Sunday, June 28, 2020

old johnson

by horace p sternwall

i was standing on the corner
when i heard my bulldog bark
i turned and saw old johnson
he was standing in the dark

me and him went back a ways
with nothing good between us
him and his buddy jackson
rode me like a couple of hyenas

what had i done to him lately
to make him look so foul
suddenly he stepped from the alley
with a most menacing scowl

who are you and your bulldog
he asked with a slippery smile
to invade my territory
with your simpering whimpering guile

I do not know your uncle
I ianswered with a frown
but I have every right to see the show
when i choose to come to town

be that as it may, he smirked
but the cards have all been dealt
and you may be astonished
when they are turned up on the felt

i scorned his imputations
and whistled for my dog
but long will i remember
what emerged then from the fog

oh you who walk the cobbled streets
and lounge in doorways dim
beware of old man johnson
beware , beware of him!

there are those who deal with devils
or pray to angels bright
but beware of those like johnson
who shine their shoes at night

the fog swirled all around me
as he faded from my view
but i would not bake his biscuits
and neither, i think, should you

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

favorite song

by horace p sternwall

he woke up.

it was dark.

just the way he liked it.

he went over to the window.

and looked down at the street.

the street was in the heart of one of the most famous cities in the world.

but you would never know it.

it could have been a street in any city in the world.

a couple of bars, a coupe of cheap hotels, including the one from whose window he was looking down at the street..

a bus station.

some bums and drunks taking their time wandering down the street.

no police that he could see.

and no women. there must have been a sweep earlier in the night.

and no moon and no stars in the sky.

a perfect night, to do what he was going to do.

to do what he was going to do and get on the bus and never look at this stinking town again.

he took the letter out of his pocket. just a letter, he had thrown the envelope with his name and last address away.

he could barely read it by the light of the neon sign of the hotel.

but it did not matter. he had the letter memorized.

dear daddy, the letter read, i am so glad you are coming home to us after all these years. mommy is so happy too. i have a new kitten and i know she will like you too. grandpa dave says to tell you that the fish are jumping. it is going to be so wonderful all of us being back together again…

there was more, but he decided to save it for later.

he put the letter back in his pocket.

it was time. he had a job to do.

the last one. you could hardly call it a job, just one last favor for a pal.

he put his jacket on and went out the door and down the stairs to the front desk.

there was no lobby. that was the kind of hotel it was.

he didn’t have anything to say to the desk clerk so he didn’t say anything and walked out into the street.

he passed the bus station and went around the corner to the 453 club, which was right where it was supposed to be.

the 453 club was empty except for the bartender. the club was not very big. there was only room for two lines of tables between the bar and the wall and a jukebox took up some of the space.

there were thirteen stools at the bar and the man with the letter in his pocket sat down at the seventh.

he ordered a dark draft and the bartender brought it and went back to reading whatever he was reading.

there were no pretzels or nuts on the bar and there were no signs indicating the place sold any kind of food.

he decided to wait half an hour for the guy he was supposed to wait for. if he didn’t show by then, too bad, he was on his way. he didn’t owe his pal more than that.

the man with the letter in his pocket never carried a weapon. he improvised when it came time. and he never carried pictures or names or descriptions of the men, or sometimes women, he was to deal with. his friend had shown him one picture and that was all he needed.

he took a sip of the dark draft.

back at the hotel, the desk clerk had waited sixty seconds after the man with the letter in his pocket had left, then he went out into the street and looked up and down it.

the desk clerk went back inside and tapped on a door behind the desk.

another man came out. he was an ordinary looking little fellow. he looked like he could use a haircut. he wore a sport coat that had once been purple but was now faded almost to gray.

the desk clerk nodded and the man in the once purple coat went out into the street. at a leisurely pace he made his way to the 453 club.

the man in the purple coat entered the 453 club and took the stool second closest to the door. he ordered a whiskey and water. while the bartender was getting it, he got up and went over to the jukebox. the man with the letter in his pocket watched him in the mirror behind the bar.

the man in the purple coat studied the jukebox, then he took a couple of dollar bills out of his pocket and walked through the row of tables to the bar and waved the bills to the bartender to indicate he wanted change.

hey pal, the man in the purple coat said to the man with the letter in his pocket. what’s your favorite song?

i don’t have one.

come on, brother, don’t be bashful, everybody has a favorite song. what song were they playing when you kissed your first girl?

i don’t have a favorite song. the man with the letter in his pocket turned his head away from the man in the purple coat to indicate the conversation was over. he reached for his dark draft.

the man in the purple coat took a small pistol out of his pocket and shot the man with the letter in his pocket in the side of his head.

the man with the letter in his pocket fell off his stool and fell between his stool and the stool on his left.

the man in the purple coat stepped over and shot the man with the letter in his pocket again, between the eyes.

i think this guy needs a doctor.

i’ll take care of it, the bartender told him.

the man in the purple coat went back to the hotel.

all set? the desk clerk asked.

all set.

one last job, eh?

are you kidding? i got jobs lined up all week. i got to eat.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

arthur and guinevere - 4. the desperado

by horace p sternwall

part four of four

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

arthur ran.

he ran down the empty streets past the houses and trees and cars and liquor stores and candy stores and beauty shops.

where were all his dreams now?

he ran past the last beauty parlor and across the deserted interstate highway and into the woods.

he ran through the woods until he came to a country road.

when he entered the country road he stopped to catch his breath.

he started walking down the road.

to the crossroads.

mother goose and mother fast and mother loose had little stands set up at three of the four corners of the crossroads.

mother goose told fortunes and read palms.

mother fast sold watermelons and apples.

mother loose sold home made pies, apple and blueberry and pumpkin pies.

guinevere had a little stand on the fourth corner. she sold lemonade by the glass, but it was pretty obvious what she was really selling.

i am sorry to see you come to this pass, guinevere, arthur said.

i am sorry you had to run all that way, arthur, guinevere replied.

it started to rain.

it rained and rained and rained.

the roads and the crossroads became flooded, and the ladies’ tables started to float way.

i wonder who will save us? mother goose said.

jonah will come along with his whale, said mother fast.

noah will come along with his ark, said mother loose.

ugh! said guinevere. with a lot of smelly animals.

arthur knew that no one would save them.

but he was too much of a gentleman to say so.

end of part four

Monday, June 15, 2020

Running full out, barefoot and shirtless on hot, sticky streets, shards of broken bottles flashing yellow in sodium light. The crickets go quiet when we rush past, two ghosts on a rippling breeze. And then - Surprise! - we catch up. Out comes the mace as one goes arse over teakettle to test the cement, another, cut off at the knees. Payback is a bitch.
Walking home again, we ditch the weapons just as the police arrive. Two squad cars confront us, another closes in our flank. We'd just committed a felony assault, nor does the law allow that two wrongs make a right. I make certain to contain a smile when two familiar faces appear from behind the semaphores blinding light.
For once it's enjoyable talking to the cops. As a rule one should never talk to police. They like us, too - you can tell by the ribbing they give us - for being shoe-less, in just our skivvies, for that matter. But that's how fast things happen in this neighborhood.
One officer cracks that training barefoot has its drawbacks, and admittedly, I don't know, but, in hindsight acknowledge my uncertainty about the glass. The proper response - we'd left in a hurry, like it happens every day, or night in this case - just act like it's nothing at all.
There's a point we share consensus with. Each of us knows "the law" doesn't always arrive in time. And, we are of the Old School. A fact of which many of the blatantly disrespectful newcomers are unaware of. The frequency in which they appear has grown exponentially relative to the general decline of our city, a fact we no longer bother to associate with connotations of outrage.
The adrenaline rush isn't the same either; more a tacit reminder of our existence here and a determined acceptance of duty to a square block or two of this river town we might claim our own. We are, after all, earlier products of its time and standing through the repetition of history.
As we linger, our last few moments together spent comfortably in idle chatter with the waning crescent grinning above, an eery calm descends upon us all.
sparrows scatter
through stands of bamboo -
that brand new tattoo

arthur and guinevere - 3. the communist

by horace p sternwall

part three of four

for previous episode, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

well, how do you like it so far? the beatnik asked.

excuse me - what? arthur asked. his attention had been diverted by another figure, who had emerged on his left side, with asmodeus moving up ahead of him.

this individual was tall, almost as skinny as billy the poet, wore a black seaman’s cap and had a long white beard that almost touched the ground.

yes, the newcomer said to arthur, what did you think of our friend billy’s poem?

um - i don’t really know very much about poetry, arthur muttered.

what! billy exclaimed. i thought you said you wanted to be a beatnik poet!

uh - more of a beatnik than a poet, if you get my drift…

you mean you just wanted to impress the chicks? billy asked in a sorrowful tone.

yeah, that must have been it, arthur agreed.

but you impress the chicks by writing the poetry, man.

excuse me, the newcomer interrupted. i hate to interrupt this most interesting conversation, but permit me to introduce myself - my name is cleonardo da vinci and i am -

let me guess, arthur said. you are a communist agitator.

indeed I am -

silence! the archangel roared suddenly.

they had come to the river.

the river that they could not see, thronged as it was on both banks with the living the dead…

enough of your palaver, the archangel admonished in a more restrained tone. attend to what pope confucius is saying.

pope confucius stood on a platform high above the river. st peter stood beside him on a slightly lower platform on his right, and st patrick on a slightly lower platform on his right.

what is he saying? billy the beatnik poet asked. i can not understand a word he is saying.

that is because the fish are swimming too loud in the river, said cleonardo the communist agitator.

wait a minute, arthur said. where is the desperate fugitive?

a voice behind hm, said, you are the desperate fugitive.

a cloud passed over the sun, leaving pope confucius and the two saints in shadow .

arthur could still not hear what pope confucius was saying , as the roar of the fish in the river grew louder.

i would advise you to run for it, said the voice behind arthur, while you still have time.

arthur turned. he saw that he was in the last row of the crowd, and the streets beckoned empty behind him.

he ran.

4. the desperado

Sunday, June 14, 2020

arthur and guinevere -- 2. the beatnik

by horace p sternwall

part two of four

to begin at the beginning, click here

arthur headed down to the river with his new friend asmodeus the archangel.

the streets were strangely deserted.

if everybody is gathering at the river, arthur asked asmodeus, why are the streets so deserted?

if the desert is so empty, asmodeus replied, why is there so much sand in it?

i have no time for silly wise sayings, arthur felt like replying, but before he make up his mind as to whether or not to say it out loud, a voice beside him said -

do not mind him, that is just his way - the way of the assassin.

without breaking his stride, arthur turned his head and saw a scrawny young man walking alongside him on his right.. he was the scrawniest young man arthur had ever seen, and he was wearing a raggedy black beret and had a silly little black beard. he was walking beside arthur in a natural way, like he and arthur were the oldest friends in the world.

who might you be? arthur asked him. do i know you?

some people call me billy the kid, the young man said. and some know me as blackbeard the pirate, and others yet as the bad boy at the end of the world. but whichever name you know me by, i am a beatnik poet.

you do not say so, said arthur. i always dreamed of being a beatnik poet myself, but my aunt geraldine would not hear of such a thing.

well, if you wish to try your hand at being one, bad boy billy blackbeard said, you had best start your motor running, because time is getting short, and we are almost at the river at which we must all gather.

you may so, arthur replied. but i do not see hide nor hair of any river yet.

just you wait, the poet said.

while we are sauntering along in this desultory manner under a blue sky, arthur said, why do you not favor us with one of your beatnik poems?

yes, billy, why don’t you, asmodeus interjected.

it would be my pleasure, billy said, and he proceeded to declaim -

happy the man who walks in flames
and knows no shame
and stays away from deadly dames
when asked to play the game

and says i have walked this way before
when the great panhandler asks for more
that is not my apple core
washed up on jerusalem’s shore

3. the communist

Saturday, June 13, 2020

arthur and guinevere - 1. the assassin

by horace p sternwall

part one of four

good heavens, arthur, you startled me.

why? i am just sitting here.

you mean you have already gone to your job interview and returned?

no, i decided not to go to the job interview.

oh, you decided not to go to the job interview.

i just was not up to it this morning.

i see.

besides, i decided i did not want to give up my dreams.

remind me again, what exactly were those dreams?

i wanted to be

a) an assassin

b) a beatnik poet

c) a communist agitator

or d) a desperate fugitive

i think we have had this conversation before, arthur. none of those things are actually remunerative occupations in the real world.

and what is the real world?

the one in which none of those are actually remunerative occupations.

that is what they want us to think.

well, arthur, you have achieved one of your goals at least. that of being an agitator. you have agitated me. i am going to take a pill and go to my room. enjoy your afternoon.

you just hate me, that’s all.

aunt geraldine went to her room, and arthur pondered whether to turn on the tv and watch ellen, or take a nap.

ellen had not had anybody really interesting on for a while. maybe she was due to have one.

on further consideration, arthur decided to make and eat a bologna and cheese sandwich, and take a nap.


arthur awoke from his nap.

he realized that someone was in the room with him, someone who was not aunt geraldine or anyone else he was familiar with.

who are you? arthur asked the intruder.

i am the archangel asmodeus, and i am an assassin, hired by your legal guardian, mr porter of porter, porter, house, stack, and marter , at the request of your aunt geraldine. if you wish to become an assassin yourself, i am the just the person to be your guide and mentor.

i am happy to make your acquaintance, arthur replied. how shall we commence our - my studies?

let us take a walk down by the river, the angel answered

down by the river? why? what is down by the river?

we are all gathering there.

2. the beatnik

Friday, June 12, 2020


by anonymous

those who know me
know just who i am
a banker with a hole in his pocket
a policeman without a plan

a baker without a dozen
a rider without a horse
an alpha without a beta
a delta without a force

an enemy without an army
a fool without a king
a bat without a belfry
a chicken without a wing

a dinosaur without an eggshell
a serpent without a tail
a sunset without a desert
a sheriff without a jail

Tuesday, June 9, 2020


by nick nelson

can i see you for a minute, harold?

of course, sir - i mean steve.

harold had never gotten used to calling the supervisors by their first names.

steve closed the door behind harold and took a seat at his desk.

have a seat, harold, this won’t take long.

harold sat down in the one seat.

you probably know why i called you in here.

um - no. harold thought he did know but did not want to say it out loud.

we are letting you go, harold. we are afraid you just do not fit in.

um - could you give me some examples of why i don’t fit in? i thought i was doing all right. i processed three billion units just last week.

yes, but there is more to the job, and the workplace, than just the numbers you put up. we only want people who are the totally integrated ambient package.

but -

for example, you only scored 5.3 on the positive d-3 frequency scale. that is not very good. but what is even more telling is this -

steve turned the screen on his desk around so that harold could read it. steve tapped the screen.

according to this, you have been here seven months, harold , and not had sex with a single other employee.

but - but - in my old job any sexual contact employees was strictly forbidden. we could not even comment on each others’ looks!

that was then, harold, i see you have not kept up with changing times. like the majority of accredited employers, we now strongly encourage sex between employees, provided, of course, that basic standards of decency and ambience, as set forth in circular 78-r-g6, are observed.

i didn’t know.

but that is the problem. we expect our employees to keep up with the times. steve tapped the screen again. look here, i see you got off to a bad start.

oh. you must mean the incident with the sandwich.

yes, ordering an asparagus burger from an outside vendor. on your first day on the job!

but i honestly didn’t know that asparagus was an endangered species.

steve laughed. i think we are seeing a pattern here, aren’t we? goodbye, harold. don’t forget to stop at the wellness office on your way out, to have your brain cleaned.

yes, harold agreed sorrowfully as he rose from the chair, i could use a good brain cleaning.

Monday, June 8, 2020


by anonymous

100 billion people have lived since the beginning of time

i read that on wikipedia

how do they know?

i think they just made it up

how many good people have there been?

and how many bad people?

there have been 32 good people

and all the rest have been bad

when the 33rd good person is born, the universe will evaporate

and turn into a pink and blue butterfly

i just made that up

like wikipedia made up about 100 billion people being born

but you never know

it might be true