My First Real Kiss

A lot of people talk about their FIRST kiss – but not a lot of us talk about our first REAL kiss. My FIRST kiss was something almost out of a movie. We’d partied the night before, she’d asked if it was okay to stay over. I pretended to be nonchalant when I said “yes” – and also pretended to be nonchalant when she took her toothbrush out of her bag. She knew I’d say yes. When I woke, she was looking into my eyes and a soft summer breeze was blowing in from outside, gently billowing the curtains. She smiled, I smiled back, and she kissed me.

My FIRST kiss was memorable, sure – but my first REAL kiss takes the cake.

I’d been hiking a mountain trail called The Beehive. I did it mostly because I was scared of heights and I wanted to prove to myself that I could move into discomfort and face it head on, no fear. I was determined. I drove myself to Bar Harbor, listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival with the windows down, screaming at the top of my lungs to pump myself up.

When I neared Beehive, I saw it rising from the forest like an obelisk – sheer rock face with iron rungs sprouting from its rocky outcroppings. It was not a trail for the faint of heart. As I parked, readied my hiking backpack, and laced my shoes – I gazed at it like a fighter eyes his opponent before a match.

The trek to Beehive is short and steep, and I grunted as I made my way past other hikers. By the time I’d reached the rocky base, I was covered in a light sheen of sweat. Ignoring it, and ignoring the mosquitos and black flies, I began my ascent, my heart pounding as I read the sign.


I swallowed hard, gritted my teeth, cracked my fingers, stretched my calves, and took the first step.

The ascent itself wasn’t as bad as I thought, initially. I kept myself busy mentally as my legs dangled over the tops of trees, me trusting in a rusty iron rung to hold my body weight. I took a deep breath in and didn’t exhale until I traversed the length of a creaky wooden plank through which I could spot the ravine floor. Certain points had me shaking with fear as the slightest misstep could send me tumbling below and into oblivion.

That’s when I noticed a hand stretch out toward mine. At first it startled me, and I flinched involuntarily and almost tumbled backward. It was a woman’s hand, and her fingers grasped at the strap on my backpack as I momentarily fumbled. When I looked at the woman’s face, it was shrouded in blonde hair and her hazel eyes grinned at me. She was wearing leggings, a sport shirt, and a bulky backpack.

“You must be new to Beehive,” she said. Her voice was gravelly and pleasing to my ear. I thought to myself that she should be a singer, if she wasn’t already, but it was just a thought I kept to myself.

“Yeah, I guess you could say that. Not a fan of heights.”

She laughed. “What?!”

“Yeah, I said,” clinging to the cliff face. “I know. Crazy right?”

“My name’s Corinna.” She said, extending her hand.

“Joe,” I said. I shook her hand, and gazed out over the vast expanse of air before us – just inches from where our feet stood together, heels against the rock face. Below us, maybe a mile away, I could see people on the beach. They looked like ants but the ocean was beautiful, and the waves pushed forward and pulled back from the rocks as I calmed myself, breathing in a steady cadence I’d practiced in years past to battle my anxiety.

“Well, Joe,” she said. “You were a bit shaky, so I felt like I had to give you an assist. Hope that doesn’t offend you.”

“Nah, I’m pretty easygoing,” I said. “I just had to do this, y’know?”

“I get it,” she said. “What brought you up here?”

“I just had to do it, to prove to myself I could. Sometimes, I really don’t think I can push forward anymore and things like this remind me that I can.”

“It’s not so bad once you get most of the way,” she said. “It gives you perspective.”

I nodded for a minute and breathed in the cool air to ease my burning lungs. My sweat had begun to cool with the mountain wind.

“What brings you up here?” I asked her. “Are you a park ranger or something?”

“No,” she said, laughing. “But thanks for thinking that. That’s sweet. No, Joe-who’s-scared-of-heights – I guess I came up here for some of the same reasons you did, maybe.”


“Not the exact same,” she said. “But I get you.”

“Well, you probably saved me from falling off this mountain,” I said, half-joking.

She laughed. “You seem like a good guy,” she said. “Let me tell you something. Come closer.”

I moved closer to her and she grasped each side of my head with her hands and moved her own head closer.

“What’re you…” I began, before she kissed me on the lips. I’d been kissed before, all those years before – which was my first kiss. But my first REAL kiss was on the top of that mountain. Our lips pressed together and at first I resisted out of confusion but then kissed back. Before I knew it, it was over and as my eyes opened in lazy bliss, I momentarily forgot where I was.

Corinna was smiling, slipping goggles over her face.

“What?” Was all I managed before Corinna leaped from the cliff face.

“FOR GOOD LUCK,” she shouted, as she plummeted off the edge and sailed out into nothingness. I looked in disbelief as she fell, holding my breath. Finally, I saw her pull a cord and the bulky backpack she wore erupted into a small parachute – causing her to lift momentarily and sail back toward the ground, toward the beach, over the treetops, and away from me.

Corinna never looked back, and I never saw her or heard from her again – but I felt that kiss as I made my way down the mountain, and I still feel it to this day.

Where The Sequel Trilogy Went Wrong

It’s all over. The Skywalker journey is complete. Well, sort of

Way back in December of 2015, droves of people showed up to watch Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Now, it’s been a few months since the December, 2019 release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. Fans have had lots of time to watch these films if they haven’t yet, what with the plague upon us *cough*COVID-19*cough* so with all that time to watch the films and digest the message the films conveyed as a whole, I wanted to personally take a look back at the Sequel Trilogy (ST) as compared to the Original Trilogy (OT) and the Prequel Trilogy (PT). We know that some dislike various films in the franchise, but we also know that the ST has had a very rough reception and has been a lasting point of contention among Star Wars fans since its completion. Let’s look at what made each trilogy work and/or fail.



Obviously the movies that started it all. We’ve all seen them. We all have our favorites (Mine is The Empire Strikes Back). We acknowledge the mistakes in some of them (Luke’s infamous Force Kick from Return of the Jedi, for example) yet this trilogy has remained as the golden standard, despite its flaws. The reasons for this are twofold; One being that when the OT began – it was never assured to become a full trilogy until after the success of the first film. Two, despite being a hodgepodge of direction and varying budgets – the characters all went through meaningful arcs and followed the Hero’s Journey.

With individual films, the public’s reception often differed from critics of the time but seemingly not as much as today. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope no doubt set the bar for all the others to follow and opened up to acclaim from critics and the general public alike. Roger Ebert at the time said the film gave him an “out of body experience” and that its success “all came down to the story.” There are varying accounts of the critical reception of Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but it too received lots of praise from various esteemed reviewers – and wasn’t at all as controversial as some people would have you believe now, and has gone on to become one of the most highly-regarded Star Wars films to date. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi brought a lot of commercial success because it was the end of the OT (and fans knew by that time it was part of one trilogy and there would possibly yet be one or two more eventually) – but the reviews for Jedi seem the most damnable out of the three movies, with accusations of the film series coming to a “dead stop” with Jedi or that Lucas was pandering to children, or that he was trying too hard to cash in on things like the Ewoks or video game tie-ins.

There is no denying that the OT was a financial success and that it also revolutionized filmmaking and changed it forever. George Lucas turned what he described as a “live action comic book” into a pop culture powerhouse.

The notable difference between the OT and the PT and ST trilogies respectively is that each film in the OT was directed by a different director in the OT. George Lucas directed A New Hope, while Irvin Kershner directed The Empire Strikes Back, and Richard Marquand directed Return of the Jedi. It was always planned that way by Lucas – as he and producer Gary Kurtz had always wanted a director for each film to add unique spins to every character’s development. Yet, Lucas was going by his own personal overarching story which gave the OT a very solid structure to begin with despite the different directors for each film. This formula deviated in the PT and then also the ST – for the worse, which we’ll get into.

What made the OT – and mostly A New Hope – successful was that it was groundbreaking at the time. In today’s world, Star Wars is no longer groundbreaking. As it has moved forward as a franchise, it has expanded upon itself (some would say that’s a negative thing) and since then the market has been flooded by sequels and remakes and other films in which the original novelty of the Star Wars mythos has endured but has become sort of old hat. The main enduring aspect of the OT, therefore, is not its earlier innovations – but the Hero’s Journey and the story which rests at its core. The arcs of the characters, rather than the special effects and the spaceships. As Lucas himself said – it was always intended to be a space opera, not a science fiction film. Story is central and as we move forward, keep that in mind.



When Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace was released in theaters in 1999 – the hype was incredible – so incredible that even just a trailer being released on Quicktime brought millions of downloads, breaking the internet at the time – and when released in theaters the trailer also brought ticket sales of the movies the trailer was screened with to soaring heights. After seeing the film, many of the reviews were akin to the ones seen around the release of Return of the Jedi 16 years previously. They weren’t terrible reviews (although some were, like Peter Travers’ from Rolling Stone) but were tepid, and were focused on the lack of acting and plodding pace of the story and how it was made for children. Kevin Smith famously wrote on his website at the time that he enjoyed the film but knew it would become “fashionable” to bash in a week or so after its release. George Lucas said after the first film in his new trilogy failed to garnish lots of extremely positive reviews that it was simply “overhyped” and thus failed to live up to the expectations of the general public. When Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released, it was accepted by critics a bit better than Episode I was, but was still tepid on most counts overall – and it was noted that Lucas went digital with the release of Attack of the Clones, which he believed looked better but which took a lot of people out of the immersion, such as Roger Ebert – who had praised even Episode I but said of Episode II;

“But I felt like I had to lean with my eyes toward the screen in order to see what I was being shown. The images didn’t pop out and smack me with delight, the way they did in earlier films. There was a certain fuzziness, an indistinctness that seemed to undermine their potential power.”

Then, finally, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith was not only a cinematic blockbuster success when it was released, with $50,013,859 as it’s opening day haul (and at that point the biggest in movie history) but it also had the best critical praise out of any of the PT had thus far.

The PT was really just mired in its use of CGI, in its slow story revolving around politics, and the fact that Lucas himself directed all three of the films and deviated away from his formula used in the OT. This seemed to have been a mistake, as the characters were wooden much of the time and there were only flashes of frenetic space opera flavor amid the green screens and bad dialogue. However, one thing we must take away from the PT is that it was purely Lucas’ vision and thus feels like Star Wars – no matter what you may feel about Midi-Chlorians. He brought in new worlds, new spaceships, and new characters and alien races and robots and it all felt natural to his vision and what we all know Star Wars to be. There was still a sense of excitement and whimsy and there was no major division aside from the Midi-Chlorians themselves, which people still argue about to this day (but didn’t seem to have a negative impact on the rest of the PT’s performance numbers).


THE SEQUEL TRILOGY (ST): 2015 – 2019

Not since The Phantom Menace had there been such hype surrounding the release of a new Star Wars film. Yet, when Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was released in theaters, it released to generally good critical acclaim and very good fan reception. Though some thought it was just a reskinned version of A New Hope, and though its racially diverse casting caused some backlash from racists online – the first film in the ST set up lots of story hooks for the remainder of the trilogy to follow through with and successfully kicked off the ST. When Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released, it opened to great reviews from critics but poor reviews from the audience – a first for the Star Wars franchise in the history of its films. It was often called the “most divisive film in history” by bloggers and news outlets alike, and even years later the film is derided by many fans for spiraling the franchise out of control and for its missed opportunities. It also split the Star Wars fan base into two groups – those who saw The Last Jedi as a welcome new take on the Star Wars mythos and those who saw it as disruptive to the ST as a whole and damaging to existing Star Wars lore. Finally, with the release of Star Wars Episode XI: The Rise of Skywalker came a middling release in the box office and tepid reviews by critics but a much higher score from audiences than The Last Jedi. As it sits with the three films, The Force Awakens was a massive success financially – sitting at almost $1 Billion for domestic rankings followed by The Last Jedi at $620 Million and finally The Rise of Skywalker at $495 Million. Obviously each movie made Disney some money but you can see in the numbers the divisive nature of The Last Jedi at work. Some people didn’t turn up for the third entry in the saga, and even with The Last Jedi – the repeat viewings just weren’t there like they were for The Force Awakens – which ended up making over $2 Billion dollars worldwide while the other two barely made over $1 Billion worldwide. The divisive nature of The Last Jedi also proved to be unfortunate at the time for Solo: A Star Wars Story – which had a budget of about $250 Million but only raked in about $375 Million worldwide due to the controversy surrounding The Last Jedi as well as its own reshoots and replacement of the director midway through shooting.

So, just like most of the other Star Wars films over time – they all made some money, because – let’s face it: It’s Star Wars at the end of the day. But what caused so much strife within the Star Wars community and what made the ST so chaotic in comparison to the OT and PT? The answer is simple if you look at the root cause. In the OT – directing duties were handed out to different directors, yet the base story was intact and under the supervision of George Lucas. In the PT, the direction was done solely by Lucas himself but also, it was his story and direction that at least made it cohesive and feel like Star Wars. Lucas had complete control over all things and everything was coherent and fit (almost tediously so) together the way it was supposed to. Where it comes unraveled is in the ST.



Obviously, with Lucas selling Star Wars to Disney – this was expected. With the loss of George Lucas, the Star Wars saga was no longer his to tell – and thus we lost the one successful connecting thread of all the previous films – they all felt like Star Wars. Say what you will about the acting or his dialogue or direction or even the direction he may have wanted to take things, the films felt at least cohesive and connective. They felt like the vision of a world we all knew existed in a galaxy far, far away. The studios certainly had an opportunity to take from George aspects of his vision and utilize it had they wished to, but – much to Lucas’ irritation – they chose to go off in another direction.

In fact, along with tossing out all the previously written books detailing the exploits of the Skywalkers and their friends and enemies – a vast treasure trove of novels and video games and films – the studio also thought it would be a great idea to not have a singular, cohesive, binding storyline for a major blockbuster film franchise with a massive and dedicated following. You’d think they’d have been more mindful of it, having sunk $4 Billion Dollars into the initial investment.

Initially – just as in the OT – there were supposed to be three directors for the ST; JJ Abrams on The Force Awakens, Rian Johnson on The Last Jedi, and Colin Trevorrow on The Rise of Skywalker (then titled Duel of the Fates). Looking at the three movies, you can see where the disengagement happened – Abrams had both the easiest and the most daunting of the film series with setting up an entire trilogy worth of story threads. Johnson also had a difficult task of answering some of Abrams’ story threads and then threading those through to the end of the trilogy while at the same time answering some of the questions and then setting up some of his own threads. Trevorrow would have had to just wrap everything up and put a nice bow on it to cap the trilogy. We see by the success of The Force Awakens that Abrams did his part. It was an enjoyable film with very little controversy and set up lots of opportunity for follow up in the sequels with the Knights of Ren, Snoke, and the question of Rey’s lineage – not to mention getting to finally see Luke Skywalker and what he’d become. However, Rian Johnson not only did not follow most of the story threads Abrams set up – but completely threw out the script and wrote his own script, and set about “subverting” the fans expectations of what should have happened next. Along with that, Colin Trevorrow was fired soon before The Last Jedi was released, forcing JJ Abrams to sign on for the final film in the trilogy to cap things off – though through a fan’s animated mock-up, you can sort of see that Trevorrow’s Duel of the Fates was a much different movie than The Rise of Skywalker turned out to be. All of the threads in The Last Jedi were then cut off and retconned, much the same as Johnson cut off the threads from The Force Awakens, by The Rise of Skywalker.

Fans like myself were devastated by all of the missed opportunities with the original cast. Cast members such as Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Mark Hamill, and others have all come out in their own ways to throw a little shade at both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker for their missed opportunities, failed expectations, and nonsensical story points.

So what’s all of that info above tell us?

  • The OT may have had its inconsistencies, but those were due mostly to the fact that a young George Lucas was not sure he’d ever get to create his entire vision after the first Star Wars. The OT had a linear storyline, even if each director added their own flavor – and the reception from fans and critics alike reflect the quality of the finished product and showcase why the OT has endured the test of time. The first Star Wars was essentially an indie film and the other two movies in the OT were built off its success.
  • The PT also had some inconsistencies with the OT, but again – it was due to the absence of a clear knowledge whether or not there would be opportunity in the future to make more films, so there was no concrete way to know if the PT would even have been made. And despite the lackluster reception of the first two films in the trilogy, the final film seemed to redeem itself and save the PT from complete mediocrity in the eyes of the critics and fans alike. Star Wars at this point was safe from failing no matter how tepid the first two films in the trilogy were received.
  • The ST has a lack of consistency with the OT (gaps in Luke’s character development which were then rectified at the end is just one example), which came before – and thus should have been easy to tie into a new storyline (where the PT came BEFORE the OT and was harder to do that with) – but also due to the squabbling directors, firing of directors, behind the scenes drama, and lack of vision – there are even inconsistencies WITHIN the ST that never even attempted an explanation. Not only that, but the squabbling extended into the fandom itself and it was as divided as its ever been (at least until we all started watching and loving The Mandalorian on Disney + – that show has a high 90’s percentage of love from both critics and audiences alike). With a franchise like Star Wars, care should have been taken to craft a complete product – like Marvel did for ten years with its Infinity Saga.
  • No matter what, even the worst performing and most divisive Star Wars film makes some money.

I sincerely hope that Disney learned something from this endeavor, although I think moving forward, there will not be the same challenges present as they had working with characters from a storyline not their own and from established movies much removed from the themes of today’s world. The one thing missing from the ST was the complete lack of vision and direction the trilogies helmed by George Lucas had. With the OT and the PT, there was a single story thread which was followed. With a show like The Mandalorian, they’ve managed to create a brand new character with no ties to the original cast (although they are bringing in Ahsoka Tano from another popular animated show The Clone Wars, which is really interesting) and with room to wiggle in. Not to mention, with future films or shows they will be free to explore what they wish without alienating half the fan base with controversial changes to the franchise’s established mythology and characters. As a Star Wars fan, I’m extremely sad about the missed opportunities and I struggle with frustration at the lack of foresight by the company – but I’m also excited to move on, and to see what new directions the Star Wars story expands on the original idea by Lucas. It may not be everyone’s Star Wars, anymore, but we still have the OT to fall back on at the very least and that will never go away. It’s why we’re all here talking about the films today. Still, it’s hard not to imagine what could have been – and what we lost collectively as Star Wars fans because of some studio ineptitude and infighting.


The Lady In Orange

When you took my hand and we slow-danced in front of the band that night, I knew it was a goodbye dance and that we’d never see each other again. I took your hand anyway, sliding my fingers in between yours and feeling their delicate grace from beneath your orange satin gloves. We moved slowly, rocking back and forth, our bodies pressed close. You rested your head on my shoulder, closing your eyes and smiling. I could smell your perfume and it reminded me of the time I drove through Washington, D.C. at 3:00 am once on a road trip and caught a whiff of the blooming cherry blossoms as I passed by an exit ramp. I still think about those cherry blossoms, and I still think about you.

You’d told me you were a singer, and when I heard your voice I believed you. You had blue eyes the shade of which I’d never seen, and your smile was broad and real and I couldn’t help but smile back as you asked about my writing. You told me you sang in the best clubs in New Orleans and that your band played jazz. I told you I’d been to New Orleans once and would love to go back sometime and I saw your eyes flicker, just for a moment. I couldn’t help but think to myself that I wanted to see those eyes light up like that all the time.

Before that, we’d sat opposite from each other, the lace tablecloth an ocean between the islands that were our separate lives. I’d been sipping whiskey by myself, letting it burn my insides as I wondered what I was doing there among strangers, thousands of miles away from home. When you stood up to sit next to me and introduce yourself, I couldn’t help but stare at your legs – shapely and long and ending in a pair of glitzy heels you’d probably purchased just for the night and would bring back in the morning. After we’d started talking, we had to lean in toward each other to hear one another speak over the music. I could still barely hear you, and I knew you could barely hear me – but I could feel your hot breath on my neck and knew your lips were dangerously close to my skin. I knew what you were doing when you placed your open hand on my shoulder or on my knee. It felt good to be wanted.

But I also knew that it couldn’t happen. We were two ships passing in the night. We were never meant to be, but in the moment we were drawn toward one another. I’ve known a hundred women like you and I’ve been drawn to every single one of them, without fail, and my wax wings have always melted away beneath my outstretched arms and I’ve always, always fallen to my doom.

And so I moved away from you – leaving you to sit and stare and I moved to the dance floor with my drink. I finished it, and I began to lose myself in the music. I pumped my legs and shuffled my feet and twisted my waist and I thought you’d already moved on, but soon you were there with me in my space and when I looked at you, you were smiling. I knew that smile. It was a smile I’d given to you in my head when you first started talking to me. You knew what you were doing all along.

And so we lost ourselves in the dance until our goodbye; two ships in the night, two stories without endings, two people without wings looking longingly at the sun.

Barista Wonderland

So, to set up this piece – it’s intended as a farce, as a joke, and as a writing exercise. The task was to create an erotic story that is full of terrible analogies, bad metaphors, and is all-around purposefully just…well, bad. So, enjoy the laughs – but be careful reading ahead because there is sexuality (even if it is produced in a terrible way) and some very naughty words and language. – Joe


He could feel the palpitations in his heart when she walked into the room. Of course, the palpitations were almost certainly directly related to his third nipple, but for some reason science hadn’t actually nailed that down for sure. For now, he was going with the long dandelion stems flowing out from under her one-piece dress that clung to all of her curves harder than the cyclists he’d seen in the Tour-De-France. Unlike Lance, both of his own balls were throbbing by the time he peeled his eyes from her body. There was a god.


Her face flushing, the young woman cleared her throat. She knew the look in his eyes, and she was used to it – but not from this young but somehow old looking barista. How old was he, anyway? She found herself wondering what kind of car he drove and decided that, at least in her mind, he rode a motorcycle. She pictured the machinery between his legs.

“Hi. Welcome,” he said in a deep baritone voice that reverberated throughout her petite frame like a Harley engine. She watched his lips move beneath the whiskers of his untrimmed mustache as he spoke and she involuntarily licked her own lips.

“Um, hi,” she said, stammering. Idiot, she thought. “I’m looking for something sweet, but…like, not too sweet? Does that make sense?” She fidgeted with one of the buttons of her dress, the top one. As she did, she could see his eyes traveling down into the valley of her chest where he found ample fruits.

It was his turn to lick his lips.

“Oh, yeah,” he said, nodding. He looked into her crystal green eyes and found himself swimming in their depths. He almost drowned, but she blinked. “I totally get what you mean. Do you like…”

She found herself waiting breathlessly, knowing what he’d say next but needing to feel the power of his baritone complete the sentence, a verbal climax.

“…chocolate?” He finished, resting his elbows on the counter.

“Uh-huh,” she replied, leaning onto the counter as well, exposing the tops of her ample melons to his greedy eyes, allowing him non-restricted access to her body’s ample gifts. He had an all-day pass to her proverbial theme park and she was Walt fucking Disney. She felt like any minute now she’d also be a proverbial Splash Mountain.

“Well,” he said, letting his eyes linger for a moment. “We have a mocha latte. Do you like it cold…or hot?”

“Oh my god,” she said. “Hot. Definitely…hot.” She undid another button. Customers had begun to line up behind her, but it only made it more exciting. She liked it when people watched.


He moved to the espresso machine and poured some milk into a metal steaming pitcher. He poured it slow, deliberately. Some splashed on his thick and uncallused fingers and he absentmindedly stuck them in his mouth, despite it being a clear QASA violation. This woman was upsetting his equilibrium, spinning him off his axis like a world hit by a comet of hotness. She was the comet and he was the world. Whichever one, it didn’t matter – but dinosaurs definitely became extinct, and those dinosaurs were definitely his inhibitions.

He locked eyes with her again, and she watched as he steamed the milk. The milk began to froth, and he had to manually adjust the wand’s depth into the pitcher by lowering and raising the pitcher up and down. Up and down. The act took on a very erotic feel as he felt her watch his pitcher gyrations. His green apron was hiding his massive cock bulging beneath his work-appropriate pants, and he knew she was searching for it like Sir Walter Raleigh had searched tirelessly for El Dorado – the Lost City of Gold. The only difference between she and Raleigh was that she was hot and a woman and she’d find his dick in all sorts of ways.


She watched him finish, and by this time her meat wallet was filled with the sweet payoff of his actions. When he handed her the latte, she briefly touched the tips of his fingers and an electric shock was sent shrieking through her engorged labia and she felt like they’d start flapping any second to lift her off into ecstasy.

“Here you go,” he said in his deep baritone. “That will be $7.95.”

Her pussy exploded with the force of a fire hydrant. $7.95 for a latte. She really enjoyed a good fucking.

The Story

Just to preface this short piece of fiction – this was created using an entire list of random suggested words for a writing exercise. Once you start reading, I’m sure you’ll be able to find those words. I had fun writing this, and it gave me fuel to write something else more serious – so never discount writing prompts because they can be pretty useful! – Joe


The flames flickered against the stone of the fireplace. My grandfather, limping from an old hockey injury he’d told us about, seated himself in an antique wooden chair next to the fire. The light cast shadows against the faded wallpaper of his home. I could smell the honey-mustard glazed ham baking in the oven, my mouth watering in response. He cracked open a can of PBR.

“Now, are you sure you want me to tell you this story again?” My grandfather asked, tilting his glasses down his nose and leaning back in the chair. It made an old creaking sound and I imagined it was his bones. “You’ve already heard me tell this story lots of times.”

“Pretty please, with a cherry on top,” my younger brother, Carl, said as he rocked back and forth on the wood floor. “Please! Please!”

I grinned. “Yeah, Gramps. It’s a good one.”

My grandfather didn’t say anything for a few moments. He looked lost in thought, taking a long draw from his can of PBR. “Boys, I think you’re ready for a new story. It’s one I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. You’re both special and you don’t know that, but you are.”

Carl laughed. “Mom says I’m special.”

Gramps leaned forward in his chair. “Well, that’s because she knows just how special you are, how special this whole family is. We have a secret.”

“A secret?” I couldn’t begin to think what it might be. Maybe Gramps had been bitten by a radioactive gerbil and had superpowers that he’d been hiding all this time. That would be cool. Something told me it wasn’t that, however.

“Yes, a secret. You’re going to find out by listening to what I have to tell you.”

Carl let out a big yawn and stretched out on the wood floor. “When’re we gonna’ eat? I’m hungry.”

I was hungry, too. The smell of the ham was driving me crazy. I’d eaten nothing in the past two days aside from pizza, both nights; once at home and once at my friend Jason’s house. I’d eaten some toaster strudels for breakfast before we left to come to my grandfather’s house in the morning, and some pickles that were unceremoniously offered by Grandma before she left with our mother to go shopping, but pickles and strudels weren’t cutting it. Ham wasn’t even my favorite thing in the world. What I could really go for was some enchiladas, but ethnic food disagreed with my mother’s Northeastern sensibilities.

Gramps turned on the lamp which sat on a nightstand next to the chair. Then, he opened a drawer in the nightstand and pulled out a web-covered, leather-bound book from inside. He blew across the front cover and a plume of dust rose into the air.

“Is that the bible?” Carl asked.

My grandfather laughed, wiping some more dust off the cover and spine of the old book. “I guess you could say it is, Carl. But it’s not the regular bible. It’s our story. The story of our family.”

I’d never seen the book before in my life. I wondered how long it’d been in the drawer.

“This is the story of my grandfather’s great-great-great-great-great grandfather. His name was Thelonios and he was the world’s first demon-fighter.”

“Demon fighter?” I laughed. “Wow.” My grandfather had told us some wild tales but never any about demons. Carl was seven years old, though, and I doubted that my mother would want him hearing about demons.

“Yes, demons,” he said, his eyes taking on a grim quality. Carl stared, sensing some hidden undertones he couldn’t quite grasp. “Thelonios was a traveling monk and he was given a task by a princess.”

“A princess?” Carl asked. “Did she live in a castle?”

“She sure did, kiddo,” my grandfather said, taking another swig from his PBR. He set the can down and lifted the book and showed us an etching of a beautiful woman on its yellowed pages. She had long locks of hair and full lips. “Her name was Honeydew,” he said, turning the book back to look at the artwork himself. I could see the longing in his grey eyes. It was weird.

“The castle was surrounded by a quagmire. Nobody could get to it except for Thelonios, because he was special just like you kids. He heard Honeydew calling for help across the swampy land and he flipped and did somersaults and all sorts of acrobatic things to get to the front gates. He didn’t sink once.”

“Wow, he’s cool,” said Carl.

“Thelonios is kind of a nerd name,” I said, smirking. I heard my stomach growl.

“Well, Thelonios was no nerd,” Gramps said, shaking his head back and forth, looking rather lugubrious in the firelight. “He was a hero. The demon, Capricornus, guarded the castle. He had the forefront of a donkey and the back end of a fish.”

Carl’s eyes were wide with fear.

“Oooh, scary,” I said. “I thought Capricornus was a constellation, Gramps. Wasn’t he half goat and half fish?”

“No. They got it all wrong. He was half donkey and half fish, and if that sounds funny to you then you have obviously never seen Capricornus.” He finished his PBR and crushed the can in his wrinkly hand, surprising the both of us. “He hoarded women, kept them locked up in castles and dungeons. He never let them leave. Thelonios put a stop to that, that’s for sure.”

“How’d he do that?” Carl asked, sitting Indian style, now.

“Well, Capricornus knew the minute old Thelonios made it across the quagmire. He was not happy. He slinked through the castle like an old accordion and Thelonios just waited…and waited. Finally, the demon came to stand in front of him. Thelonios could feel his breath against his skin, even through his robes. It was ice-cold and the demon floated around like he was some sort of superconductor and his fur was standing on end on his donkey half, like he was covered in hair spray.

“Chikity-chik-chik,” the demon gargled. Thelonios didn’t flinch. ‘Why-Chikity are you here-Chikity? The girl-Chikity is mine, monk.” Gramps was reading the demon’s dialogue in a strange high-pitched voice.

“I have traveled the world, trying to find Princess Honeydew,” said Thelonios.

“Chikity-ah,” the demon said with amusement. “So Chikity-China is where-Chikity you found my trail-Chikity? Chik-Chik!”

“Yes. I’m not going to turn and run now, Capricornus. Honeydew called to me in my dreams. She is not happy here with you in your dark castle surrounded by dank earth. I won’t leave until she is by my side. I have come across the Great Steppes. I have seen the wild Emu roam. She loves me and I love her. You can’t defeat that, even if you kill me.”

The Liar

My fingertips slide over hers like a passing glance. Her lips rise up on one side, just a little, just enough to hurt. There are no words because there is nothing left to say. Her eyes, deep and brown, tell me that she’s sorry. I tell myself that she means it but I know I’m a liar.

The Stack

I stared at the handwriting on the plain mailing envelope – my own name written in ink, my former home address at the top left.

That same handwriting, in years before, had expressed feelings and truths for me in pages after pages of love notes and reminiscences created for birthdays or holidays or anniversaries. Just for me.

Attached to that handwriting, which I’d examined with a smile countless times before- are feelings of love, thankfulness, and joy.

Inside the envelope – a stack of divorce papers, clinical and devoid of human empathy; strict guidelines for the dissolution of a formerly happy union worn down by lies and lust and selfishness. Her signature, written in the same flowery script, signing off on my existence.

Next to hers, on a little perfectly straight line, is a space for another signature on each page of weighty finality. Just for me.

Written In Key West, December 2019

Her eyes were what drew me in. Long, slender lashes encircling light brown irises – the depth behind them halting my thoughts. She knew the power of her eyes, and she used it to her advantage daily. She could bat those eyes and make you forget who you were, which I constantly found myself doing.

She had a malleable personality and was a sort of social chameleon. I fell in love with her long before I kissed her, but the kiss was my own personal Faustian deal with her – for better or for worse. Our lips touched and my soul no longer belonged to me, but had been bargained away.

We crossed paths several different times in our lives before we became entangled in each other’s existences and so it seemed to be providence when we got along so well and we spent nights under a streetlight on the outskirts of Portland, hearts hard at work but minds dallying into the small hours.

She was not the first woman I’d married, though I’d hoped she’d be my last and we’d grow to old age together. I held a certain trust with her – one that doesn’t come automatically with marriage vows but is learned and given gradually through time and experience. It was not given lightly or without pause, and even though that trust was broken in the chaotic storm her lies wrought – one whose eye had never appeared to give me a sense of calm – I was proud of myself for having extended myself so readily, offering up my chest to the dull blade of her disingenuity.

Of course, I initially didn’t take that blade well nor cleanly, and the wound had become infected until I had moved away from her eyes, her mannequin smile, and her lies. My very spirit was aching within my body through over 4,800 miles of train tracks, asphalt, and sleepless nights. Only with distance, and with exploration of the self, did the wound begin to close up. Had I stayed, it would have festered and turned gangrenous.

From Maine, to Vermont, to NYC, to Mississippi, to Alabama, to Louisiana, to Florida – as far south down as Key West. I cried, I drank in excess, I slept, I ate my feelings. Memories of sweet words, warm embraces, and soft kisses flooded back to me daily, striking me with the force of a fighter, bruises left unseen but there nonetheless.

In Vermont, I covered myself in an old comforter against the winds of Lake Champlain. In New York City, I walked through the ghosts – our ghosts – of our time in Manhattan. On the train to the south, I woke hearing the whip of rail station poles cutting through my dreams of her. In Alabama, friends tried to heal with kindness the holes she’d punched into my psyche. Then, as I sat at the end of a stone wharf on the sea in Key West, water inches below my shoes and sea foam spraying up into my lap – I looked out at the raging sea and finally understood that she – with her mannequin smile and chameleon personality – never really loved me. I suppose I should have seen it sooner, but I’ll allow myself the misstep because even the greats have all been fooled by love once or twice in their lives. I’m certainly no great, but I’m also no better, either, in my naivete.

I held love for her – real love – and that was no small measure. Chameleons are predators, and in that sense I can’t blame her for following her natural instinct. I only fault her for the lies and in her knowing that I would let her devour me.

Gremlins is the Best Christmas Movie

Many of us, when pressed, are able to give a favorite holiday movie or two in casual conversation. I know a few staples are It’s a Wonderful Life – featuring Jimmy Stewart rehashing his childhood and adult life and what it would have been like without him around. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer – a claymation film with a cute reindeer protagonist who is exiled for his differences and then exploited for them later on (relax, I kid – I still watch it every year). Santa Clause – in which Tim Allen accidentally becomes Santa. Even Die Hard – in which an office Christmas party goes awry when terrorists decide to crash it. The list goes on and as I said – almost everyone can name at least one or two favorite.

One movie that always seems to be a surprise to many folks as a Christmas film is Gremlins (1984) – and Gremlins is hands down my favorite Christmas movie of all time, and I think it should be up there on a lot of people’s lists.


If you’re shocked at Gremlins being a Christmas movie – you wouldn’t be if you simply re-watched it. At the beginning of the film, Billy (Zach Galligan) is given a Mogwai named Gizmo (Howie Mandel) – who was the original Baby Yoda in cuteness level – for Christmas. From there, lots of hijinks ensue – but all of them take place among a distinct Christmas landscape.

From Billy’s rusty Volkswagen Beetle having trouble starting in the snowy, winter weather of Kingston Falls – to the infamous “Do You Hear What I Hear” scene inside Billy’s house as Billy’s mother Lynn (Frances Lee McCain) fights off marauding gremlins – right up to the horrific Christmas childhood story told by Kate Beringer (Phoebe Cates) – Christmas is essential to the Gremlins storyline which therefore makes it a Christmas film.

Now – the reason I think it’s the BEST Christmas film is that it’s so unlike most of the other Christmas movies out there. At its heart, Gremlins is still a warm holiday movie based around the Christmas traditions and principles we’re used to seeing around Christmas time. Billy lives with his typical 1980’s American family, the neighborhood citizens are all pretty likable, and Kingston Falls seems like it would be on a Christmas postcard from Maine. However, that’s what makes it so interesting when Gizmo and the Gremlins show up and start wreaking havoc, killing people, and toying with their streetlights. I mean, c’mon – if we’re going to have to listen to the same ol’ Christmas songs, why not do it with the backdrop of deadly mayhem?


The animatronics and effects still largely hold up in Gremlins and I think you’d be surprised at how great the movie still is in general if you haven’t seen it in a while. On top of that, we seem to be – as far as pop culture goes – swinging back to the 1980’s with Stranger Things and songs like Take On Me being so popular again. So – why not give it a shot as one of your Christmas films this season? It’s currently streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, iTunes and elsewhere.


A Yankee In The Deep South – Part 2

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The view from the Collins’ backyard
The pleasant road to Lake Champlain
The alehouse – 14th Star Brewing Co.