Total Pageviews

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Unhappy Medium

She was unable to foresee the future with her man.

            Maria sat by flickering candlelight, bathed in the scent of glowing joss sticks—sandalwood. An unlit Tiffany style lamp with gold fringe hung above the fortune teller, medium, clairvoyant and astrologer of some renown in Rio de Janeiro. In her hands, she held a deck of Tarot cards. Somehow she had not foreseen her future with Luiz.
            Where was Luiz? At the Black Cat most likely, losing the 200 reals I gave him. He had never earned a paycheck and slept late most mornings to awaken angry or depressed—two sides of the same coin.
            She turned one of the cards face up: The Three of Swords. Three long steel blades
impaled a bright red heart with clouds and rain behind. It spoke of absence and delay—removal.

                           Short Story E-book available at

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Lost In Seattle

If you have enjoyed reading some of the work posted on this blog you may be interested in reading my novel.

A nice guy, fifty-three years old, gets downsized—out of work 3 years. Willie Brenner loses everything white middle class has given: savings, wife & daughter, home . . . even his dog. He moves into a low rent neighborhood and floating world of ethnicities and lifestyles previously unknown. Men and women working to survive at a near poverty level of existence. Temps jobs: heavy lifting, cleaning—fumes . . . jobs that can kill you, back problems and accidents.  Readers will follow a runaway mother with Alzheimer’s, a bank robber (The One Armed Bandit), one serial killer, two lawyers, a motorcycle gang, two artists, a Buddhist abbot (Iron Ma) and a braless barista who loves sex. There are some good times with the bad and new friends held by the bonds of common labor. A mid-life man maintains his sense of humor and rediscovers himself, Lost in Seattle.
                                                                        *     *     *
Lost In Seattle is now available as an e-book on You can read the 1st chapter free by scrolling down, and download the first two chapters free from Amazon.

Lost In Seattle - A novel Chapter 1

This novel is entirely a work of fiction. None of the characters, scenes and situations portrayed are based on real people, but were created by the imagination of the author. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events or locations is purely coincidental.

Lost In Seattle


It’s almost 4 a.m. Three hours of clean-up left to go. Lunch time’s about to end, but I can’t eat. I’m totally exhausted, covered with white flour dust and stink of lard that we’ve been wiping off the ovens, ductwork, and conveyors. It was a mistake to take this temp job—an act of desperation, but who knew? It’s hard to find a decent job at my age. I turned fifty-three last April and regaining my once middle-class existence won’t be easy, but I will. I’ve got to. I slug down another cup of weak machine-made coffee.
Roger pokes his head into the bleak, white-latex lunchroom flooded with fluorescent light. “Yo! George Hampton, Mister Brenner! Time for blow-down. Fun, fun, fun!” Roger’s the senior baker here at Grannies’ Cookies. Grannies’ is a part of the much larger Endorf Corporation. I once held some Endorf stock. Life is ironic.            
I suspect Roger isn’t happy that I’m so much older than the other temporary workers. Probably worried I won’t work as hard or fast as they. He’s probably right. I’ve got a masters—engineering. Roger might have graduated high school . . . might have.
          Now the temp I’ve been paired with, George, is struggling to his feet. We get along okay. He’s an old hand at this—a big dude, taller than my own six-feet, an African American, well-muscled, and quite possibly on drugs. He won’t stop talking. I suspect he’s using uppers of some kind. Working with him’s like having a transistor radio beside me. There’s no way to turn George off, but I don’t mind. We follow Roger to another section of the building, passing by a white board listing lost-time accident reports: one fractured arm, a broken toe. George sees me looking.
          “Got to watch your ass in here,” he warns. “Shit happens.”
          There’s a stretcher fastened to the wall beside the board. My empty stomach feels a little queasy—should have eaten something.
          We step through a metal door that opens to a flour storage bin some thirty feet across, about three times as high—a topless cylinder of stainless steel. It’s empty now. We stand in drifts of flat-white flour dust below a spider web of catwalks, pipes, and duct-work also covered with a layer of the fine, white powder. I begin to sneeze and wipe my nose onto a lard-stained sleeve. It’s warm and humid with an overpowering smell of flour, lard, and something I cannot identify.
          Octavio shows up with yellow plastic raincoats. “Put these on,” he says. Octavio is one of five Hispanic “sanitarians.” That’s what they call the permanent employees working here as janitors. The sanitarians wear dark green coveralls with name tags sewn on. Now, another of them brings us matching hoods with plastic windows to look through. Air-filter cartridges have been attached, one on each side. I put mine on and find the inside has been wiped down with disinfectant that has killed the greasy odor of the cookie hell outside, replacing it with its own antiseptic scent. The hood and raincoat feel uncomfortable and claustrophobic.
          I’m already sweating as we’re given shiny, flat-blade shovels. There’s a pile of large black plastic garbage bags for us to fill.
          “Take us about an hour,” George tells me.
          Squinting through my scuffed-up face-plate, I watch sanitarians climb ladders to a maze of narrow metal-grating platforms high above. They look like figures in an Escher drawing.
          “Ready?” one of them calls down.
          “We ready!” George calls back. “But you be—”
          George’s voice is drowned out by the hiss of compressed air hoses that start the blow-down, and a blizzard of white powder swirls around us. We begin to shovel and the inside of my mask steams up. Sweat burns my eyes, but I can only blink. No way to get my hands inside this hood. Eight bucks an hour, for this.
          I can see George, a blurry image in his yellow raincoat, shoveling hard and fast. It’s difficult to breathe inside this hood. No way I’m going to do another night of this. I’ve got to find a steady job.
          Some twenty-five or thirty minutes pass before I hear a muted shout from high above us, seconds later a metallic crash that’s followed by a shriek of pain. A spray of red splatters the window of my hood. George screams a stream of muffled words from underneath his hood. I drop my shovel and run toward him, stumbling on a sheet of metal partly hidden by the flour dust floating down. Swaths of George’s blood begin to darken as they soak into the whiteness that envelops us.
          I yank off my hood and yell into the chalky haze above us, “Stop the air!” Dust quickly clogs my nostrils. Shit! I doubt the Mexicans above can hear or even see me. Christ! It’s hard to breathe. George’s left arm is spewing blood from where his hand should be. I’m frozen for a moment, stunned by this surrealistic horror.
          “George!” I grab him by the shoulders, lose my grip, then grab again. He’s big and heavy, slippery with blood and on his knees now, the grotesque appendage flailing, slinging plasma as I try to drag him to the exit.
          “No!” he protests—wants to go the other way. His bloody stump beats on my legs.
          “My hand!” he screams.
          With strength I didn’t know I had I haul him back outside the bin, then stick my head inside again and shout to those above us.
          “We need help! Godammit . . . HELP!”
          Blood spurts from George’s arm. I tear his hood off. Jesus, God . . . what can I do? His mouth’s wide open with a gold tooth gleaming as he howls and writhes on the now blood-slicked concrete floor.
          “Hold still!” I rip the raincoat from his body, then remove my own. “We’ve got to stop the bleeding!”
          Someone dressed in white comes running as George moans. “Ohhhh, God!”
          A pool of blood expands around us.
          “What happened?” asks a baker who stays back a yard or two from where we are—afraid of AIDS, I guess.
          “He’s lost his hand! Call 911!”
          The baker takes a cell-phone from his pocket and a moment later red lights spin and flash above us; now a siren wails. The air compressor shuts down, leaving us in eerie silence as a crowd of voyeurs gather; most are dressed in baker’s uniforms. I drag George to a concrete column and then lean him up against it.
          “Shit!” I don’t know what to do. Nobody’s offering to help. I look at George. His face has turned an ashen gray as tears clean narrow trails through flour dust on his face.
          “My hand,” he moans. “You got to find my hand! Go find my hand!”
          “Lay him down flat!” one of the female bakers shouts. “I’ve had first-aid,” she says. “Make him lie down.”
          “Okay.” I make a pillow for him with our raincoats.
          “Find my hand,” George moans as I take off my belt and make a noose around his injured forearm.
          “Hold this tight.” I shove the end into his right hand. “You’ve got to stop the bleeding!”
          “Yeah. I got it, man. Go find my fuckin’ hand.”
          I run back into the bin. The dust has settled—ankle-deep . . . blood spattered everywhere. I find a soft depression where we struggled, and a broken shovel handle. I squat down and rake through the accumulated flour with my hands—no luck. A nightmare. I begin to work my way out in concentric circles. Here! The hand is cool and clammy, lifeless meat. I stand and start to leave but trip on something. Damn! The shovel I was using. I get back onto my feet and run outside to George.
          “Get us some ice!” I’m yelling at a group of bakers who have gathered, gawking at us. “And a plastic bag!”
          I kneel at George’s side to show his severed hand. I don’t know what to do with it.
          “Good man,” George says. “You okay, Willie.”
          “They can put you back together, George.” His right hand’s shaking but still holds the belt tight as two guys in green come with a stretcher. Octavio hands me a plastic sandwich bag filled with crushed ice, but George’s flour-encrusted hand won’t fit. His fingers are protruding from the bag. Two more Mexicans get George onto the stretcher and I put the hand between his knees as they take off with him. I’m shaking, dizzy, nauseated.
          “Better get yourself cleaned up,” one of the bakers tells me. “You okay?”
          “Yeah, I’m okay.”
*       *       *
But I don’t look okay inside the restroom as I stand before a full-length mirror. I look like something from a horror film. Soap and warm water wash blood from my face and hands without much trouble, but my pants and shirt are caked with lard-soaked flour dust and dark, red stains.
          I leave the restroom, heading for the cafeteria and find George laid out on a table. There’s a pair of medics with him. They’ve brought first-aid cases and a gurney. One puts George’s severed hand into a Styrofoam container as the other sticks an IV in his arm and then another in his right hand’s index finger. Something’s draining into him from two clear plastic bags. My belt has been replaced with a white cloth they’ve tightened near his elbow. The two medics hoist him up and plop him on the gurney. One asks questions. “What’s your name?”
          “George Ham . . . pphhh . . .”
          “Hampton,” Roger tells them.
          “What’s your name?” the medic asks again. I guess he’s trying to see if George is conscious, or to keep him that way as the other medic turns to Roger. “Is this guy on any kind of medication?”
          “I don’t know. He’s just a temp.”
          I wonder if I ought to tell them I suspect that George is on amphetamines . . . might be important. I decide against it.
          “All of you, go back to work,” says Roger to the vultures who have come to watch. Myself, the medics and Octavio remain.
          “What’s your address?” the medic asks George.
          “Ummmm . . . Seattuuul . . . uh. . . .”
          “Wake up! What’s your address?”
          There is no response. The medic looks to Roger for an answer.
          “I don’t know.” He shrugs his shoulders.
          “You should call Max,” Octavio suggests.
          “Already have,” says Roger. “Max is on his way.”
          A paramedic turns George on his side and rifles through a billfold found in one of his hip pockets. “2215, South Yesler.”
          “Good enough.” The other medic writes it down, then makes a cell phone call. “Give me the trauma doctor,” he commands. “Yes . . . Dr. Harwood? This is EM-405. We’re on our way in with a severed hand. Our ETA is fifteen minutes . . . right.” He puts the phone back in his pocket. “We are good to go,” he tells us. “Taking him to Harborview.”
          They wheel George out and as they leave, a man I haven’t seen before appears in street clothes: clean, white shirt and tie. He’s got a clipboard in one hand.
          “I’m Maxwell Evens, night shift manager.” He peers at me, but doesn’t get too close. “Who saw the accident?” he asks.
          Octavio just shrugs.
          I tell Max, “I was with him when it happened.”
          “And your name is . . . ?”
          “Brenner. William Brenner.”
          He writes down my name and address.
          “Brenner’s temping here,” says Roger. “His first night.”
          “Okay then. Roger, you can go. I only need the people who were on the scene.” He turns to me. “What happened?”
          “We were inside a bin, shoveling flour dust into bags.”
          “Es blow-down,” says Octavio.
          “Then something fell,” I tell him. “And a sheet of metal tore through his left forearm—broke the shovel he was using.”
          “Did you have protective gear on?”
          “Yes. We both did.”
          “Umm.” He thinks about it for a moment. “Guess you really couldn’t see too well then, could you? So much dust, the mask and all?”
            “I could see George in his yellow raincoat. And I saw the silver flash of something coming down,” I lie. I’m pretty sure George Hampton’s going to need a witness . . . if he lives through this. I tell Max how I got George out and found the hand.
          “Were any others there?” he asks.          
          “The bakers came, but they just stood around. The sanitarians brought us a stretcher and a plastic bag of ice to put the hand in.”
          “Right.” He jots down the information.
           Octavio steps forward. “I should go back now?”
          “No, not yet. I need to get your statement. Mr. Brenner, you can leave. Go home and get yourself cleaned up. We’ll be in touch. You’ll need to sign an accident report.”
*       *       *
Five minutes later I step out into the cool, pre-dawn fresh air of this October morning—almost 6 a.m. My pants are falling off. Forgot to get my belt, but I’m not going back. I need a drink, but only have three dollars with me and I can’t go anywhere dressed in these blood-and grease-stained clothes. I climb into my van and start the engine, roll the window down and breathe in deeply, savoring a breeze that sweeps away the sickeningly sweet smell of Grannies’ baking chambers. I’m completely wired and wide awake. What now?
          I cross my arms on top the steering wheel and rest my head on them a moment before trying to find a station on the radio. Nothing but early morning news and silly wake-up broadcasts. Might as well go home, clean up, and try to get some sleep. I’m missing Laurie, my ex-wife, and having someone I could tell what happened to. What’s my daughter, Mary, up to now, I wonder. I assume she’s still ensconced inside that Buddhist monastery up in Nova Scotia or I would have heard . . . I think. God, how the time flies. She’ll turn twenty-three in June. She doesn’t write or call.   
          Lonely as God, an army buddy once remarked. We were in basic training, his first time away from home. I didn’t understand the comment then, but I do now.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Postcard From Amsterdam

Postcard from Amsterdam
Red Light district

Mental jailbreak from the puritanic laws made by the bourgeoisie
Unending hordes of back-packed youth
Throng happily along the tree lined sun-warmed summer's
Narrow streets along a maze of glittering canals
Reflecting dappled ripples
A Seurat of colors
Leaf green, sky blue, golden sun
Parade of small boats . . . endless promenade.
Sidewalks bestrewn with necklaces of bars, youth hostels
Small two star hotels
Live costumed manikins rap store-front windows
Call to passers by
"Hey baby... let me show you something you have never seen before."
Live sex shows glitter noonday neon above touts
Who beckon while awaiting guided tour groups
Sure to come along this evening
Giddy with excitement.
Coffee shops abound for every taste and nationality
Dispense bouquets of marijuana and hashish from within
Where cigarettes are not allowed.
Small groups are gathered joyfully at tables
Rolling joints . . . discussing favorite blends
Hushed conversations
Fresh fruit blended by tattooed baristas
Dutch Big-Easy.

Early Morning streets near vacant
Lingering smell of beer
Street cleaners wuzzing slowly by
An early morning prostitute
Stands in her doorway
Savoring the cool post-dawn.

What cause to leave this place
Save winter's bleak and cold respite from joy
And jobs that we cannot escape.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Amsterdaming - Day 1

            It was a long flight - three flights: From Seattle to Vancouver and then Frankfurt, finally Amsterdam. I took the tram from Schiphol Airport into Central Station, just 4 stops away. Short conversation with woman on the train. She's forty something, been around, Intelligent. Now lives in Italy, but born in Amsterdam and lived here 20 years. We talk about our country's: art, and politics, and Amsterdam.
             "It used to be so much more," she says. "They allowed small areas where people could do what they wanted as long as in did not harm anyone else. There were a lot of artists. People were happy. We enjoyed life. It was easy here, relaxed, you know? Now it's all about money . . . and laws. The politicians keep on passing more new laws. Now things are so expensive. Artists can't afford a place to work. It's changed."

            Change is the reason why I'm here. There have been articles in newspapers and magazines about the city cleaning up its Red Light District, an attempt to escape Amsterdam's sex and drugs image. The Red Light District is a small, canal laced grid that spans about five city blocks or less, and is a tourist magnet. Hard to believe it's coming to an end. Sex and drugs are Amsterdam's  Eiffel Tower, but I can see their point as this is not the most attractive thing for a great city to be noted for.
            It's interesting though, as prostitution's legal in Las Vegas, Thailand, Germany, Australia and so many other places. It was made legal here in Amsterdam in 1830, but was easily available before that time, ignored by the authorities. Then someone had a brilliant thought - let's make it legal. We can tax the income, (19%). Prostitution's more discrete in other places, but in Amsterdam it's right out front. It isn't going to disappear, the same for marijuana. 
            Which is easily available at any U.S. inner city high school, and becomes more legal in the States each day - medical now, but that will change. Weed will create a flood of tax money for States now close to going bankrupt.
            The Italian and me go our separate ways at Central Station. My hotel is in the Red Light District, a short walk. Already I see major changes. They have dug up the canal in front of where I'm going to stay. Huge rusting metal girders stab up from the water like spilled soda straws, and they've destroyed two of bridges crossing the canal. What's left of the brick sidewalk's has been covered with steel plates now dusted with white sand. The trees are gone!



Note hotel with three red awnings on the right - both photos
            There are projects scattered everywhere. Even the Oude Kerk, located in the center of the Red Light District , Amsterdam's oldest building, built 1306.  Rembrandt's wife is buried here, beneath its stone slab floor along with other famous locals. Rembrandt  himself was buried in a paupers grave. The church is dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the saint of water and protector of sailors, merchants, pawnbrokers and children - multitasker.

           Off to one side of the Oude Kerk there is statue representing a prostitute waiting for customers at her door. It was erected in 2007 by the Prostitution Information Center, an organization similar to San Francisco's, Coyote (Call off your old tired ethics).
            Press releases say they're going to get rid of some of the whores and refurbish hotels, such as the one I'm at, a one-star residence with common bathroom and a shower down the hall, a hundred fifteen bucks a day. And do they really plan to kick out drugs? Replace the coffee shops with posh hotels and restaurants? The 'haven for crime' bit they proclaim as drug related is untrue. There's far less crime here than most cities. Pickpockets are the greatest threat to tourists. I recall the words of the Italian woman . . . money.
            The Red Light district is one of the most beautiful areas in Amsterdam, laced with canals and punctuated with cathedrals. It's already expensive here, made more so by the falling value of the dollar. One Euro's worth a little better than a dollar fifty at this writing.  There are inexpensive hostels for the young. Backpackers are abundant.
              I suspect movers and shakers here have seen a way to squeeze a lot more out of tourists. Youth hostels will be some of the first to disappear, replaced by more expensive, modern and resplendent four and five star places. First they'll use taxpayer money to upgrade the infrastructure that has served the last five hundred years. Just my opinion.
Nine P.M.
             Here at the bar on the ground floor of my hotel I see four store-front windows on the other side of the canal, each with a hooker on display as an unending stream of tour groups pass by gawking. I cannot imagine someone going doing business with them while so many watch. Last year I saw a guy decide to go for it and as he dove into one of the hooker's doors the passing crowd applauded.
            The most beautiful girls look like Playboy models, dressed in bikinis but sometimes more imaginative outfits, police costumes, harem outfits,  cowgirls. Some are beautiful as Playboy models. They look airbrushed . . . skin seems not quite real. Others are less attractive. Some are fat, and others (my opinion) ugly, but the must be doing something right. They all seem tireless. Most are standing, beckoning, and vougeing for anyone who dares to look. Most men do. The girls rap on their windows. Hey baby. . . .
             Depending on location hookers pay around one-hundred fifty Euros rent to use the windows for eight hours, about $225. There are two shifts with different girls. This comes to $500 a day for rent of a single window.  The owner of a building with three or four windows on the sidewalk level's doing very well indeed. The girls charge patrons fifty Euros, about seventy five bucks. They are from every race and place, but very few from Amsterdam . . . best not to practice where you live.  Forty percent of their clients come from England.

One of the gang of four
            New windows are forbidden. No more will be licensed, and there are enough. They're everywhere, along one of the main streets and on many narrow alleyways. The windows all have colored lights. Red is for straights, blue is for gays - yes there are  male prostitutes as well, and also purple. Purple is for surgically enhanced males that look like women. Rebuilt, the bartender explains. He tells me there's around two hundred windows in the district.

Eleven P.M.
            I'm still drinking beer to chase the jet lag and make sleep more possible. Forty-eight hours on planes and in airports. I'm too tired and wired to sleep. The time here is nine hours ahead of the Seattle clocks.
            I've yet to see a single person step into a window worker's door though hundreds have  gone passed them in these last two hours. I have begun to wonder if these four are just for show, attractions for the non-stop tours of twenty-five to thirty people . . . sidewalk's always filled with passers-by. Theater Casa Rosso is next door. I'll you more about the sex shows later.