Mitchell Waldman

Mitchell Waldman's fiction, poetry, and essays have previously appeared in many places, most recently in  Midwest Literary Magazine,  Connotation Press, new aesthetic, Wilderness House Literary Review, Longshores Literary Magazine, Girls With Insurance, The Battered Suitcase, Worldwidehippies, Greatest Lakes Review, Five Fishes Journal, Moronic Ox Literary and Cultural Review, eclectic flash, Ink Monkey Magazine, and eFiction Magazine. His writing has also appeared in the anthologies  Beyond Lament: Poets of the World Bearing Witness to the Holocaust(Northwestern University Press, 1998), Messages from the Universe (iUniverse, 2002), and America Remembered (Virgogray Press, 2010). He is also the author of the novel, "A Face in the Moon", was co-editor (with Diana May-Waldman) of the anthology, "Wounds of War: Poets for Peace". and currently serve as Fiction Editor for the new Blue Lake Review. For more information, see his website at: http://mitchwaldman.homestead.com.

Listen: A Better Life is Coming

The Luck of the Angels

Listen: A Better Life is Coming (March 20, 2011. Issue 26. The SLAM & FLASH Issue!)

I threw the television out the window. Let me tell you why.

You used to be able to laugh at the crazies in the streets. Laugh because you didn’t know what else to do. And even then the laugh would come out like a bashful belch, that sick helpless feeling in the pit of your stomach. But now you can’t even laugh. Because times are hard for everybody. And nobody thinks, and nobody feels anything anymore.

It scares me sometimes. I mean, I’m only twenty-three and my girl, Lucille, she’s just turned twenty-one and we’re not lambs or nothing, but with the baby coming…I mean what kind of world is this? Instant this, instant that. Reality TV, canned television families – they can solve any crisis in twenty minutes and get out of it for the better. And the ads, the you-can-have-it-all-too ads, if you just drink this soft drink or smoke this cigarette, or wear these jeans. And people walking the streets barking like dogs because they can’t make it, make it.

The thing that’s the scariest is that people, most people, buy all this shit. They sit in their little rooms and soak it in, the propaganda, the life-you-can-almost-live-from-you-living-room without lifting more than your remote control finger.

Everything’s clean on TV – your five minute births (no blood), your quick credit salesmen feeding the lines (“You in a hole? We’ll help you dig it deeper.”) – and the people, the people eat that shit up. It makes me want to puke.

Listen: I’m twenty-three years old. I work in a drugstore as a stock clerk. I’m no born again rebel trying to bad mouth everything but it’s like this: this ain’t no American Dream anymore, it’s an American nightmare. Consumerism gone mad. Everybody trying to sell you, take every bit they you have and more. They play the sucker game – you need, you need this, you need that. Everybody needs so damned much. But, tell me this – what more they got inside when they get that fancy car, that newest cell phone that will all but take a shit for you, that six bedroom house with the pool, the Jacuzzi and the private tennis court?

I work in a drugstore, but I tell you this -- I’ve got plans. I’m not going to be one of these suckers, these saps that suck it all up, take all the crap that people will hand you. I’ve got a brain and I’m going to use it. You see, I’ve thought this out.

I’m going to tell you something: Lucille screamed. She screamed like she’d seen the face of a cobra when I couldn’t take any more of the brainwashing need need take take game and threw the goddamned box out on the street. We live on the third floor and it made a crach – glass flying everywhere. I felt like I was free after that. Lucille thought I went crazy. She started yelling at me and pounding on my chest and pulling my hair like I’d taken away her fix or something – it was a terrible sight to behold. But I guess that’s what I did really. For all her complaining that I might’ve killed someone, might have fallen out the window, that was what it was about – no more mind-numbing-let’s-not-even-think-about-it trash spewed into our heads. I mean I think she’s really afraid, afraid she’ll have to think about it now. The baby. Whether we should get married. Whether we should have a future. What she’s going to do.

And she’s scared. I can tell ya’ – we’re both scared now. But that doesn’t mean you don’t think about it.

It was easy really: I slid the screen up slowly – the metal made a horrible screeching sound – turned the metal tables on the inside of the window frame down to keep the screen held up. Then I walked barefooted, not making a sound, not saying a word, across the room, unplugged the cord from the wall, unscrewed the cable line from the back of the set, then picked up the television in my arms. It was dead, didn’t feel anything like a baby. And all the while Lucille was starting to lose it, saying “IJ, what on earth are you doing? Have you lost your mind?” But I wouldn’t answer. I was a man with a mission. Grim-faced, walking in slow even steps, cradling that box of plastic and glass and metal in my arms, even swaying it gently, talking to it at times, going coochy coochy, shit like that. And Lucille, she just about had that baby right then she got so upset. I mean she really thought I’d lost it when I started shoving that damned thing through the window – it wouldn’t quite fit through, too wide (ours is a very narrow view of the world), so I was struggling, trying to squeeze it through. And that was when Lucille grabbed me. First she got me by the shoulders and started tugging, then she starting tearing at my shirt, tore it all to shreds, then started banging on my back with her tight little iron curled fists. But I was too strong (still had my mission) until with one final puff I got the damn thing through and heard it crash and saw it smash like fire into hundreds of glowing glittering pieces.

And then I turned around and she started wailing on my chest and my shoulders and arms, but I didn’t care a lick. I just grinned, fulfilled for the moment at least. Opening up new doors. I mean I don’t want my kid to be a robot, a pine tree soaking up all that bad light. You know what I mean.

Things are going to be different for us. We’re going to have a better life. Can I tell you something? This is just the beginning.

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The Luck of the Angels (December 20, 2010. Issue 23.)

It was unbelievable. Man for man the Yankees had them beat at every position; maybe it was just luck but the Angels had won the pennant. I was ecstatic, sipping on my third beer, finishing off my second pack of cigarettes, saying to hell with high blood pressure, when this slight, pudgy guy with real soft features sat down next to me and, in a beer drinkers’ joint, ordered a Bloody Mary. He wore a powder blue suit with a little black usher’s line running down the sides. A little odd, I thought, and left it at that. After all, the Angels had won and so had I, my five hundred bucks paying a fat two to one after they’d rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take the series. It was sensational, a glorious evening.

The guy next to me mumbled something. He smelled real sweet, fruity, I thought. He looked like the Pillsbury dough boy sitting there. He said something about little white packets and I asked him what the hell he was talking about.

“Those kids outside, do you know them? Trying to push these white envelopes filled with powder into my hands. They called it dust. Lord have mercy.”

I didn’t answer him. He was either an alcoholic nut or a born again Christian. In either case I didn’t have to worry. If he was an alkie I could just ignore him for a while and he’d find someone else to bug. If he was a religious sort of nut there would be no problem either. I was a good Jew and therefore a solid practicing atheist. Nothing could sway me from my beliefs.

“Those boys,” he said, “are the wayward sheep of a troubled era.” He was a loon, I decided. He seemed to be having some trouble sitting comfortably against the back of his chair. It seemed like there was something shoved between the seat and him.

In any case I was getting annoyed with this guy real fast. He was trying to put a damper on my celebration. I turned to him to let him know.

“Listen, pal,” I said, “don’t spill you sorrows out into my cup. I just won five hundred bucks on the game. I don’t know whose kids they are, nor do I care, but one thing I’ll tell you – they’re a lot more like wolves than sheep. They’ll cut you to ribbons if you turn your back. Say, speaking of backs, you sitting up against something, the way you’re all bent over like that?” He looked mighty uncomfortable.

He just smiled. His teeth shone golden. It scared me a little. All he said was:
“They are our children.”

“That’s impossible,” I said, “we just met a minute ago.” Some kind of joker, I thought. It would be best to humor him. “Christ, that’s a pretty drink you got there. Looks like one of your sheep’s own fresh blood.” That was it, I thought. Here comes a fist for sure.

He kept on smiling.

“My son, you are troubled. I can see that.”

Where did he come off calling me “son”? I didn’t even know my father, but I knew it wasn’t him. He was half my age. It was about all I could take. I decided to clam this clam up real fast and let go my clenched fist.

I can’t explain it but somehow I ended up on the floor, carried by the momentum of my swing. It was impossible. I’d had him dead on the chin. I looked up from the floor and there he sat, staring down at me with that million dollar smile. Max, behind the bar, was wiping a glass, shaking his head. If I weren’t a regular he would have been out there, doing a lot more. But Max knew me, knew that I was basically harmless.

“I’m sorry,” the other guy said.

“Sorry? You damn well better be sorry. I don’t know what kind of stunt you just pulled, maybe you picked up some Karate or that Joe Jizzum stuff in the war. All I can say is you better not pull it again.”

“I said I was sorry. Do you always go around trying to punch strangers in the mouth?”

“Only when they try to put a vise on my night.”

He helped me to my feet and set me back on my stool. I glanced over his chair and there wasn’t nothing on the seat to push him forward like that, but as soon as he sat down again, he was pressing up toward the bar.

I decided not to try anything else with this guy. I’d smooth it over by offering to buy him another bloody drink.

The bartender. Max, a little older and grayer than me, set it in front of him and brought me another Old Style. Then he said his little bartender spiel. He’d given it to me before.

“Listen gentlemen, I’ll have no fighting in this bar. One more of those little episodes and it’ll be out of her for the both of you. Now kiss and make up.”

Well, it was sort of funny that he said that because I was a little wary of this guy in that particular way. I half-expected him to pucker up right there or grab my nuts or something, but he just smiled that stupid smile..

We sat there drinking for a while. He could sure pound them, I’ll say that much. Mary after Mary. It was like he was pouring them into air. I hadn’t seen anyone drink like that since old Joe Waxman did it at a company bowling league match one night and died right on the spot. It was quite a scene. One moment he was pounding them and the next minute he was on the floor, paramedics surrounding him, pulling him onto the stretcher. The doctors said it was a heart attack.

Something clicked in my head at the memory of that night. It was like there was this flash of the face of the guy sitting next to me looking over poor Joe at that bowling alley. It was funny. He didn’t even look familiar.

“Tell me, bud, what’s your name?”

“Freddy.”

“Freddy, huh? You ever bowl down at the Gold Strike Lanes on Thursday nights?”

“No, I’m just passing through to tell the truth.”

“Oh, yeah? Whattaya, a salesman?”

“No, I’m sort of a bodyguard. Making sure people get to their destination unharmed.”

“No fooling? A bodyguard like for executives and movie stars and all? I should of known. No wonder you were so fast. You should of warned me back then when I threw that punch. I coulda got myself real messed up fast, couldn’t I of? Hey, I read about you guys on the paper last Sunday. You know in the magazine section. They had a big story on it. Sounds like real exciting stuff. You don’t look like much of a tough guy, you don’t mind me saying, I mean that’s probably why you’re good. Nobody would suspect you. You’re kinda undercover, huh?”

He just smiled at me like I was a lost puppy or something. He was a kid. Couldn’t have been more than twenty five. A bodyguard. I’d really had this guy pegged wrong. You could never tell, I thought, and decided to have another drink.

I had to be careful with this guy. He looked real calm on the outside, smiling and all, but what if he was burning a slow fuse inside? It might be dangerous. I played it sly and bought him all his drinks. He got going about Christ this and the Lord that after a while. He got going real good about people believing and being saved. A religious bodyguard. It was really too much.

I told him my view, respectfully, of course, that religion was all a bag of shit, propaganda that they’d drilled into our heads when we were kids and didn’t know any better. I told him it was ridiculous to think that we would live forever when we died. Wasn’t it the ultimate ego trip to think we were immortal, that we were so important to deserve this?

“I mean, no offense, Fred, but it’s all too simple. This shit about a Supreme Being sitting up there with his big book chalking up points for each of us. It’s a myth, a fairy tale, something like Santa Claus. Now you don’t believe in him anymore, do you?”

He just kept on like he hadn’t heard me. Like he knew it all.

“But, Fred, really. This tale about a son of God, the barn, the virgin and all that, isn’t it a little too much for a grown man to believe in? And all these people praying to this thing or spirit they can’t even see or prove exists every time they have a lousy break or need money. It’s like they’re pleading with some Superman and all he has to do is dial your specific frequency to hear what the hell you want this week. I’m telling you, Fred. Like Carlo Marx said, religion was invented by those who got to keep those who don’t happy.”

“Have it your way, Robert.” (Funny, I didn’t remember telling him my name.) “Time will reveal all.”

“Maybe so, Fred, but seeing as how neither of us can really know, why not just drop it, all this religious, philosophical shit, whattayasay? Whattaya trying to do, anyway, convert me? I’m inconvertible, a Jew, for Chrissakes! So, let’s get off it.” There was a moment of silence. “Say, what’d you think of those Angels today, huh? Weren’t they terrific? The way that Jones came in on the squeeze? I haven’t seen anything like it in years! It was enough to make your heart stop.”

I could see he wasn’t interested. Smiling jerk. Religion probably ate his brain away. I downed my beer and got up to leave.

Fred got up, too. He didn’t seem to move much, just sort of pushed off with his back.

“Where you going, Fred?”

“With you. You are Robert Ellis Lewis, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, so what?”

“I’m your bodyguard, Robert.”

“Bodyguard? Do I look like I need a bodyguard, Fred. I know I might be a little crocked, but…”

“You don’t understand, Robert,” he said, furrowing his brow. “Your time has come.”

“What do you mean, my time has come? What’s this, a gag? Who put you up to this? Was it Rudy, that S.O.B.?”

“I’m sorry, Robert. I don’t know anyone by that name. And it’s no gag.”

“Listen, Fred. I want to go light on ya’. I don’t know who you are or what hospital you escaped from, but…it’s not funny, Fred. I mean, I think there’s something wrong with you, you’re not playing with a full deck or something. I’m not trying to get you mad or anything. But maybe it would be good for you to see somebody.”

“I have to be by your side to show you the way, Robert. I’m to guide you on your journey. There’s no changing that. It’s already been written. You can’t change your fate.”

“It’s been written? My fate? What the hell’s this guy talking about? Max, come over here and tell me if you can make any sense of this guy.”

“The bartender strolled over.”

“Listen, Robert, I told you once, I’ll tell you again. No fighting in my joint. If you’re gonna settle something with this guy, do it outside. I’ll have nobody breaking up my bar, understand?”

Real. understanding guy, I thought. Whatever happened to those friendly, advice-giving bartenders you saw in the movies?

Screw it. I’d had enough of Freddy’s crazy game. I called his bluff, started walking. He stayed a step behind. I tried shooing him away. He just smiled. I tried powdering him again but was too slow. He seemed to just float away.

I decided I’d try to outrun him. I’d been on the high school track team once. I had to do something to lose this nut. I ran, huffed, my lungs filling with ice. My feet dragged like lead weights. I heard his footsteps behind me for a while, keeping up. He was too young. He didn’t have my beer gut. I decided I’d have to play fox and lose him around the corner. I dodged into an alleyway and dove through some bushes. There I was in somebody’s backyard, clinging to a wall, bent over, out of breath. I was sure I’d lost him. There were no more following footsteps. I turned around to face his shadow and jumped up against the wall.

“Your time has come, Robert. There’s no escaping it. Accept it. There’s no changing the way things are meant to be.”

I turned and ran. I ran for miles, it seemed like days, until I couldn’t see where I was going anymore. The pain cut deep into my chest. And every time I turned a corner there he was. I dodged through two more yards, weaved down side streets, between buses and parked cars, and finally came upon a busy street.

I didn’t stop or look back. I think I started praying or something, going crazy from fear. Brakes squealed as I cut through the rows of traffic, bounding between cars, taking my life in my own hands. I’d just gotten to the curb on the other side and had fallen onto the grass when I heard the brakes, the thump and the shattering glass. I turned around, clutching my pounding chest and there was Fred sprawled on the street, face down like some kind of rag doll. A man was soothing a crying woman in the shadow of the street lights. A small crowd was gathering. Sirens were shrieking in the distance. Slowly I walked to the body. There was some kind of leafy transparent material attached to his back. It looking like wings. I must’ve been dreaming. I reached down and rubbed the stuff between my fingers. It crumbled into dust.

I turned and broke through the growing crowd. Somewhere I heard one drunk mutter to another: “Crazy damned bastard, you shoulda seen, ran right out inna street, smacked right inna that car like he thought he could fly over it or somethin’. Musta been on something, musta been mighty high, don’t ya’ think?”

I left the crowd, the scene and the sirens behind. I was shaking, headed for home. I tried to keep my mind off of what I’d thought I'd seen -- I thought about the luck of the Angels.

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