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The Water's Edge

December 29, 2010

I’m drawn to the water, as many of us are. It strikes me as odd, sometimes, as I certainly didn’t grow up around it. I don’t boat. I’m a poor swimmer; indeed the very act for me is simply staying alive until I can reach dry land—I seldom have had fun doing it. I grew up in the middle of Ohio, far from any big water. There was a green, sluggish creek across the street in which not even the most dare-devil, red-necked reprobates, not even the S____ kids around the corner or L______ next store or Murray H______ and his delinquent brothers down the street, would dared to have submerged themselves. There was a neighborhood pool of which I’ve written here recently, whose waters I never entered. A couple of miles away was a reservoir that had a swimming beach, but my trips there—and they were pretty frequent, especially in high school when I would walk or hitchhike there on many a warm, lazy day—were always about exploring the woods, or walking the length of its concrete dam, or meeting friends for one kind or another of contraband-fueled mischief. We never went in the water. Though my family frequented the New Jersey vacation coast when I was an infant, I don’t remember seeing the ocean until I was seventeen—from Jones’ Beach, of all places, in New York, during an iconic coming-of-age summer visiting my sister and her “counterculture” friends upstate and in the City. It—the ocean—terrified me, slightly, as I recall. But my chief memories of the outing have less to do with the waves than with my sister’s friend, ten years older than I, a dark haired, dark-eyed beauty, a struggling studio singer and part-time model, who asked me (mischievously, I think I realized even then) to rub suntan lotion into her back. The waves were too rough for swimming in any case, but once she’d unclasped her top and lay face down on her towel, they might have been spewing forth sea monsters and pirate ships, for all I noticed them. In any case, it’s not like I grew up the son of a lobsterman. We didn’t even eat fish, except canned tuna and frozen sticks on Fridays, courtesy Mrs. Paul. I’m a landlubber, by birth and by raising. (more…)

Look Out of Any Window

December 26, 2010

We’ve turned the Winter Solstice corner, and not a day too late. I knew we were due last week when I found myself groping for my shades while driving straight into a blinding sunset…at two o’clock in the afternoon. I’ve spent time in more northerly spots—lots of trips to BC and Alaska; a few days in Scotland; a long, weird day in Copenhagen. But I’ve never really lived in a place with such seasonal sun aversion, with the exception of a year I spent in the west of Ireland. Clare is about six degrees north of Seattle’s latitude, and it’s enough to make a noticeable difference. And, as infamous as the Puget Sound’s drippy climate might be, it’s downright Saharan compared to the high, barren, rocky, wind-beaten landscape along the Clare/Galway border. The Irish rain in December is cold, constant and malevolent. It doesn’t fall; it sweeps in sideways like a fire hose off the North Atlantic, and whoever you are, it’s aimed straight at you. Most evenings, if I felt like leaving my single-wide trailer with its tiny stove, moldy ceiling and lemon-colored walls covered in a thin film of coal dust (and, what do you know, I often felt like it) I walked four miles southwest from Lisdoonvarna to Doolin, where there was a better than even chance of a spot of music most any night, regardless of the weather. And most winter nights on that walk it was raining, hard—sometimes sleeting or hailing or both. (Rarely snowing. Snow is too benign.) I recall one walk during which the force of the rain ripped my waterproof parka off my body, and the fury of the wind carried it off across the pitch-black fields. I made the rest of the journey in my trusty Aran sweater, mindful that, should the rain come any harder, its one-of-a-kind pattern might well aid in the identification of my corpse days hence, wherever the wind would choose to deposit it. They knit them specially like that—each one unique from the other. (more…)

All Aboard

December 13, 2010

These incessant Seattle rains do, I must admit, lend the late-night Christmas lights a special glisten and glow, especially if you’re driving around someplace you’d rather not, which is pretty much anywhere in weather like this. You almost can imagine that you’re seeing all those festive foot-candles not through your fogged-up windshield, but through the muted soft-focus of Yuletide nostalgia, and that the shadows darting in and out of your headlights are the genial spirits of friends and family from happy days gone by, and not in fact feckless pedestrians whose sorry lives are at desperate risk as they hurl themselves unknowingly into the motorized path of your misty-eyed befuddlement. God damn but I do love the Season. (more…)

Sex Ed

December 8, 2010

Our Washington State Liquor Control Board has been in the local news lately. It seems that it’s pissed off a contingent of activists through its allegedly myopic persecution of a gay bar on Capitol Hill, the “LGBT” center of town. (That acronym always seems to me like it should be the name of a sandwich.) Apparently the Board is upset, or claims to be upset, by the screening of certain pornographic movies at this bar, and has assessed fines, or threatened the place’s license, or whatever the Board does when its sensibilities are offended. What the screening of films, pornographic or otherwise, has to do with the regulation of alcohol sales is beyond me, as are most things having to do with official rule-making and enforcement. Perhaps viewing gay pornography causes the bar’s patrons to want to drink more, or after hours, or to rush out into the street and give their drinks to passing children. Whatever the reasoning, its backlash is focused on the targeting of a gay-owned and frequented establishment, to the exclusion (so it Is claimed) of bars that screen heterosexual pornography, or otherwise violate the letter and/or spirit of whatever laws regarding the display and/or manipulation of human naughty parts the Board is required to uphold. Now, I’ve been to my share and probably yours of bars in my life, in Seattle and all over the world, and the only pornography I’ve ever seen in any of them was a showing of “Fritz the Cat” at a wannabe-artsy bar in Columbus, Ohio, in 1975, (“Fritz,” you may recall, was an X-rated cartoon.) I don’t recall whether, or how, the movie affecting my drinking at the time, but for all I know the combination may have been deleterious, maybe even responsible for my subsequent dissolute lifestyle. (Had “Fritz” been gay, or even bisexual, perhaps my downfall would have been quicker, further or both.) Hell, if the Ohio Liquor Control Board had been more vigilant, I might be a wealthy man today, perhaps a celebrity sports star, an actor, a senator, an oil tycoon, even an astronaut. I probably ought to sue it, after I finish my beer. (more…)

Birds

December 6, 2010

Winter is well upon us now here in Puget Sound. It’s not snow that informs us of this, though we’ve had one of our puny little blizzard-ettes blow through, a few days before Thanksgiving, closing the roads, the schools and the minds of most drivers. Nor is it the cold. I just walked the dog, dressed the same way I might for an evening stroll in March, or hell in August, the way things have been going with our weird Al Gore weather the past few years. Of course the days are shorter, and shrinking daily for the next couple of weeks. The night comes abruptly: you run into a store in broad daylight to buy a six-pack and come out into darkness, long past even a hint of twilight. But even if the days were July-long, you’d know the season by the birds. (more…)

Works

Short Stories
Many of my stories have appeared in literary journals. Several have won national awards. My most recent and upcoming publications include pieces in Short Story America, Writing Tomorrow Magazine and The Ledge.

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