Friday, December 5, 2008

The Day After Christmas

‘Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the house
I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find my spouse.
The presents from Christmas were strewn everywhere,
With nary an empty space, sofa, or chair

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of techno-toys danced in their heads.
And I in my sweatpants and my hubby no where near,
Ran to the garage to see if his car was here.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I ran to the yard to see what was the matter.
Away to the sidewalk I ran with a dash,
By this time, my face had become as white as an ash.

The sun on the top of the slippery, wet roof
Made me scared, and curious, and no longer aloof.
When what to my wondering eyes would appear,
My husband, was sitting up there, drinking a beer.

In his little old bathrobe, so old and so ratty,
My husband looked cute, but I fear he’d gone batty.
More rapid than eagles, his beer did he drink,
And I whistled and shouted “What will the neighbors think?”
As old wives that before the wild hurricane fly,
When we meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
So up to the house-top I dashed in a hurry.
To sit by my husband and share in his worry.
And then, in a twinkling, I heard the whole tale:
He’d spent all our money on Christmas stuff on sale.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
Up the ladder came the kids, still in their nightgowns.

Their hair was all messy, their faces still wrinkled,
Their slippers were red and had sleigh bells that tinkled.
“What’s happening, what’s wrong?” the two asked quite worried.
“We heard a loud noise and then we just hurried.”
Their dad’s eyes, how they watered, his face looked so sad.
His cheeks showed his sorrow; it didn’t look like their dad!
His miserable mouth was drawn down in a frown
And the beard on his chin was grizzled between the brown.
The stump of a cigar he held tight in his teeth,
And the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face, and a little beer belly,
That I say came from too many trips to the deli.
He was sullen and quiet, not at all himself,
And we cried when we saw him in spite of ourselves.
But a wink of his eye and a twist of his head
Soon gave us to know we had nothing to dread.
He spoke to us then, and gave us a smirk.
“I guess I’ve just been the silliest old jerk.”
And laying his finger aside of his brain,
Gave us a nod, and said “I won’t do this again!”

He stood on the roof, to his family gave a cheer,
And together we all hugged thanking God we were here.
But we heard him exclaim, 'ere we climbed down to the yard,
"I’m going to take and cut up every credit card!"

-- Kathryn Atkins

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Katella Avenue, Cypress California

Don’s Turf Motel stands alongside a row of sad buildings whose demeanor can only be described as 1950s architecture, the word architecture applied loosely. The structure has an exterior of plain brown warped wood, aging cracked paint, and light brown stucco walls chipped and worn showing dirty white stucco beneath.
The requisite vacancy/no vacancy sign only “neons” the NO. And we wonder. Does that mean there are REALLY no vacancies? Does it mean people LIKE staying there? Do these people know there’s a Marriott Residence Inn less than a mile down the street? Or that Disneyland is eight miles away? More importantly, are the people that stay here the kind that would care? It is said that people check into this motel with no more luggage than several fifths of Jack Daniels, drink themselves through two or three or four days and nights, hiding safely from family and friends, for who would think to look for them there?
Are ALL the rooms filled with people like these -- the empty bottles metaphors for the chasm of addiction that alcohol creates and fills for some, sex for others, food for still another group? Perhaps there are jockeys that stay there. It is, after all, across the street from the Los Alamitos Race Track, and may be, like in the story of Seabiscuit, a place for the featherweight men and boys to hang their jockey pants, affordable for two three, or four in a room. Do we know?
On some weekends, bikers by the dozen crowd the parking lot adjacent to this seedy throwback strip of history. Hells Angels congregate here, attracted to the older architecture, perhaps being reminded of easy riders of days gone by. Or would the Marriott parking lot down the street snub the Harleys and run them out as a deterrent to higher class customers – businessmen who stay near the companies down the street – Yamaha, Mitsubishi, and more – to sell or work or avoid a commute from Bakersfield where they can afford to live?
Along the same road a few blocks down, the Finish Line Foodstore completes the ensemble of late fifties/horse racing ambiance. The flashing sign appeared one summer evening as twilight eased onto the avenue. A small crowd had gathered to watch the store’s new sign depicting horses mating at a representational Finish Line. As the crowd grew, police were called in to break up the throng that had spilled onto Katella, slowing traffic to a canter, then to a halt. In fact, the automobile cops had to call for motorcycle backup. Stalled, the motorcycle police summoned the horse-mounted officers.
It took the equine staff a while to fit out their steeds, mount and arrive at the scene. In fact, by the time they came to the Finish Line Foodstore, the storeowners had produced guns. The crowd had lobbed strawberry boxes at the sign, purchased from the nearby strawberry stand, and the humping horses had sticky strawberry pulp dripping off the sexy sign making a sloppy mess of what was an education in animal husbandry for city folk who had never seen it done in real life.
Mounted Officer Sergeant Ron Flood, an imposing figure on his horse, Flash, announced through a loudspeaker, “EVERYONE NEEDS TO LEAVE. NOW!” No one moved. Few people heard.
Suddenly from above, a pair of helicopters arrived. One was a news helicopter. A spotlight bathed the darkened crowd in daylight. Sergeant Flood waved them away because behind them was the police helicopter he had requested. He repeated one more time, “EVERYONE MUST LEAVE NOW. YOU ARE IN VIOLATION OF THE LAW. IF YOU DON’T LEAVE, WE WILL ARREST YOU ALL.”
The warning was ignored. Although some folks nearby heard the blast, they were actually more interested in the fight that had started near the front of the crowd. Within minutes, the fight spread. The heat of the day, the stench of recession; the outrage at the display all spilled over into a frenzy of pent-up physicality. Women and children were invisible to the men whose self-control had passed the tipping point. Teeth and hair, blood and spit flew into the air.
As a last resort, Sergeant Flood shot his gun into the sky, grazed the helicopter, and the sound of the ricochet finally woke up the heli-cops waiting to engage. Six men dropped by tether into the roiling mêlée. Billy clubs trumped fists; riot gear paddled street clothes; and finally tear gas stunned the manly to meek, hammering the testosterone-thick air and returning defiant fighters to submissive.
Names were taken, handcuffs snapped, ambulances wailed in the background as Sergeant Flood borrowed a billy club, and astride his faithful steed, destroyed the offending sign whilst a wily lawyer in the crowd clicked pictures.
Although the First Amendment was invoked at the hearing three months later, the judge threw out the case. “No one in our community needs neon humping horses at the Finish Line Foodstore at twilight or any other time.”
The gavel came down. BANG. Case closed.

Monday, August 25, 2008

In My Dream

In my dream I was a fallen princess.
It was so quiet I could hear the wind changing its mind.
You were wearing your deep purple high tops
As we sat eating mangoes soaked in rum.
You asked, “What do you want?”
I answered, “I want freedom from myself.”
You were sure if we hid, Death wouldn’t find us
Even though we knew it was time.
My dog, Life, and I
Went out and saw the moon.
No man was in it.
He was on a break.
Or Death had found him first.
We didn’t know.
You brought your cat, Hope,
To play with my dog.
We had sex and died right after.

©Kathryn Atkins
Fall 2004

Stand Closer

Orange and yellow lilies
Mixed with fuzzy brown grasses
Bend softly, ballerina style
Over the edge of the chipped clay pot.
Stand closer and you’ll smell them.

Hop-red double impatiens
Sport blooms
Pushing for attention
Against the green fichus wall.
Where rats play tag in the tangled branches.
Stand closer and you’ll hear them.

Don’t-you-love-it purple flowers
Next to the spreading snow-white alyssum.
I am the garden where they grow.
The rats are my sins.
Stand closer and you’ll see them.

© Kathryn Atkins
Fall 2004

Sunday, August 10, 2008

To My Son

I will not hover like a helicopter waiting to rescue a drowning soul. I will not swoop in, saber in hand, my face stretched in a fierce, threatening grimace, the shield of parental iron posed ready to fend off the arrows of adulthood, the poison darts of responsibility and maturity, the bullets of insurance premiums and car payments, the bludgeons of mortgages and credit card minimums that never reduce the maximums that shake financial houses built of straw.
I will not pave this rutted road with rose petals; nor will I continue to mask the poverty smell with money-green perfume or bank-transfer cologne. No more. I did that for a year, like a goofy lap dog, hoping you’d “get” what you needed, somehow-- an understanding of THE CONCEPT. That concept is: TO OBTAIN MONEY, A PERSON HAS TO WORK. At least unless you’re born into wealth, which few people are, and those that are do so at the behest of some poor slob who DID work. Hard.
I failed you, son. But I will not compound my error. No more. Like giving up cigarettes or alcohol, I have to do this cold turkey, take a 12–step approach, and ask almighty God for the strength to do what I should have done a year ago. Cut you off for your own good.
“Geez, Mom,” you say. “Can’t I get a free ride any more?” No. Sorry. You’re on your own. You will have to allocate your time between school, work, and music. I will not tell you which to emphasize, except to say that right now, school is #1. You will be busy doing all three, but you’re young. You’re just not hungry. I give you now the gift of hunger. I have given you many gifts. This is the hardest, but the best. Make it work. Pray for strength. Face your fears. Engage in life. Be a man. You are no longer a boy. Sorry.

August 8, 2008

Friday, July 25, 2008

Just the Ticket

My husband and I love the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, and we love jazz. Just before a recent concert began, a group of three people were shown their seats by the usher. They sidestepped past us to sit in the empty seats just to our left. There were two men and one woman. The woman sat between them. She looked down at her ticket stub, and then at the metal tag riveted on the arm of her chair. She stretched forward to look at the tag on the arm of the chair where the man on her right was sitting.
“Ernie,” she said. “I think I have your ticket stub.”
“It’s okay,” the man said.
“No. We can switch seats.”
“Really, it’s okay, Wanda. No one cares.”
“Well, okay, I guess.”
“But I don’t mind changing with you, really,” the Wanda woman said.
“Seriously. They don’t care. I’m sure.”
“Well, then, let’s switch ticket stubs.”
“I don’t remember where I put mine. It’s not a problem. I’m certain.”
“The usher gave each of us our stubs back.”
Ernie sighed quietly in our direction as he rocked onto one cheek, then the other, groping in his pants pockets. Unsuccessful there, he searched his side jacket pockets, left and right. Then his outside breast pocket.
“Wanda, I can’t find it. I’m sorry.”
“Look again. I know she handed it to you. Try that little pocket inside on the left.”
His fingers probed the satin lined pocket. “Nope. Not there either. Wanda, it really is okay. We can just stay where we are unless you can’t see or something.”
“No. I’m fine. I can see. Thanks.”
“Okay?” Ernie checked again.
“Okay,” Wanda said.
Ernie was a nice man. “You’re sure?”
“Excuse me, Bart,” she said tapping the shoulder of her companion on her left. “Do you have your ticket stub?”
Bart has found a woman in the row ahead of him that he went to high school with. They were wrapped in the throes of a do-you-know-what-happened-to conversation, and he turned quickly to Wanda and said, “I don’t know,” and continued talking to his high school friend, dismissing Wanda.
Turning back to poor Ernie, Wanda said, “Maybe it’s on the floor. Did you look on the floor?” With that she scooched out of her seat on hands and knees to look for the wayward ticket stub.
The theater darkened and the music started. Wanda crawled back into her seat empty handed. She sat for a few minutes, fidgeting.
“Ernie, I think we should switch,” Wanda whispered.
“Okay. But let’s make it quick.”
They switched seats. We were glad they were settled, finally.
The lead guitar had introduced his band and started into the first piece. The music played for a couple of minutes.
Wanda, now to the right of Ernie leaned forward and across him to check in again with Bart. “Psst. Bart. Did you find your ticket stub? You might be sitting in Ernie’s seat.”
Wanda continued to squirm. Ernie found his ticket at the intermission and we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was just the ticket for an easy second half of the show.
© Kathryn Atkins
July 2008

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Canceling Thursdays

That’s right. I’m canceling Thursdays. Of all the days of the week, Thursday reigns as the least necessary. It pales in comparison to Friday, of course. No one ever heard of TGIT, which almost sounds like an obscene reference to mammary glands, and besides it would have to be TGITH to make it different from TGIT for Tuesday. Plus: Tee-Gee-Eye-“th” sounds stupid. So there you go.
Speaking of Tuesday, it captures its charisma (though it be small, I agree) from Monday, largely because it’s a relief to have Monday behind you, and the work/school week along its way.
Wednesday, as hump day, marks the downward slide to the week’s end. We can’t expunge such an important day.
Now, Saturday, by all accounts, is cleanup day. It’s the scoop-up-the-pieces day where the life-support junk gets stuffed to attend to in a blur of catch-up that means deep breaths, sucking in oxygen from portals of open car windows while dashing from one list item to the next.
Finally, winded, you land at Sunday—the day of rest. Maybe church. Maybe a game of golf or tennis, eggs benedict, a bike ride, or a hobby. Clean the attic? Make a pie? Shop the sales? Read a book? Take a nap? Stay in your p.j.’s all day? Watch all forty parts of the Star Wars saga? Wow, how do you rest with all that stuff to do? Well, you get to CHOOSE which if anything you want to do. And that is the VALUE of Sunday.
Then Sunday night rolls around, and you anticipate the week facing the prospect of doing it all over. Except this time, there’s one less day of the week! There’s more balance: four days of work and two days of weekend. It’s not nearly so one-sided. I like it. Don’t you?
Now let’s go back to Tuesday. Should we bag that one too? What do you think?

Saturday, May 31, 2008


Suffering sadness, Sarah stood beside Sally’s sedan, slid sideways. The slick snowy streets were sown insufferably with slices of the senseless suicide. Sarah saw Sally’s sleeveless sweater settled stiffly on the silvery icy surface.
She said to sister Samantha, “So sad. Sally’s son Steve saved for six summers so Sally could sail the Salton Sea in September of seventy-seven.
Samantha sniffed as she said, “Suicide sucks.”
Sheriff Sol Sydleberg shuffled aside the sisters saying, “Sally certainly selected a superior site. She seemed sure she shouldn’t survive such a smashing.”
“Yes,” Sarah said, “Sally studied seriously. She seldom assumed success. She sincerely sought specifics.”
Samantha sobbed, “So stupid! Someone should have seen Sally’s sorrow!”
Sol Sydleberg shaking his snow-swathed scarf addressed the sisters saying, “Sometimes we seek sunshine, sometimes sorrow. Sorrow was a side of Sally we seldom saw.”
“Shit, Sheriff,” Sarah said, “Easy to say. We should’ve seen it sooner.”
“Should’ve’s seldom save sanity subsequent to suicide.”
“So you say,” Samantha shot hotly.
“Yes, I say,” Sol seethed.
“Screw you,” the sisters shouted simultaneously.

©Kathryn Atkins
May 2008

How Long is a Stoplight?

You’re late leaving for work. You think you’re going to make the light, but the dillweed in front of you slows, hesitates trying to decide, then speeds up at the last minute, leaving you to HAVE TO STOP at the light. Your sphincter tightens, your teeth grit, your mind seethes. Scientific studies show that lights do not, in fact, purposefully change more slowly when people are late, but what, for God’s sake, does science really know?

For the working busy, the inverse relationship of time to get to work and traffic light length is well known and most assuredly documented. In this great example of relativity -- YOUR TIME AT THE STOPLIGHT DRAGS ON INTERMINABLY. Another example: “Time flies when you’re having a good time” Indeed, the concept of time elasticity has been true since the saying was penned, which was right after good times were invented.

Since you are busy, we’ll cut to the chase. There is a cure for stoplight angst. Relativists (not your relatives) have devised a method to make sure that your time at the stoplight flies. How? By having a ready list of things to do while you’re waiting, of course!

Just how long is a stoplight? Long enough to...

1. Put on lipstick
2. Touch up the eye make up
3. Swipe on clear nail polish
4. Read the headlines
5. Fill in 1 down on the crossword
6. Make a To-Do list
7. Find a better radio station
8. Write part of a thank you note
9. Send an e-mail
10. Say a prayer
11. Untangle a personalized license plate
12. Whistle a theme song
13. Check out the person next to you
14. Blow your nose
15. Look for boogers
16. Slather on hand cream
17. Smooth out the cowlicks in your eyebrows
18. Call anyone
19. Plan a party
20. Practice a speech
21. Organize the glove box (may take 2 lights)
22. Add a contact to your address book
23. Snooze
24. Scratch the dried mustard off your tie
25. Solve a problem
26. Take a slurp of coffee
27. Decide to quit . . . anything
28. Pay a bill
29. Pen a short poem
30. Memorize a couple of lines
31. Think up a title
32. Clip off a hang nail
33. Munch a bite of breakfast
34. Read a paragraph in a good book
35. Think a thought.
36. Endorse a check
37. Recite state capitals
38. Jot a reminder post-it
39. Pick your teeth
40. Dig through your briefcase or purse
41. Slosh on sun block
42. Comb your hair
43. See if your shoes match
44. Make a reservation
45. Laugh
46. Count your blessings
47. Cross the stuff you’ve just gotten done off your To-Do list.
48. Try to listen to your heart beating
49. Breathe in deeply. Let it out slowly.
50. Wave at the poor soul behind you who’s honking to get you to move.


© Kathryn Atkins ~ May 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Butt Crack

Musings on a Butt Crack

I wonder if she felt it. Almost the entire split of her backside bulged out over too-tight pants as she sat on the picnic table bench across from a Jack Spratt skinny man. The table was situated alongside the busy road carrying workers and moms, students and musicians, athletes and gardeners to and fro. I mean, didn’t she sense a draft back there? Didn’t the tightness of her southerly waistband cut off circulation so that her legs would tingle like when you sleep on your arm wrong? Does she not have nerve endings in the back of her body? Oh, well then. She MUST think it’s attractive. Or maybe sexy. Jesus, there ought to be a law.
How can people a) get that way or b) think that the exposure of such corpulence is appealing? Maybe her man likes the publicity, as in “my wife has a wonderful derrière, and I want everyone to see it.” Has he ever looked at a Playboy? The centerfold has to be unfolded vertically for a reason. They don’t require a horizontal unfolding as well. I have never seen a “large” print version of Playboy. Maybe there’s a market for this mature AARP version. Call it Aging Ass for Retired Playboys.
Back to my friend at the park. She had a long, thick braid descending almost to the top of her bare buttocks--the kind you see in K Mart and 99 cent stores--or at health food stores draping down the backs of gray haired male and female hippies in their sixties and seventies wearing sandals and no bras. I kind of like that idea, though. There must be an age at which it’s okay not to care any more. Or rather, there must be a time when you can choose to dress to the nines OR roam around in the slovenly furnishings of the rich and famous when you’re fixed-income poor and decidedly unknown, or want to be.
Maybe my new acquaintance was a starlet in disguise wearing a Mrs. Doubtfire body suit and a Sacagawea wig for a privately public picnic in no-name Cypress, California on a Thursday afternoon. Or not. At forty miles and hour on the way home from work, I didn’t take the time to circle around for a closer view. After all, it looked dreadful the first time around. However, it DID garner my attention in the sick way writers find grist for the writing mill in just about anything.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Why No One Does Windows

Washing Windows

You don’t know what you’ve missed seeing until
You wash your windows and
Watch your dingy world clarify itself.
You hum as you work and ask yourself
“Why don’t I do this more often?”

The outside looks great until you’re inside
And you see a smudge--a streak that got by you.
You mosey outside, sure it will be the last time
And you look through, assuming perfection.
Now it’s smeared on the inside.
The smudge that wasn’t there is there now.
Back and forth; in and out. And then finally…
It looks good!


You start to walk away; and turn your head
For one last look at your beautiful, flawless windows.
But from this new angle --
Another streak.
You walk back-- rag in hand.
You are no longer humming.
In fact, you are cussing.
You think, “Newspapers will do the trick.”
You will win. You know it.
You can smell sweet victory.
You wipe feverishly,
Holding your breath until you are ALL done.
You step back, gasping. Your arms ache.
A smile twitches at your lips.
“HA HA. I Win,” you say to yourself until --


Your laughter slows. Your grin frowns.
There. In the corner. Right near the bottom.
What is that?
There’s another.
One more.
Oh, to hell with it.

Saturday, March 8, 2008


I am half Italian. But I missed out on the beautiful half. Having been in Rome in December, I can honestly say that there were some astonishingly handsome men there. Sexy, dark, sculpted, swarthy, alive with youth or wizened with smug self-knowledge and worldliness. They did seem self-absorbed, but then who wouldn't be with their dark and curly hair, black-brown eyes ringed with luscious, thick eyelashes; lips full and Latin, the whites of their eyes and teeth made whiter by Mediterranean dark skin? And cheekbones. God, the cheekbones. No wait. Check out the tight, telling jeans.
On their arms, or in a clutch of young people, there stood the equally striking women -- long, straight silky how-do-they-do-that-all-day-long? hair with complexions from magazine ads, rouged just right, full of lips, dark perfect eyebrows with just the right arch and no stray hairs, because it would detract from their oval-esque, dreamy, green-brown eyes, perfectly shadowed and lined. Complete with natural beauty marks, dressed in short fur jackets, no-scratch boots, designer jeans, and tight, full tops, they laugh perfect-teeth laughs, not working-class London grins, but affected, Italian grist-for-paparazzi laughs. And they probably spend way too much time in front of mirrors to look that way, say I, middle aged, and with hugely different values, a lot less free time, and thank-you-very-much wrinkles.
In short, men and women of any age can enjoy the eye-candy on the streets of Rome, in a country that struts lust-for-life with its head tilted back laughing. Or at least I'd like to think so.