Pool, Punctuation, and Citations: Dethroning Winter

Howson was a real Annie Oakley on the tables. She made the game look easy. You might think I’m full of it, but I saw her first big showdown; the one that put her on the map.

I was tending bar at Jillian’s Speak Easy, that hideaway pool hall over on Elm Street, the night Howson and Winter went toe-to-toe for the APA League Citation Title. I’m lucky to have seen it at all; I was supposed to have the night off. To my good fortune, Pam had asked me to cover her shift. She said she had come down with the flu, but her situation probably had more to do with whatever grunge musician she was hanging out with rather than any actual illness.

Nonetheless, I accepted the offer because Wednesdays were league night, and that meant the joint would be wall-to-wall with the usual freaks, geeks, and hustlers. Why wouldn’t I want to show up? Most of those players tipped well, and the stories they told were an oasis for an undercover author. Still, after having heard their tallest tales about league legends, I never would’ve expected to see a carefree maverick like Howson materialize.

I had just pulled a rack of clean highball and pint glasses from the dishwasher, when through the billows of steam, I saw her emerge from the crowd and step up to the bar. Apparently, she had been in the hall all evening, picking apart her competition, but I had been so busy slinging drinks that I failed to notice her or her winning streak – that is, until she ordered a martini, shaken with two olives, as if she was Double O Seven or something. While I folded gin, ice, and vermouth together inside the silver shaker, Howson leaned over the counter, dropped a crisp C-note from her recent winnings into my tip jar, and asked if I knew where the holes were in Winter’s game.

Keep in mind, this all happened before she had become the APA circuit household name that she is today. I’m talking about 5th edition citation rules here, not this latest nerfed update. Fifth edition was not for the faint of heart; it was American football without the face masks – real smash mouth, all-star stuff. Hell, in those days we had no way to cite these Tik-Toks and memes; we had no DOI’s. Folks did what they could with what they had. I digress; let’s get back to the scene.

I retrieved the fresh-pressed hundred from the tip jar and slid the bill, instead of a cocktail napkin, beneath the base of her chilled glassware. Howson’s cinnamon eyes shimmered like smoky quartz as she studied my movements. Brushing a stray, psychedelic blue strand of hair behind her right ear, she watched the concoction tumble from the frost covered lip between the shaker and strainer, over a pair of toothpick-skewered green olives, and into her clear glass.

“This one’s on the house,” I told her, “but I wouldn’t mind seeing that smug, underhanded bastard wind up on the wrong end of a break-and-run. I’m sure most everyone in here would agree. If you must leave him a shot, make sure you stick the cue ball to the wall. He misses three out of five citations when he’s pinned against the rail.”

She raised the martini to her lips and took a sip. Before returning the stemmed glass to the black marble countertop, Howson pushed the watermarked bill back across the bar. “You earned that. This martini has been perfect – present perfect. Besides, I was already keyed into Winter’s shortcomings. He’s an easy read.” With a knowing smile, Howson rose from the bar stool and ambled through the shark infested waters that led to her table.

About twenty minutes later, I noticed that a crowd had begun to gather around the back two tables. On my way to investigate what had drawn everyone away from the bar, I stopped to feed the jukebox a dollar. The hungry machine slurped in the dollar like a kid eating spaghetti and thanked me by playing “I’m Housin’” from the Rage Against the Machine album, Renegades. Zack De La Rocha had just begun cooling on the scene like a horse in a stable as I nudged my way through the zoot-suited onlookers. I was four, maybe five feet from Winter when he had the last few gears of his clock cleaned.

“Punctuation outside the quotation mark. Corner pocket,” Howson called after eyeing the remaining essay components that lay scattered about the red felt-covered table. She placed her left hand on the oak rail, bent her knees, leaned in, and lined up her shot. The 19 oz pearl-inlaid walnut cue slid back and forth between her index finger and thumb. “I’m going to have to use a little English on this one,” she joked before plunging the blue chalk dusted tip into the cue ball.

Winter impaled the lime sitting atop his tonic remains and grunted, “Lucky shot.”

“You know there ain’t nothing but skill in my game. Give up now, and I’ll go easy on you.”

“I don’t think so. You used too much backspin. There’s no way you’ll get around that fused sentence.”

“I’m about to split it up like Hydrogen.” She paused her dig at Winters and settled into her shot. Howson’s tanned leather cue tip kissed the upper right quadrant of the cue ball, releasing a tink loud enough to be heard over the music. The white sphere twisted like a pinwheel in a rainstorm, bounced off three rails, and knocked the previously obstructed comma splice into the side pocket closest to her. “As Zack will tell us,” she began before synchronizing her voice to the song lyrics that ebbed from the jukebox speakers, “you’d better relate to the matter as I drop the bomb. ‘Cause I’m Howson! Because I’m Howson!” The cue ball came to rest a few inches from the last component, leaving a simple, head-on shot for her final play. “Now, are you going to make me take this last shot, or are you ready to submit?”

Winter didn’t answer. In fact, he didn’t even watch as Howson sank the running head format error. Instead, he just took apart his cue, put the pieces into a purple velvet lined case, wrapped himself in his black duster jacket, walked outside, and dissolved into the night.

First in Flight

Kardi zipped out the door while humming a tune
her antennae picked up from the local airwaves.
Good vibrations, it seems, was this station’s theme.
The announcer’s voice, smooth royal jelly.

She’d spent last night inside that snug, crowded hive
working her last shift at Queen’s Pollen Packing.
Often, she’d nap after filling her cells,
but this time, rest gave way to excitement.

Kardi tried catching z’s, tried numbering sheep,
but those sheep that came didn’t hop fences.
Instead, they wore bee suits, cute headband antennas,
kept sleep at bay with sheep-wiggle-bee-waggle-dances.

She’d been fast-tracked from packing to foraging flowers
without having to stand hive entrance guard duty.
Today, oh, today! She’d get to sip fresh nectar,
stuff her new leg-mounted pollen baskets.

Thought with elation she’d burst
if she wasn’t first to lift off from the beehive hangar.
While the other girls dozed, Kardi skedaddled
from her six-sided room to the staging area.

All systems were go once the sun’s melted gold
poured over the flower-dotted hillside.
With her audio tuned to Beach Boys on KBUZZ,
out Kardi zoomed before her sisters.

– Christopher Miller

Soup Curling

“The Sea was angry that day, my friends, like an old man trying to send soup back at a deli” – George Costanza in “The Marine Biologist” episode of Seinfeld.

While George may not be the most insightful guy in the world, he does wax eloquent on occasion. Just look at the depth of this statement.

On first listen (or read through), George’s statement reels Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea from the mind’s ocean. Perhaps this is no mistake given that George’s line comes from a story that he tells his friends – the story of how George pulled a golf ball from a whale’s blow hole.

Though, it is worth mentioning that rather than trying to land a marlin, George is lured into rescuing a beached whale because he has lied about being a marine biologist.

A second pass through this line ties the angry sea to the bowl of soup. Imagine the choppy, white-capped waves bumping into one another, stirring up foam as they stagger to the shore.

Now place that hectic scene into a red-lipped porcelain bowl situated on a chipped saucer resting on a faded, mustard-yellow counter-top. Add a wrinkled, liver spotted hand in a sweeping collision course arc that sends saucer, bowl, and soup flying across the counter, and you’ve got one hell of a scene condensed into a single statement.

Throw in a dash of Andy Warhol, and the result might be a blottered psychedelic stew. But, perhaps, that is beyond the scope of George’s statement.

– Christopher Miller

Get your Goat: What’s for Lunch?

Billy: This homework tastes really good. Where’d you get it?

Bubby: Bessie says she got it from mu.

Billy: All Bessie ever says is “mu.”

Bubby: She never claimed to be more than the average cow.

Billy: Why do I eat lunch with you every day?

Bubby: Because you don’t deviate from the norm.

Billy: Ok, no more math homework for you.

Bubby: Kiss my asymptote.

Billy: I’m approaching my threshold.

Bubby: Yeah, but by my calculations, you’ll never reach it.

– Christopher Miller


Sunday afternoon in the garden
I am graced by your presence
a dozen paces before me.

Your hips are a metronome,
sin in their sway.
Hypnotic. Left, right, left, right.

Orange tiger lilies
watch in envy. Your approach
intended just for me.

Floral patterned, sheer
pastel yellow sundress
hem flutters about your knees.

Polished pink toes,
faux leather sandals.
Footfalls pace my heartbeat.

Beneath dogwood branches,
I am planted, watching you.
My dear, you are hypnotic. Left, right, left right.

Black hair mingles
with gentle fingers of the breeze.
Sunlight is your halo.

Smokey saucers of mocha
beam through clear lenses
and twinkle with a grin.

Butterfly wings tickle
my insides. Breath pauses
in my throat.

Rubenesque curves
strum nature’s melody-
a lust-filled bassline

that brings me to life.
Anticipating your touch,
my temperature spikes.

Wind-swept ember,
you glide into my arms.
We spark. We kindle.

We kiss.
Toe tip to toe tip,
enveloped, both burning.

Collapsed in the grass,
flames lick our skin,
searing green blades beneath us.

– Christopher Miller

Train of thought

At dusk, I open the door, step outside, down the brick steps
To my right, just above the muggy tree-lined horizon,
a waxing crescent moon dipped in crimson hangs
in the evening October sky, soaks up the last rays of natural light
A flickering neon sign of a lone star forces itself into existence

In the distance, a rider winds back on the throttle
A motorcycle engine responds with a throaty gurgle,
bounces sharp crackles off home fronts, propels its rider up the two-lane highway
I dig the lighter out of my front pocket, thumb the flint wheel, and light up a smoke–
a dirty habit that I should probably quit

But quitters never win, I think to myself as the headlight of the growling cyclopean machine illuminates the northern side of our warped mailbox
Angry pistons rock back and forth, expel snarls and snorts, pierce the silence
As the two-wheeled beast careens past our driveway, a tune, faint at first, oscillates toward me

“Hey… ye…eh…”
grows more distinct
“I said hey! What’s going on?”
I take another drag, exhale. Piston beats dance against my skin
“And I try, oh my god do I try”
A steam engine rumbles, disrupts my thoughts, knocks the Fourth Volume of Musical Knowledge from my mental library shelf
“I try all the time, in this institution”
I dig through its overturned contents, look for the chords that tie the song to its artist
“And I pray, oh my god do I pray”
Rock, 90s Alternative
“I pray every single day”
Bands with numbers in their name
“For a revolution”

The taillight spills its faint auburn glow over the white and yellow-lined pavement to be consumed by the stillness
I extinguish my cigarette, turn, climb the steps
4 Non Blondes continues to sing along the country stretch of 421 South
where pine trees and cotton fields wait their turn to listen

– Christopher Miller