October 25, 2003

October 2003 (Vol 2., Issue 10)

Welcome back to another exciting issue. Tom Love returns with a story called The Twenty Dollar Mango. Since it's almost Halloween, I'd share a couple of Halloween Moments from years past. And I attempted to write a scary tale... Sit back, enjoy, and please spread the good word about this site. Be sweet, McG.

1. The Chill from an Open Window by Tenzin McGrupp
My life prior to that Halloween seemed outrageously normal. My parents appeared pleasant on the outside, holding up an iron-clad façade, masking their odd quirks and hiding their multi-layer phobias with an intense discretion... More

2. The Twenty Dollar Mango by Tom Love
Frankie was a regular guy, what you might call a stand-up guy. It's just that he had a coupl'a bad habits... More

3. Halloween Moments by Tenzin McGrupp
I almost got into a fist fight with a cab driver, who looked like Gopher from the Love Boat and I wanted to kick his ass after he made fun of me More

October 24, 2003

The Chill from an Open Window

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

It was about twelve years ago when things went from strange and manageable to fucked up and hellacious in my family’s life. I don’t know where or how all this mess started, but I do know the day that everything got knocked out of whack; the Halloween when I was ten years old.

My life prior to that Halloween seemed outrageously normal. My parents appeared pleasant on the outside, holding up an iron-clad façade, masking their odd quirks and hiding their multi-layer phobias with an intense discretion. My mother, a staunch Southern Baptist from South Carolina, worked as a church secretary for the only Baptist church in Mortonville, our sprawling Pennsylvania town, just fourteen miles south of Gettysburg. My father, a former high school football star from Wilkes-Barre, worked as a shipping manager for a food distribution company. On good days, he was polite to strangers and could make anyone laugh under any circumstances. Unfortunately, when he wasn’t spending most of his time drinking at the local tavern with the increasing number of unemployed factory workers, recanting his glory days as an all-state wide receiver, he would slip into self-destructive mode after he finished a fifth of scotch, picking fights with anyone who appeared weak, while incessantly cursing the federal government for their illegal war in Vietnam, the often-questioned skirmish (and the one that everyone would love to forget) that he was drafted to fight in during the summer of 1967. The day he left for boot camp was when his glory days ended. Within a year, he would be soaking up his troubles in a bar in Saigon, nursing the wounds he incurred when his unit was ambushed, attempting to shrug off the demons that jumped him in the rice paddies of Vietnam. He brought back more than just couple of poorly healed scars and a tragic limp from his tour in Southeast Asia, as uncomfortable ripples of obliteration and conflict consumed my family’s innocent lives for decades after.

A dark, heavy cloud of muddled anger always lingered around our house. That’s why my mother was convinced that it was haunted. Although she never dared question my father’s authority in front of him, I heard her on more than one occasion, speak to her friends about the ghosts that inhabited our house. She was convinced that the dozens of souls my father killed during his time at war had tracked him down, and planned to haunt him and our entire family for as long as we all lived.

When I look back on my childhood, growing up in the house on Miller Street, too many mysterious things happened that went unanswered. Open doors seemed to plague our homestead. We lived in a fairly safe neighborhood and because people knew my father had a questionable temper, no one dared rob us. So I thought. I later found out from an old classmate that all the kids were afraid of my house, not because my father was a drunken Marine, but because they were all convinced that it was haunted. A flash flood of memories involving hundreds of unexplained open doors swamped me. All I wanted were answers. Years later, I am still searching.

We lost several pets while I was growing up. Where did they go? Did all of them escape through these open doors? Where they stolen? My father (when he was sober enough) used to check and double check the doors. We often left our front and back doors shut, but unlocked. After we lost our fifth cat, my father started locking the doors. That’s when we’d find all the windows open. We’d go to sleep with all of them locked and shut tight, only to awake freezing in the middle of the night, finding every other window in our house wide open.

My mother was horrified. She prayed for a solution, but nothing happened. She held dozens of talks with Pastor Burke at our church. She desperately wanted answers.

“I know we have ghosts in our house. I think they are people that my husband killed,” she blurted out, as she wept in the church office.

“You know that we live near a couple of Civil War battlefields? It’s not uncommon for folks around here to see things that they can’t explain,” offered up Pastor Burke.

“Can you perform an exorcism?” she pleaded.

“I have no experience with that. Only the Catholic church officially performs exorcisms. I can make a call for you, but that’s the best I can do.”

A couple of weeks later, Father O’Brien from Gettysburg wrote my mother a letter. He explained that the region of the country where we lived had a high activity of paranormal disturbances. In his town, the sight of one of the bloodiest battles in American history, there seemed to be a surplus of ghosts and unexplained occurrences. Although busy performing up to three or four exorcisms a week, Father O’Brien eventually agreed to meet my mother and visit our house a couple of days after Halloween.

Once during a pot roast dinner, my mother bravely suggested to my tipsy father that perhaps, all the open doors were somehow related to the fact that our house was haunted by either Civil War or Vietnam War ghosts. That suggestion was swiftly met with a left hook from my father, and a bitter tirade ensued about how our government is filled with lying, merciless thieves that tried to kill him several times. Yes, my father came back from Vietnam a limping-alcoholic-delusional-paranoid with a hundred or so half-baked conspiracy theories: LBJ had JFK killed, the Pope used to be a Nazi, the government had been secretly using LSD on civilians for years for mind control experiments, and my favorite one, that every Bible in every hotel room in the America had a bug and listening device encased inside.

Many of his friends fell ill from Agent Orange. He knew that the government lied to him, his fellow Marines, and the American people about the entire Vietnam War. After a couple of beers, he would sit all of us down, and spout endless stories about misinformation, some of them mirroring Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States, and other times bordering the insane ramblings of a homeless, pathetic drunk. Either way, my father believed in one thing for sure: there was no such things as ghosts. The open doors and open windows were a sign that covert black-operations troops were conducting surveillance and messing with his head. Convinced that the U.S. Shadow Government was out to kill him, my old man slept with a loaded .45 under his pillow, and drove to work with another one stashed underneath the front seat of his Buick.

My older brother, Brent, spent most of this time locked in his bedroom in the basement. When I got to college, I learned that the funny smell wafting it’s way from his room was the combination of marijuana and incense. He dropped out of high school and worked at the Perkin’s restaurant near the highway. That’s where he met most of his clients. Brent sold nickel bags of marijuana to college kids (ironically grown by a collection of rogue, ex-Amish farmers, banned from their communities nearby). He also sold fireworks to the neighborhood kids out of the back of his pick-up truck. He did too many drugs and read too many science fiction novels. He didn’t believe my mother’s ghost stories, nor my father’s conspiracy theories, except one aspect. Like my father, my brother believed in aliens, UFOs, cover-ups, and abductions. His girlfriend once told me a scary story about how they were driving late one night. She saw a huge bright light, then she passed out. She said that she woke up with her crotch tingling, and was convinced that had been abducted by aliens for experiments. (Just last year, I found out that my brother and his friends routinely drugged their girlfriends and took turns having sex with them while they were passed out. That poor girl thought E.T. was probing her insides, while the entire time, it was my brother’s half-wit friends, the Jimmy twins.)

My younger sister, Bitsy, had her own theory: a made-up creature that she called Max. Bitsy was not your average six year-old. She cussed like a Queens cabbie, she could finger paint like Picasso, she ate like a horse, and she talked about Max all the time. Max was an odd creature, something I gathered from all the pictures of him that she created. He was a fuzzy, short, stumpy fellow, with big eyes and extra large hands. And he was purple with yellow underpants to “cover up his pee-pee,” as she explained.

“He looks like a porcupine on mescaline,” Brent commented one day after he glanced at one of Bitsy’s drawings on the refrigerator.

Everyone had a theory about the open windows and open doors, but no one had real answers. My brother firmly believed it was aliens. My mother was freaked out by the ghosts. My father reeked of a sullen paranoia that government agents were the culprits. And my little sister Bitsy was convinced that it was her imaginary friend, Max. The only thing they all had in common was that I thought they were all nuts.

Almost a week before Father O’Brien said he’d visit our house, I sensed that there was something going on. I would wake up in the middle of the night after a nightmare, drenched in sweat and then find myself unable to go back to sleep. Sometimes I would wet myself and wake up covered in sweat and piss. I was bothered by images of people’s faces, all of them I had never seen before. The dream always started out the same. I was riding my bicycle driving down Miller Street, when all of a sudden I got sideswiped by a small yellow school bus (the exact same one that picked up the special-ed kid down the street). I black out for a few moments and when I regain consciousness, I had twenty different people tugging on my clothes, taking off my sneakers, pouring different kinds of liquids all over my body. An old lady with a glass eye gripped hedge clippers and tried to cut off my hair. When she missed and made a mistake, my ear got snipped off. Blood rushed everywhere and that’s when I’d wake up sneering in my own piss.

The same nightmare occurred for a week straight. I’d clean myself up and after six failed attempts to fall back asleep, I’d decided to stay up on the seventh night. If I couldn’t sleep, then I might as well attempt to solve the case of the open doors and windows. It was 3:38 AM, when I grabbed a small penlight and made my way through our dark house. I inspected all the doors and all the windows. Everything was shut. I checked up on Bitsy and she and our cat slept peacefully. I walked into my parent’s bedroom, and my mother was also fast asleep. My father, passed out drunk, snored in uneven intervals. I made my way downstairs to the basement. My brother’s room was locked so I turned around and went back upstairs. I was hungry and remembered the apple pie that my mother had baked earlier that day. I opened up the refrigerator to get a slice, but the light was out. Funny, I thought. I closed the door and opened it up again. Same thing. No light. I shined my penlight on the dark shelves, but suddenly the penlight stopped working. I attempted to turn on the kitchen lights, and nothing happened. I got very sacred. I rushed into the living room and I saw one of the windows wide open, my mother’s curtains eerily blowing as a chill flashed through my body. I heard a faint voice behind me. I whirled around and saw no one standing there. I got goosebumps all over my arms. My knees grew weak. I cowered where I stood, unable to move. I heard the voice again, this time it was louder. The front door flew open. I screamed and ran upstairs. My mother woke up and caught me in mid-air as I leapt into her arms, as she got out of bed.

“What’s wrong?”

I shivered in fear, unable to speak, my milky white complexion staring right back at my mother’s concerned eyes. That’s when we heard a scream and more voices. My father jumped up ready to fight, with his eyes half-open and handgun pointed at the doorway. He slowly made his way out into the hallway and downstairs. My mother dragged me into Bitsy’s room and we all cuddled together on her bed. That’s when I heard the first shot. Then a couple of muffled voices and another shot.

“You kids stay right here,” my mother insisted.

She disappeared into the darkness and a few moments later I heard her scream. I didn’t know what was going on. Bitsy wanted to go downstairs. I held her back, but my six year-old sister had little fear and she sprinted downstairs. My father sat on the bottom step of the stairway rubbing his temple, while my mother stood in shock over a small bloody animal. At first I thought my father had shot a dog or a raccoon. But when Brent finally woke up and turned on the lights we saw a wounded, hairy creature of unknown origin.

“Daddy, you killed Max!” shouted Bitsy.

“Shut her up,” ordered my father while he waved his gun over his head.

“Mommy! Daddy shot Max!”

My mother dragged a kicking and screaming Bitsy back upstairs while my brother inspected the lifeless creature.

“What the fuck is it?” he asked no one in particular.

It didn’t look purple with yellow underwear, so I knew it wasn’t Max, like Bitsy suggested. A stoned Brent decided that it was an alien. He found a garbage bag and filled it with ice to preserve the remains.

“Not in my fucking house!” my father screamed, as he grabbed a shovel.

He snatched the hefty bag with the dead creature-alien-house-invader and pushed Brent aside. I followed him out to his car. My father, barefoot and wearing nothing but his underwear, threw the bag in the trunk and we sped off.

When we reached the woods, my father dug a ditch, doused the carcass in gasoline, and let it burn. When he was satisfied with his results, he covered up the smoldering remains and drove us back home. We all got dressed for school. My parents got dressed up for work. Brent got stoned and watched cartoons and we never spoke about that night again.

Two days later, I had the same nightmare. The yellow bus with retarded kids, the crash, the random people taking off my sneakers, the old lady with the glass eye and the hedge clippers, and then my bloody ear. The same fucking dream. I woke up in a semi-circle of urine and cleaned myself up. I do not know what compelled me to go downstairs, but I found myself slowly creeping through the hallway. My father, who stealthily stood in the shadows, grabbed me. I nearly missed him, until he tugged me by my pajamas and clasped his hand over my mouth. He made a silent “shhhhhhhh”-ing gesture and pulled out his gun. He made his way downstairs, and like any curious ten year old, I followed.

Before I got downstairs I could feel that all the windows were wide open. A cold draft circulated its way through the house, which felt like a hundred ghosts recklessly rushed past me, whispering warning messages. Everything was calm for a few seconds, before I got a wave of goosebumps. My father felt the same thing and shot twice into the darkness. That was the first time I saw the ghost.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

The Twenty Dollar Mango

By Tom Love © 2003

Frankie was a regular guy, what you might call a stand-up guy. It's just that he had a coupl'a bad habits. He beat one of them, cigarettes. But the other, gambling, proved to be more difficult. Seems there was no patch to help you quit scratch-off tickets. Not that he lost a lot of money...well I guess that would be determined by what you call "a lot." For Frankie, $30, $40, $50 or more a day, his usual contribution to the Lottery Education Fund was “a lot.” Yeah, he was hooked.

Frankie did most of his wagering (always on Scratch-off tickets) at lunchtime. He visited his friend Tony, who ran a cramped but sunny liquor store in a strip mall not far from Frankie's day job. Frankie stopped by almost every day to buy scratch offs. In doing so, he became true friends with Tony, a Lebanese immigrant who had owned the store for 10 years. They talked about each other's kids and ex-wives (Tony's ex tragically died of pulmonary hypertension the summer before). Tony talked about once being an engineer constructing dams in Tunisia, and on around Morocco, down the west coast of Africa. He talked of picking cashews off the trees (poisonous until roasted) and helping clear wild mango groves with machetes.

A cast of eccentric characters wandered in and out of Tony's liquor store. Homeless alcoholics stopped in for a pint of Mr. Boston Vodka with money gathered from the kindness of drivers at interstate exit ramps. Others were lottery players using systems they had derived from the hymnal page numbers posted on Sundays worship schedule. Assorted young people came in to cash payroll checks (Tony charged 2.5%). Store owners came in asking for $5.00 in quarters to help them get through their noon day rush. All had one thing in common: They all thought the world of Tony.

Frankie didn't have many friends. He worked alone, not part of the usual team/project scenario so prevalent in offices. Frankie's boss didn't really understand what Frankie did and didn't really want to. It got so Frankie could pretty much come and go as he pleased. Tony became one of Frankie’s real friends. Frankie would run by the grocery store and buy bread and fruit and cheese and together, Frankie and Tony would have lunch at the counter of the liquor store. Other customers were always welcome to share a chunk of French bread or section of grapefruit or maybe a section of mango that Tony would deftly slice with a knife. Frankie had never seen a mango cut and served in this manner. An elliptical section was cut, skin still attached. And then Tony would press on the back of the slice and the juicy golden fruit would fan out from the skin and stand up invitingly for eating. This became their ritual. Bread, maybe some fresh sliced turkey from the grocery deli, Swiss cheese, and of course, the mango which rang up at a dollar a piece off-season and two for a dollar in season. Tony always asked how much the mangos costs on a given day. He harkened back to the days in Africa when they were $2.00 a dozen.

Frankie looked forward to lunchtime each day. Gambling took a back seat to conversations with Tony. And yet he couldn't give up his addiction. He would just get that part out of the way, not paying much attention. He usually lost. Then he would start with some topic, sometimes politics, and Tony would add his international two cents. This was the way it would play out most days.

One particular day, Frankie had brought the usual mango, and Tony was busy applying his patented slice, fan and serve technique. The knife he used was an enormous butcher knife. Frankie was not paying much attention to what was going on around him; He was scratching away on a "Lucky Seven" ticket, trying to line up three sevens. Then a very loud voice beside said "Hey old man! Give my all your money!"

Frankie jumped, his hair on end, and looked to his left. Here was a slender black man, in his 20's with a gun. He was nervous, waving the gun back and forth.

"C'mon man, open up the register!"

Then, in one swift move, Tony lunged across the counter with the butcher knife and plunged it deep into the throat of the would-be robber. Immediately blood spurted. It streamed out of the sliced artery onto the counter, onto the mango. The young man, still standing, staggering, tried to scream but only gurgled and spit blood. He spit blood into Frankie's face. Frankie vomited.

Tony still held the knife in position in the robber’s throat. Breathless, eyes wide, Tony was talking in Arabic, it sounded like praying. He pulled the knife back the perpetrator fell to the floor, bloody and lifeless. For a silent moment, a moment which seemed to last longer than it really did, Tony and Frankie stood and stared in horror.

"Somebody call 911," Frankie said at last. Tony called and in a mixture of English and Arabic told the address to the operator. The police arrived in minutes.


Frankie stayed away from the liquor store for a few days. When he came back, the counter area had been cleaned up, Tony said he had a cleaning service come in. Frankie didn't have much to say to Tony that day. He didn't even want to gamble. His visits became few. His gambling habit died. Later that year, Tony sold the liquor store to a younger man. He retired. Frankie dropped by the store a few times out of curiosity but didn't like the new owner.

About a year later, Frankie was at the airport to meet his daughter who was flying back from Europe. He made his way to the international section, a separate waiting area from the rest of the terminal. He was in the back of a large group when he saw Tony! He made his way to the front of the group and embraced his old friend.

"Frankie, Frankie, Frankie, I miss my old friend."

"Me too, Tony. I miss you too."

Tony was there to greet his older brother from Syria. They talked a while, caught up on kids and ex-wives, and left it at that, not mentioning that terrible day. Frankie introduced his daughter to Tony when she came off the plane. They said their good-byes and Frankie walked his daughter down the corridor, looking back once and waving to Tony who waved back.

Tom Love is a writer from Atlanta, GA.

Halloween Moments

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

Las Vegas (1998) Senor and I dropped acid and went to see an epic Phish concert at the Thomas and Mack Center. During the second set, they covered the entire Velvet Underground album Loaded. That particular performance, Senor declared, was the best set of Phish he had ever seen. I agreed. After the show, I almost got into a fist fight with a cab driver, who looked like Gopher from the Love Boat and I wanted to kick his ass after he made fun of me. I flipped out a few minutes later and lost my shit in the middle of the Sahara Casino, on a head full of double-dipped acid, with all the lights and flashes and sounds of chips and slot machines and the free drinks and people from Canada having fun and all the visual stimuli… the entire dark side of Las Vegas laughed and tossed me aside, like a parking ticket on the windshield of Paris Hilton’s Mercedes SUV.

New York, NY (2001) Full moon in NYC, as Molly and I went to see Medeski, Martin and Wood play their usual Halloween show at the Beacon Theatre. The Yankees were playing in the World Series that same night (pushed back due to 9.11) and due to the scheduling conflict, I had to miss the Game 4 (Yanks were down 2-1 to the Arizona Diamondbacks). After a stellar performance and great seats (up in the balcony), the concert ended just after 11:30 PM. I waited for Molly while she went to the bathroom. Right next door to the restroom was a small janitor’s closet. One of the custodians for the Beacon Theatre had a small color TV playing on top of his cleaning cart. A couple of die-hard Yankees fans, wearing multiple costumes (Elvis, an Apache helicopter pilot, a guy in a purple wig) all huddled together watching every pitch. The Yankees were down by 2 runs in the bottom of the 9th inning. Byung-Hyun Kim, the Arizona pitcher gave up a two out 2-run homerun to Tino Martinez, who swung at the first pitch and crushed a homerun in one of the greatest World Series moments of all time! We all jumped up and shouted, “Ti-no! Ti-no! Ti-no! Ti-no!” Quite the thrill, because less than a half hour later, Derek Jeter hit the first home run ever in the month of November, again off of Byung-Hyun Kim.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.

What a Long Strange Trip It's Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

I tried to spruce up this issue with a Scary Story, which wasn't as scary as the one I wrote for next month's issue! I hope you enjoyed what you read so far. Thanks again to Tom Love, who returned with a great story.

Please feel free to e-mail this link to your friends, families, co-workers, cellmates, lifemates, etc. Help spread the good word about this site and the writers!

Be Sweet,

"Life's splendor forever lies in wait about each one of us in all its fullness, but veiled from view, deep down, invisible, far off. It is there, though, not hostile, not reluctant, not deaf. If you summon it by the right word, by its right name, it will come." - Kafka