Morning, Joe

Morning, Joe

Twenty-something Joe stepped out of his townhouse into the sun. Spokes of light bent their way around the few marshmallows in the sky and brushed the skin of his face. A faint breeze kissed his lips. A few townhouses down, a car alarm bleated; as typical a city morning as one gets. In the city, there’s always a car alarm going off. 

Joe and his neatly trimmed beard slipped under the cover of his knit beanie. It was still Spring after all and the sun wasn’t getting up so early that he was awake ahead of his morning coffee. In reality, Joe was never awake of his morning coffee, which is why he was outside this morning to begin with. The young man’s day never really started until that bitter black elixir slid down his throat. What is consciousness? Coffee, if you ask Joe.

The millennial took a step off his porch and stumbled as if he’d missed the step entirely. He grabbed the porch railing before slipping down the stairs entirely. Was it a lack of coffee? As his brain caught up to real time, Joe realized the earth had moved. Something had rapped against his eardrum but the nearby car alarm had drowned out the sound. Had there been an earthquake? A sudden volcano appearing downtown? Another thump followed by a blunt crash set off another nearby car’s alarm. Could this be the beginnings of an alien invasion? Joe would be ill equipped to deal with that before some black sunshine.

As Joe stepped onto the city sidewalk, he noticed a few other people looking around in confusion. An old woman across the street chided her chihuahua for barking up a storm, probably triggered by what Joe assumed to be explosions. Whatever was going on, Siri would probably know. Joe dug into his peacoat pocket to wrangle his phone. Another boom came, then another closer boom, and Joe’s phone tumbled out of his hand and into some dog shit someone neglected to police.  

He knelt down and debated grabbing his phone with his bare hands. He reached, then drew back, startled by the sound of a wave of city dwellers rounding the end of the block. They were running from something, their eyes intermittently thrown behind them to escape the inevitability that followed them. Joe was right in their path.

The phone wasn’t that important right now. He could always get a new one. What’s a grand on a phone even though you can barely pay the rent? A barely-affordable artisan coffee every morning dulls those kinds of blues. Joe stepped back onto the steps of his townhouse to avoid the rolling sea of fear.

“What’s going on?” Joe yelled to no one in particular as the mob raced by.

A disheveled man, not homeless, just uncaffeinated rang out, “They’re blowing up all the coffee shops!”

“What?” Joe shook his head. It sounded like one of those unimaginable things, like insurrectionists rioting in the U.S. Capitol.

“All the coffee shops are blowing up!” the broken man threw his hands in the air. “Probably terrorism! Argh!” he finished as he was swept away by the force of misery in company.

It took a few moments for the words to percolate. “Terrorism? Coffee shops? How…how will the economy function?” Joe asked himself rhetorically. After all, that was exactly the point. No coffee, no workee the popular meme goes. Nobody will want to work, even less than usual after the recent worldwide pandemic. Businesses will crash. More people will become homeless. Damn, only the stock market is safe; that keeps rising no matter how bad the news gets.

Joe looked in the direction he hadn’t heard any explosions. Maybe the shop on Galveston, he thought. Boom. Joe cursed himself for never asking his parents for a Keurig. But it’s just that making your own coffee takes so long and you have to make sure you have all thirteen ingredients. There was never much more in Joe’s kitchen besides a few cans of PBR, a bag of quinoa, and some organic veggies.

Another explosion, off in the distance. The thought of going out to the suburbs to find coffee had crossed Joe’s mind. Now he crossed it off his list. He backpeddled up the stairs. His soul protested the possibility of his routine grinding to a halt. How could he possibly press on?

Suicide was a solution, of course. Joe wasn’t trying to take such a sensitive issue lightly but it did seem a more reasonable option than living in a world without coffee. (He figured why would they stop with just the cafes? They’re probably burning all the coffee bean trees, too. Damn them, damn them to hell.) A world without coffee – the young man couldn’t help but think how wrong everyone at work was until he’d finished that first cup. Could he face coworkers that were wrong all day long?

Another throng of people rounded the corner, panicking like wild animals, totally not realizing they were using up whatever energy reserves they had. Your body can only remain in fight-or-flight mode so long before coffee is required to sustain the fight against horrible bosses. Of course they didn’t know what else to do, though, their brains weren’t really awake yet.

Neither was Joe’s. Surely something could be done about the situation. But what? The answer lie in caffeine but the caffeine was gone. No doubt someone was making a run on energy drinks right now and that might help in the short-term, at least until their adrenal glands died. However, it is a fact that energy drinks are not that ethereal, dark, bitter(sweet) liquid that is like a new lover in possession of that X-factor, that undistinguishable thing you would die for but cannot explain what it is. What to do then? What to do?

Joe’s neighbor, Tina – an Earl Grey swilling throwback to that second, embarrassing Woodstock – stepped out onto her landing next door. She pitched narrow eyes at the crowds running to-and-fro.

“What’s going on, Joe?”

He was about to explain when a forty-something man wearing a tweed jacket ran up Tina’s steps and put a pistol in her face. “You got coffee, lady?” he bellowed.

“Yes! Yes! I have a little bit..” Tina grimaced as she pointed through her door. The man shot her in the chest and stepped one foot inside her townhouse. He stopped and looked at Joe.

“You!” the murderer locked on. “You got any coffee in there?”

“No! No coffee in here!” Joe answered. Tina’s assailant shot Joe in the chest as well.

A lump formed in the young man’s throat, like the one you get when you’re in love, but not because of love. Peeling his hand off the gunshot wound, the hipster observed the crimson flow of his internal world. A cascade of life poured out of him.

Joe considered this. Coffee – so seemingly essential for life – pales in comparison to human blood. What is caffeine next to red and white blood cells, platelets, electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, fats, proteins, sugars, and of course, water? Sure, coffee can raise your blood pressure, but what if you’ve got no blood? It seemed to Joe that he never really valued what really made him tick. Why do people always ignore the fundamentals?

The question of suicide had been answered for him. He had spent his life a squirrel. The Universe provided the traffic.

Joe’s vision blackened like a dark roast. He crumpled to the ground in a heap with nothing to pick him up.

*Author’s Note – I admit I pun-ted the finale to this story. In my defense, this story was written completely caffeine-free.

Daniel’s Door

Daniel’s Door

The door was locked. Of course it was locked. Why wouldn’t it be locked? You need three keys to open it. The doorknob is a glass skull. And the door is engraved with strange symbols. When you come across the only door on the third story of your new home that is, of course, down the street from a cemetery, it’s going to be locked.

“Dad!” I yell down the stairwell. I don’t know if he can hear me; this house is really big. It’s bigger than any house we’ve lived in before. It looks like a small castle from the outside so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by a mysterious door.

“Dad! Did you know there’s a locked door up here on the third floor?” I look but don’t lean over the banister. It’s a little rickety. Dad’s going to fix that up real good. He’ll make it look great, then we’ll move again. “Dad!”

I see his head, just his head, tilt up from the bottom floor. (First the cemetery, then the door, now a disembodied head. This is only going to get worse, isn’t it?) Dad’s face is flushed red; he must be carrying something heavy into the house.

“Daniel! We’re a little busy down here. What is it?” he barks. He gets snippy when he’s busy and he forgets to eat something.

“There’s a door up here on the third floor. It’s got weird stuff written all over it and a glass skull for a doorknob. It’s locked. Do you have the keys?”

“What do you mean ‘keys’? I didn’t even know there was a door up there,” he says.

It’s a little strange that he doesn’t know about the door. He’s an architect with an eye for detail. That’s what mom says, anyway. He’s got, what did she call it? Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? With dad being so particular about things, mom likes to amuse herself by messing with him, like when she leaves the cap off the toothpaste. It’s mostly amateur stuff, although I’d hate to see what she’s capable of when she puts her mind to it.

“I’ll take a look at it later,” dad’s voice floats away with his head.

I try to look under the door but the quarter inch or so doesn’t give me much to work with. It does seems bright in there, though, more than sunlight can account for. Looking out the nearest window I can see nothing but grey sky. So, it’s definitely not sunlight. Is it a portal to another dimension? Something catches my ear.

I press me ear against the door so hard I’m going to bruise my cheek. It’s worth it, I decide. It’s worth it because there’s definitely someone in there. Find the three rabbits, they’re saying over and over. I peel my ear off the door slowly. Should I bother mom and dad with this? I thumb my lips. No, they’re busy. I can handle this.

Normally, I’d be bored with our new house by now and I’d be out exploring the neighborhood for the rest of the day. Okay, two or three days, over which time mom and dad think I’ve run away. But I’ve been twelve years old for five months; you’d think they’d trust me to know what I’m doing by now. I don’t know how many times I’ve told them that explorers aren’t runaways. They’re simply curious people. The local police don’t seem to understand this either. I’ve never wanted to be a policeman. They just obey orders.

I trundle down the winding staircase. My feet slap the first floor and I whip my head around. Dad’s out at the moving truck and mom’s in the kitchen looking around. She’s either lost something or planning a joke on dad. Not my problem.

“Mom!” My voice startles her and she clutches her shirt. She turns towards me. Before she can ask I put it to her. “Have you seen any rabbits around here?”

She closes her eyes and shakes her head. “Why on earth are you looking for a rabbit, honey?”

I put my hands out to stop her there. I dip my head. I don’t want to get snippy like dad. “Just, please, have you seen any rabbits?”

Mom looks out the back door into the vast, lush, but overgrown garden. “No, I haven’t seen any, but I’m sure there are some around, in a vegetable patch I imagine. This is a big piece of land.” Still staring out the door, she continues. “This one’s going to take a lot of work.” I don’t think she’s talking to me anymore, but then she returns her attention to me.

“Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer,” she directs me. Is she kidding?

I burst out the back door, a butterfly trying to race a bullet. Time is of the essence. At least I think it is. Wait, what if I’m dealing with a ghost? What does time mean to the dead? Question for another day. Finding myself surrounded by shrubs, flower beds, and broken pots, my eyes scour the ground for a rabbit. Nothing here in the backyard. I’ll have to go further afield.

I walk along the edge of the property where there’s a craggy, makeshift rock wall. At the furthest corner of the property I come upon a collection of statues. A fish, a dog, an owl; it’s like a petrified zoo. Whoever lived here before was weird. Whoever’s in that room doesn’t have time for this, so I turn away. I turn away and catch a glimpse of a small stone rabbit. Could this be what the person in the room is talking about?

I pick the statuette up and turn it over and over searching for a key. Nothing, so naturally I smash it on the ground. It crumbles into small grey chunks and dust. After seeing that there’s no key inside of the statuette, I wonder if mom and dad will be upset that I’m breaking stuff. I don’t usually do things like this so it’ll give dad something new to yell at me about. A thought like that would usually make me sad, until I see something poking out of the ground nearby. Clearly not a rock or a stick I tug it out of the ground and shake the dirt off of it. It’s a skeleton key, as in, it’s made to look like it was made out of bones. It’s metal, of course, and caked with soot. Someone tried to destroy this key. Obviously they failed and tossed it away. Careless. This has to be what I’m looking for.

I have to find two more keys to open the door. It seems I’m not looking for actual rabbits so my eyes dart around the landscape, searching for another stone rabbit. A good mystery isn’t going to just give itself up so easily, though, so maybe I should be looking for something else that looks like a rabbit. I’ll have to hurry; the sky has gotten darker. It’s either getting late or it’s going to rain, hard.

The yard around the house is bigger than I thought. I’ve circled the perimeter three times now and I can’t come up with anything else. There is this one knotty tree with its roots all gnarled at the ground. Maybe I am looking for an actual rabbit. I look for a rabbit hole and it looks like there may be one. It’s not too big but then I don’t know how big the rabbits get out here. I stick my hand into the abyss which winds up being nothing more than a deep gouge in the earth. I have to admit I’m a little frustrated. I lean against the tree and toss my head back.

Ow! There’s a huge knot in the bark and it bites me. I spin around and give it a glare as if it should know better. Only – I tilt my head to the right – it looks kind of like a rabbit at this angle. There must be a key around here somewhere! I circle the tree, looking up, then down, then up. What’s that on that branch? A rabbit’s foot? And there’s a key chained to it. I’ll have to climb and go out on a limb for it, maybe even jump for it. Mom always calls me her little monkey. It shouldn’t be that hard.

About eight feet into the canopy I try to balance on the branch. It’s not strong enough and I hear an audible snap. I leap for the keychain, grabbing it with one hand while latching onto the branch with the other. I swing, a chime in the wind, and the branch breaks completely. I sail, first like a paper, then like a rock. Landing on my back knocks the wind out of me. I’m okay but I could have done without that happening. Why do action heroes in the movies always look like they don’t mind being nearly blown up? At least I have the key. I open my hand. It’s a regular key, a little rusty. One more to go.

I stand up and brush the debris off me. I don’t know where to look next or what I might be looking for. My face scrunches up to one side. I know, mom, I know; Your face will freeze like that if you keep making that face. Watermelon seeds sprouting in my stomach, getting cramps if I swam after eating, Santa…I don’t know if I can believe her anymore. No more than I believe what just skittered across my feet.

A white rabbit, or was it a bolt of lightning? It was moving fast and dodged into the shrubs a few yards away. I put one foot in front of the other and I’m there not nearly as quickly. Here little rabbit, I try to coo. I need your help. After rustling through some brush, it bolts again, back towards the house then makes a sharp turn to the right. It’s in and out of the groundcover. I’m never going to catch that thing! It’s like it’s late for a very important…hmm.

Why don’t you go read a book instead? There’s a collection of classic fairy tales in the study just off the foyer, I remember mom saying. Let’s see; a white rabbit, a collection of fairy tales, and now I’m the bolt of lightning. I’m in the house so quickly the thought of maybe being able to catch the rabbit after all gets left behind. I zig, I zag, and I’m in the study. I run a hand along the books lining the shelves. The sweet smell of mom’s dinner wafts in the room and it threatens to distract me. It’s foolish to undertake an adventure on an empty stomach – that’s what mom always says – but I don’t know if time is running out. Besides, mom’s concoctions might smell good but they can be inconsistent. My eyes and hands continue their search.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Found it! Can it really be this easy? (Not that I haven’t spent most of my day on this.) I pull the book so hard it slips out of my hands and thumps against the floor. A long gold key with its bow fashioned into a heart tumbles across the floor. I don’t question the key-maker’s motives. I’ve found the three keys!

I whip across the house back towards the staircase. I almost knock dad over, forcing him to drop the box he was carrying. Clishhh! Must’ve been the breakables. Mom tries to grab me by the arm with half her heart and fails. I’m the white rabbit now, too fast for her. I barely hear her say dinner’s ready. It’s like a something I heard once in the past.

My sneakers screech across the floor so I don’t slam into the door. “I’m coming,” I whisper loudly to whoever’s inside. With a shaky hand that can barely contain a childlike curiosity – but remember, I’m practically an adult now – I try the various lock and the rusted key is first to match the tumblers. The skeleton key is next, though I had to jiggle that one a bit. I break out the heart key; I’m so close! But the lock sticks and I’m turning, turning, turning. I back off and wring my hands because I don’t want the key to break. I force the lump in my throat down, put my fingers on the key, and turn gently. Clack! The seal is broken. The door creeks open an inch. What will I discover? I take frightening doorknob in my hand and push.

The room is flooded with the light of two rectangular lamps posted on a tripod, the kind dad uses when he’s working in a basement or attic. The voice? It’s coming from the window directly in front of me. I walk over to the sill where I find a plastic device the size of my hand. It has various buttons, almost like some kind of phone but not really. I think I’ve seen dad use this thing to remind himself of important stuff. But why is he whispering, Find the three rabbits? Are they…are they messing with me? I spent all day on this!

“Daniel, dinner’s ready. Come eat,” I hear my mom call from the depths. A freight train is running through my head.

I trudge down the stairs one-step-at-a-time. It’s not a death march; I’m taking my time trying to figure out what I’m going to say and what I’m going to do. It appears I am up against enemies with no conscience. I don’t know what to do about that.

At rock bottom, I put my hand on the banister and swing myself towards the kitchen. Mom and dad are sitting at the kitchen table. Some kind of slop is steaming up the place. I force my shoulders down and narrow my eyes.

“Whose. Idea. Was It?” I demand.

They look at each other, look at me, then at each other again. They simultaneously blame one another. Then dad tells her, “I told you it was a bad idea.” My mother’s head and shoulders slope.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she implores. “I just didn’t want you disappearing like you always do. Just once I wanted our first night in a new house to be the three of us having a nice family dinner.”

“Did you help her?” My clipped voice aims for dad.

“Well, yes, Daniel,” dad confesses. “But I only made the door and set things up. Your mother was the mastermind.”

“Actually, it’s quite funny,” mom smiles. “Your father wanted the door to look real. He really took his time with it.” She smiles and puts her hand on his. “It almost wasn’t ready in time.”

I walk towards the kitchen table, yank my chair out, plop myself down, and yank myself towards something that’s probably poisonous. What a waste of time. I’ve had friends who see a therapist and I never knew why. Now I get it. Now they’re going to get it. I draw a deep breath, a dragon about to breathe fire.

“The next time we move,” I begin, stabbing a piece of meat with my pitchfork, “I am so running away.”

 

All Rights Reserved © May 2020 John J Vinacci

The Funeral

The Funeral

I hate these goddamn things. If I never go to another funeral it’ll be too soon.

Chuck’s mother is crying. She’s always crying. Everything’s a fucking Hallmark moment with her. Or do I mean Lifetime Special? My thinking gets cloudy in these situations, situations where you need to find some words of consolation, but words escape you. So I put my hand on her shoulder but it doesn’t ease her hyperventilating. It’s no use. I slip my hand in my pocket and fumble around. I need a cigarette.

I’ve smoked for a long time but I don’t need a cigarette; it’s just something you do in these situations when you can’t think of anything to do or say. It’s a distraction. There’s something comforting in the habit. I don’t even have to look; I’ve done it so many times I can slide a cancer stick out of the package and bring it to my lips like I’m on autopilot. I can even bring fire, the lighter, to the tip of the cigarette based on muscle memory alone. I thumb for the chick chick of the lighter but there’s a stiff breeze. I’m puffing away but I ain’t getting anything. The wind is too much, fucking November. There’s nothing you can do about a change of seasons.

My wife, Becca, she’s giving me that look, that look that says, Wow, you really fucked up and at the same time is also looking through you because she just can’t deal. At least she’s not blubbering like Chuck’s mother. Nah, Becca will pull through this. We’re doing the wake at our place and we’ve got a lot of alcohol. While I worry about how much she drinks sometimes, you can’t discount alcohol’s medicinal effects given the circumstances. Who needs a doctor when Jack Daniels makes house calls? Humph. Where was that wisdom when I was at the bar with Chuck?

He insisted on driving us home, stupid fuck. I told him, No way, you’ve had too much to drink. I’ve only had a six-pack. ‘Only.’ He blew me off, tried to get into the driver’s seat and turn the ignition. But I’m a true friend and a responsible adult or some shit like that so I grabbed him by the arm and tore him out of the car. I tried to wrestle him down and keep him grounded but he thrashed like a bitch. Good thing he punches like a bitch, too. I’d gotten the keys, got in the car and revved her up; told him to get his bitch ass in. I guess he’d seen me in one too many brawls, though, and he’d learned to fight dirty. I turned my head towards the window to see where he’d gone off to when the motherfucker sniped me with a rock. Holy fuck; my head swelled up like a melon. He pushed me into the passenger seat and took the wheel.

I don’t know how long I reeled from that blindsiding. All I remember is hearing Led Zeppelin on the radio while trying to sit upright and putting my eyes on the road. Immediately I thought, What’s a fucking tree doing in the middle of the road? We weren’t in the middle of the road, of course. Chuck wrapped his classic red Pontiac ’65 right around that pine. Never gonna see that beauty again. Huh, I wonder if the casket is made out of pine. Nah, looks more like oak. I guess Chuck’s mother splurged, used all the money she’d been saving for the wedding he was never gonna have anyway. Sorry son-of-a-bitch, even blow-up dolls have turned him down.

I look at Chuck. He’s wearing a black suit. You kidding me? He’s never worn a suit in his life. I doubt it was his idea; his mother must’ve insisted. Why do people do that, try to make you look as good as possible right before they put you in the ground? They say nice things, act like you were Mother Theresa. You know what I want to say to Chuck? You should’ve let me drive, asshole. And he was an asshole. He was such an asshole he could make whatever bad time you were having even worse. In other words, he made me look good. You need friends like that.

Crap, rain’s starting to come down. Figures, the one time the weatherman gets it right. At least I ain’t getting wet.

Everyone is starting to take their seats under the canopy, waiting for the eulogy. What the fuck for? Someone just died. You’d think the living should be dancing and celebrating life, not engaging in some morose metaphor for death. Yeah, I get that we’re all sad someone passed away but fuck, we’re not the dead ones so don’t double down on that shit. I don’t know how many times I’ve told Becca, When I die, throw a big fucking party. Dance your asses off. Don’t be sad. Have a good fucking time. I try to take her hand. She won’t look at me now.

The pastor is trying to light our candles but that damn wind again. If he does get the fucking thing lit, I’m gonna go have a smoke. I’m going to stand up, walk away, and turn the cigarette in my hand to ash. Chuck would understand. Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. That’s what he’d want his tombstone to say, not this Beloved Son shit they’ve got going on.

What would I want my tombstone to say? Here lies Jerry, died from not forwarding an email to ten people. Because what’s not a joke anymore? Even this pastor; this pastor’s a joke. He’s talking about what great friends we were, like he knew us at all, like he knows me. Sure, Chuck and I were best friends. Yes, I fucked up when I didn’t get the keys from him. At least I tried. I tried to do the right thing so give me a fucking break. I think that’s what the pastor’s saying. I don’t know. I’m really not paying attention to him anymore. I tune out the second people start talking shit about me.

I keep waiting for him to finish. This is Chuck’s funeral after all. Say something about Chuck. Who give a fuck if I’m married and got a ki…aw, fuck.

“Hey, man, what’s up?” Chuck asks me.

“Chuck,” I stand up, “Just when I think you can’t keep going on being the biggest asshole forever, you pull this shit.” A warm smile spreads across that pear-shaped head of his.

“Do you think we’re going to heaven now?” he says. With all the shit we’ve done how the fuck would I know? I don’t like our odds.

“We’re gonna try,” I reply, getting off his mother’s lap. “At least with you standing next to me, I got a shot of getting in.” Chuck’s smile turns upside down.

“You know what?” he chews, his tone a little salty. “If I’m such a big asshole, it’s because I learned from the best.”

I look down at the cigarette that isn’t even there. Going to heaven? Like I said, I don’t like our odds.

 

All Rights Reserved © April 2020 John J. Vinacci

My Top 10 Most Influential Albums

My Top 10 Most Influential Albums

Music has been important to me for as long as I can remember. A song always has some kind of effect on me, even if it’s to speak ill of it. My taste in music tends to be eclectic, which makes sense given my personality, though I do tend towards the rock genres. (I’m also another cliché white boy who loves some EDM from time to time.) Although songs are of great importance, sometimes their importance is magnified given an album they might appear on. But sometimes an album is greater than the sum of its songs for other reasons. What with the way modern music is distributed, the album has basically died, which is unfortunate because there are so many great ones. What follows is a list of albums that have been important to me in my development and existence as a human being. It’s a highly personal list, but one I never get tired of ruminating on.

10-AC/DC “Back in Black” – Simply a classic album that showed the world how danceable hard rock could be (for strippers). There are ten songs on the album and every single one hits the mark. This was the album that first featured new singer Brian Johnson after former singer Bon Scott had tragically died. AC/DC the band was certainly not dead and would continue to be a powerhouse band for many years to come. This album was also instrumental in developing my taste for rock music.

9-Y&T “Down for the Count” – Until I heard Y&T I’d been listening to metal out of Britain and east coast hard rock bands (on heavy MTV rotation) like Twisted Sister. But Y&T had a distinctly west coast vibe, encapsulated by their one MTV hit Summertime Girls, a song that may have put them on the map but didn’t really capture the entirety of what they were about. Dave Meniketti, the singer-guitarist and writer whom the band was centered upon had both an underappreciated rock voice and guitar skills. In my own song-writing, Y&T is whose sound I try to emulate if I’m not trying to mimic Judas Priest. While this album will never wind up on anyone’s Top 500 list besides mine, it introduced me to a sound I’d appreciate forever.

8-Lisa Loeb and Nine Stories “Tails” – There’s nothing complicated about Tails. Loeb’s debut album is simple, straightforward acoustic alt-pop (and sometimes rock). I like that Loeb’s music is uncomplicated and frankly, her voice just does it for me. I’ve been a big fan ever since and I’ve seen her play live more times than anyone else except for Joan Jett. If there’s anyone I try to imitate acoustically, it’s Lisa Loeb.

7-Twisted Sister “Stay Hungry” – Stay Hungry is an album that came along at exactly the right time in history for both the world and myself as I developed y rebellious streak. It demonstrated that rock could be simultaneously aggressive and fun, a perfect metaphor for the 80’s. But the album was also smart and socially conscious and I respected that. Finally, Dee Snider’s voice is probably my second male singing voice after Rob Halford of Judas Priest.

6-‘Til Tuesday “Everything” – I’d never heard alt-pop before until my roommate in the army had bought this album and played it tirelessly for an entire month. I actually hated it at first but it grew on me like a barnacle. Since this was the MTV’s one-ht-wonder’s last album (you might remember their song Voice’s Carry), I would go on to become a huge fan of Aimee Mann who’s lyrics and musical phrasings I believe are so unique as to be quietly legendary.

5-Aimee Mann “Whatever” – While Mann’s last ‘Til Tuesday album (see #6) had to grow on me, I was hooked on this, her solo debut album right from the start. Every song is simply a master class in alt-pop songwriting and producing. And, god, her lyrics, so sublime – no one does a screwed-up relationship song better than Mann. Best of all, her songs would only get better from here.

4-Judas Priest “Screaming for Vengeance” – A classic hard rock album that captured the raw essence of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was as melodic as it was aggressive. It was the first album in some time that I immediately sensed a theme in and identified with. I absolutely loved the guitar work on this album and have always wanted to play like KK Downing and Glenn Tipton. (No such luck.) And, of course, Rob Halford’s voice is not to be trifled with. He’s a metal icon for a reason.

3-Metallica “Master of Puppets” I picked up this album because I heard some kids in high school talking about how incredible it was. I had no idea what genre they were but I had figured, why not try it? I was sitting down to do my math homework when I popped the cassette in and the opening bars of Battery kicked my ass so hard I was sore for a week. I’d never heard music that hard before and needless to say I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without it. Master of Puppets spoke to my dark side, a side every teenager is eager – and sometimes actually willing – to explore.

2-Green Day “American Idiot” I was already a Green Day fan because of Dookie so this was a no-brainer purchase. The album was released in 2004, a time by which I’d come to see the flaws in the concept of American exceptionalism. American Idiot summed up everything I was thinking about America at the time but also demonstrated a more complex and nuanced approach to music than Green Day had demonstrated before. This was the first album I ever learned to play (on guitar) in its entirety.

1-The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper” This was not my first Beatles album but my first exposure to a concept album and I thought that was really cool and something only the Beatles could pull off. (Sure, I know differently now.) This is also probably the first album I ever heard that I considered to be flawless. I can’t tell you how many times I stood on my parent’s coffee table when they weren’t home and pretended to play guitar to this album. Strangely, although I actually do play guitar now, I can’t play a single song off Sgt. Pepper.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

Memories of the Ice Cream Man

There are not a lot of memories I can call dear. I’ve been around the Sun four dozen or so times now and I admit that it hasn’t all been unicorns and rainbows, though I did live in Hawaii for several years. As it happens, most memories are mired in a struggle against existential grief, apparently satiated only by worldly pleasures such as candy and ice cream. As a child, these items were not as plentifully provided by my parental units as I or any other child would have liked. Instead this task fell to the local ice cream man who, simply by virtue of his wares, was a saint.

His name was Mario if I recall correctly, which I found odd because he was Italian and coming from an Italian family I’d never heard of an Italian with that name. (Only later did I learn I was in fact Sicilian, which may have contributed the confusion.) Mario was probably mid-forties and, despite a gravelly voice, as kind and gentle a man could be without being effeminate. And although he drove the standard boxy white truck which blared tired carnival music, there was no hint of him being the serial killer we all – as adults – imagine ice cream men to be. (Okay, maybe that’s just me.)

Mario had everything – ice cream cones, ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops, popsicles, icees, shakes, candy, trading cards, even small fireworks like sparklers, poppers, caps, and smoke bombs. This in sharp contrast to the hated Mr. Softy ice cream man who always drove through the neighborhood so fast you thought he was a retiree from the Indy 500 circuit. Perhaps he knew the territory belonged to Mario, that Mario offered more than Mr. Softy’s pathetic line-up of four soft ice cream flavors, and/or that he hated kids so why did he even come around? Undoubtedly, his wife had nagged him to get a job, any job.

Mario typically came around the block anywhere between two and five o’clock Monday through Saturday. Though you could never be sure exactly when he’d come around, he would come around. He was as reliable as Mr. Softy driving through the neighborhood at 60mph. In contrast, Mario drove never more than a cool 20mph, so you usually had time to go fetch some money once you heard his music.

Funny, our sensitivity to sound was as heightened as a dogs when it came to the ice cream man. As my friends and I usually played baseball in my yard in the afternoon one of us would inevitably perk our heads up and speak in haste, “Did you hear that?” Then everyone would stop and listen. Was it just the wind? No, no. Wait to be sure…then, “ICE CREAM MAN!” My friends and I would scramble like roaches to go find spare change anywhere; in the junk drawer, between the couch cushions, behind the washer, in mom’s purse. Back then you only needed a dime and you would score something, maybe only a stick of gum; it didn’t really matter what. The only question was once we heard the ice cream man did we have enough time to scavenge any coin? It was more than once that my friends and I, too into our own little world or perhaps it was atmospheric conditions, that we didn’t hear Mario in time, in which we’d politely wave as he passed. In time, whenever we heard Mario coming we instinctively knew how far away he was and how much time we had. By that point, though, Mario’s round were becoming less frequent.

I don’t know what the average career life-expectancy is for ice cream men (or women) but certainly though their numerous transactions they come to know their customers too well, meaning, they know when children have come too far along and have discovered their libido. Can candy and ice cream really via for a youngster’s attention any longer? Not savvy to this possibility, my friends and I often speculated why Mario didn’t come around much anymore. We ultimately concluded, based on no more evidence than greying hair, that Mario was having health problems. We could understand and accept that. For what other reason could this mainstay in our lives abandon us? We certainly couldn’t ask him forthwith; our balls hadn’t dropped yet. Besides, it seemed it would have been impolite. Eventually he stopped coming around altogether. Or perhaps we all moved away. Nothing good lasts forever, but at least there was goodness to be had at all. The symbiotic relationship was good while it lasted. It’s better to reflect on that than the inevitable conclusion least such dwellings drive you mad.

I’m thankful for Mario’s venture into capitalism. He was always kind and always patient as my friends and I aggressively crowded his window, clawing at each other to be the first to order before something ran out. His persona, that corny carny music, that unmistakably box on wheels plastered with vibrant advertisements – for so long it was something certain in a world we hadn’t yet learned was completely bonkers. It was a simpler time, for sure, with no need to analyze the meaning of life, no deeper meaning needed to make sense of it all. Looking back I think we forget how much beauty there is in simplicity. A child needs little more than a shot of dopamine once the sugar hits their bloodstream. A loving family perhaps? A child can have both as long as there’s an ice cream man around.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) April 2020 John J Vinacci

Knucklehead Da Kat

Knucklehead Da Kat

He went out not at all like he came in; a crotchety old man who didn’t give a crap except to be brushed and fed on time, his wet food served exactly the way he wanted less he walk away with that perpetual look of distain upon his face. Yes, he always had that look on his face, not at all uncommon to cats, that you were a complete idiot. Perhaps he was right – humans, so foolish as to enter voluntarily into the co-enslavement that is pet ownership. People don’t always see it that way, but cats like Knucklehead are nobody’s fool. The closer the end got, the less he suffered them. Everyone’s patience runs out eventually.

The first time I met Knucklehead was when my future wife brought me back to her house after one of our dates. She informed me that her Maine Coon was quite skittish, perhaps something in his stray youth having scarred him so badly he was forever on guard. My future wife said I would never be able to get very close, but alas the first time Knucklehead and I laid eyes upon each other he did grace me with but a sniff, cautiously approaching me then backing away just as slowly as if to intone, “Conceivably, perchance, this one is not a complete moron.”

In the preceding years Knucklehead tolerated me, is the best way to put it. He would allow me to pet him for a few moments from time to time, at least until my wife and I got it in our heads that Knucklehead was lonely and needed a friend. We brought home Niles from the Humane Society one July day and it was hate at first sight. Perhaps in understanding that Niles was my cat friend, Knucklehead revoked my petting privileges for some time. No one speaks much of the memory of cats but they are on par with elephants. I was not allowed to touch Knucklehead anymore until I had learned to master The Brush, which I began at first by always catching Knucklehead when he was asleep. By the time he was roused, he was enjoying himself. Though I eventually redeemed myself, there would always be the Niles Incident between us. At least until my wife and I moved to Hawaii.

The weather in Hawaii agreed with Knucklehead, of which he spoke, “The weather here agrees with me.” Our first few nights in Hawaii he was quite vocal about this fact and strained through many a night to let his people roaming freely outside know that he had arrived. In the past seven years of living in Hawaii, Knucklehead grew less skittish and stopped running every time someone new entered the house. It was as if he reached a point and realized that no human bore him ill will, though to be sure, humans were still idiots but they were harmless enough not to walk away from out of feline nature. Who has that much energy? Kittens.

Feeling at home the last few years, Knucklehead settled into regularly schedule times he expected to be brushed and fed. I’d never known a cat to mark the shifting of the sun throughout the seasons and still know exactly what time it was. “Yes, I know it’s still dark out but it is 7:30am. Get the fucking brush.” (I’m paraphrasing, of course.)

As the want to move back to the Mainland grew in my wife’s heart, so did Knucklehead protest by staging ‘die-ins’ in which he would give himself things like pancreatitis every four months thereby making us feel he was too sick to fly back to the continental U.S. But time caught up to him, like it will for all of us, and soon he was no longer pretending. Sometimes we’d catch him staring at the wall for unusually long stretches, no longer able to proceed down that already long flowchart cats keep in their head about making key decisions about whether to go to the bathroom. He kept eating, though, but also losing weight. He kept walking around, though, but was obviously uncomfortable sitting down. He kept sticking it to us humans, making us wonder, “Maybe he’ll be alright?” That’s a cat for you, keeping you guessing right ‘til the end because despite all their intelligence, they’re still jerks.

Except Knucklehead. He really was a good boy. He deserves his peace. I hope I was a good father, that I did make him laugh, that I did brush him well, and made his food palatable. If not he’ll be right there with Saint Peter at the pearly gates to whisper in Peter’s ear, “No, not this one. He’s an idiot. He thought I liked him.”

Knucklehead Da Kat passed away on Wednesday, 02.12.2020 after 20 some odd years of shedding wherever the hell he damn well pleased.

Knucklehead 2

The Forgetting

The Forgetting

The face

In this picture

Looks sort of

Familiar

The eyes I have seen

But the name rather distant

When was the time the immeasurable date

Echoes of a standing ovation?

 

A lover

Stranger than fiction

Dragged by the winds

‘Til barely a whisper

The years are a museum

Ancient and inconsistent

When was goodbye? It escapes all my guesses

An eternal sunshine of repression

 

I’ve forgotten it

Don’t remember bliss

Too long ago

Too far away

It all slipped away

If we ever kissed

Memory’s a ship

That sailed long ago

So far away

It all slipped away

 

A voice

On the phone

Sounds like

I haven’t heard it before

The words I all know

But their meaning non-existent

Why are we speaking about magic defeated?

Don’t make me relive history retreated

 

I’ve forgotten it

Don’t remember bliss

Too long ago

Too far away

It all slipped away

If we ever kissed

Memory’s a ship

That sailed long ago

So far away

It all slipped away

It all slipped away

It all sailed away

So far away.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) November 2019 John J Vinacci

Throwing Roses

Throwing Roses

I’ll meet you at the wedding

All dressed in black

By the seaside

For what our friends have,

Unlike our ride

Before the swell crashed

They’re guided by something

In the stars we never had.

 

This is their time;

We’ll never find a way, so,

 

Let’s throw our roses

Into the ocean

Into every drop of water

That surprised us,

Let’s throw all of our roses

Into the ocean

And one of us can

Swim for the horizon.

 

Do you hear their

Undying love be cast?

Stronger than the waves

That crush the sand,

Unlike their vows

Our undertow lasts

To pull us out unexpectedly

Far from the land.

 

This is their time;

We never could find the way…

 

We never could swim

Against the facts

But right now it’s still

Polite to raise a glass,

We’ll wait until the

Winds are holding fast

To throw our roses and

Toast the never-will-haves.

 

This is their time;

We’ll never find a way, so,

 

Let’s throw our roses

Into the ocean

Into every teardrop of water

That surprised us,

Let’s throw all of our roses

Into the ocean

I promise I’ll wave to you

From the horizon.

 

All Rights Reserved (c) Sept. 2019 John J Vinacci

Spartan Race Sprint Hawaii 2019

Spartan Race Sprint Hawaii 2019

IMG_3378

For some time I’ve been wondering what it would be like to run an obstacle course race. It looks challenging and fun, but at my ripe old age did I even have enough gas left in the tank to actually do it? I’ve tried to stay fit throughout my years. This would be taking it to another level, though.

I would have already known what it was like last year had Hurricane Lane not interrupted and cancelled the race. Even though I was terribly disappointed by that, just as well because after running this year’s event, I felt like I would have been underprepared for the run. I did train last year but with my age advancing I wanted to train harder this year and see what I could still prove. (We all have issues with getting older. I suppose losing physical ability is mine.) And so I was off to the island of Oahu in the dead of August.

IMG_3376

I was quite nervous as I worked my way up to the front of the starting line. You can watch all the videos you want on Youtube; it’s not going to prepare you much for what actually happens. So I just wanted to go, go, go. But the event emcee kept my start group waiting. Start time was supposed to be 2pm but a lot of jawjacking kept us in the brutal sun and humidity for an extra 15 minutes. My full body compression gear was keeping me cool at first, wicking away the moisture, but it would become a liability later on.

Finally we were off! and at no point did I think about how much fun I was supposed to be having – it was all business for the next 3.7 – 4 miles. (Course length varied depending upon who you talked to. Official estimate is 4 miles, an extra mile I hadn’t counted on in training since the Sprint was advertised as 3 miles.) I was jogging most of the way seeking to keep up with many of the younger participants and service members ahead of me. I stayed with them through the first half mile, easily conquering the first hurdles. Then came the 8 foot wall.

My first jump to try and grab the top missed and this kind of freaked me out. This was the first ‘hard’ obstacle and many people were helping each other or cheating by using the frame on the side of the wall. I didn’t want that, though. I wanted to do this right. My second jump just got hold of the top and I was able to use my core strength to swing the rest of my body up and over. Phew! I was worried for a second. Then I did worry as I came to the monkey bars and saw a ton of people falling off. I was trying to avoid the burpees penalty for failing an obstacle at all cost, so I took a moment to clear my head. The strategy to wear gloves also came in handy as I got through this one easier than expected. My success buoyed me but it was getting hotter than hell by now.

9

After jogging for a while, I came to the Atlas Carry – a concrete ball about 115 pounds. I trained for this one by carrying my wife to bed every night and I’ll be damned, the training actually helped. Two more ‘carry’ obstacles waited in short order, though. By the time I got through the Bucket Brigade, during which I questioned myself as to why I was doing this, I was pretty gassed. (Whoever planned the three ‘carry’ obstacles in a row is an evil genius.) So I had to take off my top around now as it was just too hot. The heat was just absolutely brutal and probably the worst obstacle overall.

I was reduced to a fast walk now like many other participants save the occasional 100 foot jog. Then the rope climb came and I tried to be ‘kind’ and let some people coming up behind me go first while I collected myself. Oh, no, no, no; they insisted I go first. Damn. I looked up the rope and I though, This looks higher than in the videos. The rope felt real slick and I had trouble getting the right foot hold at first. Fortunately, I’d done a lot of upper body training and muscled my way up which again felt good. I felt my left hamstrings strain on the way down for some reason but I did my best to ignore it and carry on.

Some easy obstacles later I came to the Sled Drag and of course I picked the wrong lane and the sled I picked got stuck in a rut right away. I couldn’t get it out so I asked for the burpee penalty area but the observer saw what had happened and allowed me to pick another lane. Phew! That to me makes up for seeing people cheat earlier. Unfortunately the Spear Throw came next and I knew I’d probably fail this like almost everyone and I did. I headed off to do my burpees. As I was doing them, countless people were coming up and doing a penalty burpee or two and then continuing the race; you’re supposed to do 30! That really irritated me – were they going to go home and brag about how they did the Spartan Race? Maybe I was taking this too seriously. I suppose that’s okay for me and I guess for other people it’s a Fun Run. Whatever, I guess.

A little ticked off, I jumped into muddy water to scale the Mud Wall and…I couldn’t do it. It was SO slippery and I wasn’t wearing shoes with any traction. I couldn’t dig my fingers far enough into the mud to use my upper body. I started panicking because I didn’t want to do more burpees. I wallowed in the mud for some time until I happened to spot a rock I could get a toe on and it proved just enough. I really wasted a lot of time there. I was relieved to see the finish line ahead, though, as we came out of the brush.

With mud all over my gloves and hands I came to the feared MultiRig/O-Rings. I’d forgot my strategy having spent too much time trying to dry my hands to no avail – my hand slipped right off the second ring anyway and I was off to do burpees again, again to see most people failing not bothering. The Tower afterward was no problem and the Hercules Hoist was tough but the ending fire jump was ahead. As I jogged downhill I could feel my lower legs were not happy. Thank god it was over was what I was thinking. Good grief!

IMG_E3381

11Would I do it again? I dunno. The aftereffects were not pleasant at all as my legs are prone to cramping even on a regular day. And my upper body got more and more sore as the next day wore on. My race results make me feel better about it, though. I finished 12th out of 104 people in my age group for the Sprint, so, not bad for my first time. I would have preferred top 10, but I’ll take it. How much do I hate myself? If I do it again, that’ll answer the question.

IMG_3377

Obstacle Difficulty (to me) 1-5, 5 being very hard; 6 is failing.

Hurdles – 1

6’ and 7’ walls – 1

8’ wall – 3

Monkey Bars – 3

A-Frame Cargo Net – 1

Atlas Carry – 3.5

Sandbag Carry – 3.5

Barbwire Crawl – 3

Bucket Brigade – 4

Rope Climb – 4

Inverted Wall – 1

Sled Drag – 3

Spear Throw – 6

Mud Wall – 5.5

MultiRig – 6

Tower – 1

Hercules Hoist – 4.5

Fire Jump – 1

Doing the race in brutal Hawaiian heat – 5.75

Trying to find my wife after the race – 7 (She wasn’t where she was supposed to be!)