the pool.
I swim to the deep end, tread water.
Waiting
for just the wrong moment
for the next flaming
moron
to strike.

Shoptalk: Head Gaskets, Telemarketers & Poisonous Flowers

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Sitting in the shop like an shellfish on a river bottom, the sunlight falls through the glass and glimmers on the scaffold wheels and cans of xylene. The window shaker rattles over my head, the air is fragrant with mildew and the mechanic’s cigarette smoke, and I have just discovered that the twisted wing parasite begins as larva, but after it attacks a bee or wasp it morphs into a male or female second-stage larva. The male will burst out and go look for a mate. The female will remain inside the host, and only poke out her genitals. Once she is impregnated and lays her eggs, the cycle begins again.

I like my job.

Of course it’s got its aggravations like any, aber es gibt hier eine gute stimmung (but there’s a good mood and atmosphere here), and my brother’s my boss, so I don’t have to worry about getting fired. Nor do I have to worry about the place going out of business, which was always a threat when I was the owner. Especially the first nine years. If anyone ever asks me how to succeed in business, I will tell them what worked for me: open a tool rental shop on a shoestring budget and let your soul rot in it for nine years, waiting on natural disasters.

The phone rings. I pick it up.

“Hello, Sir. It’s Wayne from Callsprout. I’d like to speak to somebody about your phone system and communication strategy. After learning more about ARES Rentals, I believe our companies could have some synergy. Are you the one to talk to?”
I mumble something and hang up.
A few seconds later, the phone rings again.
“Hi, Sir. It’s Wayne again from Callsprout. Something must’ve happened to the line…”
“Nothing happened to the line,” I say. “I hung up on you.”
I hang up again.

I read more about insects. It’s the strange ones that fascinate me. Did you know that the strongest insect on the planet is the Hercules beetle, a native of Central America, South America and the Lesser Antilles, which can carry up to 850 times its weight on its back?

I click over to YouTube, change the music from John Coltrane to Bon Iver and start reading about poisonous flowers. The bell on the door rings. A fat guy in a sleeveless t-shirt enters. I get out of my chair.

“Hi, how can I help you?”
“Do you rent wallpaper steamers?”
“No we don’t,” I say. “It’s not in our line. Sorry.”
“Well let me tell you why I need one,” he says, and before I can reply, he hauls off on this interminable discourse about wallpaper and glue and remover and drywall and himself and much else that has nothing to do with the services we provide and everything to do with discharging into the room as much hot air as his lungs can muster. I stand there taking it in as the light goes out of my eyes, as my spirit sinks to the floor and pools around my shoes. Reading about insects and poisonous flowers is much more interesting than this, I think. At last, he gasses himself out, exits. I go back to my desk.

Luckily, not all of our customers are like him. Some I have a great rapport with. Some I’ve known for ten or twenty years, and we’re always laughing and telling tall tales, talking about the old days when the shop was a refuge for also-rans, drunkards and nimrods and I was hungover everyday with a stash of pills in my desk.

I sit down in my swivel chair, get back on the computer and continue reading about poisonous flowers: yellow jessamine, monkshood, deadly nightshade, dogbane, hemlock, bloodroot. There’s poetry in these names, I think. And there’s even more when they’re juxtaposed with things like head gaskets and telemarketers. But that’s a project for later. For now, the sun is blazing, Ferenc Puskás died eleven years ago today, the stumpgrinder teeth need sharpening and the president of the country is a dimwit Dr. Seuss character whose head inflates with every mention of his name.

Blood Money

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Lying in bed with a heating pad under my wasted back, I am at my parents’ house while they are away, gambling in Las Vegas. They are both seventy-six years old, and don’t go on many vacations, but when they do, it’s always Las Vegas. My dad loves to gamble. He does it here too. Every weekend, on both Saturday and Sunday, he’s out the door by 5 a.m., and on his way to the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach to play poker and work the slots. I don’t much care for gambling. Not literally. But I like to think there’s gambling in my writing. And the compulsion’s not so different. When my dad is on his way to the casino, I am often drinking my first coffee and getting my first words down on the page. He usually stays at the casino until about 1 p.m., and that’s about when I too am wrapping up for the day. Or at least with the first round of the day. I’m never completely done with it. Just like he’s never completely done with gambling. He’ll come home and watch it on TV, dream numbers, systems, bankrolls. I hate to imagine what would happen if someone were to take these peccadilloes away from us. Don’t do it. We don’t need much to survive, but we need this. This is our food and drink. This the silkworm spinning its thread. This is the stinger in the honey bee. Take this away and the life goes out of us. Don’t do it.

Deliriodreama

Wandering past the cemetery gates
and purple bougainvillea along Olivia Street,
an angel with wings of stone
looms over the garden. I walk below
her mournful gaze, follow the cracked burning
sidewalk to a blue hotel.
I take two halfdrunk flights up back
down and past the banana plants and pink doors
to a roomful of nude
mannequins and empty winebottles.

Dust floats in the light streaming
between the thin floral drapes. I flop down
on the sofa under a bust
of Marilyn Monroe. A deep floating
saffron haze dissolves over me.
Sundown. I sink into a bath
of subconsciousness, my fingersfeeling
my fingers closing on my palm
and the toxic pill, a puss-filled wound, the bright
centerlight where the wit of philosophy dissipates;
where time tells
itself, the hands of the clocks are amputated.

Customer #47638

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He is a house painter and a born-again Christian named Ron Ward, but I’m taking his name away and demoting him to the label Customer #47638.

Envision, reader, a man of about 55, medium height, with a sandy crewcut and the eyes of a Sardinian toad. He’s been a customer of mine since I opened the shop in 1995, but I never liked dealing with him. I only did because I needed his money.

One time, after I’d been in business for about five years, he came into the shop just after the first of the year and asked how I did financially the previous year.

He said: “You gotta be making six figures a year by now, right?”
I shrugged him off.
“C’mon, six figures isn’t that much,” he went on. “I did it. You should definitely be there by now…”

I was nowhere close. Fuck you, I thought.

Customer #47638 used to be married with a stepson and stepdaughter, but something happened. Afterwards, the stepson, who’s also a customer of mine, told me what it was like growing up under that narrow-minded ogre what with his the holier-than-thou attitude, the gloating self-importance, the greed and jealousy and phoniness.

When Customer #47638 was still married, one of his former employees told me he saw his work van in the parking lot of Big & Tall, and when he went up to it, he was in there with a prostitute getting a blowjob. The same former employee told me that while they still worked together, it was required that before each job he get on his knees with the others and pray that everything go according to plan. “Wait a minute,” he said. We’re asking God for money. This isn’t praying!”

Customer #47638 came into the shop Friday. We watched him in the parking lot getting out of his truck. He hadn’t called beforehand to make sure we had what he needed, but by the way he carried himself and the peacock airs he gave off as he approached the front door, he seemed to have total confidence we had it. And he was right. He was totally correct. He entered the store.

“Hey Mon,” he said, upon seeing me. He called everyone Mon. He was originally from New Jersey, and saying Mon must’ve made him feel tropical, like he was living in a Bob Marley or Jimmy Buffett song. I greeted him. He told me what he needed, though with slightly different terms for the equipment than we used. A pressure cleaner, for instance, he called a water blaster. A hover cover he called a spin cover. A turbo tip he called a turbo nozzle. We had it all in surplus as he could see. There were four pressure cleaners, three hover covers, and two turbo tips in clear view in the middle of the showroom. But I lied and said all of it was reserved. I did it because he always wanted to put his purchases on account, and sometimes it took more than a month for him to pay. Plus, he was just too confident that we had what was required to service his needs and it was worth whatever he’d be paying us to ruin his morning.

“ALL of it’s reserved?” he asked, his grim face and those eyes of a Sardinian toad
lighting up with shock, and outrage, and justified disbelief.

“Yeah,” I said. “A guy in Palm Beach is doing a big condo job. He just called with a credit card and reserved everything.”

He frowned.

“We’ve just been really busy lately,” I went on. “Business has been great. I feel blessed.” Customer #47638 was always talking about how blessed he was for this or that so I figured I’d throw it back at him.

He stood there for a moment scratching his crewcut and reconfiguring his morning. Then he trudged toward the door with his shoulders slumped, shaking his head.

“Have a blessed day,” I said.

Exit Customer #47638

Poem: Know Your Season

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Know Your Season

An aging surfer dressed like he’s still fourteen,
shouting in his cellphone. I can hear him through the ficus
hedges and coconut palms: “I told you I’d have yer
money on Friday, bro. FRIDAY!
That’s when the eagle
shits.”

He clops through the sand in his flip-flops,
passes a voluptuous young beauty
in a black bikini. She struts past me, shaking softly
her three silver bracelets
as the music pours out of the bar across the street.
She moves in perfect rhythm with it,
and will stay in perfect rhythm, just like that, for years,
through love affairs, the changing of seasons, styles,
empires, epochs,
drifting along,
the music brushing lightly
against her hips and shoulders, her silky skin, touching her ears,
becoming her thoughts and words and then…

Well, and then,
going slowly out of time,
like everything that lives long enough. The music attaching
to someone else.

It’s all part of the process,
and when it happens, it just happens, and you have to know
it’s happened, and accept and adapt.

I watch as she takes the crosswalk, glides along
the other side of the street.
A few minutes later, she is gone, and the aging surfer is back,
still on his cellphone. A tired old song
from a bygone era.

“Dude, why you gotta
bust my chops?
I told you my situation!
Work with me, bro. Work with me!”

Flying with the Irish Dalai Lama

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I spent most of my flight from Berlin to Dublin trying to read Kafka in German and scribbling in my notebook. The layover in Dublin was about 2 hours. I went through all the checkpoints there and then I went to the lounge, bought a Guinness. €5.50 and there was no shamrock decorating the foam. An outrage! I was tempted to ask the waitress to put one in, but she was gone as soon as she gave it to me.

I sat at the bar listening to all the Irish accents around me and watching the people go by, pulling their suitcases along the tile floor and looking lost or slightly panicked or talking into their iPhones. Pop music was playing through speaker over my head. And the lyrics in the songs all seemed to be about love, love, love, trite as to be expected. And outside it was raining. The sea clouds thrashed and distilled light, the River Liffey was babbling. And somewhere in the city there was a raven drying its wings and a washerwoman hanging a cliché on a clothesline.

I drank my Guinness slowly, made a few sketches, and the next thing I knew it was time to board. I had a window seat. The guy sitting next to me was eighty-eight years old and very friendly. His name was Frank Campbell. He was from Belfast, on his way to visit his daughter in Naples, Florida. We talked quite a bit on the flight, when I wasn’t reading or watching a movie. He didn’t do either. It didn’t interest him. Never had. And neither did computers. I asked him what he did in his spare time. Toiling in his garden, he said. There was something romantic about it. An old Irishman toiling in his Irish garden, no need for movies, Google, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook. I didn’t like the part about no books being read, but I was almost able to brush that aside thinking about the wonderful fruits and vegetables and flowers he was cultivating in his garden. It’s probably as artfully crafted as a Yeats poem, I thought. I asked him what he grew in it. He said nothing. He just keeps the grass tidy.

After that I did the typical thing for an American when he meets an Irishman and started telling him about my Irish heritage. Specifically I told him about my good-humored paternal grandfather Ray Powers and his love of booze and the time he d.t.’d and pulled my dad to the window and told him there were pigs dancing in the street.

Campbell didn’t drink or smoke. He never had. Somehow that didn’t surprise me. But he was so friendly and cheerful I couldn’t hold it against him. He seemed to be one of those rare souls on this planet who’d found happiness, or at least contentment, with almost nothing. I asked him what he planned on doing while he stayed at his daughter’s house in Naples. He said he was going to hang out by her pool. He said he told his daughter she didn’t need to bother about him the whole time he was there because he’d be at her pool the whole time, soaking up rays. I then told him how much I loved swimming, and how it was what I missed most when I was in Berlin. The ocean in Florida is warm enough to swim in in January, I told him. I said I planned on doing it every weekend.

Campbell didn’t swim. He’d never learned how. Somehow that didn’t surprise me. But it didn’t seem to bother him in the least. Nor did the lack of booze, tobacco, internet, movies and books in his life. Campbell was happy with things just the way they were, and probably had been for most of his eighty-eight years.

A couple hours into the flight, a watched a mediocre WWII film that I’ve mostly forgotten now. Then I watched another mediocre film set in Miami Beach, a comedy, and after that I started working at Kafka in the original again. Campbell sat next to me the whole time gazing down the aisle or at the blank monitor on the back of the seat in front of him. It was all the entertainment he needed and for that I felt envious.

Kind of.

Knockabouts, Crackheads and Bottom-feeding Pantywaists

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I can’t believe how quickly it crept up on me. In just two days, I’ll be changing the scenery, leaving cold, wet, gray Berlin for the sunshine and palm trees of South Florida. Working vacation. Two months in a construction equipment rental store. My brother runs the business now, but I started it on a shoestring budget in 1995, mostly with credit cards. I didn’t make any money the first nine years I was in business. I just kept going deeper into debt. But then Florida got hit by four hurricanes – Charley, Jeanne, Frances and Wilma – and I finally started to turn a profit. Natural disasters are a boon to the construction equipment rental business. After Wilma, I brought my brother into the fold, we quadrupled our inventory, started advertising on the internet as opposed to the Yellow Pages which helped expand our territory, and the business took off. I started saving. Five years later, in 2011, I moved to Berlin thinking I’d only be here for a couple years, or until my money ran out. But then I invented a son who’s managed to keep me here for good, and I only go back to Florida when I get low on money. It’s a great situation, and I feel very lucky for it, but it didn’t come for free. It took sixteen years working 50-60 hours a week, no vacations, busting my dirt-caked knuckles and breathing in gas fumes all day, working with the most morbid and vulgar souls imaginable. They dubbed themselves small-engine mechanics, but most were just knockabouts, crackheads, bottom-feeding pantywaists blown in off the highway. I couldn’t afford any better. I paid under the table, couldn’t offer insurance or benefits, but I did let one guy drink on the job. He drank warm Budweiser out of the can, ten or fifteen a day, often while working on lawn mowers and chainsaws. I didn’t care. Not after a while I didn’t. This was before the hurricanes, and I didn’t have anything to lose, other than the whole business, and that would’ve been doing me a favor.

I used to tell my mechanics the most important thing is that their IQs remain just two or three points above that of the equipment they’re working on. No other job requirements.

Yet they hardly ever did it.

Of Drinking and Drunkenness and Gundermann

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The film I was working on the other day, and will be working on again tomorrow is called Gundermann. It’s about Gerhard Gundermann, a German rock musician and excavator operator at a coal mining plant, who apparently worked himself to death. He died of a stroke in 1998 at age 43, leaving behind a wife and four kids.

Gundermann was a vegetarian, and did not smoke, or do drugs, or drink. Pfooey. A lot of good that did him. He’d probably still be alive if he’d let himself relax with a beer every now and again.

“Be wise, decant the wine, prune back
Your long-term hopes. Life ebbs as I speak –
So seize the day, and grant the next no credit.” ~ Horace

I don’t trust people who don’t drink alcohol. Sure, there are some out there who have good reason not to. But generally speaking, when a man tells me he doesn’t drink, I get suspicious. How can you trust someone who can’t even trust himself to one stinking beer? That was my mantra while George Bush was president. And Donald Trump’s even worse. Trump’s never had an alcoholic beverage in his life. No wonder he’s oblivious to the rhythms and discourse of the universe.

“May their possessions rival all Nero’s loot, may they pile up
Gold mountain-high, may they love no man, and be loved by
   None.” ~ Juvenal

I recently read an interview with a small-press poet who was boasting about his sobriety, as if sobriety isn’t antithetical to poetry. He also said something about how writing is not fun. “I don’t care what anyone says, it’s not fun. It’s just not, it’s work.” Well, maybe for him. Reading him is work too. You sense the sweat and frustration and seriousness that went into each dried-up word. For me, writing is fun. It’s like a gambler’s high. And when it’s going well, time ceases to exist, the soul flies off, endorphins spout out the top of the skull like roman candles, showering the room in floods of yellow and blue and violet. I like to write drunk, and edit sober, or vice versa. That way I have two different minds looking at my work, providing the checks and balances for each other.

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What mu-u-u-sic they make.” ~ Dracula (1931)

Anyway, it’s 5:30 p.m., and I just got an email from the film company telling me the time and place for tomorrow’s shoot. I already told you about the costume they’re incarcerating me in. Yes, it looks like something fetched from a Ross Dress for Less clearance rack. But the more I think about it, the more that makes sense. The character I’m playing is a reflection of Gundermann himself. Fashion sense of an excavator operator at a coal mining plant. Melancholy temperment. Vegetarian, doesn’t smoke, do drugs, drink. Thinks he’s going to live forever.

Doesn’t realize I’m going to be plying him with little nips of bourbon all day.