Casper and his Gang

They’re everywhere, it seems

Casper and his gang

The ghosts who lurk behind every corner

The ones who will rat you out

Then rout you out

They’re on the other end of the phone

The wise man said this would happen, that they’d come for you

Giggling and plotting in their white bed sheets

Tempting you with flowers and pearls

All smiles as they pull the rug out from under you

While you aren’t looking

Old women beseeched you to go to them yourself

With a few friendly words exchanged over coffee

But that’s not how it works

Not anymore

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Portrait of the Artist as a Groundhog

I wasn’t going to post anything today. I was going to hammer out the latest installment of The Back Forty tomorrow, which I still will probably do. But as my new piano is downstairs, I have to walk past all the boxes of crap I put out of sight and mind until now. Plus, I recently heard a women at work talking about moving her daughter and new husband into a new house and lamenting the fact that they elected to go through all of their boxes after they were done moving the whole mess to the new place (I did the exact same thing when I put all of my stuff in storage and waited until this current house to start once again shedding things.)

One of the things I unearthed was a box of my writing. Old journals, letters I never sent, all kinds of stuff. At the bottom of all this was a collection of printed writings, all of which had “Andrew Jackson Sigler ‘94” printed at the bottom, so I assume they’re mine. Remnants from the days that my roommate (Yes, my current roommate. Now. In 2015) and I were the editors of our high school literary magazine Ink Inc. (Still love that title). Some of them aren’t half bad. Some of them, well, puerile attempts by a bourgeois high school kid trying desperately to sound worldly and wise is what they are. And some of them are … how shall I put this … flucking wHeird as a friend of mine would say.

What follows is one of these attempts at off-Broadway prose. I should mention that this was written before I ever did any drugs whatsoever. I mean, I may have gotten drunk with the same best friend turned current roommate once or twice but still, that doesn’t provide much explanation into the truly .. well … just read for yourself:

The Struggle for Acceptance in Society

Johnny was a groundhog. He lived with his mother and father and little groundhog brothers and sisters. Johnny was well-respected member of his groundhog community. He was the captain of his groundhog softball team and always went bowling with the Good Guy Groundhog Brotherhood. But Johnny had a deep dark secret. Johnny the groundhog was claustrophobic.

Johnny’s horrible condition had come as a result of a traumatizing experience as a groundhog gimp. Being the only Catholic \groundhog family in his neighborhood, Johnny’s family was always being harassed. One night, Johnny awoke to the sounds of the Nazi Groundhog Rejuvenation alliance assembling outside the hole. Johnny woke his family and they were running out the back hole as a load of explosives, Ladyfingers, was hurled into the hole. All but Johnny’s father had escaped when the hole blew. Crushing his father. Ever since, Johnny had been afraid of groundhog holes and firecrackers.

So did his best to live his life normally, but never stayed in the hole for very long. At night, he would sneak out and sleep in a nearby pasture. One day, Johnny awoke to find a small, wild Chihuahua standing over him. The dog, Olgasa by name, sat and talked with Johnny for a spell (kinda like Looney Tunes). The two soon fell in love and Johnny took Olga back to his hole to his mother. When his mother heard of Johnny’s love for Olga, she screamed (yes, this is an old, overused Pyramus and Thisbe reference) in rage. She bellowed at him never come to her hole again. Little did she know that this is exactly what Johnny wanted, for although he loved his family, he had grown tired of his secret. He also knew interspecies relationships were shunned by groundhog Catholics.

So Johnny the groundhog and Olgasa the Chihuahua eloped and started a nudist colony for furry animal couples.

The End

  • Writers/Editors note: This is exactly the way the original appears on the page, no omissions at all.

Him (Fear)

Eppley Bench

“Why aren’t you smoking?” He said. “You’re always smoking.”

“I’m quitting,” I said and chomped on the nicotine gum harder. As always, I knew this was coming. That He was coming. He always does.

“Trying to quit, huh?” He looked on the bench next to me and ruffled through the plastic bag. “Oh, you’ve got your little nicotine gum and your little nicotine lozenges and suckers and everything,” He said and produced a pint of vodka from His boot. “You’re so cute.”

“No, I’m quitting. Trying to quit means you might not get there. I’m gonna get there.”

“Can’t say I’m surprised,” He said and drank. “I figured you for the easy way a long time ago.”

I was incredulous. “Easy? You think quitting is going to be easy?”

“Relatively,” He said. “Quitting is something you have control over. It’ll be a bitch, but you’ll probably do it. And I figure when you do, you can point to all the other stuff you have been and continue to fail at and you’ll cry out ‘But I quit smoking!’” He mock yelled in a screechy falsetto. “Everyone will pat you on the back like a fucking toddler when they go potty in the toilet the first time. And they’ll glance at each other knowingly. Pat the big guy on the head, they’ll think. Gotta make him feel good about something.”

I turned and looked Him in the eyes. “And what about getting the piano. And finally writing Empty Calories. And not resting until I find a job that will go somewhere. What about all that?”

In a rare moment of solemnity, He put down the bottle and turned to me, returning my stare. This was odd for Him. He usually dismissed anything I had to say with a drink and shrug.

“I’ll tell you about all that,” He said and closed in on me. “Trying the piano again and going full force with the job hunt and your little memoir. You took on all of it because of fear.”

“Fear?” I raised my eyebrows and shook my head once. “Did you say fear?”

“Indeed I did,” He said and pulled from the bottle. He winced, then swallowed. “You are so afraid of failing at anything, you’re taking on so much that when you do fail, everyone will say ‘Well, he gave it his best shot. Kudos to him for trying.’ But you’ll know why you did all of it. Shuck and jive, baby. Stick and move. Try everything so it’s no surprise when you fail at all of it,” His lips curled back into a snarl. “If I were a disappointment, I’d probably try a little 3-Card Monty myself.”

“I’m not a dissappointment,” I said and grabbed the bag away from Him. “People are proud of what I’m trying to do with my life.”

“Ehh, not really. They just tell you that to make you feel better about a being a dud,” His grin had returned and He stood up. He walked to the curb and looked down one way, then the other. He turned back, walked right up to me and stood over me. “It’s like that woman you were dating, or whatever you want to call it. She was the one person who knew you needed to man-up and stop being so goddamn sensitive. And she makes one callous remark and you hang up on her. Nice work, that one.”

“There were a lot more issues there than just me being too sensitive, okay? There was –“

“Shut up,” He said. “It doesn’t matter now. She won’t talk to you anyway. Granted, she took the coward’s way out and “ghosted” you. And you did take the high road and write her the letter apologizing for what you did because she gave you no other choice. I’ll give you that. But she obviously wants nothing to do with you. I mean, let’s be honest, you should just see the writing on the wall and pick up the phone the next time you’re ex calls you. And she will call you again. Or you can keep asking out the smart, beautiful, funny ones and keep getting shot down. How many did that last one make? Was it 4 or 5?” He sat down next to me and slapped my knee. “You might charm your way into some other woman’s heart, but let’s be honest. At your age, no woman wants the sensitive artist poet pianist Sally douchebag. They want someone who knows he has a pair. You can’t even find your pair. Any woman who goes with you is gonna realize pretty damn quick that you have limited earning potential, intelligence, wherewithal and balls.”

I took a deep breath and tried to feign indifference to all things He was saying, I had gotten out my smartphone and was flipping through my friend’s website. Noticing this, He snatched the phone from my hands and looked at it.

“See, that’s exactly what I’m talking about,” He said and chuckled. “Your old editor’s got her book out. She is doing something great. Those Andy Andrews and Og Mandino books you are listening to? You can get all the inspiration you want from them. The difference is the average guy those books apply to? They don’t have brain damage. You do. You’re so jacked up in the head you can’t master new skills, let alone resurrect old ones. Trying to forge those severed neurons by playing piano again. Come on guy! It ain’t gonna work. The fact is what your editor said is right. It took her having kids to realize that she needed to stop screwing around and do something great and she did it. And she has the writing accolades and a great web site to back it up. All you got is 8 years of being a drunk and a WordPress blog.” He stifled a chuckle. “And here’s the thing you need to remember. You can’t undo having kids. But with you? Please. You’re damaged goods. You sent out that email all gung-ho about getting on with your life and finding a good job and what do your friends and family come back with? Menial labor and sacking groceries, that’s what. All it takes is a few more visits from me and I’ll say just the right thing and out the door you’re gonna go. As your man said, you’re just one drink away. Come on sport,” He said and put His hand on my shoulder. “You are terrified that you are a lost cause and all you will ever be is a wheelchair pusher and an alcoholic. I say get it over with and start acting like one.”

Nuts and Smokes: The Art of Quitting

“Obnoxious, self-righteous slugs aren’t they? I’d quit smoking if I didn’t think I’d become one of them.”

  • Bill Hicks

I hate ex-smokers. Not in the way you hate you worst childhood bully or Kim Jong Un. In the way that you just can’t stand being around your born again Christian friend or that guy who has a cliché for every situation. I just can’t stand them.

To be clear, I don’t mean I hate non-smokers, though a few of them I can do without too. When I was a reporter, the city council was debating a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and there was this ass hat that milled around outside the city council meeting with this doll in a carrier and cigarette butts all around the doll. I guess as some sort of statement that smokers just weren’t getting the point that their habit was bothersome to others and was putting hapless babies at risk of asphyxiating right there on the table. I hope that guy got lung cancer from all the exhaust he inhaled on the street on the way to the meeting. Most non-smokers are pretty cool people. They put up with the smell and the ever-present haze of tan I bring with me everywhere I go. They’re cordial about the fact that they can’t stand what I do and blow off the cloud of smoke I just inadvertently coughed in their face.

No, I mean the people who smoked adamantly up until about a year or two ago and suddenly, because they have seen the light, and now feel the need to give you disapproving looks as they look in from the car next to you or give you the stink eye as they are walking into the Target or Walmart. Especially ones who park in the handicapped spot and when they get out of the car and into their scooter you realize it’s because they can’t put down the Funyuns and Krispy Kremes. Those people need to be dropped in a desert with a compass and two days’ worth of food and then told to find water.

Can you tell yet I’m trying to quit? Makes you a little edgy. Thing is, though, it’s not so much not being able to smoke that puts you on edge. It’s the looming reality of the craving that really digs into your nerves. Knowing its coming. Being absolutely certain of the impending, colossal annoyance of the nic fit. And the thing about it is, even the craving itself isn’t the worst part. It’s that lull that comes after when you calm down a little, you relax, your heart resumes a healthy beat and you feel like celebrating living out another little storm like that by … smoking. That’s the part that really, really sucks.

I’ve armed myself with a whole arsenal of assistance and aids. Nicotine gum and lozenges, butterscotches and Blow-Pops and regular gum. I even have a Blue e-cig for those long dark nights ahead (yes, I am one of those smokers who wakes up and smokes and goes back to bed. Judge me. I’ll stab you) And I think the most valuable weapon I have is American Spirit organic cigarettes. And yes, I went online and they are no safer than the Wildhorses I usually smoke or the Marlboro Lights my Da leaves for me (incidentally Da, if you are reading this, stop dropping off nearly full packs of cowboy killers at my house. I see my neurotic hatred of seeing any food go to waste spilling over into the smokes you leave for me since you “quit” 7 years ago [Incidentally, Chantix is some bullshit too] and I’ll never be able to quit in the name of conservation. Go give them to homeless people or teenagers). But the American Spirits burn slower than the Wildhorses and don’t have as many of the some 700 carcinogens or whatever the number is that are in the rest of the pack. And since they burn slower, I usually only smoke about ¼ to 1/3 before I realize that 1) I now feel weak and stupid 2) I’m now enjoying a heartrate akin to most hummingbirds and pimple-faced adolescent boys on a date and 3) it’s going to be another couple hours at least before I get to enjoy the cravings all over again, then the glorious, light-hearted feeling of more energy and self-respect that, having given up booze 2+ years ago, I can only celebrate by … you get the idea.

My cousin once told me that the best part about quitting is the freedom you feel. Having only been at this for about a week or so, I know exactly what she meant. I look forward to the freedom from the obsession, the freedom from shame and ostracization. The freedom from the poverty. Wish me luck.

The Back Forty, Ch. 2.4

Mary Anne's house

Cain put the last Legos in place to complete the cab on the monster truck. All he had to do now was build the wheel wells and put in the four wheels in the box and he’d be done. Not exactly a difficult set, but Cain knew it was more about giving him something to do while he watched his sister. His mother had been gone for a while now and the sun had completed its descent behind the trees. Going behind the yard arm, as Mr. Pickens down at the diner in town would say. Cain liked Mr. Pickens. The old man always wore a filthy apron as he made eggs, bacon and sausage for his regulars at the griddle. In between flipping sausage patties, he would come out and chew the fat with the locals, filling their coffee and grabbing empty plates. Nobody seemed to mind that he was breaking at least two or three laws in the health code as he did because he was so friendly and knew everybody by name. Every now and then, he would sneak Cain a Fun Size Snickers or Mr. Goodbar he produced from a box underneath the cash register. He would look at Cain knowingly and the boy would stow it away in his pocket for later consumption.

“Come on Tanny,” Cain said. “You can finish that tomorrow. It’s time to go inside.”

“O-kaay,” his little sister said and stood up from the Lego set. Cain slid open the plate glass door and they went into the kitchen.

“Let’s play Memory until Mom comes back,” he suggested. He got the box from a closet on the landing that went downstairs and they sat down on the floor of the kitchen. As Cain set up the cards, Tanny took off her shoes and set them neatly in the row of footwear under the coat rack on the landing. After playing two rounds of the game, Cain looked up to the window. It was completely dark outside. As he set up the cards for another game, Cain heard what sounded like someone throwing rocks around the fire pit in the backyard. Another minute went by. Then he heard a loud metallic BANG!

The cast-iron cabinets under the grill, he thought. Tanny, focused intently on the game, had heard nothing.

Cain stood up and walked to the sliding door. He locked it, then pulled forward the floor-to-ceiling vertical blinds to cover the door. Cain took a step back from the door, then stood, listening.

“Come on Cain,” Tanny said. “Let’s get moving turkey,” and giggled.

The boy waited for what seemed like another 10 minutes before her heard the sound of boots crushing the Legos on the porch. He immediately turned and pulled his sister off the floor.

“Nooo,” Tanny protested. “I wanna play the game.”

Cain said nothing as he pulled Tanny behind him out into the hallway and into the bathroom. He locked the door, then pulled his sister into the bathtub and closed the shower curtain.

“You have to be really quiet, okay?” Cain whispered to his sister. “We’re hiding.”

“Like in Bloody Murder?”

“Yes,” Cain whispered. “Just like Bloody Murder.”

“Who are we hiding from?” his sister asked.

“Shush.” Cain held his finger over his mouth.

For another minute, there was no sound from the back yard at all. Then, faintly, he heard a rattling coming from the basement. Someone was trying to open the cellar doors. Cain heard the doors rattle once more, then silence. For a moment, Cain, putting all his strength into not shaking, breathed shallow breaths, his sister tucked under his right arm. Then he stood up from his position sitting Indian-style in the bathtub. He wasn’t tall enough to see out the small sliding window in the shower that opened on the back yard. He crouched back down and huddled with his sister, listening intently. For what he wasn’t sure.

After an indeterminate amount of time, Cain stood up on his tip toes and tried to look out the window again but couldn’t. He stood with his back to the tile wall. He had used up all of his self-control and was now shaking. Tanny had buried her face in his chest.

“Can we go out now?” she whined.

He waited another minute and was almost ready to get out of the tub. Then he heard feet on the back porch again. This time, the footsteps were fast and deliberate. Cain heard the Legos being kicked aside as whoever it was approached the door, then paused.

Then, the doorbell rang.

Cain heard quick steps on the back porch, then down the stairs. He and his sister cowered in the bathtub when the doorbell rang again. A moment went by, then he heard someone on the porch again. This time, he heard the heavy sound of one of the big stone pots on the back porch being moved. Then, a key opened the back door and he heard the sliding door open.

“Cain! Tanny!” his mother yelled from the kitchen.

Cain and his sister got out of the tub and Cain unlocked the door. His sister ran out of the bathroom as his mother came into the hallway. Tanny hugged her mother’s legs and Madeline picked her up.

“Cain! Why didn’t you open the door when I rang the bell?!”