Sippican Cottage

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n. In Italian a beautiful lady; in English a deadly poison. A striking example of the essential identity of the two tongues. (Bierce)

The Avett Brothers

A Chance Like That

I can’t believe I gotta sit through this.

Boss says go I go. Says this fathead’s playin’ way past payin’ now. He ain’t got no use exceptin’ what he can learn to the others. He shoulda knowed that eventually you gotta pay the band.

Oh, he’s gonna wail until I shut him up. Sidle up next to him in the alley and take his elbow like we’s on a date, only I leaves fingerprints in him right off so he knows what’s what. All the way in the car he’s gonna walk Spanish and tell the side of my head that he’s got the lettuce stashed and all I gotta do is let him go get it. He knows I’m hard-boiled but he thinks we’re still talkin’. Talkin’s over, you lizard. I got sent ’cause I got no conversation in me.

He’s such a swell with the broads when he’s gamblin’ with other people’s dough and drinking champagne and wine. He’s gonna look a lot different under the lights I’m gonna show him. Man’s gotta learn. He ain’t gonna like it but he should get down on his knees and thank me because I’m sent from heaven and I make you repent first so you can meet your maker baptised. Who else is gonna give a man a chance like that?

A Lucky Fellow

I wake up every morning and the room’s a little smaller. Walls are creeping in. The ceiling’s thinking it over. I limp to the window and it’s a porthole that looks on nothing but icebergs.

It’s a good room, though. The landlord drinks a bit and you can fool with him. The old ladies he worries like a dog worries a shoe, hair trigger, ’cause they haven’t anything but money for him, and they ain’t got any of that very often, either. But you find a pint for him now and then, or lift a couple cigars off the counter at the station when the worker bee’s making change and you’re jake for another month with the guy.

I tried quitting the smokes, but what’s the use? It’s the only currency in the world now. The only manners a man can have. I got smart and got matches and always kept ’em on me, and the swells never seem to have one and they’ll give you a coffin nail for a light every time. Get the empty packs from the barrels and fill ’em back up and pretty soon you’re rolling in it.

Once upon a time you could go to the railyard with a gunney and pick up the steam coal that bounced from the cars. Just pennies at the coal and ice, but just pennies is all you need in this world. Now the kids don’t bother with school anymore and they’re too close to the ground to have a chance against. They waste the money on their mothers. Until they grow up and the army harvests them like they did their dads a man’s got to find another way.

I’m a lucky fellow. There’s always another way for a lucky fellow.


I could never quite explain it, coming or going.

She had some bizarre vibe going on — a hybrid of drum majorette and back-alley abortionist. Dancing at a funeral. Her smile was a poster pasted over her brick face. She had no future and no past in her. She was immediate, and all her wants and mine were in the present and that’s that. I don’t even know hold old she was, and never thought of asking, either. We never asked each other anything anyway. It was always jarring when she revealed herself to you and there wasn’t a mark on her, perfectly pink, an unknown to the sun. She was like a giant, obscene infant.

I was no better. I wished I was much worse, but she was all I could muster in that department. She brought out all the ‘paying for drinks with the toll change, and driving home the long way’ that I had in me, and used it all up, too. She was my nemesis and my abbess. I fought her and submitted to her. Prayed to her and cursed her.

If she turned up dead and the cops showed up at my door I’d ride the lightning for a dead cert. I wouldn’t be able to tell them anything about me and her that another person could knit into a likely story. How to explain a woman that would open the door for you wordlessly at three AM, whether you had a bouquet or a rattlesnake in your hand?

Last Night As I Lay On My Pillow

The man never notices anything because that’s his business — not
noticing. He gave me the key like a bribe. The yellow bulb was gone out
at the door that was my ration. I held a lighter up to the knob and
there were ten thousand stab wounds all around the lock. Thirty years and more of lemme in lemme
in lemme in. You could almost feel the heavy paper sack in all their other hands.

The clock is banging on the seconds like a railroad spike. I begin to wonder if a man doesn’t really die, just dissolves slowly in the rain. You try alcohol but it’s not a preservative.

There isn’t a floor crooked enough in the wide world to make that chair sit flat. You lean at the jalousies and watch the nobodies go nowhere, and smoke. A jalousie apparently only has two sides: dusty and dirty.

There’s people next door going at each other like strangers. They’ll wish they were strangers again soon enough. The other side is teevee teevee teevee.

The neon across the street flashes out of time with the clock and you’d like to meet that man, that neon man. You’d like to meet him like a train meets a cow out on the prairie.

There’s an odd number of pulls on the dresser. There’s an even number of tiles on the ceiling. There’s a smell like the laundry in a funeral home in the bedspread. You know why people smoke now. There’s nothing and nobody in this world but the faint orange spark at the end of your nose. 

Highways Are Happy Ways

There is a feeling in my bones I can’t pin down. A strike on an elbow I don’t have from a hammer unseen. A worrying rattle in the marrow. A place I was expected I did not even set out for. An empty seat sits cobwebbed in the corner, worn into my shape in a house I’ve never been to. I have been divided and the pieces trucked here and there and misdelivered. I opened my baggage after a long journey and it was filled with nothing but a strange and pungent mulch.

Words are in my head and I don’t know who put them there. They pour out and I gather them into my arms and hold them for a moment like some stricken beast breathing its last. They always perish and I wander further in the wilderness alone with their blood still on my hands.

I was dead before my grandfather was born. I was robbed but nothing is missing. The window is broken and there are things on the mantel I did not put there.The fire in the grate throws no heat no matter how I feed it. The pictures on the wall leer at me and they’ve turned to strangers overnight.

I want to go home but there’s no such place and never was.

North By Northeast

I passed a million pageviews on my little Intertunnel hot dog stands last night. I’m not sure if I should consider that a lot, or a little. I decided a long time ago to generate almost all of my own content, and that actually limits your readership; most people just paste a hunk of text from a bad newspaper and say what’s up with that ten times a day and get ten times the traffic. People buy more magazines than books for a reason.

I’ve written for larger hot dog stands, too, and had more readers than I’ve cadged on my own in a week, I imagine, but they weren’t just mine so they don’t count as much to me. A little thing, but mine own. I like all the people that congregate here with me in my version of an Intertunnel appendix.

If I have a regret, it’s that I didn’t make my father the most famous person with his name ever, at least as far as the Intertunnel is concerned, because I didn’t include his name in the most widely read thing I ever wrote as far as I know.

No matter. He taught me a long time ago that it’s better to have people ask why there isn’t a statue of you, than why there is.

Bob, Bewildered

Apropos yesterday’s observation that no one much is interested in real work, the lovely reader and commenter and very amusingly named Joan of Argghh sent me that video. Joan’s so wise she sent it to me a week ago or more, knowing I’d need it.

I really can’t watch a regular news story like a normal person. Everything is weird and wrong and every question is begged and I find it boring and infuriating at the same time, which is a particularly noxious combination.

Dirt is something the effeminate, ill-educated newsreader hires Vietnamese women to dig out from under his fingernails, but he doesn’t know that. Excavators dig earth, or soil, or loam, or fill, or processed gravel, or sand, or stone and a handful of other things, but “dirt” isn’t one of them. I’m like a fortune teller, too, and would bet cash money that if a mixer was present he would have referred to its contents as “cement,” which is of course one ingredient in concrete, and the one ingredient in that fellow’s head.

Don’t get me wrong, just because I know a little about earthmoving, I don’t think this fellow needs to, although it’s amazing to me how ignorant your average educated person is about everything that doesn’t have an apple on it. His job is not to know about excavation. His job is to ask questions about things so he can report on them to a third party. He sucks at his job. They all suck at their job, and don’t even know what their job is.

There’s a thumb on the bucket. Why is there a thumb on the bucket? You don’t use a thumb for excavation. It’s for grabbing things, like in demolition.

Back when I did a bit of this sort of thing, the operators needed a Hydraulics License. I can assure the public that there’s precious little that looks like buttons on an iPad or a Bob the Builder episode on there. Here ya go, have at it. Don’t forget to pick up the half-million or so of liability insurance you need to sit in the cab and fart if you’re getting paid. You’re going to need the insurance for funeral expenses at least, because outside of Las Vegas the ground has a lot more than mouldering gangster corpses in it for you to hit, and the first thing you do when you climb in the cab will be to touch the arm on the bucket to the overhead power lines and kill everyone within shouting distance. If you survive that you can hit a gas main later for a change of pace.

Ah, well, the people look like they’re enjoying themselves fooling around in the, ahem, dirt, and the instructor is my kind of guy, with his sunny “beats working” attitude. And since the representatives of the class of people who entirely destroyed the construction industry by being so smart want to rent out the residue of constructive work still hanging around, I say knock yourself out, everybody. Make Excavators of the Earth into Pirates of the Caribbean. It is rather fun to use big equipment, after all.

But please don’t let anyone fool you into thinking you’re getting a taste of the real thing. Because the real thing involves being handed a shovel, and being pointed at a pile of something out in the sun and rain as very skilled and highly trained persons cruise past you in that machinery, while a very cross gentleman stands behind you and directs your efforts in a volume and at a temperature that exceeds the Caterpillar exhaust. Because the first thing you learn in that sort of enterprise is respect for the process, and for the people who have mastered the process, and you don’t have any; and you’re going to have to get it the hard way.

Month: September 2011

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