Powering Up

Summer never felt quite right when he lived in Wiscasset. The wind carried a hint of year-round winter, and he never wore shorts as a result. Swimming? Out of the question. The weather, combined with the closing of Maine Yankee 17 years ago had chilled Jeff to the bone. Skyrocketing taxes and poverty – plummeting quality of life. Nuclear power plants can make or break the towns they’re in – Maine Yankee had broken Wiscasset.

Moving wouldn’t hurt Jeff – he’d be an outsider, but at least he’d be an employed outsider. A warm outsider. Who gave a fuck? Seventeen years on and off the dole and running cranes and forklifts in the cold was enough. Jeff’s buddy got him hired on a contract at Arkansas Nuclear One at the end of last year. Jeff was glad to go south. Southern hospitality, sweet tea, sweeter girls – Jeff thought he’d thaw out.

His first day was hotter than he had ever known in March. Standing near a truck in the plant, sweating, Jeff heard a creak – just as a steel beam crashed through the ceiling.

He was buried in Oakland Cemetery in Russellville.



You Can’t Always Get What You Want

“Where’d you go?”

“They didn’t put any chicken in my salad.”

“Yes they did – it’s right there.”

“Well, now it’s there. After I went up and complained.”

“Earl, you’d think you could overlook something – people are only human.”

“Marge, when I pay for goddam chicken, I’m gonna get goddam chicken. I’m going to get exactly what I want.”

“Alright, don’t get testy – you’ll raise your blood pressure.”


“I’m going to get a sweet. You want anything, Earl?”

“Let’s get outta here. This place sucks.”

“It’s fine, dear; you’re just out of sorts. I’m going to get a sweet to take home for later. You want anything?”


“Alright, let’s go, Earl.”cupcake2

“Did you get me anything?”


“Dammit, Marge.”



“We need a goddam sign out there – that’ll solve all this,” Jake said.

“Nah, we just needta let the cops know. They’ll come an’ run a trap.”

“Shit, the cops don’t do nothin’ round here ‘cept what the mayor tells ’em.”

“Well, then, let’s talkta the mayor.”


After a lifetime of silence, Lucille spoke up, “Well, we can get a sign made and start there. That’s probly the easiest anyways.”

“There’s sense. My brother-in-law has a shop – he can make a good’un,” Jake offered.

So, since last June, the Halycon Fields Mobile Home Park has had a big sign warning potential criminals, hopeful cut-throughers, and Jehovah’s Witnesses: “Road for Residents Only. All Other Will Be Persecuted.”

Yellow warning sign

Yellow warning sign

It’s A Start

Every day thousands of bad ideas are pitched. These bad ideas start everywhere: they bounce off board room walls and hobble around in classrooms.

But the truly bad ideas pop up on text messages late at night, usually fairly well marinated.

“I’m just using you.”


Does that bother you?”


“Then come over.”






You could tell by the way she stepped out of the car that she’d just cheated on her husband of twenty years. There was a certain confidence to her gait. She saw herself with new, powerful eyes. A woman who will cheat on a perfectly unflawed marriage is a woman who has a kind of lethal potential that cannot be ignored. No, not potential exactly – a certain malevolence.

Her clothes were the same – her life unchanged – her earrings were the same pearls that she always wore. But around her – some might call it an aura – there was the whiff of sulfuric acid.

She felt the same as she had the day before. Her medical office managing style would stay the same. She drove the same 2012 BMW convertible, and she still had to be home by 6:30 to meet the furnace man for the pre-winter check that happened every October 12.

There is something real about unconscious effects of every action.

The butterfly effect: one betrayed union in Milledgeville can cause an avalanche in Tibet.

butterfly landing on flower


Game. Set. Match?

December 1

“Let’s put up the twinkly colory lights, Daddy!”

“Okay, pumpkin, just a sec, ok?”

“Um, Dale, I put out the red and white lights for the deck.”

“Well, Maddie wants the colored lights, Kels.”

white and red lights“Right. Well, I put some of those upstairs on the bannister and in her room. I have white on the tree and the front should be red and white – you know so that it looks like a candy cane.”

“C’mon, Daddy!”

“Just another sec, pumpkin. So, can we just do the colored lights, I mean, Jesus, Kelsey she’s only gonna be three once. If she wants colored lights – who gives a flying fuck?”

“Language! Honey, go play upstairs until Mommy and Daddy get the lights ready – then you can help Daddy, ok, sweetie?”

“Ok, Mommy.”

“Now, look Dale. It’ll look really great with the red and white in the front with all white on the tree. The whole theme is red and white downstairs and outside. I put the colored lights upstairs to make her happy, but she does not get to run the whole house. The whole holiday. It’s for me, too. And, I want the lights to – you know – coordinate. Is that too much to ask? I mean, we don’t want Maddie to turn into a bossy bitch, do we?”

“Right, Jesus, Kels, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”


February 8

“Hi! Anyone home?”

“You’re late. Dale: the lights.”

“Dadddydaddydaddydaddydaddy! Our lights match the Valentime streamers at preschool! They are so valentimey!”

“Dale. They are Christmas lights for God’s sake. They need to come down.”

“You heard her, Kels. They are valentimey, right, pumpkin?”

“They need to come down today, Dale. The neighbors are judging us. Christ, they are candy cane colors not Valentine’s Day colors.”

“They are valentimes, Mommy, really they are. We have white and red and pink all over our room!”

“Kelsey, I don’t care what the goddam neighbors think. I put those lights up against my will, and now they will stay up through valentinesValentine’s Day – hell, through the end of the month – maybe till fucking St. Patrick’s Day.  This holiday is not just about you – it’s about Maddie, too. Anyway, Christ almighty, t’s not even seventeen fucking degrees out there, and I am not getting on a ladder in the snow. Valentimes lights, right Maddie?”

“Yay! Daddy! Valentimes lights”

“Right, Jesus, Dale, this just seems . . . Ok. Whatever. Fuck it.”

For the Love of God on January 25

“Every day I drive by that house. 714 East Washington Street. And, they have had their Christmas lights on since December 21. It’s ridiculous. Last Friday I drove by more slowly –  the early evenings are lighter, you know? Not only are the lights still on, but there are four packages on the porch. Four! Two medium-sized and two quite large. Those boxes are still there today, illuminated by – you guessed it – those goddam Christmas lights. It’s not like me to take the Lord’s name in vain or anything, but I’m sure you see my point. I mean, take down the lights or at least turn the fuckers off. And really, the mail piling up around the door – it’s just an eyesore. Jesus Christ. Sorry, I mean – well, you know. A little consideration. This is a small town, and if one house looks trashy, we all look like shit. Honestly. Some people.”

“Kristin, isn’t that the Ellis place?”

“I dunno. . . I guess, yeah, now that you mention . . . that name sounds familiar. . . yeah, why?”

“Look here.”

The December accident on Highway 101 has claimed two more lives. John and Judy Ellis will be interred Wednesday at 3pm in a graveside service at Peaceful Haven. They are preceded in death by their three children, John Maxwell, Eliza Grace, and Sarah Madeline. Their fourth child, Thomas James remains hospitalized in critical condition.

“Oh, God.”


porch lights.2

Close Enough for Jazz

The alarm went off at 5:00am. I was up and out and ready by 5:20. Bed made. Hair combed. Deodorant on. I didn’t want to be late. I always follow the rules.

This morning was perfect. Even gray skies and a light powder of perfectly white snow – just like in my game Xenon 6: Battle for Galactigar. Mom made fried eggs and toast with jam. She knew it was big day for me, but I played it cool. We got to school at the exact time for me to help with the equipment – just like Mr. J asked us to.

It was short drive to the competition, but me and Mikey sat together. Everyone was sleepy; it was pretty early. We got there, unloaded the stuff, and got set up. The band got tuned up. I didn’t like it when Mom made a big deal out of me making Jazz I, but she likes to brag on me. Anyway, I did practice all summer: my teacher told me to practice two hours a day. I always follow the rules.

Tuba is what fat boys were supposed to play, and I follow the rules. I sweat through halftime shows on the 50-yard line in the fall and sit on my padded ass in the stands in the winter. But when I heard Bruce moved away, and Jazz I needed a bass player, I was all about it. Used Fender off Craigslist: check. Lessons: check. Practice till my fingers bleed: check. Result? The only sophomore in the top jazz band. Would anyone see me? Nope. But, they would hear me. Like I said: perfect.

The set went perfect. Like no negatives on the critique for the rhythm section. Then we all went down to the cafeteria for food. There was a long line, and a couple of the kids cut the line. Mikey and Scott and me waited. We are all rule-followers. I got pizza, chips, and Mt. Dew. By the time I paid, there wasn’t much space at the round table, so I sat right next to the group. We all have matching shirts, so it didn’t really look like I was sitting alone; I was right next to the whole crowd. Everyone talked and laughed and joked – we knew we’d made the cut for the final showcase later that night.

After lunch, we all just kind of hung out around our homeroom space. Some kids watched other bands, but almost everyone just sat around and talked or got on their phones. Some of the seniors went out back with kids from other schools; they were totally smoking pot. I kind of wished I would’ve brought my DS, but I didn’t want to look like an idiot. It’s hard enough to be the sweaty fat kid.

After a while we went back down to the cafeteria for drinks and snacks. We had to wait until 5:00pm to get the official word about the showcase. No one was really watching, and they had these kind of mini-pies next to the cupcakes. All the kids got cupcakes and Pepsi; they paid and sat down where we had lunch. Except there was space this time, so I knew if I hurried, I wouldn’t be the kid at the other table again. Without really thinking about it, I took a pie, and walked right past the cashiers and sat down.

Maybe no one noticed. Maybe the adults thought I’d already paid, but whatever – I was sitting with the whole group this time. Cherry pie isn’t really my favorite. I really like apple or chocolate much more. But, hurriers can’t be choosers, and, anyway, I was sitting with the group. My seat was saved, so I got up to go buy a drink.

It was just then that I saw her: a volunteer mom at the cashier stand. Looking at me like she knew.  She seemed to stare through me as I walked around the cordons, weaving in and out obediently. I selected another Mt. Dew, and walked purposefully over to the accusing volunteer mom’s cash box. I smiled.

“Two dollars,” she said.

“Here you go!” I chirped, handing her a crisp twenty. Mom had given me forty dollars for food. Usually she only gives me twenty, but this was an all-day and potentially late-night trip. As the volunteer mom counted out my eighteen dollars change, sweat trickled down my back, pooling along my first fat roll. I smiled at her, wondering if she was gonna say anything about the pie. My brain darted around the maze of excuses I could make, but my ability to be a creative liar was hampered by my desire to get back to the table and be the bassist in Jazz I.

I could feel her laser eyes boring through the back of my skull as I rejoined the group and gobbled my pie just in time to head back to the auditorium. I made sure to put the pie wrapper in the garbage, and I recycled my pop bottle. Like I said, I follow the rules.

We got back to school about midnight. I helped unload all the stuff, and even got to carry in the first place trophy. I called Mom after everything was done even though some of the older kids took off to party right away. Just as Mom pulled up, Mikey said – real quiet like – “I saw.”

I turned around and said, “Thanks, Mr. J. That was a great trip.” One of Mom’s rules is to be polite to teachers, especially those who put in extra time. I try to follow the rules.



For Sale

Jason had been saving his money since he was old enough to hold on to his dad’s coat pockets. Bouncing across fields of fresh powder, whizzing along snow-packed country roads: these were his only joys. School was a drag; dyslexia and auditory processing deficiencies combined to make classroom life living hell. Every day for the nine-month winters, Jason shoveled drives, walkways, and scattered sand for anyone who would hand him a dollar or two. During the brief summer, Jason planted flowers and mowed what little grass had time to grow. Four years of saving opened the door to Mick’s Snowmobile Clearance this past June. Clearance maybe, but it was his own snowmobile. The short summer months couldn’t pass quickly enough for Jason.

During the warmer days, Jason saved up fuel money, waxed his new baby over and over until Grampa said, “You’re gonna polish that thing inna the ground, son.”

By November, Jason wasn’t shoveling driveways. In January, he wasn’t scattering sand. By February, he still wasn’t bundled up flying across the fields. Rain and cold – some ice – a light dusting of snow here and there.

“Unusual winter,” the old folks said.

“Mother Nature has it in for me,” Jason concluded.

“Don’t worry, next winter will be a doozy,” Dad said.

After three years and 243.4 inches of not snow, Jason gave up.

Some say he moved to Florida the day after he turned 18.

The Duluth Tribune has a P.O. Box in Texas to bill for the classified ad.

The snowmobile with the sign sits in the front yard, rusting and hoping for a buyer just as Jason hoped for snow years ago.


global warming.2


“Mom, what’re you doing?!?”

“You’ll see.”

“Oh my god, Mom, he’s just a scammer. I’m gonna tell him to get a job.”


The snow blew in the window as she offered styrofoamed coffee and a cup of chili.

“Thank ye,” he said, putting both into a beat up mini-Coleman at his feet. He smiled, tucking his hands back into the camo jacket sleeves, holding the cardboard with just two fingers. 

She drove away amid her daughter’s semi-hysterics about how the doors weren’t even locked and how he could’ve just reached in and grabbed one or both of them.

The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that 11% of adult homeless people are veterans; they are primarily men and nearly half of these are African-American or Hispanic. These men and women served in the armed forces in eleven different conflicts world-wide from World War II to the anti-drug conflicts in South America. Mental illness, lack of civilian work skills, and an extreme shortage of affordable housing all combine to leave over 45,000 veteran homeless on any given night. (1)

“Oh my god, Jenna. That’s the cooler.”

 “The what?”

“That homeless dude my mom gave stuff to. That’s his cooler.”


“I bet he has a bunch of shit in there.”

“Like what? He’s homeless. Home. Less. They don’t have stuff – basic definition.”

“Yeah, well, I’m gonna look.”

“Stac, you better not. It’s not yours.”

 “Whatever. He’s homeless.”

“Seriously, Staci, you shouldn’t.”

Family problems, economic problems, and residential instability have combined to create a homeless teenage population of at least 1.3 million on any given night. Statistics about homeless teens are difficult to corroborate due to imprecise census methods and mobility of homeless populations. Seventy five percent of homeless teens will drop out of and not finish school. Although many states have legislation addressing the needs of and providing services for homeless teens, it is estimated that at least 5,000 unaccompanied teens die in the streets every year.  (2)

“I don’t know. I mean, my mom – a fucking bleeding heart if you know what I mean – but she was a bitch, too.”

“Got it, but how’d you end up on the street, Staci?”

“I mean it wasn’t like I was a crack whore back home. Jenna and me smoked weed but only on the weekends and shit. I slept around a little, too, but you know – no gang bangs or anything. I wasn’t any worse than Jenna or Marcia.”

“Yeah. You want me to call your mom? I mean, if she’s a bleeding heart, maybe she –“

“No. Look, I’m outta here. Gimme my stuff.”

“Ok, ok, but you don’t have to live on the str—“

“Just gimme my shit, ok?”

“It’s over here.”

Staci picked up her jacket and backpack. I handed her the beat-up cooler.

About forty percent of homeless adults have a certificate or license for a job skill, but seventy percent of them report economic reasons for homelessness: insufficient income, lack of jobs, or disability to perform their jobs. Over 80% of these adults express a desire to go back to school to gain additional skills for employment. And, 87% of homeless adults expressed a desire to be employed at least on a part-time basis.  (3)

I do not remember how I ended up here. I only come here on winter nights. Most times I walk around the city. There are treasures everywhere. It’s an artistic way to live, really. We’ve become a cash, carry, cast aside society. Perfectly good cakes and pies in dumpsters. Coats from last year with just a stitch in the zipper. I’m not crazy, you know; I have a college degree. I used to be counselor. There’s just so much need, so much chaos, so much want – how the hell could I help them when I could barely keep myself going?

This once – a girl – I even remember her name: Staci – she wouldn’t tell me why she ran away. I mean, at least I think that’s what she did. She never really said, but she seemed to like living on the streets. Homeless. Except she had a home – she just didn’t want it. I dunno. Maybe she didn’t want to be there, but she couldn’t leave the streets either. She traveled light  – kind of like me now: backpack and a cooler. A cooler just like this one . . .