Lies and Libations

It all started innocently enough, somewhere in Mississippi in the early eighties.

Angie Young had known Seth Johnson for many years, from way back when they were babysat by Miss Modina, the large, older black woman paid by Angie’s family to take care of her while her father was away on business and her mother was… well…

"Busy," as they said.

"Fucked out of her mind on wine and valium," was what Angie would say years later, but there you have it. Miss Modina would come over at six in the morning, bringing young Seth with her, and cook breakfast for them both. Seth was her adopted son, she said, and everybody left it at that. He’d been born with a variety of maladies which left him in leg braces and on crutches, but he was a smart boy, and she doted on him.

Angie and Seth would play games in the backyard, build little forts among the tall grass of the field behind the old big house, and all was well until Angie’s father fell on hard times.

It was the day after her twelfth birthday, she remembered. He was down the hall, yelling at her mother. Angie crouched behind a plush red couch, clutching her favorite doll to her as her father railed against the idea of his only daughter being babysat by “that kind of people.” Too young to understand at the time why, she cried when he said that Miss Modina and Seth could not come to play ever again, but being just old enough to understand rebelliousness, she snuck out of the house and got on her bike, pink and purple with a white basket on the front, and rode down the hidden trails and the back ways until she came to Old Egypt Road.

It wasn’t fair, she decided, she liked Seth and loved Miss Modina and who was he to decide who could see who? That was stupid, and thus, running away seemed the only logical solution.

Old Egypt was the black neighborhood, Angie knew that. Everybody knew that. There were no black folks living in the city limits of Asheville, they all lived out along Old Egypt. Angie had never been there before, but her anger and her sadness drove her along the dirt road. At night everything was different, darker and quieter, with brightly lit houses in the distance like foreign lands. She knew Seth’s house was the third one after the old bridge, though, because they had talked about it before. Angie pedaled onward, breathing heavily, and after the old bridge, and the third house, turned left down the driveway.

The house was small, ramshackle, a clapboard sort of affair. But when she dismounted and approached the door, the smell of good food cooking comforted her somewhat.

Tentatively, she knocked.

The door was almost immediately answered by Seth, who stared at her wide-eyed.

"Angie?" then he turned and yelled, "Miss Modina, Angie is here."

The room was dimly lit but warm. The furniture was old and worn but comfortable looking. And there was Miss Modina, enormous, “Child, what are you doing here? Oh lord.”

Angie blurted, “Daddy said you and Seth can’t come over any more and I thought that was stupid and it’s not fair and so I ran away…” and then she started crying, because that seemed to be the only thing to do.

She was ushered into the big living room and sat on the couch. The house smelled of pork roasting and incense. The shelves and tables in the corner held old glass bowls and jars of candy, because Miss Modina, as Angie knew, was the Candy Lady.

See in the tiny neighborhood of Old Egypt, the black kids couldn’t go to the local drug store on their own so they went to the Candy Lady. An older lady usually, well-respected by the community at large, who sold hard candy for a penny-a-piece and some chocolate for a bit more. All the children knew Miss Modina, and she was revered.

Maybe a little feared too, because some folks said that after dark Miss Modina offered a different kind of thing. Something to do with her being from New Orleans, they said, something to do with spirits, and maybe advice, and maybe babies. One time Angie heard her mother and her friends talking about “going to see Modina for a solution.” She didn’t understand what they meant until she was a lot older. Every society, it seems, has its old wise healers.

And also people that know how to do what is necessary, sometimes. Like when a pregnancy shows up unexpected, or maybe scandalous, or maybe because of darker reasons. Then it didn’t matter if you were white or black, back then, you needed Miss Modina.

"Now, Angie, look at me." Miss Modina said, kneeling down in front of her, "Your father is a good man, and he made a decision, okay?

"Yeah," Angie said, "but it’s a stupid decision."

Miss Modina laughed, “Well maybe so, but it’s his decision, okay? Something you got to realize, girl, is that black folks and white folks are different. The worlds we live are different, right? Mister Young, he’s got to think about how the other white folks see this, okay? And you are his child, so you have to respect that. I know it don’t make no sense right now, but one day you gonna understand.”

"I don’t wanna understand, Seth is my friend," Angie sobbed.

Miss Modina hugged her close, “I know child, I know. But it is what it is right now, okay? So hush your crying, I’m gonna call your mamma so she can come get you, she must be worried a fright.”

She wandered into the back of the house to get the phone, and Seth sat down on the couch next to Angie.

"I’m sorry your daddy don’t want us to be over there no more, Angie," he said, feeling awkward, "Here, you can have a grape sucker if you want one. I was saving it for later but I figure you might need it right now."

Angie sniffed and took the offered treat, “Thank you.”

They sat there in silence for a while, while Miss Modina talked on the phone in the background.

Angie wiped her eyes and unwrapped her sucker, a look of grim determination slowly coming over her face.

"Seth?" she asked.

"Yes?"

"I don’t care what daddy says or Miss Modina or anyone else, we are friends, and I ain’t gonna let that change for no stupid adult decisions, okay?"

"Okay, Angie."

She popped the sucker in her mouth and took his hand.

Together they watched Sanford and Son until Angie’s mother drove up outside.

That was probably the start of it, right there, but they didn’t get to the thing until they went to the Library.

The Library, really, that was the beginning.


Let me tell you something, there is magic in cooking.

Just the thing to turn a long shitty week into something much more better.

The combining of ingredients plus alcohol and music, maybe do a little spontaneous kitchen dancing, adds a lot of flavor. Simmer all that together, bask in the riotous scent that fills your house, taste the result.

It is, I humbly think, one of the highest expressions of what humanity is. The concept that we can take something absolutely necessary for our survival (food) and turn it into a source of infinite pleasure, that soothes the mind, heals the body, and pacifies the soul.

It is magic, contained in a pot of stew or pan of meat and vegetable or a square baked dish or a flat sheet of pastries or steamed buns or woks full of everything and brown sauce or just a fire and a piece of meat charred.

It is magic, and every time I turn on a stove, I am humbled by it’s presence.


Lions and Gazelles

quickienewyork:

As the frat boys roll into the Lower East Side, their collars popped and their Docksiders worn with salt water from the deck of Daddy’s boat, I stay close to the walls hoping to go unseen. Their girlfriends are impossibly tall, their legs going all the way up with boots that cover their knees,…

This guy. This guy gets it.


"There’s always an Arquillian Battle Cruiser, or a Corillian Death Ray, or an intergalactic plague that is about to wipe out all life on this miserable little planet…" ~ Agent Kay

A word, if I may, about the terrible video making the rounds.

I won’t link it here, it’s been linked enough, but suffice it to say that bad things happened to people at a Kroger just up the street from my house last night. And it sucks, both for the people who it happened to and for the community at large. But now my feed is clogged with people bemoaning the incident, lamenting the state of Memphis, and generally talking about how horrible the world is these days. Hey I get it, but here’s the thing:

This is nothing new, not even remotely new.

When I was a kid, there was this guy. Name was Tony. He was kind of a douchebag but ultimately not really anything terrible. He used to hang out on the square of the small town I grew up in, talking to the deputy and sometimes being obnoxious. Not a big deal at all. But some of the local redneck types took exception to him being there, and one night, when he was up there alone, someone knocked on the window of his car, and when he stepped out to talk to them, five guys jumped on him and beat the shit out of him. For no real reason.

When I was in college, I knew some of the guys in the ROTC. Big meatheads all of them, usually in the gym. But one night I get told by a mutual friend about their weekend hobby. See, a few of they would get drunk and pile into a truck to go trolling through the rest stops down in deep Mississippi, looking for “queers.” They would find some poor bastard just looking for a little rough trade maybe and talk him into coming with them, maybe give him a few beers. Whether or not the guy was really gay was debatable, because after they got him a little drunk these fine upstanding military candidates would take the dude out in a field somewhere and stomp the crap out of him. It was the first time I’d ever heard of “gay bashing.”

I have a friend who currently is in China, teaching English to children on a sort of exchange program. One night she and a group of friends, mostly ex-pats from other countries, come out of a club in the wee hours of the morning. They walk straight into a mob of young Chinese men, drunk and angry about foreigners in their country, taking their jobs. They are attacked and the next day my friend posts the pictures of her blood and bruises from where she was punched and kicked.

These things happen and have always happened, look at lynchings, the attacks on union organizers, mob attacks on women in some Middle Eastern countries, villages in Africa that drag poor women onto tire fires because they were accused of witchcraft. And it sucks, and we as human beings should be better than that, and honestly - over time - we are slowly getting better.

Statistically, the world is more peaceful than it’s ever been, according to various sources like W.H.O. and the F.B.I. and others. What is different now is that we can access and be affected by information like no other time in our history. We are subjected to, on a daily, hourly, minute-by-minute basis, every possible horrible example of man’s inhumanity to man. And at times, it absolutely seems overwhelming. Especially when everyone you know signal boosts the worst things.

And hey, I know it’s important to let people know about the bad things sometimes, to get the word out, to help the cops identify the suspects, etc. But I assure you, as a person with serious hyper vigilance issues, that things today are absolutely better than they were 1000, 100, or even 10 years ago. The problem I think is information overload, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to manage our filters.

So I say to you, please do not despair for Memphis, or humanity in general. Bad things happen to people. But it will get better. We are better than this. We will be better than this. Remember that.

WE WILL BE BETTER THAN THIS. ALL OF US.

Now I ask the people who’ve posted this video to do me a personal favor, post something good, something positive. Change the feed. Maybe we can generate a little positivity today.

Hell, give it a shot. A little positive message can’t hurt, right?

~Dr. Victor D. Lorthos, esq., Dudeist


Me on Tumblr: *scroll, scroll*

Somebody: HEY HERE’S 50 CUTE PICTURES OF SOME CRAP!

Me: “Grrr…”
*scroll, scroll, scroll*

Everybody else: HEY LET’S REPOST THAT POST ABOUT 50 CUTE PICTURES OF SOME CRAP!

Me: “Fucking seriously?”
*scroll, SCROLL, SCROLL, SCROLL*
hits page refresh bottom

Me: “Damn!”

*waits*
*SCROLL, SCROLL, SCROLL SOME MORE*

Me: “Finally, different stuff. Glad that’s done.”

Somebody: HEY HERE’S 50 GIFS OF SOME OTHER CRAP!

Everybody else: YAY!

Me: “GODDAMMIT.”


At the Blue Magnolia, Angie shimmied across the dance floor.

Angie was a big girl, no way around it. Not just fat, according to the cruel BMI accounting of society, but honestly tall and broad at the shoulder. A hundred years ago she would have been considered a prime wife for birthing children, a couple thousand years ago she would have been worshiped as a goddess. But for now, drunk as hell in a terrible small town drag bar in Asheville, Mississippi, she was perfect. She danced, she shook, she threw it down.

Because, after many years otherwise, she’d finally learned how not to give a fuck.

Seth stared. Memories floated past his inner eye unbidden. Memories of himself, in an awful brown rented tuxedo, hobbling along on his crutches to the “Secret Headquarters” of the Southern Detective Club, one hand clutching a light blue flowered corsage.

Nineteen-eighty-seven, it was. Prom night. The Southern Detective Agency had agreed to meet before that awful social event, have one last night of camaraderie before they all went their separate ways into the future. Their secret headquarters was an old barn on some government-owned land. Seth went in the back way, just a twist of an old piece of wood and the door hidden in the wall swung up, and there she was, waiting in a powder blue dress, all lit by the moonlight seeping through the roof.

She was beautiful, and he was resolved to tell her how he felt.

Seth gimped it across the barn floor and she turned to see him. Smiled. That moment was etched in his memory there, just Angie in the moonlight, dark hair, pale skin, everything.

He opened his mouth to speak but she went first.

"Seth, I think I’m gay."

In his heart, something very small and fragile broke.

"Jesus Christ you mooning fucking bastard," someone said in his ear.

He turned but it was just Arthur, incredibly drunk and weaving slightly back and forth with glass full of multicolored liquor in his hand.

Seth opened his mouth but it was too late, Arthur was upon him, alcohol overcoming his natural hatred of touching people to drape his arm over Seth’s shoulders.

"Goddammit, she’s beautiful, isn’t she?" he asked, staring unsteadily at the dance floor.

"Get off me you drunk asshole," Seth said, attempting to dislodge him.

"Hey man, hey, hey, uh… hey look." Arthur blinked at him owlishly, "Okay, look. I know you loved her, it’s okay. I loved her too, you know? Maybe in a different way but whatever."

"I don’t know what you are talking abo…" Seth tried.

"I was there, man. I was there." Arthur focused on Seth’s face, briefly, "I heard the whole thing, I heard her tell you and I saw you suck it up, you know? You were all there and ready to tell her you love her and hey, that’s okay but then when she told you the truth, you sucked it up, right? You took it because you loved her enough to let her be who she really was. Fuck yeah you did."

Seth blushed, cream-colored skin burning with darker red, “Just shut up, Arthur, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

On the dance floor, Angie was joined by a skinny redhead. A younger girl, at first shy but then more comfortable with her movements. Pretty soon they were the focus of the club, shaking it to the DJ’s remixed strains of “Anaconda” by Nicki Minaj.

"Haha," Arthur said in Seth’s ear, "I always know what I’m talking about, it’s my fucking curse. But you know what? I totally respect you for that, right? That shit was epic. Shakespeare level shit, man. Seriously. Look."

He paused a moment to finish the drink in his hand, “I get it, okay? I get it. I love her too, she took care of both of us for a long time when we were kids. It’s cool. But now, look at her, yeah? She found herself, somewhere out there. It’s good. Right?”

Seth looked, and saw the happiness on Angie’s face.

"Yeah, Art. I get it. It’s good."

Arthur hugged him, for a brief moment, “Okay, let’s get to fucking drinking then man, hell. Reynard said he’s buying.”

Seth turned to him and grinned, “Alright you bastard, alright.”

"Yeah," Arthur said, "I get that a lot."

And to the bar they went, men with a purpose.


The cop did not appreciate
When I told him my name
Was Mister Deese
“Mr. Deese Nuts”

He claimed it inappropriate for the moment
I said humor is assiduously situational and this was in context
He countered that context was wholly based on cultural expectations
I offered that all cultural expectations included crude testicular reverence
He opined that I was falling into an absurdist fallacy and failing to consider the feelings of the public
I stated that he just might be an agent of a
humorless fascist oppressive power structure

And a poopoo head.

Ultimately we agreed to disagree but we did find common ground in one area

Tasering people is pretty damn funny,
so if someone would be so kind
to send bail money I would appreciate it

Just make out the check,
to Mister Deese.


I just realized something about the three main characters in my burgeoning novel that makes them suddenly very, very complicated. Goddammit.

I am not a fan of the writers and authors who fawn over their characters or story, the sort who gush about how “oh I just create them and then they tell me how they want the story to go” or “it writes itself, you know, I’m just the interpreter.” Fuck that. I’m the by-gods-writer-goddammit, I decide what the characters say and do and think. Not them. Screw them. If they want to have their own voice, they need to go hang out with some sensitive namby-pambys that drink chai tea and write their novels in Starbucks.

However.

I find that, if I want a well-rounded three-dimensional character, someone with depth and perspective, someone with real feelings and flaws and human interactions, I have to let them breathe a little, let them get up to their own ideas somewhat. Otherwise I risk a world populated with cardboard cutouts of caricatures not worth the keystrokes required to set them in print. Even when their stupid ideas and sudden realizations cause me to rethink the entire theme of the entire damn book and entirely bang my head on my desk until I achieve inspiration or unconsciousness.

They don’t know what “home” is, you see, as none of them have really experienced it, and I don’t know if they will find it in this book, and frankly the whole question kind of frightens me, probably because it hits to close to… well you get the idea.

If you were an outcast, if the only thing like real acceptance you felt came from two other strangers, people that you then lost touch with due to the vagaries of graduating college and adulthood and adult problems and so forth, what would you do? Hell, I don’t even know myself, and if I can’t answer the question, how can they?

Argh. Too much existential bullshit for one night, and not enough alcohol.

Let’s put it to bed for now, leave a cheap plastic bookmark on that page.

I have a feeling it will answer itself soon enough.

Maybe.


Supposedly, he’d joined the police force right out of high school. Gone on to be the fastest rising star in the Memphis P.D. and made Detective in record time. Then in less than a year he quit in disgrace. The papers had a field day with it; “Genius Kid Detective Fired!” the headlines read, though the details were murky even ten years later. Some people Angie had talked to in the force said Arthur got shitcanned because of his attitude with stodgy superior officers. At least one old detective told her (in confidence of course) that the Boy Detective quit because he had, as he put it in his lengthy resignation letter, “reached the apex of what the police could do, and - as my conscience dictates - must move on to a more effective means of resolving crimes, both great and small, unconstrained by short-sighted and ham-fisted departmental regulations.”

Or so it was said.

Supposedly he started his own detective agency, “Eye of Providence Investigations” he called it, “No case too big, no case too small.” The address in the old yellow pages from Angie’s apartment turned out to be a third story one-man office in a run-down complex somewhere off Poplar Avenue. The door was locked, and a blue sheet of paper was taped over the large, unblinking eye logo etched into the glass.

"This is a notice of eviction." Seth said, tracing his finger over lines of legal script, "Dated a year ago, I’m surprised it’s still here. Guess there’s not much demand for this space."

Angie looked up and down the dimly lit hallway, dirty yellow seventies carpet and all, and sighed.

"Yeah. Well fuck, this is the last information I had on him. Screw it, let’s get a drink. I saw a Mexican joint when we came in."

Together they rode the elevator back down and strode into Taco Del Diablo.

They perched on rickety stools at the tiny bar and she ordered shots of Tequila and cold beers from the matronly bartender, who smiled and patted her hand, saying something in Spanish which Angie didn’t quite get. Seth chuckled under his breath.

Angie glared at him, “What was that?”

"Well, my Spanish is rough, but I’m pretty sure she is very concerned about a woman your age dating a black man," he said.

She threw her head back and laughed. “Oh my god, we found the one bar in Memphis where my Mexican mother works, wow.”

They both laughed some more at that and hoisted shots of awful cheap booze at one another.

"Here’s to Arthur," Angie said, "What was it we used to say, back in the old days? Oh yeah." She placed her hand over her heart. Seth did likewise.

"Detectives together! Detectives forever!" they intoned, and drank.

A quiet voice behind them spoke, “Detectives never give up. That’s the other line.”

There was a moment of coughing and spluttering.

And they turned, and there he was. Tall, thin, dark haired, solemn. Like some Gothic stork.

Arthur.

The Detective.

He smiled slightly, which was really as good as he could do.


Reading the news feeds today about bad things happening in a suburb not too far from here and knowing those things could happen right down my street, or any street in America, at any time…

It’s making my Inner Bastard edgy.

Trying to refrain from typing long rants about cops and freedom and racism and politics and history and the overall abiding goddamned meanness of mankind, but it’s not easy. I dunno, maybe I’ll take him to the bar later, let him drink and hobnob with the hoi polloi, that seems to calm him down. We shall see.


Hey man. Been pretty rough the last couple of days, we lost the funniest of funny men, things are getting outta hand in St. Louis, some local folks are having pretty tough times. Don’t even get me started on shit going down in Europe and Africa right now.

Life ain’t always easy, no doubt.

But I suppose right this moment, my Facebook Friends, we can’t necessarily do anything about it. So just hang in there dudes and dudettes, hug someone you love, remember to breathe, have a libation or smoke a J (if that’s your thing, man) and remember that this too shall pass. Stay safe.

And try this, maybe it will help. Picked up a copy from this dude a while back on one of my more far out adventures. Cool cat, think his name was Star something…


"The Southern Detective Club"
A Preview

He shooed them out, eventually, and locked the door behind them. When he was alone, he pulled the headphones over his ears, turned the volume on his cheap MP3 player up to maximum.

Arthur stood there, in the middle of the room, and let it wash over his soul. The music, the events of the last few days, the murders, the crazy hillbillies, the clues (various and sundry), and above all again, the music. In his hands were pieces of colored chalk and before him, the empty white walls.

Angie poured two glasses of wine, handed one to Seth, and drank the other. As she was refilling, Seth spoke.

"What do you think he’s doing in there?" he asked.

“‘Detecting’, he calls it. Writing on the walls like a crazy person is what I call it, but it seems to work. You remember all those pages of notes and drawings he would put up in the clubhouse when we were kids, right?” She took the bottle and sat down heavily at the kitchen table. Seth followed suit.

In the back room, Arthur’s hands rose above his head, and on the downbeat of the music thumping in his ears he began to put form to thought, to draw the patterns. The patterns were all that mattered, he knew that. Chalk scratched on drywall, theory took form, lines were drawn.

His eyes, no longer useful in this world, rolled back into his head as the fit took him.

"I thought those were just his stories, you know, stuff he would make up." Seth took a drink, grimaced at the cheap tannins of a sub-ten-dollar wine.

Angie shook her head, “No. Not to him. It all meant something, right? It’s… I think it’s how he makes sense of his brain, you know?” She drained the glass and started another, “I mean, he’s not like us, okay? He doesn’t think like regular people, and so sometimes he has to get it all out of his head so he can look at it. So maybe it makes sense.”

In the dark room, Arthur danced with shadows. You just had to let it flow, he knew, let the things out, let the hands take over and draw the patterns, the lines of the universe, the secrets, all of it. He knew how to do it, he’d always known.

He made circles and lines, scrawled words and symbols, made connections between hastily scribbled mathematical formulae as his body jerked like a badly controlled puppet.

That was the dance. Music to mind to arm to hand to fingers to patterns.

Patterns that told you everything.

They sat there in silence for a minute listening to the scrapes and thumps coming from the back, then Seth took the bottle and emptied it into both their glasses.

"You knew him before me, Ang. Was he always like that?"

She nodded, long hair falling over her eyes for a moment, “He told me a story once, about when he was maybe three years old. After Tomas, you know, after they found his body. He’d drawn it all out, just from what he’d overheard the adults talking about. Construction paper and crayons, pieces of string, that’s all. He was trying to figure it out. He told me it was in the patterns somewhere but he was too young to understand.”

Seth nodded, “What happened?”

"His mother found all of it and burned it in a barrel in the back yard," Angie said flatly, "said it was a thing of the Devil. I don’t think he ever really forgave her. Or himself."

"What did he blame himself for?"

Somewhere behind them in the darkness, Arthur gave himself over completely to it, and the frantic noises became louder.

"He never solved it, you see, he never solved the mystery of his brother’s murder."

The back door slammed open, and they both jumped.

Arthur staggered through, face red and shiny with sweat. He made to the table and grabbed Seth’s glass, draining it of the remaining wine. His hands were stained with chalk dust, knuckles scratched and bloody.

"I’ve got it," he said, "I think, yes. I think. Come and see."

Clutching the glass to his chest, he turned and stumbled back into the dark room.

With no help for it, Angie and Seth followed him.