One Word

I’ve been angry all my life. Everyone was always out to take from me. I’ve never had any friends. Even when I was in high school, the other kids would go out to lunch together while I sat by myself, just off the school grounds, and felt the loneliness that had become my life.

On Saturdays nights, the other kids would go out on dates or pile into a car for a night of adventure. I would hitchhike to the main drag, plant myself on a bus bench, and watch the world go by, wishing I was a part of it.

Things didn’t get much better after I became an adult. I existed in the world, but was not a part of it. I had no use for anybody. My loneliness had long ago morphed into hatred. Hatred for the whole damn human race.

Then one day, I saw a dirty beggar down on 8th Street, by the 7-Eleven. I took great joy in his miserableness. At least someone was worse off than me. There was no way that he could have any friends. He was both lonely and homeless. I, on the other hand, had a roof over my head.

I tarried to revel in the spectacle. I was enjoying myself.

He held out a plastic cup, imploring me to contribute. Was he joking? Could he not tell from my sneer what I thought of him?

I was turning to leave, when a well-dressed man came up to the beggar and grabbed his filthy hand. He shook it vigorously while saying, “How ya doing, Tim?”

“Not too bad, Jim. Not too bad,” answered the tramp.

“You know, me and the wife still have that room for you. It would do you good to get off the streets and have a decent meal every day. If you’d ever accept one of my invitations to dinner, you’d see what a good cook Ruth is.”

“Thanks. But I’m doing just fine … for now. Let me take a rain check on that. Okay?”

“Sure, Tim. Sure.”

Before he left, the man took out his wallet, extracted a five-dollar bill, and put it into the cracked plastic cup held by the beggar.

I just shook my head in disbelief, turned, and walked into the 7-Eleven to get my cigarettes and a few scratch-offs.

When I came out, the beggar was in an animated conversation with a well-dressed, good-looking woman. I figured that he was harassing her and decided right then and there to go to her aid, if for no other reason than to harass the tramp.

“Excuse me, ma’am. But is this man bothering you?”

She looked at me as though I had two heads. Then she started to laugh.

“My God, no! It’s the other way around.” She turned to the beggar and said, “Tim, would you like this gentleman to intercede on your behalf?”

The beggar smiled and answered, “It’s alright. He’s a friend of mine. And he knows how I get around beautiful women. He was just trying to protect you from my lustful ways.”

It took a moment, but finally the woman broke into a big grin and said, “Tim McCarthy, if you aren’t the living end. Okay, we’ll finish this discussion later. But I’m going to get you into a decent place to live if it’s the last thing I ever do.” She dug into her purse and came out with a twenty and into the cup it went. She then wrapped her arms around that disgusting person and gave him a long, tight hug. She patted my hand before she left, saying, “You make sure to take care of our Timmy.”

I have to admit, as she strutted away, I was thinking what a great-looking ass she had.

I was brought out of my thoughts by, “She really knows how to swing that thing to hold a man’s interest.”

It was the beggar.

Okay. Hold the goddamn train. Apply the brakes. What the hell was going on? I tore my eyes away from the rapidly retreating woman and confronted the beggar.

“Please tell me … what is it with you? Why do those people associate with you?”

The tramp smiled and asked if I minded if we walked as we talked. He had an engagement and did not want to be late. I shrugged. As long as he didn’t get too close to me as we walked, I had nothing else to do. I was glad I was not on the lee as we walked. The wind kept the stench at bay.

I opened the conversation by asking, “Why did you tell that woman I was a friend of yours? I’ve never seen you before.”

He winked at me, took a few dollars out of his cup, and handed them to a homeless man as we passed by. Not a word was spoken by either man.

Finally, he said, “Even though we have never met, I consider you a friend. I mean, here you are, accompanying me to my luncheon appointment.”

“I’m walking with you to get an answer to my question. I’m no friend of yours. So, tell me. Why do these well-off citizens treat you like a long-lost friend?”

We passed another homeless person and, again, he dipped into his cup and shared his bounty.

I had to know. “Why are you giving away the money that you spent hours begging for?”

“It’s only paper with green ink on it. It doesn’t mean that much to me.”

“Then why do you stand on the street and beg for it?” I had him there. Or so I thought.

“I do it to meet people. Like I met you this morning. I think we’re going to be good friends.”

“You do, do you? I can’t stand your smell, I can’t stand being around you. I think I’ve gone as far as I want with you. I don’t care why people like you. It has no bearing on my life. Forget that I even asked why. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a life to live.”

“What kind of life?”

That stopped me in my tracks. I turned back and took stock of the slight, skinny, disheveled man who stood before me. With contempt in every syllable, I said, “A hell of a better life than you’re living or are ever apt to live.” I was so proud of myself.

He smiled. “Please have lunch with me. It’s my treat.”

I was taken aback. “What restaurant is gonna let you in?” I mocked.

He held up his right index finger and simply said, “I got a place.”

Strange as it seems, I was starting to warm to the guy. I had hit him with my best insults and none of them bothered him. At the moment, I was unemployed and had the entire day to kill before my nighttime TV shows came on, so for the second time since I met the dude, I shrugged my shoulders and decided to go with the flow.

“Okay. As long as you can find a restaurant that will seat you—and you’re paying—I’ll have lunch with you.” I thought it a safe bet. No one was going to let him through the front doors of any establishment, let alone a restaurant.

I’d never noticed before, but times must have been rough. Well, I was unemployed, but that was my fault. I just couldn’t get along with people. But what I mean is, there were beggars at almost every corner. And every time we passed a homeless person, the little guy passed out money from his cup.

After his last spurt of generosity, I sneaked a peak into his cup; there were only a few bills left and none of them were a twenty. He must have given it away.

At last we came to a restaurant, and I must admit, it was pretty fancy. I doubt if they would have let me in. But my new-found friend walked past the front door and around the corner. Did I say “friend”? That sounded strange coming from me.

“Follow me,” he said.

We went down an alley and stopped at a door. Obviously the back door to the place. A slight knock on the door and we were granted entry. We walked down a short hallway that came out into the main kitchen. The head chef, when he saw us, yelled across the room, “I’m a little busy right now. Your table is ready. We’ll talk if things slow down before you’re ready to leave.”

Tim (I might as well call him by his rightful name; after all, I was going to break bread with the guy) yelled back over the clamor of the hectic kitchen, “I’ve brought a friend. Is that okay?”

The chef smiled a broad smile and waved the large knife he was holding. Indicating it was just fine and dandy with him.

Tim steered me to a table over in a corner. Before we could get situated, a busboy came out of nowhere with two glasses of water and a basket of rolls. A minute later, he was back with two glasses of white wine that he placed on the table. He said not a word. But his smile bespoke many words. He was also a friend of Tim’s.

As we sipped our wine, Tim apologized. “I hope you don’t mind, but we won’t be ordering off of menus. My friend over there,” he said, pointing at the chef, “likes to feed me his special of the day. He’s always quite proud of what he comes up with.”

“No problem. I’m impressed. But now that we have a few minutes, please tell me why everyone loves you. I’m almost as old as you. I’m certainly a lot more presentable and cleaner, no offense, but I’ve never had a friend in my entire life.”

“No offense taken. I do have a secret and I will tell you what it is, but first I want to hear about you and your life.”

This was all new to me. Someone cared enough to want to know about me? I took a deep breath and then let out everything I’d been holding in for years. I held back nothing. I told of all the rejections and hurt I had endured. I told that man all my deepest, darkest secrets—all my disappointments.

And when I had finished, I was crying. Nothing loud or out of place, but the tears were streaming down my face. Tim handed me a linen napkin and pretended not to notice.

By the time the food arrived, I was composed and kind of hungry. The plates were garnished, and the presentation was like any of the plates going out the swing doors and into the dining room. Maybe ours were even a little bit better looking. The food was wonderful. It was some kind of French dish and probably the best meal I have ever eaten.

We didn’t speak much during the meal, but as I was mopping up the last of the sauce with a piece of bread, Tim cleared his throat and began to speak.

“You wanted to know what my secret is for having so many friends. Well, it comes down to one word.”

In anticipation, I leaned forward a little. But no secrets were forthcoming. “Hold on a minute. This is better said with some spirits in hand.” He held up his empty wine glass and a busboy, a different one this time, but still with a wide smile, filled our glasses.

After draining his glass, Tim spoke these words.

“The one single word that you have to know … that you have to live by … is love. It’s so goddamn simple. Love every person you meet as you would want to be loved. The more love you put out there, the more love you’ll get in return.”

I waited for more. And after a minute, Tim looked at me as if to ask, Are you waiting for something else? “I’m sorry, but that’s it, my friend. Just one simple word, Love … Love with a capital ‘L’ .”

I leaned back in my chair, disillusioned. So there was no secret after all. Well, at least I’d had a good meal.

Tim saw my disappointment and said, “Why don’t you meet me tomorrow at the 7-Eleven. I’ll take you to the park and introduce you around. You’ll meet all sorts of people, and I guarantee you’ll like every one of them. And in time they’ll be your friends too.”

Long story short … I took him up on his offer. Today I have a new job and I am one of the most liked persons in the office—and it’s a big office. I have a girlfriend, and on the weekends, we help out down at one of the food banks, or just take long walks in the park and say hello to our many friends.

And when I see Tim on the street with his cup, I always put in a twenty and shake his hand. I don’t offer him a place to stay because I know that’s not in his cards. He has to be out on the streets … meeting new people and saving lonely souls.

 

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My Lover, My Life

She comes to me in the terrifying night when I need her the most

She is there by my bedside, in the morning, to start me on my day

She is warm, she is enveloping

She owns my body

She owns my soul

She is my lover

I put her in the old bent spoon

The flame underneath

She bubbles, she boils

In goes a small piece of cotton

The syringe brings her ever closer to me

The old belt goes around my bicep

The vein bulges

Now I bring my lover to me

Smoothly, the needle enters

Smoothly, my lover comes to me

She caresses my entire body with her warm glow

Our love has been consummated

She is everything to me

I will never give her up

She is my lover, she is my life

 

An email to Close Friends

Hey guys. What’s happening?

What? You wanna know what I’ve been up to?

I’ve been just sittin’ here … trying to kill myself.

No … no. Don’t get crazy on me.

I’m doing it slowly. It’s more fun that way.

I’ve been trying all my life … to end my life.

I mean, I threw myself into situations that would have got any decent guy killed.

But, me? No fucking way. The bullets just passed me by.

Then I thought drugs would do it. No fucking way, again. After thirty years of that shit, I found myself still here, I said to no one in particular, “What the fuck? Can’t a guy get break. I did OD a few times and spent days in a coma, but I still bounced back. Damn it!

So I left drugs behind.

Now I’m trying alcohol. My liver’s gotta admit defeat at some point.

So enough about me. What have you guys been up to?

 

 

 

Just Saw This Advertisement

I have only one thing to say … and that is STOP!!! Stop writing. If you are as bad as what is pictured above, please, please stop. Shut off your computer and get a book or two or three. Start reading. Get a little Steinbeck or a little London into your soul. If you don’t know the difference between righting and writing, take a break and read a goddamn book!!! Because ain’t no cockamamie program is gonna help ya.

 

 

Ellis

 

Something I’m working on:

 

Prologue

 

Long after the mighty sheets of ice known as glaciers retreated back from whence they came, leaving the primeval stone of the island both smooth and scarred, the first of the Dorchester men landed at Half Moon Bay.

They did not last long. The land was not suited for farming. The dense forest precluded clearing land before winter descended upon them. And even if they had cleared the land, inches under the soil lay the pervasive granite that was the island.

Three years later, the men of Dorchester abandoned their short-lived colony and fled to nearby Naumkeag, which in later times would be known as Salem. However, within two generations, men were once again living on the island they came to call Gloucester. They named their county Essex after the Earl of Essex and they called themselves Gloucestermen. They were tried and true Englishmen.

In 1614, another Englishman by the name of John Smith, subsequent to his encounter with Pocahontas and while exploring the land he had named New England, came upon the island. He named it Tragabigzanda after a Turkish princess. However, at the request of Prince Charles, Smith renamed the island Cape Ann after the prince’s mother, Anne of Denmark.

Rather than farm the land, the Gloucestermen farmed the trees of their island. They cleared great swaths of the forest for the building of sailing ships. They fished the bay for their sustenance, but did not venture far from shore. At least not in those days.

Years before Englishmen first set foot on the island that would one day be called Gloucester, the great schools of codfish of the George’s Bank were known to the fearless explorers sent out by Queen Elizabeth. The cod were so plentiful along the New England coast that the Mariner Bartholomew Gosnold changed the name of Cape Saint James—a sandy peninsula he had explored in 1600—to Cape Cod.

In 1680, the men of Gloucester “went down to the sea in ships” to fish for cod in earnest. At first they fished the George’s Bank, one hundred miles to the east. But in time, they made their way to the Grand Bank, one thousand miles from their home port.

By the early 18th century, it had become obvious that the ships they sailed were not ideal for fishing the numerous cod. The ships were slow and their holds could not contain enough salted fish to make the two-thousand-mile round-trip journey profitable.

In 1713, Captain Andrew Robinson designed and built a ship that had a larger hold for supplies and the multitude of fish he hoped to catch. Her sails were bigger and set higher to gather more wind. She was a two masted fore-and-aft rigged vessel. All the better to get to the banks faster and get home all the more quickly where the cod could be sold before the other ships returned, hence getting the best price possible.

As she was being launched, a spectator exclaimed, “See how she scoons!” At the time, scooning was the act of skipping a flat rock upon the water.

In response, Captain Robinson shouted, “A schooner let her be!”

His schooner was an improvement over the fishing ships of the day and it was widely copied both here in America and in Europe. But it did have one flaw—it was top heavy. Between 1866 and 1890, three hundred and eighty schooners were lost at sea, taking 2,450 men to their watery graves. In one day, August 24, 1873, nine vessels, carrying one hundred and twenty-eight men, were lost over the Grand Banks.

In 1882, in a published article in the Cape Ann Weekly Advertiser, Captain Joseph Collins asked the rhetorical question, “When will the slaughter cease?”

Still the men of Gloucester went down to the sea in ships.

It was not until 1902, when Captain William Thomas commissioned a ship with a short deep hull and a rockered keel for stability, that fishing the Grand Banks became somewhat safer. The design was copied and used in the construction of fishing schooners until the days of sail were no longer.

Still the men of Gloucester went down to the sea in ships, but now their ships held no sails.

From this tradition—from this fearless and audacious heritage—came forth a man who would be the embodiment of the Gloucester fisherman.

 

Chapter One

 

The year was 1949. The boy was out of bed and getting dressed, even though the sun had not yet come up over in the East. It was summer, but there was a nip in the air.

This was the day. The day that the fourteen-year-old boy had looked forward to for weeks. He had saved the money he made from his paper route, delivering the Gloucester Times, to finance the adventure. He and his friend, Peter, had eagerly anticipated this day. For today, they were going to show the men how it was done.

Gloucester businesses were all about selling fish and outfitting fishermen. But it involved mostly codfish. However, there was another fish that preyed the vast underwater banks of the North American continental shelf. This fish was worthless in the eyes of the Gloucester fishermen. The average weight of the fish ran to nine hundred pounds. It could take hours to land one of the monsters. And for what? Its flesh was worthless. You would be lucky to get three cents a pound after all your trouble. But the boy was bound and determined to land a bluefin tuna that day.

The path down the hill that led to the Ipswich River was well known to the boy. He had traversed it many times. The darkness did not impede his progress. There was a slight fog, but it only added to the mystique of a magical day.

Peter was waiting for him at the river’s edge. “I’ve got the bait and the hooks we bought last night. Did you bring your father’s hand-line?” Without a word, the boy showed his right hand which held said object.

Silently, they climbed into the small skiff and shoved off. The boy sat at the bow with Peter aft. It was Peter’s boat, so he had the honor of pulling the starting cord on the ten-horsepower outboard engine. The engine caught on the third pull and he sat down to steer the little boat downriver.

Although it was still dark out, there was enough ambient light for the boys to make their way through the marshes.

Gloucester was coming to life. The occasional house they passed had its lights on. Soon the sun would drive out the darkness and they would have to share their world with others. But for the moment, they were the only two human beings extant on the planet.

The boy in the bow stared straight ahead and fidgeted with the hand-line. Peter knew not to speak when his friend was in deep thought.

The boy was thinking of the tuna he was setting out to kill. Did the tuna know he was coming? Did the tuna know this was to be its last day swimming in the cold waters of the North Atlantic?

The boy weighed ninety pounds. The tuna he was out to catch—with a hand-line nonetheless—might weigh a thousand pounds or more. It was just as likely that the tuna would pull the boy out of the skiff and drag him to the bottom of a very cold ocean and to his death. The boy figured it would be an even match. Let the best species win.

After an hour, they came to the mouth of the river and entered Ipswich Bay. They were headed for open sea. The bay was calm which meant the ocean would not be too bad. By now the sun had risen; its rays glistened on, and reflected off, the water. The boy raised his hand to shield his eyes from the brilliance as the small engine pushed him toward his destiny.

In due time, they were ten miles off the coast. It was time to fish.

They’d only enough money between them to buy three mackerel, so they would have to husband their bait and hope that a tuna did not snatch it and make off with it, leaving an empty hook. They had only three shots at the prize.

The boy baited the line as Peter looked on. This was the boy’s show. Peter was only there to document the struggle and declare a winner … whoever that may be.

The Atlantic is a mighty big ocean, bigger still if you’re in a fourteen-foot boat. The expanse of nothingness that lies before you can be daunting to the most intrepid men of the sea.

The boy let out the line … slowly … three feet … ten feet … twenty feet … forty feet. When the line hit the sixty-foot mark, he put on his gloves and sat down to await his fate. Would he return still a boy? Or would he return a man, trailing a thousand-pound tuna in his wake?

The day wore on. There was very little conversation between the two friends. The sun continued on its journey across the blue sky. Time was running out. They were only boys, they had to be home before dark or people would worry. The star we call our sun showed no mercy on that day. Still it moved at an alarming rate across a clear sky.

Late in the afternoon, the line jerked. The boy instinctively knew it was a bluefin. Through his gloves he felt the line running out to sea. It was a good feeling. He waited … he waited until he was sure. Then he jerked back on the line. He was almost pulled from the boat.

He had set the hook.

Now it was a waiting game. Darkness was fast approaching, but no matter. The boy would not return to Gloucester until he had won the battle.

The great tuna took off to the north. The boy held fast to the line. An hour later, the tuna turned east. The boy held fast to the line. His shoulders were aching. The line was wrapped around his hands, and despite the gloves, it stopped the flow of blood to his fingers. They were numb. Still he held on to the monster.

He thought of the great fish below the surface, fighting for its life, and he felt a pang of guilt. Did he have the right to take this beautiful creature’s life? That was his moment of doubt. He would have cut the line if doing so would have allowed the fish to live. But that was not the case. Even if he had cut the line … with a hook in its mouth and trailing sixty feet of line, the fish was already dead.

The boy set his jaw and said a prayer for the bluefin.

At length, his adversary tired. The bluefin had run for hours and now it was full dark. The boy pulled in his line. His hands were numb, his arms were on fire. The bluefin was dead. It had died from lack of oxygen. A bluefin must continuously swim for the oxygen-rich water to be forced through its gills.

The boys tied the fish to the stern and started the engine. They were going home.

They had been missed. The Coast Guard had been called out. The local fishermen cranked up their boats and were crisscrossing the bay looking for the wayward youths. Somehow, the little skiff made its way through all that activity and docked up the Ipswich River.

The boy found his fair share of trouble when the adults caught up with him. But he had caught his tuna … all 750 pounds of it.

Around Gloucester—from that day forward until he became an adult—he was known as “The Boy Wonder.”

However, he was no longer a boy, he was now a man. His name was Ellis Hodgkins and what follows is his story.

 

San Francisco Review of Books

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Book Review: ‘Bedtime Stories for Grown-Ups’ by Andrew Joyce

Florida author Andrew Joyce took a leaping chance on providing follow-ups to an American classic Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in his books RESOLUTION and REDEMPTION and MOLLY LEE – and oddly enough he succeeded! Joyce is an inveterate hitchhiker and doubtless that lifestyle has supplied him with the rich imagination he so freely offered in his book YELLOW HAIR that explores the history of American Indians. Now he turns to dreams and other diversions in his new book BEDTIME STORIES FOR GROWN-UPS.

Andrew sets the tone in his author’s note at the beginning of the book – ‘The short stories contained herein are a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. My hitching adventures are true, as are the ones about three women who had a profound effect on my life: Ellen, Maryanne, and Joanie. I can attest to the story entitled Treasure being factual because I was there. There are three historical pieces, Belinda Mulrooney, Massacre, and Turkey Shoot, that are based on facts. The Danny narratives are also true, but written from a perspective different from mine. However, Dead and Wise Guy are pure fiction.  The fiction stories are a jumble of genres.

My intent was to keep things interesting for you. I must tell you, I never thought any of these stories would see the light of day. I wrote them for myself and then forgot about them. If I had known that one day they’d be published, I might not have been as honest when describing my youthful misdeeds. In the hitching tales, I use my real name, Billy Doyle— Andrew Joyce being my pen name.
While collecting the content for this book from my writings over the years, I envisioned my readers sampling my prose a little each night before extinguishing the lights and drifting off to a restful sleep. I sincerely hope that you will enjoy my stories. It took a lot of living to come up with the material for some of them.’

Given that entre we are ready for a mixed bag of little tales and an attempt to review the entire collection would be an opus nearly equal to the original. But despite the varying classes of tales within, one aspect of this book stands out clearly – and that is Andrew Joyce’s gift of writing. A snippet from one story follows:

‘The car had continued forward as I was doing my little ballet, and as I lay prone on the ground, all I could see were the red tail lights slowly receding into the fog. Then my heart jumped straight into my throat. The brake lights came on, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the white backup lights came on immediately thereafter. I did not wait around to see what further mischief Teddy Bear had on his mind. I raised myself to a standing position and took off in the opposite direction. Remember, I was seventeen, and like all seventeen-year-olds, I was in top condition. I was a quarter of a mile down the road before I even realized I was running. Having covered such a fair distance, I thought it might be safe to stop a moment and see if I was still being pursued. I turned to see those g*****n taillights still slowly coming my way. I could not make out the outline of the car through the fog, but those lights seemed to be the red eyes of a demon that would not be satisfied until I was run to ground and devoured.
As I stood there contemplating those red orbs, I became cognizant of my folly. Staying on the road was a mistake. Teddy Bear could follow me at his leisure. There sure wasn’t any other traffic to impede his amusement. If not for the lights, I wouldn’t know his location, which also meant he could not see me. That son-of a-bitch was toying with me! He must have thought that, with nothing but swamp on both sides of the road, I had nowhere to go and he had ample time to catch up with me. That pissed me off, though not enough to confront that oversized knife. As I pondered the best course of action, I wondered if I was the first of Teddy Bear’s playthings. Had he done this before? Did he indeed throw dead bodies into the swamp, never to be seen again, as he’d told me he could do with my deceased carcass?
Well, there was only one thing to do— get off the road and into the swamp. When you’re running for your life, you don’t sweat the little things, such as snakes and alligators. I turned to my right and proceeded to the tree line, which lay about fifty feet from the road. I could not see the trees, but I knew they were there, having seen them earlier in the night before the fog thickened.’
That is the quality and veracity of the stories to come.

Style is a consistent factor, truth is also there, and imagination permeates the entire collection. Read them slowly – and enjoy.

Grady Harp, September 17
Editor’s note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp.