A Little Stuffy in Here (creative nonfiction)

The breakfast with Jeana at the botanical gardens in Nashville. You never saw so many nouveau riche people in one place at one time. Not one colored face among them.

They all sat on the lower level, next to the wide windows overlooking the butterfly garden, but they were mainly looking at each other, what was she wearing, who was she with, who should we say hello to, what hands should we shake, how many rungs can we climb this beautiful Sunday morning we are spending with our faces buried in our mimosas and our backs to the beautiful garden.

Or at least this was our impression as we sat on the upper level, close to the door we should probably have been grateful they let us through in our jeans and t-shirts. Clean jeans and t-shirts, mind you, but jeans and t-shirts nonetheless. Mine was burgundy and had a baseball style swoosh on it with the words, “Think dark thoughts.” One of my favorite t-shirts of all time, and we were. We were thinking dark thoughts about these people when these people we assumed didn’t want us there, were probably not thinking about us at all.

At the brunch buffet table, this lady in a white dress with heels way too high for a garden… we were in a freaking garden after all… elbowed me over the eggs. Elbowed in the boobs, over the chafing dish full of rubbery eggs. Strangest things. I suppose my low class ass wasn’t moving fast enough and she was at the eggs in a hurry because maybe she had some ass to kiss back at her table right then or the ass wouldn’t be ripe for kissing anymore.

Dark thoughts.

At our table on the higher level, the undesirable section, we were the only table up there after all, the waitress came over to fill our water glasses. Jeana, with her Jeana wit said to the waitress, “How are you today.” Fine, the waitress said. “A little stuffy in here, ain’t it?” The waitress smiled in a way she wasn’t supposed to and said, “Sometimes.”

-M, Ashley

Cafe Coco (poetry)

In one such re-birthed home off Elliston,
a neo-beatnik coffee-beer-food joint spills
red neon light into the street
where dusky jazz from the “Backdeck”
skitters with dead leaves
down the cracked one-way blacktop—
falls and rises with the daredevil sparrows
that dive-bomb the al fresco eaters’ feet
looking for renegade Tater Tots.

On a cloud of sweet clove cigarette smoke
the hustle of something like
multigenerational intellectualism
floats over the noise
while the silver-haired owner
buses the tables himself,
wearing jean shorts,
white socks,
and Jesus sandals, worn-through.

-M. Ashley

Nashville Summer at Night

A soul heavy as wet July.

Steam rising from the grass

lazily curling and uncurling its come-hither fist

in blue efficiency streetlight.

Windows fog over

in droplet-streaming screens obscuring

the midnight hush-your-mouth in each

of a line of bricked and columned houses.

This is a city morally opposed to sidewalks,

where stoplights go down at eleven.

This is a city whose treacherous shoulders I trudged

for a decade in the dark.


On Being Albino in Southern California

Photo on 2012-06-07 at 18.06Last week, out to lunch with a friend, a pack of neo-valley-girls blustered in and sat down in our section. Not too long after, one of them pointed at me, they whispered to each other, then all laughed loudly. It happens. It is an extreme unpleasantness that goes with the albino turf.

As galling as it was, however, I think the thing that galls me most is realizing that these idiots, obviously students at CSU Berdoo, are probably the same type who shout diversity and inclusion from the rafters all day, every day, as they flit from class to class. I see tolerance only goes so far. Only certain types are worthy.

One interesting thing is that in the thirteen years I lived in Nashville, I never encountered that. Not even once. Since I have been back in California, however, it has happened several times, and has always come from adults. In Nashville, if someone were curious, she or he would just walk on over, strike up a conversation, and ask. They’d most often want to touch my hair and ask whether I preferred “an albino” or “a person with albinism.” I found this pleasant and endearing.

While I’m not prepared to make any sweeping conclusions about the virtues of southerners as opposed to the vices of southern Californians—individuals are individuals after all, and hypocrites can be found under any slimy rock you care to turn over, regardless of geography—in my heart, I feel those conclusions beginning to boil.

Itches, Indulgences, Resurrected Love Affairs

curl_of_smoke_by_cuperdy-d4wy7e5I have indulged too much in black cigarettes. I have indulged too much in telling the story of how they remind me of a happier time.

Me, smoking them in autumn outside my favorite place on Earth, Cafe Coco in Nashville; cold wrought iron table; purple scarf from Thailand wrapped around my head; black and white herringbone wool coat wrapped around my body; one, fitted O. J. Simpson black leather glove on my left, non-smoking hand; my red, hard-shell computer case glowing with its white apple on the back, the white keyboard dingy with use. I wrote some good stuff out there. I made even better plans for the even better stuff I would write if I took the time I was taking smoking black cigarettes to lay words on screen.

I’ve remade my Cafe Coco the best I can in my California backyard—the only independent coffee joint I know of around here. I have an outdoor table that gets cold in the pre-dawn hour. I have little house wrens that dive-bomb the seeds I leave for them the way fat sparrows would dive-bomb Tater Tot debris at the Cafe. I have cold, over-sweet coffee. I have my computer, now hard shell purple, but with the same dingy keyboard and glowing apple. It’s too hot for the herringbone wool, but in the cold mornings I still sometimes lay the Thai scarf over my hair.

I have my black cigarettes as much as I want now, no making a trip to the special smoke shop next to the underground club with the seedy mulletted man behind the glass counter. The cigs sit easy on the shelf at the local 7-Eleven. There’s less glass in them, I can feel it in my throat. There’s less clove too. I lick the tips as ritual before I smoke and they are less sweet. Like a love affair resurrected out of necessity, some of the fire is gone. There is too much and too little. There is longing for something new with the same cold heat there once was.

I have indulged too much in my black cigarettes. I have indulged too much in telling the story of how they remind me of a happier time.


Sunrise: From Nashville to Berdoo

Late Winter Sunrise: San Bernardino, Inland Empire, SoCal.

Today I am grateful for the sunrise under which I started my morning writing. In the east it looked like the heavens and earth were on fire. In the west the clouds spread in great pink streaks across a periwinkle sky. These are all common things to say about the sunrise, I know.

Late Winter Sunrise and Hibiscus Flowers: San Bernardino, Inland Empire, SoCal.

I remember The Phantom Tollbooth and how one of the characters our heroes meet is Chroma the Great. He conducts the sunrise like music. Each rising color makes a tone or phrase of its own. I adore that book and I adore the movie and I adore the image. When I lived in Nashville I would sometimes (OK rarely) take a walk at this time of day and a little earlier. I didn’t have to worry about coyotes and other stray dogs trained to be killers there, not to mention actual killers. But in the hour or so before sunrise, I would walk along and look up at the sky and swear I could hear the planets singing as they moved both imperceptibly slow and unbelievably fast. It was as if I were a voyeur to their sacred praise of the gods and each other, crouched in the moist green, as I was, in a simple, working class neighborhood at the center of the Tennessee valley.

So I am grateful for the sunrise this morning and for the planets’ tender singing. It is wonderful to know they sing and praise and move on their courses everywhere, even over the concrete and brown grass, thirsty coyotes and other stray, unloved dogs.