Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I, we, will.

In an alternate universe, she’s living a hand-to-mouth, video-store clerk existence as the fiddler and backup singer in The Most and The Least, an band pounding out rockabilly, bluegrass and western swing retreads of ABBA and Barry Manilow songs. In that universe, after missing weekend gig after weekend gig at Monsieur Cracklins, the rundown neighborhood honky tonk, her neighbor Todd Newison finally makes it one Saturday night, and calls his friends who show up and sing along during the loud numbers and sway during the ballads.

Months go by, and the shows start filling slowly, and then to bursting; there’s a reprimand and some finger-waggling waiting for her at Blockbuster most Sunday mornings, when she’s usually late, half-dead and half-deaf - and while drifting through a zen-haze of stacking and sorting copies of Hitch, she’s remembering the night before, after the show - exhaling bong hits into her manager’s son’s open, willing mouth, while her lead singer picks out a frenetic banjo rendition of Sisqo’s “Thong Song” to the delight of three Northwestern co-eds, grinning like maniacs, sitting Indian-style, on the floor. A Cheaper By The Dozen 2 case falls to the floor and snaps open - and she watches as the disc jumps out and rolls, wobbily, down the aisle and into Documentaries.

In that alternate universe, she’s remembering tracing the faded edges of a Bob Wills album cover with her fingers, and the cool of black vinyl slipping across her small, soft hands, as her grandfather holds her up so she can put the record on the turntable - and the world a blur of steel guitar and violin and the high, hot whoops of the Texas Playboys; a world where Grandpa spins her in circles, and dances and bows and dances some more - but the last peals of "San Antonio Rose" and her grandfather’s warm callouses are replaced by a gentle plea from someone looking for “that one movie where Bill Murray is in Japan and not super funny,”

The Most and The Least convene one early Tuesday evening, over burgers and chicken and beer, to discuss taking leave from their jobs and touring middle-state college towns. The van is found, the equipment paid for, the dates tentatively booked. Should we go? Can we go? Will we go?

In that elsewhere, walking home to an other-apartment, she notices a thin rivulet of ketchup drying dark and brown on her bright blue workshirt. She flings it off, and just as it lands in a nearby gutter, as the wind thrills through the t-shirt underneath - the season so cold, and the walk so long. She’s pulling her arms in when the world flutters and jumps ahead a few frames and for a moment she can see a familiar figure piling groceries in a car she’s never owned, climbing in and pulling away, a Patsy Cline song fading softly on her lips - and then the world-sprockets catch, and she’s shivering now, with only Patsy’s pleas to remind her of the odd moment afterwards - watching someone she might recognize as herself, if only the song - a brilliant melancholy - was more than some lukewarm aspiration, but something to give yourself over to, as she had, in that moment, decided - I, we, will.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Dispatch from Indiana, pt. 2

Events in this post are part of the trip documented in the previous post "Unscheduled Departure." The following photos come from my co-correspondent, Honeysuckle.

So I’m doing these out of order, simply because, well, these get better as we go on, and really - what better way to begin work in 2006 than with a picture of me looking tense around large animals? As I may have mentioned before – cows are like dogs - gigantic, motorcycle-helmet-sized-turd-spurting, smelly, frighteningly curious dogs that can trample your spinal column. I’m not sure what these ones are more curious about – Schutte taking the picture, or the tenderfoot in the khakis and the windbreaker. At the time this picture was taken, I was the closest I’ve come to this many cows in my life without the protection of a fence. You may not be able to tell from this photo, but I’m pressing a lump of coal between my asscheeks into a diamond. Cameron’s got NOTHING on me.

These cows, by the way, are Vic’s – a man so tough, he fell off the roof of his barn and drove to the neighbors to raise help with two broken arms. Kinda casts my complaining about being out of Band-Aids yesterday into sharp relief.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve grown to appreciate cows after my trip. And they can be awfully cute.

'Possums, on the other hand...

So yes, my worst fears have been realized – a hot woman comes up out of nowhere to the car I’m riding in, which is good, but she’s holding a dead ‘possum, which is not. To clarify - I am not smiling in this photo. That is not a smile. That is a grimace. That is the look of a man who loves nature, except when its freshly-dead ass-end is being thrust into his face by people he had grown to trust in the last few days – trust irrevocably broken by this moment. I’ve noticed that since my visit, Budweiser has borne a slight aftertaste of fear, adrenaline and regret.

On the left – Schutte’s sister. In her hand – one ‘possum, gone onto a better world. Next to her – one citified dork wearing a Carhartt vest, holding onto a beer bottle containing the last dregs of his dignity. On the right – Schutte’s future sister-in-law, holding the toilet paper we used to vandalize the home of some man that had done some wrong to some member of the Schutte family – the details are unclear. It should be clear, however, from these photos, that if you wind up in Milhousen, Indiana for some reason – DO NOT FUCK WITH THE SCHUTTE WOMEN.

Otherwise – you might wind up with a dead animal in your mailbox.

It’s like the Godfather down there, except the horses keep their heads. And they drive combines instead of Packards.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

You sometimes sad and sweet and crazy girl.

FooBaRoo requested that I rerun this post from way back. I know it's a copout for those three or four of you wanting new LL&CB content, but hey - I just got a REQUEST. Who knows when that'll happen again?

Anyway. Happy Belated Valentine's Day.

Dear B:

They used to talk around sex in old movies. They used to dance and spin and call up to heaven and down to hell for a good go around without ever saying so. See Rhett Butler in Gone With the Wind:

“You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.”

It’s got little to do with kissing. Even if you didn’t know from the get go that, before everything burnt to the ground, Scarlett could’ve used a weekend in Hilton Head with a barrel fulla daquiris and Rhett handcuffed to the headboard - you’d’ve known it had very little to do with kissing.

The Hays code - that sphincter-tightening, long-standing Hollywood institution of social mores is no longer with us, but before it fell under the bootheel of the sexual revolution, it gave us beautiful, brilliant, sexy dialogue, dialogue I miss, like the stuff from North by Northwest, while Roger and Eve sped through the night, alone, together, in a dining car on the Northern Limited from Manhattan to Chicago:

Roger Thornhill: The moment I meet an attractive woman, I have to start pretending I have no desire to make love to her.
Eve Kendall: What makes you think you have to conceal it?
Roger Thornhill: She might find the idea objectionable.
Eve Kendall: Then again, she might not.

And then:

Eve Kendall: It’s going to be a long night.
Roger Thornhill: True.
Eve Kendall: And I don’t particularly like the book I’ve started.

I may sound like a fuddy-duddy mourning the passing of lines like these - I may sound like a fuddy-duddy using the term fuddy-duddy - but I wish I could’ve lived through a time when sex wasn’t trafficked, but discovered, hinted at, and slinkily descended into - or, at least, lived through a time when there was a little more grace to the whole endeavor, as opposed to now, where directors just cut to the chase and hope that the audience, already numbed into apathy by internet porn and “Wild On,” will find something more than mechanical in what’s going on, will imbue their writhing cinematic proxies with their hopes and wants, as if that excuses the end of mystery, the death, really, of articulate lust, and the beginning of an America occasionally titillated and humored by, but ultimately, bored by sex.

Sometimes I look at you, and see, sometimes, something of Eve Kendall, a little bit of the well-intentioned mischief in your voice, a little bit held back, a little bit offered, but always, a bit wild.

And sometimes, these days, I get the movies and the here and now confused, and hope I’ll find an empty seat next to you in a dining car, in the evening, on a train barreling past Pennsylvania farm houses filled with sleeping innocents – and even the unworldly farmhands would know, would, even in their dream-state, affirm the notion, empty Martini glasses littering our tabletop, my leaning in, and my whisper, they’d understand – they’d see your eyes and your smile and hear the sly smirk in every word you speak and wish the same, for me, and for you, you sometimes sad and sweet and crazy girl:

“You should be kissed and often and by someone who knows how.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Unscheduled departure.

The ride was my idea, actually.

I was 8 the last time I'd been on the back of a horse, and that was a pony, and we rode in a circle at the Wisconsin State Fair - not exactly a journey John Ford would direct an epic western about.

Not that I was hoping for countryside to open up underneath my feet, all cinemascopey and widescreeny. It's a testament to my tenderfoot-city-slickerness that my idea of big country is set in terms usually reserved for DVDs.

But there was also a century's worth of iconic images weighing down on me - images of men and women that built this country (the west end of it, anyway) on the backs of horses - good men and bad men, brave women and desperate women - all armed with six-shooters and gumption. I wanted me a saddle and a sunset to ride into.

So Honeysuckle said that when we got down to Indiana (to meet her family) she'd show me cows, she'd show me her cool-as-hell little nephew, and that, at 31, I'd get some real, honest-to-goodness trail time with a real live horse.

A notion which, standing next to Dixie - the tall, well-mannered mare her family put all the novices on - seemed like a horrible, insane, very-no-good idea.

The V-Chip, I thought, should filter out John Wayne and Clint Eastwood as well as excessive violence and boobies. Kids, twenty years removed from their televisions, will grow into adults with dangerous, romantic notions of these creatures, adults who no more belong on a horse than chickens belong in bobsleds.

I'm like a lot of folks who didn't grow up around animals - as long as they're smaller and cuter than I am, I've got no qualms. Apprehension, I learned, sets in when they get to be six or seven feet tall, fast, heavy and capable of crushing your sternum if they trample you. A rickety deathtrap of a drag racer is packed with gallons of highly flammable fuel and depends on a perfect symphony of thousands of moving parts - but only moves when someone pushes a gas pedal. Horses, on the other hand - like my friend Dixie - can be free-thinking, easily distracted jittery little fussbudgets who arbitrarily jerk your spine out of its mooring, especially when they’re following 'Suckle's Dad's horse around like it had magic golden apples glued to its ass.

Don’t get me wrong – I’d go riding again in a heartbeat and Dixie was sweet and gentle and only racked my hihowyadoins a few times – I think I’ll be able to father children at some point.

But still. A little harrowing.

Honeysuckle's mom was very helpful, and did best to counter my mood which, as you can tell from this photo, mixed resolve with equal parts apprehension and constipation.

She’s giving me instructions here, almost none of which I heard completely – they were blotted out by my brain humming “Horses don’t like it when you piss on their backs. Horses don’t like it when you piss on their backs.”

That’s 'Suckle's nephew Hunter in the lower left corner. Don’t be fooled by his adorableness – he was trying on my jacket earlier, just in case he could peel it off my paralyzed form if I happened to get bucked into a ditch.

Originally, this was actually the only photo I was going to post. I’m looking relatively calm and urine is not dribbling out of my pant leg. Looking at this, you’d almost think I’d been doing this all my life.

So we set out down the road from 'Suckle's family farm and moved across a few fields - all the corn had been chopped down, and the late autumn air and the sunshine and the easy grade of the ground made for a very pleasant ride. A couple of fields and ten minutes away from the house, I'm ambling along, sitting high in the saddle, wondering if the dogies needed tending and when Rusty would stop the drive and fix us some vittles.

'Suckle's dad led us into some trails he'd built on his property, and into the trees we went, ducking under branches and the death-clench I'd been putting onto Dixie's back loosening to the point where my feet were up in the stirrups. I found myself relaxing in a earthy, rein-fitted mobile Lay-Z-Boy. It seemed like hard-core horse people - a class of folk I'd always regarded with bewildered contempt - had the right idea. The boots, the gear, the stables, the money - they seemed so ridiculous before. So necessary now. They say the world looks different from the back of a horse - but they forget to tell you that it changes forever, also. There are farms all over the Chicago suburbs. Numbers and futures tumbled together in my mind, trying to find space for a dream of a creature, and all the illusory freedom it could provide.

And then there was the creek.

'Suckle's Dad's horse, JoeBee, made a sharp left turn, and instead of moving up a gentle slope, we headed for a stream - shallow, about the length of a medium-sized sedan. Dixie moved in close behind. I looked for the path to continue along side, left or right, but when I saw none, I realized, hey! We're going to amble through this brook! I mean, that's what horses do when they come to a body of water they can ford, right? They amble through it, throwing up picturesque sprays of water into the November sunshine, carrying themselves and their rider nobly onto the opposite bank and onward. That's what the movies tell me. That's what "Oregon Trail" taught me. We ain't caulkin' SHIT. FORD that creek, Dixie!

My little dream of the American frontier came to a pants-crappingly tense end as JoeBee came to the edge of the creek, stopped, stutter-stepped - and leapt.

As JoeBee landed and clambered up the steep opposite bank, the word "FUCK" rang out in the November air. Autumn, my favorite season, one that had colored my ride so far with the ochre of fallen leaves and filled my lungs with the smell of woodsmoke and the hills laying down to rest before the winter - autumn had betrayed me. Autumn wanted me to crack my head open and join the leaves, and nourish the earth with my pride, spilled brains, blood and regret.

'Suckle and her sister laughed and laughed and laughed.

Dixie had stuck to JoeBee like flies on shit the whole ride, and I knew what was coming. She would not find the water with her hooves. She would come to the edge, she would follow her stablemate, she would jump, I would fall, and I would die. Away from my family and friends, save one, the one who had brought me here, the one I would curse with my dying breath.

She padded the ground. I slapped my hand down on the horn of the saddle (which, I'm sure, now bears my fingerprints pressed into the leather) and gripped Dixie's sides so tight I'm sure she was thinking I was trying to get my toes to touch underneath her.

And I held my breath, and someone laughed, and the ground rushed up at us, and in a second, I was beside JoeBee, turned around and looking down at 'Suckle and her horse, ambling up.

"That wasn't so bad, now was it?" 'Suckle's Dad asked.

It wasn't, but at the time, thighs buzzing with adrenaline, teeth ground down to nubbins, all I could manage was a squeaky "erp."

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Thanks in advance.

Thanks, Craigslist:

no -- it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests...but if you were traveling on the Brown Line and found the copy of "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay" I'd left there last Tuesday along with the registration card for my new hard drive that I'd filled out and was using as a bookmark but hadn't gotten around to sending in, go ahead and email me. I mean, you can keep the book (I already stole my roommate's copy) but I want that card back. Or, if you want to slap postage on that baby, you can go ahead and send that along to the manufacturer and just email me, letting me know that you did that. I'd really appreciate it. I'll even read any solicitations you may wanna send along, contradicting the beginning and end of this post - but ONLY IF YOU FOUND THAT CARD. If you haven't, and you send some pitch for C1Ali5 or SEXUALLY EXPLICIT pics, I'm going to find you and your children and your neighbor's dog and lock all of you in a shed where an endless loop of Norwegian free jazz is playing at 180 ass-chafing decibels, along with a button from which is hanging a sign that reads: "Pressing this button will turn off the music, but will also, one second later, fill this shed with hungry gonorrhea-infected mice, while the free jazz will be replaced by Gilbert Gottfried's audiobook reading of 'The O'Reilly Factor for Kids.' One hour later, the doors will open."

So thanks in advance for sending that card in, or letting me know that you have it. It's nice to know that, even in this world fraught with cruelty and indifference, small kindnesses still abound.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


Louis Pound’s last bagel was a Magnuson’s Onion, toasted and spread with reduced-fat cream cheese. One half lay a few feet from his outstretched hand, underneath a stool, face down; the other half a few feet further away, leaning up against a carton of orange juice that was, like Louis Pound, leaking its contents onto the floor of the deli.

Beyond the twisted frame of the truck now bent into the front of Mr. Magnuson’s deli, Louis could see figures peering inside, shouting, running. He could hear Mr. Magnuson’s sister, Polly, groan from the other side of the counter.

He tried to turn his head. The room started to turn brighter and indistinct, so he stopped, and stared along his arm at his hand, now an unfamiliar color, pale, turning noticeably darker as he watched.

Where’s my phone? he thought. And then: There was going to be chili at the barbecue on Saturday. Dammit.

He listened to something dripping from the cab of the truck onto the tile.

At least I won’t have to call Angie, She’ll still probably be mad, though. It was weird, her so crazy about needlepoint. That’s odd, right? What kind of 28-year-old is crazy about needlepoint?

The peaks and curves of cream cheese on top of the bagel started to undulate and turn, like waves on the ocean. He stared into a tiny white sea, with a feeble grey light, shining, inexplicably, through the center of it.

From the back, he heard someone pound a door open, and figures scrambling inside.

I wish I could have had a chance to eat my bagel.

Well, someone’s coming, I think.

Someone’s coming.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

I usually hate online surveys, but...


1. What's the name you wish you were born with?

2. What's the Italian dish you like the most?

3. Do you think Italian cuisine employs too much garlic?

4. Do you think "The Sopranos" is just like real life, or would the series be made more realistic if James Gandolfini was replaced by Andy Dick?

5. When was the last time you made out in a movie theater?

6. Did you end up having sex afterwards?

7. Why not?

8. How much beer would it take for you to take off your shirt while attending a sporting event?

9. Name three things you like about yourself:

10. Name three things you like about the WB dramedy Seventh Heaven (take your time):

11. If you could banish any three people you personally know to hell, who would they be and for what offenses?

12. Do you think God is a woman, a man, or a very angry terrier?

13. What color is the grout in your bathroom (white/brown/green with black and purple splotches/I live in a shack that has internet access but, inexplicably, no indoor plumbing)?

14. Do you think the elderly carry the stink of death on them, or is that just Vicks Vaporub?

15. Ribbed, plain, glow-in-the-dark, flavored or Lesbian?

16. Favorite board game that involves real estate development and occasional incarceration that isn't Monopoly:

17. Coke, Pepsi or steak?

18. What superhero did you want to be when you were younger? Why? Don't you think wearing tights is, you know...kinda strange?

19. What color do you think you could get away with wearing if people kind of wondered if you were gay but weren't totally sure?

20. Favorite word that sounds dirty but isn't:

21. What book are you reading now?

22. What book are you currently telling people you're reading now?

23. Which Muppet were you in a previous life?

24. Do you think Kermit and Miss Piggy's romance was a strange yet effective attempt at demonstrating a functioning multi-cultural relationship, or was it a thin excuse on the part of Jim Henson to show some nasty pig-on-frog action?

25. Is Scientology for freaks, or do you think Xenu is gonna pop a cap in my ass just for asking this question?

26. Are you okay? You look a little tired. I was just asking. I mean, you look fine. Just...tired.

27. Do you think your parents will approve of the person you end up marrying, or are they both deceased?

28. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, would it be fried chicken and mashed potatoes? How about Skittles?

29. Have you ever prayed to Jesus that your recently deceased pet would come back to life?

30. Don't you think that wasting your prayers on a gerbil is kind of selfish? I mean, the guy got nailed to a tree for you. Seriously.

31. Can you dance, or do you just think you can dance?

32. Who's gonna send this to their mother first?

33. Can you get that "Candy Shop" song out of your head? Me neither.

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


That summer, in the late evenings, after an hour of anxious tossing, chasing sleep across the pages of a John Irving novel, she’d turn her pillow over, dial his number, and set the phone against her ear.

And on the nights he could make it home in time, he’d answer - hear her pull the sheets up underneath her chin, humming, softly, more often than not, the song she’d want him to sing – and he’d begin.
moon river
wider than a mile
i’m crossing you in style
one day

oh dream maker
you heart breaker
wherever you’re going
i’m going your way

two drifters
off to see the world
there’s such a lot of world to see
we’re after the same rainbow’s end
it’s just around the bend
my huckleberry friend
moon river and me
Sometimes, as they made their good-nights, she’d mention that maybe she should get around to seeing that movie. But the dreams that would follow, that filled her head so inevitably soon afterward, would displace the resolution - one that she never had any intention of keeping.

Long after she’d hung up, he’d trace small circles on the back of the receiver with his thumb and mutter to himself the things he would remember to say the next time he’d see her - he would remember the next time. He would.

And after a minute, he'd put the phone up, and turn, and open, and stare into the empty fridge.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Coeur d'Alene.

Our last true conversation ended badly, as we came back from the winery, with her driving, of course, and crying into the steering wheel. “I think I love you,” she said, sobbing. And after a pause came something from me worse than a lie: “I love you, too.”

And that makes me think of an evening I had with Jenny Hour:

“I’m looking back on the kind of women I’ve dated – “

“You don’t date women.”

“What do I do?”

“I don’t know what you do with them. I don’t want to know.”

“What would you call what we do now?”

“It definitely isn’t dating.”

“What is it, then?”

“Something that definitely isn’t dating.” She picked up the glass of water off the nightstand and took a long sip. “We haven’t even had dinner yet.”

I think about the first night I kissed her, at the end of the summer after she returned from Czechloslovakia – she had spent a year in Prague. “I missed washing machines so much, you have no idea.” I didn’t, but laughed anyway.

And then I think about the night we almost kissed on the couch of the same apartment I would live in, a summer later. It was her and Reneé sharing rent then, and they never turned on the air conditioning – she explained how her thin skin let the cold creep into her. Plus, she said, as she mussed my hair, my head lying in her lap, this is cool in comparison to Atlanta. I looked up, suffering happily, and reached up to touch her face.

She drove me to put a hole in a wall, and I’m not a hole-puncher type. Technically, it was not me, exactly, but the doorknob of the door that I kicked open after she broke up with me.

I needed a drink, and my friends were nearby, and they had liquor, and a door I knew I could kick with impunity. I still owe Joe $20 for spackle.

It was a big hole. I didn’t talk to her for a year.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Things I should have said.

These pants do feel a little tight in the crotch, actually.

I don't think I can hold that end of the piano all by myself.

Clearly, you're a jackass. A racist jackass that likes to have sex with his sister.

I...have speak English...berry not well.

Dude. She's making out with that guy right over there.

You don't seem anything like your wholly annoying but totally hot character on television.


Pierogis ROCK.

Antonyms, synomyms ­ - fuck the grammar, let's have sex.

I think I'll try the chicken.

How many times have you tried this home perm thing, Mom?

I'm going to sleep now.

I've never read any Tolstoy, actually.

He's a total schmuck.

I'm waiting for the next song.

If you don't hold on for a second, I think I'm gonna pass out.




New York.

Warren G. Harding.

I love you, too.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Letters from Little Rock, Postcards from New Albany

Looking out the window, with Colorado gliding past and underneath her, she followed the progress of a plane, a glint in the distance, jet wake bright beneath the stars, descending towards Denver, plunging into the cumulus, like the faithful into a dream. She watched clouds describe snowdrifts on the moon, smiled as she spun an image in her mind’s eye: The elf-queen thrust her wings behind her as Bradlien, shot through with the goblin’s arrow, fell away, into the shimmering fog. She sped towards her wounded love, hope and despair billowing behind her.

She would make a fine elf. Something to think about if accounting wasn’t exciting her after a few years – and what are the odds of that? She imagined showing up to the Monday 10 o’clock in a black pantsuit and a pair of small, tasteful, but obviously powerful, translucent wings. With matching pale lavender eye shadow. Just a hint. Tasteful. She snickered quietly. The adolescent sitting next to her prayed to God she wasn’t laughing at the small erection he’d been trying to hide since he’d boarded, and he shifted his backpack up onto his lap nervously, fumbling for headphones.

Would hat-head be a decent trade-off for the power of flight? Because you’d need a hat. The laughter that followed caused a dull ache to creep into her temples. She groaned quietly. I bet elves don’t worry about hangovers. I bet elves booze up and careen around the sky and wake up underneath a tree, or passed out in the upper branches, covered in pixie dust and puke, sporting tattoos of mysterious origin, whooping in anticipation of their next airborne bender.

She asked for some water, and caught a nervous glance from her rowmate as he handed it down. “Thanks,” she said, trying a small smile. The tightening in his pants lessened suddenly. He stopped drumming the lid of the CD case perched on his tray table. He glanced sideways at her, incredulous. He pulled his hands down, gripped the armrests his rowmates had surrendered early in the flight. She smiled again, and toyed with the possibility of torturing this boy for the last 2 1/2 hours to San Francisco. He closed his eyes carefully and forced himself to think of cold, wet, uncomfortable places.