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Archive for July, 2009

“Get your skinny asses inside the car,” Bill Miller yelled as he slowed the Plymouth LTD by pressing a worn break pedal with a cheap penny loafer. He wore his black penny loafers everywhere, even as house slippers while at home. The only time he put on boots was when he went to work in Tyrone building the county’s first public septic system—there he wore steel-toe boots, for he was a brick layer, and of course, he wore insulated boots when he went hunting, but even then, he would have preferred to have on his penny loafers.

“I said get in the car before I pull over and put a foot up your ass!”

Aunt Marg was sticking her head outside the car window, permitting the fragrant honeysuckle, aerodynamic winds to tease her spaghetti long hair. I was attempting to make the sound of the American Indian heading off to war with the white man—screaming at the top of my lungs into the winds that silenced my cries, popping my ‘O’ shaped mouth with my little hand, for only the woods outside to hear, and it is true, if a little boy falls from a car in the woods, no one hears him.

“Oh my God, Mom, Charlie’s head is stuck in the window.”

Liz, not turning to look at what damage she may have done, stared straight ahead with her beehive, bobby pinned hair unshaken and rolled the car window back down.

“I can’t swim at Whipple Dam,” Aunt Marg protested as she sat back in the leather seat. “The water is too cold there, so I gotta cool off now. Sorry about that Dad. I wish you would have taken us to Lakemont Park instead.”

“Go to bed,” Bill replied as he unconsciously guided the Plymouth and lit a PalMal cigarette with his lighter that lit with just one flick, despite all the wind blowing around inside. The phrase ‘go to bed’ was a term of endearment used by the Miller household. It was said in response to one who complained too much—

“I hate being poor. I wish I had new shoes for school this year.”

“Go to bed.”

“It’s so damned hot in the house, Dad. How much wood did you put in the furnace this morning?”

“Shut up and go to bed.”

“I’m going swimming at Whipple’s” I shared with Aunt Marg as I slowly made my way again to the open car window after picking all the white threads from a pair of cut-off shorts Mom had crafted from an old, worn pair of Toughskin jeans.

“Go right ahead. I ain’t. You’ll catch a case of the Whipples if you do, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“What are the Whipples?”

“You know, when you have goose bumps so bad that your lips turn purple. With nigger lips like yours, you’re bound to catch it.”

My brother Bill laughed hysterically, breaking from a conversation with Uncle Steve about how to properly tie a hook onto fishing line—

“That’s what Charlie gets for chewing his blanket every night. You should see him—he puts almost the whole thing in his mouth. He stretched his lips and now they are gonna stay like that forever. That blanket turned brown and mom had to cut the edges off and re-sew it, but he’s chewin’ it again.”

“Shut up, Bill,” I said, crawling over him and Uncle Francis to a spot at the front next to Uncle Dave with greasy hair.

“Where are your sneakers?” Grandma asked.

“I don’t remember.”

“Well, who do you think is going to carry you all over Whipple Dam today?”

I stretched my legs over Uncle Dave, resting my pigs on Pap’s Pap’s thigh next to the steering wheel, hoping to engage him in a game of This Little Piggy. Grandpap Miller would playfully squeeze my toes when he was in the mood for horsing around and apply enough pressure to cause enough pain to make me yell like an indian in the old westerns that he and Liz watched every evening—after wrestling was over. I loved the game, especially when he rubbed the bottom of my pink little feet over his rough, sandpaper beard, only to bite my little toes with a denture-free mouth.

“I can go into water up to my neck now, Pap Pap! You should see me swim.”

“Oh, yeah?”

“Yep—was in up to my belly button in the crick back home. When Uncle Francis puts me on his back and goes under, I do too—you should see me. I can swim to the other side of the crick and jump off the bank if I feel like it.”

“I cannot believe I let you kids still swim in that filthy crick,” Grandma said. “It’s a wonder you don’t catch infantiagio or something. We don’t have town sewage like they are getting up in Tyrone. Just think of all the septic tanks in Petersburg. Where do you think they run off into? That crick ain’t good for younz kids. You are right, Charlie—it’s best to swim here at Whipple Dam. If the water’s cold, it’s fresh—that’s how you can tell good, fresh water.”

“He cannot swim all the way to the other side of the crick,” brother Bill objected. “He walks across the rocks we put up for a dam, that’s all.”

“You kids better not be building a God damned dam on the crick. The water already comes up to the cellar door if it rains too much.”

Grandpap Bill reached for the silver turn-signal switch and tapped it downward to indicate a pending left turn. We stirred the dust from the mountain roadway that led to a parking lot covered in limestone pebbles.

“Hurry-up, Francis. Get out and go claim that pavilion before the man carrying the watermelon makes it there first!” Pap Pap ordered.

Uncle Francis dashed past an iron, hand-pumping water fountain and rushed quickly to our favorite picnic place. He leaped upon one of the wooden tables like a flying ant, put a chew of snuff in his mouth, and sat with a serious look in his eyes, waiting for the remainder of the Millers to join him. The frown on his youthful face was mischievous but serious and the look in his eyes turned a shade of darker brown as his mind started to buzz from the pinch of Skoal between the skin of his lower lip and teeth that had recently grew in.

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A convoy of clunker cars and rusty pick-up trucks slowly progressed along freshly painted roadway PA 26 towards State College and Whipple Dam. The distance between bumpers was just a few yards and if the chain of traveling Millers had been viewed from high above the canopy of trees, perhaps through the eyes of a tiny flea buried beneath the feathers of a circling crow or buzzard, one would notice that the Miller family in their cars resembled the wooly bear caterpillar, slinking along the fern and pink lady slipper orchid lined roadways of Central Pennsylvania.

Within the various sections of the multi-colored, fluffy caterpillars, old timers, men like Bill Miller, could predict the weather for the upcoming winter—if the wooly bear caterpillar was covered in mostly black—the winter ahead would be a harsh season. If mostly brown, then less wood would be needed for the furnace that heated the tall, wooden Miller household. As far as the many shades of cars and trucks, ranging from red, white to blue, there was no known reasoning in nature as for the shades, but inside, behind bug stained front windshields, it seemed the land with a black road with fresh white and yellow lines through it went on forever—but such was not the case, for miles behind, in the little town of Petersburg, the world seemed to be growing like a big city, and country folk—fisher people like the Millers—appreciated the state park that the state of Pennsylvania, long before it was a state, had purchased from the Iroquios Indians in 1754 for less than what it had cost to fill the tanks of all the Miller cars.

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Whipple Dam

Fish caught out of waters beyond the Juniata River watershed tasted better to Bill Miller’s children than the catfish snagged from the muddy creek that ran on the outskirts of the family property. There is but one method for preparing whiskered catfish for consumption, but freshwater farm-raised trout can be filleted into strips as thin as venison tenderloin and if dipped in an egg and rolled in cornmeal, the dish is as popular as pork, sauerkraut and dumplings on New Year’s Day. Bill Miller’s cast ironed trout were as delicious as his bacon baked beans.

To kill two birds with one stone or to catch one’s limit of seven trout from one fishing spot in one day required a trip to freshwater mountain lakes, like that of Whipple Dam. The creek down back didn’t have trout, just warmer water creatures like carp, catfish, fallfish and bluegill. To satisfy his family’s hunger for water recreational activities and rainbow trout fishing, Bill packed up the Plymouth LTD almost every Sunday and prepared the entire picnic meal himself, after digging his own fishing bait.

Not a drop of grease from two pounds of mostly white, non-lean bacon was wasted from the cast iron skillet in which the fatty strips were seared upon. Chop – chop –chop—Bill diced the crisp bacon pieces, creating slug-like morsels that slid down one’s throat like a greenie. The brown sugar and Campbell’s baked bean concoction was a meal within itself, but only a side-dish on Miller picnic standards.

Long panels of yellow Styrofoam were emptied of fleshy contents into the kitchen sink—how far man had progressed Bill realized, cleaning the chicken parts under gushing, ice-cold tap water. Bill noticed how very few feathers there were on the chicken, requiring a burning from his metal cigarette lighter that seemed never to go out, even when wet. There was a time when there was no time for fishing—only work on the railroads, but now, chickens were slaughtered with corporate axes—no more watching them flop around in the front yard, headless, bumping into things as they attempted one last time in their lives to take flight.

Thanks to the Weis supermarket in Huntingdon, a seemingly endless supply of food stamps, freshwater streams that were stocked weekly with trout and Bill Miller’s expertise as a cook for a poor family, there was always time to picnic at Whipple Dam.

Bill blanched the chicken parts for at least twenty minutes in a large pot of boiling water, refusing to remove much of the golden, nutritional, fatty skin that enveloped the plump, pink pieces of legs, thighs and back. The kids, like Bill, liked the dark meat. Only Liz, wife and mother, demanded a tender breast at Whipple Dam. The skin would be charred to crackling consistency over Kingston charcoal briquettes dowsed heavily with dangerous amounts of starter fluid.

As soon as the chicken parts were removed as lobsters from the boiling water, Bill covered it with splatters of hot bacon grease—that not used to keep the baked beans moist— and sealed the contents in exorbitant ribbons of tinfoil and packed the surplus of meal neatly in a snowy Styrofoam cooler next to several six packs of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer—often stopping his busy hands to check his long-sleeved flannel shirt to ensure he had enough cigarettes for a day of picnicking and fishing at Whipple Dam.

Uncle Dave, a skinny, snuff chewing prankster with greasy hair parted over his right eye was the oldest child still living at home and was granted front seat riding rights, sitting between his dad and mom just to ensure tranquility during the journey. Following the departure of Uncle Pete from one of the beds upstairs in the wooden house, Uncle Dave assumed the title of best fisherman, next to Bill, in a family that was born near the water.

Uncle Pete, a curly blonde with humungous blue eyes, unbelievably big ears and a nose so huge that he could sniff out trout underwater like a hound dog seeking rabbit in a thick brier patch, married Aunt Pat when he was just eighteen. Although he no longer lived at home, he and Aunt Pat attended all of Bill Miller’s outings. He inherited his father’s good fortune when it came to fishing. It was suggested by his mom Liz that Uncle Pete’s saliva contained the same enzymes found on the skin of the earthworm, and thus, the boy could catch fish without even trying—just like he did to poor Aunt Pat.

“Uncle Pete, why do you spit on your worm like that?” I asked one Sunday along the chilly, cold waters of Whipple Dam, trying to secure a piece of golden can corn on a hook that Uncle Pete helped me to tie securely.

“Go ask your Aunt Pat,” he said.

Aunt Pat had no interest in the Miller family’s obsession with fishing or Uncle Pete spitting on his bait. She stayed far from the water’s edge and fussed over flies around the picnic tables, ants, and deviled eggs.

The couple chose me as the ring bearer at their wedding. I remember standing next to Uncle Pete with a pillow in my arms—dressed in a fancy, checkered vest with puffy sleeves which accented my huge cowlick perfectly. I couldn’t understand why they cried while kneeled before the pastor.

“I do,” Uncle Pete said with tears rolling like rapids down his big, red nose. I asked my grandmother, Liz, why Uncle Pete turned into a crybaby at the wedding—

“That happens sometimes,” Mal Mal explained. “I think Pat’s ass is lined with gold.” …

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Fish that live and breathe with gills in the brown waters of the Little Juniata River are not as tasty as rainbow and brook trout that are caught in abundance from banks of mountain streams and man-made lakes and dams scattered throughout South-Central Pennsylvania – Whipple Damn, Raystown Lake, Trough Creek State Park, Greenwood Furnace, and Cowens Gap are just a few drops in the mountain sea—a second great lakes, but on a less greater scale—bubbling within the chain of the Appalachians—offering far more fish than can ever be eaten. Fishing here is all that there is—not counting of course—the beer.

The Little Juniata runs adjacent to Bill Miller’s property at the base of the little town of Petersburg. Rarely did Bill ever cash a fishing line from the grassy yard that extends for nearly an acre around the wooden house, ending near the water. Down near the creek is where Bill built the trusted Miller horseshoe pits and fishing there seemed boring, for so many burnt butts of cigarettes still cover the ground—the sand from so many pitches, so much excitement—why catch fish there too? The kids swam here everyday in summer anyway—why put lost hooks into their tiny little pink toes when there were so many other places to fish? — Big ponds that the state of Pennsylvania stocked to full capacity through funded wildlife projects coordinated by powerful Pennsylvania senators and congressman who knew the way to a man’s heart and through the currents of public tax dollars.

The horseshoe pits next to the crick on Bill Miller’s property were made from the limestone sand from the quarry in Mapleton. The pits were the centerpiece of family reunions—far enough from the water where even hastily tossed shoes from Uncle Chuck—Aunt Roxie’s husband, were never in danger of being lost to the unclear waters of the Little Juniata or the sandy bottom that sunk for miles under pressure.

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A Bermuda High Pressure system has settled in over the Atlantic causing the weather in the Northeast to turn humid and damp. A series of tropical waves crashed through Brooklyn last evening. Perhaps with the changes in the jet stream, the curse that has hung high above me like a scorching July sun since December will melt away now.

The soil in my garden has turned from dust to mud, but the zucchini plants have perked up with elephant-like ears and the sunflower seeds planted by birds in my garden smile like the sun now buried beneath thick grey clouds.

The first squash slightly larger than a cucumber was picked on Sunday morning. Silver dollar shaped slices were dipped in eighty-nine cent medium eggs and rolled in flour that was buried deep in my kitchen cabinet since the last ice age and then was fried green tomato style in a hefty pat of ninety-nine cent margarine.

My lover and I are starving—still waiting for the honorable Paula S. Yorke, the Administrative Law Jude with the New York State Department of Labor, to decide in my favor in regards to a dispute with my former employer over unemployment insurance benefits.

If I had known I would be without a source of income or money for more than seven months I would have planted more outside in my little garden. If I had known the world was coming to an end like this—if only I had seen that the American dream, along with the American judicial system was dead, I would have buried myself in the freshly tilled earth with the seeds back in April when it was still cool.

Maybe I too would have grown some.

But the zucchini was delightful—very few seeds had developed within the meaty, white interior of the squash—and just one filled my belly to the point of belching. The rain is sweet too—almost feel like walking home from the library without my umbrella opened—just wash me clean dear lord—but I can’t—not with another John Steinbeck novel to squash during these dry, dog days of washed up America.

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Victor E. Browne stumbled across My Space. The body builder with steroid breath tracked me down on the social networking phenomena, causing the site to send me an automatic e-mail per his tweet.

“Yes, Victor,” I wrote in reply, “It is me, the heartthrob—the one who nearly caused you to slit your wrists when I dumped you.” (I used Victor for the deep-tissue massages that he charged others dearly for.)

There is no doubt that Victor Browne, the hunk from Trinidad was sent into My Space in the year 2001 for a purpose. I hardly have the time to answer him nearly a decade later. Feeling bad for tossing him aside like men sometimes do to bitches—I had not choice but to shoot off a quick response, but I will disappear quickly from his life again—like I did back when so many men wanted me as their bitch.

Victor was a lesson of sorts to me. We had sex just once. It was all I could stand. His steroid breath made kissing worse than rimming. Although my initial attraction was one of pure intrigue and fantasy—imagining him bench pressing me over his rock hard cock—bobbing me up and down like a barbell with little weight on it—yes, at first I thought he was worth a shot, so I let him do me, despite the heavy breathing and his silent, unspoken demands of remaining on the bottom.

Poor, dumb, fat-neck Victor—the Arnold Schwarzennegger of male prostitutes—how could I ever terminate him? He was one of but so many good looking men all fighting for bitch bottom ownership of my pretty white ass in 2001.

I met Victor at the gay hustler bar Stella’s in Times Square. We had both parked our perfectly chiseled asses on a bench against a mirrored wall next to the juke box and struck up conversation typical of competing male whores—

“You have great calves,” Victor said.”

“How can you tell?”

“Look at the bulge in those jeans.”

“I quickly removed my feet from a rail at the base of the bench and planted them firmly on the shiny, white floor and looked straight ahead at a disco ball on the ceiling above the bar and rack upon rack of top shelf liquor and cordials.

“Yo, listen,” I said, with a well rehearsed butch voice and attire to match, “If ya don’t mind, I need my space…”

“Oh! Ha! I know what you’re up to,” He noted, giggling dumbly. “You hustling?”

“Of course I am. Why else would I be wearing a wife- beater in a dump like this?”

Those were the wrong words to mumble sarcastically. Something ticked in Victor’s heart that very moment. He salivated while looking deep into my eyes. I quickly returned my stare to the disco ball. I don’t know what it was—a spark of love, I suppose. Nothing turns a closeted gay body builder on more than admitting that one is not gay, but engaging in the act of sodomy just to pay the bills.

Just as Victor was about to reach down to touch my leg, or perhaps it was a coin he dropped to the floor—one meant for the juke box—I don’t know for sure, but he happened to be bent over, looking down when Frank West walked by—the lover who had me arrested and a restraining order enforced—Frank had me thrown out of my own house—the very reason why I was so jaded as to turn to male whoredom. For one little bitch slap perfectly planted across Frank’s high-yellow face—I paid the price dearly.

Frank looked ferociously into my eyes—could it be that I was now selling my succulent, sweet ass for profit? It certainly must have appeared so there at Stellas.

“Do you know this person?” Victor asked.

“I gotta get the fuck out of here,” I explained, remembering the restraining order.

Both Frank and Victor chased me outside onto the busy streets of Manhattan. Frank shouted obscenities, referring to my new occupation all the way down Eighth Avenue towards Twenty-Eighth Street—

“You fucking whore! I hope you catch AIDS. You must have. Look how skinny you got! That’s right! Take it from me whoever you are—take him home and fuck him face down with his head buried in the pillow. That’s how I ripped that ass apart!”

I kept moving along on my strong calve muscles, galloping like a man whore, being careful not to swish too much. I refused to look back, knowing that if I turned to face Frank West again I would bitch slap him properly or perhaps turn into a pillar of salt right there in Chelsea.

“Hey! Hey! Wait for me,” Victor cried, nearly a city block behind. Are you alright? Who was that nigga?”

“Some John I fucked,” I said, “Now look at him—all strung out like a crack-head!”

“Can I walk you to your place?” He asked.

“It’s not my space,” I explained, “I’m only subletting…”

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A muddy crick flows like molasses through Petersburg. Westerly breezes infused by pollen from creek bank honeysuckle are sweet enough to cause cavities. Winds in Petersburg, on misty summer mornings, sting nostrils with a salty aroma—a slight seasoning is in the air—the smoke from passing locomotives.

Burnt coal spewed into the atmosphere from the volcanoes of man, covering everything, even the wind which is bathed already with the scent of stagnant river.

The trains roll right alongside the banks of the Juniata River– for this is where the tracks were put down—along nature’s already beaten path. Like a line of black plug-in air-fresheners, they spill by like fallen pepper shakers.

The stagnant waters of the Juniata River are dotted will millions of tiny, floating islands—clusters of milky bubbles banded together to float as silver dollars in the river along which so many poor reside—the piss from thousands of brown and white spotted cattle—all grazing along where the railroad runs and the river that guides the trains originates.

Crick banks are black—no longer the soft muddy wooded areas along the muddy waterway they once were. Tons of coal has fallen from the locomotives passing through Petersburg forming a black beach of sorts, not good for burning nor sunbathing on, but swimming in the crick was fine even with the cow piss.

Here and there a tree has managed to set root at the base of the long coal pile running alongside the crick, right next to the sandy brown river—a rather large tree, one not trimmed by track clearers during the great excavation that took place when the iron rails were first put down here after the Great Depression.

It grows like a weeping willow although it is a horse chestnut.

This was my grandfather’s favorite fishing hole and we swung from a rope in this tree, barley missing his head.

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