Friday, May 28, 2010

MILES TO MEMORIES (published in At The Bijou)

You wanted to be like Hurley when you were a kid; imagining where life would take you once you grew past the astronaut, cop, and fireman stage of adolescent dreams and desires – when you were told by teachers to picture yourself living in the nine to five world parents inhabited and not the imaginary one of grade school youth. Hurley was a man who seemed to have everything; well liked by others and someone very few would say anything derogatory about, at least not openly. He was different - unlike the fathers of my childhood I remembered seeing on the train platform dressed for the office in their suits, ties, and overcoats, while balancing briefcases, coffee cups, and morning editions of the Times and Wall Street Journal. Men caught up in their spread sheets, cash flow projections, and mergers; too busy for the mundane parts of life.
He was more than that.
It wasn’t something I knew at first, but some things became obvious a few minutes into our conversation. Memories, like long forgotten dreams came back in a rush of emotion and a hard punch to the chest, and in an instant I was just another ten year old kid on the street where I grew up.
Looking for approval, or at least understanding, from someone who didn’t know anything about me.
“You don’t realize how good you got it,” Hurley told me as he finished the last of his Absolut. “None of the pressure and none of the stress that can kill you fifteen years down the road. Things are easy for you right now.”
Nothing I had ever been through seemed easy. Whatever I could say about that I kept to myself.

The full story can be found at:

Thursday, May 6, 2010


The day had broken cold and gray as the man turned off the street a block from the boardwalk, trudging slowly in the heavy snow towards the old, abandoned building. The plywood covering the windows and doors was meant to keep out vagrants, but he managed to squeeze through a hole where one of the boards had been pried loose; the turn of the century building was a stark reminder of Asbury Park’s once vivid past and subsequent decades-long descent, although the man cared nothing for its history – he just wanted a place to rest, away from the bitter cold. The sores on his hands and legs were scabbed with blood and his beard flecked with dried vomit he hadn’t bothered to wash away in the Bus Terminal men’s room. It was never supposed to be like this but he couldn’t remember when life had ever been any different; his dreams had died so many years earlier that the memories were gone with no trace of the things he wanted. A fear of death, crushing in its weight and intensity gnawed at his insides before exploding into sickening panic; but then just as quickly that panic dimmed and his thoughts calmed. The man closed his eyes and let himself drift away, thinking that it wasn’t so bad – there were worse ways to die, and even worse ways to live.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

TWITCH (published in Writing Raw)

It was hard to stay cool.
The heat waves curled off the asphalt road and rolled across the desert, making it impossible to remain focused. It wasn’t any easier with sixteen pounds of body armor, especially as the Kevlar absorbed every ounce of sweat and the fabric increased in weight. It was brutal and uncomfortable, and I could feel those extra pounds with every movement and each step I took. There was no escaping the heat, no matter what time of the day or night, and it was all we talked about.
Except when the topic was getting shot by snipers.
Or being maimed by IEDs and roadside bombs.
Conversations like that had each of us riding nasty, serrated edges and suppressing our fears.
It was a couple of months after they found Saddam hiding in the underground hole near his old hometown in the desert. We were already tense, six long hours into a roadside checkpoint in the Salahuddin Province north of Baghdad; surrounded by people intent on making us leave their country – willing to take any risk and pay any price to accomplish that mission. We dreamed about going stateside, although it was just an abstract memory – vaguely familiar but impossible to remember in detail. Everything had changed since we had been deployed. Nothing about home seemed real any longer. Our only goal from the minute we laced up our boots in the morning until we fell back into bed at night was to make it through the tour; anything else was unimaginable. We took it day by day, one step at a time. In basic training they taught us to channel any thoughts that took away focus, no matter how tough the conditions, but it was difficult doing that in the hell of the Iraqi desert. Clouds of dust swirled around, stuck in my throat, and left me coughing like a two pack a day smoker, barely able to swallow. Sometimes the dirt got inside my goggles, leaving me unable to decide whether to use my canteen water to clear my vision or quench an unbearable thirst that remained day after day.
Cool was an afterthought.