Kyle sat in the waiting area feeling understandably anxious. He wasn’t alone, of course. The room was probably full of anxious people. It was a clinic, after all. Not a place you go if everything’s fine and dandy.

But he’d never felt like this before. So it was a different sort of anxiety for him – almost a creeping dread that threatened to undo him at times. The pain had been in his head for two weeks now, launched by a horrific attack of vertigo after getting out of bed one morning. He’d come close to throwing up.

He’d put it down to too much screen time. He’d had that habit for months, if not years. He was usually feeling the pressure behind his eyes if he stayed awake too late, playing on his phone. He liked anagrams, trying to see how many words he could find on a timer.

But this was different. After that initial attack, the pain had set in and not gone away. He’d already swallowed enough Advil to ruin his stomach lining forever.

“Kyle?” called a nurse. He stood up and followed her through. “Hello,’ she said. “My name’s Felicity.”

She took his vitals and made some notes about a sudden onslought of severe disorientation followed by chronic head pain and left him to wait some more. He stared at the poster on the wall ahead of him: “The time is NOW. Schedule your status update today!” Accompanying this text was a cute cartoon physician in a white lab coat holding an oversized timepiece swinging from a fob.

The doctor knocked and opened the door. “Hello, I’m Dr. Kim. How are you today?”

“Oh, I’m okay, I guess,” Kyle heard himself say. The irony wasn’t lost on either of them, but there’s no putting off social proprieties.

“So, you’ve been having some problems with vertigo and chronic head pain?” asked the doc.

“Yes, that’s right.”

“Is your head hurting you now?”

“Yes. It pretty much hurts all the time.”

“On a scale of ten?”

“Oh, about a four or five, I guess,” Kyle said. “Sometimes a six or seven.”

“Have you taken anything for it?”

“Yeah, Advil.”

“How much?”

“Hehe, too much. I stopped, through, before I called in.”

“When do you notice the dizzyness? Mostly in the morning?”

“No, anytime I turn my head real quick,” Kyle said.

“Let me listen,” said Dr. Kim. She positioned the ear pieces and placed the steth over Kyle’s heart, listened for a moment, then replaced the scope around her neck and looked at Kyle.

“Our bodies contain clocks,” she said. “Timers, really, with preset countdowns we have no way of discerning. They come with alarms, both soft and loud. Loud ones are for tornadoes, cancer diagnoses, pandemics, and such. Soft ones are for things like this,” she finished, waiving a hand casually in Kye’s direction.

“So, you’re saying I’ve got a soft alarm going off?” Kyle asked with a silly grin.

“I don’t see any tornadoes,” Dr. Kim said, poker-faced. “You’re not struggling to breathe. How many fingers am I holding up?”

“One.” Cute, Kyle said to himself.

“I’ll order a scan,” the doc said, making a note. She looked up at Kyle again. “When’s the last time you had your ticker checked?”

“Excuse me?”

“Well, as I said, we have no way of discerning the status of your preset countdown but we can get a sense of its tempo, timbre and relative dynamic. The record shows clocks tending to skip beats with greater frequency in the latter stages.”

Kyle said, “Latter stages of what?”

Dr. Kim’s poker face stared back. “Life,” she said. “That or plain foolishness.”

Kyle put his coat on as the doctor was preparing to head out. At the door she turned and looked at Kyle.

“The word vertigo is from the Latin meaning to turn. It doesn’t mean turn real fast. You have all the time in the world. Measure it.” She closed the door.

He climbed back into his truck with the scan order in his hand. Somehow he knew it would show nothing.

Once upon a time…

…a cloud of moths fluttered through the air in a busy swarm on a warm summer night. Among them was a moth named George.

“George!” cried out Phyllis, a fellow moth. “Why don’t you ever land anywhere?”

“Why, look at us all!” George replied. “We are flitting here and there, from pillar to post, from porch light to street lamp.”

“Of that we are all aware!” yelled Phyllis. “It is what we do!”

“Then why question it?” asked George.

“Because here we all are but I see you,” Phyllis crowed. “As I look I see what we are about.”

“What are we about, then?” asked George, curious.

“Nothing!” screamed Phyllis. “Absolutely nothing!”

“What ever do you mean?” George blurt out.

“George!” cried Phyllis. It dawned on me while watching you! You want to land! You want to alight! You want to be in a place!”

“Well,” answered George, “Isn’t that what we’re all doing?”

“No!” Phyllis shouted. “We are flitting. We are flirting. We are acting on the notion. But not you! You are looking and seeking. Why don’t you land somewhere?”

Flapping and flopping around a street lamp with his familiars, George now wondered what the answer was.

“I don’t know,” cried George. “I don’t see why I am not landing!”

“Goodness!” went Phyllis, giddily aloft. “Don’t bother about that! Just land for heaven’s sake!”

“But you asked!” George sang out.

“You wing-ed silly!” Phyllis returned. “I didn’t expect you to puzzle it out. I only wanted to know why you hadn’t yet done the thing!”

“Stop yelling!” yelled George. “Why don’t YOU land somewhere?”

“Because I don’t WANT to!” screeched Phyllis, who then shrieked in laughter.

Then George, who’d had quite enough of this, saw the truth of the thing. Before him was the street lamp, and the post on which it hung. With his mothy eyes he fastened on a spot. And having fastened on it, he found himself to be there. At which moment the lamp blinked out and the moths flew off.

For all the rest of that warm summer night George watched the stars.

The Disciplinarian

Years ago a friend from college, Doug McAllen, invited me to join him on a special road trip. He was going up to see his older sister and wanted to make it a fun experience. The energy in his voice was compelling as he talked about what he had in mind.

He wasn’t describing a fantasy excursion that could never be real, but something better: a relaxed and pleasant adventure. We planned to be gone for several days, possibly a week.

I immediately agreed to join him on the trip. We had finished university just a month earlier and neither of us had found new jobs as yet. We were still living on what remained of our stipends. A kind of dim cloud had been hanging over me at the thought of not seeing my friends ever again. We had scattered to the ends of the earth, as we knew would happen. Those days of adventure, deep friendship and freedom had been the richest time in my life, some of the greatest memories I would ever have. I’d been sad for many long days.

So, naturally, I was excited to spend this extra time with Doug. It was clear to me that we were going to have a blast. It felt like we were still in school! Dim cloud? Gone.

On the appointed day we stowed our things in the trunk of his car. We had packed small duffels and a couple of day packs. We knew how to travel light. The simplicity of that lifestyle is great: it forces us to trust the circumstances and focus on the experience. I’d learned that these were the only things that mattered.

We started out early, before dawn. As we rode the smooth blacktop, threading through thick forested hills, we watched the sun slowly rise up through the trees. It made me want to stop time.

After several hours we stopped at a diner along the road for breakfast. The coffee was good – strong and hot. We ate soul food – at least our version of it – and avoided any talk of where we thought life might take us. After a while (there was no rush), we climbed back into the car and headed upstream again. It was probably just me, but we seemed to travel the rest of that day through country that elevated my perception of the beauty of life itself.

As the sun was descending toward late afternoon, we came into a small, clean, pleasant-looking town. Our eyes moved over every bit of architecture, flora, and fauna that went by.

Finally, we arrived at her door: Doug’s older sister, Joanne. She had agreed to let us stay with her. Doug hadn’t seen her for over a year. During the drive up he’d talked about her. She had an excellent career and had a comfortable lifestyle. “She isn’t married yet,” was the way Doug had put it. He’d shared a few stories about their childhood that were fun to hear.

“Welcome!” she said as we entered the house. It was a two-story colonial-looking red brick affair, two doric columns guarding the portico. Thriving shrubs in large urns adorned either side the double doors, with knobs made of burnished brass. The place looked sturdy but not blockish. It was nicely adorned but not overdone in Victorian frills.

We set our things in the guest bedrooms. Doug hadn’t mentioned children, but photos of three young people were on the walls and sideboard. Two girls and a boy, all of them handsome and intelligent looking. It was clear that Joanne lived alone. I had assumed she was single and had never been married. Perhaps that was the case, although I doubted it.

I was taken immediately by Joanne’s appearance: she didn’t look nearly old enough to have three grown children. It was also clear where her kids had gotten their looks. I’m not ashamed to say it: Joanne was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen. It wasn’t a magazine beauty, either; it was the attractiveness confidence of a woman who who knew exactly who she was.

We stayed there for most of a week, taking day trips while Joanne worked. We usually met up in the evening as she was getting home. The first two evenings she prepared delicious meals for us. She seemed capable and comfortable with the occupations of hospitality. The rest of the time we fended for ourselves, enjoying the local cafes and pubs. During that entire week it was increasingly difficult to take my eyes off Joanne. She had to be at least twenty years older than Doug or I, possibly more. He hadn’t said, and my eyes didn’t care. There was a natural agelessness about her that was captivating.

When it was time to head home I felt the same as I had since graduation: sad that the time was ending and wishing we could stay longer…or that time would slow down. I liked Joanne very much. Apart from her thoughtful ways and natural beauty, there was an intelligent grace about her that was just as attractive as her dark blue eyes and wavy dark hair. I thought we could be great friends. I thought perhaps one day I might kiss her. I secretly hoped she would invite us to stay longer.

But as we sat talking that last day (it was a Sunday), she said, “Well, it’s time for you both to be on your way, huh? I need to get on with things here, and you need to make plans for the rest of your life.”

I was stunned. I had never heard anyone talk that way. If she noticed the look on my face at that moment, she never gave it away.

Later it occurred to me that her forthrightness perfectly matched the rest of her, but I couldn’t see it at that moment. All I felt was deflation and pain. She was dismissing us summarily – maybe not out of spite or relief to have us gone, but simply out of a basic truth: life moves on.

Still, for months afterward it was impossible for me not to feel I had been deprived of what should have been a wonderful opportunity. But it would be years before I realized I had been spared what may very well have been a living hell of my own making.

Noodling the Milky Way

Spending time in the recording studio again, after a hiatus of years, is both challenge and reward. The reward is in confirming that I still have the chops, although they need polishing up. But you do that as you work. It takes listening, relaxing, and trusting the process. Fortunately, my recording partner and I are good friends and have worked to build a solid relationship of trust and respect for one another’s respective skills. He’s a recording and sound engineer by training, with experience as a recording artist; I’m a classically-trained musician with experience in the gospel/blues/jazz realm. That makes the old school R&B sound we’re going for entirely within our grasp. But it will end up bending some rules, and that’s a hell of a lot of fun. (Genres are made to be broken.) And because we’ve both experienced the dark side of working with other musicians, we’re happy to be working without ego in the way. That makes the challenge of finding the right elements and creating the right mix worth every mile.

Within a galaxy of music history (stock progressions, mainstream approaches to sound-building, creative experiments, classic riffs), there is a mighty cloud of witnesses; and there are worlds and worlds to keep building as we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before. But as artists we’re still arrogant enough to believe that, between the two of us, we can create a unique sound that cannot be created by anyone else, dead or alive. There simply are no two brains, hearts or souls on the face of the earth that match what we have. Arrogance must be balanced with the humility of remembering that we’re not picking from different root systems from which anyone else has ever picked. Music as a system of organized sound has rules…and the rules can be bent as long as you know what you’re bending.

When I was a child, I thought as a child. I spoke as a child. When I grew up I got all sophisticated and up in my shit. Now that there are fewer years ahead than there are behind, I wish to be a child at heart again, laughing my way through C minor sevenths and E major nines and all possible voicings of ii-vi-V-I just to be able to hit on one or two things that make my soul fly toward heaven.

Mom, look what I made.

oh little town

under winter coldest stars the rural burg

refuge of a toiling caste in remains of a dream

stronghold of brave young mamas

dodging grimey bristled beggars

huddled at night downlane

wornout worker bees quaffing on the cheap

puffing in the alleys, refuge of the sinners

their urchins wheezing new diseases of the world

and yet will any here deign to drop a dime

in a bellringer’s bucket just the same

for that worndown ancient tale

mystery of a god showing up

beyond notice of the sparkly noise

Photo by Aleksandar Pasaric on Pexels.com

in the alleydark as one of us

humana incognita

the quiet consideration

of such a thing

No-Peril Apparel

“A woman should someday write the complete philosophy of clothes.” – Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie

Wear leggings 75 percent of the time and jeans 25 percent of the time.

Protocol for Jeans:

  • any number of rips, tears, or holes will do, provided it doesn’t violate your employer’s dress code and your under the age of 45. After that it just gets weird.
  • reserve at least one pair as your favorite, which you can wear more than one day in a row.
  • tight jeans are an exception to the 15-second rule for dressing (see below).

Ask yourself: is it comfy? is it cute? is it convenient? does it take more than 15 seconds to put on? do you have at least seven of them?

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

Avoid skirts or dresses at all costs, unless called for by wedding events or rare romantic outings.

Avoid high heels, with the same exceptions.

Black is your favorite color. White is generally evil.

You can never have too many shoes. Or slippers. Or comfy boots. Or belts.

Never dress to show off. Always dress to be YOU.

The general purpose of clothes is: 1) to have fun, and 2) to cover the body.

Reserve ugly/frumpy clothes for those days when: 1) you’re in a mood and don’t care what you put on; 2) you have to make a quick trip to the store for something (wear a hat and/or hoodie for disguise).

You cannot have too many clips, ties, pins, loops, studs, dangles, bangles, rings or blings.

Consider your own YouTube channel for try-on hauls. It’s all the rage.

Disclaimer: I am not a woman.


I never seen it before, just only in pictures, but that’s not the same, the same as being somewhere.

To really see something you have to be there.

Like those willows bowing under the blanket of its pillowy weight.

Watch it fall like cotton from the white sky and wonder if that’s where it got its color.

It only tastes like something that was there and then wasn’t.

There’s nothing to hear except the sounds of birds chirp from tree to tree.

What kind are they that didn’t go south where I used to be?

If they fly and don’t leave tracks like me, are they really here?

I am like the soft nod of willows.

Farm Eight

If this were 1781 or 1856 I’d write the weekly letter home.

“Dearest Mother, How is Aunt Maybelle? Tell her not to take too much of the laudenum. As it is habit forming.

“As for myself I am confined to my room with a corona sickness. But do not fear. I know that my redeemer liveth and by the grace of God I shall come through. Do not worry over much.”

But this isn’t something to write home about. It’s the damned flu is all and I need someone to poke a hole in my head to relieve the pressure. For all its side effects trepanning had its advantages.

I fell asleep and in my nap I found myself on a farm crouched on the ground at the foot of a deep hedgerow. Something was calling to me. It was necessary to humble myself with an ear to the ground and an eye in the dirt to peer into the dim tangle of undergrowth.

In a moment I saw something I hesitate to describe. No doubt some will judge me to be touched. I don’t doubt it, but that’s beside the point.

It was a family of field mice just sitting down to supper. The table was simply but neatly laid. Grandfather was present (he was the one moving slow, as he seemed to have a bum leg, deformed, perhaps, by an unfortunate encounter with some sort of spring-loaded contraption), and there were, I think, only 15 children.

The sound of the tiny dinner bell is what had drawn my attention. Such a cozy, home-spun simplicity was something of which Thoreau would have been proud. I wished I could join them, the feeling was so strong.

It was a peaceful rural scene to be sure, and my perspective on small agri-rodents changed forever.

But alas, the moment left as quickly as it came. The scene was withdrawn from me, so I withdrew my head from the hedge in resignation and found myself in bed sick again, drooling from the mouth and snotting (?) from the nose.

“Dearest Mother, believe me when I say that to judge another species from recycled hearsay and fairy tales is the height of foolishness.

“Also, it is a good idea to lay on your back whilst napping.”

side show

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He’d been traveling miles on miles of six-lane traffic, barreling down freeway straightaways, through turnpike twists and turns – the usual stuff he was used to navigating. He was mind-weary and soul-embattled.

On a whim he took an unmarked turnoff he’d always ignored because it was out of his way, never considering that perhaps it was the out-of-the-way stuff that held the most beauty and wonder. His life replete with ignored things. His own humanity, for one. Also, that thing that talked in the back of his preferred thoughts like some backstage voice that wasn’t written into the script but insisted on having a say, even if no one listened. This time he would listen.

He came to a street where the trees looked weary, shot through with ennui. No other vehicles nor movement. A tree isn’t a tree if no one’s there to see.

He parked and walked into some kind of market square, empty except for one or two souls unremarkable in the distance. There was an alcove or outdoor lobby cut into the side of this and he walked in. No one there. The shadowed stone echoed even with his small footstep. The sound of abandonment. But no graffiti or obvious rot. To his left, ensconced into the wall, some kind of kiosk. Approaching it he looked at the screen and the keypad below it. Screen was dark, keypad triggered nothing.

He walked back out and farther into a wide-open space of uncertain purpose. An old pond with a fountain that had gone dry, made of the same bland stone as the rest. Vast concrete yard more vacuum than anything else. Here and there weathered signs that read: Nurses needed Teachers needed Cooks needed Bus Drivers needed Daycare Workers needed Harvest Workers needed Mental Health Providers needed, Cops needed.

Photo by Fillipe Gomes on Pexels.com

There was motion and sound to his left and he turned to see a caravan of curious figures parading from a wide paved walkway that fed back into a stand of trees that seemed to be quite alive. Gradually these motleys filled the yard and set up an instantaneous carnival or some such. Hawkers pulling wagons of wares, someone juggling, a bearded conehead walking deftly on his hands, smiling upside down. Children roaming aimlessly, laughing at things as if on cue. Music from somewhere made on cheap string instruments and tin horns, thin music of medieval peasants maybe, meant to be forgotten tomorrow.

He turned again to see three women atop a platform hastily erected and wearing sheets wound haphazardly around their frames, looking for all the world like puppet theater fertility goddesses, and one of them – a big-figured gal – lost the top of her cover and a pendulous ash-colored breast flopped and jiggled as they danced an improvised jig.

He turned away, partly in disgust but mostly in surprise. Another moment of witnessing this entire spectacle and it occurred to him that the world had maybe shifted on its axis and he hadn’t seen it coming.

He was back in his car before he was aware of it. He turned a tight U and gunned the engine and as he drove away he took a deep breath and thought: well, you never know until you try.

number 12 chair

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

She was standing at the kitchen sink, domestically engaged in a general way. Maybe washing dishes or wiping down the counter. But she stood on a stool because she wasn’t yet tall enough without it. She had a sufficiently busy, responsible air about her, as if she’d maybe been put in charge of the place.

“My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair,” she said matter-of-factly. “But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Had we been discussing number 12 chairs? What is a number 12 chair? It sounds like an institutional category, maybe something in school of which I’d been blissfully ignorant in my youth.

“What size chair do you use?” I would ask.

“A number 10,” she would reply. “My sister, if she were of average size for her age, would need a size 12. She’s four inches taller and 3.5 inches wider in the hips than anyone in her class. And, of course, ten degrees more beautiful.”

“How old is your sister?”

“Older than me.”


“Anyhow, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Or had she been responding to an observation I’d made about her sister?

“How is your sister doing?” I would ask.

“She’s reasonably well if you don’t think about her condition.”

“What is her condition?”

“Chronic depression, secondary to unresolved issues with our late grandfather, who molested her as a toddler, always while seated in his number 12 chair.”

“That bastard.”

“Indeed. Upon his death she transferred her righteous indignation to the chair in which he’d sat, intent on posthumously neutralizing a domestic terrorist. One day she simply picked up a five-pound maul and put it out of its misery.

“But not hers?”

“Suffice it to say, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

In my mind, for all her diminutive stature and use of an aid, she is taller than me. I am looking up at her. This is curious, as it accentuates the advanced maturity of her age, her status as a leading figure in her demographic – if that’s not putting it too clinically. It serves to illustrate the importance of “sitting under” someone, of listening to her words. Which is to say, listening to her.

Perhaps we’d been on the subject of furniture in general.

“I think number 12 chairs are the most comfortable ever contrived by man,” I would say.

“Or woman,” she would reply.

“Touché. Do you like them?”

Photo by Steward Masweneng on Pexels.com

“Number 12’s? Of course. They are both elegant and sufficiently functional.”

“Well, they are chairs, after all.”

“Nothing is that simple, alas. My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“She’s irrationally afraid of them. The doctor says it’s idiopathic.”

“Sorry to hear it. Perhaps a shrink is in order.”

“She won’t hear of it. I’ve tried.”

“What a thing to live with.”

“But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

All of this from a random firing of synapses in that mysterious transition between unconscious napping and swimming back up to the surface of consciousness. I’ve experienced all kinds of curious things fly through my head during this brief phase. Snatches of melody; bursts of light like fireworks or lightning; someone yelling my name.

This time, a half-developed polaroid snapshot and this girl’s voice and for heaven’s sake I’ve no idea where it comes from:

My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.