Word of the day



Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

As in:

“Of course you’re my muse,” Terry shouted back to Melinda, after she asked, aloud, whether she still inspired him.

“You better mean that,” she replied, her voice cutting through the soft din of the Mumbo Jumbo Muffin Shoppe. “I have a short fuse for false sincerity.”

This was day 168, without a break, except for weekends. The idea to be a daily deadline poet had come from one of his heroes, the whimsical Calvin Trillin. And to perform this art at Mumbo Jumbo during the mid-morning rush involved just the right mix of panache and difficulty, like riding a unicycle, and spinning plates, and crossing a busy street.

“I need words with spice, Mel,” he called out.

“Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme,” Melinda called back as she turned to make a cappuccino.

His fingers did a dance on the keyboard, then Terry stared at his laptop screen.

“That’s good,” he exclaimed. “I can work with that.”

“Damn right,” she then said to the next fellow in line. “Down at the market they’ll just throw you a fish.”

“Of course,” the next fellow replied, as if this all made sense to him.

“Algorithm, logarithm, Marxism, catechism!” Terry now chanted with delight. “Parsley goes well with asiago cheese, but it won’t change your life!”

“Sounds good to me,” Melinda replied.

“You’re the best Mel,” Terry said, snapping shut the computer.

“Don’t be late tomorrow,” she replied. “And don’t forget my tip.”


As in

Emily’s first impressions of the Bentworth New World Foundation is that it was a staid, buttoned-down entity that had found its niche in campaigns to combat malaria and cryptosporidium. It was housed on the third floor of a three story office building, graced with arches and a colonnade, on the leafy side of town. Nothing about her first day as an intern prepared her for the second day, which was the day she was to meet Nicole, her supervisor, who’d just returned from a conference in Copenhagen.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia images

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia images

“I will tell you,” the bookish office manager had cautioned her, “Nicole has a fatwa on diet sodas, so don’t be traipsing back from lunch with a Coke Zero tucked into the side of your backpack.”

And that was fine. Emily had as little interest in diet sodas as she had in tangy buffalo wings.

What she didn’t expect was Nicole’s unadvertised devotion to spontaneity.

“Did I say Congo?” Nicole asked a colleague during the afternoon staff meeting on Wednesday.

“I meant to say Conga.”

And with that she blew a carnival whistle and produced a bongo drum, the signals for the staff to drop whatever they were doing and start a conga line that weaved from one end of the floor to the other, and back. The seemingly impromptu dance left Emily speechless.

“You’ll get used to it,” Nicole assured her as they re-gathered in the conference room, dabbing perspiration from their brows. “It’s usually a Wednesday thing.”


As in:

Absent a searing injury that might addle his brain with the deepest sort of amnesia, Spalding would never forget the day he first held Dahlia’s hand. They were second graders. It was a humid afternoon in mid-September and he had reached down to her, to pull her gently into the treehouse that he and Phil had built into a sprawling birch just down the hill from their grade school.

hotsmuShe was very pretty in spite of her glasses and braces. Before she let go of his hand she thanked him, announced her name, and asked to know his.

“Spalding,” he said.

“What kind of name is that?” she asked.

“It comes from my great-grandfather,” he explained.

“Oh,” Dahlia said, and then with a nervous bit of precociousness she asked if she could just call him “ding.”

“Only you,” he told her. “Just you.”

“Deal,” she replied, as if closing a sale at her lemonade stand. “Ding it is.”


wallsmuAs in,

If you knew where Dylan had come from in life and how little he cared about where he was going, then you could begin to understand why he was attracted to Madge. He, who only shaved twice a week but maintained a splendid garden. She, whom he’d first noticed riding her bicycle to a gluten-free bakery, wearing a bike helmet but smoking a Pall Mall.

“I’ve always been mesmerized by your contradictions,” he told her once, as they ate donut holes after making love in a hammock. “Plus, you have great thighs.”

She called him a pig for that, and pushed him, naked, to the floor.

In truth the contradictions could be annoying. How does a woman who makes her money in the hospitality business refuse to fix her shower head, which howls like a banshee whenever it actually delivers a healthy spray of hot water?

“You always think you can fix everything,” she told him once, when he offered to put a wrench to it. “But you can’t.”

“For chrissakes Madge,” he’d replied, “why would you make a simple plumbing problem into some metaphysical dilemma?”

She then stared at him as if he’d crossed some grave boundary in their odd relationship.

“What?” he asked, under the glare of her deeply piercing eyes. “What!?”

“I’m all done with you for this week,” she said icily. “Just go.”

“It’s only Tuesday,” he reminded her.

“I don’t care,” she reminded him


As in:

“What is it now, Walter,” Desiree asked, this time with a more demanding edge in her voice. “What are you trying to say?”

budmuWalter, who was stroking the ridge on his nose with the two inside fingers of his left hand, suddenly responded as though he’d found some courage.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is I feel like you make me the scapegoat for all your problems.”

When he said this she noticed his pinky was quivering.

Desiree adjusted her head back maybe half an inch, as if Walter had just unloosed a vigorous sneeze. She then stared at him–amazed that life on the planet could have evolved toward such a stupid remark.

“Seriously?” she asked. “That’s what you’re trying to say?”

“It’s true,” he said, rising from the table.

She stirred her tea as he walked down the stairs. When Walter emerged into the side yard two dogs, the spaniel and the young labrador, galloped toward him. And then she watched him and they depart, the gold El Dorado with the curb feelers lumbering out the long, gravel driveway, with dog heads sticking out of each of the backseat windows.

Unspoken words formed. Here is a man I can live without.  On the other hand, she reminded herself, the dogs were a real kick in the pants.


As in:

bugsmuAgainst his natural inclination not to disrupt his own comfort, Teddy extruded himself from the warmth of his sleeping bag at the first signal of daylight. A meter-high layer of thin fog covered the lake all the way to the tree-line, above which a slice of waning moon hung as if someone had forgotten about it. It was cold enough to make his eyes water.

He and Gil had been friends since fifth grade and these end of summer camping trips had become mandatory for the past decade. Even seven years back, after Gil’s mother succumbed to a stroke in late June, they’d made the trip, usually with guests, and usually with their buddies Eli and Cal. Theirs was an unlikely friendship just in the difference between their dispositions. It was as though each personified the disparate prongs of Newton’s first law of motion: one the object at rest, tending to remain at rest; the other the object in motion tending to remain in motion. The latter was Gil, who seemed only to find solace in forms of change and migration and disruption.

On this trip he’d brought his girlfriend, Ali, who’d only recently changed her name from Belinda. Not that inviting a woman violated a written rule, but it clearly distorted the fabric of banter around the camp fire, especially at night, and especially later at night when the drinking, cigar smoking, and bullshit had traditionally reached a manly zenith. Eli and Cal were assiduous about being hospitable and not taking sides. But Teddy wasn’t sure how he felt about it, except that it made him uncomfortable, and rather than give voice to this directly, he just acted it out in small ways, like getting up early to confront the morning cold, to put his restlessness on display.

“So what did you learn this summer?” Ali asked Eli, the last night they were all together, when the last of the wood had been reduced to a pile of scarlet coals, passing small flames among them.

“I learned not to feel so small,” Eli answered.

He then blew a smoke ring toward Polaris.

“Even though I no doubt am small,” he continued. “Compared to all this.”

“What about you Teddy?” Ali then asked. It was the first time she’d spoken directly to him since they’d pitched tents three days earlier.

It was just the terseness of his reply that registered the chill.

“I learned the best Swiss Army knives are the ones with the corkscrews in them,” he said.

Eli blew another smoke ring toward the Milky Way to alleviate the discomfort.

“Excellent,” Ali answered.


As in:

6742cropRyan’s response to having to spend his vacation days at Moclips instead of Freeport was to make himself a small pitcher of mojitos and to start drinking an hour before dinner.

“You’re just mad because you have to go back to school next week,” he said to Fenn, as Fenn shielded his eyes while looking, roughly, toward the Aleutians.

“No I’m not,” Fenn said.

“Uh huh,” Ryan said, goading him. “I can always tell when you’re mad.”

“I can always tell when you’re drinking,” Fenn thought about saying, in reply.

But what good is the truth when you’re on vacation, he figured. Instead he just chuckled.

“No you can’t,” Fenn said. “I’m not mad.”

“I think education’s over-rated anyway,” Ryan continued, as if this were consoling. “It didn’t seem to help Einstein.”

Fenn shook his head and released a weary laugh.

“What are you talking about?”

“People remember ‘e’ equals m-c squared,” Ryan replied, studying the bottom third of his mojito glass, as if sea monkeys were swimming amongst the mint leaves. “But  they forget he was wrong about plate tectonics.”

Fenn squinted, shook his head again, and then returned his gaze to the ocean.

“They do, huh?” he answered.

“All the time,” Ryan said, as he lifted his glass to his mouth. “All the frickin’ time.”


From the story The New World

As in:

The Friendly-mobile, as Iris had now taken to calling it, had not even gotten out of Browne’s Addition before its eponymous proprietor blew his gasket.

“God-dammit,” he grumbled, and then honked.

rbsmuIris, who was trying to re-calculate the time difference between Spokane and Limerick without using her i-Phone, lifted her eyes. There, twenty feet in front of the van, was a woman stepping deliberately behind her walker, to which was attached a black Rosauer’s shopping sack. The stalk of a leek peeked out above the top of the grocery bag.

“Call a cab, lady!” Fred yelled, though not loud enough to provoke a response from the carefully striding woman who was now squarely in the middle of Second Avenue, heading north.

“Iris,” Kristen said, using the tone of her voice to put her foot down. “Enough.”

Iris then tapped Fred on the shoulder.

“Open my door,” she said.

“Huh?” he asked.

“Open. My. Door.” she repeated, in the way Clint Eastwood would have expressed it were he a 52-year-old Irish woman who was no longer enjoying her morning.

Upon release, Iris walked briskly to the curb where the poor old woman was about to arrive. From where Kristen was sitting, she could not hear what Iris was saying, but watched as Iris gently grabbed the woman’s arm with her right hand and then put her left hand against her own heart to emphasize the depth of the apology.

“Jesus,” Fred muttered.

“Shut up,” Kristen demanded, the two words perfectly burnished by the lilt in her voice, as if she were an angel, and Fred a sinner voicing a complaint about the temperature of his afterlife.



As in:

Image via Wikimedia

Image via Wikimedia

Arnie Buschwhiler was reading all about the hot new Camaro in Drag Racing Action magazine when he heard a thump at the kitchen door. The thump was followed by the sound of the door swinging open, and this was accompanied by the distinctive jingling of his 17 year-old daughter’s keychain.

“Hey daddy,” Cassie called out.

But Arnie could also hear the sound of four feet making steps, not just her pair.

“Wow!” he heard a young man’s deep voice exclaim. “Is that real brick tile?”

“Stop iiiiiiiiiit,” Cassie said, laughing. “Don’t make fun of our house.”

“That will break your eggs,” the deep male voice continued, followed by more giggling from Cassie.

Arnie smirked and tilted his head back against the upper cushion of the La-Z-Boy Imperial recliner to catch Cassie’s eye as she headed toward the doorway between the kitchen and his lair.

“Daddy,” she said, “this is my friend Mephisto.”

And it was her friend Mephisto, with an excess of brown hair—purple highlights—dripping over both shoulders. His face was clean shaven but the tattoo skirting his left eye and the prominent silver nose ring made him look, to Arnie, like some sidekick in a band of post-modern pirates.

There was a chance that the look on Arnie’s face could be construed differently from a distance, and softened, somewhat, by the paucity of light. But the message he was trying to communicate with his expression was undiluted contempt.

“Come here Mephisto,” Arnie demanded.

“Daddy,” Cassie said, her voice trailing off into a frustrated

Mephisto shrugged and ambled toward the chair.

“What are you doing walking around with my daughter with a name like that?” asked Arnie.

“Jesus daddy!” Cassie said.

“It gets people thinking,” Mephisto replied, using his voice to offer the answer in the tone of a question, as if it were the first on a list of available flavors.

“Well,” Arnie said, “I’m thinking it scares the shit out of me. What do you think about that?”

“Dad!” Cassie exclaimed.

“I’m thinking that once you get to know me better it will be less of an issue,” Mephisto said, making sure he was looking Arnie in the eyes and not blinking.

Arnie caught the answer by raising his eyebrows. He then tightened his squint and looked Mephisto up and down before responding.

“What makes you think I want to get to know you better?”

Mephisto raked his hands through his hair.

“I dunno,” he said wearily. “Maybe you don’t.”

Arnie replied by using the remote control to turn on his television.

“You like baseball?”

“Not particularly,” Mephisto answered.

“Well, sit down because we’re going to watch some baseball.”

“Oh my god,” Cassie said, with an even heavier sigh.

After two outs in the top of the first, Arnie broke the awkward silence.

“Why do you like my daughter?” he asked.

“Chip off the old block I suppose,” replied Mephisto.

Arnie smiled. Mephisto smiled back.

Cassie erupted in laughter.