Archive for October, 2012

Where the Strawfish Play

Posted in Uncategorized on October 31, 2012 by tom
Water. It always starts with water.
Just before midnight, Tori and Jared walked out of the Hyatt Gulfside Resort, in Clearwater Beach. As soon as they were through the door, they let go of their wheeled travel bags and hugged. Jared kissed the top of Tori’s head.
“Victoria? Our presentation absolutely killed! There is an entire ballroom in there filled with drunk psychiatrists who can’t wait to prescribe Seretine for their patients on Monday.”
Tori smiled. They had killed.
Jared looked out from under the Hyatt’s covered walkway. “Ye gods, it’s humid as hell out here, and twice as windy.”
“This is a tropical storm, doofus. It’s going to be a little windy. And humid. You know, ‘tropical’? And `storm’?”
To their right, Gulfstream Avenue was quiet, the light rain blowing in curtains. On their left, the Gulf of Mexico churned violently, huge wave after huge wave pounding the beach. The air had a salty tang.
Jared considered the weather, then smiled at Tori. “Whaddaya think? Do you want to celebrate our triumph further?”
“Why Jared. Whatever did you have in mind?” Tori’s smile was coy.
“Oh, something like this.” He kissed her firmly on her lips. She kissed him back.
They were both a little buzzed from the psychiatrist convention’s open bar. Tori smiled up at Jared. It wouldn’t be the first time they “celebrated” following an awesome presentation. Or an average presentation, for that matter. Or just an occasional  routine Friday night.
Jared looked toward the Gulf. “Wanna go skinny-dipping, young lady?”
“Hell, no. With the storm? There are crazy rip currents out there. We’d drown like rats.”
Like me.
“How about someplace a little more sheltered, like our home-away-from-home this week, the Tampa Airport Marriott? My Jacuzzi tub is big enough to go skinny dipping, and there are these awesome cotton robes. You know. For after.” Jared winked.
Tori smiled, and lit a Marlboro Light.
“I didn’t know you smoked.”
“Only when I drink.”
“Me too. Can I bum one?”
Tori handed Jared the one she’d just lit, and sparked one of her own.
“Ohh, yeah. Much better.”
“Okay, Tori, seriously. You were hitting it pretty hard in there. Are you sure you’re not too wasted to drive in this vile excuse for weather?”
Tori stood on her tiptoes and kissed Jared.
“Look, boss. My rental has a GPS, plus I know we just turn left out of here, turn right on State Road 60, and follow that to the airport.” She took a drag off her cigarette, exhaling into the whipping wind. “I don’t care how craptastic the weather is, it’s kind of hard to miss the airport, and our hotel is right square on top of the damn terminal. No problem.”
She flicked her cigarette butt toward the parking lot, and watched the wind carry it away.
“Plus, God knows nobody will be on the roads tonight.” She kissed him again. “And a little water never hurt anyone.”
Except me. It hurt me.
“Okay, then.” Jared flicked his cigarette toward the parking lot, and watched the wind blow it toward Gulfstream Ave. He shook his head. “Jesus.  It’s steamy. Like `Apocalypse Now’ steamy. Halloween night, and it’s a sauna here. We’ve already had snow back in Denver, for God’s sake.”
He looked down at Tori, short and pretty, feisty and whipsmart, and he couldn’t help but smile.  “Shall we?”
He grabbed the handle of his travel case, and Tori grabbed hers. They set out into the storm. They came to Tori’s car first. She beeped the trunk open, and lifted her bag inside. She slammed the lid. Jared raised her chin and kissed her, his hands wandering down Tori’s back. She didn’t press away—
You let him touch your bottom. I’m telling!
–then pulled back. She smiled awkwardly.
“You’d better get to your car before you drown,” she said. “What room are you in?”
“Babe Ruth.”
“What the—“
“My stepdad Ron was a huge Babe Ruth fan. Before my sister Noëlle was born—back when Ron actually talked to me—he used to tell me about The Sultan of Swat. The Babe hit 714 homeruns.”
I was daddy’s Princess. I still am.
“Why did your stepfather stop talking to you?”
“Noëlle was the most precious thing in his world. Once mom had her, I was suddenly like the freakin’ hired help. Then when Noëlle died… Ron. I don’t know. It’s like he imploded? Completely withdrew into himself?”
I didn’t just die, though, did I?
Tori wiped a drenched lock of curly auburn hair back from her forehead. “It was like he couldn’t look at me anymore. Or mom. He died while I was a junior at Choate. Mom told me not to bother coming home for the funeral.”
She smiled ruefully. “Hell, I don’t know. Maybe he just thought I was a Red Sox fan.”
You know why, Toria.
Jared laughed. “You are an odd one, dear Victoria. I’ll see you in the Babe Ruth room soon.”
Tori climbed into her rented Mercedes—nothing was too extravagant for Greer Pharmaceuticals. She sat with her hands on the wheel, watching as Jared swaggered to his car, started it up, and headed for the hotel, for his room with the giant Jacuzzi and plush bathrobes.
Her nerves were screaming for another cigarette. She noticed the “NO SMOKING” plaque in the middle of the dashboard. She bowed her head, debating whether to defy the sign. The tri-point Mercedes-Benz star insignia dominated the steering wheel
Kinda like a strawfish, right?
Tori shushed the voice, that incessant voice that floated in sometimes—like a mosquito you think you’ve finally shooed out of your bedroom—always unexpectedly, always on a tide of water. Since freshman year at Dartmouth, when she felt the sharp, familiar pinch of a little hand as she walked across the rainy quad. A shower after a long night with John, her college boyfriend–
I’m telling!! You let him touch you down there!
She’d covered her ears in the scalding spray—
And you touched HIM. You are bad, Toria. You’re bad, and I’m telling.
Tori’s mind wandered. There was nobody to tell, really. Noëlle had been Ron’s pride and joy—the Gift. He died two years after Noëlle, then mom efficiently traveled and drank away the small fortune Ron left her, before checking-out in a stylish alcoholic death. There was always enough for Tori to get a top-shelf education—Choate, Dartmouth, MBA from Brown, all far from their Lake Forest home with no encouragement to visit on holidays—but no bequest to Tori. Tori inherited only blame. And this nagging voice.
“And it’s STARFISH, not `strawfish,’” she yelled.
The sharp sound drowned out the howling wind…
I just wanted to see the strawfish dance. You said we could.
Resting in that garish, huge suite—nothing was too extravagant for Ron—and Noëlle wanted to go swimming, no insisted on going swimming. Wouldn’t shut up about going swimming.
“Victoria, just take your sister swimming, already.” Oh God, mom. Why me? That brat, that shrieking little brat—and she’s only my HALF-sister. “And make sure she wears her water wings! And stay in the pool. I don’t want her in the Gulf without me watching her.”
Yeah. Watching, protecting The Gift, The Precious Gift. Me, a scullery maid that can’t be trusted. I hate the pool, the smell of chlorine and old people’s umbrella-crowned  cocktails. I want the beach. The warm sand beneath my toes, the rhythm of the waves, the tanned boys throwing a football back and forth.
Mommy said the pool. You have to take me to the pool. Not the water with the waves and fishes.
I’m sure you’re right. Little babies like you belong in the pool. Only big girls can go in the Gulf. Too bad. The waves are fun.
Mommy said the pool! If you don’t take me to the pool, I’m gonna tell.
Good Lord. Always telling, even though I’m 14 and she’s five. I miss curfew—I came in at 1115 instead of 11pm. Mom and Ron had gone to bed, and this little brat tells on me the next morning. I was grounded for a week. Her word over mine, automatic.
You’re right, Princess Noëlle. You’re a baby, so you should stay in the pool. Too bad. The Gulf is where the starfish play.
The strawfish? They play?
Oh, yeah. All kinds of games. They get up on two legs and dance around.
Yuh-huh. I saw them yesterday when I went skin diving, but that was in the Gulf, not the little kiddie pool.
In the elevator, Noëlle furrowed her brow, as if trying to solve String Theory or map the human genome in her head. She was a sight: little Miss Perfect, with her golden curls, aquamarine swimsuit, and fluorescent orange water wings. She made up her mind.
I just wanted to see the strawfish play, Toria.
Tori started up her rented Benz, rolled the window down, and lit a cigarette. “Screw ‘em,” she said. Greer Pharmaceuticals would pay the “smoking fine,” or whatever the posh rental place called it.
You made me take off my floaties.
I know, Noëlle. I know I did. The starfish live on the bottom, and you could never get down to see them with your floaties.
I’m gonna tell. You’re smoking. Smoking’s bad and gross, and you’re gonna get in trouble.
Oh, who are you going to tell, anyway?
Daddy. And mommy, and gramma and grampa. You’ll be in big trouble.
With shaking hands, Tori lit a new cigarette and tossed away her old one, soggy from the rain
I just wanted to see the strawfish, Toria. You promised. And they weren’t there.
No, honey. They weren’t there.
And the water was scary. It was bumpy and it kept getting in my eyes. It burned, Toria.
I know it did. I know it did, honey. It burned my eyes, too.
I wish I had my floaties. Then I could float and not go under that gross water all the time.
I know. I wish I hadn’t made you take them off. I was just trying to scare you a little.
Well, I was scared.
Me, too. I held on to you. I swear to God I did!
You let go!
No, honey. I didn’t. I swear I didn’t. I would never have let go of you.
Tori took a long drag on her cigarette–yet another one  doused by the rain. She put a fresh one in her mouth, hands trembling so much it took her five tries to spark the lighter. (One for each of Noëlle’s birthdays)
It’s just, we got into that rip current, and—
And you let go of me!
No, honey. The current yanked you out of my hands! You were kicking and squirming, and all slippery. I tried to get to you, but you…you kept going under, and I couldn’t see you. I tried. I swear, honey, I tried to find you. I kept diving down, looking for you, feeling around for you. I was so exhausted, I almost drowned.
I dint get a “almost” Toria.
Tears ran down Tori’s face.
I know, sweety. And I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry.
Tori shook her head quickly, as if to clear away the remains of a surreal dream.
She flicked her cigarette butt into a puddle, and tried to think about Jared in suite 714, maybe 12 miles away; about a hot soak, a few cold cocktails, and who knows what could happen once they got into those plush robes—about Babe Ruth and 714 homeruns, about Ron and his lectures about The Babe, Gehrig, Mantle, and “that mincing prima donna, DiMaggio.”
About playing strawfish.
Honey, starfish don’t play. They just kind of…sit around, really.
Nuh-uh, Toria. You were right. The strawfishes play. They dance on two legs and play tag and hide and go seek. They play all day and all night.
Sorry, Noëlle, but they really don’t.
I’ve seen them! They’re playing right now! Come and see.
No, honey. I have to go back to the hotel.
You’re going to do bad things with that man.
That’s none—I mean, I don’t…I don’t know what I’m going to do, but I have to go back to Tampa, to the hotel.
After you see the strawfish play. They want you to watch them do tricks.
Tori dropped her hand to the leather wrapped gear-selector handle. In the humid night, it felt soft and damp
(Like a hand)
and slick. The wind gusted, and Tori’s door flew open. She took her hand from the gearshift, and still felt the dampness
(that familiar little hand)
She took a deep breath and let it out. Okay, honey. Show me. Show me the strawfish.
That little hand fit so perfectly into Tori’s hand; that little hand guided her across the foam-flecked sand. Tori kicked off her shoes, and shed her clothes as she walked. That tiny hand—sticky with salt–led her into the churning water, up to her knees, her waist, her neck, and then down, down where the strawfish play.
(At work, we had a “spooky story” writing contest. This was my submission. Happy Halloween. Boo!)

11 X 11: Questions and Answers

Posted in Uncategorized on October 27, 2012 by tom

(I got this from Stevebetz Some interesting questions to think about)

1. God exists. Yes or no?

Goodness. Start off with a tough one, whydontcha? I do NOT believe in a God who would justify hating, persecuting, or killing people in his name. I also don’t really believe that God has gender. I think there’s a Something, but if I can comprehend what that Something is, then it wouldn’t be especially Godlike. I like to think that this Something is real, but I also believe this: neither I nor anyone else alive has “it” right. I don’t know what form It takes, or if it’s a separate, sentient being, or some kind of force generated between us all. I was raised a liberal Protestant, and though my view of God has certainly changed since then, it was comforting, and still is sometimes. It’s almost a cliche to say, “I’m not religious, but I’m spiritual.” That’s a big one in AA. I’m not sure whether God answers every prayer raised by every person on earth (and other planets), but there have been times where it has given me a sense of calm. Whether that’s because of God, because of tapping into  some Universal Consciousness, or purely psychosomatic, I don’t know. Furthermore, I’m not sure I care–if it works for me, I’m good with that, regardless of the reason.

2. Religion. Source of good over history, or not?

Funny. A friend and I discussed something similar to this a few days ago. Our conversation was how Christianity has gotten such a horrible name the past few years, but how most of the Christians he and I know are good people.

To me, this question depends on how one defines “religion.” Do we define religion as the sum of a faith’s practitioners? Or as the body that rules over the organization serving these faithful? For example, consider The Crusades. Lots of killing was done in the name of The Church. But I’d posit that during those same years, most people who showed up for Sunday morning Mass were good people. They came to worship their God, and to learn and grow spiritually. Over the course of time, I would say that the number of people whose lives have been enriched by religion–those who took comfort from their religion–would greatly outnumber those whose lives have been wrecked by it.
3. Mt Rushmore. Who belongs there the most? the least? If you could add another head, who would it be?

Speaking of powerful mythologies.

Of the four heads on Mt Rushmore, I’d say Teddy Roosevelt would be the least deserving. Washington: strong leader, great general, and the dollar bill guy. Yup. He belongs up there. Lincoln? Held the country together during the Civil War? Built the Town Car? Sure. Jefferson? Framed our Constitution, bought half the country from Napoleon, and invented stuff? No problem. That being said, I’m not sure what the point was in creating Mount Rushmore. I’ve been there twice, and it’s impressive, but it seems sort of unnecessary to me. (I guess it’s a reason for people to visit South Dakota)

The second question is especially problematic. I don’t know that we could ever add another head. Not for geological reasons, but because we 21st Century Americans would find a way to screw it up. It would be debated up one side and down the other. We’d have groups saying the new Head should be a woman, or an African-American, or a Native American, or definitely another white guy. The groups would snipe at one another, and shout arguments on cable news channels. People  would sign petitions, like Facebook pages, and make crappy videos to post on YouTube. Washington, Jefferson, and Lincoln are perfect choices, because they did lots of good things, and they didn’t have to deal with the scrutiny we inflict on our leaders today–most of the skeletons in their closet (and I’m sure there were plenty (not just Jefferson getting all Bill Clinton w/his slave girl)) will forever remain in their closets.

That said, if I had to pick one person, I’d say Babe Ruth. Just because he was Babe freakin’ Ruth.
4. Adult beverage. Beer? Wine? or Cocktail?

I’m assuming I can’t count the liquid Dilaudid in my IV pump a few years ago?

There’s a scene in The West Wing episode “Bartlet for America,” where Leo McGarry (a recovering alcoholic) describes, with fond reverence, the glories of drinking really good Scotch. He talks about the weight of a truly good glass, its heft and how it feels in your hand; the sound an ice cube makes when you drop it from the perfect height (too high, and the ice could chip and water down the Scotch), then the sound the Scotch makes as you pour it into the glass. This, to me, described perfectly The Ritual, a Ritual I practiced for many, many years, till it got to the point where it was no longer a Ritual, and it stopped mattering what type of glass I used, whether I had any ice, or the pedigree of the liquid I was ingesting.

Anyway, back when I was able to appreciate The Ritual, I’d have to say Cocktails, please. Specifically, Bombay Sapphire Gin, either in a Martini (stirred, not shaken (only a putz would shake a Martini)) or–in Summer–w/Perrier & lime; Ketel One vodka, rocks, w/3 big Spanish olives; or whiskey, baby, and don’t be stingy (Bourbon or Scotch, preferably really good, Ritual-worthy ones).

5. Extraterrestrial life. Yes or no? Is there intelligence out there?

To quote Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, “Pray that there’s intelligent life somewhere up in space, ’cause there’s bugger-all down here on Earth.” Allow me to answer with a photograph:

Yeah, right. We’re the only ones. Sheesh.

This is the Hubble Ultra Deep Field image. This image reflects roughly one thirteen-millionth of the sky’s area (imagine a 1mm by 1mm piece of paper viewed at one meter: that’s how tiny a piece of space Hubble photographed). Those glowy things pictured are mostly galaxies. There are over 10,000 of them in this image. Our own galaxy contains an estimated 200 Billion stars. So. Let’s multiply 200 billion stars per galaxy times 10,000 galaxies in this picture times 13 million. I  don’t know exactly how many stars that is, but I think we can conclude that it’s what professional astronomers call “One Fucking Shitload.” Out of that 1 FS of stars, do I think it’s possible that there’s an “intelligent” life form out there?

Um…yeah. I think there’s a pretty fair chance there’s some other life form out there. Also, I wouldn’t blame them a bit for stopping for gas and coffee on Neptune, then speeding right the hell away from our inner solar system without visiting Earth. (Unless, of course, they’re dying to see Mt Rushmore)
6. Mea culpa. Who is the person, living or dead, that you’d most like to apologize to?

To R.E.A, my Little Red-Haired Girl from FSU. I was a shithead, and I’m sorry. I think of you often, and I hope you’re doing well (at least better than I am). You deserve a great life. I hope that’s what you have.

(Damn. I was going to make a joke on that one.)
7. Favorite vacation. Beach chair, ski slope, foreign city, theme park, natural wonder, or visit with family?

If I had an American Express Black Card, and I didn’t have to pay the bill, I’d buy a brand new Ford F-350 with the 6.7 liter Diesel V-8 & optional 37.5 gallon fuel tank. I’d fuel it up, and drive up I-275 till it merges with I-75. Beyond that, I’d just keep driving, stopping for fuel when I needed to, changing Interstates on a whim, stopping at a hotel when I felt like it. I don’t know where I’d go, nor do I think it would matter. My destination would be my truck and a series of hotel rooms. I’ve somehow become a person for whom the journey is preferable to what lies at its end. Sure, I’d love to visit the metro-Baltimore area, check in to a huge suite, and have my friends from DC-BLT-PA, etc, come and hang out for a night or two. Same with metro-Seattle, and a few other places. But then, I’d grab my bag, hop back in the truck, and just drive some more. I don’t really like being around people for more than a day or so, and I’m sure people get sick of me pretty quickly as well. The drive soothes me more than any beach, mountain, or other destination could. Maybe it’s the Zen of the road. Maybe it’s just that I’m nuts.
8. Meat. Love it? Won’t eat it? Eat it, but feel sort of guilty about it sometimes?

Meat is just awesome. If the ancient Israelites had sacrificed giant carrots instead of meat to Yaweh, the resultant smiting would make Sodom and Gomorrah look like a Girl Scout campfire.
9. Sports. Die hard fan, or don’t care?

The only sport I even remotely care about anymore is baseball, and even then, I’m not all that devoted. I doubt I could name all the teams that made the playoffs this year; only that the Rays didn’t.
10. Music. What is your favorite instrument to play, or would you like to play?

In high school, I played guitar all the time. I was in a really horrible garage band, but I got to be a pretty fair guitarist. I’ve played on and off for years, and I find it soothing. I hadn’t owned a guitar in many years, till I bought a lovely Telecaster Custom a couple months ago. It’s amazing how much muscle-memory my fingers retain from high school, and how–sadly–my high school dexterity didn’t make the trip.

I wish I could play piano or, better yet, a giganto cathedral pipe organ. Or a Hammond B-3.
11. The future. Optimistic about it?

Personally, all the future I can worry about is getting myself to work this afternoon. That being said, I DID just sign another one-year lease, so I guess I’m not planning on going anywhere for at least 12 months.

As for the macro-future, I’m optimistic that there will most likely be one. I think people will continue to be horrible and wonderful, contrapuntal; that the weather will be terrible and deadly, and gorgeous. That dreadful wars will be fought, and hopeful peaces will emerge from the rubble. That certain peoples will always hate each other, but that mostly, we’ll all continue to get along okay.

Most of all, I’m sure there will always be questions to ponder on a Saturday morning.

(According to the rules, I’m supposed to make up 11 questions of my own for y’all to answer. I think Steve’s are perfectly fine. Answer them. Thank you, Dr. Betz, for making me think this morning)

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