The Nomad

Ponce de Leon Avenue, 9 December 2013; taken with a Nokia Lumia 1020, and edited in Photoshop.

Ponce de Leon Avenue, 9 December 2013; taken with a Nokia Lumia 1020, and edited in Photoshop.

His footsteps echo
in the corridors
of darkened alleyways
sparked with streetlamps.
He searches garbage cans
for succulent morsels
of 7:30 dinners
now forgotten.
He passes by
and I turn away
living within
the sunken dream
of another man’s reality.

Troll

Roscoe Delahunt is a troll; there seems little doubt of that. For years, he has surfed the Internet, looking for someone’s parade to rain on, and he has rarely lacked people to torment. In the heady days before the World Wide Web, when Usenet was the primary vehicle for Internet discourse, Roscoe, starting as an undergraduate at Case Western, established himself as the supreme flame lord, cross-posting much off-topic drivel to numerous inappropriate news groups. When social media became all the rage in the late aughts, Roscoe shifted gears and began to consider himself a pioneer in an emerging area of communication, anti-social media.

His favorite targets are those who post sappy memes on Facebook. When someone posted a graphic of two people holding hands, with the caption, “Re-post if you agree that your wife is your best friend in the entire world,” Roscoe posted back, “I don’t. My wife’s a blood-sucking harpy who tricked me into marrying her by saying she was pregnant.” When someone posted a photo of his child, Roscoe commented, “That kid doesn’t look anything like you. Could you show us a photo of the UPS guy for comparison?” He’s been warned several times, and had his posting privileges on Facebook suspended twice, which usually doesn’t worry him, since he has three different accounts he uses, one under a slightly adulterated version of his real name; one as “Timmy” an eighteen-year-old special needs student from Baltimore; and one as “Dilly Hunt” a co-ed from Los Angeles. The photo for Dilly’s account is of some hot-looking teenager Roscoe spotted on Instagram, and it always elicits interesting responses from the male audience whenever Dilly posts one of her grammatically challenged missives, such as, “i got me news kitten she defiantly cut i call here misty” with a generic photo of a cat.

On Usenet in the 90s, Roscoe was known as Atomic Punk, which is now the name of his blog, where he rails against “all the things stupid people do that piss me off” and he has an extensive list, not to mention over four thousand followers, who hang on his every word. No topic is off-limits to “the Punk” and he gladly skewers religion, politics, music, films, television, and the cult of celebrity, posting anywhere from a few terse lines, to several hundred words about once every two to four hours, around the clock. Whenever Roscoe’s on vacation, he sometimes lets his cranky seventy-year-old neighbor post in his stead, and his readers are often perplexed by the sudden shift in focus from insightful commentary on contemporary society, to complaining about the senior discount at Denny’s, and “those damn Brewsters upstairs”.

As infamous as Roscoe is online, in real life, he’s hardly noticeable at all. Somewhat short, very overweight, with thick glasses, and often looking like he slept in his clothes, probably because he had, Roscoe appears to those who see him out and about as someone who probably shouldn’t be left alone with children. He works as a customer support technician for an Atlanta computer firm, walking technologically-challenged people through installing software, or trouble shooting hardware problems, on systems way more advanced than their level of technical knowledge warrants. His experience with clients does little to elevate his opinion of the human race. On the phone, however, he’s a comforting presence, soothing frazzled nerves, enduring numerous apologies for “wasting your time” and generally making life slightly more bearable for people totally befuddled by the modern computing landscape. He works out of his home, and divides his time between offering solace to some panicked college student whose printer “just stopped working”; or some retired grandmother, who can’t seem to upload photos of her family from her iPhone to Twitter; or a harried executive, whose laptop just ate the PowerPoint presentation he has to deliver in twenty minutes. When he’s not on the phone with a client, Roscoe spends his time surfing cable television for stories about sharks.

Despite his socially unacceptable appearance, and enduring disgust for almost everyone he knows, Roscoe does have a girlfriend, Aileen, who he’s been seeing for about four years, after meeting her at Dragon*Con. When Roscoe and Aileen were first talking about getting married, she wanted to sit down with him and disclose all their previous sexual encounters. She had a detailed list. Roscoe strenuously objected. Instead, he told her they should just go to the doctor and get some tests done, and if everything checked out okay, they could proceed from there. In fact, Roscoe hasn’t had nearly as many previous relationships as Aileen has claimed she’s had, and he really doesn’t want her to know, nor does he wish to hear her wax nostalgic about some guy she met in a bar in college. Despite the discussions, neither seems in much of a hurry to settle down, which suits Roscoe, who’s not sure he wants someone to have unlimited access to his private life. He doesn’t really have much to hide, and that’s what worries him the most.

Carnation

The sound of music
reaches my ears.
Music from a time gone by
which now to most is just a shadow.
Ages fly by
quickly, giving no one time
to question why.

I know not why myself
nor do I care.
Just fetch me my top hat,
and my gold-handled walking stick
and yes, we mustn’t forget
my boutonniere.
I must look my best;
for tonight I have
a date with destiny.

The Miracle of the Magic Dollar

Carlton walked into the third-floor break room of the Atlanta offices of Bickering Plummet and approached the snack machine in the far corner. It was six-thirty in the afternoon and Carlton had been at his desk since seven-ten that morning, with no signs of his day ending anytime soon. Fortunately, for Carlton, the machine contained his favorite snack, the Cinnamon Crumbcake, which only made an appearance once or twice a year, so Carlton drew some consolation from that. The Crumbcakes had actually been in the machine for several days, but they had been trapped behind a gooey looking honey bun that seemed well past its expiration date, and Carlton had not wanted to purchase such a disgusting looking item just to free them. At last, a secretary from the fifth floor, who was trying to purchase potato chips, accidentally keyed in the wrong number and liberated the Crumbcakes, so Carlton had been enjoying them ever since. Carlton was certain he was the only one in the office who ate them, and his suspicions were borne out by the fact that every day the number had not decreased from the last time Carlton purchased one.

At the machine, Carlton was happy to see there were still four of the Crumbcakes left, so he removed a dollar from his wallet and put it in the slot. The machine whirred and dropped his selection but then, rather than giving Carlton his change, the machine spit out the dollar he’d put in. Carlton was taken aback by what had just happened and contemplated his next move very carefully. Assured in the reality of what he had just experienced, he put the dollar back into the machine and requested another Crumbcake. Once again, the machine made its whirring noise as it dispensed his selection and once again, it spit out the dollar, rather than giving him change.

Overcome with awe, he immediately stepped away from the machine and removed his shoes, because he realized that the ground upon which he was standing was holy. Carlton had never been a religious man, but he was convinced that he was now in the presence of the lord. He performed the miracle twice more, securing the remaining Crumbcakes, then gathered his manna from heaven and took them to his desk.

After safely storing the goods in one of his drawers, he casually strolled over to the cubicle of his coworker Bart and leaned in.

“What’s up?” Bart said, without looking at Carlton, obviously feeling the effects of a long stressful day in front of his computer terminal.

“Go into the break room, put a dollar in the snack machine, and make a selection,” Carlton said.

“Why?” Bart said, in a voice that suggested he was in no mood for foolishness.

“Just do it. You’ll figure it out.”

Carlton returned to his desk as Bart rose and headed toward the break room. Several minutes elapsed, before Bart appeared at Carlton’s cube, wearing a wide grin, and holding several packages of chips and crackers.

“Man, that’s cool!”

“I knew you’d think so,” Carlton said.

“What do you think’s causing it?”

Carlton pondered the question a moment, then shook his head. “It’s probably just out of change, but I choose to see it as a miracle from the lord.”

“Are you serious?”

“No, but to think otherwise means we’d have to report it,” Carlton replied.

“Good point,” Bart said before returning to his desk. Holding his hands aloft, he proclaimed, “Praise be to the lord!”

For the next several days, Carlton and Bart dwelt in the land of plenty, and whenever someone would approach either of them for change to use in the machine, they gladly complied, not wanting to give away the sacred knowledge to which they’d been entrusted.

Finally, one afternoon, as they were in the break room contemplating what they wanted from the machine, Rose, the facilities manager came in to purchase something.

“You guys actually going to get something or are you just window shopping?” she said as she stepped past them.

“Need some change?” Bart spoke up quickly, as Rose took a dollar from her pocket.

“Why? I’ll just use a dollar.”

Before either man could intervene, Rose had deposited her dollar and selected the numbers corresponding to the Sour Apple Twizzlers. Just as always, after dispensing the item, the machine returned the dollar to her.

“Did you see that?” she said, holding the dollar up.

“See what?” Carlton said, looking away from her.

“I put in a dollar and the machine spit it back out,” Rose responded.

“I didn’t see anything,” Bart said.

Carlton shrugged. “Me neither.”

“That’s a load of crap,” Rose replied. “You were both standing right here.”

Carlton stepped forward and confronted her. “We choose to see this as a miracle from the lord — the miracle of the magic dollar. You don’t question miracles; you just rejoice in them, as I’m sure it says, somewhere in the bible.”

Rose put her hands on her hips, and tilted her head.

“This isn’t a miracle,” Rose said, “the machine’s malfunctioning.”

“The effect is miraculous regardless of the cause,” Carlton said. “I refuse to question the vessel through which the lord makes his presence known.”

“How long has it been doing this?” she asked Bart.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he replied.

“Guys, this should have been reported,” Rose told them. “This is someone’s livelihood, you know.”

Bart leaned toward Rose and spoke in a confidential tone. “Look, I understand that when stuff like this happens, the snack guy gets ripped off, but seriously, eighty cents for Cheezits? Even in the wide world of overpriced vending food, that’s excessive.”

Rose considered this. “Yeah, you’ve got a point. I mean, I can get these Twizzlers at Costco for about twenty cents a pack. There’s the distribution angle and all, but still that’s a pretty hefty markup.”

“Besides, this machine has ripped me off plenty of times, and I rarely complain about it,” Carlton said. “The way I see it, this just evens it all out.”

Rose shook her head. “I’ll give you until the end of the week, but if no one else calls this in, I’ll have to. It’s my job, you know?”

“Bless you, sister,” Bart said, making the sign of the cross in front of her.

“Cut it out,” Rose said and walked away from them. “Close of business Friday, got it?”

The following Monday, the vending guy returned and fixed whatever it was that had been causing the machine to dispense the dollars. Carlton watched in silent resignation as the vendor restocked the shelves.

“Hey, buddy,” the vendor said in a cheery tone. “Got any requests?”

“What about the Cinnamon Crumbcakes?” Carlton asked.

The vendor shook his head. “Sorry guy, they’ve been discontinued. They weren’t very popular, from what I hear. Strange, because they always sell out at this location.”

Carlton nodded and headed over to Bart’s cubicle.

“Is it done?” Bart asked, to which Carlton nodded.

“Let us not lament that which is past,” Carlton replied in the cadence of a preacher. “Rather let us take solace in knowing that for a brief moment, we were in the presence of something greater than ourselves. That’s something we can tell our kids one day.”

Bart thought about it, then said, “I don’t have any kids.”

“You know what I mean,” Carlton replied.

“Amen, brother.”

Rachel

Rachel Lawson deals with death on a daily basis. As a nurse who specializes in the care of terminal patients, she has experienced every aspect of a person’s final days, sitting with those who are dying, consoling the spouses and loved ones, knowing the right things to say, as well as knowing when saying nothing is the best option. All who know her agree she is excellent at her job, but all her experience cannot prepare her for what she knows will be her toughest assignment. As she stares out of the window of the plane taking her from LAX to Hartsfield in Atlanta, her thoughts are of her baby sister, Sharon, and what lies ahead for her sister’s young family.

It wasn’t the path she’d envisioned for herself. When Rachel graduated high school in her small town in Florida, she was considered the best looking girl in her community, and was one of the most popular girls in her school, rivaled only by her best friend, Cherise Santiago. Cherise and Rachel had known one another practically since birth, and as they aged into beautiful young women, they remained close friends — some jokers had taken to referring to them as Siamese twins. If one showed up, everyone knew it was only a matter of seconds before the other made an appearance. Together, they were cheerleaders, actors in school musicals, co-editors of the school paper as juniors, and of the yearbook as seniors. They dated the star players on the football team, and Rachel was idolized by most of the girls in town, but most particularly by her younger sister, Sharon.

Rachel was considered by all who knew her to be a classic free spirit, and as beautiful as she was, she was equally kind and caring. She had the unique ability to make whoever had the pleasure of speaking with her feel like the center of the universe. Nothing, it seemed, was more important to her than spending time with that person. No one had a harsh word for her, and while the other girls envied her, no one hated her. When she and Cherise graduated, everyone agreed that if they didn’t immediately go to Hollywood and become stars, the world would be a much darker place. Rachel and Cherise had lived idyllic lives, praised and pampered. For Rachel, the only dark spot was the death of her little brother, Rob from a congenital heart defect, when they were children, just a few months before Sharon was born.

What most people didn’t know, but what Rachel and Cherise had known for quite a while was that they weren’t simply best friends. In fact, they’d been in love with one another since at least seventh grade, though it had taken them nearly a year to acknowledge it, and at least another year to act upon that knowledge. Once they were certain, they mutually decided to keep it to themselves. The community they lived in wasn’t terribly conservative, but they knew their family, friends, those in their school, and church, would not understand. So they continued to date guys, wore the class rings of their high school boyfriends, and would blush or laugh self-consciously whenever the subject of marriage came up. Neither of them could ever imagine being with someone else.

After graduation, Rachel and Cherise did as everyone expected and headed West to Los Angeles. They had no background in film and television, beyond being avid fans, and had no conception of the work involved in making it in the entertainment industry, but they had all the money they’d saved throughout high school, and as much enthusiasm as anyone could muster for a project. Most of all, they had each other, and once they arrived on the West Coast, they no longer felt constrained by their families or community, and began to openly pursue their relationship.

They spent a few months burning through their savings, while answering casting calls they found in trade papers. They found they were no longer the most attractive women in their community, and in fact, they weren’t even the most attractive in their apartment complex, and their acting skills and discipline were far inferior to the seasoned professionals they found themselves competing against. As their money began to run out, they took jobs as waitresses, first in restaurants, then in bars, and, after hearing from a fellow waitress how much money could be made in adult clubs, they began to waitress in strip clubs, and topless bars. It was here they were finally discovered.

The manager of the strip club where they waited tables took note of their looks, and how the customers responded to them, and approached them about becoming dancers. They were reluctant, until the manager mentioned that it was a good way to break into “the business,” so they auditioned. Their cheer leading and dance training served them well, and before long, both were featured performers, making several hundred dollars in tips each night. From there, they found themselves drawn into the seedy underbelly of late-70s Los Angeles, first as strippers, then “erotic” models, then “soft core” porn films and photos, simulating sexual acts with male and other female models. Finally they graduated to “hard core” porn. Along the way, they acquired major drug habits, using alcohol, cocaine, and heroin to quell the emotions they felt at what they were asked to do on camera. Neither of them appeared under her own name, and they both hid their identities behind wigs and tons of makeup, but they knew what they were doing, even if no one could identify them.

As the early-80s rolled around, the porn industry was hit by a new scourge, that the doctors were calling Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). When it was still considered a “gay disease” many who appeared in “straight” porn didn’t think much of it, even though many actors overlapped the gay and straight genres. Then an actress Rachel and Cherise knew came down with AIDS, and they decided it was probably best to get tested. They went in together one afternoon to a clinic near their apartment. Two days later, after Cherise was unable to join her, Rachel went back to get her results. The doctor led her into a small office and Rachel could tell from his expression that the news wasn’t good.

“Ms. Lawson, I’m sorry to tell you, you’ve tested positive,” the doctor said. He went on to outline the woefully few treatment options available, and what she should expect as the disease began to ravage her body, but Rachel wasn’t listening. The words, “you’ve tested positive” kept echoing in her ears, and she rose, not allowing the doctor to finish his spiel, and walked out of the clinic, as the doctor called after her, “Ms. Lawson?”

For the next forty-eight hours, Rachel did nothing but wander around L.A. in a daze. When she grew too tired to continue, she’d collapse onto a bench to rest for a while, but otherwise, she moved from point to point on autopilot, the doctor’s words pounding in her head. One place was no different than the next, she neither noted or acknowledged where she was, or what time of day it was. When she finally came out of the fog, she found herself on at a beach, observing the ocean waves as they came in and out.

She sat, staring out at the waves, the doctor’s words echoing in her mind, and imagined herself walking into the surf, walking until she could walk no further, then swimming until her arms failed her, and she was so far out, she’d have no chance of being saved. Then she’d just sink, let all the air out of her lungs, and allow her body to go under. The tide came in and splashed her bare feet and she realized she had been walking and was now just steps away from the water. It was then that the thought crossed her mind that Cherise had no idea where she was, and Rachel felt she should at least say goodbye. Fearing what would happen if she stayed, Rachel left the beach and wandered back to the strip. It was nearly midnight.

The lights from a storefront caught her eye and as she neared it, she realized it wasn’t a shop, but a small church. Feeling she could use some divine intervention, Rachel went inside, where she found a man with long hair and a full beard, and not much older than she was. He introduced himself as the pastor. Sensing something was wrong, he asked her to sit and invited her to share what had brought her in. She sat with him for several hours, pouring out her heart, telling him of where her life had taken its wrong turn, and finally, of the doctor’s words at the clinic. The pastor embraced her and assured her that she had a home there, and encouraged her to return to Cherise, to let her know Rachel was alive.

What Rachel didn’t know, but what Cherise had discovered that afternoon, was that the clinic had mixed up their records. They went in together to be tested, but Rachel had gone back alone, and the attendant handed the doctor Cherise’s file by mistake. When Cherise showed up on her own, the doctor realized the mix-up, and after giving Cherise the devastating news, compounded it by telling her that he’d mistakenly told Rachel she had AIDS. So now, in addition to learning she would most likely die, she had the added burden of worrying what had happened to Rachel.

Rachel returned to the apartment, and found Cherise in tears.

“What is it?” Rachel said, taking Cherise into her arms.

“I have AIDS.”

“You too?”

Cherise pulled away from Rachel and took her hands. “No. There was a mistake. You’re okay. They mixed up the results.”

The fleeting moment of relief Rachel felt was immediately replaced by sorrow over Cherise’s news.

“Listen to me,” Rachel said. “I’m going to take care of you, okay? I don’t care how bad things get, I’ll be there for you.”

Rachel was as good as her word. She took Cherise to the church she’d found and they joined and became very active. They gave up the drugs and booze, left behind their self-destructive lifestyle, and committed themselves to spending as much time together as possible. As Cherise’s health declined, Rachel devoted herself to caring for her, and when Cherise got to the point Rachel could no longer deal with her at home, she got Cherise into the best hospice she could find, and became a volunteer there so they could be together. After Cherise died, Rachel pursued nursing, and found the one area she could have the most impact, in caring for those facing death. The once vibrant and boisterous party girl had grown into a thoughtful, introspective, and spiritual woman, who projected an overwhelming sense of calm.

Then Rachel received the most devastating news since learning of Cherise’s condition. For nearly a year, her sister Sharon had been complaining about being tired and listless. Despite Rachel’s admonitions, Sharon had put off seeing a doctor, focusing instead on her children, Rebecca and Steven. When she finally went in for a check up, she received the news that she had advanced ovarian cancer, which was spreading rapidly. Upon hearing the news, Rachel quit her job, informed her landlord she’d be leaving and boarded a plane to Atlanta. Rachel knows very well what’s in store for her sister, and she isn’t going to let Sharon, Rebecca, and Steven face it alone.