A Poem: Closing Doors

Have to admit that I am running low on material just sitting around as far as short stories/poetry to show here. Mainly it’s older stuff that I might be interested in publishing someday – my main focus has been novels.

Anyway, read this if you want and see what you think.

Closing Doors

 

Down the grey hall, fluorescents

flickering more and more as the clock hands

drag

I walk past the doors.

Some are French, others

industrial with piston handles,

others are American Revival

(when is that coming?)

Years back, I remember

that all of the doors were open,

and you were able to walk in.

It wasn’t quite as easy to walk in

some of the doors, however.

There were doors that led to long

flights of staircases, or

balance-beam narrow bridges,

for instance.

Some of the doors had come from bank vaults,

so it took my shoulder and my bulk

to get it open.

Sometimes I ducked my head behind the door

and found empty desks or rows of kids playing all board games I’d gotten tired of when I was 5, so I didn’t walk in.

I walked into other doors, though, even the occasional vault door or the one where I had to wrestle it open or climb a hyperangle hill.

As I look around now, though,

something has slowly changed.

Every year, I would try the handle of a door and find it locked.

Every year, I’d discover a couple more doors locked, or chained shut.

There were even a few metal doors that

I could see had been freshly welded shut,

the gun-grey solder ice-hot to the touch,

the door handles smashed.

Nowadays, I’d say whenever I stalk the hall,

half of the doors can’t be opened

for one reason or the other.

I’ve realized those closings can’t be helped, that you can only leave the doors open for so long before closing up shop.

The only door that doesn’t seem ready for the lock is the one at the end of the hall.

It doesn’t appear to even have an actual door, just an ornately carved oak doorjam and

ink darkness bleeding out from it.

I always walk down there to the end, but I’ve never looked in and never walked in.

Maybe later.

Maybe I’ll have to, when all of the doors

are locked and I’m not able to open

anything else.

Every time I have fewer doors.

Usually, that makes me sad to tears or makes my nerves raw.

Just recently, however,

I’ve begun wondering if what I will feel when the time comes will be simply relief.

Or, maybe I’ll be able to pick a few locks

by then.

Who knows?

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The Cowboy And The Japanese Intern: A counterfactual historical fiction short story

This came out of two weird obsessions of mine – counterfactual history and professional wrestling, especially wrestling from the late 20th century.

people men fight challenge
Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

The concept of “What If” has made the study and reading of history that much more interesting. What if the US did invade Japan during World War II? What if William of Normandy didn’t succeed in invading Europe, or what if the Mongol Empire had completed its invasion of Europe? What if Jesus hadn’t been crucified? The fictional possibilities of those questions often would send my mind reeling.

As a young kid, my mind was captivated by the operatic, hyperbolic, and lunatic action of pro wrestling. I had never known characters like this in real life, but they were clear echoes of the society I lived in. It was a guilty pleasure I had to keep at least halfway hidden from my parents, who had no idea what to make of their son’s obsession with massive musclemen, masked luchas, and high-flying daredevils telling operettas of the working class. (I guess I had more in common with Ric Flair than a Midwestern upbringing.)

It was a fascination that never truly went away, even after I realized what kayfabe was all about and I began to see through some of the more repetitive storytelling. But the fascination with wrestling culture and lore never quite went away for me. One of those stories was the tale of the Von Erich family. I had heard of the family growing up, but it wasn’t until much later, when the veil of kayfabe was pulled away and the Internet made research 10 times easier than in the old days of card catalogues and vertical files in libraries, that I found out the whole story about them. They were a family that were bigger stars than the Dallas Cowboys in Dallas and the Texas Longhorns in Texas, and their story was a tragedy of depression, death, and suicide that would have made Shakespeare sit up and take notice.

Some night about eight years ago, a “what if?” question came to my mind when I was doodling on the computer. What if the first of the Von Erich brothers to die hadn’t died in Japan in 1985?

For a day or so, I pounded out about 1,000 words on the subject, taking as my additional inspiration the final airing of WCW Nitro in 2001. Then, as per my usual problems with procrastination, it sat there untouched for years in my hard drives.

This week, I opened the file and took another look at it. I was interested in a change of pace. In two days, I added another 3,000 words to it. I have the feeling it is, in the words of the original Top Gear crew, “ambitious but rubbish.” But so help me, I hadn’t had more fun recently than the hour and a half it took me to book the most awesome wrestling event of the 1980’s, one that would have put Wrestlemanias I and III to shame.

Good or bad or somewhere in between – whatever it is, keep reading to see what my obsessions have wrought. As Rick Sanchez might say, just consider it one of the possibilities somewhere on the finite curve.

Continue reading “The Cowboy And The Japanese Intern: A counterfactual historical fiction short story”

Waiting/Alone At The Crossroads: A poem

I was inspired to write this when I was about to leave a teaching position for the first time, and I wasn’t sure how to express my feelings to my students. So, since I had assigned those students a poetry unit at the end of the year, I decided that whatever was good for them was good for me. As I have often said, I’m not willing to assign students something that I wouldn’t be willing to do myself. This was basically my goodbye to those students.

Waiting (Alone At The Crossroads)

By Jason Liegois (2010)

Alone at the crossroads, waiting for my ride.

No point in staying any longer, I’ve got another place I have to go.

The road is empty.

I know the schedule, I know when the ride’s here, but it’s not here yet.

I’m still waiting.

All my packing is done – my bags are packed, debts paid, ticket paid – I’ve bought my ticket – but no ride.

I’m waiting alone at the crossroads.

It’s an Iowa crossroads, strictly Iowa thru and thru – the two lane, intersection, a stop sign, tall corn stretching, their stalks and nothing else on the horizon except for a farmhouse or two.

No other people, obviously.

Now I know why the old-time farm wives went a little nuts.

Still waiting.

Alone, not one else, I grab a battered old pulp paperback out of my bag, and picture I’m on Mars, Coursurant, Dune, anywhere but here, waiting.

All the work seems to be done.

I know kind of where I will go, and what I will do.

I know for sure that I have to go, there’s no choice but to go, even, deep down, I want to go – but I’m not.

I’m sitting here, waiting for my ride.

That’s the thing I hate, it’s the waiting. . .

Before the ride.

Short Fiction: The True Believers

I thought this might be of interest for #TBT – a bit of original short fiction when I thought that was something I dug a lot…

This was way early from the past decade – a bit of shifting POV and philosophy about faith when I first started wondering about it. I wonder about it even more now, mainly because of those who call themselves people of faith.

Don’t know how much quality it is, but I’ll let you have a look anyway. If you want, leave some feedback in the comments.

Continue reading “Short Fiction: The True Believers”

#TBT (Throw Back Thursday): Special edition – Roger Ebert

As I sort through odds and ends of previous writings, I’m trying to see if there’s anything of interest that I’ve written that could be shared on the site – odds and ends that might be worth a read. It was slightly depressing to realize that many of the items I used to blog about were self-indulgent stupidity, but I think I’ve shared a few interesting items since this writing blog got started.

In rooting around the old files, I found this… diary entry, I guess, that I wrote to myself on the event of film critic Roger Ebert’s death. Something I do for my Facebook writing page is #TBT (Throwback Thursday). I thought, why not have a special edition, featuring some of my reactions at the time? I loved his online writing, and his Great Movies series was a major influence on how I wrote from a nonfiction standpoint and how I saw film.

Hope it’s a good read.

 

Ebert’s dead, part 2: Reax

Friday, April 05, 2013

1:05 AM

Roger Ebert was a warrior poet, a newspaper man and writer first who loved film and was happy to make that his life’s work. Most of his writings were about life and how humans behaved toward each other, even when they were about film.

He was a Chicago boy who only wanted to be a newspaper man growing up, and he got that and a lot more. Ebert wanted to be Royko, but he became Ebert instead and hung out with Royko.

I never met him in person, but I met him through his words, first spoken through the television, and then through the words on the electronic screen. I grew up listening to this man speak of movies and I came to respect him. As a man I started to write what he wrote about movies and I began to truly hear his voice and get a feeling for his soul.

I got to know that things like foreign films and indies existed. Ebert’s the reason I started watching Werner Herzog movies. He’s the reason I think critically about movies.

I still think Ebert and Siskel’s idea that the critics should judge the Oscars on account of the fact that they actually watch the movies makes total sense. I agreed with most of the reviews he did, and I still think Hoop Dreams not only got robbed for Best Documentary but Best Picture as well.

I loved how he could turn a movie review into a philosophical exploration, or have big dumb fun with a big dumb movie.

His fight against cancer, though – that was the badass side of him. When cancer was finished kicking his ass in 2006, he’d lost half his face, in addition to the ability to eat, drink, and talk. Most fuckheads would have packed it in; pulled an hero at the most, and at least faded away from being anywhere around people. When he went out, though, you could tell that you could fill the Universe with the lack of fucks he had about the situation.

Most people would have given up writing, then. He did a lot of the best writing of his life after that, and just kept going. He wrote a cookbook when he couldn’t even eat – I mean, what the hell. I’m buying his memoir, which he wrote just two years ago. Two days before he kicked it, cancer raging back, broken hip and everything, he wrote that he was going to kick back a little, maybe semi-retire when he was dealing with a near-terminal disease. He treated extra time as if it was the first minute of the match. Shit.

There was a dude from Chicago a few years back by the name of Chris Farley who had a talent for making people laugh by being the fat guy. He could do more than that, but deep down he didn’t have the guts. He wanted to make his dad happy so he stayed fat for him. He wanted to be funny and crazy like his idol, John Belushi, also a Chicago boy. He lived high, drunk, and fat like Belushi, hated himself, and OD’d like Belushi when he was 33.

I was born a Chicagoland boy. My idol’s Ebert. I don’t drink like Ebert did at the start of his life, and I never got into smoking. He died at 70; I’m 40 now. So, maybe 35, 40 years if I’m lucky, maybe? Maybe I get some extra time, too.

The point is, I want to live and write like Ebert did. Maybe I’ll never become as famous or well-known as him, but I can live and write like him. If I do that, I’ll be more than OK with my life than I ever thought possible.

He had a good life, and a good death. I want to be like that. That’s my new promise to myself.

So, goodbye Roger. I might not ever see you, but maybe we’ll meet somewhere out there in a while. From one writer, one journalist, to another.

-30-

The Green Field (Poetry selection)

This was another one of my stabs at poetry a while back. It was one of my first literary stabs at trying to explain how much I’d gotten obsessed with soccer (and still am). So, for your interest (or lack of it), here’s that poem.

The Green Field (August-September 2011; Muscatine, Iowa)

 

In the long Saturday morning when the weekend seems to stretch so gloriously long,

I wander into the living room, coffee cup in hand,

steaming bean juice inside.

It’s the end of a long week, and I’m looking for peace.

The couch waits for me as I adjust myself into the optimal position.

The cup is right within reach on the table designed for it.

With a click and a hum,

I transport myself into another place.

The pitch stretches out on the television, rolling out as it limbers up

for the morning’s (afternoon’s?) activities.

The players file out onto the field,

hand in hand with the little boys in their too real to be costume uniforms.

It’s not like actually being there, but I still capture some of the scene.

The songs reach out to me, the songs that sound like bass sirens rolling out over the green field.

There’s shots of the fans and their chants, their scarves held high and proud;

from the ecstasy on their faces I can tell they are in a different world than their normal one.

They’re taking a ride on their fellow fans’ emotional wave.

That bass siren call rolls and splashes over the green field.

Waves of humanity are rolling across the stands, supporting sheets of banners, badges, and slogans.

Colored lights and smoke, horns and drums crashing, escape from the stand

Where the ultras hold court.

All of it adds joy to my soul.

But it’s right after they shake hands and we see the tactical lineups when the real show starts.

The boys in their kits space out onto the field.

One red shirt gives the tiniest of nudges with the side of his foot

to a comrade

and the game is on.

It’s there that the green field and the players on it

truly begin to soothe my mind.

The ball flows between players and teams,

flying through the air as the boys jump to join it

and change vectors.

Math, improvisation, and efforts dominate the play –

who is forcing the ball to the right angle to the perpendicular rectangles,

who is there to intercept and deflect,

can the goalie close the angle and stop the flight paths?

It’s the back and forth of the flow of people across the green field

that mesmerizes me.

It relaxes me, reminds me that I have to let life flow around me,

that I have to improvise as much as I plan, nutmeg as much as I play set pieces.

I want my soul to be that green field.

 

Poem: The Inertia of Me

This came out of me juuust as I was thinking about getting more serious about my writing. Decided it might be a good way to start off the new year.

 

The Inertia of Me

10/4/2012 Muscatine, Iowa

Late night drizzling consciousness as the digital ticks creep the night into the morning without dawn.

Energy ebbs as the seconds and minutes tick away.

Bobby Layne said he’d never lost –

he just ran out of time.

I know what he meant, but maybe not how he really felt on those days.

Bobby could make a minute last, could make it work for him.

Usually, I find myself asking seconds and minutes and hours

to take the day off.

Falling into the well-worn patterns, the easy highways of the mind

rather than getting my brain’s centurions

to build new good Roman roads serving

citizens over millennia.

My ambitions reach toward the Rhine,

the Danube, and the British wall, but my output has stuck to the Seven Hills above the Tiber.

Is the Eater inside me talking me into thinking writing is work?

I’m not sure, but my superego knows different;

every time I create something, I get

the joy of building, of forming, instead of just consuming everything.

I’ve come to realize that I’ve located my willpower at the base of my spine;

it’s a AA battery that gets used up

and replaced at the start of each day.

If it runs out at 4 p.m., too bad.

So, I have to plan like a Roman,

using the latest techniques and technologies to eliminate my threats like they used to kill off the crazy skyclad woadclad Celts of the mists.

All it comes down to is, I need to write.

Now I’m finally figuring out how to do that.

Leisure at The New Roman Baths (First sharing of poetry on the site)

As I promised, I decided to do more and share some actual writing with you, stuff I thought wasn’t doing any good just sitting in my hard drives.

A few years ago, I decided to try and dive into some poetry. Since I have no conscience, I decided now would be a time to share some of those I am not absolutely embarrassed by with you, the reading public. Enjoy or not, I’ll understand either way. 🙂

 

Leisure at The New Roman Baths

Ames, Iowa 6/10/2012

Everyone in America,

Are you ready for the same old thing?

Summer’s here and we’re required to hang out

at the aquatic park funland of the nation.

Not required to get cancer baking in the sun,

Even if the preteen boys do that by accident and the teen girls do it on purpose.

Iowa girls don’t get their tan from a bottle, for sure.

Now that I’m tucked into a corner of the park, I see how the facilities

Are designed to separate people from their cares and their money.

There are the outdoor pools for the city kids, and indoor pools for emo kids who want to stay out of the sun.

I do that, even though I’m not emo.

There’s plenty of fun food that puts out a siren song to kids and adults;

The foodies are pretty much screwed, however.

Hot dogs, corn dogs, chili dogs, burgers, cheeseburgers, pizza, chicken and beer

(whiskey and vodka are too un-family friendly, beer and skinny wine cooler are upscale enough).

All of these things inhaled by betrunked and bikinied bodies pleasing, lumpy, and lumpily pleasing, that you wouldn’t see anywhere else.

Looking past the bodies, I noticed how the entire compound was just a string of pools –

Big cool pools, superheated whirlpools with sweating pale men, long simulated chlorine rivers with nothing alive but tourists and bacteria, tunnel chutes of water that shoot streams and humans with equal velocity, even beach pools with enough sand for those who missed that unique grit in their shorts.

I take in the pools, swimsuited singles making conversations, the food sand snack shacks, the T-shirt and curio stands, and I think,

“Where have I seen this before?”

And, it comes to me.

The Romans.

The Romans, of course, with their bathhouses of old.

These weren’t places just to wash up; people went there to bathe, swim, steam, soak, whisper, gossip, pronounce, shop, eat, idle, sport, rendezvous (often with the other gender)

I looked around the faux woodsy cove and realized that they had rebuilt the old Roman baths right there in Wisconsin.

They’d added a lazy river and a wave pool and subtracted the courtesans,

Which made the sporting gentlemen sad, I guess.

2,000 years after the Romans, it was the same swim.

Does it say anything about America and its people? Maybe.

But just think if they could bring this to Vegas – they could really cut loose.

Joining The Men In Red

I decided that this was the best time to present some of my original writing. This was me for me – something that is a passion for me that I can’t escape.

 

Joining the Men in Red

“People think that football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.”

  • Bill Shankly, Manager, Liverpool FC (1959-1974)

It was the flare lighting up at my feet that finally pushed me over the edge. From my vantage point, I never really saw who had sparked it off, just two figures quickly shuffling away from the floor of the stadium two rows below me as the flames of the white-hot magnesium fuel seared my retinas. It was the second half of the match between the visiting Columbus Crew and La Maquina Roja, the Men in Red, Chicago Fire SC. As first that flare and a second one started to burn two sections to the right, the Section 8 crew, the most loyal Fire supporters, were in frenzy as they prayed in song to the boys on the field to keep their lead alive. As the smoke crept over the northern Harlem End stands, we began singing The Song.

Every great soccer team has one song or chant that is absolutely theirs, one that defines their team and which no one else uses. There’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” for Liverpool (although Celtic FC borrow it sometimes), “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” for West Ham United, and “La Roma Non Si Discute, Si Ama” [Roma is not to be questioned, it is to be loved] by AS Roma. Despite standing up for an entire hour straight, despite singing so loudly over that time I was seriously wondering whether I’d be able to talk the next day, I joined in the singing, at the top of my lungs, of Our Song:

Late last night, while we were all in bed,

Ms. O’Leary hung a lantern in the shed,

And when it tipped over, she winked her eye and said,

“There’ll be a hot time in the old town tonight!”

FIRE! FIRE! FIRE!

At that moment, everything could and might be going to hell all at once. But I was absolutely at peace with the world and my place in it. I belonged and was part of something greater than myself.

Looking back, soccer has been a growing passion with me, a sport I always loved but only slowly getting its hooks into me over the years. As a kid, I played Y soccer as a kid myself, and for an abortive adult league in my town for a season back in the late 90’s. My one regret now is that I never attempted to join my high school soccer side. I had heard about the Chicago Sting of the old North American Soccer League, but I couldn’t have picked out any of their players if they’d shown up in uniform. Then there was the 1994 World Cup in America, and the founding of MLS, but it was still far away from me. I heard about the Fire’s founding, its success with the MLS Cup its first year and the U.S. Open Cup in later years, but it was difficult to see them on television, even on cable. However, that improved, as did America’s interest in the game. I also started becoming connected to the club online.

By the summer of 2012, I was deep into the culture of fandom with the Fire, following their every move online, keeping updated on where they were in the standings, and slowly acquiring whatever Fire gear I could. I had finally seen them play an exhibition against the great Manchester United in Soldier Field, but I had yet to see the Fire in their real home, in a league match. I decided to change that with a game that June, with my son Jake and friend Tim in tow.

After three hours of speeding through miles of Illinois farmland and a few more miles of urban Chicagoland sprawl, Jake, Tim, and I knew we were getting close when we entered suburban Bridgeview and started to see the Fire badge on more than a few local bars. Finally, we saw the stadium, Toyota Park, rise out of the ground as we made our final approach.

I loved the excitement in my son’s eyes as we took a walk around Toyota Park. The stadium’s design was a blend of American and European stadium design, a horseshoe of seating around three of the four sides of the field, with overhangs covering the seating along the sides. We’d be in the uncovered Harlem end at the north end of the field, right next to the goal.

As Jake and Tim and I wandered around the red brick exterior to find where the main gates were like the Iowa rubes we were, we saw a flash of gold and black in one small section of the parking lot. As we walked up to it, we realized that it was the small area of the lot dedicated to the visiting tailgaters cheering on the Columbus (OH) Crew. Black and gold flags flew over trucks, cars, and buses as they chowed down on tailgate burgers and dogs and broke out into the occasional song. As a U of Iowa fan (and later alumni) for 30-plus years, the idea of those colors being the opposition colors left me with a vaguely befuddled feeling. I was glad I was wearing red and had suggested my son and friend do so as well.

After a quick trip to the Fire gear shop and picking up our tickets, we made our way through the turnstiles into the stone entryway of the stadium. The views of the field were excellent – most of the nearest seats were no more than three feet away from the field. We saw the number displays honoring past Fire players and staff, and the banners honoring past MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup wins.

Across the field, I can see the Columbus fans filing into their small section and starting singing even before the game. The Section 8 boys and girls weren’t ready yet, but we could see the fans gathering their signs and banners that could cover an entire section of seats and getting them ready for the game. We had to move to another section because “the band was coming in,” and sure enough, we saw a group of fans setting up drums and horns in the middle of the section.

I knew stuff was getting real right before kickoff when I saw a guy climb on top of a red metal platform in front of the stands. These were the chant and singing leaders, hollering at the tops of their lungs as they led us through the Fire’s song catalogue. After we ripped through the National Anthem and kickoff happened, we started singing:

Vamos, la maquina roja/esta noche/tenemos en ganar……

[Let’s go, the Red Machine/this night/we win]

The Fire scored the first goal of the night in the fifth minute. As a roar went up from the Section 8 stands, we hoisted a massive banner with the logo CF97 (referring to the Fire and their founding date. The founding of the club actually happened on the 126th anniversary of the actual Great Chicago Fire) over our heads until it covered the entire section. We had a second chance to do it about 10 minutes later, so we took it.

Within 10 minutes, I could already feel my voice getting strained. Tim eventually had to take a few breaks from singing – he had to work the next day and didn’t want to be unable to communicate with co-workers. Jake kept yelling his head off, though, but he needed at least a couple of sodas to keep going. It must have been exhausting for the chant leaders, too – there were about five different people who took turns up on top of the platform during the match.

It started getting desperate around the second half. We had one of our players sent off and were a man down; then they scored on us to make it 2-1. As we continued to chant and sing, we kept watching that clock tick down closer and closer to the 90th minute, willing the game to end with the 2-1 score.

It was right in that mode that the flares dropped and The Song rang out from the stands for a solid four minutes. As we cheered them on, we were no longer just a crowd, but a whole community with our own little culture of the Fire.

Finally, after five minutes of extra time after the official 90, the whistle blew and the Fire was the winner. As we sang in celebration, the Fire players and coaching staff walked toward our section and gave us a round of applause from the field.

That day, I was able to celebrate a sport, a team, and a city that I loved, with a group of people that made it OK to do so. It’s not going to be every day that I am going to be able to make it out to see the Fire, but every time I do, either there or at home, I feel part of a greater soccer community. For me, the Fire has become more than a club; it’s become part of home.