Monday, March 2, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Seven: Wipeout

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.


Over the following weeks, their partnership becomes a “thing.” Zarita shoots their routines and posts them online, where they receive an impressive number of hits. The most popular is a riff on Michael Jackson’s “Pretty Young Thing.” Gigante runs on-field in a red leather jacket and single sequin glove and does an amazing job of replicating all the MJ classics: the karate kick, the Elvis toe-stand, the J5 spin and, of course, the moonwalk. The PA announcer has christened Zelda with the name Gigantina, and she has worked up a sort-of costume, featuring an orange shirt with a big spangled G.

Mid-July brings German Heritage Night, featuring bratwurst, sauerkraut, and lots of German brews. During the seventh-inning stretch, Gigante marches from the dugout in a black cape, produces a baton and conducts the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth. Zelda skips in from the bullpen wearing a Bavarian dress, looking like a refugee from The Sound of Music. She stops at the forbidding sight of Maestro Gigante, but then the PA blares forth with “Roll Out the Barrel.” Gigante throws his baton to the ground and whips off his cape, revealing suspendered shorts and lederhosen. He and Zelda begin a mad polka around the coaching box.

As the music speeds up, the choreography gets more athletic. They do an alternating spin – one partner anchoring while the other whirls their feet into the air – then Gigante grabs Zelda by one foot and one hand and flies her around like an airplane. Unfortunately, his Gigante gloves are ill-suited for the task, and he loses his grip before the dismount, sending Zelda hurtling through the air. She lands hard, but recovers quickly, popping to her feet to strike the final pose. This brings an unexpected response: the sound of 3,000 people gasping. After two long seconds, Gigante guides her toward the dugout as a gray-haired man in a team jacket trots her way with a towel. He presses it to her face; when he pulls it away, it’s covered in blood. He seats her on the bench and uses a damp towel to clean her face.

“Holy shit, I am so sorry. Dammit! I should have taken my gloves off. I am so sorry.”

These words come from Gigante, who isn’t supposed to talk, and Edward, who usually doesn’t. The trainer finishes with the damp cloth and hands her a dry one.

“Here. Keep this pressed to your nose. Pinch the bridge – not too hard. I’ll be back to bandage you up. Hey, Monkey Boy, for God’s sake, get out there and give them a thumb’s-up. They probably think you killed her.”

“Um… Okay.”

Zelda sees Gigante’s head and arms disappear over the dugout roof and hears a familiar sound: the applause one gives to an injured player as he’s carted off the field. As the game gets back under way, one of the players sits down next to her. With his freckles, he looks like he’s barely out of high school.

“Man! I haven’t seen a face-plant like that since Martinez tried to slide head-first.”

“Hey!” says Martinez.

“My BFF is a war hero,” says Zarita, on the drive home. “God, you scared the hell out of me.”

Zelda looks in the visor mirror and sees what looks like a Batman villain, a broad bandage over her nose, rolls of cotton stuffed into her nostrils, a field of angry red dots across her temple.

“No dates for me for a while. Did you see Edward after the… incident?”

“Just doing his job, working the crowd.”

“I hope to God this doesn’t drive him back underground.”

Zarita adopts a motherly tone. “I told you that big gorilla would end up hurting you. But did you listen? Did you listen?!”

“Please, Z, please don’t make me laugh. It hurts.”

“Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

Zelda spends the next morning alternating between pain and the mental fog created by her pain pills. She’s not sure which one she prefers, but she knows what’s worse: the steady stream of inquiries and dumb jokes. “I told you, man, a match with Pacquiao is just not wise!” “You look like you were attacked by a very tall pit bull.” “I knew those glass doors were gonna get you someday.”

One lady got downright intrusive. “Is it the booze? Does he do this when he gets drunk? ‘Cause you don’t have to put up with it, you know. They got shelters, and the cops have new regulations, they can take him away just on your say-so. It’s not the Stone Age anymore.”

On the other hand, it makes for a great story. Zelda had always sworn that if she ever suffered some lame-ass bathroom accident, she would fabricate a sexier story to tell people. With this one, she felt like she had to do some editing just to make it seem plausible. “Well, a team mascot was flying me around in a helicopter spin when he lost his grip and I landed face-first in the coach’s box.”

Zelda turns around to fetch some cream from the mini-fridge. When she turns back, she is greeted by a dozen lemon-yellow faces, oval petals with brown checks, their pink tongues extended in her direction. Or perhaps this is the pain pills. She looks up. Edward flinches.

“Edward! It’s not nice to make that kind of expression when a woman looks at you.”

“I’m sorry. It’s just that the blood has traveled to your eyes. God, I’m such an idiot. I should have taken my gloves off. I am so sorry.”

Zelda is stuck for what to do. She feels that Edward has become a sea anemone, and if she touches him he will fold back in on himself. And this new brightness is unsettling. The British cap is gone. He’s wearing colors – blue jeans, a green T-shirt.

“Alstromeria,” says the anemone.

“Astro Mania?”

“No!” He laughs. “The flowers. I saw them at Trader Joe’s and I couldn’t resist.”

Zelda stares. “Oh! For me. That’s so nice. Thank you.”

“Whenever I give a woman a bloody nose, I apologize with flowers.”

Zelda stares.

“A joke,” says Edward. “I was telling a joke.”

“Oh. Um. Okay. You want your Sinatra?”


“Um. Sure.” She takes his money, makes up his brew, and finds a vase for the flowers.

The rest of her shift is an attempt not to look like she’s spying on Edward. Jackson shows up, and the gloomy little corner rings with laughter and guy-talk. Zelda punches out, and is about to start for home when Jackson stops her in the courtyard.

“Does your face hurt?”

“It’s not too…”

“’Cause it’s killin’ me!” He lets out a wheezing laugh. “Sorry. Couldn’t resist.”

Zelda smacks him on the shoulder.

“Oh! Tough girl, eh? Hey, um, I don’t know how to explain any of this, but my friend wants to show you his secret hideout. You free, like, tomorrow evening?”


“Seven o’clock, here?”


“Bitchin’! This is a rare opportunity, you know. Phantom of the Opera stuff. Wear camping clothes. Oh and, kidding aside, sorry about the wipeout.”

“Thank you.”

“Tomorrow night?”

“Yeah. See you then.”

Zelda heads across the lot. Her face hurts.

Photo by MJV

Shape Poem: Marcello's Lament

By Michael J. Vaughn
First pubished in Eclectic Literary Forum (Tonawanda, NY)
Find out more about shape poems in Interplay: Finding the Keys to Creativity.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Troubling Policy

I've been banned from advertising a couple of my books from the Amazon site, and in one case, they are quite literally judging a book by its cover. They are not allowing on-site advertising from books "that contain mature or erotic content." Which applies, certainly, to "Double Blind," which is unabashedly erotic (although also literary). But they've also disallowed it for my road novel, "Exit Wonderland," seemingly based on its saucy cover. How far do we go with this? And does this apply to advertising for "50 Shades of Grey"? "Tropic of Cancer"? "Lady Chatterley's Lover"?

Shape Poem: Postmark

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in
Find out more about shape poems in Interplay: Finding the Keys to Creativity.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Shape Poem: Draeger's

By Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Rose & Thorn Journal
2005 Pushcart Prize nominee
Hear the author's podcast
Find out more about shape poems in Interplay: Finding the Keys to Creativity.
(Draeger's is a high-end grocery store in Menlo Park, CA)

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Mascot, Chapter Six: The Boy's a Freak

Buy the book at Amazon Kindle.

The Boy’s a Freak

The heat is back up, and Zelda and Courtney are cranking out the mint mojito iced coffees. The secret of their popularity is the use of manufacturing cream, which is pretty high on the fat content. But no one really wants to know.

The lunch rush comes to a sudden stop, and Zelda gazes out at the parking lot. It’s one of those days when a lot of people have parked in the shady spots under the trees, even though they’re farther away. She raps her knuckles on the counter as she counts down, then shoots out her fingers as if she were saying “Ta-dah!”

“Three, two, one…” Nothing.

“Three, two, one…” Bupkus.

“Three, two, one…” Zip.

Maybe if she actually said it. “Three, two, one… Ta-dah!”

Courtney appears from the back room. “Ta-dah what?”

An ugly yellow object rolls across the window. Zelda relishes her response. “Ta-dah that.”

“That? Eww.”

“I have my reasons.”

She’s getting the gist of approaching Edward, so she grabs a towel and initiates a scrub of her station. She tries not to respond to the fact that Edward is wearing shorts, revealing shins the color of toothpaste.


“Edward! No! Look at yourself, you’re all sweaty. I will not serve you a hot drink. Let me make you a mojito. Everyone loves them. On me.”

He stares at her, as if she has broken some law regarding the number of words spoken to a homeless team mascot. A bead of sweat drops across his forehead. He fishes out a dollar, drops it in the tip jar and heads to his corner.

Zelda concocts yet another mojito, adjusts the angle on the sprig of mint, and delivers it personally. Edward stares at it.

“Go ahead. Give it a try.”

He brings it to his lips, takes a reading on the flavor, then tries a full drink, slurping the liquid over the ice.

“Am I right?”

He nods. She waits for something else. It fails to arrive.

“Well. Let me know if you need anything else.”

She turns to go.


It’s the first time he’s ever said her name. She turns. He’s staring at the tabletop, trying to produce words.

“Do you… know a place… where I could dance…” He takes another sip. “By myself?”

Zelda smiles.

“Boy. Do I.”

For a small city, Campbell has a good-sized industrial area, running between Winchester Boulevard and Interstate 880. Zelda takes a left over the railroad tracks and splits a pair of high-tech buildings to the garages and machine shops beyond. She pulls into a lot next to a long gray building and takes Edward to a door at the far left. A bat flashes overhead, squeaking like a bad wheel.

Zelda hits a switch. A bank of fluorescent lights flickers on to reveal a half basketball court of hardwood, fitted with mirrored walls and a barre. The far end is screened off by a purple curtain.

“Okay,” says Zelda. “I think I know how we can work this. There’s a separate section behind this curtain. I will retreat there and work on some stuff, and all the rest is yours. We can even turn off the lights if you want.”

“Yes,” says Edward.

She turns off the fluorescents, leaving only the dim light from a security lamp over the back door. She heads to a table in the corner that holds a stereo.

“We’ve got a standard mix for workouts. I think you’ll like it. Sort of ramps up gradually.”

Edwards looks at her.

“Okay,” she says. “Have fun.”

She ducks behind the curtain and begins the long process of stretching, dying to know what’s going on out there as the music and the footfalls increase in pace. “Something Stupid” by Sinatra. “Purple Rain” by Prince. “What’s Going On?,” Marvin Gaye, speeding up into rock, hip-hop, techno, salsa, finding its final eruption in “Brave and Crazy,” a propulsive acoustic by Melissa Etheridge.

It’s been an hour; Zelda has run through all her tricks and invented some new ones. The stereo heads into a section of warm-down songs: Mazzy Star, Cowboy Junkies, Natalie Merchant. When Edward parts the curtains, she is upside-down, her legs wrapped around the pole.

“This is what I teach,” she says. “And no, I never worked as a stripper.”


She grips the pole with her hands and performs a walkover dismount.


She smiles at his review. He is absolutely soaked in sweat.

“So are you all danced out?”

“No, I…”  He rakes a hand through his hair and wipes it on his shorts. “I have an idea.”

Zarita works for a company that is marvelously green, arranging subsidies and loans for homeowners who want to go solar. Still, sometimes she envies Zelda. Money for coffee is a deliciously direct transaction, and less likely to lead to office politics.

When she picks up Zelda at the Pruneyard, it’s apparent that her friend has been raiding the supply. She is as giggly as a tween, and wearing a ridiculous amount of paraphernalia: orange jacket, orange and black ribbons in her hair, Giants T-shirt, Giants earrings, and a stripe of eye-black on each cheek.

“I’m sorry, are we watching the game, or are we in the game?”

Zelda reaches for her seat belt. “Come on! Where’s the team spirit? Ya gotta get on the train, baby!”

“I gotta get some of that French roast you been snortin’.”

Zelda giggles and covers her mouth. “Maybe.” And giggles some more. “How’s life at the douchebaggery?”

Zarita hits the ramp onto 880. “Oh no. It’s one of those days, so we shall not be discussing the great solar dynasty.”


“Who else?”

“Just fuck him. That’ll knock the nerd right out of him.”

Zarita bursts out laughing. “I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I… I did, didn’t I?”

Zarita climbs the long ramp to 280.

“Tell me one of your coffeehouse stories.”

“Let’s see, let’s see.” She taps a finger against her teeth. “Oh! Yes. Gina.”


“Gina’s this beautiful Italian girl, college student. We have this running conversation going, and the other day she just needed to ‘fess up, I guess. So her dad works in finance, middle management type, old school. She says he manages to hold on to his job mostly because he tells a good joke. But he comes home every day bitching about his boss, this young hot-shot type, and he tells her, Don’t ever fall for a man like that, it’ll be the ruin of you.”

“Uh-oh. Forbidden love.”

“Yep. And it so happens that Mr. Sleazeball had his eye on young Gina, had even begun to do some lightweight stalking. One day he shows up at her karaoke bar dressed like a blue-collar type, proceeds to sing this Journey song in this beautiful tenor voice, and she just melts. Does not discover who he really is until the next morning…”

Zarita gasps.

“Yes, young Zarita, such things do occur. Gina is wandering around Duke’s apartment – and yes, that is his Christian name, Duke, when she sees a photo of a large corporate gathering, a photo that includes her father.”

“Oh God!” says Zarita. “Did that ruin it for her?”

“Au contraire! She went back upstairs and had sex with him again. And she says it was even better.”

“Oh, fickle woman!”

Zelda gives her a puzzled look. “I’m sorry?”

Zarita laughs. “Something my mother used to say.”

The San Jose skyline sprouts to their left, and Zarita takes 87 toward the stadium. They both know what the other is thinking. Forbidden love.

Zelda is just as squirrely at the game as she was on the drive. She does annoying little-sister things like poking Zarita’s shoulder and playing keep-away with her bag of peanuts. It’s beginning to get annoying, and Zarita fights the urge to say motherish things like Now listen here, young lady… Instead, she asks Zelda what her problem is, and Zelda gives her a look of sly guilt. At the top of the inning, she pops from her seat.

“Where you going?”

Zelda yells back over her shoulder: “Rhode Island!”

It’s a tense inning. The Giants’ pitcher walks the bases loaded, lets in a run on a wild pitch, then gets the next guy on a home-to-first double play to end the inning.

The PA plays the opening of “The Time of My Life” from Dirty Dancing. Zarita spots Gigante near the first base coaching box and suspects something is up. Then she sees Zelda in the on-deck circle. She holds the back of her hand to her forehead as if she’s just spotted the love of her life. Gigante responds by holding out his arms, beckoning her forth. Zelda crosses the green in a tippy-toe scamper, and Zarita realizes they’re going to attempt the lift from the movie.

Zelda leaps at Gigante, Gigante tries to catch her, and they topple over in a heap. The music stops. Gigante lies flat on his back, motionless. Zelda goes into a fit of sobbing. She’s killed Gigante! What is she to do?

From the PA comes the opening strains of “Shock the Monkey.” Zelda raises a finger to indicate she has received the suggestion. She motions for everyone to stay clear, rubs a pair of invisible defibrillators together and applies them to Gigante’s chest. After a couple of tries (and appropriate spasms from the patient), Gigante leaps to his feet and starts doing the robot, as if he’s trying to make sure all of his limbs work. He and Zelda join hands for an intricate pop-and-lock wave, then they work it closer until they have tied themselves together in a pretzel. Finally, Gigante whips her into a spin; she drops to the turf in a perfect split and raises her arms, victorious. Gigante follows with his own spin, but has to stop when he gets dizzy. He sees Zelda still holding her split, pretends he’s going to do the same, then changes his mind and works his way to his knees behind her like a crotchety old man. They indulge in some jazz-hands, then he lifts her up and they exit the field to wild applause.

“I just can’t believe… I mean… You were awesome!  I know you can do that stuff, but… what the hell!”

“Here’s the shocking part,” says Zelda. “It was all Edward’s idea. I can’t get three words out of the schmuck, but then he creates these fantastic choreographies.”

They reach their secret parking spot at the tennis courts. Zarita starts the car. “You might just have the perfect relationship.”

“Hey!” says Zelda. “Let’s not be throwing the R word around. The boy’s a freak.”

Zarita catches Zelda smiling, and she cracks up.

Photo by MJV

Shape Poem: Butterfly

by Michael J. Vaughn
First published in Offcourse Literary Journal (Albany, NY)