Monthly Archives: June 2017

Duane Gets Paid

Duane wished it would get cold enough to snow.  Sleet stung the back of his neck, exposed between his coat and his uncle’s wool watch cap, seeping into his shirt eventually meeting with the sweat slowly rising from the small of his back.  A young woman looked at him like she was going to punch him in the face, but instead she casually spit on his shoes as she brushed past him, escorting a couple into the Wicker Park Planned Parenthood clinic.  Duane wished them a good morning, as his commitment to his employer was only to wear the sandwich board of a dismembered fetus with the bright yellow ABORTION IS MURDER! scrawled across the top and GENESIS 1:28 along the bottom.  He did not know, nor care which bible verse this was, or if it may indeed sway the decision of anyone seeking help at the clinic.  He assumed his presence at the clinic didn’t really make a difference to anyone other than his anonymous sponsor, who verified Duane’s compliance by GPS and a promise that someone was checking to confirm he maintained high visibility and did not obstruct the message by any means.   Seventy-five dollars for 2 hours work was good money, and Duane needed that cash. He was offered an additional $50 to chant from a list of approved slogans, but he declined, being too diffident by nature to go to such effort.  Standing was good though, although the rain was picking up. He watched the girl’s spit slowly dilute and rinse from his shoe.

There was a girl at his apartment.  The first female to ever enter that space to his knowledge.  He recognized June, because anybody would recognize June if they had seen her one time. He did not recognize the man he had shoved to the ground, and he did not recognize his own bewildering actions in knocking that man down.  He did not expect for her to be there when he returned, although he would not mind it at all.  All night he lay awake next to her while she slept like she may never wake up.  He lay there all night in the clothes he was wearing, only removing his wet boots and his belt, wide awake, skin buzzing with the closeness of not just someone, but her.  For the briefest time he dozed, and dreamed he was driving over a shining highway that climbed miles above the ocean towards the sun. He startled from it in a soaked panic that he would crest the horizon and the road would disappear, leaving him to fall and fall and fall into the sea.   In real life Duane had never seen the ocean, just the lapping shores of Lake Michigan with its cold, stinging rain.

Sweaty Duane continued…

June woke to an empty apartment. Duane was gone. Icy air seeping in around the window frame made her shiver and she pulled the acrylic blanket snug around her neck and rolled her back to the wall.  Duane left her a note on the nightstand, it read, “went to work, don’t leave. Come back if you leave I mean.  If you want to.” He signed it with his first name in a careful cursive, “Duane.”

She had nowhere to go, no place to be and also no reason to stay.  The thermostat ticked and she heard the radiator somewhere far below in the basement wheeze a warm current under the bed.  She had to pee.  The mattress rose against her hips as she sat up, it was an old and formless thing, and she rocked against it to get upright and swing her legs to the floor.  Still wrapped tight in the tattered Green Bay Packers blanket she scuffled in her socks to the bathroom.  It was tidy, if not clean and she lowered the cold seat and pulled her tights down.  She finished and used the last scraps of toilet paper on the roll.  She squeezed a bit of toothpaste onto her finger and rubbed her teeth and rinsed her mouth, then poked around for more toilet paper to replace the empty roll.

The bathroom cupboard held 4 threadbare towels, neatly folded, 2 washcloths of the same era, a large bottle of amber mouthwash from which she poured some into the cap, gargled and spit, a pipe wrench, a coffee mug from Cook County Sheriff’s Office with a scrap of soap in it, and a coarse shaving brush stuck to the bottom.  No paper.   She moved slowly into the kitchen as if she might disturb someone or be caught snooping around where she was not welcome. She found a can of coffee in the freezer and not finding any filters, used a napkin on the counter to improvise herself a cup from the little 2 cup maker on the counter.  She searched the rest of the cupboards as the coffee popped and percolated, not finding any toilet paper there either.  She moved to the narrow coat closet in the foyer by the front door, and broke through the tightly packed rack of men’s overcoats and uniform jackets to reveal a cardboard box against the wall on the floor.  She read the simple label.


NAME OF DECEASED: Alfred Edward Duval


CREMATED ON: 11/27/2014


She slowly closed the curtain of clothes and backed away from Uncle Alfred’s resting place, turning the knob to close the door as if she might awaken him. The coffee maker stopped. The radiator no longer hissed through the vents, and June thought of Duane, in his silence, day after day.

Chuck Says

Chuck says it doesn’t matter what you write.  Chuck says once you make a move like gathering and categorizing your art you say, “What now?” That’s a hard thing to get past according to Chuck.  He says go ahead and write whatever.  Go back to your roots and antagonize friends about bikes.  Write some real stuff then change the names and make it fiction. Send June, Duane, and Manny off to war, or make them dress up like Stormtroopers and go to Comic-Con.

Rail about politics or write a letter to your old high school friends you just can’t see fit to hear from anymore.  Tell them you would rather heave vomit into the toilet until blood vessels pop in your eyes than listen to their platitudes that things will turn out okay, that your friends who are not white, male, straight, or who conveniently have avoided or evaded any sense of dysphoria will be fine.  Chuck says it is OK to write about that.  It was just time for reform and if you haven’t served than maybe you don’t exactly understand freedom and appreciate freedom as much as they do, which is why they feel obligated to remove it from your life experience. Write a how-to guide for black people to follow when stopped by the police.  If they would simply follow the orders of the law enforcement officer than everything will be fine, routine.  In every instance they tell you, if you look at the details, the black people did something wrong and got shot, even Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Jordan Edwards, and those kids who got themselves shot standing on stranger’s porches begging for help in the night.

My old homeboys.  We called each other homeboy, gave ourselves nicknames like rappers on television.  I’m the Fresh Kid, and we did our best to ape black culture  because it seemed so much cooler than our own.   Chuck D and the S1W- pride, loyalty, courage, and even a uniform- kind of like the military.  Defenders of Funk forever right? Right up until the funk gets shot. Get your asses in your deplorable baskets and don’t come out until I say when.

Chuck said it would be OK if I wrote that.

It’s hot and humid and everyone feels like partying, but I don’t feel much like partying.  I feel like digging a tunnel in the floor with a trap door and a little room underneath where me and my sweetheart can tip-toe down the ladder and stay very still and quiet until the knocking on the door goes away.  The WiFi sucks down there too, but it is cool and surprisingly dry with the fan blowing.

Maybe it will be easier to write down there.  Manny can get organized to talk to that woman about getting back in the well and healing America, and Duane and June can finally get his uncle’s car running and get on the road to Florida, because honestly, the author knows not the first thing about Gary, Indiana so this story needs to get on familiar ground.  I mean, fiction is hard enough right? Or maybe that’s the point, to make it hard.  That’s what Chuck says.  He says don’t put puppies in your song because people like puppies. That’s the worst kind of art.  Write a song about black kids that makes people feel as warm as they feel about puppies.  Now that is art, so Chuck says.