The Jewel – Dallas, 1963

The following is an online writing assignment. We used the first sentence to see where the jewel took us. The book Dallas 1963 influenced my writing. With racial tension in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to take a trip back to see what segregation was like over 50 years ago.

She found a jewel down inside herself and she wanted to walk where people could see her and gleam it around.


She thought this time people are gonna see it, not like last time when she swallowed the goldarn thing, You know how hard it is to pass a daggum jewel after it travels the happy highway?


First, she’d walk by all the snooty girls in English class and sit by the sunny window. Then a ray would hit the jewel and blind them all so bright it’d burn all the hairs on their heads, ruining their bouffant hairdos.  She bet Johnny Taylor wouldn’t ask any of them to Homecoming then!


After that, she’d take the bus with her friend Violet down to Neiman Marcus. They’d shop in the art department and buy paint brushes and sketch pads. Then they’d go down to the lunch counter.


The waitress would say, “I’m sorry, I can serve you but not your friend here.”


She would say, “But she bought something. Why can’t she eat here?”


“That’s just how it is, Miss.”


Then she’d shine that jewel right in that waitress’ eyes and hypnotize her into taking Violet’s order. Not only did that waitress serve her, she didn’t charge her neither!


She and Violet would walk out Neiman Marcus that day and anyone that stared got a real good look at that jewel.

a tongue-twisting tale of terrific terror

Catherine Cummings contracted a condition called cowpox;

she coughed the color of carbuncle and cut a contusion from convulsions.

She caught cankers and cold sores and cavities from caries,

cataplexy from collywobbles,

and cholera from chronic colitis.


Christopher Columbus came cruising along,

he gave her chlamydia, crabs, and the clap.

She concussed and collapsed into a coma.

Catherine’s cousin contacted Columbus to crack the code

of Catherine’s casket of commodities.


Columbus quickly cracked the code of Catherine’s casket

only to see a clear, cold curse:

May he who cracks this code contract cowpox, convulsions,

caries, collywobbles, cholera, colitis, chlamydia, crabs and the clap.

mick, loretta and the wolfman: short story

image via flickr

Mick told Loretta to get back in the car.  But Loretta kept on walking, leaves crunching under her feet.  Mick couldn’t let her go out there alone, so he opened the trunk, mumbling about how she doesn’t listen and found a flashlight.

He caught up to her, shining the light in her face.

“Get that off me!” she said.

“Get back in the car!”

“No, we hit something and I want to know what it is.”

“It was probably nothing.  Now come on!” He waved the flashlight towards the car.

“Nothing does not make a noise like that!”  She stumbled and tripped over something.

“Are you okay?”  Mick asked.

“Yeah, I think.  But what is this?”

He shined the light on that something.  It wore cement-stained work boots and overalls with caked on paint.  Mick’s heart beat fast as he followed the flashlight up the body.  It smelled like old blood left over from a night of fighting.

His arms looked more hairy than your usual hairy guy.  Mick froze as he got to his face.  Fur covered it and his teeth stuck out like fangs.

Loretta looked up at the sky.  Full moon.

They took off for the car, slamming the doors shut.  The steam from their breath clouded up the windows.  Mick slammed on the gas pedal, wheels screeching and spinning in gravel behind them.

“What the hell was that?” screamed Mick.

“I thought werewolves were myths,” whispered Loretta as she cupped her hands to her mouth.

Mick slowed the car down and looked in the rear view mirror.  Loretta’s mouth dropped open and then looked back.  The wolfman ran towards them.

She screamed at Mick to go.  Mick slowed down and Wolfman caught up.  He knocked on Mick’s window, motioning to roll the window down.  So he did even though Loretta grabbed Mick’s arms to hold him back.

Wolfman took off his mask.  “Hey, did you ever wonder why people still mime rolling a car window down when you just have to push a button?”  The guys laughed like hyenas about to jump on their blissfully ignorant prey.

“How ya doin’ Jack?” Mick said as he fist bumped Jack.  “Hey Loretta, this is my friend Jack.”

“Nice to meet you Loretta.”

Loretta sat wide-eyed at both guys, feeling through her purse for her cell phone.  Lipstick, wallet, mad money, got it, she thought.

“Dude, you almost killed me back there.  My leg kinda smarts a little,” said Jack as he rubbed his knee.

“Sorry about that,” apologized Mick.  “But thanks for the laugh.”

As the guys talked, Loretta texted her best friend.  The light from her phone was the only bright part of the night.


there is more than heat in the south: viewing faulkner as poetry

mister faulkner

As an English major in college, I had to take a course in American literature. One day, my professor said that a lot of great American literature came from the South. As a wise-cracking young adult in the early ’90s, my hair sprayed with Proforma 5 inches high, I smacked my gum and said, “That’s because there’s nothing else to do down there.”

I was quite naïve. When one thinks about the south, humidity, heat, kids hanging out smoking in the Wal-Mart parking lot might come to mind. Then there’s more humidity, mosquitoes, hanging out on the front porch on Sunday afternoons, more heat, and sun tea. Great literature probably doesn’t pop up in that list.

But William Faulkner breaks that southern stigma, if only we pick up one of his books and read it. Take for instance, this passage from Requiem for a Nun:

“A soar, an apex, the South’s own apotheosis of its destiny and its pride, Mississippi and Yoknapatawpha County not last in this, Mississippi among the first of the eleven to ratify secession.”

When reading Faulkner I discovered that you must first approach his work as poetry and then story. Otherwise you miss out on the vivid imagery and the southern dialect, like this excerpt from As I Lay Dying by the character Darl:

“Pa’s feet are badly splayed, his toes cramped and bent and warped, with no toenail at all on his little toes, from working so hard in the wet in homemade shoes when he was a boy. Beside his chair his brogans sit. They look as though they had been hacked with a blunt axe out of pig-iron.”

As a student I didn’t see Faulkner as much more than an assignment. But now, I can’t wait to read more.

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purple nyquil haze part 2

erma bombeck“Dear, it’s not necessary to do that every time you call my name. Mr. Thompson, I heard what you said.”

“What? I just said Saint Erma, that’s what you are, right?”

“Yes, but I don’t like your tone. Now off you go, don’t you have a decrepit hotel room with a shrine of Debbie Reynolds to get to?”

“Oh yeah, any word yet?”


And Hunter vanishes. I turn to Erma, as usual, for advice. “Saint Erma, my older daughter is upset. A boy at school called her a clueless dumb blond. What do I say?”

“Tell her that she is not a dumb blond. She is a blond savant. And she’s not clueless, just blissfully ignorant.”


“Maybe not. Just tell her boys are stupid and hide your husband’s Just For Men.”

“Good idea.”

And in a flash she’s gone to sit at the right hand of God. I turn around and Elvis entertains my youngest daughter. He’s singing “That’s All Right Mama.” Like me she can see all these people who invade our home each day. But she doesn’t let me in on it. She thinks it’s normal.

I pack my other daughter’s sandwich away, checking it for any bite marks that the King might have left. I hand out kisses to her and my husband as they go off to school and work. I sit down at the kitchen table to the strains of a powdered-wig Mozart playing his harpsichord.

“You know, Wolfie,” I say, “You’ve got to do something about this hair powder. I can’t vacuüm it up.”

“So sorry, m’lady. Won’t wear it next time.”

“You, sir, are a dear, no matter what Salieri says.”

The alarm clock rings. I can’t find the snooze button so I unplug the clock from the wall. I crawl back under the covers hoping to continue my conversation with Mozart but undoubtedly I’ll dream of missing classes at school in my underwear.

purple nyquil haze part 1

2506166893_943a256b76_bI wake up at 2 a.m. with razor blades in my throat. The cold my older daughter had two days ago invaded me and I hear a faint strum of a guitar. I walk downstairs and there’s Harry Chapin singing his magnum opus:

Cat’s in the Cradle and the Silver Spoon
Little Boy Blue and the Man on the Moon
When you’re coming home Dad
I don’t know when
But we’ll get together –

CRASH! BOOM! SMASH! His guitar neck in my hand, pieces of it all over the stairs, I glare at him and say, “Sorry.” I hand it back.

“Hey! You copied me!” says John Belushi at the end of the stairs.

“I learn from the best.” I take a shot of NyQuil and go back to bed.

Later that morning, I’m up, still in a purple NyQuil haze, making a peanut butter and banana sandwich for my daughter’s lunch. I set it on the table and a hand with a ring on every finger reaches for it. I slap his wrist.

“I…I…I…I’m sorry ma’am. It’s just that I don’t get too many peanut butter and banana sandwiches in heaven.”

“That’s okay, Elvis. But it’s for my daughter’s lunch.”

“I understand, Ma’am.”

“Elvis, you know I love you honey. And you know I don’t mind you calling me ma’am. In fact, the only time I like ma’am is if it’s attached to a Southern accent, which you undoubtedly have. But you need to find yourself a good chef up there.”

“None of them know how to cook hillbilly.”

“Yeah, that could be a problem. Tell ya what. I’ll put in a good word to my grandma, I heard she was a fantastic chef.”

“She know how to cook collard greens?”

“You bet!”

“Later, Tater.”

I turn on the radio and as usual, the procession begins. Robert Palmer and his women with slicked back hair, white faces and red lipstick set up their instruments, not that they know how to play them anyways. He starts singing,

The lights are on and you’re not home
Your will is not your own.

“Mr. Palmer! You know I got a bad case of loving you but your music is not conducive to a preschooler’s learning environment. She needs to concentrate.”

He’s dejected, but I’ve told him so many times before. Only Mozart in the morning. He’s more than welcome in the afternoon when I’m doing dishes. Wolfgang rolls in his harpsichord leaving talcum powder prints from his wig on the floor. He sits down and wails out “Rondo Alla Turca“.

I turn to put dishes in my sink and Hunter Thompson is rummaging through my medicine cabinet next to the fridge. “Hunter, you know I kicked Vicodin a long time ago.”

“Yeah, just thought you might have a few left.”

“Ha! You know that’s not possible! Besides you won’t find anything stronger than cold medicine.”

“What about this?”

“That’s for my under-active thyroid.”

“And THIS?”

“High blood pressure. Now off you go.”

Hunter shuts the cabinet door. “Whatever happened to housewives and their ‘secret’ medications?”

“Number one, we’re called stay at-home moms. Number two, thanks to Saint Erma, we don’t have to hide the fact that our jobs are sometimes crappy.”

“Oh yeah, Saint Erma.”

Just then a choir of angels sing, and Erma Bombeck appears with a glowing aura of light. I have no choice but to genuflect.

to be continued…

angel bones part 2

396466621_6890ec49df_oThe ride home together was long but it seemed like a minute because of our fighting. I asked him, “Why did you dance with her and not me?” He said it felt like the first time he met me.

“I get it, I’m stale.” I said. I have to give him credit for bravery. Some guys cheat on the sly. He flaunts it.

Now I sit on the couch, half-dead, staring at him reading the paper. I let him in for God knows what reason and it’s like last week never happened. Am I supposed to offer him something? It’s like that Saturday Night Live sketch with John Belushi: “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.” I expect him to ask for potato chips and beer. If he’s trying to get back together, he has a funny way of showing it.

He sneezes so I offer him a tissue. When we made out for the first time, he had to stop because he sneezed uncontrollably. I asked him if it was allergies and he said no, he always sneezes when he gets horny. I never heard of that before, but put up with it because he was a sweet guy back then. But it got confusing after a while especially during cold and flu season. Half the time I didn’t know whether to take off my clothes or offer him Sudafed.

I stare out the window. Dead black widow spiders lie on the ground with faded dog toys. Rose bushes stick me each time I prune them which is only once a year because I don’t look forward to the pain. My hands cramp up the next day and I give up on having blooming roses in the back yard. I dream of a wonderful yard but don’t know if I want to put that much work into it. I don’t have a magic wand to make a sparkling water fountain, vegetable garden, and a rainbow of roses.

He folds the paper, throws it on the table and heads for the door. “Hey, how’s your friend Darcy doing? You know the skinny one with a rose tattoo on her shoulder?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, do you have her number?”

I slam the door, rub my eyes and go back to bed.

angel bones part 1

3920063498_fdb17e73db_o“I’m not gonna play your games anymore. After what you did I can’t stay on and I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone.” ~The Byrds

Dead bushes and trees starve outside, left over from the previous owners. There’s a tree with dead twigs that once was a newborn. Sticks and tape surround it like at they tried to grow it into a great shade tree. I call it “Angel Bones.” It never grew up so it went to that great green nursery in heaven.

My ex-fiance came over after third shift as a cop this morning even though we broke up a week ago. He rang the doorbell at seven. I threw on my new smoke-filled Tom Petty T-shirt from the concert last night, my eye-liner smudged, hair ratted high. First time I was happy in two years. Probably because he wasn’t there.

Damn, that was an awesome concert! It was a hundred degrees. Even Petty stopped a song to say, “It’s hot up here!” My best friend and I stood while people threw stuff at us. Instead of singing Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down,” we sang, “I Won’t Sit Down.” Ice cubs fly at amazing speed. Beer flies even faster.

“I thought you wanted to terminate this relationship,” I said. That was the exact word he used – terminate. Like we had a business contract.

“Oh that? I was just kidding.”

“But you moved out.”

“I know, but…” He looks down at the paper on the coffee table. He sits and reads the sports page.

Our last date was his best friend’s wedding. He danced with the maid of honor all night long. His brother held my chair for me and pushed me in but had a little trouble. He said, “Wow! You HAVE gained weight!” I picked at my green beans as I watched my fiance and that girl dance to Rick Astley. The very first Rick Roll.

to be continued…

letters from a pet rock

pet rock 2September 14, 1975

I’m a birthday present for a little girl. She asked for a kitten, she got me instead. She looked a little disappointed when she opened the box, but I think she kind of likes me. I’m sitting on her dresser now on a bed of hay. She grabbed a baby blanket, cut it up, and wrapped me up in it because she thought I was cold. I’m in love.

September 15, 1975

She thought I was lonely so she brought up a dinner roll from last night’s meal. She calls us her Rock And Roll. Roll is okay, I guess. He’s soft and fluffy now, but by this time tomorrow he’ll be as hard as a…well, me. And then I’ll have to share my blanket with him. Hope he doesn’t snore.

September 16, 1975

Does she play anything else besides that Three Dog Night record? There’s only so much cowbell I can take. I prefer Bob Dylan myself. Especially that one song, I don’t know the title but he sings, “Everybody Must Get Stoned!” Ha ha! Get it? I crack myself up.

September 17, 1975

What’s this? A new diamond necklace in the jewelry box? He thinks he’s so cool being all shiny and stuff. Says he’s really expensive. I think he’s really just a cubic zirconium. I’d like to cut the window with him but I’m a peaceful being.

September 18, 1975

My buddy Roll got thrown out when her mom came in to dust the furniture. Got no one to talk to, except for this funny grassy stuff that her big brother sneaks in here once in a while. I feel sorry for that stuff. Brother lights him on fire every time.

October 5, 1975

I don’t think she likes me anymore. She never wraps me up in the blanket anymore. My hay hasn’t been changed for weeks. It’s starting to smell. She says it’s too hard to potty train me.

October 10, 1975

Brother got busted so no more visits from my grassy friends. That’s too bad because they were always in a good mood. Hungry guys too. They ate up all the Cheetos and Oreo Cookies she hid in her top drawer.

October 31, 1975

It’s Halloween so she’s dressing up as Wonder Woman. She says sometimes people give her rocks in her trick-or-treat bag. I thought, cool, I’ll get some friends. But then she said if that happens, Brother and his friends will smash the neighbor’s windows with them. I wouldn’t mind too much if one of them lands on the dresser next to me. Could use the company.

December 25, 1975

It’s over. Brother got mad at her for breaking his Queen record so he picked me up and screamed, “A rolling stone gathers no moss!” and threw me out the window. I can see him in the house about to drink a 7-Up with a bag of Pop Rocks. Joke’s on him.

the buick devil part 2

Sure it was sweet at first with its comfy seats and “rack and pinion steering” whatever that is. It sneered at me while spitting out exhaust. I swore I saw it stop and start by itself when I tried to get in.

One stone cold night after work, I sat at an intersection off the I – which was I-94 in Wisconsin but since it was the only interstate in WI we just called it the I. I innocently waited for the light to turn green just so I could get home and warm my frozen toes but it just sat there. It stalled and the steering wheel didn’t work. Cars honked, people drove around. I cried and my tears froze right on my cheeks.

If I listened real hard I could hear Devil Car laughing, “Oh you’re such a dumb twenty-year-old blond! It took you four years to get up enough courage to get your license. I’m your first car. I’m gonna have fun with YOU.”

Devil Car turned over and over and just as I envisioned myself walking home in below zero weather, he finally started up. I drove with my head down in case anyone from high school recognized me on the I.

Another night, while driving home from my fiance’s mom’s house, I listened to Robin Gibb‘s version of “Oh Darlin'” on the tape deck. The car must have been a Beatles fan and hated Gibb’s version because I hit a patch of ice, did a 360 and almost went down an embankment. Thankfully I stopped spinning before going over.

I felt like Job being tested by God. Well, maybe not that severe but still. Finally I said, “That’s IT!” My relationship with this car mirrored the relationship with my fiancé. Whenever he made a crack about my big butt, Devil Car chuckled. Whenever he told me to do something with my flat hair (because all girls had ocean wave hair back then) Devil Car guffawed.

I called off the engagement but he said keep the car and the engagement ring. No way. I traded the ring for my sister’s winter coat and traded in the car for a little slightly used 1987 Sundance. I spotted Sunny with a For Sale sign in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot. It had a smiley face for a grill gloriously painted in a delightful shade of candy apple red.

It was like a little puppy pawing at me behind a glass cage at a pet store. “C’mon in,” it said with its driver’s door open wide, “the seats are fine!”

And I did, never to see the Devil again.