Saturday, 19 November 2016
Tell me, mother. Tell me why
So many people had to die,
Stripped of their rights and locked up in cells,
Buried in ditches and thrown into wells.
Was it the planes, the bombs and the ships,
The men who came marching with guns on their hips,
The clubs, the bullets, the landmines and tanks?
Was it planned on the paper we hoarded in banks?”
“No, child. It wasn’t gold, silver or guns
That took our neighbors, their daughters and sons.
It wasn’t walls with their wires and bars
That packed the weeping cattle cars.
It wasn’t the men in their armored machines
That bulldozed mountains and poisoned our streams.
It wasn’t white robes and ropes tied in knots,
Just desires and ordinary thoughts.”
Posted by james-hazard
at 2:53 PM PST
Updated: Saturday, 19 November 2016 2:55 PM PST
Monday, 7 November 2016
Now Playing: Salt water taffy
My wife and I go to the beach at least once a year. Our favorite coastal retreat is Pismo Beach, one of five cities 82 miles North West of Santa Barbara. This is a quiet town that has been allowed to slowly grow and to acquire considerable charm. To me it has the look and feel of warm, gnarled driftwood even with all the commercial tackiness of a typical beach community.
Every restaurants serves, “The best clam chowder” and it is true that no matter where you eat, the clam chowder is pretty good. There is a bowling alley, a pool hall and shops that sell hand-blown glass, home-made soaps, yogurt, ice-cream, beach attire and, of course, salt water taffy.
I don’t know what it is about the beach that arouses within us the craving for this particular confection; and I think that if we do want to sink our teeth into globs of sticky sugar while at the beach it must be a desire entirely crafted by marketing geniuses who earned undergraduate degrees in psychology; but however it came about, every beach town in Southern California hawks the stuff.
On a day trip to Morrow Bay we wandered into a shop that sells nothing but salt water taffy. There were big wooden tubs everywhere, all filled with pastel colored candy wrapped in wax paper.
“We have every flavor you can think of and some you can’t,” the owner cheerfully announced. “Our newest is chicken and waffles!”
Chicken and waffles may sound like an unlikely combination to those of you who reside outside Southern California; but in Altadena, a city not far from where I work, there is a famous restaurant called Roscoe’s Chicken ‘n Waffles. I’ve eaten there. The food is great and you can really get, among other things, a satisfying meal of chicken and waffles.
I made the mistake of saying, “That sounds good.” I was only trying to be polite. Let’s be honest. Is it possible to be in your right mind and actually think that turning chicken and waffles into taffy is a good idea?
“Well then you just take this here free sample,” the owner, who will from this point on be referred to as Taffy Man, said as he thrust a piece of candy into my hand.
I was stuck. There was no way out of this. How could I refuse to eat a free sample after saying how good it sounded? I could have had the presence of mind to say, “You know, I’d love to eat this but, doggone it, I’m a diabetic and my doctor told me that if I eat just one more piece of candy I could slide right into a coma.” But, as usual, I didn’t have the presence of mind to save myself. At such critical moments my brain freezes up and I do what I’m told: take the candy and eat it.
The light brown taffy stuck to my teeth and then began to slowly dissolve. I closed my eyes, concentrating on the flavors. No fried meat or melted butter on fluffy cooked batter greeted me. I was chewing what can best be described as rather ordinary maple candy. The waiter had brought me a bottle of syrup but the food had yet to arrive.
We inched our way through the store, dropping carefully selected taffies into a bag like picky children on Halloween. The assortment of flavors was truly impressive. Apple, green apple, sour apple, apple sauce, apple cobbler, spiced apple, apple yogurt, candy apple, apple liquor, apple pie, apple tart and that was just the apple section.
I began to wonder about this particular business model. Someone had to have talked Taffy Man into this and I conjured up what the sells pitch might have been.
“Everyone buys taffy when they go to the beach, right? Am I right? Why, you see it everywhere! But how many places sell gourmet taffy? And I guarantee that everyone who walks into your store will buy taffy. All you do is give them a free sample. That way they’ll feel like rat bastards if they don’t buy something. And you don’t have to worry about your stock going bad. Taffy will stay good until Jesus comes back. You can’t lose!”
Not knowing a thing about business or how to make money, I can easily imagine myself falling for this pitch. Instead of taffy, though, I would choose to market a vast variety of exotic jelly beans: deep fried cherries, apple flavored brown rice, root beer infused with Greek yogurt, day old pizza, pumpkin seed, sour horehound, salmon, eggs over easy, chewing tobacco, horseradish, shrimp cocktail, curry, pulled pork, chocolate and hot sauce, dandelion wine, French fries, pancake batter and so on.
I would give it a suitably cute name like Doc Bear’s Jelly Bean Emporium. It seems like a pleasant enough way to make a living but my business skills would doom it from the beginning. I’m the kind of captain of industry who takes command of the Titanic. At the slow but inevitable approach of bankruptcy I can see myself resorting to increasingly desperate measures, like playing the accordion or dressing up like Willy Wonka.
A family enters the store and I crouch, swing my arms from side to side and begin to sing, “Oompa loompa doom-pa-dee-do I have a perfect puzzle for you…”
The parents smile nervously and the children back slowly away, their eyes big, their skin crawling. Eventually some unpleasantness ensues, professional people are called in and I’m led at last to the happy farm.
At the counter I started to take out my credit card but Taffy Man told me that my purchase wasn’t big enough. I had to buy more taffy or use cash. Short of real money, I borrowed two dollars from my mother-in-law and then handed Taffy Man two one dollar bills and two quarters to pay for two dollars and thirty eight cents worth of gourmet salt water taffy.
Taffy Man took my money and then suddenly looked at me blankly.
“You’re buying two dollars and thirty eight cents worth of taffy,” he said.
“That’s right,” I said.
“And you gave me two dollars and fifty cents,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
“But you’re buying two dollars and thirty eight cents worth of taffy,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
I immediately knew that a cerebral event had occurred. A glob of taffy had gone the wrong way, and instead of clogging an artery it had gummed up a clump of brain cells.
Within seconds the taffy dissolved, the brain cells got unstuck and Taffy Man said, “Oh! You want change.”
“Yes,” I said.
He handed me my bag of taffy, dropped a few coins into my hand and told us to come again.
A week later, back home, I got out of bed at 2 am-my usual hour for sleeplessness-and padded into the living room. Passing through the kitchen, I saw our little white bag of taffy sitting next to the microwave oven. I plucked a piece out of the bag, went to the sofa, sat down and then unwrapped genuine beach-bought salt water taffy.
As it dissolved in my mouth I found myself thinking about Taffy Man. Was he happy with the decision he had made to sell taffy? I heard him thinking, “I have to stand here all day looking at taffy instead of antiques, toys, games, novelty tee shirts, books, lava lamps and sea shells.”
Being in business must be a source of constant anxiety. It would keep me up at night and I already have a hard time sleeping. Every fear would prey on my mind. What if everyone wakes up one day and says, “You know, I really can’t stand the taste of salt water taffy.” Or what if one day some smart ass scientist with nothing else better to do discovers a link between the consumption of taffy and thyroid cancer? I pictured a crazed woman storming into the store and saying, “My mother came here every day for ten years to buy your taffy and now she’s dead!” Sooner or later an angry visitor would poke his head into the shop and yell, “Why don’t you just shoot people in the throat instead?”
The cherry vanilla I chewed was pretty good. I hoped that Taffy Man was well and prospering. I wanted to see him again and, next time, buy two dollars and fifty cents worth of taffy with two dollar bills and two quarters.
The World's Most Rotten Kid and Other Stories by James Hazard is available on Kindle.
Posted by james-hazard
at 8:52 PM PST
Updated: Monday, 7 November 2016 9:01 PM PST
Tuesday, 1 November 2016
There once was a man-
Call him Bob-
Who lived on a hill
Far removed from the mob.
“I’m a self-made man”
He would boast in his manor
“And deserve all my wealth,
High status and glamour.
“The schools that I went to
Were built by yours truly
And paid for by money
You demanded so rudely.
“Our whole banking system,
And the laws that protect it,
Were not around
Before I existed.
“The hospital, too,
That restored me to health,
Where would it be
If it weren’t for my wealth?
“And as for the workers
They’d starve in a ditch
If they didn’t have someone
Like me to make rich.
“All the inventions,
The gadgets and science
Are due to my own
He lived his own life
And built his own tomb
Even spoke at his wake
In a big, empty room.
Now he’s in heaven
Telling God to his face
“It’s me you should thank
For this fabulous place.”
Posted by james-hazard
at 12:15 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 November 2016 8:42 AM PDT
Thursday, 19 May 2016
When I was in high school I had a friend who was a Nazi. I’m not talking figuratively; Dave was an actual Nazi who would one day join the National Socialist Party of America. We became friends because we shared an interest in science fiction literature. One day he talked to me about the Nazis, who had recently established headquarters in El Monte. We laughed about it because, at least to me, the idea of Nazis setting up shop in El Monte, of all places, just seemed too ridiculous.
“Do they wear uniforms?” I said. “Like in the movies?”
“Oh yeah,” Dave said. “And they have meetings. On Wednesday nights the public is invited.”
Dave wanted me to attend one of the meetings with him. I was tempted but not because I took their ideas seriously. To me Nazis were interesting in the same way zoo animals and creepy stories are interesting. I mean, here are people who cling to the most spectacularly failed ideology of all time. It’s like watching a boxer get pummeled so badly that he dies on the way to the emergency room and then turning to your friends to say, “Man oh man, I want to be like that guy!”
Dave and I drifted apart but I sometimes wondered about him. Years later I mentioned him to my friend Rob who told me that, yes, Dave had become a card carrying Nazi which resulted in his family disowning him. I was stunned and appalled. To this day I also feel a little guilty. I tell myself that I should have realized that my friend was attracted to real, muscular, bloodthirsty fascism, that he wanted to express fanatical hatred and the most extreme form of intolerance. At the time, though, it just seemed too improbable. I would have found it easier to believe that he was a time traveler or that he could make himself invisible.
My most persistent character flaw is that I tend to think that, deep down, everyone is basically like me. My anger is transitory. However mad people make me, I can’t find it in my heart to hate anyone. I have to keep reminding myself, though, that not everyone is like me. The quiet man sitting next to me on the bus may be plotting my extermination. That friendly, smiling cashier I like so much at the supermarket may daydream about annihilating the human race. As hard as it is for me and maybe some of you to accept or believe, hatred can become our most prized possession, the sweetly exhilarating emotion that gives life meaning and purpose.
When I returned from the Navy and settled back in El Monte, I spent one afternoon with a man I had grown up with as a neighbor. His name was Billy. We were never very close but I remembered him as a sweet, quiet little boy, the youngest of three children. I think now that life was probably not easy for Billy when he was little. His father, a railway worker, was injured at work and as a result lost both legs. The loss of blood caused extensive brain damage. I remember seeing the poor man slumped in his wheelchair, chain smoking and babbling words only his wife could understand.
Despite this I didn’t mind going over to their house. I especially liked seeing Mary, the older of the two daughters, washing her mother’s car in a bikini. But by the time I was in high school the family left California and moved to South Carolina where Billy’s mother had originally come from.
Now, as a young man, he had come back with his mother for a visit.
“Why don’t you boys go out and do something?” my mother said to me.
I looked at Billy, who stonily stared at empty space, and said, sure, why not? We got into the two-door Chevy I had purchased from one of my father’s co-workers and then headed for town. I talked about this and that, asked Billy questions and tried to make conversation but the kid was not easy to talk to. He was quiet and seemed remote. Politics was off the table after he grumbled that, “Liberals think they know everything.” There wasn’t much to say about education, since I was in college and he was living at home doing whatever young people do when they are not going to school or working.
We got a bite to eat and then watched a movie. I don’t remember what we saw but I do remember seeing the trailer for Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
“Holy cow.” I said when we got back into the car. “Do I want to see that movie!”
Billy just shrugged and looked out the window. Something was wrong and it began to get under my skin. He hadn’t cracked one smile and seemed depressed. I’m not given to prying but finally couldn’t help myself.
“Uh, Billy,” I said. “You, uh, all right? Is something like, you know, bugging you?”
He glanced at me, twisted his mouth into a bitter smirk, then looked out the window and said, “Jews.”
I felt my jaw hit my lap. Jews. Jews? Did I hear that right? Jews? As in…Jews? I wondered if I had missed something. Maybe a rabbi had attacked Billy for buying a box of Milk Duds on the Sabbath. Had Israel just declared war against South Carolina? What the hell did Jews have to do with the price of butter in Finland for crying out loud? This was nuts. I was sitting in a car with a crazy man.
Being the coward that I am I didn’t say anything. I’ve never been good at confronting irrational prejudices. A few days later Billy and his mother returned to South Carolina and I never saw them again.
Thoughts of Billy always make me sad and angry. I imagine him by my side as I shake my fist, bellowing to whoever poisoned this once sweet little kid, “Do you see what you have done! Does this make you happy?”
Mary, the girl I had my first erotic fantasies about, went to college, married and worked in the banking industry. The others kids, my mother told me with a sigh, never left home and did nothing with their lives, living on the money they received from the railroad company. I hope this isn’t true but my gut tells me that it is. I imagine an old Billy sitting alone in his kitchen, sipping black, bitter coffee and occasionally muttering, “Jews!”
Posted by james-hazard
at 12:38 PM PDT
Updated: Thursday, 19 May 2016 12:40 PM PDT
Wednesday, 27 January 2016
My book, The World's Most Rotten Kid and other stories, is now available at the Kindle store. At the Kindle store type James Hazard in search and you'll go straight to it.
From the book jacket:
The World’s Most Rotten Kid
A young boy, driven nearly insane by a sister who wants to be Shirley Temple, a father obsessed with Richard Nixon, a next door neighbor who may have murdered his wife, a TV perfect mother and a cynical, sadistic grandfather, creates the most terrifying work of art ever conceived. He could be the world’s most rotten kid; or just misunderstood.
The Night Sky
Meet a successful realtor who has just sold a house. Business is booming, as they say. There is just one little problem. The world may be on the verge of coming to a hellish end.
What’s the Matter with Tomatoes?
Growing tomatoes may be a pleasant hobby. As long as it doesn’t drive you crazy once you face the great cosmic power that is intent on cornering the market.
My Life in a Day
Johnny has a long life ahead of him. Unfortunately for him, he’ll live it all in one day. Still, there’s a reason for everything, as he’s about to find out.
A young mother listens to a story about a murder that may or may not be an urban legend. At the end of the story, however, she will have to grapple with death in real life.
Going Once, Going Twice
Sid may have died last night, but that won’t keep him from going to work the next day.
An old man is down on his luck. To make a comeback he’ll have to plot a few grisly killings. Is he a harmless crank or the Devil himself?
Posted by james-hazard
at 11:41 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 27 January 2016 11:51 AM PST
Tuesday, 1 December 2015
Now Playing: a letter from the government
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
December 1, 2015
Re: form N-400
Dear Mr. Jesus, USCIS, upon a careful review of all documents pertaining to your application for immigration, must inform you that you have not provided sufficient evidence that you are a proven Christian and that your application has been denied on that basis. Furthermore, your activities on behalf of people who have expressed hostility toward Roman occupation make it imperative that we exercise extreme caution in regard to your case. Crucifixion, though condemned by international law, does not warrant our government to allow those threatened by it to enter the U.S. at this time.
Posted by james-hazard
at 2:51 PM PST
Updated: Tuesday, 1 December 2015 2:53 PM PST
Monday, 30 November 2015
Now Playing: Conversations with Zoon
“I was watching the Rebarbarian debates the other day,” my friend Zoon said. “And I heard Mister Duck say that worker bees make too much money. Is that so?”
“If Mister Duck thinks something is true then it is true,” I said.
“But you are always worried about money,” Zoon countered. “ Are you worried that you have too much of it?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’ve earned too much money. You see, Zoon, it’s like this. If I had made less money then I wouldn’t have bought so much stuff; and if I hadn’t bought so much stuff I wouldn’t have gotten into so much debt. If I owed less then I would have more money to pay what I owe to The Super One Percent.”
“But if you and almost everyone else bought less,” Zoon said. “Wouldn’t that cause Big Brother Economy to crash?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “See, all the stuff that’s made in China can be bought by The Super One Percent. They won’t need it, of course, so they’ll ship it to Mexico where it can all be recycled.”
I heard Zoon’s tentacles twitch. He is from the planet Goonleopopfar and is, to humans, invisible; but I think that if I could see him he would look like a giant lobster.
“I do not understand the function of Big Brother Economy,” he said. “On our planet, if we need something we just get together and make it.”
“That’s insane!” I roared. “Worker bees can’t just get together and make stuff on their own. They have to be told what to do by Big Brother Economy.”
“I don’t think I get it,” Zoon sighed.
“Tell me,” I said.
Posted by james-hazard
at 12:10 PM PST
Updated: Monday, 30 November 2015 12:13 PM PST
Wednesday, 25 November 2015
My friend Zoon, who is from the planet Goonleopopfar and is visiting Earth, asked me the other day if Americans are a tolerant people.
“Oh yes, indeed,” I said.
He wanted to know how so.
“Well,” I said. “We tolerate sitting two, three hours in our cars to go to and from work because most of us don’t have a modern mass transportation system. We tolerate sending our kids off to expensive colleges so that they’ll have to work half their life to pay off student debt.
“We tolerate being gouged by drug companies because we won’t let the government negotiate prices. We tolerate mass shootings that are a regular feature of American life now. We tolerate sending people to prison for smoking a weed.
“We tolerate a government that spies on everyone, software companies that spy on their own users, a military industrial complex that kills innocent men, women and children with drones in foreign countries.
“We tolerate the fact that there are a million school children who are homeless. We tolerate corporations that send jobs overseas so that they can pay pennies instead of dollars for an hour’s work.
“We tolerate a political party that is more interested in inventing scandal than protecting a citizen’s right to vote. We tolerate an economic system that is sending us off in our SUVs to the biggest ecological catastrophe in human history; that forces people to work two or three jobs because the minimum wage can’t support them.
“And we tolerate politicians who blame all of this on poor brown people who come here so that they can pick lettuce.”
“You’re a bit more tolerant than we are,” Zoon said.
“Tell me,” I said.
Posted by james-hazard
at 10:38 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 25 November 2015 10:44 AM PST
Monday, 19 January 2015
Now Playing: Idea Man
The first time I met Mary L I was in The Food Box Café eating an egg salad sandwich. We had seen each other around town several times so we nodded, said hello and then introduced ourselves. She had a pile of brown, frizzy hair on her head, unnaturally bright grey eyes that didn’t look as if they worked well together, thin lips that usually curved down and the shallow cheeks of one who doesn’t eat enough. She wore clothes that looked as if they had been made from the covers of old brown sofas. Her feet were in sandals even though the weather was cold and damp. I placed her in her 40s but gave myself a margin of error of ten years either way.
Looking at me with unblinking eyes she wasted no time telling me the dramatic circumstances of her life.
“The flying saucers come to my house every night, James. They really do. I wake up and there they are. They must use some kind of electromagnetic pulse because my electricity goes out and I can’t call the police. They take me to Vietnam, James. They really do. And I’m tortured there. Every night. They use electrodes on me. I have to watch sex movies. The government won’t do anything. All they do is spy on me. They really do.”
This increasingly one-sided conversation went on for several more minutes before she shambled out with a large Styrofoam cup of coffee in her hand. Two years after getting married my wife and I ran into her one day on the street.
“I finally know what to do, James,” she said.
“What’s that, Mary?” I said.
“I have to defeat the Devil.”
That night, after dinner, I put dishes and cups into the dishwasher and thought about defeating the Devil. Could the world exist without evil? To me it seemed like trying to bake a cookie with only one side. And freed from suffering, what would we do with all the free time? Maybe, I thought, a few disasters here and there build character. At the very least they give us a chance to act heroically. I called out to my wife that I was going out to check on Lewis.
Lewis lives in a tiny one bedroom house on our property. In exchange for rent he helps with mowing the lawn, weeding and other routine chores. He calls himself an idea man, a once influential consultant and advisor to politicians, celebrities and Fortune 500 executives; but for the past several years he has fallen on hard times and lives nearly penniless, with only the clothes on his back and pictures clipped from newspapers and magazines of him next to Bernie Madoff, Jack Abramoff, Bill Cosby and other luminaries.
“You want something to eat?” I said as I knocked.
He told me to come in, saying that he had Chinese. That’s his euphemism for dumpster diving.
We talked for a few minutes and then I asked him if he had any plans for the next day. He sat hunched over on a wooden chair wearing nothing but an old tattered cape that looked as if it had come from the stock room of a community theater. His pale, slack face was unshaven and he looked emaciated. Dirty grey hair hung down nearly to his shoulders. I could hear tired, congested lungs work as he smoked an unfiltered cigarette from a red, crumpled pack.
“Yeah,” he said, staring down at the whirring electric heater I let him use. “Guy in Oregon. Got something seriously wrong upstairs I figure. Gonna do the ‘ole instant shotgun divorce thing with his family-nothing much new or exciting there-only gets interesting when he decides to chew ‘em to bits with a chainsaw. I guess movies help if you don’t have much of an imagination. And a woman in Sidney gonna leave her husband and three kids to run off with a feller who sells tropical fish so she can swindle him out of his money and leave his body in the trunk of his car. I know, small potatoes but I’ve slid down the ladder and landed on my butt enough times to know that when you’ve hit bottom you gotta start somewhere.”
“Okay,” I said. “Sounds good. Think you’re up to it?”
“Oh,” he said, lighting another cigarette with a snap of his long, knobby fingers.
“Don’t you worry about me, Sonny Jim.”
Posted by james-hazard
at 12:46 PM PST
Updated: Monday, 19 January 2015 1:00 PM PST
Saturday, 18 October 2014
One for the Road
The Ebola Cola Cafe
take the last road at the end of the earth
sodden rags full of bones piled at the counter
click, clack and cackle with mirth
The infection sticks like confection
latex hands snap like rubber bands
but the spread of microbial insurrection
has already crossed that intersection
Remember, back in the day,
we packed the churches like flies on meat. "You're all dead so good luck with that," the priest would say and off we'd go to babble, fart and sweat,
turn to carrion where we lay
Now I'm all mixed up with clocks and the price of stocks
as the dying writhe under the heat of their own blood-red sun
blue skies are drawn with charcoal, the planet has its own
as the seas rise to the occassion there'll be no place to run
There's a solution to this, of course, there always is
fever itself is an untapped source of energy
we use it at the cafe to give our drink its fizz
what's real is only empty imagery
after all, even the misery
Posted by james-hazard
at 5:36 PM PDT
Updated: Saturday, 18 October 2014 6:11 PM PDT
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