The Tight Rope

Writing pithy anecdotal tales since 1988. Starting with an ode to a frog named Goofus, probably ending with dementia.

Love a writer. But don’t love me.  I think in abstracts and angles, obtuse and ugly. I’ll notice the gaps in your teeth, the bumps on your tongue, and your peculiar relationship with your mother.

Love a writer. But don’t love me. I’ll turn you inside out for my own pleasure. And right when you think I feel it the most, I’ll walk out the door, remembering your “ugly” forever. 

Tammy found black garbage bags most versatile - placemats, ponchos, impromptu shelter, and improvised storage.  Shiny, soft and pliable, they were beautiful billowing out the sides of her walker, which vibrated as she ran along the shoreline. Tiny black pirate sails against the gray sea.

With the middle finger of her right hand she pushed up her horn-rimmed glasses.  She moved her legs faster and faster sweat running down her cheeks, smelling vaguely fruity. Tammy’s fat mimicked the billowing garbage bag sails, armpits, love handles, and back folds emphasized by her bra, waved behind her. The skin of her face was pulled taut.

Tammy had been the captain of the track and field team in college, invented oil painting, and poetry. She had been to the moon twice, and suggested terraforming before “they” knew what terraforming was. She’d been an artist, a ballerina, and written, in her opinion, the best satire of the Russian revolution currently available. Unfortunately, all works and accomplishments had been credited elsewhere in detailed accounts of history.

The front wheel of her walker buckled and flew off in a whirring tizzy.  Tammy remained stoic.  The wheel-less nub hit the pavement and sparked. She guessed she had about 10 seconds before she became airborne - such was her speed.

Tammy had once been loved by wiry man with a penchant for pickles named Patrick.   For six months she made him sleep on plastic garbage bags to prevent his night sweats from ruining the sheets. Eventually she replaced the sheets with said bags, then the comforter, pillowcases, carpeting and blinds. She admits some fault in the dissolution of their relationship.

The south wind was strong behind her, only increasing Tammy’s extreme acceleration. “5” she screamed  as sparks ignited her jacket, “4” she bellowed as her grip on her walker broke, “3” she exclaimed as she stuffed her pocket with last minute trash bags, “2” Her voice was lost in the wind, “1” almost a whisper… “Take off.”

Brittany was pretty sure the Devil invented tacos… and the way coffee leaves a shit taste in your mouth after five minutes.

She wasn’t a pious person, but gave due credit to the Devil when he deserved it.

The Devil was responsible for the porcupine prickle growing out of her scalp.  He told her to hack it off with her roommates razor because it was progressive and shit. She all but felt his cloven hand or foot or whatever guide her own. Brittany took a picture of her lonely dark locks on the linoleum floor and instagramed: #startingfresh.

The Devil was responsible for the Big Mac’s and pepperoni pizza she ate on the sly - because, you know - she was Vegan. If people were meant to eat meat they would have fangs, like wolves.

He was also responsible for the way Brittany’s nose rolled into a snub right at the tip.  He christened her Pig Face, and cursed her with long nose hair.

At least three people had told her Brittany she could have been beautiful if she had a rhinoplasty - she wasn’t sure who was responsible for that.

Brittany ran 3 miles every day.  But the Devil forced her to stop at the nearest coffee shop and eat donuts for exactly 35 minutes. Guilty, she sprinted up the stairs to her apartment, and took time to chastise her egg eating roommate. They were birds, given no choice to live.

The Devil made Brittany look in the mirror every morning and pointed out her snub nose, her ugly hair, and her stupid face. He would tell her to go eat tacos and drink coffee so she would never forget how bad she tasted.

Donovan and Tyler were found holding hands.  Their grasp so tight that the paramedics struggled to separate them.  Instead they unanimously decided to cut two tiny symmetrical holes in the body bags.   

Donovan’s distended belly was the kind that belonged to a renaissance cherub. Tyler existed as xylophone ribs attached to a knobbly spine, punctuated with sinewy skin.

Bartholomew guessed that Tyler had passed first; Donovan’s body was in slightly better condition. Maybe a few hours? Then Donovan curled into fetal position and held on tight. 

Holding hands leaving the world behind.

Bartholomew snapped his latex gloves, adjusted his eye wear, and examined their desperate hold. One of their hands would barely have spanned his palm - fingernails broken, striated, dirt to the quick.  He gingerly held the wrist of each boy, and attempted to separate them. 

Knuckle to knuckle, unrelenting grip.

Bartholomew hadn’t seen anything like it. He was glad they went together in the saddest way. No more than five, their bodies both fit on the stainless steel table top. The report said they were found under newspaper, on cardboard, in a shithole on the wrong side of town.   

Bartholomew stroked each of their tousled heads, sorting through matted hair, pausing over purple temples.  He had a son who lived very very far away, with his mother. 

 “You know boys.  Some people aren’t meant for this world.” His voice boomed in the sterility and silence. 

Bartholomew took off his gloves and laid his warm hand over their stiff, cold, heartbreaking handshake.   For the first time in his life he felt a pain that burned and writhed in his soul. A pain that would change him forever.   

Peter Costello was a simple man.  In fact, it surprises most leading Peter Costellologists that he procured a mate.

The leading theory postulates the combination of rancid beer-breath, Peter’s premature beard, and the dim- almost absent lighting were part of the Mary procurement process.  Mary remembers what peach schnapps tastes like twice.

Mary became pregnant and financially dependent on Peter who towed cars and changed flat tires for an independent garage.  None of that Mr. Lube bullshit.   

He worked there from 16 straight through to 45, spitting chew into old low-fat yogurt containers he grabbed out of the garbage.  Mary had been dieting for 20 years straight.  Their kitchen was an ode to the low fat gods, with the exception of Mary’s treat drawer, that was stocked every other day with chocolate and brownies and chips.  “A girl’s got to have some meat on her bones, you don’t want me wasting away do you?” 

Peter had widened the door frames in the house at least twice. 

Their son wasn’t as simple as Peter would have liked, but he was a good enough kid.  He was always obsessed with riding bikes, or building birdhouses, or punching kids in the nose at school.  He was their pride and joy.

Peter remembers himself as a high school king -slinging cigarettes and girls, drinking beer like water, participating in competitive sex. The mirrors in his house liked to tell him a different story.  His dull eyes peered at him under tufts of graying hair.  Peter had lost his feet 10 years ago to his ever growing girth, a taut mass held tightly by his t-shirts.

He can remember a time a flash of his smile made 20 something girls giggle nervously.

Peter tried it on the teller at the bank, pulling his lips back in a charming smile.  She cringed at his yellow teeth, and explained patiently to him that there wasn’t enough money in his savings account to pay off his visa bill, would he like to pay the minimum?  Her lipstick was stuck slightly to her teeth.

Peter Costello had expected so much more.

He said we were all Gods, all Gods, drinking gin.  

“I’m 7000 years old.”

“I’m Mother Teresa,” I replied, “Nice to meet you.”

“Just because it seems impossible, doesn’t mean it is”

Our feet dangled off the overpass.  Glyn passed me the bottle of gin mixed with a sweet liquid I didn’t recognize.

“Was Glyn a popular name that long ago?”

“I’ve gone through a lot of names. What do you think suits me.”

“Tom. People like a Tom. You could even spell it t.h.o.m”

“I like that. Call me Tom then.  Do you know why I’m here?”

His hand rested on my knee.  We only met earlier that day. 

“Sorry!” I gasped.  I walked right into his chest, crushing my coffee between our bodies, “are you okay?” 

The front of his shirt was stained brown, and my coffee was half empty. I quickly reached out to pull the fabric of his shirt away from his body.

“I’m okay.” He replied, “wasn’t that hot.” 

“Seriously, I’m so sorry.  Drinking problem..” my face burned.  

“Really don’t worry about it.”  Crow’s feet stretched prematurely from the corner of his black eyes to his temple, but his smile was warm. 

“I’ll buy you a new shirt.  Coffee stains…”

He laughed, “Look, why don’t you just buy me a real drink later? I’m Glyn by the way.”

Glyn met me outside my apartment?  We walked the coastline, while the sun set over the sea turning the waves pink and orange with every undulation.

He’d been everywhere, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan, the furthest reaches of the Amazon, the Arctic, the Antarctic, Ohio.  When he woke up, his body bent into a sun salutation, when he went to sleep he said he floated into the stars.

“No.” The drink stung the back of my throat.

“Right after you left the coffee shop.  Do you remember?” When I met his gaze I didn’t know where night began.

The taste of blood lingered in my mouth, my jeans were ripped, and when I walked my hip crunched under the pressure of my body.

“I’m going to be okay.” I turned to him. His profile looked old and young, “Glyn?” 

“Yes, you’re going to be okay.  We’re all gods, we all have a place to go but you can’t stay here.” Cars slipped away below us - a stream of headlights, “If you jump from here it won’t hurt.” 

After I refilled my coffee, I stepped off the curve to cross the road.  My head full of Glyn, his black eyes, and reassuring smile.  The car came around the corner too fast. 

“Where will I go?” I asked

“I don’t know. I can’t go with you. I’m just here for this. It was your turn.”

My head hit the windshield, spider web cracks touching every corner of the glass from the site of impact.

Glyn held my hand as we walked away from it. 

“Who are you?” my question was lost in the roar of traffic beneath us.

“It won’t hurt I promise.” No eye whites.  Just consuming black. And I fell.

Pharaoh was a collector of detritus.  At least that’s what he imagined himself doing.  Like a hermit crab eating excrement off the ocean floor - except he was a human, sweeping up the rubbish of neglected neighborhoods. He scavenged mainly.  Bottles - glass ones especially, for the coins that he could tinkle in his pocket.

He tightened the scarf around his ears because it was cold this time of year.  Even though it was supposed to be spring it never did feel like it on the west coast.  Yet it never felt like winter either and that was reassuring.

The plastic bottles weren’t so bad.  Sometimes people left out empty beer bottles, placed carefully back in their cases.  He was touched by their kindness.  It made it easy for him to scoop them up and put them in the trolley he pulled behind his stolen bike.  He didn’t like to think of it as stolen, so much as conveniently left unlocked because Karma figured it screwed him over enough times.  If you find a break, you have to take it.  Pharaoh learned that at a young age, and it had become his mantra.

The crisp air bit at his fingertips as he measured his peddles.   There was a certain speed optimal for observation. If he maintained it he rarely missed a find.

Pharaoh was clean now.  No one really believed it.  His nails were still broken, his teeth still ground down, his skin a strange shade of unhealthy yellow, like he was misted in turmeric.  It wasn’t like you could just go back and undo those things.  It’s not like years he’d spent filling his veins with various substances would stop addling his brain.  

He did like to hum.  Pharaoh liked to make up various tunes, or just sing out of key when he got some speed up with the weight of his collection. Recently he’d found a bell for his bike: a nicely worn beige one.  It made a pretty interlude to his humming, plus when someone was in his way he could curtly ring at them.  It was well received, and he preferred not to shout.  The way his voice changed disturbed him. Rasping like dead leaves rubbing aggressively at one another.

The last time he caught himself in the mirror he hadn’t realized how much he’d aged.  The crow’s feet cornered his eyes, and deep lines pulled his mouth down into a frown.  The black tattoo of vines or barbwire, or whatever, he couldn’t remember, drooped sadly down his arms.  So he got a towel and tucked the edges over the glass.  He preferred to think of someone else.

Someone who had a purpose.  Just like in the ocean.  Someone who was a scavenger, a garbage diver, a bonafide treasure hunter.  Someone who saw things as beautiful when others saw them for trash.  He thought of his apartment as a museum: A museum to rejected household items.  He felt companionship, even camaraderie with these objects, because they were thrown out of society just like him and just like him, they survived.

The MDMA in this city is dirty.

Some guy named “mad scientist” got spooked and stopped making it.  Kids these days want shrooms, or LSD.  No one wants to risk the weird speedy, teeth gritting, 3 pill till you feel anything trips, colorful kind of bullshit lying pills.

Nope, nowhere. Maybe if you know a guy who knows a guy, but it’s pretty easy to accidentally get meth, which feels a bit like you took too much pseudo-ephidrine.  At least your nose doesn’t run. You may as well just have fun with antihistamines or stimulant stacks.

It’s not the same. Its not that spine tingling rush where everything in your life suddenly forms a straight line. People think you have all this energy, but you don’t. You’re soft, pliable, open, loving.  Colors are brighter, the world is better and when you’ve lost your straight line you can find it again.

How the fuck are you supposed to find anything when you’re bogged down by a stupid biochemical cascade of other neurotransmitters.  Nope. Let the dopamine rush,let the serotonin flow, let your brain clean itself out and sink into a cathartic healing process.

My nightmares are too scary to dabble in psychoactive shit. I just want my straight line back. Just a straight line.

We’ve all heard it- those horror stories about the “raged out roid junkie” who snapped his overdeveloped muscles thanks to a weak ligament.  

"His quad rolled right up his leg bro -  Rolled like the lid of a sardine tin."

There’s rumors round the gym, that one guy even went all hulk and ripped his cat in half on a Sunday afternoon. 

I believe it, Randy is one mean motherfucker. 

Monday is chest day.  Vascularized man. I like to flex my pecs in the mirror.  If your lucky I’ll make them dance for you.  

My tailor doctors my pants.  It’s hard to find things that fit over my thighs. But I’m obsessed. 

When Nancy left uttering, “Narcisstic fool” I was in a bad place.  But the gym was there for me.  That bar, slightly dusted in chalk, we had history.  My belt gave me all the support I needed, embracing my back with the kind of commitment that Nancy never had. 

There’s no shame in steroids. You still have to train hard and mean.  You still have to snarl at yourself in the mirror, find that quiet place in your head, and just fucking move that weight. 

My muscles responded well the the supplemental help.  Engorged. Pumped up. 

Squats, Deadlifts, snatch, clean and jerk - I’m more into power lifting.  More useful - in case I ever need to pry a car off of someones mutilated body. 

Slow twitch, fast twitch, smooth, skeletal, and cardiac - all of it grew. I didn’t fit in chairs, I didn’t fit in buildings, I couldn’t move my fingers without them bumping into each other. 

that was normal right?

I asked Randy.  He was bicep curling fanatically, looking at the spandex ass of a fitness instructor.  

"Totally bro" he grunted. 

The hollow look in his eyes made me fear for feline companions everywhere.

Soon my floorboards started to sink.  The building inspector was perplexed by the sag. Some nights I put the pillows on the ground and tried to distribute my weight evenly, just in case. 

Chest, Back, Deads, Squats, front squats, romanian deadlift, snatches jerks, chin ups, dips. Repeat - once in the morning once at night.  I didn’t need recovery time. Roids man.

Then there was nothing left to lift.  I squatted the rack, I threw cars, I ran around the city flipping large objects, car alarms screaming. 

I went back to Randy for guidance - the only one who could understand.

"Too far man." he said, cat fur stuck to his chin.

The only real love of my life. Thanks to her I can never find my shoes, socks, or underwear, I will never have to go into any room alone, and have learned to deal with numerous bumps in the nose and body shots at night when she decides it’s time for some love. I’ve also become an expert at sneakily replanting my landlords garden when she can’t fight her digging urges.