Green Beer Hangover

The guy sitting at the other end of the bar looked familiar, somehow. As I stared at his frizzy red hair, he smoothed out his front cowlick and let out a belligerent belch.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, asshole?”

I shrugged. “Sorry. I thought I knew you.”

“Gawd! Not this again. Can’t you people ever leave me alone?” His bloodshot blue eyes met mine above the rim of his over-sized mug of green-tinted beer.

“Hey, you’re the one drinking green beer. Paddy’s Day is over, man.” I turned away to check the football scores, but a commercial was playing instead. Suddenly it all clicked in my head. “Oh, you’re. . .”

“Don’t announce it to the entire bar, ya wanker,” the red-headed drunk snapped.

“Nobody in here but you, me, and the bartender.” I looked around the dingy interior.

“And that hobo in the corner booth, but he’s passed out.”

“Sez you. Can’t you just leave me alone?” He slammed down the last of his beer and signaled for another. The bartender brought more green beer, snickering under his breath as he set it down.

“There you go, little guy!”

“Watch it with the personal remarks or no tip for you!” He pulled a real gold coin out of his pocket along with a five spot.

“Sorry, boss.”

“Yeah, yeah. Keep the change.”

“Did you just mean to give that guy a $1300 tip?”

“What’s it to ya?”

“Look, I don’t want any trouble. You just seem like you’ve been knocking back that green piss for a while, and I wouldn’t want to see you get taken advantage of.”

The redhead stared over his head at an aging St. Paulie Girl sign, then his gaze meandered to a flickering Bud Light neon. Finally, he turned his full attention my way, and I found myself riveted to my seat.

“Whoa, there, little guy! I’m a friend.”

“Taken advantage of? TAKEN ADVANTAGE OF? You wanna hear about being taken advantage of? I came to this stinkin’ country on a work visa in 1964. Nobody could do what I can do, see? They needed me. And I did it. I sure did. I sold the HELL out of their devil-spawn marshmallow abomination. I pretended to be happy for the camera, every damned day, while arsewipes like you call me “little guy” and “shorty” and these days, “dude”. Dude. Really? I was a GOD in my homeland.”

I looked at him skeptically and took a long drink of my thankfully not green beer.

“Okay, a Demi-god.”

The Bud Light sign gave off a tinny buzzing in the silence.

“All right, All right! A magical, mythical creature with amazing powers, revered by all! Are you happy now?”

“Mostly,” I admitted as I finished my second beer.

“I’ll never be free of my corporate overlords. My home country is ashamed of me. They won’t even let me back in on holiday.” He started sobbing. The barkeep brought him a wet bar towel to wipe his face.

“Well, see, that’s where I come in,” I said, sliding off the cracked vinyl barstool and approaching him with all the caution due to a very drunk, magical creature. “You know the Keebler Elves?”

One blue eye peered up from his bar towel. “Yeah, we used to play horseshoes. I haven’t seen them around in a while.”

I put a hand on his shoulder. “We’ve got a fine magical person protection program. We can help.” I dropped my WDC business card next to his empty beer coaster. “Give me a call when you sober up. I’m sure we can find a place for you in the Small World Exhibit.”

green beer glass

One Tree (Part 1)

Study_for_the_Sforza_Monument

da Vinci’s study for the Sforza monument

February 1848, North Texas

Freezing rain made icy ropes of William Robert Travis’s horse’s mane and clotted the trail’s ruts in front of them. The Canadian River’s red water had a white crust along the banks, and stalactites of ice clung to every bush. He would not make Osiah Hertzog’s place before nightfall. There were Bone’s hooves to consider. There was no point risking a strained hock or worse. Bone snorted, as if to agree, her breath foggy puffs shooting from her nostrils. A cold camp wouldn’t do for either of them. He tugged on the reins and Bone delicately picked her way off the trail. Down by the water they might find a cut in the banks for shelter and dung to build a fire. Hertzog could wait until morning to meet his Maker.

He rode on into the twilight for a spell, the world gone white and silent around him. As far as he knew, an Angel of Death could not freeze to death himself, but the cold still seeped into his being. When he took on corporeal form, he was beholden to the laws of the mortal universe. It was inconvenient, but sometimes necessary for his mission. He belatedly regretted the trip in front of him. However much the dramatic act of riding in from the west might please Osiah Hertzog middle-aged and dying of pneumonia, he hadn’t needed to start some thirty miles away from the house.

Truth was, William Robert, Billy Bob to his friends, wanted to enjoy the mortal realm for a bit. He’d forgotten about the wretched weather of the High Plains in late winter. He could go incorporeal and rematerialize closer to Hertzog’s ranch, but he needed to conserve his energy in case Osiah ran. He thought it likely. The man didn’t seem ready to die quite yet.

Bone snorted again, this time in warning, and Billy Bob looked up from his reverie. A thin plume of smoke rose up ahead of them. A campfire, a mystery to be solved. Who would be desperate enough to camp here, at this time of year? Bone picked up his interest and increased to a trot, then ducked and shied as a rock flew past Billy Bob’s head.

“Get away!” Another rock, launched from a small, dark figure, punctuated the command.

In a cut in the bank, much like what he hoped to camp in, was a small brush hut. It was a wikkiup of the sort that local tribes used for shelter when the weather was too warm for a hide lodge. Only someone very poor or suicidal would try to camp in one in winter. The wikkiup’s resident scrabbled on hands and knees, searching for another missile to aim at Billy Bob’s head.

“Stand, Bone,” Billy Bob commanded, and slid out of the saddle with a sigh.

He didn’t want to deal with a suicide. It would only complicate his mission with Hertzog. The man was very ill. It would be no kindness to make him wait, and suicide by wikkiup might take quite a while, even with the bad weather. Wondering what fate and the Maker wanted of him, he strode forward, ignoring the volley of clods and small rocks, until he was close enough to reach out and touch her, but still she held her ground.

Click Here for Part 2

Diamond Girl

It was my Cinderella moment. I had even had my “ugly stepsisters” moment earlier in the day. In a moment of unparalleled stupidity, standing in front of my open locker while Reg, the daughter of my ride home impatiently tapped her foot, I blurted it out.

“I’m going to go to the dance tomorrow night!”

Reg and her frienemy Elaine hooted with laughter. “You? At the school dance? No way!”

Elaine turned mock sad eyes on me. “Nobody will dance with you, you know.”

“You don’t belong. You know you shouldn’t go,” Reg added.

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. I did know that I didn’t belong. Of course I knew that nobody would dance with me. I had a mirror, and a sky-high I.Q. It was easy for me to figure out that my tragic appearance and complete lack of social skills were not going to get me to “belle of the ball” status. The best and worst possibility was that I would be utterly ignored. That didn’t matter. Just seeing the school dance, being there, would be good enough.

Reg and Elaine kept the conversation firmly tuned to why I shouldn’t go to the school dance most of the way home. They enlisted Reg’s mom into their cause. She pursed her lips and said that perhaps I was a little young. Perhaps I could wait. Reg and Elaine giggled and snorted and poked each other, very pleased with this pronouncement. They knew I adored Reg’s mother. They were sure I was routed, but they had forgotten someone very important in the equation. My mother.

I told her all about the school dance, about Reg and Elaine, about wanting to go and not belonging. She stuffed me into the most inappropriate outfit for a mid-70s casual school dance ever– an a-line peach polyester skirt with matching lumpy sweater, my hair ruthlessly combed and secured back from my face with plastic barrettes the exact shade of lima beans. She let me off at the curb (quelling my dread fear that she would walk me to the door).  Afterwards, she would be waiting in her approximation of a pumpkin, the gargantuan blue Oldsmobile that she loved like a second child.

The gym lights were low. There was no crepe paper decorations, because this was an “informal” dance. In the back was the largest jukebox I’d ever seen. “Diamond Girl” started blasting as the gym doors closed behind me. I’d never heard it before, never heard most of the songs that were played that night. (My mother kept me on a strict musical diet of Classical masterpieces, Patsy Cline, and Englebert Humperdink.)

It was a moment of pure magic and possibility.  Even Reg and Elaine appearing to “compliment” my hair and clothes didn’t lessen my joy at being there. I joined the wallflowers and embraced the night. I even got to dance one dance with the boy who danced so badly that no girl would dance with him twice. He wouldn’t turn into my prince, but at least I could truthfully tell my mother that I had danced that night. Perfection. Diamond Girl, indeed.

An Ordinary Joe

image by Robson Freitas, via morgueFile

image by Robson Freitas, via morgueFile

Joe felt in no way competent to be at a death watch for a saint. All around him were monks, save for one lone nun, the saint’s sister. The monks chanted, prayer-beads clinking off minutes like a timer counting down towards the final bell. The nun provided palliative care, the futility of her nursing never creasing her brow with worry or sorrow. All were serene, except for Joe.

He had been at the monastery for only a month, a chance-traveled destination in a lifetime of pointless journeys to find enlightenment, or at least a better understanding of something. When he came to the saint’s monastery, he was downtrodden with all of it; the traveling, the seeking, the constant finding that he and others always came up short. He was beginning to suspect that there was no enlightenment, no peace, no understanding to be had, only futile travels from one illusory light to the next.

The saint wasn’t dying when Joe first arrived. Every day, the saint would hold court in the monastery’s beautiful garden, sitting in state cross-legged on his pillow in a wooden pavilion. Every path through the beds eventually led to the pavilion. All day, the monks tended the vegetables and flowers while they prayed. The seekers, the travelers, and the penitents wove through monks and paths like bees seeking honey.

Joe decided that he would rather weed. The monks lent him heavy work gloves, which he disdained, and a big straw hat, which he gratefully sat upon his balding pate. He weeded for days until, to his surprise, the saint called for him.

“What brings you to our garden?” The saint asked. His hands counted beads, a labor he stilled at Joe’s approach.

“I don’t even know,” Joe replied. “Maybe I want to know what I should do to be worthy.”

“Worthy of what?” The saint’s clear eyes were bored and amused as he looked over Joe.

“Worthy of. . . hell, I don’t know. Worthy of taking up space on this planet.”

“Ah.” The saint’s expression cleared. “Just breathe.”

With that, Joe thanked the saint and went back to weeding, feeling no more or less enlightened than before. But thereafter, whenever anyone asked him what he was doing at the monastery, be it monk or traveler, he always replied: “Breathing.” As the days went on, he found the act of breathing, really breathing, filled him with a peace he had never dreamed possible.

The saint called each of the monks to his bedside, whispered in their ears, and then sent them forth. One by one they were banished as Joe waited. A few of the monks gave him a sidelong glance as they departed, but most went with eyes meekly on the floor. Finally, there were none left but Joe and the nun, who withdrew to a far corner as the saint gestured Joe forward.

“Is there anything else you’d like to ask me?” the saint asked with a plaintive sigh, his old fingers were strong and cold on Joe’s wrist, but his focus was already beyond the room.

“Is there anything you regret?” Joe asked, then hung his head. He often blurted out most trite things at the worst times. He was a naif, a fool, never knowing what the question really was, never-mind the answer.

“Yes.” The old saints eyes twinkled with mischief. “I regret,” he paused, his gaze resting on the nun for a moment, “I regret not breathing more!” With a final wheeze, he expired.

Later that same day, Joe was astonished and appalled to learn that the saint had elected him the new head of the monastery. The new saint.

“Why me?” he asked the nun as she brought him a cup of cold, clear water. He sat in the pavilion, his seat not yet comfortable on the brand new cushion that the monks had brought him. Out in the garden, travelers and penitents were already working their way through, seeking answers he feared didn’t exist.

She smiled. “He said it was because you know how to breathe.”