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Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
Just A Junk Drawer Dream
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My Beating Heart Was Just A Theory

When I was growing up in the 1970's, the Kingdom of Adults seemed so enchanted and wonderful.

Standing down around my parents knees I watched as my dad blew carefree cigarette smoke into the sky while my mom twirled around in the back yard, spinning and smiling to the Doobie Brothers' 'Listen To the Music' on the Kmart radio laying beside the still hot burger fat bbq.

Life was beautiful back then, for a couple of minutes anyway. My dad snapped the pull-away tab off of another warm can of Pabst and I sighed at a butterfly dancing on a thermal.  My mom smiled down at me and my heart was lifted up by chains tied directly to the sun and the moon and the stars.

I was 7 or 8, a little kid standing on the half-dead summer grass of some suburban backyard not much bigger than two station wagons, and I think I remember beautiful waves of safety rolling through my young body. They were talking breezes, hushed Stevie Nicks sexy witch voices whispering to me that our family had so much love that we would probably never even be able to use it all up; not in this lifetime and probably not in the next one either.

You know how these things go though. Ever since the goddamn Cotton Gin and the locomotive changed everything, especially love/from farm love to factory love, there is always some catch, some loophole; there is constantly something terrible and swift swishing around in the kiddie piss just a football field away from the fat sausage pillars of this crowded happy beach.

Divorce came along and my world exploded and I saw my dad a few times after that and then I never saw him again for like 25 years. There wasn't a damn thing I could do about it either. All I could do was stand in the dugout at Little League practice and watch the other dads who had showed up to coach or holler at the umps.

Looking back now, what a fool I was. I was just a dumb kid, still sniffing around the dried-up shit turds of a once powerful, awesome creature that was long gone by then. Love, the love I had been born into, the kind of unshakable forever family love that I thought I had been born into, the kind we all deserve to be born into, that kind of love was so far from me by the time I was ten that I'd stand there chewing on some gnawed-up strand of rawhide lace dangling off of my mitt, breathing in the soft menthol smoke that had just been dilly-dallying around down in the mines of some other daddy's lungs, and for whatever reason it would remind me of my own dad, right there in the middle of the stupid idiotic game.

I was ten and someone else's cigs were tugging at my heartstrings.

I didn't ask for any of that.

I hated my mom so much then: for letting my dad go, for letting him run away from her, from us.

And I hated my dad for picking the booze, for letting it run over him like a steamroller that just appeared at our back gate that summer afternoon three decades ago and plowed us all down into nothing but ghosts of who we'd been.

And this whole mess sliding down out of the bright blue innocent sky before that dumbass Doobie Brothers song was even over.


That same song came on the satellite radio the other day while I was out driving around, trying to fight the urge to buy a pack of cigarettes. I haven't smoked in almost a year which might not mean much to you, but to me it's pretty big deal. I've felt better. I always laughed when people would say that, but it's kind of true I guess. Maybe that's why they say it to begin with. Anyway, the song reminds me of something I can't put my finger on, something old and good but lost to me now that I'm older.

Pink sun slithering, I was heading due west down the country road not far from where I live and the moment that the tune came on I felt something hot shoot up through me like dope in my blood.

I wanted to smoke really bad in the moments right before it came on, but then as soon as it started playing, I didn't care anymore about any of that. I lost the urge, just like that. Weird, huh?

That's how we get through life, I guess. One second you are sure you are done for and then boom: you pull yourself together somehow.

Or you don't.


I have a son on the way.

He's my third child and I love him so much already that I get straight-up belly sick thinking certain things and overpowered by thinking others. He's not even born yet and still there's so much stuff I just don't know,so much stuff that me and his mom don't know together.

I don't know if he will be born into a family whose love is strong and forever, and by 'forever' I mean it in the old school way: breathing tubes and artificial gasps and squeezing a still warm, age-speckled ham fist under the hospital halogen lights, fighting back the tears that only can only ever come and hurt so righteously when two people have been inseparable all along, through all the awful shit water you have to wade through to get out to where it's all just one last peaceful winding-down firefly evening.

I know, I know, at least three or four people out there in the world would probably whisper that that's  fool's talk coming from someone like me, a guy who has always pretended that he knew how to do things, how to live right, when really certain people are starting to doubt if I ever did.

But what can I do, right?

What can I say now, to slip old words back into their sheaths and let them rust away to nothingness. If I could go back in time, I'd have ripped my tongue out with a hunk of  Pepsi can long ago. Back when I was like 20. But I missed that chance and I kept my tongue and I swung it around like a boss. Looking back, I think I thought that I could treat new love just like I treated old love. I think I thought that I could look it straight in the eyes and challenge it to not stick with me for ever and ever and ever.

I think I tasted salt on my lips and was fucking sure that it was there to add a little flavor to all the love I was gorging myself on. But I got that one all wrong, too. Because, hey/look, I'd been body slammed by love way back in the 70's and I'm still bleeding out of my earholes.

Turns out that the salt was just old scuzzy blood I've been too preoccupied to feel and too lazy to wipe away.

After everything that has happened, after all of the empires and kingdoms, after all of the battles and the wars, after each and every little rinky-dink story up until now has been told over and over and over again, has been thumped into our marshmallow skulls so that we might learn at least a little bit about how to make things better along the way, after all of that history and living has come down, it turns out that it's me. Me. I'm 42 next week, waiting on a brand new heart and trying to stop a wounded one from gushing itself silly and it's actually me: I'm the lucky son-of-a-bitch in charge of love and marriage and whatever it all is morphing into these days outside, all sprawled across these December streets.

Oh my God.

Who knew.

I want to blame the whole fucking world/I need to blame myself/And to be perfectly honest, I don't think I was ready for any of this at all.

And no, dude. I didn't buy the stupid smokes if that was all you've been sticking around to find out.


The Importance of Being Sully

Any minute now the brown box truck should be here, rolling up in a burst of acceleration and short-shifted gears, the driver jamming on the brakes, slamming her in park.

Oh, the thrill of it all.

Oh, the slamming beats from the basement of my deep-fried heart.

I’m not going to sit here and act all cool and stuff. I can’t. If I told you some cover-up tale about how I’m not paying close attention to the road outside my house, sneaking around the curtains and peeking down the lane to see if I can see or hear any sign of the thing heading my way, you’d just snicker at me and stare a laser hole in my forehead, huh? I know that you know better, especially when it comes to this sort of thing.

Anyway, today is the day I become Sully, the big blue guy from Monsters Inc.

Today is the day that my Halloween costume arrives from somewhere far away out in America and I can slip it on in the privacy of the upstairs bathroom and then slowly slide myself in front of the mirror and blow my own mind into sweet, beautiful smithereens.

It’s not a cheapo job either, you know. I splurged a little on this get-up. I had to, you see.

The stars all aligned and I did my homework early and I searched and scoured the land and eventually, just when I had begun to try and convince myself that maybe I could be something else this year, maybe just another dumb zombie or the 88th Duck Dynasty dude on my block; just when I was going to give up my latest/greatest whimsical notion to appear on some random early October Tuesday afternoon, down in the kitchen, while Violet, 4, and Henry, 2, were sitting there sucking down their 3 o’clock chocolate milk and graham crackers, me popping out in a burst of blue and purple Sully shag, their little eyeballs shooting out of their heads, their wee minds blown by the sight of their own Dad transformed into the most legendary monster of their lives so far, just when all of that seemed to be sliding from my greasy palms: I found it.

Where?  On line, of course, where grown men can and do become monsters with the flick of a click.

Anyway, it’s coming today because I have been ‘tracking’ the SOB and it finally says ‘OUT FOR DELIVERY’ and I cannot even explain to you how tickled my guts were  when I woke up this morning and saw that simple phrase in the email I got (the latest in a long series of short, soulless messages I have gotten because I signed up for emails that tell me where my Sully is out there on the road, out there on his long, strange journey from some shelf in some warehouse or stockroom somewhere to ride upon the shoulders of a 41-year-old Man-Child in Bumtruck, Pennsylvania).

With any luck my kids are going to crap their Granimals.

At least they better.

If they don’t my heart will probably just burst and I’ll just collapse on the linoleum there in the kitchen, a big dead Sully, which is, like, probably the worst thing you could ever really throw down in front of your own kids, huh?

Whatever. So there’s a lot riding on all of this. Fine, I planted this little garden of strange all by myself, so I’ll harvest the brief magic or die trying.

But isn’t it crazy though? One minute you’re this young guy wandering the Earth in search of enlightenment and money and sex and pizza and beer and then, BOOM!...out of nowhere you are staring into the bright, mild eyes of a baby and everything is different forever.

Here I am: a grown-ass man standing in his front window, hiding behind the curtain, peeping out at the porch like some neighborhood freak, waiting for a costume as if I’m waiting for a brand new liver or a fresh kidney on ice.

It is what it is, though. Anything for a smile, you know?

Anything for their smile.


The Lonesome Ballad of Three Teenagers At Once

Some things hit you out of nowhere, like Little League field lightning or city buses or young lust in the corridors of the mall, and you cannot control them no matter how hard you want to. These are the things that make or break your life I suppose.

They are the biggest baddest 'crossroads' you will ever stand at, really, and you will have to choose whether or not you are going to keep on living and making the best of whatever you've got going on at that moment in time, or if you are ready to let both of your white-knuckled fists just go slack off the wheel at once and just ride off into your sunset ending.

Years ago, when Dale Earnhardt got loose on the final lap of the Daytona 500 and his car seemed to just quit trying anymore, I watched as he slammed into the high wall of the track, my heart throbbing in my chest, my blood sizzling through my veins.

Looking back now, it's still impossible to know if he really got to make much of a choice, I understand that of course. But whatever... part of me, for whatever strange reason, likes to think that he did have that fleeting instant where he knew that things were gonna either shake down as:

a) 'Dale is staying'


b) 'Dale gotta go'

I don't really understand it completely, but whenever I think about that afternoon (and I do a lot, so that's that) I want to think that he took one deep last drag of Florida sunshine, eeked out one last sly grin, and took one look around at the mess that his hard-earned life had suddenly become. I convince myself that he closed his eyes, thought about his kids, knew they'd be okay, and sighed out the final gasp of his Earthly sighs just before his fellow driver and good friend, Kenny Schrader, ran up to the side of that black number 3 Chevy lying still there in the infield grass and saw that it was hopeless, that it was the end of an era.

Of course, experts and doctors and all might tell you otherwise. They might insist that Dale Earnhardt was gone in a flash and that he was already on the bus to whatever the next stop is by the time his car stopped sliding back down the track.

That's cool, but I don't buy it, probably just because I don't want to.

I want to believe, I choose to believe, that you flick off that switch yourself, man. That there is this Dignified Ghost that comes sliding up to your side when you finally make it down those crossroads that you have been searching for, unconsciously, all of these livelong years, and that the Ghost lifts your hand and squeezes it gently three times ( I. Love. You.) so that you know that you can trust it.

Then you see the switch, just like any other switch, but different, obviously.

And just like that you decide. Do I hang around/do I move along?

I have no idea how it feels to make that decision. A lot of people have spent a lot of time down through the years trying to guess what happens in that instant.

But life is full of choices, and we have to trust our gut feeling.

And there you go.


I'm like 5 months away from 42 years old. I've lived longer than a lot of other guys, guys who seemed like they probably deserved a longer run than my fat ass, but what can you do? Hank Williams, Crazy Horse, Martin Luther King Jr., Sam Cooke, Kurt Cobain, Stephen Crane, John Coltrane, the list is long and sad.

John Lennon.

I've outlived John Lennon. That seems seriously muffed up to me. It seems like it ought to be impossible. But it's possible alright and I've done it.

What does that mean?/What am I saying?

I'm not exactly sure, but I think it means that I seem to be spending a little more time these days thinking about my own ending, you know? About how my tale will write itself out and all.

Like a lot of people, I never did that much before and so nowadays, when I start barking up the Death Tree, trying to get a good whiff of whatever it is I've got cornered up there, it's usually more than I can bear.

That's natural, I guess.

Still, doesn't it really suck to have to think about the fact that three Fridays ago, when you were laughing and having a couple of beers with your wife or your husband and maybe a couple friends and maybe the kids or the dogs were there kicking around in the lush fat tufts of green grass that needs cutting, and the sun was so perfect in the late evening sky hanging out over your town or your beach or wherever the hell you were, doesn't it seem so unfair that all of that seems like it was just six or seven seconds ago?

You were just holding it all in your own two hands, gripping that wheel, steering yourself through such a beautiful kick-off to yet another living weekend; it freaking JUST HAPPENED!

But then again, the reality is that 'no it didn't'.

It's gone and so much living has come to pass since that night; everybody who was there has lived so many moments/made so many choices/cried/laughed/ eaten so many meals since you were just sitting there looking at them right in front of you, holding them close against the heart of your eyeball, feeling their exhales mixing with your inhales, living together.

Life is freaky because it ends. We know so much about so much but we don't know jack shit about forever. We try and tell ourselves that we do, we come up with ways to convince ourselves that we have an idea, but c'mon.

We have no fucking idea at all.

Even our guesses are probably beer league softballs we end up tossing off the edge of a star ten thousand light years in the wrong direction.


If I can make it, if I can hold on like I want to hold on, and if I can keep hording oxygen/avoiding shitty drivers/missing the rattlesnakes along the rivers where I fish/ hitting the treadmill/staying off the cigs/watching how many beers I drink/eating my vegetables/ and luck out in the ticker department and the cancer department and this department and that department/blah-blah-blah; if I can just hang in there for another 13 or 14 years I might just have the chance to live through something I never thought in my wildest dreams I'd get to live through.

I might just get to live with three of my own teenagers at once.

Three teenagers at once. (Violet 18, Henry 16, 'Newbie' 13)

My God. I know you probably don't really care too much but c'mon, this is a jaw-dropping realization for me. It's like this huge invitation to live someone else's life in some super strange way. But it would be mine, my life. It would be my will be my life if I can find a way to dodge some bullets and outrun some hyenas.

Lately, something has come over me. Or someone.

It's been like some hard-headed son-of-a-bitch just barreled into this little world of mine, a world that only me and like three other people even give two shits about, and he jacked me up by the collar of my George Jones t-shirt and slammed me into the barnwood wall of the bar I created in my mudroom. And grabbing my shaking fist in his cold steady fist and holding it up against the wall, next to the light switch, he stared into my mixed-up soul with his bloodshot eyes and cackled out a Jack Nicholson laugh , the world melting away from me, my heart bursting with fear as he pulls the whole runaway train back onto the tracks with three firm/hard squeezes.

Or maybe it's a she. There's just no way to tell yet.

But the squeezes are undeniable.

I. Love. You.

Then he/she picks me up by the scruff of my neck and tosses me back into the living room where Violet and Henry are climbing all over Monica, who is sitting there on the couch trying to hold back the First Trimester pukes with a sandwich baggie full of Jolly ranchers and I land down beside them all with a soft leathery thud.

I look around, no one even notices my ass is in the room, but I am as far from that switch as I could ever hope to be.

And I'll take it.




Monica and me are on the couch and it's 8 in the evening, give or take, and we are trying to watch a zombie eat some dude's cheek meat when in strolls the Anti-Monster, his foot beats on the hardwood giving him away before he even rounds the corner.

"Walker!" I holler out, but Monica isn't all that amused.

I hit the pause button on the blu-ray remote and we sort of cringe at the fact that we are leaving a pretty complicated/gnarly still life on the screen, a scene that could probably land us in some kind of weird hot water should Henry decide to turn that way. Even here, with our bowls of lukewarm pasta in our laps and The Walking Dead finally landing down in our living room years after it has already probably landed in yours; even now as the two of us try and lose ourselves in some macabre thinky tale of major shit going down in suburban Atlanta in the not-so-far-off future, we are still faced with the stone cold reality that there are two kids up in this joint, and that one of them is sometimes known as Hank the Tank, and that it is that kid who is now abandoning the 43rd DVD showing of Puss in Boots of his short lifetime to move out of the playroom and back onto our radar just as someone is getting face-bit on the TV.


"Mommy?" he starts things out with a question. That's how he pulls you in, you see. He tries to act like he is asking you for the thing that he is about to tell you to get up off of your ass and fetch for him.

Monica eyes him suspiciously.

"Can I pwiz have milk?"

"In a minute," she tells him. "It's time for bed, man. Go upstairs and I will bring you some in a minute."

The whole time this is happening I am floating down a river of possibility, the awkwardness of a man's face dilly-dangling from a Zombie's jaws hurling itself out into the living room like a slightly drunken Mr. T.

"Hey...Hey MAN!!!.....I SAID HEY MAN!!!! HEY SERGE YOU BIG FOOL!!!!!!!!!!"

Oh please, not now!

I'm begging you, don't get Henry looking at you, okay? We really, really just want to finish this episode without some thirty minute 'brush your teeth/bedtime story' intermission, or without just bailing on it until another night because you know as well as I do that sometimes after a thing just sits there too long on 'Pause', the electricity goes out of the plug, so to speak.

"Can it be chocwit milk, Mommy?"

Oh my Gaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhd. Damn, is this kid good or what. He plays his momma like an old Kentucky fiddle and he plays me even better. We say no to him, don't get me wrong. He meets plenty of no along the roundabout way to wherever it is he is taking us, but I'd be a damn liar if I was to deny the fact that he knows how to appear, even smack dab in the middle of a zombie apocolypse, and ask for milk or apple juice or even one of the little mini-ice cream sandwiches I found at the grocery store (16 to a box!) that have seemed to change the way both of my children live their lives, and to get just what he came for by the time things shake out.

I watch these two out of the corner of my eye: this game of wits/this turn of events in which a sippy cup of some kind of milk lies in tha balance. With my other eye I try and think what I might even begin to say to Henry in the next three seconds when he inevitably turns and looks up at the TV and then very slowly, the audio-tape of our life movie slows down like in the real movies so that his little voice becomes very deep and drawn out as says, "Whuuuuuuuuuutz dat Daddddddeeeeee?"

The thought does occur to me that I could turn the whole rig back to the TV; CNN is probably waiting for us there on the other side of the wall, but, to be perfectly honest with you, I don't want to risk losing my spot here in this episode and it would really bum me out if I had to go poking around through my DVR's veins to try and find this exact moment in this exact episode again.

Plus, what if something happens to this episode by mistake or something?

What if someome sitting behind that sprawling control board at Direct TV Central sees our house blipping up on the massive map of America above him and just decides right there that the Bielankos are done with Episode 9 of Season Three of The Walking Dead and so he might as well go ahead and show them the favor of just instantly deleting it from their recorded queue, you know, so they have a little more room to record another one of their 60 Minutes that they never watch.

It is 'Customer Appreciatin Days' after all, where you get $3 off of your $79 dollar bill if you help sign up 200 new subscribers in the next six hours.

What then? Hmm? What happens to my evening, to me and Monica's big stupid-ass Tuesday evening then?

I don't need that freaking aggravation.

"No, regular milk. You've already had some chocolate milks today, buddy. Now go upstairs and get ready for bed and Mommy will bring you a drink in a few minutes when mom and dad's show is over."

At this point, you might be saying to yourself, "Well, why doesn't one of these people just get up and get the poor kid some milk?"

Okay, fair question, I guess. But I would then have to peg you as someone who hasn't yet gotten a fresh whiff of hot Zombie pie, now have you?

No, you haven't and I can see it in your eyes, because once you and your better half have been married for most of a decade, and certain things change with the ebb and flow of the rolling tides and the changing moons, and you pop out a couple kids, before you know it the two of you both find yourself on some sort of an island out in the middle of the fishy smelling sea of your own life and you both simultaneously start looking forward to this whole new tiny universe you have discovered at the end of the livelong day and by, like 2 in the afternoon, you're both in different physical rooms or towns even, but you're both thinking about a little food and a cold beer or a raspberry seltzer (one of us is pregnant) and, oooooooh(!), which episode you are up to in one of these new fangled fancy-pants ass-kicking cable series that, if you find yourself behind in the times and have several seasons to catch up on, allow you to finally indulge your messsed up tired mind for like 11 nights in a row/2 episodes a night most nights, gluttonously feasting upon this clever script and that wildly talented unknown actor, unless you have gone down that particular dirt road yet then you really don't know jack shit about the situation that I find myself in in the strange long seconds that are hanging in the air like a fat ghost staring me down as I try to telepathically get Henry to suddenly really miss whatever scene he bailed out on in Puss and Boots in the plaroom and to go back in there so me and Monica can watch this poor bastard get his eyeballs chewed out of his skull and finish our spaghetti in one straight ten minute shot.

I see Henry decide that he can wait on the milk; his sweet face lowers itself down a rung and I can tell that he got the attention that he came for to begin with. The whole milk thing was just a con, a ruse; he needed some conversation and his sister was too wrapped up in that movie to even notice him standing there probably yammering her ear lobe off, so he did what comes natural.

He brought that show on the road, to us, to Mom and Dad.


We're such assholes, I tell myself.

Suddenly I want to get him the milk myself and just be done with it, but at that exact precise moment in the entire history of the entire universe I see him turn and look at the screen and lift his veal eyes up to the 40 flatscreen inches of sun baked reanimated freak show digging into some dude's face as if it were a nice big bowl of whipped cream from a can. Oh damn. Oh dammit to hell. I imagine the years of therapy my own son, my special little man(!), my spawn/my world will need from here on out because mom and dad were too goddamn lazy to hide away the secret thing they loved so much even when the secret thing turned out to be cable Zombies.

We have failed him.


We are probably failing him every step of the way, huh?

He stares up at the screen for a good couple of seconds and I can feel Monica's maternal regret coming off of her in hollow snakes of thick black drag racing smoke.

It's Holding Pattern City. It's too late now.

Then, without so much as a single word, Henry loses interest in the screen, looks back at us on the couch, smiles his golden smile at the two of us sitting there in limbo and walks off, disappearing around the living room corner, back the way he came from, as if Zombies never even crossed his beautiful little mind at all.



Prove It All Night

The mud in the salt marsh outside of Stone Harbor, New Jersey smells like life and death and the ghosts of a trillion horsehoe crabs who have come and gone and at least six kinds of seagull shit and fresh clams and certain summer nights and probably, if you squish your eyes shut hard enough and let your soul slither up into your nostrils like you oughta do more often, it smells just like the inside of a human heart.

Why do I think that?

I dunno, really; it's just a hunch.

We blew through it all on the way back from the grocery store one evening two weeks ago, the four of us, me driving and Monica shotgun, Violet and Henry strapped in the back, the ruby sun dripping slowly down the sky wall as we made our way back to the beach apartment we had rented for our first real family vacation ever.

In the back I could hear the 6 o'clock wind shattering the plastic bags, the swimming diapers so no one would shit in the ocean/ the plastic pint of $7.99 a pound mixed olives with pits/the medicine to help my wife's big red eye flare-up/the green mesh bag of something like a hundred golfball-sized limes/a brick of cheddar, all of it feeling the wild gusts plowing over them as they just lay there beside the once cold case of Corona Light I had bought on my way out of town just so I didn't have to stop again on my way back in.

We roared down the two-lane strip past ramshackle lagoon shanties at 63 in a 50, a State Cop's wet dream, and I remember clocking the VACATION RENTAL signs outside some of those places and thinking to myself that these were the kind of joints that allowed a vacation to just let her robe and bikini slide off her freckled shoulders and fall to the floor in a gentle shallow pool around her silver toe ring and her ankle bracelet. People who were renting these places out here three miles from the ocean beach weren't looking to do miniature golf twice a day or traipse up some once a year avenue, their arms loaded down with chairs and umbrellas and bendy bags of enough bullshit to kickstart a Rite-Aid.

People who rented these places, these places that were pretty much off the beaten path while actually lying paralyzed in the middle of it, they were people who were here to go crabbing, pop endless cans of cheap beer, cook living things outside, eat dead things outside, and watch the sun go down every night with what would amount to the same billion dollar buzz that Jimmy Buffet himself gets off on, just in a different state/galaxy.

It made me like the world so fucking much for a second or two. Just knowing that there are people vacationing out there in the piss clam mud made me giddy for the whole human experience. I guess I'm whacked out of my mind like that.

In my rearview I stole a glimpse backwards and I saw Henry in the floppy Superman hat I got him at Target a few days before we came down. He was staring out at the same shacks that I was, but I have no idea what he was thinking really. Probably he was thinking about the long afternoon we had come through that day and the waves swooshing around his little knees, the smiles and the giggles and the tired tears in the sand.

I saw my daughter, her sleepy eyes fighting themselves just to stay open.

I knew that their young hair smelled like ocean.

Not sea...ocean.

Your hair doesn't smell like 'sea' in Jersey.

It reeks of ocean; sweet wonderful ocean.


During that first moment of realizing a thing, a shitty shitty thing, the way I see it is you have two choices, right?

You can either choose to handle it 'like a man' or like an adult or whatever or:  you can freak the fuck out and hope your dumbass hope against hope that somehow, even though you have opened the fridge six times in a row in the last two minutes just to get a fast glance at the last couple of things that live in that son of a bitch and which amount to 'not shit' when it comes down to the freaking fact that you are starving to death and someone hasn't gone to the store since the Civil fucking War ended, somehow or another you might be able to make something happen just by the power of the steam rising up out of the vents of the sidewalk running across your scalp.

But at 4:30 in the afternoon in a St Louis hotel room, downtown, where the rich people stay and where we never, ever stay but managed to stay this one Sunday night because the club we're playing at tomorrow night has a deal with this Ramada or Hilton whatever the hell unfamiliar chain this is to me and the band, when you finally get done in the bathroom and are staring down out of the seventh floor window at the streets of another strange city and then you wander over to the TV to make sure that the damn thing is working and you pop around the channels looking for HBO but don't find it and it suddenly begins to dawn on you what is up.

Back then, in 2000 or 2001 (I can't remeber exact dates) when you were seven weeks out on a long run opening for Govnt Mule or something like that and you and these guys you play music with and travel with and share every single freaking breath of shitty stale air with from Boston to Atlanta to Chicken Dick, Texas realized that the fancy hotel you were all excited and smug to be staying in that night didn't have Home Box Office on their television sets that was a trigger, a catalyst if you will, for some bad seismic shit to go down.

Just under three hours away from The Sopranos, the van parked hard in the underground garage, resting her saggy weary gasoline tits from all the savage sucking we've been doing on them, some dudes already thinking about the grocery store run...the cheeses/the olives/the hard salami, thinking about the gallon of Paisano red we were crafty enough and sly enough and foresightful (word?) enough to pick up last night at a liquor store in Memphis (West Memphis actually, but does anyone ever admit to staying in WEST, and now the bitch slap across the collective unshaven cheek of five tired Philly musicians.

We cursed the hotel, our management, the club. We vacated our fortune as if it was a burning ship.

"Wine and cheese and The Sopranos in a Hilton, motherfuckers!!"

We thought that we were gonna live like the other half lives and now this. Sooner or later, as was our way, we cursed each other a bit.

"You are the fucking diva" my brother, our singer, told me. "That's why we are even here!"

My heart belly flopped into the lake of my sour guts and died in my chest with the realiziation that he was probably right. I was always chasing down the nightclubs we played in, making sure we knew in advance if they had any hotel deals where we could stay for cheaper than usual. Most didn't even bother, and the ones that did, it was usually basic digs, man. Now, having gotten us into something that was swank in our motel-ish world, it was all blowing up in my face.

I smoked ten cigarettes in a row.

The quietest guy in the band chewed his nails and smoked a bowl over by the air conditioner and his edge was palpable.

Don't let me down, I could hear his voice screaming at me inside his skull. Don't dude. Don't fuck me in the ass with this sharp rusted fucking sword!

That's how much The Sopranos meant to him, to all of us.

I was letting them down.

I was letting me down.



I hit the phone/local calls free.

'Motel 6 Airport, this is Roberto, how can I help you." Have you ever just heard someone say something, anything, and felt like kissing them on the face because joy was eating your skin with a buzzard's lips?

Seriously, I'm asking you...

Have you?


On the road that runs along the trout stream where I like to fish with my little wet flies and my plastic strike indicators, I put the Hershey's Kiss on my head when I can see in the mirror that Violet isn't looking at me, she's totally out the window.

Then before it can slither down off my hair, I say some stuff that gets her to maybe shift her gaze towards the back of my head. Well actually words don't always work so I typically end up doing some high squeaky robot noises or something dumb like that. It does the trick and without moving my neck too much I peer into the mirror after laying down a track of laser guns and I see her smirking/wondering as she turns my way. Then I see her face light up when she sees the Kiss up there.

"Daddeeeee!," she blows up and it moves my heart.

Every time.

And I've done this same maneuver a hell of a lot, I'm telling you.

I hand her the Kiss and then she hands me back the wrapper foil ( she only does that with Kissses for some reason) and I reach around with my one hand while the other one steers us along this rural road, past cows licking the thick ropey snot off of their own noseholes and crows staring at the high distant sun and Amish guys standing in a field of frozen time their shoulders slumped, their eyes fixed on God or something off beyond the local horizon.

I flip through the satellite radio stations, killing songs, destroying entirely possible lifelong love affairs with a song, or a band even with a flick of my fingers: Arcade Fire (POW!), Sigur Ros (POW!), Iced Earth (POW!), Phish (POW!), The Cars (POW!), The National (POW!), Jay-Z (POW!), Adam and The Ants (POW!), Pharrell featuring Pharrell (POW!), Kid Rock (POW!), Confederate Railroad (POW!), Motorhead (POW!) back to Phish (POW AGAIN!), forward/forward/forward through so many songs I can barely even register what the hell they are or even sound like, but it is somehow therapeutic and artfully relieving for me to run over Daft Punk and Superchunk and The Yeah Yeah Yeahs all in one sickly twisted teenage nightime raccoon squashing ride down through the night woods.

To be honest, I don't even know how the hell I end up where I end up because I rarely listen to the Springsteen channel that much either, mostly because I'm too busy flipping through the thing to stop and listen, but whatever. Life is life and things happen.

Stuff appears on the tiny radio screen and I can hardly believe what I begin to hear, the first noirish piano notes rising up out of the scattered whistles and cheers of a crowd. The digital letters say Boston, May 30th, 1978. My throat swells up. I barely miss smashing some free range chickens out on the edge of the road.

"Fuck off!," I scream.

"Today is May 30th!," I holler to no one, to Violet in the back.

She smiles through the wind blasting through her curls but she doesn't move her eyes toward me. I see a smidge of melted chocolate at the corner of her mouth where her lips hinge.

The piano plays, meandering/magical/a switchblade in a pocket in an alley in a city in a galaxy and I need someone to share this moment with as somewhere back in time, just a few hours from where my sleeping seven year-old head was laid out on my pillow, my mom downstairs probably crying/ our nuclear family breaking apart from the moors, a 28 year-old Springsteen was out there underneath the lights of some theater, lights which have all long since been shut down and trashed and hauled off to the dump by some Boston Sanitation truck (Darkness On The Edge of Town!) and it slams into me now, across the years/across these decades, this rock and roll like nothing I have ever heard before and nothing I will ever hear again before I die.

Bruce's electric guitar cuts across the scene like a fucking runaway Harley with no one on it, you know, ripping and rising up out of the gutter like an overdrive phantom shooting a hose of fire down the dark midtown canyon.

No one can do that anymore.

No one pushes riderless bikes out into the city night.

"This is Daddy's favorite song ever," I tell Violet. Then for effect, I add, "This is Daddy's favorite anything ever."

Her eyes seem transfixed on the world outside but I can tell she is listening. Hell, she has no choice; we are up at 11; the Honda factory radio is stretching its powers and I know that.

We sweep past a parade of cows marching back across some field toward the barn for lunch or whatever.

The guitar is shooting fire at the piano.

I see a hawk in a tree; our eyes meet; we speak without words; he is a resurrected Indian warrior, he tells me; I am picking my daughter up from preschool, I tell him.

In my mirror, Violet's face is in and out of the nest of wild snakes on her head.

All my shit, all my problems, all my money shit and my need to get laid and the novels I love and all of that hummus and carrot sticks I've been eating and all of the sadness I can't explain and all of my Zoloft pills and holding Violet and Henry in my arms as we watch Babe in the early morning and every trout I have ever watched throw my hook in the middle of some epic slashing leap that seemed to say "Fuck you Serge and everything you ever hoped for you greedy fat sumbitch!" and all of those times walking across the Williamsburg Bridge trying to peer into the housing project windows and so many dirty thoughts and silent tirades and gentle whispers and exploding kisses and all of my heart's hot blood and twitching muscle being channeled into a new stockade where my two kids are standing there in the middle of all that dank horseshit and woody darkness and how I would lay all of it down in a brief instant just to be able to promise those two something eternal and forever, ...all of that rages over me sitting there behind the wheel of an '05 Pilot as if I am just a fucking pebble laying there on the bottom of the crick to our left, this New Jersey guy using his guitar like a God to smash me across my own massive wonderful universe on a weekday afternoon on the way home from preschool at the Y.

When the song finally ends and the long ago crowd bursts through the here-and-now speakers, I peer back at Violet in the mirror and she has a look of super intensity, her brow furrowed, her eyebrows Wilford Brimley-ing.

I look ahead then and turn the radio clean off.

I have seen enough now.

We have heard enough.

We listen to the wind the rest of the ride home.


In the Super 8 room that we rented for the night, but will only use for this hour and change, we live like mad kings and it is something seriously beautiful, too.

We cut our bricks of supermarket Fontina and provolone with the dull end of a bottle opener because that's all we got. We rip the pepperoni stick with our hands. Same with the beef stick. We eat a loaf of Missouri Italian bread, dropping the crumbs all over the grimy carpet, our Timberlands and All-Stars grinding it all down in there to join the buried civiliztion of traveler's ketchup and coffee and jiz and cologne and booze and blood and free breakfast milk.

The jug of wine is tilted into our bathroom plastic cups.

Our lives in this band have often been ones where we try so hard for things that oftentimes things seem to pass us by because they can't even look us in the damn eye because our heads are hung low while we are working our asses off, trying so hard for things.

But not tonight. Tonight we have made it. We are all alive, far from home, but together. And we are drinking our wine and someone is packing a bowl and we are easing our way into something good, something easy. And we deserve that, I think.

I remember sitting there as the song began:

"Woke up this morning and got myself a gun..." and I was thinking: we deserve this shit, man. Even then, that's what I was thinking. Even in that moment, as it unfolded all around me, seconds before we did what we did every single Sunday night ( no gigs on Sundays during each Sopranos season, that was the rule no matter who fucking liked it or not) and tuned out our desperate/ hungry/and brilliantly lived lives, I remember thinking that this was what was so spectacular about art anyway; that we were free; and that this was about as good as any guy could ever hope things could get.

Looking back now, I was damn close to right on all of that, too.


Me and Violet and Henry and Monica were standing there loading the car up underneath the floating gulls.

It was 7ish two Saturday mornings ago and the thing that I noticed most of all was that all of the people who came by jogging down the bike lane in the street while I was trying to cram all of the Frisbees and the sandy towels and the bags of leftover boxes of cereal and thawing out frozen hot dogs into the back, they all smiled at us and said hello and it pissed me off in a weird way.

I guess I wanted them to be sad for us, you know?

One look at us and anyone could tell we were breaking camp, hauling ass, and headed back to whetever hamlet or cul-de-sac or neighborhood hacked us up and hocked us out onto the turnpike once the weather became just barely late spring enough for the off-peak level families to hit the road for their special week down the shore. It all goes by so fast.

Now it was over for us, obviously, but probably not for these people; they seemed to have the look of two weeks or more about them. They seemed relaxed, mid-stride, in their knowledge that they wern't going fuck-all anywhere that day, or for a lot of days to come.

In my mind, they were at the beach forever. Not a cold wintery stretch of battered coast either. In my mind, they were going to be hanging around that little ocean town for the rest of time under that same sunny sky that was beaming down on me and my family as we prepared to depart.

Leaving sucks, I guess. That's just the way things go.

No one likes to leave, especially when there is probably going to be a lot of sunshine this coming week, and there will be even more ladies in their small new bathing suits and the flounder will probably start biting. 


No one wants to roll out especially when there is that lingering bright promise of ice cream cones after fried shrimp and clams on the shell spread out across all of the rest of the evenings to come after we are long gone.

But we go.

We go because we have to.

We pack our shit and we get in the Honda and we drive out over this causeway or that one and make sure we have our quarters for the tolls as we take one last deep drag of salty air into our aging lungs and we just go go go until we aren't in New Jersey anymore.

Until we're finally home again.