The Seance Quartet

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  • I.

When you smoke the cigarettes, and you have no money, you become accustomed to rhythmically changing brands. Because the cigarette Hitlers, they recurrently decide to stop distributing the good cheap ones. And then, you must flail for another.

I learned about the cigarette Hitlers from the woman at that little store over there on the corner, before the town burned down. The distributor, who brought to her the cigarettes, he was a Hitler, who only provided the cigarettes he Felt Like. She would ask for cigarettes, that she knew were out there in the world, and he would say: No. We have those. But you are not getting any. Because, he was a Hitler. Also, he would provide her with only one good cheap brand. And this she would have to conceal behind a flap, there in the cigarette display case, the cigarettes hidden away, not visible, like porn, or some shit.

This woman, she was beset, by many Hitlers. Like, there was also a beer Hitler. He would not provide her with many beers, and others he demanded be displayed only way down in some dark corner, floor level, where no one would ever want to look, or stoop.

There was even a potato-chip Hitler. This was the Lay’s guy. He would come in and stock the Lay’s rack with only those flavors he himself decreed. Once, this woman, from somewhere, secured some Granny Goose chips. And stuffed them into a corner of the Lay’s rack. And, when the Lay’s guy—the potato-chip Hitler—he saw that, he flew into frenzy. Like Adolf, frothing and foaming, there in the bunker. He told her no Granny Goose could ever go in his Lay’s rack. And, furthermore, could not even be in the store, unless they were off in some corner, concealed, like the porn cigarettes.

I learned there were only two ways, to avoid these Hitlers. The first would be to drive to the distribution centers yourself, mammoth warehouses, and scattered, hither, and, all, yon. But this woman, she could not do that. Because then she wouldn’t have time to be in the store. The other was to buy Bill Gates amount of product. Then, the Hitlers, they would back right off. Because they wouldn’t want to lose your business. But this woman, she was not Bill Gates. She was just a nice lady, in a little Paradise store.

The Liquor Bank, over in the Safeway shopping center—officially known as Old Town Plaza—it was part of a Syrian chain of liquor emporiums, up and down the lands, sufficiently large and muscular, to tell the cigarette Hitlers, to go bugger: and so, that guy, he not only stocked the good cheap brands, but also displayed them openly, nakedly, right out, boldly, front.

That is where I discovered the Golden Deer. And they were good, and cheap: to wit, godly.

I would tell the woman at the other store about them.

“I know,” she would moan. “But my cigarette Hitler, he won’t give them to me.”

It was right and meet, in those days, to smoke Golden Deer. Because, then, golden deer, they were all around me, all day, and all of the night. Here, in the town, not yet burned down.

But now, it is burned down. And, now, the golden deer, they don’t really want to be here. Because, this place, they know now, dder in the fire.jpgsometimes, it burns down. And, they just don’t want, again, to be, in that. And so, now, I almost never, here, see them.

And so, I suppose, it was inevitable, that the cigarette Hitlers, these days, they would take, the Golden Deer, away.

As, last week, they did.

The town burned down, there is no one, here, left, still, standing, who can stand up, to the Hitlers. Liquor Bank, it is ash. And so, and forever, on.

Where I secure the cigarettes these days, is at the gas station at Skyway & Wagstaff. Which was actually the first place to reopen, after the town burned down. Though there are several places, that now claim that mantle. But then, there is a lot of stolen valor, up here, these days. I could go on. But. I won’t. Except to say: I could go there, too. Like, this long black coat: there is a scorch mark, there at the tail. And those that notice it, and comment on it—though few do—often assume it is a relict of the fire. And I could say: “Yeah. Embers coming in like a motherfucker. Caught me afire. But I beat on that sum-bitch. Till I put it out. Then went back with the garden hose, at flames twenty, fifty, a hundred foot high. Knocked ‘em, on their ass.”

Except, no, that’s not what happened. Instead, after the power came back, for some months it was just the electricity. Not the natural heating gas. And so I pulled the piano away from the wall, where it concealed an early-1950s-era mammoth electric wall-heater. Which puts out heat like a mofo, but costs more money than even Bill Gates can pay. Which is why, soon as I moved in here, I shoved a piano in front of it. So I would not be tempted to use it. But, now, I had to. And, one early chilly December morning, I was warming myself by it. When I smelled, like, this burning stench. And, belatedly, discovered: I had backed up too close to the thing. And so, scorched my coat.

When I confessed this to fire companera Heather, she laughed like five maniacs. Because. You gotta laugh. When you burn. In a fire.


Anyway, the Skyway & Wagstaff gas mart people, after the town burned down, they were one day in the store, just desultorily checking the stock, trying to figure, what it is, they might do . . . when workers, up here, from all over, working, to bring the town back, started knocking on the door. Wanting, maybe, some water. Some nuts. Some potato chips. Something. Anything. And the owners, they let these people in. And then. Kept. Letting. Them. In. Until, they figured: well, I guess, we’re reopened, now.

That store stands, because the son, he stayed there, all alone, fighting the fire, first with water, from a hose, then, when the water gave out, with dirt. He picked it up, the dirt, put it in buckets, and then, he threw it, at the fire.

He was so much smarter, more resourceful, than was I. When, here, the water gave out, I just stood there: dumb. Like: pole-axed. Never even thought, of dirt. Dumb. As two dirts. Was I.

The son, he comes in for morning shifts now, but then he gives way. Formerly, there would then be the father, and the mother. But, the father, Inderpal Rajput, he was killed last November. By the fire. The fire, it burned the family out of Paradise, to a house in Live Oak. They were rebuilding, up here, in Paradise. But the new home, it would not be ready, until January. So, Inderpal, he would commute. And, in that, he was involved in a fog-bound ten-car pileup on 99 near Live Oak. He was not killed in any collision. Instead, he was ended, while trying to help some people, inderpal cauc.jpgtrapped in their car. Somebody came out of the fog, and killed him. If not for the fire, he never would have been on that road, at that hour. Just one of the numberless dead. Killed by the fire. Who will never be counted. As such. His name, it was Inderpal. Say. His. Name. But, most people up here, they just, never could. Instead, they called him: “Andy.” Because, the Americans, mostly, they just will not learn, how to pronounce names, not Anglo-Saxon.

So, anyway, after that night, Inderpal, he never came back to the store. And, neither, since, has his wife.

A lot of the shifts these days are now covered by this burned-down Anglo woman. Who, last night, I nervously approached, wanting the cheap, good cigarettes. That she had recently turned me on to. Once the cigarette Hitlers, had announced, there, they were taking, the Golden Deer, away.

This store, it is totally controlled, by the Hitlers. The potato-chip Hitler, he is particularly heinous. For a while, this Lay’s version of Hitler, he was stocking there these chips, totally godly. Then, they disappeared.

“Where did those godly chips go?” I asked the Anglo woman.

“We can’t have them any more,” she said. “You have to buy this different kind.”

“But no one wants those,” I protested. “They stink like nine sewers.”

“What can I say?” she replied. “He is the Hitler.”

When the Golden Deer were there jettisoned, I first fell back on these Fails called Montego, or Manchego, or Mancoal, or some such shit. And you saved no money on these. Because, after but three puffs, they were finished.

Then the Anglo woman, she went behind the hiding cigarette porno flap, and came out with this pack of red things.

“Try these,” she said.

But I was suspicioned of them. Because, it has been my experience, that no good comes, from any cigarettes, in a package dominated by red.

But, reluctantly, I tried.

And, they were good!

I decided, I would switch over, to these.

But I couldn’t remember their name. I was new to them, and, generally, they name a lot of the good cheap cigarettes, with names that are stupid, that no one can, initially, easily remember.

I was going to ask for these cigarettes, last night, from the Anglo woman, but I could not remember their name.

It’s not like I had a pack on me. That I could read, and then recite. Because I was buying new cigarettes, only after I’d run out of the old ones.

Because. That. Is my Way.

And I didn’t want to seem like some old dodderer. More than I really am. In, not knowing the name, of the cigarettes.

But. I girded my loins. And approached the counter.

“I want those good new cheap cigarettes,” I said. “In the red pack. I can’t remember their name. Seneca. Seance. Something like that.”

And she laughed. “You got it right the first time,” she said. “Seneca. But I am going to call them Seance. I like that. Cigarettes that, when you smoke them, you can communicate with the dead.”

There were no other persons in the store then about, and, this woman, she is also of the tobacco worm, and so we walked out into the rain together, to smoke some Seances. To see if, maybe, we could get up close and personal. With some dead.

A couple smoking minutes went by.

“Are you getting seance chin.pnganything?” she asked.

“Just people who burned in the fire,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “But we don’t have to smoke Seances, to get those.”

There was silence for a time.

Then she said, “But look across the street.”

How can I do that? These old and tired eyes, they can’t see across a dern street. But, I tried, anyway. And beheld: yes, it looked like the old Chin Dynasty, there were, tonight, lights, in there. And I also could make out what must be neon. And, I think the neon, it said, “Open.”

“That place reopened?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said, “today.”

“Damn,” I said. “I’d given up on that place. I thought it would never reopen.”

The fire, it had roared right up, to the rear of the place. Then, stopped. Everything, all around it, all and every, had burned down. But, not the Chin. But, after, there were no signs of life, in there. And. For years.

“Well, this is lord,” I said. “Now I can come here to get cigarettes, and also go in there and eat some Chinese.”

Formerly, before the town burned down, I had not gone to this gas mart, for my cigarettes, But, the places I did go to, for my cigarettes, they had, in the fire, all burned down. And so, while formerly, there was never any reason, for me, to bus, to this gas mart, or to the Chin (which, to me, pre-town burned down, would deliver); now, town burned down, I envisioned, this wonderment, where, pursuant to the bus schedule, I could both go to the Seance, and also some Chinese.

But then the Anglo woman said: “Except it’s just to-go now. And later there will be delivery. But I don’t know that they’re going to have people sit down in there.”

Right. Because why. Should things. They. Ever. Really. Work out.

“Oh well,” I said. “Someday I’ll go over there and get some Chinese, and then bring it over here, and we can eat it. Then, we can go to the Seance. Maybe get something more than burned people.”

“Maybe raise some Chinese people,” she said. “Like Confucius.”

“Or Genghis Khan,” I offered. “He will come out of the seance, and ride on the PG&E honchos, there at PG&E headquarters, in San Francisco. They will cower in fear.”

“Did you get your money yet?” she asked.

I gave her a glance.

“Right,” she said. “Me either.”

“Why would we get any money?” I said. “We never had any before. Why should we have any now? Our lot, it is not to get any money. It is just to burn down.”

Another silence.

“From what my friend the buddhist says,” she said, “we’re just supposed to accept our suffering.”

“No doubt that is a white-people buddhist,” I countered. “Who, thereby, doesn’t know shit. I am more into Aung Ko, way Beyond Rangoon, who says ‘We are taught that suffering is the one promise that life always keeps. So that if happiness comes, we know it as a precious gift, which is ours only for a brief time.’ But it’s not like he danced a jig about it.”

“Maybe,” she said, “we should just drink. That’s what a lot of people do.”

“Absolutely,” I said, “and at all times. Except once the town reopened, and the Save Mart again set up shop, I’d see people wheeling out of there carts filled with nothing but liquor. But I don’t think it did any good. Fire. Burns. Alcohol. Anyway, you, here, have to work. While I, if I drink, I will turn into an animal, and be put in a zoo. And there aren’t any zoos, for many miles, around here. So then I couldn’t come by here. And have, with you, any Seance.”

Another 252749423_1107851256710150_1478171748310890630_n.jpgsilence.

“Do you still see it?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said. “Always. And I always will.

“There was once this old Chinese dude,” I went on, “and all he wanted to do was get out of town. But first they stopped him, there at the border, and made him recite his wisdoms. And one of the things he said was: ‘Reaching from the Mystery, into the Deeper Mystery, is the Gate to the Secret, of All Life.’”

“I know what that means,” she said.

“Of course you do,” I said. “You burned in a fire.”


It was two years ago this week that PG&E announced it had grudgingly agreed to defer yacht purchases for senior executives for two years, and thus had managed to come up with $13.5 billion to compensate the people it had flamed here in the town burned down, as well as in the 2015 Butte Fire, the 2017 Tubbs Fire, various other 2017 fires in the north bay, and also the Ghost Ship warehouse fire in Oakland. The $13.5 billion would be placed in a trust, and trust factotums would consider the claims of the burned. The burned would then receive a mix of cash and PG&E stock. And everybody would be happy.

It took a while for the thing to get going. First, multi-million-dollar digs had to be secured for the trust in San Francisco. Then, factotums had to be hired, willing for salaries in the six and seven figures to sit around all day pawing through the claims of the burned, laughing and calling them names. Hillbillies. Hicks. Yeehaws. Why did they live in a forest? Why didn’t they live in a city? Like a normal person? And look at all this stupid, silly shit in their claims, that they think was important. It’s not like they lost a yacht!

Over the past several months the trust factotums have at last accelerated their “determinations,” and begun flowing money to the burned. The initial payout is generally 30% of the total “determination.” However, according to my fire lawyers—who are not amateurs, who have been suing PG&E and similar miscreants for decades—nobody is going to receive 100%. Because PG&E will have long blazed through the $13.5 billion before that percentage is within shouting distance approached. These fire lawyers estimate that, if one wants to be optimistic, people can expect to receive 80%-90%. But, more realistically, it will probably be 60%. So, once the burned receive that initial 30%, they can expect to later receive a similar figure. And then that’s it.

And, of course, from all these figures, monies are deducted to pay one’s fire lawyers. Unless you’re Joe Ben. Who, in wisdom, handled her claim herself.

When the trust makes its “determination,” people are not obligated to accept it. They can send their fire lawyers in to argue for more. Though that further delays receiving any monies. And it’s been three years already.

There’s a woman in the fire tubes who suffered third-degree burns over much of her body. She was burned into a wheelchair. She will be there the rest of her life. She declined her determination. I don’t know what it was, and I don’t want to know, as it’s none of my business. She felt it didn’t fairly compensate her, for what she had lost. And I know that to be true. Because even if she were to receive the entire $13.5 billion, it wouldn’t be enough, to raise her out of that wheelchair. What can she do, with the money? Spend it on doctors? On in-home aides? Maybe get a bigger tv? So what. None of that brings her life back.

The current arrangement in the law of the humans is that if you commit a criminal offense, you go in a cage. If you commit a civil offense, you pay some money. That’s it. Since PG&E is a corporation, it cannot go in a cage. So it will pay some money. And that’s it. That’s what we’ve got.

I stood in the street, in the night, and I shouted over to the dead woman, who burned to ash, there in her home, there on Black Olive. With whom, from time to time, I seance.

“Do you hear that?” I cried. “That’s what we’ve got! We don’t have any more! I’m sorry! I'm sorry!”

And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly, into the fire.


Late Friday afternoon the woman at the Seance cigarette store received a phone call informing her a good friend had just died. Then, she had to go to work. She was in no shape to work. But she had to anyway. Because. You know. Retail.

He’d been recently sick, she told me, but not that sick. And then he was just. Gone.

He’d generally tended towards the ill, she said, since the fire. Probably, one of the numberless many, the fire took away. But will never, be counted as such. Because there’s nobody up here, tracking, who, when, dies, of, fire, what.

And, why would there be? We’re all just: hillbillies. Hicks. Yeehaws. Too stupid to come in out of a forest. And live in a city. Like a normal person. And. It’s not like. We have. Yachts.

She was thinking about going to the Seance cigarettes, she said, to raise him via seance. And she asked me, then, what I thought.

I vouchsafed to her the wisdom of Joe Ben, which she’d picked up at psychic school. That probably it’s best to wait thirty days. Because when people first die, they generally are confused. They don’t know what has happened to them, or where they are. Sometimes they try to get back in the body. But that rarely works. They may try to contact people. But unless those people are like that Sixth Sense kid, the people don’t respond. They may range over places once important to them, and then, finding they are no longer bound by the corporeal usual, in re space and time, to other places too; Joe Ben picked up my brother, over in the Middle East, about two weeks after he died, trying to see if he could do something for the people over there. But those people, they were unaware. The energy of the dead, in the early days, is sketchy, staticy, like a TV channel not coming in, back in the days when the signal traveled through the air. But after about thirty days or so, they’ve settled down some. So then you can try to seance them. If you want.


“And then they’re in a nice place, right?” the Seance cigarette woman asked.

I never know what to say to that. So I said what I always say: “Yes.”

Because when people are in grief, I want them to have, whatever they want.

It’s like my mother. She wants there to be a heaven. The one where you join those who have gone before. So, since that’s what she wants, I want that for her too. I hope it’s there for her.

“But that’s just one theory,” I said to the Seance cigarette woman. “Because who knows what really happens? And I don’t think it would hurt for you to walk around talking to the guy, if you want. Before you go full seance.”

She said the fellow had always said that after he died, he would come back to haunt her.

“As long as it’s a nice haunting,” I offered. “And he doesn’t, like, tease you. Like make off with your car keys.”

She laughed. “That’s exactly the sort of thing he’d do,” she said.

So, maybe, that will happen. Her keys will go missing. And, she’ll be happy, in that. Because. It will be him.


Yesterday evening in the Seance cigarette smoking there were three of us: myself, the Seance cigarette store woman, and, joining us later, a local bartender. The topic: landlords.

The Seance cigarette store woman is currently besieged by a landlord, who is a landlady, and who has conceived a delusion the Seance cigarette woman has secretly moved someone into her room. “I don’t know where she thinks I’m hiding this person,” the Seance woman moaned. “There’s barely room in there for me. Where would I put somebody else? In the closet? Under the bed?” But the landlady, she will not see reason. She is convinced there is an illegal alien in there, illegal and alien because not declared, and therefore not inscribed in the Lease.

The Seance cigarette woman believes this hallucination about the ghost boarder is displacement behavior because the landlady is distraught that the Seance woman’s housemate is moving out, a man with whom the landlady had convened sexual congress. With this the landlady cannot Deal, and so, like a good American, she has gone to a batshit CT, blaming her lover leaving on a secret person the Seance woman has smuggled into the house. Next, the landlady will circle the house, nights, like a werewolf, howling “Stop the steal!”

There is a lot of talk these days about “power imbalance” in romantic/sexual relationships, but I don’t know that much attention has been paid to landlord/tenant couplings. Where, as with the Seance cigarette woman’s current tsuris, there can be dragons. My own carnal encounters with landladies went well enough, but such is not always so. For instance, one of the first places I lived after achieving escape velocity from the home of the parents, the landlady there decided she needed to be in the bed of my housemate. Neither he nor I were interested in this, not least because her husband was a sheriff’s deputy, with many big guns. Mostly he fired these on the job, at Mexicans, but we figured he might make an exception with my housemate, blowing many holes in him, though he was not Mexican, and would have crimed only in answering the siren song of his wife.

“Don’t do it, Steve,” I cautioned. “He will come here with an army of his fellows, like in The Gauntlet, and shoot at the house, with us in it, until the house falls down.”

They lived in the big place up by the road, and we were in more modest digs many hundreds of yards in the back, and the landlady would wait until the husband went to work, and then walk back to our place, sometimes clad just in her bathrobe, and I would be deputized to go to the door and Lie that Steve was not there. Except sometimes I was not available to go to the door, because I had become carnally involved with a woman who was the secretary to a high-school principal. They were lovers, but not always satisfactorily so, because his penis didn’t work, due to alcoholism, and related health factors. I was 17, 18, some larval age like that, when the penis is at attention at all times, even when the secretary is furnishing strong liquors, which she smuggled over from the principal’s inexhaustible liquor cabinet. I was meanwhile writing about the principal in the newspapers, which was probably a Conflict of some sort, but, I mean, we’re all conflicted, in some way or other.

He and I eventually moved out of that place, before anybody could go to the penitentiary, or the boneyard. I was by then no longer working for the newspapers, because they’d refused to print a story I’d written, and so I had a tantrum, and went on walkabout, walkabout.jpgwhere i more or less remain to this day, and so refused to turn in any of the stories, and so when the papers appeared, there were big blank holes in them, where the stories should go. I don’t even remember now what it was I’d written, that they ixnayed, but my cause must have been just, because I secured unemployment benefits, and they never want to give you those, under any circumstances, much less after you abruptly disappear with all the stories.

That was when Herb said, “Hey, come with me to Chico, there’s a college there, tuition is $100 a semester, and you can collect unemployment there as well as you can here.” I had earlier been accepted at UC Santa Cruz, but declined to go to their school, because the newspapers were more fun. But now the newspapers were gone, so I thought: why not, I’ll try this Chico college. I had been there once before, a couple years earlier, while in high school, with the debate squad, where my partner and I were awarded first place. I figured any school that gave me a Prize, couldn’t be all bad.

Except the classes were so stupid and boring, I wanted to take my life. It was like I’d been sentenced to the penitentiary, after all. Then Herb started hounding me to go to the newspaper. The Wildcat. “Go work there,” he said. “You’re a natural.” But I was intimidated. The paper was wild and woolly, into the Libels at all times, and I thought I could never compete. Formerly in the newspapers they had wanted me to write Normal, and though I could never really be that, at the Wildcat they had clearly fully pulled the plug on Normal, and were running wild crazed and naked, across all lands. I wanted to be there now, but what if I tried to work there, and they laughed and called me names? But Herb, he wouldn’t let up. So I carefully crafted a package of clips, and walked over—the paper was two blocks away—and was directed to the news editor, who barely glanced at the clips, just said: “Here, go write this story.” So I did that. And they put it in the newspaper. Then, the news editor put me in her bed. She invited me over to her house, and seduced me with the “why don’t you give me a back massage” gambit, which was all the rage in those days. So now I was sleeping with my boss. Another “power imbalance” I believe is verboten. But, I mean, this was the Wildcat, we didn’t really have bosses, no matter what Bob Speer might think, when he became editor, and tried to fire me those times, and also I’ve slept with some bosses, in my time, and all I can say is: a good time, was had by all.

The Seance cigarette woman was saying that her current madhouse is at least an improvement over her previous premises, where the heat went out in the fall, and then the landlord just couldn’t bring himself to address this Problem, and so she lived in a house with no heat all winter. Ye gods. I tried to ask her how she survived this Donner Party, but the bartender kept interrupting. I couldn’t figure out what was up with this guy—aren’t bartenders supposed to listen, to people slurring their stories across the bar, rather than flap their own lips nonstop? But maybe that was what was happening—all those words corked up, there at the bar, were now spewing forth, here out front the Seance cigarette store.

After the town burned down I was here without heat for about a month, and that was enough. I can’t imagine an entire winter. Then again, if that’s what you have to endure, I suppose you just endure it. In that month, I wasn’t really cold—I mean, I was, but there was nothing I could do about it, and so I endeavored not to feel it. I’m also remembering now there was no heat in that room I rented in Bitter Betty’s house. But I was young and drunken then, and so feeling no pain. One of the many delusions alcohol will vouchsafe is that you are not cold, when actually you are frozen. Once for New Year’s at my mom’s house my brother was six or eight sheets to the wind and decided he needed to go lie down on the outdoor concrete patio, naked, in sub-zero temperatures. Whether drunk or sober, there was no stopping my brother, not even with tanks or mortars, so we just went out every once in a while to make sure he didn’t need a gurney. Eventually he agreed to return to pants. But still he lay in the arctic. When finally he did come back inside, he was colder than Frosty the Snowman. But he just sat there and imbibed more beverages. Until staggering off to sleep. To arise at dawn, or the general vicinity, and commence cooking breakfast.

My brother had a penchant for going to cold to “purify” himself. Like sometimes he’d be watching the television, and something there would enrage him, and so he’d yank it out of the wall, and heft it into his truck, then drive out to a rice bog, and hurl the tv into it. Or he’d decide the tv didn’t deserve such a final solution, and so he’d just lug it up the ladder to the loft of his 100-year-old barn, there to return it to its box. Except when once he did this, a swarm of hornets boiled out of the box, in the pitch-dark, and composed upon his face a lump symphony. Anyway, after these television troubles, he would always get in his truck and drive up into the mountains and there purify himself by sleeping a week or so in the snow.

I’ll pass on sleeping in the snow, myself, given the choice. But then I am, in many ways, the most Normal one, in the family.

Now the bartender was talking about how his air conditioner went out, and the landlord gave no shits, and so the bartender started withholding his rent. I knew there would be a Sad ending to this story. Because that time my swamp cooler went out, in July, then stretching into August, I “did the research,” and learned that in this state landlords are not obligated to provide any cooling. They must offer only “ventilation.” Meaning, some window you can open, to let the 115 degrees in. And, sure enough, the bartender’s landlord, at the rent cessation, he entered frenzy. He did replace the air conditioner. But that was for the next tenant. Because the bartender, he heaved-ho.

The Seance cigarette woman was also heaved to the ho when she wouldn’t stop complaining to the landlord about living in an ice cave. Rather than replace the heater, the landlord figured it was easier to evict her, and rent to somebody who didn’t care about heat. Like. You know. A meth monkey.

Landlords in this state are obligated to provide heat, but that doesn’t mean they will do it. There are a lot of things people are required to do, but they don’t. And the bartender offered that there are at least more tenant protections in California than in many of the other states. Like he said once he was renting a place in Tennessee, and one day the landlord, a meth monkey, showed up at the door, with a shotgun, and ordered him out. It is not wisdom, to argue with a shotgun, especially in the hands of a meth monkey, who has also gone to the moonshine. And so the bartender, he just left. Then he tried to go to some tenant law. And found that, in that state, there wasn’t any. About all that is provided is that if the landlord wants to burn down the house he is renting to you, and you are then inside the place, he is supposed to, as he torches the joint, knock on the door, and say, “Hey, heads up, I’m burning you out.”

I’m telling these stories, here, with the dark light touch, so I don’t have to go to the Real stories, of what has happened to renters, here, since the town, it burned down. Landlords, they always have the whip hand. But, now, here, since the town burned down: they have the whip hand. And, with bells on. Renters. Here. Basically. Scattered. To the winds.

Which is why I sit here, in this house, that was one of the few that escaped the flames, and I say nothing. With all this shit that no longer works. Second Law of Thermodynamics: it has come. Big time. But I say nothing. To the new owners, who bought the place after the fire, thinking they’d thereby reap midas piles—all the other rentals burned down!—and they had all these big plans, which would result in, at minimum, rent hikes that would require I turn to Crime to pay them. Delayed in this only because, well, shit, howdy, they were covid-scoffers, and then the plague, it did plague vic.pngdo come, and upon them, it did do descend, and they were taken by it, taken hard, nearly taken away—both thought, and for quite some time, they were for the boneyard—and the man in the marriage, he is still in and out of the hospital, on a heart monitor, maybe must needs go to a pacemaker, and he will be weak, very weak, and thereby unable to in any way fuck me, for many months yet.

Meanwhile, I wander, in here, the lands, and, many nights, am tempted, to pee all over the floor, in expectation, of the inevitable eviction, to, someday, come. As nobody, anybody, has the right, to, from this house, remove me. Because, we went through the fire together. This property. And I. We burned, into one. And so I, will always, be here. Alive. Or dead. Or, as in these days, both.

As meanwhile, the Seance cigarette woman, she was saying she might like to consult some law, about the landlady convinced there is a secret tenant under the bed. I was about to suggest Legal Services, when the bartender again went to the interrupting, and offered instead CLIC, which he insisted, for reasons passeth understanding, on calling SMART, or maybe START. I eschew the place, under all those monikers, because, to acronyms, I have an Allergy.

It was clear by now the bartender didn’t want me to do any talking; that was fine by me; I don’t have to talk all the time. Words are anyway stupid and boring. Which is why Yahweh knocked down that Tower of Babel shit; he didn’t want the humans climbing up there and babbling their gibberish right into his earhole. I mean, that dude’s a landlord. And, sometimes, he just doesn’t want to hear about it.

Then it was nearing bus time, and I needed to go be on it. Last of the day. The bartender followed the Seance cigarette woman into the store, walking kind of tall and proud, like maybe he’d won something. And then I figured out why the interrupting: he’s sweet on the Seance cigarette woman. No doubt she knows that. Women generally do. And he didn’t want me around. In case I was Competition. You know. Males. Worse, even. Than landlords.

Though. None of it. Worse. Than. The fire.


10 users have voted.


the top of your head opening on hinges and this all just pouring out in a maelstrom of thoughts and words that you spin and direct into a perfect swirl of literary goodness.

The images of yourself growing up, intertwined with the urgency of the fire, untangling inwards with the Seance cigarette woman. Genius, my friend.

There's a place for you here in Texas know...the landlords.

7 users have voted.
hecate's picture

it's interesting: after the town burned down, when I was here in the maroonment, I met a passel of Texas folks, from the Houston utility guys, to the Amarillo insurance adjusters, and all, once they'd heard my fire story, offered some variation on: "Sum'bitch. You're Texas." So, you know, maybe it's meant to be. I guess, maybe, JtC. You should keep the lamps. Trimmed. And burning. : )

2 users have voted.

I read it bottom to top, skipping up and reading down, then skipping up again til I reached the last skip. Just the way my mind reading processor is wired. Somewhat backwards, but am used to it by now.

Thanks for sharing the Hitler chronicles.

5 users have voted.

…if it might make me a storyteller with a half-ounce of your skill.

Peace to you.

6 users have voted.
shaharazade's picture

So good to read you again Hecate. Thought maybe you too had burned up. Love this. Makes me want to do some art. We have no good ciggies in my neighborhood these days due to the supply chain breakdown and also because the liquor store down the street forgot to renew their licence. Still have wine beer and hard stuff but no ciggies including my organic heathy ones. Eric drives the car and gets me 'supplies at the Plaid Pantry.

Came back here after being gone for years. Have become a shut in urban paranoid covid hide out.Still it has made me appreciate my gentrified but liberal? street, neighborhood and community. It has made every one go crazy and more human and interesting. The Portland cops are punishing us for giving them grief about being crazed RW. proud Bot cohorts. Do it yourself you SE trouble making mother's and commies. Like it better easier to deal with porch bandits and homeless people then pigs. So far people are stepping up and being neighborly. Even the RW hecklers and bar hopping tourists are behaving themselves.

More please. Enjoyed this immensly

4 users have voted.
hecate's picture

i miss you most. From the halcyon days, here, of yore. So fierce. You. Because. So soft.

1 user has voted.
janis b's picture

I always find such pleasure in the absorbing sense of whimsy and gravity your portraits express. You make a trying life stronger in the simple pleasures and connections you find and encourage. I love how just a random line of yours like “I want those good new cheap cigarettes,” I said. “In the red pack. I can’t remember their name. Seneca. Seance. Something like that.” is brought to life in such a personal way.

I wish you ever present inspiration. You certainly offer it to others in your writing. Thank you.


3 users have voted.
hecate's picture

@janis b
like that: "whimsy and gravity." I guess, when I'm doing it right, that's what I am. : )

1 user has voted.