Songs As Stories: The Man

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*Inspired by the song “The Man” by Aloe Blacc

In the beginning of what most believed in their heart of hearts to be the End of Days, there was The Distant Signal. It came in the form of a definitive and verified multi-language message broadcast to all the countries of Earth simultaneously.

What should have been a moment of joyous acknowledgment that we were not alone in the universe, was tainted by a subliminal signal that triggered an automatic flight response in all the various and sundry life forms on the planet.

Dubbed The Great Terror by the media, it opened the door to speculation about the global impact alien contact might have on world governments, organized religions, stock markets, and most importantly human existence.

Then came news of the one person on the planet unaffected by the subliminal signal.

His business card was made of carbon-fiber reinforced thermoplastic. Laser etched in red on the back was his phone number, four digits, no area or country code, because it wasn’t needed. The number could be dialed from anywhere in the world, toll-free. The front of the card delivered the most accurate message any business card ever had. It told the bearer exactly who he was in two simple words:

The Man

Normally slang that referred to either the government, an authority in a position of power, or a drug dealer — which he had no issue with, as he had allegedly been all those things in his youth — it currently served as a term of respect and praise.

The Man had no official credit rating, never owned a bank account, and his fingers never knew the texture of cash. His currency was the Boon License, a service performed, payable by a service at his behest.

The Man never advertised his services, and thanks to a universal binary code, he wasn’t searchable on the internet. His legend was viral, spread word of mouth from those who benefited from his services. The downside of this Chinese whispers campaign were all the old wives’ tales that attached themselves to his accomplishments like gossip remoras:

  • He was incapable of telling the truth and he gained supernatural powers by winning a bet with the Devil in a liar’s competition.
  • He thrived on the broken hearts of virgins after he stole the purest form of love from them.
  • He was born without a soul.
  • He was a genetic engineering experiment using stem cell materials that hadn’t been able to be duplicated.
  • He was born with one hundred percent brain capacity and as a result, has all the information stored on every computer and the internet in his brain.
  • He averted World War Three by winning the jackpot in a poker game with the world’s superpowers.

For a person who bartered in boons, how could he resist collecting favors from the entire planet? But when The Man accepted the offer, he scoured governments, both domestic and foreign, for help, with absolutely no success.

Once The Man signed the contract, he was elected to make first contact, and the world leaders resigned from their posts and contingency plans were underway to build underground shelters. He could not find a government, nation, country or individual to stand by his side.

The final extraterrestrial message contained a set of coordinates for the rendezvous point. Although no one would stand by him, he was able to call in several favors to arrange transport to one of the remote volcanic islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, Tristan da Cunha.

The alien armada arrived like a meteor storm, ships of shifting geometrics burned through Earth’s mesosphere and parked themselves in the stratosphere around the entire planet so that they blotted out the sun.

Plunged into darkness, The Man stood his ground as a lone, illuminated craft, smaller than the other ships, descended to the rendezvous point and touched down on the soil light as a feather.

The ship altered its form and peeled itself away from its passenger and repurposed itself into a ramp. The alien glided forward. It existed on the outer fringes of humanoid description but The Man found its features and its form somehow alluring.

The alien handed him a card with strange markings and upon contact with his skin, the card pricked his thumb and took a DNA sample. The markings changed, cycling through alphabets until it hit his native earthbound English. When all the letters were in place, it simply read:

The Woman

The alien smiled.

©2013 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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Of Air Returned

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i.

I burned my soul to ash but the pain paled in comparison to the terror that struck my heart like a match, anticipating her arrival and the tirade she would carry in tow. An unwarranted fear, as she was calm when she saw what I had done. Calm and nurturing. Soothing my pain with herbs and aromas, and each early morning during the hour of the wolf, she laid an ear on my back and listened as my soul mended itself.

She never spoke the words of disappointment aloud but it registered in her eyes. Although residing within my body, this wounded thing, this unwanted soul, did not belong to me. She had laid claim to it many years past, and in my despondency, I had taken liberties with her property and attempted to destroy it. Again.

ii.

The first time, I threw my soul into a sinkhole and allowed the ground to swallow it whole. I made her acquaintance when she plucked it from the soil like a tattered tuber. “I saw what you did,” she said. “And since you would so recklessly toss this precious thing away, it is no longer yours, but mine, agreed?” I nodded and she handed my soul back to me for safe keeping.

I honored our pact for a few years, caring for it within my limited capacity, but during a particularly nasty bout of depression, I tied heavy stones to my soul and pushed it off the sea wall. For a second time, she appeared, fishing my soul from the waves and scolded me, “You are charged with protecting this thing that is mine, do you understand?” Again, I nodded. Again, I lied.

iii.

“Why do you want this worthless soul when it has been crushed by the earth? Why do you want it when it has been drowned in the sea? Why do you want it when it has been set aflame like so much tinder?” I searched long and hard yet found no answer in her silence.

iv.

During the day, when she thought me preoccupied, she secreted herself in the shadows and slept. One day I followed her into the darkness and watched her body twitch from dreaming and listened as she muttered,

One more soul, once buried deep.
One more soul, in ocean steeped.
One more soul, by fire burned.
One more soul, of air returned.

v.

Under her care, my soul grew healthier and it frightened me. I was pitilessly plagued and badgered by the phrase, One more soul, of air returned, that repeated in my mind’s ear until it turned dogged and cacophonous. But she was unaware of my inner torment, in fact, she was in an exceptionally good mood today, her voice almost a song, “I know you don’t see it, but you are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

vi.

Today was the day. I felt it in my marrow. Something was destined to happen, something I most likely would not survive. I should have embraced this eerie premonition, for it was no secret that I did not want to continue in this manner, broken, detached and alone. But the choice of how and when I departed this wretched life was mine to make and mine alone. So, I stalled by distracting her with trivialities. “May I have more broth? Have you seen my shoes? No, not that pair, the other ones? Can we go for a walk?” If she knew my plan, her expression never showed sign. No request was too large or small on this day. She granted them all.

vii.

We strolled along the pathway in the park that led to the duck pond, a place we visited often during my convalescence. Picked, naturally, as not to arouse suspicion as I searched for the proper diversion in order to make my escape. But I was so wrapped in my own thoughts, I failed to notice that she was walking slower than usual today. “Can we rest a moment?” she asked as we neared the benches. “I am a little short of breath.”

Her breathing became a labored and raspy thing before it hitched and became lodged in her throat. When her face went dusky blue and she slid off the park bench, I panicked. The opportunity had presented itself and there I stood like an idiot, frozen. Entangled in the decision of whose life to save, or more accurately, whose death I could live with.

There was no real choice.

viii.

Her breathing was a trembling, liquid sound as I pressed my mouth to hers and exhaled, but instead of me breathing air into her body, I felt her sucking air from my lungs, and not just air…

I tried desperately to pull away but her thin, vise-like hands clamped down on the nape of my neck and held me firm in a kiss that was collapsing me. My hold on life became dim and futile, but before I slipped away into emptiness, I noticed the oddest thing: her belly began to swell.

Every fiber of my actuality was drawn into her, and my soul, the object I had forever been so reckless with, was systematically being stripped of concern, of negativity, of identity. I fell further and further into a darkness that pressed on me from all sides. So tight, so constricted. I was still unable to breathe but the sensation was somehow different now.

At the very moment when it seemed the darkness was about to claim me for eternity, there came a burst of light so bright as to cut my eyes. Thankfully something soon blotted out the light – a face, slowly coming into focus but I knew her before I saw her. From the moment I heard her soft cooing, “You are a gift, you are. You have no idea just how special.”

Mother.

©1988 – 2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

About Of Air Returned: Delusion can be a scary thing, but it can also be wonderful at the same time. This piece was written in the early part of 1988, during a period when I swore I could do no wrong—it’s fine, you can laugh, I’ll just cringe quietly in the corner. I was heavily into both science and speculative fiction and had recently rediscovered the works of The Brothers Grimm, so I was determined to create my own collection of fairy tales for the—then—modern age.

Applying fairy tale rules, I could introduce the fantastic or the bizarre into any story with little or no explanation, and have all the characters in the tales accept everything as normal. Wishes as deus ex machina. Love as the ultimate cure-all. All the good stuff without all the fuss. Genius, right?

It would take the better part of six months for me to discover I wasn’t the groundbreaker I imagined myself to be. On the plus side, I followed my then idol, Harlan Ellison’s advice and was able to churn one of these puppies out a day.

Of course, most of them are unreadable. This one teeters on the edge. I kinda like it and it kinda embarrasses the hell out of me, but it was one of the three Rhyan Realm tales–yeah, I created my own sub-genre name for them, what of it?–that actually saw print… after 10-some-odd rejections.

You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll kiss a few minutes goodbye.

Savior Complex

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“You have a messiah complex, got to save the world.” — Dean Koontz, Odd Thomas

I’ve never been much for crowds, not even as a child. People huddled en masse tended to embrace a hive mind of boorishness, which was why I tended to do all my necessities shopping early on Tuesday mornings. Fewer people and less hassle as I collected my weekly provisions, zipped through the express lane, out of the market and on to the next chore on my list that required social navigation. But something wasn’t quite right today. Tuesday? Of course. Early morning? Naturally. Empty supermarket? Not by a long shot.

The aisles were crawling with miscreants of every possible variety. Attention deficit disordered shoppers who treated their shopping cart like cars out of a Fast and Furious film crashed into other carts and shoppers with reckless abandon in search of the ever elusive sale of nearing-their-sell-by-date items they probably had no practical use for; forsaken carts parked in the middle of aisles blocking throughways and creating bumper to bumper trolley traffic; and coupon carrying cretins stalling checkout lines because they hadn’t quite mastered the simple art of having payment in hand for their items and beating a hasty retreat out into the open plains of the parking lot.

I contemplated pivoting on my heels and leaving the shopping for another morning or possibly next Tuesday—surely I could have survived a week on basic rations. But had I left, I wouldn’t have run into Tatum.

It was seventeen years since I laid eyes on her last. She was still attractive, more so now, a slender Honduran with mocha skin, shoulder-length dreadlocks, and a disarming smile that tended to pull a bit to the right side of her face. Unlike previous times when I randomly encountered someone from my past on the street and immediately began flipping through my mental card catalog for any excuse to walk away, I was actually pleased to see her. In that moment of reciting the usual social pleasantries by rote, all the negative history hadn’t existed. We waded in a pool of heart-warming nostalgia.

Her smile never wavered as she told me how her life hadn’t turned out quite the way she planned. When we were together, she studied to be a lawyer. Now, she worked as a marketing senior manager for a cosmetics firm, was the mother of two, a girl and a boy, seven and nine years old respectively, who were fathered by a deadbeat boyfriend who ditched both the wedding and his kids in one fell swoop.

I had no idea how long we stood there blocking the aisle much to the ire of the other shoppers nor did I care. For the first time in quite a while, I honestly enjoyed exchanging words with a person who wasn’t trapped within the confines of a television set. But all good things, as they say—so, we exchanged numbers, promised each other we’d call and went our separate ways.

And on the way home, the strangest nagging notion crept up from the back of my mind: had we been able to work things out all those many years ago, her life might have turned out differently. Better. Then came the guilt as if my absence was somehow responsible for the direction her life took. And on the tail end of that guilt came the shame for not being a better boyfriend to her and a better person in general.

I promptly crumpled up her number and kicked it down a storm drain. Neither she nor I needed to be reminded of what might have been.

Less than a week later, once I had time to regret trashing her phone number, she called me out of the blue with an invitation to have lunch and meet her children. I wasn’t particularly keen on the latter, but I definitely wanted to see her again.

We met at a faux Italian restaurant, a fast food chain done up in dime store décor to give the eatery a stereotypical taste of Italy, and I had to admit that I didn’t mind her kids all that much. They were a bit unruly, but what children weren’t at those ages? Although I felt a little awkward being interrogated by her brood, it was nice being in Tatum’s company. I experienced a level of comfort in her presence that oddly felt like home.

That was, until her daughter, Tracie, asked, “Did you and Mommy have S-E-X?” as if spelling the word somehow made the question safe to ask.

Confirmed bachelor that I was, I wasn’t comfortable chatting with a nine-year-old about sex. I had no idea what the proper protocol was, so I turned to Tatum and with a look, asked, Did we have S-E-X, Mommy?

Without batting an eye, Tatum answered, “Yes. We had sex.”

Was that how it’s done nowadays? Was it the norm for ex-boyfriends to be brought to lunch with the kiddies to openly discuss their sexual history? I was still reeling from that exchange when her son, Lee, chimed in, “You could be our Dad!”

The old one-two punch. These kids worked me over like a speed bag. They laughed at my embarrassment and I tried to play it off, but it unnerved me on a deep level. The rest of the conversation was downhill after that in terms of my personal discomfort. We got on well enough, the four of us, better than expected and when we said our goodbyes after lunch, I was hit with another weird sensation—jealousy. Because her children weren’t our children and in her family, there was no place setting for me at the table. It only lasted an instant but long enough to have registered.

I tried to put things into perspective, tried to remember why our relationship ended in the first place, it wasn’t a build up of all the minor things, the petty annoyances that masked the underlying truth that people simply grew apart. If I was honest, it was the Santería, the Afro-Cuban ritualistic and ceremonial worship of saints her family practiced religiously that rubbed me the wrong way. She asked how I felt about it and I told her I didn’t believe in things like that and it was the truth, but the other truth, the deeper truth, was that it scared a part of me that I didn’t want to acknowledge.

To be clear, it wasn’t Tatum practicing rituals so much as her mother. That woman hated me from the moment she clapped eyes on me, no rhyme, no reason, just pure unadulterated hatred. For some reason, I hadn’t measured up to her exacting standards of what constituted a proper boyfriend for her daughter and she never bothered hiding that fact. She visited our apartment constantly and after she left, I would find things hidden around the house, under the bed, in the refrigerator. Little Santería objects tucked away everywhere.

One day when I arrived home early with the intention of whipping up a surprise dinner for Tatum when she got off from work, I walked in on Tatum’s mother and sisters in the middle of a Santeria ritual. There were others with them, perhaps family members I hadn’t met or just fellow practitioners, all clad in white. Drummers talked to the saints, playing their specific beat, eyes closed in a trance while robed dancers chanted in ancient Yoruba as they spun and shook off the evil eye.

And in the center of the living room, Tatum’s mother stared at me like I was a burglar, like I was the thing that didn’t belong in my own home. Before I knew, the last of my resolve evaporated and I began yelling for her and everyone else to get the hell out of my apartment, jabbing my finger in the air at her for emphasis. The old woman ignored me and she walked in ever-expanding circles while smoking a cigar that smelled of things I’d never smelled before and blew smoke in my face as she spoke in tongues. It made me gag and start to cough. I clutched at my throat and lost consciousness to the sight of Tatum’s mother and sisters laughing at me.

When I came to and Tatum arrived home, I told her what happened and she called her mother on the phone. After a lengthy conversation, she said she understood how things must have seemed and apologized for not telling me she allowed them to use the apartment while we were out but ultimately she sided with her family over me.

That was all it took. I moved out of the apartment that night and never looked back. Depending on how you looked at it, if her mother was casting a spell to get rid of me, it actually worked because I was out of her daughter’s life.

I kept this firmly in mind when Tatum phoned and invited me around hers for dinner. I accepted the invitation, mind you, but I kept the incident with her mother firmly in mind. It had been a month of Sundays since I had a proper home-cooked meal because no one in their right mind would have called what I did cooking.

Tatum greeted me at the door, apron on, dusted with flour and seasonings, happy homemaking in full effect. The kids were in the kitchen and to my astonishment were finishing up washing the dishes. They dried their hands before they ran up and hugged me. I looked into their faces and something seemed off. Their smiles were too wide, teeth too white and there was something unnatural about the intensity in their eyes. And their faces looked different. They still possessed features that were reminiscent of Tatum but the rest was somehow different, incomplete, like faces in transition. I chalked it up to being overly tired and thought no more of it.

Dinner went well. Who knew Tatum could have been such a gracious hostess? The kids made the meal a pleasant experience, as well. They stopped bickering and playing with their food when I asked them to, laughed at my jokes and listened with rapt attention as I talked about the time I met their mother.

When dinner was over we sat in the living room. The apartment was too small for two growing kids but Tatum arranged everything in a way that made it feel roomy, as though it was a real house.

We sat on the sofa, all of us, Tatum paging through a family photo album on her lap. Pictures of vacations with the deadbeat boyfriend, of her during various stages of her pregnancy, of her and deadbeat holding a newborn Lee and later with Tatum holding a newborn Tracie while deadbeat lurked somewhere in the background. A life well documented.

Tatum told me how difficult things had been. Deadbeat had developed a drug habit and came around under the guise of seeing his children only to beg off some money to score and if that hadn’t worked, he stole things to sell or threatened to take the kids.

One time when Tatum refused to give him any more money, he made good on his threat and Stacie and Lee were taken from her by Child Services because of alleged abuse charges. She described the hell she had to go through to get her family back.

As if on cue, there was a knock at the door. It was deadbeat, whose Christian name was Oscar, most likely coming around again to score. She spoke with him in hushed tones through the space in the door allowed by the security chain. When his shouts turned to raged kicks on the door, I stepped up behind Tatum so that he could see me. “Everything all right, Tate?”

It was like trying to put out a fire with gasoline. Oscar lost his mind and no manner of reasoning calmed him. I showed him my cell phone, made sure he had seen me dial 911 and only then as he weighed the options in his mind did he leave, but not before he made his threats. He would be back, to kill me, get his kids and make Tatum pay.

Tatum convinced me not to involve the police but only after she agreed to let me stay the night in case Oscar decided to return. We tried to salvage the rest of the evening for the sake of Tracie and Lee but deadbeat’s presence lingered in the air.

The sofa was made up for me as comfortable as she could manage, but sleep was the furthest thing from my mind. I was afraid that Oscar would return, afraid that I wouldn’t be much use since I wasn’t a violent man. All I could have done was to block his attack while Tatum grabbed the kids and made their way to safety. And if that was what it took, then so be it.

When the tension of the evening finally loosened its grip and I began drifting off, Tatum came to me. Without uttering a word, she slid her nightgown off her shoulders and let it fall to her ankles. Why hadn’t I ever noticed just how perfect she was before? She stood there, naked and beautiful in the moonlight that poured in from the living room window, and I knew then and there that I would have done anything for her. Smiling, she climbed on top of me and it was paradise.

After we were done, after all the love I was capable of making had been made, after the pillow talk in which things were said that were sweet and emotional and ultimately meaningless, Tatum gathered her nightgown and went back to her bed. I understood her not wanting the children to find her in my arms in the morning, but a small piece of me was gutted.

My head swam with a million thoughts, my heart filled with far too many emotions, and that, combined with the feeling that something still wasn’t quite right, meant there was no sleep for me this night. And so preoccupied was I that I hadn’t heard it at first. The sound. The jingling of keys.

I strained my ears, trying to locate the noise again. After a few moments of silence, I wondered if it had just been my overactive imagination. It couldn’t have been him with a set of keys, surely Tatum would have changed the locks. Then it happened again. The sound of a key sliding into a lock. I sat bolt upright on the sofa, eyes scanning the darkness for a weapon. Remote controls, game console controllers, DVDs—the candy dish! It was no gun, but the glass was solid enough to crack a skull.

I stared into the dark hallway from the living room entranceway and heard the front doorknob turning. The door opened a crack and light spilled in from the apartment building’s hallway. An arm slipped in through the crack holding a hooked wire, perhaps a piece of a clothes hanger, that scratched at the door until it found purchase in the handle of the security chain which it then dragged along the track slowly until the chain fell away.

I should have acted then. I should have rushed the door, slammed his arm in it, put my full weight against the door, held him there and called the police for them to cart him away. But I was held in place by a tension that locked inside of me. Instinct had taken over. So had the fear.

The intruder’s silhouette appeared in the doorway before the door clicked shut behind him, plunging the hall back into darkness. Footsteps, slow and deliberate. The floorboards creaked as if they were screaming a warning. I threw the candy dish with all my might into the darkness and knew that I missed my target completely when I heard it crash off the front door and glass rained down on the floor.

Then I heard a rustling come from the kids’ room, obviously awakened by the noise. Were they coming to investigate? Something snapped inside me. This bastard wasn’t going to harm those kids!

I charged into the darkness until I collided with the intruder. But as angry and determined as I was, I was no match for his explosive violence. He heaved me into the air and threw me onto the floor, unleashing a hail of punches and kicks that knocked me senseless. I put my arms up to protect my face and instinctively curled into a ball but my defensive position blocked none of his attacks.

He must have sensed how weak I was, what a uselessly pathetic man he was dealing with because he stopped hitting me and chose instead to wrap his hands around my throat. I flailed spastically to get him off as I gasped for air but the intruder was having none of it. He slammed my head against the floor in a violent demonstration of his control over me as I gasped my last remaining breaths.

Then light flooded the room. Tatum and the children stood at the end of the hall, staring at me. My emotions were mixed. I wanted them to go away, I didn’t want them to see me like this. I wanted them to get to safety, but on the other hand, I wanted them to help me. I didn’t want to die.

But there was something in the way they looked at me, something that told me things weren’t right. And I looked up at the intruder—

Who was no longer there. And now I understood why they were staring at me. Here I was lying on the floor with my own hands wrapped around my neck. It took some effort for me to loosen my own grip. I staggered to my feet and tried to explain how Oscar had come back, how he had a key and he broke in and was going to do something terrible to them, but they didn’t understand.

“Who’s Oscar?” the kids asked and, “What’s wrong with Daddy?”

“Stop that! It isn’t funny anymore!” I tried to yell through a raw throat. “I’m not your father!”

A genuine look of pain danced across Tracie and Lee’s faces as they turned to Tatum, asking, “Why is he saying this, Mommy? Why is he acting so strange?”

And I was feeling strange like my entire world had suddenly shifted on its axis.

“I can prove it,” I said as I ran past them into the living room and grabbed the photo album for proof and flipped through the pages of—

Tatum and I on vacation. Me posing with her during various stages of both her pregnancies. The pair of us cradling a newborn Lee and later with us holding a newborn Tracie while Lee lurked in the background pulling a silly face.

These weren’t the pictures I had seen earlier and I had no recollection of having taken these photos, yet they existed.

And I looked at Tracie and Lee and they were different again, now a mixture of Tatum and I thought I actually saw bits of myself in their faces. The kids asked Tatum what was wrong and she explained that I, Daddy, just had a nightmare, that’s all. She told them that everything would be all right in the morning, everything back to normal.

After Tatum swept up the shattered candy dish, she began to usher me to the bedroom, grabbing the pillow off the sofa when something fell to the floor, something that had been resting under the pillow. It looked like a figure made of red-tinged folded palm leaves, bound together by hair but I couldn’t see it properly because she quickly brushed it under the sofa with her foot. I asked her what it was and she said it was just one of the kids’ toys and she would talk to them about picking up their things, or she suggested maybe I should do it, after I got back from Tuesday morning shopping, because she wouldn’t have time since she was staring at a monster of a day down at the law firm tomorrow.

©2013-2019 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

A Rose by Any Other Voice

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“You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words. That is your role, your gift.” ― Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

There are different types of stories. Some you share, some that transform themselves into other creative endeavors, some that are stillborn with no hope of resuscitation, and some that you hide from everyone, sometimes even yourself.

When I wore a younger man’s clothes, I wrote a story. One that I’ve never shared, one that will never transform itself into another work of art, one I have not read since its inception. But every so often when my mind settles into a rare resting mode and all my thoughts become inconsequential white noise, the story whispers to me so that I don’t forget it. It does what it needs to do in order to survive.

No, it’s not a true confession, nor is it based on or inspired by true events. There’s no deep-seated ideological conviction behind it. It’s also not the most powerful or hard-hitting thing I’ve ever written. Hell, the thing isn’t even written in my voice. Chiefly because it’s not my story.

The story belongs to someone else, told to me in part before she died.

Rose loved to tell stories to take her mind off her illness, so we’d meet occasionally when her health allowed or sometimes talk over the phone and she would spin her vignettes. She wasn’t a professional writer so the stories were uneven and structurally unsound, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. She was witty and articulate and sometimes, but not too often, a good telling trumps structure.

And she continued telling stories until the pain became too much to bear, but before Rose died she said to me, “complete it,” and slow on the uptake as I can often be, I didn’t catch her meaning until months later.

It wasn’t an easy process. When I finally wrote the story down as close to verbatim as my past-its-sell-by-date memory could manage, I looked at the work and was confounded by what I could actually do with it. At first, I wanted to restructure and outline everything so that I could plot a logical ending, but that wouldn’t have been true to Rose’s storytelling style. A style I had become very protective of.

In the end, I decided this wasn’t a story that could be written, only transcribed, so I sat in front of a mirror with a digital recorder and recited the fragments Rose left me as a parting gift and traveled down a nonstructural road to see where it led me.

And I didn’t go it alone. I could feel Rose’s hand in mine, leading me down the path to the story’s final destination.

Sally forth and be damn-the-structure-and-just-tell-your-damned-storyingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

First Saturdays

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Hi, my name is Rhyan and I’m a movie addict.

And an insomniac.

Native New Yorker, born in Manhattan, raised in The Bronx, and because I inherited my mother’s transient nature, I’ve managed to live in each of the five boroughs. Poor as a skunk’s misery, a church mouse, Job, Lazarus, and dirt. Hell, I’m still poor, and most likely always will be.

The best thing about growing up without anything is that you learn to make the most of what you’ve got and distract yourself from what you haven’t got. My major distraction was television.

It was my babysitter, my tutor, and my secret friend that entertained me as the rest of the world slept. Its siren call would lure me into the living room, where I’d toss my blanket over the both of us so the light didn’t spill out of the room and give away my position. Then I’d plug my mono transistor radio earphone into the headphone jack and marvel at all the noir, horror and science fiction movies that played on CBS’ The Late Show, The Late Late Show, and The Late Late Late Show.

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I was always a wreck in school the following day, but man was it worth it.

The only thing that trumped this near nightly process was the first Saturday of the month. Like most poor folk, we were on welfare and this was before the Food Stamp bill was passed in 1970 which meant everything, rent, bills, and food monies arrived in the mailbox in one convenient check. The Saturday that followed check day was always considered my day. Wherever I wanted to go, wherever I wanted to play.

Tads

My playground of choice? 42nd Street. The first stop was Tad’s Steak House. Sure, the broiled steak was thin and more gristle than meat, the garlic bread was oilier than Brylcreem, the chocolate pudding coated with that yucky skin and a fountain Coke served in a large red plastic tumbler that smelled like the previous beverage it held… but to me, it was pure heaven.

42nd

Then my mother gestured at the movie theaters that lined both sides of the street and said the most perfect thing anyone could have said to me at the time, “You can see all the movies you can stay awake for.”

These were once majestic movie houses that slowly transformed during the decline of New York City starting in the late 50’s into grindhouse theaters before grindhouse was even a word. Each one ran three films, usually one current and the others whatever was on hand.

On these magic Saturdays, I tore through Roger Corman flicks, Hammer Films, the Toho tokusatsu imports and so much more. All uninterrupted viewing aside from the occasional mom hand that would clamp over my eyes during nude or sex scenes. Only when I started to nod off was it time to head home, despite my protestations.

automat.net-1

On the way home, we’d stop off at the Horn & Hardart automat and my mother would dump tokens into my hand and send me off to fetch dinner from the individual glass door compartments. Even though it was only plain food — sandwiches, beef stew, and the like — there was something about slotting coins and retrieving a prize that appealed to me.

Optimo

The final detour before reaching home was the Optimo Cigars shop that had a spinning wire rack of comic books where I’d select my month’s reading material.

I realize this may not seem like any great shakes to you, but it remains the only positive memory I have of my mother — too long and too personal a story to go into here — and I can’t think of a better way to honor the anniversary of her passing.

Sally forth and be playground exploringly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

Vacancies, Vacancies Everywhere, Yet None of Them For Me

no-vacancies

My secret self—the bit of me that hides in plain sight just behind a corner of reality—has been wandering my memory palace of late, searching for an empty room in which to steal a bit of solitude for I sometimes need to swaddle my internal dialogue in silence when even the quietest place on earth can offer me no rest.

You might have surmised correctly that I’ve been met with very little success.

Oh, there are rooms aplenty in which I enjoy the occasional lounge-about, each filled with bric-à-brac I’ve accumulated along the way. Items or concepts or vagueries that may or may not find their way into a story, plot germs that piqued my interest for one reason or another, displayed neatly on shelves beside those things kept precious, but each of these pieces of me gives off unique vibrations that assault my mind’s ear like anamnestic tinnitus.

A few of my unused characters who can afford the steep rent have made the suggestions that I either choose my favorite among them to room with or take turns bunking with every one of them for short periods as not to overstay my welcome.

But that really isn’t my style. I like the idea of knowing where characters are so that I might visit them and engage in brief social interactions when I’m in the mood, and leave them to their own devices when I’ve had my fill. And although I am quite capable of being alone in a crowded room, I cannot find solitude with people around, not even the people in my mind, the ones that I have breathed life into.

My irritation at not being able to claim residence in a place that I have been constructing since childhood is beginning to infect other areas of my life. My current location annoys me. My inability to write annoys me. The presence of other people annoys me. The sameness of the day annoys me. Even my annoyance at everything annoys me.

And so Wednesday comes ’round and I am attempting to build a new foundation for the memory palace extension on the lone and level sands of ground-down ideas, in a new territory where the old housing rules may not apply. Eventually, when my hoarder nature reveals itself and this section of the palace becomes filled with miscellanea most likely better left forgotten…

I’ll repeat the process. Search for my own patch of solitude. Light a candle and still curse the darkness. Build another room. And fill it with possessions that squeeze me to the point of eviction.

But until then, sally forth and be buying me a nice room-warming giftingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

The Tam Commandments

10crack-commandments

My past often crossed paths with my present, but never with the people I desired to see again. Because of this, I’m always filled with an odd mix of embarrassing nostalgia and unwanted reflection, followed by the inevitable introspection. I see where old acquaintances are in their lives and I can’t help but look at where I am in relation to my dreams and aspirations.

No matter if you’re the outgrower (the disinterested party) or the outgrown (the rejected party), neither are comfortable during a random meeting. Also, dealing with people from my past have had the effect of feeling like I was moving backward. As if all the growth I’d experienced after being separated from that person vanished because they’re present in my life again.

And these chance encounters happened in the damnedest places. At the time the incident that is the subject of this post occurred, I was tucked away in a small town in a new state on the opposite coast when I ran into a childhood friend. Well, friend might have been a bit of a stretch. She wasn’t really friends with anyone. Truer to say we ran in the same circles. Even truer than that, we ran in different circles that sometimes overlapped like a Venn diagram of societal misfit kids.

Rough and rugged, tough as nails, she took no shit off anyone, not even her parents. She went her own way, did her own thing, and everyone in the neighborhood, kid and adult alike knew she’d most likely end up either dead or in prison. Some people only left their future open for those two options.

Anyway, I was at the local thrift store when I heard someone calling my name. I assumed it couldn’t be me since I knew exactly zero people in Los Angeles, but as this person kept calling, my curiosity got the better of me and turned to see her: Tamika.

It took me a moment to work out who she was. Not that the years hadn’t been kind to her, it was just that she wasn’t a person I had ever thought about remembering.

She, on the other hand, treated me like we were lifelong buddies. Big hugs and kisses and a smile that could have lit the Hollywood Bowl. Time has a funny way of altering the past. She remembered our relationship very differently than I had.

So, we did what people who hadn’t seen one another in ages do. We shared past stories, gave abridged accounts of our lives since then, and painted the brightest possible picture for our futures. And me being me, I remarked on how I never thought I’d see her ever again. Of all the people, not including those that had passed, she was easily the last person I ever expected to clap eyes on.

She hadn’t taken offense. She knew better than anyone the type of person she was back then and she said she probably would have fulfilled everyone’s prophesy of jail or death if not for Chickie.

Chickie was the only other person who could’ve matched Tammy pound for pound. Cut from the same cloth, sisters from a different mister, they were thick as thieves. And probably would have been for life, had Chickie not met her maker at the claw end of a hammer in a drug deal gone horribly wrong.

That’s when Tam found the way.

My internal groan was so loud I feared she might’ve heard it. I myself am areligious, and though I don’t begrudge anyone their spiritual beliefs, I have a hard time listening to the sanctimony of proselytizing born-agains.

But she hadn’t found Jesus, at least not in that way. Nor had she joined a cult. She claimed she simply hit rock bottom and having no one to turn to, sat down and wrote out a list of commandments for herself. A self-imposed list of rules in which she would like to live by.

And while I wish I could remember the list verbatim–my memory, unfortunately, has a mind of its own–I instead offer up a similar list that contains many of Tamika’s instructions for living a good life:

The 82 Commandments of Alejandro Jodorowsky

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1. Ground your attention on yourself. Be conscious at every moment of what you are thinking, sensing, feeling, desiring, and doing.

2. Always finish what you have begun.

3. Whatever you are doing, do it as well as possible.

4. Do not become attached to anything that can destroy you in the course of time.

5. Develop your generosity – but secretly.

6. Treat everyone as if he or she was a close relative.

7. Organize what you have disorganized.

8. Learn to receive and give thanks for every gift.

9. Stop defining yourself.

10. Do not lie or steal, for you lie to yourself and steal from yourself.

11. Help your neighbor, but do not make him dependent.

12. Do not encourage others to imitate you.

13. Make work plans and accomplish them.

14. Do not take up too much space.

15. Make no useless movements or sounds.

16. If you lack faith, pretend to have it.

17. Do not allow yourself to be impressed by strong personalities.

18. Do not regard anyone or anything as your possession.

19. Share fairly.

20. Do not seduce.

21. Sleep and eat only as much as necessary.

22. Do not speak of your personal problems.

23. Do not express judgment or criticism when you are ignorant of most of the factors involved.

24. Do not establish useless friendships.

25. Do not follow fashions.

26. Do not sell yourself.

27. Respect contracts you have signed.

28. Be on time.

29. Never envy the luck or success of anyone.

30. Say no more than necessary.

31. Do not think of the profits your work will engender.

32. Never threaten anyone.

33. Keep your promises.

34. In any discussion, put yourself in the other person’s place.

35. Admit that someone else may be superior to you.

36. Do not eliminate, but transmute.

37. Conquer your fears, for each of them represents a camouflaged desire.

38. Help others to help themselves.

39. Conquer your aversions and come closer to those who inspire rejection in you.

40. Do not react to what others say about you, whether praise or blame.

41. Transform your pride into dignity.

42. Transform your anger into creativity.

43. Transform your greed into respect for beauty.

44. Transform your envy into admiration for the values of the other.

45. Transform your hate into charity.

46. Neither praise nor insult yourself.

47. Regard what does not belong to you as if it did belong to you.

48. Do not complain.

49. Develop your imagination.

50. Never give orders to gain the satisfaction of being obeyed.

51. Pay for services performed for you.

52. Do not proselytize your work or ideas.

53. Do not try to make others feel for you emotions such as pity, admiration, sympathy, or complicity.

54. Do not try to distinguish yourself by your appearance.

55. Never contradict; instead, be silent.

56. Do not contract debts; acquire and pay immediately.

57. If you offend someone, ask his or her pardon; if you have offended a person publicly, apologize publicly.

58. When you realize you have said something that is mistaken, do not persist in error through pride; instead, immediately retract it.

59. Never defend your old ideas simply because you are the one who expressed them.

60. Do not keep useless objects.

61. Do not adorn yourself with exotic ideas.

62. Do not have your photograph taken with famous people.

63. Justify yourself to no one, and keep your own counsel.

64. Never define yourself by what you possess.

65. Never speak of yourself without considering that you might change.

66. Accept that nothing belongs to you.

67. When someone asks your opinion about something or someone, speak only of his or her qualities.

68. When you become ill, regard your illness as your teacher, not as something to be hated.

69. Look directly, and do not hide yourself.

70. Do not forget your dead, but accord them a limited place and do not allow them to invade your life.

71. Wherever you live, always find a space that you devote to the sacred.

72. When you perform a service, make your effort inconspicuous.

73. If you decide to work to help others, do it with pleasure.

74. If you are hesitating between doing and not doing, take the risk of doing.

75. Do not try to be everything to your spouse; accept that there are things that you cannot give him or her but which others can.

76. When someone is speaking to an interested audience, do not contradict that person and steal his or her audience.

77. Live on money you have earned.

78. Never brag about amorous adventures.

79. Never glorify your weaknesses.

80. Never visit someone only to pass the time.

81. Obtain things in order to share them.

82. If you are meditating and a devil appears, make the devil meditate too.

Not being a fan of dogma, creed, or commandments in general, I admit I can find merit in many items on this list as suggestions for people to find their own path in life. Hell, if it worked for Tamika, it damn sure couldn’t hurt giving it a go.

So, sally forth, true believers and blasts from the past, and be making your own commandments and living by themingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

JCBMX or One Set of Footprints (Alongside a Set of Tire Tracks)

christ-on-a-bike

For as long as I can remember, my mind has been a hornet’s nest of thoughts, worries, stories, alternative timelines in which I live the dream and face the consequences for daring to do so. It gets to be maddening every once in a while. To calm the hornets to a dull buzz, I often take brisk long walks, always alone, except today.

There’s a saying you grow accustomed to when you live in El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río de Porciúncula: straight out of Central Casting, which applies to a person who happens to strongly match a particular stereotype.

My guest on today’s journey was Christ on a bike.

The man, in his thirties, kept pace with me on his bicycle for a bit before flagging my attention, as I was otherwise occupied by my trusty dusty travel companion, ye olde iPod.

Before he said a word, my first thought was, Man, he looks just like the actor who played Jesus in that Son of God film. Long hair. Mustache and beard that teetered on the edge of becoming unkempt. No white robe, though, this cycling prophet rocked a denim shirt and jeans, but he did pedal in open-toed sandals.

He stated who he was, but as I am the infamous forgetter of names, I’ll simply refer to him as Jay. Polite enough, he attempted to engage me in conversation, but as I’m a New Yorker born and bred, whenever a stranger approaches me, I’m predisposed to assume they either want money or trouble. This go-round I placed my bet on money and smirked, thinking, You’re seriously barking up the wrong tree here, dude. Turns out I was wrong on both counts. All he was interested in knowing was if I had “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?

Doesn’t take knowing me for long to realize I cannot abide proselytizing. It always carries an air of condescension, despite the best intentions of the Born Again speaker. Once you’ve asked and I tell you I’m not interested, your following action should be to move along to the next hopeful convert. This almost never happens. But as I said, Jay was polite, so I let him cycle through his spiel, occasionally answering

  • Yes, I’ve read the Bible, but I can’t quote chapter and verse.
  • No, I haven’t accepted the Lord into my heart, just as I don’t take in any of the other belief systems I don’t embrace.
  • Yes, I’ve heard the saying, the greatest trick Lucifer ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.

Clearly, the standard approach wasn’t working, so Jay switched gears and attempted to relate to a wretch like me. Turns out he, too, had fallen from the path of righteousness, lost his way and his faith in The Almighty, and it wasn’t until he was in his thirties (thirty-three, perhaps?) that a man approached him in a similar manner, directed by God to save a particular soul. Not once, but thrice did Jay try to stop me in my tracks and get me to pray with him in order to receive an instant release of all the burdens in my life. And like Peter, I denied him three times.

When it was evident that I wasn’t going to break stride, even if just to be rid of him, Jay shifted to the movie route. He offered me the red pill/blue pill Matrix option, tried to twist my melon with the Inception angle of this life being Man’s dream within Satan’s dream within God’s dream, before going off on a Jacob’s Ladder tangent that he couldn’t quite bring around to make his point. To his credit he didn’t challenge me with that time-honored favorite, “You don’t believe in God because you can’t see Him, but you believe in air and you can’t see that, right?

But eventually, he did ask, “Well, if you don’t have faith in God, what do you believe in?

I believe I’m not smart enough.” I answered, as I always did whenever anyone bothered to ask. But it’s a poorly constructed answer that required clarification. I should change it, but it had become an almost automatic response at this point. That, and I’m just too damned lazy to do so.

Expanded, my response is:

I, myself, am a non-spiritual entity who believes that when it comes to the origin of things–the universe, life, etc.–that I am simply not smart enough to know the truth. And when I say I, taking the full weight of ignorance upon myself, I actually mean we as in mankind or peoplekind or whatever passes for politically correct phrasing nowadays. This does not, however, mean that I do not applaud attempts to gain answers, I’m just not satisfied with any of the options presented to date.

And that’s not just with religion. Creationism versus evolution? I’ve got no dog in that fight. I proudly ride the ignorance fence when it comes to our humble beginnings because, in my opinion, religion and science both offer up a series of theories yet to be proven as fact.

You believe differently? Good on you. I sincerely hope that works out for you, sincerely hope you’re right, and sincerely hope you receive your reward for being righteous.

I’m not in the habit of knocking people’s spiritual beliefs. It’s none of my concern what system you choose to embrace, and with all due respect, I couldn’t care less who or what you worship. Totally your business and I’m cool with it all, especially if it gives your life some sort of balance and leads you to do no harm.

This isn’t to say that I don’t find the Bible a fascinating read, but I view it as–again, no offense intended–mythology. Same as with Greek, Celtic, Aztec, African, etc. writings that deal with the human experience in relation to the worshiping of gods. I also enjoy apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts, all of which eventually finds its way into my work.

Jay didn’t agree with a lick of this blasphemous nonsense and after a good forty-five minutes of loggerhead debate, he gave the “stop and pray with me” one last-ditch effort. When I refused, he gave me God’s blessing and cycled off politely as he arrived.

So, in honor of the noble efforts of Jay, today, I urge you all to sally forth and be true to your own belief systemingly writeful (and should you wish to add this sinner to your prayers, I surely won’t stop you).

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

 

Tales From The Set: “Call My Ex, Please?”

In order to support myself until I acquire the fortune that is my birthright, I’ve had to secure employment working background — also known as being an extra.

Greys 1019The simplest game of Where’s Waldo ever. Look for the clever clog in the gray suit on the left blocking his face with his own champagne glass. A star in the making.

As I have no aspirations of being an actor, I’m pretty easygoing regarding my placement in the crowd. Tucked behind tall people? Facing away from the camera? Set in a position farthest from the principal actors? Not a problem. I’m glad to be working and I kinda like being on set and watching the crew set up shots. Other perks include:

  • Absolutely no acting ability is required (thankfully)
  • Being booked on a series or feature gets me out of the house and breaks the monotony of my average day
  • I get to slip into the skins of different people (hospital administrator, construction worker, churchgoer)
  • I’ve seen myself on TV three times to date (freeze frame is my best friend)

The downside?

  • The pay could be better (but I’m non-union, so dem’s da breaks)
  • Lugging around your own wardrobe (always bring at least two options) on public transportation (guess who never learned to drive?) can be cumbersome
  • The hurry up and wait… and wait… and wait… and wait… can wear on your patience, especially later in the day
  • Craft services for extras is a bit of a dice roll
  • And sometimes other background actors. Not all, mind you, you come across some interesting people chock full of stories and experiences who are willing to let you pick their brains… then there are the others.

Before I get to the meat of the nutshell, I need to set the stage. Picture a room that holds one thousand people. Only one person in that thousand is crazy. Do you know how you’d be able to spot the nutjob? It would be the only person speaking to me. Got it? Good. Let’s proceed.

On my most recent outing, I was in extras holding (just as it says on the tin — a place where background actor lounge about while they wait to be called to set) minding my own business, when an attractive young woman stood close to me and started speaking. She clearly wasn’t looking at me, so I followed her eyeline to see if she was perhaps conversing with someone behind me. Nope. no one there. So, I assumed she invited her imaginary friend to the set to keep her company, and shrugged it off.

For the record, I do not discriminate against people with invisible friends as I know full well the difficulty in making and maintaining worthwhile friendships, imaginary or otherwise. That, and I once dated a woman whose older sister was pretty chummy with Mickey Mouse, Goofy, Pluto and the rest and they would often go on Magic Kingdom adventures in the solitude of her bedroom.

A story for another day.

But this woman kept repeating the same sentence, loud enough for me to hear, but no one watching would ever accuse us of having a conversation. Like we were secret agents who daren’t risk breaking our cover, she was giving me the sign and awaited the countersign.

You’re not the first one to live in a strange place with strange people, nor the last,” she repeated.

I looked at her. She, however, refused to make eye contact and simply waited for my reply. Never one to resist the urge to poke the mental tiger, I finally said, “Sometimes it feels that way, though.”

The sluice gates were opened and I wasn’t prepared for the rush of conversation headed my way. Among the many topics she introduced:

  • How women are Christlike when they menstruate, as they suffer for mankind.
  • How she’s happy not to be dancing for biker gangs anymore.
  • How pigeons are truly blessed and carry our prayer up to heaven.
  • How she gave up selling subscriptions to a specialist magazine for ukelele players because she made a decision not to give up her integrity for money.
  • How the government was concealing the fact that chicken fried steak was the cure for cancer.
  • How her stepfather used to send Chinese pornography to her Toy Yorkie.
  • How July always smelled like shades of red.
  • How okra smells like sex before you cook it.

And a host of others I can’t recall at the moment (I’m sure they’ll haunt my nightmares). Throughout the day, I tried my best to avoid her. Trips to the restroom, striking up conversations with strangers, hiding within crowds of people, but she always managed to sniff me out and made other people uncomfortable to the point they drifted away and gave us space. I had been designated friend-of-mental and no one wanted any part of providing me shelter.

After the scene I was in wrapped for the day, I stood in line for one of the shuttle vans to take me from the set to base camp. Okra-Sex-Smell-Girl was nowhere in sight and as the van pulled up I thought I’d made my getaway. But the Transportation Captain held the van because there was still an available seat. I know I don’t need to tell you who the seat was next to, or who filled it.

Okra-Sex looked straight ahead. To my knowledge, her eyes never once fell on me. I was an entity that existed in her peripheral vision. “Can you call my ex from your phone, please?” she asked.

What? No.” Okay, not the best response, but she blindsided me.

Please? I tried calling him but he won’t pick up the phone, probably because he recognizes my number. I think he’s still mad at me. I just want to make sure he’s okay because my friend threatened to beat him up.”

Call your friend and ask him if he beat up your ex.” Mystery solved. Columbo was on the case.

He wouldn’t tell me if he did. He knows I’d be upset.”

I shrugged an oh, well.

You’re not going to call?” She seemed genuinely surprised.

Nope. Not happening.” By this time I stopped looking at her, as well, figuring maybe the cold shoulder would silence her for the rest of the ride. As if.

Why not?”

Hmmm, because not my ex, not my problem?”

But he doesn’t know you. When he answers, just say you dialed the wrong number or something. Then tell me if he sounds beaten up or not.”

If he sounds beaten up. Under different circumstances, I might have let the exchange play out a little longer, but it had been a long day and I was tired and hungry, so the best I could manage was, “What did I say? No? Then that’s what I meant,” before I officially checked out of the conversation.

Not that it mattered. Even without my participation, her side of the discussion continued without skipping a beat:

If you call, I won’t have to stop by his house tonight. You’d be doing me a big favor.”

You’re so mean.

Do you think I should just leave my ex alone?”

Well, you obviously don’t know what being in love is like.”

I’d do it for you. Do you have somebody you want me to call? Give me your phone, I’ll do it.”

And it went on like that for the entirety of the trip. When we reached our destination, she smiled, still not looking my way and said, “Thanks, for being sweet.” Maybe it was my imagination but as she walked away I thought I detected a spring in her step, like she’d made her decision on what needed to be done.

Since then, I’ve been following the local news for reports of a lovers tiff gone horribly wrong in a room that reeked of sex… or maybe uncooked okra.

Sally forth and be careful which mental tiger you go pokingly writeful.

©2014 Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

Creative Commons License

Open Mic Nite

Staten Island is easily my least favorite of New York’s five boroughs and there ain’t a damned thing I miss about it. Okay, there is one thing. A pub. A tiny mom and pop tavern with that everybody knows your name ambiance that I didn’t discover until the final two of my nine-year stint on the isle. Bored, I popped in for a quick pint and stumbled upon Thursday karaoke night. It made my stay in hell a little more tolerable.

Shortly after leaving Staten Island, I found myself in Los Angeles (that move is a story in itself, believe me) and I’d been casually searching for a neighborhood tavern with a similar vibe. A drinking hole that was non-touristy and non-themed, frequented by locals that had the benefit of being divey without being stabby. And one weekend when I wasn’t even looking for it, I found a contender.

I was on my way home from a day of sightseeing and decided to wet my whistle before hopping on the bus. I used the scientifically proven picking rhyme method of ip, dip, dog shit to select from the three bars within my line of sight.

I chose the smallest of the three and when I opened the door, a guy was suddenly in my face, “Hey, cabrón, you didn’t even say what’s up, cabrón, da fuck’s up with that, cabrón?” Before I could respond, he got in a good look and followed up with, “Oh, sorry, bro, thought you was some other dude.” Less than ten seconds in and no stab wounds to speak of. I knew that I had chosen wisely.

It was a beer joint, not a wine glass in sight, narrow with an alcove for a pool table and video poker machine. The bartender was dive bar attractive (if you’ve ever spent time in a dive bar, you know exactly what I mean), and

  • was on the back end of her forties
  • used to own a restaurant in Santa Clarita
  • had to find a job after her boyfriend dumped her
  • her friend taught her the ropes behind the bar
  • dropped $500 at bartending school
  • went on a dating site that rhymes with No Way Stupid and met a guy
  • on their second date, he took her to Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) and he promptly turned into a dick, so she dumped him and enjoyed her free 10-day India vacation

I knew all this because as the bartender was draping a vinyl cover over the pool table, she was being bombarded by questions from a woman who hailed from Kew Gardens, New York, and was only in town a few days visiting her parents.

So caught up in this conversation, and patiently awaiting the bartender to take my drink order, I failed to notice the graying, horseshoe bald, rail thin near double for Malcolm McLaren setting up equipment. He wore a faded Led Zeppelin tee, skinny jeans and weathered suede cowboy boots and I hadn’t become aware of his presence until he tuned his guitar and interrupted Sade singing Hallelujah with a “check one, check one, check one.

In Staten Island I had stumbled upon karaoke night, here, according to the handwritten poster behind McLaren’s head, it was Open Mic Nite.

A guy in camouflage walked in, lugging an oversized backpack like he just returned from a tour of duty and placed his name on the sign-up sheet. He was a twitchy fella and at first, I thought it was drugs but he asked the bartender if this was a smoking bar.

She replied, “Dude, this is California. You ain’t gonna find a smoking bar anywhere near here,” which forced Twitchy Backpack to feed his addiction out back in the parking lot.

McLaren took the mic and set the ground rules:

  1. Every artist on the list gets two songs the first round and one song each round after until closing time or everybody runs out of songs.
  2. Originals or covers, all songs were welcomed.

A woman popped her head in, attempting to bum ciggie butts but was promptly told to kick rocks as she was in violation of the No Cigarette Bumming sign plastered on a nearby wall.

McLaren, as the official host, was first up and opened with the joke, “Cherokee, reservation for a thousand. Your land is ready now,” before launching into his folk set.

It’s amazing how the bar cleared out as soon as the open mic went underway. No more than ten people remained and every last one of them was accompanied by a guitar… except for me and Twitchy Backpack.

I’m pretty hazy on all the performers and most of the songs were original but what I can remember is

  • An older gentleman who performed lyrical impressions that all seemed to sound exactly like him.
  • A Russian guy who brought a little R&B to the joint. Not only was his broken English jokes kinda/sorta amusing, but he wasn’t half bad (a compliment coming from me).
  • Twitchy Backpack, who stripped out of his camo jacket down to a filthy white tee with what I assumed was fake blood stains to add a little character. At least I hoped they were fake. He plugged his smartphone in and played a beatbox track that he recorded for his Eminem wannabe set.
  • An African American gym rat who was on a serious John Legend love tip. The three female performers in the remaining crowd loved him.
  • A wet-haired model-type who looked like he just swam there via Dawson’s Creek. He rocked a banjo and stomped on a tambourine as he improvised his way through original songs that he had forgotten the words to.
  • A lyrical comedian who broke out a little ditty rallying against songs about tits and ass and lamented the loss of songs about sweet, juicy pussy (don’t look at me, I didn’t write it).
  • And the all girl, all blonde, all guitar rock band. That’s right, three acoustics. More guitar bang for your buck. Their aim was to resurrect Ska but when their set was done, I still couldn’t detect a pulse.

There were others but as I’ve mentioned before, my memory downgraded to working a part-time job. Anyhoo, all the performers that remained (most departed after the second round) had gone through their material and McLaren tried to squeeze one last song out of the performers but had no takers. He looked my way and asked, “What about you?”

I shook my head. “Not a performer, don’t play an instrument and I sound shitty a cappella.”

Without missing a beat, Dawson’s Creek pulled his banjo out of the zippered bag and chirped, “What are you singing? I’ve got you.”

I’m normally not susceptible to peer pressure, but I’d knocked a few back so I was a little loosey-goosey and the clapping that accompanied the chant, “One song. One song. One song.” was kinda heady.

Know any Billy Idol?” I asked. Dawson’s Creek nodded and I wound up scream-singing White Wedding. to patronizing applause, hooting and hollering.

Although it was closing time and everybody was ready to go home before I took the mic, I preferred to see it as I officially closed the joint. All the other performers were my opening acts and I was the headliner. One song and done. How fucking rock and roll was that?

Shhh. Lemme have this one.

A happy, healthy and prosperous New Year to you few, you brave few, you band of bloggers who take the time to read, like and comment on my stories and random musings.

Catch the lot of you in 2018!

-Rhyan Scorpio-Rhys

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