I climb into my faithful old Tacoma pickup and head west. You can tell a lot about a man by the truck he drives. The cab smells of rag weed, muddy boots and fresh orange peels. I drive past the fields, the farms and the redundant strip malls. I eye pretty small town girls with odd names like Galenda or Karla. Their perfume scented skin I won’t stick around to touch. These places and girls belonged to other boys with their Friday night hot spots and their Sunday morning houses of worship,——— a community of suburban anchored hearts. I’ve tried to fit into such places, but never could.
I drive til I come to the ocean. I check into a cheap motel that wears the odors of mold and a thousand forgotten summer vacations. I wonder how many have made love on this tolerant mattress, or how many have cried themselves to sleep within the walls of this soul suffocating room. The walls are knotty pine with a bathroom sink that drip, drip, drips. Outside my gray skied window the pavement smells of early morning rain, the sun rises with a memory of how small her hands looked when she touched me. Once again I find myself at the edge of this sad stained continent. There’s a damp coldness blowing off the water that chills me to the bone. January is my favorite month to revisit this rundown seaside town. The boardwalk is empty and quiet except for the rusty Farris Wheel squeaking and moaning under the strain of a gusting wind. I pull my knit cap tightly over my numb ears.
All my once hip friends are now vengeful Republicans, need I say more? Out of nowhere I find myself singing “Into the Mystic”——I take a shot of Jameson with a beer back. “And when that fog horn blows you know I’ll be coming home——-I wanna hear it, I don’t have to fear it”.
The bed-stand clock glows with its red digital numbers, the sound from the dripping faucet warns me of time passing by. How do I carry on? Where do I go from here? Am I too old to start over again? Have I squandered too many chances. I’ve moved to new cites, I’ve found new jobs and I’ve broken promises to the few who might of cared for me. I’ve never been one to reinvent myself or attempt to tame my faults or bad habits——I’m all that’s left of my best mistakes.
I sit on a carved up and pigeon stained bench at the end of the pier. A wrinkled asian man is standing as still as a statue as he waits for a fish to bite his line——I suppose we’re all waiting at the other end of one kind of fishing line or another. A young kid with chin stubble and unkempt hair takes a seat next to me. He asks if I have a light. He helps me cup a flickering flame from my Bic lighter. He squints as he stares intensely out at the foggy horizon. I know that look, I know this kid. He speaks “You got a wife?” “Yeah, I’ve had a couple of them.” He continues his interrogation “You got a job?” “Yeah, I’ve had a few those too.” “Did you get everything you wanted?” “Like most, I suppose I got what I deserved and a few things I didn’t expect. Sometimes it isn’t what you get, but more importantly, it’s being happy with what you’ve been given——-gratitude is the scale on which to weigh a balanced life.”
An older me talking to a younger me, what a gift. “Take good care of yourself dude.” I grab his cigarette, then take a hit off it before stomping it out. “Look after your health kid, you’ll wish you did when you get older——-and yes, we all do get older, that is, if you’re lucky.” He pushes his shaggy hair back “Do you ever think about your parents?” “Everyday I do. You won’t understand the sacrifices your parents made for you until you become one yourself. You’ll look at your children and be amazed at how parts of you became their flesh and blood. The best of times will be the time spent with your kids. Remember to give your weary parents the love and respect they deserve. The kids grow up too fast and our parents grow old and frail too soon. Once they’ve passed on, they’re gone for good. Time moves in one direction, forward. Regret is the child of missed opportunities.”
“Many acquaintances will come and go, but few will be elevated to the position of trusted friend. Choose your friends carefully, because they’re the only ones who’ll enjoy your ridiculous humor, tolerate your irritating idiosyncrasies and stand up for you when this world leaves you feeling insignificant, irrelevant and unworthy of love. They’ll embark on crazy adventures with you and provide you with the sweetest of memories. Your friends and family are your tribe and their unconditional love is the only thing that will sustain you through the good times as well as the bad.”
“I know that at your age you won’t believe me, but this life is tragically short. Don’t squander the time you’ve been given being bored or angry. Monies a fleeting vapor, a job that doesn’t suite you is a snare, pleasure without sacrifice is quickly forgotten. Look for true love and nothing less. You’ll know it’s true love because she’ll bring out the best in you. She’ll make you feel things you never felt and it will cause you to do things like hold her hand when she’s frightened. She’ll bear your children and cook you your favorite meals. For her, you’ll fix the things that break, mow the lawn on hot July afternoons and snowplow the driveway on cold January mornings. All these seemingly insignificant small things will comprise a full life. Keep your priorities straight and you’ll enjoy each day as it unfolds.”
The kid offers up a grin. “When I grow up, I wanna be like you.” “Take your time kid, being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to being.” I climb in my truck and head back home as I give a glance in my rear view mirror.
Soundtrack “Sympathy For The Devil” by The Rolling Stones.
I’m two beers and a shot past midnight as I make my way down a rainy street on a dying Sunday.I pass an old rundown house that’s still wearing it’s Christmas lights in late March. What a sad and pathetic sight. But after all, everyday down here feels as morose as the day after Christmas.I stroll past a group of bums huddled together under a tiny bus-stop shelter. They aren’t sad, they throw their heads back and laugh and hack deep husky coughs. I watch as they pass their generic cigarette around and count their beggars change to buy another bottle.This is socialism at its best.
I score a couple of rocks from a big black dude who’s street name is killer.He has sleepy red eyes and a bulge under his leather coat that corroborates how he’d acquired his nick name. Killer is an evolutionary capitalist, his philosophy is that the big fish eat the little fish. He wears a face that says “Don’t fuck with me”. This corner is his domain and if you know what’s good for you, you won’t question his Province.
I lean against the wall of the damp alley and light my pipe. I smell and taste that familiar chemical flavor I’d been craving.I’d promised myself that this would be my last time and that tomorrow I’d straighten up and start writing my great American novel. Man, when I’m high I can feel a million stories exploding through veins.I’d love to write some of this shit down, but I’ve pawned my computer, my phone————-my soul.
The devil keeps my redemption locked up in a cage down in that fiery netherworld. Salvation is a hard thing to come by when the key to it is held by my worst enemy—– that enemy being me. You see, the devil isn’t in the drug, it isn’t in the guy who sell’s me the shit, it’s in the bullshit I feed myself.We all have our devils and demons, but some of us just feed our’s better than others. I’ve gone from believing I’m the master of the beast to realizing that I’m his slave in a freak-show.
I’ve decided that today will be the day I stand up and face the devil and his cadre of demons. I’m going down into the belly of the beast to do battle.It won’t be as simple as one battle, it will be a lifelong war.Satan has the high ground, he can give me extreme earthly pleasures.He will make me feel like I’m right and the world is wrong.He’ll support my victim mentality. But there’s a high price to paid for unearned luxury.
There are only three types of people who dare trespass into the belly of the beast.They’re either holy men, madmen or those who have come to the stark realization that it’s either fight for redemption or dive into those eternal flames. I’m in the latter group, I’ve used up all my excuses and burnt all my bridges. I’d worn out all my friends and family and squandered whatever potential I once possessed. I’m done waiting on someone or something to come and save me. Salvation is a personal quest.
Some go into the belly of the beast and never resurface.Some go there and resurface as a Bodhisattva.And then there are those who lose their mind in search of their soul.But if you’re gonna go down there, you gotta go all the way and you gotta go it alone. No one can save you from yourself——–but yourself.
Hell is knowing that you’re a fraud, it’s hating yourself for becoming the worst possible version of what might have been. It’s intentionally pushing everyone away who cares about you because it hurts too much to have others care about something you’ve long ago given up on My god, I’m fucked up——but here I am again, in the alley, siting on the curb with my feet in the gutter. Damn, it’s so hard to believe I can do better when I feel worthless.Hating everyone and everything made my addiction bearable, these dark emotions fueled my self destruction. Self hatred has robbed me of my most potent of tools; love and courage. When I descend into that inferno I will need love to be my sword and courage my armor. I’m tired of being ashamed——-tired of being sick, tired of being what I’ve become.
I’m on a dark stairway that’s slippery from the blood of broken hearts. Above there’s a chandelier constructed of sun bleached bones. There’s a chorus of horrifying screams and god forsaken moans from the other lost souls. In the background an organ plays its mournful dirge. I tentatively push open the squeaky gates causing a flock of bats to take flight. The beating of their wings startles me.
There is a heaviness in the air, it feels as if this place is the center of gravity for all of the worlds unforgiven sins. I make my way down a candle lit corridor.It opens up into a cavernous cathedral of horrors.From the ceiling there swings decaying corpses with their red bulging eyes dislodged from their sockets. Drooling zombies rush about with dozens of hypodermic needles stuckin their arms.A goole hunches over a withering body as he repeatedly stabs at it and then licks the blood from his knife.In the shadows ragged figures fornicate with half goat, half human creatures. This is not only the theater of the absurd, it’s a chamber of pure evil. Above me flying beast with bat wings screech and rain spit down on me.The air is filled with an over powering oder of rotting flesh.Creatures in chains with putrid breath scream out asking for mercy as they are being led by demons into a lake of fire.From the lake comes the revolting smell of singed hair and burnt flesh.
Every fiber of my being is telling me to turn around and bolt back up the stairs to a place of green fields, where I might negotiate for forgiveness and pray for the rarest of commodities——-a second chance.Sitting upon a throne on a high riser sits Lucifer the prince of darkness. His eyes are red like burning coals, where his feet should be there are hoofs. He amuses himself with an anaconda as it curls and constricts around his arms and neck.He bites into an apple and offers me a sinister grin. He stretches out his hand and asks in a deep throaty voice “How about a nibble? You look like a lover of forbidden fruit.”I nervously shake my head no.He stands up and yells in a death metal scream “What the fuck do you want?” I try to speak but my mouth is to dry to form a word.“Speak up you little bastard, a good servant should never makes his master wait.”
I muster all my courage and manage to speak in a squeaky voice “I’ve come to take my soul back.”He throws his head back and laughs.“You’ve got a fucking short memory. You signed the fucking contract. You traded your soul for all those little goddamn things you said you wanted, desired, needed.”My fear was beginning to lean towards anger.“You never gave me shit.You used me.” He looked me straight in the eye and laughed.“You struck a deal with the devil, what did you think you’d get, honesty, integrity? You’re gonna get what you fucking deserve, an eternal timeshare in hell.”He removed his purple robe and spread a pair of huge black wings.“Do you like my wings? I can give you wings just like these. All you have to do is to continue to do my bidding. Just keep being as bad and evil as you have been and someday you’ll have dominion over all this darkness.” He offers me a mocking thunderous laugh.
“I don’t want your wings. I don’t want your darkness. I want my soul back.Our contract is void because you never gave me any of the things I bargained for.” He gives a snide little snicker as one of his minions fly to his side and hands him a paper. “Here is your contract.Now let’s take a little gander at what you traded your sour for.Number one. You asked for ecstasy and I gave you crack—check. Number two. You asked for a loyal family. I gave you a group of gang bangers made up of thief’s, thugs and murders—— check. Number three. You asked for a profession. I made you a thief to support your drug habit—–check. Four. You asked for unrestricted sex with many.I made you a prostitute to support your drug habit——check. Number five. You asked for freedom. I gave you the street and homelessness—–check. Number six. You asked for a purpose.I made you an addict—– check.” “You tricked me.You twisted my words and made a fool of me.”“No shit, I’m the devil and that’s what I fucking do.I break hearts, I steal souls, I tear apart families and friendships.I’m a destroyer of hope, a revoker of faith. And now it’s fucking time for you to pay up ass hole.”
I stammered, “What about love? What about self respect? Why can’t you give me those things?”He just shook his head, “I can’t give you what you’ve never asked for.Those are things only you can give yourself.You should’ve read the small print kid.”He points to the backside of the contact where there’s an extremely small line of written words. In a mocking voice satan reads from the contract. “By signing this contract I agree to no longer love myself.I agree to shed myself of all integrity and self respect.I will be an instrument of hate and loath everyone, everything——including myself.”He stretched out his wings in a show of power. “Something you dumb shit mortals never seem to understand is that if you don’t love and respect yourself, then how the fuck can you ever love or respect anyone else.”
He straightens the gold pentagram around his neck. “I have power over many things, but I have no dominion over love and ones self worth——those things are god given. I deal in the transitory sins such as desire, vanity, money, greed, drugs, pride, alcohol, sex, power and possessions. These are the tools that make it easy for me to enslave mortals such as you. These bargaining chips are extensions of the seven deadly sins, also known as the cardinal sins spoken of in Revelations. It never ceases to amaze me—–what evil mortals will do for such petty prizes.”
He spread his wings and circled around before landing in front of me. He encroaches into my space. “I’ll give you back your soul under one condition. You must deliver to me a man who rivals my evil, possesses my hate and has the power to deceive and divide humanity. I need such a man to lead my apocalypse. Do you accept my challenge?”I allowed myself to show some bravado as I stared straight into his eyes.“I know of such a man.He worships all the things you have to offer. He’ll gleefully exchange eternal damnation for your earthly pleasures.He will mount and lead the charge of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.”Satan nodded in confirmation.“So be it! I will provide whatever is needed to make this monumental deal a sucess.” He grimaced showing his yellow fangs and exhaled a ball of fire that singed my eyebrows and hair.
I awoke face down in a dumpster.In a daze I stumbled out of the alley.Had I awoken from a nightmare or was this vision a drug induced hallucination? There lingered the smell of burnt hair in the air and the soles of my boots left a trail of bloody footprints.I knew then and there that I’d struck a deal with the devil and this would be my final chance to redeem my soul.
I opened my wallet to find it stuffed with hundred dollar bills.I went to the most expensive tailor in New Your and purchased the finest suit that money can buy.I then went to a spa to have my hair styled, a shave and a manicure.I placed both my hands on my briefcase and summoned the credentials I would need to close this deal.I looked in the mirror and was amazed at my transformation. If you can judge a book by its cover, then I resembled a wind swept hero on the cover of a cheap pulp fiction paperback.
I sat in the back seat of my chauffeured limousine as it made its way down 5th avenue towards midtown I opened my briefcase and retrieved a cellphone with the number of my contact preprogramed.I pressed the dial button and waited for someone to answer. From the other end there came a stern and impatient voice, “Hello.” When I responded l was surprised to hear my voice come out with a thick Russian accent “Hello, I think you know who I am. I’m your handler from the East. I was hoping thatyou’d be available for a discrete meeting? And, if you are available, I’d like to introduce you to the greatest deal maker of all time.” I knew that this comment would set a hook in his ego. From the other end of the phone there came a gasp.“Bullshit!Everybody knows that I’m the greatest dealmaker that’s ever lived.Who the hell is this person you’re speaking of, and what does he have to offer me?” “He has anything and everything that you’d ever desire, at a basement price.In fact, he’s willing to take matters deeper than the basement.” He responded “I’m a busy man, so this had better not be a waste of my fucking time. I’ll meet with you and your so called deal maker. I’ll show you both who’s the greatest deal maker of all time. I’ll let security and my secretary know to allow you and your Monty Hall impersonator into my tower.”
I felt that little head rush that comes when taking an elevator to the the upper floors.The elevator stops at the thirteenth floor and in walks an immaculately dressed Lucifer. He tips his hat and offers up a sinister smile “Thirteen is my favorite number.”I press the button for the top floor. The elevator doors opens and we’re escorted into a large office.Behind the dark oak desk is a huge floor to ceiling window with a panoramic view of New York city’s skyline.One might even mistake this grand office as heavens vestibule.
“Please have a seat”He gestures for us to take a seat in the leather chairs facing his desk.“So, my Russian friend here say’s that you want to offer me one hell of a deal?” The devil nod’s and begins “Yes, I think you and I have much in common and many similar interests and aspirations. You are also a man of wealth and taste who possesses great intelligence. You alone are the only one who has the capacity to rule this floundering world.” I sit back and watch as he sets the hook ever deeper into his narcissistic soul. “I have the power to make all of your dreams come true.” Feigning disinterest, he leans back in his desk chair and begins to clean beneath his fingernails with a pewter letter opener with the initials “DT” carved into the handle. “And in exchange for this what do want from me?”“I will get to that, but first let me tell you of all the things I can lay at your feet.”
“I will make you the most powerful man in the world.I’ll give you authority over the largest and best equipped army ever assembled.I’m offering you the power to destroy your enemies with the push of one button.I will give you the ability to make your followers believe your lies as if they were indisputable truths. I will rain down on you billions and billions of dollars.As for women, I will make it possible for you to lay down with Playboy centerfolds and Porn Stars.I will make you more famous than the pope and you will be worshiped like the greatest of pop stars. You will be famous with your name and face plastered on every magazine, TV news program and newspaper. You will have every material comfort that any man might ever ask for.I offer you these things because I know that you are a man of discriminating taste and know the virtues of fame and fortune.”
He places his letter opener on the desk and folds his arms.“You have my attention.But what is it you want from me?”“What I require from you is written within this contract.” He motions for me to open the briefcase and provide him with a contract. “I’ve taken the liberty to draw up a cursory contract itemizing the minor concessions you need to provide in exchange for all the gifts, pleasures and powers I will bestow upon you.”
“Let me read to you the paltry stipulations required on your part. You must turn your back on those who’ve trusted in you.You will side with the East cover the west and in doing so you’ll solidify your earthly power.You will use your orator skills to deceive and manipulate the masses with lies and falsehoods.You must use all your powers to sew divisiveness.You will exploit the diversity in individuals and cultures to fan the flames of hatred. You will build walls to separate countries and foster mistrust. You must be willing to separate families and cage children. You will turn people against one another by promoting fear and hatred.Through fear and hatred you will create friction between faiths, nationalities, races, gender, political affiliations and ideologies. You will take credit for the rising stock-market making the rich richer, while the less fortunate die due to the lack of shelter, food and water. As chaos rages around you, you shall retreat to your castles and send out inflammatory rhetoric fueling your fires of divisiveness and hate. Many are called but few are chosen, and because of your greatest, you are the chosen one.” The hook has been set, the line now drawn taut and all that was left to do was reel him in.
He unfolds his arms and clasps his hands together.“This sounds like a reasonable deal, but what about those who are close to me? I must be provided with an assurance that I will have the power to pardon them from all earthly laws.”“Yes of course.I will also allow you the power to pardon yourself of earthly laws.You will have dominion over all earthly laws because you will be above the law.If this meets with your satisfaction all you need to do is sign right here on this doted line.”
He takes a golden pen from his pocket and reaches out for the contract. Satan shakes his head and takes the pen from him and hands him the pewter letter opener. “I’m sorry my friend, but I’ll require that signature in blood.”He takes the letter opener and grimaces as he pierces the tip of his finger. He then smiles “Sir, you drive a hard bargain but I’m the only one who’s truly mastered the art of the deal.” He pushes back his orangish hair to reveal a set of stubby horns. “As you can see I’ve acquired my horns. I can’t wait to earn my wings.”
In order to retrieve my soul I headed back down into the belly of the beast. “I’ve fulfilled my obligation and I’m here to retrieve my soul.” The devil gives me a little smirk and responds “I’ve been thinking about you and was hoping that perhaps we might work a new deal. I remember you once saying something about wanting to write the great American novel. I could maybe help you out with that.” I defiantly shake my head no. He continued “Imagine having your novel being number one on the New York Times best sellers list. I can arrange that. In addition, how about having your novel recommended reading by Oprah’s book club? I can make that happen too. Maybe we could arrange to have that novel turned into to a screen play and a winner of numerous Oscars. You’re so talented and gifted, it’s only right that you receive some recognition and compentsation for all your hard-work.” I could feel my chest begin to swell with the thought of attaining all of these accolades. “I’ve taken the liberty of drawing up this little arrangement and it awaits your signature.” I take the contract and pen in my hand and stare at the dotted line. I take a deep breath and hesitate. I pick the contract up and tear it into pieces. “I’ll take my soul back now—–and as for you—–you can go to hell!”
The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Although some interpretations differ, in most accounts, the four riders are seen as symbolizing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, respectively.
The seven deadly sins or cardinal sins.
The seven capital sins, also commonly referred to as the seven deadly sins or cardinal sins, are pride, greed (or covetousness), lust, anger, gluttony, envy and sloth. These are thought to be the sins to which human nature is most susceptible, and they are said to be the origins of other sins.
Soundtrack “Sailing The Wind” by Loggins and Messina.
She is with me, even though she doesn’t know it. The oppressive southern humidity causes my shirt to cling to my sweaty back. The drapes billow in the late afternoon breeze as a honeysuckle scented zephyr washes over me like a tall cool glass of water. In the distance a Southern Pacific moans its farewell. I feel myself melting into the over stuffed leather chair in the dimly lit living room. It doesn’t feel like a living room, it’s a gateway into my growing hollowness. How many chances in one lifetime does one get to know love, to feel love——to be loved—–to give love? Love doesn’t seek meaning or purpose, it seeks only itself. If you aren’t quiet and still, you will miss it. If you doubt it—- when you are touched by it——-then it will orphan you.
She’s in me, even though she’s no longer aware of it. She’s in each breath I take. She’s invasive, giving me life as her memories softly kill me. Such a cruel contradiction. Love is a living thing, it can nourish you—–or it may desert you. It’s a monster, a ragged angel with broken wings. It’ll shake you, scare you—–surprise you, make you believe in miracles and allow you to indulge such sweet misery. And as quickly as she comes on to you, she’ll mysteriously abandon you.
She’s leaving me, I know it now. The living room is shrinking. I feel her silhouette in the days dying sun. I smell her skin, taste her mouth. My voice sounds like that of a stranger. I hear myself whisper——- “Stay, god please stay.” She is going on without me. She no longer gives a fuck. I’m overthinking everything, I’m over feeling everything. I no longer have a place to go. I forget what it’s like to be me without her. A honeysuckle scented zephyr washes over me like a tall cool glass of water.
I want to write “I miss you” on a stone and throw it to the bottom of the sea, never to be seen again, or remembered. May my demons be your delight. At midnight, in bed, I remember it all to well, and I die a little bit inside. It’s always the small things——-those restive eyes, the scent of campfire smoke in your hair, rainy day drives in the country, as the radio played one perfect song after another——- me writing you lousy lovestruck poems, cool sheets, warm skin, that one naive moment in time when we believed the outside world could do us no harm….Cause we had the temerity to carve out our own world.
Together we discovered hidden record stores, secret rundown coffee houses, dusty used bookstores—-places that belonged to a different time and place, places best suited for leper romantic’s.
For a while, we escaped a world that spurned the likes of us. By providence we found one another, someone to belong to——-something to believe in——-we wandered into that indescribable web of love——-my chest filled with hallelujah-
We turned ratty taverns into Parisian Salons, there, we’d engage one another in extraordinary conversations about life, death and purpose, sharing stories from our childhoods, expressing beauty and pain, prayers, promises, finding our breath in the words of the other.
Buzzed and giggling we fell up those stairs leading to that old hotel room. I swear we both could have died right then and there. Nightbirds sang outside the open window, the old neon sign hummed, laughter and music filtered from the streets below, our shadows on the wall becoming one, intertwined in the dark humid air————- Down there, in the streets, it was just another ordinary evening, with ordinary people doing ordinary things. With you, life was anything but ordinary. How were we to know that everything would unfold as if it were a Shakespearean play——our tragic comedy.
You’d think after unfurling through a million rejections I would have lost my self confidence. You’d think after all those polite, dismissive comments I’d throw up my hands and fade into the background. I thought those closest to me might toss me a bone, cause friends should understand what needs to be said—-even if it’s a lie—-but mister——-I refuse to beg.
I suppose others have their own moments of undoing——a silent desire for whispered condolences that go unspoken, until it’s far to late in the game, until it’s written for them in a Hallmark Card—–sincerity stained by obligation and too often regret—–that overwhelming feeling of regret that comes when awakening to the finality of it all.
The universe loves a fighter, at least that’s what I tell myself. I find few like me, swimming against the tide, a comfortable misfit, a beautiful pariah, a practiced oddball. I’m at home with the weary, with the ugly, the wandering ones wearing a lost look in their eyes. Cause, to be truly alive is to be totally lost, living in the gray areas, at odds with convention. Seekers must always go it alone. The cost of adventure is the possibility of coming out the other end changed, some for the better, others for the worse.
Pay attention to those in your circle, give them thunderous words of respect, cause if not from a friend———then whom?