Rush the Stage – Short Poem

Rush the stage
And fight your way
Through tempest of the sea

This ocean
Raging, churning
Oh, how it beckons thee!

Rush the stage
In foaming waves
Look straight up to see

Close enough to touch him
You could almost wash his feet!

And every night he battles
And everyone he slays
Establishing his kingdom
All that he surveys

Til fateful day
When vice he takes
It takes him instead

Behold the king has fallen
The mighty king is dead!

Then darkness falls upon the land
As Fate reveals again

Despite their righteous powers
Rock gods are mortal men

Another Man’s Treasure – Short Story

The sun reflected hot off grimy windshields and dented chrome bumpers, its glare causing him to avert his gaze to the ground as he walked. Already, his boots were soaked with dew and the back of his shirt clung heavy with sweat. The sky was cloudless and windless and, although it was still early morning, the air was thick with humidity; today was going to be a scorcher.

Gary didn’t mind the beating sun. Without breeze, sunlight was the only thing that kept the mosquitoes at bay. Had it been overcast, the bloodsuckers would be everywhere and they were hellacious this year.

He crunched his way through gravel and broken glass and long, wet weeds past row after row of broken down cars and crumpled trucks. He sauntered with the relaxed, easy gait of a man who knew exactly where he was and what he was looking for. He had been around junkyards for most of his 58 years and he felt more comfortable in places like these than anywhere else on Earth.

In his hand was a dirty backpack of tools and, when he reached the vehicle he wanted, he rummaged through the bag for a wrench and a can of penetrating oil.

Tentatively, he pried the car’s hood open. Wasps liked to build nests in old cars and he wasn’t interested in being swarmed if he could help it. But the wasps must have chosen another car to call home so he propped the hood and set his sites on the car’s alternator. The bolts that held it were rusty and old and set in their ways but his hands were strong and he was patient. He wrenched and sprayed and wrenched some more and, after fifteen minutes or so, he held the part in his hand.

He removed his baseball cap, wiped a slick, dirty arm across his forehead, and looked around. The place hadn’t changed a bit since he’d been here last and this realization brought him some comfort. Gary had seen enough change lately to last him a while.

Beyond the sea of shimmering hoods near the yard’s entrance stood the old familiar white trailer with the word OFFICE spray painted sloppily across the front of it. To its left was a once-proud Peterbilt semi that had been rusting away since the 70’s. A huge oak towered over the eastern fenceline of the lot, a section of the chain link swallowed up where the tree had grown around it.

He placed the alternator, its bolts, and his tools into the backpack and lit a cigarette. Smoke was also helpful for keeping mosquitoes away and he had been bitten a few times now.

It was time to go.

As he walked his mind inevitably turned to Kathy.

Gary had realized she was mean-spirited the first day he met her; she had laughed in his face. But he was a small man and poor and he knew he wasn’t much to look at. On those occasions when a woman took notice of him, he was eager to please. Negative attention, he had decided long ago, was better than no attention at all.

Now, he thought back to that night. It was less than a year ago but it felt like five. He had been drinking  beer in a small, rural bar not far from where he stood now. He had a decent buzz going but he had a high tolerance and a person wouldn’t know he’d been drinking by talking with him.

Kathy, on the other hand, was demolished. She sat bellowing and cackling at a table with two of her girlfriends from work. She was loud and stupid and raunchy and the fat that hung from her arms and neck jiggled as she laughed, her pig eyes bright with liquor and animosity.

Even from where he stood at the bar on the other side of the room, he could hear her louder than anyone else even though the place was packed. The bartender gave him an eye-roll but he was busy mixing drinks and pouring taps and not about to contend with some obnoxious cow, especially one who was shelling out the money she was on vodka sours.

Kathy’s friends made feeble attempts to laugh along with her for a while though it was clear they were embarrassed. As the night went on, she got louder and meaner and they gave up trying, escaping into their phones. Sometimes, they looked up from their screens to exchange uncomfortable glances while Kathy raged on obliviously.

Gary wasn’t the first victim to walk by her table on his way to the bathroom. She had honed her harassment skills on other unfortunates all night. By the time it was his turn, she felt herself a master of the craft.

“Who the hell are you supposed to be?” she demanded, “a gold miner?” She laughed forced and loud but her eyes didn’t smile and he knew he wasn’t being laughed with.

He stopped and smiled nervously. “No…I’m…just a mechanic.”

“A mechanic?” she sneered. “Well, I guess that explains those clothes!” Then, she laughed heartily while her friends typed manically into their phones. “What’s this all about?” she asked gesturing at her face. “You never heard of a razor?”

“I…uh…I guess I forgot to shave today,” he said.

He left her there roaring and escaped into the bathroom where he looked himself over in the mirror. It was the first time he had really looked at his reflection in days. Weeks, maybe. His beard was gray and full; it nearly reached his belt. He’d been growing it for years and was quite proud of it though he’d deny that if anyone asked. She was right about his clothes. He wore a greasy flannel and filthy jeans. An oil-stained Schlitz baseball cap sat atop his head and he looked like a man who didn’t have a home.

He sighed and left the bathroom. Kathy’s friends were now standing and saying their goodbyes. Kathy was talking fast and begging them to stay but it was clear they wanted out and, within seconds, they had made their getaway.

Suddenly friendless, she turned to him.

“Don’t just stand there, Prospector, have a seat,” she commanded and Gary did was he was told. “Those bitches couldn’t make it ’til eleven o’clock,” she spat. “Are you a lightweight too?”

“I can hold my own,” he said softly.

She sat back and appraised him coolly. “Go get us some drinks and let’s find out.”

He spent that night in her bed and, in the morning, he patted her forehead with a damp cloth while she heaved violently into a trash can. Throughout the day he made her food and brought her Diet Cokes and doted over her until she was through the worst of it. Then they started drinking again in her living room.

He stayed another night.

There was never a conversation about him moving in, it just happened that way. Kathy was the assistant manager at a convenience store down the block from their apartment and, in time, she decided that being a grease monkey was filthy work for filthy people. She had him start working for her at the gas station instead.

She cheated on him every chance she got until she finally told him that she wanted him out. She had charmed someone new who would be moving in and taking his place. Gary didn’t put up a fight. He didn’t know if he was supposed to feel devastated or relieved. Truth be told, he didn’t feel much about it at all.

He ascended the metal steps into the office trailer and laid his backpack on the desk. Then, he flipped the “Closed” sign in the window to “Open”.

It was good to be home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again with the rules

I’m complicating it, not that there was ever any doubt that I would. I mentioned in an earlier post that I’m fair at lots of things, good at a couple things, but not great at anything and I realize now that’s not entirely true: I’m a genius at complicating things.
They say Analysis Leads to Paralysis and He Who Hesitates is Lost. If those things are true, I’ve never stood a chance. I’m not one of those cocksure types who throws himself headlong into anything. I check it out beforehand to a fault. I stay mired in research and fact-finding and keep sticking my toes in the water for as long as it takes to keep me from actually doing anything. It prevents me from failing at things. (It prevents me from succeeding too but let’s not complicate this.)

Of course, they also say Fools Rush In and Haste Makes Waste so, really, who are “they” and what do they know? They can’t even keep their adages from conflicting.

Writers write. That’s another thing they say and, if you want to be good, or at least show signs of improvement, you need to write every day. Your followers will want to see something from you regularly if you want to keep them.

They also say, “Quality over Quantity.” Churning out scads of trash is a surefire way to get yourself un-followed by even your most devout followers.

No pressure. Just write good stuff every single day.

(Fortunately for me, I don’t have any followers so there really is no pressure.)

But First World Problems and all that. I’m not living in a cardboard box or drinking contaminated water or trapped in an elevator with Gwyneth Paltrow. Things could be much worse.

Let’s take a look at some of these blogging tips:

Decide what your blog will be about.

Uh…

Will you be talking about travel or food or parenting or providing financial tips to entrepreneurs? It’s important to have an identity and to develop a niche.

I’m not really doing any of that, Blog Tips Rules Person. I’m probably just going to ramble on about whatever pops into my head that day.

Follow other bloggers who write about similar things.

Uh…

Go on other bloggers’ sites and leave comments. Hopefully, they will visit your site and return the favor.

This is actually sound advice. How do I find these bloggers?

Oh! Here are some recommended blogs to peruse. Looks like this guy has 35,986 followers and what’s this? He has 1856 comments at the bottom of this particular post.

I wonder if he’ll notice mine.

Use category tags. For example, if you’re writing a blog on the merits of red wine over white with Italian cuisine, you might use tags such as “red wine”, “white wine”, or “wine with Italian cuisine”.


I did that in another post. I tagged it “meterz.” Anybody looking for “meterz” is sure to find me.

Last but not least, you can anonymously leave yourself positive feedback in the comments to kickstart some dialogue. Be sure to reply to yourself though. No one wants to be left hanging!


This is a joke, right? You want me to leave myself positive feedback? That’s your advice for getting my blog noticed?

I really should have been a neurologist.

 

 

 

Raymond Got Hit by a Car – Nonfiction

I remember that was what I said to my parents.

“Raymond got hit by a car!”

It was hot as I recall but it was a long time ago and that part might be wrong. For sure it was summer and a weeknight and I was playing outside. In those days, in the 70’s, kids played outside. There was nothing else to do.

I was in the front yard probably singing to myself or talking to myself or acting out some imaginary scene with imaginary people. I know I was alone and playing alone was boring.

From a distance, I heard the familiar wickita wickita wickita of a Big Wheel halfway up the block and I’m sure I probably stared as it got closer to the end of my driveway because it was noise and action and kids stare at noise and action, especially bored kids.

Then, there was Raymond riding past my house with a fierce determination as if he had somewhere to be.

He stuck his tongue out at me.

I think he would have stuck out his tongue at just about anybody who was looking. In his mind, he was flying. Uncatchable. Why not give the big kid a little smack talk as you’re blowing by at 100 mph? What’s he going to do about it, eat your dust?

I remember regarding this blankly, this little gesture of defiance. I wasn’t mad; I wasn’t amused. He could just as well have given me a thumbs-up or a wink. It didn’t make much difference to me. Still, I probably told him to knock it off; it seems like I might have. What self respecting big kid lets a little kid stick his tongue out at him without at least telling him to knock it off?

If I’m honest, I never really had much for Raymond. He was much younger than me and I couldn’t have been much older than six or seven. Numbers make a big difference at that age...he may as well have been an infant. It wasn’t that I disliked him, he was just so little he simply didn’t exist at all. 

I’m sure he never saw it coming; I know I didn’t. A young girl was driving. She did everything right as far as I know, she just never saw him. Big Wheels are low to the ground, much lower than bikes. He pedaled right through the stop sign by our house and into the front of her car, sticking his tongue out at me the whole time.

I heard a last second screech of brakes followed closely by a dull thud like you might hear from inside your car if a rabbit bounced off your hood. There was no doubt the car would be fine.

But the rabbit…

Then everything was so still.

And it was surreal. Everything had happened so slowly but all at once. I can still remember it frame-by-frame yet it was over in seconds. Maybe five.

I spun and ran to the kitchen where mom and dad were both standing by the stove over a pan of spaghetti sauce. I can still see them as clearly as if it happened ten minutes ago.

I said, “Raymond got hit by a car!” but it was like someone else shouted it while I watched, an impartial observer. The words couldn’t have come from my mouth, I knew. I was feeling far more serene and detached than that person.

My dad, who usually asked so many questions, who required so much information to process and analyze and plan, caught me totally by surprise. He brushed by me and out the front door in two steps. I had never seen him move like that. I had never seen anyone move like that.

Meanwhile, the pan of spaghetti sauce had flipped upside down and splattered to the floor and it was so captivating, that image, it was such a mess! There was no way my dad would leave an upside-down pan of spaghetti sauce on the kitchen floor.

But he did.

And my mom was out the door behind him.

Then I was back in the front yard and my mom and dad were over there in the street kneeling next to Raymond by the curb. And he was just lying there on his back and not moving or talking or anything.

And I was drifting.

Then Mom gathered me up and took me to the front step away from the accident scene and I couldn’t figure out where all those people had come from. I hadn’t seen any of them arrive.

My dad shouted something about an ambulance and the loud guy from across the street, my friend Brian’s dad, said they were on their way.

And a lady was running with a towel and someone else had some ice and a glass of water. And the girl from the car was sobbing and people were hugging her and chattering at her all at once and I felt like I’d been drugged by the dentist.

Then somebody laid a blanket or a sheet over Raymond which seemed absurd to me since it was summer and anybody knows you can’t make a kid comfortable who’s lying on the gritty concrete on the side of the road.

People were driving by really slowly and gawking at Raymond while a neighbor was waving them through and everybody was whispering.

Finally, the ambulance showed up and my mom was telling me things were going to be ok and that God would be with Raymond and she was asking if I had questions about what was going on. And I had a zillion questions but I didn’t know what they were or how to ask them.

And who would have the answers anyway…?

The ambulance took Raymond and, after a few minutes, people began to disperse in groups of twos and threes, talking softly and putting their arms around each other. Some were crying and some were holding hands and everybody was walking so slowly…

My mom told me a few days later that Raymond didn’t die.

But he had hit his head too hard and was never going to be the same again. After that, he went to a different school. He rode a different bus. He had different friends.

And he never, ever played in the neighborhood again.

I’ve thought a lot about what I’d say to him if I saw him now and I guess I’ve decided I’d simply shake his hand and tell him, “Raymond, you ride a Big Wheel faster than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Because I think he’d like that.

And it’s the truth.

**************************

Now try this: A Difficult Decision – Short Short Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One thing that happens

One thing that happens when you tell people you’re a meter reader, they get this look in their eyes like someone would if you said “I’ve been living in a tent at the rest stop.” People look real somberly at you, like they want to take you by the shoulders and say, “this too shall pass.”

The first time it happened it bewildered me. After a couple times, I began to see a pattern.

I didn’t realize it was like that. Before I became a meter guy, I never saw the person reading my electric meter and thought, “Wow, what a miserable existence that guy’s got going on! That’s a SERIOUSLY depressing job. He’s gotta wear that yellow vest…”

And it’s certainly not because I’m above that sort of thing; I suspect we all make assessments of people we don’t know based on all sorts of things. What they have on. What they drive. What they do.

They may not stick, these snap judgments, but I think, to some degree, we almost have to determine who this stranger is in front of us. It’s probably the survival mechanism that keeps you from hopping into windowless vans in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

But the job itself, the meter reading gig…I never saw that as some sort of sad obstacle for a person to overcome.

I wonder if this is the reaction the mail lady sees when she tells people, “I’m the mail lady.” Or the UPS guy. I guess I’ve never seen their jobs as something to be mourned either.

It’s probably in my head.

But you take last month, for example. There were a couple young guys who were hanging out behind a bar when I stopped to get a reading. It was maybe 11 am. I think they might have come out to smoke but, again, snap judgments. Maybe they were never in the bar. Maybe they worked there. I have no idea.

I had to walk right by these guys to get to the meter. In fact, because of the way the tables were packed in, I had to walk right between them. (I hate when that happens.)

I apologized for the intrusion and made a beeline for the wall to grab the reading and get out of the way so they could resume their conversation.

Then one kid turns to me and says, “I feel like your job would suck.”

He didn’t say it to provoke me; it was very matter of fact like, “looks like rain.”

I paused for a second because I wasn’t sure what to say to that. He must have realized I could be bent out of shape (I wasn’t) so he quickly added, “it just…seems like it would be really boring.”

And I suppose it is.

Or it should be.

But, I gotta tell you, when it’s beautiful outside and the breeze is blowing and the birds are singing and I’m not staring at a cubicle…

or a machine…

or a boss…

Days like those I feel pretty good about things.

I don’t suppose my mind is being stimulated much. I don’t think you could call what I do challenging. But I have a decently active imagination. I don’t feel all that deprived. I see cool landscapes and clouds and I can smell lilacs sometimes. I know every dog in town and a handful of cats. Most of them are awesome.

There’s something to be said for getting paid to exercise in the sunshine. At night, I sleep like a toddler who swam at grandma’s all day.

In the fall, it’s beautiful. The leaves are cool, the air is cool. The job is cool.

But then winter.

Winter is work.

It’s not Call of the Wild work but it can be pretty grueling on an old, fat guy who eats too much junk food and hasn’t seen the inside of a gym for the better part of two decades.

The snow gets deep and the wind gets kicking. You’re carrying WAY more weight with all the clothes and the snow boots. You have to keep taking off your gloves to punch the numbers into the handheld recorder. Sometimes, you have write things down but it’s so cold the ink freezes in your pen. You figure out quickly that you need to keep it close to your skin somehow to keep the ink warm.

For weeks, you wade through 2 or 3 feet of snow to get to the meters. Some are in back yards. Some are on detached garages or pole barns. Some are mounted on boards in the woods 100 yards behind the house and the house is 100 yards from the road and you’re on a time schedule. In the winter time, you’re humping it, sucking air while your heart hammers. It hammers a little too hard sometimes. That’s when you double over and put your hands on your hips and concentrate on slowing your breathing down.

Winter rains and snows and blows and sucks and that’s when you start questioning what the hell you’re doing and how long you’ll be able to keep it up.

Winter is when you decide,  “I’m probably underachieving – whatever that means. Maybe I should have been a neurologist or a machinist or a departmental supervisor somewhere telling guys they’ve overstayed their breaks and that I need to see them finish that can of pop before they get back to their line. Maybe I should have been a veterinarian: I like dogs. I’m seasick around blood though and needles make me pass out. So probably not on the veterinarian…”

The thing is, I’ve never had what you’d call A Dream, not when it comes to work. I’ve realized my dreams in my home life, at least most of them, and most of those in spite of myself.

But a career has never drawn me. Nothing keeps me interested, not for very long. I’m fair at lots of things. I’m pretty good at one or two things. But I’m not great at anything. Nothing has jumped out at me like: THIS IS WHAT YOU WERE BORN TO DO!

I’ve always hated those guys. Guys who know what’s up by the time they’re eight. Like Mozart. Or Poe. Or Bo Jackson. I don’t hate them like I want them to fail. I don’t even think I resent or envy them. I just wish they’d share some of those magic beans. Having some sort of plan and some drive to pursue it, that must be pretty rewarding.

The closest thing to a career dream I’ve ever had was becoming an actor or a writer. But that was a LONG time ago. I’m not moving to Hollywood any time soon and I can’t imagine there’s a huge demand for old meter readers there anyway. At least I’m starting to dabble with writing for whatever that’s worth. Who knows? Maybe I’ll try to write a book someday…

I don’t have much more to say I guess. I never know where these blog posts are going until they’re done.

My endings are worse than Stephen King’s.

I think I’ll go have a beer.

**************************

Now try this: Grandma and Teddy – Short Short Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meterology or Alchemy?

All right all right all right

I know what you’re thinking.

Meter reading is a dead art. A lost occupation from a bygone era. A noble profession long relegated to the scrap heap of history like the butter and egg man or those guys in factories who affixed Boston stickers to 8-track tapes.

Let me tell you what’s really going down.

In neighborhoods all around a couple of counties in Wisconsin, there are men like me. There are also women but they’re less like me than the men. We’re out there patrolling your neighborhoods and skulking around in your yards to keep you safer from high bills or whatever. But not really because we just record the readings so…

This is a call.

Meter reading brothers and sisters, unite!

Also, the term “meter readers” doesn’t include those tryhards who drive around the block pointing a meter gun at houses. Real meter readers get off their cracks and walk. We read a meter with our naked eyes. That’s old school. That’s keeping it legit.

And here it is, the first blog! Hopefully, I have another five or six in me before I lose interest and move on but, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in life it’s that only fools make unnecessary promises.

I’ve also learned how to read meters.

Until I start working somewhere else, and provided I don’t abandon this blogging business entirely, I’ll probably post some thrills from the route. Maybe some killer videos or pics or whatever. I was thinking about firing up a “Humans of Polk County” page like the “Humans of New York” Facebook page that was so popular a few months ago but my plans hit a snag.

You see, the problem is I’d have to talk to lots of people on the route and, frankly, I don’t feel like it. Not because they’re not nice or interesting, you understand, but because I’m on a time schedule. Meter routes wait for no one and meter readers don’t play. We get the readings.

Anyway, now you know more shit than you did before you started reading this.

Don’t get a swelled head about it.