I have decided to enter some old stories and essays into a few writing competitions and to send off others. In an effort to get things sorted out, I ran across the following passages.
From On The Road (with Mom) - non-fiction
And when I was young right up until the time I married, their journey was my own. My friends and I relived it a thousand times speeding up and down the highways, searching through the back streets, slowly driving down the country roads of Central California, and incessantly cruising up and down the main street of Corcoran. It was always a spiritual journey even though we didn't know it at the time as we were always searching for our own metaphorical hill in San Francisco and seeking our own tiny taste of ecstasy.
The sad thing is that the effort we expended was always doomed to failure. No one ever found satori on the back roads of Corcoran, or on Whitley Avenue for that matter. All the minute mouthfuls of sweet juice that we tasted were chemically enhanced and vanished the moment the drugs wore off leaving us to spit out the lifeless liquid in the dirt on the side of the road.
From The City That Lied - short story
The next day, however, something happened that blew the top off of the whole affair. A dairy farmer who lived on the edge of town, cleaned out a tool shed, spread new straw across the floor, pulled out his wife's colorful nativity set, and wiped the dust from all of the characters. He went so far as to tie a baby goat and a calf outside the garage style opened door. Then he painted a huge sign on his barn that said that the holy baby Jesus had been born in his stable and not the one in Bethlehem. And just like that, Corcoran was suddenly the holiest city in the whole world.
This was when the cracks started to appear. People were having trouble buying into this fraud. The dairy owner produced a birth certificate attesting that someone name Jesus had been born there. The certificate had been doctored. For example, the last name had been altered to spell Son of God, and the birthdate once marked Feb. had been changed to look like Dec. The facts later showed that a Mexican dairy worker named Jesus Manuel (pronounced Hay-Sus) Martinez had been born there in 1936.
The thing that really destroyed the farmer's story happened after the local denominations started trying to horn in on the act and began arguing over the facts related to Christ's birth. A member of the local clergy, Reverend P. N. Ochio, an Episcopalian, got so angry he shouted at the Freewill Baptist preacher, "Everyone fucking knows he was born in Bethlehem, Asshole!"
The crowd was shocked into silence. The Freewill Baptist preacher accidentally tripped over the rope holding the Star in place, and it fell to the ground and broke. Five year old, Tessie McGee pointed to it and exclaimed, "Wookie, Daddy, the Stah is bwoke. The Stah is bwoke."
The little girl's words punctured the bubble of stupidity that had enveloped the whole town quicker than an old man's fart could clear a small room. Corcoran's only surviving prostitute put the fork in it when she gave out a heartfelt, "We ought to all be ashamed of ourselves."
Danny, however, took umbrage at her words while thinking to himself, "Dang girlfriend, I only said the F word a couple of times, you gave half the bar patrons in town syphilis, let's not be so quick to judge here." He let it go though and went to sleep that night somewhat relieved.
From Things Worth Fighting For - non-fiction
I was so naive back then that I read an article about hippies, and it mentioned that they smoked banana peels to get high, and I actually got some bananas, peeled them, and was baking them in the oven right in front of my mom. When she asked me what I was going to do with the baked peels, I told her, "I'm going to smoke them banana peels and get high."
She hit me upside the head with a wooden stirring spoon. That was when I first realized that there was a difference between the way my parents looked at life and the way that some others looked at life. I thought smoking banana peels could be a good thing, my mom knew better. Yet, I persisted in holding out against the wisdom of experience and going with the novelty of stupidity.
I don't care about what your thoughts are on the morality of the Vietnam War; those young soldiers who fought and died there deserved better. There is still an ongoing silliness wherein many people believe that all wars are unjust and that America should never participate in another. It's a belief whose nobility is canceled out by its naive ignorance.
It would be nice if the world were composed of only reasonable people. It would also be a fantasy. It is usually the countries that are not aggressive that have wars thrust upon them, and it is often those who most desire peace who weaken their resolve to defend themselves from evil. A belief in world peace is a truly noble desire, but it is also a lot like smoking banana peels. And it's even worse if your mama ain't around to jar you back to reality.
From Notes: On Testing the Waters - non-fiction
So, I've always known that you don't find truth in the words of a Sunday school teacher who only mimics the party line. Truth only comes as the result of suffering and with keeping one eye open even as you sleep lest it sneaks up on you.
I'm come to one hard and fast rule of life, and it is that you learn some from other men, great books, and the observance of nature, but depending on the outer world to provide your life with meaning, is futile. The truth that most of us, not all, desire can only come from the deep wells located in our inner selves. What we must do to obtain it is to open up and let some sunlight into those areas that the raisin counters tell us to ignore.
Back in Sunday school, Tolstoy raises his hand and the Sunday school teacher acknowledges him. The children listen because his haunted eyes, slow movements, and deeply creased face commands them to, "Once we admit that human life can be guided by reason, all possibility of life is annihilated."
The teacher's mouth drops open as he ponders the meaning of the word annihilated, and a twelve-year-old boy sitting in the corner raises his finger to his chin.
From Swimming in Ditches - non-fiction
I didn't sleep well the night after I heard the news. I spent the entire night dreaming it was all an illusion, that I'd wake up and Billy would come strolling down the piece of dirt road that was the southern end of Estes Avenue where it ran past my house, knock on my door and ask me if I wanted to go shoot some pool down at Pop's while sipping on a Coca Cola bottle full of peanuts.
But alas, that dream was a lie, the first of many, an urgent, heartfelt, yet ephemeral wish written on a piece of tissue, and I was forever stuck instead with the wistful memory of Billy flipping himself over the school yard fence at the corner of Letts and Oregon, and walking out of my life forever and waving goodbye with an upraised hand while never looking back.
From The Tears of Oak Trees - non-fiction (response to mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill)
I reject those voices that claim that mankind is not worthy of mercy. You have to overlook massive mountains of human achievement to utter such nonsense. Humans have died by the hundreds of thousands to halt the spread of tyranny. We feed, and we heal. We stand erect and move forward despite the ignorance of our self-serving politicians and having to overcome the fact that we carry an ever-increasing mass of humanity on our backs because they have already chosen to give up the fight. On top of it all, we now have to work all day and then guard the night from those who can't stand the fact that we are still standing, or, at least, care enough to make the effort.
From Our Own Dead Eyes - non-fiction
I caught myself looking at my reflection the first thing this morning while I relieved myself. (That's kind of sad in itself, the Lord graced me with a brand new day, and the first thing I can think of doing is pee.)
I was drawn toward the eyes. I saw there for a moment the eyes of my father, not the laughing eyes of Grandpa Bill, but that other guy, the old one who went to the grave carrying all of the anxiety of a maze stuck mouse with eyes that will haunt me as long as I live and hopefully no further.
I know that I'm still grounded with both my feet firmly rooted in what now passes for reality. I still have enough of the required respect for angles, lines, and borders for me to think I'm going crazy. Still, I'd be lying if I denied that there is more than just a little hint of fear and anxiety hidden behind the eyes in my reflection.
Hell, I'm too old for it to be otherwise.
From The Dimensions of Loneliness - excerpt from The Lazarus Letters
I can’t wrap my mind around why any sane person would identify with atheism. It is one thing to purse your lips and imitate a prudish, middle-aged, spinster schoolteacher and point out all the misery poured out on the human race in the name of the religion. Any sanctimonious jackass with a halfway decent grasp of history could do that to their heart’s content.
History is a virtual smorgasbord of man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man; not just any smorgasbord either but the one at Caesar’s in Vegas. There is something very perverse in taking such great pride in the ability to point just how more perverse and venal everybody else is.
I can not imagine anything more horrible than the idea that the universe has no purpose, or in the belief that I brought my two beautiful daughters into existence in such a universe where the sole point of their being was to create a few isolated moments of happiness sandwiched into the pages of a larger book documenting their slow and painful march to the grave.
From Love in the Time of Zombies - non-fiction
The young don't seem to have it much better in today's world. They've been told that hooking-up is the way to go, and that marriage is not only outdated, it is oppressive. My God, what kind of a world are we creating. Everything has to be easy, even when it is not.
There is something truly magical that goes into the creation of baby. It just might be the most magical thing in the entire world, yet, we treat the process like it's something that even the stupidest people on earth can do, which is actually true, but then again, they can't write shit like,
"I'd go hungry; I'd go black and blue
And I'd go crawling down the avenue
No, there's nothing that I wouldn't do
To make you feel my love"
There is a difference in babies created only by lust and those created in an act of love. And there is a difference in those who appreciate the magic of love that went into the sexual act and those who only think of it as scratching an itch. The former bring light into a dark world, the latter rain clouds that block out the sun.
All babies are little seeds of light, but those who create them with a mindset that they are disposable and tiny nuisances without a soul, are the truly lost because they can no longer see the magic of life and can only view a world of ash colored skies
From Saints of the Southside Proper - non-fiction
Pop's candy store was a little like the Agora of Athens. I said "a little like" so don't go getting all freakin crazy on me. It was where we all met up and discussed philosophy, analyzed events, and fed all the bits into the gaping yawl of a giant queen mother who popped it back out in a gel having the same consistency of toothpaste that we all chewed for sustenance.
It was not the sustenance we got at home at the breakfast table, but the sustenance that fed our souls and rendered us impervious to the many social diseases that ran amok in those days. The paste temporarily blinded us to the poverty of our existence and helped us to envision old run down shacks and packed dirt alleyways as being places of great mystery.
The philosophical discussions we had weren't very elevated I'll admit.
It was always more like, " Do ya think those are her real titties?"
"Hell no! She and her sista bofofem flatter than sheet rock."
"Well, what's she doing then?'
"Why ask me? Iffn I hadda guess, I'd say socks."
"You a idiot."
"Why ya say that?"
"Girls don't wear socks the way we do."
"Well fucken toilet papuh then! Hell's I know!"
It wasn't much, but just enough for the time. It was the way we reached conclusions and established consensus. It joined us all at the hip. To this day, I can tell you pretty much what the others would think about most subjects even though I'm lucky if I see them once a year.
From Notes On Writing the Short Story 'Lines' - non-fiction
The bottom line is that a whole hell of a lot more things gets said than get heard.