December 03, 2008

December 2008, Vol. 7, Issue 12

Welcome back to the year-end issue of Truckin'.

1. The Last Christmas by Paul McGuire
I adore the way you look. But your mother disapproves. It's that black shoe polish you have on your lips. When I was your age, the only people who dressed like that were the whores who stood on corners down in the Mission.... More

2. I Remember Christmas by May B. Yesno
I looked down at my cup, lifted a hand to the waitress for another coffee and started looking around the joint, noting the yellow brown walls a glass could stick to, if you placed a glass on it, and listened to the Christmas music being piped in... More

3. American Half-Breed by David Peterson
It is bitter cold and everywhere around me is ice and dirty snow. At my side is one of my prized possessions, an American Standard Fender Precision Bass Guitar. I don't want to do what I'm about to do, but I've run out of options. I open the pawn shop door and feel a blast of heat and the smell of tobacco smoke and desperation... More

4. Of All The Bars In NYC by Betty Underground
You know when you see someone and maybe it is the job you do or the frequency you travel to the same places, but you sort of recognize them and for some reason you can't put them in the context of where you are right then... More

5. Corner of Hopelessness by Paul McGuire
I have this odd fear that I'm going to get shanked by a gangbanger with a spork or mugged by one of the homeless people who live behind the dumpster and feast on half-eaten Jumbo Jacks and pieces of raggedly yellow leaves that they pass off as lettuce... More

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

From the Editor's Laptop:

Thanks again for wasting your precious time with Truckin'. We have a special year-end issue with a couple of Christmas themed stories including a submission from David Peterson, who is making his Truckin' debut. Veteran writers Betty Underground and May B. Yesno returned with a couple of standouts. And I contributed two stories this issue; a piece of fiction I wrote about my neighborhood in L.A. and the other is a dramatic Christmas story about a dysfunctional family.

Truckin' needs your help with some grassroots promotion. Please tell your friends about your favorite Truckin' stories. The writers definitely appreciate your support, as do I. Spread the word on your blogs, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and whatever social networking sites that you are addicted to.

Also, please let me know if anyone is interested in being added to the mailing list.

Thanks to the writers for writing for free. They expose their guts, blood, and soul to the universe. For that, I'm eternally grateful. The dedication to their art inspires me and I hope it inspires you too.

Be good,

"It is difficult to keep quiet if you have nothing to do." - Arthur Schopenhauer

The Last Christmas

By Paul McGuire © 2008

Gertrude sat down at the head of the long table. A dozen of her family members slowly sat in the other seats. It was her eighty-fifth Christmas and the twelfth Christmas without her husband Harold. He used to sit at the head of the table in their old Victorian house in San Francisco. For almost a decade she left the seat vacant until one Easter Sunday lunch when she finally achieved a sense of closure and was ready to move on.

Gertrude's sight was impeccable for someone her age, however she was slowed down by a minor stroke and her hearing had deteriorated. She needed the assistance of a hearing aid. Most of her family bickered on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas and she always had to sit through it. She coped by turning off her hearing aid to tune everyone out.

When Gertrude was younger and in her seventies, she would drink steadily throughout the day and evening in order to block out the dissonance of a dozen people that barely liked each other but somehow all shared the same blood. She stashed small airplane bottles of vodka around the house and would pour them into her orange juice when her relatives were not looking. After her second stroke, the doctor gave her a blood thinning medication that prevented her from drinking. She really didn't miss the booze as much as she desperately wanted to escape from her own family.

Turning off the hearing aid gave Gertrude the rare opportunity to carefully observe her family. They say that 90% of communication is non-verbal. Even though she was the mother of five children, nine grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren, she never really got to know them until she tuned everything out and watched every single one of them. Gertrude sat and stared for hours and hours over many family gatherings such as July 4th in Lake Tahoe or her grandson's college graduation or her great-granddaughter's second birthday party.

Gertrude's oldest daughter Beatrice tapped her on the arm. Gertrude slid in her hearing aid.

"I'm going to say grace now, Mother."

It took almost a minute for everyone to settle down. Beatrice closed her eyes and began a prayer. It lasted longer than Gertrude would have preferred and she slammed her hand down on the table. Beatrice was the most startled and Gertrude's grandson Dylan burst out laughing.

"This is my house. This is my table. This is my last Christmas. We will not be saying grace this year."

"Mother! We're not setting a good example for th--"

"Not another word from you, Beatrice. This is my last Christmas and I have a few things to say before I die."

"Mother, please, that's not the kind of thing we want to discuss around the children," pleaded her youngest daughter Iris.

"They are old enough. It's time that they learned the truth about life and this cruel world. Like that their Grandmother will die, just like their mother and father will someday as well each of each of them."

Gertrude stood up and pointed at her twin granddaughters. They were ten years old and adored their grandmother. They burst into tears when Gertrude told them she was going to die.

"Mother, look what you're doing!" screamed Iris as she rushed to her twins and quickly consoled them. "You're disturbing the children."

"That's what's wrong with the next generation in this country. They're too soft. You're all bad parents for protecting them too much. For hiding the truth from them. They won't respect you. They will seek out the truth elsewhere. From the TV or from newspapers or from the computer."

Gertrude turned to her granddaughter Ali. She had recently ended an Emo phase and was now heavily into Goth. Ali's purple hair and black lipstick amused Gertrude because she knew it pissed off Beatrice.

"How old are you Ali?"

"I turned twenty in September. Don't you remember? We went to the Japanese Tea Garden."

"Yes, I do remember and that was one of the best days I had this year. It seems that the older I get, I have less and less good days. This year? I had ten or twelve at the most. Last year, I had twenty. And the year before? Forty. I counted them. At the end of the day I walk over to the calendar in the kitchen and draw a circle around the date if it was a good day. I draw an X if it was a bad day. The older I get, the more Xs there are. I can't wait to die. You're twenty? It's hard to believe that I was your age in 1943. And do you know what I did on Christmas in 1943? I was crying my eyes out and tried to kill myself."

"Sounds just like Ali!" sniped Dylan. "Trying to slit her wrists while listening to Death Cab."

"Fuck you, tool!" screamed Ali.

"My first husband died in the Pacific. We got pregnant shortly before he shipped out, but I had a miscarriage. We were going to try again as soon as he returned but that never happened because the Japs killed him. Then we lost Sammy in 1968."

"Who's Sammy?" asked one of the twins.

"He was your uncle who, um..." Iris couldn't continue.

"Sammy was my son. He was your mother's brother. Your uncle. He was my favorite and he died in Vietnam. It took me the better part of two decades to find closure and accepting the fact that I lost the love of my life forever and he's never coming back. As soon as I made peace with my misery, then God took away one of my children. They way I see it, he still owes me. Twice. So I'll be dammed if we're going to sit and listen to Beatrice rambling on about his divine love."

"That's enough, Mother," muttered Phil.

"Finally, he speaks! My oldest son actually said something without first asking his wife."

Phil's wife Julia's jaw dropped.

"I'm sorry sweetie," said Gertrude as she frowned at her daughter-in-law. "I adore you like one of my own children. But Phil can't get out of bed in the morning without you telling him which way to go. He's been like that since he was a little boy. It's all my fault. I made him that way. And when I saw how he turned out, I vowed to raise the rest of my children differently. Are you happy Phil? I always wonder because you haven't lived a day in your life that you can call your own. That's not living, son. I wish I could say that I'm proud of what you've done, but I can't. Because you have created a life and a career that your wife wanted. I'm afraid that you'll never wake up and never escape the same trap that I fell into. My entire life was dictated by your father and when he died, I had not a clue how to live or what to live for."

Dylan dished out a couple of pieces of ham and started eating. Beatrice tried to stop him.

"Oh, let the boy eat! Look at him. He's skin and bones. You're not on drugs, are you Dylan? Is that why you are so skinny? Smoking the marijuana? Your Uncle Bradley was nothing but skin and bones. He starved himself when he was your age, but that was because he was gay."

"Mother!" screamed Beatrice and Iris in unison.

Bradley shrugged his shoulders. "She's right."

An eerie silence fell over the dining room as everyone turned to Bradley, who unleashed an elongated sigh of relief.

"But you were married," said Phil. "I was there. I was your best man."

"Twice! You were married twice!" added Beatrice.

"Yes. Two times too many. I have two ex-wives. I married the first one right after college because I felt pressure to be normal. It didn't work out and she left me. I knocked up the second one and that's why we got married. That one was doomed to fail. I never liked women. I barely like men."

"Wow, Uncle Bradley is gay? Way cool," said Dylan.

Ali pulled out her cell phone and twittered, "OMG. Just found out my uncle B iz gay! :o and my Grams is hella drunk!"

"But are you happy now, Bradley?" asked Gertrude as she sat down.

"Yes. Yes, I am Mother. For the first time in I can't remember," he said with a smile. Gertrude smiled back.

"I could tell. Just how you walk and talk. I'm proud of you. At least one of my children is happy. It took you forty or so years but you finally became a real man unlike your brother who can't scratch his ass without his wife's permission. I'm sorry, Julia. I adore you so much but you turned my oldest into a robot."

Gertrude took turns berating and chastising each of her children for their major character flaws and told them why their problems negatively affected her grandchildren.

"Beatrice, take a good look at your daughter. There's a reason she looks that way."

"You don't like how I look, Grams?"

"I adore the way you look. But your mother disapproves and it's a sad fact but society judges you on how you look. It's that black shoe polish you have on your lips. When I was your age, the only people who dressed like that were whores who stood on corners down in the Mission."

"I can't stand what she's done with herself. When are you going to act normal?" screamed Beatrice.

"Normal? Me? Have you looked in the mirror recently? You're a crazy Jesus freak! You go to church four times a week. Every other word is 'God this' and 'Jesus that'. There's a reason why Dad left you and you're madly in love with Father Fred. And I'm sorry, but he tried to touch my boobs a couple of times. He's a fuckin' pedophile!"

"See what you've done?" screamed Beatrice as she pointed at Gertrude.

"What I've done? That's your mess. Not mine. You're the one who ran to God in search of life's answers. You're hiding in the church instead of living in the real world. No wonder your daughter has rebelled. Just like Iris did."

"I'm sorry, Mother," said Iris.

"You don't have to apologize, Iris. After being exposed to all that flower power as a little girl, I knew it was inevitable that I'd lose you in the 1970s. But did you have to marry that loser?"

"Which one?" said Iris as the room erupted with laughter.

"The first, second, fourth, and fifth ones. I actually liked number three."

"Which one was that, Aunt Iris?" asked Ali.

"Yeah, I'm dying to know, Mom!" said Dylan.

"The bullfighter?" blurted out Bradley. "He was cute."

"Javier wasn't a bullfighter. He was from Spain and he tuned pianos. I dumped him after three weeks when I started dating the bass player from Cheap Trick."

Gertrude turned to the twins and said, "Your mother has the biggest heart in the world. But that's her problem. She loves too much. She shared her bed way too quickly with way too many men. Don't end up like your mother. It's my fault. We didn't give her enough love growing up. She had to seek validation in other ways through drugs and men. Too many men to count. She lost her power that way. Someday, you girls will learn that your power is between your legs."

One of the twins looked down and touched her crotch.

"Yes, darling. Your cookie. It's very important that you don't give it up right away to a man. It will be hard. But you have to make him earn it. You'll soon realize that you'll gain remarkable power over men by withholding your cookie. You'll get them to do whatever you want but when you give it up all the time, you'll lose all control. Take a few tips from your Aunt Julia. She has your Uncle Phil wrapped around her finger."

"Grams telling my twin cousins to not give up their cookies," twittered Ali.

"I don't like cookies," joked Bradley.

"And Dylan," said Gertrude as she shook her head. "You remind me of Sammy."

"The dead Uncle?"

"Dylan!" screamed Iris.

"What? He's dead. Right, Grams?"

"Yes, he is and you'll be dead too if you keep making mistakes like you've been doing. I never liked your name. Your mother was a hippie and she loved that Jew with the harmonica."

"Bob Dylan was Jewish?" asked Dylan.

Iris shrugged her shoulders.

"I know you got that girlfriend of yours pregnant," said Gertrude.

"Wait, um, how did you kn-," said Dylan.

"Let's stop right there," said Iris.

"I knew the second I met her. It was all over her face. Pregnant women glow. I'm happy that she had enough sense to get an abortion. The last thing you need right now is to have a child, because you are still a child yourself. Dylan, when your grandfather was your age, he was fighting Nazis in Europe. He was killing Germans with his bare hands in France. Before he died, your grandfather told me that when he was fighting in Holland, he bit off the nose of one Nazi and watched him bleed to death. Then your grandfather stole his watch which he later lost in a brothel in Paris. And God knows what sort of horrors my son Sammy endured when he was in Vietnam. He was your age when they dropped him off in the jungle. He never made it out alive. And you? Look at you. You need a haircut. You dress like one of the negroes from Oakland. Son, you're white. Your mother is too timid to tell you, so I will. It's time to grow up. You've had every possible advantage for a successful life. You had a life of privilege handed to you and what did you do? You impregnated the first girl who spread her legs for you. How stupid can you be, boy? Ask your mother. Ask your father. Ask your aunts and uncles and they will tell you the truth... that having children ruined their lives. It killed their passion."

Silence fell over the table for a couple of minutes.

"I brought Bradley, Philip, Iris, and Beatrice into this horrible world and destroyed any chance for me or for them to have a good and happy existence. By tainting their lives, I in turn tainted the lives of their offspring and so forth. I'm sorry that this curse has to continue. I'm the reason all of you are here today in this miserable world. Merry Christmas, everyone. If there is a just God, he'll make sure it's my last one."

Paul McGuire is a writer originally from New York City who sometimes lives in Los Angeles.

I Remember Christmas

By May B. Yesno © 2008

Ever read the arguments about how folks die at a higher rate during the last quarter of the year as compared to the rest of it?

Oh, I don't mean how they die, because as far as I know there is only one way to do it, and that's to stop living. I suppose I'm really talking about the rate at which they die. And why would I bring up people dying when I'm trying to tell a Christmas story? I think I'll say this to make you understand why I might bring up dying around Christmas time--have you ever heard "Jingle Bells," or maybe "Jingle Bell Rock," or "I Saw Mama Kissing Santa," or . . . well, you get the point. You either die, or live it down, one of which you'll surely do. As long as you don't think about next year, then you'll surely expire. Though this new thing called "the web" has us not listening to the radio as much as in the past. Or maybe technology, what with the "subscribe now" radio channels from space and all. But it's hard to escape the mind-numbing repetition.

What brought all this on?

The season somewhat. Yep. I was sitting in the cafe the other day, listening to some of that junk cheer the piped-in radio was producing while people-watching. It occurred to me to take a good look around the place--a thing I'd never really done before. Remarkable. I'd gotten to the point of puking about the life choices that had brought me to sitting in a place with walls sticky enough to hold a glass if you pressed one against it, paint the yellow brown of tobacco smoke and no tile on the floors. God, what would Momma say, seeing this?

Still, the coffee was fair, the price was right, and it was warm. Even so, you needed to wear your coat and hat to keep them from disappearing. Then an old boy came in. I'd seen him around, now and then, never in company, just having coffee, listening and watching the activities going on. He didn't seem to be a nut or anything, just an old man. I've often wondered about that; that being an old man thing. How'd you go about that? I mean, how'd you go about ending up in a run-down cafe and all?

I'd raised a finger the waitress's way for a refill just before the old man stumped his way in and was getting it when the old man looked my way and lifted an eyebrow. So I told the waitress to bring the old man a cup and, looking his way, waved toward an empty chair. He accepted and sat.

After a nod of greeting and some wiggling to get his coat unbuttoned and his hat pushed to the back of his head, he wrapped his hands around that handle-less cup, alternating one over the other. He had not been wearing gloves. After about the third switch of his hands and in time for a refill, we got to talking about football, the silly stuff going on at City Hall, and pot holes in the street when he asked if I'd noticed that it was a whole lot easier to hide in a city than out in a small town.

To say the conversation paused would be putting a point on it. I just looked at him staring at the salt shaker. Finally, he became aware, shook his head and said that it is very easy to exist without neighbor friends in a large town than it would be elsewhere, you know?

I nodded. It seemed to make some sense that a man would be able to hide in plain view in a city. With my nod, he asked where I was from and other mildly personal stuff. Me? I did much the same. Bonding sort of questions, I guess you'd say; though how you stay impersonal while trading personal information is an art. I don't suppose I'll forget the old man now.

We went back and forth some, when the old man asked about my Christmases, or some of them anyway. That was pushing my boundaries, so to speak, and the old man seemed to recognize that and started to speak of his family from long ago - to me, very long ago.

"One of the first Christmases I can remember," he said, "was way back. My grand-dad was a barber. At the time it wasn't frowned on for someone to live in the same building as their work place. So, grand-dad lived along side of and behind the shop."

The old man chuckled. "It was some time later I figured out that the whole place was a house with one room enlarged and converted to the barber shop. It only made sense, really. How much space do you need for a one-man barber shop anyway?"

I nodded some to indicate I was listening, and the old man picked it up again.

"I remember," he continued, "that this was the day before Christmas, or maybe a couple of days before-- I've never been really sure, being so young like. Though I am sure that the old man was sick from something. That particular day, Mother hauled me and my brother over to his place and told us to stay outdoors. Now, don't get the wrong idea. It was somewhere in California and it was warm, even though we wore light coats. So we stayed out. Mom had left the back door open though, so I could see inside. Could see the bedroom, leastwise, the bed where grand-dad was laying, the dining and kitchen area and off there to my right, the door to the bathroom.

Mom went in and seemed to be talking to grand-dad, then her voice went up a bit and she commenced ranting on him for making a mess of himself and his bed clothes and how much a pain he was in her life. I couldn't make out the words grand-dad answered.

I don't rightly remember the words she was using, other than they were some hurtful to me and I didn't know what she was talking about. Still, I saw her reach and jerk down grand-dads underpants, telling him how filthy he was. After a bit more jawing, she scooped him up and started carrying him toward the kitchen area, me thinking she was bringing him out, but she didn't. She turned toward the bathroom, him all scrawny and pasty white looking.

I knew looking at him with his head flopped across her shoulder (he stood over six foot four) and his dirty boxers dangling around his right ankle that he was bad sick. Well, anyway, she managed to get the bathroom door open and plopped him on the crapper. He was all limp and limber like spaghetti, drooling on a dirty T-Shirt. She told him she was leaving him there, so he'd have to make it back to bed himself. I ran away from the door as she turned out of the bathroom.

I didn't run so much as just turn my back, hiding behind a tree next to the door where I could still see.

I peeked around and watched Mama go back into the bedroom and pick up grand-dad's pants. I remember the belt hanging down like it was coming loose, but Momma rifled through the pockets, putting change and stuff into her pocket. Then she found his wallet, took a bunch of stuff from it, and put that into her purse, replacing the wallet. She threw the pants in the corner and started going through his personals box-- the cuff links and rings and things-- putting all that stuff in her pockets as well. Pretty soon she came to the yard and called us boys to come. We were leaving.

I don't remember where we spent Christmas that year, but in the next day or so, Momma told us that grand-dad had died and that we'd be attending his funeral next week. She did take me with her to the hospital when she identified the body down in the morgue and signed the papers.

Well, you can imagine my reaction to this story from the old man. I sat silent, watching as he stood and buttoned up his coat and set his hat straight.

He nodded, turned and left the cafe. I watched as he stopped outside the door, shrugged himself deeper into his coat, shoved his hands into coat pockets, looked up and down the sidewalk both ways, heaved a deep breath and started off to his right.

I looked down at my cup, lifted a hand to the waitress for another coffee and started looking around the joint, noting the yellow brown walls a glass could stick to, if you placed a glass on it, and listened to the Christmas music being piped in.

May B. Yesno is a writer from Fresno, CA.

American Half-Breed

By Dave Peterson © 2008

Ghosts of Christmas past.

Here's something I never told you before. It's 21 December 1991, I'm walking through a flat, gray day. It is bitter cold and everywhere around me is ice and dirty snow. At my side is one of my prized possessions, an American Standard Fender Precision Bass Guitar. I don't want to do what I'm about to do, but I've run out of options.

I open the pawn shop door and feel a blast of heat and the smell of tobacco smoke and desperation. There is a line of people this close to Christmas-- junkies, boozers, and people like me. Or maybe I'm like them. Sometimes the lines are blurred. A man with bad teeth asks me what I've got. The case is tattered but it's what's inside that counts. He barely hides his surprise when he flips the lid but in typical pawn broker fashion he tells me, "This is junk man, we can't use it."

It's a lie. It's a lie he tells all the time to thieves who have no idea what they possess. I know better though and he soon realizes this. He sees that I'm cold and I'm broke and scared at the thought of turning up for the family holiday empty-handed.

"Fifty bucks kid, highest I can go."

"FIFTY? this is an American Standard Fretless, when was the last time you saw one of these?"

"O.K., look it's Christmas, I'll go to a hundred."

$100 for a $1,500 classic instrument. A month to return with the original hundred plus interest or they keep it. Great. Fuck. I wonder if he was trying to do me a favor?

My engineer boots have steel toes and steel shanks in the sole. They magnify the cold on my feet. My leather jacket gets stiff with cold. I think about hopping on a bus but I'm too pissed off and I don't want to waste dough on a two mile ride. Instead, I go into a liquor store and buy a pack of smokes. I walk and I smoke alternating hands in pockets. It seems like everything is uphill, slippery, and barren.

The band has a gig on New Year's Eve which will be the next time I see any money. Perhaps the most interesting problem is I've just hocked the instrument I play on stage most of the time. I have an old upright bass, but as of yet I haven't really learned to play it. I've got problems. I need gifts for my family. I need some food and I'm beginning to worry about frostbite. The gifts were similar in nature. To my youngest brother, a pint of Jim Beam Rye whiskey and ten bucks. Merry Xmas bro! The others received things they liked. I did the best I could.

I spent the next few days in a frenzy, trying to learn to play the upright bass, wondering why the holidays always made me feel so alone. I mooched smokes, booze, and meals wherever and whenever I could. The musicians in Denver took care of each other in times like these. Marilyn, the hippie who owned the Mercury Cafe, was a total sucker for musicians. Anytime you were broke and torn up she'd be there with a hot bowl of soup and some homemade bread. Pete Nalty was always good for cheap gin and conversation.

On December 23rd, I was going slowly insane in my tiny apartment. It was on the ground floor and had radiator heat which meant it was always around ninety degrees inside. Opening a window at night or when I wasn't home was asking for trouble so I didn't dare. I had to get out. I had to do something.

It was a rare night when all of my friends were otherwise committed or out of touch. I made the five block walk to the Cricket. The band played there. I knew the bartender; my band paid this guys rent and we always took care of him. I knew he'd take care of me.

"Jeff, I've got ten bucks can you get me loaded for ten bucks?" It was a lie, I had fifteen, but I wanted a slice of pizza on the way home.

"For you? Yeah, man."

I forked over my ten dollar bill and Jeff put the money in the tip jar. He filled a glass with ice and whiskey. It burned on the way down. First thing I'd actually felt in days. The regulars were there. Might have been the only time I ever really talked to Denver Joe Vasquez. He was always friendly towards me but mainly by association to my brother. Joe loved my brother for reasons I didn't understand until much later in life.

Joe and I talked for a bit. Made fun of the college kids in the place and agreed that the band that night couldn't finish soon enough for either of us.

I had no idea how many drinks I had, but time passed and I went from feeling warm and mellow to wondering if I might pass out in the street on my walk home. I stumbled to the bathroom and puked violently. I came back to the bar and Jeff had switched my whiskey out for a beer. He nodded knowingly.

Just then as fate would have it, the booking agent for the Cricket walked in the door. His name was Rick and booking bands was really a second job for him. He also dealt blow and God knows what else.

"Rick, I got a fiver and I'm too fucked up to walk home, straighten me out will ya?"

"What? Dude, I got no idea what you're talking about."

"Come on Rick, I know."

As a rule, I didn't do drugs and the Denver music community knew this. Rick looked really surprised. Or maybe I was yelling.

A few minutes passed. I nursed my beer and swayed on my barstool struggling to stay awake.

"Hey Dave," Rick called. "Let's go back to the office and see when we can get you guys here in January and February."

I followed him to the back room and we actually made some dates for the band. With business concluded Rick says, "You got that fiver?" I pulled the crumpled bill from my pocket.

"I don't want you making a habit of this."

Fuckin' dealer preachin' at me. This was low.

I nodded as Rick tapped out two short lines on the desk. I felt disgusted with myself...for a minute anyway. This was just enough blow to put me back on my feet. I thanked my dealer and walked out of the office. I was fine, better than fine. I felt great.

With closing time came despair. I was wide awake and had nowhere to go but home. I paced in my apartment until well after sun up, when I finally threw caution to the wind and opened a window and went to sleep.

There is no hangover in the world like a coke hangover. I woke up as the sun was setting on Christmas Eve. Someone would be coming for me on Christmas morning to take me to my grandparents' house. The holiday would come and go. There would be commiseration and food and laughter. Somehow, no matter how dysfunctional my family was, Christmas always managed to be pretty good.

I never got the loot to get my bass out of hock. Gigs and money came and went. Shitty little jobs I picked up with good intentions never panned out.

That bass is out there somewhere. My blood, my sweat still on the instrument. I hope someone is playing it. Loving it more than I did.

David Peterson is an ex-soldier, musician, geek, degenerate, and a complete jackass hoping to one day get what's coming to him.

Of All The Bars In NYC

By Betty Underground © 2008

When in New York, pretending to be a New Yorker comes easy. I like that when I walk fast, no one asks, "Why you in such a hurry." That when I jaywalk, I am part of a crowd—I do not stand out like someone disrespecting the law. And when you go out at 11:30 p.m. on a Monday for a cocktail, no one judges you. In fact, you are an early bird.

We left the hotel and headed east to the Village. We didn't have any particular destination, but in New York, you don't need one.

We made it a few blocks before the wind chill factor had cut through our layers and we reverted back to whiny Californians. We were in search of a quiet place to drink and chill and the amber lights from the bar across the street looked warm and welcoming. That and the crowd was sparse enough so that we could actually sit. Close to empty was more like it.

Sparse was also how we described the service. We sat at the bar and waited. And waited. I saw movement in the small kitchen off the right side of the bar but couldn’t catch the guy's attention. There was a waitress out back having a smoke but other than that it was just the two of them.

The interior was decorated with what looked like a pile of garage sale cast offs. License plates. Bad art on the walls. Pictures that resembled the ones that come with the frame and some old photos you might see on a college dorm wall. A pair of antlers hung over the bar, slightly off center. I chuckled, I would have totally hung those antlers slightly off-center too. There was a jukebox and a rusty old gas station pump tucked in a corner. Eclectic. A wee bit cluttered too.

We gave it a little more time but got annoyed with waiting so we decided to duck into the place next door instead.

Reaching for the door handle, we heard a voice.

"Sorry to keep you waiting ladies, first round is on me."

My friend turned to me with an ear-to-ear grin and it was easy to see, we were willing to forgive and forget. We were easy to win back.

I turned around and approached the bar with my friend in tow.

You know when you see someone and maybe it is the job you do or the frequency you travel to the same places, but you sort of recognize them and for some reason you can't put them in the context of where you are right then? Like when I had trouble placing that totally hot guy in Chelsea yesterday so I stared until I realized it was noted fashion photographer, Nigel Barker from "America's Next Top Model." This was sort of like that, but this person wasn't famous. I was having a hard time getting a solid look at him as he restocked the liquor bottles behind and under the bar. Chatting us up, pulling our Blue Moons. Friendly enough bartender, but it was nagging at me. Who was he? My friend was talking to me and I was completely ignoring her, fixated on trying to get a head-on view of him.

Then he turned around, put the drinks in front of us and said "On me." He couldn't have been more spot-on. I proceeded to knock the entire beer in his direction. Yep, I do that sometimes when I am nervous, or a few seconds before I get nervous. I think at the same second he looked up at me, laughing at the beer streaming down his front, we both realized it. We knew each other.

He froze. I shook my head back and forth, half laughing, half wanting to shoot myself right there.

"Of all the bars in this city, did I seriously stumble into the one where you work?"



"I own this place. Mondays are usually slow so I give most my staff the night off. I work the bar and one of them takes the wait shift, but we close early so no one has to work too late. I used to just close up on Mondays but with football and all, I thought this was as good a place as any to watch the game and get a beer. Most my friends come in and hang out, but since the game is over, it has gotten quiet. I was just in the back putting away stock when you guys came in."

He was rambling. It is what he does when he gets nervous. Always the one with nerves of steel and here he was, drenched in beer, wearing his fingers down to the nubs trying to get a firm grip.

"I am going to run in the back and put on a fresh pair of jeans," and off he went.

I sat there, rather dumbfounded. I thought about leaving, but curiosity kept me there. That’s when I was struck by one of the pictures behind the bar. It was a guy in motorcycle leathers hugging a girl. He was facing the camera looking down as if he was listening to what she was whispering to him. All you could see was her back.

The waitress came around the bar. "Let me get you a fresh beer. He should be right back, he just lives upstairs."

She poured the beer and asked how I knew the bartender. My friend answered, "We don't, do we?" She was puzzled at my odd behavior.

"I know him."

"Really?" the waitress asked.

"I am the girl in that picture," I pointed.

"You guys must go way back. That was taken years ago."

"We do."

That cold December wind had blown me in to his bar. The Reason. The reason I came to New York so many years ago.

Now, he was upstairs changing and the only thought in my head was remembering how he used to go commando, sans underwear, and that he was just upstairs probably standing butt naked digging around in the clean laundry pile for a fresh pair of jeans. He never hung up the laundry--just left it in a pile and dug out the day’s clothes as he needed them.

My friend brought me back to the present when she asked how I knew him.

"I was engaged to him."

"That is him?"

"Seems like it is."

I heard his steps down the back stairs. Those heavy steel-toed boots. When he entered the room, he came around the bar to give me a hug. Like an old habit, my hands slid up under his t-shirt onto his bare back. "Your hands are freezing," he said, but didn't flinch. He just squeezed me tighter. My chin strained to rest on his shoulder. He was just a stitch too tall, so I tucked my gaze into the curve of his neck, and inhaled. Irish Spring®, just like I remembered. He joked that he showered with it to try and wash away being a Scotsman around my mildly disapproving Irish father.

I moved away from his neck, "Don't let go yet," he whispered. I pushed the tips of my fingers into his back. Arms wrapped tightly around him. The nerves rushed out of my body and I felt exhausted. His hair, blonde with those waves barely contained in a red rubber banded ponytail. I could have fell asleep, right there in the curve of his neck with the beat of his heart thumping against mine.

I felt a gust of wind and when I looked up, my friend was at the door, smiling. "I think I will head back to the hotel. I didn't realize how exhausted I was."

There was a couple at the end of the bar, him trying to convince her to come home with him and she caved. They left. It was a quarter past midnight. He followed them to the door and locked it behind them. The waitress went about her closing duties and he finished restocking the bar. I chugged my beer and asked for a refill and a side of whiskey. He poured two, neat. Our glasses raised, clinked together and the toast was a silent glare we shared. Squinting a bit at each other with an acknowledged nod. Like old friends with a history.

He was in and out of the back. Doing whatever you do when you close down a bar for the night. We exchanged no words, only looks each time he poured another shot, always two. His waitress turned the stools up on the bar to mop.

"No need to do that. I will take care of it. You can head out."

She said it was nice to meet me and although I never got her name, something told me she knew mine.

She went out the back and he pulled the bar stools around me back down. Pulled one up next to me, held his glass and waited for me. Our glasses met and hovered together for what seemed like forever.

"Here's to the wind," he finally said.

He told me a little about what he had been up to in the five years since we had seen each other. I shared a few of my own tales. He was holding my hands, playing with the ring on my right hand, snapping and unsnapping the leather band around my wrist. He was completely attentive. Actively listening and engaging and yet slightly distracted. Fidgety. I wiggled the tip of my finger in a hole on the knee of his jean and alternated that with spinning the silver ring around his thumb. He scratched my ring finger and felt the void that his engagement ring once filled. He took my hand in his, stood up and led me off the bar stool. I followed behind him, both his hands wrapped around mine, through the kitchen where he paused to turn off all the lights, and up the back stairs.

I hesitated. Anxiety. Panic. Resolve.

Betty Underground is a writer who currently resides in Montana.

Corner of Hopelessness

By Paul McGuire © 2008

I'm the only soul in Los Angeles who walks anywhere. The relentless California sunshine has warped the brains of the locals who are mercilessly addicted to their metal coffins on wheels sputtering about on the surface streets and congested freeways. The only people you actually see walking around the city are the poor schmucks who couldn't find an ideal parking spot or were too cheap to valet their vehicles so they had to park a block or two away.

If I can walk to my intended destination, I will do so even if I have a car. That's the New Yorker in me. My girlfriend was out of town on business and I had the apartment and her car all to myself. It was Friday afternoon and instead of driving, I opted to walk to Jack in the Box. The hippies would be proud that I was reducing my carbon imprint and getting some exercise in the process.

I craved a big ass iced tea. I loathed all forms of fast food including a disdain for the appalling crap that Jack in the Box passed off as food. However, they serve tasty and very strong iced tea in a massive plastic cup which holds well over a few hours. The iced tea is the perfect drink to set aside during a writing binge. That afternoon, I wanted to settle in and watch an NBA doubleheader on ESPN. The undefeated Lakers were taking on the Detroit Pistons and I didn't want to miss out on the action. NBA, bong hits, and iced tea. The iced tea was the missing ingredient.

I left our apartment in the slums of Beverly Hills and glanced at the lush Hollywood Hills. I walked away from them down our empty palm tree lined street towards Pico Boulevard. It was like a ghost town aside from one or two SUVs that whizzed by me. The Jack in the Box was located on the corner across the street from a somewhat infamous Chinese restaurant. If we lived on the fringe of Beverly Hills, well that corner was on the fringe of the fringe.

The Twin Dragon was a dive in every sense of the world. It’s the kind of place where drug fiends might engage in a shady coke deal in the parking lot or where a capricious married forty-something executive would hand off blackmail money to a fling on the side that went awry. A friend of mine who used to work in the music industry told me he scheduled a couple of secret meetings at the Twin Dragon because that would be the last place anyone would find him.

A collection of older cars sits bout a half of a block away from the Twin Dragon. Each of them was parked with the windows wide open and included a sleeping Chinese guy in the passenger seat. I have seen that random sight many times before. Sometimes the guys were fast asleep. Other times they were reading copies of various Chinese print newspapers like Sing Tao.

That afternoon, I spotted three guys sleeping in their cars. One of them had the back door wide open as he slept with a windbreaker pulled over his torso. Another guy was slumped over a small pillow with the passenger door ajar. He was barefoot and his shoes and socks sat on the grass next to his car. The last car was so cluttered with junk that I suspected that guy actually lived in his vehicle.

I deduced that the sleeping guys were either delivery drivers or kitchen workers slaving away at the Twin Dragon. They were on a break and used their free time wisely to take a nap. It was a dead hour for most restaurants -- way past the lunch rush and not quite dinner time. I wondered how much the cooks were getting paid. Since it was the ever-sketchy Twin Dragon, I'm guessing a buck or two below minimum wage. Maybe some of these guys were working more than one job and the only time they had to sleep was during the lull in between lunch and dinner.

I sidestepped the guys sleeping in cars and wandered inside the bleak Jack in the Box. In my estimation, Jack in the Box is the lowest rung on the fast food food chain. In & Out Burger, Subway, and Wendy's sit near the top, the omnipresent Burger King, McDonalds, and Taco Bell are in the middle, followed by KFC, Popeye’s, and then the repugnant Jack in the Box chain bringing up the rear.

As soon as I opened the door, the aroma of desperation mixed together with days-old grease from the deep fryers attacked my senses. The floors were dirty and slippery; a lawsuit waiting to happen. Garbage and empty ketchup packets from previous customers cluttered the tables. I would never eat there because I didn't want to catch E. Coli.

It was supposed to be a quick trip. Get in and get out. No harm. No foul. Alas, no such luck. Like the majority of fast food chains in America, "fast" was replaced by "pathetically mediocre."

For some reason, I'm always on alert when I walk inside that particular Jack in the Box location. Even during the daylight hours I have this odd fear that I'm going to get shanked by a gangbanger with a spork or mugged by one of the homeless people who live behind the dumpster and feast on half-eaten Jumbo Jacks and pieces of raggedly yellow leaves that they pass off as lettuce.

I expected slow service, but man, the cashier moved slower than a snail on Valium. There was a single line with five or six customers ahead of me. The line never moved and several minutes later, it grew longer. I anxiously stood in line awaiting an empty cup. That's all I was buying. An empty cup. The soda machines and a tank of iced tea were situated next to the cashier's counter. Once you paid for your order, they handed you a cup and you poured your own drinks.

I should have saved a cup from my last visit and pulled a sneaky self-service move. I don't think anyone would have noticed or even cared if I walked in off the street and poured myself a new batch of iced tea. After all, that's the scam that down-trodden customers regularly pulled. They asked for a water cup, which was free of charge and was supposed to be used for the tap water that ran out of the self-service beverage machine. But of course, the aggressive ones bucked the system and used the water cups for Coke and other drinks. The angle-shooters took full advantage of the opportunity to scam free drinks because the dumb-witted fast food workers were not going to enforce the rules.

As I contemplated a future scam, a young child banged into my leg. I glanced down and the boy could not have been more than two years old. I assumed that he belonged to someone standing behind me. I whirled around to see who spawned the wee one. One middle-aged lady that looked like J. Lo's thugged-out sister loudly spoke on her cell phone. I assumed that she was the guardian of the rogue child.

The little boy walked up to the counter and began crying for his mommy. I kept glancing over my shoulder towards the woman on the phone. She rambled on with her conversation as her kid aimlessly wandered around one of the most unsafe fast food eateries in L.A. County.

The kid pointed up at a display of toys which accompanied various kiddie happy meals. He pointed and screamed and pointed and cried and pointed and wailed. I understood the kid's tantrum. He wanted a toy and I wanted an iced tea. I almost burst into tears, too.

"Momma! Momma!" he cried as he pointed at a pieces of plastic junk most likely thrown together in an unventilated sweat shop in the Philippines by child workers only a few years older than him.

A young girl about five years old darted over to the crying kid and shoved a pacifier in his mouth. He stopped crying for the moment as she took his hand and led him over to a booth with a couple of coloring books and several broken crayons on the table. The little girl sat down and scribbled for a few seconds before the kid yanked the pacifier out of his mouth and dropped it on the ground. He immediately ran towards the counter shouting, "Momma! Momma!"

I gave the woman on the cell phone the evil eye, something that self-righteous people without kids give to despicable people whom we deemed bad parents. Thugged-out J. Lo didn't even break stride in her conversation. Perhaps the kids were not hers. If not hers, then whose? I sized up the other people standing in line. The kids looked Hispanic with jet black hair. The people in line were white, black, and Asian. I could not find a match.

"Where's Momma?" I started to wonder.

The moment finally arrived and I stood next in line ready to order my empty cup. That's when the kid cut in front of me and slapped his hand on the counter. He could barely reach the counter and screamed, "Momma! Momma!"

That's when it all made sense. The kid's mother was the cashier. She couldn't answer his pleas because she was working. In an attempt to soothe her child, she poured him a small cup of orange soda. He took a small sip on the straw and darted back to the booth. His older sister sat in silence and focused on her coloring books. As I slowly digested the desperate sight, a bit of melancholy fell over me.

The woman behind the counter was six months pregnant and looked like she was not even old enough to vote, let alone have two kids. My mind raced with questions. How old was she? Did she always bring her kids to work with her? Or did her babysitter bail on her at the last minute?

Although I initially wanted to chastise the mother, a wave of sympathy overwhelmed me as I discovered her plight. A tinge of humility and embarrassment erased my initial thoughts. She instantly impressed me with her courage and strength trying to support two little ones (along with another bun in the oven) by humping a crappy McJob. Then again, she controlled her own destiny. A three-pack of condoms costs the same as a Sourdough Jack.

I grabbed my empty cup and filled it up so quickly that I spilled iced tea all over the counter. I didn't bother cleaning it up and rushed out the door. A wave of depression attacked me up and I glanced up at the houses that speckled the Hollywood Hills. Vain movie stars and strung-out musicians and other Hollyweird types were the only ones who could afford those majestic homes in the hills. Meanwhile on the streets below, illegal Chinese immigrants slept in their cars and a pregnant teenage mom stuffed her kids into a dirty booth in a fast food joint where she earned a measly $8 an hour slinging curly fries and kangaroo burgers.

Next time, I'm driving.

Paul McGuire is a writer who splits time between New York City and Los Angeles.

November 06, 2008

November 2008, Vol. 7, Issue 11

Welcome back to another issue of Truckin'.

1. Jupiter Four by Paul McGuire
Cal never had a chance. After one season of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, he walked away from baseball. He was miserable down there. His Spanish was bad. He caught a nasty parasite and his girlfriend constantly begged him to come home.... More

2. A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Conviviality by May B. Yesno
The voice crackles and chatters. The sum and substance of the call is an invite to play with resistors and transistors and bread boards, hot solder and imagination. One of the customers wanted company. His wife was off chasing her particular dreams of sustenance some six hundred miles away across two mountain ranges... More

3. Luna Moth by Betty After Dark
Then you flipped me. On my back. Crawling on top of me. Hovering over me, you pushed my arms above my head. I imagined you had tied me up. You fumbled. We giggled... More

4. The Green Chip by Jonathan Bennetts
In just over twelve months Alex had hit rock bottom and it seemed like he had been there forever. He plummeted headlong into being a hopeless drunk who'd lost everything; his sole reason for living now was to raise five bucks daily for his quart of Orillia Tiger Ruby Red Port wine... More

5. Pizza and the Party by Matt Moon
I tried talking and joking with Brittany but she was giving one-or-two-word responses. She was not digging me. She'd rather stare out the backseat window than associate with me. That was very unfortunate. I was really hammered and she had some cute aspects to her. I kept trying to progress the conversation but failed miserably every single time.... More

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

From the Editor's Laptop:

Thanks again for wasting your precious time with Truckin'. The November issue features two new writers, Matt Moon and Jonathan Bennetts. We also have two veteran scribes returning in May B. Yesno and Betty After Dark. And yeah, that's a sultry dirty story from Betty! I also added a bit of fiction to the mix for this issue.

Please tell your friends about your favorite Truckin' stories. The writers definitely appreciate your support.

Also, if you know anyone who is interested in being added to the mailing list, well, please shoot me an e-mail.

Thanks to the writers enough for writing for free and exposing their guts, blood, and soul to the universe. Their art and dedication inspires me and I hope it inspires you too.

Be good,

"Never pretend to a love which you do not actually feel, for love is not ours to command." - Alan Watts

November 05, 2008

Jupiter Four, Part I

By Paul McGuire © 2008

She looked like she had been living in Europe for a while. Eight months? Nine? Almost a year? She dressed like a European with elaborate French scarves and an Italian purse, but all her mannerisms gave off strong vibrations that she was an American.

Duncan knew her for about a week. He met her outside a church in Barcelona when he was sort of lost and unsuccessfully trying to read a shitty tourist map that he picked up at the airport that did not label the dozens of smaller ever-winding pedestrian streets. She offered her help and he quickly accepted. Her sharp Midwest accent gave her away.

They hung out for three nights in a row during Duncan's short vacation in Spain. They would meet for a late dinner and walk around El Born hanging out at the various small bars or sometimes just sitting outside in one of the plazas. The conversations drifted back and forth between their times traveling in Europe and occasionally dug deep into their pasts.

"Io? So you were named after one of Jupiter's moons?" asked Duncan as he sipped a beer.

"Perceptive of you," said Io. "Most people have no idea. Not a clue."

"I know a bit about moons. When I lived in Portland, there was a poster on the back of the bathroom door that listed all the different planets and their moons. If I didn't have anything to read when I took a dump, I'd read the map. I got a crash course in astronomy."

"That's sort of disgusting and disturbing."

"Sorry about that."

"Don't worry. You know what's really disgusting and disturbing? The names of my brother and my sisters."

"What do you mean? No fuckin' way... Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto? You're bullshitting me."

"No. I'm serious."

Io showed her passport to Duncan which confirmed that her name was indeed Io. She handed me Duncan her phone. He looked at few different entries... Ro, Gany, and Cal.

"What's that bullshit?"

"The names of my brother and sisters."

"Ro Gany Cal? What are you guys a hip hop group from the 1990s?"

"You didn't believe me. There's proof. Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede. And here's the shocker. My mother? Her name is Jupiter."

"Makes sense. She's the center of the universe and her children revolve around her.

"You have no idea."

"So do you get along with them?"

"Sort of. But not really. My father was fighting cancer ever since I can remember. He was constantly in and out of hospitals and always recovering from a surgery. We always struggled for money which was made worse by my alcoholic mother. For a while, Cal was the rock in the family. He really kept it together until his life completely unraveled. He had a chance to be a major league baseball player but that never materialized."

"Cal was a ball player? Was he any good?"

"Cal was the best athlete in our school. His problem was that he couldn't throw a curve ball."

"Fidel Castro couldn't throw one and ended up overthrowing Cuba and ruling it his way."

"Well, Cal also had a weakness for the wrong women. He met a girl in college that was his downfall. She was pushing him towards a life outside of a career in sports. In all fairness, Cal had a very slim chance at a career in baseball. At best he could squeak out a feeble existence for a few years in the minors and hope to get lucky. But Cal never had a chance. After one season of winter ball in the Dominican Republic, he walked away from baseball. He was miserable down there. His Spanish was bad. He caught a nasty parasite and his girlfriend constantly begged him to come home. He was doomed. He quit the game and tried the real estate business. His girlfriend's father was big into real estate and set him up with a job. But that never worked out. He spent more time at working buying and selling sports memorabilia over the internet. When he figured out he could make three times as much money on the trade show circuit, Cal quit his job."

"And I'm guessing it didn't turn out too good?"

"Not at all. His girlfriend broke up with him. He had a bum arm so he constantly got prescriptions from his doctors. He started abusing those heavily and got super addicted. Pills let to heroin and he blew all his money on junk. Then he got involved in a fake memorabilia scam involving autographed baseballs from Hank Williams."

"You mean Ted Williams? The greatest hitter of all time?"

"Yeah, Ted Williams. Didn't I say that?"

"Actually you said Hank Williams. But it doesn't matter. I get it. Cal was a guy who had big dreams but those dreams never panned out because he let a chick get in his way. The tragic result was a morbid addiction to drugs as he tried to run the ol' Ted Williams faux autograph grift."

"Yeah. Now he just got out of jail and is living in a halfway house in Tuscon. I think he's working in Starbucks and studying to become a plumber."

"And tell me about your sisters."

"I have two sisters. My twin sister is named Ro, but Gany is the non-twin."

"Wow, you're a twin?"

She shook her head and sighed.

"Gany, the non-twin, was the oldest and always struggled to find herself. Her true self. In many ways, we're constantly on that journey but Gany took it to heart more so than the average person. She went through different phases. When she strayed towards religion it didn't shock her friends. In the previous year alone, she attempted and stopped veganism, lesbianism, and Hinduism. When she gave Christianity a twirl after 9.11, everyone thought she'd get bored with it in a few months like she had done in high school with the clarinet or the debate team, or during college when she was really into swing dancing, Dave Matthews Band, and yoga classes."

"Swing dancing and Dave Matthews?"

"Yeah, it was the late 1990s. Anyway, she got really involved with the church. She married a preacher's son and moved to Colorado. They weren't in some runaway cult or some sort of ultra-right wing religious right zealots. There church was Lutheran based but with one twist. Their community was bracing for the Armageddon. They dispatched to small mountain towns in Colorado and in parts of Idaho and Canada preparing for the worst. Their goal is to ride out whatever apocalyptic storms come their way. And when it's over they will spread God's word to the people left behind. Gany thinks she is one of the chosen ones given the task to repopulate the earth and start over from scratch. God's chosen ones. Gany was chosen. And once she was chosen, no one ever saw her again."

"So why do you have her cell phone?"

"Oh that's not the cell phone, that's the church's number. If you call that, they will know how to get in touch with her. She used to send me these long letters explaining her thoughts on politics and government were eventually leading up to a massive world war that will trigger some sort of nuclear explosions and people will die and if they don't then the government will release some sort of virus that will kill off 90% of the population. She had these absurd ideals of current political situations all over the world. She tried to convince everyone in the family to move to Colorado because that would be the only safe zone."

"What's in the tap water in there?"

"That's it. She doesn't drink the public water system."

"Real mountain streams. Living off the land. Nothing wrong with that. She believes in something and she feels as those she's preparing the world for goodness even though she is in completely whacked out Waco cult up in the mountains somewhere waiting for WW3 to begin. But her intentions are noble. That's far more admirable that the guy running the rat race trying to make money so he can buy more stuff and breed consumers that will sit around and buy more stuff. You should admire that trait in your sister."

"I do, in a way. I always wondered what she would do when she snapped out of this phase. But it seems to have taken hold. She was an eloquent writer. Probably the most talented person in the family when it came to being able to express yourself. That's why it seemed so odd that she was the most open thinking out of all of us and felt as though God chose her to fulfill his word at some time in the future. Her outlook is bleak but feels that she's going to be the light amidst the darkness."

"OK, so your older sister is a Jesus Freak living up in Colorado prepping for the apocalypse. Your older brother is a washed up ball player con artist. I'm dying to know about your twin. Tell me about Europa."

"Europa? We call her Ro. My twin. The ying to my yang. She's the actress. She always wanted the center of attention. I think it comes from being an identical twin. She always needed to be more noticeable than an exact replica of me. And my mother is the most theatrical person you will ever meet. She's the most energy sucking person on the planet. It was as though. She and Ro were constantly fighting for everyone's attention, especially when my father was the sickest. It drove my father insane. No wonder he wanted to die. And it turned my mother into the stage mother from hell."

"How so?"

"She moved my sister to L.A. the summer before our senior year in high school and we really couldn't afford it. I got stuck in Wisconsin at home with my sick father when Ro got to live the great life in California."

"So is she famous or something?"

"She struggled for a long time and only booked one cereal commercial in three years. My mom had her audition for everything around town. Then she ended finally caught a break and ended up on a reality show."

"Which one? Maybe I've seen it."

"You probably never saw it before. It was called Good Girls Bad Boys."

"Oh my God! That's why you look so fuckin' familiar. Your sister is Ro Hume from Good Girls Bad Boys? Holy shit. Your hair is shorter and a different color but holy shit."

Io rolled her eyes and finished off the rest of her beer. She waved at the bartender but he ignored her.

"Sometimes the service is so slow in Europe," Io said hoping to change the topic.

"Oh my God. She was my favorite character on that show. I can't believe she slept with three of those biker dudes. Wait a minute, didn't I see her on TMZ before I left for my trip? Isn't she going out with that guy from the Real World? The paraplegic Republican?"

Paul McGuire is a writer from New York City.

The Green Chip

By Jonathan Bennetts © 2008

An ancient greasy seaman's cap shadows the gray stubbled wreckage of his face. He is fifty two going on eighty two, stinks of stale alcohol and unwashed sweat and his dirty clothes had never seen better days.

His name is Alex and he resides in the gambling Mecca of Las Vegas.

Today he's propping up the wall of Caesars Palace on the Strip, panhandling or begging if you prefer. He is a loser, in fact Alex is a two time loser, a drunk and a degenerate gambler. He's been humiliated, spit upon, arrested, imprisoned, beaten up, and hospitalized several times in the charity ward.

He arrived here ten years ago on a seven day junket, an all-in Nevada sightseeing trip. It was a treat for his wife Evelyn and his five-year old son Mathew who was the apple of his eye. Alex was a really neat dresser then, had a great job as a company accountant at General Motors, a lovely house in Detroit, and great friends and neighbors. He had everything going for him.

The first five days they toured. Hoover Dam, a side trip to Lake Tahoe, the silver mines, and 48 hours visiting Disney World which had Matt screaming with delight. The last two days were for free time, happy times in Las Vegas.

Alex had done a little reading about gambling and knew that craps paid the best odds. He knew all about seven and eleven being winners on the first roll, making a point, the pass and don't pass line, playing the field, pressing a bet, all the odds on the hard way. Somewhere deep inside of him, there had always lived the exciting idea that he could and would be a natural craps shooter. That he could and would one day make a fortune if given the chance.

After all, he was a wizard with figures, fractions, percentages and had a very logical mind. He had even worked out a system which was just about foolproof. He'd never told anyone about this fantasy; it was just one of those things you sort of sit with and bring out now and again to check if it is still good. Well it was indeed--one might even say it was excellent. He just needed to refine it a little. So, finally, Alex had his chance. He told Evelyn he was going to play for just a little while on the tables, kept it vague, and gave her a quick kiss.

"So how do you play this amazing game, Craps?" asked Evelyn with a sweet smile.

"Well honey, it is fairly easy. You roll two dice on a table and if a seven or eleven comes up on the first roll you win whatever you bet, but if you roll craps--double ones or sixes--on the first roll then you lose your bet. However, there is a third option. Let's say you roll a five-three. That's eight, so now you keep rolling for another eight but here comes the kicker-- if you roll a seven before the eight, then seven is now a loser. But if you get your point, rolling the eight first, then you're a winner and get to roll again. On the table you can bet on a player either winning on the pass line or losing on don't pass.

Evelyn smiled fondly at him and ruffled his hair, "That's enough, my hero. I don't understand a word but you just go and make our fortunes and I'll see you later for dinner."

Alex wandered casually downstairs to the casino and his fate. He was off and running, and after sixteen hours of exhilarating wins and desperate losses, he was broke. He'd lost every cent he had. Evelyn had long since given up and gone to bed. It was about then that Alex went crazy. He moved into a sort of supernova gambling frenzy because he knew, he absolutely knew that he would beat the system and triumph at the craps table.

All his years of rigid control and civilized living just up and flew out the window. He took big lines of casino credit because his credit background was impeccable and they fell over themselves to give him extra lines. Within four days he had emptied their joint bank accounts, trashed his credit cards and lost something like $52,000 plus.

Seven loser, craps loser, seven loser, on and on. Win maybe one time then back to craps out, sir.

During his brief breaks for a couple of hours of sleep, Evelyn begged and pleaded for him to stop but to no avail whatsoever. He swore his luck would change-- it was just a matter of time and she would see he was right by God. He explained this as though it were implacable, impeccable logic and was furious that she couldn't seem to understand this.

The fact is, she no longer recognized him. He was like a crazy man possessed, and she was frightened. She tried one last time, even shaking him, screaming at him.

“Alex, for God's sake! What about our son, our future!”

He ignored her that time, stormed out of the room and it was the last she saw of him.

That night Evelyn could stand neither the pain nor the strain any longer. She took Mathew and herself back to Detroit and her mother’s house where she broke down trying to explain what had happened. Her father got the message early and swung into action to salvage any family assets that were still standing.

Alex's descent was spectacular even by Vegas standards. Within six weeks he had lost every cent he could beg, borrow, or steal from his friends and workmates back in Detroit. He'd gone through about $120,000 of casino credit before his cards were blocked. Tried every single combination of pass, don’t pass, play the field, play the point, go for the hard way, the easy way, everything he thought he knew about winning at craps and it just didn't work.

GM actually sent somebody down to confront him in the seedy rooming house he was staying in, but Alex simply couldn't understand what the guy was saying. All he could say now was a mantra which he repeated endlessly.

"Just one more swing at the crap tables and I will finally make it and hit the gold."

Needless to say, his fortune wasn't made and he was still losing. His family and friends cut him off completely. Then one day it was all over. He was destitute. All the casinos had banned him and his luck was terminal.

He moved into the Mission with two squares a day and no questions asked. Fred, another street bum at the Mission told him that pan handling could pay well.

"Just don't get caught, the cops and security are red hot here."

Then he offered Alex a drink from his bottle of Orillia Tiger Ruby Red Port wine. Told him it really did the trick for the blues, solve all they problems man, make everything just tickety boo. Charlie was dead right, it did.

Alex was down so far it looked like up when he greedily swallowed his own pints of Orillia Tiger Ruby Red Port wine. It killed the pain of losing everything at first, then it killed the pain of living as a bum.

In just over twelve months Alex had hit rock bottom and it seemed like he had been there forever. He plummeted headlong into being a hopeless drunk who'd lost everything; his sole reason for living now was to raise five bucks daily for his quart of Orillia Tiger Ruby Red Port wine.
It was a balmy evening, the town was jumping, Las Vegas was alive and kicking. From behind some bushes, well out of sight of the Caesar's Palace security guards came a furtive mumble. It was Alex.

"Spare some change please? Will ya spare a dollar for a guy down on his luck?" He'd collected a grand total of three dollars and eight cents in four hours.

Most people passing his spot either didn't hear him or couldn't see him. Alex was a lost soul. He'd already had two mild heart attacks. His whole body shook with tremors and his face twitched badly. Just another three bucks, enough for his daily quart of Tiger Red oblivion.

Along the pavement, two immaculately dressed men approached his spot. The elder one in his late sixties, silver haired, elegant, the other twenty-five or so, arrogant spoiled face, long blonde hair tied off in a pony tail, solid gold necklace and platinum wrist band, both of them obviously wealthy.They were deep in conversation.

"Change, spare some change mister?" Then, "Hey buddy, spare a dollar?" said much louder than the first time.

They both stopped, stared, discovered Alex, then recoiled in unison.

"Dirty bastard" said the younger one.

"Now, now Peter" said the older. "You really must learn a little kindness, a bit of tolerance and love for your fellow men."

This was said with such contempt and arrogance it woke Alex from his stupor. He looked at them and they looked at him.

The younger man smiled, "You're right, of course Uncle Andrew. Definitely a fellow man."

Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a handful of gambling chips and found a black and gold $1,000 chip. He held it in front of Alex.

"Is this worth my tolerance?" He shook his head and changed it for a red $100 chip. "Is this worth my kindness? Nah, I don't think so." Then he found a green $25 chip and waved it slowly in front of Alex's haunted eyes.

“Yep, love of my fellow men, yes indeed. Now if I had a five cent chip, that's what you'd be getting, you stinking bum but you're in luck ‘cos my uncle truly loves his fellow men and a $25 is the smallest I've got, so mind you don't lose it.”

Viciously, he threw the green chip at Alex who flinched as it hit him in the face then fell to the ground. Laughing uproariously, both men marched off into the casino.

Alex was stunned at what was happening. He had a really bad headache yet suddenly, his mind was waking up. He felt cleansed somehow and was thinking clearly for the first time than he had in many years. Why had the two men been so cruel? It was their absolute and utter contempt which had gotten through to him, brought him back to life. He picked up the chip and its greenness seemed to glow in his hand. He felt warm all over as though he'd taken a double hit of Tiger Red.

Thoughts ricocheted across his brain then began to center on just one word…craps.

The most money he ever had was about seven bucks, just enough for his daily bottle of Orillia Tiger Ruby Red Port wine. The green chip seemed to jump in his hand, it was at least nine years since he last gambled and this thinking was crazy.

What about today’s Tiger Red? Jesus, he had enough for three days of oblivion and he needed his fix now, yet something was profoundly different. He had stopped shaking and felt completely calm. It was a miracle, what was going on here. The blinding desire for oblivion had vanished, he truly was alive again and somehow he knew that his world had shifted on its axis and he was being given a last chance.

If he bet the green chip the Gods would be with him. He knew this with total certainty but now his real problem began. How to get into Caesar's and actually bet the green chip?

Three hours later, Alex emerged from the Mission clean-shaved, showered and reasonably dressed. His friend Charlie had given him a marine-style haircut and loaned him his only clean shirt. He had swiped a pair of decent looking jeans and shoes from a passed out drunk's suitcase. For the first time in years he didn't stink too badly and actually smelled of clean lifebuoy soap. He both felt and looked different and by God was ready to rumble.

After watching the great glass doors of Caesar's Palace for about ten minutes, finally all the doormen were engaged in boarding or disembarking the enormous liner-style limousines pulling in and departing. Alex sidled through the doors, his heart pounding. He clutched a large, clean white envelope with a name printed on it. Just in case he was stopped, he could say he was delivering a message.

It was Saturday night and the casino was jammed with supplicants to the great Caesar. Quickly Alex scooted down the main hall, and then past the infernal racket of the slots, steered through the crowded blackjack tables and when he saw a security guard looking at him, he waved the envelope high.

"Message for Mr. Edmonso" he shouted. The rest was drowned out by the casino noise as the guard nodded OK. Then he saw them, the mystical kidney shaped crap tables, four of them, all with large crowds around them and lots of action. The decibel and crowd level was loudest at table three and as he wanted to stay undercover so to speak, that's the one he chose.

He inserted himself into the mob and finally was close enough to establish a spot near the shooter, a beautiful young model with an urchin cut and wild green eyes. She had just thrown the dice and as they rolled down the table she jumped up and down and screamed.

"Oh my Lord a ten, please, please, ten, ten, give me a ten!"

On the pass line she had about $1,000 riding in stacks of chips.

"Just this one time sweet baby Jesus give me a ten!"

The Lord or sweet baby Jesus gave her a seven and she crapped out. The long rakes swooped down and did the vanishing trick with most of the chips and a few small payouts. The model said a quick "screw you dice."

"New shooter coming out!" The red dice rattled along the table pushed by the rake neatly depositing them in front of Alex.

"New shooter!" he said again.

Hands trembling, Alex picked up two dice, gave them a brief shake, and put his $25 chip onto the pass line. He was about to roll them when a low, piercing voice spoke over the noise.

"Get that bum outta my pit right now, he's banned. I never forget a face."

It was the same pit boss who had him banned all those years ago.

Alex was filled with shame then anger, almost in tears.

He waved his original green chip in the air. "I've got my bet right here and by God, I want to bet it!" he said, his voice quivery, yet very positive.

“I'm entitled to one lousy bet after all these years.”

"Get him outta here, now. Somebody call security" the pit boss said again.

There was a small ripple at the other end of the crowded table, then that same vicious voice, now slightly slurred with too much bourbon.

"Well I'm damned, thought I recognized that voice. It's the old drunk. Hey old feller, come to give us lessons have you? Teach us how to shoot craps, you jerk, with my money? What a fucking nerve. Tell you what, you old bastard. You put that $25 chip I gave you on the win line and if you win I’ll give you a hundred bucks and I'll eat my tie, you drunked-up loser."

While some of the crowd was laughing at this exchange, a voice said, "Let’s get on with the action here, can we?"

It was then that the silver-haired man next to his nephew spoke.

"Let him roll Charlie" he said to the pit boss. "He's a stone cold loser and it won’t take long."

There was a ten second pause. Then, because the pit boss was no fool and knew that Kandross could buy the casino if he wanted to, he spoke.

"Certainly, Mr. Kandross. Place your bets ladies and gentlemen, get your bets down.”

The table sprang back into activity with a buzz of anticipation. Who was this strange guy holding the dice? Probably a loser from the look of him. Alex had listened to the different voices with astonishment followed by shock then fear. What the hell was he doing here? This was crazy when he could be falling into sweet oblivion with enough Tiger Red to last him the whole weekend.

The green chip seemed to tremble in his fingers almost as though it had life.

Alex straightened up, shook his head, wiped his eyes and then he smiled revealing a row of horrendous blackened teeth, two missing from the front. Yet it was a beautiful smile for all that. His eyes were serene at last his demons had departed. He looked down the table, at the sneering faces of his tormentors and smiled again. He was Alex the Amazing Craps Shooter.

Carefully and with great dignity, he placed his green chip on the win line, the pass line, the magic square where he would show them all his mastery of this great game. He picked up the two dice again, and shook them tentatively.

"Seven for the green tiger eyes" he said, and without a moment’s hesitation threw them down the table.

The left one bounced off the end wall of the table and came to rest. A six. The right one rolled off the end, spun on a corner then finally settled on one. A perfect seven, a winner, and he now had $50. Back came the dice, Alex picked up and down they rolled, tumbling, bouncing. Four and three, another perfect seven winner.

The Rakeman's voice boomed, "Another winner. Straight seven first time, seven's a winner."

He now had $100 and it was then, right at that moment, that Alex knew, this was it. It felt like a huge jolt of electricity supercharging his system and now his shivering was from confidence rather than misery. In rapid succession he made ten more perfect passes, either with a natural seven or whatever point he needed. Four the hard way, ten the hard way. It seemed like he was challenging the Gods of dice.

The green chip had multiplied, Alex now had $51,200 stacked high in front of him on the win line. He came out of his trance. Where was he? Oh right, the green chip. There it was resting alone, just on the edge of the pass line. Green, so incredibly green.

Then he heard the angry voices from the other end of the table overriding the high buzz of conversation around him.

”Table limit reached sir, table limit reached.”

"He's just rolled twelve natural passes, its freakin’ amazing," screamed the same urchin-cut model. "Go tiger, go, go, go, you've got ‘em on the run and I love you sweetheart!"

She pointed down at the two chip racks in front of her containing about $18,000 then gave Alex a swift hug and a big smacking kiss on the cheek. On his other side an elderly white-haired preacher with a bulbous red nose and a huge stack of black $100 chips shook his head reverently and informed him.

"Take your money and run my son."

Almost all of the crowd were with Alex on the pass line with only Kandross and his nephew on the don't pass line. Meanwhile, the pit boss was standing in the middle looking utterly stunned when the same vicious insistent voice came at Alex.

"Hey old man, betcha can't do that again. What you got there, ‘bout $50,000? I'll give you 100 to 1 odds you can't do that again."

There was real hatred and disbelief in his voice now. Alex looked down the table at him and smiled again. The whole table had gone quiet, the pit crew motionless, watching this exchange. Then the silver haired Kandross spoke in a low sibilant whisper which carried right around the crowd.

"Shut up Peter." There was fury in his voice. He looked at Alex. "You don't know me, but I know you. You're a born loser and we both know that. Most people in life are losers. So apart from loser what’s your other name?" he sneered.

"Alex, sir."

"Well, Alex you're really something special, one of life's major losers. You smell like shit and you look like shit, you're dying on your feet yet somehow you figure you're making a comeback for Christ sake. Well I'm about to prove you wrong and in matters like this, I'm never wrong."

Alex remained silent and calm.

"Charlie, what’s the record for straight winning passes on a craps table? Do you understand Charlie, the world record? Here in Vegas, Europe, anywhere?"

The pit boss looked at him with a strange expression.

"Well Mr. Kandross, Hollywood Jack Davison is alleged to have made 34 straight winning passes at Binions in August 1979 but I know for sure that Stanley Fujitakis ran the table for three and half hours right here in Vegas at the Hotel California in 1995 and finished with 27 winning passes and I can swear to that ‘cos I was one of the pit crew. Why do you ask sir?"

"Because I have a proposition for our Mr. Alex here. Get me your chief; I want to talk to him."

The pit boss made a quick call and within minutes Max Rollins, the crap tables crew chief, and two senior casino executives arrived.

The blonde model turned to Alex. "Do you know who that guy is?" she said, pointing down the table. "He's Kandross, the arms dealer and he's worth about a billion bucks. I met him once and Jesus, he's frightening.”

Alex was still in his dream state and simply nodded.

Max Rollins spoke, "Mr Kandross, how can we help you?"

“I've probably donated about ten million to this casino and now I want something in return, it’s very simple.” He glared at Alex and continued. “This bum has just cost me about $150,000 bucks and I have a little proposition for him so I trust you'll agree to it. He just made twelve straight winning passes so I'm willing to put my marker for a million dollars on the don't pass line. All he has to do is bet his $50,000, keep rolling the dice for another sixteen straight passes, and beat the world record set by a Stanley Fujitakis which stands at 27 straight winning passes according to you. If he does it then he gets the million and if he doesn't then I get his $50,000 and you throw him out of this casino. Mind you, if I'm any judge of character, he'll take his cash now and head back to the street where he belongs and get stinking drunk until he's broke again. So what’s your answer, Mr. Alex? Sir, you got the balls for this? Let’s see a real gamble here. I doubt that you have it in you because you're a born loser but you roll sixteen more winning passes and the million bucks is all yours" he taunted.

Now there was complete silence at the table, with everybody looking at Alex. Almost all of them around the table knew it was a total sucker bet and even the pit crew looked uncomfortable. The raw odds were huge, impossible, something like twenty million to one.

Alex looked up from his green chip and the preacher said, "Do you know the true odds son? It's a sucker bet, you can't possibly win."

There were nods of agreement from the crowd. They had all made money from Alex's incredible roll but they didn't want to see him lose everything to this arrogant son of a bitch who was openly insulting him.

Alex looked directly at Kandross. "I'm not a loser anymore sir," he said and there was a crisp, new note of authority in his voice.

Of course he knew the true odds, he was an accountant. But that's what gambling was all about--beating the odds, like he’d always known. He was a natural craps player wasn't he? From somewhere deep inside him a sensation of pure freedom washed over him. And he knew he could and would do it, beat this Fujitakis record. He knew now, he knew absolutely beyond all doubt that this was it, that finally he would challenge lady luck and beat her. He might even destroy her and declare victory over this monstrous Kandross and his sneering nephew.

"I accept your wager but I'll have it in writing and witnessed please."

Kandross nodded and a brief look of triumph flitted over his features.

“Charlie, have that written up on my marker and witnessed."

"What a dumb bastard, knew he’d go for that sucker bet" his nephew shouted.

There was dead silence, then a burst of shouting and excited cheering from the crowd. The executives conferred briefly then Max Rollins spoke to the pit boss.

"OK, Charlie, the bet is in order, take it away now.”

Charlie addressed the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a unique bet and we are declaring this table private. If you wish to observe, please do so quietly, otherwise you may play on the adjacent tables.”

Nobody moved. Almost without exception they had all been betting with Alex and making much more money than he had. They had watched the drama being played out before them with a mixture of astonishment and incredulity. When they heard the announcement there was a loud buzz of indignation as they were now out of the action. Slowly it subsided, except for a low murmur of excited comment. By now, word of the bet had spread through the casino and the crowd was six or seven deep in places.

"I want this whole table cordoned off please." He nodded at two security guards who quickly encircled the table with a white cord on brass stands.

The pit boss put up his hand and addressed Alex. "Do you understand the terms of the bet? You are playing solely against Mr. Kandross and only you will roll the dice. Your chips stay right there on the pass line and if you succeed in rolling a further 16 straight winning passes you will receive the marker now on the don't pass line for a million dollars. However, if you fail and roll craps or don't make your point your chips valued at $51,200 will be transferred to Mr Kandross. What's your full name by the way?"

"Alex Campbell,” said Alex still with that same strange dignified smile revealing once again his stained gapped teeth.

“Are we in agreement gentlemen?”

Kandross and Alex nodded simultaneously.

"Right, let's get this show on the road” he hesitated. "And good luck to both of you."

He shook his head ruefully. This poor bum didn't have a chance in hell. He nodded to the stickman. "Same shooter coming out."

Five sparkling new red dice arrived in front of Alex. Almost indifferently he picked out two and clicked them together. The white haired preacher looked at him intently.

"Are you sure my son?"

Alex nodded.

"Then God bless you and y’all go get ‘em tiger!"

Alex reached down and found his original green chip. He held it in front of him, turning it slowly between his fingers. It seemed to glow with a strange, deep green luminosity. Gently he placed it back on the pass line, slightly to one side of his stacked chips. He straightened up and his whole being was radiant with energy and confidence. He was, after all "Alex the Amazing Crapshooter."

It was beautiful to watch, he was in a supernova state but this time it was the real thing. His heart rate was steady and his throwing action effortless. The two dice sailed down the table, bounced off the backboard and there was the first winner-- a four and a seven. Fifteen to go. Again he hurled them down, a five and a two, another natural. He made four more winning naturals then chased the point successfully eight times in a row before he stopped to ask how many more he needed for the record.

Then he became aware of the powerful roar of the huge crowd. It shocked him, almost bowled him over. While he was rolling he hadn't heard a thing, but now it was overwhelming.

As word spread almost the entire casino came to a stop. The word was out-- someone was close to breaking the world record at craps and winning a million dollars.

Caesar's was jammed and the people at the back were frantically demanding, "How many more to go? C’mon, what’s going on? Has he made it yet for God's sake?”

Then it was relayed back through the crowd. “Just two more and he's done it. He’s on 25 right now.”

Charlie the pit boss couldn't believe it. The bum might pull it off. Kandross and his nephew couldn't believe it either. This was not supposed to happen.

"Still two more to go old man,” snarled the nephew.

Down the table Alex picked up the dice, he whispered "Tiger Eyes" and threw them a perfect five and two.

“Seven's a winner!” called out the stickman, another natural winner, just one to go.

The crowd was screaming, the urchin-cut model fainted and Alex started to pick up the dice when a terrible pain lanced through his chest and he crumpled slowly to the floor. The pit boss was out of his seat and at Alex's side in two seconds; the preacher cradled his head and started to recite a prayer for the dying only to be interrupted by the snarling voice of the nephew.

"You lose, you lose you dirty old bastard, knew you'd blow it" he screamed.

He smiled triumphantly at his uncle. Alex heard the voice from a long, long way off. Where was he? This was the same vicious voice he had listened to when he was panhandling. All he wanted now was to sink into oblivion and turn off the terrible pain in his chest.

Then he was shaking his head as the pit boss waved smelling salts under his nose.

"C’mon Alex, breathe deeply" the pit boss whispered fiercely into Alex's ear. "Get up and roll you bum, Kandross has had this coming to him for a very long time now. He treats everybody like shit, always getting dealers fired, never tips, insults all the girls here. He hates everybody and sure as hell hates you. The management all rush to kiss his ass and he gets away with murder. Now finally there's a chance to really stick it to him and his prick of a nephew so c'mon Alex, one more roll. Just one more.”

"Help me up," croaked Alex.

The pit boss and the preacher hauled him to his feet. The pain had subsided a little but he had trouble seeing straight.

The entire crowd was completely silent, hushed. Then Alex picked out the features of his tormentors, one face contorted with hatred and the other full of contempt and triumph.

Alex fought to stay upright.

Kandross spoke, "Looks like I was right, loser. Knew it all along. Told you I was never wrong about people."

Alex was using every ounce of will power he had, fighting to stay upright.

“Got to prove them wrong, just got to."

He fumbled for the dice.

"Stand back!" someone shouted, “Give the man room!”

The huge crowd watched in stunned silence as Alex, sweat beading his forehead, scrabbled and fought and finally lifted the two red dice. Just one more throw, that was all it took to be the greatest Crap Shooter in the world.

He shook the dice weakly and tried desperately to throw them. Once, twice. He had no strength, could barely lift his elbow. He concentrated on one last agonizing attempt. He pulled back his elbow as far as it would go and looked down at the solitary green chip standing alone, the source of a miracle.

It was then he felt the strong hard grip of the pit boss on his elbow.

"You can do it, Tiger."

His arm seemed to propel itself forward of its own volition. He let go of the dice, they had to hit the back wall of the table to be legal. One die caromed off the side then just kissed the end wall and came to rest, a six. The other wobbled its way along the table, almost expired before the wall, spun on its axis then ricocheted from the side to the end wall, spun again on the bounce then finally, absolutely, settled, showing a wonderful, a stupendous an incredible one.

"Seven a winner! Natural seven a winner!" was called out as the place erupted with screams, laughter, crying and cheers.

Alex promptly fell down again onto his back. As he lay there, a glorious grin spread slowly across his face. This grin said everything.

Charlie the pit boss leaned over him, winked, and said.

"Way to go, Tiger."

Jonathan Bennetts is an ex rock and roller born in the UK. He sang with Bob Dylan in London and has lived in over 20 countries for at least six months. He currently lives in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. He's halfway through a book, "Excerpts from the Life of a Street Singer."