Glass Made of Diamonds
Spring is here and business is picking up. I put an ad in the paper saying “34 years in the valley” which got a flood of responses from old ladies who've been in the valley since before I was born, including a Mrs. H. who as soon as I answered the phone started in on how the county is leaning on her to replace her old windows, half of which consist of small diamond-shaped panes. The putty is falling out, air leaks in, and the county, which gives Mrs. H heating-bill assistance, says they won't continue to do so unless she agrees to let them replace the diamond-shaped glass with thermo panes. “Nuts to that,” says Mrs. H.
“How can I help you?” I ask when she's done going off on the county.
“Come clean my windows,” says Mrs. H. “I saw your ad in the paper. Sounds like you must know what you're doin' by now.”
I go over to have a look.
Mrs. H lives in a dilapidated two-story house that leans hard to the east. The paint is peeling off the thin wood trim between the small panes of glass, and the panes themselves are splattered with paint from a long-ago paint job.
Inside the house, the window sills are crowded with blue, green and red glass vases to refract whatever light manages to get in. All the windows have heavy drapes, pulled to the side and held in place with loops of cord nailed to the walls. The place is jam-packed with old furniture, ratty couches and arm chairs with doilies on the armrests, coffee tables, end tables and bureaus covered with framed photos of children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, and in the other direction, people born in the 19th century. You can't move without bumping into something, and just managing to get to a window, leave alone clean it, presents a major challenge.
“Don't get around like I used to,” says Mrs. H. “No cartilage in my knees.” Her hair is dyed pitch-black, her eyebrows are penciled in, and she wears deep red lipstick. She walks with an oak cane. “I just turned 96 last week,” she says. “My husband Del ain't but 92. I married a younger man. He'll be pulling in any minute now, he's off playing his mouth harp for the ladies down at the old folks home, does it once a week rain or shine, flirts with all of 'em. Keeps him young.”
Just then a pickup pulls into the gravel driveway and out pops Del, a wiry, slightly hunched man with a head of shaggy grey hair, wearing red suspenders over a plaid wool shirt, faded jeans and work boots.
“Who's this young fella?” Del asks suspiciously when he barges in the door.
“He's the window cleaner, Del,” says Mrs. H. “I told you I was gonna get hold of a window cleaner.”
I stand up and shake Del's hand. “How do you do, sir,” I say.
“I been playing my harmonica for the gals!” Del says, and he whips a three-octave Hohner from his shirt pocket and launches into Danny Boy.
Mrs. H sits in an arm chair with her hands folded in her lap and beams up at him. “Ain't that the cat's meow?” she says when he's finished with Danny Boy, a compliment that spurs Del into Red River Valley.
“They don't play harmonica like that no more,” Del informs me when he's done playing, taps out his harmonica in the palm of his hand and sticks it back in his shirt pocket.
“No sir,” I say, “they don't.”
“You ever heard them songs before, young fella?” Del asks me.
“Yes sir, I have. I play a little harp myself.”
“You don't say!” says Del. “Whip it on out then!”
“I don't have it on me,” I say.
“Don't have it on you?” says Del. He finds it hard to believe that anyone who plays harmonica wouldn't have one in his pocket.
“I'm working,” I say, an explanation that doesn't carry much weight with Del but brings us back to the subject of windows.
We settle on a price for the whole ground floor and set a date and a time. They don't write any of it down.
“Make sure you bring that harmonica when you come do the windows,” Del says as he escorts me to the door, while behind his back Mrs. H is waving and blowing kisses my way. “I ain't played with no one in ages,” says Del. “Used to, but they all up and died.”
“I look forward to it,” I say, and Del plays Turkey in the Straw in the doorway as I walk to my van parked on the street.
Under the Bridge
It was the middle of the night, and I was hunched under a bridge with Charles Bukowski on the outskirts of L.A. We had some stale rolls and a tin of sardines, but Bukowski said we needed some ham.
“Those guys over there,” said Bukowski. “I'll bet they got some ham. “I'll lay money on it.”
We weren't the only people under the bridge. There were maybe fifteen or twenty of us scattered around. We didn't know what we were hiding from, but you could sense it out there waiting for us.
“It's a dog eat dog world,” Bukowski said. “It's a jungle. Let's go get that ham.”
“There must be four or five of them under that tarp,” I said. “They'll kick our asses. Besides, we got these sardines.”
“Sardines!” said Bukowski. “Sardines!”
“Listen, all we gotta do is hang on until morning,” I said. “Then we can wash up in the men's room at the Greyhound station and you can read some poems on a street corner and maybe we'll pick up enough spare change for a bottle of wine and some ham, maybe even enough for a room to crash in tomorrow night. Maybe our luck will change.”
“I blew my last twenty at the track,” Bukowski said. “I can't spot the winners anymore.”
“There's always the mission,” I said. “We could crash at the mission if we don't get enough for a room.”
“FUCK THE MISSION!” Bukowski exploded. “I've been down that road! Where's John Martin when I need him? Where's Weissner? Where are my readers?”
“You should have stayed dead,” I said. “It's all Facebook and smart phones now.”
“Fuck 'em then. We'll eat us a couple of ham sandwiches and walk into the first bar we come to and kick ass!” Bukowski said. “You take the guys at the bar, I'll take the guys at the tables.”
We got to our feet with some difficulty, stiff from sleeping on the damp ground under the bridge. We hobbled down the hill toward the lights of the city.
Declarations of Love
Wise guys on
& the muse.
know about –
own free will,
An End to Injustice
An End to Injustice
I robbed banks with a mask of my own face. When they brought me in for questioning I said how crazy would that be, using a mask of my own face to rob banks, and they had to agree. They let me go.
But a week later they kicked in the door and tore the house apart and found the mask. “What's this?” asked the detective, a rhetorical question if ever there was one.
It's the identity business again. Lately I've been obsessing on it. Just who am I?
I'm not a bank robber by nature. It's more in my nature to work at an animal shelter. I did that, too, before I started robbing banks. I cleaned out the cages and fed the animals, dogs mostly, strays and abandoned puppies, and when it came time to put them down I took them home with me instead. I wound up with a house full of dogs I couldn't afford to feed on the salary they were paying me, and so I started stealing food from the shelter. That's when they fired me, and that's when I started robbing banks.
I always took a dog with me, a Doberman or a Rottweiler, they were more effective than waving a gun in the air. And then some bank teller who got his dog from the shelter recognized my face mask, and that's when they brought me in for questioning.
I thought it was foolproof, the face-mask business, the reverse logic of it. But then the detective assigned to the case got a hunch, and logic is no match for a hunch. They kicked in the door and found the mask and found the loot buried in fifty-pound sacks of Science Diet.
Everything got turned on its head after that. I went from being an animal-rights advocate to being someone who exploited animals to rob banks.
On the day of sentencing (ten years without parole) half the spectators in the courtroom wore face masks that looked like me, and the judge banged his gavel and made them take the masks off or be held in contempt of court. They complied, all except one man who I could tell by his hands and his hair was black. They cuffed him and led him out of the courtroom with the mask still on.
I figured I could do ten years standing on my head. Before I went to work at the animal shelter I'd been a mercenary for Blackwater, and it made me tough. I guess I went to work at the shelter to atone for some of the things I did while I was a mercenary.
I'll do my time, and when I get out I'll look up the man who refused to take his mask off and we'll put our heads together and come up with a plan to put an end to injustice, once and for all.
Visit John Bennett's Vagabond/ Hcolom Press home page:
Visit John Bennett's extensive writings on Outlaw Poetry: