Joseph E Bird

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into the night

When the last lingering light of day had finally disappeared, she waited another twenty minutes. Then she walked through the automatic doors of the ER, completely unnoticed, into the night.

She headed east, toward the homeless shelters. She had driven through that neighborhood many times during the day, where ragged men with shopping carts gather under the interstate bridge, where young kids, barely in their teens, mingle with older addicts on the steps of the treatment center, where the women who would later stroll the streets sat on the curb smoking cigarettes outside their run-down apartment buildings. In the light of day, they were there, but the street belonged to those whose lives were comfortably insulated from the stench of unwashed clothes and grimy hands with broken fingernails and shattered liquor bottles and needles in the gutter and the ever-present hint of mind-altering chemicals breezing through the air. It belonged to those who shopped at the open-air market and dined at the sidewalk cafes and visited the plush offices of medical specialists that appeared like satellites around the hospital, not far from the free clinic or the street doctors who offered their own cures for those who had no other choice. In the daytime, they were all there together, some living, others waiting.

She walked the first block away from the hospital as she always walked, quickly and with purpose. She crossed the street and onto the sidewalk that fronted a medical office building. She began to slow, not completely sure of her destination. At the other end of the block, behind the office building, the parking lot was almost completely vacant. In the next block, where houses once stood, was another parking lot, this one unpaved and ungated, sometimes attended by a man in small hut, but now the hut was empty. Across the way near the opposite corner two men stood smoking cigarettes.

She kept walking, her hands stuffed in her jacket pockets.

Another block.

A man pulling a hand cart, slight of build with long, stringy hair passed by her without even looking up.

In the next block, a woman stood near the corner, another in the middle of the block on the other side of the street. Heather crossed the street at the corner, avoiding the first woman. The second woman at the middle of the block stepped back, giving her room to pass. They made brief eye contact, each sizing the other up. After she had passed, Heather slowed and finally stopped. She turned back to the woman. She stared back at Heather.


Heather took a step toward her. The woman didn’t move. Heather took another step and saw that the woman was too young to be on the street.  A runaway, no doubt. She looked like she hadn’t eaten in a week. Her eyes were wide, accentuated with heavy eyeliner and too much blue eye shadow. She shifted from one foot to another and kept her arms crossed, a habit Heather surmised was developed to hide the needle tracks.

“What do you want?”


“Get it out lady. What are you looking for?”


“You a cop?”

“No. I’ve got a serious health condition. It affects my nerves. I’m just looking for some relief.”

“Right. Can’t help you lady.”

Heather could see that she didn’t trust her. Not that getting busted by an undercover cop would ruin her life. More like an inconvenience.

Heather glanced around and then pulled a bill from her jacket pocket. She made sure the woman saw that it was a hundred, then folded it and tucked into the woman’s hand which was still gripping her arm. The woman didn’t hesitate. She took the bill and stuck it in the back pocket of her jeans.

“You too stupid to be a cop. Hang on.”

She pulled a phone from her front pocket and made a call.

“Hey, Bobcat. I got a woman here looking for tabs. Can you set her up? She’s legit. She’s too scared to be a cop.”

She turned to Heather.

“How much you need?”

That’s something Heather hadn’t considered. She had no idea.


The woman spoke to Bobcat, then back to Heather.

“Two hundred bills. You got that?”

Heather nodded.

The woman stuck the phone back in her pocket.

“Two blocks down, take a right. Bobcat’ll be on the front porch.”


“Don’t thank me. Curse me.”

copyright 2018, joseph e bird
from the novel, Heather Girl


a photograph of monika
her reflection in the glass
of the empty train
as time passes
with the sound
of the wheels
across the steel
of the tracks

there are no conversations
and no hidden meanings
in furtive glances
and no possibility
with the man
with dark eyes
because he’s not there
and never was

a newspaper
is folded on the seat
left behind by those
who have come before
and knew of the day
and of its end
and are now
home quietly

days upon days
and nights upon nights
weeks and
months and
years upon years
the mundane
passing of time
a blessing and curse

waiting and hoping
for meaning
beyond the ordinary
until one person
sees her reflection in the glass
on the empty train
and knows loneliness
no more

copyright 2018, joseph e bird

Pokey LaFarge

I want to be in this band.

The harp player is crazy.  They’re all crazy.

The clarinet player is Chloe.

Garbage Man Blues.

And if that’s not enough, here’s Mama Don’t Allow.
Mama don’t know what she was missing.

Kiss me, you fool.

woman with a clarinet

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

I know she wasn’t talking to me, but, yeah, she was talking to me. I know she was even though she wasn’t. Sometimes you just know.

I ain’t into music. I mean I like rock and roll but that ain’t music, you know what I mean? It’s just rock and roll. What these guys were playing wasn’t that by a mile. I don’t know what you call it, cause I ain’t into music.

The singer was a complete dork with a guitar bigger than he was. And they had one of them big fiddles and another dork slapping on the strings, p-thub, p-thub, p-thub. Some puny fellow with hair sticking up in ever direction played one of them whiny little guitars. And a fiddle player. Regular fiddle tucked under the chin. I would of thought maybe they was a country band, but then there’s the trumpet player, a tall, lanky drink of water who thought he was all that, but to me he was just a goof. Had one of them mufflers stuck in the end of his horn that made it sound weird. So I don’t guess they was country.

It was Jess’s plan. Me and Hoby went along with it cause we pretty much go along with all of Jess’s plans. Usually turns out ok.

Now the fact that I spent the night in lock-up, and the fact that I’m likely gonna spend some time in the house, don’t mean it wasn’t a good plan. Sometimes that’s just how things work out.

Besides, I’d spend six months in the hole if I knew Charlotte was waiting on me when I got out.

Kiss me, you fool.

Yeah, she was talking to me.

Number one, I’m a fool. Always have been. Been hard for me to live a sensible life. Guys like Jess and Hoby come calling and I’m off. More often than not things end in trouble but that’s ok. What’s the point of living if you can’t get into some trouble now and then?

Number two, I’ve always had a way with the ladies. Maybe it’s the bad boy thing. Maybe it’s cause I’m the quiet one. Jess and Hoby always looking for attention. Me, I just sit back and let the game come to me.

So, yeah, it’s only natural that Charlotte would notice.

She was the clarinet player in the band of weirdos. I didn’t know what a clarinet was at the time, just looked like some kind pipe she was holding. Being the only girl in the group, she was hard not to notice. She wore a red dress that fell down below her knees. Dirty brown hair. I don’t mean her hair was dirty, it just kind of colored that way. A little too skinny for my tastes, but she was a girl, so you noticed, even though overall she was kind of plain. At least I thought so at first.  Not the kind of girl that old Connie would hook up with. Conrad, as my mother calls me. My friends call me Connie, which I like all right. It’s good for starting fights with wannabe tough guys.

Hanging in the bar was part of the plan. So that night we’re in El Poopo’s or whatever the name of the joint was. It was the first one we came to when we were walking down the street. The plan was this: We were going to hang out in the bar for a couple hours. Blend in. Just three dudes in the crowd. We was going to wait until the night started to wind down cause it’d be easier to pull off, plus there’d be more money in the till.

I was sitting up next to the end of the bar by myself, which also put me right up next to the stage. When the time was right, Jess and Hoby was to start something. They was going to go at it pretty quick, cause if it was just a bunch of hollering, the bouncer would throw them out before it got going. They had to throw punches and try to drag a few more into it while they was at it. Then, when all hell broke loose, I’m supposed to slide behind the bar and grab some cash. A little fun, a little green. No big robbery or nothing like that, just a little cash and dash.

Ok, yeah, now that I say it out loud, it sounds like pretty bad plan.

Truth is, I don’t think none of us thought we’d go through with it. I figured we’d end up drinking and having a good time and nothing would come of it. And I’d probably been three sheets to the wind had it been a rock and roll band. Hell, I’d probably been three sheets to the wind if Charlotte hadn’t been in that dopey band of flake bats. But she was. And even though she was the only girl in the band, and the more I studied on her, the better she looked, she still hadn’t hooked me. She looked like she was dressed for Sunday morning church. I like my women with a little more edge.

The band had been playing when we got there, some kind of rockabilly that might been respectful if they had played it like Skynard might have played it. They followed that up with some jazz crap that just wasn’t doing it, but there was a lot of them beatnik types with their fashion model beards and their cute little jeans with the rolled up cuffs and they seemed to like the dorky guitar player. Whatever. I ordered another beer.

Then they played a slow song. A sad song. I ain’t into music but I know blues when I hear it and that’s what they launched into. Ok. I could handle that. Dorko was singing and the big fiddle player quit thumping on that thing and plucked the strings soft and slow. Then Dorko quit singing and turned to Charlotte.

I never heard nothing like it. She made that clarinet cry, playing notes long and sad, then a run of notes together going from low to high and back down again, her fingers dancing over them little holes on that pipe. I don’t know how long she played but it wasn’t long enough. Dorko ruined it with his guitar and whiny voice. But it was too late. She’d hooked me.

So I paced myself. Cause in my mind, in my twisted reality, I knew me and her was meant to be. And when I finally get a chance to talk to her, I wanted my wits to be with me.

I looked over at Jess and Hoby and they was talking to some girls, drinking like there was no tomorrow. I relaxed a little, thinking Jess would just forget about the fight and the stealing and just sit back and have a good time. Suited me just fine. Me and Charlotte had our destiny to fulfill.

So the band goes back to whatever crazy music they play. Thumping on that fiddle, goofball tooting his horn. Even Charlotte was into it, but that’s ok. You got to do what you got to do. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. She smiled at me once or twice. Pretty sure. I was hard not to miss sitting so close. I smiled back.

By the time I was on my fourth beer, I was starting to want the night over, hoping the band was winding down and I’d get a chance to work my charms on Charlotte. Jess and Hoby was still going at it, but Hoby looked a little agitated. Dang. Maybe they was going to go through with it after all.

Then the band played something different. Slower. The drummer played a kind of shuffling sound. Made me think of walking by myself on the street, walking up to Charlotte. She’s leaning on the handrail of one of the walk-ups down on Fourteenth Street. Somebody’s singing but it ain’t Dorko. I think maybe it’s the horn player. Got a deep, gravelly voice. And Charlotte sees me from down the street. I’m walking slow, shuffling like the drum. I’m a few feet away. She’s wearing that red dress, but now it don’t look like a church dress, cause she looks too good to be wearing it to church. She’s looking down at her matching red shoes. Then looks up at me, locks eyes with me.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

Ok, I know I was just making up the scene in my head, and truth is, maybe I made it up after the fact, but she said those words that night. So smokey, so hot. It was part of that slow song. And when she said it, she was looking right at me. For sure. Right at me. Probably.

Then that gravelly voice was singing again.

I was sweating. Trying to catch my breath. Cause Charlotte does that to me. Every time.

I finished my beer and looked back at Jess and Hoby. They was jawing at each other. Didn’t seem like they was putting on, either.

Please let this be your last song. I’m just about out of time.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

Then that tinny trumpet sound and I could tell the song was winding down.

And behind me, a big crash. It was on.


I wanted to let it play out. Just let Jess and Hoby get thrown out of the bar. I could tell them later that me and Charlotte had a thing going on.

I looked back at the band they was all watching, their eyes wide. Charlotte, too. Another crash. Hoby threw some dude across a table. Two more got into it. Jess looked at me and winked just as the bouncer grabbed him around the neck and punched him the face.

I had to do my part.

The bartender was down at the end of the bar helping a couple of girls climb over to get out of the way of fight. I took out the small pry bar out of my jacket, slipped behind the bar, opened the cash drawer, grabbed a hand full and started to make my way out. It took all of seven seconds. I was just about at the door when somebody grabbed me by the collar. I looked around and it was the bartender. He looked back to the stage. Charlotte nodded. She ratted me out.

They dragged me out there before I even knew her name.  Course these days stuff like that’s easy to figure out.

That was two weeks ago.  I go before the judge tomorrow for my sentencing. I’m hoping for probation but if he sends me to the house for a spell, I’m ok with that.

I’m cleaning up my act. No more drinking. Not that I was a fall down drunk, and I when I was in the middle of one of Jess’s plans, it was a total blast. But there was always some kind of mess to clean up the next day. And truth is, I’d never have a chance at someone like Charlotte being the low-life thug that I was.

So, yeah, I’m cleaning up my act. No more Jess or Hoby, either. And no more Connie. I’m Conrad now, just like my momma intended.

Speaking of momma, I went to church with her last Sunday. Not sure if church life is for me, but hey, they talk about forgiveness and starting over and hell, that’s a good place to start. Pardon my language. Got to work on that, too.

And someday Charlotte’s going to say it for real.

Come on over here, Conrad.

Kiss me, you fool.

Oh, man.

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

copyright 2018, joseph e bird
photo credit: iStock

Writing Tip – Go Back. Way Back.

Have you ever lost your way?

Lost your vision?

Lost your purpose?

As you know, I’ve been working on Heather Girl for a while now, taking my time, letting the story unfold gently, getting to know the characters.  I’m about two-thirds through.  I’ve passed the dreaded middle section and should be cruising to the finish line.

And yet, as I stare at the computer screen, I wonder if it’s all been a wasted effort. Sure, I’ve written a scene or two that I’m fond of, but I worry that there’s not enough story. Maybe I should just trash it all.

So I went back to the beginning. To that first sentence I wrote. The first paragraph. The first chapter.

I met Heather all over again.

And I remembered.

I remembered why I started this in the first place. Remembered why I like her.   Remembered why I have to tell her story, from beginning to end.

I wonder if this technique might work for other art forms.

I can see an artist, not sure where a painting is going, looking back at the first sketch in the notebook that inspired the painting. Or a musician, caught up in working out the third verse, going back to that first phrase, or that first chord progression that got her started. Even the runner, working through an injury, finding joy in just running a mile again.

It helps to remember why you’re doing something in the first place.

Go back.

and here comes the man

and here comes the man
with hat in his hand
and here comes the man
who can’t understand

he pleads
and he begs
and he asks for forgiveness

he’s told
to get out
it’s none of his business

go back
do your job
and leave us to dreaming

your thoughts
are of naught
don’t bother our scheming

and he was known
as he is known
and will be known
as a man

and here comes the girl
eyes bright in the sun
and here comes the girl
with hearts to be won

she plans
and she dreams
to be the good mother

she loves
and she cares
with no thoughts of another

they see
that she lives
a life of the old ways

no job
no career
and nothing to earn praise

and she was known
and she is known
and will be known
as a woman


and here comes the thief
to steal in the night
and here comes the thief
to lead us to light

we fight
and resist
and cling beyond reason

we pray
and we know
that it can’t be our season

we push
through our pain
and battle the strife

till love
and gives us new life

and we were known
and we are known
and will be known
as we are

copyright 2018, joseph e bird

yeah, man. chicks dig me.

Ok.  So I go to Wendy’s last night to pick up a couple of chicken sandwiches. This act alone tells you something about me and my lifestyle. Friday night and I’m getting food at Wendy’s.

There is no line in the drive-through, but I hate drive-throughs because, as you may know from one of my other stories, I have a history with girls in the drive through. Not a good history. So I go inside.

This Wendy’s has a television. It’s tuned to some political talk show. At the back of the store is an older guy, standing, grinning at no one in particular.  I learn later that he was waiting for a cab, but leaves before the cab arrives, which means that the cab company will no longer dispatch a cab for him. I learn this from the girl at the counter. (We actually had a conversation, which wouldn’t have been possible in the drive-through.)

There are maybe half a dozen other people sitting in booths including an old couple, which I realize are probably my age, except they look so much older than I do. (This little tidbit, in the parlance of writing, is foreshadowing, for those of you who may be taking notes.)

In another booth is another older woman (I’m pretty sure she really is older than I am) and a decidedly younger woman, who I notice by her blonde hair (which, for those of you who care about such things, had been chemically enhanced). So, you see, amongst all the older folks, myself included, this relatively young blonde woman stood out.

Now I’m standing in line. The woman at the head of the line is asking the cashier, Veronica (who later tells me about the old guy and the cab), about all the different toppings she could get on her sandwiches. For those of you taking notes, this is not how you order in Wendy’s. Surely you’ve been to Wendy’s before. It works like this:

Single, everything but cheese and pickles.

You get what you want, but you keep things moving. Plan ahead. That’s all I’m saying.

Anyway, this goes on for a couple of minutes so I start looking around the store again. The blonde lady stands and starts putting on her coat. Then she looks back at me. Stares at me. For a moment, I’m wondering if I know her. She keeps looking. I smile and turn away.

Now let me make one thing perfectly clear (as my old friend, Richard E. Nixon used to say). I’m a happily married man. I have no intention of striking up any kind of untoward relationship with another woman. Just so you know.

But still.

She was at least 20 years younger than me. But I’m a hip guy. I was dressed in my jeans and a sport coat, one day stubble on my beard. So yeah, it’s understandable that I caught her eye. Chicks still dig me. Cool.

The lady in front of me is still prattling on about toppings. A look around and the blonde lady is gone.  Her elderly companion, probably her mother, is still sitting in the booth.  Maybe she went out to her car.

And then I hear a hand dryer blowing behind me. The restroom is behind me. In fact, I’m standing directly between the blonde lady’s booth and the restroom.


She wasn’t looking at me at all. She was looking at the restroom, charting her path.

The hand dryer goes off, she comes out. She makes sure she doesn’t look my way. After all, I smiled at her. She wants nothing to do with an old man creeper.

I was at the nursing home a couple of weeks ago.

A lady in a wheelchair stopped me and took me by the arm.

“You are such a handsome man,” she said.  I thanked her and went on.  Behind me, I heard her stop someone else and say the same thing.  Doesn’t matter.  I’ll take it.

Chicks dig me, man. There’s no getting around it.

Postscript: I am aware that the man who made the phrase, “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” was Richard M. Nixon, not Richard E. Nixon. This is a joke within a joke. Bonus points if you can identify the source of Richard E. Nixon.

First Aid Kit

Here’s how these things work in the ultra-connected world of blogging.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an audio video of my cousin’s 1968 recording of his song Heather Girl. Across the pond, fellow runner and music lover Saoirse listened to Heather Girl and asked if I had ever heard First Aid Kit.  Good timing on her question. Yesterday they were on CBS This Morning.

Thanks, Saoirse.

Heather Girl

When my novel Heather Girl is made into a major motion picture starring Amy Adams, this is the song that will play as the opening credits roll and Heather walks down the street to the coffee shop, the wind whipping through her hair. Credit to my cousin, Joe Clatworthy, who wrote the song and recorded it as a member of the group The Muffetts, though they were also known as The Mojos.

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