1.  The Baby with the Bathwater


            On a dresser lay the junk of a previous day’s life.  There was a set of keys, most of which were orphaned from locks long ago discarded and forgotten, except the one from his ex-wife’s house.  This she left for him out of absent-mindedness.  Not hope.

            And there was the usual assortment of trinkets that are apt to be pulled from a man’s pocket at night--some lint, a black plastic comb, bits of paper that included a folded bank statement, a crinkled lottery ticket that was thoughtlessly given to him as an unwrapped birthday present by his teenage daughter (that happened to be worth a little over thirty-seven million dollars), some faded receipts, a cell phone, a few coins, and a business card for a massage therapist, handed to him weeks ago by a client at the car dealership where he worked.  A fine coat of dust that had accumulated on the fake wood laminate over the past few weeks united all of these items.

            The owner of all this stuff, Jon Zirko, was out on his balcony, enjoying the singing of birds on a hot, urban summer morning. And yet, as the caffeine sped up the workings of his mind, he couldn’t help but to ponder over the upcoming detritus of his day, a jumble of details that grew more confusing with every draw of his cigarette. 

            Distracted by disjointed thoughts, Jon butted his cigarette, turned to go back inside and banged his mug on the closed glass patio door, shooting coffee up to his unshaven face and all over his tattered robe.  This event put him outside of himself for a moment as he imagined how comical he must have looked to at least one of the residents behind all those dark windows in the building across the way.  He had just entertained somebody, and wasn’t that a good thing, worth more than the cost of his dignity?

            Jon’s smirk fell when he went back inside and saw what his previously sleepy lids had missed before.  His bedroom was a mess.  And because he had to be off for work in fifteen minutes, he had only a few moments to spare to tidy up.  He normally wouldn’t bother with cleaning under such time constraints, but it was Friday, which was different.  Because, although every Friday normally came and went without any distinguishing event to separate it from a Thursday, Jon always had the idea that he might go out after work, pick up some sex-encrusted vixen and bring her home for a wild night of passion.  And James Bond never bedded a woman beside an assortment of stained coffee mugs and an overflowing trash can.

            So Jon cleaned up with the reticence of a teenager who has just been scolded by his Mom. He vacuumed, stopping to pull up a toe-nail that had wedged in the carpet,  shoved work papers into a drawer and then swept away the dust on the desk that was revealed by the clean spot from the paperwork.  This exposed all the rest of the dust in his room so, moving to the dresser, Jon snapped up his keys, comb and cellphone, put those items back in his work pants pocket, slid the dusty coins in as well, and then shoved all the accumulated bits of paper (including the lottery ticket) into his waste basket.  Finally, on his way out, he dropped the trash bag down the garbage chute.

            There. Done.


2. Thump


            Morning rush hour traffic.  A sea of souls and smog that should be an epic story of adventure, like that of the sea faring days of discovery where salty men slaved under the sails of a great vessel, bearing toil and boredom as they headed toward a new land. Except that this epic repeated itself day in and day out, and the new land held promise only of the same old challenges of yesterday.

            At least this was how Jon felt as he glanced over at the luxury Lexus automobile that was crawling along on the highway beside him. The handsome W.A.S.P. businessman sitting in that luxo-cruiser didn’t appear to notice that he was a part of this crew, however, traveling with Jon and all the rest of his mates.  That man, drinking bottled water with one hand, wildly gesticulating with it at the same time as he held a cell phone to his ear with the other, was in his own private office.  He hardly even touched the steering wheel as he wheeled and dealed his way to work.

            What keeps that man insular and above the rest of us, motivated with such ambition that he misses the fact that he is just one cog in this great wheel inching toward smoggy Gotham? Jon wondered.

            A horn honked behind him, imploring Jon to move ahead as his lane moved, for two seconds, a little faster than the next one.  Then he was stopped again, this time beside a rusty old Honda, driven by a young black man who was obviously still new at this rolling, morning ritual.  Jon could tell that he was observing a rush hour novice by how the driver held the wheel with both hands and craned his neck forward, trying to see around the traffic in front of him, as if there might be an end somewhere down the line; a pot of clear sailing at the end of the rainbow.

            Jon entertained himself by imagining how this young man was probably living in a hut somewhere in Africa just two years ago, having never seen a road wider than a dirt lane that ran through his village.  Maybe the odd tourist-chauffeured Range Rover caused the nearest thing to a traffic jam when it had to honk to wake a sleeping hyena that lay in its path. And now, through some great feat of personal courage, this same young man was surrounded by more people, and more vehicles, in one place, at one time, in this one moment, than he had ever seen in his entire life, just two years ago when he lived in a hut.

            Of course, on the other hand, Jon imagined a whole different scenario. This young man may hold an engineering degree, or have been educated at Oxford, and was now borrowing the car of the friend that he had sponsored to come over from Kenya because his own Mercedes was stolen last night and he had to get to the boardroom by nine to explain why his multi-national corporation should go forward with the hostile takeover of that other multi-national.

            Then the next lane started to move.  Jon put another cigarette in his mouth, waited for the lighter to heat up, and wondered how he could be such a slave to addiction that he’d force himself to drive a three-year old lease trade-in from an ex-smoker, with no air conditioning, just so he could have a smoke on the way to work.  And even then he was breaking the rules.  Only a small spray bottle of “new car” scent, secretly tucked in the map pocket, saved him from severe disciplinary action.

            Traffic was moving again, with the left lane gaining over the middle lane, allowing the Lexus driver to lunge into a hole in the traffic just ahead of Jon, who had been caught dawdling in thought.  He had to hit the brakes to avoid hitting the Lexus, just catching a glimpse of the luxury car’s driver giving him a friendly wave, as if to say, “Thanks for letting me cut you off.”

            Just then Jon felt the thump against the back of his car.

            He looked in his rear view to see a very pretty young woman behind the wheel of a long-snouted eighties model Firebird.  Her mouth was agape, ostensibly with shock, and Jon couldn’t help but notice that she looked like she was giving fellatio to a well-hung ghost as her head bobbed back and forth and tears welled up in her eyes.  Finally the girl lifted her hands to her face and started bawling her eyes out.  Jon’s car and hers were locked bumper to bumper, stopped in the middle lane of the freeway.  Horns started honking.  It was not a good place to be.

            So Jon got out of his car and sauntered back to the one that had just hit him.  When he tapped on the girl’s window she jumped with fright, then fumbled with the power window button.  Her screeching voice spewed out of the interior with increasing volume as the window finally started sliding down…

            “Oh’m’gawd! Oh’m’gawd!” she wailed.  “Like, why did you do that?  Why did you stop like that?  Oh’m’gawd! My boyfriend’s gonna’ kill me!”

            “Alright,” Jon began, taking on the role of the calm father figure.  “Are you hurt at all?”

            “What? Hurt? No!  Like…”

            “Okay then we’d better pull over to the shoulder before we cause another accident,” Jon interrupted.

            For Jon, the tension was unbearable as he watched the girl gingerly pull to the shoulder, swinging her head frantically to see every possible point in space where another car might come out of nowhere to smash up what was obviously her boyfriend’s polished, pimped, penile enhancement. Finally, Jon and the young woman stood back to back on the shoulder, silently assessing the damage to each of their vehicles.  It only took Jon a few seconds, with his experience managing the service department, to realize that the cracked polymer bumper on his Mazda would have to be replaced. That wouldn’t go over very well with the boss, who would be too stressed out to care that it wasn’t Jon’s fault.

            As he gazed along the line of the crack, Jon was spooked at the sight of the girl’s boot heel landing a kick on the damaged plastic hard enough to shake the car.

            “You tool!” she cried, “What kind of, like…Oh who just, like, stops in the middle of the fucking highway?”

            “Okay, Lady,” Jon responded calmly, since it was his job to do that and he was very seasoned after nearly ten years behind the service counter. “I don’t have time for this.  If we could just exchange our info…”

            “Oh, like, you don’t have time? YOU don‘t have time?” The girl stammered and then started screaming obscenities about how Jon was a selfish bastard and this was all his fault.  And while Jon patiently waited for his attacker to wear herself out, a passenger in a passing car joined the attack.

            “Yeah! You tell him, Girlfriend!” This other woman screamed.  To Jon’s great surprise, this second attacker made him lose his patience and start his own gum-flapping assault.

            “Shut the fuck up!” he screamed to this second attacker.  Then to the first, he continued on.  “I had to brake for the asshole that cut me off, Lady!  Now legally this is YOUR fault for not leaving enough space to stop in time.  So if we could just exchange our insurance, I’ll be on my way.  Alright?”

            The girl withered from the attack.  Finally all her energy fell away until she rested back on the hood of her car and let her gaze drop to the impact dimple that wrecked the aggressive point at the front of her boyfriend’s car.  Then she started rummaging through the purse that she had been flailing about like a shield just a moment ago.  Her hand trembled as she whimpered.

            “Could I, like, just write you a check?  If I go through my insurance again ah…Do you think like, five hundred would cover it? I’m good for it.”  She looked away then, speaking to herself when she continued. “Oh fuck, Jed’s gonna’ freak on my life.”

            The morning sun burned the back of Jon’s neck as a wash of faces in cars passed this drama, relentless, uncaring.  Only carnage would have beckoned second glances.  And yet, for Jon, there was a bloodless carnage right there in front of him.  The girl was wrecked, smashed up, defeated. Knowing he was right didn’t make him feel any better.

            Still, there was nothing he could do about it.  “I’m sorry but I have to go through insurance,” he said, as comfortingly as possible, given that he was giving her even more bad news.  “You see this isn’t my car.  So I have no choice.”  Jon handed the girl his business card and took control of writing out his insurance information as well as hers while she frantically pushed buttons on her cellular phone.  Jon realized the girl was “text messaging.”

            “Here you go, Miss.” Jon said as he tried to hand back her papers.  She was too busy to notice him, thereby allowing him to notice the message she wrote on her phone…

            “OMG!  B/F CAR  HIT BC OF A-HOLE. L

            “Ah, Miss Stewart?” Jon said again, now that he knew her name, phone number and address, “You’ll have to go to a collision reporting centre within twenty-four hours because if I do and you don’t…”

            “What?” Miss Stewart replied as she hit the “send” button.

            “This A-hole is trying to tell you something.” Jon replied.


Jon finished his ride to work lost in the great movie script that wrote itself in his head.  Scene One:  Big Oil Tycoon, rushing to work, cuts off Poor Everyman, causing Stripper with Heart of Gold to hit Poor Everyman.  Scene Two: Big Oil Tycoon makes it to Big Oil Meeting, none the wiser to the chaos he has just caused, only to be interrupted by a call from his Golfing Buddy Physician.  Just as he is about to ink the world’s biggest Oil Deal, Big Oil Tycoon learns that he has six months to live, and gives all his money to some Poor Everyman in the bowels of the building.  Scene Three: Meanwhile, the main Poor Everyman finally gets to work, puts on his cop uniform and is promptly sent on a call to rescue the very same Stripper with a Heart of Gold from her Heartless but Muscle- bound Boyfriend.

            Scene…The rest of the Movie: Poor Everyman, confronting the Boyfriend (who has a gun--no--a “Rambo” knife--pressing at the Stripper’s throat) calmly speaks with great compassion and wisdom through a cool blue haze of sunlit cigarette smoke.  So cutting and true are his words that the boyfriend’s resolve falters and the knife drops just long enough for Poor Everyman to lunge at the Boyfriend and engage in a life or death struggle.  Finally, wounded, gasping for breath through a punctured lung, Everyman wins the battle and saves the girl, who naturally falls in love with him.

            Thankfully, for movie audiences everywhere, this story would remain in Jon’s imagination.

            As did most of his life.



3.  Imaginations of a Lamb


            Even without knowing that he had just thrown thirty-seven million dollars down the garbage chute, Jon couldn’t help but feel that this would not be an ordinary day.  He might fall in love this day, or be mowed down in the crossfire of a gangland gun battle that spewed out into the street. Aliens might finally make contact.  He felt this inspiration for a full ten seconds before he rationalized it away, putting the feeling down to a simple caffeine-nicotine rush.  Just a chemical imbalance in his brain. 

            After all, aside from the fender bender, which only promised more hassles for Jon than he would normally face on a typical workday, there was nothing to indicate any impending doom, epiphany or alien invasion.  He was still in the same line up at the “Tommy’s Coffee,” five cars back from the window as he normally was at this time.  And even though he was already late for work, he was still at the same spot in line as he always was when the driver in the car at the server’s window decided to hold up the line for ten minutes because the customer decided that she now wanted her bagel toasted/received cream instead of milk in his latte/ or whatever.

            Jon sat in his idling car and gazed with envy through the front store window at the completely barren serving counter, inside the coffee house.  Half a dozen brown uniformed girls were rushing around, pouring coffees and buttering bagels for all the drive-through customers except for one young lady who appeared to be staring right at Jon, even though he knew she was just staring off into space, thinking about so many more important things than the fact that nobody was smart enough to park their car, get out and actually walk into the store to be served.

Scene: A long line of cars sit idling in line at a coffee house drive-thru.  Tight on the faces of various frustrated drivers.  Some sigh, other’s light cigarettes, some, resigned to the wait, talk on cell phones.  One man gazes forlornly.  His POV: a server stands idly inside the store at the walk-up counter.  His look becomes curious, almost enlightened, just like the look on the ape’s face from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, when it picks up a bone and learns to use it as a smashing tool.  Now the same theme music (Also Sprach Zarathustra) fades in as the man switches off his ignition.

He opens his car door, gets out and walks to the store, all shown in slow motion against the backdrop of classical music that drowns out all of the cries of all the angry customers who remain trapped in their cars.

Cut to: Man’s POV inside the store as he approaches the door, coffee in hand.  As he opens the door, the music switches to the sixties classic, Woolly Bully.  Now the shouts of the angry drive-thru customers intermingle with the music.  The Man walks proudly, ignoring cries of “Hey asshole!  What the fuck do you think you’re doing!” etc.

Finally he gets back in his car, looks back and forth as if wondering how he can now get out of the line up of cars that he is trapped in.  Finally he starts the car, puts the gear in reverse, looks back at the driver behind him and mouths the words “I’m backing up now.”   Then he starts to slowly back up, causing a flurry of panic among all the other drivers behind him who must also now back up to avoid being hit by the cars ahead of them.  Drivers shout with anger, drop cellphones and newspapers, etc.  They honk their horns.  Suddenly one horn honks louder than the rest.

That startled Jon back to reality.  The driver behind him was honking because the line had moved forward by one car-length and Jon hadn’t noticed for an entire three and a half seconds.

He obediently moved forward. At the same time, somewhere in the world, a cow was prodded to move a few steps closer to its slaughter.


4.   All Filters Clog


Uptown Auto was where Jon went to make his money.  A sprawling parking lot, filled with new cars in front and used in back surrounded a shimmering, glass façade building inside of which Jon had been surrendering his soul to calculations and invoices for so long that the heady days of his youth now appeared like scenes in somebody else’s movie.  He knew that he’d once had dreams, could remember them, but no longer feel them.  Inch by inch, his life had become all about work.  As Springsteen once sang “Sooner or later it just becomes your life.”

Of course, the vacuuming of Jon’s soul could only have happened by slogging away at one job for so long, and so it would have to be, and was, a very rewarding career.  When he wasn’t crunching numbers on the computer or badgering mechanics for estimates on cost or time, he was dealing with people, which, for the most part he enjoyed.

Right now, for instance, he was handing the receptionist her coffee and she was responding with the same plastic smile that she offered to customers.  Jon didn’t care that her perma-glow, toothy grin was meaningless, for he was into beauty of any kind, whether it included affection or not.  If somebody could have told him that, at the very moment that Cheryl, the receptionist, was smiling at him, that the building that housed his little home was about to go up in flames (which, in fact it was) he wouldn’t have cared. Just so long as he could have that moment to appreciate true esthetic beauty, Jon would be happy.

“And how are you today?” he asked.

“Just great!” she replied, “I had a fantastic workout this morning.”  And, as Jon wondered if Cheryl meant that the “workout” was at the gym or in a most bizarre position in bed with her boyfriend, a cyst began to develop in her ovaries that would cause her to frown with just as much sincerity at her doctor exactly five years and twenty three days from this moment when she would learn that she would never bear a child. But that night, five years and such from this moment, Cheryl would drop really meaningful tears when she realized that her husband would not be able to take the news. And from that moment on, Cheryl would live every moment as if it were her last.

If she could have known that tragedy would make her life honest, at that moment that she smiled at Jon, he would have had the esthetic treat of his life. Unfortunately, humanity has a way of treating time as a linear thing, even as clichés try to teach us that “time flies” and yet a “watched pot never boils.”

As he continued on his coffee run from the reception desk to the parts counter, Jon glanced up to the mezzanine of the building where his boss’s office remained empty.  That was good. 

“Mr. Lund.” The dealership owner thrived on being a study in contrast. He loved to be an oxymoron: a corporate, capitalist, hippy. If he happened to make a half-mil a year, it was only because the necessarily environmentally evil products that he sold—automobiles—were the most environmentally-friendly manufactured and most fuel-efficient automobiles ever developed by the world’s best engineers. And if he must hire beautiful young women receptionists to collect his customer’s money to make their experience at the dealership as pleasant as possible, then so be it.  And if he must personally interview every beautiful young woman who comes along, knowing that if she is at least half way competent, she will stick around for a few months until she gets married, or gets anything more glamorous than a receptionist position, well then, he is simply performing a necessary evil.  By making sure that the next receptionist is equipped with all the necessary “t-and-ass-”ets that are required to convince all of his customers to hand over their credit cards in order to purchase the goods that his rich family allowed him to legally acquire, while, at the same time, giving him the ability to rationalize the strange way that fate has rewarded him with sex and money for his part in helping to delay the destruction of this planet.

As usual, Mr. Lund was late for work on this day, since the last Friday of every third month was a time for reflection and study by every “Higher-Power Student of the Next Order.”  So Jon might have just enough time to get his damaged vehicle in the shop before his boss had a chance to come down from the mezzanine to ask why a dealer-owned vehicle was being pushed in to the body-shop ahead of profit-bearing customers’ cars.

“Triple-quadruple,” Jon said as he handed over the cup to “Johnny” the body-shop “dude.” Here Jon was, in the bowels of industrial wasteland, appealing to an underling, who was half his age’ and who’s name just happened to be the same as his own was when he was five years old.

“Yo…Wha’sup, Dude?” the younger “Johnny” asked as he took his coffee and guzzled it back.

The two “Jons” faced each other in the neon-lit, hissing atmosphere of all the welders and sanders in “Johnny’s” body shop.

“Not much” Jon replied. “But I was wondering if you could slip my demo in before T.H. strolls in.  Think you could slip me in ahead of the madding crowd?” Jon asked.

(“T.H.” –“Tree-Hugger”—as in, “The Boss.”)

Johnny was a determined “dude” who was hell-bent on making it big as a “body” man, having no idea that, because his dad had died in front of him when he was fourteen, only after having uttered his final, fatherly words, “Tell your mother that I love her and please, Son…” that he was destined to become the Bob Dylan of the new Millennium as soon as he let go of this same father’s much earlier words “Get a trade, in case it doesn’t work.”

But for now, as much as his conflictions pained him, Johnny made it his mission in life to worship the designers of the sheet metal that he repaired.  So naturally, he asked, as the Mazda rolled back into the shop, “Holy fuck, Buddy! What happened? Get stabbed by a fuckin’ hydro pole?” which he followed up with his customary, machine-gun-style laugh, “ha-ha-ha-ha-know-what-I’m-sayin’? Ha-ha-ha!”

“Naw…Some chick rear-ended me.” Jon replied with all the machismo required in the dust and grease underworld.

“No shit?” Johhny replied. “Was she hot?”

“Oh yeah.”

“Well hey! I hope you rear-ended her too.  Know what I’m sayin’ buddy? Ha-ha-ha.” Johnny machine-gunned.

“Oh yeah.” Jon replied. “Bent her over the hood of her boyfriend’s Firebird. Yep. Right there on the highway.”

“Old Man’s Firebird, eh?  How bad was it?”

“Oh, its nose got bloody.”

“No shit.  Was it new?”  Johnny appeared genuinely concerned now.

“No it was one of those ugly early eighties with the screaming chicken on the hood.  Eighty two or three.  Totally  pimped.”

“Aw shit, Buddy. Her old man’s gonna’ be pissed.  That’s a fuckin’ classic, man.”

“Yeah I guess.” Jon was getting tired of this banter.  “Anyway, I got two more coffees to deliver.  I’d appreciate it if you could get on that bumper soon as you can, Johnny.”

“No problem, Buddy.”  Jon turned to go but Johnny couldn’t stop talking once he was on a roll, even if it was only to himself.  “Eighty two eh, man I’d fuckin’ kill her.”

Jon finally made it to his desk in the service department, sat down and rubbed his eyes before getting to work on the old stained-ivory computer. Invoices needed to be written up, printed, matched with owner’s keys.  Jobs had to be lined up.  A lot of paperwork needed to get done today and his partner, Bart, would be handling the service desk.  That was the plan anyway, since Bart could only handle so much number-crunching before all of the eye fatigue and mental work affected his “mental condition.”

Jon rubbed his eyes once more, savoured the darkness for a second as Johnny’s last words reverberated in his head. I’d fuckin’ kill her.  He remembered the dying squeal of a dog that he’d once hit as it ran across the road.  And then the sight of his daughter, when she was nine, quivering, crying when she saw him screaming at her mother.

He wanted to stop the world’s rotation for just one moment.

Just stop.


5.  A Calming Insanity


            “Where my car?  Jun! Where my car?”

            So much for stopping the world.  Jon opened his eyes to the sight of Steve, the spring-loaded Chinese salesman whose shimmering black hair danced around his throbbing temples when he got excited.

            “Which car is that?” Jon replied with a droll quietness that only infuriated Steve even more.


            “Whoah!” Jon interrupted. “Steve, we don’t all have your photographic memory for V.I.N.’s. What car are you talking about?”

            “Car I see you drive home yesterday. Erectric brue Mazda!” Steve almost screamed. “Base model O-tree! I sell dis car today.  Today! Customer come in to sign dis morning!”

            Jon tried to think of an answer that wouldn’t cause Steve to jump over the counter and wring his neck.  But he couldn’t, so he instinctively grabbed the armrests of his chair, putting himself in flight-mode before he replied “Oh that car? Ah…Steve…It’s in the body shop.  Little bit of a crack in the bumper.”

            “Crack in the bumper?” Steve visibly shivered.

            Carefully cloaked beneath layers of civility and understanding, Jon’s latent racism allowed an image from an old war movie—that of gritted teeth jutting from the peeled back lips of a Kamikaze pilot who was hell bent on diving his plane to his death in order to sink a warship, killing thousands of his enemies in one shot. Never mind that Kamikazes were Japanese and Steve was Chinese.  Racism thinks details are for wimps.

            At the same time, Steve was seeing all of his life’s hopes and dreams come crashing down in flames.  Jon was the uncaring devil, casually mentioning that he had come to take him to hell.  And Steve didn’t even drink caffeine.

            “Listen Steve,” Jon replied, “everything happens for a reason. Maybe this is serendipity coming to call, you know? I mean just maybe…”

            “I don’t want sendipitee! I want my car!”

            Just then a huge hand, Bart’s, landed gently on Steve’s shoulder, making his spring snap up a little. Steve spun around on his centre strut and looked up at the seven- foot tall giant that was looking down at him. 

            “Chill, my excited brother,” Bart said.

            A big, bold American fighter pilot, sure of aim and righteousness, swooped down to save the S.S. Jon from the kamikaze death-dive.      


            Bart was lost in the woods one fall day when he was thirteen years old.  While his mother lay on a moldy, threadbare couch, splayed out in a drunken stupor on the front porch of his family’s farmhouse, he had slipped away to the forest, hoping to find something, some kind of magic friend, to replace his absent mother and his long dead father.  Instead, he only found himself mired in brambles until he finally realized how cold it was and how dark it was getting.  He wandered, alone and crying, for hours until he saw something shining through the forest.  So he walked toward it until he found a golden tree.  Liquid light shimmered gold from the base of the trunk to the tip of its highest branches.  And beyond it, the forest cleared, revealing his house where his mother stood on the porch, clean and sober, waving to him to come home. 

            A week later the police brought him home after he had wandered off for the seventh day in a row.  When Bart finally revealed what he had found, and was trying to find again, to a social worker, he began a medicated life of drug therapy in homes that could only be called institutions.

            His life, though peaceful on his meds, was unbearably dull. So in his later teenage years he began to hide his pills, flush them down toilets, do anything that might allow him to find that tree of gold again.  And though he never found it, he did discover gardens of tropical flowers that grew under every hospital bed.  He also found an almost invisible laser beam that pierced through everybody’s head, and which carried information from one mind to another, all over the world. Sometimes though, that information carried a command: “We must kill Bart.”

            He’d run, hiding from his killers, from one closet to another, always being chased out by demons until he finally found solace in a padded room, where piles of pills would be forced down his throat.

            The cycle repeated itself for many years until one day when he passed Mr. Lund in a hallway where Jon’s boss was being treated for depression.  Mr. Lund, always willing to see through rose-coloured glasses, was fascinated by Bart’s description of the interconnectedness of all minds, which echoed his own philosophy.

            Thus began Mr. Lund’s mission to save Bart from the institutional merry-go-round by giving him a job, which caused no end to the headaches for Jon, whose job it was to train a schizophrenic to perform tasks for which he had no experience and no aptitude.


6.   Physics, God, or Fate

            Steve sat at his desk and stared at the clean white table-top.   Aside from his computer monitor, nothing else littered his workspace except for a picture of his wife and five year old daughter. And even that photo was tucked up by the corner of his monitor so as not to interfere with his professional environment.

            A clean white field of nothing feasted his eyes, so that he didn’t have to look up at the cars that he wouldn’t sell today, or the bald spot on the back of the head of the man named Jon, way over in the service window, who had destroyed his life. Nor would he have to look up at the customer who would surely be walking in any moment to sign a deal on a car that he didn’t have.

            Incapable of ever seeing past disaster, Steve stared into the picture of his daughter until the frame disappeared from his view and the little girl took on three dimensions.  She grew old in his mind.  Her smile became a frown, and finally she spoke to her daddy.  “How come you never provided for me?  You never put me through college. I was going to be a doctor.  And, because of you, I am nothing. I am nothing, Daddy!”

            All because of that cruel man named Jon. 

            Steve allowed bile and hatred to wash his soul until he found himself willing Jon’s death.  His force of will grew strong and passionate with every passing second until he felt as though he could make his wish come true, just by putting it out there for God to hear. Yes, perhaps God would punish that evil man for wrecking the deal that would surely be the one sale too few to give his daughter the career that she would one day surely wish for.

            And finally, when he was sure that his wish of revenge had left his body, to travel toward its destiny, Steve sighed with relief, and looked up to see his customer standing before him.  So he stood up and extended a handshake, along with a sudden new confidence.

            “Ah, Mrs. Chong!  And how are you dis Morning? So good to see you.”

            “Where’s my new car?” she asked.  Steve, incapable of ever understanding how skilled he was at turning a bad situation around, had no idea that in the next second he would think of a reply that would save his daughter’s imaginary future.

            Steve’s evil wish, meanwhile, rested out there in the ether.  As surely as a cloud might litter a blue sky, his desire floated along, waiting for God or physics or fate to carry it along to its destiny.

            Many outrageous theories of the mind have been put forth and never proven. Telekinesis, mind reading, levitation, what have you. And so, of course, there is no way for any of us human beings to ever know for sure that Steve’s evil will could have traveled down a number of streets, stopped for traffic signals, just like any other mortal vehicle, and implanted itself in the brain of another temporarily disillusioned soul, who also happened to be named “Steve.”

            Although this “Steve” was christened with that name from birth, as opposed to having chosen that name, humbly and nobly, to “fit in” to his new society, it may all be a coincidence. Maybe thoughts cannot travel, the way one warped or enlightened mind may speculate, across some elusive laser beam, or any other way.  Or maybe they can. And maybe some great Divinity had a good laugh by taking one man’s evil wish, scooping it up out of the blue, and dumping it in another man’s mind. Another man who just happened to have the same name as the author of the wish and who just happened to be in such a position in time, space and temperament, as to have the power to at least enact part of the original author’s wish.

            Maybe that wish fell into the dungeon of Jon’s home.


7. The Dungeon


            Steve Drinkwater had every good reason, save for his own lack of good reasoning skills, to be pissed off that morning. There he was, gazing at the mound of garbage that was overflowing from his building’s garbage bin. On any normal Friday, he might have accepted, as he usually did, the fact that few of the tenants in the building for which he was the superintendent, ever read the notices to separate their recycling from their garbage. Or to tie their bags securely before they dropped them down the chute, so that he wouldn’t have to spend hours shoveling dried noodles, coffee grinds and maggots back into the big blue dumpster that sat in the middle of the dimly-lit, brick and mortar ringed room.  It was a medieval space that harkened back to the old days of the underworld of a dark, uncaring city. And yet most people today have no idea that such bowels of necessary darkness and stench still exist.

            Except for people like him. For Steve Drinkwater was one of those people who blindly accepts whatever good fortune happens to come his way, even when his every instinct told him that it was all too good to be true, because he somehow managed to convince himself that he had done the right thing, and so he shouldn’t trust his cynical instincts.

            Until all his good faith in his misguided self came back to bite him in the ass. As when the secure, great paying job that dropped into his lap eventually led to moments he had never foreseen, like this one, where he faced one of the worst tasks that any man in modern society could be expected to perform. To literally shovel shit.

            So what if he was born with a face that “only a mother could love.”  And how could he help himself from thinking that when all of his childhood friends teased him about it.  Maybe, because he’d put up with all that harassment as a child, and grinned and bared it without becoming a serial-killer, that he was entitled to believe that a beautiful woman actually meant it when she said “’Till death do us part.” Maybe she was the reward for the dues that he paid. Sure, he was a way for her to get out of the trailer-park life. And certainly her parents had pushed for her to marry into a stable relationship for once.  But maybe, even though he never saw it in her eyes, she did fall in love with him. Maybe he could believe her words of love.

            But now, ten months to the day after she had left him after nine years of peaceful marriage, with a five word note left in the middle of the apartment that she had stripped to the curtain rods, Steve Drinkwater was also faced with the fact that the lump in his abdomen that he thought was the psychosomatic symptom of a broken heart, was actually a terminal, cancerous tumor.

            He’d only found out yesterday.  So of course he had yet to tell anybody that he was dying, or give notice to the building landlord, or book a flight to Tahiti on a credit card that he’d never have to pay off.  So, no matter what horrendous thing he did today, all the news clips would report him, through all the eyewitness reports, as one of those great family guys, whom you would never suspect of doing such a terrible thing.

            Except that he couldn’t think of any particularly terrible thing to do. All he could manage was to turn a dusty box up on its end, sit down, light a cigarette, and stare at all the split-open bags of garbage that it was his job to clean up. Numb in his heart, already dead in spirit, Steve sat in the dark asshole of the building, smelling the putrid mixtures of rotten eggs, slimy old vegetables and orange peels.

            Smoke rings rose up before Steve’s eyes as a sudden wave of hatred washed through him. From utter numbness, Steve was shocked to find this hatred pierce his heart from out of nowhere. He wanted to kill, with violence. He didn’t want to kill a man named Jon, even though the original hateful wish was meant for such a man, because this “Steve” didn’t know that “Jon” except as a tenant that he occasionally passed in the hall and who never caused him any trouble.

So this Steve interpreted that hatred as a desire to kill all the stupid thoughts he’d ever had, all the mistakes he’d ever made, the very ideas he’d always had about himself.

And finally, when all the killing was done, and all the corpses of negativity and self loathing were buried, all that hatred flew out of Steve Drinkwater in one great primal scream, at the end of which he tossed his cigarette into the garbage heap and marched right out of his entire life.

            Five minutes later he was in his car, driving to the airport with nothing but the clothes on his back, his wallet, and a sense of freedom in his heart that was so glorious, and so intense, he could barely see the road for the tears of joy in his eyes.

            At the same time, a flame burst to life, way down in the dungeon of Jon’s home.


8. The Spark


            Jon leapt out of his seat with such a start that the office chair rolled back and slammed into a filing cabinet. Cheryl swung her head around to see what all the commotion was about.

            “Jon?” she asked, “you okay?”

            “Yeah,” he replied instinctively as he noticed that Bart was also gazing back at him from the service desk.  And so were the customers beyond.

            “Just a…A muscle cramp.”  Jon shook his wrist as if to get rid of the spasm that he lied about to create an alibi for something he couldn’t explain.  But the fact was that he’d had a full mind-body spasm. The instant between when he was sitting at his desk, writing, “ignition coil replaced in…” to the moment when he found himself being stared at, his memory was blank.  

            For a second Jon wondered if he’d had a stroke. But then he found himself wondering why he was here.  Not here at the dealership, but why he was here on this planet.  And of all the faces that stared at him, he wanted to ask, What makes you all tick?

            “Ah…I just have to check on something,” he muttered.  A second later he was marching out to the body shop. Again, he was unaware of several seconds of his existence. Johnny turned around, wielding a welder, a flame scorching white-hot beside the welding mask that covered his face.

            “Yo…Johnny!” Jon shouted over the noise of the hissing fire and all the rest of the cacophony of industry.

            “Yo!” Johnny replied, after spinning around with the startling welcome of Jon’s index finger stabbing his shoulder. “You can’t be fuckin’ doin’ that…” Johnny said as he raised his mask to reveal a playful smile.

            Jon never noticed.  He just burned with wonder. “What did you mean when you said `I’d fucking kill her?’”

            “Whaddya mean?”

            “I mean, when I was walking away, earlier, you said ‘I’d fuckin’ kill her.’”

            “Yo, Dude, are you coming unglued?” Johnny replied, truly mystified.

            “I don’t know.  But I know what you said, and I just wanna’ know how literally you meant that.  Okay?”

            “Dude, I’m a fuckin’ pussy, man.  Ha-ha-ha. Know what I mean? I might spank her hot little ass, you know?  Ha-ha-ha-ha. Bad girl! Bad girl! Know what I’m saying?”

            “Right.” Jon replied, wondering why he’d asked.

            “Yo, Jon, man, you okay?”

            “Just curious, that’s all.” Jon was embarrassed.

            “Dude, you know I’d never hit a chick.”

            “Yeah, of course.”

            “I was just sayin’ it’s a fuckin’ shame, a ride like that getting damaged ‘cause of a blonde move.  You know?”

            “Yeah,” Jon replied as he turned to go. He started to walk away, wondering again, what had just happened to him.

            “Fuck, man,” Johnny continued talking to himself,  “I’d never hit a chick.  ‘Course, boning a classic like that, some asshole might fuckin’ shoot her! Ha-ha-ha-ha.”


Scene:  A collage of rippling biceps flailing about.  A fist lands hard on Miss Stewart’s cheek.  Blood flies out of her mouth as she falls to the floor in slow motion.  She looks up with terror at the muzzle of a double-barreled shotgun.  The man holding the weapon, out of focus down at the far end of the long gun, screams, “It was a fucking classic, you stupid bitch!” We hear the sound of the gun cocking, then see a blast of white light and flame explode from the muzzle.


            The sound of the blast was the sound of the door slamming behind him as Jon locked himself in a bathroom.  He pulled out his cell-phone and the paper with Miss Stewart’s number.

            She was laughing when she answered the phone. “Hang on a sec,” she said to somebody on her end before she acknowledged Jon. 

            “Hello?” she said, restraining her laughter.

            Jon hung up. He reached for the door handle, and his sanity, and then his phone rang.

            “Excuse me.” Miss Stewart said sarcastically.  “I said, hello?”

            Jon froze long enough to elicit another response.

            “You just called me. Who is this?”

            “Ahhhh…” Jon stammered.

Long pause.  Jon looked at himself in the bathroom mirror and tried to recognize the man looking back at him.

            “Oh,” Miss Stewart spoke to somebody on her end of the line, “Like, I’m speaking to ‘Ahhhh.’”

            “Its Jon Zirko.” Jon replied with force.  “The guy you hit this morning. Sorry, we ah…got cut off.”

            “Oh…And, like, what do you want?”

            “I want to know if you’ve reported the collision yet.”

            “Ahhh…No…I was gonna’ go at lunch and why the fuck are you asking?”

            “So…you’re okay then?”

            “Ahhh…No!  My boyfriend’s car is smashed up.  Remember? He’s gonna’ freak.”

            “How bad? I mean, how badly is he gonna’ ‘freak?’”

            “He’ll, like, fuck me up.  You know?  What’s going on here?”

            “You don’t sound too worried.” Jon persisted.  “I mean, I hear you laughing and…”

            “Okay Mr…Zirko, or whoever, I’m gonna’ hang up now so I can keep laughing until like, my jaw gets wired shut.  Okay? So like, have a good fucking life.”

            “I’ll fix it.” Jon practically shouted.

            “Fix what?”

            “Your car, Miss Stewart.  Your goddamned car.”

            “Okay…And why would you…Ahhhh…”

            “Look, Miss Stewart, you’re not making this easy for me.  So you wanna drop the dripping sarcasm for a second and listen?” Jon allowed a pause, just long enough to know that she was speechless. “You bring your car down here to Uptown Auto on your lunch hour and I’ll have my body shop take care of you and arrange for a loaner or something to get you back to work.  I’ll need your car overnight so maybe you can arrange to stay with a friend.  And then, well…tomorrow…your boyfriend’ll be none the wiser. Like…Okay?”

            Jon heard Miss Stewart clear her throat, and then reply, carefully,  “How much do you think…”

            “We’ll do this under the table.  You can pay my body man cash direct to him.  Whatever he arranges, I know he’ll give you the best deal in town.  Anyway…don’t worry about the money right now.”

            “Shhhsh.” Miss Stewart whispered to somebody at her end.

There was a long moment of silence, during which John remembered looking out the side window of his parent’s car when he was a teenager.  The sun was setting over a field.  He was driving fast, and no power on earth could stop him.

“Okay,” Miss Stewart replied with a softness that melted Jon’s heart. “You said… `don’t worry about the money right now?’”

            “Yeah.  You need directions to the shop?”

            “Ah…Well…yeah. I guess I do. But, like…Why…”

            Jon cut her off to explain how to get from where she was to where he was.


9. Bad Girl!


He hung up just in time to hear the pounding on the bathroom door. And then Cheryl’s voice…

“Ah…Jon?   Phone for you. Line…Five.”

“Line five,” was code for “Bart needs help, because he’s losing his mind again.”

Jon flung the door open to see Cheryl jump back, startled, from his sudden action.

 “Okay, just give me a moment.” he said as he marched past her.

“His hands are starting to shake.” Cheryl replied to nobody.   Since Jon was already long gone.


“Yo, Johnny!” Jon shouted to his body man, who was bent down over the bumper of the “erectric brue” Mazda, this time with a sander in his hand.

Johnny was so startled by Jon’s finger stabbing his shoulder that he dragged the sanding tool across a clean spot on the bumper, causing even more damage.

“For fuck sakes!” Johnny shouted as he whipped around with his finger still pressed against the trigger of the electric tool.

“That Firebird is gonna’ be rolling in shortly after noon!” Jon shouted over the buzzing of the sander.

Johnny finally released his trigger finger, causing a deadly silence to wash over the shop that made Jon question his sanity again. “Sorry,” Jon replied as both he and Johnny looked at the new scratches on the Mazda’s bumper.  “I just wanted to let you know that…ah… that Firebird that I was telling you about, you know, driven by the hot chick?”

“Oh yeah?” Johnny asked.

“Should be rolling in this aft.  Along with the driver. I told her that you’d accept a cash deal .”

“Cool!” Johnny responded. “She really as hot as you said?”

“Oh, fuck yeah!” Jon replied, again with the required machismo. “You got any plans for tonight?”

“I don’t know.  Why don’t you tell me? Ha-ha-ha-ha!”

“Put it this way,” Jon laughed,  “You play your cards right, you’ll get to choose between taking her money…or giving her that ‘bad girl’ spanking!”



10. Lockdown


“Don’t swipe that card!” Bart shouted to a burly, redneck customer whose hand was frozen on the credit card that was about to be shoved through Cheryl’s card machine.

“Why not?” the man asked as he gazed at Bart, who hung over the service desk like a man hanging over the railing of a sinking ship. “You don’t want my money? Fine! Just give me the keys and I’m outta’ here!” the customer replied as he shrugged his red-checked flannel jacket on his shoulders.  But his hand still held his credit card, ready to be swiped, since he couldn’t believe his luck.

“You’ll let the snakes out.” Bart snarled at the man as Jon walked back into the customer service office.  The customer, a man who looked like he’d won a thousand barroom brawls, could do nothing but let his jaw drop.

“Hey, Bart,” Jon said softly as he put his hand on the quivering giant’s shoulder.

“All the asps will slither out…The door will be unlocked, Jon.” Bart replied, shaking with fear as he turned to Jon’s soothing smile.

“No Bart.  The snake lockout is secure. I called the credit card company last week about that.  Remember?”  Jon replied.  Even though this “snake” issue had never come up before, Jon had learned from experience that Bart could be convinced of any history that had never happened.

“Its secure?” Bart asked.

“Oh yeah. Let me explain,” Jon replied as he gently turned Bart away from the counter and directed him toward the back office.  As they turned, Jon looked back at Cheryl and nodded to let her know that she could go ahead and get on with business.

“Back in a minute.” He said to the other waiting customers, who all stood in a unified tableau of fixed stares.

The customer, still paralyzed with mental shock, released only his arm muscles to swipe his card, without ever wavering from his wide-eyed gaze on Bart.


Jon closed the windowed door to the world behind them, leaving all the people who demanded his attention in sight, while still locking them away for as long as he could get away with, which wouldn’t be long.  Automatically focusing on all those faces that allowed him to earn his pay, he felt his hands lean Bart’s great shoulders against a wall that was hidden from prying eyes.

Bart rubbed his hands together nervously and stared at the speckled linoleum tiles on the floor as Jon sat on a desk, folded his arms, and tried his best not to care about his customers, since, if he didn’t first take care of Bart, he’d soon have no customers, and no job, to care about.

“The snakes are locked away, Bart.”

“Yeah.” Bart replied without emotion, still staring at the floor. “I know.”

“I’ve had the C.I.A. sweep this office.  They assure me that…”

“Alright, Jon.  You can stop now.  I’m back…Okay?” Bart interrupted, finally looking Jon in the eye.

Jon forced himself to look back at the pockmarked, haggard, fifty year old, bespectacled face that gazed back at him. “You’re okay then?” Jon asked.


Jon had never seen Bart recover from his illness so quickly.  He wasn’t sure how to deal with it, considering how insane he had just acted himself.

“You’re on your meds, right?”

“Yeah. I think I was a little off on my timing this week,” Bart replied with a long, drawn out sigh.  If he hadn’t been with a friend, he might have simply died of embarrassment right then and there

The door to the office could be locked from the outside, locking in anybody inside, as if made for an insane asylum. “I’m going to lock the door now, okay?” Jon asked softly, knowing that Bart knew that it meant he’d be locked in. “Just to make sure that…the snakes…ah…”
            “That I don’t cause any more trouble.” Bart responded, looking back at the floor.

“I just think you need some time alone…” Jon lied, as he reached for the door handle. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.  Do you need anything?  A coffee?”

“No I’m fine…Jon?”


“I look at you now and…” Bart paused, tilting his head, and questioned everything he thought to be true.

“Yeah?” Jon replied, thinking of how many people were waiting for him to get back to work.

“You look as lifeless as that desk,” Bart replied, nodding to a desk that was covered with long forgotten junk.

“I do?”

“Yeah.” Bart replied without looking at his boss and savior. “I mean, a minute ago, you were like a knight in shining armour.  Now…now you look like a thing.”

Jon felt a knife stabbing his soul.

“But you’re not, really.  Are you?” Bart continued, finishing his thought.

Jon found himself stopped cold by the question, staring at the foreign thing that was his hand on the handle of the door that separated him between the asylum and the working world.

“No, Bart,” he replied, “I’m just something in between.”


11.   The Train Rolls On.


            Jon walked up to the service desk, looked at the half dozen customers before him, and thought to himself, okay, let’s just get down to business, keep up the momentum and see what happens.

“Okay, people,” he said, “the snakes are gone.  So who was next in line?” 

Everybody looked at each other, since nobody could remember, after the freak show, who was supposed to be up next. Jon offered no help for a moment, choosing instead to allow whatever was going to happen, to happen at the price of his entertainment.  He was amused by how easily the polite, modern way of society can be derailed. How, just because one individual jumps off the tracks for a moment, everybody from the engine to the caboose suddenly loses all sense of the order of things.

Finally there was a collective clearing of throats, followed by a number of polite pleasantries like…

“I’m not sure but…I believe you were here first.”

“Oh are you sure? Well…”

“That was interesting.  Was I here before you?”

“Well…I am in a rush but…”

Jon observed that a tall, slim character stood apart, waiting patiently for everybody else to seat themselves back down in the train.  If this had been an episode of Star Trek, that man would have been Spock.

“Sir?” Jon said to the man.

“Ah, yes,” the man replied, “Ernest Frankman.  I’m here to pick up my Six-Two-Six?  Oil change and rad flush.”

John looked to the “outbox” and, sure enough, Ernest Frankman’s invoice and keys were right there where they were supposed to be. With a minimum of fuss, Jon explained the work that was done to Mr. Frankman’s car, and then directed him to Cheryl to pay his bill. And while he carried out his banal duty, Jon was mystified by how thrilled he was to be alive, even though nothing had changed in his life from twenty minutes before.

“So.  Who’s next?”

After a moment of stunned silence, one customer took advantage of the moment.

“Rick…Ah…Richard Goodhead!”

“Okay…let me see here.” Jon replied.  He looked at the out-box, pretending to do his job.  Again though, his synaptic connections were going haywire, forcing him to face a memory of a bully from high school who might have been this customer.  Finally he came back to the present, looked up the invoice, and remembered that this guy’s paperwork was always filed under the first customers invoices where, if it were an alphabetical system, you’d find the letter “d.”

“Oh yes!” Jon laughed, Mr. Dickhead! And what do you want to complain about this month? He almost said out loud.

Then Jon quickly regained his serious composure. Because, despite all of the furious freedom that the spark had given him in the past twenty minutes, the great fear inspired by a history of thousands of life’s daggers still kept him glued to the rails.



12.  Manfire


            Mr. Drinkwater, now well on his way to the airport, had no idea what he had set in motion.  Maybe his subconscious knew, because every time he blinked, he saw his cigarette butt twirling through the air, the heater glowing orange as it flipped end over end, before landing in the garbage.  He thought nothing of the palm trees and sandy beaches that waited to coddle him into the next life.  And he thought nothing of his former life.  And of course, he had no idea that the police who would try to place him under arrest for arson would miss his flight by just five minutes after it flew out of their jurisdiction. Or that he’d be dead before extradition proceedings worked their way through bureaucracy.

All Steve Drinkwater could think of is how fire is a strange and wonderful enigma. How it is nothing physical.  Just raw energy that burns clean through the physical world, reshaping it in countless ways.  He had no idea that right now, this great, flaming force was turning blue paint into a blackened bubbling liquid that dripped down the sides of the dumpster in the dungeon of Jon’s home. Fire was changing everything in that space.

            Moist, brightly coloured things were shedding those colours, drying out, steaming, and curling in on themselves.  Some of those things were already turning to dust, not knowing that they would vaporize, fall back to earth as countless building blocks, and become new, brightly coloured objects of desire.  And those things would be displayed on shelves.  They’d be wanted again, as different things, rather than being discarded, unwanted bits of garbage, languishing in a dark, lifeless place. 

Even the still, dank air found itself sucked viciously into the flames.  Once calm with stagnant laziness, fire sought out this sedentary atmosphere and chomped it up with its teeth of relentless energy.  So great swirling winds came from all that air rushing into the hungry mouth of fire.  Torrents of wind swirled and danced around, carrying dust and light flying things that were whole new entities from what they were moments ago.  Heavy, dull slabs of cardboard became free-floating, gossamer wings.

            It was all a wild party, spontaneously erupting out of stark, still depression. Indeed, some things that were light and free to begin with, simply leapt up and rode the crest of the flames like surfers catching a wave, riding up and above all the madness.

These little bits of party paraphernalia bounced along the dusty ceiling, just waiting to escape into the bright blue world when the doors finally swung open and the fire hoses blasted an entirely new force of nature onto the scene.

            Soon, torrents of water began to douse the fire. But not before all those little things escaped into the sky. And while this inferno of flame and steam drew hungry news trucks to the scene, Steve Drinkwater raced down the highway wondering if that isn’t just what a person is.  Fire.  After all, when you take away all the heaviness of physical substance, what is left?  What remains before the eye when the illusion of sight is cast away? 

            Raw energy.   Electricity, the constantly burning fire, makes life happen. It burns always. Carries passion, thought, memory and emotion from mind to body. Man is made of fire.

            Why then, Steve wondered, do we spend our lives trying to douse it? 



13. Just a Wee Bit of History


            Jon followed Mr. Dickhead’s ass out the door with his gaze, only to be greeted by a far more pleasing sight.   A BMW 750 pulled up in front of the service office.  And when the driver’s door opened, a pair of crossed, sheer stocking-layered legs dropped down to the pavement. When they uncrossed themselves, two red stiletto shoes lifted those sensual pillars vertical.

This sight reminded Jon of how he had been so affected by the sheer beauty of womanhood lately.  Instead of the force-field of hairspray, he had started to notice the hair.  The eyes, instead of the mascara that hid the wrinkles around them.  The legs rather than the trackpants.

And suddenly, those legs that dropped from the Bimmer inspired a forgotten moment to rise in Jon’s mind. He remembered leaning against a lamp post when he was seventeen.   He had just gotten laid and was waiting for a friend to show up so that he could tell his buddy all about it.  But his friend was late.  So all Jon could do was stare across the street at the sunlight that was glinting off the windows of an office tower as it burned its way up into the sky

He remembered the spring breeze in his hair, the spent muscles in his legs, the blood pumping in his veins. People were rushing to work on foot, in cars, and on busses that whooshed by every few minutes.  And everything from the diesel smoke that spewed from those lumbering machines to the beautiful women traipsing by in business skirts was a sight to wonder about.  All was good in his life.

Until a month later.  He was at a keg party when his buddy let him know, as well as every other guy there, that he had done the same girl a week after Jon. So Jon went inside the house to hide his humiliation, picked up an open can of beer off a littered table and puked when he downed a cigarette butt along with the ale. And when he rose from the floor he saw on the television that nobody was watching, how the bodies of hundreds of U.S. marines were being pulled from the rubble in Beirut. He was destroyed for a solid month, until the shallowness of the pain of youth was replaced by its bold naivete.


14.   Za-Za


            John felt all of the best and worst of those moments of his glory days when Ms. Szabo sashayed to the counter with all the elegance that comes naturally to a super-rich woman. With all the pampering that she could afford, Zara Szabo looked like she could be Cheryl’s older, worldly sister, even though she was old enough to be her mother.  Jon knew that.  Indeed, even though he’d never met her before, Jon knew everything that the news media could reveal about this tortured, elegant lady.

            They called her “Za-Za,” in playful comparison to that other, more famous rich Hungarian lady from Hollywood. She got the name two years ago when she was arrested for drunk driving.  And, although she never slapped a cop the way Ms. Gabor did, she was reported to have “acted with extreme belligerence.” Which was no surprise as she had just recently found out, again through the media, that her husband, who owned the wrecking yard right next door to Uptown Auto, had been keeping a mistress (who actually was Cheryl’s age) in a condo downtown. 

            He became known as the “Horny Hungarian,” as the very public divorce trial proceeded.  Guys in bars patted each other’s backs as they followed the exploits of this thick-chested, heavy accented “man’s man.”  They admired his wealth and his wit, and most of all his virility, when it came out that the “Horny” one actually had a number of mistresses, in a number of countries.

            Women in hair salons and day spas, meanwhile, learned to love and pity “Za-Za,” who quickly lost her reputation as a “rich-bitch” as she showed up for court every day with a stoic expression on her face.  She rarely answered to reporters, except to offer a warm smile along with the odd cryptic answer to a pointed and often invasive question.

            “Ms. Szabo! Did you know about the other women?” A crusty gumshoe would shout.

            “Every dog has his day, and now the night has come,” she’d reply as she adjusted her fur stohl and disappeared behind an entourage of lawyers and bodyguards.

            The trial went well for her for almost a year as her “dream team” attacked her horny husband’s assets like hyenas tearing apart a carcass.  It all looked hopeful for the childless Zara until the day that one of her brilliant attorneys uncovered a connection between a mistress in Moscow and the Russian Mob. That was the end of it.

            The authorities swooped in from everywhere, seizing and freezing accounts and properties and any Hungarian jewel that they could get their hands on. Days later, the Horny Hungarian vanished without a trace, leaving “Za-Za” to fend for herself.  Suddenly she was the sole owner of an auto wrecking business that she knew nothing about, and which was facing bankruptcy.  And she couldn’t sell it off since everyone knew that the company had been financed by gangsters.

            So Zara struggled to run a business by herself, using a strength that she learned when she was a teenager, back in her hometown in Hungary.  An only child, Zara had learned to forsake her youth, to hold back her dreams in order to work on a farm to support her invalid father.  Sure, the communist state helped financially, but it was still left to a blossoming beauty of a teenager to change bedpans, to cook, to bring in the extra dinars to support her father’s special needs.  She could never leave home at night because the aunt that took care of her father during the day had to leave to tend to her own family in the evening.   If  Zara ever let a dream of romance or passion cross her young heart and she let herself run with it for more than a few minutes her dad would fall out of his chair or suffer some other indignity, leaving Zara to find him lying on the floor, sobbing,  when her instinct forced her to run home.

            Somehow, the flower of her beauty never wilted.  Indeed, in the six years of her lost youth, every moment of hardship served to make her spirit stronger, her eyes brighter, her body lithe and shapely.  So Zara was ripe and ready for some excitement in her life when her future husband winged his way back from the new world with all his western riches to sweep the young beauty off her feet.  At the age of twenty-one, Zara was flung far from her dreary, small town existence of servitude, out into a world of new possibilities, and a lifestyle that she’d only imagined that a princess would enjoy.

            Twenty-five years later, Zara’s youthful lessons came back to save her.  Like riding a bicycle.  She learned how to learn things that were forced upon her for her very survival.  How to give up luxuries like therapy in order to learn accounting. Still, she had even greater challenges to face in her middle age than she had had in her youth. Because now, after living like a queen for so long, she was jaded by the realization that even royalty can be crushed by reality.  There is no “happy ever after” ending for anyone, necessarily, even for a princess.

            And she had to face that fact, knowing that she might struggle against all the creditors and predators that fought to take her down, only to know that any knight in shining armor that came to her rescue might turn out to be another womanizing bastard, just like the first one.  And, while she had to struggle for the hope of a brighter future, she also had to do it all under the public eye that followed her every move. 

Which is why she couldn’t take her car to the BMW dealership to face the pitying, prying eyes of people she’d known for years.  All the princess had left was her dignity.  And she wasn’t about to give that up to some service technician, who would surely have been warned to treat the “poor Za-Za” with kid gloves.

Zara’s only fault, her only sin, was to trust in her love for a man who couldn’t have been trusted to throw a drowning man a rope.  And now, because of it, she was utterly alone in the world, with only half a life left to live.

Provided she could get that far.


15.  False Parts


            Now she was standing before Jon with all of her wounded-bird loveliness. Her make-up was perfect, but her hair was windblown and one button of her blouse was opened lower than she realized, allowing a lacy bra strap to expose itself, from under a collar that had blown almost to her shoulder.

            “Do you service BMW’s?” she asked.

            “Absolutely” Jon replied, a little too cocky.

            “With genuine parts?”

            “We can get them pretty fast,” Jon replied with still more confidence.  Was she testing him, he wondered?  “What can we help you with?”

            A young mom came in with two toddlers just then.  One of the kids was screaming.  Zara couldn’t help but be startled by the shrill cry and she swung around, accidentally making eye contact with the straggly-haired mother.  Although Jon couldn’t see it, he knew Zara’s gaze intimidated the poor woman enough to take her attention away from her crying kid long enough to say “Oh…I’m sorry.”

            Zara turned her attention back to Jon with out replying to the mom.

            The kid kept wailing until the mom took him outside, leaving her other kid squirming in a chair.

            “Well ah…ah I was driving to work yesterday morning,” Zara began.  The wailing kid’s screams wafted in from outside, grating on Jon’s nerves. Zara paused, obviously nervous, herself.

            “Yes?” Jon prodded.  Outside, the mom spanked her kid, which made him only scream louder.

            “Yes well I was driving to work when I noticed something wrong.  I ignored it because I was late for a meeting with my lawyer.”

            “And what did you notice?”

            “Well…ah I’m not sure. It was like a noise.” 

            The mom brought her kid back in, having finally stopped the screaming.  But now the two kids started fighting.

            “Like I said, Zara continued I was on my way to my lawyers office.  And then, this morning  it got worse but I forgot my office keys…” Zara heaved a sigh.

            Jon looked at the fighting kids and suppressed an urge to scream.

            “So I had to turn around to go back for the damn keys and then it started to get worse.  By now I was late for a meeting, see and so I had to take the freeway, which only made things worse because I hate the way drivers stare at me when I’m stuck in traffic and blah-blah-blah. Blah-blah-blahba blah.  Bobbled-de-blah blah……”

            The kid shrieked again.  All of the freedom and wonder that Jon had been feeling a few moments ago was gone.  The world had become one big knot of tension, the way it used to be.


            Jon rubbed his forehead, pressed his fingers hard into his greasy skin.

            “Are..Are you listening to me?”  Zara stammered.

            “With all due respect,” Jon took a deep breath before continuing, “I need to know what this noise sounded like.  So if you could please get to the point, Ms Szabo, then maybe I can help you.”

He knew the mistake he’d made even as it rolled off his tongue.  And there was nothing he could do about it.

            Zara bit her lip and dropped her gaze to the floor.  Finally she squeezed her eyes shut, as if silently enduring some great torture.  Some stabbing pain in her soul was so obvious, and it was so obvious that Jon had thrown the dagger, it made him want to die.

            Before he could apologize, Zara looked up, just to the counter, then gradually raised her eyes to meet his as she spat out her words.  “You could have at least pretended not to know my name.”

            “I…I’m sorry I just want to know what’s wrong with your car,” Jon pleaded like a lovesick puppy as Zara turned and stormed out the door.

            As her high heels clicketty-clacked across the floor, Jon, the mom, and both of her suddenly captivated toddlers couldn’t help but be transfixed by the humiliated princess as she flung her door car door open, slammed it shut and then burned rubber in reverse gear as she tore out of the lot.