October 15, 2004

October 2004 (Vol. 3, Issue 10)

This is my favorite time of the month, when I publish another issue of my literary blog-zine. October brings us two new writers as well as stories from two of my favorite writers, both past contributors. I penned three stories; a touching tale, a Vermont story, and I'm sharing an excerpt from my fourth novel Bar Hopping with Buddha. In her first appearance in Truckin', Kristie wrote up her thoughts about 9.11. BG returns with a personal story about being a hurricane survivor. Molly Burkhart joins the staff with a story called Cannonballs. And everyone's favorite Norwegian novelist, Sigge S. Amdal submitted an interesting piece called Facing the Facts. Sit back, enjoy, and please spread the good word about this site. Be sweet, McG.

1. Moments in a Box by Tenzin McGrupp
"Someday, people will catch up to the way you think, and eventually figure out what you've been talking about all these years. And it'll be like we finally got the punchline to a joke," the girl with the seashell eyes used to say to me all the time in her sweet drawl... More

2. Hurricane by BG
I've never lived in Florida, and would never want to. But I did survive Hurricane Jeanne. Barely, by the skin of my teeth, with the clothes on my back, with nothing left to show but what was left of my sanity and bank accounts on the tail end... More

3. My 9/11 by Kristie
We have TVs on now and there are shots of people in New York, running through the streets in horror and in their business suits. Can't you just picture the looks on their faces? You remember, don't you? It looked like a movie... More

4. Vintage by Tenzin McGrupp
Sometimes I did not get the money I wanted and I had to beg, borrow, or steal just to scrape together enough cash to buy a couple of drinks. For some reason, bartenders don't give out free drinks anymore to wayward philosophers or jaded artists down on their luck... More

5. Cannonballs by Molly Burkhart
I hate cannonballs. Muskets, I can handle. Bayonets, I can counter. But those damn, shrapnel-filled cannonballs scare the holy hell out of me... More

6. Facing the Facts by Sigge S. Amdal
After a couple of years... I figure it can't take much longer walking from Norway to Italy... we'd get there, and the group's members would recognize me as their guarantee of real, ultimate power in this glorious land that I had given them... More

7. Walking to Coventry by Tenzin McGrupp
The Joker slung his gear on his back, ditched his rental car and walked into the campgrounds. He headed north and parked in a town called Newport, then hitched a ride halfway and hiked the rest of the way in... More

What A Long Strange Trip Its Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

Thanks to everyone who shared their bloodwork this month. I always say that the other contributing authors inspire me, because it's true. I'm happy to add Kristie and Molly to the Truckin' roster. And thanks again to Sigge and BG for returning with some of their best work to date.

I ask the readers that if you like these stories, then please do me and the rest of the writers a huge favor. Tell your friends about your favorite stories. It takes a few seconds to pass along the URL or the monthly e-mail. I certainly appreciate your support. Feel free to shoot me an e-mail if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks again. I am grateful that you wasted your time with my site. Until next time.


"The moment one gives close attention to any thing, even a blade of grass it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself." - Henry Miller

Moments in a Box

Moments in a Box

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004

"Someday, people will catch up to the way you think, and eventually figure out what you've been talking about all these years. And it'll be like we finally got the punchline to a joke," the girl with the seashell eyes used to say to me all the time in her sweet drawl.

Was she right or was she just being nice? Either way, I missed the long letters that she used to write to me. No one wrote real letters anymore and they have been replaced with the informal coldness of e-mail. Sure, with the internet you keep in touch with more people from all around the world, but the sincerity of the words has lost its stellar luster. E-mails are rarely saved and often deleted after first glance. Letters were something you kept in a box or in a drawer somewhere and stumbled upon on a rainy Saturday morning. It was a physical piece of correspondence, a tiny museum of words and ideas, hand written, of course, so you could see the emotion and the thoughtfulness of each scripted letter and each word in every sentence as they flowed back and forth to the keen eye of the reader. I missed the letters from the girl with the seashell eyes and snazzy smiling face scribbled next to her name on the back of the colorful stationary she used.

Sometimes she sent two letters a day and I always laughed and got high when my hand reached into the mailbox to pick up each one. Warm thoughts flooded my stomach when I saw the postmark. Every time I opened her letters, it felt like it was Christmas morning and I had awoken to find hundreds of presents, all for me, wrapped underneath a huge Christmas tree. Her words made me smile. Her words made me want to see her. Her letters were full of love and happiness and I imagined a huge smile seized her face while she scribbled down her thoughts to me, as a bright sun hung high in a clear Texas sky. I was impressed by the way she wrote, not because her letters were perfect, but rather because she took the time out of her busy day to write lengthy and detailed letters. Her words were true, honest, and flowed smoothly because they were not used improperly. She never wrote anything she did not genuinely feel and her words used to jump off the page and smother me with little baby kisses and I would giggle, reading them over and over before I would commit each one to memory and put them away in an old cigar box that used to hold Cuban cigars that I had smuggled in from Canada.

I used to write her long letters, too. I wrote about my dreams. My letters to her were dream journals. She often joked that she was going to save them for publication one day. I wondered why anyone would want to read about my odd dreams. Most of them made no sense. Like the one dream about the purple humpbacked whales. I would sit along side a dock and toss small pieces of dead fish chunks into the ocean. One by one, the purple whales lined up to feed. They were hungry but maintained a strict line. They each took a few minutes feeding, then swam to the back of the line. I never understood why they did that or why the bucket of dead fish parts never seemed to empty. The more and more I scooped out and threw into the water, the bigger the bucket grew. I tried to toss the entire bucket in the water, but it was too heavy for me to lift by myself.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.


By BG © 2004

I don’t know why they do it. Floridians, that is. I don’t know why they insist on living right in the paths of turbulent and destructive storms that cruise through and demolish everything in their wakes.

It just seems so easy to move to San Diego or Reno or Duluth, or just anywhere that can’t be touched by the angry winds and torrid rains of these hurricanes.
It just seems so easy.

“Easy,” somehow, is never the easy answer.

I’ve never lived in Florida, and would never want to. But I did survive Hurricane Jeanne. Barely, by the skin of my teeth, with the clothes on my back, with nothing left to show but what was left of my sanity and bank accounts on the tail end. Her winds were punishing, her downpour relentless.

And I’m here to tell you that the worst part of it all is when you’re right in the eye.

It’s a ridiculously powerless feeling to have known the rage, having fought through the initial push of the storm, and to all of a sudden be in an eerily calm period of sedentary serenity. You can still sense the uproar and turmoil all around, threatening to crush you from any side, but she’s quiet, cool, collected. Waiting for you to blink.

The screaming and wailing stops in the eye, but so do the whispers and insinuations. It’s the prolonged uncomfortable silence where she just waits for you to catch your breath before thrashing you mercilessly with everything she has left.

The calm, in and of itself, is its own form of attack. As any boxer can tell you, dealing with fury is the easy part. Put your guard up, don’t let go until she’s too tired to swing anymore. You’ll end up bruised, beaten, and bloodied, but still standing, still consciously aware of the fight that’s yet to come. When she withdraws however, you catch yourself looking over your shoulder, waiting for the other shoe to drop, preoccupied by the thought that there is another battle left in you, in her, and it could come at any time.

But when?

In the eye of the hurricane, it’s every man for himself. Rationale is useless against primal rage and I had few options against this storm that was either surging into her purpose and resolution, or menacing herself free of anything that could possibly have been holding her back. This is what keeps you looking back, keeping watch on the horizon behind. If she had just given a hint, a small clue of her intentions, I would have been much more able to prepare myself for the onslaught.

This is the unpredictability of nature at work. At her core, Jeanne’s uncertain course is what defined her. What initially looked like a narrow escape, a thankful pass off the wide side, instead turned directly into everything I had, everything I with which had been secure and comfortable. She decided, somewhere mid-course, to choose the path of chaos and destruction rather than to let a hard rain be a simple hard rain. And I was completely unprepared.

In retrospect, I can remember seeing the flags offshore, red flags with that ominous black square, but I continued happily unaware. Even when the rains started, and the wind moved from breezy to unstoppable, I always felt like things would calm down, that the sunshine would return, and that life could be shifted back to blissful normalcy.

It wasn’t until halfway through her first push that I started to get confused.

I was out of my element. Darkness descends quickly when the clouds are spinning and collapsing into themselves, and I was driven into retreat by the powerful bedlam crashing and gusting in every corner of my world. It’s not difficult to find a place to hide from the storm’s obvious fury, but the windows in my bedroom still rattled, and I lived in constant fear that the roof might at any time collapse under the sheer strain of her unrelenting power.

That’s how she raged, with absolute will and power. And it was in that first night, under the covers, crying uncertain tears, that I lost my power.

I closed my eyes, pulled the covers over my head, and pinched what remaining tears I hadn’t spent in the hours before out of the corners of my clenched eyes. It was dark, and I was in darkness, and there was no one by my side to reassure me that the lights would someday come back on.

The storm heaved and seized, gusting through with enough clout to topple oaks and uproot entire lives. And I lay in my room, quietly, eyes safely shut, waiting to hear something, nothing, anything other than the madness of the storm’s swath.

April 2001:

”Let’s go get tattoos.”

She was serious. There was barely a hint of a smile on her face as we drove through Saturday afternoon traffic, and I could tell she wasn’t remotely close to kidding.

“You know how I feel about needles,” I said, “I’m not getting anywhere near one of those joints.”

“But you can get my name tattooed on you, and I can get your name inside my other tattoo. I’ve been saving that space for you.” She was eager, and imploring me to reconsider.

“No. Nuh-uh. Needles freak me out, he’ll poke me once, I’ll run out of there screaming, and we’ll be out $200.”

“Why? Is it because I asked you to get my name tattooed? Is it me?” Was she panicking? I wasn’t close to being able to understand what was going on in this instant. It was as if I flipped a switch in her somewhere. Deep in her eyes, there was this inexplicable fear, or maybe it was just uncertainty. Either way, I was confused.

“I can’t... I mean I won’t do it,” I was treading lightly, I knew I was in a delicate situation, but why? “I just can’t stand the thought of being poked with a needle. You know I’m a wimp. I don’t like tattoos anyway. We could go to dinner instead...”

Instantly, she became at once furious and deeply wounded. “You NEVER want to do anything fun. You’re so fucking lame. All I want is to go get fucking tattoos, and I want to do it to show you I LOVE YOU. And you can’t even return the goddamn favor.”

She was huffing back what threatened to be more serious tears, and was staring straight out in front of the car, desperately trying to appear less hurt than she obviously was.

I drove another couple of blocks, completely bewildered at the range of emotions I had witnessed over the last three minutes. Where was this coming from?

“This isn’t about tattoos, is it?” I was trying to throw her an olive branch, trying desperately to understand what it was she was really talking about.

“It’s ABOUT the tattoos, and it’s ABOUT every other fucking thing too.” The tears were raining heavily, but still were unable to flood the spite and anger from her eyes. “It’s about you being NO FUCKING FUN anymore. Remember when you were fun? When we were fun? Well, I don’t anymore. You’re an old man Tony, an old man.”

We drove in silence for a few more moments, the tension heavy as she debated whether to play her final card.

“I don’t even fucking know why I’m still with you.”

And then the eye, calm. Dead, silent, calm. It’s as if she’s looking at you, but right through you, concentrating intently on anything but you. By this point, you’re past the point of action, well beyond any feasible solution. But still, you try to make sense of the storm. Try to understand how to ride her crest, well out in front of whatever doom she’s threatening to lay down in her next go-round. Try to divine how to buttress what was left of what might have been before irrational disaster crushes everything that remains.

Try to figure out how to get out, flee.

It’s useless. I cursed the storm, threatened the elements that had brought her into my life. I gave offerings, penance to the driving forces, trying to even her keel.
I took the extended silence she offered as hope, and began to believe she wouldn’t rage in my world again.

But all the while, I was looking over my shoulder at the horizon behind. Storm clouds were looming again, and this time I understood that promises in the light mean nothing against purpose under a veil of clouds.

August 2001:

“He’s coming. I didn’t ask him to, I swear to god.”

In the past two months, I had finally figured out what the late nights on the computer, and the refusal to come to bed at a decent hour meant. It meant that she was on the phone, or chatting over the PC with Mick.

I didn’t actually catch on fully until I put a piece of software on the computer that tracked her keystrokes. I saw a one-sided conversation between my wife and some English guy named Mick on the Instant Messenger, and I was stunned to see phrases like, “I love you,” “You’re who I’ve been waiting my whole life for,” and “You make me feel whole again.”

My wife. Mine.

I tried every angle I could when confronting her with this infidelity. I played nice, I offered my love and support, I wailed with sadness and screamed in tortured anger.

She wouldn’t blink, and she wouldn’t fight anymore. The girl I spent countless nights telling every secret I had, talking about everything and nothing to ensure I wouldn’t miss a single moment, had almost completely shut me out.

And it’s not as if there was nothing more to say. Each moment we spent silently sharing space was thick with every problem, every issue that remains to this day unspoken.

“He’s coming. I didn’t ask him to, I swear to god.”

“Who’s coming? When?” The first question was almost rhetorical.

“Mick. You know who. He’s flying into Detroit the Thursday before Halloween. I don’t even know if I want to see him.” She couldn’t have played this any better at the time. Very matter-of-fact, extending that ray of hope that I needed in order to not leave her, which was what she needed to gather time to turn her fantasies into realities.

I was tired. During those times, I was always tired. I didn’t have the strength to challenge her advances, so I faced these circumstances with quiet resignation, and always just a little bit of hope. “If you see him, I’m going to leave you.” I’m not even sure I convinced myself.

For the first time in what seemed like months, she seemed to open up and gave me the smile I had fallen in love with in the first place. “Honey, don’t say that. I don’t want to leave you, and I don’t want you to go.”

“Then I need you to cut it off with Mick. I can’t take this anymore.”

“I’ve got a lot I need to figure out, and I’m sorry about that. I asked Mick not to come, but he bought his ticket. I won’t see him if you ask me not to.” She seemed sincere, and every instinct I had told me to take the deal.

“OK, I’m asking you. Don’t see him.”

She didn’t come home the Thursday before Halloween.

Or the Friday.

She spurned every advance, every peaceful hand I tried to extend. She brought the darkness back swiftly, and drove me back behind the walls, into the blackened house, under the covers. She pounded on the doors and windows, threatened to lift the roof off and throw me out homeless into her fury. I stayed silent now, as a man who shouts into the wind is unlikely to recognize his own voice in return.

I let her punch and rumble and shake my foundation with constant pressure. It was in this darkness that I knew I could rely on no one but myself. She was going to pound every inch of my life flat if given the opportunity, but she would also blow over at some point. And it was in the genesis of that thought that I knew I could no longer live in her wake. Trapped, as it were, alone in my house, powerless, unable to bring myself to shed a single tear further, I relented.

December 2001:

“I need some time, a break... I bought the ticket today.”

She had told me she wanted to get away. At first, it was a weekend, then a “week or two,” and eventually it bubbled over into “a few weeks.”

I didn’t want her to go, but if she was going to leave, I only had one condition. Anywhere but England.

“You bought the ticket with what money exactly?” With rent and two ridiculously big car payments, we were already well behind in bills.

“I have some money due from some of my contacts.” Self-employed, I didn’t have a grasp on how little or how much. “I bought it with my business account.”

“So you bought the ticket to where? Tell me you’re going to Denver. California. Where are you going?”

“England. I’m leaving two days before Christmas, and I’ll be back in mid-February.” She paused to let that sink in. “I really want you to be here when I get back. I want to make this work.”

“If you want to make this work, don’t go to England. You can go anywhere else you want. You’ve got friends all over. Why does it have to be England?”

“I have to see... I just have to see.” She got that wistful, faraway look in her eyes, as if she was already nibbling a scone sitting on the banks of the Thames in her mind.

“Fuck you and your ‘have to see.’ If you want me here when you get back, you’re not getting on a plane to England.” After nearly eight months of living outside the center of my wife’s world, I had one simple request. Take a break if you need to, but don’t expect me to stick around if you are factoring Mick into the equation.

“Don’t you care at all about me?” Her voice was starting to rise, trying to make the emotional plea while keeping her obvious frustration couched behind. “I have to do this FOR ME. Maybe I was too young to get married, maybe we aren’t supposed to be together. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we ARE meant to be with each other forever. I don’t know any other way to find this out than to see what’s in England. I have to go, and you have to understand that.”

I wasn’t understanding.

“You need to let me find this out for myself.”

I was livid. Absolutely fucking livid. For about a month following her disappearance during Mick’s visit, she seemed to be trying. On the surface, she was doing everything I asked of her, or so I thought. I didn’t catch her talking to Mick, and I started to see glimpses of the beautiful and vibrant woman I married instead of the sullen girl that could only find her sunshine outside her spiral of depression.
She had played me for a sucker, planning her next steps in seclusion, giving me almost no time to react and plead my case along the way.

“Here’s how it’s going to work,” I started, with venom lacing each word for full effect, “you get on that plane, I pack my shit and leave. I don’t give a fuck about the rent, about the car payments, anything. If you get on that plane, everything we have here is fucking over. You understand that?”

Tears came quickly for her, and for the first time I think she understood that she was at a point of no return. “Don’t you trust me?” was the only thing she could muster.

I started crying. Lightly at first, still trying to feel more angry than anything, but then was bawling with a purpose. I took her around the waist and pulled her close. “How can I trust you with everything that you’ve done to us, everything you’ve done to me?” I was sobbing, and for the first time I really knew she was leaving.
And for the first time, I think she really knew I was leaving too.

“I’ll call you every day out there, and I won’t do anything to ruin our marriage, I promise.”

Promises, promises.

“I’m not going to take your calls. If you go, you can do whatever you want because you’re not going to find me here when you get back.”

Less than two weeks later, when her father came to take her to the airport she pleaded with me one last time to let her come back to our house, our life, and what love we might still have left together. It wasn’t the last time we would shed tears together, and certainly wasn’t truly our final separation, but that night is marked in my mind as a point of closure, the night I knew with absolute certainty that I had to be the one to leave. I didn’t have an airplane, a European destination, or anyone waiting for me on the other side. I was the one whose future was obscured by clouds, and on whose shoulders the rebuilding would ultimately begin.

I let her go, and never have regretted keeping my final promise to her.

I rode out the storm and watched her carry herself out over the ocean, surveying the damage left behind in her path. As I look over what’s left, my life was not littered with true rubble or visible scars and bruises. Where Hurricane Jeanne took her toll is in my inability to see the light. Because of her, I keep one eye always over my shoulder, looking and squinting into the horizon, doing everything I can to fashion storm clouds out of thin air. She took that away from me. The serene and quiet moments of my life are now shrouded by an irrational fear of impending doom and failure.

October 2004:

She created all of this. Jean.

Despite it all, I really do miss her badly.

BG is a blogger from Michigan whose favorite color is blue, enjoys long walks on the beach, and hopes to use this platform to promote world peace and awareness of nut cancer.

My 9/11

By Kristie © 2004

Unfortunately, I would have remembered 9/11/01 even if it wasn't the day of the most heinous act of terrorism ever ever.

At the time, I was in a horrible, horrible relationship with a controlling, evil, bad-tempered little man. The best part of that relationship was that he traveled all the time for work. He'd be gone for two weeks at a time. I was taking this particular opportunity to look for an apartment. I would sign my new lease on September 12th.

But on the 11th,

I got up at the crack for work, stumbled into the kitchen to feed the kids, did the headcount. Minus one. Shit. So I went on the Monty hunt, filling with panic just like the day I had found him with all the broken bones. Sure enough, he was in my closet, shaking and frothing at the mouth. I scooped him up and drove in tears and pajamas all the way to the emergency vet, which was 20 minutes away. Of course.

Apparently he had gotten into some type of cleaner. They washed it off of him, patted him on the head, collected a trillion dollars from me and sent us on our way.

Take him home, go to work. And then . . . 9/11.

"Did you hear that some plane crashed into the World Trade Center?"

"They think the pilot had a heart attack or something."

"Heh. He's probably wasted. Moron."

So we all crowded around Laura's monitor and watched. She'd somehow gotten on to CNN.com before it was impossible to do so. They had live feed. We were watching as a second plane, seemingly in slow motion, approached the second tower.

"Wait. What the fuck?"

We all furrowed our brows and kind of looked at each other with a new sort of disbelief. Surreal disbelief. You know the little laughs that come out of your mouth when nothing's funny?

"Two? But that can't be a coincidence."

And now there are all these goosebumps all over my body and my head won't stop shaking from side to side and I still can't unfurrow my brow.

We have TVs on now and there are shots of people in New York, running through the streets in horror and in their business suits. Can't you just picture the looks on their faces? You remember, don't you? It looked like a movie.

"Someone did this on purpose? Why? Who?"

"And what? Terrorism?"


"But this is America. That doesn't happen here."

I'll never forget the small, snowy black and white, TV we had over in the corner near order entry. If we squinted hard enough, we could see something that looked like implosion.

"Hey, aren't there people all in there?"

"Yeah. Lots and lots of people. Probably thousands of people."

"Well, so . . . But the tower just fell down. What do you think happened to . . . ."

Oh my god. Who do I know in New York? Who lives there? Where do they work? Who's on vacation?

“What??? The fucking pentagon? HUH? The second tower? Fell? Just fell?"

I felt weightless. Like I was on wheels. Drifting from snowy TV to CNN.com to radio. My skin hurt. There was a lump in my throat and I forget where my stomach went. Oh, and work. Deadlines.

"Another plane? Just in a field? But why? Why a field?"

We got an email from corporate. In New York. Our CFO and the President of one of our brands had been on the plane that hit the first tower. Adopted daughters. Pregnant wife. Volunteered in his community. Leader in the church. Little league. Married 20 years.

Enough cannot be said about the details of that day. The way little things were impossible to do. The way functionality went out the window. I was working for a publishing company, trafficking two weekly magazines. Both had Tuesday deadlines. Missing deadlines cost us thousands of dollars. I had to work. And focus on something else, as if that was possible.

By the time I could go home that day, President Bush had addressed the situation. Yes, terrorism. Not saying who. Don't know if they're done.

Driving home. Other people. Other people who knew, just like I did, that this inexplicable thing had just happened to all of us. When I describe 9/11 to my children and grandchildren, I will sum it up in one word, "quiet." Flags were at half staff immediately which has always been visually visceral for me. No planes in the sky. No music. No commercials. No cell phones. No speeding. We were all sitting in our cars, staring, wide eyed, ahead . . .

One of the dogs I lived with at the time was very, very old. Once and a while he had a hard time controlling his, um, bodily functions. Y'all, there is no other way to say this, no way to sugar coat projectile diarrhea. All over the walls, the carpet, the cabinets, upstairs as well as downstairs. And the steps in between.

But I couldn't worry about that. Because Monty was almost dead. As in barely breathing.

With dazed deliberateness, I took him the 1/4 mile to his real vet. More other people who know. Please, can we talk about my cat? I cannot begin to find an articulate word to say about the other.

They pump his stomach. They give him fluids. They run tests. They denounce emergency vet. Me? I sat small in a corner, nodding, trying to understand words. And form some of my own.

Two hours later, with more alive Monty in tow, I got to go home and clean shit off of this house I lived in. And with CNN on in every room, I tried to pay attention to the poop, but I had to keep running back to see what else? Jesus, what else? They kept showing it over and over. One plane, two plane. One implosion, two implosions. Now in slow mo.

When I finally collapsed in bed that night, I fell into shallow sleep with the TV on. I woke up 8,000 times that night. Sat straight up, focused on the screen, and listened to what they said. I listened until I was sure that "they" were finished. That "they" hadn't done more. That there'd be a tomorrow.

And in the process of writing this all out, I've filled up with tears and worn goosebumps. Because yes, three years ago. But it still feels like yesterday, doesn't it? And I'm grateful for that. The least I can do is still feel it.

Kristie is a blogger from Atlanta, Georgia. She's the author of the blog Type A.


By Tenzin McGrupp © 2003

My routine was the same. I rubbed off the crusty eye boogers and took a long, well-deserved piss. I dressed myself in the first clothes I found on my messy floor. I sold whatever material items I could get for a few dollars. Some days they were books I’d read. Other days they were watches I’d stolen from street vendors. Sometimes, they were clothes from ex-girlfriends that I had pilfered during heated verbal disagreements. I wandered out into the streets with bags of vintage clothes, hoping to sell them to over-priced, trendy shops in the East Village. Some of the girls with a thousand piercings and tattoos who worked the counters would give me good deals on what I’d stolen. I always made up a story about how I had acquired the clothes. Usually, it was the same old line.

"We've moved. We have less closet space. My girlfriend wanted me to try to sell these clothes, so we can get some extra money to pay for her abortion. If we have any money leftover, then we can adopt one of those half-naked, pot-bellied, starving kids we see on TV every day. Just for 43 fucking cents a day... the cost of a cup of coffee (in 1976), I can find spiritual rebirth and enlightenment by sending my money to some kid in the middle of a small village in Africa or South Asia. He'll use the money to buy clothes and food for his seventeen brothers and sisters. And if they ever get a TV, they can watch me get the shit beat out of me on COPS: Live in Mardi Gras."

Sometimes I did not get the money I wanted and I had to beg, borrow, or steal just to scrape together enough cash to buy a couple of drinks. For some reason, bartenders don't give out free drinks anymore to wayward philosophers or jaded artists down on their luck. Originality was dead in those days. Everything original was done by 1996. Originality reached full circle that year. And anything of significance that arrived afterwards was a derivative, a tweaked collaboration of multiple genres and forms from before. Nothing was original anymore, life seemed to have photocopied itself. Skies were not as clear as they used to seem. The birds flew a little slower.

Sometimes I thought about the quality of art, of books, of television, of fashion, of the newest blockbuster movie... all bad clones of stuff we've already seen a thousand times before. I tried to break out of that desperate funk, that undesired rut that I found myself mired in, in a dark alley, with the odor of stale urine lingering about, about to embark on a confrontation with a group of drunken, horny, thuggish girl scouts and their hundreds of packets of China White heroin which they smuggled in their boxes of Mints and peanut butter cookies.

Editor's Note: Vintage is an excerpt from Tenzin McGrupp's fourth novel Bar Hopping with Buhhda.

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.


By Molly Burkhart © 2004

I hate cannonballs.

Muskets, I can handle. Bayonets, I can counter. But those damn, shrapnel-filled cannonballs scare the holy hell out of me.

I've seen whickering strips of metal tear a man's legs out from under him, rip out a man's intestines, peel a man's face down to the bone. I hate cannonballs.

They put nails in them. Nails and barbed wire and even forks, when they run out of other shrapnel. Who thinks of these things? What kind of mind comes up with something so insanely, effectively cruel?

Whoever he was, they probably made him a general.

I wish we were fighting foreigners. I don't have any kin up north, but it just doesn't seem right to slaughter people from my own...well...my own country, sort of. I don't guess I've killed anyone I know yet, but it's just a matter of time.

Lying here thinking about it doesn't help, but it does pass the time between the bombardment and dawn.

They're depriving us of sleep, of course. They keep up the cannonade until well after midnight, only allowing us a few hours of sleep before the sun comes up and they start with the tracer shots. They aren't actually trying to shoot us, for the most part. No, they're just measuring how much gun powder they need for the most effectiveness when they decide to actually attack.

Vicious bastards, but smart bastards, nonetheless. It's an old-fashioned siege.

My watch partner is asleep, bless his soul. He nodded off early, but I don't have the heart to wake him. I can sleep during the day, and I really don't mind this time of night. It's quiet.

Once the cannons still, it doesn't take long for nature to step into the silence. Night birds, crickets, and spring peepers start their noise, singing in the spaces between until it seems like the cannons never fired a volley. If it weren't for the occasional masonry falling apart in the night, I could almost convince myself I'm just camping out with my little brother.

God, I miss that kid. Thank the good Lord he's too young for war just yet.

Suddenly, it's entirely too quiet, and I sit up straight, gripping my gun. I haven't heard anything yet, but that's half the problem. Wasn't I just musing on the peaceful night music?

I catch a flash of movement, and my musket is set against my shoulder before I really think about it. I guess I've been here long enough that my reflexes beat out logic. It could just be a deer, but I feel safer with my gun at the ready, and I make no move to lower it.

There it is again, a slight twitch of a bush, the leaves shivering. No breath of wind stirs the unnatural silence, and surely a deer wouldn't scare the crickets quiet.

My finger tightens on the trigger, and I wait for the interloper to show himself. For a small eternity, I see nothing. My breath stills in my chest. I am calm. A scout, I can handle.

At least it's not cannonballs.

He never fully shows himself, but, unlike me, he finally breaks. His eyes give him away. I catch a wink of reflected light as he shifts his gaze, and I put a ball directly through that tiny flash.

The report is deafening in the silence, and my watch partner wets himself as he jerks awake.

The whole fort comes alive, but I leave it behind, dropping my musket and pulling a hunting knife to check my kill. I jump off the wall, creeping across the greenbelt and into the trees.

Scouts rarely have valuable information, but he might be carrying food, and only an idiot wouldn't at least go through the pockets and pack.

He's a little older than I am, I think. At least he's not younger. That always hurts, somehow.

He looks like someone's big brother.

My shot was true; his right eye is completely gone, as is most of the back of his head. His blue uniform is pristine, but the tree a few feet behind is spattered with blood and bits of brain and bone. His rifle lay like a discarded toy a few inches from his hand.

I nod once. It was either him or me. My reflexes knew that, but my conscience feels a little better with the knowledge that this fellow truly did intend to shoot.

His pockets are empty, but his pack is a veritable treasure trove. I fill my pockets with enough jerky to last several days, a good dollar's worth of loose change, and a handful of hard candy. I haven't had candy in an age.

Leaving the rest of his supplies in the pack, I tug it off his shoulders and take it with me back to the fort. We'll bury him tomorrow, but for tonight, I think we'll make use of his deck of cards. Something tells me no one's getting any more sleep, anyway.

Things settle down quickly enough, a group of boys forming a quiet poker game as I take my place on the wall. I settle in again, my reloaded musket comfortable in my hands. It didn't take long for the wildlife to readjust, of course, and the rhythmic buzz of the crickets soothes me, makes me again appreciate this time of night.

The peace won't last long, of course. Tomorrow, the cannons will roar again, sending those damned monstrosities over the walls and into our buildings, taking lives and legs and intestines and faces.

Did I mention that I hate cannonballs?

Molly Burkhart is a writer from Joplin, Missouri and the author of the blog Letters to Charlie.

Facing the Facts

By Sigge S. Amdal © 2004

Sometimes we all have to face facts. For instance: we are no longer in the stone age. But I think I would have enjoyed it. Living in the stone age, I mean. And don't give me any survival crap or anything, this ain't no romantic disillusion, post-modern romanticism or anything like it. I'm from the North of Norway, for Christ's sake! I can survive in the mountains. Even without hand-rolled tobacco.

I know what cold is, I know what work is, I know what starvation is.

So, why would I like to go to the stone age? I'm short, not muscular by any standards or especially friendly. How would I survive in a pack of savages? In a group of people who thought that stoning the guy with the glasses (I couldn't manage without those) was the greatest entertainment in a frosty evening when the camp fire was dying out and people were eager to keep warm by simple activities? I'll tell you. I'd be the crazy, spiritual guidance of the group. The tribe spokesman in front of the unseen spirits of the forest and the netherworlds. I'd never cut my hair and polish my nails to be claws, just to look cool, and I'd shout in spit and fury the divine messages that tongue of fire and images of dreams had told me. I'd be their one guarantee for success in a dark world of the unintelligible.

In short, I'd kick ass!

Somewhere along the road, when deer and moose were scarce and the new-born members of the group were growing hungry, I'd lead us on a sacred journey to a land where Gods of the Night and Muses of the Day had promised us prosperity, longevity and real, ultimate power (you got to have that). A country where, as they say, the rivers flowed of milk and honey and virgins hid behind every barren oak. It wouldn't be America. I was more thinking somewhere in the Mediterranean. Italy, perhaps.

Anyway, we'd trod along, me in the front with a long staff with a deer's skull on it, perhaps, and whenever someone would fall behind or wanted to go back to our deserted cave I'd break down in spasms, foam and roll my eyes back into my skull, drooling warnings from angered Gods with no names (Gods without names are a lot scarier than Gods with names, because you don't know how to deal with them if you should suddenly meet them. You can't shake hands with a God, and you shouldn't show them the discourtesy of not knowing their name. If you did either, you'd probably be sent somewhere bad!). The ones falling behind would shortly be running afront, I can assure you. Every now and then I'd point out a strange mountain formation, unusual weather condition or even a broken branch, that would all be divine signs that I was leading them in the right direction (straight to Paradise).

After a couple of years – I figure it can't take much longer walking from Norway to Italy – we'd get there, and the group's members would recognize me as their guarantee of real, ultimate power in this glorious land that I had given them. I would never lead the pack per se, but neither the previous nor the present leader would dare to speak against the Gods. If he did, we were all sure to die in horrible pain, and nobody wants to do that. Since I did neither hunting or hard, manual labour, I would live longer than the average male in the group, and the youngsters from the Old Country, now grown up, would tell their children about how I'd led them from the freezing mountains of the North to this, our land, thus ensuring me a steady, protected and respected position in my old days.

Around the age of 45-50 I'd pick out three girls around sixteen to couple and mate with, because we couldn't let my divine acquaintances go to waste, could we? And all would rejoice in the birth of my son. Or daughter. Either would be obscurely announced in my prophecies. I'd rejoice in the arms of my three sixteen year old women.

Yup. That's what it would be like, I can assure you. Assuming I had actually led them in the right direction, that is. If not, I’d be thoroughly fucked. To me it would've been a simple choice back then; be stoned as entertainment or rule the group for decades.

But, as I said, sometimes we all just have to face facts...!

Sigge S. Amdal is a word wanker from Oslo, Norway.

Walking to Coventry

By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004

14 Aug 2004, Vermont

The Joker slung his gear on his back, ditched his rental car and walked into the campgrounds. He headed north and parked in a town called Newport, then hitched a ride halfway and hiked the rest of the way in. The Joker was a determined guy and my source of information and inspiration to get to the show. He called and told me to turn around and drive back towards Coventry... that I should get as close as possible and hike because they were accepting walk-ins... just no more cars on the concert grounds. I told Molly and she got very excited. We stopped at the first exit we saw, gassed up, bought a map, and made the decision to drive back to the venue.

With all the Vermont state troopers handling the Coventry mess, the highways were empty allowing me to drive as fast as 90 mph to get back the lost time. Lori from Kentucky called. We kept getting disconnected, but she told me that she and her friends pulled over on the side of the road and were hiking in from I-91. She had grabbed cash, vodka, and a tent... and headed to the show. She told me that hundreds of other people were doing the same. Molly was bubbling over with giddyness with every mile we got closer to Coventry. We got as far as three exits south of Coventry when we reached a roadblock. The state trooper asked me where I was headed. I told him Newport and he gave me directions... the same route I had picked out on the map. It was a round about way and took almost two hours to loop around east then north and eventually back west into Newport, which was five miles away from Coventry. I drove down Main Street and out of the corner of my eye I saw a young girl, maybe ten years old with a sign on pink poster board: Phish Parking, Free Rides. I rolled up to a semi-empty parking lot next to a Shattuck's, a local car dealership.

"How much does it cost to park?"

"$25 per person."

"Do I pay you?"

She pointed at a heavy set man off to the side loading up a mini van. "You pay my Dad."

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and walked over to the guy. I handed him a $50 bill. He had his wife and three kids working the lot, trying to flag down Phisheads on Main Street.

"Ok, here's the deal. You can park here as late as Tuesday morning. I'll get you a ride as far as we can take you and you have to hike in the rest of the way. You're on your own for a ride back, but there's gonna be a shuttle that you can take. Or hitch a ride back. Plenty of folks will be looking to give rides on Monday morning. Tell them to take you to East Main Street."

We loaded our gear into the back of a van and was ready to roll when I realized that I had left the tickets in the glove compartment! I sprinted out of the van and snagged our two tickets. Whew. That was close. Six of us had squeezed into the van and we got a ride about three miles from the venue. We were let out at a road block. We each took a deep breath and started our three mile hike down Airport Road.

As I began the hike all I could think was, "Never give up. Keep moving forward."

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City.