Sunday, November 25, 2007

Oh Caroline, No

Where is the girl I used to know?

Jan was my mother's best friend. They were cousins. Jan had a hearing people and battled a speech impediment. I don't think that ever mattered to my mom.

I lost my mom in 1986. Jan died in 1970. I think sometimes I could scream loud enough for it be heard in 1986, but '70 is a reach. My parents had only been married two months when it happened. I'd venture Mom and Jan hadn't seen each other for a few years, but she was there at the funeral. Her life was just beginning and Jan's ended abruptly on an August afternoon.

It's funny - trying to reach out and yank at the bottom of the pain it caused the family. They still speak of her in hushed tones. There are raw nerves.

How could you lose that happy glow?

I went to the library once to read about what happened. It was on the front page of the Daily Progress, so different then from the paper I read today. How do you begin to understand something so horrific laid out on a microfiche screen?

Jan wanted to be a gym teacher. She loved sports and horses and music. She wrote all over my mom's yearbook in blue pen, warning her best friend about North Carolina boys. In the end, there was no worry, because in North Carolina my mother met a boy from Virginia. I have no doubt she wrote Jan about this, then their breakup and then the eventual engagement in Kansas.

My Uncle Dan is Jan's father. He's in his eighties now and cried when he saw me at a family funeral. "My God, I thought you were Georgie," Dan told me, wiping his eyes. "My God, they're both gone."

People thought I left early because I had to work. I actually drove to Montford and sat in the car crying for an hour.

You 'd never change but that's not true...

By chance one summer I met my mother's ex-next door neighbor. They grew up together on Belleview Avenue in Orange. Joanne and Jan later became college roommates. Jan had been engaged in early 1970 and her parents weren't happy about it. The engagement ended and Jan started drinking. Joanne told me all this and changed the subject.

Mom and Dad were married that June. For whatever reason, Jan wasn't at the wedding. It had been four years since Jan did all the scribbling in the senior yearbook. My parents moved to Northern Virginia and Jan stayed at Averett College.

July passed and I guess things were beginning to settle into an even keel for Georgia and Stu. Jan kept arguing with her parents, and came up to Charlottesville to spend some time at home. Her family bought a house off Barracks Road.

Who took that look away?

As August drew to a close, there was a heat wave that settled over Virginia. Tempers flared and Jan got into a terrible argument with her mother. I'll never know what the fight was about, but Jan was drunk. She stormed out and took off down the driveway in her father's little truck. I imagine Aunt Jean listening to the wheels crunching on the gravel and the sound falling off and dying in the summer air.

We don't know what happened. I can theorize that she was going too fast on the slight curve near the Georgetown Road intersection. It's really not much of anything, just a slight rise where 250 dumps out.

But she lost control and truck flipped. Somehow. There was an out of control moment.

There was an explosion. Jan was thrown out. Passersby rushed to her, but she was smouldering, bloody and unconscious. She died on the soft shoulder of Barracks Road on a late afternoon. The future teacher and my mother's best friend. Burnt to death.

I wish I knew how Mom reacted. My father doesn't remember, but hell, it was 37 years ago. They buried Jan in the little churchyard in Unionville. Maybe my 21 year old mother was shaken by the sudden death, or wrote it off with her typical surface practicality. I imagine she would have dwelled on it, like I would.

It's so sad to watch a sweet thing die...

When Mom died, my father sought out Aunt Jean and had a long talk with her. He came away sad, realizing that you don't so much get over these things. You deal with them in different ways over time. Jean did say that not long after the accident, she was in the kitchen putting dishes away when she heard Jan's voice. "I'm okay Mom," was all she heard. That was the first and last time anything like that would happen.

There's so much I don't know about Jan. I know she used to listen to the "Pet Sounds" album because her copy's boxed up in some of my mother's belongings. They gave it to Mom a few years after Jan died. That's about it. I drive by that intersection every once in awhile and sometimes I think about it. Other times, I don't.

I've given up on looking for familiar faces around Orange. Almost everyone's gone. There are some Sunday mornings, though, I'll drive up there before the mist has cleared out. In my mind's eye I can see all of them. They wouldn't know who I am, but I know them. And Jan's always there, smiling at me.

She knows.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Flight 514

I'll tell you

one day
about my
last breath

It came



Sunday, September 23, 2007

More Kramer Contest Fallout

Chips Chain and Convention Center Sued

Roanoke, VA - Arthur Treacher's Fish & Chips LLC and Roanoke Civic Center Auditorium are being sued by contestants, audience members, judges and hosts of the 2007 Stepfanie Kramer Look-Alike Contest.

The contest ended in shambles due to an uncontrolled sewage leak and an appearance by Loretta Swit.

The winner would have been spokeswoman for Treacher's for the upcoming year. The flailing chain has been a long-time sponsor of the prestige event, providing catering and cash incentives to the community.

Host Bob Saget has been discharged from Western State Mental Hospital and is now being treated privately. He's named in several of the suits.

"We're pretty sure one incident is tied to the other," said Roanoke police chief Barry Derryterry. "Swit's known to leave a mess in her wake, but we've had the darndest time finding her."

A citywide search of Portapotties and public bathrooms with so-called "glory holes" has proven unsuccessful.

Actress Stepfanie Kramer has released this statement:

"I have never been connected to this pageant and wouldn't set foot in Roanoke, Virginia unless the streets were paved with gold and donkeys shit Ben & Jerry's Chunky Monkey ice cream. "

A motions hearing is scheduled in Roanoke federal counrt for November 12.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

The Circus Fire

A silver shield protects the beating heart,
Like the gas-soaked canvas protects the rings
The unmarked grave under the birch tree
is covered with the dry leaves of autumn
colored like candy apples.

Snow scours the top of the grave in June
and the world turns upside down
as the flaming tent turns inside out.
Animals roar as the flames lick the corners
and humans are animals as well.

She stood looking down, contemplating jumping
her heart beating silver against her chest
No one noticed her until she was under the white sheet
one arm sticking out, lost of promises
long after the animals deserted.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Melee Caps Kramer Contest; Hundreds Flee Civic Center

Buzzing, Vibrating Box Frightens Capacity Crowd

(AP) No winners were crowned at this year's 6th Annual Stepfanie Kramer Look-Alike Contest. Instead, Roanoke, Virginia hospitals were crowded with patients trampled and covered with crap.

Contest host Bob Saget is currently seeking psychiatric treatment.

Things started to wrong when a stained, buzzing box was delivered backstage. Contestants were evacuated and the Metro bomb squad had to be called in. It was determined by authorities that the box contained one "Lil' Honeybee" vibrator covered in a viscous, sticky fluid. The box also contained a clipping from National Enquirer, detailing actress Loretta Swit's recent release from a sexual reprogramming center. The contest went on as scheduled, with Stepfanie Kramer lookalike Misty Blue Rosenberg of Blue Ball, Pennsylvania taking the lead.

Halfway through the "Pin the Tie On Fred Dryer" segment, a strange scent began to fill the auditorium. It was written off initially as an overflowing toilet and no one thought anything else of it until a crack appeared right in the center of the Civic Center's floor. What was thought to be mud began seeping out. At closer inspection, the substance turned out to be raw sewage.

The crowd rushed toward the auditorium doors but was blocked by knee-deep sewage that had spilled into the lobby. The torrent of waste also flowed through a Food Clown grocery store next door, killing several potted plants. The rest escaped with minor injuries.

Host Saget and judges Irlene Mandrell, Billy Mays, Markie Post and HR Pufnstuf all ran for the 1984 Dodge Daytona that was supposed to be given away as the grand prize. Instead, they discovered Loretta Swit in the back seat, naked and talking on a Star Tac phone that wasn't turned on. The smell inside the car is reported to have been worse than the stench of the Civic Center. Mandrell passed out and had to be carried out on Mr. Pufnstuf's back. Saget was rendered catatonic at the sight of Swit's body. He later described her breasts as looking like "tennis balls in tube socks".

Swit was arrested for indecent exposure with other charges pending. Cleanup is estimated in the millions. Several lawsuits have already been filed against the Civic Center and Almost Stepfanie LLC.

When asked for her reaction to the incident, Kramer just shrugged and said, "Well, it works for me."

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Unbearable Sadness Of Vegetables

It wasn’t until much later, when they caught the First Lutheran Church standing over the body of another housewife over in Cass County, that they realized that the spire had been stalking and murdering women for years. This explained why so many women got that creepy feeling that someone was watching them - and when they turned around, they just saw a church. Later, they’d think: wait a minute. There’s no church in our side yard. And by then the church would be gone.

Hurray for James Lileks!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

The 6th Annual Stepfanie Kramer Look-Alike Contest

If you're a woman between the ages of 15 and 60, keep reading because this could be your ticket to Hollywood!

Each year, the Roanoke Civic Center and Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips are proud to present the Stepfanie Kramer Look-Alike Contest. Contestants have a chance at winning fabulous prizes and get to meet some terrific celebrities.

The rules are simple: just look like Stepfanie Kramer. This involves a lot of makeup, preferably Wet-N-Wild from your local Dollar General Store. Make sure the emphasis is on heavy, heavy eyeliner. Miss Kramer told us she used to use Magic Marker.

Now that you've got the makeup, how about that hair? A half bottle of mousse will keep your bangs sticking straight up in the air and lots of cheap, flaky hairspray will "heighten" the effect.

Top this off with some big earrings, pleated pants that practically ride up under your armpits and a Kmart silk shirt. That's a smart look for the young woman on the go!

This year's celebrity judges represent the tops in the entertainment field. Irlene Mandrell, Billy Mays, H.R. Pufnstuf and Markie Post will rate and review the contestants. There will also be a tribute to longtime judge Charles Nelson Reilly, who passed away this year and is now mincing away somewhere in heaven. Miss Mandrell will sing a version of her sister's hit "If Loving You Isn't Right, I Don't Wish To Be Incorrect" as the choir from the Church Of the Golden Fried Prophecy sings "Don't Ride On the Lord's Bus If You Ain't Got Correct Change".

We apologize to contestants for the absence of longtime judge Loretta Swit. There was an unfortunate incident last year when she threw a used Depends on the stage, tripping Miss Stepfanie Kramer Look-Alike Betty Sue Bojangles of Crump, Tennessee. Swit is not allowed within the confines of the Star City anymore.

Aside from makeup, clothes and running in high heels, contestants will be judged for how they react when a male bursts in on them taking a bath. This scene is in the "Hunter" credits. If you can't find a willing guy to surprise you, how about Dad?

Contestants will compete for a date at Bennihana with Fred Dryer (who always likes a happy ending!), the complete 4th season of "Hunter" on VHS as recorded by someone in Springfield, Massachusetts, a ten dollar gift certificate to the Bonanza restaurant of your choice and the grand prize, a semi-mint condition 1984 Dodge Daytona.

Good luck, and knock them dead!

Note: Pageant is not endorsed by Stepfanie Kramer. $1,000 entrance fee due at audition day. Winners are chosen solely on their blowjob skills. Void where prohibited by hygiene laws.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Jackass A Deux

JACKASS A DEUX: How "MASH" Star Loretta Swit Swings Into Her Seventies

"I'm Loretta Swit, and this is Jackass." For five years, this mere utterance has meant chaos is soon to follow. What will it be today, gorging on dairy products or firecracker enemas?

Whatever the day may bring, "MASH" alum Swit says the new job is a dream come true. "In 1983 I was worried about how I'd top 'MASH'. Just the other day, when I hit Alan Alda in the nuts with an aluminum softball bat, I was thinking about how the world comes around. I'm in the director's chair now," she smiles, showing off her gleaming white teeth caked with the remains of Oreo cookies.

It hasn't been all bats and nuts. For years, Swit suffered a crippling obsessive-compulsive disorder that involved ritual sex and painful mouth sores. "It's still a struggle," she sighs. "I have to channel my compulsions into better things, like sewing and tantric yoga."

Anyone who's seen the show is familiar with her sidekick, Ben Schumin. Maybe sidekick isn't such a good word - Ben is usually on the wrong end of Loretta's abuse. The most recent episode involved a trip to a sex shop, where Schumin had a 16 inch phallus manually inserted into his rectum by a midget. Swit also launched him down a San Francisco street in a little red wagon. He was wearing only clothespins on his nipples and an adult diaper.

Still, he shrugs it off with a smile. "I just do whatever she tells me to, whether it's pissing off a kitten and shoving him down my pants or sliding naked down the Jewel salad bar and taking a poo in the ranch dressing."

Recently, another cast member has joined the mix. Famous pastor Robert Tilton speaks in tongues as Swit slingshots golf balls at his testicles. Although he's been quoted in other publications as wanting to use the show to preach to the masses, all Tilton would say to us is "fresh pecan pie" or something along those lines. He's also well known for impassioned sermons punctuated by flatulence.

Sucking a pudding pop, Swit spends most of the time in her trailer going over stunts or worrying about locations. Thanks to its popularity, the show was recently given clearance to shoot at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. One of the stunts backfired: a Big Wheel race down a gravel path launched Swit into a dung depository and Schumin into a ham house. Schumin had to have a wooden ham surgically removed from his anus. Swit suffered minor abrasions and spent hours trapped in the muck. "Oh, I didn't mind. It's not like I caught my tongue in Jamie Farr's pubic hair or something," she smiles.

Pudding stains her ample lips. "When I turned 60, I found myself staying in cheap hotels, giving head to truck drivers for fifty dollars a pop. I was well known for my deep cameltoe and loved showing it off in my red sweatpants. That was almost ten years ago. One night, I woke up in Shenandoah County Memorial Hospital have a gallon of semen pumped from my stomach and a gerbil extracted from my ass. I would have never imagined that now I'd be back in People magazine, swimming naked in a tank full of raw sewage or beating up Harry Morgan's wife."

"Finally, I have a very rich life. And a mouth free of cankers."

From People Magazine, October 2006

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Last True Story You'll Ever Hear

Many didn't survive. Some of the survivors were mad at God; some thanked Him for His mercy.

And did for many - did the plane just keep taking off, climbing straight to the sky? The sun's rays are gold on gold above the clouds. The pure, cold air feels so good.

Then the blessed silence as the engines spool down. The fire dies and the seats stick out like burnt cacti.

"Some didn't move. It was like they were hypnotized," a survivor remembered.

When the inevitable happens - is there a part of us that knows? When the flight or flee function kicks in...who choses option C?

It was a mistake. The accident was a mistake by two men in big planes and a little man in a control tower. Many Christians believe there are no mistakes in the eyes of God. For those that accepted their fate in the cabin of this ravaged 747, were they answering to God or to themselves? Did they make the mistake?

Or did they just keep climbing?

Sunday, August 19, 2007


Under the dry soil their coffins crack and bend,
and the hands that once hung laundry or held the smokepole lie idle.

All those years they trudged from the well. The icebox sat forlornly in the summer field and maybe they longed to crawl in.

It's a dry season, we smile, drinking out of our water bottles and washing our hands beneath the tap.

They lugged it up from the creek and drank the brackish lukewarm sludge. In the summer kitchens, the cooks sweated over the eggs and the trifles. Flies swarmed thick around the pies on the window sill.

"What I wouldn't give for a breath of fresh air," sighed Louisa. The parlor was stuffy on the warmest days. Ruth climbed a tree and read Mark Twain until the distant rumble of thunder sent her running home.

Ruth buried Louisa and we buried Ruth. The drought buries us. Louisa gets no fresh air and Ruth's under a tree, not in it. They are the dust we stand on in a dry season.

Monday, August 13, 2007

1,000 Miles Above Ground

I built an airplane made of stone...

The people on the bridge
saw the low cloud
and felt their roofs rip off.
"Larry, Larry, we're going down!"
On the approach to National
scrapes still cling to the side of the bridge.
It took days to lift the crooked bird from the water.
It took hours for them to repaint the tail white,
so no one would see the brand name.
Cigar-shaped engines
He jumped in to save the stewardess. He didn't jump in to save the peanut packets or the overwing emergency doors. The man handed off the slick rope and slipped under.
"Good afternoon, Air Florida ticketing."
"Hello, I'd like to buy a one-way ticket."
"What's your destination?"
"The 14th Street Bridge."
When I was very young, watching this,
the moving boxes filled the warm house.
My grandmother had the white car and we had the silver one,
and snow buffetted the battlefield.
What did I know then, while staring at the dark water,
of the other cold darknesses that make us all drown?

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Route 11, Summer

Knowing that all bretheren in the church of the road
live for the white lines and the swooping powerlines,
and those casual looks over the shoulder at times past,
and the dashed meals at greasy shacks next to the highway.

Sometimes in winter I wish it weren't.

Past closed eyes are the abandoned motorcourts turned junkyards
where the hopes and dreams sit under dust or carbourators.
On the battlefield where the cars whistle by on the interstate or
from the covered bridge that spans the flood low in the valley beneath it.

Behind the houses are tangled clotheslines.

There's the store with black speckled linoleum, that smells
like 1948, like tomatoes and watermelon and they smile as the screen door bangs.
Across the road the wildflowers frame the mountains and down the road
the sounds of the woodyard break the summer air to shatters.

The sky's blue above the TV antennas.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Nuclear Summer

The end of a nuclear summer spread out in front of the smudged windows. Red sunlight spilled across the room, across the magazines, the half-filled cups and the dust that swam in the still air.

She was sweating on the sheets. Three hours had passed since he changed them and now the new set were damp to the touch. It was stifling in the enclosed room. Occasionally he'd wipe his brow and sip from a cracked coffee cup full of water.

It was noon when she opened her eyes.

"Where are we?" Olivia asked in a cracked, parched voice. She lifted her head and scanned around the enclosed space.

"We're somewhere safe."

Olivia rubbed her temples and fixed her brown eyes on Elliot. He was unshaven. "I didn't want to go underground," she said sadly.

Elliot ran a hand across his stubbly chin and sighed. She couldn't stop looking at his eyes. Normally they were sharp, like blue icepicks. They weren't kind eyes. They were intense, angry, frightening. So many times she'd seen them narrow on a suspect. And sometimes they'd flash anger at her. It was a sullen hate, terrible in its intensity.

Now they were dull, like the heat had cast cataracts over them. He was tired. "I did something I'm not proud of last night," Elliot mumbled. Olivia craned her neck to observe his body language. The tired recliner sagged under his slumped weight.

"Last night, I - "

She waited for him to finish, but suddenly a bolt shot through her aching head like lightning. The pillow was cool and soft and the urge to sleep overwhelmed Olivia. Before Elliot could grasp her hand, she drifted off.

He settled back into the recliner. It hurt to see her in pain. Force-feeding his partner headache powders wasn't on his list of great things to do. Being stuck in a stifling, dim ex-hospital room wasn't so great either. This guilt would never go away.

In his mind's eye, it all played out again. The smell of gunfire, mingled with the scent of exhaust fumes from the interstate above. The coppery smell of blood that covered his hands. Cragen clutching his chest, falling over in the dust. Munch, brooding under the bridge, mopping the blood from Olivia's hair.

"You didn't leave me any choice," Elliot said out loud. Outside an ice cream cart droned by. The curtains were dusty and heavy.

She wanted it. You know she wanted it.


She lay there lifeless, her mouth hanging open slightly. There were so many nights they'd climb to the roof of the precinct and talk (and sometimes argue) under the starry sky. Seeing the heavens like that made him believe God was close. Now Elliot wasn't so sure. He'd sinned in the worst way. It was like stealing.

It took all his courage to lay a hand on her forehead, lest she wake up and wonder what happened. He could feel her pulse beating through her temple. It was still bruised and sore from the hit she got. Seeing her look so innocent and fragile brought tears to his eyes. All she wanted was life.

"I'm getting too old to hold out for the whole love business. If I ever have a kid all that has to be included," she said on the precinct roof. "Now I don't know if it'll ever happen."

Elliot chuckled, staring out at the sky. "I think you're being a little hard on yourself. When time comes to have a kid, you'll have a kid," he said.

" Everytime my mother looked at me, she saw a failure in her life. Any kid of mine can't and won't be raised that way," she said, involuntarily reaching out for Venus.

"You wouldn't. I know you too well."

Olivia studied Elliot's face. "Me having a baby would have to be a miracle right now, and those things just don't happen anymore," she said, smiling sadly. He almost said something but stopped.

The weight of the room, the night before and what the future would bring brought him down. Maybe it wouldn't work. Or maybe he could just finally say "I love you" and explain that, yes, miracles do take place. They were both miracles, thought dead too many times for anything else to be true.

Olivia stirred. Her groan startled Elliot. Dusk had fallen outside but the room was still awfully stuffy.

"Is there anything to eat in here, Elliot?"

He screwed his eyes shut tight.


When he opened them, the colors of the room seemed to sharpen. Elliot knew what he had to do now. Everything fell into focus. They'd both be better off.

"I'll go check if there's anything," he said, getting up. He allowed himself one long look. "You know, I...sometimes I think of that night we talked on the roof, when the stars were out..."
Elliot's voice cracked.

"I'll go check," he said again, and left the room like a ghost, fading into the red sky.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

The Door Into Summer

There's malice and there's magic in every season.

Somewhere underneath the Mississippi River, there's a Honda Civic. Next to it is a steamboat anchor.

The Honda's windows are open. Muddy light filters through the windshield and into the sightless eyes of its driver.

She was just twenty five and loose from college only four years. The degree got her the interview but the smarts got the job. The Honda was the first new car she'd every owned. Through college it was the hand-me-down Oldsmobile that took her from party to class.

She was thinking about dinner. She was thinking about him again, and whether she should tell her parents about him yet. But this night, she's a little tired and it's good to feel the sun and listen to Marvin Gaye on the radio. Her roommate is gone on vacation and the apartment will be quiet and cool when she gets home.

Suddenly, a tearing. The world is wrenched down. Air screams through the open windows. A sensation of wonderment fills her. She sees the car falling, herself in it. Interstate 35 disappears and turns into one open lane of water. There's no life flashing before her eyes, instead it's something more quiet and strange. I must be a bird, she thinks, not remembering the Christmases in Flagstaff or the time her grandparents had the egg hunt on the front lawn.

She remembers the summers, when the blackbirds flew over the garden. She must be a blackbird now.

The Honda hits the water and the jolt sends her head crashing into the door pillar. But it's still summer. The water's warm as her blood streams out the open window.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The View From the Hill

In the forest there are still trees that hold scars -

cuts like razor blades or long knives, jagged.

Thirty years later, pieces of seats lie blue against

the darkness of the forest floor.

Sometimes they find shoes. Others find nothing

but the wind.