Wednesday, May 28, 2008


"People who don't understand destruction
should be DESTROYED!"

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Burn the Flame...


Wednesday, May 21, 2008


ALBERT GYPSUM SAT upon a piece of driftwood down on the batture of the Mississippi river among the tall weeds and weeping willows that grew there. The solitude of that narrow strectch of wilderness between the man-made levee and the river appealed to him. He could hear the occasional vehicle as it rumbled past on the old highway but he was hidden from view and nobody bothered him. He had three old cane poles set out in a shady spot where the water ran deep near the shore between a stand of bald cypress and a couple of Chinese tallow trees. The hooks were baited with small pieces of chicken gizzards that he carried with him in a yellow and blue plastic bread bag. In truth he could have baited the hooks with anything, even spittle, because he was after catfish and those scavenging bottom-feeders weren't picky. Nowadays people told him that he shouldn't eat fish pulled from the river because of the pollution but he still ate what he caught, mostly hard-head cats. And those suckers were big and meaty, healthy looking. Albert had eaten them all his life; they tasted fine enough when seasoned and cooked properly. His wife Cherry was one hell of a cook. Lord have mercy, the woman could bitch and moan enough to fray any man's nerves. He shook his head and looked heavenward in mock atonement. Still, he admitted to himself that she had good qualities and baked creole catfish with tomatoes, shrimps and okra was one of them. Cherry and Pearlie both knew their way around a deep-fryer. Man, they fried those catfish fillets to a golden perfection. On Fridays the smell permeated all through the trailer court and beyond. They weren't at all greasy, you could plunk those suckers into your mouth with a little tartar sauce and they melted away like butter. But damn it all, he couldn't taste much of anything since he lost his taste buds. But he still had his memory of the flavor. And that, at least, was something.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


CHESTER AND ELVIRA squeezed past the impatient crowd and exited through the glass doors of the welfare office. They turned south down the old State highway and began walking along the worn rut in the grass between the levee and the road where a sidewalk should have been. The baleful sun beat down forcefully and a lone katydid chirped in the weeds. Dump trucks and industrial vehicles rumbled past kicking up dust and belching exhaust fumes. The humidity overwhelmed the pair and soon they were sticky and drenched. Chester's threadbare shirt clung to his bones like a second skin and the perspiration picked up the brown dust. They knew enough to let the work trucks pass unmolested but whenever an old car creaked past they stuck out their thumbs in hopes of a ride. Nobody stopped but Cherry Gypsum, whom they knew from the trailer court on Dead Man Lane. She told them that she needed a few bucks for gas and had to make a stop halfway down the Parish at the old clapboard house of worship. She wanted to speak to Minster Thurgood. It was he who told her about the universal food stamp reimbursement in the first place. That's what he called it, 'a universal food stamp reimbursement.' The minister had an excellent vernacular grasp and enunciated his words clearly when he spoke. As pastor of the First New Risers Baptist Missionary Church, he was held in high esteem by almost everyone in the lower Parish. And as a result of his benevolent candor, Cherry didn't have to wait in line all day and might even catch the tail end of her stories. She wanted to thank him, keep in his good graces. Chester and Elvira passed on the ride. They wouldn't have jutted their thumbs out in the first place had they recognized her beat sedan. Chester held a grudge against her because Cherry often made a stink about the late night ruckus they kicked up at the court, mainly when her husband Albert joined them. Hell, they'd find a ride eventually. Why waste money on gasoline? What they needed was a good stiff drink anyhow; a nip of something to slake the thirst. Cherry drove off muttering under her breath, engine sputtering, struts and shocks ready to cough up the ghost, exhaust fumes blackening the air. Chester and Elvira walked a bit further to the dilapidated Ajax Bar, which stood like a sentinel and the gateway to the lower Parish proper.

Chester's pockets were empty except for the packet of food stamps that Mister LeFluer had given them but he padded himself reflexively to be sure. Elvira had some dough, he knew. She always saved a bit for just this purpose. It was a big trip up and down the only highway in the Parish when you didn't own a vehicle. There was no bus service, or public transit of any kind.

“Let's get a nip and rest our dogs,” Chester postured with bravado.

They limped past the faded, handwritten Ajax Bar Sign and down the oyster shell drive toward the sagging and rotted porch. It was almost as hot inside as out but the lights were dimmed and that made a difference. An old ceiling fan slowly sliced through the thick air and squeaked with each rotation. There wasn't a soul in the place save for Jim, the old barkeep who was a permanent fixture. The warped wooden floorboards creaked under their feet as they sidled up the the bar. Chester ordered two shots of bar brand whiskey and a couple of Dixie drafts. The barman nodded and poured the drinks without saying a word. He was a part of the place like the jukebox and barstools.

Doctors say: Grapes are Packed with Sugar

So, it was an uneventful Sunday afternoon. My little daughter (5 years old) had a playmate over for the afternoon and it was coming up on lunch time.

The wife looked at the fruit basket and suggested that I hit the grocery store for some grapes to feed the kids. I figured I'd grab some beer and other sundries as well.

The store was pretty quiet and I got to the checkout counter with my purchases pretty quickly. I set them on the conveyor belt and waited.

As I stared absentmindedly at the tabloids, the guy in front of me chatted good-naturedly with the checker.

I wasn't paying attention to his conversation when he decided to turn around and assess my grocery selections. He frowned and advised me in an honestly concerned voice that his doctor had told him grapes were really high in sugar and not really very good for you.

I gave him an 'aw shucks' look and said they were for the kids at home.

He said something about that being even worse and tried to get the checker to agree with him.

She said nothing but raised her eyebrows a bit in the direction of the conveyor belt. I followed her gaze and checked out his purchases: four quarts of ice cream, a bottle of rum, and some toothpicks.

Thursday, May 8, 2008


THE PAIR STANK a bit and dressed in tattered rags. One got the impression that they could have cleaned themselves up easily enough and probably had decent enough clothes in the chifforobe at home. They defiantly chose to wear the rags. Plus they had sense enough to dress down for welfare appointments. Despite too many routine encounters over the years, Cyprian had never seen them sober. They were blunt and crass toward each other but in a good-natured and jovial sort of way. Cyprian represented State Authority with a capital A, which meant plenty of Yes Sirs, No Sirs and the like. Elvira was especially obsequious in his presence. She whined and squawked in the hopes of furthering her cause. Despite her ingratiating mannerisms and her rail thin frame, there was something pleasant and attractive about her. Chester, garrulous and unshaven, dramatically inhaled puffs of his cheap cigarette and blew plumes of blue smoke into the air. But he toadied to the man as well...this day he walked with a pronounced limp and wore no shoes upon his malodorous feet. He carefully unwrapped a bandage from the big toe of his left foot. The appendage was swollen to triple the normal size, purple and crowned with a cracked yellow toenail.

Elvira said, “Look at it will you? I tell you it looks bad. Don't it Mister LeFluer? He needs to see a doctor but he don't listen. They'll have no choice but to cut it off before long.” She winced. “Gangrene will set in, I keep on telling him. And then where will he be?”

“Shut your pie-hole, will ya?” Chester barked at her. It was a grand bluff, an act. He grinned and laughed aloud as he said it. The three of them did.

Chester began to pick at his gangrenous toe and Cyprian watched fascinated. While in a drunken stupor during the storm, he fell into a drainage ditch and busted the toe on a pipe. He lay there for some time, oblivious to the howling winds and the rain which pelted him. Elvira thought he was lucky not to have drowned. The pain was negligible thanks to the liquor and, once he came to, he brazenly walked on it until he sobered up. Initially bloodied, it had since hardened into a solid mass of scab. He was scabrous; little flesh wounds pockmarked his face and arms. It had been on hell of a tumultuous hurricane party. Chester's breath stank of cheap cigarettes and malt liquor.

Elvira wrung her boney hands nervously.“O Mister LeFluer, do you think we can get more stamps on account of Chester's toe? We ain't got nothin' to eat in the trailer since the lights went out. We go hungry our borrow from neighbors. That's the truth. All our meat went bad. Sausages and everything. And now with this toe can't neither of us work. I got to look after Chester before he cripples himself.”

“Elvira, I'm warnin' you...shut your trap!” Chester snarled. He feigned a readiness to backhand her. Cyprian dreamed of aiding him in that endeavor . They shot each other humorous and conspiratorial glances. Elvira began to chew at the quick of her thumbnail.

“But Chester baby, you know it ain't fair. The blacks get everything handed to 'em on a silver platter and poor white trash like us get nothing. Here we are starvin' to death in the breadbasket of America. I mean, it's a shame Mister Lefluer. What we got to do? I'm tellin' ya from where I sit it looks bad. And now this toe...Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”

“Fill out this paperwork in duplicate, for starters, Miss Logan, and I'll see what I can do. And for the love of God, take care of that toe, Mister Monsoon. It looks bad.”

Chester breathed a sigh of relief and an intoxicating whiff hit Cyprian in the face. Elvira made the Sign of the Cross. “God bless you!” The six-month old light bill passed unnoticed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


CYPRIAN LOATHED HIS position with the State. He'd been there too long. That's the way life goes if you haven't much drive...youth slips away in a fashion. As the months stretched into years, his vocation became monotonous and unbearable. Thus with time he fell into a dull torpor and developed an irrational hatred of poverty and the poor. Not once did he encounter the Joads and their Grapes of Wrath. Nor the struggling hard workers of Sinclair's Jungle. The poor he knew were a downright shiftless, cantankerous breed. His was an odious task: pacify, preen and mollycoddle a population of ne'er-do-wells. To become hardened to the actualities of poverty and all of it's ramifications was the vilest of tortures. He longed for the days of compassion. As a boy, on his trips through the old French Quarter, he never failed to place a coin in an up stretched palm if he had one to spare. Once he even volunteered at a soup kitchen, and in the shadow of his memory he remembered handing a steaming bowl of thin turkey gumbo to one of the unfortunates. “Thanks,” the man muttered, his breath redolent of wine. “You're welcome,” Cyprian quickly responded out of habit, more than anything. “I know damn good and well I'm welcome,” the man snarled back at him with vehement hatred. “I'm in a soup kitchen!” Flecks of white spittle gathered in the cracks of the man's meaty lips. Cyprian stared at him blankly for a minute, turned away and never forgot.

One thing for sure, the clients kept him on his toes. Cyprian jammed Cherry Gypsum's paperwork into a tattered brown cardboard accordion file, tossed it onto the floor near his feet and glanced toward the door. Next up were a couple of maudlin drunks. They squeezed into the room before he could air it out. Chester Monsoon and his shack-job, Elvira Logan. They cohabited in a fairly new trailer down the road, just off the highway in a trailer court on Dead Man Lane. Chester purchased the trailer with the proceeds of a lawsuit settlement. A rare but sage financial move. He liked to boast that there was a four-burner stove in there, a flushing toilet and even a small shower stall. The poor bastard had been injured in a barge collision on the river. Half-drunk on the job but never proven in court. Lawsuits were like the lottery to them- why not take a chance on winning? The same concept held true with Life Insurance policies. Once in a moon one of them croaked and the survivors hit the jackpot. They usually blew it in a fortnight...who's to say they were wrong?

Monday, May 5, 2008

Black Kettles

"Every store in America should have a black kettle filled with hot cracklin waiting for their customers when they walk in the door..."

Saturday, May 3, 2008


IN THE BOWELS of the welfare office, behind a locked door marked Employees Only a narrow hallway with cracked linoleum flooring led to a row of diminutive offices filled with gunmetal gray file cabinets and old wooden desks. In the last of these cubicles, Cyprian LeFluer ran a napkin across his lips. The day had him harried, nerves in tatters, so he ate his lunch while standing up. An oyster po-boy. Punch in, punch out. Five days a week. And never a moments rest when the vultures are circling. The welfare office, what a place to work. He gobbled down the last bite and took a swig of water as his speaker phone buzzed: a plethora of clients still waiting to be seen in the lobby. The jobless kept themselves busy in this Asshole of the Earth. No wonder they seldom found time to work. Between visits to the doctor and the police station, making groceries, courtroom appearances and the welfare office they scarcely had time to think. If they did find a little time on their hands, they hopped under the sheets for a little recreational venery. And to hell with prophylaxis. Cherry Gypsum wanted to speak to him for a moment. Urgent, she says. Cyprian dreaded encounters with this bitter woman. Life dealt her a shitty hand...what had he to do with it? Ah, the words which spewed from her mouth: endless, coarse, guttural. Death would be a favorable turn were you to take her words at face value. But as you get older and death nears, life becomes more precious and you hold onto it no matter how miserable it's been to you thus far. Cyprian belched and walked toward the door. There's no reasoning with those whose minds don't function in a rational manner.

He brought her into one of the little rooms just off the lobby and motioned her to sit down. A buzzing fluorescent tube light cast an eerie glow onto the peeling lime-green cinder block walls. As always, he took the chair nearest the door perchance he had to bolt. Oftentimes they looked about ready to stab him with the pencils stubs he gave them. Mrs. Cherry Gypsum refused to take a seat, said her bad hip bothered her. She stood there and began with it:

“He all big down there, Mister LeFluer.” She wore flip-flop sandals which exposed crusty heels and yellowed toenails. Her hair was up in curlers beneath a clear plastic cap and she wore a shocking pink housecoat. A few renegade hairs sprouted from her upper lip; her mouth she scrunched into a continual scowl.

“All big? What do you mean by that?”

“He swoll up like a baseball. His testicles. Them doctors, they don't know what's wrong but I tell you one thing: Albert cain't do no kinda work. He too swoll up.”

“How big?” Cyprian inquired.

“Big. Swoll up. He cain't do nothin' but lay in the bed. Moanin' and groanin' is all he do.”

Cyprian knew Albert as a lazy son-of-a-gun, albeit justified. At his age, no one would find much comfort in menial labor. He had already been wrung through the system: one shitty low wage job after another. Yet we've all got to eat, it's a biological fact. One simply plays the cards dealt until the bitter end. Old Albert suffered one malady on top of the next. In truth he had a weakness and a propensity for port wine. And a gambling habit which kept him up late nights. As a youth he worked on the boats where the wind carved his flesh and the sun baked his brain. As a result he resembled a dried-up septuagenarian by the age of fifty. Nevertheless, he was a likable fellow, full of piss and vinegar. He still had spunk and enjoyed getting his kicks in. Always a smile and a good tale to spin. And what a raucous laugh! From the very core of his soul, from the gut. Laughter as only the poor know it. Cyprian pitied him his termagant wife.

“All my meat done gone bad with this storm, Mister LeFluer. I just stocked the freezer full of steaks and gizzards and now they rancid as can be. And they 'bout the cut the lights out for good, Albert ain't paid the bill. I don't know what we gonna do.”

“Fill out these papers for starters.”

Her eyes got big in mock surprise. “All these? I hope it ain't gonna take too long. I got to git home to watch my stories...” And she began checking off the boxes: no, no, none, n/a, nothing, no...”Albert cain't do no kinda work,” she added defensively.

“Did Albert get a statement from his doctor?”

“Huh?” She pretended not to hear but then went on, “No, we ain't got no statement...But I'll tell you he swoll up big. And now he say somethin' wrong with his taste buds. He cain't taste no food. No matter what I feed him, he say he cain't taste it. Them doctors don't know what's up. Bringin' Albert to 'em just waste his medical card.”

Cyprian sighed. The entire family was stricken with acute lazybones. Two corpulent ill-mannered daughters and their common-law husbands plus a plethora of grandchildren all living under one small roof. None of them ever lifted a finger more than need be. On the books, understand. Except old Albert, ironically. Once in a moon he would put on his shrimp boots and pick up scrap metal from around the Pogie fish plant. He cashed this in for a fresh supply of port wine and a few bucks to the wife to shut her trap. One son-in-law did receive disability payments from the State on account of a gimp left leg, the result of a barroom brawl over careless love. It ended tragically with a single bullet. All the family's hope were pinned on Boo Williams, Pearlie's husband, who sat around strumming an acoustic guitar all day in fantastic idleness. Years prior he worked off-shore on the rigs and got himself stranded on a sandy barrier island for a couple days in the midst of a tropical rainstorm. Lawsuit pending. Work in the Gulf and on the river was fraught with peril. A rusty trawl boat sat on cinder blocks in the front yard. To use it would negate the prospective settlement. The shady lawyer eked them along on a stipend which lowered the potential return on the lawsuit. And to top it all off, Pearlie found herself with another bun in the oven. The family couldn't afford another mouth to feed but the strictures of their belief system prohibited abortion. The duality did not phase them: religion played a role of convenience.

An idea germinated in Cyprian's crop. “Mrs. Gypsum, I saw Albert just last Thursday before the storm picking up scrap metal on the side of the road near the Pogie plant. I blew the horn and he waved...”

“Huh? Oh, he felt a little better and wanted to git out to stretch his legs. He don't like being cooped up all the time, you know. Them grandkids drive him batty...the way they scream and holler. They work on his last nerve.” Her lips moved mechanically, as if she were chewing the cud.

“That income must be reported.”

“O help me Jesus!” And she looked skyward.