Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.



yeah, man. chicks dig me.

Ok.  So I go to Wendy’s last night to pick up a chicken sandwich. 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 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.

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. I 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.

The Enigma

Editor’s Note:  This story was inspired by The Mystery Hole. I posted this a couple of years ago, but since we (meaning me) were talking about The Mystery Hole yesterday, I offer it again.

It’s important to understand that in this work of fiction, the main character is a woman, and the story is told from her perspective.

THERE’S A GORILLA ON THE ROOF. Really. And a Volkswagen Beetle sticking out of the side, looking very much like an unfortunate accident. I almost turned around without stopping.


When you watch your husband slowly dying over the course of the year, you think you’re ready. You’re not ready. You know your life is going to change. You have no idea.


It’s called The Enigma. It’s so far out of the way, that it’s almost impossible to find by happenstance. So yes, I actually planned the trip. But everything else was, maybe, serendipitous.

I met Kendall fifteen years ago in New York. I met a lot of young doctors back then. I was still working directly with clients and it was such an incredible time to be young and rich. And it was easy to be a broker. Money begat money.

Kendall had been referred to me by the Chief of Oncology at Sloan-Kettering. How’s that for irony? These days everything can be handled over the Internet, but back then, it was still the norm to meet in person. Face to face. No time to be personal now.

My family moved to the U.S. when I was very young. My father was a chemical engineer, my mother an architect. My first year in college, they divorced and Mother returned to China. I don’t know if they ever loved each other but this much I know: Mother loved her homeland; Father wanted more than anything to be a successful American. When I graduated from Princeton he moved to California. He says he is happy.

Three years ago my brokerage house offered me the position of Vice President of the Appalachian Region. Serving as a Regional Vice President is a prerequisite to a Senior Vice President position and the more challenging the Regional position, the greater the reward. There is no greater challenge than the cash-poor Appalachian Region. I was well-respected at the firm. I was pleased to have been challenged so.

As peculiar as The Enigma is on the outside, it is even more bizarre inside. It is difficult to describe. Nothing is what it appears to be. Gravity is mocked. A plumb-bob hangs at an angle at least thirty degrees from perpendicular. We walked across a floor so askew that we certainly should have fallen – yet our balance was sure. And when we entered a room that appeared to be completely normal, I experienced a touch of vertigo. I took two small steps sideways and instinctively my left hand reached out. I clutched the forearm of Rembrandt Morgan.

I remember that first meeting with Kendall distinctly. It was the first time in my life that I had met someone with such intense blue eyes. Mother had told me years before that men with blue eyes were destined to accomplish great things – but not necessarily great good. My first emotion associated with Kendall was fear. He flirted unabashedly as I tried to discuss investment options. I knew many American men had an attraction to Asian women, so I was suspicious anyway, but those eyes were beautifully scary.

Had Rembrandt Morgan’s eyes been brown, he would have simply been another forgotten face. Of course they were blue.

Father had worked in Charleston for two years while I attended university. At the time it was a center for chemical production and Father had engineered new techniques for the production of silicones. He said the mountains of West Virginia reminded him of the Yangtze province. I used to wonder if Mother would have stayed longer had she seen the mountains. I no longer wonder.

When I first moved here, I hated it. Nobody lived in the city. Not that there was much of a city anyway. Kendall and I bought a house in a suburb thirty miles away that had no mountains at all. We lived beside a river just upstream from a coal-burning electric plant. As we drove into Charleston every day, we passed chemical plants, junkyards and strip clubs. On a good day, it was tolerable. Summer was the worst. Heat inversions stagnated the atmosphere and every putrid odor furtively emitted the night before by the chemical plants seemed to soak through our clothes and ooze into our pores. But we knew it would be temporary. We knew we would eventually return to New York.

As I clutched the forearm of Rembrandt Morgan, he looked down at me and smiled and asked if I was all right. His breath was sweet and musky. Had I known why, I don’t know how I might have reacted. It wasn’t until later that day that I learned the truth. By that time, I had already kissed him.

All of the houses in our development were large, beautiful, and isolationist. Very small front porches were merely architectural adornments; no one ever used front doors. We came and went from our brick fortress with barely a nod or a wave to those whom we lived among. It was not that different in New York, really, but somehow New York felt right.

Last year on a sticky summer evening, Kendall and I attended the dedication of a new sculpture at the arts center. In Charleston, a new sculpture is a major cultural event. Our friends, Nathan and Orillia Laurie, had commissioned a New York artist to create a bronze interpretation of a young King David and his lyre. The result was a wonderfully abstract expression that captured the essence of the spirit of King David’s love of music. Unfortunately, King David’s essence did not include a recognizable human figure.

The following day the newspapers recorded the public dismay and lack of appreciation. It created an unbelievable debate about Nathan’s artistic values and his elitist sensibilities that lasted for weeks, during which Nathan remained silent. When he could take no more, he wrote a letter to the editor and suggested that West Virginia’s taste is better suited to hubcap art and the cultural aesthetics of The Enigma.

The day the letter appeared, we celebrated with Nathan and Orillia at one of the few nice restaurants in town. It had been a wonderful evening, full of delightful spite, until Kendall became dizzy driving home. I believe he knew that night what his future held.

As we began our excursion, a young couple exchanged uncomfortable glances and unfamiliar touches, no doubt trying to be spontaneously fun in the middle of their honeymoon at the nearby state park. They couldn’t have made a poorer decision. Rembrandt, it turns out, was there to secure advertising for the Roland County Weekly Advertiser. We continued our tour together, and unlike the couple who knew each other carnally, our glances were comfortable, our touches familiar.

The second room we entered had two windows side by side. One was out of square. I couldn’t tell which one. In the middle of the room was a table and chairs and along the wall, more chairs. The guide motioned for me to sit at the table. Rembrandt followed. The uneasy couple took a seat along the wall. I tried to sit but couldn’t find my balance; I kept sliding off to one side. Rembrandt steadied me. His arm was tattooed with a poor rendering of a deer. His skin was warm.

Kendall had developed a tumor on his brain. Inoperable, of course. He took the chemotherapy not to save his life, but to simply prolong it. He did it for me. He wanted me to ready myself for his death. Four months. Four years. It doesn’t matter. Four days would have been the same.

I miss Kendall. I miss Mother. I miss Father. I miss New York.

The guide led the group through the back door and on to the souvenir shop. I stopped, pausing in the room that defied logic and looked at Rembrandt. He closed the door and took my hands, held them next to my face and kissed me.

Two weeks before he died, I was named a Senior Vice President. I will move back to New York, but now I am on sabbatical. It will be at least another month. Maybe more.

Rembrandt had no way of knowing my circumstances. No way of knowing my vulnerability. No way of knowing that I wouldn’t slap him or knee him in the groin. No way of knowing that I would return his kiss.

We spent a few minutes in the gift shop. I bought an Enigma bumper sticker that now adorns my Volvo’s rear bumper. Then Remmie asked me to join him for a cup of coffee. I followed him up the winding mountain road, expecting a trendy coffee bar tucked away in the hills. Instead, he pulled his black pick-up into a gravel lot of the Hawk’s Nest Diner. No cappuccinos, no lattes. Just black coffee. And a slice of apple pie. We talked for more than an hour.
Remmie is an artist. Some of his paintings were on display in the diner. He has an incredible sense of composition and color, a gift, he told me, that he got from his grandmother. Quite remarkable.

He also hunts. And works for the weekly advertising paper. He was married once, but his wife ran off with a Charleston lawyer. Which is why he drinks. Remmie has never been outside of West Virginia.

I drove past The Enigma on my way back down the mountain, one of Remmie’s paintings on the back seat. It saddened me to know that I would not see Rembrandt Morgan again. I would not see Kendall again. I would not see this mountain again. I thought about Mother, wondering if her homeland were as beautiful as the scene in Remmie’s painting. I wondered if Mother had felt similar feelings in leaving Father. I wondered why she had to leave. I wondered why I had to leave.

In my rear-view mirror, the gorilla seemed to be waving.

copyright 2014, joseph e bird

Hello, Dani.

Here’s what’s fun about writing.

First, the concept of my work in progress, the log line, if you will.

Trevor Larson is a promising young singer-songwriter until an accident leaves him unable to play, and as he finds a new direction for his life, he is plagued by poor decisions as he clings to his dream of being a musician.

I painstakingly outlined the story from beginning to end in three acts. I developed the main and secondary characters in detail and the roles they would play in the story.  I created chapter summaries. As I began working on the story, I’ve made minor changes to everything along the way.

Around Chapter 8 or 9, I introduced a few tertiary characters who served a purpose, but were supposed to go away. Most of them did. But Dani insisted on showing up again in Chapter 10.  And Chapter 11.  And she’s still there in Chapter 12.  She went from tertiary to secondary a long time ago.

The fun part is that she is developing a very interesting relationship with Trevor.  This wasn’t supposed to happen.  But there’s a chemistry between the two that’s undeniable.  Good old-fashioned girl meets boy.

Just like Trevor’s life, this story is taking an unexpected path.  This is why I like to write.

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