Archive for November, 2013

Indulge me on this windy Sunday… Grab a cup of tea and read on. This is an excerpt from [my life and] my first novel, Upside Down Kingdom, at the end of Chapter One:

book…I passed the Upscale, watching the manager try to deal with the angry people I left behind. “Alright sir, what did you order?” I heard through the open door, and then the commotion started as the entire section realized someone was being helped. Some of them called the manager to them; others rushed toward him to get is attention. This being the first time I ever walked out on a job, I stopped to watch. The manager hadn’t heard “Mr. Red Shirt’s” order and asked him to repeat it. At the same time two more malcontents approached from his left flank and stared yelling their version. Somebody dropped a tray of glasses in the back of the restaurant, an hourly event met with cheering at the Upscale, and the confusion was only getting started. Part of me, the responsible part, wanted to go back in there and finish the job I’d started. That part even felt bad for the people I left behind.

But then I spotted my tray, still on the coffee girls’ table where I’d left it. I was finally on the outside looking in again. I’d come full circle, and going back in there was the last thing on earth that I would do. I willed my feet to keep moving. I heard, “has anyone seen Amy?!?” just before walking out of earshot.

The drumbeats were getting louder as I approached the Circle, and I found the drum guy at the Metro entrance banging away on his buckets. He worked up a distinct rhythm using buckets of various sizes that he wheeled around from corner to corner in a liquor store cart. You could recognize his sound from blocks away, especially when he worked in his signature blasts from a lifeguard whistle tied around his neck. I stopped and watched for a little bit, bouncing to the beat with the rest of the crowd. A few drunken people stepped up to dance and the drum guy paced his beat to their movement. When they stared falling on each other I decided to move on.

I crossed into the park, which was easy this time of night because the circle traffic was nearly at a standstill with bar hoppers and cabs bumper-to-bumper. Dupont Circle boasted a park in the circle’s center, with a fountain and trees, benches and grassy spaces. It was a gathering place for all types of people, for good or ill, twenty-four hours a day while the traffic circled around. The neighborhood surrounding the park was also known as Dupont Circle, gay capital of Washington, D.C., and a sort of happenings hot spot. There were plenty of tourists by day, but the nightlife was full of people who went out to see and be seen.

When I first debated living in Washington, D.C., I was given specific and strange warnings about Dupont Circle. Specifically: “Stay out of the park, especially at night. You’ll probably get shot.” And strangely, rumors warned of cross-dressers wandering the Dupont streets, and of drag races on certain holidays. That was men dressed as women running toward a finish line, not car races. These things were in addition to the usual crime, corruption, and prostitution of typical cities. Dupont Circle was a crazy place, with its own set of rules that would defy logic if it were anywhere else. But here it worked. It was Washington, D.C. like no one outside this town had

I found an empty space on the west side of the fountain where I sat down to consider my options. It had been two years since I moved to the nation’s capital. It was in my first year that, thankfully, my life went to shit. That’s when things started getting good.

That’s just about the time I’d heard of the Upscale…


Read more of UDK on Amazon.

Life Lessons from Winker Barbie

“I liked your Barbie poem last night,” says my friend and fellow poet, Chris, on the phone last Monday, after I’d delivered a new poem Sunday night at The Drank Idiom Slam competition in Rochester. This was a meeting of the past winners to compete against one another for an overall champion. I won—but I tell you, there are some very gifted poets in Rochester. It was anybody’s game.ONOAF

I wrote Barbie after my Sunday School class walloped the doll for her too-perfect features. I understand what they’re saying—I do. But I understand it from an adult perspective. I also know the wondrous imagination of these 2nd and 3rd graders, and I remember acting out fantastic plotlines with my sister and our Barbie dolls, way back in the ‘80s when we were free to play and no one cared what Barbie’s measurements were.

My sister and I waged great battles over the Barbie Mansion, between the “good” new Mansion Barbies and the “bad” falling-apart-bad-haircut gang Barbies. I wrote about the battles and the life lessons we learned, which were too powerful to us to be curtailed by Barbie’s measurements.

“I had no idea,” I tell Chris, “How much the crowd was going to latch on to Barbie. I’m getting Facebook messages from poets saying they’re going through their attics for old toys.”

“What did you call the leader of the rabble Barbie gang?” he asks.

“Winker,” I tell him. “She was my sister’s Barbie who would wink at you. But my sister gave Winker a bad haircut, so she went rogue with the other outcast Barbies. She was the roughest looking, though, so she was the leader.”

And I tell him how I think we all start out in life, regardless of status, as a Mansion Barbie. We’re new, shiny, and pristine. But with any amount of living, we get dirty, messy, we get ratty-hair, we get our hearts stomped on and we get our own battle scars. So we leave the Mansion and we join Winker, because Winker takes everybody and doesn’t think of anyone as damaged goods. And we learn all the things we were missing.

Chris takes it a mind-boggling step further, and says, “I think people like the poem because it’s universal. Everybody has a Winker in their life.”

He explains, “We all have that person who doesn’t quite fit in, dresses funny, and says the wrong thing. But, when the chips are down, Winker is the one who helps you out. Winker will be the only one to show up to help you move or will tell off someone who has been giving you trouble.“

(Wow. This is what happens when two poets discuss Winker Barbie, or just about anything.) Very nicely put, Chris.

To all the Winkers of the world: Thank you for welcoming the rabble, without any hesitation, and for turning us into a family.

To hear more from the talented Chris Atwood, stop in at C4’s Creative Salon tonight for Bobby Marinez’ One Night of Art Finale. Chris will be reading from his new work, and he’s also agreed to be my stunt double and read some of my pieces for me. (If they’re well-written, I don’t have to be the one to read the pieces, right?) So while I’m at work tonight, pop over to the show to see my Number One choice for reading my work, the natural storyteller, Chris Atwood.

Joining Chris on stage will be local phenoms Danny Solis, Sophie Marie, and Dave van Eijl. (Yes, Danny, we claim you as local now.) Doors open at 6. Poetry starts at 7. Music at 8. Art abounds.

Upside Down Kingdom is available on Amazon.

Barbie is a product of Mattel, Inc.

DSC00943Italy has a way of encompassing you, like the bosomy hug from your favorite aunt, the one who let you speak freely, made the best cookies, and always told you that you could run away to her at any time. Thus, as I re-read my favorite passages from a year ago, Italy is not just in my mind today; it’s all around me. Here’s why:

…The Sea water is high as I write. It’s early because we leave today. The Piccolo Marina restaurant isn’t open yet. How much I want to tell the cameriere that I’ve enjoyed watching him sweep the floor every morning as I sit here with my toes in the water and write, and how much I’ll miss seeing him. But he isn’t here, and I wouldn’t really tell him that, anyway. He’s the first person I saw and spoke to in the Cinque Terre, and so, the first person I fell in love with here. Since, I’ve fallen in love over and over again with the people, the flowers, the food, and the Sea. Ah, but you never forget your first.

The little black fish are swimming around my feet. They don’t mind me at all—as if I’m part of the rocks here. There’s another lady who just walked down—I’ve been wonderfully alone up to now. The water felt a bit cool at first, but now feels refreshingly right, just like when we jump in after hiking and trekking out for the day. I’ve spent time in the Sea every day.

You wake up here to the smells of cinnamon, or celery, or pasta cooking. Every morning has been an aroma adventure welcoming you into the day. And the church bells that begin at 7 and remind you of the hour and of the half hour, well, they’re loud and I get mad at them. But I also find myself listening for the next set of bells to remind me of the time. I don’t set the alarm anymore. 401

Keith said yesterday that this would be a hard life, physically, with the constant up and down of all the stairs—hard enough that no one would choose it by choice. I agreed it must be difficult to build and farm in the mountainside—the stairs alone would hurt even the healthiest of knees. But I also believe that the Cinque are so beautiful that these people couldn’t help but want to live here, they were pulled and called here, and they adapted every part of their life systems to make it work. That’s love. Love of olives, grapes, wine, and fish. Love of storms and sunshine and Mountain and Sea.

Amazon’s got my book: Upside Down Kingdom.

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