Koan Inertia

by Dave Clapper

The yellow arrows on the pavement split to left and right, defining the acceptable movements of vehicles. And for a while, I’m immobilized, thinking of a butterfly flapping its wings. A typhoon I don’t want to create, so I sit in my car, studying the arrows. And I think then of my exhaust and of the Greenhouse Effect (especially because my particular automobile mocks emissions tests), and realize that not moving is a butterfly flapping its wings just as surely as turning is. And I’m jolted into action, but still haven’t made a choice. I shift my foot from the brake to the gas and the car leaps forward, splitting the arrows. We jump a curb, the car and I, and obliterate a hedge, its branches clawing at the Mitsubishi’s undercarriage, living people buried and trying to come back. The back wheels then leap the curb as the front wheels bounce down from another. Cars and trucks honk out of our way, my car and me, and we find our way across a street and into the wall of a gas station’s mini-mart. Coming to almost-rest, hood crumpled, steam rises. A butterfly observes the carnage and veers right.

Merrill Lynch Wants Me Dead

by jc jaress

It’s a grossly long story; the missing Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account. The final saga in an ugly divorce…how could it not be an ugly divorce? It was an ugly marriage first wasn’t it? So why is it surprising to think than an ugly union would have anything but an ugly offspring…in this case, the divorce resembled a one-armed strung out hooker with asphalt-torn nylons a broken shoe and a lisp, “Thay, buddy, can I bum a thmoke?” Why do people call us buddy?

But the Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account is still missing. I think that it never existed. But then, I don’t really remember. I quit remembering a long time ago. As soon as the paperwork was filed I figured the money was gone anyways. Either she’d end up with all of it or I’d have to sell it off to pay the attorneys. Either way, I never thought much of it after that.

There is the one known account that is worth about $5,000. Not much, really. I had just started saving the year before she left and, though it had been worth about $9,000 at one point, the dot.com thing sort of took all of the steam out of it. No, the dot.com thing took the money out of it…she took all of the steam out of it. But, today, it’s $5,000 and change. And it’s one half mine. This other, missing account…I don’t know.

The odd thing. No, not odd. Disturbing. The disturbing thing is that I haven’t seen or heard from Merrill Lynch in over three years. I mean, they have my money. I trust them to hold it, I guess. I call…they say they have it. They say that they mail out Quarterly Statements to their investors but I haven’t received one in over three years. I used to receive them at our old house. Before she left. Then I moved. Then I moved again. And then once more. That’s three moves in three years and I’ve never heard from them since.

Though, I still receive Modern Painters, a very good if not obscure sort of Euro-trendy art magazine. I think David Bowie is one of the publishers but it still does a very good job covering art. They deliver it – from England or Canada, maybe – to my house. My old house. My in between house. And my new house. How do they do that? And the credit card bills…they keep coming, too. I was late one month during my second move. Some sort of mix up with the database. I called them and they reversed the late charges and apologized. It’s good that they record those conversations. And the people that are trying to refinance the homes that I have never owned find me all the time. The Disabled Veterans always take the time to send me little address labels with flags and eagles on them. But I don’t use the labels because I don’t send them money. I used to send them money but they just kept sending more labels and I started feeling as if I wasn’t writing enough letters to my family to use up my Good-American allotment of labels.

I was in house #2 and house #3 for less than one week when Home Depot found me. They sent me a nice welcome letter and a 10% off coupon and they gave me directions on how to get to their stores. So what’s wrong with Merrill Lynch?

It got me to wondering…all of these others…they must want something from me. I think it’s my money. I mean, I’m sure their sweet people and all but really…they want my jack. And so they keep up with me. They put up with me. They don’t care how many times I move or what city I live in or whether I own or rent or steal. They all know that eventually I will want to read about David Salle or Alex Katz or…what’s her name…the one that paints those swirling, sensual, fleshy canvases like de Kooning but with more sex. Whatever. They know that one day I will buy an extension cord and some 2-part epoxy. And one day, maybe, I will write more letters to my family and friends. That’s why they keep up with me. That’s why they follow me. So what’s wrong with Merrill Lynch?

OK, so I haven’t invested in my IRA in over three years. Do they think that I will never make another investment? Don’t they realize that people’s lives change and that, although I can’t put money into that particular account anymore, maybe I might be interested in opening a new account and dumping a whole bucket of new cash into it? Isn’t that what they do? Take buckets of cash and wring their commissions out of it and leave us with just a little more or just a little less than when we started? Isn’t that their job? Why don’t they follow me like the rest of the rats?

Then it dawned on me…they want me dead.

Merrill Lynch would rather that I die and my family have no way to find the money. They don’t want someone cleaning up my house, snooping around wondering what this Quarterly Statement is all about. No, they want me to die without a trace so that the company can wait the three or four or seven years and then absorb my money back into the system. By osmosis…right down to the bottom line. Back into their overfed, diabetic system.

All right, maybe they don’t want me dead but at the very least they want me to forget that I have my money there. Why else wouldn’t they follow? It’s pretty shortsighted on their part. Is this the sort of small-minded corporate thinking that has consumed our country’s institutions? Take the easy pickings. Don’t say anything…maybe they’ll just forget. Or die. Yeah, die.

I can see the Inactive Accounts Manager at Merrill…Merrill, that’s what they call it. Over lunch. On their cell phones while you and your partner or mate or whatever you call him/her are having a very intimate, and expensive, moment. They’re on their phones instructing someone to “…and call Merrill to follow up on those inactive account reports. See if anyone has died lately. I want a breakdown of the Recently Dead, the One-Year Dead and the Two-Year Dead when I get back to the office.” Click. Is it a click anymore? Maybe it’s a flip or a beep. Whatever.

Every morning the Inactive Accounts Manager reads the obituaries and wrings his sticky hands. He is a small man. He’s a big lazy slob…but he is a small man. He doesn’t pay his fair share when he dines with friends. He smokes. Mostly your cigarettes. He drinks on your tab. Drives a Buick Regal or something that wishes that it was a Buick Regal and the velour smells like coffee and gin sweat and there is a greasy worn out spot between the driver’s legs because he has a habit of steering with his left hand while the other is stuffed between his legs like a little kid trying not to pee.

And he is waiting for me to die.

Well, fuck you – I do not plan to die during your reign on this planet. And it is not the lousy $5,000 and change account that is truly missing anyways. It’s the other, nonexistent, account that is missing.

I don’t know how it happened. It was ugly. She cheated. It got uglier. She cheated more. What is beyond ugly? That’s where it went last. And she cheated again.

We sat down with the lawyer–her lawyer–we listed the accounts that we had between us and planned how to divvy them up. Then they fucked me. I’m not bitter but they really screwed me, so I got my own lawyer and we spent two years trying to cut a watermelon in half. Seriously, one medium sharp pencil, one piece of scratch paper and a calculator with about 15 minutes of juice in it was all that was needed to cut this fish in two but it was decided to drag it out for 20 months instead because that would somehow make things more right. The lawyers and the accountants…I never knew that there was such an animal as a forensic accountant…they’re like the Quincy’s of the bookkeeping world…anyways, the professionals, they ate all of the money. They left us amateurs with less than nothing. I still owe.

But there’s this missing Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account. I know it doesn’t really exist. But somewhere (and we do not know where) someone (and we do not know who) said that there were three Merrill Lynch Accounts. One hers and two mine. I don’t know. I quit paying attention five years ago when this all started. Five years ago when all of the air was let out of the balloon. And the balloon was rolled up and put into its traveling case and the case was loaded onto the ship and the ship was sent hurtling into space in the general direction of the sun. With any luck the balloon, the case, the ship and the sun will all converge one day. The resulting flare will cause worldwide blackouts. All radio transmissions will sound like Jerry Lewis being eaten alive by hyenas. The sky will flash bright then darken completely. Computer memory will fail – everywhere. The One-Year Dead, the Two-Year Dead…all of the Dead will no longer exist and a very small man who used to have a reprehensibly cushy job at Merrill Lynch will sit behind the wheel of his 1998 maroon-colored vehicle and he will grab his balls and begin the long drive home.

Burning In Water (w/ a thanks to Bukowski)

by jc jaress

The hair around my nipples has grown longer. It’s not something that one would notice. Hell, I didn’t even notice until one late summer day – actually, an early fall day in Southern California where we regularly push the summers well into October and on into December if we’re lucky – while smoking a cigarette and reading the latest edition of “Modern Painters” I looked down across my bare chest at hairs that had begun to grey and noticed a lengthy curl about my left nipple. Fortunately, the right nipple had equal growth so I did not look unbalanced in any way but the long hairs and the greying and the fact that I could repose on a Thursday late-summer morning and consider this newly discovered arrangement satisfied me in a very adult way.

I had long wondered when I might consider myself adult. 40. And without children. Two years divorced from a 16-year marriage that had begun desperately, ended tragically and with the in between years spent running up and down the same tired hills so often that the geography had ground down into a long, flat, arid plain complete with mirages, and buzzards and the ever-hopeful site of an oasis. It was from this Italian Western image of my life that I prison escaped myself, albeit kicking and screaming and thirsting for more staked-to-the-ground-waiting-for-the-ants-to-eat-me-alive-Indian-torture that I had so come to love and hate. It was in these few short years after the divorce that I had learned to see me. Not the “star of my own movie” image of me but the real me. The whole me, with flaws and fears and unspoken desires; a me that previously had demonstrated itself only in sweaty palms and knotted tongue and ranting self-directed, though outwardly-manifested, anger.

But there had been plenty of real Vincent Price torture inflicted upon me. Like the night that I spent outside of her boyfriend’s closet/office (he was a glorified janitor – a “maintenance man”) listening to the amorous lovers until I could take it no more and introduced myself by the uncontrolled banging on that cold steel door with the sort of fever that sends one hastily to the hospital for fear that the body might boil inside of its own skin. Had that door been wooden, or had there been a window. But what janitor’s closet would rate the expense or privilege of a window. And so, I sat. And read aloud to the caged birds that did not sing. Charles Bukowski. I went out to my car and pulled a recently purchased copy of “Burning In Water, Drowning In Flame” and began to read as if to children at bedtime. Of course, and unpremeditated on my part – for it was an unread copy to me, Buck’s poetry called for “cutting the balls off of the guy” in the first entry. I skipped ahead a poem or two to share in his dismay with his “sack of shit black-haired whore”. Bukowski probably was and wasn’t the best of choices that nig…no one sings of what beautiful sacks of shit that we humans are better than Bukowski.

The faint hum of a car engine preceded the police by just a few seconds but enough that I remained calm and expectant as they “surprised” me with guns drawn for whatever madman must be lingering about outside of the University janitor’s closet reading poetry at 2:30 in the morning. Surreal does nothing to describe the flush of emotions, the acuity of the senses, the sharpness and absolute blindness of that moment when first you hear your loved one’s panting, throaty, impaled voice through a steel door in the hallways of your own alma mater. Nearly twenty years prior I would have given nearly everything to steal away into an unlocked closet with any number of fresh, new little college girl-things or some worldly, frustrated, closed-down, soon-to-be-spread-eagled instructor that chose to lose it one day with a coed and dragged me into some secreted space. But not your wife. No one, no one wants to hear their wife’s murmurs and squeals from the other side of That Door.

I tried explaining all of this to the police; there were three. Good, bad and indifferent. Mr. Bad talked with the inconvenienced couple while Mr. Good chuckled with me over the absurdity of the situation. How, no, he never had come across a guy reading poetry to his wife and her lover and, though there were several other choices of action that he suggested, this was far and away the most inventive approach to the dilemma that he had ever encountered. Mr. Indifferent was the go-between; running back and forth with updates, “If they want to pursue this, you will go to jail” and “It is against the law to stalk someone…even your own wife” and, finally, thankfully, “They have agreed not to press charges.” The cops, in their car now, followed me the mile and one half to my house. They stopped short of walking me to the door figuring that their last threat of arrest if I stepped foot on the campus again should suffice a guy that had enough deranged wits about him to sit and read a book when he could just as easily taken apart both of their cars that were so conveniently parked together like a pair of cooing doves in the deserted campus parking lot.

I spent the next six hours packing her things. The U-Haul station opened at 7:00am and I bought two bundles of the largest boxes they sold and filled them, carefully, and with packing paper, with just about everything that looked or smelled or intimated a connection to Bukowski’s, and my, sack of shit whore. It’s only now, today as I sit admiring my lengthening and greying chest hairs, that I begin to truly appreciate the wonderful gift that she bestowed upon me; that surreal sense of what it is to be alive. To begin to feel the world disappearing from under my feet until I was left completely ungrounded and, for the first time in my life, face-to-face with myself.


by jc jaress

She ended it with the slamming of a door that had begun to chip the paint from around the jamb
One day she’d slam that door and knock all the paint off of everything and he would just stand there

There was no sign or warning
No look in her eye
No twitch
No minor hesitation
And then, as if out of nowhere, she would lay 14-years of marriage across his face with a swift, flat hand that reeled the memories in his already spinning brain
It wasn’t fair
It was never fair
As a child he had lived this same way for too many years,
Until that day, as a young man, when he caught his mother’s hand in mid-strike and held it there
Just a little too tightly
And a little too long
And told her, “Never again.”
But not this one
He never stopped her
He just stood
And took it
And never raised a hand
She was just too close to him
Or maybe he was too close to her
And it didn’t seem to matter on which side he chose
Like trying to pick between two long lines at the checkout stand and always guessing wrong
There was no winning in it for him
Just chipping paint
And so many things left untold

A Fine Line

by jc jaress

Forty years of cigarettes had worked her face over like a metal rake and her hair that she says use to fall like golden sunshine now sits brittle and high upon this plucked and painted landscape

But she still has legs

And an ass that stumble-dances its way from barstool to barstool like a parade of horses on their way to the starting gate carrying the jocks wearing their multi-colored silks

Prancing and snorting

All stiff legged, every step working up the lather between their cheeks

But it isn’t the body that keeps her in business, no, it’s the way she carries it

Teetering on that fine line between holding your whole world in the palm of her hand as if you are the only man that she would ever know

Or falling down piss-drunk in the street

Tonight, she’s been here too long and has worn out most of her welcome

Finishing her drink, she makes a move toward the door and, fighting with the barstool over her purse, crashes to the floor in a great heap of legs and ass

God, she must’ve had great lather a few years back


a short story by J Eric Miller

My old man lived off the animals. Which is to say, he was an exploiter. He used to run a trap line, and he raised chinchillas in the basement. He shot bears for the gallbladders, deer and elk for their horns, and God knows what else. Cockfights, dog fights, raccoons chained to logs and forced to fight dogs, and so on. He ran exotic birds through the house; my father and I would burn the bodies of the bulk of the birds that died in transit, and we would try to clean up those that lived. Somebody would pick them up and give my father money. Mother kept a few, her pets, and she taught them to speak. My father never liked hearing them much. Neither did I.

She got fed up after a while. Probably with all the animals and the death and the fact my father never had a real job and most of the money we had came from places ordinary people wouldn’t consider legitimate. She wanted, I think, to lead a regular life. So she left.

I was seventeen. The morning after she left, my father took her birds out and went from one to another, wringing their necks. I guess he didn’t want them bringing up memories.

Those first seventeen years were filled with blood, and suffering, and death. You’d think it was my birthright. You’d think I’d be the same as my old man. But I wasn’t. I could hear the sound of those pet birds talking, and the sound of their necks breaking. That was the end of it.

And so, like my mother, I left.

Ten years later, and I don’t eat meat. I don’t wear leather, or wool, for that matter, or silk. I don’t eat eggs and I don’t drink milk. I try not to do anything that involves the exploitation of animals. A psychologist might say that I’m overcompensating. But I like to believe that if I had grown up the regular way that my mother wanted, I would have developed these convictions anyway.

In truth, it doesn’t matter. I believe what I believe.

I am involved. I am doing what I can. Trying to slip cogs out of the machine. Trying to remember, when I feel overwhelmed, that each individual suffering is worth alleviating, even if the overall problem is not solved. Break-ins, thefts, and destruction: testing laboratories, hen batteries, fur farms. Sometimes we do more. Sometimes we do things that would make lesser people turn away. But of this I am certain: nothing will ever make me stop.

It is only that I want a break. Everybody needs a vacation sometime.

Ten years, and I haven’t seen my old man–shortly after the divorce, he moved into a cabin he owns in a Washington state forest–although I call him two or three times a year. We never really talk about anything; we just confirm that the other is alive. It’s obvious he’s gone downhill. You can hear the age in his voice. Sometimes, he doesn’t make much sense. I imagine empty cages with doors bent open; instruments, once sharp and shiny, now dull and rusted. It is important for me to believe that my father is no longer an exploiter. After all, he’d be a perfect target, even though he’s my dad.

The cabin is in a state of disrepair. And to my relief, there are no apparent victims about–no animals staked to the ground; no skins stretched on the outside walls; nothing crying out from some hidden place; nothing. There are, in fact, butterflies and hummingbirds in the air.

The old man is bent and gray. Hair hangs off his knuckles, out of his ears. He looks mean and wrinkled and when he smiles at me from the cabin door his face looks like a rubber mask. It is at once frightening and pathetic.

“What you up to, Pop?”

“I’ve got to tell you,” he says in the voice of a conspirator–and a fear runs through me–“that I’ve found particular signs. Absolute evidence. He is about…”

“Who’s about?”

“Bigfoot,” he hisses.


“Bigfoot. He’s mine.” His eyes absolutely glow with purpose.

The relief is not as profound as you might think. In truth, I am undone by the pathos of it. I half wish that Bigfoot were, indeed, about. Even worse, I wish that my father might catch the creature so that the light–mean and stupid as it is–will not leave his eyes.

“Going to get him by God!”

The old man’s face is steady and determined now and I can no longer see the pathos. Rather, I am chilled by his intensity.

He feeds me potatoes and I ignore the bloody, store-bought meat he eats.

“You got a happy life?” he asks.

“I’m not unhappy.”

He nods and appears to think. “Me neither.”

“It’s thin line,” I say.

He looks at me. His face isn’t quite blank, but it is hard to read. I almost see a question there. I’m ready to say more. It is only through an act of will that I close my mouth and turn away.

“Let me show you something,” he says.

He lifts to the table a dirty folder full of cutouts from various magazines offering money for the live capture, or at least the dead body of, Bigfoot.

Artists’ renderings show the creature as sad-eyed and intelligent-looking, shoulders slumped as if with fatigue, with the face of a chimp, which reminds me of the faces of the many tortured, beaten and imprisoned animals I’ve seen.

“I’ll get the bastard,” my father says, but he’s no longer talking to me. He’s looking off, his head nodding and nodding, as if he has forgotten how to stop it.

I want to nudge him, maybe a bit roughly, as if he is a broken record, caught upon a skip. I rise and take my plate to the sink. My father goes to the window and stares out. Slack has drawn the wrinkles from his face. His lips are puckered, his head cocked slightly.

In the night, Bigfoot’s face comes to me sad, as it is in the drawings, but then it transforms, and I see the eyes of my father in the face of the beast, stupid and hungry. I sit up and can hear my old man breathing.

“I figgered you’d come here,” he tells me the next day.

“I’m not staying long. Just a few days.”

He smiles. “You don’t have to help me.”

“Help you what?”

He smiles even more broadly. “You don’t have to help my catch him. You can stay here anyway.”

“I didn’t come to help you.”

“I know. You came for help.”

He begins to laugh.

Each morning, he goes across an old bridge and into the forest. He carries a carefully maintained tranquilizer gun–I’ve used them myself in different circumstances–and a backpack. Hunched and hunkered, he disappears into the woods.

At night, I hear noises from the woods; they wake me from my sleep and I think about the creature. My father is always awake at these times. I find him at the window, perfectly still and focused.

When I dream at night, it is of either my old man or Bigfoot, or a combination of the two: the face is evil, then innocent; it is mean, then sad. When I wake I feel I haven’t slept at all.

I wait for my father during the day. I catch up on the reading I’ve avoided over the years. Frequently, I drift into naps–and I dream then, too. Sometimes it is of the animals I’ve helped, the ones who’d been broken so badly that their suffering could only be alleviated by death; or the thousands who are maimed, physically and psychologically, for the rest of their lives. I think of those I could not help, the ones who had to be left to their exploiters. Rarely do I dream of those animals whose rescues were accomplished cleanly.

In the day, with the weak warm sun on me, I dream, too of humans, the ones we’ve labeled evil, and the attempts to break them, their bodies and their minds.

Sometimes I wake still dreaming of the pain. Sometimes the pain of animals and humans blur into one throbbing mass. Then I snap out of it, emerging to the sound of birds, to the smell of my father, and, sometimes, to a deeper smell of some other creature in the forest. I feel watched, frightened, exposed.

The old man comes back limping. He doesn’t know to soak his feet. “Going to get him,” he says, “you bet.” He eats his bloody meat. He stares from the window.

And at night, something thrashes in the woods. Before coming here, I would have known it was only a bear or an elk or some other animal, large but identifiable. Now, I have to remind myself.

I am not sleeping enough. The dreams are following me too far into my waking. The sunlight is on my face but I can look right past it to the woods, where moss hangs like drapes in the darkness, above the stink of earth. I tell myself, get your mind straight. You’ve been weak before, many times. In every circumstance there is a moment of weakness. But weakness is something certain that a mind can overcome.

Overcome, I tell myself. Think straight. Take control. Overcome.

“Soon,” he says.


“I’ll have him soon. You’ll see.”

I can hear the bones of my father creaking as he walks around the cabin. I ask nothing further.

I watch the old man go into the forest. He looks innocent and he looks evil. He looks sad and he looks cruel. I am not clear on other things, either: do I follow to hunt him or help him? Do I go to be hunted by him with the beast as bait or by the beast with him as bait?

There was a light rain last night and into this morning, and his recent tracks are easy to differentiate from those of previous journeys.

This forest is dark and crowded and dank. There is the drone of insects and the sound of small animals, and sometimes, a crashing sound from an animal much larger than me. My mind is clear. I tell myself to go forward, one step after the other.

I see a thin stand of aspen trees with sunshine pouring in. My father’s tracks veer off there, and I follow them. He is fifty yards in, lying at the base of a tree, his hands folded on his chest, his pack and rifle propped up beside him. Up close, I can hear his breath is long and deep. I look around. The woods are still. My father is still. I can hear his heart, or perhaps it is my own. Or perhaps it is the heartbeat of the creature. For a moment, I imagine that I am the Bigfoot my old man seeks. I imagine standing as that creature above my father, leaning down with large, black hands, and twisting without much effort the old man’s head, so that his neck snaps and it is over.

And I hear all of our hearts as that one heart.

A small black ant runs across my old man’s face. And I realize, he’s going to die, just like that, sometime soon, in peace, without really causing much more harm to the world.

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