March 01, 2011

March 2011, Vol. 10, Issue 3

Spring is almost upon us, which means the March issue is the bridge between the winter of discontent and spring fever...

1. Matisse's Chorizo by Paul McGuire
Life is so much smoother if you're well-liked by the right people in this fucking town. Or I should clarify -- well-liked by the powerful watch guards of Hollyweird holding the clipboard...More

2. Traffic Jam at the Top of the World by Tim Lavalli
It was then that a cold hard freeze gripped my chest – all of these climbers ahead of me might well be ahead of me on the way back down when oxygen would be short and everyone would be even weaker then they are now. What would I do trapped at the top of the ladder with a dozen people in line in front of me and death staring me in the face? Politeness might just have to give way to survival...More

3. Hard Day's Knight by John Hartness
I hate waking up in an unfamiliar place. I’ve slept in pretty much the same bed for the past fifteen years, so when I wake up someplace new, it really throws me off. When that someplace is tied to a metal folding chair in the center of an abandoned warehouse that reeks of stale cigarette smoke, diesel fuel and axle grease - well, that really started my night off on a sparkling note...More

4. Egypt by Adam J. Weise
The flies here are at the top of their game. They are bred to be fearless and adventurous; they'll sit on your face taunting you. Attempts at swatting them have only ended with me slapping myself in the face. Even in Tanzania whenever I try to show off by catching a fly in my bare hands like my dad taught me I end up just grasping at air and getting laughed at by the boys. Now I know that flies are just a part of African life and the quicker one accepts it the better as they are everywhere. There are days when in order to ward off the flies in Dar es Salaam I'll eat with my right hand while waving my left hand over the food for the entire meal... More

5. Paralysis by lightning36
He knew that he had been an extremely lucky guy. How many men get to date television stars? Crystal was beautiful, well-known, and popular. But aside from the usual Hollywood trappings, she had a heart of gold. She exuded warmth and compassion, yet had enough of a bite to keep herself real... More

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

From the Editor's Laptop

The March issue includes the debut of a new scribe... lightning36. Meanwhile, the rest of the roster includes returning stellar contributors such as Tim Lavalli, Adam J. Weise, and John Hartness, who shared an excerpt from one of his novels Oh, and how could I forget about my piece -- a slice of life about wandering around the City of Angels on a weekend morning.

The contributors at Truckin' write for the love of self-expression, which is a clever way of saying that they generated these stories for free. I'm amazed at their collective bold leap of faith, because the scribes exposed their inner souls to you. With that in mind, please spread the word about your favorite stories. Good karma and many blessings will come your way for exposing new readers to our amazing writers.

Contact us if you'd like to be added to the mailing list. If you happen to be a scribe (published or non-published) who is interested writing for a future issue, then please drop us an email.

Lastly, thanks to you, the readers. The long-form written word is slowly dying off, but you're keeping the spirit alive with your unwavering support for Truckin'.

Be good,

"The surest cure for vanity is loneliness." - Thomas Wolfe

Matisse's Chorizo

By Paul McGuire © 2011

Washed-in morning. Cotton-candy mouth.

Awoken from a dream. My alarm clock? Nope, rather from the conversational chatter from the neighbor across the alley.

I stepped outside and looked up. A cigarette snugly fit in between her fingers from her hand that lazily hung out the second-story window. She gripped a land-line cordless phone with the other hand and rapidly spoke in Farsi.

I stopped because of the music. Sounds. Musical sounds of unknown origins. Which one of my neighbors on the other side of the alley watched a Bollywood musical or blasted gypsy music peppered with Egyptian scales? And was someone actually practicing a xylophone too?

The unfriendly woman in a purple sweater allowed her leashed shar pei to nip at the bottom on my jeans when I walked down the alley. The hashed-out censor in my head muted my scornful thought: "Hey, fuck you lady! Your yapping wrinkled mutt bit my ankle! You're lucky that I don't drop a dime on your ass and report you to L.A. Animal Control as an animal hoarder!"

The heartless twat drizzled a thick, bluish goo into a gurgling laundry machine instead of reeling in her ornery canine. I didn't exist to her. Me? A mere scruffy ghost to my neighbors, maybe even a scruffy goat? No, definitely a ghost. I'm invisible.

Who knows if anyone of my neighbors were callous snitches who answered one of those "If you see something, say something" Homeland Security-funded advertisements that the Military-Entertainment-Fear complex pawned off as each American's Patriotic duty. The entire campaign in the War of Terror became a successful re-branding of Soviet Union-era intimidation tactics against the populous. The intelligence apparatus easily converted your paranoid neighbors into "snooping toms" in order to keep America terrorist-free. They were an additional layer of surveillance in our post-modern digital age and kept tabs on your comings and goings. Domestic espionage.

While continuing to reside in a major metropolitan area, I will NEVER evade the Watchers -- security/traffic/copter/satellite cameras -- for more than a couple of minutes at a time, but even when I'm off the grid temporarily, I'm still being watched by my fellow humanoid homegrown spy network (armed with iPhones, Crackberries Droids, and other tools of the citizen paparazzi), who filled in gaps for the Great Eye in the Sky.

They knew your every move before you made it.

My every move.

Every move.

My. Every. Move.




My. Every. Mood.

The Eye saw me kick the dog before I sauntered down the street and paused in front of a palm tree. I hoisted my own CrackBerry toward the sky and snapped evidence of the white smudges. Zig-zag. Zag-zig. Across the sky. More chemtrails. More jets. More unknown contents. Aluminum? Unknown? Harmless or helpful? If the smudges over the horizon were helpful, then some slippery politician would have seized the opportunity to steal credit for "saving the world" by curing the ills of out environment, and signing autographs for his best-selling book en route to accepting a Nobel prize (and hypocritically flying first class on Royal Scandi Airlines).

I forgot what day it was. It is.


Fuck. The cluster of hungry hipsters in front of the coffeeshop narrowed down the choices to Saturday or Sunday.


On Satursundays, the undersized pixies in scarves and oversized sunglasses and their douchenozzles boyfriends, clad in plaid-checkered shirts and tight black jeans, all impatiently waited for an empty booth at my small, yet beloved coffeeshop. They hovered and drooled over the outdoor tables filled elderly ladies in hats and pearl necklaces. They wolfed down omelets. Wolfed. Even though the post-Church crowd were spiritually nourished after services, they were still famished in the food department.

At that bewitching hour, the coffeeshop's clientele were divided between: 1) religious Baby Boomers observing the Sabbath, and 2) disenfranchised, spiritually-rudderless Gen X-Y-Z philistines.

Regardless of who worshiped who/what, everyone in search of food had to wait for their place in line. But... not me.

Life is so much smoother if you're well-liked by the right people in this fucking town. Or I should clarify -- well-liked by the powerful watch guards of Hollyweird holding the clipboard.

The omnipotent list.

Coincidentally the cosmos aligned perfectly that my faded ass stumbled into the one joint in all of Los Angeles where I actually had some pull. That juice finally came in handy on a slammed Sunday. No wait. I got bumped to the top of the list, a welcomed a perk of a valued regular (good tipper) at a family-owned and operated business -- a true rarity these days. Miserly corporate conglomerates boast about their so-called rewards clubs, but those mega-monsters can't match the residual benefits of a small business who look out for their best customers.

No list. I didn't even put my name on a list. I bypassed all of the hipsters by simply making eye contact with the owner's son (a.k.a. the guy with the list). He nodded and I nodded back. I discreetly passed the drooling hipsters and walked into the back. I slid into an empty stool at the end of the counter. Right above my head, a Eastwood's spaghetti western played on the TV.

The mayhem behind the grill was organized chaos -- nonstop chatter mixed with food lingo and broken Spanish. Much needed communication at the busiest moment of the week. And in a city with "special" denizens, that also meant lots of "special" orders.

The Beatles faintly played on the radio. Penny Lane sounded like a hapless opening act that none one in the crowd paid any attention and talked over, because they anxiously awaited the headlining act -- the symphony of sizzling bacon and sausages.

I never saw anyone work faster than the two cooks. Two cooks, only two. They did the work of eight men. They were octopuses. Octopi. It seemed like 16-arms cranked out a variety of breakfast dishes every twenty seconds. All sorts of eggs concoctions. Fried. Sunny side. Over hard. Poached. Scrambled. One of the prep cooks in the back emerged with a pair of tightly-rolled breakfast burritos. Piles and piles of yellowish greasy potatoes were quickly converted into darkened strands of hasbrowns. French toast. Banana pancakes. Canadian Bacon. Real bacon, but sadly a health-nut ordered that lame excuse of a substitute. Turkey bacon. The methadone of bacon. Turkey bacon.

The lottery winner of the day was the fortunate soul who ordered a swirling maroon and gold plate of Chorizo and scrambled eggs, which reminded me of a Matisse painting.

Maroon + Gold = Matisse's Chorizo and eggs.

A young woman with a Rhode Island accent sat on the stool to my right. She wore her pajamas pants, flip flops, and a UCLA hoodie and updated her Facebook status on her iphone while simultaneously tearing apart creamers and dumping them into her coffee. The silver-haired gentlemen three stools down ruffled the pages of a gaunt copy of the L.A. Times. He took a more classy and dignified approach while dressing up for breakfast: a paisley bow-tie and seersucker suit. He looked more like a clarinet player in a Dixieland jazz band who had been up all night playing sets in the basement of a whorehouse, than one of the Bible Beaters grabbing an omelet after communion. The clarinet player sipped a cup of black coffee infused with four spoonfuls of sugar; the only thing keeping him awake and face-planting onto the counter. For me, a strong big-assed iced tea was the only thing that kept me awake. Although a bump of nose candy would have been fine and dandy. In an L.A. diner full of Jesus Freaks and hipsters, the percentages were good that someone was holding cocaine.

A sticky cup of maple syrup became my first nemesis of the day and it made a few pages of a book stick together. Dirty plates scraped against each other as the busboys rushed back and forth clearing off tables to seat the ever-growing line outside. The clattering of silverware and plates (made in China) sounded like a gentle rain. Bright beams of sunlight cracked through the chemtrail-laced fog and blasted its way through the front window. Even though I sat all the way in the back, the sun was so intense that it blinded out Eastwood on the TV. I considered wearing sunglasses to shield myself from the irritating beams.

The waitress whizzed by in front of me with a maroon and gold swirl dancing on a plate followed by its own chemtrail of deliciousness.

Matisse's Chorizo.

Paul McGuire is the author of Lost Vegas.

Traffic Jam at the Top of the World

By Tim Lavalli © 2011

As I cleared the cornice of the massive boulder I saw the line backed up in front of me. There had to be fifteen or more climbers going absolutely nowhere. I sagged back against the rock face and tried to steady my mind. Time was critical, we were in the death zone, who the fuck thought it was a good idea to call it that? Death Zone! Shit can’t let my mind wander like that, I needed to focus on my options. I had 600 minutes of oxygen from the last checkpoint. Now how long was this bottleneck delay going to take? Who were all of these people at the top of the world? Where did they come from? Maybe we should have taken a number at base camp. Shit Eddie stop that, focus on the minutes of air you have.

OK, count them six, nine, thirteen, fourteen in the queue and one on the ladder. If they each take five minutes. How many fives in an hour? Three in a quarter, so twelve can go up the ladders in an hour. More than an hour to wait for my turn on the ladders. Take 60 minutes off my 600, no wait, damn. Not sixty, there are fourteen climbers in front of me – 70 minutes plus the guy on the ladder now - 75. Maybe I should time him and see if five minutes is a good estimate, I mean it is for an experienced trekker, but who knows if these people even know how to climb. I mean we nearly are at the summit of Everest but… oh man I have got to stay on task here.

Let’s see the guy is already half way up the face, where the two ladders tie together, so another two and a half minutes to the top? But what the hell! He isn’t moving, I can hear voices shouting at him, what is that – Chinese? He’s stopped halfway up and those ladders hold one and only one climber at a time. Move you fucker, get off the damn ladder!

I leaned back against the rock face again and tried to calm my breathing, I had to stop getting emotional about this situation and deal with the facts on the mountain. Every time I got upset my breathing accelerated and my O2 supply went down. I looked back to my right and two more climbers had joined the line behind my climbing partner. I barely knew the climber I was teamed with, Ollie the Norwegian sailor I had been climbing with for the last ten days had to go back down yesterday after an attack of pulmonary edema. I had met George this morning, we were a team only because we paid the same expedition company to set up the tents, food, oxygen and Sherpa guides; other than that, he was a stranger.

Just then one of the team leaders from Finland came round the boulder, the Fin team all wore the same bright neon blue parkas; he took a short look at the pile-up of climbers and ducked back behind the rock. How many of his climbing team did he have back there? They were now sixteen, no eighteen climbers from the ladder. He had to be doing the same calculations I was. I looked back down the line to my left and saw the Chinese climber finally at the top of the ladders, he was being helped by another of his team to clear the top rung. Another person stood next to them, could that be someone wanting to come down? No, it was too early in the day for a returning climber – it was then that a cold hard freeze gripped my chest – all of these climbers ahead of me might well be ahead of me on the way back down when oxygen would be short and everyone would be even weaker then they are now. What would I do trapped at the top of the ladder with a dozen people in line in front of me and death staring me in the face? Politeness might just have to give way to survival.

There it was – take my ego out of the equation and the calculations were precise, not all of these climbers could make it up the ladders to the summit and back down again. Time, altitude, oxygen and the limits of the human body were all X factors, known quantities; if I just removed “me” from the calculation everything fell into place. Some of these people were not going to survive the day. I was, but only if I turned around now and got out of this traffic jam at the top of the world. This is the decision no one wants to make on Everest. I made it in two seconds flat.

I braced myself for that task of passing climbers going down the narrow ledge, I wish my mind were more clear – then my second epiphany hit – I now have excess oxygen, I am not going to summit, I have nearly six hours of spare O2. I cranked the flow up to 2 then 3, what the hell – 4, I could turn it down once I got off this crowded ledge. My head became clearer with each rich breath. Time to get the fuck off this mountain.

I turned to George, lifted my mask and spoke into this ear – “The line is too long, we won’t make it, I am going back down.”

He looked at me like I was a crazy man or maybe a coward but he said only: “One step closer for me.”

I unsnapped by lead carabiner and reached around him to hook on his down slope side, then I unhooked the trailing hitch and slid by him. The two climbers behind us saw the move and immediately flattened against the rock face allowing me to make the same maneuver around them; they too were moving one body up the queue. As I came around the boulder face, the Fin guide gave me a worried smile and leaned in to speak – “My people will not listen, they want to keep going up.” I shook my head and move around him, once I was able to pass his group of four I would be off the narrow ledge and able to make much better time. As I moved through the group of Fins, the leader was telling them that I was a very experienced climber and I had decided the risk was too great. My thought was only to get past them and leave fewer climbers between myself and base camp.

Ten minutes further on I encountered another group of six, off the ledge now we were able to gingerly pass on the trail. I did not intend to speak to them but the last of their group was Nikki, who I had met several days before at base camp #2. Every man on Everest remembered Nikki once he had met her. There was a vastness in her pale blue eyes that could haunt your dreams and even covered by all the cold weather gear, Nikki was able to stir a man’s soul like nothing short of the summit could. I had to say something – “You are 28th in line for the ladder, you have many bad climbers in front of you.” She looked at me as if I had said the moon is made of green cheese. “There isn’t enough time, the lead climbers are moving too slowly; you should turn back.” She smiled and said only – “Thank you.” I moved off down the mountain.

Once free of the other climbers I began to experience a mountain high that often comes from lack of oxygen, I knew mine was because I had made a decision that would save my life. I backed the O2 flow down to 3 but I knew it was not mountain euphoria, I was safe even though still in the death zone. I walked into Camp 4 well before noon and made a quick exchange of extra food I would not be needing for two bottles of hot sugared tea. I changed out my oxygen and left the nearly half full bottle in the expedition tent in case someone had need of it late tonight. I strapped on my last full bottle and in less than half an hour was ready to depart Camp 4 and leave the death zone forever. Just as I squared myself for the trek to Base Camp 3, I heard a call; the leader of the Fin expedition was entering the high end of camp with three of his four climbers. He had a look of relief and grief at the same time. I trudged over to him and gave him a hug. “You saved three of them,” I told him. He was already lamenting the fourth.

At this time of day, I was the only climber on the way down from Camp 4 to Base Camp 3. I was wrapped in my own personal glow of triumph, I truly believed I had made a decision to save my life and I was not ready to wrap my mind around what George and all of those other climbers were going to face trying to get off Everest later today. Several groups were coming up to Camp 4 for their attempt at summiting, which would begin early the following morning. How many of them would be daunted by the gruesome tales about to come down from on high tonight?

I reach Base Camp 3 in the last afternoon and decided I had enough and would rest here and make the trek down through Camp 2 and Camp 1 to the true base camp early the next day. In less than 72 hours I would have exchanged a deadly traffic jam for a seat on a plane leaving Everest forever. I did find as many of the team leaders as I could at Base Camp 3 and told them of the situation I had seen at the ladders, I wanted to prepare them for what was going to be a very dangerous and I feared deadly night.

Just after eight, I wriggled into my sleeping bag and slipped on an oxygen mask at low flow, I was still rich in O2 rations and I wanted a real night’s sleep before I stormed off the mountain in the morning. Around ten o’clock someone crawled into the tent, I couldn’t believe that George had turned around, but who… ? As the other climber pulled off the other parka and zipped into the other sleeping bag I looked over and into those bottomless pale blue eyes. “Thank you again” was all she said.

Tim Lavalli is the co-author of Mike Matusow: Check-Raising the Devil.

Hard Day's Knight: The Black Knight Chronicles, Vol. 1

By John G. Hartness © 2011

Chapter 1

I hate waking up in an unfamiliar place. I’ve slept in pretty much the same bed for the past fifteen years, so when I wake up someplace new, it really throws me off. When that someplace is tied to a metal folding chair in the center of an abandoned warehouse that reeks of stale cigarette smoke, diesel fuel and axle grease - well, that really started my night off on a sparkling note.

My mood deteriorated even further when I heard a voice behind me say “It’s about time you woke up, bloodsucker.” I mean, seriously, why do people have to be so rude? It’s a condition, like freckles. I’m a vampire. Deal with it. But we can do without the slurs, thank you very much.

“Go easy on the bloodsucker, pal. I haven’t had breakfast” was what I tried to say. But since my mouth was duct-taped shut, it came out more like “Mm mmmm mm mmm-mmmmmmm, mmm. Mm mmmmmm mmm mmmmm.” My repartee was gonna need an assist if I was going to talk my way out of this. Of course, if my mysterious captor had wanted me dead, he’d had all day to make that happen, but instead I woke up tied to a chair. I tested my bonds, but I was tied tight, and whatever he had bound me with burned, so it was either blessed, and he was devout, or it was silver. My money was on silver. The true believers are more the stake them in the coffins type than the kidnap them and tie them to chairs type.

“I think, bloodsucker, that since I’m the one with the stake, I get to call you whatever I want. And you, as the one tied to the chair with silver chains, get to sit there and do whatever I say.” My captor moved around in front where I could get a good look at him. I knew him, of course. It’s never the new guy in town who ties you to a chair; it’s always that creepy guy who you’ve seen lurking around the cemetery for a couple weeks. The one that you’re not sure if he was there to mourn, or for some other reason. And of course, it was always some other reason.

I’d seen this guy hanging around one of the big oak trees in my cemetery, near the freshest grave in the joint, for a couple of weeks. I never thought much of his wardrobe until now, but in retrospect he was wearing almost stereotypical vampire hunter garb. Black jeans, black boots, long black coat, wide-brimmed black hat. Christ, I bet he owned the Van Helsing Blu-Ray. I swore then that if I ever got the chance, I was eating Hugh Jackman’s liver. No, we don’t usually eat people, but liver’s liver, and I was pissed. I had been caught and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey by a skinny twenty-something who watched too many bad vampire movies.

This kid was white, about twenty-three, with mousy brown hair and looked like he played too much Call of Duty instead of getting a job. His skin was paler than mine, for crying out loud, and I’m dead! His clothes hung loose on his scrawny frame, giving him a scarecrow look about him, and either had an asthma inhaler in his front pocket or was happy to see me. God, I hoped it was an inhaler.

“Mmmm mmmmm mm mmm mmmm mm mm mm?” I asked, which was supposed to be more of a what do you want me to do type of query, but my mouth was still taped shut. The kid reached forward and ripped the tape off, taking a layer or two of skin with it. “OWWW!” I yelled, straining against my bonds. “You little rat bastard, I swear to God I am going to drink you dry and leave your body on the lawn like…like an empty bag of flesh!”

I admit, my similes need some work.

“I don’t think so, bloodsucker. I think you’re going to do anything I tell you to, or I’ll just leave you tied up there to starve.” He had a point there. It’s not like there were very many people who would miss a vampire, and I hadn’t yet figured out how to get loose from whatever silver-lined bonds he’d created.

“Alright, what do you want?” I asked. Might as well find out right now if he wanted something simple or...

“I want you to turn me,” he replied. The look of hope on his face was a little pathetic, really, but there was a determination there that was disturbing. This was not going to be easy.

“No.” I wanted to get the short and simple part out of the way first, then we could move on to the lengthy explanations.

“Why not?” Wow, from zero to whiny little bitch in .4 seconds. If I’d ever had any thoughts of actually turning this scrawny little zit-farm into a vamp, they would have just evaporated.

“Because I don’t turn people. Because this life isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Because you’d miss all those romantical sunsets you probably write maudlin poetry about. Because it’s not fair to the ecosystem to add another predator. Because we don’t really sparkle. All of the above. None of the above. Pick a reason, kid, any reason you like. I’m not turning you.” I started to look around for another way to get out of this mess, but it didn’t look good for our hero. Or at least my hero, and it’s my story.

For a skinny little gamer-geek, he’d done a good job tying me up. I guess that’s another thing we can thank the internet for - unlimited access to fetish porn has improved the knot-tying ability of men who can’t get dates. I couldn’t exactly see my hands, but by straining around, I could see that my ankles were tied to separate legs of the chair with those plastic zip-ties you get in the electrical aisle. I could see a silver necklace wound around each tie, and by the way my wrists felt, he’d done the same thing there. The chair was the standard metal folding type, the kind that gets sacrificed in countless professional wrestling matches. So I was pretty well neutralized. The silver sapped the strength from my arms just by the contact, and I couldn’t get enough leverage with my legs to do anything useful. I looked up to try and Jedi mind trick my kidnapper, when I noticed two things – one - he was wearing polarized sunglasses, which was a neat idea, although ultimately useless against my mental abilities, and two – he was crying.

“You have to turn me!” He wailed, tears streaming down his cheeks. “I’m running out of time and this was the only thing I could think of to fix it!”

I couldn’t believe it; I was actually starting to feel sorry for the guy. “Okay, kid. Why don’t you tell me what’s wrong and I’ll see if I can help?”

“No one can help, but if I were one of the Undead I could help myself.” I swear I could actually hear him capitalize undead.

“You know that’s kinda my job, right? Helping people that can’t help themselves. Kinda like the A-Team, without the Mohawk and the van. Reach into my shirt pocket and grab a business card. I promise not to bite you, and as you know we Undead cannot tell a lie.” Total bull, but I’ve often found with people dumb enough to romanticize the whole vampire thing that a little mendacity goes a long way. He reached into my pocket and took out a business card. It had my name, James Black, and cell phone number under a logo that said “Black Knight Detectives, shedding light on your darkest problems.” Neither the company name nor the stupid slogan was my idea. And I prefer Jimmy.

“You’re a detective?” I nodded. “And you think you can help me?”

“Well, I can’t really know that until you tell me what your problem is. So why don’t you untie me, and we can talk about this like a pair of reasonable people?” I put a little mojo into my eyes, and he started towards me with a pair of wire cutters in his hand. And that’s when things went to hell.

John Hartness is a writer from Charlotte, NC. He's the author of Hard Day's Knight.


By Adam J. Weise © 2011

There are few situations more guilt inducing for a healthy young man of a middle class upbringing than being asked by a sickly old man to move your poolside lawn chair so that he can continue his job of laying bricks. It made it all the worse that he kept referring to me as "Mr. Adam" and "sir" as if at any moment I might throw a tantrum because he interrupted my sunbathing.

Moving on from my lawn chair, I now sit at a table with a sole fly alternating positions between my left knee and right shoulder. Two of his friends must have witnessed what an enjoyable time he's having walking up and down my bicep and have come to join in the fun. The flies here are at the top of their game. They are bred to be fearless and adventurous; they'll sit on your face taunting you. Attempts at swatting them have only ended with me slapping myself in the face. Even in Tanzania whenever I try to show off by catching a fly in my bare hands like my dad taught me I end up just grasping at air and getting laughed at by the boys. Now I know that flies are just a part of African life and the quicker one accepts it the better as they are everywhere. There are days when in order to ward off the flies in Dar es Salaam I'll eat with my right hand while waving my left hand over the food for the entire meal. The mere concept of a person chasing a sole fly around the house with a fly swatter is laughable to Africans. I remember seeing those commercials about starving African children with a fly sitting on their eyeball and thinking how can they be so malnourished that they don't even blink to get the fly to move? I still can't understand that but I am willing to cede my body to a fly if it will just sit nicely, behave itself and stay away from my face. I do think there is some sort of reverse racism with bugs as last week I woke up with nine mosquito bites on my left forearm, which went nicely with the other five already on my body. Innocent, my roommate, sleeps with no shirt and no mosquito netting but claimed to have not a single bite on him at the time. I thought it might have been due to the fact that I wear the same clothes everyday but I've only been doing that for a week while Billy, who says there is no truth to my racist bugs theory, has been alternating between the only two shirts he owns for the better part of the three years he's been in Africa.

Due to this fact Billy will never over pack like I did this trip, it wasn't over packing in that I packed five pairs of shoes and both my hair dryers but more that I did not anticipate how much room I would need for Egyptian purchases. Then again who could have foreseen I'd buy a life-size evil cat made of stone? Billy chastises me each time I buy any non-necessity so his criticism on my cat statue has been incessant.

After haggling in the Caribbean, Egypt and other African countries I'm comfortable proclaiming myself as an expert in negotiating. If you are ever planning to travel to a foreign country and buy something other than food, you should read this next part.
1. Never act as if you're truly interested or excited about a product because if you do the shop owner knows you're more than likely willing to pay a premium for it. Even if you just spotted that one thing you've been looking for, whether it be a life sized Egyptian cat or something else, don't show anything more than a passing interest.

2. Play the shops and their prices against one another by comparison shopping everything but the most unique items, understand that there are very few truly unique items. That painting of elephants was most likely created in bulk and not by the shop owner, no matter what they claim.

3. Always have them tell you their price first. If nothing else, it prevents you from offering them a ridiculous prize which they'll happily take.

4. Never take their first offer as they'll always come down.

5. Once you've got a fair price in your head just repeat it and make them come to your price. Do not start splitting the difference like they will as this is what they want you to do. An example of a conversation I had at an alabaster bazaar in Luxor: Shop owner "I'll make you a special price of 500 just for you." I say "250." He says "400." Now this is the key as he expects you to go to 350 or 300 but instead I just say "250" again. He (it is almost always a man) will make a big show of how you're insulting him and how unfair you're being but don't let him put a guilt trip on you no matter how many kids he claims to have to feed tonight. Eventually he'll come down again but generally he will stop before he reaches your price. This is when you defer to your most useful tool.

6. Walk away, if he lets you go, then that last price he offered was as low as he will go and you can take it or leave it but you know it was a fair price. What usually happens though is that he will give chase and drop to your price or at least very close to your price. Make sure you actually step foot outside the shop so they actually think you're leaving.
Billy and I have been joined by Melissa a fellow University of Miami alumnus. She has an eager to please attitude and a nice predisposition as well as a propensity to apologize for absolutely everything she does. I have yet to learn to look both ways before I cross the street, a rule mastered by three year olds the world over, and so when I attempted to stride confidently into an oncoming horse driven carriage in Aswan, Melissa grabbed my shirt preventing me from being trampled. She then quickly apologized and attempted to justify her outrageous action.

The final night of the cruise through the Nile I arduously defended the masculinity of men who order gin and tonics, cosmopolitans, or light beers to an Australian female bartender who claims all she drinks is absinthe; eventually I realized it was 2:00 AM and I’d been in the middle of a stupid conversation for an hour so I stumbled into my room, intoxicated from my girlie drinks. 5:45 AM the next morning Melissa, Billy and I met our chain smoking guide Hossam at for a hot air balloon ride. Once we had reached a safe height where I was confident the captain would not throw me off, I launched into a complete lie about my owning a hot air balloon driver's license in the U.S. and that “yes, I realize you just got done telling us not to ask to drive but that I would love to compare this engine to my dad's Honda KX-430 model.” I thought I had lost all believability when I told him not to worry about the Egyptian certification because I also have an international license but to the surprise of anyone on the balloon who could differentiate between an utter lie and the truth I was shooting six foot flames into the belly of the balloon seconds later. It took the pilot approximately twenty seconds to realize I had absolutely no clue what I was doing but that was long enough to scare the hell out of half the passengers and grab one of my all time favorite pictures.

Later that day on the way down the steps from one of the seemingly endless parade of temples we visited I noticed these Muslim girls looking at me. I mentioned this to Melissa and she said that I didn't look that much like Brad Pitt, an allude to a backhanded compliment given to me during a conversation with some Russians. These gentlemen were in the early stages of getting removed from the airport because they were convinced the Kenyan Air staff hated their Russian blood and would have let them smoke in the midst of the airplane cabin during takeoff if they were American and looked like me. As I skipped down the final flight of stairs back towards Hossam and his omnipresent cigarette, I had already wrote off my prior thoughts to narcissism when one of the scarf adorned teenage girls asked to take a picture with me. Flattered and feeling vindicated, I assured her that I would be happy to. Soon an onslaught of similar looking girls with 500 dollar Nokia camera phones surrounded me, each taking an individual photo with me. I then strutted back to Billy and Melissa rather self satisfied when a girl asked Melissa to take a picture with her. My ego was further deflated when two nights later I witnessed a group of giggly Asian girls taking pictures with what had to be the lankiest man I've ever seen. He looked like a forty year old going through puberty. Eventually they even convinced him to stand behind one of the smaller girls with his arms above her head and his fingers outstretched like the Nosferatu version of Dracula.

We leave for Tanzania and the island paradise of Zanzibar tonight.

Adam Weise splits his time between Milwaukee, WI and Austin, TX. The organization described in the writing has become the House of Blue Hope, which Adam and Billy now sit on the board of. Adam is also a co-founder of Ex Fabula, a Milwaukee storytelling group.


By lightning36 © 2011

The situation was just so frustrating. Break up or continue the relationship? There was no easy answer.

He knew that he had been an extremely lucky guy. How many men get to date television stars? Crystal was beautiful, well-known, and popular. But aside from the usual Hollywood trappings, she had a heart of gold. She exuded warmth and compassion, yet had enough of a bite to keep herself real.

Their meeting had come purely by chance. She was in town to promote the opening of a new clothing store. He just happened to be at the mall that day, looking for a birthday present for his father. Their common ground was gemstones, which Crystal loved and he adored. He had once contemplated a career as a jeweler.

From Agate to Zircon, their conversation flowed, and their mutual interest heightened. They discovered that their love of fine jewelry was only one of many commonalities they shared. Similar parents. Similar upbringing. Similar views on politics and life. It was amazing.

They worked hard on continuing a relationship despite her constant travel. Frequent late-night calls and funny text messages and tweets were the foundation of a growing bond. Their time together, although limited, was as precious as the early morning dew on a late summer morning. Was it love? If not, it certainly felt like it. He fell and fell hard. There was no other way to describe it.

There was the other side, however. As much as Verizon helped keep the relationship alive, it was just no match for the painful longing that emotional closeness and physical distance conspired to amplify. He was torn. Perhaps if he had masochistic tendencies he might have survived better, but he was not all about pain. He was about love, and this was tearing him apart, shredding him up like a used piece of paper. He could not take it any longer.

The next time he saw her he did not know what to say. Words escaped him. She saw the sadness in his eyes and did not know what to make of it. Something had changed for the worse and nothing she could say or do seemed to matter. She gazed at him with a loving, yet confused look. It would be up to him to open up about his misgivings. She could only hope that their relationship had not deteriorated over the difficult time away. But she did need to hear something from him. This relationship would not end in silence. She would give him more time.

A day rolled past. Then two. Still, he could not bring himself to reveal the dull pain he felt. He hoped that she could somehow save him, although he had no idea what that saving process would be. There seemed to be no hope.

She was ready to go back home, utterly confused about how this relationship, which showed such excitement and such promise, could suddenly be over just as quickly as it had started. She began experiencing that dull pain herself, knowing that inside herself a small part of her had died. She texted him a short message as a last attempt to avoid the inevitable.

Wallowing in sorrow the past few days, he suddenly woke up and smacked himself in the face for being such an utter fool. How could he allow things to end just because they did not fit his perfect version of a perfect relationship? Did he think that everything was meant to be easy? What damage had his introspective nonsense caused? Could he somehow mend what he had just ripped apart?

Time was short. He knew that he could not physically catch her before she returned home. His last chance to salvage the relationship was right in his hands. A text message was waiting for him.

The message was simple. “I cannot live like this. Can we fix this? It’s now or never.”

A twisted smile crossed his face. The opening was there, right? She did not want this to end, right? He could turn this around.

But he couldn’t. He was frozen in time – paralyzed, unable to move. As much as he wanted to respond, he just could not. It was not in his nature to have things work out. He would not let himself succeed, not enjoy the same happiness that almost everyone else could feel. It was his destiny, he thought. He couldn’t see it any other way. He turned his phone off. His future seemed black … black as onyx, yet devoid of any possibility of change.

Lighning36 is a professional counselor working in higher education in central Illinois.