Tuesday, May 22, 2018


by horace p sternwall

eddie was in chuckie’s place, just starting to dunk his cheese danish into his coffee when he looked up and saw frankie sitting by himself at a table in the corner.

eddie had heard frankie was in town, looking for ray, but he was still a little surprised to see him.

he figured it wouldn’t do any harm to go over and talk to him, so he picked up his coffee and danish and went over to frankie’s table.

hello frankie.

hello yourself.

haven’t seen you around for awhile.

i guess you haven’t.

mind if i sit down?

frankie shrugged. suit yourself.

eddie sat down. so what brings you back in town, he asked frankie.

i think you know why i’m back in town.

you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.

i’m looking for ray.


you seen ray lately?

a little bit. i do a little business with him now and again. everybody does. everybody has to.

if you say so. so old ray’s doing pretty good, huh?

pretty good isn’t the word for it.

he runs this town, huh?

runs the town? i don’t know where you been, frankie, but ray runs the whole west coast and beyond. and has for a while.

i‘ll tell you where i been, but first you tell me how good ray’s doing. has he still got that big house out by the lake?

no, he sold it or gave it away years ago, when he started getting really big. he lives in a big castle now, in this state he bought up north, idaho or montana or one of those places.

it must be nice. you been there, seen it yourself?

once or twice. you wouldn’t fucking believe it. he’s got everything. he’s got a million guys guarding the place, a fucking army. more swimming pools than you can count. a million game rooms, with every game you can think of, night and day. and if you’re a pal, you don’t have to pay to play. food - the place is one big buffet. every kind of booze ever invented, right there for you.

i suppose he’s got a few women around.

i was just getting to that. he’s got this special harem or palace, just for himself, where he keeps the hottest babes, for the heavy duty, you know. and he’s got another harem of women one cut below, for when governors and presidents and ambassadors come to visit him. but besides that, there’s hot women and cute chicks all over the place, every size and shape and color you can think of, and they know what they are there for, and they do it.

eddie nodded. i think a life like that might make a guy a little soft.

well, ray must have thought of that, because once a year, he goes on this safari for about a month, up in the yukon or some fucking place where it snows all the time, him and his favorite boys, what he calls his mighty men, and they hunt grizzly bears and three thousand pound wild boars and roast them around a roaring fire and tell stories and sing songs and all that shit.

frankie laughed. and that keeps him from going soft? i don’t know about that.

how about you, frankie, what have you been up to?

you mean ever since that son of a bitch set me up thirty years ago? let me tell you what i been up to. the first ten years i’m in a fucking chain gang, out in death valley. i plot for years to escape, with three other guys. then just when we are about to make our break, one of them finks out. the other three of us get sent to another chain gang, in the middle of the indian ocean, building this new island for the king of this and the shah of that and sons of bitches like that -

maybe like ray.

maybe. anyway, this place makes death valley look like a kindergarten, there is no union or banker’s hours, if you get my drift, and after nine or ten years i snap and kill one of the guards. here is where things start to get tough. they put me on yet a third chain gang, this one on the bottom of the pacific ocean building some kind of radar station where the bastards who rule the world are going to contact the bastards who rule the other worlds out in fucking space. there is not a whole lot of fresh air, and i feel i am finally in hell itself.

but i escape. by myself this time. but i don’t get very far. i come to this undersea kingdom ruled by an evil mermaid and i get captured and made a slave. and the things i did there, and the things they made me do, trust me, you don’t want to hear about.

so one day i am on this gang working on a coral reef. by this time i have just about given up hope. and i see an abandoned diving bell drifting by. what are the chances i can get to it, or that it will work if i can get to it?

one in a billion. but what have i got to lose? i swim over to the diving bell, with these mean lobster-guards right behind me, and i close the hatch door behind me in their faces, and i pull the first lever i see and what do you know, i go right to the top.

i come up off the coast of fucking japan. i lose myself in tokyo. i get a job as a strikebreaker for this rich guy in japan. i start to save my money. i meet this chick, and it’s beautiful. she begs me to stay, but i am a man on a mission. i save enough for a plane ticket and here i am.

that’s quite a story, frankie.

yes, here i am, ready to pay a call on my old friend ray.

well, it’s no concern of mine, but i don’t like your chances of getting to him.

there is always a way. there is always a way, if you just hang in there.

but look at it this way. you’ve been through hell for thirty years. and ray’s been leading the good life, ruling the world and hanging with the beautiful people, for those same thirty years. how is anything you do going to undo that? neither of you are getting any younger. if the booze and cocaine and babes haven’t killed ray off by now, what difference does it make if you do now? maybe you should go back to that woman in tokyo, if she really cares about you.

the only thing i care about is getting my fingers around that son of a bitch’s throat.

eddie looked out the window. fog was rolling down the street. if frankie is serious, he thought, about trying to get at ray, i am not doing myself any favor by sitting here palavering with him.

eddie finished his coffee and got up.

well so long, frankie, he said, and good luck. you are going to need it.

later, eddie felt kind of bad about saying, you are going to need it, to frankie, because it was not really necessary.

but when a guy is down, it’s just instinct to give him a little kick.

it’s nature’s way.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

the price of gold

mister makoiu is usually the first one down to the lobby in the morning.

sometimes a bum will have wandered in and been allowed to sit or even sleep in one of the chairs by rack, the night clerk, if he was in a good mood.

sometimes, if this happens, the bum will be sitting in mister makolu’s favorite chair, the one beside the potted plant.

if the bum is awake, mister makolu will politely ask him to move to another chair, and 99 times out of 100 the bum will comply.

but if the bum is sleeping , mister makolu will let him be, 999 times out of 1000, and move to another chair, one approximately the same distance from the window as the one beside the potted plant.

in any event, mister makolu will sit down and begin looking out the window, whether the morning is sunny or otherwise.

the next person down to the lobby is usually madame b, who will say good morning to mister makolu and take a chair within speaking distance of his.

the paper is late today, mister makolu will say.

madam b will smile and say, the newspapers went out of business thirty years ago, mister makolu, is there any news you were particularly interested in?

yes, the price of gold.

gold has been off the market for as long as mister makolu had been sitting in the lobby, but madame b will not say this. instead she will take out her phone, pretend to look at it and say, the price is unchanged.

thank you, mister makolu will say.

then mister makolu and madame might or might not discuss the weather.

next to appear will be professor barvis. usually, but not always, he will remember to greet mister makolu and madame b. he will take his seat, and consult his own phone, to see if there is any message from the committee of arts and sciences - which, does, in fact, still exist - regarding his paper on the incompatibility of dimensional-based and path-based fusion and expansion.

to date he has not heard from it.

the last regular to appear is miss arg. she does not have a favorite chair, but seems to sit randomly in the many available in the spacious lobby.

she, too, looks out the window as if waiting. if anyone asks her, which few do any more, she will say she is waiting for her prince.

she has been told many times, by the regular inhabitants and helpful strangers, that there are no more princes. glen, one of the maids, has even gave her a copy of the four volume “history of the rise and triumph of woman” by anna randle, but miss arg has never read past page fourteen.

rack, the night clerk, leans on the desk and looks out the window himself. he is waiting for suss, the morning clerk, who is often late, especially if it rains, as it often does in this part of the world.

and there you have it, my friend… humans…. waiting… always waiting… never satisfied…

Saturday, May 12, 2018

walking past you

remember people
when you are feeling blue
whether you are sad or happy
you are only you

the fellow walking past you
with his briefcase in his hand
inside he may be weeping
because his dreams have turned to sand

the kid behind the counter
at subway or burger king
do not tell him your troubles
to him they don’t mean a thing

sadness is all human’s fate
sung by heavenly voices
whether you walk the dusty roads
or ride in rolls royces

Friday, May 11, 2018

van nuys and cupertino

nobody knew where they came from.

or cared where they went.

their names were smith and jones.

or maybe they were van nuys and cupertino.

they met in a comedy club in terre haute indiana.

it was fate. it was meant to be.

it was kismet.

where did you say you kids met?

when his karma ran over my dogma.

they looked at each other and said at the same time, we could do this.

they were both traveling salesmen.

van nuys sold paper plates.

not paper cups, paper plates. i mean, what can you do with a paper plate? hey? a paper cup can be useful sometimes, you can slip a little wine or brandy into it when the occasion requires ,but what can you do with a paper plate?

except put potato salad on it.

potato salad. let’s talk about potato salad. who invented potato salad, anyway? nobody wants to take credit for inventing potato salad. how about that?

or cold baked beans. what about cold baked beans?

what did i tell you, you don’t talk about really disgusting things, things that turn people off. like cold baked beans. this is why we can’t have nice laughs.

cupertino sold cigar cutters, cigarette lighters, nail clippers, and toenail clippers.

you can just see it - somebody asks for a light and you hold up a cigar cutter in front of their nose - and they’ve got a nose like ( william mckinley/henny youngman/de gaulle/barbra streisand…)

they teamed up, started playing open mikes wherever they went… all over the country, all over the world… new jersey, des moines, hong kong, baghdad, the moon, the ocean floor…

everywhere they went they left a trail of death.

forget bombs over the tokyo, hroshima, nagasaki, curtis lemay, the unabomber… these guys were the real bombers… accept no substitutes…

they tried everything… they cut recipes out of the local papers… the coupons from publishers clearing house…

van nuys noticed from the start that a lot of people got laughs just by saying the names of celebrities and pausing…. it worked for them.

but not for our guys. the years went by… kennedy, nixon, frank sinatra and dean martin, oswald and jack ruby, jimmy carter, jackie o, johnny carson and rodney dangerfield. o j and marcia clark and kato kaelin, saddam hussein, axl rose, ted bundy, timothy leary and gordon liddy, whitney houston, britney spears, the olsen sisters, paris hilton, obama, mitt romney, taylor swift, they all came and went …

still no laughs. cupertino was for trying to just be filthier than anybody else… it worked for some people… a guy in international falls minnesota did a twenty-five minute routine about nuns giving cardinals enemas and they had to call ambulances from five states and canada the customers were rolling on the floors laughing their guts out…

finally, in a motel outside flagstaff arizona (where else?) they had a fight and van nuys pulled out a gun and cut cupertino down like a dirty dog.

van nuys, who by this time was sixty-seven years old, got seventy-five years to life.

they had open mike in the pen. this is my chance, he thought, he had always heard that convicts were a great audience because they were so bored they would laugh and cheer for anything.

he died deader than ever.

finally he decided if i can’t make them laugh i will make them cry.

he told them a story about his grandmother’s canary , about how he loved the canary but was always afraid to show it, and then the canary died and he went up to his room and cried by himself because boys weren’t supposed to cry…

did that old offender in the second row smile, or rub his eye… or shake his head… or something…?

it’s raining on my grave.

i know you are out there.

i can hear you decomposing.

and the worms… i can hear you too… you… yes you… the little white one, with a couple of molecules of my gall bladder on your ugly face… come on up here…

Thursday, May 10, 2018


once upon a time there was a poet who wanted to write a perfect poem - the most perfect poem that had ever been written.

he felt that to write his perfect poem he needed to have a perfect, perfectly white piece of paper.

as he was an emperor as well as a poet, he had limitless wealth at his disposal to search the earth for the perfect piece of paper.

his spies told him that perfect papers were to be found in a little shop in a town in a little kingdom hidden in the mountains.

the poet-emperor knew that if he rode boldly into the little town in his character of emperor, he would be charged an exorbitant price, as the inhabitants of the little kingdom were notorious for their hard bargaining.

disguising himself as a humble peasant he entered the town and approached the shop.

but as he did, a group of the local king’s soldiers entered the shop, arrested the proprietor for printing seditious pamphlets, and burned the shop to the ground.

disappointed in his ambition as a poet, the emperor decided to become a paramour.

and to find the maiden with the most perfect face, and the most perfect pale cheeks in the world.

he sent out a thousand spies and agents to search his empire and the surrounding kingdoms and find this maiden.

a maid whom he was assured fit the description was discovered in a small village on the western border of the empire.

the emperor found her seated n a rock beside a gently flowing river, gazing at a pale moon.

approaching the maiden, he boldly declared himself, both as an ardent, faithful lover, and as an emperor possessed of all the wealth in the world.

the maiden turned a sorrowful gaze on the paramour-emperor. i am sorry, sir, she said, but my heart belongs to another.

disappointed again, the emperor decided to become a painter, and to paint the most perfect snowy landscape.

in this attempt he disdained the use of agents or spies, but left the palace one night alone, with a knapsack on his back containing only a canvas and easel and some paint and brushes, a jug of wine and a loaf of hard bread.

he traveled to the north of the kingdom, where a perfectly white, snowy landscape was most likely to be found.

he was crossing a perfectly flat plain, in the shadow of a great mountain, when the snow began to fall.

this is my opportunity, the painter-emperor thought, and he set up his easel and began to paint the ghostly scene.

the work, once begun, went as smoothy as the snow itself was falling.

when the snow began to fall too heavily, obscuring the landscape he was trying to copy, the emperor commanded it to stop.

but it did not stop, and went on for days, burying the unfortunate emperor beneath it.

he was succeeded as emperor by his brother, who spent the days of his long reign in a tavern in the shadow of the imperial palace, drinking wine with beggars, eunuchs, and old soldiers, and playing darts and dice.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

four or five

night fled behind the horizon. the birds flew out of the dawn.

five riders rode across a flat, empty plain.

the had left the battle behind them. they were the only survivors of a mighty army that had taken the field, full of confidence, and with flags flying, only twenty hours before.

the emperor rode in front.

his faithful adjutant, general f——————, rode slightly behind him and to his right.

colonel h—————, who had commanded the 5th cavalry, rode behind him on the left.

bub, the emperor’s valet and cook, rode behind colonel h—————.

jones, a young cavalryman who had had his first taste of battle on the previous morning, brought up the rear.

they rode on. no one spoke. the sun was not unpleasant.

is there no town? the emperor finally asked.

we took this route because there are no towns, general f————— replied. the parthians are less likely to follow us here.

the emperor made no reply.

they rode on.

i see something, colonel h————— said. over there , on the left.

probably just a campsite, if even that., he added as the others turned their heads.

without a word, they all turned their horses and headed for the spot the colonel had pointed out.

it was indeed a small campsite, a very small campsite. a small pot was suspended from three sticks over some stones and ashes.

the only living creature visible was a very old woman, obviously a witch, who looked up without blinking at the riders as they approached.

good morning, mother, general f————— greeted her.

good morning yourself, the witch replied.

what are you waiting for? colonel h————— addressed her. you see five weary and hungry soldiers, get us some dinner if you please.

with what? the old woman asked, gesturing at the tiny unlit pot and the surrounding desert.

come come, mother, none of your tricks, we know you are a witch and have magical powers. use them if you please or we will make it hot for you.

if i had magical powers, sir, why would i be living in a patch or rock and scrub in the desert?

ha ha, do you take us for fools? you witches have been spouting that same tired nonsense since beelzebub was a kitten, and jezebel a ball of string.

and colonel h————— drew his sword and pointed it down at the old woman.

very well, sir, since you will have it so, the old woman replied.

she pointed her bony finger at the riders and they turned into small birds and flew away into the sky, except for the emperor, who turned into a scorpion and burrowed into the dirt.

the horses were turned into rats and scurried away across the desert in different directions.

the old woman sighed. again, she thought.

how many times through the centuries had they come?

always four or five riders, more usually four.

one day there would be seven riders.

and then everything - the sky, the desert, the world, the little empires with their armies and battles - would change.

until then… the witch began to gather bits of brush to build a fire.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

cousin braithwaite and the children

miss quail waited until tea was almost finished before making her announcement to the two children.

i have invited cousin braithwaite to dinner tomorrow, she informed them.

oh no, cried darius.

oh no , echoed persephone.

what is your objection to cousin braithwaite? miss quail asked.

he is the most boring person who ever lived, said darius. darius was an outspoken and literal-minded child, not at all given to making allowances for other persons’ fantasies and frailties.

persephone was also an outspoken and literal-minded child, and much given to random acts of spite and malice.

if you invite cousin braithwaite, persephone announced , i promise we will make it uncomfortable for him.

nonsense, miss quail replied. you will do nothing of the sort. and what, exactly, do you so object to in poor cousin brsaithwaite?

he is a bore, darius repeated.

well, miss quail expostulated patiently, everybody can not be fascinating, can they? if everybody in the world was fascinating, fascination itself might lose its luster, don’t you think? and besides, is not a person only as boring or as fascinating as you wish them to be? is not boredom in the ear of the listener?

no, persephone replied firmly, that is not the case at all. cousin braithwaite is a bore, plain and simple.

it seems to me, added darius, that bores are a supreme example of the pitiless irreducibility of reality, and its imperviousness to opinion. if a person bores his fellow humans, then he is, by definition, a bore. what possible recourse does he have, and to whom or what, to reverse the decision?

that is all very well, said miss quail, but it is settled that cousin braithwaite is coming to dinner tomorrow. let us move on. how are coming along, darius, with your translation of suetonius?


cousin braithwaite duly arrived on the following evening, and the children immediately began quizzing hm unmercifully.

tell us, cousin, persephone began, has anything exciting happened to you lately?

exciting? why no, i don’t suppose so. the funds have been up a little , down a little , in their usual way, you know, life goes on, all that sort of thing.

that’s very deep, cousin, darius interjected. tell us, how have you been getting on with the ladies? met any charming creatures lately?

ladies, ladies, yes i believe i have. of course. after all they are everywhere you go, aren’t they? ladies and gentlemen. fifty percent of the human race are ladies, are they not? isn’t that so? then you have the servants of course.

have you saved the world lately, cousin, persephone asked. or slain any dragons?

ha, ha, slain any dragons? yes indeed, i may have. ha ha, that’s jolly, quite droll. quite droll indeed.

cousin braithwaite continued with an incoherent narrative of slaying a dragon in front of the nelson monument, thinking the children were finding it amusing, and never suspecting the depth of their contempt…

the evening passed, and from miss quail’s perspective passed successfully enough. at least persephone refrained from playing any of her typical pranks, such as putting a spider or a scorpion into braithwaite’s glass of eggnog.


how, if at all, do you think this narrative should proceed?

a) cousin braithwaite suddenly inherits a fortune, and marries miss quail. they invite darius and persephone to dinner once a year, on or about st swithin’s day.

b) cousin braithwaite suddenly inherits a fortune, darius and persephone successfully ingratiate themselves with him, he makes them his heirs, and they murder him.

c) darius and persephone become anarchists, and blow themselves up making a bomb. cousin braithwaite remembers them fondly, and writes a book defending their memory, and presenting them as tragically idealistic youth.

d) in time darius becomes prime minister, or at least home secretary. one day he encounters cousin braithwite in the street, old, destitute, and incoherent. darius takes braithwaite to his club, where he treats him to a good dinner, brandy, and cigars, and they sit by the fire until dawn, talking about old times.

e) other ( specify )