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Hats by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Hats

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Back in the hippie days I acquired a white Stetson 5X Beaver cowboy hat. It had been a gift to a big-headed man. As it did fit me, it was convenient to us both.

I flattened the brim, pushed the top out round, and put a feather in it. I had a vision of some dreamy hippie chick admiring the hat, leading to some free love.

Never got the chance.

My first hour under my new brim among my buddies and some loudmouth called, “hey man, nice hat!”

I doffed and smiled.

He said, “I’d like to have two of them, just like it.”

I had to ask, “Why?”

“One to shit in, the other to cover it up with.”

I turned the corner, took it off, and never wore it again.



Vincent by
(24 Stories)

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At 53, if someone had asked me who Vincent Van Gogh was, I’d have said, “he’s the guy who cut off his ear.”

Shortly after my first divorce, I took a lady on a date to the Getty; see some art and go to dinner. We looked at paintings of famous old dead men and pretended nuance was part of the experience.

Walking into one of the impressionist rooms we followed the other viewers counter-clockwise, taking time to let the impressions flow over us. Stepping in front of Vincent’s Iris painting, some form of gravity gathered me in. The foreground is brown, for dirt, but one brush stroke is red, probably to suggest clay. For an instant I saw the brush move forward and touch the canvas. I started crying—not bawling or simpering—just tears.

My date was self-conscious. I told her I didn’t know what was wrong. But I sat down, gathered myself and circled the room again. This time, in front of Vincent, I just smiled and let the tears flow.

A couple years later while visiting Europe, I made a day trip to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. I expected to spend a few hours in some sort of undefined reverie. I was emotionally devastated and lasted just over an hour.

Since then, I’ve visited the Musee d’Orsay, twice, specifically to stand in a room with seventeen Vincents.

All of his paintings affect me, but his self-portraits auger holes in me. I know him.

Yard Sales by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Yard Sales

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Each time I see a street fair I think to myself that a clever vendor should have a sign that says:


Untitled by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Birth Order

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Never get in a fight with the youngest kid in his family.

It took years to make that deduction. Finally, it came to me when someone said, “My big sister hits harder than that.”

I was the oldest in my family. Not only could I not take a punch, but I was afraid of hurting my hand when hitting someone else.

And when the youngest in a family started hitting back, it wasn’t me he was punching. No. I was the demon and he was the exorcist.

Unkie by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Aunts & Uncles

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(Aunts and Uncles)

My uncle was a sailor in the war. I called him Unkie. My earliest memories of him had him in that dark blue wool uniform with the white cap; the square shoulder flap like a small cape. Since our extended family treated him with such respect, I did too. Uniforms made gods and I fell easy into the worship of navy blue and white.

A small boy in the 1950’s, I was just learning to look out the car window, just learning how to talk. I made it my job to search the road ahead and call out when I saw an Unkie.

In those days, soldiers and sailors in uniform could just stick out their thumb and the first car would stop and give them a ride. My dad didn’t fear for our safety picking up a stranger. We all just skootched over and made room; gave him a ride as far as we were going, asked him all the same questions.

I didn’t care about the brown-green army men or the marines. But when we had an Unkie in the car, I was fascinated. The man was secondary to the uniform—a symbol of my personal Unkie. It took nearly two decades to value the person instead of the uniform.


One I Got Over by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Superstition

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Fragrant Flashbacks by
(24 Stories)

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Fragrant Flashbacks






I was in my teens—so many things I didn’t understand. So many aspects of life that I did because I thought I should or I did because I was compelled. And I was too close to myself for perspective, so all I could do was respond to stimuli.

I didn’t know why I was so drawn to the scent, so repelled, yet attracted. The middle finger of my right hand wafted aromatic magic. I didn’t wash it for days, kept it under my nose. My first drug. I’d sniff, pull back and try to place what it was that seemed so familiar. I couldn’t identify it, so I’d sniff again. What kept me on the repetitive loop?

One small cluster of neurons knew; that place where my spine grows from my brain like a root. There, in my primitive brain; that part of me knew. She smelled like leaf mold in the Miocene.





My Dream Wizard (again) by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Dreams

/ Stories




Last night, my dream wizard had me working in a voting station. I looked up and a woman pulled her blouse back and flashed me. While that might seem like a nice dream wizard move, this one was different.

The woman flashed her scar from a mastectomy. And her blank look portrayed a complete range of emotion. We just looked into each other’s eyes. I saw hatred, and fear, and need, and defiance, and resignation, and loss, and loneliness, and my/our complicity in the destruction; I still see the look.

Later, I held her in my arms. It was my best response, but I knew it was not enough.

So I invited her into my circle of friends. This includes you, of course. She needs us all.


Grandma Anna by
(24 Stories)

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In the early 1950’s, my grandmother lived along the highway between Palm Springs and Los Angeles. She raised chickens and sold sold fryers on ice and eggs.

Between her wood-slatted hen houses were two eucalyptus stumps. One stump was my haven from the headless chickens that ran flapping and spurting blood. I was Caesar, fascinated at the carnage below, frightened and eager. The other stump was the killing place.

My grandmother was kind and thoughtful–straight out of Denmark. She would reach into the cage, gently taking a hen by the feet, dragging it across the stump, while the chicken held still, its head and neck stretched, relaxed. I remember my grandmother’s chicken prayer, the one she recited before each drop of her ax: “Poor t’ing, she ditn’t mean no harm.”

CHOP. Release. Mayhem at my feet.

Water boiled in a caldron on an open fire. Hens were scalded, feathers plucked with gnarled fingers. Fine hairs left on the skin were singed over the fire–leaving a burnt hair stench that detracted from my fascinations. Tubs of ice filled with naked chickens. Gizzards, slitted and emptied of grit, lay in a porcelain pan among hearts and livers. My grandmother sang songs from the old country–mostly to the birds. She called me, Little Ricky.

In retrospect, we don’t know what we’ve lost until it is gone.

Oh, those eggs? by
(24 Stories)

/ Stories

In the early 60’s, I had a morning newspaper route. In five years, only a couple people didn’t pay their subscription. Honor was still a virtue.

But one man didn’t pay and then moved. On collection days when I knocked on his door, even with his car in the driveway, no one answered. I was out nearly two months’ service. My father was more upset than I was.

Then on Halloween afternoon, I walked in my house to see my father sitting at the table smoking a cigarette and smiling. On the table were two dozen eggs and a piece of paper with an address on it. He took a pull from his Herbert Tareyton and blew smoke. “That deadbeat who stiffed you on your newspaper route. That’s his new address. I saw his car in the driveway, saw him in the yard.”

I didn’t want to go through the effort required to start banging on this man’s door in vain. I’d proven to myself that it was not worth it. I slumped. “Okay.”

My father put one out or lit one or tapped ash. “Now, whatever you do, don’t go to that address with those eggs and throw those stinky eggs through his screen door and against the stucco around his front porch. It would make a big smelly mess.”

I was raised to obey laws and respect my elders. “Okay.”

“Whatever you do.” He gave me the steely-eye. “Whatever you do. Don’t. Take. Those. Eggs. And. Throw. Them. Through. That. Sum’bitch’s screen door. And. All. Over. His. Front. Porch.” He got up, took his pack of cigarettes and his matches, heading out the door to the backyard and his smoking chair. “I’d hate to think that you took those eggs when I wasn’t looking.”

No one had ever encouraged me to violate any codes of behavior. I stood looking at the eggs and scrap of paper, trying to be sure the message was what I thought it was.

My father stuck his head back in the door and smiled. “Have a nice Halloween.”

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