November 30, 2004

November 2004 (Vol. 3, Issue 11)

It's national novel writing month and this is the NaNoWriMo issue featuring two novel excerpts. I included a bit of Gumbo, my latest novel. Dave Simanoff is sharing some of his novel, Good Boy. This issue also includes a few short stories. Richard Bulkeley is back with a tale about his Canadian adventures. We have two newly added staff writers; Asphnxma wrote up a South American street brawl... one of my favorite topics, and then there's Acceptance, a play written by Grubby. Sit back, enjoy, and please spread the good word about this site. Be sweet, McG.

1. Friends by Richard Bulkeley
The ugly lights went on at the bar, and the girl stood up. She was one of those interchangeable Canadian blondes who does their thing at bars all over this fine country... More

2. NaNo Excerpt: Gumbo by Tenzin McGrupp
In my gut I conceded that I might possibly die. But if I was going to meet my end, I'd rather die by the poor driving skills of a crazy drunk Limey with two teenaged hookers in the back seat than die a morbid prolonged death induced by nut cancer and lying in a sterilized hospital room with tubes and machines keeping me alive long enough to milk my insurance plans... More

3. NaNo Excerpt: Good Boy by Dave Simanoff
I wondered how long she could continue interjecting the word “totally” into every sentence. I counted. She said the word thirty-six times before she got to the front of the line, hung up and placed her order: some impossibly complicated coffee drink with low-fat milk and caramel... More

4. Cocoon by Asphnxma
There's no fear in the moment. In the moment, you react. Your reptile brain assumes command of the ship, ignoring the confusion and the blurred images as adrenalin courses through your system and the fight-or-flight instinct takes over... More

5. Acceptance by Grubby
When I was twelve years old
Going on thirteen,
Thirteen rising,
My parents told me I was adopted.
This was to help me because my mother,
My birth mother,
Had come looking for me
And my parents wanted to return me
Like an overdue book from the library... More

What A Long Strange Trip Its Been...

From the Editor's Laptop:

I apologize for the delay in this month's Truckin'. With the holidays and taking time off to write a new novel, I didn't have a huge window of time to prepare this issue. 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 Grubby and Asphnxma to the roster of poker blogging writers. Thanks again to old friends like Richard and Simanoff who submitted their work. And thanks to Jessica who helped edit this issue in record time.

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.


"Do not be too moral. You may cheat yourself out of much life. Aim above morality. Be not simply good; be good for something." - Henry David Thoreau


By Richard Bulkeley © 2004

The ugly lights went on at the bar, and the girl stood up. She was one of those interchangeable Canadian blondes who does their thing at bars all over this fine country. You know the type: naturally defined facial features, accentuated by judicious plucking and make up to look that much bit sharper; shoulder length straight blonde hair, and clothing somewhere on the sexy side of normal.

Well, maybe you don't know the type, but I do. Valeries (named after the very first tall slender Canadian blonde who I fell for) are a weakness of mine. I can't help it, when I meet one, I crank up the charm. It's a futile effort in some ways. Like the cats they remind me of, they'll receive all the attention and affection you're willing to give and return as much as they want to on their own terms.

This one was called Tanya, and she pretty much epitomised the Valerie type. Sure, they might all look a little different, have taken different career paths (at the same successful speed), and even enjoy different ways of keeping fit; but really, they are the same person with different life histories. It's not a unique feature, the large muscular guys over in the corner (and pretty much any other stereotype) can be described in much the same way, I just don't care about it as much because I don't tend to fall in love with large muscular guys.

From somewhere in her mini-handbag, she produced a pen. I hadn't asked for her number, I never do, but it looked like I was going to get it anyway, I usually do. She wrote it carefully on a scrap of paper and folded it in half. She tucked the paper in my shirt pocket and kissed me on the cheek.

"Call me, we'll go out tomorrow."

With that, she was gone, and I found the boys. E-Dizzle, the Racketeer, and Big Ian - obviously these aren't their real names, but it will be less confusing if I just bring out the poker nicknames now, instead of later.

The drive home was one of those scary-funny experiences that are best faced drunk. The Racketeer was legally sober but can barely drive automatic, let alone a stick-shift. Big Ian's poor truck was revving at about 6,000 most of the way and E-Dizzle and I were being thrown around the tray by some of the jerkiest driving since Thunderbirds.

When we got in the door, there was that crucial moment of "now what?" None of us quite wanted to go to bed yet, so I suggested playing some poker. All the essentials were right there on the kitchen table - a box of chips, a deck of cards, a bong with a ziplock bag of "oregano" beside it, and a bottle of CC (that's Canadian Club - a rather fine rye whiskey).

Drunk poker, especially when you're not playing for anything more important than bragging rights (although really, what could be more important than bragging rights?), isn't really about the game, it's about the experience.

Trash was talked, chips went from player to player, and as the game wore on we each adopted our own poker personalities. E-Dizzle was the bad-ass gangster (a tough role for a skinny white kid from Newfoundland). The Racketeer was the young college punk who would have worn sunglasses if he could have negotiated the stairs to find them. Big Ian was the quietly confident, self-assured guy and I was the dealer, some-time commentator, and acknowledged "poker expert." In other words, we all became something we weren't, or at least weren't usually.

The discussion wound its way around all the usual topics, with the bullshitting candour that alcohol encourages. Naturally, women were discussed, or at least their bodies were. In man-land, that place that even the most caring guy needs to visit sometimes, women are sex-objects, or sex-subjects, or both, I can't remember the rules of grammar well enough to know which would be the more intellectual pun.

"There weren't many hotties there tonight."

"That Tanya is pretty hot, though huh?"

"Yeah, how do you know her?"

"She lived in my building first year. She's kind of a bitch though, hey?"


"We were kind of going to hook up, and then she fucked my roommate behind my back."


"Dude, that's rough."

That's about as sensitive and caring as guys can get without women present. The translation that none of us missed, and would never make explict was that E-Dizzle had had a thing for Tanya and she had broken, or at least chipped his heart. We knew this, and expressed our solidarity without any awkard display of emotion. It's the way things work.

"Yeah, she made me take her phone number, but whatever."

I pulled the bit of paper out of my pocket, and brandished it as a trophy. The air wasn't exactly thick with anything other than aromatic smoke, but there was an element of tension undercutting the sweet fog. I had approached the line.

I casually balled up the paper and tossed it into the pizza box on the floor that we were using in an attempt to centralize the assorted debris of a two hour poker game and junk food extravaganza.

Life is defined by such moments. The seemingly little decisions that are fraught with significance. The times when an appropriate orchestral score would be appreciated to hint at how we're supposed to feel. Times like this where I symbolically affirmed my commitment to my friends and my willingness to share their hardships.

The game broke up not long after that, and by the next morning most of it had coalesced into a blob of fond memories that we would discuss whenever appropriate for the next month. The only thing we remembered clearly and would never discuss was my moment of self-sacrifice. As hard as it was, I didn't have any other choice.

Somethings you just have to do because they are what you have to do, even if it means throwing away the number of a girl who is interested and interesting, attractive and attracted, and any other clever pair of nouns you can think of to describe someone who you're happy to talk to for hours. Still, I had no trouble sleeping. Beer, weed, and a 20 hour day are quite capable of riding roughshod over the insomnia of real problems, so the minor consequences of being an honourable friend aren't an issue.

I called Tanya the next afternoon, copying her number from the crumpled piece of paper I rescued from a pizza box. I might be a good friend, but I'm not an idiot.

Richard Bulkeley is a nomadic philosopher, sometime barman, and ex-genius originally from Auckland, New Zealand.


By Tenzin McGrupp © 2004

On the morning of my third day in Montego Bay, I met a British ex-pat at the bar. He was unsuccessfully trying to get someone to bet him on an NBA game. Michael Jordan had returned to the Bulls after his retirement and his first home game was going to be aired that afternoon. He was looking for some action and no one at the beachside bar seemed interested.

“How about you mate? You like basketball?”

Beckett was a pale lanky fellow with very bad teeth. He had not shaved in weeks and he ran over to me when I nodded yes.

“Beckett Magruder,” as he extended his hand.

“McGrupp,” and I shook back.

“Ah, the American.”

“How did you know?”

“This is a small island and the resort is even smaller. I like the Bulls. Are you going to pick Indiana?”

“What’s the point spread?”

“You are not an amateur I see. Let’s say five points.”

“What’s the line in Vegas?”

“Ah, I've met a real gambler here.” He sipped his beer and ordered us another round. “Fifty American dollars, I’ll take the Bulls –4.”

We shook hands.

“When is the game on?”

“This afternoon. Meet me at the Pelican for an early supper. They’ll have the game on there. Satellite TV.”

“OK, where’s The Pelican?”

“Haven’t left the resort much have you? It’s on Gloucester Avenue across from Old Hospital Park.”

Beckett wandered off and I found Natasha lounging by the pool, thumbing through a new magazine. I told her about my encounter and she seemed less than enthusiastic to meet up with Beckett. She wanted to bask in her laziness and sloth. She saw no reason to leave the resort especially to watch a basketball game. I went by myself. I found Robert out front who had just dropped off two new guests.

“Mr. Tenzin, do you need any more smoke? How about Charlie?”

We shook hands and I told him I needed a ride to The Pelican. I sat in the front seat and he handed me another manila envelope.

“You like magic mushrooms Mr. Tenzin?”

“Why not?” as I popped a few and handed him a $20 bill.

The drive to The Pelican should have taken only fifteen minutes but there was a big accident and part of Gloucester Avenue was blocked by construction. I was a little late but when I arrived Beckett was sitting at the bar screaming at the television.

“God is back. How could you bet against God, mate?”

The God he was referring to was Michael Jordan.

“Even God gets a little rusty after a hiatus.”

Beckett ordered several rounds of beer and he insisted that he pay for them all. In between lulls in the game we chatted about each other’s lives. I didn’t really have too much to say especially after the mushrooms kicked in.

Beckett told me that his brother was a big time land developer and he owned the Mango Walk Villas near Paradise Pen. His brother was going to be partners with Jimmy Buffet when he opened up another chain of Margaritaville bars up the road from The Pelican.

“I know this guy who can sell me a farm for really cheap. It’s a papaya farm in Trelawny near the Martha Brae river. We should go out there tomorrow and take a look. The place is majestic. A place where you can see the mist hovering around you in the mornings. The mountains are all around and the land is fertile. All the fields are drip irrigated with adequate water from the river. All that is free too. The river runs through the largest part of the farm. There are diesel pumps and large storage tanks strategically placed throughout the property to ensure efficient irrigation at all times. The fields are planted in a staggered cycle to reach maturity and the reaping cycle in stages ensuring that production is consistently at 75% of capacity year round.”

“That sounded like a rehearsed sales pitch. How many other folks have you been trying to get to buy this place?”

“Just came into light in the last few days. I asked my brother but he’s all tied up with other investments. Besides he only likes to purchase waterfront properties. His company is buying up everything on the north coast.”

“I guess I can go check it out. But I’m not a farmer.”

“Neither am I. I really don’t enjoy papayas. But think about all the weed we could grow on the rest of the farm!”

He yelled at the screen after Michael Jordan missed a short jumper. The Bulls lost the game by six and I won $50. Beckett paid me off in Jamaican dollars and I was sure I got a less than fair exchange rate. I didn’t care too much since he had been buying me beers the entire game. I offered him some of the mushrooms. He popped two, chased them with his beer, and pounded his chest. I ate the rest and toasted to the Queen.

A couple of well dressed local women walked over to Beckett when the game ended. He took them to a table in the corner and we sat down for dinner. I figured out right away that those girls were underage hookers. They kept enticing me to spend a night with them. I decided to pass on the opportunity of contracting various mutations of syphilis.

"Once you have a Jamaican woman, you'll never dip your dick into an American girl ever again. Me? I've sworn off British women for life!" as he planted a big kiss on the lips of one of his companions.

“I’d like to. But I kinda have that girlfriend.” It was a great excuse and I avoided the disease infested prostitutes.

It was dark when we finally left The Pelican. Beckett drove me to my resort with the two hookers in the back of his jeep. I sat in the front seat while the mushrooms hit their peak. I was tripping hard and overwhelmed with one of those existentialist moments like, "How the fuck did I get here?"

He sped through more tourist traffic on Gloucester Avenue with a Pink Floyd tape blasting on his stereo and courageously avoided two accidents. In my gut I conceded that I might possibly die. But if I was going to meet my end, I'd rather die by the poor driving skills of a crazy drunk Limey with two teenaged hookers in the back seat than die a morbid prolonged death induced by nut cancer and lying in a sterilized hospital room with tubes and machines keeping me alive long enough to milk my insurance plans.

"Meet me at Royal Stocks tomorrow at noon and we’ll drive over to the farm."

I nodded.

"Oh and McGrupp. You got lucky today. God won't lose next time."

Beckett flipped me the middle finger and sped off with the hookers while I sang, "All in all, it's another brick in the wall."

Tenzin McGrupp is a writer from New York City. Gumbo is his fifth novel.

Good Boy

By Dave Simanoff © 2004

At eight o’clock in the morning, the line at the Starbucks on South Howard Avenue stretches from the cash register to the door. I stood about 20 spots away from the front of the line, behind a short skinny woman who was gushing loudly about President Bush into her cell phone.

“Oh yeah, I totally agree with the President,” she said. “It should totally be in the constitution. Homosexual marriage is totally wrong. It would totally ruin the institution of marriage.”

I wondered how long she could continue interjecting the word “totally” into every sentence. I counted. She said the word thirty-six times before she got to the front of the line, hung up and placed her order: some impossibly complicated coffee drink with low-fat milk and caramel. It was finally my turn to order. I pulled up to the counter next to Totally Girl and asked for a large coffee. That caught Totally Girl’s attention.

“That’s all you’re getting?” she asked me, incredulous. I didn’t know if she seemed surprised that someone would just order plain coffee at Starbucks, or if she just didn’t know that Starbucks sold anything that didn’t end in the letters –atte or –iato.

“You totally stood in line for like an hour, and that’s all you’re
getting?” she asked.

I nodded. In fact, the line at Starbucks moved quickly, thanks to the assembly line efficiency of the staffers behind the hissing espresso machine.

“That totally seems like such a waste,” she said.

I paused for a fraction of a second, wondering if I should say anything at all. Then I responded. “Perhaps there should be a constitutional amendment banning people from buying coffee in Starbucks.”

Her face went blank momentarily. Then she focused again as her expression clicked over from confusion to comprehension.

“You were totally listening to my conversation,” she said. “That’s so totally rude.”

“You were so totally loud,” I said, drawing out “totally” into three separate words: “toe,” “tall,” “lee.”

I continued: “I mean, if you’re going to yell into your cell phone like it’s a bullhorn, don’t get surprised when everyone else in line can hear you. People at other Starbucks can hear you. People at the original Starbucks, in Seattle, can hear you.”

Totally Girl opened her mouth, indignant, and started to talk. I cut her off.

“Deaf people can hear you. Dead people can hear you,” I said. Then, very slowly, from emphasis: “Gay people can hear you. And they think you’re a fucking idiot.”

I looked around. Everyone in Starbucks was staring at us. In the back of the room, one person began clapping. Then another. Then the guy behind me in line turned to Totally Girl and said: “He’s right, you know. You’re loud and you’re stupid. That’s always a bad combination.”

Totally Girl was shocked. She huffed, tucked her head into her chest, and stormed out of Starbucks without looking at anyone. The woman behind the counter handed over my coffee. She smiled at me.

“This,” she said. “is on the house.”

Dave Simanoff is a writer from Tampa, Florida. This is an excerpt from his NaNoWriMo novel Good Boy.


By Asphnxma © 2004

There's no fear in the moment. In the moment, you react. Your reptile brain assumes command of the ship, ignoring the confusion and the blurred images as adrenalin courses through your system and the fight-or-flight instinct takes over. The fear comes afterwards, when the neocortex resumes its usual place at the helm and parses the fact that your illusion of personal safety, the little lies you tell yourself so that you can function on a daily basis, is shattered.

For me, the blurred images were an orgy of thin, brown arms and clawed, dirty hands. No faces, though. If you had asked me ten minutes later to identify any one of the swarm of people who jumped me, I wouldn't have been able to. Sure, a peripheral whisper of their collective identity sank into my frenzied consciousness -- they were five or six of them, all male, all young (probably 15 or 16 years old) and all poor -- but in the moment, none of those details mattered. None of their faces mattered, either. My fight wasn't against their faces. It was against the arm hooked around my neck that yanked me backwards off of my feet in total surprise. It was against the hands scrabbling at the summer night air, questing to empty my pockets.

Pockets. What was in my pockets? Left pocket -- disposable camera. The hell with that. Right pocket -- ID and money. The money wasn't important, obviously, but at the time the ID seemed terribly important. Both of my hands clamped over it desperately, the driftwood of my identity in the vast ocean of a foreign country whose language I didn't speak. There was a shredding sound, the sound of one of my pockets being ripped along its seam. Seconds stretched into hours as the swarm frantically tried to pry the prize from within my grasp and I thrashed on the ground under their collective weight.

Then, with a solid thud and a surprised grunt of pain, the swarm scattered and melted back into the crowd. Eric had pushed his way free of two kids that were trying to pin him off to the side and had bullcharged one of the punks standing over me. Leading with his elbow. Into the kid's back. I'll bet that kid had a bruise the size of a baseball for a few weeks. Whatever the result, it was enough to scare off the rest of them. They weren't looking for a fair fight.

Time snapped back into its normal flow as Eric helped me to my feet. "You alright?"

Good question. My adrenalin levels were still up, but they were dropping enough that I could give myself a quick assessment. No blood, no aches, no broken bones, and I'd even managed to retain my ID and cash. The right leg of my shorts was in tatters, and the disposable camera was gone, but that was the extent of the damage.

"I think so," I answered as I brushed myself off. "They got the disposable, but I'm fine."

"Fuck the camera, dude."

"Yeah." Instinctual action faded back into my subconscious as my neocortex reasserted its dominance over my mind. With it came a few wisps of fear as I replayed what had just transpired. I had been yanked backwards by the neck, laid out flat on my back, and literally swarmed by a gang of poverty-stricken Brazilian youths intent on relieving me of anything of value they could find in my possession. What would have happened if I had not had the foresight to remove my grandfather's gold cross from my neck before leaving the hotel? What would have happened if they had been armed with a knife or shank?

"You ready to head back to the hotel now?" Eric's question brought me back to the here and now, thrusting the questions aside for a later time. He seemed eager to leave.

"Definitely." The night's Carnivale merriment had been obliterated for both of us. A phalanx of semi-nude Brazilian women samba-dancing down the street, their hips gyrating to the irresistible rhythm of the dance as they begged us to join them, would not have been enough to override our desire to be anywhere else. Rio de Janeiro had revealed its sinister side to us; it was time to go.

I stared down the impossibly wide Avenida Presidente Vargas to the closest intersection, a long half-block away. There were hundreds of other people milling around, traversing a well-trafficked and well-lit route between samba parades. Many were tourists who carried maps and digital cameras and wore fanny packs around their waists, the type of people that would cause poverty-stricken youths from the slums of Rio to think that the pockets of a street-savvy New Yorker might yield similar treasures. A few of the tourists had seen me and Eric get jumped, had witnessed the swarming thugs trying to rob me, but most were blissfully unaware of the attack, their own illusions of personal safety still firmly intact.

The hell with them and their ignorance. I envied it, but even with the swarm dispersed, I could still feel that tanned arm around my neck, lingering there, violating me with its phantom presence. It's what I would remember the most about the whole attack, even more than the myriad hands that pried at me. Thirty minutes later, an hour later, two hours later, the next day -- I would still feel the arm hooked around my neck, yanking me backwards and pinning me to the ground. That sensation would feed the fear that time and rational reflection would breed, the personal safety issues that would dog the rest of the trip.

At that moment, though, I thought I could shake off the ghostly sensation. I focused on a welcoming line of black cabs that quietly idled at the distant street intersection, whispering promises of safety. They were cabs that, using an amalgam of hideously bad Portuguese and passable Spanish, Eric and I could hire to take us back to Ipanema, to our hotel, to comfort, to a night's rest that would wash away the bad taste of the evening. I was already slipping back into the cocoon of comfort I fancied I would find in the confines of one of those cabs, any of those cabs. All we had to do was flag one down.

After about three or four steps towards the intersection, the sound of something clattering across the street behind me broke my concentration and brought me to a halt. The object that greeted my sight when I turned around was amusing on one hand, but on the other shredded whatever clinging gossamers of personal safety I still retained.

The swarm had thrown the disposable camera back at me.

Asphnxma is a writer from Brooklyn, NY. He is the author of the blog: Riding the F Train.



by Grubby © 2004


Cast of Characters

Isabel: early 40s

Setting: A large room.

Time: The present.


(At Rise: Isabel alone in front of an audience.)
When I was twelve years old
Going on thirteen,
Thirteen rising,
My parents told me I was adopted.
This was to help me because my mother,
My birth mother,
Had come looking for me
And my parents wanted to return me
Like an overdue book from the library.

They needed the money.

You know when people,
I don't know, just people,
Say their lives are worth more than the family dog?
Don't people say that?
It's a saying.
Sparky was the family dog.
Sparky the wonder dog,
Whose humping the green sofa cushion
Was rewarded by a friendly whack on the ass
And a soggy dog biscuit
That smelled like mint leaves and vomit.
His multicolored doggie treats,
I ate all of them
To get even.

My parents kept Sparky and got rid of me.
I never liked that dog.

But I was glad to be out of that house.
It was a full house.

My new mom was great.
We went horseracing.
We ate cheese fries.
We gossiped about boys.
We bonded.

I had the feeling,
Women's intuition, let's say,
That my new mom just wanted a friend
Her age.
Someone to talk to.
Someone to shop with.
She didn't want to deal
With all that poopy baby stuff.
At twelve years old I could at least change my own

That was a joke.

When my son was twelve...

No, when Gregory,
My son,
Was six,
He thought everyone had a specific number of heartbeats
To play with
Before you died.
You jump up and down,
You scream,
You win a thousand dollars,
You use up more heartbeats.
The Type A people,
The road ragers in traffic,
The blue-haired old women
Straddling three slot machines
At once --
They die sooner.
And men,
They always die sooner
Because they get too excited
Because of us women.

The first Gam-Anon meeting I went to...
That's Gamblers Anonymous,
Of course.
Gam-Anon or GA.
The first Gam-Anon meeting I went to
I walk in.
I speak to the head guy
Who wants me,
I can tell.
His tag says his name is Dick.
Make your own assumption.
Dick is trying to avoid eye contact
And asks questions from a Xeroxed booklet.
Personal questions
Have I ever lost more than I can afford from gambling.
Like when can you afford to lose anything?
He ticks them off one by one
And ticks me off
And I get in.
I make it.
I'm a winner.
I'm a member.
I belong.
The first circle of hell is a roundtable of losers.

These men,
All men,
Looking me up and down,
Trying to sit next to me,
Trying to score
Without betting.

I don't know.
These programs.
They're all the same,
You know?
I forget what I'm not supposed to do.
It's a haze.
They slowly creep together into something
Like overeating alcoholics who gamble for cigarettes.

Is there a twelve-step for twelve-step programs?
I'll bet
There's an Anonymous Anonymous.
Or for sex addicts,
Is there a Fucking Anonymous?
And then would they be called
Fuckin' A?
I want to be part of that group.
Fuckin' A.

They push God on you
Even if you don't believe.
God grant me this,
God grant me that.
We're human.
We've got problems.
God created us with problems
So He could feel superior.
God as the pitboss
And the House has the advantage.
Thank you, God.

Man can make mistakes.
Women, too.
But more men.
It is okay, so sayeth the Good Book.
After all, we're only human.
Jesus died for your sins.
Well, Christ,
I was born in 1960.
He sure didn't die for my sins.

In the meetings.
In the meetings
You form a circle
At the end
You hold hands.
Clammy, sweaty, dead fish hands,
Hands of strangers,
Hands of new best friends,
And you read out loud from that stupid little book.
That book.
Their Bible.
You hug people you wouldn't hire to mow your lawn
Or babysit your son.

I've been to enough of these things
That I can recite the virtues by heart.
"God grant me the strength to --"
There's God again.
But they're just words,
They don't mean anything.
They never did.
If I said anything enough times,
I'd get it.
I think.

But don't let me talk you new people
Out of joining.

It's all about believing.
To feel
You're a part of something,
A community.
I guess.

My husband and I --
My ex-husband and I --
We came back from one of these sessions.
Not a step program,
But it might as well have been.

There was hugging.
There's always hugging
And crying
And jelly doughnuts.
Whatever anyone did,
It was okay.
It's okay.
You're human, you're coping, it's natural.

It made me feel abnormal,
Not human,
Not natural
For not fitting in with the crying freaks.

I'm not talking about you.

My husband said,
"See, Isabel?"
That's my name, Isabel.
"She ate...
That woman ate four pints of Chocolate Chip Cookie
Dough in one sitting
While watching back-to-back `Ally McBeal' reruns.
Just like you."
So it's okay.
Everything's okay.

Everything's not okay.
She has problems.
She's different.
Just because someone else is doing it
Doesn't give me the right to imitate
Or pig out
Twenty-four seven.
As Gregory,
My son,
Would say.

I'm like her.
So I'm like them.
So I'm not alone.

We kill criminals to teach them
Not to kill again.
Negative behavior

My son Gregory...
Gregory my son
Not Gregory my husband...
My Gregory,
When he was twelve,
Going on thirteen,
Thirteen rising,
He climbed up on the roof.

His version of running away from home
Was to hide in plain sight
Like Sherlock Holmes said.

We didn't know.
We didn't realize
He was gone.

And so
When it got dark,
When he got lonely,
And cold,
He came down on his own.
But his foot caught in the drainpipe
And he slipped
And fell
On the driveway
On his head.

He wasn't born with many heartbeats
To play with.

I have to think that.
That has to be true.
He was happy.
We were happy.
Why would he jump?

He was wearing Garanimals.
Remember those?
The clothes that matched
So you don't have to think,
You don't have to feel,
What goes with what.
But his clothes didn't match.
They never did.
He always wore black
With his Garanimals.

It's funny.
Is it eight, ten years now?
The things you think about
At the oddest times.
Time flies when you're...

When Gregory died,
The doctors gave my husband,
My then-husband,
One hundred capsules of Paxil, fifty capsules of Zyban,
twenty-five capsules of hypericum,
And a partridge in a pear tree.

"Just don't take more than one
More than one day in a row,"
They said.
Because they couldn't tell us
How to feel.

You lose a child
And you lose your world.
Dealer wins,
Dealer has twenty-one,
Game over.
They can't tell you
How that feels.
It's better to feel nothing.

My friends
Actually said:
"You can just get pregnant again."
"At least you have another son."

The doctors were right.
It's better to feel nothing.

I painted a smile,
Thanks for the casserole,
It was delicious.
Do you want the Tupperware back?
No, thanks.
I'm okay.
I appreciate it,
That's sweet of you,
But I'm fine.

That's what they'll tell you to say.
You're okay,
He's okay,
I'm a sack of withered flesh.
Pay no attention to the haggard woman
In the back corner
Whose face is drained of tears
Like a dried-out sponge.

She's going through a loss.

At the funeral
I couldn't stop laughing.
Thinking of Garanimals
What they're really thinking,
The people,
My friends.

What they're really thinking
Thank goodness it didn't happen to me.

And that night
And maybe the next night
I'm sure
They hugged their children a little tighter
And said a little prayer.
I hope.

So a little gambling
Or drinking
Or smoking
Here and there
To numb the pain,
To pass the time,
To take your mind off of
And you'll even win sometimes.
You will.
Playing the slots
Or the tables.
Or life.
It's okay.
It's not so bad.
You can afford it.
Better than the alternative,
Whatever that is.

But I.

I haven't done drugs,
Any kind of drugs,
Even prescribed by the doctors,
Even cold capsules,
In three months.
That's important.

I don't need to confess
Or say Hail Marys
Or pray to Saint John's Wort.

Three months.
Whatever you're here for.
It's longer than you think.
And it's a start.
I'm not sure why,
But it is.

(Isabel holds up a chip she's been clutching in
her hand. For the first time, she smiles --
fully and honestly.)

This chip is a symbol.
It's plastic.
Can't even gamble with it.

But you get more for doing nothing.

Three months.
It's worth it.

And I have to say,
It feels good.

This isn't for God
Or my family
Or Sparky the wonder dog.
It's for Gregory,
My son.
Thank you.
Thank you very much.
Fuckin' A!

(Isabel raises the chip into the air.)


Grubby is a degenerate gambler and writer from Poker Grub.