Autumn Harvest Wreath, $149.95

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Dear Dave,

YUCK – ORANGE DRIPS STAINING MY DOORWAY

I have had this wreath for a few weeks on my front door, which is in a covered location due to our large front porch. The other day I noticed some orange droplets in the doorway which had stained the ground below the wreath – turns out my wreath is “bleeding” some weird orange drips onto the ground. The wreath is not wet, and I have no idea what would be making such dark orange drops come off it, but I am going to have to throw it out and am very disappointed.

Sally M, Seattle WA

Dear Sally,

A wreath? Come on! Wreaths don’t bleed. The reason the doorman is bleeding weird fluids onto your porch is because he’s dead! I know it’s hard to get good help to impress your many autumn visitors, but a few weeks on your front door? What did you do, nail him to the door like an ornament so he wouldn’t slouch? Did you even notice his coloring? You are careful to point out that your porch is covered and he was able to stay dry in rainy Seattle. Well, aren’t you are a compassionate lady of the people! My advice: lose the doorman and get a doorbell. Oh, and check your local laws on body disposal. Things are different now. You can’t just throw the body out like an old rug.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Dave

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Lila and JJ in the Fall, Part 3: Together at Last?

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They lay in bed listening to the rain, talking little. Lila was on her side, her face snuggled against JJ’s neck. He was on his back, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. He remembered the cracks on the ceiling above his childhood bed, how they formed a river canyon and tributaries, a whole regional map up there. As a child, he lay in his bed and imagined a world of heroic deeds, unjust tragedies, and vengeance playing out on that ceiling. An entire fictional watershed was drained by the topographic cracks up there. There were no cracks yet on this adult farmhouse ceiling. Just some undulations here and there, a rolling prairie rather than a canyon land.

His phone, still in the pocket of his jeans on the floor, double buzzed for an incoming text.

“Don’t,” Lila said into his neck.

“I think something’s wrong.”

“What else is new.”

“I mean, like someone’s sick. Or died.”

“Someone’s going to die if you get out of this bed.”

“I have to,” he said and rolled away from her. He reached down and out, stretching for the jeans. He snagged a belt loop with a finger, reeled them in, and retrieved the phone from the pocket. “See, I didn’t have to get out of bed.”

Lila groaned and rolled away.

JJ read the text: From Betty (Satan), “Where are you!!! Barry had affair and I left.”

He stared at the screen and a strange sibling mix of emotions washed over him. Sadness for his sister, for anyone, betrayed and alone. Disappointment in Barry, tempered by a “What took you so long?” wonderment. Smug satisfaction that his upwardly mobile sister had been derailed in a non-life-threatening way. And, dread over what she wanted from him. Mostly there was the dread. She was in the area, a place she never visited, and that meant she expected to stay in the area. Probably in this very house where he finally lay snug in bed with the elusive love of his life.

“Well,” Lila said to the wall.

“Not good,” he said. “I have to call her.”

“Wait awhile.”

“Barry had an affair.”

“What took him so long?”

“Yeah, I know. But…”

“Oh, fuck it,” she said and flung back the blanket. She got up and thumped naked out of the bedroom. “Fuckin’ drama,” she muttered in the hall and went into the bathroom.

JJ called Betty.

She launched right into it. “Where are you? I was at your house. The car was there but no one answered. I tried to go in but the door was locked.”

Thank God he had locked it. She would have found them cowering in the downstairs bathroom.

“I went for a walk,” he said.

“Well, I’m coming back.”

Lila walked back into the room and JJ followed her with his eyes. She didn’t look at him but went over to the chair to sort through her discarded clothes. She started to dress.

“Listen Betty, it’s not a good time. I have a guest and we’re very busy today.”

Quiet. Then, “Are you saying that your own sister, abandoned by her husband, can’t come over?”

“Go home, Betty. Work it out with Barry.”

“Jason…”

Lila had turned to watch him and he met her eye.

“It’s going to be ok,” he said and hung up. He turned the phone off and Lila came back to bed, where it was warm.

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Therapeutic Dog Bed, $299.00

Dear Dave is a series in which I address poor reviews of consumer goods in the advice column tradition of Dear Abby or Dear Sugar. Aren’t most online reviews a cry for help, anyway?

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Dear Dave,
I bought this bed to keep my hairy beast off the furniture, figuring it was cheaper than replacing the couch. She still prefers the couch, the kitchen floor, the bedroom rug, anything, to this bed. The cat, however, seems to like it. The Extra Large would have probably fit 2 St. Bernards- it’s really big. And it is very very difficult to put together. I’m afraid now to wash it in case I can’t figure out how to put it back together. I’m very sorry I incurred such an expense because it’s not being used.
Frustrated
Western NY

Dear Frustrated,

Married couples are sometimes like citizens in closed countries. Think North Korea. Or the Soviet Union. They have alternate realities. People live there, they walk around, go to work, stand in food lines, fear the police. They do many of the same things that all people do, just in a closed-off parallel world. The citizens don’t know how different they are because their contact with other countries is all rumor and whispers. They suspect there’s something more, but they don’t know what it is. That sounds a little like your marriage, Frustrated. In your marriage country it’s ok to refer to your wife as a dog or “hairy beast”. And maybe she does have quite a bit of hair. However, it sounds like she prefers the floor or the rug instead of the bed because she doesn’t want to sleep with you! Out here, in the wonderfulfilling™ world of internet content and consumerism, she could remove that hair and you could find a therapist for men’s issues. In fact, that’s my recommendation. Seek therapy before you end up married to the cat. On a side note, we also wash our bedding out here in the modern world. Despite our fears of getting the fitted sheet back on the bed.

Best,

Dave

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Lila and JJ in the Fall, Part 2: A Close Call

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Except for an increasing rain, the omens seemed to stay at bay. They ran, holding hands and laughing, from the car to the porch and entered the house.

“This is awkward,” JJ said.

“Just kiss me,” Lila said. So they kissed right there in the kitchen. So far, so good. They parted, hands held between their bodies.

“Come upstairs with me,” he said.

“Let me go to the bathroom first.” She pulled away and turned with a sassy skip, looking back at him over her shoulder as she walked down the hall.

When the bathroom door closed, JJ turned to lock the outside door and something caught his eye in the sloping field. There was a group of wild turkeys in the grass. A gaggle? A flock? They were strutting and pecking their way across the field, taking their time. This farm with no crops and no animals. It’s a farm of the world, JJ thought. It’s just here and the turkeys are here and this is the way it’s supposed to be. “And I’m here with Lila,” he thought. “Finally. And it’s all ok.”

To the right he heard, then saw, a car coming up the road. It slowed and turned into his driveway. A black BMW, like an adder entering a henhouse. Alarmed squawking in JJ’s brain.

“No. No. No.” He didn’t recognize the car but he knew who it was. “No,” he said again as he watched Betty, his sister, emerge from the driver’s seat. She deployed an umbrella and peered around at the barn, field, and house. An intruder in nature. The land itself seemed to grow still, aware of this foreigner, knowing that people from Away never brought glad tidings. Betty started walking toward the porch.

The sound had all sucked up into JJ’s head and he was frozen by her approach. A sense of being the prey shuddered his body back into movement. She hadn’t yet seen him yet. His hand was still on the lock bolt and he turned it, the click breaking the spell. He moved quickly away, down the hall, crouching, and pushed his way through the bathroom door.

Lila was rising from the toilet, pulling up her jeans. “JJ, what the…”

“Shhhh. She’s here!”

“Who?”

“Betty.” JJ jostled past to the little window and pulled the curtains together tight. The bathroom was only a WC, just a toilet and a sink. He shifted back to the bathroom door and latched the hook into the eyelet.

“JJ, really.”

“She’s here to ruin my life.”

Then came the knocking, four hard raps. He could picture her there, all consternation and intent. He quieted his breathing and waited.

“JJ,” Lila whispered.

“Shhh.”

Then, his sister’s voice, muffled but too close. “Jason!” For a moment he thought she was already in the house but, no. His mind was messing with him. They stayed quiet, waiting it out. JJ’s phone vibrated in his pocket. Caller id: “Betty (Satan)”. He refused the call. Four more hard raps on the door, a turning and shaking of the doorknob, (“Thank God I locked it”).  Silence for a moment, then steps retreating, car door chunking shut, the engine, tires on gravel, and an acceleration down the hill.

He realized he was clutching Lila’s hand. He was clutching her whole arm.

“Kiss me again,” Lila whispered. “She’s gone.”

“But she’ll be back,” he said. He looked at Lila’s wry smile, the twinkle in her eye, and realized she was amused, enjoying this. Then he kissed her, cowering in the little downstairs bathroom of the farmhouse he bought with his lottery winnings. He felt they were in a sanctuary, spared and chosen, the overlooked survivors of some freak disaster. A close call and very exciting

He pulled her closer and let his hands roam down to her waist and hips.  Her noticed her jeans were still unbuttoned from when he barged into the bathroom. He never wanted her more.

But a voice, insistent, in his head. “She’ll be back,” it said.

“Oh shut up,” he said out loud.

“What?”

“Come on,” he said and led her into the hallway and up the stairs.

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Lila and JJ in the Fall with Apples

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The orchard on Columbus Day, teeming with families. A school holiday. Cider and pie and apples. There was a bluegrass trio sawing away and some hippyish kids, unkempt and happy, watched over by their smug parents, dancing their little pagan dances. JJ and Lila, childless and unmarried, neither here nor there, wandered through with cups of strong coffee in paper cups. A grayish day but not too cold. Leaves, yellow, orange, and red, bright against the overcast sky, grass still green and the smell of fall everywhere. A good rich soulful smell, evocative of time passing, making up for the odor-free death-zone of winter to come. JJ’s favorite time of year.

JJ asked, “Ever think of having kids?”

Lila looked at him. “Sometimes I think it would be nice to already have them. But it takes two to tango.”

“Yeah. You’re talking about sex.”

“Do you want to talk about sex?”

JJ was thinking about sex, that’s for sure. As they walked through the orchard, he stole glances at Lila and tried to put out a certain vibe. Hungry, but not desperate. He tried to send out smoke signals, instead of flaming arrows meant to pierce a covered wagon of pioneers.

“Do you want to talk about it?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

His heart did a leap and a twist. In all their on and off years, he had never wanted her more. They had come close almost a year ago. But a deer got impaled on an iron fence and that killed the moment.

“We came close last year,” he said.

“That’s what worries me. Some force is against us. Every time we try…”

“The deer was a freak thing.”

“Yeah, well, what about the other times? The fire in the old school bus? Or that hobo and the heart attack?”

“That wasn’t a hobo. That was Brad. And he survived.”

They both watched a tall man, dressed for an outing from an LL Bean catalog, devour an entire apple, core and all, in four bites. Then he did it again, with gusto, while watching his gypsy children dance to the fiddle.

Lila asked, “What do you think about people who eat the whole apple, core and all?”

“I think it’s arrogant. I think such people are unreliable.”

“You don’t think it shows a certain hunger, a devil-may-care attitude, taking life by the horns?”

“Apple eating is not bungee jumping. Show some fucking respect.”

Lila turned to him. “Do you have a certain hunger? Right now?”

He almost fainted. Mouth dry, he croaked out, “Yes. I have a certain hunger.”

“Then let me buy you an apple,” she said and turned away with a flash of hair, walking toward the stand. She looked back over her shoulder and beckoned with her eyes and he realized he was frozen on the spot, gawking at her jeans with those hips up in there. “Come on.”

They went to the bins of apples. Cortlands, empires, macs, and macouns. Lila picked out a large macoun and showed JJ. “How’s this one?”

She could’ve held up an apple the size of a radish and he would have said it was a good one. Lila picked another and went to pay. He stood and watched, entranced, holding back the worry, trying to outrun the tacklers of fate with a stiff-arm out behind. Things were headed in the right direction. He felt good in the world, more comfortable in his skin. There wasn’t the old morbid desperation to sabotage, to tear it all down. They were in the red zone, a touchdown within reach. He just had to cross the goal line.

Lila was back next to him. “Let’s get out of here,” she said. “Take me to your farm.”

No settling for a field goal this time. Four down territory. They had moved down the field with precision and flare. Fate was tired, hands on hips, gasping for air. What could possibly go wrong?

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Dinosaur Tracks

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“Wow,” Carl said. “They’re everywhere.”

JJ said, “Where? I don’t see.”

“There and here and there.” He pointed at different sized depressions in the rocks that slanted down towards the river. And then JJ saw the three-toed footprints and Carl was right. They were everywhere.

“What kind of dinosaurs were these?”

Carl cleared his throat. “Funny you should ask. These footprints were made by Eubrontes giganteus about 200 million years ago. They were carnivores, predecessors of the T Rex.”

“How do you know that stuff?”

“I know stuff.”

“I know you know stuff. You’re always telling me the stuff you know.”

“What’s wrong with knowing stuff? You know, there’s a long tradition of amateur naturalists knowing stuff.”

“I’m sure there is. For me, it’s enough that they were here and now we’re here 200 million years later in the same spot. That’s reassuring to me.”

Carl looked at JJ. “Reassuring?”

“Yeah. These footprints mean…I mean, they take the pressure off. It’s no big deal. They were here and now they’re gone. We’re here now and we’ll be gone. No big deal.”

They were quiet a moment. Carl spoke. “That’s either the deepest or most depressing thing I’ve ever heard.”

“I think there’s two kinds of things in this world. Those that endure and those that flame out.”

“Which are you?”

JJ thought of a time, years before, when he aimed his car at someone’s driveway but it turned out to be an embankment down to a small stream. He caromed down the hill, somehow missing trees large enough to stop the car, and skidded to a halt with the front wheels in the stream. 2:28AM the dashboard clock said, even when he turned the engine off.

“I used to think I would flame out but now I think I’m going to endure.”

“That’s not always a good thing. Think of the Rolling Stones. Or Dick Cheney.”

“True. But I’m thinking more like an old oak, like that one over there.”

“That’s a maple.”

Some people were coming down the path to the footprints. They were laughing and clowning and shouting conversation. “Fuckin” this and “that’s bullshit”. One of them dropped a cigarette on the rocks and stamped it out. Another yelled, “Wait, wait.” And he reached down to move the cigarette butt into one of the footprint depressions. “That’s what killed the dinosaurs!” Moronic guffaws. They didn’t even notice JJ and Carl.

Carl said, “My point is, there’s a third type of person. Those who should flame out but endure anyway. Don’t be one of them.”

“I’ll try,” said JJ. “I’m trying.”

“I know. Now let’s get outta here before a meteor hits those jackasses.”

“I think we were those jackasses once.”

“Nah,” Carl said. “We would have been quieter.”

“You mean more stoned.”

They walked up the path away from the river, away from the triassic tracks, emerging from the trees into a 21st century parking lot.

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Side Door, Ajar

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JJ got home, walked onto his side porch, and noticed the door was ajar. He froze. What the hell? Did I leave it like that? Did someone go in there? Is someone still in there? He made himself very still and listened as hard as he could. Insects in the woods and field. A slight breeze in the leaves. A truck in the distance and some leaf blower off to the left, down the hill, near the cemetery. But, what about the house? He thought he heard a creak inside but the house was old. “Old houses settle”, his father had told him when the old house of his childhood unsettled him with its creaks and groans. Then Knuckles the cat slithered through the ajar door and he almost jumped off the porch. His heart pounded. “Fuckin cats,” he said as the cat came over to rub against his legs. He wanted to kick Knuckles but, as he calmed, realized it was good to be with someone.

The listening spell broken, JJ chuckled and reached for the door knob. He must have left it ajar when he rushed out that morning. He was forgetting a lot of things lately. But, before he could open it all the way, a car turned into his driveway and a horn tooted in greeting. JJ squinted at the windshield of an old Toyota or Honda sedan, but the sun glare was strong and he couldn’t see inside. The driver threw something out the window which landed with a thud on the driveway. JJ heard the gears shift to reverse and the car backed away into the road and continued on up the mountain. Now he was torn between opening the door and checking out the driveway package. He knew it was probably a phonebook but, the way it had landed, it sounded weightier, too dense for a mere list of names and numbers that nobody used anymore. Books that land on your driveway with a thud are hard to ignore.

JJ chose the door over the book and opened it, pushing through his unease and stepping over the threshold. He went into the kitchen and saw the remains of his rushed breakfast, English muffin crumbs on a plate and an OJ glass, still on the kitchen table. He knew for a fact now that when he rushed off that morning the latch didn’t engage all the way. The door had popped open from the cat or a breeze. Or some kind of settling.

That morning his cell phone buzzed as he lay in bed warming up to masturbation, that 7-11 cashier with the pink hair and those jeans on his mind. He hadn’t recognized the number and almost didn’t answer it. But, he was trying to do the opposite of what his instincts told him to do these days so he took the call. It was a guy named Kurt he met two weeks ago.

“I need help,” Kurt said.

“Are you OK?” (Did you use? Are you gonna drink?)

“I’m OK but I just found out my sister’s in the hospital and I can’t talk to my family and I need someone to just hang with. You’re the only one who answered.”

“Where are you?”

“Home but I want to go out. I need to go out.”

“OK. How about Dunkin Donuts. Half hour or so.”

“OK, great. That’s good. Thanks. I’ll be there.”

And JJ had pulled on some clothes, made a quick English muffin, had a glass of OJ, brushed his teeth, and rushed out the door, not engaging the latch, thinking of someone else for a change.

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