Sunday, October 19, 2014

Bicycle Commute (Bim Angst)

Photo mash up:
Author Bim Angst with her bicycle

It was the first day. Not the first day of the bike commute, but the first day of that year’s bike commute. It was the first day of a renewed but not a new commitment.
Top ten reasons she liked the bike commute. But today it was a fat tire, not the sleek little Pinarello she so loved. The asphalt was wet. It has been a month since she was on a bike. She has been taking care of the man. He is laid up with both legs in immovable casts and he needs taking care of, which he knows and allows — not that he has a choice. But which he is seeming quite to like. Somebody else is doing the taking care of today. When she began the taking care of him, it mattered to her greatly — surprise surprise — that she be the one to do all the most very important of the taking care. It mattered to her that he like she was the main one taking/giving the care.
But today. So, it didn’t really matter which bike on which she did the commute. Editing will be needed. Wet asphalt, time away, strength in her legs diminished, who knew what loss in lung capacity. She made the sensible choice.
Order them ten to one. Whatever is at the bottom of a ten reasons list everybody will assume is number one anyway. Why is it usually ten? Top ten. Ok. That sounds nice. Two syllables both starting with hard Ts. Alliteration. Double, equal accent. Remember to harvest the sage. Not a dactyl. Not a trochee. That was three. Not an iamb. Something. Doesn’t matter. Look it up anyway.
Ten. Containment. Things aren’t getting out of hand. It will not go on forever, it will end, maybe shortly. That’s a splice. What was it they said, she read in some journal, about even very bright people being able to remember/handle a maximum of seven things at once? She doesn’t let them use the slash words. But they’re useful. Except when you read out loud. You have to make that chopping gesture in thin air. Point of view shift.
So why ten? Why not seven? Top seven reasons. Slow ones can’t cope with even seven. Three. Sometimes two.
Maybe don’t number the list. Just start in. By the third (numbering again), everybody will just get it’s a countdown. They always seem to confuse it’s and its. Who is this everybody? Not everybody reads. Especially those young people. Does texting count as reading? Sexting?
Number 7. Can’t help the numbering. Need order. Need structure. Even if it is imposed and does not organically take shape. Number 7: Because I live in a beautiful place. Every place is beautiful. Everywhere has its beauties. It’s a frame of mind. It’s a bike frame of mind! Bike frame, get it? Road surface doesn’t have to count, unless it’s good. They always ask her not to count the bad stuff. We live in a beautiful place.
Grit, potholes, washout, lots of broken glass. Beer bottles. Always beer bottles. Passing traffic, some bleeping horns right when they come up behind and scare her the way somebody can make you jump saying boo loud right in your ear when you don’t know they’re back there. They’re their there. They’re there in your hair.
Be fair. 100 pass. Maybe two honk. 98 is a good percentage. 200 pass, maybe one yells nice ass. Hot old bike chicks agree, honking means you have a nice ass. Flipping the bird means you have a nice ass. Yelling nice ass means you have a nice ass. Throwing a can means you have a nice ass. Getting out there on the bike means. No matter how slow you go. You’re out there. The kingfisher is out hunting today!
5000 pass maybe 1, if that, pulls up revving fast in a white sedan with a license plate you cannot read with your single distance no bi/trifocal goggles. Zooming revving up behind, laying hard hard hard on the horn, cruising alongside 30 yards still hard on the horn and then pulls off the horn and yanks hard to the right right in front to slam on the brakes and see if you smash into his back bumper and then he can complain you hit him or do you drop and burn sliding on the side of the road. Peels out. Waves goodbye. Flips the bird. Can you really hear him laughing? Why is it always a guy?
Maybe drivers think tooting the horn is a nice way to let you know they’re back there. Think that. Be generous. It is a beautiful place. One in maybe 5000, maybe not even. A lot more assholes when you drive the car. Road rage. Every stinking day rage. Especially on 422. It makes headlines. Often. People get arrested waving guns out there. Cara carries a gun on the bike. Yo, as Pat says, what’s that about?
The mountains. Never again move out of the mountains even though they’re harder when you’re on the bike. That which does not kill….Nietzsche. Pretty sure. There seems to be some capricious shifting going on.
Number 6: Because it makes me feel virtuous. This will not make the list, at least not this way, but such is what revision is for. One can revise one’s self into something like intelligence. Vonnegut, right? Credit. And a good heart. Clean thoughts. Burning calories not fossil fuels: Number 6. Why oh why do I keep forgetting to bring a snot rag?
Number 5: Half the day’s exercise is done before work. The other half is pretty much a given and you can’t crap out without embarrassing yourself now that you’ve announced you’re commuting by bike. So there. Stronger, better half sticks childish tongue out at weak, lazy, evil half. This is what is meant, partly, by commitment. Once you’re in so far, there’s no turning back. Except if you don’t proclaim intent, ain’t nobody know you didn’t ’ceptns you. Do you like you? Sometimes. Maybe a little bit most days. Most days. Not all. On the bike always.
Four miles, maybe five. Kicking in. Cooking cooking cooking. Booking booking booking. Number 4: It feels good! Number 1? Good chemical stew. Bathing in endorphins. Simmering in the marinade. Mixing metaphors. Synapses snapping. Burning off the toxins. Clarifying the butter. Does clarifying butter get rid of any of the cholesterol? Something about the brain. Which is connected to the heart. Real. Figurative. Metaphoric. Metaphysic. Is that a word? Think it and you alter capabilities.
Number 3: Get rid of cholesterol. Or some such stuff about health. It’s good for you. Me. Her. The cyclist. Cyclists in general. Anybody. Everybody. The general public. At least that which reads. Are people who read less obese?
Number 2. Don’t go there. What will be number 1? Stop those juvenile thoughts. You can’t skip number 2 and number 1 (even if you leave off the numbering) if you’re doing a top 10/7 list. What’s Number 3? Jiz? Giz? Comes/cums from gism? Jism? How is that spelled? Eat a good/better breakfast before you get on the bike. Everybody loves jiz. But. Butt. Here we go again. If they only knew. Don’t even think about Top Ten. Two Ts. T.T. Titties. I used titties in a story! Tits and ass. T&A T&A T&A.
Number 1: It’s good. It’s all good. Can you say that? Will anybody anywhere have any idea at all what all you mean? Good is relative. (Even if you don’t have good relatives, or what you think are good relatives. But that’s relative to. Too.) Come back. Stop circling. Cut through the mall/plaza parking lot and completely bypass the bottleneck. Right turns. That’s how FedEx does it. It is FedEx, right? UPS? Look that up. They won that award. For right turns. Get it right, right/correct, if you’re going to use it. Your going to use it. Feel free to make mistakes in a draft.
Number 2. Going back behind the Giant where the trucks unload is kind of like looking at the bowels of the American retail industry. Not deep into the bowels because then you’d have to get into the packing houses and sweat shops, the places where they wear white plastic suits and rubber gloves, condoms, where they wear galoshes because they’re slopping around in blood and guts, ear plugs so they don’t have to hear the screams, face masks so they don’t sneeze on the meat you eat. That rhymes. Does rhyme kill it? This is why you eat vegetables. (Evil twin inside, we know you so dearly love a good grilled steak, but we forgive you, you’re/your only human.) Try to be humane. Try harder.
Don’t think on this too deep. Deeply. The language is alive. Adjective. Adverb. Either okay now depending on how you look at it. No lumpers here. Do they have big hooks? (Did you read that as boobs or books?) Who unloads the trucks? The drivers? The stockboys? They’re not all boys anymore. But they are, aren’t they, still boys in that sense/way. It’s a different culture back here. Culture. Apply to everything. Like it. But that’s number three. Or number four. I like it. It makes me feel good. Same thing? Give up what makes you feel bad. Even if for a very short time it makes you think you feel good. Remember butter.
Number 1: You get to wear fluorescent green and shocking pink. Petty but true. Important. That sweet daughter who as a little girl got so very very angry/indignant when someone else picked out clothes and made her wear them. Minor but first first first. Even if you don’t put it there. Everybody should get on a bike. Pedal off this fat. There is no such thing anymore as a prosperous gut. Nobody under the age of 40 even knows what that means. Sweat. Smile. Get lean. Smile some more. Do it. Just do it (Nike ad). When you smile, you change the chemistry in your brain. Say hello. Change the world. Ha. Smell the neighborhood. Smell your own sweat. Sweet. They confuse that too. Sweet sweat. Sweat sweet. That’s a command. Listen to the voices. Make conversation. Cut pollution. Give up cars, have a little fun. Change the world one pedal stroke at a time. Really. It’s true. It’s all true.
Number 1: It takes more time. Maybe that’s the point. Press the button for the automatic door.
In the intervening time, she talked to very young people about commas, something she did that no longer seemed important in the same way it had seemed important when she first started talking to young people about things like commas, though now that it didn’t really matter if she did it well it was said she really did do it pretty well. How many words can you take to say something? But now the main point was not the commas but the way it pays the bills that pay for the rest.
And so today, not yesterday, as she sat down to the computer, she thought she should have written it yesterday, when it was all there in her head whole and perfect.


BIM ANGST lives with a small pack of big dogs and bicycles from Saint Clair, PA.

“Bicycle Commute” was originally published in Pennsylvania English, issues 33/34, Spring 2012.


“Bicycle Commute,” © 2012 by Bim Angst, has been posted on with permission from the author and may not be reposted or republished without permission.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

“Auld Lang Syne” (Robert Burns)

Here is the modern version of “Auld Lang Syne”:

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should old acquaintance be forgot,
and old lang syne?


For auld lang syne, my dear,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely you’ll buy your pint cup!
and surely I’ll buy mine!
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We two have run about the slopes,
and picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
since auld lang syne.


We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.


Here is the original Scottish version of “Auld Lang Syne” (Robert Burns, 1788):

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
and surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.


We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
sin auld lang syne.


We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.


And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere!
and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas Story: “In Waiting” (Excerpt With Link to Full Story)

Pregnant Woman:
Background: Jeff Weese (Wikipedia)

Say, you’re right. This place could stand a few decorations.
Maybe a Christmas tree, some lights strung above the bar.
Next year for sure.
Don’t know about a Manger scene, though. Can’t picture competing with Baby Jesus in my own casino.
Just had the Grand Opening last week. Bad timing, I know, but that’s how the chips fell. I suppose I could’ve waited for the New Year’s crowd, but why not get a jump on my customer base?
Another Virgin Mary, coming up. That’ll be two bucks.
Say, my prices are cut to the bone as it is. Down at Wally’s, that drink would’ve cost you three bucks, maybe more. Don’t know how he gets away with it.

‘Course I’ll close for Christmas tomorrow. I’d fear for my immortal soul if I was to allow gambling and carousing in my casino on Christ’s birthday.

(Disclosure: this story is written by Jennifer Semple Siegel, the webmaster of this site.)

Friday, July 12, 2013 -- Poetry on the Go

Just got this idea for a simple site, completely mobile friendly, for poetry on the go--no images, just poetry for mobile phones.

I'm not sure how this can happen...

Keep watching this space...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Life Giving Tree (Robert Owuodihia)

Remixed photo, original by Jim Bahn
From Wikipedia
She gives us breath
She gives us life
She takes us through the strife
And protects us here on earth
Against global warming
Against ice melting
Food she gives us
Shelter to protect us
Clothing to clothe us
And medicine to cure us
Yet of her immense contributions
We do not show her our appreciation
A tree we must each grow
Before death shall crow
For if the last tree dies
The last man too dies

Robert is an 18-year-old Ghanaian and a 2013 graduate from Achimota Senior High School in Ghana. He is a science major who loves literature.

He enjoys writing poems and has written over 80 of them.

He is currently seeking a publisher for his work.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Excerpt from Betty’s Child: a memoir, by Donald R. Dempsey, and Review: “Saving Benji” (Chapter 12)

Donny and Chip. Terry, Donny, and Chip (Donny's lap)
(Webmaster’s note: previously, Donny [author] and friends Rupe and Tommy pulled off a rather ballsy heist of returnable-for-cash soda/pop bottles from a gang of bikers. After waiting for the heat to subside, the kids are now on their way to Kroger’s to cash in on their spoils. Donny’s little dog, the ever-faithful Benji, accompanies the merry band of juvenile thieves. A review of Betty's Child: a memoir [available on Amazon] follows the excerpt.)

This was a shitload of bottles. Rupe was standing guard on the first three carts we’d hauled to the back of the Kroger, and Tommy and I had barely managed to get the rest of our treasure in the last two we were trudging along with now. So far we’d dropped three bottles. Their shattered remains lay in the roads behind us as a testament of our passage, along with the echoes of Tommy’s vehement cursing. Tommy told us those broken bottles had our names on them, every time one shattered against the concrete.
My Negro buddy was an extreme penny pincher until he actually had the cash in his pocket. Tommy would probably be a collector for Candy one day. He could be persuasive when it came to getting money out of you, whether you owed it to him or not. He was definitely worse if you owed him. So far, he’d never paid back a dime he’d ever borrowed from me, but never forgot to get back a single penny on the rare occasions he had to float me a quick loan. If he’d stay in school, he could be one hell of a tax guy, I imagined.
Crossing Second Avenue was tricky, due to traffic and the greater risk of a cop catching sight of us with stolen—we’d call them borrowed, if we got busted—shopping carts and more pop bottles than a… Well, than a house full of Harley bikers could go through in a month. These were more bottles than we’d ever brought in before, way more. My end of the payback was going to push my stash of hidden funds to well past fifty bucks. I was practically rich.
I was glad we’d left Rupe back at the Kroger. Tommy wouldn’t stop riding him about not going out on our little missions anymore. Rupe had stayed true to his word. He was done stealing, and Tommy could pound sand. I had to admire Rupe for standing up. He wasn’t talking back to Tommy, but Rupe wasn’t giving in, either. He just shook his head and said he was done every time Tommy brought the subject up.
It wasn’t that Rupe wasn’t getting on my nerves a little, too. He’d kept on griping about getting the bottles out of his dad’s garage until I’d almost lost it on him. I’d been for taking them in a little at a time, but Rupe wanted them all out as soon as possible. He was afraid his dad would find them and figure out what we’d been doing. Knowing that was possible didn’t make Rupe’s constant bitching any easier to take.
But when Tommy had started pushing to exchange the bottles, too, claiming he needed the money, I gave in. I needed to keep those two apart. Rupe was a coward, but even he had his limits. I didn’t want him popping off to Tommy, getting something started that he couldn’t finish, and I couldn’t delay. Tommy was taking our friend’s decision to cut out as some kind of betrayal, making it a personal thing.
It’s going to be an interesting school year, I realized. Tommy kept guys off our backs. It went without saying that he wouldn’t protect Rupe any longer. In fact, I was pretty sure Tommy would probably send some grief Rupe’s way, as sore as he was. I would have to do my best to help my more hapless friend any way I could. How? The last thing I needed was to relive those dreadful days I’d spent running home after school every day, dodging enemies, and ducking fights.
I waited for a lull in the traffic and darted off  the curb. “Stay close, boy,” I told Benji, but I didn’t need to remind him. He kept right on my heels all the way across, with Tommy just behind him. Some asshole in a long, expensive-looking sedan beeped at us. Tommy flipped him off and told him where to go, so we were cracking up as we reached the other side of the road and the nearest parking lot of the Kroger.
Benji was with me because I was afraid to leave him alone after the row with Tony and Betty. That dude really hated me, and I couldn’t depend on my mother to protect my dog if her Italian hump buddy decided to be mean to him. It was a rare thing if she actually stood up for her children, much less a dog. It was making my life more difficult, constantly worrying about that Dago, but I didn’t have a good plan for dealing with him. Yet, I promised myself.
Thinking about Tony got me to thinking about my brothers. Dwelling on them made me feel guilty. I was old enough to take off when shit got hairy, but they weren’t. Maybe that’s why Terry keeps sneaking down to the apartment playground on his Big Wheel? I wondered. Could be the kid was learning to avoid Betty already.
The baby was taking all this especially hard, clinging to me more and crying if he spotted me trying to leave. Lately, he’d taken to sleeping on my mattress instead of in his own room. The baby was crowding me when I tried to sleep, but I didn’t mind. Benji complained more than I did, grumbling and huffing during the night. Sometimes I’d wait until the little guy fell asleep and then carry him off to his own room, but lately he’d been waking up and coming right back to bed with me. Just this morning I’d woken up with one of his feet practically in my mouth and pee from his diaper leaking onto my mattress.
As we veered around to the rear of the store, the paved lot sloped downward, and we had to strain to keep the carts from getting away from us. Tommy laughed when he noticed me struggling, but I was concentrating too hard to say anything back. He would kill me if I lost control and wasted any more money. Or take the losses out of your end, I told myself. But I wasn’t sure he’d think of something like that, or be able to calculate the deductions.
“Hey, lay off Rupe, okay?” I asked him as we reached the area where the pavement evened out.
Tommy snorted. “Fuck Rupe, that daddy he’s so afraid of, and his sexy little mom. And fuck you, too, you start taking his side and not mine.”
“I’m not taking any side,” I told him. “I’m just trying to keep you two from getting into it. Just let it go. We’re supposed to be friends.”
“Fuck that. Friends don’t cut out on one another.” He wasn’t just annoyed at this split. Tommy was really pissed off. This is going to get ugly, I realized. “I’ll tell you something else. We get that money, and we cut it in half. He wants out, he’s out. You like the kid so much, you give him half your shit. But it’s a two-way split today, baby.”
That wasn’t fair. Tommy was just using his irritation over Rupe wanting out to take money from him.
And from me! I couldn’t think of anything safe to say. Tommy couldn’t count very well, but he was an expert at the one-for-you-and-one-for-me dividing of money. My worst fear was that Rupe might speak up when Tommy informed him of his underhanded scheme. Are you kidding? I asked myself. I figured that was a pretty stupid concern; Rupe would keep his mouth shut and get this over with, relieved to let Tommy get one over on him and be rid of the guy.
Rupe was sitting against the concrete steps as we rattled up, but he stood to greet us. Benji trotted over and started sniffing at him, and he even let Rupe pet him without showing his teeth. Maybe he feels sorry for him, too.
“I’ll go get Freddie,” Rupe announced as we arrived, eager to be away from Tommy and have this deal done.
“Yeah, you do that,” Tommy grumbled.
Rupe banged on the large metal door until Freddie finally opened it. Freddie was a middle-aged dude who ran shipping and receiving. He had tufts of hair above both ears and a missing front tooth.
Freddie was always asking Rupe about his mom. She shopped at this store, getting the perv revved up about once a week or so.
“That’s a load,” Freddie mumbled around his tooth, leaning on the rail and surveying our goods from the top step.
“Yeah, it is,” I agreed.
I wasn’t about to offer anything more. One of the most intricate tricks of the art of lying was not lying when you didn’t have to. Until he asked where and how we’d come up with so many bottles, I wasn’t about to tell him. I had a good story ready for when he did ask.
Freddie surprised me. “Totaled them up yet?” was his only question.
“You always do that,” I reminded him. And you never give us a nickel more than we bring in, and dock us for chipped bottles, I wanted to say, but didn’t. “You’ve never trusted us to count them before.”
“Yeah, but this is a lot of bottles, and I’ve got a truck to unload.”
He pointed at a trailer docked in one of the bays, as if we thought he might be lying. Freddie thought a moment, scratching at the wisps of hair above his right ear. I didn’t think he had much longer to be scratching any hair at all. He looked like Larry from the Three Stooges.
Thinking about that reminded me of the wisecrack I’d used on Betty, and that reminded me of my brothers being home without me.
“C’mon, man,” Tommy grumbled. “I got shit to do.”
Freddie ignored him. “Tell you what,” he finally said. “Sort them for me, and I’ll count them out. Stand all the loose bottles up here divided by size.” He pointed to the top of the steps. “Put all the full cartons at the bottom of the steps, also divided by size. And make sure they’re full and not partials. 
Bang on the door when you’re done, and I’ll come add ‘em up.”
“Shit!” Tommy cursed as Freddie left, the heavy metal door thudding shut in his wake.
Bitching wasn’t going to get anything done. I told Tommy to start setting aside the cartons while Rupe tossed me the loose bottles. Rupe and I got into a pretty cool rhythm. He was flipping them up as I set them down, keeping it challenging for me. We were grinning and making a game of it. I wasn’t going to drop a single one. Unless Rupe throws one too fast, I thought, wanting him to try it. “You clowns drop shit, and it comes out your ass,” Tommy told us. Rupe ignored him but slowed his pace.
I should have caught on. Later that day, I kicked myself more than once for missing the clues. There were telltale signs something was up. For one, Freddie never had us sort anything before. He’d always pushed our carts into the nearest bay and had a stock boy unload them. For another, there wasn’t a peep coming out of that trailer he was supposed to be unloading. There was no forklift banging in and out of it or pallet jack bumping around. In fact, there weren’t even footsteps echoing off the walls in that trailer.
And the biggest clue of all? “Hey, Rupe?” I called out as the thought occurred to me.
Rupe was bent over in the last of our carts. We were nearly finished. Tommy was already done sorting cartons and was sitting on the steps having a smoke. Benji was sitting close to him, but watching me at my work.
“Freddie didn’t ask about your mom,” I told him.
Rupe tossed me another bottle, and I bobbled it due to my lack of concentration. We both glanced at Tommy, who thankfully had his back to us. “Good.” Rupe’s response was curt. We were all tense. “I don’t need that snaggle-toothed freak worrying about her anyways.”
“Yeah, but he always asks about your mom,” I mused.
Then we heard the Harleys, and everyone exploded into action. Everyone except me, that is. A pair of bikes came thundering at us from either side of the back of the store. Rupe ran right past the ones between us and the way toward home, his limp barely discernible as he churned for freedom, arms pumping wildly. One of the bikers spun around and gunned the throttle. Rupe wasn’t going to reach the street before that dude had him.
Tommy dropped his cigarette and bolted straight across the lot, leapt as high as he could and grabbed the top of the tall concrete divider between the store and the backyards of some houses on the other side of the wall. He hooked his foot on the top of the wall and flipped himself over, leaving behind only a pick that fell out of his hair before he completely vanished. One of the bikers roared on toward the street, meaning to head him off and catch him. That dude might as well have been chasing dandelion fuzz in a tornado.
I stood in place, only moving enough to get my dog to climb the steps and stay closer to me. One of the bikers stopped right at the base of the stairs, shutting off his engine and removing his gloves. He looked up at me, but I stayed calm, thinking things through. I did pretty well under pressure, even when I was scared. Naturally, I wanted to flee, but where was I going to run? I wasn’t about to risk my dog getting run over, and they were on bikes while I was on foot. I decided to stay where I was.
The guy near the steps had a receded hairline with dark curly hair, striking blue eyes, and a square jaw. He was clean-shaven, which made him look younger than he probably was. He had a deep scar near the cleft of his chin that only added to his rugged appeal. He was the kind of guy my mother swooned over but never figured out how to get noticed by. I thought the guy looked like some kind of movie star, like Marlon Brando in that biker movie.
The other dude who was still here was big as a grizzly, with bare arms so hairy you could hardly see the tattoos beneath his fur. He was bearded, but when he pulled off his German-looking spiked helmet, he was bald as a newborn baby. His bike was a chopper, with an extended rake attached to the front wheel and a real high sissy bar off the seat. The big bastard glared at me with open contempt. He flipped down his kick stand and rocked his bike backward into a balanced, parked position.
Freddie cracked open the door and peeked out, but he slammed it shut again when he saw me on his landing. I heard him turn the lock. Nobody spoke, and it wasn’t long before one of the dudes came back, hauling Rupe by the back of his shirt. My friend looked like a kitten being carried by the scruff of the neck. The biker puttered along, half-carrying Rupe with one strong arm while the kid stumbled, tears in his eyes.
We still didn’t say a word. In the distance, the only Harley still running faded in and out of hearing, but eventually grew loud and constant. I sat down next to my dog and waited, with my heart pounding and the guy at the base of the steps still eyeing me. He wasn’t as big as the others, and he didn’t look that old. He was wearing an army green bandana that he readjusted on his head, and I was positive I’d seen him before. But where?
Rupe was still sobbing when the last of the bikers came back empty-handed. He had shoulder-length, rust-colored hair, and a drooping mustache. He wasn’t wearing any protective gear on his head or face, and he looked sheepish as he explained, “I couldn’t catch him. That nigger runs like a nigger.”
Then it hit me: these guys had noticed they’d been ripped off and warned the nearest stores to alert them if anyone hauled in a massive amount of bottles. Freddie must have called them. If I hadn’t been so close to pissing myself, I might have screamed out loud. You are so stupid! I yelled in my head. I was a dunce for not recognizing this. Still, there was no reason to drag Rupe down with me.
“He didn’t do anything,” I told the guy holding Rupe. His parents would flip on him. All I had to worry about was Betty. And the four bad asses surrounding you, I reminded myself. “He’s just helping us haul the bottles. You don’t have any beef with him.”
“I think we’ll be the ones to say who we have a beef with and who we don’t, you little asshole,” the bear growled at me, swinging his bulk off the bike and standing. He wore a jean jacket with the sleeves cut off. Harley Davidson wings proudly covered the back of his denim vest. His arms were kind of flabby, but they were bigger around than my legs.
Maybe your waist. “You don’t tell anybody shit.”
“Easy, Chick,” the guy nearest me warned.
Sweet Jesus! The grizzly’s name is Chick! What kind of shit was that? “I’m just saying, if you’re going to have the fuzz after you for beating on children, you might as well make sure you’re smacking around the ones who deserve it,” I offered.
The guy holding Rupe started looking around like there might be a cop nearby. “Hey, I didn’t hit the kid,” he muttered, letting him go. Rupe stumbled back a few steps, unsure if he should try to run again. “You ain’t hurt, are you, kid? Nicky, I swear to God, man. I didn’t hit the kid.”
“Don’t sweat it,” the guy close to me told him. He tugged his bandana a bit lower on his forehead and smiled at me. He had an okay smile for a biker. “That was pretty good, kid.”
“That was the truth. I stole from you, not him,” I said.
“So you fucking admit it!” Chick growled.
“Why should I believe you, kid?” Nicky asked. “I already know you’re a thief. Why not assume you’re a liar too?”
I shrugged. “I am a liar, but I’m not lying right now. He couldn’t tell you jack shit about your garage, but I can. I can tell you about the spare bike parts, the old tires, the can of Jack Daniel’s bottles, the old calendar of naked chicks”—careful with that chick word, dumbass—“and how the floor near the back of the building stays a little wet. I can tell you this because I was in there and he wasn’t. You saw the way his ass ran. You think a kid as slow as him would climb into a garage with all you dudes just a few feet away? What chance would he have of getting away? If I’d of took off when you guys showed up, you wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of catching me. I’m telling you… I stole your shit, not limpy over there.”
“If you could have got away, why’d you stay?” Nicky asked me, just like I’d hoped he would.
I pointed at my dog. “I couldn’t climb the wall with him along, and I’m not going to risk him getting run over by one of you or getting hit by a car trying to cross these busy streets.”
“That’s not going to matter much when I kick the little fucker to death,” said Chick. That was my biggest fear, that they’d come at me and Benji would bite. I didn’t want them to hurt my dog. Chick tapped a chain he had wrapped around the back of his seat. “Or bash his head in with this.”
“So you stole all this by yourself?” Nicky asked me. I didn’t answer. “I asked you a question, kid,” he said, his tone not mean but serious. I didn’t want to throw Tommy under the bus, but Rupe’s ass was on the line. I shook my head. “The black kid help you?” I nodded. He’d said black kid and not nigger. 
I took that as a good sign. “Anybody else?”
“Yeah, a guy named Mike Collins who lives over on Sunset,” I threw in. And I hope one of you break his legs. God, I was good at this.
Nicky rubbed at a leather wristband, musing. I could see some kind of Japanese symbol burned into the leather, and maybe a name. But he eventually said, “Go on, kid, scram.” My buddy stared at him like he’d told him to strip and dance a tango instead of leave.
Rupe looked to me, and I nodded. “Go on, I’ll be all right.”
And I would be. If Nicky was letting Rupe go, he’d bought my story, and would buy more. Nicky was in charge, and he wasn’t stupid. If he was letting Rupe go, he wasn’t going to hurt me. Rupe had seen them, and would be a witness if anything serious went down. After a last glance at me, Rupe trotted off, looking back more than once before he went around the corner and I lost sight of him. I was hoping he was smart enough not to go after any cops.
Nicky was smart. A lot smarter than I’d first thought. “You probably think you’re going to get off free and clear, huh, kid?” Nicky asked. Well, yeah, but you weren’t supposed to know that. “I got news for you, boy.” Oh shit. “Just ‘cause I let your friend slide doesn’t mean you got away with shit. I’ve seen you around, and I’m going to introduce you to an underage friend of mine in the not-too-distant future.” Nicky smiled again, and this time there was nothing nice about it. “Think about that on your way home.”
“And I’m still going to kick your fucking dog,” promised Chick.
Oh shit. Oh shit. Oh shit. Nicky pushed his bike back a little and waved his arm in an invitation for me to leave. “Be seeing ya, kid,” he told me. And there was that smile again. “Real soon.” Think think think think. Chick moved closer to the stairs, moving into position to possibly hurt my dog. He had big boots with metal studs and leather straps. It was crunch time. Either start crying or say something, I told myself.
“Come on, kid, get moving,” Nicky said soberly.
“How about a deal?”
“You got nothing to deal with, kid,” Nicky returned. “We’ve got the bottles, and we’re going to get the money for them—and you’re going to get an ass-whipping.” Nicky leaned out a bit and spit on the Kroger’s pavement. “End of story.”
“We don’t know you from Adam, boy,” added Chick. “Now come on down here.”
Then I remembered something.
“Your friend Harry knows my mother.”
“How does your mom know Harry?” Nicky asked, taking the bait.
“He took her to some picnic you guys had out at the fairgrounds just before school let out,” I explained. Keep them talking. Get them involved in your problems, I heard Betty telling me.
They all laughed. One of the guys sitting back said, “If she was with Harry she must be a real winner. Dirty Harry only fucks porkers.”
Nicky wasn’t laughing as hard as the others. “You sure your mom was with Harry, kid? Harry isn’t exactly a mom kind of guy.”
“Harry’s not even a guy, he’s more dog than man,” the other biker said. They all laughed again.
I remembered Harry fairly clearly. He had a gut and bad pock marks on his cheeks and neck, with a bulbous nose full of more craters than the moon. He wasn’t an easy dude to look at, and he’d scared the living shit out of my brothers.
“She’s screwed around with way worse than him,” I informed them.
“What’s your mom’s name, kid?” Nicky asked.
“Betty.” Just saying it made me feel dirty. I knew they would remember her.
“Hey, yeah,” Nicky said, snapping his fingers. “She was with that tub you were wrestling around with, Chick. What was her name?”
Nicky kept struggling to remember, so I filled him in: “Ruby.” Saying her name was worse than uttering Betty’s, but at least I wasn’t related to her.
“Yeah! Ruby!” the redhead crowed. They were losing it now, and Chick dropped his head, chagrined.
I didn’t know if I was helping myself or writing my own death warrant. “You were with her in the back of that little pickup and the camper broke loose!” Even Chick cracked a grin. “You got to remember her!”
“I fucking remember!” Chick yelled at him, and that had them all laughing hysterically.
Nicky wiped tears from his eyes. Behind me, Freddie poked his head out again, but shut and locked the door after a quick look-see.
“I guess that’s a little something, kid. You got a fucked-up mother. But why should I listen to your deal?”
“Because you helped me out this summer, and the Chinese believe you’re responsible for someone when you save them,” I explained, almost hating myself for using Tony’s line.
“I helped you out? When?”
My goose was cooked if my memory had failed me. “You were jogging by when I was in a fight.
Your buddy wiped my face and told me to keep my dukes up.”
Nicky opened his mouth slightly and nodded. “I remember. But that wasn’t a fight, kid. You got blasted, and I didn’t save you from anything.”
“You helped me,” I pleaded.
Nicky shook his head. “Not enough. Got anything else?”
This was my last hope. I glanced at Nicky’s forearm. He had an Army tattoo very similar to my stepdad’s. “You were in Nam. So was my dad. Well, not my dad, but my brothers’ dad. My stepdad.”
“How do you know I was in Nam?” I had his attention now. I had everyone’s attention.
“Your tattoo.”
“Your dad had a tattoo like this?” He held out his arm and touched his ink.
“Not exactly.” I explained the differences as best I could.
“Airborne,” Chick pronounced, and Nicky nodded.
“What happened to your dad?” Nicky asked.
“His helicopter got shot down, and they sent him home with multiple shrapnel wounds. He had a medal shaped like a purple heart, and he was nominated for a star of some kind, but I don’t know if he ever got it.” All of that was true. I could tell my story fit what they knew about my stepdad’s tattoo. “I have a picture and a letter he wrote me. I’ll show you if you want.” That was true, too.
“Where’s your dad now, kid?” Nicky asked.
“He split.” I swallowed.
Terrance had been good to me. I had memories of Christmas with lots of toys, of playing with him and wrestling on the bed when he’d wake me up in the morning. But those good times had been long ago and were hard to recall.
“He was hooked on drugs when he came back, and my mother had been fucking around a lot. They couldn’t work it out. He split.”
Nicky was rubbing that wrist band again. He got off his bike and stooped down, snapping his fingers and motioning for Benji to come down. I nearly shit myself when my dog scrambled down the concrete steps and let a stranger rub on him. “You a good mutt?” he asked my dog.
“You were in Nam, right?” I asked.
“We all were,” Chick told me. His voice had changed. It wasn’t quite as gruff. “You don’t ride with us unless you were in country.”
“Okay, kid, we’ll listen to your deal, but no promises,” Nicky said, rubbing behind my dog’s ears.
Great, they’ll kill me and keep my dog. “That much we owe, but for your dad, not your stealing little ass.”
I was taking anything I could get. “I was thinking I could pay you back. If you give me a break, that is.”
“And how would you do that?” asked Nicky.
“I could come by once a month and haul your bottles here, only instead of keeping the money, I’ll bring it back to you.”
“Like we could trust you,” Chick muttered.
“Test me. Count the bottles if you want. I ever short you and you can still have my ass whipped.”
“Your ass already is whipped, junior,” Chick promised.
“Hold on, Chick, I kind of like that proposition. In a way, we’d be doing our part to raise the kid right. 
You know, teaching him something.” Nicky gave me the grin I’d seen earlier, the smile that had given me hope. “Only it’ll be every two weeks, kid. And you don’t miss. And you do it alone.”
“You bring a nigger around our place again, and I’ll whip your ass, fuzz or no,” the redhead who’d let Rupe go told me. There was that black-and-white thing again. Maybe Tommy was right, and there was more going down against blacks than I was aware of.
“Easy, Monroe,” Nicky said. “You do this alone, kid. You understand?” I nodded. “This is between you and us. Nobody else is involved, or else we end our deal and see what happens after. You in with that?” Oh, I was in. I was most definitely in. I nodded again, trying to stay cool and not let them see how relieved I was. “Good.”
“What’s your name, kid?” Nicky asked.
I almost lied but thought better of it. I was skating on ice that started melting an hour ago. “Donny.”
“Well, Donny, I’m going to give you a free piece of advice.” He pulled his gloves back on. Benji realized the petting session was over and hopped up a couple of steps closer to me. “You seem like a smart kid, so take this for what you will. When you steal from the Kroger, they have to call the police.
They have to follow the law. Follow rules.” He let me soak that up, watching me closely. “But when you steal from the street, there’s a whole different set of laws to be leery of.”
“The law of the jungle,” Chick chimed in, like we were in school and he was proud to know the answer to a teacher’s question.
Nicky laughed. “He’s right. You steal from somebody, or step on them any old way, and you better know what they’re capable of.” His face hardened. “What they’re willing to do in return.”
I nodded because he looked like he wanted some kind of response from me. “Okay,” I said. “And thanks for giving me a break.”
He threw a leg over his bike, getting saddled up to leave. “Donny, the next time I go to court, you’re pleading my case. Stay in school and think hard on being a lawyer. You’re already a thief, so the transition should be pretty smooth.”
I was thinking that I’d pulled off one of the greatest escapes in the history of mankind when Chick said, “I’m still going to slap you one and kick your dog.”
I wasn’t sure if he meant it or not. I looked to Nicky, and he only shrugged. “Sorry, kid. He’s too big for me to tell what to do.”
“Lay off, Chick,” Monroe urged. “Let the kid and his dog go home.”
“You need to shut up before I wipe my ass with a wad of that red hair,” Chick warned.
“Sorry, buddy,” Monroe told me, sighing. “Like Nicky said, he’s just too big to fuck around with.”
Part of me was sure Chick was only messing with me, trying to give me a good scare. You hope. But another part was truly terrified that he was going to hurt my dog. “I thought we had a deal,” I said directly to Chick.
“Only for the bottles, boy,” he said. “I still owe you for sneaking around my place.”
“Just take your medicine, kid. It won’t be that bad,” the biker whose name I’d yet to learn said.
“Take it easy, Chick. They’re both kind of small. You might kill one of them.”
Okay, now I was pretty sure they were fucking with me. I held up my fingers and made the play gun out of my hand. “Hey, Chick, can you do this?” I asked him.
He scowled at me. God, I was praying this wasn’t a huge mistake. “Why the fuck would I want to?”
“Please, just do it. Trust me, you’ll like this. If you don’t, you can hit me twice as much as you were going to.”
“Go on, tough guy,” Monroe urged.
“What are you afraid of?” the other guy asked. “Go on. Do it.” Nicky was watching me as Chick hesitantly obliged. “Now point your gun at the dog,” I instructed. Chick made a face, but slowly did as I’d asked. Benji saw him and stood expectantly, tail wagging. Come on, old buddy. Save my ass. 
“Now say bang.”
Chick didn’t follow instructions very well. Instead of bang, he made a noise like a shotgun going off, jerking his hand like his fingers had a recoil he could barely control. Still, Benji fell over right on cue, like he’d been laid to waste. The hair covering his eyes even made it look even better, since they could hardly see that the dog was still watching Chick.
Our act cracked them up, and as menacing as Chick tried to appear, he kind of looked like a little kid when his fat head was split by one of the biggest grins I’d ever seen.


Available on Amazon

Betty’s Child: a memoir (available on Amazon) is copyright © 2013 by Donald R. Dempsey. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of the author and publisher.

This excerpt has been posted with the permission of the author and his publisher.

First Dream of Things edition, February 2013

Published by Dream of Things, Downers Grove, Illinois USA

Originally published by Donald R. Dempsey in 2009.


Review of Betty’s Child: a memoir

Highly Recommended! Five stars.

I just finished reading this book, and I’m speechless in the face of this terrific writer. Donald Dempsey opens an artery and spills his childhood trauma onto the page. It is a delicate dance between detail and emotion when one writes a memoir about childhood abuse, and Dempsey dances like a pro.
While Dempsey offers some graphic detail, it is accompanied by the emotion felt by 12-year-old Donny—no gratuitous BS. Every detail is absolutely necessary for the progression of his life during this time.
Readers will be shocked by Betty (the author’s mother) and her atrocious behavior, and, yet, there seems to be a part of Donny/Donald who loved and still loves her. At best, his mother was a neglectful parent, at worst an abusive mother who invited abusive men into her life, and, yet, the author offers glimpses of her humanity.
Never have I read such a wonderful characterization of an animal (the author’s dog Benji) in which the animal was not the main focus of the book (like in Marley & Me). Dempsey also creates rich characterizations of his brothers Terry and Chip (who were only six and three at the time).
Never have I experienced such seesaw emotions when reading a memoir: horror, laughter, and sadness.
This book may not be for everyone; if one is seeking a fast, action packed narrative, this isn’t it. It’s long (438 pages), with lots of interior pain and emotion.
This book DESERVES to be a best seller, and I have a feeling that the literary community will be hearing from Donny/Donald Dempsey again.


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