Pastoral Genocide

It Don’t Let Up
January 28, 2009, 6:40 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags: , ,

My son is twenty seven years old and stands three feet, eight inches tall. He is a little person. His name is Dick. My name is Dick, too.

When Dick came along, we were overjoyed. I was twenty nine, she was twenty six and he was our first kid. Turned out, our only kid. We wanted a couple more but it just wasn’t in the cards.

When Dick was four, she died in her sleep. The doc said she had an irregular heartbeat. Her name was Mary and I’d known her since I was fifteen years old. I met her at the county fair. She was showing chickens and I was showing hogs. That was the year I sold a pig to the Centreville IGA for 75 dollars.

Fast forward seventeen years and she’s dead and I’ve got a dwarf for a kid.

Life is harder for short folks. They can’t reach into the cupboard for a juice glass. They can’t re-adjust the showerhead and they can’t sit at a normal sized table in a normal sized chair. Sure, we all got our problems, but little people, they gotta carry theirs around with them wherever they go. It just don’t ever let up.

One good thing about Dickie being so short is that I’ve only ever had to buy him one bed. He still sleeps on the mattress we bought him when he was a baby. I told him once, “Dickie, it don’t make no sense to buy you a new bed. It just don’t.” I’ve always felt a little bad about that. But the fact of the matter is that change comes with consequences and there ain’t a point in dealing with it unless you really have to.

It’s always embarrassed me to have a little person for a son. I mean, fuck. I played football and baseball in high school. I looked good without a shirt on. I remember it being midsummer and evening and I was standing in the dark. We were in the field, me and a couple of other boys. It was humid. We’d been at it all day and we were all tired but we knew we had to finish. My arms were scratched up from the bales and they felt like jelly, but I saw the goal and I was young and strong. Point is, I always imagined I’d have a son who would live a life like the one I lived. Thought maybe my tradition would become his. Didn’t happen that way, though.

Now, Dickie and I live together. He’s a short man and I’m an old man and we get along alright. Maybe we need each other or maybe we’ve just grown accustomed to being around each other.

The other day, we were talking. And Dickie told me that he was a virgin. I said to him, “what?” I guess I suspected it. I been around him his whole life and the only time girls would give him the time of day was when they was making fun of him. And it got me thinking that what the hell, no one wants to die a virgin. So I bought him a hooker out of the phone book. I got myself one, too. The man on the phone said it was cheaper that way. They showed up at our doorstep wearing fake fur coats. One was tall and black and the other was a little shorter, a white girl that looked like she had a methamphetamine problem.

I let Dickie have the shorter one on account of him also being so short. After it was done, I asked the ladies to stay for coffee. But they said they had somewhere else to be and that they had to be on their way.

Later, Dickie and I took a walk. We went down to the creek and looked at the leaves floating in the water. It was late November and cold and starting to rain a little. The raindrops mottled the water quietly and we just stood there and watched our breath form little clouds of fog in the air.

I said to him, “Dickie, things don’t always turn out like you want them to. That’s just how life goes. But you always gotta believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today. That’s all we got and, goddamnit, that’s all we deserve.”

After I’d said my piece, we turned around and walked up the hill towards the house. I said that maybe we’d cook up some steaks for dinner and he said that he’d be alright with that.

[Ed. Note: A similar version of this story appeared on the Wolverine Liberation Army]


Fiestas Aren’t My Strong Suit
January 20, 2009, 7:26 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags:


The bluff we sit upon is towering with potency: across the water and through the trees, we see glimpses of an only partially realized salvation. I want more because there is more. Somewhere between autobiography and geologic process, Malcom Lowry wrote that “equilibrium is all, precarious – balancing, teetering over the awful unbridgeable void, the all but untraceable path of God’s lightning back to God.” But equilibrium is nothing. Balance is meaningless and Lowry’s God was either drunkard or a fraud or both. There is only tomorrow.


I have had three dreams in my life that I have remembered. In all of them, I have woken up scared, relived by my own deliverance from the salt plain. I have tried, unsuccessfully so, to encrypt the world I traverse when I sleep. I have relinquished that thought, however. Warm showers and the metallic taste of fast food coffee always, always, always remind me that there is the here and the now and that the means to my end is only the end.


The second time, reconstruction of post war Germany mirrored our own, save one thing: where we had hope, they had abandonment. Carpet bags and suitcases are not the same thing. The impossible reality of hoping for a better future means that your immediate being – the individualized being, the pedestrian being, the malformed being – is only slightly attached to the immediacy of the past. Transience almost always reinvigorates. But maybe, we have overlooked geography. America is an enormous place; Germany is not. The north, the west, the great beyond. Hope. The new world, the line of demarcation, the old world. The simple comfort offered by the dusty traditions of an imagined heritage. The way things used to be is the way things should be.


The powers that be have constructed a digital spectrum that is satiated only by the competition for innovation. Self efficacy is a debate, perhaps the only debate that really matters. The world changes, the world re-arranges itself under the shadow of minutia. The world, old man, is a world that you no longer recognize. It is my world and I am I am I am (!) young and I am strong and I will destroy the old way because I can.


Camus’s Plague was painted against the salty blue backdrop of the Mediterranean sea. In it, the morning would give way to the heat of day and everything, literally everything, was blanketed with unimaginable sadness. Father, mother. Child. Colonial architecture befitted by funerals stacked upon funerals until funerals ceased to become reasonable. In the haunting desperation of an unhindered and invisible enemy, though, smugglers found happiness. To wit: human suffering is overstated. We can always separate ourselves from it and hope upon hope upon hope that there is more time. That’s all we need, really. More time. Repentance, in the foggy distance, isn’t a terrible thing.


Magic Johnson wore his brilliant talent like a fur coat. I can remember a story I once read about him: in it, his devotion to the game of basketball was so great that he would practice incessantly. Magic Johnson grew up in Lansing, Michigan; a place that I, too, have had the unfortunate experience of knowing intimately. In Magic Johnson’s story (which, at first, seems to be a small story when it is, in reality, a much bigger story) he is poor and young and has a dream that he can taste. He plays basketball, by himself, on a morning so cold that his basketball shatters against a frozen tundra of asphalt.


San Diego California is a warm place, a dry place. At night, with irregularity, you can smell a distinct sweetness in the air, a smell that rises from the dirt into the darkness. This city has the most charming topography of any place I have ever been. The Pacific Ocean moves me in vivid ways. Its subtle proximity, sometimes, is enough.


My brother had a friend who I didn’t know very well. His name was Mark and, once, I swam in his pool. In high school, somewhere between the beginning and the end, Mark killed himself. For some reason, I always had a mental image that he did so in his pool – that he drowned himself and that the paramedics found him floating facedown and unencumbered by either physics or spirituality. If I had a pool and the inclination to kill myself, that’s how I would do it. But Mark didn’t see things that way. He killed himself with a gun and his mother found him slumped in his room. What a horrible thing.


The poor are the great voyagers. There are always new businesses, new jobs, new places to live, new expectations evolving into old familiar failures.” But, give me your tired, your poor.

What Now, Little Man?
January 19, 2009, 5:59 am
Filed under: Writing

He’s confused and small and lost in the hazed bustle of the supermarket. I watch him for a moment before walking over. He sees my badge and he puts his hands in his pockets. I say to him, little man, where’s your mom. He shrugs. I ask him when he saw her last. He shrugs again and looks at his feet. And I say, louder, son we need to find your mom. But he’s transfixed on the endless and glossy municipality of the tile floor. I don’t exist. I stare at him and I wonder what he’s thinking.

I’m a father so I know some things about being very small in an impossibly large world. I take him by the arm, gently. The boy looks up. His eyes are dark and brown and his clothes are dappled with stains. I say to him, lets you and I go get some ice cream and see if we can figure out where your mom is.

We walk to the counter. He stands on his tip toes and surveys his choices; we both end up with two scoops of chocolate in a waffle cone. We find a seat near the store entrance and we sit down. It’s a sticky summer day that’s almost done. The electric doors push the humidity in and out of the store with mechanical rigor. The store is breathing.

We finish our ice cream and we sit on the bench, next to each other. The kid doesn’t want to talk and I’m not sure what to do. He seems like he’s lost inside his head, he seems like he’s alone and incontrovertibly sad. I say to him, come on my man, why don’t you and I go for a walk and see if we can spot your mom? He shakes his head yes, and we’re off. We poke around the sporting goods section and I pluck a rubber ball from its bin and toss it to him. He bounces it twice and throws it back. We cruise through cosmetics. We wander into the electronics section and play the video games for a bit. We take a walk through the produce section. I take him down the frozen foods aisle and he shivers and pulls his arms close to his body.

Once we’ve traversed the entire store, I say to him, son, we’ve got to do something. We’ve got to find your mom and we’ve got to get you home. I ask him his name. He says it’s Jeff. I tell him that’s a pretty good name and I tell him that mine is Edward but that most people call me Ted. I make a joke about the meat-on-the-bone nature of names like Jeff and Ted, about how the world is full of nancy boys with fancy names and pretty haircuts. I look at him and I say, the world ain’t tough, anymore. Not like it used to be. The kid doesn’t get it and we walk over to the customer service desk in silence.

At the desk, I see a clerk I know. Carlos. He’s a Hispanic guy with a thin mustache. Carlos is a bottom feeder, the kind of guy that talks in circles of ethereal vulgarity. He’s got a family and they live out on the east side somewhere. Once, in the employee smoking lounge, I heard him call his wife a cunt over the phone. After he hung up, he said, hey man, these women they want to kill you, they rip your dick from your loins and wear it around their neck like a fucking coin purse or something. I can’t say I totally disagree with his point.

Carlos looks at me and then he looks at the kid and he says, hey Ted, how you doing my man. And I say, I’m doing alright Carlos. This is Jeff, we’re looking for his mom but we haven’t had any luck so far. We thought that we could say something over the PA; maybe she’s shopping or something. Carlos shakes his head and says, sure buddy, whatever you want. He points to the phone behind the desk. I dial star and then an eight and a nine.

We have a lost child at the customer service desk. Will Jeff’s mom please report to the customer service desk? Jeff’s mom to the customer service desk, please.

My voice rings out tepid and unsure. I’m uncomfortable with myself, sometimes. I don’t like the way I sound or how I look in pictures. In my memories, I am always awkward and out of place.

We wait and then we wait a couple minutes more. I’m anxious, I’m waiting for something to make the wait worthwhile. My stomach ties and unties itself. I know the end to this because I have seen the end to this before. Jeff’s mom never comes. Maybe she doesn’t exist. Maybe she never existed and maybe Jeff doesn’t exist, either. Maybe he’s already turned into a ghost. It’s a sad world we live in.

At the end of my shift, I make a decision that hurts me very much. Forty five minutes later, they arrive in an unmarked sedan. I relinquish the child into the bureaucracy and I think, this is just the beginning little man. At every turn and at every twist, they’re going to ask you the same thing: what now, little man?

They put Jeff in the back seat. I talk to the social services worker quietly. He’s young and he shakes his head. He says, you did the right thing. He repeats it: you did the right thing. I don’t have time for right and wrong. I’ve been here before. Morality is a small and meaningless sliver of abridged sympathy, a glint of sunlight on a rainy day. I don’t have time for that. I shake his hand and he climbs in the driver’s seat. The sedan accelerates out of the parking lot, navigating the perpendicular rows of parked cars and yellow lines. The night wraps itself around the vehicle. After it’s gone, I stand around for a while. There’s a bit of fog in the air and it’s mostly quiet out. I think about Jeff and the lonely miles that stretch out before him.

Good luck, little man.

The Kennedy Snuff
November 14, 2008, 7:41 pm
Filed under: Writing | Tags: ,

Richard Glascock was doing it. Really doing it. Everything felt right. He was laying the ball down on the ground and watching it roll and listening to the thundering crack of the pins as they burst out of formation. It felt right from his first roll and he was now on his eighth and he knew it, he knew that this was it.

Richard Gloscock had pursued this moment for his entire life. Well, most of his life. He’d been a bowler since he was seven years old. He went with his dad, at first. Then his dad went to the penitentiary and he went by himself. All in all, though, he’d been bowling for 58 years. 58 years is a long ass time. A whole lot of shit had happened in 58 years.

Richard lined up for the ninth frame. He dried the sweat from his palms. He took a swig of beer and a drag from his cigarette. He coughed, once. He exhaled and selected his ball from the return. He placed his right foot on the center most dot and his left foot two dots down. It felt right. He exhaled and took three steps forward. One. Two. Three. Release. It felt right. He watched his ball turn over and gently hook from right to left. The pins separated violently. The only thing that separated him from perfection was one frame and three rolls. He took the last drag from his smoldering cigarette and pressed it out in the ashtray. He parsed over his situation and took a deep sip from his beer. It was cold and good and it calmed him down.

He had to piss. He was nervous and his head was foggy and he took a short walk. He was bowling with three other people. Three guys he worked with. Bud, Chris, Joe Demmers. Joe Demmers was a real son of a bitch. He was the night mechanic and a lousy asshole.

Richard pushed open the restroom door and nearly knocked Morty Stevens to the floor. Morty was coming out and he was coming in. They looked at each other awkwardly and Richard said, I’m sorry Morty. And Morty looked at him and said, it’s no problem Dick. How you rolling them tonight? And Richard, afraid of the jinx, said not too bad, Mort, not too bad. He walked to the urinal and unzipped. His penis felt soft in his hands and he managed a slow, meaningless dribble onto the pink urinal cake. He waited for something, perhaps, more substantial to leak out. But nothing did. Pathetic. The damndest thing about getting old was that nothing worked right anymore.

On his way back to the lane, Richard thought about his ex-wife. Shirley. What a royal cunt. The mother of his children, nonetheless. If he rolled a 300 today, he made up his mind that he’d call that bitch and let her know a thing or two.

By the time he made his way back over to the guys, they were irritated. What the hell were you doing in there, Bud asked. Pulling your goddamn pud? We’ve been waiting here for ten goddamn minutes. Bud knew full well that Richard Glasock hadn’t had a feasible erection in over five years. He was a silly, stupid old man but right now he felt on top of the fucking world. He felt like he was 19 and ready to take the world by storm, like he felt before the war and like he felt again when walked off those docks and into New York City and threw his cap into the storm sewer. Life is really something.

He prepped. The overhead lights dappled the glossy, waxed lanes with bright orbs. He focused and blurred everything else out. This was it. He dried his hands. He took a deep breath. He grabbed his ball from the ball return and lined himself up. He threw the ball down the lane. He felt the strike before it was a strike. He had that feeling in his stomach, like he was on the precipice. A gentle pause before a great leap. He waited for the pins to be reset. He waited for his ball. He heard Joe Demmers say, don’t fuck this up now you old coot. He thought about what a fucking prick Joe Demmers was. Who says something like that? A fucking asshole, that’s who.

Richard Glascock dried his hands. He took a deep breath. He took the ball from the ball return. He lined up, his right foot on the center dot and his left foot two dots down. He took a deep breath and thought about his throw. He walked towards the fault line. One. Two. Three.He threw. The pins cracked and spun and fell down. He turned and looked at Bud and Chris and that cocksucking son of a bitch Joe Demmers. They said, atta boy, Dick, you did it. You fucking did it. Atta boy. Joe Demmers said, I knew you were going to do it. I just knew it.

Richard Glascock thought about what he had done. He basked in it, he felt proud. The alley was smoky and it rose to the ceiling and pooled like a cloud. To clouds and to tornados, he thought. He felt a knot tie and untie itself in his stomach. His chest cramped. He breathed out, exhaled hard. He balled his fists and tried to steady himself. He felt dizzy. He fell to the floor and felt whitecaps of static pour over him.

black and white cowboys
October 31, 2008, 5:59 am
Filed under: Music, Writing | Tags: , , ,

Download Black and White Cowboys: Ken Burns Does the Great Plains

elosie benicoeur was a very beautiful woman with a very intriguing accent. she told me this, once: sometimes i think about a friend that i used to have. her name was issendia and i haven’t known her since we were both 8 years old. she was my first friend and she moved to sweden with her father. he was a man with a big mustache and a diplomatic post. he smoked out of a pipe that made the air smell very sweet. issendia moved and i wrote her a letter that said issendia you have moved and i miss you. at christmas, her mother sent my mother a box of oranges. they had thick pulp and they tasted sour. we waited for them to ripen but they never did.

I’m a Lawyer
October 25, 2008, 6:56 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags: ,

Most people wear their seatbelts, and we’ve got the polls prove it. I don’t, though. I don’t wear my seatbelt and I can’t fathom that I ever will.

Think about: life is pretty fucking safe. We’ve got hospitals with dialysis machines and mechanical hearts. Can you believe that? Mechanical hearts. We’ve got nutrition facts and allergy warnings on the back of nearly everything that we eat. We’ve got automobiles with airbags. We’ve got houses with security alarms and neighbors with homespun values. It’s safer now to be a human than its ever been and I find that a little disfranchising.

I’ve always wanted cancer. Not the bad kind, but not like, you know, prostate cancer, either. I want real cancer, I want the end to be looming and unsure. I want to beat it. I want wires and tubes to connect my arm to machines, strange looking machines that beep and whine. I want to emerge scathed and wise. I want to go to parties and tell stories about how I looked death in the eyes and I didn’t back down. I never back down.

I want to get stabbed. I want to grasp death and hold it in my palm. I want to lie on a sidewalk, at night, in dark puddle of my own blood. I want it to spread like wings across the pavement and I want to stare up at the streetlights as they spin soft cones of light and I want to think, is this it? I want to wake up in a hospital room. I want a chest covered in scars.

I want to fly in a plane that falls from the sky. I want to know what it feels like to come crashing from the heavens to the earth. I imagine a great feeling of weightlessness, but I want to feel it. Empirically, spiritually. In want to survive; I want to wake up to the screams of the injured and the feel the crisp heat of jet fuel as it burns against my back. I want to hear sirens and I want to be pulled from the yawning unknown by strong hands wearing blue latex gloves.

Mostly, though, I want a divorce. I caught her fucking some asshole in our bed. He was painted in the overtones of the working man and he was riding her like a rented mule. In our bed, my bed.  The bed we bought right after we got married. They were sweating and moving together and making noise. The thing that struck me was that he was bald. Bald. Can you believe that? I’ve got my hair and a little bit of money. Sarah, I said once, in front of everyone that we know that I loved you and I would forever. I don’t, anymore. And that’s ok. But you could have at least picked an attractive man, a man with hair and an office job. A man with a automobile nicer than that shitty blue pickup that was parked in the drive. A man that wasn’t a card carrying member of the Teamsters or the UAW. Fuck the proletariat; fuck the working stiff. Of all the things you’ve ever done to me, this was and is the worst. I won’t, can’t, forget this. I can’t forgive this. He was bald. He looked like a carpenter or a mechanic or a convenience store clerk. I am young and I have my hair and I’m a lawyer.

October 24, 2008, 7:46 am
Filed under: Writing | Tags:

A new Mike Barwis adventure story has been posted at Wolverine Liberation Army. That is all.