To Be Stuck chapter 3

I figure I can change the subject and see what happens. I ask, “What do you think of soccer?”

She shrugs. “What do you think of soda?”

“How does soccer relate to soda?”

“Not much. If you’re going to kick around subjects like soccer, I’ll interject with soda.”

“What’s the purpose of that?”

“I want to be sweet.”

I imagine she will be difficult for her own sake. I may want to drink coffee and she will choose to serve me tea. That is, if she thinks we are in England. I would not mind visiting another country but first I will have to get free from her before I visit a place as close as the corner store, even though there are no stores close by, but the sentiment is the same. I am here on a house-sitting mission and her hand is hand-sitting my hand, as if she is in the house of my hand. Then again, my hand is in hers so I am the one hand-sitting her hand. I do not plan to stay in Pennsylvania more than I need to do so. When my brother-in-law’s friend comes back, I am gone. I am already gone, in mind. I am not here with Constance. I am elsewhere.

Suddenly, there is a knock on my sister’s and brother-in-law’s door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re early. I didn’t expect that.” She opens the front door.

Two women walk in. One is wearing a black dress. She looks fine but not as noticeable as I would have assumed if the woman was a politician. The other woman dresses oddly in a way that is almost surreal. She is wearing a brown ribbed wool muumuu and yellow jeans and red ankle boots. Under the muumuu, a blue-and-white checkered scarf is visible. She looks like she would be a secretary for the sanitation department. However, the woman in the black dress says, “Hello, Sarah. This is Julia, my sister.”

Sarah said, “Hi, Christine and nice to meet you, Julia.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You now know what I mean.”

I do not know what Sarah means.

Christine says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Julia looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara says, “You can always take off the muumuu later.”


“Or, you can just take off the scarf so you’re more comfortable.”


Sarah shrugs. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I ask, “Would you like to roam around in the city?”

Julia asks, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone.”

“But you can go to the city with anyone. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. I’m a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

I want to be polite. “Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shook her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiles. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do.”

Christine says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on consciousness. There’s some talks already professor have done on how consciousness is just particles forming together to make an assemblage of conscious awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how consciousness shifts when a person who is not famous meets a celebrity. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the person. Other particles recognize the celebrity. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of particles. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and difficulty itself could be another set of particles that work in conjunction with clarity so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance interrupts my train of thought. She asks, “Are you still here?”

I sigh. “Apparently so.”

“You’ll like it here in Pennsylvania. I’ll explain to the landlord that you’ll be moving in. He wants to paint my house blue. I rather like the color blue but I’m fine with it as it is. I don’t mind beige. Want will you want me to fix you tomorrow? I can fix eggs or would you like cereal for breakfast?”

I cannot help but put my mind in replay. My brother-in-law loves soccer so, to respect what he likes, I will go over what I was thinking about a minute earlier, though I will change the setting and conversation.

Suddenly, there is a knock on the door. Sara says, “Wow. They’re late. I expected that.” She does not open the front door.

Two women walk in. One was dressed in a yellow dress. She looks strange.. The other woman dresses exactly the same but somehow looks like the outfit is more appropriate on her. The strange woman says, “Hello, Sarah. This is another version of me. She calls herself Monica.”

Sarah says, “Hi, Kathy and nice to meet you, Monica.” She gives me a look as if to say, “You do not know what I mean.”

I know what Sarah means.

Kathy says, “I told Julia the weather today was going to be somewhere in the eighties. She insisted on wearing this combination.”

Monica looks at the floor. “It’s fine.”

Sara said, “You can always take off the dress later.”


“Or, you can just smile so you’re more comfortable.”


Sarah shrugged. “Okay.” She gives me that look again.”

I say, “I’m Andrew. This afternoon will be fine.”

Monica asked, “Why?”

“Because it’ll be fun to go in the city with someone.”

“But you can go to the city with Kathy. It does not have to be me, per se.”

“Are you saying you’d rather not go?”

“No. But I’m no one special. Kathy’s a bit strange. That’s what everyone tells me.”

“Well, I like your outfit. I think you look great. You have style.”

She shakes her head. “I just can’t change. People judge me on it.”

“If you’re not going to change, it could be because you don’t need to change. You’re on a higher level.”

She looks at me with surprised eyes. She smiled. “You really want to spend time with me?”

“I think it would be fun. We could go on campus at Columbia University or we could go to Absolute Bagels and get something to eat or we could go to a book store or to the park. Whatever you’d want to do.”

Kathy says, “Sarah, I’d like your opinion on something. I’m doing a lecture on boxes. There’s some talks already professor have done on how boxes are just particles forming together to make an assemblage of cardboard awareness. I want to focus on something a little different. I want to make my talk about how boxes shift when a person who is not famous meets a newspaper. Is fame merely an overabundance of particles interacting? Only some particles can make the newspaper. Other particles recognize the box. How does all of that work?”

Sarah says, “I think it depends on one’s interpretation. There is a possibility that interpretation itself is a bunch of boxes. It is hard to determine.”

“Well, if that’s true, then definitely it’s a complicated issue and paper itself could be another set of boxes that work in conjunction with cardboard so everything gets mixed up.”

“Are you sure you’re not giving the speech now?”

Constance frowns. For me to notice, she must have jolted me back so I am concentrating on her again. She says, “This is like the pineapple diet.”

I ask, “What is like the pineapple diet?”

“Our constant motion. It detoxes the system. Also, when you use the shower, make sure to sure the thing that goes in the drain. It catches all the hair quite well.”

“What is your favorite type of music?”

“I like jazz. I am not really a fan of scat singing. I don’t believe the human voice needs to sound like a trumpet. But I am impressed with singers who can do a really fine vocal range.”

“I like jazz, too. Who are your favorite artists?”

She shakes her head. “I don’t know why people need to use the word artist when everything is life is art. When you’re walking down the street, you’re creating art because you’re continuing the preservation of life action.”

“Would that be true even if someone did the same thing over again?”

“Yes but that would be like a false version of mass production. It would be like putting out a book but the serial number on each copy is different. It would be the same but not exact. That’s why people cannot duplicate the exact thing they did the day before. Yesterday was already created. Duplication becomes not complete duplication. It becomes remanufacturing of creation. That is the same as creation but it seems different because people don’t realize that any difference, however small, does count as a difference.”

“What about television sets? If one person is watching the soccer game on his television set and someone else is watching the same game on another set, isn’t that exact duplication?”

“It would be like two bottles of soda. The ingredients are the same from one bottle to another but it wouldn’t be the exact same exactness. I assume you know what I mean.”

“I know that I brought up soccer and you brought up soda again.”

“Yes. We brought up the same subjects again but we treated them differently. That is going over familiar territory. It is not quite remanufacturing creation but it is close to doing so.”

“I understand. But have you ever figured out why one television set can produce the same program as another television set? It’s the same show, so in that way it is the exact duplication of the show, but it is being shown on another television in another house so it is not the very exact duplication of exact duplication.”

“It is because the signal can be shared. The source of the program is the same source. It is one big signal. It goes to more than one television set. It is like one big piece of food that gets split up so everyone can eat it.”

“But, then, how can you explain one person might get a bigger slice of food and another person gets a smaller slice? It was not divided equally.”

She nods. “One television might not be as big as the other television. One television is bigger than the other. The signal is the same. The quality of food is the same.  But the size is different.”

“How did we get to talking like this, anyway?”

“You brought up the subject.”

“I brought it up because I don’t know how else to pass the time.”

She laughs. “You’ve been able to pass the time before, many times. Just keep passing the time like you usually do.”

“How can I? You’re preventing me from doing what I ordinarily do.”

“What do you ordinarily do?”

“I go about my day and do things.”

“What happens when you encounter difficulties?”

“I deal with them.”

“Yes. That’s what you’re doing now. You’re doing what you’re ordinarily doing.”

“I guess so.”

“I know so.”


To Be Stuck chapter 2

Before I continue with the present situation, I have to recount a few more details concerning what happened the first day I visited New York, this last time.

I remembered thinking my third visit to New York would be exciting. First, I had to pack my clothes and toiletries. Most people would not think twice about such a thing but I was feeling older. My weight was not what it used to be when I felt young. Even small achievements, like putting deodorant, toothbrushes and soap in a plastic bag and packing it in with my clothes in  luggage, reminded me of my frustrations in California.

The trip to New York was going to be different than a trip visiting my natural relatives, all of whom were nowhere near natural when they were alive, in my opinion. I would be visiting my sister, Sara, from my adoptive family, whom I regarded as my real family, and her husband, Gordon. She was the last living relative of that crew. My parents, Malcom and Marianne Tagg, were far from being normal and they had a lot of problems of which caused me a lot of stress growing up, but at least they ate meals considered healthy, at least compared to my other family, and lived in an area where people were generally healthy-looking and pleasant to talk with. I had what I considered a satisfactory upbringing, at least more than those of some of my friends. They stayed married and worked. Some of my friends were living with single parents on disability money.

My birth mother, Lynn Ridl, had me when she was a teenager and the amount of men who could have been my father was eleven, according to her count. Her parents, Adam and Marie Ridl, had divorced and her mother married another man, David Clifford, who did not want to support her and a baby so Lynn agreed to go in the foster care system where she lived with foster parents for a while. She left eventually and the reason changed according to who said what. They claimed she decided she could not handle staying in foster care anymore. Lynn said they told her to leave and not visit me anymore. The truth was more along the lines of the foster care system thought she was an unfit mother. They suggested she move back in with her mother and stepfather who probably had something to do with reporting her to social services. Lynn’s sister, Joyce, had visited Lynn when she lived with who became my adoptive family. Joyce was considered the bitch of her family because she complained to everyone about everything. Her father, Adam Ridl – not step father David Clifford – visited Lynn and I, also. He loved me. He would play “Anchors Away” on the accordion for me. But he died when I was a baby.

Lynn and Joyce also had a brother, Gary, who may or may not even have known Lynn had a son. Gary was away working at Job Core for several years. When he finally returned home, David and Marie were not the most conscientious people on the issue of telling the truth. As far as they were concerned, I was in foster care with competent people and Lynn was home where she belonged, baby-free. They were the type of people who thought that a bill would not need paying if no one opened the envelope to see if it was a bill or not.

I eventually decided to contact Lynn and her relatives after my friend, Herbert Berman, suggested constantly I do so. I played and recorded Herbert’s music on paid gigs. Herbert said he wanted to know more about my family because I was talented and the talent had to come from somewhere. Malcolm wanted to write an opera based on the Ridl’s. Finally, I agreed to contact them. That was five years ago.

During the time I got to know them, I was told everything about the family. They had disturbing lives and there was not even one week free from any kind of situation gone horribly. They were kind people who loved me but I could not get past some of their disgusting living habits and their overall stupidity on how the world worked. Thank goodness I did not grow up with Lynn.

I was still recovering from when I spent time knowing them. I had agreed to visit them at least once a week and let them cook birthday dinners for me. I would visit them for holidays when they made meals and, more often than not, they yelled and complained to each other. Holidays were not for family cheer, apparently.

As I packed my bags to go to New York, I felt a little less old and a little less overweight. The food the Ridl’s fed me had taken its toll but now some of that toll would be returned to me as I thought about the campus of Columbia University again, where there was never a shortage of a variety of good looking women walking around. The energy from the campus itself was enough to inspire me to write. For me to think of how people dressing well was nothing unusual went against my California experience where the main issue was whether or not someone dressed at all. That was an exaggeration but I was hoping the upcoming trip would bring about a new set of experiences that would help me feel younger and healthier. I would be there only a week but I would try to make the experience last longer in my mind.

When I was all packed and went to the airport, the ride on the plane was longer than I would have appreciated. Two gay men were seated next to me. The male flight attendant had continuously bumped my arm whenever the man walked by. My seat hurt my back after four hours. When I got off the plane, I saw good looking women.

Sara was going to pick me up at the airport but she had a class that night so she called me and suggested I arrive via taxi, which I did. The seat hurt my back even more and the ride was uncomfortably bumpy. When I arrived on Morningside Drive and saw Sara waiting for me, I felt that my vacation was just starting.

She said, “Hi, brother. How was your trip?”

I said, “Now, it will be good. The flight was a bit long but I just thought about how fun it would be once I got off the damn plane.”

She laughed. “I know. Whenever I have to fly somewhere, I tell myself, ‘Don’t think about it. Don’t think about it.’ Have you ever tried that?”

“In a different way, I’ve tried it. I’ve said, ‘Don’t think about the crappy flight. Don’t think about the crappy flight.’ But, right away, that makes me think about the crappy flight.”

We laughed and went in her apartment. Her husband, my brother-in-law, was not home yet. We ate Mexican food from a take-out place. The food was mild. I liked hot and spicy food a lot but my stomach, aside from being overweight, was causing me to feel a burning pain similar to drinking cold acidic juice. I was relieved she ordered mild food. Perhaps she remembered when I told her earlier about my stomach issues.

She smiled. “Well, happy birthday! And, welcome to New York! Have you thought about what you wanted to do while you’re here?”

I said, “I remember how much I liked strolling around Columbia University. I’d like to do that again and go in the café.”

“Oh, okay; which café?”

“The one that is by the philosophy department…”

“That sounds nice. I was thinking you might also like to hang out in my summer house in Pennsylvania. You could see a real farm stand there. It’s nothing like Manhattan but it’s beautiful in the country. Not much to do there. They have a general store and a café about an hour drive from my place but, on the way there, we could go to the café. I know how much you like that sort of thing.”

“I like the female cashiers at the cafes. That’s why I go there.”

“Okay. Maybe you wouldn’t like Joe’s Café. Joe owns it. He’s from Hungary and he cooks good Hungarian food.”

“Well, I also like food so maybe I would enjoy going there. The smell of good food is also like a good cup of coffee.”

She nodded. “The coffee is good there.”

“I’ll sort of wing it and see what transpires. I’m not going to want to assume too much. I’ll just want to have things flow. That’s how I had a good time last year. It’s very different than Antioch in California. Over there, the population comes in only two types, unimaginative and upset.”

“Really…? That’s a shame. How’s your cousin, by the way?”

“Alexandra? She messaged me and wished me a happy birthday. I think she’s better off in the group house. The neighborhood there is gorgeous. But she doesn’t like the rules. She has to report exactly when she leaves, even to get coffee or a sandwich. They don’t allow visitors in the house. If I visit her, I have to wait outside and she and I can go to a café.”

“Well, from what you told me about her upbringing, she never really knew anything about survival skills. Her parents never taught her anything.”

“Her dad spent most of the time riding in his electronic wheelchair, going to shop for cheap food at the dollar stores and bumping into cars with his wheelchair. I often saw him bruised on his face and arms. Most people have tragedies rarely. They had tragedies twice a week.”

She nodded. “How do you feel about off al them no longer alive? They all died relatively close to each other, right?”

“Within a couple of years; first, my uncle’s wife, Bridget, then my uncle himself, Gary, and then my aunt Joyce and then my birth mother, Lynn. They didn’t like doctors and didn’t want to listen to any health advice. Lynn kept smoking and eventually got emphysema and had to breathe through a tube in her nose and even then she continued smoking.”

“Do you think your cousin is going on the same path as them?”

“Most definitely… She’s only thirty one and she’s never been slim. At least now she has a place to go in the morning. She does drawing in art class that’s a part of the day school she’s in.”

“Does she like it?”

“She likes to draw.”

“So, she’s artistic. That’s a good sign. She might like to take classes at the college in her area.”

“Los Medanos College is one of the most barren places I’ve ever seen. I’ve only ever noticed one or two people walking around during any time and they look like janitors.”

“Wow. How does the campus look?”

“The whole thing looks like utility buildings. It’s hard to believe it’s a college.”

“Maybe the classes are good. They might have a great teacher for art. Your cousin might have a lot of talent and she needs someone to bring it out.”

“That could be. On the other hand, I do think there’s something to be said for people who take care of themselves.”

We finished eating. She said, “I don’t want to be a party pooper because you just got here and I’d love to talk some more tonight but it is getting late and we have a cool day ahead of us tomorrow. I think I want to get to bed.”

“That’s fine with me. I did every little sleeping yesterday night. I was excited about the trip. I’m tired, too.”

“Okay. Let me show you where you’ll sleep.” She showed me the guest bedroom.

He entered the room. “Thank you again, sister. I really appreciate you letting me visit.”

“It’s my pleasure. I know how much you’ve been through with your birth mother passing away just recently and you having to help your cousin find a place to live. You deserve a time of escape.”

“So true… Good night.”

To Be Stuck chapter one

Kody sweatshirt 6.jpg

Cover image courtesy of Kody:

How bizarre. Totally unexpected. I come here on a visit, after first visiting New York, then going to Pennsylvania and finally arriving at North Carolina. The itinerary was awkward itself but has become even more so by the mere suspense of the situation. To talk with someone about various intellectual subjects is one thing but to be entrapped in a handshake with said person quite another. I will retrace my steps, starting from the beginning, so I can assess why this is happening.

First, I had to deal with a situation involving my cousin from my birth family. I consider my adoptive family to be my real family but, since I was in contact with biological relatives a few years ago whom have since died except for one or two, I considered my cousin, from my birth mother’s brother’s side, a good friend. She still is a good friend but she lives in Pittsburgh Bay Point in California and the commute from where I live in Oakland, California is difficult and time-consuming. I remember a fellow from Pennsylvania who travelled to California and, during a casual conversation, he told me that the difference between Marin County and Berkeley was not long. He made a comparison with the difference between California and Pennsylvania. Oakland is next to Berkeley and Pittsburgh Bay Point is closer to Oakland than Marin County so the commute to where my cousin lives is not really too long but I feel tired in the hot heat and she lives in an area where the weather will shine its blazing sun right on me the moment I go there. However, before my cousin moved to Pittsburgh Bay Point, she stayed with me, on account of all of her immediate relatives died, though she would have wanted to move away from them even when they were alive, but none of them taught her any survival skills and none of them were any good at survival skills either so she had to be helped. I provided the help. She helped me often enough so I needed to reciprocate.

The process of finding her a place to live was excruciating. She did not like any of the choices and I had very little money in the way of buying her enough food to eat. I was not supposed to have guests at my place anyway, but I let her stay with me because of who she was. When I finally found a place for her that she accepted, which took approximately six months, my sister, who had helped by giving me extra money to feed her, offered to fly me to New York where I could spend ten days with her and see the sights and do fun things. A year later, now, she paid for my plane ticket again and I came out for another visit.

After a few days of spending time in New York, my sister offered me the chance to see her summer house in Pennsylvania. I figured that, since I had not been out of California when I was younger and then considered myself a well-seasoned traveller after seeing both New York and New Jersey, where the airport was located, Pennsylvania would be another experience I would appreciate. I went there with her and her husband, who was a professor at Columbia University, and we looked at the wonderful view of nature where the house was located and we talked about different academic subjects. I figured the subjects were probably academic because people tend to categorize their statements according to what stereotypical category sounds best. Since my brother-in-law was a professor, our conversation would be tagged academic, though I never was sure I knew the academic aspect of putting luggage on the floor or merely saying hello.

While we were in Pennsylvania, my sister received a phone call from a woman who had been a professor at Columbia University with her husband, my brother-in-law, several years earlier. She had a house in North Carolina where she needed someone to housesit for her while she was away on school business in Oregon. She used to live in California before she lived in New York and, now that she lived in North Carolina, she considered Oregon the most amenable state for her. My sister paid for my plane ticket to North Carolina and my brother-in-law’s college colleague picked me up at the airport, drove me to her house, helped me put my bags in the house and then said she was glad to meet me and she hoped I would enjoy myself while I was there. Then, she drove away.

I did not know where any stores were in North Carolina. I had not known where anything was in Pennsylvania but I was lucky my sister was around to show me everywhere. In that regard, I would consider my investigating North Carolina to be an adventure I would enjoy. My first destination was to find a store where I could buy some water.

My reason for wanting to buy water, as opposed to drinking what was on tap, was because I listened to my sister who told me her daughter, my niece, was a biologist and talked about the harmful organisms in raw foods and tap water. I was not totally agreeing with the raw foods part because I liked eating sashimi and never had an intestinal problem from it but I understood about tap water from my own readings on the subject. Also, I wanted to see the difference between the type of mineral water that was in North Carolina as opposed to Pennsylvania. I would not make the comparison to the water in New York because, even though upper New York state had some gorgeous nature areas and clean things, I was always in Manhattan and Harlem where there could be pretty neighborhoods but nothing so natural as the other two states. I walked ten blocks up the street where my brother-in-law’s cousin’s house was situated and no stores were in sight.

However, I saw a woman in front of her house who was wearing a tucked-in Duke University sweatshirt, with her sleeves rolled up, and she reminded me of women who went to Columbia University who wore shirts tucked in. Not everyone tucked in his or her shirts but there were a good many New Yorkers who did so and I enjoyed seeing the women who wore that style because it was my favorite style to observe. The woman, who I am now conversing with, was in New York while I was there and she always wore tucked-in sweatshirts with her sleeves rolled up so I felt strange and aroused. Until this happened.

I admit I stopped and looked at her for a few seconds, perhaps a few more seconds than proper. I should have glanced for one split second while walking and not stopped to observe her appearance. However, this is North Carolina and I am not too well-versed in the ways of people here. Of course, being the South, there is a bit of the country-music style going on and some of my favorite women country singers are from the south so maybe this woman is imitating country singers. My reasoning is inaccurate because country singers do not usually tuck in sweatshirts so my second guess, which is now my first accurate guess, is that she is just herself, wearing what she wore when I first saw walking out of the used book store in New York. She had a book in her hand, which I tried to see the title, but to no avail. I had thought about her every day until now, which is odd. Not that I knew anything about her. But I thought about her in some hypothetical situations where we would be walking along the beach, holding hands all night. Now that a similar situation is happening, I cannot say that my reaction is what I thought it would be.

I stopped for a few seconds, looked at her and then walked again. She said, “Hello.”

I looked at her again and said, “Hello.”

She said, “Come here.”

I said, “Okay.” I did as directed.

She said, “My name is Constance McRobbie. What’s your name?”

I said, “Andrew Tagg.”

She extended her hand. “How do you do, Andrew?”

I gave her my hand. “I do well.”

She shook my hand and kept shaking, continuously. She is still shaking my hand.  Our conversation, as it is at the moment, continues. She says, “I think consciousness is only a bunch of particles that act independently from their major host. Our sense of individualism is a smokescreen. Everything is connected. I don’t believe that you are a separate being from me. We occupy separate fragmented masses but the masses are connected through other types of energy. Particles are energy. Our thoughts are particles. Everything is scientific.”

I say, “I see your point but I think there is more to it than that. How could I have feelings for another person if my feelings were just dead matter? I believe that matter has a conscience. It’s the same type of consciousness that the philosophers described. It may be related to matter but in the same way that peanut butter and jelly are related. They can combine but they can exist independently, also.”

“That’s where you’re wrong. The process of manufacturing peanut butter and jelly is ultimately the same as the manufacturing of anything. You can take something material and process it to be something different but the bottom line is that everything begins with particles. Air is different than trees but trees need air and the origin of trees is the same as the origin of air. You might think you are separate from me but you and I originate from the same thing. You might be able to walk away from me and pretend you’re getting away from me but it would be an illusion. You and I would still be connected.”

I try to let go of her hand. I cannot do so. I say, “It seems that you’re trying to drive in your point by not letting go of me.”

She shrugs. “Why would I let go of you?”

“We’ve been talking for a half hour so far. That’s how long you’ve held on. It’s strange.”

“On the contrary, what would be strange is my letting go of you. I like you and I want to continue our conversation. If we were to let go, you would walk away, perhaps quickly and a long distance. I wouldn’t be able to talk to you again. That’s why I’m making sure that doesn’t happen. I don’t trust you.”

“I don’t like having conversations with people who don’t trust me.”

“It isn’t the kind of trust you’re thinking of. I’m talking about the kind of trust, or mistrust, that relates to love.”

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in love.”

“I never said that. I do believe in love. I think that love is another form of matter. It comes to us when our thoughts shift to positive moments in our lives. Love is memory. A memory that creates particles of positive reaction is a love memory. My holding on to you is helping me create a continuous love memory. Mistrust is not a negative particle. It is a prevention of a negative particle. It is positive.”

“Okay. Suppose I believe you. Suppose you are telling the truth. How did this start? How did you get to this point with me?”

“You might want to ask the universe why it brought you here to North Carolina where I live. The universe has arranged for us to be together. It put certain scenes down on the table, so to speak, and it has told us to compile the scenes so a story is assembled. I remember you from when I visited New York. I was visiting my grandmother who is old but still healthy. All the other members of her side of the family were not as healthy. They ate fattening foods and were depressed. She moved out of the family house when she turned eighteen. That was unheard of back then. She was successful in living a life that made her happy. Her income was always modest and she was not always the most popular person in the room but her friends were loyal and good-hearted and her apartments were quaint and not in big city areas where there was noise. I visited her because I wanted to find out what was her secret to life. She told me that there are clues every moment, guiding you and showing you ways to move. Some clues don’t need to be followed. But if you see a clue often enough, it is best to follow it. If it shows up more often than what would be considered coincidental, you hold on to that clue and you stick like glue to it.”

“I would think that you’re telling me that I am your clue.”

“Why else would you be here?”

I explain why I am here.

She nods. “If those things weren’t supposed to happen, they wouldn’t happen. However, they did happen. They are happening. So, welcome to us. I’m happy and you should be happy, also.”

“I thought you said emotions are particles. How could I be happy if happiness is a particle?”

She sighs. “You’re still not getting the big picture. The more I hold on to you, some of the information may sink in. We can feel emotions. It’s just that emotions aren’t without matter. They are physical entities. If you want to cry like a baby and feel upset because the big bad hand monster won’t relinquish her grasp, you’re an emotional basket case. However, you are physically attractive so I will still feel enjoyment and entertainment keeping you. I could get impatient with your whining and moaning if you resort to those but your handsomeness is a good balance and I’ll consider this a success.”

This, although already surreal, becomes even more so. To daydream about a fantasy is one thing but to be stuck in the fantasy is another. I should have considered the clues I had been given. She wore her sweatshirts tucked in every day when I saw her in New York. I admit I went to a café, after perusing through the book store, and saw her sitting at a table, reading her book. I tried again to see the name of the book but I could not do so. However, on a whim the next day, I went to the café and she was there. She did not have a book with her. She sipped her coffee. That was the only thing she did. I noticed she wore a tucked in sweatshirt with her sleeves rolled up. I imagined knowing her.

I make comparisons between people, especially women, who wear their shirts, or sweatshirts, tucked in and people who do not do so. Aside from one’s personal preference, I believe there are also issues of self-confidence or the lack thereof. Members of my birth family, whom I did not know until I was an adult and decided to meet them again, never wore tucked in shirts. My birth mother wore dresses that looked like faded towels and she was considered the best-dressed of the whole clan. My cousin had probably never saw anyone who knew how to dress well. They lived in Antioch, next to Pittsburgh Bay Point. If Pittsburgh Bay Point was considered a place where nothing much happened, Antioch was the place that made Pittsburgh a playground. Unless one is a drunkard and likes to guzzle alcohol outside of abandoned malls, there is nothing to do in Antioch. There are dollar stores where one can walk around and look at cans of pet food and vacuum cleaner bags. After a while, that gets old. My birth family was well-versed in knowledge concerning which pet food brand was the tastiest for dogs and which vacuum bags would best hold massive amounts of dirt before breaking. My birth mother and uncle would talk about pet food and vacuum bags for several hours at a time, not because they had pets of vacuums but because they wanted to sound like they were hip on a subject and could talk intelligently about it. As to whether or not I would prefer being around my living biological relatives or staying here with Constance, I cannot decide. She is good looking but, in this instance, I am doubting the importance of appearance.

I say, “I need to get back home soon.”

She laughs. “Where’s home?”

“Well, my home is in California but that’s not the home I meant. I need to get back to the house where I’m house-sitting.”

“No, you don’t.”

“How dare you assume you know everything about what I do or don’t need to do?”

“I can assume I know everything about you on account of your mentality does not describe you accurately. You are here with me. You will stay here with me. Nothing else matters.”

“What if I said I will accept if you come in with me? Would you let me go back there?”

“It would help but, like I already told you, everything is related. Time is just an illusion. The only thing that exists right now is the immediate moment. If you say you can’t keep staying with me because of sweaty palms or because we can’t eat dinner properly, you’re not basing your statements on what has transpired. You’re basing things on thoughts about what might happen or what did happen. You’re not basing anything on what is happening.”

I shrug. “I guess this is it.”

She nods. “This is all there is.”

A Different Set Of Plans

Kody black turtleneck

Cover image by Kody:

Chapter One:

Joseph Hartford was spending his vacation with his brother Witold in Arizona.  Joseph never liked hot weather and preferred his own neighborhood in California, where the temperature fluctuated more to his liking, but Witold invited him to Tucson so he could get away from the cozy cotton-candy fluff of San Francisco’s Potrero Hill area and rough things up a bit more in the desert where the hot weather might cook out all the mental poisons in Joseph’s consciousness.

Witold was named after his grandfather who was born in Poland but had the ambition to head towards America so he could make a new life for himself.  Andrei – Witold’s and Joseph’s father – changed the family’s last name from Harpinski to Hartford as his way of furthering his father’s idea of starting fresh.  Witold, the oldest son, moved from San Francisco to Tucson with the same thought in mind.  Joseph, Andrei’s other son, was known throughout the whole clan by the moniker, “The Family Tree.”  The label was not related intentionally to any idea of an ancestral tree.  Instead, they thought of him like a tree in the sense of his staying rooted to one spot, stuck in the ground, growing taller but never moving.  When Witold gave the invitation for a Tucson visit, he did not expect Joseph to come over, not that he preferred Joseph to decline but he automatically assumed on getting a “no thank you” as an answer.

Joseph decided to take Witold’s offer because the money in his account was diminishing consistently until the following month, when he received his government check again, and he figured he could save money by allowing his brother to play the role of hospitable host and feed him.  His ulterior motive in that direction was his wanting to save money for alcohol.  A half-pint of Vodka was two dollars where he lived but he was curious how much was the price out of state.  Even if he had to pay three or maybe four dollars for a half pint, at least he could dispense with that extra cash if he did not need to worry about food costs.

Witold was known in the past to be a connoisseur of various meats and spices, sometimes making a savory stew with turmeric and pork, other times conjuring up a tasty with meal sage and lamb.  Joseph was more of the ramen-noodle-and-ground-beef style of chef, occasionally adding a can of mixed vegetables if he wanted to make something fancy.  He relied on cheap restaurants for his meals, opting to dine at places where bums hung out in the front and smoked cigarettes and yelled.  According to him, the ambience of a place and its outside surrounding was a good indication of its prices.  Any establishment where the waiters wore tuxedos and ties, and the music was a lone violin, was off limits.  Maybe once in a while he could afford to eat in a middle-class diner but his sense of principles dictated otherwise.  He simply had a fear of spending money where the place looked too clean.  He would not have turned down an opportunity to eat in a four-star restaurant if someone else handled the tab but he knew no one with that kind of money.

When he arrived at his brother’s residence early, having taken a cab there so he could pretend to have a lot of money and his brother would not suspect he was a freeloader, nobody was home.  Witold had told him they would meet at the airport at six o’clock that night but Joseph arrived at two o’clock.  He was bored and wanted to drink.  Lucky for him, he noticed a liquor store a block away.  After he purchased a fifth of Vodka – celebrating his rare decision to step outside of California – a fellow named Michael introduced himself.  He told Joseph there was a party starting in a half hour at the house right across from the liquor store, and walked away.  Joseph figured there would be nothing wrong in showing up.

Joseph was not ordinarily a conversationalist.  However, when he arrived at the party called Trotsky and Bicycles, he was even less prone to talk with anyone.  Suddenly, a woman, introducing herself as Patricia Gilbert, provided all of the chatter, drowning him in a sea of tranquil noise.  He never found out why the party was named Trotsky and Bicycles, aside from knowing that was its name on account of a sign on the front door indicating so, and he did not care.  There was plenty of whiskey to drink, allowing him to leave his Vodka for later, and most of the people were happy dancing to the ambient mixes of songs nobody remembered in their original versions.
Patricia approached him with a confidence as if she was his best friend coming back to answer his question.  He was attracted to her outfit, especially considering most of the women he knew about would use an excuse against tucking in a shirt like she was wearing during hot weather, so he figured he ought to at least try responding after she uttered something.  He thought he heard her say mention cartoons or balloons or library cards or wild cards so he improvised by letting words flow from him regardless their meanings.  He thought she said “Whoa!” during their exchange and he was not sure whether she reacted towards the brilliant thing he talked about or his half-way stumbling from intoxication.

However, she grabbed his hand tight, as if wanting to make sure he did not do something embarrassing, and continued talking in such a way so as to make him forget she was holding on.  After a while, he moseyed towards the bar, pouring more whiskey while she held his glass, and his concern over drinking too much of someone else’s booze overrode his realization her grip was still tight.

Finally, when she pulled him along, walking to her house a mile away in the woods, he realized she had asked him to go to her home only after they went outside.  He had not heard her clearly but later realized what was probably said.  He had been fine with going to a party hosted by a stranger and he was somewhat okay about talking with Patricia, but he felt odd about going to her house, not because he disliked her but because he wanted to return at Witold’s place before six o’clock.  Also, he now realized she did not hold his hand at the bar. She extended her hand for him to shake while they were out by the road close to the woods. That was either one strong drink he had at the party or that was a bigger bottle he bought at the store than what he remembered purchasing.

As Joseph and Patricia were walking, he thought about telling her to come with him to his brother’s house but the alcohol effect was at its most realistic for him when he stayed quiet.  He had not agreed to go with her as much as merely keeping from voicing an opinion.  He figured he could pull his hand loose and she would release him.  However, she acted like she knew he would try that and had her strategy already formulated.

There was a hint of a smile on her that led him to believe she had been through the procedure before.  Was there a connection between her and Michael who invited Joseph to the party?  Did they both know Witold and had discussed what to do with Joseph when he arrived in Tucson?  Joseph never was in a situation like this in San Francisco where that kind of thing seemed more likely.  Maybe there was more to Tucson than he had figured.  He would apparently find out whether he wanted to do so or not.

Joseph had a strange feeling walking with Patricia as they headed towards her house in the forest.  He was not sure if the area was incorporated as part of a city park or public domain to the utmost degree so Neanderthals could host kangaroo barbecues in the area but the place where she lived seemed to escape from her mind onto the ground in an almost impossible presence.  Whether the architect was copying an abstract painter or worked from blueprints describing an acid trip, he could not be certain but its wild gray and brown cuckoo-clock exterior, mimicking a weird combination of Lincoln logs and Bauhaus chic, made him think twice before entering with her.

He forgot momentarily how they met, on account of his having drank an extreme amount of alcohol at the party just a half-hour ago where she and he had probably talked together but he figured on saying goodbye.  They were holding hands so he tried to let go while she squeezed tighter and smiled.  He said, “Please, Patricia.  I need to get going.”

She shrugged.  “The wilderness is no place to make protests.  We are all united as individuals.  I cannot fathom disassociating with you because then I would have to find new connections for my television and banjo.”

He could not allow her nonsense to take over him like an ant colony taking over an uncovered pizza.  She was attractive, wearing a tucked-in black turtleneck shirt and dark blue jeans, black belt and black shoes with pink shoelaces.  His impression of her appearance was that she wanted to get working on something, namely him.

She brought him into the house, while he dragged his feet stubbornly in an attempt to stop time, and he noticed the walls inside were a more harmonious bown in accordance with the green foliage outside, as seen through the large glass windows.  She walked with slow shimmying dance-steps, gripping his hand in her vice-like hold, towards a room with books on wall shelves, probably a study area.  There were two chairs close to each other.  She pushed him down on one while she sat on the other, inhaling and exhaling calmly as though she had drank a cup of medicinal tea and could now relax.  She said, “Tomorrow, I will bring you to my mother’s house.  She will appreciate my knowing a man.”

He asked, “Did you attempt this type of too-intense closeness with women?”

She answered, “Only in the verbal sense but nothing like I am doing with you.  Women are generally competitive and outdo each other, though they disagree in how they are doing so, but women are more able to entice men, especially buffoons like you who get drunk and forget how you met me.  You’re lucky to be my first Attach Buddy.”

He realized his only recourse was to walk away, hopefully freeing his hand in the process, so he could go home and think about his relationships with women.  Was he acting too much on what he liked physically about a woman’s appearance so he was learning a hard lesson towards becoming more spiritually-oriented?  Maybe he was learning a lesson meant to describe his relationship with humanity in general and Patricia had merely showed up to provide the clues Joseph would not have seen if he resorted merely to thinking.  As he still tried to escape, he told himself he no longer cared about reasons and now mostly craved chocolate chip cookies.
Chapter Two:

Patricia made sure always now to tuck in her shirts, not because she preferred that fashion style over others but because she used to be two hundred and seventy pounds.  Her sister, Sherry, was still two hundred and sixty pounds and had no problem tucking in her blouses to skirts for a professional appearance at work, but Patricia chose to avoid as much self-consciousness as possible so she wore oversized sweatpants with drawstrings, occasionally needing to pull them up again when they fell down at the supermarket where she shopped.  She wanted to make sure her pants would not be too tight to put on.  So, to avoid showing the drawstring at her waist, she wore shirts un-tucked.

However, now she always wore belts with her pants, since her weight was one hundred and thirty pounds and wearing tighter clothing was an asset.  She figured that, if she resorted to continue doing everything the opposite of what she used to do, she would be reminded to keep the weight off.

An extension of her weight attitude was her behavior attitude.  Since she had reasoned no men would like her when she was fat, all men would like her when she was slim.  If a man told her he liked her before she lost the weight, she would assume he was lying.  Now, if a man said he disliked her, she would figure he was joking.  If she decided to hold his hand and never let go, his trying to escape would be satire, not reality.

When Joseph tried frantically to shake his hand free, she felt warm and tingly like she was connecting with a puppet or cartoon drawing.  His moments were the aesthetic equivalent of ocean waves or ceramic pottery.  Plus, his hand motions were a nice counterbalance to the hot Arizona weather.  His panic attack was an air conditioner for her.  His screams were music.

Little anyone knew her aggressive attitude was in contrast to her feelings.  She figured she trusted men enough to act outrageous with them so she would be courteous to what they wanted from her.  Joseph would know how much she cared for his concerns by continuing to act ironically against them.

When he looked at her waist, she assumed he wanted her to un-tuck the shirt but her twisted sense of logic indicated her best bet was to make sure to do what irritated him, not because she really believed he was irritated but because she believed what she did not believe.  She would simply not un-tuck her shirt or let go of his hand, regardless of her reasons why.

Joseph asked, “How did this monstrosity of a building get to be situated in the middle of a forest?”

Patricia answered, “My father was a ranch-hand and my mother was a nurse.  Dad lived in the center of town, on a small part not yet developed where a few roads were, but he always daydreamed about peculiar things like how people lived quietly on the Canadian Rockies or how magical leprechauns could frolic through the Irish peat moss.  Mom was not as intense about where they lived but she would sometimes go to the park and study insects.  I sort of inherited a bit of both their interests and decided I would have a suburban house situated in the middle of halfway nowhere so then I could experience some of the city outside of the city.  My Korean friend, Jihn, is an architect so he made blueprints for this house.  I paid some carpenter friends of mine to build it for me.  It took them about six months off and on but it was cheaper than hiring a firm to build it.  There’s only one architectural firm in town so they are arrogant about their prices.

Joseph said, “It looks more like a rusty toaster than anything else.”

Patricia shrugged.  “You’ll get used to it in time.”

Witold worked for a bakery called British Pink, a name having nothing to do with the inner workings of the business since their main specialty was Austrian-styled chocolate cupcakes.  Perhaps a customer could ask for blue or green frosting on top for an additional fifty cents but no pink and the workers detested English scones.  The boss, a Japanese man named Toshi, liked wearing black-and-white vertically-striped sweatshirts over blue leggings, pretending he was a college student at a mathematics academy in Rhode Island, and knew nothing about the contradiction between the name of his business and what food they made.  He had merely looked randomly at two words in a fashion catalogue and settled for the name based on how it seemed to fit comfortably in his mind.  His outfits were a by-product of that attitude.  The juxtaposition of the colors on his clothes soothed him when he could not score quality acid from his next-door neighbor.

Toshi’s neighbor, a fellow who always answered the door wearing a mask and went by the name of Evan Nobody, had not been home within the last two weeks.  Toshi was not upset with his neighbor’s disappearance but he wanted to know his “friendly acid tinctures” were doing “splendidly keen.”  Little he knew that Evan was staying temporarily at Witold’s girlfriend’s apartment.  The girlfriend’s name was Catherine Dailey and she wanted to buy tons of Evan’s supply at whim, any moment of the day or night.  So, instead of Evan having to drive back and forth from his to her place, sometimes three or four times a day, he suggested to Catherine he crash on her sofa.  She had no problem with that.

For no thought-out reason, Catherine decided today to spike Witold’s coffee with acid.  She figured he was too uptight on the job, always doing everything correctly and making sure to stick with correct protocol, and he needed to incorporate some intermittent drug hallucinations in his behavior pattern.  So, when he walked in the back room during the morning, and sipped the latte Catherine presented to him, he did not figure there was anything strange with his sudden metamorphosis from human being to wooden atlas.  His ears were picking up the shoe-shaped sounds of wheelchairs so he had to mix his interpretation of cupcakes with special sugar packets of Watusi dance steps.  He repeatedly moved his lips, feeling a sudden attack of paranoia on account of his guardian angel looked more like a robot than a suitcase, and he walked outside where he happened to pass by Patricia.  She was thinking of holding his hand forever but she thought twice when, as he walked past her, he shouted, “I have no more crippled bludgeoned totemic fire.  I just have a laugh and a look at the fingernails.”  She would not have minded listening to him for a while but she was nervous about the possibility he would never shut up and her having to drown him out mentally might not work well in conjunction with her focusing on a tight grip.

Witold was now spinning around in a parking lot underneath the highway overpass.  No cars were around and most everyone assumed the lot was abandoned thought that was not the case so he was pleased to present his interpretation of motor-navigation body concertos.  As he kept spinning, misinterpreting his dizziness with spirited revelation, he mumbled, “Test of cans and chortle chew, approximating a stinky beef stew.  With popcorn roads and Canadian pizza, who can tell a Shiksa from matzo?  One two three four and all the other numbers, and some letters whatever they are, will fortify my cosmic eatery with box office mops and mid-deranged apprentices.  I cannot feel many hums in the gallery and the potato man has come to roost.”

Finally, after he could not spin any longer, he fell down and went to sleep.

What Catherine did not take into her equation, but was not disappointed when it happened unexpectedly, was that the other works at British Pink would take tastes of Witold’s unfinished latte.  Catherine was pleased when Bob Kline, responsible for working the machinery and now calling himself Bob Sandwich, felt slight irritation with how the cookie cutters could not be trained to work on their own without having built-in computer memories.  He blamed that default on the invisible spectrum controlled by phantoms insisting on incorporating “petty folk-lore logic” into “every damn kernel of knowledge from knitting to casinos.”

However, Zachary McEvoy, the cashier, now referring to himself as “the other Bob plus two hundred” – meaning one was supposed to say the name Bob two hundred and one times to be correct when calling him – figured he could have an encyclopedic gathering of “worm knowledge” if he crawled through the desert at four o’clock in the morning, “hissing as the means of gaining access to the doorstep protecting the soul of worms kosher.”  He means “kosher” not in any Jewish sense but as a substitute for the word “boiled” that itself was a substitute for the idea of “having no secrets.”

Toshi was not aware he had taken some of the acid he desperately craved when he sipped from Witold’s latte.  His consciousness was too used to a combination of business exactitude and drug fantasy to act differently than the freaked out fellow he was already.  The business part of him insisted there were no accidents in life and everything worked according to a set plan so, if Evan was not around, there was no acid.  However, he craved acid even when he was already on it so, even though he now was on it, he did not know that so he craved it.  He shook his head and said, “You’re all actors like planets revolving around the sun.  The sun is a metaphor for us having no customers.  Why the hell would you ring up the order of Miss Dinglebat when she is not here?  You were taking the money and giving the change to nobody!”

The Other Bob Two Hundred shook his head.  “We are all parts of the same planet so, conceptually speaking, we were giving the money to everybody.  You’re just upset because your dealer, who goes incidentally by the last name of Nobody, is not here.  You’re angry because we’re “Everybody” with a capital E because when you scold one of us you scold all of us.”

Bob Sandwich said, “You’re looking at books in the air to convince you of your misinformation.  We are Teleprompters conveying nonsense and you cannot tell me we are against what we are against.  What we are against…  What we are against…”  He repeated that phrase several hundred times to himself in a whisper.

Catherine was mostly concerned with Witold.  He often had a case of the burps when he drank too much non-acid coffee so a spiked latte might render him victim to a belching spree reminiscent of a fog-horn.  She wanted to find him so she could write her findings in her diary.  Since her coworkers and boss were not going to notice whether she stayed or left, she walked out, figuring there was no easy way for her to find where he went except to blindly stroll wherever she could.  She decided today not to use the acid herself because her intent was to observe everyone’s behavior through a sober mind.  Still, she had to admit there would be a natural high attached to her adventure.
Chapter Three
Joseph was lying on the floor while Patricia stood up, holding his hand and reading random sentences from various magazine articles.  She wanted to appear grand and stylish, especially considering the way her outfit blended in with the color of her furniture in the sitting room.  The fireplace was not lit but its “essence of ochre” made her smile as much as the nice warm albeit sweaty hand of her partner.  Today was not the right time for even more heat but, if it was, she could imagine the yellow flame and the burnt umber logs balancing the intense nervousness when Joseph wiggled around and shouted.  He reminded her of a dog she had, named Lili, as a child.  Lili looked like an odd assemblage of a miniature Dalmatian and a zucchini.

Patricia’s father, Bert, who gave her the dog when she was ten years old, had figured she needed a creative outlet in her life to take away her phobia against somebody needing to milk the “ugly cows from Mars.”  Her mother, Agatha, agreed.  Bert bought Patricia the dog, thinking its tail looked like a paintbrush and somehow the dog and art must be related.  Bert had an old armless mannequin he kept in his basement and it looked like a beige papier-mâché puppet speckled with black marks.  He figured that his having a mannequin was somehow connected with Patricia having Lili but he was not sure how.

Patricia was thinking of her childhood with fondness, causing her to talk louder as she read from the magazines:  “To determine the epidemiological features…”

Joseph was not sure what she recited but he responded, “Uh huh.”

Patricia continued, “The Johannesburg Art Gallery was the only venue…”

“Sure thing.”

“Using the basics of nature as her essential…”

“Sounds wonderful.”

Patricia was irritated and talked louder.  “Given a media-driven, image-obsessed culture that nonetheless devalues when not preventing…”

Joseph yelled, “Bravo!”

Catherine was outside.  She hid in the bushes.  Her inner guide, for once acid-free, pointed her in the direction of the forest with the idea Witold would be there.  However, though she knew the man’s voice yelling coming from the house was not her boyfriend’s, it sounded like someone related to him.  Okay, if Witold had a brother, she could freak him out as soon as she could devise a plan to get him away from whoever was the woman he yelled at.  She figured that, if the man was related to her boyfriend, she was probably interconnected to Witold’s brother and feeling the vibrations of acid also even if the only acidic vibe was tension.  She wanted to rescue the man so he could walk with her towards his brother.

She knocked on the front door.  Patricia yelled, “Who is that?”

Catherine answered, “It’s someone.”

“Well, I’ve already got someone and his voice is far less womanish than yours.”

Catherine opened the door and walked in.  “I’m taking your someone.”  She found the room where Patricia and Joseph were holding hands.  Catherine said, “Get up.”

Joseph said, “Gee, I’m popular.”

Catherine nodded.  “Come outside with me.”

Joseph walked outside, following Catherine while Patricia came along, holding his hand.

Witold woke up, assuming he was at work.  Somehow, the overpass and parking lot did not resemble his understanding of how British Pink Bakery looked but he was too tired to quibble with details.  One of the pebbles on the ground must have been Bob and that beer bottle cap next to it must have been Zachary.  He would ask them why they decided to turn themselves into objects as soon as he felt awake enough to ask questions.  However, he wanted to be left alone and they were extremely small so he had no worries he could roll over and squish them if need be.  They always asked him stupid stuff about mortgage loans… or was that his bank manager?  They always made his arms itch… or was that his coat?  He needed to get them out of his mind so repeated continually, “Bubble, bubble, bubble, bubble…”  He hoped he could conjure up the Great Bubble God who would suddenly pop, exploding lavender-colored lime juice all over those damn pesky co-workers.

He needed to get up so he could walk and find the Bubble God.  He was not sure he knew where to look, especially since he just made the fellow up and imaginary creatures were harder to locate than real ones.  However, he figured that, if the Bubble God was nice enough to suddenly exist as a favor to Witold, the God would act favorably by appearing wherever Witold imagined he would.  There was always some odd political factors keeping creatures from existing outside of their natural habitats but mind power could fix that.  Witold would write a bill mandating all imaginary creatures be set free from the confines of people’s minds but first he would have to imagine a senator to present the bill for him in Congress.

He walked and noticed the weather turned hotter after he left where the overpass was and approached the non-shady outdoors.  He knew the sun was an essential part of healthy living but what about the son?  Wait, he had no son.  He needed a blouse to cover his head but first he had to find a woman wearing the blouse.  No women were walking by.  Every time he told himself he needed to marinate his thought so hopefully they would mature and last in his mind, he felt guilty about leaving Bob and Zachary, even though they were pebbles and bottle tops and could easily report him for not following their lead and turning into an object himself.

Finally, he approached the forest.  The weather was a little bit cooler.  Thank goodness.  He could serve cupcakes to the trees and ladybugs if only he could find his cooking utensils.  They were disguised as air particles.  Toshi hid the cash register, and then hid on top of a tree.  Witold was concerned, not because he wanted to find the register but because Toshi stole his hair.  Damn that Toshi!  The stuff Witold felt on his head was cinnamon and whipped cream and he had to serve those to the customers as soon as some people arrived.

Suddenly, he noticed a fellow who could have been his brother holding hands with a good-looking but eccentric woman.  Another woman was with them and she was good looking also but talked loudly.  Oh yes, that was Catherine.  What was she doing with the man who looked like his brother and another woman who was probably responsible for generating a heat torrent so the sky’s computer system could not log into a rain site and make the city’s problems go away?  How dare she try that mischief and spend time with who looked more and more like his brother?  By golly, he would march right over there and find out!

Joseph, upon noticing his brother looking zoned out on drugs, felt better about his own drunkenness.  “Hey, Witold, old buddy and old brother.  I came here early to surprise you.”

Witold was confused.  “You came to my bakery to surprise me?  Were you even supposed to show up?  You live in California, right?”

Joseph nodded.  “That’s correct but you asked me to visit you.”

Witold was nervous.  “Shut up!  You’re scaring the customers.  I have to put this cinnamon away.”

“What cinnamon?”

“It’s on my head!  Toshi put it there.  Can’t you see?”

“All I see on your head is hair.”

“It’s not hair!  It’s cinnamon and whipped cream but I might take the whipped cream for myself.”

Catherine smiled.  “Hello, I’m Witold’s girlfriend.  I’m responsible for putting him in this condition.”

Joseph said, “That’s very cool.  Thanks.”

Patricia sighed.  “You’re trespassing on my property and making the day seem too scattered.  I’m with my new boyfriend, Mr. Never Stops Drinking.  You can let us be, if you will.”

Witold shook his head.  “This is not your property.  I work here.  Somewhere, my boss and Zach and Bob are hiding.  Catherine, did you hide them?”

Catherine laughed.  “No.  I spiked your coffee with acid so you would freak out.”

Witold frowned.  “Why the hell would you do that?”

Patricia shrugged.  “Probably the same reason I have a new boyfriend.  Boredom.”

Catherine shook her head.  “That’s not quite true.  Witold needs to mellow out and have fun.  I imagine you do too, Mr. Never Stops Drinking.”

Joseph sighed.  “Call me Joseph, please.”

Witold said, “But, if you’re Joseph, I’m supposed to go to the airport and meet you.  You’d better hurry up and get off the plane before it lands in California again.”

Joseph said, “I’m not on a plane.  I’m in the forest with you and your girlfriend and Patricia who won’t let go of my hand.”

Witold ran towards Joseph and pulled as hard as possible at where Joseph and Patricia were joined.  He yelled, “Let him free, you freak!  I have to meet him at the airport.”  After one whole minute of pulling, he successfully separated them.

Joseph ran off, saying, “I’ll be at your place, brother, drinking my Vodka.  You can believe I’ll need it.”

Witold walked slowly deeper in the forest.  “I have to find some customers.”

Patricia yelled, “Now I’ll have to resort to reading the advertisements in film magazines!”  She marched back in her house.

Catherine smiled.  She noticed an ant crawling on a blackberry vine.  The ant was looking for an interesting thorn to climb on.  The vine resembled an old playground in Maine before the city ordinance declared it unfit for children, making the place officially abandoned but home to a lot of bored teenagers who had no other place to go so they sat on the dilapidated swings and talked about favorite potato chips.  The current popular choice of flavor was cheddar and sour cream.

It’s A Beautiful Day – Time Is

Ten Years After – I May Be Wrong But I Won’t Be Wrong Always

Quatermass – Post War Saturday Echo

Armageddon – Buzzard

Hawkwind – You Shouldn’t Do That

The Hawley Envisionist


The Hawley Envisionist by Lee Gerstmann

Ó2017 Lee Gerstmann

Cover image courtesy of Kody:


Stanley Ross had a strange premonition that today would encompass something unexpected. He was at a party hosted by his friend, Andre Frey, in the small town of Hawley where there was apparently one café but no one, not even the residents, could find it. The grocery stores were houses with vegetable produce on the front lawns.

Andre’s house was better looking than the others on that street. He had studied architecture at Columbia University when he lived in Harlem. When he made the move from New York to Pennsylvania, he settled on a remote place which was at that time cheap. He bought a house paid in full with cash from money received in an inheritance after his father died. Andre had been the one child, out of six, that did not ask his father for any loans or favors but was always willing to help him during the last years when Stephen was less abler to take care of himself. Andre received the bulk of the inheritance. He had thought of splitting his share equally with his brothers and sisters but he suddenly decided that his father had given him a gift. He would cherish the gift in his father’s honor.

Stanley said, “This is a nice area. I wouldn’t mind living here.”

Andre nodded. “You should have seen my house before I improved it. I have a car so I can go into Scranton and shop. You would have to pick nuts and berries from the trees and vines for your trail mix. There’s nothing up here and, after a few days of enjoying watching the birds flying around, you wouldn’t be able to stand it anymore.”

“Maybe I would like it if there were good looking women as neighbors.”

“This is the North East. Either people are very slim or very not slim. Whether or not the women in Hawley are good looking is up to interpretation.”

“In other words, I wouldn’t like them.”

“Not unless you like to spend a lot of money on food. Could you help me get everything set up?”

Stanley assisted Andre by putting chairs in the living room and rearranging other furniture so there would be plenty of room for people to walk. Stanley enjoyed doing so. He remembered that Andrew knew some interesting people. Probably, a number of them were good looking women and that would not be a matter of interpretation.


There were ten guests, other than Stanley. Andrew invited eight of them and guests invited two. Stanley somehow talked with a man named Lloyd Eugenides. He did not remember how that started. Perhaps Andre introduced them. Stanley preferred to think Thomas imposed on him. That seemed to be what happened. Lloyd talked about interesting subjects. Stanley was not offended but, while Lloyd talked, Stanley was looking at the women. Two were overweight. They wore dresses. Stanley figured they were neighbors. Three were slim. Two wore bulky sweatshirts and jeans. The other wore a sweatshirt also but it was tucked into belted jean shorts and the sweatshirt sleeves were pushed up. Stanley was aroused. He felt as if the situation was metaphysical. How often did he see a woman tuck in a sweatshirt? Most of the women in his neighborhood, back in California, did not even tuck in regular shirts.

Lloyd said, “The difference between rock and jazz is rock groups aren’t classic in the same way jazz performers are. Other than The Beatles who have become historic as well as classic and are an exception, most of the other groups, especially any group from the Nineteen Eighties, are more nostalgic than classic. People listen to them now but that won’t be the case twenty years from now, on account of how musical trends shift in the rock genre. But Miles Davis and John Coltrane will still be listened to and not simply for classic or historic reasons. People want to put on Kind Of Blue. People want to hear A Love Supreme. Jazz has more lasting power than rock. Would you agree?”

Stanley was looking at the woman wearing the pink sweatshirt and blue jean shorts. He heard Lloyd but he was not fully enthusiastic about having a conversation on music. He would much rather talk about women’s fashion but, if he did so, he might dispel some of the magic he sensed was happening. He figured something unusual would transpire. He did not know what it would be but he knew it would be something.

Lloyd frowned. “It looks like you’re preoccupied.”

Stanley shook his head. “I don’t mean to be. Let me ask you, do you live around here?”

“I live at the end of this block, yes.”

“I’m wondering if any of the women here live in the neighborhood.”

Lloyd turned his head. “Emma and Myla, the two wearing dresses, do. Emma lives next door to me. Myla lives next door to Andre. Why?”

“I was just wondering. I was trying to figure out if the women here are good looking.”

“You mean, the women at the party?”

“No. Well, yes but not. I know that a few of the women at the party are good looking. I meant the women in the neighborhood.”

“You think Emma and Myla are good looking? I agree. Do you want me to introduce you?”


“Why not, if you like them?”

Stanley did not want to say any more but he had to clear up the misunderstanding. “I think the other three are good looking.”

Lloyd nodded. “Well, they are friends of Thomas Berriault. Thomas has known Andre since they were kids. One is Martha and the other is Stephanie. I don’t particularly think they are attractive but if you do I can introduce you to them.”

Stanley figured he would appear strange if he did not allow Lloyd to introduce him to the women. He said, “That would be good.”


Of course, neither Martha nor Stephanie was wearing the pink sweatshirt. Martha’s sweatshirt was blue and had a hardware store slogan on it. Stephanie’s sweatshirt was yellow and had a picture of a kitten on it. During the course of the conversation, Stephanie pushed up her sleeves, which looked a little bit sexier, but he was more intrigued by the other women whose sweatshirt had the name of a college on it. She talked with an older man who was bald plump and wore a three-piece suit and glasses. Stanley figured she was being polite. She could not be attracted to the man.

Martha did most of the talking. Stephanie would occasionally tell Stanley he was cute. He wanted to excuse himself. Whatever happened would be blocked if he did not alter the course of the situation. He needed to go out the front door, alone. Then, after ten minutes of solitude, he would feel refreshed and let the thing happen. He did not know why he made that conclusion but it seemed right so he would not mess with it.

Martha said, “It’s better to eat organic food, like cruciform vegetables, like kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, parsley, beet tops, radishes. All that good stuff… My brother has a fatty liver. It’s from all the processed junk food he ate as a kid. Yuck! No wonder he’s pudgy. You don’t have a pudgy belly. Do you eat healthy?”

Stephanie smiled. “You’re cute.”

Martha continued. “Tiny houses are becoming popular. Get rid of the clutter and live simply. I have an uncle who’s saving the money and he’s going to buy a tiny house. He has tons of books and he plans on giving them all to me. What am I going to do with them? They’re all about how to start your own business and how to borrow money from banks. Do I want to relax outside and read those for fun? The answer is no.”

Stephanie said, “You’re cute.”

Stanley listened while they spoke to him. They misinterpreted his indifference for rapt attention. As Martha talked, she tapped the back of his hand with her finger many times. Finally, he blew on the back of his hand as a symbolic gesture meaning he received enough energy. Every time he did it, she touched him again, as if to say she was replacing the energy he blew off. Finally, he said, “I enjoyed talking with you but I have to do something.” He walked quickly outside.


Stanley needed only ten minutes and then he would be able to face everybody again. He attribute his weird feelings to the change of environment. He was not used to being around surroundings such as what he experienced during the present moment. He grew up in Antioch, California, with a mother who had not married and was not good at holding a job. Part of the time they lived in cheap apartments and other times they lived with his uncle, his mother’s brother, who was four hundred pounds, spent most of his time in a wheelchair even though he could walk, and his wife, who was slim, and their daughter, who was three hundred and fifty pounds. Antioch had very few trees or parks. The area was filled with dollar stores and gas stations. People were generally as obese as his uncle. Everyone ate cheap canned foods and soda. The vibe was mostly that of depression. Occasionally, drunks would hang out by a bench close to a parking lot, blaring loud music from a radio with bad static sound, yelling and singing out of tune to the music. Andre had been his one friend, his next-door neighbor, until Andre moved to New York, He suggested Stanley do so, as well. Finally, after enough time working odd job and saving his money, Stanley decided to visit New York for a week. He called Andre to tell him. Andre mentioned he now lived in Pennsylvania. Stanley changed his plan and flew to Pennsylvania, instead. Andre came tot the hotel in Scranton where Stanley was staying so Stanley could attend Andre’s party. Stanley was sensitive to the difference between Pennsylvania and California. Everything seemed so new. Now, after spending a few minutes outside, he would be able to rejoin the party.


As he turned to face the door, he felt something lick inwardly in him, as if an answer was given. The woman he liked was outside, with her hand extended. She must have noticed him earlier and planned to talk with him. Since she looked so good, he had trouble reacting normally. His instinct was to just stand there and wonder what she wanted. However, he knew that would not be the right move.

She said, “Come shake my hand, Stanley.”

He was embarrassed. He should have approached her without his needing instructions. Perhaps next she would inform him that he should speak and smile and breathe. Finally, he snapped out of his daze. He walked towards her and they shook hands. He asked, “How did you know my name?”

She shrugged. “I asked Lloyd.”

“How did he know my name?”

She looked at him as if to say she had no answer.

He laughed. “Probably Andre told him. What’s your name?”


He noticed her grip was firm and she was still shaking his hand. He was going to comment on it but did not know what to say.

She asked, “Want to come inside?”


They walked in together. She stopped the shaking motion but still held on. Stanley was intrigued.

Andres smiled. “So, you’ve met Kate.”

Stanley said, “Yes.”

Kate said, “Stanley’s going to like where I take him, later. He hasn’t been to Okinawa, the Japanese restaurant, has he?”

Andre shrugged. “I’m guessing he hasn’t.”

She nodded. “The next few days will be easy to fill with things to do but, after that, we’ll just have to wing it.”

“I know. It’s hard when you live in this area as opposed to New York. Scranton is okay but it’s nothing like Harlem or Manhattan. But I think he’ll adjust pretty well to the change.”

“I know. I just need to remember the discipline I am following. As long as we stay attached, the universal flow will be balanced.”

Stanley felt odd hearing the conversation. He asked, “What do you mean by staying attached?”

Kate said, “Our hand pairing. According to my religion, as long as we stay like this, I’m your wife.”

He became extremely nervous and tried to pull his hand free but her grip was like a vice and he could not escape.


He was not experiencing the situation. He had to believe that. Now, everyone was seated at different chairs, in the form of a circle, as if a meeting had taken place. Kate was sitting on a chair, gripping Stanley’s hand. Stanley stood up, as if in the middle of the circle, occasionally twisting and turning his hand one way and the other, hoping to figure out the solution to the puzzle lock. Everyone was discussing his situation.

Andre said, “The damage of Antioch has been already done. That town was poison when I lived there. He can’t go back.”

Kate said, “It’s a good thing I practiced those exercises combining physical and spiritual energy. I can keep my hand like this forever and no one can break the grip.”

Thomas said, “It’s a good thing Emma knew Kate. From what you told me, Andre, Kate would be perfect for Stanley.”

Emma said, “According to the Envisionist doctrine, we have inner knowledge we can tap into so we can already know what’s so.”

Kate said, “I was feeling empty with no direction so now my life has a purpose.”

Andre said, “That’s the advantage of living in Hawley. We are all Envisionists so we help each other.”

Stanley kept trying to pull free but to no avail. If only he could have not felt as though a change was going to occur, maybe it could have been avoided. However, he now realized that everyone at the party, including Andre, was part of a strange religion called Envisionism and part of their religious doctrine had to do with holds hand forever as the means of being married. If he screamed for help, any person outside who could come in would probably be an Envisionist also. That person would decide everything was okay. Stanley had two options. He could either panic and keep trying to escape or feeling lucky that he was attached to a woman wearing a tucked in sweatshirt. He could not decide. Both solutions seemed wrong and right.