Chapter 1-2

AZOTUSLAND chapter One

Jim rolled off the bed as the clock blinked 5:30. Rubbing his eyes, he clipped the bookshelf with his shoulder as he shuffled around the bed in his small bunkhouse  slogging into the tiny kitchen. He grabbed a Hornsby Cider from the fridge, twisted the cap, took a swig and lazily headed back towards the bathroom.

Turning the hot water knob, he then sat on the can and took another swig, waiting for the hot water to snake up to the top of the old converted mansion. The steam billowed in a few minutes and he stripped off his shorts and lumbered into the shower.

God, it felt good. Soap and rough tugging and raking with shampoo on his tall head was even better. After toweling off he looked in the mirror. The face that stared back was older now and it did not make him happy.

Fifteen minutes later, the doors of the Azotus Café would open and Frank, Ted and Melinda would be there waiting if he didn’t hurry. He slipped on some shorts, ran his hand through his hair and slung on a dark flannel shirt. Taking a last slug from the Hornsby, he headed damply out the door.

The main door to the upper cafe was only 20 feet down the walkway. He stopped in just short at a small door to the left, punched in the code,  and entered “Ops” to revive the computers and check his emails.

The usual spam had gotten through. Seven emails about fake Rolex watches, six from anonymous women in their 20s who supposedly wanted to meet him, and four advertising Viagra in soft-gel form. As he was checking ones to be deleted, one email looked different. There were no contents but the tag line simply said “I will see you”.  The return address was Rnonymous@azotuscafe.com.

“Whatever,” he said to the cold room then left for cafe next door.

Roo had been in the cafe since 5 a.m., and was on beam as usual. Out in the main area, the room was awakening with Frank, Ted and Melinda already in their usual places. In the far corner was a couple Jim had never seen before. When Jim had settled in behind the counter, Roo would go downstairs to prepare the big room, known as “The Doghouse” for it’s opening at 7 a.m.

Maugham Malraux woke up early that day, walked down from the top floor, past the grotto,  to the bottom patio after stopping and asking Roo for an espresso and some thin stacks of cheese.

“There’s some leftovers in the IC” Roo said. “And hit Andy for your course and grift” she said not unkindly.

Maugham tried to clear his eyes. The light fog was lifting over Red Hill and the crows were braying and the sun hit the rooftop of the Azotus Café and spilled down below. An intensely yellow sun flooded the whole eastern side of the complex and splayed North and South. He made his way down to the lower level and ducked into the IC, which was blandly labeled “Internet Café”.

“Andy!” Maugham called out as he hit one of the keyboards to awaken it. Then he walked around behind the small espresso bar and started to pack a load into the machine when Andy came around the corner.

“Mog!”

“Troll!”

Andy shook his head, not fond of Maugham’s various nicknames for folk. “Roo says there’s food.”

“Yeah, down at the end in the last fridge.”

Maugham picked through and found some Muenster slices in a tray, grabbed some old bread and finished making his Americano.

He started the usual web searches and jotted down some easy notes.

Upstairs Ted had managed to hit on a new victim, actually two of them. After eavesdropping,  he managed to interject an irrelevant notion about “Intelligent Design” into the young couple’s conversation about the window shopping they wanted to do in Sausalito. Within minutes it was a three-way debate and temperatures were rising.

Renata had arrived a few minutes after Jim, and Hans was right behind her. She spied Ted and came over. “Are you harassing this lovely couple Ted?”

“No, we are just discussing…”

“Yes,” she said then turned to the couple, “if you ignore him eventually he moves off for other prey” she said smiling. “Would you like some more coffee?”

“No, were fine,” offered the woman, “we have to be going in about five minutes anyway.”

With that, Ted turned his chair back around and muttered “nice talking”.

Some of the other usuals came in at 6:30 before the larger rush at 7 a.m. where Jim, Manfred and Renata ran the morning rush. Roo, Martine and Hans took care of the The Doghouse one floor down. Andy watched over the IC, but only used the small espresso bar for folks in the afternoons so they did not have to go up two more flights. Later, around 11 a.m., Hans, Roo and Martine would close up the The Doghouse, but leave the doors open to the library on the South side. Hans would then go and open the Gallery and Studio on the North side of the old complex. Roo had classes mid-day and Martine used the time to do bookkeeping and also to prepare for whatever performances were scheduled for either the library, The Doghouse, or both.

The other staff only worked in spots. Jeremy ran the kid’s area, “The Batcave” from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., and then again from 6 to 8 p.m. Jim was in charge of all movie events in the small theater next door at ground level, and Jonathan did a remarkable job of doing all the custodial work as well as entertaining people with his seemingly unending variety of impersonations and ad lib comedy bits.

Most of employees biked in from local neighborhoods except Jim who lived in the Bunkhouse, and Andy who lived in a small room off the IC (and was rumored to have not seen direct sunlight for over a decade). Maugham had a small section of the room called Ops, which essentially ran the whole complex, and was in charge of security. Jim liked to call him “Mogham P.I.” with no small amount of derision.

Oh, and of course, there was Manfred. No one was quite sure where Manfred came from, but he also resided in the Bunkhouse with his own small room off Jim’s.

Manfred just sort of “showed up” one day about 5 years earlier, some three years before Jim moved down to Marin and bought the old mansion on the hill and renovated it into the Gothic Azotus Café complex.

Maugham had met Jim 20 years earlier in 1988 at a thing called “Word Jam” at Café Paris in downtown Sacramento. Despite completely different world views they had became fast friends and started hanging together. Soon, they were like twins separated at birth.

In the Spring of 2003, Maugham showed up with a couple bottles of wine and a rotisserie chicken for their usual movie night with Jim when Manfred answered the door.

“Hellooo!” a small brown man exclaimed loudly.

“Hi, ummm…who are you?”

I am Manfred!” he said even louder with a big toothy grin.

Maugham shook his hand. He didn’t look harmful (only later would the real truth be known), in fact Maugham thought he looked a little bit like Ben Kingsley. Between that and his quasi-East Indian accent he had, upon first glance, a sort of Ghandi-esque quality to him.

Jim came down. “You two met?”

“Indeed Sahib! Mister Mogmanns has come with libation and a bird.”

Maugham looked at Jim like this was the start of a bad practical joke. Still,  they had an enjoyable dinner and watched The Wind and the Lion on  Jim’s big screen.

Manfred was silent throughout the evening, but Maugham noticed he ate more than his share of the chicken, kind of wolfing it down. Later, in the kitchen Manfred was helping himself to a huge bowl of ice cream and Maugham could hear him saying over and over again “perhaps the previous owner had nothing pleasant to say” and then giggling.

One week later Jim and Maugham went to an art opening in Del Paso Heights. When Maugham arrived, Manfred was there again. Jim turned to him and said “Manfred, will you bring the car around please?”

“Oh yes Sahib! I will!”

And with that he scampered away, and out the back to get the 2002 Mustang Shelby Cobra GT.

Maugham looked at Jim. Jim looked back intently. Maugham moved in closer and gave Jim his best Larry David “stare”, which only he could really do (both being very tall. Jim at 6’4” and Maugham at 6’6”)

Finally Jim relented. “He’s my ‘manservant’ Mog.”

“Really?” Maugham sneered, “and…”

Just then the black Mustang GT came roaring around the corner and screeched to a halt near the front walkway. Manfred leaped out of the car to attend the doors for Maugham and Jim.

As Jim lowered the top and prowled the engine, Maugham looked over towards Manfred, “Thanks Dude. Enjoy your evening” he sneered as Jim pulled out with a wave into the warm Sacramento evening.

“So?”

“I’m not sure how it happened,” Jim said shaking his head. “He was working in a bank that was closing in a week and we started up a conversation in the bank. He told me about his family back in Spain…”

“What a minute” Maugham interrupted. “He’s from SPAIN?!”

“Well yes, but he is also half East Indian. To make matters worse he is Bi-Polar.”

“So in other words, heh,  he is “Quad-Polar?” Maugham said smirking.

“He’s not a bad guy,” Jim said. “He just needed a place to stay for awhile. So he offered to be my manservant, um, for free.”

“For free? You have an indentured slave living at your place?”

“It’s not like that. In fact as things have shook out he basically eats most of my food, watches soap operas all day long and is alternately gleefully hyper or elusively glum.”

“What services does he provide? Does he cook and clean?”

“Nope. He has a rare skin disease that makes him allergic to dish soap. So he simply brings the car around.”

Jim found out later that Manfred was a lot more shrewd than anyone could have dreamed. His first clue should have come a week after Maugham and he had gone down to the galleries.  He had a woman named Susan over for a dinner date. She was a tall lanky woman with dark red hair and a yummy smile and Jim was smitten. While he was making dinner in the kitchen Susan was left with Manfred to talk.

When he walked out of the kitchen with dinner Susan was gone.

“Where’s Susan?” he asked Manfred.

“Oh indeed Sahib, Miss Susan has left us.” He said with a grin.

“Why?”

“She hadst to go Sahib” he gestured and said “Pooftah!”

Jim left messages but she never returned them. He had no idea why.

AZOTUSLAND chapter Two

Jim quickly took over behind the counter after watching Manfred give a customer an extra two dollars change. Renata was a barista goddess. She could handle 10 drink orders at once, never confuse them, while still having the presence of mind to banter with customers in line. Jim enjoyed working with her. Manfred was the gopher until things slowed then he would disappear until the evening shift where he would help out for about 20 minutes, then disappear again.

“Manfred!” Jim yelled over the steel, wood and glass counter, “check the condiment stations!” then gave the top a quick wipe.

“Yes, Sahib! And many good thank yous to you” he would say and a customer or two eyeballed Jim suspiciously.

“He calls me that to annoy me,” Jim would say. Usually a regular, also in line, would confirm.

“Uh Hon?” came a familiar voice. “Oh hi Alice, how are you?” asked Jim.

“Sweetie? You got some schmutz right there” she said as she reached across the counter and wiped off his chin.

“Yer a doll, Alice.”

“Yes, I know. Now darling, get me some of that pumpkin bread okay? And the usual.”

There was a line of about 15 people so they worked very fast. The upper cafe would fill up like this in the morning. When it got too bad, regulars would simply turn at the door and go down a level to The Doghouse. It lacked the ambiance, outside seating at the apex of the structure or view, but you could get your drinks and a table quicker. You could also access the library and it was quieter for laptop work.

“That was a great movie night the other time” came a voice from down the line. It was Jacob, a muscular native who had long flowing dark hair and bright eyes and smile. “Jah-cob-ee!” yelled Jim. “You wanna run the next one?”

“What is it?” Jacob yelled out.

“Go check the calendar on the site” Jim said. “They’ll hold your place in line, won’tcha folks?”

“Yes Jim” some of them droned.

Jacob went over to the Internet station, hit the home button to Azotuscafe.com and clicked on events. The next Azotus Movie Night was March 8th. The film was Wings of Desire. The following week it was The Shawshank Redemption.

Jacob got back in line. When he got to the counter he said “Ha! I’ll take Shawshank, sure. But you get the subtitled films Jim. Yer a dark soul you know that?”

“So I’m told,” he said ringing up another customer and wiping down the back of the glass case. “But I’m a big Bruno Ganz fan, plus I like the long coats and ponytails.”

“Is that about the angels?” a stout woman asked.

“Yes, it’s very good and worth seeing.” He said. Then to another “That’s $4.42”. Then back to her, “Come join us next Thursday night. You can sign up online, or have someone do it for you downstairs in the Internet Café. Seating is limited to 24.

“Does it cost anything?”

Jim yelled out “Manfred! C’mere!” as he saw Manfred talking away with the Rev. Tanka and his radio show producer Maurice. Once he had Manfred’s attention he pointed to the woman and yelled “Help this sweet woman with info about the theater, okay?”

“Yes Sahib!” he exclaimed and Jim’s head slumped down and he shook it.

“He’ll tell you all about it. Please come,” Jim said as he lent over to help Renata froth another latte.

Manfred walked over and once the woman had gotten her scone and double latte she walked with him to a table and dropped them off.

“Well?” she asked.

“Oh indeed there is a wonderfulness here every Thursday nights in the dark hole in the side of the hill.”

“I thought it was a movie, I’m confused,” blustered the woman.

Jim caught the action out of the corner of his eye and quickly pointed to the monitor with three quick finger thrusts.

Manfred shrugged, then took Alice to the screen and she started to relax and nod.

Renata looked up at Jim through light steam and said “So, will you throttle him today?”

“Bad karma,” Jim said and took payment for the next order.

Roo was running things smoothly downstairs. Jim had nicknamed her “Namaste-Roo” and claimed that she had magical powers over all who came into her domain. She flirted with the men, and the women, and her earthy charm and easy smile never fooled anyone that she was not the “boss of everyone”. If a customer was belligerent it was always Roo who would quickly eviscerate them verbally with an innocent little girl laugh and her beatific smile making it impossible to retort. It was simply game over when Roo said it was. No child ever came into the Big Room but Roo did not crouch down and greet them and make them giggle. She was pure magic and that is why Jim had her as his “consigliere”.  If he was 15 years younger he would have done all he could to woo Roo, but he had put that out of his mind two years earlier. She was now like a special sister that he adored.

She and Martine were opposites in many ways but got along. They respected each other. As for Hans? Well no one really understood his deal with Jim. He was anti-social, snobbish, spoke with a thick German accent and was obviously sexually conflicted. He also ran the Azotus Art Gallery and Studio and drove the local artists nuts with his perfectionism and dogged devotion to Cubism.

Hans was the “gopher” in the Big Room, as The Doghouse was at least twice the width of the upstairs cafe, not counting the library. It took Hans extra long to make the condiment stations “perfuct”, then he would scowl as a businessman spilled his coffee on the station, left packet droppings or a stir stick on the counter next to the trash.

Down in the IC,  Andy was updating the websites for upcoming events, checking blogs for both “Foulage and Spammage”. Andy was good at keeping the contents a clear stream.

At 11:11 that morning Maugham got a curious email from a poster named Rnonymous@azotuscafe.com. It wasn’t until later when he conferred with Jim that he started to piece things together.

Malraux,

Security alert. I am watching him.

Toodles,

R

He did the usual IP checks and traces. Nothing. The IP addresses the person had used to sign up with Azotuscafe.com’s public site shifted all over the globe within minutes. Whoever it was, was masking their address. Maugham had warned Jim that he was leaving a door open, but Jim had insisted that users signing into the cafe site would have severe protections.

Just then Jonathan peeked in, grabbed the trash from behind the small barista bar and started to leave. Then he stopped.

“Here it comes” Maugham thought.

“Whatcha working on Mog?” he asked enthusiastically.

“Well, I just got a security alert Jonathan. Thanks for asking”

He dropped the garbage, reached behind the bar and grabbed two big oven mitts. Andy started to object but Jonathan put them on and started waving his arms wildly around loudly saying “Danger Danger Will Robinson…Danger Danger!” in a 60’s robotic voice. Maugham grabbed at the imaginary clip on his side and he slumped over silent, the mitts falling to the floor.

Then Jonathan broke character, looked up,  laughed and threw the mitts behind the bar and left with the bag.

“Fucking nuthouse” Maugham said quietly.

“He shouldn’t do that” Andy said in a trollish way.

Around 10:30 each morning Roo, Martine and Hans did the hard work of shutting down the The Doghouse at 11. All business was now happening above. Jim would leave when Martine came up. This was his time off and he usually went back to the Bunkhouse for a quick nap.

Hans would be opening up the Azotus Arts Gallery and Studio and Jonathan would sweep the grounds and take care of the hard job of loading up the elevator with seven loads of bagged trash from the day’s first big hit. Each day, after he finished the trash, Jonathan would make a sandwich in the kitchen just off the Big Room then slump into a sweaty lump. It was hard work and he needed to recharge.

He would think about his children and how much he missed them. He didn’t like where he had landed, but tried to use humor as a way of staying sane.

Most days he would get up on the small stage in the Big Room and do a new monologue to the empty space. At least that is how it started. One day Martine caught his act when in the kitchen.  It made her laugh. She asked if it was okay if she sometimes sat in for it. Then word leaked out and others started dropping in at 10:50 for the 10 minute show. The usual group became Roo, Martine (but not Hans) , Jeremy, often Maugham, occasionally Jim and Renata, and occasionally some of the locals like Sex, Cara and Jacob. Andy got wind of it and had Maugham rig up a video camera to stream into the IC. In some ways it was what connected most of them on a daily basis.

“What would Jonathan do today?”

It was always different, which was the amazing part. Some days the staff would shout out a topic and watch his brain whir and tumble and he would always look down sadly and say in a thick voice “Sorry folks, barns empty! Boo-weevils and Republicans got here first!” Then he would launch out for eight minutes.

No one was safe, not even customers.

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Chapters 3-4

AZOTUSLAND Chapter 3

Jim left after Jonathan’s usual daily act as The Doghouse was closed till evening. Martine, with her long dark hair flying back was right behind on her way up to the Azotus Café. As he turned left at the top of the stairs, he said “see you in a bit Marty” and she hurrumphed.

He turned and looked at her. “We’ve been through this before Marty.”

“I know, but it still bugs the shit out of me Jim!”

“Hey you want me to burn out?

“No, I’m just not sure it’s fair.”

“Look you have a life outside of here, I have to take what I can get…and right now I need time to study for tonight’s lecture.”

“Yeah that’s a big money maker,” she said sarcastically.

“Well why don’t you come. Hey,” he smiled, “you could double with Mog. You know he likes you.”

She blushed.

“What’s it on?”

“It’s actually a dual lecture I am doing with Dan Palmer from the Zen Center.”

“Sounds snoozey,” she smirked.

“8:00 p.m. in the Library. I know Mog is coming because he wants to kick my ass. Now you don’t wanna miss that do ya sweetie?”

“Peh,” she said and turned and walked into the cafe proper.

“Gawd she has nice lines,” Jim thought to himself. But it was clear, and had been for some time, that Maugham had only one draw and it was Martine. Jim knew the unspoken rules, at least the kind of rules that Maugham and he valued. He wished Maugham well. Envy was not Jim’s vice.

Jim went into the Bunkhouse, grabbed some books and fell back on the bottom full-sized bunk. He turned on the CD player to cover the murmur coming through the wall from Manfred’s room; the endless stream of soap operas all late morning through afternoon every single day. He put on a Thomas Newton CD. He closed his eyes and dreamed.

In his dream it was dark outside on a warm summer night as he approached the small bungalow. She was waiting outside in a long cotton gown. She seemed to be having fun, taking care somehow.

When he saw her and walked up she turned and smiled.

“What are you doing?”

She crinkled her little nose and said “I’m just taking care of the last.”

“Okay,” he said and went inside past the screen and regular door.

He could faintly hear Newton’s Mauve Antartica in the background, twinkling, dancing, a little sweep here. Beautiful, playful and delicate like cat paws on new carpet.

But the room was empty. He turned on the air conditioner but it made no sound. Just the music.

He lay down on simple soft bedding. The dark yellow glow of the lighting warmed the room. He felt at peace.

She did not come into the room. The dream was too short. But she didn’t need to. He knew upon waking that in time, her time, she would, and lay down next to him. He would smell her hair, and enjoy the line of her jaw in the light, and she would stretch out and just want to be held.

As he woke, Jim felt happy.  A room with nothing but a bed. A woman to trust. Crickets outside, and a winsome soundtrack.

Ah, if life were only like this? Then he looked to his left and saw the stack of books: Ernest Becker’s The Denial of Death, Peter Berger’s The Precarious Vision, and Merton’s Love and Living.

He sighed, then the door of Manfred’s room burst open,  Manfred exclaiming “Jamie is Pregnant Sahib!! Oh I knew this would happen!! Oh joy of all joyfulnesses!!”

Then he retreated back to his room.

Jim got up and pulled a chilled bottle of Mouton Cadet white and poured himself a tall glass with some ice and sat down at the small wooden table that was surrounded by three windows and began to  jot some notes.

Two floors down, Hans opened up the double gallery doors which basically stayed open all day long in climate neutral Marin County. Rarely a need for either air conditioning or heat day or night.

Jim once heard Martine refer to Marin County as the center of the “Irony Age”.  Boasting the highest income per capita of any county in the US,  no major energy needs, it also was proud to be the bluest County North of San Francisco. People seemed willing to pay their fair share of taxes, and also to conserve in an area that hardly needed to. They used bio-fuels, drove Priuses, ate organic foods and had boutiques devoted to Bush bashing.

There was a generally jaded view of organized religion, and the two hundred year old  San Francisco Theological Seminary that jutted out out San Anselmo was largely like a ghost town despite it’s beauty.

These were some of the many reasons that Jim had decided on Marin as home base for the beginnings of Azotus. He was not disappointed. In fact he had more attention than he really knew what to do with. He was often asked to speak at various organizations around town on his theory of “Depth Pluralism”. In most cases he declined, and simply invited people up to the old mansion that housed Azotus day in and day out.

“I could try to explain it, but why not just experience some of it?” was often his last word on the subject.

Things felt a bit out of hand for Jim at present. He, and a few others, had noticed that Jim was drinking more. In the mornings,  Roo always made sure a double espresso with heavy cream and sugar was awaiting Jim when he got in at 6. It was not just to give him a jolt, but rather to mask any subtle hint of an early morning ale. Next to that was always a croissant sandwich with a fried egg, Canadian bacon, cheese and fresh tomato. Jim often bent down and kissed the top of her head for her saintly oversight.

With business constant, and excellent help, Jim was starting to think that he might need to open a second, and perhaps a third location if he was to keep his dream alive. But who would run the other Azotus Cafe’s?

Down in the Gallery, Hans flicked on the lights and walked around the gallery inspecting each piece of work and how well hung it was.

Everything was in order as he had left it at 5 p.m. the day before. But he checked just the same. He had suspicions that Jim came down at other closed times for his own reasons and while he could not figure it, he wondered about the three slim doors that were at the back of the darkroom.

Hans had asked Jim about them when he first signed on and Jim had just said they were “personal storage units” in a nonchalant manner.

But Hans had noted that there were no surveillance cameras anywhere in the art area or near the three doors. At the end of one day, he had taken tiny slivers of clear tape and placed then at the bottom of all three doors. The next morning two of them were detached.

AZOTUSLAND chapter four

Jeremy was a young man of 23. He had a charisma and the good looks to go along. He was funny and a bit of a pirate. If Johnny Depp was channeling Keith Richards, Jeremy was channeling Johnny Depp.

A young thin writer who liked the whole Azotus atmosphere, Jeremy and had lobbied Jim hard to find a place for him.

“How are you with kids?” Jim asked one day.

“Kid’s I love’m!” Jeremy said nervously.

“Look it’s easy,” Jim said glumly. “Just be your inner child all the time…or between 10 a.m. and 1, and then again between 6 and 8 in the evening. There will be some special events every week too. So you’ll get thirty hours a week and still have afternoons off for whatever.”

“How much?”

“To watch kids and play?” Jim said. “$9 an hour and free access to all services.”

“Bene’s?”

“No drugs allowed” Jim said stone-faced.

“Very funny Jim,” he smirked.

“Hey, talk to the Gov.” he said “which reminds me, I heard Jonathan practicing his ‘Arnold’ imitation while he was washing off the floor mats. I suggest you not miss tomorrow’s performance.”

“I won’t,” Jeremy said. “So show me this kid’s area?”

As they walked down three full flights to the bottom of the complex a small herd of deer ventured along the top hillside and feasted on fresh leaves. The white clouds flashed overhead like bright pillows sown sloppily end to end and the valley seemed at peace.

At the bottom of the hill there was an imposing rampart that guarded the whole complex.

In the renovation, Jim had, at considerable expense, tunneled into the mountainside under the auspices of creating a private wine cellar. Instead there were two doors off the main path that winded around the bulwark.

The first was a bright blue door that led to “The Batcave”, a children’s play area that Jim had dreamed up with his older sons and daughter. The other door, farther North was the entrance to the small theater where  Azotus Movie Nights were held.

The theater itself was a piece of work. It seated 30 in comfortable staggered rows of orange padded chairs behind two long sofas up front. Deep blue lights in the floor guided people in and out when the lights were out and the show was on. The technology behind it was extremely advanced, designed by his good friend Anthony, a man of considerable imagination and unwilling to take no for an answer. They had pushed every envelope and while they went over-budget by $80,000, Jim was satisfied with all the “special modifications” they had made in the process.

But that door was closed this week to the public until Thursday night at 8p.m.

Jeremy ducked his head under the door. “Sorry about that” Jim said. “We’re looking into that. I have already lost at least 300 thousand brain cells smacking that thing. It was built for hobbit-ses,” he grinned back.

Jeremy didn’t laugh. Jim moved on to an instrument panel on a small rise and hit a few switches. The place lighted up in subtle fashion. On the left there were glowing bat cut-out gels and a considerable array of toy action figures segregated into several areas. Marvel, D.C., Star Wars. In a separate room there were small tables with puzzles and art stations. There were two sinks and a rack of art supplies. Later, Jeremy would become accustomed to the other areas of the Batcave that were unusual and highly playful, but for now he was blown away.

“You wanna work here?” Jim asked.

“Why me?”

“Trish quit…going back to school in Santa Cruz. I need someone I can trust.”

“I just play with kids?”

“No, you do that and you log them safely in and out. You report any problems immediately to either Roo or myself and we contact the parent. Any problems. I mean you can wipe a nose, but just be a good and safe big brother. They will love you J.”

“Okay.”

“Oh and one more thing Jeremy,” Jim said seriously. “No hitting on the young mothers. Understood?”

“What do you mean?” he asked.

“NO MILFing dude.”

“Yeah, understood.”

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Chapters 5-6

Azotusland Chapter Five

Jacob made a habit of hitting the Azotus Cafe at around 6 every night. If he came early he would turn into the Ernest Becker library and grab a book randomly off the shelf and just read. Often there were two or three others sitting on the couch or in one of the big chairs. The sun streamed in at an angle at that time and it looked great bouncing off the hardwood floors.

On this day, Jacob looked up from his reading of Vonnegut’s Mother Night and saw a woman catted in the chair across the way. She was bare-footed and he chuckled when he saw her shoes. Black Keds…high-tops. She had a grey tank top on, well-worn jeans and dark glasses on her small nose.

She was reading Ruiz’s The Mastery of Love, and she paused often and let out a small giggle.

Jacob returned to his book. The anti-hero, named Campbell, was in serious, yet strangely comic trouble because no one really knew who he was,  including himself,  yet he had been used by both sides, post WW2,  in more than dubious ways.

She got up, slipped her Keds on and laced them, her light brown hair falling down low.

Jacob got up and went for an Americano. Martine obliged and he settled out on the deck off the cafe as the sun splayed  gently from behind.

The sky was dimming,  the air rich and clean. The thin wind chimes tinned and shimmered lightly.

Ked woman came out on the deck and seated herself a table away.

She struck up the conversation after awhile and they were soon laughing. She had removed her left Ked and was touching his pant leg every once and awhile.

Hans had already closed up the Gallery after shooing Roderick, Susan and Deliah out of the studio promptly at 5 p.m. He double checked the doors and left a thin strip of clear tape at the bottom of the double doors, then unlocked his mountain bike, walked down the long path and rode off to his apartment in San Rafael.

At around 7 p.m. Jim excused himself from two hours of hard work in the main cafe. Roo had returned at 6 somehow revived.

Martine had left at 4 as did Renata. Ward came in at 4 p.m. and took up barista duties. Then Jim’s oldest son Ian came in at 6:30 to basically run the ship till 11 p.m. when things shut down for good.

Ian came in on time and hailed his old man. They hugged and Jim gave him the store keys. “Your ship son…good luck.”

Azotusland Chapter Six

Jim walked out the main door and checked into Ops. Maugham was reclining in the main chair looking at several monitors at once. He seemed puzzled.

“What’s up Bro?” Jim asked

“Nuthin much Boss,” Maugham said. But that always concerned Jim when he heard it. It implied a level of seriousness not usual for Maugham.

“Got a creepy email this a.m.” Maugham said.

“You trace it?”

“Couldn’t. Well hidden.”

“Should I put Zeus and Apollo on patrol Mog?”

“Very funny. Why not Manfred? Give him something useful to do.”

Jim laughed.

“What did it say?”

“You are being watched.”

“By who?”

“Rnonymus?”

“ah…I got one too. So whoever she is she knows the both of us.”

With this Jim moved behind Maugham and started to massage his shoulders. They were damned tight. Too tight. Wound up.

“That feels good Bro.” Maugham said. “But what makes you think it’s a she?”

“What do you think?”

“Yeah, it’s definitely a Sheila.”

“Sure it’s nothing” Jim said. “You coming tonight?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Maugham said.

“Er, Martine may be there too,” he said pulling back and moving toward the door.

“Thanks. Really? Hmnnn. You know I’m gonna kick your ass.”

“You always do Mog. And you always get the girl.”

“For awhile I guess.”

At 7:15 p.m. Jim went down to the double doors of the Azotus Gallery and quickly let himself in, then turned and locked up. He moved swiftly through the large gallery through the main studio and into the darkroom. He slid a key into the door on the right, opened it and disappeared down a flight of stairs after locking the door behind him.

At 7:50 Roo made an announcement in the Azotus Cafe.

“Tonight’s fare is a joint lecture/discussion with Jim Spencer and Dan Palmer in the Becker Library. It starts in ten minutes and is limited to 24 participants. So, excuse me… if you are here for that?  Now is a good time to make your way downstairs and into the library. Please do take your drinks with you and any food. Just please try and clean up after yourselves.”

There was quite a bit of shuffling as people rose and made their way out the door. Others came to order a refill or something new.

When Jim entered the Becker Library it was full. Dan was already up front on his stool. A man in his fifties, with a wide face and deep beard, Dan had a way of warming a room immediately. Jim greeted him with a hug and they chatted briefly as people settled in the room.

Maugham was in the back by the window. He had two sports bottles at his feet and he surveyed the whole room like a hawk. He noted Jacob walking in with a woman he had not seen yet. She was compelling. Manfred came in and started to talk loudly with a greybeard about something. Maugham, always two steps ahead had laid his coat down in the far right side of the sofa next to his stool. He watched Jim intently.

Jim turned and greeted everyone.

“Thank all of you for coming. This is an open lecture/discussion in a long series of Azotus events and we are glad you are here.

“This is Dan Palmer of the Zen Center. He is a good friend and gracious soul and we have come here tonight to openly discuss a few things. Dan would you like to say something?”

At just that moment Martine walked in the door ever so lightly. She looked straight ahead for a minute as Maugham directed her in from the side and onto the couch where his coat had been.

She had the habit of wearing clothes that hid her curvy figure. But Maugham was more taken with her face. Almond eyes and hair that a Asian princess would die for. She finally looked over at Maugham then looked away.

“…You may learn tonight that we who practice Zen have similar issues. Jim and I will discuss these things together with you and we will explore together in a spirit of openness and truth-seeking.”

Martine was having trouble concentrating. She was much taken with Maugham’s tall good-looks and swagger. Long straight golden hair, a model’s grizzly beard. People jokingly called him “Sawyer” after the character in Lost.

Dan sat down on his stool and took a sip of water and Jim began his presentation on “Depth Pluralism”.

In the next 90 minutes many ideas were explored. A Muslim named Dagar was at first angry, but later smiling as he realized that he was not being stereotyped and his questions were taken seriously. Jim talked about his own spiritual journey and how it had led him, as a “Christian” to Zen and some training with Dan. Dan talked about his own tradition and the struggles within.

Maugham meanwhile slid the other sports bottle over to Martine. She wasn’t sure what it was, but it was damned good and strong. She smiled up at his pirate’s face and noted that the braids down the one side of his long face were sexy. She didn’t trust him, but he was handsome and a draw.

At one point Maugham leaned down and said “watch this baby.”

He raised his hand and Jim acknowledged saying, “Everyone here knows Mogham.”

Maugham smirked like Han Solo’s younger brother.

“He’s our security officer here at Azotus and the man whose mission in life is to kick my ass.”

There was laughter and curious looks. In a moment of silence Maugham and Jim smiled at each other.

“Your religion claims to be absolute and has a systematic theology that excludes all others,” Maugham said confidently.  “So how can you come here and tout a tolerant system of ‘Depth Pluralism’ when your own belief system is based on propositional truth and is exclusive? I mean don’t you people believe Jesus is the only way?”

With the last line he rubbed his foot (shoeless) against the back of Martine’s right leg, and looking ahead, winked.

Jim laughed and Dan did too.

“Dan you wanna field this one…help me out here buddy?”

“Personally,” Dan said, “the answer is obvious. ‘If you meet the Maugham in the road, kill him.'”

Things died down after a minute or so.

“Context is everything Maugham,” Jim said. “But your question is too multi-layered. So I’ll make a deal with you and those in this room. If you will give me a week I will finish a paper I have been writing for some time. That paper will attempt to answer your direct question. Can you wait a week?”

Maugham nodded with a smirk.

“Can you all wait a week and read it online and then blog about it?” Jim asked the group.

There was general agreement.

They adjourned and Jim walked upstairs through the cafe out onto the deck. He sighed, and reached behind the big planter for the pack of clove cigarettes he kept there. He lighted one and slumped into a chair. He felt despair.

Another day, so many people, so many questions. Money coming in, going out. He thought to find some moments that could enliven him, help him feel it was worth it.

He thought back and saw Renata’s red dreadlocks over her face smiling, Jonathan doing his ten minutes of comedy, Manfred obfuscating the stocky woman, Maugham winking at him, Alice wiping the schmutz off his chin and the dream he had. He thought about the chart on the wall and how good the air was around him. He took another drag and stubbed it out in the planter.

Time for bed. He walked slowly through the cafe and down the hallway to the Bunkhouse, opened the door,  switched off all the lights. He fell into the bed hard.

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Chapters 7-8

chapter seven

As Jim’s head hit the pillow, Maugham was exiting the building, or trying to. Martine was over at the counter in the Big Room, which served as an unofficial bar in the closing hours. Usually, she would be going over figures or making sure the sometime night crew was prepared to handle close up after a band or act was done.

No act tonight. Just quiet. She nursed an Anchor Steam and Maugham walked past her and out onto the deck.

Jacob came up behind a few minutes later looking out on the lights over the valley.

“Er, uh…Mog?”

“Hi Jacob,” he said flatly. “Who is the woman?”

“Can I have the theater tonight?”

“Sheesh” Maugham hissed. Then he thought introspective. “Yeah, okay. The code today is 714. Don’t get caught.”

“Thanks Mog. Owe you one.”

“Last count that makes three.”

Jacob left and Maugham felt stupid.

He walked back inside and grabbing a beer brushed by Martine. Then he went and perched, as he so often did, back on the wide deck.

He thought about what Jim and Dan had said. It scared him a little. Martine came outside and sat next to him.

“Hey cowboy, how come so down?”

“I dunno. Jim gets under my skin.”

“Well he sure likes you,” she said laughing.

“Yeah, that unnerves me too. Always has. ” he said deflecting. “How’s the kid doing?”

“He’s great,” she said. “Just like his old man except without the pall.”

“He’s pall-less?” Maugham asked.

“Yes Mog. He has no palls.”

He laughed.

“Wanna go for a walk Marty?”

“Sure Mog. Lead on.”

They dropped their beers at the unofficial bar and walk out the big doors and down the stairs to the lower landing. As they walked by the IC Maug noted that the Troll had lit his usual 50 candles. It was a fire hazard, but he had given up making the point.

“Let’s take the back path” he said and he put his arm around her. “I’m sure you are cold.”

“Peh” she said.

Around the outer grounds it was mysterious. As they passed the theater door Maugham got a sly grin. “Hey wait here…wait up.”

He walked quietly over to the door and quietly entered the access code…714.

As the door released and he slid  it slowly open he could hear deep moans inside. He took a quick peak and saw two Keds flopped down on the floor to the left of the first coach and some inverted footwork splayed over the end that was in rhythmic sync. Jacob’s head popped up from the left end and he steeled a look at Maugham who grinned and closed the door.

“What was that?”

“Just doing a security check Marty,” Maugham grinned, “ just a simple security check.”

When the door locked, Jacob lowered his sweaty head down on Ked woman’s naked collarbone. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. then he looked up. She smelled good, like verbena and cloves.  He got up and lowered the light til there was nothing but blue. “c’mere” she gr0aned, “I’m cold”.

He reached under the sofa and pulled out a ruby red throw and draped it over them. She relaxed and lay open and he pressed into her again. She gasped and clutched his dark hair as it brushed up and down her chest. He stretched into her and she laughed “yeah…um yeah” and grabbed his ass harder “yeah baby, (panting) harder”, and he drove and then pounded down, then circled around , kissing her mouth fully and then driving in again and again into oblivion.

chapter eight

Martine woke up at 5 a.m. in her studio apartment and groaned. She was tired of waking up alone but wasn’t about to “settle.” Getting up she hit the shower and ate a bowl of fruit before getting on the bike and making her way the seven foggy blocks to the bike stand in front of the Azotus.

Riding up, the door of the theater opened and a woman dressed in jeans and a grey tank walked out the door. She had a man’s army jacket draped over her. She was wearing shoes that looked kid-like. She had a hop in her step like a life-force.

Martine shrugged as the woman skipped by in the cool haze. After she locked the bike up she stopped and sat on the front step. Then she cried a little bit for reasons unknown.

She wiped away her tears and smiled as Roo drove up in an old BMW.

Roo got out hauling a large backpack full of whatever. She hiked it up over a faux fur coat and said “Yo baby.”

“Baby wants to take the elevator,” Martine said. They walked over to the Batcave door then diverted to the right and hit the switch. The door opened and they got in.

“Good night?” Roo asked.

‘No comment,” Martine said.

They rode up in silence to the third floor, got out and Roo unlocked the big doors.

Roo made her way to the coffee station and logged into the computer. Martine lighted up the library and cleaned up some remains from the night before. She felt sad. She saw the sports bottle in the corner and started to cry again. Then she bucked up and went to have coffee with Roo.

Hans came in minutes later all flustered. Roo diverted him to much needed dish washing in the back.

Roo came over at one point and hugged Martine.

“It’s okay baby…love has it’s way.” Martine looked at her and believed. Roo had that way. She believed. Martine did not believe in men but she believed in Roo.

Maugham rolled off the futon onto the floor at 5:34. He groaned and thought about how the evening had ended and cringed.

“Idiot” he hissed at himself. Rising he hit the various mice and return keys and Ops was up. Jim walked in ten minutes later, took a look at Maugham in his boxers and said “take the morning off dude.”

Then Jim tossed him a copy of Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind and said “read it or shut up.”

Maugham groaned and slipped on some sweat pants and an old navy shirt and walking drearily into the cafe not seven feet away.

Renata gave him a wary eye.

“Hey red! How about setting me up with…er…oh whatever…”

She handed him a double espresso like some Jedi with foreknowledge and he drank it down.

“Andy just sent me an email Mog. You got business downstairs.”

Maugham growled.

“Any food?”

“See Andy. He has day-old quiche.”

Maugham moved out to Ops again and gathered his shoes. Then he walked all the way down. He stopped on the next level and took a peak through the side window. Martine was standing at the edge of the counter looking far away.

She was an enigma to him. Beautiful, close, alluring, far away and a bit lost. He liked to just look at her when she wasn’t aware. He didn’t feel worthy of her, but that was part of his bluster. Only a few knew. Jim, Simon (who fortunately was hardly ever there) and Cara.

He creaked open the door of the IC.

“Andy?”

“That’s Troll to you Mog,” Andy said.

“Any food?”

“You know there is…Roo arranged it. Last fridge bottom shelf.”

“When was the last time I said I love you Andy?”

“Uh, never.”

“Okay, I love you,” he said as he fetched the quiche and slunked it into the microwave.

Andy scowled and went back to his abode.

Maugham checked his emails.

You certainly have the way with women Maugham.

Rnonymous

“Shit!” he muttered.

“Quiche is bad?” Andy smirked.

“Troll.”

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Chapters 9-10

Chapter nine

On any given day as few as 350 people or as many as 1000 plus would come through the Azotus complex, mostly higher numbers because of the variety of events and venues. Volume was necessary to make Azotus viable.

Jim had figured that if 500 people a day came in and dropped and average of $6.00 or more, that was $3,000-plus a day and usually about $25,000 a week. In addition there were some gallery sales each week and artists paid a healthy fee to use the studio and darkroom. All totaled the Azotus Cafe and complex was running on about $1.5 million a year.

There was little profit simply because  Jim just spent it on improvements to the grounds, the building or other side projects of his own devising. When it was time to tally at year’s end,  they threw a holiday potluck which enabled Jim to hand out fatter checks from profit-sharing. It was during that same day they sat around with the cafe closed, walked the grounds together and dreamed for the next year.

Jim’s philosophy was there had to be a main boss, but the decisions should be made in community. He had surrounded himself mostly with very smart and hard-working people who loved coming to work most days. He intended to keep them happy and appreciated.

They were generally happy. On days off it was not uncommon to see Renata and husband Rand walking the grounds, or Ward sitting up on the deck reading a Sedaris book, or Ian down in the art studio painting with oils.

Jim always saw Azotus architecturally in his mind. At the core it was a “Third Space” that people came to experience as a communal home away from home. It served the same community function as cafes in France, or pubs in Ireland. Regulars developed special privileges like occasional free food, free refills, personal emails from staff about events and always being acknowledged by name. When someone in the community was in trouble, “people” were made aware who could help.

And the community was extending and deepening thanks to their growing Internet presence. Those who visited the cafe were encouraged to create an online profile at Azotuscafe.com. Those who did not have computers, or were intimidated by them (anyone over 40), could stop in the IC and Andy would walk them through it, scan a picture and help them feel at ease. He was a very kind soul and infinitely patient.

After the lecture the night before, people would now log on and continue the discussion, or if they missed it, they could download a podcast version. In the next week it would be up to Jim to post the response to Maugham’s challenge and then defend his view if possible. The only rules were respectful discourse and no personal attacks. Passion was not disallowed, but openness and safety were held in high regard. Maugham was the lone authority.

Of course there were still sporadic incidents. Those incidents were usually handled calmly in person Jim, or more directly by Roo, or extremely directly by Maugham on rare occasions.

Maugham could look scary if he wanted to. His long flowing hair with the  braids down the side, and an intense gaze was more than enough.

But it was all show as Maugham understood Jim’s policy of non-violence.

There had been a poetry reading a few months back in the Doghouse. Packed house of 400. Some of the poets like Gordon MacAfee, Gene Black and a man who called himselef “Hogboy” were all highly entertaining. But when the self-proclaimed “poet laureate’ of the area got up and started a long poem about his fixation with other cocks one gentleman in the back took grave exception.

The man was drunk and probably using Maugham’s old trick of bringing in a sports bottle.

Jim saw him first headed towards the stage and intercepted him with a smile. The man meant vioence. Jim placed himself between the man and the stage by a good twenty feet.

“You look upset,” he whispered to the man.

“That cocksucker should die. He’s a disgrace. I’m a goddamn Marine boy and this is shit and I will kick your ass if you do not move.”

Jim could see Maugham over the man’s left shoulder start in his direction, but he subtly waved him off with a quick shake of the head.

“I agree,” Jim whispered, “he isn’t very good and I hope he finishes soon.”

“I think I’ll just beat your ass first” he said a little more loudly.

“You are obviously a Marine,” Jim whispered even softer and the Marine had a hard time hearing him.

“Fucking A right I’m a Marine” he said lower.

“Look, I respect the hell out of anyone in uniform. I can tell you are upset. Maybe with good reason.”

“You’ll respect me more when I kick your ass,” he hissed.

Jim towered over the smaller man, but said simply “I am certain you could make quick work of me.” As he said this he put has hands at his sides straight down in a relaxed manner.

“I do not deny it. But I cannot let you or anyone else hurt someone else here. So, let’s you and I go to my hangout and I’ll buy you a beer and we can just talk.”

The man took a step back and Jim said “C’mon…I’m buying.” and led him out the door. As he got past Maugham he flicked his hand behind him. Everything was fine.

An hour later when everyone was gone Jim returned and Maugham said “what happened?”

“I just listened. He had a lot of weight.”

“You gave him more alcohol?”

“Yeah, we had some stouts and talked. Then I took him down the elevator and stuffed him in a cab with directions. I told him we would look after his car and make sure it was safe. Before he left he hugged me.”

They both laughed and headed for bed.

Chapter Ten

The next morning Maugham was having trouble focusing. He kept drifting to Martine.

“Ah fucket!” he said aloud.

“Fuck what Mog?” asked Andy looking up from three screens over (he was updating events on the site).

“I don’t feel much like talking Andy. Sorry.”

Andy went back to updating, which was slow because major crumbs from the day-old crumb cake kept bouncing off the keyboard. When that happened., Andy would grab the aerosol can and shoot the keyboard.

This annoyed the hell out of Maugham, but it was, aftr all,  Andy’s cave domain.

Maugham ran through his mind those who had been in a few times the previous day. None of them was the least bit suspicious, and if it had not been for the untraceable nature, Maugham would have just thought someone was having them on as a prank.

It could still be that, of course.

Maugham IM’d Jim on Yahoo and asked about his email. But Jim hadn’t received anything new.

Then Maugham went through the member profiles. He disliked doing this because it seemed against the spirit of Azotus. But it was public information and Maugham wanted to see who had recently joined.

The online community contained over 3,100 profiles, each posted by either locals, or visitors, or just people who liked the Cafe even though they had never been there physically. There were Azotus fans in Boston, New York, Maine, Texas, Tennessee, Portland, Seattle, San Diego and Canada. Jim corresponded with several of them, posted their articles, encouraged them in their writings and tried to help them make connections where he could.

Jim, and or Andy, also highlighted their Blogs and Jim read ten different ones a day from 1 to 2 p.m. and made comments. There was meaning to his madness. He figured that someday these fine folk would work with him to create an Azotus in their city. The flavor for each one would be different based on the community, but it would be an Azotus.

Maugham did a localized search for new members in the area for the last month. He figured whoever was watching them had both an agenda and enough anonymity.

They didn’t do last names, or at least there was only one field for the name.

Cara
Theodore
Pursed_Lips
Fag_Boy
Whipper
William
Rand
Sex

Derrick
Smithey
Bolero
Kumsquaitshot
Macsniper
Del
Patti
Mitzee
The_Queen
IPfreely
Dickey
Zara
Hunan
Rickey
Brad
Wademan
Potifor
Iceman
Phynix
TommyBoy
Cartesian_Hunter
Rachel
Simplex

“yeah yeah…”

SusanTyne
Whispah
Pinhead

“ah shit….” he sighed. “This is hopeless.”

Sex (that was the name she went by for reasons unknown) pried open the door to the Batcave and entered without ducking along with her two kids, Antoine and Lucille.

Jeremy was  playing super heroes (Marvel) with little Scott and Colin. Matisse, Jims youngest child and daughter, was in the next room painting quietly and focused. When Jeremy had gone in to check on her she looked up at him like he was an unusual bug and she laughed and said “I have work to do Jeremy.”

He shook his head and walked back and sat down to lead an attack by Dr. Doom on the Fantastic Four when the door opened.

“Hi,” he said. “I’m Jeremy.

“I’m Sex,” she said flatly.

“That’s your name?”

“That’s what everyone calls me. I don’t like my other name, so someone suggested that one and it stuck.”

She signed her kids in. “This is Lucille who is 7, and Antoine is 4. They play well with others and I’ll be upstairs I suppose for about an hour.”

“Helllooo Lucille” he said and then turned to Antione and said “I’ll be right back.” Mom stayed around for a few minutes watching Jeremy closely. He could feel her eyes on him in various ways. He both liked it and it made him uncomfortable.

He got Antoine integrated with an Iron Man and Captain America and he switched Scott to the bad side with a Doc Ock and Mysterio.

Then he asked Lucille if she would like to meet Matisse and do some art.

She nodded quietly.

“Hello friend” Matisse perked up.

“Hello,” Lucille said shyly.

“I saw you at the park last Thursday,” Matisse said nonchalant, and Lucille smiled and picked up some markers and went to a small desk. Then she looked back at the girl who was humming a song and reciting a little poem as she painted.

The painting was of a bright hummingbird with yellow and red wings with blue tips. It was nestled in flowers that were being painted in with vibrant colors.

Jeremy turned and shrugged at Sex and said “well, there ya go.”

“How much is it?

“Just $2 per kid per hour,” he said smiling, “but just in general. We’re not too tight about that stuff.”

She smiled at him with a small flirt. As she left he noted how tight she was. Lean with nice curves. Petite, yet strong, medium blond hair and emerald eyes.

He hoped she had recently been divorced because she was definitely hot. After she closed the door he muttered under his breath, “Sex, sex.” Then he had to go help Scott because he was being over-run.

On her way up the stairs to the first landing Sex passed Jonathan who was bringing down a load of trash from the Gallery and IC.

He stopped and scoped her out and she smiled at him.

“The prophecies have now been fulfilled” he exclaimed ethereally. “Now the moon shall turn blood red, or rather a shade of red…more of a pink color actually” he said in rapid Robin Williams fashion. “Oh and the blond beauty shall ascend into the seventh house because the others were over-priced and in need of painting. And Uranus shall fly around Pluto until he becomes sick, but later he will return because that is what dogs do among other disgusting things like dry humping the legs of their masters.”

She laughed because he seemed harmless.

“I’m sorry,” he said. ” I am Jonathan. “I have a doctorate in Anti-Entropy and have better hair than Einstein and speak better English than Eisenstein did because he only spoke Russian. And you might be?”

I am Sex,” she said.

“Well I didn’t want to state the obvious,” Jonathan said swiftly. “But now that you mention it, how is that working for you?”

“Just fine. This the way up?”

“Yes…Azotusland could use a little Sex. Up you go!”

Then he grabbed the trash bag, bowed deeply and whispered “You’re secret is safe with me. I’ll be back by the dumpsters in 30 minutes.”

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Chapter 11

chapter eleven

Sex got her mocha and a cookie and headed out onto the deck. She got stares here and there. Jacob noticed her right away, but was still thinking about Keds.

“Oppph” he said aloud and quickly grabbed up his stuff and ran out the big door and down the stairs just in time to get inside the Doghouse before it closed. Jonathan was munching on his sandwich and others were congregating.

Sex took a swig from her mocha and opened her book. She relaxed and started to read the following poem:

In isolation,
If we allow it,
We story down tale by tale
Image by image
Until we are
What we have only always been
Undone, empty, naked and lost.

It is a terrifying moment
Unending and sustaining
Lost and all our images burned
Our tale not so interesting
Our isolation seemingly complete.

But Dear One
When you are Lost
And the fire smolders out
Leaving only your quiet empty lot
The only movement the Wind blowing
Some rag tag papers in a scatter
Then may come the quiet Word of One
Who Loves and Seeks the Lost.

Now you can be found.

Wait now
Wait in the silence
Of your vacant lot to be found
He is not afar.
When He comes
You will know your life
Was always isolation
Always lostness and a howl.

But now in Him
Finding and being found,
And someday soon the Oneness
You have been seeking
In all the wrong places
Will find and embrace you

And you alone.

She ate some cookie and breathed in deeply. She thought she heard laughter downstairs, then more of it. The crows landed in the big pine and danced around for a bit.

“Can I join you?” came a deep and slightly British but pleasant voice.

I tall tanned man in an off-white suit was standing nearby. His grin was infectious and warm.

She looked him over. He seemed, well, charming.

“Well, you can stay for a minute and we’ll see how that goes,” she said directly.

“And then another minute passed, followed by another minute, followed by another different minute. Then a minute passed,” he said as he sat down. “It’s an old comedy routine some friends of mine did years ago back in Chelsea.

“You’re English,” she said.

“Well yes dear, most of us here are to some extent or the other. But yes.”

“Well what do you want?” she asked.

“Well I had not quite yet decided on that,” he said smiling, “But I expect some Earl Grey. I’ll be right back.”

And with that he got up as if to leave but turned and asked “Can I get you anything?”

“No, just fine. Except what is your name?”

“Simon,” he answered. “And yours?”

“Perhaps upon your return” she said.

Then he was gone.

Simon almost banged into Manfred as he ran by and down the hall. Simon cast him a curious eye and shook his head, and went to order his tea.

Martine walked by and took up residence behind the counter, taking Simon’s order. Downstairs Hans complained to a photographer that he was not letting his pictures soak long enough in the stop bath. Renata was in the back taking a break; Andy was explaining how to get free email to an old woman named Berta. Jeremy was making a mobile out of shells with the kids in the Batcave. Jim was napping while Manfred settled in for One Life to Live. Jonathan was sitting out by the old dumpster saying “maybe tomorrow.” Roo was in her BMW headed to class. The Rev. Tanka and Maurice were out by the eucalyptus tree smoking.

A typical day at the Azotus Cafe at 11:15 a.m..

At 3 p.m sharp two men went to literary work every day. Jim sat down at 3 everyday and wrote for an hour up on a private deck off the Bunkhouse. It was not even 7 by 7 feet, but it had a roof and was secluded and he could hear the stereo from inside the Bunkhouse.

Two floors down on the patio Jeremy had started a long memoir, which was ironic. He had decided to catalog his failed relationships with women and coded them like new software version. Thus he had girlfriend 3.0, 4.0, 4.5, 4.75, etc… all the way up to the current , well latest version 13.5.

He was only 23 and kissed his first girlfriend at 15 and he was at 13.5 with an eye toward the Sexy MILF he had met earlier that day.

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