The Soup Special

Josh looked at the restaurant. The neon name danced back and forth and a crowd gathered outside. It was the hottest pasta bar in town.

“I can take your coat if you’re warm enough,” Josh said. His date didn’t seem to mind. She gave him an imperceptible smile. They walked to the back of the line and waited.

“These places always put on a show, but can you trust the food?” A fat man asked.

“Honey, you claim to get food poisoning everywhere we go.”

“Well, it’s because these fancy places think uncooked cuisine is fashionable.”

The line began to move.

“You see honey, we don’t have to wait very long after all.”

“That’s because people are getting poisoned.”

Josh was seated at a small table, near the window, looking out onto the lake.

“Just a table for one, sir?” The waiter asked.

“Oh no, my date is freshening up. She’ll be back soon.”

Josh waited and watched the couples, trying to assess if their dates were going well.

“Oh, you look just lovely this evening.” He got up and pulled out his chair for his date. “You know, these restaurants always have a secret behind them.”

“Really? I thought this place was new,” she said.

“The chef and the name are new, but the building is very old. I worked here 15 years ago. See the waiter over there, he’s been here all this time.”

“Well, he’s Italian, I guess he fits right in.”

“No, it’s not that.”

“What then?”

“A murder happened here.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, the police couldn’t find her body, but blood was splattered all over the kitchen. They tried to pin it on the waiter over there, but he had a rock-solid alibi.”

“How do you know this?”

“I worked in the kitchen.”

“Who do you think did it then?”

“Who knows. The real question is how the murderer got rid of her body. She was a waitress. The police suspected she was having an affair and her lover wanted to cover up the evidence. I do remember the soup special of the evening was to die for. The restaurant sold out and would have put tonight to shame.

“Why do you think he continued to work here after all these years?”

“Maybe he thought leaving made him look guilty.”

The waiter walked over. “I never thought I would catch you alive in this place?”

“Same here. What’s the statute of limitations on murder?”

“Life. Why ask me that question?”

“Why are you still hanging around here?”

The waiter clenched his fists.

“This is just getting a bit too tense for me. I’m going to freshen up.” Josh’s date left for the back room.

“Did you tell her the whole story about the soup special?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, she probably thinks you’re a potential murderer. That will only increase her excitement this evening.”

“Who do you think murdered that woman all those years ago?”

“Maybe the sous-chef. He was always a bit strange. He could’ve chopped her up into little pieces and fed her to the guests.”

“That’s a bit over the top, don’t you think?”

“Reality is stranger than fiction. I’ve got to go wait on that table over there. Enjoy your evening.”

“Same to you,” Josh winked. His date came back.

“Is that man gone? I think he was the murderer, for sure.”

“Probably.”

“I can’t wait for our second date. Do you have any more stories?

“You’ll have to wait and find out.”

Josh escorted her to his car. “It looks like I have a flat. I’ll need to get my tire iron out.”

He made quick work of it and thought about the soup special. Maybe he could remember the recipe for when he got home. It was to die for.

THE END

Play God

I was headed to middle school and I was worried about what might happen with 7 classes and passing periods in between. I would have to ride the bus with kids I didn’t know, but I tried not to think about it. Over the summer, my mother took me to the library to get books and track my reading progress. On Friday afternoons there was a chess game.

Whenever I openly worried about school, my mother said, “Have you asked God about it?”

So, I would tell Him my worries, but it didn’t make me feel better. I sat down at the chess board, but nobody came over. The librarian was playing a 3rd grader and getting beaten badly.

Across the library, a man, probably 6 feet 4 inches tall, stood up from his chair. He was reading the newspaper and shaking his head. He wore an army surplus jacket. His gold hair went down to his waste and his beard grew in all different directions. Then he walked over.

“Chess is a game for kings,” he said to me.

All I could do was look at him with my mouth open. He smelled like my dad after football games, but stronger.

“Sir, this game is for kids; maybe you could bring your kids over?” The librarian suggested.

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any of my own, but I never forgot how to be one.” He sat down. “My name’s God.”

The librarian’s mouth went open.

“Glad to meet you God, my name’s Andy. I’ve been worried about school lately.”

“Let’s see, you’re around middle school age.” He moved his pawn out.

“I start in 2 months.”

“Then you interested in girls?”

“Sir, really, you shouldn’t be talking to him about that.”

“It’s okay lady, I’m God.”

The librarian got up from the table and walked to the information desk. I continued to play with God.

He was good, a smart chess player, but he didn’t know how to use his horses.

“The one thing you need to know about girls, school, and becoming a man is that all of those things take time.”

“But I start school soon. I don’t have time.”

“Trust me son, you have plenty of time and I don’t say that lightly. I know how long every person has to live and you are going to live forever.”

“Okay God, checkmate, I think?”

He looked down at his king and then he looked up at me. God smiled.

Two police officers showed up and escorted him to the parking lot. Then I found my mother in the gardening section.

“You look different,” she said.

“I had a good talk with God.”

“Really? She asked.

“Yeah, middle school is going to be fine, and for that matter, the rest of my life. If I can beat God at his own game, anything is possible.”

The “Something” Inside

There is something inside of a man

it is his essence

a sense of himself.

It can be taken away

and it frequently is,

but he keeps searching for it

because he longs to get it back.

It is the substance that looks on misery and sees happiness.

It sings to him in pain.

It offers power in dark moments

when the things of the world dissert him.

It is usually found then.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Sometimes you find it in others

they have a sense of style,

frequently overlooked

It’s overlooked because it takes style to recognize it.

This thing can’t be bought and it doesn’t obey pleas of permission.

When found,

 it walks inside,

unasked.

Coming of Age

I was 19 years old and I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I graduated from a private Christian school and I had the summer to think about my future. I was working at the golf course, cleaning golf carts. It was a simple job, full of interesting personalities. I had to run to work to clock in. I borrowed my parent’s car to attend community college and my only friend was the neighborhood boy with a traumatic brain injury down the street. On the weekends, I’d go over to his house to watch football games. My friend’s mom was Jewish and she changed religions each year. It was Catholicism, then Christianity, and finally Buddhism. She was a special education teacher with three daughters. Her husband was a machinist.

“Bob, when are you going to put in the new deck?” Judy asked.

“As soon as Richard is free.” Richard was Bob’s brother. “I’ll just need to buy 48 cans of Budweiser and we’ll be set for Saturday.”

They worked on that deck from morning until sunset, operating power tools and drinking beer. They enjoyed working together, making sawdust, and giving my friend a hard time.

“You know what the boy did yesterday?” Bob asked.

“No,” I said.

“He washed the cars. I paid him 20 dollars. Then he put the bill under a rock in the middle of the street. Kenny came by and picked it up. Then Christopher ran into the street accusing him of being a thief. Wanted to call the police on him. Came screaming into my office saying ‘I got ‘im dad… I got ‘im dad.'”

Christopher looked sheepishly at both of us when his dad told the story. “Hey…Hey…,” he laughed.

His sisters were all older than he was. They went to college and majored in pre-law, sociology, and education. They dated black guys and had hot tub parties on their deck.

I walked over from my parent’s house to say “Hi.”

“Hey Andy, how’s it hanging?” Sarah asked.

“Pretty good,” I said. I didn’t know what it meant and they laughed.

They were in their swimsuits drinking beer while Bob worked on their cars.

“Do you get out very much and go to parties?” Bob asked.

“Not really,” I said.

“Then what do you do, then?”

“I’m in college and I work full time.”

“You got to live a little. Have a beer.”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Bob, I think he’s a Mormon,” Judy said.

“I’m not a Mormon.”

“That’s okay, in time, you’ll find that all religions are true.”

“I’m not so sure about that,” I said.

I was a hardline Christian trying to do the right thing. Our pastor went through mid-life crisis to build Harley-Davidsons in Mississippi and before he left, I knew something was off. He was reading the philosophers and loved to talk about them during Sunday morning bible studies.

His pupils were teenagers, forced to be there by their parents, the elders of the church. Bobby was into drugs. When the pastor talked about Armageddon, he started wigging out. Pastor Mark switched topics to bible curriculum and existential philosophy.

“You’re preaching false doctrine,” I said.

“What?” Mark challenged.

“You need to get back into scripture and read your bible.” His bald head turned red, with purple splotches around his ears.

“How dare you.”

I smiled inside. When I challenged authority, everybody liked it.

There were these twin girls in class. One was pretty and the other athletic. One was missing teeth and the other, boobs. They both got implants. The athletic one lost weight and got double Ds and the pretty one got false teeth. I was attracted to both, but the athletic one wanted to do something about it. I didn’t have a clue.

She asked my mom if she could fly on a plane with me to Mississippi.

“Andy doesn’t fly.”

Then she started attending the same college. She took classes I was taking and I kept ignoring her because I didn’t know how to talk to women. Finally, I realized I needed to do something about it. She wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Would you like to go on a date?” I asked.

“I thought you’d never ask.” I got her phone number, but I was really anxious. I was terrified of getting lost. I only knew one route to the movie theater and if I took the wrong turn, I might have a panic attack.

On the way there, I nearly lost my nerves.

“Just get us back on the road and everything will be fine,” she said.

I took the right turn and we made it to the movie on time. The man taking our tickets checked her out; everybody was checking her out. I was thinking about how I was going to get home. My nerves were shot. Periodically, she slipped her hand up my leg during the film. Finally, I kissed her.

“Would you like to drive us home?” I asked.

She laughed. “You’re such a jokester.” I was serious. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it back. We got in the car and made it home. She kissed me. “You’re so cute,” she said. I walked upstairs and laid on the family-room floor.

“Never again,” I said. “Dating is too much excitement.” I checked my blood pressure. It was over 200. That was our first and last date and I still think about it fondly, years later.

There is No Finish Line

We lose people

as we march through life

Some break abruptly

or fade away

We marvel at our growth

and how we’ve changed

It was only right

to leave some people behind

or they left us behind

chasing something

that made them better

or bigger

I wonder how we’ll feel

at the end of our life

when we survey those

we memorialized

into statues

They remain stationary

in our minds

unchanging symbols

of our past life

who we used to be

and didn’t like

Some left us behind

in this race

for a better life

They got so far ahead

near the finish line

until no one was behind

People stopped chasing them

and it’s too late for the winner

to go back

and be friends

Alone in their victory

and pride

There is no finish line.

Moon Walk

Laying in the sun

in an empty room

on a winter’s day

with a writer speaking wisdom

is better than traveling

to a thousand destinations

and

even then

in your rest

the journey must happen.

You will follow a pilgrimage

to somewhere

not found on a map.

A man makes his life

even if he doesn’t know he is making it

and the world doesn’t wait for him.

So, he might chase the sun

over the next horizon

to beat time

or he might visit an empty golf course

where only the crickets chirp.

In these moments

when the world clicks forward

he knows where he stands

and he doesn’t race to catch up.

He leaves his footprints on the moon

recognizing…

there is beauty in aimless roads

or pathless highways

and delayed rebellion

suddenly manifests

in the moment.

Billionaire Wednesday

I was born rich

maybe reincarnated

So, what did I do in a past life

to get busted back

to 9 to 5?

I broke too many rules

fraternized with too many women

I was cavalier with my freedom.

“You still think we live in a meritocracy,” my friend screams.

“Well, I believe in the billionaire spirit.”

“We should get rid of people at the top.”

“But I want to be up there. Mountains are beautiful.”

“What? We need to spread the wealth around.”

Maybe he’s right. Money means different things to different people.

Just having it,

is not enough.

On the tipping point

of Wednesday

I am a creative volcano

removed from reality.

I see supermen

who stand up there

and I love it

Monuments to something

beyond the week.

Beyond anyone

who needs more or wants more

Having it all

is not holding it

and knowing it’s there.

A Walk in the Rain

Hypnotized by TV

I couldn’t think of anything better to do. 

I asked myself, “Why do anything?”

Why move things around and speaking words that will be forgotten?

Comfort is a trap.

Pain is meaningful.

So, I put on my shorts and shoes.

I left my work socks on.

I ran in the rain and the cold,

and I thought how great it would be

to get warm again.

When I started back

I faced angry clouds

torrents of rain

dark silhouettes of trees

and city lights

it was beautiful

Adventure in my blood

made me warmer

I walked straighter

with a mile left to go

and it felt like a million miles

because

I didn’t want to go home.

Schizophrenic Psychic

“Max, we don’t read people’s fortunes. We tell them what they want to hear.”

“So, you never wanted to do it?”

“That’s not the point. Psychics aren’t real and even if they were, people never pay for bad news, unless it’s the newspaper.”

“What if we could help them, with special knowledge?”

“It wouldn’t be taken seriously. The truth is too disturbing. Have you taken your meds?”

He knew he was unstable, but sometimes he didn’t want to fight it. “No, I guess I forgot.”

“Max, you can’t forget and I have a client in 5 minutes.”

Max went to the bathroom and looked himself in the mirror. He had gray circles around his eyes. His meds made him sluggish. He popped the last two pills and went to his room to read. He heard the door close and overheard the conversation his mother was having with a young man.”

“Oh, you have nice hands. You use them to teach, don’t you?” It was an open-ended question to gain information.

“Well, yes; yes, I do.”

“And your relationship isn’t going well and you want to know if you should be with her?”

“Yes.”

“The wrinkles in your hand show me your lifeline is strong. You are going to have many children. A new woman will enter your life, soon.”

It was getting late, late into the afternoon. Max waited and then walked downstairs. His mother was resting, but her chest wasn’t moving. She was too still. And in that moment, he realized his anchor was gone. The sea of his unconscious would open to places he always wanted to go, and the storm would be violent and unrelenting. He made the call. “My mother passed away.” The coroner took her body and two days later he was given notice of eviction. Max went to the drugstore and asked for his pills.

“You aren’t covered anymore. You were on your mother’s insurance.” He walked back to his flat and lay in bed, waiting for the madness to happen, but his brain was oddly clear. There was a knock.

“Are you the psychic?”

He forgot his mother still had appointments. “Yes; I’m Maximillian. Take a seat.”

Max looked into the stranger’s eyes and tried to see what was behind them.

“Uh… I’m waiting. How long is this going to take?”

Max was in a trance. He had lost track of time and the older man turned to go.

“Wait! Don’t marry her.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“Don’t marry her. She wants your money.”

“I didn’t come her about my fiancé. I came to talk about my construction partner.”

“I know… I can see that. Your partner is fine, but you can’t marry this girl.”

“My relationship is none of your business.”

“But you asked me, and if you could see what I see, you would walk.”

“The man’s face was menacing, but then it relaxed. “How much do I owe you?”

“50 dollars.”

“Can I schedule another appointment?”

“Sure. I’ll mark you down for next week.”

THE END

The Masterful Mask Maker

I sat down to play the piano after work, but then the janitor walked in. 

“Hi Chief,” he said.

“How are you?” I asked.

“Livin the dream. How long have you been playing?”

“Since 2011. Why?”

“Oh, just curious. I’m a bit creative myself. Thought I was goin to be a mask maker in Hollywood when I got older.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Yeah. I made my first mask in 1985. Still have it. Keep it in the closet, in the darkness, so it can’t scare my wife.

“How did you make it?”

“Went to the costume store. Bought synthetic hair. The real stuff is too expensive. I used rice for maggots around the eyes. Problem was, the whole face became distorted with heat.”

“That might work,” I said. “The more distorted, the scarier. You know Jackson Pollock?”

“Yeah.”

“He denied the accident.”

“That’s what I did. When I heated up the mask, air bubbles formed in her tongue. Dr. Sylvia became Dr. Saliva. Her brain was exposed and I filled in the details with paints. Created a back story where she was a beautiful doctor who reengineered her body to look like someone else for the government. The bio experiment went bad and she became insane. Then the government locked her up and fed her through a hole in the wall. She got out from time to time and murdered beautiful women because she envied their beauty.”

“That’s an interesting story,” I said. “I’d like to see your mask?”

“Really? I’ll snap a few photos and send them to you in an email.”

“Lookin forward to it.”

“Nice talkin to you, Chief.”