Halfway Between Los Angeles and San Francisco

A rooster signals the start of the day.
Workers wearing sombreros and ball caps
emerge from the shadows. They converge
on a dimly lit dirt lot outside Panaderia de Dios.
The bakery sweetens the air with the aroma of Mexican cookies.
Little else is sweet in Huron: “As soon as you make the money,
the money goes away.”

“I don’t like the life.”

The Central Valley has long been short on resources. Here
residents either can’t vote or don’t vote. “We’re in the Appalachians
of the West.” Huron feels like a village in Mexico. “We didn’t go to school,
we didn’t study, so we’re here,” slicing cantaloupes from vines,
Benito Bautista says. Now he rests, shooing flies with a cowboy hat
as he sits in the shade of an apartment building.
Even the flies speak Spanish.

“I don’t like the life.”

Signs of hard times are easy to spot. More than three dozen cars
gather dust outside Ralph’s Triangle Service. A shuttered melon
packing shed down the road has become a homeless camp. One man
points to five empty King Cobra beer bottles to explain his absence
from the fields. At a laundromat where a Mexican soccer match is on TV,
23-year-old Paola Espinoza says she wants to move out of town.
“There’s nothing for the kids to do. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“I don’t like the life.”

“There’s less need for us,” says Higinio Castillo Ruiz, 73. “That’s the way
things are.” Large harvesters spit out 26 tons of tomatoes
every 15 to 20 minutes. In a pistachio orchard, machines throttle
tree trunks, sending nuts raining down and dust clouds rising up.
“Orchards…give a lot to the owner, but not the people.” Huron was founded
in 1888 as a water stop for steam trains on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
It’s a forgotten part of California.

“I don’t like the life.”

Hope and Change

I, too, am a passéiste. A passéiste am I, a believer in a Golden time, a better time, when things
were right, when men were men, and a cup of coffee cost a dime.

I’m proud but not of myself. I’m not even proud to be an American. It’s nothing like that. No, I am
proud to be human. So much has been done, even though, nothing by me.

I am a sampler of the exquisite, a witness, perhaps some would say an intruder, but if I am
unwanted, I remain grateful. The tea is fine. I don’t care for much of the company.

I have found a nice quiet table here at the club. If I am left alone, I will thrive. There is rage and
there is disgust. There is disappointment. I feel regret.

Perhaps it can be said, I regret everything, but that doesn’t keep me from feeling nostalgic. Yes, it
was all a mistake but I would do it again. Every humiliation and those very few triumphs.

I treasure every smile; there have been few. Look where we are. We’ve become brawlers, like
skinny thugs at ball games, those nasty, bony men with tattoos, the kind who like to start fights.

This is finally who we are, in steel-tipped shoes, drunks with shriveled dicks. Women with broken
teeth. People who save up to go to Rome and end up in the local jail for pissing on monuments.

We have become a disgrace. The story begins with our lovely heroes passing out Hershey bars
to shoeless children. Next thing you know, we are urinating on corpses.

We’ve become boxers who bite our opponents. We’ve become women who want to be raped.
We’ve become men who piss themselves.

We’ve become the kind of people children aren’t allowed to be around. We’re thugs. Yes, I am a
passéiste. I am what I am. I live in the past. I do not look ahead.

I know a good thing when I see it. Tomorrow might prove an improvement, sure, why not? It’s
today I can’t stand. Americans have become crude.

Waste Not, Want Not

Good for you is not a greeting. Good for you means congratulations.
These words say good bye. We’re not together.
There’s no but.
Good for you spells doom. It’s the American creed. It’s a celebration
Of greed. Good for you doesn’t say hello.

Don’t look at the what, look at the how!
How the now cow, a sound noun, is brown.
There’s no but.
Something really vast has changed.
It’s got a billy goat brain, a hummingbird mouth.

It’s the triumph of the dog and its bone.
It’s graduation day for cave dwellers.
There’s no but.
We say it to our cat when he finds a mouse.
You hear it when you exit the toilet.

Coffee, toast, and tatami: help us understand
Why we can have one but not the other.
There’s no but.
Cranks like Rousseau make solitude glamorous,
But sensible people agree that it is terrible.

Good for you masks misgivings.
Good for you means you won.
There’s no but.
We are not far in America—and is it only in America—not far
From evolving a right to feel good about oneself.

Devised, God knows when by fuck knows who,
Crosshairs or crossbows: choose your weapon.
There’s no but.
Repair the damaged shelters in Atglienicke and Marzahn. Head
To the suburbs of Berlin, to quiet Aue, in the mountains of Saxony.

Good for you evokes self-satisfaction; the
Smile frames a smirk.
There’s no but.
Now you should feel ashamed. Your pleasure
Is experienced by others as abuse.

In a run-down shack at the edge of Yellowstone National Park,
there’s a motley crew played by a racially diverse all-female cast.
There’s no but.
Jack, a grizzly out-of-work miner has the opportunity to get his America back.
A brutal comedy about patriarchy, entitlement, and a love of the land.

The woman’s son, 14-year-old J.J. Hurtado, was found dead from a gunshot wound.
The Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office is handling the investigation.
There’s no but.
Sheriff Terry Rowan said Friday he does yet know the motive for the slaying.
“I would hate to even speculate.”

There is no vapor in this poem but there is good will.
Drink unto thee, drink unto thee.
There’s no but.
One for the rook, one for the crow, one for the rot, and one to grow.
What you have accomplished can be done for others.

Good for you can be rejected through a simple gesture.
Drink unto thee, drink unto thee.
There’s no but.
One for the rook, one for the crow, one for the rot, and one to grow.
Good for you can mean thanks.

Dear friends! Another toast. Here’s a toast to them as we love
And a toast to them as loves us.
There’s no but.
And here’s to them who loves them who loves those
Who loves those who loves them that loves us. A toast!

Neanderthal Moment

He walked in and I knew who he was:
the embodiment of a now-extinct masculinity,
the silence of a hunter, the posture of a slouch.
My God, I thought, here is the shadow of the dodo.

He smells like the inside of a tennis ball, like a whiff from
under one’s arm. Carelessness, long lost, long gone, an ancient odor.
Like a cowboy asleep on his horse, the perfection of nonchalance,
in rebellion against caring; the embodiment of ho-hum, this fellow
has held up his middle finger so long, he’s had to give it a rest.
His middle-finger is napping. Instead, his nose twitches;
his eyes whisper, “whatever.”

The girls in class complain that he stinks. They want his boxing
gloves removed, his gym clothes left outside in a locker. “Please?”
This is said pleasantly. He doesn’t look up: “No.” Had he
said it in anger, they’d have attacked. There would now be fingernail
polish scratched across his face. His “no” is not rude, but it is final.
The girls and I now know who’s boss. As to the smell…
he likes it. Me, too.

Not to care with indifference is attractive. All eyebrows are raised,
everyone takes notice. An event has been witnessed. We are now
part of his play. His demeanor reveals his character. That “no” is
an instant turn-on. Clint Eastwood has arrived. It’s an ancient refusal,
as when men once said no to women. Everyone in the room now
wants to sleep with this boxer. Why? Because refusal marks
the birth of civilization; it’s an aphrodisiac.

Had he said, “fuck off,” they would have fought him; I’d have
been forced to take their side. But his answer was not “fuck off.”
He’d delivered his “no” with a yawn, not in defiance. He is
a boxer; he is not into hitting women. He seems unaware
of their existence. Like a panther chasing a deer, he isn’t
distracted by apples. He doesn’t want any honey. He is
all about the knockout. He’s about winning.

He is concentrating on the ring. He’s a killer, undomesticated, untrained.
This is what the girls and I realize. Talk about trigger warnings.
Not to care about being offensive can itself be offensive. Sometime later,
I ask him if he has a girlfriend. He shrugs. His father bought him
a $3,000 robot for high school graduation. Its hand is self-lubricating
and comes with an adjustable grip: gentle to firm, room temp to hot. The
machine greets him at the door and never gets a headache. It smiles.

Reindeer on Fire

Who started the fires? Many are drawn to the flames: men and women
in equal number. They clamber to get closer. They take off work to travel:
the flames climbing higher, engulfing, filling the skies. The smoke gets in
everything; there are ashes in the houses, on the carpets. Many stand still
and hold out their tongues. They tear off their clothing. They crave the heat.
They’re excited by the smell of ruin. They’re delirious.

The fires mean trouble. The people can’t tell the difference
between fireworks and flames. They welcome the fires with tribal dances.
The women bare their breasts. It excites the men. The logs in the fireplace
have rolled into the living room but the people are too drunk to push them back.
They’re laughing. They’re excited that something’s finally happening.
They’re so bored the thought of burning the house down makes them giddy.

The gals want their backsides smacked. The men get close
enough to the flames to singe their body hair. The women shriek.
The parents no longer watch the children. Many die running into the flames.
The parents shrug. What’s the difference? The children carry fiery
logs about and throw them into the cars. They take hot sticks and poke
out each other’s eyes.

The parents don’t know what to do, but declare with a sense of urgency
there is nothing to be done. It’s all beyond them; it’s fate.
They move closer to the fires. They’ve burned all their clothes.
They have nothing on. They push the children away and commence
to fornicate in the ashes. The men relieve themselves on the hot coals.
Many children catch fire.

They move back to the caves when the fires burn down. They remove
the paintings from their frames to use the wood as kindling.
The museums are ransacked. Libraries are emptied. They desperately
raid the theatres for wood from the stage floors. In short order,
there’s nothing left. The fires die out. The men and women crouch
in their earthen holes and cry.

Some brave women venture out but quickly regret it.
Most hide themselves deep within. Much if not all is lost.
The fires burn out. When there was fire and music,
nudity seemed sexy, but now the women are cold.
They feel ugly like insects. The men don’t caress them;
they kick them. The sexes are not equal.


“Neanderthal Moment” is an excerpt from David Lohrey’s new anthology, Bluff City. You can purchase the book from Terror House Press here.