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HPIM1667.JPGThe Dying of the Cotton

“Dude, I think that you need a cat.”

Those fateful words were uttered in the middle of another sleep-deprived Colorado night back in the year of Ought-Four. My redheaded lady friend at the time – now my sweet wife – was the utterer. The ancient timber walls of the rancher’s cabin that I lived in were alive with mysterious activities. Every night, the dance of the deer mice began somewhere in the vicinity of the headboard of my double bed, then ran a hidden course that looped all the way around the small cabin in a loud circuit. Small shadows darted about the pine floors. Food supplies, both human and canine, were regularly attacked. The constant scurrying had my old dog Bear in a frenzy of frustrated patrols.

The last straw came when, lost in a pre-dawn codeine stupor while fighting the lingering Crud, I awoke to the tapping of a clammy nose upon my feverish cheek. Cracking one bloodshot eye, I made out the hazy image of a ragged-looking mouse sitting up on my chest. He was holding the keys to my truck in his outstretched hand. “We’re gonna take the Ford for a spin up to the Cardamone place. There’s a mouse party goin’ down up yonder…Cheese, milk, cereal by the barrel…the whole nine centimeters,” the rodent said nonchalantly. “Thought that you might want to know that you’ll probably be late for work today. We’ll be back around 11… Ish…” it added.

“Ohhh. OK. Thanks…I guess. But hey…can you put some fuel in the truck? I’m almost out,” I replied. My head was woozy. The room was spinning. “Sure, sure, bub. We’ll “put some fuel in it” the mouse retorted with a sarcastic wink and the flicking of his rubbery paws in the universal sign of mocked quotation.

When I emerged from my narcotic slumber it was past noon. I looked out of the window and saw that my truck was parked halfway into Miss Carolyn’s prized azaleas. I looked down at the kitchen floor and was not surprised by what I saw. At least a baker’s dozen mice were passed out haphazardly on the linoleum, smiles cast on their milk-stained faces, yellow curds clutched greedily in their awful paws. “Bear! Get em!” I shrieked. The half-Shepherd, half-Chow, half-human leapt into action from his nap at the foot of the bed. The mice all sat up slowly, watching his progress across the 10 feet that separated them with bemused looks, not unlike Monty Python’s French castle guards. Bear growled fiercely as he narrowed the gap, and was about to tear into the mess of them with a year’s worth of pent up, stolen-Alpo doggie fury when the entire stoned colony of mice bolted in every direction at once. All of them, that is, but one.

The Bear stood above him snarling like I had never seen him snarl before – well, other than every day the UPS man comes by that is. But rather than cower at the sight of the relatively enormous monster before it, the mouse produced a tiny white glove from beneath it, methodically straightened out each of its fingers, and then rudely slapped the menacing dog once each way across the nose in rapid succession before hopping off towards a large hole underneath the sink cabinets. Just before it vanished into its hole, the mouse looked back at the two of us, both frozen in stunned silence, and flipped us an exaggerated, arched back double bird, then wheeled and slipped into the darkness. We were still stilling there in frozen astonishment when we saw a creepy ribbed tail emerge backwards from the hole, followed by a hairy rat’s ass. Then, preceded by a discernibly gross, cheesy fart, and there before Jah Rastafari, Bear Anderson, and a shelve full of shocked-looking antique action figures, the Francophile mouse shat a row of shining black poo pebbles onto the kitchen floor. Prior to that moment, I did not think it possible for a dog to wince, but it became clear to me then by looking at the pained look on Bear’s face told me that it was indeed Time To Get A Cat.

Two weeks later, almost as if on cue, a mixed litter of black, white, and grey barn kittens were born in a loft of the ranch where I lived. My girlfriend (and now my wife) had by then moved into the 500 square foot cabin, along with her three beloved ferrets, and was insistent that we claim one of the litter when they were old enough to leave their mother, Muffin.

I had never owned a cat. Never really been around cats other than one that my roommates had in college – an orange tabby named Goat who mostly lived outside with the chickens and the couches. My parents had never had a cat, and I am fairly certain that their parents hadn’t either. I generally mocked those friends of mine that had cats as being soft. The concept was totally foreign to me. But Sharon had grown up with cats and after her own run-in’s with the mousey mafia that ruled our roost, I was assigned, literally, a tiny, bright-eyed white kitten with snappy black patches on its face and one paw and a long grey-stripped raccoon tail.

We brought him into the cabin and Sharon, her ferrets, Bear and I all watched in awe as this little furbearing rocket flew around our house, leaping from dresser to the bed, from the bed to the door sill, performing consistent acts of gravity defiance. Our neighbors Adrian and Susan came over to check on the brother of their two kittens, Pancho and Lefty. We all sat in a circle watching the kitten frolic, drinking Tullamore Dew scotch whiskey from the bottle, and pitching names for the thing. It was Adrian, a native North Carolinian like myself with deep roots across the south, who came up with the name that stuck: Cotton. I would later add an unofficial prefix to the name – Rotten.

Days turned into months and Cotton steadily grew from his initial miniscularity into a fine looking full sized cat. Within weeks of his arrival into our little cabin world, our mouse problem had ebbed into just an occasional brave (or stupid) loner who hadn’t heard the news: There was a new sheriff in town, and he wasn’t taking any prisoners. I have never seen Bear more happy. Finally we could all sleep in peace, except for the occasional sudden midnight flurry, usually followed by a contented sounding CRUNCH CRUNCH from somewhere in the kitchen area. One morning I awoke to find the cat in his customary place –lodged like a shiv, forming a perfect dividing line with the Bear dog between Sharon and I. I was stroking the soft fur on his head when my hand coursed over his face, where something tangibly out of place found my touch. Bleary eyed, I sat up and peered over at him. Sticking out of his smiling mouth was a tiny white glove. Cotton had found his true calling at a very young age. We should all be so lucky.

II.

Cotton lived what I imagine to be the most happy and fulfilling life a cat can hope for on the Shipp Ranch for several years prior to our 2005 move to the clean (but busy) streets of Carbondale, Colorado.  In the winters, he curled up and lounged with us in the cozy cabins. When the snow melted enough that his paws would tolerate the frigidity of the earth, he booked it for the pasture fences, where he would stalk the rails in a low crouch, feeding on a veritable Arc of wildlife – field mice, rabbits, birds of a hundred feathers, lizards, snakes, and the occasional Formerly Sentient Being To Be Named Later.

Despite the anti-camouflage of his stark white coat and his daring do in a heavily hunted predatory zone, Cotton survived and thrived at ranch life. He outlasted his mother and the three of his litter mates that were kept on the ranch, all of whom were picked off by a particularly wily pack of coyotes, though he regularly came home with fresh scars that foretold of difficult battles with larger mammals.

The move to our new townhouse was a blessing for Sharon and myself. We finally had our own place, along with the room to spread out a bit that any co-habitative long-term cabin-dweller eventually yearns for. The “kids,” however, seemed to lose a little bounce in their new city lives. No longer free to roam wide pastures and open space, and confined to the house for fear of the many cars and trucks that buzzed our neighborhood, Cotton and Bear both whined and whimpered at the front and back doors of the house, often one at each, an achievement of stereophonic guilt.

Eventually, we relented. With his regular, mournful moan becoming intolerable, and after a few long man –to-cat talks, Cotton was given the run of Barber Drive. It was not an easy decision. The irony of the name Car-bon-dale was not lost on me. We knew the possibilities that his street walking might bring. In the end, we figured that with the ideal life that he had already led, he deserved a chance to go out (in this case, literally) on his own terms. Survival of the fittest, carpe meow, all ‘dat…

I was not surprised in the least that he took to the dangerous city streets as easily as he did to the predatorily hazardous ranch trails. He was the quickest cat I’ve ever known, with extra cat-like agility. Regularly I would be sitting on the back porch overlooking the hubbub of Hendrick Drive when I would see a white flash emerge from underneath a parked car, dash across the road comfortably ahead of oncoming traffic, and disappear under the cars and trucks parked across the way. And, ever evening, just like clockwork, when the wife or I would go out on the front stoop and clang a tuna can with a wooden spoon, here would come Cotton, just as dirty and bloody and happy as ever.

III.

It was three in the morning in Posen, Michigan when polite knuckles rapped on the door of Sharon’s childhood bedroom door. I was there to meet her parents and multitude of strapping, protective-looking siblings, and, if everything went well, to ask her father’s permission to marry his daughter. Bleary eyed from the late hour and the gallons of pilsner consumed earlier at the bonfire meet and greet, we heard the voice of Sharon’s mother, Rita. She sounded concerned, but ever so politely. “There is a girl on the phone for you Corby. I think that she speaks another language. She wants to talk to you,” she said. Her tone worried me. Her tone worried me. There are, after all,  very few potential positive outcomes when a French woman calls your girlfriends parents house in the middle of the night of your engagement party asking for you.

Thanking my future mother-in-law, I took the call. “Zee cat, eez squieeeshed!” said the voice on the other line. I recognized it to be that of my TV station intern, Cecile, a Frenchwoman who was at our house watching the animals for us. “Zee cat! Eet eez squished…oh no I feel zo tereeebley!” she said again in a Franco lilt. “Eer. Talk to zee veterinarian,” she said sadly, pronouncing every syllable of “vegetarian” with utmost care.

The vet got on the phone and told us that Cotton had been ran over by a car. He said that Cecile had brought him in that night, but that he suspected the accident to have happened earlier, maybe a full day earlier. She had found him after hearing a low moan outside of our bedroom window – usually a sound only heard coming from Peeping Juan, the town pervert. “He doesn’t look good. He’s got a broken leg and pelvis. We can’t know of the internal damage to his organs until we get into surgery,” he said calmly. “I need a credit card for that,” he added.

Sharon was listening over my shoulder. She started to cry, which in turn made me tear up. I repeated to her what the doctor was telling me. She cried more. So did I. “How much is it?” I asked, pondering the impossible question that faces every pet or car owner: how much is your old friend, your family member even – life worth?

I am not a rich man. Never have been. Hope to be someday, like most probably do or should, but at that time to say that my finances were limited is an understatement. The vet told us that while he couldn’t be sure what the total costs might be, depending on the injuries found in exploratory surgery, he thought that $3000 was a good number to start with. The number hit both of us like a brick. When he added that “even with surgery there is a very good chance that Cotton will never walk with his back legs again,” I felt a whole wall of bricks tumble down on my suddenly saddened brain. “Or, I could put him down in a painless procedure. That costs about $200 bucks.” More bricks.

We asked to have a minute to discuss the decision and told him that we would call back in a few minutes. We called Carolyn, the owner of the ranch where Cotton was born. Carolyn Shipp possesses a unique combination of qualities: great empathy towards all living creatures, along with a Libertarian sensibility when it comes to business. We gave her the facts. She paused. Then she told us what we knew in our hearts already: with no easy way to pay and no clear promise of recovery, we should let the vet euthanize the cat.

Fighting back tears, I called the vet back. “Doc, we have to let him go. For all of the reasons discussed before. I need you to ask Cecile to hold the phone up to Cotton’s little ears so that I can say goodbye.”

“Well, if THAT is your decision, then I’ll just see what I can fix and put him up for adoption,” the veterinarian replied unexpectedly. “Excuse me? Did you just sa…” I stammered, shocked. “Yes you did. I’ll repeat it. If you are asking me to put this cat to sleep, I will not do it. I will fix him and then adopt him out to a caring family.” Silence. The weird silence of slow motion bricks tumbling down onto more bricks.

I threatened to sue right then and there. “I’ll have your fucking license for this stunt!” I yelled. Sharon sat amazed, sad. The veterinarian tried to explain what he meant. I countered and shut him down. He tried again. “I’ll tell you what. Let me see what the injuries are and we can figure out the payment later,” he said, humbled. “Well, obviously if he can be fixed, fix the boy. But I ain’t able to pay that kind of money, nor will I, after this bullshit phone call,” I iterated. It pained me to argue for the death of a good friend, but there were principles at play, and I am, if anything, a man of principles. We agreed on surgery. I was connected to Cotton via cell phone speaker to cat ear. “Hang in there buddy. We love you. Bear loves you. Doc’s gonna fix you up good,” I said, expecting that would be the last time I spoke to him. He did not answer. I thanked Cecile and tried to explain to her that she was in no way responsible. I asked that she take care of the dude the best that she could if he made it out of surgery and that we would be home within four days.

I hung up, and we stayed up the rest of the night fretting for Cotton’s life and deciding whether to drive home in the morning or to carry on with our trip as planned. There were elderly grandparents to visit with yet, and I still had a secret, seriously convoluted engagement plan complete with documentary film crew, special after hours private tour and post-yes (I hoped!) catered dinner in a historic lighthouse on Mackinac Island to see to.

To all of our excitement, except possibly Cecile, who had to nurse a partially paralyzed cat for several days, Cotton came out on the topside of surgery. The car had indeed broken his rear leg and shattered his pelvis, but other than a bruised spleen and a hernia, his internal organs had survived intact. Cecile told me to stay on and to go through with my engagement plan/scheme. By the time that we returned, Cotton had graduated from dragging himself around our condo with his front paws to gingerly walking. It was a miracle of sorts. I had condemned a dead cat to being deader. He not only survived being hit by a car, but my own execution order. We kept him inside after that.

IV.

Two years later, on the last days of the year 2007, our herd moved from the frigid winter chill of the Rocky Mountains to the relatively balmy climes of Monterey, California. I wanted to write a book and to find a way to advance my career in media. Sharon wanted to study dentistry. Bear and Cotton wanted some space. Off we went, into the maw of a massive winter storm, our lives jam packed into a U-Haul truck and chase vehicle.

We wound up in a wonderfully spacious ranch-style four bedroom house in the old Army base town of Marina, formerly Fort Ord. The house had a large fenced back yard AND a large fenced front yard. The neighborhood traffic in rural California was perplexingly, and blessedly, light compared to that of the small mountain town in Colorado from whence we had migrated. An enormous sand dune and the four-lane Highway 1 embankment was all that separated us from the glory and danger of the Pacific Ocean. At night we could sit INSIDE the house and hear the ocean roar. Birds were everywhere, much to Cotton’s satisfaction. From little sparrows to cormorants, seagulls to Snowy Plovers — you couldn’t toss a sourdough crumb without a dozen flying creatures clamoring over the score.

After a few weeks of beach life, it was decided that Cotton would once again be an outside cat. Maybe the calm, serene atmosphere of fog and ocean breezes got us to lighten up, or maybe the cats own outdoorsy personality and the telepathically transmitted insistence of his innate need to be Out There won us over, but out he went. Right away he picked up his hunting and general carousing as he had before. His street smarts were evident immediately. We watched him gracefully maneuver Brookside Place and the surrounding feeder roads. Maybe it helped that there was less traffic. Maybe it was that the roads there were built wider enough for three tanks to drive parallel to one another and still have room for a fleet of jeeps to be parked on either side of the road.  Perhaps or boy, by now known affectionately as “the stupid cat” had learned a little something from his run in with the Michelin Man.

Whatever it was, he had the outside cat game fully wired now.

Though fixed, and not necessarily burly by cat standards, Cotton fought like a wildcat with the neighboring cats until it was clear by the noises of each scrap and by Cotton’s studly saunter while leaving each catty scene that he had ascended to alpha of the Brookside pride. He had girlfriends at seemingly every house on the block. When he came home and did not eat his food, we worried some, until we were told by several neighbors that he was wont to visitation and meal privileges in several neighborhood households. He and his buddy, the Bear dog, now visibly aging, tag teamed the local bird population. Not a morning went by that I did not hear my wife’s sing song voice emanating from the living room. “See the birdies?” she would say in her best baby mama voice. It nearly brought the house down every time, with both cat and dog howling in agreeance while clawing into the glass door. Oh, they saw the birdies alright.

Several months later we brought home a soul who was unwittingly to become Cotton’s best friend and worst tormentor. Hondo the dog was born in a Missoula, Montana English Shepherd puppy mill.

It was on New Years eve later that year when I was to realize the sordid nature of his origins, but I should have known. The breeder’s business was called Shady Lane Puppy Farms.  We had looked around all over the regional papers for a pup from this particular breed, but finally were forced to ship Hondo in from out of state. He arrived at the San Jose Airport in a plastic and steel dog crate. He was tiny and scared and visibly confounded by his plight. To comfort him, I had brought along a film crew to document our meeting, along with large photo print outs of his new family. “This is your mama,” I said, holding up a photo of Sharon to the open crate door. He stayed cowering in the back. “This is The Bear, your new brother. He’s the best dog ever,” I said. A tiny, fuzzy black, brown and white painted ear perked, but that was it. “And this, this is your kitty,” I said, holding up the 8×11 color photo of Cotton. YAP! The pup snapped out of his apoplexy, rushing forth to sniff the photo. HIS kitty. It was love/hate/terror/love at first sight.

V.

My intended mission for Hondo was for the youngster to grow to be my old boy Bear’s friend and understudy as he entered his golden years. And while he took to that role with a natural canine camaraderie (though his herding instincts kept the aging Bear on his guard for sneak attack “drive bys”), it was the depth of his friendship with Cotton the cat that surprised us all.

The two were fast friends, literally. Cotton was prone to the “midnight zoomies,” a crack head-like spasmodic reaction to God-knows-what provocation. As a night owl myself, I grew to appreciate these impressive displays of deep-night random energy and strange feline athleticism, but the same cannot be said for Hondo.

Hondo is a weird sleeper. He splays out upside down like a hairy, de-shelled turtle. Cotton seemed to time his evening calisthenics to just about the time that Hondo would grow bored with my Sportscenter fixation, roll over and grunt himself to sleep. Then, with a punk spirit, the Goddamn Cat (Hondo’s words, not mine) would deftly launch himself from the top shelf of the couch down onto the sleeping dogs’ exposed belly, touching down only briefly enough to gather himself and steal a quick catty sneer at the startled pup, before bounding off down to the deck and sprinting off around the far reaches of the house. The poor dog, of course, had no chance. There was no catching a hyped up barn cat with rascality in his blood and evasive maneuvers woven deeply into his sinew.

VI.

We moved a total of four times during the Reign of Cotton. The third and fourth moves were rapidly stacked together, with (thankfully) just two months internment in the California Dutch hellhole known as Ripon, California.

That was the amount of time it took to kill my best friend Bear, who was riddled with two types of cancer and held a fragile football-sized tumor in his poor belly, contract a persistent case of walking pneumonia, pack our beach house up, move the family to Ripon to take a job writing for a couple of TV food show producers who turned out to be the sleaziest, heartless, lowdown scum sucking dirt bags in the history of an industry rife with sleazy scum suckers, drop off the family at our new house before promptly jumping on a plane to the Super Bowl in Dallas for work, find out that my dear Grandma had died in a fall, succumb to the gathering sickness in my hotel room, be excused to go home, fly to the funeral, deliver the eulogy, return to my new home to find out that I was fired, and spend a month looking hopelessly for work in a recession-ridden Central California town that neither Hitchcock nor Steinbeck could have dreamt up.

In that time, Cotton seemed resentful of our move to inner-suburbia. His forays out into the neighborhood were forbidden, as the traffic was regular and the bird-loving neighbors overt enough to let on that cats don’t last long in their hood, a comment that seemed to have nothing to do with the pace and regularity of the traffic and much to do with their Taj Mahalesque bird mansion that measured 25 floors and covered more lawn space than a live oak.

So, instead of his jocular life of outdoor adventures, he was cooped up, whiny, and dispirited. Not even a chance to have a go at the upturned, snoozing pup seemed to rile his mischievous instincts. Gone were the midnight zoomies. Instead, he slept all day, and moaned pitifully at the foot of the door all night.

VII.

Thankfully, fate intervened. One morning, as I teetered near my breaking point in Ripon following an ugly encounter with the neighbor over her perfidious threat to call the cops on us to have my old, temporarily dead 1972 Chevelle towed away as a neighborhood eyesore, I got a text from Dan Shipp, the Mississippi lawyer who owned the Colorado ranch that Cotton had been born on. “What y’all doin?” he asked in his trademark gentlemanly draw. “Pondering a good, old fashioned neighborly fire bombing, to be quite honest. As my lawyer, what kind of time do you think I’m looking at if I torch the neighbor skank’s bird castle?” I replied.

He must have sensed the mounting frustration in my voice, because within minutes he had offered us the chance to move back to his ranch to the little old cabin that we had lived in years before. Within 24 hours we were packed into a 21’ U-Haul, had accidentally knocked off the birdfeeder while backing the attached Chevelle-hauling trailer out of the driveway, and had abandoned uncaring California for the open-armed Colorado. As soon as we had negotiated our long-haul truck and trailer down the narrow dirt road that leads to Shipp Ranch, Cotton began mewing uncontrollably, sparking a mystified Hondo to follow suit.

VIII.

Back on the ranch, Cotton quickly regained his mojo. Now an adult, his mousing skills had sharpened to the point of mastery. Soon, he graduated to squirrels, then small rabbits, along with a steady stream of birds. To supplement his diet, he would throw in a green snake or two a week, a horrendous habit that he seemed eager to share with us by way of dragging the live, squirming snakes into the window before releasing them on our bedroom floor for further examination.

For these field hunts, he often teamed up with his uncle, a grey Maine Coon known as Mister Tigger. It was not unusual to see the two of them stalking a pole fence, one on the top row, and the other on the one below, each crouched low as they scanned the pasture grasses for prey. Inevitably, a family brawl would ensue over the prize, with Cotton regularly pummeling a cat so legendarily tough that it was fabled to have once fended off a coyote by blinding the dog with a vicious frontal Ninja-cat attack.

At long last, Rotten Cotton was back in his element, living what is surely the dream of all cat – wandering open country that was filled with feline delights, dominating the neighboring competition, then returning home to the small cabin at night to curl up under the tall legs of the old wood stove to slumber until his next adventure.

IX.

It was early spring when I got the call. I had started a new job with the local community college, and was in a meeting when my phone buzzed in my pocket. The number was not one that I recognized, but it was local so I decided to excuse myself from the meeting and see who was trying to reach me.

Though I deigned to admit it, I knew the reason for the call even before I answered it.

Cotton had been missing for four days. It was not unusual for him to stay out all night, but he always returned sometime early the next morning. This time he had not. His colleague Hondo had been wandering around for most of a week with a worried look on his brow, standing by the door looking out at all hours of the day, whimpering a bit at night. He eagerly sniffed the bushes on the mountainside beside the cabin on hikes to look for Cotton, both of us quietly hoping not to happen upon any soft white fur, soaked in red.

He was old, Cotton was. Near nine by now. Maybe he wandered off to die, I told my wife in an attempt to reassure her against the doom that we felt looming each night that he did not return. “No, he was fit and healthy. He’s been eaten. I’m sure of it,” she lamented. “Fucking coyotes…” She muttered. I kept a rifle at the ready, in case revenge opportuned.

Just in case, I made a sign and posted it on several power poles around the ranching community where we live. “White male cat with a grey coon tail. Goes by the name of Cotton, missing since Sunday,” it read. I chose two of my favorite pictures of Cotton for the sign. One was a shot that showed his full body, for identification purposes. In that shot, taken in the pitiful Ripon days when the one bright spot in our lives was the addition of a comfy leather couch that we purchased with money sent to us after my Granma’s death, Cotton lay splayed out on the top of the new leather couch, straddling the couch top like a horse saddle. His white fur glistened in the photo. His grey and black-streaked ears perked up and a quizzical look etched on his face as I stood behind him flipping him the bird. It was my way of warning him not to scratch our one good piece of furniture, which, amazingly, he never did.

The other photo that I included on his want ad was one taken in our condo in Carbondale, soon after he had miraculously recovered from being “squeeshed” by “zee car” and then doomed to the vet’s eternal needle by me, before being subsequently saved by the bungling vet.

This photo featured a close up of Cotton’s face as he worked his way into a bunch of historic peacock feathers given to me as a gift by author Hunter S. Thompson’s wife that I kept on my desk. The luminescent green-gold-purple eye of the peacock feather juxtaposed perfectly with Cotton’s own golden eye. The image represented to me everything to loved about the Stupid Cat: his indomitable curiosity, his penchant for adventure, and his mellow, kindly nature. He was not a bastard cat, whining for his way all of the time, clingy or spiteful. He was there when you needed him. Except now he was gone.

The caller asked if my name was Corby. He paused for a second. I studied his voice. It was oddly distressing. My legs gelled.

“Do you own a cat? A cat named Cotton?” he asked. My heart leapt and sank at the same time. Maybe…Maybe he had found the cat sleeping off a big, chipmonky meal in his barn? Maybe he’d finally found his lady cat and set up shop somewhere down the canyon? The possibilities raced through my head, quickly drowning out the budgetary thoughts that had been lingering just moments before.

Cotton had lived through many near disasters. He’d been raised on a ranch surrounded by coyotes that picked off all of his many relatives, hit by a car, condemned to die, and ran the high-traffic neighborhoods of California like a boss. Of lives, he knew many. But surely he had one good life left?

My mind churned through positive outcomes. The caller continued. “I’m…uh. Well, hell, son. I’m not sure how to tell you this…”

 *Corby Anderson is a freelance writer who works from the rickety loft of an old cabin in Emma, Colorado. His stories can be found here, as well as at corbyanderson.wordpress.com, Flipcollective.com, The Aspen Daily News, Monterey County Weekly, Canyon Country Zephyr, and BEER Magazine (the Playboy of beer rags), among others.

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“Dear God. Jesus Lord. Jah…Great Yogi Spirit in the Sky,” I pleaded aloud to all humanity from atop Coyote Mountain, a short hike that terminates at the locked gates of an abandoned Molybdenum mine not far from my house. I was down on my knees, as piously posed as one can be. You know the look: hands pressed together, elbows bent and tucked rib-ward, back straight, my head tilted precisely at 45 degrees, eyes closed to the world but opened inwardly to the possibility of random salvation.

“I. Need. A. Job. Any job…. Work.” I continued, really working up a spiritual lather. I felt my voice subconsciously morph into the staccato pattern (strangely, including an effective high-ceilinged echo) of a Baptist Minister who was reciting a particularly meaty passage of The Good Book.

“I need this work badly, you see. Any paid sort of regular activity will suffice, so long as I am able to pay my goddamned bills.”  I paused for effect.

It was in the pause that I first felt an eyebrow lift uncontrollably towards the heavens – a peculiar reaction. I am generally not prone to facial spasms, and so I took this as some sort of sign.

“Oh Jesus. Was that you? Controlling my brow?” I asked aloud without my typical trepidation for public oratory. What the hell. There was nobody around the old mine that could hear my prayer but me, the dog (who was off wallowing in irradiated mud), a few haggard marmots and The Big Guy Upstairs.

It occurred to me why my brow had twitched. Heavenly disapproval seemed the likely culprit. “Uh. Sorry about the “goddamned” thing.” My brain pinged.

“Whoops! Sorry again. I’ll stop with the goddamn stuff. Er. Yeah. OK. That was the last one. I swear. OK. Well, not anymore. With the swearing. I promise. Semantics…”

The other brow lifted to match its partner. “Whoa. So it IS you, right? With the brow tick thing?” I asked excitedly. I hadn’t officially prayed since 1993, and that was only to see if He might allow me to make out with Jenny Dorrance, a total hottie who otherwise ignored me with all of her pigtailed, freckled glory, on the church-sponsored 7th grade ski trip.

“OK. Well, hell..,” I continued. Looking around to make sure that I was truly alone. Of course I was alone. Nobody else EVER hiked this trail. They were worried about contamination. They read the signs and accepted their warnings as law. HA! I knew better. And because I knew better, I had my own private mountain to hike on whenever I wanted.

“OK. Brass tacks, sir. So, this job deal…I need one. Again. I know, I know. I am really sorry about that last one. I seriously tried to make that work, Dear Lord God. I Gave It My All.

“Unfortunately, my all was too much, apparently. It appears in retrospect, God Sir, that in fact, I gave too much. They said that I was “Over The Top” and that I was ‘Scaring the Customers’ with my ‘Antics.’

“Well, fuck em’, Lord. I am sure that you will agree that the Right Dishonorable Senator Teabagger was laughing just as hard as I was when I “accidentally” spilled that decanter on his lap. I mean….You were there. You tell me!?”

“So. Lordy Lord Lord. God of all G’s. Yahweh the Almighty. Can you help me? I won’t go so far as to say that I am in a pickle because I fuckin’ hate pickles. Too bitter. And all those seeds! Yuck! Why cant they make pickles out of carrots, anyways? See if you can look into that…”

“Anywho…,” I prayed with every ounce of spirit-loving hopeyness that I could muster. “I won’t go that far, but I did have to sell my left kidney to science this week to pay for my weekly massage. Priorities, right? We’ve all got ‘em. I’m sure that you do to. Like this job thing. If you can see to it that this little favor gets shuffled up there on your List above all of those prayers from the goddamned mute Jesus freaks down at the monastery that would be really helpful. Maybe if they did a little less silent prayin’ and spent their time making more beer they’d have something to really talk about ,” I added for good measure.

Have you ever had both eyebrows and your ears twitch at the same time? Well, neither had I, until then. It was as if my entire bedraggled face decided to lift itself without provocation or expensive surgery. But that is exactly what happened to me right then and there in front of the old rusty skull and crossbones sign at the shuttered entrance to the Coyote Mountain Molybdenum Mine. This new, enhanced tick was a sure-as-shit sign that my prayers were working. Allah himself was shining down his ever-loving Light of Destined Employment upon my jobless ass. I could almost feel the heat and smell the smoke of providential change singing my back hair. The facial quivering eased up. I could feel my dog at my side. (He dropped a slobbery rock on my exposed calf.)

Slowly, I opened my eyes. A new heavenly dawn was upon me, but it was dusk as hell, and Coyote Mountain is no place to be after dark. I collected the sacraments that I had spread around me in my prayer circle – old corporation name badges, a half bottle of lukewarm Schlitz, some Redman chewing tobacco, and a pack of saltines – and began the winding walk back down the trail to my truck.

I could feel The Spirit lifting my every step and was eager to get home to see what new job God had assigned me. My mind raced at the possibilities, and I found myself smiling as broadly as I had ever even attempted to smile. As I verily skipped down the path, I looked up at the darkened sky and yelled “THANK YOU LORD GOD THE JESUS!”

“You’re welcome.” My answer came in an echoing crackle that filled the hillside. My heart leapt out of my skull while my stomach rocketed right out of my ass simultaneously. It was He. The Great Employer.

“Is that really YOU?” I asked aloud, my feet no longer touching the dirt. I felt myself floating down the hill like some hillbilly Moses hot-rodding around in an invisible Segway.

“Yes. Come here. I am at the bottom of the hill.” The voice commanded. It sounded like God had gotten himself one of those fancy megaphones. I was not surprised in the least. I’d always heard that he works in mysterious ways, but secretly I had always taken The Lord for a man of practicality.

The dog was going nuts by now and had sprinted ahead. It was clear that he too was Called Forth.

Disbelief crept briefly into my psyche, but was quickly dashed by an incredibly bright light that was now shining up the trail from down below. There was no time for pondering the reasons behind my sudden anointment. I had done the hard work of prayer, even Tebowing on my way down to my prayer position, and this was the result. I had to go with it.

“Do you have a JOB for me!?” I sang aloud in a gravelly voice that I’d only heard Jimmy Stewart use before.
“Yes, Mister Anderson, actually I do have a job for you.” The voice said. I was astonished. HE knew my NAME!

Running now around the last corner of the trail, I prepared myself to meet The Creator. The voice talked me into the blinding light.

“Tell me, Big Guy. What job do you have lined up for me?! What am I going to do? Er…Is there, by chance, health insurance involved? Maybe a few weeks of vacation… without having to wait a year to cash in?” I asked, thrilled at the possibilities, trusting my footing in the white wash of heavenly illumination.

Then my world went dark again. My pupils rioted against the sudden change, clamping down on my spiritualized cones and rods with bank vault alacrity. It took a disorienting moment, but I was finally able to see the slim human form of God emerge in the spotty blackness. Hmm, I thought to myself. He’s skinnier than in the paintings.

“Your job, Mister Anderson, if you choose to accept it…” the voice answered from mere feet away. I steeled myself to receive my Ultimate Destiny, delivered by an Eternal Being. My eyes continued adjusting until I could make out the rig that God stood next to. It was a Chevy Blazer with a Pitkin County Sheriff emblem emblazoned on the side. “…is to move your goddamned truck. It’s blocking my way, and I’ve got to get up that hill to investigate reports of someone trespassing at the old mine site.”

“And leash this fuggin’ mutt, he took a piss on my tire.”

(This story was originally published in the literary website, flipcollective.com in August, 2012)

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Destination Destitution

by Corbett M. Anderson

Copyright 2012

 
Never said, livin’ was easy

That’s just summer in a song

Never said, dyin was hard

That’s just some collar on the phone

 

Never wanted, nothin’ at all

Well, I’ve got plenty of that

Anything’s better, than the nothin’ I got

But if I had you that’d be somethin’ else

 

Never know, the price you pay

Til’ the check comes in the mail

Never know, the debt you owe

Til’ the man comes with the nails

 

Destination unknown

Destitution well known

Destination unknown

Destitution well known and on and on and on…

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Best Life I’ve Ever Found

Bring your fat skis
and your dancin shoes now girl
we got a mountain party goin’
damn near two foot o’ snow

Cah-la-rad-ooohh
You gotta gotta go
Champagne snow is falling down
and the beer is flowin’ on

I gotta warn you though girl
We got a po-li-ceeeee
No friends on powder days
We’ll meet in Sneakies Trees

Chorus:
If this snow keeps falling down
It’ll cover this crazy town
We’re all gonna get on down
It’s the best life I’ve ever found

 

Written by:

C. Madison Anderson

5-28-12

Emma, CO

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Joel Belmont, at the bellows during a Labia Project photoshoot in San Francisco.

*This previously unpublished story was commissioned as the prologue to a book of photography by my friend and incredible photographer, Joel Belmont. As the subject matter is pretty, er, different, Joel thought that I would be the perfect observational writer to put his project into perspective. Joel’s book, The Labia Project, is an awareness-raiser in a concerted effort to put an end to a terrible practice known as Female Genital Mutilation. He hopes to publish it sometime this year.

 

Prologue

On a remarkably clear, beautiful summer day in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District, boisterous crowds of social activists march and carry on in an impressive show of support for their common cause. It is a day for both emotional protest and wild celebration. The prior for the ongoing persecution that has united these people and sparked a movement, and the latter for the improvements to the situation that have finally been made after years of bitter struggle.

Above the teeming throngs, three floors up in a modest suite of the Opal Hotel, a social movement of equal importance but with comparatively miniscule exposure quietly advances one revealing flash at a time.

The white-hot flare comes from the dual strobes set to fire off simultaneously when fine-art photographer Joel Belmont finds his critical focus. The image is up close, upside down and backwards within the viewfinder of his large format camera. Under the black hood that is thrown over Belmont’s head, he finds his subject poised in gynecological repose, her back resting on a pile of pillows at the edge of the bed.

She is a model from neighboring Alameda. Her name is Gracie, a name that fits in a variety of ways. She is calm and serene, and she was named after the late, great Gracie Burns, George’s wife. She is not nervous. She trusts the photographer and is proud to be a part of his project.

It is early in the afternoon, and as the marchers pound their drums and make their statements far below on the streets of San Francisco, Joel works expeditiously at the bellows of his large-format, Wisner 4 x 5 view camera. Crafted from wood, brass, leather and glass, extraordinary sharpness and detail is achieved by the large size of the negative, combined with the tack sharp focus from the camera’s European-made lens.

Belmont’s camera looks old timey, but is in fact rather new, which is sort of the opposite that could be said about himself. Joel’s hair is not quite red, nor blonde, but is a mixture  of both in Brillo form, as is his goatee and disconnected mustache. He is slight of build but not unathletic, and works in regular old blue jeans (not the pre-stained kind) and a blue-black t-shirt with no chest pocket. He exudes a pragmatic artistic presence that at times belies his youthful appearance. In his thirties, he is blessed with the healthy sheen of someone ten or more years his youth, which may be in part due to his love of the outdoors lifestyle that his Colorado home affords, and which he readily imbibes.  His manner is easy going, on point, and very professional, which is necessary in nude fine art photography, but which is also Joel’s nature. He is not a cocky rock star photographer, is not in the least bit demanding or too self-assured, and his subjects consciously appreciate these qualities.

Other than Joel and Gracie, there are five models present, along with Joel’s wife Lili. While Joel and Gracie shoot their images, a fifteen-minute long process, the five wait across the oblong hotel room in an area that has been cleared to make an informal reception area. They sip bottled water and chat amicably, as women do. They pass around a clipboard with model releases to read and comment on. The conversation is tangential, and ranges from subjects as different as one’s experience running with the bulls in Pamplona, to a unique sculpture that one of the women is making for the upcoming Burning Man festival, to the value of various modeling social networks, and finally, to the subject at hand – labia, and specifically how they might, through their modeling of their own healthy labia, help to raise awareness of the human rights issue known as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), which is the overarching reason for Belmont’s first book.

Rox is an artist, originally from Italy, where issues of human sexuality are often not as taboo as they are in America, where the issue of FGM is hardly known. “That is where I first read about this mutilating. It is a horrible thing to think of. These young women are stripped of their ability to have pleasure, or even children, in some cases.” A woman named Allison, who is a midwife-in-training, chimes in. “I found out about it (FGM) years ago through my studies. It is so infuriating. I feel helpless in a way. That is why I am here, posing.” The waiting models nod in agreement. They all hope that maybe someone involved with the practice of FGM will see this book, view these photographs in their stunning detail and elegance, and better understand just how beautiful and integral natural labia are. And, they hope, then that same person will read the accompanying stories about the practice, from women whom it has been forced upon, and change their perspective about this arcane and inhumane ritual. “It only takes one village doing the right thing to change the wrong thinking of an entire continent,” one of the models says in the midst of an energetic and frank discussion.

The bulbs make a loud pop, and the flashing lights of Belmont’s latest captured image punctuates the thought. It was the last of those he will take of Gracie, and he thanks her kindly as she fills out her release. The day started early, with models arriving in a steady stream right at 9 am. Since he uses film, there are required breaks in which Belmont changes and loads the film in a coat closet, his temporary dark room. When he emerges, Lili hands her husband a turkey sandwich bought at a deli down the street to help fuel him in the midst of a hectic shooting schedule, which he wolfs down in large chomps as he explains the history of his latest project.

Reading the Christian Science Monitor some time ago, Joel found an article written about the cultural and human-rights challenges with FGM, which led him to extensively research the subject. The idea that a culture would forcibly mutilate their youth as common practice, struck a deep, upsetting chord within his worldview.  His perspective is that all people—especially women and young children—should be valued, and treated with physical and emotional care.

 

Joel has made a successful career out of photographing the human form in all of its natural sanctity, and has done so with a pervading sense of respect and appreciation for the women that have posed for him. His joy for life and the human form comes across throughout his works, which he meticulously creates in a way that desexualizes nudity though careful posing of his subjects and the usage of black and white film.

“I try to make images that are not about a nude body, or sensuality, but about ideas. I also work to depersonalize the models in the images, so that others can relate more directly to these ideas. The Labia Project, to me, requires the Nth degree of depersonalizing and desexualizing the human form” he says as he poses the next model. In practice, Belmont accomplishes this by first framing out, and then digitally cropping out everything but the labia that he is photographing. He does so using small strips of black “gaffers tape”, common in film production, which the models apply as a frame around their labia minora. Belmont then makes sure there are no suggestive elements in the image, and works with lighting to find the most artistic angle to shoot from. Since it is film that he is shooting, there are no saved versions to work from as a form of error correction – he shoots in the old way, trusting his settings. He snaps four to twelve shots per model, and moves on.

Also important to Belmont is a second motivation for this series of photographs. With this book, he hopes to help women who have low self-esteem and a negative body image come to terms with their uniqueness and beauty. “Labia are the portal for the majority of human life, yet many people, including women, often won’t talk about this beautiful and integral part of a woman’s body. Why? Moralists long ago made the subject taboo, and the pornography industry has exploited and made it dirty, but I see it as just another unique part of the human body. Though it’s often considered solely sexual, of itself a woman’s labia is quite elegant in line and form” he adds, pointing out earlier artistic efforts along these lines, such as Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of flowers.

This aspect of the project is what most intrigued Rox, the model. “I used to be embarrassed by my labia. They are pretty big, and I had no idea what I was supposed to look like – what was normal,” she says, explaining how she believes that if women are able to see other women’s labia in a desexualized light, that they will likely feel much better about their own. A cheerful model named Alice agrees. “My sister used to think that she was ugly and that nobody would ever want to have sex with her. It was a hangup that I am not sure she ever got over,” she says.

“Katherine”, who prefers to remain anonymous, is originally from Latvia, and is by trade a scientist, working in the field of toxins. The lab where she works is a sterile environment that is not encouraging of artistic thinking. To satisfy her creative instincts, she models occasionally. She found Joel’s images to be striking, and volunteered to pose for The Labia Project based on the photographer’s reputation passed along by other models that she knows. She is long and lean, and possesses an angular face and short blond hair similar to that of the late Princess Diana. When she sits, her limbs sprawl out in spindly fashion, her back barely touching the couch that she sits on. She is wrapped in a loose fitting red summer dress with black hoops for straps and looks very much like a very tall, elegant bird. Asked if she is worried at all about being photographed in such an up close, personal manner, she laughs. “No, I am not nervous.” she says, and then stops to think for a moment. “Society is too focused on perfection, but there is no perfect shape or form. We are all so different. Some people are deeply shameful of nudity. If this helps change one persons perception, then it will be a success,” she adds.

The room goes briefly nuclear again. The Wisner’s shutter swings open and then is clamped down at once. A final image is gathered, and both subject and artist share a quiet laugh about something. After all of the paperwork is filled out and they have chosen whether to receive a gallery print or a signed book as compensation, the models all give one another hugs, gather their belongings, and scatter out into the still boisterous parade below. Other than the noise from outside, the room is still for the first time all day. Joel sits on the edge of the bed and sips a cold cup of water. This is how art gets made. Some movements have parades and vibrant parties which intend to unite society in protest of inequality and injustice, such as the one that blares on below this temporary studio of room #221 of the Opal Hotel. Others gather steam quietly, one frame at a time.

Joel Belmont’s artwork stands on the shoulders of the masters and reaches ever higher, striving to evoke thought and capture beauty all at once. In this book, he takes on a taboo subject with originality and purpose of mission. The photographer who worked two years to make this book happen, and the models who contributed to The Labia Project do so with hope that it will help uplift critical thought, and that it will challenge those who needlessly mutilate this necessary and beautiful part of human life to turn away from injustice, and strive towards more humane cultural practices.

Corbett M. Anderson

Marina, CA

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Sporks for Sticks

By Corby Anderson

5-14-12

Yesterday at lunchtime I went out for my weekly Sunday meal and newspaper ritual. I wound up in the wayside town of El Jebel. Hungry after a late night of playing music at a foodless bar, I ordered up a burger, some fries and a coke. I was fetching the ketchup/salt/straw/napkin paraphernalia and trying my damndest to not think about the week ahead yet when my ears tuned into a racket emanating from the dining room. Looking in, I saw that the ruckus was coming from a little Latino kid, maybe 5 years old, who was smacking the table that he sat at loudly and consistently with a pair of plastic sporks.
Consciously, I chose to sit as far away from the noise as I could. I spread out my papers and dug into the week’s news. I had brought my journal along and had some designs on writing a few pages as well, but after a few minutes of mentally trying to block the noise coming from the boy across the dining room, I found that the loud, rapid fire smacking of the spoons was overwhelmingly annoying and gave up the idea of writing there at lunch.

You know how a particularly out of place noise in a certain situation can just grate on you? Well, times that by two. Sure, I could get up and leave, but I was the customer here. I had purchased food and had a right to sit and read my paper in relative quietude, right? And here was this oblivious child, no parent in sight, ruining my long-anticipated Baconator moment! Were I an urbanite, you can just about guarantee that my outraged gourd would resemble a bobble head and my outstretched finger a windshield wiper.

I started to get up and go say something, but just before standing, a strong instinct told me not to.

I sat back and thought for a moment. I opened my ears, listening to all of the noises of the otherwise quiet restaurant. The crew hustle was blocked by the wall that separated us. The few other diners each sat alone, eating silently absent the occasional straw slurp. The kid smacking out a ratta-tat-tat-TAT on the Formica table top. The overhead speakers piped in an old rock and roll song. The kid persisted, smacking the salt and pepper shakers, leveling the paper pyramid of marketing material on the table. I went back to the Denver Post sports page. The headline was for a game that was two days ago. I glanced at the top of the page. Damn. Saturday’s paper for Sunday coin. I had gotten distracted by running into a good old friend at the newspaper boxes. Her husband is one of my heroes. He died for an hour a few years ago while eating a steak in Aspen, Colorado. He’s barely with us now. I hugged them both, and wished her a happy Mother’s Day. She showed me the charm that her daughter had given her at their breakfast picnic. I told her that it was beautiful, and how I though the idea of a breakfast picnic was ridiculously cool.
The song changed. In the split second interval of one song ending and the other starting I heard calm and quiet in the restaurant. Then, the jolting intro riff to Blue Oyster Cult’s “Godzilla” cranked up, and, once more, so did the kid on the sporks.
It was only then, with my annoyance squashed by an inner voice that occasionally tells me to live in the moment and just observe (the writer’s instinct?) and my attention properly relaxed and focused that I realized that the boy was actually drumming with those sporks, not just being a nuisance. He was hitting the spice shakers as toms, using the cardboard triangle as a splash. And though his tempo was off, he was actually pretty well matching the rhythm of the tune. Skeptical still, I waited for the legendary drum solo section, ready to dismiss the whole thing as an idyll kid’s dumb luck. I thought of the infinite monkey theorem – the one that says that you can give a team of monkey time enough tapping on enough keyboards and eventually they will write Shakespeare.
The fuzzed-out guitars fired into that old familiar staccato rhythm. Duh-duh-duh-duh-da-da-duh-duh! The bass followed. Then the stringed instruments dropped out and the drum solo came. The kid followed a half beat behind, reaching all across his “kit” of a table for effect. Astounding, I thought! He was mimicking an incredibly complex drum solo on what I had to assume was ear alone.
My drink disappeared, when the song ended I got up to get a refill. The kid watched me closely as I crossed the restaurant, putting his sticks down on the table. “Hey kid, you speak English?” I asked on a whim. He nodded and smiled. “Yes,” he said quietly. I asked him how old he was. He held up three fingers in each hand. “You ever played a drum kit before?” followed my line of questioning. “No,” he said, dropping his chin to his chest in a classic pout. I thought quickly back on my own youth, when I had tried out for jazz band as a drummer. “Look buddy, you need to get your parents to enroll you in a music class pronto! You’ve got chops!”
He motioned back to the rear corner of the restaurant. “Papa,” he exclaimed dejectedly, pointing with his back-cast thumb at a booth where a couple of employees were looking over a notebook, discussing work. I looked back at the counter. There was no one to be seen behind it. The kitchen was empty.
“Hey Dad-Of-The-Kid-That-Is-Sitting-Here-Drumming-On-The-Table!” I said perhaps a little too abruptly in an amplified voice. He looked up startled. “Is this your kid?” I asked, closing the distance, consciously trying not to come off as mad or weird. He nodded, getting up out of his booth. “Yes, yes!” He looked at the boy with a caring look that turned stern in the same glance. “What is wrong sir, is he being too loud?” “No, no. He’s fine. But I do think that you need to get him a drum set and into music classes, quick like! The kid has insane skills for his age. The longer you put it off, the longer it’ll be until you get to hear his real talent. And you know, there is nothing worse for a household than an ambitious, untrained drummer!” I explained with a grin.
The father walked over to his son, roughing up his thick black hair with a firm swipe, leaving a frozen rooster tail in his wake. They looked at each other. The son’s brown eyes beaming up at his father with excitement and love. The father reflected and magnified down the feeling in his own identical eyes. “Would you like that, Carlos?” he asked. The kid nodded in a brace of double time head shakes. “OK then, we’ll get you a drum for your birthday!” he said lovingly. “And sticks!” the kid replied instantly. “And a medium Coke, for me,” I added, rattling the ice in my waxy cup.

*Corby Anderson is a freelance writer who writes from the spidery loft of an old log cabin on a truck ranch in Emma, Colorado. His essays, literary, food and music reviews, PR work, novel excerpts, poetry and other detritus can be found at www.corbyanderson.wordpress.com, and he can be reached at corbyanderson@hotmail.com.

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Stoveside, Emmacabina

I’ve gone native, given into the wild nature of the surrounding mountains. My hair grows in strange shoots and uneven chunks. A course beard stands defiantly away from my jaw. A brushy mustache has outgrown its banks and now curls east and west towards my ears, respectively (or not). Every passing day sees my visage grow woolier and more feral than the previous one.

Glory be and hall-e-lu-ya! It is the first positive grown that my person has seen in a rack of moons. And why not? There is no suit that can fit my form of spartan employment these days. This is the face of Offseason, Colorado.

I am, for all intents and porpoises, cabin bound. The ancient pine timbers that frame my dreams draw out my formerly recessed follicles and harrow my shorn cheeks like wooden magnets in the chilly November nights. Every morning I awake to find that my head has sprouted anew, seemingly in every direction at once.

This new wool is my winter coat – a self-defense mechanism triggered by the plunging temperatures and stout winds that sweep down from the Arctic. To NOT humor my Neanderthallian instincts would be to invite frostbite, mange, and other forms of cellular petulance. This new, old look has done wonders for me in ways other than just serving to preserve my threatened pores: Babies and other young children people run from me upon first sight, saving my weekends for more important things than baby-sitting duty, for which we seem to have been tabbed for increasing increments.

Bill collectors flee as well. They must sense my humorously “fierce” appearance over the phone, for it seems that the bastards have resorted to using robots programmed to call me at all hours rather than risk a human agents’ professional sensibilities by allowing their ear to be accosted by someone who would allow a mug as handsome as mine to moss over so incongruously,

It’s OK, though. As of tomorrow, they’ll shut my phone off for non-payment. That’ll teach the greedy dicks to call me for their money….

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